Author: Alan Decker
“The Corps of the Matter”
By Alan Decker
“Renovations” concept by Alan Decker and Anthony Butler
Leximas looked Colonel Martin Lazlo up and down with a cold, critical stare.
“You wish me to what?” she asked, her blank silver eyes disquieting the marine immensely.
“We just need a clear track,” Lazlo said. “My troops are getting soft.”
“Soft. I see.” Leximas turned back to the candles floating above the make-shift alter set up in the meditation alcove section of her cargo module. The candles, which were being held aloft by her will alone, slowly moved towards Lazlo as she guided them with her eyes.
“What the hell are you doing?” he snapped angrily.
“Do you believe that I will harm you?” Leximas asked. Lazlo was sure he could see a hint of a smile at the mystic’s lips.
“Damn magic mumbo-jumbo,” Lazlo muttered as the candles positioned themselves on either side of his head, hovering inches from his ears.
“When you have no respect for me or my training exercises, how can you expect me to care about your training exercises?” The candles started to orbit his head.
“Is this helping you?” Lazlo asked, trying to control his temper. The only way he was going to get anywhere with this weirdo was by playing her game.
“Immensely,” Leximas said, gazing intently into Lazlo’s eyes.
“So, can we use the module or not? My people are crammed in like sardines.”
“As I understand it, the only reason your followers are crammed in like these sardine creatures you mention is that you insisted that the majority of the cargo modules allotted to your marines be used to store gear, rations, weaponry, and as training facilities. Your people are sleeping twelve to a module.”
“How do you know all that?” Lazlo demanded. “Have you been reading my mind?”
“I occasionally join Commander Beck for lunch.”
“And she’s the whole problem. Do you think it’s fair that you get a whole module to yourself? You’re one person. She just likes you.”
“If this is an attempt to sway my pity, I believe it is misguided.”
“Look. The rest of this entire ring of modules are marine modules. I’m trying to get a jogging track together. If we can run through here, it’s done. That’s all I want.”
“In other words, you wish me to allow several dozen loud, sweaty beings to trample through my sacred space.”
“Exactly! Is that such a big deal?”
Leximas turned away for a moment, pondering the situation. With a wave of her hand, the candles floated back to their holders and settled in them. She turned back to Lazlo.
“I am inclined to refuse this invasion of my space,” Leximas said. “However, in the interest of reducing tensions between us, I will consent to your request.”
“We’ll start tomorrow. How’s 0800 hours?”
“Acceptable. I will endeavor to be out.”
“Perfect.” Lazlo headed for the doors.
“Colonel,” Leximas said.
“What?” Lazlo said irritated. Now that the Leximas situation had been dealt with, his mind had already jumped ahead to the next thing on his schedule for the day.
“I do believe that the human custom is to thank me,” she said, a bit of annoyance showing.
“Oh yeah. Thanks,” Lazlo said. “If we ever get invaded, consider yourself protected.”
“And you would do well to consider learning…what do the counselors call it? Interpersonal relations skills.”
“This from Miss Social Butterfly,” Lazlo said, walking out of the module.
Leximas stood silently as she watched Lazlo depart. There were beings in the universe that required forceful intervention to learn how to deal with others. Ripples in the fabric of destiny alerted Leximas to the fact that Lazlo was heading to one of those moments of intervention. Her only regret was that she would not be there to witness it.
“Station Log. Stardate 51732.4. Now that the superstructure of the new Waystation has been completed, it’s time to start the huge job of building the interiors. Some areas, such as the mall levels, are already in good shape, but the vast majority of living quarters, laboratories, and other facilities still need to be dealt with. Of course, the private contractors Bradley Dillon hired to build his offices, store, and hotel are almost done. I guess you get a lot more efficiency when you don’t hire the lowest bidder.
In other news, there isn’t any other news. Life in Waystation Village has been quiet…almost unnaturally quiet. I think it’s because Lazlo is somewhat satisfied for once. I should make Leximas my official liaison to the marines. Of course, she’d probably kill me, and I don’t think I’d blame her.”
Commander Lisa Beck strolled out of the glorified closet Starfleet called a ready room and into the main area of the ops cargo module.
“Where’s the fire?” Beck asked, then took a long sip of her v’haspant. “We run out of airlock lubricant again?”
“Afraid not,” Lieutenant Commander Walter Morales said, handing Beck a padd. “This is why I called you out here.”
Beck read down the report quickly.
“Oh this is just beautiful,” she muttered.
“Tell me about it.”
“I suppose the procedure on this is pretty clear,” Beck said ruefully.
“Crystal,” Morales said.
“All right. Call Lazlo. He’s got a mission.”
“Listen up people,” Colonel Lazlo said to his marines as they sat in the back of the Mongoose, the marine’s transport ship. “Starfleet has been unable to establish contact with the Asneris Colony. All reports indicate that the Asneris transmitter is functioning normally, but no one’s responding. We suspect enemy activity.”
“Uh…which enemy?” Corporal Copeland asked.
“Am I done briefing?” Lazlo shouted.
“We will hit this place fast and furious. I want all major structures secured within ten minutes of touch down. Am I clear?”
“Yes, sir!” the marines said.
“Am I clear?”
“Hodges, what’s our ETA?”
“We should be on the surface in fifteen minutes,” Lieutenant Stephanie Hodges’ voice said from the cockpit. “Sensor readings are inconclusive.”
“You mean jammed,” Lazlo said.
“I can’t say.”
“Well, I know,” Lazlo said. “I’ve got years of experience in this sort of thing.”
“Yes, sir,” Hodges said.
“Uh, sir,” Copeland said, raising his hand.
“What is it, Copeland?” Lazlo said.
“This isn’t going to be like that training film they showed us in boot camp, is it?”
“The old one with the face-grabbing things and all the things with acid blood. I had nightmares for a week.”
“That’s why we show you the movie,” Lazlo said. “And who knows what’s down there? It could be even worse.”
“Way to inspire confidence, sir,” Hodges voice said.
“Stop eavesdropping and land this thing.”
Hodges gently touched the Mongoose down in the middle of the town square of the colony. They couldn’t have asked for better conditions. The lovely mauve sky was completely cloudless, allowing the three suns to shine down on the landscape. Normally, Hodges would expect the population of the colony to be outside enjoying themselves in the beautiful weather. Instead, there wasn’t a soul in sight. She was overwhelmed by a feeling of unease.
The clamping of a hand on her shoulder almost made her jump out of the front viewport.
“Easy, Hodges,” Lazlo said. “We all clear?”
“It’s a perfect day for a picnic,” she replied.
“Good. Stay here and keep the engines hot. If we have to move, I want to be able to move fast.”
“So, you did learn something from the demon squirrels,” she said smiling.
“Not funny,” Lazlo said. He didn’t like to be reminded of that incident. It was bad enough that some cute furry rodents overcame his entire force, but the laughter he’d had to take from Beck and her Starfleet types was almost too much to bear. But, the whole mess had shown him the value of keeping your avenue of retreat open.
“I’ll be outside,” he said simply, striding out of the cockpit.
“LET’S GO! MOVE!” Lieutenant Colonel Dan O’Neal ordered as marines rushed passed him. “You heard the colonel. Ten minutes.”
Outfitted in their heavy attack gear and carrying powerful phaser rifles, the marines made an imposing sight as they fanned out through the colony. Too bad there was no one there to see them.
“Sheppard just reported in. Nothing in the colony administration building. All systems are online, but no one’s home,” O’Neal reported. Lazlo looked over the map of the colony displayed on the padd in front of him.
“Where the hell are they?” Lazlo said.
“No idea, sir. Both colony vessels have been accounted for. There’s no trace that we’ve been able to detect of transporter activity.”
“No signs of a fight.”
“Well…no. But the sensors are acting funny.”
“So there could have been a transporter?”
“Maybe…we’re not sure.”
“Have we at least secured the colony?”
“Oh, absolutely,” O’Neal said proudly. “Eight minutes, and there was no resistance whatsoever.”
“I’m moving my command post to the colony situation room in the administration building,” Lazlo said. “We aren’t leaving until we’ve figured out what’s happening here.”
“Maybe we could call Waystation and get them to send out some science people,” O’Neal suggested. Lazlo glared at him with a look powerful enough to whither flowers and frighten small animals…and some marines.
“Listen to me,” Lazlo said, leaning in close to O’Neal’s face. “WE DON’T NEED THEM!” O’Neal was practically knocked backwards by Lazlo’s screaming. “UNDERSTAND!”
“Yes, sir,” O’Neal said meekly. “But, with all due respect, sir, don’t forget about the squirrel thing.”
“I know! This is nothing like the squirrels! Okay!”
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”
Lazlo was awakened the next morning by pounding on the door of the colony situation room. He snapped his eyes open and leapt out of his sleeping roll, immediately checking to find a chronometer. O615. How had he slept so long?
The pounding started again.
“What?” Lazlo shouted. O’Neal raced in a moment later.
“Slept in this morning, sir?” O’Neal asked, seeing Lazlo still clad in his Federation Marine issue pajamas.
“Shut up, O’Neal,” Lazlo said. “What do you want?”
“Oh yeah. We just got an odd report from the patrol sent to check the colony power station.”
“What sort of report?” Lazlo asked tiredly. He hated this game of pulling information out of people. O’Neal opened his mouth to reply. “And don’t tell me I should go see it for myself.”
“How’d you know…”
“Psychic powers. Now what’s the damn problem?”
“It’s gone, sir.”
“The power station?”
O’Neal nodded his head.
O’Neal nodded again.
“Any signs of…”
“Just empty ground, sir. No burning, no cutting, no nothing. It’s just a big hole where the station used to be.”
“Doesn’t look like it. It’s just gone. Should we call…”
“I am not calling Waystation!” Lazlo said.
“Tuttle to O’Neal.”
“Go ahead,” O’Neal said.
“Uh…the colony terraforming center just vanished right out from und…” Silence.
“Tuttle?” Still nothing.
“Pull everyone back to the Mongoose,” Lazlo ordered. He quickly pulled on his uniform as O’Neal rushed out into the hallway.
“Oh my God!” O’Neal’s voice said from the corridor.
“What?” Lazlo demanded, running out after him. The corridor was lined on the opposite side by huge picture windows looking out over the colony. From there, they had a fantastic view of the buildings of the town, what was left of them anyway. One by one, they were vanishing from existence, and the vanishing effect was heading right towards O’Neal and Lazlo.
“Lazlo to Hodges.”
“Lazlo to Hodges!”
“Oh sh**,” O’Neal said softly.
“Where’s the f***ing transmitter?” Lazlo said.
“Up one level,” O’Neal said. He’d barely gotten the words out of his mouth before Lazlo was racing to the nearest turbolift.
When O’Neal caught up, Lazlo was already in the transmitter room with a channel open to Waystation.
“Where’s Beck?” he demanded.
“In her ready room,” the image of Lieutenant Craig Porter said on the viewscreen. “What’s wrong?”
“Just get her.”
“Are you in trouble again, Colonel?” Porter asked smiling.
“Keep your skirt on. Here she comes.”
Commander Beck walked into view.
“Yes, Colonel,” Beck said.
“This whole place is disappearing. We need immediate pull out!”
“Where’s Steph?” Beck demanded.
“You lost my best friend?” Beck said angrily.
“Can we talk about this later?”
“We’ll have a runabout there as soon as we can,” Beck said. “Until then, try and get to the colony ships. Waystation out.”
“The colony ships!” Lazlo shouted. “Why didn’t you remind me?” he said, turning on O’Neal.
“Remind me never to let him go anywhere unsupervised again,” Beck said once the channel had closed.
“I guess he’s just not ready to leave the nest,” Porter said.
“You up for a rescue mission.”
“Always,” Porter said. “Especially when I get to humiliate Lazlo in the process.”
“It does have its perks. Beck to Morales.”
“Morales here,” the first officer replied.
“Porter and I have to go bail out Lazlo. You have ops.”
“I’m on my way. You need me to pull the other runabout off construction duty to go as backup.”
“Nah. We’ve got it,” Beck said as she and Porter left ops.
“We’ll be standing by, just in case,” Morales said.
“Thanks. Beck out.”
“How many did you reach?” Lazlo asked as he and O’Neal raced towards the colony starships, which were stored in a hanger on the north side of town. He glanced behind them in time to see the vanishing effect wipe out the colony administration building he and O’Neal had been in minutes earlier.
“Just Copeland,” O’Neal said. “He’s at the ships and standing by. Everyone else is gone. Does the corps consider this acceptable losses?”
“What the hell kind of question is that?”
The two marines ran into the hangar and found Copeland standing beside the open hatch of a large colony supply ship.
“Are we ready to go?” Lazlo said, running up to Copeland.
“I’m ready,” Copeland said.
“What about the ship?”
“What about it?”
“Does it work?”
“I don’t know. I guess.”
“You don’t have the engines warmed up?” O’Neal asked.
“Was I supposed to?”
“YES!” Lazlo and O’Neal shouted.
“Nobody told me!”
Lazlo wrapped his hands around Copeland’s neck for a moment. Fortunately for the scared corporal, Lazlo thought better of it and ran into the ship.
“Computer, bring all systems online and prepare for emergency departure,” Lazlo said, racing onto the bridge.
“Acknowledged.” Systems began to hum all around Lazlo as the mighty vessel powered up. O’Neal and Copeland ran in a moment later.
“Get to engineering and monitor things,” Lazlo ordered. “I’ll take care of things here.” He sat down at the conn console and pulled up sensor readings of the colony…or at least the empty ground that used to be the colony. By all indications, the hangar was the only thing left.
Lazlo then had one of the most horrifying thoughts of his life race through his mind. The fact that he would even consider asking himself this questioned sickened him to no end.
“What would Beck do?”
Talk to it. If there was an it. That’s what Starfleet did. They talked. Lazlo would have preferred to open fire, but there wasn’t anything to fire at. Instead, he activated the ship’s external speakers and turned them up to full volume.
“Attention attacking entity,” he said. “This is Colonel Martin Lazlo of the Federation Marine Corps. Cease your activities on this world. You have already caused the destruction of many Federation citizens that I am sworn to protect.”
Lazlo glanced down at the systems readiness readout. The engines still weren’t ready.
“Bridge to engineering. What’s going on?” Silence.
“Are you in charge here?” a kindly male voice said from behind Lazlo. Lazlo whirled around, pulling his hand phaser, and found himself face to face with a ball of white light.
“Uh…ah…did you say that?” Lazlo asked, feeling ridiculous for talking to a ball of light.
“Indeed I did,” the light replied, its energies fluctuating slightly as it spoke. Lazlo was silent as he gaped at the entity. This was way out of his field. Marines handled normal aliens. Things with arms and legs and bodies and such. These light bulbs were more Starfleet’s area. “So, are you or are you not in charge here?” the light asked again.
“I’m in charge,” Lazlo said almost robotically. “Colonel Martin Lazlo of the Federation Marine Corps.”
“Yes, I heard you the first time, although I must confess that it doesn’t mean much to me.”
Lazlo forced himself to get past his stunned amazement and get back to the matter at hand.
“Where are my people?”
“No kidding. I want them back.”
“They had no right to be here.”
“Excuse me. This was an empty planet. We colonized it.”
“It only appeared empty. I was here. And I didn’t appreciate the uninvited guests. You didn’t even ask if you could stop here.”
“Ask? How were we supposed to know you were here? It was vacant; we took it. End of story.”
“You corporeal beings are so typical. Didn’t you even stop to wonder if you were wanted here? No. You just swarm in and take what you want. You have no caring about the environments you inhabit or each other. You are like ants feeding on everything in sight.”
“Look, glowy, I don’t care about the ants, but this dirtball has been colonized by the United Federation of Planets in accordance with galactic treaty stipulations!”
“I know of no treaty.”
“Then I guess you should have asked,” Lazlo snapped defiantly.
“It would seem that the matter is irrelevant now; your colony no longer exists. And, if you do not leave this planet immediately, you will also cease to exist.”
“You’ll let me leave?”
“I am not evil. You have transportation. Use it.”
“I’ll go, but put those people on this ship with me.”
“Why should I trouble myself to do that?” the entity asked.
“Because I have a duty to protect Federation citizens! That’s why!”
“Why the hell do you say that?”
“You do not have any feelings for any of the people I have taken, not even those who follow your command, yet you would risk yourself to rescue them. This is what being a marine means?”
“I have a duty. I swore an oath when I joined the corps.”
“I see. And you would die for that oath.”
“Damn right!” Lazlo said more firmly than he really felt. He should just cut his losses and get the hell out of there. He couldn’t help it if a powerful hostile alien wiped out everyone. But how would he face people after that? They would probably drum him out of the corps. His life would be over. And the Starfleeters would grin and gloat over his failure. No. If there was a chance of saving the colonists and his people, he’d have to go for it.
“Then I offer a challenge,” the entity replied.
“What sort of challenge?” Lazlo asked warily. Contests run by god- like alien beings always seemed to turn out nastily.
“I will offer you two tests. If you pass them, you will have shown me that your Federation understands the meaning of existing in harmony with others and the universe. If that is so, I will welcome you to my world. Ruthless, self-serving scavengers need not apply.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Lazlo asked.
“Will you accept my challenge or not?”
“I guess I don’t have a choice.”
“Excellent. This will be educational.” The entity glowed brightly, blinding Lazlo briefly with its brilliance. When the colonel’s vision cleared, he was not where he had been.
Instead, he was standing in the middle of a vast misty purple nothingness. Around him, various shaped objects floated, some large, some small, all strange. The entity was nowhere in sight.
“What is this?” Lazlo asked the void.
“The test,” the entity’s voice replied from everywhere and nowhere all at once.
“Don’t I get some help?”
“You mean a hint?”
“If you want to give it, but I meant someone to help me.”
“You wish to have another of your species assist you in figuring out my test.”
“Yes. We humans work in groups to solve problems. We’re all individuals, but our combined efforts can lead to solutions. We each have different specialities and abilities.”
“What is your speciality?”
“Combat,” Lazlo said.
“You are an expert in destruction.”
“Only when necessary. My goal is to protect Federation lives.”
“I see. So you wish to get assistance from someone who has specialties other than you?”
“And who would that someone be?” the entity asked. Lazlo almost couldn’t bring himself to say the name, but she was really his only choice. Not only did she have experience with alien communication styles, which in the end were like puzzles, she was Starfleet and knew how to be diplomatic with bizarro disembodied energy balls.
“Commander Lisa Beck of the Starfleet Outpost Waystation!” Lazlo announced. “She’s on her way here now.”
“You wish someone other than those that I have taken to assist you?”
“Yes. A thousand times, yes!” Lazlo felt…something in his mind. Silken tendrils seemed to weave their way through his brain. The sensation was odd, but not unpleasant.
“Ah, I have an image. Let me locate her,” the entity said. Less than a second later, Beck flashed into existence beside Lazlo.
“Lazlo!” she shouted, turning angry. “What the hell is going on?”
“Solve this puzzle,” Lazlo said, waving his arm at the objects floating around him.
“What? Explain this!”
“I…I need your help,” Lazlo said, the last words causing him a visible effort.
“My help,” Beck said laughing. “What’d you get yourself into now?”
“An alien has taken the entire colony. If we don’t solve this, they’ll be gone forever…and so will I.”
“So you’re trying to save your ass.”
“Not just mine. There’s a lot of people at stake here, including Lieutenant Hodges.”
“Okay. Okay,” Beck said. “Let me take a look.” She started examining the objects floating by.
“An interesting choice,” the entity said.
“Beck, talk to the alien,” Lazlo said. Beck didn’t respond. She didn’t even seem to be reacting to the disembodied voice booming through the void.
“She cannot hear me,” the entity replied.
“Why not? You said she could help me.”
“And she has.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Why did you choose her? She obviously does not like you, and you do not like her.”
“But she was the best person for the job.”
“So, you would ignore your differences for the sake of the larger goal.”
“Exactly. Beck may annoy the hell out of me, and we sure don’t see eye to eye very often, but she’s a professional when it comes to her job,” Lazlo said. “In a crunch, I’d be happy to have her on my side.”
“I guess it is.”
“And you honestly feel you can work with her to solve my challenge.”
“That’s not even an issue.”
“I believe that it is not,” the entity said. Suddenly, Beck and the void around Lazlo vanished and he found himself back on the bridge of the colony ship.
“You have done well, Colonel Martin Lazlo of the Federation Marine Corps.”
“I did what?” Lazlo asked confused. “What about the tests?”
“You have passed them both.”
“As stimulating as this conversation is, I have other matters in the cosmos to attend to.”
“Wait a second,” Lazlo said. “Just tell me what happened.”
“Very well. My first test was to see if you would foolhardily attempt to pass my tests alone or seek assistance from others. Only those who know the value of working together can truly exist in harmony.”
“I asked for help, so I passed.”
“Precisely. Then, I was curious to see who you would select to help. Would it be one of your minions trained to follow your every order, or would you really try to solve the problem? Only the ability to work together despite differences will allow beings to truly exist in harmony. You exceeded my expectations, Colonel Martin Lazlo of the Federation Marine Corps.”
“I did it!” Lazlo exclaimed. “Wait, so where is everybody?”
“They will return as soon as I depart.”
“And Beck’s back on her ship?”
“She never left it.”
“Never left…oh thank the Great Bird!”
“I do not understand,” the entity said. Now it was its turn to be confused.
“She’ll never know I had to ask her for help.”
“And this is a good thing?”
“Definitely. I don’t have to watch her smug face as she gloats.”
“I will depart now before you make me alter my decision.”
Before Lazlo could respond, the entity faded out of existence. Seconds later, O’Neal and Copeland raced onto the bridge.
“Sir, are you all right?” O’Neal asked.
“You should have seen where we were!” Copeland said excitedly.
“What are you talking about?” Lazlo said.
“It was all purple and cloudy and we were floating.”
“It was very peaceful,” O’Neal added. “Just floating.”
“Great. Well, while you guys were off in druggie-land, I just saved the colony.”
“Wow, sir! That’s amazing!” O’Neal said.
“Thank you,” Lazlo replied smugly as he walked off the bridge. The three marines exited the ship just as the hanger reappeared around them. In the distance, they could see the buildings of the colony slowly fading back into place. “This is why I’m in charge around here,” Lazlo said.
“You’re a born leader, sir,” O’Neal said in awe.
“Intelligent of you to recognize that,” Lazlo replied, striding off towards the center of town.
“Commander, I’m detecting a ship headed our way,” Lieutenant Porter replied as he watched the sensor readouts of the Runabout Yadkin. “It’s the Mongoose.”
“What? Open a channel,” Beck said.
“Too late. They’re hailing us.”
“On screen.” Beck turned sideways slightly to look into the runabout comm screen. Colonel Lazlo’s smiling face appeared a moment later.
“Ah, Commander. Thank you for racing out so promptly to assist us.”
“What the hell is going on, Lazlo?” Beck asked angrily.
“Nothing I couldn’t take care of,” Lazlo replied. “The situation is well in hand.”
“What about the colony?”
“Uh…Commander,” Porter said. “We just received a comm from the colony. They’re singing Lazlo’s praises. Evidently, he saved them all.”
“You’re kidding,” Beck said.
“Afraid not, Beck,” Lazlo said as the Mongoose roared past the runabout. “We’ll see you back at the station. Lazlo out.” He was about to close the channel, but thought better of it. He turned back to the monitor. “Oh, Commander, I never thought I’d being saying this, but thank you. I really mean that.”
Before Beck could reply or question what the hell Lazlo meant, the channel was closed.
“I don’t get it,” Beck said. “Was that a joke?”
“Sounded serious to me,” Porter said.
“Did we do something I missed?”
“Got me,” Porter replied.
“You know, I really hate it when he’s smug,” Beck said.
“I’m sure he feels the same way about you.”
“Shut up, Porter.”
AND NEXT TIME ON STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION:
Lieutenant Craig Porter has never been lucky in love, but now he’s met the woman of his dreams. And, to make things even sweeter, Bradley Dillon is even willing to pay him to go out with her. Romance and profit collide in…
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION:
RENOVATIONS #8 :