Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
“Everything Must Go”
By Alan Decker
After a few years of spending almost every day moving through the constant hordes of people living on Waystation, Commander Walter Morales found the relative silence and isolation of the USS Wayward to be quite refreshing.
The expanded scouting vessel assigned to Waystation was by no means large, but it could hold 20 occupants comfortably and contained most of the amenities of a larger starship including a mess hall and sickbay. Granted, the mess hall and sickbay were the same room with tables capable of flipping over to become biobeds. Fortunately, though, no one had ever needed surgery during lunch.
This morning continued the surgery-free trend as Morales stepped into the mess hall to find it deserted except for Yeoman Tina Jones, who was sipping on a mug of coffee, the remnants of a muffin sitting on a plate in front of her.
“Morning, Commander,” she said brightly.
“Morning, Tina,” Morales replied, stepping over to the replicator. “Belgian waffle. Orange juice.”
The replicator obediently created his order, which he then took to Jones’s table. “Mind if I join you?”
“Do you even have to ask?” she said.
“I’m just being polite,” he said, sitting down. “Any news from the cockpit?”
“Nothing. Craig must not have seen anything interesting.”
“Fine by me,” Morales said, taking his first bite of waffle and enjoying the serenity of the ship. As it was, the Wayward was only carrying eight people on this mission, which made the ship seem just a little bit larger. Things were almost perfect.
The mess hall doors opened, bringing back into focus why “almost” was the operative word. Colonel Martin Lazlo stepped smartly into the room followed closely by three of his Federation Marines.
“Kyle, secure us a table,” he ordered his executive assistant, Sergeant Rick Kyle, who nodded crisply, then marched to a table in the far corner, where he proceeded to rearrange the chairs to make sure that none of the marines would have his or her back to the door. “Table secured, sir!” Kyle announced. “And I want a bowl of granola and a hot tea…with lemon.”
“You heard the man, Kintasa,” Lazlo barked to the private standing next to him. “Granola and tea. Move move MOVE! Fall in behind him, Sheppard. I want this squad fed and out the door in ten!”
“I think that’s bad for the digestion, Colonel,” Yeoman Jones said as Kintasa and Corporal Theresa Sheppard rushed to the replicator.
“Their digestion is none of your damn business,” Lazlo barked, storming over. He slapped a padd down in front of Commander Morales. “This is our schedule for today.”
“I didn’t know we had a schedule,” Morales said confused as he looked at the padd.
“We do now. We’ve spent four days lazily flying along, and that is not what the Federation Marines came on this mission to do. I am taking my people planetside before they become as soft as you Starfleeters.”
“We’re over a parsec away from the nearest star system,” Morales said placidly. He really expected something like this from Lazlo days ago. The Wayward was well into unexplored territory, surveying several star systems in the Beta Quadrant.
“I had hoped,” Lazlo said, sitting down across from Morales and staring him straight in the eye, “that you and I could avoid the kind of problems I have with Captain Beck.”
“I’d like that as well,” Morales said.
“I’m glad we have an understanding then.”
“Half of one. I understand what you want to do today, but you need to understand that even though I’m not Captain Beck, I’m not going to stand by and let you trample over the Starfleet aspect of this assignment. You’ve been on survey missions before, Colonel. You know they can be dull.”
“If we’re going to be colonizing planets out this way, planets the Federation Marines may be called upon to defend, we need a first hand look at the terrain. Your Starfleet surveys may cover the science to death, but they don’t consider the military ramifications whatsoever.”
“Well, we aren’t really a military organization,” Jones said.
“Oh really? YEOMAN.”
“Um…well…I guess you have a point there.”
“I don’t think we need to fight about this, Lazlo,” Morales said. “We’ll see what we can do about finding you a planet. I mean, nothing else is happening…”
On cue, the red alert klaxon began to blare as the lights in the mess hall dimmed except for the flashing scarlet warning lights.
“Me and my big mouth,” Morales muttered, leaping up from his seat and heading toward the door.
“If I’d have known this was all it took to get things popping around here, I would have said it four days ago,” Lazlo retorted, following Morales out of the mess hall.
Kyle, Kintasa and Sheppard looked around nervously, their mouths stuffed with the food they’d been shoveling in. “Does this mean we can eat slower?”
“Please,” Jones said. “Enjoy the Starfleet way for a little bit.”
“I don’t know if we…”
“EAT SLOWER!” Jones snapped.
“Yes, ma’am!” the Marines shouted, promptly dropping their forks.
Jones shook her head. Some people.
The door to the Wayward’s four person cockpit slid open, allowing Morales and Lazlo to enter. Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter sat in the pilot’s seat, while Ensign Laru Hassna, the Bajoran security officer assigned by Lieutenant Russell to accompany Morales and the others on this mission, watched the sensors from the co-pilot’s seat. Captain Beck had been adamant that the number of Starfleet personnel equal the number of Federation Marines on the Wayward. All the better to keep Lazlo in line.
“Report!” Lazlo snapped, striding ahead of Morales.
Porter and Laru exchanged a glance, then ignored him.
“What’s going on?” Morales asked, suppressing a smile while Lazlo fumed.
“We’ve got a couple of guests heading our way,” Porter said, moving aside so Morales could take the controls. He slid into the chair at the science console behind Morales. “And they don’t seem to like each other.”
Morales glanced down at the long range sensors, which showed a small shuttle-type craft weaving wildly beck and forth as a larger vessel, comparable in size to the Wayward, gave chase, firing constantly.
“Are we getting involved?” Ensign Laru asked from the co-pilot’s chair as she brought up the weapons arrays.
“Of course we are,” Lazlo said. “We are not about to stand by and let…”
“Hang on,” Morales said, raising his hand. “We don’t even know what’s going on here.”
“We’re about to find out,” Porter said. “The smaller ship has spotted us and altered course. We’re being hailed.”
“On my monitor,” Morales said, turning his head to face the monitor to his left. The Federation logo on the monitor vanished and was quickly replaced by a wide-eyed hairless humanoid alien with leathery-yellow skin.
“You must help me” the alien cried as smoke billowed out of a console behind him. “They’re after my ship! They want to take it from me!”
“Want to blow it up, you mean,” Lazlo muttered.
“If so, they’re doing it the slow way,” Porter said. “The other ship’s weapons are at exceptionally low power.”
“Hail the other ship,” Morales said.
“Too late,” Porter replied. “They’re hailing us.”
“I need to put you on hold for a second,” Morales said to the yellow alien. “I’ll be right back.”
“We’re working on it. Hold on.” Morales nodded to Porter, who shifted to the other comm signal. Two figures, both completely clad in black with shiny round black helmets covering their entire heads sat in the center of a shiny black bridge.
“How festive,” Porter remarked.
“This is Commander Walter Morales of the Federation Starship Wayward. Why are you attacking that vessel?”
“It is of Falinor,” one of the helmeted individuals (Morales had no idea which one) replied, as though that meant something.
“Do you work for this Falinor?” Morales asked.
“Falinor is a planet. We are of the Collectors. The Collectors are currently liquidating Falinor’s assets, including this vessel. Would you care to make an offer?”
“Leave it alone, and we’ll let you live,” Lazlo said.
“Perhaps we should clarify our definition of offer.”
“Wait,” Laru said. “Is this Falinor your planet?”
“We have collected it.”
“How did you do that?” the Ensign pressed.
“We found it.”
“What about the people who live on Falinor?”
“We found them, too.”
“Did they want to be found?” Porter asked.
“Why does that matter? We assessed their world, collected what was interesting, and are liquidating the rest. You must come by. We have some wonderful deals. Now if you’ll excuse us, we have a vessel to collect.”
Morales shook his head. “What you’re describing sounds like an invasion more than anything else?”
“Can we compromise and go with hostile takeover?” the Collectors asked.
“The pilot of the Falinoran ship asked for our help, and, under the circumstances, I feel we must intervene,” Morales said.
“He said leave, or we’ll kick your assess,” Lazlo said.
“Unacceptable,” the Collectors replied. “Do not interfere, or you will be fired upon.”
“They’re going after the Falinoran ship again,” Porter said.
“Target their weapons arrays, Ensign,” Morales said, gunning the Wayward’s engines and sending the ship rocketing forward toward the Collectors’ ship, effectively blocking its firing arc on the Falinoran craft.
The Wayward rocked gently as the Collectors’ weapons impacted against the shields. Before the Collectors had a chance to up the power on their cannons, Ensign Laru opened fire, sending a sustained phaser blast into their primary weapons array. In response, the Collector’s ship veered off, beating a hasty retreat back in the direction it had come.
“Anybody else think that was too easy?” Porter asked.
“They recognized superior firepower,” Lazlo said.
“Or they went for help,” Morales said.
“Is this ‘Boldly Going’?” Lazlo sneered. “If you’re so worried about these Collectors, why don’t you let us handle things? Go snivel under your bunks.”
Morales just shook his head and reactivated the comm channel to the Falinoran ship. The pilot was visibly relieved. “THANK YOU!” he exclaimed. “Who are you?”
“Commander Walter Morales of the Federation Starship Wayward. We’re happy to assist,” Morales said. “Perhaps you could tell us what that was about.”
“I am Gorikar. My homeworld is under attack by the Collectors. We tried to fight them off, but we’re a peaceful people by nature. We did not have the weapons or skills to repel them.”
“Easy pickings,” Lazlo said.
“Yes. We were. Several of us who owned spacecraft decided to try to escape the planet to find help. I was the only one to clear the solar system. And the Collectors would have claimed my ship as well if you hadn’t intervened. Will you return with me to Falinor and help my people?”
“Yes!” Lazlo said quickly.
“Woah woah woah,” Porter said. “They probably have just a few more ships than us there.”
“This doesn’t have to turn into a fight,” Morales said. “We’ll go and see if we can reason with the Collectors.”
“Then when that doesn’t work, we’ll kick their asses,” Lazlo said.
“Has being on this ship driven you that stir crazy?”
“Oh, this should be fun,” Porter muttered.
Lieutenant Commander Porter let out a low whistle as the Wayward approached Falinor. The planet was surrounded by ships of various shapes and sizes zipping around in their orbits of the world. Meanwhile, a long, shiny black vessel large enough to engulf several Galaxy-class starships in its hull hovered over the planet. The giant craft consisted of several oval segments laid end to end like some kind of massive bug.
“The Collectors, I imagine,” Morales said solemnly.
“Gorikar’s ship’s been spotted,” Porter reported. “Several other craft are moving to intercept.”
“Beam him aboard,” Morales ordered.
“Energizing. Any idea how you want to go about this?”
“I’m still trying to figure out where we’re going to park.”
“Incoming hail from the big bug out there.”
Another black helmeted Collector appeared on the viewscreen. “Welcome to Collector Liquidation Sale 584. Please feel free to visit the surface and examine the many wares we have for sale. We accept hillicas and Galacti-Card. In special circumstances, though, we will consider barter. Enjoy your stay and obey all Sales Coordinator instructions while on the surface.”
Before Morales could get in a word, the channel closed. The cockpit was silent for several seconds.
“Anybody got any ideas?” Morales asked finally.
Colonel Lazlo spoke up. “We should attack their…”
“Anybody besides the Colonel,” Morales clarified.
“Um…Commander?” Yeoman Tina Jones said, poking her head into the cockpit.
“There’s a Gorikar here to see you. We just beamed him aboard. I assume that was intentional.”
“Yeah,” Morales said. “Bring him in.” A moment later, the Falinoran burst into the cockpit.
“You see the problem my people face,” Gorikar said, pointing out the viewport at the Collector mother-ship. “How could we stop something that size?”
“I’m wondering the same thing,” Morales replied. “Or if we even should.”
“What?” Gorikar and Lazlo exclaimed.
“We don’t know the whole story here, and I have no intention of waltzing blindly into a Prime Directive violation. Porter, see if you can reach some kind of governing body on the surface.”
“This is a waste of time,” Lazlo spat, rising from his chair.
“Where are you going?” Morales demanded.
“To the surface for a first hand look at the situation. While you’re up here arguing with yourselves about philosophy, we’ll be getting something done!” He charged toward the door but stopped, realizing he was being followed. Lazlo turned and saw Gorikar right behind him.
“What do you want?”
“To come with you! You’re actually doing something!”
“All right,” Lazlo sneered, looking the Falinoran up and down. “Just keep your head low and stay out of our way.”
“Yes yes! Of course!”
Lazlo turned on his heel and marched out the door, Gorikar right on his heels.
“Isn’t that sweet? Lazlo has a groupie,” Porter said.
“Lazlo had better keep him alive, too.”
“Should I go with them?” Ensign Laru asked.
“No way. We may need you to keep us alive,” Porter said. He turned back to his console. “Come on, folks. Are you ever going to answer your comms?”
“Maybe the Collectors wiped out the planetary government,” Laru said.
“That would make sense considering the state of things around here,” Morales replied.
Porter shook his head. “Not quite. I’ve accessed their planetary network and located their primary government complex. There are still some Falinoran life signs in what’s supposed to be the Prime Minister’s office. A bunch of other people are there, too, but there are definitely a couple of Falinorans.”
“I guess I may have to do this in person,” Morales said, rising up from his chair. “Come on, Ensign. You’ve got the conn, Porter.”
“Does that mean I have the power not to beam Colonel Lazlo and his team back up when they comm?” Porter asked as Morales and Laru left the cockpit. Morales didn’t respond. “I’m taking that as a yes!” Porter called after them.
Commander Morales, Ensign Laru, and Yeoman Jones materialized a short time later in the middle of what was supposed to be the Falinoran Prime Minister’s office suite. At the moment, it looked more like a stampede. Aliens of varieties Morales had never seen before rushed to and fro, pulling paintings off of the wall or placing tags on furniture and lamps. Near the door, a black helmeted Collector stood with a padd performing sales transactions with the aliens as they brought items or tag numbers up to him.
In the far corner, an elder Falinoran male (at least Morales assumed he was elder due to his excessively wrinkled skin) sat being consoled by another Falinoran. A burly alien of unknown origin charged over, grabbed the elder, took the Falinoran’s suit jacket, then dropped the elder back in the corner and raced over to the Collector.
“This is insane,” Laru said.
“What are we supposed to do?” Jones asked. “It’s chaos.”
“See if you can calm things down a little,” Morales said. “At the very least, keep everyone else away from the Falinorans.” He stepped over to the elder and squatted in front of the dazed man. “Sir? My name is Commander Walter Morales. I’m with the United Federation of Planets. We’re here to help.”
“Help? Help! Help yourself to my planet, you mean!” the elder said, his eyes fixing on Morales.
“No! One of your citizens came to us for help. We’re going to try and stop the Collectors if we can, but I need to know what happened here.”
“They came, they saw, they sold,” the elder muttered.
His assistant patted the elder on the shoulders while he looked up at Morales. “Please excuse him, Commander Morales. This has been a trying time for the Prime Minister.”
“These Collectors arrived two days ago. We have limited trade relationships with the worlds in the next solar system, and we mistakenly assumed that the Collectors were simply a group from farther out who wished to deal with us. Falinor is a peaceful world. We do not have weapons nor have we had the need for them…until now. The Collectors swooped in, assessed our world, took what they wanted, then announced that they were selling the rest. This mob descended on us this morning ready to pick our planet clean.”
Morales suddenly noticed that the room was much quieter. He looked up to see that everyone except the Collector, Jones, and Laru had left.
“I told the Collector that we were considering buying the entire building, but we couldn’t concentrate with all of the racket. He cleared the place for us,” Jones said.
“Good thinking,” Morales said, standing up and turning back to the Prime Minister. “I promise we’re going to do everything we can, sir. There are enough other dangers in this galaxy without a bunch of opportunistic bullies running around. If you’re going to worry about something, worry about the Borg. One cube could show up, strip the technology from your planet, and assimilate your entire populace into a bunch of drones that exist solely to serve the Queen. You all would cease to exist as individuals.”
The Prime Minister blanched.
“Oh. Sorry about that,” Morales said. “Just forget I said anything.”
“What about the Cardassians?” Laru asked. “They’re pretty damn nasty.”
“Worse than the Borg?” the Prime Minister squeaked.
“Ensign, let’s drop this. The poor man probably needs therapy as it is,” Morales said, stepping over to the Collector by the door. “Who’s the Collector in charge?” he asked.
“Do you have a complaint?” the Collector asked.
“I wish to discuss a special deal.”
“Standby.” The Collector tapped a control on his black belt, then the shiny surface of his helmet began to shimmer. Soon, the face place revealed itself to be a viewscreen displaying the interior of a spacecraft where yet another black helmeted individual sat. This one, however, wore a bright red uniform, differentiating this Collector from the others.
“Chief Assessor,” a strangely androgynous voice warbled.
“This is Commander Walter Morales of the United Federation of Planets, Chief Assessor. I…”
“You wish to discuss a deal,” the Chief Assessor interrupted.
“Actually, I wanted to talk to you about…”
“All sales are final.”
“What’s happening here is…”
“All items sold as in. No warranties are included or implied.”
“That’s not what I wanted…”
“Taxes and title are extra.”
“Quantities are limited. No rain checks will be given. The customer is…”
“SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO THE MAN!” Jones screamed suddenly, silencing the Chief Assessor and almost causing Morales to leap out of his skin.
“Thank you, Yeoman,” Morales muttered as he tried to locate the remainder of his nerves. “As I was saying, Chief Assessor, the Falinorans have asked for our help, and we cannot just stand by and allow you to pillage this planet.”
“The Falinorans don’t seem to think so.”
“We found it.”
“They were here first.”
“We didn’t collect them. Not valuable to us,” the Chief Assessor said.
“And that’s supposed to make this better?”
“Operators are standing by. Good day,” the Chief Assessor’s image on the Collector’s helmet abruptly vanished.
The Collector gestured at what was left of the Prime Minister’s office. “Shall I bag this up for you?”
“So do all Marines get big guns like that?” Gorikar asked eagerly as he walked along beside Colonel Lazlo through the main business district of the Falinoran capital city. On either side of them, a larger scale version of the scene in the Prime Minister’s office repeated itself as aliens of all varieties ripped furniture and furnishings out of the homes and buildings lining the street, taking their treasures to sporadically placed Collectors to complete their purchases.
Just in front of Lazlo and Gorikar, Private Kintasa and Lieutenant Sheppard warily watched the masses of people around them, their rifles at the ready.
“Some are bigger,” Lazlo said with a glint in his eyes.
“No weapons are allowed on the sales floor,” a harsh male voice said from their left. The group turned to see a Collector approaching them, his black gloved hand raised as a warning. “Please check coats and firearms in orbit.”
“Check yourself into orbit, ball boy,” Lazlo snapped, knocking on the Collector’s helmet. “Federation Marines KEEP their weapons handy at all times.”
“Please obey our rules, or I may be forced to ask you to leave the store.”
“We have some lovely deals today, and it would be a shame if…”
“This isn’t your planet! Now get the hell out of here before I barbecue you,” Lazlo insisted.
“If you buy three lamps, the fourth is free. All food is twenty percent off. Closets of clothing await your perusal.”
“You aren’t paying any attention to me, are you?” Lazlo said.
“Hey! Hurry it up, ugly hairy man,” a diminutive alien woman said angrily, tapping Lazlo forcefully on the shoulder with one hand while her other held a pile of garments. “Some of us have places to be.”
“I will take the next customer now,” the Collector said placidly, pulling out his padd.
“Now you will not!” Lazlo said. “You’re leaving…NOW!”
“Next in line please.”
“That’s it!” Lazlo leveled his rifle and fired. The high-powered stun beam blasted the Collector off of his feet and slammed him into the wall of a nearby building before he slumped to the ground unconscious.
“There’s more of this for the rest of you, too!” Lazlo shouted at the alien looters. “Leave this world now!”
“How am I supposed to check out now?” the small alien woman demanded.
“You aren’t,” Lazlo sneered. “Now get!”
“ARRRGH!” the alien cried, launching herself at Lazlo. Before he could react, several more aliens charged his way, tackling him to the pavement and sending his rifle sliding away from him.
“Fire! Fire!” Lazlo screamed as Kintasa and Sheppard scrambled toward the nearest building, laying down cover fire as they went.
In the midst of the chaos, Gorikar, who as an insignificant Falinoran was basically being ignored, hesitantly picked up Lazlo’s rifle and aimed it at the mob pummeling the Colonel. Slowly, his finger pressed the trigger. A split-second later, a stun blast from the rifle seared into the horde attacking Lazlo, knocking a muscle-bound purple thing to the pavement.
Gorikar smiled. Now THIS was cool. His finger pressed the trigger again and again and again, pegging alien after alien until all that remained was a battered and dazed Colonel Lazlo. Lazlo staggered to his feet, stumbled over to Gorikar, and snatched the rifle away from him.
“That was fun!” the Falinoran exclaimed. “Can I shoot somebody else?”
“Maybe later,” Lazlo said. He turned his attention to the unconscious Collector slumped against the wall and made his way over there while Kintasa and Sheppard jogged up to join him.
“Are you all right, sir?” Sheppard asked.
“Fine, no thanks to you two.”
“We did prevent anyone else from attacking you,” Kintasa said. “We felt you could handle the other fifteen aliens yourself. You’ve always told us that a well-trained Federation Marine can single-handedly take on twenty…”
“All right,” Lazlo said, holding up his hand. “Just shoot them next time and save me the effort.” He squatted down in front of the insensate helmeted Collector. “Okay, blackie. Let’s see what you bastards really look like.”
Lazlo searched and, after finding a control latch at the base of the helmet, opened and removed the head gear, which he handed to Sheppard, revealing a nondescript humanoid male with a slight ridge along his cheek bones and eyebrows. Two patches of hair were missing on the Collector’s head where it appeared that some part of the helmet had been pressing down.
Gradually, the Collector began to regain consciousness. Suddenly, his eyes widened in fear as he stared at Lazlo. “Who are you!” He looked around frantically. “Where am I? Where’s Denaiu? Oh Great Gakinaks!”
“Pipe down, you Collector scumbag,” Lazlo demanded.
“Collector? I’m not… Oh no. They Collected me! NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” The alien broke down crying, burying his head in his hands.
“What does this mean?” Gorikar asked confused.
“Give me that,” Lazlo snapped, snatching the helmet back from Sheppard. He looked inside. “Those evil bastards,” he muttered.
“What? I don’t understand,” Gorikar said.
“Mind control,” Lazlo said, showing Gorikar the inside of the helmet, which contained a blinking device with two protrusions matching the bare patches on the alien’s head. “The Collectors must get new recruits from the planets they visit. Consider yourself lucky.”
“I don’t want to be a Collector.”
“Don’t worry, pal. I’ll kill you first.”
Gorikar didn’t think he liked that idea at all.
Back on the Wayward, Lieutenant Commander Porter watched the sensor readouts from the surface. Some familiar energy spikes caught his attention.
“I knew the man couldn’t keep it holstered,” he muttered.
“Did he shoot someone again?” Sergeant Kyle, who was currently sitting on the floor behind Porter fiddling with the beginnings of what he swore would eventually be a scale replica of the Wayward, asked disappointed. “He is so tense!”
“Is that what you call it?” Porter asked, reaching for the comm panel. “Wayward to Commander Morales.”
“Morales here,” Waystation’s first officer replied on the other end of the comm channel.
“Looks like Colonel Lazlo has been introducing some people to his style of play.”
“Does that mean what I think it means?” Morales said unhappily.
“If you think it means shots have been fired, then yes.”
Morales let out a long, loud sigh. “Beam us to Lazlo’s position. We haven’t been getting very far here anyway.”
“The Porter express departs now,” Porter said, activating the Wayward’s transporter.
Morales, Jones, and Ensign Laru materialized in the middle of devastation. Bodies had been strewn everywhere, and standing in the middle of it all, looking around with satisfaction, was Colonel Martin Lazlo.
“What have you done?” Morales gasped in horror.
“They attacked me first,” Lazlo said.
“So they had it coming. And I really only shot the Collector over there,” Lazlo said, pointing at the sobbing helmet-less alien sitting by a building.
“I shot a bunch of them!” Gorikar announced proudly.
“I thought Falinorans were a peaceful people,” Yeoman Jones said.
“I was but…his gun’s relaiks!”
“And relaiks is a good thing?” Jones asked confused.
Morales glared at Lazlo. “If Captain Beck were here…”
“Well, she’s not, Morales,” Lazlo shot back. “So you can’t go hiding behind her. And even if she was here, I’d…”
“What about the helmet?” Gorikar said.
“You’d what?” Morales said. “Behave yourself because otherwise she’d kick your ass.”
“I can take Lisa Beck any day.”
“That I’d like to see,” Jones said.
“Um…the helmet,” Gorikar said again.
“Name the day,” Lazlo said.
“Hey!” Morales said, holding up his hands. “None of this changes the fact that you zapped dozens of civilians.”
“Do you see any Falinorans stunned? I don’t think so.”
“I DON’T WANT TO BE COLLECTED BY THE BRAINWASHING HELMETS!” Gorikar wailed suddenly, sending the conversation to a screeching halt.
“Can you just wait a damn minute?” Lazlo snapped.
“What is he talking about?” Jones said.
“Hold on. Let’s get this command problem settled first,” Morales said.
“We don’t have a command problem,” Lazlo said. “I’m in command. You and your Starfleeters can run around and do whatever the hell you want. In the meantime, we’ll be taking down the Collectors.”
“I already told you, Colonel. You are not just running all over me. I…” Morales trailed off, turning to Gorikar. “Brainwashing helmets?”
“He got collected!” Gorikar said, pointing to the black-suited alien wailing by the building. “The helmet made him do it.”
“Where’s the helmet?” Morales asked, walking away from Lazlo.
“Morales! We weren’t finished!” Lazlo shouted.
Morales waved his arm distractedly as he headed over to the discarded helmet.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Lazlo demanded.
“Hmm…” Jones said thoughtfully. “I’d have to guess…go f*** yourself.”
The Colonel’s mustache twitched with fury as Jones and Laru moved off to join their commanding officer.
The dismantled Collector helmet lay spread out across the table in the Wayward’s situation room while Lieutenant Commander Porter examined the device’s innards, holding one of the contacts in his hand and scanning it with a tricorder.
“That explains that,” he muttered.
“What?” Commander Morales asked as he, Colonel Lazlo, and Gorikar stood by expectantly. Well, Lazlo was fuming still, but he insisted on being included in the proceedings.
“Why the Collectors told you they didn’t take any of the Falinorans. Their skin is far too thick for this to penetrate.”
“You mean I’m safe?” Gorikar said hopefully.
“From being Collected? Yes. I wouldn’t start taunting them in the streets, though. You aren’t phaser-proof.”
“Oh,” Gorikar said deflated.
“What can we do about it?” Morales asked. “They could have hundreds of people enslaved under those helmets.”
“We have to take out the mothership,” Lazlo said firmly. “Once it’s gone, the rest will be a mop-up operation…assuming any of the remaining Collectors are brave enough to stick around.”
“I’m not trying to kill them, Lazlo. We want to free them.”
“I think a fairly powerful EM pulse should disrupt the helmets,” Porter said. “I need to focus the frequency a bit, so we aren’t just wasting energy on bands that aren’t going to do anything.”
“How would we deliver the pulse?” Morales asked.
“It’s up to you. Phaser, deflector dish, bomb. You name it.”
Morales thought for a moment. “Colonel, you still want to attack that mothership?”
“You’ll be getting your chance, but you’re carrying some cargo.”
Lazlo smiled. “I may get to like you after all, Morales.”
Cramped was a generous description for the Wayward’s engineering section. In order to squeeze as much living space as possible into the ship, engineering had been reduced to little more than a closet containing the warp core, a few status consoles, and hatches to the jefferies tubes leading to the impulse drive. As it was, engineering was just big enough for a person to squeeze around the core while working, but with both Porter and Morales in the room, claustrophobia was setting in fast.
“I gotta get out of here,” Porter muttered as he lay on the deck, his arms deep inside the panel leading to the deflector relays.
“I’ll leave if you’d like,” Morales said from a few inches away where he worked on the phaser settings.
“Oh no. You aren’t getting out of here unless it’s an emergency.”
“Laru to Commander Morales. You’d better get up here!” the comm system barked.
Morales smiled weakly. “Be careful what you wish for. What’s the problem, Ensign?”
“The Collectors just hailed us. They evidently know what Colonel Lazlo did on the surface. We’re to leave Falinoran space immediately or we’ll be destroyed. Five Collector ships are closing on our position.”
“Any word from Lazlo’s team?”
“Not since they beamed to the Collector’s mothership.”
Morales made one final adjustment in the phaser systems, then closed up the panel, tossing his tools aside. “I’ll be right there.” He looked down at Porter. “How long on the deflector?”
“Two maybe three minutes?”
“Let me know as soon as you’re done.”
“Nah. I thought I’d keep it a secret,” Porter quipped as Morales raced out of Engineering. “OUCH! That was my leg!”
“Sorry!” Morales called back, running down the corridor.
Quiet. Eerily quiet. Colonel Lazlo found the silence unsettling as he and his Marines charged through the corridors of the Collectors’ mothership. As expected, everything was black, but lit well enough for the team to navigate without much trouble.
What was troubling was the knowledge that the Collectors could be anywhere. Damn carpeted decks. It made hearing approaching footsteps almost impossible.
“Pick up the pace, Kyle,” Lazlo barked at his executive assistant, who was currently laboring under the weight of a large bomb strapped to his back.
“This is heavy!” Kyle wailed back. “Why couldn’t Kintasa have carried it?”
“Because he can actually shoot straight. And we all are carrying packs, Kyle. You just happen to be the one with the bomb.”
“Well, Commander Morales could have beamed us in somewhere closer to our target.”
“I set the coordinates myself, Mister. You got a problem with that?”
“Not anymore,” Kyle said quickly.
“Another hundred yards, and we’ll be at the exact center of the ship,” Lieutenant Sheppard reported, checking the scanner mounted on her rifle. A blast suddenly seared over her shoulder from behind, nearly slamming into her head.
The team scattered, diving for cover (and Kyle just fleeing for his life) as a squad of black clad Collectors charged up the Corridor after them, their collective footfalls colliding soundlessly against the deck.
“This ship just isn’t natural,” Lazlo muttered.
“I thought that was a given,” Kintasa said. “I mean, it’s not a bioship and…”
“Just start shooting, Private!” Lazlo turned his head back toward Kyle, who was cowering at the end of the corridor. “Deploy that thing!”
“Going!” Kyle shouted back, crawling as low to the floor as he could as he rounded a corner. He scrambled to slide the bomb off of his back and looked over the control interface, which consisted of one large red button labeled “PRESS TO DETONATE.”
“Simple enough,” Kyle said to himself and pressed the button. The text of the label shifted to read “NOW RUN!!!”
“AHHH!” Kyle screamed, jumping to his feet and tearing back around the corner, right into a battlezone. “RUN! RUN! It’s going to blow!”
“It’s not going to hurt us,” Lazlo snapped, pulling Kyle down out of the line of fire. “It’s just a pulse.”
A split second later, the team felt a wave of energy rush over them, expanding outward from the device throughout the entire mothership. The Collectors down the corridor from the team staggered backwards, shaking their heads in confusion. The Marines’ rifles immediately stopped firing, their circuitry fried by the pulse.
“Move out!” Lazlo ordered standing up and running past the dazed Collectors, the other Marines close behind. “Morales said we’d need to be close to the hull for beam out due to interference from the pulse. Go! Go!”
“STOP!” a voice commanded. Suddenly, the red-clad Chief Assessor stepped out in front of the Marines from an adjoining corridor with ten more black-clad Collectors close behind.
“Um…wasn’t that pulse supposed to stop the brainwashing thingy?” Kyle asked confused.
“Some of us are actual Collectors,” the Chief Assessor said. “And I am really NOT happy about this. You have seriously harmed my acquisitions.”
“Prisoners, you mean,” Lazlo said.
“Consider yourselves collected,” the Chief Assessor said, gesturing for his Collectors to move in.
“Don’t do it,” Lazlo said, holding up his rifle menacingly.
“I have internal sensors, you know. Your weapons no longer work.”
Lazlo tossed his gun aside. “So you know that, huh?” A slow smile spread across his face. “What about these?”
In one fluid motion, Lazlo, Kintasa, and Sheppard reached back to their backpacks and tapped a control. A hatch in the backpack opened, sending phasers sliding out into their hands.
“Shielded packs,” Lazlo said, pointing his phaser directly at the Chief Assessor’s helmet. “You want to rethink the whole collecting idea yet?”
The Chief Assessor and his Collectors exchanged quick glances, then ran for their lives.
“Great!” Kyle exclaimed. “Let’s get out of here!”
“Frag first. Leave later,” Lazlo said menacingly just before charging off after the Chief Assessor followed by Kintasa and Sheppard.
“Wait!” Kyle cried. “I don’t have a gun!”
The Wayward barrel-rolled to port, phasers firing as three Collector ships scattered to avoid the blasts.
“They’re moving to regroup,” Ensign Laru said, watching the tactical readouts on her console as Commander Morales leveled the Wayward off and gunned the engines, sending the ship weaving over and under several of the alien vessels orbiting Falinor.
“How many left?” Morales asked.
“Why couldn’t they have gotten the hint after we stopped the first five?” Morales muttered.
“Frankly, I think that just pissed them off.”
“Porter to Morales. The deflector is ready!”
“Finally!” Morales exclaimed.
“Hey! If you want to trying reconfiguring an entire deflector array in a space the size of your right nostril, feel free,” Lieutenant Commander Porter reported.
“Does that mean my right is bigger or smaller than my left?”
“I’ve got an idea. I won’t try to fly this crate if you don’t try to tell jokes. Deal?”
“Just find something to hang onto,” Morales said. He slapped his hand down on the console, closing the comm channel then refocused on the crisis at hand.
“They’re closing in,” Laru said.
“That’s the general idea,” Morales replied, watching the mob of twelve Collector ships slowly starting to overtake them.
“Um…I don’t mean to question you, sir, but the deflector’s on the front of the ship. I don’t see how having them blasting our aft to bits is going to help any.”
“Arm the torpedoes, Ensign. Full spread.”
Laru looked out the front viewport where the massive Collector mothership loomed ahead of them. “Um…”
“Trust me,” Morales said firmly.
“Ooookay,” Laru said, obeying the command. “Torpedoes ready.”
Morales didn’t respond. His stare never wavered from the ship in front of him.
“Fire!” Morales shouted suddenly, slamming the Wayward to full impulse. Laru was barely able to hit the launch trigger before she was thrown back against her seat.
The Wayward zoomed ahead, streaking past its own torpedoes which arced along their path toward the mothership, soon filling the space around the vessel with several blinding explosions.
Morales, meanwhile, sent the Wayward looping around the mothership, coming around on a direct heading toward the smaller Collector vessels just as the torpedo explosions subsided.
“Activate deflector,” he ordered. A moment later, a massive pulse of energy flared from the Wayward’s deflector dish, spreading outward until the group of Collector vessels was completely engulfed. The ships began veering off on erratic vectors as chaos reigned on their command decks.
“Try and get a message through to the pilots explaining their situation,” Morales said, steering the Wayward back toward the mothership. “Morales to Porter. We’re heading back for Lazlo and his team.”
“Awww…do we have to?” Porter’s voice replied.
“Sir, we’re being hailed,” Laru interrupted. “It’s the Chief Assessor.”
“On screen,” Morales said surprised as he turned to his monitor.
The image shifted, revealing total blackness. Gradually, Morales realized that it was the helmet of the Chief Assessor practically pressed against the camera.
“Yes, Chief Assessor?”
“FOR YOIK’S SAKE, CALL HIM OFF! CALL HIM OFF!!!”
“First Officer’s Log. Stardate 53703.6. I guess there are times when gunship diplomacy works. Actually, in this case, it was gun-toting Marine diplomacy, but the end result is what matters. Faced with a ship full of confused aliens no longer under his control and a band of angry Marines stalking him through his own domain, the Chief Assessor has agreed to leave Falinor immediately. In fact, he’s already left along with the forty or so Collectors on his ship that were actually of his species. The other 700 aliens ‘collected’ by the Collectors were unceremoniously beamed down to Falinor and abandoned. Some have taken the smaller Collector craft left behind and started their journeys back home. Others have remained to help the Falinorans to rebuild while they wait to be retrieved by their homeworlds.
“For his role in the liberation of Falinor, Gorikar has been declared a hero by the Prime Minister. From what Yeoman Jones tells me, the hero spent most of our battle with the Collectors’ ships cowering under a table in the mess hall while she comforted him. He’s going to have to get over that soon, since he’s been put in command of the newly-formed Falinoran Defense Force. On the one hand, I’m sorry to see their peaceful way of life altered like this, but I guess it’s a lot better than watching the Collectors sell off their entire planet.
“Following his attack on the Collectors’ mothership, Lazlo has been much more relaxed. Lieutenant Commander Porter says this means we just need to let the Marines out for some exercise every once in a while…preferably in really dangerous places. I promised him I’d present the idea to Captain Beck. I think she’ll be all for it. I want to try something a little different, though.”
Seated in the Wayward’s small ready room, Commander Morales tried to lean his chair back, resulting in a nasty blow to the head as he collided with the wall directly behind the desk. He knew they were in vogue now, but Morales really had to wonder if it was worth putting a ready room on a ship this small, particularly when it barely had enough room to hold a desk and chair as well as the backup transporter alcove.
The door chime sounded, adding to the ringing in his ears. “Come in,” he called, rubbing his sore skull. Colonel Lazlo stepped inside, scowling as he eyed Morales suspiciously.
“Jones said you wanted to see me,” the Marine said.
“Yeah,” Morales replied. “I wanted to talk to you about Falinor.”
“Not this again.”
“You did a nice job.”
Lazlo had raised his hand, prepared to protest emphatically, but it dropped back to his side as Morales’s words registered.
“You want to run that by me again?”
“I know I went after you on the surface, but you and your men really came through. I don’t know how willing the Chief Assessor would have been to leave if you hadn’t been there.”
“You mean we scared the hell out of him,” Lazlo said.
“Your methods are definitely different than mine,” Morales replied.
Lazlo smiled slightly. “Ours work.”
“Sometimes. But that was it. I just wanted to give credit where credit is due.”
Lazlo stood there for a moment, eyeing Morales. “Thank you,” he said finally.
“Now let me tell you something,” Lazlo said.
Morales blanched. Oh no. What now? Why couldn’t Lazlo just accept the olive branch Morales offered and leave?
“Your people like you. They like you because you’re nice,” Lazlo said, not hiding his distaste for the word “nice.” “But nice is only going to do so much. When you run into somebody who doesn’t give a damn about nice, you’re a dead man.”
Morales opened his mouth to protest, but Lazlo continued before Morales could make a sound. “But you’ve got more going on. I’ve seen it a few times. Like when the Starshine Kids took the station. And here as well. Do yourself a favor, Morales. Dump the nice and be the commander. It may not get you liked, but if you do it well, you’ll get respect, which is a hell of a lot more valuable out here. Think about it.”
Lazlo turned on his heel and left the ready room, leaving Morales alone. Funny. He’d never thought of himself as commanding. He’d been forced into the role when Waystation was built and never really felt comfortable there. Or did he? He certainly hadn’t had any doubts about his plan to deal with the Collectors. Hmmm…Lazlo was right about one thing. He’d definitely need to think about it.
“Porter to Morales,” the comm system barked suddenly.
“We’re entering solar system Beta-837-J. The third planet is Class M, but our scans are showing large numbers of huge reptilian creatures roaming around down there.”
“Dinosaurs?” Morales asked.
“Or something very close. Lazlo wants to take his people down and have a look.”
“What?” Porter said surprised.
“He can beam down,” Morales said. If Lazlo wanted to run from the dinosaurs, Morales was happy to let him. It was the least he could do to repay the Colonel for the advice.
“But keep the transporters on standby,” Morales added. “I have a feeling they’ll want to come back in a hurry.”
“Yes, sir,” Porter replied crisply, then closed the comm channel.
Sir. Now that he thought about, Morales realized he actually liked being called that. Who would have thought it?
As a smile spread across his face, Morales leaned back in his chair to enjoy command.