Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
“Short End of the Stick”
By Alan Decker
He woke up on his own this morning. No alarms blasted him out of his dreams. No station crises drove him from his bed. Instead Commander Walter Morales was actually able to lay in bed and just enjoy the morning.
Morales rolled over and couldn’t help smiling. He had to admit that his enjoyment of the morning was greatly enhanced by the nude woman sleeping beside him.
Marine Lieutenant Stephanie Hodges lazily opened her eyes and half-grinned back at him. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“You. I don’t tell you enough how beautiful you are.”
“You tell me just about every day.”
“That’s not enough. It’s very important to show proper appreciation to an incredible work of art.”
“Art, huh?” Hodges said playfully, crawling over and straddling Morales. “Is that all I am to you? An object to be desired?”
Morales moaned despite himself as nature quickly began to take its course. “No,” he said. “But there’s definitely desire happening.”
“Yeah. I’m getting that,” Hodges replied just before letting out low moan of her own.
The talking stopped after that.
“Always nice to start the morning off with a bang,” Hodges said, her head resting on Morales’s chest as the pair lay in bed.
Morales chuckled. “You could say that.”
“I need to get a shower. Colonel Lazlo will be expecting me to show up for morning formation.”
“That requires movement.”
“And that’s the problem,” Hodges said. “Unnh,” she groaned, forcing herself to climb out of bed and into the bathroom. Morales heard the hydro-shower activate a short time later. A sonic shower just couldn’t compare to a shower with actual water some mornings.
Just as waking up alone could ever compare to waking up next to a beautiful woman. It was something Morales didn’t get to do nearly often enough.
“What time is it?” Hodges asked after emerging from the shower a few minutes later. Morales had to forced himself to look away from her glistening wet skin to the chronometer at his bedside.
“Almost 0740,” he said.
“Plenty of time,” Hodges replied. “But it’s a good thing I brought a uniform. I’d hate to have to slip back to my quarters right now.”
“Especially wearing that,” Morales said as Hodges wrapped a towel around herself.
“Somehow I don’t think you’d mind.”
“Sure I would. I don’t like to share.”
“Neither does the Colonel. If he knew I’d spent the night here…”
“It’s a dumb regulation.”
“Yeah, but I agreed to it when I joined the Marines.”
“You all are adults. You can decide where you’re going to spend the night. Or does Lazlo have to tuck all of you in and read you a bedtime story?”
“Sorry. It’s just…we should be able to do this every night.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Hodges said, quickly opening her towel and flashing him. “Not that I wouldn’t.”
“Exactly. We shouldn’t have to sneak around. I feel like we’re in high school.”
“I don’t make the rules. But I’m perfectly happy to break them occasionally. As long as Lazlo doesn’t find out we’re…”
Hodges suddenly disappeared in a flurry of molecules.
Morales collapsed back in bed, cursing the universe and Colonel Martin Lazlo in particular. Both Lazlo and Hodges were in for a bit of a shock when that transport was complete, Morales imagined.
Confirming this thought, Hodges’ uniform dematerialized from the chair where it lay a few moments later.
At least Hodges would be able to get dressed now, something that Morales should probably consider doing at some point as well. He pulled himself out of bed and trudged into the shower. He had a feeling that the highlight of his day was probably over. No doubt Hodges was not going to be in the best of moods this evening once Lazlo got finished with her. The best he could hope for now was to spend an uneventful shift in Ops dealing with station minutia.
The Starfleet Square Mall food court was relatively quiet as Morales approached. Most of the usual breakfast traffic was probably either at McBaughb’s or the Double D Diner this morning. Both establishments were in something of a battle for breakfast supremacy at the moment and continually trying to one-up the other with their latest special or new creation always bigger and a better deal than the last. Morales, however, had developed a taste for a Tarkalian breakfast casserole available on the “What” side of the menu at Sandwich or What and was more than happy that the food court wasn’t crammed with people.
After getting his meal, he spotted Yeoman Tina Jones seated at a table, ignoring a plate of pancakes freshly prepared by the Cardassian proprietors of Fred’s Flapjacks, one of the mall’s new food stands as she studied a padd. There was no Fred running Fred’s Flapjacks. The Cardassian owners felt that a human name on the sign would bring them better luck in attracting customers, as would human food. The Bolians running Earthly Eats on one of the station’s lower levels were less than amused, seeing the Cardassians’ actions as an insincere grab at credits as opposed to the sincere homage to Earth cuisine available at their establishment. The Cardassians really didn’t give a damn what the Bolians thought and had already put in a request with Captain Beck to take over the next stand in the food court that became available so they could open a Vulcan bakery.
Deciding that Jones could probably use a break (and that he didn’t really want to eat alone), Morales headed over to Jones’s table and sat his tray down across from her.
“Morning,” he said brightly.
“Hi,” Jones said, with a sigh as she looked up from the padd. Her eyes narrowed, studying him. “Well somebody had a good night,” she said with a smirk.
“What?” Morales protested.
“What?” he repeated.
“You know exactly what.”
Morales laughed uncomfortably then tried as hard as he could to change the subject. “Studying?” he asked, gesturing at the padd.
“Yeah,” Jones said. “We’ve got our first test of the semester coming up this evening, and I haven’t had enough time to look at this. It’s been too busy.”
“We haven’t had that many arrivals,” Morales said.
“No, but the ones we’ve had have been demanding. With President Dillon back, the dignitaries are flocking in…or they claim they’re dignitaries anyway. I don’t think owning half of an asteroid qualifies, do you?”
“Is it an important asteroid?” Morales asked.
“Are any asteroids important?”
“Sure. I consider any asteroid on a collision course with anywhere I am to be very important.”
“Then no. This one doesn’t qualify,” Jones said. “But all of these folks want VIP treatment while they’re trying to get an appointment with the President, and Bradley doesn’t seem to be all that interested in meeting with any of them.”
“Are you two on a first name basis now?” Morales asked amused.
“Actually, we are. He insisted,” Jones said, quickly erasing Morales’s smile.
“He comes by the Welcome Center a couple of times a week…just to say hi and chat a little. I think he’s lonely.”
Morales just grunted and scooped up a fork full of his breakfast. The less said about Bradley Dillon and his loneliness or lack thereof, the better. As it was, Bradley had Morales feeling a little like an accessory to temporal misconduct.
Jones turned her attention back to padd for a moment, then let out a growl of frustration. “I’m just not getting this!” she exclaimed.
“Can I help?” Morales asked. “I could quiz you or something.”
“Stand up,” Jones said.
“Stand up,” she insisted, standing herself.
“Oookay,” Morales said, doing as he was told.
Jones turned her back to him. “Now put your arms around me,” she said.
“You said you would help.”
Morales wrapped his arms around Jones.
“What class is this for?” he asked, tightening his grip.
“Should have guessed,” Morales muttered just before Jones jabbed her elbow into his stomach. Reflexively, Morales loosened his grip on the Yeoman. In an instant, she had grabbed his arm and flipped him over her shoulder. He slammed onto the deck flat on his back with a solid thud.
“Ha!” Jones exclaimed. “That was the problem! Thank you, sir. It makes so much more sense when you do it on an actual person.”
Morales gasped for air that wouldn’t come, eyes bulging.
“Are you okay?” Jones asked.
“Walt!” Jones cried, kneeling down to him. “I mean, Commander! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. It was just a …”
“Grrrrk!” Morales grunted.
“Jones to Infirmary!” Jones said, slapping her commbadge. “Medical emergency in the food court.”
“I will be there momentarily,” the controlled voice of Dr. Diantha replied crisply.
In seconds, the avian Chief Medical Officer soared above the railing looking out over the lower level of the mall and landed solidly next to Jones and Morales.
“How was he injured?” Diantha asked, her wings furling as she pulled a medical tricorder out of her pocket. The Keetooan looked at the tricorder scan briefly, clicked her tongue, then clapped the device closed, rising regally to her full height. “He has had the wind knocked out of him,” she said disdainfully.
“I…know,” Morales gasped, struggling to sit up.
“That would hardly qualify as a medical emergency,” Diantha said, focusing her piercing gaze on Jones.
“I thought I hurt him.”
“You did,” Morales squeaked. “But not badly.”
“And certainly not enough to interrupt my morning exercise,” Diantha said, extending her wings back out.
“Thanks for coming anyway,” Jones said weakly.
Diantha fixed Jones with an entirely unamused glare, then lifted gracefully up off of the deck and sailed out over the mall.
“I don’t think she likes me,” Jones said as Morales climbed back into his seat.
“I don’t think she likes anybody,” he replied.
“I need to at least make her feel welcome. I mean, that’s my job.”
“You can try, but don’t take it personally if she doesn’t respond…which you will.”
“I want people to be happy here.”
“I know. You’re going to be the friendliest security officer ever,” Morales said. He winced. “Butt-kickings with a smile.”
“I’m really sorry about that. Are you okay?”
“I’ll be fine. And I’m glad I could help, but you might want to try this stuff in a holodeck from now on.”
“Oooh! I could practice there!” Jones said excitedly.
“Yes, but I don’t know what you’re so worried about, Tina. I’ve watched you chop a table in half with your bare hand. You know this stuff.”
“Yeah, but…it’s different now. This is the Academy! And some of the techniques are a little different than what I learned back home.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“Yes. No permanent harm done,” Morales said.
“Good. I’d really hate to think I hurt you,” Jones said then quickly added a “sir”. “I’d better go study.” She scooped up her padd and rushed off down the mall concourse.
“You didn’t eat your pancakes!” Morales called after her. She was already heading into a turbolift. Morales eyed the pancakes, briefly considering giving them a try. His better judgment prevailed, though. He had no desire to spend his morning suffering under the torment of a Cardassian breakfast dish.
As soon as Morales stepped off of the turbolift into Ops, he sensed the tension. Something was definitely not right. From his post at the combined Science and Operations console, Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter gave him a quick nod of hello. Morales quickly approached Porter’s station.
“What’s going on?” he asked, already internally at Yellow Alert status.
A loud yell suddenly burst out of Captain Lisa Beck’s office.
“The captain is being attacked by a killer bureaucracy,” Porter whispered.
“I’m not sure, but it’s got her even more agitated than she normally is with these things.”
“That’s because I normally deal with most of it,” Morales said. “I wonder why she’s doing this one herself.”
“Feel free to ask her,” Porter said.
“And asking her was not our idea,” Lieutenant Commander Sean Russell piped up from the tactical console.
“That’s fine,” Morales said, heading toward Beck’s office. “I’ll be more than happy to take all of the credit for charging to her rescue.”
“You’re so gallant,” Porter said, fluttering his eyelids.
Morales rolled his eyes and tapped Beck’s door chime.
“Thank the Great Bird!” Beck shouted from inside. “Come in! Please!”
Morales stepped through the office doorway and found Beck at her desk stabbing madly at the console in front of her.
“Is there something I can help you with, Captain?” he asked.
“Don’t I wish,” Beck said. “For some reason, Starfleet insists that I fill these forms out myself. This is all that Peterman woman’s fault!”
“Ohhh. Is this Starfleet Personnel asking?”
“Yeah. I’d just gotten the ‘We Have A New Counselor’ forms dealt with, which were a real pain in the ass, mind you, since Peterman basically assigned herself rather than having Starfleet assign her. Sure, things were easy on her end. She had an android to help her with the damn paperwork. But I had to do our end myself. And now that she just up and left without so much as a ‘I’m resigning. So long, folks,’ I’m stuck explaining to personnel why she isn’t our counselor anymore. And for some reason, they don’t consider ‘ran back to idiot husband’ to be an acceptable excuse!”
“But that’s what happened…except for the idiot part.” Morales caught Beck narrowing her eyes at him. “Maybe,” Morales added.
Before Beck could protest even that assessment, the Yellow Alert klaxon sounded, startling both officers. “What now?” Beck groused, jogging with Morales out into Ops.
“Unknown vessel detected, Captain,” Russell reported. “They weren’t there, and then all of a sudden they were right on top of us.”
Beck and Morales looked at the round white-ish-grey vessel displayed on the main viewer. “A flying saucer?” Beck asked.
“Why mess with the classics?” Porter said.
“I can’t tell much from this distance,” Beck said. “Increase magnification.”
“Um…actually, the viewscreen isn’t on,” Porter replied. Morales looked at the edges of the viewscreen. Sure enough, the tell-tale glow when the screen was in operation was not present. Instead, they were looking out the large Ops window, which was hidden when the viewscreen was on.
Beck and Morales exchanged a confused glance. Beck was the first to recover. “So that ship is…”
“Right outside,” Porter replied. “About three meters away from the window.”
“Nothing that small could be a ship. It’s got to be some kind of probe,” Morales said.
“Or the invasion of the Lollipop Guild,” Porter said. “I’m reading lifesigns.”
Beck and Morales exchanged another look. “Hail them,” Beck said.
“Connecting you to Munchkinland,” Russell said.
“Okay. The next person to make a Wizard of Oz joke gets my ruby slipper upside their head,” Beck said, straightening her uniform as the viewscreen activated, revealing a hairless humanoid creature with an ovoid head and skin lined with craggy dark veins visible under its greenish-grey surface. “This is Captain Lisa Beck of the Federation Outpost Waystation. Please identify yourself and state your intentions.”
“They are inside the shield perimeter,” Morales whispered to Beck. “If they are hostile…”
“We just have to hope the hull can stand up to their weapons,” Beck replied. “Their very very tiny weapons.” Both officers struggled to fight off a fit of laughter and turned back to the screen, all business.
The being on the viewscreen bowed his head slightly. “Thank you, I do, Captain Lisa Beck. I am Yiros of Mathastelbro. My crew and I have been among the stars for many years, exploring the reaches beyond our world. We detected your grand Waystation a short time ago and changed course to investigate. We hope our arrival is not a cause of difficulty, but we would greatly enjoy visiting your facility and learning about your culture. Would this be acceptable?”
“Yes. Of course,” Beck said. “Meeting new life-forms is right at the top of our mission objectives. May I introduce my First Officer, Commander Walter Morales. He will be more than happy to continue this wonderful exchange.”
Morales’s eyes widened as he turned on Beck. She mouthed a quick, “I don’t have time for this,” at him, then turned back to Yiros, all smiles. “Commander Morales is at your disposal during your visit here. On behalf of the United Federation of Planets, I bid you welcome. Enjoy your stay.” And with that, Beck was back in her office.
Morales forced a smile for Yiros, his mind racing for what to do next. First Contacts were not exactly his specialty, and he was more than content to let Captain Beck handle the diplomatic issues. With no brilliant ideas jumping into his brain, he said the first thing that came to him.
“I appreciate you coming to help me out,” Morales said as he and Yeoman Jones straightened the chairs around the long table in Ballroom C of the Waystation Conference Center on Deck 26.
“It’s no problem,” Jones replied with a smile. “Actually, it’s my job.”
“It isn’t mine,” Lieutenant Commander Porter said as he entered the room carrying a large box with an anti-grav unit.
“No, it isn’t,” Morales said confused. “So…um…why are you here?”
“Just seeing to the little details,” Porter said, putting the box down on the table and opening it so Morales could get a look at the contents. Inside were several small chairs and a small table.
“You don’t expect them to sit on this furniture, do you?” Porter asked.
“Honestly, I didn’t even think about it,” Morales replied. “Thank you.”
“Anytime,” Porter said as he unloaded the box, placing the tiny table on top of the full-sized one. “And these should be a perfect fit, based on the scans we took of their ship. So what are you feeding them?”
“I thought maybe we’d try soup,” Jones said. “Something without meat, vegetables…”
“So we’re going with broth,” Porter said. “Yummy.”
“Do you have any better ideas?” Jones asked.
“Then we’re having soup.”
Porter held his hands up. “Okay. That’s fine by me. I’ll see if I can’t get us some appropriately-sized bowls, spoons, and cups to go with the meal.”
“Thanks, Craig,” Morales said. Porter replied with a nod, then headed over to the ballroom’s replicator.
“Waits to Commander Morales,” Morales’s commbadge barked.
“Go ahead, Lieutenant.”
“The Mathastelbroan ship has landed in Docking Bay Four, and I will bringing their crew to you shortly,” the security officer replied.
“How many?” Porter called from the replicator.
“Excuse me?” Waits asked.
“I’m trying to set the table here, and I need to know how many folks you’re bringing to lunch!” Porter said in a mock huff.
“Um…six it looks like,” Waits said.
“Thank you, Lieutenant. We’ll be waiting. Morales out.” Morales closed the channel and rocked on his heels. “They’re on their way. Oh boy.”
“Are you okay, sir?” Jones asked.
“This isn’t my area. I’m not even sure what I’m supposed to be talking to them about.”
“Just give them Federation 101,” Porter said, stepping back over to the group with a pile of tiny dishes and utensils in his hand. “Then tell them that if they have to be friends with us or we’ll play frisbee with their ship.”
“I’m just glad both of you are here to help keep the conversation going.”
“I wasn’t staying,” Porter replied. Morales stared at him, his gaze unflinching. “Well would you look at that? I’m staying,” Porter said as he started setting the places at the miniature table on top of the main table.
He had just finished when the doors to the ballroom opened, admitting Lieutenant Mike Waits, of Russell’s security staff. He looked around hesitantly then announced, “Presenting Lord Rytos and the Delegates of Mathastelbro!”
“Er…thank you, Waits,” Morales said.
“They told me to say that,” Waits said sheepishly.
Before Morales could ask why, the Mathastelbroan party entered the room riding a platform which was hovering a few inches off of the deck. Four of them, including Yiros, wore simple grey jumpsuits, but the Mathastelbroan standing in the middle of the platform like Washington crossing the Delaware, was decked out in a silver uniform adorned with several tiny gold medals across his chest (At least Morales assumed they were medals. At this scale, it could have just as easily have been gold glitter.). A bright red cape billowed behind the man, creating a fairly impressive scene. Okay, it probably would have been more impressive if Lord Rytos had been more than 30 centimeters high, but the man had presence all the same.
“Lord Rytos,” Morales said. “I am Commander Walter Morales, Waystation’s Executive Officer.” He normally introduced himself at the First Officer, but Jones had suggested going with Executive Officer this time, since it might seem more prestigious. Morales wasn’t going to take her advice, but, after seeing Lord Rytos, he decided he could use all the prestige he could get. “Allow me to introduce our Liaison Officer, Yeoman Tina Jones.”
“Welcome to Waystation, Your Lordship,” Jones said, with a slight bow. Oooh. ‘Your Lordship.’ She was good. Morales would have to remember that one.
“And this is Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter, our Science and Operations Officer.”
Porter went with the slight nod of his head in acknowledgment of the visitors. Simple, but effective, Morales thought.
“I am pleased to be here,” Lord Rytos said, striding to the front of the platform. “My expedition has traveled far from our homeworld, exploring the darkest reaches of the cosmos in search of knowledge and wonders that I might bring home to our beautiful Mathastelbro.”
“Our Federation pursues similar goals,” Morales said. “And we would be greatly interested in learning about you and your people. Would you care to have a seat, and we can continue our discussion over lunch?”
“I would be delighted,” Lord Rytos replied. “Yiros!” he commanded, pointing imperiously at the table.
“Yes, Lord Rytos,” Yiros said with a quick bow. “Ascending now.” He nodded at the Mathastelbroan steering the platform, who brought it up level with the table top. Lord Rytos strode forward (the man did a lot of striding), tossing his cape behind him as he went straight to the head of the small table waiting for him and his attendants.
Morales, Jones, and Porter exchanged glances.
“Fun guy,” Porter muttered.
“I’ve seen worse,” Jones said.
“And this is why I don’t have your job.”
“Just smile and nod a lot,” Morales said. “We’ll take care of the rest.”
“Fine by me. You two are more than welcome to handle the talking.”
Actually as it turned out, Lord Rytos did most of the talking:
“…and so, after several days of rest, we left the idyllic climes of their world behind, but, as my ship rose back into the starry void, I felt confident that my time among the Erkendians had had a profound impact on their simple race and that my visit would be remembered for centuries to come. If my efforts help them take the first steps out of their current primitive existence, all of the hardships my crew endured at the Erkendians hands before lines of communication were established, would be worth it.
“From that shimmering paradise, we traveled to the pollution-choked world of the Roritani, the location of perhaps my greatest diplomatic triumph of the entire voyage. The events surrounding my encounter with the Roritani government alone have made all of the financial resources I have expended to fund this voyage of exploration more than worth it. Again, my intellect was able to overcome a vast difference in scale and show the Roritani that Mathastelbroans are their equals if not superiors in all but size.
“Our approach to Roritan was uneventful, passing by three fairly standard gas giants in the outer reaches of their star system before we came upon Roritan itself, an unimpressive green orb of a world, slowing turning grey under an oppressive blanket of harsh smoke and vapors, sucking the life out of this once vibrant world and its residents.”
“I know how they feel,” Porter muttered to Morales. The group had long since finished eating, yet Lord Rytos showed no signs of ending his detailed travelogue anytime soon.
“We’ve got to be diplomatic,” Morales whispered back, not that Lord Rytos probably would have noticed if Morales had shouted his response. The Mathastelbroan was far too enthralled in telling his tale to notice any other activity in the room.
“Can you diplomatically tell him to shut up?”
“I’m open to suggestions as to how to do that,” Morales said.
Yeoman Jones cleared her throat loudly. “I am very sorry to have to interrupt you, Lord Rytos,” Jones said, sounding quite sincere, “but another event is scheduled in this room shortly. We will need to move this fascinating discussion elsewhere. Or perhaps you would like a tour of our station at this time. I believe you will find it quite impressive.”
Oooh. She was good.
“Yes. I would be most interested to see your facility,” Lord Rytos said. “Yiros!”
“Yes, Your Lordship,” Yiros said with a bow, signaling his subordinates, who then scrambled back to their hover platform, which was currently resting at the end of the table. Lord Rytos then did a bit more of that striding he did so well and resumed his commanding pose at the center of the conveyance, which then descended gracefully back to a level just above the floor of the room.
“If you don’t mind my asking,” Porter said, looking over the hover platform, “if you can bring that thing up to the height of the table, why don’t you just fly it at that height all the time. It would help you avoid possibly being step…” Porter, catching the frantic head shaking Morales was currently doing, trailed off.
“The Mover can only ascend or descend while in a stationary position,” Yiros replied. “Other movement can only be performed at the standard operating height.”
“That would explain it,” Porter said.
“We’ll flank them during the tour to…head off any mishaps,” Morales said. “Jones, you take the lead.”
“With all due respect, Commander, you should probably be the one conducting this tour,” Jones said quietly, so only the Starfleet Officers could hear. “Lord Rytos seems like the type who only respects those in authority.”
Morales looked to Porter, who nodded. “She’s got a point,” Porter said. “And you are the big cheese on duty.”
“All right,” Morales said. “But no criticizing my technique,” he added, giving Jones a smile. “I am no where near your level at things like this. You’ve practically got Rytos eating out of your hand.”
“And, conveniently, he could fit into it, too,” Porter said.
“Craig!” Jones said.
“What? I’m just stating a fact.”
“Do me a favor and keep your facts to yourself for the duration of this tour,” Morales said before heading over to the Mathastelbroans. “Now if you’ll follow me, I would be honored to escort you around Waystation. Construction of the original station began approximately seven years ago after the Federation encountered…”
The tour had gone fairly well thus far, Morales thought as the group waited for their turbolift to reach its destination. The Mathastelbroans had obviously never seen anything like a holodeck before, judging by their awed reactions as Morales showed them one of his favorite programs. This was unfortunately followed by a bit of nausea. For future reference, taking visitors inside his Salvador Dali simulation was not the best idea. Even Jones was starting to look a bit queasy as the world melted around them. Some people just had no appreciation for art.
The arboretum was far less eventful and evidently far less interesting to Lord Rytos, judging by his impatient foot tapping. His statement of, “Yes, I have seen plants before. Let’s move on to something relevant,” was also something of a tip-off in that regard.
With those locations out of the way, Morales decided to move on to what was undeniably the station’s biggest draw: Starfleet Square Mall (Actually, President Dillon would deny it, saying instead that the Starfleet Suites Hotel was the station’s biggest draw…or maybe Dillon’s Supply Depot…or maybe Dillon’s Restaurant inside the Starfleet Suites Hotel, but then the President could be more than a little pompous about such things).
The turbolift slowed to a halt and its doors opened on the mall’s second level, allowing Morales to lead the group out onto the concourse, which was, as usual, teeming with various beings enjoying a day of shopping or heading toward or away from one of the mall’s many eateries.
“What is this place?” Lord Rytos asked, shouting to be heard over the din of the mall and its occupants as his attendants looked around in awe.
“Starfleet Square Mall. You could say this is the center of station life,” Morales replied, starting off down the concourse with his group in tow. “On a space station, it’s easy to feel cut off from the rest of the galaxy. Recreation areas such as this provide a sense of normalcy. We have new products flowing in from around the Federation and foods from many worlds. The mall also provides a place for station visitors to relax and enjoy themselves. As the Federation colonizes worlds and makes contact with species in this region, Waystation has seen its traffic increase dramatically. As I told you earlier, this was a primary reason that the station was renovated and expanded.
“It appears that you may need to expand again,” Lord Rytos said disapprovingly as a group of Klingons brushed past Jones and came dangerously close to hitting the hover platform.
“If traffic to this area of the galaxy continues to grow, we just might,” Morales said. Inwardly, though, he winced at the very thought of it. After the last renovation, he didn’t think he could stand another one. The sour looks on Porter and Jones’s faces told him that he wasn’t alone in that opinion. “But Waystation is also important to the Federation for other reasons,” he continued. “The current president of the United Federation of Planets, Bradley Dillon, lives on Waystation. Aside from his political role, Mister Dillon is the owner of Dillon Enterprises, which operates several business here on the station.”
Morales took note of a large group of beings headed their way from the direction of the Starfleet Suites Hotel. Unfortunately, there was no real place to avoid them. This was going to be a bit tight. Best to just continue on as normal.
“We’re currently approaching the Starfleet Suites Hotel, one of Bradley Dillon’s businesses. Some regard this hotel as one of the best in the quadrant.” Hopefully Lord Rytos would not ask if Morales was included in that ‘Some.’ He was in no mood to discuss his opinion of the Federation President at the present time. Fortunately, the crowd now flowing around them was making any sort of follow-up question difficult anyway. Morales would just keep the group moving forward, let them oooh and ahhh at the Starfleet Suites lobby for a little bit, then head back toward the food court.
As the crowd thinned, Morales started his presentation again. “Waystation has the residential capacity to provide quarters to visitors in most situations; however, for those who feel like paying for more luxurious surroundings, Starfleet Suites is available, and you may even see President Dillon…”
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” the Mathastelbroans screamed.
“Yeah. Hearing his name makes us want to do that too sometimes,” Porter remarked.
“Our Lord!” Yiros cried.
“Where is he?” Morales exclaimed. Indeed they were currently running one Mathastelbroan Lord short (so to speak). Morales looked between Jones and Porter, trying not to look overly frantic about misplacing the diminutive VIP. They both shook their heads and shrugged. “Nothing?” he asked.
“There were a lot of people,” Jones replied weakly.
“And you didn’t see anything either?” Morales asked, kneeling down to Yiros and the other Mathastelbroans.
“We were looking elsewhere,” Yiros said, bowing his head in shame. “This is horrible! What shall we do?”
“Don’t worry,” Morales said. “We’re going to find him.” He stood up and stepped over to Porter, speaking quietly into his ear. “Tell Russell to meet us in Ops. I want to go through every security vid and sensor scan of this area until we find out what happened.”
“We should also start having people check the bottom of their shoes,” Porter whispered back.
“It’s okay. Let’s just…”
“That was short-sighted of me.”
Morales stopped and turned back to the Mathastelbroans, unable to look at Porter’s anymore. “If you’ll follow me,” he said through his clenched jaw.
“And this is Waystation’s Operations Center, better known as Ops,” Morales said, leading the group out of the turbolift and doing his best to keep Yiros and the other Mathastelbroans from dwelling on the fact that their lord had gone missing. Not that he had much of a chance of that happening.
“This room is where we will find Lord Rytos?” Yiros said.
“Yes,” Porter said, heading over to his station. “We monitor the station’s interior at all times with sensors and an array of cameras.”
“If somebody took your guy, we’ll find him,” Lieutenant Commander Russell said, stepping out from behind his console. “We’ll find him and we’ll arrest him, hopefully before he has a chance to go through with whatever nasty plan he’s cooked up.”
Yeoman Jones shot a glare at Russell then quickly stepped to the front of the group. “What Lieutenant Commander Russell means is that we have wonderful resources at our disposal and should have no problem locating Lord Rytos.”
“Hmmmm,” Porter muttered, frowning at the display on his console.
“No problem at all,” Jones said as Russell moved over to Porter and looked at the readout.
“Hmmmm,” Russell said, scratching his chin.
That was more than enough for Morales. “Excuse me,” he said to the Mathastelbroans and joined Porter and Russell. They were currently looking at the playback from one of the cameras in Starfleet Square Mall. He could see the tour group, and then the crowd, but when the crowd passed the tour group, the view was completely obscured.
“Another view?” Morales suggested.
“This is the fourth one I’ve tried,” Porter said. “With the hover platform sitting so close to the deck and that jumble of bodies…”
“You cannot find him!” Yiros exclaimed.
“We just started our investigation,” Jones said.
“This cannot be allowed.”
“We’re doing everything we can…”
“Our laws are clear. If Lord Rytos is not found immediately, we will have to take action!”
“Yeoman, would you please escort our guests back to their ship,” Morales said, fighting to keep the edge out of his voice. But if all the Mathastelbroans had to offer right now was threats, he really didn’t want them around. “We will inform them as soon as we’ve found anything.”
“Yes, sir,” Jones said. “Please come with me,” she said to Yiros, gesturing toward the turbolift.
“I am sorry to be so adamant about this,” Yiros said. “But, as I said, our laws are clear.”
“I’m sure they are,” Jones said as they entered the turbolift and the doors closed.
Morales let out a frustrated sigh and looked to Russell. “Have one of your officers head to the docking bay to keep an eye on things.”
“Are you sure you want to send someone in alone?” Porter asked. “If the Mathastelbroans decide to storm the station, he’d be outnumbered, and I bet their itty-bitty ray guns might sting a little bit.”
“We’ll take that risk,” Morales said. “Now what about the sensors? Even if the cameras didn’t see anything, surely they did.”
Not so much, as it turned out.
And after ten minutes of pouring through screen after screen of readouts Morales didn’t really understand, he’d come to the conclusion that he didn’t like the sensors one bit. The sensors were out to get him, in fact.
“There are just too many lifesigns in too big of a mass,” Porter said. “Add to that the Mathastelbroans stature issues, and the sensors are practically useless.”
“So we don’t have anything?” Jones asked, having just exited the turbolift and heard Porter’s last statement.
“I’m working on a headache,” Morales said.
“No,” Russell said. “No images, no sensor readings, no motive, no nothing.”
“Wait,” Morales said, perking up. “Motive. Let’s back up and think about that. Why is Lord Rytos missing?”
“He was taken,” Russell said.
“Or he decided to explore on his own,” Jones said.
“Do you think that’s likely?” Porter asked. “He didn’t seem like the go-it-alone sort. He’d want his entourage along.”
“Okay, so he was taken,” Russell said.
“Or he accidentally fell off the platform and was trampled,” Porter said.
“Let’s assume that didn’t happen,” Morales said. “So why would anyone take him? As far as we know, this is the Mathastelbroans’ first visit to this area of the galaxy. I doubt they’d have any enemies here.”
“Who doesn’t have enemies?” Captain Beck asked, stepping out of her office.
“The Mathastelbroans,” Morales said.
“Is there a problem?”
“Little Lord Fauntleroy is missing,” Porter said.
“The leader of the Mathastelbroan group is Lord Rytos,” Morales explained.
“Lord, huh?” Beck said amused. “So he’s this tiny little…”
“Cutest thing in a cape,” Porter said.
“He has a cape?” Beck laughed.
“And he vanished while we were touring the mall,” Morales said, bringing the conversation back to the issue at hand.
“Right. Sorry,” Beck said. “All of those damn forms are making me punchy. How are the Mathastelbroans taking it?”
“Not great. I sent them back to their ship while we deal with this.”
“In the landing bay.”
“And you’re going through the sensor logs now.”
“Good. Sounds like you’ve got things under control. I’m going down to the mall to get some lunch. Comm me if you need me. Otherwise, I’m content to stay out of the way while you handle this.”
“We’re handling away,” Porter said. Beck gave the gathered officers a nod, then headed into the turbolift.
“Where were we?” Morales asked, once she was gone.
“Motive,” Jones said.
“Which we don’t have,” Morales said. “What would make somebody grab Lord Rytos? To ruin any chance the Federation might have of establishing friendly relations with a new species?”
“Why bother?” Porter said. “Jokes aside, they’re tiny. Who cares if we make friends with them at all? Somebody might just have thought he looked neat and wanted a closer look. Maybe he got snagged on part of somebody’s clothes. Hell, maybe some kid thought he was part of a new toy line. Anything could have…” Porter trailed off as he realized Morales was staring at him.
“Kid,” Morales said softly.
“Lord Rytos does kind of look like a fancy doll,” Jones said.
“And a kid would be closer to the right height,” Russell said.
Porter set to work typing commands into his console. “I’m rechecking the sensor logs. I might not be able to find something as small as Lord Rytos, but a child… Ha!” He turned to another monitor and began typing even faster, this time bringing up the security monitor footage. “Okay…follow the reading…and…gotcha!”
He froze an image of a young girl on the monitor.
“Who is that?” Morales asked.
“I know,” Jones replied. And she didn’t sound at all happy about it.
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: Neither of the participants in the following conversation has a universal translator at their disposal, so don’t expect much in the way of real communicating to be happening. If they did have one, maybe this entire mess could have been avoided.)
“Oh! Look who’s come to your party, Neliane!”
“You will release me at once, impudent girl!”
“See how excited he is to be here!”
“You and your parents will pay dearly for this outrage!”
“I think he likes you.”
“Your grandparents as well.”
“You like him too?”
“I may even destroy a few of your cousins, just to be sure my point has been thoroughly made.”
“Want to give him a kiss?”
“Halleyenn of Tesidor Three,” Yeoman Jones explained as she, Morales, Russell, and Porter rushed down the upper level concourse of Starfleet Square Mall toward the Starfleet Suites Hotel. “Tesidor Three was an Earth colony at one point. Now they’re independent, and they’ve set up a monarchy.”
“So this Halleyenn is a Queen?” Morales asked.
“She thinks she is,” Jones groused. “I came from a colony. No one on my world decided they were royalty.”
“What about the girl?”
“Her daughter. Louette or Loudette or something.”
“Great. She’s a princess,” Porter said.
“She certainly acts like one,” Jones said. “She was all over the Welcome Center when her mom came in for information. I think she thought I could get her in to see Bradley…President Dillon.”
“Well, you two are on a first name basis,” Morales said.
“I am not his secretary, and I’m certainly not going to do any favors for people who demand them from me.”
“Keep that in mind when you have to start giving her orders,” Porter said to Russell.
Before Russell could respond, his commbadge activated. “Jacob to Russell! Jacob to Russell!” the frantic voice on the other end of the line cried.
“What is it, Ensign?” Russell asked.
“I was in the docking bay with the little aliens…”
“What do you mean ‘was’?” Russell demanded. “Where did you go?”
“I didn’t go anywhere. They just blasted out of here.”
“They what?” Morales exclaimed. “Where the hell do they think they’re going?”
“Right now…probably Deck 17.”
“What do you mean ‘Deck 17’?” Russell demanded.
“They blasted into the station. They’re trashing the corridors leaving chaos and destruction in their wake! It’s madness! MADNESS!”
“Oh no,” Porter groaned, putting his head into his hands. The repairs from this one were not going to be at all fun.
“Go after them!” Russell ordered. “Out!” He closed the comm channel, cutting off Ensign Jacob’s panicked response. Almost instantly, a distant boom sounded through the mall, followed quickly by screams.
“I think we know where they are now,” Morales said.
“At least the mall is wide enough for their ship,” Porter said.
“I know I’m relieved,” Jones muttered.
“You’ve got to stop them, Russell,” Morales said. Russell unholstered his phaser. “But don’t hurt them…or their ship, if you can avoid it. Let’s not make this situation worse.”
Russell put the phaser away. “If I can’t shoot them down, what am I supposed to do? Beg them to stop?”
“You’ll think of something,” Morales said.
“I hope so,” Russell replied, jogging off down the concourse and comming his officers as he went.
“We need to get Lord Rytos,” Morales said, turning back toward the Starfleet Suites. “We just need to get this Halleyenn’s room number from the desk clerk.”
“You expect to get information out of a Dillon employee?” Porter said. “How do you plan to pull that off?”
“I’m thinking death threats.”
“Ooooh. Good plan.”
As Russell jogged past the food court, he was joined by Captain Lisa Beck, who was currently accessorizing her uniform with a rather large purplish stain in the middle of her chest.
“What the hell is going on?” asked.
“The Mathastelbroans got tired of waiting, I think,” Russell said. “What happened to you?”
“I dropped my lunch when that boom happened. You know, when it hits something, soup on a stick just becomes plain soup.”
“Look out!” Russell cried suddenly, grabbing Beck and dropping to the deck as the Mathastelbroan ship zoomed around the curve of the concourse and buzzed over their heads.
“You have any plan for this one?” Beck asked. “Preferably one that doesn’t involve shooting them down and killing everyone aboard.”
“Yeah, Commander Morales said the same thing.”
“And he said I’d think of something?”
“AND?” Beck repeated.
“And I just thought of something. I just don’t think she’s going to like it.”
After finding that death threats were even more effective than he’d first imagined, Morales led Porter and Jones out of one of the Starfleet Suites turbolifts into the corridor outside the hotel’s Latinum Level suites. Queen Halleyenn obviously had the resources to afford some fairly decent accommodations. Of course, these weren’t nearly as luxurious as the Gold-Pressed Latinum suites or the hotel’s Presidential Suite (which was chock-full of portraits of Bradley Dillon, from what Morales had been told), but it wasn’t bad by any means.
The trio of officers stepped up to room L-8 and pressed the door chime. A short time later, the door was answered by a woman. Upon seeing her visitors, she instantly pursed her lips and raised her nose a bit, looking upon them with extreme displeasure.
“You are not with the President’s staff,” she said disdainfully.
“No, ma’am,” Morales said. “We’re here to see…”
“Queen Halleyenn,” Jones said, breaking in. “It is a pleasure to see you again.”
Morales stifled his surprise. This was the queen? Didn’t they usually have people to answer doors for them and such. But Morales had to admit that she did look fairly regal in her prim, yet impressive dress and white gloves.
Halleyenn nodded in acknowledgment of Jones. “What do you want?” she asked.
“Your daughter is holding a sentient being against his will and…”
Halleyenn quickly cut Morales off. “You’re suggesting that Loudette is involved in a kidnapping? That’s preposterous! She’s only a child.”
“The being in question is rather…small. She no doubt believes that he is a toy.”
“So what you are saying then is that you are here to take one of my child’s toys away. I had no idea Starfleet could be so monstrous.”
“As I said, ma’am, he’s a sentient being.”
“Then the fault lies with whomever designed a sentient toy in the first place.”
“He is not a toy,” Morales said, growing impatient. “He is a visiting dignitary, and your daughter took him from the mall.”
“Even if this were true, I do not see why I should take any action. This creature is undoubtedly being well cared for, and the upset my daughter would suffer if he were to be taken from her would be extreme. I cannot even contemplate making such a move.” Halleyenn paused momentarily, allowing her statements to set in, then added, “Unless we were to be compensated in some way.”
“We are not buying him off of you,” Morales said.
“I would have no need of your money, even if you had any to offer. Your Yeoman knows what I want, and she can get it for me.”
“For the last time, I am NOT Bradley Dillon’s personal secretary!” Jones snapped. “I can’t get you a meeting with him, and at this point I wouldn’t even if I could!”
Halleyenn narrowed her eyes at Jones, who glared back defiantly. In a calm, calculated series of movements, the so-called Queen, removed her glove, smacked Jones across the face, then put the item back on her hand. “Your tone is not appreciated or acceptable.”
“Jones,” Morales said, clenching his fist.
“Yes, sir,” Jones replied, her voice tight.
“I think you should be studying for your exam tonight.”
Jones nodded, then spun around so her back was to Halleyenn, reached around and grabbed the Queen’s arm, and went to work. A split-second later, the monarch hit the deck with a solid thud, which was immediately followed by a pained gasp.
“There are penalties for assaulting a Starfleet Officer, your highness,” Morales said flatly. “Now that you’ve been properly subdued, we’ll be calling in Security. Unless, of course, you’d prefer to work this out and let us speak to your daughter.”
Halleyenn grunted and weakly waved her hand toward the door.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Morales said with a polite nod of his head.
“I’m officially now frightened of both of you,” Porter said, as the Officers headed into the suite.
“Good,” Morales and Jones replied with matching evil grins.
“I do not like this plan at all,” Dr. Diantha said over Russell’s commbadge.
Russell exchanged a glance with Beck. “Told you,” he said.
“Just tell her to be careful,” Beck said.
“I assure you that my safety is foremost on my mind,” Diantha replied. Seconds later, the Mathastelbroan ship zoomed past the food court again, firing wildly, which was really the only thing the vessel could do at this point, since Russell had ordered force fields erected around the mall in all directions and the place evacuated (Of course, once the chaos started, most of the mall patrons had evacuated themselves). The Mathastelbroan saucer was trapped. Now they just had to finish the capture.
That was where Dr. Diantha came in.
She swooped around the bend just behind the Mathastelbroans, the golden feathers of her wings fluttering slightly as she banked the turn and continued after her quarry, attempting to aim the bulky pistol in her hand as she went.
“As soon as you have a good shot, take it,” Russell said.
“Astounding that I never thought of that excellent advice,” Diantha said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Why is it that doctors never like me?” Russell asked Beck.
“I don’t think their profession has anything to do with it,” Beck said, patting Russell on the shoulder.
Diantha hissed through her snubbed beak in frustration as the Mathastelbroan ship zigged and then zagged, forcing her to do the same. Suddenly, the craft began to spin, bringing its weapons to bear on the avian officer as it continued to fly backwards. As almost invisible blasts seared past her, Diantha went into a dive, sailing down to the mall’s lower level and taking refuge under the upper level concourse.
With their pursuer dealt with, the Mathastelbroans continued on, sending a hail of blasts through the display in the front window of R.E.F.G.O., the Really Expensive and Fragile Gadget Outlet.
Beck and Russell winced at the resulting destruction. They quickly forgot about R.E.F.G.O.’s problems and started worrying about their own as the Mathastelbroan ship turned its attention to them and sent a barrage of weapons fire their way. Beck and Russell dove for cover under the food court tables as the now-rather-intimidating vessel charged their positions.
Suddenly a golden blur swooped up between the Mathastelbroans and the human officers. Before the Mathastelbroans could react, Diantha fired, enveloping their ship in a wide net as a long cable connected them to the pistol.
“Bring it down here quick!” Russell shouted, scrambling out from under his protective table. Diantha let out an annoyed puff of air, then did as Russell requested. She slapped the pistol into his hand, the cable continuing to spool out as the ensnared Mathastelbroans attempted to flee. Russell wrapped the cable around the upper concourse railing several times, bringing the Mathastelbroans’ escape attempt to an abrupt halt.
“Great work, Doctor,” Beck said.
“I sincerely hope that I am never called upon to perform that kind of service again,” Diantha replied pointedly.
“I can’t even begin to promise that,” Beck said.
“I will be in the Infirmary performing my actual job,” Diantha said, lifting up off of the deck and sailing down to the mall’s lower level.
“At least it’s not just me that she doesn’t like,” Russell said.
“She’ll come around,” Beck said. “Okay. Probably not, but she took care of the situation. That’s the important thing.” She looked off at the Mathastelbroan ship, which was straining against its captivity. “Is this railing going to hold them?” she asked.
“It should,” Russell said. “This is solid construction, and it’s not like their engines are that powerful. We’ll be fine…unless they do something crazy like go to warp.” He saw Beck’s eyes widen in alarm. “Not that they’d go to warp. Probably.”
“Please stop talking now.”
Morales knocked lightly on the frame of the open bedroom door then slowly stepped inside. “Loudette?” he called. “I’m Commander Walter Morales. Could my friends and I come in and talk to you for a minute?”
He looked around the room, which was crammed full of dolls, doll furniture, doll clothes, and the like. Finally he spotted the young girl seated by a large doll house against the far wall of the room.
“This kid sure doesn’t believe in traveling light,” Porter said.
“Why should she?” Jones said in disgust. “She’s a princess.”
“Loudette?” Morales repeated, walking over to the girl.
Loudette suddenly turned toward him, eyes blazing. “Get…Out…Of…My…ROOM!”
“We just wanted to talk,” Morales said.
“I don’t want to talk to you.”
“You kind of have to,” Jones said.
“I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to, so leave.”
“No,” Jones said.
“She let us in,” Jones said.
“That’s one way of interpreting events,” Porter muttered.
“We need to talk to you about the toy you took from the mall. Where is it now?” Morales said calmly.
“I’m not telling.”
“Loudette, that toy is a person. You have to give him back.”
“Mmmrmmfmrmmrff!” The sound of the muffled exclamations drew Morales’s attention to the doll house in front of Loudette. Morales moved to open it.
“No! It’s mine!” Loudette cried. Morales ignored her and opened the front of the doll house. Lord Rytos was laying on one of the upstairs bed, tied down with several loops of pink ribbon around his torso.
“Get me out of here!” he demanded.
“He talks?” Loudette exclaimed.
“I’ve been talking, you stupid brat!” Lord Rytos shot back as Morales gingerly picked up the bed and began untying the Mathastelbroan dignitary.
“Give it back!” Loudette demanded, grabbing for her ‘toy.’
“He isn’t a toy, Loudette,” Morales said patiently. “He is an intelligent being just like you and me. You can’t keep him. He has his own life.”
“You’re trying to steal him!”
“I can’t steal what isn’t yours.”
“But he is mine! He is! He is! HE IS!”
“NOW! NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW!!!”
“Hey, look over there!” Porter said suddenly, pointing at the other side of the room.
“What? What?” Loudette said eagerly, turning to see.
With Lord Rytos in hand, Morales and the others ran for it.
Morales was just setting two steaming plates of freshly-replicated dinner on the table when his door chime sounded. Right on time. It was nice to be able to count on military precision, he thought as the stepped over and opened the door, revealing Stephanie Hodges on the other side. At the moment, she appeared to be having difficulty holding herself up.
“Food!” she said, perking up slightly. Morales led her over to the table and pulled out a chair for her, which she gratefully slumped into. Not another word was spoken as Hodges proceeded to demolish both her plate and his, forcing him to make a few return trips to the replicator.
“Rough day?” he asked some time later while the couple lay in his bed, her head resting on his shoulder as he held her close.
“Ran laps. Lots and lots of laps…with full gear. No more spending the night. Another day like this will kill me,” Hodges said. “But Lazlo sure seemed to be enjoying himself.”
“I’m sure he was.”
“What about you? How was your day?”
“You obviously haven’t been up to the mall.”
“Why? What happened?”
“A new species showed up, I gave them a tour, their leader was kidnapped, they blasted through several decks and shot up the mall, and I authorized an assault against a queen. We got the alien leader back, but now the queen is demanding my arrest and the aliens left in a huff and no longer want anything to do with us.”
“Oh Walter. That’s…that’s really bad.”
“Not as bad as you’d think, actually,” Morales replied. “The queen was threatening to pull her planet out of the Federation unless I was punished and President Dillon met her, and he evidently had his staff call her bluff and invite her planet to get the hell out. Turns out her world can’t survive on its own, so she’s probably off pouting with her daughter right now.”
“What does her daughter have to do with this?”
“Um…you really don’t want to know.”
“Oookay,” Hodges said, looking up at Morales suspiciously. “What about Starfleet? They aren’t upset about the pissed-off aliens?”
“They really didn’t seem all that concerned. Starfleet seems to think they’re small potatoes.”
“There’s a joke there I’m not getting.”
“Only a little one.”
Hodges yawned and snuggled in closer to Morales. “Fine,” she said. “Don’t let me in on it.” Morales was about to launch into a fuller explanation of the whole mess, but he realized she was already asleep. Considering the day she’d had, who could blame her? In a few hours, he’d roust Porter out of bed and get him to beam her back to her bunk before Colonel Lazlo did his morning bed checks.
For now, though, he’d let her rest. And honestly he could use a bit of sleep himself.
Dealing with minutia all day was oddly tiring.