Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
“The Perfect Getaway”
By Alan Decker
A small part of Commander Walter Morales felt like he’d just been demoted to hovertaxi driver. Seeming to sense Morales’ unhappiness with his assignment, Captain Lisa Beck smiled sympathetically.
“Think of it as a diplomatic mission,” she said, leaning forward and resting her arms on her desk as Morales sat across from her in her office in Waystation’s Ops. “You’ll be strengthening our relationship with the leader of a species that may one day join the Federation.”
Beck’s smile alone had calmed Morales quite a bit. Such a pretty smile. Stop thinking about her that way. You have no shot. She’s told you as much, he scolded himself. The bitterness returned.
“I’m giving Frequoq Wuddle and Doctor Nelson a conjugal visit,” Morales replied, trying to keep the edge out of his voice. “That sort of diplomacy is generally frowned upon in this century.”
“I’ll take what I can get,” Beck said. “It sounds callous, but Amedon’s relationship with Wuddle is this just what we need to keep us on the Multek Enclave’s good side.”
“Until she dumps him.”
“Way to think positive there, Walter. Look, just get Nelson in and out without an interstellar incident, and I’ll be a happy woman. I promised Wuddle we’d keep our existence a secret from the Multeks, and I intend to keep to that promise.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll see to it,” Morales stated.
“I know you aren’t thrilled, but if something goes wrong, you’re the guy I want at those runabout controls. No one comes close to you in that area.”
In that area. Goody. You’re a great pilot, Walter, but beyond that I don’t give a damn about you. Thanks a bunch. “I appreciate that,” Morales replied, not really meaning it. He rose from his seat. “I’ll get started on the pre-flight check.”
“Good,” Beck said, bringing out the ‘professional smile.’ It was the same one Morales had seen her use at countless diplomatic functions. “Have a safe trip.”
Morales was already out of the office before the last word left her lips.
“Are you planning to be sullen for the entire trip?” Dr. Amedon Nelson asked, turning her chair toward Morales as he flew the Runabout Cumberland toward Balibeb, the location of the resort where Nelson was due to rendezvous with Frequoq Wuddle.
“I’m concentrating,” Morales replied flatly, not looking away from the console in front of him.
“Ohhhh. I didn’t realize this stretch of vast nothingness was that difficult to navigate.”
“A Multek patrol ship could show up at any time.”
“And you’d obviously notice it before our sensors could alert you. I see.”
Morales made no reply other than an annoyed grunt.
“Fine. Sulk if you want. If you didn’t want this assignment, which you quite obviously didn’t, why the hell did you take it?”
“The Captain asked me to do it, so I did. Simple orders,” Morales said.
“Somehow I doubt Lisa had to make it a direct order,” Nelson replied.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Right,” Morales muttered.
“You haven’t exactly been subtle.”
“You’re intent on playing this entire game, aren’t you?” Nelson said.
“What game?” Morales shot back. “Nobody’s playing any games here except possibly you!”
“Sure. That’s why you’re doing the textbook ‘sulk until somebody takes pity on you and asks you to talk about it’ maneuver. I left you your opening, so take it already so we don’t have go through the rest of the ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ - ‘Come on. I’m here to listen’ crap. You’re pissed off about something, and I’d lay real latinum that Lisa’s at the heart of it.”
“Maybe it’s something I just need to deal with on my own.”
“You seem to be doing a great job so far.”
“Is this supposed to be helping?”
“Do I look like a counselor? I was just trying to get some conversation going.”
“More like an argument. You just want me to whine about Lisa.”
“So it is about her,” Nelson said triumphantly.
“Not that it matters.”
“It obviously matters to you or you wouldn’t be over there stewing silently for the whole trip.”
“Well excuse me if I really didn’t want to spend three hours hearing about how deliriously happy you and Frequoq Wuddle are,” Morales said.
“Wow. There was actual bile in that statement. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that side of you.”
“I’m sorry,” Morales muttered. “I didn’t mean…”
“Yes you did, and I’m happy to see it. You’re so damn mild-mannered most of the time that I’m half-tempted to make sure you’re not an android or something. You have feelings for Lisa. She’s not returning them, and you’re upset. Natural reaction.”
“I’m so happy to hear I’m normal,” Morales replied flatly. He was silent for a few seconds. “But why that Harper guy?” In the last couple of weeks, Captain Beck had struck up some sort of relationship with Phillip Harper, the president of AWN, the holovision network that had established operations on Waystation. No one was sure exactly how serious the relationship was, but the pair had certainly been seen in enough restaurants together of late.
“You don’t want to know that,” Nelson said.
“Nobody ever really wants to know why their object of desire picked someone else over them. The answer never helps.”
“Not really,” Nelson replied. “I had a couple of run-ins at the Academy, but I was pretty focused on symbionts after that. But my roommate became a complete lunatic over an upper classman who was completely oblivious to her. Not pretty.”
“Further proof that love is a complete pain in the butt.”
“You won’t hear any arguments from me. Even when it works, it’s not easy. And since we’re on the subject, I need a favor.”
“Other than flying you three hours into hostile space?” Morales asked, cracking a hint of a smile.
“You’d better watch it, or Porter’s going to come after you for stealing his shtick. We only need one smart-ass in the command structure. No, what I need is for you to keep quiet about Midon around Wuddle.”
Morales’s eyes widened. “He doesn’t know?”
“Somehow I never managed to work ‘I’m joined with a giant slug’ into conversation,” Nelson said, sinking deeper into her chair.
“Not to be critical, Doctor, but didn’t you also forget to mention Midon to your own parents? I’m sensing a pattern here.”
“Mom and Dad know now. And this is completely different. Wuddle’s gone from completely refusing to believe aliens exist to dating one. I just thought that the whole Midon symbiont thing might be a bit much for him to take right now.”
“Right now meaning the last year that you’ve been together.”
“We weren’t dating the whole time!” Nelson snapped. “Now are you going to keep your mouth shut or not?”
“I wouldn’t dream of interfering in your personal life,” Morales replied.
“That was a crack against me, wasn’t it?” Nelson said with a smile.
“I wouldn’t dream of doing that either.”
“Yeah right. There’s a lot more going on in that head of yours than you let on, Walter Morales. When you get sick and tired of pretending to be Mister Mild-Mannered, maybe you should think about letting your real personality out.”
“This is my real personality,” Morales said defensively.
“Sure it is,” Nelson replied. “And if you believe that, you’ve got a lot more serious problems than an unrequited crush on Lisa Beck.”
The Cumberland rendezvoused with Frequoq Wuddle’s private shuttle approximately an hour later on the far side of a barren moon orbiting Balibeb, which wasn’t exactly a galactic hot-spot itself. The vast majority of Multeks lived on Multos, the Multek homeworld, but a few worlds in the Enclave had actually been colonized a century earlier during the expansion period of Multek history. After finding deserted world after deserted world, the early Multek explorers quickly came to the conclusion that they were the only form of sentient life in the galaxy.
That conclusion reached, the Multeks turned inward, focusing solely on making their lives as carefree as possible. They succeeded admirably. Multos was a veritable amusement park, and the few colony worlds all specialized in one form of tourism or another. Other than a few rogue Multek pirate vessels that necessitated a Multek military force, life in the Enclave was idyllic…as far as the vast majority of Multeks knew anyway. Frequoq Wuddle, however, was one of the few who knew the truth. Alien life existed in abundance, and one day the Multek populace would inevitably find out about it. His job as the Multek leader was to hold that day off for as long as he could. In many ways it went against his principles, but he also knew that knowledge of alien species would mean the end of Multek life as they knew it. Their utopia would need time to prepare and adapt, which he tried to do as best he could behind the scenes.
This trip was not about work, though. Balibeb was a tropical, jungle-covered world with equatorial temperatures that would kill most humanoid life forms in a matter of hours. An enterprising Multek had discovered some interesting properties inherent in some of the planet’s springs and geologic formations and had established Cryjalia, a small resort utilizing those findings for the greater relaxation of Multek kind.
Cryjalia only accepted six guests at any one time, which, combined with its secluded location in a jungle clearing near the base of one of Balibeb’s northern mountain ranges, helped increase the resort’s soothing atmosphere. The only stressful part was actually getting a reservation. Wuddle had heard rumors that the waiting list was close to three years long, but being Frequoq had its perks. Tedula, Cryjalia’s founder, had shuffled her reservations, clearing the resort for two days in order to accommodate Frequoq Wuddle and his guest.
“I thank you for meeting me out here, Commander,” Wuddle said from the monitor to Morales’s left. “I know this was a large request for me to make.”
“We’re happy to do it,” Morales lied. “And I know Doctor Nelson is anxious to see you.”
“Isn’t she ready to beam over yet?”
“Not quite, Frequoq. I’m sure it’s just a couple of last minute things. Oh…Captain Beck sends her greetings. She’d love for you to come back and visit the station again, and she wants me to assure you that the reporter problem has been dealt with.”
“Uh huh,” Wuddle replied disinterestedly. “Could you check on Amedon please?”
“Hang on,” Morales said, making sure to turn away from the monitor before rolling his eyes. He’d just started to stand up when Nelson re-entered the cockpit carrying a shoulder pack.
“How do I look?” she asked.
“Dammit. I was going for ghostly,” Nelson said, her face now incredibly white and her hair an equally incredible midnight blue, making her the spitting image of a Multek. “The things I do for love,” she muttered.
“Do you have everything?”
Nelson patted her shoulder pack. “Right here. Swimwear. Casual wear. Wuddle didn’t tell me if this place can synthesize clothing, so I figured I’d better come prepared. And I’ve already taken my unlogi. I’m good for the next 8 hours. I’ve brought plenty of extra.” She pulled out her cartridges of unlogi, the drug that helped Nelson maintain smooth symbiosis with the Midon symbiont.
“Is that Amedon I hear?” Wuddle’s voice asked from the monitor. Nelson stepped into view, drawing a broad smile from the Frequoq. “You look wonderful. No one would ever know you weren’t born on Multos,” Wuddle said.
“And no one will,” Nelson said, pulling a small square device out of her pocket. “Sensor mask. To all scanners, I’m 100% Multek…but don’t get used to it, Wuddle. Once this trip’s over, I’m going back to my normal pink self.”
“I wouldn’t want it otherwise,” Wuddle said. “If you’re ready, I’ll beam you over.”
“Ready and waiting,” Nelson said. She turned to Morales. “Have fun, Commander. I’ll see you tomorrow night.”
“I’m just going to hang out on the other side of Balibeb. I found a decent clearing near a lake in an area that won’t bake my brains out. But I’ll leave a small comm buoy in orbit if you need me. We’ll just make sure to grab it when we leave so the Multeks don’t find it.”
“Blah blah blah. Whatever. You deal with the details. I’m on vacation.” She turned back to Wuddle’s image on the monitor. “Energize, dear.”
Nelson vanished in a Multek transporter beam a moment later, leaving Morales alone, just as he would be until tomorrow night. Part of him wished he’d insisted on going back to Waystation after dropping Nelson off, but, like Captain Beck, he wasn’t all that comfortable with the idea of leaving Nelson alone in Multek space, no matter how secluded her vacation spot was.
Morales settled back into the pilot’s chair, launched the comm buoy, then headed around Balibeb to the clearing he’d spotted on their initial approach to the world while Wuddle’s shuttle descended toward the Cryjalia resort.
“Where the kebbel is he?”
“Still playing slee-ball, I think.”
Sutto grunted. “Worthless.”
“You are the one who gave Teckle all of your extra tokens,” Crubbie replied, reaching a scrawny hand toward the last slice of jizza sitting on the table in front of them.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Sutto said darkly.
“Um…taking my last slice,” Crubbie replied as the much larger Multek glared at him.
“My slice,” Sutto said.
“We all split the cost of the jizza and tokens. I only had two of my three slices. This is mine.”
Sutto grabbed Crubbie’s whiter-than-white hand and squeezed, drawing a cry of pain from the weaker Multek. “Yours,” Crubbie squeaked. “YOURS!”
“Nice of you to share,” Sutto said, tossing Crubbie’s hand aside and snatching the remaining piece of jizza. Crubbie turned his attention to the stage at the front of the room where the holographic animals of the Druckie Deeze band were about to play their next set.
Teckle ran into the room a few minutes later, eyes wide with excitement as Garbitz lumbered in behind him carrying a tub that had once held tokens but was now overflowing with gleaming green tickets presumably won during slee-ball.
“I’m out! Can we get some more?” Teckle said, practically leaping into the seat across from Sutto.
“We’re going to be leaving soon,” Sutto said through a mouthful of jizza. He slapped Crubbie on the back of the head. “Check what she’s doing.”
“Again?” Crubbie whined. “You’re just torturing yourself.”
“Would you prefer I moved on to torturing you? Now CHECK!”
“All right,” Crubbie said, pulling a small datapadd out of his shirt pocket.
“Good lookin’ Fredelli out there,” Garbitz said, pointing a meaty thumb out toward the restaurant exit. “We should snag it.”
“Do I look like a hovercar thief to you?” Sutto said in disgust. “We’re not pirates.”
“It’d be something,” Garbitz muttered, leaning his hulking frame back in his chair, which creaked loudly in protest.
“We’ll have a job soon, right Crubbie?” Sutto said.
“I’m trying to line one up,” Crubbie replied nervously. “I am. But the bigger firms get all the install work. With just the four of us…” SuttoFun, Inc. specialized in the installation and maintenance of a wide variety of home entertainment systems ranging from a simple holovid set-up to a complete sensory stimulation chamber that put the Federation’s most advanced holodecks to shame…not that the Multeks had a clue that anything called a Federation even existed.
“Can the excuses, Crub. Find us work,” Sutto said. “And what about Tedula?”
“What is it?” Sutto demanded, snatching the datapadd from him. A smile spread across the Multek’s heavyset face. “Cryjalia’s closed for the weekend. Internal maintenance.”
“Funny,” Garbitz mumbled.
“They probably need help,” Sutto said, eyes glinting. “Good thing we’re available. Redeem your tickets, Teckle. We’re leaving.”
“Where are we going?” the twenty-year-old Multek replied excitedly.
“To visit one of Uncle Sutto’s old friends. And if you’re good, I’ll even let you carry a blaster of your very own.”
Teckle clapped happily, then, snatching the tub of tickets from Garbitz, ran off to the Druckie Deeze prize redemption counter.
Hmm…rustic. Of course, Dr. Nelson probably shouldn’t have expected much else from a resort situated on an uninhabited planet in the middle of the Multek’s version of nowhere. Wuddle had landed his shuttle in a relatively small clearing of jungle near a rapidly flowing river. Actually, river was probably a bit of a generous term. It was certainly larger than a creek, but no more than thirty feet across.
Still, the water was clear and clean, albeit shallow. It certainly didn’t look like the guests used it for swimming, which made her wonder why Wuddle had insisted that she bring a swimsuit. Maybe there was a pool inside the resort building itself.
It wasn’t much of a building, though. Constructed of a rough orangish-tan stone, the oval resort building (and there only appeared to be the one) rose up in front of them a whopping two stories. The dark wood roof then slanted up toward the sky sharply, meeting at a point.
“So what do you think?” Wuddle asked, carrying both his pack and Nelson’s on his shoulders as he closed the hatch to the shuttle and joined her standing in front of Cryjalia.
“I don’t know yet,” Nelson said diplomatically. “What am I supposed to think?”
“Rustic,” Wuddle replied with a grin.
“Oh yeah. I’m there on that one.”
“Trust me,” he said, taking her hand and walking with her up to the doors, two massive hunks of wood of the same type as the roof. Each door had been carved with a relief border of various animals and plants, none of which Nelson recognized.
Wuddle reached out and placed his hand flat on a spot to the side of the door. At first glance, it appeared to be just another section of the stone that made up the building, but Nelson quickly realized this spot was actually a disguised touch panel. An unobtrusive light below it scanned Wuddle’s hand, then shut off, leaving them still standing outside of the closed doors.
“Was that supposed to do something?” Nelson asked.
On cue, the right-hand door opened, revealing a Multek woman wearing a flowing lime gown. She appeared to be in her late forties (not that Nelson was truly an expert on Multek aging yet), and she was…well-constructed, for lack of a better term. Lieutenant Russell would have been reduced to open drooling at the sight of her. Okay, let’s be realistic here. Most of the men Nelson had ever known would have been reduced to drooling at the sight of her.
For the woman’s part, at the sight of Wuddle, she bowed deeply, giving a better view of impressive cleavage. “Your Frequoqness. We are honored to see you again,” she said gesturing for her guests to enter.
“Thank you, Tedula,” Wuddle replied, stepping inside the resort with Nelson as Tedula returned to a full standing position. The resort lobby was remarkable only in that no attempt seemed have been made to make it remarkable. A simple dark wood desk sat against the back wall of the small room. A few plants sat in pots, stretching toward the artificially-lit ceiling with long fronds, but that was it except for hallways stretching off to the left and right.
Wuddle, however, looked as though he’d just stepped into paradise. “I can’t tell you how long I’ve been looking forward to this,” he said to Tedula. “Allow me to introduce my companion, Amedon.”
Tedula nodded politely at Nelson. “Welcome, Amedon. You have a most pretty name. Which side of your family is it from?”
“Really, Tedula,” Wuddle said with a chuckle before Nelson could respond. “I wouldn’t have expected such a transparent effort from you.”
“Curiosity got the better of me, I guess,” Tedula replied with a matching smile. “It isn’t everyday that you get to meet the Frequoq’s Snarkleberry.”
Nelson just about choked. Snarkleberry?
“Yes, but I trust your discretion,” Wuddle said as a hunched-over ancient Multek, his blue hair long since faded to more of a aqua, waddled in from the left. Without a word, he approached Wuddle and took the luggage, then turned, heading off the in direction from which he’d come.
“We’d best get moving or Meppla is going to get away from us,” Wuddle said, turning to Nelson.
“I’ll expect you in the chamber shortly then,” Tedula said, striding off down the opposite corridor as Wuddle led Nelson after the old man.. They caught up in a matter of steps and followed in an uncomfortable silence until Meppla stopped in front of a wooden door labeled with a golden symbol that Nelson recognized as the Multek number one. Meppla opened the door, revealing a large room with all of the usual hotel accouterments: bed, bathroom, sitting area. He entered silently (which seemed to be the only way the old man operated), placed the luggage gingerly on the dresser, and opened the curtains on the far wall revealing the jungle outside the resort.
“Thank you, Meppla,” Wuddle said warmly, patting him on the shoulder as he passed. Meppla didn’t react, instead walking back out into the corridor and closing the door behind him. Wuddle instantly threw himself on the bed, landing in a sprawl. “Alone…here…with you. I’m feeling the tension slipping away already. And I can drop the whole official Frequoq speech. I hate having to sound so measured and refined all the time.”
He noticed Nelson staring at him. She did not look amused.
“What is it?”
“Sorry about that. It’s the official title for the consort of the Frequoq.”
“Is that the wrong word?”
“I sure hope so,” Nelson said, sitting down on the edge of the bed in a huff. “I have never been called a consort…or a Snarkleberry. Can’t say I’m real thrilled at the prospect either.”
“What would you prefer?”
“Do I have to be called something?”
“What if we got married, Mel? The people would have to call you something?”
“When? While they were fleeing in panic, screaming about the alien?”
Wuddle frowned. “Didn’t think about that one, did you?” Nelson pressed. “I told you I am not keeping this appearance forever.” She lay down next to Wuddle, resting her head on his shoulder. “I want this relationship, Wuddle. I really do, but I’m human. That’s the deal.” Well, most of it, she thought to herself as Midon squirmed inside her in protest.
“This is not a vacation-type conversation,” Wuddle said with mock-solemnity. “I forbid it.”
“You do, do you?” Nelson said, cracking a smile at Wuddle’s stern visage. Wuddle quickly broke, smiling broadly.
“You want to relax now?”
“Definitely,” Nelson said, pulling herself up. “Come show me what the hell’s so special about this joint.”
“Ooookay,” Nelson said hesitantly, eying the large…thing before her. After insisting that they both change into their swimwear, Wuddle had led Nelson further down the hallway outside of their room, which curved around and opened into a massive chamber that obviously took up the vast majority of the resort building. The room stretched upward the full height of the building, revealing the underside of the peaked roof, which had been painted with a mural depicting the jungle outside. Just below the almost- rotunda created by the roof was a ring of narrow rectangular windows letting natural light into the room.
Natural seemed to be the room’s theme overall. Boulders and rocks made up the walls, running down one of which was a small waterfall, lined with vibrant green and yellow plants.
But then the whole natural motif went out the window when you hit the…“things.” Three rounded silver objects, about ten feet in diameter, sat on the floor like massive metal hamburgers. Two of them were closed, but a third stood open, its upper part raised toward the roof by unseen forces, while a small section of the lower part had been folded down, revealing a small flight of stairs.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Wuddle said, barely able to contain his excitement as Tedula came into view from the corridor leading into the opposite side of the room.
“Only that you talked me into this,” Nelson muttered. “So what are we supposed to do here?”
“You’ll see,” Wuddle replied leading her toward the open tank. They were up the stairs and inside in a matter of moments, after which Nelson was still less than impressed. Wooden benches lined the interior, but that was it. Otherwise it was completely empty.
Tedula closed the stairs back up as Wuddle took a seat on a bench and gestured for Nelson to sit down across from him. “Enjoy,” Tedula said simply, tapping a control on a small device on her wrist. The upper section of the tank began to descend, soon sealing the pair in pitch darkness.
“Fun,” Nelson said flatly.
“Wait,” Wuddle said.
A sudden whooshing noise.
Nelson gasped as a liquid splashed against her bare feet and legs, filling up the tank. The liquid was warm and thin like water, but the smell was slightly sweet. Almost intoxicating without being overwhelming.
And it was now up to her knees.
“Should I be worried here?” she asked somewhat nervously.
Wuddle didn’t respond, but somehow Nelson knew he was smiling.
The liquid made it just above her waist, then stopped, leaving her comfortably-seated on her bench in the warmth. It wasn’t quite a hot tub, but the effect was rather pleasant.
She heard the soft sound of something opening just before a soft pink light illuminated the interior of the tank from above. Several glowing crystals, elongated diamonds of pink, lowered from the ceiling toward the water.
Nelson could now make out Wuddle across the tank from her, grinning. “What are they?” she asked.
Once again, he didn’t respond.
Nelson’s eyes narrowed. “You’re just going to make me find out for…”
The crystals hit the water.
The first moment was a rush of contentment across her entire body, as though she’d just had an hour of treatment from the best Medusan masseuse on Waystation.
The feeling then continued, spreading to her mind as Nelson was hit by a full-on dose of mellow.
This actually wasn’t so bad.
So it was a bit warm.
And a little humid.
Who was he kidding? Balibeb was a hot, oppressive, stinking ball of festering jungle. Still Commander Morales had this insane urge to go outside. Maybe he just needed to spend some time in the fresh air (Fresh. Yeah right. Only if armpits qualify as fresh to you.) Or maybe it was just because sitting alone in a runabout for two days seemed so pathetic and depressing.
Morales had brought something along for just those emotions, though: the Psych-O-Gram holographic therapist from the USS Wayward. He didn’t imagine that anyone back on Waystation would even notice that he’d transferred the program to the runabout, and Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter hadn’t so much as batted an eye when Morales asked him to install a holo- emitter into the living area of the Runabout Cumberland.
“Computer,” Morales said, leaving the cockpit and heading toward the rear of the craft. “Activate Psych-O-Gram.”
“Program activated and running,” the computer replied crisply.
Morales stepped into the runabout’s living area to find a holographic version of Counselor Claire Webber of the USS Secondprize waiting for him. Spotting Morales, she threw her arms wide open and dove at him to give him a nice big hug…then fizzled out of existence as she ran out of the range of the lone holo-emitter.
“Computer,” Morales said with a bemused sigh. “Reactivate the Psych-O-Gram.”
Webber reappeared, looking slightly confused. “Sorry, Counselor. I could only get one holo-emitter,” Morales explained sheepishly walking up to her.
“Oh,” Webber replied thoughtfully. “We’ll just have to make do. Now give us a squnch.” She grabbed Morales, yanking him in close and pretty much cutting off his air supply as she wrapped her arms around him and held him tight. “How are things with Commander Beck?”
“Is it really that bad?”
The Webber hologram released Morales and led him over to the sofa that was just within range of her emitter. They sat down, Webber pulling Morales down so that his head was resting in her lap. “Tell Claire all about it.”
“She sent me off to the middle of nowhere,” Morales said. “I’m just a pilot to her. Forget the First Officer stuff, we’ll just let Walter play delivery service.”
“And why would Lisa do something like that?”
“Because she doesn’t want me around while she dates that holovision guy.”
“She’s dating a holovision character?” Webber asked.
“Ahh. So is this man powerful?”
“Is this supposed to make me feel better?” Morales said, looking up at Webber, who was leisurely running holographic fingers through his hair.
“I was just thinking about Beck’s new man. It sounds like she’s found someone who has a similar position and would understand her work-life.”
“I’m her First Officer. I understand everything about her job. I help her with it.”
“Yes, but there’s more to a job than just the work. When you’re in charge of others, it puts you on a different level than your subordinates.”
“So who better to understand that than someone in a similar position. No explaining. Also no baggage,” Webber said.
“Are you saying I have baggage?”
“Would you ever date a subordinate?”
Morales was silent for several moments. “Do I have to answer that?”
“No. Just something to think about….but not in here.”
“You’re moping, cooped up in this metal box. Go outside. Take a walk. The humidity has dropped 15% in the last hour, and there’s a nice lake not half a kilometer from here.”
“Porter tied you into the shp’s systems, didn’t he?”
“I think so. I also suddenly know how to cook chicken shwarma…and about seven hundred other things I didn’t know how to fix before. And did you know that Krolhed was the third Prime Minister of Tellar?”
“Can’t say that I did,” Morales replied, sitting up. “Walk, huh?”
“It will be good for you,” Webber said with a smile.
“If you say so…ooof!” Webber had grabbed him again, crushing his ribs in a goodbye hug. “Just come back if you need me,” she said, letting go.
“Thanks. Computer, deactivate the Psych-O-Gram.”
Webber waved, then vanished while Morales grabbed a tricorder and a phaser (you never knew what kind of creature was living outside), opened the runabout hatch, and headed off toward the lake beckoning him on the tricorder’s sensor readout.
Awwwww. Who turned on the lights?
“That’s enough for now,” Tedula’s voice said softly.
Dr. Nelson willed her head to turn to the left toward the voice delivering the horrid news. She could make out the silhouette of the Multek woman standing at the entrance.
Nelson was planning on saying something along the lines of “Go the hell away, you evil cow” but only managed an oh-so-eloquent “Unnnnnnh” as a hint of drool formed at her lips.
“I’m sorry, Amedon, but sessions must be limited to eight hours.”
Eight hours? Could she really have been inside this tank for eight hours? Considering how good it felt, did it really even matter?
Wuddle rose shakily to his feet, his mouth stuck in a loopy grin, then he extended his arm for Nelson to take. He somehow managed to pull her to her feet as the liquid drained out of the bottom of the tank. With the tank empty, Tedula flipped down the stairs, then Wuddle led Nelson out into the room where Meppla waited with a Port-A-Dryer, which he silently waved around Wuddle and Nelson, drying them instantly.
The SuttoFun, Inc. demo-ship slid into orbit above Balibeb completely unnoticed. But why would anyone notice them? This wasn’t exactly a heavily-traversed section of the Multek Enclave, and they were simply business-people out to show their wares. The demo-ship had rooms displaying many of the products and services provided by SuttoFun, Inc. Potential customers could come aboard, enjoy a vid in the holovision suite, a virtua-concert in the audio bay, or even an extravaganza for the senses in the simulation chamber before making their decision on what they’d like to purchase for their home or business.
In this particular instance, though, Sutto has no interest in selling anything to the proprietor of the Cryjalia resort. This was strictly a matter of proper compensation. He and Teckle checked their blasters while Crubbie shuffled nervously near the ship’s small teleporter.
“Maybe we should comm,” Crubbie offered.
“Look up the term sneak attack sometime, grak-brain,” Sutto shot back. He tapped a control on his wrist communicator. “Can you hear me, Garbitz?”
“Yeah,” the deep gruff voice of the ship’s pilot replied.
“Good. We’ll comm you when we’re done. No running off.”
“Where would I go? No nice ships to look at out here…wow.”
“Nice shuttle at the resort.”
“Tedula spending her loot, no doubt,” Sutto grumbled. “All right. Let’s do this.” He stepped into the teleport chamber with Crubbie and Teckle, who could barely contain himself. His uncle was taking him on a real live assault. Who knew that life in the home entertainment business was this exciting?
“How do you feel?” Tedula asked smiling now that her guests had been properly dried.
“Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooood,” Nelson said, her brain still resisting the invitation to return to the normal world.
“Wuddle knew you would,” Tedula said, nodding toward the Multek Frequoq. “Didn’t you, Frequoq Wuddle?”
“Yes, Tedula,” he replied, wrapping an arm around Nelson. He still seemed a bit dazed, but nowhere near as non-functional as Nelson.
“Dinner will be in an hour if you’d like to head back to your room to finish readjusting,” Tedula said. “Meppla has something special planned for this evening.”
“Sounds great,” Wuddle said, smiling at the old Multek, who only nodded in acknowledgment.
The words slowly penetrated Nelson’s heavy skull. Dinner. Room. A thought stirred. Need room. Need unlogi. Dose due. Past due really. Morales checking in soon. Need unlogi.
She had managed to stumble two steps when she realized something that wasn’t supposed to be happening was happening right in front of her. Transporter activity. Nelson struggled to push through the fog clouding her mind. What was going on?
Three Multeks materialized, two of them brandishing blaster pistols. Hmm…this was most likely not good.
The largest of the three Multek new arrivals turned angrily on the scrawny one hanging toward the rear of the trio. “I thought they were supposed to be closed, Crubbie!”
“Th..they were, Sutto. That’s what their reservations service said,” Crubbie replied, cowering from the blaster in Sutto’s hand.
“Let’s just kill them,” the third member of the group said eagerly. “Isn’t that what we do in an attack?”
“Down, Teckle,” Sutto said darkly. He turned his attention back to Nelson, Wuddle, Tedula, and Meppla. “We’re professionals. A little setback isn’t the end of the Enclave. Let’s just keep focused on what we came for.” Sutto aimed his blaster at Tedula’s head. “Doesn’t that sound like a nice idea, Tedula?”
Wow. With the breeze coming in off the lake, Commander Morales STILL felt like he was being suffocated inside a Klingon’s armpit. Was the holographic Counselor Webber trying to kill him or something?
Maybe she just figured sitting here by the water would take his mind off of Lisa. And actually it had kind of worked. He was so busy being uncomfortable that he wasn’t focusing on how miserable the Lisa situation had made him.
Of course, he was the only one making it a situation. Captain Beck had made it more than clear that she didn’t think of him as anything more than a colleague and a friend, not that they were even much of friends. In Morales’s mind, friends actually spent time together outside of work. Their relationship was strictly professional, emphasis on the strictly.
Why was he spending his time pining for her anyway? This had gone on and on for almost two years now. Was she that wonderful? Sure she was intelligent and confident and beautiful and…okay, she was that wonderful. No wonder Phillip Harper was so taken with her.
And Beck seemed pretty taken with Harper as well, which meant Morales just needed to get her out of his head. There were a couple thousand people on Waystation. Surely one of them would do. Would do? That certainly wasn’t the attitude to have.
Back on Waystation there were hundreds and hundreds of wonderful women, several of whom were probably even better suited for him than Lisa Beck. All he had to do was go back there and find them, right? Absolutely.
But he wanted Lisa Beck.
“Oh yeah. I feel much better,” Morales mumbled.
Having had quite enough of the great (and incredibly stifling) outdoors, he picked himself up off of the ground where he’d been sitting, attempted to wring a bit of the humidity out of his uniform, then trudged back to the runabout, feeling Balibeb’s atmosphere weighing down on him as he went. In this environment, every step was a chore.
Finally, the runabout came into view, promising a climate- controlled oasis from the festering pit outside.
Lovely. He’d left the hatch open. Now it was probably humid in the ship, too.
Berating himself silently, Morales climbed the steps into the runabout and turned to head toward the cockpit.
He didn’t make it far due to the massive pale white fist that suddenly slammed into his face, knocking him directly into complete unconsciousness.
“What do you want?” Tedula demanded, leaping right into the obvious question.
“Payback,” Sutto replied menacingly.
“Pay? You were already paid, Sutto. Get out of my resort.”
“Not until I get what’s rightfully mine.”
“Look,” Nelson said, plastering a smile on her face. “You two obviously have a lot to discuss, so why don’t my friend and I just get out of your way?” Come on, Morales, Nelson thought to herself. Comm me. Time for the old emergency beam out.
“I’d love to, really,” Sutto said unconvincingly. “But there’s the off chance that you might tell somebody about all of this, and I’d hate for that to happen before Tedula and I are able to come to an arrangement.”
“We already had an arrangement,” Tedula shot back. “And I fulfilled my half of it.”
“You took the greatest invention I’ve ever developed and stole it as your own,” Sutto snapped, pointing at the relaxation tanks. “Do you have any idea how long those took me to design and develop?”
“Crubbie did all the work,” Tedula said. “Hi there, Crubbie,” she added with a slight wave to the nervous Multek.
“Hi, Tedula,” Crubbie answered just before Sutto hit him with a vicious elbow to the ribs.
“No consorting. She robbed us.”
“So it’s ‘us’ now?” Tedula said.
“Crubbie works for me. He depends on the success of my business for his livelihood.”
Teckle chimed in. “Yeah! And if you hadn’t clouded Uncle Sutto’s mind, we’d all be rich right now.”
“You clouded his mind?” Nelson asked confused.
“Our relationship was a bit more than professional,” Tedula admitted.
“Bah! You purposely seduced me to steal my invention,” Sutto said. “Evil temptress.”
“You signed the contract. I purchased the demo model and all rights to the relaxation tanks.”
“Yeah, and you were playing footsie with me the whole time!” Sutto said angrily. “How’s a guy supposed to concentrate with that going on?”
Nelson noticed Meppla roll his eyes, but still the elderly Multek remained silent.
“Uncle Sutto,” Teckle said.
“Not now,” Sutto replied, advancing on Tedula, his blaster aimed right at her forehead. “I want 75% ownership of this resort.”
Tedula burst out laughing. “You’re even dumber than I originally thought.”
“You could try half, Sutto,” Crubbie offered.
“SHUT UP!” Sutto bellowed.
“Uncle Sutto,” Teckle said more insistently.
“I said, not now!”
“But Uncle Sutto!”
Teckle pointed at Wuddle. “Isn’t that the Frequoq?”
“Yes,” Wuddle replied stiffly as Sutto turned toward him. “I am Frequoq Wuddle.”
Nelson could almost see the gears in Sutto’s brain turning as a smile spread across the Multek’s face. “You know what, boys?” Sutto said. In the background, Crubbie cringed. Sutto didn’t notice. “Our demands are about to go up.”
Inside her abdomen, Nelson felt a painful twinge as her mind went fuzzy for a moment. She was well past time for her unlogi, and she got the distinct impression that Sutto wasn’t going to let her pop back to her room anytime soon.
On the contrary, Sutto strode over to her, leering. “And who have we here? Has our Frequoq got himself a secret Snarkleberry? I hope your office has some deep pockets, Your Frequoqness, because my price to release you is going to be steep.”
Somebody was screaming. How inconsiderate? Didn’t anyone have respect for sleeping people anymore?
Commander Morales’ mind reminded him of the facts of the situation. He was on the floor of a runabout. And he hadn’t been asleep. Someone rather large had pummeled him into unconsciousness.
Was the deck slanted?
Morales forced his eyes to focus as he pulled himself to his feet and staggered into the runabout’s cockpit, where he found that the pilot’s seat was currently occupied by a fairly massive and panicked Multek.
The rapidly approaching ground outside the front viewport pretty much explained the panic.
Morales recovered in an instant, diving for the co-pilot’s seat without thinking and pulling the runabout out of its dive.
“What the hell are you doing?” he demanded.
“AHHHHHHH!” the bulky Multek screamed.
“Stop that! We’re not going to die.”
Realizing that his captive was awake, the Multek turned his horror to Morales. “Ahhhhhhh!”
“Way to make a guy feel wanted,” Morales muttered.
The Multek finally calmed down. “What happened to you? You look horrible. Are you sick?”
“What would make you think that?”
“You’re skin doesn’t have a healthy pallor. And you’re hair’s strange.”
Morales took a deep breath and sighed. This whole trip had officially turned into a disaster. “This may be hard for you to accept…”
“Garbitz,” the Multek said, recognizing the prompt for his name.
“Garbitz, you see, my name is Walter Morales. I am…a human. My species is from a planet called Earth located several light years away from here.”
Garbitz stared at Morales strangely for several moments, taking in Morales’s words. Then he started laughing.
“You don’t believe me,” Morales said.
Garbitz kept laughing.
“Hey! How do you explain this ship then? It’s alien!”
“Oh come on. You can’t tell me that…”
“Alien? That’s rich. What is this really? It’s a secret government project, isn’t it? Come on. You can tell me.”
Seeing a way out of this mess, Morales nodded. “You got me. I’m a disguised government test pilot. This is our new top secret planetary runner-craft.”
“Fantastic!” Garbitz exclaimed. “I just stole a government ship!”
“What do you mean ‘stole’?” Morales asked nervously. “You are going to give it back now, aren’t you? Garbitz? Oh, come on!”
Garbitz just smiled.
Dr. Nelson could see the fury brewing in Tedula’s eyes as she glared at the smirking Sutto. “Do you have any clue what you’re talking about here, Sutto?” she demanded. “That’s the Frequoq.”
“She…she does have a point,” Crubbie said, nervously shifting his feet as he did so. The man looked to be about three seconds away from fleeing the entire scene. “Taking the Frequoq hostage…”
“Is brilliant,” Teckle said eagerly. “We’ll be famous!”
“The only way people get famous for stunts like this is after they’ve been killed by the authorities,” Dr. Nelson said edgily. “I’d really reconsider all of this if I were you. But if you’ll excuse us, the Frequoq and I need to retire to our rooms.”
“Not a chance,” Sutto said.
“Send goof-troop over there with us,” Nelson snapped, gesturing to Teckle. “But I need my medication.”
“What medication?” Sutto asked.
“Ulcer,” Nelson said quickly, wincing as Midon shuddered inside her. “So let’s move it!”
Sutto shook his head. “You think I’m some kind of moron?”
“I do,” Tedula said.
He ignored the response. “I’ve seen some holos in my time. The sick prisoner bit is always that, a bit. Now stand there and keep it down. I have some business with Tedula before I see to you and the Frequoq.”
“I am the Frequoq,” Wuddle said nodding slowly. Nelson took a closer look at her companion. He hadn’t so much as shifted to another foot since they’d exited the relaxation tank. And that blank stare…he was gazing at Tedula with glazed eyes that seemed to be light-years from reality. “Should I stay here, Tedula?”
“Yes, Wuddle,” Tedula said distracted.
“Why is he asking you?” Sutto said angrily. “I’m in charge here.”
Nelson gasped as a realization struck her. “Dammit, you hypnotized him!”
“I did not!” Sutto shot back.
“Not you. Her!” Nelson shouted, pointing at Tedula. “You had this planned all along.”
Tedula’s frown deepened. “And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for you meddling idiots and the Snarkleberry. Well, you can just forget it if you think I’m turning control of his mind over to you, Sutto.”
“I cannot allow this.” The words, soft, yet firm, seemed to almost come out of nowhere. It took the group several seconds to realize that it was Meppla who had spoken, a small weapon now grasped in his hand.
“That’s right! Get them, Meppla!” Tedula exclaimed. “Um…why are you pointing that at me.”
“Multek Board of Tourism. I was assigned to work here to monitor your business practices, and hypnotizing guests is definitely against the Board Charter. I must ask you to relinquish your hold on the Frequoq’s mind and surrender to me.”
“No way!” Sutto snapped. “I get them first. Teckle, handle grampa over there.”
Teckle took two steps toward Meppla, then hit the floor with a thud after the elderly Multek lashed out with an amazingly quick boot to the Multek youth’s temple. Before Sutto had the time to register his surprise, Tedula dove for the floor, snatching Teckle’s dropped blaster and leaping back to her feet, weapon in hand.
“This has officially gotten out of hand,” Dr. Nelson muttered as Tedula, Sutto, and Meppla eyed each other threateningly.
“I am Frequoq Wuddle,” Wuddle said with a blank grin.
“That’s nice, dear.”
“I think I’m getting the hang of it,” Garbitz said leisurely as the Runabout Cumberland barrel-rolled through an asteroid field, narrowly missing several chunks of debris. The gyrations were enough to make even a seasoned pilot like Commander Morales a little queasy.
“You do realize that stealing government property could get you in serious trouble,” Morales said, gripping the armrests of his chair. He’d made a couple of moves to get to the rear of the runabout, but Garbitz had slammed him back into the co-pilot’s seat with ease.
“Yeah,” Garbitz mumbled. “But they gotta catch me first.”
Lovely thought. Somehow Morales got the impression that being captured by the Multek authorities might actually be preferable to being trapped with Garbitz at the helm for any length of time.
He had to get control of the Cumberland back and quickly before Dr. Nelson commed for him or, even more likely, Garbitz smashed them into a tumbling hunk of rock.
Fortunately, he knew just the bait to dangle in front of his pigment-challenged captor.
“You’re actually quite good at this,” Morales said, feigning calm.
“This. Piloting. We could actually use someone like you back at headquarters.”
“You mean becoming a test pilot?” Garbitz said, obviously intrigued.
“A top-secret test pilot. You would see craft unlike anything else in the Multek Enclave if you worked at our station.”
“You’ve got a space station!” Garbitz exclaimed.
Got him. Hook, line, and sinker. Whatever the hell that meant. Morales had never been one for fishing.
“Of course,” Morales replied. “You want to see it?”
“If this is a trick to get back in the pilot’s seat…”
“No no. You can fly there.”
“All right. Where is it?”
“That’s classified,” Morales said. “Although, I can program in the course.”
Morales brought up a navigation screen on his console and began to work. For a moment, he toyed with the idea of activating the intruder alert systems, but then he’d be risking either Garbitz realizing what was happening and pummeling him before the anestheszine rendered them unconscious, Garbitz regaining consciousness before he did and pummeling him, or the ship being intercepted by the Multeks while they were both unconscious, none of which struck Morales as great options.
Garbitz headed off on Morales’s programmed course, leaving Morales with nothing to do but wait for a way to deal with his uninvited guest and curse Nelson for relaxing at a resort while he was facing a major crisis!
Dr. Nelson’s abdomen spasmed, sending a jolt of dizziness through her brain as the minds of Amelia Nelson and the Midon symbiont temporary became disentwined.
The others in the room were a bit too busy to notice.
“I think you’d better put that gun down, old man,” Sutto said, trying to sound threatening after watching his nephew get dropped to the floor in one kick.
“You shall have to remove it, a task I believe you will find to be rather difficult,” Meppla replied.
“I’ll shoot you.”
“Please do,” Tedula said. “It’d give me a chance to put a blaster bolt in your head.
“Crubbie, get your blaster out and cover her,” Sutto ordered.
“Don’t listen to him, Crubbie. We’re friends, remember?” Tedula said sweetly. “I know you’re the one who really designed and built the relaxation tanks. Not Sweaty here.”
“Sutto! Pull your damn gun!”
Crubbie was visibly trembling by this point. “I…I’m not carrying it.”
“WHAT?” Sutto bellowed furiously. “I spend my hard-earned money to buy you a top of the line weapon, and you can’t be bothered to carry it!”
“I don’t like guns.”
“Who asked you?” Sutto snapped.
“I am the Frequoq,” Wuddle said smiling.
“SHUT UP!” Nelson screamed, as Midon grabbed control of her arm and used it to backhand the entranced Multek leader.
“Why did you have to hypnotize my boyfriend?” Nelson asked, trying to pull herself back together, a task that was becoming increasingly difficult. She could feel sweat from the strain practically pouring off of her. If she didn’t get her unlogi soon, she was less than an hour from unconsciousness, max. In four hours, she’d probably be dead.
“Like you don’t know, Snarkleberry,” Tedula said in disgust.
“The lavish suite, the hand-cooked gourmet meals, hundreds of willing employees at your beck and call, no need to work. All because the Frequoq took a liking to you.”
Nelson made a mental note to ask Wuddle about the perks to this girlfriend gig that she was obviously missing.
“It was all going to be mine!” Tedula continued. “Then he showed up with you. No problem, I thought. I’d just hypnotize you both and end things in a clean, subtle fashion.”
“Guess I ruined that, huh?” Sutto said chuckling. “Figures you’d be up to something like this. Anyone who stiffs me for payment is no good in my book.”
“You’re just an annoying inconvenience,” Tedula shot back. “She’s the problem,” she said, pointing accusingly at Nelson. “That relaxation tank was configured to hypnotize you both. Why aren’t you under my complete control?”
“I’m not very susceptible to suggestion,” Nelson replied. “But I am seriously NOT feeling well. While you three stand here threatening to shoot each other, would you mind if I get my drugs?”
“The Snarkleberry is a drug addict?” Tedula and Sutto said.
“Not this again,” Nelson said, barely containing the urge to charge them both.
“No one’s going anywhere. Nothing’s going to happen until Teckle wakes up and shoots gramps. I’m still in charge here!”
Two transporter beams suddenly coalesced into two well-armed Multeks in dark green uniforms. “Everyone, drop your weapons!” they demanded.
“Or maybe they are,” Crubbie said.
Just as Commander Morales had hoped, Garbitz had been effectively neutralized by the shock of what lay outside the runabout.
“Humma umma. That’s a…woah. That’s huge!”
“If you say so,” Morales replied, non-plussed as he noticed the comm signaling an incoming message. “But you’d better let me transmit the proper protocols, or we’re liable to get blasted out of space.”
“Yeah. Yeah,” Garbitz mumbled.
“Cumberland. Morales here.”
“Welcome back,” Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter’s voice said on the other end of the comm line. “You’re back early.”
“Unavoidable due to a guest.”
“Guest? What…” Porter’s voice trailed off. He was obviously checking his scanners. “Oh. I’m guessing he’s of the uninvited variety.”
“Yes, but I explained to him about our top secret test pilot facility, and he’s interested in joining. I told him I’d try to get him a meeting with Supreme Commander Holodeckle.”
“Ohhhhh. I’ll have to see if Supreme Commander Holodeckle is free at the moment,” Porter replied, managing to keep his voice sounding halfway-serious. “He’s just come back in from lunch. I can have your guest beamed over directly to meet with him and the chiefs of staff.”
“That would be very nice. Thank you, Wobble. Cumberland out.” Morales quickly cut the commline before Porter could reply and turned to Garbitz. “Looks like you’re in. Have a great meeting.”
“But I want to…” Garbitz was interrupted by the dematerialization of his body as it headed off to Waystation. Less than a second later, the comm flashed again.
“Cumberland,” Morales said, opening the channel.
“Is there something you’d like to tell me, Commander?” Captain Lisa Beck’s voice asked.
“He jumped me,” Morales replied. “I don’t have all the details yet, but I’m sure Supreme Commander Holodeckle can properly handle the interrogation.”
“We’ve got your Multek friend in a room full of other holographic Multeks. Porter and Russell are headed down there now to take control of a couple of the simulated officers, but that still leaves us with a Multek on the station,” Beck said. “I could try to find Hypple, but I don’t think he’s up for this sort of thing.”
“Garbitz will be fine with the holograms. I have no idea about Doctor Nelson, though. I need to get back in case Garbitz brought friends with him.”
“Understood. Get moving, Commander. We’ll deal with your stowaway after you bring back Amedon. Tell her the vacation’s over.”
“On my way,” Morales said, swinging the runabout around and quickly sending it into warp back toward Balibeb.
“You had so better be here to help!” Dr. Nelson snapped as the two newcomers aimed their weapons at the group. For their parts, Sutto, Tedula, and Meppla had quickly shifted positions to try and cover pretty much everyone at once.
“Frequoq Security,” one of the two men in green said curtly. “The Frequoq missed his prearranged check-in time. Are you all right, your Frequoqness?”
“Hunky-dorey,” the Frequoq replied with a grin. “I’m very relaxed now. Isn’t Tedula wonderful?”
“Is she the one with or without the weapon?”
“With. And it’s a very nice weapon, too.”
“If you say so, sir.”
“I just did.”
“Right. If all’s well, we’ll just be on our way.”
“Well?” Nelson shouted. “Did you miss the three people pointing guns at each other? And the fact that Wuddle’s a babbling idiot!”
“The Frequoq’s recreational activities are his affair,” the security agent replied. “You folks have a nice day.”
At that moment, something snapped in Dr. Nelson. Whether it was the strain on her body from unlogi withdrawal, near-delirium caused by the frazzling link with her symbiont, or just generally being fed up, Dr. Nelson said a big goodbye to being sensible.
Nelson charged, taking everyone off-guard, and hit the security agent before he fully realized what was happening. Adrenaline and berserker rage pumping through her body, Nelson wrenched the blaster out of his hands and kept on running, firing wildly behind her as she continued toward the opened relaxation tank her and Wuddle had recently been resting in.
That was all the spark this particular powder keg needed. Tedula, Sutto, Meppla, Crubbie, and the security officers scattered, firing frantic blasts in each other’s general directions as they made for cover, leaving Wuddle standing in the middle of the room blissfully uncaring of the danger.
In the ensuing chaos, Nelson was able to focus on her immediate goals. Getting Wuddle and, more importantly, getting back to their room so she could get some unlogi and call in the cavalry. Uncomfortable poking be damned, this is the last time she went to a spa without wedging her commbadge into her swimsuit.
Generally, Starfleet frowned on zipping through Multek space at maximum warp. That kind of energy output was exactly the sort of thing that drew attention, which was a big no-no.
Commander Morales didn’t much care at that exact moment, since Warp 9.6 would put him back at Balibeb in a matter of minutes rather than hours. With any luck, Garbitz was just a lone guy who happened across the runabout, and Nelson wasn’t in any danger at all. She probably wouldn’t even know that Morales had left.
Once again, he noticed the comm system flashing.
“Runabout Cumberland. Morales here.”
“What’s your ETA at Balibeb?” Captain Beck’s voice asked urgently without so much as a hello.
“A matter a minutes, ma’am. Why?”
“Your friend, Garbitz, was there with his employer. Evidently, they had a falling out with the woman who runs the resort concerning payment for a job, and his employer was headed back for revenge.”
“Where is this employer now?”
“At the resort. Garbitz was just supposed to stay in orbit with their ship while the other the Multeks went down to have a word with this Tedula. And by ‘have a word’ I mean shoot her.”
Morales winced. “I’ll see if I can push the engines a little harder.”
“Do that. This Sutto Garbitz works for was evidently not expecting guests to be there. There’s no telling what he might do to Nelson and Wuddle if they get in his way.”
“Get out of the way!” Nelson screamed from her protected location, hoping that something just might penetrate Wuddle’s blitzkrieged brain enough to get him to make even the smallest move toward self-preservation.
“Protect the Frequoq!” the now-disarmed security officer shouted to his compatriot.
“That’s easy for you to say,” the other officer snapped back, dodging several blasts coming from Tedula and Sutto.
“I wanna beam back to the ship,” Crubbie said, dissolving into total panic.
Sutto turned on him and fired, stunning the Multek into a nice, deep coma. “That is SO much better,” Sutto said, turning his blaster back to the matter at hand.
Nelson’s vision began to blur a moment as another spasm coursed through her body. She didn’t have a lot of time left before she lost consciousness, but she was not about to just leave Wuddle to be shot.
“He’d better appreciate this when he snaps out of it,” Nelson muttered, steeling herself for the action ahead. After laying down several rapid blasts of frantic cover fire, she dashed out of the relaxation tank and, keeping her head low, charged Wuddle, tackling him to the deck as several bits of returned fire sailed over their heads.
“Oh I’m terribly sorry,” Wuddle said. “Was I in your way?”
Nelson clamped her hand over his mouth. “Shut up and run,” she growled, dragging Wuddle to his feet and racing him toward the exit leading to the guest rooms.
Not liking the looks of that maneuver at all, the remaining combatants turned their fire towards the fleeing Nelson and Frequoq. Nelson changed course, cursing all the while, and shoved Wuddle to the ground behind a large potted plant.
“Oooh. This smells nice and fresh,” Wuddle said, sniffing a leaf.
“Good. It’ll mask the stench of our cauterized limbs once the others finish zapping us,” Nelson muttered, sending a few shots of her own back towards the main battlezone.
“I am the Frequoq.”
“Say that one more time, and I’m planting your head,” Nelson replied.
That could not be good, Morales thought as he parked the runabout in a stationary orbit above the Cryjalia resort. Sutto’s ship hovered nearby, waiting for the return of its owners. On the one hand, the fact that they hadn’t left yet meant Morales possibly wasn’t too late to help Nelson. On the other hand, that meant three angry, armed Multeks were down on the planet.
Morales checked the runabout’s sensors and immediately wished he hadn’t. Nine humanoid life-signs were all clustered in the same room, and weapons fire was flying back and forth at a furious pace. He quickly adjusted the sensors, honing in on the one Terran in the room. Morales was no doctor, but the life signs coming from Nelson were very erratic.
His initial impulse was just to beam Nelson out of there, but he had no idea what was actually going on. Better to exercise a little bit of caution. After grabbing a spare commbadge from the equipment locker, Morales set it on the transporter pad and beamed it right next to Nelson’s location.
Returning to the pilot’s seat, he initiated another comm.
“MORALES!” Nelson’s voice shouted over the cacophony of several blasters firing.
“Yes, Doctor. What’s your status?”
“I’m either going to get shot or die from symbiotic rejection. Take your pick.”
“With me, but he’s in some kind of trance. The resort operator tried to take control of his mind.”
“What about Sutto? Is he there?”
“Who isn’t here?” Nelson shouted back. “Stop yapping and do something! These people are going to kill each other!”
“Understood,” Morales said, wondering how one more person with a weapon was going to help matters. “I’ll see what I can come up with.”
“Right. Morales out.”
Let’s see. He had two phaser rifles on the runabout, but he’d still have to beam down and…
Morales’s thought process shifted gears a bit. Or he could just do something a little more dramatic.
Nelson ducked another blast, hoping that nobody decided to turn their weapons up from stun. Somehow she didn’t imagine that the terra-cotta pot she and Wuddle were hiding behind would be all that protective in that instance.
One thing she had to say for the Multeks: they had horrible aim. Of course, Sutto and Tedula were civilians, and Meppla was about three million years old, but the security guy (the one who still had a blaster anyway) had no excuse.
If Morales took too long, maybe everyone would get bored and decide to settle things over a game of cards or something.
Nelson dove to cover Wuddle as the ceiling above them was suddenly obliterated, revealing a gaping hole looking out to the sky above, sky that was currently dominated by a Starfleet runabout hovering directly overhead.
Oddly enough, the blaster fire in the relaxation room ceased immediately as everyone looked up in alarm.
“Now that’s doing something,” Nelson said gratefully. In unison, Sutto, Tedula, Meppla, and the security officer aimed their weapons upward. That lasted for approximately three seconds before the entire room was doused in a wide-beam stun blast.
“Even better,” Nelson thought, happily letting herself collapse into unconsciousness.
“First Officer’s Log. Stardate 53968.3. I was able to administer Doctor Nelson’s unlogi soon after transporting her up from the surface. Once she recovered from the stress of nearly undergoing a forced symbiotic separation, she was able to reverse the effects of whatever hypnosis Tedula performed on Frequoq Wuddle. We quickly filled Wuddle in on recent events, so that he could offer suggestions on how best to resolve the situation without revealing our presence to any other Multeks.
As per his advice, we’ve been joined in orbit over Balibeb by the Wayward delivering Garbitz. Garbitz is currently unconsciousness, the same as the seven remaining Multeks sprawled throughout the living area of the Cumberland. Wuddle has been in contact with his office on Multos in order to make a few arrangements. Now all we have to do is get out of the way and let the Multeks handle things.”
Tedula felt decidedly groggy as she regained consciousness. Her memory quickly flooded back, though, sending her scrambling for her blaster.
It wasn’t there.
And she wasn’t at Cryjalia anymore.
This looked suspiciously like a cell.
“Hey! Let me out of here!” she shouted. The door to the small brig area opened a few moments later, allowing the two Frequoq Security officers to enter, smiling smugly.
“Thought you could hypnotize your way into being the Snarkleberry, did you?” the head officer said with a chuckle. “Good plan.” He and his partner quickly broke down laughing.
“Try and prove it in court,” Tedula shot back. “You’ll be laughed right off of Multos.”
“I don’t think so,” the officer replied, holding up a data padd. “The schematics of your so-called relaxation tanks are pretty clear about what they can do.”
“And they have my testimony,” Meppla said, stepping up behind the officers. “You never should have messed with the Multek Board of Tourism. Tourism is the life-blood of the Multek Enclave. Without it…”
“All right! I get it! Leave me alone.”
“Nah,” the head officer replied. “We’re going to let Commander Meppla remind you of your duty to the Enclave. Have fun, folks.” The two security officers headed out of the brig, leaving Tedula alone with Meppla.
The old man took a deep breath and resumed his oratory. “Without tourism, the very fabric of Multek society would unravel into so many strands of…
“MAKE IT STOP! PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!”
Garbitz suddenly snapped awake and quickly sat up, looking around in a daze. He was in the cockpit of the SuttoFun, Inc. demo ship. Wait. What the brabel?
Before he could ponder things for too long, the cockpit door opened, and Sutto stormed in. “What happened?” he demanded angrily.
“Did I tell you to beam us up?”
“Did I?” Sutto raged.
“SHUT UP! We were in the middle of something VERY important,” Sutto said. “What were you thinking?”
“I had the most amazing dream,” Garbitz said. “There was this incredible ship…and a space station…and Supreme Commander Holodeckle wanted me to be a test pilot, and…”
Garbitz was cut off by Sutto’s hand smacking him upside his large head. “You’re a moron. You know that? Beam us back down there now!”
“Um…uncle?” Teckle said groggily, stumbling into the cockpit.
“Get your blaster. We’re going back down there.”
“I don’t think so,” Teckle said.
“What? Are you defying me now, too?”
“No. But…we probably shouldn’t try to do anything else.”
“Why not?” Sutto shouted.
“Because we’re surrounded,” Teckle said hesitantly, pointing at the viewport.
Sutto raced to the window, craning his neck to look beside the SuttoFun, Inc. vessel. Sure enough, a Multek military cruiser was hovering just off to port. Heading to the other side of the ship, he found another to starboard.
“They sent us a message,” Garbitz said, pulling the text- comm up on a monitor on his helm console. “Oh…ohhhh…ewwww.”
“They’ve seized all your assets.”
“They can’t do that,” Sutto said nervously. “I’m a responsible citizen.”
“It says here you assaulted several other Multeks, endangered the Frequoq, attempted to take the Frequoq hostage, and impeded tourism.”
“Impeded tourism,” Sutto gulped. “I’m doomed.”
“Am I doomed, too?” Teckle asked.
“Yes! Now shut up. I’m trying to panic here.”
“Don’t wanna,” Crubbie said, fighting the soft voice trying to pull him out of his nice, comfy sleep. His mind raced back to the terror of the blasts flying at Cryjalia. Nope. He definitely didn’t want to wake up.
“It’s okay, Crubbie. You’re safe now.”
That voice. Could it be?
“Frequoq Wuddle?” Crubbie ventured, daring to open his eyes. His bleary vision quickly resolved to reveal the Frequoq, wearing the same glistening golden suit he wore for his official proclamations and autograph signings.
“That’s right,” Wuddle replied. Crubbie sat up, finding himself on a bed in one of Cryjalia’s guest rooms. “Take it slowly. You’ve suffered several stun blasts.”
“Don’t worry about him. He’s in custody.”
Crubbie blanched. “Am I under arrest?”
“That’s up to you,” Wuddle replied. “You can go to a rehabilitation ranch with your colleagues if you’d like, but I’ve come to understand that you’re something of a genius of the leisure arts.”
“That’s very nice of you to say, your Frequoqness. I love to help people have a good time. It makes me happy.”
“That’s what I thought,” Wuddle said with a smile. “And it looks like today may be your lucky day.”
“What?” Crubbie said confused.
“Well, it looks like Cryjalia’s former owner has been unavoidably and indefinitely detained, which leaves me in possession of a perfectly good resort. The problem is I’ve got an Enclave to run, so I can’t very well manage this place, too. You see my point?”
“Yes, your Frequoqness,” Crubbie said, trying to hide his excitement. “I could…I mean.”
“The place is yours.”
“Really?” Crubbie exclaimed.
“But I’ll be back in three months. You’d better have this place up and running by then, and it’d better be something special.”
“It will be. I guarantee it.”
“Good.,” Wuddle said, shaking Crubbie’s hand. “Now the first thing you’ll want to do is fix the roof in the relaxation room.”
“What happened to the roof?”
Wuddle stepped into the Frequoq yacht and tossed off his golden jacket, sending it flying onto the pilot’s chair at the front of the cockpit.
“That’s that,” he said, sliding down onto the loveseat at the rear of the cockpit beside Nelson.
“Crubbie said yes, I take it.”
“Just like you said he would.”
“He looked like a guy who just needed a little push to get him away from people like Sutto who were just dominating him in order to use his skills.”
“You figured all that out while they were aiming guns at us?”
“I’m a good judge of character,” Nelson said. “That’s why I’m dating you.”
“Well, it’s certainly not due to this little romantic getaway.”
“So you won’t be offended if I tell you we’re using the holodeck on Waystation next time?”
“Not one bit,” Wuddle said.
“Good because that’s sure as hell what’s happening,” Nelson said. She kissed Wuddle lightly on the cheek, then sank deeper into the loveseat. Now this was relaxing. And it was probably a good time to tell him about Midon.
Nah. That could wait. No need to dump the existence of the slug on Wuddle right now. Best to enjoy the time they had together before he had to take her back to Waystation. After this trip, she’d be lucky if Beck and especially Commander Morales ever let her leave with Wuddle again.
From chauffeur back to clerical assistant, Commander Morales thought as he sat in the food court of Starfleet Square Mall making is way through the quarterly personnel review forms filed by the various department heads. Did Lieutenant Russell even grasp the concept? Every single person on his staff was rated “Excellent.” Morales would have to have a word with him about that. How exciting.
“Good breakfast?” a voice asked, breaking into his work. Morales glanced over at the breakfast sandwich in his hand, then up at the speaker: Captain Beck.
“I don’t know,” he replied frowning. “I can’t remember what I’m supposed to be eating. I just went to the place with the shortest line.”
“Sounds like a dangerous technique,” Beck said, sitting down across from Morales, padd in hand. “I just finished reading through your report.”
Ouch. He’d been expecting this chat from the moment he’d been forced to bring Garbitz back to Waystation.
“Nice work,” Beck said, completely destroying Morales’s expectations of being lambasted.
“Huh?” he replied in disbelief. “I mean, I felt my performance was somewhat lacking,” he added quickly, recovering himself.
“What else could you have done?” Beck asked.
“About which part?”
“Any of them,” Beck said. “I’d say you took the hand that was dealt you and did the best anyone could have with it.”
“How can you say that? Garbitz saw the station,” Morales protested.
“Like I said, what else could you have done?”
“I could have tried to activate the transporter and trap him in the buffer until I could figure out what to do with him.”
“Too dangerous. What if he’d reached out and grabbed you when he realized he was being dematerialized? You would have been encompassed by the beam and stored in the buffer right along with him.”
“Okay. Well what about at Cryjalia? I blew up a roof! Why didn’t I just beam an anestheszine grenade in or something?” Morales said.
“We have no idea how anestheszine interacts with Multek physiology. You could have killed them all.” Beck smiled. “Besides your way was quite the attention grabber.”
“You could say that,” Morales replied unconvinced.
“I’m trying to give you some praise here, Walter,” Beck said. “Do you want it or not? And before you say anything, it’s deserved. Just smile and be happy with yourself.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Morales said, smiling a little.
“Better,” Beck said, standing up. “I’ve got a breakfast date with Phil, so I’ll see you in ops later.”
Beck walked off as Morales’s smile quickly faded. Lisa had another date with Phil. And suddenly, Morales had the urge to blow something else up.