Author: Alan Decker
Waystation wasn’t anywhere near this loud, Federation President Bradley Dillon thought to himself as he rolled over again in his bed for what had to be the twelfth time in as many minutes. The constant thrum of the Explorer’s engines was just so…constant. And loud. A continuous low rhythmic assault against his skull driving Bradley to the point of considering ordering Captain Baxter to go to full stop at night and drift just so Bradley could get some peaceful sleep.
Of course, full stop every night would delay their journey even more, and as it was the Explorer was looking at several months travel from the safe confines of Federation space to the void between galactic arms where one of the Bast generational ships was said to be traveling. And the Bast were the reason he was spending so long on a starship to begin with. He had to find them. Then, assuming that first phase went well, he could continue onward toward a new day for him and the Federation…well, him at any rate.
Bradley had almost drifted off to sleep despite the ever-present thrum when he was jolted out of bed by the blare of the ship’s Red Alert klaxon. Good lord, it was two in the morning. What could be happening now?
“President Dillon to the bridge,” he snapped, his commanding voice showing no sign of fatigue. “What is happening up there?”
“We have the situation under control, Mister President,” the voice of Lieutenant Commander Nell Vansen replied crisply. “Arm phasers and torpedoes.”
“Are we under attack? I can be on the bridge in less than five minutes to speak to the aggressors,” Bradley said, heading toward his supply of suits.
“I assure you that won’t be necessary,” Vansen said, the merest hint of impatience creeping into her voice. Bradley heard the bridge turbolift doors open and close over the comm link.
“What the hell is going on up here?” the exhausted-sounding voice of Captain Andy Baxter demanded.
“The situation is under control!” Vansen shot back, making no effort this time to hide her annoyance.
“Well, you woke Steffie!”
“I’d be happy to have the Red Alert klaxon deactivated in your quarters,” Vansen said. The ship rocked suddenly. “Return fire!”
“Direct hits,” the voice of that shift’s tactical officer reported. “They’re moving off.”
“See. Everything is under control,” Vansen said. “Go back to bed, Baxter. And good night, Mister President.”
“Wait. President Dillon was on the line?” Baxter asked. “Why was he…”
The commline abruptly went dead as someone on the bridge closed the channel.
“I should have drafted the Enterprise,” Bradley muttered, climbing back into bed. However, a high profile ship like that was the last thing he wanted on this little excursion, but surely he could have found someone else. No. Despite their quirks, the Explorer crew was the one crew he trusted to take him to the Bast…mainly because they were the crew with the least chance of getting in the way of his plans.
“Good morning, Mister Dillon,” Gisele said with her usual welcoming smile as Bradley entered his office later that morning. Other than the background thrum, Bradley would be hard pressed to distinguish this office that he’d had built on the deck he’d commandeered from Captain Baxter from his real office back on Waystation. Gisele, his assistant for several years now, sat in one of the high-backed faux-leather chairs in front of his desk with a padd containing the day’s news.
“Good morning, Gisele,” he replied, returning the smile. Through it all, Gisele had been a constant in his life since he hired her after making his fortune. They were something akin to friends, he supposed. They certainly had an affection for each other, but outside of the office their lives were completely separate. The compact woman’s stature often caused potential enemies to underestimate her, which was another bonus. It had also helped her get the job. After all, how many martial arts experts with business acumen and expert organizational skills were there in the galaxy?
“How are things today?” Bradley continued, slipping into his desk chair. This was the real thing, brought over from Waystation before the Explorer embarked on his mission. The chair was way too comfy yet impressive to leave behind.
“Quarterly reports were transmitted in from all Dillon’s Supply Depots yesterday. Ninety-three percent met projections, with six percent exceeding significantly and one percent falling under, one of those stores by fifteen percent.”
“Fifteen percent? Which store was that?”
“Haven’t they rebuilt their economy from the war yet?” Bradley asked impatiently.
“Evidently not. If I may suggest, cutting the recreational activity stock in favor of salvage…”
“Salvage and home improvement wares,” Bradley finished nodding. “My thoughts exactly. Anything else?”
“The Starfleet Suites on Waystation is booked solid for the next three months, and Dillon’s Restaurant has a four-night wait list.”
Bradley smiled. “People recognize quality. Check on land availability near the Mall of Antares. I think it may be time to turn Starfleet Suites into a chain.”
“I’ll see to it,” Gisele said, making a note on her padd. “There’s one more item I have here,” she said somewhat hesitantly.
“Captain Baxter has denied your requests for a mandatory Opera Appreciation Night for the crew, a gourmet-meals-only replimat on Deck Fourteen, and your request for a chair on the bridge.”
“I thought as much.”
“And I believe the padd that the denial was delivered in had been urinated on by a cat.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it,” Bradley said.
“Then why did you ask him?” Gisele said confused.
“Insurance,” Bradley replied cryptically. He checked the chronometer on his desk and sighed. “Almost time for Gerald to comm. Was there any other business?”
“I think I’m covered,” she replied, rising from her chair.
“You’re welcome to stay.”
“Thank you, but politics was never my favorite area,” Gisele said, beating a hasty retreat from the office as Bradley activate his desk’s comm unit, causing a flat black monitor to rise up from the desk’s interior. Right on time, the screen indicated an incoming transmission. Bradley opened the channel, and the image of Gerald Bouvier, his presidential aide who was currently back in the Federation’s capital in Paris on Earth, appeared on the screen. Bouvier was a lanky, nervous type, but he was very efficient. If anything, his nerves caused him to make doubly and triply sure that every detail of his work had been taken care of properly.
“Good morning, Gerald,” Bradley said.
“Mister President,” Gerald replied with a nod in fairly-accented English. Bouvier had been born and raised in Paris, which made him even more ideal for his position. He was comfortable in the Federation capital and able to maintain what Captain Baxter would have called a “home field advantage.”
“How’s my Federation?” Bradley asked.
“There are really no crises to report,” Gerald said. Bradley sensed a “but” coming on.
“But?” he asked preemptively.
“The Federation Council has quite close to passing a formal condemnation of your activities. Frankly, sir, as it was, they did not appreciate you running the Federation from Waystation, but leaving on a starship for parts unknown is quite beyond the pale.”
“They haven’t passed anything yet, though,” Bradley said confidently.
“No. The Vice President has thus far headed off any efforts.”
“And people said I was crazy to pick an actor.”
“He is definitely…charming.”
“Heran Roloi is the greatest actor of our generation,” Bradley said firmly. “I’ve seen her Hamlet. Believe me, after that, chairing the Council sessions is child’s play. And who better to gauge the mood of a crowd than a Betazoid?”
“But if a crisis should occur…”
“Heran isn’t just an actor, Gerald. She’s got the chops to handle things while I’m away. We see eye-to-eye on the issues, and I’m just a comm away if anyone needs me. Trust me…and trust her.”
“Yes, Mister President,” Gerald said unconvincingly.
“Trust me, Gerald,” Bradley repeated. “I’ll talk to you in three days.”
“Yes, sir. Safe journey.”
“Thanks. Dillon out.” Bradley closed the channel, then got up from his desk as the screen descended back into its hiding place. He headed to the outer office, where Gisele was busy perusing the Antares real estate offerings on the Federnet.
“I think I’m going to get some breakfast,” he said.
“I can have something ordered,” Gisele said.
“No. I want to go out.”
“I’ll alert your security.”
Bradley sighed. “Very well.” As nice as it was sometimes to go places with an imposing entourage, it would be nice to be able to occasionally just go get a meal without a heavily-armed escort.
The mall level of the USS Explorer felt fairly deserted to Bradley as he made he way along the concourse. Granted, the mall only served a population of 1000 people, rather than the several thousand now living on Waystation. Also Waystation had more space to work. Still, the Explorer’s mall was impressive in its own right, even if he wasn’t visiting in prime shopping hours.
The few patrons milling about did their requisite gawking when they realized who was in the mall with him. This was one of the parts of the job that Bradley loved. He shook hands with people, exchanged greetings, accepted a few well-meant, if insane, suggestions for new policy, and generally went into full public relations mode, all the while looking around for a promising eatery.
Finally, he spotted Space Tastes. He’d heard of the place, of course. His one question, though, was whether or not she was working, she being Janice Browning. Browning had worked for Bradley three years earlier on Waystation after he managed to woo her away from Starfleet with the promise of a restaurant of her very own to run. Well, actually, it was his restaurant, Dillon’s, but he was more than willing to let her be head chef.
She’d stayed for almost six months, but then Captain Baxter whisked her away because some ex-boyfriend of hers was in trouble. Bradley had actually briefly entertained the idea of dating her himself, but her abrupt departure scuttled that idea. Now he had bigger issues on his mind, but it would still be nice to renew the acquaintance, since he hadn’t so much as said hello to her since he came on board.
Through the restaurant window, he saw Browning duck out of the kitchen moments later, taking a heaping tray of flaming pancakes to the ship’s Andorian security chief, a Lieutenant J’hana, if Bradley remembered the personnel records correctly.
He entered the restaurant, causing one head after another to turn his way as word that President Dillon was there spread faster that a firestorm on Bersallis III. He turned down several offers to join different tables of diners, instead selecting a two-person table in the far corner of the restaurant.
A waitress quickly arrived, padd in hand as she looked at him nervously. “Um…do you know what you want, Mister President. Or do you need a menu? You need a menu, don’t you? I’m so sorry.”
“A menu would be very nice,” Bradley replied with a soothing grin. “And could you ask Janice to come by? She and I are old friends.”
“Sure thing,” the waitress said. She rushed off, mumbling to herself in enough different voices that Bradley quickly came to the conclusion she was Yynsian.
Bradley pulled out a padd of his own and began perusing reports from some of the various investment markets from the previous stardate. One of the down sides of being this far out was that he could no longer watch the markets in real time.
Another padd was placed in front of him, this one displaying a menu. Bradley looked up to see Janice Browning standing there smiling warmly. “I was wondering when you were going to come see me,” Browning said, opening her arms.
“Janice!” Bradley said, rising from his seat and giving her a hug. Briefly, he wondered when the last time he’d hugged someone had been. “Can you sit for a minute?” he asked, gesturing to the open chair.
“I don’t think this place will fall apart if I do,” Browning replied, sitting down as Bradley did the same. “It’d better not, considering I’m here a lot less than I used to be now.”
“Right. You’re the ship’s new Chief Medical Officer. Congratulations.”
“This is my third time taking the job. I don’t know that I get congratulated anymore,” Browning said. “Just call me Doctor Yo-Yo.”
“As long as you’re happy,” Bradley said.
“I am. And Plato’s thrilled. He seems to like me better when I’m actual Starfleet instead of just the lady with the restaurant.”
“From what I’ve read, he sounds like a remarkable boy. I have to say that I was a bit surprised when I heard that you’d had a child from a Changeling.”
“It wasn’t exactly planned, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Plato’s wonderful. And everyone on board has been very supportive. They’re his family.”
“I see,” Bradley said nodded. “So I guess offering you a new job on Waystation is pretty pointless then.”
Browning laughed. “Yep. And you didn’t come in here to offer me anything.”
“That is true. I just wanted to see you. We haven’t had much of a chance to talk over the last couple of years.”
“Well, you being on board should make it pretty easy to change that…assuming that the Presidency allows you any free time.”
“I’m the President. If I want free time, I give it to myself. It’s the whole power thing,” Bradley said.
“You’ve certainly done well for yourself.”
“So have you.”
They sat in silence for a couple of seconds as the conversation trailed off. “You should come over for dinner one night. Meet Plato,” Browning said. “I’m sure he’d love to meet the Bradley Dillon. I don’t think he even knows I used to work for you.”
“I’d like that,” Bradley said while inside wondering how she could have gone for years without ever mentioning something like that to her son. That was like not bothering to tell your kids that you once served with Captain James T. Kirk.
“I’ll have my people comm your people, which basically means I’ll comm your people. It should be fun, though. But I’d better get back to the kitchen,” Browning said, standing. “What did you want for breakfast? I’ll put the order in.”
“Vulcan omelet, light on the plomeek root, coffee, and a large grapefruit cut in halves, each on a separate plate.”
“Grapefruit, huh? That’s Andy’s favorite.”
“Really? Would you mind doing me a favor then?”
“Don’t ever tell him I ordered it,” Bradley said. Perhaps this would be something he could use in the future to ingratiate himself to Baxter if that was ever needed. For now, though, better to stick to a strict President/Captain relationship.
“Oookay,” Browning said. “It was great seeing you.”
“You too,” Bradley replied.
Browning smiled again, then charged back toward the kitchen shouting. “I need a Logical Layer, trim the weeds!”
A short time later, the Yynsian waitress returned with his meal, which included one of the plumpest grapefruits that Bradley had ever seen. He was just about to dig in when he spotted Captain Andy Baxter entering Space Tastes. Baxter looked a bit frazzled in Bradley’s opinion as he approached the small carry-out window and gave an order.
Baxter stepped aside to wait for his order to be filled, looking around aimlessly as he did so. Bradley returned to his breakfast so as not to be caught taking an interest in the captain’s movements. Moments later, though, Baxter’s shadow fell across his table. Bradley looked up, pasting on his presidential smile.
“Good morning, Captain. To what do I owe the pleasure?” Bradley asked.
“I was planning on comming you from the bridge, but since you’re here, I can let you know in person,” Baxter said taking a seat across from Bradley. A seat which had not been offered to him, Bradley noted.
“Let me know what?” Bradley asked, ignoring Baxter’s action. Bradley would have invited him to sit anyway, but Baxter should have waited for Bradley to ask.
“You know we were attacked last night.”
“Yes,” Bradley replied, signaling Baxter to continue.
“It was the Audrianis. They’re really territorial.”
“Were we in their territory?”
“Well, we’re training a new helmsman for gamma shift. It was an honest mistake.”
“Uh huh,” Bradley said, spooning another bite out of his grapefruit. Baxter spotted the fruit and involuntarily licked his lips, another gesture Bradley decided to ignore. So much for springing their mutual liking of grapefruit on Baxter at a more advantageous time. “Thank you for keeping me informed.”
“I wasn’t finished,” Baxter said, still eyeing the grapefruit. “We’re going to have to drop out of warp.”
“What for?” Bradley asked, quickly hiding any sign of annoyance.
“We’re getting some odd readings from the warp coils in the nacelles. My engineers are on it, though. Nothing to worry about.”
“I’m not worried. How long are we going to be at impulse?”
“We don’t know. Hopefully not too long.”
“I don’t suppose your Chief Engineer is back from her honeymoon yet?”
“No. She’s still about two weeks out.”
“Are they pushing the runabout’s engines to maximum?”
“Well, it wouldn’t do well for them to blow up en route.” Baxter looked at Bradley askance. “I would think as a concerned President that you would want your citizens to have a nice, relaxing honeymoon.”
“Ideally, yes. However, I also would like to have a nice, uninterrupted trip to the Bast, something that isn’t happening at the moment.”
“This is life on a starship, Mister President. Things happen.”
“Then the Captain’s job is to make them unhappen.”
“There’s only so much I can do,” Baxter said.
“And quite a bit that you won’t do,” Bradley retorted.
“I’ve done plenty for you,” Baxter snapped, stealing another glance at Bradley’s grapefruit.
“Oh for god’s sake! Do you want the other half of this?”
“Yes!” Baxter said, grabbing the plate and a spare spoon. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Now go comm Hartley and tell her to increase her speed.”
Baxter shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. “Sir…I would rather not do that for…logistical purposes.”
“Are you telling me that you’re scared of your Chief Engineer?”
“We can handle this ourselves,” Baxter replied firmly. “We’ll get you to your damn Bast, no matter how insane you are for wanting to go there.”
“You’re calling me insane?” Bradley said, his voice rising.
“Oh no, Mister President. We’re honored to get dragged out to the middle of nowhere with you,” Baxter replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm…and quite a bit of grapefruit juice.
“Food’s here!” Janice Browning said, rushing up to the table with several containers. “You’d better get them back to Kelly,” she told Baxter as she shoved the order into his arms. “Go go go!”
“Good day, Captain,” Bradley said flatly.
“Yeah. Thanks for the grapefruit.”
“Don’t mention it,” Bradley muttered as Baxter was practically pulled out of Space Tastes by Browning. That certainly wasn’t the most intellectually stimulating mealtime conversation Bradley had ever had, but it did get the blood pumping. After this, his remaining meetings for the day would be a breeze. Bradley finished up his omelette (which was excellent, not that he expected anything less from Janice Browning’s kitchen), drank the last bit of his coffee, and strolled out of Space Tastes, whistling a bit of Verde to himself as he went. He wouldn’t even let the sounds of the Explorer slowing to impulse invade his good humor. This was a temporarily delay, nothing more. Soon they would be on their way again, whether Baxter liked it or not.
Even on a starship hundreds of light years away from Waystation or Earth, President Dillon found that his days were absolutely eaten alive with the minutia of running the Federation and Dillon Enterprises, both of which were fairly massive in their own right.
After his breakfast, Bradley had returned to his office for scheduled comms with the primary representative of whatever they were calling the new Cardassian government these days, Chancellor Martok of the Klingon Empire, and the First Minister of Shelvaz Prime.
As the Explorer puttered along at full impulse, Bradley started his afternoon schedule of comms, which involved a Dillon Enterprises stockholders meeting (he controlled 85% of the stock, so these meetings were far from stressful), a review of his research and development division’s latest projects, and several prospective business proposals from eager entrepreneurs and probably a con artist or two in search of funds.
At long last, Bradley adjourned to his private dining room for a meal of Beef Waystation, one of the specialties of Dillon’s Restaurant that he’d had programmed into his private replicator before the Explorer’s departure. Sated, he retired to his bedroom for the evening to do some reading before hopefully falling into a deep sleep, which with the warp engines offline, he was actually able to do.
Something was wrong.
He could sense it.
Bradley’s eyes snapped open as he sat up in bed, peering into the darkness around him and listening for anything unusual.
All was quiet. The ship wasn’t at red alert. They didn’t seem to be under attack. So why was he awake?
“Lights,” he ordered.
The lights obediently illuminated revealing his chambers…and a woman dressed all in black sitting in his reading nook armchair. Far from seeming surprised that she had been caught, the woman just looked back at Bradley, a smug smile on her face.
“How did you get in here?” Bradley demanded.
“My way,” the woman replied enigmatically, leaning forward in her chair. “I’d hoped to have a conversation, Mister Dillon.”
“Then I would suggest making an appointment with my assistant, Gisele, during normal waking hours. In the meantime, please leave before I call security.” Bradley was fairly certain that his security force would make short work of the intruder. And even if she should evade them, the Andorian in charge of the Explorer’s security would probably be more than happy to rip her limbs off one at a time.
“My colleagues and I tend to prefer less formal channels,” the woman replied, making no move to leave.
“Your colleagues? What concern do you represent?”
“Does it matter?”
“I am the President of the Federation and head of a large business, so I deal with many, many people. It would help me to know if your business here is about business or politics.”
“Neither?” Bradley repeated surprised.
“It’s personal, Mister Dillon. Personal to you, that is. We know why you’re out here.”
“I never introduced myself. How rude of me. Madison. It’s a pleasure, Mister Dillon.”
“I’m sure,” Bradley replied unhappily. “Now, Ms. Madison, I have no idea why you and your ‘colleagues’ feel that you have any business interfering in my personal affairs, but I can assure you that you that your presence is neither warranted or wanted. So, why don’t you just leave by whatever route got you in here, and we’ll call it a night?”
“I don’t think you appreciate how dangerous your dealings with the Bast are. We cannot allow you to go forward with this. I’d rather not have to kill you and destabilize the Federation government in the process, but you WILL be stopped. Is that clear?”
“I’m fairly clear that you’re threatening the President of the United Federation of Planets, which last I knew came with a long stay in a rehabilitation colony, Ms. Madison.”
Madison smiled. “Someone would have to catch me first, which I don’t see happening.”
“Now this is becoming far more adversarial than I wanted,” Madison said, standing. “This is just supposed to be a casual conversation between two people who have the best interests of the Federation at heart. You do still care about the Federation, don’t you, Mister President?”
“Of course I do.”
Madison’s smile vanished as her face went deadly serious. “Then order the Explorer to turn around and forget all about the Bast.”
“I have a debt…”
“Send a credit-gram. Otherwise, you’re putting us all at risk.” Madison smiled again. “You’re a reasonable man, and an intelligent one. You’ll make the right decision. I hope we won’t have cause to speak again.” Madison walked casually out of Bradley’s bedroom into the living area beyond, then into the corridor.
“That’s makes two of us,” Bradley muttered.
The vast majority of Bradley’s mind just wanted to shove the Madison incident aside as the ramblings of a malcontent, but it was hard to ignore the fact that the woman had been able to stroll in and out of his private and supposedly-well-guarded chambers without the slightest bit of difficulty.
And how did she know about the Bast in the first place? Very few people in the Federation even knew of their existence, much less the threat his dealings with them could pose. That, more than anything, was what concerned Bradley. Madison had acted as though she knew exactly what he was planning to do, which was something he had shared with no one. Presidential prerogative and all.
By this point, Bradley was ready to spring out of bed, charge up to the bridge and demand that Baxter, Vansen, or whoever was in command up there immediately begin an investigation.
But that could be playing right into Madison’s hands. She wanted him frightened. She wanted him to consider turning back, or, if that didn’t work, perhaps she was hoping his behavior would become so paranoid that Baxter was turn back anyway.
President Bradley Dillon would not be manipulated like this, nor would he be threatened into altering his course of action. Too much time and planning had gone into this mission. No spooky woman in black with her vague talk of “colleagues” was going to stand in his way.
He wouldn’t ignore Madison, though. That would just be reckless. Instead, he would make his own inquiries and keep the situation to himself.
The bridge was not exactly what Bradley would have called a hot-bed of activity as he emerged from the turbolift the next morning after completing his briefing from Gisele.
What he assumed was Alpha Shift had recently reported for duty, and it appeared that several of them were still half-asleep…well, except for the Andorian, J’hana, who was busy sharpening a serrated blade of some sort, and the operations officer, whose name Bradley didn’t know, who was nervously looking from the viewscreen to his console to J’hana to the ready room door and just about everywhere else as though he expected at any time for something to ambush him. The man obviously had problems.
Captain Baxter swivelled around in his command chair to face President Dillon. Bradley stood at the rear of the bridge, working to look formal rather than adversarial.
“Good morning, Captain,” he said with a nod of his head. His eyes were involuntarily drawn to a beige splotch on the captain’s left shoulder.
“Can I help you with something?” Baxter asked, clearly not happy that Bradley was back on his bridge.
“Not at all,” Bradley said warmly. It was the same faux-friendly voice he’d used to sell many a product over the years. “I’m sure you have everything well in hand.”
“I always do,” Baxter replied, drawing a glance from his first officer, Commander Chris Richards. “What? I do!”
“Of course you do,” Bradley said. What the hell was that splotch? It was disgusting!
Baxter noticed Bradley eyeing the spot on his uniform. “Steffie,” he said quickly. “She had a little spit up right before I was due on shift.”
“That’s kids for you,” Bradley replied with a smile. Which is why I’ll never have any of the little buggers, he added to himself. “In any case, I was just out for a morning stroll.”
“Stroll away,” Baxter replied.
“I’ll do that,” Bradley said as Baxter spun back around to face the viewscreen. The President made his way idly toward the science console, where the Explorer’s science officer, Lieutenant Commander Ariel Tilleran, sat. This would be the tricky part. Tilleran was a Betazoid and, therefore, capable of reading Bradley’s thoughts.
Fortunately, though, this was where having a Betazoid Vice President came in handy. Heran had taught him a few techniques to mask his thoughts, most of which involved concentration or diversion. Bradley brought one of his favorite classical pieces, “A Night on Bald Mountain,” to mind as he approached Tilleran.
“Good morning,” Bradley said nonchalantly.
“Morning,” Tilleran replied, surprised that he was speaking to her.
“Impressive array,” he remarked. BUMMMMM BUM BUM BA BUMMMM BUMMMMM.
“The Explorer’s sensors are quite powerful,” Tilleran said, shaking her head a bit to clear her thoughts.
“Can you see into my quarters?” His left hand was now moving in time to the music in his mind. He could see Tilleran’s beginning to do the same.
“Of course…but we wouldn’t. Not without cause.”
“I was curious about the resolution. Could you bring up last night perhaps?”
Bradley let the music in his mind get to a rousing crescendo, then head into a particularly intense section of the piece.
“Sure,” Tilleran said, pulling up the playback and letting it run at high speed. For the most part, it showed Bradley sleeping in his bed. Bradley watched the time index scroll by. Madison had arrived sometime before 0300 hours and stayed until approximate 0315.
“Can you slow it down a little please?” Bradley asked casually as 0300 approached. He increased the volume in his mind and actually began to lowly hum the notes.
Tilleran nodded and adjusted the playback speed. 0300 passed by, and Bradley still saw himself asleep in his bed. He let it go until 0400. “Thank you, Commander,” he said. “I thank you for taking the time to do that for me.”
“No trouble at all,” Tilleran replied, sounding a bit relieved as Bradley strolled away and headed into a turbolift.
“I hate that!” the science officer exclaimed once Bradley was gone.
“Was he bothering you?” Captain Baxter asked.
“I will break one of his limbs for you,” J’hana said determinedly.
“No. It wasn’t that. He just had this song in his head, and now it’s stuck in mine.”
“Oh, I hate that, too,” Baxter said. “This one time on the Secondprize, I had ‘I’m a little teapot’ stuck for almost two weeks.”
“‘I’m a little teapot?’” Richards asked.
“Never mind. Long story.”
Bradley’s estimation of his foe had risen considerably by the time the President left the bridge of the Explorer. He was dealing with someone or someones able to alter the ship’s sensor logs to hide Madison’s visit from the night before.
Also, assuming this person had somehow beamed in, shouldn’t the Explorer’s bridge been alerted to the intruder? Was some sort of stealth transporter in use?
None of this made any sense unless…
A slight smile spread across Bradley’s face as he suddenly realized who was behind his nocturnal visit.
“Very clever, Captain Baxter,” Bradley said softly. “But saying ‘boo’ to me in the middle of the night is not going to persuade me to turn this ship around.”
So Baxter wanted to play games. Well, Bradley wasn’t interested, and he was determined to shut this charade down quickly. First, he needed to locate Madison. She was obviously one of Baxter’s crew. All Bradley needed to do was put a real name with her face, then he would confront her alone.
But before he could do that, he had Explorer personnel records to examine. Madison was in there somewhere. He was sure of it.
“Has he left the bridge?” Agent Sara Madison asked as she stepped onto the cramped control deck of the small craft currently running cloaked beside the USS Explorer.
“Five minutes ago,” her colleague, Agent Fideaux replied.
“Status of the Explorer?”
“Unchanged?” Madison said confused. “I would have expected Captain Baxter to jump at the chance to return to the comfort of Federation space. Maybe he liked his time in the Delta and Gamma Quadrants more than I was led to believe.”
“Or maybe President Dillon didn’t ask him to change course.” Fideaux said.
“Of course, he did. Why else would he have gone to the bridge?”
“I don’t know, but that ship is still on course for the Bast, and I seriously doubt it’s going to take them much longer to fix the warp drive. As it was, we were fortunate that the ship veered into Audrianis space and got attacked allowing us to catch up with them before they got much farther away.”
Madison frowned. “You sound like you don’t believe that President Dillon will heed my warnings.”
“I just think he may need a bit more…encouragement.”
Captain Baxter was turning out to be a more cunning adversary than Bradley had anticipated. He’d been through the records of every single person on the Explorer, including the civilians, yet he hadn’t found anyone who matched the appearance of the Madison woman who’d been in his quarters the previous evening. It was obvious to him now that Madison had been someone else in disguise. Now that he thought about it, her face did seem somewhat unnatural looking.
So confronting Baxter with his own accomplice was not going to happen. No matter. But if this was to be a war of wills between the Starfleet Captain and the President of the Federation, Bradley was going to do all he could to be prepared for whatever trick Baxter might pull next. He’d read Baxter’s personnel file (a document that must keep the Admiralty up at night), but now he needed insights into Baxter’s mind.
Normally, he’d invite the ship’s counselor out to dinner and use the charm he’d honed in the world of sales to get the information out of her, but considering that the ship’s counselor was also Baxter’s wife, that seemed like a monumentally bad idea.
Instead, it was time to make use of his own resources with access to Baxter, namely Janice Browning.
The door to Browning’s quarters whooshed open revealing a young boy. At first glance, the lanky child seemed to be about twelve-years-old, but Bradley knew that he was actually not even two.
The boy looked confused for a moment, then his eyes widened as he recognized Bradley.
“Um…um…hi,” he said nervously.
“Hello! You must be Plato,” Bradley said smiling broadly. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He shook Plato’s hand.
“Thanks,” Plato replied, staring down at his feet.
“Is your mother here?”
“She’s replicating dinner.”
“Plato, who is it?” Browning’s voice called from the dining area.
“It’s the President!” Plato shouted, racing back into the quarters.
“Bradley?” Janice emerged from the dining area smiling. “What a surprise! Come on in. I was just getting dinner on. It’s replicated. I hope you don’t mind, but after cooking in the morning and doctoring all day, I need a break.”
“I don’t want to intrude,” Bradley said, stepping inside and allowing the doors to close behind him.
“You’re not,” Browning said. “And this will give Plato a heck of a story to tell at school tomorrow.”
“Maybe I should go with him tomorrow. I’ve never been a show- and-tell exhibit.”
“I thought that’s what politicians were most of the time.”
“When they actually have to run for office, I suppose. I managed to skip that part. I imagine my Presidency marks the first time in history somebody bought an office and nobody minded.”
“Better you than the Ferengi,” Browning replied.
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Bradley said. “He’s a fine looking boy.”
“Yeah,” Browning said.
“A bit big for his age, though,” Bradley added with a laugh.
“Gotta love that Changeling DNA,” Browning said, turning back toward the dining area. “Come on. Let’s eat.”
Plato got over whatever shyness he may have initially had soon after Bradley sat down at the table. The boy was soon hitting Bradley with a barrage of questions about being President and his business.
“Are you the richest person in the universe?”
“Can you buy any planet you want?”
“Can you have people killed?”
“Are you more important than Uncle Andy?”
Bradley glanced at Browning after this last question. “Uncle Andy?”
“Andy and Plato are very close. He’s been like a father to him.”
“Really. I would have thought that Commander Richards…never mind. This isn’t an area where I need to be prying.”
“Is there another area where you planned to pry?” Browning said with a knowing smile.
“Actually, yes,” Bradley said. “I was curious about Captain Baxter.”
“What about him?”
“You obviously know him well. What sort of man would you say he is?”
“You want to know if he’s capable of completing this mission.”
“Something like that.”
“Andy will find a way,” Browning said. “He may be a bit unconventional, but he’s dedicated. He’ll get the job done. That’s not to say he’s reckless, though. I’ve never known him to let anything stand in the way of doing what’s best for the safety of his crew. He’ll do what he has to keep us safe.”
“He’s a good man. Earnest. Sweet. He and Commander Conway would go after each other occasionally, but other than that, Andy doesn’t have a vengeful bone in his body…and I should know. I’ve knitted enough of them.”
“Mom, is Uncle Andy in trouble?” Plato asked.
Bradley turned to Plato and smiled. “Absolutely not. I just wanted to learn a little more about him.”
“Oh I know about him!” Plato exclaimed. “He loves football. And he’s got a little girl named Steffie. And he’s married to Aunt Kelly. And they have a lot of pets. And one of them is Charlie the dog. And then there’s Fritz the cat. And…”
Bradley said his goodbyes soon after dinner and made his way back to his quarters. Browning invited him to stay longer, but he could tell that she was tired and anxious to spend some time alone with her son. There would be plenty of time to reminisce later in the voyage, and Bradley had gotten the information he came for.
From Browning description of Baxter, sending someone into Bradley’s quarters to threaten him was a bit out of character, but perhaps Baxter felt this situation warranted extreme measures. Was he so certain that the Bast would destroy them that he was willing to attempt to dupe the President of the Federation?
Bradley noticed a couple of his Secret Service agents shadowing him, which wasn’t exactly a surprise. There was only so long they’d tolerate his desire to move about the Explorer on his own. Perhaps he should have one of them stationed in his quarters tonight in case Madison reappeared.
No. He was not going to live in fear or change his routine in anyway what so ever. If she was going to come back, let her come.
She’d come. Bradley could sense her in his quarters as he awoke.
Bradley sat up in bed. “Lights.”
He had company, but it was of the feline variety. A cat stood at the end of his bed staring back at him almost questioningly.
“How did you get in here?” Bradley asked kindly. Truth be told, he’d always had something of a soft spot for cats. They were cute, sleek, and obviously had a lot more going on in their heads than the average canine.
Bradley held his hand out, and the cat hesitantly padded forward, eventually rubbing its head against the President’s fingers. Bradley noticed a small tag hanging from the collar around the cat’s neck. “Fritz” it read. On the back, in very small print, was a long missive threatening all kinds of horror and agony against anyone who didn’t immediately return the animal to Counselor Peterman.
“I think you’re staying with me tonight,” Bradley said smugly. Let Baxter have a night in hell as his wife rampaged about the cat. In the meantime, Bradley would enjoy the companionship.
“Pillow?” Bradley offered, gesturing to the pillow beside his own. Fritz stretched, then took Bradley up on his offer, curling up into a ball on the pillow as Bradley settled back in to his own.
“Lights out,” he commanded.
With Fritz breathing rhythmically next to him, Bradley soon fell into a deep sleep until…
This time it had to be her.
Bradley lay still, feigning sleep for a few moments as he listened intently, trying to ascertain what she was doing.
“I know you’re awake, Mister President,” Madison’s voice announced haughtily.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Madison snapped.
“Lights,” Bradley said, sitting up in bed.
Madison’s eyes locked on Fritz. “Nice cat,” she said, trying to cover her earlier flub.
“He has good taste as well,” the President replied. “State your business, then get out of here.”
“My business is the same as before. Why haven’t you ordered the Explorer back to Earth?”
“Because I’m on to you,” Bradley said, climbing out of bed while Fritz stalked around warily. “So you can go back and tell Baxter that I’m not canceling this mission. It was a good try, but Bradley Dillon is not easily fooled.”
“Baxter? I’m not working for Captain Baxter,” Madison said confused.
“Which is exactly what someone working for Baxter would say.”
“I’m not working for him!” Madison said growing angry. “How dare you insinuate such a thing! It’s insulting!”
“This is just pathetic.”
“I am a highly trained operative for Section 31. We’ve existed in secret for two centuries controlling things from behind the scenes. We run this whole Federation!”
“You seemed to have confused yourself with me,” Bradley replied.
“Oh yeah! Try and do something Section 31 doesn’t want to happen and see how far you get.”
“Such as going to the Bast?”
“I seem to be doing pretty well so far.”
“I’m warning you!”
“And I’m bored,” Bradley shot back. “If the most fearsome weapon your so-called Section 31 has at its disposal is interrupting my sleep, I suggest you skulk back to whatever hole you crawled out of and stay out of my way. I have a galaxy to run.”
“That’s it,” Madison fumed.
“I believe it is. Good night.”
“I’m serious. I’m going to blow up the Explorer.”
Bradley laughed. “By annoying it into self destructing?”
“I have the resources.”
“Even if you did, the resulting investigation would reveal sabotage and expose you and your entire ‘secret’ organization.”
Madison regained her composure and rose from her chair. “That’s assuming there are signs of sabotage to reveal,” she replied mysteriously. “Good night, Mister Dillon.”
She headed toward the exit, then stopped, turning back toward him. “Oh, if twelve hours from now, the Explorer is heading back to Earth, I might consider sparing you all. If not…”
Madison turned to leave again, prompting Bradley to do something a bit outside of his presidential job description: he jumped her.
The pair fell to the deck, writhing about as Bradley tried to get on top of Madison and pin her arms down.
“President Dillon to…”
Madison managed to hit a concealed switch in her black outfit or perhaps it was some kind of device she was carrying. Bradley wasn’t sure what. All he did know was that he was now in some serious pain as electric jolts coursed through his body.
Madison stood up as Bradley convulsed at her feet.
“Twelve hours,” she said. And then she was gone.
“I appreciate you coming,” President Dillon said as he lay on his bed while Dr. Janice Browning ran a tricorder over him.
“Who am I to refuse a Presidential Summons?” Browning replied, a slight smile breaking through the look of concentration on her face. “I was a bit surprised, though. I thought you had your own medical hologram.”
“I do,” Bradley replied. “However, all of its findings are immediately sent to PMS.”
“Do I even what to know what that means?”
“The Presidential Monitoring Service. The health of the Chief Executive is of great concern to the Federation Council.”
“I’d imagine,” Browning remarked. “So I’m guessing you have a reason for not telling them something literally shocked the hell out of you?”
“Is there any permanent damage?” Bradley asked, ignoring the question.
“Well, your nervous system shows residual signs of massive electrical surges, but I don’t see anything that looks permanent.” She loaded a hypospray and pressed it against Bradley’s neck. “There. That should speed the healing and make you more comfortable.”
“Thank you, Janice.”
“So, are you going to tell me what happened?”
“I’m afraid I can’t.” Bradley actually felt that Browning would believe his story about Section 31, but then she’d feel obligated to go to Captain Baxter. Bradley was now positive Baxter wasn’t involved. He may not want to go to Bast space, but Bradley doubted Baxter would ever condone such an attack on another person, especially the President of the Federation. Madison’s zapper was cruel, efficient, and damn painful. So Baxter was innocent, but he, along with everyone else on the Explorer, could end up dead if Bradley revealed Section 31’s existence.
“Uh huh,” Browning said, eyeing him. “Well answer me this then. What is Fritz doing in here?”
“He arrived last night…of his own accord.”
“That doesn’t surprise me. He has a way of getting around. I’ll take him back to Kelly.”
“That’s really not necessary,” Bradley said quickly.
Browning smiled. “All right. If Kelly asks about him, I’ll stall her.”
“If you need anything else, just let me know,” Browning said as she packed up her medkit. “But if you get hurt again, you’re telling me how it happened. Got it?”
“Yes, Doctor,” Bradley replied with a chuckle. Browning patted Bradley on the arm, then headed out of his quarters.
“That just leaves the two of us,” Bradley said, sitting up in bed where he could see Fritz, who was resting lazily in the chair Madison had occupied during both of her visits. “And the small problem of preventing the destruction of this ship. So Fritz, if you were going to blow up the Explorer, how would you do it?”
The only reply Bradley received was a twitch of the cat’s ears.
“He’s still in his office?” Agent Madison asked as she looked over Agent Fideaux’s shoulder at the feed from the Explorer’s internal sensors the Section 31 ship was monitoring. “With only three hours left?”
“He’s still looking over ship schematics,” Fideaux replied as President Bradley Dillon sat almost immobile at his desk reading a monitor. “I’m sure once the deadline approaches and he still hasn’t found the device, he’ll have the Explorer turn around.”
“You don’t think President Dillon is going to find your device, do you?” Fideaux asked concerned. The Cayouian agent wasn’t thrilled with idea of destroying an entire ship of innocents just to stop Bradley Dillon, but better that than have proof of the existence of Section 31 fall into the President’s hands.
“Actually, I hope he does,” Madison replied with an evil smirk as she headed out of the cockpit, leaving Fideaux to wonder just what his partner was up to.
Bradley Dillon had very rarely gotten to the point of desperation in his life. Sure he’d been in the occasional tight spot, but the current situation was driving him nuts. He had less than an hour until Madison’s deadline, and he still had no idea how she intended to destroy the ship. The warp core was still shut down, which eliminated one possibility, but there were still a lot of Engineering areas around that could potentially lead to the destruction of the ship if they were tampered with. And Madison said it wouldn’t look like sabotage. What if she was just going to attack them from another ship? How was he supposed to stop her short of running onto the bridge screaming that they were all in danger?
Or ordering the ship to turn around. That’s what Madison wanted, and unless Bradley convinced Captain Baxter that some woman had been able to slip on board without alerting anyone and that she intended to kill them all, Bradley would have to comply.
It was certainly the reasonable plan. Back up plan anyway.
He had a bit of time before the deadline, so the least he could do was check out a few of the likely sabotage points he saw in the Explorer’s schematics. Bradley made a couple of last second preparations, then headed out of his office.
As he passed by his quarters, the doors slid open allowing Fritz to scamper out into the hall. “So you can operate the doors yourself?” Bradley said with a grin as Fritz rubbed up against his leg. “Clever kitty. Are you heading back home now?”
Fritz rubbed Bradley’s leg again, then fell into step beside him. “Sticking with me then?” Bradley continued. “Well, I can’t promise a very exciting or scenic stroll, but if things don’t go well, I’ll at least be able to return you to the bridge when I go humiliate myself in front of your owner.”
Bradley, with Fritz in tow, entered the nearest turbolift and descended to the main engineering level, pulling a Sense-O-Matic from his pocket as they went. The Sense-O-Matic wasn’t quite as powerful as a tricorder, but it would suit Bradley’s purposes.
He passed a pair of ensigns in the corridor, who eyed him with a mix of astonishment and confusion. Bradley nodded and smiled as they went by, then returned to studying the readouts on the Sense-O-Matic. He wasn’t an engineer or a scientist, though. He would certainly react if the Sense-O-Matic detected traces of an explosive or an unusual buildup of energy, but what could he do beyond that?
“Meeeeooooooowwww!” Fritz howled from down the corridor. Bradley looked up from the Sense-O-Matic to see the feline scratching at a heavy set of double doors label “Anti-Matter Storage.”
“I doubt they have a cat box in there,” Bradley said.
“Meeeoooooooooooooowwww!” Fritz howled again.
Bradley looked at the cat quizzically. Animals were known to have the ability to detect certain dangers before they occurred. He remembered stories of dogs and cats acting oddly before earthquakes and tornados on Earth before humanity was able to deal with those forces of nature. Perhaps Fritz was acting on a similar instinct. At this point, Bradley was willing to follow the cat’s lead. And Anti-Matter Storage sounded like as reasonable of a place as any to search.
He stepped through the doors and found himself in a room lined with massive white vats of anti-matter being held carefully in forcefields until needed for use in the ship’s engines, at which point the anti-matter would be taken out through the forcefield-lined conduits in the ceiling twenty-feet above.
“Meow,” Fritz stated, still standing the corridor. Bradley turned in time to see the cat stalking away just as the doors slid shut, leaving Bradley alone in the storage room.
“All right,” he said to himself. “Let’s see if there’s anything here that doesn’t belong.” Bradley programmed the Sense-O-Matic to sweep the storage vats, checking to see if any one was different from the others. Seconds later, the device blipped an answer. The outline of a small box-shaped object, about six inches square, was displayed on the back of the vat on the far left-hand side of the room.
“Well, that was easy,” Bradley remarked, heading back to the indicated object. Of course, it would just be a random bit of engineering equipment that had every business being on that vat, but Bradley needed to be sure.
He moved around the vat to its rear side where the box had been placed, then stopped cold as his eyes locked on the light-green casing of the item and recognition hit him. He knew exactly what this was:
A Dillon Enterprises 3368 Heat-To-Go. Normally, the box served as a compact, convenient source of heat for colonists or campers in the wilderness, but, judging from the awkward fit of the casing, this one had been modified.
Bradley quickly pulled another small device out of his pocket, then ripped the Heat-To-Go off of the vat. He slapped the device on the heater and leapt back, just as the heater erupted into a ball of blazing white heat with the intensity of a mini-sun at the same time Bradley’s device erected a forcefield shell around the heater.
The President leapt back as the heat assaulted his body for a split-second before the Port-A-Field fully snapped into place. He didn’t move for several seconds as his mind raced. Would the modified Heat-To-Go even have penetrated the anti-matter storage vat? Possibly not. Did that mean that Madison had another device in place somewhere else? Or was her goal something else entirely? He now suspected that she had no intention of destroying the Explorer at all.
One thing was certain. Fritz was owed a rather large treat.
Bradley’s skin suddenly blazed with pain as his nerves got over the initial shock of the Heat-To-Go’s explosion.
Okay. Two things were certain. Fritz was owed a rather large treat, and Bradley really REALLY needed to see Janice Browning.
“Sunburn?” Dr. Browning asked incredulously as she treated Bradley while he sat on his bed in his quarters.
“I was tanning, and I neglected to turn the holodeck safeties on,” Bradley replied. He’d already disposed of his singed suit from his adventure in the Anti-Matter Storage Room, so there was no evidence to contract his story.
“Where were you simulating getting this tan? On the surface of the sun itself?”
Bradley laughed. “You do have such a wonderful bedside manner,” he said warmly.
“Thank you,” Browning said. “Now about this burn.”
“It feels much better now.”
“Good. Now you’re sure this has nothing to do with that shock I treated you for this morning?”
“Uh huh,” Browning replied skeptically.
“I was hoping that you could do me another medical favor, though. I’m having trouble sleeping.”
“I can give you a sedative.”
“Do you have anything that comes in a hypospray? I dislike swallowing medications,” Bradley said.
“Does the PMS know you’re a big baby?” Browning asked with a grin.
“You’re just lucky insulting the President isn’t a rehabilitation colony offense,” Bradley replied with mock anger as Browning dug a hypospray out of her medkit and loaded it.
“There. This is a week’s worth. I’ve set the hypospray to administer the doses accordingly.”
“Thank you, Janice. I really appreciate this.”
“Tell you what. How about you invite me over for dinner one night to pay me back. I want to eat like the President.”
“To be honest, I eat a lot of your recipes from your time at Dillon’s Restaurant. Replicated, unfortunately, but they are your recipes.”
“Really?” Browning asked touched.
“You are the best cook I’ve ever had.”
“Well, I had a good boss to encourage me,” Browning replied. “Now get some rest.”
“I’ll do that,” Bradley said as Browning left the room. “But not right now,” Bradley added quietly as he set to work adjusting the hypospray.
“What did you want?” Agent Madison asked in annoyance as she entered the cockpit of the small Section 31 ship where Agent Fideaux sat watching the Explorer on the viewscreen.
“So are we not blowing up the Explorer now?” Fideaux asked.
“Your deadline passed an hour ago, but the ship’s still there.” In all honesty, Fideaux was relieved. Maybe Madison had found a way to complete their mission without a body count. That would be a welcome change from some of his past Section 31 assignments. Fideaux believed in the goal of the Section, but sometimes he wondered if he really had the stomach for the work that they sometimes had to do.
“Yes,” Madison said distractedly as she glanced down at the sensor logs from the Explorer’s Anti-Matter Storage Room. As she’d hoped, Bradley had found the present she’d left for him. Unfortunately, he’d survived, but that was an issue that she could deal with tonight…personally.
This was torture. Absolute torture. How could it be so hard just to lay still? The harder Bradley tried, the more his limbs screamed to move. Random itches developed across his back and legs. His left leg began to cramp. How was he supposed to feign sleep under these conditions? Why didn’t Madison just show up?
“Restless night, Mister President?” Madison’s voice said smugly.
Bradley shot up in bed. He’d been so busy fighting his desire to move that he hadn’t noticed Madison’s arrival.
“Here. Let me save you the trouble,” she continued. “Lights.”
And there she was. Sitting comfortably in the armchair across from his bed.
“I wondered when I’d see you,” Bradley said.
“You mean if you’d see me,” Madison said. “Frankly, you’re lucky to be alive right now.”
“So I noticed. Clever plan, I might add.”
“Plan?” Madison said, feigning innocence.
“You convinced me that you were going to destroy the Explorer, so that I would go searching for a potential explosive. However, what I found was a device from my own company. A device that had been modified to kill me, I might add. So I die from a massive blast of heat, making it look like I was incinerated while attempting to sabotage the anti- matter tanks with a Dillon Enterprises product. Of course, the modified heater wouldn’t have actually damaged the tanks, but it would be enough to incriminate me posthumously. I’m dead, my image is disgraced, the Explorer goes home, and the Bast are left alone. Does that cover things?”
“Pretty much,” Madison said with a nod. “You missed one small detail, though.”
“Nothing major. Just the part where I kill you anyway,” Madison said pulling a small device out of her pocket that Bradley could only assume was some type of energy weapon.
“This won’t look accidental,” Bradley said, reaching under the covers for the small switch he’d rigged earlier that day.
“At this point, I can’t say that I care. That Andorian fool who runs Baxter’s security will be so busy rampaging through the ship and beating potential suspects that she won’t even consider that it might be an outside job. And even if she did suspect it, she’d never find me. Section 31 specializes in not being found.”
“That would be more believable if their agents shut up occasionally,” Bradley retorted.
“I am so going to enjoy this,” Madison said, raising her weapon.
“Not as much as I will,” Bradley replied, tapping the switch he’d palmed. Madison felt a sudden poking in her rear as the hypospray Dr. Browning had given Bradley jabbed up against her hind-quarters, emptying a week’s worth of sedative into her system.
“Not…fair,” Madison managed to slur out before she collapsed to the deck unconscious. Bradley leapt out of bed and tossed his suit back on while Madison lay insensate on the floor.
“That will teach you not to always use the same chair,” Bradley said, rolling Madison over and searching her pockets. He’d have to make sure to retrieve the empty hypospray from the remote-activated arm he’d rigged in the seat of the arm chair that afternoon. No sense having Browning suspect any more than she already did. In the meantime, though, it was time to take the battle to the enemy.
Finally, he found what he was looking for. A small transporter retrieval beacon. Holding Madison’s weapon at the ready, Bradley activated the beacon while keeping a foot resting on top of the unconscious Section 31 operative. Seconds later, a transporter bean enveloped them both.
Bradley and Madison rematerialized in a small transporter alcove leading out into a black-walled corridor illuminated only by the occasional blazing white light mounted in the ceiling overhead. Section 31 obviously wasn’t much for design aesthetics.
With Madison still sleeping soundly, Bradley entered the corridor proper. Five doors confronted him. Two on one side, one on the other, a heavy set of double doors at one end of the corridor, and a less impressive set of double doors at the other end. With no obvious signs of a turbolift or ladder confronting him, Bradley decided the smaller set of double doors was his best bet for finding the ship’s bridge.
Bridge turned out to be something of an overstatement. The room was little larger than the cockpit of a runabout. A lone figure sat in the pilot’s seat.
“Is he going to turn the ship around?” the figure asked, turning in his seat. Bradley was confronted by another black-clad…person. Person was being generous considering the hideous red-shelled carapace facing Bradley. Bradley recognized the species. Cayouian. It looked more like somebody had stuck arms and legs on a crawfish.
Fortunately, the Cayouian agent was just as surprised to see Bradley, giving the President a chance to recover and aim his weapon. “P-p-p-president Dillon!”
Bradley felt some sense of satisfaction upon seeing that the Cayouian was suitably impressed by his presence. “Who are you?” Bradley said.
“Fideaux. Agent Fideaux.”
“Well, Agent Fideaux. You friend Agent Madison and I have had a few conversations that haven’t exactly ended to my liking; therefore, I thought I’d see if I had better luck with you,” Bradley replied, taking at seat at a console diagonal from Fideaux. Close enough to be friendly, but far enough out of reach that Fideaux couldn’t take him by surprise.
Settled into a seat, Bradley continued, “Before you think about attempting to harm me in any way shape or form, I want you to know that I am currently carrying a Dillon Enterprises model signaling beacon that will, with a word or a tap from me, activate, announcing my presence on this ship to everyone within a parsec. You may be cloaked now, but when this beacon goes off, you can bet that the Explorer crew is going to detect it and figure out you’re here within a matter of seconds.” Actually, they’d probably stand around staring at each other in utter confusion, but the important thing was getting Fideaux to buy it, which he seemed to be. “So, can we have a civilized conversation?”
“All…all right,” Fideaux said, glancing quickly between Bradley’s face and the weapon in his hand.
“Good. It’s far more pleasant for me to deal with someone reasonable, being a reasonable man myself. First, let me make sure I’m completely up to speed about your side of things. This Section 31 of yours is afraid that if I go to the Bast, I’m going to endanger the Federation. Is that it?”
“That’s what I was told.”
“Right. So let me ask you this. If I am a businessman, which I am, why would I do anything that would endanger my flow of income?”
“I’m not sure.”
“And if I’m the President of the United Federation of Planets, a position I paid a great deal of money to obtain, why would I throw away that investment by destroying the very government I’m in charge of?”
“Again, I’m not sure. My orders…”
“Remember, I’m a businessman,” Bradley continued. “Risk is a part of business, but the key is to take sensible risks. Risking death and destruction just isn’t sensible. Do you get what I’m saying here?”
“Do you trust me?”
“I believe so, sir.”
“So will you leave me alone and let me go about my business?”
“I can ask the Section Head to review the facts.”
“No…review,” Madison’s voice gasped. Bradley and Fideaux spun in their chairs to see Madison slumped against the door frame, another weapon grasped in her hand. Bradley couldn’t help but be impressed by the woman’s constitution and fortitude. The average human would have been sleeping that sedative dose off for at least a day or two.
“Kill him…now,” she said.
“I think I’d prefer the review,” Bradley said.
“It would be proper considering what President Dillon told me,” Fideaux said to his partner.
“Do you mind?” Bradley asked Fideaux, raising his weapon toward Madison.
“I guess not. But tap that red control on the left there. It should change to green. That’s stun.”
“Oh, thank you,” Bradley said, following the instruction as Madison attempted to aim her own weapon through drug-blurred vision. Her arm wobbled slowly up and down until Bradley fired, dropping Madison to the deck in a single blast.
“It’s been a pleasure doing business with you,” Bradley said to Fideaux with an appreciative nod. “Now if you’d be so kind as to send me back to my quarters before you head back to your home base.”
“Sure.” Fideaux paused for a moment, then glanced at Bradley nervously. “President Dillon, could I ask for one thing?”
“An autograph?” Bradley replied with an understanding smile.
“Of course,” Bradley said, prompting Fideaux to scramble for a padd and stylus.
Bradley decided that another breakfast at Space Tastes was in order the next morning. The same table he’d had during his previous breakfast was available again, prompting him to consider asking Janice to place a permanent reservation on it for him.
He’d managed to get settled and give his order to the Yynsian waitress when Captain Baxter entered the restaurant. The captain spotted Bradley immediately and headed toward his table.
“Mister President,” Baxter said by way of greeting.
“Good morning, Captain,” Bradley replied jovially. “I’d invite you to join me, but I’m afraid I didn’t order any grapefruit today.”
“Thanks, but I need to get breakfast back to Kelly and the baby,” Baxter said, ignoring the sarcasm in Bradley’s voice. “I just wanted to let you know that Engineering has nailed down that anomaly in the warp coils, so we’ll be engaging the warp drive within the hour.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“So you see, we took care of everything. There was a problem, and we solved it without Hartley. In short, this ship runs just fine without you needing to get involved in our day-to-day operations.”
“Of course,” Bradley said with a bemused smile.
“What’s so funny?”
“We took care of it!” Baxter snapped.
“Why are you smiling?”
“That’s it. I’m getting breakfast,” Baxter said, storming away from the table.
Janice Browning arrived a few moments later carrying Bradley’s breakfast. “Was that Andy?” she asked.
“Yes. Captain Baxter was just updating me on our engine status.”
“Uh huh.” Browning watched Baxter, who was currently giving his order at the take-out window. “So why does he look like he wants to rip you in half.”
“I have no idea,” Bradley replied. He pulled the empty hypospray out of his pocket and handed it to Browning. “Thank you for this, but I didn’t end up needing it. I took the liberty of disposing of the sedative, though, since you obviously couldn’t reuse a medication that had been dispensed.”
“Actually, if it never left the vial…”
“Oh, I’m sorry then,” Bradley said.
“Don’t worry about it,” Browning said. “So how did you solve your sleeping problems?”
Bradley looked up at Browning and smiled the smile of a man no longer worried about Section 31 or even the incessant thrum of the warp engines.
“I got ear plugs.”
Lt. Commander Vansen makes no secret of the fact that she hates the U.S.S. Explorer and her crew. So it should come as no surprise that, when an opening for captain comes up aboard another starship, she’s eager to take advantage of it. But it might be a surprise that she has to fight Commander Emily Sullivan, formerly of the Secondprize, for the job. Whose sarcasm will pay off in the end? Aren’t you just dying to find out?