Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
By Alan Decker
The Wayward’s side hatch was already opening before the ship’s landing gear made contact with the deck of the docking bay. Captain Lisa Beck appeared at the open door and leapt down from the craft as Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter finished the landing procedure.
“What’s our status?” Beck asked, rushing over to Commander Walter Morales, who was waiting near the docking bay control room. She didn’t stop, instead continuing out into the corridor at a quick pace as Morales fell into step beside her.
“All available ships have been pressed into service for the evacuation. We’ve got enough space for almost all of the civilians and non-essential Starfleet personnel.”
“What do you mean almost?”
“We need room for about 700 more people.”
“What about the colonies? Can they send any ships?”
“Already en route, but I don’t think they’ll get here in time. The closest is still five hours away.”
“The Collectors’ Vault-Ship is slow, but not that slow. We’ve only got three,” Beck said as she and Morales stepped into a turbolift, which she ordered to Ops. “What about our help from Starfleet?”
“I haven’t heard anything beyond ‘help is on the way.’”
“Nice of them.”
“If they’re lucky, someone will actually still be here to help when they show up,” Morales said.
“We’re just going to have to do the best we can. Have Engineering divert power from all non-essential systems and decks to the shields, weapons, and structural integrity field. Also, I want the Wayward and the runabouts as combat-ready as we can get them. Cram on as many torpedoes as you can.”
“Who’s going to be flying them?” Morales asked.
“I’m going to need my best pilot out there, which would be you,” Beck said.
“The flying around Multos got a little hairy, huh?”
“You could say that.”
“All right. I’ll go. And Ensign Laru is solid behind a conn. For the final pilot, we could really use…”
“Steph. Yeah, I know,” Beck said. “I’ll get her from Colonel Lazlo. I want him to get his marines ready anyway. We may very well have to repel boarders.”
“Boarders?” Morales exclaimed.
“Don’t worry. I’m not letting anyone get collected,” Beck replied as the turbolift stopped at Ops and the doors slid open. “But now we’ve got three hours to get ready for a battle.”
“Oh, there was one more thing,” Morales said, following Beck out of the turbolift.
“CAPTAIN!” a familiar, unwelcome, and very angry voice bellowed from the direction of Beck’s office.
“President Dillon wants to speak with you,” Morales finished.
“Sounds more like he wants to scream at me,” Beck muttered.
“All right. I’ll deal with him. Would you take care of talking to Lazlo?”
“Thanks,” Beck said, heading toward her office where Federation President Bradley Dillon waited for her. “And contact Starfleet! I want to know where the hell our damn support is!” She quickly pasted on a big, fake smile as she approached Bradley. “Good afternoon, Mister President. What a pleasant surprise to see you here.”
“Office,” Bradley sputtered.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Beck said, entering the room with Bradley close behind.
He managed to keep himself contained until the doors closed, separating them from the frantic activity of Ops. “THIS was your great plan!” he screamed once they were alone. “Bring them here?!?”
“I wouldn’t call it a plan so much as the only option that presented itself,” Beck replied calmly.
“I thought the idea was to STOP the Collectors from attacking the Federation, not invite them in!”
“I had to do something, Bradley. The Multeks didn’t have a chance against that ship.”
“I think I’ve leveled the playing field.”
“Or they’ll be leveling us,” Bradley said, pacing the office.
“Not you,” Beck said. “You’ll be a safe distance away from here.”
“Oh you can count on that. I’ve worked too hard and have too many things going to get wiped out in some stupid last stand.”
“That’s the trouble with ideals, Bradley. Sometimes you have to stand up for them.”
“You sound like a Starfleet recruitment vid.”
Beck shrugged. “I believe in what I do.”
“So do I,” Bradley said. “And I also believe in staying alive, so I can keep doing it. I have plans that don’t involve being collected.”
“Then I guess we’ll see you when this is over.”
“I hope you’re right,” Bradley said, heading for the door. “But you’re responsible for any damages to the Dillon Enterprises complex!”
“Put it on my tab,” Beck replied as Bradley exited.
“Morales to Captain Beck,” the comm barked suddenly. Never a moment’s peace. Not that Beck expected one in the current circumstances. “We’ve got a ship dropping out of warp. It’s Starfleet.”
“Finally,” Beck said, striding out of her office into Ops. “On screen.”
The image of the rotating starfield outside of Ops shifted to show a sleek Prometheus class vessel gliding toward the station.
“The transponder reads as the Aerostar-A,” Morales reported, checking the readouts coming to the docking control console.
“Aerostar-A?” Beck said. “Is there an Aerostar-A?”
“I guess so.”
“Why is there an Aerostar-A?”
“Well, the first one did blow up.”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean they had to go make another one. Hail them.”
“They’re responding.” The exterior view of the ship switched to an interior shot of the bridge, where a stocky black-haired man sat reclined in his command chair, steaming mug of coffee in hand.
“All right. We’re here. What’s the emergency?” Captain David Conway of the USS Aerostar-A said.
“You got a ship?” Beck asked.
“No, if you’ve got something to say, go for it, Beck. No wait. Even better. If you don’t want us here, I’ll just turn this baby around and get back to what we were doing!”
“We were hiding from your supposedly sentient ion storm,” Commander Kristen Larkin, Conway’s android first officer, said from the chair beside him.
“Can it, Larkin.”
“Hiding?” Beck said amused.
“I swear that storm changed direction and was coming right at us.”
“Do we have a reason to be here or not?” Conway snapped.
“Yes,” Beck said. “All kidding aside, we’re glad to have some backup. When are the other ships due to arrive?”
“What other ships?” Conway said.
“You’re all Starfleet sent?” Beck asked in disbelief.
“You may not have noticed, Beck, but space is really damn big. Considering the short notice, you’re lucky anyone was in range at all. Try giving us some advanced warning next time.”
“Sorry. We’ll try to plan our emergencies more thoroughly in the future. For now, though, we have work to do. Commander Morales will tell you where to dock. Prepare to receive passengers.”
“Passengers!” Conway exclaimed. “Now hang on a second. Command didn’t say anything about us becoming a cruise ship.”
“They’re evacuees. Get them to the closest colony as fast as you can, and then get back here. We’re going to need you.”
Conway muttered something under his breath, then cut the channel.
“See to it that the Aerostar-A gets loaded up and underway,” Beck said to Morales as she headed toward the turbolift. “If that man gives us any trouble, he’s going to be drinking his coffee through a different hole!”
Working under a deadline wasn’t exactly Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter’s idea of fun, but it sort of came with the territory when you were Chief of Operations for a Starfleet station. He particularly didn’t like deadlines that involved impending death, doom, or destruction, all of which were also par for the course in Starfleet. Unfortunately, he seemed to be spending more and more of his time on the Operations side of his job and not nearly enough on the Chief Science Officer side. One of these days that needed to change.
For now, though, he was hunkered down in the relative peace and quiet of his lab working on some more of his way-too-close-to-the-last-minute preparations for the Collectors’ arrival. He’d already prepared a few things in other parts of the station, and, if the Collectors’ speed remained constant, he had about ninety minutes left until the Vault-Ship arrived. It wasn’t a lot, but maybe it would be enough to get a couple of working models of his invention ready to use in the defense.
The sound of the lab doors opening and closing behind him pulled him away from his work. He looked around to see Joan Redding, and from the look on her face, she was not coming for snuggles.
She quickly launched into a tirade, confirming his suspicions. “Unbelievable! We’re being evacuated! The station is about to be attacked! But do you try to find me? No! You’re in here fiddling with another stupid piece of crap. What are you thinking?”
“Mostly that we’re about to be attacked,” Porter said. “This piece of crap, as you call it, is to help us against the Collectors.”
“What about me?”
“You should be on the AWN ship getting out of here. They haven’t left yet, have they?”
“Not yet, but I’m not going.”
“Not going? Why the hell not?”
“We’re about to be attacked!” Joan said, growing angrier. “That’s called a story!”
“No, that’s called a good way to get killed,” Porter shot back. “You’re getting out of here.”
“I’m staying. You can get me one hell of a view of events.”
“Me? No way. You don’t use me to get a story. And you don’t stay on board when the captain has ordered an evacuation. You’re leaving, and that’s final.”
“I don’t know who you think you are, Mister, but you do not talk to me like that,” Joan snapped.
“Fine!” Porter shouted, storming over to a nearby console.
“Don’t you ignore me.”
Before Joan could finish her sentence, she and Porter vanished in the cascade of a transporter, only to rematerialize moments later outside of the docking bay holding the Associated Worlds Network transport ship.
“Get out of here,” Porter said firmly, pointing into the docking bay.
“If you think you can order me around…”
“I’m Starfleet, you’re a civilian, and this is an emergency. That gives me the right and the power.”
“If you do this, we’re done, Craig. Do you understand me?”
“Loud and clear. Go.”
“So that’s it then?” Joan demanded shocked. “I mean that little to you!”
“I’m not sure what you mean to me. We have a great time together…sometimes. And then there’s the berating me and ordering me around parts, which, I gotta say, I’m not all that crazy about. But this is different. This is my job and your safety. This is about you trying to use me to get a story. Do you have any respect for me at all? Do you even know what that is?” Porter replied, his voice growing louder and louder. “Maybe we need to be done. Actually, forget the maybe part. We’re done, and you’re leaving. Get on the ship before I have to call security and have you put on there bodily.”
“Asshole,” Joan grumbled turning on her heel and storming into the docking bay.
Porter didn’t respond. No sense in lowering himself to name calling. He just watched her go, making sure that she actually got onto the AWN ship, which was preparing to leave, before heading off down the corridor toward the turbolift. He passed Phillip Harper, head of AWN and the significant other of Captain Beck, who was just exiting the lift, attache case in hand. The two men exchanged a silent nod, then continued on their separate courses.
Phillip knew he didn’t have a lot of time. As it was, the AWN ship would be one of the last vessels to depart from the station. Still he couldn’t leave without talking to Lisa Beck. He’d commed her and asked her to meet him down by the docking bay. He knew she was busy preparing to defend Waystation, but she would make the time for him. As promised, she was jogging up from the opposite direction as he made his way to the docking bay doors.
“Hey,” she said, stopping to catch her breath.
“Is it going well?” Phillip asked. It was a dumb question, but all he could come up with under the circumstances.
“As well as can be expected, I guess,” Beck said, pulling out a stock answer.
“I’m sure you’ll pull everyone through,” he said.
“You should get going. I don’t want you to get stuck in the middle of a firefight.”
Phillip nodded but said nothing as he looked into her eyes. “I’m not coming back,” he said finally.
“I know,” Beck said, smiling sadly.
“We’ve been heading this way for months. You’ve had your new business. I’ve been busy with the station. It’s just not happening.”
“You could come with me…to Earth.”
“You know I won’t do that. And you really wouldn’t want me to.”
Phillip ran his hand along Beck’s face, then through her hair. “I’m going to miss you.”
“I’ll miss you, too.”
“I should go.”
“Yeah,” Beck said. Their lips met briefly, out of habit more than anything else, then Phillip turned toward the docking bay door.
“You be careful,” Phillip said, looking back at Beck.
“Count on it.”
“Okay then.” Phillip shot Beck one more smile before walking off toward his ship.
“Beck to Ops,” Beck said, slapping her commbadge as she watched Phillip depart.
“Morales here. Go ahead.”
“How are we doing?”
“The Aerostar-A left a few minutes ago and President Dillon’s ship just requested departure clearance. We’re just waiting for AWN to leave.”
“That should be happening in a minute or two.”
“The decks have been cleared then,” Morales said.
“All right. I’m going to check on a couple of things, and then I’ll be up. Comm me if the situation changes before then.”
“Acknowledged. Morales out.”
By this time the hatch leading into the AWN ship had closed as the pilots performed their final pre-flight checks. Part of Beck wanted to stay and watch the ship take off, but she had other places she needed to be. Pushing thoughts of personal issues aside, she headed to the turbolift, the doors of which opened immediately, revealing Lieutenant Commander Porter staring glassy-eyed at nothing in particular.
“You okay?” she asked getting into the lift.
“Uh huh,” Porter replied numbly.
The turbolift didn’t move. “Were you actually going somewhere?” Beck asked.
“I was going to take a walk through the mall just to make sure the hatches have been battened. Wanna come along?”
“Right. Starfleet Square Mall.” As the turbolift started to move, she glanced over at Porter and chuckled. “You look like I feel.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“Tough goodbye with Joan?”
“You could say that. We fought, we broke up, and I kicked her off the station.”
“Is it bad that I wish I’d been there to see it?” Beck asked.
“I bet Sean would have been right there with you,” Porter said.
“At least I won’t be alone alone,” Beck said.
It took Porter a couple of seconds to realize what she was saying.
“You and Phillip broke up.”
Beck nodded. “He’s gone. He’s moving back to Earth.”
“Yeah well… It’s just the way things went.”
“I guess we can officially reopen the Waystation chapter of the lonely hearts club,” Porter said. “Assuming we live that long.”
“Way to think positive there, Craig,” Beck said as the turbolift slowed to a halt and the doors opened. She and Porter stepped out into the silent mall concourse. The mall was never this quiet, not even in the middle of the night. There were always at least a few places open and a few people milling about.
But now it was completely empty. Devoid of life.
“Now this is a bit on the eerie side,” Beck said.
“More than a bit,” Porter said.
They continued on around the bend of the concourse and soon found themselves facing an imposing wall blocking their path. A closer look revealed that the structure was built almost entirely of long wooden tables that looked suspiciously like they’d come from…
“Ih’mad!” Beck shouted.
“Captain!” the Andorian proprietor of the Ic’hasssssst V’kelsnet Restaurant exclaimed, his blue antennaed head popping up from behind the barricade. “How wonderful to see you! Would you care to fight beside us this day? I have a lovely flamethrower just waiting for you.”
“What are you doing here? You were supposed to evacuate!”
“Evacuate? In our moment of peril? Never! How could I leave when my establishment was in danger? I will stay and defend it with my life! We all will!”
“Who’s we?” Beck said.
Five of Ih’mad’s waiters and cooks sprang up beside him followed by the staffs of The Abyss, Waystation’s Nausicaan goth- wear shop; Nandegar’s Secret, purveyors of fine Breen lingerie; and Krilik’s, the Klingon formal wear shop.
“The Collecting dogs will die before they dishonor my shop or the new Spring line,” Krilik said severely. “By the way, Captain, sequins are very in this season. Come by and see me after we have sent our foes screaming to their deaths.”
“XXXAAAXXAAARRXXXARRRTTT!” Supreme Manager Hurrrut of Nandegar’s Secret exclaimed, waving a gloved fist in the air. Beside him Gulbrork, owner of The Abyss, grunted and nodded, flashing his teeth in a feral grin.
“So we’re all set!” Ih’mad said cheerily.
Beck smiled. “Thanks for staying.”
“This is our home, Captain. We will stand beside you to defend it.”
“Well, I’ll be standing in Ops, but I’m sure you guys will keep things under control down here.”
“These Collectors won’t know what hit them.”
“That I’m sure of,” Beck said. “But no putting them in tomorrow’s special.”
“Absolutely not. The Ic’hasssssst V’kelsnet uses only the finest ingredients.”
“The lung you ate for lunch was keeping someone alive this morning,” Porter remarked.
“Now there’s a man who appreciates quality,” Ih’mad said approvingly.
“Uh…sure,” Porter said, exchanging a look with Beck.
“Try not make too big of a mess,” Beck said.
“That I cannot promise,” Ih’mad said. “Good luck to you, Captain.”
“Thanks. We’ll let you know when things are about to get ugly.” She and Porter turned and headed off back down the concourse, and Ih’mad once again ducked behind the barricade to a figure huddled clutching a phaser rifle.
“Do you think she saw me?” Yeoman Tina Jones asked nervously.
“No. You are now free to do battle with us against our ball-headed foe,” Ih’mad said. “And I promise that I will kill you myself before I allow you to be collected.”
“I’m so glad,” Jones said forcing a smile. Maybe this disobeying the evacuation order and staying behind to help defend the station idea hadn’t been so great after-all.
Time flies when you’re waiting for your own destruction.
Actually, Captain Beck was fairly confident that the confrontation to come would not end with Waystation being destroyed. The Collectors might pick it clean and slap shiny mind-control helmets on everyone remaining aboard, but they wouldn’t destroy it.
“If the Collectors have not adjusted their speed from the last time you saw them, they could be in sensor range any time now,” Lieutenant Mason reported from the Science/Operations console in Ops.
“Let the fun begin,” Beck muttered, taking up position in the center command area in front of the viewscreen. One of these days she needed to have a chair installed there, so she didn’t have to stand in these situations. Of course, she doubted her nerves would allow her to sit right now. “Waystation to all ships. Report in.”
“Wayward standing by,” Marine Lieutenant Stephanie Hodges’ voice replied over the comm.
“Runabout Cumberland standing by,” Ensign Laru Hassna reported.
“Runabout Roanoke standing by,” Commander Morales finished.
“All right. Remember these guys have massively powerful shields. Don’t even bother with the phasers. Torpedoes and tri-cobalts only. And no loitering. Zip in, fire, then zip out. Stay alert for tracking missiles and fighters. If they launch their fighters, pull back to the station. We’ll try to help thin the pack.”
“What about the Aerostar-A?” Morales asked.
“We’re not sure when they’re going to get back here,” Beck said. “I commed Conway, and all he would say was some crap about them coming into turn two.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Hodges asked.
“Not a clue.”
“Captain!” Mason exclaimed, switching the image on the viewscreen to show the sensor readings. The massive Collector Vault-Ship was just sliding into view.
“Looks like company’s here. Get ready, people. And good luck.”
“We’re not the ones sitting on a stationary target,” Hodges said.
“At least it’s a heavily-shielded, well-armed stationary target,” Beck said. “Waystation out.” She turned to Ensign Mike Waits, who was manning tactical. “Put me on station-wide.” He tapped a control and nodded back to her. “All hands, we have detected the Collectors coming into range. While we are going to try to stop them before they arrive, there is a good chance that we will be boarded. Stay alert and keep your weapons on stun. Most of the beings inside those helmets are not acting of their own accord. But other than that, feel free to kick their asses. Beck out.”
“You heard the lady,” Lieutenant Commander Porter said as Captain Beck’s words faded from the air. “It’s open season on Collector ass.” The Federation Marines and Starfleet Security officers gathered in the Marine’s gym/training center exchanged competitive glances with each other.
“Even Beck knows enough not to try that touchy-feely Starfleet crap on the Collectors,” Colonel Martin Lazlo said as he stood at the head of his troops. The two forces had gathered to divvy up Waystation into sectors, with each group responsible for the defense of different vital areas.
“I’m going to ignore the ‘even’ part of that sentence,” Lieutenant Commander Sean Russell said, glaring at Lazlo.
“We may not have a lot of time for deployment here,” Lazlo said, ignoring Russell. “What did you want to show us, Porter?”
“These,” Porter said, opening up the long case he had sitting on the table in front of him. Inside the case were two rifles.
“New guns?” Lazlo said, eyes widening with greed.
“Yes and no,” Porter said, pulling one of the rifles out of the case. “I’m calling them electromagnetic taggers for now. EMTs.” Porter pulled a clip out of the case and shoved it up into the rifle stock. “The EMTs fire projectiles that, on impact, explode with a small EM burst. If you hit a Collector, the burst should be enough to short out his helmet and free him from the Collectors’ control.”
“Unless he’s a real Collector and not someone they picked up,” Russell said.
“In that case, you’ll probably want someone next to you with a phaser,” Porter said. “I’ve been working on these for a while, but unfortunately the Collectors have stepped up the time table a bit. I only had time to finish these two. And you’ve only got 50 shots each, so be careful.”
Porter handed the EMTs to Lazlo and Russell. Russell turned back to his people. “T’Bang, it’s all yours,” he said, giving the EMT to a stately Vulcan woman. Russell looked over at Lazlo. “Lieutenant T’Bang can hit a moving target at 500 meters,” he said with a smile.
Without looking away from Russell, Lazlo shouted back at his troops. “Copeland!”
“Yes, sir?” Private Copeland said, shoving his way through the other marines to the front of the pack.
“Here. Take this!” Lazlo ordered, shoving the EMT into his hands.
“Awwww! Why do I hafta use the wimpy pop gun?”
“Maybe when you figure out why you’ve been under my command for five years and are still a private, you’ll have a clue.”
“As for the rest of you with REAL weapons, you see a Collector, you shoot him. No hesitation. You know your positions. Let’s move out.” Lazlo and the Marines jogged out of the training center at a rapid clip, leaving the Starfleet contingent alone.
“Look on the bright side, Craig,” Russell said as Porter watched the Colonel and his invention head out the door. “Copeland could always accidentally shoot Lazlo and short out his brain.”
“They’re almost in weapons range and decelerating,” Ensign Waits reported, looking up from his console in Ops.
“Standby on the tri-cobalts. As soon as they’re in range, fire,” Captain Beck ordered.
“That far away?”
“It’s not like they’re going to be able to outmaneuver the warheads,” Beck said. “And I’d like that Vault-Ship softened up as much as possible before they get here.”
“Oh,” Waits said. “Makes sense. Good plan.”
“We’ll know whether or not that’s true fairly soon.”
“Here we go…firing.”
Torpedo tubes on the portions of the upper and lower saucer facing the incoming threat opened up, spitting a steady stream of brilliant white projectiles toward the lumbering spheres of the Collector Vault-Ship. The impacts came in rapid succession as the tri-cobalt devices’ massive explosive yields flared against the Collectors’ shields.
While on the outside, the ship appeared unmoved, inside was a different story. The Chief Assessor picked himself up off of the deck as his subordinates crawled back into their seats in the Vault-Ship’s command center.
“Evasive action! Evasive action!” the Chief Assessor cried.
“We are already evading!” the helm officer replied.
“We are? Doesn’t feel like it to me.”
“We’ll be turned to port in another thirty or forty seconds.”
“And in the meantime they keep blasting us!” the Chief Assessor snapped back. “Activate all weapon systems. Try to blast those things before the reach us. And send out the fighters! I want those weapons ports destroyed!”
“Um…shouldn’t we wait to activate our systems until after the fighters have launched? We wouldn’t want to accidentally shoot…”
“Fine! Just do it!”
“Beck to Morales,” the captain said, as she watched the situation evolve on the tactical readout displayed on the Ops viewscreen.
“Morales here. We’re ready to begin our attack run.”
“Change in plans. We’ve got fighters coming at us.”
“Understood. How many are we looking at?”
Beck looked to Waits.
“Twenty-six,” he said.
“So we’re only outnumbered nine to one,” Morales said.
“Not really. Someone only gets eight,” Beck replied. “I hope whoever it is won’t feel cheated.”
“I think we’ll get over it,” Morales muttered. “We’re on our way. Morales out.”
As the channel closed, Beck turned back to the tactical display, where bright flashes were igniting close to the Vault-Ship.
“They’re starting to blast some of the tri-cobalts before they hit their shields,” Waits reported.
“End the barrage,” Beck said. “We’ll save some ammo for when they get closer.”
“If those things explode too close to the station, we’re going to take a beating as well.”
“I know,” Beck said. “Standby to fire.”
The mass of Collectors’ fighters speeding toward Waystation was caught off-guard as three ships streaked into the area, coming out of warp between the Collectors and the station. Three small ships were hardly a challenge for 26, though, so the fighters continued onward undeterred.
The pilots of Federation vessels were the ones feeling trepidation.
“Any idea how you want to handle this?” Lieutenant Hodges asked over the comm.
“I haven’t got anything beyond fly around and don’t get blown up,” Morales replied.
“Sir, we could try to scatter them before they reach us. That way we won’t get overwhelmed,” Lieutenant Laru said. “A few quantums lobbed their way and detonated around them could work.”
“Better that than all 26 of them ganging up on us,” Morales said. “Arm torpedoes…fire!”
A volley of quantum torpedoes seared out of the launchers of the Wayward, Cumberland, and Roanoke toward the pack of approaching fighters. Seeing the incoming threat, the fighters adjusted course slightly to let the torpedoes sail by harmlessly.
At least the would have sailed by harmlessly if they hadn’t detonated right in their midst. The ensuing explosions smacked the fighters off-course and sent them spiraling out of control until their pilots were able to right them again. Those closest to the blasts limped forward at reduced speeds as plumes of plasma flared from their battered hulls.
“I don’t think that trick’s going to work again,” Morales said as the fighters, which were now far more spread out, closed the distance. “Use the station for cover as much as you can.”
The three ships veered off in different directions as the fighters split their numbers up to pursue the fleeing Starfleet craft.
Despite the somewhat dire circumstances, Stephanie Hodges couldn’t help but enjoy the feel of the Wayward responding to her commands. She’d spent way too much time flying the Mongoose, the Federation Marine’s sluggish transport ship, and in comparison the Wayward felt like a star racer. A well-armed star racer.
As the fighters fell in behind her, she opened up with the Wayward’s rear phaser arrays, sending the ship into a banking roll as she did so. Phaser blasts peppered the fighters, forcing them to break off and regroup as Hodges sailed the Wayward around the connecting tube between Waystation’s lower and upper saucers. The fighters quickly resumed their pursuit and found themselves in a hellish crossfire as the phaser banks mounted on the saucers activated, sending a curtain of blazing power raining down on them.
The fighters again broke off, almost careening into the others of their number that were pursuing the Cumberland with Lieutenant Laru at the controls. The relatively-slow (in comparison to the Wayward) runabout had already taken a bit of a beating from the fighters, but Laru was giving as good as she was getting, sending several well-placed phaser shots into the fighters’ shields.
Laru spotted the Wayward looping around the connecting tube toward her and yanked the runabout upward just before the Wayward arrived. With the runabout out of the way, the fighters found themselves on the wrong end of the Wayward’s weapons systems as the ship tore through their pack.
Commander Morales, meanwhile, had led his pursuers below the lower saucer, where he was now skimming close to the station’s shields as the fighters sent blast after blast slicing toward him. The runabout’s automated targeting systems were struggling to maintain phaser locks as Morales dodged erratically to avoid being overwhelmed by the sheer number of shots heading his way. This was no way to fight a battle. He needed to find a way to take the offensive and quickly before the Vault-Ship arrived.
“Morales to Hodges. How are you doing?” He said.
“Holding up,” Hodges replied. “I don’t know about Laru, though. She’s taking a pounding.”
“I’m about to pop up there. I’ll see if I can give her a hand.”
“All right. I’ll see if I can’t lighten your load a bit.”
Morales reached the edge of the saucer and, rather than doubling back as he had for the last few times, arced around it, holding close to the upper surface of the lower saucer. Seconds later, the fighters made the turn as well and were met by the Wayward as Hodges dove down from around the upper saucer. As Hodges dove, Morales pulled up, firing into the pack chasing the Wayward. Both groups of fighters were forced to scatter, giving Morales and Hodges a moment to rendezvous with the Cumberland, which was now venting plasma out of its port nacelle as its shields flickered ominously. A few more hits, and there’d be nothing left.
“Morales to Laru,” the commander said as he and Hodges opened up on the ships chasing the Cumberland. “Get inside now!”
“I can’t just leave you two against all these ships,” Laru protested.
“You’re going to be leaving one way or another,” Morales replied. “The other way involves you blowing up, which I’m not going to let happen. Get into the docking bay. That’s an order!”
Laru broke the Cumberland to starboard, then sailed up toward the upper saucer. “Laru to Ops. Open Docking Bay Two! I’m coming in!”
“Acknowledged,” Lieutenant Mason’s voice replied.
She could see the doors of Docking Bay Two slowly opening as a number of fighters charged after her damaged runabout. Blasts rocked the aft section as more impacts slammed against the shields, which were now reading at 0.5%. She didn’t even know that was possible.
Seeing that Laru was in real trouble, Morales jerked the Roanoke around, then pushed the engines until he sailed between the fighters and the Cumberland, placing his ship in the path of the fighters’ weapons fire.
Laru took the opportunity Morales had given her and accelerated toward the docking bay, the doors of which had just opened barely wide enough to admit the runabout…she hoped. The craft tore into the docking bay as she threw it into an emergency stop and turned hard to port. The Cumberland skipped across the deck and slammed into the opposite wall of the docking bay, narrowly missing smashing the control room. The impact tossed Laru into the console in front of her. After hearing a distinct crunch in her right arm, she bounced off and hit the floor.
“I think I’m in,” she muttered before falling unconscious.
Outside, Morales fired wildly with every phaser bank on the Roanoke to force the fighters away until the docking bay doors could close again, taking several hits in the process. Finally, with the doors sealed, he was able to send the runabout into another dive, weaving around the station and breaking for the lower saucer.
He couldn’t help but look at the form looming on his tactical readout.
The Vault-Ship was almost there.
The Vault-Ship hadn’t started shooting at the station yet. That was a good thing. Captain Beck was fairly sure that state of affairs was not going to remain intact as soon as she gave her next order.
“Let them have it,” she said to Ensign Waits without looking away from the viewscreen.
Waits sent a quick warning to the Wayward and the Cumberland to get out of the way, then let loose with every phaser bank and torpedo launcher aimed the Collectors’ direction.
“Thrusters, Mason,” Beck said as the first barrage pummeled the Vault-Ship. “Get us spinning. A SLOW spin,” she clarified quickly.
“Yes, ma’am.” Mason activated the thruster assemblies that hadn’t been used since the station had been put back in position after the Next Federation incident a few years earlier. Gradually, Waystation began to rotate, making the movement of the already- rotating-Ops module seem even faster.
“Lock down Ops!” Beck said as she resisted the urge to watch the dizzying speed at which the stars were passing by the viewports ringing the upper part of Ops. Mason deactivated Ops’ rotation, so its speed soon matched the rest of the station.
Beck let out a relieved breath. This was so not the time to get motion sick.
“Don’t let up,” she said to Waits. “Things are going to get bumpy, but DO NOT LET UP!”
The energy level of the shields was dropping a bit more rapidly than the Chief Assessor was comfortable with. Deep in the back of his mind was the nagging suspicion that this whole venture may have been a bad idea. Collector policy was generally to only liquidate cultures with inferior military capabilities. If two vault- ships could be persuaded to work together, they could handle more aggressive species, but the Chief Assessor was alone in this. And he wasn’t even facing a planet. This was just some annoying Federation outpost, and it was knocking them around but good. On the bright side, his fighters had already forced one of the three pitiful defenders of the station to flee, and they would soon overwhelm the remaining two.
The station itself was another matter. It was well-armed, heavily shielded, and seemingly not at all impressed by the vault- ship. The Chief Assessor would remember this lesson in the future before he blithely slid into range of an adversary without ascertaining its willingness and ability to fight back.
If the Federations wanted a fight, though, they’d have it. Sure they’d gotten in the first few hits, but the battle was nowhere near decided.
“Bring us alongside,” the Chief Assessor ordered his helm officer. “Arm all weapons batteries and open fire.”
Captain Beck gripped the docking control console as Waystation bucked under the blows of the answering volley from the Vault-Ships beam weapons and torpedoes. “Status?” she shouted.
“Shields at 98%,” Waits replied.
“This could take a while,” Beck muttered.
As the Vault-Ship and Waystation began firing on each other in earnest, Morales and Hodges were forced to keep to the opposite side of the station away from the fray. Of course, they were dealing with plenty of fray of their own.
Morales caught himself with his hands before his head could slam into the console in front of him from the force of another jolt. Smoke was already pouring out of a ruptured conduit at the rear of the cockpit, and he could feel that the runabout’s responses to his commands were becoming more sluggish.
All this and there were still eighteen fighters out there waiting to do him in the rest of the way. At least Hodges was holding her own. That was why he’d given her the Wayward in the first place. She was a great pilot, but he wasn’t about to leave her in a runabout while he took the best shielded and best armed ship Waystation had.
Another hit sliced into his port nacelle, shutting it down entirely. He wasn’t planning to go to warp anytime soon anyway, but the hit didn’t say much for the strength of his remaining shields.
“Hodges to Morales. You’d better get inside,” the comm system said.
“I’m a little busy right now,” he replied, throwing the Roanoke into a sudden deceleration and whipping it around to attack the aft sections of three fighters.
“It’s hard to be busy when you’re dead,” Hodges shot back. “I can handle this.”
“Eighteen…” ZAP. “Seventeen fighters by yourself,” Morales said. “I think you’re great, Steph, but no way. I’m going to take out as many as I can before…” He trailed off as something on his scopes caught his attention.
“Before…?” Hodges said. “Walter? Are you okay?”
“Sensor contact coming in at high warp! It’s the Aerostar!”
Captain David Conway surveyed the scene playing out on the Aerostar-A’s viewscreen. Actually, he couldn’t tell much at this distance other than that a heck of a lot of blasting was going on out there.
“What do you think, Larkin?” he asked.
“Waystation and the Collectors’ vessel appear to be in a pitched battle.”
“So no clear winner yet, huh?”
“No. However, the Collectors’ fighters have the Starfleet vessels present outnumbered nine to one.”
“But what you’re telling me is that it’s not bad enough to declare the whole thing a lost cause and get the hell out of here,” Conway said.
“Such a thought would never have crossed my circuits.”
“Of course it wouldn’t,” Conway muttered. “All right. I guess we’re going to have to do this thing then. Engage multi-vector assault mode.”
The Prometheus class ship smoothly split apart into three sections, all of which sped toward the battle zone.
“Focus on the fighters,” Conway ordered. “I don’t feel like getting swatted by the big boy.”
The Collectors’ fighters scattered as the three new combatants entered the fray. Each of the nacelle sections opened fire, their phaser banks tracking the fighters across their firing arcs and quickly reducing three fighters to so much debris. The saucer section, meanwhile, took up position above the Roanoke, extended shields around the battered runabout, and let loose with heavy cover fire.
“Aerostar to Roanoke,” Conway’s voice said over the runabout’s comm system. “You okay over there?”
“Holding together,” Morales replied. “Thanks for the umbrella.”
“Don’t get too comfy. If those fighters break away from the other ships and head back this way, we’re not sticking around.”
“You won’t need to. I just needed to catch my second wind,” Morales said as he took the opportunity to divert power from the warp core, which he wasn’t using anyway, to the shields and engines. It wouldn’t be enough to get the Roanoke back to 100%, but Morales had a feeling that the puny runabout would be the least of the Collectors’ problems now that some heavy artillery had arrived.
“I’m all set, Aerostar,” he said, zipping out from under the larger vessel right behind a fighter, which he quickly hammered with a volley of phaser fire. “Back to work.”
“That man is far too eager to get killed,” Conway said before ordering the Aerostar-A’s saucer off to engage a small cluster of fighters.
“The new vessel is quite well armed,” the tactical officer as the Chief Assessor watched the melee from the Vault-Ship’s command center. “And that splitting in the three sections thing is just plain neat!”
“Agreed,” the Chief Assessor said with a pensive nod. “We should collect this ship…assuming we don’t have to blow up it.”
“I do not think it will fit in our hold!” the acquisitions officer exclaimed. “I can’t do it, Chief Assessor! You can’t fit a giant karlax into a drenit’s cage! You just can’t!”
“Okay. Okay. I get it,” the Chief Assessor said, putting his hands up.
“Chief Assessor,” the tactical officer said, drawing the Collector’s attention away from the raving acquisitions officer. “I do not believe that our fighters will be able to last against this new vessel. We also do not know when other reinforcements for the Federations may be arriving. To assure the safety of the items stored in our hold, we must either retreat or finish this quickly.”
“No retreat!” the Chief Assessor snapped. “I will have the New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation kept aboard this station. I will have it! And whatever other pretty things we find while we’re there. But I will have the New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation! Get me the New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation! I want the New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation! You will get me the New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation NOW!”
“Well…maybe we could punch a hole in their shields if we focused…”
The constant shuddering of the deck in Ops stopped abruptly as the constant barrage of fire from the Vault-Ship suddenly ended.
“Did we hit something important?” Beck asked.
“I don’t think so,” Waits said confused as he checked his scopes. “The Collectors ship is still…”
The Ops crew was flung violently backward as the station was rocked by one massive jolt.
“Report!” Beck shouted, picking herself up as Waits and Mason scrambled back to their stations.
“They fired again!” Waits said.
“No kidding! What did they hit us with?”
“Same thing they have been. They just did it all at once in one spot: the shield generator outside Deck 34. It’s offline. The surrounding generators are compensating, but we’ve got a small hole in our coverage right at that spot.”
“That’s all they need,” Beck said grimly. “Beck to Porter.”
“Porter here,” Waystation’s Chief of Operations replied.
“Shields have been breached. Guests could be arriving soon.”
“Everything’s ready. And I might be able to get a spare shield generator in position to…”
“Forget it. No one’s going outside in all of this. The Collectors would probably just blast it again anyway, and they’d end up causing more damage to the station in the process. If they want on board, they aren’t going to blow us up. Let them have their hole. Just keep your eyes open for any transporter activity.”
“Transporter activity!” Mason shouted suddenly from the operations/science console.
“How many lifesigns?” Beck said.
“Um…none? It’s some kind of object. I’m reading an energy build-up.”
“Porter!” Beck shouted.
“Forcefields are up!” Porter said.
For several moments, nothing seemed to happen.
“Well?” Beck said finally.
“It exploded,” Waits said.
“I didn’t feel anything.”
“It was some kind of energy surge, Captain,” Porter explained. “Readings are consistent with a stun grenade, only much more powerful. The forcefields were able to contain most of it before they overloaded and shut down.”
“What do you mean most?”
“We had some leakage onto decks 31 through 37,” Porter said.
Beck’s eyes widened. “Isn’t Deck 32 where you put…”
“Beck to Russell. Beck to Russell! Russell!” Beck shouted, growing more alarmed as the station’s security chief didn’t respond.
“More transporter activity,” Mason reported. “Ten new lifesigns…no twenty…thirty…forty…fifty…seventy…one hundred and twenty.”
“Just let me know when they’re done,” Beck snapped. “Porter…”
“Already on my way,” Porter replied. “Porter out.”
“Four hundred thirty new lifesigns and holding,” Mason said. “They’re breaking up into teams and spreading out.”
“Waits, put me on the all-call,” Beck said.
“This is Captain Beck to all hands. We have been boarded. You know what to do. Beck out.” She turned back to Waits. “Keep pouring it on them, Ensign. Direct your fire at the aft sphere. If the engines are there, maybe their engineering section is there, too. We might be able to disrupt power to the whole ship.”
Leader One of Team Black One watched the readout on his scanner as he and his team jogged down the corridor of the Federation space station past the unconscious bodies of four of the station’s defenders stunned by the Suppressor beamed into the station ahead of their assault. Somewhere on board was a vault with the New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation desired by the Chief Assessor. With maps of the Federation facility unavailable, Leader One would just have to rely on the scanners to locate potentially interesting energy signatures.
ZAP! ZAP! ZAP ZAP!
Or he could fall unconscious along with the rest of his team as several dark blue uniformed beings ambushed them from every direction.
“Fall back!” Colonel Lazlo shouted tearing around the corner as blasts from the combined weapons of Team Black Three and Team Black Six rained past him.
Things had been going so well. His troops had the Collectors pinned down, but then another horde of the black helmeted bastards showed up and tipped the scales.
The Federation Marines took up new positions at the next cross corridor as the Collectors poured around the corner Lazlo had just come from.
“Copeland! You’re up!” Lazlo ordered above the din of phaser blasts.
“Awwww! Come on!”
“Okay! Okay!” The private checked over the weapon given to him by Lieutenant Commander Porter one more time, then leapt into the hallway and pressed the trigger. The first burst jerked him backwards as the small projectile rocketed forward, smacked into the helmet of one of the Collectors and exploded in a tiny surge of power. The affected Collector suddenly dropped to the deck, clutching his head and moaning.
“It worked!” Copeland exclaimed in surprise.
“Then DO IT AGAIN!” Lazlo screamed. Copeland switched the weapon into automatic mode and pulled the trigger again, holding it down as he waved the weapon across the field of approaching Collectors. A few moments later, only two were left standing, and they seemed to be rather confused as to what was happening to the rest of their force.
They didn’t have much time to worry about it, though, as several conventional phaser blasts dropped them to the deck.
“Yes!” Copeland cried excitedly. “I did it! I did it! I…oh.”
“What?” Lazlo demanded.
“I only have three shots left.”
“Guess you’d better make them count.”
“Get moving, Private.”
Ih’mad’s antennae shot straight up as a feral grin crossed his face.
“They’re coming,” he said, moving to peer over the barricade down the mall concourse.
“XAAXXAAXARRTT!” Supreme Manager Hurrrut said, looking over the opposite wall of the barricade.
“They’re coming from the other direction as well?” Ih’mad said. “I did not really want to have a two-sided V’sitnisst.”
“What’s a V’sitnisst?” Yeoman Jones asked nervously.
“A valiant last stand ending in certain doom,” Ih’mad said. “Two-sided V’sitnissts make it very difficult to know which way to be standing in order to properly face the death blow.”
“You didn’t mention the certain doom and death blows when I decided to stick around.”
“Then consider it a surprise bonus!” Ih’mad said cheerily.
“I don’t think so. Where the hell is that flamethrower?” Jones said. She spotted the long, sleek device and aimed it over the wall where at least twenty Collectors were heading their way.
“GO AWAY!” she screamed, yanking the trigger. An arc of flame blazed forth, catching the Collectors completely by surprise judging by the screaming, frantic scurrying, and shouts about their uniforms not being flame retardant. “Keep flaming!” Jones ordered, shoving the flame thrower into Ih’mad’s arms as she grabbed her phaser rifle and started picking off Collectors.
An odd sense of calm and serenity washed over her as she fired off shot after shot. This was right somehow.
She almost felt as though the rifle was an extension of her arm.
And she was…happy.
Leader One of Team Black Seventeen let out a little sigh as the last part of his team emerged from the turbolift onto Deck 32 of the Federation station. The turbolifts weren’t quite large enough to get all twenty people from his team into, so they’d been forced to go a few at a time. Now they were all together again, though, so they could continue their sweep of the station, not that it mattered. Team Black One had probably already found the vault as well as the New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation. They always found the good stuff. Team Black Seventeen, meanwhile, usually got to sift through garbage dumps looking for treasures that foolish beings had thrown away…and that was if the team was lucky!
Leader One was drawn out of his moping by a soft beep from his scanner. He checked the readout, which indicated an unknown energy signature coming from down the corridor. Surely it couldn’t be anything important.
Team Black Seventeen never found anything important.
But if this wasn’t important, why were there four unconscious Federation beings laying in front of a large set of thick double doors? Obviously, they’d been guarding this room before the Suppressor knocked them out. Maybe. Just maybe, the New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation was inside.
Lieutenant Commander Porter peered around the corner slowly to make sure that the mass of Collectors in the corridor beyond didn’t spot him. They’d found the place all right. Unfortunately, that massive stun bomb, or whatever it was, had put a slight hitch in the plan.
He tapped his commbadge again. “Porter to Russell,” he whispered.
Still no response.
And the Collectors were about to open the door.
Porter couldn’t take them all on by himself, but maybe he could deal with the Collectors another way. He raced back down the corridor toward one of the Engineering supply lockers for this deck, then, after grabbing a few items, he took a turbolift up two levels to one of Waystation’s public replicator facilities, where he started barking orders at the computer for items he needed.
He knew he didn’t have much time, but, if he could finish this and get it back to Deck 32, there was a chance he could divert the Collectors before Russell and the others were discovered.
Sleep. Sleep was good. No need to move. Just sleep.
Russell’s back twinged, pulling him a little farther out of his slumber. Gradually he realized there were voices in the room.
“Is that it?”
“Looks like a big gun to me.”
“Yes, but is it ‘New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation’ big?”
“I don’t know. It could be.”
Russell snapped fully awake. The Collectors. They were here. But how? And why was he and the rest of his team on the floor? As quietly as possible, he sat up and looked around. Fortunately, he and the other Starfleet security officers were still hidden behind the one-way wall holograms Porter had created in this holodeck. They could see out from their positions around the perimeter of the room, but anyone entering the holodeck would just see blank walls.
Of course, if the Collectors tried to touch those walls, they’d quickly discover they were just illusions. Fortunately, all of their attention was focused on the small mountain of gizmos and shiny doo-dads that Porter had created in the center of the holodeck. Above it all, mounted in its own display case under dazzling spotlights, was the New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation. At least that’s what the sign said anyway. If the Collectors tried to take it away, though, they’d be in for a little surprise when the New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation vanished from their hands as soon as they walked out of the holodeck.
Russell crawled over to Lieutenant T’Bang, who was laying nearby, and shook the Vulcan gently. She came to and opened her eyes. Russell quickly put his finger to his lips, then pointed out at the Collectors. T’Bang nodded her understanding and took aim with the electromagnetic tagger rifle supplied by Lieutenant Commander Porter as Russell worked his way around the perimeter of the room, waking his other officers, making sure to cover their mouths as he did so, since he was certain that some of them would be nowhere near as quiet as T’Bang had been.
He returned to the Vulcan a few moments later and nodded.
So this was the New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation. Leader One of Team Black Seventeen smiled inside his helmet. Sure it was a little small, but it was so nice and shiny. The Chief Assessor would be so pleased.
All they had to do was get it back to the Vault-Ship and…
Leader One jerked backwards as something slammed into his chest. What was…
Leader One looked down at his chest where whatever had hit him had just incinerated. Was that supposed to be a weapon of some kind? If so, it…
Okay. That was a weapon. Of course, Leader One couldn’t do much about it, since he’d just been stunned into oblivion.
“Must have been a real Collector,” Russell muttered.
“A logical conclusion,” T’Bang said as the Collectors frantically looked around for the source of the blasts. “Shall we continue?”
“Please,” Russell replied, aiming his phaser. “FIRE!” he shouted.
The remaining members of Team Black Seventeen quickly found themselves caught in a blazing crossfire as it appeared that the very walls of the room were attacking them. They didn’t have long to worry about it, though, as they were stunned or de-collected in short order.
“Russell to Ops,” Russell said once the last Collector had been taken care of. “The trap has been sprung.”
“That’s good to hear,” Beck’s voice replied. “I was worried that we’d lost you.”
“We just took a little nap. We’re rested and refreshed now.”
“We’ll beam the Collectors into the holding area with all of the others. Reset the trap. Oh did Porter get to you?”
“Craig? No. Haven’t seen him.”
“Hopefully he’s keeping his head down. We’ve still got a lot of Collectors running around this place, and more beaming over all the time.”
“Do you want me to go look for him?”
“No. Stay there and work the trap. The energy readings coming from there are bound to draw more of the Collectors that way. I’m sure Porter’s okay. Ops out.”
Porter was at that moment still ensconced in the replicator facility and okay…for now.
Captain Beck gripped the sides of the Docking Control console for support as another series of blasts rocked the station. On the viewscreen, she could see phaser shots from Waystation raking across the Vault-Ship’s aft sphere in conjunction with the explosions of several torpedoes.
“How are we doing?” she asked.
“They seem to be targeting our torpedo launchers,” Waits said. “Shields are holding for now, but if they hit us with another one of those focused shots…”
“I get the idea,” Beck said.
“Nelson to Ops,” the comm barked suddenly.
“Go ahead, Doctor.”
“Things are starting to get a little crowded down here,” Dr. Nelson replied. “We’ve had to start putting Collectors in Cargo Bay Four as well. The jamming fields seem to be holding, though. We haven’t had any problems with the ship beaming them away.”
“How are the ones you’ve freed holding up?”
“Okay, I guess. They’re confused at first, then scared, then relieved, then after that they mostly want to eat and use the bathroom. I had to take some time away to deal with Ensign Laru. She got pretty banged up in that landing, but otherwise I’ve just been removing helmet after helmet.”
“Everyone you do is one less Collector we have to deal with. Keep it up.”
“Will do, but if you can divert a few more security officers down here, I’d appreciate it. It’s only a matter of time before the ones I’ve freed decide to go after the real Collectors we’re holding.”
“I’ll see what I can do, but we’ve still got quite a few Collectors roaming the corridors,” Beck replied as another hit jolted Ops. “Beck out.”
This was really relaxing in a way. Just let your other troubles float away as you focus your mind and…
Another Collector dropped to the deck in front of the barricade as Yeoman Jones hummed softly to herself.
Her serenity was interrupted abruptly as Ih’mad slapped his hand onto her shoulder.
“You must make way for Fh’lay,” Ih’mad said.
“Huh?” Jones asked confused.
“My chef. He wishes to have a chance to face the vile foe.”
Jones watched as a bulky Andorian took up a position beside Ih’mad. “Um…where’s his gun?”
“He doesn’t need one. He’s a whiz with a spatula.”
Fh’lay smiled and whipped out a fist full of the utensils.
“What’s he going to do with…OH! AHHH! EWWWW! No! That’s just wrong!”
Leader One of Team Black Eight stepped cautiously out of the turbolift into the elegantly decorated corridors in front of him, his team close behind.
“Thank you for visiting Dillon Enterprises,” an automated female voice said crisply, her voice booming through speakers they could not find. “All of our offices are closed. Please come back during normal business hours.”
“Spread out,” Leader One said to his team.
“I said, please come back during normal business hours.”
“It is a very insistent computer,” Leader Two remarked.
“Yes. The vault could be here. Look around at this…did you just hear a click? A lot of clicks, actually?”
“You mean like the clicks of hundreds of secret panels opening so that hidden weapons systems can slide into position to shoot as us? No. That’s just silly.”
“Why are they all shooting at us?” Captain Conway shouted, fighting to stay in his seat as the auxiliary science console behind him exploded in a shower of sparks.
“We are the biggest vessel here and, therefore, the easiest to hit,” Commander Larkin replied, maintaining her position in her chair with no effort at all.
“Goody for us. Tell the Cumberland and the Wayward that they’d better start blowing up more of these damn fighters, or we’re taking our three ship pieces and going home!”
With his new creation cradled in his arms, Lieutenant Commander Porter charged out of the replicator facility…
…and smacked into the chest of a Collector. And the Collector wasn’t alone. He had at least ten others behind him.
“Woah. Sorry about that,” Porter said, taking a step back. “I need to start watching where I’m going.”
“What do you have?” the lead Collector demanded.
“Nothing, as far as I know. My last checkup was clean.”
“What is in your hands?”
“Oh! This! Um…it’s…nothing?”
“Is it the New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation?”
“What would give you that idea?”
“The gold plaque on the side which, according to my helmet, reads ‘The New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation’ in your language.”
“Ah. Hard to argue with that logic, isn’t it?”
“You will give it to me.”
“Sure. Okay,” Porter said, handing the cannon over.
“I expected it to be bigger.”
“We’re making new advancements in microelectronics all the time.”
“It is more portable this way,” the Collector admitted.
“Convenient and powerful. What more could you want?” Porter said, taking another step back.
“Hmmm…good. You will now return to our ship with us and teach us about the New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation.”
“You know, I’d love to, but I have a pressing appointment,” Porter said, reaching for his commbadge. “See I press this and…Computer, activate Porter Panic Sequence One.”
“Activating,” the computer voice replied as Porter disappeared in a cascade of molecules, waving as he went.
He rematerialized moments later in Ops.
“Are you trying to give me a heart attack?” Captain Beck demanded, holstering her phaser. “I thought you were a Collector!”
“I would have been if I’d stayed where I was any longer,” Porter said, heading over to the Science/Operations console where Mason sat. “I don’t know what happened to Russell and his team. I tried to get to the holodeck, but the Collectors were already there.”
“Russell’s fine. The trap has worked beautifully,” Beck said.
“Why are you saying that like it’s a bad thing?”
“I thought they might be in trouble, so I went and built a mock-up of the New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation to distract the Collectors with. Some other Collectors stopped me and took it before I could get back to the holodeck, though. They’re probably taking it back to their ship, so I don’t think any others will be falling into the trap.”
“Waits, tell Russell and his team that they can move out and engage any Collectors they find in the corridors. And hang on. Once the Chief Assessor thinks he has what he came for, they may start firing in earnest.”
“On the bright side,” Porter said. “We may be about to get a much better view inside their ship.”
“You rigged the cannon?” Beck asked.
“Of course, I rigged the cannon,” Porter replied smiling.
“Chief Assessor! Leader One of Team Black Fourteen is asking to speak with you,” the acquisitions officer reported. He, the tactical officer, and the Chief Assessor were now the only ones remaining in the command center. Just about everyone else on board other than essential personnel had been sent over to the Federation station to join in the search.
“Put him on the comm,” the Chief Assessor ordered, striding into the middle of the Vault-Ship’s command center. “This is your Chief Assessor speaking. Do you wish to discuss a recent acquisition?”
“Yes, Chief Assessor,” the voice of Leader One of Team Black Fourteen replied. “We have obtained the New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation.”
“Are you sure?”
“There’s a sign attached with its name right on it.”
“Wonderful! Adhere a retrieval tag. We’ll bring it in at once!” The Chief Assessor turned back to his acquisitions officer. “Transport it directly here. I want to see my prize!”
A moment later, the gleaming, golden form of the New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation materialized in front of him.
“It’s beautiful! Fantastic work, Leader One!” the Chief Assessor exclaimed.
“May we return to the Vault-Ship now?”
“Um…no. I want the Federations collected. All of them.”
“Yes, Chief Assessor. We will…oh. There’s some.”
The Chief Assessor listened as the sounds of combat filled the comm channel. The signal abruptly ended. “What happened?” he asked.
“I believe Team Black Fourteen has been neutralized,” the tactical officer said.
“Well dranft!” the Chief Assessor spat, slapping his hand against his leg. “Tell the other teams that the New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation has been retrieved. They are to shift to collecting.”
“What other teams?”
“What do you mean ‘what other teams’? There are other teams!”
“Remnants, yes, but every team has taken heavy losses.”
“Fine. Have them all meet somewhere and regroup into one giant mega-team!”
“Or a slightly-large one.”
Commander Morales watched as the Wayward looped around the saucer section of the Aerostar-A, drawing away three of the six remaining fighters as Hodges steered the ship toward the Cumberland, firing her aft weapons as she went. One of the three fighters caught a torpedo in the port wing and careened off wildly as its power systems flared, then died. Morales gunned the Cumberland’s engines and charged the Wayward, zooming just under the ship and emerging with phasers firing. He passed directly between the two remaining fighters, overloading what little was left of their shields and slicing their hulls open in a matter of seconds.
Ahead of him, he could see the two stardrive sections of the Aerostar-A converging on the saucer. The three ships made short work of the last of the fighters.
“Conway to Morales. Looks like we’re all done here.”
“We need to help the station,” Morales said.
“Against that thing? Are you crazy?” Conway shot back.
“I don’t think so. The Collectors have take a serious pounding from Waystation. We might actually be able to make a dent. Morales to all ships, regroup on the opposite side of the station and prepare for an attack run.”
“What did you have in mind?” Lieutenant Hodges’ voice asked.
“Five spheres. Five ships. Convenient, huh?”
“All right. Let’s take a shot at it.”
“All of our fighters have been eliminated!” the tactical officer reported.
“How could they do that? It was thirty on three!”
“Twenty-six on three, and that was okay until they made it eighteen on five. If that other ship hadn’t shown up…oh no.”
“Oh no what?” the Chief Assessor said, racing over to look at the display on the tactical officer’s console. The five ships had lined up on the other side of the Federation space station and were preparing to come at them. “Transfer all shield power to starboard! All of it!” he cried as the Federation ships streaked forward…
…and went right on by.
“Oh,” the tactical officer said. “Maybe they’re…”
The Chief Assessor realized what their plan was just as the aft launchers of each ship flared to life, sending brilliant white projectiles searing toward the unprotected port side of the Vault-Ship.
“Shields back to port!” he screamed. “Back to port!”
The brutal jolting that followed as explosions hammered against the Vault-Ship threw the Chief Assessor clean across the command center. He just barely managed to catch his beloved New and Improved Extra Super Duper Deluxe Blasting Cannon of Decimation before it could smash against the wall beside him.
“Main power is off-line!” the tactical officer cried after he pulled himself back to his console. “Auxiliary power is failing in Sphere C. Shield generators functional on the starboard side only. All port shield and weapons systems are down. Docking Bays Two and Four have been fused shut, and all of the jars of nergleberry preserves we acquired on Vunge Six have shattered.”
“THAT…IS…IT!” the Chief Assessor bellowed, climbing back to his feet. “When that hole we punched in their shields comes back around, target all weapons on it and fire. Keep firing until you’ve blasted a hole clean out the other side!”
“But our people…”
“I SAID…er…who is that?” The Chief Assessor pointed at the woman who had just appeared via transporter beam in the middle of the command center.
The woman began reply, “I am Commander Kristen Larkin of the Federation Starship Aerostar-A. You will surrender and once or…” The acquisitions officer suddenly jumped Larkin from behind, slamming one of the Collectors’ mind control helmets over her head.
“HA!” the Chief Assessor shouted. “Gotcha!”
Larkin casually removed the helmet and continued. “As I was saying, you will surrender at once, or your ship will be taken by force.”
“But how…” The Chief Assessor pushed past his shock that anyone could resist being collected. “You can’t take over this ship!” he said defiantly. “There are too many of us!”
“There are twelve of you in this particular sphere. My guess is that the numbers in the other spheres are relatively similar.”
“How could you know that? No one can scan inside our hull!”
“True; however, once a scanner fitted with a transmitter is placed inside your ship, such as the one secreted inside that mock cannon you are clutching so tightly, readings become rather easy to obtain. Now then, if you would be so kind as to…”
Larkin was interrupted by the coalescing of several transporter beams in the middle of the command center. Captain Lisa Beck stepped forward, phaser in hand, as Lieutenant Commanders Russell and Porter took aim at the Collectors’ tactical and acquisitions officers.
“You’re already here?” Beck asked disappointed.
“Yes. Captain Conway felt it was best that I beam over first, since my physiology would be resistant to any attempts to ‘collect’ me,” the android replied. She glanced down at the helmet meant for her head. “It appears that he may have been correct in suggesting this course of action.”
“That happens sometimes, I guess.”
“Indeed. As to the matter at hand, I have requested that the Collectors surrender immediately,” Larkin said.
“I wanted to do that!” Beck protested with a grin.
“My apologies. If it is any consolation, he has not given his answer yet. I am sure that he could be persuaded to respond to you.”
“I can deal with that,” Beck said, turning on the Chief Assessor. “So what’s it going to be?”
“You!” the Chief Assessor spat.
“You! You’re the one who ravaged my ship before!”
“Looks like I’m two for two. Now are you surrendering, or am I going to have to get unpleasant?”
The Chief Assessor glared at Beck for a few moments (At least Beck assumed that’s what he was doing. It was hard to tell with that helmet there), then he lowered his head.
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 55815.4. It’s over…for the moment. After the Collectors’ surrender, we were quickly able to round up the rest of their boarding party and restore peace to Waystation. The Collectors’ Vault-Ship is still hovering outside the station, empty except for the Starfleet engineering crews examining the place. The Collectors themselves are being held in the brig and Cargo Bay Three. We have a lot ahead of us. We need to make a hell of a lot of repairs both inside and outside the station. The Collectors have to be dealt with. We need to help the beings they collected find transport back to their homeworlds. We need to get our own people that we evacuated back to the station. We have to return the items the Collectors took from the Multeks.
“Like I said, it’s a lot. Too much for me to even get my mind around right now.
“For the moment, the station is quiet. Everyone is too tired to celebrate and far too tired to dive into the tasks ahead of us. We’ll start on them soon enough.
“And then there’s the question nagging at me. What if more Collectors come? We can’t just sit here and wait for them to come at us again. Something has to be done…later.”
“Right now, I need a nap.”