Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION:
By Alan Decker and Anthony Butler
“Renovations” concept by Alan Decker and Anthony Butler
Lieutenant Sean Russell stifled a yawn as he entered the operations module of Waystation Village. He’d spent a very unproductive morning observing a Vulcan with a criminal past who had recently arrived on the station. Unfortunately, Sesil had done little more than talk to people in the Andorian restaurant. When your biggest threat is a Vulcan with good conversational skills, you’re definitely having a slow work-day. It was almost enough to make Russell miss the chaos of Waystation before the renovations started…almost.
When he entered ops, he noticed Commander Lisa Beck and Lieutenant Commander Walter Morales huddled around Lieutenant Craig Porter’s console. If Russell had to describe the looks on their faces in two words, they would have been utter bewilderment.’
“Just the man we wanted to see,” Beck said upon spotting Russell. “Come take a look at this.”
“What’s up?” Russell asked, heading over to Porter’s console. On the display monitor was a graphic of the modules that made up Waystation Village. “So what’s the problem?”
“Somebody scheduled a delivery and didn’t tell us,” Porter said.
“We picked up an extra module overnight,” Morales said. “We don’t have an explanation for it at the moment.”
“The construction crew…”
“We don’t have an explanation for it,” Beck said more forcefully.
“Okay,” Russell said.
“Sensor readings are completely normal,” Porter said. “It seems to be just a cargo module.”
“You’re sure the construction guys…”
“We’re sure,” Morales said. “I checked with them first.”
“And I guess they’d tell you after…never mind.”
“After what?” Beck said.
“Nothing,” Morales said, glaring at Russell. Russell didn’t see why it was still such a big secret anyway. So Morales had run into a few problems while Beck was away on vacation a few weeks ago. It was all over now, and everything had turned out fine. At least until this extra module showed up.
“So, you want me to go down there and check it out?” Russell asked.
“That’s the general idea,” Beck said. “Pull as much back-up as you think’s necessary.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Russell said, turning around and heading for the exit.
Five minutes later, Russell stood in front of the airlock leading to the mystery module with a phaser in one hand, a tricorder in the other, and no back-up anywhere in sight. He couldn’t think of any possible reason why he’d need them. The container was scanning normal and he wasn’t reading any life signs, so Russell figured it was probably just a miscount or something. Besides, cargo modules didn’t just appear. Why would they bother? They’re cargo modules. Nothing strange at all about them.
After putting his tricorder away, Russell opened the airlock and stepped inside.
“What about him?”
“Hmm…I think he’ll work. Let’s bag him!”
Porter’s eyes widened in alarm as Russell’s commbadge disappeared off of his sensors. In fact, everything inside the mystery module had vanished at the same time.
“Commander!” Porter called. Beck looked up from this month’s issue of Casual Commander to see what was wrong. “We just lost Russell.”
“What do you mean lost?”
“He was here. Now he isn’t.”
“What about the module?”
“I can’t get a firm reading inside. He’s on his own in there.”
“This is why I told him to take back-up!” Beck said. “Get down there. I’ll have a security team meet you.”
“On my way,” Porter said, grabbing his engineering kit and racing towards the exit.
Russell was alone as far as he could tell. Of course, he couldn’t see much. He was just standing in the middle of an empty room staring up at the spotlight shining down into his face.
A voice suddenly boomed out of nowhere.
“And here he is, the man with the plan. The plan in the making. And he’s making water as we speak. Seeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeean Russell!”
“Uh…hello?” Russell said tentatively.
“Hello? Is that all you’ve got to say? You’re been given an astounding opportunity here. Take advantage of it.”
“Who are you?”
“Questions. Questions. Nobody will stand and talk to empty space anymore without asking stupid questions like who are you?’ Can’t you just accept that you’re talking to me?”
“Who are you?”
“There you go again.”
“All right. What do you want from me?” Russell said.
“That’s a bit better,” the voice said. “What do we want from him, Johnny?”
“His eternal soul!” another voice said. In the background, a crowd cheered.
“Uh…” Russell said, backing up. The spotlight kept following him.
“He’s kidding,” the original voice said. “But we have chosen you for something very important.”
“Because you’re you,” the voice replied.
“Right. Can I see you yet?”
“You really want to see me?”
“I’ve been known to frighten small children and cause heart failure in the elderly.”
“I can take it,” Russell replied confidently.
“All right. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
A pair of luscious red lips about the size of an elephant appeared in front of Russell.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!” Russell screamed.
“Told ya,” the lips said.
“Wh-wh-where’s the rest of your body?” Russell stammered.
“Well, our eyes went off in a different direction. Beyond that, it’s hard to say,” the lips replied. “But that’s not really important right now.”
Russell gulped. “Then what is important?”
“Fantastic question, Sean-eroonie! I’m glad you asked. We need your help to defend the galaxy against a force like nothing you’ve ever encountered. It’s a force so powerful that not even beings as magnificent as us can defeat it alone. That’s where you come in.”
“Me?” At the edge of his hearing, Russell could just make out the pounding tones of some inspiring march tune, and it was getting louder.
“Yes you! You’re our general, our big man! You’re our number one guy!”
“Cool,” Russell said. Wow, he’d never been a general before. “What do I have to do?”
“We need followers! You’ll get them for us.”
“Uh…I don’t know. I’m not much of a leader.”
“What about all that acting you always wanted to do?” the lips asked.
“You know about that?”
“Of course, we know. You’ve dreamed about it for years. You, an audience…it’d be beautiful. Now’s your chance to make it real. Go out there and use your abilities to move people. You won’t just be entertaining them; they’ll be joining a cause! All because of you!”
“Cool,” Russell repeated. His mind wandered as the lips continued babbling. He could almost see himself, standing in front of a mass of people reciting his speech. “Friends, Vulcans, Andorians, lend me your ears…or antenna…”
“…an army of them centered here at Waystation ready and willing to give their lives to defeat the evil menace that’s approaching,” the lips said, jolting him back to reality.
“Wait. You want Waystation?”
“That’s the general idea,” the lips replied.
“Well, you know, it’s our station. The Federation’s, I mean. I don’t think they’ll just let you have it. You guys had probably just better leave.”
“So you aren’t going to help us,” the lips said sternly.
“Oh yes you are,” the lips said, its voice tinged with menace. “You have no choice. You’re our number one guy.”
“I’m not getting you followers.”
“We know you, Sean. If you don’t do exactly as we say, we will dump you in the worst hell your mind can imagine. You’ll beg for death, but it will NEVER come. We can see to that, Sean!”
“Followers. Right. Gotcha. No problem.”
And in a blink Russell was deposited back outside the door to the phantom module.
“Hold your fire!” ordered Craig Porter, and the corps of security officers reluctantly put down their phasers.
Russell looked crazed; his eyes were glazed over. He shook Porter’s shoulders. “The lips are coming, Craig! The lips are coming!”
“Let’s go over this again,” Counselor Ray Miller said slowly, leaning back on his couch as Russell sat ramrod straight in the adjacent chair. “You say some giant pairs of lips are coming to take over the not-yet-constructed Waystation.”
“That’s right,” Russell said earnestly. “We’ve got to stop them!”
“And you wonder why Commander Beck sent you to me?”
“I’m not insane, Counselor. That’s what I saw.”
“I don’t doubt it. I’m just trying to help you understand your…vision. Let’s start by describing these lips…were they attached to a body? And if so, what is a beautiful body? Young? Firm? I want details, man.”
“There was NO body, Counselor,” Russell said. “This is ridiculous. I shouldn’t even be here. I have to go get them followers, or they’re going to send me to my own personal hell.”
“Yes, that’s right!”
“The luscious chubby lips.”
“They weren’t chubby.”
“Thin? Glistening with lipstick perhaps? A rouge, or perhaps pink?”
“Just plain red!” Russell said, clearly agitated.
“Calm down, Sean, there’s no reason to get upset.”
“That’s easy for you to say. They aren’t threatening you.”
“Mmmm…threatening lips. Did a giant tongue ever emerge and lick them, spreading moisture across them oh so gently…time’s up!” Miller exclaimed, rushing towards the door.
“Where are you going?” Russell demanded. “I don’t feel better yet!”
“Trust me, Mr. Russell, everything is fine,” Miller said distractedly. “Just return to your post and meditate on what’s happened or something. Try to make sense of it, and come back to me when you’ve figured it all out.”
“Okay, sure.” Russell stood.
“And if I’m not here, odds are you can find me at Snargvar’s News and Books. Gotta go.” And then Miller was gone.
Commander Beck studied the science report on her desk. “So no trace of the so-called phantom module?”
Lt. Porter leaned back in his chair opposite Beck, bumping his head against the bulkhead behind him. Damn her office was small.
“None whatsoever. Sensor recordings from the time index during which the module was supposedly there show nothing. It’s as if it never existed.”
“Yep. And Sean is not acting himself.”
“Which may be an improvement.”
“He saw something very disturbing over in that module, Commander. I think he’s the key to finding out what’s really going on here.”
Beck swiveled in her chair. “So you believe the pair of lips theory, then.”
“I believe someone, or something, is trying to use Sean.”
“Not very picky, are they?”
“I guess not. I can’t imagine him drumming up scores of loyal followers…but it’ll sure be fun to watch him try.”
“And beyond that,” Beck said. “I don’t see what else we can do but wait and see if these lips’ show themselves again.”
“If it is a new race that wants to live on the station, we’re going to have to have Nendegar’s Secret stock up on extra lipliner.”
That night, Russell tossed and turned in bed, unable to get to sleep. When he finally did drift off, he ended up somewhere that really made him wish that he’d stayed awake.
“Hello again, pally. Didn’t want you to think that we weren’t real or something,” the giant pair of lips said as it floated across Russell’s vacant dreamscape. “And put some clothes on!”
Russell looked down. He was standing completely naked, all alone except for the lips. A vast, empty desert landscape stretched away from him in all directions. Above him, clouds raced by at a breakneck pace.
“Leave me alone!” Russell shouted, willing clothes onto his body. He just felt more confident facing the lips in uniform.
“Who said you could get dressed?” the lips said. In a flash, Russell was naked again. “You’re not the one in control here. We are. If we want you naked, you’re naked. If we want you dead, you die. Got it.”
“Then just kill me and get it over with,” Russell said, presenting a bravado that he didn’t really feel.
“Oh no. You’ve got work to do for us. Followers. We need followers. And if you refuse, you’ll beg for death.”
“But I won’t get it. I know. You told me this before,” Russell said.
“You don’t sound impressed,” the lips said. “Maybe a demonstration will help.”
“What sort of…” Before Russell could finish, the lips were gone. He was in a giant room surrounded by thousands of women.
Was this supposed to bother him?
Then the faces became clear. One face really, just thousands of her.
Laurie Mitchell. His girlfriend of two weeks when he was sixteen.
All of her opened their mouths to speak.
“Oh God!” Russell said. “Don’t let her talk!”
But the lips showed no mercy. Laurie Mitchell’s squeaky, whiny, wail of a voice echoed through the chamber, amplified thousands of times by the sheer number of her present in the room.
“NOOOOOOOO!” Sean screamed, trying in vain to cover his ears.
Russell sank to his knees, screaming in torment.
“Make her stop! You win! I’ll do anything! PLEASE!! HELP ME!!!!!”
And then all was silent.
The Lauries were gone, replaced by the hovering lips. “We expect you to be hard at work tomorrow morning.”
“Yes,” Russell said, his voice that of a broken man.
“Great! Now go get some sleep. You look exhausted.”
Russell entered the module housing the Ic’hasssssst V’kelsnet Andorian restaurant early the next morning. Considering all the time that the restaurant had been open, Russell couldn’t think of one time someone had called it by its proper name. Russell wasn’t even sure he could pronounce its proper name. He’d been told at one point that it translated roughly to “House of Eternal Torture, Gastrointestinal Punishment, and Pancakes” but he couldn’t be sure. Actually, he didn’t really want to know. The food looked gross enough; he didn’t even want to think about eating it. Commander Beck always told him that he didn’t know what he was missing.
As Russell arrived, one lucky diner was being carted out on a hover-stretcher, clutching her stomach and moaning.
If that’s what he was missing, he was sure he could do without it.
“Table for one?” Baughb, the restaurant’s head waiter asked as Russell watched the poor woman being carted away.
“What?…oh…uh, no. I’m fine,” Russell said. “I need to make an announcement. Is there some place I could talk?” Baughb gave Russell a puzzled stare, then looked around the restaurant.
“How about the Mishtak pit over there?” Baughb said, pointing to a ring of dirt near the front wall of the restaurant. “It’s not being used.” Russell detected something sinister about the way Baughb said those last words, but shrugged the feeling off.
“Sure,” Russell said. “Thanks.” He headed over to the pit, trying to pull his speech together in his mind. It’s just like acting, he kept telling himself. Just like acting.
“Ladies and gentlemen…and whatever that green blobby thing over at the corner table happens to be, I’ve come to you today with pressing news!”
“Hey, we’re trying to eat here,” one of the Zenedron construction workers there for the renovations shouted.
“We are all facing a great danger from an evil force,” Russell continued.
“What force?” another voice shouted.
“Uh…I don’t know. But it’s evil. I have been warned, and now I’m here to warn you.”
“Who warned you?” a third voice demanded.
“Some giant lips,” Russell said.
“Lips! Oh, give me a karfeltz!”
“I mean it!” Russell shouted. “We must all join with the lips, or we’ll be destroyed!” Or I’ll be destroyed at least, Russell thought to himself humorlessly.
“Look, bub,” the construction worker said, getting up from his chair and stalking over to Russell. “I said we’re trying to eat! Go spread your crackpot news someplace else.”
“Sit down and let me finish talking,” Russell replied, standing toe to toe with the worker. “Once I’m done, I’ll leave.”
“You’re done now,” the worker said, then lunged. Russell, expecting the attack, dodged sideways and slammed the worker in the back of the head with his fists. The two men soon fell into the pit, raising a cloud of dirt as they battled.
“Look, we have Mishtak!” Baughb said excitedly to his boss, Ih’mad.
“I keep telling you, only paying customers are eligible for Mishtak. The Starfleet human did not buy anything.”
“Then what is this?” Baughb asked.
“A floor show,” Ih’mad replied. “Turn up the music.”
“Well, that was a spectacular failure.”
“He’ll get better…once he regains consciousness.”
Russell woke up in the sickbay module with a tremendous pain in his head and a roaring feeling in his stomach like nothing he’d ever experienced.
“Don’t move,” Dr. Nelson’s voice ordered. She entered his field of vision carrying a hypospray, which she pressed into the side of his neck.
“You got the crap beat out of you.”
“But I was winning that fight,” Russell protested weakly.
“Sure, until his six friends show up and used you as a garbage disposal,” Nelson replied. “Ih’mad said they stuffed half the breakfast buffet down your throat. I had to pump your stomach eight times. On the upside, you now have the cleanest innards in the quadrant.”
“Yea me,” Russell said.
“GET TO WORK!” the lips’ voice boomed in his head.
“Right away!” Russell said, pulling himself up.
“What are you doing?” Nelson said angrily.
“We need followers. Have you heard about the lips?”
“Don’t make me beat you up again.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Russell said, stumbling towards the door.
“I’ll keep a biobed free for you. I have a feeling you’ll be back.”
Russell smiled weakly and charged out into Waystation Village to spread the word of the lips.
Russell stepped into the ops module, and immediately everyone there turned away from him, attempting to look busy. Lieutenant Commander Walter Morales, Waystation’s first officer, was left standing alone in the center of the command area. He looked around frantically for somewhere to run.
“Commander,” Russell said, racing over. “I really need you to listen to me.”
“Uh…I really need to…be in command right now,” Morales said. “Can we talk later?”
“Well, no. I don’t want to hear about the lips, Lieutenant. I’m sorry. I could order a psych evaluation for you, though.”
“That’s okay,” Russell said. “I’ll talk to someone else.” The others in ops buried their heads deeper in their work. With nowhere else to go, Russell rang the door chime on Beck’s office.
“Come in,” her voice called. He stepped inside, remembering to duck to avoid the exposed pipe running right at head level.
“Commander, could I…”
The scowl on Beck’s face said it all.
“Right. Sorry. Don’t know what I was thinking,” Russell said, backing out of the office.
“This is harder than I thought it’d be,” Russell said later that evening as he and Porter sat in Victoria’s pub discussing the situation. “I mean, how tough is it to get loyal followers?”
“Nothing to it,” Porter replied. “I pick up five or six everyday. I can’t walk through the mall without someone begging to follow me around.”
“Oh yes. Sarcasm will help me now.”
“You really think these lips will come after you?”
Russell shuddered. “They already have. And if that was only a preview, I don’t want to see the feature presentation.”
“Maybe you should go get some tips from Sesil. He’s already got enough people to qualify for official cult status under Federation law. We now have to provide meeting facilities for the Starshine Way. And if they commit mass-suicide or something, we’re obligated to clean up the mess.”
“Yeah. We had to close down Spoink’s comedy club, but the other Vulcans didn’t seem to be enjoying it anyway…I guess. Hard to tell with those guys. Spoink didn’t seem to mind too much, though. He’s joined up with Sesil.”
“Is this supposed to be making me feel better?” Russell said.
“Just making conversation.”
Across the room, seated at another table, Bradley Dillon was having dinner with Leximas, the mystical alien who had taken up residence on Waystation shortly after its completion. Now she, like everyone else, had been herded into the modules of Waystation Village while the Renovations took place. Overall, the experience had made her wonder why her mind-guide had led her here in the first place. It was a puzzling question, but one that she was sure would be resolved in time.
“I’m glad you agreed to join me,” Bradley said from across the table. “I haven’t seen much of you since my windfall. I thought you might be avoiding me.”
“We have simply been in different places at different times,” Leximas replied. “And you have been very busy. Beyond that I find your material wealth to be…immaterial.”
“That’s why I’ve missed spending time with you. Unlike the people I have crowding around me now, you don’t care about my money. You like me for me.”
“If like is the proper word for it,” Leximas replied. “I find you intriguing, and you have generally shown me kindness. I…enjoy our time together.”
“Sounds like like to me,” Bradley replied, taking a drink of his black and tan.
“How much time did the lips give you?” Porter asked.
“I don’t know. They didn’t say.”
“Great. Maybe they don’t understand time or something. You might not ever have to worry about this.”
“We understand time perfectly…AND YOU’RE WASTING IT!” the lips boomed in Sean’s head.
Leximas felt a great disturbance in her mind, causing her to almost blackout. Bradley’s hands quickly steadied her before she could collapse onto the table.
“Are you all right?” he asked in alarm.
“Something is very wrong,” Leximas said.
“Oh hell. The last time you talked like that, Karyna showed up and almost killed us all.”
“Uh…Craig, I’d better go,” Russell said, still mentally reeling from the lips’ shouting in his mind.
“Are you all right?”
“Fine,” Russell said. “It’s just been a long day.” He got up and rushed out of the bar, the word “followers” chanting over and over in his mind. The lips were growing impatient. He had to do something and fast, but what?
Then, an idea.
A bad idea.
But it was all he had at the moment.
Gathering his wits together as best he could, Russell began the long journey through the modules to the lower reaches of Waystation Village.
Leximas watched Lieutenant Russell suddenly leap up and race out of Victoria’s. Focusing in on him, she could sense that he was at the center of whatever was going on.
“I must go,” Leximas said, rising from her chair. “We will have to continue eating later.”
“Absolutely,” Bradley replied concerned. “If something’s going to destroy the station, try and give me some advanced warning. I have assets to protect.”
“Of course,” Leximas said flatly. She moved over to the table Russell had just vacated where Lieutenant Porter still sat looking confused.
“May I speak to you for a moment, Lieutenant?” Leximas asked.
“Sure thing,” Porter replied with a smile. “I don’t get nearly enough serenity in my day.”
“I take it that was an attempt at a compliment.”
“Then, I will take it as such. I need to speak to you about Lieutenant Russell.”
“What about him?”
“I sense that he is facing a great evil.”
“I do not understand.”
“We detected an extra module yesterday; it turned out to be some sort of anomaly. We still really don’t know. Anyway, we sent Sean down there to look at it, and he came back babbling about having to get followers for some giant lips.”
“And what is being done about this?” Leximas asked.
“What’s to do? We don’t have any proof the lips exist. We aren’t about to pledge our allegiance to some things that may be figments of Sean’s imagination. Basically, we’re just going to wait and see what happens.”
“And that may lead to all of our dooms,” Leximas said, rising from the table. “I will attempt to intervene.”
“Tell the lips I said hi,” Porter said.
Leximas ignored him and glided out of the pub.
Russell entered the module that had, until recently, held Spoink’s Logical Laughter Cabaret with a bit of trepidation. Okay, it was a lot of trepidation. In a way, the whole thing was almost funny. A couple of weeks ago, when Sesil arrived on the station, Russell had been the one with the upper hand. Now Russell was going to Sesil for help.
He would have felt a heck of a lot better about it if this trip somehow fit into his official duties as chief of station security. As it was, he was going down there simply as Sean Russell, spokesman for some giant lips. But then, Sesil’s group seemed a bit weird, too. What the hell was a Starshine Way anyway? His followers just seemed to walk around with this glazed smile plastered across their faces. But then, who better to believe in the lips than a bunch of weirdos?
Russell could hear singing before he even fully entered the room.
It’ll be a bright, bright Starshiney Day!
Oh boy. Russell was now more convinced than ever that he didn’t want to do this, but he forced himself inside.
Sesil and friends had moved out the chairs and tables in the club when they converted it to their meeting place. Instead, the white robed members sat in circles on the floor. One set of Starshine Wayers made up the outside circle, another group sat inside that circle, forming a smaller circle of their own, and finally Sesil sat in the middle. On the cabaret stage had been placed a small, simple table with a white sphere, about a foot in diameter, on it that pulsated brightly.
As the group members spotted Russell, their singing dropped off. Sesil turned to face the intruder.
“Have you come on business, Lieutenant?” Sesil said placidly.
“Nothing official,” Russell replied nervously.
“Then please join us, gentle soul.”
“Uh…thanks.” Two Starshine Wayers shifted their positions, giving Russell a place to sit in the outer circle.
“Think nothing of it,” Sesil said. “We welcome all those with troubled hearts. And I see you are very troubled. Have you come for assistance?”
“In a way,” Russell said.
“Talk to the fold. We can help,” Sesil said with a warm smile that immediately set Russell at ease. The Starshine Wayers sitting on either side of Russell placed their hands on his shoulders.
“We can help,” the group said in unison. And they were certainly a varied group. Russell saw several Zenedron Construction workers, Spoink, an Orion, one of the Andorian cooks from Ih’mad’s restaurant, a few marines, and a couple of the Starfleet crew.
“Do you guys know about the lips?” Russell began hesitantly.
“Enlighten us,” Sesil replied.
“The lips came to me. They said a great evil is heading our way. We have to join them and make preparations for the evil’s arrival. Otherwise, we’ll be destroyed.”
“There are many evils that block the way to inner peace,” Sesil said. Russell nodded. The scary thing was, in some ways, this guy sounded like Leximas, only she didn’t try to convert followers.
“I think they were talking about more of a kill everyone in sight’ sort of evil. The lips can save us if we help them.”
“Then the lips and I have the same goal,” Sesil said. “I too wish to save us, save us from our own troubled hearts. Once those troubles have been conquered by the shining stars, we will be the most powerful force in the galaxy. The Starshine Way is the way to salvation.”
“So, you guys don’t want to join up with the lips?”
“Perhaps, but we will need to see more. Please step over to my sphere.”
“The glow ball?” Russell said, eyeing the pulsating globe.
“Yes,” Sesil said, standing and walking over to Russell. He helped Russell to his feet and led him to the sphere. “All you have to do is look into it deeply, and it will look deeply into you. If these lips exist, the sphere will find them.”
“Can it get them out of my head?”
“The Starshine Way will bring you tranquillity. Look into the sphere, troubled soul,” Sesil said, pointing Russell’s face at the light…and Russell was mesmerized. His body stood transfixed as the sphere’s effects invaded his mind.
And suddenly he was in a deep forest; he knew these trees. They were the redwoods that grew in the woods behind his family home in California. Russell had never had a lot of interest in the trees, or nature for that matter, especially after he got lost in this forest once as a child. Now here he was, back in the woods that felt familiar yet ominous. He was lost again.
“I can help you get out,” Sesil’s voice said from behind him. Russell turned and saw the white-robed Vulcan standing serenely a few feet away from him. Sesil’s body seemed to positively glow with a beautiful energy all of its own. “You must follow the Starshine Way to find your path home.”
“Follow the Starshine Way,” Russell repeated numbly.
“STOP THAT!” the voice of the lips bellowed. Russell looked up in surprise as the sunny sky above the forest darkened and a great rumbling was heard across the land. Leaves and dirt blew upwards as if being pulled off the Earth. Soon, the lips, larger than Russell had ever seen them, loomed overhead, sucking trees right out of the ground like some giant vacuum cleaner.
The image of Sesil was unperturbed. “You need the feel the comfort of the Starshine Way. Let me bring you from this darkness.”
“Can the Starshine Way fight that?” Russell demanded, pointing up at the lips.
“No power can withstand the Starshine Way.”
“Don’t listen to him,” the lips ordered. “He’s just a deluded mortal. We are your masters.”
“But the Starshine Way sounds much nicer,” Russell said. “And they can protect me.”
“No, they can’t.”
“Yes, we can,” Sesil said.
“I won’t have to shave my head or do anything silly like that, will I?” Russell asked Sesil.
“Of course not,” Sesil said. “Such bodily modifications are meaningless to finding the path.”
“Lip guys, I think I’m going to have to go with the Vulcan.”
“You will not. You’re ours.”
“Ours,” Sesil said.
“His own,” a female voice said, breaking into the argument. Leximas materialized in the woods near Russell. “I have come to get you out of here.”
“Who are you?” the lips demanded. They didn’t recognize her, and she was radiating power that almost frightened them.
“How did you get here?” Sesil said.
“Neither of those questions are important.” Leximas turned to Russell. “You must drive both of these forces out of your mind if you are to be free. I can help you.”
“I don’t have to join your cult, do I?” Russell said. At this point, his mind was bordering on a dazed delirium. Reality and illusion had ceased to have any meaning. He was ceasing to have any meaning. If Leximas didn’t act fast, his entire identity could slip away, leaving him a mindless automaton under the control of one or the other of these groups.
“Just concentrate on me.”
“You.” Russell said weakly. Leximas grabbed his hands and clenched them tightly.
“You must win this fight. I can fortify your mind, but you must wage the battle. You must lay claim to who you are.” Leximas closed her eyes, and suddenly Russell felt a rush of power go through him. The bits of himself the lips had practically beaten into submission reasserted their authority.
“I AM ME!” Russell screamed.
“Obviously,” the lips said. “That doesn’t change the fact that you work for us.”
“Yes, it does,” Russell said. “Get out of my mind!” He turned on Sesil. “Same to you! I’m not joining your weirdo cult!”
“There’s nothing weird about the Starshine Way.”
“Can it, psycho,” Russell said. He focused his thoughts on Sesil, willing him to vanish. Suddenly, the ground beneath Sesil opened, swallowing him up whole.
“You’re next,” Russell said, turning back to the lips and focusing. The skies began to darken even more as the clouds churned, spinning faster and faster until they formed a vortex above the lips.
“You can’t do this to us! We’re omnipotent!” the lips shouted.
“Not in my mind, you aren’t,” Russell said.
“Oh, this sucks!” the lips screamed, just as they were pulled up into the cloud vortex and out of Russell’s mind.
A moment later, all was quiet and still. Leximas opened her eyes.
“You did well,” she said.
“Thanks,” Russell replied. “You saved me.”
“I only provided resources. You did the work,” Leximas said. “But now I must leave your consciousness. This is not the sort of activity I engage in very often. Far too invasive.”
“I needed it.”
“And now your mind is stronger than it has ever been. You will no longer find yourself susceptible to these sorts of intrusions.”
“I can deal with that,” Russell said.
“Farewell.” And then she faded from view.
And then Russell was back in the Starshine Way temple, staring at the sphere. He blinked his dry eyes and pulled himself away.
“Has the sphere shown you the way?” Sesil asked.
“Weren’t you there?” Russell replied.
“Oh no. The sphere acts as my representative. Quite a remarkable device, don’t you think? I built it myself.”
“Spiffy,” Russell said. “I’d better run.” Sesil looked at him confused.
“But you looked at the sphere. Don’t you want to join the Starshine Way?”
“Nah. Not my sort of thing,” Russell said as he walked to the exit. “Have fun, folks.”
“Hmm…guess I need to get my sphere checked,” Sesil said.
Leximas opened her eyes, letting the soft glow of the candles surrounding her floating body soothe her. The stress of interjecting herself into Russell’s mind had been great, but the process was necessary. Now, she just needed time to rejuvenate and meditate on the events that had just transpired. These entities that attempted to take over Russell’s soul would not be dissuaded so easily. They were still present, but residing in another plane. They would come again, and Leximas feared she was the only force on the station that had any hope of doing something about it.
“That was a disaster!”
“I’m sorry. I’m new at this take over the galaxy’ stuff.”
“Well, Russell’s gone. I can’t even re-establish contact. We’re going to have to deal with that strange woman.”
“We will, and I think I’ve found our solution.”
Sesil normally slept peacefully, but tonight he found himself floating in violent swirling mists that clouded his path. Gradually, the mists cleared, and he found himself face to face with a giant pair of lips.
“Hello,” Sesil replied nervously. “Who are you?”
“We’re the end of the Way,” the lips said. “Congratulations, Sesil. You’ve done it.”
“I have?” Sesil said excitedly. “Wow!”
“This is a remarkable achievement. But we shall reward you by allowing you to help us spread Starshine throughout the galaxy.”
“Great! That’s what I wanted to do anyway,” Sesil replied.
“Very good, Sesil. And now you shall know us by our true name. We are THE CRITICS!”
“The what?” Sesil said doubtfully.
“Do you want us to take back your achievement of the Way?”
“Then shut up!”
“Yes, your lipiness.”
“Critics will do fine.”
“Good. Now then, since you have found the Way, you and your followers are hereby promoted to full-fledged Starshine Kids!”
“Funny, I don’t feel any different,” Sesil said. The Critics reached into Sesil’s mind, tweaking the exact point to send a mental orgasm rushing through his body.
“Woah! I like enlightenment!” Sesil exclaimed.
“We knew you would.”
“Okay. We’re the Starshine Kids, but do I get to keep my sphere?”
“Most definitely. And we’re going to help you improve it.”
“Thank you, oh wonderful Critics!”
“Yes,” Sesil said expectantly.
“You all must shave your heads!”
“It’s a sign of enlightenment. Go with us on this.”
“Yes, Critics,” Sesil said glumly.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get to like it.” The Critics tweaked Sesil’s brain again.
“Bald is good!” Sesil shouted.
“There you go. We will be in contact, Sesil. You are our chosen vessel. Hey, that rhymed. Sesil the vessel. Our vessel, Sesil.”
And gradually, the Critics floated away.
“That head-shaving thing was just mean.”
“I know! I loved it!”
“So what’s the next step?”
“We prepare Sesil and his little group for the proper time, which will be coming soon. Very soon we will be rid of that strange, silver-eyed woman. And when that happens, this station and all of its inhabitants will be ours! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”
“Was that funny?”
“Just laugh maniacally, you moron.”
“Have we laughed enough now?”
AND NEXT TIME:
An unholy alliance between the Critics and the Starshine Kids spells big trouble for Leximas and the rest of Waystation just as the renovations near completion. All of the dominos are in place; it’s just time to watch them fall in…
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION: RENOVATIONS #10: