Author: Anthony Butler
BRINMAR RESEARCH OUTPOST JUST OUTSIDE ANDORIAN TERRITORY…
“Good morning, troops. I trust the battle against subspace phenomena is going well today,” Commander Carlin said wryly, stepping out of the turbolift, giving the outpost’s operations center a onceover before heading for his office.
“Nothing to report, sir,” Lt. Keeney said from the science console. “Aside from a few stellar anomalies in gamma sector, everything’s peachy.”
“Excellent, excellent,” Carlin said, approaching the viewscreen. “Give me a view of the Brinmar sun. Five times mag.”
Keeney punched up the view of the sun, bathing the operations deck in a beautiful orange glow.
“Would you look at that, Lieutenant,” Carlin said in wonder.
“I watch this view every morning, Commander. It kind of feels like watching the sun rise back on Earth,” Keeney replied with a smile. “Sometimes I sit and sip my hot chocolate and stare into the sun for hours…”
Carlin glanced back at Keeney warningly.
“Minutes, sir, I mean minutes.”
“Very well, carry on everyone.” Carlin said, turning back to his office.
Carlin hadn’t reached his office doors when the entire station suddenly shuddered violently, threatening to throw him off his feet.
The Commander grabbed a conveniently placed railing just in time, shifting his substantial bulk so as to avoid falling. “Status report!”
“We’re being fired on by an approaching vessel, Commander. It’s an Andorian ship, Krellex- class.”
“Raise shields and go to Red Alert,” Carlin commanded, heading to the master systems console at the center of the ops deck. “And get me a hailing frequency.”
“Damage to lateral sensor array…minor casualties in the lower lab deck!” An ensign shouted from the engineering deck as the station shook again.
Carlin braced himself against the console as the station shook, looking to Lt. Keeney for confirmation that the frequencies were open.
“Go, Commander.” Keeney reported, giving Carlin the “thumbs up.”
“Attacking vessel, this is Commander Tom Carlin of the Federation Research Station Brinmar One. Please halt your attack. We are your allies!”
“Response coming in, sir!” Keeney called out.
“On screen,” Carlin said, leaning up against the console.
An angry looking Andorian male appeared on the screen. “Federation station, consider yourself informed: The Andorians hearby withdraw their membership in the Federation. You are our enemies. So speak the Shalta’prax.”
“The who?” Carlin said, as the station rattled again.
“Not the Who. The Shalta’prax, human imbecile.”
“Shields are down!” Lt. Keeney shouted. “One more hit and we’ll lose the reactor!”
“Send out a distress call!” Carlin cried out. “Try and drop the reactor core. It’s our only hope of–”
Suddenly the station was pounded again.
“Can we get this overwith?” J’hana asked impatiently, tugging at her itchy angora sweater as Commander Conway guided the Aerostar down Highway Ninety-five.
“Sure,” Captain Andy Baxter said from the passenger seat, looking back at his senior staff. Each of them was dressed in twentieth century garb. “I just wanted you guys to feel what it was like to serve on the original Aerostar.”
“The original Aerostar sucks, Andy,” Peterman called out from the back seat.
“What was this thing used for, anyway?” Dr. Browning asked, from behind Peterman.
“Short supply runs and domestic jobs, from what I could tell in the profile.”
Richards squirmed around in the back, struggling under Dr. Browning’s weight. “Gee, the original Enterprise was a gallant sailing vessel. And all we get is a cheesy minivan.”
“What about the original Explorer?” Lt. Tilleran asked.
“Another Earth vehicle,” Baxter said, glancing back. “But it had a smaller engine and didn’t come with the fifty thousand mile warranty.”
“Wasn’t there an Explorer space probe?” Ensign Ford asked from the wayback.
“Yeah,” Richards said. “But would you want to do this while riding in deep space on a small probe?”
“I’m not sure if I’m ready for this at all,” Ford said, turning to look out the back window of the Aerostar. A kid in an AMC Pacer tailgating them was making faces at him. A pre-cult Ford would have retaliated by leaning out the window and throwing something out of the car. But the “new” Ford was at peace with himself, and realized the child in the holodeck program simply lacked the wisdom of the greater Light of the Galaxy. A pity.
“All right, let’s do it!” Baxter said. “Conway, hit the hatchback.”
“Huh?” Ford asked, when suddenly the back of the minivan flew open. The ensign had to hold on with all his might just to say inside the vehicle.
“Make it quick, Andy! I have to pee!” Peterman said.
“Okay, okay,” Baxter said, turning in his chair and pulling a padd out of his jacket. “Ensign Zachary Ford, I always knew this day would come. Will the First Officer please read the charges.”
“I’m busy driving, Captain,” Conway said. “Someone else has to do it.”
“I’ll do it! I’ll do it!” Lt. Hartley said from beside Ford.
“Why, Megan, I’m surprised,” Ford said with a smile. “Is it the baldness that’s attracting you, or my new, alternative attitude?”
“Gee, it’s so hard to choose.,” Hartley said, reaching over the back seat to grab the padd from Captain Baxter. “Let’s see, the charges are as follows: Mr. Ford, you have gone above and beyond the call of duty on countless occasions, and at the same time, managed to demean and insult each and every female crew member on the ship.”
“Well, what can I say…” Ford blushed.
“Well, it wasn’t quite the way I wrote it, but it works,” Baxter said. “Mr. Ford, I hearby promote you to the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade, with all the priveleges and responsibilities thereof. May God, or the Universal whatever, have mercy on your soul. Lt. Hartley, have Larkin lower the badge of office.”
“With pleasure, Captain.” Hartley said, leaning up and knocking on the roof of the minivan, prompting Lt. Commander Larkin’s face to appear upside down in the window nearby.
“Are we ready to begin?” Larkin asked through the window.
Hartley gave Larkin the “thumbs up” sign. “Go ahead, Larkin!”
Ford could hear thumps on the roof as Larkin crawled toward the rear of the minivan. Suddenly, a long, thin bamboo pole extended out from the hatchback. At the end of the pole, a large sombrero dangled loosely, hovering over the still tailgating Pacer.
“Captain…” Ford said, looking at the sombrero. “Couldn’t you have found something a little more…tasteful?”
“I could have.” Baxter laughed. “But, you know, it wouldn’t have quite worked for you.”
“I get your point.” Ford agreed, crawling forward. “You know, the people who made this vehicle were called Ford,” Ford said, looking over to Hartley.
“How nice,” Hartley said. “Go grab your hat.”
“You won’t be able to order me around much longer, Megan,” Ford said, tiptoeing out onto the minivan’s bumper. “Soon we’ll be equals.” Hartley laughed. “I sincerely doubt that, Zack.”
Ford leaned forward cautiously, barely able to keep a grip on the top of the hatchback with one hand, easing one hand out to grab the sombrero.
“Careful, Mr. Ford!” Baxter called out. “Don’t lose your grip!”
Ford’s fingers scraped along the edge of the sombrero. “Gotcha!” He said with a smile, grabbing onto the edge of the hat and pulling it off the end of the pole.
“I did it! I really did it!” Ford exclaimed, turning around and waving the hat around to everyone inside the minivan proudly. “I grabbed the hat!”
Lt. Hartley stood up and moved towards Ford. “Let me be the first to congratulate you, Lieutenant!”
“Come to papa!” Ford said happily, arms outstretched.
Hartley was inches away from Ford when she suddenly shoved him right out the back of the minivan.
Ford landed roughly on the hood of the Pacer, causing its driver, a middle aged man with thick, horn-rimmed glasses, to swerve around madly.
“Whoops!” Hartley called out. “Sorry about that!”
“Grab the pole, Lieutenant!” Larkin called out, extending the pole towards Ford.
“I can’t reach it!” Ford cried. “Move closer, Larkin!”
Larkin inched closer, allowing Ford to grab ahold of the pole.
The android then leaned back, giving Ford the leverage necessary to lift off the hood of the Pacer. Larkin pulled back on the pole, drawing Ford nearer to the open rear end of the Aerostar.
“Just a little more, Larkin!” Ford called out.
It was then that the intercom system suddenly beeped.
“Bridge to holodeck two.” Lt. Gellar’s voice announced. “We’ve recieved a distress call from the Brinmar One research outpost. They’re being attacked, and we’re the nearest starship.”
“Lay in a course for the outpost at maximum warp and go to Red Alert.” Baxter called out. “Computer, end program!”
“No!” Ford shouted, as suddenly the Aerostar van, the highway, the Pacer, and the pole disappeared.
Ford hovered for half a second in mid air before falling roughly to the holodeck floor. Larkin fell too, but unsurprisingly, she landed on her feet.
“Congratulations on your promotion, Lieutenant,” Baxter said, looking down at Ford as he headed out of the holodeck.
“Gee, thanks.” Ford said, dusting off his rear end and following the rest of the staff out. Now that he was Lieutenant, he could tell that he was going to get a lot more respect.
Stardate 52428.4. We’ve arrived at the edge of Andorian territory, in response to a strange distress call fromt the Brinmar Research Outpost, claiming that they were being attacked…by Andorians.
“I am not familiar with them, sir,” Lt. J’hana said from tactical, as the Explorer streaked towards the Brinmar system.
“Can you even tell us what ‘Shalta’prax’ means?” Conway asked.
J’hana glared at the first officer. “Loosely translated, it means ‘New Day.’”
“A radical fringe group,” Baxter surmised.
“Not exactly, sir,” J’hana said. “My people’s government is quite complex. It is made up of over one hundred thirty parties, any of which could instantly become dominant over the others. Thus, there is no such thing as a ‘fringe’ group.”
“How in the hell could such a flawed government survive so long?” Conway asked.
“By an extreme amount of killing and fighting, Commander. In the case of the Andorians, more than three hundred civil wars in the last millenium,” Lt. Commander Larkin said.
“Three hundred?” Peterman asked, looking back at J’hana.
“Don’t look so surprised. Your world was a warlike place at one time, too.”
“But three hundred!” Baxter exclaimed. “You guys are lucky to still have a planet.”
“We are an honorable people, Captain. We just love a good fight.”
“Obviously,” Conway muttered.
“Well, if it comes down to it, Lieutenant, you’re may have to give these Andorians a good fight,” said Baxter.
“They will not know what hit them.”
“Entering the Brinmar system,” Ford announced.
“Lt. Tilleran…” Baxter said, turning to the science console.
“I have the outpost on longrange sensors. It’s not good, Captain.”
Baxter stood up and approached the viewscreen. “Let’s see it.”
A tiny grey speck appeared on the viewscreen.
“Increase magnification,” Conway ordered.
Suddenly the speck grew until it almost filled the screen.
The Brinmar research station listed on the screen; three of its docking spires were blown off, and the central housing was pocked with scorch marks.
“Sweet Georgia Brown,” Lt. Ford said softly.
Baxter glanced back at tactical. “Any sign of the ship that did this?”
“Negative,” reported J’hana.
“Increase scanners to maximum,” Conway said, looking back to Tilleran. “Are there any vessels in this system or any of the neighboring ones?”
“A Tellerite freighter, a Pakled trader ship, and a…” Tilleran paused.
“What is it?” Baxter asked, looking back.
“Nothing. I thought I saw another ship, but it was just a sensor echo.”
“Sensor echo, huh?” Conway asked.
“We get them all the time,” Tilleran explained. “You just learn to screen them out.”
“Keep an eye out for more sensor echoes, Tilleran,” Baxter ordered. “Any life signs on the station?”
“Barely,” Tilleran said. “Maybe two or three. It’s hard to tell with all that radiation.”
“What kind of ship did this?” Coney asked.
“The weapons that did this were disruptors, sir. But the power signature is unquestionably Andorian,” J’hana reported.
“Then these Shalta’prax are getting their weapons from the outside,” surmised Baxter.
“This stinks of Romulans, Captain,” Conway grumbled.
“Let’s keep the speculation to a minimum, Commander. For right now, take a team over there to rescue any survivors. See if we can get some clue as to where we can find the ship that did this.”
“Yes, sir,” Conway said, rising from his seat and heading over to the turbolift. “J’hana, Larkin, you two are with me.”
“Take Dr. Browning with you, too,” Baxter said, staring at the station on the viewscreen. “And be careful over there, guys.”
Conway, Browning, J’hana, and Larkin materialized on the ops deck, immediately taking in the extent of the damage.
Conway switched on his palm beacon and quickly pannned the area. “The place has been trashed.”
Larkin looked down at a barely functioning computer console and examined her tricorder. “Raided would be a more correct term, Commander. It seems someone beamed aboard and purged all the data from the main computer core.”
“Was the security subpathway compromised?” J’hana asked, looking over Larkin’s shoulder.
“Difficult to tell. Damage to the computer core is severe.”
J’hana looked back to Conway. “Sir, if the security subpathway was compromised, the raiders could have gained access to high-level Starfleet Security files.”
“Just great. Contact the Explorer and let them know. Starfleet Security will have to change all its access codes as a precaution.”
“Aye, sir.” Larkin said.
“Commander, over here!” Dr. Browning called out. “I think this one’s alive!”
Conway bent down next to the young officer, shining his beacon down into her face. “Can you hear me, Lieutenant? What’s your name?”
The officer struggled to push herself up, as Dr. Browning administered a hypospray. “Keeney, sir.” She struggled with the words. “I was the…chief science officer.”
“Can you tell me what happened, Keeney?” Conway asked, bending down.
Browning put a hand on the Lieutenant’s forehead. “Relax…don’t struggle. You have some bad internal injuries.”
“They were Andorians, sir,” Keeney said weakly, looking over Conway’s shoulder at J’hana. “Like her!”
“Not like me,” J’hana muttered back. “And I will prove that to you in combat at any time.”
“Anyway, they took us by…by surprise,” Keeney said. “We didn’t do anything to provoke them. They just…attacked!’
“I have to get her back to the ship,” Browning said. “She’s stabilized for transport, but I won’t be able to save her without getting her to sickbay.”
“Get going then,” Conway said. “Lt. J’hana, see if you can find any other gravely wounded officers for me to choke information out of.”
“Sorry, sir,” J’hana said, as Browning and Keeney disappeared in a flurry of blue. “Everyone else here is dead. Although this ensign over here is still twitching.”
“That won’t help. Can we get down to the lower decks, Larkin?”
Lt. Commander Larkin looked up from a frayed, burnt clump of wires–the former master computer control nodule. “No, sir. The turbolifts are nonfunctional, and much of the hull has been breached.”
“What does the hull integrity on the lower decks look like?” Conway asked, peering over Larkin’s shoulder.
“Uncertain,” Larkin said, running her tricorder over a burnt, singed screen. “However, I am trying to reinitialize the internal sensor network.”
“Be quick about it,” Conway muttered. “I don’t want to hang around here any longer than I have to.”
“Success, Commander,” Larkin said finally, as the screen lit up. “The lower five decks seem to be undamaged.”
“Conway to Hartley,” Conway said, tapping his comm badge.
“I’m sorry, that transporter chief is no longer in service. Please try again,” Hartley replied with a laugh.
“Beam us to one of the lower five decks, Hartley, and be quick about it,” Conway barked.
“What’s that? Your transmission is breaking up!”
“Just energize, damn it!”
Moments later, Commander Conway and his away team appeared in a humongous cargo bay that was filled with hulking cargo containers twice the size of runabouts.
“Where are we?” Conway asked, swinging his palm beacon around.
“Deck eighteen,” Larkin replied, scanning the area with her tricorder. “This is the Brinmar Outpost’s main cargo bay. It extends throughout all of deck eighteen. The surrounding decks comprise the primary reactor and maintenance systems.”
“Any idea why this area wasn’t hit?” Conway asked.
“In theory, a raiding party, if that is indeed what this was, would spare destroying a cargo bay in order to steal some kind of cargo.”
“That’s brilliant. But it doesn’t look like anything’s missing.”
“Commander!” J’hana shouted. “Over here!”
“Keep looking around, Larkin,” Conway said, following the sound of J’hana’s voice.
“I found the cargo manifest, Commander.” J’hana said, handing Conway a small padd. “There are several containers missing.”
“What was in the containers?” Conway asked.
“Deuterium modules, shield transfer nodes, and industrial replicators just to name a few.” But the good news is they left the Antican grain supplies.”
“They must not be concerned about their colons.” Conway paged through the manifest. “Boy are we going to nail these suckers when we find them. Nobody f***s with the Federation.”
“I promise you, we will find the Andorians who did this,” J’hana said. “And we will bring them to justice, so I swear to the great hive mother of-“ J’hana looked up to the heavens as if in prayer. She stopped talking when she noticed a cargo container teetering precariously directly over Commander Conway.
“Commander!” J’hana shouted, plowing into Commander Conway and pushing him back to the deck.
“What the f***?” Conway grunted, as J’hana knocked the wind out of him. Conway soon realized what had happened when he felt the rumble of a cargo container smashing against the deck.
J’hana lept to her feet, looking around, waving her beacon around. “There is someone else in here, Commander!”
Conway stood up and straightened his uniform. “Now let’s not jump to-“
Suddenly a blue hand reached out through the darkness and pulled J’hana back.
Before Conway could withdraw his phaser, J’hana and her assailant disappeared in a purple flash.
“Explorer to away team.” Baxter said hurriedly. “We picked up some transporter activity over there. What’s happening?”
“No time to explain, Captain…just beam us back over there.”
“What about that trace, Lieutenant?” Captain Baxter asked, leaning over Lt. Tilleran’s station.
“I still can’t find the source. I can tell by the frequency modulation that it came from a ship, but the beam’s amplitude is so distorted…I can’t–”
“They kidnapped J’hana,” Commander Conway said, rushing out onto the bridge, Larkin following closely behind him.
“Who did?” Baxter asked. “And why didn’t our sensors or your tricorders pick them up?”
“I cannot explain,” Lt. Commander Larkin said, taking the ops position. “The only possibility seems that they have a way of fooling our sensors.”
“How likely is that?” Baxter asked.
Suddenly an alarming noise came from the tactical station. “Andorian warships off our port bow, Captain! They came from out of nowhere!” Lt. Gellar called out.
“Shields up.” Baxter ordered. “Open a channel.”
“Sir, I’ve analyzed the power emanations from the Andorian vessels.” Lt. Tilleran said. “One of the vessels has the exact same signature as the one that attacked Brinmar station, and the one that kidnapped Lt. J’hana.”
“Noted.” Baxter said, straightening his uniform and leaning forward.
“Channel open,” Gellar said.
“Andorian vessels, you are under suspicion of attacking a Federation installation and kidnapping a Starfleet off–”
Suddenly beams lashed out from the four vessels, pounding into the Explorer.
Baxter steadied himself. “Not the talkative types, huh? Return fire, Mister Gellar. Target engines.”
“Aye, sir,” Gellar replied, as the twin rapid-fire phaser banks on the underside of the Explorer’s saucer tore into the attacking ships.
“They’re heading back towards Andorian territory, Captain,” Lt. Ford reported.
“Stay on them, Ford. Set course and speed to intercept.”
“We have to find out what they’re up to, Captain,” said Conway.
“Tell me something I don’t know.” Baxter watched as phaser fire flared from the Explorer, pounding into one of the Andorian ships.
“One of the warships is heavily damaged, sir,” Gellar reported. “They are breaking off.”
“We’ll see to them later. Try and stop the ship that kidnapped Lt. J’hana,” said Baxter.
“How long until we’re in tractor range, Larkin?” Conway asked.
Larkin examined her panel. “Less than one minute, Commander.”
“Fire again,” Baxter said. “We’re not letting them get away.”
“Aye, sir,” replied Gellar.
Baxter watched the three remaining ships on the viewscreen intently. He wasn’t about to let them get away with assaulting a Federation station and kidnapping one of his officers. Not on his watch.
Then, in the blink of an eye, the three ships disappeared.
“Somebody tell me where they went!” Baxter said frantically.
“Uncertain, sir,” Larkin replied. “I cannot find a trace of them. Even a cloaking device leaves some kind of latent energy pattern.”
“One thing after another,” Conway muttered.
“Well, we’ll get to the bottom of this,” Baxter said. “Lt. Ford, take us back to the wounded Andorian ship.”
Once it was in range, Lt. Commander Larkin put the wounded ship on screen. Its damaged warp strut was still sparking.
“Now maybe we’ll get some answers,” Baxter said confidently.
“Sir, I’m reading a massive buildup in the Andorian vessel’s reactor core!” Tilleran called out.
“Well, stop it!” Baxter ordered.
“There’s nothing we can do!” Tilleran replied.
Baxter put a hand across his eyes as the Andorian vessel exploded in a bright wash of light.
“Well, that certainly was fun,” Conway commented angrily from Baxter’s right.
J’hana struggled in her captor’s grasp as he dragged her to the turbolift.
“You’ve made a grave mistake, hiveling,” J’hana grunted. “When I get free, I will kill every person on this ship, starting with you.”
The Andorian sneered. “You may change your mind when you see who our leader is.”
“Unlikely,” J’hana replied. “You are subversives, radicals, rebels. You are jeapardizing years of good relations for no reason. That kind of foolishness is only punishable by death.”
“Are you sure you’re an Andorian?” her captor asked angrily. “Because you sound like a Terran.”
J’hana grunted even louder as the Andorian rebel
dragged her into the turbolift. “You will regret ever making that comment, hiveling!”
“We shall see.”
Deciding to seize the moment, J’hana quickly clasped her hands and rammed them into the base of her captor’s spine, dropping him to his knees immediately.
“You were saying?” she said, picking him up by the scruff of his neck and slamming him against the wall of the turbolift. “Call me a Terran, will you?”
The rebel was barely able to get out a few protestful grunts as J’hana squeezed the life out of him.
J’hana let go of the rebel’s neck when she heard the sound of the turbolift doors swooshing open.
“Bridge,” the computer’s hard male voice announced in Andorian.
J’hana lept out of the bridge doors and rolled forward, finding the first pair of legs and jerking them down, pulling the blade from around her victim’s waist and ramming it into his chest.
“Stop her!” her captor cried, crawling weakly out of the turbolift and trying to climb to his feet.
“Charix, you idiot!” a voice cried.
J’hana jumped to her feet, swinging her blade wildly into the officers that rushed to detain her.
“I want her alive,” the voice added. J’hana realized the voice was coming from behind her. And it was somehow familiar to her.
Before J’hana could react, the Andorian rebels were able to grab the blade and hold her down. Of course, it did take five of them.
“Let me see her,” the voice commanded.
The Andorians turned J’hana around.
“I don’t believe it,” J’hana grunted, looking up at the owner of the voice. “What in the flark are you doing here, Lular?”
The Andorian smiled. “Really, J’hana. I expected a much warmer welcome for your little brother.”
“We have no explanation for the Andorian’s actions,” Admiral McGrath said solemnly on the terminal in Captain Baxter’s readyroom. “But we do have some news to report.”
“I’m all ears.” Baxter said, leaning forward.
McGrath pushed a button on his desk. Suddenly a picture of a building appeared on Baxter’s terminal. “Recognize this?” McGrath asked.
“It’s a building.”
“Of course it’s a building. It’s a specific building. The Andorian embassy.”
“Oh.” Baxter said. “So?”
“Just watch.” Suddenly the building exploded in a bright fireball.
“My…God!” Baxter said. “Was anybody hurt?”
“Of course somebody was hurt! Everyone in the embassy was killed!” McGrath made an attempt to calm himself down. “This morning we recieved a message from a group calling themselves the ‘Shalta’prax.’ They claimed responsibility for the bombing and for several ‘future’ attacks on Federation territory. They rescinded the Andorian application to the Federation, and returned all the Federation’s greeting cards dating back to 2297.”
“My word,” Baxter said. “That’s pretty drastic.”
“Darn right it’s drastic! The Andorians are provoking a war, Andy. We’ve been getting hang up calls for the past seven hours, and who do you think’s responsible?”
“You’re catching on. You have to find a way to infiltrate this group of Andorians and find out why they’re doing this, and stop them before they start a war between the Andorians and the Federation.”
“And how exactly to you expect me to do that?” Baxter asked.
“Be creative!” McGrath replied, closing the channel.
Stardate 52429.1. After my pleasant conversation with Admiral McGrath, we have formulated a plan that we hope will be effective in stopping this new Andorian threat. To that end, we are en route to the Zakdorn shipyards at Klopka Three, where I hope to cash in a favor.
“You still haven’t told me how you plan on infiltrating the Andorian rebel group, Andy,” Counselor Peterman said, walking beside Baxter as he made his way down the corridor.
“I thought I’d let it be a surprise.” Baxter said. “I think you’ll find my little plan quite ingenious.”
“I can’t wait,” Peterman said excitedly.
Commander Conway’s complaining could be heard before Peterman and Baxter even stepped into sickbay.
“Hold still!” Dr. Browning said in annoyance. “If you don’t stop squirming you may accidentally lose a nose!”
“Get off me, you butcher!” Conway cried, as Browning worked on him.
“Well, Doctor?” Baxter asked from behind Browning. “How goes it?”
“See for yourself.” Browning stepped aside so Baxter and Peterman could get a look at Conway.
“Ahem…hee hee…excellent job, Doctor,” Baxter said, supressing a giggle.
Peterman doubled over in laughter. “You look like a smurf!”
“Mirror!” Conway shouted, reaching his hand out.
Browning stopped laughing just long enough to stuff a mirror into Conway’s hands.
“I don’t believe it.” Conway said, examining his blue skin and antennae. “You really did it.”
“Try to wriggle your antennae, Commander.” Browning said.
Conway narrowed his eyes, concentrating. Suddenly he watched in surprise as his antennae wriggled.
“How’d you do that?” Baxter asked.
“Biomechanical servos inside the antennae.” Browning explained. “They respond to nerve impulses from the Commander’s forehead.”
“I’d like to know how you can get nerve impulses from something that’s made from solid rock!” Peterman said, still laughing.
“I’d like to know who came up with that outfit.” Baxter grimaced, looking Commander Conway’s Romanesque heavy leather and metal spiked ensemble.
“Believe it or not,” Browning giggled, “that’s how the average Andorian male dresses.”
“And I just thought it was our Lieutenant J’hana who had the fashion sense,” Peterman said, bursting out into laughter again and doubling over.
“Keep laughing, missy.” Conway said angrily, trying to straighten the tunic of his outfit in a vain attempt to get more comfortable. “One of these days I’ll reach out and knock you into next week.”
“Over my dead body, Moody Smurf.” Baxter giggled, ushering Peterman toward one of sickbay’s ajoining rooms. Inside the lab, Lt. Ford was waiting patiently while Lt. Tilleran and Lt. Commander Larkin worked.
“We have managed to forge false DNA overlays, Captain.” Lt. Commander Larkin said, holding an isolinear chip up for Captain Baxter’s inspection. “They can be programmed into the transporter and added to our patterns.”
“In English,” Tilleran explained, “that basically means we’ll be able to cheat the Andorians’ DNA scanners.”
“Excellent.” Baxter said. “Give the chip to Lt. Hartley and prepare to disembark once Dr. Browning finishes with you guys.”
“Aye, sir.” Lt. Commander Larkin said, heading out of the lab with Lt. Tilleran.
“Captain?” Ford asked, standing up and approaching the door.
“Yes, Lieutenant?” Baxter replied.
“Why am I going on this mission anyway?”
“Well, we need an experienced pilot to take our team into Andorian territory, and I couldn’t think of a better candidate.”
Ford grimaced. “I’m earning my extra pip, aren’t I, sir?”
“Damn right. Besides, I figured you might enjoy a nice change of scenery.”
“You figured wrong, sir. Andorians scare me,” Ford replied, heading out the door.
“Bridge to Baxter,” Lt. Gellar’s voice said. “We’ve reached Klopka Three, sir.”
“I’ll be right up. Take up a standard orbit and hail the Zakdorn authorities.”
Peterman accompanied Baxter as he made his way to the bridge. “Something seems very strange, here, Andy.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s Lt. Ford. He hasn’t been the same ever since joining that cult.” Peterman replied. “It’s as if he just doesn’t have the same…Fordness.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?”
“Good, but disturbing. It somehow didn’t feel right when he didn’t make a pass at me just now. Did you notice it?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Baxter said. “People change, and as long as its for the better, I’m all for it.”
“But think about it, Andy. What kind of sick brainwashing could make Ford less of a horndog?”
Baxter shivered slightly as he stepped into the turbolift. “Gee, I never thought of it that way.”
“Leave us,” Lular ordered, as the guard tossed J’hana into the cramped cabin.
The guard nodded, glaring at J’hana, who bared her teeth back at him. “I will be right outside, Lular.”
J’hana looked around the cabin. “I expected more from you, Lular. I was hoping you’d be commanding a fleet of our best warships by the time I returned from the Delta Quadrant, not leading some puny group of rebels.”
Lular turned to the tiny window at the rear of the cabin. “It isn’t so puny, sister.”
“Whatever the case, it is dishonorable.” J’hana said. “What you have done is inexcusable, and as your older sister, I command you to stop immediately and turn yourself over to the authorities.”
Lular turned back towards J’hana and smiled. “I’d love to do that, J’hana. But, sadly, there are no authorities anymore.”
“What are you saying?”
“We killed the authorities.” Lular let out a demonic laugh. “Photonic charge on the capital. Thousands died.”
“Thousands more honorable than you…” J’hana said slowly, trying to digest this new bit of information. “How did you get ahold of such weaponry?”
“We have ways. But, alas, I can’t share that information with you if you wish to be my enemy.”
“I’m growing tiresome of this, Lular.” J’hana said, grabbing her younger brother by the shoulders and turning him around. “What would our Mothers and Fathers say?”
“They would be proud that one of their offspring has done something!” Lular said. “You don’t know how angry it made them when you joined Starfleet.”
“They understood.” J’hana said. “Where are they now?”
“The retirement colony on Gringis Five, at the edge of our borders.”
“They’ll find out what you did,” J’hana said. “And when they do…”
“I’m not a child anymore.” Lular shouted angrily. “They can do nothing to stop me, and neither can you!”
“We’ll see about that.” J’hana said.
Lular pulled a blade from inside his sleeve and rushed J’hana up against the wall, holding the blade up against her neck. “You know, J’hana, there was a time when you’d eagerly step forward into battle to earn glory. You made a mistake when you joined the Federation. You watered down your blood and quenched your fire. Now you have two choices. You may join us, and return to your Andorian ways, or you may spend the rest of your life a prisoner of the new government, like a weak Federation dog. Or you can die right now.”
“That’s three choices, Lular.” J’hana said.
Lular grunted angrily, turning around and re- sheathing his blade. “You’re always trying to outsmart me, aren’t you?”
“I was always the intelligent one, brother. That is the difference between us.”
“Well, that’s going to change.” Lular said. “You can count on that.”
“How did all this happen?” J’hana asked. “How did you fall in with these rogues?”
“For many years I was content to be a low ranking Xax in the Andorian guard. Then you disappeared and everything changed. Our family regarded you as a hero. It was said that you had the most honorable death in our family’s history, and the members of our hive celebrated you for months. Finally, I had enough.”
“So you found this rebelious gang?” J’hana asked.
“The Shalta’prax is not a gang!” Lular shouted. “It is an honorable society that believes in the freedom of Andorians to support themselves. We don’t need the stinking, cowardly Federation to keep us alive. We only need ourselves.”
“You’ll find the Federation to be much less cowardly than you think,” J’hana said. “When my Captain finds you…”
“If your Captain finds me, he will find death the same day.” Lular announced, pulling his blade out and holding it up to J’hana’s neck again. “And if you are intent on following him, you will find it as well.”
“You do not have the nerve to kill me.” J’hana said with disgust.
“Do too!” Lular protested.
“Do not.” J’hana replied. “If you are so brave, do it. Kill your sister. Spill my blood. I am ready!”
“Don’t tempt me, J’hana!” Lular shouted.
“I am waiting.” J’hana said impatiently.
After several moments passed, J’hana grabbed Lular’s wrist and turned it behind his back, twisting it until she heard a crack. “I see I was correct. You haven’t changed, Lular. You are still a coward. Still incompetent. Still stupid. Still a blight upon a respected hive.”
“You know nothing!” Lular shouted in pain, reaching to touch a button on his belt. “Br’han! Open the door. I am coming out!”
“Run away, Lular! Run like the coward that you are!” J’hana shouted, as Lular limped out of the room.
“You will come around, sister! I swear it!” Lular cried, looking back at J’hana as the doors to her cabin sealed.
“Captain Baxter, how nice it is to see you. The last I heard your ship had disappeared!” The smiling Zakdorn said on the Explorer’s viewscreen.
“Not exactly disappeared, Mr. Kutzpa,” said Baxter from his command chair. “But I have a new ship now.”
“Well, what brings you to my humble shipyards?”
“I need a favor.” Baxter replied from the command chair. “A big one.”
“You saved me from a Starfleet audit when you were on the Aquarius, Captain. I would gladly do anything to help you.” Kutzpa replied. “What exactly do you need?”
“I need a ship. Specifically, an Andorian ship.” Baxter said.
“That’s no small favor.” Kutzpa said, his smile fading. “What do you need it for?”
“I can’t go into it. I can only tell you that your help is integral in saving our relationship with the Andorians,” Baxter replied. “And if you can help us, I will make sure you are fairly compensated.”
Kutzma leaned forward. “And how exactly would you compensate me?”
“I happen to know you’ve had your eye on that moon around Deneb Five, Mr. Kutzpa,” said Baxter. “I might be able to persuade the Federation to make a trade.”
Kutzpa considered a moment. “A whole moon. Captain, you have yourself a deal. I am sending the proper coordinates to your helm computer. You may pick up your Andorian ship there.”
“Thank you, Kutzpa,” Baxter said, looking to Ensign Madera and gesturing for her to engage.
“Good luck, Captain. I hope the vessel is…ahem… adequate.”
“I’m sure it will be.” Baxter said. “Explorer out.”
Br’han rapped his knuckles across the door to J’hana’s cell. “I have your dinner.”
After waiting a few moments without a reply, Br’han tapped his entry code into the door panel and stepped through the parting doors.
Suddenly a dark shape slammed into Br’han, knocking him against the wall and splattering the meal of verhlat liver the ship’s cook had prepared for J’hana all over the deck.
Before Br’han could react, J’hana twisted his neck with a quick, sickening snap.
“I hate verhlat liver.” J’hana said, shoving Br’han’s body up against the wall and grabbing his weapon.
J’hana quickly made her way out of the cell and down the darkened corridors of Lular’s ship.
“Coming up on the coordinates now, Captain,” said Ensign Madera from the helm.
“On screen.” Baxter said, standing up and walking towards the viewscreen.
A small, asteroid-pocked, dented vessel appeared on the screen.
“Sensors identify it as an Andorian Vanax-class transport sir. Minimum maneuvering capabilities and weaponry,” Lt. Gellar reported.
Commander Conway, followed by Larkin, Tilleran, and Ford, stepped out of the conference lounge. “That’s what’s supposed to take us across Andorian lines?”
“I’m afraid so, Commander.” Baxter said woefully, sitting back down.
“At least it’s a pretty color.” Peterman observed. “It’s a nice dark hue of blue, it matches your skin perfectly!”
“Shut up, Peterman.” Conway said, hands on hips.
“Don’t worry, Commander.” Baxter said, putting himself between Conway and Peterman. “We’ll have Richards fix it up and upgrade its weaponry.”
“Oh, well I feel better already.” Conway sighed.
“What’s the matter, Commander?” Peterman asked. “Do you have the blues?”
Leaving a trail of Andorian bodies in her wake, J’hana stormed her way to the bridge.
As soon as the doors swung open to let her in, Lular turned around in the command chair to face her.
“There you are, sister. I was wondering when you’d get here. I hope my crew didn’t give you too much trouble.”
J’hana rushed Lular, shoving her disruptor up against his throat. “Listen up, sibling of mine. I want you to take us back to Federation space and turn yourself in to Starfleet authorities, and call this rebellion off.”
“Or what?” Lular asked defiantly.
“Or I’ll blast open a new trachea for you.” J’hana growled.
“Well, that’s not very sisterly.” Lular said.
“Lular, we have arrived.” The pilot announced, oblivious of J’hana’s prescence on the bridge.
“Excellent. Activate the viewscreen.” Lular said. “You’re just in time to see why we’re all here, J’hana.”
“What do you mean?” J’hana asked, looking up at the viewscreen.
And suddenly it all became clear.
“By the hive mother…” J’hana said quietly, putting her weapon down and crossing her hands over her chest.
“I knew you’d understand.” Lular smiled.
“It stinks in here.” Commander Conway observed, looking around the cramped bridge of the Andorian transport.
“That’s how it’s supposed to smell, Commander.” Lt. Tilleran said, as she helped Lt. Commander Larkin work on one of the bridge stations. “That’s what Andorians call the vesh’melt.”
“The what?” Conway asked.
“Loosely translated, it means ‘the smell of glory,’” Lt. Commander Larkin chimed in.
“Or, more succinctly, it means manure,” Tilleran continued. “From a rare variety of Andorian creature, similar to a horse.”
“I find this all very fascinating,” Conway said, settling into the command chair. “Get rid of the Goddamned smell, Tilleran.”
Suddenly the panel behind Conway fizzled to life. “Brzzzt….plorer to….zzt…Gadvash…come in…” Baxter’s voice crackled over the speakers.
“Gadvash?” Conway asked.
“That’s us,” said Tilleran cheerily. “Loosely translated, it means, ‘honor in the…”
“I don’t care,” railed Conway. “Can you put Baxter on the viewscreen?”
“Negative,” Lt. Commander Larkin said. “This ship’s viewscreen capabilities have been disabled.”
“Then get me audio.”
“Give me a minute…” Tilleran said. “Okay…go ahead.”
“Captain?” Conway asked.
“I’m reading you, Commander. How are things going over there?”
“Well, sir, they could be better.” Conway said. “It’s a major operation just to get a comm channel working. This ship is a deathtrap, sir.”
“It has character, Commander! Ethnic charm!”
“I’ll give you ethnic charm.” Conway muttered. “Sir, you can’t expect us to make it back in one piece with this ship!”
“I’m sure everything will be fine.” Baxter said. “Think of this as an exercise in creative leadership.”
“You’re really getting on my nerves, Baxter.” Conway said. “I have half a mind to…”
“To what? To try and blow up my big tough starship with your crappy little Andorian transport? Fat chance!”
“The Captain is not exactly taking pains to increase our confidence.” Lt. Commander Larkin observed.
“I’ll show him.” Conway grunted. “It takes a little more than a crappy ship and a horde of rebels to get Commander David Conway down, damn it.”
“We’ll see about that, Commander.” Baxter laughed. “Explorer out.”
At that, Lt. Commander Richards ducked into the bridge, slapping his hands together. “Boy, I’m sure glad I’m not going to be flying on this deathtrap.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Conway asked.
Richards smiled. “Oh, nothing. I gave you guys better shields, weapons, and inertial dampers. As long as you don’t…um, well, get in any battles or anything, you guys should be fine.”
Lt. Ford followed Richards onto the bridge. “Why am I getting the idea that this is supposed to be a one-way mission?”
“Because we’re dealing with Andorians, Lieutenant.” Commander Conway grimaced. “And Andorians treat death like it’s a freaking gift.”
“In that case, I hope you’re feeling the holiday spirit.” Richards said, tapping his comm badge. “Richards to Explorer. One to transport.”
“Take the helm and get us ready for departure, Ford.” Conway ordered, glaring at Richards as he disappeared.
“By the Holy Hive, Lular, do you realize what you’ve found?” Jhana said quietly, staring at the viewscreen.
“The Vaxva. The greatest weapons cache in our history.” Lular said from behind J’hana. “Floating here among the stars like the Holy Hive itself.”
Buried in an asteroid, the silver spires of the huge installation glistened in the light of a far off star.
“How did you find it?” J’hana asked, not turning her eyes away from the structure on the screen.
“A mining expedition.” Lular explained. “The miners found it purely by mistake, but the government quickly tried to keep it from us. That’s why we rebelled. That’s why we destroyed them. To claim what’s ours.”
“Someone must make sure the cache isn’t violated.” J’hana said slowly.
“Sister, we already violated it.” Lular said proudly. “Where do you think we got our invisibility devices?”
“You violated the Vaxva?” J’hana asked.
“We stole many peices from the Vaxva.” Lular explained. “We found it fortified with weaponry…shields…the invisibility devices. They were all gifts of our ancestors that were left in space long ago.”
“Before the great regression.” J’hana said, turning back to Lular. “Before war destroyed all our technologies.”
“You remember the texts well, J’hana. The sages sent the last of the great ancient Andorian technology to the stars, where we were destined to find it again.”
“And you believe that day is here?” J’hana scoffed. “You obviously are not mature enough to handle such a gift. You have misused it thus far, with your unwise battles and shadowy activities. The responsibility must be handed to someone else.”
“And who, pray tell, might that be?” Lular asked angrily.
J’hana folded her arms and turned to her brother. “Me.”
Stardate 52429.7. Commander David Conway reporting. I really hate this ship. I really really hate this ship. After three hours of turbulent space travel, I’m about ready to jump overboard.
Per Captain Baxter’s orders, my infiltration group
is making for the heart of Andorian territory, where,
hopefully, we can find some way into this “Shalta’prax.”
“How is that, Commander?” Lt. Commander Larkin asked, looking up at Commander Conway.
Conway peered down at Larkin as she scrubbed the deck. “I can still smell it, Lieutenant! Keep working!”
“I’ve seen it all now.” Lt. Tilleran said, emerging from the access hatch in the floor and climbing out onto the bridge and taking her place at the science console.
“What’s your problem?” Conway asked, turning to the Betazoid.
“I’ll put it this way: DO NOT go into the galley.”
“Do the Andorians purposely live in conditions this disgusting?” Lt. Ford asked from the helm.
“Evidently.” Conway muttered. “It’s still better than a Klingon ship.”
“Not by much.” Ford said.
“You’ve obviously not spent much time on a Klingon ship, Lieutenant.” Conway said.
Before Ford could respond, Lt. Tilleran’s panel gave off a beep. “Commander. We’re being approached by an Andorian raider.”
“Match it with the specifications of the three we faced in the Brinmar system.” Conway said, leaning forwards in his chair.
“No match.” Tilleran replied. “This ship is slightly less armed than the others. They’re hailing us, sir.”
“Do we have visual yet?” Conway asked, turning back.
Tilleran worked some controls at her panel. “Barely. It won’t be crystal clear, but it should do.”
“Then put them on-screen.”
The viewscreen at the front of the cramped bridge crackled to life. Conway shuddered as two large, muscular Andorian women appeared on the static-filled screen.
“I am Captain Dav of the Gadvash. Uh, what can I do you ladies for?” Conway asked meekly, shrinking back a bit at the sight of the formidible women.
“Greetings. I am Suva, and this is D’aht. We are with the Shalta’prax vessel Jatrall. Where are your loyalties?”
Conway tried to remember what Larkin had told him to say. “My loyalties, uh, lie with myself. I am not a slave to your politics.”
D’aht smiled, nudging Suva conspiratorially. “We admire your nerve, Captain, especially considering how weak your vessel is.” Suva said. “We despise politics as well. As a matter of fact, we are currently more interested in acquiring mates than meddling in this little altercation. Perhaps we could…get better acquainted? I would love to test your pain tolerance.”
“Mute.” Conway ordered, looking down to Larkin, who was still scrubbing. “This is just great. We want information, and they want to do the naked limbo with us.”
“It seems at least a valid way of penetrating the rebel group, Commander.” Larkin said. “We may not get a better chance.”
Conway gulped. “Easy for you to say. Do you have any idea what the Andorian mating ritual is like?”
Larkin considered this, calling up her cultural database. “A contest of endurance, pain, and pleasure, involving between two and sixteen participants, utilizing many various techniques, including exposure to open flame, the shattering of the pelvic bone, a tearing of the-“
“I get it!” Conway shouted. “You’re not helping, Larkin. Tilleran: Put them back on.”
“Have you made your decision, Captain?” Suva asked. D’aht was rubbing her hands together excitedly.
“Well, as great as your offer sounds, I think we’d better–” Conway said.
Suddenly alarms on Tilleran’s panel went off. “Sir, they’ve locked a tractor beam onto us!”
“That’s not the answer we wanted to hear, Captain. We need new flesh now!”
“Oh boy.” Conway looked back to Tilleran. “Can we break the tractor beam?”
“Maybe. But, once we do, they could easily destroy us. They have better shields and weapons.”
“Just great. I can choose between being courted by Andorians or being destroyed.”
“Do I have a vote?” Ford asked.
“No.” Conway said flatly, looking back to the viewscreen. “Okay, okay, you have a deal.”
“Glad you see it our way. Report to our ship in fifteen minutes.”
D’aht grinned widely, staring in the direction of Ford. “And bring your navigator. He is scrawny, but I believe he can be worked with.”
Ford just gulped.
Fifteen minutes later, Commander Conway and Lt. Ford climbed the Gadvash’s transporter pad, looking like two men about to be hanged.
“This is a pain suppressant in case they decide to get romantic.” Tilleran said, injecting a hypospray into Conway’s neck.
“What if they want to have sex with us?” Ford asked in fright. “I know for a fact that Dr. Browning didn’t give us Andorian…” Ford looked down, “equipment.”
“Good thing too,” Tilleran said. “You two wouldn’t be able to stand up.”
“I guess we’ll just have to improvise.” Conway said finally. “Get ready to beam us over, Larkin.”
“Please remember the plan, Commander.” Larkin said, taking up the controls of the transporter. “You must attampt to download the information from Suva and Daht’s ship into your data crystals, so we can uncover the whereabouts of their base.”
“Understood.” Conway said. “Just remember to do your part when we signal to beam out of there.”
“We shall, Commander.” Larkin said, engaging the transporter. “Good luck.”
“I have a bad feeling about this.” Ford muttered as he disappeared.
Conway and Ford were yanked off the transporter pad the second they finished materializing aboard the Jatrall.
Two guards held them down as Suva and D’aht inspected them.
“This one is too short.” Suva said with a sneer, looking Ford over.
“Well, this one is too fat.” D’aht huffed, poking at Conway’s stomach.
“Then we shall trade!” Suva said excitedly, dragging Conway to his feet. “This way, tubbo!”
“No, no…we need to talk!” Conway cried, kicking and screaming as Suva dragged him down the corridor.
“Good luck Command-“ Ford said, waving at Conway. He was interrupted when D’aht slapped him upside the back of his head and tossed his limp form over her shoulder.
“Make course for the Vaxva.” D’aht barked to one of her officers. “I’m going to go pound this togat into the floor.”
Commander Conway tried not to show that he felt like his head was being run through a cuisinart. Suva left him to the tender strains of her Andorian lovemaking music while she changed into something “more comfortable.”
To Conway, Andorian lovemaking music sounded like pots and pans being clanged together loudly, against a funky drum beat and some wild maraccas.
Conway wondered what Suva meant by “more comfortable.” From what he knew of J’hana, the implications were probably not good.
“Help yourself to a drink. I have some fresh garnash.” Suva called out from the other room.
“Okey doke.” Conway replied, heading over to the bar. He was afraid to touch anything in this woman’s quarters. They were the quarters of a woman who obviously didn’t believe in tidyness, or hygiene for that matter.
Conway pushed aside a festering mound of dirty Andorian undergarments to get at the rack of bottles. He briefly wondered how Andorians could be comfortable wearing underwear made almost completely out of chainmail. Oh, the chafing!
Trying his best to remember the Andorian spelling of “garnash,” Conway rifled through the bottles, finally deciding to take his chances, yanking out a bottle of brownish liquid and pouring it into the cleanest glass he could find.
“You have a…um, lovely place here, Suva.” Conway said, staring at the bubbling concoction fearfully.
“Thank you. I think it has a quite lived-in feel.”
“More like died-in.” Conway muttered, bringing the beverage close to his mouth. From inches away, a stench not unlike ammonia assaulted his nostrils. Conway quickly held the glass away.
Oh, what he would have given for a nice cup of coffee in place of this disgusting brew.
“I’m ready!” Suva cried, skipping into the room.
She pranced around in front of Conway, sporting her outfit. It was much like the regular Andorian woman’s clothing–just less of it. Leather straps encircled the woman’s body, with pretty gold spikes at all the places where normal people would prefer a little more coverage.
Conway took down his drink in one gulp, praying for the sweet release of death.
“Let’s ride!” Suva said, grabbing Conway and throwing him up against the wall.
Instead of the nice, painfully hard surface he expected, Conway felt tiny spikes drive into his back.
Before he could shout, Suva lept on top of him, driving the spikes farther in.
“Let the games begin!” Suva shouted, as the clanging of the Andorian music played on.
Conway only hoped that Ford was having more luck.
“Uncle! Uncle!” Ford cried, as his leg was twisted farther and farther away from the direction it was intended to swing in.
“I ain’t your uncle.” D’aht said. “Now shut up.”
Unlike Suva, who was more the romantic, D’aht was a woman of action, speaking only when necessary.
“So…” Ford said, trying not to cry. “I heard you mention something called the Vaxva. Is that the base of the Shalta’prax?”
“What if it is?” D’aht muttered, slamming a hard metal instrument resembling a hoe against Ford’s back.
“Please stop!” Ford cried. “This is not fun!”
“You love it.” D’aht said. “Now bear down on the bridle.”
“Oh great master of Galactic light, let me die!” Ford screamed, as D’aht continued to work her magic.
“Oh, you must say that to all the girls.” D’aht cooed.
Suva dragged Conway into the bedroom, where, to his relief, he found a plain, simple, flat bed.
“Oh praise God.” Conway said, staring at the bed. “And here I thought this was going to be painful.”
“Off with your clothes.” Suva said, drawing the bedsheets back. “I’m going to light the coals.”
“Coals?” Conway asked. He stared at the bed in shock. Indeed, where a mattress should have been, there was only coals, which Suva sprinkled librally with lighter fluid.
“I guess you’re used to modern gals. I’m sorry, but duranium heating coils take some of the fun out of it. They’re so cold and impersonal.” Suva said, hitting a control next to her bed. Flame spred across the coals, causing them to instantly glow red. “Hop to it, Conway!”
“I was hoping we could talk first.” Conway said meekly.
“Later.” Suva said, shoving Conway onto the coals.
Lt. Commander Larkin calmly watched Suva and D’aht’s ship on the viewscreen. The ship left as soon as Conway
and Ford were aboard, and Larkin had kept the Gadvash close
on its tail.
“Aren’t you getting worried, Commander?” Tilleran asked.
“It’s been almost an hour.”
“Worrying accomplishes little, Lieutenant. Even if I was capable of worrying, it would be self-defeating.”
“Still, we should have heard from them by now. What if our engines give out before they stop?”
Larkin turned back to Tilleran. “To use an aphorism, we shall have to cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“I’d still like to know what’s happening over there.” Lt. Tilleran said, eyes intent on the viewscreen.
“Knowing the Andorians, whatever it is, it is not pleasant,” Larkin said calmly.
“Wake up.” A voice said, as a hot poker pressed into Commander Conway’s side.
Conway’s eyes fluttered open. “Wha?”
“Who are you?” Suva asked, tracing the poker up to Conway’s neck.
Conway shook his head, trying to get the room to stop spinning. Everything was blurry, and every inch of his body was burnt or broken.
“Captain…Dav…of the…Garnash.” Conway said weakly.
The poker slammed into Conway’s forehead.
“Lie!” Suva said angrily. “You are not Andorian. Your face resembles an Andorian’s…but the rest of you…”
“Genetic deformity?” Conway asked. Another smack in the head.
“One more lie, and you die.” Suva seethed, teeth clenched.
“Okay, okay…I’m a Starfleet officer. Commander David Conway of the USS Explorer. I’m here to infiltrate the Shalta’prax and rescue my security officer!”
Conway couldn’t see well enough to guage Suva’s reaction. Would she be mad enough to finish him? He could only hope she would.
Instead, Suva let out a gut wrenching belly laugh that made Conway want to lose conciousness again.
“Are you okay, Commander?” Larkin asked, examining Conway’s appearance on the viewscreen. He looked like he’d been through a rigorous battle.
“I’ll live. Unfortunately.” Conway choked. “Listen…it turns out Suva and D’aht work for the old Andorian government, and they were assigned to infiltrate the Shalta’prax as well.”
“How convenient.” Larkin said.
“Tell me about it. First thing to go right on this mission. Anyway, when we were subjected to their…hospitality, they discovered we weren’t Andorian.”
“You told them everything, didn’t you.” Tilleran said. “How sad.”
“Hey, I held out longer than Ford.” Conway grimaced, staring to his left. “Ford here spilled the beans before D’aht laid a hand on him.”
“But she didn’t care!” Ford’s voice cried weakly. “She kept on anyway. It was awful!”
“It is an experience you’ll remember forever.” D’aht’s voice responded.
“Do either of you require medical attention?” Larkin asked.
“Suva assures us we will be…taken care of, whatever that means.” Conway said fearfully, leaning forward. “I’m scared, Larkin!”
“What do you want us to do, Commander?” Larkin asked, ignoring Conway’s whimpering.
“Suva and D’aht were able to track down the rebel installation. It’s somewhere in the Tarcoba belt. We’re about four hours away now.”
“Do they think we will be able to stop the rebels?” Larkin asked.
“The way they put it, we will either succeed or die.”
“They’ll be happy either way.” Tilleran chimed in.
“Tell me about it.” Conway replied. “We do have a hole card though. Suva’s intelligence tells her that the rebels are holding J’hana at their base. So we may be able to find her there.”
“And how does that help us?” Larkin asked.
“Well, Suva also tells me the leader of the insurrection is none other than J’hana’s brother. I figure as resourceful as she is, she’s managed to find a way out of their security. I’m hoping we’ll be able to make contact with her and she can help us break through their defenses.”
“This sounds pretty darn risky.” Tilleran said.
“Listen, missy, I’ve just spent two hours in the tender loving care of an Andorian pleasure mistress of the fourth order. I’m not scared of dying anymore!”
“Speak for yourself!” Ford cried from offscreen.
Conway glared over to Ford and then looked back to Larkin. “I want you and Tilleran to get the ship ready for battle. Things may get a little rough. Meanwhile I’m going to try and piggyback a signal out to the Explorer.”
“Good luck, Commander.” Larkin said, pressing a button next to the command chair.
“They’re insane if they think our two ships can take out a whole rebel base.” Tilleran said, as Larkin ripped open the deck plating and began working.
“We shall see.” Larkin said. “Now we must begin. Time is short.
Commander Conway paced the bridge of the Jatrall, twiddling his fingers behind his back and glancing up at the viewscreen from time to time.
He wasn’t sure if Baxter had recieved his message or not. If so, the Explorer would be standing by near the periphery of Andorian space waiting to come to the rescue if they got in a pinch. If not…well, Conway tried not to think about that. Instead, he just winced at the terrible pain from his bruised ribs.
Suva had given him something for the pain, but so far it didn’t seem to be doing much good.
“You are sure your Lieutenant J’hana will be able to help us, Commander?” Suva said, looking over from the command chair.
“Sure,” Conway said. “Believe me, I know J’hana. Her mind is always working. She’s ten steps ahead of them by now.”
Suva smiled wickedly. “Well, if the two of you make it back to your ship, you will have a few new steps to teach her.”
“I don’t think so.” Conway said. “First of all, I’m J’hana’s superior. Our relationship is purely business…”
“How boring.” D’aht gasped. “We’ve laid every crewman on this ship!”
“And secondly…” Conway said, rasing his voice and glaring at D’aht, “I didn’t learn anything from my little romp that I hadn’t already seen in videos of Cardassian refugee camps.”
“Cardassians know nothing about pain.” Suva sneered. “They use it as a weapon…”
“….when it works so well as a lovemaking tool!” D’aht said, prompting both Andorians to burst into laughter.
“Mistresses!” The navigator announced. “We have reached the Vaxva.”
“I thought we’d never find this bloody thing.” D’aht said. “Put it on screen.”
As soon as the bristling, bright silver installation appeared on the screen, all the Andorians on the bridge crossed their arms over their chests and bowed their heads.
“Show some respect.” Suva barked, darting her eyes over to Conway.
“Oh, yeah, right.” Conway said, mimicking the Andorians and giving a nod to Ford. “Come on, Ford. This is their Vaxva.”
“What the hell is a Vaxva?” Ford asked.
D’aht grabbed Ford’s neck and shoved him against the bulkhead. “It is the sum total of Andorian technological achievement, and it has been legend for hundreds of years.”
“Now we have found it.” Suva announced. “And we will claim it as the property of the legitimate Andorian government.” Suva’s scowl deepened. “What’s left of it.”
“We are being hailed by a ship in orbit of the Vaxva.” The navigator announced.
“That would be the Chorpak. Lular’s ship.” Suva said. “Let’s see what the little besach has to say.”
Conway took up a position behind Suva. “Lular is J’hana’s brother?”
“That’s correct. He’s the idiot that found the Vaxva in the first place. He’s using the Vaxva to create his own new empire.”
“We have to stop him.” Conway said.
“That is why we’re here.” Suva said tiredly. “Have you been able to get an answer, navigator?”
“I have been in touch with three operators.” The navigator replied. “There seems to be much confusion aboard the lead ship.”
“What do you mean confusion?” D’aht asked.
“Uncertain.” The navigator replied. “Hold on. I am getting a visual.”
Suddenly Lt. J’hana’s visage appeared on the viewscreen, much to Conway’s relief. The strange thing was, she wasn’t wearing her Starfleet uniform anymore–she was wearing a leather-and-metal Andorian uniform.
“Greetings. I trust the battle with the Federation has gone well?” J’hana asked.
“We hit a Pakled supply ship.” Suva said, looking to Commander Conway. “Is that your security chief?”
Conway didn’t reply. “J’hana! You don’t know how glad I am to see you.”
J’hana just cocked her head quizically. “And you are…”
“It’s me, Commander Conway! I’m made up to look like an Andorian!” Conway stepped forward. “We came to rescue you.”
“How unfortunate for you.” J’hana said with a sneer. “Now I have to eliminate you.”
Suva looked at Conway again. “What’s she doing?”
“Drop your act, J’hana!” Conway said. “Listen carefully. This is what you need to do…”
“All I need to do, human, is destroy you and any other Federation fool that interferes with the destiny of the Shalta’prax!”
With that, J’hana’s face disappeared from the screen.
Conway watched, dumbfounded, as the raider turned toward them, its weapons blazing…
TO BE CONTINUED…
NEXT: The Andorian fun continues, as we find out why J’hana switched from her comfy Federation uniform to one of those chafing Andorian thingies. Does this fashion faux-pas mean she’s a turncoat? Just the Shalta’prax, ma’am, on the next Star Traks: TVG!