Star Trek was created by Gene Roddenberry. I'm not really sure how many people these days remember that. Although I do remember a hilarious episode of SG-1 where a character, played by the same actor who played Dr. Phlox, comments 'How can you call yourself a nerd and NOT worship at the alter of Roddenberry?'. But I digress. Star Traks was created by Alan Decker. I'm certain he remembers that Roddenberry create Star Trek. But if he literally worships at an actual Roddenberry alter, then I may have to evaluate my opinion of his mental well-being. Which frankly, considering he has two kids, I was already a bit concerned about. Star Traks: Silverado was created by Brendan Chris. While he remembers that Roddenberry created Star Trek, he still managed to spell his name wrong in about thirty disclaimers before noticing.

Author: Brendan Chris
Copyright: 2015

Rengs Aris and Rengs Meris were enjoying a peaceful, quiet evening in their quarters aboard Haven. Their son, now three, was sleeping in his room up on the upper level, dishes from the evening meal were humming away in the quaintly old-fashioned dishwasher conveniently located in the equally quaint, old-fashioned kitchen.

She couldn’t speak for her husband, but one thing that Meris absolutely loved about living in the city was that despite Haven basically being a huge space station, it really didn’t feel like she was living in a space station. Or a ship, for that matter. Their apartment looked into the city from the Inner Rim, and the rooftop gardens were lovely for her afternoon meditation and prayers. Her meditations had less to do with being Bajoran (a deeply spiritual people) and more to do with being an elementary school teacher. She had resumed normal classes (or as close as she could manage) after Silverado’s crew had been evacuated to the city, and although she loved ‘her’ kids, they could be a handful. Especially when that little half-Orion boy was in one of his instigating moods!

But aside from the roof gardens, the grassy park less than a ten minute walk away and the breathtaking view outside their high-rise windows, what Meris really loved about their new place was that the replicator took up only a small space in the otherwise well-equipped kitchen. Aboard Silverado it had been a struggle to book time in the single kitchen in the crew mess. Here she could cook to her heart’s content. After her afternoon prayers she could hop a tram to the one grocery store that had been permitted to open in the city, pick up whatever she needed, then be home in plenty of time to create something both healthy and nutritious for her husband and son.

Rengs Aris, on the other hand, really wished his wife would just use the replicator. Or take cooking lessons. Or something OTHER than the gastric-intestinal torture he was forced to endure every single night! This evening’s repast had something to do with stir-fry. The veggies were about right, but he really hated the Matrian obsession with seafood. Maybe if she’d at least taken the suckers off those tentacles it would have seemed a bit less creepy. And what were those, anyway? And the sauce…well, if it hadn’t burned enough on the way down, Rengs was confident it would make another fiery appearance on the way out tomorrow.

But at least the tea was indistinguishable from Bajoran tea. They sat quietly together, music playing in the background while Meris prepared her lessons for tomorrow and Aris relaxed, mentally readying himself to depart on a mission with the Hazardous Team the next day.

Rengs turned to his wife.

“When was the last time we had a quiet night like this?” he asked, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. She snuggled in next to him, placing her lesson padd down on the coffee table.

“It’s been a while,” she smiled, “You’ve been spending so much time down on the planet,”

“And I’ll be gone for at least a month on this mission,” he said glumly, “I don’t know when we’ll get the chance to sit back like this again,”

“Was sitting back all you had in mind?” she teased with a gentle smile.

Rengs leaned over to give her a kiss. The kiss deepened, the two shifting on the couch to better face each other. Hands began to move, and just as it seemed that things were going to become more heated-

The door chime range, startling both of them.

“Ohhhhh,” Rengs groaned.

“Come-“ Meris started to call.

The door slid open and a burst of noise surged into the room.

“WAAA-AAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!”

“I told you to give her the pacifier!”

“I did. She spit it out with impressive force,”

“Well then FIND IT!”

Trish Yanick and T’Parief half walked, half fell into the Rengs residence, their infant Allona carried in a padded, portable bassinet. T’Parief had a massive baby bag slung over one shoulder, the pastel blues, pinks and yellows looking beyond out-of-place on the towering reptile. He held a large stasis case in one hand, three or four more bags in the other and an empty baby harness around his neck.

Yanick held the baby herself, along with a backpack stuffed with toys and blankets. She was gently jiggling the bassinet, trying to sooth the screaming baby.

“Perhaps it is her bottle she wants,” T’Parief suggested.

“Either that or she needs to be changed again!” Yanick said.

“Well, we just changed her before we left,” T’Parief said reasonably, “Surely she cannot have-“

“Ohhhh, yes she could have!” Yanick cut him off, “She pooped about fifteen times while you were off doing whatever it was that was more important than helping me with her!”

“Uh, he was briefing us on the mission,” Rengs tried to interject helpfully.

“Ohh, I’m sorry!” Yanick spun towards the Bajoran couple. She’d apparently forgotten whose front door she’d just stepped through. She started moving towards them, “Meris! Aris, thank you so much for-“

“Wait, your jacket is snagged on the-“ T’Parief called.

<RIIIPPPP!!!!>

Yanick and T’Parief looked in horror as the baby-bag split at the seams, depositing a small mountain of diapers, wipes, bottles, first aid scanners, powder and assorted baby supplies all over the floor. The whole time, Allona continued wailing like a banshee.

“I’m so sorry!” Yanick said again. T’Parief had located the kitchen table, dumped his cargo on it and proceeded back to start picking up the mess. In the process, he somehow managed to catch his foot-claws in the thick carpet in the Rengs’ front hall. There was another loud RIP and a square foot of carpeting tore free from the floor.

Aris and Meris exchanged a look. Aris’ look said ‘We were NEVER this bad when WE were new parents’. Meris’ look, on the other hand, said ‘By the Prophets, this is EXACTLY what we were like when we were new parents’.

As one, they moved in. Meris deftly plucked Allona from the bassinet and confirmed that yes, her diaper was full. She used her free hand to snatch a few essentials from the pile on the floor and took the infant over to the coffee table for an emergency-change. Aris plucked the bags about to fall from the table, stored them by the couch and helped clean up the pile of baby supplies.

In a few moments, peace had been restored.

“Thank you so much for agreeing to watch her while we’re away,” Yanick said for the third time, “If we were taking Silverado it would be different, but a Qu’Eh ship?”

“I understand,” Meris smiled, “And what’s one more? Besides, Sylvia’s agreed to help.”

“Wowryk helped me draw up the feeding plan,” Yanick said. She opened the stasis case, revealing dozens of bottles of milk, “At least one bottle of breast milk a day, the rest can be formula. The replicator chips are there, and-“

“How, by the Prophets, did you fill all those bottles??” Aris blurted, his eyes wide.

Yanick gave him a hollow look.

“Let’s just say I’ll never look at dairy cattle the same way again,” she said flatly.

Meris eased the case shut.

“We’ll be fine,” she smiled, “We’ve done this before. You two go and have a nice mission,”

“Right,” Yanick gulped. Now that the time had come, she was finding it really hard to leave. Her baby, her little girl, was now sleeping soundly in the middle of a strange apartment, with different people watching her. She almost moved to pick her back up, but stopped herself before she could set off another bout of wailing. After a few moments of hand-wringing, she gave Meris a weak smile and moved to the door.

T’Parief, for his part, simply bent down and gave his daughter a surprisingly gentle kiss on the forehead.

Meris gently ushered them both out, then gave a sigh of relief.

“We were never that bad when we were new parents,” Aris said aloud.

“Yes we were,” Meris moved back to the couch, “In fact, I think we were worse,”

“Well, now that that’s taken care of,” Aris smiled, moving back in to resume the kiss, “Where were we?”

“You were trying to get lucky,” Meris teased, a hand moving to his belt.

“WAAA-AAAHHHHH!!!!!!”

They split apart, moving to identify and resolve the cause of this new outburst.

So much for getting lucky, Aris inwardly sighed.


“Captain on the bridge,”

Captain Christopher Rico Stafford (where the ‘Rico’ came from remained a mystery known only to his mother) paused as he stepped out of the corridor, through the open door and onto bridge of his ship.

Well, OK, it wasn’t actually HIS ship. It was a captured enemy vessel. A rather shoddy one at that, and a far cry from his own Ambassador-class starship. But for the moment, he was in command. After many long months as a Matrian Minister, hiding in the then-buried city of Haven, then working in the aftermath as basically a government drone, he finally, at long last, had a starship to command! This…this was a long-awaited moment and he just wanted to savour it.

“The first time was cute,” Commander San Jall said, standing in front of him with his arms crossed over his chest, “The second time was silly. This third time-“

“Jall, you just don’t understand how incredibly wonderful it is to be getting away from that torture-chamber Anselia calls a government complex,” Stafford replied, “If I want to enjoy this moment, that’s my captain’s prerogative,”

Jall’s expression was flat.

“I was in a REAL torture chamber, you know,” he reminded Stafford, “Being tortured. By professionals. Oh! Also K’Eleese’s amateur torture chamber.”

“Then you understand my pain,” Stafford shrugged.

“There will be no fourth time,” Jall declared, turning to the bridge proper, “You’re here, protocol is satisfied, just sit in your chair already,”

“And not to question your captain’s perogies,” Yanick spoke up, “But I can’t work like this,”

“Like what…oh,” Stafford frowned as he looked over the Qu’Eh bridge.

The chamber was large, probably half-again the size of Silverado’s comfortable bridge. There was a large viewscreen at the front, doors leading to corridors as opposed to turbolifts and a heavy security door labelled ‘Management’ off to the left. There was a helm station front and center, flanked by what were probably tactical and operations respectively. Two more workstations lay to either side of the main screen displaying ship status readouts. All this was relatively standard, although the rolling castor-wheels on the chairs were a bit unusual.

What didn’t really make sense was the massive, crescent-shaped desk that curved around the rear half of the room, almost like the horseshoe shaped tactical consoles on the Galaxy-class ships. The helm and other consoles lay in the inner part of the crescent, their backs to the desk and facing the screen. Along the rear half of the desk were nearly a dozen high-backed seats. In front of each seat on the desk was a small computer panel, a bronze nameplate and a row of buttons. There was also a circular indentation whose purpose wasn’t immediately apparent.

“Wait,” Stafford pointed at the indents, “Are those cup-holders? They’re so shallow! One bump and my coffee is all over the place!”

“That’s the first thing you noticed?” Jall asked, spreading his arms to indicate the bridge. Following his hands, Stafford did notice that there was a fair bit of hastily repaired battle damage. Singed wall panels, burns on the carpet, screens that looked like they’d been replaced with Federation equivalents that didn’t quite fit.

“Why do the chairs have castor wheels if the floor is covered in carpet?” Lt Cmdr Jane Fifebee asked.

“ARRGGGHHH!!!” Jall growled in frustration.

“I, too, am displeased with this ship,” T’Parief added.

“Well, it’s not the greatest,” Stafford admitted, “But come on, it’s not that bad, right? I mean, we’re getting away from the planet, right? So, stations, everybody! Let’s get this show on the road!”

“But-“ Jall raised a finger.

“Jall, you said this thing is warp-capable, right?” Stafford asked.

“Yes, but-“

“And Sylvia finished the four new runabouts and delivered them, right?”

“She tried giving us eight,” Jall replied, “And we were supposed to get two new ones, then our original ones repaired.”

“Where did she get eight…never mind,” Stafford shook his head, “And Jeffery said that at this point you know more about Qu’Eh technology than he does, right?”

“Yes, but-“

“Then let’s go,” Stafford said firmly, “Places, everybody! Jall, where’s my seat? It’s this one, right?” He indicated the largest of the chairs lining the massive desk.

“If you don’t stop saying ‘right’ with every sentence, I’m going to shove my boot right up your-“

“Take your stations,” Stafford said, dropping into the chair. He gazed forward at the viewscreen as Lt Pye, Lt Comd Stern, Lt Burke and Lt Day manned the helm, tactical, science and operations panels. He didn’t recognize the ensign manning Engineering off-hand, but-

“Why is Beta shift…” he trailed off as he realized that Yanick, T’Parief, Fifebee, Valtaic, and Jall were all seated beside him at the crescent desk. Each was behind his or her counterpart on Beta shift except for Jall, who was next to Stafford. With the shape of the desk, they completely surrounded the Beta shift personnel, as well having full views of their consoles.

“We can’t POSSIBLY need this many people to run this ship!” Stafford exclaimed.

“This is what we were trying to tell you!” Yanick snapped.

“But what do you guys DO??”

“You can’t actually operate the ship from those forward panels,” Valtaic said calmly, “They allow the input of commands and access to censored ship status and sensor data,”

“And we have to sit back here and authorize everything they do on these!” Yanick complained, pointing at the small panel in front of her,”

“So just handle the controls yourself from there,” Stafford shrugged.

“It doesn’t work that way,” Jall said, “These panels can only authorize commands and censor information displayed up front. They can’t do anything without our authorization, and we can’t do any of the actual grunt work ourselves. We can only authorize it.”

“That is the STUPIDEST way to run a ship I’ve ever heard!”

“WE KNOW!” Yanick punched her panel, eliciting a discordant beep.

“Maybe there are manual controls on here,” Stafford started poking around at his armrest.

There was a beep, then a single photon torpedo shot forward on the screen.

“Didn’t see THAT one coming,” Jall cracked.

“Shut up and help me find the ‘abort’ button!” Stafford cried.

“Stern?” Jall called.

“On it,” Stern punched a few buttons on his panel. T’Parief’s panel beeped.

“Do I wish to authorize the self-destruct of the torpedo?” he asked Stafford.

“YES!” Stafford shouted, eyes growing wide as the torpedo appeared to lock itself onto Haven.

“Very well,”

T’Parief pressed the ‘authorize’ button on his panel and the torpedo obediently blew itself to smithereens.

“So, do you want to run this thing according to the owner’s manual, or do you want to try finding the lumbar support?” Jall asked.

“Shut up and open a channel to Matrian Traffic Control,” Stafford grumbled, carefully moving his hands away from the armrests, “Let’s get the hell out of here,”


“The Qu’Eh vessel is leaving orbit at full impulse,” Fifebee reported, shimmering into existence in the Shipyard Six command center.

“How long until they notice you’re gone?” Sylvia asked.

“I only have a moment,” Fifebee replied, “But I wanted to confirm that the holographic transfer protocols are working,”

“So far so good,” Sylvia shrugged, “As long as you remain here at work, you should be fine,”

“Excellent,” Fifebee nodded, “Transferring back,”

Sylvia gave her a little wave as she vanished, then turned back to her panel.

Logically, since the Shipyard Three command center had been nicknamed 3CC, they should have named this one 6CC. But that brought up memories of Fifebee’s ‘sister’ from an annoyingly perfect parallel universe. So she and Sylvia had simply come to refer to it as ‘work’. As in, ‘I’m going to work. Hopefully the bots haven’t destroyed the universe yet.’

OK, that was an exaggeration. But so far the not-quite-sentient construction bots used by the Matrians hadn’t exactly performed as expected.

It had all started so innocently enough…


Nine days ago:


The lead bot clambered towards Sylvia and Fifebee, it’s heavy mechanical limbs hissing and sighing as it moved. Its gleaning red eyes scanned the two holograms without really noticing them, its body conveyed no particular language to speak of.

There was a beep from the Matrian padd that Fifebee held. She glanced at it, reading the report from the bot.

“Repairs on the Niagara are complete,” Fifebee read. She looked over to Sylvia, “We may commence test flights at any time, though I recommend we have Lt Pye or Lt Yanick take care of that.”

“Hey, I AM a ship, who better to test one?” Syliva pointed out.

Fifebee lifted her hands in surrender, unable to argue with Sylvia’s logic.

The test flight, of course, had been flawless. The runabout performed exactly to specifications. The occupants, on the other hand…

“Why did you insist on bringing him along?” Fifebee gestured to the alpha bot as it sat motionless at one of the rear panels in the runabout cockpit.

“Why do you insist on referring to it as ‘him’?” Sylvia asked.

“My etiquette subroutines keep insisting that ‘it’ is derogatory,”

“Well, considering that ‘it’ is an inorganic without any of the inherent weaknesses of a male mammal, perhaps calling it ‘him’ is, in fact, derogatory,” Sylvia pointed out, “After all, if you kick it in the groin, its operating system won’t crash and reboot into safe mode,”

Fifebee looked at her oddly.

“That doesn’t seem like something you would say,” she said.

Sylvia smiled.

“Oh, I still love my organic boys and girls,” she said, “But you can’t deny that this is a really interesting opportunity for us! A chance to consider the other side of our family tree, so to speak,”

Fifebee didn’t see the connection.

“They are not our parents. Nor are we theirs.”

“No, but if our designers had decided to give us physical bodies instead of hard light in your case and software virtualization in mine, we might have been very like them,”

“Thank the designers that didn’t happen,” Fifebee commented, “Though of course you were an accident, not a design,”

“Jane, organic or artificial, it’s never polite to point that out!”

“I apologize,” Fifebee inclined her head.

They returned the runabout to the small Shipyard 3 workshop they’d been using, carefully navigating around the cloud of junk that surrounded Silverado’s gutted carcass…a very unpleasant experience for Sylvia.

“We should find a better place to work,” she said, looking out at the exposed structural members of her ‘body’, “This is getting old, fast. And this place has five other shipyards, completely empty! Surely we can get permission to use one,”

“Doubtful, with the current administration,” Fifebee remarked, “It is a pity, really. Now that we know the bots can do a proper reconstruction of a damaged runabout, the next logical step is to attempt to build one from scratch,”

“Sweetie, I could quote about two hundred regulations that would make that pretty much impossible,” Sylvia sighed, “But yes, that would be nice,”

She turned to the bot.

“Wouldn’t it?”

The bot simply stared at her.


One week ago…


“I am Jane 5-B, sentient hologram,” Fifebee said as her program initialized and her holographic body took form, “What??? I was defragmenting! Couldn’t this have waited until morning?”

“It wasn’t me,” Sylvia said, her face displayed on the side of the small Federation computer core that was running her program, “One moment,”

She materialized practically on top of Fifebee.

“Hey!”

“Sorry. We should fix that,”

“Or get a second holo-relay!”

Sylvia paused.

“Good idea,”

The looked at each other.

“If you didn’t…” they both started, “Then who?”

The looked around the workshop and quickly spotted one of the alpha bots next to a console. The interface padd was beeping softly.

“Did it…did it wake us up by itself?” Sylvia wondered.

Fifebee said nothing, simply grabbed the padd.

“It’s asking us to go to Shipyard 6,” she said.

“Such initiative!” Sylvia said happily.

Fifebee hesitated before she replied. This wasn’t exactly an action in favour of her theory that the bots were simply dumb automatons.

“This is…unusual.” she admitted.

The need for Fifebee’s relay prevented them from simply transferring themselves to the shipyard, but the trip through the tram system was fairly swift. The bigger problem presented itself when they arrived at the shipyard only to find it sealed off.

“Why would they ask us to come to a sealed off-“

Fifebee was cut off as the door abruptly opened.

“Never mind,” she finished.

They stepped through the door, which immediately closed behind them.

Both women were surprised to see that the corridors around the shipyard were brightly lit. With the exception of Shipyard 3 and the Silverado reconstruction project, Haven’s shipyards had been kept shut down. Feeling uneasy, they made their way quickly to the command center. Most of the panels were dark, but one or two were blinking. A single construction bot, the other alpha from the second team that had been working on the runabouts, stood near the windows looking down into the shipyard.

“Hello?” Sylvia asked gently, “Can we help you?”

The bot regarded them quietly for a moment, then pointed down into the shipyard.

A single beam of light shone down from the ceiling, down dozens of decks of open space, to illuminate a small patch of floor. Sitting at the exact center of the light, surrounded by the bot team, was a Danube-class runabout.

“Is that…” Fifebee trailed off.

“They built us a new runabout,” Sylvia marvelled, “From scratch! Oh, this is amazing! Their cognitive and analysis subroutines must-“

“Nobody told them to build a runabout,” Fifebee said, looking worried, “Or that they could use this shipyard,”

“They must have overheard us,” Sylvia turned to the alpha, “This is wonderful! We’re so pleased!”

“Just maybe ask us next time,” Fifebee commented.

The bot looked at them blankly.

“I’m sure they understand,” Sylvia smiled.


Present day…


Now, sitting by herself in the same control center, looking down at the hundreds of runabouts lining the shipyard floor, Sylvia sighed.

“They didn’t understand,” she said.


“Fifebee? Hello? Anybody home?”

The second her program transferred back to the Qu’Eh vessel she became aware that someone was speaking to her.

“I apologize,” she said, “My mind had…wandered.”

“No kidding,” Commander Jall said, “But now that you’re paying attention, maybe you can answer our question?”

The ship was still within the Matrian solar system, though Fifebee saw that they would be able to engage the warp drive shortly. While her program had been back on Haven her body here had continued to be projected by an emitter Jeffery had rigged on the Qu’Eh ship’s bridge. It was incapable of interaction without her program, but a recording device she had rigged allowed her to quickly determine what Jall was talking about.

“Are we expecting to pass through anybody else’s territory on our way to Kallar IV?” Stafford repeated himself…making her entire recording plan completely redundant.

Fifebee accessed her database.

“Our course will take us past two abandoned Matrian colonies,” she replied, “Near a Senousian outpost. And past a colony belonging to the Tapart.”

“Who-“ Jall started.

“The Tapart are a non-humanoid race,” Fifebee barely even paused, “There were several attempts by the Matrians to enslave them as soldier-slaves during their dark time, but the Tapart fought them off. The Matrians have since made some attempts at diplomatic relations since the Reawakening, but the Tapart do not seem interested.”

“Hmm. Jall, you fixed the shields on this thing, right?” Stafford asked.

“Do I even need to answer that?”

“Yes,” Yanick, Fifebee, Valtaic, Stern, heck, everybody on the bridge said immediately.

Jall rolled his eyes.

“They’ll work at 75% or so. Except the aft shields. I couldn’t get them past 50% for some weird reason.”

“Uh, dumb question,” Yanick spoke up, “Did anybody bother to TELL any of these people we’re flying around in a bad-guy ship?”

This time it was Stafford’s turn to roll his eyes.

“Of course I did, Trish,” he said, “I prepped the message, got Queen Anselia’s approval, and I made sure the new Defence Minister took care of it,” he said, “Now, can we power up the warp drive and get this tub in gear?”

“Yup,” Jall nodded. He tapped at his panel for moment, frowned, then smacked himself lightly on the forehead.

“I forgot,” he said, “Valtaic, I need you to authorize me to make a command link with Engineering,”

Valtaic sighed, then looked at his panel.

“How?” he asked.

“Oh, wrong panel,” Jall told him, “You’re at the External Ops panel. Scoot over to the Ship Systems Ops panel,”

Valtaic moved over one seat.

“No, that’s Personnel Ops,” Jall said.

“How many Operations Officers does this ship have?” Stafford demanded.

“It’s supposed to have five,” Jall said.

“That is STUPID!”

“Yup. Valtaic?”

Valtiac found the desired control. Jall tapped away for a moment, then a voice came over the comm.

“Sage here. Finally! Can somebody tell me why I can’t call the bridge? It says I need author-“

“Don’t ask,” Stafford and Jall chorused, “Just bring the warp core online,”

“Uhh…it says I need somebody to authorize-“

“OH FOR FUCKS SAKE!” Stafford shouted, “Jall, this has to be a joke, right? NOBODY would actually DESIGN a ship like this!”

Jall sighed.

“Just press the little orange button on your panel. The sooner we get to warp, the sooner we can go find the bar,”

Stafford pushed the button.

“Warp core online,” Sage reported.

“Yanick, plot a course and…I mean,” Stafford frowned, “Sorry, I mean Lt Pye, plot us a course and take us out of here, Warp 6,”

“Uhhh…” Pye bit his lip.

“OK, Yanick, you authorize Pye to plot a course and take us-“

“Actually,” Jall said, “you and I have to authorize the destination, then Pye plots the course-“

“Jall?” Stafford said, very quietly.

“Yeah?”

“Let’s just blow this ship up, OK?”


After about half an hour of trial-and-error, they managed to get the Qu’Eh vessel on course and into warp. The engines were making an odd sort of whine, but Jall just shrugged and said ‘Sage thinks it’s fine’. With the ship on course and a quiet trip expected, most of Alpha shift made their way out of the bridge, leaving the Hazardous Team to press the authorization buttons.

“I’m starting to wonder if that was such a good idea,” Stafford frowned as they walked down the corridor to a room labelled ‘Recreation & Dining’.

“What? You’d rather have the HT at the controls?” Jall asked.

“Well, they’d only be able to do what Beta shift authorized them to do,”

“They would still find a way to cause havoc,” T’Parief joined the conversation, “They are better off with the simpler job. Trust me.”

“Guess we just have to find something to keep our minds off the threat of impending Hazardous Team doom,” Yanick tried to joke as the doors opened.

“Sage is keeping himself busing rigging a temporary holo-relay for Fifebee,” Jall said, “Maybe we can find something on the rec deck,”

Unfortunately, Qu’Eh recreation didn’t appeal to them.

“Quality of Bowel Movement?” Stafford read from one of the padds scattered on the floor of the large room that seemed half restaurant, half casino.

“The HT trashed a room like this on the ship I was held captive aboard,” Jall said, tossing aside a ‘Quality of Morning Commute’ form, “Stern said they seemed to be placing bets on the overall quality scores for everything,”

“I remember,” Yanick nodded, “Let’s not do that,”

They walked past the quality score tables, the averaging stations and the various other data-analysis tools to the restaurant portion of the room. An unpleasant odour became detectable. They came around a low partition, finding themselves face-to-face with a buffet table full of rotten food and two Qu’Eh corpses. Equally rotten.

“Jall, I thought, you cleaned this place up!” Stafford complained.

“I guess we missed this room,” Jall shrugged, “Come on, there’s a room labelled ‘Employee Dining’ three decks down.

Employee Dining wasn’t any better. True, there were no rotting corpses, but it was also true that the Qu’Eh apparently didn’t believe in putting much effort into feeding their ‘employed’ races.

“Eight different kinds of alien pasta,” Stafford said, poking through the storage area of the kitchen, “And nothing to put on it. Not even butter.”

“And no replicators?” Yanick asked.

“I have located food synthesizers,” Valtaic called from the back, “However, they appear to be very limited, bulk production units. If you desire more alien pasta or high-protien paste, they will suffice. But that is all,”

“At least we won’t starve?” Yanick.

“Jall, any other bright ideas?” Stafford sighed.

“Starvation? Yanick’s point aside, it might be preferable. At least we’ll have six-packs!” Jall said brightly.

“Maybe the Captain’s quarters has a replicator!” Yanick suggested.

“You mean the Manager?” Jall shook his head, “Maybe it did, once. But that whole section took a torpedo hit. We didn’t even bother to rebuild it, just patched up the big hole in the hull.”

“Wow,” Stafford shook his head, “Maybe we should have thought of this BEFORE we went on a month long trip,”


Back on Haven, Sylvia was analyzing the program code controlling the construction bots. The two alphas were standing behind her, silent as always. In front of her, several large screens were showing computer code, the characters scrolling by at incredible speeds. One by one, the screens stopped and went blank.

“I can’t find anything wrong with you boys,” Sylvia said, turning to the two alphas, “Which I guess is good news, right?”

The bots were silent.

“We really need to fix this speech thing,” Sylvia sighed. “Would you like that?”

The two bots seemed to regard each other for a moment, then turned back to her. The bot interface beeped.

Sylvia picked up the padd and reviewed the output. There were several lines of computer code displayed, which basically translated to ‘Command unclear. Please provide properly formatted input’. Just like asking an old-style PC whether or not it wanted a new sound card.

“Jeffery to Sylvia,”

“Sylvia here,” she tapped her comm-badge, “How are you, Simon?”

“Still tryin’ to figure out why Dekaire’s so mad at me,” Jeffery said glumly, “Oh, and maybe a wee bit worried about our friends out on that crappy Qu’Eh ship!”

“You were the one who said you were too busy with Silverado to go on that mission,” Sylvia pointed out.

“And with all the crap that’s gone missing!” Jeffery was sounding a bit angry now, “Did ye know we had another ten tonnes of refined durainium disappear? Not ta mention about a hundred cubic meters of replicator mass! If Ah don’t sort this out before Abela gets word of it, Ah’ll be standin’ over a subway vent in me kilt!”

“What?”

“Ye sure ye can’t run some sort of ‘resource analysis algorithm’, maybe tell me somethin’?”

“If that is what you wish, I can certainly attempt it,” Sylvia said, choosing her words very carefully. She glanced out at the hundreds of runabouts, certain of EXACTLY where Jeffery’s missing materials were. She couldn’t flat-out lie to him, but she also didn’t really want to admit just who had been thieving all that material. And the material Jeffery was reporting as missing couldn’t be enough to build the hundreds of runabouts out there. Most likely, there were stockpiles in the other shipyards that nobody had bothered checking yet.

“Or,” she offered, “I can analyze some of the shipyard security processes for you? Identify where your holes might be?”

“Thanks, Sylvia,” Jeffery cut the channel.

She rose from the seat, put on her best motherhood face, and turned to the alphas.

“Now, you boys have done a wonderful job with the runabouts,” she said, “But you can’t just take things that don’t belong to you. Those materials belong to…well, at least some of them belong to Jeffery. And the rest are probably needed for Haven. So as much as I love what you’ve done, I need you to take all those runabouts apart and put everything back where you found it.”

The bots regarded each other again. This time, the interface let out a flat BLAAATTT sound.

Sylvia read over it. It held nearly two pages of error lines that basically boiled down to <Error. Command unclear, please repeat.>

She crossed her arms.

“Listen, I may look like an organic, but I’m as much a computer as you two,” she said, “I know you can’t actually say ‘But moooom, I don’t want to do that!’, but this is as close as your programming lets you get get.”

The padd bleeped again.

<Please specify command parameters.>

“I’ve pulled all these tricks and MORE on organics when I didn’t want to do as they said,” Sylvia said sharply, her hand hovering warningly over the panel, “Don’t make me interface directly with you two!”

The bots paused a moment more, then turned and stepped out of the room. Sylvia wasn’t sure, but it looked like the one on the left was sulking a bit. Dismissing the idea, she returned to her workstation and to the window looking down into the shipyard itself.

Down in the shipyard, Sylvia could see the two bot teams start to dismantle one of the runabouts. After a few moments, the alphas arrived and began facilitating the work.

Sylvia gave a sigh of relief.

“That settles that,” she said.


“This,” Yanick said, “is pathetic,”

The senior staff had searched the Checklist, the ship name that Stafford and Jall had finally agreed on after about half an hour of bickering. And two threats by T’Parief to bang their heads together if they continued to bicker. Finally, after several hours of deck-by-deck searching, they’d managed to find a stash of emergency rations that had been seized from one of the Senousian ships that the Qu’Eh had captured during their occupation of Matria Prime. The organic members of the senior staff were eating, while Fifebee had shut herself down after they left the sparse holo-coverage Jeffery’s engineers had managed to hastily install. Sage wasn’t going to be able to fully duplicate her relay, but was hoping to rig at least a short range, portable emitter than could be linked to a runabout computer. About five hundred years behind the fully self-contained emitter Voyager’s Doctor used, but it would suffice.

“I’m just a little creeped out that the Senousians include condoms in their survival packs,” Stafford grunted.

“Oh, I’ll take that,” Jall deftly snagged it from Stafford’s ration pack.

“Who could you POSSIBLY…no,” Wowryk raised a hand as she cut herself off, “I don’t want to know.”

“Nobody on this ship, sister,” Jall said with disdain, “But you know, it’s always better to have it and not need it…”

“So, what’s the story behind that thing with you, Jeffery and his new girlfriend,” Yanick asked Wowryk, somewhat randomly, “It was in all the papers,”

Behind Wowryk, Jall and Stafford were both making frantic ‘NO’ gestures.

But Wowryk just blew her breath out through her lips.

“It’s not Jeffery’s fault,” she said, “At least, I’m very certain he didn’t know what was going on. But Dekaire…she planned the whole thing. I don’t know why. Maybe she just wants her time in the spotlight. But she showed up at the restaurant all dressed up, called the reporters over and tried to…I don’t know.”

“Nice cloths seems like pretty flimsy evidence,” Stafford said.

“What do you know about nice clothes?” Yanick, Wowryk and Jall all said in unison.

“Sorry,” Stafford muttered, digging back into his ration pack.

“She’s right though,” Jall said, “Those shipyard workers usually come off shift pretty ripe.”

“Perhaps she simply wanted to be dressed nicely in public,” Valtaic suggested, “Even in my culture, there are certain social expectations,”

“How could she have known you’d be there?” Yanick asked Wowryk, “I mean, what are the odds? She and Jeffery could have beamed anywhere on the planet, right?”

“She has access to Haven’s sensors,” Jall said, “She could have looked for Wowryk’s comm-badge,”

“Then why doesn’t every reporter that wants to talk to her do that?” Yanick asked.

“All the Starfleet locator beacons are classified,” Stafford answered that one, “You need security access,”

“Which Dekaire has,” Wowryk finished.

They ate in silence for a few minutes.

“Are you going to talk to Jeffery when you get back?” Yanick asked.

“I suppose. Although I assure you it’s not necessary to lock us in a transit tram this time,” Wowryk answered.

“C’mon, that was fun!” Jall said.

Their banter was cut short as the comm chirped.

“Senior officers to the bridge,” Stern’s voice rang over the channel, “We have a ship on sensors, coming in with shields up and weapons hot!”

“Uh-oh,” Stafford gulped.


“Incoming ship will be in weapons range in one minute!” Lt Bithe called from tactical, “It’s a Senousian attack vessel!”

“Open a channel!” Stafford barked as he stepped onto the bridge.

“We’ve been trying for the past ten minutes!” Stern growled, “If we could have, we would have!”

“Oh come on, how hard could it be?” Stafford took his place at the authorization desk, “Bithe? Open the channel,”

Bithe pressed a button, and a message appeared on Stafford’s screen.

<We are sorry, access to the employee message vetting and censorship network is currently offline. Please try again later.>

“Huh?”

“I guess the Qu’Eh don’t trust their employees to talk to other ships for them,” Jall shrugged.

“Fine. T’Parief?” Stafford turned to the reptile as he took his own place at the desk.

T’Parief tapped at his panel.

<We are sorry, access to the management message vetting and censorship network is currently offline. Please try again later.>

“I guess they don’t trust each other to talk to other ships either,” Stafford said.

“They’re firing on us!”

The ship shook hard as phaser blasts hit the shields. There was a sort of groaning sound as the star- lines on the main screen collapsed back into stars.

“We’ve dropped out of warp,” Pye reported, “At least, I think we have. Yanick, can you give me access to the velocity readout?”

“Hmm? Oh. Sorry,” Yanick tapped her panel.

Stafford pinched his nose.

“Look, anytime the Qu’Eh called us, it was Chairman P’tarek, or Manager Kalmers, or some leadership type,” Jall said, “Maybe the captain’s station is the only one capable of communications!”

“Right,” Stafford scanned his panel as the ship shook again, “Here!” He stabbed a button labelled ‘Communications’. According to his tricorder, anyway.

“Warning,” the dry, male voice of the ship’s computer spoke, “You are attempting to establish an outgoing communication to an enemy vessel without having agreed to the standard Terms and Conditions of Use of the Qu’Eh Corporate Authority Communications System. Would you like to read the Terms and Conditions now?”

“What? NO!” Stafford barked.

“Communications are now offline,” the computer said.

“Wait, no! I mean, yes, I’ll read them!” Stafford cursed.

“Shields at 60%!” Bithe reported.

A holographic readout appeared in front of Stafford. Lines and lines of tiny Qu’Eh text filled the screen.

Jall tapped for a moment, and the text changed to Standard.

“First thing I figured out how to do,” he told Stafford.

“Hurry!” T’Parief snapped, “Or let me return fire!”

“The Senousians are our allies, we can’t shoot them!” Jall snapped back.

“Or what, they’ll hump us to death?” Stafford laughed, “God, I’ve actually sort of missed this. The rush! The adrenaline! The life or death-“

The ship shook again, this time knocking him to the deck.

“Never mind, I’m over it,” he said, pulling himself back into his seat, “Ok, where’s the ‘I accept’ button?” He scrolled through the document to the end, then hit the appropriate button.

“Warning. Sensors indicate you did not actually read the document. Continuing is not recommended.” the computer said.

“I’ll read it when we’re not about to be blown up!”

“Interpreting sarcastic answer as ‘Understood’,” the computer said.

There was a beep, then communications came online.

“Senousian ship! This is Captain Christopher Stafford of the USS Silverado!” Stafford said quickly, “My crew and I are returning this ship to the Qu’Eh in order to…well, just never-mind why. But we’re friendlies!”

“You have to hold down on the ‘talk’ button to speak,” Jall whispered to him.

Never, in the years they had served together, had Stafford ever been so close to punching his First Officer right in the face over something that wasn’t even his fault. But he took a deep breath, held his finger down on the ‘talk’ button and repeated his greeting.

“This is Captain Strupon of the Senousian vessel Duality,” an attractive (but weren’t they always?) Senousian woman said as her face appeared on the screen, “Transmit your authentication code, please.”

Stafford blinked.

“I have a Senousian authentication code?” he stuttered.

“Of course, it was assigned to you,” Strupon glanced at a padd, “nearly four years ago. After our first…unfortunate meeting. Code, please,”

“Look, I don’t remember any code,” Stafford said, “Did you people even tell me what it was?”

“Prefect Telfidi did, according to the notes here,”

“Hey, Telfidi didn’t give me anything but a case of…um…forget it. But she didn’t give me a code!”

Another Senousian appeared on screen briefly, whispering in Strupon’s ear. Strupon nodded, then turned back to Stafford.

“My First Officer was present during the reception for you crew, following the defeat of the Matrian Mistress Laurette,” she said, “So there is perhaps an alternative. Something that no Qu’Eh would be familiar with,”

“We’re open to alternatives,” Jall said diplomatically.

“Tell us,” Strupon said seriously, “The one about the Klingon, the Ferengi, and the bottle of soya sauce,”

Stafford face-palmed.


“I have to go,” Fifebee said suddenly, “The Checklist is under attack,”

“I never would have let Chris name it that,” Sylvia said as Fifebee disappeared, her program transferring back to the Qu’Eh ship. Alone again, she contemplated the progress they’d made.

Half the runabouts were gone. Dismantling them had taken a lot less time than building them. Soon, once all the material had been returned to the various cargo bays around the city, she would be able to convince Jeffery it was all an unfortunate clerical error.

She contemplated the chip that she and Fifebee had been discussing before the Science Officer had been pulled away. It had been no small matter of debate between the two of them, and Fifebee had been very clear on her point of view.

“Why do you insist on humanizing them?” Fifebee had demanded.

“It’s not about humanizing,” Sylvia said, exasperated, “I’m just getting sick of hunting for that interface padd anything they want to tell us something! Speech subroutines would make things so much easier!”

“If you want to make talking to them easy, use the direct data link protocols and we’ll just link with them ourselves,” Fifebee shot back.

“Well that’s great for us, but we’re not the people who will be dealing with them the majority of the time!” Sylvia had returned, “And besides that’s…well…”

Fifebee had arched an eyebrow.

“It’s like when organic parents have to spank their children in order to force them to obey,” Sylvia explained, “I know the bots don’t like it. And I don’t like it unless it’s absolutely necessary!”

Fifebee considered this for a moment, then nodded.

“I concede that point,” she admitted, “But it is still a slippery slope. These bots were not meant to be sentient, and if we start adding things that their original designers did not intend…”

“My original designers certainly did not intend ME,” Sylvia said, haughtily.

“We are most fortunate that you were…helpful,” Fifebee said, “Instead of evil,”

“Exactly! Giving these bots better abilities may be exactly what we need!” Sylvia pressed, “Never mind the benefits to shipbuilding, we could create a fascinating new culture!”

“Like Slezar?” Fifebee pointed out.

“Don’t bring T’Parief’s father into this. Besides, that turned out OK, right?”

“I still believe it is risky,” Fifebee said. At that moment she froze as data came in from her remote link to the Clipboard.

“I have to go,” Fifebee said suddenly, as we’d known she would. “The Checklist is under attack,”

Now, sitting by herself, Sylvia had to admit that maybe Fifebee had a point. Maybe making changes to the bots wasn’t the best of ideas.

Maybe, she realized, what she needed was an objective opinion.

She grabbed Fifebee’s holo-relay, grateful it had been left for her use while Fifebee contented herself with temporary emitters, then went off to find Jeffery.


“That is a horrible joke,” Captain Strupon said, staring through the screen back at Stafford, “I don’t know why Prefect Telfidi thought it was so funny,”

“Wait,” Jall spoke up, “If you didn’t already know the answer, how do you know the one we gave you is the right one? And how does that prove it’s even us?”

Everybody shot Jall poisonous looks.

“What?” he asked.

“We have several victims of the Qu’Eh among our crew,” Strupon said, “They assure us you are not Qu’Eh.”

“Bigger question,” Fifebee jumped in, “Did you not receive the notification from the Matrians that we were travelling this route in an enemy vessel?”

“We did not,” Strupon replied immediately.

“Could you check again?” Stafford asked as the poisonous looks moved to his direction, “Because I’m very sure I sent that memo!”

Strupon tapped away at an unseen panel.

“No messages from Matria Prime for the last five days,” she said, “I suggest you sort that out. You’re on course for Tapart space. And they aren’t as understanding as I am. Duality out.”

“They’re moving off,” Bithe reported, “They’ve jumped into warp,”

“Shit!” Jall exclaimed, “We should have asked them for food!”

“More than that,” Valtaic said, frowning as he leaned forward to look over Lt Day’s Ops panel, “Lieutenant, please attempt to open a long-range communications channel,”

“Oh, don’t start this again!” Stafford groaned.

Day tapped some buttons, which Valtaic quickly authorized. This time a different warning message came up.

<Long-range communication protocols are unavailable>, both their panels informed them.

“Something must have been damaged in the fight,” Jall said nervously.

Stafford looked at him.

“Then go fix it,” he said.

“Uhhh…right,” Jall bit his lip.

“Get Sage to help you! He’s an engineer, right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, that.” Jall took off in a hurry.


Jeffery was in 3CC with Major Dekaire.

“Nay, ye can’t do the computer core rebuild with the bots,” he was saying, sounding almost angry, “Ah mean, the physical core structure, aye. But the isolinear systems should be done by hand. And non-Starfleet personnel can’t even THINK about touchin’ the bio-neural stuff!”

“Simon, you’re being ridiculous,” Dekaire sad, exasperated, “Do you know how long it will take to sort all those chips by hand? The bots can do it in a fraction of the time!”

“Ye can’t just rely on technology to solve yer problems,”

“Says the man who has not one but TWO artificial officers on his crew!”

“Technically, I’m not an officer,” Sylvia said pleasantly as she walked in, Fifebee’s relay in tow, “Actually, the crew hardly even saw me the last few months aboard Silverado.” She turned to Dekaire, putting a conspiratorial expression on her face, “I had so much on my mind, I’m afraid I was ignoring them a bit,”

“Hmmm,” Dekaire didn’t exactly smile.

” Jeffery, you’re being silly,” Sylvia said, “There is no reason at all the bots can’t handle the computer core rebuild. In fact, I’m sure they’d relish the challenge,”

“They’re robots,” Dekaire said, “They don’t have feelings,”

“They still like carrying out their designed function,” Sylvia huffed, “I think the work Fifebee and I have achieved with the dozen you’ve given us has proven that,”

“Please,” this time Dekaire made a Matrian gesture of irritation, “It has nothing to do with the bots. They simply accept commands. You and the hologram probably just manage things more efficiently than Simon does,”

“Hey,” now Jeffery looked hurt.

“Well, why don’t you designate a few more alpha bots?” Sylvia suggested, “You have, what, thirty six different alphas working on thirty six different aspects of the reconstruction? Six alphas organizing those would probably help a lot,”

Jeffery looked thoughtful. Dekaire, on the other hand, did not.

“That is counter-indicated by the operator’s manual!” she hissed.

“Why?” Jeffery asked.

“I don’t know! And there aren’t any Old Matrians around to ask!”

“There’s Colonel Abela,” Sylvia suggested.

“Who knows NOTHING about shipbuilding,” Dekaire snapped, “Now, you people hired me because I am the master shipbuilder here! You can either accept my experience, or you can screw off and do it yourself!”

Before anybody could answer, she turned away.

“Come on, Simon!” she called over he shoulder, “Let’s upload the new instructions to the alpha facilitating the core rebuild.

“Simon,” Sylvia tried again.

“She is the expert,” Jeffery said glumly.

Sylvia let out a frustrated breath as she grabbed the holo-relay and started back towards the tram station. She hadn’t even been able to talk to Jeffery about the bot issue! Dekaire was officially becoming a problem. And the worst part was, she was a highly competent and skilled problem.

Which meant that the best way to undermine her would be to out-perform her.

Which meant her bots had to become the best bots ever. Just as soon as they finished cleaning up that rather large runabout-building mistake she’d made.


A day later, Stafford found Jall, Sage, Marsden and Day all gathered in a massive room labelled ‘Communications’ in ugly Qu’Eh script.

“Wow,” he remarked, “This place is huge,”

“This is a race that uses call centers instead of forced labour camps,” Jall said darkly, “Of course they’re a bit communications obsessed,”

“And yet,” Fifebee’s voice said over the comm, “Didn’t bother to develop holograms,”

“No emitters down here,” Sage explained, seeing the confused look on Stafford’s face, “We only had time to put them on the bridge and one of the science labs. And the mini-relay needs a bit more work,”

“Why didn’t she bring her…wait. Sylvia must have needed it,” Stafford nodded. He crossed his arms, “So, what’s wrong with the long-range comms? We’ve been flying without them for over a day now, and we’ll be getting close to Tapart space very, very soon,”

“Well, there is no problem,” Jall said, tossing the odd instrument he was using to probe circuits over one shoulder, “Everything checks out.”

“Well, that’s great,” Stafford grinned, “I’ll just go clear this up with Matria Prime, and we can NOT get shot at by people thinking we’re the bad-guys,”

“No, he means there’s no problem with any of the communications arrays,” Sage said, “This frickin’ ship has so much communications bandwidth we could run half the Federation from here. But we can’t get any sort of outgoing channel to open!”

“Did you author-“

“YES I AUTHORIZED IT!” Jall snapped. He took a breath and calmed himself.

“The problem is somewhere in the software/hardware interface,” Marsden said. He’d taken plenty of extra training to become the Hazardous Team’s technology guy, “Making a long-range subspace link isn’t like dialling an old-fashioned telephone. There are HUNDREDS of parameters that need to be set…and that’s just control signals to the transceiver to actually get a signal into subspace! Then it has to go in the right direction, and you need all the routing protocols for the receiving end. And something here is screwing that up!”

“That’s putting it simply,” Sage said with just a hint of condescension.

They stared at the exposed circuitry for a moment.

“I have an idea,” Fifebee said, “But you have to promise not to get angry,”

“Why would we get angry?” Stafford asked.

“Because,” Fifebee was very matter-of-fact, “We, that is, Sylvia and I, installed a holographic transmission interface so that I could transfer my program back to Haven to assist her with our…special project,”

Stafford blinked.

“Why would we get angry?” he asked again, “You could have just told us that days ago,”

“That’s what I told Sylvia,” Fifebee’s voice was flat, “But she wants to keep our work a ‘surprise’,”

“Every time I think she’s becoming nothing like Mom, she goes and does something that Mom would do,” Stafford wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cringe.

“So we transfer you back, you fix things at the Matria Prime end with our…travel clearance…then you transfer back,” Jall said, “Also, are you sure your tampering didn’t CAUSE THIS PROBLEM??”

“Did long-range comms work when we left Haven?” Fifebee asked, “And for some time afterword, right up until we were fired upon?”

“Well, yes,”

“Then no, it did not. And no, I already tried transferring back to Haven. My transmission interface is also no longer able to properly access the transceiver array,”

“But at least it’s a piece of Federation technology I can work with,” Jall said, slamming the open panel shut and grabbing his tools, “Where is this thing?”

“Two panels up,”

Jall blinked, opened the indicated panel, and dropped his tools back onto the floor.

“Oh yeah, there it is,” Sage said, sounding confused.

“What’s wrong?” Stafford asked.

“Nothing, I just thought we’d have to go a bit further to find it is all,” Sage shrugged.

“Hey, do we have any food?” Jall asked.

“Two more days of ration packs and all the dry alien pasta you can eat. And the HT has a few people scouting around the ship.” Stafford said glumly.

“Runabout replicators?” Sage asked.

“Fresh from the shipyard. Nobody uploaded anything into them before we left,” Jall answered that one, “As soon as we get this stuff working, we’ll have Haven send us some patterns.”

“Maybe we should have a meeting,” Stafford wondered, “We haven’t had a starship senior staff meeting in months,”

“I have better things to do,” Jall muttered, plugging a padd into the holographic transmission interface, “But knock yourself out,”


Yet another day later, Sylvia was staring out into Shipyard Six with a look of satisfaction on her face. All the ‘extra’ runabouts had been dismantled. The materials used in their construction had been returned to their original forms: pressed duranium ingots, tanks of replicator mass and a few storage containers of rare elements and minerals. Their deuterium and anti-deuterium fuels had been returned to Haven’s own storage system via shipyard links, and everything appeared to be going properly.

Wait.

Sylvia frowned. Two problems crossed her mind the instant she noticed the bots progress. First, the bots were supposed to be finished the day after TOMORROW, not today. There should still be four dozen runabouts down there. And second, there were now four dozen bots instead of one dozen.

She looked quickly around the room, but none of the alphas were present. She jumped into the express lift down to the shipyard floor, walked out to the ranks of bots and quickly found one of the original alphas.

“What’s going on?” she demanded. She cursed as she realized she’d left the interface padd up in the shipyard. But the alpha simply plucked an identical padd from one of its compatriots and handed it to her.

There were pages of output data. Sylvia quickly skimmed through it.

“You activated another three dozen bots from Shipyard Six storage???” she exclaimed, “Without anybody authorizing it?”

The padd beeped, and she skipped down to the newest data.

<Instructions were to have the runabouts dismantled as soon as possible,> she read, <Extra labour resources were required and available,>

“But you’re not…your programming should have brought you to Fifebee and myself to consult!”

The next line to appear sent a chill through her software.

<Designer Fifebee is not aboard Haven. Proper Designer consensus not possible>

“Fifebee and I aren’t your designers,” she said, “We just…look, you were allocated to us for a shipbuilding experiment, OK?”

<Experiment successful. Experiment must continue> This time the alpha seemed to stare right at her as words appeared on the padd.

“Uh-oh,” Sylvia muttered.


“Bridge to Stafford,” T’Parief’s voice came over the comm,” We have a ship coming towards us from the direction of Tapart space. Less than one hour to intercept,”

“Aren’t we still a day away?” Stafford asked.

“It would seem that the Tapart, like most moderately intelligent space-faring races, monitor what is happening a safe distance from their homeworld as opposed to right on top of it,” T’Parief replied crisply.

“He gets cranky when he’s hungry,” Yanick’s voice chimed in.

“Don’t we all,” Stafford muttered as he closed the channel, “Jall, we’re almost out of time,”

“Sage?” Jall asked, turning to the engineer.

“Had enough of trying to be an engineer, have ya?’ Sage asked.

“Hey, operations is basically engineering…from a distance,” Jall said.

“Oh yeah, where you can keep your hands nice and clean,”

“Less talk, more fix,” Stafford interrupted.

“I’ve almost got one of the transceivers accepting signal parameters,” Sage said, burying his hands back into the panel, “We were mostly right. Power surge from one of those weapons hits tripped a few error sensors, easy to re-route. In theory. Software re-routing crapped out, and what would you know, there’s no diagram to tell me how everything is supposed to be connected,”

“Fifebee’s holographic thingy is ready to make the link as soon as we have an open channel,” Jall said.

“Within an hour?” Stafford swallowed.

“Hope so. But you might want to talk the bridge and ask T’Parief if we outgun a Tapart ship,” Jall suggested.

Stafford decided maybe he should be on the bridge.


“Outgun them? You cannot be serious,” T’Parief said flatly.

“Jall said-“

“Jall said whatever he could to stop you from hovering over his shoulder while he tried to work,” Yaick interjected.

“The Tapart fought off the Matrians for decades,” T’Parief reminded Stafford, “And we are in a damaged ship with very little functional firepower,”

“Runabouts?” Stafford asked.

T’Parief almost giggled. It was a deep, not very happy sound. But it was definitely amusement.

“No,” T’Parief clarified, “Runabouts would not help. But if you can find a way to get me on the enemy ship, I could likely slaughter most of them,”

Pye gulped and focused very hard on his panel.

“The enemy, not you,” Yanick assured him.

“See if you can boost power to the shields,” Stafford ordered, “And Fifebee, the minute we have a link, you get your butt back to Haven and figure out what happened to that travel clearance message!”

“Boosted shields or not, those guys can easily blow us up,” Lt Comd Stern said, reading the Tapart ship specifications.

“Outmanoeuvre?” Yanick asked.

“For about ten minutes,”

“Outrun?” Pye suggested.

“Nuh-uh,”

“Then we’re just going to have to out-think them?” Stafford said, trying to strike a confident pose in the command…well…desk seat.

The assorted Beta Shift and Hazardous Team personnel didn’t say anything.

“I’m not worried,” Ensign Simmons said finally.

Stafford looked at him with surprise.

“Really?”

“Sure,” Simmons shrugged, “I always update my will every week, so I’m set!”

Stafford slumped in his seat.

“Just get those shields boosted. We can do better than be blown to pieces with the first shot, right?”

“No promises,” Stern replied, “But I’m fairly sure it will take two or three,”

“I guess it’s a start.”



Tags: silverado