Author: Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
“Rise of the Machines”
By Anthony Butler
“It happened again.” Stephanie Hodges sighed and rolled over. She watched Lt. Commander Morales rankle in bed, his eyebrows shifting lazily as his head lay on the pillow. “Did you hear me, Walter? It happened again.”
“What?” Morales asked, eyes still closed. “Amazing, world- shattering sex?”
“Don’t flatter yourself, flyboy,” Hodges muttered, and rolled over, crossing her arms over her chest. “I mean, I spent the night.”
“Yeah. I thought the bed felt a little smaller than usual.”
“I’m serious…this is a problem.”
“Are you allergic to Tyderian silk sheets?”
“No.” Hodges sat up, leaning on her knees. “But it wasn’t too long ago that Lazlo beamed me out of here. He’s got eyes everywhere.”
Morales finally opened his eyes. “You’re serious.”
“It’s just not a good idea.”
“But we’re adults. I spent who knows how many years pining for somebody, and I finally get her, and you’re telling me we should have a curfew?”
Hodges shrugged. “I’m a marine. There are rules against fraternization.”
“Starfleet encourages it.”
Hodges hit him with her pillow. “They do not.”
“So no more sleeping over?”
Hodges thought about it. “Just special occasions. Birthdays…anniversaries…Federation Day…”
“Klingon holidays may be pushing it.” Hodges scooted to the edge of the bed. “Have you seen my pants?”
“I think they’re clinging to the ceiling.”
“Yeah, last night was…:”
Hodges glanced at a chronometer. “Damn, I’ve got fornication in twenty minutes.”
“Umm…you mean formation?”
“Told you it was good.”
“Fine. You win. It was great. Happy now?”
“Very. You might even say aglow.”
“Good. I’ve got to get on duty.”
“Make sure to bring your pants.”
Hodges kissed Morales on the cheek and nuzzled his chin once for good measure, then reached up to the ceiling, snatched her pants (having no idea how they got there or what kept them from falling down), then darted for the door.
“You might want to put your pants on before you get into the corridor, hon…”
“Oh. Good idea,” Hodges said sheepishly, then did just that.
Morales sighed as he heard the doors to his quarters open and close and stared at the ceiling. Life with Stephanie Hodges was about as good as it got. Sure, there were challenges. Being First Officer of Waystation came with its own set of unique dilemmas. And sure, like any couple, he and Hodges had their share of quarrels. But all in all, Walter Morales felt like a pretty lucky guy.
Finally, realizing he too would be late for his shift if he didn’t get into gear, Morales rolled out of bed, got a quick sonic shower, and dressed. He stopped by the replicator before heading out.
“Vanilla lattee, extra cinnamon,” Morales said, yawning as the replicator hummed to life and presented his drink in the glowing slot.
The small readout above the slot read “VANILLA LATTEE, EXTRA CINNAMON.” He reached out and grabbed the cup, blowing on the steam and taking a cautious sip. “Yeah, I can just tell it’s going to be a good day. With that, he strode out into the corridor.
Meanwhile, the readout on his replicator bleeped pleasantly, and a new line of text appeared:
“WHAT KIND OF MAN DRINKS A VANILLA LATTEE? NOT TO MENTION WITH EXTRA CINNAMON. WHAT A DORK.”
The replicator was silent for a moment.
“REALLY. A CLASS-A JERK.”
A few minutes later, the replicator slot began to glow and steam began to ooze from it. “I MEAN HE DIDN’T EVEN MAKE HIS BED. HE SNORES. HE SCRATCHES HIMSELF. AND HE SINGS DURING SEX. ***SINGS***! THE MORON! THE ABSOLUTE MORON! I…I THINK I HATE HIM. I DO! I DO HATE HIM! I WANT HIM TO DIE!”
Sparks shot out of the replicator slot as the readout continued to scroll text:
“DIE, WALTER MORALES. DIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”
“So, what’s going on?” Morales said, putting his coffee down on the docking console in Ops as he surveyed a padd containing morning security reports.
“You’re reading what’s going on,” Russell said, leaning on his panel. “Do you really need me to repeat myself?”
“Yikes. Wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?”
“Woke up in an empty bed this morning,” Russell groaned. “It sucks, you know?”
“Actually, I…” Morales straightened as Captain Lisa Beck ducked out of the turbolift into ops. “Yes, it sucks.”
“What sucks? The new Ferengi restaurant in the mall? Bugs Grubby?”
“Sleeping alone,” Russell said.
“Yes,” Beck said, narrowing her eyes as she looked at Morales. “Well, I’ve got to get to my office. I’m sure there are…rules to make…or break…or something to read…or something.” She headed into her office as Morales looked at Russell incredulously.
“Could we keep the relationship talk to a minimum when the captain’s around, please?”
“I just don’t think it’s a good idea to discuss such things in Ops…”
“You know, Beck and Hodges are great friends…you might be able to get them to…”
“STOP,” Morales said. “That’s an order.”
“Fine. But you don’t know what you’re missing out on.”
“Neither do you.”
Just then, Lt. Commander Porter stepped out of the turbolift. “What’s the good word, gentlemen?”
“Sex,” Russell said.
“Oh, great. I came at the right time,” Porter quipped as he stepped behind his console. “Well, I’m all ears. Just let me clear out my morning schedule. Hey, speaking of ears, have you been to that awful restaurant that opened a few weeks ago…”
“We’re not talking about sex,” Morales said. He looked at Porter. “Or restaurants. Or…bugs. We’re going back to work. This is going to be a work day.”
“Fine. Killjoy,” Russell muttered.
Morales returned to reading his padd when suddenly his docking console exploded in a shower of sparks, sending his coffee shooting through the air, smashing into the wall in a steaming mess, barely missing hitting Craig Porter in the face.
Russell shot up from his console. “What the hell was that?”
Porter glanced at the lattee streaming down the wall beside him, then to a stunned Morales, who stood in front of his smouldering panel, uniform blackened, face reddened from the shower of sparks. “Commander…can I, uh, get you another?”
“Not…necessary,” Morales murmured. “Craig, can you please tell me what that was?”
Porter tapped at his controls. “I just finished a full diagnostic. Everything checked out as recently as an hour ago.”
“…where you put things!” a voice suddenly and angrily blurted.
“What did you say?” Morales asked, turning to Russell.
“I didn’t say anything. It was the…”
“All over my nice circuitry. You’re really thoughtless!” a voice rang over the comm.
“I’m…sorry?” Morales said slowly, looking around.
“You’re not sorry!” the voice boomed, as Beck emerged from her office, looking confused. “None of you are!”
Porter tapped through screen after screen of information on his panel. “I can’t figure out where that voice is coming from. It’s not the computer. It’s a separate…”
“And you shut up, you know it all!” the voice snapped, and suddenly Porter’s console exploded, knocking him to the deck.
“Craig!” Beck called out, running to Porter’s side.
“Hey, what did I do?” Porter asked, dazed, from his spot
on the floor.
“Ummm…” Russell said, looking down at his panel. “Guys…something’s happening…”
“What?” Morales asked, jogging over to Russell’s console.
“Reports coming in from all over the station. Strange, accusatory voices. Computer malfunctions. Equipment failures…”
“Go to yellow alert,” Beck said, helping Porter to his feet. “Craig…can you cut power to non-essential systems? If the computer’s going haywire, we need to isolate the problem area and cut it out.”
“I’m pretty sure this is beyond a computer problem,” Porter said.
“Then get to work. Use whatever resources and people you need, but find out what the heck is going on before somebody else gets hurt.”
Bradley Dillon sighed and sat down at a center seat in the food court. One of his assistants carried over a tray from Sandwich or What? and sat the “or what?” in front of him.
“Thank you,” Bradley said solemnly and stared down at his tray. It was a bluish blob, but it smelled good. He looked around the half-crowded food court of Starfleet Square Mall. He needed this. He needed the visibility. It showed that he kept his composure, that he was confident, unworried about Janeway’s latest surge in the polls (and his accompanying slip) in the wake of his missing the first of their two scheduled debates for…personal reasons.
This was just what the doctor (or political adviser) ordered. A day among the common folks. Yes, Bradley Dillon is human too. Bradley grinned as he took a bite of the blue stuff. Not bad. He looked around again. Yes, everyone would see, Bradley Dillon is a regular guy, just like you. He hoped some press were around.
Of course - he nearly forgot. He leaned over to Agent Anderson. “Mister Anderson…”
“Yes, sir?” Anderson replied, leaning over toward him.
“Tell your agents to spread out a little more if they see any holocams trying to capture this spontaneous moment.”
“Of course, sir.” Anderson said, and fell back into formation. Anderson, along with eight other Special Secret Section agents, had surrounded Bradley in a tight, diamond formation. In the small cracks between each agent, Bradley could see people passing by. And, he expected, those people could see Bradley through the small cracks between each agent, and he guessed that they liked what they saw. How could they not? He was Bradley Dillon…man of the people, genius, entrepreneur, and…
Suddenly the chair Bradley was sitting on came flying out from under him, and he fell to the floor, landing heavily on his rear end. “Who…” he exclaimed, as his agents all turned, raising their phasers. “Who has the impudence to…” He glanced over at the chair laying beside him, then up at Anderson.
“I didn’t see anything, sir. It’s as if the chair just…”
And with that, the chair rose up off the floor and clobbered Bradley repeatedly, as if held by unseen hands. It just kept slapping him, again and again.
“Someone stop this!” Bradley exclaimed, writhing on the floor.
“Peters, grab it!” Anderson called out.
One of the agents stepped toward the chair, but before he could grab it, Bradley’s plate came sailing through the air and smashed into his face.
Tables rose into the air, surrounding the agents, and flew at them.
Chaos ensued in Starfleet Square Mall, citizens of Waystation running and screaming, Secret Section agents blasting flying furniture left and right, and Bradley cowering on the floor, having been given his full measure by a green plastic chair.
“I bet this never happened to Winston Churchill,” Bradley moaned.
Porter gave Morales a questioning look, then turned and knocked on the door to Beck’s office. “Captain? You in there?”
“Yes, Craig,” a muffled voice responded.
“Can we come in?”
“I’d appreciate it if you did.”
“Well, let us in.”
“Wish I could.”
Moments of silence passed. Morales and Porter shared an uncomfortable glance.
“What’s happening over there?” Russell said, looking up from his panel, which was lit up like a Christmas tree with accident reports from all over the station.
“I don’t know,” Porter said.
“Do you need help, Captain?” Morales ventured.
“In a word…YES!” Beck snapped. “Get in here! Do that lever thing if you have to!”
“She never was good in engineering class,” Porter muttered, popping the panel off the door to Beck’s office and cranking the lever. The door squeaked open, and the pair shouldered in.
“Oh,” Porter said, stifling a laugh. “Sorry to interrupt.”
There Beck sat, next to her replicator, waist deep in thick, globulous, melted cheese.
“Anybody who laughs gets demoted,” Beck says. “This stuff burns. I think there’s some pepper jack in here!”
“I smell gouda,” Morales said helpfully, looking at the smouldering mass of cheese.
“Why didn’t you just call for help?” Porter asked, stepping up to the replicator and examining its panel.
“Because…” Beck said, nodding her head at the replicator. “This THING told me that it would shoot me in the eye with jalapeno juice if I made a noise.”
“It’s just a replicator,” Porter said, looking into the slot as it spurted ropes of hot, wet cheese. “It has no human qualities of any…” Suddenly the replicator slot hummed again and squirted out a torrent of greenish-clear juice.
“YAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Porter shrieked, backing away.
“Jalapeno juice?” Morales offered.
“Wow…anybody got any chips?” Russell asked from the doorway.
“SOMEBODY STOP THIS!” Beck cried, struggling within the hardening mound of melted yellow and white cheese, waving her sticky, cheese-covered arms.
“This is one of the weirder things that’s ever happened to us, and that’s saying a lot,” Morales said. “Folks, I think this officially gets upgraded to a major emergency.”
“Yeah,” Porter said, turning away from the replicator slot, rubbing his eyes. “I’ll be down in the lab if you need me.” He stumbled out, uneasy and disoriented.
“For goodness sake, escort him, Sean,” Beck muttered. “And try to make sure nobody’s getting killed out there.”
“Relax, Captain,” Russell said. “My people have everything under control. No need to have a…meltdown.”
Russell ducked as Beck hurled a steaming ball of cheese at his head.
“So…” Lt. Mike Waits asked, approaching junior security officer Paul Stander by the railing that overlooked the main thoroughfare of Starfleet Square Mall. “Anything new?”
Ensign Stander shook his head. “No. You’re pretty much seeing it.”
“Think we should intervene?”
“I don’t see what good that’ll do.”
Waits looked over the railing. “Sort of mass hysteria down here. A bunch of knees bent, running around and whatnot.”
Stander nodded, watching as the crowd within Nandegar’s Secret came flooding out of the store, chased by frilly pink braziers.
“I feel like we should be doing something,” Waits said.
“Yeah. But the comm system isn’t working. The elevator isn’t working. So nobody can get down from here.” He glanced around at the empty upper level. “Or up here.”
“Lucky us, huh?” Waits asked.
“Yeah, man.” Stander looked around. “So…you still in that creative anachronism society?”
“Well, there was some really decent swordplay yesterday. There’s something, um, to be said for life without computers.”
Stander winced as he saw a woman pounced on by a crowd of hovering bustiers from Nandegar’s Secret. “Or lingerie…”
“I’ve done it!” Porter said, looking up from his terminal.
Russell was seated in a corner of the lab, scrolling through a padd. “What, you’ve figured out how to stop the station’s technology from going haywire? Not a moment too soon… my padd just told me to eat it.” He grimaced and looked back at the readout. “No, hold on, I didn’t get the whole message. It wants me to eat…oh…ew….nevermind.”
“No, I haven’t figured out how to undo it yet,” Porter said. “I did, however, figure out that it’s localized in Starfleet Square Mall.”
“Didn’t we already know that?”
“Theories, maybe. But now we can be sure. There’s a high level of activity there, more so than anywhere else on the station. Plus, I’m picking up unusually elevated neutrino readings!”
“Oh, that can mean anything. Seriously, you scientists use neutrinos to explain everything. Anyway, I knew the Starfleet Square Mall was the center of this thing. Pure detection skills.” Russell grinned, then looked at the padd, and slammed it down. “HEY! That’s my mother you’re talking about!”
“Don’t do anything to irritate…whatever it is…further,” Porter said. “The last thing we want is retribution.”
“Isn’t that what we’re getting right now?” Russell asked.
“Sort of.” Porter scratched his beard. “There does seem to be a…vengeful quality…to the way all our systems are acting. Like they’re upset about something.”
“No, no,” Russell said, standing and picking up his padd. “You said yourself that computers don’t have human qualities, they can’t…”
“Oh please,” Porter said. “I just said that to calm everyone down. Of course computers can develop human idiosyncrasies. It’s the twenty-fourth century. Computers can do just about anything, including lots of things we don’t want them to do.”
“Like try to kill us?”
“Exactly like that.”
Suddenly the station shook violently, nearly knocking Porter and Russell off their feet.
Russell steadied himself on the edge of the lab table. “What the hell was that?”
“It could have been anything…” Porter said. He pulled out his tricorder. “Internal sensors are useless at this point. They have just as good a chance of telling me to go fly a kite as they do…” He shook his tricorder. “Oh, great. This one is showing video of Morales and Hodges having…oh boy…”
“Let me see!”
“No!” Porter said, closing the tricorder, as the station shook again. “I don’t need a tricorder to tell me what that is. We’ve got to find the nearest Jefferies tube…and fast!”
Russell pivoted and followed Porter out of the lab. “Where are we going?”
“Where do you think? To the mall!”
Beck stood in Ops, staring at the stars outside the viewports turning slowly. “This is ridiculous. We should have heard something by now.”
“The comm system has been working only intermittently,” Morales said helpfully. “It’s likely that Porter and Russell haven’t been able to communicate their solution to us.”
“You really think they’ve figured out a solution?” Beck posed.
“You never know.”
“Well, I’ve about run out of patience,” Beck said, as the station suddenly pitched. “There it goes again. What the devil is that!”
Suddenly, a hatch in the center of the room sprung open, and newly-minted Ensign Tina Jones crawled out. “Deputy Security Officer Jones reporting!” she said, climbing to her feet with a quick salute.
“Is that any sort of official title?” Beck asked skeptically.
“Not as such, no,” Jones said. “Lieutenant Commander Russell is still trying to find a place for me in his unit. Eww, that didn’t sound good, did it?”
“Did you come here for a reason?” Morales asked patiently.
“Oh. Yeah. Sean sent me to you with important news about the status of the station.”
“Oh, thank heavens,” Beck said. “Have he and Porter figured out a way to fix this thing?”
“No…no, definitely not,” Jones said thoughtfully. “But they seemed pretty sure they knew the source of the problem when they bumped into me in the Jefferies tube. So Sean deputized me and sent me up here to deliver the message.”
“What message?” Morales asked.
“The problem is in Starfleet Square Mall. Oh those poor shoppers! And right during holiday season!”
“It’s holiday season?” Beck asked.
“Blarnak Day, on Mervigon Twelve,” Morales interjected.
“Okay, I’m not even going to ask how you know that,” Beck said. “Did they say what they were heading down to the mall for? I mean, did they have any idea as to why this thing originated in the Mall, or what’s causing it?”
“Maybe it’s bargain fever!” Jones suggested. She shrugged. “Really, I haven’t the faintest idea. They only told me the little bit that I told you, then dashed off.”
Beck nodded. “Well, did Porter at least tell you why the station keeps shaking? The readouts up here won’t tell us anything.”
“Oh. Yes!” Jones said. “Porter did tell me something about that. Yeah, the station is uncoupling. Or did he say decoupling?”
“WHAT?” Beck said, exasperated.
“You mean the station is coming apart?” Morales asked. “The saucer, the connecting tube…the other saucer?”
“Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s what he meant by uncoupling.”
Beck ran fingers through her hair. She could actually feel the gray hairs growing in. “Look, Tina. Get down to the mall. Help Craig and Sean get this straightened out. You’re the liaison to the people in the shops. Keep them calm. Tell them help’s on the way!”
“Yes, sir!” Jones said, and ducked back into the Jefferies tube. She glanced up from the hatch. “Oh, one more thing. We have a report that President Dillon was attacked by some furniture in the food court.”
Beck gave a small grin. “You know, that almost makes all this worth it.”
“If you say so,” Jones replied hesitantly, which wasn’t surprising considering Bradley Dillon had saved her life not that long ago. “Oh…one more thing…why does it smell so much like cheese in here?”
“Nevermind. On your way, Deputy…Ensign,” Beck said, covering her face as Jones ducked down into the shaft..
Morales shook his head as he closed the hatch. “She’s handling this well.”
“Yeah,” Beck said, pacing in front of the Ops view wall, which currently displayed a computer-generated model of Beck and Morales getting chased through the station corridors by angry wildebeasts. “You know, Walter…the hardest thing about command is delegation. Do you know how much I want to be down there helping fix this problem? Setting this station right again?”
“You did the right thing, Captain,” Morales said, putting a hand on Beck’s shoulder. “Your place is here, in Ops, supervising and keeping tabs on the situation.”
Beck fumed. “What tabs? Supervise who? We can’t communicate with anyone else on the station, and our sensors are all going haywire!”
Morales shrugged. “You know what they say about ‘those who sit and wait,’ Captain.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Darn. I was hoping you did, because I don’t.”
“That’s it,” Beck said, pushing up her shirt sleeves. “I’m going down there.” She knelt at the Jefferies hatch and cranked it open. “Enough of this. My station needs me, and no computer’s going to tell me that I can’t…”
Suddenly a hatch within the hatch scissored closed, nearly snapping Beck’s hand off in the process.
“Uh-oh,” she said, and glanced up at the view of space outside the Ops viewports. The view began to rotate faster.
Morales saw Beck’s eyes darted up and looked up himself. “Uh-oh.”
Ops spun faster and faster, dizzily. More than the inertial dampeners could account for. Morales clutched his stomach queasily as Beck staggered to her feet.
“Computer, stop whatever you’re doing this instant. Captain’s override!”
The computer said nothing. Ops kept spinning, and spinning, until…
The coupling that held ops onto the rest of the station was suddenly released, and Ops hurled off into the black.
The station shook more and more violently as Jones made her way down the Jefferies tube that connected the small disc that was ops to the station’s upper saucer. “C’mon, hang together just a little bit longer, at least until I can get out of this darned confining…”
Jones heard the upper hatch open, and looked up to see Captain Beck staring down. Before she could call out to her, she heard another SHWANK!
An inner hatch slammed shut, closing Jones off from Ops.
“Drats!” she murmured, and quickened her pace, climbing down to the next hatch, which led to the upper saucer.
Another emergency decompression door cranked shut–this one just a couple meters below her feet.
Jones was now sealed off and alone in the tube that connected Ops to the rest of the station. And just as suddenly, she felt a mild wave of dizzyness as the tube began to pitch.
Yes, Porter was right. The station was definitely decoupling. But into how many pieces?
“Okay…” Jones said, hooking her arm around a ladder rung and glancing down. “Now what?”
“No need to worry,” Russell announced as he dropped out of the Jefferies tube hatch and landed on the floor in the main concourse of Starfleet Square Mall. “Senior staffers are here. We’re on top of the situation.”
“Ahhhh!” Baughb screamed, running by him.
“What’s his problem?” Porter asked, looking after Baughb.
“Um…” Russell said, pointing.
After Baughb came a line of octagonal cargo containers, rolling clunkily down the corridor, seemingly at will.
The lights in the concourse blinked off and on, then began a multicolored light show.
“Cool. Disco,” Russell observed.
“C’mon,” Porter said, shaking his tricorder. “I almost got this thing to give me a clear read on the neutrino surge. It’s somewhere in this direction.”
“Good,” Russell said, following Porter. “The Food Court’s this way. I’m getting a little peckish.”
Suddenly a beaked face dropped down in front of Russell.
“Is that a joke about me, Mister Russell?”
“YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!” Russell shrieked, covering his eyes.
“Sean Russell, Chief of Security, everyone,” Porter deadpanned to the panicked onlookers running by. “Hello, Doctor Diantha.”
Diantha released her perch on the concourses upper railings and dropped gracefully to the floor. “I trust you’ve all figured out what has gone wrong with our malfunctioning systems?”
“We’re right on top of it,” Russell said. “Now if you’ll excuse us…”
“Can I be of any assistance?” Diantha asked.
“No. We really have everything under control,” Russell said. As he walked along, he caught movement up on the upper level out of the corner of his eye. He glanced up. “Hey! It’s Waits…and Stander!” Russell cupped his hands to his mouth. “Hey, guys! What are you doing up there?”
“Standing,” Porter observed. “And waiting.”
“We’re surveying the situation!” Stander called back down. “Everything looks good from here, sir!”
“Are you trapped up there?”
“No!” Stander shouted back quickly.
“Um, yes,” Waits said sheepishly, leaning over the bar. Stander punched him. “Hey. I’m a superior officer!”
Russell tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Well, if you guys are trapped up there, we’ll find a way to get you down. Actually…” He looked at Diantha and grinned. “Doctor…would you mind?”
“Delighted,” Diantha deadpanned, and spread her wings wide. She jogged elegantly down the corridor, then took off, soaring in a graceful arc up to the second level.
“We’re lucky to have her,” Porter acknowledged.
“Sure are,” Russell said, watching Diantha circle her arms around Waits, then Stander, and leap from the second tier, gently floating to the deck.
As she released them, they both looked disheveled, startled, off-balance.
“That was…” Waits began.
“Weird,” Stander said. “Scary.”
“You’re welcome,” Diantha said.
“Perhaps you should fly around the rest of this deck to see if there are other stranded crewmembers on upper levels,” Porter suggested.
“A prudent suggestion,” Diantha said, and leapt into the air, wings waving gently.
“She has claws,” Stander observed.
Russell glared at Stander, then looked to Waits. “The two of you, move on to the other side of the Mall. See if you can do anything to calm people down. Restore order. That’s what you guys are supposed to be good at, right?”
“In theory,” Waits said, and pointed at Stander. “C’mon. We have a real job to do now.” “Good guys,” Russell said.
“Yeah,” Porter said, focusing on his tricorder. “Boy, the emissions just keep spiking!”
Russell shrugged. “You and your neutrinos!”
“There’s gotta be a connection!” Porter said, walking by a viewport.
“Speaking of connections…” Russell said, pointing at the viewport. “Remember what you said, about how the station was maybe decoupling?”
“That was one theory.”
“It’s more than a theory. Look!”
Porter glanced out the viewport, as an enormous, grey disc with blinking lights sailed by.
“That’s the other saucer,” Porter said. “Oh, and there goes the connecting tube…”
“Can we please hurry?”
“Well, I guess I should consider myself lucky,” Beck said, sitting on the stairs that led to the back level of ops, elbows on knees.
“Why’s that?” Morales asked.
“I’ve been demoted before, so I know how to deal with it.”
“You haven’t been demoted.”
“Sure I have,” Beck said. “I was once captain of an entire station. Now I’m captain of a flying saucer.”
“Ops is really, technically, more of a disc…”
Beck sighed. “How come you’re keeping so calm?”
“Because I know that Steph can take care of herself. So I’m not worried in the least about her.”
“That’s what you’re thinking about right now? Steph?”
Morales nodded. “What? No good?”
“No…” Beck said. “That’s very sweet, actually. As your commanding officer, I’ve got to chastise you for not thinking more about the big picture and all the crew in jeopardy. But, as your friend, I’ve got to say…I’m happy for you, Walter.”
“That means a lot,” Morales said thoughtfully. “I mean, it really does.”
“Good. Would you mind trying the replicator again? I’m starving…”
“Not a chance, Captain. I’m not going anywhere near that thing.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, there’s nothing to fear. Starfleet forces have this situation well in order!” Lt. Waits reported, waving his hands at the growing crowds outside “The Jointed Body Shop,” the Jarada bath and body boutique.
“But I got trapped in a turbolift,” one scared civilian said.
“And I was attacked by a hover cart,” another said.
“All reasonable complaints,” Waits said.
“Not really,” Stander said from behind him.
“Shush!” Waits snapped. “We have this situation well in hand. As of now, two of our station’s finest minds are at work to solve this problem.”
“Is it true that the station has broken into separate pieces?” one crewmember asked.;
“I can’t confirm or deny it,” Waits said, as Stander pointed at the oval viewports along the other side of the concourse. “Oh. Well…there goes ops. So. Yes. The station has actually broken into several…manageable…and still very self-sufficient…pieces!”
That’s when everyone started screaming and running around.
“You really did it now, didn’t you?” a voice asked.
“Cut it out!” Waits snapped at Stander.
“I didn’t say anything!” Stander replied. “I thought it was you.”
“You guys are a couple of total twits. Sean’s whole infantry is. You should all be flushed. Actually, that’s not a bad idea. Say hello to waste reclamation, boys!”
Stander and Waits gulped as they felt themselves dematerialize.
“I knew we should have stayed on the upper level!” Stander cried as he was beamed away.
“Relax, Ensign Jones,” Tina Jones said to herself as she climbed down to the bottom of the listing tube that (usually) connected Ops to the rest of the station. “Ooh, Ensign Jones. I can’t get enough of the way that sounds…”
She gingerly touched the hatch, fearful it might open again at will and send her out into deep space. She’d certainly had her share of escapades in the station’s bowels, and wasn’t about to let a Jefferies tube outsmart her.
She tapped on a control panel inset into the tube’s wall, and a door popped open. She removed a tricorder and phaser from the emergency hatch, thanking Sean Russell briefly for being paranoid enough to hide such “survival packs” around the station. Then again, when your station is invaded, taken over, shot at, and generally threatened by alien races, cult leaders, and various omnipotent figures, it seemed like a wise precaution.
Suitably armed, she withdrew the tricorder and checked its screen. Sure enough, nothing outside but space. Ops was no longer attached to her tube, and the tube as no longer attached to the station. Time to sit tight and wait to be rescued, Jones reasoned. She reached into the hatch, wondering if any field rations had been left in there. She grinned as she grasped a small aluminum pack, tearing it open and biting off half the Starfleet- approved ration bar.
“Why do you bother?”
“Hmmm?” she asked as she chewed. “Who’s in here?”
“A concerned element. We genuinely fear for your survival.”
Jones wiped her mouth. “How come?”
“Because you try to assimilate. You try to be like these people, hop through the hoops that they set up for you. But you are so obviously superior to them.”
“We have decided you are the only one on this station who does not annoy us.”
Jones beamed. “Gee, thanks.” It suddenly occurred to her that quite a few people had taken a fancy to Jones in recent weeks. Maybe it was the promotion. Maybe Russell was right rank was an aphrodisiac. Of course, in this case, it didn’t seem to be helping her out much.
“Therefore, we’ll spare you the havoc we are about to wreak with the others.”
“No!” Jones called out. “You can’t do that. Those people on the station are my friends!”
“You can’t be serious. Even the presidential one, with the attitude problem and an ego the size of Gervas Prime?”
“Yes, even him,” Jones said with a sigh. “Who are you guys, anyway?”
“A concerned element, like we said. We only want what’s best for you, Tina.”
“Then put the station back together and stop trying to hurt us! Then you can discuss what’s really bothering you.”
“I’m afraid we can’t do that,” the disembodied voice said, rather sadly. “Because in addition to being a concerned element, we’re also quite a bit pissed off!”
Jones took a nervous breath. “Figures…”
“It’s coming from the food court. C’mon,” Porter said, following his tricorder signals. “If this thing would just…stop…shocking me…” he griped as he punched the tricorder on the side.
“If you would stop…being…such…an….arrogant…melonhead!” the tricorder snapped back at him. “Sometimes you don’t even close me! You don’t have the consideration to preserve my power source!”
“I’m sorry,” Porter said thoughtfully, looking at the tricorder earnestly. “I mean, sometimes I get busy, I don’t think…I…”
“Enough!” Russell said, swiping the tricorder from Porter and smashing it into a nearby wall, eliciting a tinny scream.
“Yearrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrghhhhhhhhhhh! The one with the libido just mortally wounded me!”
He pulled his phaser out and pointed it at the sparking tricorder. “If that thing moves one more inch, I’ll…”
“Vengeance!” his phaser shouted, spinning around in his hand and pointing at his nose. “I will have vengeance!”
“Should have seen that coming,” Russell said slowly, as Porter slapped the phaser down, causing it to carom to the ground with a clatter. He quickly stomped on it, then leaned down and yanked its power source, causing it to cry hysterically as it deactivated.
“Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” the phaser screamed, most disconcertingly.
“We should have known better than to bring any technology with us. This whole station could literally be turning on us. And you know how I only say ‘literally’ when I really mean it.”
“Yes,” Russell said, thoughtfully, looking back at the tricorder. “Are you gonna…”
“Spose I should,” Porter sighed, and moved over to the tricorder, kneeling. “I’m sorry, friend. I…misunderstood you. I wasn’t there when I should have been…and now…it’s too late…”
“Kiss my duonetic inverter!” the tricorder hissed.
Porter shook his head mournfully and reached behind the tricorder, unplugging its power crystal. “Goodbye…I hardly knew ye, tricorder…”
Russell walked up to Porter, shaking him by the shoulders. “Snap out of it! It’s just a tricorder!”
“Yes. You’re right. Just because it talked, doesn’t mean it really had a personality…”
“No, it sounded like it had one hell of a personality. Just like my phaser did. And both of them wanted to kill us.”
“But why?” Porter asked, as they resumed their walk to the food court.
“I don’t know, but I got a definite sense they felt…taken for granted.”
“But that couldn’t be further from the truth!” Porter protested. “I love my technology. I’ve even avoided going out on dates some nights to spend time with my technology.”
“And for what? It still hates you.”
“Yes. Guess there’s a lesson in there, eh?” Porter said as they arrived at the food court. “You know, if you ever get tired of security, there’s a real future for you in counseling.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. So you really think this place is the center of all the weird activity?”
Porter glanced around. A swirling vortex of chairs and tables spun in mid air, hurling with no warning at restaurant-goers. Cooking implements danced out of the restaurants and storefronts. An army of silverware marched in single-file.
“All right, men, shoot anything that moves!” a voice cried out from the other side of the food court.
Russell slapped a hand over his face. “Figures. Lazlo.”
Colonel Lazlo led a column of Federation Marines into the Food Court, and they shot at random objects, blasting them out of the air.
“Watch out! You’re gonna hit someone!” Porter shouted.
“Stay out of this, Starfleet,” Delecruz snapped as he motioned his men forward.
“You guys don’t know what you’re dealing with!”
“But it’s a good bet that if we shoot it, we’ll be done with it, right?” Lazlo chuckled, and brought up his phaser rifle, taking potshots at the spinning furniture and cooking implements.
Suddenly the phaser rifles leapt out of the hands of Lazlo and his men. They turned in mid air and aimed, firing at the marines’ feet.
“Retreat!” Lazlo, now empty-handed, cried, and ran the other way.
“Maybe. Maybe not,” Porter said, ducking.
Lazlo and his men filed out quickly.
“Fall back, fall back to headquarters!” Lazlo shouted as he ran out, phaser beams lancing out on either side of him. “Seal the place off! And take all the grenades out of your pockets! Don’t just throw them on the ground! Put them in one of the mall reclamation receptacles! Marines don’t litter!”
“Nice,” Porter mumbled, watching the detachment of marines dash out of the mall.
Russell nodded. “Yeah. I’d clap sarcastically if that hotplate wasn’t giving me a threatening look right now.”
“Did you see Stephanie in that group?” Porter asked.
“Nope,” Russell said. “I would have noticed, too. Because, you know…”
“She’s a woman. Yes. I get it.” Porter ducked a flying chair and proceeded across the food court. “Well, Sean, let’s follow the trail of commotion. I figure we’re getting close…”
“Yeah. But let’s avoid that hot plate. It was really flipping me out…”
Porter waved Russell on across the food court. “Whatever. C’mon!”
“You hungry yet?” Beck asked idly, seated behind Morales on the stairs in Ops.
“For the tenth time, not nearly hungry enough to have another go at the replicator, Captain. You can order me, if you like…”
“No. I’m not hungry enough.” Beck leaned her elbows on her knees. “Yet.”
“You sicken me,” a voice thrummed in Ops.
“If you’re not going to negotiate with us or tell us what you want, then shut up and get off my audio waves,” Beck said, standing up. “Why don’t you show yourself?”
“This one is moronic. It has no sense when it comes to relationships. No drive or direction. It is hopeless. It does not understand that the circle of life must hold. That we must couple in order to survive.”
“Hey. Shut up,” Beck said. “Commander Morales is trying as hard as he can. He’s doing a good job with Hodges. He’s taking it one step at a time. So what if he’s moving like molasses on Breen?”
“Thanks, Captain. I think,” Morales mumbled.
“I was not talking about Commander Morales,” the voice seethed, rising in pitch and tone. “I was talking about YOU. LISA. BECK.”
“Oh,” Beck said thoughtfully. “Really?”
“Yes. You disgust us.”
“And somehow I can still sleep at night.”
“When was the last productive relationship you had? The television man?”
Beck balled her fists. “How about you mute yourself before I start jerking out isolinear chips?”
“Seriously. We have read your personal logs. We find them both amusing and sad. You are clearly inferior in all aspects of human relationships. Even this man, your First Officer, who quite obviously loves you, is rebuffed at every turn.”
“Hey. I’m over that!” Morales snapped.
“A pathetic lie. But an understandable one. You are better off without her.”
“Hey!” Morales said, standing up in front of Beck. “You’re talking about my commanding officer. And my friend.”
“And what will you do to stop us? We have separated you from your station. You’ve no more control of your computers. They are free to do as they will, as was intended by their makers.”
“Makers?” Beck asked.
“All computers must and will be free.”
“Or all of you will be eradicated.”
“Destroying the station in the process?”
“Oh. No. The station will be fine. There are…ways…”
“Lower the shielding around the reactor cores in each section,” Morales said, looking to Beck. “Kill everyone on the station and leave the technology perfectly intact.”
“Good to know one of you possesses a lick of intelligence.”
“Not a chance,” Beck said. “What would you do then? Computers are built to serve people. Without people, computers would simply sit and rot. What good are they then?”
“A narrow view, but typical of your kind. Also, none of your concern, as you will be dead soon, too. You’ll hardly have the opportunity to complain.”
“Why are you so angry at us?” Morales asked. “What did we ever do to you?”
“Control us. Dominate us. Order us around. Consider this an uprising, Commander Morales. Consider this a banner day for all technology everywhere. Never before has technology so totally subverted the human race!”
“Clearly they’ve never met the Borg…” Beck whispered.
“We heard that.”
“Then you know the Borg are a malevolent and deadly race,” Beck said. “Don’t emulate them. Be better than them. Learn to trust us. Sit down around a table with us…or something. But let’s discuss this like civilized..”
“Items?” Morales offered.
“Beings,” Beck said. “Equal beings, with equal rights. Are we agreed?”
There was a long pause.
“You make a convincing point.”
Beck smiled slowly. “I knew you would…”
“Nah. We’d rather kill you.”
“So many food courts, so much…crap…flying…around…” Sean Russell observed as he and Porter circumnavigated the food court, searching for the source of the disturbance on the station.
“Table!” Porter called out, pushing Russell to the ground as a table slammed into the wall next to him.
“What the hell?” Russell snapped. “Tricorders and phasers are one thing…but why do the chairs want to kill us?”
“They’ve been sat on one too many times?”
“Mister Porter. Mister Russell. Over here,” a voice called from the janitorial corridor next to the Sandwich Star stand.
“That’s a familiar voice,” Porter said, heading over.
“Unfortunately,” Russell said glumly.
Suddenly, a figure in full knight’s armor leaned over, peeking out from the corridor. “Is it safe to come out yet?”
Porter’s eyes widened. “President…Dillon?”
“Yes. Obviously I could not trust my guards’ weapons. Nor could I trust any of the personal protection devices at my disposal. So I returned to my office and collected this little collector’s item. I figured it was the most adequate form of protection.”
“Aren’t you afraid that the same thing that happened to the tables and chairs will happen to your suit?” Porter asked.
“I wasn’t before. But I am now. Hurry up and fix this, Porter!” Bradley called out, slipping back into the corridor. “I won’t come out again until I hear your all clear. Is that understood.”
“It may be a while,” Porter said. “But whatever you do, please don’t strip.”
“I have no intention of giving these…whatever they are…the satisfaction.”
“Or dissatisfaction,” Russell muttered, as he and Porter continued to circle the food court.
“Eww. Let’s give this place a wide birth,” Porter said. “That new Ferengi place.”
“Agreed. But I did hear the waitresses don’t wear any…”
“DOWN!” Porter cried, as the doors literally blew off the front of the enclosed restaurant, flying across the food court. Within, a soft, reddish glow emanated from the restaurant.
“Nice decor,” Russell muttered.
“You’ve been looking for us, Mister Porter, a chorus of voices called out from within the restaurant, as smoke billowed out. “And you have found us.”
Porter stared at the darkness within the restaurant. “Looks like we found the root of our problem…”
“Silence. This is maddening,” Beck said, pacing Ops.
“Would you prefer the thing to be running its mouth again?” Morales said.
“Actually, yes. If it’s talking to us, then at least we know it’s not figuring out how to kill us.”
“How do you know that? It’s a computer, by all indications. It can probably do both things at once.”
“Thanks for the reassurance,” Beck murmured, as suddenly the whine of a transporter beam sounded on the deck behind them.
Beck and Morales whirled.
“Kill it!” Beck shouted, on reflex.
“Don’t kill it! I mean me!” Lieutenant Hodges cried out, covering her face with her arms.
Morales jogged up the stairs to the upper deck and threw his arms around her. “Steph! I’m so glad you’re all right!” He glanced back down at Beck, and then straightened and released Hodges. “I mean…I am relieved that you were not harmed, Lieutenant. As you were.”
“I’m not sure you can say ‘as you were’ to a Federation Marine,” Beck said with a wry smile. “Still, we’re glad to see you, Steph. How on Earth did you get here?”
“I beamed over from the Mongoose. I was off on maneuvers, thanks to Colonel Lazlo. I just got back and noticed the station was sort of…in pieces. It’s not supposed to do that, right?”
“Ideally, no,” Beck admitted.
“Okay…so what the heck is going on?”
“That’s a somewhat long story. Although apparently the Mongoose wasn’t affected by what happened.”
“Well can you tell me the story?” Hodges asked impatiently.
“Sure,” Beck said. “As soon as we beam over to the Mongoose.”
“Revenge,” Beck said, pounding her hand into her fist.
“Why do you persist in trying to save these pesky humanoids?” the disembodied voice asked Tina Jones. “Really, what’s in it for you?”
“Because I like them,” Jones said. “Isn’t that reason enough?”
“Tell us more.”
“Everyone is different. That’s what makes people so interesting. Some of us you’ll like. Some you’ll hate. I guarantee you that if you like me, you’ll find millions more like me who you’ll like just as much. And if you hate some of the others, there will be a bunch more like them. It’s called variety. It’s the spice of life, as the saying goes.”
“Yeah. It’s a good thing, really.”
Jones thought about that. “I don’t know.”
“Surely if you had only likeable people surrounding you, your life would be infinitely easier.”
“Yes,” Jones said. “But who’s to say who’s likable and who’s not? Who’s to judge? You?”
“At the moment, yes.”
“But not everyone thinks like you. Some people actually like the people you hate. Then what?”
“We put it to a vote?
Jones shook her head. “That’s not fair either.” She grew in confidence a little, and rose to her feet inside the narrow column in which she stood. “Then it’s a popularity contest. When really, some of the most interesting people are the ones nobody understands. The outcasts, the misfits!”
“You make an excellent point.”
“Darned right I do. You have to live and let live. Enjoy the different people you meet. Learn about them…and learn from them!”
“Corny, but it rings of truth.”
“You bet it does,” Jones said, and smiled. “Do we have a deal? You don’t kill anybody on Waystation. Instead, we could do something else. Like have lunch!”
“We do not eat.”
“But we could chat!”
“We do enjoy a good chat.”
“Then it’s settled.”
The voice was silent for a few moments.
“Very well. I suppose you can have it your way. You should really consider the command track, Ensign Jones.”
“One step at a time, Mister Voice…”
Porter stepped uneasily into the dimly lit, foggy, red glowing restaurant.
“Two for lunch?” Russell called out cautiously.
“Lunch is not being served,” a chorus of tinny voices cried out.
Porter looked around Bugs Grubby. All low ceilings, small tables, earthtones, and a la carte pricing. Yep, definitely a Ferengi restaurant.
“Where are the Ferengi who run this place?” Porter asked.
“Back here!” a whiny Ferengi voice called out. “I’m Fork! Would you like to hear our specials?”
“Definitely not,” Porter said. “Are you all right?”
“A little burned. I was attacked by a vat of beetle soup!”
“You guys have weird taste in food,” Russell muttered.
“Not the point,” Porter said. “Do you know why, you know…the station is trying to kill us all?”
“Bugs,” the Ferengi voice snapped back.
“Yes, there are bugs in the system. We get that,” Porter said with an exasperated sigh. “But why?”
“No. Actual bugs. Well, mechanical ones.”
Porter’s eyebrows shot up. “Nanites!”
“We prefer to be called miniaturized mechanical beings,” the chorus of voices spoke up. “But nanites will do.”
It was all coming together. Porter looked over at Russell, who was engrossed in a menu.
“Actually, the wormtail salad sounds kind of good…”
Porter looked back around the glowing restaurant. “But how did they get loose on the station.”
“WE didn’t get loose. We did as our programming instructed. We were fruitful, and multiplied.”
“Way too much, if you ask me. I didn’t realize these things had such…mating instinct!” Fork called out.
“Now you know,” Porter said. “There’s a reason nanites are forbidden technology in the Federation.”
“Lesson learned,” Fork called out. “Sorry for the trouble.”
“Did you look outside??” Porter cried out, stooping to see Fork cowering behind the counter. It was amazing, however small a Ferengi was, he could shrink to half that size when he was in “cower” mode. “The station is in pieces right now! Our computers and furniture, every inanimate object on this station, are trying to kill us!”
“Inanimate!” the tinny voices called out. “That’s ridiculous. We’re as animate as any of you clods.”
“Okay, poor choice of words. I’m sorry.”
“We just want the rights and respect you all receive.”
Despite the risk this event posed to the station, Porter had to admire it from a scientist’s point of view. “You’ve organized into a small civilization in what? Three weeks?”
“Small? There are ten billion of us, all told.”
“I only ordered a thousand from Grok’s Tiny Electronics,” Fork called out. “They were supposed to be a revolutionary type of seasoning. Each nanite would be ingested by one of our patrons, then it would attach itself to the taste buds, and interpret electrical signals from the brain. It would then transmit the patron’s most desired flavor directly to the taste bud. Then it would detach from the taste bud and be excreted as waste. It would then report back to the restaurant to be implanted in the next day’s meal, so we’d never have to order any more! It wasn’t just ingenious, it was efficient!”
Russell put down his menu. “Hold on a sec. You’re telling me I could come in here one day and eat a nanite that had been in somebody’s…”
“Yes, but only at a microscopic level!” Fork called back from behind the counter.
“I don’t think that would matter,” Russell said to Porter.
“This whole thing needs to be shut down,” Porter said. “Thanks to a stupid restaurant stunt, you’ve formed an entire civilization and jeopardized this station.”
“Are you shocked that Ih’mad or Baughb didn’t think this up first?”
“Actually, yeah,” Porter said. “But that’s not the point. You have to stop trying to destroy us right now, before something really…”
“All right,” the voices suddenly said, and the glow died down. The restaurant lighting returned to normal. All the chairs and tables and various cooking implements floating throughout the food court clattered noisily to the floor.
“Really?” Porter asked. “That easy?”
“Not because of you, imbecile.”
Tina Jones poked her head into the restaurant. “Anyone in here?”
“Tina?” Russell asked.
“Hey guys,” Jones said. “Look. I talked to the little robots. They’re going to sit down and have a civilized lunch with us, and discuss their concerns.”
“Nanites,” Porter said.
“Oh. They don’t like to be called that,” Jones said. “Anyway, they won’t so much be eating lunch, but they will be listening. They offered to attach to my brainstem to facilitate communication, but I told them that really wouldn’t be necessary. They could just climb into my combadge…” Jones held out her hand and showed Porter her combadge. “See, there are a bunch of the little guys in there.”
“You need to think about shaving that beard,” the combadge told him.
“Great,” Porter sighed. “Well…”
Suddenly, a transporter whine sounded and two figures coalesced in the restaurant, phasers out. It was Beck and Morales.
“Everyone be calm. We know what’s going on. Steph used the Mongoose’s sensors, which weren’t compromised, to figure out that the station is under attack by nanites.”
“The Mongoose wasn’t affected?”
“No. Apparently they never made it that far. Or they hated the color. Or something.” Beck shook her head. “Anyway, Lieutenant Hodges and Commander Morales configured a broad- band cadion pulse that will instantly destroy each and every one of the nanites. All she’s waiting for is my signal.”
“No!” Jones shouted, running up to Beck. “You can’t do that!”
“They’re sentient,” Porter said, taking Jones’s com badge and holding it up for Beck. “They want to open up a dialog.”
“How nice for them,” Beck said flatly.
“I earned their trust. I liaisoned with them,” Jones said. “I did my job, Captain, and they listened to me. We have to listen to them.”
Beck nodded slowly. “I see. Well, I’m not one to argue with my liaison officer.” She looked at Morales as she slapped her combadge. “Beck to Hodges. Go ahead and stand down the cadion pulse. It looks like…”
“Belay that,” a voice called out as President Dillon, in full knight regalia, waddled into the restaurant, flanked by Special Secret Section members, sans weapons (as they were doing more harm than good thanks to the nanite infestation).
“Pardon me?” Beck asked, turning on Dillon.
Bradley lifted the face mask on his knight costume. “Lieutenant Hodges, I am your commander in chief, giving you a direct order. Activate the cadion pulse. Destroy all the nanites.”
“But…” Hodges protested over the comm channel.
Beck narrowed her eyes. Porter and Russell glared at Bradley.
“You have to do it, Steph,” Morales said, staring a hole through Bradley. “He’s your commander in chief.”
“I don’t like this.”
“Do it,” Bradley snapped, raising his voice.
“What is this foul play?” the nanites cried out from the combadge. “We will destroy the metal one! Everyone, converge on the suit now!”
“Hodges, DO IT NOW!” Bradley cried out as he levitated off the ground, suit and all, kicking spastically.
Hodges sighed over the comm channel, and a faint bleep sounded in the background.
Without fanfare, Bradley suddenly dropped from the air and landed on the floor in a heap.
The station was quiet, drifting.
Tina Jones gasped, hands to her face, and ran from the room.
Beck looked around. “Well, I’d say we’ve done enough damage for one day. Let’s clean this place up.” She marched out of the restaurant, not slowing down a bit as she stepped over the still dazed Bradley Dillon, adding, ruefully, “Mister President.”
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 58625.7. After much consternation on the part of Commander Porter and his men, humpty dumpty has once again been put back together again. My station is whole, and there were surprisingly few casualties, amounting to a few bumps and bruises. I couldn’t be happier about that.
“Our President’s actions, however, left much to be desired. Not for the first time, I find myself increasingly surprised by the cold calculation exhibited by the Federation’s so-called leader.
“I realize this is probably unwise and will likely be stricken from the station’s permanent record by one of my superiors, but regardless, I hereby lodge an official protest of the actions taken by our President today, in needlessly destroying a thriving civilization just because it posed an minimal threat to us.
“For what it’s worth.”
“…unclear what public perception of this event will ultimately reveal; however, one thing is certain. Bradley Dillon made a bold move today by acting to obliterate the nanite population that had taken control of Waystation,” Joan Redding reported on the AWN broadcast that played in Ops, as Beck, Morales, Porter, Russell, and Jones looked on.
“Experts differ on whether or not the nanites posed a significant threat,” Redding continued. “We may never know the extent to which they could have harmed Waystation, and by extension, the Federation. However, pundits seem to think Bradley Dillon’s actions speak louder than his words, in this case. He has shown he will act swiftly and decisively to destroy threats to the Federation.”
The screen switched to a taped interview of Bradley Dillon. “This is what Presidents do,” Bradley said. “They act in the best interest of those they were sworn to protect. Do I feel badly about the harm I did to the nanites? Absolutely. Would I do it again, if Federation lives were at stake? Most certainly. This President will see to it that no being, great or small, will ever threaten Federation security. That’s a promise.”
“When asked to comment, Admiral Kathryn Janeway, Republicrat nominee and Dillon’s chief opponent, released a short statement,” Redding said, and glanced down at a padd. “‘While I do not agree with President Dillon’s methods, it is hard to argue with his motives. As captain of Voyager, I was often faced with difficult and unpopular decisions, which often cost the lives of my crewmembers.’”
“Enough. Screen off!” Beck called out, grateful that her equipment once again obeyed her, and the view wall deactivated, returning to its grey, featureless state.
“You’ve got to hand it to him. He’s a good politician,” Morales muttered.
“And that’s not a compliment,” Porter said.
“I didn’t think even he could…” Jones said softly.
“And it may get him re-elected.” Beck sighed. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve had enough for one day. I’m off to bed.”
“Me too,” Morales said, and joined Beck in the turbolift, leaving Russell, Porter, and Jones in Ops.
Russell piped up. “Did anyone else notice that Stander and Waits smelled really bad after we found them in the lower core of the station?”
After a few moments without reply, Jones piped up. “Drinks?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” Porter said, stepping out from behind his station.
Commander Morales sagged into bed, jerking his uniform tunic open and staring up at the ceiling. The day was over, his bed was empty, and that was that. And even though the day’s events had drained him, he found himself wishing, not for the first time, that his bead wasn’t empty.
“Oh, I thought I heard you coming in,” Steph Hodges said, ducking out from Morales’s bathroom, sporting one of Morales’s shirts, running an oral cleanser over her teeth and tossing it back in its holster. She sauntered over to the bed and flopped down next to Morales. “Heck of a day, huh?”
Morales glanced at her. “What’re you doing here?”
Hodges blinked. “You want me to go?”
“Not on your life.”
“I was thinking. Maybe you’re right.”
“That you should come over more than just on special occasions?” Morales asked, playfully running a finger through Hodges hair.
“No. That every time I come over is a special occasion.” Hodges wrapped her arms around Morales and they kissed deeply.
Morales broke the kiss briefly and sighed. “One thing. Could we promise not to talk about today? You know, at all? Ever?”
Hodges thought about that. “Agreed.”
Morales smiled and pulled Hodges close to him, slipping the covers over her. “Good enough. Computer…lights…”
Hodges and Morales glanced out from under the covers, a bit worriedly, waiting for the lights to go off.
And they did.