Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
By Alan Decker
Captain Lisa Beck’s body slammed onto the deck, abruptly ending her restful slumber. For a moment, she thought that the station must be under attack again, but there were no red alert klaxons blaring, no frantic calls for her to get to Ops.
Instead, all she could hear was a rather persistent buzzing.
She glanced over at her bed, which for all intents and purposes seemed to be in the throws of a massive seizure.
As exhausted as she felt after dealing with the Collectors, she couldn’t bear the idea of being awakened by some noisy alarm, so she’d set the vibra-alarm function on her bed instead. Normally, the soft buzz at the beginning stage of the vibra-alarm was enough to gently awaken her. If that didn’t work, the vibrations grew more and more intense. In this case, Beck had been vibrated right out of bed by the equivalent of a severe earthquake. Evidently, she’d been tired.
She had a rather strong urge just to lay there on the carpeted floor and go back to sleep, but there were duties to perform and a station to get back in order. Beck slowly got to her feet, stretching bit by bit as she did so, then stumbled into the bathroom for a quick sonic shower.
Twenty minutes later (it would have been ten, but she nodded off while standing in the shower), she exited her quarters and made her way through the debris-strewn corridor to the nearest turbolift. Externally, Waystation appeared to have come through the battle with the Collectors’ vault-ship relatively unscathed other than a lot of scorch marks, but inside was a different story. The continual pounding had overloaded systems all over the station, resulting in various small explosions. Additionally, the constant jarring hadn’t done their structural integrity any favors. As it was, the ceiling in the Ops briefing room had collapsed completely, and there was now a large duranium beam laying in the middle of the room, where it had chopped the table basically in half.
Everything would be straightened out in time, though. Of more immediate concern was the fact that several thousand people would soon be returning to Waystation. Hopefully Yeoman Jones would be on one of the first ships to come back. Beck needed her Liaison Officer to get all of those thousands of people situated smoothly while the rest of the crew dealt with repairs and seeing to the 700 plus Collectors and former Collectors currently housed on the station.
Rather than going straight to Ops, Beck decided to take a walk through Starfleet Square Mall to get a look at how it had fared. A few of the mall merchants had banded together to protect that particular area from the Collectors, but, considering that the merchants in question were Andorians, Nausicaans, and Breen, she had no idea how much of the mall was still standing.
The place looked better than she expected. The Collectors had evidently decided to deal with the resistance before moving on to looting the shops, and, since the resistance proved to be more than a match for them, the looting never took place. Instead, the mall had fallen victim to the same jolts and jars that had battered the rest of the station. Each store had been reduced to little more than a holding pen for piles of merchandise and bits of display racks. A little ways down the first floor of the mall concourse, the Soup on a Stick kiosk had toppled over, and some strange thick green substance was oozing out of it. Beck dodged the goop and made her way around to where, hours earlier, Ih’mad and the others had built their barricade outside of Ih’mad’s restaurant.
Appropriately enough, it looked like a war zone. Scorch marks cris-crossed the walls, and several of the mall’s decorative fake plants had been reduced to melted blobs. A few Collector helmets and an oddly high number of spatulas littered the deck. The barricade itself had been mostly deconstructed, though. Its component heavy wooden tables returned to their rightful place inside the restaurant.
Two of the Nausicaans who worked at The Abyss, the Nausicaan goth shop a short ways down the concourse, growled something at each other, then smacked their foreheads together in some kind of display of toughness before hefting another table and lugging it into Ih’mad’s establishment where Ih’mad was waiting to direct them on the table’s proper position. With that finished, he looked up and spotted Captain Beck standing out in the concourse watching.
“Captain!” he exclaimed, running out of the restaurant. “How does this Day of N’stssu find you?”
“Quite well,” she said, suppressing a yawn. N’stssu was the traditional Andorian name for the day after a great battle. Of course, considering the number of battles of various sizes that occurred on Andor, just about every day was a Day of N’stssu for someone.
“I am sorry that I cannot offer you breakfast, but Fh’lay is seasoning his new utensils this morning.”
Beck glanced over at one of the spatulas strewing the deck. “I shouldn’t ask what happened to the old ones, should I?”
“It would perhaps be better if you didn’t, but it is a wonderful story. Fh’lay is a master. And your Yeoman Jones is not at all weak either. I was very impressed with her during the battle. You should see her with a flamethrower. She’s a vision!”
“She was here?”
“In the fighting.”
“Yes yes yes.”
“Uh huh. Interesting,” Beck said.
“If you see her, please let her know that her next meal is on the house. I wish to show my gratitude.”
“Will do,” Beck said distractedly as she started to walk off. “Glad to see you’re getting things back together.”
“Oh yes. We will reopen in time for dinner. There will be customers, won’t there?”
“Very good. And will someone be seeing to the concourse?” Ih’mad asked. “I don’t mean to criticize, but it’s rather unsightly out here.”
“A flamethrower will do that,” Beck remarked. “Don’t worry. Someone will get to it…eventually.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Ih’mad said. “It was a pleasure fighting beside you. Not literally beside you, of course, since you were in your Operations center, but I felt your warrior spirit was with mine, entwined against a common foe.”
“Gotcha,” Beck said. “I’ll let you get back to your clean-up, okay?”
“Of course,” Ih’mad said with a slight bow. “Do come by for dinner. I will hold a table of honor for you.”
“I’ll be here if I can,” Beck said with a friendly smile. “I really need to get to Ops now. I’ll talk to you soon.”
“Of course,” Ih’mad said again with another bow. “Good day, Captain.”
“See you later, Ih’mad,” she replied, giving a half-wave as she headed to the turbolift.
She emerged in Ops a short time later and found Commander Walter Morales checking over things at the docking control console while various members of the Engineering crew scurried around seeing to needed repairs.
“Captain,” Morales said by way of greeting.
“Did you even go to sleep?” Beck asked.
“Couldn’t,” Morales replied. “I was a bit wired after the fight. I’m sure I’m going to collapse tonight, but for now I’m really awake. Six or seven cups of raktajino awake.”
“I’m glad someone is,” Beck said with a tired smile. “How are we doing? No…don’t tell me. I’ll get it all at once in the briefing…not that we have a briefing room at the moment.”
“I can try to get it moved up on the repair priority list.”
“No. No need. We’ll find somewhere else. Anything not related to the condition of the station that I should know about?”
“The Aerostar left about an hour ago. Captain Conway said that Starfleet needed them somewhere else.”
“And he didn’t even say goodbye to me?”
“He didn’t seem to think you’d mind.”
“Not particularly,” Beck said, heading toward her office door. She was somewhat afraid to look at what had happened in there. Before the battle, she’d packed away everything breakable, but there were no guarantees that the pounding the station took hadn’t reduced her office furniture to abstract sculptures.
Before taking another step, she made a command decision. She really didn’t want to see her office right now. Besides, there was that one tidbit of information that Ih’mad had given her that she wanted to investigate.
“Commander,” she said, turning back around. “Have you heard from Yeoman Jones?”
“A little while ago. She wanted to know if we could spare a couple of people to help with arriving ships. She’s setting up some kind of temporary intake center down in one of the conference rooms near the docking rings. It sounded like a good idea to me.”
“Actually, it is, but do you know when she got here?”
Morales thought for a moment. “She must have come back on a ship, but I don’t think any ships have…”
“They haven’t,” Beck said. “She never left. Instead, she helped Ih’mad and the others defend the mall.”
“Yeah. I’m going down to the conference center to say hi. Why don’t you grab us a room there for the briefing and tell everyone to meet there? It’ll be more comfortable than standing around Ops.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Morales said as his attention was pulled back to his console. “Here we go. I’ve got two ships heading our way.”
“Collectors?” Beck demanded, snapping alert.
“No,” Morales said. “Just a couple of transports that were docked here before the evacuation.”
“Okay. Sorry about that. I’m evidently still a little on edge.”
“See you in a few minutes,” Beck said, striding into the turbolift. The prospect of another assault by the Collectors wasn’t one that she really wanted to dwell on at the moment, so the sooner she distracted herself with other issues, the better.
A short time later she stepped out of the turbolift and headed down the corridor toward the Deck 26 conference center. Most groups holding conferences on Waystation tended to use the far fancier conference facilities available in Bradley Dillon’s Starfleet Suites Hotel, but the conference center on Deck 26 was available for those who didn’t want to pay Bradley for the privilege of having a meeting.
Yeoman Tina Jones had taken over the largest of the conference rooms and was at this moment doing a last minute check of the row of computers she’d set up on the long conference tables in order to process the beings returning to the station. She was so wrapped up in her work that she didn’t notice Captain Beck enter until Beck was standing right across the table from her.
“Is everything in order?” Beck asked finally.
Jones started, her head shooting upward to see who had just spoken. “Captain!” she exclaimed. “Hi there. I’m sorry. I was trying to…”
“It’s okay,” Beck said. “Are you all set up? Morales detected a couple of transports heading this way.”
“I think so,” Jones said. “Commander Morales was able to find me some help,” she added, gesturing at a small cluster of five officers who were huddled in the corner drinking some of the complimentary coffee.
“Good. Good. This intake center is a good idea. It will help get things back to normal faster.”
“I thought so,” Jones said. “Thanks for coming down!”
“It was on my way. We’re having the morning briefing down here since the Ops conference room is…”
“Kind of. We’ll get it fixed, though.” Not wishing to discuss the damage anymore, she quickly changed the topic. “But I really do like this idea. It shows a lot of initiative. Kind of like ignoring an order for non-essential personnel to evacuate.”
Jones blanched then started rapidly spitting out words. “I know I shouldn’t have done that, but Ih’mad and the others were staying, so I thought I should stay with them. I mean, Waystation is my home, too, and I didn’t want the Collectors to destroy it, so I stayed, and I got a phaser rifle, and I shot a lot of them! It was great! They were running around from the flamethrower, and I was able to just pick them off and…”
“Okay!” Beck said, holding her arms up.
“I’m sorry,” Jones said meekly, quieting down.
“There’s this whole speech about following orders that I should give right now, but I think we both know the words. So I’m just going to skip it. I get that you wanted to stay and fight, but you should have asked me. I let a bunch of civilians stay. Granted they were a bunch of frighteningly well-armed civilians, but the point is that, if I let them stick around, I probably would have said yes to you as well. Just ask next time!”
“There’s going to be a next time?” Jones said.
“I hope not, but you know what I mean.”
“And this is the second time this year I’ve heard you say something about how much you enjoyed shooting people. When things settle down, I think we need to have a talk about your future.”
“My future?” Jones squeaked fearfully.
“Yes. Like seeing about getting you into Security where you belong.”
“A security officer!” Jones exclaimed. She frowned suddenly. “But I never went to the Academy.”
“And that’s something we’ll need to deal with…later,” Beck said, glancing over her shoulder where the first of the returning Waystation residents were starting to come through the door. “It looks like you’ve got customers. Welcome them home, Yeoman.”
“I will. And thank you, Captain.”
“No problem. Like I said, we’ll talk later. Just promise me you won’t shoot anyone in the meantime.”
“Not unless I’m provoked,” Jones said, giving a smile to the Aldeberan who had just walked up to her station.
The Aldeberan’s eyes widened as he shook his head furiously. “No! No provocation here! None!”
“Good,” Jones said warmly. “Welcome back to Waystation!”
Beck chuckled and headed back out into the conference center corridor. Down the hall a display screen positioned outside one of the smaller conference rooms read, “Waystation Welcomes the Command Crew Briefing.”
The chuckle turned into an audible laugh as she made her way down the hall and walked into the conference room. Inside, Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter was already seated, his head buried in his arms on the table and sound asleep as several padds lay around him. Beck silently slipped into the chair at the head of the table to wait for the others.
A short time later, Commander Morales entered, padd in hand, and exchanged an amused glance with Beck. “May I?” he mouthed. Beck shrugged, drawing an evil grin from Morales as he leaned down next to Porter’s head.
“CORE BREACH! AHHHHHHHHH!” Morales screamed suddenly. Porter jolted and launched himself into the air, letting out a terrified scream of his own before he realized where he was and collapsed back into his seat, breathing heavily.
“Thank you, Captain,” Morales said, taking a seat across the table from Porter. “I owed him that.”
“Lucky me,” Porter panted, trying to calm himself down just as Lieutenant Commander Sean Russell and Dr. Amedon Nelson walked through the door.
“Who’s getting lucky without me?” Russell demanded jovially, sliding into a chair next to Porter. “Not you now that Joan of Bark is heading to Earth.”
“Joan of Bark?” Beck said.
“Did you ever hear her start in on Craig?”
“Can we not do a post-mortem on my personal life?” Porter said. “And Joan will be back from Earth eventually. We just won’t be together.”
“You’re right,” Russell said, slapping Porter on the back. “You are lucky.”
“And since we’ve gotten the important business out of the way, do you think we could take a few minutes to discuss the condition of this station?” Beck said.
“I guess,” Porter said.
“Thank you. Let’s take this one at a time,” Beck said, turning to Morales. “Commander?”
“We’ve had two transports dock within the last ten minutes, and several other vessels have commed us to let us know that they are en route. Yeoman Jones is coordinating all arrivals through the intake center she’s set up down the hall. Some people will be able to move right back into their old quarters, but not everyone. For example, sections 23 and 24 of Deck 72 are currently sealed off due to damage from a conduit rupture. I’ll let Mister Porter go over all of the details, but the important thing is that we should have enough guest quarters available to provide temporary housing for anyone whose quarters are unlivable.”
“All right. Doctor?”
“Most of the injuries sustained during the fighting were fairly minor. The Collectors fortunately were using stun, probably because they intended to come back and collect anyone they could. The only relatively serious injuries were sustained by Lieutenant Laru when she crashed her runabout into that docking bay. I’ve got her patched up, and she should be released from the Infirmary tomorrow. As for the Collectors themselves, I’ve been able to release just under 700 beings from the mind control helmets. We’re using the docking bays as temporary housing for them, but it’d be nice to get them into some other quarters if they’re going to be staying here much longer.”
“We’ve got almost 80 actual Collectors in custody. The brig is full, and the rest are under guard inside a force field in Cargo Bay Six. Colonel Lazlo and I have been assigning our people in rotating shifts to keep an eye on them, but mostly the Collectors seem to be arguing amongst themselves. There seem to be two major factions, each of which blames the other for their failure to capture the station.”
“Anything from the Chief Assessor?” Beck asked.
“He’s got a cell to himself, as you requested. But all he seems to want to do is pout.”
“Awww. Poor widdle guy,” Beck said. “Us mean old people stopped him from blowing us up. How dare we! But speaking of blowing us up, just how bad off are we?”
“Saved the fun one for last, huh?” Porter said, reaching for his padds.
“I had a feeling,” Beck replied.
“First, the good news. We’re still here. We’ve replaced the shield generator that the Collectors destroyed, but there are several launchers and sections of the phaser arrays that need to be repaired. That’s just the exterior, though. Internally, we got really bashed around as you’ve probably noticed. We’ve got several sections near the hull that are being held together by the structural integrity field. We’re shoring up those sections first. After that, ruptured conduits and the like are our top priority. From there we’ll be moving to collapsed ceilings, fallen supports, damaged turbolift shafts, and such. The cosmetic stuff comes last.”
“I just want it back together. How are our ships?”
“The Cumberland will need some serious repair time, but the Wayward and the Roanoke came through this thing relatively well. Not great, but well enough.”
“Get a team working on the Wayward and the Roanoke now. We need to have them ready to move, just in case. What’s the status of the Vault-Ship?”
“They took a beating as well, but I don’t think there’s any danger of a core breach. I’ve got a couple of my people in their engineering section learning the systems and keeping an eye on things.”
“What about its weapons?”
“They won’t be shooting at us anytime soon, if that’s what you’re worried about…mainly because they don’t have a crew,” Porter replied.
“Are their weapons functional or not?” Beck asked pointedly.
“Some of them are, I know, but we haven’t done a full check of those systems.”
“Do one,” Beck said. “If another one of those Vault-Ships shows up, we’re going to need all the help we can get. I don’t think we can take another pounding like this, and I’m pretty damn sure we don’t have the munitions to fight them off, right Sean?”
“Our torpedo and tri-cobalt supplies are almost tapped out,” Russell said. “I’ve already sent in a requisition to Starfleet Command, but a supply ship isn’t going to get here overnight.”
“Exactly my point. We need to be ready, just in case.”
“I’ll get on it,” Porter said. “You’re going to want shields and propulsion too, I imagine.”
“Whatever we can get,” Beck said. “I’m not going to have gone through all of this just to get rolled over by another Vault- Ship. No way. What else have we got?”
“Station damage reports?” Porter offered.
“Guess we’d better get them over with. Go ahead.”
“All right. First, as some of you may have noticed, the Ops conference room has undergone a radical change of decor…”
“Let’s see,” Yeoman Jones said, looking at her console. “6793 you said? Ah. Oh. It appears that your quarters suffered a slight replicator malfunction and are currently encased in boysenberry jello. Our staff will be seeing to the problem as soon as they can, but it may be a few days. In the meantime, we can give you temporary quarters on Deck 84. Room 43. Let is know if you have any other problems.” Jones smiled sweetly as the Lurian in front of her just stared back blankly. After a few moments, he finally shuffled off to find his new accommodations. At least he hadn’t wanted to discuss the matter further. It’d taken forever just to get him to shut up long enough to let her tell him about his quarters.
Jones closed her eyes, leaned back in her chair, and let out a little sigh. That was the last passenger from the two transports that had recently docked, so she’d hopefully get a little bit of a break before the next round of ships arrived.
Sensing that someone was in front of her, she opened her eyes again and found Bradley Dillon standing there.
“Mister President!” she exclaimed, hopping to her feet. “You’re here!”
“So I noticed,” Bradley replied with a smile as his Special Secret Section flanked him and eyed the Starfleet Officers helping Jones suspiciously. “We were told when we docked that everyone has to come through you.”
“I’m just trying to enforce a bit of order, so we can keep a handle on things as people come back.”
“Very sensible,” Bradley said approvingly.
“Did you have a good trip?”
“It was a trip. I don’t know that it was good or bad. I’m just relieved to see that the station is still in one piece.”
“At least you didn’t have to worry about people trying to assassinate you while you were away.” Jones instantly wished she hadn’t brought that little issue up.
“What do you need from me?” Bradley asked, thankfully ignoring her stupid comment.
“From you? I don’t think anything,” Jones said, checking her console. “Um…actually Engineering wasn’t able to fully check your decks due to your security system.”
“Just a little precaution I installed for use outside of normal business hours,” Bradley said.
“We were, however, able to beam about 20 Collectors out of there. They’d been stunned…a lot.”
“Good,” Bradley said, his smile widening to a grin. “Is there anything else?”
“Well…no. I guess not. If you find any damage in your area, just report it to Engineering. They’ll put it on the repair list.”
“I certainly will,” Bradley said. “Do you happen to know if the captain is available?”
“She’s down the hall in a briefing.”
“Down the hall?”
“The briefing room in Ops is kind of a wreck right now, so they moved down here. I don’t know when they’ll be done, though.”
“I’ll see about poking my head in. Thank you, Tina.”
“You’re welcome, Mister President,” Jones said, but Bradley had already turned and was headed out the door.
He emerged into the corridor just as the doorway to the conference room where the command crew was meeting opened allowing Morales, Porter, Russell, and Nelson out into the hall.
“Congratulations to all of you,” Bradley said, walking past them toward the door. “Job well done.” Before any of them could respond, he was inside the conference room, where Captain Beck sat silently staring at nothing, her chair turned toward the far wall.
“You did it,” he said.
“Sure did,” Beck said, slowly turning around in her chair.
“Funny. I expected you to be a bit happier about it. Perhaps you would even gloat a bit.”
“I won a battle, Bradley. Not the war.”
“So are we at war now? I don’t remember declaring one.”
“I’ll be sure to tell the Collectors that when the next Vault- Ship shows up.”
“Is one coming?”
“Who knows? But one probably will eventually when they realize that their buddies haven’t come home. Maybe it will even be more than one. And then what? Sure we saved the Multeks for now, but we didn’t settle anything. Maybe we just staved off the inevitable.”
“I seem to remember saying something about not getting involved in this in the first…”
“I don’t need a lecture, Bradley.”
“Let me finish,” the president said. “You drew the Collectors here because protecting the Multeks was important to you. Sometimes you have to go after what you feel is important no matter what the potential cost. But if you start something, you have to be prepared to finish it. Are you prepared to settle this thing?”
“I don’t see how I can,” Beck said. “We know so little about the Collectors. How do we…”
“Follow the money,” Bradley said.
“What? What money?”
“It’s mostly stuff in this instance rather than money, but the idea is the same,” Bradley said, taking a seat next to Beck. “You say that we don’t know much about the Collectors, but think about what we do know. It’s in their very name. They collect. Why? For whom? Yes, that Vault-Ship is huge, but these people strip entire planets of their interesting objects before selling the rest. Surely they can’t do that to many places before they need to unload somewhere. Find that place and then maybe you can learn why they collect and for who. It certainly doesn’t seem that military superiority is their goal. So what is it? And they sell a lot of what they take. Who is getting those profits? And what are they doing with them? Business and diplomacy have a bit in common, Captain. You can’t begin to negotiate in either until you know the other side’s position. Until you understand what the Collectors’ true purposes are, you’ll never be able to settle things with them.”
“Beck to Porter,” Beck said without looking away from Bradley.
“I want every bit of information we can get out of the Collectors’ computer system.”
“Anything in particular we should be looking for?”
“Wherever it is they call home.”
“And I want the Wayward at 100 percent as soon as possible.”
“Why am I not liking what those two orders taken together imply?”
“We’ll take care of them. Porter out.”
“Beck to Morales.”
“Go ahead, Captain,” Waystation’s First Officer replied.
“You’d better call another briefing for this afternoon. There’s been a change in plans. I’ll explain more later. Beck out.”
Bradley smiled as he stood up. “I’ll leave you to your work.”
“Thanks, Bradley. I mean that.”
“Anytime. Sometimes we both need to be reminded to look at the bigger picture. If you continually focus on the little things, you’ll never accomplish your big goal.”
“You say that like a man with a goal.”
“That I am,” Bradley replied, heading out the door. “That I definitely am.”
“Captain’s log. Stardate 55876.2. We are three weeks into our effort to get to the Collectors before they get to us. With the information Lieutenant Commander Porter was able to gather from the Vault-Ship’s computer system, we believe we have a good idea where the Collectors’ home world is located. Part of me thinks we should have brought a fleet for this little trip, but, as Bradley…President Dillon pointed out to me, I’m here to gather information and, with luck, open some kind of diplomatic relations, not declare war. We want to talk.
“We brought the Chief Assessor with us in hopes that he could fill us in about what we would be facing. Not surprisingly, he’s declined. At the very least, though, I’m hoping we can use his presence to get our foot in the door and to stop the Collectors from attacking us.
“Just in case, though, we’ve made sure that the Wayward is back up to 100 percent. Lieutenant Commander Porter completed the last few repairs while in transit. I’ve also brought along the second best pilot Waystation has, Lieutenant Stephanie Hodges of the Federation Marines, who was graciously loaned to us by Colonel Lazlo.”
“Graciously?” Hodges asked from the Wayward’s pilot chair as she glanced over at Beck sitting beside her. “Do you always record those kinds of lies in your logs?”
“As far as command is concerned, we’re one big happy station,” Beck replied. “Saves me a lot of headaches.”
“I could see that,” Hodges said. “Have you heard anything new from the station?”
“Not much. Repairs are wrapping up. Still no sign of other Vault-Ships. That’s about it.”
“Sounds like things are under control.”
“Yep. Your hunka man is doing fine.”
“What? Tell me that you haven’t spent the last three weeks pining.”
“I’m not pining.”
“Yes, you are. It’s cute. I haven’t seen you like this in a while. I’m just glad things are going well.”
“Walter’s a very nice guy. And funny. And so creative. And he’s got some of the best stories. I love listening to him talk,” Hodges said. “It’s fun not talking with him, too,” she added with a wicked grin.
“Hmmm…I guess I just never thought of him as much of a talker.”
“He wasn’t at first. I think he needs to feel close to a person first. It’s an intimacy thing.”
“So sleep with him, and he starts babbling.”
“Are we discussing new interrogation techniques?” Porter said, stepping into the cockpit. “I’m all for them so far.”
“Why am I not surprised?” Beck asked grinning as Hodges’ console started beeping.
“We’re getting close to the coordinates Craig extrapolated from the Collectors’ systems,” Hodges said as Porter quickly took a seat at the science console behind Beck.
“G-Type star system. Looks like four gas giants, a couple of barren rocks, and something fairly expansive farther in.”
“Define expansive,” Beck said.
“Hard to tell for sure. From this distance, I’m mainly reading a lot of metal structures and some energy signatures. I’m not seeing any ships buzzing around, though.”
“None?” Hodges said surprised.
“They could be docked,” Beck said. “Take us in slowly, Steph. See if you can use the outer planets for cover as much as possible. Craig, get our guest up here. We may need him.” Porter nodded and jogged out of the cockpit as Hodges steered the Wayward toward an aquamarine orb inside the solar system. Porter returned a short time later, with the handcuffed Chief Assessor in tow.
“Welcome home,” Beck said, gesturing toward the front viewport.
“I will not help you,” the Chief Assessor replied.
“So we’re in the right place then?”
“I will not help you.”
“Have a seat.”
“I will not help you,” the Chief Assessor snapped one more time as he plopped down into the chair behind Hodges.
The Wayward continued onward, skirting across the atmosphere of another gas giant, then zipping close to an asteroid field as it headed deeper into the system.
“Yikes,” Porter said after several minutes of silence in the cockpit.
“What have we got?” Beck asked.
Porter transferred an image to the long, narrow viewscreen running beneath the front viewport. At first, it just looked like a jumble of space junk, but Beck was gradually able to discern the details. Several massive, box-like structures floated around what was probably at one time a planet. Now it was a barren hulk, its once spherical shape now marred by jagged gaping tears and rips thousands of miles across, carving deep valleys into its surface.
Beck’s attention was pulled away from the scarred world as she spotted a Vault-Ship docked at one of the enormous boxes in space, long umbilicals leading from the ship’s cargo areas into the structure.
“That can’t be good,” Hodges muttered, seeing the ship as well.
“They look busy. Keep an eye on them, though, in case we need to run away.”
“At least we’re being honest in our terminology,” Porter said. “Hang on. We’ve got two fighters leaving the Vault-Ship and heading our way,” he said, watching the sensors. “Weapons are hot.”
“And yet they’re hailing us,” Beck said, turning in her chair to face the Chief Assessor. “Make them go away.”
“I will not help you,” the Chief Assessor replied defiantly.
“Yes, you will,” Beck said, activating the camera at his seat so that he was who the fighters saw answering the comm.
The black helmet of one of the Collectors’ pilots appeared on the monitor. “Unidentified and pretty neat looking vessel. We don’t have one of those. Prepare to be…oh. You’ve already collected that ship, huh?”
The Chief Assessor said nothing, instead sitting unmoving in his seat.
“Hello?” the fighter pilot said.
“Um…sorry about that,” Porter said, standing next to the Chief Assessor but just out of camera range. “I am still learning the controls of this ship I collected.”
“Ohhh. Where is your ship, Chief Assessor? Your Vault- Ship, I mean, since you’re obviously in a ship now.”
“It was so neat I decided to bring it back myself,” Porter said.
“I’m sure Grenana will love it,” the pilot said dejectedly before abruptly cutting the comm signal.
“Grenana?” Beck asked.
“I will not help you,” the Chief Assessor said.
“You already did,” Porter said.
“I didn’t do anything!” the Chief Assessor insisted.
“You sat there and posed for the camera, which was evidently enough since those fighters are going back to their Vault- Ship. Thanks a bunch!” Porter said, patting the Chief Assessor on the shoulder on his way back to his seat.
“That’s not fair!”
“I bet you guys hear that a lot,” Beck said. “Like every time you show up to ‘liquidate’ some poor species’ planet.”
“We are the Collectors. We collect.”
“For whom? This Grenana? Who is Grenana?”
“You will not go near Grenana!” the Chief Assessor bellowed.
“Oooh. I think you touched a nerve, Captain,” Porter said.
“Full sensor sweep, Craig. See if you can find anything that might be a base for this Grenana.”
“Well, we’ve got the boxes in space, but I’m not getting life-signs from any of them except the one our friends out there are visiting. Grenana could be there. Wait. There’s some kind of structure on the planet, about 50 meters below the surface of the southern hemisphere. I’m reading a breathable atmosphere…and a single life-sign.”
“Can we get down there?”
“It doesn’t look like it should be a problem.”
“Then let’s pay whoever it is a visit,” Beck said, going to the rear of the cockpit and opening the supply locker there. She tossed a phaser and tricorder to Porter and kept a phaser for herself. “Come on, Chief Assessor. We’re going to talk to your boss.”
“You must not disturb Grenana.”
“Grenana should have thought of that before he sent you guys out to ravage the galaxy. Now move it!”
The Chief Assessor grudgingly rose from his chair and allowed Porter to escort him out of the cockpit at phaser-point on their way to the Wayward’s small transporter alcove.
“Stay here as long as you can,” Beck said to Hodges. “If that Vault-Ship gets snoopy again, contact us for beam out.”
“Which will be followed by a very quick getaway,” Hodges said. “Warp engines will be on standby.”
“Good because I really hate to think about what one of those helmets will do to my hair,” Beck said, giving Hodges a smile before heading out to follow Porter and the Chief Assessor.
Captain Beck, Lieutenant Commander Porter, and the Chief Assessor materialized a short time later inside a long hallway leading up to a bright, white door adorned from top to bottom with intricate inlayed carvings. As for the walls themselves, they were covered in…
“Wallpaper?” Beck said surprised and confused as she ran her hand along the peach-colored patterned paper.
The Chief Assessor stiffened. “Do not mock…”
“No. I like it. Really,” Beck said. “It’s just not what I was expecting considering…”
“That you guys run around in black ships with black walls while wearing black helmets,” Porter said while scanning the area with his tricorder. “After all that, this is surprisingly…”
“Pretty,” Beck finished, examining the carvings in the door. “Was this done by hand?”
“Maybe. We collected it,” the Chief Assessor said.
“The life-sign is inside the room,” Porter said. “I would have beamed us directly inside, but there are some odd energy fields in there that would have interfered with the transporter.”
“This is fine. I was able to manage to walk the incredibly long two meters from where we beamed in to the door,” Beck said. She tried the old-fashioned, wrought-metal door handle. Not surprisingly, the door was locked.
What was a tad more surprising were the two floating balls that suddenly shot out of a panel that whisked open at the other end of the hallway.
“I think you should have knocked first,” Porter said as the balls, which were covered with multiple beam emitters, charged their way.
“Scatter!” Beck ordered as the first volley of blasts seared at them. Porter and Beck dove for the ground, returning fire as the spheres zipped past them, then looped around for another pass. The Chief Assessor, meanwhile, just stood there watching the whole thing unfold while the spheres avoided him completely.
“For xelk’s sake, what’s all that racket?” a wavering voice cried. “Stop, you idiotic things! Stop! Go away!”
The flying balls of doom suddenly ceasing firing and slowly made their way back to their hatch of origin. If Beck didn’t know any better, she’d almost say they were sulking. She and Porter got to their feet and turned toward the now-open white door to face the source of the voice.
“Grenana!” the Chief Assessor exclaimed, falling to his knees.
“Grenana?” Beck and Porter asked. In front of them was a tiny woman in a blue, floral-print muumuu, hunched over with age. Her hairless grey-blue skin was almost nothing but wrinkles. She looked at the Starfleet Officers with a mix of surprise and suspicion.
“Who are you two?” she demanded.
Beck quickly pulled herself together. “Captain Lisa Beck. I’m with the United Federation of Planets. This is Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter.”
“I have failed you, oh great Grenana,” the Chief Assessor wailed. “These beings captured me and used me to get to you.”
“You going to kill me?” Grenana asked Beck, sizing up the human woman.
“I wasn’t planning on it.”
“Damn,” Grenana muttered, turning slowly and shuffling back into the room she had emerged from.
Beck and Porter exchanged a confused look, then followed her inside, the Chief Assessor close behind.
The room beyond was actually more of a small apartment. The area they entered was obviously the living room with a very fancy, yet comfortable looking sofa and love-seat and a well-worn rocking chair with a replicator set up right beside it, all of which faced a massive viewscreen on the far wall. The other walls were covered in powder-blue wallpaper and lined with shelves. Each and every shelf was packed to capacity with knick-knacks and doo-dads of every conceivable variety. Two open doors on the opposite side of the room led to the bathroom and bedroom respectively.
“Please. Make yourselves comfortable,” Grenana said gesturing to the sofa as she gingerly lowered herself back into her rocking chair. “Can I get you a beverage?” she asked as Beck and Porter took the proffered seats. The Chief Assessor, obviously disconcerted by all of this, stood stiffly in the middle of the room.
“No. Thanks. We’re fine,” Beck said as Porter shook his head.
“Okay. Well…if you aren’t here to kill me, what do you want?”
“Well…” Beck said, trying to think of how to phrase her next words. She didn’t have a lot of idea what she’d find in the heart of Collectors’ space to begin with, but someone like Grenana never even crossed her mind. “We were told that you were in charge of the Collectors, so we were hoping that you could…um…make them stop.”
“HA!” Grenana laughed. “Don’t I wish! I’ve been trying to get this stupidity to stop for ages now.”
“But, Grenana, we love you,” the Chief Assessor insisted. She shot him a nasty glare, then tried to pull herself up out of her seat. Porter was on his feet in an instant and helped her the rest of the way to standing.
“Thank you, deary,” she said, giving Porter a kind smile before shooting another glare at the motionless Chief Assessor. She shuffled over to one of the shelves and snatched one of the knick-knacks off of it. “This is what started it all,” Grenana said, holding out a figurine of a winged dragon-like creature carved out of a purple translucent stone. “I got it when I was eight years old. I liked it, so I started to collect them. By the time my mother and father died and I became Queen, I had a nice little collection going.”
“You are a queen?” Porter said.
“I was. I guess I technically still am, not that there’s much planet to rule anymore. I don’t think any of this would have happened if I hadn’t been queen, though. At least not to this degree. See my kids knew I collected these figurines, so on my birthday they’d scour the planet looking for new and interesting ones. Let’s face it. I was Queen, so it wasn’t like I needed anything else.
“It became a competition between them. Who could get Mom the best figurine? And then it escalated. They were arguing and pitting the provinces they ruled against each other. The gifts went from figurines to whatever their best artisans could devise. My birthday became more about one-upmanship than anything else. They each constructed huge warehouses around my palace to hold their gifts to me. Then the arguing became actual fighting. Province against province. And then their kids got into it. By the time that happened, I was looking forward to my inevitable death.
“But they took that away from me. Shortly before I should have died, our scientists developed a kind of stasis technology that stopped aging completely while still allowing the subject to be awake and aware. It only worked as long as you stayed inside the field, though. My grandchildren called a truce long enough to build this bunker for their dear old nana and shove me inside of it while they continued blasting the planet apart and fighting to gain favor with me through their additions to my collection.
“I didn’t want any of it, though. I just wanted it to stop. They wouldn’t listen, though. Gifts for Nana became gifts for Great Nana and so on until they just started calling me Grenana. The ones in charge now probably don’t even know what the name means.” She turned on the Chief Assessor. “Do you?”
“I do now, Grenana,” the Chief Assessor said adoringly.
“Ugggh. Generations came and went, and eventually they reached out into space. At first they traded with other species for new items, then, when it became apparent that there wasn’t anything left on this planet to use for trade, they began making little raiding runs in their tiny ships. Most of the time, they were repulsed, so about twenty years ago, the leaders of the factions, which by then numbered just over one hundred, met and devised a new plan. They would call a truce and stop the fighting before there was no planet left to fight on. Instead, each faction would get a ship, a massive ship able to hold tons and tons of their ‘acquisitions.’”
“You mean the stuff they stole from other worlds,” Beck said.
“Precisely,” Grenana said. “They would strip other planets, ones without the technological might to resist them, clean and then bring their stolen goods back to gigantic orbital warehouses, one for each faction. The only problem they had was that decades upon decades of war had reduced our planet’s population to almost nothing. That’s when the helmets were invented. They started raiding other worlds and taking their people away, fitting them with helmets, and using them to build the fleet of Vault-Ships. Then, when the ships were done, they kept the stolen people to use as Collectors when they swarmed across a new planet.
“One hundred and nine ships launched five years ago, and gradually they’ve been picked off one by one. Most often it was because the Chief Assessor, the head of the faction and the Vault- Ship, underestimated the ability of a species to fight back. Sometimes, though, we aren’t sure what happened. A spatial anomaly, a storm, sometimes even other Vault-Ships could be responsible for the disappearance of a Vault-Ship . But now there are only fourteen remaining.”
“Thirteen,” the Chief Assessor said sheepishly.
“We didn’t blow your ship up!” Beck protested.
“No, but I claimed Vault-Ship O-65 as my own and destroyed my own Vault-Ship, a ship YOU damaged severely, before we attacked your station. And then you went and almost destroyed O-65 as well!”
“But we didn’t,” Beck said.
“Grenana, this woman and her followers disrupted an auction on my ship that would have allowed me to bring you many hillicas. And then she freed my entire crew and the crew of O-65! She’s the enemy! She wants to destroy us all!”
“She seems perfectly pleasant to me,” Grenana said.
“But my auction…”
“Forget the stupid auction! How many hillicas do you think I need? It’s not like you all ever let me out to shop anyway, and even if you did, what would I buy? You folks collect anything and everything and present it to me whether I want it or not. Look at me! I’m 349 years old! I don’t need anything! Except maybe to get away from you morons. And since I can’t do that, I’m going to sit here and chat with these nice people. It’s the first decent conversation I’ve had in a couple of centuries!”
“We…we collect for you,” the Chief Assessor said, sounding small and lost.
“I don’t want it. I keep telling you that, but nobody’s listening. I DON’T WANT IT!”
“We must collect for Grenana.”
“What if she wasn’t here?” Beck asked. “What would you do then?”
“You will not kill Grenana!”
“I’m not going to kill anyone,” Beck snapped. She turned to Grenana. “What if I could take you somewhere? Somewhere where’d you’d be taken care of and be able to live out the rest of your life with other…um…beings with life experience.”
“You mean old people,” Grenana said.
“Well, yeah. But the facility is very nice. My great- grandparents live there. They have big meals, constant care, day trips…”
“Er…they’ve got shuffleboard, but I’m sure you could teach them juppleball.”
“But most importantly,” Porter said. “You’d have your life back and loads of new people to talk to.”
“Any of them single? I haven’t had a man in over 250 years,” Grenana said. She turned on the Chief Assessor. “Never thought to collect me one of those, now did you?” she snapped angrily before looking at Beck again. “You can really do that for me?”
“Absolutely. You’re a prisoner here. It’s not right,” Beck said.
“You’re xelking right, it isn’t. Give me a minute to pack a bag, then get me out of this dump.”
“NOOOOOOOO!” the Chief Assessor cried. “If you take Grenana, I swear to you we will hunt her down and bring her back to us where she belongs. As long as she is alive, we will collect for her!”
“Now listen here,” Grenana said, shuffling over to the Chief Assessor and glaring into his helmet with fury in her eyes. “You will do no such thing. In fact, you’re going to tell the other Chief Assessors that I died. I just got so xelking old that I keeled over and disintegrated, and you saw the whole thing.”
“Why would I do that? How would that help me?”
Grenana rolled her eyes. “What if I told you you’re my favorite?”
“I am?” the Chief Assessor exclaimed. “Can I get that in writing?”
“Sure. I’ll do a whole song and dance number to that effect if it will get me out of here.”
“We will mourn you forever,” the Chief Assessor said with a bow.
“Yeah. You do that,” Grenana muttered, heading back into her bedroom to pack with new life in her stride.
“Do you think this will help?” Porter whispered to Beck.
“No Grenana,” the Chief Assessor said to himself as he stood in front of them trying to get his mind around the concept. “No one to collect for. I could do something else! Maybe open that pastry shop I’ve always dreamed of. Grenana’s Favorite’s Buns. Hmmm…I like the sound of that. Maybe I could even take off my helmet.”
“Yeah,” Beck said back to Porter, a smile spreading across her face. “I kind of think it will.”
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 55962.7. After leaving the Collectors’ system without incident, we were able to return to Federation space. And after a brief stop at Waystation to check in, we proceeded to take Grenana to the Betelgeuse Acres Retirement Community, where she has now eagerly taken up residence. I really believe this is the best thing for Grenana; although, I’m pretty sure she was flirting with my great-grandfather. I’ll have to warn Great- Grandma to keep her eyes open.
“In any case, Grenana seemed very excited about her new home and the opportunities for interaction it would provide. I can’t imagine being trapped by the Collectors like that for centuries. I would have gone completely insane. Grenana is obviously one tough old bird. Heavy emphasis on the old. As least the Vulcans at Betelgeuse Acres won’t be able to act so superior because of their age anymore. Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa will both be happy about that.
“With the Grenana situation resolved (and hopefully the Collectors’ threat with it), we have returned to Waystation to see about cleaning up the rest of the mess the Collectors left behind. In our absence, the station’s repairs have been mostly completed and our weapons resupplied. Also, most of the beings we freed from the Collectors have been able to contact their peoples and arrange transportation home, which means lots of new races visiting the station and lots of goodwill toward the Federation, none of which is the problem.
“It’s the Multeks I’m worried about.”
The Collectors’ Vault-Ship once again hovered over Multos, but this time it was there to give rather than take. Despite the Collectors’ short time on the surface of the Multek homeworld, they had managed to take a fair number of items, all of which were now sitting in the Vault-Ship’s vast cargo holds. The Multeks would have to go through the hold and see what belonged here and what belonged on their colony world, which was liquidated when the Collectors first entered the Multek Enclave.
“So was it everything you dreamed it would be?” Lieutenant Hodges asked smiling as Commander Walter Morales sat at the Vault- Ship’s helm console in the vessel’s command center.
“Pretty much,” Morales said, spinning around in his chair before standing up and stretching. “Big. Lumbering. No grace or agility whatsoever. Still, I’m glad the captain allowed me to fly it back here. I wanted the experience after going up against a couple of these.”
“And I’m sure Russell didn’t mind being left in command of the station for a while,” Hodges said.
“Nope. Probably not,” Morales said, wrapping his arms around Hodges’ waist. Normally he wouldn’t do such a thing while on duty, but seeing as how they were the only ones in the command center and the ship was parked in orbit, why the hell shouldn’t he?
“So you prefer to fly things that are a bit more agile, huh?” Hodges asked with a glint in her eyes.
“Oh yeah. Lithe. Powerful. Maneuverable.” With a little spin, he maneuvered Hodges so that her back was to the now- deactivated helm console and laid her across it. “Sexy structural lines and curves,” he added looking her up and down hungrily. “Nothing beats it.”
“You got that right,” Hodges said, pulling Morales down to her. “Mister Morales,” she whispered hoarsely in his ear. “You have the conn.”
“You do realize that I’m never going to be able to hear that phrase the same way again now, don’t you?”
Down on the planet’s surface, Dr. Amedon Nelson stood at Frequoq Wuddle’s office window looking out on the city stretching out before her.
“It’s like…a big amusement park,” she said in wonder.
“I told you,” Wuddle said, standing directly behind her.
“I know. I just never…It was hard to imagine. I’ve never seen a world like this.”
“What do you think?”
“I’m glad you like it. And that you’ve finally been able to come here. I’ve wanted to show this to you for so long.”
“And all it took was an alien invasion,” Nelson said, grinning as she turned around to face Wuddle.
“I hope this will just be the first visit. I want you to make more. A lot more.”
“I guess that’s going to depend on your Council.”
“And Captain Beck,” Wuddle said. “The Council of Elder Wizards has tried to keep knowledge of other life in the galaxy away from us for decades. It will take a lot for them to change their minds.”
“You mean like an alien invasion?”
“That could do it.”
Standing in the center of the meeting chamber of the Multek Council of Elder Wizards, Captain Beck had the feeling she should be intimidated. These men and women were the true power on Multos. They literally had the future of the Multek Enclave and the future of Federation-Multek relations in their hands. What they decided would all depend on Beck’s next few words.
She wasn’t intimidated.
But she had to admit that the fact that the council members were circling around her in spinning tea cups was more than a little distracting.
“For a long time now,” she stated, “you all have had a secret. The problem with secrets, though, is that they invariably get out. And your secret is definitely out. You’ve known for years that the Multeks aren’t the only life in the universe, yet you have decided to hide that information from your people. In all honesty, I understand why. You have a kind of utopia here, and you want to keep the rest of the galaxy away.
“Too bad it didn’t listen.
“Your secret showed up and started ripping the place apart. Fortunately for you, Frequoq Wuddle had established ties with the outside. I’m not trying to raise the Federation up as your savior, but we did come to your aid. If we hadn’t, there wouldn’t be an Enclave left to worry about.
“It’s a big galaxy, and there’s a lot out there both good and bad. Contact with other species is going to change your society. There’s no way around it, but that change started the moment the Collectors showed up on your doorstep. Maybe you should be glad they did. You had a kind of paradise, but how long could you maintain it? If there’s nothing to strive for, no obstacles to overcome, you have stagnation.
“Yes, the galaxy is full of adversaries whether they be hostile species or virulent diseases, but facing these things are what makes a society grow and change. Facing adversity leads to innovations you can’t even imagine yet. If the Enclave is to survive, you have to make the choice to engage the rest of the universe. We’re out here, and you can no longer pretend that we don’t exist. We’re not going away.
“There is no secret anymore. Your people know the truth. They’re going to want to see what’s around them. Lucky for you, you’ve got some friendly neighbors. We want to learn more about you, and we can teach you about us at the same time. Please don’t push us away. Don’t delude yourself into believing that you can turn back time and undo what’s done. It’s too late for that, but now you have the opportunity to determine what the Multek Enclave is going to become for the future. And know that if you want us, the United Federation of Planets will be here to help.”
Captain Beck was pulled out of a deep sleep by a muted, yet incessant pounding that refused to go away even when she opened her eyes. Why oh why was she not being allowed to rest? She’d been one tight knot of muscle for the last several weeks, ever since Frequoq Wuddle had told them that the Collectors were invading the Multek Enclave. After stopping the Collectors at Waystation, she’d collapsed into something more resembling a coma than sleep, but that was out of sheer exhaustion. Relaxing sleep had been elusive…until now. Or at least until a few moments ago before this damn pounding started.
She pulled herself out of bed and stumbled out into the living room of the quarters she was occupying on the Vault-Ship while they visited Multos. In all honesty, the accommodations were quite nice, with a large, incredibly comfy bed, high-quality sheets, and one of the best showers she’d ever had the privilege to experience. The Medusan spa back on Waystation could stand to learn a bit about shower technology from the Collectors…or whomever the Collectors had stolen their showers from.
After accidentally knocking her shin against the coffee table in the living room due to her groggy state, she finally made it to the source of the pounding noise: the cabin’s front door.
“All right! I’m here!” Beck shouted, now feeling much more awake thanks to her throbbing shin. There was nothing like some sharp, severe pain to get the mind nice and alert. She smacked the door control, opening the door and revealing President Bradley Dillon holding a bottle of champagne and two glasses.
“Bradley!” Beck said surprised. “Mister President,” she added, correcting herself.
“Don’t these places have door chimes?” Bradley asked, amused at the captain’s disheveled state.
“Yes, but they evidently only ring inside the Collectors’ helmets, which I am so not putting on. What are you doing here?”
“I heard the news that the Council of Elder Wizards has decided to take your advice and establish diplomatic ties with the Federation,” Bradley said. “I thought that I would come personally to extend my greetings to their leadership…and to congratulate you, of course.”
“That’s nice, but I meant what are you doing here? As in at my door.”
“I thought we could have a drink,” Bradley said.
“You want to have a drink.”
“That is what I just said.”
“Yes. Why is that so strange?”
“Ummm…maybe because we never have drinks together.”
“Not very often,” Bradley said. “But that can change. May I come in?”
“Be my guest,” Beck said, standing aside and allowing the Federation President to enter. Bradley took the bottle and glasses over to the room’s dining table and produced an old-fashioned corkscrew from his pocket, which he deftly used to open the champagne.
“I’ve been doing some thinking,” Bradley said. “You’ve made me realize that there comes a time when you have to take action if you ever hope to accomplish what’s really important to you. I thank you for that.”
“You’re welcome, I guess,” Beck said, desperately hoping this would be a short drink.
“And actually I’ve come to see that the universe has been trying to tell me the same thing. If I may bastardize some Shakespeare, there’s a special providence in the fall of a book.”
“I have no idea what that means.”
“Action must sometimes be taken, Captain,” Bradley continued, handing Beck her glass. “Otherwise what you really want may be lost forever.”
What I really want is to be in bed and thoroughly asleep as I dream about having a private beach on Risa along with a private brigade of eager and very fit cabana boys at my disposal, Beck thought, glancing longingly at the bedroom as she downed the champagne.
“There’s something to be said for following your dreams,” Beck said instead, trying at least to be somewhat supportive of whatever the hell Bradley was babbling about.
“Oh, this is more than a dream. Much more,” Bradley said. “And the pieces are quickly falling into place. Soon it will be time. Time indeed.” He fell silent for a moment. “Well, I won’t keep you any longer,” he suddenly said, abruptly scooping up the champagne and heading for the door. “Thank you for the drink, Captain.”
“Anytime,” Beck said, wondering if she cared enough to try to clarify her confusion about what Bradley had just said. She quickly decided that no, she didn’t care, and she let him exit her quarters without another word. Bradley could deal with his falling books and chasing his dreams in his own time. She, however, was in pursuit of nothing more than some much needed rest. Not one to stop short of achieving her goal, Beck stumbled back to the bedroom and slid into the welcoming embrace of her luxuriously cozy bed.