Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
“Pomp and Circumstances”
By Alan Decker
“Station Log. Stardate 57988.3. Commander Walter Morales recording. Everything is ready for the arrival of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the subsequent ceremony. We have the VIP quarters all set. We have the site prepared. We have the security arrangements made. And we have the details for the reception following the ceremony worked out. What we don’t have is our captain. I know Captain Beck said that, while she would not be gone long, she might not return in time for the ceremony. I am prepared for that. But I can’t say I’m comfortable with this at all. I don’t know where she is. I don’t why she went. And I have no clue when she’ll be back. I know she left with her sister, and that it’s personal. Fine. Still, I can’t help but worry. And I’m not alone. Lieutenant Commander Porter, the one person who does have an idea where the captain went, is looking more upset by the minute. I think it’s only a matter of time until…”
“That’s it!” Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter exclaimed, storming out of the turbolift into Ops.
“That’s what?” Lieutenant Commander Sean Russell asked from his post at the tactical console, looking around in alarm.
“I’m guessing Craig feels he’s waited long enough,” Commander Morales said as Porter began typing away at the Science/Operations console.
“She should have been back by now,” Porter said. “Way before now really.”
“The captain said she might miss the ceremony,” Morales replied. He wasn’t trying to discourage Porter, but rather get a bit more information out of him.
“There’s no reason why she should…unless Kathy botched the calculations. I don’t think she’d do that, though. She’d worked too hard on this to screw up on something simple like that.”
Okay. That was a bit more information, but Morales was still missing a vital piece.
“If everything went right, they should have returned almost as soon as they left,” Porter continued. “I mean it’s time travel. That’s kind of the point.”
“Time travel!” Morales exclaimed. Er…he could have handled that one a bit more smoothly. But suddenly it all made sense…at least the part about the ship vanishing from the readout on his docking control console and from the tactical displays. That was a vital piece all right, but evidently he needed more than one. “Why did she and Kathy want to travel in time?”
“To save their parents,” Porter said.
“Wait,” Russell said. “That’s against a whole bunch of regulations, not to mention a lot of Federation laws. If they get caught…”
“That’s why Captain Beck didn’t tell the rest of you where she was going. I already knew because of Kathy.”
“That’s what she wanted your help with,” Russell realized. “You designed a time ship! That’s just cool!”
“I didn’t help her,” Porter replied. “As soon as I figured out what she was planning, I told her to leave. She finished the ship on her own…somehow. Guess I should have focused more on the how before she and Captain Beck left.”
“If they went back in time and ran into a problem, will you be able to find them?” Morales asked. “We’ve done the slingshot maneuver in the Wayward, but if we don’t know where to go…”
“I’m trying to figure out what happened,” Porter said. “If there’s any way to do it, I’m going to find her.”
Tarmak lifted Captain Lisa Beck’s head by the hair, looked into her insensate eyes, then let her head fall back onto her chest as the Starfleet captain slumped unconscious in the chair into which she’d been bound since her arrival on the Romulan colony of Zycam the day before. It had taken them all night, but the “independent contractors” Tarmak had enlisted to pry the Waystation command codes from Beck’s mind had finally broken through.
He glanced over at Spaanz and Taanz, who were sprawled on the floor, twitching involuntarily and muttering nonsensically in the process. It appeared that the strain may have broken them as well.
It was odd really for a human mind to have that kind of an effect on a Vulcan during a mind meld, Tarmak thought as he strolled out of the room and made his way out of the Information Complex wing of the colony’s governmental offices to the guest suites located across the courtyard. Frankly he’d been surprised that Spaanz, who had first initiated the mind meld with the unwilling Starfleet officer, wasn’t able to handle the whole thing himself. Taanz was forced to join the meld, and even then the process took hours, hours that Tarmak didn’t really have considering the impending ceremony on Waystation. As it was, he was barely going to have time to say his goodbyes to Dr. Kathy Beck, get aboard his ship, and make it to Waystation before the main event began.
Granted, he probably could have skipped the goodbye to Dr. Beck, but that would have been more than a little rude, especially considering all the help that she had given him. It was fairly safe to say that none of this would have been possible without her. How could he run off without expressing his gratitude to her one last time?
He found Dr. Beck not in her assigned guest quarters, but in the V.I.P. gymnasium, where she was busy attempting to operate a ro’beauxt. The effort was obviously angering her highly. Tarmak couldn’t help but admire her for a moment. Most human women did not display ire well, a fact that amused him considering humans had a saying along the lines of “you’re gorgeous when you’re angry.” Dr. Beck was the exception to this rule, however. Rather than flailing about with wide-eyed rage like some hideous Klingon, Dr. Beck’s gaze hardened with a determination Tarmak had only seen on a Romulan. And her form, muscles tight, straining to bring the ro’beauxt into line…It was almost breathtaking to behold.
And now she was staring at him.
“So here you are,” Tarmak said, stepping forward with a smile as Dr. Beck extricated herself from the Romulan equivalent of a rowing machine.
“She told you,” Kathy Beck replied.
“That she did.”
“I could tell by the smile,” Kathy said, wiping her brow with a towel. “Is she okay?”
“She could use some rest, but I believe that she is unharmed…physically. The contractors I called in did an excellent job. It’s a shame I’m going to have to have them killed.” He watched Kathy start with surprise. “Kidding!” he said with a laugh. “They did a good job. Why would I kill them? You never know when you’re going to need that kind of help again, and why start over looking for someone to do the work when you already have an established business relationship with people you know can do the job? It’d be a complete waste!”
“Um…yeah. Exactly,” Kathy said, forcing a chuckle. “A real waste.”
“I can’t stay long. I have to get underway, but I did want to thank you again for your assistance. Your support has been invaluable.”
“It was a fair arrangement…assuming you hold up your end.”
“The temporal physics research. Of course. You’ll have it in hand shortly. Everything the Romulan Empire knows about time travel.”
“I know this is a bit off the subject, but, if you don’t mind my asking, does anyone in your family have an abnormally high esper rating?”
“Telepathic perhaps?” Tarmak asked.
“Hmmm…maybe it’s a new Starfleet training technique. Or maybe Spaanz and Taanz weren’t as good as they said. I just didn’t know a human could resist a mind meld for so long…much less two of them.”
“Lisa can be really stubborn,” Kathy said.
“Of that I have no doubt. Well, as I said, I need to run. It’s been a pleasure, Doctor Beck.” He turned and headed toward the exit.
“Tarmak,” Kathy called after him.
“Yes?” Tarmak replied, looking back around.
“What…what happens to Lisa now?”
“Oh, did you want to take her with you?”
“No. I’m just surprised that you would want to. After all, you were willing to hand her over to us, which doesn’t exactly say much for your bonds of sisterhood.”
“I don’t want her back. I don’t think she’d want to go with me anyway. I just wanted to know what’s going to happen to her. You aren’t going to…”
“Kill her?” Tarmak asked casually.
“I hadn’t planned on it. Once I finish my business on Waystation, I’ll return her there. I don’t have any need to keep her around.”
“Okay. That’s fine. I just…”
“I understand,” Tarmak said with a nod. “We’ll have you on your way shortly. And your sister will be delivered home unharmed. You have my word.” With that, he left the gym and moved off down the corridor on his way to the main entrance leading out to the courtyard, pulling out a small communicator as he went. “Tarmak to Commander Brella.”
“Yes, Governor,” the voice of the head of the colony’s small military contingent replied over the comm.
“Are we ready?”
“The Weetabix is standing by.”
“I’ll be there in a moment. Have Doctor Beck’s ship prepped and ask Altel deliver the research to her. I don’t want her to leave until after we’re gone, though. And then…send out the Aertran to destroy her.”
“Of course, Governor. Brella out.”
“Yes, of course, Captain. We’ll be waiting for you. Waystation out.” Commander Morales closed the comm channel and let out a deep breath. “Captain Picard’s runabout will be here in about an hour,” he said.
“Uh huh,” Porter replied without looking up from his console. Morales was fairly certain that Porter hadn’t heard a word of it, though.
“And he’s bringing the Risan All-Nude Women’s Wrestling team.”
“Uh huh,” Porter said. Nope. He wasn’t paying attention.
“He is!” Russell exclaimed, practically leaping over his console. “Comm him back! Can we get a visual?”
Russell, however, was another matter.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Porter muttered. “You…”
“What?” Russell said. “It’s a legitimate request.”
“I need a ship,” Porter said suddenly.
“Now that’s more like it. We’ll go meet them and escort them here. I can escort five…maybe six of them,” Russell said.
“What’s going on, Craig?” Morales asked, ignoring Russell. “Did you find the captain?”
“I’ve got a trail.”
“Look at this,” Porter said, putting the sensor readings of the time ship’s disappearance up on the Waystation viewscreen. “There’s the energy build-up, a massive surge of chronitons, and the ship is gone.”
“Okay…” Morales said, not sure if that was supposed to lead him to some conclusion.
“But look at this,” Porter continued, much to Morales’s relief. He expanded the view to show a wider region beyond the station. A point on the display began flashing. And then another. And another. Forming a line of dots leading away from Waystation. “See there? And there? Chronitons!”
“I don’t get it,” Russell said. “If they went back in time, why is there a trail of chronitons?”
“I don’t think they went anywhere…well, except that way,” Porter said, pointing to the trail. “The chroniton surge should have tipped me off. Why was it so uncontrolled? Somehow Kathy’s ship was storing the chronitons until she wanted to release them to hide what was really happening.”
“Which was?” Morales asked.
“They cloaked,” Russell said.
“Right,” Porter said. “Normally we wouldn’t see anything, but the ship must not have expelled all of the chronitons in the surge. They were still trickling out afterwards, and they weren’t masked by the cloaking device.”
“Zycam,” Morales said.
“Huh?” Russell asked.
“That’s what’s in the direction they’re heading. Zycam. The Romulan colony.”
“Convenient destination for a ship with a cloaking device,” Porter said.
“We’ve got to go after them,” Russell said.
“Jean-Luc Picard is going to be here in an hour,” Morales said. “I can’t…”
“I can,” Porter said. “There’s nothing about this ceremony that requires my presence. I’ll take the Wayward and…”
“I’m coming with you,” Russell said.
“You can take the Wayward,” Morales said to Porter. “But you’re not going,” he added to Russell. “I’m sorry, but I need you here. You’re responsible for security at this event.”
“Waits can handle it.”
“Maybe, but maybe not. You need to be here. I’d love to let you go, but President Dillon would have both of our heads if the man in charge of all of the security arrangements up and left.”
“Craig can’t go along. He needs someone to handle the weapons.”
“He won’t be alone,” Morales said.
“No offense, Commander, but I don’t want a bunch of junior officers on something like this,” Porter said.
“I was thinking of Steph.”
“Now her, I’ll take,” Porter said grinning. “And I mean that in a completely non-lascivious kind of way.”
“I changed my mind.”
“Too late. Give me your girlfriend.”
“I’m serious,” Porter said, rushing toward the turbolift. “Tell her to meet me at the Wayward. I’ll be the one in the tuxedo holding the roses.” The turbolift doors closed, and Porter was gone.
“It’s NOT a DATE!” Morales shouted after him.
“I don’t think he can hear you,” Russell said.
“And I think I liked it better when we all weren’t speaking to each other,” Morales muttered.
Yeoman Tina Jones tugged at her dress uniform yet again as she looked nervously from Commander Morales to the space beyond Docking Bay Two.
“I can’t do this,” she said finally, turning to head toward the door.
Morales grabbed her collar and spun her back around. “You’re fine,” he said firmly.
“I’m not fine! I’m a wreck! I can’t do this. I’m going to screw it up. I’m going to embarrass the station. It’s going to be awful!”
“Tina, come on! You greet visitors all the time. This isn’t any different.”
“This is Jean-Luc Picard!”
“So? Big deal. You talk to the President of the Federation on a regular basis. He’s way more important than Picard.”
“But I knew Bradley before he became President. Picard is a legend. I’m not ready to meet a legend. I can’t do it.”
“You have to.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do. He’s here.”
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Jones screamed as the runabout carrying Picard slid through the docking bay force field and touched down on the deck.
“Don’t make me drag you up there,” Morales said, stepping toward the runabout. Jones nodded numbly and followed. She froze briefly as the runabout hatch opened, but a stern glance from Morales had her moving again.
Before she knew it, he was standing in the door frame. Jean-Luc Picard. Captain of the Enterprise. Hero of the Federation. Living legend.
Wow. He was a lot shorter in person.
“Captain Picard,” Morales said, extending his hand to their guest. “Welcome to Waystation. I am Commander Walter Morales, First Officer. This is our Liaison Officer, Yeoman Tina Jones.”
“Delighted,” Picard said without a hint of delight in his voice as he shook Morales’s hand and then Jones’s. Jones resisted the urge to faint as Picard took her hand. His grip was a lot less firm than she was expecting. Maybe he was just taking it easy on her.
“Captain Beck sends her regrets, but she was called away from the station on important business. We have every hope that she will return in time for the ceremony. I know she is anxious to meet you.”
“Of course,” Picard said, looking confused. “I thought President Dillon…”
“He also sends his regrets. He was needed in a meeting some kind,” Morales said. “I must get back to Ops to monitor a mission, but Yeoman Jones here will see to your needs. Enjoy your stay.” And with that, Morales rushed out, leaving Jones alone with Picard.
“So…first time here?” Jones asked. What? What did she just say? Of course it was his first time here! She’d been on the station since it was built! She’d know if he’d ever been here.
“Yes,” Picard said.
“Why don’t we go to your quarters,” Jones said.
“You want to go to my quarters with me?”
“Yes. I can take care of any of your needs once we get there.”
“My needs. Ah. Yeoman, are you propositioning me?”
“NO!!!” Jones cried. “Why would you think…” She trailed off, running through the conversation. Hmm…she offered to go to his quarters with him and take care of all of his needs. “Oh. Yeah. That’s really not what I meant.”
“I should hope not,” Picard said. “I’m sure you’re a wonderful person and a fine officer, but I have no interest in…”
“It’s okay,” Jones said quickly. “I don’t either. Not that it wouldn’t be an honor. And I’m sure you’re very good, being so experienced and all. I mean…I’m just going to shut up and take you to your quarters now.”
“Thank you,” Picard said.
Jones led him out of the docking bay and across the corridor into the turbolift, which she ordered to the VIP section. After several seconds, she just couldn’t stand the silence any more.
“Is it just you?” Jones asked.
“Coming to the ceremony. I would think your crewmates would want to be here.”
“They all had…other plans,” Picard said darkly.
“Really? That’s surprising. The press makes it sound like all of you are really close. If it were my friend, I’d want to watch him getting an award like this.”
“I mean, this is a lifetime achievement award. And you’re getting it from the President of the Federation himself. How often in a person’s life does that kind of thing happen? Well, once I guess, since it’s a lifetime achievement award.”
“Unless you’re a Trill…or a Bracktian. I guess in that case you could get a bunch of them. Well, the symbiont could. And Yynsians technically could. My point is that this is a pretty big deal, and your friends aren’t here.”
“None of them wanted to come here!” Picard shouted. “And if the President had granted my request to accept this particular honor live via subspace, I wouldn’t be here either! All right? Do you understand now?”
“Are all legends this rude?” Jones asked. She let out a huff and turned away from Picard, deciding that riding in silence wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.
She got what she came for. It wasn’t exactly in the form she wanted, but at least the Romulans had held up their end of the deal, Dr. Kathy Beck thought as she sped away from Zycam in her non-time traveling timeship. With any luck, though, it wouldn’t be non-time traveling for long. All she had to do now was get back to her lab, read through page after page of Romulan temporal physics research, and get their ideas implemented before Lisa came after her.
If Lisa came after her.
Her sister was a Starfleet captain after all, and now she was in Romulan hands. Tarmak may have been done with her, but the Romulan High Command would probably be very interested in speaking with Lisa.
She may have just doomed her own sister to a life of torture and imprisonment and, in doing so, committed treason against the Federation.
Kathy pushed the thought out of her mind and went back to her mantra. When the timeship worked, none of this would matter. Once she went back in time and rescued their parents, Kathy and Lisa’s lives would completely change. None of the current circumstances would even come to pass.
And whether she realized it or not, Lisa was doing her part to make it happen. Her suffering would be temporary. Anything the Romulans learned would be temporary.
Kathy would fix it all.
The timeship’s limited sensors alerted her to a vessel closing rapidly to aft. She was no expert, but they sure as hell looked like they were chasing after her. As the ship got closer, the sensors were finally able to identify it as a Romulan scout ship. Maybe she’d forgotten something on Zycam, and they were coming to deliver it.
Who was she kidding? She hadn’t forgotten anything. She’d been used, just as she’d feared would happen from the first time Tarmak contacted her. Now they were coming dispose of the evidence. And there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it. The timeship was defenseless. One shot, and she’d be history. A disruptor blast slammed into the rear of the ship, taking out the engines instantly. Why didn’t they go for the kill?
Because it would be obvious to anyone who discovered the debris that the ship was destroyed by disruptor fire. A light shot, however, might not even be noticed if the ship looked like it blew up from a massive engine malfunction.
They were going to board the timeship. They were going to board it, incapacitate her somehow, and blow the whole thing up. No one would ever know what really happened.
If they thought it was going to be that easy, these Romulans were going to be in for a surprise. Kathy scrambled out of her seat and ran back to the cabinet where she’d stashed Lisa’s phaser after she’d drugged her sister on their way to Zycam. Let the Romulans beam in. She’d take them out.
Grabbing the phaser, she turned toward the front of the ship just in time to see a fast-moving streak zoom past the viewport, sailing overhead. Kathy raced to back to her seat and pulled up the rear view as the newcomer positioned itself between the timeship and the Romulans. She was unfamiliar with the ship design that had charged to her rescue, but the markings on it made one thing obvious: it was Starfleet. The Romulan scout ship, possibly realizing that it was out-gunned, about to start an incident with the Federation, or maybe both, turned and fled.
Before Kathy could feel any kind of relief, if any relief was going to be coming once the truth was out, two figures materialized in the timeship’s cockpit. One was Craig Porter, the other a female marine.
“Where is she?” Porter demanded.
“She’s okay,” Kathy said, approaching her rescuers. “They promised me.”
“WHO promised you?” the marine said, just as demandingly.
Kathy hesitated a moment, unable to hide the guilt she felt.
“The Romulans,” Porter said.
“YOU GAVE LISA TO THE ROMULANS!” the marine bellowed. Kathy finally really looked at the woman. That face. She knew that face. It was…
“Steph?” Kathy asked surprised.
She was even more surprised a moment later when Stephanie Hodges’ fist slammed into her face.
“That explains the direct route to Zycam,” Porter said, trying not to show too much of the pleasure he was feeling at seeing Hodges flatten Kathy. “What’d they offer you?”
“Information,” Kathy said, picking herself up off of the deck. “What you wouldn’t give me.”
Porter spotted the Romulan padd on the co-pilot’s seat and snatched it up, quickly scrolling through its contents. “Good luck with this,” he said after a few moments.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s garbage. Random gibberish and idle speculation. What the hell do the Romulans know about time travel?”
“I don’t know. That’s what I wanted to find out.”
“Do the Romulans rule the quadrant?”
“I’m asking you, do the Romulans rule the quadrant?” Porter repeated.
“So don’t you think that, if they knew anything about time travel, they would, being Romulans and all, have used it to their advantage by now and taken over?”
“You betrayed your own sister for a bunch of useless crap!” Hodges said, advancing on Kathy.
“You don’t know that!” Kathy replied, her voice growing frantic. “The answer could be in there. The Romulans might not even know they have it, but they could!”
“They tricked you. Big surprise there,” Porter said. “Now we’re going to try to fix it.”
“You’re going to rescue her?” Kathy said. “Are you insane? She’s surrounded by Romulans with who knows how many ships. And it’s just the two of you in that one little ship. Even if you made it into orbit and beamed down, you’d never get near her.”
“Do you know where she was being held?” Hodges asked.
“Then we’ll be fine.”
“She brought friends,” Porter said. It had been a pleasant surprise when Hodges showed up in the docking bay with a number of Federation Marines. Evidently her power over Colonel Lazlo (resulting from him shooting her) allowed her to commandeer some help “And as for getting into orbit,” Porter continued, “you’ll be helping us out with that, too.” He turned to Hodges. “Take her back to the Wayward. I’ll get the cloaking device.”
“You know about that?” Kathy asked surprised.
“How do you think we found you?” Porter replied. “It was a pretty light show, though. Gotta hand you that. And you’ll have to show me sometime how you managed to store those chronometric particles.”
“Less engineering. More rescuing,” Hodges said.
“I’m on it,” Porter said, heading toward the rear of the time ship. “See you back on the Wayward.”
“We’ll be waiting,” Hodges said. “Just don’t take too long. I might start punching her again.”
“I’m not sure if that’s an incentive or not.”
“Good evening, ladies, gentlemen, and beings of indeterminate, multiple, or other genders. Welcome to this evening’s AWN exclusive presentation of The UFP Honors…Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Live from Waystation! I’m Joan Redding, and tonight we’ll join the elite of the Alpha Quadrant as they gather to honor one of Starfleet’s brightest stars. I’m here just outside the beautiful Waystation arboretum bringing you all the excitement as the luminaries arrive.”
Commander Morales, who was watching Redding’s broadcast from a monitoring area that had been hastily set up in the horticultural supply room (i.e. the shed) just off of the arboretum, leaned over to Yeoman Jones. “We have luminaries?”
“She’s overselling it a bit,” Jones replied. “But it’s showbiz.”
“Just who did accept invitations?”
“People who know Captain Picard.”
“Are they going to be people he wants to see?”
“Umm…maybe?” Jones replied weakly.
There was a certainly delicious irony to the situation, if one was willing to look past the seriousness for a moment. Here they were, in a Starfleet ship, cloaked, and in orbit around a Romulan world. It was enough to make Porter think for a moment that they were in some kind of strange mirror universe…not that he would have wished for that. Still, there was something fun about the whole “I can see you, but you can’t see me” part of this.
Stephanie Hodges, however, didn’t seem to be in the mood to appreciate delicious ironies or anything else for that matter.
“You’re certain it was that building,” Hodges snapped, pointing at the building shown on the scans displayed on the monitor in front of her.
“Yes,” Kathy Beck replied firmly. “They had Lisa in there.”
Hodges looked to Porter. “I’m not reading human life- signs,” Porter replied. “But then I’m not reading them anywhere on the planet.”
“Maybe they killed her,” Kathy said.
“Do you want me to punch you again?” Hodges shouted.
“Other than the death thing, Kathy either knows what she’s talking about, or she’s lucky enough to have identified the only building that’s sending anomalous scan readings,” Porter said.
“What do you mean ‘anomalous’?” Hodges asked.
“He means like a jamming field,” Kathy said.
“It’s a possibility,” Porter said. “But it’s only hiding the basement level…and whatever might be below that…if anything. If it’s a jammer…”
“I get it,” Hodges said. “What do we do?”
“I can’t order the Federation Marines to do anything,” Porter replied. “However, the jamming field is most likely covering the area where they’re holding the captain. If you can get inside it, you should be able to scan for her. But if you go down there, you’re talking about making an incursion into Romulan territory that could be seen as an act of war.”
“If she’s down there, they made the first strike.”
“Ah yes. ‘They started it.’ The lynch-pin of diplomatic negotiations for centuries.”
“Craig,” Hodges warned.
“I just had to state the situation for the record,” Porter said.
“And I think she’s alive down there.”
Hodges nodded. “Hodges to O’Neal. We’re going in.”
“Hello, ma’am. That is an amazing dress you’re wearing.”
“Why thank you,” the stunning brunette said, doing a little spin in front of Redding to show off the gown and the figure it was flattering.
“And you are?”
“No names. But Jean-Luc would know me as Ardra.”
“Are you close to the captain?”
“Close? Are you kidding? If things had gone just a little differently, he’d be my love slave right now,” Ardra replied, giving the holocam a sultry smile designed to inflame the hearts and a few other parts of the folks watching at home.
Hodges expected to hear alarm klaxons blaring as soon as she, Lieutenant Colonel Dan O’Neal, and the rest of the small squad of Federation Marines they’d brought materialized inside the governmental complex on Zycam, but there was only silence.
Either they were dealing with a less-well-protected building than they thought, or the alarm was sounding at a frequency only Romulans could hear. She was hoping for the former.
She pointed at Corporal Sheppard, who pulled out a scanner. Sheppard watched the device for a few moments, then shook her head. They were still seeing the effects of the jamming field.
Hodges nodded to O’Neal, who gestured for the squad to move forward. They rounded a corner and found a Romulan custodian cleaning the glass door of the entrance to a room that, if Kathy was right, should be the waiting room adjoining the corridor she’d last seen Captain Beck dragged down.
The custodian seemed to be occupied with his work and completely unaware of anything resembling an alarm. That was a good sign.
An even better sign was that O’Neal was able to slip up behind the man, zap him with a neutralizer, and lower his unconscious body to the floor without a single sound.
Hodges couldn’t help but smile. This might almost be fun.
“And who is this handsome gentleman?”
“Jason Vigo,” the nervous man in front of Redding said, leaning unnecessarily into the camera to be heard.
“Vigo. Vigo. Ah. Of the Nerali Vigos. I’m sure Captain Picard will be honored to have a representative from one of Alpha Centauri’s oldest and most prestigious families here on his special night.”
“Actually, I’m from Camor Five.”
“From the ruling family of Camor Five?” Redding asked hopefully.
“Sorry. I’m just here to see Jean-Luc.”
“So you are friends then?”
“You could say that. I was told he was my dad.”
“Your dad? As in you’re his illegitimate love child?”
“That’s what the Ferengi told me. It’s not true, though.”
“Of course it isn’t.”
“No really. This Daimon altered my DNA to be like Jean-Luc’s, so that he could get revenge for something that happened a long time ago.”
“And you bought that story?”
“It’s the truth!”
“Of course it is.”
While Sedna’s life wasn’t the most exciting, there were worse duties one could have in the service of the Empire. And frankly, at her age, running the reception desk of the Interrogation and Extraction Center on Zycam was all the excitement Sedna could handle. How many people were there to interrogate on a colony in the middle of nowhere?
Not many. Which was fine with her.
It gave her more time to work on the ear covers for her new great-great granddaughter.
No excitement required.
Too bad the universe often has other plans.
On the other side of the entry doors to the waiting room, Lieutenant Colonel O’Neal counted off silently on his fingers. Three…two…one…
And with a quick point, he and the other marines burst into the waiting room, ready to take down any threat.
Sedna looked up from her knitting. “Do you have an appoint–”
Before the elderly Romulan woman could even finish the sentence, a marine was on top of her, jamming something against her neck. She collapsed to the desk, the impact cushioned by the ball of pink yarn in front of her.
“Room secure,” O’Neal said, nodding with satisfaction. “Kintasa, hold this position.” O’Neal pointed at the door on the opposite side of the waiting room, and in a flash the other marines were running through it, deeper into the Romulan complex.
Hodges did her fair share of grumbling about the amount of training the marines went through, but she had to admit that in times like this, it was all worth it.
Finally! Someone who looks official, Joan Redding thought as the alien male in regal robes strode toward her.
“Good evening, sir,” she said, stepping into his path. “Joan Redding. AWN News. Who am I addressing?”
“Voval,” the man said with a deep bow. “Ambassador from Iyaar.”
“This is a pleasure, Mister Ambassador,” Redding said, brightening. “What brings you to the ceremony night?”
“Why Jean-Luc Picard, of course,” Voval replied with a smile.
“You have met the captain, then.”
“Yes, yes I have. He has done a great deal to help relations between my people and the Federation. And I, personally, have learned a great deal from him.”
“I’m sure he appreciates your gratitude.”
“I hope so. I cannot thank him enough for teaching me the ways of love.”
“Love?” Redding asked hesitantly.
“Yes indeed. I will always remember our time together.”
Beck had been here. Hodges was sure of it. She rushed over to the empty chair in the middle of the interrogation room and closely checked the seat back, coming up moments later with a long red hair. She’d joked for years that Lisa was going to go bald from shedding one of these days. That hair of hers just seemed to end up everywhere. Now she was grateful for it.
“What is it, Lieutenant?” O’Neal asked, walking over.
“Lisa…Captain Beck,” Hodges said, showing him the hair. O’Neal nodded, then pointed toward Sheppard, who pulled out her scanner. Hodges, meanwhile, could barely contain her urge to charge back to the waiting room and rough up the old lady at the desk until she told her just where the hell Lisa was. Of course, her unconsciousness would be a bit of an obstacle to her ability to provide information at the moment.
After what seemed like an eternity, Sheppard nodded. “I’ve got her,” she said and started off back into the long corridor they’d come down from the waiting room with the marines taking up positions around her. After several turns, they descended a set of stairs into a block of holding cells. The Romulan guarding the cells obviously wasn’t expecting visitors, since he was fast asleep when the marines came to call. He managed a groggy “Whahuh?” before Hodges took him out with a rifle butt to the head. O’Neal looked at her disapprovingly, then had Copeland inject him with a hypospray to finish the job.
Sheppard led the group to a cell about half way down the corridor. Hodges practically shoved the corporal aside and activated the door. The heavy metal slab slid aside revealing a completely dark interior.
“Lisa?” Hodges asked, stepping forward.
After receiving no response, she looked back at Sheppard questioningly.
“I’m reading human lifesigns inside,” Sheppard said.
Hodges cautiously moved farther in…
…then tumbled to the floor as she tripped over something.
She quickly realized that the something was a person.
“Lisa!” she exclaimed.
There was still no response.
“No no. Don’t do this to me,” Hodges said, grabbing onto the arms of the cell’s occupant and dragging her out into the light of the corridor.
It was Lisa Beck, all right. And she was breathing.
That was a relief…at least until Hodges got a good look at Beck’s eyes, fixed open and staring ahead blankly.
“Good evening…sir,” Joan Redding said, trying not to let her nervousness show as the Cardassian in front of her glared back, his eyes seeming to penetrate the deepest corners of her mind. “What an honor to have guests from Cardassia here tonight.”
The Cardassian said nothing.
“May I ask your name?” Redding said, the last word coming out almost as a squeak.
“Madred. Gul Madred.”
“Thank you, Gul,” Redding said, relieved that her latest interview subject had actually decided to speak to her and not kill her. Or leave dead air. Dead air was the worst. “Are you representing Cardassia on an official basis tonight?”
“No. My reasons to be here are…personal.”
“Ah. So you have faced Captain Picard before.”
“In a sense. He was taken from me before I was finished.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“But I’ll tell you something,” Madred said, leaning in conspiratorially.
“I’ve seen him naked.”
Redding pulled away and tried to ignore the discomforting smile on the Cardassian’s face. “Well… How…nice for you.”
Out they ran. With Captain Beck supported between Hodges and O’Neal, the Federation Marines raced out of the cell block, back up the stairs, through the corridors, until they approached the waiting room.
“Kintasa to O’Neal,” the Lieutenant Colonel’s communicator barked suddenly.
“Go,” O’Neal said.
“I can hear something in the corridor. I think they’re coming for us.”
“We’re almost there,” O’Neal said.
“Hodges to Porter,” Hodges said, going for her own communicator.
“Porter here. Do you have her?” the Starfleet officer replied from the Wayward high above them.
“Yes, but we need to get out of here. Can you see us? Are we out of the effects of the jamming field?”
“Almost. You’re fading in and out. It looks like one of you is standing in an open area ahead of your current position. That signal is clear. Can you get there?”
“That’s the plan, but we may have a welcoming committee when we arrive.”
“Ewww. I see them,” Porter said. “The good news is that you should get there a second or two earlier. That’s all I’ll need.”
“Now’s no time to be over-selling your abilities,” Hodges said as she and O’Neal burst into the waiting room with Beck. She expected a smart remark in reply. What she got instead was the tingling grip of a transporter.
An instant later, she was standing in the mess hall/sickbay of the Wayward with the other marines. Porter jogged in a few moments after that.
“I had to route everyone here,” he said. “The transporter isn’t exactly built for group beaming, and I had a feeling no one wanted to wait in line to get here.”
“No,” Hodges said firmly.
O’Neal nodded, clearly pleased. “Excellent extraction, everyone. Nicely done. Not a single casualty.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Hodges said, kicking the top of a mess hall table, which flipped over revealing the biobed underneath.”
“I knew we should have brought Doctor Diantha,” Porter said, rushing over to help Hodges get Beck onto the table. He looked into his captain’s blank eyes and shuddered. “What the hell did they do to her?”
“We don’t know,” Hodges said. “She was like this when we found her.”
“Completely catatonic,” O’Neal said as Porter started the bioscans. He was no doctor, but hopefully he could piece together enough to get an idea what was wrong with Beck, even if he couldn’t help her.
“Synaptic activity is reduced, and there are signs of neural stress.”
“Like she was thinking really hard?” O’Neal asked. “About what? Could that even do this?”
“I don’t think it’s something you’ll ever have to be concerned about,” Porter said. “No, these are the signs of telepathic contact, just to an extreme extent. I think she was fighting it. And look at these small bruises on her face. Look at the placement.”
Hodges put her hand against the side of Beck’s face, her fingertips almost exactly matching up with the bruises. Someone with a bigger hand would fit perfectly.
“A mind meld,” Hodges said.
“A two-hander by the looks of it,” Porter said.
“They ripped her mind apart.”
“We’ll get her back.”
“You don’t know that, Craig. There may be nothing to get back. Look at her! She’s barely blinked since we got her up here!”
“We just need to get back to Waystation,” Porter said. “Get her to a doctor.”
“Craig?” Kathy Beck’s voice asked hesitantly. Porter and Hodges looked up and saw the captain’s sister standing the doorway. “Is she okay?”
Hodges balled up her fists and made a move toward her, but Porter grabbed her arm, stopping her.
“Do you want Doctor Beck confined to quarters?” O’Neal asked, an edge of anger evident in his voice.
“Craig, please. I want to see her,” Kathy begged.
“Yeah,” Porter said, waving her in. “You might as well see the results of your handiwork.”
Kathy paused for a moment, struck by verbal slap. Surrounded by room full of heavily-armed people whom she knew probably would have no qualms about killing her for what she’d done, Kathy approached the biobed and looked down at Lisa, her sister’s eyes gazing back at her lifelessly.
“Lisa,” she said softly, leaning over. “It’s Kathy. I know you can’t hear me, but I’m sorry. I’m so GUURRRRRRK!”
Beck’s hand had suddenly shot up and grabbed her sister by the throat.
“You,” Beck hissed, pulling herself into a sitting position without releasing her grip in the slightest. “You fu…”
“Wow,” Porter said. “I’ve heard that the voice of a loved one could be therapeutic, but I had no idea it would be this effective. This is a miracle, I tell you! A miracle!”
“GUURRRRRRKKKK!” Kathy croaked, her eyes bulging.
“Oh talk some more. Maybe she’ll squeeze harder.”
Beck shoved Kathy aside roughly, releasing her hold on her sister’s throat. Kathy dropped to the deck, gasping for breath. Not surprisingly, no one moved to help her.
“Help me up,” Beck said slumping over after her energy burst that had used up the last she had in her.
“Maybe you should lay down for a bit longer,” Porter said.
“We’re on our way back there now. Just rest.”
“Can’t. They…have my command codes. Romulans are on their way.”
Porter froze. The mind meld. He was so focused on Beck that he didn’t stop to think about why the Romulans would meld with her…or how for that matter, but that was a question for another time.
“I’ll comm the station,” Porter said, running for the door.
“I’d better take the helm,” Hodges added, shooting Kathy a glare, then chasing after him.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Lisa,” Kathy said imploring. “I swear…”
“I don’t care,” Beck said, taking a slightly wobbly step toward the exit. She quickly steadied herself and turned on her sister. “But I want you to remember something. Everything that happens now. Every death, every injury, every little scratch that is suffered in dealing with this will be because of you. And it’s now my life’s mission to make sure you’re held accountable. Hell, you’re going to be damn lucky if I don’t just kill you myself.”
“O’Neal, confine her to quarters. I don’t want to see her until this is over. We have work to do.”
“Yes, ma’am,” O’Neal said, sternly eying Kathy.
Mustering as much strength as she could, Beck strode out of the mess hall without looking back.
“Governor, we have received word from Zycam,” Commander Brella said, stepping into the observation lounge at the fore of the Warbird Weetabix.
Tarmak turned away from the front viewports to face his subordinate. “Is there a problem?”
“The Aertran was unable to destroy Doctor Beck’s ship due to the intervention of Starfleet, and Captain Beck is missing from her cell,” Brella replied hesitantly. This was a little more than a problem. This was a disaster! Everything was falling apart!
“Oh well,” Tarmak said with a slight shrug.
Brella blinked. Did she really just hear that?
“Oh…well?” she asked.
Tarmak smiled slightly and turned back to the front viewport where the massive upper saucer of Waystation loomed ahead of them. “It hardly matters now,” he said. “Begin Phase One.”
“Yes, Governor,” Brella said with a crisp bow before leaving the room. That had gone a lot better than she’d expected. Of course, she’d been expecting insane rage. Tarmak’s lack of caring was almost anti-climactic. Not that she wanted to be yelled at, but he could be a little annoyed that their forces had failed so miserably. There was Romulan pride to think about after all.
But then Tarmak had bigger issues to think about.
Such as Phase One.
Which Brella was supposed to be implementing right about now.
Better do it.
And stop thinking about…
Oh, just get on with it!!!
A transporter beam coalesced in an out-of-the-way storage closet on Deck 38. Generally, this would not be the type of place anyone would use as a beam-in site. It was small, dark, and really just not all that pleasant.
The odd-shaped device that appeared on the floor of said closet didn’t mind a bit, though.
For it’s purposes, this spot was perfect.
Up in Ops, the tactical and science/operations consoles were alerted to the unauthorized transport at the same time. Starfleet sensors were good at that sort of thing. It took Lieutenant Mason, who was manning the science/operations console, a moment to notice the alert.
“Something’s going on,” he said to Lieutenant Laru Hassna, who was just returning to the tactical console after a potty break.
“What kind of something?” Laru replied, jogging over to her console.
“I don’t know yet. Checking.”
The odd-shaped device, which looked quite a bit like a bunch of cobbled-together junk, had three basic functions:
1) It gave off human lifesigns. Lisa Beck’s to be specific, thanks to scans of her taken on Zycam. And thanks to her commbadge, which had been confiscated from her and was now embedded in the device, it would appear to anyone paying attention that Captain Beck was currently standing in a closet on Deck 38.
2) Using samples of Captain Beck’s speech recorded during her interrogation and meticulously edited, the device played the following: “Computer, this is Captain Lisa Beck. Erase all records of the last transport to this location and end detection of transport functions from now on.”
Now any live being listening to this cobbled together recording would have instantly known something was up. The computer, however, only cared that it was Beck’s voice coming from what it thought was Beck’s body. The fact that one word was normal and the next exceptionally strained didn’t matter to it one bit.
This led to the final and most important function -
3) “Computer, this is Captain Lisa Beck, transport all station command functions to the next person to tell you the password. Command authorization Beck eta six three nine epsilon tarheel. The password is Kathy.”
“What am I looking for?” Lieutenant Laru asked, checking the tactical console.
“Um…I’m not sure,” Mason replied. There had been an alert. He was sure of it. But there was nothing there now.
“This ceremony has me jumpy too,” Laru said sympathetically.
“Yeah,” Mason said confused. “Jumpy.”
“Don’t worry. The computer will let us know if there’s a problem.”
Meanwhile, a problem was just materializing in a maintenance bay just a few doors down from the entrance to the Waystation arboretum. Several problems, actually, if you wanted to count each of the 30 or so Romulans in this group individually. The head problem, Tarmak, surveyed the less than impressive surroundings. He wouldn’t call it a grand entrance, but it would do for now. He had far bigger goals to accomplish.
“Computer, I am Tarmak. Transfer all station command functions to me. Password: Kathy.”
“Acknowledged,” the computer said, unconcerned that it was handing over control to a Romulan. It was following the captain’s orders after all. “Command transfer complete. Please state new command authorization code.”
“Negawik sevvaam lortab nasonel.”
Satisfied, Tarmak turned to Brella. “Find the broadcast of the award ceremony,” he ordered, pointing at a nearby monitor. “Let’s see if they’re ready for us.”
“Ready?” Brella asked. “We’re attacking them. How ready do we want them to be?”
“President Dillon and Picard must be where we can reach them,” Tarmak said. “It’s all about timing. You have to know when to make an entrance.”
Yes, his entrance into this room on Waystation hadn’t been all that impressive, but his next one into the arboretum would be something to see.
And Bradley Dillon and Jean-Luc Picard would have front row seats.
Porter yanked the earpiece away from his head and tossed it at the console in front of him.
“Still no answer, huh?” Hodges asked.
“No,” Porter said. “I’m not even getting the ‘all Federation representatives’ are busy message.”
“Did you try Dillon Enterprises?”
“Everything from that on down to the Earthly Eats carryout commline. No messages are getting to the station.”
“Which wouldn’t be that hard for someone with the command codes to make happen,” Captain Beck said from the seat behind them.
Porter spun his seat around, got up, and headed toward the cockpit door. “I’m going to see if I can’t get a little more out of the engines.”
“Thanks, Craig,” Beck said tiredly. Porter nodded and left for the Wayward’s tiny engineering section.
“Do you think they’re okay?” Hodges asked.
“Tarmak wanted Bradley and Captain Picard. I don’t think he was interested in anybody else,” Beck replied, slipping into the seat Porter just vacated. “The ceremony should be starting now. That would tell us something.” She activated the monitor beside her and tuned it to the AWN feed. Joan Redding was babbling on about the extreme excitement of the occasion.
“Looks pretty normal for a station under siege,” Hodges remarked.
“No kidding,” Beck said confused. “What the hell is happening over there?”
“It looks like everyone is settled…finally. And Fleet Admiral Ra’al’s ship is running late, so we’re supposed to get started without her,” Yeoman Jones said, the irritation evident in her voice as she stood in front of the monitor bank in the control area that had been set up in the arboretum shed and stared at the video feed coming from the ceremony. She turned to Commander Morales. “Get ready to cue the Federation anthem.”
“How did I get stuck with this job?” Morales muttered from the small console Jones had planted him in front of.
“Everybody else had important assignments,” she said.
“But I’m in command,” Morales whined.
“And as commanding officer, your first duty is to make sure this ceremony goes smoothly. Now get ready to cue…”
“Excuse me,” a voice interrupted. Morales and Jones turned their heads and saw Gisele (no one knew if she had a last name), Bradley Dillon’s personal assistant, stepping into the control area.
“Oh no,” Jones said. “Is everything okay with President Dillon? He’s here, isn’t he? Please tell me he’s here!”
“Mister Dillon is here,” Gisele said. “He’s just asked me to deliver this to you,” she added, handing a padd to Jones.
“Mister Dillon has made some changes to the program.”
“Changes? Now? We can’t have changes now! We’re starting!”
The lights suddenly dimmed in the arboretum as music began to play.
“What did you do?” Jones demanded, whipping around toward Morales. “I didn’t tell you to do anything!”
“I didn’t!” Morales said.
“Mister Dillon did. It’s all on the padd,” Gisele said. “Enjoy the show.”
“Um…thanks,” Jones said weakly as Gisele exited the control area.
“I guess this means we’re off the hook, huh?” Morales said.
Jones stared at him blankly and then…
“HE TOOK OVER MY SHOW!!!!”
“Is that Captain Picard?” Commander Brella asked, squinting at the image on the monitor in the maintenance bay.
“Jean-Luc Picard is a bald human male,” Tarmak said flatly. “That is a Horta in a tu-tu. Does it, in ANY WAY, resemble a bald human male?”
“They’re both hairless?”
“Remind me to have you executed when we get home.”
“The dance number’s a nice touch,” Morales said.
“I could have put in a dance number!” Jones snapped.
“I know you…”
“No one told me that they wanted a dance number! How was I supposed to plan a dance number when nobody would tell me they wanted one?”
“THIS WAS MY SHOW!!!”
“You mentioned that.”
He was a patient man. Long-term plans required patience. It was just one of those things. But even Tarmak was getting close to losing his Romulan cool.
“Is this twirling about ever going to end?” Commander Brella demanded, voicing the frustration Tarmak was feeling. Every time one of these so-called “opening acts” ended, another would take its place on the stage. Now there was some kind of Tamarian interpretive dance/dramatic recital going on. At least that’s what it looked like. For all Tarmak knew, it was news report. If the Tamarians were subjects of the Romulan Empire, this bizarre talking through stories issue of theirs would have been taken care of long ago…most likely though the extermination of their entire useless species.
Finally whatever was going on ended, the lights went down, and the Federation anthem began bombastically booming over the loudspeakers set up around the ceremony site. As the music reached its crescendo, a flood of bright spotlights lit up the stage. Standing in the center of their glow was Federation President Bradley Dillon, smiling broadly as he held his hands up in the air to receive the thunderous applause of those in the audience.
“Now that was an entrance,” Tarmak said appreciatively.
“Yours will be better,” Brella said.
“Yes, it will.”
On the monitor, Bradley launched into his welcoming remarks. “Good evening, Ladies, Gentlemen and others. I thank you all for joining us on this most special of occasions as we honor one of the finest officers that Starfleet has ever produced. A man who…”
“Find a way to mute him,” Tarmak said, turning away from the screen.
Brella looked confused. “Don’t you want…”
“I’m going to be sick.”
“Hitting mute,” she said quickly.
“Thank you. It’s time we were getting ready,” Tarmak said, stepping over to a nearby console. “Computer, display a schematic of this deck.” The computer complied, bringing the image up on the monitor on Tarmak’s console. He quickly located the arboretum and the maintenance bay. “Computer, seal off sections C and D of this deck. Flood the rest of the station with anesthezine.”
As Bradley Dillon’s speech rolled along, the occupants of the arboretum were blissfully unaware that some strange things were happening in other parts of the station.
“I’d like a McSnazz’t with…” THUD
“If you remove the sequins from this dress I will KILL you where you…” THUD
“Oh, Angelina. Someday I will find a way to whisk your program away from the confines of this cursed holodeck, freeing you to join me for an eternity of intimate…” THUD
“Why are we stuck in Ops? Nothing is going to happen. Wait. The computer says there’s been a release of…” THUD.
And Bradley Dillon was STILL babbling (silently, thankfully) on the monitor in the maintenance bay.
“He’s got to introduce Picard soon,” Tarmak muttered.
“Sure he does,” Brella said sarcastically.
“Is that remark supposed to mean something, Commander?”
“He’s a politician. And you know politicians. They’re in love with the sound of their own voices.”
“Are we now?” Tarmak said, eyes narrowing.
“Remind me to have you executed when we get home.”
“Yes, Governor,” Brella said apologetically.
“As soon as Picard takes the stage, we will act,” Tarmak said, addressing the Centurions. “Quickly take your positions and put down any sign of resistance, but with surprise on our side, I am confident that you will be able to subdue the Federation officers without a shot.”
The Centurions nodded stiffly and raised their weapons to combat-readiness.
“Computer, raise shields,” Tarmak said before turning to Brella. “You will remain here and oversee the station. If the report from Zycam is correct, Starfleet may be coming for us.”
“But you’re in command,” Brella said.
“Of course I am.”
“No. I mean you have the station command codes.”
“Yes, I do.”
“If you have the codes and you’re at the ceremony, what am I supposed to do if there’s a problem? You don’t want me interrupting your moment of triumph, do you?”
“Absolutely not. Computer, transfer command functions to the next person to tell you the password. Command authorization negawik sevvaam lortab nasonel. The password is garoden.”
The computer chirped its acknowledgment just as, on the monitor, Bradley Dillon gestured off stage and began clapping. Moments later, Captain Jean-Luc Picard stepped uncomfortably into the spotlight.
“And there’s our cue,” Tarmak said.
“Oh wow am I bored,” Lieutenant Commander Sean Russell said as he barged into the tool shed/control room where Morales and Jones were watching the ceremony. He plopped down into a chair and looked over at Jones. “Why are you doing this to us?”
“My show would have been over by now,” Jones grumbled.
“This has become a Bradley Dillon production,” Morales said.
“Should have guessed,” Russell said, idly tossing his phaser up into the air and catching it. “Have we heard from Craig?”
“Nothing yet. I’m sure he and Steph are fine, though. They wouldn’t do anything stupid.”
“Like taking on the Romulans single-handedly?”
“I don’t think they’ll have to deal with that many,” Jones said.
“What do you mean?” Morales said.
“It looks like most of them are here,” she replied, pointing at the monitor in front of her. Romulans were pouring out of the woods leading to the ceremony site and taking up positions around the audience. Russell’s security staff was quickly being disarmed and huddled into the middle of the area with the rest of the crowd.
As for Russell himself, he was nearly having a seizure. “No! Don’t just stand there! Run! Take cover! Shoot back!”
“What about the civilians? Don’t the regulations say that they aren’t supposed to risk innocent people?” Jones asked.
“I don’t think it matters now,” Morales said. “The Romulans seem to have things under control.”
“At least they don’t know about us,” Russell said.
“A second ago you were trying to get your people to start a firefight,” Jones said.
“Yeah, but that didn’t work, so why sacrifice ourselves when maybe we can wait the Romulans out?”
“Or we could come up with a plan to deal with them,” Morales said.
Never had space seemed so vast to Captain Beck as right now. The Wayward was moving as fast as Porter and Hodges could make it go, which was certainly well beyond the vessel’s design specs. She knew that Craig and Steph were the best two people in the universe to have with her in the current situation.
But it just wasn’t enough.
Her station was in danger, and she wasn’t there to prevent whatever Tarmak had planned for Bradley and Picard.
Worse than that, Beck had given Tarmak the keys to the place.
Okay. They’d been ripped from her head against her will, but the Vulcans Tarmak had hired to get the command codes from her had found a bit more than they bargained for inside her mind. Leximas’ training and a couple of encounters with higher beings had seen to that.
They’d gotten what they wanted in the end, though.
And Great Bird, was Bradley Dillon ever going to stop babbling? Beck had long ago muted the monitor.
Finally, it looked like Bradley was wrapping things up and introducing Picard. She unmuted the monitor as the legendary captain took the stage and waited for the applause to subside (although she was certain she was hearing at least one ‘boo’ in there.). Picard seemed uncomfortable with the whole affair, even more so after he did what appeared to be a couple of double takes at certain members of the audience.
After over a minute, the applause subsided, and Picard opened his mouth to speak. Suddenly, the camera swung away from the stage toward the tree line of the small forest behind the rows of chairs where a horde of Romulans were emerging. Moving with swift precision, the Romulans surrounded the crowd and disarmed the surprised members of the Waystation security forces guarding the event.
“Uh oh,” Hodges said from beside Beck.
“Uh oh? I think this qualifies for a bit more than that,” Beck said just as Tarmak stepped through his Centurions and advanced down the aisle running between the rows of seats toward the stage.
“President Dillon! Captain Picard! What a pleasure to see you both!” Tarmak declared, reaching the base of the stage.
“Do you know this guy?” Bradley asked, leaning over to Picard.
“No,” Picard replied darkly. “The nefarious woman in the third row, I know. The sadistic Cardassian in the fourth row, I know. The…”
“I get the point,” Bradley said, cutting Picard off, much to the captain’s surprise. He was not a man used to being cut off mid-sentence.
“Who are you?” Picard demanded of the Romulan climbing the stage steps toward them. “What is the meaning of this?”
“Come, Captain,” Bradley said, suddenly remembering the identity of the newcomer. “Surely you recognize the esteemed Foreign Minister of the Romulan Empire. You are certainly welcome to join us, Tarmak. However, in the future when your government desires to attend a Federation function, I would encourage you to contact us in advance. I’m certain we could have arranged an invitation for you.”
An invitation? Maybe in his former post, the Federation would have given Tarmak one, but not now. Not after his demotion and humiliation.
“That is very kind of you,” Tarmak said. “But I have left the Ministry for another position in the local area. It’s Governor Tarmak now.”
“Ah. Well, since you’re now a neighbor, we definitely would have offered you an invitation,” Bradley said.
Tarmak froze briefly. He really could have just asked for an invitation? They would have just invited him aboard? That would have made this so much easier! Why couldn’t someone have told him this earlier!
He felt…felt…humiliated! AGAIN!
He whipped out a disruptor pistol and aimed it squarely at Bradley. “You have done this to me for the last time,” Tarmak seethed.
“Seeing as how I’m the one being held at gunpoint, I’m not exactly sure what I’ve done to you,” Bradley replied.
“You…both of you…have destroyed my life!”
“I don’t think I’ve ever even met you,” Picard said.
“You haven’t,” Tarmak said.
“You managed to ruin things for me from afar!” Tarmak snapped, cutting Picard off. “You didn’t even consider the ramifications of what you were doing, did you?”
“What ramifications of what? What did I do?”
“You killed Praetor Shinzon!”
“He was trying to wipe out every life on Earth.”
“Yes, but did you have to kill him? Do you have any idea what kind of trouble that’s caused me?”
“I cannot say that I considered it,” Picard said.
“See!” Tarmak shouted. “And you,” he said, turning on Bradley, “you started this whole downward spiral in the first place.”
“By stopping you from seizing control of Earth in a trick treaty?” Bradley asked.
“Ah. So let me get this straight. Since Captain Picard and I both saved the Earth from Romulan stratagems, we’ve inconvenienced you.”
“You’ve humiliated me!” Tarmak bellowed. There. He’d said. It was rather cathartic really. “The treaty was MY plan. Shinzon came to power because of MY help. They failed! Both of them. Because of you two! And now the time has come for my REVENGE!”
“Uh oh,” Steph Hodges said as Tarmak’s threat played on the monitor.
“Would you stop saying that?” Beck snapped.
“I prefer understatement to over-dramatic hysteria.”
“He’s threatening our president and Jean-Luc Picard! This isn’t the time for understatement. If we don’t do something soon, he’s going to…”
“Oh,” Beck said as Waystation grew quickly out the front viewport.
“The cloak is holding,” Porter reported from the seat behind Beck. “No Romulan ships are showing up on sensors. No big surprise there, though.”
“What about the station?” Beck asked. It was bad enough that a cloaked Romulan ship was skulking around, but Waystation was under the control of a dangerous man bent on vengeance.
“Station shields are up, and it looks like the intruder control system has been activated. I’ve got anesthezine readings everywhere except around the arboretum.”
“How many Romulans are we looking at?” Hodges asked.
“Thirty-two in the arboretum,” Porter said.
“We might be able to take them by surprise…if we can get through the shields,” Hodges said to Beck.
Beck shook her head. “Too many hostages.”
“Hmmm…” Porter muttered thoughtfully.
“Does the Wayward have anesthezine too? Maybe we could knock out the whole arboretum. We’d need a lot of it considering the size of the place, but it could…”
“Hang on,” Beck said. “Craig hmmmed.”
“Is that bad?”
“Depends. What are you hmmming about, Craig? Got a way we can take out close to three dozen Romulans?”
“I’m more interested in this one,” Porter said, pointing to the scan of Waystation on his screen. In another room a short distance from the large cluster of lifesigns in the arboretum was a lone Romulan sensor reading.”
“What is that room?” Beck asked.
“Okay. So why is that Romulan in a maintenance bay all alone?” Hodges asked.
“I don’t know,” Porter replied. “I think we should go ask. I’ll see about getting us through the shields.”
“Preferably before Tarmak gets done babbling and starts his whole revenge thing,” Beck said.
“I don’t like deadlines,” Porter said.
“I don’t like anyone ending up dead.”
“Yeah okay. You win.”
Some people just couldn’t accept life’s setbacks, Bradley thought, considering the Romulan weapon currently trained on him. Sure Bradley had had his share of defeats over the years, but he didn’t go off and kill people over them. Well, there was that guy he had his Special Secret Section make disappear, but he had it coming.
Speaking of, where the hell was his Special Secret Section?
Suddenly, a battle cry went up from the forest, and Agent Anderson leapt out in the middle of executing a rather graceful- looking martial arts kick. If he didn’t know better, Bradley would swear the man was on wires.
Anderson’s boot connected cleanly with the Romulan Centurion closest to him, then the agent hit the ground and went into a roll.
Eight blasts slammed into him before he could make it back to his feet, and he lay on the ground unconscious.
Ah. So much for that.
Tarmak had watched the whole display rather disinterestedly, then turned his attention back to Bradley and Picard. Hmm…if Bradley and Picard had been paying attention to Tarmak instead of Anderson’s futile rescue efforts, they might have been able to overpower Tarmak while he wasn’t looking.
Again, so much for that.
“Surely you don’t mean to kill us with the entire quadrant watching?” Picard asked.
Bradley couldn’t help glaring at the Starfleet captain. What was he thinking? Of course Tarmak intended to kill them with the entire quadrant watching! That was the whole point! He wanted to get his revenge in front of an audience.
“I have no intentions of killing you,” Tarmak said.
Unless he wasn’t planning to kill them, Bradley thought, quickly amending himself.
“As I’ve come to learn,” the Romulan continued. “There are things far worse than death. For example, death would be far preferable to living with the humiliation I have suffered at your hands. The only proper revenge is to allow you to experience what I have been feeling for yourselves and then leave you to live with it day after DAY!”
“You intend to humiliate us then,” Picard said.
“Yes I do.”
“We are above such…”
“Take your clothes off,” Tarmak ordered.
“I most certainly will not!” Picard cried.
“Strip!” Tarmak said, jamming his disruptor toward Picard. “Now! Both of you!”
In the audience, Gul Madred got to his feet. “Oh come on! I’ve already seen that!” Tarmak’s arm whipped toward the Cardassian interrogator, and he fired. Stunned, Madred slumped back into his seat.
“NOW!” Tarmak repeated.
Bradley moved closer to Picard. “I’m just glad we’ll be doing this together,” Bradley said. “I don’t think we could handle the shame of having to disrobe individually.”
“Stop!” Tarmak said. “Do it one at a time.”
“With all due respect, Mister President, you aren’t helping,” Picard said.
“Then allow me to insist that I go first,” Bradley replied. “You are our honored guest at this ceremony, and I will not have you subjected to this indignity when I have the power to prevent it.”
“You don’t have that power,” Tarmak said. “Picard goes first.”
“Oh well. I did what I could,” Bradley said, retreating to the podium.
“And you’re going to fall for that?” Picard asked Tarmak.
“Fall for what?”
“His manipulation. He maneuvered you into making me go first.”
“Quit your whining and get stripping,” Tarmak said. “Or I start shooting audience members.”
Picard fixed Bradley with another cold glare, then began undoing his dress uniform jacket.
“I’ve got it,” Porter said, looking up from his console.
“We can take the shields down?” Beck asked.
“Not so much, but we can beam through them.”
“Oh!” Hodges exclaimed. “I’ve heard about this! There’s some kind of pattern to the shield frequency, and you can beam through it if you…”
“That doesn’t work with newer shields,” Porter said. “We’re just going to use the hole.”
“Wait. Did you say hole?” Beck asked. “There’s a hole in my shields?”
“It’s a very tiny one.”
“But it’s a hole.”
“Hey. Waystation is really big and oddly shaped. The shield generators do well, but if you look hard enough, there’s a tiny gap.”
“And you can transport us through it?”
“If our ace pilot here can hold the Wayward really really still, yes.”
“I can do that,” Hodges said. “But what if you need to beam back out for some reason?”
“Then stay by the hole.”
“All right,” Beck said. “Steph, you have the Wayward. Craig and I will take the marines and see what we can do.”
“I’ll be right here,” Hodges said.
“Slower!” Tarmak commanded. “I want this to be dramatic.”
“Believe me, I’m in no rush,” Picard muttered, unzipping his jacket ever so slowly.
“We can’t just sit here,” Yeoman Jones said.
“I believe that’s what I’ve been saying,” Commander Morales replied.
“Fine, but I wouldn’t recommend the front door,” Lieutenant Commander Russell said.
“I don’t suppose the computer will tell me if there’s a jefferies tube hatch in here,” Morales muttered. He’d quickly discovered after the Romulans’ arrival that the Waystation computer no longer considered him authorized to find out much of anything.
“We could check the floor,” Jones said.
“Sure. If you want to do it the obvious way,” Russell said.
“We’ll go with the obvious,” Morales said. “We’ll also not mention that I didn’t figure out the obvious, if you don’t mind.”
“Absolutely, sir,” Jones said with a slight smirk.
Captain Beck, Lieutenant Commander Porter, Lieutenant Colonel O’Neal and his contingent of marines (minus Hodges, who was waiting in the Wayward) materialized in the corridor just outside of the maintenance bay where Porter had detected the lone Romulan bio-signature.
Beck had every intention of giving some orders and such, as she was prone to do being the captain and all; however, before a sound could come out of her mouth, O’Neal launched into a flurry of hand signals. Before Beck knew it, the marines were storming into the maintenance bay.
Not one to be left out, she charged in after them and found that they had already subdued the room’s occupant, a Romulan female who was currently face-down on the deck and getting a lovely view of the carpet courtesy of the phaser rifle that was being jammed into the back of her skull.
“The area is secure, ma’am,” O’Neal said.
“No offense, but I’ll believe that when there aren’t a bunch of Romulans with my command codes running around,” Beck said. “Get her up.”
The marines holding Commander Brella hoisted her to her feet, putting her face-to-face with Beck.
“Why aren’t you in with the others?” Beck demanded.
Brella just put on her finest look of disdain and didn’t respond.
“Is Tarmak planning to kill anyone?” Beck continued. “Where is your ship?”
Brella added a bit of a sneer to her overall disdain leaving Beck wishing she’d brought Spaanz and Taanz along to give the Romulan a taste of what was done to her.
While Beck was playing 20 questions with a Romulan who’d set herself on mute, Hodges was working to keep the Wayward even with the very small hole in Waystation’s shields as said hole rotated along with the rest of the station.
It was an arduous task with little margin for error and…
The Wayward jolted roughly, tossing Hodges out of her seat.
“The hell?” she exclaimed, scrambling back to her console. She’d hit something. How the hell could she have hit something unless…
She looked at the sensors and let out a very un-marine-like gasp.
It was a Romulan Warbird. An entire warbird. She was expecting a scout ship or maybe some kind of smaller military vessel, but not an entire frickin’ warbird.
The impact must have disrupted the warbird’s cloak enough for the sensors to detect it.
Wait. That probably meant that…
Hodges threw the Wayward into a dive a split second before disruptor blasts seared through the space the ship had just occupied.
Yep. They could see her too.
What was the point of being invisible when other invisible things could just bump right into you?
That was a question Hodges would have to ponder at a later time. Preferably when she wasn’t being chased by a large, heavily armed Romulan ship.
“I think I can slip us in there,” Porter said, pulling open a floor panel in the maintenance bay to reveal a jefferies tube access hatch. “We should be able to follow this right into the storage room at the back of the arboretum.”
“You mean the shed,” Beck said. “You don’t think the Romulans checked the shed?”
“Honestly? No. But I can scout it out just to be sure,” Porter said, patting the tricorder on his hip.
“Okay. But be careful,” Beck said.
“I should send an escort with him,” O’Neal said.
“Nah. You folks stay here where there might actually be people to shoot,” Porter said. “I’ll be fine.” He ducked down into the jefferies tube, then immediately popped back up again.
“Problem?” Beck asked.
“I evidently hit rush hour,” Porter said, hopping out of the jefferies tube just as Commander Morales crawled into view.
“Captain!” Morales exclaimed, leaping up into the maintenance bay with Jones and Russell close behind. “Thank the Great Bird!”
“Are we rescued?” Jones asked.
“Not as much as you might hope,” Beck said. She looked around at her officers, all of whom appeared to be genuinely happy to see each other and her, which was something of a change from when she’d left. “Um…not to ruin the moment here, but are we all suddenly okay with each other?”
“Oh yeah,” Jones said. “We talked. We’re fine now.”
“There was a group hug. And then some singing. You should have been there,” Porter said.
“Wayward to Beck,” Beck’s commbadge (well, the replacement one she’d grabbed on the Wayward) barked suddenly.
“Go ahead, Steph,” Beck said. She noticed the glare coming from Lieutenant Colonel O’Neal’s direction and corrected herself, rolling her eyes as she did so, “Go ahead, Lieutenant Hodges.”
“Are you folks about done in there? Because I’m kind of being shot at out here.”
“Oh yeah. They brought a warbird. A whole warbird.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be cloaked?” Porter asked.
“Funny thing about that. Cloaks work less well after you hit something…or it hits you. Neither of our cloaks are working so well right now.”
“Keep away from them, Steph,” Beck said. “We’ll get you some help. Beck out.”
“The runabouts aren’t going to do a thing against a warbird,” Morales said. “If we can even get them launched.”
“That’s not what I had in mind. You, Russell, and Porter get up to Ops. Find some way to get around Tarmak’s command lockout. Do whatever you have to.”
“But the Romulans…,”Russell protested as Morales and Porter headed for the door.
“We’ll handle them,” Beck said. “Get moving.”
Russell nodded, then looked over at O’Neal. “Good luck, Dan.”
“Thanks,” O’Neal said. “See you later.”
“Yeah,” Russell said before following Porter and Morales to the turbolift.
“I didn’t realize you guys were on a first name basis,” Beck said to O’Neal once Russell was gone.
O’Neal shrugged. “We did the whole professional rivalry thing for a while. Glaring, rude comments, that crap. But it got old pretty fast. One day we ended up trying to sign up for the same holodeck time and started talking. Turns out we have a lot of the same interests.”
“Oh yeah. You have no idea how hard it is to find a croquet partner out here.”
“Cro…quet?” Beck asked in disbelief.
“I had no idea,” Beck said.
“Captain,” Jones said urgently. Beck turned toward the yeoman, who was pointing at the broadcast on the monitor. “We’re running out of time.”
Jones was right. Captain Picard was naked above the waist and taking off his second boot before starting on his socks. Before long, he’d have to drop his trousers and then only his Starfleet-issue undies would remain. Assuming that he wore underpants. Surely he wore underpants. Even more surely, Beck did not want to be traveling on this particular train of thought.
“There’s nothing you can do to stop him,” Commander Brella said confidently.
“I seem to be making pretty good progress so far,” Beck retorted.
Brella smiled. “Yet nothing has really changed.”
“Yeah…well…I’m getting to that part.”
“What the hell is going on?” Dr. Kathy Beck demanded, stumbling into the Wayward’s cockpit as the ship rocked from a disruptor blast against the shields.
“Weren’t you confined to quarters or something?” Hodges snapped.
“The lock shorted out a few hits back,” Kathy said, sliding into the seat beside Hodges.
“Stupid doors,” Hodges muttered.
“Is that a warbird?” Kathy asked, staring at the sensor readouts.
“Sure is,” Hodges grunted as she sent the Wayward into a roll and looped around the upper saucer. “Why don’t you comm them and see if you can talk them into not chasing us? You guys are such good friends that I’m sure they wouldn’t want to kill you.”
“That attitude isn’t helping.”
“You seem to have forgotten the part where this is entirely YOUR FAULT!”
“So you grew up to be a bitch, huh?”
Hodges suddenly reached over, grabbed Kathy by the hair, and slammed her head down against the console.
“Pretty much,” Hodges said.
Russell slammed his hands down against the tactical console. “I can’t do anything!” he shouted.
“That makes three of us,” Porter said, the edge of irritation evident in his voice as he lay half buried in one of the Ops access panels rerouting systems.
“I at least got the viewscreen on,” Morales said. At the moment said viewscreen was showing Captain Picard meticulously folding his socks. Morales had to hand it to the man. He was dragging this strip show out about as long as anyone could. Tarmak didn’t seem to mind, though. He was enjoying every second of the Starfleet officer’s humiliation.
“We’re doing this wrong,” Russell said suddenly.
“Huh?” Porter asked.
“It’s a command lockout.”
“We know that.”
“Not everyone has command access.”
“Oh I just know there’s a point here, Sean.”
Russell slapped his commbadge. “Russell to Jones.”
“Yes, sir,” the yeoman’s voice replied.
“You’ve got student access to the security logs, don’t you?”
“Um…yeah. I needed it for the Recognizing Suspicious Activity unit in my…”
“Look at the logs for the maintenance bay. See what Tarmak did exactly. Maybe we can find a way around it.”
“Okay. I’ll check,” Jones said hesitantly.
“Thanks, Tina. Russell out.” Russell looked over at Morales. “Could be a waste of time, but…”
“Considering our complete and total lack of progress, I say go for it,” Porter said.
Beck was fighting the urge to start pacing the maintenance bay. Steph was in trouble. They couldn’t get control of Ops back. They couldn’t storm the arboretum without risking the hostages, and even if they did, they were badly outnumbered. Jones was busying herself with whatever request Russell had made of her, but Beck was stuck until she could come up with some kind of plan that wouldn’t end with a lot of dead bodies in the arboretum.
“He’s won,” Brella said. “You are powerless to stop him.”
“Do you go to some kind of school for this generic villain banter?” Beck said.
“Second year at the Imperial Academy.”
“Captain,” Jones said. “You need to see this.”
“Whatever it is, it won’t help,” Brella said.
“Thanks for that,” Beck said, moving to join Jones at the console the yeoman was using to review the security logs from the maintenance bay. Russell was correct that, while his command level clearance as security chief was blocked, Jones’s student access to the system let her right on in. “What is it, Tina?” Beck asked.
“Just watch,” Jones replied, starting the playback.
Beck watched the scene play out before her and watched a bit more. And then a bit more. She looked to Jones, who shook her head.
Beck started laughing.
“You find your doom amusing?” Brella asked.
“Oh no. Nothing like that,” Beck said, walking back over to her “guest.” “But I do want to thank you, Commander.”
“Thank…me?” Brella asked confused.
“Yes. I want to thank you for being the stupidest Romulan to EVER set foot on my station. Computer, this is Captain Lisa Beck. Transfer all station command functions to me. Password: garoden.”
“Acknowledged,” the computer said as Brella stared at Beck in horrified shock. “Command transfer complete. Please state new command authorization code.”
Beck smiled at Brella and whispered something into her commbadge that was inaudible to the Romulan.
“Confirmed,” the computer said.
“How?” Brella stammered. “You couldn’t… The code…” Brella’s eyes widened as realization dawned. “I never finished transferring control to me.”
“Nope,” Beck said.
Brella put her head in her hands. “Oh jovalok! I am such a…”
“Moron? Nitwit? Galaxy-class imbecile?”
“You still haven’t won.”
“But I will. And I’ll make sure Tarmak knows how I did it. But first… Computer, release command lockout for station personnel. Beck to Ops.”
“Go ahead, Captain,” Morales’s voice said.
“The systems should be a lot more responsive now. Give Steph some help.”
“Yes, ma’am!” Morales replied, suddenly energized. “Ops out.”
“And now,” Beck said looking at Brella with satisfaction. “I’m going to go have a word with your boss.”
“Shouldn’t you be shooting back more?” Kathy Beck asked anxiously.
“You’re welcome to try,” Hodges snapped. “I’m a little more focused on keeping us alive.”
“If you wanted to do that, you’d get us out of here.”
“And abandon Lisa and everybody else. Gee. Why didn’t I think of that amazing plan?”
“I meant that we could go get reinforcements.”
“Reinforcements would be great, but there’s no time for…HOLY CRAP!”
Hodges’ exclamation was prompted by the sudden activation of Waystation’s phaser array. Her split second of terror was quickly replaced with jubilation as the station’s massively powerful phaser barrage slammed into the warbird. The Romulan ship bucked violently as blast after blast buffeted its shields at almost point blank range. Within seconds, the ship was defenseless, its power flickering weakly.
“There,” Hodges said, leaning back in her chair. “Reinforcements.”
The moment was finally here, Tarmak thought giddily. Picard was down to his boxers and about to remove those, baring himself to the galaxy. Oh what glorious humiliation. And even better, Tarmak would get to watch the whole process again with Bradley Dillon.
He’d have to hurry the Federation president on a little bit, though. Starfleet was bound to have ships on the way, and while he controlled Waystation, he’d rather not get pinned down here when the safety of Zycam awaited his victorious return.
No. He’d be long gone before Starfleet could…
“Show’s over, Tarmak!” a voice shouted from the trees rising up behind the “captive audience” watching his triumph.
A lone woman in a Starfleet uniform stepped into view. Who in the…
It couldn’t be.
It was absolutely impossible.
“Captain Beck?” Tarmak said, trying to hide his shock.
“I don’t remember inviting you aboard my station,” Beck said, striding toward the line of centurions guarding the crowd. They looked to Tarmak for orders, and he waved for them to let her through. It’d really be pushing his available time, but he’d be more than happy to add Beck to his floor show. She was a damn sight more attractive than Picard and Bradley Dillon to be sure.
“Actually, as I recall I took your station from you,” Tarmak said. “So you are the one lacking an invitation.”
“Tell you what. Why don’t you let all of these people go, and we can settle the ownership issue between the two of us?”
“I’m kind of in the middle of something here. Why don’t you join us? I insist.”
“I don’t think so,” Beck replied. “But I do get where you’re coming from here. Humiliation must hurt. The Romulan High Command thinks you’re a joke, so you’ve come here in front of a galactic audience to show how powerful you are. The thing is that you’re not really humiliating Captain Picard up there. Sure, I bet he’s embarrassed.”
“That’s certain,” Picard muttered.
“But in the end everyone’s going to know that you forced him to strip under threat of death. Humiliation is something entirely different. Picard’s stripping under duress and still managing to maintain a bit of his dignity. Look at his face. It’s right there. If you want to humiliate somebody… See I used to serve on a ship called the Secondprize, and we had a woman on board who could. Aw hell. Better to show you. Porter?”
“One Monica Vaughn special coming up,” Porter’s voice said over Beck’s commbadge.
On stage, Tarmak suddenly dematerialized only to reappear a moment later.
His clothes, however, hadn’t made the return trip.
Tarmak let out a high-pitched squeal and dove to cover himself. It was too late, though. The damage was done. The gales of laughter coming from the audience was more than proof of that.
“I wouldn’t do that!” Beck shouted. “There’s a highly- trained Federation Marine sniper in the trees right now just waiting for my signal to vaporize you. If you open your mouth again, you’ll be dead before you can utter a sound. This is done. Understand?”
Tarmak nodded and buried his head against his chest. A moment later, Beck was fairly certain that she heard sobbing.
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 57989.3. No one died. That’s pretty much the only positive thing I can say about our foray into the award ceremony industry. The guests, including the guest of honor himself, fled the station in record time once they were released from the arboretum. I think President Dillon is going to have to send Captain Picard his award by Federation Express.
“The Romulans also got away from us as fast as they could manage, which wasn’t all that fast after Russell finished blasting the hell out of their warbird. Romulus had to send a couple of tow ships to get it back to Zycam. Oddly enough, their ambassador told us to keep Governor Tarmak. Just what I always wanted. In all honesty, I think Tarmak is broken, which part of me finds rather fitting considering the wrecking crew he sent into my mind. Which reminds me, if I ever find that Spaanz and Taanz again, I am going to kick…THEIR ASS!
“Anyway, Tarmak will most likely soon be experiencing the hospitality of Tantalus V. That just leaves a few others to deal with. Unfortunately, I’m one of them.”
“You left!” Fleet Admiral Nosira Ra’al bellowed (which was really an impressive accomplishment for someone as wispy thin as the Hinaree admiral was.). “Facing a situation of incredible importance to Starfleet and the entire Federation you left! And then you got captured by the Romulans!”
“That wasn’t my plan,” Beck said, sitting at the desk in her office as Ra’al continued her tirade in front of her.
“No! Your plan was to break multiple temporal regulations for your own gain!”
“The Romulan conspirator!”
“Admiral, it’s apparent that this situation is far larger than Captain Beck,” Bradley Dillon said, lounging leisurely on the office sofa. “Tarmak was determined to get to me and Captain Picard no matter what. I would say that we are fortunate that Captain Beck was able to resolve the issue so satisfactorily.”
“You call this satisfactory?”
“No one was hurt.”
“She put an entire room of hostages at risk with her theatrics. If my ship had been on time, I would have been in there, too!”
“How fortunate for you that you were delayed,” Bradley said, standing up.
“With all due respect, Mister President, this is a Starfleet matter,” Ra’al said. “Your presence is not necessary.”
“Neither is yours.”
“Excuse me?” Ra’al said, eyes blazing.
“You will not be reprimanding Captain Beck. You will not so much as put a derogatory comment in her file.”
“You can’t interfere with how I deal with my officers.”
“Oh but I can,” Bradley said, flashing a smile that was anything but friendly. “I occasionally have to remind people such as yourself that I am Starfleet’s Commander-In-Chief. As such, you will obey my orders, or you will be thrown into the most unpleasant brig I can find and left there until I get in the mood to court martial you.”
“You’re abusing the power of your office to protect her,” Ra’al said. “Don’t make this personal.”
“You already have,” Bradley replied. “Or will you really try to tell me that that lockdown drill was standard Starfleet procedure? Now I don’t know what Captain Beck has done to you, but your vendetta against her is over. Am I clear?”
“Yes…sir,” Ra’al hissed. She shot one last glare at Beck then stormed out of the office. Once she was gone, Bradley let out a deep breath and settled into the chair across from Beck.
“Charming woman,” he said.
“Oh yeah,” Beck replied. She was silent for a moment and then. “Listen…Bradley, I can’t thank you enough for…”
Bradley held up a hand to stop her. “The way I see it, you probably saved my life. Like I said, Tarmak was determined. If this plan hadn’t worked, he would have come up with another one.”
“Still. Thank you.”
Bradley nodded. “What about your sister?” he asked.
“What about her?”
“She’s done terrible things. Possibly unforgivable. But her reasons are…understandable.”
“If she’d been right, none of the bad things would have mattered, I guess,” Beck said. “The changed timeline would have wiped all of her crimes away.”
“She wasn’t so lucky.”
“No. She wasn’t.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“Time will tell,” Beck said.
“If this keeps up, we’re going to have to open a family wing to the brig,” Lieutenant Commander Russell said the next morning as he escorted Captain Beck along the row of cells in the depths of Waystation’s Security Office.
“I can take it from here,” Beck said, ignoring the joke.
“Yes, ma’am,” Russell said, wisely retreating back to the main office rather than pursuing the matter. Beck continued on a few more steps until she was standing in front of the brig’s one occupied cell.
“Enjoying yourself?” Kathy asked from inside the force field.
“Should I be?” Beck said.
“Sure. Why not? You’ve got me all locked up and ready to hand over to the authorities…again. But wait. This time you ARE the authorities? So what is it going to be? Are you going to keep me here as your own private prisoner for the rest of my life?”
“After everything you did, you really have the nerve to be angry about this?” Beck snapped.
“I tried apologizing. It got me a hand around my neck.”
“I thought about this a lot over the last day or so, and, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I’m sorry you never got over it. I’m sorry that you never moved on. I’m sorry you couldn’t pull yourself out of the past long enough to realize what a life you had built for yourself now. I’m sorry that you threw that life away. And I’m sorry…I’m sorry that I can’t just let you go.”
“You’ll be transferred to New Zealand tomorrow for trial. I’m sure that I’ll be subpoenaed by the prosecution.”
“Gotta love those sisterly bonds,” Kathy snorted, throwing herself on the bed.
“You did this to yourself.”
“I did it for Mom and Dad. You don’t have a clue what family even means, do you?”
“I’m figuring it out,” Beck said. She walked away from the cell. Kathy didn’t call after her, not that Beck expected her to. And at the moment, she didn’t care.
“Should I feel guilty about this?” Beck asked later that night as she sat at a booth in The Gravity Well with Hodges, Porter, and Morales.
“That you’re in a dance club while your sister is alone in the brig?” Porter asked.
“No, but I guess we can add that to the potential guilt list,” Beck replied.
“You couldn’t just let her walk away from this one, Lisa,” Hodges said.
“We did go a bit beyond sisterly spat and into the galactic incident range,” Morales said.
“I walked out of the brig not caring if I ever saw her again. I still don’t care. She’s my sister. Should I feel something?”
“There’s more to family than blood,” Hodges said.
“We’re not related, and I promise I’d never turn any of you over to the Romulans,” Porter said.
“Good to know,” Morales said.
“Don’t wallow in it, Lisa,” Hodges said, squeezing her friend’s arm. “It’s not worth it. You’re here. You’re with friends. Enjoy yourself. I know I plan to.” She pushed Morales, forcing him out of the booth. “Let’s go.”
“Now?” Morales said surprised.
“To dance,” Hodges said.
“Oh! Sorry I didn’t…”
“We’ll get to the sex later,” Hodges said with a glint in her eye as she pulled Morales out onto the dance floor.
“And life goes on,” Beck said before taking a sip of her tequila sunrise.
“Better than the alternative,” Porter said.
“Can’t argue with that,” Beck said.
“You’re too busy arguing with yourself.”
“Really. I’m not,” Beck said. “I was just thinking… After the lockdown, when we were all basically not speaking to each other. That bothered me a hell of a lot more than this does. Isn’t that wrong somehow? She’s my sister.”
“Like Steph said, it doesn’t mean she’s your family.”
“No. I guess it doesn’t. So I’m going to listen to Steph and not wallow. It’s time that we followed her lead.”
“So we’re having sex again tonight, huh?” Porter said flatly. Beck tried to glare at him, but just started laughing.
“Or we could dance. That’s fine too,” Porter said matching Beck’s grin as they slid out of the booth and went to join Hodges and Morales.