Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
“That Certain Someone”
By Alan Decker
Any fears Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter had about the mental state of Lieutenant Commander Sean Russell were immediately alleviated the moment he saw Waystation’s Chief of Security stepping through the airlock into the corridors of the station.
“Craig!” Russell exclaimed with a big grin on his face. “You came to meet me?”
“Yeah well…there was nothing on holovision, so I thought meeting your transport would be less boring than trimming my toenails…but only slightly,” Porter replied, returning the smile.
“Uh huh. Sure,” Russell said, falling to step beside Porter as the pair headed for the nearest turbolift.
“Good vacation, I guess?” Porter said.
“Absolutely. Ate some good food. Met a woman. Solved a crime. It was great.”
“Glad to hear it. You had me wondering about you when you left here a few weeks ago.”
“I know. Sometimes people just need to get away and get some perspective,” Russell said. The turbolift arrived, and they stepped inside.
“Even you,” Porter said before ordering the lift to Starfleet Square Mall.
“Tell me about it. I never thought I’d need perspective.”
“I don’t think you’ve ever used the word in a sentence before now,” Porter joked.
Russell shot his friend a mock-angry glare. “The point is that I was in a funk for no good reason. I realize that now. What did I have to be upset about? I’m Chief of Security of a large space station, and I got promoted!” Russell said, waiving his collar at Porter. “See my third pip? See it? See it?”
“I’m glad you’re feeling better about things.”
“Oh yeah. I feel like a new man. So what’s been going on around here?”
“Not too much actually. We had one riot at Bradley Dillon’s casino. And then there was that thing with the sentient gravy. At least it was sentient until Ih’mad got a hold of it. Let’s see…what else? President Dillon has been keeping kind of to himself lately, which has the captain in a good mood. And…oh! Dr. Nelson is Amedon again.”
“Yep. Did the surgery myself.”
“In this very turbolift car, I think.”
Russell looked around with a distinct “ewwwwww” expression on his face.
“Long story,” Porter said as the turbolift doors opened and they exited into Starfleet Square Mall. “You want some breakfast?”
“Definitely. That’s the last time I travel Trans-Yridia. There was no food on the flight at all…for three days!”
“Then let’s get you fed. And I want to hear about this woman you…”
Porter and Russell stopped and turned around to look for the source of the feminine voice calling Porter’s name. Joan Redding was heading their way smiling. Her eyes fell on Russell, and the smile quickly vanished.
“Good morning,” Porter said, exchanging a quick kiss with the AWN reporter. “What has you out and about this early?”
“I’ve got a subspace interview with the new Regent of Ferdanis Four in a little while,” Redding said. “I was planning to get some breakfast.”
“Then we have the same plan,” Porter said. “Do you want to join us? Sean’s going to tell me all about his vacation.”
“I think I’ll pass,” Redding said. “If you want to eat with him, go ahead.” She pushed between the two of them and strode off down the concourse toward the Starfleet Square Mall food court.
“What was that about?” Russell asked.
“You’ve got me,” Porter said with a shrug. “Occasionally, she gets a little weird about where I spend my time.”
“But what has she got against me? We barely even know each other. And I’ve been gone for weeks.”
“I don’t know. Maybe she’s just a good judge of character,” Porter said with a smirk as they continued on their way to the food court.
They passed Lieutenant Stephanie Hodges of the Federation Marines, who was seated at a table alone, then went to order their meals. A short time later, they were seated at the outer edge of the food court along the main concourse with Porter eating as Russell described his trip to Halydol. Every so often, Porter would glance over at the other tables, one of which was occupied by Joan Redding, who was invariably glaring in his direction. He’d evidently be hearing about this meal from her later.
His attention was drawn away from Redding as Captain Lisa Beck approached their table. “Well if it isn’t our missing Lieutenant Commander,” she said, giving Russell a warm smile. “Sounds like I’m lucky I got you back.”
“What do you mean?” Russell asked.
“I got a comm from the Halydol Constabulary singing your praises. You made quite an impression on their inspectors.”
“I just helped them clear up a little robbery,” Russell said modestly. He decided to leave out the part about his cousin being the culprit.
“When did you get back?” Beck asked.
“Just a few minutes ago,” Russell said.
“Really?” Beck said thinking. “I didn’t know we were expecting anyone except…you didn’t take Trans-Yridia did you?”
“Yeah,” Russell nodded.
“I hope you brought your own snacks.”
“No one mentioned it. I managed to get half of a…I have no idea what, from a Kaldonian. It was slimy and smelled a bit like baked rubber. But it was something. I’m much happier to be eating here.”
“And we’re glad you’re back. I’ll see you in Ops later…Lieutenant Commander,” Beck said. “And you too, Lieutenant Commander,” she added to Porter before heading off.
Russell grinned. “Wow, that’s nice to hear.”
“I’m glad you think so…finally,” Porter said, continuing to eat his breakfast.
After leaving Russell and Porter’s table, Captain Beck made her way to the half-ring of food stands and ordered the breakfast special from Wok-A-Chodok. Tray in hand, she scanned across the food court tables looking for an empty seat and spotted Stephanie Hodges sitting by herself by the concourse in the opposite corner from Russell and Porter. Hodges seem preoccupied as Beck approached, regularly looking off in both directions down the mall concourse.
“Waiting for someone?” Beck asked, causing Hodges to jump slightly in her chair.
“Lisa!” Hodges exclaimed surprised.
“Steph!” Beck shot back in mock alarm as she sat down across from her friend of many years. “How are you doing?”
“Uh…well…I’m fine. Fine,” Hodges said hesitantly. “How are you?”
“Okay, I guess,” Beck said with a sigh. “Phillip’s back, so we went out, had some dinner, then ended up back in his quarters. Sounds great, right? But…I don’t know. We spent the whole night fighting it seemed like. And over stupid things. Why do I care how many times he meets with Bradley Dillon? And that whole thing about my breathing was just silly. And then he spent over an hour on a comm with some guy on Earth about this new business he’s starting up. The whole evening was just…”
“Walter! There you are,” Hodges said suddenly, rising to her feet as Commander Walter Morales, Waystation’s first officer, stepped up to the table.
“Sorry I’m late, Steph,” Morales said, eyeing Beck. “Are you joining us for our meeting, Captain?”
“Meeting? What meeting?” Beck said, glancing back and forth between Morales and Hodges as they looked at each other. “You two have meetings?”
“Er…yes,” Hodges said.
“They’re kind of a way for Starfleet and the marines to exchange information.”
“Oh…so it’s an official meeting. An official meeting I don’t know anything about,” Beck said bemused.
“You didn’t tell her?” Morales asked Hodges.
“Why would I? You’re her first officer.”
“Yeah, but…” Morales quickly realized he didn’t have a ‘but.’ He turned to Beck. “Lieutenant Hodges approached me about meeting regularly while you were away for Captain Rydell’s wedding,” he explained.
Hodges picked up the tale. “After we all worked together against the Collectors, I thought it would be a good idea to keep the relationship between our groups strong. I suggested it to Colonel Lazlo, and he gave the job to me. So here we are.”
“Yes we are,” Beck said. “Well, don’t let me get in your way,” she added with a smile as she stood up.
“Are you heading to Ops?” Morales asked.
“Yeah. I’ll just eat in my office.”
“I’m sure you’ll see the report when you get up there, but the reason I was late is that we detected something odd coming from the Dillon Enterprises levels last night.”
“What sort of something odd?” Beck asked.
“We’re not sure,” Morales replied. “Mason said it looked like a brief energy surge of some sort, but since President Dillon has sensor masked his decks, we couldn’t get much beyond that. Bradley’s staff assured us that everything was fine, so there really wasn’t much we could do.”
“Not directly anyway,” Beck said thoughtfully. “I’ll look over the report. You two have fun.”
“It’s just a meeting,” Hodges insisted as Beck began to walk away.
“Don’t worry about her,” Hodges said with a slight blush as she and Morales sat down at the table. “That woman loves nothing more than tormenting me.”
“I didn’t think anyone could do that,” Morales said, unable to keep himself from smiling.
“What?” Hodges said.
“No nothing. What?” she demanded.
“You’re very cute when you’re flustered.”
“Hey!” Hodges said.
“I’m sorry,” Morales said, straightening up in his chair quickly and looking mortified.
“I’m cute all the time!” Hodges finished, giving Morales a grin that instantly set him back at ease.
“Ops to Morales,” the commander’s commbadge barked suddenly.
“Morales here,” he said, slapping the device to activate it.
“We’ve got a distress call coming in from an Andorian transport ship,” Lieutenant Mason’s voice reported. “They’ve had some kind of engine malfunction and are currently adrift about a parsec from here.”
“Does the captain know?”
“Captain Beck? I don’t think she’s started her shift yet. She’s…oh…here she is.”
“I’m looking at the report now, Morales,” Beck’s voice said. “You and Porter go see if you can’t get them up and running again. Take the Wayward in case you have to tow them in for repairs.”
“On my way. Morales out.” Morales tapped his commbadge again, closing the channel as he got to his feet. “It looks like we’re going to have to reschedule.”
“Okay,” Hodges said. “When duty calls…”
“Exactly. So…tomorrow. Or…”
“We could do it tonight. I’m sure I’ll be back by then. We could get dinner and…”
“I don’t know. I think tonight’s bad,” Hodges said, biting her lower lip.
“Oh. Okay. Tomorrow morning then,” Morales said, noticing Hodges’ discomfort.
“Fine. That would be great.”
“I’ll see you then,” Morales said professionally. He tapped his commbadge again. “Morales to Porter.”
“Howdy,” Porter said from directly behind him.
“AUUUGGGGGH!” Morales screamed, leaping a few feet in the air.
“Ooooh. That was neat,” Porter said as Morales spun around clutching his chest and trying to get his breathing back to normal. “Can you do it again?”
“What…are you doing…there?”
“Coming to get you. Captain Beck commed me about the mission.”
“Good,” Morales said, noticing out of the corner of his eye that Hodges was having a very hard time stifling her laughter. “Let’s go.”
“Lead the way,” Porter said, gesturing for Morales to go.
“Absolutely not,” Morales said, grabbing Porter by the shoulders and spinning him in the direction of the nearest turbolift. “Let’s go. Bye, Steph.”
“See you later, Walter. And be careful.”
“We will,” Morales replied.
“New girlfriend?” Porter asked as he and Morales headed toward the turbolift.
“Want her to be?”
“Is that a ‘yes’?”
“No. That’s a ‘shut up.’”
“A ‘shut up’? From you? I’m shocked.”
Morales just rolled his eyes and walked into the turbolift.
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 55434.6. After reaching the Andorian transport, Commander Morales and Lieutenant Commander Porter quickly ascertained that the vessel would require more extensive repairs than Porter could perform on site. They are currently using the Wayward to tow the ship back to Waystation.
“Meanwhile, I’ve asked Lieutenant Russell…excuse me, Lieutenant Commander Russell, to discreetly look into the disturbance on the Dillon Enterprises levels that Ops detected last night. Admittedly, discretion isn’t usually one of our strong points, but I want to know what Bradley Dillon is hiding.”
“How do you want to play this?” Ensign Mike Waits asked eagerly as he and Russell rode the turbolift up to the Dillon Enterprises complex.
“We’re not playing anything,” Russell said. “And let me do the talking. I need you to be an extra set of eyes and ears. This isn’t a raid. We’re just looking for signs of anything unusual.”
“Check,” Waits said just before the turbolift slowed to a halt and the doors opened into one of the faux-wood paneled hallways of Dillon Enterprises. The pair moved through the warmly lit corridor, past the shiny gold wall lamps and ornaments, then entered Bradley Dillon’s outer office, where his assistant Gisele sat at her desk, busily chatting on a commline.
“…somewhat below our expectations. The estimates for the Merdani Prime store you provided to Mister Dillon at the start of the quarter clearly indicated an expected growth of three percent…Yes. I’m aware you had no idea that the star was going to go nova…” Gisele noticed Russell and smiled as her hand unobtrusively moved to a switch underneath her desk. In an instant, Agent Anderson, the dark blue suited head of the Special Secret Section assigned to guard Bradley, strode into the outer office from a side door hidden somewhere in the hallway leading back to Bradley’s actual office.
“May I help you gentlemen?” Anderson asked flatly.
“We’re fine,” Russell said.
“Then why are you here?”
“Oh. I’m sorry. We’re performing a security survey at the moment,” Russell replied. “I’ve been away for a few weeks, and I just wanted to visit each deck personally to make sure everything was in order.”
“And I’m helping,” Waits said.
“President Dillon’s complex is in order and outside of your purview,” Anderson said. “I have seen to his security needs.”
“Well, seeing as how I’m in charge of security for the station as a whole, would you mind letting me have a look at your set-up?”
Anderson snorted. “You must be joking.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Do you really think that I would compromise the welfare of our president by informing you of anything?” He suddenly whipped his head around to face Waits. “Put that away!”
“What?” Waits replied innocently, fumbling to hide a tricorder behind his back. It dropped, hitting the floor in the open position. Anderson had a phaser in his hand in a flash and fired, vaporizing the tricorder instantly.
“Are you done?” Waits asked Russell nervously. “Because I’m done. Very very done.”
“Thank you for your time,” Russell said to Anderson before shooting Gisele a wink and following Waits out into the corridor.
“That went about like I expected,” he said. “Actually, I was expecting one of us to get punched, so we came out ahead.”
“Ahead?” Waits exclaimed. “He shot the tricorder!”
“That’s why I asked you to carry it,” Russell said with a quick smile as he tapped his commbadge. “Russell to Mason.”
“Did you get anything from the tricorder before it was destroyed.”
“A little. I’m analyzing it now.”
“Thanks. Let me know when you have something.”
“An explosion,” Russell said, putting a padd down on Beck’s desk.
“Are you sure?” Beck asked. “We didn’t feel a thing.”
“Well, it was a really tiny one, judging by the residual energy readings. Craig could probably explain it better when he gets back.”
“Do you know where it happened exactly?”
“Not for sure,” Russell replied hesitantly. “But it looked like the point of origin would be in Bradley’s office. I guess he’s okay, though, since he never ended up in the infirmary…unless he has his own doctors down there.”
“Bradley could have V’Ger stashed down there, and we wouldn’t know about it,” Beck said, leaning back in her chair with an aggravated sigh. She let out a soft chuckle. “Two months ago I was trying to get Bradley to stay out of my business, and now here I am trying to pry into his. Do you think I should let this one go, Sean?”
“Non-interference is the Prime Directive,” Russell said with a shrug. “And Bradley does have an army of people down there working for him. He’s probably fine.”
“You’re right,” Beck said. “For all I know that was a product demonstration that went wrong…in the middle of the night.”
“He could have been working late. He is trying to run the Federation and a business at the same time.”
“I know. I know. All right. Let’s leave this one alone for now. But I want you to do one more thing for me, Sean.”
Beck smiled evilly. “Send Bradley a bill for the tricorder.”
The next morning, Lieutenant Hodges once again found herself seated alone at a table in the mall food court, looking impatiently down the concourse as she waited for Commander Morales to show himself. This whole situation had gotten out of hand. Yes, the breakfast meetings were her idea, and, in all honesty, she’d had something of an ulterior motive when she made the suggestion. Morales seemed like a good, solid, dependable, kind, warm-hearted, yada yada yada guy, and she wanted to get to know him better. It didn’t hurt that she happened to like looking at him. But it was supposed to be casual. She never intended to get to the point where she was anxious to see him in the morning. Yet here she was watching the concourse instead of eating her meal. This had to stop. She was not some hormone-crazed school girl. He would get there when her got there.
He was there!
Hodges spotted Morales exiting a turbolift a little ways down from the food court. He started heading her way, looking completely professional with a padd cradled under one arm. He also looked tired.
“Good morning,” he said flatly, taking a seat across from Hodges.
“Is it?” she asked with a good-natured grin.
“Long day yesterday,” Morales said. “We didn’t get back to the station until 0100.”
“I guess it’s just as well we didn’t have dinner plans,” Hodges said and immediately wished she could suck the words back into her mouth. Morales flinched ever-so-slightly, then focused all of his attention on his padd.
“I don’t think we have a whole lot to talk about today,” he said. “And I really don’t have a lot of time. I need to see to some things for the Andorians from the transport.”
“Anything exciting?” Hodges asked, trying to restore a level of friendly banter to the conversation.
“Mostly just coordinating repairs with Porter’s team. There’s some kind of Andorian VIP on board the transport, and they want to get him to the colony as quickly as possible.”
“Some kind? Did you meet him?”
“Couldn’t even get close. His followers are very devoted. At least I guess they’re followers instead of employees. They definitely hold whoever he is in high regard. He never emerged from his quarters while Porter and I were on board their ship,” Morales said. “And I doubt he’ll even set foot on…” Morales trailed off, gazing down the concourse. “Or I could be wrong,” he added.
Hodges followed his gaze to a cluster of six Andorians in black and purple robes surrounding a figure in shimmering golden robes, whose head was hidden by an engulfing golden hood. The Andorians were chanting, and, as they moved closer, their words grew more audible.
“He’s the Z’ark…Belst!
He’s mighty mighty!
He’s the Z’ark…Belst!
He’s mighty mighty!”
Morales turned back to Hodges, ready to crack some joke about the mighty one in the gold robe, but stopped as he saw the look of stunned surprise on Hodges face.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Z’arkbelst,”Hodges said numbly.
“That’s what they said,” Morales replied, confused as to why she would be so affected.
“JOEL!” Hodges cried suddenly, jumping up from her chair and charging toward the Andorians. Morales recovered from his own surprise quickly and chased after her. The last thing he wanted was for her to get disemboweled by some overzealous Andorians guarding their Z’arkbelst. Sure enough, the Andorians surrounding the Z’arkbelst crouched into fighting stances as Hodges approached.
“Joel!” she shouted again. “It’s me! Steph!” The Andorians looked at each other hesitantly and began muttering amongst themselves. All of that was put to a stop as the hooded one in the center of their group pulled his hood back, revealing a grinning human male.
“Steph!” he exclaimed. “Get over here and give your brother a hug!”
Morales skidded to a stop as he watched the scene play out before him. Hodges, meanwhile, had raced through the parting wall of Andorians into the waiting arms of her sibling.
“Look at you!” Joel said, looking Hodges up and down after releasing her from their hug. “What’s that uniform? Federation marines?”
“Wow. Looks good, Steph. Very smart. Do you have a layover here or something?”
“I’m stationed here,” Hodges replied. “Which you would have known if you bothered to keep in touch with your family.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“For over twenty years!”
“I am the Z’arkbelst,” Joel said.
“He’s mighty mighty!” the Andorians exclaimed.
“Er…Lieutenant Hodges,” Morales said, stepping forward. “Could I speak with you for a moment?”
“Who is this?” Joel said, eyeing Morales disdainfully.
“Commander Walter Morales. First Officer. I was on your ship yesterday.”
“The Starfleet guys who gave us a tow. Right right,” Joel said. “Well, we’re here now, so your services are not required. Inform me immediately when repairs are complete.”
“Steph,” Morales said ignoring Joel. “This is your brother?”
“Do I need to get the Captain for this one?”
“Actually, that would be great,” Hodges said. Morales took a few steps away from Hodges and company to call Ops, while Steph turned her attention back to her brother. “Do Mom and Dad know you’re here? No. Of course they don’t. Why would you tell them anything?”
“That’s not fair, Steph. I had a destiny. Mom and Dad don’t understand that. They never did or they wouldn’t have tried to stand in my way.”
“She’s on her way,” Morales said, returning to the group. “She was just over at Ih’mad’s, so it shouldn’t take her long to get here.”
“There’s no need for your captain to be involved with this,” Joel said. “I’m speaking with my sister. All I expect Starfleet to do is fix my ship.”
“No no,” Hodges said. “You need to speak to the captain.”
“Okay. Where’s this so-called Z’arkbelst?” a female voice called from down the concourse. Joel and the Andorians immediately locked their sights on the woman in a Starfleet uniform striding toward them. She stopped in front of Joel, hands on her hips. “Who let this thing on my station?”
Joel’s eyes widened at this insult. But then he stopped as recognition set in. “Lisa? Is that you?”
Captain Beck couldn’t stop the broad smile from spreading across her face. “In the flesh,” she said.
“You grew up!”
“Tends to happen.”
“You know the Z’arkbelst, too?” Morales asked, bordering on exasperation.
“Why don’t we head to Ops and catch up?” Beck said. “You can join us, if you’d like, Commander. You can get some of those questions answered.”
“I don’t want to intrude,” Morales said hesitantly. In all honesty, he was more than a little bit curious about the situation, but he wasn’t about to invite himself.
Hodges took care of the problem, grabbing him by the arm. “No! Come with us, Walter,” she said just as an older Andorian came running up.
“I was informed there was a problem, your worship,” the Andorian told Joel, bowing deeply as he spoke.
“No problem, Z’assy. I just ran into some people I know. This is my sister, Stephanie. And this lovely lady is Lisa Beck.”
“Captain Beck, station commander,” Beck said, her eyes narrowing at the newcomer.
“Am I missing something?” Morales asked Hodges quietly.
“I think we’ve met him before,” Hodges whispered back.
“Of course not. You weren’t there.”
“We’re just going to talk in a more private location,” Joel said.
“I will accompany you,” Z’assy said. He made a quick, slicing hand gesture, which sent the Z’arkbelst’s guards scurrying away.
“Sure,” Beck said. “Come along. I’m sure we all have lots to catch up on.”
“You have come far,” Z’assy said taking in his surroundings as he, Beck, Morales, Hodges, and Joel gathered in the Ops briefing room. “Starfleet is evidently treating you well.”
“And I’m fond of them,” Beck said coldly, keeping her eyes on the Andorian.
“Captain, may I ask a question?” Morales said once everyone had taken their seats.
“By all means,” Beck said.
“What the hell is going on?”
“Feeling like everyone is in on the joke but you, huh?”
“You could say that.”
“All right. We’ll start with the obvious. This man in the eye-catching outfit is Joel Hodges, Steph’s older brother.”
“I caught that part. But why is he with a bunch of Andorians?”
“I am the Z’arkbelst,” Joel said, as though that were the only explanation required.
“So I heard,” Morales said. “I just don’t know what it means.”
“The Andorians worship him,” Hodges said.
“Those of us who understand his divinity,” Z’assy said gravely. “The others…they will boil in the bile of G’heedol’s spleen.”
“Yummy,” Beck muttered.
“So how did you get to be the Z’arkbelst?” Morales asked.
“My coming was foretold. They even had pictures.”
“Z’assy and friends found Joel when he was 15 and tried to take him back to Andor.”
“You kidnapped him?” Morales exclaimed.
“He came willingly,” Z’assy said. “And he would have begun his glorious reign at that time if two nosy little children had not interfered.”
“Weren’t we cute?” Beck said.
“You two?” Morales said, looking at Beck and Hodges.
“Uh huh. We charged to the rescue,” Hodges said.
“And then Starfleet charged to our rescue,” Beck said. “Hey, we were eleven. There was only so much we could do. It didn’t really matter, though, because as soon as he turned eighteen, Joel ran off to Andor to live a life of luxury as a worshiped deity.”
“Pretty cool, huh? It’s all in my book,” Joel said. “Maybe you’ve read it. ‘I Was A Teenage Z’arkbelst.’”
“Sorry. I must have missed that one,” Morales said.
“I’ll send you an autographed copy.”
“So what brings you out this way?” Beck asked. “My understanding was that your transport was carrying new settlers to the Andorian colony in Sector 49-A. You’re not moving, are you?”
“Actually, we are,” Z’assy said. “Not that our movements are any business of yours.”
“That place isn’t exactly a pleasure planet, you know. Unless you like storms.”
“Storms?” Joel said concerned.
“Lots of them. Sand. Snow. Hurricanes. The works. No matter where you go on that rock, you’re going to get hit by one or another of them.”
The Z’arkbelst looked to Z’assy. “Don’t worry, your magnificence,” the Andorian said. “We’ll keep you inside.”
“Um…maybe you should just go back to Andor,” Hodges said.
“We can’t,” Joel said. “There was some kind of problem with our cult registration and such. Z’assy tried to work it out. There were some fights, a few beheadings, and at least one guy got disemboweled if I remember correctly.”
Z’assy nodded. “The Undersecretary for Cults, Parks, and Recreation. I had his pancreas bronzed.”
“After that, we were asked to leave. It’s no big deal, though. I am the Z’arkbelst. My divinity transcends Andor.”
“And we will serve your gloriousness anywhere in the cosmos,” Z’assy said with a deferential bow. “But look at the time. We need to return for morning devotionals.”
“That’s right. It’s foot washing today, isn’t it?”
“Indeed, your worship.”
Joel smiled. “That feels sooooo good. Let’s go.” He rose from the table and headed for the exit, then stopped and glanced back at Hodges and Beck. “Great seeing you two.” Morales and Beck exchanged a look at the abrupt departure. Hodges, meanwhile, jumped up and chased her brother out into Ops.
“That’s it?” she demanded, catching up with Joel and Z’assy as they stepped into a waiting turbolift.
“What?” Joel asked while Z’assy ordered the turbolift to the docking arm where their ship was waiting.
“‘Great seeing you’? It’s been decades, Joel. Decades!”
“I know. She really became magnificent.”
“Lisa. She’s amazing. Absolutely gorgeous. I think I’ll have her.”
“I don’t think she’d be interested,” Hodges said. “And she’s already involved with someone else.”
Joel looked at her confused. “So? I will have her.”
“It doesn’t work that way.”
“I am the Z’arkbelst.”
“She doesn’t care.”
“Neither do I…care…that she doesn’t care. I am the Z’arkbelst.”
Hodges rolled her eyes. “I get it. But what about us? You call what we just did in Ops catching up? We barely talked. What have you been doing for twenty years? Don’t you want to know what I’ve been doing?”
“Fine. Come by the ship for lunch. I’ve got a couple of hours between morning devotions and afternoon exaltations.”
“You’re sure I won’t be too much for your already busy schedule?” Hodges asked sarcastically.
“Absolutely not. I’ll even order a couple of extra worshipers to come by so you can get fanned too.”
“Gee thanks,” Hodges muttered.
“The cheese is on the table! I repeat, the cheese is on the table!”
Lieutenant Commander Porter looked questioningly over at Lieutenant Commander Russell as Ensign Waits’ voice continued to bark out of Russell’s commbadge while the officers sat having lunch in the mall food court.
“The cheese has one cracker! I repeat, the cheese has one cracker!”
“Cheese and crackers?” Porter asked.
“President Dillon,” Russell said by way of explanation.
“You’re monitoring his lunches now?”
“No, Bradley’s the cheese, and the crackers are his Special Secret Section guards. He’s just entered the mall with one guard.”
“And we care because?”
“The Captain still has me checking up on that explosion from a couple of nights ago. I haven’t actually been able to talk to Bradley, though. I figured I could ambush him when he came into the mall.”
“Ambush the President. Sounds safe.”
“I like to live on the edge.”
“Don’t we all,” Porter muttered.
“What’s that mean?”
“I don’t know. No. I’m lying. I do know. It’s Joan.”
“What about her?”
“What do you think of her?”
“She’s great,” Russell said. “You two make a great couple.”
“And you make an awful liar. What do you really think?”
“She hates me and wants to control you. If you stay with her, she’s going to suck the life right out of you leaving you as a soulless shell of a man only capable of saying two words: ‘Yes, dear.’ She’s also got a great ass.”
Porter choked slightly on the sip of iced tea he’d just taken. “Is that everything?” he coughed.
“Nice legs, too.”
Waits’ voice erupted from Russell’s commbadge again. “The cheese and cracker have dropped to the lower table and are still on the move. They may be headed to the Infirmary. I repeat, the cheese and…”
“I got it, Waits,” Russell said. “I’m on my way. Let me know if their destination changes.”
“You’re leaving me?” Porter said as Russell rose from the table.
“Trust me. You really didn’t want to have this conversation anyway,” Russell replied. “The fact is that it doesn’t matter what I think of Joan. If you like her, you’re going to stay with her. And if you don’t, you’ll probably stay with her anyway. That’s just the kind of guy you are. Good luck, pal.”
“Why do you sound like you’re sending me off to my doom?”
Russell just shrugged and walked away.
Unaware that she was about to receive visitors, Dr. Amedon Nelson was in her office in the Infirmary checking to see if she had any messages, or, more specifically, any messages from Wuddle. For weeks, she had been unable to contact him to let him know that she had rejoined with her symbiont. Unfortunately, she couldn’t exactly just comm his office and ask for him. His staff would…well, panic at seeing an alien being. To overcome this, she and Wuddle had set up accounts at an anonymous comm service on one of the Multek Enclave’s outer worlds. She’d left several messages for him there, but, since they had broken up months earlier, there was no real reason for him to check it. Still, she wanted to talk to him.
Her frustration was interrupted by a looming shadow falling across her desk. She looked up to see Agent Anderson, head of President Dillon’s Special Secret Section standing over her.
“The President will see you now,” he said.
“Why would he want to do that?” Nelson asked confused.
“Now, Doctor,” Anderson said firmly. Under normal circumstances, she’d defy such an order on principle, but she was more than a little curious as to what the Federation President wanted with her.
She followed Anderson out into the main examination area of the Infirmary, where Bradley Dillon sat on one of the biobeds. Upon spotting her, he smiled warmly and waved for her to come closer.
“Ah, Doctor. Just the woman I wanted to see,” Bradley said. “I seem to have had a little accident that requires your services.”
“What kind of accident?” Nelson said, going for her tricorder.
“It’s nothing too serious, I trust,” Bradley said, sliding off his suitcoat and holding out his left arm. The upper sleeve of his dress shirt was sliced open, and underneath was a blood soaked handkerchief tied around Bradley’s arm.
“What happened?” Nelson exclaimed, grabbing her med tools.
“I want to hear this one, too,” Lieutenant Commander Russell said, standing at the Infirmary entrance.
“This is a Presidential affair,” Agent Anderson said, moving to put himself between Russell and Bradley.
“I think you just made it our affair,” Russell replied, gesturing at Dr. Nelson, who was busily working on Bradley’s arm.
“You should have let our medic handle this, sir,” Anderson said to Bradley.
“Dr. Nelson is the most qualified medical officer on this station,” Bradley said. “I demand the best care.”
“And that care happens to come from Starfleet,” Russell said, stepping past Anderson. “That means I’m involved.”
“Is this true, Doctor?” Bradley asked.
“I could comm Captain Beck and ask her, but my guess is that the answer is going to be yes,” Nelson said. “She really doesn’t like to have her presidents bleeding all over the station without a good explanation.”
“So start explaining,” Russell said.
“There really isn’t much to it,” Bradley said with a slight sigh. “Quite simply, someone is trying to kill me.”
Phillip had been quiet all through dinner, and Beck wasn’t sure if it was due to residual tension from their last night together or if he was just lost in his own thoughts again, thoughts that very likely had nothing to do with her. Not that she expected him to think of her all the time. She certainly didn’t spend all of her time thinking of him. It would be nice, though, if he acknowledged her while they were sitting in the same room sharing a meal together.
“I met a deity today,” Beck said casually, hoping to spark some kind of conversation as the couple sat at the small dining table in her quarters. Starting with that was probably better than mentioning that the Federation President believed someone was trying to assassinate him.
“Hmmm,” Phillip said, picking at his green beans. “That’s not something that happens everyday…or any day really.”
“Actually, I’d met this one before. I grew up with him.”
“I didn’t realize North Carolina was home to many gods.”
“Oh sure. Lots of them. You can’t walk down the street without tripping over some divine being or another.”
Phillip looked up at her and smiled slightly. “I’m sorry. I get it. I’ll pay attention. So how was your day really?”
“I just told you,” Beck said.
“Seriously, a guy I knew growing up is considered to be a deity by a group of Andorians. He’s on board currently.”
“Oh. And here I was waiting for a punch line that never came.”
“I don’t know. I happen to think the idea of anyone thinking Joel Hodges is a god is pretty funny.”
“What about your day? Anything exciting happen?”
“Nothing you’d be interested in,” Phillip said.
“Sure I would.”
Phillip was about to reply when his pants started beeping. He pulled out a small communicator. “I need to take this.”
“We’re in the middle of dinner.”
“It could be important.”
“Dinner is important.”
“If this was Ops comming you, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“If Ops commed, it would mean something serious was…” Beck trailed off as Phillip’s eyes bored into her. She’d just blundered into her very own no-win scenario. If he took the comm, the date was effectively over. If she stood in his way, it implied that she didn’t think his work was important, and once again the date was effectively over.
She couldn’t speak at this point. She just waved her hand for him to take the comm. Phillip was already up and opening the channel.
“Phillip Harper,” he said, walking out into the main living area. Maybe it would be a short comm. Or maybe Phillip would realize that he and Beck hadn’t had a decent conversation in weeks and would come back to finish dinner and actually talk.
Beck doubted that would actually happen. She was also fairly certain that they both would be going to bed alone again tonight.
Several minutes passed, during which time Beck finished her meal and put her dishes back in the replicator for disintegration. Just as she sat back down, Phillip walked back into the dining area, but before he could even say a word or get back to his seat, the door chime sounded.
Beck exchanged a confused look with Phillip and headed out into the living area to answer the door.
“Were you expecting guests?” Phillip asked, following behind her.
“I was about to ask you the same question,” Beck said. She tapped the panel beside the door, opening it with a soft whoosh. Outside, clad in a sparkling gold suit and cape, was Joel Hodges flanked by four of his followers. Joel shot a quick, cold stare at Phillip then turned his full smiling attention on Beck.
“Good evening, Lisa,” he said.
“Um…hi. What brings you by, Joel?”
“Can we come in?”
“I guess,” Beck said, standing aside and letting the group enter. “Joel, this is Phillip Harper. Phillip, this is the deity I was telling you about.”
“I am the Z’arkbelst,” Joel said, sizing up Phillip.
“He’s mighty mighty!” the Andorians exclaimed.
“Not to be rude, Joel, but we’re in the middle of dinner,” Beck said. “What can I do for you?”
“I wanted to thank you for your hospitality. We just got word that repairs to our ship are complete, so we’re going to be on our way.”
“You’re leaving? Does Steph know?”
“She and I had a long lunch together. We’re fine,” Joel said. “I just needed to come by for you.”
“For me?” Beck said. “For me what?”
“To get you. You’re coming with me,” Joel said.
Beck laughed. “I don’t think so.”
“I am the Z’arkbelst, and I want you.” Joel nodded at his followers. In an flash of whipping arms, four small darts zipped into Phillip’s chest. He hit the floor with a thud.
Joel grabbed Beck’s arm, digging a needle of his own into her flesh.
“Stop!” Beck ordered. “I am not going to goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo….” Beck’s words slurred then stopped altogether as she dropped into Joel’s arms.
“Throw a robe over her and get her back to the ship,” Joel said, tossing one more look at Phillip’s prone form before striding out the door.
“He left! He just stole away in the middle of the night without so much as a goodbye!” Lieutenant Hodges shouted as, across the table from her, Commander Morales fought the urge to flinch back in his seat.
“You’re obviously mad about this,” Morales replied calmly, looking around to see how many of the food court’s breakfast patrons were now staring at them.
“You think?” Hodges shot back. “Why would he do that? Would it have killed him just to comm me to say, ‘My ship’s fixed. See you in another twenty years.’?”
“Maybe he didn’t want to upset you.”
“Oh yeah. That worked!”
“Or maybe he didn’t want to be here when you were upset.”
“That figures. The big weenie!”
“Weenie?” Morales asked unable to stop a slight grin.
“I think I’m regressing to childhood as we speak,” Hodges said, catching Morales’s smile and calming a bit. “You know, I have half a mind to go straight to that colony and give my brother a good yelling at. He’s got it coming.”
“Are you allowed to yell at a Z’arkbelst?”
“Let’s see them try to stop me.”
“I’d rather not. But for the sake of galactic peace, maybe you should let him go.”
“Ops to Commander Morales,” Morales’s commbadge barked suddenly.
“Morales here,” he replied, slapping the device.
“Sir, I think we have a situation,” Ensign Laru Hassna, the security officer on duty in Ops, said.
“What kind of situation?” Morales asked, straightening in his seat.
“Phillip Harper just commed up here. He says that a god and a bunch of Andorians knocked him out last night and took the captain.”
“Took her?” Morales said as Hodges’ eyes widened. They were both out of their chairs in an instant. “Have you been able to confirm that?”
“Captain Beck is not answering, and the computer claims she’s not on board.”
“He’s taking her to the colony,” Hodges said. “And he’s got one hell of a head start.”
“Tell the docking bay to get the Wayward prepped for immediate departure, Laru,” Morales jogging toward the turbolift with Hodges hot on his heels. “Morales out.”
“I’m coming with you,” Hodges said as soon as Morales closed the channel.
“I know,” Morales said, stepping with Hodges into the turbolift.
“You’re not going to try to stop me?” Hodges asked surprised.
Hodges smiled to herself as Morales ordered the turbolift to the docking bay where the Wayward waited. One more point for Morales. Lisa had been crazy not to want him.
Several million miles away, that very same Lisa, more formally known as Captain Beck, slowly regained consciousness. Before she even opened her eyes, she was aware of two things. First, she was laying on a rather soft bed. And second, that bed was inside a spaceship of some sort. Waystation just didn’t thrum like this.
Without moving, she opened her eyes until she could see out of a small slit. Best to know if she was alone before she took action.
No one was visible. She opened her eyes the rest of the way, then, satisfied that she was indeed by herself in the room, she sat up slowly as she shook off the last of the effects of whatever it was that Joel had injected her with.
Beck quickly checked herself over. She was still in the blouse and pants she’d worn at dinner with Phillip, so obviously Joel hadn’t taken advantage of her unconscious state.
No. He just wanted to take advantage of her while she was conscious. Great. This was now the second time in her life she’d found herself trapped on an Andorian ship because of Joel Hodges. He was going to be lucky if he survived this one, though.
Beck got to her feet and staggered over to a small desk with a computer console standing against the side wall of the chamber. The interface was entirely in Andorian, which was far less of a problem now than it was when she was eleven. Between her former career as a communications officer and her Andorian roommate at the Academy, Beck was quite fluent in Andorian.
She immediately tried to get access to the ship’s comm network. If she could get in touch with Waystation, she could call in the cavalry.
The sound of the door opening to her left jerked her attention away from the console. Z’assy entered and stood blocking the exit until the doors slid closed behind him.
“All this time, and you haven’t learned any new tricks,” the Andorian said.
“I like the classics,” Beck replied, glancing back at the console, the monitor of which suddenly went dark.
“You were never really in the system,” Z’assy said. “That was all more for my amusement than anything else.”
“Glad I could give you a bit of a laugh,” Beck said. Z’assy was at least a good twenty years older than she was, but he was still an Andorian. Under normal circumstances, Beck felt she’d have a good chance of taking him. But now, with the vestiges of a drug in her system and a whole ship full of other Andorians to come to his aid, attacking Z’assy was probably not the best idea.
“I will be informing the Z’arkbelst that you have regained consciousness, but I wanted to speak with you first.”
“We can do that,” Beck said, taking a seat on the bed before her weak legs betrayed her.
“I didn’t want him to bring you here,” Z’assy said, beginning to pace the chamber. “You were trouble as a child, and I doubt that time has improved matters. But he is the Z’arkbelst, and if his divine desires extend to you, then he will have you, for he is the Z’arkbelst.”
“Well, I don’t want him.”
“You have been chosen to be a consort to the Z’arkbelst. That is all that matters.”
“I’m declining the offer.”
“You have no choice. However, I can assure you that his worshipfulness quickly tires of his consorts. When that happens, you will be free to leave. If you attempt to escape, though, I will see to it that you are the primary sacrifice in Z’zastmas Pageant!”
With that, Z’assy turned on his heel and stormed out of the room, leaving Beck alone again. For her part, Beck was fairly sure that “Consort to an Alien Deity” was nowhere in her job description. Of course, neither was “Z’zastmas Sacrifice.” That meant that she was somehow just going to have to hold Joel off until someone on Waystation realized she was gone…which possibly wouldn’t happen until her shift was due to start…several hours from now.
Actually, the cavalry was currently gaining ground…er…space on the Andorian transport at a rapid clip. Commander Morales flew the Wayward in silence, focusing on the inevitable confrontation to come. The plan, such as it was, involved taking out the transport’s shields, then beaming the Captain out of there. Morales was a little hazy as the legality of opening fire on a vessel owned by a Federation member-world, but his feeling was that the whole kidnapping Captain Beck maneuver pretty much negated any complaint the Andorians could make. Of course, if the transport arrived at the colony before the Wayward could close the gap, things would get a lot more complicated.
Seated in the Wayward’s co-pilot’s seat beside Morales, Lieutenant Hodges was going through a similar train of thought. Most of hers involved slapping her brother silly, though. She also wanted to smack herself a few times. She should have seen this coming. He’d come out and told her that he wanted Beck. Hodges just never thought that he’d go this far to get her.
Lisa did seem to have that effect on some men, though. The man sitting beside her for example. What was this about for Morales? Rescuing his captain? Or the woman he loved? And what did that mean for Hodges? What about all of their breakfasts? She couldn’t just let this fester in her brain. It would drive her crazy.
“Why did you ask me to dinner the other night?” she asked suddenly, spinning her chair to face Morales.
“Huh?” Morales stammered surprised.
“You. Me. Dinner. Why? Was it just about station business?”
“Because I really need to know, Walter. I wanted to say yes, but I didn’t. I couldn’t because I didn’t know why you were asking. Was it supposed to be a date?”
“Part of me wanted it to be a date, but the other part…the other part doesn’t know who you see when you look at me. The whole station knows you’re in love with Lisa, and I can’t stand here and accept being some kind of consolation prize to you because she wouldn’t have you. I like spending time with you. I want to get closer to you, but I can’t until I know what this all means to you. Is this some kind of sick joke? I can’t have Lisa so I’ll get her best friend? I’m not her, Walter. And you can’t be with me if all you’re going to be thinking of is her. That’s not fair to me. I won’t let you hurt me like that.”
“Woah! Hang on!” Morales said, holding his hands up defensively. “Can I respond for a second?” Hodges said nothing, which Morales assumed was his signal to go ahead. “You’re right. I loved Lisa, but we’re not together. We never will be. It took me a long time to accept that, but I have. And I’m not going to spend the rest of my life pining for her. There are lots of other women in the galaxy, and I’ve already met one that I like a lot. I asked you to dinner because I’m attracted to you, okay? It had nothing to do with Lisa Beck. It was strictly about me and you, and you said ‘no.’”
“Will you have dinner with me?”
“Good. Feel better?”
“Yeah. How about you?”
“I do actually,” Morales said smiling. “We’re going on a date.”
“Yes, we are,” Hodges said, returning the smile. “Does this thing have an autopilot?”
Hodges’ lips suddenly pressed against his, giving him a fairly clear answer.
“Hmm…we seem to have a presidential comm coming in,” Lieutenant Commander Porter observed casually as he and Russell manned their stations in Ops. “You feel like answering it?”
“You’re the one in charge,” Russell replied. “You decide.”
“Hmmm… Hmmmmmmmm… Oh, all right. Let’s see what his royal pompousness has to say, shall we?”
Porter opened the channel. “You’ve reached Ops. Lieutenant Commander Porter speaking. How may I direct your comm?”
“It’s about time you answered,” Bradley Dillon’s voice said angrily. “I need to speak to Captain Beck.”
“I’m afraid that’s a bit on the impossible side at the moment. Can I take a message?”
“Is Russell up there?” Bradley demanded.
“Yes I am,” Russell said.
“Did you tell Beck what I told you?”
“I sure did.”
“And she never commed me. I tell her people are trying to kill me, and she can’t be bothered to contact me!”
Porter stepped in again. “She’s in the middle of being kidnapped right now, but as soon as she gets back, I’m sure she’ll get in touch. Is there something you’d like us to do in the meantime?”
“No. I just want to make sure she knows what’s happening.”
“Which she does. Now do you happen to know who might be trying to kill you?”
“I’m the President. It could be anyone from a rival government to a local whack-job,” Bradley said. “It might not even be political at all. I’ve got some business enemies who…”
“Exactly,” Porter interrupted. “So you comm us when you’ve got some more information.”
“Or if there’s another attempt,” Russell said. “Unless you’d like to accept my offer of increased security.”
“No!” Bradley said firmly. “My Special Secret Section can handle it.”
“Then I guess we’re done here,” Porter said. “Bye now.” He cut the channel before Bradley could get out another word. “The perks of command,” he said with a satisfied smile.
The door to Beck’s quarters/cell slid open without so much as a knock in the way of warning. Z’assy was there once again, this time accompanied by two other Andorians. “The Z’arkbelst is ready for you now,” Z’assy said.
“I’m all a quiver,” Beck muttered, walking over to meet the Andorians at the door. “Let’s get this over with.”
“You’re not going to fight?” Z’assy asked sounding rather disappointed.
“Why? So you three can beat the crap out of me and then take me to Joel? I don’t think so. I’d prefer to meet my fate on my own two feet.”
“You make it sound so unpleasant,” Z’assy said, gesturing for Beck to step out into the corridor. Soon the group was making their way through the corridors of the transport. “I have been told that his divine-ness is rather skilled.”
“Lucky me,” Beck replied unconvincingly. They were soon in front of another set of doors, where two ornately robed Andorians holding long, golden staffs stood guard. Z’assy exchanged nods with the guards, and then pressed the panel beside the door.
“We have arrived, your worship,” he said into the panel.
“Good. Good. Send her on in,” Joel’s voice replied through the panel speaker.
Z’assy eyed Beck distrustfully. “Are you sure that you want to be alone with her?”
“Oh yeah. Send that vision of loveliness through the door.”
“As you wish,” Z’assy said, then closed the channel. He turned on Beck. “We will be right outside this door at all times. If you attempt to harm the Z’arkbelst, your death will be slow, painful, and will most likely involve flesh-nibbling rodents. Are we clear?”
“Don’t worry,” Beck said as one of the guards activated the door for her. “I don’t plan to lay a finger on him.”
“That’s good to hear,” Z’assy said just as the doors closed behind Beck. He thought about her words for a moment. “Hey wait!”
Joel’s rooms on board the transport had obviously been spruced up a bit, as was fitting the home of a deity. Intricately woven tapestries depicting images of…well…Joel covered the walls. The centerpiece of the room, though, was a beyond-king-sized bed covered in (what else?) golden bed linens.
Joel himself was nowhere to be seen, though. A moment later, he emerged from the bathroom dressed in a golden robe that only went down to his bare knees.
“Hey there, gorgeous,” he said, flashing Beck a smile. “Care to join me?”
He dove onto the bed, revealing that the back of his robe had “Z’arkbelst” embroidered on it in large red, shimmering letters. Joel rolled over to face Beck, his robe coming dangerously close to opening. “I had my followers make something special for you.”
“You shouldn’t have,” Beck said. She was completely serious about this. He shouldn’t have made her anything because she SHOULD NOT BE HERE!
“It’s in the bathroom. Go put it on. I’ll be waiting.”
For a split second, Beck thought about protesting…or at least stalling, but then she realized the opportunity for even more efficient stalling that had just been offered to her.
“Bathroom. Got it,” Beck said, practically running to the door. “I’ll be out in a few minutes. Let me just…freshen up.” She gave Joel her best attempt at a seductive smile, then closed the door and locked it. It didn’t take her long to find the “gift” Joel had left for her. It was a small box on the sink. She opened it hesitantly, then lifted out a strand of black cloth. It took her a few moments, but she finally figured out it was a thong. The smallest thong she had ever seen, and she’d been to Risa.
Accompanying the thong was an equally revealing a half-black half-grey string bikini top. The left cup of the top had a Starfleet insignia printed on it.
“Did you find your present?” Joel called from the bedroom.
“Sure did,” Beck said.
“I hope it will fit.”
How would you know if it didn’t, Beck wondered as she held up the two minuscule halves of the outfit. Okay. She so wasn’t putting this on. Time to commence some serious stalling.
“You remember how Steph and I used to love playing Starfleet?” Beck asked.
“Yeah. Steph and I would run through the woods with our little toy tricorders. And sometimes we’d play with our dolls, of course, because that’s the kind of thing little girls do.”
“Yep. We were little girls when you knew us. Playing with dolls, going to school…”
“Can we not talk about this?” Joel asked.
“I was just reminiscing about old times,” Beck said.
“I know, but it’s kind of weird right now.”
“Why? I’m just saying that you knew me when I was a little girl, well before I hit puberty even.”
“Ugggh! Don’t say that!”
“Yes! Stop it!”
“Why?” Beck asked innocently. “What is the problem?”
“I’m trying to have sex with you here! I don’t want to be thinking about us as a bunch of kids! It’s just…wrong!”
“No more so that kidnapping me and forcing me to have sex with you.”
“That’s completely different. I’m the Z’arkbelst. Now are you undressed or not?” Joel demanded.
Beck suddenly heard Z’assy’s voice of the bedroom speaker. “We are on final approach to the colony, your gloriousness. The colony administrator has granted us permission to settle in a…moist region of the southern hemisphere.”
“What do you mean moist?” Joel asked.
“Frequent monsoons. But we will build a vast, dry, and wonderfully cozy palace to celebrate your divine presence.”
“Very good. But no more comms. I’m occupied.”
“Of course. Awe her with your regal prowess.”
“I’m planning on it,” Joel said, then cut the channel. A moment later, he was right outside the bathroom door. “I, the Z’arkbelst, command you to put your gift on and present yourself to me! NOW!”
“They’re entering the planet’s atmosphere,” Hodges reported, glancing over at Morales. She reached over and smoothed a particularly ruffled section of his hair.
“We’re almost on them, but I don’t think we’ll be able to get a transporter lock in all of that chaos down there,” Morales said.
“Yeah. After all of this, I really want to have a word with my brother. In person.”
Joel was reclining on the bed anxiously as the bathroom door finally opened, revealing Lisa Beck…dressed in the same blouse and pants she went in there wearing.
“Hey!” Joel shouted, sitting up. “Where’s the sexy stuff?”
“I’m not sleeping with you, Joel,” Beck said.
“You have to. I decreed it.”
“So what? Are you going to have your lackeys hold me down?”
“No. They tend to just kill people who defy me.”
“Are you going to let them kill me?” Beck said.
“I want you in bed. Not dead. See, that rhymed. I’ve been working on some poetry. My worshippers eat that kind of thing up. Now stop being silly and take your clothes off.”
“I’m not doing it.”
“That’s not the way this works. I am the Z’arkbelst. I’m a god. You do what I say.”
“That’s not going to convince me.”
“It’s supposed to! I’m the Z’arkbelst. Z’assy! Z’assy! Where are you?”
The ship jolted slightly as the landing gear touched down on the surface of the world the followers of the Z’arkbelst would now call home. A crowd quickly gathered around the access ramp, which Z’assy, who was at that moment obviously nowhere near Joel’s quarters, was about to open.
“Children of the Z’arkbelst!” he exclaimed. “We have traveled far to bring the magnificence of the glorious one to this place. Behold! His new dominion!”
Z’assy smacked the panel beside him, causing the ramp to lower. Outside was rain. Lots and lots of blinding, driving rain and a world that seemed to be nothing more than a blob of wet gray. Two figures suddenly became visible, stomping toward the ramp in white Starfleet EVA suits, phaser rifles in their hands.
The Andorians froze as the armed figures clomped up the ramp. The shorter of the two reached up, unlatched its helmet, and tossed the helmet aside revealing Stephanie Hodges.
“Welcome home, folks,” she said. “Now where the hell is my brother?”
The Andorians other than Z’assy looked at each other confused.
“The Z’arkbelst!” Hodges shouted. “Take me to the Z’arkbelst!”
“Calling Z’assy isn’t going to help either,” Beck said.
“He could kill you!” Joel said, climbing off of the bed and standing in front of Beck.
“I thought you didn’t want that.”
“I don’t. I want you. I will have you.”
“No, you won’t. I know these Andorians just hand you everything you ask for, but that does not include me. I don’t worship you, Joel. Okay. I admit I had a bit of a crush on you when we were kids, but this is entirely different.”
“You had a crush on me?”
“Yeah. You were cute. You still are.”
“I try to take care of myself.”
“I noticed,” Beck said. “You’d think being a deity would make you put on some extra kilos. I’m sure you can have as much of whatever food you want whenever you want it.”
“It’s a temptation,” Joel admitted. He put his fists on his hips, causing his robe to pull open revealing two well-developed pectoral muscles. “But a god should put across a certain image, don’t you think?”
The doors of the room suddenly whooshed open. Joel screamed and doubled over, frantically shoving his robe closed.
“Ring the chime!” he screamed, whirling to face the door. His eyed widened in alarm as his sister charged into the room, rifle in hand.
“Steph!…GACK!” Joel’s surprise at seeing his younger sibling was increased somewhat as she grabbed him by the neck, drawing several gasps of surprise and horror from the small crowd of Andorians who had followed Hodges, Morales, and Z’assy to the Z’arkbelst’s chambers.
“I think we can take it from here,” Morales said, walking Z’assy to the door with the barrel of his phaser rifle.
“You will not harm the Z’arkbelst!” Z’assy cried.
“You’ll have him back soon enough,” Hodges said, her eyes boring into her brother.
“If he doesn’t move, you can shoot him,” Beck said, stepping up beside Morales. She and Z’assy exchanged a look expressing their mutual hate of each other, then the Andorian spun on his heel and marched off down the corridor.
Morales closed the door of the chamber and sealed it. “If they’re going for weapons, we could be in big trouble.”
“You won’t let that happen, will you, brother dear?” Hodges said.
Joel shook his head eagerly.
“See. He can be reasonable.” She shoved him backwards, sending him sprawling onto the bed. “She’s not going to sleep with you, Joel!”
“I told him that,” Beck said.
“And just because these weirdos hand you everything you want doesn’t mean you can have Lisa as well.”
“I told him that, too.”
“They may worship you, but she doesn’t!”
“I also said that.”
Hodges turned on Beck. “Dammit, Lisa! What did you leave for me?”
“Not much, I’m afraid. How about giving me a ride home?”
“Assuming the Andorians don’t kill us first.”
“That’s not going to happen. Not when the Z’arkbelst is going to walk us out, right Z’arky?” Beck said.
“Can I at least put some clothes on first?” Joel asked.
“Please,” Morales and Hodges replied quickly, then exchanged an even quicker smile.
“Uh huh,” Beck said, eyeing her friend.
“What?” Hodges snapped.
“Nothing. Just uh huh.”
“Exactly,” Beck said.
A couple of minutes later, with Joel in the lead, the group made their way back through the ship’s corridors to the ramp leading outside, followed by Z’assy and about twenty other Andorians all carrying blades of various shapes and sizes. Joel looked at the torrential downpour outside and winced.
“Home sweet home,” Beck said.
“It will be great,” Joel said, putting on a brave face.
“I’ll have to drop by to check on you,” Beck said.
“You will?” Joel asked surprised.
“Sure. And you won’t even have to kidnap me,” Beck said, patting Joel’s arm before heading down the ramp.
Hodges scooped up her dropped EVA suit helmet and walked by him next. “Joel,” she said with a cold nod, then continued on before stopping a few paces away and turning back to him. “I thought of one more thing,” she said, closing the distance between them.
Hodges’ fist connected with Joel’s jaw, dropping him to the deck as the other Andorians gasped.
“The Z’arkbelst’s sister IS mighty mighty,” a voice in the crowd said in awe.
“Mighty mighty!” the others agreed.
“Does this mean I get worshiped too?” Hodges asked.
“No,” Z’assy said firmly. “You will leave now.”
“With pleasure,” Beck said, grabbing Hodges’ arm. “Bye, Joel.”
“Bye, Lisa,” Joel said, cradling his jaw with one hand while waving with the other.
“Were you just flirting with my brother?” Hodges asked as she, Beck, and Morales stepped out into the monsoon.
“Sorry. Can’t hear you,” Beck shouted back.
“You’re dating Phillip!”
“You’ve got a hickey on your neck.”
“What?” Hodges exclaimed, fumbling at her EVA suit collar for a moment before she realized that Beck had continued on through the rain to the waiting Wayward. “Lisa? Lisa! I wasn’t done with you yet. Get back here!”
Beck smiled and kept walking.
NOTE: Want to know how all of this Z’arkbelst stuff started? Check out “Trials of Youth” in Star Traks: The Rejects’ Table!