Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
“Can Your Camel Hold One More Straw?”
By Alan Decker
He was going to say something. Captain Lisa Beck could just see it on Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter’s face as the pair stood in Docking Bay Three watching the Starfleet survey craft touch down on the flight deck and go through its power-down procedures.
She put a calming hand on his upper arm. “It’s not their fault.”
“I know,” Porter replied through gritted teeth.
“You can’t blame them.”
“I know.” Porter’s teeth-grinding had become audible.
“You wouldn’t want them yelling at you if the situation was reversed.”
“I know!” Did a piece of enamel just fly out of his mouth?
The hatch of the survey craft opened, and a small parade of seven officers wearing the blue collars of Starfleet Sciences emerged from the vessel and descended the three stairs to the deck. Beck gave Porter’s arm a squeeze then stepped over to the group. Before she could launch into her welcome speech, one of the officers, a dark-haired woman, who seconds before had been laughing and joking with her colleagues, turned on Beck, all-business.
“Commander Teague,” she said crisply by way of an introduction. “I’m sure you’re busy, Captain. I know I am. So we won’t take up much of your time. Just give us some bunks for the night, and we’ll be on our way to the site in the morning.”
Beck exchanged a quick glance with Porter, mainly to make sure that he wasn’t about to launch into a tirade before she could respond to Commander Teague’s…charming greeting. Satisfied that he was holding his tongue for the moment, Beck forced a wan smile at Teague. “I appreciate your concern about my time, Commander, but I think you’re skipping over a little bit of your itinerary. We have a briefing scheduled for you on our findings thus far, so if you will…”
“We’ve read your science officer’s reports. We don’t have any questions. Frankly, we’d have preferred to have skipped this stop entirely and just gone on to the site itself so that we could get some actual work done, but Starfleet Sciences insisted that we drop by. Please tell me that you’re not going to force us to waste our time any further by listening to some incomplete scan readings and ignorant speculations about the subspace structure from this Porter guy.”
“‘This Porter guy,’ as you call him, is standing right there,” Beck said.
“Yeah. I thought that was probably him. So?”
“So?” Beck shot back, forgetting about Porter’s potential anger for a moment and concentrating on controlling her own.
“So this should be my mission!” Porter shouted. Whoops. Maybe forgetting about his potential anger wasn’t such a good idea. It had gone from potential to actual. “I found the Space Lodge!”
“The residents of Hauser Colony found it,” Teague said.
“I entered it first!”
“Your First Officer was there, and it was already occupied.”
“I did the first investigation and analysis!”
“You were captured and forced to work on an alien machine you knew nothing about. It’s a miracle you didn’t blow the place up.”
“Well…I didn’t,” Porter said, deflating a bit.
“You got anything else,” Teague said impatiently.
“We named it,” Porter replied weakly.
“Your First Officer named. And you’re on record as not liking the name.” Teague turned to Beck. “I think we’re done here. Who do we see about our quarters?”
“Welcome Center. Lower level of the mall,” Beck said, having to use a bit more force to keep the smile on her face.
“Thank you, Captain,” Teague said. With a quick jerk of her head, she signaled her group to follow her, and they all filed out of the room leaving Beck and Porter behind.
“Well,” Beck said.
“Yeah,” Porter said.
“I think I don’t like her.”
“Also, not our finest moment there,” Beck said.
“So…pretend it never happened?”
“Wonderful,” Porter said rolling his eyes as he stood at the entrance of Victoria’s Pub. “They’re here.”
Lieutenant Commander Sean Russell looked over Porter’s shoulder (not a difficult task, considering he was a good head taller than Porter). “Who?”
“The survey team,” Porter muttered.
“Um…weren’t you and the captain pretending that never happened?” Ensign Tina Jones asked.
Russell snorted. “Yeah. And he’s been doing so well at that.”
“I’m pretending,” Porter said.
“You told me about it the second you saw me. And then you went through it again when Tina showed up.”
“Are we getting a table or not?” Porter snapped, stalking forward into the pub and finding a small table in the farthest corner of the establishment away from Commander Teague and friends. It was a bit too small, actually. A two-seater with what resembled dim, romantic lighting, which in the case of Victoria’s meant it was just away from the rest of the ceiling light fixtures. Porter threw himself into one chair as Russell took up the other, making sure that he had a view of the pub patrons. Jones looked between the men, let out a huff, then grabbed another chair from a nearby table and pulled it up beside them.
“Thanks a lot, guys,” she said.
“Sorry,” Porter said distractedly.
“Me too,” Russell said, equally distracted as he sized up the members of the survey team sitting across the pub from them. “So which one’s the mean old hag who crushed your widdle spirits?”
“The human. With the black hair. Commander Teague.”
“Did you get a first name?”
“She didn’t offer it.”
“Maybe I’ll have better luck.”
“Can you flirt with her when I’m not around?” Porter said.
“Fine. Fine. But don’t stay long. You said she heads off to the space hole in the morning, right?”
“Space Lodge,” Jones corrected.
“That whatever was my find,” Porter said. “I should be leading the team. I know more about it than anyone! I’ve been there six times already! Has she? Dammit! Why didn’t I use that?”
“Would it have helped?” Jones asked.
“No…but that’s not the point.”
“How did you get back in there? I thought Starfleet cordoned it off,” Russell said. “Hang on. I know Starfleet cordoned it off. I sent Waits out there with the cordon buoy myself! If he didn’t…”
“He did,” Porter said. “I just went around it.”
“So all those trips to adjust the Hauser Colony sensor array were lies.”
“I adjusted them. Took about five minutes. And then I went to the Space Lodge.”
“The name’s growing on you, isn’t it?” Jones said.
“Yes, it is.”
“It’s a dumb name.”
“I’m going to tell Walter that you said that.”
“I’ve already told him.”
“And I don’t really care,” Russell said. “What are we going to have to do to get the waitress over here?”
“Flash her,” Jones said.
“Good idea,” Russell said, standing and yanking his uniform shirt up. “Hey! I need some service for this!”
“Why did you say that?” Porter asked.
“Sorry. It just came out,” Jones said.
“Leave the smart remarks to the professionals. Otherwise, unfortunate things like this can happen.”
“I’ll try to remember that.”
Russell sat back down. “I got her attention.”
“Thanks,” Porter said flatly.
“You wanted drinks. I’m getting us drinks.”
“I said thanks.”
“I heard your tone.”
“I’m so glad I came out with you two tonight,” Jones said grinning.
“What?” Russell protested.
“I like watching you bicker.”
“We don’t bicker,” Porter said.
“Yes, you do. It’s like being back with my cousins.”
“Well, it’s not like you’ve been around much to enjoy it,” Russell said. “What happened tonight? Did you get ditched?”
“Yeah, where is el Presidente?” Porter asked.
“He had a meeting with his campaign people,” Jones said.
“The election is in three days? What do they think they’re going to do?”
“I don’t know. I stay out of that stuff.”
“Uh huh. But what stuff are you into?” Russell asked with a leer.
“Oh come on! Are you dating him or not?”
“It’s not like that,” Jones said. “And it wouldn’t be a good idea anyway. Not until after the election. The press would go crazy.”
“Did he tell you that?” Porter said.
“I’ve met Joan Redding.”
“The question is withdrawn.”
“You said not until after the election,” Russell said. “That means you’re thinking about it.”
“Yes, I’ve thought about it!”
“And I don’t know,” Jones said. “It’s…complicated.”
“He’s the President,” Porter said.
“For now,” Russell said.
“And he might still be later this week,” Porter said. “I can see how that would be weird.”
“It’s not that,” Jones said. “I mean, you’re right. It is a little weird. But I’m used to him being the President now. But Bradley… He’s Bradley. And I’m never quite sure what that means. He’s always nice to me, but then he’ll do things…”
“Like exterminate a nanite species,” Porter said.
“Or kidnap a teenager,” Russell said.
“Or break into our computer systems.”
“Or try to run the station.”
“Okay!” Jones snapped. “You see my point.”
“But I like him,” Jones continued.
“And that’s the other point,” Porter said. “Can’t help you there, though.”
“I know. I’ll figure it out…if he asks.”
“He hasn’t asked you out yet?”
“…the election. Right,” Porter said.
“What do you mean ‘maybe’?”
“Well…he’s never actually said that he thinks of me in that way.”
“He does,” Russell said. “He rescued you from a giant robot. Trust me, he does.”
“Then we’ll see how it goes,” Jones said, unable to suppress a grin as the waitress approached their table.
“What do you want?” the waitress asked, eying Russell warily.
“What do YOU want?” Russell asked with a wink.
“Never to see your chest again. Are you going to order or what?”
The station was quiet tonight. Not that Beck minded. Sometimes new arrivals, such as the scientific survey team that she was pretending didn’t exist, portended the start of a crisis or lesser forms of chaos. Not so far, though, and Beck was content to keep it that way. She’d taken the evening shift in Ops and now, with that over, she was just taking the long way back to her quarters, enjoying the relative calm of her station.
She felt…content. It wasn’t a word that had occurred to her up until then, but it definitely fit. Sure life on the station would always have its moments of craziness. They were out in the middle of space, so the unexpected was inevitable. But overall she had developed a comfortable routine. She liked her command. She liked her crew. She liked her life. She was just glad she wasn’t a fictional character or else the audience would be complaining about the lack of drama in her existence.
This late in the evening there were few people in the corridors. Beck smiled and nodded at those she did see, occasionally pausing to chat a little. Overall she was having one of those nights when it felt good to be the captain.
But then she got back to her quarters.
As soon as she stepped into the blackness of her living area, she could feel that something was amiss. Someone was there.
Stupid audience and their stupid demands for drama.
“Lights,” she said, tensing for a fight.
As the room illuminated, Beck instantly relaxed. There was someone there all right. Banyon Kovacs was sitting casually on her sofa as though it was the most normal thing in the universe.
“Hi, honey,” he said with a wave.
“You know, that trick would be a lot more impressive if I hadn’t already given you the access code to my quarters,” Beck said, plopping down on the couch beside him.
Kovacs shrugged. “I did what I could. Surprised?”
“Yes,” Beck said as Kovacs wrapped an arm around her. “You could have told me you were coming.”
“But then there’s no surprise.”
“There doesn’t have to be.”
“I’m Starfleet Intel. Surprise and mystery are requirements.”
“Save it for when you’re on duty….You’re not on duty, are you?”
“No. I finished wrapping up the last bits of the Lusenkia Dekelina case, so now H.Q. wants me to lay low for a while before they give me a new assignment.”
“Lay low?” Beck laughed.
“It’s Intel Agent talk.”
“Uh huh. So you decided to lay low here?”
“Can’t think of anyone I’d rather lay with,” Banyon said.
“That’s…really bad. Don’t they teach you agents to smooth talk or something?”
“Nope. I’m self-taught.”
“Fire your instructor,” Beck said, snuggling in closer to him. “How long will you be here?”
“A few days. Maybe a week. Long enough for me to get on your nerves.”
“Or vice versa.”
“True. That one’s far more likely,” Banyon said.
“There’s that smooth talk again.”
“Hey. I’m just full of it.”
“That you are.”
“Like the view?”
“I agree,” Ensign Brendan Shust replied, his eyes not on the vista of stars below them but on his companion, Sergeant Dawn Sheppard of the Federation Marines.
Sheppard laughed. “That’s weak. You know that?”
“You just don’t know how to take a compliment,” Shust said, stretching out a bit. The pair had the Vertigo Lounge, more properly known as the Spacescape Room, to themselves that evening, and Shust had surprised Sheppard with a candle-lit dinner followed by time to just lay on the transparent aluminum floor and enjoy the view of space below them. Sheppard first thought was that it was incredibly corny…and romantic as hell. No one had ever done anything like this for her before. She’d had her misgivings about dating a Starfleet Security officer, but so far, she didn’t have any complaints.
“So all this is just for me, huh?” she said, sliding up closer to Shust.
“Every bit of it.”
“And we aren’t about to get interrupted?” she said, her voice dropping to a sultry whisper in his ear.
“Doors are locked, I took the security monitors offline, and Russell hates this place.” The man had covered his bases. And he’d actually been paying attention when she’d told him about her fantasy to make love under the stars. Well, their view in the Vertigo Lounge was technically over the stars, but Shust’s heart was in the right place.
“Good,” Sheppard said before catching Shust’s earlobe gently between her teeth.
Things from there proceeded quickly. Clothes flew. Bodies entwined.
And suddenly there was a bright light shining on them. Sheppard turned her head until she could see out of the clear floor beneath them and…
She practically threw Shust off of her as she scrambled for her clothes. Below them, the Mongoose, the Federation Marine transport ship, hovered, its cockpit viewport almost touching the bottom of the Vertigo Lounge.
And inside the Mongoose’s cockpit was visible one exceptionally pissed-off Colonel Martin Lazlo. Beside Lazlo in the pilot’s seat, Lieutenant Stephanie Hodges mouthed an “I’m sorry” and buried her head against her console. Lazlo, meanwhile, was in the midst of a full-on tirade. Sheppard couldn’t hear what he was screaming, but the wide movements of his mouth and the violent thrashing of his mustache told her it was nothing good.
The breakfast invitation had been a welcome surprise. Ensign Jones assumed that Bradley would be busy until well after the election, but there he was, comming her moments after her alarm sounded as though he knew she would be up. The meal itself was pleasant, and if Bradley had a trepidation about the upcoming vote, he didn’t show it. Still as she sat with the Federation President talking about her latest experiences as a security officer (a topic Bradley never seemed to tire of) and a few new products that he was thinking of carrying in Dillon’s Supply Depot, Jones found her mind drifting to a larger concern: Where was all of this going?
And if it really was going where she thought it might be going, did she want to go along for the ride?
Anyone dating the President of the Federation was going to be put under a media-powered microscope. Jones had had enough of that after the debate when reporters mobbed her to get her version of what happened between Bradley and the Mathastelbroan in the robot suit. Fortunately that story had died down as people turned their focus to the last weeks of the race, but if she started dating Bradley…
Of course, if he didn’t win, everything would get a whole lot easier on that front.
She couldn’t let the presidency be her sole reason for not entering a relationship with him.
Before she could ponder the idea much more, Bradley’s assistant, Gisele, entered the private dining room located within his living quarters on one of the Dillon Enterprises levels and called him away for a meeting.
“You’ve once again kept me so enthralled that I’ve lost track of the time,” Bradley said to Jones. “You must do it again tomorrow. But for now I’m afraid I have to go.”
“All right,” Jones said as Bradley bowed graciously and followed Gisele out of the dining room.
With Bradley gone, Jones giggled softly. As silly as it sounded sometimes, Jones liked Bradley’s formal style of speech. It was…romantic in its way. She polished off the last of her crepes then showed herself out of Bradley’s quarters. She’d been there enough over the last few weeks that she had become fairly comfortable as a guest there. Not an overnight guest. Not yet. Nothing of that sort had even been suggested.
Then why was she thinking about it?
He was the President. And he’d done all those not nice things. Russell and Porter gave her the list last night. She…
She was trying to talk herself out of what she really wanted.
She wanted to be with Bradley Dillon.
So he was the President and a billionaire. So what? Did that mean she wasn’t good enough for him? Huh? HUH?
No! Damn right it didn’t. She was more than good enough. What kind of person asks a stupid, insulting question like that anyway? She could be in a relationship with Bradley. And if she ended up First Lady, fine. She could handle that, too.
Hang on a second…
“AUGGGGHHHH!” Jones spun around, ready to attack the source of the voice that had yanked her out of her internal monologue.
“Woah!” the Rigellan male she found herself facing exclaimed, leaping back. “Did I scare you? Looks like I did. Good thing I moved. You were ready to take my head off, which would have been something to see with my head being way up here. Not that you couldn’t do it. ‘Course I wouldn’t see much afterwards with you taking my head off and all. Just you leaping into the air, screamin’ ‘Hiyahh,’ and chopping right through my neck.”
“Can I help you?” Jones said, interrupting the tall alien before this got any more graphic.
“Yes, you can. At least I hope you can. You probably have the best chance of anyone. Except maybe Gisele. And I don’t think she likes me. Or maybe his mom. Do you know his mom? I’ve never met her. His parents never come to visit. Isn’t that weird?”
“No. My parents have never come here,” Jones said.
“I’m sorry, but I’ve got to get to my shift. Can we speed this up?”
“Sure thing. You’re dating Mister Dillon, right?”
“Yes. NO! I’m not!” Not yet, Jones added to herself.
“But you’re close.”
“Um…yeah. I guess you could say that.”
“Good enough. I need you to get him to change his mind.”
“Change his mind? About what?”
“But I don’t know anything about your project. I don’t even know who you are.”
“Oh! Names! Right! Doctor Fouklok. Great to meet you,” the Rigellan said, grabbing Jones’s hand and shaking it before pulling her into a quick hug. “And you’re Lucy Collins.”
“Who’s Lucy Collins?”
“Don’t know. Just made it up. Come on. This way,” Fouklok said, wrapping an arm around Jones’s shoulder and walking her down the corridor.
A short walk and even shorter turbolift ride (one floor) later, Fouklok led Jones into a room filled with computer consoles. “Welcome to my lab!” he cackled, rubbing his hands together. “Sorry. I don’t get to do that often enough.”
“I really can’t get involved in this, Doctor Fouklok. I don’t know much about Bradley’s projects, and I can’t tell him what sort of decisions he should make. It’s his business, and he’s done a pretty good job running it so far.”
“This isn’t about the business,” Fouklok said, stepping over to a console where he tapped in a few commands. The figure of a man Jones recognized as the original version of the Starfleet Emergency Medical Hologram appeared in the middle of the room.
“Please state the nature of whatever the fuck you’re whining about now?” the hologram sneered.
“Hey, Doc,” Fouklok said. “This is the lady I told you about. She’s going to help us.”
“I still don’t understand,” Jones said. “What do you expect me to do?”
“Save the Doc.”
“From who? Bradley?”
Fouklok nodded as he looked at the hologram. “He wants the project dead…literally.”
“…FLAGRANT DISREGARD FOR THAT UNIFORM AND ALL THAT IT STANDS FOR!”
Lazlo had been shouting non-stop for almost five minutes now, a reaction that Sheppard had expected. What she didn’t expect was that he was going to spend the morning after her “offense” shouting at her in front of the whole platoon. Couldn’t he just scream at her in the privacy of his office?
“YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN WHAT IT MEANS TO BE MARINES! LOOK AT YOU! YOU SPEND YOUR NIGHTS SHOPPING, WANDERING AIMLESSLY, MOONING OVER STARFLEETERS, PLAYING CROQUET!”
Okay. She was with him right up until the croquet bit. She’d never played croquet with Shust…or anyone else for that matter. She didn’t even know how to play croquet.
Suddenly, Sheppard realized something. Lazlo was yelling at everyone.
Now that wasn’t so bad.
“NO MORE! AS OF THIS MOMENT, YOU ARE CONFINED TO THIS DECK UNLESS I SAY OTHERWISE. FROM NOW ON YOU SLEEP, EAT, AND BREATHE THE CORPS. I SWEAR YOU WILL BE MARINES AGAIN BY THE TIME I’M DONE WITH YOU! DISMISSED!”
Really it seemed that Lazlo dismissed himself as he stormed out of the rec room leaving his stunned platoon in his wake, many of whom were now looking to Lieutenant Colonel Dan O’Neal for some kind of guidance.
“You heard the Colonel,” was all O’Neal would mutter as he rushed out the door.
So much for the guidance.
“Dead, huh?” Captain Beck said, suppressing a yawn and, in the process, giving off the impression that she was in pain somehow.
“That’s what Doctor Fouklok said,” Ensign Jones replied. “But are you okay, Captain?”
“I’m fine. Sorry. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night,” Beck replied, leaning against the docking control console in Ops. “And this Fouklok wanted you to talk Bradley out of it.”
“Yes, ma’am. But…then I thought about it,” Jones said. Her voice was filled with a sadness that Beck didn’t think she’d ever heard from Jones before. “And I knew that Bradley wouldn’t listen. I know he’d be very nice to me about it, but then he’d just go and delete the Doc anyway.”
“You’re just figuring this out,” Porter said.
“Craig,” Beck warned.
“Sorry. I could go, if you want to talk in private.”
“What about me?” Lieutenant Commander Russell said from tactical.
“You’re not coming with me.”
“Nobody’s going anywhere,” Beck said. “Go on, Tina.”
“If Doctor Fouklok is right and this hologram is alive…”
“Did it seem sentient to you?”
“Yes. I guess so. And mean.”
“So this scientist is designing an unfriendly medical hologram that may or may not have gained sentience, and Bradley, realizing that this is an incredibly bad product idea, wants to cancel the project. I’m not getting the problem here,” Porter said with more than a hint of impatience in his voice.
“No!” Jones said. She took a deep breath. “Bradley made friends with the holographic doctor from the USS Voyager so that he could find out what really happened on the ship and hopefully get something to use against Admiral Janeway. He had Doctor Fouklok work on a way to copy what the Doctor knew without copying the Doctor’s entire program because he didn’t want to have another sentient hologram running around. Fouklok thought he figured out how to do it, so during one of the Doctor’s visits to the station to see Bradley, they put a relay device under the Doctor’s chair, which sent what they thought was just the Doctor’s knowledge into a database. Bradley took the information with him to the debate and used it to beat the crap out of Janeway. But then Fouklok discovered that they’d gotten a bit more than just the Doctor’s knowledge. There was enough code that the Doctor’s program started rebuilding itself. First it could only move around the systems in Fouklok’s lab, but gradually it got together enough to be a full-fledged hologram like the original Voyager doctor. As for why he’s mean, you know how when you get really mad at somebody and can’t show it, you just try to bury the feelings in your head. Well, the Doctor’s a program, so those feelings are actual bits and bites. They had to go somewhere, so there was like a repository in the Doctor’s program for all the things he couldn’t express. At least I think I’m explaining that right. The point is that Doc is made from the Voyager Doctor and he’s sentient and we can’t let Bradley kill him!”
Jones, almost doubled over from lack of air at this point, finally stopped and took another huge breath.
Ops was silent for several moments.
“Oh,” Beck said finally.
“What are we going to do?” Jones asked.
“What do you mean, what are we going to do?” Russell said, coming out from behind his station. “Bradley’s holding a Federation citizen. That’s kidnapping at the very least. We go in there and we get him out.”
“This isn’t Tiffany Beecher,” Beck said.
“I know. We know where the victim is being held this time.”
“Bradley isn’t going to just let us go waltzing around Dillon Enterprises. We’re going to need a warrant,” Beck said.
“You’re the station commander.”
“And he’s the president. This one goes a bit higher than me.”
“You heard Tina.”
“And all she has is the story from this Doctor Fouklok,” Beck said. “We don’t have any actual evidence.”
Russell deflated. “I know, but… We can’t just sit here. We’ve done too much of that with him.”
“We’re not just going to sit here. If we can’t go in, we’re getting the hologram out. Porter, Bradley’s done enough poking around in our computer systems. Let’s get into his…”
Porter started to protest, “But…”
“Oh, just give it up, Craig!” Beck said. “We all know you’re planning to stow away on the survey ship, so you can get back to the Space Lodge!”
“I…,” Porter gaped. “Er…I wasn’t?”
“Okay, I was. Was it that easy to figure out?”
“You’ve been looking for an excuse to get out of Ops ever since your shift started.”
“Mental note. Be more subtle when planning naughtiness,” Porter said.
“We’ll get you out there to pester the survey team later. We owe Teague that much,” Beck said. “But now…”
“Working on it,” Porter said. “But I don’t suppose Fouklok could help from his side.”
“He said the Dillon Enterprises systems are very secure. He can only work on his projects in his lab. Nobody moves data around without going through a lot of hoops. Bradley’s about the only person with full access,” Jones replied. “Maybe we should go back to the ‘me talking to him’ plan.”
“No. You did the right thing coming to us,” Beck said. “We’ll figure out a way to get the hologram.”
“But what about Bradley?” Jones asked. “I don’t agree with what he’s doing, but he’s not an evil man.”
Beck sighed. “I know, Tina. I don’t have an answer for you. I’m sorry.”
“I’ll talk to him if you need me to. It might work.”
“I’ll let you know. Thanks. Dismissed.”
Jones nodded and headed into the turbolift.
“Um…is she using a new definition of evil because I’m thinking some of Bradley’s behavior qualifies,” Russell said once Jones was gone.
“The key word there is ‘some,’” Beck replied. “There are positives to him. And he did save her life.”
“So she’s blinded to the evil. Great.”
“I wouldn’t say that he’s evil,” Porter said. “Self-centered, self-serving, and self-absorbed, sure. But evil? Nah.”
“I’m sure he’d appreciate that you leapt to his defense,” Beck said.
“Please don’t tell him. I really don’t want to mysteriously disappear.”
“See,” Russell said. “Evil.”
Despite all the wonders of 24th century medicine, no one yet had figured out how to keep the body in good physical shape without exercise. Granted the calorie controls built in replicators to ensure that that chocolate brownie sundae you just ordered didn’t have the same impact that it did in centuries past helped, but Starfleet officers still had to put in the time to keep themselves ready to take on the next threat the galaxy threw at them. Gasping for air while battling alien baddies was just embarrassing.
A lot of officers found ways to exercise without feeling like they were exercising. Captain Beck spent a lot of time on the racquetball court. Porter and Russell had their holodeck programs. Commander Walter Morales, meanwhile, took care of himself the old-fashioned way: by hitting the gym.
It wasn’t that he particularly enjoyed lifting weights and the like, but he found that the repetitiveness of it allowed his mind to wander. It was almost like meditation in its way, and he’d returned to his quarters with more than one idea for a new painting over the years. And he never had to worry about crowds. Most days he had the gym, which was located near the top of the lower saucer, nearly to himself.
This afternoon he actually had the place completely to himself, which was just fine. He’d have a relaxing workout, grab a shower, then get ready for the evening shift.
For about twenty minutes, everything went according to Morales’s plan, but then he heard someone enter the gym. This still wasn’t a problem. It only sounded like one person, and as long as whoever it was didn’t try to make conversation, Morales would be able to continue undisturbed.
That theory lasted for approximately five more seconds until the newcomer, whom Morales recognized as one of Russell’s security officers, Ensign Shust, stepped right into Morales’s field of view.
“Commander,” Shust said.
“Ensign,” Morales replied with a curt nod as he continued his shoulder press repetitions, hoping that Shust was just feeling some obligation to greet his First Officer.
“Have you heard from your girlfriend today?”
No such luck. Shust evidently was going to try to make conversation. Wait. What did he just ask?
“Excuse me? Isn’t that a bit personal?”
“Er…I don’t think so. Is it?”
“You asked me about my girlfriend. Considering this is the first time I think you and I have ever had a conversation, yeah, I think it’s a little personal.”
“Sorry, sir. It’s just…you’re dating a marine.”
“So am I. Dawn Sheppard.”
“Thank you, sir,” Shust said brightly. “Same to you. So have you heard from her today?”
Morales briefly thought about objecting again. He could. It was certainly within his rights. He could even order Shust to go away, if he wanted to. At one point in his life, he wouldn’t have even considered that because it might make the crew think he wasn’t a nice person. Now he knew that being in command occasionally required being the bad guy.
But Shust was asking a simple enough question. Maybe there was even a point to it.
“No. I haven’t heard from Steph today.”
“I haven’t heard from Dawn either,” Shust said.
“Sorry to hear that.”
“Which is weird, since we were supposed to get together for lunch,” Shust continued without acknowledging that Morales had even spoken. “I tried to comm her, but I got that ‘You are not authorized to access Federation Marine comm channels’ message they always have on during the day.”
“Maybe they’re busy.”
“But they’re still on the station, aren’t they?”
“I think so. I haven’t been in Ops since the morning briefing, but I didn’t hear anything about a scheduled departure.”
“Okay. Good. I was just worried. Dawn’s probably just in trouble with Colonel Lazlo. He really didn’t look happy when he interrupted us last night.”
“It wasn’t funny,” Shust said. “If there hadn’t been two layers of transparent aluminum between us and him, I think he might have killed me.”
“I wasn’t laughing at you. Believe me. I’ve been there. Lazlo has beamed Steph right out of my quarters before.”
“Well, it’s a good thing he didn’t do that. Dawn…wasn’t wearing much.”
“Neither was Steph,” Morales said laughing again. “I probably shouldn’t have told you that.”
“It’s okay, sir. I won’t tell anyone.”
“I’d appreciate that. And don’t worry about it. Knowing Lazlo, he’s probably got her running extra laps with her full gear on or something. She’ll comm you when she can.”
Sheppard had been running all right. All of the marines had. Except for Lazlo, of course. He just stood in the corridor outside of his office suite watching his troops do lap after lap after lap around the marine’s deck in full gear (Not just full gear. Full cold-weather gear. ) and yelling at each and every one as they passed.
Finally, after even the strongest of them had been reduced to a hunched-over stumble, Lazlo called it a day with a promise that tomorrow they would wake up feeling like marines again.
Sheppard wasn’t sure what that meant. She wasn’t even sure if she’d wake up at all after what she’d just been through. Slipping off her pack as soon as she was through the door of the quarters she shared with Sergeant Anerasiss, Sheppard collapsed face-first onto her bed and decided that not moving was really a good thing.
Anerasiss, a normally-gung-ho Caitian, slunk in a short time later, practically crawling under the weight of her pack. She moaned slightly from the effort of shedding her pack, then hit her own bed on the opposite side of the room.
“Ow,” she said.
“Yeah,” Sheppard muttered before letting sleep take her.
Two hours later, she regained consciousness. It wasn’t her first choice, but she realized two things. One, she really needed to pee. And two, she was incredibly thirsty. Contradictory feelings to be sure, but they were enough to force her to drag herself out of bed.
By the time she finished her business and downed several glasses of water, her stomach informed her that it not only hadn’t had any lunch, but it had used any and all energy reserves provided by breakfast. Really she just wanted to go back to bed, but she knew she’d sleep even better with a pleasantly-full belly.
At least some part of her deserved to feel decent, so she shuffled out of her quarters down to the mess hall. Not surprisingly, the place was sparsely-populated. Most of her comrades were likely in deep comas at the moment, which was exactly where she planned to be once she’d been properly fed.
Across the room, Corporal Copeland was chattering away at Lieutenant Stephanie Hodges, who seemed to be struggling mightily not to collapse into the plate of steak and mashed potatoes sitting in front of her. After this many years of being stationed together, Sheppard of course knew and was friendly enough with Hodges, but they weren’t close. Still, after what had happened, Sheppard felt the need to go sit with her.
“Hey,” Hodges said as Sheppard sat down.
“Hi,” Sheppard said. “Sorry about this.”
“Not your fault.”
“You were there. It’s my fault.”
“Nah. This was coming. One of us was going to push Lazlo too far sooner or later. I’m just surprised it wasn’t me,” Hodges said.
“How long do you think he’s going to keep this up?”
“The drills? A day or two.”
“Keeping us here.”
“Oh. I don’t know. We’ll have to see.”
“Don’t you care? You’ve got someone out there, too.”
“Yeah, but I’m not about to…” She trailed off as the mess hall doors opened and Lieutenant Colonel O’Neal entered.
“Great,” Sheppard said. “Lazlo sent us a babysitter.”
“Maybe,” Hodges replied, watching O’Neal. He did seem more interested in who was there than in getting himself something to eat. Finally, his eyes locked onto Hodges and Sheppard, and he headed directly toward their table.
“Uh oh,” Sheppard said.
“What’s he doing?” Hodges asked.
“Maybe he wants to eat with us,” Copeland said.
“That usually involves food,” Hodges said as O’Neal arrived.
“Lieutenant. Sergeant,” O’Neal said by way of greeting as he sat down.
“Evening, Lieutenant Colonel, sir,” Copeland said.
“Copeland,” O’Neal said without looking at the corporal.
“If you’re here to blast Dawn over what happened today, don’t,” Hodges said. “Okay, sir?”
“It wasn’t her fault. This was coming,” O’Neal said.
“See. What’d I tell you?” Hodges said to Sheppard.
“But it’s ending now,” O’Neal continued.
Hodges’ head whipped back to O’Neal. “Whahuh?”
“The Colonel has taken this too far. If it was about marine discipline, fine. I’m all for discipline. But it’s not about that anymore. This is about his ego. He’s holding us all captive here.”
“Captive?” Copeland squeaked. “We’re prisoners?”
“No,” Hodges said. “We can leave. It would just mean disobeying orders.”
“Actually you can’t,” O’Neal said. “When the station was renovated, the Colonel insisted that the Federation Marines have some control over this deck. From his office, he can shut down comm access and prevent turbolifts from stopping here. And that’s what he’s done. All because he can’t stand the fact that we have lives beyond the Corps.”
“Okay. You’re possibly right about the ego thing, but I don’t see how we can do anything about it,” Hodges said.
“Do you want to let that control freak continue running over us?”
“Well…he’s kind of in control. That’s his job.”
“And I thought you’d be the first one in line to stand up to him.”
“What’d you have in mind?” Sheppard said.
“That depends on how many people agree with us.”
“I can think of a few who will.”
“Get them. And then we’ll talk.”
“Oh!” Copeland said excitedly. “Can I agree with you?”
“Um…sure,” O’Neal said as Sheppard left to gather up the troops.
“Did I screw up the replicator or something?” Banyon Kovacs asked as he sat across from Beck at the dining table in her quarters.
Beck stopped pushing food around her plate with her fork and smiled at Kovacs. “Sorry,” she said. “Just had some things on my mind.”
“Well, you do run an entire space station. I imagine that happens sometimes. Anything you feel like talking about? I can’t promise to get it all, but I can nod understandingly with the best of them.”
“It’s kind of a secret.”
“Hey. I’m a secret agent.”
“No. You’re a Starfleet Intelligence agent. You gather information, which, in this case, is exactly what I don’t want to happen.”
“I’m not on the clock. Tell me anything.”
“You sure you want me to?” Beck asked.
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You might not want to know this.”
“Just tell me, Lisa.”
“We think President Dillon may have copied Voyager’s EMH without the Doctor’s knowledge, used the information from the copy to crush Janeway at the debate, and now he’s going to delete the copy.”
“And I’m guessing the copy’s sentient.”
“We think so.”
“Wow. That’s…impressively ruthless.”
“That’s one way to put it. And now while my crew is working to find a way to get the hologram out of the Dillon Enterprises computer system, I’m slipping off to have secret dinners.”
“Um…and why is this secret again?”
Beck stared back at Kovacs. “Your job maybe. I thought a trip to the food court might blow your cover.”
“I kind of figured my cover was blown last time I was here. With your command crew at least. So you didn’t tell them about me?”
“Not specifically. Russell just assumed that Lusenkia was nuts and imagined that you and I had a relationship. Since he never asked me about it, I decided to keep my private life private,” Beck said.
“That’s your right. You don’t have to, though. I could meet them. Maybe lend a hand.”
“You want to help us?”
“Well, you aren’t getting into the Dillon Enterprises computer system. I can tell you that right now. But I might be able to slip in to where the actual machine holding the hologram is and transport it out of there.”
“Are you crazy? If they find out you’re there…”
“I’ll have a cover identity. Just give me until the morning to put some documents together. It’s the least I can do to pay you back.”
“Pay me back? For what?”
Kovacs grinned. “We’ll just have to see what you come up with, now won’t we?”
Things were quiet, as expected. Colonel Martin Lazlo was fairly certain that he’d pushed each and every one of his marines well past the point of exhaustion. They were all useless, unconscious in their bunks. He’d worn them down for a greater good, though. As they slept, he hoped the overall lesson of the day was getting through to them:
When you’re in the Corps, you’re life is the Corps.
Really it wasn’t that hard of a lesson to learn.
Just to be certain, though, he was going to teach it to them again in the morning.
The thought put a smile on his face as he strolled along the main corridor circling the marine deck.
The smile abruptly disappeared as he spotted Sergeant Anerasiss coming toward him from the opposite direction. Now he didn’t have anything in particular against Anerasiss. If anything, the Caitian was one of the better members of his platoon. But Lazlo wouldn’t have been happy to see any of his marines at that particular moment. They were all supposed to be unconscious!
“Good evening, Colonel,” Anerasiss said.
“What are you doing out of your bunk?” Lazlo demanded.
“Had to walk. Legs were stiffening, sir.”
Lazlo nodded. Made sense. Anerasiss’ felinoid form was fast, but there were evidently drawbacks. She was a sprinter and not a distance runner.
“Carry on,” Lazlo said, continuing down the corridor.
“May I walk with you, sir.”
Lazlo stopped. “Uh…why?”
“I was hoping… I mean I wanted to ask. What made you become a marine, sir?”
“So you want my story, eh?” Lazlo said understanding. “What made me devote my life to the Corps? Looking for inspiration, Sergeant?”
“Yes, sir. Your passion for it is…strong.”
“Strong isn’t a strong enough word for it. But to understand that, you have to understand my family. My mother was part of the platoon that liberated Hyberia Two from the Breen. My father and a few others had been holed up for days, fighting back against the Breen when they could. They’d been discovered, though, and were about to be taken into custody or killed. But then Mom and her squad arrived. Dad says she was a vision, blasting through the Breen lines and leaving a swath of death in her wake that will never be rivaled. He was in love with her from that very moment.”
Lazlo continued on, strolling down the hall and relaying his tale as Anerasiss did her best to keep her pained and stiff legs moving beside him. Engrossed as he was in his story, he didn’t notice the lone figure dashing out from a side junction and racing off in the opposite direction.
(In all honesty, it was more of a wincing hobble, but isn’t the action more exciting with words like “dashing” and “racing”?)
Sergeant Sheppard, the dasher (Fine. Hobbler.) in question, made her way past the recreation room used for morning formation and Lazlo’s office suite until she reached the docking bay holding the marine’s transport ship, the USS Mongoose, and darted inside.
Lazlo may have shut off comms on the deck, but, if Lieutenant Colonel O’Neal was right, that wouldn’t effect the Mongoose’s comm array. And if that were true, they would be able to comm for help.
Comm for help. That idea alone would be enough to send Lazlo into a seizure. In his mind, marines didn’t call for help.
Sheppard was more of a realist. Self-sufficiency was great and all, but sometimes situations warranted a request for outside assistance.
Safely hidden in the Mongoose’s cockpit, she did just that.
“Mongoose to Ensign Shust. Shust! Brendan!”
“Unnnh,” a tired voice groaned on the other end of the comm. “Whayouwant?”
“What are you doing asleep? It’s like 2100 hours.”
“Who is this?”
“It’s me! Dawn!”
“Dawn!” Shust exclaimed, instantly perking up. “Why are you comming me from the Mongoose? Did your platoon leave?”
“No. We can’t leave. Lazlo has gone crazy. He’s holding us all prisoner up here. You’ve got to help us.”
“Me? What can I do?”
“Override the turbolift lockout for this deck.”
“But I don’t have… Ha! I’ll take care of it! Just stay there! I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Shust out!”
Sheppard couldn’t help but smile as she settled into the pilot’s seat to wait. She knew she could count on Shust. He’d find a way to get the turbolifts running again. Now she just had to hope that Lazlo didn’t decide to check out the Mongoose before Shust commed her back.
People didn’t often come bursting out of the turbolift into Ops unless there was a crisis. And usually if there was a crisis, the people in Ops were aware of it, which meant Morales was a wee bit surprised when Ensign Shust did the aforementioned turbolift bursting…outing…into Ops….oh never mind. Shust was there and panting (which was also surprising considering that turbolift rides usually didn’t require a lot of exertion).
Shust ran up to Morales, grabbing him by the shoulders. “I need…to talk…to you.”
“You are,” Morales said. “And we have this comm system that would have let you do it from the comfort of…wherever you were before you came up here.”
“It’s private. About our friends,” Shust said, winking.
“What are you talking about?”
Shust yanked Morales around the turbolift shaft toward the unoccupied Ops conference room and quickly filled him in on the situation. “Lazlo crazy. Marines prisoner. Must rescue!” Morales stared back at him confused. Maybe that was a little bit too fast.
Shust backed up and gave the longer version of his conversation with Sheppard, which we won’t repeat here, since you just read it a bit before this. And if you didn’t, well, shame on you. What are you doing jumping to this point in the story?
“We’ve got to help them,” Morales said, echoing Shust’s feelings about the situation.
“We’re in Ops. I can do just about anything from up here,” Morales said, striding back to the command area where Lieutenant Mason was manning the Operations/Science console. “Mason, are you reading a lockout on the turbolifts from Deck 38?”
“Yes, sir,” Mason said. “It looks like Colonel Lazlo…”
“Override it,” Morales said, interrupting him.
“Aye, sir. Lockout overridden.”
“Thank you!” Shust said, racing for the turbolift. “I’ve got to get back and comm Dawn.”
“Um…can’t you do that from here?” Morales asked.
Shust thought about this for a second. “Yeah. I could. Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it,” Morales said as Shust ran back around the turbolift shaft to contact Sheppard.
A few minutes later, Sheppard slipped back into the mess hall where Lieutenant Colonel O’Neal and several other marines, including Stephanie Hodges, were waiting.
“We’re a go,” Sheppard reported. “Commander Morales ordered an override of Lazlo’s lockout. I can’t imagine why,” she added to Hodges.
“That’s my, Walter,” Hodges replied flatly.
“What about the Colonel?” O’Neal asked.
“Anerasiss is still with him, but I’m not sure how much longer she can hold out. If we’re going to move, we have to move fast,” Sheppard said.
“All right. Sheppard, watch for Lazlo’s next pass around the deck. Once he’s gone, we move. Teams of four. Get to a turbolift and get to the mall level. No arguments about destinations. You can spread out from there to where you want to go, but be back in your bunks by 0400. We should be able to get five teams out before Lazlo gets too close again. We just have to hope that Anerasiss can make it for another couple of laps. Go Sheppard.”
Sheppard nodded and ducked back out into the corridor to watch for Lazlo. O’Neal, meanwhile, approached Hodges.
“Are we going to have a problem?” he asked.
“You don’t seem real into the plan.”
“I’m not into getting busted back down to private.”
“That’s not going to happen.”
“Okay. You folks have fun.”
“What are you going to be doing?” O’Neal demanded.
“Going to bed. Walter’s in Ops until well after my bedtime, so I’m going to catch up on my sleep.”
“Your secret’s safe with me. I’ll stay here until you’re all gone and hope it all goes according to your cunning plan.”
Sheppard poked her head back into the mess hall. “All clear.”
O’Neal didn’t take his eyes off of Hodges. “Sheppard, Kintasa, Copeland, J’zsahn. Go!”
They were out! They were free! Holodeck appointments could be kept. Shopping and hover skating could ensue.
And for Sergeant Sheppard, a date could be kept.
The doors to Shust’s quarters whooshed open almost before the sound of his door chime faded from the air.
“Hey there,” he said, trying to sound nonchalant and failing miserably.
“Am I too late for lunch?” Sheppard asked.
“Never. Come on in,” Shust replied, stepping aside. “Have a seat, and I’ll get us something. Unless you want to go out.”
“Let’s order in. Earthly Eats sounds great,” Sheppard said, taking a seat on the sofa.
“You got it,” Shust said, stepping over to his comm screen. “What are you in the mood…”
Shust was cut off by the sound of snoring. He spun around and saw Sheppard slumped over.
She didn’t budge.
“Well, there’s always breakfast,” Shust muttered.
The comm system on the marine deck barked to life.
“WAKE UP!” Lazlo’s voice boomed. “THE CORPS DOES NOT SLEEP IN! FORMATION IN FIVE MINUTES! MOVE!”
Marines scrambled from their bunks to obey the order.
The marines that were there anyway.
Across the station, other marines slept. On Shust’s sofa. Under a tree in the arboretum. On a bench in Starfleet Square Mall.
And about five minutes later, Lazlo found out about it.
A raging shout unlike any ever uttered by a human echoed across the station, passing through the decks as though the various bits of metal and noise-reducing insulation weren’t even there. The few, the proud, the groggy of the marines actually in Lazlo’s presence when this scream was created said that in that moment, the Colonel became more than a man. He became a mouth. A monstrous mouth with powered by seemingly-inexhaustible lungs. It was a sight to behold.
And really painful on the ears.
“Did you hear something this morning?” Lieutenant Commander Porter asked as he and Russell headed into the Ops conference room for the morning briefing.
“Kind of a roaring sound?”
“Yeah. It woke me up.”
“Me too. Any idea what it was?”
“Not a clue.”
“Isn’t that the kind of thing we should investigate?”
“Nah. If it was important, we would have heard about it by now,” Porter said, settling into his chair across from Ensign Tina Jones. It took him a second, but he realized something was a bit off.
“Did you get promoted again or something?” he asked Jones.
“You haven’t been a staff-meeting-attending kind of person since you moved to Security, but here you are. Attending.”
“Captain Beck told me to come,” Jones said shrugging as Commander Morales and Dr. Diantha arrived.
Captain Beck herself entered the room a short time after that with an unfamiliar man in tow. “Let’s do the short version this morning,” she said, taking her seat at the head of the table as her companion took a chair to her right. “Everything running okay?”
She got a variety of assents and head nods in response.
“Good. Moving on. Porter, any progress with the Dillon Enterprises computer?”
“No. I have no idea who handles his system security, but it’s incredibly good. And vindictive. After I tried to breach their systems, some automated system launched attacks against ours. I spent the evening cleaning out our stuff instead of probing his. I can try again today, but I’m going to have to really cover my tracks first. Otherwise the same thing’s going to happen again.”
“We’re going to try something different,” Beck said turning to the man she brought. “This is Banyon Kovacs. He’s…” Beck paused for a moment. Did she keep this strictly professional? These were her friends here. She could tell then that Kovacs was a bit more than just Starfleet Intel. But what to call him?
“Your boyfriend,” Doctor Diantha stated before Beck had a chance to come to a conclusion.
“Well, she hasn’t used that term yet,” Kovacs said.
“Ah. So you are just engaging in casual intercourse then. The semantics are hardly relevant.”
“I’ve seen you before,” Russell said. “But I thought your name was Albert.”
“Long story,” Beck said.
“I’m Starfleet Intel. I was undercover,” Kovacs said.
“Seemed pretty short to me,” Porter remarked.
“Okay then. His name is Banyon Kovacs. He is with Starfleet Intelligence. And I do have a personal relationship with him. Now that we’ve established all that, let’s move on. Banyon, this is my command crew. The tactless one at the other end of the table is Doctor Diantha. Our Chief of Security, Lieutenant Commander Sean Russell, you’ve met. Next is Commander Walter Morales, my First Officer. Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter, Science and Operations Officer, and Ensign Tina Jones, who is here because…”
“She’s dating the President,” Kovacs said.
“We’re just friends!” Jones said.
“Hopefully close friends. I’m going to need you,” Kovacs said.
“Mister Kovacs is going into Dillon Enterprises to get the hologram,” Beck said.
“Didn’t we decide yesterday that we needed a warrant for that kind of thing?” Porter asked.
“If we were doing this officially, yes.”
“But he’s Starfleet Intel,” Russell said. “If they’re involved…”
“It’s a personal favor,” Kovacs said.
“And probably an illegal one,” Beck said. “I’ll be up front here. We’re talking about breaking and entering and theft.”
“You can’t steal a sentient being, can you?” Jones said. “It’d be more like kidnapping, but in this case we’re rescuing him.”
“Holographic sentience and rights are still a dicey subject in Federation legal circles,” Beck said. “Voyager’s Doctor is one thing, but does an imperfect copy of him have the same standing? I don’t know. But I’m not going to sit around here arguing about it. Mister Kovacs has created a false identity as a Dillon Enterprises researcher that should get him into the complex. Russell, you’ll need to give him authorization to exit the turbolift on those levels. Diantha, I want a subcutaneous transponder implanted. Porter, once he’s in, he’s going to need some way to get the hologram out. Preferably something that doesn’t look like it stores data. Check with Starfleet to see if you can find out the size of the Doctor’s program to give you some idea of what kind of capacity you’re going to need. As long as nothing’s changed since yesterday, Bradley doesn’t know this hologram still exists, and with the election tomorrow, he’ll hopefully be well-occupied. Let’s aim for 2000 hours. That way maybe the rest of Bradley’s staff will be at dinner or gone back to their quarters while we get this done. Dismissed.”
Strategic planning required that the planner take all factors into account when creating said strategy. One of the most vital of these factors is the human factor. Lieutenant Colonel O’Neal thought he had done well in this regard. He’d predicted Colonel Lazlo’s moments and used the Colonel’s personality tendencies to create a distraction. What he’d not paid enough attention to, he now realized, was closely tied to the human factor in this instance, and that was the fatigue factor.
So while the plan was successful in its short term goals (the marines who wanted to get out did indeed get out), the longer term goal (non-detection) had been a spectacular failure.
And now, as the planner, O’Neal was paying the price.
He stood at attention in the middle of Lazlo’s office as the Colonel circled him.
“WHEN DID YOU LOSE YOUR DAMN MIND?” Lazlo shouted, his voice now actually a bit hoarse from all the screaming he’d done over the last couple of days. “You are a lieutenant colonel in the FEDERATION MARINES! You are second only to ME on this station. And you… YOU… WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?”
O’Neal knew that the question was rhetorical. He was supposed to just stand there, ramrod straight, until Lazlo yelled himself out. But he couldn’t do it any more. Lazlo was right. O’Neal was second only to the Colonel, which meant if anyone was going to do something about Lazlo, it was going to have to be him.
“You were out of line,” O’Neal said.
Lazlo literally almost stumbled over himself, surprised this his subordinate had dared to speak. “WHAT?”
“You were out of line!” O’Neal repeated. “Serving in the Federation Marines should be an honor, but you’ve turned it into a prison sentence. The people out there have a job to do, and they do it! Damn well as far as I’m concerned. That does not mean that you own them body and soul.”
“That’s what the Corps is, O’Neal. It is your body. It is your soul! IT IS YOUR LIFE! And if it’s not, you’re in the wrong line of work!”
“Maybe I am!” O’Neal shot back. “And if keep pushing that attitude, I guarantee you that a lot of good marines are going to start feeling the same way.”
“You’ve gotten soft,” Lazlo spat. “You all have. I! WILL NOT! ALLOW THAT! TO CONTINUE!”
“You can’t reshape these people into your own image.”
“Oh I can and I will. I am a Marine! If they ever hope to be worthy of that name, they will be like me. I AM THE CORPS!” Lazlo said, standing right in O’Neal face.
“I am not going to become you.”
“You’d better think real hard before you decide that, O’Neal.”
O’Neal glared back at Lazlo for a moment, then spun on his heel and marched out the door.
Lazlo could hear the marines running by out in the corridor. It was the sound of order. The sound of discipline. Something O’Neal and many of the others had evidently forgotten. Lazlo would remind them, though.
He sat back down at his desk. A new training regime was in order. Something more intense. Something that would leave his troops with nothing but the Corps. No matter what it took he would break them down and rebuild them as proper marines.
No matter what.
He was just another Dillon Enterprises employee walking down the corridor, padd in hand as he headed to his destination. Starfleet Intel training insisted on the padd. As long as you’re holding a padd and walk like you’re going somewhere important, you can get into just about anywhere.
Dillon Enterprises wasn’t just anywhere, though. And Banyon Kovacs had no intention of pushing his luck. Despite the confident front he’d put up for Lisa Beck and her staff, this was a bit above his usual undercover assignments. Even when he was up against the Orion Syndicate back on Sargonis when he first met Beck, he was only there for a bowling trophy. And if he was really honest with himself, he knew that he would have been killed there if Beck hadn’t interceded.
He wasn’t big on getting killed. Or hurt. Or anything else bad.
So this was going to be quick. Get in. Get the hologram. Get out.
Following the directions Ensign Jones gave him, Kovacs made his way to the lab where Jones had seen the hologram. After checking to make sure no one was coming either way in the corridor, he stepped through the doors.
At least that was the plan.
Would have been nice if they’d actually opened.
He hit them with a dull thud, almost knocking the padd out of his hand.
“Uhh…hang on a second!” a voice called from inside. The voice said something else, but it was muffled, then a few moments later the doors opened revealing a Rigellan male with a broad smile plastered across his face. “What can I do for you?” he asked.
“Doctor Fouklok,” Kovacs said.
“Yep. Sure am. Can I help you?”
“I think so,” Kovacs said, pushing Fouklok back into the lab and allowing the doors to close behind them. “Where’s the hologram?”
“We don’t have time for this. Captain Beck sent me. We’re going to get him out of here.”
“How?” Fouklok asked. “Any unauthorized attempt to remove data from a Dillon Enterprises computer system will be detected.”
“Not this time. We’ve made our device completely undetectable.”
“Oh. In that case…computer, activate the Doc.”
Banyon moved to protest. “No, I don’t…”
Too late. The bald figure of the holographic doctor appeared in the center of the room.
“You just shut me down! This better be good!” the hologram snapped.
“It is, Doc! It is,” Fouklok said. “He’s here to rescue you!”
Doc snorted. “Do I look like a damsel in distress to you?”
“You aren’t going to look like much of anything if you don’t get into my pants,” Kovacs said.
Doc stared at Kovacs blankly for a few moments then looked to Fouklok, who just shrugged.
“My pants are lined with data storage, okay?” Kovacs said. “Do you think I could just waltz you out of here in a padd?”
“Then why do you have the padd?” Doc said.
“Do you want to be deleted?” Kovacs said.
“Let someone try.”
“Now now, Doc. Let’s not get cranky,” Fouklok said. “This nice guy is here to help. I’m going to transfer your program now, okay?”
“I’d better not wake up in some mine somewhere,” Doc said.
“No mines. I promise.” Fouklok turned to Kovacs. “You promise, too, right?”
“Uh…yeah. No mines. And you won’t be a mime either. Or a mouse. Just get in the damn pants.”
“Fine,” Doc said, crossing his arms and scowling before he vanished.
Fouklok looked at Kovacs expectantly.
“What?” Kovacs said.
“Um…the data transfer? Do you have to take your pants off first?”
“No,” Kovacs muttered, yanking a data transfer cable out of his fly. This had to be Porter’s idea of a joke.
“This will just take a minute,” Fouklok said, taking the cable from Kovacs and plugging it into his console.
How long had he been sitting at his desk staring at a blank screen? Designing this new training regime should have been easy. It wasn’t. But why?
Then Colonel Lazlo realized the truth.
No matter what he did in training, it wouldn’t address the real problem.
Waystation was the problem.
How could his marines truly immerse themselves in the Corps when they could leave every evening to cavort with civilians or worse, Starfleet? And last night had proven that he couldn’t trust his platoon to stay on the marines’ deck. If they wanted to leave, they would find ways. The temptation would be too strong. He was not naive enough to believe otherwise.
If he was to truly mold them into marines, he had to do something more like when he had Craig Porter find a planet he could use for training maneuvers.
And suddenly Lazlo knew what he had to do. He jumped up from behind his desk and charged out of his office to deliver the news.
Ops needed more chairs, Beck thought as she paced the Waystation command center. The consoles had them, but there wasn’t a command chair like on the bridge of a starship. She was left wearing holes in the carpet in the so-called command area in front of the viewport/viewscreen.
Granted she had a chair at her desk, but there was no way she was going to be able to sit in there and just wait for word from…
“This is Kovacs. Can you hear me?”
“We’re here, Banyon,” Beck said, leaping over to Porter’s console to respond to Kovacs’ comm. “What’s your status?”
“I’ve made contact with Fouklok, and we’re transferring the hologram into…”
“Your pants?” Porter offered helpfully exchanging a glance with Ensign Jones, who was standing beside him monitoring the situation. Really Jones had no official reason to be there, but, considering the circumstances, Beck was not about to force her to stay away.
“Yes,” Kovacs said. “We’re done? Okay. Give me the cable back.” Kovacs grunted. “Doesn’t this thing retract?”
“Sorry. I didn’t have time to add that feature. You’re just going to have to stuff it back in manually. Be careful, though. You don’t want to get it wrapped around anything important.”
“You’re evil,” Beck whispered, obviously trying not to laugh.
“Cable is stashed and I’m heading out,” Kovacs said as the sound of doors whooshing open could be heard. “Uh oh.”
“Uh oh? What’s uh oh?” Beck demanded as the Ops turbolift doors opened and Colonel Lazlo stormed out.
“I guessing my undetectable data pants weren’t as undetectable as I’d hoped,” Porter said.
“Is there another way out of here?” Kovacs asked.
“No. Just the door,” another voice that Beck assumed belonged to Fouklok said.
“That’s not going to work,” Kovacs said.
“Get him out of there,” Beck ordered Porter.
“Trying to get a lock,” Porter replied as Lazlo strode up to Beck.
“Beck,” Lazlo began.
“Not now,” Beck snapped. “Do you have him?”
“Working on it,” Porter said.
“Craig!” Jones said worriedly.
“Captain!” Lazlo said firmly.
“Porter!” Beck said, ignoring the colonel even more firmly.
Porter frowned, working intently at his console. “Something’s interfering…”
A loud din of shouts and other sounds blasted over the comm and then nothing.
“He’s gone,” Porter said.
“We’re going!” Lazlo announced.
Beck whipped her head from one to the other.
TO BE CONTINUED…