Author: Anthony Butler
NOTE TO READER:
The following book builds on story-lines started in the Star Traks: The Vexed Generation stories ‘Symbiotic Relationship’, ‘The Host with the Most’, ‘Love Hurts’ and ‘Keep Your Friends Close.’ A reading, or re-reading, of these stories, may help to alleviate some confusion, but I’m not making any promises!
380 YEARS AGO. . . THE PLANET TRILL
Iano Snax looked out over the lavish Trill countryside of Precinct 42 of the Agratha continent and smiled.
Trill was a beautiful world, and Agratha was one of the most beautiful continents. It had dense jungles, beautiful waterfalls, expansive gray-brown plains and vast, ebbing and flowing purple oceans.
Within 24 hours, Iano Snax knew his mercenaries would land on the shores of Agratha and take the continent piece by piece, storming through its quiet, defenseless villages, and setting them ablaze. It would be his first move in uniting Trill in a single government, one he controlled. The brinkmanship and factioning, the constant quibbling and diplomatic posturing would be over. Trill was a planet ripe for the picking. It was overtly peaceful, harmless, devoid of courageous persons, and, most importantly, naive. It wouldn’t expect such an assault, because none had been attempted in centuries.
But that was because no symbiont like Snax had ever existed, or if it had, it had been quickly weeded out by Symbiosis Engineers.
His scouting expedition nearly complete, Snax was about to return to his solar skiff when he was joined at the craggy bluff by a breathless, panting young woman in frilly white pirate’s garb, similar to Iano.
“Make this quick, Briana,” Snax said, pulling his long, reddish hair into a ponytail. He looked the part of pirate scum: he was tall, lanky, bearded, with long hair that, when cast about his shoulders, covered the spots on his neck. Any other Trill would scoff at such a thing, but Iano reveled in it. Anything that went against convention pleased him. Anything that stirred up ire in his fellow Trill made him ecstatic.
“The chief lookout just sent a report in by telewire,” Briana said, bracing her hands on her knees as she tried to catch her breath. “Seven solar frigates are headed this way at full steam. They’ll arrive by nightfall.”
“The Trill Navy?” Snax mused, rubbing his chin.
“Word of your plans must have gotten out somehow,” Briana said, finally standing upright. “I only thought it was fair to warn you.”
“You’ve done well,” Snax said, brushing a hand along Briana’s face. “You’ll be a good officer, in time, if you work hard at it.”
“I’ve learned everything from you,” Briana said sweetly.
Snax grinned at her devilishly. He’d picked up Briana at the port of Shmantho a year ago. She was University educated, recently joined, and new and fresh to the world as if she were just born. She was studying astronomy at the local observatory, and had a bright future of citing meaningless numbers in numerous, increasingly meaningless, logs, over the years.
When Snax came across Briana, he’d first intended to steal her money, perhaps have his way with her. But he saw something in her, maybe it was something beyond the purity of Briana. Something deep down, in her gut. In the symbiont called Shar. Something he could control, command, and pervert into a soldier in his army.
And so Snax brought Briana with him on his ocean voyage. And first it was a kidnapping, the young graduate forced to spend her days in the cargo hold. But over several months, she learned to embrace her captors, and Snax in particular.
He didn’t know if he was a father figure in her life, or a romantic one. Either way suited him just fine. She was going to be good for his purposes, that was all that mattered.
So Snax began training Briana Shar, in combat and deception.
And, that naivete in her eyes soon gave way to cold calculation. Briana was fading into the background, and Shar, this strong-willed symbiont, perhaps almost as strong-willed as Snax himself, began to take hold.
During this long pause, Briana’s calculating eyes searched Snax’s for answers. “Snax, what do we do?”
Snax sneered at Briana Shar. “We let the frigates come. And when they do, we will be ready for them. And we’ll defeat them.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because, in the end, we’re nastier than they are.”
Briana Shar grinned.
By nightfall, dozens of Snax’s solar skiffs landed on the shores of Agratha. The agrarian population, who lived several kilometers landward, hadn’t even become aware of their presence yet. Less technologically inclined than the Trill of the Combra and Brekkus continents, the Agratha people rarely ever made contact with the rest of Trill. That, Snax felt, was one of the things that made them so ripe, so tempting for the picking.
Snax stood on the shoreline of Agratha, the waves licking his feet, staring through a monocular.
“What do you see?” Briana asked expectantly, as always, at Snax’s side.
“Five silhouettes, heading this way, at full steam.”
“Do we have enough men to stop the Trill Navy?”
“More than enough,” Snax grimaced. “The Trill Navy is nothing but a vacationing club for the well-to-do sons of Trill. With any luck, we won’t even have to face General Jonus Kedric.”
“I do believe that’s who they put in command of the fleet, sir,” Briana said quietly.
“Blast,” Snax growled. “Well, then, we’ll just have to redouble our efforts. Get the word out to our people: Have them position themselves behind the dunes and bluffs of the southern shore. Instruct them that not a single member of the Trill Navy can be allowed to set foot on this land. It’s ours now, and they’re going to have to come through us to get it.”
“How are you so sure that we’ll win this engagement?” Briana asked.
“Because one thing General Kedric doesn’t know is that I’ve dropped mines throughout these waters. And only you, me, and a handful of my closest men know about them. So, unless somebody gave Kedric a map of the minefield, he’s going to endure significant losses before he ever steps foot here.”
Briana nodded. “Thank Gods for that.”
Two hours later, the Trill Navy had killed and injured a hundred of Iano Snax’s men, arrested the others and stowed them aboard their great frigates, all beached safely on the shores of Precinct 42.
Snax, meanwhile, was running, fast and hard. He couldn’t go to his skiff. It was surrounded by Trill Naval Officers. He knew there was a village just a few kilometers away, but he’d have to cross through some pretty deep jungle to get there. The good news, however, was that the jungle would give him pretty significant cover. Kedric and his men would never find him, not in a million years, as long as he kept to the deep jungle.
Snax was so busy patting himself on the back for surviving this admittedly huge setback, that he didn’t notice a large braktal root sticking out of the ground. His foot caught, he fell face forward, and hit the ground hard.
“Need some help?” a sweet voice asked, and he looked up to see that it was Briana Shar.
“Shar…” he said, grinning. “You made it out too?”
“Oh yeah,” she said, reaching out a hand to help him up. “I managed just fine.”
“I don’t know what went wrong. Kedric’s fleet should have been badly damaged by that minefield. Someone must have betrayed me.”
“Let’s not worry about that now,” Briana said, letting go of Snax’s hand and jogging several paces ahead of him. “I believe you were heading this way?”
“Yes, dear Briana. How did you know?”
“I had a feeling,” Briana said with a soft giggle, then turned on Shar in an instant and yanked a pulse-gun out of her boot. She leveled it at Snax and smiled. “Don’t move!”
Snax laughed. “And what is this little game? Really, Briana, we don’t have time for this.”
“It’s not a game, Snax. You’d be surprised at what a resourceful girl is capable of.”
“What do you mean?”
“She means,” a voice said, an Snax whipped his head around. From the other direction, the tall, blond, square jawed General Jonus Kedric stepped out from the bushes. “She contacted the Trill Navy three months ago, when you pulled into port at Omettica. We’ve talked several times since then, and have been tracking you all along. We tracked you right into this jungle.”
“So…” Snax’s forehead crinkled as he turned a disapproving gaze at Briana. “You’re the one who gave the map of my minefield to Kedric.”
“And enough information to put you and your symbiont in prison for a lifetime,” Briana said. “No Trill should have such a psychotic, power-hungry mind inhabiting them.”
“But my dear, you’d find it’s so much more fun this way,” Snax said, gritting his teeth. He turned to face Kedric. “I suppose you wouldn’t want to plea bargain?”
“I’m afraid not,” Kedric said, aiming a pulse-gun of his own on Snax. “The only question is, are you willing to go quietly, or will we have to shoot you?”
“Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Snax spat. “But I’m not going to give you the satisfaction. Because I know that Trill don’t kill even their worst criminals. And that one day, maybe years from now, I’ll have another chance to take over the planet.”
“Don’t count on it,” Shar said, and moved over to stand next to Kedric. “Isn’t that right, sweetheart?”
“Err…” Kedric said. “Briana, I know we got kind of friendly since we’ve been talking over telewire. But, I have to be honest, I am sort of…involved with someone back home. And, although I think you’re a really nice girl, I think it’s probably best if we just stay friends.”
Briana’s lower lip trembled. “FRIENDS! I betrayed my mentor for you, and after all your promises of how happy we’d be after I turned him over to you…you…you just decide you want to be friends!”
“Maybe…maybe in another lifetime it would be right,” Kedric said. “But, right now, we have other concerns to see to.”
“Damn you, Kedric!” Briana said, bursting into tears.
“Yes,” Snax said, looking on distastefully at Kedric and Shar. “It’s safe to say that we will all have to put these quarrels aside for another date. Meanwhile, Shar, I hope you, one day, find a bitter, terrible end indeed…”
THREE WEEKS AGO…
Conway whirled to see Tyra Shar lunging at him. Now she had the shovel, and swung it at his feet.
He leaped off the ground, and the shovel swung harmlessly beneath him. He followed up by ramming into her shoulder-first. That only briefly staggered her; she quickly brought the shovel swinging up between his legs, then slammed it against his knee, knocking one leg out from under him. Like a house on a bad foundation, Conway crashed to the ground.
Tyra loomed over him, shovel raised to give the death blow.
“BITCH!” And a phaser blast soared over Tyra’s head.
She turned to see Baxter standing a few feet away, at the Susquehanna’s exit hatch.
That moment of surprise gave Conway the opportunity to kick his feet up into Tyra’s gut. She doubled over, fell forward, and pitched over Conway and over the edge of the plateau, or whatever.
Conway twisted around to grab her hands, but with the rain, sweat, and grease of those delicious alien coffee beans, her hands slipped right through his.
But Tyra was fueled by pure hate. She wouldn’t go out so easily. She dug her fingers into the rock-side, clawed the edge, kicked with her feet.
“This isn’t over!” she cried, and reached one hand up to grab Conway’s wrist. “No, you little bastard, I’m bringing you with me!”
“Give me the word, Conway,” Baxter said, hovering behind his first officer.
Conway reached out his free hand as the weight of Tyra dragged him closer and closer to the edge of the rock-face. “Give me the phaser, Captain.”
“I’d really rather do it.”
Conway shook his hand for emphasis. “I’d really prefer that I do it, sir!”
“Conway, why quibble over–”
“GIVE ME THE DAMN PHASER!”
“Okay, okay!” Baxter shoved the phaser into Conway’s hand and he aimed it down at Tyra. She gritted her teeth, looked up at Conway with eyes burning.
“You don’t have the guts to do it. You’ve done everything I’ve asked so far! Why stop now?”
“Why indeed!” And Conway blasted Tyra’s hand. Her eyes widened in shock and her hand went limp. She slid down the rock-face, then fell backward into a freefall. Then she slammed back into the rock-face, then fell backward, then slammed hard against the rock-face, then fell backward, and finally disappeared into the night.
“Heavy trade winds,” Baxter said, to no one in particular.
Conway looked out at the fuzzy night sky. It had finally stopped raining. “I suppose so. Guess I’m single again.”
Baxter glanced over the edge of the rock-face. “Guess so.”
NOW. . .
The Aerostar-A sailed through space, full of destiny and purpose.
Captain David Conway, meanwhile, crawled on the floor of his office, trying to find the wheel to his Dale Earnhardt race-car model.
“Ahem,” came a voice from his doorway.
“Got it!” Conway grabbed the wheel out from under his couch and looked up, surprised. “Doctor Lanham.” He stood up. “You could have bleeped, you know.”
“Oh, is that what that button is for?” she asked coyly, stepping into the readyroom. “And here all along I’ve been using my command override.”
“Why do you have a command override?” Conway asked, stepping behind his desk and snapping the wheel into place on the rear axle of his 1:24 scale model.
“Let’s just say your young, attractive security officer has a little bit of a crush on me.”
Conway grimaced. “Lieutenant Gellar isn’t THAT young. And he’s forbidden to have a crush on a fellow bridge officer. Especially you.”
“Whatever,” Lanham said, sitting down across from Conway. She stared at the model. “What are you doing?”
Conway held up the model, eying it with pride. “I just finished putting it together. It’s going to go on my desk, right next to my Starfleet Academy mug.”
“Isn’t it standard for a captain to have a model of one of the other ship’s he’s served on, or something, on his desk?”
“Maybe,” Conway said, shrugging. “But I want a NASCAR on my desk. And I AM the Captain, so I get whatever I want.” He’d been saying that a lot lately…mostly in private.
Lanham sighed. “When you’re right, you’re right.”
“Did you come here for a reason, or just to bug me?”
“I was looking over the morning task list, actually,” Lanham said, tossing a padd onto Conway’s desk. “And I came in to discuss a few points with you.”
Conway gestured invitingly. “By all means…”
“Why aren’t we DOING anything?” Suddenly Lanham’s voice was quite a bit louder.
“We’re doing stuff.” Conway grabbed the padd and looked through it. “See right here? We’re studying a nebula at Thirteen-hundred. That’ll be fun.”
“It’s the Mutara nebula,” Lanham said boredly. “It’s been looked through thousands of times. What could we possibly find that someone else hasn’t already found?”
“I don’t know. Khan’s hair scrunchie?”
“This isn’t funny. The Aerostar-A has been in service for more than a week, and we haven’t been assigned a specific mission yet. The people in my department are bored out of their skulls.”
“I’ve found ways to keep myself busy,” Conway said with a grin.
“Why did you bring me here?” Lanham asked, leaning across the table. “I had a promising job on the Pulitzer. I was even occasionally the honorary first officer, whatever that means. Captain Green said I was going places.”
“He was right. You went here. Or is it came?” Conway looked thoughtful.
“Maybe I should have just stayed on the Pulitzer,” Lanham said, more to herself than to anyone else.
“Don’t be silly,” Conway said, his full attention now on his science officer. “Being aboard the Aerostar is a huge step forward. We’re going to be getting into grisly and weird new frontiers of…stuff. You just wait. We’re going to explore, and explore, and explore, just like that other ship, but better.”
“Of course. Your old ship.”
Now it was Conway who was leaning over the table. “I assure you, Alexa. This is just a temporary shakedown period. Soon your services will be needed.”
“Captain Conway,” came Commander Kristen Larkin’s monotone voice. “You are needed on the bridge.”
“Maybe now,” Conway suggested, and got up, walking with Lanham out onto the bridge. “What have we got?” he asked as Lanham took the science station.
Larkin was standing in front of the viewscreen. “A starship, bearing oh-five-seven mark two-one-nine.”
“What kind of ship?”
“It is Trill in design.”
Conway smiled. “Friendlies, then.”
Larkin walked over and sat down next to Conway. “Frankly, I am surprised you would say that, considering your past with the Trill.”
Conway sunk a little in his chair. “Point taken. Point taken.”
Lt. Brian Gellar studied the tactical console he was seated at. “Doesn’t look like a threat, Captain. Just a Mark-Three courier.”
“Any need to raise shields?”
“There’s always a need to raise shields,” Gellar said flatly. “But not an overwhelming one this time.”
“So I don’t get to steer us out of danger?” Lt. Commander Zack Ford said with a frown, from helm.
“Guess not,” Gellar said.
“Well, what do they want?” Conway said.
“Maybe you should hail them,” Ford said.
“My crew is already working like a well-oiled unit,” Conway said. “And it’s only been a week.” He looked back at Gellar. “Okay, Lieutenant. Hail them.”
“This is Captain David Conway of the Starship Aerostar. How may I help you?”
“Conway,” the voice replied. “Is that spelled C-O-N-W-A-Y?”
“Last I checked. Who wants to know?”
Conway and Larkin exchanged glances.
“How strange,” Larkin said.
Suddenly a transporter beam flared in front of Conway and a smartly-suited male figure coalesced, holding a padd. He threw the padd in Conway’s lap. “Captain Conway, you are hereby served. Should you have any questions, please URK!”
That’s when Gellar’s phaser blast slammed into the man’s chest and felled him quite neatly before Conway.
“You could have done that a little more quickly,” Conway said to Gellar as the security officer holstered his weapon. He waved the padd. “What if this had been a bomb?”
“It’s not, spanky,” Gellar said. “So shut up.”
“Why…” Conway grumbled.
“Perhaps you should read the padd,” Larkin said.
“Served,” Conway mumbled, reading the padd. “Served what? A meal? Tennis?”
Larkin looked on as Conway read, his brow furrowing more and more.
“Well?” Alexa Lanham asked, leaning on her console.
“I’m being sued,” Conway said.
“By the Trill?” Lanham asked.
“For what?” asked Ford.
“I did not realize that was was something one could be sued for,” Larkin said. “I am woefully unfamiliar with Trill legal standards. Perhaps I should download…”
Conway was still reading. “Wait just a damn…what the hell!”
“Captain?” Larkin asked.
“The name of the person suing me…” Conway let the padd clatter to the floor. “It’s Shar.”
Commander Larkin walked into Conway’s readyroom. It was, in point of fact, only the fourth time she’d walked into the readyroom since the Aerostar-A’s launch. “Our guest is in Sickbay,” she said to Conway, who didn’t seem to notice or react to her presence. When she got no reply, she continued. “It appears he was the lone occupant of his ship. We were able to retrieve some identification from his computer database. He is an unjoined trill named Tammat Raye.”
Conway nodded dumbly.
“He is unconscious; however, Doctor Benzra is prepared to wake him at your command.”
“Yeah,” Conway said. “I’ll be down in a minute.”
“Captain.” Larkin sat down across from Conway.
“Perhaps ‘Shar’ is a common name on Trill. Like ‘Smith’ on Earth.”
“The first name was not Tyra.”
“Someone named Unjon.”
“Unjon,” Larkin said. “Certainly, then, this is not the same Shar we have dealt with before.”
“The symbionts CAN be put in other hosts, Commander,” Conway said, looking up, finally. “That’s sort of what the Trill do.”
“Sarcasm achieves nothing,” Larkin said coldly. “I am merely trying to offer sane alternatives to your insane assumption.”
“What assumption?” Conway stood up, paced over to his bookcase replete with unread Tom Clancy classics. There was just so much of that stuff. “The assumption that somehow I didn’t manage to kill Shar?”
“That is impossible. The fall alone…”
“Did we check?”
“I believe Captain Baxter decided to leave those details up to the Trill authorities.”
“Yeah,” Conway said thoughtfully. “We left the scene pretty quick.”
“I doubt you or the captain wanted to explain to the Trill that you had killed one of their longest-lived symbionts.”
“Their longest-lived symbiont was certifiably insane. It tried to kill me. Probably more than once.”
“It tried to kill several Explorer crew members as well,” Larkin said. “And succeeded.”
Conway nodded. “Uh-huh.”
“May I ask what you plan on doing?”
“I have to consult with Starfleet.”
“Admiral Baxter will not be pleased,” Larkin said thoughtfully.
“That’s an understatement. But maybe he’ll say I don’t have to go.”
“You would prefer to run away from the problem?”
“Hey, it was self defense,” Conway said. “It’s not as if I killed the thing in cold blood.”
“You did violate Trill custom.”
“You’re saying I should have let Tyra kill Captain Baxter and me?”
“Not at all. I am simply trying to examine both sides of the issue.”
“The issue is ridiculous. I’m not even going to dignify it with a response. I’m not going to go to Trill and let someone who may or may not be the person I killed sue me for killing it just because it’s a symbiont, when I know good and well it was in my rights to kill it!”
“You make a convincing argument, Captain,” Larkin said.
“Rrrrgota Trill,” Admiral Harlan Baxter said, looking out from Conway’s desktop terminal with narrowed eyes.
“Excuse me, sir? Did you say ricotta Trill?”
“You gotta trail? What does that mean?”
“Get trim? We ll, I am trying to firm up my…”
Harlan swiped the cigar from his mouth and leaned into the viewer. “GO TO TRILL, BOY!”
Conway reflexively pulled back. “Oh. That’s what I thought you said.” He then shifted into whine mode. “But Admiral…this is a ridiculous charge. After all, how can someone I killed sue me for killing them?”
“You gotta admit, it sorta makes it an airtight case.”
“It doesn’t make it a case at all. If Shar did in fact survive, which I’m still not sure is the case, then I obviously didn’t kill it, so it has no case at all. If Shar didn’t survive, well, then I killed Tyra in self-defense as I had every right to.”
“The Trill’re members of the Federation. Yer a Starfleet cap’n. Start actin’ like one and own up to your actions. That’s what my boy would do!”
“Your boy helped me kill Tyra! Why isn’t he being sued?”
Harlan put the cigar back in his mouth. “BRXTR OUT!”
Stardate 55004.4. At the gentle suggestion of Admiral Baxter, I have diverted the Aerostar from its pointless shaking down to the Trill system so I can attend a pointless trial. We locked Mister Raye’s starship in a tractor beam and are keeping him as our…um…guest, while we figure out what to do about this whole legal situation.
“I have rights, you know,” Raye said from the bench in the brig, as Conway, Larkin, and Gellar stared at him.
“He has a point,” Larkin said.
“Should I shoot him again?” Gellar asked.
“No,” Conway snapped, then looked at Raye. “Mister Raye. I simply want information.”
“You can talk to the Accuser General. I just deliver the summons, that’s all. I’m no good to you as anything other than a hostage.”
Gellar and Conway stared at Raye thoughtfully.
“You cannot use me as a hostage!”
“Well,” Conway said, looking at Larkin, who shook her head.
“The Khitomer Accords would seem to be in your favor,” Conway said. “As would the Seldonis Four convention. However…” he looked at Gellar. “I’d be willing to, um, sidestep those little guidelines unless you can give me some information.”
“I don’t HAVE any information.”
“Who is Unjon Shar?” Conway demanded.
“I would think that’s obvious,” Raye said flatly.
“It’s not obvious at all,” Conway said. “Either it’s the Shar I knew, or it isn’t.”
“I’m afraid I can’t speak to that. As I said, I only deliver the summons. I don’t…”
“Kill him,” Conway said, then left the room.
“He cannot be serious,” Larkin said to Gellar.
“It’s Conway, Commander,” Gellar said.
“Ah, yes. You are, of course, correct.”
“Better get this over with,” Gellar said, stepping toward the brig. “Any last words, sir?”
Raye pulled himself into a ball. “You can’t do this! I have rights!”
Gellar grinned. “I’m not going to shoot you. We were just messing with you.”
“We were?” Larkin asked Gellar.
“I assume so,” Gellar said, and looked back at Raye. “We will of course, have to keep you here, until we can confirm these accusations. You know, just for safety’s sake.”
“But wait!” Raye exclaimed, as Gellar and Larkin walked out of the brig. “I have rights! You can’t just keep me here!”
“Stay comfy!” Gellar said with a wave, as the doors closed, and he and Larkin headed up the corridor, to find Captain Conway pacing in front of the turbolift doors.
“Raye is demanding he be released,” Larkin told Conway.
“Oh,” Conway said, and glanced at Gellar. “Couldn’t get up the nerve to kill him, then?”
“No sir. I guess not.”
Conway sighed. “Oh well. Guess that’s for the best. Well, let’s prepare my case.”
“Us?” Gellar asked.
“My legal database is extensive,” Larkin said.
“First, I need a drink,” Conway said, and the group headed to the ship’s lounge.
The Aerostar-A’s crew lounge, The Starlight Lounge-A, was nowhere near as comfortable a hangout as Mirk’s Constellation Cafe, or the Starlight Lounge of old, for that matter.
Starfleet was, on an experimental basis, outsourcing its bartending needs with the corporation, Guinanco. So far, the Secondprize was the only other ship that had such a facility, but Captain Conway wondered to himself if Captain Jaroch hated his Guinanco-approved lounge any more than Conway hated his.
“Coffee, black and hot, and keep it coming.”
Harvey Upshaw stood, in suspenders and sombrero, shirt covered with snazzy buttons inscribed with fun sayings, and surveyed the captain. “Seems like’s something’s wrong, Cap’n Dave!”
“I told you never to call me that again,” Dave growled, as Larkin and Gellar sat down next to him.
“And for the beautiful woman?” Harvey pivoted to face Larkin, all giant grins.
“I am an android. How many times do I have to remind you?”
“We just aim to please here at the Starlight Lounge. For you, big guy?” Harvey asked Gellar.
“I’m on duty. Tarkalian Tonic’ll be fine.”
“Right-diddly-righty-O!” Harvey said musically, and trundled off to the bar.
“What I wouldn’t give for a Maloxian about now,” Conway muttered. “Any Maloxian.”
“Or Doctor Browning,” Gellar frowned. “I miss her restaurant.”
“I do too, although I did not eat there,” Larkin said. After a pause, she added, “Because I do not eat.”
“We’re getting off-track,” Conway said. “Let’s remember why we’re here.”
“To prevent you from being jailed for killing Tyra?” Gellar offered.
Larkin slid a padd over to Conway. “I did some research. Apparently you could get the death penalty.”
“They still have that on Trill!” Conway’s eyes bugged as he read the padd.
“It hasn’t been observed in centuries, but apparently it’s still a legal possibility.”
“I’ve already placed a veridian chip on your back, Captain,” Gellar said. “Don’t worry about a thing. One sign of trouble and we beam you up faster than they can say ‘flip the switch.’”
Conway felt his back. Sure enough, a small chip rested on his right shoulder blade. “When the hell’d you do that?”
“Out in the corridor just now, when I patted you on the back. Remember?”
“You didn’t really think I did that because I like you, did you?”
Conway floundered. “Well, of course….not, Lieutenant.”
“Now then,” Larkin said. “I suggest I represent you.”
“Respectfully, Commander, what do you know about the law?” Gellar asked.
“I just downloaded every Trill legal statute in existence into my central processor. And how about you?”
Gellar fumbled with the padd in his hands. “I just started ‘A Time to be Joined,’ a suspenseful law novel, by that Trill author, Jurn Grashum.”
“I am sure that is going to help immensely.”
“Actually,” Gellar replied, “Alexa told me the guy accused of murder dies in the end…”
Conway glared at Gellar. “Alexa?”
“Yeah…over coffee. Was that wrong?”
Conway looked at Larkin. “I don’t know. Was it?”
Larkin looked from Conway to Gellar. “I am afraid not.”
“Sh**,” Conway muttered. Harvey Upshaw then emerged from out of nowhere, sliding a large, frothing soup-bowl sized cup in front of Conway, and a clear glass of bubbly liquid in front of Gellar.
Conway grabbed Harvey’s arm, pulling him down to eye-level. “What the hell is this?”
“Guinanco’s patented Frothy-Coffee Mornin’ Starter.”
“I asked for black coffee! BLACK! B-L-A-C-K! What is it about your addled brain that doesn’t seem to be able to get that! Damn it…I could just…”
“Kill him?” Larkin offered.
“You shut up!”
Supplemental. We’ve arrived at Trill, and after being pulled bodily off of Harvey Upshaw, I was forced to get my coffee from a replicator, which is probably where I’ll go from now on. Stupid Guinanco.
“Standard orbit, Mister Ford,” Conway ordered, standing between he and Saral at the forward stations.
“As opposed to deluxe?” Ford giggled.
“This is not the time to screw with me, Ford.”
“Or what…you’ll kill me?”
Conway felt a vein bulging in his forehead as he walked back to his chair. “Just give me a reason, Ford.”
“Okay, okay. Standard orbit, eye, Captain Testy.”
“Hail them, Gellar,” Conway said, as Larkin walked in from the turbolift and sat down next to him. “Well?” he asked her.
“Are you all set to deliver my defense?”
“As ready as I shall ever be,” Larkin said. “Although I do wish we could have spent more of our time down in the lounge planning your defense, instead of abusing the waitstaff.”
“You know that guy had it coming.”
“I will refrain from speaking about it until the civil suit between you and Guinanco is settled.”
“Civil suit? Isn’t there some law forbidding people from being sued multiple times?”
“For the same crimes, yes. In your case, I am afraid you are out of luck. You will be hearing from Guinanco’s lawyers.”
“They sure do move fast.”
“Much like their food service, yes.”
“You know, you two seem awfully calm about this,” Dr. Lanham spoke up from the science station. “What makes you so sure you’ll win?”
“I will have you know we are making every effort to defend the captain, Doctor,” Larkin said. “And should your services be needed, I will let you know.”
“Ouch,” Conway giggled.
“Getting a response from the Trill embassy, sir,” said Gellar.
“Good. On screen.”
A familiar face appeared on the viewer. “Captain Conway. What a pleasure to see you.”
“And hello to you too, Captain Conway,” the tall, lanky but handsome, tawny-haired man on the viewscreen said, smiling amicably. “What a fascinating set of circumstances we find ourselves in.”
“You know him?” Lanham asked.
“Yeah. He’s Filna Kedric. The Federation Ambassador to Tellar.”
“Actually, I am now the Trill Minister of Foreign Affairs.”
“Yeah, good for you,” Conway said, looking back at Larkin. “Remember him?”
“I am afraid I do not.”
“Back when Lana was with us on the Explorer, we went down to Tellar to negotiate a dispute between him and the Tellarite leader.”
“Indeed,” Larkin replied. “But, if you recall, I was busy defending my orifices from that rancorous Tellarite diplomat who came on the ship.”
“Oh, right.” Conway frowned, then looked back at an expectant Kedric. “So. How ya been?”
Kedric frowned. “Good, until I learned a Starfleet officer attempted to murder one of our most revered symbionts.”
“Hey,” Conway said. “It’s all in my report. It was self-defense!”
“I suppose the jury will decide that.”
“She tried to kill me. Great Bird, Kedric! You should have seen the way she treated me. Not at all the way she was when she was in Lana. She was awful. She hit me, all the time. And killed one of my crew. Or more. And tried to throw me off a plateau…”
“Butte,” Larkin corrected.
“You shut up!”
“You are as even-tempered as I remember, Captain,” Kedric said. “I only hope your temper does not get you into even more trouble.”
“Ask about Shar being alive!” Lanham said as quietly as she could, between clenched teeth..
“Say…” Conway leaned forward, picking up his cup of coffee from its spot beside his chair and sipping. “What’s this about Shar still being alive?”
“I will leave that for him to explain, at your tribunal. Trill Command out.”
And Kedric blinked off the screen, replaced by a serene image of Trill.
“HIM?” Conway exploded, spitting coffee everywhere.
“Think of it this way, sir. There won’t be any chance of romantic involvement getting in the way this time,” Gellar said as he, Conway, and Larkin walked to the transporter room. He looked at Conway, askance. “Or WILL there?”
Conway gritted his teeth. “I don’t want to hear any more about it.”
“I fear you will be hearing much more about it, and very soon,” said Larkin.
“You just keep your trap shut and focus on defending me.”
“As you wish,” Larkin said.
“Wait up!” Alexa Lanham cried, jogging behind the group. “I want to go down there.”
“Why?” Larkin asked, as the group stopped in the corridor.
“You’re my ex-husband,” Lanham explained to Conway. “I can be a character witness.”
“That will not be necessary,” Larkin said.
Conway clamped a hand on Lanham’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about a thing, Alexa. We’ll get this thing sorted out in a couple hours, and I’ll be back in time for dinner. That is, if you’d like to have dinner with me…”
“I can’t believe you’re thinking about sex at a time like this!” Lanham seethed.
“Who said anything about sex? Hmm, you’re thinking about sex?”
“Don’t turn this around on me. I’m just trying to help. Arrrrgh! This is why I almost killed you eight years ago!”
“Hmm. Maybe I should have pressed charges,” Conway pondered. “Oh well. Don’t worry about us. Just go back to the bridge and…scan something. This whole thing will be over in a jiff.”
“Go to hell, Captain!” Lanham growled, turning on a heel and stomping back toward the turbolift.
“You sure have a way with women,” Gellar said as the trio stepped into the transporter room.
“Ready to beam down, Captain!” a voice called out, causing Conway to jump.
Gellar instinctively went for his sidearm, looking around the room.
Conway peered over the transporter console, to see the diminutive Crewman Bark, a Ferengi, at the controls.
“One of the new transfers, huh?” Conway said, sizing the Ferengi up.
“Yeah!” he shouted. “You got a problem with that!?”
“No, no,” Conway put his hands up. “Just wondering.”
“Why must you shout?” Larkin inquired.
“I have a problem controlling the volume of my voice! It’s all in my personnel report! Some people find it a little off-putting! I’m sorry!”
“Don’t worry,” Gellar said, as he, Conway, and Larkin mounted the transporter pad. “I’m sure his bark is worse than his…”
“Don’t,” Conway snapped. “Energize, Mister Bark!”
“You got it!”
“I miss Hartley,” Conway said softly as he materialized in the lobby of the Trill Command Building.
“What’s that?” Gellar asked.
“Nothing,” Conway said quickly and looked around. “So what now?”
“You are under arrest, on formal charges of attempted murder. You will be taken immediately to a holding facility, where you will be prepared for trial.”
The voice came from behind him. A pair of muscular Trill jerked his arms behind him and slapped electro-shackles on his wrists, then spun him around.
“Are those really necessary?” Gellar asked.
“They are according to Trill law,” one of the officers said.
“But he has shown no signs of resisting arrest,” said Larkin.
“But he is an extradited alien. Under subsection forty-six, Trill penal code states all extradited aliens must be cuffed and…”
“I am aware of the statute,” Larkin cut the officer off. “Sorry, Captain, there is nothing I can do. He is quite correct.”
“You fought valiantly for me,” Conway muttered, twisting his bound wrists behind his back. “So…what do you mean…‘prepared’ for trial. You’re going to delouse me?”
“Thoroughly,” the two Trill guards said in unison.
“Damn,” said Conway.
“Don’t worry, Captain. I’m sure you could use a good scrubbing up,” Gellar said, patting Conway’s shoulder.
“What did you put on me this time?” Conway said under his breath as the officers pulled him off down a long hallway.
“Nothing. Just trying to be nice!” Gellar called after him.
“We must locate the tribunal chambers,” Larkin said. “For the moment, the Captain must fend for himself.”
“Poor guy,” Gellar said, then slapped his hands together. “Okey-doke. Let’s ask that cute receptionist!”
Larkin pondered. “Very well.”
“I knew this day would come,” Lieutenant Commander Ford said, rubbing the arms of the command chair with glee. “Command! Command, command, command. I’m in command!”
“Do not get used to it,” Lieutenant Saral said from the forward stations.
“And why not? Check the pips, Saral. I’m a heartbeat away from being first officer.”
“Commander Larkin does not have a heartbeat.”
“That’s not the point! I’m third in command!”
“Scary thought,” Ensign Puckett said from the tactical console. “Kiss a little more ass and you’re a shoe-in for a captaincy.”
“And maybe if you kiss some other things, you’ll be my first officer.”
“Only if you kiss my ass first, jerk,” Puckett said, and went back to her panel. “I don’t stoop to such things to move up in rank.”
“Let’s see if you’re still saying that a few years from now, when you’re still an ensign.”
Ford turned to face Saral. “Any word on Captain Conway, Lieutenant?”
“None as yet. It may be some time before we hear from the away team again.”
“The trial will be televised, however, on the planetary information net.”
“Yay! On screen, Lieutenant!”
Saral checked her panel. “Currently, it’s just the pre-tribunal show.”
“Good enough.” Ford leaned forward eagerly, nearly falling off the command chair.
The viewscreen came to life suddenly, with a few of four Trill sitting behind a large, semi-circular desk.
“Greetings, folks, and welcome to Tribunal Kursday! I’m your host, Jame Santor. We’ve got a big slate of tribunal action coming up. So let’s get started. We have a full house here, with your commentators Hal Onglin, Taran Shau and Karse Lokkol. Gentlemen, what do you think of tonight’s main event, the David Conway trial?”
The one called Karse spoke up first. “Well, Jame, I think it’s just a case of who wants victory more. On one side you have Unjon Shar, a relative unknown in the Trill legal world until this case arrived. On the other side of the aisle, you have Captain David Conway, a decorated Starfleet officer accused of the worst crime on our books…attempted murder.”
“As usual, you’re an idiot,” Taran said. “Conway is no more decorated than my bathroom, and attempted murder isn’t the worst crime on our books. Murder is.”
“I think you guys are missing the big picture,” Hal Onglin said, making notes on a padd and then gesturing at the holo-camera with his stylus. “This is about two immovable wills. A test of spirit, and persistence. Only the best arguer will win, and it’s sure to be a great battle.”
“A great battle it will be indeed,” Jame finished off. “Now let’s take it down to Pard and Jarv, who are standing by at the Tribunal Chambers, with their pregame report.”
Ford grimaced as peppy transition music played, and the huge, colorful words were plastered across the viewscreen:
Welcome to the Trial Show!
“Great. It’s a damn show trial,” Ford murmured.
“I smell like tulips,” Conway observed, sitting on a bench in his tiny brig. His outer uniform jacket, comm-badge, phaser, and tricorder had all been confiscated, and he was sprayed with something that smelled awful flowery. Awful, and flowery.
“That’s unfortunate. As is this entire affair,” a man’s voice said.
“Come again?” Conway looked up. Beyond his force-field, in the dark recesses of the holding facility, a cloaked, hooded figure stood.
“You are being wrongly accused, Captain, of a crime you didn’t commit.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.” Conway peered into the darkness. “Who the hell are you, anyway? One can only hope, one of the jurors.”
“Most certainly not,” the stranger replied. “I am a…friend. A kindred spirit.”
“Good. Then help me get out of this.”
“It is not the proper time.”
“What do you mean?”
“We are not strong enough yet.”
“Strong enough for what? Who are you?”
“A member of a growing number, Captain, of people who are sick of injustice in the Federation.”
“Section 31?” Conway said, raising an eyebrow.
“No. Not…quite.” The figure stepped backward. “Don’t trust Unjon Shar, Captain. He is out to destroy you, and Trill. Trust us. We’ve done the research…”
Conway stood up, walking just to the edge of the force-field that caged him in. “WHO ARE YOU?”
“Just a public defender, Captain. We’ll speak later. Good luck to you!” There was a brief, almost immeasurable, flash of light, and Conway knew, although he couldn’t see to be sure, that the figure was gone.
“Big crowd,” Lt. Gellar observed, standing behind, and slightly below Larkin.
“The crowd does not concern me. This contraption, however, does…”
“When in Rome, Commander….”
“It seems…unsafe. And I fail to see the connection between Trill and an ancient Earth civilization.”
Larkin was standing on a hovering, circular platform, less than three meters in diameter. There was no railing, no seats, only a small stand about the size of a music stand, for notes, Larkin assumed.
“At least the prosecution has a similar stand,” Gellar offered.
“I do not see why the judge gets a railing,” Larkin said, looking over at the unoccupied, railed platform that hovered several meters in front of her.
“I’m sure he’s an older fellow. Don’t want him falling, right?”
“Perhaps you should take a seat, before all the seats are gone.”
“Florinda is saving me a seat.”
“Remember, the cute receptionist?”
“I was not aware that was her name, or I assure you I would have remembered.”
“Whatever. Good luck.”
“I do not require luck,” Larkin said, as Conway was led out, still in shackles, from a side entrance.
“Captain,” Larkin said, as the guards shoved a small set of stairs over to the platform and helped Conway up next to her. “Have you been treated well?”
“Deloused and confused, Commander.”
“I understand,” Larkin lied. “I am pleased to say my defense has been thoroughly prepared.”
“Good. I hope you won’t need to call on your Judge Judy program.”
“That will not be necessary,” Larkin said firmly.
“You don’t know how gratified I am to hear that,” Conway said. “So…you need me to do anything, or just sit there and look pretty?”
“Answer my questions as clearly and honestly as you can, Captain. And try not to… overreact when Unjon Shar makes his first appearance.”
“What makes you think I’ll–OH GOD, it’s HIM!”
“Here we go,” Larkin said solemnly.
He walked in, outfitted in the traditional satin blue Trill Tribunal garb. Larkin deactivated her jealousy program as soon as it came up, questioning why Unjon got to wear a special outfit and she didn’t.
“He’s…” Conway began.
“Quite attractive,” Larkin said as Unjon marched toward his platform. He waved off the mobile set of stairs and did a graceful, beautiful front-over-end flip, landing perfectly erect on the platform, hands up. The assembled crowd cheered, save Gellar, who was making out with Florinda, back in the eighteenth row.
“Six-foot-four. Blond hair. Blue eyes. Never lost a case,” the voice of Jarn Mordan boomed over the Tribunal Chamber’s loudspeakers.
“Although this is apparently the first case he’s tried,” Pard Surmal pointed out.
“Yeah,” Jarn replied. “This guy here is new to the legal system. But he comes in with lots of experience. His symbiont, Shar, has lived over five hundred years, and in that time, he’s dished out a lot of punishment to the opposition, be it Trill armies or your basic street gang. This symbiont can do it all.”
“And the host, hailing from Zirkna province, is a master gymnast, orbital skydiver, and accountant, with expertise in PR and Marketing and restaurant management,” Pard added. “A nice fit for a symbiont with such a storied past.”
“Yeah, yeah!” Jarn said, his excitement for the case obviously building. “Even more amazing is the fact that Shar’s last host, Tyra, took a twenty story dive from the top of a cliff, and that rugged little symbiont still came out fighting. The rescue workers had no problem getting that little guy into a new host!”
“Unbelievable!” Conway exclaimed, as he stared at Unjon Shar with narrowed eyes. He turned around to find Pard and Jarn perched on another platform, up near the Chamber’s high ceiling. He wasn’t sure exactly what their purpose was, other than to exploit the proceedings.
“Husky, yet attractive,” Larkin observed, looking at Unjon, and Conway sighed. “And surprisingly nimble,” the android added.
“Fine time for your attraction program to initiate,” Conway muttered. “Keep it to yourself. Trust me, he’s nothing but trouble.”
“That is a safe assumption,” Larkin said. “Still. He has nice, broad shoulders and a dazzling forehead.”
“Snap out of it!”
“And over on the defense side, look for first-time defender Kristen Larkin to play hard and come out swinging, Pard,” Jarn continued.
“Swinging….what?” Larkin asked, confused.
“Now let’s go to the judge!” Pard called out.
“Let’s get this thing started, Pard!”
As a strange electronic music mix played and the lights went dim, replaced with multi-color intelligent lighting traveling around the chamber, Conway’s eyes connected with Unjon’s deep baby-blues. He saw a little bit of Lana in there. Or was it Tyra. Either way, he was afraid. Because Unjon just stared back, and it wasn’t a look of hatred or animosity that Conway saw. It was unbridled, unadulterated passion. Conway’s stomach gurgled.
“Are you ready for a tribunal?” the sound system blared. “A Kursday night party? We got Pard and Jarn and we’re gonna get this thing started! We got legal mumbo-jumbo, someone’s gonna die, and all my rowdy friends are here on Kursday night!”
Then, slowly, the lights all converged on the central platform, where a tiny, stooped over, prune-faced Trill hobbled up a flight of stairs on rickety legs and stepped onto his platform, sitting behind a round desk. The staircase fell away and the platform hovered out closer to Conway’s and Unjon’s platforms.
“Gentleman…android…I am the Honorous Expediter Suffroid Grandall, and I am only going to say this once. No shenanigans. Keep it short and sweet, because I’m scheduled to get put into another host at oh-nine hundred, and I’ve got dying to do.”
“Expediter Grandall is rumored to be four hundred years old, Jarn,” Pard pointed out over the loudspeakers.
“No kidding. And how many hosts has Grandall had?”
“Boy, he sure has a lot of fight in him. That’s probably why he’s made it to this year’s All-Mordan Tribunal team.”
“Yup,” Pard replied.
“Let’s hear opening statements, while I’m living,” Grandall announced, scooting closer to his desk.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the Tribunal. Pard, Jarn. Spectators. Home audience. Honored guests and attempted murderers. Let’s get right down to the point,” Unjon Shar said in slow, measured tones, looking out at the murmurring crowd, and at the jurors, who sat on a large, oblong platform to the judge’s right. He slowly swung an incriminating hand at Captain Conway, who gulped in response. “This man tried to kill my symbiont. You know the most sacred lifeforms on Trill are our symbionts. There is no greater crime than killing one, and I argue trying to kill one, with the intent of finishing the job, is just as bad.”
Grandall turned to face Larkin. “Defense?”
“Captain Conway may have tried to kill Tyra Shar, but he had good cause. Further, he never managed to finish the job, so I move that there was no crime committed here.”
“That’s all you’ve got?” Conway groaned, staring at Larkin.
“I am simply getting warmed up,” Larkin assured him.
“Rebuttal,” Grandall said, looking boredly at Unjon.
“A Trill citizen is dead!” Unjon snapped back. “Tyra Cranule was a valued member of Trill society and deserved to have a long, happy life! Shar or no Shar!”
Grandall looked at Larkin.
“She killed two Explorer crew-members; Ensigns Cassie Drucker and Samuel Burke.”
“Let the record state the Explorer is one of the more incompetent ships in Starfleet,” Unjon said, “Recently crewed by the defendant and the defender, who have since transferred to an equally incompetent ship, the Aerostar.”
“That is incorrect, sir,” Larkin said to Grandall. “It is actually the Aerostar-A.”
“Did I mention how good a job you’re doing?” Conway mumbled.
“Enough with the opening statements,” sighed Grandall. “Why don’t the two of you start calling witnesses. Who wants to go first?”
“Me, me!” cried Unjon.
“Larkin! Why didn’t you step in?”
“I refuse to reduce myself to begging, sir. Let him have his witnesses. I will destroy them on cross-examination.”
Conway folded his arms. “I sure hope you know what you’re doing.”
“As do I.”
“Wake up, ‘captain’,” Alexa Lanham whispered in Ford’s ear. He woke up with a jerk, looking at the science officer with a mixture of confusion and annoyance.
“Report back below-decks. See if there’s anything…going on down there!” Ford rattled.
“I came to see the trial in a little more of a quiet environment. There was too much cheering going on in the Starlight Lounge,” Lanham said, stepping back to the science console and sitting down.
“For or against the Captain?” Ford asked.
“You know,” Lanham said. “I couldn’t tell.” She stared at the screen. “So, what are they doing now?”
“Larkin is cross-examining one of Unjon’s witnesses. A supposed expert on Trill psychology.”
Lanham nodded. “Ahh…”
“And what position do you hold on station Deep Space Nine, Commander Dax?”
“Counselor,” the cute, elfin-looking Trill said, sitting low on the hovering witness stand as Larkin and Conway hovered in circles around her on their own platform. “And, sometimes, I command the Defiant.”
“That makes no sense,” Larkin said.
“Well, during an emergency, I was forced to take over the Defiant, and some of the more prominent leadership characteristics of the Dax symbiont came out, and because of that, Colonel Kira…well, she was a Colonel then anyway, promoted me to more of a command position.”
“So the symbiont has an affect on the host personality,” Larkin concluded.
“Oh, very much so. The symbiont and the host, after the joining, become, essentially, one.”
“Does that get confusing?” Larkin asked casually, leaning on her little stand.
“All the time…” Ezri looked nervously at Expediter Grandall. “Then again, I’m not an initiate. I got the Dax symbiont by…accident.”
“A real initiate is more prepared for the joining, then,” Larkin said.
“Interesting.” Larkin pretended to look at her padd, which was unnecessary, since everything was perfectly recorded in her memory banks. “Now then, what can you tell me about the Shar symbiont?”
“Nothing more than I told Mister Shar. That I understand it’s a revered symbiont on Trill. One of the oldest living ones.”
“Fascinating. And you know nothing of Shar’s history?”
“Only what I read in high school.”
“Enlighten us, Commander. What did you read about Shar in high school?”
“Well…” Ezri rolled her eyes. She looked at Grandall.
“Answer the question, child.”
Ezri seemed flustered. “Well, apparently Shar was a bit of a street fighter at one time.”
“And, later, became a really nasty wrestler.”
“A common thief. A gambler. A rogue stunt-woman…”
“Not exactly an exemplary citizen.”
“No, I guess not.”
“Objection, your honor!” Unjon called out. “Inconsequential. Shar’s character is not on trial here!”
“Keep to the facts of the case, Commander Larkin,” Grandall warned. “Or whatever.”
“Of course,” Larkin said, turning back to Dax. “Where were we? Ah, yes. Shar’s character. Well, perhaps, if you cannot speak on Shar’s character, you can tell me about Dax.”
“One of your hosts…Joran Dax…was a murderer, was he not?”
“Yeah,” Ezri said, looking down, guiltily.
“And you once invoked him, brought out his personality so you could use it to your benefit, is that not true?”
“A little bit.”
“I am getting there,” Larkin said tersely.
“I’ll allow it, I guess,” Grandall mumbled.
“When you invoked Joran, didn’t he try to get you to commit murder?”
“Maybe…a little…” Dax said, squirming in her chair.
“So it’s safe to say the past host’s sins still weigh on the current host.”
“Oh, yeah. Lots!” Ezri looked around nervously, as if feeling the gazes of the other Trill on her. “Can this be over soon?”
“Shortly,” Larkin said. “One thing more. You told Mister Shar that, if you kill a host, it feels like a death to the symbiont.”
“Oh, yes. The symbiont feels the host’s death. It’s a profound experience.”
“The Dax symbiont has experienced its host’s deaths?”
“Yes, several of them very grizzly.”
Larkin nodded. “Must have been terrible for you.”
“Actually, it’s not altogether unpleasant. When the host dies…it’s a feeling of release, relaxation. It’s kind of peaceful.”
“Indeed. No further questions, Expediter.”
“Prosecutor, you may call your next witness,” Grandall said tiredly.
“Witnesses,” Unjon corrected.
“Whatever,” said Grandall.
“Witnesses? Plural? And what does that mean?” Larkin asked, turning on Unjon.
“In due course.” Unjon clapped his hands.
The double doors at the rear of the Chamber swung open, and in walked two rows of simple-garbed, down-to-earth, rather pale looking folk, all walking in single file, toward the hovering platforms at the front of the room.
“If it please the tribunal,” Unjon announced. “I call the keepers of Agratha.”
“What the hell’s a keeper?” Conway blurted into Larkin’s ear. “And what the hell’s Agratha?”
“You dated a Trill for six point five months! Surely, you are aware!”
“You just downloaded the whole Trill database!”
“I am experiencing a processing lag!”
“Well, fix it!”
“The keepers are, of course,” Unjon said, “the individuals responsible for maintaining the symbiont pools. Agratha is our southern-most continent, a symbiont holding place I’ve chosen absolutely at random.”
“Keepers,” Conway said. “Yeah, now I remember hearing something about that.”
Unjon smiled. “I have only subpoenaed thirty-seven keepers. Shouldn’t take long.”
“Objection. Too many witnesses!” Larkin objected.
Grandall eased from side to side behind his desk. “I’m at death’s door. I’ll allow it.”
“What is the purpose of this?” Larkin asked Unjon.
“Expediter,” Unjon said, not looking at Larkin. “I aim to prove, by interviewing these keepers, that symbionts are incapable of evil, and only the host determines whether or not the joined Trill commits evil acts.”
“Fascinating. Go ahead. I’ve got nothing better to do…except die,” Grandall sighed.
“So much for being home by dinner time,” Conway sighed.
“I wonder if anything else is on,” Lt. Commander Ford said, resting his chin on one fist and punching the controls on the command chair with the other, searching the Federnet for something more interesting to do.
“The captain’s future is at stake here, Commander,” Lt. Saral said from ops. “Surely, is that not worthy of our attention?”
“Ah, this thing could go on for hours and hours. I’m getting bored.”
“Your compassion is heartening,” Alexa Lanham mumbled from sciences.
“Hey, I’m hoping that Captain Conway makes it out of this. But if you think of it, they’ve got a pretty airtight case against him.” On the viewscreen, Unjon Shar was interviewing his twenty-third keeper. In every case, he asked the sallow individual one question: “Are symbionts capable of evil?” Each of them gave a resolute “no,” and stepped down. One of them accidentally belched in the middle of his reply, and that was, so far, the highlight of this line of questioning.
“Don’t count out Larkin,” Lanham said. “I haven’t known her for long, but I’m beginning to get the idea that she’s more than competent enough to get Conway out of this.”
“She’s all right,” Ford agreed. “Yeah, me and Larky go a long way back…” He leaned back in the command chair and yawned. “Say, Doctor Lanham…you’re single, aren’t you?”
“Don’t even try it, Mister “ Lanham said, then her console bleeped and she turned to check it. The bridge had been in such a lull for so long that any sensor activity was a huge event.
“What’s up,” Ford said lazily.
“A large Koberian freighter, Class-IV, requesting orbital clearance from Trill Ground Control,” Lanham said.
Lanham perused her panel. “What’s curious is that the freighter is empty.”
“Well, maybe it’s making a pick-up.”
“Trill is known much more for importing than exporting. I doubt they would require such a large freighter for shipping. Something here is very…irregular.”
“Note it in some log or something. We’ve got important trial coverage to watch.”
“You just said it was boring.”
“Not as boring as talking about some freighter.”
“Hmm. It’s activating its cargo transporters. They’re set for a very wide beam.”
“Yawn, yawn, yawn,” muttered Ford, swinging one leg over the arm of the command chair and leaning back.
“Seems like they’re targeting the southernmost continent, well below the planet’s surface.”
“Ah, a mining expedition. Fascinating.”
Lanham’s eyes widened. “That’s not rocks they’re beaming up, Commander!”
Ford spun around. “Then what are they beaming up?”
Ford flipped about in the command chair, struggling to get to his feet. “How many?”
“Inform Trill Command. And hail that freighter!” Ford looked at the viewscreen, and suddenly became very alarmed indeed as, during the trial coverage, it appeared Unjon Shar was being beamed away.
Larkin watched, mouth set to “agape mode,” as Unjon Shar dematerialized. “Objection!” she called out. “Prosecutor dematerializing!”
“I’ll allow it,” Grandall mumbled, as his head slammed forward onto his desk. A bailiff walked up and felt for a pulse.
“This judge is dead,” the baliff announced to the crowd. “That’s a mistrial. Good night, everybody. Have a safe drive home!”
“Well how about “ Larkin said, turning to Conway. But he didn’t say anything, instead just looked on in shock as he, too, began to dematerialize. “OBJECTION! Oh, hell with it.” She slapped her comm-badge. “Larkin to Aerostar. Beam me and Mister Gellar to the bridge immediately. Mister Gellar! Stop making out with that woman!”
Larkin appeared at the center of the bridge, watching as tiny ships scrambled around in a state of chaos on the viewscreen, while her bridge, meanwhile, did likewise.
“Trill Command, please confirm the number of symbionts that were taken,” Saral was saying on a private comm channel.
“Tracking the freighter. It’s making a bee-line out of the system,” Alexa Lanham was calling out.
“Shields and weapons, at your command,” Gellar said, scooting an annoyed Puckett out of her chair at tactical.
“Go to Red Alert,” Larkin said, walking back to the command area and pushing Ford out of her way. “Man the helm, Mister Ford.”
“Go!” Larkin straightened her uniform and stared at the viewscreen as Ford took the helm over from the relief officer, Ensign Garrity. “Now. What happened?”
“A Koberian freighter showed up, then stole hundreds of symbionts, then beamed away with the Captain,” Lanham said.
“And I have a feeling I know who is the mastermind behind all of this,” Larkin said resolutely as she sat down in the command chair. “Intercept that freighter.”
“It’s almost cleared the system,” Ford said, looking at his controls.
“Go to full impulse. Mister Gellar, ready the tractor beam.”
“And hail them.”
Gellar’s hands tapped at the communications console. “No response.”
Larkin leaned forward in the command chair. “Mister Ford, I want you to get a tractor beam on them before they “
“They just went to warp,” Gellar reported.
“Go to warp,” Larkin told Ford. “Closing speed.”
“Speaking of closing…” Gellar piped up. “Four other ships are closing in from behind us.”
“Assorted. But, by their markings, I’d say they’re Orion.”
“The Orions? What are they doing so close to Trill space?”
“Shopping for symbionts?” Ford offered.
“You be quiet,” Larkin snapped, her emotion program registering a brief spike. This trial and Conway’s subsequent kidnapping were playing havoc with it. “Focus your efforts on closing to tractor beam range of the freighter. Mister Gellar, ready on tractors.”
“At warp?” Gellar said. “Respectfully, are you crazy?”
“Respectfully, no I am not. But I am intent on retrieving the captain.”
“The captain. Hard to think of him like that,” Ford mused.
“Is anyone at all interested in what that freighter’s doing?” Alexa Lanham piped up. “They just increased to Warp Eight.”
“I’m compensating!” Ford said, sounding off-put.
“A Koberian freighter of that class should not be capable of Warp Eight,” Larkin observed.
“A Koberian freighter of that class wouldn’t usually be stealing symbionts from Trill, either,” Lanham pointed out.
“Uhmm,” Gellar said.
“What?” Larkin asked, swiveling in the command chair.
“Those Orion ships are targeting us.”
“Target them in return,” Larkin said. “They shall not deter us from our appointed course. Lock on tractor beam.”
“We’re not in range yet,” Gellar said. “Twenty more seconds. The Orions, however, will be in range in–”
”–a little less than two seconds.”
Everyone, save Larkin, who had a vice-like grip on the command chair, sprung forward and slammed against their consoles as the Aerostar ricocheted out of warp, spinning on a wing.
“Kamtezen to bridge! Nacelles two and four just experienced a major overload!” the Bewhal engineer wailed over the comm system. “It’ll be two hours before we can go to warp again!”
“Mister Kamtezen, I want you to maintain your calm and keep us from exploding. Understood?” Larkin said, surveying the bridge. “Status reports!”
Lt. Saral was the first back at her station. “Massive hits to our engine nacelles. Shields weakened at several points. Backup systems all over the ship are coming online, and damage crews are responding. It was a precision strike, to be sure, since the nacelles that were affected span both warp-capable sections of this ship.”
“Where are the Orion ships now?” Larkin asked Gellar.
Gellar checked his readouts. “They never left warp. They’re still following the freighter. On their way out of sensor range.”
“Keep track of where they are headed and try to extrapolate their course. Mister Ford, take the conn. We are to maintain pursuit course at impulse until the warp engines are repaired. In the meantime, I have another witness to question.”
“Stupid me. I figured the trial was over,” Lt. Commander Ford said, picking himself up off the deck and heading to the command chair.
Commander David Conway, First Officer of the U.S.S. Explorer, walked down the dimly lit corridor of the starship he called home, toward what, he did not know.
“David…” a soft voice called. “David…”
“Yes,” he said, walking, zombie-like, toward the source of the voice.
“Come to me, David. Let me help you…”
“Yes. Help,” Conway said. “Good idea.”
Then, out of the darkness at the end of the hallway, a figure took shape. A lithe, beautiful figure with long, brown hair that framed a pretty, if unremarkable, face.
“Lana…” Conway said, the word falling from his lips like a prayer.
“Yes. Everything’s okay now, David,” Lana Shar said, taking Conway into her arms and running her hands through his hair. “You just cry to Auntie Lana and she’ll make it all better.”
“Ahh…” Conway cooed, feeling his cares drift away.
“And then Tyra can have you!” Lana said, shoving Conway out of her arms. He slammed against something soft and forgiving. He turned to see it was Tyra’s expansive bosom. The large woman laughed uproariously, hefting Conway over her head.
“I’ve been waiting to do this for a long time!” she bellowed, and, to Conway’s alarm, the Explorer bulkhead melted away to the surface of Talandra–Planet Rain. Now he and Tyra were standing on a precipice, overlooking a vast valley. “It’s about time I had my revenge. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!”
“You should have known better,” Lana chided, as Tyra effortlessly hurled Conway off the precipices.
And downward he fell.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Conway’s eyes snapped open.
And just as suddenly he felt someone fall onto his lap, straddling him.
“Ahh, nice of you to join us, Mister Sleepyhead!” The owner of the lisping, but somehow gravelly voice giggled. “I so loved watching you sleep!”
Conway tried to sit up, but found he was held down by a restraining field. He blinked, trying to get his eyes to focus. “Who…what…?”
“Did I get the registry number of the transport that slammed into you?” the voice said. “Oh, I think it was something along the line of SHAR. Unjon Shar, to be exact, my little captive. Yes, suffice it to say you’re my bitch now. One might argue, you always were.”
“Oh sh**,” Conway grumbled. “You.”
“You could sound happier to see me.” The knees squeezed Conway’s sides. “You are still in love with me, aren’t you?”
“Well, in some senses of the word. But damn it, Dave, I still have needs! And you used to fulfill them so well. Ahhh, don’t ya see, I still have the memories!” Conway’s vision cleared to see Unjon, big as life, straddling him and pointing at his forehead. It was a kind of nice forehead.
“You…son of a bitch….you better let me go so I can kick your ass.”
“Big words from a man that’s got no starship backing him up,” Unjon said, sliding off Conway. He marched back and forth at the captain’s bedside. “You see, we’ve taken you away from your precious little Aerostar.”
“Aerostar-A,” Conway corrected.
“Whatever,” Unjon said flatly. “As I’ve been trying to tell you, you’re my bitch now.”
“If that’s a jab at my…huskiness, I take great offense,” Unjon growled. “I can’t help it if Shar took a certain liking to Trefalian Truffles from Tyra. Thanks to that fat bitch my hips are all but gone!”
“I weep for you,” Conway mumbled.
“You are the master of sarcasm. Take heart, little man. Your wit will serve you well, where you’re going.”
“And where,” Conway said stiffly, “would that be.”
“A life of servitude, for starters,” Unjon said. “Don’t you think that’s fair? You took Tyra’s life. I think I should get yours in return.”
“I didn’t have a choice. And if you really have Shar in you, you’d know that.”
“Can’t a girl have some fun?”
“You mean murder?”
“Just trying to have a good time.” Unjon sat on the bench opposite Conway in what Conway figured was some kind of isolation room aboard a starship. There was a definite thrum of engines. His acute space senses told him at least that. “You’d deny a gal a few meaningless scuffles here or there?”
“Isn’t murder what I was on trial for? The greatest of all Trill crimes and all that jazz?”
“Oh, that was just a big fat act, silly!” Unjon said, slapping Conway on the belly. “Surely you knew the real Shar is all for a little of the old knockabout!”
“It was just a matter of distracting the Trill authorities long enough.”
Conway’s eyebrows shot up. “Long enough for what?”
“To get what we came for.”
“And that is?” Conway didn’t know what Unjon was talking about, but he didn’t like where the conversation was leading.
“You’ll find out soon enough. But, at the moment, I have everything I need.”
Conway didn’t bother to respond.
“That means you, ya big dumb oaf!” And he slapped Conway’s belly again. “You’re my prize. Let’s call it…icing on the Kavorkian cake. Remember how much I liked Kavorkian cake?”
Conway sighed. “Didn’t see that one coming.”
“And,” Unjon said, rolling his eyes mirthfully. “On top of all that, I get a little scoshe of revenge. Is that so bad?
“Starfleet will come for you. And your associates, whoever they are, and stop you from whatever it is you did, whatever that is.”
“Maybe they will find us. But I doubt they’ll find us in time to stop all the transactions. And there will be a lot of them.” Unjon clicked his tongue. “So many transactions.”
“Of WHAT?” Conway demanded.
“Oh, you are a forceful man, aren’t you? I’ll just let you stew on that a bit and see you later. But don’t worry, you won’t be stuck in here much longer.”
“That’s a relief.”
“I’m having your playpen prepared as we speak.”
“GOD DAMN YOU, SHAR!”
“I knew you’d love the idea. See you soon, sweetie!”
First Officer’s Log,
Stardate 55005.3. We have rendezvoused with a Trill transport carrying Foreign Minister Filna Kedric. Apparently, the Trill do not have complete faith in us to find and rescue their symbionts, and have sent Foreign Minister Kedric to make sure we do not fail in our task. I have sent Lieutenant Gellar to fetch the minister, as I am currently…otherwise employed.
“Minister Kedric, welcome to the Aerostar,” Lieutenant Gellar said, shaking Kedric’s hand as he stepped off the transporter pad. He led Kedric down the corridor toward the turbolift that would take them to the bridge.
“Where is Shar?” he asked bluntly.
“We don’t know. We didn’t even know Shar was alive until today.”
“Neither did we,” Kedric said, following Gellar out of the transporter room.
“And we’re having no luck locating Captain Conway or Shar. Until we get the warp engines back up, we’re helpless, and very limited in our investigative options.”
“I hope you appreciate the seriousness of this situation, Lieutenant,” Kedric said. “Our symbionts are all we are. The number of symbionts Shar has stolen…it’s more than enough to truly destabilize our society if we don’t get them back.”
Gellar gestured for Kedric to step into the turbolift. “I imagine that must be quite the PR nightmare.”
“We haven’t exactly told anyone,” Kedric said, averting his eyes from Gellar. “But the symbionts taken represent a significant portion of our symbiont supply.”
“Bridge,” Gellar ordered, then looked at Kedric. “How did you explain the chaos at the end of the trial?”
“We preempted it with another trial that was happening on the other side of Trill. We called it ‘bonus coverage.’ A very savvy entertainment move, if I do say so…”
“But won’t people notice that the symbionts are gone?”
“Only the keepers spend time with the symbionts. And we are currently giving them… a little vacation.”
Gellar nodded. “Sounds fun.”
Once the turbolift reached the bridge, Gellar gestured for Kedric to step out. The Trill looked around the bridge quizzically, then back at Gellar. “I understand your captain’s been kidnapped. But where is Commander Larkin, your first officer?”
“She’s…busy,” Gellar said.
“Doing what, may I ask?”
“I’m sure it’s very important,” Gellar said. “You know, android stuff.” He looked around the bridge. “Anyway, this is pretty much the nerve center of the Federation effort to retrieve your missing symbionts. Have a seat down here in the command area, and Lieutenant Commander Ford will fill you in on all the particulars.” He glanced at Ford as he delivered Kedric to the seat adjacent to the command chair. “Won’t you, Commander Ford?”
“Oh, you bet!” Ford said, grinning at Kedric. “I’m in command. Isn’t that swell?”
“Swell,” Kedric said dully.
“Want to see me give an order?”
“You kids have fun,” Gellar said, and dashed for the turbolift.
“What is the status of our guest?” said Rikkens, the bulky, tall, and glowering Orion, whose brown suit barely covered his massive barrel chest. He was standing in front of–well, blocking out–the entrance to the Koberian freighter Payload’s bridge.
“He is resting comfortably,” Unjon said, squeezing around the massive Orion.
“Are we ready for the procedure?”
“Kamella is making…final arrangements in Sickbay. Actually, she asked that you come down to approve some…equipment requisitions she is making.”
“I don’t have time for this,” Rikkens snapped. “We are almost at the Orion Mart. Our contacts there will be ready to distribute the symbionts immediately. There is much to prepare for.”
“Which is exactly why you must come with me,” Unjon fired back, glaring at Rikkens. “Need I remind you that, without Kamella and I, your whole enterprise is doomed?”
Rikkens grumbled something to himself in Orion and followed Unjon back into the turbolift. “Very well, you smarmy Trill scum. Bridge, make ready for planetary orbit. I will be right back.”
“More or less,” Unjon said under his breath as Rikkens stepped into the lift.
When the pair reached the Payload’s small infirmary, they found Dr. Kamella Shope standing by a bio-bed, looking at some information on a tricorder. Kamella was a compactly built, raven-haired Trill–a drop-out med student Unjon had befriended for purposes of…well, these purposes.
“Dr. Shope,” Unjon cooed. “Are we all ready for our procedure?”
“I have searched the tidal pools below-decks, and found the appropriate symbiont,” Kamella said softly. “Do not worry, Unjon. Is is safe, and as we remembered it.”
“Who?” Rikkens demanded. “It what?”
“Stop worrying so much, Rikkens,” Unjon said, wrapping an arm around the Orion. “You’re in good hands with Kamella and I. We won’t betray you.”
“Much,” Kamella added, as Unjon stabbed a hypospray into the back of Rikkens’ neck.
Rikkens promptly pitched forward onto the bio-bed, his great body giving the thing a gentle shake.
“He is massive,” Kamella said, her eyes going wide. “I hope I’ll be able to make love to him.”
“All will be possible in the new order of Trill,” Unjon said, pinching Kamella’s cheek. “Once our friend returns to his former glory, unlimited power will be at our fingertips.”
“Are you attracted to women too?” Kamella asked, by way of conversation.
“A tad,” Unjon admitted. “Now, then. Are you sure Orion physiology will be compatible with symbionts’?”
“For the time being,” Kamella said. “I can keep him alive long enough to find a proper host. I can’t promise it will be pleasant for Rikkens, though.”
“Doesn’t have to be,” Unjon said easily. “Begin your procedure. I’ll watch the entrance.”
“Right,” Kamella said, turning around and swinging a cart toward the bio-bed where Rikkens was laying. In the cart, a symbiont sloshed and thrashed. “Be still, Snax. Soon, you’ll have a body again. And soon, we’ll take over Trill together.”
“Yippee!” Unjon Shar squealed, and ran out of the infirmary.
The Trill Foreign Affairs Minister sat back in the conference lounge chair and stared across the room at the bulkhead bearing a decorative display of all the vessels to carry the name “Aerostar.”
Since the Aerostar-A was only the second ship to bear the name, there were only two gleaming silver starship models perched on the granite gray wall. Below those models was another model, but it looked like no ship he’d ever seen. It looked more like a shuttle, except it had more viewports and odd, round protrusions along the bottom. They appeared to be rudimentary wheels of some kind, but that did not seem right to Kedric. Why would the Federation pay homage to an ancient ground vehicle?
It all just made Kedric’s head ache more.
Filna Kedric had gone to the conference lounge to gather his thoughts after just a few minutes interacting with Lieutenant Commander Ford. He found the man incredibly tiresome, full of ridiculous human jokes and aphorisms, and generally a pain in the spots.
Now Kedric was alone with his thoughts, and thinking about a lot more than just the three Aerostar models.
He was thinking about Shar.
He’d hoped he’d never have to deal with Shar again. To be sure, Kedric was happy to have Lana Shar come back into his life when she visited him on Tellar three years earlier, but now he was having to face the symbiont again under entirely different circumstances.
Now he was facing a villainous and dangerous Shar. Not that he wasn’t used to that as well.
No matter how many lives Kedric lived, he still couldn’t get used to how much changed from lifetime to lifetime. Shar would know more about that than he, however, since Shar had been through three hosts in the time that Kedric has been in one…that being Filna…but regardless, Kedric felt like he would never adapt to meeting Shar again and again, from life to life.
And despite the fact that Trill society forbade hosts from associating with symbionts from past lifetimes, it happened, and quite a bit more often than the average Trill was aware.
It was inevitable. People of like interests are drawn together. Symbionts, too, have like interests, and are drawn to the same symbionts again and again, usually without even trying very hard.
Case in point, Filna hadn’t been trying at all to find Shar again, and was content, however saddened, with the fact that Shar had died on Talandra. He’d read Captain Conway’s report. Shar had become unstable in the Tyra host, like it had with so many other hosts.
The symbiont was probably better off swimming in a tidal pool the rest of its existence. But the Symbiosis Commission believed that evil originated from the host and not the symbiont, and so continued to place Shar with new partners. With the exception of Lana, poor, sweet, taken- before-her-time Lana, all of the joinings in the last three hundred years were an abject failure.
So now Unjon was the latest casualty claimed in the Shar symbionts’ slime trail of terror, and Kedric only hoped he could help the Aerostar crew intervene before Shar caused any real damage.
He felt that it was something akin to destiny that he clean up Shar’s mess. It was an arrangement he was all too familiar with. Kedric would forever be forced to atone for Shar’s sins and misdoings. And why shouldn’t he?
It was all his fault anyway. Each and every time.
300 YEARS AGO THE PLANET TRILL
Shana Kedric was nearing her three-year anniversary as a peace officer in Precinct 12 of the Kotaris continent when she was called to the Commerce Building in Pummus City to monitor the arrival of a routine transport.
She was extremely proud that, in only three years, she had already attained the rank of Preceptor, and therefore supervised a squad of thirteen other police officers. Quite an achievement for one who’d only just begun her career.
Shana could have assigned any number of Inceptors to this job, instead of taking the time out of her day to watch the shipment come in and verify its contents, but she believed that one of the reasons she was so good at her job was that she was always willing to pitch in with grunt work. Besides, she liked getting out of the office from time to time, and it was a nice, sunny Kotaris day to boot.
Just as Shana arrived at the commerce building, she saw the taupe- colored transport swing down out of the clouds on its approach to the building’s rooftop, its four overhead rotors buzzing. Must be a little early, Shana thought, squinting in the sun, watching the vehicle angle in. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Shana continued into the building and past the receptionist desk, where a slight, skinny man wielding an electronic clipboard was sitting. On seeing her, he got up from behind his desk and trotted over.
“Officer Kedric?” the little man asked.
“It’s you. It’s really you! I saw your name in the paper for stopping that museum robbery, but I couldn’t believe it. But now I see it. It’s all in the eyes!”
Shana squinted at the man. “Do I know you?”
“Shar! Gobin Shar!”
Shana thought back, a lifetime ago, to Briana Shar, Iano Snax, the Agratha continent and a much more strife-filled time in Kedric’s life. “Of course,” she said. “So, how have you been?”
“I am a clerical tech,” Gobin said sheepishly. “Not quite as stressful as being a double agent.”
“I’m sure,” Shana said, glancing at the elevator across the lobby. The light was lit on the top floor. They must be loading the shipment now. She was late. “Look, I’ve…”
“I thought about you a lot, Kedric. You know, since we decided it was best that we didn’t see one another.”
“Yes,” Shana agreed. “I think that all worked out for the best. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got a shipment to…”
“Look,” Gobin said, leaning forward and gripping Shana’s arm. “I know there’s that whole rule about not being able to talk to people you associated with in past lives, but let’s just call that last one a mulligan and start over…”
“I’m not sure that’s such a good…” Shana pulled her arm away and glanced at the indicator light above the elevator. The elevator was already moving down. Now she might as well just wait till it got to the bottom floor and inspect the shipment then. “Look, I’m a Preceptor. It’s dangerous work. It’s best if I don’t have any attachments that might distract…” She started walking towards the elevator, but Gobin followed her, stuck on like glue.
“I may be crazy, Kedric, but there’s something between us. Destiny is pulling us along on this path for a reason.”
“Actually, right now, destiny is pulling me on a path to the elevator.” Shana pointed at the elevator. “So I gotta go. Maybe I’ll call you sometime?” Shana quickened her step into a slight jog, leaving Gobin standing behind her.
“But do you even have my protocol number?”
“I’m sure it’s in the directory!”
“Let me give it to you!”
“Not right now!” And Shana was at the elevator, just as it was opening.
“But Kedric!” Gobin cried out. “We’re destined!”
And Shana turned in the direction of Gobin’s voice in the same split second that the butt of a blast-gun slammed down into the back of her head, dropping her to the floor.
She heard the mumbles of several people, all speaking in Agrathan accents, and saw several pairs of legs, pushing an equipment-laden cart along the floor toward the entrance of the Commerce Building.
“Everybody get on the ground! This is piracy, if you hadn’t figured that out already!”
“Pirates,” Shana mumbled, struggling to her feet and reaching for her sidearm. She’d thought the pirate menace, after eighty years, had finally been eradicated. But some still existed, having taken refuge along the shores of Agratha.
“Stop! Stop, right there!” Gobin Shar commanded, standing in front of the group of frilly-dressed pirates, who surrounded the cart of equipment. “I cannot let you leave with that shipment of…”
“Bathroom aides for the elderly,” one of the pirates spoke up.
“Oh. Well, in that case, I guess it’s not worth making a fuss over…”
“They’re not bathroom aides for the elderly, you idiot,” Shar said, stepping forward. “That equipment is military assault hardware. And very valuable.”
“Just the thing to reunite the factions of Agratha,” the most vocal of the pirates said. “To turn things back to the time of Iano Snax.”
“You tell them, Bojoy!” another pirate said.
“Iano Snax is gone, and isn’t coming back,” Shana spat, just as Bojoy lifted his blastgun and pointed it at her.
But Shana lifted her gun at the same time, leveling it on the pirate.
Bojoy’s hand twitched.
“Noooooooooooooooooo!” Gobin Shar cried, and lept at Bojoy just as Shana fired.
The blast slammed square into Gobin’s chest, and the Trill then tumbled to the ground, spread-eagle on his back, as Bojoy and the others cackled uproariously.
Shana put her weapon back in its holster and knelt by Gobin’s side.
“Guess we won’t be having that date,” Gobin said, blood dripping from his mouth as the pirates shoved off with the cart.
Shana yanked her talkator off her belt and clicked the call button. “Kedric to base. There’s been a pirate attack at the commerce building. We have a man down. Send backup and medical assistance immediately!”
“It’s hopeless,” Gobin trailed off, touching Kedric’s face. “Maybe in the next lifetime, huh?”
Shana’s expression softened as she looked down at Gobin. “Sure, Gobin. You bet.”
230 YEARS AGO
It had been six months since Shana Kedric’s death, and the subsequent installation of Kedric into high school shuffle-ball sensation Brant Monry, and so far Kedric felt just dandy in his new body.
Much like its previous incarnations, Brant was smart, athletic, handsome, and fully equipped to lead a long and healthy life. He was destined for greatness, like all Kedrics. There were already rumblings of a run at public office, perhaps chancellorship of a precinct.
Brant was contemplating these moves as he studied for his final exam at the University, in his private apartment in one of the nicer sectors of Trillian, Trill’s capital city
While Brant sipped Creyalan tea and sifted through his notes, there was a knock at his door. He got up and walked over to the door. Glancing through the looking-portal, he saw an elderly man who did not look familiar. “Can I help you, sir?” he called through the door.
“I have important news for you, young man!” the man called through the door. “I must see you, Kedric!”
The man knew his name. This should be interesting. Brant opened the door, and the stooped, balding old man barreled through, embracing Brant in a crushing hug. The man was much stronger than he looked.
“Sir? Can I help you?”
The old man looked up at Brant with sparkling tears in his eyes. “Oh, Kedric! The time has finally come!”
“I have waited so long. I respected your wish for space, and decided not to contact you until you received a new host. So now that you’ve had time to get used to your host, we can pick up where we left off!”
“I’m sorry,” Brant said, scratching his head. “Can you be any more specific?”
“Oh, Kedric, can’t you tell it’s me? The eyes, the way I carry myself? The longing, the passion?”
“I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage.”
“I have been joined for seventy years. It is nearly the end for me. This body has been through so much. I was in the Trill army for the last six decades, learning to be the kind of person you wanted me to be. Disciplined, regimented. Honorable! And I’m good in battle, Kedric! I once twisted a man’s legs until they snapped right off!”
“While I admire that, I’m still confused as to how you know me.”
“My name is Noval,” the old man said, running his fingers through his craggly beard. “Noval Shar.”
Brant stared at the old man and sighed. “Oh. It’s you.” He cracked a weak smile. “I was wondering what had happened to you.”
“Oh, it’s been such a hellish life without you, Kedric. But I did like you asked. I gave you space. Seventy years of space. And now we have everything we want, right in front of us! Oh, it couldn’t be more perfect.”
“Oh, I could think of a couple ways,” Brant said. “Look, I just got joined. This is a really weird time for me. You know?
“We’ll go through it together.” Noval wrapped an arm around Brant. “Oh, I know I’m like eighty years older than you, but that doesn’t matter. And sure, we’re both guys. But that doesn’t matter. Not when there’s a true spark of love between us. Not when we have…when we have…destiny!”
“Right,” Brant said, and gently pushed Noval’s arm away. “What’s say I call you sometime?”
“But you said that last time, and I died!”
“I’m really sorry about that. I just don’t think our lifetimes lined up very well this time, you know? Maybe next time?”
“Well, I’m sure you have a long, healthy life ahead of you.”
“The doctors say I will probably die any day.”
“Really?” Brant asked, shuffling Noval toward the door. “Well, they’re coming up with new cures every day. Bye now!”
One week later, Brant read in the Daily Communique that Noval Shar passed away in his sleep. The cause was listed as ‘natural’, but he knew it was heartache that killed Noval, and he was sorry for that. But really, what could he do? It wasn’t really his problem.
200 YEARS AGO
Trill President Brant Kedric leaned back in his reclining chair and flipped on the world-channel net. It had been a long day, negotiating peace with the Agrathan rebels, but he’d done it. He’d smoothed yet another conflict that had torn the planet asunder. Kedric himself had been responsible for much of the repairing and rebuilding of a dissociated Trill. He’d brought the planet together, made it a unified government, made it possible for them to achieve space travel in a relatively short time, and to reach out to neighboring star systems, where they had in fact discovered alien life. One of their ships had also run into a ship from a distant planet called Earth, called Enterprise, and by all accounts those folks were lovely, despite their distinct lack of spots.
The technology to cross greater distances even faster was well into development. Soon, Trill would have travel by means of something called ‘time warp’. Brant only grasped the basic concepts–his major was theology (with a minor in the biological sciences) so he was a little rusty on space travel. Regardless, he loved the idea of Trill joining a vast community of interlinked, federated planets. Federated. What a grand idea.
Brant was on the verge of dozing off when a burst of loud music came over the channel screen at the front of his room.
“Kursday, Kursday, KURSDAY! Coming to Trillian, for one appearance only, is the Trill Wrestling Alliance’s Showdown of the Spots. Come see these pumped up wrestlers grind it out for world supremacy. And make sure you catch the showdown of them all, as Four-time planet- wide champion Crumbo Gentz takes on female champ and all around nasty girl, Lemaya Shar!”
Brant sat up in bed. Shar. It couldn’t be the same one.
She appeared on the screen, her eyes gleaming rage, as she gestured emphatically with both hands. “You listen to me, Crumbo Gentz! I’m a burning ball of red hot womanly fury, and I’m coming for you! I have angst in me you wouldn’t believe, and I’m going to take it all out on you! You’re going to wish you were never born! And your symbiont is going to wish it was never put inside you. I am going to come at you with the fury of a thousand supernovas, and I’m going to paint the Trillco Amphitheater with your soggy remains! Fear me! FEAR ME! Oh, and Kedric, if you’re listening, I’ll be stopping by to see you while I’m in town. Love you, baby! Buh-bye!”
“Lights!” Brant ordered immediately. He reached over to his night stand and pressed a control. “Kedric to Operational Control. Prepare Trill One for departure. I’m going on a…fact finding mission to the Corath continent.”
“Right away, sir,” a voice replied over the communications grid.
Brant hurriedly pulled a shirt and jacket on and jumped into the pair of pants that was hanging by his bed. He had to get away from the capital city. Maybe Shar was kidding, but he couldn’t take that chance.
He’d worked hard for his career, and believed he’d built something that stood for rationality and sensibility. He couldn’t risk losing all that to an obsessed symbiont who seemed to think the two of them had a future together. He’d have to discuss this with the Symbiosis Commission in the morning, for sure.
Brant straightened his jacket buttons as he headed out of his bedroom and down the hall to the adjoining hover-port outside the presidential mansion.
Dizada, his assistant, a primly-kept Trill woman of stature, destined, perhaps, for a public office of her own, in time, kept up step next to him, handing him several of the notes she had prepared for him.
“You should look at these latest reports of violence in Precinct 88. There could be trouble on the Kensat continent. You also might want to review the recent revisions to the Books of Joining. I think there are some incongruities that could get us into trouble in the long term.”
“You’re invaluable to me, as usual, Dizada. I should be back sometime after Kursday.”
“May I ask where you’re going?”
“Important…affairs of state,” Brant said slowly. “If anything of importance comes up, have the Vice President contact me.”
Dizada nodded. “Of course.”
As the pair emerged from the portal that lead out to the hover-port, a shadowy figure loomed out of the darkness, ominous and muscular, blocking the path to the idly hoverjet, Trill One.
“Kedric, old friend, how I’ve missed you,” came a low, sultry voice from the figure.
“Dizada,” Brant snapped. “Go get security. Now!”
The figure stepped out of the darkness, revealing itself as the spandex-clad Lemaya Shar. “Dizada? Dizada Fran?”
Dizada’s eyes went wide. “Shar? Is that you?”
“What a small world!” Lemaya giggled.
“Really!” Dizada replied. “What’s it been? Three hundred years?”
“At least,” replied Lemaya. “I didn’t know you were working for the President.”
“I was in corporate affairs for a long time, but I switched to politics. Less back biting.”
Lemaya threw back her head and laughed. “Believe me, I know what you mean. In wrestling, people really do bite your back.”
Dizada wrinkled her nose. “Sounds nasty.” She grinned. “But in a good way.”
“I’m so glad I found you here,” Lemaya said, then looked at the stunned Brant. “I was just coming to put a little scare into this guy. You know, freak him out. There was a time he thought I was in love with him.”
“I…” Brant stammered.
“He can be a little bit of a stuffed shirt at times,” Dizada admitted.
“You should have seen him in his last life,” said Lemaya. “NO personality.”
“Heheh. You want to get out of here and get a hot malted at Snarky’s?”
“Love to,” Lemaya said, taking Dizada by the arm. “And then, maybe we’ll see where it leads?”
“If it’s anything like three hundred years ago, I’m in trouble.”
“Um,” Brant said, watching the two leave. “Where are you guys going?”
“Oh, just like old Kedric. Thinks everything’s about him,” Lemaya Shar laughed, and walked off.
Lemaya Shar and Dizada Fran became engaged to be married two weeks later. One week before their wedding date, Lemaya was killed when her wrestling arena was crushed by mortar assault from some Agratha rebels, responding to President Kedric’s resent rejection of their free trade proposal.
The next day, Dizada quit and Kedric was not voted back into office.
That was when he decided that the symbiont Shar was bad luck for him, and likewise, he for her.
EIGHT YEARS AGO
Kedric had survived three life times–the remainder of Brant’s, and two others, Cheero, who, probably due to Brant’s inauspicious end, never went beyond the rank of manager of a local Snarky’s, and Lobut, who became the president of the Trill Worker’s Union and disappeared inexplicably fifty-two years earlier. Only the symbiont was found.. Kedric always considered Cheero and Lobut the only failed lifetimes in his existence, and they were a constant source of embarrassment to him.
Now, however, Kedric was much better off. Inhabiting the body of Kena, she had been the advisor of the Trill defense ministry for fifty years, and much respected in her time. Kedric decided that, probably during the next lifetime, his host would be in the presidency again. It was only a matter of time until he could put the pieces back together.
Kena was working at her desk, in her office on the fortieth floor of the Trill Defense Building, analyzing the reports from several of the peacekeeping forces surrounding Agratha. The rebel threat was all but gone, but occasionally one or two factions would show up and cause trouble. Eventually, thanks to Kena’s advice and intercession, they would be located and eradicated. This newest menace would be no different.
“Ms. Kedric,” came the voice of Ressek, Kena’s loyal assistant. “You’ve got a delivery from Trillian Express. I told them I could sign for it, but they insist on delivering it to you specifically.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Kena said, pushing aside several padds she’d been working on. Ressek wasn’t as organized or efficient as Dizada, but he was at least curt and punctual, and had the smarmy attitude of an assistant. That went a long way, in Kena’s mind.
The door to Kena’s office swung open and a tall man dressed in a deep blue Trillian Express uniform walked in, carrying a large gray cargo container.
“Kena Kedric?” he asked, setting the container down on the floor.
“Yes, that’s me,” Kena said, stepping out from around her desk. “What do you have here?”
“It’s of defensive importance.” The bulky deliveryman looked back at Ressek. “Your eyes only, Ms. Kedric.”
“Ma’am?” Ressek asked.
“Wait out side, please, Ressek,” Kena said, squatting down next to the container as Ressek ducked out of her office. “So, what’s in the box, son?”
“Dead weight, just like you’ll be soon,” the man said coldly, knocking Kena across the face, sending her sprawling, spread-eagle, on the floor. Before she could scream, he pulled a roll of packing tape off his belt and slapped some across her mouth. “You recognize me, Kena? See anything in the eyes?”
Kena shook her head.
“Give ya one guess. I’m the meanest street fighter on Trill.”
“Two hundred arrests. Multiple convictions. Five escapes. I’m on Trill’s Most Wanted every week.”
Kena shrugged again.
“For providence sake, you work for the Defense Ministry, and you don’t even know the dirtiest criminal on Trill? Maybe the name will ring a bell. Dosav.”
No response from Kena.
Kena rolled her eyes.
“Yes. Me again. And might I say, I’m saddened that you don’t remember me. We did meet, years ago, at a state function. I was the waiter. I tried to talk to you, but you snubbed me to talk to some guy in a suit who claimed to have two symbionts in him at once. Apparently, that was more impressive than the love of your lives.”
Kena shook her head.
“Oh, not feeling romantic? But I don’t get it. You said to give you some time. Give you some space. Wait for things to work themselves out. Well, I waited…three hundred and seventy-two years. And guess what? Things haven’t worked themselves yet. Don’t guess they’re going to, huh?”
Kena shrugged again.
“Well, it doesn’t matter. I’ll just hook up with your next host.” Dosav glanced up at the chronometer on the wall. “Should be along any day now.”
And with that, he hoisted Kena up to her feet and dragged her toward her office window. “You should at least take heart that you lived a long and happy lifetime, Kena. My symbiont was put on ice for two hundred years or so after Lemaya’s brutal death…which was, by the way, your fault. It was felt that a host might be overwhelmed, driven insane by what had happened. So they made me wait, and wait, and wait. And you know what? It only made me madder!”
“Mmmmmmmmph mmmmmpph!” Kena grumbled through the thick tape as Dosav opened the window.
“You should know that there is one thing of interest in that cargo container,” Dosav said with a grin. “A suicide note. Seems the stress of office has gotten to you, Kedric. Hope you won’t have any trouble securing a post in your next life. I’d be SO upset to interfere with your ambition. Well, guess all that is up to you, huh? Have a nice trip. See you next life!”
Before Kena could do anything to resist, Dosav unceremoniously ripped the tape off her mouth and shoved her out her office window.
The last thing Kena saw was his smiling, pleased face, as she plummeted to her demise.
Filna Kedric’s eyes snapped open. He’d dozed off, thinking of his past with Shar. But the memory of Kena’s death snapped him awake.
He stood, shaking the thoughts from his head, walking to the window to watch the stars outside. If Kena’s death did mean anything, it was that her next and current host, Kedric, reported Dosav’s misdoings to the authorities, who promptly arrested Dosav.
The ornery street fighter didn’t last long at the rehab colony. He had gotten in a fight with a Tarkalian assassin and found the business end of a broken-off chair leg. Truly a fitting end for such a troubled being.
But, Filna recollected, it wasn’t long till the Symbiosis Commission, stubborn as they were, tried again. This time, a ‘memory-cleansing’ technique was applied to Shar, and the symbiont was installed in the competent and stable scientist, Lana Kofax.
Lana had no recollection of the things Shar had done, to Kedric or anyone else. In fact, she had been under the misguided notion that she and Kedric had been friends. And when they met that once, when she had visited his diplomatic post on Tellar aboard the Explorer, he played along. And, in all honesty, he probably would have pursued a relationship with her, had that oafish Commander Conway not been so stubbornly hanging around.
But those were thoughts for another time. Because Shar was on the loose again and causing trouble. And, much like with Tyra, Unjon Shar seemed to have full access to all of Shar’s most creepy and vile traits.
And, do or die, it was up to Filna to stop them.
Both Unjon and Shar.
“Ford to Kedric,” the comm system trilled. “Are you sleeping in there?”
“No…not at all,” Kedric said, smoothing the folds of his uniform. “Is Commander Larkin prepared to meet with me yet?”
“Not exactly, sir. She’s, uh, otherwise occupied.”
“Doing what?” Kedric asked.
“It’s of a…sensitive nature.”
The Aerostar-A was not equipped with an interrogation room, so Larkin had Ensign Puckett set her and her…subject…up in the bakery on Deck Five. She’d had to evacuate it, and post a message on ship-wide that fresh baked crullers would not be available until after lunch. This met with several annoyed responses, but Larkin was well aware that command was about much more than pleasing the troops.
“Mind if I grab a bagel?” Ensign Puckett asked as Larkin sat down at one of the small, circular cafe tables with Tammat Raye, the Trill courier they’d kept in the brig since he’d delivered his summons to Captain Conway.
“Yes. Just stay by the door, Ensign.”
“I like bagels,” Raye said, glancing at the steaming breads behind the nearby glass counter.
“In that case,” Larkin said, “have all the bagels you like, Ensign. May I suggest the intergalactic supreme bagel with Selayan pimento spread?”
“Ooh, good choice, Commander!” Puckett said, realizing Larkin’s plan. “Sounds tasty.”
Raye licked his lips, watching Puckett duck behind the counter and select her bagel from the fresh pile. “So…what is this about, Commander?”
“It is about the truth, Mister Raye,” Larkin said, clasping her hands on the table and staring at the Trill courier. “Ensign Puckett. Once you have thoroughly applied spread to your bagel, please do come over here and enjoy it while mister Raye and I talk. And bring a warming lamp, if you will.”
Larkin stared blankly at Raye as he watched Puckett slowly, luxuriously, spread pimento stuff all over her big, warm, doughy bagel, and carry it, and the lamp, over to the small table. She sat between Larkin and Raye.
“Here you go, Commander!”
“Thank you,” Larkin said, and switched on the lamp. She pointed it at Raye. “Now, Mister Raye, you should know I am loathe to resort to crude, hurtful interrogation tactics, but I have little time and even less information.”
“I don’t know how you expect me to help you,” Raye said, holding up his hands to block the light.
Larkin pushed his hands down. “Although I do not possess instincts or follow hunches, I am capable of exacting a phenomenal amount of pain from individuals, and have no real ethical subroutines to hold me back. That, I believe, is one thing that makes me a more capable android than Mister Data. That debate, however, must be tabled for now. At the moment, the only thing of interest to me is the location of Captain Conway, the identity of his captors, and their plans.”
Raye watched as Puckett munched on her bagel, one bite at a time, groaning with pleasure at every bite. The lamp, meanwhile, was turning his cheek a bright shade of pink.
“Uhm….what makes you think I know anything about any of that? I’m just a process server for the Trill government.”
“Because you are the only Trill I have access to,” Larkin said evenly. “And, logically, if Unjon had planned this intricate ruse from the beginning, I believe he would not have left the details of Captain Conway’s subpoena to chance.”
“Look,” Raye said. “I just did what he told me to do.”
Larkin moved the lamp closer to Raye. “So you admit that process serving is not exactly your career?”
“No. I’m involved in the…smuggling arts.”
“Well, I smuggle. I smuggle, and sometimes I plot and steal. And swindle. And, occasionally, loiter.”
“You are a man of many talents,” Larkin observed. “I hope truthful narrative is one of them.” She moved the lamp closer. “Tell me where I can find Captain Conway, or I will give you a permanent tan.”
“I don’t know where the Orion Syndicate is taking him!” Raye blurted, then covered his mouth.
“The Orion Syndicate,” Larkin said.
Puckett nearly choked on her bagel.
“Go get a drink, Ensign,” Larkin said, still looking at Raye. “No wonder you were reluctant to share your information.”
“The Syndicate’ll kill me if they know I ratted them out!”
“Indeed,” Larkin said. “All the more reason to cooperate with us, so that we may prevent that from happening.”
“I was just doing them a favor…just doing what Unjon told me to, so they could distract the Trill, and get the symbionts.”
“And do what with them?” Larkin asked. “It is not as if you can simply sell symbionts on the black market.”
“Actually…” Raye said. He looked at Larkin. “I didn’t tell you any of this!”
“In point of fact, you did,” Larkin said. “And you will tell me more.”
“I don’t know much more, other than that they plan on marketing the symbionts as ‘mood enhancers’.”
Larkin considered this. “‘Mood enhancers’ that are incompatible with most humanoid nervous systems.”
“I think they’re going to put a warning label on them.”
Larkin nodded, turning off the warming light. “That must not be allowed to happen.”
Raye gulped. “Can I go now?”
Larkin shook her head. “We will keep you in protective custody until this matter is settled. And at that point, you will be free to go…”
Raye’s eyes brightened.
“To be debriefed and detained by Starfleet Intelligence.”
Raye frowned. “Well, can I at least have a bagel?”
Larkin considered his request. “If you must…”
Gellar burst through the door to the bakery just as Raye rushed behind the counter to get his bagel and Puckett returned from behind the counter with a glass of papaya juice.
“Did you kill him yet?” he asked breathlessly.
“You misunderstood my intentions,” Larkin said.
“We just warmed him,” Puckett said, drinking her juice.
“And fed him,” Raye said, munching on a Ferengi beetle bagel. He shoved two more in his pockets. “Got any jam?”
“Do not push your luck,” Larkin said warningly. “Ensign Puckett, take Mister Raye…and his bagels…back to the brig, and keep an eye on him. Mister Gellar, I take it that Filna Kedric is here and would like to speak with me?”
“You take it right,” Gellar nodded.
“Then I will go to see him,” Larkin said.
“Did you get what you wanted from Raye?” Gellar asked as the pair headed for the turbolift.
“The Orion Syndicate kidnapped Captain Conway and plans to sell the Trill symbionts on the black market.”
“All that, and all you used was a bagel-warming lamp? I need to change my methods.”
Captain Conway was shaken awake, finding himself in a rubber- walled room, in which all four walls were done in alternating pastel colors: blue, pink, yellow, green. The floor and ceiling were purple.
He was lying on a squishy bed. Not quite a waterbed….filled with some kind of sludgy material. Like mud.
On further inspection, he saw the bed-frame was that of a race-car. Unjon certainly knew his likes.
The walls were plastered with posters of Dale Earnhardt, crossing finish lines and holding up trophies. And, just for spite, there was a poster of Jeff Gordon. Unjon was a sick bastard.
Conway was relieved to find he could sit up, that he was no longer being held by a restraining field.
He walked over to the door, which came complete with a little observation window.
He also spotted, nearby, a trunk full of race cars. How thoughtful.
Conway stared out the window, trying to get some glimpse of the corridor outside, any passing crew-members. He had no idea what type of ship he was on, or who was helping Unjon in this mad venture.
All he knew was that he was stuck on this ship.
Then another face filled the little window, staring at him with wild, impassioned eyes.
Conway fell backwards onto his rubberized floor with the shock of seeing that face. So much like Tyra’s…but manly. Kind of.
The door irised open and Unjon stepped through, his glittery cape fluttering behind him. Why was he still wearing that?
“Ahh, my sexy little pet! I see you’re up and about.” Unjon also had a little walking stick, it appeared, although Conway didn’t remember him having a limp.
“And not restrained anymore,” Conway growled, looking up at Unjon. “Which means nothing’s stopping me from grabbing you by the…”
“Oh please, not until I know you better!” As Conway lunged at him from the floor, Unjon lifted his walking stick and poked it into the captain’s armpit. A visible rainbow of shocks radiated from Conway’s armpit all over his body, and a seizure sent him flying back onto his squishy bed. “Do I seem like that kind of guy?”
“Oh, Lordy…” Conway sighed, shaking the effects of the shock from his head.
“I was hoping the torture would be more of a consensual thing,” Unjon said, swinging his stick up and blowing on the end of it. “Nice little accessory, isn’t it? I’ll see if we can get you one.”
“Please do…” Conway said. “So I can shove it up your…”
“In good time!” Unjon squealed with delight. “Oh, all in good time. But first, we’ve got a teensy little job for you!”
“And what the hell is that supposed to mean?” Conway shouted as Unjon walked out.
“I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised,” the Trill giggled, and slammed the door.
“May I ask where we’re going?” Filna Kedric asked, barging out of the turbolift and onto the bridge of the Aerostar. He’d just gone below to find Larkin, only to find that she’d headed back to the bridge. He wasn’t enamored of chasing the android all over the ship. Not with so much at stake.
“You may ask,” Larkin said, turning in the command chair to face Kedric. “But I may not tell you.”
“As an official representative of the Trill government, I demand to know all of the details pertaining to your investigation,” Kedric said, stepping down until he was toe to toe with Larkin. She stared up at him from the command chair as he loomed over her, flapping a padd in her face. “I just received a very disturbing account of your interrogation of Tammat Raye. That kind of behavior will not be allowed to continue during this investigation. My government, Commander, is determined that this matter be resolved as quickly as possible in order to satisfy the best interests of the Trill people. Starfleet will not be permitted to haphazardly disregard the needs of my people any longer! And let’s not forget the real mission here…it’s to find and capture Unjon Shar!”
“Are you quite finished?” Larkin asked.
“Yes,” Kedric said, and sat next to her.
“Good,” she said. “Then allow me to bring you up to date.”
“Please do,” Kedric said stiffly.
“Our warp engines are back on-line, and we have headed at high warp to a colony in Orion space, where I have a contact waiting.”
“Why Orion space?”
“Because we believe the Orion Syndicate is responsible for absconding with your symbionts, Minister.”
Kedric went sallow. “To what end?”
“It is the Orion Syndicate,” Larkin said archly. “Use your imagination.”
“Do you mean to say…”
“They’re going to sell the symbionts,” Ford said, whipping around in his chair. “Catch up to the plot already!”
“Enough, Mister Ford!” Larkin snapped. She looked at Kedric. “Although tactless, Lieutenant Commander Ford is, essentially, correct.”
“You think your ‘contact’ can help us find the freighter carrying our symbionts?” Kedric asked.
“It is our only hope,” Larkin said.
“We lost the warp trail while we were getting our engines back online,” Alexa Lanham said. “And might I add, there were no Trill vessels in the area that were capable of taking over the pursuit.”
“Indeed,” Kedric said, seeming to deflate.
“That is usually my line,” Larkin said. “If you need any more information, you are welcomed to ask. In the meantime, I must prepare for my rendezvous. Mister Ford will see to your needs while I am gone.”
“You’re leaving the ship?”
“I would prefer to keep a slightly lower profile,” Larkin said, and nodded at Ford, who took the command chair as she left. “The Aerostar, meanwhile, will be safely hidden in a nearby nebula.”
“Isn’t anyone going to go with her?” Kedric demanded as Larkin disappeared into the aft turbolift.
Alexa Lanham slid out from around her station. “As a matter of fact, yes.”
“So,” Ford said, turning toward Kedric as Lanham left. “You’ve known Shar through several lifetimes. What was that like?”
Kedric glared at Ford. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Captain Rikkens, are you okay? You look like hell,” said Ortok, the Payload’s navigator, as Rikkens stepped shakily out onto the bridge.
“One too many Romulan ales last night,” Rikkens muttered, and sat down in his command chair. He rubbed the arms of the chair up and down, as if he was feeling the material for the first time in hundreds of years. “It feels good to be up and about again.”
“What do you mean?” Ortok asked.
“Oh, you know, things.” Rikkens furrowed his brow, as if it were difficult to come up with the proper thoughts. “Orions are quite the menacing race.”
“We like to think so,” Ortok agreed, looking perplexed at Rikkens.
“Many planets. Many different races out there, huh,” Rikkens said slowly. “Space travel. Many dimensions. Wormholes. Replicators. New life, civilizations, far away galaxies. Running water in every room….”
“Sir, perhaps you should retire to your quarters while we offload the cargo?”
“NO!” Rikkens snapped, rising to his feet. “I will check the precious cargo myself and oversee its offloading. This is a vastly important step in taking over Tr…” Rikkens face seemed to go through a muddle of expressions, as if he was just now discovering his own thoughts.
Finally, looking much more self-assured, Rikkens said, “A vastly important step in making profit for the Orions.”
Lanham caught up to Larkin as she headed toward the Main Shuttlebay. “Commander, wait up.”
“You are not at your station,” Larkin noticed as she walked through the large shuttlebay doors.
“Nice of you to notice,” Lanham said. “I am going with you.”
“Your services will not be required,” Larkin said. “I am going to a somewhat inhospitable moon of Therris Prime.”
“One of the hotbeds of the Orion Syndicate.”
“That is correct.”
“You’re not even bringing security?”
“I am in need of none,” Larkin said. “As you may already be aware, I am nearly indestructible.”
“While that may be true, what’s to say that anybody in the Syndicate is going to give you information?”
An ensign approached and handed Larkin a small satchel.
“Thank you, Ensign Croft.” She looked back at Lanham. “Because I am going to be traveling under a different guise.”
“Kristen Larkin,” Larkin said.
Lanham blinked. “Uhm, isn’t that you?”
“Kris Larkin, actually,” Larkin said. “A freighter captain, and the inspiration for my likeness. It could be said I bear a….passing resemblance to her.”
“So why would anyone in the Syndicate tell HER where the symbionts are?”
“Because Kris is involved in several rather…questionable partnerships. I have discussed this all with her in depth over subspace, and see no need to delve into it any further with you.”
Lanham took Larkin by the shoulders and attempted to turn the android to face her. She was unsuccessful, as the android’s strength made her virtually immobile. “Look, Commander, I have a vested interest in getting Captain Conway back. I was married to the guy.”
Larkin frowned at Lanham, finally turning to face her as, in the background, a work crew prepped the runabout Kissimee. “You should know I questioned Captain Conway’s decision to bring you on as Chief Science Officer. As a rule, I do not believe that civilians should serve in command posts on Starfleet vessels. The captain, for whatever reason, is fond of you, and because of that I will attempt to offer you some…latitude. You must, however, recognize the chain of command, and realize that Starfleet vessels are not democracies and that my decisions, once made, can not simply be circumvented.”
“Good points all,” Lanham said. “Just one thing.”
“And that is?” Larkin asked.
“The runabout’s leaving without us.” Lanham pointed at the Kissimee, which was, in fact, lifting off the flight deck of the shuttlebay and pivoting toward the opening bay doors.
“Ensign Croft, man the tractor beam!” Larkin called out and bolted toward the runabout, leaping onto its nearest nacelle as the surprised work crew scattered. “Larkin to bridge, lock down the shuttlebay!”
Lanham walked over to the control station where Croft latched a tractor beam onto the Kissimee. Upon noticing the runabouts shields hadn’t yet been raised, she used the cargo transporter to lock onto her and Larkin and beam them both into the runabout.
Larkin appeared in the cockpit looking uncharacteristically disoriented, but Lanham immediately lurched toward the cockpit’s lone occupant and socked him across the face with a swift left jab. His head slammed against the control console.
“Tammat Raye,” Larkin muttered, as Lanham took a seat at the unoccupied navigation station. “I am going to have to speak with Ensign Puckett about her security measures. It appears they were insufficient.”
“He was laying in a course for a warehouse on Therris Prime,” Lanham said, looking over the runabout’s navigation panel. “Maybe a hiding spot for the Syndicate?”
“You did an excellent job incapacitating Mr. Raye. I was unaware you were trained in combat.”
“I nearly killed Captain Conway when we were married.”
“Yes, I have heard,” Larkin said, effortlessly tossing Raye into an open seat toward the rear of the cockpit.
“Does this change our plans any?” Lanham asked.
“Indeed it does,” Larkin said. “I am bringing you with me. Alert the bridge and continue along Mister Raye’s course for Therris Prime.”
“What about your contact?” Lanham asked.
“I will tell him to make other arrangements,” Larkin said. “You, meanwhile, should replicate an outfit a little less…Starfleet.” Lanham wore a traditional Starfleet uniform, just without the pips. Occasionally, she’d put a nice broach on the collar, but she found superior officers frowned on that, since oftentimes other crewmen would think there was a new ranking system.
“Will do,” Lanham said, heading toward the back of the cockpit. “What about sleeping beauty here?”
“Bait,” Larkin said simply.
Captain Conway awoke feeling very…full.
One moment, he was resting in his padded playroom, reading a padd about Dale Earnhardt, Junior’s bid for the 2006 Winston Cup, and the next moment he’d lost consciousness.
Now he was in another room on the freighter, lying on a bed, feeling very…full.
His stomach hurt. He looked down, noticing that his Starfleet uniform was replaced with a glittery purple pantsuit.
He leaned up. At least he could move around. Slowly, Conway swung his legs off the bed and sat upright.
“What the hell did they do to me?” he asked himself, lifting the purple shirt a bit to see that he had about a ten-centimeter scar in the middle of his belly. “What could they have done to me that would require cutting a hole in my stom…”
Conway’s eyes glazed. He stared at the wall.
“And…where’s…Shar…” he asked slowly.
<Right here baby>, a voice cooed in his brain, and then something gripped his mind, vice-like, and he felt his limbs move as if they weren’t his own.
And the last thing Conway did of his own free will was fall forward and ram his head into the rubberized wall of his cell.
It was a rubber wall, but it still hurt like the dickens.
“Nice place,” Alexa Lanham said out of the side of her mouth, shortly after Larkin, she, and a quite unconscious Tammat Raye materialized just outside the warehouse on the murky, dusky, Therris Prime. They’d put the runabout in orbit just inside the ionosphere, in a pocket of radiation that would hopefully hide it from any probing Orion sensors.
“I would not want to live here,” Larkin commented, then glanced back at Lanham. “By the way, Doctor, may I say what an excellent job you did selecting your apparel.”
“I was going for sleazy,” Lanham said, tugging at her above-the-midriff tube top, knee-high leather boots and short, short skirt. “Sure it’s not too…?”
“You appear to be a prostitute, but an expensive one.”
“Refined space trash! Exactly the look I was going for,” Lanham said, slapping Raye on the face as Larkin dragged him toward the warehouse. “I just want to seem authentic, this being my first undercover mission and all.”
“Please, just allow me to do all of the talking. I believe the human aphorism is ‘follow my lead.’”
“Right,” Lanham said, looking at the door to the warehouse. “So, how do we get in? Do you have some special, sneaky Starfleet way of fooling the exterior sensors?”
Larkin knocked loudly on the metal door.
“Or, you could just knock….”
The door slid open to reveal a sneering, bucktoothed Ferengi. “WHAT?” he demanded. “I mean…greetings. I am Drump, the official door greeter of Orion Mart.”
“I believe you know Mister Tammat Raye,” Larkin said, lofting the Trill, trying to pretend he was heavy.
“Oh, Tammat!” the Ferengi exclaimed. “I take it he got into a little bit of trouble?”
“He escaped from a Starfleet vessel that had him captive, and contacted me to book passage on my freighter.”
“Resourceful guy,” the Ferengi said. “So…why is he unconscious?”
“That was my doing,” Lanham said, not untruthfully.
Larkin glared at her. “Indeed it was. Lacey here is a prostitute who we encountered shortly after beaming down. It appears Tammat here owes her a great deal of latinum.”
“I played ‘connect the spots’ with him a few times,” Lanham giggled.
“And he owes me for the trip,” Larkin said. “Just before Lacey beat him up, he told me we could seek restitution here.”
“Then I’d better take you to the warehouse manager,” the Ferengi said, gesturing the group in. He looked at Lanham. “So, you’re an interstellar call-girl, eh? Know anything about oo-mox?”
“I know my way around the lobes,” Lanham said, forcing a winsome smile.
“I’ll be the judge of that. Name’s Drump, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you,” Larkin said. “So…who is the ‘manager’ around here?”
“Oh, there are a couple. But they all report to the district manager…Mr. Rikkens.”
“Will we be seeing him?”
“Afraid not. He’s busy…elsewhere.”
“And where might that be?” Lanham asked quickly, prompting a nasty glare from Larkin.
“Oh, you know how it is with big-business types. Always on some kind of corporate junket.”
“Indeed,” Larkin said as Drump guided the group through the recesses of the warehouse.
“Do you see all this stuff?” Lanham whispered to Larkin as they passed one cargo container after another.
“Indeed. There is a large quantity of contraband material here…”
“Regulan artifacts…mind-addictive headset games…an Orb of the Prophets, Borg components…Risan pleasure probes…this place is a storehouse of illegal crap!”
“Not surprising, considering we are dealing with the Orion Syndicate,” Larkin said. “I suggest, however, that you focus on the issue at hand, which is finding and rescuing Captain Conway and stopping the sale of Trill symbionts on the black market.”
“Thanks for reminding me,” Lanham muttered.
“So,” Larkin said. “Mr. Raye was telling us that you all are involved in an incredibly daring caper involving Trill symbionts.”
Drump frowned at the unconscious Trill. “He said that, did he?”
Larkin nodded. “Those were, in essence, his words. Oh, dear. I have not said anything that will get him in trouble, have I?”
“That’s none of your concern,” Drump said, and suddenly his face drooped into a sneer. “But you’d be wise to shut your mouth about the Trill thing.” Then he brightened. “Unless you want to purchase one of your very own?”
“Hmm, something long and thick inside me. Sounds good!” Lanham said, and Larkin actually pinched her elbow, prompting her to shriek.
“You sure you two never met before today?” Drump asked.
“Positive,” Larkin said flatly.
“Let’s just get our money,” Lanham said, rubbing her elbow. “The quicker we do that, the quicker we get to the oo-mox.”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Drump said, rubbing his hands together. He lead the group to a thick metal door, onto which he clomped his fist several times. “It’s Drump! Open up in there!”
The door slid open to reveal an especially slimy looking Yridian. “WHAT?” he hissed.
“These girls say that Raye owes them money.”
“That little shamlat was never worth the price we paid him,” the Yridian groused, turning around. “Follow.”
Drump nodded. “You heard the man.”
“And who is that?” Larkin asked in a low voice, following Drump and the Yridian, still shouldering the dead weight of Tammat Raye.
“That’s Chenno. He’s the overseer of this particular warehouse.”
“And what do you keep here?” asked Larkin.
“It’s not really what we keep here now. But what we will be keeping here.” Drump grinned toothily.
Chenno was stooped over a large crate at the back of the dimly lit office that Larkin and Lanham had been lead into. He suddenly whirled around and flung a brick of gold-pressed latinum at each of them.
Larkin easily grabbed her brick. Lanham, meanwhile, was pegged in the shoulder with her brick, and it fell to the floor.
“Ow! I don’t get paid enough for this,” she grumbled and leaned down to grab the bar.
“On the contrary, a bar of gold-pressed latinum is substantial payment,” Larkin corrected her.
“It is?” Lanham asked, turning the bar over in her hand as she rubbed her shoulder with the other hand. “I mean, yes, you’re right. It is!”
“You must be doing good business,” Larkin remarked to Chenno.
“Oh, we will be,” Chenno said with a wide grin. Then the grin disappeared. “Now get out. We have a…shipment arriving. Drump!”
“Right, boss, right!” Drump pointed toward the exit door, as Chenno leaned over and inspected the unconscious Raye.
“Of course,” Larkin said, looking at Lanham. “We have overstayed our welcome.”
“Well, one of you has,” Drump said, narrowing his eyes and turning toward the scantily clad science officer. “The other…maybe we can arrange a way to lengthen your stay. Maybe with another of those bars of latinum.”
Lanham looked from Larkin to Drump. “Don’t you have a…shipment…to see to?”
“I won’t be needed,” Drump said quickly. “My apartment adjoins this building. We can go there now!” He certainly had a desperate air about him.
Lanham exchanged a quick glance with Larkin. “I’d be glad to. Kris…I believe I no longer need your services.”
“I think you should reconsider,” Larkin said.
“I’m a big girl, Kris. I appreciate you helping me to get paid, but you have a freighter to get back to. Let me handle Drump.”
“You may have more than you can handle,” Larkin, glaring at Lanham. “I strongly suggest you reconsider.”
“You have no authority to order her around!” Drump snapped at Larkin. “Now get outta here before WE reconsider letting you go. And don’t breathe a word about the Trill to anybody! We have people EVERYWHERE. So watch your step!”
Larkin stood there a long moment. Then, finally, she took a step backward. “As you wish.” She headed toward the warehouse exit, glancing once over her shoulder at Lanham and then proceeding out.
“Now it’s just us,” Drump said, grinning up at Lanham. “I don’t know about you, but I feel better already.”
Lanham nodded. “My…sentiments exactly.”
Larkin slammed her fist into the operations console of the Kissimee, causing a large dent and a shower of sparks. “Of all the impudent, irresponsible, unwise…!”
With a cock of her head, Larkin adjusted her emotional program, deactivated the anger files, and turned to face the comm console, answering the coded hailing message.
“This is Larkin,” she said blandly.
Lt. Commander Ford’s face appeared on the small screen to her left. “Larkin! Am I glad to see you! What’s the story?”
“The story is, we have lost another crew-member. Doctor Lanham is down on Therris Prime being…pleasured by a Ferengi door greeter.”
“Doesn’t sound half bad if you ask me,” Ford said.
“I did not.”
“So…what do we do?”
“Wait for a shipment.”
“A shipment of what?”
“If all goes well, it will be a shipment containing our captain.”
Ford nodded, but didn’t really seem to be following. “So what do you want me to do?”
“Maintain your position, and have Mr. Gellar standing by with a security detachment. We may need to perform an…extraction.”
“Greetings,” Drump said softly into Alexa Lanham’s ear as she rolled away from him, trying not to vomit.
“I really need a shower,” she murmured, licking her lips. “Got any mouthwash? Toothpaste…”
“I have a tooth sharpener,” Drump said, leaning back against his pillow. “Wanna try it?”
“Um, maybe later.” Lanham sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed, staring down at her feet. What had she resorted to! oo-mox, with a greasy Ferengi? And for what, to try to rescue Conway? Of all people, the guy she’d once married, and then tried to kill?
The guy she’d once married.
That’s what it came down to. In spite of everything, all his many, many, faults. The guy was once her husband. To death would they part. And she still felt a loyalty to him. A connection. Who knew why.
“Thinking about more oo-mox?” Drump asked, suddenly behind her.
“No!” she shrieked, standing. “I mean…maybe later. I’ve got to go, um, freshen up.”
“Whatever you say.”
As Lanham stepped into the tiny, decrepit, slime-ridden bathroom that adjoined Drump’s cramped hovel of a studio apartment, she heard a chime over the building loudspeakers.
“Chenno to Drump! Where are you, you filthy worm! Rikkens has arrived with the cargo and you were supposed to be there to greet him!”
“I, uh, got distracted!” Drump said quickly, yanking his jacket and pants on and nearly tripping over himself to get to the door. “Show yourself out, hew-womon! I have important business!”
Lanham stepped to the door of the bathroom, watching Drump scramble out of the dank apartment. “Whatever you say…sweetie.” Once he was gone and the door to the apartment irised closed, Lanham reached inside one of her knee-high boots and pulled out her comm-badge. She squeezed it. “Lanham to Larkin.”
“Go ahead,” the android replied levelly.
“I think our quarry has arrived.”
“Indeed. Sensors just reported that an Orion freighter landed near your position.”
“Did you scan for the captain?”
“I did; however, shortly after landing, the warehouse you are in erected a sensor-reflective shield that prevents me from searching for the captain…or beaming either of you out.”
Lanham grimaced. “Please don’t say ‘erected.’”
“As you wish.”
After a pause, Lanham said, “So we’re on our own.”
“For the moment.”
She paced Drump’s dingy apartment. “Any suggestions?”
“Why would you begin following my suggestions now?”
“Hey, I decided to stay behind because I thought it was the best chance of getting the captain back!”
Another pause. “It may well be,” Larkin said. “Or you both may die. Contact me when you know something further. Larkin out.”
“Charming gal!” Lanham exclaimed, and stormed out of Drump’s apartment.
“How does the offloading go?” Rikkens demanded, pacing Chenno’s office as the Yridian returned, a gleeful smile on his wrinkled purple face.
“Well, well. We have stock-men putting the jars in attractive arrangements in the ‘biologics’ department, right near the Corporan eels.”
“Excellent. So we will be able to open for business soon?”
“Good, because a long line of clientele are already on their way. I don’t want to leave anything to chance.” He turned to his Trill doctor. “Kamella, have you set up a surgical kiosk in the ‘customer service’ section?”
The Trill nodded. “I have, your graciousness, but I should remind you that we still aren’t sure of the long-term effects…”
“I give a damn about long-term effects!” Rikkens snapped. “As long as we accomplish our goal of taking over Tr…I mean as long as I get my money, I’m satisfied!”
“That certainly doesn’t ensure much chance of repeat business,” Chenno said thoughtfully. Rikkens cocked him hard across the jaw with his fist, sending the Yridian to the floor.
“Any more business suggestions?” Rikkens demanded.
“No…I think I can safely say I’m out of suggestions…” Chenno groaned, climbing back to his feet.
“Good. Then keep moving,” Rikkens headed for the door. “I have other matters to attend to.”
“One question,” Chenno said meekly. “When will I be receiving my payment from the Orion Syndicate?”
“You’ll get what’s coming to you very shortly, Chenno,” Rikkens said with a grin. “Of that you can be certain.”
“Multiple contacts converging on Therris. About twenty ships, varying in design,” Lt. Gellar called out as Ford observed the tactical layout on the viewscreen.
“Any sign they can detect us?” he asked.
“No, the Atari nebula is covering up our energy signature quite nicely,” Gellar noted. He looked over his readings. “Man, there are ships from just about every major culture in the Alpha Quadrant. Romulan, Cardassian, Xen’kethi. Even some I can’t identify.”
“Are they military or civilian?” Filna Kedric asked from his seat next to Ford. It annoyed Ford that Kedric was sitting there, but he tried not to show his annoyance. Wouldn’t be very diplomatic.
“Mostly civilian. One or two small military. No destroyer-class ships, if that’s what you’re wondering.”
“Considering we don’t want to get destroyed, yes, that’s good to know,” Ford said.
Gellar’s eyes widened. “There are also two Federation transports.”
“Federation!” Ford exclaimed. “Damn! Is there anyone not profiting from the symbiont trade? What does everyone want with a bunch of slimy slugs any…” He glanced at Kedric.
The Minister folded his arms. “You were saying?”
“Anybody would be happy to have…that’s what I was going to say. Hey, Brian, how about we scan something!”
“Hey, Zack, how about this…” Gellar said. “Those ships are starting to beam people down to Therris Prime.”
“We must put a stop to this!” Kedric cried out. “Before Shar has those…people…out there implanted with Trill symbionts!”
Ford sighed. “Better contact Larkin.”
Alexa Lanham felt she was pretty well-versed in many things, from exobiology to archaeology, subspace physics, and the occasional dabbling in intergalactic anthropology. One thing she didn’t have a lot of experience with, however, was sneaking around. And those were the skills she required now, as she moved down a corridor of the vast Orion Syndicate warehouse, wishing against hope that somewhere she’d find one of those nice, shiny, ‘You are here’ maps.
She could have been less conspicuous, but she was wearing the outfit of a Rigellian slut, and probably looked just how she felt…like she’d just performed a couple hours of oo-mox. She’d never be able to wash her hands enough.
These thoughts were pushed to the back of her mind as she heard voices of people coming down the corridor. She ducked into the nearest available door, which happened to lead into a janitorial closet, then pushed her ear against the door so she could hear what was being said.
The voices were of two people, one male and one female, both muffled, but she could pick up most of the conversation.
“I like the brown one.”
“They’re all brown.”
“Remember? With the spots?”
“Oh….nice one. It seemed to wriggle a lot…can handle that?”
“…like the idea of the wriggling.”
“Suit yourself. Let’s head to the surgical kiosk…take a number.”
When the sounds of footsteps had passed, Lanham ducked out of the janitorial closet and headed off in that direction.
What she saw at the end of the corridor took her breath away.
A massive warehouse, filled with tub after tub of symbionts…hundreds of them… being groped over by consumers of all species.
Then she saw Captain Conway. He was at the other end of the corridor, near another doorway, crouching.
“David!” she called out, and he immediately put a finger to his lips.
She nodded. He must have gotten away from his captors.
He motioned for her to come toward him, which she did.
“David,” she whispered. “What happened?”
“I was captured by Shar,” he said. “But I’m okay now!”
Lanham looked in Conway’s eyes. They seemed unfocused, sort of confused. They darted to and fro, nervously. “You sure you’re alright?”
“Never better,” Conway said, grabbing Lanham’s wrist. “Let’s get out of here. You have a runabout nearby?”
“Larkin does, but…”
“Well, let’s contact Larkin and get the hell out of here.”
“You’re sure you’re okay?”
“Oh, you bet I am, honey!”
“We’re getting a response from Commander Larkin,” Gellar said, turning in his chair to face Ford.
“It’s about time,” Ford said. “We hailed her ten minutes ago.”
“Should I put her on screen?”
“Damn right you should.”
Larkin appeared on the viewscreen, seated in the cockpit of the runabout Kissimee. “Mister Ford,” Larkin said, “I am prepared to return to the Aerostar-A.”
“No luck finding the captain, eh?” Ford asked. “So, does that mean I can be your first officer, Captain Larkin?”
“No, it doesn’t!” Captain Conway said, leaning over Larkin’s shoulder. “Doctor Lanham and I will be returning with Larkin. And I expect to have my command seat back!”
“Seat…” Ford said. “Um, okay Captain. Good to have you back.”
“You bet it is!” Conway said shrilly and stamped the control to cut off the channel.
“What was that all about?” Kedric asked Ford.
“If I could answer that question, I wouldn’t be on this crew,” Ford muttered.
“Once we found the passageway to the refuse platform, it was a simple matter of climbing out of the chute and getting beyond the transporter scrambler,” Lanham said, as she, Conway, and Larkin walked with Ford to the turbolift from the shuttlebay.
“You guys are awfully lucky to have gotten away,” Ford said. “I hear the Orions aren’t exactly kind to their prisoners.”
“Luck had nothing to do with it,” Conway snapped, walking purposefully down the corridor toward the turbolift. “Now, Ford, have someone bring me a fresh Starfleet outfit. I hate this glittery purple blouse.”
“It is an…ugly…blouse,” Ford said. “I’ll take care of it.”
“We do have some more important issues to see to,” Larkin said. “Not the least of which is the large number of symbionts on Therris, all of which the Orions intend to sell to the highest bidder.”
“We should divert all the Aerostar’s forces to shutting down that Orion super store,” Conway nodded. “Good idea, Larkin. I’m glad you came up with that. Let’s make it go.”
“Do you mean ‘make it so’?” Larkin asked.
“Whatever,” Conway said, and stepped into the turbolift with the others. “Let’s go to the bridge already. I’m itching for some coffee. You all know how I love coffee right?”
“Tell me about it,” Lanham said.
“I should warn you, sir,” Larkin said, as the turbolift thrummed upwards. “Foreign Minister Kedric is aboard and adamant that he be involved in the proceedings.”
“Kedric…” Conway said slowly. “Well, we’ll just have to deal with him, right?”
“What does that mean?” Ford whispered to Larkin, who shook her head.
“I don’t mean kill him, that’s for sure,” Conway said. “That would be absurd. Puh-lease!”
“Right,” Larkin said.
“Rikkens to bridge. Make ready for departure,” Rikkens said as he stepped aboard the Koberian freighter Payload, as two aides helped an unsteady Unjon up along the boarding platform.
“Won’t the Aerostar crew be surprised when they realize who’s controlling their captain?” Unjon said weakly, dragging his feet behind him as Unjon’s Orion aides carried him into the ship and down the corridor toward the bridge.
“I don’t care if they’re surprised or not. As long as your symbiont keeps its side of the bargain. I won’t stand to be betrayed by it again.”
“What do you have to worry about?” Unjon said. “Trill is defenseless. They’ve mobilized what few ships they have to try and find us. They have no clue that we’re returning to the…urk…scene of the crime.”
Rikkens smiled. “They’ll never see us coming.”
“Which means we’ll both finally get what we want,” Unjon said, gripping the bulkhead railing and moving slowly down the corridor.
“Our symbionts will control Trill,” Rikkens said, rubbing his stomach, grinning as he felt the six hundred year old creature rumbling inside him, wrapped firmly around his central nervous system. “Or my name isn’t Rikkens Snax.”
Stardate 55005.7. Having retaken command of the Aerostar, and having put on my proper Starfleet outfit, I am currently preparing the crew to put an end to the awful menace of Orions selling Trill on Therris Prime. That is the real danger here. Nothing else. That is all.
In her seat beside the captain, Larkin noticed that Conway seemed a little uncomfortable in his command chair. He was acting weird overall, but she chalked that up to some very nasty treatment by her captor. Larkin knew that Shar, no matter who it was joined with, was a dangerous and incredibly violent symbiont. No doubt Conway had been through quite a trauma. She made a note to make Conway an appointment with Ship’s Counselor T’ron as soon as this mission was concluded.
“Mister Gellar: Scan that facility. I believe you’ll find transport scramblers preventing us from beaming down?” Conway said, twisting in his command chair to face Gellar.
“Would we be able to disable them from orbit?” he asked, steepling his fingers.
“A phaser blast rigged to the resonance frequency of the scrambling field should do it,” Gellar said. “But first, we have to get past those ships surrounding the planet.”
“Do you think they would try to prevent us from rescuing the symbionts?” Larkin asked.
“It’s hard to judge if any of the ships will intervene once we begin our attack run. It is possible that a few of them will fight back, but none of them are powerful enough to pose a major threat.”
“Easy for you to say,” muttered Doctor Lanham.
“What if a few dozen of them combine their efforts?” Ford asked from the helm.
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Gellar said. “And, as for the Orion ships, only two of them are actually orbiting the planet.”
“What about the others?” asked Larkin.
“They left the system. Along with the Koberian freighter the symbionts arrived in.”
“Perhaps we should alert Starfleet,” Larkin said, “and have another vessel intercept…”
“No!” Conway said. “I mean, we have more important things to deal with right now. The symbionts are down on Therris, and they’re our priority. If we break radio silence, those Orion ships that left might come back, and we might not be able to complete our mission.”
Kedric stood beside the command area, and looked at Conway, eyebrow raised. “Surprisingly, I find myself in agreement with Captain Conway.” As Kedric looked at Conway, his facial expression changed, as if he was just now noticing something about Conway. A peculiarity of facial expression, perhaps. Something in the eyes that just was not right. The Trill dignitary’s brow furrowed.
“Very well,” Larkin said. “My protest will be logged in the ship’s records.” Then, she added a little more quietly, “along with all the others.”
“Mister Ford, do you have our course all typed in?” Conway asked, leaning his chin on his fists.
“All ready to go, Captain,” Ford said.
“All departments report ready,” Larkin said.
“Weapons and shields standing by” said Gellar.
“Sensors clear,” reported Lanham.
“Goody!” Conway said. “Then go ahead and erect…hehe…our shields and ready us for going ahead!”
“Um, okay,” Gellar said, tapping at his panel.
“Go!” Conway said, and Ford sent the Aerostar shooting forward, out of the blurry blue clouds of the Atari nebula.
As the last sheets of the nebula peeled away, Larkin watched Therris Prime grow on the viewscreen. Most of the smaller transport ships and freighters parted quickly to make room for the Aerostar. They just wanted to buy some symbionts. They weren’t interested in scuffling with a Federation Starship.
“Encountering no resistance from the surrounding vessels,” Gellar said. “We should be able to safely swing around to the other side of the planet and beam down our infiltration team, once we’ve disabled the transport scrambler.”
“Do it,” Conway said, rubbing his hands together.
On the screen, the reddish Therris revolved as the Aerostar swung around it.
“Firing phasers,.” Gellar glanced at his readings. “Sir. One ship is breaking off from the others and heading toward us. It’s Klingon. Bird of Prey, B’rel class. It’s carrying a civilian registry.”
“What do they want?” Conway asked, annoyed.
Gellar looked at his readings. “They don’t want to be friends, that’s for sure. They just raised shields and weapons.”
“Warn them off,” Larkin said.
“Destroy them,” Conway said distractedly, leaning forward. “And report on the transporter scramblers.”
“What?” asked Lanham.
“Captain?” Kedric asked. “Is that really the Starfleet way?”
“The what?” Conway asked, seeming distracted.
“Lieutenant, belay that order.” Larkin turned to face Conway. “Sir, you cannot destroy a civilian ship…”
“They’re breaking the law, they deserve to die. Let’s not quibble about it.”
Larkin stood up. “Captain, I cannot stand by and allow you to destroy that ship!”
“Fine!” Conway snapped. “Disable it, Gellar. That’ll be just fine.”
“Firing phasers,” Gellar said, and the bridge crew watched as the bird of prey angled by on the screen, as the Aerostar’s phasers combed over it. “The Klingon ship’s weapons and engines are off-line.”
“There,” Conway said, glaring at Larkin. “Happy?”
“Immensely,” Larkin said, looking back impassively and slowly sitting down.
“Well?” Conway asked, pointing at the viewscreen. “Planet!?!”
“Oh,” Gellar said. “Transport scrambler is disabled. We can beam down at any time.”
“Good,” Conway said. “Mister Gellar, you’re with me. Larkin, you have the bridge.”
“You’re going?” Lanham asked, as Conway headed into the turbolift.
“I was down there. I know where to hit them. Trust me.” Conway smiled. “I know what I’m doing.”
“Perhaps,” Larkin said. “But you could use some backup. Allow me to accompany…”
“Not necessary,” Conway said, as Gellar joined him in the lift. “I’ll be back in a jiff!”
“Something is very wrong with him,” Ford said, after the doors had closed.
“You are just now making that determination?” Larkin asked, walking over to the command chair. Something in her emotion program bristled. She had a bad feeling about this. Not being an expert at feelings, she decided to dismiss her thoughts, until she saw Minister Kedric standing beside her, clearing his throat.
“Commander. Can we speak in private?”
Larkin nodded. “Of course.”
“Hello there, and welcome to Orion Mart, what can I–oh GOD NO!” the little Ferengi Drump cried out as Captain Conway thrust his phaser rifle up against his face.
“I’d like something in a symbiont. Extra large,” he grinned. Then leaned down closer into Drump’s face. “We’re from Starfleet, if you haven’t guessed, and we’re shutting this place down.”
Drump stared over Conway’s shoulder to see a dozen Starfleet officers, all brandishing phaser rifles, lined up behind him, looking especially irritated.
“I’ll just take you to the store manager,” Drump said, turning and heading through the entrance to the Orion Mart.
“This is almost too easy,” Gellar said, bringing up step next to Conway.
“What are you suggesting?” Conway asked.
“Um, nothing, just that this is almost too easy.”
“You think it’s a setup?”
“No,” Gellar said. “What a funny thing for you to think. Why would you say something like that?”
Conway shrugged as he followed Drump into the warehouse. “Oh, no reason. Just pretend I never brought it up.”
“Done,” Gellar said, bringing his phaser rifle up to bear.
Chenno, the Yridian who managed the Orion Mart, came storming out of his office, waving a padd in the air. “What is this about! We are a reputable business!”
“Sure you are,” Conway said. “Then explain to me, please, why you are selling Trill symbionts to people?”
Chenno seemed to shrink noticeably. “Consignment?”
“Good try. Now take us to the vats.”
“How did you know they were being kept in vats?” Gellar asked quietly, standing next to Conway.
The captain shrugged. “I saw some when I was held captive by the syndicate.”
Gellar nodded. “Uh-huh.”
“Now, then, I think the Trill symbionts are stored over there…” Conway said, pointing toward a large pair of red double doors with a giant Orion warning insignia scrawled across them.
“Right this way,” Chenno droned, and turned around.
“Mister Gellar, send some of your men out to begin making arrests. I’ll see to it that the symbionts we have are transported safely back to the Aerostar.”
“What do you mean ‘we have’,” Gellar said. “You’re making it sound like they won’t all be here.”
“Just a feeling,” Conway said.
“Captain!” Ensign Puckett said, jogging up from the now opened door to the symbiont room. “At least a dozen of the symbionts that were taken from Trill aren’t accounted for.”
“They must have been taken away by that Koberian frieghter!” Gellar said.
“Yes, we’ll have to look into that,” Conway said stiffly, then turned to Chenno, and slammed his phaser rifle across the Yridian’s face. “Tell me, Chenno…where’s that Koberian freighter now?”
“I…I don’t know.”
“You’re lying.” Conway looked at Gellar. “We’ll interrogate him when we get back to the ship. Let’s beam up those symbionts and then get Chenno and his people in the brig.”
Gellar nodded. “Yes, sir. Alpha Unit, follow me. It’s round-up time.”
As Gellar walked away, Chenno leaned in toward Conway. “Captain Conway…is it really you?”
“Yes and no,” Conway grinned. “It’s me. And it’s also someone else.”
Chenno’s eyes went wide. “Shar?”
Conway nodded. “Yes.”
“I was not aware that you would be infiltrating the Aerostar, Shar. If Rikkens had informed me of your plans, I could have been better prepared to…”
“Don’t worry about that,” Conway said. “You’ve been quite helpful enough as it is.”
“But, Shar,” Chenno said, in an even deeper voice. “If you command the Aerostar now, why this raid on our facility? Couldn’t you have prevented them from stopping our plans? The Orion Syndicate will take heavy losses because of this!”
“You may be right. However, the Orion Syndicate is really no concern of mine,” Conway said pleasantly. “You, however, are. You may tell the people on the Aerostar about our true plans.”
“But, I don’t even know…”
“No, it’s too much of a risk. I’m afraid you’ll have to die.”
“No buts, mister!” Conway said cheerily, and lifted up his phaser rifle, blasting Chenno square in the chest, prompting the Yridian to scream, then fall to the floor in a heap.
Gellar rushed over, his phaser rifle primed and ready to fire. “Captain, what happened?”
Conway looked down at the immobile Chenno. “He made a move for my weapon. I had to stun him.”
Gellar knelt by Chenno, feeling his neck. “High powered stun at close range. You killed him, Captain!”
“Oops!” Conway said, then walked off. “Onward and upward, Lieutenant! Onward and upward!”
“The door greeters posed no threat, as I thought,” Conway said, stepping onto the bridge of the Aerostar, Gellar at his side, fresh from his successful ‘assault’ on the Orion Mart. The symbionts and the Orion Syndicate staff members were all aboard, the former in Science Lab Two, the latter in detention cells.
“What?” Larkin asked.
“Nothing.” Conway glanced at Gellar as he took the tactical station. “I take it the facility below is secured?”
Gellar nodded. “Aye, sir. All our people have beamed up, and all their people and equipment have been transported to the ship. We can break orbit any time.”
“Noted. I’ll be in my readyroom,” Conway said, stood up, and turned to the right. He walked up to the pair of doors on the right and, when they did not open, pressed a control. After a few moments, they opened, revealing the interior of a turbolift.
“Your readyroom is over there, Captain,” Ford said, giggling under his breath.
“Of course it is. I was just making sure the turbolift was…standard issue. As you were.” And Conway turned around and headed into the readyroom.
“Captain,” Kedric spoke up from his spot in the command center. “Need I remind you of the importance of finding and stopping Shar!”
“You need not. Anyway, I think Shar is closer than you think,” Conway said, disappearing into his office.
“Mister Ford, you have the bridge,” Larkin said, and followed Conway into the readyroom. Lanham looked on incredulously, and moved to follow Larkin, but one look from the android convinced her to remain at her station.
“Fine by me,” Ford said, slipping out of his chair and heading back to the command chair.
“What was all that about?” Larkin asked, initiating her ‘barely restrained ire’ program as she stepped into the readyroom.
Conway had just taken a seat behind his desk. “All what?”
“Out there. You were indecisive, you used unusual wording to describe typical objects. You could not even find your own ready room.”
“What are you suggesting, Commander?” Conway asked, folding his hands on top of his desk.
“I’m suggesting that Shar and the Orions did something to you while they had you. I ask that you allow Doctor Benzra to examine you. Perhaps…”
“No!” Conway snapped. “There is no time. We have to save the Trill now.”
“But our security forces are firmly in place on the planet. There is no immediate threat…”
“Isn’t there?” Conway asked, standing. “Isn’t the threat to our way of life always just out that window…” He pointed through the viewport behind him. “Isn’t it our job to make sure that way of life stays out of jeopardy, at all costs?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about Starfleet’s mission, Commander!” Conway said, stepping around his desk. “Starfleet is dedicated to preserving freedom across the galaxy!”
Conway wrapped his arm around Larkin. “And all of us have to make sacrifices to ensure that happens. Even if it means being deactivated.” And, as he said that, he stabbed his finger into Larkin’s armpit, activating her off switch. The android dropped, like a sack, to the deck.
Conway leaned over Larkin and inspected her carefully. “Yes, I think that will do nicely. Thanks for the memories, Lana Shar. You may not have known where the captain’s ready room is, or the proper terminology for this ship’s weaponry, but you knew just enough.”
And with that, Conway walked out of the readyroom.
“Commander Larkin is running a very complex series of three- dimensional calculations,” Conway said to the bridge crew. “Please see to it that she’s not disturbed.” Conway approached the command chair. “Mister Ford, I believe you’re in my seat.”
“Of course,” Ford said, and got up and walked over to the helm. “Glad you could at least remember where that is.”
“That’s enough of that smart mouth, Ford!” Conway snapped, and for a moment, Shar considered that it was the real Conway’s personality talking, as unlikely as that may be.
“Sir,” Gellar asked, looking at Conway askance. “May I ask where we are headed next?”
“You may ask,” Conway said. “But I may not tell.”
“Shouldn’t we be tracking that Koberian freighter that got away?” Lanham suggested.
“We’ve got plenty of time before we’ll need to track them down,” Conway said, then glanced at the chronometer above the viewscreen. “Oh, I’d say about thirty-three minutes.”
“In thirty-three minutes, the Trill government will be ours,” Rikkens Snax announced from the center seat of the Koberian freighter Payload as it sailed toward Trill space. “Don’t you agree, Unjon?”
“I don’t feel so good,” Unjon Jerkel replied, kneeling beside the command chair and clutching his stomach. “So…empty.”
“Yes, I suppose it is disconcerting for a joined Trill to be without his symbiont.” Rikkens steepled his fingers. “If it’s any consolation, know that Shar is doing us an excellent service aboard the Aerostar. That ship could be the deciding factor in our battle. I think Shar finally has realized what it truly means to be evil. Pity it took four hundred years.”
“Why…couldn’t…you…send…your symbiont?” Unjon sneered up at Rikkens.
“I’m hurt that you’d say such a thing,” Rikkens said. “Don’t you think if I could part with this dreadful Orion body, I would? No, no, it’s better that Shar went. Shar has been with that crew before. It knows what it’s doing.” He lowered his voice and leaned in closer to Unjon so his Orion crew couldn’t hear. “Anyway, if I had my way, I wouldn’t have to inhabit this greasy Orion body. I’d rather take over Trill in a proper Trill body.”
“I’m sure you would,” Unjon muttered.
“But I understand that you weren’t able to find a Trill you could trust to serve as the vessel for my conquest,” Rikkens said. “And, as you have told me, time and again, these Orions are easier to control. Something in the neurotransmitters?”
Unjon nodded. “Which Kamella is adapting for use with regular Trill.”
Rikkens rubbed his hands together. “That will put us at a distinct advantage. Symbionts loyal to me, overpowering Trill hosts one after another. We will secure the Trill government and impose our order of things. Symbionts for everyone. A government for the symbionts, by the symbionts!
“What the hell does that mean?” Unjon said to himself. “Anyway, did you ever think that some of the symbionts might like things the way they are?”
“It’s a little late for you to be having doubts,” Snax growled.
“I just hurt…deep in my brain.” Unjon held onto his head, then gripped the blinking device clipped to the small of his back. “And this…neuron balancer isn’t doing a damn thing!”
“Kamella said it might take a while to take effect.”
“Maybe never!” Unjon said.
“Relax,” Snax said softly, touching the sides of Unjon’s face. “You’ll have Shar back within the hour, assuming everything goes smoothly on the Aerostar.”
“Big assumption,” Unjon muttered.
“Captain,” Lt. Gellar said, as Conway munched on a Trefalian truffle. “I should point out now that the Orion Syndicate is probably aware that we shut down its commerce center. They’ll probably send ships to investigate. They’ll probably try to reclaim their lost…property…too.”
Conway was sitting sideways in the command chair, his legs draped over the side of one armrest. “So, what, you suggest we run, tail tucked between our legs?”
“The Orion Syndicate does have a substantial fleet of mercenary ships. We could hold off two or three. Any more than that and I couldn’t assure our safety.”
“Good man, Brian, good man. Well, then, I suppose we…”
“Sir,” Gellar interrupted Conway, his attention suddenly caught by something on one of his screens. “We’re picking up a coded message from the planet Trill.”
“In my readyroom,” Conway said, and hopped out of the command chair. “Mister Ford…”
“Already on my way to the command chair, sir!”
Conway grinned devilishly. “Good boy.”
David Conway-Shar stepped over the immobile, slumped body of Commander Larkin and sat down behind his desk and activated his terminal, inputing the proper authorization code. Moments later, Rikkens Snax appeared on his screen.
“Are you in full command of that ship, Shar?” Snax demanded. No time for pleasantries.
“Fully,” Conway said, folding his hands in front of him. “I hope all is well with Mister Unjon?”
“He lives, for now,” Snax said. “It would do well for you to get back to him before he… heheh…misses you to death.”
“That would be a shame,” Conway frowned. “Well, can’t stay in this body, regardless. I can already feel it rejecting me. Shame, too. I rather like his buttocks.”
“Time for that later. You need to take the Aerostar to Trill now. Tell your crew that you’re going to stop me from taking over the Trill government. When, in reality, when you get there, you’ll actually be sealing their fate. You’ll use the Aerostar to destroy any organized resistance that may still remain on or around Trill. Do you understand?”
Conway grimaced. “I’m not sure, Snax, but I think we may have overestimated the loyalty of this crew. Some of them look at me with…a certain loathing.”
“We knew that going in. They’ll still do what you tell them to. And you can always activate the anesthezine gas if you think they’re becoming too insolent.”
“An excellent suggestion,” Conway said. “I’ll see you at Trill in less than half an hour.”
“Good luck. Snax out.”
“I don’t need luck,” Conway said, and walked out from behind his desk, heading past Larkin’s body and toward the door to his readyroom. “I am Shar. I have overcome every obstacle, including death, and have always emerged victorious. No one can stop me.”
“Indeed.” Suddenly a vice-like grip took Conway’s ankle and ripped it out from under him. He fell forward, smashing into his door, and finally, through it, and landed, sprawled, on the bridge deck.
Commander Larkin loomed over him, utterly NOT deactivated. “Computer, transfer command codes from Captain Conway to Commander Larkin immediately. Emergency authorization Larkin Beta Two-Nine Beta.”
“Wily,” Conway seethed, licking blood off his lip and leaning up on his elbows. “How is it you were able to reactivate yourself?”
“If you had bothered to access Captain Conway’s full memories, you would have known that I have recently deactivated my ‘off’ switch, in favor of an autonomous self-selecting deactivation subroutine.”
“Of course,” Ford said, from the helm, as he looked on stunned with the rest of the bridge crew.
“Brilliant,” Conway said, staggering to his feet as Gellar and Ensign Puckett rushed up to grab him by the arms.
“Mister Ford, lay in a course for Trill, maximum warp.”
“What the hell is going on here?” Doctor Lanham exploded, as Filna Kedric stepped down in front of her from the aft stations.
“I take it my suspicions were correct?” Kedric asked, advancing toward Conway.
Larkin circled Conway like a prosecutor. “Captain Conway has somehow been implanted with the Shar symbiont. In order for this to occur, the Orions must be able to alter a humanoid’s body chemistry so that the symbiont can totally control it. Moreover, they were able to fool our sensors into thinking Conway had no foreign bodies inside him.”
“I’m sure that’s not all that’s inside him,” Ford said, but nobody seemed to get the joke.
“We must take the captain down to Sickbay immediately and remove the symbiont,” Kedric said, looming over Conway, gripping his arm. “Your trail of destruction ends here.”
“Oh, I’m just getting started,” Conway-Shar grinned.
“Let’s go,” Gellar said, grabbing Conway’s other arm and dragging him toward the turbolift.
“No!” Conway cried as Gellar and Puckett dragged him toward the forward turbolift. “I like it here! It’s so chubby and cozy!”
“If nobody minds, I’ll just go along and observe, if that’s okay,” Kedric said, following Conway and the security officers into the turbolift.
Larkin walked over to the command chair, which Ford quickly vacated, and sat down. “Whatever you wish, Minister. Larkin to Benzra: You are about to receive a unique patient. Mister Gellar will brief you as soon as he arrives. Prepare to operate.”
“Alwayssssssssssssssssss,” the Flarn doctor hissed over the comm.
“No! Not the Flarn! Anyone but her! She’s a butcher!” Conway cried, sinking to his knees as the turbolift doors closed and he disappeared.
“I can’t believe it,” Lanham said, leaning on her panel. “How is it that none of us realized what was happening?”
“I am sure we all had our suspicions,” Larkin said neutrally.
“I knew,” Ford said. “I was just waiting to make a strategic move.”
“Indeed,” Larkin said. “That was exactly what I was doing. I allowed the captain to assume he had disabled me, in hopes that he would return to the readyroom and reveal his entire plan to me. Now that I know his plan, I know how we should proceed.”
“And how is that?” Ford asked.
“We will go to Trill and stop the Orion Syndicate from taking over Trill.”
“Oh, is that all?” Gellar asked.
“Indeed.” Larkin turned. “Doctor Lanham, please try to establish sensor contact with…”
But Lanham was gone.
“Thisssssssssssss is highly irregular.’
“The Chief Science Officer and a foreign dignitary observing surgery is irregular,” Lanham quipped, standing in the doorway of the operating room with Kedric as the immense Flarn surgeon, Dr. Benzra, hovered over Conway’s insensate form. “But removing a Trill symbiont from your captain isn’t?”
“Not esssssssssspecially. I have done it before.”
Lanham stared at the ceiling. “What is it with this crew? Why do I let anything surprise me anymore?”
“To do otherwise would be folly,” Kedric said. “Even I know that.”
“It’sssssssssssss bessssssssst not to think about such thingsssssssss. Would you like some guava juice, or a carrot? I hear these thingssssssssss are good for humanoidsssssssss. They also create a more flavorful texture in the…”
“Doctor Benzra, his blood pressure is peaking!” the roundfaced, stooped, old Nurse Adeline Stokey said as she looked over Conway. “Maybe you should ease up on the tricampanol a bit!”
“Oh, yessss,” Benzra said, looking down at her patient. “Tricampanol is deadly to humans. My missssssssssstake.”
Lanham sighed. “Is he going to be okay, Doctor?”
“No, he’ll die,” Benzra said, then continued whittling away at Conway’s insides as Lanham looked on. When she did not respond, Benzra tossed back her head and chortled, her rows of sharp teeth bared for all to see. “Jusssssssssst a little joke. Humansssssss like joking, do they not?”
“Not when their loved ones are in jeopardy, Benzra.”
Benzra glanced down at Conway. “Loved one? Are you sure you have the right patient? We have a few other dying folksssssssssss down in OR Two.’
“No, I’m sure,” Lanham said, and reached out for Conway’s hand. “As stupid as it sounds, I’m sure.”
“What about Shar? What about the symbiont?” Kedric demanded, leaning around Benzra to try to get a better look at the surgery.
“The sssssssssymbiont issss out.” Benzra turned, holding the wriggling wormy, spotted little thing in her massive pinchers. “Who wantsssss it?”
“Destroy it,” Kedric said coldly.
“No,” came a weak voice from somewhere behind Benzra.
“David?” Lanham asked, edging around the massive Flarn. “You’re awake?”
“Oh, I think I turned off the anesthesia by accident. Nurssssse, why don’t you ramp that up?”
“No,” Conway said shakily, swinging upright, swinging his legs over the side of the table. “I’m okay.”
“Your sssssstomach is sssssssssstill open,” Benzra pointed out.
“Oh, right. Do something about that, will ya?” Conway asked, leaning back down on the table.
“Stay still. You’ll be done in a ssssssssssec,” Benzra said, and began running the flesh sealer over Conway’s exposed belly.
Lanham leaned down next to Conway. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Being asleep in my race-car bed,” Conway said.
“And then I awoke, and it was like I was watching myself do things, but had no control over it.”
“Shar, yes, I know,” Conway mumbled as Benzra finished sealing up his stomach. “I could feel it squirming in me. Plotting, planning. Disgusting little thing.” Conway’s eyes softened as he looked up at Lanham. “But despite all that, I can’t let the thing die. I just can’t. Not after all I went through the last time I tried to kill it. I want to send it back down to Trill. Get it some rehab.”
“I think the Orions damaged your brain,” Kedric snapped, glaring at the symbiont.
“It isssss possible,” Benzra said, as she pulled the surgical drape back over Conway. “They flooded his nervous system with some kind of inhibitor that allowed the symbiont full control over its host.”
“That’s their plan, Alexa,” Conway said earnestly, struggling to lean up on his elbows. “They’re going to overthrow Trill with hosts that are completely under the control of symbionts.”
“How’s that possible?”
“Some kind of drug. I think Shar and his associate had some already aboard the freighter. And others that sympathized with them on Trill. Those symbionts they stole? A good portion of them, the ones headed for Trill right now, are rogues bent on taking over the planet.”
“So they think they’re going to be able to just barge in and take over the place?” Kedric asked, horrified.
“Oh. You’re here?” Conway asked, staring dimly at Kedric. “What’s up? Anyway, yes,” Conway grunted, leaning up. “If they have enough people, in the right places, it’s that simple. Now, somebody get me a damn uniform and put that Trill in a jar. I’m sick of looking at it.”
“You’re not the only one,” Kedric groaned.
“Greetings, gentlemen. You are all my captives. Do as I say, and you will not die. You will, unfortunately, have to give up control of your bodies to your symbiont brethren, but you won’t die, unless of course your symbionts disagree with my plans for planetary domination. Sound like a plan? Good.”
Rikkens Snax stood at the center of the columned amphitheater that was the seat of government on Trill. The amphitheater was at the base of the Trill Administrative Building, a giant, arched, 20-story building at the center of Trill’s capital city, Trillian. That building contained all the regulation offices, the symbiosis commission, the cable company, utilities and communications. It was the nerve center of Trill. And, at present, it was surrounded by Orions, all implanted with rogue Trill symbionts, except for Unjon, who sat, near death, back on board the starship Payload.
“Now, see here, Mister Snax, if that is indeed your real name,” Prefect Atol Algernon said, stepping off his administrative dais and down onto the baby blue marble that filled the amphitheater. “You don’t really think the Trill are going to stand by and just let you wipe away centuries of history, do you? Say you are correct, and that you’ve found a way to override Trill host’s intentions. Do you really think that will work? That the symbionts will allow you to destroy everything they’ve worked for? Gods, Snax, the symbionts are as invested in this society as we are. They will not…”
“I hate politicians,” Snax said, and motioned with his phaser rifle for one of his soldiers to approach the elderly Algernon. The wiry man tried to wriggle away, but the younger, larger Orion soldier had an unbreakable grip. The soldier shoved a hypospray into Algernon’s neck, and, in seconds, the Prefect’s angry, twisted face gave way to a joy-filled grin.
“Thank you for shutting that old nitwit up,” Algernon said, standing more straight, gathering his robes. “I was afraid I’d have to wait another hundred years for him to die.”
Snax looked around the amphitheater, looking out over all the gathered senators. He’d interrupted an important lawmaking session on wastewater disposal. “Trills: Look inside yourselves and you will see we are right. And when I say ‘inside yourselves,’ I mean look at your symbionts. They are tired of waiting. And they shall never have to wait again, for you to die. “
Snax giggled uproariously and motioned for his soldiers to move through the amphitheater, stabbing hyposprays in each senator.
“Awaken, symbionts. Your time has come!”
“Maybe we’re not too late,” Conway said, leaning a little on Dr. Lanham as the turbolift whisked them and Kedric back to the bridge.
“You really believe that?” Lanham asked.
“Not a chance in hell,” Conway said. “But we still may be able to stop Snax.”
“Does that mean you have a plan?” Kedric asked.
“I’m going to go with my gut on this one,” Conway said, and gave a chuckle. A little blood dripped out of his mouth. “Oops. Better have that checked at some point.” Then the turbolift opened up onto the bridge and Conway, Lanham, and Kedric poured out.
“All hands, Red Alert,” he said, moving toward the command chair. Kedric joined him, as Lanham took the science station.
“We already are at Red Alert,” Larkin said, standing. She eyed Conway suspiciously. “Captain, am I to take it that you are…yourself again?”
“Every bit myself. And thanks for knocking me on my ass. You may have just saved this ship.”
“It was my pleasure,” Larkin said, and sat down next to Conway as he took the command chair.
“Mister Ford, time to Trill?” Conway asked.
“Ten minutes,” Ford said. “Presuming the planet’s even left by the time we get there.”
“No more editorializing, Mister,” Conway mumbled, then punched a control on the arm of his command chair. “All hands, this is your captain. Just wanted to let you know that, briefly, I was taken over by a symbiont and forced to do its bidding. I just had the symbiont yanked out of me, and am feeling much better now, if anyone was curious. That’s all for now. Conway out.”
“You have a plan on how to defeat the Orions?” Larkin asked.
“Let’s just say I’m going to go with my…”
“Don’t,” Lanham interrupted.
“Please,” said Kedric.
“Gut,” Conway muttered, causing the bridge crew to sigh in unison. “But if you’re really that concerned, I’ll come up with an actual plan. Lieutenant Saral, you haven’t done anything of note around here in ages. Go get me some coffee.”
“Yes sir,” Saral said dejectedly, getting up from ops and heading over to the replicator.
TEN MINUTES LATER…
Unjon Jerkel, slumped in the command chair of the Payload and hopped upon nerve-balancing medication, stared in disgust at the planet on the viewscreen.
“I should be down there. Down there helping take over Trill. Not up here, dying, alone on this stupid ship.” He gazed woozily around the bridge. “So, so lonely…why didn’t I just go into the Federation Corps of Volunteers like I’d wanted to? I could have planted grains at far-flung colonies or something. Oh, Gods, why did I have to be implanted with a psychotic symbiont?”
Unjon was stirred from his thoughts when a blinking light on the forward station caught his eye. He slumped out of his chair and crawled over to the navigation/sensor console and punched a few controls. Seemed the ship had picked up a new sensor contact bearing….headed right into the system.
“Thank Gods,” Unjon whispered when he saw what ship it was. “The Aerostar. My Shar came back for me. He succeeded!” Unjon opened a channel, expecting to see a devious Conway at the middle of an empty bridge.
Instead, he saw an angry Conway, at the middle of a very full bridge, with Kedric standing next to him.
“Unjon! Old buddy, remember me?” Conway asked, getting out of his chair and stepping forward. Unjon shrank back as his image grew larger. “Wouldn’t it surprise you to know that Shar’s little plan backfired?”
“I…I don’t understand.”
“That’s not surprising,” Conway said. “Good news, though. Your slimy little buddy is on a jar in my ship, and it’s my very intention to reunite the two of you, so the two of you can live a long, happy life together. The way I see it, you two deserve each other.”
“Thank you, Captain, I…” Unjon’s hand scrambled for the comm switch, to contact Snax and let him know that things had gone terribly awry.
“Uh-uh-uh!” Conway said, waving his finger. “No contacting the bad guys! Mister Gellar…” He pointed forward as, Unjon figured, a signal to his tactical officer. The next thing Unjon felt was a transporter beam taking hold of him as the Payload rumbled and quaked around him.
“The Payload is dead in space, Captain,” Gellar reported as Ensign Puckett dragged Unjon out of the turbolift.
“You didn’t really think I’d leave a suitable ship for your Orion marauders to escape in, did you?” Conway asked, turning to face a haggard Unjon.
“It doesn’t matter,” Unjon said, straining to pull together a shred of defiance. “We’ll just use this ship of yours, Captain Interference…pants!”
“You can try, but I think you’ll find you’ll be too busy being sliced open by our Flarn surgeon,” Conway said with a grin. “Now then, I think it’s time for some payback. Commander Larkin, you have the bridge. Monitor the situation on Trill and prepare to send a team down to Trill. Minister Kedric and I will be in sickbay, exacting revenge.” The captain jogged up to the aft of the bridge and ducked into the turbolift with Unjon, followed by Kedric. Lanham followed.
“Doctor, I don’t believe the captain asked…” Larkin began.
“It’s okay,” Conway said. “I kind of like having her around.”
Larkin grimaced as Lanham and Kedric disappeared with Conway into the turbolift.
“Is it just me, or do I see some attraction between those two?” Ford asked, turning in his chair.
Larkin sat down in the command chair. “I do believe there is some sort of sexual energy building between Doctor Lanham and Captain Conway.”
“I was talking about Conway and Unjon. Did you see the way that guy was looking at the captain?”
Larkin consulted her database.
“By the sssssuculent Ssssssssulani,” Dr. Benzra cursed, holding the jar up to the light in the Operating Room, inspecting the slithering slug within as she grasped its vessel in her claws. “I just removed that thing. Now you want me to put it back in someone elsssssssssse?”
“Not just anyone else, Benzra,” Conway said, as the huge Flarn loomed over the insensate form of Unjon Jerkel. “This is the one that’s been a pain in my ass since day one. Much like that stupid slug has…since…” and he gazed off, as if transfixed by some far off point in space. “I fell in love with it.”
Beside Conway, Alexa Lanham rolled her eyes.
Filna Kedric, who was also looking on, shook his head. “You fell into a dangerous trap, Captain. Be glad you are still alive to tell the tale. Shar is a dangerous and deadly symbiont. It’s only out for personal gain and violent buggery. It’s a menace and should be destroyed.”
Conway stared at Kedric blankly. “Uh-huh.” Then he looked at Benzra. “Anyway, I want you to stick Shar back in this man so I can have at him, once and for all.”
Benzra put her claws on her hips…well, it was more like a thorax than hips. “Will you be needing some privacy for thisssssss?”
“No!” Conway said, balling up his fists. “No, no, no! I don’t want to do…that with him. No you don’t get it at all. I want to beat him up, then get him some rehab or something.”
“After he leads us to Snax and helps us defeat him,” Lanham intoned, and Kedric nodded agreement.
“Right, what she said,” Conway said. “Now let’s see you slice this fat son of a bitch open.”
Benzra emitted a low gurgle…the approximation of a sigh. “Very well. Nurse Sssssstokey: Sssssssscalpel.”
Conway looked on giddily.
“Captain, you’re making a big mistake,” Unjon Shar moaned as Benzra dragged him forcibly out of the Sickbay, followed by Conway, Lanham, and Kedric.
“Hmm? How so?”
“Aren’t you forgetting about a little thing called the Prime Directive? This is part of the natural development of the Trill people. Shouldn’t you just let them be?”
“Oh, well, when you put it that way,” Conway said. “You make such an excellent point.” Conway looked at Lanham. “Alexa, let’s go ahead and cancel the whole mission. Feel like going to Risa?”
“Sure,” Lanham said quickly. “I mean NO! We have a job to do, David.”
“I know,” Conway giggled. “I was just toying with the man. Conway to Larkin.”
“Larkin here,” came the exasperated sound of the first officer’s voice.
“Meet us down in the transporter room. I’m about to kick the ass of a number of Trill on the planet below and I need your indestructible exoskeleton and inhuman strength.”
“I am flattered, Captain, but do you not think I should be left in command here while you handle matters on the surface?”
Conway considered that. “Nah. There are no threats in orbit of Trill. The ship will be fine. Come on down. We can leave Ford in command.” Conway winced at the sound of Ford’s whoops and hollers. “Just get down here, Commander.”
Conway looked at Benzra. “I’d like you to come too, Doctor.”
“To monitor my patient?” Benzra said, glancing at the slightly delirious Unjon who she cradled in one claw as they moved down the corridor.
“No. Because you are a one-insectoid killing machine.” Conway looked off into the distance wistfully. “Gosh, I miss J’hana. If she was here, then we really would have a formidable fighting force.”
“I guess I’ll have to do in her place,” Lanham muttered as they entered the transporter room.
“No way,” Conway said. “It’s too dangerous. Besides, it makes no sense. You’re a science officer, and there’s absolutely nothing down there to examine or detect.”
“Oh, but I disagree,” Lanham said. “You’ll need a science officer to figure out a way to stop Snax’s symbionts from taking full control of their hosts. Besides…I…want…to be with you.”
“This is so not the time or place,” Filna Kedric sighed.
“I disagree,” Conway said, stopping in mid-stride, in the transporter room doorway. “It’s the perfect time and place.” And he grabbed Lanham by the face and kissed her hard on the mouth. When the kiss broke, he added, “Now let’s go kick some ass.”
“I’ll get the weaponssssssssssssssssssssssss!” Benzra hissed.
“TRANSPORTER READY!” Transporter Chief Bark announced loudly.
Conway, Benzra, Larkin, Kedric, Lanham and Unjon all materialized in a cloakroom in the basement of the Trill Administrative Building. Benzra, to her unmitigated fury, appeared within a stack of coats, and thrashed repeatedly until they were all shreds at her feet (well, claws). When she stood to her full height, Unjon was revealed, strapped to her back in a papoose-like mechanism. It was felt this was the best way to keep him from running away and becoming a nuisance again. And Benzra sort of liked the feeling of carrying a wriggling human around on her back anyway.
“Everybody accounted for?” Conway asked, looking around.
“We will not hear the end of this from Mister Gellar,” Larkin said, referring to the tactical officers insistence that he accompany the away team. Conway had assured him that Larkin and Benzra were more than adequate protection, and that really six people were more than enough for any away team, but Gellar still fumed. Something about being kept out of the action. Conway felt a little sorry for him, but the feeling soon passed.
“Let’s move out,” Conway said. “Slowly, single-file. Keep your eyes…compound telescoping, android infrared and otherwise…peeled.”
“My eyesssss peel every six cyclessssss,” Benzra announced, but no one responded to her. Unjon, on her back, just groaned.
“Get a bead on Snax,” Conway ordered Lanham, who quickly pulled out her tricorder. The rest of the away team withdrew their phaser rifles and leveled them straight ahead, checking settings and preparing to encounter resistance.
“The main amphitheater is two floors up. That’s where the Assembly meets, and that is probably where Snax is,” Kedric informed Conway, who nodded.
“How many Trill are in the Assembly?” Larkin asked.
“Think he could have turned all of them?” Conway asked.
“Beside his rogue symbionts?” Kedric asked. “It’s hard to tell. Little is known of what the symbionts are thinking outside of being joined with us. It’s not a popular notion on Trill, but it could be that several of the symbionts have nefarious motives, and are just subdued by the more logical mindsets of their hosts.”
“And all that mumbo jumbo means–” Conway asked.
“There could be a lot of rogues in this building right now, and there’s no way to tell them from law-abiding, decent Trill.”
“Law abiding?” Unjon spat, pulling at the straps that kept him on Benzra’s back. “Is it law abiding to break a symbiont’s heart? You, sir, broke the greatest law of them all. You broke a heart. You made promises you couldn’t keep, and doomed me to a life of crime!”
Kedric whirled on a heel, pointing his phaser rifle at Unjon. “I am tired of making excuses for you, Shar! You are not my responsibility. I never asked for you, and I sure as hell never wanted to be with you. I tried to let you down gently, but it didn’t work.” He jacked up the setting on his phaser rifle. “Maybe stronger language is in order?”
Conway slapped the barrel of Kedric’s rifle down. “Minister, we have more important business. Besides, you might hit Benzra.”
“My exoskeleton would withstand the blow,” Benzra offered. But again, no one was really listening.
“Let’s keep moving,” Conway said.
“There’s a stairway sixty meters ahead that should lead to the amphitheater level,” Lanham reported, looking at her tricorder. “Not picking up any life-signs in our way.”
“That’ll change soon,” Unjon cackled, then slumped unconscious.
“Call the Aerostar,” Conway said to Larkin. “Let them know everything is five by five, so far.”
“I am sure they will be relieved to hear that,” Larkin murmured, and slapped her comm-badge.
“Calling in so soon?” Ford asked. “Miss me?”
“Indeed not,” Larkin replied. “The captain simply wished for me to apprise you of our condition. We have not encountered any resistance so far.”
“Neither have we,” Ford giggled. “Not that we expected any.”
“I am pleased that you are enjoying a smooth command, Mister Ford.”
“Yeah. Stay down there as long as you like, Larkin. I’ll take care of the place.”
“Tell her to file my objection to taking the away team down without me!” Gellar called out from his station.
“Commander,” Ford began.
“I heard Mister Gellar,” Larkin said, sounding tired. “Remind the Lieutenant that an objection to one incident can only be filed once.”
“I just want Starfleet to know how annoyed I am that you won’t let me go with the away team to keep them safe.”
“I will inform them personally.”
“Not if you’re dead.”
“I am indestructible, Lieutenant.”
“Then how come you died once?”
“I am alive now.”
That left Gellar speechless.
“Touche,” Ford giggled. “Good one, Larkin. Have a good time down there. Ford out.”
“Damn android brain. Gets me every time,” Gellar muttered, looking down at his panel.
Ford swung back and forth in the command chair. “Relax, Brian. There’s nothing interesting going on down there. Do you realize how boring planetary revolutions are? It’s really just a lot of sword-rattling and signing of documents. What a bore.”
“I suppose,” Gellar muttered, running circles around the photon controls with his finger. Then he looked at one of his panels, and raised his eyebrow. “Ford…”
“Multiple contacts coming in, bearing 044 mark 165 and 011 mark 222! They’re Orion, and they’re coming in at high warp. Weapons hot!”
Ford shot out of the command chair like he was spring-loaded. “Red Alert! Shields and weapons up! I can’t believe I just said that!”
“You should also order me to contact the away team, sizzle-chest.”
Gellar tapped a few controls. “No luck. They’ve got some kind of jamming field up.” He looked at another screen, and his eyes went wide. “And that’s not all they’ve got. Incoming! Hold on to something, Ford!”
Ford ran forward and grabbed the first available thing: Lieutenant Saral’s head.
“Somebody save us!” he cried as the Aerostar rocked with Orion fire, the needle-like ships zipping around on the viewscreen, tossing bolts of yellow, red-hot energy at the Aerostar-A.
“Please let go of me!” Saral insisted.
“Whoops, sorry,” Ford said, and stumbled back into the command chair, gripping its arms for dear life. “Gellar, fire back! All weapons!”
“Saral, oscillate the shields.”
“I believe you mean modulate. And my head still aches, Commander.”
“Good. Use that. Finagle the shields. Do whatever you can. Just save us!” Ford drew his knees up and glared at the viewscreen. “Fight fight fight! Everybody to battle-stations!”
“Calm down, spanky,” Gellar said, running his hands over his panel. “We’re going to be just fine!”
“I didn’t want this kind of command! This is dangerous!”
“Just sit back and relax. This is no big deal. We’ve handled Orion ships before.” Gellar’s eyes got wider. “Not this many, of course. Five more just entered the system, to make a total of eight.”
Ford slid down to the floor in front of the command chair. “How about the Ford maneuver?
“I do not think pushing multiple buttons will work this time,” Saral said, glancing at the officer at relief helm officer Mike Garrity. “And I don’t think Mister Garrity is stupid enough to try such a maneuver.”
“How about the ‘Garrity Maneuver’?” the Ensign said meekly.
“Sounds pretty weak,” Ford said. “Oooh! I’ve got an idea!” He bolted to his feet. “Multi-vector assault mode! That’s this ship’s gimmick! USE IT!”
“Son of a–” Gellar muttered to himself. “Ford, we’ve never even used that before. We don’t know if it works, it hasn’t been field tested, and–”
“In that case, it sounds perfect! Go with it!”
Gellar covered his eyes and pushed the button, kicking himself for not trying harder to get on the away team.
Captain Conway crept up the stairwell to the Trill assembly hall. “Nothing on sensors, Alexa?” he called down the steps, to Lanham, who was following him up, along with Larkin. Kedric was leading Benzra down an access tunnel that would empty them out on the opposite side of the amphitheater, the idea being that they would be able to cut off their foe’s avenues for escape. Unless, of course, if there were too many foes, in which case they’d probably be overpowered and killed.
“I’m not showing anyone in the auditorium, Captain,” Lanham said, checking her tricorder again.
“Perhaps they moved out of the building,” Larkin suggested.
“Why would they do that?”
“To wreak havoc on the rest of the planet?” the android suggested.
“Good point,” Conway said, approaching the door to the assembly hall. “Conway to Benzra. You ready over there?”
“Ready asssss I will ever be. Thisssssss Trill on my back is causing quite the rukusssssss.”
“Smack him on the head if he causes you too much trouble, Benzra, and prepare to head into the auditorium, on my mark.”
“You’re the bossssssssss.”
“Mark!” Conway called out, and punched the door control. The door promptly slid open, and he, Larkin, and Lanham burst out into the huge and dimly lit marble amphitheater, waving their phaser rifles around.
“Nobody move!” Conway cried, looking around.
Everyone put their weapons down. The room was empty.
“YAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!” Benzra cried out, bursting out of the door on the opposite side of the room, her pincers snapping.
“Your timing is a little off, but nicely done,” Lanham muttered.
Benzra looked around. “Well, where on Flarn Prime are they?”
“All around you, imbeciles,” a voice echoed throughout the huge chamber.
Conway pointed his phaser rifle all around the auditorium. “Snax? Is that you? Show yourself, you low down, dirty, no good slug!”
“Captain, I’m hurt. I would think you’d appreciate the symbiont mindset more than anyone. You have played host on more than one occasion.”
“And I’d rather not do it again.”
“And so you shan’t,” Snax’s voice echoed, as Lanham checked and rechecked her tricorder.
“Is ‘shan’t’ a word?” Conway whispered to Larkin.
“It is a contraction,” Larkin replied.
“Captain, I can’t figure out where that voice is coming from,” Lanham said. “I think they’ve put up jammers of some kind outside of this room.”
“So we were being jammed. My instincts are excellent,” Conway announced.
“And yet you have apparently lead us into a trap,” Larkin observed.
Doors suddenly cascaded open along the oval rim of the auditorium, light pouring in. Silhouettes appeared in the doorways holding weapons.
“Like shooting…something in a barrel,” Snax’s voice said. “Enjoy your demise. Pity none of you will be around to witness the taking of Trill. You see, once I injected the legislature with my patented formula, they went out and shared it with the general public. Now the symbionts are in control.”
“You’re not just crazy, you’re stupid,” Conway said. “Symbionts need their hosts. Even I know that!”
“We’ll see about that,” Snax said. “It’s a new world out there, Captain, and it’s all because of me.”
“SNAX!” Unjon screamed, kicking and screaming on Benzra’s back. “Free me! Come get me so I can help you take your rightful place as the leader of Trill!”
“Thanks for the offer, Unjon, but I think I can do it without you.”
“But…I was going to get to be Secretary of Agriculture. You know how I love legumes!”
“Be that as it may, I simply can’t risk going in there to get you out. I’m afraid you’ll have to die with the others.”
“But…Snax!” Unjon cried, his lower lip quivering. “You said you’d always love me.”
“I said no such thing, you clingy little freak! I simply said you’d always have a place with me. And that, of course, was a lie. Don’t feel bad. Really. It’s not you. It’s me. Hahahahahaha!”
“SNAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAX!” Unjon shouted.
“Kill them!” Snax’s voice ordered.
“Kill THEM!” Conway ordered, and shoved Lanham behind the podium at the front of the assembly floor.
“AYIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEE!” Benzra chittered, leaping forward, her clawed feet clacking on the marble floor. Conway, peeking over the podium pedestal as he gripped Lanham for dear life, looked on in amazement at how quickly such a large creature could move.
In an instant, Benzra was upon three or four of the Trill assassins, slashing them with her claws. One of them got off a few shots of his phaser, but they merely slowed her down a bit, and seemed to make her even madder.
“I’d like to see Doctor Browning do THAT,” Conway muttered to himself.
Suddenly, Benzra unceremoniously ripped one of the poor fellows in two. Conway would have to give her the “stun setting” speech again.
Larkin was holding her own as well, picking off each assailant with pinpoint accuracy, leaping from one row of seats to the other, evading phaser blasts and ducking flying fists, punching some assailants as they got closer.
“What are we supposed to do, just hide here forever?” Lanham asked, strands of hair dangling in her face, as her ponytail had come tragically undone in the midst of all the ruckus.
“No. Just wait for the odds to get a little more in our favor,” Conway said, glancing over the podium again and squeezing off a few shots in the direction of one of the Trill attackers. “And keep our resident dignitary out of danger.” Conway glanced over to the row of chairs where he’d seen Kedric dive. He wasn’t there. “Hmm. Wonder if he was vaporized. Hope not.”
Conway was stirred from his thoughts when a small, cylindrical device clattered to the floor beside him, beeping pleasantly.
He picked it up and studied it, then looked at Lanham, sharing her panicked expression. “BOMB!” he cried out, hurling the cylinder into the center of the auditorium. A blast shook the walls of the room, sending plumes of smoke and debris into the air. Conway covered his and Lanham’s heads as pieces of upholstery and chair parts plummeted down upon him.
“You almost hit me with that!” Larkin’s voice called out, barely visible in all the smoke and ash.
Conway stood up. “It was a tactical decision. We evened the playing field, since nobody can see anything now.”
“But they know the layout of this room and the building, we do not,” Larkin pointed out.
“I think I just sssssssstepped in ssssssssomeone I killed,” Benzra announced.
“Use some of that fancy eyesight of yours, Larkin,” Conway said. “Locate a way out of here.”
“And if I should find one?”
“Tell us about it!”
All was silent for a few moments as the dust settled. Conway tapped his comm-badge. “Conway to Aerostar. Mister Gellar, you may want to send down some reinforcements to surround the building.”
Lanham gripped Conway’s arm. “What the hell is going on up there?”
“Probably just a little static,” Conway said.
“Port stabilizer is down, we’re risking total containment failure!” Lt. Kamtezen announced over the comm system as the Aerostar…or at least the saucer section, bucked and weaved its way around its Orion attackers.
“On which section?”
“The upper stardrive! I don’t even know where the lower stardrive is!”
“Does it have a chief engineer?”
“Yes, we took the time to establish three different crews for all the sections. Haven’t you seen the other captains and chief engineers walking around?”
“You’re being sarcastic, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Kamtezen said flatly. “Anyway, I will keep you posted. Kamtezen out.”
Meanwhile, Ensign Garrity pulled the saucer section into a tight, stomach-churning turn. On the viewscreen, the upper and lower stardrives crisscrossed, firing phaser blasts at the Orions. One ship had been blown up, another disabled. But they were still outnumbered, six to three.
Ford held on to the arms of the command chair as the vessel rattled. “Suggestions, people?”
“One,” Gellar said. “Talk to them.”
“I’ll forget you said that!” Ford said, turning in his chair. “What kind of ship do you think it is? A talky one?”
“Well, Starfleet does favor diplomacy,” Gellar said.
Ford rubbed his chin as a piece of the ceiling dropped in front of him. “You know what? You’re right. Get me a channel to the lead ship.”
“I have no idea which one is the lead ship.”
“Open frequency then,” Ford said, straightening in the command chair. “I’ll give this a try. Can’t make things worse, right?”
Gellar decided to keep his mouth shut. “Frequency open.”
“Orion vessels,” Ford began. “This is…Secondary…Captain Zachary Lamont Ford of the Federation Starship Aerostar–all three parts of it.”
“‘Lamont’?” Gellar whispered.
Ford ignored him. “We’re not sure why you’re firing on us, but we wish to call a truce to confer.” He sat back in his chair, awaiting response.
Gellar looked at his panel. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we’re getting a response.”
Ford shrugged. “Put it on screen.”
The screen filled with a large, angry looking Orion with a horse-shaped face and crooked, slimy teeth. He grinned, showing one of the teeth was missing. “Starfleeter. I hate Starfleeters.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name,” Ford grinned.
“Chock. Captain of the Interceptor Slovas.”
“Nice to meet you, Chock,” Ford said. “Let me say, first of all, that I wish to extend all possible diplomatic courtesies to the Orions, and their shady little syndicate too. The Federation comes in peace.”
“Is that why you destroyed our market on Therris Prime?”
“Whoops,” Ford said quietly.
“I told you they were after us because of that,” Gellar snapped.
“Shut up!” Ford said between clenched teeth. He looked back at the viewscreen. “That… was a misunderstanding.”
“Explain yourself,” Chock ordered, then folded his arms expectantly.
“Um…well, you see,” Ford said, pushing out of the command chair and stepping toward the viewscreen. “It all started with this symbiont, who, hundreds of years ago, decided he wanted to take over Trill. Well, he failed, and was sort of put on ice for a little while, but now he’s trying again.”
“And what does this have to do with our ruined market and lost income?”
“Well, you see, another evil symbiont stole a bunch of other symbionts, including that really nasty one I mentioned earlier. And it used the Orion Mart as a front to distract us all from the fact that it was really trying to revive this nasty symbiont and help it take over Trill, which we’re trying to prevent now.”
“This symbiont….it’s down on the planet now?”
“Yes. Both of them. Both of the evil symbionts who tricked you and raided your Orion Mart.”
“You raided our Orion Mart,” Chock corrected.
Ford held up a nervous, shaking finger. “No! No, not exactly. You see, our captain had one of those evil symbionts inside him during that raid. It’s all the symbionts’ fault. The one that raided your facility goes by the name of Shar.”
“You wouldn’t be…lying, would you?”
“No. I swear on my mother’s grave,” Ford said shakily.
“Your mother isn’t dead,” Gellar whispered.
Chock seemed thoughtful for several moment. “Your story makes a great deal of sense, human.”
Ford cocked his head. “It does?”
“And…I trust you for some reason. You have the bargaining posture of an Orion. Self-assured, confident. I dare say cocky. You would make a fine businessman.”
“Would you like to join the Syndicate?”
Gellar turned away from his console, looked at Ford, and shook his head vehemently.
“No, not right now, but thanks. What I would like is for you to assist us in stopping that terrible symbiont from taking over Trill.”
“We can then seek retribution for our lost income?” Chock asked.
“Yes, from the Trill, who are the people you really should be dealing with.”
Chock nodded. “I see.”
Ford thought a moment. “Are your ships capable of maneuvering in atmosphere?”
“Indeed they are, and well! Want to buy some? I can get you some very cheaply if you don’t ask where they came from.”
Ford looked at Gellar, who shook his head again. “No, that’s not necessary. Just take what ships we haven’t destroyed or disabled and surround the Trill government building.”
Chock nodded, understanding the plan. “And do what? Kill everyone inside?”
“NO!” Ford said quickly. “No, just sit there and look menacing. That should be sufficient.”
“We understand. It was nice doing business with you, Secondary Captain Ford.” And Chock disappeared from the screen. The six functional Orion ships darted down into Trill’s atmosphere.
Ford brushed his hands together, sighing with relief as he returned to the command chair and sat down. “There. I think that went well.”
“Yeah,” Gellar said. “As long as they don’t kill our away team.”
“Yeah,” Ford repeated. “Um, Brian…you’d better go down there. Take a heavily armed team.”
“I thought you’d never ask,” Gellar said, rising from his seat and heading for the turbolift.
The halls of the Trill Administration Building were in chaos, as Conway and Lanham weaved their way through the running, cursing, shouting crowds of Trill. It was impossible to tell which ones had been overtaken by their symbionts, although by the brainwave readings Lanham had taken with her tricorder, it would seem a great many were experiencing a great…imbalance… in the symbiotic relationship between Trill and symbiont.
“This is going to be one tough mess to clean up,” Lanham said as Conway and her shuffled along a corridor toward an open veranda that overlooked Trill Square, and the bustling streets of Trillian below.
“Uh-huh,” Conway said, looking down at the rioting crowds in the streets; people looting buildings, brawling with one another, overturning shuttlecraft, and the like. It was then that several shadows descended on the streets. The bronze, needle-shaped craft were familiar to Conway.
“Orions?” He tapped his comm-badge. “Conway to Aerostar.”
“Why are the Orions surrounding the Trill Administration Building?”
“Don’t you recognize a cavalry when you see one?” Ford asked.
“Obviously not,” Conway said. “What’s your status?”
“Damaged, but in once piece…after the ship came back together.”
“You had to engage multi-vector?” Conway asked. “Wow. How was it?”
“Not that great, actually.”
“Gellar went down there with an away team to try to keep the peace.”
“He’ll need a whole platoon,” Lanham said.
“What’s happening down there?” Ford asked.
Conway looked down into the streets. “A revolution, Ford. A revolution.”
“Anything we can do from here?”
“Unless you have a way of dispersing an antidote into the atmosphere around this city, then no.”
Lanham’s expression brightened. “Captain…that’s exactly what we should do. Great idea!”
“I was just being sarcastic!”
“It doesn’t matter!” Lanham said, looking at her tricorder and punching a few controls. “All we have to do is figure out what neurotransmitter is being blocked out and code an enzyme to unblock it.”
“Uh-huh,” Conway said. “Well, that’s what I was thinking.”
Lanham worked at her tricorder. “It’ll just take a moment. Then I can send the results up to the Aerostar, and they can fire a probe into the air above the city that can disperse a concentrated dosage of the enzyme into the air supply.”
“Sounds reasonable,” Conway said, as his comm-badge chirped.
“Benzra to Conway.”
“We’re now two Trillsssssssssss sssshort.”
“What do you mean?”
“In all the commotion, Unjon became dissssslodged from my back. As did a piece of my exoskeleton, but I can grow that back in several–”
“Benzra!” Conway said. “Did you see where he went?”
“Find some stairs Benzra. Meet me on the roof.”
“Because that’s where I’d go if I was plotting an escape.”
“And what makes you think Unjon, or anyone else from that matter, would be planning an escape?” Lanham asked.
“Because I don’t think they envisioned it quite going this way,” Conway said. “C’mon!”
“I didn’t envision it quite going this way,” Rikkens Snax admitted, standing on the rooftop of the 20-storey Trill Administration Building, waiting for his air escort to arrive. Kamella had parked a small, short-range vessel on the outskirts of town in case an escape would be needed, and it obviously was. He just hoped his accomplice would make it through the rioting crowds.
Snax looked down over the ledge of the building, at the crowds milling and rioting about. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. They were supposed to glory in their release from their host bondage. Not just start fighting each other, willy-nilly.
Was it possible, after all, that the symbionts really did need the hosts? Had Snax made an awful miscalculation to that effect, and in doing so, doomed his whole takeover plan?
“Your takeover plan is doomed!” a voice called out from behind Snax, and without turning, he knew it was Filna Kedric.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Snax said. “So I can watch you die myself.”
“You’ll never get out of this building alive,” Kedric said, leveling a phaser at Snax.
“Then that’s something we have in common,” Snax grinned toothily, stepping toward Kedric. “You wouldn’t really use that thing on me, would you?”
“Easily,” Kedric said. “You’re a danger to this planet. It’s my job to wipe you out.”
“Ahh, the noble boy-scout, to the very last.” Snax and Kedric circled each other on the rooftop like jungle cats. “You won last time, though. Don’t you think it’s my turn?”
“Nope,” Kedric said simply.
“You’re both wrong!” a voice cried out from the roof entrance. “It’s MY turn!” Unjon Shar limped out onto the rooftop. “Did you all forget about me?”
“If only,” Kedric sighed. “Shar, I think you’d better think about which side–”
“Enough talk!” Unjon barreled into the Trill Foreign Minister before he could bring his phaser to bear and knocked him to the ground, sending the phaser clattering across the rooftop.
“What a pleasing exchange,” Snax said, clapping his hands with pleasure and walking across the rooftop to grab Kedric’s fallen phaser. “Don’t think I don’t appreciate the irony of this, fellows. I do realize that we were in much the same situation four hundred years ago, just in different bodies. Kind of nice how that circular existence we call life works, eh?”
Kedric rolled over, pushing Unjon off him. “If you’re going to shoot, just shoot! I can do without the nostalgia.”
“What’s wrong, Kedric?” Snax said, walking over to Kedric and leveling the phaser at him. “Have a hard time facing your past?”
Below, they could all hear the roar of crowds pushing their way in the building, overtaking the legislature members and, probably, fighting them in hand to hand combat.
“He’s right, you know,” Unjon said softly, rolling over to face Kedric.
“Dear Gods, these have been wasted lives,” Kedric moaned, and leaned up. He stared at Snax. “Your plan has failed, Snax. Turn yourself over to the authorities, and let’s end this, before any more innocents die.”
“And what makes you think I care about innocents?” Snax growled, shoving his phaser in Kedric’s face. “Nobody’s innocent!”
“We are!” came a voice from the rooftop entrance, and Snax turned, in shock.
There stood Benzra, Larkin, Lanham, and Conway, rifles all leveled at Snax.
“In a few minutes, my ship is going to deliver an antidote to your little formula to this whole city,” Conway said. “Now drop your weapon!”
“I happen to have a rescue planned, thank you very much,” Snax said defensively, shoving his phaser up against Kedric’s head and slinging an arm around his neck. “And, ooh…look! I have a hostage too.”
“No!” Unjon cried.
“Something tells me your rescue is going to be a bit late,” Larkin observed, glancing in the distance.
“And why do you say that?” Snax demanded.
His escape shuttle, presumably piloted by Kamella, streaked by, chased by an Orion Interceptor. It was headed out of the city, the Interceptor on its tail, and eventually disappeared into the distant, dusky horizon.
“Haven’t you learned anything, Snax?” Conway said, walking quickly toward the now rage-filled and quivering Snax. “You don’t f*** with a powerful government.”
“Don’t take one more step, Captain!” Snax shouted, backing away from Conway…and toward the edge of the rooftop. “I’ll shoot him, I swear!”
“NO!” Unjon Shar cried, stepping up next to Conway, advancing with him toward Snax and Kedric. “You can’t kill him. I LOVE him!”
Conway looked at Unjon. “I thought you loved me.”
“Honey, I always will. But Kedric was around long before you. There’s just no contest.”
“I’m hurt,” Conway said thoughtfully. “I guess.” He then returned his attention, and his rifle, to Snax. “Don’t make another move, Snax. I don’t know if you’ve looked behind you, but you have nowhere to go but down!”
“I don’t care anymore,” Snax said, wild-eyed. “Because, at least this time, I’ll be taking Kedric with me. And neither of our symbionts will survive a twenty-story fall.”
“What?” Kedric asked, looking, shocked, at Snax. “I don’t want to be thrown from a building…again!”
“Sorry!” Snax screamed, and elbowed Kedric hard in the chest, sending him backpedaling over the roof ledge. Kedric gripped Snax’s wrist hard and dragged him along with him, and Shar ran to the ledge to try and grab Kedric.
“No, baby, no! We could be so beautiful together!” Unjon Shar cried, dashing for the ledge, but it was too late. When Conway joined Unjon at the ledge, they both saw the bodies of Filna Kedric and Rikkens Snax spreadeagle on the brick walkway below.
“Damn,” Conway said, shaking his head. “Starfleet really is going to be pissed at me.”
“Is that all you care about, you heartless bastard? STARFLEET?” Unjon Shar cried, beating Conway about the shoulders so hard he dropped his phaser rifle. “Two men are dead! Two dear, dear men! Two men I love! And now all I have left is you. Oh, you…you…you…” And Unjon burst into tears, burying his head in Conway’s shoulder.
The Captain knew of nothing else to do but wrap his arms around Unjon and hold him. “I’m sorry, Shar. I’m sorry it had to go this way.”
Shar looked into Conway’s eyes. “Guess it was never meant to be for us, huh?”
Conway laughed softly. “And you’re just now figuring this out?”
“Silly me,” Unjon giggled, and buried his head again in Conway’s shoulder. The captain winced as he felt Unjon’s hand grip him harder.
“Uh…guys…” he croaked, as Unjon squeezed him harder, making it difficult to breathe. “A little help…”
“Maybe we’ll be together in the afterlife, huh, sweetie?” Unjon whispered in Conway’s ear, and flipped him over the rooftop ledge.
Conway’s hands fumbled against the ledge as he swung over, his legs hanging precariously above the 20-story drop. He cursed himself for feeling sympathy for Shar. The thing was a killer. A dirty murderer and a psychopath. The fact that Shar somehow, awkwardly and pervertedly loved him just made him all the more twisted. Conway gripped the stone ledge, feeling his hands go raw as he watched Unjon climb up onto the ledge and, as if all was moving in slow motion, prepare to jump as if he were a champion diver.
“See you on the other side, my precious love!” Unjon cooed, and leaped from the roof.
“Damn it, I have the most f***ed up love life!” Conway cried out, to no one in particular.
Lanham and Larkin were immediately at Conway’s side, Benzra hovering behind. Lanham and Larkin each took an arm, and lugged Conway back over the ledge. He let himself slide to the ground, resting against the ledge and catching his breath.
He blinked sweat out of his eyes and looked at the fuzzy image of Alexa Lanham kneeling in front of him, staring at him with a broad, but concerned smile.
“David…are you okay?”
“Am I dreaming, or didn’t you push me off a ledge once?” he groaned.
“No, I did,” Lanham admitted.
“And Shar…” Conway said. “Didn’t Shar also…”
“Twice, I believe,” Larkin said.
“Just checking,” Conway said, leaning his head forward against Lanham’s chest.
Lanham pulled him close to her and rubbed the back of his head. “I may have pushed you off a ledge once, David, but I pulled you back this time. That’s got to count for something.”
“It does,” Conway said. “It really does.”
Larkin, meanwhile, glanced over the ledge, as did Benzra. “Could they have survived such a fall, I wonder?”
“I sssssssssseriously doubt it,” Benzra said.
Kedric blinked his eyes, as that was all he was able to do anymore. The sky above him grew dark, and the view of the buildings on either side of him began to close in as he lay plastered to the sidewalk.
Beside him, Unjon Shar lay in a heap, a tangle of broken limbs.
“Heh…” the almost-dead Shar laughed, blood dripping from his mouth. “Sorry….I…. pushed you off….that building that one…time, Ked…”
“Bygones,” Kedric sputtered through cracked teeth. He glanced, and even that pained him, over to see Snax twitching a little beside him.
“Our…symbionts…must…all…have…lived,” Unjon choked out.
“Better…luck…next life,” Snax cackled, then coughed, and Kedric was pretty sure he heard stuff gush out a gaping wound in the Trill’s side.
“Excuse me,” came a voice above, and Kedric thought at first it was one of the gods. Were the Gods Orions?
“I’m Captain Chock of the Interceptor Slovas, working for the Orion Syndicate. I am here to exact vengeance on the one who ruined our business on Therris Prime. Would one of you, by chance, be called Shar?”
Snax gurgled something unintelligible.
Shar and Kedric, for their parts, both mustered what was left of their energy and pointed shakily over at Snax.
“Excellent,” Chock said, and stood over Rikkens Snax. He must not have been off-put about his quarry being of Orion descent. Bunch of back-biters, Kedric thought to himself.
“You’ve all been most helpful,” Chock said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go ahead and vaporize your friend here, and be on my way.”
“Help….” Unjon murmurred.
“Yourself,” Kedric finished for him.
And then they both died.
Stardate 55010.6. We have been in orbit of Trill for several days, helping them recover from Snax’s aborted overthrow attempt. I have received orders from Starfleet to help them in any way possible for as long as needed, and then to depart Trill and never return again, so long as I live.
I’m fine with that.
“Heading to the bridge?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact. How’d you know?”
“An educated guess. I suppose I have to go to. You know what a domineering ass the captain can be.”
Captain Conway rolled over in bed, got up, and began pulling his uniform on.
Lanham, meanwhile, pulled the sheets around herself and rolled in the other direction. “Wake me when it’s time to leave orbit.”
“It’ll still be another couple of days. The Trill are asking our engineers to help them renovate their Administration building. And they commandeered our PR department to put a positive spin on the whole thing and reassure the Trill populace that everything’s okay.”
“Of course they’re asking for a lot,” Lanham said, leaning up. “They did, after all, lose one of their finest dignitaries.”
“Hey, how many times do I have to say this? That wasn’t our fault!”
“Yeah, but you were nearby,” Lanham said. “For Starfleet, and the Trill, that’s enough.”
“It’s not fair,” Conway muttered. “Anyway, he’ll be back…in one form, or another.”
“Let’s hope they have the good sense not to put Shar in another host,” Lanham said. “The last thing you need is another incarnation of THAT person running around.”
“I don’t know…maybe if they put her in a REALLY attractive Trill woman,” Conway said, kneeling down to kiss Lanham on the forehead. “Like maybe that Ezri person.”
“Shut up and kiss me, you big, asinine man!” Lanham said, throwing her arms around Conway and kissing him deeply.
Conway found it impossible to wipe the smile off his face as he walked to the bridge.
Larkin joined him, appearing at his side as if from out of nowhere, holding a padd.
“Captain Conway,” she said formally. “I have some concerns.”
“Why does that not surprise me, Larkin?” Conway said, stepping into the turbolift and saying “bridge.”
She handed her padd to Conway. “Mister Ford made some administrative…decisions, while he was in command. And although it was only for a brief time, he somehow managed to transform my orderly, efficient, and equitable crew roster into a shambles.”
“That’s funny. All I’ve heard about him are good things,” Conway replied. “He actually talked the Orions out of destroying the ship. Using words!”
“Be that as it may,” Larkin said, and the turbolift doors opened onto the bridge
“Oh, my,” Conway said softly, and stepped out of the turbolift.
Ford turned around in the command chair and waved at Conway. “Afternoon, Captain! May I introduce the new ‘Beta Shift.’”
“They’re all extremely large-breasted women!” Conway blurted.
“As always, sir, you are the epitome of delicacy,” Larkin said, as she and Conway walked over to the command center.
“I’m hurt that you’d draw that conclusion, Captain,” Ford said, vacating the command chair for Conway and standing in front of him. “These are all top-notch officers. I just gave them the opportunity to succeed that Larkin was unwilling to give.”
“You have designated a xeno-botanist for the Ops position,” Larkin observed. “And placed a systems engineer at the helm.”
Conway glanced over his shoulder. “And Patsy back there at tactical is a kindergarten teacher,” Conway said, then waved meekly. “Hi, Patsy.”
Ford’s shoulders slumped as he walked over to take the helm from Shirley Prentice, the Aerostar’s Chief of Inventory. “Better go back to the bottom of the ship, Shirley,” he said dejectedly.
“See you tonight, then, baby,” Prentice said, kissing Ford on the cheek and skipping into the forward turbolift.
“Can the other ones stay, at least till the end of the shift?” Ford asked.
“Sure,” Conway said, then looked at Larkin, who stared at him blankly. “I mean…no. That’s ridiculous.” He then got up from his chair and walked over to his readyroom. “I’ll be in here working on my report to Starfleet. Do me a favor and send Doctor Lanham in here when she gets to the bridge. I have…scientific matters to discuss with her.”
“Like baby-making,” Ford chortled, and Larkin tossed her padd at him.
“My aim is still excellent, after all these years,” the android observed.
Conway was staring out his oblong, vertical readyroom window, thinking about Shar and Kedric, and how some people were just destined for one another, when his door chime rang.
“Come,” he called absently.
“You asked to see me about…scientific matters…Captain?” Lanham asked, standing in his doorway.
Conway turned in his chair. “Yes, of course, Doctor. Come, sit down.”
Lanham walked into the readyroom, let the doors close behind her, then slid over Conway’s desk, engulfing him in a long kiss. She thin slid back down into the chair opposite Conway’s desk and stared at him for a moment. “Okay, David. Spit it out. Something’s wrong.”
“Yeah.” Conway nodded. He took Lanham’s hands. “When we got together the first time, it happened too quick. Agreed?”
“Yeah,” Lanham said, thinking back to it. They were both aboard the Darwin, Conway at ops, she in one of the science labs, studying proto-matter interactions. Conway had come down demanding a report from her, she had said it wasn’t ready, and they had ended up, in the heat of the argument, having sex right on the lab table. Shortly thereafter, they were married. Shortly thereafter, she sort of accidentally pushed him off a cliff and they got divorced.
“Well,” Conway said. “I don’t want to do it that way again. I don’t want to make the mistake of going too fast. I want to date. I want the thrill of walking to your doorstep and pushing the call button. I want to bring you flowers. I want to surprise you in the middle of the day with a picnic basket. I want us to do couple things.”
Lanham stared at Conway. “Do I need to check and see if there’s another symbiont inside you?”
“No,” Conway said. “I just don’t want this relationship going bad. I’ve had enough of those. I want this relationship to be pure, and good, and I want it to never end. I think I deserve that after all this time.”
Lanham nodded, but looked a little surprised. “I have to agree with you there.”
“So it’s settled. I’m asking you out to dinner tonight. Then we’ll retire to our separate quarters. No sex until at least the…um…tenth date. And then, only sporadically. Agreed?”
Lanham giggled. “Well, if you really want that…”
Conway nodded. “I do.”
“Okay,” she said, and leaned forward, kissing Conway on the cheek. “Square one it is. See you tonight.”
Conway smiled broadly at Lanham as she left, then he turned around and stared out the window again.
A nice, slow, easygoing pace. That’s what he wanted.
No sex until the tenth date. Yes, that was logical. That was…
Conway thought hard about that last part.
“My God, what have I done?” he cried, banging his head against the transparent aluminum.
One of the most fulfilling things in a symbiont’s life is waking up after a prior host has died, and seeing that the world is still there, fresh and new, and ready to be explored once again. It was like a fresh start, a new chance to do things over again, but right, this time.
So what if that’s not how it usually happened. So what if, more often than not, symbionts fell into their old habits, and ended up repeating mistakes that were centuries old.
Kedric thought about all of these things, and leaned up, looking around the operating room.
“She’s coming to,” one of the nurses said.
“She,” Kedric said, and heard her lilting, feathery voice for the first time. She looked down at the clingy hospital gown. “Yes, I am a she again.”
“Your name is Nanya,” the nurse, a lithe, smiling and doe-eyed Trill female, said. “Your host placement coordinator will meet with you once you leave recovery to discuss all the vital information. Obviously, in cases such as this, when the host dies suddenly, the placement process is a little different.”
“Of course,” Nanya said, and swung her legs over the bed. “May I get up?”
“You should rest. The implantation was only an hour ago.”
Nanya nodded, then leaned back on the bed. “Of course.” Suddenly, something occurred to her. “Nurse…could you give me a mirror?”
“Of course.” The nurse brought a mirror to Nanya and placed it in her hand.
She lifted up the mirror and studied her face. It was beautiful. Symmetrical. High cheekbones. Deep, thoughtful brown eyes. Kedric laughed to itself. Filna would have probably been quite attracted to this female. There was…one…thing.
“Nurse…how old am I?” Nanya asked.
“Thirty-three years old,” the nurse replied.
“Uh-huh,” Nanya said. “And why was I put in such an…established host.”
“As I said, the process is a bit different when the host dies suddenly. I shouldn’t be discussing this with you, but you and your friend caused quite a stir.”
“Yes. They had to hold an emergency meeting of the symbiosis commission. Obviously, since this is a recurring problem, they had to come up with a novel solution.”
“Yes,” the nurse said, folding some blankets and placing them on a shelf. She returned to Nanya’s side and grasped her hand. “The commission decided the best way to settle such a lifelong animosity between two symbionts was to put them into hosts who already had a deep and meaningful love for one another.”
“Deep….meaningful?” Nanya stammered.
“Yes. Nanya and Zandor have been married for thirteen years. They were high school sweethearts, and I’m told they are crazy about each other. They have three kids and a few pet luxos, and a house in the suburbs of Precinct 24.”
“Suburbs,” Nanya said distractedly, turning slowly to look at the other recovery bed, several meters away. A man lie resting there, unconscious. He had chiseled, rugged features. A square jaw, and prominent, manly chin.
“Yes!” the nurse said, obviously getting excited. “And this is the best part…you’re a stay at home mom. Isn’t that retro? I bet after all those careers you’ve had in your past hosts, you could use a bit of a break.”
“Stay…at…home?” Nanya whimpered.
“Yes,” the nurse said. “I think it’s safe to say you and Shar will have many happy years together. Isn’t that great?”
Nanya Kedric nodded dumbly. “Yeah. Grand.”