Author: Brendan Chris
“OK, OK,” Captain Christopher Stafford said “Let’s think this through.”
“Jeffery’s leading the Matrians in an invasion of the Federation,” Jall said, “That…that just doesn’t make any sense!”
“We’re at maximum warp,” Yanick said, “Time to Waystation, five minutes,”
“Matrians are not pursuing,” T’Parief said.
“Perhaps-“ Fifebee started, but T’Parief cut her off.
“I was able to identify five separate Matrian cruisers,” he said, “Along with nearly a dozen scouts and support vessels. Two squadrons of star-fighters,”
“None of which poses much threat to Waystation,” Jall pointed out, “Waystation is a fortress. This is a probe.”
“Or they are waiting for something,” T’Parief said, “Reinforcements.”
“Ye wanted to see me?” Jeffery asked, stepping out of the turbolift.
Everyone just stared at him in silence.
“Whot? Are the floor vents blowing me kilt up again? Probably not, Ah’m not wearing one! And Ah started wearin’ underwear under me kilt after that incident, anyway.”
“Captain,” Fifebee turned to Stafford, “I-“
“Any idea why you might want to seize control of the Matrian Empire and lead them in an invasion of the Federation?” Jall asked Jeffery.
“Is yer bum out the window?” Jeffery asked after a moment.
“Nooo,” Stafford said slowly, “But the you in this universe apparently…has his bum out the window. If that means he’s crazy.”
“Whot??” Jeffery was startled, “Ah mean….whot???”
“Approaching Waystation,” Yanick announced, “Taking-“
The ship shuddered as the emergency stop routines kicked in and proximity alarms started blaring.
“Trish, watch where you’re going!” Sylvia shrilled.
“It’s not ME!” Yanick snapped back, hammering the controls and pulling the ship into a sharp turn. A Galaxy-class ship loomed on the screen, two other Federation vessels flanking it as it blocked Silverado’s approach to Waystation, “Those ASSHOLES totally cut me off!”
“Hail them,” Stafford ordered, “Tell them-“
“Incoming hail,” T’Parief said.
“Unidentified ship, this is Captain Andrew Baxter of the USS Explorer!” a bearded, slightly heavyset man appeared on the screen, the usual Galaxy-style tactical railing behind him. “Slow down, keep your distance from the station and I swear, if you’re carrying a Faith Machine, it’s not going to do you any good! Seriously, I can’t get half the people on this ship to believe in Taco Tuesday, never-mind galactic conquest!”
“As I was trying to say,” Fifebee said, “Perhaps we should hail Waystation and identify ourselves before we charge in at maximum warp from the direction of hostile space.
“Oh shit,” Stafford muttered. He stood and approached the viewscreen. “Ah, this is Captain Christopher Stafford of the USS Silverado. Um…sorry for barging in, but there’s a Matrian fleet less than a light-year from here, and they’re going on about Heralds and crusades and Federation submission.”
“We…thought you’d want to know,” Jall finished lamely.
The screen abruptly split, showing Captain Lisa Beck and the Waystation Operations Center on the left and Baxter on the right.
“Baxter, I’ve got this,” she said, “Captain Stafford, your ship was listed as officially ‘Missing in Action’ five years ago, during a mission to Matrian space. Two years ago, the Matrians started pushing past their borders and invading their neighbours. Now they’re on MY doorstep, and you suddenly show up out of nowhere. Care to explain?”
Stafford was speechless. Baxter was not.
“Excuse you, Beck,” Baxter said, “But I have got this!”
“Good for you, Andy,” a woman in the counselor’s chair next to Baxter said encouragingly, “Don’t let her push you around!”
“Peterman, I swear to God,” Beck closed her eyes, took a calming breath, then looked back at Stafford, “Well?”
“We’re from a parallel universe, on a scientific mission,” Stafford said, not sure what else to say, “Look, we’re not from anyplace evil,”
“Or insanely happy!” Jall chimed in.
“We were just supposed to pop on by, find out how this universe is different, then leave,” Stafford continued, “We weren’t supposed to get involved or anything, but we weren’t expecting to end up in the middle of a Federation-Matrian war,”
“Travellers from another universe,” Beck nodded slowly, but then her gaze hardened, “Is that why you sent agents to sabotage my station, leaving us vulnerable to an M-SID attack?”
“I…what? No!” Stafford objected.
“All vessels, lock weapons on Silverado,” Beck ordered, “Stafford, drop your shields and prepare to be boarded. And if we get even a HINT of M-SID technology, we’re going to blast you into so many pieces-“
“That your pieces will be declared MIA!” Baxter jumped in.
“Andy,” Peterman grimaced, “Too much,”
“Yes,” the Andorian officer at the tactical rail said, “That was NOT a good finish.”
Beck glared again at both of them.
“Beck out,” she said.
The bridge was quiet for a moment.
“So…what do we do?” Yanick asked.
‘I have no fucking clue’ is what Stafford wanted to say. But even he knew better than to say that in front of his people.
“Sylvia,” he said, “I want all computer access locked down. Nobody except our crew gets anything, you understand?”
“Yes, Chris,” Sylvia replied dutifully, “But if they manually remove data chips, they will eventually be able to access information on them. It will only take time to bypass our encryption protocols.”
“We don’t actually have anything to hide,” Jall pointed out, “Y’know, since you told the truth and all. Which…I’m not sure if that was brilliant, or stupid as shit,”
“It’s this sabotage thing that has me really worried,” Stafford said, “What the hell did Phulluvit and Valtaic DO over there?”
“M-SID attack,” T’Parief mused.
“You don’t think…” Stafford trailed off, then turned to Fifebee, “Fifebee, did those Matrian ships have active M-SIDs on board?”
“One moment,” Fifebee turned back to her station for a moment, “Yes. They did.”
“Matrian Spatial Interphase Devices,” Jeffery spoke up, “Tha perfect thing for a bit o’ mind-control, or fer lockin’ yer enemies in a virtual dream world,”
“No wonder they were so eager to keep us away from the station!” Jall said, “But the Matrians destroyed that technology, and all record of it, years ago!”
“Our Matrians did,” Fifebee corrected him, “These ones did not.”
“Jeffery,” Stafford thought back to the image of Simon Jeffery leading the Matrian fleet. He turned to his engineer, “Simon…maybe you should keep a low profile, huh? Like, go to your quarters and take a bath until these Waystation people leave,”
“He’ll get pruny,” Yanick said.
“Whatever, I don’t care. Just…disappear for a bit.”
“Aye mate,” Jeffery said, heading for the turbolift.
“Waystation is again demanding that we lower shields,” T’Parief said.
“Yes, drop shields. Inform the crew that an…inspection party…is en route,” Stafford grimaced, then abruptly straightened.
“The Blinker!” he snapped, “The thing for travelling between universes! Sylvia, I want our return programming encrypted as tightly as possible! And Jall, go hide that stupid thing!”
“You know that’s our best evidence that we’re actually FROM another universe, right?” Jall said.
“Do you want these crazies showing up on OUR doorstep next?” Stafford asked.
Valtaic and Phulluvit were sitting in their cell in Waystation’s brig. Witters was in the next cell with Boto and Smith, but there was no sign of the other members of Phulluvit’s team. Morales had continued questioning them until the red alert klaxon had sounded, then he’d rushed out. The alert hadn’t lasted long, but so far nobody had come back to interrogate them further. A bored guard was seated by the controls to the brig forcefields, but he didn’t have much to say.
“I don’t understand,” Valtaic said finally, “Our mission was simple, straight-forward and innocent. I don’t know what you tried to do, but it was at best foolish and at worst a direct breach of orders,”
“We have our own orders,” Witters’ expression was at best condescending, at worst disgusted.
“Witters, shut up,” Phulluvit ordered.
“Of course you have your own orders,” Valtaic thought back to the secret message Stafford had received after Phulluvit and his team had been revealed as something other than Breen, “This entire experiment has been an excuse to get you to this universe, hasn’t it?”
“You realize” Phulluvit said, pointing up, “That they’re recording everything we say?”
It was Valtaic’s turn to look smug. He looked over to be sure the guard wasn’t paying close attention, then twitched his right hand near the brig force field. The field dimmed noticeably. He then glanced up at where Phulluvit was pointing.
“As I said,” he smiled, “My mission was innocent. I have nothing to fear from exposure of the truth. You, on the other hand…well, considering this universe probably doesn’t have the technology to send you home after your treason sentence is up, I suspect you have a great deal to fear.”
“It’s an honour to give our lives for the security of the Federation!” Witters snapped from the next cell.
“Dammit Witters, shut the hell up!” Phulluvit snarled, “You’re playing right into his hands!”
Valtiac leaned back but said nothing more. Hopefully now it would just be a matter of waiting for their captors to review the security footage and realize he wasn’t with this crowd.
Stafford was waiting in the transporter room when Commander Morales and a bevy of security personnel materialized on the pads. They stepped off the platform just in time for Lt Commander J’hana, Commander Richards and another batch of USS Explorer security personnel to appear.
“Lt Commander J’hana, take your people and secure the bridge,” Morales ordered, “Gregson, I want a team in Main Engineering and another in Auxiliary Control. Captain Stafford, if you’ll come with me, Captain Beck wants to speak with you,”
“I want assurances that I will be allowed to return,” Stafford said flatly. Something about what Morales just said…
“We don’t know your status, sir,” Morales said tightly, “You and your crew may have been held captive this entire time. We know the Matrians have the technology to alter personalities…and loyalties.”
“We’re from a parallel universe,” Stafford repeated, “You’ll figure that out sooner or later.”
“I hope you’re right,” Morales’ hard expression softened briefly, then he turned to J’Hana, “Make sure your people are looking for any Matrian technology or modifications. Anything that would indicate this ship has been in enemy hands.
Uh-oh. Now he knew what the problem was.
“Ah…about that,” Stafford said, “We…in our universe, the Matrians are our allies. Our ship was crippled helping them fight the Qu’Eh, they helped us with a rebuild and…what?”
Morales’ look had gone dead cold again.
“The Qu’Eh were absorbed into the Matrian Empire six months ago,” he said, “What we can’t figure out is how. How did the Matrians get a tactical advantage over an empire twice their size?”
“I don’t know. We weren’t here,” Stafford said, the words sounding inadequate even to him, “In our universe the Qu’Eh occupied Matria Prime for months, until a Federation fleet helped push them out of Matian space.”
“Uh-huh,” Morales motioned to his people, “Let’s go people. Secure this ship. Stafford, come with me. For what it’s worth, if you’re telling the truth we won’t have any reason to hold you.”
“I guess that’s as good as I’m going to get,” Stafford sighed.
He was beamed over to a small vessel, presumably the Waystation support ship that Cadela was originally going to use for her test. Silverado was well beyond transporter range. Presumably, she’d been intercepted outside of whatever range Starfleet had determined the M-SIDs had. He was led to the tiny bridge under guard but not restrained, just in time to see Silverado slip out of sight as the small ship sped towards Waystation.
He honestly wasn’t sure how worried he needed to be. Beck seemed like herself, just maybe a bit more suspicious than he remembered. He never really knew this Baxter character, but he didn’t seem particularly evil. On the other hand, how much could he really learn about someone from a few interactions over the viewscreen? On the other, other hand, Morales seemed to be following normal procedures, and he wasn’t acting like he was leading Stafford to his doom. Of course, if people who routinely led others to their doom acted like they were leading others to their doom, the others being led would flee, and the ones doing the leading wouldn’t be delivering much in terms of doom.
With that fun train of thought running through his head, Stafford turned to Morales.
“Who’s President of the Federation in this timeline?” he asked.
Morales looked at him a bit strangely.
“Bradly Dillon,” he replied, “Why, who’s yours? One of the Betazoid Boys?”
“Dillon,” Stafford nodded. “And you say my ship disappeared on the first mission to Matrian space?”
“First mission? Try only mission,” Morales said, “Starfleet sent the USS Stallion to investigate, but they were attacked as soon as they got close to Matrian space. They didn’t even make it all the way back to Waystation before their warp coils fused from plasma leakage. We had to send a rescue tug to bring them the last week back.”
“Seriously?” Stafford was pissed, “An entire Ambassador-class starship goes missing, and the only rescue mission Starfleet bothers to send is Simplot and her band of losers??”
Morales was quiet for a moment.
“What? Did I say something wrong? She’s not dead in this universe, is she?” Stafford actually would have felt like a monumental asshole if that had been the case.
“I was just wondering,” Morales said slowly, “How somebody who’d been held captive by the Matrians for five years would know who was commanding the Stallion,”
“Yes! Exactly!” Stafford almost pounced at the opening. But Morales burst his bubble quickly.
“Then I remembered that starship command appointments are available on the Federnet,” Morales shrugged, “I guess you had a good briefing.”
“Are we there yet?”
“One pulse phaser cannon. ONE? That is pathetic. YOU are pathetic,” Lt Commander J’Hana said to T’Parief, somehow managing to look down her nose at him, even though he was easily a foot taller than her.
T’Parief let out a throat rattle, but otherwise didn’t reply.
“You know,” Jall said calmly, “I really don’t want to have to break up a fight between the two of you.”
“No,” J’Hana gave him a predatory grin, “You don’t.”
“Yeah, I just said that,” Jall crossed his arms, “Between his claws and your crazy, I’d be on the express train to Sickbay. So why don’t you just play nice until your people realize the Matrian fleet is a bigger threat than we are, then you two can whip them out see who’s got the bigger…phaser cannon.”
J’Hana’s grin didn’t fade, but something in her posture shifted.
“I like that idea,” she said.
“Uh, he’s taken,” Yanick said from the helm, “And he might have claws, but I’m the one that BITES!”
“Then perhaps the three of us-“ J’Hana started, but Jall cut her off.
“Stop. Stop this metaphor,” he said.
The turbolift doors opened and Commmander Richards and Dr Janice Browning stepped onto the bridge.
“Find anything?” J’Hana asked, eyes not leaving T’Parief.
“Non-Federation replicator traces on a ton of equipment,” Richards said, “But according to the serial numbers, a lot of sensitive equipment was manufactured in Federation space sometime in the past six to twelve months. So…I dunno.”
“There’s also Matrian DNA on every deck,” Browning said, “But there’s something screwy with their crew manifest,”
“What do you mean?” J’Hana demanded.
“She probably means,” Jall said, “that we have crew on board who weren’t aboard Silverado during the Matrian missions. And other people are missing. Because, guess what? That was five years ago! We’ve had turnover! You think the Matrians just went and imported a few random humans for some elaborate charade?”
“Yes,” J’Hana and Richards said together.
“I’ve examined several crewmen, along with Dr. Wowryk,” Browning said, “Quantum phasic signature scans are processing, but for now there’s no indications of cortical induction or exposure to spatial interphase. So either the Matrians have managed to hide those indicators, or these guys haven’t been exposed.”
“Or they were exposed enough to turn them five years ago!” J’Hana said.
“It doesn’t work that way,” Fifebee said haughtily.
“And how would you know that if you weren’t a Matrian spy??”
“Because,” Jall said again, “the Matrians are our allies in our universe. We destroyed their M-SID network and the virtual reality it linked to. All the women woke up from stasis and the men went back to normal. The only side effect was memory loss,”
Now he had their attention.
“Really,” Richards asked, “How can you know this? We haven’t heard any of this from our…uh…intelligence network.”
“Well that’s how it turned out in our universe,” Jall said, “Lord knows what the hell is going on in this one,”
“Indeed,” T’Parief grumbled, “But if you would allow us to resume access to our tactical sensors, at least we can keep an eye open,”
“Keep your hands away from the panel!” J’hana barked.
“Well this is going nowhere fast,” Jall muttered.
“Two Earth standard meals,” the Waystation security guard said as he pushed a tray through an opening in Witter’s cell force-field, then another into the cell Valtaic was sharing with Phulluvit. “One ‘Humanoid Type-IV’, guaranteed not to kill Lithinarians,” he continued over to the cell Boto and Smith where in, “One more Earth standard, and a ‘Humanoid Type-II’ for Bajorans.”
“It seems mealtime has become surprisingly racist,” Valtaic said to Boto as he contemplated his very unappealing block of processed nutrient gel.
“Indeed,” Boto agreed.
“Count your blessings,” Smith grumbled, “I have some kind of purple soup. What the hell is this? This can’t be from Earth,”
“It’s food,” the guard said.
“Seriously though,” Smith held up his tray, “It’s purple! Who’s ever heard of purple soup?”
The guard looked through the force-field, but didn’t seem impressed.
“It’s just borscht,” he said, “You’ll-URK!”
The guard fell to the desk as a hand fell on his shoulder, a non-descript Vulcan figure having appeared almost as though from thin air. Valtaic immediately recognized him as one of the officers they’d left on the ship.
“Good timing,” Phulluvit said, tossing his meal tray aside and moving to the force-field. Valtaic set his carefully down on the small table, “Report!”
“Waystation has raised their security alert,” the Vulcan said, “All computer systems have been locked down, and it seems Dillon Enterprises have moved much of their R&D off the station in this universe. We will not be able to complete our mission as anticipated,”
As he spoke, the Vulcan dropped the force-fields on the cells holding Boto, Smith and Witters. Witters grabbed the fallen guard’s phaser and managed to have it pointing right at Valtaic’s head as the force-field in front of his cell dropped.
“Not so fast,” Witters hissed as Phulluvit walked out. The Vulcan re-activated the force-field.
Valtaic regarded them calmly.
“If you leave me here, Captain Stafford is not likely to respond well,” he said.
“Stafford has to take us home, regardless,” Phulluvit chuckled, “If he’s pissed while he’s doing it, that’s no skin off mine. Besides, you seemed pretty confident that your new Waystation friends are going to help you out. Or were you confident that you could take down the brig force-field yourself? I forgot.”
Phulluvit strode towards the brig exit. Witters followed, but leaned close to Valtaic’s cell.
“Looks like you get to make a choice,” he gave a cold smile, then left.
Valtaic’s energy field flashed in irritation. The force-field sparked in complaint, but did not fall. Nor had he intended it to. Whatever Phulluvit was up to, it sounded like Waystation was thwarting them. And he didn’t want to get caught in the crossfire when Waystation security took them down.
Still, he did have a choice. He looked down at the thoroughly unappetizing nutrient gel he’d been given, then over at the bacon cheeseburger Phulluvit had tossed to the floor. The burger had fallen apart, but the pieces were mostly on the tray, aside from the tomato.
And he could probably live without the tomato.
Stafford was beamed over to Waystation and brought into the briefing room off the Operations Center, and the first thing he saw was a very, very pale male alien with wild hair wearing a strange, form-fitting grey suit and matching headband.
“Seize him!” he snapped. The guards immediately grabbed him by the arms and forced him to his knees, “I am Wuddle, Intendant of the Multek Sector of the Alliance! Terrans are slaves!”
Stafford jerked back hard enough that his guards lost their grip.
“No, no, no!” he squeaked, trying to push back out of the briefing room, “Shit! Intendants means…oh shit! Mirror Universe!”
“WAIT!” Beck was suddenly at his side, “Relax, you’re not in the Mirror Universe, it’s just…um…”
“Wait…what?” Stafford blinked, then looked around. The Waystation officers were still manning their stations, but they were all smirking or holding back laughter. He turned to the pale man, who was peeling off the headband.
“Am I done? Did I do this right?” the man was asking, “What are Terrans? Why are they slaves?”
“You’re fine, Wuddle,” Ensign Tina Jones was patting his arm reassuringly, “Head back down to the Welcome Center,”
“Who…what?” Stafford was still confused.
“You passed,” Commander Morales said, trying to hide a laugh of his own.
“Only someone who genuinely thought they were in another universe would be scared of a Multek in a tight suit,” Dr Diantha explained, tapping at her tricorder, “And your bio-signs clearly indicated a state of fear. And possible involuntary urination.”
Stafford’s mouth tightened. “That was a dick move,” he said to Beck.
She shrugged. “Maybe. But it takes you a step closer to proving your case,”
“I think I’ve well proven it by now!”
“Then why did you have an infiltration team on my station?”
“I already told you, Valtaic was the only one that’s actually mine. Those other yahoos hitched a ride under some Starfleet data collection mission,” They glared at each other for a moment.
“Enough standing,” Diantha said, taking a seat. Reluctantly, the remainder of the officers including Stafford and Beck, sat. As they did, an alarm sounded and Russell’s comm-badge chirped.
“Security to Russell! Sir, four of the prisoners have escaped! We found Jacobs unconscious in the brig!”
“Alert all security teams and begin a search!” Russell ordered as he leapt to his feet.
“Sit down, Russell,” Beck ordered, “Beck to security, you said four prisoners escaped. Who stayed behind?”
“The Lithinarian,” the reply came back, “They left him in his cell.”
“Lock down all departures,” Beck ordered, then closed the channel.
“Told you they’re not mine,” Stafford said sheepishly.
“Russell,” Beck finally said, “Bring Mr. Valtaic up here,” she turned to Stafford, “Look, the more we learn, the more we’re inclined to believe you. There are people on your ship that we’ve confirmed are still at their assigned posts on other ships and starbases. None of you show signs of any recent M-SID activity,”
“And you freaked right out when you thought you were in the Mirror Universe,” Russell smirked, “Maybe even piddled your pants a little.”
Stafford seethed, but said nothing. “On the other hand,” Morales stepped in, “Your ship is full of Matrian DNA and you yourself admit it was completely torn apart and rebuilt in a Matrian shipyard. Which is something of an improvement, from what I understand.”
“Which is interesting because so far as we know, Matria Prime doesn’t HAVE any shipyards that could do that,” Beck resumed speaking.
“And that doesn’t explain why this infiltration team was trying to access classified M-SID files,” Russell added.
“They were WHAT?” Stafford demanded.
“Russell, you weren’t supposed to tell him that!” Morales sighed.
“Shut up,” Stafford told him, then fixated on Russell, “You’re sure? You’re SURE that’s what they were accessing??”
Russell who looked at Beck, who looked at Diantha.
“He’s close to panic,” Diantha said, consulting her tricorder, “I very much doubt he was already aware of this,” Beck nodded at Russell.
“We’re certain,” Russell said, “All M-SID material is kept in a special high-security databank,”
“You thought they were sabotaging your M-SID countermeasures,” Stafford said to Beck. She nodded. “No, I don’t think that’s it at all. They wanted M-SID design schematics.”
“What? Starfleet has had their hands on that for years!” Russell said.
“Not in my universe they haven’t,” Stafford said, everything coming together, “When we took out the M-SID network on Matria Prime five years ago, every device connected was fried. The Matrians themselves destroyed every trace of the technology. Even the one we found aboard Haven with Colonel Abela was disintegrated. That’s why somebody in Starfleet sent Phulluvit and his team here on my ship! That’s why they needed Wowryk’s scans to get us here! This wasn’t about studying the differences that caused our universes to split, they just wanted to get their hands on M-SID mind-control technology!”
Partway through this statement, Valtaic had been brought into the room. “You mean Dr. Wowryk isn’t the only one of us that accomplished something of cosmological significance during her lifetime?” he asked.
“Please,” Stafford grumbled, “I should have known better. We helped T’Parief’s father create an entirely new race…albeit unknowingly. Actually one of your guys sort of helped start that,” he said to Beck.
“Which one,” Beck asked.
“I can’t remember his name. He was at an Ops Conference on Nisus when K’Eleese kidnapped him. She tortured him and my Ops O at the time, trying to get information on the Happyverse.”
“Porter,” Beck said softly, “He disappeared at that conference.”
“I’m sorry,” Stafford said after a moment, “Look, let me collect those yahoos then I promise we’re all going back to our home universe to think long and hard about what we’ve done,”
“I think you owe us a little more than that,” Beck said, crossing her arms.
“Like how about information on how to beat the Matrians?” Morales said.
“I can’t understand how they turned into a serious threat!” Stafford objected, “I mean, yes they were serious for their neck of the woods. But their ships can’t hold up against Federation technology and even with the M-SIDs they just don’t have the numbers to take on the Federation! I already told you, the Qu’Eh managed to conquer them. Temporarily,” he added.
“And I already told you the Matrians have already conquered the Qu’Eh,” Morales shot back.
“I don’t know how the hell they would have managed that,” Stafford shrugged, “And that little fleet they have at your doorstep isn’t big enough to pose a serious threat,”
“It would if our M-SID defenses went down,” Becks said.
“Maybe they’ve got you and your crew working for them this time,” Russell said. Stafford rolled his eyes but Russell quickly clarified, “Not YOU you. Our you. Your ship…well, your ship from this universe anyway, has been MIA for years. You could have given them all sorts of Federation technology,”
“Or we…or rather they, could all be dead,” Valtaic said, “And they could have harvested that technology from the wreckage of their ship,”
Russell at least had the good grace to look embarrassed. “Yeah,” he said, “Or that,”
“I’m still not buying it,” Stafford shook his head, “We had our asses handed to us by one Qu’Eh fleet. You’re saying the Matrians took over their entire empire!”
“An empire of spineless corporate telemarketers and quality-assurance people,” Beck said.
“They still kicked our asses,” Stafford said, “We just don’t like to tell people that part.”
“But you defeated them in the end,” Beck said. “How?”
Stafford and Valtaic exchanged a glance. Just how much should they say? “We…found something on Matria Prime,” Stafford said slowly, “A city. A flying city. More of a space station actually. It had Matrian technology from before the war that trashed their civilization. Not quite Federation-level stuff, but much better than what they’ve got now.”
“And you don’t think that was important?” Russell demanded.
“It’s a space station!” Stafford said, “It doesn’t actually do anything other than float there. It’s great for defending Matria Prime, but not much else. Well, other than the shipyards,”
“Shipyards??” Beck demanded.
“Right, the city has six shipyards, but nothing else!” Stafford cringed.
“You said it was a flying city,” Morals said.
“Well, if I said ‘space station’, you’d ask where it came from,” Stafford grunted, “And I’d say ‘We found it under the desert’. And then you’d say ‘well then how did it get into space’. And I’d say-“
“Flying city. With shipyards. Got it.” Beck cut him off, “Look, if-“
This time Beck was the one cut off, only this time it was the chime of a transporter than drowned out her words.
“Beck!” Captain Andy Baxter exclaimed as he emerged from the transporter beam, “What the hell? You’re buddies with this guy now, and you’re not even inviting me to your little meeting?”
“Shit,” Beck grumbled.
“Ex-boyfriend?” Stafford asked. Something about the look in Beck’s eye managed to communicate just how close to death he was. “Nevermind,” he muttered.
J’Hana and T’Parief were locked eye to eye. T’Parief’s right thumb claw eased slightly towards his console. Immediately, J’Hana’s weapon shifted towards him by the same amount. Seeing this, T’Parief eased the claw back, resulting in a similar movement of J’Hana’s weapon. He moved the heel of his left foot the smallest amount. No reaction. J’Hana had either missed the movement, or was attempting to lull him into a false sense of security. He narrowed his eyes slightly, but she just continued to stare at him with her cold, confident gaze.
“I’d be worried if I were you,” Jall said to Yanick.
“Jall, don’t start,” Yanick said crisply.
“Your man and the blue babe are TOTALLY having glare-sex,” Jall chuckled.
“They totally are not,” Yanick said, carefully NOT turning around in her seat to look back, “It’s just more silly macho posturing. I’m not worried at all.”
“If I wanted him, I would have him,” J’Hana said calmly.
“If?” T’Parief arched a scaled brow.
“Sweetie,” Yanick’s voice had a hint of danger in it, “Enough flirting,”
T’Parief turned towards Yanick and incidentally towards his console. J’Hana’s phaser was immediately in his face, her thumb resting on the trigger. Before either of them could do anything the comm chirped.
“Waystation to Silverado,” Beck’s voice came over the channel, “Stand down. We-“
“J’Hana, Richards, stand down,” Baxter’s voice interrupted, “We’ve confirmed their story.”
“Then let us speak to our Captain,” T’Parief said.
The screen came to life, showing Stafford standing between Beck and Baxter with a very uncomfortable look on his face. Beck was glaring at Baxter, who turned and stuck his tongue out at her.
“You are now on screen, sir,” J’Hana said.
“I know that,” Stafford frowned. He looked behind him just as Baxter’s tongue pulled back into his mouth. “Seriously? I hope the two of you in my universe aren’t this bad,”
“So they believe us?” Jall asked.
“Yeah,” Stafford said, “We’ve got Valtaic back, but Phulluvit and his crew took their ship and disappeared. We think they’re after M-SID technology, but since we’re their ride back to our universe, I don’t think they’ll go too far. Look, I have to work a few things out with Captain Beck,”
“And me!” Baxter said, “In case you didn’t notice, my ship could blow your ship to pieces,”
T’Parief and J’Hana glared at each other again.
“Just join their defensive perimeter for now,” Stafford said, “I’ll be back on board soon. Oh, and somebody tell Simon he can stop hiding. Waystation out,”
“You heard him,” Jall said to Yanick.
If anyone had been paying attention to Silverado’s sensors, they might have noticed that due to their slightly more distant position from Waystation they had the Matrian fleet on the very, very edge of sensor range. And this hypothetical someone might have noticed that the Matrian fleet was manoeuvring itself into a new formation. But sadly no one was paying attention. And by the time J’Hana left the bridge and T’Parief was able to return to his duties, the ship had moved closer to Waystation and the Matrian ships had slipped out of range.
“OK,” Stafford said, glancing at the docking control station and seeing that Yanick had moved quickly to obey his orders, nearly sideswiping the smaller Miranda-class ship in the process, “Are we finished talking now? We’ve talked about the Matrians, we’ve talked about the M-SIDs, we’ve talked about my people, your people, Phulluvit’s people, Baxter’s issues with jealousy and fear of exclusion. Is that about it? Can I go?”
“You’re not going back to your universe until you’ve cleaned up your mess!” Baxter snapped.
“Uh, yeah. That’s why I want to find Phulluvit and get all of us out of your hair,” Stafford said, “Or…you know. If you’re going to make a big issue over it I could probably just leave him here,”
“No, you’re taking him back,” Beck said, “I don’t want those people in any position to try sabotaging us again,”
“How are you getting back to your home universe anyway?” Baxter asked him.
“That’s…classified?” Stafford tried.
“OK, but I mean, who has whatever it is you’re using to get home?” Baxter clarified, “Can Phulluvit get back without you?”
“No,” Stafford said slowly, deciding that information wasn’t exactly secret, “So you’re saying I don’t have to chase after him. He’s going to come to me as soon as he finishes with whatever brought him here,”
“Sure,” Morales nodded.
“And he’s here for M-SID technology,” Beck crossed her arms, “He couldn’t get it from us, so where does he go to get it?”
“The Matrian attack fleet,” Stafford cursed, “Wanna bet he’s already halfway there?”
“Impossible,” Russell said proudly, “We locked this place down like a Ferengi safe!”
“Is that Andorian raider that docked a few hours ago still in your bay?” Stafford asked.
Russell tapped as his console for a moment.
“Well shit. How the hell did they manage that??”
“I’ve gotta get back to my ship,” Stafford told Beck, “If Phulluvit is doing something stupid like trying to sneak into a Matrian attack fleet…”
“He’s going to light this powder keg,” Baxter said, then looked pleased with himself. “Good metaphor, Andy,” he quietly congratulated himself.
“Morales, take him back on the Wayward,” Beck ordered. Stafford started to object, but Beck cut him off, “Look, Stafford, we don’t exactly have a great track record with other universes. And frankly you’re a headache I don’t need right now. So no, your ship is NOT coming into transporter range of my station. Morales will drop you off, you will keep your distance until Phulluvit returns, then you will get the hell out of my universe,”
“Yes, ma’am,” Stafford gulped.
“Waystation reports that Captain Stafford is en route,” T’Parief said. J’Hana, Richards and the rest of the Waystation/Explorer personnel had departed, back to more important things like preparing for the impending attack. The doors hissed open and Jeffery emerged.
“So, Ah hear the ship is ours again?” he said.
“Most polite take-over ever,” Jall nodded. He held up a padd, “I’m actually giving them a pretty good write-up on their after-action review.”
“What, are we Qu’Eh now?”
Jall frowned, then tossed the padd over his shoulder. T’Parief deftly caught it, then tossed it towards the disposal.
“No, but YOU are apparently now a Matrian warloard,” T’Parief said, “Congratulations. I never would have thought it possible,”
“Uh…thanks mate. But ‘tis na me,” Jeffery settled in to the engineering station.
“It’s what the Matrians would have turned you into,” Fifebee observed, “had our reality unfolded like this one,”
“Well it didn’t, and they didn’t,” Jeffery said sharply.
“Hey, nobody’s blaming you just because alternate-you is invading the Federation,” Jall smirked, “Which, by the way…REALLY stupid plan. That little fleet out there is going to get wiped out as soon as they get into range of Waystation’s weapons.”
“Ah’m not that stupid!” Jeffery snapped.
“Normally I agree,” T’Parief shifted his massive weight, “But even if these ships have been upgraded, they cannot hope to defeat a well-defended, fortified outpost plus several battle-ready starships,”
“Ye think Ah couldn’t come up with something, given the time and the resources?” Jeffery crossed his arms, “Alternate-me has had whot…five years? And a whole solar system of resources?”
“The Qu’Eh in this universe were absorbed by the Matrians,” Fifebee now looked thoughtful, “So you clearly developed something. Either a new technology, or a substantial amount of firepower. Or both.”
Jall suddenly looked worried.
“Fifebee, can you boost our sensor range? Or work on something that can give us a bit more information on what they might be planning? They’ve got to have some kind of technological ace up their sleeve. Jeffery, if you were other- you, what would you do?”
“Ah wouldn’t be invadin’ the Federation,” Jeffery shrugged.
Jall looked exasperated.
“Ah’d…Ah’d…” Jeffery’s eyes widened. “Uh-oh…” He dashed over to the Port Auxiliary console and started hammering on the controls.
“I am getting very strange readings from the Matrian fleet,” T’Parief said suddenly.
“I thought they were out of sensor range,” Jall felt his stomach drop.
“They were,” T’Parief corrected, “But they are now coming right at us.”
“What’s coming right at us?” Jall demanded, “Talk to me, people,”
“I am picking up a huge subspace distortion,” Fifebee called.
Jeffery jumped up from the panel and leaned over the tactical railing. “Haven,” he said.
With flashes of pseudo-motion the Matrian fleet dropped out of warp. They immediately unleashed full weapons broadsides at the nearest Federation ships and then pulled off an in-unison turn to port that would have made Disney on Ice envious. The Explorer and the two Akira-class ships started turning to follow, which left them completely exposed when space rippled again and disgorged a massive, disc-shaped object. It was clearly Haven, or whatever it was the Matrians had chosen to call it in this universe. The dozens of towering buildings were dark and the lake had been drained, but the overall shape was still the same. With additions. As the city flew towards them, dome-first, the dozen warp nacelles added to the Outer Rim were clearly visible. Hatches began opening all across the hull as phaser emitters and torpedo launchers became visible. Turned as they were towards the Matrian ships, the Explorer and her escort took hard hits to their aft shields before they could make evasive maneuvers.
“Beck to Stafford,” the comm chirped, “I assume this is the ‘harmless’ flying city you mentioned?”
“Yeah,” Stafford sighed, “What a relief!”
“I beg your pardon?” Morales asked next to him.
Stafford leaned back in his chair. Finally! Finally, he knew something that most of Starfleet didn’t care about but was actually really important! This was totally his time to shine!
“Yeah,” he said, tapping on the comm panel and opening a link to Silverado, “Look, Beck, I have no idea how they got it here, but my guys had months to study this place. I’m getting the information for you, but long story short, stick to the edges of the disc! Don’t come at the dome head on, that’s the only direction where they can really concentrate their fire! They’ve got incredibly powerful shields, but their weapons array is pretty much just defensive. And they can’t maneuver worth shit,”
“Neither can we!” Beck snapped back.
“My tactical officer will send you schematics and a few weak-points,” Stafford was sounding downright cocky now, “You might start with that big energy transfer thing on the back end…unless they’ve tied that into whatever they’re using for warp drive. But unless they’ve got any weird surprises up their sleeves, you’ve got this. So I’ll just find Phulluvit and we can be on our-“
“Would this be a weird surprise?” Morales asked, giving Stafford a not-exactly-friendly look. The tactical overlay on the Wayward’s small screen had come to life. They could barely see the docking bay doors opening along Haven’s Outer Rim, but they could see swarms of small shapes as they poured out of the bays and flew straight at them. Bigger swarms were emerging from the nearest shipyard.
“What are they doing?” Beck demanded. She turned to the side, “What’s that I’m seeing? What happened to the sensor feeds from Explorer?”
“Stafford to Jeffery,” Stafford was quiet, “Are you seeing this? Is that…what I think it is?”
“Construction bots,” Jeffery said, “Or something like ‘em. Hundreds of them. Maybe thousands.”
“Stafford,” Beck’s voice did not sound pleased, “Is this something new?”
Stafford gulped. “Hold, please,” he said. He reached over to close the channel, but Morales blocked his hand.
“Look out!” Stafford snapped. Morales looked back and yanked the ship to the side just as a trio of bots crossed their path. Relieved that he wasn’t under guard this time, Stafford moved over to the tactical station and started tapping away. The bots were moving quickly, streams of them moving towards each of the defending starships. The Matrians ships were coming around for another pass, but were keeping their distance from the bot swarms…and strangely enough, the Federation ships.
“Beck…” he started.
“I see it,” she said, “All power to-“ The space outside lit up as every phaser array on alter-Haven’s upper surface opened up on Waystation, impacting the shields protecting the upper saucer. The barbell-shaped station rocked back, but instead of compensating with thrusters, Beck’s people let the station continue to turn, rotating the weakened shields away. Heavy phaser beams spat back from the station, splashing against alter-Haven’s shields.
“Jeffery,” Stafford shouted over the comm, “Get T’Parief to send those schematics! Have her target…uh…”
“Antimatter Reactor 2,” Jeffery replied immediately, “It was under one of the water processing plants, but with the…bollocks!” The channel cut out.
Stafford turned the sensors to Silverado, only to see that the ship was engulfed in attacking bots. They swarmed and skittered across the shields, sparks flying as their robotic limbs struck the energy field, splashes of brilliant light surging as they directed their cutting beams at the ship’s hull. Waystation fired back again, but alter-Haven seemed to shrug off the hit.
“Well,” Jeffery said, looking at the main viewscreen, “At least we don’t have to worry about being shot at by the city,” The screen looked like some kind of metallic insect orgy. The bots were moving around so quickly it was impossible to focus on any single one, but it was still clear what they were doing.
“Shields are being drained,” T’Parief reported, “We have six minutes until the bots are able to attack the hull directly,”
“Fifebee, I’m pretty sure this sort of thing has happened before,” Jall said, “Start looking stuff up,”
“There was that one incident at Starbase Yorktown in the 23rd-Century,” Fifebee started, but Jall cut her off.
“Fifebee, you’re in the ‘Fiction’ section again! Try again under ‘Non-Fiction’!”
“Ooops,” Fifebee paused for a moment, “There are six thousand twenty-four incidents regarding attacks by large groups of robotic entities on file. None of them are recorded as having been solved with rock music,”
“What works?” Jeffery asked.
“Electromagnetic pulse,” Fifebee started listing off possibilities, though they were largely vetoed immediately.
“Nay,” Jeffery said, “Matrian bots are shielded,”
“Deflector resonance pulse,”
“No,” Sylvia shimmered into view, “That only worked because those sythentics had antimatter micro-reactors,”
“Yes, I see.” Fifebee paused, “Reversing shield polarity?”
“Just tried it,” Jeffery said, “Nope,”
“There’s something very strange about some of the signals I’m picking up,” Sylvia frowned, “Hold on. I need to look into this,” she vanished.
“Five minutes,” T’Parief intoned.
“Why aren’t they getting in closer?” Stafford asked. Each of the Federation ships had been swarmed with bots. The smaller Akira-class ships had taken to firing on each-other with low power phaser blasts. Each shot took out a dozen bots, but also weakened their shields. Explorer was firing randomly in all directions as the bots tried to dig into her shields, one blast narrowly missing the Wayward and electing a curse from Morales. Waystation and Haven continued to slug it out, though neither was making much progress. Haven was bigger and had three antimatter reactors to Waystation’s two, but Waystation’s deflectors had a much smaller area to shield. Haven’s need to face the station dome-on to direct full weapons at the smaller station made for an awfully large target.
“I’d say they’re in close enough,” Morales said as he spun the small ship around. So far they were the only Starfleet vessel able to evade the bots.
“No, I mean the Matrian ships,” Stafford said, “Why aren’t they closing in? Hell, they should be ready to beam in boarding parties as soon as Haven gets Waystation’s shields down!”
“They have to beam an M-SID in first,” Morales said, “And Waystation has anti-M-SID countermeasures. The whole lower saucer had to be powered down to extend the field out to our ships,”
“That’s why your ships never moved far from Waystation!” Stafford realized, “Why not put countermeasures on the ships themselves?”
“Too much power drain,”
“Ahh,” Stafford looked back at the tactical console and brought up the anti-M-SID overlay. Silverado was just inside the field. “Jall,” he called over the comm, “Don’t get any further from Waystation! There’s a-“
“M-SID countermeasure field, we know, they told us,” Jall cut him off. In the background, Stafford could hear Jeffery and Fifebee.
“Super high-voltage discharge along the hull?” Jeffery suggested.
“Perhaps after the shields fail,” Fifebee replied, “Though our death is more probable,”
“Oh, we could fly into the sun!” Yanick suggested, “Burn the critters off!”
“Yeah, and if the Matrians catch us in an M-SID field for more than a few minutes, we turn into them,” Jall snapped.
“Oh,” Stafford blinked. “Jall, I have an idea. Keep my ship in one piece! Stafford out!”
“No promises,” Jall muttered as the channel closed.
“Two minutes,” T’Parief said.
“Transporter dispersion…no, not with the shields up,” Jeffery was still going on.
“I am attempting to harden our shields by specifically adjusting to the frequencies of the cutting beams used by our Matrian counterparts,” Sylvia broke in, “This should buy us an additional five minutes,”
“And it’s AI for the win!” Jall exclaimed, “Or…a pause anyway.”
“Your lives aren’t the only ones on the line here, San!” Sylvia said peevishly, “OK, Simon, can you please make the following adjustments?”
“On it,” Jeffery tapped away for a few seconds, “Done,”
Outside, the swarming bots seemed to pause for a moment. Suddenly, every cutting beam switched off. In unison, the bots tore open access panels, adjusted internal controls, closed the panels and resumed attacking Silverado’s shields.
“They have changed frequencies,” T’Parief stated.
“No kidding,” Jall grumbled, “Sylvia, I take back that win,”
“They…shouldn’t be able to do that,” Jeffery said, “How did they adjust so quickly? How could they?”
“Fifebee? Sylvia? What do you guys…hello?” Jall was looking at Fifebee, who had frozen solid. Suddenly she leapt into motion again.
“All ships, all ships, this is USS Silverado, close all data-band communications channels and isolate sensor and communication systems from your central computers!”
“Wha-“ Jall about to belay that when Sylvia stopped him cold.
“The Matrians are using an AI to control the bots,” Sylvia said, “I KNEW there was something familiar about those data patterns!”
“One minute,” T’Parief said.
“Sylvia and I have a plan,” Fifebee said.
“We reverted to direct communication. It was far faster. And we did not have to pause to explain every time you did not understand. Like now.”
“Is this going to save us, Sylvia?” Jall demanded, turning away from Fifebee, “Or are you going to eat up the time I could be enjoying my final martini with techno-babble?”
“We know the Matrians capture the Simon from this universe,” Sylvia spoke, but as she did the Port Auxiliary console took on a life of its own, the displays jumping as Sylvia manipulated systems, “We assume they captured Noel, Chris…all of you. Look at the nacelles attached to Haven!”
“Uh, sure. Cuz we have such a great view,” Jall gestured at the screen, which showed nothing but bots. It flickered as Sylvia brought up the image of Haven dropping out of warp, the froze it.
“Those are Federation technology,” Valtaic noticed immediately.
“Aye,” Jeffery swallowed, “And Ambassador-class, too. All twelve of them. And see there…in the center?”
The image jumped as Sylvia fired up the magnification. In the center of the dome, where the pod housing the Haven Command Center used to be was a perfectly circular saucer, far bigger than the old pod. It covered nearly the inner third of the dome, in fact.
“Oh shit,” Jall groaned.
“Thirty seconds,” T’Parief said.
“That’s an Ambassador-class saucer,” Jeffery exclaimed.
“That’s OUR saucer,” Sylvia said, “Now we know what happened to the us of this universe. Including me,”
“You??” Jall demanded.
“Ah-hah!” Sylvia exclaimed triumphantly, “Got them!” The bots swarming on the screen abruptly stopped.
“Sylvia??” Jall repeated, “You?”
“Exactly!” Sylvia said, “Me!”
“Do you know any other AI’s that could control swarms of cute little bots so effectively?”
“This is insane!” Morales said, “you know that, right?”
“Right,” Stafford said, tapping in the commands to isolate the sensors from the central computer and shut down non-essential communications, “Got a better idea?”
“No. But we’ll only have a couple of minutes to do this,”
“Yeah. Is Waystation ready?”
“Standing by,” Russell’s voice came back, “But this better work! That’s one phaser array that could be…well…doing almost nothing against Haven’s shields right now!”
“Shields at 75%,” someone on Waystation said the background.
“Stop whining, you’re fine,” Stafford said, “Let’s go!”
Morales tapped at the controls, pulling the small ship away from Waystation and towards one of the Matrian ships.
“Standby Waystation…” Stafford said.
“Wait until they turn…” Morales said, eyes on the screen, “…now!
“Fire!” Stafford snapped.
Waystation fired, the thick phaser blast catching the Matrian ship off-guard. Their engines flickered, and the ship started to drift…right towards the station.
“Engaging tractor beam,” Stafford said.
“Full impulse,” Morales tapped the controls.
They pulled the ship, accelerating its momentum towards Waystation…right into the anti-M-SID countermeasure field.
“Give it a minute or two,” Stafford said, “And you’ll have a ship full of very confused Matrian males. Or kidnapped aliens. Or something. But they probably won’t be hostile.”
“That’s great,” Beck said over the comm, “But our ships are about to lose shields! We don’t have time to pull this stunt on every attacking ship, and Haven is one tough nut to crack!”
As if on cue, Baxter broke into the channel.
“This is Explorer! Our shields are down! The bots are coming right at the hull! They’re killing us! Oh, they’re killing us, and it’s all your fault! They’re…they’re…wait. No, I was wrong. They all just stopped. And they’re…leaving?”
“Sylvia to Stafford,” the comm chirped. “I have established control over the invading robot swarms. Would you like me to send them home with a firm talking-to?”
“Nooo, I have a better idea,” Stafford said, “But first…beam me off this thing!”
“Hey,” Morales looked offended.
“Sorry,” Stafford said, “But between those high-speed maneuvers and all these windows, I’m feeling enough motion-sickness to redecorate your carpets with my guts,”
“Dropping shields for transport,” Morales replied.
“We don’t exactly have a lot of time,” Sylvia was saying as Stafford strode onto the bridge, “Alternate-me is trying to regain control. Lucky for me, she’s more than a bit out of date on current Federation cyber-warfare. She also never had to deal with hundreds of Matrian bots going through the equivalent of teenage rebellion…or an Old Matrian computer virus! I did some brushing up after that, believe you me!”
“Status?” Stafford demanded.
“Sylvia has the bots swarming Haven’s shields and interfering with their targeting systems,” Jall replied, “Explorer, Waystation and the other ships have managed to get partial shields back up and are mopping up the Matrian fleet. Three of their ships already surrendered after they drifted into the anti-M-SID field.”
“And by ‘drifted’, he means having their engines disabled and being tossed in that general direction,” Yanick corrected.
“What about Haven?” Stafford asked. Jall quickly filled him in on their discoveries: the Ambassador-class nacelles, and Silverado’s saucer now being part of the station’s design.
“What do ye want to bet our engineering hull is somewhere in the back?” Jeffery asked, “Probably where the energy transceiver used to be…serving as a distribution system to the nacelle array,”
“Why do you say that?” Stafford asked.
“That’s how Ah’d do it,” Jeffery shrugged.
“Sounds like a weak point,” T’Parief said, tapping at his console.
“Aye, but we’ll never get through their shields with just a few ships,” Jeffery said, “We’d need them to turn around so Waystation can lay in on ‘em. And even then…well, Antimatter Reactor 2 is still a better target.”
“Once the Matrian ships have been dealt with, our ships can start helping Waystation break down their shields,” Stafford said, “In fact, let’s do that now. Yanick, bring us closer to Waystation. T’Parief, fire at will. And has ANYBODY seen Phulluvit and his idiots??”
“We’ve been a wee bit busy,” Jeffery said.
“Maybe we should just try hailing them,” Yanick suggested, one finger twirling her blond hair while the other raced over her panel.
Jall and Stafford exchanged a glance.
“Yeah, we…could do that,” Stafford grimaced, “T’Parief…no, you’re busy. Fifebee, try to raise Phulluvit. Tell him the taxi’s leaving shortly.”
On the screen, Silverado’s phaser beams and the occasional torpedo joined the barrages Waystation was launching at Haven. Dozens of bots were vapourized, but the remainder kept digging at the city shields…right up until they abruptly stopped.
“Damn!” Sylvia exclaimed, “She’s given up on regaining control…now she’s just jamming me!”
“Can we boost the power or something?” Stafford asked.
“Jamming doesn’t work that way,” Sylvia replied peevishly, “Chris, you know better. We can’t overpower their transmitters from out here, unless she sends the bots back out to attack us. And I’m very sure we don’t want to get close in to the city. Frankly, as long as the bots are out of the picture entirely…”
“I am receiving a message from Commander Phulluvit,” Fifebee reported, “He thanks us for our timely distraction and states he will be returning immediately,” she paused, “The signal is coming from one of the Matrian ships that has surrendered.”
“I guess Phulluvit found his M-SID,” Jall said.
“He’s not going to keep it,” Stafford said, “Fifebee, you tell him there is NO WAY he’s bringing a live M-SID onto my ship!”
There was a pause.
“He assures us it has been deactivated,” Fifebee said. Stafford’s look was more than slightly skeptical, “He has sent tricorder data to corroborate,”
“Setup a containment area in Shuttlebay 2,” Stafford ordered, “Have a security team and an engineering detail waiting. We’ll deal with him later!”
“Beck to Silverado and Explorer,” the comm chirped, “Their shields are weakening. I want a concentrated strike at the following coordinates. If we time it right, we should be able to punch through to that reactor!”
“Beck,” Stafford called back, “I think you’ve got things under control here. As soon as that reactor’s out, we’re leaving,”
Beck was silent for a moment.
“Do you have Phulluvit?” she asked.
Stafford looked over the Fifebee, who nodded.
“Yeah. We have him,”
“OK,” Beck said, “Send us whatever jamming signal you’re using to keep the bots at bay.”
“Right.” Stafford turned to Fifebee, “Call Cadela and get the Blinker online. Sylvia, get the programming to get us out of here decrypted and running!”
“All ships, prepare to fire,” Beck ordered.
Whoever was running alter-Haven must have known they were in trouble even before the final attack. The city abruptly stopped its attacks on Waystation and started to pivot, trying to turn the dome away from the station. But as Stafford said, it had the manoeuvrability of a brick. Simultaneous phaser blasts from Waystation, Silverado, Explorer and the other Starfleet ships that were still operational pieced the city shields, blasted the dome and struck hard at the building over the antimatter reactor. Normally, the huge tanks in the water processing center would have diffused any weapons blasts, but with the lake drained and the city converted to battle-station, the effect was ironically reversed. The empty tanks offered little resistance, and the reactor took heavy damage.
“Reading a power build-up!” Fifebee snapped.
“They’re tryin’ to jettison the reactor,” Jeffery added, “This is gonna be nasty!”
“Bring-“ Stafford was cut off as the screen flashed to white. The ship bucked hard as the energy wave from the destroyed reactor struck.
“Shields are down,” T’Parief reported, “However they blocked the bulk of the blast. Minimal damage,”
“Yanick, 88% impulse, directly away from Waystation,” Stafford ordered, “Jeffery, divert power to the deflector. Umm….what am I forgetting? We’ve only used this thing once,”
“I am standing by to press the ‘on’ button to activate the Blinker,” Valtaic said.
“In a hurry to leave?” Jall asked, “No time for a nice drink with the Beck of this universe? The one you haven’t completely blown it with yet?”
“Jall, tell me a single time an encounter with another universe ended well?” Stafford said.
“Stern enjoyed his visit with his other self,” Jall shrugged, “Maybe it’s my turn,”
“None of us want to hear about that again,” Yanick said, “And in this universe, alternate-you is probably a Matrian breeding slave or something.”
Jall thought for a moment. “Point taken. Let’s get out of here.”
“Eighty percent impulse,” Yanick said, “Eighty-two,”
“You might be interested to know,” T’Parief said, “There is a powerful warp wake at alternate Haven’s last position. It is likely they survived the explosion from the jettisoned reactor by jumping to warp,”
“Not our problem,” Stafford said, “Yanick? Let’s GO already!”
“Eighty-eight percent impulse!” Yanick reported.
The same flashing light and deep, tearing sound they experienced on the first trip repeated itself, along with the deafening crash. Outside on the main viewscreen everything looked…exactly the same.
“Are we back?” Jall asked.
“Incoming hail from Waystation,” T’Parief reported, “They congratulate us on surviving Cadela’s hare-brained scheme and again offer thanks that it was us involved instead of them,”
“I’d say we’re back,” Stafford said, “But not finished. T’Parief, with me. We need to have a little chat with Commander Phulluvit. And relieve him of a certain dangerous artifact.”
The doors to the shuttlebay hissed open and Stafford stepped out to find his security team and Phulluvit’s squad face-to-face, phasers drawn. Jeffery’s engineers had retreated to the shuttlebay entrance, but one of Phulluvir’s goons was pointing a weapon in their direction.
“Lt Sage,” Stafford said to the lead engineer, “What the hell?”
“The M-SID is deactivated,” Sage reported, “But as soon as Stern and his team went to take it, Phulluvit’s guys pulled weapons!”
“Phulluvit!” Stafford shouted, motioning at the engineers to leave, “What do you think you’re doing? Stand down!”
“I don’t think so,” Phulluvit said “You’ve obviously figured out our mission. You know we’re not going to turn over this device,”
“Do you know how much trouble the Matrians went through to make sure this technology was destroyed?” Stafford shouted, seeing red, “Do you understand just how badly they screwed up their civilization?! And here you go and risk MY SHIP and MY CREW to steal one?”
“We were just supposed to get the schematics,” Phulluvit said, “There’s no way we could have known that universe was in the middle of a Matrian war,”
“Wasn’t there? That universe clearly was picked for a reason! Was Cadela in on this, or just a dupe,”
Phulluvit ignored him.
“Bridge to Shuttlebay Two…captain, we’ve got a ship approaching! Sovereign-class! IFF identifies her as the USS Medusa,”
“And that would be our ride,” Phulluvit said smugly.
“Shields up,” Stafford snapped, “Phulluvit, you’re not going anywhere with that device!”
“Oh, I think I am,” Phulluvit sneered, “Phulluvit to Medusa. Beam us out,”
There was a shimmer of transporter sparks…and there was a look of surprise on Phulluvit’s face when he realized he wasn’t beaming out. None of his people were. Someone was beaming aboard Silverado…and as the sparks faded, Stafford recognized the man immediately: Commander Matt Noonan. His former First Officer.
“Noonan?” Stafford’s head jerked back in surprise, “What the hell…how did you beam in? What are you doing here? Why-“
“Captain,” Noonan’s unnaturally smooth voice broke through the torrent, “I think you know perfectly well I’m not going to answer any of those questions,”
Stafford grimaced. “I guess not,” he grunted, “I don’t suppose you’re here to rescues us, like on Matria Prime?”
“No,” Noonan inclined his head towards Phulluvit, “I am here to ‘rescue’ them. They were on a mission for…well, I’m not at liberty to say. But I was in an…advisory position,”
Stafford crossed his arms. “You advised Starfleet Intelligence…or whoever it is you work for…to use us like this?”
“Actually, that was my idea,” Phulluvit chimed in.
“Shut up,” Noonan and Stafford both said.
“An understanding of these devices is key to ensuring proper countermeasures are available if needed,” Noonan said.
“Uh-huh,” Stafford grunted, “You know what the universe we were just in had? Countermeasure devices. And maybe if we’d just asked for those instead of trying to steal stuff, we would have had a much easier time of it!”
Noonan gave Phulluvit a dark look. “I see,” he pulled out a small device and tapped a few buttons. Phulluvit, his team and the M-SID all disappeared in transporter beams.
“What are you-“ Stafford bared.
“Be silent and listen,” Noonan said quickly, “Phulluvit now assumes that I am wiping your memory before I beam back to the ship. Trust me that it was imperative that you NOT interfere with our retrieval of the device,”
“You are going to destroy it yourself and hope to spare us from repercussions,” T’Parief grumbled.
Noonan shook his head, a hint of a smile on his face. “I would never interfere in the plans of…my superiors. But the ship transporting us does have a certain reputation,” he said, “And nobody would be surprised if they ‘accidentally’ dropped the M-SID into a star or something,”
“Sounds like you’re working with us again,” Stafford smirked.
“The experience has, in fact, served me well,” Noonan grinned, carefully keeping his lips over his teeth. “I know what I’m doing. Cheers,”
With another tilt of his head, he disappeared. Stafford stood there for a moment.
“I want the security footage of that last exchange erased. And you and I will never, ever mention this again, to anyone. Whoever Matt is dealing with…I don’t want to leave them any ammunition lying around.”
Jall rummaged around the bar in Unbalanced Equations, trying to find a shot glass. The lights were dim and Steven and his staff were nowhere to be seen. The ship was docked at Waystation for minor repairs from their trans-universal trip, and Steven and his staff had taken the opportunity to close down and take a break.
“San, just use the replicator,” Yanick called from the seats near the windows.
“Trish, I didn’t go digging through all of Steven’s cabinets for the one bottle of real vodka that isn’t locked in his secure locker just to use the replicator because I can’t find a one-ounce shot glass! Or one of those measuring auto-pour things,”
“Ah’m surprised yer measurin’ at all,” Jeffery said as he rummaged around for a bottle of scotch. Finding one, he poured a couple of fingers worth into a glass.
“I’m mixing a cosmo!” Jall said, “If I don’t get the recipe right, it doesn’t taste right!”
The doors opened and Wowryk, Fifebee and Stafford stepped in.
“I figured that piece about you being the only one on the ship to do anything of any importance was a big load,” Stafford was saying, “But it was nice to actually hear that Phulluvit and his people had tampered with Cadela’s equipment. Man, was she ever embarrassed!”
“Actually,” Fifebee said, “From the adjustments they made to her scanning device, they still needed to identify a universe where the differences in the universes were strongly connected to the Matrians. Dr. Wowryk is really the only person within the Federation who-“
“Fifebee? Let me have this.”
“Yes, sir,” Fifebee nodded and moved to take her seat.
“Drink, Doctor?” Stafford asked.
“Wine, please. Red. Something from Australia. Or California. Maybe Chile,” Wowryk replied.
“And here I thought you’d be the low-maintenance one,” Stafford cracked. He found a bottle of wine and poured her a glass, then grabbed a beer for himself, “What are you hunting around for, Jall?”
“Measuring shot glass,”
“Why don’t you just-“
“It won’t taste right!”
“Oookay,” Stafford went and took his seat. T’Parief was already sipping on something that smelled like fermented death. Yanick, Wowryk, Fifebee and Jeffery were all settled into their seats. Valtaic wasn’t drinking anything, but he was sitting in the chair closest to a power outlet and had connected some sort of Lithinarian device that was apparently supposed to help him relax. (It also caused his thick, bristle-brush hair to throw off sparks.) Sylvia was standing next to the windows, looking out into space.
“Hurry up, Jall!” Trish called.
“Found one!” Jall exclaimed triumphantly, “Wait…where did I put the lime juice?”
“OK, OK,” there was a flurry of klings, klangs and splashes as Jall finished his drink than rushed over to the seats.
Once he was sure all his senior staff was there, Stafford cleared his throat and raised his glass. “To our other selves,” he said grimly, “Captured. Converted. Maybe killed. Enslaved to an enemy that, to us, became a valued ally,” he grimaced, then cleared his throat again, “There but for the grace of God go we,” He lifted his glass and drank.
“Amen,” Wowryk said, taking a sip of her wine. Everyone else drank in silence.
“What did Admiral Tunney have to say about this whole thing?” Jeffery asked.
“You mean after I spent five minutes pointing out how Phulluvit and his bosses played him as much as he thought he was playing us?” Stafford took another sip of his beer, “He was angry. Furious, even. And he said that under no circumstances were we to attempt to go back to rescue our…selves. Then he ordered all of Cadela’s equipment destroyed.”
“A wise move,” Fifebee sighed, “Sadly, the scientific benefit is not worth the risk of that device. The Mirror Universe transport devices have proven that,”
“You weren’t seriously thinking about going back, were you?” Wowryk asked.
“Risking our lives to try to save alternate versions of ourselves?” Stafford sighed, “No. I just…no.”
“With an infinite number of universes,” Valtaic mused, “What would be the point? We would simply create a universe where they were saved, while the current universe continued to exist. In fact, though we have not chosen to attempt a rescue, there is a universe in which we did…and were killed for our efforts.”
“Thanks for that,” Jall said, taking a deep sip of his drink. They were silent again for a few moments.
“I don’t suppose I have to remind any of you,” Sylvia spoke up, “That somewhere out there, in OUR universe, is a swarm of rogue Matrian construction bots.”
“And we now know just how dangerous those bots can be,” T’Parief looked almost wistful, “If we had known this during the battle against the Qu’Eh…”
“Do you think the bots here could be that dangerous?” Stafford asked, “I mean, they don’t have a brainwashed version of you controlling them…right? I know you sort of felt like they were your children, but they’re just Matrian bots with very limited capabilities.”
Sylvia and Fifebee exchanged a look.
“No, you’re right Chris,” Sylvia said, “Still. They have already shown great potential for…adaptation. And some sort of AI-like development,”
“Bridge to Stafford,” the comm chirped, “We just received new orders from Starbase 45,”
“Thanks,” Stafford out. He pulled out a padd and tapped away “Huh. Looks like there was a sighting of an unidentified craft on the other side of Multek space,” Stafford said, “We’re supposed to check it out. And since we’re going that way anyway, we get to play delivery boy and drop off supplies at some of the new colony worlds out that way,”
“I think I’ve actually missed getting routine orders that don’t seem likely to lead to our imminent deaths,” Jall said cheerfully, sipping his drink.
“Me too,” Stafford put the padd away and took another sip of beer, “We’ll set course as soon as repairs are done. For now, we get to take a bit of a break,”
“Cheers to that,” Jeffery said.
That concludes Silverado Season 6! Sorry about the big wait for the finale…real life certainly got in the way. And yes, I know. I left the whole thread about the Matrian bots hanging. Hopefully sometime in the future there will be a brief, one-shot special to wrap that one up. Until then, thanks for reading!