Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
“A Deadly Shade of Blue”
By Alan Decker
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 53502.8. Waystation is currently hosting three Andorian colony ships bound for Beta Quadrant Sector 49-A, a binary solar system containing a sole Class M world. The planet itself is uninhabited and frequently ravaged by one type of storm or another ranging from hurricanes to blizzards to dust storms. The Andorians should love it.
“Before they head out, though, Ih’mad, proprietor of our very own Ic’hasssssst V’kelsnet Restaurant, has put together a reception for a woman by the name of An’dahna, one of the Primary Mothers of the Fourth Hive, who is moving to the new colony. Ih’mad has also invited me to the reception, an invitation I will be accepting for diplomatic and culinary reasons. Far be it from me to pass up a chance at Ih’mad’s creations.”
The party had gotten off to a bit of a slow start, mainly because most of the guests were uneasily trying not to look down as they moved about large observation deck located at the very bottom of Waystation, the floor of which was simply a giant transparent aluminum surface allowing a crystal clear view of space below.
Starfleet had officially (and rather boringly) dubbed the observation deck the “Spacescape Room.” Around the station, though, it was colloquially (and more appropriately) called “The Vertigo Lounge,” and it had unnerved more than one visitor to the station…and a fair number of Waystation’s residents.
“Why did Ih’mad have to do this in here?” Lieutenant Sean Russell moaned as he and Captain Lisa Beck stood against the wall of the Vertigo Lounge watching the thirty or so Andorians present interacting. Russell, Waystation’s Security Chief, was pretty much at the top of that list of residents who weren’t fond of this particular room.
“Relax and enjoy the view,” Beck said, enjoying Russell’s discomfort.
“The view makes me want to vomit.”
“Better let Ih’mad know. I think he collects it for the breakfast buffet.”
“You aren’t helping.”
“I know,” Beck replied with an evil grin.
Bradley Dillon, Waystation’s resident entrepreneur and multi-billionaire, broke through the crowd of Andorians, nearly knocking over Ih’mad’s waiter, Baughb, and approached Beck and Russell, clearly disgusted.
“That man is the most shameless self-promoter I’ve encountered since…”
“You?” Beck finished.
“You wound me, Captain,” Bradley said.
“Yeah right,” Beck said, rolling her eyes. “What happened?”
“Ih’mad won’t let anyone near the guest of honor. He insists on toadying up to An’dahna, babbling incessantly about the prospects of opening another Ic’hasssssst V’kelsnet on their colony once they get settled in.”
Bradley grunted. “I have half a mind to buy the place out from under our blue-skinned friend lock, stock, and antenna.”
“He’d never sell,” Beck said. “He’d eviscerate you first.”
Bradley visibly blanched. “Well…um…”
“Just enjoy the party, Mister Dillon. You can console yourself with your billions of credits later if you have to.”
“You do have a point,” Bradley admitted.
“Since we’ve brought up points, is there one for me being here?” Russell asked. “We’ve got close to three thousand other Andorians docked at this station that are probably a lot more dangerous than this bunch, and we all know I’m no diplomat.”
“Yeoman Jones can keep things running smoothly with the other colonists. You have one job tonight: stand there and look stern,” Beck said. “You’re my bodyguard.” This last comment drew a snicker from Bradley.
“What?” Russell demanded. “I can guard her!”
“I merely meant that Captain Beck can hold her own quite well,” Bradley said.
“Yeah,” Russell said, thoughtfully.
“It’s a cultural thing, Sean. If I showed up without a bodyguard, it would imply that I did not respect the Andorians’ combat abilities.”
“Then where’s Bradley’s bodyguard?”
“As a resident of Waystation, I am under the protection of Captain Beck,” Bradley said with a sigh. “Really, Lieutenant. You might at least consider reading a little about a culture before you join them for a social occasion.”
Beck jumped in before Russell could defend himself against Bradley. “As the highest ranking officer on board, I’m considered to be the head of our hive…if we had a hive. To attack anyone other than me would be considered cowardly. That’s why An’dahna always has that woman near her.”
Bradley nodded. “S’nizsizni.”
“Gesundheit,” Russell said.
“That’s her name, you twit! S’nizsizni!”
“Can it, you two. We’ve got company,” Beck said, straightening up as An’dahna, dressed in flowing golden robes, strode over, flanked by Ih’mad and S’nizsizni, an imposing wall of a woman whose face seemed frozen in a perpetual glare.
“…and this is our most esteemed commanding officer,” Ih’mad said, gesturing to Beck. “Captain Lisa Beck. Captain, may I present Primary An’dahna of the Fourth Hive.”
“It is an honor, An’dahna,” Beck said with a curt nod of the head, her eyes never losing sight of An’dahna’s for even a moment.
“Captain,” An’dahna said, acknowledging the nod, her body tense and ready for anything.
“Am I missing something?” Russell whispered to Bradley.
“Respect, Lieutenant. Captain Beck and An’dahna are each acknowledging that the other could attack at any moment and that they are both threats to each other.”
“Woah! Should I be stepping in here?”
“Not unless you want S’nizsizni to introduce you to your spleen. This is a ritual greeting. Just let the Captain handle it.”
“You are familiar with our customs, Captain,” An’dahna said once the greeting had been completed and both women relaxed.
“My Academy roommate was Andorian. I visited your world on several occasions during those years.”
“And she’s my best customer,” Ih’mad added.
An’dahna nodded. “I see. Thank you for coming, Captain. I am gratified to see that Starfleet understands the importance of our colony.”
“All of our colonies are important to us, but yours is the first to start with such a large initial population. It should go a long way to encourage others to test the waters out this way,” Beck said.
“Of course. It was a pleasure, Captain.” And with that, An’dahna moved off to another guest. S’nizsizni gave Russell a quick once over, then followed. Baughb, who was carrying a tray of steaming champagne, had to quickly dodge out of the way to avoid being run over.
“Was that disgust or interest?” Russell asked confused.
“You got me on that one,” Beck said. “All right. Let’s go.”
“What? That’s it?”
“I put in my appearance, paid my respects, and now I’m obligated to get the hell out,” Beck said, striding toward the exit by way of the buffet.
“Culture, Lieutenant. Culture,” Bradley said. “I’ll make sure Ih’mad sends you the leftovers, Captain.”
“Tnks,” Beck mumbled with a wave as she popped a stuffed onxxi puff into her mouth, threw a few more onto a plate, then headed out the door.
Russell sighed and leaned back against the wall. Technically, he could leave now, but there was something oddly alluring about S’nizsizni. Besides, considering the number of Andorians they had milling around, things could have been a lot worse. If the evening wanted to be uneventful, that was fine with him.
Even in a holodeck, there was just something about Earth that appealed to Captain Beck more than any other planet in the galaxy. Knowing that her appearance at the Andorians’ reception would be fairly brief, Beck had gone ahead and scheduled a couple of hours for a late-evening visit to the ocean. Originally, she’d planned to spend some time at a simulation of her family beach house on the North Carolina coast, but by the time she’d reached the holodeck, she’d decided that something a bit more tropical was in order.
Accordingly, she requested a perfect day in Jamaica and headed out into the surf for some wind-surfing. After about an hour, she brought her board onto the shore, spread out a large towel, and basked in the sun until her time in the holodeck expired and she had to make way for several ensigns loitering outside the holodeck in full suits of armor.
Pulling a light silk robe she’d picked up a couple of years ago on Risa on over her swimsuit, Beck headed out of the holodeck feeling thoroughly relaxed and refreshed, hopped a turbolift, and descended to the living quarters on Deck 86.
Since it was just after midnight, station time, the residential decks were practically deserted, with people either in the upper saucer on shift or snugly wrapped in their beds asleep. Beck enjoyed this time of night. It gave her the rare opportunity to walk the corridors of her command undisturbed and, in a strange sort of way, commune with Waystation one-on-one.
That all came to a shattering halt as she rounded the corner into Corridor 86-H.
“What was that word again?”
“S’vazzztz,” Lieutenant Sean Russell sighed contentedly, putting his hands behind his head and leaning back against his pillow.
“I honestly never thought I could experience S’vazzztz with a Terran,” S’nizsizni said, adopting a similar posture beside him. “You are my first Terran, though.”
“That makes us even. You’re my first Andorian, but I’m going to be remembering this S’vazzztz for a long time.”
“If you feed that line to another Andorian woman, I will hunt you down and reroute your bile ducts into your eyeballs.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m not sure if I’m supposed to find that endearing or frightening.”
“To an Andorian, they can be one in the same,” S’nizsizni replied.
“Maybe I’ll just stick with frightening.”
“Beck to Russell,” the Captain’s voice broke in suddenly over the comm system.
“Russell. Go ahead, Captain.”
“Get down to Corridor 86-H, Lieutenant. Now. Beck out.”
“She has a presence,” S’nizsizni observed.
“Oh yeah,” Russell said, hopping out of bed and scrambling into his uniform. “I may be a while. You’re more than welcome to stay. I may be ready for more S’vazzztz when I get back.”
“That could be hazardous to your health,” the Andorian said, getting out of bed herself and giving Russell a wonderful view of her toned blue figure.
“Risk is my business.”
“I bet you say that to all the girls.”
“Only the dangerous ones.”
His mind filled with images and memories of his evening with S’nizsizni, Lieutenant Russell exited the turbolift on Deck 86 turned a corner, walked down a section of corridor, turned another corner, then stopped in his tracks.
Dr. Amedon Nelson, Waystation’s Chief Medical Officer, squatted beside a crumpled lump of something laying in a pool of red while Captain Beck looked on.
Russell’s eyes widened. “That’s…”
“One extremely dead Andorian,” Nelson said, slapping her tricorder shut and rising to her feet.
“Judging by the gaping wounds all over his body, I’m going to have to go with murder.”
“So guess what you’re doing now,” Beck said, clearly unhappy with this turn of events.
“Investigating a homicide,” Russell said as his stomach started the cha-cha.
Breakfast was usually Russell’s favorite meal of the day, but this morning he found himself just stirring his fork around in the broken yolk of his fried egg, spreading its yellow contents all over the bacon and sausage on his plate as he sat at the counter in the Double D Diner, Bradley Dillon’s latest addition to Starfleet Square Mall. His Dillon’s Restaurant inside the Starfleet Suites Hotel catered to a more upscale clientele, so Bradley, ever looking for new ways to serve the public (i.e. earn more credits), hit upon the diner idea as a way to draw in those not looking to be served by waiters in tuxedos.
And Russell had to admit, the food was good and ready in a flash, mainly because the Betazoid waitstaff knew what you wanted as soon as you looked at the menu.
“What? Not eating Andorian this morning?” Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter, Waystation’s Operations/Science Officer, said, patting Russell on the shoulder as he took the stool next to him.
“I’m living Andorian now,” Russell muttered.
“I heard. Andorian bodies everywhere. The corridors. Your quarters.”
“How did you know about that?” Russell asked.
“Our bedrooms share that wall, you know,” Porter said. “And I got called out for an emergency in the core just as your guest was leaving. At least she was a live body, though.”
“That explains that. Anything serious?”
“I was about to ask you the same question.”
“I meant the core.”
“Nothing really. Loatyl spilled his coffee on the status board and was petrified that he’d started a cascade failure. I calmed him down, then put him on clean-up detail. The injectors needed a good scrubbing anyway.”
“Damn?” Porter said confused.
“Our security logs for most of Deck 86 are blank for the hour around the time of the murder. Stanton thinks it’s some kind of interference, but can’t tell where it came from.”
“I could take a look while you’re tracking down the killer.”
“Uggh. Don’t remind me,” Russell moaned.
“I hate to break this to you, pal, but it’s your show. I don’t think anybody’s suddenly going to forget about the corpse..”
“I know. I know.”
“Look at it this way, though. It could be worse,” Porter said supportively.
“How could it possibly be worse?”
“You could have to be the one to break the news to the Andorians.”
Was it Beck’s imagination or were An’dahna’s antenna actually vibrating?
“Murdered?” the Andorian matriarch bellowed.
“Primary, I assure you that a full investigation is already underway. We should have something more to report soon,” Captain Beck said, relieved that she was holding this conversation by vidlink from her office rather than in person. An’dahna could be quite intimidating when she wanted to be.
An’dahna leaned forward, her face filling the entire monitor on Beck’s desk. “You know enough about our culture, I presume, to understand that if the culprit is not brought to justice immediately, that there will be DIRE consequences.
“I don’t think we’ll need any more violence, Primary.”
“That, Captain, is entirely up to you,” An’dahna replied, then abruptly cut the channel as Beck tried to push the image of three thousand armed Andorians rampaging through the station from her mind.
Russell reflexively took a step back as Dr. Nelson yanked open the stasis drawer in the infirmary’s small morgue and pulled out the slab holding the body of the murdered Andorian. Just as the corpse’s feet emerged from the chamber, S’nizsizni stepped into the morgue, drawing a surprised glance from Russell.
“I’m here to identify the body,” S’nizsizni said simply, holding up a padd containing the passenger lists for the Andorian colony ships. She took one look at the corpse’s face, then tossed the padd over her shoulder. “Guess I won’t be needing that.”
“You know him?” Russell asked.
“Grozzzin. He was a…” Her face contorted with disgust. “Bureaucrat.”
“Not a very popular one, obviously,” Dr. Nelson said. “Here’s the basics. Andorian male. Approximately 32 years of age. Cause of death was excessive blood loss due to multiple stab and slash wounds. I’ll know more after the autopsy.”
“What else do you know about this guy?” Russell said.
“He was sent by our ruling council to assist with the establishment and implementation of our colony government. Other than a few meetings he had with An’dahna, I barely dealt with him. He was not of the Fourth Hive, so few on our ship engaged in social activities with him. However, he did not, to my knowledge, even beam over to Colony Vessel-3 to interact with the colonists there from other hives. I would have to call him a loner,” S’nizsizni said.
“That’s something, I guess,” Russell said.
“I must inform An’dahna,” S’nizsizni said. “I will check on the progress of your investigation later this evening. Most probably around dinner time. Dress appropriately.” The Andorian turned on her heel and strode out of the morgue.
“Was that a date or a threat?” Nelson asked once S’nizsizni was gone.
“I’m not sure anymore…and I kind of like it.”
“Your libido aside, how are things progressing?”
“With the case?”
“No, with your hemorrhoids. Of course with the case, you moron!” Nelson snapped.
“I’m looking into it.”
“Have you even been to bed?”
“No,” Russell said.
“And have you learned anything?”
“Other than what you just told me? No.”
Nelson turned exasperated. “Haven’t you ever investigated a murder before?”
“Um…we haven’t had any.”
“I know that. What about somewhere else? People do get killed.”
Russell shook his head. “Any ideas?”
“Get help. Now,” Nelson said. “I’ll let you know what the autopsy turns up.”
Get help. Get help, she said. But Russell was the Chief of Security. Just who was he supposed to go to for help on a security matter? Finally, he settled on getting assistance of the holographic variety.
After kicking out the cliff divers using Holodeck Three (Mental Note: Holodeck safeties don’t work very well if you abruptly end a program while someone’s in mid-dive. Apologize to Dr. Nelson later for sending her a battered ensign), Russell set about trying to enlist some help.
“Computer, I need detectives. Human preferably. People experienced in solving murders.”
The computer chirped softly, then four people shimmered into existence inside the empty holodeck. Three of them looked fairly normal: a middle-aged woman, a rumpled man in an equally rumpled trenchcoat, and a pipe-smoking man dressed in a suit covered by a purple robe. The fourth, though…he was interesting, all decked out in black with a black cape and a black cowl over his head complete with pointy ear things.
“Who the hell are you?” Russell asked.
The caped figure leapt forward, grabbing Russell by the lapels of his uniform and yanking him in close. “I’m Batman,” he growled in a harsh whisper.
“Ooookay. Computer, delete the nutjob please.”
“Please specify the nutjob.”
The caped figure vanished, leaving Russell with the three hopefully more normal detectives. “Um…hello. Welcome to Waystation. I’m Lieutenant Sean Russell, your host. I’m trying to solve a murder, and I hoped you could help.”
“Oh yes,” the woman exclaimed. “I’ve seen plenty.”
“And you are?”
“Jessica Fletcher. Perhaps you’ve read some of my books. Murder, I Wrote. Murder, I Saw. Murder, I Read About. Murder in My Town. Murder in My Kitchen. Murder in My Nephew’s House. Murder in My Hotel Room. My Nephew’s Been Framed For Murder Again. Murder…”
“I get the point,” Russell said, moving on to the man in the trenchcoat.
“Detective Columbo,” the man said, squinting oddly as he pulled out a cigarette to light. “Just one more thing…”
“I…I don’t know. But there’s always one more thing. I’ll get back to you.”
“Gotcha.” Russell turned to the robed man with the pipe, who was eyeing him critically.
“Sherlock Holmes, Lieutenant.”
“Now you I’ve heard of.”
“Due to Watson’s scribblings, no doubt,” Holmes replied with a hmmph.
“So you three know a lot about murder?” Russell asked.
“Oh yes,” Jessica Fletcher said. “People die wherever I go. Every time I turn around there’s another corpse. I stopped traveling for a while, but then they were turning up in my backyard. Strange really…”
“Did you kill them?” Russell asked.
“So I’m just supposed to believe all of these dead bodies are a coincidence!”
“I don’t think so! Goodbye! Computer, delete the murdering psycho woman!”
“I’m innocent!” Jessica protested as the computer blipped her out of the holodeck.
“Okay,” Russell said. “I’ve got a dead body. What do I do?”
“Pester your suspects in annoying interviews,” Columbo offered.
“I don’t have any suspects.”
“It’s somebody you already met.”
“It always is. Just annoy the right person, and he’ll crack,” Columbo replied, blowing a puff of smoke into Russell’s face.
“Are you annoyed yet?”
“Did you do it?”
“Computer, delete Columbo.”
“One more thing…”
“NOOO!!!” Russell shouted as the trenchcoated detective vanished.
Russell looked back to Holmes, who’d been watching the events with a cool detachment. “What advice do you have?”
“Observe and deduce,” Holmes said, pulling the pipe out of his mouth and beginning to pace. “That is all you can do, but you must pay attention to the most minute of details. From those small items, you can infer the larger picture. For example, by observing your person, I may deduce that you have not slept in several hours.”
Holmes stepped over and pulled a white hair out of the tousled mop on Russell’s head. “Additionally, you have engaged in…intimate activities within the last twenty-four hours.”
“That’s right!” Russell exclaimed. “What else?”
“You were born on Earth, you were not an exceptional student, and you once contracted Bolian Flu.”
“Amazing! How did you know that?”
“Elementary. I am a computer simulation, so I accessed your files.”
“That’s research, which is precisely what you will need to do in order to truly understand what you observe. Do you think I just know what brand a man smokes by examining his ashtray? After much study, I wrote a monograph on different types of tobacco ash. Because of that research, I can say with certainty what tobacco you smoke and, in many cases, where you purchased it.”
“So this is going to require a lot of work, huh?”
Holmes glared at Russell, his gray eyes flashing. “Get back to your corpse, Lieutenant Russell. Pour over his personal effects. OBSERVE!”
“Right! Got it!” Russell said, racing toward the holodeck exit. “Computer, end program.”
Holmes shook his head and sighed as he waited for the computer shut him down. Even in the future, the authorities were absolute bunglers.
“You weren’t gone long,” Dr. Nelson said as Russell reentered the morgue where she had Grozzzin’s naked corpse splayed open like so much meat.
“Uggh!” Russell gasped. “Don’t you have instruments for that sort of thing?”
“Midon wanted a look,” Nelson said, referring to the symbiont that made up half of her consciousness. “The only abdominal cavity she’s had experience with is Amelia’s,” she finished in her unnerving way of referring to her humanoid body in the third person. “What great breakthrough brings you back here?”
“I need to observe.”
“The autopsy? Feel free.”
“I kind of think Mister Holmes meant his stuff.”
“You went and got help from a hologram?” Nelson snapped.
“Who else was I supposed to go to?” Russell insisted defensively. “We don’t have murders here!”
Nelson threw up her hands. “All right! Fine! Better a hologram of Sherlock Holmes than no one at all. His stuff’s on the table over there. Have at it.”
“Thanks,” Russell said, stepping over to the metal table at the side of the morgue where Nelson had spread out Grozzzin’s bloodstained clothes and few personal effects, which included a small decorative pin, a credit tube, a pen, and a small padd. Russell checked the padd first. It contained little more than some notes about the new colony and the Waystation brochure available over the Federnet to all tourists visiting the station.
“You solve the crime yet?” Nelson asked.
“No,” Russell said, turning to leave.
“Where are you going?”
“The library,” Russell said determinedly, striding out the door.
Sean Russell in a library? Now Nelson knew it was serious.
Two hours later, Russell leaned back in his chair and rubbed his tired eyes, which had spent the last 120 minutes staring at a monitor in Waystation’s library on Deck 4. He just as easily could have looked up the information in his office, but the plush chairs, wood paneling, and soothing lighting of the library were far more relaxing than his spartan office decorated solely with a screen displaying Starfleet’s Most Wanted.
“So it’s true,” Captain Beck’s voice said from behind him. “Sean Russell is in a library. I never would have believed it.”
Russell froze the display on the screen and turned his chair around as Beck walked over and took the seat next to him. “Captain!”
“You sound surprised.”
“I expected you to be S’nizsizni. We had…plans.”
“Helpful hint, Sean. If you stand an Andorian up for a date and she comes looking for you, you’re already dead, so there’s no sense worrying about it.”
“That’s comforting,” Russell gulped.
“Any progress?” she asked, her voice betraying an edge of tension.
“Not yet,” Russell admitted hesitantly.
“What brings you here?”
“I’m taking Bradley Dillon’s advice and learning some culture,” Russell said, pointing at the screen.
“Andor on Eight Shelnaks a Day, huh?”
“The planet is…complicated. Hives and castes and multiple parentage and who knows what else?”
“Tell me about it. I lived with one for four years and even visited the planet, and I never quite figured it all out.”
“I’ve been trying to find out information about government bureaucrats, but they evidently aren’t real exciting to write about,” Russell said. “Most of the tour books cover what not to do if you want to live. Then there’s the history which is full of war and death and matricide and patricide and fratricide and every other kind of cide you can think of. And if you don’t feel like killing your relatives yourself, you can hire an assassin to…” Russell trailed off, his eyes glazing over as he fell deep in thought.
“Hold on a second,” he said, struggling to remember. Where had he seen…
“Ha!” he exclaimed suddenly, turning back to the console. “Computer, isolate all information concerning Andorian Assassins Guilds and display page by page.” The computer obeyed, flashing page after page of text and grisly photos across the screen.
“Stop!” Russell said suddenly, freezing the display on a header page showing mostly text except for a swirling symbol with a caption identifying it as the crest of Andor’s main Assassin’s Guild. “There,” Russell said, pointing at the image with one hand as he fumbled in his uniform pocket for Grozzzin’s personal effects, which he dumped on the table in front of her. “And there,” he said triumphantly, holding up the pin. It was the same symbol. Holmes was right about all that observation stuff.
“So what?” Beck said. “Our corpse was assassinated?”
Russell reread the text. “I don’t think so. The pin isn’t left as a sign of who did it or anything. It’s more like ID.” He thought for another moment looking at the pin and other items. What was wrong with this picture? “Do you know anyone who carries a pen anymore?”
“Not for a couple of centuries,” Beck said. “Even on Andor, they’re museum pieces.”
Russell picked up the pen and examined it. He tabbed a small switch, causing a six inch long laser blade to lance out. “Tools of the trade,” he said. “Grozzzin was an assassin. Heavy emphasis on the was.”
“The next question is was this someone paying him back for a prior killing, or was he stalking a new target?” Beck said.
“I’m leaning toward new target. Grozzzin requested temporary quarters on the station while the ships were here, but he was assigned to Deck 91. His target probably lived on Deck 86.”
“Oh that helps a lot,” Beck said wryly. “I’m on 86. So is An’dahna, Commander Morales, Bradley Dillon, Ih’mad, Baughb, Krilik, Doctor Nelson, Glonk, and about three hundred other people including several other Andorian colonists.”
“But that would make this killing almost self-defense. I don’t understand why no one’s come forward.”
“I can think of a lot of possibilities, but none of them really matter. The important thing is to find the killer and soon.”
“How long do I have?”
“I have a feeling we’re about to find out,” Beck said grimly as she watched S’nizsizni enter the library and approach their table.
“I bring a message from An’dahna,” the muscular Andorian reported.
“I thought you might,” Beck said, bracing herself.
“If the killer of Grozzzin is not found and brought to justice in the next 24 hours, this station will be reduced to molten slag,” S’nizsizni said stonily. Suddenly, she turned to Russell, her demeanor brightening considerably.
“Ready to eat?”
“Get your red hot autopsy reports!” Dr. Amedon Nelson announced three hours later, waving a padd in the air as she stepped into her Infirmary office where Lieutenant Russell and Captain Beck had been pacing, narrowly avoiding bumping into each other on several occasions. Russell had pulled himself away from S’nizsizni after Nelson commed him saying the autopsy was complete. That was half an hour ago. She’d kept him and Beck waiting ever since.
“Summarize, Doctor,” Beck said tersely.
“Dead Andorian guy,” she said, fixing a steady gaze on Beck.
“This isn’t the time, Amedon.”
“He’s not going anywhere.”
“But we will be if the Andorians blow us to hell,” Beck said. “Spill it.”
“All right. We were meant to believe that Mister Grozzzin was killed in a frenzy of stabbing, but the death blow was struck first. Clean across the throat. Took out his vocal cords and carotid artery in one swoop.”
“That would explain why nobody heard any screaming,” Russell said.
“I’m sure they missed some pretty serious gurgling, though,” Nelson said, drawing winces from Beck and Russell.
“What about the weapon?” Russell asked, pulling the laser blade pen out of his pocket and activating it. “Was it anything like this?”
“That would have cauterized the wounds as it went. Clean and neat. This was a knife. Much messier.”
“Any idea what kind?” Beck asked.
“Do I look like Madame Cutlery to you?”
“I’ll check with Starfleet Forensics,” Russell said as Nelson handed him the padd with her report and several pictures of Grozzzin’s wounds. “Anything else I should know?”
“He was attacked from behind,” Nelson said.
Beck let out a low whistle. “What kind of person can sneak up on a trained Andorian assassin?”
“Maybe he wasn’t a very good assassin,” Russell said.
“Then I really don’t want to know,” Russell said with a shudder.
Find the target, and you’ll find the killer, the holographic Sherlock Holmes had told Russell when Russell returned to the holodeck for advice after receiving Nelson’s autopsy report. Holmes made it sound so simple. Of course, Holmes didn’t have to interview several hundred Andorians looking for some hint of guilt.
Deciding to start at the top, Russell went straight to the VIP quarters assigned to An’dahna during her stay on Waystation. The Andorian matriarch was cordial enough, but Russell was glad he already had an understanding with S’nizsizni, who monitored over the proceedings with her stone-faced glare. Otherwise, she’d be intimidating the hell out of him, and An’dahna was quite capable of doing that all on her own.
“I wondered when your investigation would bring you to me, Lieutenant,” An’dahna said as she sat down in an armchair across from Russell.
“You know something about the murder then?” Russell asked hopefully.
“No, but I would think that the leader of the colony would be high on your list on interview subjects.”
“Your position is kind of why I’m here. Can you think of anyone who might want you dead?”
“About 400,000 someones.”
“Enough to hire an assassin?”
An’dahna’s eyes widened, her antenna quivering just slightly. “Are you saying Grozzzin was killed by an assassin?”
“He was an assassin, ma’am. I believe someone killed him before he got to his target.”
“If his target was me, the only person who would have stood in the way would have been S’nizsizni, who I understand was otherwise occupied.”
Russell blanched. “Um…she does have an alibi.”
“She was free to be occupied because I had retired to my quarters with Ih’mad to discuss…business opportunities on our colony. He was here with me until well after the discovery of Grozzzin’s body.
So much for An’dahna. “Okay. Can you think of anyone else who has people who want them dead?”
“Do you have a passenger manifest for our ships?” An’dahna asked.
“Then you have my list.”
“All of them?” Russell gaped.
“We are Andorians, Lieutenant,” An’dahna replied with a feral smile.
Russell returned to his office the next morning after conducting a few more interviews and grabbing a few hours of troubled sleep. He knew the deadline was looming, but without rest his already frazzled mind would be completely useless.
Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter was waiting for him when Russell stepped into the Security office on the lower level of Starfleet Square Mall. A large mug of steaming coffee and a massive bacon and cheese omelet were waiting on his desk.
“You have officially saved my life,” Russell exclaimed, racing to his desk chair and practically diving into the coffee.
“Do you have any idea what the fat and cholesterol content of bacon is? I think I just took five years off of your life.”
“Synthepork,” Russell mumbled through a mouthful of omelet. “What’d you find?”
Porter placed a padd down in front Russell. “Jack.”
“Jack as in jack squat as in not a damn thing,” Porter said. “Whatever scrambled the sensors did a great job. My readings pick up again with the corpse and lovely puddle of blood,” he said, showing Russell the internal sensor analysis of the corpse and blood laying in the empty corridor.
“Great,” Russell said unhappily. “I guess it’s all up to Starfleet Forensics now.” He looked at his desk chronometer. “They’ve got six hours to tell me what the knife was. Then all I have to do is find the owner.”
“Piece of cake,” Porter said, standing up. “What are you going to do until then?”
“What can I do? More interviews, I guess, not that they’ll help.”
“Maybe you’ll get lucky.”
“You’re being awfully nonchalant considering the Andorians could be slicing us to ribbons in a few hours.”
“Call me crazy, but I have faith in your abilities,” Porter said, then headed out of the office.
“You’re crazy,” Russell muttered.
“This many people?” Russell asked astonished as he looked at the list of names on the padd in front of him.
“Possibly a few less,” J’allin, Russell’s current Andorian interview subject said, leaning back against the sofa in his quarters. “I may have already killed some of them.”
The comm panel on the wall chirped.
“Excuse me a moment,” J’allin said politely, rising from his seat and walking over to the panel. “J’allin.”
“Incoming mass comm from Primary An’dahna. All Andorian citizens are to return to your respective colony ships. Repeat: All Andorian citizens are to return to your respective colony ships.”
“That would seem to be my cue,” J’allin said, scooping up his small travel case from the table. “I am sorry you did not find the killer.”
“I’m not done yet.”
J’allin looked at his wall chronometer. “In ten minutes, you will be. Ta ta.” With a menacing chuckle, the Andorian headed out the door.
TEN MINUTES! Russell yanked himself out of his shocked stupor and rushed out of the quarters, almost barreling over the smug J’allin on his way to the turbolift.
Soon after that (but not soon enough considering the clock ticking down), Russell raced into the security office, still cursing himself for losing track of time. The stories the various Andorians had told him of blood feuds and heinous killings, eviscerations, and other activities had kept him riveted in a disgusting kind of way.
“Beck to Russell,” the comm barked.
“Russell here,” he said, breathlessly throwing himself into his desk chair.
“Give me some good news, Lieutenant,” Beck said tensely.
Russell checked his console. “The Starfleet Forensics report is in.”
“That really wasn’t what I had in mind, Sean.”
“That’s all I’ve got at the moment,” he replied, pulling up the report. Andorian knife. Very sharp. Oddly curved. Most likely…
“We’re down to three minutes, Sean!”
“Stall! Russell out,” he slapped the comm panel on his desk, cutting Beck off. He’d pay for that later, but if he didn’t figure this out soon, it wasn’t really going to matter.
Think, Russell! THINK!
His eyes fell on Porter’s padd, still displaying the report from the internal sensors. Blood. Body. Blood. Blood. And…organic matter. Something ground into the carpet in a couple of places below the blood and one other spot moving away from the body before it stopped.
Russell quickly tied the padd into his console and asked the computer to identify the substance. The computer’s response caused a slow smile to spread across his face…well, not real slow considering the station was about to be attacked. The point is that he was finally onto something.
After downloading the Starfleet Forensics report into the padd, Russell leapt up and ran out of his office into the main concourse of Starfleet Square Mall.
In Operations, Captain Beck stood in the front of the viewscreen, watching the three Andorian colony ships still docked at the arms jutting off of Waystation’s upper saucer.
“An’dahna is hailing us,” Commander Walter Morales, Waystation’s First Officer, reported from the tactical console.
“On screen,” Beck said. A moment later, the Andorian Primary appeared on the viewscreen dominating the front wall of ops.
“Your time has almost expired, Captain. Do you have the culprit?”
“Not yet, but…”
“Time has expired.”
“Hang on a second!” Beck snapped.
“No,” An’dahna said simply, then turned to someone off-screen. “Lock weapons and prepare to fire.”
“Shields,” Beck said.
“They aren’t going to do us much good, Captain,” Morales said. “They’re already inside the shield perimeter.”
“The designers probably didn’t expect our guests to try to blow us up,” Porter remarked from his post at the Operations/Science console.
“Poor planning on their part is now a crisis for us,” Beck muttered. “Morales, lock whatever weapons you can, but DO NOT fire.” She turned back to the screen. “Primary An’dahna, there must be another way to settle this without serious loss of life.”
“Captain, one of the colony ships is powering up its engines. I’m only reading one life sign aboard,” Porter reported.
“Sorry about that,” An’dahna said. “Several others wanted to stay aboard for the ramming run, but I didn’t want to lose that much of my populations.”
“Ramming!” Beck cried. She spun toward Porter.
“Tractor beams online,” he said, anticipating her next command. “But if they send that whole mass at us…”
“I get the picture.” For some reason, she flashed back to a few spats she had with her roommate back at the Academy. It’d taken her a while to get the hang of it, but Beck had finally found a way to deal with the Andorian. If it worked for one…
“An’dahna, I’ve been really damn patient with this stupidity up until now, but I’ve had it,” Beck said sternly. “If you’ve got a problem with the way I run Waystation, we’ll settle it between us.”
“Are you challenging me, Captain?”
“You’re damn right, I am,” Beck snapped. “You wanna take me on yourself, you old bat, or are you going to hide behind your ships?”
“As much as I would love to crush your windpipe myself, Terran, I accept the limitations of my advanced age. But I will assign a surrogate to fight you, or are you so weak that you only feel comfortable attacking an old woman.”
“I’ll fight whoever you want to put in front of me,” Beck said unflinchingly.
“Very well.” An’dahna once again spoke to someone off- screen. “Abort. And prepare the arena for Cizzz’nakk. We’re sending you the coordinates now, Captain. An’dahna out.”
“Did that go according to some plan I wasn’t told about?” Commander Morales asked, clearly unthrilled by the turn of events.
“Sort of,” Beck said. “Hold down the fort until I get back…if I get back. But look at it this way: if I get killed, Waystation’s off the hook.”
“I don’t find that comforting. Craig?”
“Nope. Not at all,” Porter said.
“Guess it’s a good thing I didn’t volunteer either of you to fight for me then,” Beck replied. “Energize.”
Beck dematerialized, then reformed inside a surprisingly brightly lit chamber on the Andorian colony ship. The light was practically blinding. The better to see ALL of the action, Beck mused. And the white floors and walls probably contrasted splattered blood quite nicely.
An’dahna, S’nizsizni, and six other Andorians waited in a semi-circle at the far side of the arena while several dozen other Andorians quickly and quietly filtered into the rows of seats surrounding the arena about fifteen feet above them.
“Are you ready, Captain?” An’dahna asked.
“The sooner the better,” Beck said.
“I agree,” S’nizsizni said, stepping forward. Inwardly, Beck winced. Of course she’d have to fight the walking mass of muscle. S’nizsizni picked up a long, curved sword and tossed it to Beck, then picking up one for herself.
“Cizzz’nakk!” S’nizsizni shouted, charging forward at Beck.
“Cizzz’nakk it is,” Beck said, running forward to meet S’nizsizni and start the battle in earnest. Hopefully, she could stay alive long enough for Russell to finish whatever the hell was taking him so long.
The Ic’hasssssst V’kelsnet Restaurant was deserted when Russell stepped inside from Starfleet Square Mall. Of course, the threat of imminent death tended to ruin a lot of people’s appetites.
Ih’mad’s face lit up on seeing a customer. “Lieutenant! I’m flattered that you would choose Ic’hasssssst V’kelsnet for your last meal,” he said, rising from the table where he’d been moping.
“I just want lunch, Ih’mad,” Russell said, taking a seat. “And I don’t think it’s anybody’s last meal.”
“That is good news. I just got in a whole shipment of gall bladders that need to ferment for at least another week before they’ll be usable for soups and cake,” Ih’mad said, hading off into the kitchen. Moments later, Baughb emerged with a fresh glass of water, complete with the usual unidentifiable chunks, and put it down in front of Russell.
“Are you ready to order, or will you need a menu?” Baughb asked.
“Hmm…good question,” Russell said. “I’ve got one for you. Are you ready to confess, or will you need a lawyer?”
Baughb gasped and dropped his tray, almost falling into a dead faint himself.
“Ha! Weren’t expecting that one, were you?” Russell said smugly.
“I…” Baughb sank into the seat across from the security chief.
“You killed Grozzzin,” Russell said, pressing his advantage. He flashed the padd at Baughb, displaying the image of the knife Starfleet Forensics had come up with. “This is a kitchen knife, isn’t it? Primarily used for carving and disemboweling yaxix, krixx, and d’naal.”
“That is true,” Baughb admitted, his head bowed.
“But you used it to slice Grozzzin’s neck open.”
Baughb said nothing.
“The knife was a big clue pointing to you, but what sealed it was this,” Russell said, changing the image on the padd to Porter’s sensor read out. “There were bits of j’zzzid ball in the carpet, and I observed you serving j’zzzid balls at the reception. My guess is that you stepped on one in the kitchen and tracked it around the station. So how about that confession?”
“I will not say anymore until I speak to Captain Beck,” Baughb said, gazing at Russell resolutely.
“Fine, but you’re waiting for her in the brig.”
Beck narrowly ducked under S’nizsizni’s slash, then slammed the pommel of her sword into the Andorian’s gut, sending the rock of a woman staggering backward slightly just as Beck’s commbadge chirped.
“Beck here,” she said, after slapping it quickly and leaping to the side to avoid an oncoming train of blue fury.
“It’s Russell. I have our killer, but he insists on speaking with you.”
“Who is it?”
“BAUGHB!” Beck exclaimed stunned, allowing S’nizsizni to slash her left arm badly. Beck gasped in pain, then returned the blow, slicing S’nizsizni across the thigh. “I’ll talk to him, but you’re going to have to take my place here.”
Beck closed the channel, then tapped her badge again. “Beck to Ops. Transport Lieutenant Russell to my location. Standby to beam me to the security office.”
“Standing by,” Porter said. A split second later, a very surprised Russell materialized next to Beck.
“She’s all yours,” Beck said, tossing Russell the sword, then pointing at S’nizsizni. “Go get her.”
“Could somebody tell me what we’re doing?” Russell asked weakly.
“Very simple,” S’nizsizni said, wiping blood off of her leg. “Winner lives. Loser dies.”
“But I thought you liked me. What about the S’vazzztz?”
“It was very good. I will remember it fondly. Maybe I will keep your genitals as a souvenir to remember it by. FIGHT!”
“Hey now!” Russell said, parrying S’nizsizni’s swing. “NOBODY is taking my genitals anywhere except me!”
Baughb practically leapt off of the bench in his cell straight toward the force field incarcerating him as Beck stepped into the cell block.
“Baughb. I hear we need to talk,” Beck said solemnly.
“Yes. I am glad you came!” he said. “You may understand.”
“I understand that you’re accused of murder. Murder, Baughb. Did you do it?”
“Yes, but he was an assassin!”
“We know that, Baughb. That doesn’t excuse…”
“He was going to kill Ih’mad!”
Beck stopped. “Ih’mad? Why would anyone want Ih’mad dead?”
“The restaurant. He was…”
“Hang on. Start at the beginning. How did you find out that Ih’mad was in trouble?”
“I followed Grozzzin after the reception,” Baughb said. “I-I was to be an assassin, too, Captain. My parents apprenticed me to the Assassin’s Guild for several years, but I was never happy there. As soon as I reached maturity, I broke away to pursue my true love: Food Service!
“I met Ih’mad soon after, and he had dreams of starting Ic’hasssssst V’kelsnet. I came with him to Waystation to learn the ins and outs of the business until the day when I am ready to start my own place. But the reception ruined everything. I saw Grozzzin’s g’hazzt.”
“G’hazzt?” Beck asked. It was not a word she’d come across in her Andorian language studies.
“It is an identifier used by the Assassin’s Guilds, worn on a inner layer of clothing. If he hadn’t been sitting when I brought him his champagne and wearing a loose vest, I never would have seen it, and Ih’mad would be…”
“That still doesn’t tell me how you knew Ih’mad was the target.”
“He is an assassin, Captain. If his target was someone on the colony ships, he would have struck long before now. Also, he kept an eye on Ih’mad throughout the reception. I shadowed him to the residential decks, where he positioned himself in a side corridor between An’dahna’s quarters and Ih’mad’s. He planned to kill Ih’mad as he returned from An’dahna’s.”
Baughb pulled a small device out of his jacket. “Grozzzin used this to scramble your internal sensors, so there would be no record of the crime. And then I used it to cover my departure.”
“Ih’mad’s success has caused many less successful restaurant owners on the homeworld to despise him. And when he bragged to the Restauranteurs Guild that he planned on opening a second Ic’hasssssst V’kelsnet on the new colony…it created a lot of anger. I’m sure one of these people contracted with Grozzzin to infiltrate the colony ships and kill Ih’mad during their stay here.”
Beck let out a deep breath and rubbed her temples. “The Andorians were ready to kill us all, Baughb…including Ih’mad. Why didn’t you come forward?”
“I knew you would save us,” he said simply.
“I’m touched by the vote of confidence, but you’re in a mess, Baughb.”
“I will accept my punishment….but I need you to understand. You are our best customer.”
“I can’t understand murder, Baughb. But I’ll do what I can for you.” Beck turned to go.
“I will miss being your waiter.”
“I’ll miss you, too, Baughb. But I’d rather have you in a Federation Rehab Colony than eviscerated by the Andorians.” She then headed out into the main security office to call for transport.
Beck materialized back in the arena just as Russell ran by her, his uniform reduced to shreds from repeated slices by S’nizsizni. Beck had the impression that the Andorian was playing with him. His body had barely been nicked. As long as she continued playing, Beck could have a chance to settle things with An’dahna.
“Have you returned to finish the Cizzz’nakk?” An’dahna asked as Beck approached her.
“In a way,” Beck said. “We have the murderer in custody.”
“Is he Andorian?”
“Yes. Baughb. A waiter in our Andorian restaurant. He killed the assassin to protect Ih’mad.”
“You will turn him over to us.”
“I don’t think so,” Beck said. “This was a crime committed on a Federation station by one of its residents, and as members of the Federation, you are bound to abide by Federation law in this situation.”
“On the contrary, Captain. This was an internal Andorian matter. Regardless of where the murder occurred, it was still committed against an Andorian, by an Andorian.”
“I am not going to allow you to execute Baughb for this.”
“Execute him?” An’dahna laughed. “He took out an assassin and protected the life of his employer in the process. He deserves to be rewarded, not killed.”
“Rewarded for murder?” Beck exclaimed, drawing the attention of everyone present, including S’nizsizni and Russell, who stopped fighting for the moment. “And how are you in the Federation again? We do not support that kind of behavior. He will be sent to a rehabilitation colony.”
“Don’t lecture me about Federation morality, Beck. Andor survived without the Federation for millennia.”
“I don’t care. I’m not giving him to you.”
“I’ll fight you for him.”
S’nizsizni took another swing at Russell, who managed to drop to the deck before his head was sliced clean off of his shoulders. The Andorian kicked him in the gut with enough force to send him sliding across the arena.
“No…fair…” Russell gasped, crawling to his feet.
“I could have aimed lower.”
“Stop this, An’dahna!” Beck demanded.
“Then give me Baughb.”
“He committed a crime. A price has to be paid.”
“Then find a price!” Russell shouted, ducking a shot from S’nizsizni, then catching her on the chin with an uppercut. With S’nizsizni dazed, he followed it up with two more jabs to the face before shoving her away from him. “Sorry about that.”
“I will dismember you one limb at a time,” S’nizsizni said with a low growl that Russell would have found seductive if she wasn’t threatening his life while holding a very sharp blade.
“Captain!” he cried.
“Exile!” Beck shouted suddenly. “Baughb is banned from Federation space for one year.”
“Can you do that?” Russell asked.
“Do you really care?”
“Not right now,” he said.
“Agreed,” An’dahna said, nodding at S’nizsizni, who immediately dropped her sword.
“But there’s one condition,” Beck continued. “He only goes with you if he wants to go with you. You cannot force him.”
“Fine. It’s a deal,” Beck said, extending her hand to An’dahna, who shook it. “Hopefully I won’t get court-martialed for it.”
“Not if the Federation wishes to keep Andor as a member,” An’dahna said.
“Now take me to Baughb.”
“All right. But remember. He only goes if he wants to go.”
“I’m going to the colony!” Baughb exclaimed happily for about the one thousandth time as he stood outside the airlock at Docking Arm Two waiting to board one of the Andorian colony ships.”
“I’m glad you’re happy about it,” Beck said, her arm wrapped around Ih’mad’s shoulder. Ih’mad was not taking the news well.
“Who will wait my tables?” he wailed.
“You have other waiters,” Beck said.
“But they are not Baughb.”
“Thank you, Ih’mad,” Baughb said. “I’m going to miss working for you.”
“It’s only a year,” Beck said.
The line of Andorians entering the airlock dwindled down. “I should go,” Baughb said. “Thank you again, Captain.”
“Good luck to you.”
“Baughb,” Ih’mad said.
“If at the colony you decide that you want to open a place of your own… I won’t stand in your way.”
“Really?” Baughb said surprised.
Baughb shook Ih’mad’s hand emphatically, then, after hugging Beck, rushed onto the colony ship.
“That was big of you, Ih’mad,” Beck said once Baughb had gone.
“He saved my life. And if he becomes too much competition, I’ll hire TWO assassins.”
“I didn’t need to hear that.”
“Would you prefer to hear our specials for today?”
“Much better,” Beck said as she and Ih’mad headed away from the docking arm.
The next morning, Lieutenant Commander Porter found Lieutenant Russell once again slumped over a plate of food at the Double D Diner.
“You okay?” Porter asked, sliding onto the stool next to him.
“Still a little sore.”
“Doctor Nelson can…”
“I didn’t want to take anything. The pain reminds me of S’nizsizni.”
“You are one messed up individual, my friend.”
“Yeah, but the S’vazzztz was great,” Russell said wistfully.
“You could always go visit her.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I prefer to think we were two S’vazzztzs passing in the night.”
“That was bad.”
“We’ll always have S’vazzztz.”
“I like to S’vazzztz ‘em and leave ‘em.”
“That’s enough now.”
“S’vazzztz is a many splendored thing.”
“Don’t make me hurt you.”