Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
By Alan Decker
She tried to quell the growing weakness in her knees as his hand moved gently toward her.
She’d waited for the moment for so long. Dreamed of it. Longed for it.
Now at last it was here.
Her breath caught in her chest.
And Commander Bitran, Administrator of the Starfleet Academy Annex on Waystation, fastened the coveted gold pip on her collar.
In the audience, small though it was, since the Annex only had eleven graduates this term, Yeoman…make that Ensign Tina Jones heard her friends go nuts with clapping and cheers. Pretty soon the rest of the crowd joined in; although, Jones had the sneaking suspicion they were only doing it because the entire Waystation command crew, including and especially Captain Lisa Beck, was shouting for her. Bunch of suck ups.
Still she reveled in the applause. She’d done it. The girl from the backwater of Odala Two who’d run off against her family’s wishes and enlisted in Starfleet was now an officer. Next she would be joining the station’s security staff and undergoing more specialized training from Waystation’s Chief of Security, Lieutenant Commander Russell, but all of that could wait until tomorrow.
Today it was time to party.
“I thought I told you I didn’t want anything big,” Jones shouted over the booming of the music in The Gravity Well, the nightclub Captain Beck had commandeered for Jones’s graduation party.
“Last I checked captains don’t take orders from ensigns,” Beck shouted back.
“Yeah, but this is too much.”
“Are you having fun?”
“Then it’s not too much. You graduated. You’ve worked hard for this. Now we get to have a huge party. That’s just the way it is.”
“Well, thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Now go drink more. You’re way too sober,” Beck said.
“Yes, ma’am. Commencing intox…” Jones trailed off as her eyes caught sight of someone at the entrance to the club: Federation President Bradley Dillon.
Beck followed her gaze. “Well well. Aren’t you attracting the VIPs today?”
“I can’t believe he came,” Jones said. “I should really…”
“Yes. Go,” Beck said. “You’re probably the first Academy graduate in history to have the President of the Federation show up at her graduation party. Drag him in here and make him dance.”
“Um…I don’t think he dances to this kind of music.”
“Which is exactly why I want to see him try,” Beck said. “Go!”
Jones rushed over to the club entrance where Bradley was waiting, two of his Special Secret Section agents standing a discreet distance away. “Mister President!” she said. “I…Thank you for coming.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it,” Bradley replied. “Congratulations.” He moved toward her then seemed to change his mind and quickly extended his arm to shake her hand. Jones ignored the hand and grabbed him into a hug, prompting the Special Secret Section officers to spring into action. Before they could yank Jones off of him, Bradley waved them off.
“Can we speak outside for a moment?” Bradley asked once Jones released him. “It’s a bit hard to converse in this noise.”
Jones nodded and joined Bradley out in the corridor.
“I really can’t believe you came,” she said. “You shouldn’t even be here right now. You’ve got your debate in what? Eight hours?”
“Something like that,” Bradley replied, “but I have plenty of time to get there. Starbase 219 is only a four hour flight.”
“It was nice of Admiral Janeway to select a location that close by.”
Bradley smiled and shook his head. “It was strategy,” he replied. “Brilliant really. It’s close enough to Waystation that she can claim she requested the first debate be held on my turf, so to speak, but the actual location will be full of Starfleet support for her.”
“We’re Starfleet, and we like you,” Jones protested. Mostly, she added to herself. Well, sometimes. And depending on the person. Even she had her days when her opinion of him wasn’t all that high. Not often, but occasionally he could be downright infuriating.
“Yes, but I have roots here. I’ve been a station resident since the beginning. The crew of Starbase 219 has no such connection to me. And now when it is my turn to select the location for our second debate, I will be forced to return the gesture and pick a location perceived as being on her turf. Since she didn’t choose Waystation, I can probably get away with not selecting her hometown, but anything short of a location in Indiana will have her campaign manager crowing that I was too scared to reciprocate her magnanimous gesture.”
“And this is why I never wanted to be a politician,” Jones said.
“You’ll have your own challenges to face, I’m sure,” Bradley said. “I have to believe that Security is a far cry from running the Welcome Center; although, as we both know, the hospitality industry is not one to be taken lightly.”
“You’ve got that right. And I won’t be completely giving it up. Captain Beck and Lieutenant Russell are working out a schedule that will allow me to put some time in the Welcome Center until we get a new liaison officer. I’d hoped Hypple would be able to take over for me, but Starfleet wants somebody who’s actually a Federation citizen.”
“Surprisingly closed-minded of them. I could see if I…”
“No! It’s fine. I don’t think Hypple really wants to do it alone anyway, and I don’t want you to do anything that could be seen as favoritism toward us.”
“Very well. I suppose I should be off, but I wanted to congratulate you again. This may sound silly, but I’m proud of you. You really are an amazing person.”
Jones blushed. “Thank you, Mister…”
“Bradley,” he insisted.
“Thank you, Bradley. Good luck tonight.”
“Thank you. Go enjoy your party.” He headed off down the corridor then turned the corner moving out of sight as his Special Secret Section agents shadowed his every move.
A huge grin broke out on Jones’s face as she walked back to the entrance of The Gravity Well.
This was her party. A party all for her.
Because she was now an ensign.
Ensign Tina Jones, Starfleet Officer.
She had arrived.
And then suddenly, she was gone.
After getting a couple of drinks into her system, Captain Beck was more than ready to take on the dance floor. There was a time in her life when she would have been far too self-conscious to dance alone…much less dance at all, but she’d gotten over those inhibitions back in high school Now she was a captain. She’d dance any way she wanted. If people had a problem with it, they could just keep it to themselves. Sliding around the dance floor, she made her way over to her longtime friend Stephanie Hodges and Commander Walter Morales.
“Hey!” she shouted over the din. “You made it.”
“Sure did,” Steph replied. “Considering you invited the whole platoon.”
“I still wasn’t sure if Lazlo would go for it.”
Hodges pointed toward the zero-gravity area in the middle of the dance floor, where Colonel Martin Lazlo could be seen gyrating and flipping in mid-air. “Going, going, gone,” Hodges said.
“Wow. How many drinks has he had?”
“No idea. I don’t think that’s what got him here, though. He likes Tina. She’s one of the few of you Starfleet types he can tolerate, not that he’d ever admit it.”
“Awwww. I’ll have to tell him what a big sweetie I think he is.”
“Please don’t,” Hodges replied. “I’d like to be allowed out of the barracks again sometime.”
“I’ll second that,” Morales said.
“I bet you will,” Beck replied.
“So where’s the guest of honor? I haven’t had a chance to congratulate her yet,” Morales said.
“Haven’t seen in her a while. I’m sure she’s around, though.”
“Do you want to go look for her?” Hodges asked Morales. “Lisa can keep me company.”
“This is one of those times when I’m supposed to leave, so you can gossip about me, isn’t it?” Morales said.
“You’ve trained him so well,” Beck said.
“Scram, big guy,” Hodges said, before planting a kiss on his lips. Morales gave both women a slight bow, then disappeared into the crowd.
“What are we gossiping about?” Beck asked.
“I was hoping you had something.”
Fifteen minutes later, Morales returned through the sea of dancing bodies, a drink in each hand, which he offered to a grateful Hodges and Beck.
“Where was Tina?” Beck asked.
“I couldn’t find her,” Morales replied.
“Couldn’t find her? Is she still out talking to Bradley?”
“He came?” Morales asked, looking more than a little displeased.
“Yeah, but that was at least half an hour ago. She’s got to be back in here by now.”
“There’s an easy way to find out,” Morales said slapping his commbadge. “Morales to Ops.”
“Porter here,” the voice of Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter replied. Porter had drawn the proverbial short straw and was stuck manning Ops rather than attending the festivities in the Gravity Well. “Comming to taunt me?”
“No. I need you to locate Tina for me.”
“I would think that you’re in a better position to do that than I am.”
“We can’t find her. Check her location please.”
“I’m so glad I could be here in Ops to respond to requests from the drunk.”
“I’m not drunk!”
“Craig, just find her,” Beck said.
“Yes, ma’am. Okay. Tina is…” They could hear Porter tapping on his console. Then more tapping. Then even more and faster typing. “She’s not here,” Porter said.
“I know she’s not there. I’m not in the mood for games, Porter. Where is she?” Morales said.
“She’s not here. She’s not on Waystation.”
“What do you mean she’s not on Waystation?” Beck demanded. “She was just here. This is her party. Where the hell else would she be?”
“I don’t know, but the computer can’t locate her. When was the last time you saw her?”
“About half an hour ago. She was talking to Bradley.”
“Bradley? He left the station about ten minutes ago.”
“She wouldn’t have gone with him, would she?” Hodges asked.
“And skip her graduation party for a presidential debate?” Beck replied. “She sure as hell had better not have.”
“I’ll comm his ship,” Porter said.
“Thanks. Let us know what he says. Beck out.”
“You can’t do that,” Morales said.
“Close the comm. That was my channel.”
“Would somebody close it?” Porter said.
“Morales out,” Morales said, causing the channel to close.
“Feeling better now?” Hodges asked.
“Loads. Care to dance?”
“Don’t mind if I do,” Hodges said. “Sorry, Lisa.”
“That’s okay. I’ll play third wheel somewhere else. You two have fun.”
“Tell us if you find out anything,” Morales said. “I mean I’m sure she’s fine, but tell us anyway.”
“I will,” Beck said. “Like you said, though, I’m sure she’s fine.”
“That’s not how you answer that question,” Donna Lymon said, shaking a scolding finger at Bradley Dillon as he stood at the practice podium that had been set up in the main cabin of his private yacht, the Atalanta II.
“But that is my answer to the question,” Bradley replied.
“Do you want to win this debate or not?” Lymon, his campaign manager.
“I’m not going to lie to do it.”
“What the hell kind of politician are you?”
“You asked me if I felt the Federation should continue subsidizing the reconstruction of Cardassia, and I said yes because that’s how I feel.”
“The voters don’t want to hear that.”
“But the potential new market alone should make it clear that the expense is worth it. Not to mention the allies they’ll become. If we’d sat on our hands after Praxis exploded, we might still be at war with the Klingons today!”
Lymon put her head into her hands. “Oh for the love of the Great Bird, don’t go into a history lecture up there. You’d be handing Janeway the election on a latinum platter.”
“Latinum is a liquid unless…”
Gisele, Bradley’s personal assistant, poked her head into the room. “I’m sorry to interrupt.”
“I’m not,” Lymon said.
“What is it, Gisele?” Bradley asked, ignoring the jab from his campaign manager.
“We received a comm from Waystation asking if Yeoman Jones was with us.”
“With us? She’s having a graduation party. Why would they think she’s with us?”
“That’s what I asked Mister Porter. He says they can’t locate her.”
“What do you mean ‘can’t’?”
“The computer claims she is not on the station, and they can’t find her anywhere.”
“Turn us around,” Bradley said, all-business as he strode out from behind the podium toward the door leading to the ship’s cockpit.
Lymon slammed her padd of mock debate questions down on the table beside her. “You can’t do that! We have a debate in a little over seven hours! Let Starfleet handle their little missing person problem. We are going to Starbase 219, and that’s final.”
Bradley stopped in mid-stride and turned on Lymon. He clasped his hands together and smiled at her. “Ms. Lymon, we seem to have had a slight communication breakdown. Allow me to explain things to you. I am the President of the United Federation of Planets. That means, I’m your boss as well as the boss of every man, woman, or what-have-you on this ship. You are not. That being the case, you and everyone else on board will do exactly what I say.”
The smile vanished.
“And I said, TURN US AROUND!”
A few decks below them, Tina Jones’s graduation party was in full swing. It was just currently swinging without the Waystation command crew or, more distressingly, the guest of honor. Jones had been missing for close to an hour now, and no answers had been forthcoming.
“The only ship departure between when you last saw Tina and now was Bradley’s yacht,” Commander Morales said as he looked over the logs at the Docking Control console in Ops. “She has to be with him.”
“Gisele said she wasn’t,” Lieutenant Commander Porter replied, barely looking up from the scans he was performing at the Operations/Science console.
“She could have been lying,” Waystation’s Chief of Security, Lieutenant Commander Sean Russell, offered from Tactical.
“Why would she lie about that?” Captain Beck asked. “It’s not like Bradley is going to kidnap someone.”
“It’s not?” Morales said.
“That was different.”
“He’s back,” Russell said.
“She is?” Morales said quickly. “Where…”
“No, HE’s back. As in Bradley. His ship is…”
A transporter beam suddenly cascaded into Ops, quickly forming into Bradley Dillon. “Status!” he said.
“Scan that ship,” Morales ordered Porter.
“Woah. Hold on a second here,” Beck said.
“What did you do with Tina?” Morales demanded, ignoring Beck and charging over to Bradley.
“Me? What are you doing to locate her?” Bradley retorted.
“We could start by throwing you in the brig.”
“ENOUGH!” Beck shouted. “Back off, Morales.”
“Ah,” Bradley said.
“What do you mean ‘ah’?” Beck snapped.
“You haven’t learned anything. Tina vanishes, and all you can think to do is turn on me.”
“You are the prime suspect,” Porter said.
“I can’t imagine how that’s possible.”
Morales opened his mouth, but Beck raised her hand to silence him. “Your ship was the only one to leave Waystation in the last hour,” Beck said. “And you were the last person seen with her.”
“I left her in that corridor,” Bradley said. “As far as I know, she went straight back into her party.”
“You didn’t ask her to go to the debate with you?”
“What about asking her for something else?” Porter said. “Like a date.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Bradley said. “We’re friends. Nothing more.”
“I don’t think you wanted to keep it that way. That’s why you started sending her the presents,” Porter said, stepping out from behind his console.
“Him?” Beck said surprised.
“Me what? What presents?” Bradley asked confused.
“The ones you’ve been leaving for Tina for a year now.”
“I’m such an idiot,” Beck said. “You’re her secret admirer. Who else could it be?”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Bradley shouted, completely losing his cool. “What presents? What secret admirer? What the hell is going on?”
“If you want to deny it, that’s fine by me. I’m not here for the soap opera. I just want Tina back,” Beck said.
“As do I.”
“Then give her to us,” Morales said.
“Do you honestly think I snatched her up on my way to a presidential debate? That’s insane.”
“Yes, it is. You were with her and you just couldn’t take it any more. You told her your feelings for her. And then, instead of leaping into your arms, she rejected you. Even after the expensive trinkets and exotic foods and the car, she wanted nothing to do with you. That’s when you snapped,” Morales said.
“Captain!” Bradley protested.
“Let us search your ship,” Beck said.
“I most certainly will not!”
“You say you don’t have her. Fine. I’m inclined to believe you, but let us perform a search and clear you of suspicion.”
“Somehow I doubt a search will do that,” Bradley replied, glaring at Morales. “But I will allow it even though it is a waste of time.” Bradley turned to go, but stopped himself and spun to face Morales again. “If I were to shower Ensign Jones in gifts, I assure you that I would do far better than some ancient four-wheeled deathtrap. The accusation that I took her is bad enough, but this insult to my sense of taste is appalling. I expect constant updates as to your progress, Captain.” With that, he stormed into the turbolift.
“Oh yeah. That went well,” Porter said.
“I think we got our point across,” Morales said.
“I believe him,” Russell said.
“What?” Morales exclaimed.
“Did you see his face when we told him about the secret admirer? He really didn’t seem to have a clue what we were talking about.”
“He can act. I’ll give him that.”
“I don’t know,” Beck said. “I’m not certain it was an act. But I am pretty sure that we just pissed him off but good.”
“I think I’ll be able to live with it,” Morales said.
“Let’s just focus on finding Tina,” Beck said. “Morales, organize the search of Bradley’s ship. Porter, you and Russell keep working on the sensors. If she’s not on Bradley’s ship, she’s still on this station somewhere.”
“Unless there was a cloaked ship,” Porter said.
“Thanks for bringing that up.”
“She’s here. Find her. And…um…should Bradley have been able to just beam in here from his ship like that? I thought we’d prevented that kind of thing.”
“So did I,” Porter said. “I’ll see what I can do about it.”
“After we find Tina.”
“He’s had time to move her from his ship to the Dillon Enterprises levels by now,” Morales said.
“Why are you so sure Bradley has her?” Beck said.
“Because he doesn’t respond well to ‘no,’” Morales said, heading for the turbolift.
Porter moved up beside Beck once Morales was gone. “You really don’t think Bradley took her? We’re talking about someone who can get his hands on expensive things and beam them around the station without leaving a trace in the system. This guy moved a car.”
“Which Bradley rightly pointed out was a bit low class for him.” Beck said. She let out a long sigh. “Honestly, though, I’m almost hoping he did it. At least then we’d know she was safe. As it stands, we don’t know who’s got Tina…or what they’re doing to her.”
He knew that Donna Lymon was right. He should let Starfleet handle finding Tina Jones while he went on to the debate, but Bradley just couldn’t leave knowing that she was missing. And yet there was nothing he could do. Yes, he’d ordered every available member of his Special Secret Section to canvas the station residents to see if anyone knew anything, but he doubted much would come of it.
While that was going on, he was left pacing his office and feeling helpless.
It wasn’t a feeling he encountered very often or enjoyed in the slightest.
He was the President of the United Federation of Planets, the greatest, most expansive governing body the galaxy had ever known. Yet the disappearance of one woman was beyond his power to resolve.
Even worse, he was being accused of being this so-called secret admirer.
Tina had a secret admirer. And she hadn’t told him.
Why would she? They were friends, to a degree, but she obviously never considered him a confidant. How much of a friend did she even consider him to be? She couldn’t even manage to call him by his first name consistently, instead reverting to “Mister President.”
As much as he didn’t want to admit it to himself, he felt quite close to her. She never treated him with the disdain that Captain Beck and some of the other Starfleet crew did at times. Also, despite her occasional formality, she was never like some of the groveling suck-ups who worked for him. She was kind and warm and friendly and rather pretty when he thought about it.
And she was missing. Possibly gone forever.
He’d been down this particular road before, and he’d be damned if he was going to let it happen again! Tina Jones would be found if he had to find her himself.
A secret admirer. And she hadn’t told him. Surely she’d confided in someone. Most likely someone on the command crew, and this was hardly the time to bother them. They were busy trying to pin this crime on him.
He’d have to try another approach.
A secret admirer. Someone who lavished her with gifts. It was exactly the kind of thing that a Starfleet Officer would record in one of those personal logs they were so fond of keeping.
“Computer,” Bradley said, ending his pacing and taking a seat at his desk. “Access personal logs of Yeoman Tina Jones.”
“There is no Yeoman Tina Jones in Waystation’s databanks.”
“Ensign Tina Jones then,” Bradley snapped.
“Acknowledged,” the computer replied. The last several months had been a period of undeclared war between his staff and the command crew. As President, Bradley believed that he had a right to full access of Waystation’s systems. Captain Beck disagreed. While they had never discussed the matter directly, there had been continual efforts by the command crew to keep him out, while his people kept finding roads back in. At present, Bradley had the upper hand; although, he was certain that transporting onto the bridge was going to cause Beck and company to redouble their efforts to ban him from their systems. Still they obviously hadn’t gotten around to evicting him from the station’s databanks.
“Find any entries in the last year referring to a secret admirer or gifts. Display a transcription of those entries on my terminal.”
Within seconds, the screen on his desk was filled with text. He started at the end chronologically, working off the faint chance that Jones had discovered the identity of her admirer and recorded it in a log. Nothing was there, which wasn’t surprising. Surely she would have told someone in the command crew if she knew the secret.
He began working backwards, looking through each of the mysterious presents. The appearance of a car in the Welcome Center had evidently rattled her, based on the transcript of her log entry. Bradley could hear her voice in his head, stammering over the words in that nervous way of hers when she became flustered.
Why a car? Was it a clue of some kind? Perhaps there was a pattern to the gifts. He was no detective, but years of running his own businesses had made him rather adept at noticing trends, sales patterns and the like. After several more minutes of reading, though, nothing along those lines had presented itself to him.
Bradley had almost reached the beginning of the entries when he hit upon a present Tina had received close to a year earlier: duomali juice. Certainly an odd gift. It had to be kept fresh, so that meant the admirer had to bring it to Waystation with him or purchase it on the station, which was somewhat unlikely considering the only establishment that carried the rare and pricy beverage was Dillon’s Restaurant. He could always check the restaurant logs to see if anyone had bought a large quantity of the juice from the restaurant around that date, but…
Something wasn’t right. Why did he feel like this was vaguely familiar? Duomali juice. He knew something about duomali juice and his restaurant.
“Computer, bring up any reference to duomali juice in my daily status reports from Stardate 57460 through Stardate 57470.”
“Working,” the computer replied.
And there it was. On Stardate 57468, the kitchen staff reported that they had evidently miscounted the remaining supply of duomali juice from the morning before. They had one pitcher less in the refrigerated stasis unit than they originally thought. Now he remembered the report. He’d been annoyed at the carelessness of the staff, particularly considering the price of the juice, but at no time had anyone considered the idea that it could have been stolen.
Who would steal juice?
Evidently the same person who had stolen Tina Jones.
Stolen. If the juice was stolen, perhaps the other gifts were as well. Instead of looking for a patten in the presents, maybe he should be looking for where other thefts had taken place. Perhaps the perpetrator frequented a particular area of the station for his thefts. It wasn’t much, but it could be a start.
It wasn’t. A quick search of the station’s security logs found no reported thefts that matched any of the presents Tina received. Bradley leaned back in his chair and let out a long breath. He wasn’t thinking clearly. Of course none of the gifts matched thefts. If they had, Tina would have reported them immediately. He was looking in the wrong place.
What was the use in even looking at all? Surely Lieutenant Commander Russell and his staff would be pursuing this and every other avenue as soon as they realized that Bradley was not responsible for Tina’s disappearance. By then it may be too late, though. Bradley had to press forward. Forget the gifts. Maybe there was something else in Tina’s personal logs that could give him some clue as to the identity of her kidnapper.
The gifts were irrelevant.
At least that’s what Bradley tried to tell himself, but his mind kept drifting back. If they weren’t stolen, they had to be obtained another way. Many of the items were not readily available in Starfleet Square Mall. Particularly that hideous car. That…
Where did the car come from? Surely if something that large was delivered by a cargo ship to Waystation, there would be a record of the delivery. Bradley pulled up the records from the previous month and found nothing. Even going back several more months didn’t turn up anything in the reported cargo deliveries. Could someone smuggle a car on board without anyone else noticing?
Unless it was already here.
Deep Storage. The fiend was raiding Deep Storage!
Many of Waystation’s residents owned things. Most of them really. Probably all. Well, maybe there were a few folks who had sworn off all material possessions and spent their time sitting in completely empty quarters meditating and such, but they were a rarity. The rest had stuff, and when all that stuff wouldn’t fit in their quarters, they needed a place to put it. The cargo bays on Decks 98 and 99, colloquially known as Deep Storage, served that purpose. Lieutenant Commander Porter, for example, didn’t have a residence on Earth as some Starfleet Officers, such as Captain Beck did, so everything he owned that wouldn’t fit in his quarters was crated up and stashed down on Deck 99, where it had sat since the renovated station had opened several years earlier. He never needed any of the items in his day-to-day life and most of the time forgot they were even there.
That was the way with just about everything in Deep Storage. If you didn’t want to throw it away, but you really didn’t need it, it wound up there. Bradley even had a few containers down there holding some items from his youth, items that he was going to have to check on if his supposition was correct.
Bradley materialized in an empty corridor on Deck 98. He knew that he shouldn’t have left his office alone like this, but he couldn’t just sit there anymore while Tina faced untold dangers. Granted he wasn’t exactly charging to her rescue, but at least he would be doing something. Agent Anderson would probably have a stroke if he knew Bradley had slipped out unaccompanied, but Bradley felt his Special Secret Section was better served interviewing station residents about Tina’s disappearance than loitering around while he looked through some cargo containers.
Before leaving his office, he’d checked the Deep Storage manifests for any listings of automobiles. There was only one: a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle belonging to Phillip Harper. Evidently Harper, the owner of the Associated Worlds Network, had not bothered to have all of his belongs sent along with him when he departed the station for Earth three years earlier to focus on his new business venture, SolTerra Industries. Bradley had liked Harper, particularly the distraction Harper provided to Captain Beck while the two were dating, and Bradley had been watching Harper’s new company as they developed a new line of terraforming generators that had the potential to rival the TerryFormer, Jrs. Bradley stocked at Dillon’s Supply Depot. Should that potential be realized, Bradley was ready to swoop in and purchase the company, or, if they wouldn’t sell, crush them before they could fully hit the market.
That was a distant concern, however. Right now Bradley was more interested in confirming whether or not Harper’s ancient ground vehicle was safely stowed in its crate. Manifest padd in hand, Bradley entered Cargo Bay 98-2. At first glance, nothing seemed amiss. The cargo bay was filled with rows of crates of various sizes, but, as Bradley moved into the vast room, he quickly saw that all was not as it should have been. Instead of the precise stacks he would expect from the Starfleet crew who ran the cargo bays (even the crew of Waystation could stack things properly), several crates seemed to be askew…or missing altogether.
Finally he located the large container that reportedly held Phillip Harper’s Volkswagen. The container was near the far corner of the cargo bay. Near, but not quite there. Looking around the crate and at the others surrounding it, Bradley realized that they had been used to create a fairly subtle wall, blocking off an area in that corner nearly 10 meters square. No way in immediately presented itself, and the stacked crates prevented Bradley from getting a clear view. Putting that issue aside for a moment, Bradley opened the front end Volkswagen crate, which, to his complete lack of surprise, was lacking a Volkswagen inside of it. Seeing a crack of light at the far end of the crate, Bradley walked through and pushed open the opposite side, which opened up into the walled-off corner clearing.
Four other crates had been moved into this area. One was open and its contents missing. From the looks of it, it was a stasis container, which meant that the contents were perishables of some kind or another. Why people put perishables in Deep Storage, Bradley would never know, but with the wonders of stasis technology, it was certainly possible. Dillon’s Supply Depot sold a wide range of stasis units designed for similar purposes.
The other three crates appeared to be personal belongings, all of which had either been packed exceptionally hastily or just thrown back into the crate after whoever was responsible for all of this had finished rifling through them. To Bradley’s relief, none of the crates were his.
Bradley suddenly had the sense that he wasn’t alone. Okay, so maybe leaving without the Special Secret Section hadn’t been such a great idea after all. But he was Bradley Dillon. If this was indeed the miscreant responsible for Tina Jones’s kidnapping, Bradley was certainly more than capable of negotiating with him for her release. He would focus, control his emotions, and treat this like any other business transaction. Everyone had their price. Bradley’s mission was to find it.
Rather than getting his chance, though, he was smacked in the head by something rather hard and unyielding just as he began to turn to face his adversary. Had he not been instantly knocked unconscious from the blow, Bradley very likely would have complained that this particular action was rude and unnecessary. Instead he dropped to the deck in a fairly undignified heap.
Had he fallen asleep? He was slumped in a chair. That would tend to indicate that he’d been asleep, but this didn’t feel like his desk chair.
Bradley shifted positions…or tried to at any rate. He soon realized that he was slightly attached to his seat…if you define “slightly attached” as firmly held in place.
His eyes sprang open. This wasn’t his office. Where was he? What the hell had happened?
Memories slowly filtered back. Tina. He’d gone searching for Tina in Deep Storage and…
Wow, did his head hurt. It was throbbing with an ache he’d never before experienced, even worse than after that ill-considered night of carousing back in college. This was an entirely new kind of pain, most likely the kind caused by a serious blow to the head. He needed to get medical attention, but somehow he didn’t think that would be happening any time soon considering the current state of affairs.
What was this place? He looked at the dimly-lit room in front of him. The place didn’t seem to have the usual sleek stylings of Starfleet decor, but there were similarities in construction. The usual low hum of the Waystation power cores seemed louder in here. At least he hoped that was the Waystation power cores. It didn’t sound like the thrum of any kind of engine he was familiar with, and he didn’t much relish the idea of being whisked away from the station by persons unknown.
Across from his seat, he could make out what appeared to be a work bench covered in various bits of wire and other metallic debris. This was a maintenance room perhaps. Probably not one regularly staffed by the crew, by the looks of the place. This turn of events didn’t really change Bradley’s plan of attack, though. He would still need to speak with his captor, only now he would need to negotiate for his own release as well as Tina’s.
“Hello?” he called out. No response was forthcoming. “Hello?” he shouted, setting off another wave of painful throbs in his skull.
“Unnh. No wake. Sleep,” a soft voice mumbled from off to his left.
Bradley craned his neck (which didn’t help his head any) and saw that he was not alone in his predicament.
“Tina!” he said to the woman bound in a chair a short distance away from his. “Tina, wake up!”
“It is time!” Bradley insisted. “We are in grave peril!”
“Don’t know where that is.”
“We are in danger! Deadly danger.”
Tina Jones stirred in her seat and quickly discovered that her arms were attached to the arms of the chair, just as Bradley’s were. “Hey!” she cried, snapping alert. “This isn’t funny! Who did this?” She caught sight of Bradley. “Did you do this?” she demanded before noting his condition. “You’re tied up, too!”
“Hence the WE are in danger remark,” he replied. “What do you remember?”
“I was talking to you. And then…a transporter. I was beamed somewhere, but it was completely dark and then… There was…a hiss, I think. Did they gas me? I think they gassed me! How long have I been out?”
“If your timeline is accurate, several hours. I can’t say for certain, since I was out for a portion of that time as well.”
“They gassed you, too?”
“I should have been so lucky,” Bradley replied.
“Did you see who did it?”
“Unfortunately, no. I was hoping you had some information as to our captor’s identity, but I suppose that is not the case.”
Jones began straining against the makeshift wire rope that was holding her in place. “If I could just…get an arm free…”
“I think I can get it.
“Just give me a second.”
“I can’t,” Bradley said. “Our foe has chosen to show himself.”
Tina stopped tugging on her bonds and followed Bradley’s gaze to the opposite side of the room. Framed in the open doorway was a hulking silhouette unlike any she had ever seen. A thin, cylindrical head sat upon a set of flat shoulders almost as wide as the door frame. Massive, straight arms hung to the creature’s side while its torso angled sharply inward to a waistline little large than the width of her head. The waist of the being flared back out again at almost straight angles toward wide hips leading to a pair of bulbous legs that looked quite capable of crushing her and Bradley with little effort.
“My angel awakens!” the figure exclaimed.
“Who’s he talking about?” Jones said.
“You, I’m afraid,” Bradley said.
“Oh…oh no. He’s…my secret admirer.”
“Yes, and I shall remain hidden no more, my love!” the figure framed in the doorway replied before striding toward her. Well, clomping really…with an occasional lurch for good measure. As it came forward, Bradley was able to make out the details of the creature. Except it wasn’t a creature at all. Every bit was mechanical. He recognized bits Starfleet-issue wall paneling making up parts of the structure. The head was little more than a length of conduit.
“At long last, you shall lay eyes upon me, and we will be together into eternity!” the robot continued.
Jones was back to struggling again, frantically trying to free herself before this thing could reach her. “We…you…I don’t even know you!”
“Oh, but you’ve felt my presence over these long months. I have always been with you, just as you have always been with me.”
The robot stopped in front of Jones’s chair. Suddenly, the front panel making up its torso opened revealing a cavity inside. And inside the cavity was…
“It’s a wee little man!” Bradley said.
“Silence!” the robot’s occupant, who was indeed a small man no more than about a foot high, shouted, his voice amplified electronically by the robot surrounding him. He climbed out of the small control chair in which he was seated and stepped out onto the horizontal platform that had been created by the open torso panel.
“It’s you!” Jones exclaimed. She squinted. “Wait. Who are you?”
“I am Fructos, my dearest Tina. My angel. My glorious…”
“Do you have any idea who he is?” Bradley asked Jones.
“Not him. I mean I know he’s one of those little aliens who were here last year, but I don’t remember him specifically.” Jones had spent most of that visit trying to track down the leader of the aliens who, it turned out, had been snatched by a little girl who thought he was a doll. But other than the leader, Lord Rytos, and their ship’s captain, Yiros, Jones didn’t remember any of the other Mathastelbroans she encountered that day. And considering how angry they were when they left, Jones didn’t really expect to see any of them ever again.
“You may not remember me, but I remember you. Your grace. Your beauty. You were a sight to behold. While the others in our party were viewing the wonders of your station, my eyes were solely upon you. When the others left, I stayed behind, knowing that nothing in the vastness of space could match what I had found in you. But I knew you could not accept me as I am, so I began to plan. I found a place to hide away and set to work, wooing you while I built a body for myself worthy of your glory. And now that it is complete, we can be together!” With that, Fructos leapt back into his seat and began working a control on his right armrest. The robot’s right arm obediently began to reach for Jones.
“Hold, monster!” Bradley cried. “You will not touch her!”
“You are nothing in this!” Fructos hissed. “Your pathetic attempts to rescue her have failed, and, as you can plainly see, she does not need to be rescued from her true love!”
“How can you speak of love when you would take steps such as this? Look at what you have done, you brute! Kidnapping! Holding her against her will! And what now? Will you kill me to claim her?”
“If you try to stand in my way, I will end your life without hesitation!”
“HOLD IT!” Jones screamed. “Nobody is killing anybody.”
“Of course not, my angel,” Fructos said. “Once you pledge yourself to me, I will send this man back from whence he came.”
“And if she refuses?” Bradley demanded.
“Refuse me, and you send him to his death!”
“Why make her lie to you to save me?”
“This is the choice! This is the point of no return!”
“Guys, it’s getting way too dramatic in here,” Jones said. “We can talk about this, but you’ve got to let me go.”
“I will, my love. I will, but first we must dispose of this interloper.”
“You will not dispose of me so easily!” Bradley retorted.
“Is that a challenge?”
“I will not stand by while you force yourself on this woman.”
“Very well!” Fructos spat, slamming his hand down on another control, which caused the robot’s torso panel to fold up, sealing him inside. The robot reached down and ripped away the bonds holding Bradley to his chair. “Face me if you dare!”
“Bradley, don’t!” Jones cried.
“I will deal with him” Bradley replied, getting to his feet. The effort sent a new wave of pain through his head. It was accompanied by a disquieting bit of dizziness and just a touch of nausea. Bradley attempted to brush it off and brought himself to his full height to stare down the mechanical menace before him. Before diving into any kind of venture, Bradley liked to perform a risk assessment. This one was necessarily inexact and rushed, not to mention a bit late, but still Bradley wanted a rundown of the state of affairs. He was unarmed, injured, and unprepared while his opponent was safely ensconced inside a robot. Fighting Fructos was a high risk activity. Perhaps suicidal.
The robot suddenly reached for him. Reflexively, Bradley ducked and rushed behind the chair, sending yet another bout of pain and wooziness through him. The robot responded to his move by simply smashing the chair and storming forward.
“Bradley!” Jones shouted in alarm.
Bradley was grateful for her concern, but there was very little she could do to assist at the moment…except for provide an obstacle. He sincerely doubted Fructos would go so far as to harm Jones to get to him, so he dodged around her chair and made a break for the workbench on the opposite side of the room. Surely there was something there that could…
Before he even made it halfway across the room, a steely metal hand locked onto his ankle. Bradley was hoisted up into the air and left dangling awkwardly in front of his automated adversary.
“Now we end this,” Fructos said.
“Wait! NO!” Jones said. “Don’t hurt him!”
“That is up to you. Stay with me!”
“Here? We can’t hide down here forever. It’s crazy!”
“Crazy was my life without you. I won’t lose you now. Stay with me, and he lives! Refuse and hwooohhhhhhh.” The robot froze suddenly, releasing Bradley in the process. Gravity did its thing, sending the Federation President plummeting to the deck. He struggled back to his feet, a wad of wiring clenched in his right fist.
“Thank you…for the distraction,” he said weakly, stumbling over to Jones’s chair.
“What did you do?” she asked.
“Exposed wiring under…the arm,” Bradley replied as he began to untie Jones. “While he was busy with you, I was able to…yank…it out.” He moved from her right arm to her left. “Must have been…the power.”
The room got even dimmer for a moment. Dizziness overwhelmed him. Unable to stand anymore, Bradley slumped to the floor and let sleep take him.
“Can he breathe in there?” Captain Beck asked as she leaned down to look at the transparent aluminum box sitting on the table in the Ops briefing room. Said box currently contained Fructos, who was curled up in the fetal position.
“Oh yeah,” Lieutenant Commander Porter replied. “I punched some holes in the top. He’ll be fine.”
“I don’t see any holes.”
“Whoops. Hang on a second.” Porter whipped a small laser cutter out of his tool kit and jabbed it into the box top a few times. “There. He’s all set.”
“Glad to hear it. Now would you mind telling me how the hell this happened?”
“The little guy’s something. I’ll give him that,” Porter said. He looked into the box. “What were you? Chief Engineer?”
Fructos nodded almost imperceptibly, but didn’t look up at his giant captors.
“After he ditched his buddies, he managed to find himself a nice, secluded spot on the station. Deep Storage isn’t exactly teeming with visitors, and we’ve got a couple of maintenance bays down there we almost never use. He pretty much had the run of the place.”
“And he used it to get into our sensor and transporter controls and build a big robot?” Beck said.
“That’s the scary part. He figured out how to use the transporters and hide the fact that he’d done so. And he didn’t just jam the sensors to hide what he was doing down there; he created a complete set of false sensor readings in the system. It was masterful really. If I thought I could trust him, I’d offer him a job.”
“What are we going to do with him?” Lieutenant Commander Russell asked. “The brig isn’t equipped to handle someone that small. And even if I could, I can’t keep him there forever. Is Starfleet going to send him to a rehab colony?”
“We’re going to try to find his people,” Beck said. “The USS Orleans will be by in a couple of weeks on their way to a mapping mission in the Beta Quadrant. Captain Sullivan said she’d see if she could track down Mathastelbro or one of their ships and deliver our friend to them.”
“That’s it?” Bradley asked. He started to rise from his chair at the end of the table, but thought better of it. Dr. Diantha had seen to his injuries, but he still wasn’t quite feeling himself. “After what he did, you’re just going to let him go?”
“You’d prefer that I tortured him for a while first?” Beck snapped.
“The President was assaulted,” Agent Anderson, the head of Bradley’s Special Secret Section said from the position he’d taken up behind Bradley’s chair. After what had transpired, Anderson had no intentions of letting Bradley out of his sight anytime soon. “By rights this is now a matter of Federation Security.”
“I want him to go home,” Ensign Jones said softly.
Anderson scowled, “What you want doesn’t…”
Bradley held up a hand, silencing Anderson. “Ensign Jones was the primary victim here. I will respect her wishes. If she wants him to be returned to his home, he will be returned to his home.”
“There we go then,” Beck said. “We’ll take it from here. Ensign, I think there’s still a little bit of party going on in The Gravity Well if you’re up for it.”
“I don’t think so,” Jones said.
“Understandable. Go back to your quarters and get some rest. Dismissed, everybody.”
Russell, Beck, and Porter, box in hand, filed past Bradley, but as he got up from his seat, Bradley found himself face-to-face with Commander Walter Morales, who had been silent throughout the meeting.
“Commander,” Bradley said flatly.
“I want to thank you,” Morales said.
“No thanks are necessary,” Bradley said. “But I appreciate the sentiment all the same.”
“We’re even now.”
Bradley nodded, understanding. Morales returned the nod, then exited the room.
“You’re even?” Jones asked, walking over to Bradley.
“It’s nothing,” Bradley said dismissively. “I think this is quite enough excitement for one day. I should let you good people get back to your duties.”
“I’ll walk with you…if you don’t mind.”
Bradley smiled. “How could I mind?” he said, gesturing for Jones to step out into Ops ahead of him. The pair (well trio if you counted Anderson) headed into the turbolift, which Bradley ordered to the Dillon Enterprises complex.
“Are you feeling okay?” Jones asked.
“I’ll be fine,” Bradley replied. “Doctor Diantha is good at her trade.”
“Good,” Jones said. She leaned over and kissed Bradley on the cheek. “Thanks for rescuing me.”
“It wasn’t much of a rescue,” Bradley said.
Anderson snorted. “That’s for sure.”
“That will be all, Anderson,” Bradley said pointedly.
“Yes, Mister President.”
“Oh!” Jones exclaimed suddenly. “What about your debate? You missed it, didn’t you?”
“There will be another one.”
“So you can just…miss one? And that’s okay?”
“It will be fine,” Bradley said as the turbolift slowed to a halt. “Good night, Tina. And congratulations again on your graduation.”
“Thanks,” Jones said. “But it hardly seems important after all of this.”
“On the contrary, it is far more important. It is your future, after all.” Bradley stepped out of the turbolift, Anderson in tow, and walked off down the corridor, leaving Jones alone in the turbolift.
Bradley was right. So she’d been kidnapped. It’s not like anything really bad happened. And tomorrow she’d start her first full day in Security.
Ensign Tina Jones, Starfleet Officer.
She had arrived.
Bradley settled into his chair and tried to ignore the flashing message alert on this desk monitor. It would be multiple messages, he knew. All from Donna Lymon. He also knew what she’d have to say. There was no sense in actually listening to them.
There was also no sense in turning on the holovision, but, as much as he tried to busy himself with other activities, he couldn’t stay away. Finally, he gave in and activated the holoemitters hidden in the floor and ceiling in front of his desk. In an instant, the center of his office was filled with the AWN news feed showing Joan Redding. Behind her Bradley could see the two podiums that had been set up for the debate in one of the rec rooms on Starbase 219. Kathryn Janeway was standing at one of them, chatting with the debate moderator and several other Starfleet Officers. As much as Bradley hated to admit it, she looked rather poised and…presidential.
“At this hour we still have not had a real explanation from President Dillon’s campaign for their candidate’s absence beyond a terse statement saying that the president had pressing business to attend to,” Redding was saying. “Obviously that business doesn’t involve getting re-elected. Kathryn Janeway has continued to answer audience questions; however, so we will stay with our coverage of Dillon’s Debate Debacle.”
Bradley shut off the holovision and sighed. A great deal of damage had been done to his campaign. That much was certain. But he if had not done everything in his power to help Tina Jones, the damage to himself would have been far, far worse.
In the end, it was a fair trade.