Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
“Estrangers in the Night”
By Alan Decker
At first there had been sleep.
Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter jolted awake, his eyes instantly opening as his body tensed to alert status ready for whatever crisis was about to confront him.
Woah. That was a naked woman.
There was a naked female body in bed with him.
Eyes locked on the curves in front of him, Porter struggled to piece together the events of the night before and determine just how this had happened. There was the dinner with Dr. Nelson and Frequoq Wuddle, and a lot of wine, and then he and Captain Beck had wandered back to his quarters and…
Porter’s looked up at the face of the naked woman beside him.
“Sorry,” Beck muttered through the hand she had clapped over her mouth. “I just…I didn’t remember…I…I…I’ve gotta go.” Beck leapt out of Porter’s bed, scooped up her uniform, and fled into the bathroom.
Should he say something to her? What was there to say? He really should say something, though. This was the kind of circumstance that required some words of some sort. Something…
Porter broke out of his thoughts just in time to see a now-uniformed Beck zoom out of his quarters.
So much for talking.
Well, hopefully this wouldn’t make things weird between them.
THREE WEEKS LATER…
The turbolift doors opened, allowing Captain Lisa Beck to stride quickly out into Ops. “Morning, Commander,” she said, immediately heading over to Commander Walter Morales’s post at the docking control console. “Anything to report?”
“No, ma’am,” Morales said. “And we have a fairly light day of arrivals and departures. Things should be fairly quiet.”
“Good. I’ve got some things I need to catch up on. I’ll be in my office if anyone needs me.” She turned toward her office, her eyes locking with Porter’s for a split-second. Porter quickly averted his gaze to the sensor readouts scrolling across his console. Beck looked away just as quickly, her eyes focusing instead on her office door, which she practically bolted for. Moments later, she was safely ensconced inside.
Porter let out an inaudible sigh.
Nope. Things weren’t weird. Not at all.
Inside her office, Captain Beck plopped down into her desk chair and groaned. That was just…awkward. Not that the same scene hadn’t played out in pretty much the same way everyday for the last three weeks.
This was absolutely insane. She and Craig Porter had been good friends for years. So they slept together. Big deal.
So why couldn’t they look each other in the eye?
Maybe they just needed a little more time. Things would get back to normal…eventually.
They’d been friends for too long to let a little thing like a drunken one-night stand get in the way. It’d take a lot more than that to permanently damage their friendship.
Crewman (well, crewwoman really) Jinesek was of two minds about the light-traffic days on Waystation. On the one hand, it meant not having to deal with as many moronic questions and pointless complaints from the passengers on the various starliners arriving at and departing from the station as she stood at her post at the reception counter near the exit of Docking Bay Three. However, no ships meant a lot of time assigned to other, even less glamorous duties around the docking bay. She hadn’t been pleased when Captain Beck announced that docking bay personnel would now double as welcome staff (an idea she was certain that Yeoman Tina Jones was responsible for. Everyone knew that Jones was shifting every job she could off onto others now that she was taking classes at the Academy Annex on the station on her way to becoming an officer), but Jinesek had quickly found that talking to some of the station visitors actually could be interesting.
Thus far, the new arrivals disembarking from the transport currently resting in the docking bay hadn’t been much for conversation. Jinesek did what she could to engage them, thus extending this process for the one ship scheduled to land in Docking Bay Three today as long as she could and saving herself from cleaning the emitter on the docking bay tractor beam array as long as possible.
“You’re sure you don’t want to hear about the sales going on in the mall?” Jinesek called after the Vulcan she had helped. Well, “help” was really a strong word for it. The Vulcan had simply wanted to know what deck the arboretum was on. With only one other person waiting in line at her little reception console, Jinesek did all she could to offer additional assistance. The Vulcan wasn’t interested. He didn’t even raise an eyebrow at her. People could be so serious.
With the Vulcan gone, the final person in line, stepped up to Jinesek’s console. Jinesek looked from the departing Vulcan to the human woman in front of her and froze, unable to get out her usual “Welcome to Waystation” banter.
“Do I get temporary quarters from you?” the woman asked.
“Is there a problem?”
“Er…no. I’m sorry,” Jinesek said, quickly turning her attention to her console. She glanced back up. “You just look an awful lot like our captain.”
“I’m not her.”
“No, you aren’t. Again, I’m sorry. Could I get your name please?”
“Doctor Katherine Beck.”
“Beck?” Jinesek said, studying the woman’s face again. “Our captain…”
“I just want a place to stay,” Kathy Beck snapped, cutting her off.
“Are you two related? I could contact Ops and let Captain Beck know…”
“Sorry. There. Deck 84. Room 8437.”
“Thank you,” Kathy said. She moved to go, then turned back to Jinesek. “And as far as you’re concerned, I am not here.”
“But you’re standing right in front of me.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Don’t…tell anyone…that I am…here!”
“If my superior officers ask, I have to tell them.”
“They won’t ask.”
“Then why are you worried about me telling anyone? Would anyone even care that you’re here? Except Captain Beck, and I don’t talk to her socially…or ever really.”
“Fine! Have a nice day!”
“I will!” Kathy shouted, storming out of the docking bay and leaving Jinesek alone. Dammit. Jinesek should have argued with her a bit longer. Now she was going to have to clean that emitter. Were there no other arriving passengers around she could yell at? No? Dammit!
If he hadn’t been paying so much attention to the holovision feed on his console, Lieutenant Commander Sean Russell probably would have seen them coming. As it was, though, today’s episode of “Days of Honor” caused him to totally miss the entrance of two members of Federation President Bradley Dillon’s Special Secret Section into the Security Office on the lower level of Starfleet Square Mall until they were glowering across the desk at him.
“You will see him now,” Agent Anderson, the head of the Special Secret Section, said to Russell.
“Who? Huh? Wait. Now? No. I need two more minutes. B’lok is about to…”
“Now!” Anderson repeated, grabbing Russell by the front of his uniform and hoisting the Waystation Security Chief to his feet just as Bradley Dillon strode into the office.
“Commander Russell,” Bradley said warmly, grabbing a confused Russell’s hand and shaking it quickly. “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice.”
“Wasn’t given much choice,” Russell muttered, stealing a glance at the holovision monitor. Hey! Who was that on the ground with the bat’leth sticking out of his back? Or was it a her? It was hard to tell with Klingons sometimes. What just happened?”
“Excuse me?” Bradley said, the smile on his face never wavering.
The closing credits began to roll, and Russell still didn’t know who’d been impaled. Why the hell couldn’t Bradley and his goons just have the common courtesy to let him finish his show in peace? Now he was going to have to wait until tomorrow to… Oh. Bradley was still waiting for a response. No sense in antagonizing the Federation President…even if this was his fault.
“I just said I’m happy to assist,” Russell said, pasting on a smile of his own. “What can I do for you?”
“A threat has been made against one of my establishments on the station.”
“What kind of threat?” Russell asked, his full attention now focused on Bradley. This conversation wasn’t going to be a waste of his time after all.
“A bomb threat.”
“When? Against what? Did they give you a timetable? Was the threat commed to you? We might be able to trace…”
“There’s really no mystery to solve here, Commander,” Bradley said. “The threat was made against the Double D Diner by the Andorian Baughb.”
“He threatened your restaurant?”
“So I’ve been told by my employees.”
“He threatened them?”
“You’ve lost me,” Russell said.
“You are aware that the Double D is staffed by Betazoids?”
“Yeah. They know what you want before you order it. It’s a great gimmick.”
“I thought so,” Bradley said. “However, in the course of their duties, three members of the staff picked up violent thoughts directed toward the diner. Each of them focused in on Baughb, who was passing by outside at the time, and apparently he was having very specific thoughts about blowing up my establishment, right down to where to best place the explosives in order to cause the most damage.”
“He thought about blowing your place up,” Russell said.
“And you want me to do something about it.”
“Yes!” Bradley said.
Evidently Russell had jumped to the conclusion about his time not being wasted a bit too soon. “I can’t arrest somebody for thinking something, even violent somethings,” Russell said.
“I’m not asking for an arrest, Mister Russell. Just an investigation,” Bradley replied.
“Based on what evidence?”
“Aren’t the thoughts enough?”
“No. He hasn’t done anything wrong. No laws were broken, and beyond that, I’m getting the content of these thoughts third-hand.”
“You do recall, of course, that the Andorian in question was persona non grata on this station for a year after he killed someone. I’m no lawyer, but last I checked murder was a crime. Now this person who already has a history of violent action is thinking about coming after my restaurant. For the safety of the residents of this station, I feel quite strongly that it is your duty to investigate this.”
“I do,” Bradley said pointedly.
Russell got the distinct sense that this was not so much a request as a direct order from the President of the United Federation of Planets.
“I’ll look into it,” Russell said. Bradley smiled indicating that Russell had chosen wisely.
“Thank you, Commander.”
“I’ll need to interview the three employees who heard…or whatever the thoughts.”
“Of course. You will have our complete cooperation. I’ll expect to hear from you shortly.” And with that, Bradley turned and made his exit, his Special Secret Section smoothly taking up positions surrounding him.
Russell, meanwhile, was left wondering how he was supposed to investigate something that may or may not have occurred inside an Andorian’s head. Baughb seemed nice enough and all, but Russell worried that if he walked up to him and said, “Excuse me, Baughb. Are you planning to blow up the Double D Diner?”, he might just end up with a large blade sticking out of his chest, and Russell had a general policy to avoid that kind of thing.
By all rights, she shouldn’t care, but Crewman Jinesek couldn’t deny her Gorrellan heritage. This is not to say that all Gorrellans were nosy as though it were some kind of species trait. No one would ever be so tactless as to suggest such a thing (Even if more than one Gorrellan had been found snooping in areas they didn’t belong or getting involved in matters that didn’t concern them. And all records of early Federation maps labeling their homeworld Busybodious Three have long since been destroyed.). Still Jinesek couldn’t get the arrival of Kathy Beck out of her mind, particularly her desire for secrecy. Secrecy usually meant some kind of plot was in the offing, and more often than not, such plotting involved a party. And if there was going to be a party, Jinesek was damn well going to be attending, even if it meant blackmailing the station liaison officer for an invitation in exchange for her silence.
Jinesek found said liaison officer, Yeoman Tina Jones, at her desk in the Waystation Welcome Center while her Multek assistant, Hypple, was attending to a cheery Trill couple and filling them in on the glorious sights the Multek Enclave had to offer. Jinesek gave Hypple a quick wave, which he returned (his skin was just an amazing white. And perfectly smooth, like porcelain. She really wouldn’t mind getting her hands on… This was not the time), then she strode over to Jones’ desk, where the Yeoman was buried in a padd of notes from one of her Academy classes studying, which seemed to be all she ever did anymore. Jinesek was about to say something, but stopped when she saw the bottle on the desk beside Jones.
“Is that duomali juice?” Jinesek blurted out, scaring the crap out of Jones, who responded with a startled cry as she tumbled out of her chair. Jones quickly ascertained that she was in no actual peril and pulled herself to her feet. “Wow. That security training is something,” Jinesek said with a laugh. “Pretty soon you’ll be as good at running away from danger as our real security officers.”
“I didn’t hear you come up,” Jones said. “I was concentrating.”
“What did you want?”
“A couple of things. First, as I already asked, is that duomali juice.”
“How did you get that? I thought the crops on Kerkigar were practically wiped out this year.”
“Really? I didn’t know that. Actually, I’ve never had the stuff until today. Someone left it for me.”
“Left it for you,” Jinesek said flatly. “You’re kidding.”
“Nope. It was here when I got in this morning with a note saying it was for me. It was probably just some freighter captain or another who was happy with our service. Do you want a glass?”
“That’s okay. You keep it,” Jinesek said. Inside she was seething. “Happy with our service.” Right. And in gratitude, Jones gets presents while Jinesek got to clean emitters. How was that fair? Jinesek’s repayment was coming, though, and it wasn’t going to involve some fruit juice. It was time to get down to business.
“So when is the party?” she asked.
“What party?” Jones replied.
“For the Captain.”
“There’s a party for the captain?” Jones asked. Jinesek had to hand it to the human. She was doing a very convincing job of looking completely confused.
“You can tell me, Tina. I won’t spoil the surprise.”
“I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Come on. I know what’s going on. I saw Captain Beck’s sister when she arrived.”
“The captain’s sister is here!” Jones exclaimed. Um…maybe Jones wasn’t so much faking confusion.
“Yeah,” Jinesek said, pressing on. “You know Captain Beck. Is her birthday coming up or something?”
“It was two months ago. Did her sister say anything to you?”
“Only that she didn’t want me to tell anyone that she was here.”
“So you told me.”
“Look, is there going to be a surprise party or not?”
“Not that I know of.”
“And if you don’t know about it, it probably isn’t happening,” Jinesek said in irritation.
Jones thought for a moment then nodded. “Yeah. That’s usually true…but I didn’t know about Captain Beck’s sister coming. Maybe she didn’t want to cause a disruption. If people knew she was here, they might start treating her differently.”
“You mean like sucking up.”
“Yeah. Did you suck up to her?”
“No. No one who saw our conversation would ever accuse me of that.”
“Good. But we probably should do something, just to make sure she’s comfortable.”
“I really don’t want to be her personal attendant while she’s here,” Jinesek said. Why did she even say that? If Jones hadn’t had that idea before, she would now. Quick! Run!
“No no. Nothing like that,” Jones said. Jinesek relaxed. “I’m just going to check with the captain. She probably won’t want me to do anything, but I should at least see.”
“You do that,” Jinesek replied, ready to head for the exit. “But if she asks, you didn’t hear about this from me.”
Her ass sufficiently covered, Jinesek headed out of the Welcome Center, giving Hypple another friendly wave as she left. So maybe there wasn’t a party with the command crew tonight. Surely she could find something else exciting going on. And if not…well, she could always see if Hypple was available.
Jones, meanwhile, couldn’t help but worry if she was about to have her evening study plans shoved out the nearest airlock if Captain Beck did end up wanting her to arrange some kind of reception or dinner for the captain’s sister. Beck probably wouldn’t come right out and say it, but it was part of Jones’s job to be ready for these sorts of things (At least Jones thought of it as her job, even though really planning dinners for the command crew was nowhere in her position description), whether her studying was affected or not.
“Jones to Captain Beck,” she said, tapping her commbadge.
“Beck here,” the captain’s voice replied with an edge of fatigue followed by a slight grunt.
“Are you okay, Captain?”
“Fine. Just stretching. I’ve been staring at this damn screen for way too long.”
“I can speak to you later if…”
“Now’s fine, Tina. I could use the interruption. What did you need?”
“I know you probably didn’t want a big deal made about this, but I was wondering, now that I know she’s here, if you’d like me to put together a reception or something for your sister.”
There was absolute silence on the other end of the commline.
“Captain?” Jones ventured finally.
“I’m going to ask you a very important question now, Tina, and I want you to answer it as thoroughly as you can.”
“Yes, ma’am. Sure.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Your sister arrived today, and I just wanted to know if you wanted to have a dinner for her or anything,” Jones said, suddenly wishing that the comm system would pick now to fail.
“My sister is here.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jones said, quickly pulling up the passenger manifest from the transport that had arrived earlier in the day on the monitor embedded in the surface of the circular reception desk. “I believe so. You didn’t know she was coming?”
“No. Are you certain it’s her?”
“Doctor Katherine Beck.”
“Where is she staying?” Beck said. It was definitely a demand rather than a casual request for information.
Jones typed in a few more commands and found the room assignment Jinesek had made earlier. “8734,” she replied. “Would you like me to send her a welcome package? I could put something together.”
Over the commline, Jones heard the soft whoosh of Beck’s office doors opening and closing.
In his years as a security officer, Lieutenant Commander Russell had interviewed many witnesses about many things. While the details may have changed from event to event, there was a basic questioning protocol. “What did you see?” “What did you hear?” And so on. The current investigation, however, made phrasing even the most basic beginning question difficult.
“What did you think you thought Baughb was thinking?”
After stumbling through two fairly useless interviews with a Betazoid busboy and short order cook from the Double D Diner, Russell hadn’t gotten any better at asking what he needed to ask. And, based on the reactions of his interviewees, his disdain for the entire mess was evidently coming through.
Of course, that tended to happen when dealing with mind-readers.
This time, though, he was going to be professional…and prepared. He had his questions somewhat rearranged, and his mind was totally focused on them. The next witness to come through his office door would sense nothing but his complete preoccupation with the matter.
The office door chime sounded.
<The case. The case. The case.>
“Come in,” he called.
<The case. The case. The case.>
The doors slid open.
<The case. The case. The case…Damn, she’s hot!>
The Betazoid woman who was stepping into his office stopped, her eyes narrowing at Russell.
<SHUT UP BRAIN! The case. The case. The case.>
“Thank you for coming,” Russell said, extending his hand for the newcomer to shake. “I’m Lieutenant Commander Sean Russell, Chief of Station Security. And you are…” He glanced down at his padd, even though he would have much rather continued gazing at the dark-haired beauty standing before him. “…Sutrea Gral.”
“That’s right,” Sutrea said, sliding into the chair across from Russell. Somehow she made the mere act of sitting look intensely enticing.
“Good. Now Ms. Gral…”
“Sutrea, please. I hear Ms. Gral, and I start looking for my mother.”
“Okay. Now then, Sultry…” He saw her eyes narrow again a split-second before his brain registered what he’d just said. “Sutrea! Sutrea. I have a few questions I need to ask about this incident with Baughb.”
<Focus on the questions. Focus on the questions.>
“First off…” he continued.
Sutrea raised her hand to stop him, then rattled off answers, “Yes. Just before the end of my shift. About ten meters away. Never on a first date. And how dare you ask me that.”
“Er…okay. Well, thanks for your time.”
“You’re welcome,” Sutrea said flatly as she rose from her chair and turned toward the exit.
<Great Bird, she’s got a fantastic…>
“It is nice, isn’t it?” Sutrea said, glancing back at Russell before she slipped out the door.
Oh well. So much for professionalism. It was overrated anyway.
For all of her determination in coming down here, Captain Beck couldn’t help but wonder if this was a bad idea. It was a little too late now, though. The sound of the door chime was just fading, and soon she would be face-to-face with the sister she hadn’t spoken with in almost two decades. Maybe she should have waited and let Kathy come to her. But she’d come this far. Beck could go the rest of the way to make this rapprochement happen.
The doors of the guest quarters slid open, and Beck forced herself to withhold a gasp. Despite the passage of time, in Beck’s mind Kathy was still the 15-year-old girl she’d last seen in their family home in North Carolina. The woman in front of her was unmistakably Kathy, but she looked so…grown. They both had done a lot of growing in the intervening years.
Spotting Beck, Kathy’s face darkened. “I should have known,” she spat, turning away in disgust.
Okay. So maybe Beck’s expectations of growth were a tad high.
“Kathy,” she said, following her sister into her quarters. “I’m so glad you came. I hoped you would respond when I commed you a few months ago, but, when I didn’t hear anything back, I assumed… Never mind. It doesn’t matter now. It’s…it’s good to see you.”
“I didn’t come to see you,” Kathy shot back, turning on Beck.
Beck stopped, taken aback by the hatred blazing from her sister’s eyes.
“Twenty goddamn years later, and you still think the universe revolves around you. Why the hell did Starfleet have to go and make you a captain? Just inflated that raging ego even more, didn’t it?”
“Kathy, that’s not…I…” Beck trailed off, feeling completely off-balance. Kathy hadn’t come to see her? Then why…
“I have business to attend to on this station, Lisa. Unfortunately, it happens to be a place where you are. If I didn’t have to be here, I can assure you, I wouldn’t be, and as soon as my work here is done, I’ll be leaving. If you can just pretend I’m not here during that time, it will be better for both of us. I can damn well tell you that’s how I’m going to be handling it.”
“What sort of business?” Beck asked softly.
“Does it matter?”
“I just wanted to know what you’ve been doing. Astro-Tech is keeping you happy?”
“It’s fine. They and Starfleet have both approved my visit here, so you don’t need to stick your nose into it.”
“Wait. Starfleet? Why are we involved?”
“I am meeting with an officer tomorrow.”
“Woah. Hang on a second. That would be my officer you’re talking about, so I have every right to know who you’re meeting with and why.”
“I have approval.”
“Not from me, and I haven’t heard a thing about it. So unless you feel like waiting for me to confirm this with Starfleet Command, start talking. Who is it?”
“Craig Porter. He’s a Lieutenant Commander in…”
“I know who Craig is!” Beck snapped. “And he never said anything about meeting with you!” Not that he would considering how things have been between us lately, Beck added to herself.
“That’s because I haven’t contacted him yet,” Kathy said.
“So you think you can just show up and use one of my officers for whatever project you’re working on.”
Kathy stormed over to a nearby desk and snatched a padd off of it, which she practically threw at Beck. “There! Like I said! Approval! From Starfleet!”
“But not from me.”
“It’s from over your head,” Kathy said.
“He doesn’t have to talk to you.”
“What? Are you going to order him not to?”
“Anything to hurt me, huh?”
“I’m not trying to hurt you!” Beck shouted.
“Why not? You always did such a great job of it!”
“That was never what I wanted.”
“No. You just wanted everything your way. Well, too bad, Captain. You don’t get your way on this one.”
“I have a lot of reading to do before I meet with Commander Porter tomorrow.”
“If we could just talk….”
“I have nothing to say.”
“There’s nothing to hear,” Kathy said heading back into the bedroom. “You can show yourself out.” The bedroom door closed, leaving Beck standing alone. Her impulse was to charge the bedroom door, screaming all the way. Kathy was damn well going to hear her out, even if Beck had to have her held down by Security to make it happen.
She held herself back, though. What would it get her? Kathy would still hate her. Probably even more than she did now, if that was possible. Beck waited a few more seconds, watching the door for some sign that Kathy might come out.
Beck knew she could still try to reach out to her sister. An “I love you”, or maybe just a simple “Good night,” could be enough to get through to her. Instead Beck said nothing as she walked out into the corridor.
“Sounds like a waste of time to me,” Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter said just before taking a sip of his orange juice as he sat with Lieutenant Commander Russell, Yeoman Jones, and Commander Walter Morales in the food court of Starfleet Square Mall the next morning.
“No kidding,” Russell grumbled. “But he’s the president. I can’t just say no, can I?”
“Um…I don’t think so,” Jones said. “I mean, since Bradley’s the president, he’s technically the Commander in Chief of Starfleet, which means he can give orders. Now normally the president wouldn’t give an order to an individual officer like this, but there’s nothing to say he can’t, right, Commander?” Jones pointed this last question to Morales, who just grunted without looking up from his eggs.
“Succinct, ain’t he?” Porter said.
Jones leaned over and playfully slapped Morales’s arm. “He’s just pouting because his girlfriend couldn’t be here to make googly-eyes at him over breakfast.”
“Steph does not make googly-eyes,” Morales said.
“I wasn’t done complaining,” Russell said.
“Sorry,” Porter replied. “We now return to your regularly- scheduled whining.”
“Jones’s right,” Morales said, before Russell could start back up. “Unfortunately.”
“Crap,” Russell muttered.
“I wouldn’t be happy about it either. Man’s got a lot of nerve. Too much nerve.”
“He is the president. I think he’s got to have nerve or he couldn’t do the job…or run his business,” Jones said.
Morales grunted again.
“So what am I supposed to do?” Russell asked. “I interviewed the so-called witnesses, and I don’t have anything to show for it except for some very nice memories.”
“One of them was hot, huh?” Porter said.
“Oh yeah. Maybe I should question her again.”
“Would it help your case?” Jones asked.
“Don’t go all security officer on me now, Tina. You don’t get to do that until you graduate…and even then, don’t,” Russell said. He leaned back in his chair and sighed. “I have to talk to Baughb, don’t I?”
“That would seem to be the logical next step,” Porter said. “In a waste of time kind of way.”
“You could try talking to Captain Beck about it. I doubt she’d like it if she knew someone was borrowing one of her officers,” Morales said.
“Excuse me,” an unfamiliar female voice said, interrupting the conversation and drawing the group’s attention to the woman who had just stepped up to their table. “Craig Porter?”
“That would be me,” Porter replied, unable to stop from staring at the newcomer. Something about her was very familiar.
“Could I borrow you for a moment?”
Russell chuckled. “Maybe you need to talk to Captain Beck about this one,” he said to Porter.
“She knows I’m here and that my business with Mister Porter has been approved by Starfleet,” the woman said crisply. She turned her attention back to Porter. “Do you have a moment, Commander?”
“An abundance of them,” Porter said, wiping his mouth with his napkin then getting up from his seat. “What can I do for you?”
“I’d like to talk to you somewhere private, if you don’t mind.”
“Even better,” Porter said. “My lab’s just a few decks away.” He escorted the woman away as Russell, Morales, and Jones watched.
“His lab? Take her to your quarters, you moron,” Russell muttered.
“Who was that?” Morales asked.
Jones gulped down a bit of food uncomfortably. “Er…I don’t know,” she lied. That had to be Dr. Kathy Beck, but if Captain Beck’s reaction yesterday was any indication, there was more going on here than Jones knew. But in this case, she was pretty sure she didn’t want to know. Okay, who was she kidding? She did want to know, but she wasn’t about to ask the captain about it…or let on to the others that she knew anything. Porter would surely fill them all in later, and then maybe Jones could get some idea of what the hell was going on around here.
Sitting across the table from Captain Beck in the Ic’hasssssst V’kelsnet Andorian Restaurant, Federation Marine Lieutenant Stephanie Hodges idly swirled the chunks around in her water and waited for her long-time friend to stop watching the door.
“Well…this is…different,” Hodges said finally. “I’m so glad I ditched Walter to do this instead.”
Beck craned her neck again to get a look at the door. As it was, the pair was seated in the darkest corner of the restaurant, which was pretty damn dark, making the likelihood of anyone seeing them fairly low. It also made it quite hard to see the restaurant entrance, as evidenced by Beck’s contortions.
“Lisa, what the hell are you doing?” Hodges said.
“I don’t want her to see you.”
“Kathy who?” Hodges suddenly stopped. “Kathy! She’s here!”
“Yes! Keep your voice down!” Beck whispered harshly.
“Um…Lisa. We’re adults now. Do we really still care anymore whether or not she follows us around?”
“I don’t want her to see you.”
“Do I get a say in this? I haven’t seen her in years. I’d love to say hi, talk to her some. How is she doing?”
“She still hates me.”
“Kathy came all the way here to tell you that?”
“No. She’s here for work. It’s something that involves Porter, but she won’t tell me what it is.”
“Then why don’t you ask him?” Hodges said.
“Er…too obvious,” Beck said unconvincingly. “I want you to spy on them instead.”
“Lisa…honey…listen to yourself. That’s insane.”
“No, it’s perfect. Kathy has no idea that you’re here, but you know her. You can monitor her behavior and tell me if she’s up to something.”
“Again, insane. First, who’s to say that she won’t recognize me? And second, unless she’s still acting like a kid, my knowledge of her behavior is a bit out of date. What’s really going on here, Lisa?”
“You didn’t see her last night, Steph. I mean it. She really does hate me. It’s been almost twenty years, and she still hasn’t grasped the fact that I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“You refused to stay with her after your parents died, you shipped her off to live with your grandparents on some tiny colony world away from every friend she ever had, and then you handed her over to the authorities when she ran away.”
“That’s a really nasty way to spin what happened,” Beck said.
Hodges shrugged. “Just trying to see it her way.”
“You think I was wrong.”
“I never said that. But I can understand why she feels that way, and you can’t force her into some kind of emotional reconciliation with you. Let her do her job and leave her alone, if that’s what she wants. She’ll probably respect that more than you pushing her to talk to you.”
“So I’m just supposed to ignore the fact that my own sister is on board.”
“Yeah,” Hodges said. “If anything she’s doing is a problem, Porter will let you know. Other than that, I think you’ve just got to keep your distance, Lisa.”
“I don’t want to.”
“But I’m not getting my way on this one, am I?”
“Not this time.”
“Do I try to get my way all the time?” Beck asked.
“Is it annoying?”
“Is that a nice way of saying bitchy?”
“No comment,” Hodges said with a smirk.
Porter stepped aside to allow his guest to enter Science Lab Two, which was generally considered by the station’s science staff to be his personal domain. And he tended to treat it as such, which explained the piles of clutter, half-dismantled bits of equipment, and various tools that were scattered around the tables and work benches.
“It’s not exactly up to Starfleet specs,” Porter said, stepping in behind her. “But I can get my work done here.”
“That’s one word for it, I guess. So what can I do for you, Ms…”
“Doctor. Doctor Katherine Beck. But call me Kathy. And I’m with Astro-Tech.”
Porter froze. “Beck?” That’s why she looked familiar! She looked like Lisa…Captain Beck…her!
“Yes, we’re related,” Kathy snapped. “But it’s not relevant to why I’m here.”
“Oooookay. No problem,” Porter replied. “I guess that answers why I’m being loaned out, though.”
“Hardly,” Kathy muttered.
“Never mind. The reason I’m here, Commander, is that I have begun an investigation of ways to better integrate temporal theory into the construction and functioning of spacecraft, and you are generally considered to be one of the quadrant’s foremost experts in this particular arena.”
“I am?” Porter said surprised.
“You obviously haven’t followed the reaction to your publications in civilian scientific circles.”
“Well, I’ve had papers accepted to a few journals, and there have been some conference invites, but I’ve been too busy here to get away. This conference for Operations officers I have coming up will be my first chance to attend one of these things, but there’s no temporal physics involved…barring me losing time due to excessive drinking. Not that I’d do that. I’ve learned my lesson about real alcohol. Just synthehol for me from now on. Not that you care. You were saying?”
“Yes. I was hoping to get your thoughts on a few ship-design concepts I’m pursuing. I gather from your records than you have some interest and expertise in that area as well.”
“So what exactly are we talking about here, Doctor?”
“Time drives, Commander Porter. Time drives. An engine capable of sending a vessel of any size through time instantly without the need of warp engines powerful enough to slingshot around a star.”
“Time travel for everyone? Is that a good idea?”
“It would be strictly controlled, I’m sure. But right now our temporal abilities are very limited. Slingshot maneuvers are difficult and dangerous and require powerful ships to accomplish.”
“A runabout did it.”
“I’m aware of the incident, but they only pulled it off because of abilities of the craft’s pilot.”
“He is quite a guy.”
“My point is that wouldn’t it be nice if a small team of historians could visit any era they wanted without having to take some lumbering hulk around a nearby sun?” Kathy said testily.
“I’ve got to admit, a time drive would be pretty cool. And you think you know how to build one.”
“I have some ideas.”
“Well, let’s see what you’ve got,” Porter said, pulling a couple of chairs over as Kathy retrieved a jumble of padds from her shoulder bag. “Looks like we have similar organizational techniques,” Porter remarked with a smile, noting the mess inside Kathy’s bag.
“A hallmark of great mind,” Kathy replied, returning the smile as she put the first padd in his hand. “Now tell me what you think of this?”
The breakfast rush was subsiding as Lieutenant Commander Russell made his way into McBaughb’s, located a short way down the upper concourse from the food court of Starfleet Square Mall. Most of the tables were still occupied, but at least Russell could see the counter. When he’d walked by a few minutes earlier, the only thing visible was a mob of customers.
“Good morning, sir. Welcome to McBaughb’s! May I take your order?” the eager young Tellarite standing behind the counter said cheerily. A cheery Tellarite? There was just something really wrong with that concept.
“Thanks, but I already ate,” Russell replied. “I’m here to see Baughb.”
“If you’d like an application, I can…”
“I’m Chief of Security, kid. I don’t want a job. I want Baughb! Not job. Baughb! Got it?”
“Yes, sir. It’s my pleasure to allow you to speak to our fine manager, Baughb. Have a nice day!” The Tellarite quickly retreated back into the kitchen area, returning a few moments later with Baughb.
“Mister Russell!” the smiling Andorian proprietor of McBaughb’s exclaimed. “How good of you to come by! I trust you enjoyed your meal yesterday.”
“Oh yeah. That Gk’Muf’n is incredible. I almost came back for another one this morning.”
“I’m sorry that something stopped you.”
“I had plans. But look, I need to talk to you about something for a few minutes.”
“In private would probably be better.”
“Is there a problem?” Baughb asked, suddenly concerned.
“Not to my mind, but my mind isn’t the one that matters here, unfortunately. Do you have an office or something we could use?”
“Of course. Right this way,” Baughb said, activating a switch behind the counter, which caused a small section of it to slide open allowing Russell access to the back. He followed Baughb to the small office located with a view of the restaurant’s kitchen and stepped inside, Baughb closing the door behind them. Baughb took a seat at his desk, fidgeting nervously with his hands, as Russell took the seat opposite him.
“Has there been a threat?” Baughb asked.
“Yes,” Russell said surprised. “How did you… Oh. Wait. There’s a threat, but not against you. Actually, you supposedly made it.”
“Me?” Baughb gasped in horror. “I never threatened anyone. I wouldn’t! Who said that?”
Russell took a deep breath and launched into the whole ridiculous mess. “President Dillon came to me because a few of the Betazoids on the staff of the Double D Diner said you were thinking about blowing up their restaurant when you walked by yesterday. Did you walk by there yesterday?”
“Well, yes. I went to see Ih’mad during the morning lull, and I passed by, but…”
“Then you were there,” Russell said. He’d already checked the mall security camera logs and established that Baughb had gone by yesterday, so at least the Andorian wasn’t trying to lie about it. That was a good sign…if anything in this mess could be called a good sign. “Do you remember what you were thinking about at the time?”
“Probably about talking to Ih’mad,” Baughb said. “Certainly I don’t recall thinking about anything blowing up.” He paused for a moment and then, “Excuse me for asking this, Commander, but can I really get in trouble for what I was thinking about?”
“Technically, no, but considering your past…”
“You killed a guy.”
“I acted in a way proper to my culture.”
“Yeah, but most people still think of killing as a crime. I guess President Dillon was concerned that you might be considering eliminating the competition. Things have been pretty tense between you and the Double D for a while.”
“Not lately. We won,” Baughb said proudly.
“You…won,” Russell repeated confused.
“The residents of Waystation considered the evidence and decided that McBaughb’s was the better eatery, particularly for breakfast. Did you not see that we were voted Best Breakfast Value by the Waystation Residents’ Council?”
“No. I missed that. Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” Baughb said with a bow of his head. “To be quite honest, we’ve got all the business we can handle. You’ve seen the crowds during our rush periods. People want to eat here. And there seems to be plenty of business for the Double D as well, so I guess you could say we both won…I just won a bit more.”
“So, just to summarize, you don’t want to blow up the Double D.”
“No. That might get someone hurt!” Baughb said in horror. “And really I don’t need that kind of bad publicity. Sure the Andorians would be impressed, but my clientele is much larger than that.”
“You’ve got a point,” Russell admitted. “I guess that means I’d better come at this another way.”
“And what way is that?” Baughb asked as Russell got up from his seat.
“You’ve got me, but if you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them,” Russell replied. “Thanks for your time.”
“Of course,” Baughb said. “Come by anytime…but preferably not to accuse me of a crime.”
“Sure thing,” Russell said, lost in thought as he exited the office. So he had no real crime, and no motive for said not-real crime. This was not going to go down as his best investigation ever. Of course, President Dillon wasn’t going to be satisfied if Russell presented what he had now to him. He needed to change tactics. Come at it from a different angle. What he needed was…
What he needed was…
…to figure something out. Oh yeah. Now there was a revelation. Big help, Russell. Big help.
“A temporal vortex would be defeating the point.”
“But it would work, wouldn’t it?”
“Maybe, but the power you’d need to generate one…”
“But if the ship itself is small, you won’t need to make a big one,” Kathy protested.
“The size isn’t the issue,” Porter replied, rubbing his beard. “It’s creating the rip that opens the vortex in the first place and then sealing it back up again. That’s what’s going to take the power. And…” He trailed off, uncertain that he wanted to continue.
“And what?” Kathy demanded impatiently.
“Messy? What does that mean?”
“When I think about a time drive, I think about something capable of moving the ship itself through time, not something that’s going to require making a big hole in the fabric of the universe that just anything could fly through. It needs to be self-contained.”
“And clean,” Kathy said with a smirk that Porter had to look away from. It was way too reminiscent of Captain Beck’s smirk, and thinking about Beck led to thinking about what had happened between them, which he really didn’t need to be doing right now.
“Yeah,” Porter said. “I still think that exciting a source of chroniton particles with controlled neutrino emissions is the way to go. I’ve seen it work before in an uncontrolled way.”
“The Piranthi stone,” Kathy replied, nodding her head. “I read your paper on it and I know several groups seized upon the idea after you published, but no one has been able to create the kind of chroniton source required to pull it off. The stone seems to be the only one anyone has come across, and it’s trapped inside an ontological paradox.”
“Well, if Lisa hadn’t dropped it…” Porter said.
“Would be her fault,” Kathy muttered.
“Nothing. The point is that unless you’ve got another chroniton source laying around, I won’t be able to use that method in the ship.”
“Well, I don’t have the rock itself, but I do have all of my scans of the rock,” Porter said. “Unfortunately, other than the chronitons, all the scans say it’s just a rock.”
“Can I see them?” Kathy asked eagerly.
“Be my guest,” Porter said, heading over to a nearby console and pulling up the readings. Kathy looked over the results, frowning.
“It’d help if I was a geologist,” she said finally.
“Possibly. I’m not a real expert, but I’ve dabbled since I was a kid. My parents were terraformers, so I saw a lot of worlds with a lot of different rocks growing up. I know just enough to bore you, but it all boils down to the idea that that’s a rock.”
“Have you had Starfleet Sciences look at these readings?”
“No. Honestly, I’ve kind of wanted to keep this one to myself. Who knows? I might actually find something one day.”
“I can understand that. It doesn’t help me get a functioning time ship, though,” Kathy said, striding away from the console back to the table where their padds were spread out.
“Best to keep your expectations low,” Porter replied. “It’s not like you’re going to leave here with a working prototype.”
“I have a prototype,” Kathy shot back. “Or the beginnings of one. What I don’t have is a way to power it!”
“This could be crazy talk here, but I usually prefer to design the ship after I have an idea how it’s going to work.”
“I take my resources when I can get them. Now can we talk about ways to move my ship through time that are actually doable without creating magic chroniton rocks?”
“It’s a good theory.”
“Theories won’t help me. I need something that works,” Kathy said sternly.
“Gotta love this pure science for the sake of science, stuff,” Porter remarked, heading back to the table to join her.
Kathy shot him an irritated glare, then shoved another padd in his direction. “What about dimensional slips? I could maybe travel through a dimensional slip.”
After going through several rounds of trying to figure out what he needed, Russell decided that what he most needed right then was a walk. He’d intended to take a leisurely stroll around the mall to clear his mind, but his thoughts kept coming back to the case (if it could even be termed that) and his complete inability to find an answer that would satisfy President Dillon.
What he needed was…
What he needed was…
What he needed was…
Dinner. What he needed was dinner.
And the Double D Diner was conveniently nearby. Maybe heading back to the scene of the so-called crime would help. At the very least, he’d leave with a full stomach and maybe, if he was lucky, another look at Sutrea Gral.
Stepping into the diner, Russell finally had his first break. She was there. He planted himself on a stool at the counter as she walked over to him with a big smile on her face.
“Good evening,” Sutrea said.
“Hi there,” he replied, returning the smile. At least she was smiling at him. After the way she’d left his office, he half-expected to be ignored…not that that would necessarily bother him. The view was still good.
“Here for dinner, huh?”
“Yep. I would like…”
“Don’t tell me,” Sutrea said with a wink. “I already know.”
Captain Beck didn’t have any particular reason to be in her office at that hour. Sure there were some reports she could be working on, but nothing pressing. The evening shift didn’t need her to be there. Commander Morales had things well in hand. If she was going to be really honest with herself, she was hiding. Her office was the one place where she knew for certain she could avoid running into Kathy because if she did, Steph’s sage advice not withstanding, Beck knew she wouldn’t be able to just let things go.
She’d been hiding in here a lot lately. First from Porter. Now from her sister. This was becoming a disturbing trend. If too many other people she had past issues with showed up, she’d have to install a bed and a shower.
And here she sat, staring blankly at the wall and hoping her mind would take the hint and go blank itself. So far it wasn’t working. Visions of her childhood raced through her mind, trying to connect the girl she grew up with to the woman she’d met earlier in the day.
The sound of her door chime barely registered. It sounded again. “Come in,” Beck said distractedly. The doors whooshed open to admit who she assumed would be Commander Morales.
“Hey,” Lieutenant Commander Porter said taking a hesitant step into the office. “Got a minute?”
Beck quickly jolted back to a more professional posture. “Of course, Commander. Sit down.”
“Lisa. Please don’t do that to me,” Porter said.
Beck softened. “I’m sorry, Craig. I just… I don’t know.”
“Neither do I. I guess that’s been the problem,” Porter replied, dropping onto Beck’s sofa. She moved over to join him.
“I crossed a line,” she said.
“I was there, too.”
“Yes, but you aren’t the commanding officer around here. I slept with a subordinate. I know it’s not against regulations or anything, but that was one thing I swore I would never do. No relationships with people under my command.”
“We already had a relationship. We’re friends.”
“And now we’re friends who’ve slept together. We can’t come back from that.”
“I know. It’s pretty obvious that neither one of us has any clue what we’re supposed to do now…except not drink anymore.”
Beck chuckled. “Here we are. Supposedly so advanced and evolved, but we can’t handle alcohol nearly as well as our ‘primitive’ ancestors could…some of them anyway.”
“Nope,” Porter agreed.
They sat in silence for a few moments.
“Maybe we don’t do anything,” Beck said finally.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s not like we’re going to start dating.”
“Wasn’t planning on it,” Porter replied. “I love you dearly as a friend, but…”
“I’m not your type. I’ve been getting that a lot lately. Well, you’re not my type either. So there.”
“You wound me,” Porter mocked, clutching his chest. “But you’re right. We’ve both had one-night stands. This one just happened to be with each other.”
“Exactly. Think we can try to go on from here?”
“I hope so.”
“Good,” Beck said. “I’m glad you came by.”
“Me too, but there’s another reason I’m here.”
“Is something wrong?”
“I don’t think so. She’s hard to get a sense of, though. Was she always so…driven?”
“You’re asking the wrong person, Craig. Until today, I hadn’t seen my sister in about twenty years.”
“Twenty years!” Porter said surprised. He recovered himself. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to react like that. You’ve never talked about your sister, so I had no clue…”
“It’s okay,” Beck said.
“Basically, she didn’t like some decisions I made after our parents were killed. I’m sure she’d put it less diplomatically than that. She’d probably tell you that I destroyed her life. But I was in the Academy when Mom and Dad died. That’s all they’d ever wanted for me. What was I supposed to do? Chuck it all to take care of a fifteen-year-old? That was my future.”
“You stayed. It’s understandable.”
“Tell that to Kathy. I know it was hard on her. Really I do. She had to leave everything she knew on Earth to live with our grandparents. But look at her now. She’s got her doctorate and a good job. Her life wasn’t destroyed. She’s fine.”
“Are you sure she’s still upset about it?”
“You didn’t see her with me today, Craig. The last twenty years might as well have never happened. She was still that angry girl, and nothing I could say would get through to her. Do yourself a favor while you’re working with her: don’t mention me.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Porter replied. “But speaking of working with her, I should probably get some sleep. Today was pretty draining.”
“What has she got you working on?”
“Ship designs. Nothing exciting,” Porter said quickly.
“So everything’s okay?”
“Yeah,” Porter said, getting up from the sofa. “Thanks for the talk.”
“Anytime,” Beck said.
Porter left Beck’s office absolutely certain of one thing: he could not allow his work with Dr. Kathy Beck to continue.
“Yes, Gisele,” Bradley Dillon called into the air, responding to the voice on the commline as he sat at the massive desk in his office.
“Lieutenant Commander Russell is here to see you. He seems rather excited.”
“Is he now?” Bradley replied. “Please send him in.”
“Yes, Mister Dillon.”
Moments later, Russell practically bounded into Bradley’s office. Bradley was already up from his desk and halfway across the floor, ready to greet his guest with a warm handshake.
“Good morning, Commander,” Bradley said. “From your demeanor, I’m guessing that you have news for me. There’s been some progress in the case?”
“Oh yeah. I’ve made more than progress. I’ve cracked the whole thing.”
“Yep. They made it up.”
Bradley’s smiled vanished as he stared at Russell for several moments. “They…made it up,” he repeated.
“I’m sorry. Who made what up?”
“The Betazoids at the Double D. Baughb never thought about blowing up your restaurant.”
“How do you know?”
“Sutrea told me. Well, she didn’t tell me so much as show me. I read her thoughts.”
“But you’re not telepathic. How could you manage that?”
“I didn’t mean to. It happened while we were having sex.”
This once again stopped Bradley completely.
“While…you were…having sex,” he said.
“Yeah. Must be a Betazoid thing. Anyway, we were back in my quarters, and I was…well, you get the idea. Then suddenly I could see the whole thing. Almost made me lose my concentration entirely. Sutrea and the other two came up with the story on someone else’s orders. I couldn’t make out whoever the guy was who put them up to it, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t you.”
“No. No it wasn’t.”
“I didn’t think so. You seemed certain that this had actually happened,” Russell continued. “In any case, they made it up, so we’re done. Have a good day now.”
“Yes. Thank you,” Bradley said distractedly as Russell nodded then bounded back out of the office, whistling happily.
Bradley headed back over to his desk and tapped the comm panel.
“Yes, Mister Dillon?”
“Have Mister Auditmi come see me. NOW.”
Porter found Kathy pacing impatiently in the corridor in front of Science Lab Two as he exited the turbolift. Before he could even say “Good morning,” she was waving a padd in his face.
“I had this idea while I was in the shower last night,” she said, the words zooming out of her mouth.
“I don’t think you can power a time drive with water, but I’m willing to take a look,” Porter said.
Kathy glared at him as though he’d just uttered the stupidest remark ever, which fairly accurately summed up how she felt about that particular statement. “Are you going to work or crack jokes?”
“Both probably,” Porter said as he let out a yawn and led Kathy into the lab.
“And you really wrote all those papers.”
“Sure did. Amazing isn’t it?”
“Incredibly. I never would have thought my sister would have officers this…lax.”
“It works for us.”
Kathy started laughing. “Now I get it.”
“Why my contacts at Starfleet grimaced when I told them I wanted to meet with you. You guys…you’re rejects. And Lisa’s at the top of the list. I love it!”
All the humor instantly vanished from Porter’s face as he turned on Kathy. “You have no idea what goes on out here. Yeah, Starfleet doesn’t love us. We get that. But if you check out any list of rejects, you won’t see us at the top of it. You’ve missed two decades of Captain Beck’s life, but I was there for most of it. I can tell you that she has been through things you can’t even imagine, and she has become one hell of an officer. Is she unorthodox? Sometimes. But she learned from the master. And like him, she gets the job done.”
“Can we get back to work?” Kathy said flatly.
“No,” Porter said.
“I can’t continue with this project.”
“Because I insulted your station? Come on, Porter. Get over it. We work well together. Yesterday was amazing. You showed me alternatives I had never considered. And I think you were enjoying yourself, too.” Kathy slid up close to him. “I like you, Craig. We could be great together.”
“Please don’t do that.”
“I’ve been down this particular path.”
“Who said anything about a path?”
“You think that if you sleep with me, I’ll tell you everything I know. Uh uh. No way. Not gonna happen. I can’t.”
“It’s because I’m her sister, isn’t it?” Kathy snapped in disgust.
“Captain Beck isn’t involved.”
“Sure she isn’t. Are you sleeping with her? Is that it?” Kathy demanded.
“No!” Porter protested quickly. It was “slept.” No “sleeping” was happening currently.
“I can’t even go after a guy because she’s gotten there first!”
Well, yeah, but “NO!” Porter insisted. “I told you! This isn’t about Captain Beck! It’s about you! I don’t want to do this with you!”
“Why? I’m not attractive enough to sleep with?”
“I’m talking about the time ship!” Porter shouted.
“Oh,” Kathy said, falling silent. That didn’t last long. “Why the hell don’t you want to work on the time ship with me?”
“It’s not right.”
“Not right? We’ve got the chance to do something really important here. How is that not right?”
“You’re what’s not right.”
“This ship isn’t about science or even you getting some kind of prestige. You made it more than obvious yesterday that you want the ship for yourself, and I’m pretty sure I know why,” Porter said.
“You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You’re planning to go back in time to prevent your parents from dying so your life will be different.”
“Fine! You do know what you’re talking about! But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go forward.”
“Are you insane? You’re talking about altering the timeline to make yourself feel better. Why would I possibly want to go along with that?”
“Think of the pain you’d be sparing me…and Lisa.”
“That made you who you are.”
“I want to be somebody else.”
“It doesn’t work that way.”
“How do you know?” Kathy said. “People could be making little alterations to the timeline constantly. We’d have no idea. Saving my parents is not going to end the universe.”
“It will change things.”
“That’s the idea.”
“But you have no clue what else you could end up affecting. What if Lisa’s Starfleet career is somehow altered? What if she doesn’t end up commanding Waystation? You have no idea how much she’s done out here.”
“Once again it all comes back to her,” Kathy said.
“Don’t try to blame her for this. You’re the one talking about violating several Federation laws and possibly endangering life as we know it.”
“And let me guess. Lisa’s right outside with a bunch of security officers just waiting to bust in here and throw me in the brig.”
“I didn’t tell her.”
“Yeah right. Like you would go behind…”
“I DIDN’T,” Porter said firmly.
The anger on Kathy’s face slowly evaporated and was replaced by surprise. “You didn’t?” she asked, not believing it.
“Craig,” she said, softening. “Thank you. You have no idea how much I…”
“It wasn’t for you. I did it for her. Something like this…it’s just going to hurt her.”
“Can’t have that,” Kathy said, tensing back up and fixing Porter with a nasty glare. “We done?”
“Yeah. We’re done.”
Kathy shoved the padd back into her satchel and stalked past Porter toward the doors.
“I hope you enjoyed your visit,” Porter called after her.
If he heard her response correctly, the feelings Kathy expressed were not enjoyment. Either that, or she was taking up “Duck Foo.”
“…and then she left,” Porter said with a shrug as he raised his mug of lager to his lips in Victoria’s Pub that evening.
“The station?” Russell said in surprise.
“Yep,” Jones replied. “She booked transport on the first ship she could find. She’s halfway to Yridia by now.”
“Why would she want to go to Yridia?”
“I think it was more of an ‘anywhere is better than here’ situation,” Porter said.
“Wow. All that just because you didn’t want to work on her project. Talk about taking things badly,” Russell said. He suddenly smacked Porter’s arm. “Why didn’t you want to work with her? She wasn’t ugly. You could have had a shot there.”
“I didn’t want a shot. And I wasn’t interested in the work. She was just here to pick my brain and take all of the credit.” Yes, it was a lie, but if he wasn’t going to tell Captain Beck what Kathy really wanted, he sure as hell wasn’t going to tell anyone else. “But what about you?” he said to Russell, changing the subject. “I hear you cracked another one.”
“Yep,” Russell said proudly, raising his mug into the air. “Here’s to me!”
“Here’s to you,” Porter and Jones said, clanking their mugs against his.
“And he only had to sleep with one witness,” Jones said.
“That worked?” Porter asked shocked.
“Betazoid telepathic transference during…um…intercourse,” Jones said.
“Ahhh. You’ll have to add that interrogation technique to your repertoire,” Porter said to Russell.
“I didn’t know it was going to happen,” Russell said. “Not that I’m complaining.”
“Of course not. And I’m impressed. You’re always on duty. Even in bed. Pumping her for information!”
Jones grimaced. “Ohhh. That was…uggh.”
“Hey. President Dillon was satisfied. That’s all that matters,” Russell said.
“Oh are you pumping him too?” Porter asked innocently. He narrowly ducked an incoming whack from Russell.
“No. He knows that his restaurant in safe, and he can look for the real culprit in his own organization. I have a feeling it’s Auditmi.”
“Really?” Jones said. “Why him?”
“As I was leaving I heard Bradley telling Gisele to get Auditmi into his office, and he did not sound happy.”
“Another brilliant deduction from our Chief of Security,” Porter said. “This calls for a celebration.” He signaled a waitress to bring them another round of drinks. “Here’s to the sort-of- successful conclusion of whatever it was that we were working on.”
“I’ll drink to that…I think,” Russell said.
“I’m just sorry the captain didn’t get to spend more time with her sister,” Jones said. “She could have stuck around for a visit.”
“Uh huh,” Porter said noncommitally. The waitress arrived with the drinks before Jones could pursue the matter any further. “Cheers,” Porter said, handing her a full mug.
“Yeah. Cheers,” Jones said. All three officers chugged down long gulps of the syntheholic beverages and let the conversation wander to other topics.
“Was she really even here?” Captain Beck asked Steph Hodges.
“Serve the ball,’ Hodges replied, bouncing lightly on her feet as she waited for Beck to make a move.
“After twenty years, I see her for five minutes…five minutes we spent yelling at each other,” Beck continued. She slammed the ball against the front wall of the racquetball court and jogged backwards as Hodges moved to intercept the serve.
“I told you, Lisa,” Hodges said. She smacked the ball back toward the wall. “This wasn’t about you. When she wants it to be about you, she’ll let you know.”
“She could have said goodbye,” Beck said, hitting the return shot.
“That wasn’t going to happen.” Hodges dove, narrowly managing to hit Beck’s shot, which was skimming along the left wall of the court. “You know why she left?”
“Porter said something about not being able to help her anymore. Guess she’d gotten all she could out of him.” Beck swung at the incoming ball and missed.
Hodges scooped it up and headed toward the serve box. “Just as well probably. You didn’t need her hanging around here ignoring you.”
“Yeah. I guess.”
“I know. I just…I wish she’d let it go.”
“She will,” Hodges said, making her serve. “In time.”
The comm channel seemed to take forever to connect. Some people would back out right now. Just cut the commline and go back to life as usual.
Finally, the channel opened.
“Doctor Beck. This is a surprise,” the man on the monitor said.
“Is your offer still open?” she asked, not interested in pleasantries or small talk.
“In our last conversation you stated that you had no interest in working with my colleagues and I and that you would be pursuing other avenues of research for your project.”
“They didn’t work out. Is the offer open or not?”
“I believe so. You do, of course, understand that our terms have not changed. If we assist you, you will assist us.”
“That’s fine. I’ll do it.”
“Very well then, Doctor Beck. My colleagues will be contacting you shortly to make arrangements. We look forward to working with you.” He closed the channel.
Dr. Kathy Beck stared at the blank screen for a long time, lost in thought.
She’d done what she had to do.
That’s all that mattered.
The future would tend to itself.