Author: Brendan Chris
Captain Christopher Stafford sat quietly in his chair. Around him, the bridge of the USS Silverado bustled with activity. Crewmen and junior officers moved from station to station, verifying readouts, confirming status reports with their counterparts below decks and, in general, getting in the way. The bridge itself hummed with activity as the various systems and displays blinked, chirped, and displayed a variety of information readouts that were, no doubt, useful to somebody or other. Although the overall design of the bridge hadn’t changed much, there were still a number of differences from before the renovation…most notably switching the Auxiliary consoles from either side of the bridge with the Science and Engineering consoles at the back. Stafford was confident that being able to simply turn to the side to speak to Fifebee (instead of craning right around) would be much easier on his neck. Next to him, Commander San Jall was sitting in the First Officer’s chair and sipping some sort of coffee-based drink featuring a huge dollop of whipped cream.
“This is the official relaunch of our ship,” Stafford complained, “The first ship reconstructed by the Haven shipyards. The chance for us to actually leave a planet with something resembling dignity and respect!”
“If you think we have any of THAT left after we managed to crash three separate ships, including this one, then you’re dreaming,” Jall said, taking a long sip.
“I said ‘planet’, not space station,” Stafford said, “I don’t think anybody on Matria knows about that,”
“It was probably on the news,”
“The bottom line,” Stafford seethed, “is that we’re launching. It’s a bit more high-profile than the first time we launched this ship-“
“They practically kicked us out of the box dock!”
“-the log recorder is going to be broadcast live with the Matrians and AWN News,” Stafford continued, “And here you are with WHIPPED CREAM ALL OVER YOUR NOSE!”
Jall looked pointedly at him, then used his tongue to lick all the whipped cream off, his eyes never leaving Stafford’s the entire time.
“Please tell me we weren’t live for that,” Stafford said, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
“Do you really want the answer?” Dr. Noel Wowrk asked, leaning on the tactical railing as one of the random crewmen bumped into her from behind.
“We’re not live yet,” Lt Patricia Yanick giggled from the helm, “So all you extras who don’t normally work on the bridge can stop pretending to look so busy!”
“Keep moving,” Stafford said as several of the crewmen visibly relaxed, “I want this launch to look professional…Jall, for crying out loud!”
Jall had pulled out a glazed cinnamon bun and was happily chowing down, apparently not noticing the streak of cream cheese frosting he’d smeared on his armrest.
“And we’re live,” Lt Comd T’Parief announced quietly the tactical console “in five…four…”
Jall quickly took several more bites of the bun, chewing quickly.
Jall swallowed, shoved the entire remains of the bun in his mouth, frosting smearing on his lips. Stafford was glaring daggers at him.
Somehow, between the last number and the subtle beep that indicated the log recorder was now being broadcast, Jall had chewed, swallowed and managed to wipe all remaining crumbs and frosting up with parts of his uniform sleeve unlikely to be visible during the broadcast.
“Just gotta open up your throat,” Jall smirked as Stafford grimaced in disgust.
Realizing that he was now being broadcast across Matria and to anybody in the Federation who bothered to watch the AWN news snippet about Matria’s first Federation starship launch, Stafford struggled to get the angry glare of death off his face and replace it with something more cheerful. He stood, straightened his uniform and looked quickly around the bridge as the extra crewmen leaped back into action.
“All stations, status report,” he ordered.
“Engineering reports ready,” Sylvia said, her holographic avatar standing next to (but not needing to read) the engineering station readout, “Warp core is online, impulse engines at standby. All inertial dampening and structural integrity fields are active, navigational deflector will be activated once we’ve cleared the shipyard,”
“Science teams ready,” Fifebee said, “All sensors and scanners are within operating parameters.
“Tactical and security ready,” T’Parief growled, “Deflector generators are charged, phaser banks and photon torpedo launchers are operational, but not armed,”
“Operations ready,” Lt Comd Riven Valtaic stated blankly. He said nothing else, either because of his Lithenarian culture, or possibly the fact that nobody really understood what Ops did on a starship anyway.
“Helm ready,” Yanick reported, “Moorings are-“
Yanick was cut off as the ship abruptly rocked. Alarms started blaring, and on the main viewscreen there was a flicker of orange light.
“Explosion in the shipyard!” T’Parief barked. He tapped his panel and the viewscreen shifted to show the fading bloom of some sort of detonation.
“Wha-“ Stafford started, but Yanick abruptly starting hammering at her panel.
“Shipyard antigravity field is down,” Fifebee announced, speaking loudly as some umbilical or conduit that was still attached gave a metallic shriek, “We are being pulled by the local gravity field!”
“Yanick, thrusters!” Stafford ordered.
“What do you think I just finished doing?” Yanick asked, tapping one last command into the helm and sitting back, “Manoeuvring thrusters are maintaining our position.”
“No damage from the explosion,” Sylvia reported, “It appears to have targeted the shipyard anti-gravity generator,”
“And that’s why I’m awesome,” Yanick said proudly.
“Stafford to Haven Command Center,” Stafford tapped his chair panel, “This is USS Silverado. Do you require assistance?” He inwardly groaned. An investigation, that is, ANOTHER investigation, would set their departure back even further.
“Silverado, this is Starbase 341,” Captain Elizabeth Simplot’s voice came over the comm, “No, we do not require your assistance. We would rather you made NO effort to assist us. In fact, we very much prefer that you go FAR away before you crash your ship again. We’re backlogged on Shipyard One because we had to pull resources away to get-“
“Silverado out,” Stafford closed the channel, grimacing and hoping nobody watching the broadcast would bother to look into the crashed ship thing.
There was silence on the bridge for a few moments, other than the continued chirp and chatter of the automated systems. On the main viewscreen, the explosion had faded away, leaving a dark scar and a pile of wreckage that used to be an anti-gravity generator. Haven security teams were already securing the area, and one of the comms channels running in the bridge background could be heard talking about lock-downs and security sweeps.
“Well, I guess that’s our clearance to depart,” Stafford shrugged, “T’Parief, I want a security sweep of the ship, just to be sure we don’t have any unexpected guests. Lt Yanick, reverse thrusters. Ease us out,” “That’s-“ Jall started, but Stafford shot a quick punch at his leg. “Live. Broadcast.” He hissed through clenched teeth.
Slowly and much more gracefully than her ill-fated departure a week prior, Silverado eased herself back out of the shipyard. Her nacelle grills were glowing a brilliant blue as warp plasma coursed through them for the first time since the computer virus attack that had destroyed her warp core. The Bussard collectors at the front of each nacelle glowed red, the heavy magnetic coils behind them ready to direct any stray hydrogen particles into her fuel tanks. As the saucer cleared the shipyard, Valtaic tapped at his panel and the ship’s running lights snapped on, illuminating the name on the saucer along with her registry number: NCC-135060.
Yanick tapped at her panel and the ship rose from the surface of the moon, the viewscreen showing Haven’s domed city as it came into view. Then she angled the big ship back and brought up the impulse engines, pushing them away from the moon, the city and towards interplanetary space.
The irritating thing was, they didn’t have far to go.
“USS Silverado, this is USS Roadrunner,” the comm chirped, an officious British voice coming over, “You will hold your current position and prepare for tractor lock,”
“Oh, this prick again,” Stafford groaned. He leaned on one of the buttons on his armrest, “Sylvia, which button do I push to accidentally open a channel that lets that asshole hear what I’m saying, totally by accident?”
“You’re leaning on it, Christopher,” Sylvia sighed, “And I’m pretty sure you know that,”
“Do I?” Stafford grinned, “Naw. But you know, if a certain person of questionable competence were listening in, and he’s probably not, wouldn’t it be interesting pointing out that T’Parief is just DYING to try out the pulse phaser cannon again? The cannon that’s going to be aimed up that little ship’s ass the whole way to Waystation?”
“He has missed it,” Yanick remarked from the helm, “Why, when we got on board he said how much he wanted to go back to our quarters and bring the cannon out for another…oh. Wait. He might have been talking about something different.”
Stafford closed his eyes. Then he closed the channel.
“Hold position,” he said through clenched teeth, “Standby for tow to quantum slipstream velocity.”
Captain’s Log, Stardate: 59653.6
“Wow…can’t believe we’re almost in the six-hundreds already…time is flying by! Anyway, the transition to quantum slipstream drive was a lot less fatal than we’d been led to believe. On the other hand, apparently the last ship to make this run nearly started a war, so I guess we’re not out of the woods yet. But we’ve got nothing to do but stare at the back end of that little ship that’s towing us through the slipstream. Well, aside from Fifebee pouring over copies of the bot code.”
“On that note, we’ve received no new information about the construction bot ship that escaped the Matrian system on a course to Federation space. Odds are, we’ll beat them back by several weeks. Assuming they head directly for Federation space and weren’t trying to throw us off. Which…really…they could be anywhere, doing anything. But our orders are to go to Waystation, so that’s what we’re going to do.”
“And I’m going to relax and enjoy being back on ship while I do it.”
Stafford clicked off the log recorder, checked to be sure the recording had uploaded to the computer core, then tossed the recorder into the lake. It landed with a satisfying splash.
“Why’d ye do that?” Jeffery asked from a nearby seat. The two of them were on the holodeck, running Stafford’s favourite boating program. The thirty-two foot yacht was rocking gently in the waves of one of the great freshwater lakes of North America. The holographic sun was shining overhead and a gentle breeze ran across the water. Beer in hand, Stafford proceeded to stretch, then relax in his seat.
“Because why not?” Stafford said, “Because I’m back aboard MY ship. I’m living in MY quarters. I’m running MY favourite holodeck program. And I’m back in the same routine of reporting everything we do back to Starfleet, even though they probably don’t care much about what we do, now that we’re away from Matria Prime and unlikely do to do anything high-profile in the near future,”
“Aye but…now Ah’m gonna have to fix it, mate,”
They were quiet for several moments.
“Ye want to talk about it?” Jeffery asked.
“I’m fine,” Stafford said, taking a swig of his beer and grimacing, “Or I will be, once we restock at Waystation. I’m really tired of the replicated stuff. But no, really. I’m glad we’re finally out of that place. Hell, the way these slipstreams work, we’re already a week away at ordinary warp,”
“Uh-huh,” Jeffery said.
“I dunno,” Stafford went on, “Don’t you feel like…like we really accomplished something while we were in Matrian Space? I mean, we were invaded! We helped run an underground rebellion, found a centuries-old lost city and defeated the invading bad guys.”
“Aye. The Matrians talked a lot about that,” Jeffery sipped his own beer.
“Then we sat around on our collective butts and managed to…what? Start a fire in a night club, hatch Yanick’s egg, mess up some sort of corporate exploitation scam and get half our antimatter stolen by a swarm of renegade robots. Haven’t we gone sort of…downhill?”
“That reminds me,” Jeffery looked at his chrono, “Ah’m supposed to help Sage inspect the deuterium flow regulators in the main impulse drive,”
“You checked that twice before we launched!”
“Aye, but Ah’m…Ah’m not comfortable with all the work those bots did,” now it was Jeffery’s turn to look unhappy.
“You…you want to talk about it?” Stafford asked.
“Nay…it’s just…I think sometimes they reconstructed things a wee bit too carefully. Ah’m afraid some of the old bugs are gonna show up again…things that should have been sorted while we did the reconstruction,”
“Was your first clue the fact that half the decks are still the wrong colour?” Stafford asked dryly, “Because I noticed that pretty quickly,”
“Oy mate, we agreed to keep it like that!”
“No, we didn’t!”
The doors to the holo-deck opened with the usual rumble and Jall stepped in, failed to notice that the doors weren’t exactly lined up with the small ship’s deck, then fell into the lake with a loud splash.
“On that note,” Jeffery finished off his beer, “Good thing this was synthehol, Ah’ve got work to do,”
“Did somebody drop a log recorder?” Jall asked as he hauled himself onto the swim platform at the rear of the boat. He tossed the wet piece of equipment in front of him. Stafford stood up, climbed down the three steps from the lounge area to the swim platform, then kicked the recorder back into the water.
“Jall, are you bringing me more work while I’m on the boat? Because you remember the rule about the boat!”
“How should I remember, you haven’t been able to run this program in almost a year!” Jall grumbled.
Stafford climbed back up and dropped into his seat.
“What’s up?” he asked. He thought for a moment, then grudgingly offered Jall a beer from the cooler.
Jall shuddered, then asked Sylvia for a cosmo.
“It’s not 1700hrs yet!” she chided.
“It’s appropriate to the topic,” he said, tossing a padd at Stafford.
“What’s this?” Stafford frowned, “And what does it have to do with pink booze?”
“It’s the secondary duties roster,” Jall said, “In case you’ve forgotten, we have a great deal of work to do keeping this ship running, now that she’s all fixed up. And we need to get a few things sorted out.”
“Oh, no,” Stafford sank back into his chair.
“Which means that you, as the Captain of this fine ship-“
“Jall, stop, please,” Stafford pleaded.
“-are by tradition, the owner of all messing facilities on board.”
“I’m begging you!”
“Now, as your First Officer, I am the President of the Officer’s Mess, or Wardroom,” Jall was reading off another padd, “In this case, the former Unbalanced Equations,”
“While Chief Ravine is the President of the Enlisted Mess. Formerly the Roughhouse,”
“Why do you keep saying ‘former’?”
“Anyhoo, since the ship has been rebuilt, we need to hold general members meetings for both messes, you’ll have to attend of course, and we’ll re-ratify our mess constitutions, pick new names, maybe tinker with the menus. Steven and his staff will of course be there as well, but they don’t hold a vote. Thank God Guinanco never got their toes in!”
“And once THAT’s done,” Jall continued, “We can all sit down and hold a meeting on all these other secondary duties that need to be dished out.”
“Jall, that sounds like the most BORING thing we could possibly do! Why are you making us do this???”
Jall put the padd down gently.
“Because,” he said sharply, eyes boring into Stafford’s, “we have ONE BAR on this ship, maybe two if you count the one I’m not supposed to go to, and if I’m going to survive without choking the ever-loving life out of each asshole that comes whining to me with some silly problem or other, I NEED IT TO BE DECENT!”
“OK, OK, geez,” Stafford pulled another beer from the cooler, “Calm down. And maybe look into starting a program, or something.”
“Look who’s talking, Captain Beersly McDrink-Face!”
“Wowryk to Jall,”
“Jall here!” Jall barked.
“San, did you know that nobody bothered to re-plant the arboretum? It’s just a big empty room full of dirt! Now, I know your people are quite good with interior decorating AND landscaping, so landscaping an interior room should be right up your alley, right?”
Stafford could almost see the smoke coming out of Jall’s ears.
He consulted the duty padd and noticed that there was no name next to ‘Arboretum Manager’. He tapped in Wowryk’s name, then showed Jall the readout.
“The Captain just assigned that task to you, Doctor,” Jall said, “Jall out,”
He looked at Stafford for a moment.
“Chalk it up to pity,” Stafford shrugged.
“I could almost hug you right now,” Jall admitted.
“Wowryk to Stafford,”
Stafford plucked off his comm-badge and tossed it in the lake.
“You know she’ll still find us, right?” Jall said.
“Yeah,” Stafford said, “But I can relax for ten more minutes before all hell breaks loose.”
“And then she kills you,” Jall shrugged, “And I get to be Captain.”
“Yeah. Maybe she’ll kill me before we have to go through this painful mess meeting.”
“It’s two days from now. And how bad could it really be?”
Two days later…
“Unbalanced Equations is a silly name and needs to be changed! Immediately!”
“You have a better suggestion?”
“No! Just…just something different!”
“Do I have a seconder?” Jall asked tiredly.
The lounge was silent.
“Oh come on!” Lt Kennerdy objected, “Somebody else has to agree with me!”
“If nobody has a better idea for the name,” Lt Comd Stern grumbled, “Then why would they second it? They know it’s just going to lead to another hour of this crap while we try to figure out a new name!”
“If there’s no other new business,” Jall said, “Can we get somebody to move that we adjourn?”
“I motioned that we adjourn two hours ago,” Stafford complained.
“Sir, as the Commanding Officer, you don’t get to-“
“Yes, yes,” Wowryk jumped up, “I motion we adjourn. Some of us actually have work to do!”
“Then I declare this meeting of the USS Silverado Officer’s-“
“I second the motion!”
“I didn’t ask,” Jall said, “We’re adjourning.”
“No,” the unknown Ensign said, “I second the motion to rename the lounge,”
“It’s too late, you had your chance!” Stafford snapped.
“Sir,” Jall gritted his teeth, “May I remind you that-“
“You may be the President of the Mess, but it’s still my ship and I still have veto power!” Stafford grumbled, “Can we please just end this so Steven can open the bar and Wowryk and whomever else can get back to work?”
“I declare this meeting adjourned,” Jall snapped, banging his gavel.
There was a small amount of grumbling, but for the most part it seemed like everybody had had enough. Stafford picked up a drink from the bar and moved towards his old usual spot in the lounge. The lounge was looking different thanks to the renovations. The old faux-wood floor had been replaced with a darker, somehow more professional surface. The furniture had been replaced, and the overall look had shifted slightly from old-style pub to trendy restaurant. Stafford wasn’t sure who exactly had approved the change…Jall and Steven were at the top of the list of suspects. But really, there wasn’t anything he could object to overall.
“Lt Comd Virgii to Captain Stafford,” the comm chirped.
Except for that. They really should have installed comm-blockers in here.
“Stafford here,” he groaned, “What the hell do you want?”
“Sir,” the officious, British voice sounded peeved, “We are due to arrive at Waystation within four hours, and you haven’t returned the pre-slipstream exit vector checklist! I insist you do so at once, in accordance with-“
“What are you going to do if I don’t?” Stafford demanded, “Stay in slipstream until I do? We’ll be halfway to Andromeda before you figure out how to pull a U-turn in that thing!”
“This is HIGHLY unprofession-“
Stafford cut the channel.
“Ah, there you are,” Jall said, sitting down and setting his drink on one of the small tables that had been added between the rear-facing seats, “I need you to sign off on the minutes from the meeting, as soon as Fifebee has them converted to…nevermind. Just came into the padd. And the Roughhouse is being renamed Junior’s.”
“Junior’s? Are they KIDDING?” Stafford asked.
“Well, quite a few of the crew objected to calling it the Roughhouse,” Jall explained, “And Crewman Hamit didn’t like the proposal to rename it Trans-Warp.”
“Transexual species. He…wait….yes, Crewman Hamit is currently ‘he’. But changes ever month or so.”
“The Slipstream was voted down. So was Campus. So since they couldn’t agree on a new name and refused to keep the old one, it reverted to the default junior ranks name. And until they come up with something better, that’s what it is.”
“What if we’d refused to keep Unbalanced Equations?” Stafford was almost afraid to ask.
“Twelve-Aftward,” Jall grimaced.
“Yeah. So you need to approve those minutes, then the secondary duties list needs to be approved. And after THAT, well, we haven’t had a formal officer’s dinner in two years. Yanick jumped right onto planning that one, but you need to approve the menu and the wine list.”
“Jall, I don’t want to have to pull my dress whites out again!”
“Hey, we’re trying to get back into routine!” Jall reminded him, “These are things that are supposed to be routine! We need to do them!”
“Ugh. Can’t we just go back to chasing crazy robots?”
“Oh, right. Starfleet Intelligence wants your comments on the assessment on the bots construction capabilities. Jeffery added his notes, but apparently somebody cares what you think.”
Stafford tossed back the last of his drink and stood.
“Where are you going?” Jall asked.
“Back to the bridge,” Stafford grumbled, “If I’m going to work, I may as well do it AT work.”
“Oy mate,” Jeffery intercepted him before he could move towards the door, “We’ve got a problem,”
“Is this the supply thing again?” Stafford groaned.
“Aye. Ye know we need antimatter. But we’ve got a list of non-replicatable parts we need to have in stock. And a few things we replicated that will perform a LOT better if we get proper replacements. Ye know we need that to keep an edge over the bots,”
“We’ll ask at Waystation, OK?” Stafford said.
“Is Waystation going to restock our liquor supply again?” Steven joined the conversation, “I’m down to replicated stock for over two thirds of my inventory”
“Och, Ah doubt it,” Jeffery said, “We cleaned ‘em right out the last time,”
“Jeffery’s actually right about this one,” Jall said, “We’re going to need to play very nicely with the Waystation officers, get our supplies sorted, then find out what our next mission is.”
“At least this time there shouldn’t be any more politics,” Jeffery said.
“Yeah. If our getting resupplied depends on Wowryk cozying up to President Dillon again…” Jall trailed off.
“Look, just do what you have to do to get supplied, OK?” “I’ll ask,” Stafford barked, storming towards the door.
“What’s his problem?” Steven asked.
“No clue,” Jall shrugged.
“Reversion from slipstream in two minutes,” Yanick reported.
“Goody,” Stafford said, staring at the aft end of the tiny USS Roadrunner on the main screen, “Are we all going to die?”
“You might,” Wowryk said, picking at the dirt under her fingernails, “Honestly, I had no idea gardening was such dirty work!”
“It is literally working with dirt,” Fifebee said, turning to Wowryk, “How could you not know?”
“It just wasn’t something I was ever into!” Wowryk replied.
“But I bet you had fun,” Jall said, “And now we’re going to have an arboretum again soon, right?”
“Perhaps,” Wowryk said thoughtfully, “The holy water I used to water the seeds will either bless and speed their growth…or incinerate them in hellfire. I’m not sure how to judge whether a seed has been good or evil.
“Many plants are dual-gendered, in some cases they pollinate themselves,” Fifebee said, “What does your Bible say on self-impregnation?”
“Nothing, it’s impossible for humans,” Wowryk frowned, “But I’m pretty sure if it was, it would be sinful,”
“You know,” Jall said, “As the Arboretum Manager, you’re just supposed to approve whatever the botanical staff wants to do. You don’t actually have to get your…hands…dirty…”
If Wowryk could have glared at Jall any harder, he may have literally caught fire.
“So…slipstream exit? Horrible death or not?” Stafford asked again.
“Sir,” Fifebee looked unimpressed, “There have been very few deaths related to slipstream use. We are not special enough to be the exception.”
“Not sure if we’ve been insulted or not,” Jall quipped.
“You are all idiots of the highest caliber,” Virgii’s voice came over the comm.
“What…when did we open a channel to him?” Stafford asked.
“Three days ago,” Virgii replied, “When you ‘accidently’ left it open to mock me. Then you accidently, really left it open. We’ve been listening to your inane chatter the entire trip,”
“Your night shift should be VERY ashamed of themselves,” a voice in the background spoke up.
“Yes,” Virgii’s voice came back, “Do tell your Lt Pye that it is improper to refer to smaller persons as ‘midgets’. And that intercourse with three persons of normal stature and one smaller person does not count as ‘three and a half partners’.”
“The harassment suit is already being filed,” the background voice chimed in.
“Reversion to normal space in ten seconds,” Virgii said, “Cherrio, and we hope you have enjoyed your slipstream experience,”
The channel clicked off.
There was silence on the bridge. After a few seconds there was a weird sort of twitch that ran through everybody, almost a twisting sensation in their nerve endings. The swirling blue-and-black tunnel on the screen disappeared into a normal starfield, with Waystaion just visible to one side. The tractor beams from the Roadrunner shut down and the small ship moved into a docking trajectory.
“Well…fuck,” Stafford said finally.
“I’m just going to go through the comm logs and see how much trouble we could be in,” Jall said.
“Waystation is hailing us,” T’Parief grumbled.
“On screen,” Stafford sighed.
“Wait,” Yanick said, “You’re going to answer Captain Beck looking like that?”
“Slouched in your chair, uniform needs fixing. Looking cranky. I thought you liked her?”
“Trish, I’m not going to try AGAIN to impress that woman. She’s clearly not interested!”
“OK, fine then,”
“Put her on screen,” Stafford said. T’Parief tapped a button.
“Welcome back to Federation Space,” Captain Lisa Beck said cheerfully, a broad grin on her face, “Arm Three is all ready for you. And your supplies are waiting!”
“I…wha??” Stafford gaped. Jall kicked him out of range of the bridge camera, then stood.
“Thanks, Captain Beck!” Jall said, “We’ll dock immediately. Silverado out.”
“Looking forward to it,” Beck gave a nod, then the image cut out.
“What. The. Hell?” Stafford asked.
“Yeah, something’s definitely fishy,” Jall said, “We haven’t even requested supplies yet, how could they-“
“I looked terrible!” Stafford was running his fingers through his hair and straightening his uniform, “God, what was I thinking? Yanick, bring us in to Docking Arm Three, and be quick about it!”
“But-“ Yanick started to object.
“Did you see the way she was smiling at me? Just dock already! I’ll be at the portside airlock!” Stafford rushed to the turbolift. Just before the doors closed, he ducked his head back out, “So don’t do something stupid like docking us with the starboard airlock!”
The doors hissed shut.
“I’m not that blond,” Yanick muttered.
“We’re on a trajectory to-“
“I know!” Yanick quickly corrected their course. “Shouldn’t you be down there watching him get brutally rejected by Captain Beck again?”
“They want something.” Jall said flatly.
“Then shouldn’t you be down there making sure we get what we want, too?”
Jall thought about this.
“Yup,” he patted Yanick on the shoulder, “God knows he’ll just roll over and take whatever Beck wants to give him. Oh…that’s some unpleasant imagery.”
He turned to the turbolift.
By the time Jall reached the portside airlock, the ship had already docked. Bioscans had already been run and the various safety and bio-containment checks had been completed. On top of that, Stafford must have been running full out to get down the length of the docking arm and into the station itself. The arrivals lounge was empty, but a discreet cargo door off to one side was open. The cargo area beyond it had stacks of tall, narrow crates…the sort designed to easily fit down starship corridors.
“-certainly been a long mission, for a starship crew,” Beck was saying pleasantly, “Starbase crews expect to be dealing with the same people in the same location for years on end…can’t say I know of many ships that end up in that situation,”
“Most crews don’t lose their warp cores and let the planet get invaded, either,” Commander Walter Morales said under his breath as Jall rushed into the room.
“It was a one-of-a-kind mission,” Stafford said pleasantly, “I’m glad we came back in one piece,”
“After your ship was totally rebuilt,” Morales added. Beck jabbed an elbow at him.
“Anyway, we’ve put together the cargo you’ll need,” Beck said, “If you’ll just give your authorization here,”
“Wait,” Jall interrupted just as Stafford was reaching for the padd, “We didn’t request any supplies!”
“Actually, you did,” Beck said. She shifted her weight. “Sort of.”
“Sort of?” Jall asked.
“San…” Stafford growled.
“Starfleet turned down a bunch of your requests during the reconstruction,” Morales explained, “Trivial items they didn’t want to ship as far as Matria Prime, a few classified items not worth the risk…a bunch of parts that can be replicated in the short term, but will need to be replaced with the real thing before too long. Fuel, of course. And since we’re your first port of call, guess who got ordered to supply you with it all?”
“See, Jall?” Stafford said, “Nothing suspicious about it at all.
“Uh-huh,” Jall didn’t look convinced, “But you’re still going to read through the list, right?”
“Maybe over…dinner?” Beck suggested.
“Great. We have this wonderful Andorian place in the Starfleet Square Mall…”
As she led Stafford out of the arrivals lounge, Jall turned to Morales.
“That was well done,” Jall said, “The whole Good Cop, Bad Cop routine. Having the plausible explanation ready to go. And Beck has him wrapped right around her little finger. So come on. Just between us guys, what’s the catch?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Morales said coolly, “Waystation is a Federation outpost, staffed by competent, professional Starfleet officers. You guys did good work in Matrian Space, resupplying you on your way through is routine.”
“Really?” Jall leaned in close, “Is it routine for every ship to be met by the Station Commander and First Officer? And is it routine that Captain Beck is taking Stafford to dinner? You and I both know she’s not interested in him.”
“Well…maybe she changed her mind…” Morales said.
Jall looked at him for a moment.
“You know…I don’t think you’re very eager to talk about Beck’s romantic interests. In fact, I’m getting the feeling that you want to talk about ANYTHING but that. So why don’t you tell me what the deal is? Then we can go and cut their little date short and get to the point.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Morales said angrily, turning and walking towards the exit. He tapped a control as he passed and the cargo door slammed shut, “Starfleet ordered us to give you supplies, we have supplies for you. And as soon as your Captain accepts the shipment, you can have them. “
And with that he left.
Jall thought for a moment.
“Jall to Jeffery. Meet me in Engineering in…wait, no. That pub in Waystation’s mall…the one with the great beer and the view of the Andorian Restaurant’s entrance? Meet me there. And bring your shipyard notes.”
“Whot are we doin’ here?” Jeffery demanded, still out of breath. He’d been halfway down the docking arm when Jall had rushed back, dragged him to the transporter room and had Pysternzyks beam them directly to the pub.
“You are drinking a beer and acting natural,” Jall said, shoving a pint into his hands, “I am going through these shipyard logs of yours and comparing them to Waystation’s cargo manifest,”
“Why am Ah here if yer just lookin’ at paperwork?” Jeffery asked. He looked at his beer for a moment, then took a sip. “Actually, nevermind. If it’s free lager, I’m not complaining.”
“Pay for your own beer,” Jall said, “You’re here to keep an eye on Stafford and Beck while I go through this,”
“Why don’t ye just get Sylvia to do it?”
Jall stared at him blankly for a moment.
“Because Sylvia’s…busy.” he said.
“Ye just didn’t think to ask. Ye figured ye could do it yerself. Never mind that she’d have it done in less than a millisecond.”
“She has a brain the size of a small building,” Jall turned back to the padds, “And she has better things to do than compare two lists.”
“So do we!”
“What are they doing?” Jall asked.
“Stafford and Beck! What are they doing?”
“Oh.” Jeffery watched for a moment. “They’re just talking.
“Oy, who knows? It’s Chris…he’s terrible at talking to women. He’s probably tryin’ to tell her about Matrian Hockey or something.”
“The water has chunks. Why does the water have chunks?” Stafford asked.
“It’s Andorian,” Beck said, “Try it. You’ll like it.”
Stafford took a careful sip. Suddenly, Matrian cuisine didn’t seem all that bad.
“It’s interesting,” he said carefully. He looked at the menu.
“Uh…do they have anything other than organ meat?”
“Sure, it’s on the next page. Next to the venom cakes,”
“Maybe I’ll stick with the…I dunno…I can’t pronounce this one…but steak and kidney pie is a thing on Earth, right?”
“Yeah, that’s pretty good. But if you’re new to Andorian food, I’d suggest the spleen pie. It’s a lot milder.”
There was silence for a moment.
“So,” Beck said, “Tell me about the Matrian mission,”
“Where do you want to start?” Stafford chuckled.
“I actually want you to start back at your first mission to Matrian Space,” Beck said, glancing over to the side before meeting his gaze, “When we first met.”
“Oh geez,” Stafford leaned back, “I can’t believe how much things have changed. The Matrian Empire was enslaving their neighbors; and they kept trying to kidnap Dr. Wowryk. Well, we thought they were. They were actually trying to kidnap Jeffery. We knew we were going into hostile territory. And the ship…well, you took command of Silverado when I was knocked out during that pirate attack. You know there were…issues.”
“You were still having issues the last time you passed through here,” Beck muttered into her glass.
And with that, Stafford hit the brick wall of reality. He was sitting in a fancy restaurant with Captain Lisa Beck, of all people. A beautiful and successful woman, commander of an important outpost and a woman who had made it clear that she wasn’t interested in attempting any sort of romantic engagement with him.
“Anyway, things had changed a lot by the time we came back the second time,” he said.
“It’s actually really interesting that you were sent back,” Beck commented, taking a sip of her drink, “Follow-up work like that is fairly rare.”
OK, well maybe things had changed. Maybe she was single again. Maybe the mission to Matria had impressed her.
“Stafford doesn’t look happy,” Yanick reported, “I think he’s starting to figure out that maybe she wants something. I mean, something that’s not him.”
“Do I,” Lt Comd Valtaic asked, “need to point out yet again how ridiculous-“
“What part are you about to criticize?” a new voice broke in, “Our asinine mating rituals, our drive to find silly reasons to keep secrets from each other, or the way some of us like sticking our noses in where they aren’t invited?”
“Well, I hadn’t thought of the third item until you arrive,” Valtaic told the bearded officer as he arrived at their table, uninvited, “But certainly the first two. And the third, now that you’re here,”
“Hi, Craig,” Yanick said politely, “How are you?”
“Darn,” Porter snapped his fingers.
“They both come from Patricia!” Yanick giggled.
“Hey, it’s my lack of social skills and I will take it.”
Valtaic looked at them expectantly.
“It’s not our first visit to Waystation,” Yanick explained, “And…I mean, we’re not BFF’s or anything, but we did fight off Klingon pirates together.”
“Plus that time Captain Beck was kidnapped,” Lt Comd Craig Porter pointed out.
“Yeah. T’Parief has a Waystation holodeck program he uses now when he wants to train on heavy starship weapons systems.”
“Plus the time Porter and I were BOTH kidnapped and tortured by K’Eleese,” Jall added, his eyes still glued to the padds in front of him, “At the Ops Conference. On Nisus.”
“Oh yeah,” Yanick giggled, “I forgot about that,’
“Wish I could too,” Porter’s smile was becoming strained.
“Have a pint, mate,” Jeffery said amiable, “Anybody who’s been tortured with Jall…” he trailed off into an awkward silece.
“Knows what we go through on a daily basis,” Yanick finished.
“Well, you know, it was a very educational experience,” Porter said, recovering quickly, “You know how it is…people say ‘Oh, how can you be against torture? How do you know it’s really so bad?’ But hey, now I can tell them: ‘Been there, done that.’ “
“That’s…kinda dark,” Jeffery said.
“I like dark,” Porter said, “If you turn the lights on, everybody knows you’re home. Then there’s no escaping the salesman,”
“Did you want to join us for a bit?” she asked.
“Thanks,” Porter sat, and the waiter came by to take his order. He wasn’t about to tell the Silverado crew that he and Lt Comd Russel and Ensign Jones had drawn straws to see who would come down and have this little chat. They, like Yanick, had also apparently forgotten their little piece of shared history. Probably for the better.
“So-“ he started, but was immediately cut off.
“Yeah, Stafford definitely knows she doesn’t want to date him,” Jeffery said, peering at the Andorian restaurant, “That’s the same look he had on his face when that Bajoran woman at the Academy told him to take a hike. And the human girl from Terra Nova. And the one stationed on Starbase 45. And-“
“Then why is he still there talking to her?” Jall asked, “Jeffery, the Captain couldn’t read a woman if she was printed in hardcover.”
“Look, the reason I’m here,” Porter said, “Is because-“
“AH-HAH!” Jall pumped his arms in victory, “I FOUND IT!”
“That’s what he…um…no. Sorry, I’ve got nothing,” Yanick shrugged.
“These Waystation people are trying to pull a fast one on us!” Jall said, grabbing the padds, downing his drink and thumbing the payment panel near the end of the table, “No wonder that Morales guy wouldn’t play straight with me!”
“You couldn’t play straight if…hmmm.” Yanick frowned. “Nope. Lost that one too. Gee, what is wrong with me today?”
“Morales just-“ Porter started.
“Come on,” Jall grabbed Jeffery’s arm. The engineer barely managed to finish his drink, “We have to go investigate this thing!”
“If you’ll just take a seat-“ Porter tried again.
But Jall and Jeffery were gone in a flash. Looking curious, Valtaic followed after them.
“I was about to explain everything to them,” Porter said, looking a bit stunned.
“Yeah, you were about to spoil their fun,” Yanick said.
“We just got back from a planetary invasion,” Yanick shrugged, “Then that weird corporate thingy on Kallar IV. Oh,and crazy robots stealing antimatter and nearly blowing up the moon we were on. Whatever’s going on here…whatever you guys are up to…really, it can’t be dangerous, can it?”
“Ah…well…technically not…” Porter shrugged, “But then, how do you define dangerous? Some people think fluffy little squirrel things are deadly. And I’m one of them.”
“Wha?” now it was Yanick’s turn to be confused.
“Nevermind. If you don’t know, you’re probably be happier.
“Right. Well, I’m sure whatever Chris and Captain Beck are talking about, nobody’s going to get killed,” Yanick went on, “And Jall’s having fun chasing conspiracies. And really…it’s nice to be back in Federation space again.”
“Oh,” Porter blinked, “Well…do you want to know what the real story is?”
“Nope,” Yanick looked at her chrono, “I have to go pick my daughter up from daycare.”
“Congratulations,” Porter’s head was almost spinning, “I didn’t realize things between you and your…partner…were that serious.”
“Well, sometimes life has a way of surprising you,” Yanick stood to go, “Unexpectedly swelling up, laying an egg, then hatching it in the middle of a dance club is a big one. Cheers!”
Porter took a sip of his drink. OK. Well. If the Silverado crew wanted to find out the hard way, who was he to stop them?
“Maybe Beck and Stafford will end up in the Mishtak pit,” he mused.
Stafford was trying to be annoyed. He really was. Beck had been polite and charming, other than a couple of minor side comments. She was as lovely as he remembered…the red hair, the firm but pleasant no-nonsense attitude…the way her uniform followed a few of her more obvious curves.
But it was also clear that whatever reason she’d brought him down here, it wasn’t romantic interest. The vibe just wasn’t there. And she kept looking off to the side. What was she looking at? Should he look? Would it be obvious if he did? And whatever it was, she’d brought him here anyway. But apparently not for a date.
So why were they having dinner?
He forced a chuckle, then answered a question Beck had asked about the Kallar IV incident. The unmanned fleet that they’d stumbled over in their four tiny runabouts had certainly been a surprise. And there weren’t so many abandoned fleets out there that every Starfleet captain had stumbled over one. But there had been several. And coming across abandoned alien technology was par for the course.
What would Wowryk or Yanick say, Stafford wondered to himself?
“Stop looking at her breasts,” he could hear Wowryk’s voice in his head, clear as if she’d been standing right there, “She’s not stupid. She knows you’re doing it. It’s both sinful and unprofessional.”
OK. Yup. She was right about that, Stafford realized, forcing himself to meet Beck’s gorgeous eyes. And yes, there was a hint of irritation in her face. She had, in fact, noticed where his gaze had gone. But in terms of his larger problem, it wasn’t very helpful.
“It’s not like you two never got along,” Yanick’s voice spoke in his head, “She took command of your ship when you were knocked out. You took command of her station when she was kidnapped.”
“You’re looking at her breasts again. Eyes up!” Wowryk’s voice snapped.
“But how on Earth did you manage having your doctor as a celebrity?” Beck asked, “They may be a member world now, but-“
“Dr. Wowryk is nothing if not professional,” Stafford said, both to Beck and to the voices in his head, “I didn’t have to manage it…she managed it fairly well.” He frowned. Better to leave out the Nashawa kidnapping. Or that whole episode with Mr. Mann and the water-gun fight.
“…I mean, it’s not like you HAVE to pay attention to me, I’m just a voice in your head. I’m not going anywhere…”
Huh. Apparently Imaginary Yanick liked to ramble on as much as the real one.
“Oh, you’re listening. Where was I? Right. You guys actually have more in common than you think. And one of the things you admire about her…probably because it reminds you of you, you narcissist, is that she usually up-front and to the point. So why don’t you just ASK her what the hell the deal is!”
“I know, the spleen isn’t the freshest,” Beck said, catching the look on his face, “It usually has a very pleasant, almost a…peaty taste to it.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“I think she’s got a point,” Wowryk’s voice said, “You’re both clearly uncomfortable right now. Just get it over with.
“It can’t be that bad,” Beck snagged a small bit of his pie and popped it in her mouth. “Oh,” she spit it out immediately, “Oh shoot. That spleen’s gone bad. I’m sorry, I should have checked before I let you eat half of it.”
She started to rise, but one of the waiters caught the look on her face and rushed over.
“Whatever you do,” Beck hissed, “Don’t challenge him to Mishtak!”
“Is there a problem?” the waiter asked.
“Bad spleen,” Beck said.
Stafford could have sworn the waiter paled.
“I will summon Ih’mad at once!” he said, rushing away.
“Is Ih’mad the owner, or some Andorian cooking deity?” he tried to joke. Was that a twinge in his stomach?
“The owner,” Beck said, “Are you OK? Cramps? Nausea? Explosive bloating?”
“Oh good. Then we still have time to beam out your stomach contents.”
Staffor grimaced, hoping she was joking. He noticed that she was looking off to the side again. With Yanick’s words ringing in his head, he turned to see two Waystation officers, Beck’s subordinates, at the table right next to them. They were just in the process of settling up their bill.
“You didn’t ask me here to talk about the Matrian mission,” he said flatly as the waiter replaced his dish and apologized profusely. Stafford gently waved away the ceremonial blade…geez, he knew Andorians took cooking seriously, but he wasn’t about to gut the water over spoiled food! Speaking of which…great, now he had to start eating spleen all over again, “There’s something else, isn’t there?” He was very careful to keep his expression neutral. Whatever she wanted, it wasn’t romantic. And he knew enough about women to know that his words could be taken in ways he didn’t intend. Ways that wouldn’t actually get him answers.
“No,” she said. She looked back over at her officers again, then paused as if collecting her thoughts. “I wanted to talk to you about…after …the Matrian mission,”
“The mission just ended,” he said, “Well, OK. It ended months ago, technically. We’ve been ‘advising’ since the Qu’Eh were defeated. But we’ve only been back on ship for a few days!”
“And?” Beck was staring at her plate, “What was it like, leaving Matrian Space after being there for a year? Moving on to bigger and better things? Or moving back into the old exploration routine?”
Stafford frowned. He thought back to those dull days of being towed through the slipstream, getting back into some of the more mind-numbing routines of starship life. The mess meeting, secondary duties. The paperwork…well, OK the paperwork had been with him all though the Matrian mission. But why on Earth was Beck asking him about that stuff? She had to deal with all of it and more aboard Waystation. She had to deal with a constant flow of new visitors, new problems, new threats, new opportunities…but she also had to deal with the Multek Enclave, the Waystation civilian population, her own Wardroom committee.
His confusion must have shown, because when he turned his attention back to Beck, she was meeting his gaze. And something in the back of his mind told him that she’d noticed that his eyes had finally stopped dipping down to her chest.
“I’m…” Beck hesitated. She waited as the two officers finally finished up and left, then leaned closer to Stafford and dropped her voice. “Have you seen the Captain’s merit board results for this year?”
The merit boards? Those were annual reviews of Starfleet personnel of various rank levels. Performance reviews went up, were tabulated, compared with other statistics, and the highest rated and eligible candidates were evaluated at a board that would determine who, if anyone, was to be promoted.
“No, I didn’t bother to check it,” Stafford said carefully, “I’m not even eligible for promotion yet.”
“I made the merit list,” Beck said. She tried to sound casual, but the words dropped like a bombshell over the table, “Upper third,”
That meant that Captain Beck had a very good chance of becoming Admiral Beck, and very soon. But why would she be telling him? To show off? Stafford disregarded the idea as soon as it surfaced. Beck wasn’t the type. So why would she ask him to dinner, ask him numerous questions about being stuck in Matrian Space, then let slip that she was about to be promoted?
Promoted…and very possibly transferred. Possibly leaving Waystation. Leaving the Multek Enclave.
Stafford’s mind did a little flip as he completely re-evaluated his entire relationship with Beck. He’d always liked her…she was beautiful, confident, talented, and considering they were both command officers, they had a fair bit in common. But after the incident with Yanick being stuck in his body, his disastrous attempt to explain that incident to Beck, Beck being kidnapped…he’d been so distracted with the other things, that he’d forgotten that first and foremost, they were colleagues. She didn’t have any other Captains on the station she could have this sort of frank discussion with. Maybe with some of her closer subordinates…but then again, maybe not. And even if she could talk to them, or to one of the other Captains that came through the station regularly…how many of them had shared her experience of dealing with the same race, the same region of space for months or years at a time? OK, he’d had a year in Matrian space…but that was still fifty-five weeks more than most starship Captains had with a planet.
“There is no catch or scheme with our cargo, is there?” he asked, “You asked me to dinner for…a career chat? Advice?”
“Advice? From a junior Captain who’s crashed his ship twice, lost his warp core and was stranded in a time-travelling museum?” Beck rolled her eyes, “Not exactly. But I wanted to get your…perspective. Oh. And there IS a catch with your cargo, but I don’t think it’s likely to be a problem. Morales and Porter are really hoping you’ll take a certain item off our hands, but they’re worried that if you notice it on the manifest, you’ll leave it with us instead,”
“What is it?” Stafford asked.
She told him.
“Oh. Well. Can’t say I’m overly happy, but OK. Yeah, Jall can deal with that.”
“Look, I’m sorry if it looked like I was trying to play some sort of romantic angle,” Beck said as the waiter brought out their desserts, “My crew…they don’t know the about maybe-promotion yet. I’ve talked to a few people. My old Captain from the Secondprize…a couple of Academy friends. But they were all starship Captains…they’d never had a station command, never really had the experience of working long-term with a particular race. I wanted to get your viewpoint, and batting my eyelashes over this cargo thing was the best way to get us away from everyone without making it seem odd. I was going to come clean as soon as we got to the restaurant, but I didn’t expect Lt Potts or Ensign Mullis to be at the next table. And really, you and I haven’t exactly spent much time together as colleagues.”
“No, I guess not,” Stafford gave a look of disgust.
“You look angry,” Beck asked after a moment, “I guess I understand. I wasn’t exactly forthcoming.”
“What? NO! Sorry! It’s just…whatever this cake is, it’s got…meat in it,” Stafford laughed. He realized that no, he wasn’t angry. If anything, he was angry at himself. He’d passed through Waystation so many times, he’d been so caught up in thinking about Beck as a woman that he hadn’t thought to approach her as a colleague, or a potential friend. Twenty-Fourth century, and he was still behaving like a misogynistic Neanderthal.
“If you don’t want it, I’ll eat it,” Beck said, seeming to relax a bit.
“Go for it,” Stafford pushed the plate towards her.
“Thanks.” She ate a couple of bites. “I can’t imagine turning down the promotion,” she said after a few moments, “It’s something I’ve wanted for a long time. So I’m not asking about that. I just…I wanted to talk. I’ve worked with these people for so long. My crew…the Multeks…the people on the station. We know we can be transferred any time…it’s the nature of the service. And it happened after the Academy…after training. It happened when I left the Secondprize. You leave the people you’ve come to respect and care for behind, you meet new ones. And life goes on. But…”
Stafford thought back to a moment several months ago. He’d been standing in the lounge of Haven Shipyard 3, Silverado a crippled derelict. His finger had been hovering over the ‘Approve’ button. Pressing that button would start the reconstruction of his ship. In that one moment, he and his crew had had to decide whether to stay together for another year or two…or go their separate ways then and there.
“Yeah,” he said, “I know exactly what you mean.”
“You must be almost due for a transfer, at least,” Beck said, “You’ve done your starship command stint…could you be up for a station command next?”
“Probably not,” Stafford shrugged, “Starbase 341 was open while I was out there…but they offered it to Wowryk instead. And we could have gone our own ways after the ship was wrecked. But for whatever reason, we decided to go for one more lap. And I don’t know how I feel about station command. A year of Matria Prime was enough.”
“I surprised I’m up for promotion without having a starship command,” Beck admitted, “They usually want you to have both,”
“Guess you’re just that good,” Stafford joked, gesturing with his empty glass.
“Would you like to get a drink?” Beck asked, with a laugh, “Continue the conversation? There’s a place on the other side of the mall that has an amazing wine list. Or if beer’s more your thing, they’ve got an old fashioned micro-brewery in the back,”
“I’d like that,” Stafford said, “But why didn’t we go there to start with?”
“Because,” Beck gestured across the way to where Porter was strolling out of the pub, “It’s taken this long for both our crews to get sufficiently bored of us to move on to other things,”
Yup, Stafford realized, he and Beck had far more in common than he’d realized.
Jall was rushing through the corridors of Waystation’s lower saucer, padd gripped like a weapon.
“This is the wrong deck, mate,” Jeffery said, “The cargo storage is over by our docking arm,”
“We’re not going to cargo storage,” Jall said, “I already know what’s there!”
“What is there?” Valtaic asked.
“A ‘dual-phasic quantum probability modulator’, according to this cargo manifest,” Jall said, looking at the number on the nearest cabin door and moving on, “Shipped to Waystation from Mouvit IV.”
“I have never heard of that piece of equipment, or that planet,” Valtaic admitted.
“Ah haven’t heard of the gadget either,” Jeffery said, “Pretty sure we didn’t ask for it. But Mouvit IV…that sounds really familiar…”
“It should,” Jall glanced at another door, “There’s a major Federation Propulsion Laboratory there. And we’ve been there. Three years ago.”
“The ship was nearly destroyed,” Jall said. He checked the number on the next door, then pressed his thumb down on the buzzer.”
“Wait…” Jeffery’s eyes widened.
The doors hissed open, and a short, smiling Asian woman greeted them.
“Dr. Cadela,” Jall said flatly, “What a pleasure to see you.”
“Commander Jall,” the woman’s smile widened, “Congratulations on your promotion! I’m very pleased to see you…does this mean the Waystation crew was successful in transferring my experiment to your ship?
“That’s whot those blighters were up to!” Jeffery exclaimed, “I remember you! You and your ‘Probability Drive’! Yer a bloody menace, woman!”
Cadela’s smile wavered.
“Yes…well,” she clasped her hands in front of her, “The Probability Drive never became a reality. But we did learn some very interesting things from that experiment. And Starfleet has a new experiment for me to perform. Waystation had been selected; we were to use the USS Wayward. But when I learned that you were passing through…well, your ship AI is FAR more sophisticated than the system I had put together…you’re far better suited for this!”
“We’ll see about that!” Jall said, reaching for his comm-badge.
“I’m serious,” Stafford said, savouring a sip of the dark oatmeal stout he’d been served. Then he took a quick look around and lowered his voice, “I don’t know who they are. But they dangled a Vimy-class starship in front of me. All I had to do was send Sylvia off to the Daystrom Institute to be…electronically dissected. Or whatever it is they do there.”
“Did you report it?” Beck asked.
“God no!” Stafford said, “Look, we were caught up in the politics of the whole election thing…the Fleet Admiral wouldn’t send the ships Matria Prime needed. My old First Officer…I don’t know the story. But he made some sort of arrangement to go around her and have the USS Medusa sent out. And for some reason, getting Sylvia to agree to go to the Daystrom Institute was part of the payback.”
Now it was Beck’s turn to glance nervously round.
“Why tell me this?” she asked.
“Because,” Stafford said, “If you ARE about to join the Admiralty…I just…I have the impression that you’re going to be playing some bigger games than most of us realize. And maybe more dangerous.”
“Good to know,” Beck said.
“Jall to Stafford,” Stafford’s badge chirped.
“Do you KNOW what these Waystation people are planning!? They’re trying to push that crazy Probability Drive scientist on us, so we die horribly instead of them!”
“I know,” Stafford said, “Jall, it’s fine. Captain Beck told me about the experiment, we’re better suited for it anyway,”
There was silence for a moment.
“Did she seduce you already?? There’s no other way she could have convinced you to…do I hear a woman laughing? CAN SHE HEAR ME!!??”
Beck was indeed laughing.
“Jall, just drop it,” Stafford said, “I’m approving the cargo transfer list.”
“And you KNOW she didn’t seduce me, we all know she’d never,” Stafford stopped, Beck was shaking her head. Right. They had a role to play.
“Uh…I mean…Look, she’s in the washroom right now. And I’m sure that if I take care of this problem for her, my chances will be a lot better!”
“Don’t be an idiot-“
“Stafford out!” he closed the channel.
“Did I have to do that?” he asked Beck, “We know there’s zero chance of us sleeping together. My crew knows it. Your crew knows it.”
“You’re right,” Beck sighed, “I don’t know why I’m keeping this a secret from them. The whole thing seems so childish, now that I think about it.”
“Maybe,” Stafford shrugged, “But on the other hand, this is a REALLY good stout…next rounds on me, if you tell me what happened with those aliens that kidnapped you? My Security Chief wouldn’t stop talking about how amazing your station phaser banks were for weeks after that incident.”
“Well,” Beck signalled the waiter, “As it turned out…”
Stafford leaned back and listened as Beck told her story. OK, so he didn’t get a date out of the deal. And he wasn’t getting laid. And now his ship was going to have to take part in some sort of experiment. But Waystation had been one of their regular ports of call over the past several years…and he’d come to realize what a big mistake he’d made in not trying harder to build a professional relationship with the Waystation crew. They actually seemed like a pretty good bunch, especially compared to the yahoos running Starbase 341. And with Beck likely being promoted soon…this was probably his last chance to talk to her as a colleague and fellow captain. Next time…she might be his boss.
Yeah, he decided, this whole thing was definitely a big win after all.
####The next day…
“Starbase Waystation, this is USS Silverado, requesting permission to depart,” Jall said, his tone annoyed as he leaned on the comm button.
The screen flickered, and Captain Beck appeared on the screen, her Ops staff visible behind her.
“USS Silverado, you are cleared to depart,” she said pleasantly, “Good luck, and safe travels,”
“You as well,” Stafford said, giving her a small wave.
The screen went blank.
“Clear moorings,” Stafford ordered, “Set course to 329 mark eight. One quarter impulse, bring us to Warp 5 once we’ve cleared the station.
“Aye sir,” Yanick said from the helm, “And may I say, what the hell?”
“Yeah,” Jall said, turning to look angrily at him, “What the hell?”
“What?” Stafford asked innocently.
“You didn’t get laid,” Yanick said, “I can tell. So what’s with the dangerous mission? And why is Captain Beck suddenly being so nice to you?”
Stafford realized most of his officers were staring at him expectantly. OK, well…he wasn’t going to tell any secrets. And he and Beck had agreed the whole subterfuge thing had been childish, anyway.
“Look, Captain Beck and I went for dinner and we had a professional conversation,” he said, “She had some questions about the Matrian mission, then we talked about this thing with Dr Cadela-“
“Who is now setting up her insane experiment in Science Lab Two!” Sylvia said angrily.
“And we came to an understanding, OK?” Stafford shrugged, “Turns out we had a lot to talk about. We were swapping stories until midnight,”
“You…had dinner, then swapped stories?” Yanick sounded skeptical, “That’s it?”
“Fine,” Jall said, “If you don’t want to tell us what really happened, don’t. I don’t know what she did…maybe it’s better than I don’t. But if we all die horribly tomorrow, I’m totally blaming her!”
“You do that,” Stafford chuckled.
“We’ve cleared the station,” Yanick reported.
Stafford looked at the screen, at the empty starfield in front of them. He could feel the warp core thrumming deep below decks, the ship ready to stretch her legs for the first time in months. He thought about Beck, and the changes she was about to face.
Maybe one day his turn would come. Either promotion…or more likely a transfer. But for the moment, this was HIS ship again. Boring meetings and all.
And it was time to get back to work.