Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
“Waiting for the Other Shoe…”
By Alan Decker
“Science Officer’s Log. Stardate 53742.6. This was not my fault. Ever since I accidentally opened that breach into the Happy Universe, I’ve gotten blamed for every bit of scientific weirdness that has hit this station. ‘Whoops. The consoles are melting. What did you do, Porter?’ ‘Hey! Where are my arms? Craig!’ Well not this time! I did not have anything to do with this one…”
Captain Lisa Beck tightly gripped the edge of the science/operations console as once again Waystation bucked violently under the barrage buffeting its hull.
“Just a little spatial disturbance, huh Craig?” she grumbled at the console’s operator, Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter.
“I’m not a weatherman,” Porter replied, watching the spiking energy readouts of the storm outside. It had looked so innocuous in the beginning. A small distortion that would pass by the station in moments.
But then the disturbance decided to stick around…and grow…exponentially. Until now…
The power in ops flickered again as another massive blast of energy arced out of the storm and slammed against what remained of the station’s shields.
At the tactical console across ops from Porter and Beck, Lieutenant Sean Russell turned several shades of green as the deck rolled beneath him. His knuckles had long since turned white from clutching the sides of his console.
“Report!” Captain Beck shouted at him.
Russell refocused on his monitors. “Shields are at…”
“…forget that! Shields are down!”
Beck stumbled over to the station’s status console where her first officer, Commander Walter Morales, was being flooded with frantic comms from around the station and the few docked ships that hadn’t made a run for it once the storm began unleashing its fury.
“Get everyone to the middle sections,” Beck ordered.
“Already on it,” Morales replied quickly. “But Bradley Dillon has commed at least eight times. He’s wants exclusive merchandising rights should this turn into an all-out crisis.”
“I’ve got some bad news for you. It’s already at that point,” Beck said. Alien attackers were one thing, but being trapped at the mercy of some natural phenomenon made her feel so helpless. How was she supposed to fight back against a storm?
“Captain!” Morales cried suddenly, breaking into her thoughts. “The Knievel just cleared moorings. They’re making a break for it.”
“On screen,” Beck said, spinning around to face the large viewscreen on the front wall of ops as Morales switched the image to show the Knoxville-class vessel pulling away from one of the upper saucer’s docking ports. Almost instantly, it was knocked hard to starboard by distortions from the storm.
“They’re going to get fried,” Russell muttered.
“Try obliterated,” Porter said. “That ship is way too small to handle…”
Before Porter could even complete his statement, the storm went after the Knievel in earnest, blasting the ship with a searing-white bolt of energy. Beck watched in horror as one of the craft’s nacelles was ripped clean off, then exploded.
“Morales, get those people out of there!”
“They’ve got a core breach in progress!” Porter shouted.
Morales’s hands frantically worked the transporter controls on his console just as a plasma stream erupted from the Knievel’s hull. Seconds later, the entire ship exploded in a massive surge, rocking the unshielded station yet again.
“We just saw our future if this thing doesn’t move on soon,” Beck said grimly. “Anyone know how to appease mother nature?”
“I learned a rain dance in elementary school once,” Russell said.
“No help, but we’ll keep that in mind for the next drought,” Beck replied as the station rocked again.
Porter chuckled, then trailed off as he looked at the storm’s energy readouts from the last several minutes. What the…
Another searing blast lanced at the station, this time searing into the unshielded hull of the upper saucer.
“Damage report!” Beck shouted.
Porter tore himself away from the science scans long enough to check his operations readouts. “Hull integrity is still intact, but barely. I’ve got teams on the way to reinforce the damaged sections, and I’m pulling more power to the structural integrity field.”
“Which isn’t going to do a whole hell of a lot if we get hit again,” Beck said as Porter turned back to his scans. He checked the readouts again from the explosion of the Knievel. The storm’s energy center had visibly shifted…toward the explosion!
“We’re just going to have to try to disrupt this thing,” he heard Beck say. “Russell, launch a full spread of torpedoes. Three second firing delay. Morales, tell everyone to hold on. This is going to be ugly.”
“Stop!” Porter exclaimed suddenly. “It’s us! We’re powering the storm!”
“Craig, we don’t have a lot of time here,” Beck said. “Talk and talk quickly.”
“The storm veered toward the explosion of the Knievel. It was attracted to the energy. Before the storm got here, it was quite small. Since it’s arrival, it’s intensified immensely. It’s feeding off of us. If we fire those torpedoes…”
“We’ll have officially created a monster,” Beck said. “New plan. Shut it down. All of it! Porter, lead the storm somewhere more nourishing please.”
“Working on it,” Porter replied, his hands flying across his console as he issued the commands to shut down almost all of Waystation’s power. With that done and the power-down sequence commencing, he reworked one of the station’s long-range probes, upping its power usage to maximum. The probe would burn itself out in a matter of days, but it would be enough to get to a high-energy pulsar. In the meantime, relative to the dormant Waystation, it would radiate energy like a supernova.
The rocking of the station slowed, gradually disappearing all together as the crew stood in the darkened ops, illuminated only by the slight glow coming from Porter’s console.
“Probe away,” he said finally as he watched the device streak away from the station on his monitor. The storm, which was already rapidly shrinking, moved off in pursuit, soon moving out of range all together.
“Craig?” Beck said.
“I’m bringing life-support and emergency power back up now. We’ll need to do the rest gradually so that we don’t accidentally draw that thing back.”
“Hard to say. I wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing full power back online until tomorrow morning, though,” Porter replied.
“Then I guess we’re roughing it this evening,” Beck said. “But I’ll take it over the alternative.”
“Considering the alternative was becoming space debris, I’d agree,” Commander Morales said.
“I want a full damage survey tomorrow morning,” Beck said.
“I’ll take care of it,” Porter said nodding.
“Good. And nice job, Porter,” Beck said. “Even if you did completely blow your weather forecast,” she added with smirk.
By the time evening rolled around, power had been restored station-wide to the lighting and turbolift systems as well as the more critical computer systems; however Lieutenant Commander Porter still hadn’t felt comfortable with the idea of bringing the primary or secondary power cores online. The probe should have led the storm a good distance away by now, but why risk drawing it back?
With the situation stabilized, Porter decided to go ahead and attend a meeting of his creative anachronisms group. He’d joined the group several weeks earlier after hearing Lieutenant Russell talk about seeing a bunch of men and women in armor waiting to use the holodeck. Porter had read a bit about the medieval period as a child, but never really thought much about it. Somehow the idea of actually engaging in holodeck games with other people sounded intriguing. His social life certainly wasn’t providing him with anything else to do.
The mood of the other group members when Porter arrived in the multi-purpose room in the Starfleet Conference Facility used for meetings pretty much matched that of most people he’d encountered since the storm: pissed off. Some people just didn’t know when to show a little gratitude. Here they were still alive due to the actions of the command crew, but all they cared about was that their precious replicators were offline. Well, that and one other thing…
As the meeting came to order, Richard Theroll, one of the bureaucrats assigned to Waystation’s colonization administration office and the group’s leader, stepped to the front of the room to face his dejected members. “Well, we WERE going to battle the dragons of Halonia this evening,” he said, fixing Porter with a pointed glare, “but our holodecks seem to be offline for some unknown reason.”
Porter sank a little deeper in his chair as fifteen armor-clad men and women all turned and pointed at him in unison. “You’re alive, aren’t you?” he muttered.
“Therefore,” Theroll continued, “we’re going to try something a little different tonight. Many ages ago, our ancestors who did not own armor and who were not fortunate enough to live in the time of holography would still battle dragons and free peasants from tyranny, but they did so in their imaginations. We’re going to do that tonight.”
“How are we supposed to fight in our minds?” Gial Kiliana, a lab technician from the Academy Research Annex, asked.
“With these!” Theroll replied, holding out a handful on small multi-sided objects. “Dice!”
The other members sat in silence for several moments.
“I think I need to polish my armor,” Ensign Mike Waits, one of Lieutenant Sean Russell’s security officers, said finally. It was quickly followed by a cacophony of other excuses and clanking metal as the members beat a hasty retreat from the room leaving only Theroll and Porter…and that narcaleptic Tellarite. Theroll’s eyes blazed as he stared unflinchingly at Porter.
“See you next week,” Porter said with a half-wave, then got the hell out of there before Theroll got his hands on a weapon. So much for creative anachronisms. Ungrateful louts. Next time the station was under attack, Porter was going to personally see to it that they were beamed over to the attacking ship to fight. They’d see just how well a sword did against phasers.
Porter looked across the primary engineering section of Waystation’s upper saucer at Lieutenant J.G. Oliver Mason, who was standing at the main EPS status board. Mason gave Porter a nod and a thumbs-up.
“All right, ops. We’re all set down here,” Porter said, turning his attention back to the console positioned in front of the primary core, a massive cylindrical structure stretching up ten decks through Waystation’s upper saucer. The matter-anti-matter reactions in this one core powered the entire station, which was a great deal more convenient than the scattered array of smaller fusion reactors that had powered Waystation’s pre-refit configuration.
In the case of a problem with the primary core, a slightly-smaller secondary core stood on stand-by in the lower saucer. Of course, due to the storm, both cores had been taken offline, a situation that Porter planned to rectify right now. Besides, after an entire night of dealing with a station at minimal power, the residents were ready to revolt.
“We’re all set up here,” Captain Beck’s voice replied. “Everybody hope for clear skies.”
“Commencing crossing of fingers,” Porter said, typing the first couple of commands to begin the core initialization sequence. The engineering section, which until that point had been unnaturally quiet, filled with the growing (and quite soothing) thrum of the reactions beginning in the core as the glowing energies within the intermix chamber swirled.
So far, so good.
Then, out of nowhere, the core’s energy readings spiked. Before Porter could get out the beginnings of a warning, a wave shot out of the core in all directions, rippling through the station and all of the people in it.
Just as quickly as it began, the spike vanished as the ripple passed out of the station and dissipated.
“Craig, what was that?” Beck said confused.
“A ripple, Captain.”
“And why did we just ripple?”
“I’m not sure,” Porter said, looking over his readings. “Everything’s normal down here currently. I’m not seeing any damage to the core or other systems. Or us for that matter. Rippling felt a bit weird, but I think we’re fine.”
“I’m sure Doctor Nelson will value your medical expertise on the subject,” Beck replied.
“Oh yeah. I’m sure,” Porter remarked. “I’m going to run a few checks down here, then bring up the secondary core. After that, I’ll do that external damage check.”
“Sounds like your day is packed. You do have a staff, you know.”
“There are just certain things I’d prefer to handle myself,” Porter said.
“Understood. Ops out,” Beck’s voice replied.
The secondary core came up without incident…or ripples. With Waystation back up to full power, Porter headed to the main docking bay where he’d arranged to meet Lt. J.G. Mason for a runabout survey of the station. Mason jogged into the bay and up the ramp into the Runabout Cumberland several minutes later, shaking his head and chuckling.
“Don’t tell me I missed something good,” Porter said as he finished the pre-flight check.
“Some people just weren’t meant to have technology,” Mason replied, sliding into the co-pilot’s seat beside Porter.
“One of our oh-so-wonderful residents called engineering a bit ago with a replicator problem. The guy ordered his lunch, ate it, then turned back to his replicator to find his plate of lunch sitting there uneaten.”
“Wait,” Porter said confused. “His plate or another one?”
“His plate. He says the plate he just finished was gone.”
“Wait a minute. Isn’t it possible that he just imagined eating it in the first place and that the plate on the replicator was actually his original lunch?”
“The thought crossed his mind,” Mason replied. “So he ate the second plate. Same thing happened.”
“Oookay. What did he expect you to do about it?”
“Tell his replicator not to clean up his dishes without telling him and to have it stop encouraging him to eat more.”
“I hope you gave it a good scolding,” Porter said sarcastically.
“You know it. But like I said, some people just shouldn’t be allowed near technology.”
“On that note, let’s go check on some of our technology,” Porter said as he steered the Cumberland out of the docking bay and into the space around Waystation. He brought the craft up and over the upper saucer, skimming along the saucer’s surface until he spotted the long streak of scoring caused by yesterday’s storm.
“Looks pretty nasty from here,” Mason said, peering out the viewport. “But the underlying conduits seem to be intact.”
“What about hull integrity?”
Mason turned to the scanners. “Hard to tell. The space around us is still fairly energized from the storm. We’re getting a lot of interference.”
“I’m going down to take a closer look then,” Porter said, putting the runabout to station-keeping above the saucer and heading toward the supply locker. He removed an EVA suit, which he quickly slipped into.
“See what you can do with the sensors up here,” Porter said, programming coordinates into the Cumberland’s small transporter. “Be back in a bit.” He tapped a final command, stepped into the transport chamber, then dematerialized, rematerializing moments later on the saucer itself.
From this angle, the scoring seemed to stretch off into infinity. Once he ascertained the extent of the damage, Porter’s first priority would be to get some teams out here to put things back to their original condition. The large black streak had to go.
Porter whipped out his tricorder and started to scan. He was close enough to the damaged region to actually get some readings. The hull had definitely been weakened by the blasts. Actually, he was surprised that the pressure from within coupled with him clunking around on the hull hadn’t…
The readout on his tricorder went berserk at the hull directly beneath his feet began to give way. A split-second later, it ruptured, the force of venting atmosphere from the station blasting him upward past the Cumberland and out into space. Porter tumbled helplessly, trying to right himself with the EVA suit jets…
…then all of a sudden he was back on the hull, which was still intact. It was scored, but intact. Wasting no time, Porter slapped the emergency beam out beacon on his suit and returned to the runabout.
Mason was up out of his chair, gaping. “What the hell!”
“I have no idea,” Porter said, pushing the fact that he’d almost been killed out of his head as he rushed to the sensors. “Maybe a time warp. Could be some chronometric…” He trailed off as he got to work on the sensors, further refining Mason’s efforts to clear the view. The interference was thick, but none of it was chronometric. He finally managed to compensate, leaving him with a clear sensor picture…a clear picture completely without chronometric particles.
“So much for that,” Porter muttered. He thought for a bit. If it had been a time warp, why hadn’t the ship’s chronometers or the one in his tricorder been affected. Why did he and Mason remember what happened? Under standard temporal mechanics theory, this couldn’t happen and not leave some sort of trace.
“Get some teams up here to repair the hull. That’s top priority for them.”
“What about the…glitch?” Mason asked hesitantly.
“The sensors didn’t pick up anything. I guess the only thing we can do is wait and see if it happens again,” Porter replied.
“What if it doesn’t?”
“It will. Trust me,” Porter said as he steered the runabout back toward the docking bay.
As the head of a massive corporation with interests spanning across most of the Alpha Quadrant, Bradley Dillon was a busy man, to put it mildly. Waiting for him on his desk currently were three separate business proposals from people eager for him to invest in their projects, a prospectus for the further expansion of Dillon’s Supply Depot, and notes concerning a conference call he had scheduled for later in the afternoon regarding the possibility of starting his own passenger ship line to compete with those twits over at Simms Ship Lines who wouldn’t know luxury if they were dropped into it on their heads.
Despite all of these pressing items, Bradley felt the need every so often to check on things at the front lines, which, in this case, meant dropping by the Dillon’s Supply Depot in Starfleet Square Mall. This store, in its original incarnation, had been the beginning of his current empire, and, since it was located on the same station as Dillon Enterprises’ headquarters, Bradley demanded that it be the flagship store of his franchise.
That said, he was a little concerned about a couple of the new employees his store manager had hired. Ansola had made solid enough decisions so far during her tenure as manager, but everyone made mistakes, particularly when it came to judging people. Bradley, however, had always felt that he was able to read people fairly quickly, which had come in quite handy during his days in the cutthroat field of used spacecraft sales, and his gut was telling him that there was something not quite right about the two Skevians currently manning the store.
Not wishing to draw undue attention to himself, Bradley strolled casually into Dillon’s Supply Depot, which was surprisingly deserted for a mid-afternoon. One lone Liseppian male hovered near the holo-projector aisle, eyeing the merchandise completely without assistance from one of Bradley’s employees. The two employees in question were currently leaning on their elbows on the front counter, gazing out at the people passing in the mall.
As Bradley approached, he could hear bits of their conversation.
“You must be joking. She wouldn’t even look at Russell.”
“Come on, Dant’A. You know his reputation. They’ve known each other a long time. I say he banged her.”
“Yeoman Jones? But she looks so sweet.”
“That doesn’t mean she’s not a wildcat when you…”
Bradley had heard enough. “What are you two doing?” he demanded. The two Skevians looked up at him through half-lidded eyes. Actually, all Skevians eyes were half-lidded, making the entire species appear tired or to be under the influence of narcotics.
The Skevian called Dant’A stood up quickly. “Mister Dillon! Sorry about that. Ra’Andyl and I just got into a conversation for a moment about…”
“Oh quit your babbling,” Ra’Andyl said, straightening his posture with a slow stretch. “Mister Dillon, you’re a high-powered individual, aren’t you? In contact with those in the know.”
“I generally am the one in the know,” Bradley replied, unsure where this was headed.
“Good. Then you’re just the man to answer my question.”
“Has Lieutenant Russell ever banged Yeoman Jones?”
“Ra’Andyl!” Dant’A shouted.
“What? It’s a fair question.”
Bradley’s fists clenched reflexively. “If I ever come in here again and see you two…” He trailed off as he noticed the Liseppian tossing a furtive look over his shoulder, then head out of the holo-projector aisle and out of the store. “He just took something!” Bradley said, charging down the holo-projector aisle, then toward the exit.
“That was too close,” Dant’A said. “Keep it up, and you’re going to get us fired.”
“Fired? Me?” Ra’Andyl said. “You’re the one who couldn’t put together a coherent sentence in front of our employer. Some head cashier you are.”
“Forget it. Just forget it,” Dant’A said tiredly.
“Already forgotten.” The two sat silent for a few seconds. “I still say he banged her.”
Bradley ran out of the door of Dillon’s Supply Depot into Starfleet Square Mall. This was perhaps a tad undignified behavior for one of the wealthiest beings in the known galaxy, but he was not above taking action to protect his assets. He’d run down the holo-projector aisle on his way out of the store and saw that a top-of-the-line Daystrom Devices Holo-Jam 4000 was missing from the shelves. The Holo-Jams were so expensive that each Dillon’s Supply Depot kept only one in stock. Unfortunately, the device was small enough that fiends like this Liseppian could abscond with it relatively easily.
The noise from the crowds milling through the mall covered the sound of his footfalls as he approached the Liseppian, who was strolling toward the nearest turbolift, a pack slung casually over his shoulder.
Bradley grabbed onto him, spinning the surprised alien around. “Security!” Bradley shouted as the Liseppian’s eyes widened in alarm. He pulled against Bradley, trying to free his arm from the Dillon Enterprises’ CEO’s iron grip. “SECURITY!”
“Okay. What’s all this about?” Security Officer Ensign Mike Waits said, stepping over to the pair. He was already in a bad mood after having his weekly Medieval combat night ruined by the power outage, so dealing with some petty squabble was not real high on his list of things to do.
“This miscreant just robbed my store!”
“We’ll see about that,” Waits replied.
“Are you doubting me? Do you know who I am?”
“I’m well aware of your identity, Mister Dillon. But throwing around words like ‘miscreant’ is not going to impress me any. We have a little thing in the Federation called due process. Innocent until proven guilty.”
“Check his bag!” Bradley demanded, snatching the shoulder pack off of the Liseppian. “Inside you will find a very valuable Holo-Jam 4000 taken from Dillon’s Supply Depot not five minutes ago!”
“May I look in your bag, sir?” Waits asked professionally.
Cronlo, the Liseppian in question, inwardly grimaced. This was it. If he let this Starfleeter look in the bag, he’d see the Holo-Jam. If he didn’t let him look in the bag, he’d probably be arrested on suspicious of larceny, at which point the bag would be searched anyway. Cronlo handed the bag over to Waits, who looked inside.
“This is an empty bag, Mister Dillon,” Waits said flatly.
“WHAT?” Bradley cried, peering side. He jammed his hand into the bag, feeling for a secret compartment. Nothing.
“You’re free to go, sir. Sorry for the trouble,” Waits said with a curt nod of his head. Cronlo, who was at that moment incredibly confused, raced off down the concourse.
“But I saw him put it in there,” Bradley said. “Come with me!” He charged back to Dillon’s Supply Depot, followed by an unamused Waits, then led the officer down the holo-projector aisle.
“Look! The Holo-Jam is…” Bradley gaped at the shelf. “…right where it’s supposed to be,” he finished softly, looking that the gleaming piece of expensive technology sitting in its proper place on the shelf. “How…” He stormed up to the counter, where Dant’A and Ra’Andyl were still standing.
“You saw that Liseppian steal the Holo-Jam! Tell the officer!”
“Sorry, Mister Dillon,” Ra’Andyl said. “But I didn’t see that, and I wouldn’t want to be called a liar. You came in here yelling at us, then you ran out the door yelling some more. It was strange behavior, really. Are you getting enough sleep?”
“If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be returning to my patrol,” Waits said, shooting a quick glare at Bradley, then heading out of the store.
“I think…,” Ra’Andyl began.
“AHH!” Bradley shouted, holding up his hands. “No more!”
“AHHHH!” Bradley clapped his hands over his ears and charged out the exit.
“You know,” Ra’Andyl said, turning to Dant’A. “I worry about that guy.”
Dant’A sighed and slouched over the counter to resume his boredom.
After returning to the docking bay, Lieutenant Commander Porter and Lieutenant J.G. Mason headed back to the Upper Saucer Engineering to run a few internal scans relating to hull integrity around the area of scoring on the hull.
Surprisingly, the room was almost entirely empty when they entered, with one lone ensign watching the status board.
“Did I miss the announcement of the afternoon coffee break?” Porter asked.
“I guess we both did,” Mason replied, heading over to a nearby console. He pulled up the current standing repair request listing. “We’ve got five people shoring up force fields under the damaged area. And everybody else is…” Mason started chuckling.
“What?” Porter asked.
“Looks like the replicator problems are going around. There are thirty calls here about food mysteriously reappearing. And the science labs are having trouble as well. Reactions not occurring, and such. They’re blaming us.”
“They figured me out. I’ve secretly sabotaged all of their experiments,” Porter said. “I will be the ONLY scientist on the station. HA HA HA!”
“Very convincing, sir.”
“Thanks. I just hit maniacal laughter in my How To Be A Villain correspondence course. Next week is mustache twirling,” Porter replied, heading toward the exit. “I’m heading to ops to see if I can’t figure out what the hell is going on around here.”
“Are we even sure that something is actually going on? Looks like random events to me.”
“There’s a pattern, Mason. And as soon as I figure out what it is, I’ll let you know.”
Was this some kind of cosmic joke? Divine intervention to prevent his arrest? Cronlo had no idea. He took another lick of his soup on a stick as he sat in Starfleet Square Mall’s food court considering the empty shoulder pack on the table in front of him.
How could it be empty? He’d prepared this bag himself, creating a special shielded liner that would render its contents invisible to the scanning security systems in most stores and on Waystation itself. Then he’d gone into Dillon’s, put the Holo-Jam in his bag, and slipped out. He remembered each event clearly, so how in all that was Liseppian could it not be in his bag?
There was only one thing for it. He had to try again.
Cronlo made his way back to Dillon’s Supply Depot and took a furtive look inside. Bradley Dillon was nowhere to be seen, and the store’s two employees where behind the counter locked in some argument about the past relationships of one of their current girlfriends by the sound of it.
He moved through the Dillon’s aisles looking for another tempting item. Sure the Holo-Jam was a prime piece of merchandise, but taking the same thing again was just too big of a risk. Soon his eyes locked on the all new TerryFormer III, capable of terraforming a ten square kilometer region but still the same size as the compact TerryFormer, Jr. This little morsel would be worth some serious latinum out in the Cardassian sector.
The device fit snugly in his shoulder pack, but it’s not as though the morons behind the counter would notice. Cronlo strolled out the door back into Starfleet Square Mall without so much as a look over his shoulder.
Speaking of his shoulder, why did it suddenly not feel nearly as weighed down.
Cronlo whipped the bag off of his shoulder and practically tore it open.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Cronlo cried, shaking his fists to the sky.
“Pathetic. The whole group of you are nothing but a bunch of whiney pathetic losers who don’t deserve to be in my presence much less wear the uniform of Federation Marines,” Colonel Martin Lazlo said as he paced in front of a squad of his troops.
“That’s the truth,” Lieutenant Colonel Dan O’Neal seconded, following two steps behind Lazlo. The gathered Marines in front of them stood in line, stiffly at attention while along the far wall, three silver dodecahedrons hovered. The dodecahedrons, which served as moving targets for the Marines’ rifle training, should by all rights have been slag at that moment, which was why Lazlo was currently berating them.
“Am I seriously to believe that fifteen people who are supposed to be among the finest the Federation has to offer can’t hit three simple targets? Those don’t shoot back! Now tell me what the hell you people are going to do when faced with a real enemy?”
“Um…shoot it?” Corporal Copeland said meekly.
“DIE! You’ll all die!” Lazlo bellowed.
“SHUT UP!” Lazlo screamed, sending the Marines hopping back half a step in fear.
“Now watch,” he said, his eyes locked on them as he pulled his hand phaser out of his holster and jacked up the power setting. In one fluid motion, he spun toward the target, fired, and…
“WHAT THE HELL!”
Cronlo was almost laughing now, but it was not the laugh of someone who was finding things very funny. There were psychologists who would have had him committed after hearing the laugh emanating from his mouth.
The TerryFormer III was right in front of him…RIGHT BACK ON THE SAME DAMN SHELF HE’D STOLEN IT FROM!
The Liseppian rubbed his hand across his mouth again, his glazed eyes staring at the TerryFormer III.
Fine! If it didn’t want to go with him, he’d try something else. Oooh! Excavating mechbots. One of those would just fit in his bag.
Ill-gotten gains safely ensconced in his pack, Cronlo ran out of the store and turned a corner leading toward the restrooms. All right. Now then. Open pack. Look inside. And…
Richard Theroll winced as Doctor Amedon Nelson turned his arm. “How long ago did you do this?” she asked disapprovingly.
“Last night,” Theroll replied sheepishly.
“There are reasons we have holodeck safeties,” she said. “Wait a minute. The holodecks weren’t online last night. You morons didn’t start hacking and slashing each other with your swords for real, did you?”
“Oh no,” Theroll said as Nelson went for her bone knitting equipment. “I managed to find a few people to try a dice game, and…well, we had a disagreement.”
“I’ll say. Your arm’s broken in four places. I don’t know how you stood it all night.”
“Ale. Mead. Ale. More Mead. Ale.”
“I get the idea,” Nelson said, running the bone knitter over Theroll. “There we go. That should do it,” she patted him gently on the arm.
“AUGGGHHH!” Theroll wailed in pain.
“Oh grow up! I just fixed it.”
“PAIN! Horrible pain!” Theroll wailed.
Nelson narrowed her eyes skeptically, but scanned the man with her tricorder again just in case. Four fractures were still plainly evident. “Hang on a second,” Nelson said, picking her bone knitter back up and scanning it. The device seemed to be working perfectly. She tried fixing Theroll’s arm again, then scanned it. Four fractures.
Nelson got another bone knitter and tried again. Four fractures. Now that was impossible.
“Mind if I try something?” she asked.
“I guess,” Theroll said. Nelson picked up her laser scalpel and made a small incision on Theroll’s arm.
“HEY!” he screamed, then abruptly stopped, following Nelson’s surprised stare down to his arm. “I thought you cut me,” he said confused.
“I did,” she replied.
“I don’t see a cut.”
“That makes two of us. Excuse me.” Nelson turned and headed out of the Infirmary.
“What about my arm?” Theroll called after her.
“Try some more ale.”
Okay. One thing could vanish, but not five. Cronlo scooped the five porta-replicator power packs into his bag and ran out of Dillon’s Supply Depot and back down the corridor toward the rest rooms.
One might vanish. Even two, Cronlo thought as he pulled his shoulder pack open. But five couldn’t…
All heads turned toward Lieutenant Commander Porter as he stepped into ops. “Okay. You got me. I ate the last piece of Sean’s birthday cake,” he said, holding up his hands.
“I knew it!” Lieutenant Sean Russell shouted from the tactical console. “I was saving…”
“Later, Russell!” Captain Beck said tersely as Porter headed toward his station and placed the padd he’d been carrying on the top of his console.
“May I take it that we have a real crisis?” Porter asked Beck.
“Honestly, I’m not sure,” Beck said. “Is there a problem in engineering I need to know about? Your people have all gone MIA.”
“They’re all out on calls,” Porter replied. “Replicator problems. Lab reactions not occurring properly.”
“Well, since people can’t reach engineering, they’re comming ops,” Beck said. “We’ve been flooded,” she gestured over toward Commander Morales, who did indeed look swamped as he fielded incoming comms. “What the hell is going on?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t see how it could be an engineering problem. The replicators are a separate system from the labs entirely.”
“Beck!” a furious voice shouted. Colonel Lazlo stormed out of the turbolift cradling one of his silver dodecahedrons in his arms. “Explain this!”
“You mistook some modern art for your teddy bear?” Beck said.
“This ‘art’ is a very sophisticated piece of training equipment, which should by all rights be slag right now!” Lazlo said. “My Marines and I have hit this with everything we have, and look! Not a scratch!”
“I’ll have to tell Ih’mad about this. Maybe he could line some of his pots with it.”
“This isn’t a joking matter, Beck.”
“Then what is it, Colonel?” Beck replied. “Your target isn’t broken. Why should I care?”
“Because it’s wrong!”
Porter tuned out of the conversation for a bit as he checked reports coming in from across the station. More lab reactions. Holodeck problems during a baseball game. The ball was hit, but didn’t go anywhere. It was back in the pitcher’s mitt.
Reaching for another control, Porter bumped his padd, which toppled off of his console…
…then was right back on the console as though nothing had happened.
Porter froze, staring at the padd. He focused the internal sensors on the padd, then hit it again, knocking it off the console.
It was instantly back on the console.
He tried it one more time. Same result.
The sensor scans didn’t show a bit of chronometric activity, which he would expect in such an event. It was almost like the hull breach. An event happened, but the expected result never came. He checked the readouts more closely. What were those quantum fluctuations?
“We have a problem,” Porter said, jogging over to Beck and Lazlo.
“What is it?” Beck said.
“Hey!” Lazlo snapped. “I was not through.”
“Watch this,” Porter said. Suddenly, he hauled off and slugged Lazlo, catching the surprised Colonel square on the jaw. But nothing happened. Lazlo just stood in the center of ops looking bewildered.
“Did you just hit me?” he asked.
“Does it feel like I hit you?”
“Why don’t you go sit in the conference room and think about it or something?” Beck said, shooing the Marine colonel away. Rubbing his jaw checking for any sort of injury or sign that he’d been hit, Lazlo wandered away, muttering to himself.
“You want to explain that to me?” Beck said, turning on Porter.
“You want it in high-tech or low-tech terms.”
“Low-tech. The lower the better.”
“Continuity’s broken,” Porter said simply.
“Okay. Maybe a little higher tech than that.”
The turbolift doors opened, allowing Dr. Amedon Nelson to charge out into ops. “Somebody had better have a damn good explanation for what the hell is going on in my Infirmary. I’ve got broken arms I can’t heal and cuts that won’t stay open!”
“You’re just in time,” Beck said. “Go ahead, Porter.”
“I don’t fully understand it all yet, but everything on this station has somehow been affected on the quantum level. Under normal circumstances, we don’t notice, but for some reason certain types of actions seem to trigger a sort of quantum fluctuation that prevents the reaction from occurring.”
“Like you hitting Lazlo and him not noticing,” Beck said.
“Porter hit Lazlo?” Nelson said surprised. “Good for you.”
“But he didn’t react. To him, it’s as though it didn’t happen. Chalk it up to quantum weirdness.”
“That doesn’t make any sense at all,” Nelson said.
“But just think, Doc,” Russell said suggestively, sliding up next to Nelson. “Every time will be like the first time.”
Nelson violently slammed her knee up into Russell’s crotch, then hit him with a double-fisted upper cut. Russell flinched, but no pain came. Even though he knew that he wouldn’t experience a reaction, the effect was still surprising. “That was…”
“Incredibly unsatisfying,” Nelson grumbled. “I’m getting back to my patient, not that I can do a damn thing for him.”
“We’ll get this resolved, Doctor,” Beck said. “But on the bright side, no one else can get hurt.”
“I don’t suppose we can get drunk either,” Nelson said, stepping into the turbolift, which whisked her down toward the mall level.
“Hmm…I don’t know about that one,” Porter said. “I could go down to Victoria’s and run a few tests, though.”
“I’d be tempted to join you, but let’s figure out what the hell caused this so we can get it fixed,” Beck said.
“I have one idea.”
Beck and Porter looked at each other. “The ripple,” they said in unison.
Cronlo’s tears poured into his yet-again-empty bag.
“NOOOOOO!” he wailed, slumping against the wall. “NOOOOOOOO!”
He turned his face to the heavens, his eyes blurry with tears. “Why gods? WHY?”
How long could this go on? Ih’mad watched his patrons frantically stuff food down their throats, only to have it reappear instantly on their plates. The Andorian restaurant owner was completely unaware of the details of the continuity issue plaguing the station. All he knew was that his customers could eat all they liked, but the meal would instantly vanish from their stomachs and reappear on the plates as though it had never been touched.
As a result, his customers were angry…furious even as hunger rumbled within their stomachs. Ih’mad had the distinct feeling that this was going to get ugly very soon.
“Waiter!” a particularly peeved Rigellan shouted, drawing D’aarb, the restaurant’s head waiter while Baughb was in exile, over to his table.
“Yes,” D’aarb said testily.
“That’s ‘yes, sir.’ Show a little damn courtesy!”
“I would offer you the same suggestion. Now what do you want?”
“Want? I want to eat a meal that actually stays in my damn stomach!” the Rigellan said, standing up toe to toe with D’aarb. Ih’mad, as subtly as possible, inched his way over to the host’s stand where he kept his official latinum-crusted Andorian Restauranteurs’ Association club.
“If I don’t get some satisfaction right now, I’m going to eat you!” the Rigellan bellowed, sending spittle flying in D’aarb’s face.
“Then I truly hope you find this satisfying,” D’aarb replied flatly. Suddenly, he slammed his tray into the Rigellan’s head. The Rigellan shook his head, trying to figure out whether he’d been struck or not. Deciding it didn’t really matter, he smashed his fist against D’aarb’s blue nose. D’aarb didn’t so much as reel back.
D’aarb grabbed a chair and swung it at the Rigellan, who jumped back, causing the chair to shatter against the back of a Yridian woman seated at the next table. A split-second later, the intact chair was back in D’aarb’s hand as the woman looked up at him confused.
The entire restaurant had fallen silent by this point, contemplating what they’d just witnessed.
Mere moments later, the sound of thirty battle cries filled the air as the patrons pounced on each other, venting their frustrations through joyous, pain-free mayhem.
Ih’mad smiled and sighed a satisfied sigh. His restaurant was packed, his customers were beating the hell out of each other, and, best of all, his furniture was reforming the second it broke against someone’s back or over a head.
Life just didn’t get any better than this.
He raised his club, let out a battle cry of his own, then hurtled over the host stand into the churning melee.
“You’re mocking me, aren’t you?” Cronlo said, whispering conspiratorially at the shelf of Sense-O-Matics sitting in front of him. “Am I really asking so much? Just come with me. I promise I’ll treat you well. My quarters here are simple, but clean. We’ll travel. I’ll take you to a good home elsewhere. Please PLEASE come with me!” Cronlo cried, falling to his knees in front of the shelves.
Dant’A and Ra’Andyl looked up from the holoporn they were watching behind the counter, shrugged, then turned their full attention back to Ravagers of Risa VI.
Porter looked up from his console at Beck, who was waiting expectantly for a report. “It was the ripple all right,” Porter said.
“No surprise there,” Beck said. “So what do we do about it?”
“Well, the good news is I can create a mirror version of the ripple that should counteract its effect.”
“Why am I guessing there’s bad news here as well?”
“If my calculations are the least bit off, the core goes and takes the whole station with it,” Porter said.
“Correct me if I’m missing something here, Craig, but with continuity out of whack, the explosion won’t really happen, right?”
Porter thought for a moment, a smile slowly spreading across his face. “No. I guess not.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to rush things, though,” Beck said.
“Actually, I already did most of the calculations while I was looking at the readings,” Porter replied. “I’m ready to go.”
“Hopefully you don’t mean that in the metaphysical sense,” Beck said with a grin. “Go ahead.”
“I’m sending the commands to the core now…”
As expected, everything was instantly back to normal. Colonel Lazlo charged out of the conference room on the opposite side of the central turbolift shaft, storming over to Beck and Porter.
“Did we just blow up?” he demanded.
“You’re still here aren’t you?” Beck said. She turned back to Porter. “Adjust those calculations a bit, Craig.”
“Working on it…okay. I think I’ve got it. Sending to the core…”
“Or not,” Porter said as they blipped back from the explosion.
“We did blow up!” Lazlo said, turning on Porter with an accusing finger. “And you caused it!”
“Curses. My evil plan’s been exposed,” Porter muttered.
“Don’t get smart with me, Porter. I’ll…”
“May I?” Porter asked.
“Please,” Beck said.
“You did that on purpose!” Lazlo shouted once the room had reformed around them.
“Little ole’ me?” Porter said innocently.
“I should kill you…”
“Don’t make me blow up this station again,” Porter warned.
“He’ll do it, too,” Beck said, trying not to laugh in the Colonel’s red face. The man was almost vibrating with rage. “Now can we finish our work?”
“All right,” Lazlo said, taking a couple of steps back. “But I’m watching you.”
“And the feeling gives me such a thrill,” Porter said, punching a few last commands in his console. “Sending now…”
Power around Waystation dimmed as a massive wave of energy blasted out of the core in all directions, sending another ripple through the structure.
“Did it work?” Beck asked.
“I’m not sure,” Porter said, checking his console. “We didn’t blow…hull breach!” he shouted as he watched a section of hull plating of the upper saucer blast outward…just as it had when he’d been outside. “The emergency force fields my people put in place are holding,” he finished.
“All right. I get it that your engineers have been working the problems,” Beck said. “But that still doesn’t answer my question.”
“I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens,” Porter replied.
All of this eating had officially made Yeoman Tina Jones tired. She ate a meal, then it appeared right back in the replicator, leaving her stomach empty again. She was now up to her fourth attempt at a plain old cheeseburger and fries.
“Computer…OH DEAR GOD!” she cried as her stomach suddenly bloated, threatening to rupture. She collapsed to the floor of her quarters, feeling more full than she ever had in her life.
“Computer,” she gasped. “Bucket…hurry.”
“That food item is not in the database,” the computer replied flatly.
Jones tuned the computer out as she began to taste acid in her throat. Seconds later, the inevitable happened.
Maybe this was a sign. A sign straight from the gods that Cronlo wasn’t meant to be a criminal. After fifteen separate attempts to carry a veritable mountain of merchandise out of Dillon’s Supply Depot, he’d come away with absolutely nothing.
If that was the way it was going to be, that was the way it was going to be. He’d turn his back on crime and find a new life for himself.
In the more literal sense, Cronlo turned his back on Dillon’s Supply Depot and slung his empty bag over his back.
“Even this emptiness is starting to feel heavy all of sudden,” Cronlo thought to himself just before he was crushed under a mountain of all the Dillon’s merchandise he’d attempted to steal throughout the day which spontaneously appeared in his pack, ripping it too shreds.
Of course, considering Cronlo’s condition at the moment, the pack got off easy.
This brawl could go on forever! What a way to live! Ih’mad laughed out loud with joy as he clubbed an elderly Betazoid who’d just stuck a fork in his right antenna. The fork instantly appeared back in the unharmed Betazoid’s hand.
“I feel the weight of the universe lifting off of my shoulders,” the Betazoid said happily.
“Relaxing, isn’t it?” Ih’mad asked, just before clubbing him again.
But in an instant…
Everyone in the restaurant wailed in agony as every single injury they’d sustained hit them at once. All around, the furniture collapsed into splinters with several unconscious patrons following close behind.
“Ow,” Ih’mad said simply, then passed out.
In the corridor outside the restaurant, Dr. Amedon Nelson was stopped in her tracks by the screams from inside the restaurant. She peered through the windows at the carnage inside and sighed. So much for her afternoon.
Meanwhile, in ops, Porter’s comment of “I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens” was just fading from the air.
Suddenly, Lazlo’s head whipped sideways, sending the Colonel staggering. Russell then doubled over, moaning and clutching his crotch. A split second later, his head jerked back as he was launched backwards and landed with a pained thud to the deck.
“I guess it’s all fixed,” Beck said as Lazlo and Russell moaned in harmony. Beck’s eyes widened. “Except…”
“THE CORE!” she and Porter cried. Porter frantically tapped commands into his console, shutting down the core before the station could actually blow up from his earlier failed attempts at creating an anti-ripple.
“There!” Porter announced several seconds later. “The core’s coming back up, and we’re still alive.”
Beck slowly opened her eyes, which she’d clenched shut expecting to be blown to bits. “Are you sure everything is back to normal now?”
“I sure as hell hope so,” Lazlo grumbled, clutching his aching jaw. “And I will be filing a report blaming all of you for this.”
“We should really run a test to make sure continuity is operating again,” Porter said.
“I concur,” Beck said. In a blur, she hit Lazlo with a solid punch to the opposite side of his jaw.
“What the hell was that?” Lazlo demanded, cradling his throbbing face.
Beck smiled. “Quantum weirdness.”