If things still were the way they were long ago, Star Trek would be a Desilu production, but it's not. If things still were the way they were a few years ago, Star Trek would be owned by Viacom, which it is, so I guess things still are the way they were. Star Traks is still owned by Alan Decker, which it has been since the beginning. Now where were we?

Author: Alan Decker
Copyright: 2000

Author’s Note: For those of you who are die-hard Traks fans or timeline obsessive, The Way We Were takes place shortly after the Vexed Generation book, Worlds Apart.


STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION

THE WAY WE WERE

by Alan Decker



CHAPTER ONE


This is WAYSTATION!


Far on the edge of explored space, sitting like a beacon of hope

amongst the desolate and unfriendly void beyond, is

WAYSTATION, your gateway to the astounding mysteries of

the Beta Quadrant.


Towering at over 100 decks, WAYSTATION has the facilities

and resources to satisfy even the most selective galactic traveler.

Come see the many shops and services available to you in

Starfleet Square Mall, two full decks of the finest shopping in the

known universe. There you will find exquisite dresses at Krilik’s

Klingon Formal Wear, experience the seductive allure of Breen

lingerie at Nandegar’s Secret, and be struck with awe at the

incredible selection of merchandise available in Dillon’s Supply

Depot, your one-stop shopping extravaganza.


And when hunger strikes, there is no better place to be than

Dillon’s, rated 4 stars by the prestigious Gornian Galactic

Guide. Of course, many eateries are available on

WAYSTATION, such as Soup on a Stick, Sandwich or

What?, and an Andorian place. However, with Dillon’s

conveniently located right inside the hotel, guests of Starfleet

Suites will find little need to go anywhere else. So on behalf of

Bradley Dillon, Commander Lisa Beck, and the many residents

of WAYSTATION, civilian, Starfleet, and Federation Marine

alike…


WELCOME TO WAYSTATION



“Bah!” Dr. Orudek Hsell spat as he finished reading the Waystation promo piece and tossed the padd onto the coffee table in front of him.

“Bad read?” Dr. Hsell’s colleague, Dr. Bendan Ruped asked as the two Orion scientists sat in the lobby of the Starfleet Suites Hotel. By Bradley Dillon’s standards, the lobby was opulent. For most people, it bordered on ostentatious. Burgundy marble columns rose up from a floor of white marble. In the center of the room flowed a golden fountain carved in the shape of the Starfleet delta. At the rear of the lobby, two staircases headed up to the second level. Bradley designed those himself based on the grand staircase of the Titanic, one of his little obsessions. But despite the gilded wall ornaments, neatly dressed and pressed staff members, plentiful marble, and fine furniture, Hsell couldn’t find one decent thing to read. After rejecting this month’s issue of Milky Way Moguls, which had a cover story on Bradley Dillon, Hsell had been forced to turn to the Waystation travel brochure.

“Propaganda from that insufferable Bradley Dillon,” Hsell replied. “This entire station reeks of him.” Hsell looked at the chronometer on the wall again. “Bah! Where is Judel?”

“You men always take forever to get ready,” Ruped laughed.

“You laugh now, woman. But a few decades ago, I would have had your lovely green ass dancing for me,” the older man replied. “But this damn so- called progress…”

“…has allowed us to finish the project,” Dr. Judel Wynis said, walking up to the group. “Don’t listen to him, Bendan.”

“I wasn’t planning on it,” Dr. Ruped replied. “He knows he needs me.”

“Can we just go eat?” Hsell said, using his cane to get to his feet. “If I spend much more time in here, I’m going to be sick.”

“You’re just jealous, Orudek,” Judel said. “Face it, this Dillon’s a better pirate than your clan ever was.”

“Businessman! He’s a good businessman! As was my father!” Hsell snapped. “Now let’s go!”

The three Orions exited the Starfleet Suites lobby out onto the upper level of Starfleet Square Mall. Beings of every description hustled this way and that as they enjoyed the amenities Starfleet Square had to offer. But, unlike the crowded chaos of the days before Waystation’s renovation into the massive facility it was now, Starfleet Square was lively, but not a spark waiting to ignite.

Arriving in the food court, which overlooked the zero-gravity hover-rink located on the lower level, Hsell, Ruped, and Wynis ordered from Wok-a-Chodok, the only stand serving anything remotely palatable to Orions, and found a table between some of the other scientists attending the conference and a pair of Starfleet officers.

“Do you have the presentation ready?” Ruped asked Wynis as Hsell silently shoveled food in his mouth.

“All set. It won’t be fancy, but oh well. What about that mess with the station commander?”

“I worked it out. She’s going to let the prototype onto the station,” Ruped said.

“That’s exactly my point,” Hsell said suddenly, tossing his spork aside angrily. “You see what this human idea of progress has done to galactic society. Now we’ve got women telling us when and where we can take our masterpiece! If I had my way, that Beck woman would be working in a gentlemen’s club on Orion where she belongs!”


At the next table, Lieutenant Commander Walter Morales, Waystation’s first officer, and Yeoman Tina Jones, the station’s liaison officer stopped eating and looked at each other. Jones noticed the fury in Morales’ eyes and put her hand on his arm.

“You okay?”

“You heard what he said,” Morales said in an eerily disconcerting flat monotone.

“Yeah, but he’s an old fool just here for the conference. Don’t worry about it. Commander Beck could squash him like a gnat anyway.”

“You’re right. I’m fine,” Morales said, exhaling a large breath of air. “No problem.”


Back at the Orion’s table, Ruped glared at Hsell. “You could at least pretend to respect me, Orudek. I don’t want to listen to your salacious drivel.”

“I’m not talking about you. I’m just saying I like those Earth redheads,” Hsell continued. “Especially the tall, fiery kind like that Beck. It’d be fun extinguishing that fire. Lots of fun. I would…”

A strong hand suddenly grabbed Hsell’s head from behind and slammed it down into his plate of chodok stir fry.

“That’s just a warning there, sir,” the controlled voice of Morales said as he stood over Hsell, holding the Orion’s face in his food. “If I hear another line of talk like that, you’re going to find yourself in the brig for threatening a Starfleet Officer. Have a good day.” Morales yanked Hsell back up, slammed him into the back of his chair, and stormed out of the food court.

“How’s that for fiery,” Ruped laughed as a noodle slipped off of Hsell’s face.


“Commander! Commander Morales! Walter!!” Yeoman Jones shouted as she raced to catch up with Morales.

“I don’t want to talk about it, Yeoman,” Morales said as he headed into a turbolift.

“I’m sorry, sir, but as liaison officer, I have a duty,” Jones said, pushing into the lift just as the doors closed.

“Ops,” Morales said curtly. The lift started to move. Morales stared straight ahead as Jones looked at him in exasperation.

“If I’m supposed to be a liaison to these people and make them feel welcome, you can’t be smashing their heads into food,” Jones said.

“He was out of line.”

“With all due respect, sir, I think you were out of line.”

Morales turned on Jones, causing her to shrink back reflexively. “I sent a message, Tina. That’s all. I don’t like it when people threaten my friends.”

“He wasn’t threatening…”

“He might as well have been,” Morales interrupted.

“So, you would have done that if he’d been talking about me,” Jones said.

“Possibly. So what?”

“Well, I’ve just noticed that…” Jones trailed off, unsure if she wanted to go forward.

“What?”

“Nothing, sir. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Morales’ demeanor softened. “And I’m sorry I snapped at you, Tina. It was uncalled for.” The turbolift slowed to a stop and opened into ops. “See if you can give that guy a dinner somewhere,” Morales said, stepping out of the lift. “Charge it to my tab.”

“Yes, sir,” Jones said. “I’ll smooth things over.”

“Thanks,” Morales said. He gave Jones a warm smile as the lift doors closed, shutting her in the lift alone.

“Starfleet Square,” she said distractedly as she put another little piece into the Walter Morales puzzle.


“So, you looking forward to seeing him again?” Dr. Amedon Nelson asked as she and Commander Lisa Beck walked down the corridor headed towards Docking Bay 14.

“We weren’t exactly friends,” Beck replied. “This is more of an obligation. We were shipmates. I can’t just ignore his visit. Besides, better him than that Baxter twit. I couldn’t wait to his ship to leave.”

Beck and Nelson arrived at the shuttlebay just as the arriving vessel, a Starfleet shuttle, completed its docking sequence.

“You don’t have to stay,” Beck said.

“I don’t really have anywhere to be either,” Nelson replied as the shuttle hatch opened.

“Lucky me.” Beck plastered on a fake smile and stepped forward to greet the figure emerging from the shuttle.

“Jaroch! Great to see you,” Beck exclaimed, extending her hands to the man. Commander Jaroch, science officer of the USS Secondprize, Beck’s former posting, considered the offered hand then shook it.

“You appear to be well,” the Yynsian replied. “And the modifications to this station are impressive.”

“Awww. He’s a big softy,” Nelson said.

“Jaroch, this is Dr. Amedon Nelson.”

“Yes,” Jaroch said, shaking Nelson’s hand. “I remember you from our last stopover here. It is a pleasure to see you again.”

“I bet you say that to all the girls,” Nelson said.

“He didn’t say it to me,” Beck said.

“Quite,” Jaroch replied. He and Nelson exchanged an amused look.

“I can see this is going to be a joy,” Beck mumbled. “Come on, Jaroch. I’ll show you your quarters, and we can get some dinner.”

“Commander, if this simply an attempt to fulfill your perceived obligation to me as former shipmates, I assure you it is unnecessary. The fact that we spent three years on the same ship in no way requires us to spend time together now. I am solely here for the conference.”

“I thought dinner would be fun,” Beck lied…of course, she wasn’t about to admit Jaroch had been telling the truth. Somehow it seemed so callous coming from him.

“Oh yeah. She was practically skipping down the hallway in anticipation,” Nelson said.

“In that case, I will accept the invitation on the condition that you join us, Dr. Nelson,” Jaroch said.

“Great idea!” Beck said quickly. “Come with us.”

“I wouldn’t want to intrude,” Nelson said.

“You would not be intruding,” Jaroch said.

“Certainly not,” Beck added.

“Okay,” Nelson said hesitantly.

“Excellent,” Jaroch said. “Now then, if I could see my accommodations.”

“It’s not the Starfleet Suites, but you should find them comfortable,” Beck said, leading the way out into the corridor.

“They will be fine. I have no desire to stay in any facility associated with a Dillon.”

“Patricia’s still with Commander Dillon, huh?” Beck said.

“Yes. But I fail to see the relevance.”

“Of course you do,” Beck said, suppressing a smile. “Don’t worry, Jaroch. I’m sure you’ll find someone.” Beck looked over at Nelson, who quickly noticed the twinkle in Beck’s eye.

“Oh no,” Nelson said.

“Is something wrong, Doctor?” Jaroch asked, looking at Nelson with concern.

“No. Nothing,” Nelson replied, trying to ignore the huge grin on Beck’s face as the commander mouthed, “He wants you” over and over. “Just a slight pain in the neck.”

“I see,” Jaroch said, turning back to Beck, who by that time was the picture of innocence.

“Shall we go on,” Beck said, waving the group down the hall. She tried not to yelp as Nelson’s foot suddenly connected with the back of her leg.

“My apologies, Commander,” Nelson said quickly. “The pain must be affecting my coordination.”

“Right,” Beck said, limping off down the corridor.



CHAPTER TWO


Bradley Dillon stood at the rear of the Liaison Office in Starfleet Square Mall, impatiently flipping through a Simms Ship Lines brochure as he waited for Yeoman Jones to finish dealing with the two Hinarans in line ahead of him.

“…and the saunas are on Deck 84,” Jones said, pointing the location out of a large schematic of the station displayed on the office’s large monitor. “But be careful only to use Saunas One through Eight. Sauna Nine was designed for use by Gynulians, Densotes, and other species that enjoy being encased in molten slime. It would boil your skin off, though. Did you want an appointment?”

The two Hinarans shuddered and made a hasty retreat from the office. “Enjoy your time here at Waystation,” Jones called after them.

“Are you trying to ruin me?” Bradley demanded, throwing down the brochure and storming over to Jones’s desk.

“They didn’t want a sauna. So what?” Jones replied.

“Not them,” Bradley snapped. “I’m talking about your charming Commander Morales, who is single-handedly trying to destroy my science conference before it even starts!”

“I thought it was the Federation’s conference,” Jones said confused.

“Never mind that. Now what about this Morales business? You’re the liaison. Aren’t you supposed to prevent events like this?”

“Walter got angry and overreacted a bit. That’s all. But he had cause. You should have heard what that awful man was saying about Commander Beck.”

“That awful man happens to be Dr. Orudek Hsell, one of the most respected scientists on Orion!”

“Orion has respected scientists?”

“Yeah, I was surprised, too,” Bradley said. “But that’s not the point. This conference is the first big event Starfleet Suites has had. I need things to go perfectly. It’s your job to make sure things go perfectly. Understand?”

“It won’t happen again. Walter’s not a violent person. You know that. That Orion just pushed him too far.”

“Well, we have Romulans coming to this conference, Yeoman. What if one of them pushes Morales too far? And since when did he have a too far anyway? That man was as meek as a lemur when he came on board.”

“People change. You were poor when you came on board,” Jones said. Bradley bristled at the comment.

“Just keep Morales away from the scientists. I’ve convinced Hsell not to file assault charges.”

“Thank you, Mr. Dillon. And don’t worry. Walter will be fine.”

“Yeah yeah,” Bradley said, turning and exiting the office.


Commander Jaroch found himself in the unusual situation of being unable to pronounce, much less comprehend the sign outside of the restaurant Beck had chosen for dinner.

“Trust me. You don’t want to know,” Dr. Nelson whispered into Jaroch’s ear then headed off down the corridor of the mall.

“I thought she was joining us,” Jaroch said confused.

“She’ll be right back,” Beck replied, leading Jaroch into the crowded eatery. Jaroch immediately noticed the waitstaff. They were all Andorian. He did not take this as a good sign.

“Commander Beck, what a delight!” the Andorian matre’d exclaimed, rushing forward to shake Beck’s hand.

“I was here for breakfast, Ih’mad. Give it a rest,” Beck said.

“Of course. And who is this with you?”

“Commander Jaroch. Ih’mad. Can we get a table?”

“Right this way, Commander.” Ih’mad picked up two menus and wound his way through the restaurant to a secluded table for two in the back corner.

“Dr. Nelson will be joining us,” Beck said, glaring at Ih’mad.

“I see,” Ih’mad said, annoyance visible on his face. “Perhaps another table is in order.”

“Definitely,” Beck and Jaroch replied. Ih’mad led the duo to a slightly larger table in a more crowded area, bowed curtly, then headed back to the entrance as Jaroch attempted to make a meal selection from the menu.

“The portions here are big, so you won’t need to order much,” Beck said. A waiter scurried over, depositing a large bowl of a mushy orange substance in the middle of the table. “A bottle of Kaxxx’irsst 2251, if you’ve got any left.”

“Ih’mad set aside several bottles just for you, Commander,” the waiter replied, then scurried off again. Beck dug her hand into the orange mush, coming up with a big sticky glop which she popped into her mouth.

“Bread?” she said, gesturing to the bowl.

“Not of any sort I am familiar with,” Jaroch replied, eyeing the goop with disgust.

“Your loss.”

“Will Lieutenants Porter or Russell be joining us?” Jaroch asked. “I assumed I would be subjected to a Secondprize reunion.”

“Sorry to disappoint you, but Russell and Porter are out on a babysitting mission.”

“Excuse me?”

“Our resident Federation Marine Colonel got cabin fever and demanded to go on our next scouting excursion. Craig and Sean get the joy of playing tour guide.”

“I see,” Jaroch said as the waiter returned with the wine. “The staff here certainly is attentive.”

“Only to me,” Beck said. “Ih’mad is very grateful for the bigger restaurant. His place on the old station was about half this size.”

“I had no idea Andorian cuisine was this popular.”

“I can’t figure it out either, Jaroch,” Dr. Nelson’s voice said. She sat down out the table carrying a small container and a cup. She opened the box revealing a steaming helping of lasagna. Jaroch did not take this as a good sign either.

“Two of the organs of the day,” he caught Beck saying at the edge of his hearing as he longingly gazed at Nelson’s pasta.

“Right away,” the waiter said. Beck scooped up another big handful of glop and started to munch.

“I guess congratulations are in order,” Beck said once she finished chewing…or whatever she had to do to consume that gunk.

“How so?” Jaroch asked.

“The extra pip. You finally got the promotion.”

“Finally is indeed the correct term. Unfortunately, I have Commander Dillon to thank for it.”

“He recommended it?” Beck said in disbelief.

“Not exactly.”


“I don’t like this,” Lieutenant Commander Patricia Hawkins’ voice said over Jaroch’s commbadge. “You’re sure he’s all right?” Jaroch sighed, an unusual reaction for the Yynsian but one that seemed appropriate under the circumstances, and looked up at the monitor in the antechamber for the twenty- third time in less than an hour. On the screen, Commander Dillon and General P’Dar’s were still seated at the conference table talking.

“He is fine,” Jaroch replied curtly.

“Okay. I’ll check in again soon,” Hawkins said.

“Try to wait longer than two and a half minutes next time,” Jaroch said. “That is your current record.”

“Can it, nut-boy,” Hawkins snapped and closed the comm channel. Jaroch sighed again, an even more unusual occurrence, and settled back into the anteroom sofa where he sat with Colonel K’i’illl’m of the Concititiciaisian Armed and Dangerous Forces of Doom, Death, Destruction and Considerable Mayhem and Loud Noises. Commander Dillon was currently sealed inside a soundproof, scan-proof, explosive-proof, earthquake-proof, climate-controlled chamber with the leader of the Concititiciaisian Armed and Dangerous Forces of Doom, Death, Destruction and Considerable Mayhem and Loud Noises negotiating an end to their war with the Concititiciaisian Republic of Peace, Light, Pretty Flowers, and Swell Tunes. Granted, the translations weren’t exact.

In any case, Dillon and Captain Rydell, who was currently meeting with the leader of the Concititiciaisian Republic of Peace, Light, Pretty Flowers, and Swell Tunes and presumably having a much better time than Jaroch was, were currently trying to convince the leaders of the warring groups to meet with each other for peace negotiations. Jaroch could only hope that Dillon was coming somewhere close to ending his talks with General P’Dar’s.

“Coffee?” Colonel K’i’illl’m asked, putting down the magazine he was reading.

“Fine,” Jaroch said. The black-clad military officer peeled his leather uniform away from the vinyl sofa and headed over to the coffee machine.

“We’ve only got cappuccino and Elasian Mint. Either of those okay?”

“Either is acceptable,” Jaroch said, his glance falling on the article the colonel had been reading: 10 Steps to Better Roses. He looked back at the colonel, who was in the process of dumping several kilos of sugar into his coffee mug.

“I just can’t stand that bitter coffee taste, can you?” K’i’illl’m said, pursing his lips and shuddering.

“And which side is the aggressor in this conflict again?” Jaroch asked.

“We are!” the Colonel snapped. “Death to the damn peaceniks!”

“I see.” Jaroch returned his attention to the riveting spectacle on the monitor.

Inside the sealed negotiation chamber, Dillon and General P’Dar’s were standing up from the table and shaking hands. The two men approached the door, stepping out of the view of the camera. Jaroch rose from the sofa and stepped over to the door to meet the Secondprize first officer. The door shook a bit, then a bit more. He then heard a bit of pounding, followed by a muffled voice. Then muffled shouting. Jaroch was able to make out his name…barely. He sighed (Third time in a day. Undoubtedly some sort of record.) And tapped his commbadge.

“Jaroch to Dillon. I can hear you better if you use the commbadge.”

“Oh yeah,” Dillon’s voice replied. “The door’s stuck.”

“Are you sure you are using it right?” Jaroch’s voice said over Dillon’s commbadge as the first officer examined the sealed door in front of him.

“What’s to use?” Dillon said, pulling on the door handle again. “It’s just a door.” Dillon didn’t notice the maniacal smirk on the face of General P’Dar’s, who was at that very moment sliding a sharp, serrated knife out of his hat in flagrant violation of the “No Weapons” rule that had been instituted for the negotiation chamber.

“Pull harder,” Jaroch said.

“I’m pulling as hard as I can,” Dillon said, his voice straining as he pulled with all of his might against the recalcitrant handle.

“Pathetic,” Jaroch muttered as he began pushing against the door. A few seconds of this revealed that the door was indeed stuck; however, Jaroch detected slight movement. A bit more force should do it.

P’Dar’s suppressed a snicker as he leisurely held up the knife and got a good line of sight on Dillon’s chest. Side entries like this were a little difficult, but P’Dar’s hadn’t gotten that Doom Scouts Terror Badge in Close Quarters Assassination for nothing.

“It’s…moving!” Jaroch grunted, straining against the door.

“I…would…hope…so,” Dillon said, pulling equally hard. His eyes happened to fall on a tiny latch near the door handle. “What the?” He reached over at flipped it, just as P’Dar’s let the knife fly.

The door, now unlocked, flew open, tossing a startled Jaroch into the room and right into the path of the knife, which painfully imbedded itself in his shoulder.

“Jaroch! Get down!” Dillon shouted, springing into action. He yanked Jaroch’s phaser out of the Yynsian’s uniform and pushed Jaroch to the floor, causing him to land on his now sliced and profusely-bleeding shoulder. Dillon quickly stunned P’Dar’s, who looked incredibly unhappy about the turn of events, then turned the phaser on K’i’illl’m, blasting the mug out of the colonel’s hand then zapping the colonel himself just before he could read the tenth and final step to better roses. Just to be on the safe side, Dillon then blasted the camera in the negotiation room, the monitor in the antechamber, and the coffee machine because…well…you could never be too careful.

Holstering the phaser, Dillon leaned down to see to his fallen comrade. “You saved my life,” Dillon said smiling. “That was really great of you, Jaroch! Really!”

“Joy,” Jaroch muttered, then fell unconscious from blood loss. The last thing he heard was his commbadge chirp.

“Hawkins to Jaroch. Is he still okay?”

Jaroch sighed (fourth time), then everything went dark.


“Saved his life, huh?” Beck said smirking. “How noble of you.”

“I know,” Jaroch replied. The waiter arrived with the food and set a steaming plate of…something in front of Jaroch.

“That must be killing you inside.”

“No worse than this meal will be.”

“Told you,” Nelson said, taking another big fork full of lasagne. “So what are you presenting at the conference?”

“A revised version of a paper about mind transference.”

“Uggh. That whole twentieth century mess with Captain Rydell?” Beck said.

“The very same. The return of the Aerostar from the Delta Quadrant has given me some additional information that I found enlightening.”

“Nice to know they’re good for something,” Beck muttered.

“Problem?” Jaroch asked.

“We didn’t enjoy our last visit from Captain Baxter and his crew,” Nelson explained. “Happy universe, giant eyeballs, brainwashing. You know the drill.”

“Fortunately, I do not,” Jaroch said.

“You should look into it,” Beck said. “Your mirror self is…unique.”

“I am unique enough for my needs,” Jaroch said.

“Even if it involves leather and chains?” Nelson asked.

“Especially if it involves leather and chains.” Jaroch looked down at his plate of food. “Did this just move?”

“It’s supposed to do that,” Beck replied.

“Ahh. If you will excuse me, I should go over my notes for tomorrow.” He stood up to leave.

“But you didn’t eat.”

“A wise choice on my part, I believe,” Jaroch replied, the pushed through the crowd towards the door. Once he was out of sight, Beck let out an audible sigh of relief and dove into her meal with relish.

“That was…abrupt,” Nelson said.

“Not too soon for me,” Beck replied. “We don’t have much to say to each other. Never did. The awkward social obligation is out of the way. Now he can go to his conference, and I can get back to life as usual.” Beck finished off her first organ of the day, pushed her plate aside, and started on Jaroch’s abandoned meal.

“Do your boyfriends know you eat like that?”

“It’s none of their damn business,” Beck said. A malicious glint appeared in her eyes. “Besides, I have ways of making meals entertaining.”

“Oh do share,” Nelson said, leaning in.

“Not a chance.”

“Bitch.”

“Thank you. Besides, I don’t hear you sharing. You’ve got a centuries old symbiont inside you, but have you shared one juicy story? No.”

“Lisa, this thing sat in a pool for five hundred years, was then transferred to a lab where it sat in another pool for a few months, then it was jammed into me. I can do a mean breaststroke, but that’s about it.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. So what about some dirt?”

“I think that’s Thursday’s special,” Beck said confused. Nelson fought down a wave of nausea, then smacked Beck gently on the side of the head.

“Dirt on Jaroch! He seems so…stiff.”

“He is, unless he’s in one of his past lives. Generally, they just shout a lot…and J’Ter kills people, but Jaroch’s got one hell of a tailor in there. As for Jaroch himself, he had a thing for Patricia Hawkins, the Secondprize’s security chief, for a while, but she fell for Dillon instead. That’s been a while ago, though. Now, I don’t know. But why do you care?”

“Just curious.”

“You could go have a life of your own instead of poking around into everyone else’s,” Beck said.

“Where would be the fun in that?”

“If you don’t know,” Beck said, the glint returning to her eyes, “You’ve obviously missed out on quite a lot.”



CHAPTER THREE


Out in the unexplored reaches of the Beta Quadrant (unexplored by Starfleet anyway), a ship cut through the endless void. If a Starfleet vessel had happened upon this vessel, they would have been hard put to identify it as a ship, much less figure out how the blasted thing propelled itself through space. These issues were of no concern to the occupants of the ship, however, since they didn’t have the vaguest idea who or what a Starfleet was in the first place.

The ship, and it really and truly was a ship as opposed to some bizarre space-faring life form, was made up of a series of shiny, silver spheres, arranged in a pattern resembling a pyramid that had been knocked on its side and thrown out into the cosmos. Each of the 14 spheres measured approximately 50 meters in diameter and was connected to the surrounding spheres by a silver tube. Some cultures would find the ship beautiful, others would find it repulsive, and some would ask for a cue stick and set up one hell of a shot.

The ship’s occupants, who were completely unaware of terms such as 8- ball in corner pocket, considered themselves explorers, which, in fact, they were. Each of the 20 D’Ceti which made up the crew complement of their vessel had been selected because of their mental prowess, natural curiosity, and extraordinary ability. They had set out two years before, their ship stocked with all of the supplies it could hold, from their homeworld on a journey of exploration. They wanted to see what was out there. After two years and one encounter with a culture also making its first foray into deep space, the D’Ceti had concluded to that answer was “not much.” Undeterred, however, they had continued onward at a blistering warp three, the fastest speed ever reached by D’Ceti scientists, to continue charting the universe.

The reaction of most humanoids upon seeing the D’Ceti and their bridge would probably be “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!” Of course, a small percentage of humanoids would probably instead say, “Mmmmmmm… calamari.” If this particular brand of humanoid should attempt to follow up on this thought, however, he would find himself with a nasty series of whip marks inflicted by the ten leg flagella and eight arm flagella possessed by each D’Ceti. Granted, the D’Ceti generally weren’t big on actual physical contact, but still, when pissed off, they could leave some painful reminders of your run-in with them.

The captain of the D’Ceti ship stood in the bridge central pod, her flagella monitoring and manipulating controls all around her as she watched space go buy on the ship’s viewscreen. While the D’Ceti may have generally appeared to be a species of orange, mutated octopi, their visual and auditory organs functioned very similarly to those of humanoids. They did tend to be a bit quiet, though, since speech just wasn’t necessary.

“Entering Gridisk 87,” the ship’s helmsman thought-sent to the captain.

“Beginning scans,” the chief scanner thought-sent from his station.

“Very good,” Captain Joros thought-replied. “How does it look?”

“Empty,” the chief scanner thought-sent.

“How odd,” the captain thought-replied, a heavy bit of sarcasm evident in her brain waves.

The chief scanner was, unfortunately, a bit off in his assessment of the area of space they had entered. If the ship’s sensors had been a bit more sensitive, he would have detected a tiny buoy several light years away emitting a faint message. Of course, even if he had detected it, odds are he wouldn’t have been able to translate it, much less understand that it was a language at all.

The message said, “This is the edge of Multek space. Beyond this point lies nothing but endless, empty void. Turn back now. Mention that you heard this buoy comm, and you and a guest will receive two free gellidaks at Piffle’s Palace of Poultry.”


“Uh…sir?”

The captain of the Multek patrol ship Kellog looked up from the game of Sugarville he was playing over the comm system with the activities director of the cruise vessel located a star system away.

“What is it?” he asked the young science officer who had interrupted his turn and possibly blown his chances of entering the Hall of Danish.

“Um…well…I think I’m pretending to detect an unreal ship on the sensors.”

A shot of cold fear raced through the captain. “Where?”

“Outside of the Enclave and closing.”

“Time to imaginary boundary crossing?”

“Two hours.”

“Can we get there first?” the captain asked the helm officer.

“Yes,” the confused woman at the helm replied. “But why should we go after a pretend sensor reading?”

“Just do it,” the captain snapped. Oh how he had hoped this would never happen to him. He’d heard a couple of hushed rumors. Talk of how Admiral Wuddle had once, when he was still in command of a cruise ship, encountered a ship of imaginaries, and then, having been honored with a military commission, how he returned to face a giant, imaginary space station. Why a man should be honored for his hallucinations was beyond Captain Gubbler, but he was not about to pass up a chance at a promotion.


“Captain!” the chief scanner exclaimed-sent, startling the entire bridge crew into wildly and uncontrollably waving around their flagella. This was a little known danger of scaring a D’Ceti. If you should ever accidentally startle one, duck…quickly.

“Report,” Captain Joros thought-sent.

“I have a scan contact. It is approaching us incredibly quickly. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Is it natural?”

“No. I think…it’s a ship.”

A collective and audible gasp echoed through the bridge. A ship. A real ship. The second ship in two long years of travel! And these beings were obviously highly advanced.

“Send out greetings on all frequencies.”


“OOOUOUOUUUUUUUUUUOUOUOUOUOOOOOOOOOOOOOOUOUOUOUOUOOOOOOOOOUOU”

“Shut that off!!!” Captain Gubbler screamed, clutching his hands to his ears as this Multek ship’s comm system was overwhelmed with…whatever the hell that noise was.

“Sir?” the science officer asked once the noise was gone.

“What?”

“Did we hear that or just pretend to hear it?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Well, I sure heard it,” the helm officer grumbled, her ears still ringing.

“Then, did that imaginary ship just pretend to attack us?” the science officer asked. “Are they…real?”

“Definitely not!” Gubbler snapped. “Helm, arm all weapons and prepare to fire.”

“At the pretend ship that you just said is not real?” the helm officer replied.

“Exactly.”


The chief scanner looked up from his console. “No response to our greeting, but I am detecting large amounts of energy growing on their ship.”

“Perhaps they communicate visually,” the captain thought-sent.

In a way, he was correct. The Multeks were about to send a very clear message: GO AWAY!!!


“FIRE!!!” Captain Gubbler shouted excitedly, bouncing up and down in his chair. For the first time in ten years of command he was getting to shoot something. What a day!

Anyone viewing the spectacle on the M-class planet the D’Ceti ship was approaching as the Multek ship dropped out of warp and let loose a barrage of weapons fire would have seen quite a light show. But, as was the case with all planets near Multek space, the planet was uninhabited.


Flagella whipped around at frightening speeds as the D’Ceti frantically tried to recover from the devastating pounding their ship had just taken.

“Power loss to spheres seven through eleven!”

“Propulsion fading!”

“The planet’s gravity well has us!”

“My tentacle is stuck!”

“I’m going to die a VIRGIN!!!”


Gubbler watched the flaming bundle of spheres slowly plummet to the surface of Void World 23 with a look of smug satisfaction on his face. “Admiralty, here I come,” he whispered softly. He straightened himself in his command chair and cleared his throat noisily.

“Helm, take us home.”

“Yes, sir.”

The wedge-shaped craft turned away from the shattered remains of their hallucinatory enemy and warped back towards the loving arms of the Multek Enclave.


Captain Joros watched helplessly as her ship descended towards the surface of a desolate, alien world. “Launch the distress sphere,” he thought- sent.

One of the spheres in the grouping at the rear of the D’Ceti ship broke free of the tunnels connecting it to the rest of the ship and hobbled out into space.

Joros knew that this was most likely a futile act. The sphere, even though it would automatically return to the D’Ceti homeworld, could not travel at warp velocities. It would take decades for it to reach home. But it was the only option Joros had. Besides, she and her crew had more pressing matters concerning them at the moment…like surviving the crash.


The unmanned distress sphere had already left the solar system as the D’Ceti ship slammed into the surface of the planet known to the Multeks as Void World 23. With the hopes of Joros and the rest of the D’Ceti crew riding on it, the sphere wobbled into open space.

It was going the wrong way.

Damage from the Multek’s weapons had corrupted the sphere’s homing systems, sending it away from D’Ceti, the conveniently-named D’Ceti homeworld. On the bright side, it was also heading away from Multek space.

Of course, as far as the Multeks and the D’Ceti were concerned, that meant it was heading nowhere.



CHAPTER FOUR


Lieutenant Commander Morales fought back the urge to shout “Red Alert!” as he watched the Romulan vessel decloak on the ops viewscreen. Okay, that is a lie. Honestly, he fought back the urge to start screaming and hitting every weapons control in the room. Just one of those gut reactions to Romulans. What’s a guy to do? But, as things stood, the Romulan ship was supposed to be there.

Also, while the old Waystation would have been no match for a Romulan Warbird, the refitted version could pretty quickly reduce one to a lovely green cloud of debris. But, as things stood, this was only a scout ship.

“They’re hailing us,” Lieutenant Stanton reported from the tactical console.

“On screen.”

“It’s audio only.”

“Fine by me. Put them on.”

“This is Subcommander Ondek,” a crisp voice said curtly. “We have Dr. Sitrus on board and request permission to dock.”

“I hear he’s chock full of vitamins and minerals,” Stanton muttered drawing a glare from Morales.

“You are cleared for docking in Bay 7,” Morales said, checking the readout on the docking control console. “We’re honored that Dr. Sitrus has chosen to squeeze our conference into his fruity…er, busy schedule.” Out of the corner of his eye, Morales saw Stanton clamp his hand over his mouth then collapse to the floor in spasms of silent laughter.

“Quite,” Subcommander Ondek replied humorlessly.

“Waystation out,” Morales said. Stanton’s hand reached up from the floor and slammed down on his console, closing the channel.

“BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!”

“Oh, come on. It wasn’t that funny,” Morales said.

“HAHAHAHA.”

“Have you considered therapy?”


Standing at the end of the corridor looking down towards the row of quest quarters, Dr. Nelson really wondered what the hell she was thinking. Actually, she knew. It was all Beck’s fault. After dinner the night before, Nelson had gone to bed thinking about Beck’s comments. Here she was, a young, attractive (so she had been told) woman, but she’d never so much as had two dates with the same guy. Sure there had been some flings along the way, such as Captain Jack Woodall of the Orleans, but nothing that really qualified as a relationship.

First, there had been school, then Starfleet Medical. She went straight from there to Bracktia Prime to start her research. One symbiont insertion later, she was on Waystation. Dating just hadn’t been an issue. Of course, some people had tried to ask her out. Okay, one. Porter. But she’d brushed him off fairly effectively. Now that she thought about it, Russell had made one advance, but she’d broken his wrist ending that problem.

The question running through her mind while she tried to get to sleep last night was “Why?” Why was she avoiding relationships? The obvious answer was that she was already in a serious, long-term relationship with somebody: Midon. Granted, they were technically the same being now, but there were definitely times that the symbiont’s personality exerted itself to make its wishes known. And unlike marriage, there was no way to dissolve this bond.

Despite that, Nelson now stood just meters away from Jaroch’s door waiting for the Yynsian to emerge. She wasn’t necessarily interested in anything romantic, but his company seemed like it would be…well, pleasant wasn’t the word…non-threatening. That was a bit more like it. She could spend time with him(he was obviously intelligent and humorous)without any expectations. Besides, some of the conference presentations could be interesting.

Jaroch emerged from his quarters, his head buried in a padd. He almost walked right by her without looking up.

“Morning, Commander,” Nelson said gamely. Jaroch stopped and looked up at her.

“If you have come to escort me to the conference, you need to trouble yourself. I am well aware of the location of Bradley Dillon’s hotel.”

“I just thought I’d come along, if you don’t mind.”

“You do not need my permission to attend,” Jaroch said.

“I was hoping to sit with you. I would appreciate your insights into the presentations.”

“Ah, a wise plan on your part,” Jaroch said, a hint of a smirk pulling at his lips. “If that is what you wish, then…DEAR GOD NO!”

The sudden ferocity of Jaroch’s response took Nelson completely by surprise. She was about to haul off and slug the obnoxious jerk when she realized he wasn’t even looking at her. Following his gaze down the corridor, she saw an elderly man walking slowly behind a giant, cylindrical object being carted on anti-grav platforms by two Pakleds.

“Careful,” the older man admonished, swinging a here-to-fore unseen cane near one of the Pakleds. “I didn’t use the transporter because I didn’t want this damaged! Understand?”

“We understand mean man,” the Pakled replied.

“You cannot expect me to believe that you were even allowed near a conference of this prestige,” Jaroch demanded, storming over to the elderly gentleman.

“Have we met?” the man asked, turning to face Jaroch.

“Oh yes,” Jaroch said, fighting to control his fury. “Three years ago you sent me and two of my colleagues 20 BILLION years into the future, you insane crackpot!”

The man squinted, taking in Jaroch’s features carefully. “Oh yes, you’re that Starfleet chap. The snotty one who showed up with the bimbo and the smart-ass woman.”

“That smart-ass is a Starfleet Officer,” Jaroch bristled.

“What about the bimbo?” Nelson asked.

“Commander Dillon.”

“Oh.”

“Are you going to introduce me to your lovely companion?” the man asked.

“This is not a social call,” Jaroch snapped.

“Dr. Derrick Azar, at your service,” the man said to Nelson, bowing as much as he was able. “Temporal physicist extraordinaire.” He gestured to the device the Pakleds were pushing. “I have with me my greatest accomplishment.”

“Greatest folly,” Jaroch grumbled.

“The Azar TIME POD!!!” Dr. Azar finished, ignoring the dissent from the peanut gallery. “A device capable of sending anyone to any time and place they should wish. Furthermore, I can now, thanks to several enhancements based on transporter technology, pluck any individual out of the time stream. Want to meet Surak? No problem. Kahless? Child’s play.”

“Does it work?” Nelson asked.

“Of course it works!” Azar shouted. “Despite nay-sayers’ comments to the contrary.”

“Pardon my skepticism after what happened last time,” Jaroch said.

“A minor snafu.”

“That almost destroyed the entire universe,” Jaroch finished.

“But it didn’t. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to get to the conference center.” He turned to Nelson. “I would be delighted if you would accompany me.”

“She has already made alternate arrangements,” Jaroch said curtly.

“With you? Madam, I beg you to spare yourself the pain you will inevitably suffer.”

“I’m a doctor. I’ll manage,” Nelson said. “You done here, Jaroch?”

“Quite,” Jaroch said, turning on his heel and following Nelson off down the corridor.

“I sincerely hope,” Jaroch said as the moved out of earshot of Azar, “this is not an indication of how the rest of the conference will progress.”

“Jaroch, it’s a glorified science fair, no offense. What could happen?”

“I have found that such a question usually leads to a most unfortunate answer.”

“You’re worrying too much,” Nelson replied, wrapping her arm around Jaroch’s, an action that drew a confused look from the Yynsian. “Now let’s go have a good time.”

“Yippee,” Jaroch said flatly.

“That’s the spirit…sort of.”


The auditorium was packed. Backstage, Bradley Dillon rubbed his hands together gleefully. Starfleet Suites Hotel’s first big event was an unqualified success. Now it was time to make sure they never went anywhere else.

For part of his plan, Bradley had set up the main room auditorium-style, with comfortable seats and a stage as opposed to the folding chairs and podium usually found at these sorts of proceedings. These science-types just didn’t understand anything about presentation and showmanship. Fortunately, Bradley possessed such skills in spades.

Giving his tuxedo a quick tug to straighten the lapels, Bradley stepped out onto the stage, a spotlight following his movements.

“Good morning, friends and science-lovers! My name is Bradley Dillon, and it is my great pleasure to welcome you to the 96th annual Federation Science Symposium. I sincerely hope that each one of you has been enjoying your stay in the luxurious accommodations of Starfleet Suites. But I know you came here for more than to listen to me. Without further ado, on with the show!!!”

Bradley threw his hands into the air, sending streams of fire (emitted by hidden devices mounted on his fingernails) upward. The room went completely dark, then, as music began pumping through speakers mounted in each seat, lights on the stage started to strobe and flash varying colors.

Bradley raced backstage to where Yeoman Jones, who was acting as Starfleet Liaison to the conference, had positioned herself to watch the proceedings. She was expecting to be bored out of her skull, an expectation that had just been sucked out an airlock.

“What the hell is this?” she demanded as Bradley reached her.

“The opening number,” Bradley said as if it was obvious.

Male and female dancers, all wearing labcoats that glowed in different flourescent colors, bounded onto the stage, moving in time to the music.

“This is supposed to be a science conference!” Jones said.

“Exactly. Do you know how long it took me to find a decent song about science that these folks could dance to? I had to go all the way back to the 20th century records, and I HATE 20th century popular music.”

She blinded me with science!

She blinded me…with SCIENCE!!!

As if to punctuate that last “SCIENCE,” the dancers threw off the lab coats revealing well-toned bodies…and nothing covering them. Jones’s jaw dropped.

“What are you trying to do?” Jones gasped.

“They’re scientists. I figured they probably don’t get out much.”


“Now this is more like it!” Dr. Hsell said, watching the gyrating bodies on the stage. “Why don’t you get up there and join them, Ruped?”

The Orion woman ignored her drooling colleague.


Subcommander Ondek leaned over to Dr. Sitrus, who was watching the dancers in amazement.

“Is this standard procedure at science conferences?” the subcommander whispered.

“Not on Romulus,” Sitrus replied hoarsely.

“I am beginning to see many perks to allying with the Federation.”

“You’re not s’vetten kidding.”


“Can you believe this?” Nelson said softly. Jaroch didn’t respond. Actually, he hadn’t so much as looked up from his padd since they’d sat down. “Jaroch?”

“I am aware of what is transpiring, Dr. Nelson; however, I believe Bradley Dillon has a certain stature that will prevent any rioting on the part of the conference participants. Therefore, commenting on this is a waste of my energy.”

“So what? He’s rich, so he can do whatever he wants.”

“In short. On the upside, I only have to tolerate him for three days. You, however, live here.”

“Thanks for reminding me.”


As the number ended and the dancers dispersed, the audience broke into smatterings of polite applause (except for Dr. Hsell and the two Romulans, who erupted into a loud standing ovation). Bradley retook the stage, smiling broadly.

“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. That was the Raisian Jahamaron Review. If you ever get to Raisa, they put on a show that will blow off your lab coats. Definitely leave your inhibitions in orbit. Now then, as a special treat before the conference begins in earnest, I want to introduce you to a scientist whose work you may not be familiar with. His endeavors were brought to my attention through other channels, but I found his work too fascinating to ignore. Here he is to present the dawning of a new day in temporal research, Dr. Derrick Azar!”


“He’s the one who invited Azar!” Jaroch shouted, suddenly tossing his padd to the floor. “I should have known. The Federation Science Institute would never let in a crackpot like that. The bastard is parsecs away, and still he finds way to make me miserable.”

“Who?”

“Dillon!”

“Bradley’s on stage.”

“Not that one. His miserable brother who told him about Azar in the first place!”

“You don’t know that for certain.”

Jaroch suddenly stood up and shouted at the stage, where Bradley was standing. Behind Bradley, Dr. Azar’s Pakled assistants pushed the time pod on stage, maneuvering the anti-grav units as gracefully as they could.

“Mr. Dillon, did your brother, Commander Travis Dillon tell you of Dr. Azar’s work?” Jaroch asked.

“Yes, he did.”

Jaroch gave Nelson a quick “I told you so” glance, then started walking towards the stage.

“Then, are you aware that this…man, for I cannot in good conscious call him a scientist, recklessly tested untried equipment on unprepared individuals with no regard for their safety or for the possible consequences to the time stream.”

“So, I made a typo. It happens,” Azar protested, hobbling out from backstage just as Jaroch climbed up to face him.

“You are a menace, and I recommend that this device be quarantined and dismantled before any more ‘accidents’ occur.”

“It was a damn typo!”

“I know, but I, unfortunately, cannot have you dismantled as well.”

“You pretentious twit! You’re just like all the others,” Azar snapped. “You’re all just jealous.”

“Of what specifically? Your ineptitude or you senility?”

Azar lashed out at Jaroch with his cane, a move that the Yynsian dodged easily. The cane smashed into one of the anti-grav units on the time pod, shorting it out and sending the pod crashing down towards Jaroch. Unfortunately, he wasn’t quite fast enough to dodge that one. Of course, if he’d been looking at the pod rather that smirking smugly at Azar, he probably would have had more of a shot.

As it was, Jaroch fell to the deck under the weight of one rather large experimental time pod. Nelson made it to his side seconds later.

“Jaroch, can you hear me?”

“Ouch,” Jaroch muttered, then fell unconscious.

“Now this is a science conference,” Dr. Hsell shouted from the audience. “Encore!”



CHAPTER FIVE


“This is ridiculous,” Colonel Martin Lazlo muttered, his arms crossed and his face dark with anger as he sat stewing in his chair in the back compartment of the Runabout Cumberland.

“I agree totally,” Lieutenant Craig Porter replied from across the table. “Sean?”

“Absolutely,” Lieutenant Sean Russell concurred from the seat next to Lazlo. “I also think he’s being an asshole.”

“Oh absolutely,” Porter agreed.

“A Klingon would have vivisected both of you with his bat’leth by now.”

“A Klingon would have had the honor to admit he was wrong,” Porter replied.

The Federation Marine stood up, his head almost touching the ceiling of the runabout. “Are you saying I’ve got no honor?”

Russell stood up, putting himself toe to toe with Lazlo. “As much as I would love to take your ass down a peg or two, I’d really rather avoid making that kind of a mess in front of my friend Craig here.”

“Don’t stop on my account,” Porter said.

“Stay out of this,” Lazlo snapped.

“I suggest you admit you were wrong, and we all move on,” Russell said.

“I was not wrong.”

“Look at the damn card,” Porter said in exasperation as he tossed the padd towards Lazlo. “See. Jerry Theron.”

“Who happens to be a flight-back,” Lazlo said, sitting back down at the table. “I said he was a flight-back.”

“The question wanted the name of the Astro-ball player, not his position,” Russell said. “You didn’t know it. It’s my turn.” He picked up his padd and pressed the ‘roll’ button. Two little holographic dice materialized over the gameboard on the table and bounced around a bit. Then, Russell’s game piece floated six spaces ahead.

“Well?” Russell asked expectantly.

“What?” Lazlo demanded.

“Ask me my question.”

“It’s still my turn.”

“IT IS NOT!!!” Russell and Porter shouted.

“Then we’re done here.” Lazlo stood up from the table and marched towards the runabout cockpit.

“Could we have at least brought the Wayward so we could have gotten away from him?” Russell asked.

“It hasn’t been fully flight-tested yet,” Porter said. “Maybe something will just accidentally kill him.”

“That’d be okay. So, are we still playing or what?” Russell suddenly fell silent and cocked his head curiously. “Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“The phaser banks just charged.”

“No, but I did hear that.”

“What?”

“The engines just switched to manual control.”

Porter and Russell looked at each other for a second.

“LAZLO!!!”

They raced into the runabout cockpit where Lazlo was indeed powering up the phaser banks and switching off the autopilot.

Then they saw why.

Out the front windows was a large metal sphere, and it was heading their way.


Frequoq Juletz stood silently staring out of his office window trying to absorb the information he’d just been given. Outside, a Quickie Travel Tram sped by making its rapid decent from the station on top of the governmental office building across the square. Juletz could just make out a face or two of the passengers, their mouths open shouting with glee. Unfettered glee. If they only knew…

“Are you sure?” he said finally.

“No doubt,” Admiral Wuddle replied.

“Damn. More imaginaries. Did Captain Gubbler hallucinate those Federations as well?”

“I don’t think so,” Wuddle said, checking the report on his clip-comm-board. “His crew’s description of the…hallucination doesn’t match up to what we imagined before. And their location…”

“Yes, I know,” Juletz snapped. More hallucinations. This time on the opposite side of the Enclave from the imaginary Federations. They were becoming surrounded.

“Gubbler and his crew dispelled the pretend threat, but I would like to take a team to investigate.”

“Why?” Juletz said, turning on Wuddle. “It’s taken care of.”

“With all due respect, Your Frequoqness, I have had dealings with these beings before.”

“Don’t remind me,” Juletz replied, rubbing the bridge of his whiter-than-white nose. “You really should be at a Recovery Ranch instead of here.”

“You can’t continue to ignore the truth!”

“Stop being so melodramatic,” Juletz said irritated.

“If we’re so sure there’s no one else in the universe, why did we even bother arming our ships?”

“The matter is done. Tell Captain Gubbler to resume his patrols and not breathe a word of this to another living Multek.”

“Frequoq…”

“Get out!”

Wuddle bowed stiffly and exited the office. The Frequoq was hiding, hiding like this problem would just go away. Wuddle had seen the truth, though. He’d felt the truth. The imaginaries were no such thing. He’d been on the Federations’ space station; he’d talked to them. All Frequoq Juletz was doing was delaying the inevitable. One day, the population of the Multek Enclave would be forced to accept that they were not alone in the universe. It would be a painful process, but a necessary one. Wuddle had hoped his promotion to admiral and his position as Frequoq Juletz’s top military advisor would have allowed him to convince Juletz. Evidently, that was not to be. With this route closed off, Wuddle would have to resort to other avenues.


“What the hell is that?” Russell asked as Porter leapt into his seat at the science console.

“Some sort of alloy,” Porter said.

“I don’t give a damn,” Lazlo said, turning the runabout onto an attack course. “It looks Borg.”

“No life signs,” Porter continued. “It’s unmanned. I am picking up some sort of repeating signal, though.”

“Maybe it’s a probe,” Russell offered.

“Probe this!” Lazlo exclaimed, sending the ship into a dive. Before he got much farther, the ship suddenly righted itself. “What did you do?”

“Override,” Russell said, control of the ship now on his console.

“We like to think before blasting things to atoms. Sorry,” Porter added.

“This is why Starfleet loses ships all the time,” Lazlo fumed. “That could be some sort of long-range tactical weapon designed to home in on the nearest populated world and destroy it.”

“That be tough considering it’s completely unarmed and has a fairly non-volatile power source,” Porter replied.

“Yeah, but if it fell on you…”

Porter and Russell exchanged a brief look. “I can’t argue with him,” Porter said finally.

“I could shoot him,” Russell offered.

“Look,” Porter said, making another attempt to reason with Lazlo. “If it wanted us dead, we’d be dead now. If it’s heading toward a planet, we have…” He looked at the sensor readouts. “Six days to stop it before it reaches a populated world. Now can you please let us do our jobs? You know, the whole seek out new life forms and new civilizations thing?”

“Waste of time,” Lazlo spat, getting up from the pilot’s seat. He stormed back to the replicator and ordered a glass of Andorian fruit punch, guaranteed to grow facial hair and remove unwanted esophageal linings.

“Well?” Russell asked.

“Give me a minute,” Porter replied. “This translation work is Commander Beck’s specialty. If I had to guess, though, I’d say it was a distress beacon.”

“So you can understand it?”

“I can understand the attached video feed,” Porter said, calling it up on a monitor. The image, obviously shot from camera mounted on the outside of the sphere, showed several other connected spheres. Something warped in far in the distance and opened fire. Then, just as unexpectedly, the attacking vessel warped out again. The spheres began falling towards a planet, moving farther and farther away as the beacon sphere detached and flew out of the system.

“A distress call for an unmanned ship?” Lazlo asked.

“It could be a science probe they want to recover. Or maybe there are people in the other spheres,” Porter suggested.

“Oh great,” Russell muttered.

“What?” Porter asked.

Russell adjusted the video feed, closing in on the attacking ship and sharpening the image. It looked like a small, sideways obelisk with wings.

“Multeks,” all three men said softly.

“Sean, see if you can backtrack the path that sphere took,” Porter said. “Do you have any medical training, Colonel?”

“Front line first aid.”

“It’ll work. I’ll try to finish the translation on the way. For now…” Porter launched a small probe towards the sphere, which latched itself onto the sleek metal surface of the featureless globe. “Starfleet will at least be able to keep track of the thing.”

“Course plotted,” Russell reported. “But we’re going to be getting awfully close to the Multek Enclave.”

“Yeah, the attack ship kind of clued me in to that one. I’ll let Waystation know what we’re up to.”

“We should get reinforcements,” Lazlo said. “I can have the Mongoose here in less than a day.”

“We may not have that kind of time,” Porter said as Russell moved up to the pilot console. “We’ll just have to improvise.”

“This is exactly why you people lose so many ships…and officers.”

“Risk is our business,” Russell said.

“It’s in the fine print somewhere. Look it up,” Porter said smiling. Lazlo ignored him and headed to the back of the ship. Suicide missions were one thing, but stupid ones were quite another. For the three millionth time since arriving on Waystation, Lazlo thanked himself for becoming a marine.


Dusk was setting in on Multos as Frequoq Juletz prepared to go home for the day. He felt tired, more tired than he ever had since becoming Frequoq. Inside the very core of his being, Juletz was consumed with dread. In all the millennia the Multek Enclave had existed, never had their way of life been in so much danger. Something had to be done and soon…even if it meant sending the entire Multek space force out to destroy the imaginary Federations. Granted, the Multek military functioned mainly as an internal police and rescue squad, but Juletz had no doubt that they would give everything they had to protect the Multek way of life. The orders would sound insane, but the alternative was much, much worse.



CHAPTER SIX


Commander Beck walked into the infirmary wondering how she was going to explain all this to Captain Rydell. Jaroch didn’t even make it 24 hours before something happened to him. Granted, it sounded like it was Jaroch’s own fault, but she knew how testy Rydell could be when one of his officers was hurt. Fortunately, Dr. Nelson had been right there, and the Pakleds were able to get the time pod off of Jaroch fairly quickly. Now all that was left was to see how badly he’d been hurt.

“Well that was fun,” Dr. Nelson said, pulling off her red surgical cap as she emerged from the operating room.

“Is he okay?”

“I had to re-knit 156 separate bones.”

“But is he okay?” Beck said.

“He’ll be fine,” Nelson said. “He should be waking up soon if you want to go talk to him.”

“Great. Let’s go.” Beck grabbed Nelson’s arm and dragged her back into the operating room.

“Damn, Lisa. He’s injured. You can’t even strike up a simple get well conversation without backup?”

“Not now, Amedon. What were you doing at the conference anyway?”

“Scientific curiosity,” Nelson said quickly.

“I’ll bet.”

Jaroch lay unconscious on the operating bed, bioreadouts beeping softly around him.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Nelson said softly. “He’s a thin, little guy, but it’s all muscle.”

“I guess you’d know,” Beck replied. “Take it easy on him from now on.”

“This is why I don’t discuss my personal life with you.”

“What personal life?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“I think I already do,” Beck replied. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Jaroch begin to stir. She leaned down next to Jaroch and put her hand on his arm.

“Commander, are you all right?”

Jaroch groggily turned his head in Beck’s direction. Seeing her, he smiled a weak, goofy smile.

“Hey, beautiful,” he said, running his hand along the side of her rather surprised face.

“I guess he liked you more than you thought,” Nelson said flatly.

“Who’s she?” Jaroch asked, looking back at Nelson.

“Wonderful,” Nelson said, throwing her arms up.

“You took a bad blow to the head,” Beck said consolingly. “You may have a little amnesia. Dr. Nelson will take care of it.”

“Okay.” Jaroch lay his head back down. He started to drift back to sleep. “Don’t forget to program the VCR, hon.”

“What did he just say?” Nelson asked.

“Oh no.”

“What?”

“I don’t think that’s Jaroch,” Beck said standing up.

“He does a damn good impression of him.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Beck snapped. “He’s Yynsian you know.”

“I was aware of it,” Nelson replied. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Remember they have past lives.”

“So he’s just stuck in a past life,” Nelson said visibly relieved.

“That’s not a good thing, Amedon,” Beck said. “We’ve got to get him out of it.”

“All right. I’ll check the database and see what I can find. If anything, we’ll contact Yyns. Don’t panic. I want Jaroch back just as much you do.”

“Not for the same reasons, I’ll bet,” Beck said, smiling knowingly at Nelson.

“Just leave. I’ve got work to do.”

Beck laughed and exited the operating room leaving Nelson with her sleeping patient. Nelson hadn’t so much as had a complete meal with the man, and already Beck was making her life miserable. Maybe her no-dating strategy had been wise after all.


“How is it?” Bradley Dillon asked for the eighth time in three minutes.

“Everything seems to be in working order,” Dr. Azar said, looking up from his readings of the time pod. The pod had been picked up and moved from the stage to a lab bay in the Research and Development section of the Dillon Enterprises complex on Waystation. After the accident, the science conference had proceeded as scheduled. Unfortunately, Dr. Azar had not been able to make his presentation. It was unfortunate for Dr. Azar anyway. Bradley really couldn’t have cared less. Letting Azar speak at the conference was the only way Bradley could convince him to bring the time pod to Waystation in the first place.

“Or at least it will be once I replace a couple of blown isostators.”

“Great.”

“I’ll be back soon,” Azar said, heading towards the door. “Shouldn’t be anymore than a week or two.”

“WHAT???” Bradley shouted.

“I don’t exactly have them in my back pocket,” Azar said.

“And no one else has any?” Bradley asked, calming himself down a bit and returning to his professional demeanor.

“I should hope not. I invented them myself,” Azar said proudly.

“Fine. I’ll have Captain Robbins take you.” Bradley touched his cufflink. “Abigail.”

“Yes, Mister Dillon,” came the reply.

“Doctor Azar needs to return to his lab. Could you please take him in the Lusitania?”

“Right away, sir.”

“Thank you. Dillon out.” He turned back to Azar. “She’ll meet you in our docking bay. End of the hall, take a left. Last door on the right. Stop before you fall out the airlock.” Bradley headed towards the door at a rapid pace. “I look forward to your return.” A moment later, Bradley was gone.

“Insufferable bastard,” Azar muttered. He patted his creation lovingly. “You’ll be fine here, my love,” he said to the time pod. “Daddy will be back soon.” Azar picked up his tool case and left the lab, the door closing and automatically sealing itself behind him.


Morales heard the turbolift approaching ops but didn’t really pay any attention to it until Commander Beck stepped out.

“Good morning, Commander,” he said crisply. “Nothing to report.”

“Glad to hear it,” Beck said. “Can I borrow you for a second?”

“Me? Sure,” Morales said, stepping away from the docking control console and following Beck into her office.

“Have a seat,” Beck said, gesturing to the chair in front of her desk. Rather than going to her chair, she sat down on the desk itself right in front of him.

“What can I do for you?” Morales asked nervously.

“I heard about what happened in the food court.”

“I see,” Morales said softly.

“Anything you want to talk about?”

“I don’t know that there’s much to discuss,” Morales said.

“Really? The way Jones tells it, you tried to force-feed that Orion half of the food on the station.”

“She’s exaggerating.”

“Look, Walter,” Beck said smiling and putting her hands on his shoulders. “This isn’t a reprimand speech or anything. I just wanted to know if you’re all right. Tina thought you seemed tense.”

“I’m fine,” Morales replied. Oh how he wanted to be anywhere but here right now.

“Okay then. That’s all I need to know,” Beck said, standing up. “But if you’ve got a problem…”

“I know where Counselor Miller’s office is,” Morales finished quickly.

“Yeah. But there are other people you can talk to.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. And thanks for pounding that Orion. That last bit’s off the record, of course.”

“Of course,” Morales replied, unable to stop himself from smiling.

“Nelson to Beck,” the comm system interrupted.

“What is it, Doctor?” Beck said.

“Jaroch’s awake again. And he’s asking for his wife.”

“His wife?” Beck asked.

“Yep. That’s you apparently,” Nelson replied.

“Oh yeah. Forgot that part,” Beck said, collapsing into her desk chair. She noticed the look of stunned shock on Morales’ face.

“What part would that be?” Nelson asked, the laughter apparent in her voice.

“I’ll be down in a second.”

“I can’t wait. Nelson out.”

“You’re married?” Morales gasped.

“Not in this lifetime,” Beck said humorlessly as she stood back up to leave. “We’ve got a Yynsian in a full-fledged identity crisis down in the infirmary. You might as well tag along, so I don’t have to tell this story more than once.”


By the time Beck and Morales entered the infirmary, Jaroch had pretty much fully recovered…pretty much except for not knowing that he was Jaroch of Yyns, a commander in Starfleet.

“Hey, beautiful!” Jaroch exclaimed upon spotting Beck. He rushed over and kissed her before she had a chance to react. Beck’s gut instinct was to damage several of Jaroch’s vital organs, but she restrained herself and instead focused on extricating himself from his extremely long hug. Morales just watched the whole scene in a fascinated disgust.

“This is really great,” Jaroch said. “It’s not even my birthday. Where did you get all this? Where are we? Is this still Norfolk?”

“Jaroch, can you go sit down for a minute? I’ve got to talk about what’s next with Dr. Nelson and Commander Morales here.”

“Commander Morales. Right.”

“Hey!” Morales protested. Beck silenced him with a hand on his arm.

“This is really great,” Jaroch said again as he headed over to one of the biobeds. Nelson and Morales gathered close to Beck to get some sort of explanation of what the hell was going on.

“Okay. That’s definitely not Jaroch,” Beck said.

“You mentioned that,” Nelson said. “I did a brain wave scan just to check. Turns out you’re right. Jaroch’s in there somewhere, but his pattern is buried under this one.”

“So who is this one?” Morales asked.

“A past life,” Beck said. “From twentieth century Earth. I think his name was Carl Jaroch. I really don’t remember. Captain Rydell knows a hell of a lot more about this than I do.”

“What do you know?” Nelson asked. “Specifically anything about you being married to him.”

“This is going to sound insane,” Beck warned.

“And that’s unusual?”

“Point taken. In the late twentieth century, due to vagaries in the time stream or fate or coincidence or who the hell knows what, several people…ancestors of many of the Secondprize crew…ended up together at a university in Norfolk, Virginia. Weird part is they had the same names we do for the most part.”

“That is weird,” Morales said, looking over at Jaroch/Carl. “So what? The twentieth century Lisa Beck was married to him?”

“Bingo,” Beck said.

“That explains that,” Nelson said. “But it doesn’t help me get Commander Jaroch back.”

“What did Yyns have to say?” Beck asked.

“I talked to Jaroch’s sister at the Temple of Mi Clane. She said he should come out of it on his own.”

“When?” Morales asked.

“She didn’t know, but she didn’t seem very concerned.”

“Great,” Beck said. She noticed Jaroch/Carl blowing her kisses from across the room. She smiled weakly and waved at him.

“So what do we do with him?” Nelson asked.

“He should stay here,” Morales said.

“No way,” Nelson said. “I am not babysitting. He’s perfectly healthy and should not be held prisoner.”

“Doctor, he’s mentally unstable,” Morales replied. “We can’t have some guy who things he’s a twentieth century college student running around the station.”

“Better that than some of the people we’ve got here now,” Nelson said. “I don’t see what harm he could possibly do, Lisa.”

“Fine. Release him, but he needs an escort,” Beck said.

“I agree…Mrs. Jaroch.”

“What?”

“He responds to you,” Nelson explained. “He knows you at least. Who else are we going to stick him with?”

Beck put her head in her hands. “Fine. FINE! I’ll take care of him. Come on, Jaroch!”

“And, Commander, he’s a person, not a dog,” Nelson said.

“Don’t push me, Nelson,” Beck grumbled as Jaroch/Carl raced over.

“What’s next?” he asked excitedly.

“I guess you get the grand tour,” Beck said.

“Sounds great,” Jaroch/Carl said, taking Beck’s hand. She tried to shake him off, but couldn’t. He didn’t even seem to be noticing her efforts.

“I’ll be around if you need me, Walter,” Beck said joylessly. “Just contact me. About anything. Really.” Her eyes were almost pleading as Jaroch/Carl pulled her out of the infirmary.

“They make such a cute couple,” Nelson said smiling. Morales grunted and stalked out of the infirmary, clearly unamused. For Nelson’s part, she didn’t mind a bit. Any jealousy she may have had subsided the second Beck explained what was going on. If there was anyone on Waystation who understood problems with split personalities, it was Nelson.



CHAPTER SEVEN


In the couple of hours it had taken the crew of the Runabout Cumberland to backtrack the D’Ceti distress sphere’s course, Lieutenant Porter had gotten a pretty good translation of the sphere’s message. There wasn’t a lot to it. Mainly “Help. We’re crashing. Come get us.” and some coordinates. The part that bothered Porter was the specific nature of the distress call. The sphere’s comm system didn’t have a lot of range, so it was obviously heading somewhere, most likely to wherever this species’ home planet was. Not that Porter was paranoid or anything, but he just had this nagging suspicion they wouldn’t be incredibly friendly towards outsiders. Sometimes it just sucked to be the Good Samaritan.

On the other hand, there was the thrill of first contact. In his entire Starfleet career, Porter had never been the one to meet a new species. Granted, that was the kind of thing people in the command branch usually handled, but Porter’s scientific mind yearned to experience that sense of wonder and discovery upon encountering a race previously unknown to the Federation. Heading this close to Multek space was obviously risky, but this could be the one chance Porter ever got at first contact.

Russell brought the Cumberland out of warp as close to the planet Porter had pinpointed as possible so as not to attract too much Multek attention. Close turned out to be very close.

“SH**!!!” Russell screamed as a mountain peak seemingly materialized out of nowhere. He frantically pulled up the runabout’s nose, almost overloading the inertial dampeners in the process.

“DIOS MIO!” Lazlo cried, diving for cover.

“Okay. All better,” Russell said finally as he leveled the ship off and climbed into a low orbit. He looked over at Porter, who had maintained his seat and his silence through the entire thing. “You handled that well.”

“I was spot-welded to my chair by utter terror,” Porter said shakily. In a sudden move, he smacked Russell upside the head. “Sorry. Delayed reflex action.”

“Forget it,” Russell mumbled.

“If the floor show is over, can we get on with today’s romp into certain death?” Lazlo grumbled.

“Hold on,” Porter said, checking the sensors. It didn’t take him long to find what he was looking for. A large collection of spheres matching the general make-up of the distress sphere lay in a mangled mass near the base of the mountain range Russell nearly crashed the Cumberland into seconds earlier.

“At least they cleared us a nice trench to land in,” Russell said, observing the scans.

“Land?” Lazlo said. “You aren’t seriously going to just leave us that vulnerable in front of an unknown, possibly hostile species.”

“Better that than leaving an unmanned runabout in orbit where it can be blown to hell by a known, incredibly hostile species,” Porter said. Lazlo really couldn’t argue with Porter’s logic there. He went to the back to get his gear.

Russell set the runabout down in the alien ship’s impact trench without so much as a bump. His general flying may have left a bit to be desired, but Russell was a virtuoso when it came to landings. He’d never really even had a special training. It was just an innate talent. An unappreciated talent to be sure, but it was his all the same.

Lazlo returned a moment later with a long, black case, which he opened revealing an equally long, black rifle. Russell took a longing look at the sleek standard, marine-issue compression phaser rifle, then pulled one of Starfleet’s ugly-ass version. Porter contented himself with a hand phaser. He figured he’d be spending most of his time looking at a tricorder anyway.

“We ready?” Russell asked, slinging a couple of medkits onto his back and checking the charge on his rifle again.

“I can barely contain my excitement,” Porter remarked as he grabbed an engineering kit and programmed coordinates into the ship’s small transporter. He joined Russell and Lazlo on the pad, then the three men beamed over to who knew what.


“I am sensing others,” the chief scanner thought-sent.

“As am I,” Captain Joros thought-replied. “We will stay here. We are too weak to fight.”

“They will destroy us!”

“We shall see.”


Admiral Wuddle looked out at the gathered group of Multeks and sighed. After months of recruiting, a pitiful seven people were all he’d been able to convince. Of course, the upside of this was that their group had not been discovered by the authorities. One of these days, though, Wuddle knew that someone would notice that every week, the same seven people came to his house.

“Our moment has come,” Wuddle began. The seven others stopped their various side conversations and turned all of their attention towards him.

“You have proof?” Hypple asked hopefully. Hypple had been Wuddle’s first recruit. He’d been a crewmember on the cruise vessel Wuddle was in command of when they first encountered the Federations. The others had been able to convince themselves that they had imagined the whole thing, but not Hypple.

Now that Wuddle had fully realized that the Multek government had no interest in verifying the existence of the Federations, he needed people like Hypple to help him pursue the matter unofficially.

“Not in my hands,” Wuddle said. Hypple visibly deflated. “But I received word today that one of our ships shot down an ‘imaginary’ vessel.”

“What is the Frequoq going to do?” another follower asked.

“What he always does about such things: nothing,” Wuddle said. “This is our chance, True Believers! We have to take action when those who lead us will not. The people of the Multek Enclave must know the truth about the so- called-imaginaries.”

“Do you have a plan?” Hypple asked.

“Of course,” Wuddle snapped annoyed. “We’re going to go to this crashed ship ourselves.”

“We are?” the seven asked in surprised unison.

“I don’t think I can find a baby sitter.”

“I have to work.”

“I get space sick.”

“Are you nuts? We’ll be arrested!”

“That’s it. I’m out of here.”

“Admiral, my blue hair!”

“I’ll go.” One voice broke through the chaos. Six of the followers were already on their way out the door, but Hypple remained.

“I’m glad someone understands the importance of what I’m trying to do,” Wuddle said. “We need a ship.”

“You’re an admiral. Can’t we just take one of yours?”

“And alert the entire Multek fleet about our plan? I don’t think so.”

“I guess we could take one from the cruise line. Lukoquo Kibble just got in a small, luxury yacht for the really rich clients.”

“Is it armed?”

“Yeah. A little.”

“Perfect,” Wuddle said, rubbing his hands through his blue hair excitedly. “We’ll swipe the ship tonight. Before Kibble wakes up tomorrow, we’ll be out of the Enclave.”

“Ou..ou..out?” Hypple asked fearfully.

“The ship is crashed beyond our borders.”

“Bbbbut, no Multek has been beyond the borders.”

“Yes they have. How else would they have shot the alien ship down?” Wuddle said.

“Uh…okay. You’ve got a point.”

“Be strong, son,” Wuddle said, putting a reassuring arm around Hypple’s shoulders. “You’re going to get fired, and we both may be arrested or killed, but we WILL have the TRUTH!”

“Um…er…sure. That’s good…I guess.”

“Great. I’ll meet you at the shipdock in five hours. Try to get some sleep. Big day tomorrow.”

Hypple smiled weakly and headed out into the darkness of the Multos night. The lighted upside-down loop in the Quickie Travel Tram track gave him some comfort as he walked home.

“Big day tomorrow. Oh yeah. There’s an understatement. I’m throwing my life away because of what?”

Hypple remembered seeing the strange beings running through the corridors of the cruise vessel a couple of years earlier with their funny colored skin, odd voices, and bizarre clothes. He was positive that he’d been hallucinating until one of them shoved him aside in their rush to get by. Hallucinations usually didn’t push people around.

Now he was going to get some answers…maybe. Deciding he really didn’t feel like walking, Hypple hailed a bumper-cab. Yep. Big day tomorrow.

Wuddle had better know what the Yudinel he was doing.


Porter, Russell, and Lazlo materialized in the middle of the central sphere of the wreckage. Despite whatever weirdness they may have been expecting, the inside was a fairly normal corridor…well, normal except for being a bent wreck with debris scattered everywhere.

Porter scanned around with his tricorder. “Lovely,” he muttered. “I can’t scan out much farther than about five feet. Some sort of radiation.”

“Harmful?” Lazlo asked.

“Most radiation is,” Porter replied. Lazlo took one of the medkits off Russell’s back and injected each man with a hypo.

“That should protect us for a while…assuming this isn’t some sort of super-nasty alien radiation.”

“Seems pretty weak actually,” Porter said. “The tricorder just doesn’t like it.”

“I guess this means we’re splitting up, huh?” Russell said.

“Wise man,” Porter replied. “I’ll head to the fore and see if I can find some kind of bridge. You two look for survivors. I don’t know how this radiation will affect the commbadges, so we’ll meet back here in an hour.”

“You got it,” Russell said. He headed off towards the rear of the deck to start checking rooms.

“Problem, Colonel?” Porter asked, noticing that Lazlo was still hovering around.

“Why are you heading to the bridge instead of one of us?”

“Because I’m the one with a chance in hell of getting some systems operational,” Porter said. “If this thing’s got a functioning shield grid, I’d like to get it up and running before the Multeks swing by to finish the job.”

“Agreed. But don’t think I’m going to start taking orders from you, Porter.”

“Frankly, Colonel, I really don’t give a damn what you do as long as it involves finding the crew of this ship,” Porter said, moving towards the front of the sphere.

“Smug bastard,” Lazlo muttered once Porter was out of earshot. He cradled his rifle in the ready position and headed towards a connecting tunnel to the next sphere.

The tunnel itself was almost blocked by wreckage, but Lazlo was able to crawl over it while still keeping a finger on the trigger of his rifle. Who knew what the residents of this ship looked like? He had to be ready.

The main part of the next sphere seemed to be some sort of hydroponics bay. Dripping plants lay limply along the floor. Then Lazlo realized what he was seeing. This whole chamber had once been filled with water, some of which was still leaking out of a large gash in the bulkhead.

Moving on, Lazlo found a ladder down to a lower chamber of the sphere. Swinging the light mounted on the front of his rifle back and forth, he scanned for movement. Nothing. Satisfied, he descended to the next deck, jumping down the last couple of rungs. They were odd rungs too. Widely spaced and positioned all over the descending tube.

Feet firmly on the deck below, Lazlo continued his search.


“They are coming.”

“Hostility. It is all hostility.”

“I am ready,” Joros thought-said.


Lazlo followed the corridor to a door. Normally, it looked like it would have been a formidable barrier, but crash damage had left it unable to completely close.

He kicked the door in, aiming his rifle into the room and spotting for targets. Nothing. He walked inside and realized he was wrong.

“OOOOH! PRETTY!” he exclaimed in a daze.

Yes, very pretty. Hypnotizing, actually.

And then the voices started.



CHAPTER EIGHT


“I just can’t get over this, Lisa,” Carl/Jaroch gasped looking around the Waystation food court. Normally, Beck would be having lunch at the Andorian restaurant, but she figured the food might be a little much for a 20th century human. “Where are we? I’ve never heard of a Star Trek exhibit this elaborate.”

“Jaroch…”

“All these uniforms. And the make-up. This must have taken forever.”

“Jaroch…”

“And it’s so damn big! Or is there a matte painting down there somewhere I can’t see.” Carl/Jaroch looked down over the foot court railing, craning his neck to see as much of the lower level of Starfleet Square Mall as possible.

“Carl!” Beck snapped. Carl/Jaroch immediately returned his attention to her.

“Yes, beautiful,” he replied adoringly.

“Listen to me very carefully. You are not who you think you are or even when you think you are.”

“You aren’t making a bit of sense, hon.”

“I’m not surprised,” Beck said, rubbing her temples. She couldn’t tell if her headache was coming from Jaroch or that miserable excuse for plomeek soup she’d just had from Soup on a Stick. “But try. Please oh please try to get this. You are Jaroch.”

“I know that.”

“But you’re a different Jaroch. You are from a planet called Yyns. Right now, one of your past lives is in control. The personality I’m talking to now is of a person who has been dead for a couple hundred years.”

“Right,” Carl/Jaroch laughed. “I can play along.” He reached over to run his hand along her cheek.

“No, Jaroch!” Beck said, grabbing Carl/Jaroch’s arm and slamming it down on the table. Now she had his undivided attention. “It is now 2375 by your calendar. I am Lisa Beck, but I am not the one you married. She’s long since dead. YOU are long since dead.”

“So this is heaven? I thought it’d be less…crowded.”

“This isn’t a joke.”

“Prove it,” Carl/Jaroch said, crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair.

“What?” Beck said in disbelief. “Look around! That thing over there with all the…things growing out of its head. Do you have those on Earth in your time?”

“Great make-up job.”

“I don’t have time for this. I need to be in ops,” Beck said, getting up from the table. “There are surely more important things going on on this station.” Carl/Jaroch got up from the table with her and followed her all the way to the turbolift…and into the turbolift. Beck really didn’t know what to do with him. She couldn’t just leave him to wander the station alone.

“Ops,” she said, just pushing the issue from her mind. Maybe he’d just be quiet.

“This isn’t my hand,” Carl/Jaroch said a couple of moments later. Sure enough, he was staring at his hand. “I don’t have this little birthmark on my thumb.”

“I told you,” Beck said. Carl/Jaroch proceeded to peer into the turbolift control panel, examining his reflection as best he could.

“Holy sh**!”

“I know.”

“This is the future.”

“Yes.”

“HOLY SH**!!!”

“I’m glad you’ve finally come around.”

“Oh, Travis and Alex would love this!” Carl/Jaroch said. “This is…unbelievable. Can I stay?”

“Only until Jaroch takes his mind back,” Beck said as the turbolift started to slow. The doors opened out into ops, and Carl/Jaroch practically pushed past her to get to the viewscreen. It was just showing a starfield at the moment, but he was fascinated.

“It’s just space,” Lieutenant Commander Morales muttered, voicing Beck’s thoughts.

“Easy for you to say,” Carl/Jaroch replied. “I’ve never been here.”

“Commander, is this a good idea?” Morales asked hesitantly.

“I doubt it,” Beck said. “But I couldn’t think of any better ones. Anything going on up here?”

“Not a thing. You know, you could show him a holodeck,” Morales suggested. “Put him on his home turf.”

“And leave him there,” Beck said, hoping Carl/Jaroch wasn’t paying attention. He seemed far too busy trying to get Lieutenant Stanton to show him where the weapons controls were.

“We could lock it.”

“No. But the idea’s not bad. Carl, you want to see something else?”

“Sure,” Carl/Jaroch said, beating Beck to the turbolift.

“Have fun,” Morales said flatly.

“Yippee.”


“Okay, so what do you want to see?” Beck asked as she and Carl/Jaroch stood in an empty holodeck.

“This is REALLY a holodeck? Like on the show?”

“What show? I have no clue what you’re babbling about.”

“Never mind.”

“Look, why don’t we go with something familiar,” Beck said. “Computer, create Norfolk, Virginia.”

“Please state the desired era.”

“Twentieth century. Late 1990’s.”

“Please narrow parameters,” the computer replied.

“Old Dominion University,” Beck said, remembering the name of the place Captain Rydell had mentioned.

“Please narrow parameters.”

“Carl?” Beck said, gesturing for him to take over.

“Powhatan Apartments. Outside building AA.”

“Working………..Program complete.” All around them, the world shifted, revealing a walkway running between two rows of greyish-blue buildings. As usual in the holodeck, the weather was perfect. The sun shone brightly, but not oppressively as a cool breeze blew by.

“Wow,” Carl/Jaroch said softly. “What about people? Can this thing make Alex and Travis?”

“Sure. I guess as long as there’s some record of them,” Beck said. “Computer, add Alex Rydell and Travis Dillon characters based on historical records from the late twentieth century.”

Two figures appeared. Beck was amazed how similar they looked to the present Captain Rydell and Commander Dillon. There were definite differences, but the similarities were spooky. She resisted the temptation to call up her twentieth century ancestor.

“Is this all they do?” Carl/Jaroch asked, looking the pseudo-Alex and Travis over.

“No. They’re fully interactive…as long as there’s some personality records.”

“Hello?” Carl/Jaroch said, waving his hand in front of Alex.

“Hi. I’m Alex Rydell,” the pseudo-Alex said. “I like computers and pizza.”

“Hi. I’m Travis Dillon,” the pseudo-Travis chimed in. “I like writing and movies.”

“That’s it?” Carl/Jaroch said.

“There must not be a lot of information available about them. We lost a lot in the Third World War.”

“It’s okay. This is cool and all, but it’s just wrong. It’s missing the details. I can’t smell the Elizabeth River and it’s lovely aroma of sewage. I can’t hear music blaring out of a dozen open windows. And I sure as hell can’t talk to those two.” He pointed at the pseudo-Alex and Travis, who just stood quietly with smiles pasted on their faces.

“Morales to Beck.”

“Go ahead, Walter,” Beck replied.

“We just received a message from Russell and Porter. They’re on their way to check out a distress call,” Morales replied. “They’ll contact us if they need help in retrieving survivors.”

“This will be so much easier when we get the Wayward into service,” Beck said. Waystation’s new support ship had arrived just the week before and was waiting for final flight testing. It wasn’t anywhere near as spectacular as she would have liked. Deep Space Nine had gotten the Defiant. She got a glorified scout ship. Granted, it could handle a crew of 20 and was armed to the teeth, but it wasn’t a Defiant.

“Do you want me to get the Roanoke prepped just in case?” Morales asked, referring to the Waystation’s newest runabout. The station had been forced to operate with only the Cumberland for a while after the Yadkin was destroyed by the Starshine Kids in their failed attempt to take over the renovated station. But now, with the Roanoke, and the soon-to-be-spaceworthy Wayward, Waystation would be up to three support craft. It wasn’t exactly a fleet, but it was better than nothing.

“Yeah. And keep me informed. Beck out.” She turned back to Carl/Jaroch …who wasn’t there. “Where the hell did he go?”

“Beats us,” pseudo-Alex and Travis replied smiling.

“Computer end program and delete Alex and Travis characters…painfully if possible.”

She stormed out of the holodeck, barking orders as she went. “Beck to security. Find Commander Jaroch and bring him to ops…but be gentle. He’s not who he thinks he is right now.”

“Um…okay,” the responding security officer replied confused.

Beck charged into a turbolift. “Ops.” This would all have been much easier if Jaroch’s commbadge were functioning, but it’d been crushed in the accident. They were just going to have to do this the old fashioned way. Besides, how many Yynsians could there be on the station anyway?


“127,” Morales said as Beck stepped out into ops.

“We’ve got 127 Yynsians on board right now. There’s some sort of travel club passing through.”

“Perfect,” Beck muttered. “Why can’t this ever be easy?”

“You were really mean to someone in a past life,” Morales said.

“Don’t even say past life,” Beck said. “Jaroch couldn’t have gone far. Look for lone Yynsians on the mall level. He seemed to really like it there.”


Carl/Jaroch was actually a couple of decks above the mall in the corridors of Dillon Enterprises. A voice in his head he couldn’t explain but that seemed very familiar had been directing his actions. First, he’d used a computer terminal to gather information concerning the location of a device. Then, he’d accessed a map of how to get to that location. Now, the voice was leading him down this corridor. Actually, it wasn’t so much a voice. It was more like he just knew, but the knowledge wasn’t really his. It was an odd sensation to say the least.

The knowledge in his head stopped him at a particular door, which was locked. Somehow, Carl/Jaroch innately knew how to disable the lock and enter the room. Inside was a large cylinder. The words “time pod” echoed in his mind. This was how he could get what he wanted. The knowledge in his head protested. It hadn’t liked the idea all along, but was powerless to fight Carl/Jaroch’s desires. The knowledge may not like what was happening, but it had no choice but to serve Carl/Jaroch, as it had been doing up to now. Carl/Jaroch examined the time pod, the knowledge telling him that components were broken and how to fix them. He set to work.


“We’re starting to get complaints,” Morales said. “Security just frisked two Yynsians older than most of Jaroch’s past lives.”

“This is just perfect,” Beck muttered.

“So you keep saying. Do you want me to call out the marines?”

“Definitely not. And tell security to show a little common sense.”

“I’m on it…not that it will do much good.”


The repairs were complete, and Carl/Jaroch had, with the help of the knowledge, zeroed in on his targets and programmed in their coordinates. This was going to be so great.

He activated the pod.


“Is it getting dark in here?” Beck asked, noticing that she was having to squint to see the internal sensor readouts. Then, she realized the readouts were dimming too.

“We’ve got a major power fall off,” Lieutenant Stanton reported.

“Morales, I told you to pay that damn bill,” Beck said humorlessly as she joined Lieutenant Oliver Mason at the engineering/science console.

“The core’s being drained,” Mason reported. “Something on Deck 16.”

“Bradley,” Morales said.

“Beck to Bradley Dillon.”

“Shouldn’t you be seeing to whatever is disrupting my conference, Commander?” Bradley replied.

“That’s what I’d just love to talk to you about.”

“Me? What help can I possibly be?”

“Well, it’s coming from one of your labs on Deck 16.”

“There’s nothing on Deck 16,” Bradley replied testily. He fell silent for a moment. “Except the time pod,” he finished softly. “I’m heading there now.”

“We’ll meet you. Beck out. Beck to Nelson. We may need you. Deck 16. Room C-47.”

“Acknowledged,” Doctor Nelson replied quickly. She could obviously tell this was no time for humor.

“Let’s go, Commander,” Beck said to Morales. The two entered the turbolift and descended through the station.

“I just know it’s him,” Beck said, breaking the silence in the turbolift.

“The thought did cross my mind.”

“I tell you, Walter, times like this remind me why I’m so glad to be here with you instead of back on the Secondprize with those psychos…no offense to Captain Rydell.”

“We’re glad you’re here, too,” Morales replied. Beck gave him a brief smile, then her face hardened back into business mode.


The cycle was complete. Carl/Jaroch could hear voices within the pod…then silence…then screaming. They had to be surprised and confused. He activated the door control.


Beck, Morales, Nelson, and Bradley Dillon all converged on the door to the research and development lab at the same time. Bradley quickly deactivated the lock, allowing the group to rush inside.

It was Jaroch all right. He was standing at the pod control panel, smiling broadly. Beck breathed a sigh of relief. He was still there. She’d worried that he’d sent himself back in time to Norfolk, Virginia of the twentieth century. She really had no desire to have to go retrieve him from the past.

That’s when she noticed the door to the pod opening. Morales instinctively went for his phaser, but Beck gestured for him to put it away.

Two figures stepped out of the pod, arguing with each other as they went. Beck recognized them right away even though she desperately wanted not to.

It was Alex Rydell and Travis Dillon. The twentieth century versions. Live and in the flesh.

Right about then, the time pod started humming and shaking wildly. It exploded a moment later, knocking everyone to the floor.

“Perfect,” Beck moaned, cradling her head in her hands as she surveyed the smoking ruins of the time pod. “Just perfect.”



CHAPTER NINE


Wow, those voices had been great to be with for a while. And they had such wonderful ideas.

Kill Russell and Porter!

Wonderful! That would just be the BEST!!!

Lazlo continued on his way back to where he’d last seen Russell. There was only one way to describe it. For the first time in his life, Colonel Martin Lazlo felt absolutely, positively groovy.

“Groovin’ on a Sunday afternoon.”

What a day! What a universe!

Lazlo rubbed his rifle lovingly. Life just did not get any better than this.

“Groovy, groovy, jazzy, funky.”


The echoing all around was starting to get unnerving. Porter tried to put his nerves back together after once again having them shattered by a bit of debris falling somewhere and sounding for all the universe like…well, the end of the universe. The one consolation he had was that his wrist-beacon was providing more than sufficient light to see what was around him despite the incessant flickering of the ship’s own lighting. Leave it to Starfleet R&D to develop a smaller, better flashlight. Now if only they could figure out some way to keep people from falling out of their chairs when a ship got hit.

While he realized that assuming the bridge would be in the front sphere of this alien ship was an incredibly Feder-centric was to think, Porter suspected that he was about to be proven right. The rooms he’d found so far looked like a briefing room, offices (he guessed) and some sort of dining facility. There was one other room with several holes and tubes mounted all around it that he didn’t really want to know the function of. In any case, they were the sort of administrative rooms Porter would expect to be near a bridge on a starship.

One thing he had noticed was that there were no chairs to be found on the entire ship. Instead, there were stool-like objects. Either these folks weren’t humanoid, or they had the worst back pain in the known universe.


Russell had thus far found his part of the search fairly easy. Assigning himself the rear eight spheres of the crashed ship had turned out to be the right move to make. He’d been through four spheres already and found nothing but cargo, cargo, and more cargo. At one point, Russell assumed the spheres in question must have been stacked from floor to ceiling with various boxes and containers. Now it was sort of all over the place. Actually, (and Russell no expert on this by any stretch of the imagination), Russell had concluded that these particular spheres must not have been equipped with artificial gravity. This would account for the complete lack of stairs or ladders.

Instead, the door to the sphere was mounted in the middle of the wall. If there were gravity, someone walking it would have just slid right down to the bottom, which is exactly what Russell had done in the first sphere he’d entered. This action was accompanied by a great deal of screaming, which got worse when he slid into something that could only be described as squishy. Russell thought he’d found one of the dead crew. It turned out to be some sort of food substance (he guessed) spilling out of a broken container.

Stacking several of the undamaged containers together, Russell had managed to get up to the opposite door of the sphere and continue his search. The next three cargo spheres had gone much more smoothly, but he still hadn’t found any sign of anyone.

He made his way through the connecting tunnel to the next sphere which was filled with mangled machinery and collapsed catwalks. Probably an engine room. This was more Porter’s department.

Russell tapped his commbadge to report in. “Russell to Porter.”

“Wa…re…nt…ar…you ver..ell,” came the mangled reply.

“Craig, you’re going to have to turn on the universal translator. I can’t understand a word you’re mumbling.”

“I…speak…nglish…y…oron!”

“If you can understand me, I still haven’t found anyone, but I think I’m in engineering. You got that? Ennnnginnneeeerringgggg.”


There were days when Porter really wished that he’d smothered Sean with his pillow back when they were Academy roommates and saved himself a lot of aggravation.

“Got…at…Ennn…innnn…eeerin…g,” Russell’s voice shouted through Porter’s poor, straining commbadge.

“Sure. Fine. Porter out,” Porter snapped, closing the channel. Russell had apparently found engineering. That was good to know at least.

Porter meanwhile was pretty sure he’d found the bridge. It wasn’t a huge room. Actually, it only seemed to have stations for four…beings, whatever they were. Each station had one of those uncomfortable looking stools (there was barely enough seat there for Porter’s rear, and he wasn’t exactly a big guy), but the stools were mounted in the center of what looked almost like a cage-type structure. Consoles stood in various positions on the inner surface of these “cages” and at various levels.

Without even realizing he was doing it, Porter let out a low whistle. These aliens had to be very, very skilled at their jobs. To handle that many consoles at once, Porter would have needed six or seven arms.

Of course, these aliens could always have six or seven arms. Pushing the idea out of his head with a nervous chuckle, Porter moved in closer to examine some of the stations. He needed to find whatever one of these stations handled shield operations. The bridge lights flickered again reminding Porter that he also needed to see if he could restore main power to this battered hulk.

All of this would have been a lot easier if he or Russell or Lazlo could find the crew and get them to help. The idea passed through Porter’s head that they were wasting their time. The crew could have very well detached an escape pod sphere much like they had with the distress sphere. But if they’d done that, why send out the distress sphere with a message saying the crew was on the crashed ship?

No, Porter’s instincts were telling him that the crew was on board somewhere. They were possibly incapacitated or maybe just plain scared, but they were there. Once Porter was able to make contact, everything would be fine…assuming, of course, that Lazlo didn’t shoot them on sight.


Lazlo had a very perceptible bounce to his step as he bopped through the corridors of the ship.

“I’m your boogie man. That’s what I am. Gonna kill Sean, however I can.”


Spheres, spheres everywhere and not a sign of life. Russell smiled at his clever poetry manipulation (actually, it was the only line of poetry he knew) and headed into sphere number eight.

“And what do we have for our contestants, tonight, Krinok?” Russell shouted, looking into the sphere and mocking a popular Klingon game show he’d been unfortunate enough to find himself a contestant on at one point. “Well, you dishonorable pitakh, it’s more broken engine parts. WOOOOOO!”

He headed it, checking his tricorder as he went for some sign of life or movement or something.

Nothing nothing nothing nothing…

BEEP BLIP BLEEEEEEP!

Something!

It was coming from between two large engine reactors…or possibly laundry machines. Who knew with these aliens? Russell aimed his wrist light into the darkness of the path between the two huge, spherical (what a surprise) machines.

The light fell on Colonel Lazlo…

…and the phaser rifle he had pointed directly at Russell.



CHAPTER TEN


The silence that had fallen across the Dillon Enterprises Research and Development Lab after the explosion of the time pod was broken by a scream…Bradley Dillon’s scream to be precise.

The multi-billionaire businessman scrambled out from under the table where he’d hidden and rushed to the smoldering remains of the time pod.

“No no no no no,” he muttered softly, holding his hands to the side of his head.

Soon after, Carl/Jaroch recovered and rushed over to help Travis and Alex to their feet. The two uninvited guests were still a bit dazed and confused. Okay, they were very dazed and confused. Travis’s head was turning right and left as if on a high speed pivot as he tried to figure out where the hell he was. Alex, meanwhile, stared at Carl/Jaroch, squinting as if it would help him see some hidden truth.

“Carl?” he said finally. Travis stopped looking around and followed Alex’s gaze to the man standing in front of them.

“Him?” Travis said. He looked more closely. “Carl?”

“It’s me,” Carl/Jaroch replied.

“It sort of looks like you…er, him, but you’re not…” Alex began.

“You brought us to the future!” Travis shouted. “You’re like 40 now, right? This is…2013!”

“Not even close,” Morales muttered.

“You’re nuts,” Alex said.

“How do you explain it then?” Travis said.

“Um…well…How do you explain that?” Alex said, pointing at the uniforms Morales and Beck were wearing.

“Uh…” Travis ran his hand nervously through his hair as his mind raced. “Um…”

“Think about it,” Alex said finally. “We were walking to your car. We passed by a gas main. It must have been leaking. We’re in a hallucination. That’s all.”

“We’re both hallucinating the same thing?” Travis said incredulously.

“Unlikely, but possible,” Alex said. “Certainly more possible than being transported to the future be someone who looks like Carl.” He then turned to look at Bradley. “And your brother.”

At these words, Bradley perked up, his eyes locking on Travis and filling with demonic hatred.

“YOU!” Bradley screamed, diving across the wreckage and clamping his hands around Travis’s throat before Travis could so much as scream. The two fell to the floor, Travis desperately trying to pry Bradley’s hands off of his neck as Bradley squeezed with all his might. Alex and Carl/Jaroch quickly moved in to pull Bradley off of him.

“I’m really enjoying this, but I suppose we should do something,” Beck said, straightening her uniform. “Doctor, I’m pretty sure I know who these two are, but would you scan them just to be sure.”

“Better than just standing here doing nothing,” Nelson said, pulling out her tricorder.

“And Morales, get Bradley out of here and calm him down.”

“You don’t want me to stay here to assist you?” Morales asked warily.

“Amedon and I can handle things,” Beck said.

“Yes, ma’am.” Morales stepped over to Carl/Jaroch and Alex, who had successfully removed Bradley’s fingers from Travis’s trachea and were restraining him, and wrapped his arm Bradley’s shoulder. “Let’s go, Mister Dillon. We’ll get all this cleared up.”

“There’s nothing left.”

“Only your billions and billions of credits. I hope that’s enough consolation,” Morales said, leading Bradley out of the lab.

“You okay, Travis?” Alex asked, helping Travis to his feet.

“Some hallucination,” Travis gasped. He turned on Carl/Jaroch. “All right, Carl Jaroch, if that is your real name, what the hell is going on here?”

“You’re in the future,” Carl/Jaroch replied.

“I told you we were hallucinating,” Alex said.

“No. Really. This is the 24th century. I’m Jaroch, but a later incarnation. Carl Jaroch’s personality is just in charge right now.” He looked back at Beck. “Did I get that right?”

“Close enough,” Beck said.

“Uh…Commander, can I talk to you for a sec?” Nelson asked as she waved Beck over to where she’d been unobtrusively scanning Travis and Alex.

“What have you got?” Beck asked looking over Nelson’s shoulder at the tricorder.

“They’re humans. By the pollution content in their lungs, the chemicals in their hair, and the crap in their stomachs, I’d say probably late 20th century. But you expected all that, right?”

“Yep. Anything else?”

“Well, they’ve both had Starfleet standard mindwipes. Two of them to be exact. I’d say both occurred within the last two months. You know why they would…?”

“Unfortunately,” Beck replied, turning her attention back to Carl/Jaroch ‘s conversation.

“Carl, this is cool and all,” Alex was saying. “But we’ve got finals in a couple of days.”

“And I’ve got graduation and a wedding in the next couple weeks…not to mention Christmas!” Travis added.

“Don’t worry. We’ll get you back in plenty of time. We’ve got a…” Carl/Jaroch suddenly realized what he was about to say.

“Oh sh**,” he said softly.

“Don’t tell me that was your only time machine,” Alex said. Carl/Jaroch grimaced and nodded.

“Oh sh**,” Alex and Travis said in unison. The two 20th century men were silent for a moment, mulling over their options.

“This could still be a trick,” Alex said.

“Some trick,” Travis muttered. “And why pull it on us? We’re nobody.”

“We’ve only seen this room. This could still be a set or something. Let’s not panic.”

“We can leave if you want,” Beck said. Travis and Alex seemed to look at her for the first time.

“Lisa?” they both asked.

“Don’t you start too,” Beck said. She turned on her heel and led the newcomers out of the lab.


“And this is Starfleet Square Mall,” Beck said as she and the others stepped out of the turbolift onto the upper level of the mall. Alex and Travis rushed past her to the railing and looked out at the life teeming around them.”

“Aliens!” Travis shouted.

“Out here, we’re all aliens,” Nelson said.

“That was actually kind of deep,” Beck said.

“Stuff it, Red,” Nelson snapped.

“I told you,” Carl/Jaroch said, walking up behind Travis and Alex. “Still think it’s a hallucination?”

“No,” Alex said in stunned shock.

“And we’re stuck here?” Travis said with no hint of regret in his voice. If anything, he sounded ecstatic.

“Looks like it,” Carl/Jaroch said.

“Morales to Beck,” Beck’s commbadge barked suddenly.

“Beck here,” she replied.

“If you’ve got our guests taken care of, could you spare a few moments for Mister Dillon? He requires your special touch.”

“Understood,” Beck said with a smile. “I’ll meet you both in my office. Beck out.” Bradley must be demanding money or for Jaroch to be prosecuted or something, and Morales’ gentle diplomacy was most likely not working. She needed to come put things a little more forcefully.

“Wait a second,” Nelson said once Beck had closed the channel. “You aren’t leaving me with these three.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Beck said. “I have someone far more appropriate in mind…and here she comes now.”

Yeoman Jones was indeed approaching, her head buried deep in a padd. She didn’t even notice Beck until Beck grabbed her arm as the yeoman was passing by.

“Hey!” Jones snapped. She then saw who had grabbed her. “Commander! I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you. How are you?”

“Perfect,” Beck said flatly. Her tone immediately made Jones nervous. Something she wasn’t going to like was about to occur. She could just feel it. “I need you to do me a favor.”

“Um…okay,” Jones said. “What is it?”

“We have a couple of VIP’s on board,” Beck replied, gesturing to Carl/Jaroch, Alex and Travis. “I just want you to show them around.”

“Is that Captain Rydell?” Jones asked, peering at Alex.

“Captain Rydell?” Alex and Travis said confused.

“No,” Beck said quickly. “Just a distant relative. But I’d like them to stay related, so don’t let anything happen to him. Or Travis.”

“Dillon?”

“Yes and no. Just watch them. Okay? I’ve got to go.” Beck beat a hasty retreat down the walkway.

“Ditto that for me,” Nelson said, patting Jones on the shoulder. “Good luck.”

“Luck? Why should I need luck?” Jones said as she watched Nelson depart. Oh well. Time to slip into tour guide mode. She turned back to face her charges, starting her speech as she went. “All right, gentlemen, Waystation was established just over two years ago when the Starship Secondprize…” She trailed off as she completed her turn. Carl/Jaroch, Travis and Alex weren’t there. However, a small Andorian boy seemed to be listening quite attentively.

“You’re pretty,” the boy said smiling. “Can I go home with you for Viis’narttz? I’ll fix breakfast in the morning.”

Damn, those Andorians started young. She didn’t have time for this, though. There were VIP’s on the loose.

“Maybe when you’re older,” Jones said, patting the boy on the head. Before he could reply, she took off running down the walkway. They couldn’t have gotten far.


“You’re being ridiculous,” Alex said as he, Carl/Jaroch, and Travis descended through the station in a turbolift.

“I’m just adapting to my new life situation,” Travis replied.

“Oh come on. You’re supposed to be getting married in two weeks. You’re graduating. You’ve got a whole life there. Now you’re just ready to chuck it all and stay here?”

“If I had to, it wouldn’t be so bad. Now would it?”

“Well, no. I guess not,” Alex said. “You did say they have holodecks? Just like the show?”

“Yep,” Carl/Jaroch said smiling. “Do you want to head there first?”

“That babysitter the commander stuck us with might find us there,” Travis said. “I think we’re old enough to not need chaperones.”

“Can we get off the station?” Alex asked. “Go check out the neighborhood?”

“Cool!” Travis said.

“I don’t see why not,” Carl/Jaroch said. He could feel the needed knowledge coming into his consciousness. This was so much more fun with friends around. Now if only he could convince Lisa to come along. She’s not Lisa, the knowledge told him. Prove it, Carl/Jaroch replied to the knowledge. If I am here, she could be too. She just doesn’t know it yet. Carl/Jaroch pulled up the station directory on the turbolift monitor and checked for a ship. Runabout, the knowledge told him. Suddenly, he knew exactly what he had to do.

“Docking bay two,” he said. The lift abruptly changed course, heading back towards the upper saucer.

“I wish Trina were here,” Alex said finally.

“Just think of this as a guys day out,” Travis said.

“But we could be here for a while.”

“Okay. It’s an extended bachelor party.”

“You’re just in denial,” Alex said. “This is going to hit you at some point.”

“If someone suddenly gave you everything you ever wanted, would you cry about it?” Travis asked.

“Maybe.”

“Come on, Alex. I’m finally in space. We’re about to go ride in a spaceship. They’ve got holodecks! We’re set!”

Alex thought for a moment. “There is that,” he admitted.

“I may need you guys to help me steal the ship,” Carl/Jaroch said.

“Hold on a second,” Travis said. “Nobody said anything about stealing. We could get in some serious trouble.”

“Come on, Travis,” Alex said. “You’re the one who wanted to see space.”

“Hey, leaving the station was your idea.”

“If we stay here, Commander Beck will most likely put us in a room somewhere and not let us out until they figure out how to send us home,” Carl/Jaroch said. “This is our one chance.”

“And I doubt this will go on our records back home,” Alex said.

“Okay, Mister Inconsistent,” Travis snapped. “One second you’re convincing me how great home is. And now you’re practically pushing me out an airlock.” He turned to Carl/Jaroch. “Is that what they really call them?”

Carl/Jaroch nodded.

“Cool. Anyway, explain that!” Travis said, pointing at Alex accusingly.

“Just playing Devil’s Advocate to see what you really want,” Alex replied.

“As usual. Well, not this time. What do YOU want to do?” Travis said, crossing his arms.

“And you’ll go with what I say.”

“Absolutely.”

“Then let’s get ourselves a ship,” Alex said smiling.

“Aye, sir,” Carl/Jaroch said, unsure as to why the knowledge made him reply that way.

The three men exited the turbolift across the corridor from docking bay two. Carl/Jaroch straightened himself to his full height and strode into the docking bay where two crewmen were sitting on a couple of cargo containers playing cards. Behind them, the runabout Roanoke sat. The sight stopped Alex and Travis in their tracks. A spaceship. A real spaceship.

“This area’s restricted,” one of the crewmen said without looking up.

“I apologize for being out of uniform,” Carl/Jaroch said, brushing off the blue tunic and pants Dr. Nelson had given him to wear. “I have been attending the science conference.”

“Who the hell are you?”

“Commander Jaroch. Stationed aboard the USS Secondprize. This is Captain Alexander Rydell and Commander Travis Dillon.”

“How come you outrank me?” Travis whispered to Alex.

“Shhh,” Alex said.

“Commander Beck has given us permission to borrow this craft for a quick scouting run.”

“Yeah yeah. Whatever,” the other crewman said. “No one told us. We’re supposed to keep the ship on stand-by. I think she’s expecting some emergency or something.”

“I see,” Carl/Jaroch said. The knowledge suggested a different route. Again, the suggestion came most unwillingly. Carl/Jaroch continued trying to speak in the measured tones that the knowledge used in his head. “In that case, we will not take the ship. But might I look at the controls? This appears to be one of the newer models.”

“Fresh out of the shipyards,” the first crewman said smiling. “I think Commander Morales is the only one who’s flown her.”

“Then may I look inside?”

“Be my guest,” the crewman said, waving Carl/Jaroch towards the ship. Carl/Jaroch quickly walked into the runabout followed by Alex and Travis.

“Oh my God!” Travis shouted once they’d entered the cockpit. He immediately ran over and sat in the pilot’s seat.

“Don’t touch anything,” Carl/Jaroch said as Alex rushed over to join Travis at the controls. Carl/Jaroch opened the cockpit storage locker, pulled out a medkit, and quickly loaded two hyposprays. This is great, Carl/Jaroch thought as the knowledge guided his movements. How well do you know quantum physics?

Child’s play, the knowledge responded. Unfortunately, it will not do you any good. You are dead, remember. Only Alex and Travis are actually from another time. You are simply memories from that other time.

Shut up.

“Okay,” Carl/Jaroch said, walking over to Alex and Travis. He held out the hyposprays. “You two inject these into the guys out there, and I’ll cover out tracks.”

“I don’t know about this,” Travis said, turning the hypospray over in his hand.

“It’s too late to chicken out now,” Alex said, pulling Travis out of his chair. Following Carl/Jaroch, they exited the runabout. Carl/Jaroch made his way over to the unoccupied docking bay control room as Alex and Travis tried as unobtrusively as possible to get as close to the two docking bay crewman as possible.

“You should go for a flush,” Alex said, peering over the shoulder of the first crewman.

“We aren’t playing poker,” the crewman retorted. Obviously, he wanted to add something to that statement but was restraining himself.

“Sorry about that. Just trying to help.”

“Well, with all due respect, I don’t need it.”

“That’s where you are wrong, foolish one!” Travis shouted suddenly, raising his hypospray into the air like a demented Luke Skywalker and jamming it down into the neck of the very surprised other crewman.

“What the hell?” Alex and the first crewman exclaimed. Alex, realizing that he was about to be in a whole galaxy of doo-doo, quickly jabbed his hypospray into the arm of the first crewman. The first crewman swung at Alex, but collapsed to the deck unconscious before he could get all the way around.

“Don’t you ever do that again!” Alex shouted angrily at Travis.

“What? It worked,” Travis replied.

“This isn’t one of your stories. You can’t write us out of it if things go wrong.”

“But they didn’t,” Travis protested.

“And it sounded ridiculous.”

“It did?”

“Yeah. Way over the top. ‘Foolish one?’ Who the hell talks like that?”

“I was trying to be dramatic.”

“Well, you sounded like a bad martial arts movie except your lips actually matched the words…unfortunately”

“What should I have said?”

“How about nothing?” Alex replied.

“Where’s the drama there?”

“Forget it. Just forget it.”

Carl/Jaroch returned from the docking bay control room saving Alex from whatever reply Travis was about to make. “That should take care of it,” Carl/Jaroch said.

“What did you do?” Alex asked.

“I think I created a feedback loop in the sensors. It should mask our escape.” Carl/Jaroch wasn’t exactly sure. The knowledge wasn’t talking to him anymore. It had protested about being used to fool Commander Beck and the rest of the Waystation crew and had submerged deep into Jaroch’s mind. But Carl/Jaroch didn’t figure it would matter. He’d already learned from it how to fly the runabout. What more could he need?

“Then let’s not hang around any longer than we have to,” Alex said heading towards the ship. Carl/Jaroch took the pilot’s seat and gracefully steered the runabout out into space beyond.

“Wow,” all three men said at once as the vastness of space opened up before them.

“It’s…incredible,” Travis said softly.

“So where to?” Carl/Jaroch asked.

“That way,” Alex said, pointing off toward the right of the front window. “I like the way that star’s twinkling.”

“You got it,” Carl/Jaroch said, turning the ship towards Alex’s desired destination.

“Let’s see what’s out there,” Travis said. Alex just glared at him. “Too much?”

“Yes!” Alex and Carl/Jaroch said.

Unnoticed, the runabout sped away from Waystation.


Finally somewhat appeased, Bradley Dillon left Commander Beck’s office after half an hour of ranting and raving. Actually, he really didn’t want anything more than for someone to listen to him go on and on. He seemed resigned to the fact that the time pod was destroyed and that he’d have to wait for Dr. Azar to return before he could do anything about it.

“Well, that was pointless,” Beck said, leaning back in her desk chair once Bradley had left.

“I guess everyone, no matter how rich they are, needs someone to talk to occasionally,” Morales replied.

“You’re probably right,” Beck said. “Bradley doesn’t exactly seem to have a lot of friends.”

“No. I guess not. His life seems to be his work. It happens when you don’t have anyone to spend your time with,” Morales said pensively. “You sit and…”

“We should check on our guests,” Beck said, heading for the door before Morales could finish his sentence. She just didn’t have the time for a philosophical discussion about life at the moment. Morales pulled his attention back to the matter at hand and followed Beck out into ops.

“Beck to Jones. How are our friends?” Beck asked as she stood waiting for the turbolift to arrive.

“Um…well…they’re…having a great time, I’m sure.”

Something in Jones’s voice immediately put Morales on edge. He had a bad feeling where this was heading. By the look in Beck’s eyes, Morales could tell that she seemed to be thinking along the same lines.

“Tina, where are they?” Beck asked, her voice icy.

“Um…I…don’t know.”

“That’s not the answer I wanted to hear,” Beck replied.

“When did you last see them, Yeoman?” Morales said, jumping in while Beck attempted to choke down her growing anger.

“In the mall. They slipped away from me. I’m sure they’re fine. I’ve got security looking for them. Jones out.”

“Jones! Jones!” Beck shouted. But the channel was already closed. “Oh, she is so going to hear about this later,” Beck said just as the turbolift doors opened.

“Uh…Commander?” Lieutenant Mason said from the science console.

“What is it?” Beck asked.

“Did we launch the Roanoke earlier?”

“No,” Morales said as he and Beck headed over to Mason’s station. “Russell and Porter have the Cumberland. Why?”

“Well, we just got this in from the sensor buoy out by Edgeworld,” Mason said, putting a video feed up on his monitor. A cold shiver went through Beck.

“Put it up on the main screen,” she said, steeling herself for the inevitable. The image on the screen shifted to show a different set of stars. A runabout zipped by near the edge of the viewing field.

“It could be somebody else’s,” Morales said. He didn’t believe it for a second though.

“No, sir,” Mason said. He froze a shot of the runabout and magnified it several times. “Roanoke” was clear painted on the side of the ship. “Three life forms were on board according to the sensor buoy. Two human and one Yynsian.”

“That solves that mystery,” Beck said unhappily.

Mason unfroze the image, allowing the runabout to continue on it’s course…

…straight into Multek space.



CHAPTER ELEVEN


The mystery of the life sign reading solved, Russell lowered his phaser rifle but left his wrist beacon shining on Colonel Lazlo. Lazlo looked somewhat odd to Russell, but he couldn’t quite figure out why. Ah. That was it. Lazlo was smiling. And it wasn’t the usual slightly-maniacal “I like chewing the heads off of kittens” smile he normally gave. He was also moving around like he was…dancing.

Oh well. If Lazlo was in a good mood, who was Russell to ruin it?

“Hey there, Colonel,” Russell said. “I’m glad that was you, but aren’t you supposed to be checking out the forward spheres?”

Lazlo responded with a blast from his rifle that narrowly missed Russell’s head. Instinctively, Russell spun around and aimed his weapon off into the darkness where Lazlo had fired.

“What was it, Colonel? What did you see?”

Another blast narrowly missed the other side of Russell’s head, giving Russell the distinct impression that Lazlo might have a much closer target in mind.

Rather than wait around to find out, Russell took off running.

For his part, Lazlo decided that dancing was bad for his aim. But he just felt so gosh darn groovy! No matter. He’d catch up with Russell again, and then he’d blast Porter. And then he’d go play with the voices some more. That would just be…groovy.


With a groan provoked by the severe strain in his back muscles, Porter stretched underneath the D’Ceti engineering console with his magnetic coupler to make what he hoped would be the final necessary connection to reroute the ship’s main power. Whoever had designed this particular hell-hole certainly did not have humans in mind. Repairs had been almost impossible, since one power relay would be tied into a junction board in a console four feet away. At several points, Porter had to strap tools to his bare feet just so he could make one adjustment with his hands while continuing to monitor another system in a panel on the far side of the engineer’s globe of consoles.

It hadn’t been fun, and Porter knew he was going to be feeling it tomorrow morning. Hopefully, though, he’d have a first contact to show for it.

Thoughts of the muscle pain to come were pushed aside as the bridge systems hummed back to life. After wrenching himself out from under the particular console he was playing Twister with at the time, Porter tried to position himself on the massively uncomfortable stool and set to work re-establishing power to other sections of the ship.


Back on Multos, Frequoq Juletz stepped out of his private ridey-racer and into his office suite inside the Multek Enclave capitol building.

“Good morning, Your Frequoqness,” Faddle, his personal assistant, said from his desk in the Frequoq’s outer office.

“Wonderful day, Faddle,” Juletz replied as the door to his personal parking area sealed shut behind him. “What’s up for today?”

“Looks quiet, Your Frequoqness.”

“Good to hear. No news from the military arm.”

“Not a word. Of course, with Admiral Wuddle out sick today, I’m not sure who is supposed to pass any sort of military information onto us.”

“Hmm…good question. I’m not sure either. Wuddle’s never been out. Oh well. First time for everything, I guess. Good for him. He needs some time off…unless he’s really sick, which wouldn’t be all that good.”

“Absolutely not, Your Frequoqness,” Faddle agreed, nodding solemnly.

“All right then. I’ll be in my office until…when’s my first meeting today?”

“You don’t have any scheduled.”

“None?” Juletz asked in shock. “Oh…um…”

“Shall I put the screening room on standby?” Faddle asked.

“Good idea. Good day to catch up on my holovision. Alert the screening room that I will be there in half an hour.”

“Of course, Your Frequoqness.”

Satisfied that he now had a plan for the day, Juletz turned briskly on his heel and strode into his office.

No meetings. Would the wonders of the Quoqins never cease? But then, even the Frequoq deserved a day off now and again. After glancing at his desk that had nothing for him to sign sitting on it, Juletz plopped down in his desk chair and swivelled it around so he could stare out of the picture window overlooking the city.

In the distance, he could see the three great humps of the Mega-Multek-Mover rising above the skyline from its position in the Multek Memorial Merryland. Wistfully, Juletz realized how long it had been since he had experienced the joys of Merryland. That was just the thing to restore your mental motivation. Just the thing Wuddle needed.

“Faddle,” Juletz called, pressing the comm button on his armrest.

“Yes, Your Frequoqness.”

“Send Wuddle a pass to Merryland…make it two. Who knows? He could have a lady-friend. Quoqins knows he needs one.”

“Of course. I will contact him right away.”

Faddle didn’t know that contacting Wuddle would actually be a tad difficult at that particular moment, since, at present, Wuddle and Hypple were speeding along on their course to the crashed imaginary vessel.


Russell slapped his commbadge again and again, getting nothing but static for his trouble, as he wove past the various hulking machines of the D’Ceti engineering sphere. He knew Lazlo was back there somewhere. He could hear his footsteps, see the light mounted on the front of his rifle waving about through the darkness, and, worst of all, he could hear the singing, that god-awful caterwauling piercing the air and ringing above everything else.

Play that funky music, white boy.

Play that funky music right!

Play that funky music, white boy.

Lay down that boogie and play that funky music

‘Til you DIE!!!

“Come on, buddy,” Russell said, slapping the badge a few dozen more times. “I need some help here, Craig.”

The commbadge wasn’t being very forthcoming in its replies.


“If this engineering thing doesn’t work out, I can always join a band,” Porter thought to himself as his fingers danced from console to console in the engineering globe. If finger speed was all that was needed, Porter would have made one hell of a keyboard player. Too bad his musical talent stopped there. On the other hand, he actually was a pretty good engineer, a fact he had proved on more than one occasion…including this one.

Porter tapped three more touch panels, finishing his reroute of main power from the damaged power conduits to others not mangled in the crash. Several sections of spheres lit up on his display panel as power returned to their systems.

“Nice. It’s all downhill from here,” he said satisfied with his efforts.


The lights in the engineering sphere suddenly flared to life, illuminating the entire area in a blinding glow. Russell screamed and covered his eyes. He also could hear Lazlo scream…and the scream was a hell of a lot closer than Russell was comfortable with.

Frantically blinking to try and clear the spots from his eyes, Russell crouched down beside a large panel of some sort to hide and get his bearings.

“Come on, white boy! Play me some of that funky music!” Lazlo called out from somewhere.

“Sorry. Left my guitar back on the station. Maybe next time.”

“I play guitar,” Lazlo shouted back.

“Really? I didn’t know that. What style?”

“Spanish classical, but I’m branching out into Vulcan blues. You?”

“Mostly the classics,” Russell replied, temporarily forgetting the situation he was in. “Hendrix. Slash. Metallica. But I’m getting sick of the light rock stuff. I’d kind of like to try some of that Spanish classical, though.”

“I’d love to teach you, but I have to kill you first.”

Oh yeah. That’s what was going on. “Um…won’t that hurt my ability to play?”

“Yep. Guess so. Oh well. Vamos!”

“Vamos? What the hell does vamos mean?” Russell asked.

“Let’s go!” Lazlo shouted. This time, Russell could figure out where the voice was coming from. Right behind him.

“AHHHHHH,” Russell screamed, half in fear and half as a battle cry as he swung around, gripping his phaser rifle like a sword and slamming it into Lazlo’s skull.

“GrooooooOOOOOoooOOOOOOOOOoooooovyyyyyyyy,” Lazlo moaned as he wobbled back and forth in a daze.

“Not for you, buddy,” Russell snapped, pointing his weapon at the colonel. Lazlo looked at Russell for a moment, his eyes swirling in their sockets, then started laughing.

“What?” Russell demanded. Lazlo just kept cackling. Russell then noticed that his rifle wasn’t aimed exactly where he’d intended. Specifically, the barrel was now pointing directly at the floor, hanging on to the body of the rifle by a couple of wires.

“Tough head,” Lazlo said.

“Obviously,” Russell said.

“My turn now?” Lazlo asked, raising his rifle.

“Um…what’s Spanish for no?”

“No.”

“Easy enough. No.”

“No comprendo, senor.”

“Vamos it is then, I guess,” Russell said, then dashed away as fast as his feet would carry him. Phaser blasts zapped into consoles around him as he dodged left and right towards the ladder leading to the fore sphere exit. He scampered up the ladder faster than the universe’s most agile chimpanzee and dove out into the connecting corridor, slamming the door shut behind him.

It swung right back open. The latching mechanism was nothing but twisted metal.

Russell decided to keep running.


Having finished packing up his engineering gear, Porter decided it was as good of a time as any to get a progress report from Russell and Lazlo. He tapped his commbadge, which crackled weakly.

Hmm…odd. The interference wasn’t supposed to be this bad.

Porter pulled his tricorder back out and ran a couple of scans. Ah, that was it. The restored power was increasing the interference effect. Oh well. No biggie. They’d still be able to contact the runabout from their original beam in position where tears in the hull would give them a clear shot out of the ship.

Nothing at all to worry about. Leaving the bridge, Porter set out to join the search for the missing alien crew.


Russell took the time he was using to run away in terror to wonder just who the hell’s ship they were on. He’d been through several of what he assumed were crew quarters, but he couldn’t find a bed anywhere.

They seemed worse than marines. No beds, and hooks for pull-ups and who knew what other exercises scattered all over the ceiling.

Not ever having seen a D’Ceti, Russell didn’t realize that the hooks actually were the bed. Not that it mattered much at that particular moment.

Finding no good place to hide in the quarters, Russell dashed into the next room with an unlocked door.

And thanks to Porter restoring the ship’s power, Russell got to experience the room’s full effects.

Even if Russell could have read the sign on the door before he ran inside, “Meditation Matrix” wouldn’t have meant a whole lot to him. However, since the D’Ceti were a telepathic species, another fact Russell was blissfully unaware of, they made use of those abilities in their meditation. Specially designed psychokinetic attenuators acted upon areas of the D’Ceti brain inducing states of extreme relaxation.

As Russell entered the room and slammed the door shut, the attenuators sprung to work. They’d never encountered a human before. They weren’t programmed for the human mind. They were just programmed to work on D’Ceti neural centers. As for what would happen to a human? Well, who knew?

Of course, Russell didn’t know any of this.

He just knew that he’d suddenly been eaten by his right nostril.



CHAPTER TWELVE


“I’m open to suggestions,” Commander Beck said as she stared at the starfield on the ops viewscreen. Somewhere out there, Jaroch, Alex, and Travis were heading right into the waiting arms of some people who would definitely not be happy to see them.

“They took the last runabout,” Lieutenant Mason said.

“I know,” Beck said.

“We could see if we could borrow a ship from one of the conference participants,” Morales offered. “There’s a Romulan ship in Docking Bay Seven. It’s got a cloak…”

“And about two weapons,” Beck finished. “I am not going in there practically unarmed. If there’s one thing we know about the Multeks, it’s that they don’t have a problem shooting first…whether they believe in what they’re shooting at or not.”

“The closest starship is two days away,” Mason reported after checking his console.

“They always are,” Beck muttered. “What about Porter and Russell?”

“Seven hours away,” Mason said.

“We can’t just sit here,” Morales said.

“I’m not going to,” Beck said, heading towards the turbolift. “I’m taking the Wayward.”

“That ship is nowhere near flight-ready,” Morales protested, chasing Beck into the lift. “We’ve barely finished unpacking all the consoles from the styrofoam.”

“It’s got an engine, tons of weaponry, and Starfleet’s seal of approval. That’s enough for me. Docking Bay One.” The lift began its rapid descent from the tower containing the revolving ops down to the main docking bay at the outer edge of the upper saucer.

“We haven’t trained any crews on it,” Morales said.

“I’m going alone. This situation isn’t exactly an official Starfleet matter.”

“You need a pilot.”

“I can fly the ship, Morales.”

“Maybe, but not as well as I can.”

Beck looked hard at Morales for a few moments as she considered his words. Fact was, he had a point. He’d logged more time at the helm of shuttles, runabouts, and other Starfleet support vessels that most of the crew combined.

“Fine. You’re invited,” Beck said. “Beck to Nelson.”

“Nelson here,” the doctor replied.

“You have ops.”

“What?” Nelson shouted. “Where are you going?”

“To chase down your patient. In return, you’re watching my store. Got it, Doctor?”

“I am SO going to get you for this, Beck. You…”

“Beck out.”

“I’d forgotten that the rest of the senior staff is off the station,” Morales said hesitantly.

“She’ll be fine,” Beck replied. “Now how soon do you think we can underway?”

“Two hours. Maybe less.”

“Try for less,” Beck said as the turbolift slowed to a halt. “Annoying or not, those three are civilians who are counting on us to protect them.”

“That would have been easier if they’d stayed here,” Morales said.

“I’ll get them leashes next time.”


“So…what is there to do on this thing?” Travis asked as he spun around and around in the copilot’s seat on the runabout. While the sight of space had been awe-inspiring, the novelty had worn off quickly. After all, space looks pretty much the same no matter where you are.

To stave off boredom, Carl/Jaroch had turned off the artificial gravity allowing them all to experience weightlessness. But, again, floating around gets pretty dull pretty quickly. Besides, the whole experience wasn’t doing wonders for Alex’s digestion.

With gravity restored, the three intrepid explorers were back to staring out the windows at space.

“I did download some historical files before we left,” Carl/Jaroch said.

“What kind of files?” Alex asked.

“Anything mentioning any of us,” Carl/Jaroch said.

“Hold on there a second,” Travis said. “We can’t look at those. We’ll find out what happens to us. We’ll alter the future.”

“Get over it, Travis,” Alex said. “This isn’t some novel. The universe isn’t going to explode if we do a little research. Besides, if we really get stuck here forever, all we’ll find out is that we vanished in December of 1995. Big deal.”

“You’ve got a point,” Travis said thoughtfully.

Each man started typing in research queries at their consoles. The light mood very quickly soured.

“I…I don’t believe this,” Travis said softly. “How could she?”

“What is it?” Alex asked.

“Rachel. She leaves me.”

“I’m so sorry, man…Oh my god.”

“What?” Travis asked.

“Trina. She vanishes right after we have our second child. One girl. One boy. And poof. No one ever finds a trace of her.”

“Bastard,” Travis grumbled.

“Who?”

“YOU!” Travis shouted. “She leaves me for you!”

“What?” Alex said in shock, rushing over to Travis’s console. Sure enough, there was a wedding photo with Rachel, Travis’s fiance he was due to marry in a little over two weeks. Of course, she was older in this particular photo and marrying an older Alex Rydell. Three children were gathered around them. Two were obviously Alex’s, and the third, a boy, bore a resemblance to Travis.

“How could you?” Travis stammered.

“I didn’t…I mean, I haven’t…yet.”

“Guys. Don’t get excited,” Carl/Jaroch said.

“Excited? Who’s excited?” Travis demanded. He turned on Alex again. “I can’t believe you’d…”

“I’m telling you, there’s no way,” Alex insisted. “This must be some alternate timeline or something.”

“I don’t think so,” Carl/Jaroch said.

“Why? What happens to you?” Travis said.

“Lisa and I have three kids and live happily until we’re killed in a car wreck on our way to our condo in Florida we planned to retire to.”

“Good for you,” Travis said flatly.

“Look,” Alex said, pointing out another newspaper story on Travis’s monitor. “I didn’t steal her.”

“‘Local Writer Committed,’” Travis read in the headline. “Committed?!? Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

“You went bonkers…or will go bonkers. Rachel and I were both alone. We got together. No big deal.”

“Easy for you to say. You didn’t spend the rest of your life in padded cell!”

“You write three hit screenplays while institutionalized,” Alex said, scanning forward in the records. “And they do let you out.”

Travis looked at the readout. “At 50! They let me out at 50!”

“But you have plenty of money,” Alex said, reading on.

“Which I promptly give to my son so that I can retire to a shack in the mountains of Montana,” Travis said, reading ahead of Alex. “Great. No wait. It gets better. My body is found three years later after the spring thaw wearing nothing but a little black bow-tie and with the word ‘penguin’ scrawled on my chest and ass in magic marker. Oh yeah. That’s how I wanted to go.”

“It’s not my fault,” Alex said.

“Shut up. I’m not talking to you…home-wrecker.”

“Travis, come on. This hasn’t even happened yet.”

“That’s the best part. Look at all the fun I have to look forward to.”

“At least two of us end up happy,” Carl/Jaroch said.

Alex and Travis didn’t reply. The cockpit was coldly silent for a few moments.

“Want to look up our final exam questions?” Carl/Jaroch asked finally.

“Sure,” Alex said, looking over Carl/Jaroch’s shoulder. “You want to see, Travis?”

“Why bother?”

“Fine. Sulk. See if I care.”

“Obviously you don’t, or you wouldn’t have stolen MY WIFE!”

“Boy. He’s insanely jealous,” Carl/Jaroch quipped.

Alex groaned. “That was bad…even for you.”

“Thank you.”

“Um, Carl?” Alex said, noticing a few lights blinking urgently on the console.

“What?” Carl/Jaroch replied, looking up from his monitor.

“What do those mean?”

“It’s the proximity alert,” Carl/Jaroch said, turning back to his work. Deep in Jaroch’s body, Commander Jaroch’s consciousness snapped to attention. Proximity alert! He fought his way back to the forefront of Carl/Jaroch’s mind. Carl/Jaroch’s eyes widened as the knowledge spoke to him. Proximity alert. Bad thing. Where were they? Carl/Jaroch looked down at the navigation display. The knowledge spoke again. Multeks. Carl/Jaroch wasn’t sure just what a Multek was, but the knowledge’s tone told him that it certainly wasn’t anything good.

“Oh sh**,” Carl/Jaroch said softly.

“Do we need to get the hell out of here?” Alex asked.

“Oh yeah,” Carl/Jaroch said, slamming the runabout into a tight turn which tossed Travis out of his pout and onto the floor. Alex took the opportunity to climb into the co-pilot’s seat.

“Where are the weapons?” Alex asked.

Carl/Jaroch distractedly pointed at a couple of touch panels. “Phasers. Photons. Aim. Fire.”

A blast suddenly rocked the ship knocking out all power. Emergency lights winked on as the console sparked and smoked.

“Of course,” Carl/Jaroch mused. “Putting the shields up first would help immensely.”

“You didn’t mention that part,” Alex said.

“And how many episodes of Star Trek have we watched?” Travis asked.

“I didn’t hear you offering that particular suggestion,” Alex said. “You don’t have to be such an ass just because your life sucks.”

“Will suck. Will suck!” Travis said.

A large, wedge-shaped ship loomed over the front viewport, flying over the runabout from behind where it had quite effectively rendered the smaller ship inoperable. Tractor beams lanced out of the craft, locking onto the runabout and pulling it towards a hatch opening in the bottom of the ship.

“Okay. We can go with sucks currently,” Travis said.


Commander Beck couldn’t help but be a little taken aback at seeing Lieutenant Commander Morales in action. Generally, his demeanor was fairly quiet, and he wasn’t real big on ordering people around. His orders usually came in the form of polite requests.

Now, she’d heard that he had his moments when he snapped into officer-mode, such as when Waystation had been taken over by the Starshine Kids. This was obviously another one of those moments. He had the engineering crew moving faster than Beck ever would have thought possible to get the Wayward space-ready.

“Krause, what about those nacelles?” Morales demanded, standing on the top of the Wayward surveying the work of the crews. Actually, he’d just finished the final installation of the upper phaser array. Far be it from Morales to stand around while others did the work. Part of what had made him a popular shuttlebay supervisor back on the Secondprize was his willingness to pitch in when needed.

“The coils are all aligned, sir,” Ensign Krause replied.

“Good. Brazeau, how’s my impulse drive?”

“We’re still getting a power spike on heat up,” Brazeau replied over Morales’ commbadge from deep inside the Wayward’s engine compartment. The small ship could hold 20 crew comfortably, but it’s facilities could not exactly be called spacious. The mess hall and sickbay were the same room with dinner table tops capable of flipping over to become biobeds. The engine compartment was definitely on the cozy side when fully-staffed. And the transporter room was inside the captain’s ready room right next to the replicator. Hitting the wrong panel could spread your molecules into space rather than order up that morning cup of coffee.

“Not good enough. I want to be off this station in three minutes, Brazeau. You hear me?”

“Aye, sir.”

Satisfied that Brazeau had been properly motivated, Morales climbed down from the top of the ship and headed into the cockpit. Beck joined him a few moments later.

“Anything I can do?” Beck asked.

“I think we’re just about ready,” Morales said, scanning down his pre-flight checklist. Brazeau, looking rather disheveled with hair going in seventy different directions and two large tears in his uniform, stumbled through the rear door.

“Repairs complete, sir,” the engineer reported weakly.

“Great job, Brazaeu,” Morales said, making a point to shake the young officer’s hand in gratitude. “I knew you could fix it.”

“Thank you, sir,” Brazeau replied, bolstered by Morales’ kindness. “Good luck.”

“Thanks,” Morales said, turning back to the controls. “Get everyone clear. The commander and I are in a bit of a rush.”

“Aye, sir.” Brazeau ran out of the ship, slapping the hatch close panel as he exited. Morales heated up the engines and retracted the landing gear as the Wayward hovered on power from its maneuvering thrusters.

Morales could feel that the ship’s engines had a lot more punch than a shuttle or a runabout. Of course, it still wasn’t quite a Defiant, but that hardly mattered at the moment.

Satisfied that the engineers were clear and that the ship was functioning as it should, Morales pushed the Wayward up to one half impulse and blew out of the docking bay fast enough to send a shudder through the upper saucer.

Barely two seconds later, Morales activated the warp drive, snapping the Wayward towards Multek space.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN


Russell couldn’t help but notice how dark the inside of his nostril was…that and how incredibly f**ked up it was to be eaten by your own nostril in the first place.

He didn’t dwell on these thoughts long, though, because he was moving. More like floating actually. He lay on his back relaxing, a gentle brook carrying him through the darkness.

The darkness gradually gave way to light as he floated out of a massive, brick-lined tunnel entrance into a field of legs. And what legs they were. Very feminine and very shapely. They just seemed to sprout out of the ground, their painted toenails wiggling in the air, alongside the brook. Russell swam to shore, pulling himself up beside a particularly nice leg. He ran his hand along the leg, then over the knee, and down the thigh as the leg bent in what seemed to be a sign of pleasure.

Just before he got to the base of the thigh where it went into the dirt, another foot kicked him from behind, launching him into the air like a football. He landed on top of several other feet, which were more than happy to start bouncing him back and forth.

“Stop!” he wanted to cry. “Just let me love you!” But he couldn’t get a word out as he suffered the ceaseless barrage of blows as he was sent from foot to foot.

At last, he was sent high into the air by a particularly nasty blow and arced over the field of feet back into the brook.

He entered with a splash and sank and sank and sank until he hit bottom. The bottom stretched under his weight like a trampoline, then rebounded him back towards the surface…

…which he bounced off of.

Russell started to panic. He was now trapped underwater. He couldn’t get up. He couldn’t get out. He tried frantically to swim downstream but found it hard to move. The water was thickening around him.

Soon he was trapped in a blob of the now gelatin-like water.

No longer able to hold his breath, Russell sucked in, desperately hoping for air.

Instead he got gelatin…all the gelatin. It just rushed in and kept rushing in filling him.

Finally, the brook had been completely emptied, leaving a big, round gelatinous Russell laying helpless at the bottom.

He caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Turning his head as much as his hugely-inflated body would let him, Russell saw that the legs were on the move…right towards him.

He squirmed futilely trying to get away, but the first foot reached him and kicked him back into the air with a loud BOOOOINNNG!

Russell seemed to be headed into a low orbit with that kick. The only positive to the whole situation was that it didn’t hurt. He descended rapidly and was met by another foot.

BOOOOOINNNG!

Kick!

BOOOOOINNNG!

With the repeated kicking no longer causing him any pain, Russell relaxed and enjoyed the sensation of flight.

Kick!

BOOOOOOOOOOOIIINNNNNNNGGGGG!

This last kick flipped him over so he could survey the field of legs stretched out below him. My, they were lovely. So toned. So tanned. So…sharp?

The legs morphed into giant metal spikes glinting in the sun as Russell began his descent.

With death suddenly imminent, Russell did the only thing he could think of…flap his arms.


Lieutenant Porter kept his eyes focused on his tricorder as he slowly moved through the corridors of the D’Ceti ship. As expected, the effective scanning range varied between ten and a whopping fifteen feet, so constant vigilance was required. The aliens could be hiding anywhere. Or one could be injured and trapped inside one of the many rooms of the various spheres.

He still hadn’t been able to get in contact with Russell or Lazlo, but he still felt no cause for alarm. It was a big ship, and all three of them knew where the transport coordinates were.

A faint sensor blip registered on Porter’s tricorder from around the next corner. From this distance, he couldn’t tell anything other than that it was moving.

Slowly, so as not to scare whatever was there, Porter peered around the corner and into the corridor.


Years of Federation Marine training had made tracking Russell veritable child’s play for Colonel Lazlo. Of course, the fact that Russell had left a trail of debris knocked over and pushed aside in his haste to flee the marine had helped quite a bit too.

Russell’s track had led Lazlo into a corridor of one of the forward spheres. So far, every room had been deserted, but there was one closed door near the end of the hall.

Lazlo approached that door and tried the controls. The door slid open obediently…and he could see Russell standing alone in the center of the room, seemingly oblivious to anything going on around him.


Upon looking around the corner, Porter’s hopes for first contact were deflated once again. It was just Lazlo. Oddly, though, he seemed to be dancing to some unheard music as he aimed his phaser rifle into an open doorway. Then, Porter heard him singing.

I’m your boogie man.

That’s what I am.

I’m here to do.

Whatever I can.

From early morning

Late afternoon.

At midnight.

It’s never too soon…

TO KILL SEAN RUSSELL!!!

Lazlo then charged into the room, the door sliding shut behind him.


Porter was fairly sure that last bit wasn’t part of the original song. Considering the situation, Porter realized there were two basic options.

1) Russell had done something to annoy Lazlo, who was just venting plasma about the whole thing.

This didn’t seem at all likely. Lazlo didn’t sing…especially when he was angry. So, on to option two.

2) Lazlo had become a homicidal maniac.

Taken in consideration with his and Russell’s usual track records, Porter decided this was the most likely possibility.


“Uh…where’d he go?” Lazlo asked the air. Something very strange had just happened. One second earlier, he’d been charging dramatically into the room where Russell was hiding in order to kill him just as the voices had wanted.

Now, the voices were gone, and he was standing in a large pile of mashed potatoes floating in a vast sea of gravy…beef gravy from the smell of it.

“Hey, Marty!” a voice shouted from nowhere.

“Who’s there?”

“You and me’s gots to have a talk, capice?”

“Um…no…” Lazlo said confused.

“Would you at least look at me?” Lazlo looked all around for the source of the voice. “Down here, you pinhead!”

Lazlo looked down and realized that the front of his rifle was moving of its own accord. He raised it up and looked into the beam emitter.

“Hey! Not so close!” the beam emitter shouted suddenly, its edges forming a very expressive mouth as two beady little eyes popped up on top of it.

“You’re…you’re a gun.” Lazlo stammered.

“Ding ding ding. Give the man a calzone!”

Lazlo’s feet started to melt over the potatoes, his black boots oozing in various directions. Soon, it was joined by the dark blue of his uniform pants.

“Are you listening here or what?” Lazlo’s phaser rifle demanded.

“But…I’m melting!”

“Snap out of it!” the gun said, suddenly extending forward and slapping Lazlo across the side of his face with the rifle barrel. “You’ve got people to kill. Remember?”

“Yeah,” Lazlo replied sheepishly. He was now melted down to his waist.

“And are you going to let a little thing like melting stand in your way?”

“Yeah,” Lazlo replied.

“Worthless,” the gun muttered, then was silenced as it and Lazlo completely melted over the potatoes and slowly flowed towards the sea of gravy.


For a brief moment, Russell had seen salvation. The spikes had vanished, and he was standing in the middle of an empty room. The room door was open, and Lazlo was standing there, rifle in hand. Lazlo had taken a few steps forward, allowing the door to close behind him.

And now Russell was plummeting towards the spikes again. The no-win scenario at the Academy had nothing on this. Death by psychotic marine or death by spikes in a psychotic hell-scape.

Lacking other options, Russell started flapping again.


Porter looked at his tricorder readouts for a few moments, then back up at the door. For one of the few times in his Starfleet career, he had no idea what to make of what he was seeing.

There were two life forms in the room all right: both human. But they were just standing there. No fighting. No shooting. Hell, there wasn’t even any talking going on.

Mounted in the ceiling was some sort of device that was using a fair amount of energy, but Porter couldn’t detect anything harmful coming out of it. No radiation. No death rays. Not so much as a cheery glow.

Of course, if he’d thought to check for alpha waves and other mental emissions produced by living beings, it would have been a whole different story. But Porter wasn’t a doctor. Give the guy a break.

Phaser drawn, he cautiously opened the door. Sure enough, Russell and Lazlo were just standing there. They appeared to be completely entranced by something…what that something was, Porter had no idea. He reopened his tricorder and moved in for a closer look.

That’s when the door closed behind him…

…and the whale showed up.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN


“Oh, this is good,” Alex muttered as he watched a small platoon of white-skinned, blue-haired aliens surround the runabout as it sat in the Multek vessel’s docking bay.

“They don’t look very threatening,” Travis said. “Kind of like clowns.”

“Heavily armed clowns,” Carl/Jaroch said. Why was the name Hawkins suddenly running through his consciousness?


Out in the docking bay, Captain Gubbler couldn’t believe his luck. Just the day before, he’d shot down an imaginary vessel. Inexplicably, the Frequoq had reassigned the Kellog to the middle of the Multek Enclave, far away from any danger or excitement…or so he thought. Now he had not just encountered, but CAPTURED an imaginary vessel.

“All right, men,” Gubbler said as his security troops checked the power levels on their laser blasters. “Remember you are not seeing this ship in front of us. Now I want a standard boarding procedure, followed by…”

“Uh, sir?”

Gubbler stopped his pacing and faced the soldier who had interrupted him. “What is it, Ensign?”

“If it’s not really there, how are we supposed to board it?”

“Pretend it’s a simulation, dammit! You’ve done that before, haven’t you?”

“Well…yes, but only with smuggler vessels.”

“This is the same thing,” Gubbler said. “Only it’s not really here. Just pretend that it is, but don’t really believe. That’s a sure sign of insanity. We can’t start believing in the imaginaries. We just have to capture and interrogate them. Got it?”

The replies of his troops were less than confidence inspiring. “Um…sure…maybe…well…I guess.”

“I said, got it?”

“YES, SIR!”


Suddenly, Travis broke down in a fit of laughter.

“What’s so funny?” Alex demanded as he watched his friend and roommate rolling around on the floor of the runabout. Maybe that insanity was hitting Travis early.

“This is too good,” Travis said, gasping for breath.

“WHAT?” Alex and Carl/Jaroch demanded.

“Don’t you see?” Travis said, getting back to his feet. “They can’t hurt us!”

“Why the hell not?” Carl/Jaroch said.

“Well, they can hurt you, I guess,” Travis replied. “But Alex and I are invulnerable.”

“You care to explain that one, Travis?” Alex asked.

Travis reached across Alex and pushed a few buttons on the control console, pulling back up the history they’d been reading earlier. “Look. We know what happens to us. We get back to our century and live these lives. That can’t happen if we die here!”

Laughing again, Travis ran to the back of the runabout and threw open the supply locker.

“What the hell are you doing?” Alex said. Travis emerged with two phasers in his hand, which he tossed to Alex. Then he pulled out two for himself. “It’s time to kick some alien booty.”

“Booty?” Carl/Jaroch said.

“Can I just have one moment to revel?” Travis demanded. “That’s all I’m asking for here.”

“Do you think this is such a good idea?” Carl/Jaroch asked Alex. Inside Carl/Jaroch’s mind, a loud voice was screaming no, it wasn’t. Then a stream of calculations went through his brain, calculations that were way beyond a 20th century physics student’s understanding.

“Maybe he’s got a point,” Alex said as he aimed the phasers a few times to get the hang of them. “You stay here and watch our back.”

Before Carl/Jaroch could respond, Travis and Alex dove out of the runabout hatch, phasers blasting.


Outside, oblivious to the coming danger, Gubbler continued his instructions to his troops. “Remember to look out for imaginaries hiding behind imaginary consoles or other obstacles. And…OH DEAR FREQUOQ!!!” Gubbler dove to the deck as two crazed imaginaries flew out of their pretend vessel behind his troops and starting firing imaginary weapons blasts all over the docking bay.

Fortunately for the Multeks, the two 20th century men had horrendously bad aim. They were quickly able to regroup and take cover as they aimed their weapons.


“They are so going to get killed,” Carl/Jaroch muttered, watching the developing fire-fight below.

“Yes, they are,” the voice in his mind said forcefully. “That moron Dillon understands even less about temporal physics than his counterpart in this century.”

“What can I do?” Carl/Jaroch demanded.

“Leave! NOW!” the mind of Commander Jaroch screamed. With a brutal shove to Carl Jaroch’s consciousness, the Yynsian Jaroch regained control of his body and pushed his 20th century past life so far down in his consciousness that it would take him another four centuries to find his way back out again.

Commander Jaroch looked out the runabout windows to see if there was anything he could do to salvage the situation.


“This is great!” Alex exclaimed as he and Travis fired away at the scurrying Multeks.

“Oh yeah! Who needs Laser Tag!” Travis replied.

“No kidding. This is just too…”

At that moment, eight separate laser blasts slammed into Alex and Travis, vaporizing them instantly.


Jaroch grimaced as he watched the two 20th century humans disintegrate outside the runabout. That was not going to be good for the timeline. He clamped his eyes shut and waited for history to rewrite around him, sending him to who knew where.

Nothing happened.

Interesting.

Jaroch would have to consider the ramifications of this later. At the moment, he had several angry Multeks to deal with. Even with J’Ter’s help, the odds of defeating that many armed soldiers were somewhere between slim and none. Perhaps a different strategy would be advisable in this particular circumstance.

Jaroch scrambled out of the pilot’s chair and began looking for a place to hide.


“Two degrees to port,” Beck said as she watched the weaving ion trail of the stolen runabout on her monitor in the Wayward’s cockpit.

“Adjusting course,” Morales reported as his hands smoothly moved across the conn. So far, their trip into Multek space had been relatively free from incident except for the occasional Multek patrol craft Morales was able to avoid by dodging into a nebula or to the far side of a planet. Fortunately, most of the Multeks didn’t seem to be actively searching for alien vessels. That, of course, left the question of just who they patrolling for. After the run-in Beck and Porter had had with a rogue Multek carnival operator a couple of years ago, Starfleet Intelligence had concluded that, for some reason, the Multek government had a serious problem with people running any sort of business venture outside of government control. But that was just speculation.

“I’m getting something,” Beck said suddenly as the readings on her console shifted.

“The runabout?” Morales asked.

“I don’t think so. I’ve never seen anything like this. Where the hell is Craig when I need him?” Beck muttered. “Computer, can you explain these damn readings?”

“The Wayward is currently the focal point of a chronometric disturbance,” the computer replied flatly; although, Beck could detect an unspoken “duh” in the computer’s tone.

“Chronometric? What the hell?” Beck said.

“Time travel’s what got us into this mess,” Morales offered.

“Yeah, but why would there be an effect here?”

In answer to Beck’s question, the cockpit was suddenly filled with a low hum and a green spiral of energies began to coalesce into the shape of a man behind them. Beck yanked open the supply drawer in the console, quickly tossing a phaser to Morales and keeping one for herself.

The man finished his entrance. He appeared to be humanoid, wearing an unfamiliar blue and grey uniform and a hat like she’d seen bellboys at some of the nicer hotels on Earth wear. He was holding a small padd, which he stared at intently.

“Lisa Beck?” he asked, looking at Beck.

“Who wants to know?” Morales demanded.

“I’ll handle this, Walter. Thanks,” Beck said. “That would be me. Who the hell are you?”

“Temporal Express. When it absolutely, positively has to be there before you mailed it.” He extended his palm to Beck; embedded in it was a small black square about inch wide. “Press your thumb here please.”

“What for?”

“Your package,” the Temporal Express employee replied in annoyance. Skeptically, Beck pressed her thumb to the man’s palm. On contact, a red beam lanced out of an odd insignia pin on his chest right into Beck’s eye.

“HEY!”

“I have to do a retinal scan,” the man said. There was that unspoken “duh” again. “All right. Everything seems to be in order. Here you go.” He handed the padd to Beck then vanished just as quickly as he had come.

Beck blinked several times to get the spots out of her right eye as tried to focus on the padd in front of her.

“To Commander Beck…blah blah blah. Timeship? What? Blah blah blah. 29th century? Yeah right… We demand that you blah blah blah and REPAIR THE DAMAGE TO THE TIME STREAM!”

“We’re working on it,” Morales shouted into the empty air. “Give us a break.” He looked to Beck expecting some sort of comment. But none was forthcoming. Her whole face had fallen as she continued reading the padd.

“What is it?”

“Alex and Travis are dead,” Beck said softly.

“Oh boy.”

“Oh yeah.”

“What are we supposed to do about it now?” Morales asked.

“Make them un-dead…and get them back to their origin point in time.”

“Wait. Why doesn’t whoever sent you that padd do it? They seem to know a hell of a lot more than we do about the situation.”

“All the message says is that they’re busy with other things and Multek space is out of their jurisdiction.”

“Great.”

“Just get me to that runabout, Walter. Jaroch’s still alive. Maybe he can help us.”

“If he doesn’t try and whisk you off on a second honeymoon first,” Morales grumbled. Beck turned back to her console and returned to following the runabout’s ion trail. Morales’ last comment stuck with her, though. From Porter, that line would have been a sarcastic mood lightener. That’s just the way Craig was. From Walter, it almost seemed…bitter.


The first wave of Multek soldiers, four of them to be precise, stormed into the runabout cockpit, waving their weapons in front of them in search of any potential threats.

They didn’t see any.

“Um…are we supposed to be pretending that there’s someone on this ship?” the squad leader asked.

“I don’t know, sir,” the other three replied crisply.

“Right…okay then. I imagine that the imaginary ship is pretending to be secured then. Okay?”

“Okay, sir!” the other three replied crisply.

“Anybody want lunch?”

“Sounds yummy, sir!” the other three replied crisply.

And off they went. Meanwhile, Jaroch sat in his hiding place and waited.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN


Porter blinked a few times, trying to clear his vision. Nope. No luck. The whale was still there.

“What’re you lookin’ at?” the whale said in a low, guttural voice. It didn’t seem angry or excited…more like bored.

“Um…well…” Porter struggled to make some kind of response, but the witty rejoinder section of his brain seemed to have been completely knocked offline by the sheer oddity of what it was being faced with.

“You want to find your friends or not?” the whale said finally, tiring of Porter’s sputtering.

“Yes.”

“Brilliant. All right, then, Craigie-boy, you’re the scientist. What the hell is going on around here?”

“Well…either you’re some sort of intelligent whale-like creature…or I’m seriously delusional.”

“I’m a talking whale. I think we can rule out Option A.”

“Good point,” Porter said. “Okay. I’m delusional. Since it started when I entered this room, I think I can also rule out a sudden illness.”

“There you go,” the whale replied. He adjusted his position, using a flipper to prop his head up as he listened to Porter.

“Okay, so if the room is causing the hallucinations and Russell and Lazlo are both in this room, they’re trapped in hallucinations as well.”

“The man is a marvel.”

“So what do I do? Firing indiscriminately to see if I can shut down whatever is causing this seems like an incredibly bad idea.”

“Only if you care if Sean and Lazlo live.”

“Hmm…” Porter thought for a moment. “Yeah. I’d better keep them alive.”

“Guess you better look for Plan B, then.”

“Guess so.”


Russell would just have liked a plan period…any plan. He’d landed directly on one of the spikes, which had then extended all the way through his body (painlessly, oddly enough) and now he was the meat on a giant shiskabob, sitting wedged between a huge onion and green pepper on a spit rotating over a blazing fire.

Between the proximity of the onion and the smoke from the fire, Russell couldn’t see through the tears welling up in his eyes. Pinned and slowly cooking, Russell resorted to the only thing he could think of.

“HEEELLLLLLLP!!!!”


Floating.

It was a nice sensation, Lazlo decided.

At the moment, he was a liquid just floating on top of a calm sea of brown gravy.

A noise at the very edge of his hearing disturbed his tranquility.

“HEEELLLLLLLP!!!!”

“Did you hear that?” Lazlo forced an eye to solidify and looked for the source of the voice. His gun was speeding toward him, moving its stock from side to side to propel itself. “It’s that damn Russell,” the gun continued. “Stop being gooey and go get him.”

“But I’m relaaaaaaaaxed,” Lazlo said dreamily, the words forming from lips floating on the gravy.


Joros’ subordinates steadied her body, each one grabbing one of her tentacles as she reeled under the mental assault coming at her from the hostile alien she was trying to control.

“What is happening?” her helmsman demanded.

“The alien entered the Meditation Matrix. His mind is not compatible. I can’t…”

“Release him, then.”

“And let them kill us? I will not allow it,” Joros thought-replied determinedly. She clamped her eyes shut and redoubled her concentration. Her crew had to be kept safe.


“We’re nearing the coordinates now,” Hypple reported as he brought the stolen yacht out of warp. Admiral Wuddle practically dove at the sensor console to begin scanning for signs of the ship Gubbler reported shooting down.

“Got it!” Wuddle exclaimed triumphantly. “On the fifth planet of the star system.”

“Should I take us in?”

“Of course. I am not returning to Multos without absolute proof.”


Lazlo suddenly found himself solid again and holding his rifle in his arms.

“This time you’re going to kill Russell! Got it!” his rifle shouted.

“Yes, Mister Gun.”

“That’s Ms. Gun!”

“Oh, sorry.”

Lazlo lurched forward into a vast sea of white hoping that somehow he would stumble upon his quarry.


Fortunately for Lazlo, Russell wasn’t going anywhere except round and round on the spit. Russell had achieved a nice level of dizziness, though.


Inexplicably, the whale seemed to keep up with Porter as he moved across the desert landscape he’d found himself in. How he was doing it, Porter had no clue, since he hadn’t seem so much as a flipper flap.

“There’s got to be a wall around here somewhere,” Porter muttered as he walked forward, arms outstretched.

“Assuming that you’re actually moving at all,” the whale said. “Who can tell in here?”

“I thought you supposed to be helping me.”

“I’m just givin’ you the facts.”


The yacht carrying Wuddle and Hypple touched down outside the crashed D’Ceti ship just yards away from the Runabout Cumberland.

“Two imaginary ships?” Hypple said nervously.

“They are not imaginary,” Wuddle said. “You must unlearn what our government has taught us.” He looked back at his scanners. “I am detecting no life signs on the smaller vessel. They must all be on the bigger ship. Transport us inside.”

“Yes, Wuddle,” Hypple replied nervously. Suddenly, he wasn’t so sure that he wanted to meet aliens after all.


In the distance, the whiteness gradually began to clear, giving way to a beautiful sunny day. Lazlo was inside a garden hedge maze. Looking around, he tried to get his bearings. Hedge. Hedge. Hedge. Hedge. Well, nothing but hedge.

He jumped up, hoping to get a glimpse of something that would help him find his way out of this mess.

A few yards away, standing in the center of the maze, was a statue. Oddly enough, it looked just like Sean Russell standing tied to a pole with an apple in his mouth. The stonework was very nice, from what Lazlo could tell as he jumped up and down trying to get a better look at it.

“You’ve got him now, Marty,” his gun said. “Damn the hedges. Full speed ahead!”

Lazlo tucked his head down to his chest and dove through the hedge towards the statue.


Russell suddenly felt the spit stop turning. Warily, he opened his eyes to see what was happening. He certainly wasn’t over an open fire anymore.

Instead, his arms were stretched out, tied with vines to wooden poles on either side of him. He seemed to be on top of some sort of hill in a jungle.

In the distance, he heard rhythmic thudding, which seemed to be growing louder and louder, but the tall trees around him prevented him from seeing very far in any direction.

Suddenly, the trees parted revealing a giant ape-like creature. Spotting Russell tied between the poles, it growled menacingly and reached out a huge hairy hand toward him. Russell screamed.

Slowly, Russell realized that this ape looked awfully familiar. It was LAZLO!

Then, Russell’s screaming began in earnest.


“What was that?” Hypple said fearfully as horrible shrieks filled the corridor of the D’Ceti ship.

“It’s coming from this way,” Wuddle said, charging off down the hall.

“Uh…Admiral…do we really want to go toward it?” Hypple said, nervously chasing after Wuddle.


“Did you hear that?” Porter said, turning back to his companion.

“Who didn’t hear that?” the whale replied.

Porter stood on top of a sand dune, peering out at the vast desert before him.

“Wait. There!” Porter exclaimed, point at a dune in the distance. Something was there, but he couldn’t quite make it out. A set of binoculars appeared in his hand. “That was convenient.”

“We aim to please,” the whale said.

Porter peered through the binoculars. It was Russell. He was staked down on the dune with a giant blue vulture hovering over him. Porter realized that vulture had a mustache. Lazlo!

“Come on whale!” Porter shouted, racing down the sand dune towards Russell and Lazlo.

“I prefer Melville, actually.”

“Melville?”

“Hey, I’m a literate whale.”

“Gotcha.”


Russell cringed as the huge hand got closer and closer.


Lazlo had the statue in his sights. He raised his rifle and prepared to fire.


Porter ran faster than he’d ever thought possible…especially considering that he now had a good inch of sand in his boots.


Wuddle leaned against the door the noises seemed to be coming from. He could hear lots of muffled shouts and screams. Whatever was going on, it didn’t sound all that pleasant. “This is definitely it.”

He opened the door expecting to see some indescribable horror. Instead, it was just three beings…and he recognized them!


The hallucinatory landscape in front of Porter suddenly vanished, revealing a bare room…well, bare except for Russell, Lazlo, and the rifle Lazlo was pointing at Russell.

Porter dove, tackling the marine and knocking him to the floor. As they fell, Porter spotted the open door to the room and two figures standing in the doorway.

“Don’t let that door close!” Porter screamed.

“I’m going to kill you all,” Lazlo bellowed. Russell finally snapped out of his petrifying fear and jumped in to help Porter get control of Lazlo. The two men managed to send Lazlo’s rifle sliding away across the floor, but even unarmed, Lazlo was a formidable opponent.

“What’s wrong with him?” Russell shouted.

“I was going to ask you!” Porter replied, straining to keep his grip on Lazlo’s left arm.

“He’s possessed!”

“I’d figured out that much!”

“Federations!” Wuddle shouted. He should have known. That’s why the ship outside looked vaguely familiar. And these weren’t just any Federations. The one in blue with the rifle had tried to kill him during Wuddle’s visit to the Federation space station that had convinced Wuddle that the imaginaries were actually real. And the other two…one was called Russell. Russell had chased Wuddle through the station, trying to catch him before the man in blue…Lazlo…was able to kill him.

“What do we do?” Hypple said, breaking into Wuddle’s thoughts. Aliens. These were actual aliens! Wuddle had been right all along.

Before Wuddle could answer, Porter started shouting. “If you see anything that looks like a computer, blast it! Hurry! We can’t hold him much longer.”

Hypple and Wuddle drew their hand weapons and started shooting at the strange device mounted in the ceiling, which exploded in a flurry of sparks and debris.


Joros jolted as Lazlo’s mind cleared suddenly. “The Meditation Matrix has been destroyed. I have full control back.”


With a surge of strength, Lazlo threw Porter and Russell off of him, knocking the two men into the walls of the room. The marine reared up in fury, his eye blazing.

Suddenly, he spotted Wuddle and Hypple. Multeks! Forget Russell and Porter; this was a real threat.


“I’m losing him!” Joros thought-sent.

“What’s happened?” her chief scanner thought-replied.

“There are others there. They are called…Multeks. They are different than the other invaders. The one I control feels they are a threat.”


Wuddle didn’t even get time to scream before Lazlo was on him. The marine grabbed him by the neck and hoisted him up into the air.

“Lazlo!” Porter said, pulling himself to his feet. “Let him go!”

“Craig. It’s the Multeks!” Russell said, running for Lazlo’s rifle.

“I can see that,” Porter said angrily. “Calm down.”

“L.l.l.l.l.l.let him go,” Hypple said nervously, pointing his blaster at Lazlo.

“Everyone calm down,” Porter said. “Lazlo, it’s me. Porter. Just relax. You don’t have to kill anyone.”

“Must kill,” Lazlo replied determinedly.

“No. Don’t. We’re the Federation. Remember? We don’t just kill things.”

“I do.”

“He’s right. He does,” Russell said.

“Shut up, Sean,” Porter snapped. “You aren’t helping!”

“Sorry.”

“Help me…” Wuddle gasped.

“I’m working on it,” Porter said. He looked closely at the Multek Lazlo was strangling. “Is that you, Wuddle?”

“Yes…help.”

“Sean, now.”

“Now what? I thought you wanted me to stay out of it.”

“I changed my mind. Now.”

“Now what?”

“Would you just fire the damn rifle?”

“Oh.” After making sure the weapon was set on stun, Russell blasted Wuddle, knocking the Multek unconscious.

“Sean!”

“What? You said fire.”

“Not at him!”

“Sorry!” Russell fired again, sending Hypple into dreamland as well.

“Dammit, Sean!”

“What?”

With both of his adversaries unconscious, Lazlo turned on Porter and Russell.

“Oh!” Russell exclaimed. “You wanted me to shoot him!”

“Yes!”

“Gotcha!” Russell fired a third time, dropping Lazlo to the deck just before he could get his hands around Porter’s neck.


Joros shook her head, clearing her mind after the strain of the last few hours. “He’s gone. The others shot him with some kind of beam.”

“They’d kill their own kind even while not under our control?” the chief scanner thought-sent in horror.

“No. They just knocking him unconscious.” Joros reached out her mind again. The hostility she had sensed earlier had vanished. Was it possible that it only came from the one called Lazlo?

Gently, she probed the mind of the one who called himself Porter. She sensed concern, curiosity, and a little fear. She went a little deeper, looking for information rather than trying to take control. What was this Federation she had heard Porter mention? And who were these Multeks?


Porter suddenly clutched the sides of his head and fell to the floor. Russell was beside him in a flash.

“Craig! Are you all right?”

“My mind. Something’s in…” Porter forced himself to relax. There was pain, but he could feel…intelligence. He didn’t know how, but he knew that there was a mind at work inside his own. Think “hello.” Think “hello.”


Joros detected the greeting. Her time inside Lazlo’s mind had given her a complete understanding of the language used by these beings, but, while most of what she’d sensed in Lazlo’s mind was hostile, this was sent in friendship.

“Hello,” she thought-sent.

“Who are you?” the being…human…known as Porter thought-replied. He had no innate telepathic ability. Only Joros’ direct contact with his mind was enabling him to communicate like this.

“I am Joros.”

“I am Lieutenant Craig Porter of the United Federation of Planets Outpost Waystation.” For some reason, Joros detected that the human found these next words humorous for some reason dealing with human history; however, they were meant sincerely. “We come in peace.”

Joros looked at her crew surrounding her as they watched her with trepidation.

“We have made a mistake,” she thought-sent to the group as she began to smile.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN


Morales put the Wayward into another tight loop as Beck continued watching the readouts from the scanners. Every few seconds, Morales glanced down at the proximity alert, just to make sure no Multek ships were slipping into range without him knowing. That was paranoid, of course, considering the number of lights and alarms that would go off in that instance, but you just never knew when something could go wrong…especially since this day had been going wrong from the moment he woke up.

“It’s gone,” Beck said finally. “The ion trail gets to here then vanishes. I’m not detecting any debris, though.”

“So the Roanoke is probably intact somewhere?” Morales asked.

“It could be. All I know is that it didn’t leave this spot under its own power. Jaroch’s supposed to be alive somewhere, so my guess is the Multek’s got him. I’m trying to recalibrate the sensors to detect Multek engine signatures, but I don’t have much data to go on. We haven’t exactly had a lot of contact with the Multeks.”

“I usually appreciate that fact,” Morales said. “Hold on.”

“What are you…”

Beck was suddenly thrown back in her seat as the inertial dampeners struggled to compensate for the quick dive Morales threw the Wayward into. The ship rolled, then eventually straightened out as Morales pushed the ship up to warp nine.

“That Multek patrol craft we passed a little while ago may still be nearby. I might be able to get you close enough to get some engine emission readings. It’s a start.”

“Just promise me we can go back and get my stomach when we’re done.”

Morales looked at Beck nervously. “Sorry about that. I…”

“Walter, I was kidding. Let’s go get the readings.”


Back on Waystation, Yeoman Tina Jones exited the turbolift into ops and looked around anxiously. The place was almost silent other than the soft blips and bleeps of the various systems.

Lieutenant Mason was the only one in sight, and he seemed less than interested in his work. He had his feet up on the engineering/science console as he perused a padd.

Jones cleared her throat. “Um…is Dr. Nelson up here?”

Mason pointed at Commander Beck’s office without even lowering his padd. In some ways, she couldn’t blame him, though. Not much happened around here usually. It wasn’t like they were even moving really.

Jones headed to the right and approached the doors of Beck’s office. Nelson was inside in the same position Mason had been. Her feet were propped up on Beck’s desk as she looked through some battered padd.

Nelson noticed her before Jones had a chance to press the door chime and waved the yeoman into the office. “Did you know she keeps her childhood diary in her desk?” Nelson said, holding the padd up. “This stuff’s hilarious.”

Jones shifted her feet nervously. Somehow, she didn’t think Commander Beck would really like Dr. Nelson reading her diary, childhood or not. Jones knew her own childhood diary was full of descriptions of crushes and stupid fantasies. She had a hard time imagining Commander Beck ever being like that, though, even as a little girl.

“Did you need something?” Nelson said, braking into Jones’s thoughts.

“Um…the conference is about to wrap up for the day, and they haven’t heard anything about the banquet that was scheduled for tonight. Commander Beck was supposed to speak there, so I thought maybe she’d have told you something about it.”

“Not me. Go find Bradley Dillon. This is his shebang.”

“Mason to Nelson,” the comm interrupted.

“Go ahead.”

“We just got a message from the Wayward. They’ve lost the Roanoke’s trail, but they think they’ve found the trail of a Multek ship that took it. They’re in pursuit.”

“They want us to do anything?”

“Commander Beck didn’t mention any orders,” Mason replied.

“Good enough. Not that we could do much anyway. They’ve got all the ships. Nelson out.” She turned her attention back to Jones. “Anything else?”

“No. I’ll just go find Mr. Dillon.”

“You do that,” Nelson said as she propped her feet back up and returned to Beck’s diary. Jones quickly slipped out and headed toward the turbolift.


“Wherever they’re headed, it’s pretty much straight ahead,” Beck said as she watched the Multek engine trail on her sensors. A little earlier, Morales had been able to hide behind a moon as a Multek ship passed by, allowing Beck to get some more detailed data on Multek engine emissions. After a quick zip back to the site of the runabout’s disappearance, Beck had quickly found the Multek’s engine trail.

“I don’t suppose we know where they’re going.”

“Not a clue. They haven’t exactly given us a map of their space before. On the upside, I’ve been able to send a lot of astrometric data back to Waystation. Now all we have to do is get back alive to enjoy it.”


In his private screening room in the Central Administration Building on Multos, Frequoq Juletz laughed heartily as he watched the revered comedian, Mopple, trip and fall head first into a vat of glue in the latest episode of the Mopple Motel. That man got into more messes.

“There’s a sticky situation for you, Mopple!” Juletz shouted happily, slapping his knee. He then realized someone was tapping his shoulder. “What?” he demanded, turning on his personal assistant, Faddle.

“I thought I should bring this to you in person,” Faddle said, handing a small vidi-link to Juletz. Juletz activate the small, round device, the screen of which began to show the image of a Multek miliary officer. For some reason, Juletz felt he’d seen this officer’s face recently on one report or another. He looked at so many that it was hard to say for sure.

“This is Captain Gubbler of the Kellog. We have captured an imaginary vessel and currently returning with it to Multos. Request instructions as to what we should do when we arrive.”

“Oh great Quogin! He’s bringing it here!”

“I’m afraid so, Your Frequoqness. I think he’s expecting a promotion, too.”

“I’m going to promote my foot up his ass! Tell him to transfer the imaginary ship to my private docking facility on the roof. After that, have his ship impounded and his crew quarantined and sent to a Recovery Ranch. And no one else is to hear about this!”

“Understood, Your Frequoqness.”

“And get me tickets to the circus tonight. I need to wind down.”

“Of course.” Faddle quickly retreated as Juletz tossed the vidi-link across the screening room and sailing through the hologram of Mopple, who was currently trying to unstick a woman’s bra from his face. That Mopple. What a riot.


The computer pinpointed Bradley Dillon’s location as the Dillon Enterprises Research and Development Lab, which Jones found a bit odd. As far as she knew, there wasn’t anything there other than the remains of the exploded time pod…not that people really kept her informed of the latest developments.

But, seeing as how she had a conference full of annoyed scientists wanting to know about their dinner plans, Jones made her way down to Deck 16 and into the lab.

She didn’t know what she was expecting to find, but it certainly wasn’t what she was faced with. Bradley Dillon, still dressed in his tuxedo he’d worn to open the conference, was sitting on the floor in the midst of the time pod rubble. Jones couldn’t say for sure, but from the glazed and bloodshot look in his eyes, it almost looked as if he had been crying.

“Mister Dillon?” she said hesitantly.

“Get out,” he said flatly.

“I need to talk to you, sir.”

“I’m busy.”

Jones considered leaving but just couldn’t do it. Bradley obviously was upset about something, and she wasn’t about to leave him like this or, even worse, call in Counselor Miller. She entered the room the rest of the way, letting the doors slide shut behind her.

Bradley looked up at her, his eyes filled with so much sorrow that she was taken aback. All this over a stupid invention? She couldn’t believe it.

“It’s just a machine,” she said softly, putting a hand on his shoulder.

“No. This was my one chance,” Bradley replied hoarsely. “I’ve been searching for a year for this. I was going to save her.”

“Who?”

Bradley smiled weakly. “Leximas. I could have gotten her before the Starshine Kids blew up her module.”

Jones sat down beside him and wrapped an arm around Bradley. “I had no idea you two were…”

“We weren’t,” Bradley said quickly. “But she was my friend…and I don’t have many.” Tears welled up in his eyes again. “I miss her, Tina.”

Jones didn’t respond. There was nothing to say. Instead, she just sat silently and held him.


“Now approaching Multos,” Gubbler’s helm officer reported as the vast blue orb came into view on the viewscreen. Gubbler sighed inwardly, but didn’t let his disappointment show. He was hoping that news had spread of his remarkable achievement and that a flotilla of ships would be waiting to give the Kellog a hero’s welcome.

“Continue with our assigned flight plan,” Gubbler said.

The helm officer entered the Multos atmosphere above the capital city and slowly descended to the Central Administration Building. The roof of the building automatically slid open, revealing an empty docking bay.

“Open docking bay doors and tractor out the imaginary ship,” Gubbler ordered reluctantly. “Give me the view from the rear cameras.” The image on the viewscreen shifted to show the imaginary ship (But it wasn’t imaginary. He knew that for certain. There were really aliens out there!) exiting the docking back under the control of the Kellog’s tractor beam. A similar beam lanced out from the Frequoq’s docking facility and grabbed the imaginary ship.

“Release tractor,” Gubbler said. “And get us back into orbit.”

“Yes, captain,” the helm officer replied, steering the ship back up through the atmosphere. As the clouds gave way to space, the Kellog found itself confronted by four Multek warships.

“You will stand down and initiate standard quarantine procedures,” a voice boomed over the Kellog’s comm system.

Gubbler collapsed into his command chair, the full realization of what was happening washing over him. “They already know,” he said softly. “But they don’t want the people to know, so they aren’t going tell anyone what we know.”

“Sir?” the helm officer said confused.

“Don’t worry about it,” Gubbler said defeated. “Evidently, it doesn’t matter at all.”

The ship lurched slightly as four tractor beams locked onto it. Gubbler laughed humorlessly.

“So much for my promotion.”


Just before the doors of the Frequoq’s private docking bay closed over it, the Runabout Roanoke’s computer system winked to life. Upon detecting that it was no longer inside the Multek ship, a preset program began, sending out three quick beacon pulses, then falling silent hopefully before the Multeks were able to detect what had happened.


“Walter, I think we’re in trouble,” Beck said, looking up from her monitor. “Long range sensors are detecting a planet, a heavily-populated, well-developed planet.”

“The Multek Homeworld?”

“That would be my guess. I’m sending the data to your console.”

Morales looked at the readouts scrolling beside his helm controls. “Yikes.”

“Exactly.”

“Yes!”

“What?”

“I’ve got the runabout. It’s on the planet.”

“How in the…”

“Thank Jaroch,” Beck said. “We just received three beacon pulses. It wasn’t much, but I was able to get the coordinates.”

“Great, but that still means we have to get down there somehow,” Morales said.

“I don’t suppose there’s a handy moon for you to hide behind.”

“Judging by these readings, they’re all inhabited.”

“Damn…wait.”

“What?”

“Hold on. I’m thinking,” Beck said. A vague memory from one of her Academy classes resurfaced. It was risky, but no more so than charging headlong into Multek space. “Have you ever performed a near-warp transport?”

Morales’ eyes widened in alarm. “No! No one does those!”

“They have been performed, Walter,” Beck said. “It’s the only way we’re going to get someone down there without getting blasted to atoms.”

“Lisa…Commander. Please. This is insane.”

“Program in the flight plan. I’ll meet you in the transporter alcove,” Beck said, climbing out of her seat and heading out of the cockpit.

Morales forced himself to concentrate on Beck’s orders instead of panicking about her safety. He plotted the flight plan. Come out of high warp near the planet, just slipping below the speed of light, he’d initiate transport, then the ship would leap back into high warp. It was definitely risky, and even worse, if it worked, Beck would be completely on her own on the Multek Homeworld.

He was her first officer, dammit. He was supposed to be the one taking the risks in her place, Morales thought as he headed back to the transport alcove to join Beck.

Beck already had a phaser and tricorder holstered by the time Morales arrived. “I’ve programmed the coordinates into the transporter. All you have to do is energize when we come out of warp.”

“I should go instead,” Morales said. It was weak, but he couldn’t think of any other objections.

“You’re the best pilot, remember?” Beck said, stepping up onto the transporter pad with Morales right behind her. “Keep the ship together and get the hell away from here.”

“Ten seconds until warp deceleration,” the ship’s computer reported.

“I’ll see you back at home,” Beck said smiling as she drew her phaser. “You’d better get to the transporter console.”

Morales looked back at the console, then at Beck. Impulsively, he grabbed her head and kissed her. Holding her lips to his for as long as he could before their time was up. He dove over to the console as Beck stood in stunned shock, touching her lips.

“Warp deceleration now,” the computer reported.

Beck pointed at Morales. “We’ll talk about this later. Energize.”

Morales activated the transporter, dematerializing Beck in a flurry of molecules. Once she was gone, Morales slumped to the deck as he felt the ship leap back into warp.

The Multeks were probably sending out some kind of pursuit, but he just couldn’t get up the emotion to care.


If there was one thing that seemed constant throughout the galaxy, it was the architecture of docking bays. Commander Beck had been in a lot of them through her years in Starfleet, and they all looked about the same. Sure, the color schemes varied, but basically they were all just big rooms to put ships in.

The Multek docking bay Beck found herself in was really no different than many others (walls, big door, something that looked like a tractor beam emitter), but she had to admit that this was one of the wilder color schemes she’d ever seen. It was all so…pastel. Light pinks. Baby blues. Soft reds. Replace the runabout in the middle of the room with a crib, and you would have had a decent nursery.

The other thing Beck found odd were the corners of the room. Now usually she didn’t take much notice of corners, but these were a bit peculiar. None of them met at right angles. Instead, there were skewed 45 to 115 degree angles everywhere, creating an almost disorienting effect. After seeing the simple lines of Multek ships, Beck hadn’t expected their planet to be so…warped.

At first, she thought that the runabout was the only ship in the room, but there did seem to be a smaller, golden shuttle nearby. She couldn’t read the Multek writing on the side without the translation matrix in her tricorder, but the ornateness of the script suggested that the owner was someone of importance.

Pushing that out of her head, Beck turned her attention to the Runabout Roanoke sitting in the middle of the docking bay. Overall, other than a couple of scorch marks on the hull, the ship appeared undamaged. That would certainly make getting back home easier. Of course, she still had to get out of the docking bay and off the planet before anyone had time to intercept her.

Beck pressed the panel to open the runabout hatch, which turned out to be a very bad move. Suddenly, the room darkened and eight separate spotlights blazed down on her. She dodged to the side to get out of the glare, but they hounded her every step. Around the room, colored lights flashed announcing the presence of an intruder. She wasn’t positive, but it sounded like the siren that was blaring had a beat to it. It was like being in one of those discos on Raisa.

With her element of surprise gone, Beck knew she was just going to have to try to blast her way off of the planet. The odds weren’t exactly in her favor, but she had no intention of being the guest of honor at a Multek imaginary execution.

“Wait!” a faint voice shouted from behind her.

“What?” Beck shouted back, turning to see a plump Multek male dressed in a golden suit standing behind her. His suitcoat was almost more like a trench coat stretching down to his knees, and several medals had been pinned to the breast of it.

“Wait!”

“I can’t hear you!”

“You can’t leave!”

“Can you turn this off?” Beck said, gesturing around.

“Oh!” The Multek reached into his coat pocket, and suddenly the noise stopped. “Better?”

“Much,” Beck said, shaking her head to clear the din.

“Sorry about that,” the Multek said.

“Don’t worry about it. Um…not to seem ungrateful, but aren’t you supposed to be screaming something about me being imaginary right now.”

“But you are very real,” the man replied, pulling a pistol out of his coat and aiming it at Beck. “That’s the problem.”



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN


“We’re about to have some company,” Lieutenant Porter said, snapping out of the dazed reverie he’d been in for the last several minutes.

“What the hell happened to you?” Russell asked.

Porter smiled. “I was making first contact. See if you can wake up that Multek Wuddle brought with him.” Russell moved over to Hypple while Porter saw to Wuddle.

“What did you do that for?” the Multek admiral asked groggily.

“Sorry. Miscommunication,” Porter replied, helping Wuddle to his feet. “If you don’t mind me asking, what are you doing here and why aren’t you running around screaming that we’re figments of your imagination?”

“Some of my people have accepted the truth,” Wuddle replied. “We have an underground organization that hopes to one day bring proof of alien life back to Multos.”

“We’ve got a spare marine if you want him,” Porter quipped.

“Thank you, but I would prefer someone less…unstable.”

“Admiral, the alien touched me!” Hypple exclaimed as Russell hoisted the Multek to his feet. “This is amazing. Are you sure we’re not hallucinating?”

“Afraid not, buddy,” Porter said. “And I think things are about to get more interesting.”

“Unnh,” Lazlo moaned from the floor. “What the hell happened to me?”

“Russell shot you,” Porter said. Lazlo’s eyes snapped open angrily and he leapt to his feet. “Why the devil did you do that, you damn Starfleet moron?!?”

“Um…you were trying to kill me!” Russell replied.

“I did not. We beamed over here. I went searching. Next thing I know, I’m waking up after being shot by you and…” Lazlo trailed off as he spotted the two other figures in the room.

“MULTEKS!!!”

“Here we go again,” Porter muttered. “Colonel, you’ve missed a lot. There are other aliens on this ship, and they took control of your mind for a while.”

“Lies. It’s a Multek trick.”

“I assure you it is not, Colonel Martin Lazlo,” a female voice said…well, not so much said. Everyone in the room just heard it in their minds. At the entrance to the Meditation Matrix was an orange creature standing approximately eight feet tall with multiple flagella where arms and legs would normally be. Several similar creatures were visible out in the corridor beyond the first one.

The creature bowed her head in greeting, and the voice continued in their minds. “I am Captain Joros of the D’Ceti. We wish to…apologize for what has happened here today. We are explorers by nature, but we felt we had to defend ourselves.”

“Completely understandable,” Porter said audibly. He approached Joros with his arms spread wide. “I am Lieutenant Porter of the United Federation of Planets. This is Lieutenant Sean Russell and Colonel Martin Lazlo. We too are explorers. And our pale friends over there are Wuddle…”

“Admiral Wuddle of the Multek Enclave,” Wuddle said, taking a step forward in amazement. A sentient non-humanoid! This was completely astounding. “This is my associate Hypple. I am afraid that my government is responsible for the damage to your vessel. I assure you, though, that my friend and I mean you no harm.”

“Captain, I don’t see anyway that we can get your ship back into space; however, we can transport your crew back to our space station. There, we can show you more of our culture and hopefully learn more about yours. We can also see about finding you a way back to your homeworld,” Porter said.

“Now hold on a minute, Porter,” Lazlo said. “You’re going to give a ride to a species that turned me into a psychotic killing machine.”

“You want me to punish them for giving you your fondest wish?” Porter said, patting Lazlo on the shoulder.

“Your pushing me, Porter.”

“If you’re uncomfortable, you can ride with the Multeks…that is if you two want to come back to Waystation. It’s a bit different than the last time you were there, Admiral.”

“I would enjoy spending more time there,” Wuddle replied.

“Looks like we’ve got ourselves a party then,” Porter said. “Let’s get moving.”


Dr. Nelson wandered out of Beck’s office in ops with a yawn and a stretch. “Is my shift over yet, Mason?”

“Technically, ma’am, I don’t think it’s over until one of the command staff returns.”

“Well, I’m going to go command from my bed. I’ve had enough of…”

“We’re receiving a message from the Wayward,” Mason interrupted. “Data only.”

“I don’t suppose it says that they’re right outside waiting to dock.”

“No, ma’am. It was sent using the emergency data burst protocol. Lieutenant Commander Morales reports that Commander Beck has transported down to the Multek homeworld. Morales and the Wayward are currently in an asteroid field hiding from several Multek pursuit vessels. He’s requesting assistance.”

“Sorry, we’re fresh out,” Nelson said, shaking the fatigue out of her head.

“Do you want me to tell him that?”

“Hell no. Find Porter, Russell, and that damn marine and tell them to get off their asses and do something. And find out why the hell Morales let Lisa beam down to that planet alone. No wait. I know the answer to that one. She’s not real good at listening to reason some times.”

“Anything else?”

“No…yes. Inform the marines. I don’t really want to send them in on a suicide mission, but I will if I have to.”

“I’m sure they’ll love it anyway,” Mason said.

“You’re probably right.”


“Sorry about the accommodations,” Porter said as he squeezed past Joros and another D’Ceti into the pilot’s seat of the Cumberland. “This ship wasn’t exactly designed to hold 20 aliens of your height. Actually, it wasn’t designed to hold 20 aliens of any height.” He was so distracted by everything that was going on around him that he almost didn’t notice the message light flashing on his console. After activating the message, Porter watched Mason give a brief explanation of Morales and Beck’s situation.

“Dammit!” Porter muttered, slapping his hand down on the console.

“Is there a problem?” Joros asked.

“Two of our friends are in trouble,” Porter replied, squeezing back out of his seat and stepping gingerly over the various flagella strewn across the cockpit from three different D’Ceti. “I’ll be right back.”

He quickly exited the runabout and headed over to Wuddle’s stolen yacht, where Russell and Lazlo had decided to spend the ride back to Waystation. It didn’t take long for Porter to bring them up to date on events in the Multek Enclave.

“The Powers of the Enclave will not allow her to make her presence known to the Multek people,” Wuddle said. “Very likely, once it is discovered that she is on Multos, the Frequoq will give orders that she be killed on sight.”

“We’ve got to get over there,” Russell said.

“Now this is more like it,” Lazlo said, rubbing the armrest of his chair in excitement. “I may not like Beck, but I love a rescue mission.”

“We can’t drag a ship full of D’Ceti into this,” Porter said. “And they won’t all fit in this yacht.”

“Your vessel would be spotted and attacked soon after it entered our space,” Wuddle said.

“I think you’re out of this one, Craig,” Russell said. “We’ll take the yacht and get Commander Beck back. You head on to Waystation.”

“Go with him, Hypple,” Wuddle ordered. “I’ll help you find your commander.”

“We owe you one, Wuddle,” Porter said. “A couple actually. Good luck, guys.”

“I assure you it will be pure skill,” Lazlo replied, a predatory look crossing his face. This was the happiest Porter had seen the marine in a long time.

Almost as soon as Porter and Hypple cleared the hatch of the yacht, it lifted off and sped upward toward space.

“Let’s get home, Hypple. I need a beer.”

“Beer?”

“I’ll show you when we get there,” Porter said, heading up the stairs into the runabout. Seconds later, it too rose up from the surface and began the trip back to Waystation.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN


Lieutenant Commander Morales quickly read the data burst reply he’d received from Waystation a few moments earlier, the glow of the monitor acting as the only illumination in the darkened cabin.

Morales had no idea if the Multek patrol ships were still out there, but he didn’t have any intention of going out to check just yet. He was nice and cozy hiding inside this large, sturdy asteroid.

It hadn’t taken him long to shake himself out of the emotional funk he’d sunk into once Beck had left the Wayward. Incoming weapons fire just had a tendency to get the blood pumping and refocus your attention. Finding a hiding place away from the Multek ships pursuing him hadn’t taken long at all, and, even more remarkably, Waystation had been incredibly prompt in their reply.

MESSAGE RECEIVED. HELP IS ON THE WAY. STAY THERE!

Help? What help? It would practically take an invasion fleet to get close to the Multek homeworld long enough to find Beck and rescue her. If she needed rescuing, of course. Damn, he never should have let her go.

And he definitely shouldn’t have kissed her. That was really going to make things awkward when Beck got back…if she got back. He had to stop thinking like that. Really, he just wanted to stop thinking at all for a while. But that just wasn’t an option.

Morales activated the passive sensor array to see if he could detect any Multek ships swarming around his asteroid. It was better than sitting in the dark letting his mind wander the lovely streets of paranoia and regret.


“Now that really wasn’t necessary,” Beck said, feigning a casual air as she stared at the pistol in the hand of the Multek standing in front of her.

“I sincerely hope not,” the Multek replied. “But I had to be sure that you would listen to me before running off.”

“I promise not to run anywhere,” Beck said.

“Glad to hear it. Now put these on behind your back.” The Multek reached into his other coat pocket, pulled out a set of wrist binders, and tossed them to Beck.

Beck briefly considered going for the phaser sitting invitingly in her uniform holster but thought better of it. Thus far, this Multek hadn’t given off the impression that he intended to harm Beck, and, considering the diplomatic situation with the Multeks was practically non-existent as it was, there really wasn’t a good reason to make it any worse. Reluctantly, she bound her wrists behind her back as the Multek confiscated her phaser and tricorder.

“There now,” he said. “Let’s go down to my office. We’ll be a lot more comfortable there.” He led Beck into a small elevator in the far corner of the docking bay, which quickly descended, opening out into a plush office with a large picture window looking out over the sprawling city beyond.

The Multek put Beck’s equipment into his desk, then unfastened her binders, much to Beck’s surprise. “Have a seat,” he said, gesturing to a chair across the desk as he pushed a small button on what appeared to be a comm console.

“Faddle…”

“Yes, Your Frequoqness,” the voice on the other end of the comm line replied.

“I’m going to be in a private meeting for the next several hours and will probably leave right after that. I do not want to be disturbed.”

“Understood, Your Frequoqness.”

The Multek closed the comm channel and walked around the desk, sitting down on top of it in front of Beck’s chair.

“There. Now we can talk in peace. I apologize for the binders, but I, as I said, I had to be sure that you wouldn’t run off or hurt me. My assistants would have seizures as it is if they knew I was off capturing an alien on my own. But let me back up a bit. Frequoq Juletz. I lead the Multek Enclave.” He bowed his head stiffly.

“Commander Lisa Beck of the Federation Outpost Waystation. It is an honor to meet you, Your Frequoqness,” Beck replied, extending her hand for Juletz to shake. Despite his somewhat rude method of getting her to his office, she was determined to be friendly and diplomatic.

Juletz stared at her hand for a few long moments, then clasped it, squeezing it tentatively as Beck returned the handshake. “You can mentally know that something is real, but actually touching it is a whole different experience,” Juletz said softly.

“You said that our being real was the problem. What did you mean by that?”

“Your Federation knows very little about our society, correct?”

“Only what we’ve been able to guess from our few encounters with your ships. We know you’re excessively xenophobic and, as a society, refuse to accept the existence of sentient life elsewhere in the galaxy.”

“All that is true,” Juletz replied, standing up to pace his office. “But do you know why we’re this way?”

“For sure? No. If I had to guess, I would say that something in your society’s cultural or spiritual life makes accepting the existence of alien life somehow dangerous to your belief system.”

“So we’re basically closed-minded isolationists.”

“That’s not the most diplomatic way to put it,” Beck said. “But that’s about it.”

“And what have you learned about Multek religion?”

“Nothing.”

“Our history?”

“Nothing.”

“Our day to day lives?”

“Again, we really do not know anything, but that’s not because we don’t want to know. The Federation is very eager to establish diplomatic ties to the Multek Enclave. I’m sure that our cultures have a lot to learn from each other.”

“Commander, this is never going to happen,” Juletz said. “I cannot allow the destruction of our society.”

“We are not conquerors,” Beck said. “And we certainly do not want to harm your people.”

“Come with me,” Juletz said, heading back toward the small elevator door.

“Where are we going?”

“There’s only one way to explain this to you. Wait…we need to make you more presentable.” He returned to his desk, opened the bottom drawer and pulled out a small box with a couple of Multek symbols printed on it. Beck’s rudimentary knowledge of the Multek language (she was the one who developed the first translation matrix) told her that it read “In Case of Emergency.” Juletz pulled out two long devices, both of which resembled hyposprays.

He approached Beck with them. “You have my word that these will not harm you in any way.” Beck nodded her consent, and Juletz pressed one device against her neck as he ran the other across her hair. Beck felt an odd whooshing sensation all across her skin and watched in amazement as every ounce of pigment seemed to drain from her body, leaving her as white as a Multek. Looking into the mirror Juletz held up for her, Beck saw that her red hair had been turned midnight blue. Other than her uniform, she was now indistinguishable from any other Multek.

“We can now go out without drawing too much attention,” Juletz said. His eyes fell on her commbadge. “Is there a way for you to hide that adornment to your clothing?”

Beck nodded, removed her commbadge, and reattached it to the tunic under her uniform jacket. At least Juletz either didn’t know what the commbadge did or saw no reason to take it away from her.

The elevator took Juletz and Beck down to the Frequoq’s private garage in a sub-basement of the Central Administration Building. Juletz led Beck to a small hovercar and opened up the passenger side door for her.

“Um..don’t you have some sort of official escorts or bodyguards or something?” Beck asked as Juletz climbed in on the driver’s side and started up the engine.

Juletz looked at her in confusion. “Why would I need such a thing in my own territory?”

“I just assumed…considering the size of your military…”

The car gently lifted up off of the garage floor and made its way toward the exit. “We have some problems with pirates and smugglers that require us to maintain a military force. Some Multeks in the outer colonies seem to think that Enclave trade regulations don’t apply to them. We’re generally able to keep things under control, though. Don’t let that spoil what you’re about to see.”

The hovercar gracefully slid out of the garage and into a line of traffic on the city streets. Overall, things looked normal enough to Beck. Multeks walked along, waving and smiling at each other as they shopped or went about their business. Beck then noticed a third lane of traffic, blocked off from the main two by a low wall. Here, oddly-designed hovercars rammed into each other repeatedly, bouncing harmlessly away from each other as the occupants laughed excitedly.

“Bumper taxis,” Juletz explained. “They add a little fun to the monotonous task of getting around.” He pointed out the window at something overhead. “Of course, there’s always the Quickie Travel Tram.” Beck watched as a small tram car careened along a wildly-twisting track above the city.

“This whole place is like one big amusement park,” Beck said in wonder.

“Not quite,” Juletz said. “But thank you. Now let me show you the real fun place.”


Morales’ tension level dropped just a little as he watched the scanner display from his passive sensor sweep. The Multek ships had packed up and gone home. Now he just had to wait for whatever help Waystation was sending.

He leaned back in his chair and sighed. Why the hell had he kissed Beck like that? She was going to kill him when she got back. He never should have let things get this far out of control. That’s why Starfleet had counselors. Of course, that would have meant going to see Counselor Miller. Maybe it wasn’t too late.

“Computer, do we have any online counseling programs?”

“The Wayward has been equipped with the beta test of the Psych-O-gram system.”

“Why don’t I like the sound of that?” Morales muttered.

“Unknown. Insufficient data to respond to your query.”

“Never mind. Activate the Psych-O-gram.”

“Program activated and running in sickbay.”

Morales programmed the ship to alert him to any incoming vessels and headed back to the Wayward’s tiny sickbay, which was little more than a room with two biobeds crammed into it. Seated on one of the beds was a fairly accurate representation of Counselor Claire Webber from the USS Secondprize.

“You look like you need a squnch!” the Webber hologram said upon seeing Morales enter the room. She leapt up and grabbed Morales in a bone-crunching bearhug.

“Urk…thanks,” Morales gasped. Webber released him, allowing Morales to collapse onto a biobed.

“Now what can I do for you today?”

“I need help. I think I just screwed up big time.”

“Just relax,” Webber said, patting his head lovingly. “Claire is here to make it all better.”

Morales actually smiled a little. This was so much better than the horror stories he’d heard about Counselor Miller. Besides, Morales had always liked Webber but had never been brave enough to go talk to her.

“I might be in love. Maybe just infatuated. I don’t know.”

“And who is the lucky lady?” Webber asked, taking a seat on the other bed.

“Commander Beck. She’s just so…incredible.”

“What makes you say that?”

“She can handle anything. Klingons, Romulans, Q, annoying marines. It doesn’t matter.”

“So you admire her strength.”

“Not just that. She’s smart, funny, beautiful. Like I said…incredible,” Morales said.

“And how does she feel about you?” Webber asked. A padd appeared in her hand, and she started taking notes. At least Morales thought she was taking notes. Either that or doodling bunnies. It was always hard to tell with Webber.

“I don’t know that she does feel anything about me. We don’t talk much. We have a strictly business relationship. I don’t think we’re even as close as most commanders and first officers. But then I kissed her.”

“You kissed her? That was a bit forward.”

“I know. I regretted it the second I did it…sort of.”

“It’s great that you were finally able to express your feelings, but I don’t think that was the best way to do it. Maybe just a hug.”

“I think that even would have been a bit much,” Morales said. “She’s not the huggy type.”

“Her loss,” Webber replied.

“It’s like she’s always in charge. I honestly can’t imagine her in a relationship. I know she’s had them, but I can’t see her ever being that…vulnerable.”

“Does she have to be vulnerable to be in a relationship?”

“I don’t know. I usually am. Too vulnerable. There’s only so much sensitivity a woman can stand.”

“Who says?”

“Marie, Janis, Erin, and almost every other woman I’ve dated,” Morales said. Actually, there weren’t that many more on the list. Rejection had made him more than a little gun shy, which made his sudden outburst with Beck even more surprising.

“Walter, the only thing you can do is tell her how you feel and accept what comes after that. She may surprise you. Maybe not. But you can’t run around stifling your emotions. You’ll explode.”

“Vulcans seem to make out okay.”

“Have you ever seen pon farr?” Webber asked.

“Oh yeah. Good point. Thank you, Counselor.” Morales stood up to leave.

“Any time. I’m always here.”

Morales turned to go, but stopped and faced Webber again. “Um…can I have another hug?”

“Sure.” Webber dove at Morales, crushing the officer again in her arms. Despite not being able to breathe, Morales had to admit that it was kind of comforting.

“Computer, end program,” Morales gasped. Webber vanished, allowing Morales to return to the cockpit of the Wayward.



CHAPTER NINETEEN


After a few hours of pushing the runabout to its limits, Lieutenant Porter brought the craft out of warp near Waystation. Captain Joros leaned forward in the seat beside him, gaping at the massive space station.

“This is astounding,” Joros said. “My people are years away from constructing anything of this magnitude.”

“Actually, this version of Waystation hasn’t been around all that long. You should have seen the old one. Cramped corridors. Ancient hardware. You picked the right year to drop by,” Porter replied as he steered the runabout toward a docking bay entrance.

“Cumberland to Waystation. Little pig, little pig, let me in.”

“Who the hell are you calling pig?” Dr. Nelson’s voice snapped on the other end of the commline.

“Old literary reference, Doc,” Porter said. “Sorry. I’m ready to dock, and I’ve brought company.”

“I’ll have the guest room made up, then,” Nelson replied. “You’re cleared to land. But then get your ass up here. I am NOT staying in command of this place one second more!”

“Aye, Doc. I’m on my way. Have Yeoman Jones meet us in the docking bay please.”

“She’ll be there. Nelson out.”

“Did you say that woman is a doctor?” Joros asked.

“Yeah. Why?”

“On our world, doctors are gentle healers. She sounds rather…hostile.”

“Bitter is a better word for it,” Porter said as he steered the Cumberland into Docking Bay Seven. He almost crashed the ship as he spotted a Romulan scout craft in the docking bay, but he quickly realized it must belong to someone attending the science conference. Alliance or no alliance, it was still a bit unsettling landing that close to a Romulan ship.

Yeoman Tina Jones was waiting, as ordered, in the docking bay when Porter and the D’Ceti disembarked from the runabout. Her eyes widened in alarm at the giant, squid-like creatures and one Multek emerging from the runabout. She quickly raced over to Porter, whispering in his ear.

“Um…Doctor Nelson didn’t say anything about them needing special accommodations. We have the swimming pools on Deck…”

“Regular quarters will be fine,” Porter said. “And don’t worry. They’re very nice.” Porter turned to face the gathered D’Ceti.

“Ladies and gentlemen…” That was assuming there were ladies and gentlemen in the group. Porter just wasn’t sure. “Welcome to Waystation. This charming young lady is Yeoman Tina Jones. She’ll be seeing to your every need during your stay here with us. Settle in, make yourselves comfortable, have a look around, and thank you for flying Porter Spaceways. It’s been a pleasure, but I’ve got to run.”

Porter turned back to Jones. “I need to get to ops before Nelson kills someone. Take it away.” Porter beat a hasty retreat as Jones faced the group of aliens.

“Um…well…who’s hungry?”

Twenty flagella raised in the air.

“Then I’ll take you to the food court.”

“Food court?” Joros asked. “What crime did the food commit?”

Jones smiled diplomatically, inwardly promising to kill Porter for this. “It’s simply a place with lots of different things to eat. Shall we?” Jones headed toward the door, leading her strange parade toward Starfleet Square Mall.


Lieutenant Russell and Colonel Lazlo glared at each other across the table, neither willing to look away, much less blink.

“There’s no chance in hell,” Lazlo said sternly.

“I saw it first,” Russell snapped.

“Like that matters to me.”

“Let go.”

Wuddle tried to intervene. “Gentlemen. You’re being…”

“SHUT UP!!!” Russell and Lazlo bellowed.

“I will eat your hand with it,” Russell said.

“Just try,” Lazlo retorted, tightening his grip on the small candy as Russell yanked Lazlo’s hand forward.

“You don’t even like Multek food.”

“Oh and you do?” Lazlo said.

“I think I have another bag here somewhere,” Wuddle said, searching through the yacht’s pantry for more Yelka-Yums as Russell and Lazlo continued their face-off.

Suddenly, the silence of the yacht was broken by the beeping of the proximity alarm.

“Oh thank the Quoqins,” Wuddle said, rushing back to the control console. “We’re there.”

“Hail the Wayward,” Russell said, turning his attention to Wuddle for a moment. Lazlo took the opportunity to snatch his hand and the Yelka-Yum away from Russell, then popped the candy into his mouth.

“Madre de DIOS!” Lazlo shouted, placing his hand over his mouth.

“Serves you right,” Russell muttered.

“No,” Lazlo said. “This is incredible! I’ve never tasted anything like it. It’s so…smooth and rich…but…WOW!”

“Bastard.”

“Your ship is responding,” Wuddle said as Russell stalked angrily past Lazlo to the control console. He took a seat in the co-pilots chair just as Morales’ image appeared on the monitor in front of him.

“Russell!” Morales exclaimed. “Fantastic. We’ve have to go rescue Commander Beck. Bring your ship to…what the hell are you in?”

“Um…it’s a long story,” Russell said.

Wuddle leaned over, putting his face in front of the camera and waving. “Hello!”

“AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!” Morales involuntarily screamed.

“It’s okay! He’s on our side.”

“I’m fine,” Morales said, his breathing slowly returning to normal. “This could be useful. Otherwise, I don’t know how we’re going to get onto the Multek homeworld.”

“I can get you there,” Wuddle said. “But we may need an escape plan afterwards. This yacht isn’t exactly mine.”

“You stole this?!?” Russell and Lazlo shouted.

“Well…”

“It doesn’t matter now,” Morales said. “As long as we can get onto the planet, we can use the runabout to leave.”

“You aren’t setting foot down there,” Lazlo said, stepping onto the flight deck. “You aren’t trained for this sort of thing, and we may need you for a distraction. Russell, Wuddle, and I will rescue Beck and retrieve the runabout. One hour after we reach the planet, you do a fly-by to distract their forces. If we aren’t ready to go by then, we probably won’t be leaving.”

“No disrespect intended, sir,” Russell said. “But I believe the colonel has a point. Besides, you are the best pilot here.”

Morales clenched his fists and let out another deep breath. They were right, but it meant more standing by doing nothing while Beck was in danger. “Fine. We’ll do it your way, Lazlo. But, so help me, you had better get her back!”

“When I say I’m going to rescue someone, consider them rescued,” Lazlo replied. “Remember, one hour after we land. No sooner! Lazlo out.” The colonel leaned forward and closed the comm line before Morales could protest then headed back to the rear of the yacht followed by Russell.

“You are trained for this sort of thing, aren’t you?” Lazlo asked as he checked over his rifle.

“I’ve been on rescue missions before,” Russell replied. “Don’t you worry about me.” Russell didn’t see any need to mention that the last time he went on a rescue mission was several years ago, and at the time, he and his team ended up running away from a horde of angry Joegonots. Why dredge up bad memories?


Commander Beck looked out at the Multek capital city stretched as far as she could see into the horizon as she and Juletz sat in a car on top of the giant (and they did mean GIANT) ferris wheel at the Multek Memorial Merryland. In the distance, the sun was slowly beginning to set. Beck felt a gentle breeze flow through her now-blue hair and sighed, leaning contentedly against the side of the car.

“You seem to be enjoying yourself,” Juletz observed.

“I honestly haven’t had this much fun in a while,” Beck replied. “At least not when I wasn’t being chased by people intent on killing me.”

“You lead a scary life.”

“It tends to alternate between scary and unbelievably dull. Just part of the job description. But this…this has been great.”

For the last several hours, Juletz and Beck had ridden every ride that the Multek Memorial Merryland had to offer. The place was larger than any amusement park she had ever seen, but what really amazed her was how the Multek populace reacted to Frequoq Juletz. They were respectful, of course, but otherwise, they treated him like a normal person. No throngs of people trying to touch him or talk to him. No autograph hounds or people begging to have their photo taken with him. The atmosphere was just so relaxed, but everyone, and she did mean everyone both here and out on the streets, seemed to be so happy and having a great time.

“I’m glad you’ve enjoyed yourself. Hopefully now you see why I can’t let knowledge of your Federation or any other aliens into the Enclave.”

Beck turned to face him. “Actually, I don’t. What are you afraid of? We don’t intend to harm you.”

“Whether you mean to or not, you will destroy the paradise we’ve built here. It has taken centuries…in fact, this park is a memorial to our struggle, but we have now created the ideal world for us. We have no war, no crime, no hunger, and best of all, no real work. Our people are free to choose an occupation, if they want one, but otherwise they can just enjoy the pleasures our planet has to offer.”

“But your military…” Beck began.

“All patriotic volunteers. A century ago, we were like you. We left Multos to explore the space around us…and we found nothing. Eventually, we stopped looking, coming to the conclusion that we were the only ones in the universe. Suddenly, we were able to focus our resources on improving our own lives instead of spending them on expensive exploratory craft that would only go farther out and find more nothing. With only ourselves to think about and tremendous technology at our command, we were able to create perfect lives for ourselves. Now, our greatest concern is our own happiness.”

“But without exploration, your society will stagnate.”

“How can you stagnate at perfection?” Juletz asked. “And where is there to progress beyond perfection? Our scientists still develop new ways to entertain us. That’s really all we ask.”

“But there is an entire galaxy out there to learn about. You can’t pretend it’s not there.”

“We have for years now,” Juletz said. “Our government has been aware of alien life for a long time…before we first encountered your Federation even…but we have protected our people from that knowledge. It cannot get out. But with your Federation surrounding us on all sides, we can’t just ignore you anymore.”

“I’m relieved to hear you say that,” Beck said.

“That’s why I have ordered our entire fleet to destroy your station.”

“That’s not exactly what I meant.”



CHAPTER TWENTY


Beck waited for Juletz to smile or give some other sign that he was joking as the Giant ferris wheel slowly rotated, moving Beck and Juletz to the bottom.

“I really didn’t want to have to do this,” he said finally. “Convincing our soldiers that they really just wiped out an illusion is going to take months.”

“There are other ways,” Beck said. “The Federation respects the decisions of other cultures regarding their interactions with us. If you don’t want to deal with us, you don’t have to.”

“We haven’t ever wanted to deal with you, yet here you are.”

“This was not my idea. Our ship was stolen. It won’t happen again.”

“Especially since you won’t have any ships around to steal once we get finished,” Juletz retorted. Their car reached the bottom, and Juletz stepped off of the ferris wheel, gesturing for Beck to do the same.

“Destroying my station won’t help. There’s an entire galaxy out there teeming with life. More will come. If not the Federation, other species who may be less interested in peaceful coexistence.”

“I think it’s time we were going,” Juletz said sternly, leading Beck back to the Executive Exit where his hovercar waited.

“So what about me?” Beck called after him. “Are you just going to kill me? What if I just start telling everyone I’m an alien?”

Juletz stopped and turned to face her. “You look like a perfectly normal Multek to me. And, believe me, that blue is not going to just wash out of your hair.”

The pair arrived back at Juletz’s vehicle, which Beck reluctantly entered figuring that this was neither the time nor the place to try anything against Juletz. She had a strong feeling that given a choice between helping their Frequoq or some raving mad woman, the average Multek would assist the Frequoq. Right now, she needed to get back to the runabout and get a warning back to Waystation…for all the good it would do. It’s not like they could just move out of the fleet’s way.

Juletz settled into the driver’s seat and sighed. “There. Hopefully, that’s the end of the unpleasantness.”

“You still haven’t said if you plan on killing me or not.”

“Of course not,” Juletz said shocked. “I’m not a murderer. I fully intend to welcome you to our world as one of us.”

“But I’m not one of you, and I will never be one of you.”

“A minor detail.” He flipped a switch on the far left of his control console. Suddenly, straps sprang out of Beck’s seat, wrapping up her arms, legs, and torso.

“Some welcome,” Beck gasped as the straps crushed her chest.

“You will be taken to a Recovery Ranch where these insane delusions that you are an alien will be removed. By the time you leave, you’ll be a happy, well-adjusted Multek.”

“Whether I want to be or not,” Beck muttered humorlessly as Juletz steered the hovercar out of the parking lot of Multek Memorial Merryland. She should have risked making a run for it at the amusement park. Now her escape options were almost completely cut off.

Juletz drove the car out beyond the city limits into the Multek countryside. Beck had to admit that it was lovely. The rolling hills of lush green grass reminded her of trips to Virginia to visit her grandparents when she was young. It was an odd thought to be having before facing the possibility of having her identity as Lisa Beck erased all together.

After almost an hour, the hovercar pulled up to a guarded security gate at the end of a long, tree-lined drive. Juletz pressed another button, causing his driver’s side window to blink out of existence briefly as he talked to the guard.

“Your Frequoqness! What an honor!” the guard exclaimed, snapping to attention.

“Thank you. I need to drop off this poor woman. She’s been a dear, loyal employee for years, but now she thinks she’s an alien. Tragic really.”

The guard leaned in, looking Beck up and down. “Don’t you worry, ma’am. You’ll get the best care anywhere here.” Beck turned away, choosing instead to stare out the passenger side window at a field. If she tried hard enough, she could almost see her grandparents’ house and the horses. She had to hold on to those memories. They were her defense.

Juletz looked into a retinal scanner to sign in, then the guard opened the gate, allowing the car to head into the compound.

“It won’t be long now, Commander,” Juletz said. “Look at it this way, soon you won’t be so worried about what happens to your station. Won’t that be a relief?” He looked at the tree-lined path ahead, noticing that several leaves and twigs, then branches were raining down from the natural canopy the trees formed overhead..

“Wow, the kequills must be active today,” Juletz commented. Suddenly, a small spacecraft crashed down through the branches, impacting the ground directly in front of the hovercar. Before Juletz could slam the vehicle into reverse, a tractor beam lanced out of the spaceship, latching onto the car.

Beck couldn’t help smiling as the ship’s hatch opened, revealing a heavily-armed Russell and Lazlo. The cavalry had arrived. Lazlo quickly shot open Juletz’s door and tossed the Frequoq roughly to the ground.

“I am the Frequoq of the Multek Enclave. You can’t do this to me!”

“Shut it, whitey,” Lazlo snapped.

Russell blasted the door latch on Beck’s side of the hovercar and threw the door open. “Come on, Commander. It’s time to…” He suddenly realized he was talking to a Multek woman. “Oh…sorry. We thought…”

“It’s me, Russell,” Beck said. “Cut me loose. It’s that switch…no, the other one…the red one…another three inches to the left…up a little. That one!”

Wuddle came running out of the yacht, his eyes wide with alarm. “Hurry up! They’re closing in on us!”

“What’s he doing here?” Beck asked as she scrambled out of the car.

“Helping us rescue you, Beck. Don’t complain. You’re lucky I decided to participate at all,” Lazlo said.

“I’m touched by your devotion to me,” Beck replied.

“You had nothing to do with it. I’m just here to kick some Multek ass.”

“Thank you, Colonel Cliche’.”

“Do you people always waste so much time of pointless banter?” Wuddle asked.

“Afraid so,” Beck said, looking around for an escape route. Her attention focused back on the hovercar. “Can you drive one of these?”

“Yes. Of course,” Wuddle said. “But that’s the Frequoq’s private car.”

“And he’ll be with us, so it’s okay. Just get us back to the Central Administration Building,” Beck said. “Put Juletz into the back, Lazlo. You get back there too, Sean…and try to stay down. Let’s move!”

The four people jumped back into the car…well, Juletz was pushed, but he still got in, while Wuddle raced into the yacht and deactivated the tractor beam. He ran back out of the ship, leapt into the driver’s seat, and slammed the vehicle into a sharp U-turn. Moments later, the yacht exploded in a huge fireball that tossed everyone against their seats.

“With any luck, they’ll think we crashed,” Wuddle said.

“They wouldn’t be far off,” Lazlo said.

The car raced back towards the gate, where the guard was frantically calling for help after seeing the explosion. Beck deactivated her window and leaned out.

“I’m feeling much better now. Thanks for your help.”

“Uh…okay. Have a nice day,” the guard said distractedly, opening the gate for them. He was far too concerned about the explosion to notice that Juletz wasn’t driving.

“Okay, now where’s Morales?” Beck asked once the hovercar was back on the open road.

“He’ll be by in just under an hour,” Russell said. “He’s our distraction.”

“So we need to be back on the runabout by then. Great. This is going to be close.”

“It wouldn’t be a challenge, otherwise,” Lazlo said. “We’ll get to that runabout about…even if I have to blast every single Multek between here and there. I have no intention of spending the rest of my life on this dirtball.”

“It is kind of nice, actually,” Russell said, looking out the window.

“Traitor.”

“Can it,” Beck said.

“You’ll never make it off the planet,” Juletz said. “Even with most of our ships headed toward your station, we still have enough here to easily destroy you.”

“The station!” Russell exclaimed.

“Yeah. That’s the good news,” Beck said. “But we can’t do a damn thing about it until we get out of here.”


Morales checked the chronometer on his console again. Time seemed to have stopped. There’s no way only four more seconds could have passed. He rubbed his hands together anxiously and started rocking back and forth in his chair. Just a few more minutes. Lazlo and Russell had better have found Beck. Why the hell was time going so slowly?!?


Wuddle turned the corner into the Central Administration Building doing about ninety, slamming the hovercar occupants against the right side of the car. He put the car into another tight turn, sliding to a stop right by Juletz’s private express elevator.

“I always wanted to do that,” Wuddle said as he and the others exited the car. “Just like Boduk and Lukduk. I just loved the Duks of Multos!”

“Duks of Multos?” Beck said, glaring at Juletz.

“We’ve been receiving signals of Earth entertainment for years,” Juletz said. “The government intercepts the signals, then sends show ideas to the networks. We’ve been very pleased with the results…but that still doesn’t mean we’re going to have any dealings with you! All of you are still dead!”

“I could find something to gag him with,” Lazlo said.

“Forget it,” Beck said, entering the elevator with the others. “I’m satisfied with simple kidnapping.” She pressed the button, sending the elevator rocketing up to Juletz’s office.

“But the docking bay is on the top level,” Wuddle said confused.

“I need to make a quick stop,” Beck said.

“You Starfleet people are so weak,” Lazlo said. “Can’t you hold it until we escape?”

“Watch it, Lazlo! Or you’re staying here.”

The elevator slowed to a halt. Beck ducked out into the office, threw open Juletz’s desk, and retrieved her phaser, tricorder, as well as the devices Juletz had used to change her appearance. Moments later, the group spilled out into the docking bay and ran straight for the runabout.

“You aren’t taking me with you!” Juletz protested in alarm.

“He’s right. His absence will be noticed,” Wuddle said. “Besides, someone needs to stay behind to open the docking bay. I will handle things here.”

“But I thought you were coming to live in the Federation,” Russell said.

“I think I can help everyone more if I stay on Multos. Make sure that Hypple is taken care of,” Wuddle said, pulling a pistol on Juletz and dragging him toward the small, docking bay control room.

“I can’t thank you enough for your help,” Beck said. “Good luck.”

“And to you,” Wuddle said. “You’ll need it more than I will.”

Beck, Russell, and Lazlo headed into the runabout and closed the hatch.

“That coward just doesn’t want to get killed,” Lazlo grumbled as he took a seat at the pilot’s console and warmed up the engines.

“Good attitude there, Colonel,” Beck replied, taking the chair beside him and activating the sensors as the docking bay door slowly opened in front of them. “How long until Morales arrives?”

“Anytime now.”


The Wayward streaked into the Multos system at warp nine and quickly decelerated to impulse. Glancing down at the tactical display, Morales saw three Multek ships, all of which were now heading toward his position.

“Time to go,” he said to no one in particular as he slammed the ship into a hard starboard turn and leapt back into warp.


“There he goes,” Beck said, watching the sensor display on her console. “The Multek ships are pursuing.”

“And I’m not sticking around to see how that particular show turns out,” Lazlo replied, activating the thrusters. The Runabout Roanoke shot out of the Central Administration Building, rocketing skyward.

“Home free!” Russell exclaimed as the runabout passed by the last wisps of Multos’ atmosphere and sped into space.

“Except for the large fleet headed to Waystation,” Beck said.

“Well, there is that.”



CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE


Lieutenant Porter looked once again down the padd Nelson had handed him upon his arrival in ops. “Okay, the conventioneers are happy. The EPS problem has been taken care of. And Ih’mad’s not going to sue. That takes care of your ‘Things to Do’ list.”

“Took you long enough,” Nelson grumbled from the seat she’d commandeered at the tactical console.

“Hey. At least you didn’t have to do any of it,” Porter replied.

“Um…what’s this flashing mean?” Nelson said as she looked down at the console.

“You didn’t just fire a torpedo, did you? I told you not to put your feet up on that console,” Porter said, moving over to check the flashing. “We’re being hailed.”

“Torpedo, my ass.”

“You’ll need to find a proctologist for that one, Doc,” Porter said, activating the comm line, then headed down to the open area in front of the viewscreen. “This is Waystation. Home of Two For One Tuesdays. Can I help you?”

Commander Beck’s face appeared on the viewscreen, eliciting an instant smile from Porter. “Commander! You’re all right!” he said happily.

“Fine,” Beck replied. “Just finished de-Multeking myself. And what’s this two for one crap? Bradley Dillon didn’t buy the station while I was gone, did he?”

“No such luck. Is everything okay on your end?”

“So far, so good, but we’re waiting for Morales to catch up. But you’ve got bigger problems to deal with. A Multek fleet is headed your way.”

“Our way! What did we do?” Porter said.

“We exist. That’s the problem.”

“Do you want me to start an evacuation?”

“That would take care of the people, but the station will still be there, which will mean some Multeks will start believing we are real.”

“I thought that was a good thing,” Porter replied.

“I used to think so, too, Craig. But the Multeks have created a veritable utopia, and I am not going to be the one to destroy that.” Beck was silent for a moment, clearly lost in thought. “I can’t believe I’m going to say this. Evacuate the station. Once everyone’s clear, activate the self-destruct. We’ll all rendezvous at Starbase 219.”

“Are you insane?” Porter heard Lazlo shout from beside her. “I won’t let you…”

“It’s not your decision, Colonel!” Beck shouted, glaring daggers at Lazlo. It was enough to make Lazlo jump backwards. Beck was obviously in no mood to discuss this.

“With all due respect, Commander,” Porter said. “There’s got to be another way.”

“Listen to me, Craig. When that fleet arrives, Waystation will not be there. Am I clear?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Porter replied.

“Good. Roanoke out.” The comm channel closed, leaving Porter staring silently at a starfield on the viewscreen.

“Dammit! I just finished unpacking,” Nelson grumbled. Silence. “Porter. Craig? Where’s the snappy comeback?”

“Give me a minute, Doc,” Porter said.

“We don’t have a minute. There are over 2,000 people on this station! We need to start clearing out now!”

A smile slowly spread across Porter’s face.

“What’s so damn funny now?” Nelson demanded,

“Lock down the station, Doctor. And get everyone to the central parts of the saucers,” Porter said, heading toward the turbolift.

“What the hell are you up to? You can’t just disobey a direct order. Especially not in these circumstances.”

“Don’t worry, Doc. This station won’t be here when the Multeks show up. You have my word on it.”

Porter stepped into the turbolift, leaving ops.

“Is that supposed to make me feel confident?” Nelson muttered.


Morales kept a close eye on the Wayward’s shields as the atmosphere of the gas giant he’d flown the ship into pressed against them on all sides. So far, his Multek pursuers did not seem to have figured out why he’d suddenly disappeared. After a few more seconds, he saw their blips on the tactical console turn around and head back toward Multos.

He gently eased the Wayward up through the gas giant’s troposphere, making sure not to completely leave the planet until the Multek ships were out of sensor range.

With the scanners clear, Morales was free to catch up with the Roanoke…and Beck. He’d been so worried about her safety that he hadn’t really thought much about having to face her again. Maybe she’d just forget it ever happened. He seriously doubted he’d be that lucky, though.


The mood on the Roanoke was understandably somber after Beck announced her decision to destroy the station. Bored with the silence, Russell stood up and headed to the rear of the cockpit to stretch. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a short message flashing on the transporter console: “Touch me.”

Russell stared at it for a moment. Was the console feeling lonely? Horny? What in the world?

He glanced back up toward Beck and Lazlo, both of whom were engrossed in their particular jobs at the moment.

With a shrug, Russell reached out and touched the console. Suddenly, a transporter beam cascaded down behind him, quickly forming itself into Jaroch. Before Russell could even say hi, Jaroch leapt forward with a battle cry, grabbing Russell by the throat and knocking him to the floor.

Lazlo and Beck were out of their seats in a flash, but before they could grab Jaroch, the Yynsian realized who’s neck he was throttling. He quickly let go and jumped to his feet.

“My apologies, Lieutenant,” Jaroch said. “I was expecting someone else.”

“Jaroch!” Beck exclaimed. “I’d completely forgotten about you!”

“How flattering,” Jaroch replied. “Alex Rydell and Travis Dillon have been killed by the Multeks. We must take action to save the timestream.”

“Later, Jaroch,” Beck said. “We’ve got bigger problems.”

“Bigger than the possible destruction of history as we know it?”

“History seems fine at the moment, which is more than I can say for Waystation. Alex and Travis will just have to stay dead for a while longer,” Beck said as she returned to her seat.

“If you want to pass the time, I think we have a deck of cards in the back,” Russell offered. Jaroch just looked at him for a moment, then took a seat at the ship’s science console.

“Something’s coming up behind us fast,” Beck said as Lazlo returned to the pilot’s chair. “Looks like the Wayward. Why the hell is he hailing us audio only?”

“Maybe the Multek’s blasted his comm system,” Russell said, taking the only open chair.

“Wayward to Roanoke,” Morales said. “We’re clear of pursuers. Did everything go all right on your end?”

“Just fine, Morales,” Beck replied. She looked over the scans of the Wayward as she spoke. No. The ship hadn’t been touched. So why the audio? Suddenly, Beck realized what was going on. She absently touched her lips and smiled. Morales was scared to see her. “Russell will fill you in on the situation.”

“I will?” Russell asked.

“Yes,” Beck replied, standing up and heading toward the rear compartment. She was going to have to figure out how to deal with that kiss. That wasn’t something they’d ever covered in command classes at the Academy. Awkward Situations 101.

Well, it would just have to wait for a while longer. Russell could handle Morales for the moment. Beck picked up a padd, sat down on a sofa in the rear compartment, and tried to relax, which was no easy task considering she knew that at that very moment people were scrambling to get off of Waystation before Porter blew it to smithereens.


At that moment, Porter was nowhere near blowing anything to smithereens. Instead, he was forcing his way into the Federation Science Conference. After a moment of looking around the meeting room, he spotted his quarry. Before he could move toward them, a hand clamped on his shoulder and spun him around. It was Bradley Dillon, looking at bit like someone had hit him with a freighter.

“I have finally gotten this conference back on track, Lieutenant,” Bradley whispered forcefully. “I do not want any further interruptions.”

“We’re about to be interrupted by a Multek fleet unless you let me talk to those two,” Porter retorted, pointing into the crowd.

“Which two?” Bradley said, suddenly very interested in helping Porter. He’d just finished construction on the Dillon Enterprises offices, the Starfleet Suites Hotel, Dillon’s Restaurant, and the new, improved Dillon’s Supply Depot. The last thing he needed was some Multeks to come blast it all to debris.

“Those two!”

“The Romulans?” Bradley asked.

“Damn straight! Let’s bag ‘em!”



CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO


Frequoq Juletz glared across his desk at Wuddle as the admiral casually held a blaster aimed at the Multek leader. They’d gotten most of the “You’ll never get away with this”/”I already have” banter out of the way leaving them with little to do but wait.

A soft knock on the door broke the silence, then Faddle ducked his head in. “Your Frequoqness…Oh! Admiral Wuddle! I had no idea you were here. Pardon my intrusion.”

“That’s all right, Faddle,” Wuddle said warmly as he casually lowered the blaster into his lap. “We were just having a meeting.”

“But we could perhaps use the opinions of a few more military officers,” Juletz said.

“But, Your Frequoqness,” Faddle replied. “Admiral Wuddle is your military advisor. He’s all you need. I’ll leave you to your meeting.” Faddle quickly retreated back to his office, leaving Wuddle and Juletz alone again.

“I always liked him,” Wuddle said smiling.

“How long do you intend to keep me here?”

“Only until the fleet returns. One way or another, Commander Beck will be gone by then. Now tell me, how long were you planning on keeping the Federation’s existence from our people?”

“Forever, you moron! Do you want the Enclave to be destroyed?”

“Of course not, but maybe we can change,” Wuddle said.

“Forget it. Once the fleet returns with news that the Federation outpost has been obliterated, you’re off to a Recovery Ranch. After that, you won’t care what happens to the Enclave.”

Wuddle smiled again. “Then I guess I have to enjoy this moment while I can.”


Lieutenant Porter was pretty sure that Subcommander Ondek was moments away from a stroke as he watched Porter and Dr. Sitrus ransack his poor scoutship. The Romulan officer’s forehead veins were throbbing noticeably.

“This…this is…I don’t know what this is!” Ondek gasped. “But we shouldn’t be doing it!”

“Do you want to die here?” Dr. Sitrus snapped. “We have no choice.”

“We could just leave and save ourselves,” Ondek replied.

“How noble of you,” Porter replied. “Okay. It’s free!” Porter slapped a couple of anti-grav units onto the scoutship’s cloaking device and, with Sitrus’ help, guided the device out of the ship’s small engineering area.

“But if the Senate should hear about this,” Ondek continued, rubbing his eartips nervously.

“I promise not to tell them,” Sitrus said. “Now quit whining and give us a hand.”

“If it’s any consolation,” Porter said as he passed by Ondek. “I promise I won’t tell them either.”


Meanwhile, the Multek attack fleet, numbering close to eighty ships, continued on its course for Waystation.

Captain Supple, who’d been placed in charge of the operation, had found it difficult to hide her uneasiness about this assignment from her crew and the other ship commanders. They were to destroy an imaginary station? Just how did that work? Should they pretend to fire weapons? At least they’d been given exact coordinates, otherwise they’d never know when they got there.

But orders were orders, and she was loyal to the Frequoq. Of course, she would have preferred to get these orders through proper channels…namely Admiral Wuddle.

Pushing the bureaucratic aspects of the mission from her mind, Captain Supple turned her attention to her science officer. “Anything on sensors?”

“Nothing yet, Captain, but we have yet to arrive at Edgeworld.”

“All right. Keep me posted.” She snickered softly. “And let me know if you pretend to see anything coming at us.”

The science officer laughed. “Definitely.”

What a ridiculous assignment. Imaginary aliens. Sheesh!


“Ops to Porter!” Dr. Nelson’s voice barked over the comm system on the upper saucer engineering deck.

“I’m a little busy, Doc,” Porter shouted back as he struggled to maneuver an isolinear conduit into the interface module connecting the cloaking device to the Waystation power grid. “Krause! Get me that spanner!”

“Here’s some inspiration to get busier then. We’ve got a seventy-eight sensor contacts right at the edge of our range. Somehow I don’t think it’s the annual jeredi migration.”

“Understood,” Porter said. “We’re almost ready.” He looked over at Sitrus, who was also frantically making connections from the cloak into the interface module. “We are about ready, right?”

“As much as possible. You do realize this was only designed to work on a small scoutship.”

“Yeah, but thankfully you Romulans are into overengineering your cloaks,” Porter replied as Krause slapped a snapper into his hand. “It’ll hold.” He quickly made a few adjustments, then the entire assembly sprang to life.

“Doc, if we’re right, here comes nothing!” Porter scrambled out from behind the cloak and hit the activation control he’d rigged on the main engineering status board. Behind him, the upper saucer reactor core began to pulse more and more rapidly as the cloak drew power. Lights all over the station dimmed.

“Is it working?” Nelson asked.

“I hope so,” Porter replied. “But I’m not about to go outside and check. We locked down?”

“Yep. Everything’s shut down except for sensors and life support, and everyone’s been crowded into the multiplex. I think Bradley Dillon’s going from theater to theater doing his opera highlights revue.”

“Lucky them. I barely survived it last Christmas.”


The Multek fleet dropped out of warp just beyond Edgeworld and proceeded on impulse power toward the coordinates provided by Frequoq Juletz. As Captain Supple expected, the area was completely empty.

“So, what do we do now, Captain?” her helm officer asked.

“Well…” She thought for a moment. “Supple to fleet.”

The captains of the various ships all responded, announcing their readiness for the next phase of the mission. Supple briefly outlined her attack strategy and watched impatiently as the other vessels maneuvered into position. Finally, they were ready to destroy…nothing.

“Okay, everyone, on my mark. One…two…three…”

“BANG!!!” Every person on every ship shouted in unison.

“Okay. They’re destroyed. Let’s go home,” Supple said. No sense wasting resources on a patch of empty space.

Quickly moving back into formation, the Multek fleet leapt into warp and headed for Multos.


Commander Beck paced the cockpit nervously as the Roanoke closed in on Waystation. They and the Wayward had been forced to detour several parsecs out of their way in order to avoid the Multek fleet, which was rapidly heading back toward the Multek homeworld. Faced with the choice of whether to try to zip through the fleet or just get out of their sensor range and go around, Beck had opted for the cautious approach.

But the time this had added to their trip was now driving her crazy. Had Porter managed to get everyone away? Had he foolishly tried to mount some sort of last stand? Prime Directive or no, the Multeks would be sorry if any of her crew had been injured by Juletz’s hardheadedness.

Although, Beck couldn’t help but see his point. In many ways, Multos was a veritable paradise. Who was she to decide how they dealt with other beings in the cosmos? If the Multeks wanted to be left alone, they had every right to be left alone. But that did not give them the right to attack her station.

“We’re closing in,” Lazlo said. Beck dashed forward and practically threw herself into the co-pilot’s chair as she started checking the sensors.

“Damn it!” she shouted. “It’s gone. No escape pods. Not even any debris! Craig, you had better have saved everyone.”

“I had no idea the Multeks could be this destructive,” Lazlo said, a hint of admiration in his voice.

“Some of your people could be dead, you know!” Beck snapped, turning on Lazlo.

“They knew the risks,” Lazlo replied.

“Um…” Russell stammered, staring out the viewport.

“Risks! This was simply obliteration. If they stayed, they didn’t have a chance.”

“And are we just supposed to turn away from a fight because it’s unwinnable?”

“Um…” Russell continued.

“You have to pick your battles.”

“Tell that to Custer,” Lazlo said.

“Yeah. Somebody should have,” Beck said.

“Bad example.”

“Turn!” Russell screamed suddenly.

Beck and Lazlo snapped their heads around to see what Russell was screaming about. Right in front of them, Waystation was fading into existence.

“All right, Porter!” Beck exclaimed.

“Waystation to Roanoke. Welcome back,” Porter’s voice said over the comm system. “We’ve got a lovely docking bay prepared for your arrival.

Minutes later, the hatches of the Wayward and Roanoke opened, allowing the passengers to disembark into the docking bay where Lieutenant Porter was waiting.

“That was one hell of an entrance, Craig,” Beck replied as she approached Porter.

Porter smiled. “I like to make an impression. Oh, sorry about the disobeying orders and stuff, but I thought you might like to keep the station in one piece instead.”

“I’ll save the court-martial for another time. What about the Multeks?”

“There’s nothing on the scanners. I think they bought it.”

“Lucky us,” Lieutenant Commander Morales said. He still hadn’t made eye contact with Beck. Actually, he looked like he was almost nauseous.

“Morales, why don’t you go take over in ops?” Beck said, giving Morales the retreat he so desperately seemed to want. Morales nodded and was gone in a flash.

She turned her attention back to Porter. “Anything else I need to know?”

“We’ve got 20 representatives of a new species aboard and one Multek seeking asylum. Other than that, I think everything’s perfect.”

Jaroch stepped forward grimly. “Except for the small matter of repairing the timeline before we cease to exist!”

“Well, there’s a mood buster,” Porter muttered.


After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, Juletz and Wuddle finally heard another soft knock on the door. Faddle once again stepped into the office.

“I am so sorry to disturb you both, since you seem to be in such a serious meeting,” Faddle said. “But the fleet is in orbit, and Captain Supple is on the comm.”

“Put her on!” Juletz said, jumping to his feet. “It’s all over now, Wuddle.”

“I know,” Wuddle said. He had prepared himself for this moment. With the fleet back, it was only a matter of time until he was sent to a Recovery Ranch. But now that they’d destroyed a Federation space station, there were perhaps others who now believed the truth. His work would continue without him.

The monitor mounted in the office’s front wall sparkled to life, revealing the image of Captain Supple.

“Report, Captain,” Juletz said, gruffly. He had no desire for pleasantries at the moment.

“As ordered, we proceeded to the provided coordinates and pretended to destroy the outpost.”

“Excellent!” Juletz said.

“But, Your Frequoqness, if I may ask, what was the purpose of sending us to a patch of empty space to imagine a non-existent enemy?”

“Empty space? You were able to imagine the space station, correct?” Juletz asked.

“We were supposed to imagine a space station?” Supple replied confused. Wuddle perked up. They hadn’t seen anything. Somehow, Commander Beck had pulled off a miracle.

“Yes!” Juletz said. “There was a space station there. It’s gigantic. With two saucer-like parts and…did you destroy the alien outpost or not?”

“We went to the area of empty space…”

“Was it really empty? Or did you SEE the station?”

“Honestly, Your Frequoq, we didn’t see anything.”

“That’s impossible!” Juletz shouted. “It’s a real station!”

Faddle glanced at Wuddle, his face full of concern. Wuddle just shrugged his shoulders.

Supple looked equally confused. “Real, Your Frequoqness? But Multeks are the only…”

“No we aren’t! That was the point of this. We have to destroy the others before the people find out!”

“Should I call someone?” Faddle whispered to Wuddle.

“I’m afraid so. I believe the Frequoq has been working himself too hard,” Wuddle replied, shaking his head sadly. Faddle quickly exited the room.

“Fools!” Juletz screamed, pounding his fists on the viewscreen. “They tricked you. The Federations tricked you! They’re still out there!”

“Um…how can imaginary beings trick us?” Supple asked.

“You’re absolutely hopeless,” Juletz said, sinking to the floor.

“But Multeks are the only beings in the universe, Your Frequoqness,” Wuddle said, leaning down over Juletz. “That’s what ALL true Multeks believe. Why should Captain Supple be any different?” He looked back at the screen. “Good work, Captain. Dock your ships and stand down.” Wuddle closed the comm channel just as Faddle returned with two guards.

“They’re still out there, Wuddle,” Juletz said. “You know it. You knew they’d do this all along. You traitor! Seize him!”

The guards looked to Faddle for guidance. “You need help, Your Frequoqness,” Faddle said sadly. “We’re going to get you that help.” He nodded his head, and the guards grabbed Juletz’s arms firmly.

“No! You idiots! Get Wuddle!” The guards dragged Juletz to the door. “I said Wuddle. Wuddle! He’s working with the aliens! LISTEN TO ME!!!!”

Faddle closed the office door, muffling Juletz’s screams of protest. “He was a great man,” Faddle said.

“Definitely.”

“Now where am I supposed to find another Frequoq? Juletz was the only one who wanted the responsibility!”

Wuddle was silent for a moment. “Well…I’ll do it.”

“You will!” Faddle exclaimed, grabbing Wuddle by the shoulders. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! The entire Multek Enclave is in your debt. I’ll get a press release out right away, Your Frequoqness.” Faddle raced out of the office to get to work, leaving Wuddle alone.

Wuddle looked around a bit, letting the idea that this was now all his sink in, then he sat down at Juletz’s desk, spinning the chair around so he could stare out the window as the sun began to set over the capital city. It really was a beautiful place.

And maybe one day, with his help, the Multeks would be ready to see the other beautiful places the races of the galaxy had to offer.



CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE


“Station log. Stardate 52772.4. After our safe return to Waystation and a little fly-by diplomacy with the D’Ceti, consisting solely of a quick ‘Hi. Nice to see you. Let’s do lunch…later,’ we are focusing our energies on repairing the timeline. Although, I have to admit that I’m tempted to let history unravel just to get Jaroch off my back. If he says one more thing about ‘disastrous consequences,’ I’m going to hurt him. In any case, to solve the small problem of Alex and Travis’s deaths, we’re heading back to what caused all the trouble in the first place.”


“What do you mean it’s still broken?” Beck demanded as she gaped at the pile of debris that once was Dr. Azar’s time pod.

Bradley Dillon, the target of her fury, shifted a little bit uncomfortably. “I’m very sorry, Commander, but Dr. Azar said he’d be back in two weeks. It hasn’t even been two days.”

“He’s got a point,” Lieutenant Porter said as he examined the rubble.

“Can you fix it?” Beck asked.

Porter laughed. “Not a chance. I don’t even know what most of this stuff is.”

“And you’re supposed to be a science officer,” Beck replied, smiling weakly. So much for that plan. Now what were they…

“Wait a second!” Beck exclaimed. “If we wait until Azar gets back and fixes the pod, we can order him to use the pod to take us up to that point in time, so we can then use the pod to go back, save Alex and Travis, and fix the timeline. Everyone remember to come get us when Azar fixes the pod.”

“Got it,” Porter said.

They waited for a few moments.

“Is something supposed to be happening?” Bradley asked.

“That was the theory anyway,” Porter replied.

Beck waited a couple more moments, growing more impatient by the second. “All right,” she said finally. “Time for Plan B.”

Porter just stared at her. “We have a Plan B?”


“Station log. Stardate 52780.2 After listening to our reports, Starfleet Command, acting in accordance with Federation policy which frowns on being wiped out of existence by a temporal screw-up, has granted us permission to try and head off this disaster at the source. I just hope the Wayward is as good of a ship as Morales says it is.”


The Wayward finished its trajectory around the sun and slipped out of warp as it approached Earth. After shaking off the usual temporal displacement effects of the slingshot maneuver, Commander Jaroch set to work checking the sensors from the small science console in the Wayward’s cramped cockpit.

“By my calculations, we have arrived at December 6, 1995,” Jaroch reported.

“And you’re sure that’s the date Azar pulled Alex and Travis from?” Beck asked from the co-pilot’s seat beside Morales, who was flying the Wayward and making effort to avoid eye-contact with Beck.

“Of course,” Jaroch replied. “I have relayed the exact coordinates of their time-napping to the transporter room.”

“Time-napping? Is that a joke?” Beck asked.

“I am just trying to coin a phrase.”

“Fine by me. Beck to Porter. You should have the coordinates.”

“Got them,” Porter’s voice replied over the comm system from the transporter room. “Sean and I are ready to go.”

“Have a safe trip.”

Moments later, Porter and Russell materialized behind a large hedge running next to a walkway on the campus of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Porter immediately pulled out his tricorder and started scanning.

“I think they’re coming. I’ve got two life-signs headed this way. You all set?”

“To do nothing?” Russell replied, pulling out his own tricorder. “Sure. I can handle that.”

“It’s not nothing. I have to handle the chronometric scans, so you have to get the rest of the event. If we don’t know exactly the point when Alex and Travis get grabbed by the time pod, we can’t exactly replace them, now can we?”

“Um…right.”

“Shut up and duck,” Porter said, pulling Russell down behind the hedge just as Alex and Travis rounded the corner of a building and came into view in the middle of a conversation.

“…look ridiculous,” Alex was saying.

“They’re nice tuxes. I promise,” Travis replied.

“But velvet?”

“Trust me.”

“I should have read the fine print before I agreed to be the Best Man. You realize I am going to be forced to retaliate at the bachelor…”

And then they were gone. Vanished in a quick flash of blinding energy.

“Got it!” Porter said, slapping his tricorder shut.

“Ditto,” Russell said, following suit then slapping his commbadge. “Russell to Wayward. Phase One complete. Energize.”

“Acknowledged,” Beck’s voice replied. “Time for round two.”


FIVE MINUTES EARLIER…


The Wayward streaked around the sun then fell out of warp as it approached Earth and pulled up alongside another Wayward that was already there.

(TEMPORAL NOTE: This is going to get messy, so for the sanity of all concerned, the Wayward that was first at Earth and its crew will be #1 while the newly arrived Wayward will be #2. Just in case, though, have some aspirin standing by.)

“I’m opening a channel,” Commander Beck #2 said. “No sense scaring ourselves.”

“But aren’t we expecting us?” Morales #2 asked.

“We should be. This was a part of the plan,” Jaroch #2 replied.

The image of Commander Beck #1 appeared on the monitor. “This is Commander Beck.”

“That makes two of us,” Beck #2 replied. “Don’t mind us. We’re just moving on to Phase Two.”

“Go right ahead. Nice to see this is going to work. Beck out.” Beck #1 then closed the channel.

“Beck to Porter. You guys are clear to head down,” Beck #2 said.

In the Wayward #2’s transporter room, Porter #2 and Russell #2 double checked their isolinear tag launchers, then holstered the pistol-like devices.

“You sure you can do this in one shot?” Russell #2 asked.

“Yeah yeah,” Porter #2 replied. “This is going to be strange.”

“What?”

“Seeing ourselves from a few minutes ago.”

“I don’t remember seeing us, though.”

“We didn’t. We hadn’t gone back in time yet, so it hadn’t happened.”

“Wait. If it’s all happening at the same time, though, shouldn’t we then have run into us now then?”

“No. Because us then isn’t the same us then that we’re about to see now. By beaming down now into then we’re creating a slightly different divergent timeline in which us then and us now both exist in the same space because us now from the first timeline went back in time again to see us then. See?”

“Not a chance in hell.”

Porter #2 decided not to try to explain it again instead opting for another conversational topic. “You know, I read somewhere once that if you touch a version of yourself from another point in time, it’s like matter hitting antimatter. Boom!”

“Wow! Really?” Russell #2 asked.

“I don’t know. I’m sure not going to be the one to find out.”

Moments later, Porter #2 and Russell #2 beamed down behind Porter #1 and Russell #1.

“I guess we got the measurements,” Porter #1 said facing his double.

“Yep. No problem,” Porter #2 replied.

“So are we supposed to do anything this time? Because if you two are going to tag and beam up Alex and Travis, they won’t be here for us to take measurements of.”

“Yeah. You have to take the same measurements of them after we finish Phase 2,” Porter #2 replied. Porter #1 and Russell #1 turned their attention back to the walkway as Porter #2 pulled out his tagger. He looked up just as Russell #2 was reaching his hand toward Russell #1’s shoulder. Porter #2 tried to dive for him, but it was two late. Russell #2’s hand hit Russell #1’s shoulder, instantly obliterating both of them with a soft “pop.”

“Damn him!” Porter #2 snapped, slapping his commbadge as Porter #1 stared in stupefied shock. “Porter to Wayward. Emergency beam out.”

“Why did he do something that stupid?” Porter #1 asked.

“It’s Sean,” Porter #2 replied just as he was grabbed by a transporter beam.

“That’s true,” Porter #1 sighed.


FIVE MINUTES EARLIER…


The Wayward rocketed away from the sun, dropping out of warp and approaching the two other Wayward’s orbiting Earth.

“This cannot be a good sign,” Commander Beck #2 muttered as she watched the newcomer on the viewscreen.

“Most likely not,” Jaroch #2 replied.

“Well, let’s see what they have to say,” Beck #2 said, noticing the incoming hail light flashing on her console. The image of yet another her appeared on the monitor.

“Don’t mind us,” Beck #3 said. “We just have one small mess to clean up.”

Seconds later, Porter #3 materialized behind Russell #2 and smacked his arm down just before he touched Russell #1. “Don’t do that!” Porter #3 shouted. Russell #2 shrugged sheepishly and started fiddling with his isolinear tagger. Porter #3 quickly called for beam out and vanished in a flurry of molecules.

Back on the Wayward #2, Beck #2 watched Beck #3 talk briefly with Porter #3, who had just entered the Wayward #3’s cockpit. “Okay,” Beck #3 said, turning her attention back to Beck #2. “All fixed. We should be disappearing from the time stream any second now…”

Right on cue, the Wayward #3 faded out of the universe, part of a timeline that no longer would occur.

“Remind me again,” Beck #2 said. “Is that going to happen to us?”

“No,” Jaroch #2 replied simply.

Back on Earth, Porter #1 and Russell #1 sat with their tricorders at the ready as Porter #2 and Russell #2 pointed their isolinear taggers at the walkway.

“Here they come,” Porter #1 said.

Alex and Travis rounded the corner of a building, engrossed in conversation.

“…look ridiculous,” Alex was saying.

“They’re nice tuxes. I promise,” Travis replied. Porter #2 and Russell #2 fired, sending isolinear tags slamming into Alex and Travis’s backs. In an instant, they dematerialized in a transporter beam only to be returned a second later.

“Did you feel something?” Travis asked confused.

“I think so,” Alex replied. “Probably just hunger. Let’s go.”

The pair took a couple more steps forward, then vanished in a quick flash of blinding energy.

“Got it!” Porter #1 said, slapping his tricorder shut.

“Ditto,” Russell #1 said, following suit then slapping his commbadge. “Russell to Wayward. Phase One complete. Energize.”

“Acknowledged,” Beck’s voice replied. “Time for round two.”

“Have fun being us,” Porter #2 said just as Porter #1 and Russell #1 dematerialized.

“Beck to Porter. We have Alex and Travis’s patterns in the buffer. Are we clear?”

Porter #2 took a quick look around. No one was in sight.

“All clear. Send them down.” Almost immediately, the forms of Alex and Travis, recreated from the patterns stored in the transporter buffer, materialized on the walkway at the exact spot where the originals disappeared.

“Did you feel something?” the transporter duplicate Travis asked.

“I think so,” Alex replied. “Probably just hunger. Let’s go.” And the pair continued on their way blissfully ignorant of the fact that they were duplicates or that their original selves were now on their way to the future where they would be unceremoniously killed by a platoon of Multeks. Oh well. Such is life.

Porter #2 exhaled a relieved sigh and tapped his commbadge. “Porter to Wayward. Phase Two complete. Can we go home now?”

“Energizing,” Beck #2 replied. Meanwhile, on the Wayward #2, she watched the Wayward #1 leap into warp on its way to slingshot around the sun and head back in time to become the Wayward #2. Beck #2 shook her head. She was positive all of this made perfect sense to Jaroch, but she had the mother of all headaches.



CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR


“Station log. Stardate 52792.4. The Wayward has safely returned to our own time and to Waystation, which, fortunately, is still here. Evidently the Multeks did fall for Porter’s cloaking trick. As quickly as he could, Jaroch made a hasty retreat back to the Secondprize. I can’t say that I blame him. He had one hell of a visit. Meanwhile, we returned home to a surprise visitor: Admiral Thomas Wagner. And he came bearing gifts…”


Commander Beck stood at the front of the briefing room stiffly as Admiral Wagner paced the room, making his speech to the other gathered officers. How come all of them got to sit?

Wagner, meanwhile, continued his remarks. “…so in recognition of your accomplishments in establishing contact with the D’Ceti.”

“That was really Porter,” Beck thought to herself.

“Saving Waystation from the Multeks,” Wagner continued.

“Porter again,” Beck thought.

“And saving the timeline.”

“Okay. I’ll take credit for that one.”

“By order of Starfleet Command, you are hereby promoted to the rank of Captain.” Wagner pinned an extra pip on Beck’s collar. “Congratulations, Lisa.”

“Thank you, sir,” Beck said, shaking his hand as her officers began to clap.

“About time,” Porter called.

Beck smiled and absently rubbed the extra pip. Captain Beck. There were probably a lot of deep thoughts she should have been having at this moment, but all she could think was “Wow.”

“Ops to Commander Beck,” Lieutenant Stanton’s voice said over the commsystem.

“Captain Beck!” Porter shouted.

“Uh…sorry. But there’s a small ship approaching from Multek space requesting permission to dock. One occupant. What do you want me to do?”

“The Romulans took back their cloaking device, I guess,” Beck said.

“I tried trading them for it, but they weren’t interested in Russell’s erotic pottery collection,” Porter said.

“Hey!” Russell snapped. “You leave my pottery alone!”

“Let the ship dock,” Beck said. “And bring the pilot to the briefing room.”

“Understood.”

“Well, I guess we have a minute,” Wagner said to Beck. “Shall we?”

“Shall we what?” Dr. Nelson demanded. “No one said this was going to be an all day affair.”

“You’ll be free to go in a minute,” Beck said. “Everyone just relax and sit down…except Morales and Porter.”

Porter and Morales exchanged concerned glanced. “What’d we do?” Porter asked.

“I have no idea,” Morales replied nervously.

“Get up here,” Beck said, waving Morales and Porter to the front of the room. “Admiral?”

“Lieutenant Craig Porter, for outstanding service to the Federation in establishing first contact with the D’Ceti and protecting the lives of the residents of Waystation from a Multek attack, Starfleet Command hereby confers upon you the rank of Lieutenant Commander.” Wagner smoothly pinned a hollow pip onto Porter’s collar then moved over to Morales.

“Lieutenant Commander Walter Morales, in recognition of your devotion to this station and its crew and your outstanding service during the recent Multek crisis…”

“And during the renovations last year,” Beck added.

“And that too,” Wagner continued. “You are hereby promoted to the rank of Commander.” He removed Morales’ hollow pip, replacing it with a full gold one. “Congratulations, gentlemen.”

“Are we just tossing promotions around today?” Nelson asked. “I’d like one.”

“Me too,” Russell concurred.

“Your day will come,” Beck said. “But for now, get out. I’ve got to be diplomatic.”

“Promote her to captain, and suddenly she’s queen of the universe,” Nelson grumbled as she headed out of the briefing room, followed by Morales, Russell, Porter, and Jones.

“Would you like me to stick around?” Admiral Wagner asked.

“Normally I’d say yes,” Beck replied. “But the Multeks can be pretty flighty. And since I don’t know who this is or what they want, I’d better handle it.”

“You are our Multek expert, Captain. Have at it,” Wagner replied.

“Will you be staying aboard?”

“I’m afraid not. The D’Ceti have requested an audience with the Federation Council, and I’ve been assigned as their escort. It looks like we may be getting some new allies thanks to your crew. Not very powerful allies, but allies all the same,” Wagner said.

“But they know more about what’s in the Beta Quadrant than we do,” Beck said.

“True enough. Next time you get to Earth, look me up. We’ll have lunch.”

“Sounds good, Admiral,” Beck said smiling. “Have a safe trip.”

Wagner left the room just before Lieutenant Stanton ushered in Wuddle, who was now dressed in the long golden coat of the Multek Frequoq.

“Wuddle,” Beck said, extending her hand to the Multek. “I was hoping it was you. What happened?”

“Juletz required a little time at a Recovery Ranch,” Wuddle replied as Beck shook his hand. Multeks did not shake hands as a form of greeting, but Wuddle did not find the practice disagreeable. “I am now Frequoq.”

“That’s the best news I’ve heard all day. And, believe me, it’s been a good day.”

“So I have heard. An absolutely beautiful dark-haired woman in a long blue coat made mention of it as I entered your command area. I don’t mean to be forward, but who is she? She is…mesmerizing.”

Beck laughed. “That’s Doctor Amedon Nelson. Believe me. You’d have a better shot with a targ.”

“A targ?”

“Never mind. Was there something you needed from us?”

“Actually, yes,” Wuddle replied, taking a seat at the table. Beck took a seat across from him. “As much as I want the Multek Enclave to accept your existence, I think it is best that we proceed very slowly.”

“I completely agree. Introducing the knowledge of alien life to an insulated culture is always a touchy matter.”

“Then you will understand why we cannot establish open diplomatic ties.”

“Absolutely,” Beck replied. “But I hope that we can keep the lines of communication between us open.”

“That is my intention as well. As Frequoq, I have a certain freedom of movement. With your permission, I hope to visit your station frequently.”

“We’re always open,” Beck said. “Drop by anytime.”

“Thank you.”

“While you’re here, would you like a tour? Things have changed quite a bit since your last visit.”

“That would be wonderful.”

“Hold on. Beck to Dr. Nelson.” Beck smiled as Wuddle’s eyes widened.

“What is it, Captain?” Nelson said, putting too much emphasis on “captain.”

“I’ve got a job for you, Amedon. We’ll be down in a second.”

“We? Wait a sec…”

“Beck out. Follow me,” Beck said, leading Wuddle out of the briefing room.

A few minutes later, after leaving Wuddle in the hands of Dr. Nelson, Captain Beck stepped out into Starfleet Square Mall feeling more relaxed than she had in weeks. She was a captain. The timeline was safe. The Multeks wouldn’t be attacking them anytime in the foreseeable future. She’d even gotten Porter and Morales long overdue promotions…Morales!

With all the activity of the last several days, she hadn’t even thought about that kiss, much less taken the time to talk to Morales about it. Hell, what did she even want to say to Morales about it? All this time, and she hadn’t come up with an answer.

While her mind worked, she stepped into a turbolift. “Deck 86.” He turbolift began its long decent toward the residential decks in the lower saucer.

All too soon for Beck, the turbolift doors opened on Deck 86. She stepped out and headed down the corridor towards Morales’ door. After taking a deep breath, she pressed his door chime.

“Who’s there?” Morales’ voice called.

“Lisa,” Beck replied.

Silence.

“Come in,” Morales said finally.

Beck stepped inside Morales’ quarters taking a quick moment to look around. She’d actually never been in these rooms. Despite working together for the last three years, Beck couldn’t honestly say that she and Morales were really all that close…which made the kiss even more of a surprise.

The quarters were not quite what she was expecting. She expected basically no decor, but there were all sorts of odds and ends from around the Federation on the various tables and shelves in the living room. Shimmering crystal huknats. Elaborate designs of thin metal strands shaped into structures. And even the skull of a Cardassian vole. Who knew why Morales had that one? Of course, that was sort of the point that kept running through Beck’s mind. She really didn’t know Morales at all.

On another table sat several holographs of an older couple Beck could only assume were Morales’ parents as well as holos of two other males and a female. Brothers and a sister perhaps? Had Morales ever talked about his family? Not that Beck could remember.

The most striking thing about the room, though, was the paintings on the walls. They were mostly landscapes, but painted with lots of deep reds and purples as to create more of an impressionistic rather than lifelike image. In the bottom left-hand corner of each painting, the name “Walt” had been written in neat letters.

Morales himself was standing nervously in front of a sofa, seemingly trying to figure out what to do with his hands.

“Did you paint all these?” Beck asked, hoping to break the ice a bit.

“Yeah,” Morales replied softly.

“I didn’t even know you painted.”

“It’s been a while. Is there something I can do for you, Captain?”

“Walter, I think we need to drop the rank stuff for a bit and talk.”

“Um…sure.” He gestured at the sofa. “Have a seat. Can I get you a drink?” He was almost at a dead run to the replicator.

“No thanks. I’m fine.”

“Er…okay,” Morales said, stopping in his tracks. He stood for a moment trying to decide whether to stay there or sit down. He finally opted on sitting in an armchair near the sofa.

“I think you know why I’m here,” Beck said.

“I know. I’m sorry about what happened. I don’t know what got into me. I’d really like to just forget the whole thing; however, I understand that’s impossible considering our working relationship. So, I’d prefer an Academy assignment, if you can swing it. The new rank should help my chances, which is why I assume you recommended me for promotion. But that’s fine. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at teaching.”

“Woah. Calm down, Walter,” Beck said. Her instinct was to put a reassuring hand on his knee, but, considering the circumstances, the gesture could be easily misconstrued.

“I don’t want you to transfer,” Beck continued. “And I don’t want there to be any problems between us. You’re a good first officer, and I don’t want to lose you. I have to be honest, though. I don’t have any romantic feelings for you.”

Beck could see Morales’ eyes widen a bit as he leaned back in his chair. Maybe that was a little too harsh.

“The fact is, Walter, we barely know each other as people. Hell, I don’t think I could tell you where you grew up without checking your file, much less what your hobbies and interests are. And how much do you really know about me?”

“I know the kind of person you are. I thought that was enough.”

Now it was Beck’s turn to sit back. Ouch. No way to argue with that logic.

“I’m sorry,” Morales said. “That wasn’t necessary.”

“Maybe it was. Look, Walter, very simply, I need to know if you will stay here despite the fact that I don’t share your feelings.”

“I can work with you, if that’s what you’re asking. My job performance won’t be affected…and I want to stay.”

Beck smiled. “That’s what I was hoping you’d say.” She stood up to go. “One more thing.”

“Yes?”

“I hope you start painting again. I’d love a Morales original for my office.”

Morales returned the smile, albeit weakly. “I’ll see what I can do. Thanks for coming by.”

“I’ll see you in ops, Walter.”

“Goodbye, Captain.”

Beck stepped out of the door into the corridor, leaving Morales alone.

“Goodbye, Lisa.”



EPILOGUE


USS SECONDPRIZE


Commander Jaroch walked into Seven Backward almost immediately after arriving on a shuttle from Waystation. After the troubling events of the last few days, the main thing he needed was a drink. This was a bit unusual for the Yynsian. Alcohol had never been a real interest of his and it tended to affect him badly, but it somehow seemed appropriate while he mulled over his behavior while under the control of Carl Jaroch’s life-force.

In a short space of time, he had made a fool of himself in front of Lisa Beck by insisting that she was his wife, breached Starfleet temporal policy by bringing two 20th century people to the present, stolen a runabout, and proceeded to get said 20th century personages killed while on a joyride in Multek space.

Not his finest hour. And the resolution seemed so unsatisfying. While the transporter duplicates of Alex and Travis would live on, the originals were still dead.

After all this, a little alcohol seemed like just the thing to cheer himself up. He stepped up to the bar where one of the insufferable twits from Guinanco was serving a drink to yet another insufferable twit: Commander Dillon.

Dillon looked over and nodded to acknowledge Jaroch’s presence. “So how was Waystation?”

“It was there,” Jaroch replied. He was certainly in no mood for chit-chat with Dillon. “Bourbon. Neat. Make it a double. And no synthehol,” he told the bartender.

“That’s an awfully strong drink order, Jaroch,” Dillon said.

“How clever of you to notice.” The bartender returned with Jaroch’s drink, and Jaroch quickly started searching the room for an empty table.

“If you have duty today, you shouldn’t drink that,” Dillon continued.

Jaroch was about to hurl the glass at Dillon to get him to shut up when he realized what was missing from his life.

“You aren’t who you think you are,” Jaroch replied smiling.

“What?”

“You are the descendent of a copy. Hah!” Jaroch marched away from the bar, feeling much better about things. It was amazing how berating Dillon could improve his whole disposition.

Dillon, on the other hand, was just plain confused.

“WHAT?”


Meanwhile, several light years away, Bradley Dillon stepped into a different bar: Victoria’s Pub on Waystation. He’d intended on drinking alone, but, after spotting a lone miserable figure hunched over a beer at a table in the corner, Bradley changed his mind. He obtained a stout ale from the proprietor, then headed over to the table.

“Perfect. I seem to have found the miserable bastards section,” Bradley said, sitting down across from the figure and taking a long drink from his mug. Despite his foul mood, Bradley couldn’t help but appreciate the quality of Sanders’ stock.

Commander Morales looked up from his own beer. “What the hell do you have to be miserable about?”

“Dr. Azar says the time pod is completely kaput.”

“So you won’t get a few billion more credits,” Morales snapped sarcastically. “I’m so sorry.”

“That wasn’t my intention at all. I was hoping…I wanted to save Leximas,” Bradley’s voice fell at the end, and he quickly took another drink.

Morales stared at him for a moment, suddenly feeling sorry for his remarks. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“What about you? What brings you to this den of sorrows?” Bradley asked.

“Same gender. Different person.”

“I believe heartbreak may be one of the sole constants of the universe.”

“Lucky us.”

Bradley took another sip of his ale. “But you know what they say. It’s better to have loved and lost then to have never loved at all.”

“Bullsh**.”

“I’ll second that. Cheers. And here’s to all the future heartbreakers in our lives.”

Morales smiled for a moment, then tapped his glass against Bradley’s.

“Hear hear.”



Tags: Waystation