Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
“From This Day Forward”
By Alan Decker
I can’t move my face, Dr. Amedon Nelson thought, standing frozen next to Frequoq Wuddle as Captain Lisa Beck performed the wedding ceremony. Nelson had not been sure how she’d react when she was actually in the midst of getting married. Obviously the answer was abject terror; although, she couldn’t figure out why. She wanted to marry Wuddle. She wanted to join her life to his. She was even looking forward to living on Multos. She was happy.
So why was she petrified to the point that every single muscle in her body had locked, leaving her a statue, a statue with a stupid grin on her face, mind you, but still a statue?
Nelson managed to shift her eyes over to look at Wuddle. He looked so…stiff. Kind of like a statue. Maybe this was just normal wedding behavior. After all, there had been so much build up to this moment. So much planning. So much waiting. Wuddle really had been wonderful about it all. At first, the idea of her wearing a white dress had taken him aback. No Multek bride would wear white. Of course, considering a white dress would blend right into the Multeks’ whiter than white skin, she could understand why. The bride would vanish. But she was not about to wear the traditional black robes Multek women normally wore. Wuddle agreed, saying he wanted her to be happy. And judging by the gaping look on Wuddle’s face when she’d appeared at the end of the aisle, escorted by her father, she got the sense that he was pretty happy with the choice as well.
Captain Beck, meanwhile, was making her way through the hybrid human/Multek ceremony. Nelson had to admit, though, that the Multek ceremony was surprising subdued compared to the rest of their culture. Well, other than the choreographed dance routine she and Wuddle had had to perform before saying their vows. Nelson was certain that the folks watching the ceremony on the holovision feed being sent back to Waystation really got a kick out of that, not that she minded.
Honestly, she didn’t mind much of anything at the moment. Today was turning out about as perfectly as she could have imagined. The sky was a gorgeous blue, with just a few puffy white clouds dotting the sky. A gentle breeze blew through the landscaped green where the ceremony and reception were being held. It was just enough to keep her cool in her dress, but not enough to disturb the intricate moves of the synchronized jugglers performing their routine behind Captain Beck.
“…and so by the power invested in me by the United Federation of Planets and recently granted to me by the Multek Enclave, I now pronounce you bonded, married, and thoroughly wed,” Captain Beck said, heading toward the finish. “You may kiss.”
A gasp went up through the Multeks in the crowd as Wuddle’s eyes widened. “What?” Beck asked. “What’d I say?”
Wuddle leaned close to her. “Multek couples do not engage in such a display of affection with after the sacred bonding ceremony.”
“Ohhhh,” Beck said. “Sorry about that. It’s kind of a human tradition.”
“I see,” Wuddle said, looking over at his bride. “Never let it be said that I am not willing to expand my horizons.” He took Nelson in his arms and planted a long kiss on her that she passionately returned as the Multeks let out another, louder gasp.
From his seat in the audience, Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter chuckled. “Welcome to the galaxy, folks.”
“Do you know how many marriages I’ve performed in the last few years?” Captain Beck said, sipping on a glass of champagne as Porter stood next to her, picking his way through the various Multek delicacies on his plate.
“Don’t think like that,” Porter said.
“Like you’re about to break into some ‘always the officiant, never the bride’ lament.”
“I do not lament.”
“Right. That’s why you were all footloose and fancy-free as a communications officer, and then after you took command of Waystation.”
“I love commanding Waystation!” Beck protested.
“Yes…now. But that’s not the point. In fact, there isn’t a point. Just never mind.”
“What’s gotten into you?” Beck asked as Porter glowered. He didn’t respond. “Oh. I get it. Finding it hard to be happy for the happy couple?”
“Like you aren’t?”
“No. I’m happy for them. I wouldn’t mind being here with a date of my own, but I’m happy for them.”
“Did you ever think weddings were designed to torture us single people?”
“Not specifically. I’m sure it’s just a pleasant side-effect,” Beck said, spotting Wuddle, Nelson, and an older Multek couple heading their way. “Shake it off. We’ve got incoming.”
“I’m all smiles,” Porter said, grinning at the approaching couples. “There they are!” he said warmly. “How’s it feel? Those matrimonial bonds cutting off your circulation yet?”
“Not even close,” Nelson said.
Porter hugged her. “Congratulations. I mean it.”
“Captain Beck,” Wuddle said, bringing the elder couple forward. “These are my parents, Swiggle and Ploortz.” Ploortz, Wuddle’s father, looked at Beck fearfully as he slowly moved his finger toward her. Slowly. Slowly. Slowly. Until…
His finger pressed against her upper arm.
“She’s real!” he exclaimed as Swiggle gaped in awe.
“He did it with me, too,” Nelson whispered to Beck.
“They still need a little time to adjust,” Wuddle said.
“They’re very sweet, though,” Nelson said. “Thank you again for performing the ceremony.”
“I would have been offended if you didn’t ask,” Beck said.
“I’m just sorry that not everyone could come.”
“Someone had to mind the store. I’m sure Morales, Russell and Jones were able to see it all over the holovision feed. But I know you’ve got other guests to see. Go mingle.”
“All right. I’ll talk to you before the Grand Opening ceremony this afternoon,” Nelson said.
“We’ll be there,” Beck replied as the newlyweds and Wuddle’s parents moved off, only delaying briefly for Ploortz to touch Porter.
“Yes, Dad,” Wuddle said, leading his father away.
Beck and Porter were not alone for long, though, as Admiral Leelan Fonn ambled over, his plate stacked high with goodies. “Nice spread,” the Efrosian admiral said appreciatively.
“Isn’t it, though,” Beck said.
“Pretty planet, too,” Fonn added, admiring the rolling green hills and woodlands surrounding the ceremony site a few kilometers outside of the Multek capital city on Multos. “Could use a golf course, though.”
A passing Multek waiter heard Fonn. “Actually, there’s one just over the second rise,” the waiter said, pointing off to the east.
“You have golf?” Fonn exclaimed.
“Yes, sir. We thought we developed the game, but, as I understand it, our government first learned of it decades ago in holofeeds intercepted from your Federation. It is quite popular in the Enclave, though. We have many many courses on the various Enclave worlds.”
“And rightly so,” Fonn said. “It’s the only decent sport the humans ever came up with.”
“We’re so proud,” Porter said.
“Do you have your speech prepared for the Grand Opening ceremony this afternoon, Admiral?” Beck asked, changing the subject.
“Yes,” Fonn said unhappily. “I still don’t see why I have to do it, but Fleet Admiral Ra’al’s a stickler for this crap. Wants a big show by Starfleet for this thing, which means I have to pull out the dress uniform again so I can preen around with whatever stooge the Federation Council sends.”
“You are the ranking officer on Waystation,” Beck said.
“Don’t remind me,” Fonn said. “Between the Klingons, the Romulans, and these Multeks, I’ve had to do a hell of a lot more commanding officer business than I had in mind.”
“I’m sure the captain feels for you,” Porter said, drawing a glare from Beck.
“It’s okay, Beck,” Fonn said, noticing the look. “I’m sure he’s right. By rights, this should be your show. You’re the one who’s dealt with the Multeks. Not me. I can understand the draw, though. This place is fantastic.”
“You can see why they wanted to protect it from outsiders for so long,” Beck said.
“Sure, but that’s just not a realistic way to live. The Collectors’ invasion may have been the best thing to happen to them. Woke them up and made them face the truth. Because if something like that could happen once, it could easily happen again.”
“Sensor contacts, sir! They’ve found us!”
“Order the fleet to jump!”
“But we haven’t found another fuel source. We can only make one more jump unless…”
“There’s no time. We have to jump! Now!”
Wuddle knocked lightly at the door of his bedroom, the bedroom he now shared with his wife. “Are you decent?” he called through the door.
“Does it matter?” Nelson replied playfully. “Come in here.”
Wuddle complied, stepping into the bedroom, where Nelson was in the process of sliding out of her wedding dress. “We’re married now,” Nelson said. “We get to watch each other change clothes for the rest of our lives.”
“Another happy benefit to marrying you,” Wuddle said, admiring the view. “Are you getting dressed for the Grand Opening ceremony already?”
“How much time do we have?”
“I should be at the site in an hour to see to any final details. Then once it’s over, we will be free to ignore the rest of the galaxy for a few days.”
“Sounds wonderful,” Nelson said. “Just you, me, and…”
“…the door chime,” Nelson finished.
“I will be right back,” Wuddle said.
He quickly made his way to the front door of his living quarters. The Frequoq’s home wasn’t ostentatious or incredibly large. In fact, it wasn’t all that much bigger than the house Wuddle had before he agreed to become Frequoq. One thing it did have, however, was an outer foyer separating the living quarters from the actual entrance to the house. This foyer was manned at all times by an official greeter, whose job it was to screen anyone who should happen to drop by to visit the Frequoq. For the most part, Multeks were respectful of his privacy. Wuddle was doing a job that none of them wanted and was seen more as a good citizen than a celebrity. Every once in a while, however, a Multek would get a little star-struck by the idea of meeting the Frequoq, which was why the greeter was required.
Wuddle answered his door and saw his greeter for this shift, Bondle, standing with Admiral Nemotz, head of the Multek Military.
“I’m sorry, Your Frequoqness,” Bondle said. “The Admiral insisted on seeing you.”
“What is it, Nemotz?”
“We may have a situation.”
“What kind of situation?” Dr. Nelson demanded, stepping up behind Wuddle. She was now dressed in casual slacks and a top.
“We’re not sure exactly, your Dronquoqness. One of our patrol ships detected several vessels entering our space, but they don’t appear to be coming from the Federation.”
Wuddle looked back to Nelson. “Can you ask Captain Beck to join us in my office?”
“Damn right I will,” Nelson said, pulling her commbadge out of her pocket.
“Do you know who they are?” Wuddle asked as Beck looked over the sensor data sent in by the Multek Military Marauder that had detected the intruders. They were now gathered in Wuddle’s office with Nelson, Nemotz, Porter, Admiral Fonn, and Faddle, Wuddle’s personal assistant.
“Not a clue,” Beck said. “It looks to be close to thirty ships, all fairly large, but the designs are all different. There’s no consistency.”
“So you do not believe it’s another invasion.”
“I didn’t say that,” Beck said. “Have your ships attempted to make contact?”
“Not yet. They were waiting for instructions from us. The alien ships have not made any aggressive moves, though. They actually don’t appear to have detected our ships yet.”
“Let’s keep it that way for now,” Beck said. “Do you think your ship commanders are up for a first contact situation?”
Nemotz and Wuddle looked at each, then shook their heads.
“Gotcha,” Beck said. “Would you mind if I went and had a look then?” She turned to Admiral Fonn. “With your permission, of course.”
“I’m not going,” Fonn said. “This admiral has made his last first contact. But you knock yourself out.”
“I would like to accompany you,” Wuddle said.
“And if he’s going, I’m going,” Nelson said.
“But Frequoq,” Faddle protested. “The Grand Opening ceremony is in five hours. You are due for the sound check in thirty minutes.”
“You’ll just have to fill in for me. I will return before the ceremony.”
“Unless we’re blasted into tiny pieces, of course,” Porter said.
“Tiny pieces!” Faddle exclaimed in horror.
“Porter,” Beck said.
“I’ll go warm up the Cumberland,” Porter said, tapping his commbadge and contacting the ship. He disappeared in the cascade of a transporter beam a moment later.
“Have the fleet rendezvous with us,” Wuddle ordered Nemotz.
Nemotz nodded and exited the office as Beck tapped her commbadge. “We’re ready to go, Porter. Three to beam up.”
“Energizing,” Porter’s voice replied. Beck, Wuddle, and Nelson dematerialized, leaving Fonn alone in the office with Faddle.
The Efrosian admiral stepped over to the floor to ceiling windows covering the rear wall of the office and let our a low whistle. “Now that’s a view. Is that a roller coaster over there?”
“One of many,” Faddle replied.
“And are those taxis…hitting each other?”
“So I guess you folks have plenty to do to keep yourselves entertained.”
“Keeping ourselves and others entertained is the main goal of our existence,” Faddle said proudly.
“Is it now?” Fonn said, lost in thought.
By the time Captain Beck stepped into the cockpit of the Runabout Cumberland followed by Nelson and Wuddle, Porter had already set a course for the alien vessels and sent the Cumberland leaping into warp.
“How many ships are in your fleet now?” Beck asked Wuddle.
“We’re still not back to full strength from the Collectors’ attack, but we have sixty-three fully-functional marauders and another fifteen due from the shipyards in the next few weeks.”
“So sixty-three ships and us. That’s a little better than two to one, but these folks have some big guys with them. Nothing as big as a vault-ship fortunately, but we still could have our hands full.”
Half an hour later, Porter brought the Cumberland out of warp and slid up alongside the Multek Military Marauder that had been shadowing the alien vessels since their arrival in the Multek Enclave. A quick conversation with the marauder’s captain confirmed that the newcomers had thus far done little of anything beyond flying in a straight line.
“I’m guessing you want to go say ‘hi,’” Porter said to Beck once they’d closed the channel with marauder.
“Seems like the polite thing to do,” Beck said, checking over the tactical readouts in front of her as she sat in the co-pilot’s seat beside Porter. “But be ready to retreat in a hurry if we have to.”
“I may not be as good of a pilot as Commander Morales, but I can run away with the best of them.”
Beck could tell almost the moment that the alien vessels detected the Cumberland heading toward them. The ships quickly went to full-stop, but no other actions were made.
“What the hell are they using for propulsion?” Porter muttered as more detailed sensor readings scrolled across his monitor. “It’s not warp drive.”
“They didn’t get this far into the Enclave on impulse,” Beck said.
“No. It’s some kind of FTL drive, but I doubt they can do more than brief jumps from place to place.”
“And where are the weapons?” Beck asked, looking over her monitors. “I’m not seeing torpedo ports, beam emitters, or anything. Woah. Wait a second. One guy is armed. All kinds of weapons’ ports. I’m not seeing anything like a phaser or disruptor bank, though.”
“Who are these people?” Nelson said. “This isn’t any kind of invasion fleet I’ve ever seen. Look at them. Battered hulls. No weapons. These guys are definitely…”
“Rag-tag?” Porter offered.
“To say the least.”
“Let’s see what they have to say for themselves,” Beck said.
“Channel open,” Porter said after tapping a few controls on his console.
“This is Captain Lisa Beck of the Runabout Cumberland. You have entered space controlled by the Multek Enclave. Please state your intentions.”
Porter hit mute. “State your intentions? Are they courting us now?”
“Do you want to do this?”
“Not a chance,” Porter said.
“Then shut it.”
“Consider it shut.” A bit of new information on his console drew Porter’s attention. “We’re getting a response. Audio only. It’s a radio signal.”
“Put it on.”
“This is Commander Odamya of the Skirmishmaster Cosmogula,” a gravely voice said. “Our intention is to pass through this area of space without conflict. We were not aware it was inhabited. Allow us to depart in peace or we will defend ourselves.”
“We’re more than happy to give you safe passage. But, as you can imagine, we were a little concerned when you showed up unannounced,” Beck said. “Since it appears that you’re not here to attack the Multeks, we have no reason to stand in your way.”
“Captain,” Porter said, watching his readouts. “We’ve got something coming in. Five small ships. They’re coming out of an FTL jump.”
“Sensor contacts,” a voice on Odamya’s side of the comm shouted suddenly. “Five raiders.”
“Friends of yours?” Beck asked.
“They’ve pursued us across star system after star system,” Odamya said grimly. “They’re relentless. We may get a reprieve for a day, maybe more, but then they find us again. They always find us. Run while you can.”
“Thanks for the advice, but I think we’ll see if we can’t talk to these guys and straighten this out,” Beck replied.
“The conversation might be a bit one-sided,” Porter said. “They’re drone ships. Robots.”
“Most of that fleet will be sitting ducks if we don’t do something,” Nelson said. “And don’t you dare start in with that Prime Directive crap.”
“Commander Odamya, do you want our help?” Beck said.
“We may be a rag-tag fleet, but our will is strong. We take care of our own and will fight against the…”
“Just say ‘yes’!” Beck snapped.
“Thank you,” Beck said. She turned to Nelson. “Prime Directive satisfied. Intercept course, Porter.”
“This won’t take long. They’re almost here,” Porter said, sending the Cumberland shooting forward toward the five boomerang-esque drone ships speeding toward the Cosmogula and its fleet.
“Open a channel,” Beck said, drawing a look from Porter. “There could be an artificial intelligence of some sort.”
“No response,” Porter said.
“Or not,” Beck said.
“Crap!” Porter shouted suddenly, banking the Cumberland hard to port as a stream of weapons’ fire blasted past the ship.
“What was that?” Beck said, checking her readings. “Projectiles?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Porter said. “I panicked over some hunks of metal? They wouldn’t make it through the navigational deflector shield.”
“Can we stop talking about how badly armed they are and just blow them up?” Nelson asked.
“Somebody anxious to get to her honeymoon?” Porter asked.
Nelson reached forward and slammed her hand down on the phaser controls, the resulting beam sliced one of the drone ships clean in half. “Shoot them!” Nelson ordered.
While not nearly as smooth or deft at the Cumberland’s controls as Commander Morales, Porter was able to zip the vessel around well enough for Beck to make quick work of the remaining four drone ships.
“Odamya is hailing again,” Porter reported as the last drone ship was reduced to a cloud of debris.
“Put him on again,” Beck said. Porter tapped a control and nodded to Beck. “This is Captain Beck.”
“Thank you,” Odamya said without a hint of actual happiness or joy in his voice. “But they will send more. They always send more.”
“I think we need some more details about your situation, Commander,” Beck replied. “Maybe we can help.”
“You are welcome to come to the Cosmogula. You won’t fit in our landing pods, but does your vessel have a shuttle of some kind?”
“We can just transport over.”
“That’s what I’m saying. We’ll expect your shuttle.”
“No no. We can…it’s hard to explain. Are you on your bridge?”
“Bridge? I’m in our command and control center.”
“Close enough,” Beck said. “Can we find that, Craig?”
“Got it,” Porter said, checking the sensors.
“We’ll be right there. Beck out.” She looked at Porter. “I’m assuming they actually have oxygen over there.”
“Breathable atmosphere. Humanoid crew. You should be fine…assuming they don’t shoot you on sight.”
“Aren’t you just Mister Doom and Gloom today?”
“It fits my general mood.”
“Well you and your mood will be staying here. I’m assuming you want to come along, though, Wuddle.”
“Yes, I do.”
“And so do I,” Nelson said.
“That one was a given,” Beck said, leading the way to the Cumberland’s small transporter alcove.
The trio materialized in the center of a room full of consoles and uniformed personnel. Beck’s first thought, though, was to wish that someone would turn on the lights. The place was dark. Well, dim really, but close enough. It was also grey. Very grey. And the dark uniforms the human-looking crew wore didn’t help brighten things up any.
At the moment, the crew was staring at Beck and company in something very close to astonishment. Aw hell, it was astonishment. Three people, one of whom was incredibly pale white with blue hair, had just appeared in their control center.
Beck quickly spotted an older gentleman who appeared to be the senior officer on duty. He also appeared to have a relief map of the canyons of Mars etched into his face. He wasn’t wrinkled. He was downright craggy.
“Commander Odamya, I presume,” she said, extending her hand to the craggy man. “I’m Captain Beck. This is Frequoq Wuddle, leader of the Multek Enclave, and Doctor Amedon Nelson, of my crew.” Beck felt a slight inward twinge with these last words. As of this morning, Nelson was no longer really a part of her crew.
“Welcome to Cosmogula,” Odamya replied. “Although, I’m not at all certain how you got here.”
“It’s not important right now. I want to know exactly what’s going on here before more of your robot friends show up.”
Odamya looked to a young woman manning a console. “Get in touch with the President and have her join us in the briefing room.” Odamya turned back to Beck. “Please follow me,” he said in grave tones before he led them out of the room.
Beck had been in many briefing rooms in her time. Most of them had little more than a table that the participants sat around to discuss the issue in question. But the Cosmogula’s was a bit more like a lecture hall, with a podium set up next to an easel where posters could be propped up for visual aids while the audience sat at a series of long tables on the other side of the room. No big viewscreens. No holoprojectors. The whole affair was decidedly low tech.
Shortly after Odamya led Beck and the others inside, a woman in a suit arrived. Like Odamya, her face was haggard (though not nearly as craggy as his) and solemn.
“President Maudlin,” Odamya said to the woman, “this is Captain Lisa Beck and a couple of civilians who are here to help us.”
Beck shot a glare at Odamya, then stepped in. “Madam President,” Beck said, shaking her hand. “This is Frequoq Wuddle, leader of the Multek Enclave, whose space you’re a guest in.” She pointed this last comment at Odamya. “And Doctor Amedon Nelson, of my staff.”
“Hello,” Maudlin said. “We thank you for your assistance, and we will be on our way as soon as we can.”
“Actually, we can’t. Not quickly at any rate,” Odamya said. “We used the last of our fuel reserves in that last jump.”
“Ahh. Is this a civilian or a military crisis? I forget.”
“I’d say that qualifies as both,” Beck said. “What exactly is going on here?”
Odamya and Maudlin exchanged a grim look, then both went to the podium just as another man rushed into the room.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said in a voice that indicated that he actually didn’t care at all. “I was at…another engagement.”
“Thank you for joining us,” Maudlin said. “Frequoq Wuddle, Captain Beck, Doctor Nelson, this is my science advisor, Doctor Guilty Badliar.”
“Are you a scientist yourself?” Badliar asked Nelson. Beck felt she heard a hint of nervousness in his voice.
“Medical doctor,” Nelson replied.
“Ah. Very good.”
“If we could get to the briefing,” Odamya said, his voice like a boulder being dragged along a gravel road.
“Of course,” Badliar said as everyone took their seats.
“Some time ago, the twelve colonies on which our people live were attacked. The enemy forces were swift, brutal, and merciless.”
“This fleet is all that remains of our civilization, and yet they track us,” Maudlin said. “Pursuing us across the galaxy relentlessly, and they will not stop until they have us. Our situation…is grim.”
“It’s bleak,” Odamya said.
“It’s grimly bleak.”
“It’s bleakly grim.”
“All right!” Beck exclaimed, rising from her seat. “We get it. You’re all doomed because these robot things are chasing you.”
Wuddle pulled on Beck’s sleeve, urging her to lean down to him. “A word, Captain.”
“Yes, Frequoq?” Beck whispered.
“We have to help these people,” he said. “Their situation is just so…depressing. I’ve never seen anyone this gloomy.”
“Are you willing to commit the Multek fleet?”
“Yes. We must intercede.”
“All right. You’ve got my support,” Beck said. She refocused her attention on Odamya and Maudlin. “We will help you. How much time do you think we have to get ready?”
“Oh…about twenty minutes,” Dr. Badliar said. All eyes were suddenly on him. “That’s just a guess, of course,” he added nervously.
“All right, this is what we’re going to do,” Beck said, striding to the front of the room. “Wuddle, alert the Multek ships and get them to join us here.”
“This is my fleet,” Odamya said.
“Mine too,” Maudlin added.
“You can’t just order us around.”
“That’s what my help entails,” Beck said. She slapped her commbadge. “Beck to Porter.”
“Go ahead, Captain,” he said.
“Have you been able to figure out enough about these engines to guess what they might use for fuel? They seem to be fresh out.”
“We just need to get them to Multos,” Wuddle said.
“I think I can replicate something that will work,” Porter said.
“You’ve got ten minutes.”
“No problem. I’ll transport the presents right into their engine rooms.”
“Thank you, Craig. We’ll be contacting you soon for beam out.”
“Transporters are standing by.”
“I didn’t understand a word of that,” Maudlin said to Odamya, who just shrugged.
Sure enough, twenty minutes later, a new set of sensor contacts showed up on the Cumberland’s scopes. There was one slight surprise, though…
“Um…” Porter said, mouth gaping at the readout. “Um…”
“What is it?” Beck, who had taken over the piloting duties, asked, glancing over at Porter’s console. “Oh.”
This was not another squad of robot fighters. This was huge. Massive even. Still not Vault-Ship massive. Instead, this looked more like an evil mutant Christmas ornament dropping into normal space.
“Plan?” Porter said.
“Same plan,” Beck replied. “We’re not leaving these people to die, and they’re not going to be forced to run from these things anymore. You agree, right Wuddle?” she said, looking back to the Multek leader sitting behind her.
“Yes,” Wuddle said determinedly, reaching across to Nelson and squeezing her hand. “We have to do this.”
“Yes, we do,” Nelson said.
“Don’t worry, you two. We’ll make sure you get your honeymoon,” Beck said.
“Odamya is hailing,” Porter said. Beck nodded, and Porter activated the comm.
“They’re here,” Odamya’s voice said (you guessed it!) grimly.
“We noticed,” Beck said. “Is your fleet ready?”
“They’ll jump on my command.”
“Hold for now. Let’s let these guys get close to make sure they commit themselves to an attack. Do you have a name for them by any chance? I’m getting sick of calling them ‘these guys.’”
“Yes. They’re soulless machines. Relentless. Merciless. They’ve chased us across sector after…”
“They’re launching fighters,” Porter said.
“Oh thank the Great Bird,” Beck said. “This is Captain Beck to all Multek ships. Intercept to those fighters. Odamya, get your fleet out of here!”
The Multek Military Marauders and the Cumberland, all of which had been closely shadowing the large vessels of the Cosmogula fleet, zoomed out of their hiding places and charged toward the incoming Encyclon fighters as the civilian ships accompanying the Cosmogula activated their FTL drives, running fuel provided by Porter, and jumped away.
Beck was about to issue orders to the Marauders, but the Multek ships suddenly broke off into pairs, each one covering the other as they engaged the hopelessly-outgunned Encyclon fighters.
“They’ve been practicing,” Wuddle said proudly.
“Too bad Morales isn’t here to see this,” Porter said.
“I’m just glad they actually listened to what he was teaching them,” Beck said. “But it looks like we’re stuck without a date to this particular dance.”
“Does this mean we’re asking out the big girl?”
“If you have to beat this particular metaphor to death, yes. And why does that thing have to be a she?”
“It’s a ship. I didn’t make up the tradition.”
“Stupid tradition,” Beck muttered, zipping the Cumberland through the battle-zone until they broke free and had a clear path to the massive, star-shaped Encyclon monstrosity looming before them.
“They’re hailing us,” Porter said surprised.
“Really?” Beck said. “I didn’t think they were much into talking. Are you picking up any life signs on that thing?”
“Not a one.”
“Hmmm… Put them on.”
“Do we know you?” a perfectly pleasant male voice asked.
“I don’t believe so,” Beck said.
“I didn’t think your ship looked familiar. You may not know it yet, but this is your lucky day. I have something here that will change the way you look at the universe.”
“If you’re about to offer to assimilate us or something, don’t,” Beck said. “We’re not interested.”
“No no no. Nothing like that. I want to give you knowledge!”
“What sort of knowledge?”
“All sorts. The universe at your finger tips. Tell you what, I like you. I can give you a free trial of the first volume. Then other volumes will follow, one about every other month.”
“Volumes?” Porter asked. “Of what?”
“Of what?” the Encyclon said with a laugh. “Why only the greatest source of information ever to grace this plane of existence: the Bot and Fractal’s Encyclopedia!”
Beck and Porter just stared at each other.
“Come on!” the Encyclon said. “This is THE one and only Bot and Fractal’s! Now where shall I send your complimentary volume?”
“Um…nowhere?” Beck said.
“Are you getting existential on me?”
“No. I don’t need an encyclopedia.”
“Of course you do. Everyone needs encyclopedias. Just think of all the hours of pleasure that await as you thumb through your complimentary volume. Aaaarugas, Aacklenods, Aalo…”
“I don’t think so.”
“We’ll just deliver it to your vessel. How’s that?” the Encyclon said.
“Captain!” Porter exclaimed as three more fighters launched from the Encyclon mothership.
“Refusing delivery would be unwise,” the Encyclon said ominously.
“No one has ever accused us of being wise,” Beck replied, sending the Cumberland into a barrel roll as Porter let loose with the pulse phaser cannons. The three fighters were reduced to scrap in seconds.
“We’ll get a replacement volume to you right away,” the Encyclon said.
“I don’t think so,” Beck said, glancing at Porter. “Torpedoes and tri-cobalts. Let them have it.”
“I thought you’d never ask,” Porter said, letting loose with the Cumberland’s weapons. In seconds, a full-spread of torpedoes and tri-cobalt devices was streaking toward the Encyclon vessel.
On the comm, the Encyclon laughed harder. “Your ship is an insect compared to our bibliostar. You cannot hope to…”
BOOOM BA BOOOM BOOOM BOOOOOOOM!
The Encyclon bibliostar erupted in multiple plumes of flame, then exploded violently, but not before sending out one last transmission:
“You could have just said no.”
“You didn’t let me fire a shot,” Commander Odamya said unhappily, staring down Beck after the group had reconvened in the Cosmogula’s briefing room. “How can I be stalwart, grim, and commanding when you people swoop in and do all of the fighting? We didn’t even get hit by stray weapons fire!”
“Sorry?” Beck said, unsure why this was a problem.
Odamya glared at her, then turned away with a growl. “We need to catch up with the rest of the fleet. They could be in danger.”
“They went to Multos. They’re safe,” Frequoq Wuddle said. “You have my word on that.”
“How do I know I can trust your word?” Odamya said. “Never trust a politician.”
“Hey!” President Maudlin said. “I heard that.”
“And? I don’t trust you either.”
“Excuse me,” Beck said, interrupting. “Can we get back to the part where you were all running away from a bunch of encyclopedia salesmen? Are you seriously telling me they wiped out your planets?”
“We’d kept them at bay for years,” President Maudlin said. “For long stretches, we wouldn’t get a single sales pitch, but then they’d be back, stronger than ever, blanketing our colonies with their advertising and ‘Request More Information’ postcards. But then…” The President trailed off, almost overcome with grief. “Doctor Badliar,” she croaked. “Can you explain the rest?”
Badliar, who’d been sitting in a corner trying to be as unobtrusive as possible, coughed startled. “Why yes of course, Madam President,” he said, rising hesitantly to his feet. “The Encyclons would send wave after wave of these postcards. Postage paid. If you were to return one, they promised to send more information about the encyclopedias. We, of course, ignored these, but one day someone, and we have absolutely no idea who this someone could be, since no one here would do such a thing, well, this someone checked the ‘Yes, Please Send Me More Information’ box and mailed it back.”
“That was all the opening the Encyclons needed,” Odamya said. “Within five days, we were under a full assault.”
“By the encyclopedia salesmen,” Dr. Nelson said.
“Did you try saying ‘no’?”
“Our government made some excuse about needing the money to pay for Grandma’s operation. That’s when the Encyclons hit us with the…hard sell.”
“The results,” Maudlin said, “were catastrophic.”
“Well, it’s over now,” Beck said. “They’re gone, and you and your people can try to return to something resembling normal lives.”
“I don’t know that we can,” Odamya said. “We’ve lived under siege for so long. Our lives have been so…”
“Grim?” Beck said.
“Bleak?” Nelson said.
“Exactly,” Odamya continued. “You can’t come back from the places we’ve been. These scars will not heal. They are the wounds of a civilization destroyed. How can any person recover from such a thing?”
“I may know how you can start,” Wuddle said.
“Ladies and gentlemen. Beings of all ages. I welcome you to Multos!” Frequoq Wuddle announced, standing at the podium on the stage that had been set up in the courtyard of the Multek Government Complex for the Grand Opening ceremony. “Since our earliest attempts to reach out into the universe, we have believed that we were alone. We took comfort in that knowledge and dedicated ourselves to making out lives as full and pleasurable as possible.
“But the truth, as we now know, is that we are not alone. We are but one people in a universe teeming with life. Some feared that this knowledge would destroy us, that the Multek people would not be able to cope. We have proven these people wrong, and more that, we have chosen to reach out to the other races of the universe and share with them the great achievements of the Multek Enclave.
“Today is the culmination of many months of effort. It was an enjoyable effort, but an effort nonetheless. Now our facilities are ready to serve not only our people, but also the citizens of the universe. The Multek Enclave is open for business!”
A huge round of cheers and applause went up from the crowd of Multeks listening to the ceremony as Beck, seated beside Admiral Fonn on the dais, couldn’t help but smile. The Multeks had come a long way in six short years, and she’d been a big part of it. It was a wonderful feeling. She still didn’t want the Multeks building statues to her or anything, but she was more than happy to enjoy this moment.
To her left, Admiral Fonn didn’t look nearly as pleased as he muttered to himself.
“…stupid speeches. I hate making speeches. Didn’t sign up for this. I don’t care if I’m in command of Waystation. I don’t want to make a speech. Should have just told Ra’al where she could stick this damn…”
“But our first guests,” Wuddle continued at the podium, “need the services of the Multek Enclave perhaps more than any other people in the galaxy. They have been driven from their homes, chased across space, and relentlessly attacked by an implacable, and now destroyed, foe. It is our duty as Multeks to give back to them the one thing their lives have been missing for so long: fun.
“Our full range of restaurants, bars, night clubs, spas, and rides will be open to them. They WILL know joy again!” Wuddle thundered.
Another cheer went up from the crowd as Commander Odamya and President Maudlin, who were also seated in the audience, looked at each other.
“Fun?” Maudlin asked quizzically.
“Joy?” Odamya said, equally confused.
After Fonn grudgingly stumbled his way through his speech and the bureaucrat sent by the Federation Council blathered on for the longest 20 minutes of Beck’s life about the Federation’s hopes for the Multeks and its desire to work closely with Wuddle in the future, Wuddle finally closed the Grand Opening ceremonies, paving the way for the marching band and the clowns.
On the dais, Beck and Fonn rose from their seats.
“I’m glad that’s over,” Fonn said as the Federation representative, a Jerlian female name Huvila, approached the pair.
“Admiral Fonn,” she said, extending her hand to him and ignoring Beck. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir. I saw Waystation as we flew passed it on our way here. It’s an impressive station.”
“I know you have duties there to attend to, but I was hoping that I might steal a moment of your time. We will be contacting Fleet Admiral Ra’al about establishing some kind of Starfleet presence on Multos. Nothing official really. Just a liaison to Frequoq Wuddle should any issues arise that we might be able to help with.”
“Frequoq Wuddle has an established relationship with Captain Beck,” Fonn said. “I’m sure he’d go to her about any problems.”
“Yes,” Huvila said, which was more of an ‘I’m not done talking’ than an ‘I agree with you,’ “But Starfleet should have a high-ranking representative on Multos, don’t you think?”
“So you want someone to be here but not really do anything?”
“The representative would advise Frequoq Wuddle in the event of a problem. Do you know of anyone who might be a good fit for such a post?”
“Absolutely,” Fonn said. “Me.”
“You?” Beck and Huvila said surprised.
“Put me down for the job,” Fonn told Huvila firmly.
“You really would leave Waystation to come here?” Huvila asked.
“Over the last year, I’ve really come to feel a connection to the Multek people,” Fonn said. “I would be honored to serve here.”
“Thank you, Admiral,” Huvila said. “I’ll see to it immediately.” She rushed off, leaving Beck and Fonn alone.
“Can you believe that?” Fonn said to Beck. “Starfleet will post me here! Here! And, like I told that pinhead from the Council, Wuddle will go to you with any problems he has. It’s perfect!”
“You’re that anxious to get away from us?” Beck asked. Honestly, it was all she could do to stop her self from shouting “Bon voyage!” at the top of her lungs and dancing a little jig.
“Come on, Captain. We both know you’d like nothing more than to have command of your station back officially. And to be honest, Waystation ended up being more trouble to me than I was expecting. It’s a nice place, but you can have it. I’ll be fine right here.”
“Far be it from me to argue,” Beck said. “But, for what it’s worth, I hope you’re happy here.”
“I think I will be. And speaking of happy, here’s the happy couple now,” Fonn said as Wuddle and Nelson approached. “How’s married life treating you?” he asked warmly.
“Um…all seven hours of it have been fine,” Nelson said, shooting a questioning glance at Beck. “How are you doing, Admiral?”
“I’m great! Fantastic even. Wonderful planet you have here, Wuddle. I’m looking forward to seeing more of it. Much more of it.”
“Good,” Wuddle said. “I hope you get the opportunity.”
“I already have.”
“Allow me to introduce you to your new Starfleet liaison,” Beck said.
“Admiral Fonn…is moving here?” Nelson asked.
“Yes, I am!” Fonn said. “Time to celebrate. Where’s the bar?” He suddenly gave Nelson a big hug, shook Wuddle’s hand, then charged off in search of a drink.
“Does that mean what I think it means?” Nelson asked Beck.
“I think so,” Beck said smiling. “I have my station back.”
“Congratulations, Lisa. That’s great news,” Nelson said.
“Yeah. Actually it is. Don’t get me wrong. Fonn wasn’t a bad guy, and he stayed out of the way most of the time. But those rare occasions when he did poke his nose into things were a real pain in the ass.”
“No offense to him, but if I have a problem, I will be coming to you,” Wuddle said.
“That’s what he’s counting on,” Beck said. “Let the man have his fun.”
“I will. If you ladies will excuse me for a moment, I need to speak to Faddle briefly.” Wuddle gave his wife an adoring smile, then stepped over to talk to his assistant.
Beck watched Dr. Nelson for a short time. Her gaze was still locked on Wuddle, smiling lovingly at her new husband. Nelson was happy, which was nice to see. And Beck was fairly certain she’d stay happy on Multos. Between serving as head of the Enclave’s Division of Xenomedicine and being with a man who truly loved her and whom she truly loved, Nelson had a bright future ahead, even if that future didn’t involve Waystation.
“He’s a good man,” Beck said.
“Yes, he is,” Nelson replied. “I’m very lucky. Of course, so is he.”
“That he is,” Beck said. They were silent for a moment. “Have you arranged to have the rest of your things sent from the station?”
“A freighter should be picking them up in a few days,” Nelson said. “Any word on my replacement?”
“Not yet. Starfleet’s pretty focused on the Romulans right now. They’re still trying to clean up the mess that Shinzon guy left. I’m sure we’ll hear something soon, though.”
They fell into another silence.
“We’re going to miss you, you know,” Beck said finally.
“I know. I’m going to miss you guys, too, but you’ll see me. Wuddle and I want to have some of you visit after we get settled in.”
“We’ll be here,” Beck said.
“You’d better,” Nelson said, grabbing her former commanding officer in a long hug. “Pass that along to everyone else, will you?”
“You got it.”
A sudden agonized scream, echoing seemingly from everywhere at once, smashed the jubilant atmosphere.
The remaining crowd that hadn’t filtered out of the area for refreshments or to hop on a ride looked around for the source of the cry. A wide-eyed Multek rushed up to Beck and Nelson.
“Doctor Dronquoq! Doctor Dronquoq!” he exclaimed, pulling Nelson aside and whispering frantically in her ear.
“I need to go,” Nelson said to Beck once the Multek had finished. “Commander Odamya’s managed to hurt himself.”
“He was having so much fun on one of the rides that he actually cracked a smile…literally. His whole face shattered.”
“Didn’t his mother ever tell him that if he frowned too much, his face would freeze in that position?”
“Guess not,” Nelson replied with a chuckle. Beck watched as she rushed away with the Multek toward her patient and her new life.
Beck was not left alone for long as Lieutenant Commander Porter stepped up beside her, picking strands of cotton candy off of his uniform.
“What happened to you?” Beck asked.
“Admiral Fonn just hugged me.”
“He’s in a good mood.”
“He mentioned that. And I’m guessing that means you’re in a good mood as well,” Porter said with a grin.
“You would be correct.”
“Well, you’ve had a pretty full day. Performed a wedding. Saved some refugees. Blasted some robots. Oversaw the opening of a culture that didn’t even believe we existed a few short years ago. And got command of your station back. How do you propose we top off such a day, Captain?”
“Honestly, I think I just want to go home.”
“May I escort you back to your Waystation then?” Porter asked with a bow.
“Yes, please,” Beck replied.
Waystation was hers again.
And all was right with the universe.
“Um…where’s my station?”
Captain Beck looked from the empty space outside the viewport to Porter, who was frantically checking the runabout’s sensors. “Did we make a wrong turn somewhere?”
“No,” Porter said, shaking his head in confusion. “These are the right coordinates, but Waystation’s gone.”
TO BE CONTINUED…