Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
“The Rules of Relativity”
By Alan Decker
“All right. The man is here. You can all relax now,” Lieutenant Commander Sean Russell announced as he strolled into the Security Office on the lower level of Starfleet Square Mall. Ensign Mike Waits, who was manning the office at that time, looked around confused.
“All who, sir?” he asked. “It’s just…”
“Just you. Yeah, I know,” Russell said quickly, cutting him off. “I was trying to make light of the fact that you dragged me in here this early.”
“Early? Don’t you have the morning briefing in a few minutes?”
“Yes, but I lost a good ten to fifteen minutes of sleep because of you, so save the interrogation for the prisoners and tell me what the hell you want.”
“Have you looked at the passenger manifests from the ships that arrived this week?” Waits asked.
“You read the passenger manifests?”
“It’s quiet here at night. I was bored.”
“I don’t think I could ever be that bored,” Russell replied. “But what about them?”
“We’ve had five recent arrivals with criminal records.”
“Um…aren’t those kinds of things supposed to be flagged?” Russell asked. “We should have been notified without even having to look at the manifests.”
“Well…they’re more suspicion of criminal activity records than real criminal records,” Waits said. “An unproven robbery charge. An unproven trafficking in stolen goods charge. That kind of thing.”
“But a group of them arrived at once?”
“Well…not at once. And none of them on the same ship.”
“So what you’re telling me is that some people who have never been convicted of anything have all come to Waystation, but not together?”
Waits hesitated for a moment. “Yes,” he said finally.
“And why are we having this conversation again?”
“I just thought that maybe we should…you know, keep an eye on them.”
“I get the whole initiative thing you’re showing, Mike, but they haven’t done anything. There’s no real proof that they’ve done anything anywhere. We know they’re here. If something odd happens, we at least have a place to start looking for suspects, but we’re not going to put surveillance on station visitors for no reason.”
“Okay. I understand. I just thought you should know.”
“And now I do. Thanks. If you need me, I’ll be in the morning briefing.”
“Have fun,” Waits said.
“I’ll be happy to just stay conscious,” Russell replied as he headed for the exit.
“HE’S WHAT?” Russell exclaimed, rocketing forward in his seat at the conference table in the Ops briefing.
“Gone,” Captain Lisa Beck repeated.
“Wait a second,” Dr. Amedon Nelson said. “What does that mean? Is he dead or what?”
“For right now President Dillon is just considered missing, but Starfleet may update that status when they find out more about what happened.”
“So what exactly did happen?” Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter asked.
“You got me,” Beck replied. “Admiral Henry wasn’t exactly open with the details. All I know is that Bradley and several members of the Explorer crew are gone and the Explorer is on its way back.”
“Wow,” Porter said. “I’m surprised AWN News hasn’t been all over this already.”
“You hoping Joan Redding will come by and hit you up for some information?” Russell asked with a leering chuckle. “A little tit for tat.”
“I’m going to try to forget that you just said that,” Beck said, rolling her eyes.
“That makes two of us,” Porter said.
“Craig’s got a point, though,” Commander Walter Morales said. “If Bradley’s missing, I would think that the news would be all over it unless…” He trailed off. “We’re covering this up, aren’t we?”
“Well…It’s not a cover-up so much as a not-talking-about,” Beck replied. “I think Starfleet wants to keep things quiet until they have more information about what happened. I’m sure they’ll make some kind of statement once the Explorer gets back.”
“And when’s that?” Russell asked.
“About three months from now,” Beck said. “Normally I’d doubt that they could keep the news from leaking for that long, but I think everybody is so distracted by that whole Shinzon/Romulan mess to even care.”
“I know!” Nelson exclaimed excitedly. “Did you hear that Shinzon was a clone of Will Riker?”
“I thought it was Commander Data,” Russell said, drawing a disgusted glare from the doctor.
“Data’s an android. How would that even be possible?”
“Well…he was based on a real guy, wasn’t he?”
“I know I heard something about a guy who looked like Data.”
“The clone was of Jean-Luc Picard and there was another Soong-type android. Okay?” Beck said.
“How are you so sure?” Russell said.
“I read the damn report, just like the rest of you could.”
“I was waiting for the movie,” Porter said.
“Let’s just cut to the chase, so we can end this meeting some time today,” Beck said. “Shinzon is dead and won’t be destroying Earth. Bradley is missing and maybe won’t be coming back. And we’re still here and won’t be saying a word. Is everyone clear?”
“So what happened to the Data android?” Russell asked.
“Who cares?” Beck snapped back. “Do we have any actual station business to discuss or should I…Admiral!” Beck voice betrayed her surprise at seeing Admiral Leelan Fonn standing at the doorway of the conference room. While the Admiral was technically in command of Waystation now, he generally maintained a strict hands-off policy when it came to actual command matters, unless something cropped up that would affect his ability to enjoy uninterrupted rest and relaxation in his de facto retirement.
“Morning, all,” Fonn said with a grin as he stepped into the room. “Sorry to bust in like this, but I wanted to let you all know that the bulk of my belongings should be arriving today. Probably should have been here ages ago, but I had the stuff stored at a Dillon Docks all the way over by Yridia, and it was a pain finding a freighter that was heading from there out here. The freighter should be here around 2100 hours, so just keep an eye out for it, if you would, and make sure everything gets sent to my quarters. I appreciate it, folks. Great work. Carry on.”
And with that, Fonn was gone, rushing back to the turbolifts without wasting another moment.
“Did anybody catch that?” Beck asked.
“I think he just ordered us to help him move,” Porter said.
“That’s kind of what I thought he said.” Beck sighed. “All right. Who wants to safeguard the Admiral’s crap?”
“Sounds like a job for security to me,” Dr. Nelson said.
“Awww, come on,” Russell said. “I don’t want to babysit a bunch of boxes.”
“Just delegate it,” Porter said. “That’s why you have a staff.”
“I don’t care who does it as long as it gets done,” Beck said. “But the responsibility is all yours now, Russell.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Russell said unexcited.
“Okay then. Are we done?” No one spoke. “Good. I didn’t have time to grab breakfast before the meeting, and I’m starving. Dismissed.” Not needing any more prompting, the gathered officers bolted for the door, all except for Dr. Nelson, who lingered for a moment.
“Did you need to talk to me, Amedon?” Beck asked, gathering up her padd and rising from her seat.
“Um…no,” Nelson said hesitantly. “I’m fine.”
“Good to know. You hungry?”
“No. Not really. I should get back down to the Infirmary,” Nelson replied, moving toward the exit. “I’ll see you later.”
“That you will,” Beck said as Nelson headed out the door.
Years of being a Federation Marine had caused Lieutenant Stephanie Hodges to expect a certain amount of regimentation in her life. She didn’t like to admit that she’d been conditioned this way, but, when something out of the ordinary occurred, she found herself leaping to alert status perhaps a bit faster and more intensely than a civilian or even a Starfleet Officer would.
The incoming comm signal currently beeping in her quarters was one of these out of the ordinary events. Certainly she received comms, but never this early…unless it was Colonel Lazlo, and he never politely commed. He’d just use his authority to open a channel directly and start barking orders at her.
There was also the small possibility that it was Lisa Beck or Walter Morales on the comm, but both her best friend and her boyfriend were usually at the morning Waystation command crew briefing at this time. Of course, they could have finished early, but then they generally would have contacted Hodges over her communicator rather than comming her quarters.
No this was something different. And that usually meant trouble.
She finished pulling on her uniform tunic and strode out into the living room of her quarters, where the incoming comm signal was flashing on her wall monitor.
“Computer, open comm channel,” she said, bracing herself for the worst.
The smiling face of her brother, Joel Hodges, appeared on the screen.
Hodges wasn’t quite sure if this was a relief or not. Joel, better known as the Z’arkbelst, was the head of an Andorian cult and considered a deity by his followers. For years, Hodges hadn’t heard so much as a peep out of him, but then last year he and his cult moved to the Andorian colony in proximity to Waystation. At first Hodges felt this was great news…at least until Joel kidnapped Lisa Beck with the intent of making her one of his concubines. Hodges and Morales mounted a rescue operation that retrieved Beck and left things between her and her brother somewhat strained. There had been a few comms back and forth, but nothing long or involved. So she had no idea why he would be comming now or why he had that big damn grin on his face.
“Steph!” Joel exclaimed. “How’s it going, sis?”
“Um…fine. How are you?” she asked, still wary.
“I am wonderful. It is the Festival of K’azhst Xal!”
“Is it? I missed that somehow.”
Joel laughed, which put Hodges even more on edge. He was just waaay too happy. “This is a day for renewing bonds and mending wounds, both emotional and physical…well, mostly physical. This is an Andorian holiday after all, but the emotional part is important too.”
“I guess. Why are you telling me this?”
“Come on, Steph! We’ve hardly spoken in over a year now.”
“Which is a big improvement over the not speaking at all we had going for the twenty years prior to that.”
“Yes, but we live so close together now, that we should be closer as family. That’s what the yearly Festival of K’azhst Xal is all about.”
“And you couldn’t tell me this last year?”
“I was still mad at you then, but I’m fine now. And we need to renew our bond. Come for dinner tonight. Bring someone close to you.”
“I’m not bringing Lisa,” Hodges said firmly.
“Did I say Lisa?”
“There is someone else I could bring, though,” Hodges said. “If you’re serious.”
“I’m serious. Bring whoever you’d like.” Joel was silent for a moment. “Who are you bringing?”
“I think I’ll bring my boyfriend along.”
Joel’s face darkened slightly. “Boyfriend? You have a boyfriend?”
“Yes. I’m a marine, not a nun.”
“I know. Sorry. Who is he?”
“You met him.”
“He came with me to get Lisa back from you!”
“You like him?”
“All right! Fine,” Joel said. “Bring him along. I’d love to meet him…again.”
“Send the coordinates, and we’ll be there. What time?”
“Eight O’clock Fed Standard Time?”
“Twenty hundred hours. See you then.”
“Can’t wait,” Joel said, then closed the channel. Hodges smiled slightly. A date off the station with Morales. Now that sounded like it could be fun. Of course, they would be spending the evening with her brother, but Joel was right. It would be nice for their relationship to get a bit closer. And Joel and Walter could become friends. This was good.
After closing the channel, Joel leaned back into his plush desk chair, allowing its warm, velvety fabric to envelop him.
“She’s seeing someone,” he said, glancing over at his assistant and high priest, Z’assy.
“I heard,” the elder Andorian replied.
“He’s not good enough for her.”
“She is mighty mighty.”
“My apologies, your gloriousness. I do agree, however, that it would be more appropriate if the sister of the Z’arkbelst were to marry one of your devoted flock.”
“None of you are good enough for her either,” Joel snapped.
“Of course we’re not. Again, my apologies.”
“I really just wanted this to be a nice dinner. Now I’m going to have to kill that guy!”
“So I should have your sword available?”
“Yeah. Get the good one. You know, the one with all the jewels and the inscriptions on the blade. This is a formal dinner, after all.”
“Yes, your worship,” Z’assy said with a slight bow of his head before striding out of the room.
As fascinating as looking over lab results from the Waystation crew physicals was, Dr. Nelson found her mind wandering away from the console on her desk and toward a day in the not-too-distant future when she would be standing in a wedding gown somewhere (The nebulousness of that “somewhere” bothered Nelson a bit, but her fiance, Frequoq Wuddle of the Multek Enclave, insisted that the location of the wedding ceremony was a surprise) joining her life with that of the man she loved…even if he could be infuriating with his secrecy at times. Of course, he had his reasons. The preparations occurring on Multos and throughout the Multek Enclave to prepare for their entry into the high-profile galactic tourism industry were being guarded jealously by the Multeks. All would be revealed soon, though, and Nelson would be there to see it.
Finding herself missing Wuddle (something that happened fairly often considering how much time they spent apart), she tried contacting his office on Multos, on the off-chance that he’d be there. Moments later, his smiling face appeared on her screen.
“Amedon!” he said happily. “I didn’t expect to hear from you until tonight.”
“Couldn’t wait,” Nelson said grinning. “How are you doing?”
“Oh fine. It’s kind of a quiet day, actually. I’m not being dragged off to eight meetings at once.”
“I don’t know how you do it. I can barely get through one damn meeting without wanting to kill someone.”
“They’re a necessary evil.”
“They don’t have to be. You’re the Frequoq. Just ban them.”
“Even I don’t have that much power. Ask Captain Beck. I’m sure she has similar problems.”
“Not as many. Of course, she’s not dealing with an entire Enclave.”
Wuddle sighed. “I envy her some days. Not many, though. I love being Frequoq.”
“More than you love me?” Nelson asked jokingly.
“Before we wed, you should know that questions like that were deemed illegal on our world generations ago. Don’t make me send you to prison.”
“So I guess ‘Do I look fat in this?’ is out as well, huh?” Nelson said with a chuckle.
“All right,” Nelson laughed. “I’ll try to keep that in mind.”
“So what did Captain Beck say?” Wuddle asked, abruptly changing the subject, not that Nelson was all that surprised. She’d told Wuddle ages ago that she was going to talk to the Captain.
“You haven’t talked to her,” Wuddle said.
“No, but I will.”
“She has to suspect that something like this is coming,” Wuddle replied.
“I know. And I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry.”
“I’m not worried. I just want to make sure you’re okay with this.”
“More than okay. I’ve got to get back to work. I’ll talk to you tonight. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Nelson smiled at her intended and closed the comm channel.
The idea of a breakfast soup sounded a bit scary. But put it on stick? Oh yeah. Now you’ve got something. Or so Lieutenant Commander Russell thought as he strolled along the upper concourse of Starfleet Square Mall nodding and smiling at the various people he passed…the women anyway. It was never too early to think about lining up a companion for the evening. He had the urge to hit The Gravity Well, and it’d be nice to show up with a girl on his arm.
Russell suddenly felt hit right arm being yanked down just as he was raising the soup on a stick in his left hand to his mouth. The breakfast concoction smushed messily against his cheek as Russell looked to see what had just attached itself to him.
Oddly enough, there was a girl on his arm. On the downside, she appeared to be about ten years old. This wasn’t exactly what he had in mind.
“Hi, Mister!” the girl screeched excitedly.
“Um…hi,” he replied, trying to gently dislodge the girl from his limb. She wouldn’t budge. “Commander Sean is real busy with important station business right now. Why don’t you run along with your mommy and daddy.” He looked around. “Where are your mommy and daddy?” No one looked as though they were with this particular youngster.
Great. Just what he wanted to deal with this morning. A lost child.
“Can I go with you?” the girl asked eagerly.
Russell smiled weakly. “Hold that thought a second,” he said, slapping his commbadge. “Russell to Security.”
“Laru here, sir,” the voice of Ensign Laru Hassna, who was manning the Security Office at the moment, replied.
“Have we had any missing child reports filed lately?”
“No, sir. Everything’s quiet.”
“Is there a problem, Commander?”
“I’m not sure yet. Let me know if you hear anything, would you? Russell out.”
“Is it time to go yet?” the girl asked, yanking Russell’s arm in the general direction of the nearest turbolift.
Russell looked around one more time, hoping against hope that he’d see some sign of this kid’s guardians. No such luck.
“I guess you and I are taking a trip to the Security Office,” Russell said, grudgingly allowing himself to be taken to the turbolift.
“Yay!” the girl screeched, pulling him inside the turbolift car.
As the turbolift doors closed, Russell opened his mouth to order the car to its destination but was cut off before he could utter a sound as the girl’s fist slammed at full force into his crotch. Russell instantly dropped to his knees (and dropped his soup on a stick in the process) groaning.
Pushing past the pain in his groin, Russell forced his eyes open and found himself eye-to-eye with his diminutive attacker, who was looking rather pleased with herself. A flash of recognition raced through his brain. That face. Why did he know…
“Olivia?” Russell gasped half in agony and half in shock.
“Took you long enough,” the child replied.
“But…you…you’re a kid,” Russell said, his mind wrestling with the impossibility of what was in front of him. He’d last seen his cousin Olivia a little over a year earlier on Halydol. At that time, she was a woman in her 30s and, as Russell had discovered, a thief.
“Yeah, well, it’s the perfect disguise. I can’t exactly waltz onto a Starfleet facility looking like myself anymore thanks to you,” Olivia replied darkly. “You made a real mess of things for me, Sean.”
“I’m so sorry I got in the way of your criminal career,” Russell said, moving to stand. He thought better of it and stayed on his knees. No sense giving her another clear shot at his equipment.
“Time for you to make it up to me,” Olivia said.
“How? By arresting you and shipping you back to Halydol for trial?”
Olivia laughed. “Come on, Sean. You can’t arrest little young me. Everyone would think that you’d lost your mind. I’m just a kid. Now shut up and pay attention. A few hours from now, a shipment will be arriving for the Admiral in charge of this crap-hole.”
“You know about that?”
“Us! Or we didn’t until this morning anyway.”
“Then you folks were the only ones. Word about the shipment is out, and I can guarantee you that I’m not the only interested party who will be waiting for it when it gets here.”
“Wait. What’s in this shipment? Admiral Fonn said it was just some of his belongings that were in storage at a Dillon Docks.”
“That’s true. But one of his belongings is of great interest to my employer as well as those other parties I mentioned. No one could get at it while it was in storage. Dillon Docks are closed up tighter than a Vulcan woman’s legs. But now that it’s headed to an insecure location…”
“Hey! Waystation is secure!”
Olivia just glared at Russell. “Don’t flatter yourself, police-boy. The only way you’re going to stop the people trying to steal the target is with my help.”
“Your help? You’re going to help me?” Russell asked surprised.
“In exchange for the item, yes.”
“Hang on. You’ll help me stop these other people you mentioned from stealing this thing if I then let you steal it?”
“That’s the deal.”
“The deal sucks.”
“It’s either that or I race out of this turbolift screaming about the bad Starfleet man who tried to touch my private places. And believe me, considering how uncomfortable the whole de-aging procedure was, I’m pretty tempted to do that anyway.”
“All right,” Russell said, holding his hands up. “What do you want me to do?”
“Nothing,” Olivia said. “Except spend the day with me, of course.”
“Of course,” Russell muttered. Not that he expected Olivia to let him out of her sight now that he knew the truth. On the bright side, if she was telling the truth, which he had every reason to believe she was, he could be ending the day with a few solid arrests. He just hoped that Admiral Fonn wouldn’t miss whatever it was Olivia was going to be stealing all that much.
“You don’t look happy about this,” Stephanie Hodges observed.
“Hmmm?” Commander Walter Morales asked, looking up from the padd he’d been reading ever since they’d left Waystation in the Runabout Cumberland two hours earlier.
“You. Not happy.”
“I’m fine,” Morales replied curtly.
“Yes because you usually refuse to speak to me when you’re fine.”
“I’m speaking to you now.”
“For the first time this trip.”
“Sorry. I’ve been reading.”
“And what could possibly be more fascinating that talking with me?” Hodges asked with a sarcastic smirk.
“It’s an encyclopedia of Andorian Rites and Rituals. Captain Beck loaned it to me before we left the station. I want to go into this prepared.”
“It’s just dinner with my brother…who is human, I might add.”
“Considering our last visit with him was a rescue mission, I’m not taking any chances,” Morales replied. “I know he’s family to you, but I don’t trust him. Trustworthy people do not kidnap women and cart them off to be consorts. The Andorians who worship him have warped your brother’s mind!”
“I guess I should be glad you didn’t bring along a security detail.”
“I thought about it. Believe me.”
“So has that book taught you anything useful?”
“Only that the Andorians have a rite for just about everything. And those rites have subrites and so on. How can they keep them all straight?”
“My guess is that most Andorians only know the main ones…and probably the ones involving dismemberment. They seem big on dismemberment.”
“Just the thing to give me an appetite,” Morales muttered.
“Better put the book away. We’re here,” Hodges said as she brought the Cumberland out of warp and slid into the system containing the Andorian colony world.
“I wonder if they’ve been able to put anything together in the last year or if they’re still living out of their ship,” Morales said, standing close to the viewport and peering through the thick clouds covering the planet as Hodges made her descent. The clouds suddenly gave way revealing a giant head.
“Ahhhhhh!” Morales cried, tumbling backwards into his seat as Hodges frantically veered their craft away from the massive obstacle in their path.
“That was Joel!” Hodges exclaimed, swinging the ship back around. Sure enough, they were looking at a towering statue of the Z’arkbelst, looming at least a hundred meters over the storm-battered landscape of the planet. Beyond the statue, a sprawling compound had been constructed with a gleaming golden ziggurat at its center, the structure shining from the beams of several powerful spotlights glinting across its surface.
“They’ve been busy,” Morales said, his heart rate returning to normal.
“Anything for their god, I suppose.”
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
“That your brother is worshipped as a god.”
“I’m not worshipping him. I know what a dork he is.”
“Yeah, but you still get a kick out of this.”
“It is kind of fun. I’m the sister of a deity. Does that make me a demi-god or something?” Hodges said, bringing the Cumberland in for a landing outside of the ziggurat as a welcoming party of robed Andorians, led by Z’assy, emerged from the structure to meet them.
“With this bunch, it might make you the main course,” Morales said.
“Could you at least try to keep an open mind about this.”
“Someone trying to open my mind with a club is exactly what I’m afraid of.”
“You never got into the whole ‘explore strange, new worlds and seek out new life and new civilizations’ part of the Starfleet Charter, did you?”
“There’s nothing new about these people. I know exactly who they are and what they are likely to do, and I think I have every right to be paranoid!”
“Relax,” Hodges said, shutting down the engines and opening the access hatch so they could exit the runabout. “It’s just dinner.”
For a while, Lieutenant Commander Russell had considered trying to find a way to slip a message to Craig Porter or one of his security officers to alert them to his situation, but Russell nixed the idea for two reasons. First, he had no clue what sort of message to send. How do you phrase, “Help! My cousin has turned herself into a ten year old and is now forcing me to help her steal something from Admiral Fonn”? Even, “Help! This ten-year-old girl is holding me hostage” was problematic. All he’d managed was to convince Olivia to let him slip into his office for just a moment to get a couple of supplies and to tell his staff to await his orders. They’d be needed for the arrests to come.
The second, and perhaps more important reason for not trying to get a message out was that Olivia was thus far holding up her end of the bargain and providing Russell with good information about the five other interested parties who were sure to be on Waystation, including their usual operating methods. It was like getting a peek into the criminals’ playbook. It did, however, leave Russell with a nagging question.
“Why are you helping me?” he asked as he and Olivia waited in a set of empty quarters for the arrival of the transport carrying Admiral Fonn’s belongings.
“Because that was the deal,” Olivia replied distractedly as she switched from security camera to security camera on the wall monitor, studying each view for a moment before moving on to the next.
“A deal you made when you didn’t have to. There were other ways to force me into helping you.”
“Possibly, but this one gives you something you want, which makes it far less likely that you’ll try to pull something.”
“Yeah, but aren’t you betraying your…colleagues in the process?”
“More like competitors,” Olivia said. “So let’s just say that having them indisposed for a while wouldn’t be a bad thing for me either. Thanks, cousin!”
“Uh huh,” Russell muttered. “I’m so glad I can help.”
“Like I told you, Sean, you made a real mess of things for me. This would seem to me to be the least you could do to make up for it.”
“You keep acting like I did this horrible thing to you. Did you miss the part where you broke the law? You’re a thief! A career thief!”
“Yes, and in order to continue my career, I need to avoid places like prison!”
“I can get you sent to a very nice rehabilitation colony.”
“I’m not interested in rehabilitating. I like what I do, and I’m good at it. And it’s not like I’m stealing food out of the mouths of starving refugees here. I deal exclusively in rarities and antiquities. The kinds of things that are either owned by the elite or stuck in a museum somewhere. My employer just uses me to get the goods that can’t be bought. Nobody gets hurt.”
“That doesn’t make it right.”
Olivia shrugged. “There are a lot of ‘not right’ things in the universe, Sean, but I don’t see what I do as being real high up on the list of galactic problems. I’m doing my job.”
“It’s a problem for me.”
“When did you become such a goody-goody?”
“I’m doing my job,” Russell said.
“Well, right now your job is to help me. Are your people ready? That freighter’s going to be here any time now.”
“They’ll be ready,” Russell replied confidently.
“Good to know you have such faith in your officers.”
Russell smiled weakly. “Er…they’ll be ready. Let’s leave it at that.”
As much as he hated to admit it, perhaps this really was just dinner. Okay, actually it was something of a relief to admit it. Morales never had a problem admitting he was wrong, particularly when being wrong meant that his life wasn’t about to end in some violent, horrible fashion, which Morales was vehemently opposed to. His death would preferably involve slipping away peacefully in bed at a ripe old age after enjoying a sumptuous last meal with his close family and friends. Insane Andorians or their equally-insane human cult leaders were not invited.
Steph, meanwhile, seemed to be more than happy to take the time to catch up with her brother as the trio sat on colorful, intricately-woven plush rugs in the Z’arkbelst’s dining chamber enjoying the feast that had been laid out before them.
Fortunately for Morales’s gastrointestinal tract, Joel Hodges had provided several Earth dishes among the Andorian delicacies.
Unfortunately, Z’assy kept entering the room at regular intervals to check on their progress, something which unnerved Morales to no end and wreaked havoc with his digestion. And it didn’t help that Joel hadn’t said a single word to him after the initial hellos were exchanged upon their arrival. Hodges had promised Morales that Joel wanted to see him too, but he sure had a funny way of showing it. Of course, he could have just been busy talking with his sister. It had been a while since the siblings had had a real conversation. Morales contented himself with eating and stealing the occasional glance at the Andorian Rites and Rituals Encyclopedia he’d surreptitiously pulled out of his shoulder pack while Hodges and Joel were engrossed in their conversation.
“…should visit the station again sometime,” Hodges was saying to her brother as Z’assy made his latest entrance, the seventh of the meal so far. “You were only there for a few hours the last time, so you didn’t really get to see the place.”
“I know. We were kind of in a hurry after I took Lisa. Is she still mad about that?” Joel asked.
“I don’t think so. I wouldn’t try it again, though.”
“No. She wasn’t real receptive the first time. Usually the Z’arkbelst thing gets me right into bed with women. I’m not sure what her problem was.”
“She’s actually been a god…a Q anyway. You weren’t going to bowl her over with your little Andorian friends.”
“Ahem!” Z’assy interrupted with a disapproving growl of a cough. “We are not little. And the Z’arkbelst is mighty mighty! If you had not interfered in business which did not concern you, he would have had the human woman without difficulty.”
That was more than enough to yank Morales out of his reading. “Didn’t concern us!” he exclaimed. “You kidnapped our Captain, who happens to be your Z’arkbelst’s sister’s best friend!”
“That is of no matter to the Z’arkbelst. His desires are all.”
“I think Captain Beck would have a few things to say about that,” Morales retorted. “I know I would.”
“Your worshipfulness, we should proceed quickly to dessert, so that we may commence the Ritual of K’hakahskahk,” Z’assy said, his last word sounding more like an effort to hack up phlegm than anything else.
“You’re probably right,” Joel said, shooting a glare at Morales as Morales quickly scrolled through his encyclopedia.
“K’hakahlaka…K’hakashskan…K’hakahskahk. Ahhhh! I knew it! You’re going to kill me!” Morales cried accusingly.
“Walter!” Hodges snapped. “Calm down! Nobody is going to hurt you!”
“Oh yeah? Then what’s this?” Morales replied, stabbing his finger at the text displayed on the padd. Hodges scanned through it briefly, then turned angrily on her brother. “Joel! You’re going to kill my boyfriend?”
“No!” Joel insisted. Morales let out a sigh of relief. “Not until after dessert anyway.”
Morales’s relief vanished rather rapidly.
The arrival of the freighter Crinkar Ness in Docking Bay Six wasn’t a cause for much fanfare on Waystation, at least not on the surface. The vast majority of the station’s residents were completely unaware that the freighter existed at all, and, frankly, if you told them, they really wouldn’t care. Other than the fact that the freighter was containing some cargo for Admiral Fonn, Ops was rather unconcerned about the freighter’s arrival as well.
In certain quarters, however, Docking Bay Six was now the center of the universe as all attention focused on an unassuming little box, no more than 30 centimeters square, resting in the midst of several other crates and storage containers inside the Crinkar Ness’ hold.
Crewman Doji Peneb, despite being the Docking Bay officer assigned to offload the cargo in question, was not one of the people paying attention to the little box. Actually, he was hardly paying attention to any of the boxes on the zero-grav pallette he pushed out of the Crinkar Ness’ hold as he exited the ship into the Docking Bay proper.
“You need any help with that?” another crewman asked, walking over.
“I’ve got it,” the Rigellan replied with a nod of his head. “Thanks.”
“No problem,” the crewman said, returning the nod and heading off.
Crewman Peneb continued on his way, completely unaware that his load was now just a little bit lighter.
Olivia Russell, however, was quite aware of what had just transpired. “There!” she said, pointing at the monitor in the quarters she and Lieutenant Commander Russell were using as their base of operations. “He’s got it.”
“That guy?” Russell asked, squinting at the figure of the helpful crewman on the screen as he stepped out of the docking bay.
“That guy is Harry Eams, and he’s walking away with my package!”
Sure enough, Russell could see a small box tucked under Eams’ arm as the corridor security cameras picked him up leaving the Docking Bay.
“How did he do that? Our crewman was right there talking to him!”
“And your crewman probably didn’t notice him at all. Harry Eams specializes in being nondescript. You can have an entire conversation with him and not remember it an hour later.”
“Just boring. But he’s been able to turn his complete lack of presence into an asset. No one realizes that he’s robbed them until he’s gone, and then they don’t remember anything about him. If we lose track of him now, we’ll never catch him.”
“Then we’ll catch him,” Russell said. “Russell to Waits.”
“Waits, here,” the voice of Lieutenant Mike Waits replied.
“Theft in progress from Docking Bay Six. He’s heading your way.”
“Really?” Waits asked surprised.
“I told you it would happen.”
“Yeah, but I thought this was just a way to keep us busy or something. Like a drill.”
“This is not a drill. There is a human male in a crew uniform carrying a small box heading toward your position. Stop him.”
“Yes, sir! Waits out.”
After closing the channel, Waits pulled his phaser from its holster and eagerly awaited the arrival of his quarry. One guy with a box? Waits would have this wrapped up in no time. A few moments later, a man rounded the corner. He seemed to fit the description. Uniform. Box. Beyond that he was…a guy. Brown hair. Unexceptional features. If Russell hadn’t told Waits to be on the lookout for him, Waits wouldn’t have given him a second glance. He was about to give the guy a hell of a lot more than that, though.
“Waystation Security!” Waits shouted. “Freeze!”
Harry Eams froze all right. He didn’t often get questioned for a robbery, and never while he was still holding the stolen property in his hands. This was bad. Very very bad. How had he been tagged this soon? Hold on. Don’t panic. Maybe this was about something else.
“You’re under arrest for the theft of…that thing you’re carrying,” Waits said, advancing forward.
Okay. So this was about the robbery. What to do? What to do? Er…RUN!
Eams spun on his heel and started to make a break for it. I say ‘started’ because as soon as he completed his turn, he was nailed in the back by a stun blast from Waits’ phaser. He hit the deck a split-second later, completely unconscious as Waits strolled up and grabbed the box.
“Waits to Russell. Suspect in custody, and I have recovered the stolen…”
Waits was cut off as a meaty fist slammed into the side of his head. If he had retained consciousness rather than collapsing to the deck beside Harry Eams, Waits would have seen that the meaty fist was attached to an equally meaty Tellarite female. Meaty didn’t really do her justice, though. She was massive. And now she had the package held gently in one hand as she lumbered off down the corridor.
Meanwhile, Russell and Olivia watched the whole scene play out over the security monitors in abject horror. At least Russell was feeling horror. Olivia had been expecting, actually counting on this turn of events.
“That’s Oglona. Scary, ain’t she?” Olivia asked.
“Er…um…Augggggggghhhhh!” Russell screamed, the vision on the screen overloading his mind. After a few more moments watching the behemoth, he finally recovered himself enough to take action. “Russell to Jacob.”
“Jacob here, sir,” Ensign Tom Jacob replied. Russell shuddered and mouthed a silent apology to the lad for what he was about to send him into.
“Robbery suspect is heading your way. You’re going to need backup. I repeat, you WILL need backup.”
“Acknowledged, sir. I’ll handle it. Jacob out.”
Somehow Russell didn’t think Jacob would be the one doing the handling.
He was proven right about three minutes later as Oglona, having set her prize aside for a moment, scooped up Jacob and hoisted the officer above her head.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH H!” Jacob screamed terrified as Oglona shook him back and forth.
Two other security officers, whom Jacob had fortunately had the good sense to call as soon as he saw what he was up against, ran around the corner. They skidded to a halt and exchanged a frightened glance.
“Um…put him down!” Ensign Brendan Shust ordered with more conviction in his voice than he really felt at that particular moment.
Oglona smiled a particularly loathsome grin, her snout wrinkling. “Okay,” she said.
“NO!” Jacob cried.
“Shoot her!” Ensign Kelly Fouse, the other officer on the scene, screamed, scrambling for her phaser as Oglona hauled Jacob back and flung him toward Shust and Fouse. They dove toward the sides of the corridor and opened fire, their phaser blasts slamming into the Tellarite’s chest. Oglona grunted, then took a step forward.
“Head!” Shust and Fouse shouted in unison. Their phaser beams tracked upwards, racking across Oglona’s face. Her grunt became more of a strained roar. She took another step, then another. The phaser barrage didn’t let up. Then, with one last moan, she toppled forward, landing squarely on top of Jacob accompanied by the sound of several of his bones cracking joining the ones that had already cracked when she’d tossed him to the floor.
Shust and Fouse continued firing for another ten seconds before they were finally convinced that Oglona wouldn’t be getting back up any time soon.
“Fouse to Russell.”
“Shust and I have found Ensign Jacob and the suspect. Both probably need a doctor right about now.”
“What about the box?”
“Good. Take it to…” Russell’s voice trailed off for a moment, as it sounded like someone in the room with him was talking to him. “Um…have Shust take the box to Admiral Fonn’s quarters. You remain with Jacob and the suspect.”
“Aye, sir,” Fouse said, looking at Shust and shrugging. “Fouse out.”
Shust walked over and picked up the box. “What’s in this thing?” he asked.
“Got me,” Fouse replied.
“Somehow I’m guessing the admiral wouldn’t like me to open it.”
“Probably a safe guess,” Fouse said, taking a seat next to the fallen Jacob and Oglona. “Have a nice walk.”
“It will be thrilling, I’m sure,” Shust muttered and headed off down the corridor as Fouse contacted the Infirmary and told them to bring several medics and a forklift.
Meanwhile, safely ensconced in their commandeered quarters, Russell asked Olivia why Shust had to take the box rather than Fouse.
“There’s a 50-50 chance you’re about to find out,” Olivia replied as Shust headed toward his destination on the screen in front of them.
Shust actually only managed to make it about another one hundred yards before he ran across a rather ravishing woman strolling down a corridor. He couldn’t help looking her up and down, especially considering that the low cut red dress she was wearing appeared to have been tailor-made for her each and every wonderful curve. Shust made eye-contact with the woman and realized very quickly that he’d been caught gawking. This was usually the point where he got slapped, but, much to his surprise, he found that the gorgeous female before him was actually smiling. And what a smile. If you could somehow say, “come and get me” with a simple grin, she was doing it.
“Hi there,” she said in a voice so sultry that Shust felt his legs begin to quiver. “I don’t thing I’ve seen you around the station before. And believe me, I’d notice you.”
“Oh, I’ve been around,” Shust said quickly.
“Then why oh why haven’t we run into each other before?”
“I really don’t know…ma’am.”
“Ooooh. And a gentleman as well. This must be my lucky evening. It is my lucky evening, isn’t it?” she cooed, taking a long step toward him that caused a seemingly-endless, perfectly formed leg to slide out from the slit in her dress.
“Yes, ma’am,” Shust said as the woman reached for him. “It definitely is.”
Now not two months earlier, Lieutenant Commander Russell had given a lecture to his officers about the dangers of allowing oneself to be easily seduced. Lieutenant Commander Porter’s run-in with a woman intent on blowing up the spatial anomaly sitting a short distance away from Waystation was all the object lesson Russell felt that anyone needed, not that Russell himself paid much attention to said lesson. That being the case, he shouldn’t have been at all surprised when his officers followed his lead…or lack thereof.
So Shust was more than happy to allow himself to be seduced and caught rather off-guard as his seductress’s nails scratched lightly down his cheek and sent several thousand volts through him. He hit the ground spasming and wished that she’d just had the decency to slap him and move on.
Sentana Buo, the lady in question, tapped her wrist lightly, deactivating her electrified fingernails, and smiled down at Shust. “Looks like only one of us is getting lucky tonight,” she said, scooping up the box Shust had dropped in the process of plummeting to the deck. If Shust had been capable of seeing straight at that moment, he would have had a lovely view of Sentana Buo’s backside as she sauntered off down the corridor.
The view was not lost on Russell as he watched the show on the monitor. “Wow. She’s good,” he muttered.
“That’s why we needed your boy there,” Olivia said. “If you’d sent the woman, Sentana might not have acted, and you wouldn’t get the arrest.”
“Seems like kind of a limited M.O. for a thief,” Russell observed.
“It gets the job done more often than not,” Olivia replied. “Better nab her, though.”
“Gladly,” Russell said, making a mental note to be the one to interrogate her later…as long as he stayed out of her reach. That whole electricity thing looked more than a little uncomfortable. Poor Shust was still jolting.
Sentana Buo was rather unconcerned about the officer she’d just shocked, though. She had a transport to catch and a prize to deliver. But she’d wrapped up obtaining the item earlier than she expected, so it wasn’t like she needed to rush, she thought as she rounded the next corner and almost ran right into a scowling Bajoran in a Starfleet uniform.
“Hands up, ma’am,” Ensign Laru Hassna said, holding her phaser on Sentana. “You’re under arrest.”
“You wouldn’t be a lesbian by chance, would you?” Sentana asked hopefully.
“No, ma’am. Hands up.”
“Damn,” Sentana cursed, then did as she was told as two other security officers strode past Ensign Laru to take Sentana into custody while Laru took the box out of Sentana’s hands.
“Laru to Russell,” Laru said as Sentana was escorted away. “The suspect is in custody and I have possession of the stolen property.”
“Good job. The box needs to be taken to Admiral Fonn’s quarters. And Hassna?”
“Yes?” the Bajoran replied, surprised that Russell was breaking protocol and calling her by her last name.
“I will, sir. Laru out,” she said a little confused. She was only taking a box from one place to another. The criminals were in custody. What was there to worry about?
And where was that humming noise coming from?
Laru turned around just as a flock of small dart-like objects flew around the corner at the end of the corridor and zipped toward her, the humming noise growing louder as they approached. Suddenly, one fired a pin-prick sized laser beam, which seared into her hand.
“Ow! Hey!” Laru cried, dropping the box. Several of the other dart-things fired tiny tractor beams out of their ventral sides, each of which locked onto the box. The box began to rise up off of the floor.
“Oh no you don’t!” Laru said, snatching the box and running off in the opposite direction as a barrage of tiny beams smacked into her back. “Ow! Yiy! Ack!” Laru fired her phaser behind her blindly as she ran, her shots slamming uselessly into the corridor walls as the dart drones gave chase.
“Laru to Russell! Help!”
From his position in front of the monitor, Russell watched helplessly as Laru was pursued through the corridors. He looked again to Olivia, who shook her head. “We have to follow the drones,” she said. In truth, Olivia knew where the drones would be heading once they obtained the box from Ensign Laru, and it would not be where their creator and controller, a Yridian tinkerer known as Minhdo, would be expecting.
On the monitor, Laru turned down another corridor, one that dead-ended at a turbolift.
“Come on! Come on!” Laru pleaded, kicking the turbolift doors as the darts arrived at the end of the corridor. The darts charged her just as the turbolift doors opened. She dove inside, landing hard on the turbolift floor and screaming “Emergency close.”
The doors whooshed shut, but Laru could still hear the hum. She looked up hesitantly, not wanting to see what she feared was there.
Yep. They were there. The darts must have made it in just before the doors closed. Three of the darts dove at her, embedding their needle-like points into her rear end.
A few minutes later and several decks lower, the turbolift slowed to a stop and its doors opened. The flock of darts flew out, the stolen box held firmly in the grip of a half-dozen mini-tractor beams, and left a thoroughly-drugged Ensign Laru sleeping soundly on the turbolift floor.
Inside a set of guest quarters a few corridors away, Minhdo, Master of Mini-Bots (not that anyone other than him ever called him that), smiled a satisfied smile. The item had been obtained, and now his glorious creations (not that anyone other than him ever called them that) were winging their way back to him, prize in tow.
Um…that should have been a left turn.
Impossible. His robots had just turned right at the corridor junction. They were going the wrong way! After banging fruitlessly against his command console and finding that the robots just weren’t responding, Minhdo did the only thing he could do: chase after his robots himself.
He soon tracked them to a set of quarters several corridors away from his own. They must have somehow gotten their positioning system damaged in their fight with the Starfleet security officer. He needed to retrieve them before whoever was staying in these quarters contacted the station crew.
Minhdo buzzed the door chime anxiously. “Hello?” he called through the door. “I believe an invention of mine has entered your quarters by mistake. I’m very sorry about this. If you’ll just open the door, I can…”
The doors slid open.
And Minhdo was immediately dropped by a stun blast to the chest.
Hodges spent most of the ensuing dessert course protesting her brother’s plans to perform the Ritual of K’hakahskahk, which, according to the encyclopedia, was generally invoked whenever a suitor was not considered good enough by the family members of a suitee on Andor. Families being what they are, the Ritual of K’hakahskahk occurred fairly frequently. Usually, though, it was left to the family elders to call for the ritual, and, being elder-type folk, they usually lost the ensuing battle to the death with the far- younger prospective suitor. This was seen by most Andorians as a positive thing, since any complaints from the elders (most of which began “In my day…”) were summarily silenced and inheritances got passed along a bit more quickly without the bother of waiting for the elder to kick off naturally. But then, Andor being Andor, dying a natural death was considered…well…unnatural.
Back to the Ritual of K’hakahskahk at hand, Hodges found that Joel was less than receptive to her protests, and the large number of armed Andorians Z’assy brought in to oversee the end of the meal and the ritual were equally unreceptive to Morales’s attempts to leave the dinner party early.
Much too soon, the dessert course (a really lovely chocolate eclair) was over and Morales and Hodges were roughly escorted from the dining room to what could only be described as an arena. Seats filled with Joel’s Andorian followers lined the walls, while, in the center of the room, a circular area bordered by short metal spikes jutting out of the stone floor waited for the evening’s combatants.
Joel strode forward, his golden cape billowing impossibly behind him. How he managed that in a room with no wind, Morales couldn’t guess. Upon entering the ring, Joel was immediately attended by two Andorians, who reverently removed his cape as Z’assy approached with a magnificent sword, complete with a jewel-encrusted hilt. Morales, meanwhile, had what was basically a metal stick with a sharp point at one end shoved unceremoniously into his hands as he was hustled into the circle of combat across from Joel.
“The Ritual of K’hakahskahk will begin!” Z’assy announced.
“Joel!” Hodges shouted. “Don’t do this!”
“It’s for you, sis,” Joel replied. “But don’t worry. I’ll make it quick. Like the sword? Pretty fancy, huh?”
“I don’t care about your damn sword! Don’t kill my boyfriend!”
“I second that!” Morales cried.
“You would,” Joel spat. He turned back to Hodges. “You really want to date a coward? I don’t think so. No way.”
“I think Steph can decide that for herself,” Morales said.
“You stay out of this!”
“You’re about to put a sword through me. I don’t think I could be much more in this!”
“Most holy one,” Z’assy said, stepping in. “Please proceed with the ritual.”
“Am I doing it wrong?” Joel asked.
“Traditionally, there is much less whiny bickering.”
“Ahh…gotcha. We’ll get with the fighting then.” Joel lunged forward and took a swing at Morales, who was barely able to get his weapon, if it could be called that, up in time to deflect the blow.
“Hold him off!” Hodges shouted, rifling through Morales’s shoulder pack, which she’d been given custody of before he was sent into the arena.
“I didn’t bring a phaser,” Morales called, leaping back to avoid another swing from Joel. “Someone talked me into leaving it on the runabout!”
“I don’t need it,” Hodges said, yanking the encyclopedia out of the pack and quickly scrolling through it.
“Great, dear! You can read about the circumstances of my upcoming death in greater detail,” Morales said, trying to go on the offensive. Joel easily parried his blows and drove Morales back.
“We demand the Rite of H’lshir Fa’ms!” Hodges announced suddenly.
“What?” Morales exclaimed as Joel looked questioningly to Z’assy. “What did you do?”
“You said the rituals had rites and subrites, remember? I just asked for one of the subrites.”
“Will it help?” In response, Morales’s stick was taken away from him as Z’assy took Joel’s sword away as well. So far, so good. Morales was then handed what could only be described as a giant sausage. “Umm…”
“Z’assy?” Joel said, eyeing the equally large, meter long sausage he’d been given.
“It is the Rite of H’lshir Fa’ms,” Z’assy said, as though that explained everything.
“I still get to kill him, though, right?”
“Of course, your grace. But in the Rite of H’lshir Fa’ms, you must beat him into submission first.”
“I can do that,” Joel said. He lofted his sausage into the air and cried at Morales, “I shall subdue you with my solid shaft of meat!” Joel stopped for a moment, processing the words that had just come out of his mouth. “Er…forget I just said that.”
“Oh dear god, I’m going to try,” Morales replied.
The two men charged each other, wielding their new weapons as best they could.
“Z’assy! This isn’t getting me anywhere!” Joel snapped. “Find a way to move it along!”
“Of course,” Z’assy said with a bow. “We demand the Rite of S’zazzzp!”
“What’s the Rite of S’zazzzp?” Morales demanded, looking back at Hodges.
“OW! HEY! I was asking a question!” Morales shouted.
“Too bad,” Joel taunted. He was suddenly grabbed from behind by two Andorians, who literally ripped his shirt off. “Hey!”
Morales’s uniform tunic quickly suffered the same fate. Deprived of their shirts and their sausages, the two men faced each other.
“So this is the Rite of S’zazzzp?” Morales asked.
Z’assy nodded gravely. “The combatants will now battle hand to hand…in oil.”
“What?” Morales and Joel cried just as gallons of clear, slick oil suddenly deluged from the ceiling, coating them and the arena instantly.
“Oh, and the spikes circling the arena are now electrified,” Z’assy said. “You may continue with your fight to the death now.”
“Thanks a bunch,” Morales said as Joel dove at him. Morales dodged and immediately lost his footing, slipping under the punch Joel had just thrown.
“Steph!” Morales cried.
“Working on it!” Hodges shouted back, frantically reading through the entries. “Add bullwhips…no. Crowd can throw spears at the combatants…no. Add a rampaging bull…no. Ha! We demand the Rite of I’mt’llz’n!”
Morales, whose neck was currently being throttled by Joel’s hands, wrenched his head sideways to look at Z’assy. The frown on the elder Andorian’s face was hopefully a positive sign. Joel’s hands slipped off from the oil again, allowing Morales to gasp for breath and shout, “What does that mean?”
“Your most holy worship of grace, you must let him go,” Z’assy said.
“Why?” Joel demanded. “He’s not dead yet!”
“They have called for the Rite of I’mt’llz’n.”
“So you may not continue.”
Morales slithered out from under Joel and, after the electrified spikes descended into the floor, crawled out of the arena toward Hodges. “What is the Rite of I’mt’llz’n?” he asked her warily.
“The dispute between the combatants has grown into a battle between families that must be settled by their respective hive mothers.”
“I don’t have a hive mother. Neither do you and Joel.”
“But we have moms.”
“So…they have to fight?”
“Technically. But come on. Like that’s going to happen,” Hodges said. “And even if it did, they’d slap at each other a few times, then go home.”
“Are you crazy?” Morales exclaimed. “My mom’s a middle school teacher! She’s going to eat your mother alive!”
Joel stalked over, ending the discussion before Hodges could respond. “Z’assy tells me the fight to the death is off,” he said unhappily. “You want some coffee or something? I think we’ve got some Olfairan Brandy somewhere.”
“I want to go home,” Hodges replied icily, pushing past her brother and heading toward the exit. Morales and Joel glared at each other for a few moments, neither man willing to make the first move.
“You can go,” Joel said finally.
“Thanks for dinner,” Morales said flatly.
Morales moved to go, but stopped himself and turned back to Joel. “You know, next time you could actually try talking to me. Get to know me a little bit. You’ve got an amazing sister, so maybe you might want to give the guy she’s seeing a little benefit of the doubt. She wouldn’t have stuck with me for this long if I was some kind of jerk.”
Joel shrugged. “She’s my sister. You’re not worthy of her. No one is.”
“Then I guess it’s a good thing you don’t get the final say on that, isn’t it,” Morales said before striding for the door. He stopped one more time and looked back at the Z’arkbelst. “Oh, Joel?”
“My mom is going to kick your mom’s ass!”
“Got him,” Olivia said smugly as she watched Minhdo drop to the deck on the monitor.
“Huh? Who did that?” Russell demanded.
“The Spider,” Olivia said, heading toward the door. “Give me a phaser.”
“No way,” Russell said, chasing after her as he drew his weapon. “You just stay behind me. Now who’s this Spider person?”
“Iemasa Chiba,” Olivia replied darkly. “The best there is at stealing from other thieves. You pull a job, get away undetected, and then the Spider is there, waiting for you when you get back home. Even when you expect him to go after you, he still manages to take you by surprise. He just waits, lets you do the work, then pounces.”
“How many times has he gotten you?”
“Too many,” Olivia said. “But this time…” She opened the door to their commandeered quarters. Across the hall from them, Iemasa Chiba, who was just pulling Minhdo’s unconscious body into his quarters, looked up at them in shock.
“You’re under arrest,” Russell said.
“Gotcha, Chiba!” Olivia exclaimed. The Spider stared at the young girl before him for several moments before recognition finally dawned.
“Russell,” he spat, dropping Minhdo back to the deck.
“I sure am,” Russell replied, training his phaser on the mastermind.
“He means me,” Olivia said.
“Oh…yeah, I guess he would, since he’s never met me and…”
Olivia turned her attention back to the Spider. “I’ve been waiting for you,” she said unable to stop the grin from spreading across her face.
“How did you…”
“Know where you’d be? Come on, Chiba. It’s not like we haven’t met before. It wasn’t exactly hard to follow you once I spotted you. And there was no way you could have spotted me. Who’s going to pay attention to one little girl on a big station like this? You didn’t. None of you did. I was in line behind you at Dillon’s Supply Depot when you paid for your purchases. After I confirmed that you were on board, it was simply a matter of getting in touch with my cousin. Have you met my cousin? This is Sean Russell, Chief of Station Security.”
“Charmed,” the Spider said flatly.
“Yeah. Me too,” Russell said distractedly as he tapped his commbadge and called in his officers.
“Only one transport was scheduled to depart the station this evening, and I knew all of you would plan to be on it with your prize,” Olivia continued. “But let’s face it, Iemasa. You were the one who would walk away with it in the end. Somehow the box would get to you, and you would walk from here, down the corridor to the docking arm where the transport would be preparing to depart. All I had to do was wait for you. The only big beautiful stroke of luck was that the guest quarters opposite yours were unoccupied. I’ve been able to sit here the whole time and watch the show as you and the others were picked off one by one. Got to be kind of disappointing for you, huh? You go through all that trouble to seize control of Minhdo’s bots, and what do you have to show for it? Maybe my cousin can arrange for you to share a cell.”
Four of Russell’s security officers rounded the corner.
“One more to add to the pile,” Russell said, pointing at Chiba. The officers quickly took him into custody, slapping binders on his wrists before escorting him off down the hall. His angry glare did not waver from Olivia until he was out of sight.
Once Chiba was gone, Olivia dashed into his quarters with Russell close behind. Minhdo’s dart-bots were all stuck in the wall, humming frantically to free their embedded points. The box, meanwhile, lay on the table unharmed.
“So this is it,” Russell said, picking up the box and turning it over in his hands a few times. “Doesn’t look like much.”
“That’s because it’s a box,” Olivia said, snatching it away from him and setting it back down on the table. “But as for what’s inside…” Olivia slowly opened the lid revealing…
…a neon orange stuffed animal.
“What the hell is that?” Russell demanded.
“It’s Kamarochi!” Olivia repeated. Russell still looked clueless. “Kamarochi? From Ninexega Ultimate Battle Hero Arena?”
“I have no idea what you’re saying.”
“It’s the hottest kids’ show on the Federation Broadcasting Service! Even Klingon children risk dishonor every day by flipping from Krinokor to FBS to watch it.”
“That still doesn’t explain the toy.”
“Kamarochi is exceptionally rare! He’s only appeared on the show once, and this toy was limited to a production run of only 10 units for ultimate collectable value. Your Admiral Fonn was given one of those ten because he’s friends with the company CEO, and it’s sat in storage ever since. I don’t think he even knows what a Kamarochi is.”
“So? I didn’t either.”
“The point is, he’s not going to miss it. I gave you your five arrests, and now I’m going to pack up my Kamarochi and be on my way.” She slammed the box shut and grabbed it off of the table.
“It’s still his,” Russell said, stopping Olivia in her tracks as she headed toward the exit with the box clutched her arms.
“I’m not going to let you take it.”
“We had a deal. I held up my end of it.”
“And holding up my end of it means I have to break the law. I’m not going to do that.”
“This isn’t about the law!” Olivia snapped angrily. “This is you wanting revenge, since I got away from you on Halydol.”
“Maybe, but you’re not getting away this time. That transport will not be allowed to leave with you on it.”
“Who says I’m taking the transport?” Olivia said, pulling a small comm unit out of her pocket. “Come in, Ozymandias.” No response. “Ozymandias, come in! Ozymandias! Beam me aboard! Now! Ozymandias!”
“They can’t hear you,” Russell said, grabbing her upper arm firmly with his right hand as he took the box away with his left. He flipped the box over and showed her the bottom. Stuck to it was a small thin disk about three centimeters in diameter. “I confiscated a few of these from a couple of Linarans last month. Once activated it produces a jamming signal for about ten minutes before it dissolves, leaving almost no trace behind that it was ever there. Cool gadget.”
“Just now when I picked up the box. As for the disk, well I’ve had that with me ever since we stopped by my office to pick up supplies. I wasn’t sure if I’d get the chance to use it, but I thought it might be a good idea to bring along, just in case.”
He pulled Olivia over to the sofa and sat her down, taking her comm unit in the process. “Looks like I’m getting a bonus arrest.”
“Don’t be an idiot, Sean! You can’t throw a little girl in jail. You’ll lose your post. Hell, you’ll be lucky if you aren’t court- martialed and sent to a rehabilitation colony yourself. No one’s going to believe that I’m Olivia Russell. No one!”
“It’s her,” Dr. Amedon Nelson said, walking back into the examining room from her lab. “DNA samples match Olivia Russell exactly.”
“Damn DNA,” Olivia muttered, curling her knees up to her chest as she pouted on the biobed. Russell, who was standing by the bed guarding his prisoner, resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at her.
“Looks like you’ve had a busy day, Commander,” Captain Lisa Beck said appreciatively. Russell had specifically requested that she join them in the Infirmary to make sure there was no confusion about the true nature of this little girl should Olivia make good on her threats to accuse Russell of anything inappropriate. “Six arrests, the admiral’s property was recovered…”
“…and four security officers are filling my biobeds,” Nelson said.
“Captain, now that we’ve proved who she is, we need to deal with her ship,” Russell said urgently.
“Ship? What ship?”
“She was trying to call for beam out. We may have a cloaked ship sitting right outside.”
“Beck to Porter,” Beck said quickly.
“Go ahead, Captain,” Porter’s voice replied from Ops.
“Russell believes we may have a cloaked ship parked nearby. Any thoughts?”
“Tell him its too early in the evening to be drunk.”
“Sorry, Captain. Let me put the shields up. If somebody’s parked too close, that will tip us off pretty darn quickly.”
Outside, Waystation’s shields flared to life, catching the edge of a heretofore invisible object, which flickered and wavered as its now-damaged cloak struggled to remain in place. Finally, after one last gasp, it failed, revealing a sleek silver, star yacht.
“That’s an affirmative on the illegal parking. Should I issue them a ticket?” Porter asked.
“Please do,” Beck said, casting a angry glare at Olivia.
The Ozymandias, knowing that its cover had been blown, started to move just as Porter attempted to latch onto it with Waystation’s tractor beams. The ship wasted no time in speeding away from the station, then leaping to warp.
“Crap!” Porter snapped. “They’re gone.”
“G-g-g-gone?” Olivia stammered.
“And to think that they’d leave such a fine, upstanding person like yourself behind,” Beck said. “Get her to the brig until we can figure out what to do with her.”
“Wait! The brig?” Olivia cried as Russell lifted her off the biobed. “But Chiba and the others are there. They’ll…”
“Don’t worry. I’ll give you a private cell. It’s the least I can do for family,” Russell said as he took her out of the Infirmary.
“I guess I should get back to Ops,” Beck said, looking over at Nelson. “Unless you feel like finally telling me whatever it is you’ve been dancing around for the last few weeks.”
“So much for letting me get to it in my own time, huh?” Nelson said.
“I tried that. You were taking too long.”
“I know. And really this shouldn’t be this hard. I mean, with the wedding and all coming up, you have to know what I’m about to say.”
“I think I do,” Beck said smiling. “And you don’t even have to ask. Of course, I’ll officiate the wedding.”
“Um…thanks. We thought you would…but that’s not it.”
“No. I mean with me getting married to Wuddle…you know that means I’m leaving, right?”
Beck was stunned silent for several moments. “Leaving?” she finally managed to choke out. Honestly, the thought hadn’t even crossed her mind, which was stupid, because it should have. It was obvious that she’d want to be with her new husband, and Wuddle didn’t exactly have the kind of job that could move to Waystation. “Of course I know you’re leaving,” Beck said, forcing the smile back onto her face. “You have a new life to start.”
“But it’s not like you won’t be seeing me anymore. Wuddle and I will be visiting often, and we expect you to come to Multos.”
“Absolutely,” Beck said.
“Okay. See, I don’t know why that was so hard for me. Thanks, Lisa.”
“Nothing to thank me for,” Beck replied warmly. “I’m just…happy for you.”
“I know. But still…thanks,” Nelson said.
“Anytime. Well, I’d better get back to Ops,” Beck said heading for the door. And get started on all of that “I Need A New Chief Medical Officer” paperwork, she added to herself.
Lieutenant Commander Russell strolled into the Security Office the next morning and once again found Lieutenant Mike Waits manning the main desk.
“Morning, sir,” Waits mumbled through his bandages. Despite the wonders of 24th century medicine, there was only so much that could be done when a face was hit with the force of a large Tellarite fist, but Dr. Nelson was sure the swelling would go down in another day or two.
“Except in the brig. They were yelling at each other all night…or at your cousin anyway.”
“There’s a shock,” Russell said. “I think I’ll duck in and say hello.”
“Okay, sir,” Waits said, turning his attention back to the newsfeed he was reading. He stopped and looked back up at Russell. “Oh, sir?”
“Did you realize that five of those people we have in the brig now are the people I told you about yesterday morning? The ones with suspicious records?”
“Really?” Russell said. “Isn’t that a coincidence?”
“Don’t you think that shows that it would be a good idea to flag people accused of crimes as well as the ones who have been convicted of something?”
“No, I think it shows that if someone commits a crime on Waystation, we catch them,” Russell replied. “I’m still not going to start tracking everyone who comes on board.”
“Yes, sir,” Waits said glumly.
“But if you should happen to see something that looks like a potential problem, go ahead and let me know. Couldn’t hurt.”
“I’ll do that,” Waits said.
“Good. Now I’m going to go taunt my cousin.” Russell headed back to the brig area where yesterday’s captures all sat in a row of cells. None of them looked particularly pleased to see Russell, not that he expected them too. Olivia had an especially nasty scowl on her youthful face as he stepped up to her cell. “Morning!” Russell said brightly.
She responded with a rather unladylike middle finger.
“Rough night?” Russell asked innocently.
“You can’t hold me,” Olivia said. “The lawyers are going to have a field day with you. Putting a minor in the brig with these criminals.”
“We’ll see. But somehow I don’t think it counts if you’ve artificially turned yourself into a minor.”
“You just wait until my dad hears about this.”
“I already told him. He said that if he were here, he’d give you a spanking, then let me throw you into the worst rehabilitation colony I could find. I always did like Uncle George.”
“Daddy, too?” Olivia asked, her bottom lip trembling.
“Afraid so. Well, I’m going to get some breakfast. I’d invite you along, but…you seem to be detained. Bye!”
As he walked away, he heard Olivia let out a loud sob.
Somehow, he just couldn’t feel that sorry for her.
“Ops to Morales,” Porter’s voice said over the comm system.
“Go ahead,” Commander Morales said, lowering his paint brush and taking a look at what he’d managed to produce so far on the canvas in front of him. The lines and arcs of color were more aggressive than he’d intended. Evidently fighting for his life last night was still having a wee bit of an effect on his overall mood.
“You’ve got a comm coming in from Earth.”
“Earth?” Morales asked. “Put it through.” He put his pallette and brush down on the table beside him and stepped over to the console on his desk. An instant later, his mother’s face appeared on the screen. “Mom!” Morales said surprised.
“Hi, dear,” Mrs. Anita Morales said, her eyes occasionally glancing over at something off to her left. “Do you have a minute?”
“Sure, Mom. Is something wrong?”
“Well…there are some Andorians here. They’re telling me I have to go to their embassy to fight someone named Sylvia Hodges. Isn’t Stephanie’s last name Hodges?”
“Yes. Sylvia is her mother.”
“Who I’m supposed to fight. Is everything okay between you two?”
“We’re fine. This is because of her brother and…it’s a long story. Could you just go and take a couple of play swings at each other, so this whole mess will go away? I’d really appreciate it.”
Anita Morales thought it over for a moment. “Hmmm…this could be good. I need to blow off a little steam. I’ve got this one little bastard in my class this year who…well, I’d just love to wring his little neck, but, since I can’t, maybe I’ll go wring this lady’s.”
“Thanks, Mom…I think.”
“What are mothers for?” Anita replied. “Love you, dear.”
“I love you, Mom. And try not to hurt her too badly.” Anita smiled and closed the channel.
Oh yeah. Steph’s mom was doomed.