Author: Brendan Chris
Stafford wasn’t sure when it had happened. It was hard to predict…sometimes it took months, sometimes years. It crept up on him, unnoticed and oddly unexpected. But when it was missing, he sure noticed it.
After the time spent sleeping on a cot in Haven while the city was underground, after the months in various apartments in Matronus and Haven and after several weeks on a cramped bunk in the back of a runabout, Stafford couldn’t believe just how GOOD it was to be sleeping in his own bed again. Deck 2 was far from both the warp core and impulse engines, so the vibrations of the fusion and antimatter reactions were barely audible…even less so after the rebuild. Although he was above-average height, he didn’t really have room for anything bigger than the standard bed. But at least there was nothing that prevented his feet from hanging off the end, unlike the runabout where he had to either fold his knees up or somehow angle himself to mostly fit. The end result was that in even the brief time he’d been back aboard Silverado, he felt like he’d caught up on sleep right back to before the Qu’Eh invasion. At some point prior to the incident in Matrian Space, his quarters had become home. His safe space.
Which was why he was double surprised when the bed bucked beneath him, tossing him to the carpeted deck as the entire ship shook.
“Red alert! All hands to battle-stations, Captain Stafford to the bridge!”
Jeffery wasn’t sleeping well at all. He kept shifting, grumbling unhappily as his tired, abused body tried to get comfortable. The sounds of people talking, occasionally laughing, along with the strong THRUM of the warp core didn’t help. But really, the biggest issue was that he’d fallen asleep at his desk…again. If he’d had the brains to realize when he was done for the day and had actually ridden the turbolift up to his quarters, he’d probably be doing a lot better.
“Simon,” a voice called out gently. Jeffery replied by drooling on the oversized padd displaying ship schematics, “Simon, you should probably wake up now,”
“Uuuggghhhh,” Jeffery grunted, straining to open his eyes and figure out just what torturous hell-demon was tormenting him. Slowly, he realized Sylvia’s face was staring out at him from his computer display.
“Whot time is it?” he groaned.
“0355 hours, ship time,” Sylvia said, “But Simon-“
“Och! We’re supposed to start that stupid test in less than five hours!” he picked up the big padd, stared at it for a moment, then flipped it right-side-up.
“Wait, nay,” he said, flipping it back again. He frowned, then flipped it a third time. “Is the port SIF generator pair on Deck 14 outboard or inboard of the IDF generator pair?”
Sylvia’s eyes glanced at the padd, which immediately went dark.
“We have a ship on an intercept course,” Sylvia said, “I thought you might want to know about that, considering you’ve passed out in the most casualty- prone section of the ship,”
“Are we under attack?” Jeffery shot up in his seat.
“No,” Sylvia said. He relaxed. “Not yet, anyway. But I’m fairly certain that they plan to hail us, make some unreasonable demand, then open fire,”
“Why do ye…do they outgun us?”
“I don’t think so,”
“Then why would they attack???”
“Simon, I’m learning a lot of interesting things about organic behaviour,” Sylvia said thoughtfully, “And now that I have my full processing capabilities back, I’ve been thinking more about them. I have about three hundred possible reasons for their behaviour, which I expect to collapse down to less than four after they hail us,”
“Have ye warned the bridge?” the fog was starting to fade from Jeffery’s brain.
“No,” she said calmly.
“Simon, I didn’t warn them because they already know,” Sylvia cut him off, “They detected them on long-range sensors over an hour ago. They’ve scanned them thoroughly, including their weaponry. Commander Jall is on the bridge, ready to summon Chris if necessary. Every other ship in the fleet does just fine without me, after all.”
“Then why are ye tellin’ me all this??”
“Because, Simon,” Sylvia said patiently, “Your desk, on which your head was resting, is less than two meters from a primary coolant loop. A direct hit on this deck would have had a 43% chance of irradiating you from the shoulders up before you even knew what had happened.
“Oh.” Jeffery gulped.
“Simon?” Sylvia said after a moment.
“I think a ‘thank you’ is in order…”
The ship shook, cutting off Jeffery’s reply.
“Right, report!” Stafford barked as he stormed out of the turbolift and onto Silverado’s bridge…and nearly fell over the tactical rail as the ship bucked again.
“Was that thing always so close to the turbolift?” he grumbled as he moved to his seat. Silverado’s bridge had never seemed small before, but that was before he’d spent months in Haven’s huge command center.
“It’s an Andorian raider,” Jall reported, “They came in-“
“They came in on an intercept course,” Lt Pye interrupted, “aAking if we’d be willing to trade replicator mass for medical supplies.”
“Until they came into sensor range,” Lt Burke spoke up from Sciences, “and we saw all the Breen life-signs,”
“Right, thanks,” Jall looked annoyed at the interruptions, “And now they’re shooting at us!”
“Shields-“ Lt Bithe was cut off as T’Parief popped out of the turbolift and pushed her away from the Tactical panel.
“Shields are at eighty percent,” he said sharply, “Their shields are at sixty percent. Our torpedo tubes are loaded, phasers are charging from the last volley and the forward phaser cannon is at seventy percent charge,”
“And we-“ Jall started, but was again cut off.
“Disable their engines,” Stafford ordered, “Come about to…uh, which way are we pointed right now?”
“We-“ Jall started.
“One-two-two mark six-five,” Pye said. The turbolift opened again, this time Yanick and Valtaic jumped out and moved toward their stations.
“Evasive Delta-one,” Stafford ordered.
“I already-“ Jall raised a finger.
“Yeah, one second,” Yanick said, settling into the helm, “Pye has the controls setup weird again,”
“Did you hail them?” Stafford asked Jall.
“Communication logs show they refused several hails,” T’Parief said, “Phaser cannon is…almost…,”
“Oh for…you realize that by now we could have blown then up at least twice,” Jall sighed, “Instead we’re doing nice little hand-overs, and briefings, and making sure everybody is up to speed on everything. Well, except for me. My replacement doesn’t want a hand-over.”
“Sure I do,” Stafford said cheerfully, “It’s just that everyone’s beating you to the punch. You know just how much I value and respect your input,”
“All weapons ready,” T’Parief reported.
“Fire,” Stafford ordered.
On the screen, several bright red phaser beams connected with the raider, its shields shimmering as they tried to absorb the energy. A bloom of light appeared as the raider fired a torpedo at them. It crashed into the shields, shaking the ship but doing little damage. Stafford looked surprised.
“Shouldn’t someone’s console be exploding by now?” he wondered. On the screen the raider unleashed another volley of phasers and another torpedo. The ship shook, but the shields took the brunt of the impact.
This time when the turbolift doors opened, Jeffery stepped out.
“Simon? Did you guys upgrade our shields during the rebuild?”
“Whot? Nay. Well, sort of. They’re the same Mark-IX generators we’ve had for years…but the original Ambassador-class had Mark-VIs. Why?”
“Will you guys just shut up and blow up the bad guys?” Jall was sounding bored now.
“Hold on,” Jeffery said. He moved to the Engineering station and started tapping away at the panel.
“T’Parief?” Stafford followed Jeffery to the aft deck, “Could you shoot them a few more times? Get their weapons offline at least?”
“They surrendered ten seconds ago,” T’Parief said. “I was waiting until you finished your discussion.”
Jall pulled out a set of clippers and began grooming his nails.
“Well, I guess that’s lunch, then,” he said, glancing at the ship’s chrono, “Or breakfast, actually.”
“Nobody is going to have any appetite if you don’t put those away,” Yanick said.
“Girl, please,” Jall glanced at her, “If we can eat with you breast-feeding in every room of the ship, you can handle a few nail clippings,”
“Breast-feeding is a natural, beautiful-“
“So is a proper manicure!”
“Both of you, please,” Fifebee was looking even paler than usual, “I may not eat…but I may yet vomit.”
“Yer right about the shields,” Jeffery said to Stafford as he tapped away at his console, “Shield effectiveness was over 20% better than what we had before. Ooch, I knew those generators were underperforming! Ah wonder whot fixed it, the emitter array rebuild, or-“
“Ah, good morning everyone!” Dr Cadela stepped out of the turbolift, “Sorry to interrupt, but what was all the shaking about? Will we be starting the tests on time? I believe we have a meeting first thing in the morning?”
Jall took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
“Well, you seemed to be having a good time!” Sylvia said as Stafford sat in his ready room. It wasn’t his shift yet, but he was monitoring the boarding operation as the Hazardous Team took control of the raider. Actually, T’Parief was doing the actual monitoring. Stafford couldn’t watch them work anymore, always certain that the next action was going to bring total disaster. But for the same reason, he couldn’t sleep while the HT was on a mission.
“What’s that?” Stafford asked innocently.
“The way you guys were antagonizing Jall!”
“Total coincidence, Sylvia,” Stafford waved her away, “I didn’t get called to the bridge until they’d attacked. You know perfectly well that I couldn’t have coordinated a joke like that if I’d wanted to.”
“But you still took every chance to needle him. Even though the ship was in danger!”
“Sylvia,” Stafford groaned, “Look, it was just a raider! They weren’t a real threat.”
“How could you know that? And didn’t it occur to you that if they weren’t a threat, it was pretty stupid of them to attack us! They could have had any number of tricks up their sleeves!”
“Or they might have been stupid,” Stafford said.
“Or desperate,” Sylvia shot back. “Which makes them a bigger potential threat.”
“We beat them,” Stafford said, “The HT is securing the ship and taking the crew into custody. Any minute now, T’Parief will be calling me to say that the ship is under our control.”
“Oh really,” Sylvia said flatly, “And you don’t find that odd? We just get randomly attacked by a bunch of Breen in an Andorian raider, even though they had no chance. And now they just give up and let the Hazardous Team arrest them?”
“We’ll be careful,” Stafford grimaced, “Besides, there are a lot of stupid people out there. Maybe we finally got lucky,”
“T’Parief to Stafford,”
‘See’, Stafford mouthed silently to Sylvia, who merely rolled her eyes.
“The Breen have been captured. Lt Marsden was struck unconscious when one of the Breen threw a boot at his head. Lt Rengs suffered a crushed ankle in a door malfunction, and Crewman Kreklor assaulted what turned out to be a Breen plant,” the big reptile paused, “You know what this means.”
“Valtaic won the betting pool again,” Stafford grumbled, “Fine, I’ll pay up later. In the meantime, get the senior staff into the conference room, we have dangerous technology to play with,”
“OK people,” Stafford said, getting to his feet as Valtaic and T’Parief took their places at the conference room table, “We have a brig full of Breen, an extra ship kicking around, and a crazy, wild-eyed woman who claims to be a scientist wanting to do an experiment. Where do we stand?”
“Right behind you,” Dr. Cadela said, making Stafford jump. He closed his eyes, then turned to Jall.
“Why didn’t you tell me she was there?”
“I know how much you value my input,” Jall replied, looking innocent.
“The Breen have been secured,” T’Parief said, “And we have raised the temperature of every compartment around the brig from ‘Starfleet Standard Comfort’ to ‘Midday on Vulcan’s Forge’. They do not even wish to consider escape.”
Stafford shot Jall a look that said ‘Why can’t you be more like him?’, then nodded.
“Good. Valtaic, the ship?”
“We should return it to Waystation. Starfleet will decide if it is to be dismantled or moved elsewhere for study,”
“The Breen aren’t a priority at the moment,” T’Parief grumbled, “We could use it for target practice,”
“Plan A,” Stafford pointed to Valtaic, then pointed to T’Parief, “Plan B. OK, that’s the easy part. Dr. Cadela? How may we help you? Quickly, I hope,”
“Hello everyone,” she said, flashing the same bright smile that had so unnerved everyone during their first experience with the woman, “I’d like to introduce my assistant, Alfredo.”
“What happened to Spork?” Sylvia asked flatly. She didn’t exactly look happy to see Cadela, no surprise given the last experience.
“Ah, such a nice young man,” Cadela shook her head, her smile becoming somewhat wistful but not fading, “I’m afraid he’s just a bit too high-strung for this sort of work. The last I heard, he was doing graduate work with the Warp Propulsion Laboratory in the Sol system. More traditional research. But Mr. Alfredo is very well qualified, and has a genuine flare for this sort of work!”
“He’s going to break in half if the gravity goes sideways on itself again,” Dr. Wowryk said flatly, eyeing the somewhat frail-looking older man.
“That’s not going to happen,” Cadela waved the concern away, “And really, sidewise gravity? How impossible!”
“Let me guess,” Jeffery asked, leaning forward eagerly, “Another experimental propulsion system? Cuz the Probability Drive actually was kinda neat,”
“Simon!” Sylvia snapped.
“Well, other than nearly killin’ us all,” Jeffery looked down at the table.
“I’ve moved on from that project,” Cadela’s smile was starting to show signs of strain, “Actually, my new project only requires conventional systems, on a small ship…which is why I had planned to do the testing near Waystation with their support vessel. But they were worried about the risk of incidental civilian deaths or some other such nonsense. And when I found out that a ship I was familiar with would be docking soon…”
“Uh-huh,” Jall said flatly, “Wouldn’t it have been easier to use a ship that wasn’t on to just how bat-shit crazy your last scheme turned out?”
“Jall,” Stafford sounded tired, “It wasn’t actually her fault,”
“No? She didn’t build the crazy thing?”
“Chris is actually right,” Sylvia admitted grudgingly, “It was her invention, but it was a freak accident.”
“Forgiveness is divine,” Wowryk folded her hands in front of her, “And we have enough people who have tried to kill us on purpose that we needn’t be rude to those who nearly killed us by accident,”
Stafford looked at her blankly.
“That sounded better in your head, didn’t it?” Yanick asked her.
“It did,” Wowryk admitted.
“Well, I’m glad we’re able to put that behind us,” Cadela beamed, “Now, let me introduce my new project-“
“Is it the Probability Drive 2.0?” Jall asked.
“The Pulsating Squeeze Probability Drive?” Yanick asked.
“Guys,” Stafford groaned.
“I thought they were putting the past behind them?” Mr. Alfredo quietly asked the nearest Silverado crewman, Valtaic.
“Indeed,” Valtaic murmured back, “However most of these officers can be, as humans say, assholes.”
“The Quantum Probability Resonator?” Jeffery ventured.
“No!” Cadela’s smile was near the failing point, “Actually, sort of,”
“Is it the…wait, what?” Jall did a double take.
“May I introduce you,” Cadela tapped a small handheld and a hologram appeared over the table, “to the Probabilistic Exoversal Navigation Interphase System!”
There was dead silence in the room for a moment.
“Oh. My. GOD!” Jall’s eyes were wide.
“I know, right?” Yanick clapped her hands.
“I had no idea,” Stafford gasped, “That’s…that’s…amazing!”
“I know you said they’d appreciate the acronym,” Alfredo mumbled to Cadela, “But I didn’t think they’d be so…enthusiastic.”
“When did we get a holographic display built into the conference room?” Yanick asked, waving her hand through the space between the table and the floating image, completely ignoring Cadela, “I mean, I like it! But…Simon, when did you put this in?”
“Surprise!” Jeffery said, “Ah figured we’d upgrade!”
“Simon, I love it!” Stafford had jumped to his feet and was examining new display, “Man, what’s the display field radius? Can we use the conference room for movie nights now?”
Cadela shook her head in frustration.
“It’s a device for travelling to different universes!” she interrupted, “Universes similar to our own, but where different choices have led to things developing in new, exciting and different ways!”
There was silence around the table for a moment.
“We have already travelled to another universe,” Fifebee frowned, “In fact, Starfleet has done that several times,”
“The universe where we all had obnoxiously perfect versions of ourselves,” Jall said.
“Well, perfect other than being screwed-up in new, exciting and different ways,” Stafford added.
“The evil Mirror Universe,” Sylvia spoke from her display screen, “Discovered by the Enterprise, then DS9,”
“The equally evil Happyverse,” Jall put in, “The one K’Eleese was so eager to get to that she started kidnapping and torturing Ops officers. No, you’re fine,” Jall had noticed Valtaic giving him a concerned side-eye.
“And each encounter has relied on accidents, bizarre transporter malfunctions, wormhole weirdness, huge amounts of energy or the combined efforts of members of each universe,” Cadela said, “But in reviewing the data on the Probability Drive, I believe I’ve discovered a way for a ship to pass easily through the barriers between universes!”
“You were paying attention to the other universes we were talking about, right?” Yanick asked her, “Because none of them are nice places to visit. At all.”
“But imagine! We could see what might have happened if Admiral Janeway had won the Presidential Election! Or-“
“Or if the Dominion had won the war,” Valtaic said calmly, “This concept is poorly considered,”
“Well,” Cadela huffed, her smile now somewhat condescending, “I don’t expect everyone to grasp the significance of this discovery!”
“Let’s just test the thing,” Stafford blew out a breath, “If it turns out like the LAST test we did for you, it may not be much of a discovery. What do we do?”
“First, we select a universe,” Cadela nodded to Alfredo, who began walking around the room with what looked like a heavily modified tricorder. He ran it over Stafford, then frowned. He turned and pointed the business end of the device at Jall, tapped a button, then moved to Valtaic.
“And we do that by…?”
“Each universe has a unique quantum phasic signature,” Alfredo explained. He paused, shook his head, then moved to Yanick, “All matter in that universe shares it. But certain places or beings connected to significant decision points have variances. If they’re strong enough, these can point us to a parallel universe that split off because of events involving that place. Or person.”
“Well,” Jeffery puffed his chest, “We’re one of Starfleet’s finest…uh…one of Starfleet’s crews! Ah’m sure we’ve done a lot of things that changed the course of history!”
“So if you skipped over us…” Stafford trailed off.
“Well, I wouldn’t worry about it too much,” Cadela’s smile faltered. She actually looked genuinely flustered, “I mean, it may just be that whatever you’ve done to change the course of history happened too long ago. Or perhaps it was…merely a minor event.”
“Getting a vasectomy could change the course of history,” Wowryk crossed her arms.
“Ahem. Only for the right person,” Cadela said, patting Jall on the shoulder, “Some people it wouldn’t make a difference at all,”
“Bitch,” Jall muttered.
Alfredo was about to move on from scanning Wowryk, when his device let out a beep.
“I’ve got one!” he said, “It’s faint…it may have happened a while ago. But definitely a variance! Give me a few hours with the science lab computers and I’ll have a destination vector calculated!”
“Sylvia?” Stafford prompted, “I’m sure you could help them out,”
“That’s really not necessary,” Cadela said.
“Ohhh, yes it is,” Stafford, Jall, Fifebee and Wowryk all said together. Valtaic and T’Parief also objected, though the former with a disapproving grunt and the latter with a simple ‘It is’.
“OK people, meeting’s over,” Stafford said, “We’ll test this thing when Cadela and Alfredo are ready.”
He looked briefly around the table, then stepped quickly towards the door.
Jall stepped out of the turbolift on Deck 30, looked around for a moment to get his bearings, then started walking down the corridor. Cadela and Alfredo had been holed up in Science Lab 2 for over an hour, and although Sylvia had assured him that they’re weren’t doing anything dangerous, she refused to go into further detail, citing an End-User Privacy clause.
He stopped, frowned, then turned around and backtracked to the last corridor intersection. Paused for a moment, thinking back to the directions Sylvia had given him. Left, left, right…or was it port, port, starboard? He was about to call Sylvia again for help when he realized there was a better way to find what he was after.
Back when the old Constitution-class ships had been refitted, right before the V’ger incident, there had been a push by several non-human races to include ship amenities that catered to entertainment tastes other than that of the largely human ship designers. Most of them hadn’t actually made it past the design stage…nobody was willing to sign off on an Andorian Mishtak pit. But one element that had made it right through to production had been a series of Vulcan meditation alcoves set off a quiet section of the secondary hull. Over the course of the years, they’d remained a part of new starship classes. Not because Vulcans were lining up to use them. And not because other races were lining up to meditate or do their Hot Yoga in them either…although they were commonly used for that original purpose. No, on ships with crews numbering in the hundreds and with significant numbers of those crewmembers living in shared quarters, the meditation alcoves had become convenient, private places to…uh…get intimate. There had been a brief attempt to remove them during the design of the Galaxy-class ships, what with the expansion in personal space those massive ships allowed. But somehow every time they were removed from the schematics some high-ranking, former starship officer managed to sneak them back on.
All this to say, all Jall had to do was listen carefully until he heard the muffled sound of moaning, and he knew he’d come to the right place. He quickly found the alcove Stafford was said to be in, double checked to be sure everything was quiet, then stepped in. Sure enough, Stafford was seated in one of the padded benches, looking out into space. A small table sat between the two benches, a flickering fake candle reflecting off the window.
“Jall,” Stafford looked annoyed, but only moderately so, “You know, if I’d wanted to talk to people, I would have gone to Unbalanced Equations. Or stayed in the gym. Or gone to the arboretum or something!”
“And if you wanted to be completely alone, you would have gone to the holodeck and locked the doors,” Jall shot back.
“What do you want?”
“Well, since we all just got told that nothing we’ve done in our lives had a significant impact on the universe, I figured it was time for a drink,” he pulled a bottle around from his back, “And really, I think vodka is the only thing you and I both drink,”
From the next cubical over there was the crack of a whip, then a cry of pain. Then a woman’s voice, harsh and commanding.
“Was that…Crewman Shwaluk and Nurse Kerry?” Jall frowned, “Why aren’t they in her quarters?”
“Neighbors were complaining about the noise,” Stafford said, “And little kids live two doors down. So I guess Kerry and the local BDSM club turned one of the alcoves into a…dungeon. So they don’t have to bother anyone.”
There was another crack, another shout of pain. And some words that shall not be repeated.
“Anyone on the residential decks,” Stafford amended, “And I guess people meditating don’t complain as much.”
“How did I miss that?” Jall wondered, taking a seat across from Stafford and setting the bottle down on the table.
“That the BDSM club has a dungeon?”
“No!” Jall produced a pair of glasses, then poured a fingers worth in each, “That we have a BDSM club on board!”
Stafford chuckled. The whip cracked again.
“Why are you so calm? Doesn’t that get annoying?” Jall asked, “Or disturbing? You always struck me as the squeamish, vanilla type. And before you answer that, no. I don’t really want to know.”
“And I’m not planning on telling you,” Stafford shot back. He paused for moment, thinking, “I thought it would, when they got started. I was getting ready to tinker with the sound-suppression fields, or move to an alcove further down the hall. But the thing is, it’s actually made me think of something very…comforting.”
“Uh-huh,” Jall said flatly.
“It reminds me,” Stafford mused, as the whip cracked again, “That although life might not be at a high point, and I may just have been told that I haven’t done anything significant in the eyes of the universe…at least I’m not strapped down, stripped naked and having my ass whipped raw.”
Jall blinked, then raised his glass.
“You’re right,” he said, “To not being tied up, naked and whipped!”
“Do you think she’s right?” Stafford asked after a moment, “I mean, her little…sensor gizmo. Have we actually done nothing that’s changed the course of history? I guess crashing on Delorea II didn’t really do anything, since they hit the big reset button anyway. But I was the f**king Minister of Planetary Defense for the Matrian Republic! We fought off the Qu’Eh invasion, we captured K’Eleese. We stopped T’Parief’s father…well, OK maybe we didn’t stop him. But we made sure the Parians were…uh. Whatever. They’re an intelligent race now, not mindless battle slaves. And the crew of the Stallion must have accomplished something useful…they never would have launched without us! And Lord Stalart…man, if Wowryk had found a food he was allergic to, we could have eliminated an evil dictator without even knowing it! Why are you looking at me like that?”
Jall took another sip of his drink, but before he could say anything the door opened and Yanick popped her head in.
“Oh, I am SO glad it’s you guys,” she said, “I was scared it was going to be a naked guy getting whipped,”
“Uh, T’Parief and I are into sports gear, not bondage,” Yanick said, giving an expression that was one part ‘ha ha’ with one part ‘get real’, “And that’s only because of the claws. And the fangs. And the elbow spars.”
“Y’know Trish,” Jall said, “If we wanted to talk to people, we’d be in Unbal-“
“Skip it. You’d be in your room with the door locked,” she turned to Stafford, “And you’d be in the holodeck. Now gimmi,” she reached for the bottle.
“I only brought two glasses,” Jall said.
“Didn’t ask for a glass,” Yanick shot back.
“Maybe we’d have better luck at changing the course of history if we didn’t drink so much,” Stafford mused.
“Good luck with that,” Yanick giggled, “So, who’s going to go talk to Noel?”
Both Jall and Stafford looked confused.
“Why would we talk to her?” Jall asked, “She’s the only one that didn’t get told they were completely irrelevant in the cosmic scheme of things,”
“Uh, duh, because she just found out that she did something that changed the course of history,” Yanick said.
“Isn’t Jeffery comforting her over tea or something?” Jall asked.
“Not exactly…” Jeffery poked his head in from behind Yanick, “Och. Did ye bring nothin’ other than that Eastern European swill?”
“It’s getting crowded in here,” Stafford complained as Yanick squeezed onto the bench next to him. Jeffery was about to sit next to Jall, then changed his mind and stayed standing. The whip cracked again, and Jeffery jumped.
“Can’t we just go to Unbalanced Equations?” he whined, “That’s where Noel is anyway. Waitin’ for someone to come talk to her. But it’s not gonna be me!”
“Fifebee to Stafford,” the comm chirped, “Dr Cadela and Mr. Alfredo have completed their calculations we are ready to begin the test,”
“Thanks, Fifebee,” Stafford tapped his badge, “Stafford to Wowryk, Doctor, meet us on the bridge, Stafford out.”
“Saved by the comm,” Jall observed, getting up to leave.
“You can’t just ignore the whole thing!” Yanick said, stepping out of the alcove so Stafford and Jall could get out, “She’s worried!”
“Not enough to come talk to any of us poor saps who found out we’re unimportant,” Jall noted.
“I’ll ask her when we get to the bridge,” Stafford said, leading the way to the turbolift.
Stafford actually spent most of the turbolift ride to the bridge thinking about what he could say to Wowryk. OK, so he really didn’t feel like discussing why she was so much more important to the universe than the rest of them…but at the same time, Yanick was right. She could be dealing with something big. And he’d been working hard to stay on friendly terms with her.
So he was a bit annoyed when the turbolift opened to the sound of Sylvia’s voice.
“Well of course it’s going to be a lot to take in,” Sylvia’s holographic avatar was saying to Wowryk, “But won’t it be interesting to see what it is you did? Why, it could be any of the patients you saved! Imagine, just administering a vaccine to the right person at the right time could have been it!”
“It was the Matrians,” Fifebee declared flatly from her console, “It is obvious. It is painfully obvious. It is so amazingly obvious that I cannot comprehend how your logic processors even allow you to consider otherwise,”
“It’s highly probable,” Sylvia admitted with a sniff, “That doesn’t mean it’s certain. Why, there could be many ways she’s changed the course of history! There might be dozens of parallel universes, and we’ll be creating dozens more, one in which we visited each of those!”
“Stop, you’re making my data recursion prevention subroutines twitchy!” Fifebee complained.
“Off the hook!” Jall muttered as they took their seats.
“Let’s get this over with,” Stafford grumbled, “Cadela, how does this work? Do we just fire up the drive to 88% light-speed, or something similarly random?”
“No, we can’t have any subspace interference with the process,” Cadela said, “And getting to that high a velocity on impulse alone poses too many issues. No, for a vessel of this size, given the brief period the portal will be open, I estimate…65,954,340.76 meters per second.”
“88% impulse,” Fifebee said immediately.
“Of course,” Stafford rolled his eyes.
“My turn,” Jall said, “I’m guessing you’re going to divert power from the warp core to the navigational deflector, which will be modified with some funky piece of tech,”
“Exactly,” Cadela looked impressed, “You reviewed the mission brief that thoroughly?”
“No,” Stafford said, “These things are just getting really predictable. OK, power to the…um…”
“Probabilistic Exoversal Navigation Interphase System,” Alfredo supplied helpfully.
“We’re not calling it that,” Yanick said from the helm, tapping in the commands, “And we’re not using the acronym either! Even we aren’t that low- class!”
“Uni-Pick 3000?” Jall suggested.
“More like ‘Uni-Prick”, Stafford grunted.
“Slipgate?” Jeffery wondered, “Valtaic? Any good Lithinarian suggestions?”
“I have no desire to participate in this foolishness. I am simply waiting to press the ‘on’ button on command,”
“Channel Changer?” Jall added.
“The Blinker,” Stafford decided, “OK, Jeffery, transfer power to the Blinker and the navigational deflector. Yanick, bring us up to eighty percent impulse and await Cadela’s command,”
“Everything appears to be in order,” Cadela sounded excited as she looked over Fifebee’s shoulder, “All readings are nominal. Helmsman, ease the velocity up to eighty-eight, if we overshoot we may hit the portal before it fully opens,”
“Of course,” Yanick said, then muttered, “I totally know how to drive this ship,”
“The Breen ship has disappeared from sensors,” T’Parief said suddenly.
“What about the prisoners?” Stafford demanded.
“Still in the brig,”
“You want me to stop?” Yanick asked.
“No,” Stafford said after a moment, “The ship was empty. We’ll pick it up when we get back,”
“Hmmm,” T’Parief grumbled.
“What?” Jall asked.
“Minor anomaly on the aft sensor array,” T’Parief said, “Right near our blind spot,”
“OK, maybe we should-“ Stafford started.
“Eighty-eight!” Yanick called.
There was a bright flash of light from the screen, then the loudest, deepest ripping sound anyone had every heard…like somebody had grabbed a two-foot thick tarp and just punched a hole in it. Immediately following was an equally loud CRASH. The ship bucked briefly, but when the light faded, the starfield was unchanged.
“Report?” Stafford asked, “Also, ouch,” he rubbed his ears.
“Yeah, Doc,” Yanick asked, “Did we, like, just tear the universe a new one?”
“The weakness in the space-time barrier will make it easier to return, assuming we return to this-“
“Brig to bridge,” the voice of Lt Kennardy broke over the comm, “Uh, Captain, the Breen are demanding to speak to you,”
“Yeah? And people on Vulcan want ice water. What’s your point?”
“They’re not Breen,”
Stafford stormed into the brig, right after T’Parief and another security officer. Jall was on the bridge, beginning sensor sweeps of their new universe, but Valtiac had come with him in case he needed any lies detected.
“OK, what’s the story?” Stafford demanded, “I thought we’d run life scans on them!”
“You did,” drawled an unfamiliar voice, “These suits are modified to hide our life-sign readings,”
“And who the hell are you?” Stafford turned to the brig. The ‘Breen’ prisoners had removed their helmets, revealing a few humans, a Deltan, a Rigillian and a couple of individuals of indeterminate race.
“Commander Joss Phulluvit, Starfleet Special Recon,” the lead human said, giving Stafford a haughty expression, “Computer! Decrypt and display briefing message, code-word Looking Glass Theta-Bravo,”
“You have to-“ Stafford was about to mention Sylvia, but before he could the voice of the standard ship computer replied. On a screen behind the fake Breen, Sylvia appeared briefly, shook her head, then disappeared.
“Decoding message,” the computer voice stated flatly. This time it was the big screen behind the transporter panel that came to life.
“Captain Stafford,” the image of Admiral Edward Tunney appeared, “if you’re seeing this, then you’ve survived Dr Cadela’s experiment and have arrived in a new, unknown universe. It also means that I owe Fleet Admiral Ra’al two hundred credits, and that my wife is going to be pissed that she’s not getting a new auto-chef this month. So thank you for that,”
“Did we just get blamed for his gambling problem?” T’Parief asked.
“In any event, you are now one of the first Federation vessels to voluntarily and purposefully travel to a new, unknown universe. Your mission is to make covert contact with whatever organization most resembles the Federation, access their historical database and ascertain just how their universe is different from ours and why. The vessel you captured should have followed you through under computer control and will assist with that, as will Commander Phulluvit and his team. They will handle the actual infiltration,”
“Why us?” Stafford asked, “Why would they pick us for this?”
“If you’re wondering why you were picked for this mission, frankly you’re our second choice. We wanted Waystation, since they’ve had a lot more experience with this sort of thing. But between concerns over the station’s civilian population…and you volunteering to handle Dr. Cadela’s test for them, well this actually worked out well. You’re certainly more expendable than a major outpost or its command crew,”
Stafford glared at the screen. Tunney may not have seen it, but he seemed to realize maybe that wasn’t the best thing to say.
“Good luck,” he finished, then the screen went dark.
“Tough break,” Phulluvit said, “So, how about we get out of this brig and into some guest quarters, Captain Expendable?”
“Before you make too many jokes about our expendability,” Valtaic said, very matter-of-fact, “Consider that we are responsible for your passage, extraction and return home. If we are expendable…you must be toxic,”
Stafford bit his lip.
“Kennardy, let them out. T’Parief, I want their identities fully verified before they’re released to guest quarters.”
“Bridge to Stafford,” Jall’s voice came over the comm, “We’ve got a problem. You need to get up here. Now.”
“Never a dull moment,” Stafford gulped, moving towards the exit.
“They just popped up on sensors,” Jall said as Stafford stepped out of the turbolift and took his seat, “Two ships, right on course for Waystation. Or where Waystation would be in our universe,”
“Do we know what kind of ships?” Stafford asked.
“Yes we do,” Fifebee spoke up, “And I wish to say: I told you so. Because tell you all I did.”
“They’re Matrian,” T’Parief said, resuming his place at tactical, “Scouts, like the ships we encountered after our initial launch. Small, quick, but minimal weapons.”
“They could be allies,” Stafford said, not sounding very confident, “Have they detected us?”
“I do not think so. They are near the edge of our sensor range,”
“Keep an eye on them,” Stafford ordered Yanick, “But stay out of the Matrian’s sensor range. Jall, have Jeffery meet us in Sickbay, then we need to talk to our ‘guests’,”
Dr. Wowryk was sitting in her office when Stafford and Jeffery arrived.
“Here for the intervention?” she asked mildly, “Or is it VD Awareness Day again already?”
“How’s it going?” Stafford said, ignoring the jab.
“Well, as I told Sylvia, it’s not exactly low-pressure learning that I may have changed the entire course of history,” Wowryk said, “But at the same time, the universe…uh, universes, unfold as God wills. If I am his instrument, then so be it,”
“We detected Matrian ships,” Stafford said, “They’re on course for Waystation. We don’t know why. I’m about to go talk to our guests about a scouting mission of our own,”
“And?” Wowryk asked, “Does that involve me in some way?”
“Nooo….” Stafford said slowly.
“Then are you here for any reason other than to check up on me?”
“Well…no.” Stafford squirmed a bit, “I just thought you’d want to know. First thing we see in this new universe is something’s up with the Matrians. So…I don’t know.”
“Captain…Chris,” Wowryk gave a smile, “I appreciate it. I do. But whatever has happened here, whatever I did or didn’t do…it wasn’t me. The Noel Wowryk who made that decision is here, in this universe. And I’m not her,” her smile faded, “Nor am I responsible for her,”
“Glad to hear it,” Stafford shrugged, “OK Simon, let’s go deal with this Special Recon prick,”
As they left, Wowryk bit her lip, then turned back to Sickbay.
Stafford had barely left Sickbay when Sylvia materialized beside him.
“Chris, I’m concerned about this secret team that Starfleet send,” she said.
“Yeah, I noticed you weren’t all that keen on meeting them,”
“You know as well as I do that Starfleet has a number of sub-organizations. Including secret ones. And that they don’t always share the same goals. Or methods,”
“Like Starfleet Intelligence?” Stafford asked, “They don’t really have a reputation for playing nice,”
“Or worse,” Sylvia said, “I’m just saying…someone went to a lot of trouble for us to be here, in this universe, with a surprise secret team. The odds of this happening purely by coincidence…Chris, something is fishy,”
“Yeah, no kidding. Any ideas on what to do about that?”
Sylvia hesitated…which meant either she was carefully choreographing her responses for him, or she was using a scary amount of processing power to consider her next words.
“Sometimes people keep secrets for good reasons,” Sylvia said, “But more often their intentions are less than honourable. Be careful,”
“Yeah,” he replied as her avatar fizzled out, “That’s helpful. Except when it’s not.”
Stafford found Commander Phulluvit in the security offices outside the brig, the last members of his team just finishing up their security verification.
“You know,” he said, “This would have been a lot easier if Tunney had just sent you along with Dr. Cadela,”
“You weren’t supposed to know about this part of the mission unless her experiment worked,” Phulluvit said without preamble, “Deal with it,”
“We’ve picked up Matrian ships on a course for what might be Waystation,” Stafford said.
“You are NOT to approach Waystation, under any circumstances!” Phulluvit snapped, “This is to be a clandestine information-gathering mission,”
“Uh, wasn’t planning on it anyway,” Stafford crossed his arms, “And I don’t take orders from you, Commander,”
Phulluvit looked like he was about to say something, but at the last second he reigned himself in. “Your crew is very well known to Waystation in our universe,” he said instead, “And until we know how the universes are different, we can’t risk you being recognized,”
“So you and your team are taking the Breen, well the Andorian ship to poke around,” Stafford said. It wasn’t a question.
“Exactly,” Phulluvit nodded, “You’ll stay here and wait for us to get back.”
“Or come charging in to rescue you if things go to shit,” Stafford smirked.
“Don’t be foolish,” Phulluvit said quietly, “I have a highly trained and professional strike…um, investigative team. We won’t need your help,”
“Uh-huh,” Stafford wondered about that, “By the way, Lt Commander Valtaic will be going with you,”
“Absolutely not!” Phulluvit snapped, “I told you, no-“
“Valtaic joined my crew fairly recently,” Stafford cut him off, “And he wasn’t with us during the first Matrian mission. And I have a sneaking suspicion that whatever it is that makes this universe so different, it’s something with the Matrians. Also, I still outrank you. And I want one of MY people in on this mission,”
Phulluvit glared, then nodded.
“We leave in thirty,” he said tightly.
“Sit down, shut up and stay out of our way,” a young human told Valtaic after he materialized aboard the Andorian raider. Like Valtaic, he was dressed in civilian cloths in order to better blend in.
“Hmm. Is your rank higher than that of Lt Commander?” Valtaic inquired.
The young man looked at him angrily.
“Apparently not,” Valtaic let his energy field awaken just enough to cause a prickling feeling along the other officer’s skin, “Then you may amend that to ‘sit down, shut up and stay out of our way, sir’.”
Grumbling, the man left. ‘Sir’ might have been somewhere in the grumbling. It might also have been proceeded with ‘f**k off’.
Valtaic found himself frowning. Something was off with these new officers. On his world, rank was accepted as a matter of course. The customary bluntness of his people left no room for the innuendo and veiled insults that were so popular with humans and other races…but it was strange for a human officer to be so blatantly rude to a superior he didn’t know personally.
He felt the ship accelerate to warp as he made his way to the cramped bridge. Finding an empty seat next to an engineering station, he sat and quickly adjusted the controls from the default Andorian readouts to something he could better understand.
“Sensors confirm the object at the destination coordinates matches Waystation’s specifications,” said the Vulcan science officer.
“Navigational beacons and information channels do not indicate anything…unexpected,” said the Bajoran pilot.
“No mention of Intendants, Happymasters or Terran Emperors?” Phulluvit asked.
“OK, get us docking clearance,”
“Transmitting our cargo manifest and bill of landing,”
It was clear this team had worked together before, Valtaic noted. The quick, concise updates and commands were refreshing after the barely organized chaos of Silverado’s bridge.
“And our Matrian friends?”
“They appear to be giving the station a wide berth,” the tactical officer said, “Keeping it within sensor range, but not approaching. Definitely a reconnaissance run,”
Valtaic brought up the sensor readings, then zoomed in to get a closer look at the space around Waystation, “I’m picking up several other vessels in the vicinity of Waystation,” he said, “One, perhaps two Galaxy-class starships, three Excelsior-class and three more Miranda-class ships,”
“One Miranda, two Akira,” the tactical officer sneered, “And one Galaxy, one Ambassador,”
Unused to the small craft, Valtaic adjusted the sensors until he could confirm the other man’s assessment.
“We should send this information back to Silverado immediately,” Valtaic said, “Clearly tensions between the Federation and Matrians are high,”
“No transmissions back until we have completed our mission,” the tactical officer snapped, “We will not break cover,”
“Lieutenant…uh, Lt Witters,” Phulluvit said, “Give Lt Commander Valtaic access to your tactical analysis. He can brief his Captain when we get back. But at this time, we don’t know for certain it’s the Matrians Starfleet is worried about. It could be the Multeks, or the Collectors in this universe.”
“Aye. Sir.” Witters said, throwing another unhappy look Valtaic’s way.
As the information came up, it became very clear that ‘tensions are high’ was an understatement. The ships were in defensive formation around the station, not docked. As he watched, the Miranda-class ship started moving towards the Matrian reconnaissance ships, which didn’t appear to take note. The Akira-class ship was turning towards them, apparently moving in for a detailed, close-range scan. None of the ship strayed far from Waystation.
Had they landed in the middle of a war?
“Sir, we’re getting a message from the USS Bison,” the pilot said, “We’re to hold position ten thousand kilometers from the station until we can be scanned,”
“Fine, we’re not here to upset anyone.”
“They are not following standard procedure,” Valtaic pointed out.
“It’s fine. We don’t have anything we shouldn’t have.”
“Aside from a quantum-phasic signature that doesn’t belong in this universe,”
They glided to halt and it was only a short wait until the Akira-class ship moved into close sensor range. Something about the ship seemed oddly menacing to Valtaic as it hovered over them on the viewscreen, its small saucer angled so it appeared to curve like a disapproving brow.
But after several moments they were given the OK to proceed to the station. Valtaic turned back to the sensors, noticing that the other Akira-class ship was moving to intercept another vessel moving in from the direction of Federation space.
Maybe not a war. But Starfleet was definitely worried about something.
They docked in one of the cavernous bays atop the upper saucer. It may have been Valtaic’s imagination, but did the customs officer take a little longer examining his (admittedly falsified) documents? They departed the docking bay and stepped into a turbolift bound for Starfleet Square Mall, and it took less than a minute after the doors opened for Valtaic to know it wasn’t his imagination.
The mall was crowded, but the shoppers were moving quickly instead of following their usual meander through the various shops. The crowd was somewhat muted…still the din of hundreds of beings packed into a single space, but the usual punctuation of loud laughs or roars of delight were absent. Valtaic could see at least three empty storefronts, which was almost unheard of on the station. Starfleet Square Mall was almost always leased to capacity, such that a separate, smaller shopping area had been allowed to operate in the lower saucer. OK, so the shops next to the Andorian restaurant were more likely to be vacant…it only took one or two instances of a Mishtak-ee being tossed through one’s display window to make one request the first available space that wasn’t next to a restaurant full of violent spleen-pie artists.
“Transport 2382 to Multos is departing from Docking Arm 2 in two hours,” a male voice came over the station-wide comm, “All civilians who have arranged temporary lodging with the Multeks are to report for boarding by 1345 hours. I say again, all civilians evacuating to Multos, Docking Arm 2 at 1345 hours,”
“Let’s find a public terminal,” Phulluvit said, “Valtaic, go with Boto and Smith. Keep up our cover. Eat something. Or find somewhere to gamble, I don’t care,”
“I am to remain with you,” Valtaic replied simply.
“You’ll do as you’re told!” Witters snapped, “We know what we’re doing!”
“Do you want to draw attention to ourselves with an argument?”
Phulluvit clenched his teeth, the muscles of his jaw standing out briefly. “Let’s get this done,”
Again, Valtaic was confused. The Federation Historical Archives were public, available through data-link to various sites like Memory Alpha, but they could also be downloaded for research and analysis where subspace links were less reliable. It would be a matter of minutes to download the offline archive into a series of storage chips. Whitters’ attitude just didn’t make sense.
Coming down the mall, they found a cheery looking space bearing the name ‘Waystation Welcome Center’. Phulluvit walked right in, gave a perfunctory hello to the blond woman working behind the counter, then gestured to a row of data terminals along a far wall.
Valtaic, not sure what else to do, sat at one of the terminals. He pulled a padd out of his pocket and was about to start a dump of recent news articles when he saw that two terminals down, Witters had attached a small, disc-shaped device to an unobtrusive part of the terminal.
“That’s not exactly keeping our cover,” he muttered quietly to Phulluvit. Behind them, the blond had pulled out a large padd and appeared to be engrossed in reading something.
“Shut up,” Phulluvit said tightly. He glanced at Valtaic’s terminal. “Oh, you’re getting historical data? Good. Now be quiet and keep doing that. Witters?”
“Almost…OK, I’m in,” he said. “Starting search.”
“What-“ Valtaic barely got the word out before an alarm began blaring.
“DAMN!” Witters snapped, “Somebody’s been upgrading their security protocols!”
“Hey!” the blond snapped, “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Nothing!” Phulluvit smiled pleasantly, “I think I just accidentally hit the fire alarm!”
“That’s totally not the sound of the fire alarm,” the woman said, but she appeared to be sitting back down in her seat.
“Witters? How long?” Phulluvit hissed.
“Security is going to be here any minute! Grab what you have and let’s-“
Valtaic caught a whir of motion out of the corner of his eye. He started to turn his head, just in time to see the blond woman’s hands come up from under the counter, a phaser in each one. Two blasts had Phulluvit and Witters stunned and falling to the deck.
“Security’s already here,” Ensign Tina Jones said coldly, tossing her blond hair and firing both phasers at Valtaic.
He managed to get his energy field up in time to block the bulk of the blast, but the bleed-through from two beams at once left him wobbling.
The next shot sent him falling to the deck.
“The Andorian vessel has reached the extreme edge of sensor range,” Fifebee reported, “I can no longer track them,”
“Well, we knew that was going to happen,” Stafford sighed, “So now we wait.”
“Yes,” Fifebee nodded, “I will resume my other scans of the vicinity,”
“Keep an eye on those two Matrian scouts, huh?” Jall prompted.
“I am doing that,” T’Parief rumbled.
“Yeah, but she multi-tasks better than you do,” Jall shrugged.
T’Parief gave a rumble of displeasure.
They sat in silence for a moment. Then two. Then several minutes. The consoles beeped. The computers chirped. That annoying little mweep-mwoop that only Silverado seemed to have did its mweeping and mwooping. Stafford drummed his fingers on his armrest. Jall noticed a ketchup stain on his chair that he was certain hadn’t been there the day before. He dabbed at it with his uniform hem for a few moments before giving up and putting a note in to maintenance. And a nasty-gram to Beta and Gamma shifts. Yanick was humming some aimless tune, and T’Parief simply cycled through various tactical sensor scans again and again, vigilant for the slightest threat.
“So,” Stafford finally asked, “How’s Allona?”
“She’s good,” Yanick said with a half-shrug, “Teething,”
“Yeah. No fangs yet,” Yanick went on, “But I have to tell you, my nipples are NOT happy about it!”
“Oh boy,” Stafford gulped.
“I’m thinking of asking Noel for, I dunno, maybe little tooth caps or something? Do they make nipple guards? Is that a thing?”
“F**k you,” Jall said to Stafford, “You started this. This is your fault.”
“I’m sorry,” Stafford said quietly.
“But at least the pooping has gotten better. It’s been…what Pari, a week since her last blaster?”
“Eight days,” T’Parief said, and Stafford could actually hear pride in the big lizard’s voice, “Blaster?” Lt Day asked from Ops, filling in for Valtaic.
“Don’t ask!” Jall groaned.
“Oh, it’s when she gets all stopped up, and the pressure builds,” Yanick said, “She gets REALLY cranky. So you put her on the changing table, massage her little tummy for a while, maybe give her some softener. Then-“
“Then you call ship’s maintenance for the wet-vac and the decontamination suits, we know!” Jall cute her off.
“No, they stopped answering after the Great Crap Jet of 59522,” Yanick said, “Oh, Captain, I’ve been meaning to ask if you’d talk to them about that,”
“I would never order my men to do something I would never do myself,” Stafford said immediately, “And I don’t clean baby poop.”
“You will change your mind when it is your baby,” T’Parief rumbled.
“Yeah well, that’s not happening anytime soon,”
“Didn’t you sleep with a bunch of Matrians before the Qu’Eh invasion?” Jall asked, grateful for the change in topic.
“Well…yeah,” Stafford admitted.
“And aren’t they trying to rebuild their population? And y’know…expand their gene pool, since the cloning they did of the men left over from the Gender Wars sort of screwed it up?”
“Where are you going with this?” Stafford suddenly wondered if he’d rather be talking about Allona’s bowel movements.
“Well…did you use protection?”
“So you might have have a dozen kids running around Matria Prime,” Jall sounded thoughtful, “Did you even check before we left?”
Stafford was suddenly very, very quiet.
“Ohhhh,” Jall was almost clapping his hands, “Suddenly I wish Matria Prime were a lot closer! I’d LOVE to get in touch with some of those-“
“Wait,” T’Parief cut Jall off, “You have just made a very interesting point,”
“Not you too,” Stafford was looking very disturbed now.
“I am not interested in your potential spawn, though I will offer congratulations at a later time,” T’Parief said, “However, as Lt Commander Jall has pointed out, Matria Prime is some distance from here.”
“Yeah. Nearly a month for us. Longer for slower ships.” Day said from Ops.
“Slower ships like those Matrian scouts,” T’Parief pointed out.
“Hey, yeah,” Jall turned back, “Good catch. How the hell did they get so close to Federation space in those little things?”
“Did they not use those same ships years ago when they were poking around Federation space, looking for an individual like Jeffery?” T’Parief asked.
“They sent a larger cruiser to the edge of Federation space,” Fifebee said, “They sent their M-SIDS to several ports disguised as cargo. Any M-SID that detected a potential match was followed up on with one of these scouts,”
“So there’s probably at least a cruiser somewhere nearby,” Jall said, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“I’m really sure I don’t have kids,” Stafford said, fiddling with his hands in his lap, “I mean, the mother would have contacted me, right? If humans and Matrians can even interbreed, and odds are that’s impossible without medical help. And it’s Matria Prime…we were sort of famous. Wouldn’t that sort of thing be in the news?”
“In the grocery store tabloids, maybe,” Yanick giggled.
“I mean about the Matrian ship!” Jall said.
“Right,” Stafford shook his head, “Right. Yeah, they’ve probably got a bigger ship nearby. But that’s not our problem! We’re here to see why this universe split off. And to do that, we just have to wait for the away team to do their job,”
“The Matrians are scouting Waystation,” T’Parief said, “They would not do so blatantly unless they were considering a direct assault and were confident of their numbers.”
“Again, not something we’re here to tangle with,”
“Yeah,” Jall said reluctantly, “But if they decide to do something annoying while the away team is still on Waystation…”
“Oh hell,” Stafford rolled his eyes, imagining trying to do an emergency extraction in the middle of a battle. A battle where Waystation might not be considering his ship as friendly.
“OK, let’s go take a peek. But just a peek!”
“Set course back along the scout’s path,” Jall ordered Yanick.
“Very edge of sensor range!” Stafford emphasized.
Valtaic regained consciousness in what he assumed was Waystation’s brig. Recovering from a phaser stun was never fun. Recovering from four was even less fun.
“There. It is awake.” The speaker’s voice had clipped, even tones with an accent he didn’t immediately recognize, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m trying to get Sickbay ready for our impending doom.”
Valtaic moved unsteadily to a sitting position as a Dr. Diantha, Waystation’s avian Chief Medical Officer, strode firmly out of the brig. Right. Definitely a familiar accent. And a familiar, female figure. On a less appealing note, Phulluvit and Witters were stirring on other bunks in his cell.
“So. Lt Valtaic, would you care to tell me why you’re on my station with falsified identification, helping two unknown men break into our computer systems?”
Ah. And that would be Captain Lisa Beck, commander of Waystation. And she looked very, very annoyed. The bearded man next to her would be Commander Walter Morales, First Officer. And Lt Sean Russell, Chief of Security.
“Don’t tell her anything!” Phulluvit said, “You know our orders!” Valtaic briefly considered listening to him, then decided not to. “Orders which even you did not follow,” he turned to Beck, “I am Lt Commander Riven Valtaic of the USS Silverado. I have come from a parallel universe as part of a scientific study. My associates are mission specialists, who were to access the Federation Historical Archive. Or so they told us,”
“Idiot,” Witters and Phulluvit muttered.
“Bullshit,” Beck said almost at once, “One, your associates were trying to tap into highly classified data files. Two, your associates don’t exist, according to Starfleet DNA records. And three, the USS Silverado went missing nearly five years ago. Your records say you’re posted to Starbase 45.”
“A simple quantum-phasic scan-“
“I don’t have time for this,” Beck cut him off, “We have intelligence that the Matrians are about to start a major push into this sector. And you try to break into our systems just as two scouts make a sensor pass on us?”
“We…” Valtaic looked over at Phulluvic, “I had no intentions other than scientific research. I do not know what these two were doing,”
“Morales, Russell, get whatever information you can out of them,” Beck said, turning to leave, “I’m heading back to Ops.”
“I am sure your science officer can confirm my story,” Valtaic dredged his memory for the name of Waystation’s science officer, “Lt Porter would have little-“
“What do you know about Porter??” Beck was suddenly at the edge of the force field, her eyes blazing, “Where is he? What happened to him!”
“I…” Valtaic hesitated, wondering how to explain this, “I don’t know. In my universe, he is still an officer aboard Waystation. I assumed-“
“Porter vanished four years ago,” this time it was Russell that cut him off, “So don’t think name-dropping is going to do you any good!”
Beck turned away, but not before Valtaic saw the disappointment on her face. She glanced over at Commander Morales, then stalked out of the brig.
“Let’s start again,” Morales said tiredly, “Who are you, really?”
Something Beck had said earlier popped back into Valtaic’s mind.
“Captain Beck said Silverado was missing,” he said.
“We ask the questions here!” Russell snapped.
“Oh, Good Cop, Bad Cop,” Witters grumbled, “How original!”
“Shut up!” Russell barked.
Valtaic sighed. Even in prison interrogations, humans were insufferable. OK. Porter was missing. Silverado of this universe was missing. The two were probably not related. Vessels coming into Waystation received far more scrutiny than they did in his own universe. Was that related to Silverado’s disappearance? There had been several missions that could have ended in the ship being destroyed, the crash on Delorea II coming immediately to mind. Or if it involved the mission to Matria Prime… something tickled the back of his mind. Something someone had said earlier. But he couldn’t recall.
Maybe it was time to try a different route.
“What are we being charged with,” Valtaic asked instead.
“I said WE ask the questions here!” Russell said.
“Tampering with classified Starfleet computer systems,” Morales said, “And sabotage. Possibly treason.”
“Sabotage? Treason?” now even Phulluvit looked confused, “What on Earth would we sabotage from your Welcome Center?”
“You tell me,” Morales said mildly, “And while we’re at it, why don’t you tell me who you really are?”
Valtaic’s mouth tightened. This was not going to be a productive afternoon.
“I am detecting a Matrian cruiser at the edge of sensor range,” T’Parief stated from tactical.
“All stop,” Stafford ordered, “Trish, keep our distance,”
“Is it the same kind of ship they used before?” Jall asked.
“I cannot tell from this distance,” Fifebee answered him, “But…wait. I am picking up several more ships. They are Matrian. I believe there are several cruisers, along with a number of smaller scouts. Possibly fighters, though we would have to move closer to get a clear reading,”
“I think that would be an astronomically bad idea,” Jall said, “We’re just here to scout, remember? We don’t want to-“
“Incoming communication,” T’Parief said.
“Shit,” Stafford swore, “Trish, I said the EDGE of their sensor range!”
“We are!” Yanick objected, “I mean, the edge of what the computer says is their sensor range,”
“Different universe, different Matrians,” Fifebee said.
“Do we answer, or do we turn out the lights and pretend we’re not home?” Jall asked, “Like Jeffery when Wowryk is in a bad mood,”
“They do not appear to care, they are sending a message anyway,” T’Parief said.
The screen flickered, than an image appeared on the screen.
“Federation vessel,” the man on the screen spoke, rising to his feet, his reddish hair gleaming in the light. He was of average height, though with paler than average skin. His clothing was dark, a sort of form-fitting tunic with little in the way of visible insignia aside from series of symbols on one shoulder. Clearly human, he spoke without the slightest trace of accent, “Surrender immediately. We come to welcome you into our Empire as allies and colleagues, not as enemies. Once a Faith Machine is in place on your vessel, you too will share the urge to build a greater society, for the good of all in this region of space. Indeed, one day, this galaxy!”
Everybody stared at the screen.
“Who are you?” Stafford asked finally.
“I am the Herald of the Crusade,” said the man who looked exactly like Simon Jeffery, “Here to lead the people of the Federation in their submission to the Matrian Empire,”
“Um. Let us think about that. Bye!” Stafford frantically gestured at T’Parief to cut the channel, “Yanick, set course to Waystation, maximum warp.”
“I’d say this mission is officially off the rails,” Jall remarked.