Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
By Alan Decker
It took some time to get a sense of the true scale of Waystation when you first approached it. With no planets or other bodies around, there was nothing to give a frame of reference to an approaching vessel. It wasn’t until a ship got close that the enormity of the station became clear. What did 100 decks mean? Two saucer-shaped sections? So what? How big were those saucers?
But to Federation Marine Lieutenant Stephanie Hodges, it was home, and after three weeks away with the rest of the Marine battalion assigned to Waystation, she was happy to see it looming ahead of the Federation Marine Transport Mongoose as the vessel approached the Marine’s docking bay located on the lower part of Waystation’s upper saucer.
Colonel Martin Lazlo, the officer in charge of the battalion, had actually taken the soldiers out for training on a swamp world a few months earlier. Hodges had taken leave and therefore missed that particular bit of fun. No such luck this time. This time she got to spend three weeks in the arctic tundra just like everyone else.
Somehow that just didn’t seem fair. She was a pilot, not a grunt. Hodges could handle a weapon with the best of them, but she preferred to spend her time in the Mongoose, not trudging through snow drifts up to her thighs.
As the Mongoose approached the upper saucer of Waystation, Hodges waited from the usual welcoming comm from Operations, a comm that didn’t seem to be coming judging by the fact that they were now within a couple of kilometers of the station’s hull.
“Something wrong, Lieutenant?” Colonel Lazlo asked gruffly as he stuck his head into the cockpit.
“Why would anything be wrong, sir?” she replied.
“We haven’t landed yet.”
“I’m just waiting for acknowledgment from Docking Control.”
“Don’t wait. Land. Beck and her flunkies will keep us out here forever if we let them,” Lazlo snorted.
“I doubt that,” Hodges replied with a smirk. “Last time they left us alone out here for too long, you sliced the station in half.”
“Land us!” Lazlo barked, his thick black mustache twitching. He retreated to the ship’s main compartment as Hodges activated the comm system.
“Mongoose to Waystation. Come in, please.”
“Wa…<YAWN>…Waystation,” the voice of Commander Walter Morales, Waystation’s First Officer, replied groggily. “Hi there.”
“Um…can we land?”
“Uh…sure,” Morales replied, following that with another loud yawn.
“Thanks a bunch,” Hodges said. “Sorry for waking you up.”
“I was awake,” Morales said unconvincingly.
“Sure you were. Mongoose out.” Hodges chuckled slightly, then steered the Mongoose toward the waiting docking bay. Morales may have been tired, but after three weeks of Lazlo and the snow, the marines were exhausted.
Feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep, Hodges made her way along the upper concourse of Starfleet Square Mall, leisurely looking through the various shop windows to see if the wares had changed at all over the last few weeks. She was meeting Captain Lisa Beck for breakfast at the Andorian Restaurant in about half an hour, so she had a bit of time to kill.
As she passed the food court, Hodges spotted Commander Morales poring over a padd as his breakfast sat on the table in front of him mostly untouched. Deciding that Morales could probably use a break, Hodges stepped up to his table.
“Morning, sunshine!” she said jovially. “Are we feeling a bit more perky today?”
Morales slowly moved his head to look up at her with deeply bloodshot eyes. “Huh?” he said blankly.
“Guess not,” Hodges said, sliding into the chair across the table from him. “Is Lisa making you pull constant double shifts now or what?”
“No,” Morales said confused. He stifled a yawn. “I’m fine.”
“When was the last time you had a full night’s sleep?”
“Last night,” Morales said. “I was in bed before 2300 hours. No offense, but why is this your business?”
“Just looking out for the man who saved my best friend,” Hodges said. “God knows what that Selvan would have done to Lisa if you hadn’t gotten her back.”
“You already thanked me.”
“And I’m going to keep thanking you. You’re a hero, you know.”
Morales shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “I should go.”
“To bed?” Hodges asked, her eyes boring into him.
Despite his apparent fatigue, Morales’ eyes widened in shock.
“Not with me,” Hodges said quickly.
“Oh…okay,” Morales said, getting up from his chair. “I should go.”
“So you said.”
“Get some sleep.”
“I did already,” Morales said, fighting off another yawn.
“Then get some more,” Hodges called as Morales took his tray toward the nearest waste reclaimator. Hodges shook her head as she rose from the table and headed off in the other direction. Normally, she wouldn’t dream of interfering in the affairs of Beck’s officers, but in this case she was going to make an exception and tell Lisa to give Morales some time off. The poor man looked like he was about to drop at any moment.
After a few more minutes of wandering, Hodges headed down to the lower concourse where the Andorian restaurant was located. The restaurant’s proprietor, Ih’mad, greeted her warmly (the same way he always greeted friends of the captain), and ushered her over to the booth where Beck was already waiting.
Well, waiting wasn’t exactly correct. More accurately, Beck was sleeping, her head resting on her arms on the table mere centimeters from a steaming cup of the putrid green slime the Andorians passed off as tea.
“Unbelievable,” Hodges muttered, taking a seat on the bench across the booth from Beck. She watched Beck for a few seconds, wondering if the presence of another person would wake the Starfleet captain up.
No such luck.
“WAKE UP, MAGGOT!”
Beck shot straight up from the table, pulling her head back so far so quickly that she slammed it into the wood backrest of her seat.
“OW!” Beck cried, rubbing the back of her skull. She spotted Hodges sitting across from her laughing. “What the hell was that for?”
“I was feeling ignored,” Hodges replied grinning. “What have you folks been doing around here while we were gone?”
“Nothing,” Beck said.
“You’re bonking Morales, aren’t you?”
“Steph!” Beck snapped, looking around quickly to make sure no junior officers were around to hear their conversation.
“NO!” Beck said.
“Then where’s Phillip?”
“Earth. He had to meet with some potential clients.”
“Uh huh. He’s gone, and you and Morales are both the walking dead. Very suspicious,” Hodges said.
“Really? How much sleep did you get last night?”
“Plenty. I was in bed by 2300 hours,” Beck replied defensively just before breaking out into a huge yawn.
“And you weren’t with Morales?” Hodges asked.
“No! Why would I be with Morales?”
“What are you hmmming?”
“He said he was in bed by 2300, too.”
“So? It’s a reasonable bed time,” Beck said.
“I guess so,” Hodges said thoughtfully as a waiter approached.
“It is,” Beck said more firmly. “Now are you going to eat or continue the interrogation?” The captain quickly put a hand over her mouth to cover another yawn.
“That depends,” Hodges replied. “Is it breakfast time or nap time?”
Damn ice. The Mongoose had been built to handle pretty much anything, but three weeks of sub-zero temperatures had taken their toll on the vessel. Lieutenant Hodges hadn’t realized just how much damage the hull had sustained until she returned to the docking bay after her breakfast with Beck to take care of her post- mission duties.
None of the ice damage had been enough to threaten the Mongoose’s space worthiness. If that had been the case, the ship’s onboard systems would have warned her. Still, it worried her that enough conduits had been harmed by the cold to force several systems to fail over to alternate routes through the ship.
Hodges and a couple of marine technicians had done the best they could to make repairs over the course of the rest of the day, but there were a few matters that were going to require additional expertise. Starfleet expertise, to be exact. With little else she could do, Hodges contacted the station’s operations division, who promised to send someone by the next day to take a look at the Mongoose.
The following day, true to Starfleet’s word, someone was sent along. That someone turned out to be Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter, Waystation’s Chief of Operations and Science Officer. As far as help went, Hodges couldn’t hope for any better…
…at least under normal circumstances.
Today, however, Porter was a wreck. He staggered into the docking bay, barely keeping a grip on his engineering kit as he made his way over to Hodges.
“Hey,” he said peering at her through bleary eye. “Heard you had a ship problem.” And then he yawned, opening his mouth wider than Hodges would have thought physically possible.
“There is something very wrong here, sir!” Hodges said, her hands planted on Colonel Lazlo’s desk as she stared her superior officer down.
“Everything seems okay to me, Lieutenant,” Lazlo replied, nonchalantly leaning back in his desk chair while he polished his name plate.
“Have you talked to the station command crew lately? Their exhausted. At first I thought it was just Captain Beck and Commander Morales, but Porter’s a wreck, too. I went to go see Doctor Nelson about it, and I found her snoring in her office. And Lieutenant Russell has a cot set up in the security office armory.”
“That’s been there.”
“Oh… Well, the others aren’t normal! Something is happening to them, and we have to do something about it!”
“Maybe they’re just having parties every night,” Lazlo said disinterested.
“Lisa would have invited me,” Hodges said. “It’s something else.”
“I don’t care what it is as long as it keeps happening. Beck just approved my request to fire off a G-187 Plasma Cannon on the training deck.”
“Exactly my point,” Hodges said. “Normally, Captain Beck would never allow that. She’s so sleepy that she can’t even think straight.”
“And tell me again why I should want things back the way they were?” Lazlo asked pointedly.
“Fine. I’ll investigate this by myself.”
“Investigate,” Lazlo chuckled. “And you’re a detective now?”
“The command crew all claim they’re getting a good night’s sleep, and none of them seem to realize that anything is wrong with them. I think something is happening to them at night instead of sleep, and I’m going to find out what it is.”
“Have fun,” Lazlo said, waving off Hodges dismissively. He turned serious for a moment. “But if Beck revokes my plasma cannon permit, it’s your ass. Got it, Lieutenant?”
“Yes, sir,” Hodges managed to force herself to utter before spinning around toward the door and rolling her eyes. The station was possibly in danger, and all Lazlo cared about was his damn cannon, which was probably just going to put them all in more danger when he accidentally breached the hull with it.
Later that night with tricorder in hand, Lieutenant Hodges planted herself as surreptitiously as she could around the corner from Commander Morales’ quarters. Her first instinct had been to stake out Beck’s quarters, but she decided that Beck, even though she was tired beyond belief, was far more likely to recognize her, even though Hodges had run a color wand through her hair to switch herself from a blonde to a brunette and was now wearing fairly nondescript civilian garb. Morales, on the other hand, would probably look right past Hodges.
Of course, all of this was assuming that whatever was happening to the command crew involved them leaving their quarters at all. That was why she had the tricorder. This way she could at least monitor Morales a little bit. If something went into his quarters or tried to take him out, she should see it.
Twenty-three hundred hours was evidently the standard Starfleet bedtime because as that time rolled around, Morales crawled into his covers and curled up to sleep. Hodges settled in to wait, but it turned out she needn’t have bothered. Almost immediately, Morales got back out of bed, put his uniform on, and strode purposefully out of his quarters and out into the corridor.
He passed Hodges without giving her a second look…or a first one for that matter. Instead, he made his way to the nearest turbolift as Hodges did her best to stay with him without alerting Morales to her presence.
She heard him order the turbolift to Deck 97 just before the doors closed, sending Morales off to his destination. She impatiently waited for the next turbolift car. What was on Deck 97? Hodges had no clue. She assumed it was crew quarters or cargo bays. There certainly wasn’t anything of importance there that she was aware of.
“Quick, officer. He’s getting away,” an all-too-familiar voice said derisively from behind Hodges. She turned to see Colonel Lazlo, decked out in his civies, approaching her. “Whatever shall we do?” he added, clapping his hands to the side of his face in mock-horror.
“You couldn’t stay away, could you?” Hodges said as the next turbolift car arrived and its doors opened.
“Honestly, I was just going to swing by and taunt you a little bit, but since Morales actually seems to be going somewhere, I might as well come along for the ride.”
“All right then, sir,” Hodges said as the pair stepped into the turbolift. “But with all due respect, if you alert Morales to our presence, it’s your ass. Deck 97.”
Hodges and Lazlo exited the turbolift on Deck 97 a short time later and found themselves in a long corridor of residential quarters.
“Very suspicious,” Lazlo said sarcastically.
“Come on,” Hodges said, having detected Morales on her tricorder. They quickly closed the gap between themselves and Morales as the commander was evidently not in much of a hurry. He was strolling fairly casually, but there seemed to be a destination in mind based on the very deliberate turns he was making.
Finally, he turned down a dim dead-end corridor along a section of blank wall. “What is he doing?” Hodges muttered. There wasn’t a door evident. She wasn’t completely sure of their location due to the twists and turns they’d made, but most likely Morales was by the bulkhead. Why go here in the middle of the night? For that matter, why go here anytime?
“Someone’s coming,” Lazlo said suddenly, pulling Hodges back into another side corridor opposite Morales’. From their position, they could make out Morales just standing at the wall at the end of the hallway.
Lazlo turned out to be right about the approaching people as Captain Beck walked into view and turned down the same corridor as Morales.
“Ohhhh. This could be interesting,” Lazlo whispered.
“Shhhhh,” Hodges hissed, watching Beck and Morales intently. Had Lisa lied to her? Was she really having illicit rendezvouses with her first officer? And if so, why here? And if that was the case, why were the others so tired?
Hodges didn’t get any farther with that line of thought. Instead, she watched as Morales placed his hand on a part of the wall at the end of the corridor, which caused the entire wall section to slide open revealing bright lights beyond. Morales and Beck stepped through the doorway and out of view as the wall slid back into place.
“We’ve got to get in there,” Lazlo said determinedly, charging across the hall to the other corridor.
“So you’re interested now, huh?” Hodges said, jogging to catch up.
“Those two are up to something. They all are. It’s some kind of secret Starfleet plot, and we need to know about it!” Lazlo quickly ran his hand along the wall section Morales had just opened, feeling for some sign of a switch. He soon hit a small square, which he pressed in, causing the wall section to once again slide open revealing the bright lights blazing beyond the entryway.
The pair stepped inside as their eyes fought to adjust to the blinding glare around them. A few moments later, their vision cleared, giving Hodges and Lazlo their first clear look at their new surroundings.
They both had the same response:
“What the hell?”
Hodges glanced back behind her just to make sure the door was still there and that they were still on Waystation. Otherwise, she would have thought that she and Lazlo had just been transported to one of the seedier Orion worlds.
Ahead of them stretched a narrow concourse, lined in both directions with glaring lighted signs and doorways advertising gambling, mind-altering drinks, and erotic dancing. While the concourse wasn’t packed, there were a fair number of beings strolling along. From what Hodges could tell, none of them were permanent station residents, not that she could possibly recognized every one of the couple thousand people who lived on board.
Lazlo whistled appreciatively. “When did this open?”
“Who knows?” Hodges replied. “I get the feeling this is a private club. There wasn’t exactly a sign outside.”
“Well, there are plenty in here,” Lazlo said, taking a couple of steps toward an establishment promising authentic belly dancing.
“What are you doing?” Hodges said, catching up to him.
“Investigating. That’s why we’re here, isn’t it?”
“Fine, but be careful, sir. I doubt these people want marines strolling around their level of fun here..”
“I’m always careful,” Lazlo replied as he and Hodges stepped inside the darkened club where the show was already in progress. As promised, it was belly dancing, but in this case, the dancer’s belly seemed to have something inside moving of its own accord. Lazlo was mesmerized by the movements of the scantily-clad woman and her bare tummy while Hodges peered at the eyes of the veiled woman. That face…
“Hey,” Lazlo said suddenly. “That’s…” Hodges quickly clapped a hand over his mouth. Fortunately, the other club patrons were too busy watching the show to listen to Lazlo.
“It’s Doctor Nelson. I know,” Hodges whispered harshly into his ear.
“I had no idea her symbiont could move that well,” Lazlo said. Nelson arched her back, bending her head almost off the stage and into the audience as her belly continued to gyrate to the music.
“Neither did I,” Hodges said wincing. How could Nelson bend like that? “Let’s go.”
“We haven’t found Beck and Morales yet,” Hodges replied, surreptitiously pulling out her tricorder and recording a bit of Nelson’s performance.
“Fine, but if Morales’ doing a strip show, too, you’re on your own.”
Lazlo turned out to be half right.
There was indeed a strip show.
But is starred Lieutenant Sean Russell.
“I think I’m going to be ill,” Lazlo said.
“He’s more muscular than I thought,” Hodges said, staring for a few moments before she pulled herself away and followed Lazlo back out onto the concourse.
“Can I interest you in something for the lady?” the street vendor asked sweetly, sliding up to Lazlo. Lazlo recognized her instantly: Yeoman Tina Jones.
“Er…what do you have?” he asked.
“Wonderful toys,” Jones replied smiling and opening the small case of wares she had strapped in front of her.
“Geeaaccchhhh!” Lazlo exclaimed, jumping backwards in horror.
“I’ve got designs based on seventeen species in here,” Jones said. “And they’re all VERY anatomically correct with extra long- life power cells.”
“Um…thanks, but no,” Hodges said, grabbing Lazlo’s arm and beating a hasty retreat. “He does just fine.”
After their encounter with Jones on the street, Hodges and Lazlo ducked into the casino at the end of the concourse. Visitors to this little mini-mall of delights could get loosened up out on the concourse with a few drinks while they watched some fleshy entertainments, then make their way into the real heart of the place, the casino.
“Somebody is making a lot of latinum here,” Hodges said, looking at the rows of gaming tables and slot machines that stretched meters and meters into distance.
“Hopefully me,” Lazlo said, rubbing his hands together expectantly. “I may have to go back to my cabin for some additional funds. I’ve only got a few slips with me.” Something at a nearby blackjack table caught his eye. “Hey! Morales’ the dealer over there. He’s just the kind of honest guy I want handing me cards. I’m going to clean this place out.”
“Buy me a drink first,” Hodges said, pointing at the bar before Lazlo could charge the blackjack table.
“Why should do that?” Lazlo said annoyed.
“Trust me,” Hodges replied, dragging Lazlo into the small lounge adjoining the main casino floor and sitting him down at one of the small round tables.
Lazlo took a long look at the bartender. “That accounts for Porter,” he said. “I hope the man fixes drinks as well as he fixes everything else.”
“Was that actually a compliment?”
“He’s the only one of those Starfleeters I can stand,” Lazlo replied. “He at least tries to be helpful, which is more than I can say for Beck.”
“What can I get you folks?” the waitress asked, stepping up to their table. Lazlo turned to her and froze, his eyes widening in shock.
“He wants a cappuccino, if you have it,” Hodges said quickly, trying to ignore the fact that Lisa Beck was looking right at her with no hint of recognition. The captain was dressed in a little black outfit with an even smaller white apron on the front. Her long legs were in black fishnet hose and accentuated by the three-inch stiletto heels she was wearing. The top of the outfit had obviously been designed by someone with a love for cleavage as Beck’s breasts had been shoved together and upward so much that Hodges half wondered if an anti-gravity generator had been mounted in there somewhere.
“No coffee here, darlins’. Sorry.”
“Beer’s fine. Whatever’s on tap,” Hodges said.
Lazlo, meanwhile, had recovered his composure and was relishing the situation. “Warp core breach, honey,” he said. “And bring me some nachos.”
“You got it,” Beck said with a wink, then sashayed off to the bar to give the order to Porter.
“No wonder they’re all so tired,” Hodges said, leaning in close to Lazlo. “They’ve basically each got two jobs now. And did you see the heels Lisa’s in? It’s a wonder she can walk in the morning.”
“If they want to moonlight here, that’s their business.”
“Come on, Colonel. You can see what’s happening here just as well as I can. They aren’t themselves. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
“They’d better. Warp core breaches are tricky drinks to make.”
“You know what I mean!” Hodges snapped.
“Watch your tone, Lieutenant,” Lazlo warned. “I am well aware of what’s happening around here.”
“So what are we going to do about it?”
“What?” Hodges said angrily, fighting to keep her voice down. “We’ve got to tell Captain Beck and the others.”
“Absolutely not,” Lazlo said, pulling Hodges in closer before she could respond. “We don’t know who’s running this place or what kind of hold they have on Beck and her officers. If we go off half-cocked here, we could cause more harm than good. What if the person in charge kills them or what if he’s got enough control over their minds to make them turn on us? We don’t have a clue what we’re really into here.”
“That makes an astounding amount of sense,” Hodges said.
“Don’t sound so surprised,” Lazlo retorted.
“I’m sorry. I just tend to think of you as a shoot first, think later sort of marine,” Hodges replied.
Lazlo’s eyes narrowed. “It’s all about tactics, Lieutenant. Every situation requires different tactics.”
“So what tactics did you have in mind for this particular situation?”
“First, we continue with the deep cover investigation,” Lazlo said as Beck brought their drinks back over. Lazlo took a long sip of his warp core breach and smiled. “This part could take several days.”
“Uh huh,” Hodges said darkly. “What about Beck and the others?”
“You don’t say a thing to them about any of this until I tell you to, and that IS an order, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, sir,” Hodges said unhappily.
“Good,” Lazlo said, getting up from his seat, drink in hand. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I see some cards that need to be investigated.”
The next morning, Lieutenant Hodges found Captain Beck in her office in Operations valiantly attempting to focus on a padd of station paperwork that required her attention. Hodges rang the office door chime and waited for Beck to wave her inside.
She rang the chime again. At her deck, Beck startled as though shot. Her head whipped back and forth a few times as she tried to figure out where she was and just where that sound was coming from. She finally spotted Hodges at the door and smiled, gesturing for Hodges to enter the office.
“Sorry about that,” Beck said, stifling a yawn. “I guess I was too wrapped up in my work.”
Or in a dream, Hodges thought to herself. As much as it pained her to do so, Hodges was going to follow Lazlo’s orders and not let Beck in on her nocturnal activities. Instead, she placed a wrapped present down on Beck’s desk in the midst of the various padds Beck was trying to work through.
“What’s this?” Beck asked confused.
“It’s for you.”
“You know damn well it’s not my birthday, Steph,” Beck said suspiciously as she picked up the package and pulled at the paper.
“I know. It’s a ‘just because’ present. I saw it this morning in Dillon’s Supply Depot and thought you might like it.”
“Dr. Sh’oll’s massaging boot inserts?” Beck asked, examining the packing she’d removed from the wrapping paper.
“Exactly!” Hodges said. “I know how much you’re on your feet, so I thought these might help.”
“My feet have been killing me for the last few days,” Beck admitted. “Thanks, Steph. I appreciate this.”
“You’re welcome,” Hodges replied. “I’m on duty in a few minutes, so I have to run. Try to take it easy today, okay?”
Beck looked at her confused. “Um…okay. I’ll do that.
At 2230 that night, Hodges’ door chime sounded just as she was pulling on her uniform boots.
“Come in,” she shouted, hopping out of her bedroom into the living room while fighting with her left boot. The doors slid open, admitting Colonel Lazlo, once again decked out in his civilian garb. Actually, he’d opted for the 24th century equivalent of the leisure suit, complete with wide lapels and a dress shirt unbuttoned halfway down his front, revealing the hairy chest beneath.
“You’re in uniform, Lieutenant,” Lazlo said, unamused.
“I’m not going tonight,” Hodges said.
“I thought we were investigating.”
“I am. But in other places, and I want to look official when I’m there. You can drink and gamble without me.”
“I’ll do that,” Lazlo said, turning on his heel back toward the door. He stopped himself and turned back on Hodges. “Just watch what you say, Lieutenant.”
“I will, sir. Trust me.”
Lazlo eyed her for a few moments longer, then charged out of her quarters ready to hit the slots. He’d have more fun without Hodges tagging along anyway.
Hodges, meanwhile, finished her boot battle and waited for 2300 hours to come and go. At that point, she exited her quarters and made her way to the nearest turbolift.
Moments later, she emerged in Operations, where the night shift had just come on. Lieutenant Oliver Mason, who normally was Lieutenant Commander Porter’s second-in-command of engineering, was standing at the operations/science console while other junior officers manned docking control and tactical.
Hodges had met Mason in passing a few times, so it was no surprise to her when he smiled and waved to her as she emerged into the Waystation control center.
“Hey there, Stephanie,” Mason said warmly. “What brings you up here?” He looked concerned for a moment. “It is Stephanie, isn’t it?”
“Yes. And your name was Oliver, right?”
“Right,” Mason said, his grin returning. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“This is going to sound like a silly question, but who’s in charge now?”
“I am,” Mason said proudly.
“Really?” Hodges said surprised. Mason frowned slightly. Uh oh. She was in danger of offending him. “So you’re the man in charge,” she added quickly, sounding impressed and widening her eyes a bit in the way that most of her boyfriends had found so adorable.
“Yes, ma’am,” Mason said, puffing himself up a bit.
“That’s wonderful, Oliver. So when did this happen?”
“A little over a week ago. Captain Beck decided that she wanted to keep all the regular command crew on the day shifts. That meant someone else had to command the night shift, and Lieutenant Commander Porter told her I was ready, so here I am.”
“Here you are,” Hodges said, leaning against Mason’s console. “So anything exciting happen during your first week on the job?”
“Not a thing. The station’s been quiet inside and out.”
“Glad to hear it,” Hodges said thoughtfully. So Beck changed the command structure just in time for all of the command crew to get their new night jobs. That meant whoever was pulling the strings had put enough thought into this to make sure the individuals they needed would not have conflicts with their duty shifts.
Hodges straightened up suddenly. “Thanks for the chat, Oliver,” she said, heading toward the turbolift.
“Is that all you wanted?” he asked disappointed.
“It’s late, and I need to get to sleep,” Hodges said, faking a yawn. “It’s nice to know we’re in good hands. Good night, now.”
As the next couple of nights came and went, Hodges just couldn’t bring herself to go back to Deck 97. She knew that if she went back, she’d cause some kind of scene. She just couldn’t stand by and watch her friends being used as slave labor by whoever was in charge the operation down there.
For his part, Colonel Lazlo was more than happy to handle the reconnaissance on his own, but Hodges had to wonder how much actual information he was really gathering. She had decided to give him one more night. If he didn’t have something worthwhile to tell her when they spoke the next day, she was going to have to take some action, even if it meant disobeying Lazlo’s orders.
“Today’s the day, isn’t it?” Angela Thatcher said, barging into her brother’s office at the rear of the Latinum Way Casino. Garry Thatcher spun his desk chair away from the various monitors displaying views from throughout the casino, strip clubs, and bars lining his little dominion on Waystation and glared at his younger sister.
“Can’t you knock?” he asked.
“Don’t stall me, Garry. Give me the numbers. Receipts are up, right?”
“Yes they are,” Garry replied.
“Does it matter?”
“HOW MUCH?” Angela demanded eagerly, bounding behind the desk to look over her brother’s shoulder at his console.
“Sixteen percent! HA! I told you bringing Beck and her people here to work would give you a boost. Who wouldn’t want a chance to order around the command crew of a Starfleet station?” Angela laughed. “And you didn’t want to do it.”
“All I said was that it was risky,” Garry replied. “We haven’t been noticed since we set up five months ago. I didn’t see any need to do anything that could change that.”
“But sixteen percent!” Angela said. “That’s a major increase, all because of me! You shouldn’t have doubted me.”
“You’re an optometrist. What was I supposed to think when you showed up offering to help?”
“I’m more than free eye care, brother dear. Now pay up. I want a full share of the operation.”
Garry shook his head. “Not yet,” he said. “You have one more thing to do first.”
“One more thing? What the hell is this? I said I’d increase business by at least ten percent, and I did! That was the whole deal. Pay UP!”
“Your operation was risky…”
“Yeah yeah. We went over this already,” Angela said, starting to walk back around the desk.
Garry grabbed his sister’s arm roughly and yanked her toward the bank of monitors. “You put us at risk,” he seethed, pointing at the image of a mustached man on one of the screens. “Do you know who that is?”
“Should I?” Angela asked, pulling her arm away from Garry.
“He’s been here each of the last four nights.”
“So he’s a loyal customer.”
“He’s the colonel in charge of the Federation Marines contingent on Waystation. One of the other customers pointed him out to a dealer a little while ago.”
“So you didn’t know who he was either.”
“That’s not the point,” Garry snapped. “His presence means that someone in authority on this station knows we exist.”
“Well he obviously hasn’t told Starfleet.”
“For now. Evidently there’s some kind of animosity between him and Captain Beck, but we can’t assume that will be the case forever. I want him dealt with.”
“I’ll drop by his office tomorrow and offer him a free eye exam,” Angela said. “He’ll be working for us by tomorrow night.”
“I can’t wait that long. I need to know how he found us,” Garry replied.
“You know I can’t pry any information out of these people. Even under deep hypnosis, people generally won’t reveal anything they don’t want to reveal. I can make some suggestions to alter his behavior, but that’s it.”
“Then he doesn’t leave here tonight,” Garry said, pressing a button on his desk console. Almost immediately, two black-clad security guards entered the office. “I want the man at table twenty- five, chair three brought here now.” The guards nodded crisply, then left.
“Don’t you think kidnaping a marine colonel is going to arouse a little bit of suspicion?” Angela asked.
Garry’s eyes locked on his sister and narrowed threateningly. “Like I said, sister dear, this is your mess. You find a way to clean it up.”
Hodges knew that she was due on duty in just a matter of minutes, but she just couldn’t stand waiting anymore. If Lazlo gathered any information the night before, she wanted to know about it.
She charged into Lazlo’s outer office at 0756 hours and found Lazlo’s assistant, Sergeant Rick Kyle, leaning back leisurely in his desk chair, his feet propped up on a pillow on his desk.
“A right fine good mornin’ to ya,” Kyle said, faking a thick Southern drawl.
This was so not right, and there was only one possible explanation for it. “Where’s Colonel Lazlo?” Hodges demanded.
“Not coming in,” Kyle replied with a big grin.
“Don’t ask me. He just commed me a little while ago and said he wouldn’t be in. I didn’t see any need to press him on the matter.”
“How did he sound?” Hodges asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Was he happy? Angry?”
“No. He just said he wasn’t coming in. It was like this…” Kyle suddenly broke into a dead-on Lazlo imitation. “I am not coming in today.” Well, it was just like Lazlo other than the monotone. Lazlo NEVER spoke at a monotone.
“It was exactly like that?”
“Exactly,” Kyle said. “Happy now?”
“Not even close,” Hodges replied, turning on her heel and rushing out of the office sure of one thing: they’d gotten Lazlo.
“Get that thing away from me,” Colonel Lazlo growled, straining against the bonds that held him in his seat as Angela Thatcher wheeled her eye equipment back in front of the colonel’s face.
“Just look inside, Colonel,” Angela said as she adjusted a few of the controls. “I don’t want to have to paralyze your eyelids again.”
“If you think I’m going to cooperate with you even a little bit, you’ve got another thing coming, missy!” Lazlo shot back.
“So you’ve made clear,” Angela said with a sigh. This was pointless. Sure she could plant basic suggestions in Lazlo’s mind, such as getting him to call out for the day, but that was a far cry from getting information from him that he didn’t want to give up.
Across the office, Garry watched the goings-on silently. When he’d told her to clean her mess up, he evidently meant for her to do it all by herself, and Angela knew why. He wanted her to fail. He couldn’t stand that her modified optometry equipment had been able to increase his receipts so much. So what if the marine knew? Before, they probably just could have paid him off and have that be the end of it. But now…now he was either going to have to be completely reprogrammed or…killed. Did Garry actually have people killed? It was certainly possible. This had all seemed so much more exciting a couple of weeks ago. She just wanted to join her brother and work together. Optometry had turned out to be a major bore, so she’d gone out and found a way to convince him to let her in on his operation. Now she wasn’t so sure if she wanted in at all…or if now she could get out. Her only choice now was to somehow find a way to deal with Colonel Lazlo.
“This doesn’t have to be unpleasant,” Angela said, strapping the equipment in place around Lazlo’s head. “Let it happen.”
“Not a chance in hell,” Lazlo said defiantly.
“Okay,” Angela said, a tinge of sadness in her voice as she picked up the hypospray off of her instrument table. “I tried to be nice about this.” She jabbed the hypospray against Lazlo’s temple just next to his left eye, then repeated the procedure for his right, shutting out the stream of profanity directed at her from the marine. With Lazlo’s eyes now frozen open, she activated her creation and got to work.
“You are feeling very relaxed. Very content. You want to talk. We’re dear friends, and you want to tell me everything you know about Deck 97 and how you know it…”
Lieutenant Hodges had to sound the door chime three times before Captain Beck snapped out of her exhausted stupor enough to realize someone was at her office door. Beck waved (actually it was more of a discombobulated flinging of her arm), signaling for Hodges to enter.
“Hey,” Beck said groggily.
“We need to talk,” Hodges said.
“Now,” Hodges said, putting a padd down in front of Beck. “These are images I took a couple of nights ago on Deck 97.”
“Deck 97?” Beck said, seriously slurring the seven. “What’s on Deck 97?”
“You might be surprised,” Hodges replied, bringing up the first images of Doctor Nelson’s belly dancing routine. Beck stared at the picture, then rubbed her eyes a bit as she fought for focus.
“Amedon?” Beck asked.
“One for one. Try this.” Hodges clicked to the next image.
Beck shook her head. “No clue, but whoever it is has a nice body.” Hodges clicked to a better shot.
“Russell?” Beck exclaimed.
“What the hell do they think they’re doing?”
“Good question,” Hodges asked, clicking to the next image. “You could ask her, not that she’d tell you.”
“Yeoman Jones? And are those what I think they are in that box?”
“Yes. Let’s move on.” Click.
“That’s Morales, but what’s he doing?” Beck asked. Click. “Are those cards? Wait. He’s dealing cards?”
“Another correct answer. Let’s move over to the bar, shall we?” Click.
“Porter, too? Did they all go and get other jobs without telling me?” Beck said, growing angry.
“They wouldn’t go without you,” Hodges said, clicking the padd one more time to an image of Beck in full bar waitress regalia.
Beck was now completely awake and furious. “Whose damn holodeck program is this?” she demanded, eyes blazing.
“There are no holodecks on Deck 97,” Hodges said. “This is real.”
“Then who built the androids?”
“They aren’t androids, Lisa,” Hodges said. “It you. All of you. That’s why you’ve been so tired lately.”
“Impossible. I’ve been sleeping fine every night. I’m in bed by…”
“2300 hours. Yes I know. You’ve been programmed to say that. I don’t know how they did it, but whoever runs that place has been able to take over your minds at night and put you to work. You think you’ve slept well and that you aren’t tired, even though the whole bunch of you are practically drooling with fatigue.”
“How long have you known about this?” Beck asked, flipping through the rest of the images of the set-up on Deck 97.
“A couple of days.” Beck’s head shot up angrily. “But Colonel Lazlo ordered me not to say anything,” Hodges added quickly.
“And he’s changed his mind?”
“I don’t know. He’s missing. He told Kyle he wouldn’t be in today, and the computer can’t locate him. I’m positive he’s on Deck 97. They’ve got him, and I want your permission to go get him back.”
“Permission?” Beck said, rising from her desk. “I’m going to be the first one through the damn door.”
“I can’t let you do that, Lisa,” Hodges said.
“Can’t let me?” Beck said. “You’ve got to be kidding!”
“You and the rest of the command crew have been compromised. If we take you in there, how will I know that they won’t issue some command to make you turn on us. This has to be marines only.”
Beck thought for a moment, rubbing her hands along her face. “If Lazlo was telling me this…”
“You’d probably kick his ass and go anyway,” Hodges finished. “Whether you should or not.”
“Take your people in, Steph,” Beck said, sitting back down in her desk chair. “But I want first crack at whoever’s behind this.”
“I promise,” Hodges said, scooping her padd back up and switching to another screen. “Now if I could just have your authorization to invade Deck 97, I’ll be on my way.”
“Permission granted. Stomp the bastards into the deck plating.”
“You got it,” Hodges said, taking her padd back and heading out the door.
“Talk to me, Colonel.”
“This isn’t working,” Garry said, getting up from his desk.
“I could have told you that,” Angela said, leaning back tiredly. “I can’t force information from him.”
A slow smile crossed Garry’s face. “You can still make him work for us, though, correct?”
“Absolutely. I can push his consciousness aside as much as you want.”
“Then we’ll put him to work immediately,” Garry said. “Maybe tomorrow after he sees what he was doing all night, he’ll be more willing to cooperate.”
“What did you have in mind?” Angela asked.
“All right, people, listen up,” Lieutenant Colonel Daniel O’Neal shouted as he strode back and forth in front of the marines gathered in the training deck. “We’re due for beam out in two minutes. Final gear check.”
In unison, one hundred marines checked the power supplies on their phaser rifles and the fit of their blast armor.
Satisfied that his soldiers were ready, O’Neal continued. “Remember your assignments. Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie teams are with me securing the middle of the deck. Foxtrot, you’re inside the main door. Echo, you’ve got the corridor outside. Delta will follow Lieutenant Hodges into the casino. The other teams will secure the various establishments as needed. Remember, we’re dealing with civilians here. Any resistance will most likely come from lightly armed security guards. I want them neutralized quickly and this whole place locked down. Understood?”
“YES, SIR!” the marines shouted back.
“Good. Be on the lookout for Colonel Lazlo. We have reason to believe he is being held on Deck 97 against his will. If you spot the colonel, do not attempt a rescue unless you can be assured of his safety. The lock-down is our primary objective here. Understood?”
“Good. Deploy your transport scramblers immediately after beam in, then get to work,” O’Neal said, readying his own rifle. He gave a nod to the marine standing at the transporter control console that had been put together for the occasion, tying in several of Waystation’s transporter systems. “Energize!”
DECK 97. 2230 HOURS
Business at the various establishments along the hidden concourse was already sprightly, even though the Waystation command crew hadn’t arrived for their evening shifts yet. New arrivals to the station (the ones with the contacts to know that Deck 97 had anything more to offer than quarters, anyway) couldn’t help but be intrigued by the prospect of having Starfleet officers serve and entertain them, and many of these newcomers were already milling about taking in the shows already in progress or playing a few hands of cards or spins of dabo.
The mood in the concourse abruptly changed as transporter beams began cascading all around, quickly coalescing into the forms of heavily-armed Federation Marines.
“Transport scramblers now!” Lieutenant Colonel O’Neal screamed as the marines leapt into action. “Everyone else, freeze! This deck is now under the control of the Federation Marine Corps. Do not move or…”
A phaser blast sailed past O’Neal and slammed into the blast armor of a private standing a few feet away, knocking her to the deck.
“Dammit! I said freeze,” O’Neal shouted, spinning around and firing several blasts in the direction of their attacker as three other marines with him did the same. A black-suited guard groaned and fell to the floor, unconscious. “Now does anyone else feel like moving?”
Several patrons shook their heads quickly and dove to the ground.
“Transport scrambler deployed,” Corporal Sherwood reported.
“Sir! Sir!” Private Kintasa called from the door of the nearby strip club. “You’d better get in here.”
“Something good?” O’Neal asked eagerly, rushing over. He quickly caught himself and adjusted his stride. “I’m on my way.”
The casino floor erupted into utter chaos as Hodges and her team materialized. “Federation Marines. Nobody move,” she shouted as she pulled the transport scrambler out of her pack and set it up on the nearest poker table. “Copeland, guard the scrambler. Rogers, Blake, with me! Everyone else, secure this area!” Hodges, with Rogers and Blake in tow, charged toward a promising looking set of black double doors at the rear of the casino.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a flash of movement and dove for the deck, turning toward the movement with her rifle and firing as she went down. A phaser blast sailed over her head as her shot slammed into the attacking guard. Rogers and Blake ducked for cover behind the nearby gaming tables as six more guards streamed out from the double doors and ran for cover of their own.
“Take them down!” Hodges shouted, firing at the lone guard remaining at the doors. With him stunned, she scrambled to her feet and made a mad dash for the doors as Rogers and Blake laid down a barrage of cover fire.
Hodges felt the heat of several blasts sear behind her as she threw herself through the double doors and into the empty steel grey corridor beyond.
“You brought me in here for this?” Lieutenant Colonel O’Neal asked in disgust as he looked at the woman gyrating on the stage in a silver sequined evening gown. Her face was caked in white powder with large rouge circles on her cheeks as giant curls of platinum blond hair swayed back and forth in time with her awkward movements across the stage…not that her movements were in time with anything else.
The music sped up a bit, and so did the woman’s movements, her pelvis thrusting back and forth as though she were in some kind of epileptic fit.
“Uggh,” O’Neal groaned. “She is awful. And what the hell species is she? I’ve never seen a mustache like that on…oh my god.”
“Yes, sir,” Kintasa said.
The “woman” on stage began to slide the spaghetti straps of her dress down her shoulders revealing the freshly-shaven chest underneath.
“Colonel, stop!” O’Neal called.
The dress slid down to his waist.
“No, Colonel, no!”
And finally the dress hit the ground, leaving Lazlo prancing about madly in a pair of gold bikini briefs.
“FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MAKE IT STOP!!!!”
Angela Thatcher’s pacing had practically turned into a flat- out run as she frantically moved around Garry’s office. “What’s the problem, Garry?” she demanded.
“I don’t know!” Garry snapped back, pounding commands into his console. “The transporters just won’t engage.”
“Must be that transport scrambler I dropped in the lobby,” Lieutenant Hodges said stepping through the office door, rifle at the ready. “Awfully sorry about that, folks.”
“Garry!” Angela said.
“The house just lost,” Hodges said. “Both of you move over here. Get on your knees, hands behind your heads.”
“Will you shut up?” Garry shouted. “I’m sick of listening to you! This is all your fault! You realize that, you stupid twit!”
“ME!” Angela screamed, turning on her brother. “You god damn…” Unable to control her anger anymore, Angela charged the desk, getting in front of Hodges in the process. In a flash, Garry yanked a phaser out of his desk drawer, stopping Angela in her tracks.
“Over there! Both of you!” Garry ordered, pointing at the wall with his free hand. “Drop the rifle.”
“Don’t be a twit, Garry,” Hodges said, keeping her rifle leveled on him. “I’ve got the bigger gun.”
“All that matters is who shoots first,” Garry replied with a cruel smile.
A phaser blast suddenly slammed into his side, dropping him instantly to the floor.
“Looks like I did,” Captain Lisa Beck said from the doorway, weapon in hand.
Hodges looked at her in shock. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s my station. I just couldn’t stay away. Besides, when was the last time I did anything you told me?”
“Never and still counting,” Hodges said with a chuckle.
“Um…does this mean I’m under arrest?” Angela asked.
“Oh yeah. Big time,” Beck said as Hodges pulled a pair of binders out of her pocket. “Present your hands to the nice lady with the big gun over there, and we’ll be on our way.”
“His name is Garry Thatcher,” Lieutenant Sean Russell said, pointing at the image on the monitor as he stood before the group gathered in the Operations conference room. “He arrived on the station about six months ago and settled into what we thought was just an ordinary existence as an assayer. Surprisingly enough, he never actually went to work for the assayers office. Instead, he set up his own business in an undeveloped section of Deck 97 catering to scum and lowlifes that pass through on freighters and such. The quarters on 97 aren’t used very often, so no one noticed the flow of people heading to that deck.”
Russell switched to the next image. “We still might not know about it if it weren’t for her. This is Angela Thatcher, Garry’s younger sister. She was trained as an optometrist, but she got bored checking peoples’ eyes for a living.”
“Imagine that,” Lieutenant Commander Porter muttered.
“We still have people around who are just optometrists?” Yeoman Tina Jones asked.
“Not many,” Dr. Nelson replied. “A general practitioner can handle most exams and minor issues. For any more than that, you’d need an opthamologist.”
“What does optometry have to do with anything?” Captain Beck asked impatiently.
“Angela knew Garry had his place here, so she decided to get in on the action by proving to him that she could help his business. Her idea was to use her eye scanning equipment, which had been modified with some pieces of Ktarian technology, to hypnotize the command crew into working for her and Garry. I checked the security logs, and it turns out that she came to you first, Captain.”
“I don’t remember her,” Beck said confused.
“There was no way you could have once she was finished with you. She told you she was setting up a shop on the station and offered you a complimentary eye exam, which you accepted. She planted several suggestions in your mind, one of which was to order the rest of the command crew to get examined by her.”
“Next thing you know, we’re all moonlighting on Deck 97,” Porter said.
“She was able to use her device to push our conscious minds aside leaving us open to following her suggestions,” Dr. Nelson continued. “If she would have asked us for classified information or anything that our conscious mind knew, we wouldn’t give it to her. But that’s not what they wanted us for anyway.”
“Lucky us,” Beck said. “But why not just go for full mind control?”
“First off, the device wasn’t capable of it,” Nelson explained. “And second, someone would probably notice if we started acting differently during the day.”
“Not that the sleep-deprived zombie routine was real subtle,” Lieutenant Hodges said.
“We’re just glad you noticed,” Beck said. “The important thing is the place is closed…for now.”
“What do you mean for now?” Colonel Lazlo snapped.
“I just got a proposal from Bradley Dillon to rent the entire facility down there. He promises to transform it into a classy casino and entertainment complex.”
“He probably knew about the place the entire time,” Porter said.
“Possibly,” Beck said. “But why didn’t WE know about it? They took over almost an entire quarter of a deck!”
Porter shrugged. “It’s a big station.”
“So I noticed. But I want you and Russell to check the entire place over just to make sure there aren’t any other businesses around we should know about. Okay?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Porter said, sinking a little deeper in his chair.
“Are we about done here?” Lazlo asked impatiently. “The perpetrators have been caught, and I’d really like to forget that any of this ever happened.”
“Agreed,” Captain Beck said. “Dismissed, everyone.”
Lazlo was up out of his chair in an instant.
“Just one more question, Colonel,” Beck said, causing Lazlo to turn around. There on the monitor, large as life, was an image of him clad only in the golden bikini briefs, frozen in mid-high kick with a big grin plastered on his heavily made-up face.
“Do you do parties?”