Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
“Something They Ate”
By Alan Decker
Anyone watching from the outside as the Runabout Cumberland dipped up and down, wove around and zigged from side to side would be forced to come to the conclusion that the pilot was drunk.
Of course, considering that the Cumberland was in the middle of open space at the time millions of miles from the nearest star system, space craft, or outpost, anyone watching from the outside would have been sitting alone in deep space and probably would have much more pressing concerns to deal with, but I digress…
Inside the Cumberland sat two people. At that particular moment, they most likely would have won any competition for the Most Miserable People in the Cosmos.
“Urk…turn back on the autopilot,” Commander Lisa Beck gasped as she clenched her spasming stomach.
“Trying,” Lieutenant Craig Porter replied weakly. The pain racking his digestive tract was unbearable. He could swear it was actually spreading into his limbs and skull as he tried to force his hands to input the correct commands.
“Why?” Beck moaned to the universe. She fell out of her seat and onto the floor of the runabout cockpit, curling up into a fetal ball. “WHY?”
“Because we had to,” Porter replied. He finished inputting the commands and collapsed beside Beck. Sitting up was just too agonizing.
“No more state dinners…ever.”
“Fine by me.”
Beck’s feverish mind ran through the evening’s events. Maybe it was some sort of revenge. Why else would Admiral Frank McGrath have specifically requested her presence at his birthday dinner on Starbase 94? The last and only time she’d seen the man prior to that was when he was held hostage with her by the Starshine Kids on the refitted Waystation. This food poisoning…if that’s what it was…couldn’t be a coincidence.
Poor Porter. She never should have brought him along. And she shouldn’t have insisted on leaving right after dessert. They could have been resting somewhat comfortably in the starbase infirmary right now. As it was, they’d run through everything in the runabout’s medkit and in the replicator memory that could possibly help them to no avail.
“Thanks…for…inviting me,” Porter said, each word bringing a new wave of nausea.
“No…problem,” Beck replied, forcing a smile. Porter’s eyes rolled up into his head as he lost consciousness. At least it had to be better than this misery.
Through her own pain, Beck heard a soft beeping from the runabout’s control console. She forced herself up on her knees and staggered over to the panel.
It was the proximity alarm. A ship was close. Her vision suddenly blurred as her whole body shook unsteadily. Not much time left.
Beck slammed her hand down on the comm system, opening a broad band channel.
“Help,” she croaked, then fell back, landing squarely on Porter as she too lost consciousness.
“Doctor, I think she’s coming around.”
The soft female voice broke through the darkness clouding Beck’s mind. Beck tried to open her eyes, but her body wasn’t totally responding just yet. Gradually, her various senses returned. She was laying in a bed. She was on a ship. She could feel the thrum of engines… Starfleet engines by the sound of it.
A weight pressed down beside her legs near the end of the bed.
“Can you hear me, Commander?” a male voice asked. “If not, vomit three times.”
“Not funny,” she said weakly, her voice barely a whisper.
“Sounds like she pegged you quick, Hawk,” another male voice said from farther away.
With another major effort, Beck willed her eyes to open. This time she was successful. She was on a ship, all right. A medical ship by the look of it judging by the number of beds around her.
“You’re in post-op,” the man seated at the end of her bed explained. “Instead of just disagreeing with you, whatever you ate decided to tear you apart from the inside out.”
“Lovely,” Beck said, focusing on the man speaking to her. He looked to be in his mid-30’s with straight black hair and smiling mischievous eyes. “Where’s Porter?”
“He’s fine,” the other male voice said, stepping over beside her bed. He was tall, with brown hair, a thick mustache, and the same warm glint in his eyes that her bed guest had.
“Where is he?” she asked.
“He left just a couple of minutes ago. I think he was headed to the bridge to talk to our captain.”
“I’ll let him handle that,” Beck said.
“Good plan considering I haven’t released you from my care yet,” the man on the bed said.
“And just when were you planning on doing that Doctor…”
“Pierce. Just call me Hawkeye. This is B.J. Hunnicutt. We were your tummy excavation team.”
“Thank you,” Beck said, her strength gradually returning. “If you guys hadn’t found us…”
“But we did, luckily for all concerned. Give me your hand.”
“Why?” Beck asked.
“I need to check your vitals.”
“They have tricorders for that, you know,” Beck replied as she placed her wrist in Hawkeye’s hand. He placed his fingers on her pulse as a smile crossed his lips.
“I prefer that personal touch.”
“Captain Potter, you’re talking about putting us close to a week behind schedule. We just can’t leave a whole ship sitting here waiting for two whiners with stomach aches to recover,” Doctor Frank Burns protested as he paced in front of the command chair of Captain Sherman Potter.
“Can it, Burns,” Potter snapped. “As far as I know, there isn’t anything that pressing in the Korenoth system.”
The turbolift opened onto the bridge allowing Lieutenant Porter to exit.
“One of the Waystation officers to see you, sir,” Ensign Walter O’Reilly said from the operations station right next to the turbolift.
“I can see that, Radar,” Potter said, rising from his chair.
“I know he’s a fellow officer, but doesn’t he need clearance to come onto our bridge?” Burns asked. “There’s protocol here.”
“Why don’t you and your protocol skedaddle before my foot sends the lot of you out an airlock?”
“Aye, Captain,” Burns groused as he retreated to the turbolift. “I hope you realize the inconvenience you’re causing, Mister!” he spat at Porter as he passed.
“Just ignore him,” Potter said, stepping over to shake Porter’s hand. “Good to see you up and around, son.”
“Thank you,” Porter said, returning Potter’s hand shake. The man had a surprisingly strong grip considering he looked to be well into his later years. “Where are we?”
“Pierce and Hunnicutt didn’t give you the welcome speech, I guess. Allow me. Captain Sherman Potter.”
“Lieutenant Craig Porter from Waystation.”
“Nice to make your acquaintance. As for where you are now, this is the U.S.S. M*A*S*H. NCC-4077.”
“Mash?” Porter asked confused. What a name? What were her sister ships? The Squash and the Crush?”
“It’s some old Earth army term. Means…Radar?”
“Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, sir,” the young ensign piped up from the rear of the bridge.
“Thank you, Radar,” Potter said. “We were on our way to the Korenoth system shipyards when we ran across your ship. Good thing we did, too. You two were in bad shape. Burns wanted us to press on to deal with our own problems, but this ship is not about to turn away from someone in need while I’m in command.”
“We appreciate that,” Porter said. “What sort of problems are you having?”
“Something in the blasted warp drive. Every time we try to push it above warp two, the whole ship starts bucking like a bronco with a bee sting. Hell if I understand it. Problem is our engineer doesn’t either. My first officer is down there with him right now trying to sort the whole mess out.”
“I’d be happy to lend a hand,” Porter said.
“I’d appreciate that, son,” Potter said. “Just take the lift to engineering and look for Commander Houlihan. She’ll be the blonde barking orders.”
“No problem. Please let Commander Beck know where I am if she needs me,” Porter said, heading back towards the lift.
“Sure thing,” Potter replied, heading back to his seat.
The turbolift doors opened, and Porter almost ran straight into a thin, kindly-looking man who was on his way onto the bridge.
“I’m terribly sorry,” the man said. He looked at Porter. “Oh, you’re from the ship we found.”
“Right. Lieutenant Porter. I need to get to engineering.”
“That’s fine. I was looking for you anyway,” the man said as he followed Porter into the turbolift.
“Engineering,” Porter said, setting the turbolift into motion.
“Counselor Francis Mulcahy,” the other man said, introducing himself. “I just wanted to check in with you and your commander to see if you were recovering all right.”
“Dr. Hunnicutt says I’m just fine,” Porter said. “And I don’t think I’m really psychologically scarred at all; although, I won’t be able to touch Eskerelian Chowder for a while.”
“A wise precaution,” Mulcahy agreed. “Well, if you should need to talk, my doors are always open.”
“I take it you don’t get a lot of business.”
“Sadly no. It’s a small ship, and the crew seems to deal with their problems in other ways.”
The turbolift started to slow down.
“What sort of ways?” Porter asked as the lift stopped and the doors opened, revealing Dr. Burns. He was currently coated in some sort of steaming green substance that was putting off a strong enough odor to take out a platoon of Klingons.
“Those ways, I’m afraid,” Mulcahy said, covering his nose.
“Where’s Pierce?” Burns demanded.
“Can you take the next car?” Porter asked, slapping the emergency close panel on the lift wall before Burns could protest.
Beck’s legs felt a little unsteady, but, before she could get much beyond an initial wobble, Dr. Pierce was there wrapping his hands around her shoulders to make sure she didn’t fall.
“Thank you, Doctor, but I can’t have you walking behind me forever.”
“Oh, it’s no problem. I don’t have any other pressing engagements,” Hawkeye replied.
“I’m starting to think you may be hitting on me,” Beck said trying to hide the laugh in her voice.
“Me? Never. You’re not my type at all. I can’t stand gorgeous red heads.”
“Be good, Doctor.”
“I am good. Some have gone so far as to say great.”
“Ah, so I see I’m not the first to get your personal touch.”
“You’re the first red headed commander of an out of the way space station.”
“I’m so honored,” Beck quipped. She took a few more far more steady steps forward away from Hawkeye. “Well, Doctor, am I fit for duty?”
“Everything seems to be moving the way it’s supposed to, but you don’t need to go rushing off into battle just yet. I’d like to keep you under observation for a couple more hours at least…just to be safe.”
“What about Lieutenant Porter?”
“I’m sure B.J. is observing him as we speak.”
“Right. Okay then, Doctor…”
“Hawkeye. Please. This formality is killing my mood.”
“Fine. Hawkeye, just what is there to do while I’m under observation?” Beck asked.
“I thought we’d go grab a bite to eat in the mess hall. You either forcefully ejected or we removed all the food in your stomach; you must be starving.”
Beck’s tired and abused stomach perked up at the idea of food… non-life-threatening food, and growled loudly.
“I’d say we have at least one yes vote,” Hawkeye said.
“Who am I to argue with my insides?” Beck said. “Lead the way.”
After escaping Burns and depositing Counselor Mulcahy a couple of decks later, the turbolift finally arrived in engineering. As with most medical ships, the engineering section was fairly small and manned by only a handful of personnel. At the center of it all rose a narrow matter/antimatter intermix chamber flanked by a main situation console. Judging by the animated discussion coming from the man and woman standing at that console, Porter concluded these were the people he was looking for.
“I’ve tried that, Commander,” the man was saying. He had a fairly dark complexion, most likely of some Arabic origin, but his most striking feature was his nose. Porter was surprised that an appendage that large didn’t require its own anti-grav unit to stay attached to the man’s face.
The woman was blonde and barking orders, just as Potter said she would be. “Then try realigning the warp coils, Klinger. And this time do it yourself instead of sending Rizzo!”
“It won’t help. I’m telling you, nothing is wrong with the coils.”
“Probably not,” Porter said, interjecting himself into the conversation.
“See,” Klinger said.
“And who the hell are you?” the woman demanded.
“Lieutenant Porter. One of your patients. I came to see if I could lend a hand.”
“Lieutenant Max Klinger. I can’t tell you how relieved I am to see you,” Klinger said, shaking Porter’s hand warmly. “Madam Charming here is Commander Margaret Houlihan.”
“I’m the M*A*S*H’s first officer,” Houlihan said with barely a glance in Porter’s direction. Instead, her glare was locked on Klinger. “And you would do well to remember that, Mister.”
“Can I see the data on the problem?” Porter asked.
“Gladly,” Klinger said, bending down and picking up one of the padds scattered on the floor of engineering. As he stood up, he winced. “God, I should not have worn hose today.”
“What?” Porter asked.
“Don’t ask,” Houlihan said, snatching the padd from Klinger, who was deep in extricating the pantyhose from his rear end. She handed the padd to Porter. “That’s the whole story, but I don’t know what you expect to find.”
“Probably nothing, like I said,” Porter replied. He had a hunch. Even with only a few engineers on board, if there was a problem with the engines themselves, someone should have found it…unless they were completely incompetent. And, with the bickering and pranks he’d seen so far, Porter had to admit that, in some ways, these people did border on Secondprize status.
He scanned through the reports on the padd quickly, checking for things that could be considered out of the ordinary. Satisfied that the engines were fine, Porter decided to try another avenue.
“May I?” he asked, gesturing to the main status panel.
“Be my guest,” Houlihan said, stepping aside so Porter could get to work. He pulled up the ship’s sensor feed and started checking on that hunch.
“So, is there a Mister Beck whose existence I should be blissfully ignoring?” Hawkeye asked as he sat across from Beck at one of the tables in the small mess hall.
“Not anymore,” Beck replied after swallowing a bite of her oatmeal. She’d decided to take it easy on her stomach for the first meal after surgery. Besides, the replicator didn’t have anything Andorian.
“What was he like…when he was around?”
“My father,” Beck said.
“Well, they say we all marry our parents.”
“No, he actually was my father. I’ve never been married. You just asked about Mister Becks.”
Hawkeye smiled. “I see that I need to be much more direct in my romantic inquiries.”
“Oh, you were making one?” Beck asked innocently.
“You wound me to the quick.”
“Why is this all about me? What about you? What sort of place produces the great Hawkeye Pierce?”
“I’m just a simple small-town boy from Maine,” Hawkeye replied.
“Would I be here with you if I was?”
“I think so,” Beck said.
“You could be right, but no. I’m am unfettered by any serious relationship entanglements.”
“That makes two of us,” Beck said.
“PIERCE!” a voice shouted from across the mess hall, completely spoiling the moment. Beck’s head turned to see a man storming towards their table. He appeared to be currently encased in some sort of green substance.
“Good morning, Frank. Did you do something different with your hair?”
“What is this?” Frank Burns demanded, pulling futilely at the gook covering his head. “Ow!” he cried after dislodging a bit of his hair in the process.
“I’m not sure, but if you need an appointment, I could see you later this afternoon.” Hawkeye looked back at Beck. “Or maybe we should make that tomorrow afternoon.”
“Very funny,” Burns snapped. “You did something to my shower. I just know it.”
“You’re sure you just didn’t accidentally use Margaret’s shampoo?”
Burns thought for a moment. “It was my sonic shower. You rigged it to beam something on me, you…disgrace to the uniform!”
“That’s why I never wear it,” Hawkeye replied. “Besides, you wouldn’t believe the chafing.”
“Potter’s going to hear about this!” Burns shouted, turning on his heel to go.
“You might want to get a shower first,” Hawkeye said. “Looks like you’ve got a little something on you.” He turned his attention back to Beck as Burns stormed out of the room.
“Should I even ask?” Beck said.
“Just showing my appreciation for a colleague.”
“I hope you never appreciate me that much.”
“Believe me, my appreciation for you would take an entirely different form.”
“You certainly don’t waste time.”
“It’s a fast-paced galaxy. I’m just trying to keep up.”
“Guess I need to run a little faster then,” Beck said. She had to admit that Hawkeye was charming. And she hadn’t been pursued like this for a long time. So, nothing would come of it. That was no reason not to play the game.
Without warning, she rose from the table and strode out of the room, tossing a glance over her shoulder at Hawkeye as she went.
Let the chase begin.
“What does that have to do with our engines?” Houlihan said irritated as Porter checked the readouts of the space beyond the ship.
“Everything,” Porter said. “Sort of.”
“What do you mean sort of?” Houlihan demanded.
“Now you see what I have to deal with everyday,” Klinger said. “She has no respect for an artist’s work.”
“Since when were you an artist?” Houlihan said.
“You are talking to Maxwell Klinger, fashion designer extraordinaire.”
“Gotcha!” Porter exclaimed suddenly, startling Klinger and Houlihan.
“Don’t do that!” Houlihan said.
Klinger looked down at the monitor display Porter had called up. “What in the name of Toledo?”
Hawkeye, huffing and puffing like he’d just jogged up Mt. Everest, finally caught up with Beck as she stood casually leaning against the wall in a corridor several decks below the mess hall.
“When…you said…run faster,” Hawkeye gasped, collapsing against the wall beside her. “I didn’t think…you meant…that fast.”
“I like to challenge people,” Beck replied, barely winded.
“Or kill them.”
“Come on, Doctor. It’s good for you. Besides, I like a man who can work up a sweat.”
“How about a full-fledged downpour?” Hawkeye replied, wiping his sleeve across his forehead.
“Doctor Pierce, Doctor Burns, and Commander Lisa Beck to the briefing room,” a voice suddenly barked over the comm system. “And whoever left the Heidi program running in Holodeck One, please come get your lederhosen. That is all.”
“Playtime’s over, I’m afraid,” Beck said, pulling Hawkeye off of the wall he’d attached himself to.
“Play? I’d hate to see your idea of work.”
“Maybe. Maybe not,” Beck said, a wicked glint in her eyes as she headed down the corridor.
“We getting a lesson in abstract art?” Pierce asked as he walked into the briefing room with Beck and saw Commander Houlihan standing in front of a monitor displaying a strange, weblike image.
“Afraid not, Pierce,” Captain Potter said from the head of the briefing table. Klinger, Porter, Burns, Mulcahy and Hunnicutt were already seated waiting for Houlihan to begin.
“Commander,” Potter said, motioning for Houlihan to begin.
“This is the source of our engine trouble,” Houlihan said, pointing at the web on the monitor.
“Captain,” Pierce protested. “I was in the middle of something very important. Do I need to be here for an engineering problem?”
“You’re Chief Medical Officer. You stay,” Potter said.
“Beej is here. He can cover for me.”
“What a pleasure,” Hunnicutt said.
“Captain, could I continue?” Houlihan said.
“By all means,” Potter replied.
“Thank you. This webbing is wrapped around the port warp nacelle and hampering our warp field when we try to go above warp two.”
“Can’t we just go out there with phasers and blast it off then?” Burns asked. “Seems simple enough to me.”
“Sure…if you want to blow us all up,” Klinger said. “You can’t start firing phasers at the nacelles.”
“The other problem is that this webbing…or whatever it is…is actually in subspace,” Houlihan said.
“What?” Potter said, leaning forward in his chair. “How is that possible?”
“I’ll let Lieutenant Porter explain, since he’s the one that discovered it in the first place.” Houlihan sat down as Porter moved over to the monitor and switched the image to show various readouts of subspace energy, fluctuations, etc.
“Since the M*A*S*H’s engines seemed to be working fine, I felt that your problem had to be external. And since it was only happening in warp, subspace was the logical place to look.”
“Of course. Obviously,” Hawkeye quipped. He was quickly silenced by a sharp jab in the side from Beck’s elbow.
“Somehow these tendrils, or whatever they are, latched onto the ship while you were at low warp. If you’d hit them any faster, the resulting entanglement probably would have ripped the ship apart before you even realized what was happening.”
“There’s a pleasant thought,” Hunnicutt said.
“So what can we do?” Burns asked.
“Cut it off,” Porter said. “But very carefully. These tendrils dip deep into subspace and are incredibly thin. We’re talking about pains-taking work.”
“Requiring the hands of a surgeon,” Pierce said, suddenly understanding why he was there.
“Bullseye, Pierce,” Potter said.
“Wait a second,” Beck said, standing up and walking over to the sensor readouts. “What is this one showing?”
“Subspace fluctuations,” Porter said, seeing the readout Beck was pointing at.
“Look at the pattern.”
“What pattern?” Porter asked. “It’s almost random.” He stopped for a second, the realization dawning on him. “Almost.”
“That thing’s alive,” Hawkeye said, rushing over to join Beck and Porter.
“Are you sure?” Potter said.
“I think so. The emissions are regular, but not as repetitive as they’d be from a naturally occurring source.”
“But they’re also not as random as background noise,” Porter added.
“Wait, Pierce,” Burns said. “Alive and sentient are two very different things. This thing could be the intellectual equivalent of an amoeba.”
“Maybe so, but we still keep you around, Frank,” Hunnicutt said.
“Captain, if this is a living organism, we cannot just kill it because it’s slowing us down,” Hawkeye said.
“Can we pull it off without hurting it somehow?” Mulcahy asked.
“We’d have to find a way to manipulate subspace on almost microscopic levels,” Houlihan said. “And we’d still need someone with very steady hands.”
“You let me worry about the hands,” Hawkeye said. “I just need someone to hand me an instrument.”
“What do you think, Klinger?” Potter asked.
“This is way out of my field. I’m an engine and evening-wear man.”
“We’ll need a very small subspace field coil…like out of the engine of a warp-capable probe,” Porter said.
“We have that,” Houlihan said, checking her padd of the ship’s inventory.
“And the emitter assembly of a magnetic decoupler,” Porter said.
“And a very small polaron inversion/conversion chamber like the kind they use in a warp dynamics lab.”
“Um…no,” Houlihan said.
“We’ve got one,” Klinger said.
“No we don’t,” Houlihan replied. “I know every piece of inventory on this ship, and a polaron-dohickey is not one of them.”
“I got one in a trade back at Starbase 342.”
“And just what did you trade?” Houlihan asked.
“Nothing on your list. I promise.”
“How much stuff do you have that’s not on my list?”
“This can wait, folks,” Potter said. “Preferably forever. Klinger, get Lieutenant Porter the parts he needs and get to work. In the meantime, Pierce, don’t do anything nasty to those hands. We’re going to need them soon. Dismissed.”
“So much for my idea for what to do with you this afternoon,” Beck whispered to Pierce.
“You’re just cruel.”
“I know,” Beck said. “I have to keep myself entertained.”
“And torturing me is entertaining?”
“You figured me out. If you’ll excuse me…” Beck got up from the conference table and left to confer with Porter about the tendril situation.
Two hours later, Lieutenant Porter gracefully steered the Runabout Cumberland, which had been safely stowed in the M*A*S*H’s shuttlebay, into position directly above the medical ship’s port warp nacelle.
“It is now safe to exit the ride,” he said into the comm panel.
In the rear of the runabout, Commander Beck and Dr. Pierce were just finishing climbing into their EVA suits so they could climb out onto the nacelle.
“Thanks, Craig,” Beck said. “We’ll be heading out in a minute.”
“No rush,” Porter’s voice replied over the comm system. “I don’t think anybody’s waiting for this particular parking space.”
Beck turned her attention back to Hawkeye. “You going to put that helmet on or what?”
Hawkeye uneasily flipped the helmet around in his hands a couple of times. “I’m getting there.”
“How do you survive on a ship?”
“It’s big enough for me.”
“Well, don’t worry,” Beck said, putting a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “You’re heading into the biggest concentration of open space in the universe: open space.”
“Yeah, but I have to go locked into this thing,” Hawkeye replied ruefully.
“It’s better than going outside without a suit.”
“Can’t argue with that.” Hawkeye took a deep breath, let it out slowly, then put the helmet on and latched it to the rest of the suit. “You ready?”
Beck picked up the main section of Porter’s “subspace forceps,” as Pierce had dubbed them. The device was fairly large and had to be worn as a backpack with a cable leading out to the actual tool end. Since Hawkeye would have enough to deal with trying to perform a tricky procedure inside an EVA suit, it was decided that someone else would actually carry the backpack. Radar and Beck had both volunteered, but Beck’s greater EVA experience had won her the job. Besides, she was the one providing transportation out to the nacelle.
Beck pressed the panel by the hatch and watched the hatch slowly open revealing the nacelle below them and space beyond. “Just a quick hop down,” she said, making the small leap out onto the nacelle.
“You promise to catch me?” Hawkeye said weakly as he watched her go. With no other choice but to follow her lead, Hawkeye jumped down beside her.
Safely on the nacelle with their magnetic boots engaged, Beck and Hawkeye engaged the heads-up displays in their helmets that would allow them to see subspace fluctuations and filaments. Just ahead of them, a tangled, translucent gold mass stood out against the gray of the nacelle.
“I think we found our patient,” Hawkeye said, easing forward a step at a time. Beck adjusted the backpack and followed him to the site. They knelt down beside the mass and prepared to get to work.
“Is it pulsating, or am I seeing things?” Beck asked.
“I think it’s pulsating,” Hawkeye replied. “I hope that’s a good thing. Now where’s an end?” He took the subspace forceps in his hand and peered closely at the mass. Beck could see the sudden seriousness transform his features from jester to doctor. Without a word, he started the long process of untangling the tendrils walking around and around the nacelle as if it were nothing more than an operating table. His focus was solely on his patient.
More than half an hour passed before Hawkeye finally spoke.
“So, are you going to keep me company out here or what?”
“I didn’t want to break your concentration.”
“I don’t think you can help that.”
“You don’t give up, do you?” Beck laughed.
“Me? Who was so desperate to be alone with me that she agreed to take a walk in deep space?”
Before Beck could come up with a snappy retort, Hawkeye quickly moved off around the nacelle, forcing Beck to practically run to catch up so the cable connecting the parts of the subspace forceps would not rip.
“Almost there,” Hawkeye said, leaning down over another, much smaller tangle of subspace filament. “I think I’ve got the other end here!” he added triumphantly. Working methodically, Hawkeye loosened and shifted bits of the filament, freeing the end, which snaked through the other bits of the knot, untying the entire mass.
Beck and Hawkeye watched the entire string loosen, unravel from around the nacelle, and float off into space. Gradually, of its own accord, the string began to twist, slowly forming a spiral.
“Are you seeing this, too?” Hawkeye said in disbelief.
“It’s incredible,” Beck replied softly.
After completing its formation of a spiral, the string started to spin around and around, gradually lengthening itself out to look more like a spring. Then, with a sudden flare-up in energy, it zipped away.
“Nice work, Doctor,” Beck said.
“I guess it was pretty good,” Hawkeye replied.
“Some might even say great,” Beck said smiling. She wrapped her arm around Hawkeye’s and led him back to the runabout.
“Nearest we can figure, we picked up that little hitchhiker when we hit that plasma storm last week,” Captain Potter said as he, the other M*A*S*H officers, and their Waystation visitors sat in the mess hall having dinner.
“The storm must just be the manifestation in our universe of those life-forms’ pocket of subspace,” Porter added.
Potter turned to his operations officer. “Radar…”
“I’ll contact Starfleet first thing tomorrow and have warning buoys dispatched around the area,” Radar said, finishing Potter’s thought. “Yes, sir.”
“Good. So, Doctors, I think the last day has given me the answer to this, but how are our patients?”
“Right as rain,” Hunnicutt said.
“Afraid so,” Hawkeye added, giving Beck a smile.
“Glad to hear it, but we are going to miss you folks,” Potter said. “You’ve given us a big hand out here.”
“Anytime, sir,” Beck replied. “Thank you again for helping us. We’d love to stay, but we really need to get back to Waystation.”
“I understand,” Potter replied. “But before you go, we’ve got a little something we’d like to share with you. Everybody done stuffing their faces?”
“Yes, sir,” came the reply from the gathered officers. Beck and Porter exchanged a confused look as the M*A*S*H crew got up from their seats and headed out into the corridor. Houlihan took Porter’s arm to show him the way, drawing an angry glare from Burns. Meanwhile, Hawkeye hung back from the group to wait for Beck.
“I never even got to give you the complete Pierce experience,” Hawkeye said, walking side by side with Beck through the corridors.
“There’s always next time,” Beck said. “Waystation may be out of the way, but you can get there if you want to.”
“I’d love to take you up on that.”
“Then do it.”
Potter stopped the group in front of a set of holodeck doors. “Computer, run program Home One.” The computer blipped its compliance, and Potter took a step forward through the opening doors.
Inside was an outdoor camp set up. Several green tents and a long metal building were gathered around a small area at the base of a series of low mountains. Dirt roads stretched away from the camp in different directions as people in green uniforms rushed back and forth.
“What is this place?” Porter asked.
“It’s a real M*A*S*H,” Potter replied, heading deep into the simulation followed by Radar, Klinger, Burns, and Hunnicutt.
Porter suddenly felt a wave of nausea wash over him. He fell back against the door frame as Houlihan stepped up to him. “It doesn’t look like much, but some people called it home.”
“Help,” Porter gasped as he slid to floor.
“I guess this is goodbye,” Hawkeye said as Beck slumped into his arms, her body also overcome by whatever had hit Porter.
“Wh..what’s happening?” Beck asked weakly as Hawkeye set her down next to Porter.
“It’s time to leave,” Hawkeye said. “Goodbye, Lisa.” He kissed her lips gently, then walked off into the program with the others.
The last thing Beck saw through her blurring vision was the holodeck doors close. Then all was darkness.
“How is she, Doctor?” a familiar voice said, pushing through the darkness clouding Beck’s mind.
“Morales,” Beck said weakly, trying to open her eyes.
“Take it easy, Commander,” Doctor Amedon Nelson’s voice said as her hand gently pressed against Beck’s head to make sure she didn’t try to get up.
“You’re both going to be fine,” Lieutenant Commander Walter Morales’s voice said. Beck heard the slap and chirp of a hand hitting a commbadge.
“Morales to Roanoke. Beck and Porter are stable. Let’s get back home.”
“You got it,” Lieutenant Sean Russell’s voice said over the comm system. “I’ll follow you guys.”
“Acknowledged. Cumberland out,” Morales replied.
Beck finally managed to get her eyes opened. She was laying on the floor of the runabout cockpit, stretched out next to Porter, who also had forced his eyes opened. If his face mirrored hers at all, they both must have looked like utter hell.
“What happened?” Beck asked Nelson, who was leaning over her with a tricorder.
“You two didn’t make it back, so we came looking. Good thing, too. You both were in bad shape.”
“Food poisoning?” Beck asked.
“Yep. Most of the people at the dinner came down with it. Turns out the chefs didn’t know that Eskerelian clams are toxic to humans, Vulcans, Klingons, and half the other species in the quadrant. But that’s what you get for taking Porter.”
“What’d I do?” Porter said.
“I told you before, people go on missions with you, they end up needing medical attention.”
“I did too this time.”
“I’m sure Commander Beck finds that comforting,” Nelson replied. “You two get some rest.” Nelson closed her tricorder and headed up to take a seat next to Morales.
Porter and Beck lay silently for a moment. “I guess I just dreamt the med ship,” Porter said finally.
“You and me both,” Beck replied. It took a couple of seconds for what they just said to sink in.
Despite the weakness and pain racking their bodies, Beck and Porter sat up startled.
“What the hell?”