Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
By Alan Decker
Federation outposts such as Waystation didn’t really have bad neighborhoods. Every part of the giant 100-deck station was well-maintained and exhibited the sleek, yet somewhat sterile style that Starfleet was known for. Despite that fact, there was one area of the station that crewmembers tried to avoid living in if they could: the connecting tube between the saucers. Now there wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the quarters in the connecting tube. They were the same size and had the same amenities as quarters in the lower saucer, where most of Waystation’s residents were housed. The problem was their location. Crewmembers assigned to the quarters in the connecting tube felt that they were somehow cut off from the rest of the station.
Ensign Fedari Mellus felt that such a belief was ridiculous. Why did it matter where your quarters were located when a turbolift could deliver you anywhere on the station in a matter of seconds? Also, their position in the connecting tube gave them a bit of privacy. Mellus liked to consider it something of an exclusive address with views unlike any others available on the station. So while the other junior officers “banished” to Deck 50 continually groused about their rotten luck, Ensign Mellus had nary a complaint.
The idea that there could be anything wrong with his living arrangements wasn’t even on Mellus’ mind as the Altairian ensign stepped out of his quarters on Deck 50 into the corridor on his way to start his shift in Lower Saucer Engineering were the station’s secondary power core sat. Up until a year or so ago, the secondary core was strictly there as a backup for the primary core in the Engineering section of the upper saucer, but now due to increased station occupancy and power needs, both cores were up and running at all times. Some of Mellus’ colleagues in Lower Saucer Engineering weren’t pleased that they now actually had work to do and systems to monitor, but Mellus was happy to be of use. It was certainly nothing to complain about.
Mellus hadn’t taken two steps away from his quarters when he heard an odd, almost rhythmic series of thuds heading in his direction. Before he had much time to consider the matter, a man on horseback thundered around the corner ahead of him and charged in his direction. Spotting Mellus, the man (who appeared to be a human male dressed in an outfit unlike anything Mellus had ever seen before; however, if he’d been human, he might have recognized the attire as being all the rage in Colonial America) began ringing a bell he held in his right hand.
“It’s coming! It’s coming!” the bell-ringing horseman cried, tearing past Mellus and rounding another corner at the far end of the hallway. Mellus frowned, feeling fairly certain that there was probably a regulation somewhere against riding animals at unsafe speeds through the halls of Starfleet facilities.
His thoughts on the subject ended abruptly as he was hit by a barrage of cacophonous noise screaming at ear-splitting decibel levels, driving Mellus to his knees. Where was that coming from?
The answer quickly presented itself as around the corner that had moments earlier produced the horseman marched two majorettes carrying a banner between them which read, “It’s Coming!” Following the majorettes were row after row of men and women all blowing into or beating on various instruments as forcefully as they could and making no effort at all to produce anything remotely resembling music. Mellus struggled to his feet as the marching band, all decked out in matching red and white outfits complete with obnoxiously tall hats, strode past him, turning their instruments in his direction for good measure as each row went by. Thinking he was through the worst of it, Mellus let his guard down for a brief moment and was smacked back to the deck by a trombone slide to the nose. He stayed on the floor from then on, hunkered down until it was safe to emerge.
The band continued to stream by for what seemed like an eternity before finally giving way to the elephants.
Mellus peered up at the massive gray pachyderms passing his position. There had to be some regulations against this. There just had to be.
And there were definitely regulations against THAT, Mellus’ mind screamed as a gigantic steaming pile of elephant dung landed mere inches from him. He buried his head in his arms and curled up into a fetal position praying to the entire pantheon of Altairian deities, including the ones who mostly handled gastric discomfort and dust motes, that this torment would stop.
At long last it finally did. The sonic assault ended, and, looking up, Mellus found that the corridor was empty. Gloriously empty. Even the elephant dung had been magically taken away.
As the ensign got to his feet and straightened his uniform, he formed a plan in his mind. There was really only one thing to do considering the circumstances.
It was time to register a complaint!
This was going to go down as a fairly eventful year in her life, Yeoman Tina Jones thought happily as she bopped out of the turbolift into Starfleet Square Mall. Granted, between performing her regular duties as Waystation’s Liaison Officer, overseeing the construction of the new Waystation Welcome Center, and attending night classes at the Starfleet Academy Annex, she was busier than ever before, but it was a good kind of busy. She was happy on the station and always had been, but for the first time in a long time she felt that her life and her career were really going somewhere.
After stopping by the food court for a quick bite of breakfast, Jones swung by the future home of Waystation’s Welcome Center. When completed, the Welcome Center would finally give Jones some room in which to work. Her current Liaison Office was just way too cramped for her to effectively deal with the various station visitors that came by for information, especially if her Multek assistant, Hypple, was there was well. Visitors needed to have an open, inviting space where they could make inquiries about the station and the surrounding sectors, and Jones needed to not feel like everyone was pressing down right on top of her when they came in to see her. Fortunately, Captain Beck felt the same way and agreed to expand Jones’s operation. It wouldn’t be long now until the Waystation Welcome Center was open for business. Welcome Center just had a nice ring to it.
Satisfied that her new domain was progressing as it should, Jones started toward her current Liaison Office as her mind drifted back to her Tactical Scenarios One-Twelve class from the previous night. Before taking this course (or reading the course text, at any rate. Due to the insane man teaching her class, she wasn’t actually learning anything during her classroom time), Jones had no idea about all of the various tactical plans security officers had to work from. Starfleet had plans laid out for just about every possible scenario. She’d always thought that Lieutenant Commander Russell’s Security strategy boiled down to run around like madmen trying not to get shot until you catch the bad guy. Obviously, she’d missed all of the subtle nuances of the Starfleet tactics Russell’s security officers were implementing.
Either that or they were just running around like madmen.
Whatever the case, Jones was thrilled at the prospect that she could be joining them relatively soon. Sure she still had a few more semesters of night classes to go before she would graduate and finally be an actual Starfleet Officer instead of just an enlisted yeoman, but the fact that she was on her way made her practically giddy.
Jones had almost reached her Liaison Office on the lower level of Starfleet Square Mall when her commbadge activated. “Beck to Jones.”
“I’m here, Captain,” Jones replied, tapping the device.
“Could you come up to Ops for a minute? I’ve got something I want you to take care of.”
“I’ll be right there,” Jones said cheerily as she changed course toward the nearest turbolift. The captain had an assignment for her! That usually meant that a V.I.P. was visiting the station or that some major event was being scheduled. Jones loved the fact that Captain Beck was confident enough in her to hand the organizing of such important things over to Jones. If only her parents could get over their anger that she left their small colony world enough to see what their daughter had accomplished and what she could do.
Jones couldn’t worry about that now, though. There was serious station business to attend to.
“You want me to go to Deck 50?” Jones asked, trying to hide her disappointment after Captain Beck had told her about the “serious station business” that the Yeoman needed to handle.
“I know it’s not your idea of a good time,” Beck said as she stood next to Commander Walter Morales in Ops looking over the arrival and departure schedule for the next day. “But considering the last complaint we got, I think we need to send someone in person to show them we’re listening.”
“But this Mellus guy is complaining about a marching band,” Jones said, reading over the padd Beck had handed her upon her arrival in Ops. “He obviously just wants attention.”
“Porter,” Beck said to Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter, who was manning the Operations/Science console.
“Ensign Mellus isn’t that kind of guy,” Porter explained. “He’s one of those ‘I love my job and am thrilled to be here’ types. I’ve never known him to say a negative word about anything. If he sent this in, it’s because there’s some kind of problem.”
“But a marching band?”
“Yeah. That part’s got me stumped,” Porter said.
“Maybe it’s an alien cultural mixup problem,” Beck said. “Whatever it is, he seemed pretty upset, and I don’t like to have members of my crew that angry about anything.”
“Particularly when it involves rogue musicians stampeding through the corridors,” Porter said.
“Just think of it as liaisoning between me and the crew,” Beck said, ignoring Porter. “Talk to Ensign Mellus, find out what the problem really is, and see if there’s anything we can do about it.”
“And if it really is about a marching band?”
“Then we’ll see about getting him some counseling.”
“We don’t have a counselor,” Jones said.
“She does have a point,” Porter said. “You never requested a replacement for Counselor Miller from Starfleet.”
“We don’t need another Miller,” Beck snapped.
“He could go to that Waniquanbi Psychological Group that opened up on Deck Nine. They’re supposedly quite good,” Jones offered.
“Could you at least go talk to Ensign Mellus before we start trying to have him committed?” Beck asked.
“Never hurts to plan ahead,” Porter said.
“Doesn’t he just ooze compassion for his subordinates?” Commander Morales said.
“That’s it. When my minions seize control of this station, you’re first on the beheading list,” Porter announced, pointing imperiously at Morales.
“Run while you have the chance,” Beck said to Jones.
“Oh! I see! I get the picture. Someone else wants to be on my list!” Porter cried.
“What have you folks been feeding him?” Jones said with a chuckle as she headed to the turbolift.
“We were supposed to feed him?” Morales asked. “Next you’ll tell me I have to take him out for walks too.”
“Too late! The royal undies are full!” Porter stated. “I demand to be changed.”
“Goodbye,” Jones exclaimed, retreating into the turbolift just as Beck lobbed a padd at Porter.
“Was it something I said?” Porter asked innocently, ducking the padd as the turbolift doors closed and cut Jones off from Ops.
In all honesty, Yeoman Jones wasn’t entirely sure that she’d ever been to Deck 50, which was somewhat surprising to her considering the number of years that she had been on Waystation. Surely she’d had cause to visit this deck at least once in all of that time. Surely. There must have been. Right?
Um…nope. Not that she could think of.
In her line of work there really wasn’t a lot of reason for her to stop anywhere in the connecting tube. Her quarters were in the lower saucer, and her office was in the upper saucer. The ships she dealt with on a regular basis docked at the upper saucer. The mall was in the upper saucer. Ops was in the upper saucer. Why would she go to the connecting tube?
Well, the captain could order her to go there. That would be one reason, Jones thought as she emerged from the turbolift onto Deck 50. At first glance, it didn’t really look any different than any other deck on the station (except for the Dillon Enterprises levels, but that was an entirely different story), and there certainly weren’t any signs that a full marching band had been through the area recently.
Could there be some secret band roaming around, blasting noise at poor unsuspecting station residents? Waystation was a big place, but still, that seemed unlikely somehow. Especially the part about the elephants. Somebody would notice elephants roaming the corridors. Of course, Ensign Mellus did notice the elephants. Maybe they were here! Hiding on Deck 50!
Jones caught herself and made herself relax. There were no marching bands hiding on Deck 50 waiting to pounce on her. That was just crazy. If she wasn’t careful, she was going to be the one who needed to visit the Waniquanbi Group. All of this just had to be some kind of bizarre misunderstanding. She just needed to go into her professional liaisoning mode, talk to Ensign Mellus, and straighten this whole thing out.
After walking past a few other sets of quarters, Jones reached Mellus’ door and rang the chime. The Altairian Ensign opened the door. “Hi there!” Jones said warmly as Mellus stared at her wide-eyed. “My name is Yeoman Tina Jones. I’m here on behalf of Captain Beck to look into the complaint you recently filed.” Mullus suddenly pushed past Jones, looking nervously from one end of the corridor to the other before grabbing her by the arm and yanking her inside the room.
“You came!” Mellus exclaimed gratefully.
“Wait. You’re alone? Where are the security teams? Who has the phasers?”
“We don’t need any phasers,” Jones said soothingly. “I’m just here to talk to you about what you saw.”
“I know what I saw! And we DO need phasers!”
“Why?” Jones asked concerned. “Was it a hostile marching band?”
“You don’t understand. It’s more than the band and the elephants and the horse. It’s coming!”
“I don’t know, but the others have seen things too. And they’ve all said the same thing. It’s coming!”
“What’s coming?” Jones repeated.
“We don’t know!”
“Hold on. Why don’t we back up for a moment? Other people have seen the band?”
“Not just the band. There have been other sightings,” Mellus said, rushing over to the terminal on his desk. “Most of the others who live here are on shift right now, but I’ve commed the ones who are available. You’ll hear everything soon.”
Everything was something of an understatement, Jones thought as five frightened Starfleet officers babbled wildly at her all at once. She could only make out bits and pieces here and there, but it was all…disturbing.
“…the tree grew right out of my toilet!”
“…flamingos were chasing me down the corridor. And there was this music playing! Kind of a boom boom ba-boom boom.”
“…midget sounded like he was talking backwards…but it was forwards!”
“…no. Wait. It was more of a boom ba boomba… I don’t remember, but doesn’t matter! It was scary!”
“…broccoli shouldn’t speak!”
“…like a chase scene from some holovision show! I was in a chase scene!”
“…the giraffes just wouldn’t shut up!”
“OKAY!” Jones shouted, holding up her hands to stop the onslaught. “You’ve all obviously had some unusual experiences. But does anyone have any proof?”
The room instantly erupted into several protests about items/creatures/talking vegetables disappearing and cries that Jones didn’t believe them.
“ALL RIGHT!” Jones screamed above the din. “What do you want me to do?”
“Make it stop!” Mellus shot back.
“I can’t make it stop until I know what ‘it’ is. I haven’t even seen ‘it.’”
“But it’s coming!” Ensign Tyler, one of the other Deck 50 residents in the room, insisted. “And I’m betting whatever it is isn’t going to be real friendly!”
“But what is ‘it’?” Jones demanded.
“It’s ‘it.’” Mellus replied.
“This isn’t getting us anywhere.”
“Of course it isn’t. You haven’t brought us phasers yet.”
“If anyone around here will be wielding a phaser, it will be me!” Jones said.
“Are you security?” Ensign Tyler asked.
“I’m in training,” Jones replied. This brought a volley of groans from the gathered officers. “I am also Captain Beck’s direct representative here!” Jones added, puffing herself up. “And I will deal with this situation!”
“Then why did you ask us what we wanted you to do?” Mellus said.
“I was gathering input.”
“Do you have enough yet?”
“Yes!” <Okay. That was a lie. But at least it got the group’s attention.> “And I know exactly what I’m going to do.” <Also a lie. She did have a vague notion, though.> “I’m going to stay here until I see some sign of this ‘it’ you’ve told me about. After I see it for myself and learn something about its nature…” <I will run screaming for help.> “…I will have a better idea of what station resources I need to call on to resolve the issue. Does that satisfy everyone?”
“For now,” Tyler grunted.
“You think we’re lying,” Mellus said, moving closer and closer to Jones until his wild eyes were looking directly into her. “I can see it inside you, but you’re wrong. You have no idea how wrong you are. It’s coming. We know it. It knows it. And soon, you will, too. Stay on Deck 50 if you dare, Yeoman, and I promise that you will see some sign of it this very day!”
It could be a lot more prompt, Yeoman Jones thought with a sigh as she sat in the corridor outside of Mellus’ quarters, back against the wall and legs stretched out in front of her. She’d been on Deck 50 for hours now, waiting for the sign of it that Mellus promised. Hmmm…how could Mellus promise such a thing unless he was involved? Of course, he was also turning out to be completely wrong, so there went the idea that he was involved. And what was he involved (or not involved) with anyway? Was anything really even going on here?
And how long was Jones going to sit there waiting to find out?
She was starting to feel like the victim of some kind of bizarre practical joke. Were Mellus, Tyler, and the others sitting in their quarters and laughing at her as she sat in the corridor waiting to see something that was never going to show up? What would be the point?
And what was that buzzing noise?
Jones looked down the corridor toward the source of the sound as it increased in volume. Suddenly, a small two-seater propellor-driven biplane whipped around the corner and headed right for her. Jones dove for the deck, her mind racing. Where did that plane come from? How could it even fit in the corridor? She pressed herself against the wall as closely as she could and opened her eyes. The opposite wall now seemed to be a good ten meters farther away, which was more than enough room for the low-flying plane to get through. As it zoomed by her, Jones realized that there was a banner attached to the tail, a banner with two words printed on it:
And just like that, the plane was gone, disappeared around the bend at the far end of the corridor. But before Jones could relax, she heard another buzzing sound coming from the other direction. She turned in time to see something else rounding the corner.
Was that a blimp?
While Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter understood that space could be a dangerous place and that surprises and emergencies could materialize at any time, he believed that such crises should have the common courtesy to occur during his normal waking hours, preferably after he’d had time to grab a shower, get dressed, and eat some breakfast. This meant that he generally did not appreciate being dragged out of a perfectly sound sleep so that he could deal with whatever the latest problem was that the galaxy had thrown in Waystation’s direction. Therefore, he was less than thrilled to hear the following:
“Jones to Porter! Jones to Porter! Craig! CRAIG!”
“Whahuhblur,” Porter mumbled, clamping his pillow over his head.
“I know you’re there, Craig! Wake up! I need you!”
“I had no idea you felt that way about me,” Porter replied, his voice a barely audible mutter.
“I’m awake. I’m awake. What do you want?”
“I’m on Deck 50! I need you down here!”
“Now?” Porter asked, trying to focus on the chronometer beside his bed. “It’s 1:30 in the morning!”
“I know, but I want you to be here if it shows up again,” Jones replied.
“If what shows up again?”
“Oh, of course. It. How silly of me to ask…what the hell are you talking about?”
“I don’t know,” Jones said. “But there was a plane and the banner that said ‘It’s Coming’ and I think it is, but there’s got to be some kind of explanation because that was a plane, a real plane, and it was flying right at me. I didn’t think it could fit, but it did, and then there was the blimp.”
“Tell me honestly now, am I dreaming this conversation? Because if I am, I’d really like it to stop and switch to something involving Risa and five to ten beautiful women looking for a little jamaharon.”
“It wasn’t a dream, Craig. Something weird is happening down here. I need a science guy to figure it out.”
“Lucky me,” Porter muttered, rubbing his close-cropped beard.
“So you’re coming?”
“Can’t this wait until morning?”
“I don’t know. What if it comes before then?”
“Can we not start that?”
“Okay. Okay. I’ll come, but weird isn’t really my area. Can’t we call those Starfleet Intel folks? Didn’t they specialize in weird?”
“Yes, but they’ll take too long to get here. And I don’t think Captain Beck really wants them back on the station if we can avoid it.”
“So you’re coming?” Jones asked again.
“Yeah yeah. I’ll be right there. Porter out.” After the comm channel closed, Porter crawled out of bed and made a promise to the universe that if this ‘it’ (whatever it was) didn’t let him get back to bed soon or at the very least provide coffee, there would be some serious hell to pay on Deck 50.
By the time Porter emerged from the turbolift onto Deck 50, Yeoman Jones had found herself surrounded by the residents of the deck, who had been drawn out into the corridor by her frantic cries to Porter over the comm. At least they seemed to be a calm and rational bunch.
“It’s going to get us!”
“Craig!” Jones exclaimed with relief upon spotting Porter. She quickly composed herself. “Lieutenant Commander Porter, thank you for coming.”
“How could I refuse an invitation like that?” Porter replied, looking around the deck. “So what’s the problem?”
“IT’S COMING!!!” the residents of Deck 50 all shouted at him.
Porter smiled weakly. “Of course it is,” he said, pulling out his tricorder and starting to scan the area. “Is this where you saw the airplane?” he asked Jones.
“Down there,” Jones said, pointing down the corridor toward Ensign Mellus’ quarters.
“But the flamingos chased me this way,” Ensign Tyler said.
“Flamingos, huh?” Porter said. “Were they playing instruments?”
“That was the marching band,” Jones said.
“Of course it was.” Porter clicked his tricorder shut. “I don’t see a thing unusual here. It’s just a deck like any other on the station. Good night.” He turned and headed back toward the turbolift.
“Wait!” Jones cried, grabbing onto his uniform sleeve. “You have to stay here until you see something. It will happen!”
“You’re starting to sound like them.”
“That’s because they’re right!”
“Tina, listen to me now. Have you considered contacting Doctor Nelson?”
“Why would I do that?”
“All of you are seeing things that aren’t there. That’s called hallucinating, as in it’s all in your head, which means you need a doctor, not a science officer.” Porter cocked his head suddenly. “Do you hear a bell?”
Jones listened. Yes. She did hear a jingling bell in the distance, and it was coming closer. The others had heard it too.
“What is that?” Ensign Mellus asked nervously.
“Everyone just say calm,” Jones said. “Let Lieutenant Commander Porter see whatever it is.”
“Me?” Porter said. “Why me?”
“You’re the one who said we were hallucinating.”
“And now I could be, too,” Porter replied, pulling his tricorder back out. “What does that prove except that I’ve probably caught the same freaky disease the rest of you have?”
Before Jones could respond, the source of the jingling bell rounded the corner.
“Um…what is that?” Porter said as a white, four wheeled vehicle sped their way.
“I have no idea.”
The vehicle skidded to a stop in front of the group, turning sideways to reveal a large opening in the side of the conveyance with several pictures of various popsicles, ice cream cones, and the like plastered below the opening. Almost as soon as the vehicle stopped, a grinning black haired man in a white suit and cap appeared at the window.
“Ice cream! Step right up and get your ice cream!”
Porter and Jones exchanged a glance, then looked down at Porter’s tricorder. “What’s it say?” Jones asked as various squiggles scrolled by on the tricorder’s screen.
“There’s nothing there,” Porter replied.
“Then that’s some nothing,” Jones said as Ensign Tyler was handed a triple cone by the grinning man in white.
“You have a point.”
“So what do we do?”
Porter shrugged. “Eat?” He slipped his tricorder back into his pocket and got in line at the ice cream truck.
“Is that such a good idea?” Jones whispered.
“It’s late, I’m not in bed, and there’s not a damn thing on my tricorder. The least I can do is grab a snack from the nice hallucination before I call it a night.”
“And what can I get for you, young man?” the still-grinning ice cream man asked Porter (You might even say that he was in a good humor).
“How about one of those rocket pop things?” Porter replied, pointing at the red, white, and blue confection on the sign.
“An excellent choice,” the friendly ice cream man replied, reaching back into his freezer for Porter’s selection as Jones looked around at the other Deck 50 residents. At least she was supposed to be looking at the Deck 50 residents. They, however, didn’t seem to be anywhere in sight.
“Um…Craig?” Jones said confused.
“What?” Porter replied, peeling the wrapper off of his popsicle.
“Where did everybody go?”
“To bed?” Porter said before taking the first lick.
“That fast?” Jones said, turning to Porter. She suddenly realized that he was very not there as well. “Craig? CRAIG!”
“Can I interest you in an ice cream, young lady?” the ice cream man asked, flashing Jones a toothy smile.
Maybe they were just hiding, Jones thought as she frantically paced the corridor in front of the ice cream truck as the truck’s occupant watched her movements with an amused smile. But why would they hide? That didn’t make any sense. They were gone, and somehow that evil ice cream man was responsible!
“Where are they?” Jones demanded, charging the truck.
“What exactly?” the ice cream man asked casually. “I keep the popsicles in this freezer back here while every one of our fifteen fine flavors of homemade dairy-fresh ice cream are kept up here inside this…”
“The people who were here! Where are they?” Jones shouted.
“I’m afraid I can’t keep track of all of my customers’ movements, ma’am.”
“You’re refusing to help me!”
“I have no help to give, but there is one thing I can tell you.”
“No kidding,” Jones said, deflating as she stalked back over to the wall and slid down it. She curled her knees up to her chest and considered her options. She had to call security. That was certain, but what was she going to tell them? Come arrest the ice cream man? And that didn’t help find the missing people. Lieutenant Commander Russell would probably say they needed to call in Porter, but Porter was now one of the missing people.
“So what? You don’t like ice cream?” a deep sonorous voice said from right beside her. Jones’s head whipped around and saw a man sitting beside her. Features-wise, he resembled the ice cream man, who was still inside his truck grinning at her. This newcomer at least had the decency not to grin constantly. He also didn’t seem to be quite all there, literally. His form was constantly shifting from transparent to translucent to borderline-opaque.
“Who are you?” Jones demanded.
“I am It,” the man said with a dramatic hand gesture. “Although, I guess I’m becoming a bit more than an it now, aren’t it? I am He. Hmm…I like the sound of that.”
“Are you the one…did you take those people?”
“They’re with me, if that’s what you mean. It was entirely their choice, though.”
“You lured them in with sweets!” Jones snapped.
“That’s not fair!”
“Relax. I’m sure they’re having fun feeding the Chaos.”
“Chaos? What are you talking about?”
“Chaos. Disorder. The way things are meant to be. It’s the nature of the universe, darling. Everything is moving toward me.”
“So you want to create chaos?”
“I don’t have to create it. Chaos is. You and your ilk are the ones trying to prevent the cosmos from following its natural progression to me.”
“So wait,” Jones said confused. “You’re trying to take over the universe, aren’t you?”
“You still don’t get it. I don’t have to take over anything. Like I said, if you just leave things alone, it will all come to me.”
“But who are you? Where are you from?”
“I’m everywhere. I’m inevitable. I’m Entropy, baby.”
“Did you just call me ‘baby’?”
“Didn’t you hear what I said? I’m Entropy!”
“I heard you. And it’s…a very nice name. I still don’t see why you think we’re just going to stand by and let you take over the universe.” Too bad her Galactic Megalomaniacs course at the Academy Annex wasn’t until next semester. It would have been a big help in dealing with this guy.
Entropy rubbed his hand across his face and took a deep, calming breath. “Let’s start over. I am Entropy. The universe is inevitably moving toward me. Got it?”
“I get that you’re just another insane monster with delusions of grandeur.”
“You’ve never heard of me, have you?”
“No. You’re not as famous as you think you are. Probably no one’s heard of you beyond whatever backwater planet you came from, and as soon as we figure out how you got here, Captain Beck is probably going to kick your butt right back there. Now where are our people?”
“With me. If you want to see them again, go eat some ice cream. Better hurry, though. I’m almost here.”
Determination filled Jones’s face as she got to her feet. “I’m getting them back,” she said.
“I just have one question.”
“Anything for you, my dear.”
“Why a marching band?”
“Should have guessed,” Jones muttered, storming over to the ice cream man.
“And what can I get for you, young lady?” the ice cream man asked kindly.
“Anything! Just hand me something…preferably grape.”
“You got it!” He turned back to his popsicle freezer and quickly returned with a long purple obelisk of frozen grapiness. “How’s that?”
“Oooooh!” Jones exclaimed reflexively, snatching it away from him. “Er…sorry. Thank you.”
“Any time,” the ice cream man replied with a tip of his cap.
Jones steeled herself then gingerly extended her tongue until it touched the side of the popsicle. Mmmm…it was wonderfully grapey.
And then she was gone.
From all the talk of chaos and disorder that Entropy had been spouting, Jones had no idea what kind of situation she was going to find herself in after licking the popsicle. Based on past situations that Captain Beck had experienced, though, Jones decided to do what she could to shape her environment with a bit of visualization. She was not going to find herself inside of some kind of horrible hell dimension. Instead, she would go somewhere scenic and serene.
When the wave of discombobulation and the accompanying nausea that had hit her upon licking the popsicle (after the pleasant taste of grape, of course) had subsided, Jones opened her eyes and found that she’d at least been partially successful.
She was standing on the perfectly manicured green lawn of some kind of estate.
But it was quickly going to hell.
Instantly, the grass under her feet began to grow long and scraggily. Shrubs bearing mouths full of steely sharp teeth were rampaging back and forth chasing the residents of Deck 50, while nearby Porter was battling his own out-of-control beard, which had grown to over a meter long and was trying to strangle him. He struggled with the crazed hairs, passing an arbor of trees, each one of which flipped over, sticking its roots up into the air as Porter moved by.
“What do you think of my little domain?” Entropy asked, suddenly standing beside Jones.
“Why thank you! That’s an awfully sweet thing to say. It’s really a work in progress, though. You should see it when it’s finished.”
“What will it look like then?”
“Oh, it will encompass everything in the universe…and be inert.”
“Inert? Is that an improvement?”
Entropy shrugged. “It’s inevitable. I’m Entropy.”
“Yeah. You mentioned that,” Jones said as she watched Porter’s beard make another lunge for his neck. “I’m going to go help my friend now.”
“It won’t help,” Entropy said with a chuckle before vanishing. The wind suddenly began to howl furiously and hail was starting to fall as Jones raced over to Porter.
“Craig!” she exclaimed. “We’ve got to get out of here!”
“I’m open to suggestions,” Porter shot back as his beard made a lunge for his left eye. “What the hell is going on around here?”
“It’s that Entropy guy.”
“Entropy. He showed up on Deck 50 right after you disappeared. Well, he kind of showed up. He was all transparent and stuff, and he said he was still coming.”
“Hang on. Entropy? As in the tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward chaos and disorder.”
“Chaos and disorder! Yep. That’s him!”
“Tina, Entropy is not a person. It’s a property of nature.”
“He looked like a guy to me, and he said that the entire universe was moving toward him.”
“So this is Entropy?” Porter said in amazement, looking around.
“No. He’s a guy! This is his realm.”
“Chaos and disorder everywhere,” Porter said. “Looks like Entropy to me.”
“And it’s about to get a lot worse,” Jones said, looking over Porter’s shoulder in horror. He turned to see a massive black funnel cloud ripping their way. “We have to get everyone inside!” Jones screamed.
“Go!” Porter said. “I’ll meet you in there!”
Jones took off running toward the first person she saw: Ensign Tyler, who was being pursued by a rabid shrub. Jones sprinted forward and caught the bush from behind, then planted her feet and tossed it over backwards over her head. Before the mad plant could recover, Jones grabbed Tyler and gestured for her to get into the estate house.
Before too much more time had passed, she and Porter had managed to gather up all of the Deck 50 residents and take cover inside the dining room of the huge home.
At least Jones assumed it was the dining room. Several tables had been toppled over inside, and plates, cups, silverware, and napkins were scattered everywhere. In the few moments of calm they had, Jones scooped up a sharp knife and charged Porter.
“Hold still,” she ordered, snagging the end of his unruly facial hair and chopping it off mere centimeters from his face.
The world shuddered slightly.
“You cannot hide in here from me,” an unwelcome voice announced with an ominous chuckle. Jones turned to see the tuxedo-clad Entropy standing at the entrance to the dining room, his black hair slicked back and glistening.
“We’re kind of hiding from the tornado,” Jones said.
“Is this him?” Porter asked.
“I am the tornado. I am this house. I am that knife,” Entropy replied.
“My don’t we have an ego?” Porter muttered.
“Mocking me isn’t wise,” Entropy said, and with a flick of his finger Porter’s beard once again grew wildly out of control and set about trying to throttle him.
“No!” Jones cried, slicing through the newly-formed beard. Again, the world shuddered around them.
“Are we hurting him when we do that?” Jones asked Porter conspiratorially.
“Maybe. Try something else.”
Jones spotted a tea cup on the floor nearby and stomped her boot down on it, shattering the cup into tiny shards.
This time only Entropy shuddered…and his grin widened.
“Do it again,” he said.
“I think he liked it,” Jones whispered.
“So much for that,” Porter said. “Makes sense, I guess. Smashing that cup just created more disorder in here.”
“Yeah,” Jones agreed. She paused for a moment, thinking, then looked up at Porter. “But cutting your beard…”
“…made it more orderly.”
“And Entropy didn’t like that,” Jones said. Her eyes locked with Porter’s as they exchanged a quick look of realization.
“EVERYBODY START CLEANING!” they both shouted.
Jones and Porter immediately started righting toppled tables, laying down tablecloths, and setting up silverware, plates, and glasses, much to the surprise of the near-panicked residents of Deck 50.
“What are you doing?” Entropy demanded, staggering back slightly. Taking that as a good sign, Ensign Mellus and the other Deck 50 residents dove in to help Jones and Porter. In a matter of moments, the room looked ready to receive dinner guests. Entropy, meanwhile, looked like crap, with rivulets of sweat streaming down his red face and bloodshot eyes.
“Spread out!” Jones ordered. “Find places to clean!”
“I’ve got the dishes,” Porter said, striding determinedly into the adjoining kitchen.
“What about me?” Ensign Mellus asked as the others streamed past Entropy into the rest of the mansion.
“Find a bathroom!” Jones shot back.
“B-b-b-bathroom?” Mellus asked in horror.
“You heard me, Ensign. Move!”
Mellus trudged out of the dining room as Jones glanced out the window to the yard beyond. It may have just been her imagination, but the oncoming tornado didn’t seem to be moving anywhere near as fast now, and it was a heck of a lot smaller.
“You can’t…” Entropy gasped, reaching out futilely for Jones. “I am the way things have to be.”
“We’ll see,” Jones said.
Ensign Tyler suddenly raced back into the dining room. “All the other rooms are taken!” she cried.
“Then dust!” Jones said.
“Awww! I hate dusting!
“Do you want to live, Ensign?”
“Then dust, dammit! Dust like your life depends on it!” Jones replied before charging into the kitchen to help Porter. She’d only made it a couple of steps before Ensign Mellus screams echoed down from the upstairs.
“OH GREAT BIRD PROTECT ME! WHAT COULD DO THIS?”
“What’s with him?” Porter asked.
“I think he found the bathroom.”
“Yikes,” Porter said with a wince, turning back to the suds-filled sink in front of him as Jones grabbed a mop from the broom closet. The swinging kitchen door burst in a few minutes later as Entropy crawled weakly onto the gleaming white tile that Jones had just cleaned.
“Stop,” he croaked. “I demand…that you stop.”
“Then let us go back to Waystation,” Jones said, standing over him.
“I…will not. You’re mine. All…is mine.”
“Your bow tie’s crooked. Let me get that for you,” She leaned down to Entropy and tugged firmly on his neck adornment, setting it perfectly straight.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO OOOOOOOOOOO!” Entropy screamed. His body suddenly began to fracture, splitting into jagged pieces as a brilliant white light burst through the cracks. A split-second later, he exploded entirely. The white washed over the world, blinding Jones…
…and then she was back on Waystation.
Jones blinked several times to clear her vision. It was Waystation, all right. Deck 50 to be exact. Porter and the Deck 50 residents were there as well, all looking around with a mix of confusion and relief.
“What happened?” Ensign Tyler asked.
“We were just too orderly for him, I guess,” Porter replied. “I just don’t understand how any of this started in the first place. And why here? This is just a deck that happens to be halfway down the station and halfway between…” Porter trailed off. “I’ve gotta check something,” he said quickly, dashing into the turbolift.
“Is…is it gone?” Mellus asked hesitantly. “Is it over?”
“I think so,” Jones said.
“Thank the Great Bird!” Mellus shouted, storming off toward his quarters. “I really need a shower!”
“That was imaginary dirt you were cleaning, you know,” Jones called after him.
“I don’t care!”
“Well,” Jones said, turning back to the remaining group. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m a bit wired now. Anyone want to go get something to eat?”
“Are you crazy?”
“It’s three in the morning!”
“I want my bed!”
The other Deck 50 residents quickly dispersed back to their quarters, leaving Jones alone in the corridor. Perhaps they had a point. She had just defeated a force of nature after all. Heading to bed might not be such a bad idea. Besides, Captain Beck would undoubtedly want a report in the morning, and it would help Jones to be wide awake when she tried to explain this one.
Or when Porter explained it at any rate because Jones sure didn’t know what the hell had just happened.
“We were attacked by Entropy?” Captain Lisa Beck asked confused as she stood in Ops the next morning listening to Jones’s and Porter’s descriptions of the previous night’s events. “How is that even possible?”
“I don’t know why he…it got anthropomorphized and all, but I think I know what caused the problem in the first place,” Porter said, heading over to his console and pulling up a station schematic highlighting the reactor cores in the upper and lower saucers. “After the Collectors’ attacked last year, we thought the cores had come through unscathed, and we were mostly right. But all of that banging and jarring must have affected the core’s power outputs ever so slightly because each one evidently started emitting energies that were enough to cause localized subspace variances. Some variances are expected in these systems, though. It’s the nature of the beast. And even though the damage the cores sustained increased these variances, it wasn’t enough to trigger an alert in engineering.”
“There’s one small problem, though,” Porter continued. “The variances from both cores radiate outward until they dissipate. Normally, that dissipation occurs almost immediately, but with the damage, the distance the variance traveled increased.” Porter activated the schematic on the viewscreen, and an animated circles expanded outward from each core until the edges of the circles met…right at Deck 50.
“The two variances formed a kind of sympathetic vibration, each strengthening the other as they wore away at the fabric of the universe,” Porter said. “If we hadn’t caught the problem when we did, there would have been a rupture that would release Entropy into the universe.”
“That sounds bad,” Jones said.
“You could say that,” Porter said. “The Entropy Effect…”
“SHHHH!” Beck said quickly “Don’t call it that.”
“That title is copyrighted.”
“Oooookay. The Entropy…thing would have instantly consumed the station then expanded outward at almost infinite speed until it completely engulfed the entire universe.”
“So we saved the universe!” Jones exclaimed excitedly.
“Technically, yes,” Porter admitted. “But we’re also the ones who endangered it in the first place, which kind of takes away from the hero factor there.”
“I don’t think so,” Beck said. “You went down there to deal with a complaint, Tina, and because you listened to them and got involved, you ended up preventing us all from being destroyed. I’d call that pretty heroic.”
“And she wields a mean mop, too,” Porter said grinning as Jones blushed.
“You both did a great job,” Beck said. “I’m just not sure how much of it I should report to Starfleet considering that…you know…we almost wiped out everyone in the universe.”
“I understand,” Porter said. “And it’s all fixed now. I promise.”
“Good enough for me. I’ll be in my office figuring out what I’m going to say about all this,” Beck said before heading off.
“Not a bad night’s work,” Porter said to Jones.
“Nope,” Jones replied grinning.
“We should celebrate. Wanna get some ice cream?”
“That’s not funny,” Jones said, striding to the turbolift.
“Sure it was,” Porter replied, keeping pace beside her.
“No, it wasn’t.”
“Not even a little?”
“Jeeze. Tough room.”
“And for even bringing it up, you’re buying me breakfast.”
“Yes, you are,” Jones said as they stepped into the turbolift. “After all, I saved the universe.”
“Not that you have a big head about it or anything.”
“You could say it was a clean sweep.”
“We could, but let’s not.”
“Entropy is all washed up.”
“We really mopped the floor with him.”
“I’m taking the next car,” Porter said, stepped toward the exit.
“Oh, no you don’t,” Jones grabbing him by the collar and yanking him back into the lift.
“Help me,” Porter squeaked as the doors closed.