Stay tuned for the final disclaimer of Star Traks: Waystation: Renovations... Paramount and CBS (and, therefore, Viacom) owns Star Trek. Alan Decker owns Star Traks. Anthony Butler owns a set of exotic llama fur blankets. Now wasn't that exciting.

Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
Copyright: 1998

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The events of this story (for those of you paying attention to little things like stardates and continuity) occur near the end of Year One of Star Traks: The Vexed Generation. Please do not get confused between this and what goes on at the end of Year Two/beginning of Year Three of Vexed Gen. Thank You.


STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION

RENOVATIONS #11:

“Lip Lock”

By Alan Decker and Anthony Butler


“Renovations” concept by Alan Decker and Anthony Butler


Very little could have wiped the smile off the Critics’ lips at that moment. They had Waystation. They had a vice-president, two admirals, a multi-billionaire, and a station commander. They had control. And there was nothing the beings of the material plane could do about it.


Lieutenant Commander Walter Morales could still hear the singing of the Starshine Kids sounding in his head as he stared at the blank starfield in front of him. Sesil and the Starshine kids had cut communication just a few seconds earlier, leaving Morales and the ops crew to wonder just what was going to happen to Commander Beck and the others trapped on Waystation with the cult. Morales was positive that it wouldn’t be pleasant.

“You got any brilliant ideas, Colonel,” Morales said quietly to Martin Lazlo, the leader of the Federation Marines on the station, who was standing beside him.

“None that don’t involve suicide,” Lazlo replied.

“I was afraid of that.”

“We’ve patched up most of the damage to the lower modules,” Lieutenant Craig Porter said, reading the report off of his console. “Leximas’ module was the only one really hit.”

“Any sign of her?” Morales asked, trying to switch gears and think about the bombing on Waystation Village just a few minutes prior.

“No,” Porter replied somberly. “And we’ve detected some organics in the debris field. She’s probably…”

“I know,” Morales said, cutting Porter off.

“Sir, we’re being hailed by Captain Woodall of the Orleans,” Lieutenant Sean Russell said from the tactical console.

“Put him on,” Morales said, readying himself for the conversation…well, argument, he knew was coming. Jack Woodall, the middle-aged commander of the Orleans appeared on the screen. Woodall was known for his take-charge, “damn the photon torpedoes, full speed ahead” attitude. That was fine elsewhere, but this was a totally different situation. Morales knew the principals involved, he knew the terrain, and, most of all, he knew that he wasn’t going to leave Beck’s life in the hands of some guy he’d never met.

“Is everything secure over there?” Woodall asked without so much as a hello. “We detected an explosion.”

“We’re operational,” Morales said.

“Good. I’m starting work on a plan to deal with this Sesil nutcase, but I have to say things don’t look good.”

“With all due respect, sir, you are not taking command of this situation,” Morales said, bringing shocked looks from everyone in ops.

“Did you miss the day at the Academy they covered the chain of command,” Woodall said, growing angry as he leaned forward in his command chair.

“I could quote you about seventeen different regulations and precedents that give me the authority here,” Morales replied. “But we don’t have time to argue protocol right now. We’re the ones best equipped to get Commander Beck back.”

“What about the others?” Woodall said.

“What others?”

“The other hostages!”

“Oh yeah, we’ll get them, too. Now, stand by, and we’ll contact you when we need you.”

“You can bet I’m going to call Starfleet about this, Mister,” Woodall said.

“Fine. Until then, just sit there and keep the engines hot. Morales out.” He looked back at Russell, who severed the comm signal.

“I’m actually impressed,” Lazlo said.

“Have you been listening to those James T. Kirk motivational tapes again?” Porter asked.

“We just have a job to do,” Morales said humorlessly. “How do things look tactically?”

“Well, Waystation’s a fortress,” Russell replied. “We’re talking about 100 decks of firepower. We’d need a fleet of starships to get those shields down, and we’d probably lose most of those ships and blow up half the station in the process.”

“What about the prefix code? We could override their systems from here,” Morales said.

“I’d love to help you there,” Porter replied. “But I don’t know it. It’s in the new user’s manual, which is sitting on the new station.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be able to beam through shields if you match the beam frequency to the shield modulation or something like that?” Lazlo asked.

“You’re a little off on the technobabble, but the idea’s there,” Porter said. “Unfortunately, shield technology has improved in the 10 years since that stunt was pulled. It won’t work anymore.”

“So we need a fleet,” Russell said. “And that could take days.”

“Those people don’t have days,” Morales said. “You heard Sesil. He’s going to start brainwashing them anytime now.”

“I don’t know what else to tell you,” Russell said. “Even with the Orleans out there, our two runabouts, and the Mongoose…”

“No Mongoose,” Lazlo said.

“Why not?” Morales demanded.

“We parked it in our new hanger two days ago. It’s on the station,” Lazlo said.

“Of course, it is,” Morales said. “So we’ve got a Steamrunner-class starship and two runabouts. Great. Waystation Village could practically fight them off.”

“No we couldn’t,” Russell said quickly.

“Don’t interrupt me when I’m being defeatist,” Morales snapped.

“Maybe we could ask the Multeks to lend us a fleet,” Porter joked.

“Porter, that’s…” Morales’ irritation faded as he started thinking. “Beautiful.”


Leximas returned to awareness surrounded again by the colors, tastes, smells and other sensations that had accompanied her first contact with the Ushers. Awareness was the only real state she could ascribe to herself. She certainly didn’t wake up. Her physical body was gone, blown to bits in an explosion.

“You are,” the voices of the Ushers said.

“I am what?” Leximas asked, thinking the question. She certainly had no mouth with which to say it.

“You are. You exist.”

“I am not dead, then.”

“Your material body has ceased to be, but you…what makes you you, continues on in this form.”

“I understand,” Leximas said. She attempted to focus and get some sort of handle on what she was, where she was, and how she could deal with the universe around her.

“You’re needed, Leximas. It is time for you to start your destiny.”

“Time to start.” A realization dawned on her. “Wait. You knew this would happen?”

“Of course,” the Ushers replied.

“You could have mentioned the explosion part.”

“Bad for public relations,” the voices replied from inside and all around her. “Would you honestly have let us lead you halfway across the quadrant just so you could get blown up?”

“There is a certain logic there,” Leximas acceded.

“We know, but none of this is important now. You must stop the Critics.”

“By myself?” Leximas said. “But even you cannot defeat them.”

“We are not you, and you do not have to be alone. Remember, the true power is in the material plane.”

“Then perhaps you should have left me there rather than allowing me to experience that explosion.”

“You are missing the point,” the Ushers said. “If the Critics are allowed to keep control of Waystation, it will be the first step in their conquest of the galaxy. The material beings can fight the Starshine Kids only if the Critics are not allowed to interfere. You must keep the Critics out of what is to come.”

“I will try.”

“Find the one who can help you, the one with experience in other planes and powers.”

“Could you be a bit less vague?” Leximas asked.

“Not really,” the Ushers said. “There are rules to this omnipotent advisor stuff. We can’t just go handing out answers.”

“Of course not. That would be too convenient.”

“Now you’re catching on,” the Ushers said. “But now your energies have completely recovered from the conversion. You have much to do. Will yourself to the material plane and get to it.”


“So what do you have to say now?” Sesil said smugly as he stared down the quivering Federation vice-president.

“Not much,” Beck muttered.

“Answer me!” Sesil demanded after being met by Maruac’s silence. “I’m trying to gloat here.”

“He can’t,” Beck said loudly. “He’s mute.”

“Well, the paleness kind of turns me off, but I guess he’s okay.”

“I said mute, you moron. Not cute,” Beck snapped.

“Mute? How does he communicate?”

“With his hands, which you have tied behind his back,” Beck said. Just like me, she added to herself, shifting uncomfortably in the binders that held her wrists.

“I’m going to release you,” Sesil said to Maruac. “But if you attempt to flee, I will execute one of these other folks. I really don’t want to do that. It’s not very Starshiney. Will you behave?”

Maruac nodded vigorously. Sesil unlocked his binders, and Maruac immediately began moving his arms, placing his hands in the air inches from Sesil’s face, then turning and doing it again, until he’d done it in each direction.

“What is this?” Sesil asked.

“He’s feeling trapped,” Admiral Thomas Wagner explained. “He’s making an imaginary box.”

“Is he a mime?” Sesil said darkly.

“Uh…yes,” Wagner replied.

“Oh, goody,” Sesil said, brightening and clapping his hands. “I love mimes. Can you climb a rope?”

Maruac turned to Sesil and smiled. Then, he began acting out the motions of climbing a high rope.

“Aren’t there provisions against this sort of torture of prisoners?” Bradley Dillon said softly, leaning over to Beck.

“Only among civilized cultures,” Beck said. Sesil whirled on Beck, his face almost showing anger behind his inner peace.

“And you don’t consider the Starshine Kids civilized?” Sesil said. “We’re the future of civilization, Commander. Soon, you will all be shown the Way and become Starshine Kids!”

“Sounds peachy, but I don’t think I can fit the meetings into my busy social calendar,” Beck replied.

Sesil considered Beck for a moment, smiled disconcertingly, then snapped his fingers. Two of the Starshine Kids, two of Lazlo’s marines actually, grabbed Beck and hauled her roughly to her feet.

“Your dark and troubled soul is putting a dampener on my whole day,” Sesil said.

“I could leave,” Beck said.

“No no no, Commander. You just need help, as we all do from time to time. The Way is right in front of you; you just need to open your eyes and see it.”

“I’d rather go my own way, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh, but I do. Only Starshine Kids will be saved from the darkness to come. I can’t just leave you to the horrors of a cruel galaxy. I must help you.”

“I don’t want your help,” Beck said, trying not to let her anger show. The last thing she needed to do was provoke this psycho any further.

“Those in denial of the trouble in their soul are the ones who most need the guidance of the sphere,” Sesil said, gesturing to the pulsating globe still sitting on the science console. “Bring her!”

The two bald marines pushed Beck towards the console where the sphere awaited. She struggled vainly against their iron grips as they pulled her towards the device. Surprising them, she rushed forward, ducking behind the console and running her bound hands randomly along the controls hoping to activate something useful. Various different scans flashed across the monitors and the main viewscreen, but that was all.

The marines quickly grabbed her again, almost pulling her arms from their sockets as they forced her to the sphere.

“Don’t fight this, Commander,” Sesil said, leaning in close to her ear and speaking in what Beck guessed was an attempt at a seductive voice. “You are about to know a contentment such as you have never imagined.”

Beck kicked her foot back, slamming her boot into Sesil’s crotch. “You’re right; I do feel more content,” she said.

“Enlighten her!” Sesil gasped. The marines forced Beck’s head down toward the sphere…

…then Beck was gone. Completely vanished. Her empty binders clattered noisily to the deck.

“Well, that’s never happened before,” Sesil said confused.


Commander Beck was just about to follow up her kick to Sesil’s crotch with a jab to the jaw when she realized she wasn’t in Ops anymore.

As a matter of fact, she wasn’t on Waystation at all.

She was home, on Earth. More specifically, the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina.

She stood on a craggy cliff, facing downward onto the small hillside town where she once lived. She searched the idyllic afternoon horizon, marveling at the perfect blue sky. If she weren’t in the middle of a kidnapping, she’d have been quite content to lean back on the cliff side and sun herself for awhile.

“Hello, Commander,” a voice droned restfully behind Beck.

“Leximas!” Beck said, whirling. “What are you doing here?”

“I am not, in any real sense of the word, here. Neither are you.”

“Okay, where are we then?”

“In a higher plane of reality, above that of the material.”

“And why does it look so much like North Carolina?”

“Because I wanted to bring you to a place that was pleasing to you. We have much to discuss, and even more to do.”

“We have to get my station back!” Beck said. “And I don’t see how having a pleasant conversation on this hillside is going to help do that.”

“We will help, though not directly. Our charge is to stop the Critics from interfering with the material plane.”

“The who?”

“The lip-shaped entities that have threatened your new station, and, for that matter, the entire Alpha Quadrant.”

“Of course, the lips.” Beck rubbed her chin. “What do we have to do?”

“I am not altogether certain as of yet.”

“So why did you get me?”

“Because you are to help me. You have had experience with the immaterial plane, have you not?”

“You mean the time I was given the powers of the Q?”

“That is a good example. At any rate, you must help me.”

“Sure. Just lead the way.”

“The way, as it were, would seem to be the problem.”

“Something that confounds Leximas,” Beck said softly. “This must be bad.”

“I am not confounded. Simply uncertain.”

Beck was about to retort when a large pair of lips descended from the blue sky and devoured one of the buildings in Beck’s town.

“Oh, hell,” Beck muttered. She nudged Leximas. “You said this was not the real North Carolina, right?”

“That is correct. Those lips, however, are a very real threat.”

“Oh.” Beck shook her fist at the lips. “Hey, pouty! Over here.”

The lips drifted over toward the mountain. They were easily ten times the size of Beck. “Yessssssss?”

“Stop eating my town!”

“Or what, pipsqueak?”

“Or…” Beck thought carefully. She was in some sort of higher realm now, controlled by her mind, supposedly. Not much different from when she had Q powers, right?

With sheer force of will, Beck began to grow, until the hill was just a lump under her foot.

“Kiss my ass!” Beck cried, and slugged the lips so hard they reeled backward, finally slapping into a nearby mountain.

“Most impressive,” said a tiny voice from somewhere below the clouds that hovered around Beck’s head. She bent down.

At her feet, Leximas, about the size of one of her toes, stood patiently. “Your powers in the immaterial plane are considerable. Now I see why the Ushers directed me to you.”

“The who?”

That’s when a shadow drifted over Beck and Leximas. Beck looked up. “Oh,–”

And she and Leximas were devoured by lips approximately the size of North Carolina, and all became blackness.


“So we need to somehow fight off Waystation long enough to break in and get our people,” said Lazlo, pacing the stifling conference room that adjoined the Ops module.

“But before we do anything,” said Porter, “we need to evacuate Waystation Village. What if the Starshine Kids planted more explosives?”

“To say nothing of the fact that Waystation could blow us all out of the stars with a well-placed quantum torpedo,” said Russell.

“Agreed,” Morales said from the head of the conference table. He swivelled in his chair toward the monitor behind him where the captain of the Orleans waited impatiently. “Captain Woodall, I think it would behoove us to get everyone off this complex and onto the Orleans.”

“Very well,” Woodall said, shifting uncomfortably in his command chair. “You realize that, even if your people are on board the Orleans, it doesn’t guarantee their safety if Waystation opens fire.”

“Orleans will be well out of range of Waystation,” Morales said, “at least at the start of things.”

“Come again?” Woodall asked.

“You’re going to Multek territory to get some reinforcements, since there’s not a single Starfleet ship in range to help us.”

Woodall narrowed his eyes at Morales speculatively. “And what makes you think the Multeks will help us?”

“We’ll just have to make them come over to our way of thinking.”

“You’re talking about approaching a viciously reclusive people who are still not convinced we exist and asking them for military assistance!”

“It’s all about putting it to them the right way,” Morales said. “We’ve had some experience dealing with the Multeks. Hence, we’re going to give you some help.”

“You have a Liaison officer we can use, then?”

Morales cringed inwardly. For the first time in two years they came up with a real job for Yeoman Tina Jones, and she was at the moment held captive on the new Waystation. “Not exactly,” Morales muttered. “However, Lieutenant Porter is at your disposal. He’s had a good deal of experience with the Multeks.”

Woodall harrumphed. It was obvious that he still wasn’t wild about taking orders from Morales, but the idea of taking action did appeal to him. “Fine. We’ll do it. Prepare to evacuate Waystation Village. Then we’ll get underway.”

“We’re on it. Morales out.” Morales turned to Porter and Russell, who both looked a bit put out at their respective stations. “You two: Start coordinating the evacuation.”

“Commander,” Porter said, springing out of his chair and walking over to the head of the table. “Is it so wise to send your Chief Science and Operations officer away when you desperately need to find a way inside the new Waystation to get Beck and the others back?”

“Lazlo and I will handle that,” Morales said.

Lazlo blinked. “We will?” The idea of a joint Marine/Starfleet operation was obviously not attractive to him.

“We will.” Morales nodded at Porter. “I realize how you feel about this. I know you care a great deal for Commander Beck. Believe me, I do too. But we need the Multeks if we’re to have any hope of getting her and the others out of there, and we need you to make sure Woodall doesn’t piss them off. Now go.”

“On my way,” said Porter, glancing at Russell as he left.

Morales nodded at his Chief of Security. “Russell, you go and round up all of your security officers. And get our best engineering people too. Everyone else goes aboard the Orleans.”

“Yes, sir,” Russell said, rushing into the airlock after Porter.

“I admire the amount of control you have over your officers,” Lazlo said incredulously, rising from his own chair.

“It’s not control; it’s reason and a little respect. And I didn’t even yell.”

“Well, no one’s perfect.”


“And pray tell,” Sesil said, glancing around at his followers, his facade of calm showing a few crinkles. “Pray tell, where is Commander Beck?”

Among the sea of faces before him in the new Waystation’s ops, one follower coughed. “Ahem. She vanished.”

“I know she vanished!” Sesil shouted. “That is not the point.” He took a deep breath, concentrating on the inner starlight in his soul for some peace. Finally, he regained his calm. “No matter. We have many friends where that one came from.” He turned to the cluster of bound captives grouped near the science console. “Let’s try this again, but on someone expendable this time, just in case the same thing happens twice.”

“How about Jones!” Bradley Dillon suggested eagerly.

“How heroic, Mr. Dillon,” Jones snapped.

“Don’t worry,” Bradley whispered. “You Liaison Officers have hostage crisis training, don’t you?”

“We most certainly do not! Why would a liaison officer need hostage crisis training? I sit in an office all day telling people about vacation spots in the Federation and giving guidance to docking ship captains and crews. Why on Earth would I ever need hostage crisis training?”

“Hey, don’t look at me. I never went to Starfleet Academy. It does seem like it would come in handy.”

Jones had to agree there.

“Very well,” Sesil said, drifting over to the group. “Are we settled on you as the next to bask in the joy of eternal Starlight, Miss Jones?”

“No?” she said in a small voice.

“Excellent. Up with you, then,” Sesil said, taking Jones by the arm and leading her toward the pulsating orb.

“Please, Mr. Sesil, don’t do this!” Jones said. “I don’t like glowing orbs one bit!”

“That will change soon,” Sesil said in a singsong voice. He glared at the orb. “Now you behave right this time, you naughty orb, or I’ll toss you out the airlock.” He shoved Jones’s face down toward the surface of the orb and it rippled pleasingly. “Now, Jones, behold the power of my pulsating orb!”

Bradley wrinkled his nose. “Ewwwwwww.”

Sesil glared back at Bradley. “You be quiet!” He looked down at Jones. “Well? Are you experiencing starry bliss?”

Eyes scrunched shut, Jones shook her head. “Mm mm!”

“Well, dear, you have to open your eyes, or you won’t experience anything!”

“I don’t want to experience your orb!”

Sesil knelt beside Jones. “Yeoman, you have to see this my way. I’m a cult leader here. I have to convert people somehow, or else where would my followers come from?”

“I…don’t know…” Jones said slowly.

“Come on, Miss Jones. I know you’re just a tad curious.”

“No no no no!” Jones brought her bound wrists up over her eyes.

“Don’t make me get forceful with you. I’m trying to be nice about this.”

“I don’t want to!”

Sesil shoved Jones’s face closer to the orb. “Come…on!”

“No!”

“Come on!”

“No!”

“Leave her alone!” rose a voice from behind Sesil. He glanced over his shoulder.

“Pardon?”

“I said leave her alone,” Admiral Thomas Wagner replied. He’d stayed quiet as long as he could. “She’s a Starfleet officer. You can’t just force her to absorb your sick philosophy like some sort of mindless sponge!”

“That’s quite eloquent, Admiral Wagner,” Sesil said. “Except for the fact that it’s trite garbage. I’m a sweet cult leader from the planet Vulcan, and I’ll do whatever on Shakaree I please, you hear?”

Jones turned her head and opened her eyes. “That was such a nice thing to say, Adm–”

“Aha!” Sesil exclaimed, twisting Jones’s head around before she could object. Her eyes widened as the colors swirled inside the orb. She turned to look up at Sesil, her pupils dilating to become huge.

“The…Starshine Way…is…superior.”

“For Pete’s sake,” Admiral McGrath muttered.

“I tried,” Wagner snapped.

“Who volunteered her in the first place?” Bradley Dillon said.

“You did!” McGrath and Wagner shot back.

“Oh, right.”

Vice President Maruac studied the scene before him, then brought his fists up to his eyes and began wringing them emphatically.

“Oh, now look what you’ve done!” Wagner muttered.


Beck felt herself spin for what felt like decades in the darkness of the void behind the Critics’ pudgy lips. A tongue roiled beneath her like a sea, and a sea of saliva washed over her.

“Leximas!” she called, swimming through the melange.

“Here.”

Beck glanced up at a bright light. Leximas hovered above, casting glowing golden light down on her. “Well, fine time to show yourself.”

“I was…thinking.”

“About what!” Beck asked, sloshing in the saliva.

“About the nature of these Critic fellows.”

“And, did you come to any conclusions?”

“Regrettably, no. But I will let you know when I do.”

“In the meantime, how about pulling me out of this mess?”

“Gladly.”


USS ORLEANS


“Welcome aboard,” Lt. Porter said, taking Dr. Amedon Nelson’s hand as she appeared on the transporter pad. “Have a safe beam?”

“Safe is a relative term. My symbiont gets all kinds of cranky when I transport.”

“Sorry to hear about that. Did you get all your patients out ok?”

“What patients? I had one construction worker with an inner ear infection!”

“And is he okay?”

Nelson pushed locks of hair behind her ears and pulled away from Porter as they exited the transporter room and headed down the Orleans’ shiny mauve and black corridor. “He’s just dandy. Now shouldn’t we go?”

“Yes, yes, of course,” Porter said. “Porter to bridge.”

“Woodall here.”

“Everyone’s aboard. Set a course for Multek space and engage at maximum warp.”

“First I’m taking orders from a lieutenant commander, and now a lieutenant. What’s next? The ship’s chef?”

Nelson grunted. “Hi Jack, engage or I’ll come up there myself and clobber you.”

“Oh, so Miss Nelson is here! This trip just got better!” Woodall said sarcastically as he closed the comm.

“He’s loads of fun,” Porter muttered.

“And no good in bed,” said Nelson.

“What’s that?”

“Never mind. Where did you say the bridge was?”


“That’s it, sir,” Lt. Sean Russell said over the comm of the flagship tug Garth Brooks. “Everybody but the thirty-eight security and engineering officers you requested are aboard the Orleans. They’re headed for Multek territory now.”

“Tell them to hurry back,” Morales said urgently.

“Will do. Russell out.”

Morales made the calculations. Along with Lazlo’s marines, they’d have almost eighty people to coordinate and implement the attack on Waystation. More than enough, if manpower was all that was needed.

Just then, Buck Winters lumbered in, immediately making a bee-line for the replicator.

“You wanted to see me?” Buck asked, punching up a beer.

“Yes,” Morales said. “Mr. Winters, I assume you’re fully apprized of the situation over on Waystation.”

“Some wacko’s converted some of my men and a bunch of others into raving lunatics, and he’s threatening to blow us out of this sector. That about right?”

“Close enough. We’re here to deputize you.”

“Pardon? Deputize?” Buck sucked back beer and belched. “That’s a laugh. We’re not Starfleet officers, Mr. Morales.”

“No one knows the construction of Waystation better than you and your men.”

“That may be, but our contracts never included getting blown apart!”

“Commander Morales, please allow me to intervene,” Colonel Lazlo said, stepping up from behind Morales. “Mr. Winters!” he barked. “By the power vested in me by the United Federation Marine Corps, I hear by deputize you and all your men! You will turn over control of your construction fleet to Morales and myself and dedicate your life and the lives of your people to preserving the sovereignty of our borders and saving the lives of valued Federation citizens, including our own Vice President!” He paused a moment for effect. “Any questions?”

“Nope.” Buck slugged down the rest of his beer. “Let’s go get us a cult leader. Where do we start?”

Lazlo looked to Morales. “Uh,” he stammered. “Consolidate the fleet and put everyone on alert. Then give me a rundown of exactly how many ships and people we have. And if you have any ordnance or other weapons around, tell us that too.”

“Right away.” And Buck shuffled out of the mess hall.

Morales looked incredulously at Lazlo as the doors swung shut behind Buck. “Colonel, I’m impressed.”

“See what a little yelling will do?”


Beck hovered inside the huge mouth for what seemed like forever with Leximas. It’d gotten to the point where she’d turned to counting the massive teeth that lined the chamber to relieve her boredom.

“Molar, molar, molar, incisor…” Beck muttered.

“Hmm,” said Leximas.

“‘Hmm’?” Beck asked, glancing over at the hovering mystic.

“Hmm, as in prepare to be forcefully disgorged!”

“Pardon?”

“Hold on!”

Suddenly Beck and Leximas shot out of the mouth with a vicious “Ptoo!”

The huge mouth stood before Beck and Leximas, floating in the midst of black, starry space. “That’s quite long enough. Time to deal with you two annoying little buggers.”

“How about we deal with you!” Beck shot back.

“Please, give it your best shot.” The lips shrunk down to normal–that is, about twice Beck and Leximas’ size. “You see, we’re here in the middle of the spiritual plane. You may have the cute ability to make yourself large, et cetera, but in the end you’ll never outwit us. The Critics are old and vastly superior creatures. In the end, we’ve got it all over you little material plane-dwellers.”

“Then why do you care so much about what happens in the material plane?” asked Leximas pointedly.

“Good question,” the Critics admitted. “One we’re not about to answer. Sorry!”

“Lexi,” Beck whispered, keeping her teeth clenched.

“Yes?”

“We can use our minds to create pretty much whatever environment we want here, right?”

“That is essentially correct. Why?”

“Because I just got an idea.”

With excruciating concentration, Beck closed her eyes and imagined her, Lexi, and the lips away to the place she’d just thought of. In a way, she pitied the Critics for what they were about to undergo.


The pair of lips found themselves suddenly and quite disconcertingly transported away from the starry environment they had previously been in to some sort of home on Earth.

“More of this drab planet,” the lips muttered as they hovered through the house, drifting down to the first floor, apparently a foyer or something. “Beautiful.”

What were Beck and that dreaded Leximas planning? This certainly wasn’t helping their conquest of the universe. Not that Beck and Leximas presented a real obstacle. Just a hindrance. And even if it was a hindrance of hundreds of years, that was pocket change to the Critics, right? Still, it was quite annoying.

“Hello? Show yourselves, you silly little corporeals.”

“Corporeals. That’s a new one,” said a female voice. The lips turned.

A dark-haired woman in a beautiful floor-length dress and heels marched out of what the lips presumed was the kitchen. “There’s some leftover meatloaf in the fridge. Tommy’s already in bed. Feel free to watch TV, or talk on the phone, or whatever. I left emergency numbers on the kitchen table.”

“Pardon me?” asked the lips.

“In case there’s an emergency,” the woman said tiredly. “Listen, Darren and I are late. Are you all set here?”

“Set for what?”

“To babysit.” The woman rolled her eyes. “Stacy had nothing but great things to say about you when she recommended you. I hope she wasn’t wrong.”

The lips considered this strange woman. Part of some complex game created by the corporeals. Fine, the lips were omnipotent. They had plenty of time. They’d play the silly game.

“Very well,” said the lips. “I shall sit on your baby. Now be gone.”

“Uh…” the woman said, when suddenly the sound of a horn honk blared outside. “That must be Darren. We’ll be back around midnight.”

“Okay. Have fun.”

The lips explored the house once the woman had left, first devouring the so-called “meatloaf,” then proceeding to make sure “Tommy” was safely in bed, wrapped up in sheets plastered with pictures of someone called “Luke Skywalker.” The human wielded a phallic, glowing rod, preparing to jab it at a dark-cloaked, masked man. Earth was a sick place.

The Critic made the final decision to obliterate this place called Earth as soon as it plopped down on the sticky leathery couch to watch the thing these people called “Television.” A tiny screen on which corporeals watched other corporeals sleep together, play silly jokes on each other, and lapse into comas. Really. What drivel.

In the middle of something called “Sanford and Son,” the lips became aware of a shrill ringing sound. They turned toward the end table next to the couch, and sure enough some primitive human communication device was chirping for attention there.

The phone receiver hovered magically over to the lips. “Hello.”

“Huhhhhhhhhfffff…” said the voice on the other line.

“Hello?”

“Hnnnnnfffffffgg…”

“You’ll have to speak up.”

“Uhh uhh uhhhh uhhh huh uhhh hhhuuhhhhh…”

“Oh, for the love of the multiverses,” the lips said, and slammed down the receiver.

After about fifteen minutes, the lips watched, transfixed, while the credits of “Sanford and Son” rolled. “That was epic. Simply epic.”

CRUNCH!

“What was that?” The lips hovered over to the bay window overlooking the home’s tidy lawn.

CRUNCH! CRUNCH! CRUNCH! CRUNCH!

It sounded like footsteps on dry leaves.

With a thought the lips creaked open one panel on the bay window. “Hello out there? Is that you, Leximas?”

Then, out of the dark, a white face emerged. The lips marveled. “What is this nonsense?”

Then, out of the dark, a huge axe emerged, slicing part of the Critic’s upper lip right off.

“Mmppph!” the lips protested.

WHACK! Again, another piece of lip fell to the ground.

“You scourge, you!” the lips cried, flying backward through the house, clattering over furniture as it worked its way through the cavernous hallways. “Help me! Help me!”


“How long do you figure that’ll keep it busy?” asked Beck, watching from a safe distance away in a nearby house.

“It is difficult to say. You are more familiar with this ‘Michael Myers’ fellow than I.”

“I think we’ve got it for a good two hours, based on the program I modeled this world after.”

“You know, Commander, there may be a future for you in the area of multidimensional mindphysics.”

“It’s really just a hobby.”

“Indeed.”


Porter noted that Dr. Nelson strolled onto the bridge of the Orleans like she owned the place. “Jack, what a pleasure.”

Captain Woodall grimaced as he turned from his position at the center of the command arena. “Amelia. What a disappointment.”

“Actually, it’s Amedon now.”

“You changed your FIRST name?” Woodall asked, scratching his head.

“Yep. I have a symbiont now.”

Woodall grunted. “You always were into the weird stuff.”

“Care to fill me in?” Porter whispered as he joined Nelson at her spot behind the dual command chairs, leaning on the slate-colored railing and staring at the stretched out stars.

“No.”

“He looks to be ten years older than you.”

“Some say I’m old at heart.”

“What are you two mumbling about?” groused Woodall. He was standing between the forward stations, staring at the stars, arms folded.

“Nothing.”

“Oh, then you were talking about our relationship?”

“Your performance, actually.”

There were snickers among the bridge crew, quieted at once by a glare from Woodall. “Cute, Nelson. Keep your comments to yourself or I’ll have you removed from the bridge.”

“You always did like to play rough.”

More snickers.

Woodall grimaced. “You’ve been warned.”


Morales sighed as he paged through the report, pacing the unkempt (and not too pleasant-smelling) bridge of the Brooks. “Twenty-odd workers, four tugs, including this one. Six barges, fifteen workbees, six space cranes, and some scattered ordnance and explosives.”

“And four travel pods,” said Buck, chewing on a duranium toothpick. “Don’t forget the travel pods.”

“I’m sure they’ll be of great assistance,” Morales said dully. “What do you think, Lazlo?” Battle was sort of more the Colonel’s specialty. Morales’ talents were in shuttlebay administration, after all. He could recite the fuel type of each ship in the makeshift fleet without much thought, but as far as battle plans–that was another story altogether.

Lazlo twirled a finger through his moustache. “It’ll be fun.”

“Fun?” Morales beamed. “That’s not exactly the word I’d use.”

“I know this, believe me. I know.”

“And how many marines did we manage to salvage from your squad?”

“A good forty, thanks to that nut Sesil.”

“Okay, then. Spread them around. Make sure they instruct the Zenedron people on the finer points of battle strategy.”

Lazlo leaned in close, so the trio of construction workers manning the Brooks’ bridge wouldn’t hear. “Morales, you realize these ships aren’t armed with more than navigational deflectors and Type II phasers, at BEST.”

“I realize, Colonel, believe me.”

“Then what are we going to do? Throw these ships at Waystation?”

“Not the ships, Colonel. The modules.”

Lazlo rolled his eyes. “Madre de Dios.”


“What are they doing out there?” Sesil pondered, watching the moving Zenedron fleet on the massive view-wall in Ops.

“Not sure, bright one,” said Tina Jones, looking up from the science station. “It looks like they’re getting ready to do something.”

“That’s brilliant. What type of officer were you before you joined us? Sanitation?”

“Liaison officer, actually,” Jones said brightly.

“So don’t you know anything about Starfleet protocols?”

“Pitifully little, I’m afraid, starry-guy.”

“Perfect,” McGrath said in a hushed voice, leaning in between Wagner and Bradley. “She’s playing dumb. Obviously trying to stall him.”

“I don’t think she’s playing dumb, Admiral,” Bradley said quietly. “She really doesn’t know much about Starfleet protocols. She does write darn good interoffice correspondence, however.”

“Oh, well then, maybe we can knock out this cult with a stern memo,” Wagner harrumphed.

“Only if it has a quantum torpedo attached,” said Bradley gravely.

“It’s apparent that our people are trying to pull together some sort of plan to get us out of this. We have to do all we can to help them,” said McGrath.

“Meaning what?” Bradley asked.

“I’m up for suggestions.”

All heads turned to Maruac. His hands had been unbound so he could please Sesil with his gestures.

“You thinking what I’m thinking?” whispered Bradley.

Wagner and McGrath smiled up at Maruac, who simply shrugged.


The clown-faced Multek went about his business on the bridge of his ship as if he weren’t right then showing up on the viewscreen of a Federation starship.

“Listen here, Captain Gooly,” Jack Woodall said, sitting back in the command chair as if it were an easy chair, legs crossed casually. “If that is your real name. You know darn good and well I’m here. I demand you at least give me the respect of talking to my face.”

“Recheck sensors,” Gooly said on the viewscreen. “What kind of disturbance is that out there?”

“It looks almost like a ship,” a voice said in the background.

“A Multek ship?”

“Certainly not…”

“Then it IS NOT a SHIP!”

Woodall pounded the arm of his command chair. “Gooly! You returned my hail. How can you return a damn hail from a damn ship that doesn’t damn exist!”

“That’s it, Jack,” purred Nelson from behind him. “Sweet talk him.”

“You be quiet,” Woodall barked over his shoulder. “Listen, Captain, surely you’re a man of reason…”

“Advice?” Gooly asked, looking around his bridge.

“Ignore it and it’ll go away.”

“Pretend you don’t see it.”

“Turn us around and head back to Multek Prime, quickly!”

“All good suggestions. Which to pick?”

Woodall sighed. “Listen to me, Gooly!”

“Hold on,” Porter said, stepping around to the front of the bridge. “Captain, with all due respect, you do not know how to handle Multeks. Let me take a shot at it.”

“You sure you know what you’re doing?”

“Give him a shot, Jack,” said Nelson.

Woodall glanced over his shoulder. “Stay out of this, Amelia.”

“Amedon.”

“Whatever.”

Porter straightened the front of his uniform and took two steps forward. “Captain Gooly, this is Captain…Bibble of the…er, Moonmun. Listen closely: We have been commissioned by our leader to pretend to be an imaginary ship. We’ve used hologenerators to make us look human and our ship look like it’s a ‘pretend’ Federation ‘starship.’” Porter made air quotes to accentuate his point.

This got Gooly’s attention. “To what end, Bibble?”

“So we can test to see if other ships see us, pretend to see us, pretend not to see us, or imagine that we’re not here at all.”

“To root out the insane ones, then?”

“Exactly!” Porter grinned. “Good work, Gooly. Your crew did well. If you had acknowledged that our ship existed, well…”

Gooly covered his ears. “I don’t even want to know.”

“All right, well, we’d better find another ship to test,” Porter said, turning.

“Tell the Frequoq we send our best!” said Gooly excitedly.

Porter turned back toward the screen. “You know, Captain, there is something you might do to help us.”

“Anything, Captain Bibble.”

“You see, as part of our test, we’ve built an imaginary space station a few light years from here on which some Multeks are pretending to be from this unreal ‘Federation.’ The trouble is, they’re now convinced that they are real, and that they’re really from the ‘Federation,’ and that it’s really, in fact, a real station.”

“No!”

“Yes, unfortunate, isn’t it?”

“Very much so.”

Porter pretended to be in deep thought. “Oh, I have an idea.”

“What?”

“How about you find as many vessels as you can and meet us at the station at these coordinates–” Porter glanced to the tactical officer, who quickly tapped in Waystation’s coordinates “–and we’ll break down their defenses and rescue them so they can be properly rehabilitated.”

“I’m more than pleased to do so, Captain,” said Gooly. He spoke with an officer off-screen. “How does five ships sound?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Porter grinned, and turned his grin back on Woodall. “Close channel.”

The captain of the Orleans grunted as an excited Gooly disappeared from the screen. “You know, Porter, this is going to be hard to get out of when all is said and done.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Nelson said. Porter moved to join her behind the command chairs once again. “Good job, Craig.”

“Nothing to it,” Porter shrugged. “Now all we have to do is break through Waystation’s defenses, defeat the Starshine Cult, and rescue the hostages.”

“Piece of cake.”

“We’ll see,” muttered Woodall. “Helm, plot course back to Waystation. Maximum warp.”


The lips thundered down Highway 68 in a beat up pickup truck. “This is ridiculous. I am omnipotent. Why is this happening? How is it that silly man with the white face can damage me?”

That portion of the lips that was carved off still hadn’t totally healed.

“I swear, as soon as I find that Beck and Leximas, I’ll show them. They think they’re so smart.”

The Critic was so busy muttering to itself, it almost didn’t see the white-faced figure step out into the middle of the road.

“There you are, rogue!” the lips cried. “Let’s see how you stand up to this!”

And the pickup slammed right into Mike Myers. The lips grinned wide at the thunk that sounded as the body rolled over the hood and off onto the road.

“No non-omnipotent creature could stand up to that,” the lips said confidently. The Critic pulled off the road and slid out of the cab. “Hello, Mr. Murderer? Are you dead yet?”

An axe swung out of the darkness, carving another chunk out of the lip.

“Oh, that’s enough of that,” the lips said, backing away. “I’ll send a whole army of babysitters after you. Then you’ll learn!”

The lips concentrated the pure energy of their power and brought five thousand young, long-limbed, slender Jamie Lee Curtises into being. “Michael!” the multitudinous chorus of voices shouted from the darkness.

“Hnnh?” grunted the killer.

“Now you’re screwed!” the lips shouted, and hovered up into the air.

“Nnnnnnh!” Mike Myers cried, ducking into a fetal position as the five thousand babysitters closed in on him.


“Uh-oh,” Beck said, from the vantage point of the station wagon she and Leximas had pilfered from the home they’d invaded. It wasn’t really stealing, since Beck created this whole world anyway.

Beck and Leximas could easily see the crowd of Curtises thrashing and beating poor Mike Myers.

“A pitiful sight, indeed,” Leximas said.

“Yeah, I feel terrible,” Beck said. “What’s worse, now we’ve got to deal with that damned pair of lips again.”

As if on cue, a thud sounded against the hood of the station wagon.

“You hear that?” Beck asked fearfully, as an incisor tooth dug into the ceiling and yanked it up.

Beck and Leximas stared up at the giggling Critic. Chunks were carved out of the lips, but they still looked ominous. And they were bared in a fierce snarl.

“Enough playtime! Now you pay for what you’ve done!” the lips cried.

“What is the proper vernacular here?” asked Leximas intently.

“Gun it!” Beck cried, and jerked the station wagon into gear, slamming on the gas.

The Critic flew off the roof and landed on the ground. “Come back, you silly little corporeals!”

The wagon, on the other hand, plowed through at least thirty Jamie Lee Curtises and sped off through the night.


Lt. Commander Morales, Colonel Lazlo, and Buck Winters gathered around a console on board the Brooks.

“So we have to throw the modules at these main points,” Buck said, indicating the glowing dots on the schematic of Waystation.

“And even that will only buy us a little time,” said Morales. “We’re talking about .5 seconds of shield fluctuation.”

“That will be more than enough for the Mongoose to blast open the hangar bay, if we time it right.”

Morales nodded. “Then the Mongoose wedges itself in the opening to create a hole in the shields. Genius.”

“Thanks so much,” Buck snorted. “Now here’s a good question: what’s to stop Waystation from blowing our whole fleet apart once we launch the attack.

Lazlo and Morales exchanged glances. “Nothing, really,” Morales said finally.

“You guys are getting a huge bill for this, you realize.”

“Starfleet can cover it,” Morales snapped. “Now get ready to deploy the fleet. Lazlo and I will lead the operation from the Yadkin. We’ll use the Cumberland to provide covering fire and hopefully distract the people operating Waystation’s weapons long enough for us to get in.”

“All those beautiful modules,” snarled Buck. “It seems like such a waste.”

“You’ll get reimbursed!” cried Morales. “Now get ready to deploy the fleet!”

Buck straightened. “Fine. Yes, sir. Jeeze.”

“Now that’s more like it,” Lazlo grinned.

“Come on, let’s get to the Yadkin,” Morales grimaced.


“I wonder where the Orleans went,” Sesil pondered, as two of the Federation Marines massaged his back. “Oh, a little to the right, Pete. There. Perfect.”

“Your brightness, I still can’t seem to figure out what those construction people are doing,” Jones said from sciences. “It appears that they’re disassembling the modules that make up Waystation Village now.”

“Ah,” said Sesil, spinning in his chair behind Aux Engineering. “That’s it. They’re getting ready to clear out. Can’t say I blame them.”

“Should we try to stop them, shineyness?” said one of the marines.

“I don’t see why. We’ve got plenty of new friends here, and are sure to recruit more. They can try to run. We’ll get them eventually anyway.”

“So true, so true,” said the other marine.

“Now come on, keep rubbing.”

Sesil watched Vice President Maruac do some sort of amusing hand-jive on the other side of ops. The grouping of guests by the science console watched him eagerly. “Keep it up, sir. You’re spectacular,” Sesil cooed.

Maruac grinned. It seemed to Sesil that, as he tush-pushed left to right, he was steadily working his way more to the right, where a cluster of consoles stood bleeping. Sesil idly wondered what those consoles did.


Russell swung in behind the right-side console on the runabout Yadkin. “Warming up the weapons.”

“I’ve got helm,” said Lt. Stephanie Hodges, Lazlo’s ace pilot, sliding in next to Russell.

“Oh, you’re the Commander’s friend,” Russell said with a grin.

“That’s right I am. All the more reason I want to break in there and get her out.”

Russell leaned back easily in his chair. “Don’t you worry about a thing. We’ll get her out.”

“I hope so.”

“You know, you’re kind of cute.”

Hodges blinked. “We’re in the middle of a life-or-death situation and you’re hitting on me.”

“I can’t help it,” Russell said sullenly. “Just say, if we get out of this alive, that you’ll have a drink with me.”

“A drink. Okay. If we survive.”

“What are you two conspiring about?” Morales asked, clasping a hand on the back of Russell’s chair.

“Battle strategy,” Russell grinned up at Morales.

“Sure, sure you are.” Morales sighed. “Are we ready to go?”

“I think. They just broke off the hangar module from what’s left of the complex, but we have the backup power generator online to open the doors.”

“Then open them.”

“Aye, sir,” Russell said. After a few moments, he checked his panel. “Cumberland is away.”

“Well, my marines and your security officers are armed and ready back there.” Lazlo stepped up to join Morales. “Commander Morales, before things get too wild, let me just say it’s been great working with you.”

“Really?”

“Sure. You’re teaching me valuable lessons about how superior the leadership of the Federation Marines is.”

“Glad to be of service,” Morales muttered. “Lt. Hodges, heat up the engines. Russell, ready on weapons. Signal the crane ships and tugs to grab their respective modules.”

“Done and done,” said Russell as he plucked the controls on his panel.

“Move us out,” Lazlo said, grinning over at Morales. “Let’s do it to it, Commander.”

“Right. Do it to it,” Morales said dully. “Ahead full impulse.”

And the Yadkin thrummed out of the hangar bay.


Porter paced in front of Captain Woodall as the Orleans came out of warp. “What’s going on out there?”

“It looks like they’re preparing to move the cargo modules out of the way of the fight,” Woodall said.

“Maybe.” Porter rubbed his beard. “Can you locate Lt. Commander Morales out there anywhere?”

“Working,” said Lt. Pryce, Woodall’s tactical officer. She glanced up from her panel. “Aboard the runabout Yadkin.”

“Hail them.”

Woodall harrumphed.

“Hail them, please.”

Woodall looked back at Pryce and nodded assent.

Presently, Morales and Lazlo appeared on the screen, sitting in the rear seats in Yadkin’s cockpit.

“Well?” asked Morales.

“Five Multek ships are on their way,” Porter said with a grin. “Any luck on your end?”

“I can’t believe a Multek fleet is coming to attack the station and that’s the good news of the day,” Morales said, shaking his head. “Oh, yes, and we have the full cooperation of the Zenedron people.”

“There’s a change,” muttered Dr. Nelson.

“So what’s the plan?” asked Porter.

Morales seemed reluctant. “Well, we’re…”

“Spit it out,” commanded Lazlo.

“We’re throwing the remnants of Waystation Village at Waystation.”

Porter blinked. “Oh. Okay.”

“What kind of circus are you running here, Morales!” blared Woodall.

“A violent one,” Morales said dully. “Better call for Red Alert, Captain.”

“No kidding,” Nelson said, looking to Woodall.

Woodall glanced around the bridge. “Fine. Red Alert!” When did he lose control? Probably the second he approached this blasted sector of space.


Sesil grimaced at the view wall. “There’s the Orleans again. Just perfect. What are they doing?”

“Warming up weapons,” said Jones. “What do you think that means?”

Sesil glared at her. “Dear, that means they’re going to attack. Ready our weapons too.”

“Okay, if you say so, starry-eyes.”

“I say so.” Sesil watched the Orleans approach on the screen. A medium-to-small size as Federation starships went. And the construction fleet was barely armed, so they weren’t a threat. No worries, thought Sesil. Things were going just as planned. They’d dispense with Starfleet and then go on to recruit the rest of the quadrant.

“Looks like they’re commencing with an attack run,” said Jones eagerly. “Shall we blast them, shine-ola?”

“Yes! Blast them!” Sesil said, hopping up and down in place. “Blast the hell out of them.” He glanced over his shoulder at his captives. “Oh, and here I should say something especially poignant.”

“You mean something along the lines of ‘watch your pathetic Federation collapse’?” offered Bradley Dillon.

“Close,” Sesil said, tickling a pointed ear. “How’s this? Watch your worthless Federation be destroyed in a bloody fireball!”

“That was excellent,” said McGrath.

Sesil turned back to watch the attack. The shake of quantum torpedoes from the Orleans was barely noticeable against Waystation’s superior shields.

But when Waystation lashed out at the Orleans, that was another story. The Steamrunner-class ship veered away, shields flaring bright blue.

“More, more!” shouted Sesil.

Wagner grimaced. “Now, Maruac!”

And with a graceful cha-cha move, Maruac slammed the console he’d wandered over to.

“What–” Sesil exclaimed, when an explosion from the Orleans attack blew up panels beside him and knocked him off his feet.


“Hull damage on the ops level!” cried Pryce. “Direct hit. Their shields are down!”

“What?” Woodall asked, as the Orleans shook against the brunt of Waystation’s attack.

“Someone must be on top of things over there,” said Nelson.

“We might as well take advantage of it!” Woodall exclaimed. “Take out their main weapons clusters now, Pryce!”


“Look at that!” Morales said, springing to his feet as a chunk of the hull around the Ops module blew away.

“Someone got the shields down,” reasoned Lazlo. He whirled toward his panel. “Activating the Mongoose’s phasers now.”

“Send it through the hangar door before they can get the shields back up,” Morales said, turning to Russell. “Lieutenant, signal the construction fleet. Tell them to hold back on throwing the modules. No need to do unnecessary damage if we can get in as is.”


Consoles flared to life aboard the Marine Transport Mongoose. Lazlo’s subspace remote activation sequence registered in the computer, and it executed his commands. Phasers flared at the hangar door, blasting it outward, and the Mongoose’s aft thrusters pushed it forward across the smooth deck. The tiny vessel thrummed forward, wedging itself tightly within the tear in the hangar door and waiting for further orders.


“We’ve got penetration!” said Lazlo.

“Take us in, Hodges,” Morales ordered. “Mr. Russell, prepare to transport us over.”

That’s when phasers flared from the station at the Yadkin, sending it spiraling away.

“Plan B?” Russell cried, gripping his sparking panel.


Woodall edged out of the command chair. “Move to cover the Yadkin, helm!”

“Aye, sir,” the helm officer responded.

“Signal the Cumberland. Have them beam their people over to Waystation,” said Porter.

“And get those people off the Yadkin before it blows!” Nelson said, watching her panel.

Porter leapt to the aux engineering panel and began the transporter sequence. “I’m beaming them right over to Waystation.” He looked up at the viewscreen as a blast soared past the Orleans, pounding the Yadkin, which promptly blew into tiny flaming pieces.

“She was a good ship,” muttered Porter.

“She was a glorified shuttlecraft,” Nelson corrected. “Now, about Waystation–”

Another blast rocked the Orleans, sending people flying over their panels.

“Take out those quantum launchers, Pryce!” called Woodall, stumbling over to ops.

“I’m trying but–”

Woodall glanced back. “But?”

Pryce frowned. “Waystation just put their shields back up.”


“Nice maneuver, Mr. Vice President,” Sesil said, wiping blood from his lip and staggering across the smoky Ops center to join Maruac, who had been re-bound and shoved back among his fellow captives. “You just royally screwed up this whole operation.”

Maruac just shrugged.

“Don’t you shrug at me!” Sesil said shrilly. “Do you realize what you’ve done?”

He nodded.

“If I wasn’t enlightened, I would gut you where you stand!”

“Good thing he’s enlightened,” Bradley whispered.

“And you shut up!” Sesil swung toward the console he now realized was tactical. “Mr. Humphries,” he said to the marine. “What is the condition of the Orleans?”

“Her shields are down to forty percent.”

“And the runabouts?”

“One destroyed. One empty.”

“Empty?”

“Apparently their crew beamed over here.”

“Over HERE!” Sesil cried. “Why didn’t you say so!”

“You didn’t ask.”

“Well don’t just stand there! Take some of our…good followers…and go round up those Starfleet people. NOW!”

“Yes, shinyness!” And Humphries and a grouping of Starshine Kids disappeared into the turbolift.

Sesil turned back toward Jones. “Now, Jones, let’s get this straight. I want you to destroy every ship out there. No, not destroy. Pulverize! Into little itty bits!”

“Uh…” Jones stammered, hands twitching at her controls.

“I am your shiny master and I gave you a shrill order! Now you carry it out!”

“Don’t do it Tina!” Bradley called. “Those are your friends over there.”

“My friends…starshiners are my friends.”

“No, they aren’t!” Admiral Wagner shouted. “They took over your station and are trying to kill your friends. They’re trying to make YOU kill your friends.”

“Huh?”

McGrath shook his head. “Yeoman, you’re a Liaison officer, right?”

Jones rubbed her eyes. “Uh…I…think…”

Bradley saw where McGrath was going. “You’re supposed to HELP ships that come to Waystation. Not destroy them!”

“You’re right…why…am…I…” Jones stared at her hands, cocking her head almost robotically. “What…am…I…”

“Oh, fiddlesticks!” Sesil cried. “Spoink, relieve Jones and blast those ships.”

“Gladly,” the former Vulcan comedian said, pushing Jones away from her console.

Jones sunk down next to Bradley and the others. “My head hurts. What’s going on around here?”

“You’re the best liaison officer I ever saw, Yeoman,” McGrath said warmly. “If we get out of this, you deserve a promotion.”

“I want a nap.”

“That too.”


Porter held on for dear life as the Orleans spun around him and klaxons blared. “Tell the construction fleet to start tossing modules at Waystation. It’s our only hope!”

“Emergency power!” Woodall called out. “Stabilize that warp pylon. More power to shields!”

Nelson gripped the railing that surrounded the command chairs. “Jack, you sure know how to throw a party!”

“You’re just saying that,” Woodall said wryly, squeezing the ops chair.

Just then, the forward turbolift doors swung open and an angry-looking Andorian stomped out.

“I am Ih’mad, of the thirtieth hive V’sann, and I have a complaint!”

“Tell it to someone who gives a damn!” shouted Nelson.

Ih’mad pretended not to notice her. “There is no relish in the ship’s mess!”

“I’ll give you relish,” grunted Woodall. “Fire quantum torpedoes. Focus on the upper saucer. Full spread, multiple yields!”

It was then that Ih’mad seemed to notice the commotion on the viewscreen. At that moment, a large, greenish cargo module hurled into the connecting tube between the two huge saucers that made up the new Waystation, bouncing off and causing the shields to flare up bright. At the same time, a quantum torpedo sailed into a space crane, causing it to lurch to port, breaking apart, smashing right into the Orleans.

“Collision alert!” cried Pryce, as the ship rattled underneath the space crane’s explosion.

People were tossed to the deck. Woodall slammed face-forward into Ops.

And Ih’mad stepped quickly back into the turbolift. “Never mind. I was never here.”

Woodall reeled back to the deck, blood dripping from a gash on his forehead.

Nelson leapt the railing and hurried over to his side, grabbing an emergency medkit from underneath the command chair.

Porter loomed over her, wincing as sparks sputtered from ops. “How bad is it, Nelson?”

Nelson frowned. “He has a severe concussion. He’ll be commanding a biobed for the next week.”

“Great,” Porter muttered. “Where’s the First Officer?”

Pryce fidgeted behind her station. “According to our sensor logs, Commander Yates was blown apart by an exploding power conduit on deck seven.”

“Which section?” asked Porter, with grim curiosity.

“The rest room area, sir.”

“Ooh, what a way to go,” Porter muttered.

“You need to take command!” Nelson cried, cradling Woodall’s head in her lap and shoving a hypospray into his arm.

“Yippee,” Porter said, heading back to the command chair. “Ensign Pryce, pour it on.”

“Aye, sir.”

And the Orleans sailed back toward Waystation.


“Boy, this place looks great,” Lt. Colonel O’Neil mentioned, bringing up the rear of the huge occupying force that had been beamed aboard the new Waystation. Morales wasn’t taking any chances.

“Except for the parts that are right now being blown apart, it is pretty nice,” muttered Lazlo.

Morales shook his head. “So much for the renovations.”

“We can always renovate it some more after all this,” Russell offered, cradling his phaser rifle.

Lazlo and Morales glared at him; he immediately shut up.


Buck Winters frowned at the tiny viewscreen aboard the tug Garth Brooks. “Would you look at that.” Tiny pods and workbees sailed in front of him; cargo modules slammed into Waystation. Dead ships listed by, out of control. And the Orleans sailed around the huge station, weapons still firing.

“Our fleet is d-d-dimin-d-diminish–”

“Spit it out, Chuck,” Buck muttered.

“Our fleet is getting smaller.”

“No sh**.” Buck chewed his duranium toothpick and watched the carnage. “Something’s gotta be done.”

“You got an id-I-I-ide–you got a thought?”

“Sure do. Plot a collision course. Right for Ops. Knock that bastard Sesil into the next stardate.”

“B-b-b-b-b-ut–”

“Do it!”

Buck thought back to his idol’s greatest song as the Brooks thrummed toward Waystation, engines on full.

“And I will sail my vessel, till the river runs dry…” Buck sang. “Damn it, I’m comin’ to meet ya, Garth!”

Then, Chuck let out a whoop. “W-w-w-w-w-wait!”

“W-w-w-what?” Buck demanded.

“L-l-l-look!” Chuck pointed at the screen.

“Damn it! Pull us back, boy!” Buck cried, yanking off his ballcap and tossing it down joyfully.


“Shields are almost down!” Pryce called out. “Lateral phaser arrays are dead. Aft quantum tube jammed. Life support out on decks seven, nine, and thirteen.”

“We have to pull out of here,” Nelson said, as she lugged Woodall into the spare command chair.

“But what if Morales and the others fail?” Porter asked. “We can’t just let them have Waystation.”

“Mr. Porter,” Nelson said, standing up to face Porter at the front of the bridge. “You have an obligation to the innocent civilians aboard this ship, and out in that construction fleet. You have to pull us out of here before we’re all blown to bits. If Morales and Lazlo are over there, we’ve got a fighting chance to beat Sesil. But we’re not going to get anything accomplished by becoming space-dust!”

“Pardon me,” Pryce said meekly from her place at tactical. “But would the two of you care to look at the viewscreen.”

Porter turned. “Holy crap. There they are.”

Six oblong Multek vessels sailed into the fray, weapons blaring at Waystation.

“Gooly to Bibble,” came a voice over the comm.

Porter just stood there watching the viewscreen.

“Gooly to Bibble.”

Nelson nudged him. “That’s you, Craig.”

“Oh, right. Bibble here.”

“We’ve arrived, Captain. And let me say, that pretend station of yours packs a real wallop.”

“We know, Gooly, we know,” Porter muttered. “Give ‘em hell.”


“Where’d those ships come from?” Sesil demanded, turning on Spoink.

“Multek space,” Spoink said. “It appears they’re breaking our defenses, as well.”

“Well, super!” Sesil said sarcastically. “Fend them off!”

“I will try. Normally, these defenses would be adequate to fight the Multeks, but we’re already weakened.”

“You all have such a beating coming!” Sesil groused, turning on his captives.

“We aim to please!” said Bradley Dillon, as suddenly the deckplate before him blasted open and Colonel Martin Lazlo popped out. He turned his phaser to face Sesil.

“Good afternoon, good Vulcan. Hope you don’t mind some uninvited guests.”

“Get him!” Sesil commanded to his people. But before they could move, two Jeffries tubes, one on either side of ops, popped open and Starfleet security officers and Federation marines alike tumbled out, Morales at the lead from one end and Russell from the other, all wielding phasers.

“You get him,” Morales said, nodding to Russell.

“No, no, no!” Sesil exclaimed. “This can’t be. I have omnipotence on my side!”

“Could’ve fooled me,” Russell grinned, grabbing Sesil by the arms and slapping a pair of restraints on him. He nodded at his officers, who likewise restrained the others.

Lazlo bent down and undid the binders on Bradley, McGrath, Maruac, and Wagner. “You guys okay?”

“None the worse for wear,” Wagner said.

“What are you saying?” asked McGrath. “We’re plenty the worse for wear.”

“It’s just an expression.”

“Hah!”

“Mr. Maruac?” Lazlo asked, facing the Vice President.

Maruac saluted, then bowed regally.

“You’re welcome, sir,” Lazlo said. “I really respect you. Even though I voted for the other guy.”

Maruac grinned and gave Lazlo “thumbs up.”

“This is not how it will end!” Sesil commanded. “Nope, nope, nope.”

“How do you figure?” asked Russell.

Morales folded his arms. “You planning on conjuring up some lips from out of nowhere?”

“As a matter of fact…” Sesil raised his eyes ceiling-ward. “Critics, make yourselves visible. Show these pitiful Starfleeters your true form and dispense with them.”

The lips appeared suddenly before Sesil, to the shock of everyone gathered in ops, except for the Starshine Kids.

“Yeah, yeah, here we are,” the lips muttered, seeming out of breath. “Listen, Sesil,” the lips said. “We need to talk.”

“About what?”

“A lot of things!” the lips said shrilly. “But first we need to get out of here!”

“Why? Can’t you dispense with these fools?”

“Sure. But we’ve got other worries. Now let’s go.”

“No, no, no!”

The Critics turned, as if looking over their shoulder (if they had a shoulder).

“There’s no time for debate, little one!”

“Hey,” Morales said, momentarily ignoring the Critic. “Where’s Commander Beck?”

Just then, with the thrum of a rattling engine, a green, wood-paneled station wagon appeared over the heads of all gathered in ops.

The doors on either side creaked open and Beck and Leximas climbed down. Once they were out, the vehicle promptly vanished.

“There you are you sneaky devil,” Beck said. “Thought you’d escape to the material plane, huh?”

“Leave me alone!” the lips shouted, and grabbed Sesil by the arm like a dog would grab her pup. “Now come on, Sesil. Let’s go before they send the axe murderer after me again.”

“What happened to your lip?” Sesil asked, noting the large bandage around one end of the Critic’s lip.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” The Critic turned toward the center of ops, where a large, reddish vortex was forming.

“Well, where are we going?”

“Ever hear of a place called the Delta Quadrant? It’s awfully nice this time of year.”

“Oh, shrantz!” Sesil cursed, and held on tight to the Critic’s lip as they flew through the spinning vortex and disappeared.

As the vortex winded to a close, everyone head Sesil’s diminishing voice cry out: “I’ll be baaaaaaaaaack….”

Beck shook her head. “Sure you will, you pointy-eared kook.”

Leximas put a hand on Beck’s arm. “Don’t take that warning lightly. Sesil, and the Critics, will be back. And next time it will be harder to vanquish them, believe that.”

“I think we can handle them.”

“‘We’ will not do anything,” Leximas said. “I must go.”

“Go?” asked Beck.

Morales stepped forward out of the crowd as Russell ordered his men to take Sesil’s former followers down to the new brig. They’d be the honorary first guests down there. “Leximas…how can you be alive?”

“What do you mean?” Beck asked, looking from Morales to Leximas.

“I am not.”

Beck blinked. “You’re not what?”

“Alive, in your terms,” Leximas said softly. “I was, in fact, blown to pieces when my module was destroyed by the Starshine Kids.”

“Then how can you be here?” Bradley said, pushing forward from between Wagner and McGrath.

“Because I am now part of the spiritual plane. I am only in corporeal form through sheer force of will. It is now time for me to return to the spiritual plane to begin my destiny. Preparing for the next battle with the Critics.”

“You’re…leaving…” Bradley said. They’d formed what he thought of as a great friendship over the past two years. “I don’t believe it.”

“The time I meditated here ended at the precise moment of that explosion. It is now time to continue a new phase of my existence.”

Beck offered her hand to Leximas. Confused, momentarily, Leximas soon realized what Beck was doing and gently shook the Commander’s hand. “I wish you all luck in your future endeavors. The road ahead is rocky indeed.”

“Nothing we can’t handle,” Morales said easily.

“Don’t be so sure.” Leximas grinned mysteriously and glowed bright, then dimmed like a light being turned down, and finally, off.

“I’ll miss her,” Lazlo said. He immediately earned confused looks from Beck and Morales. “What? I’m not some emotionless monster.”

“We’ll see about that,” Beck said, turning to Morales. “Well, Mr. Morales, I expect you have a lot to rep–”

Then a blast rocked Waystation.

“Sean–” Beck looked to Russell, who quickly took tactical.

“It’s the Multeks,” Russell reported. “They’re still attacking.”

“Still?” asked Beck, confused.

“Uh,” Morales said. “We sort of enlisted their help.”

“I’m really looking forward to this report,” Beck said. “Russell, hail them and–”

A bleep from Russell’s panel interrupted Beck. “Commander, I’m getting a hail. From the Orleans.”

Beck shrugged. “On screen. Or wall. Whatever.”

Porter appeared on the wall, looking sheepish in the command chair of the Orleans. “Commander. Good to see you again.”

“Likewise. Uh, the Multeks…”

“I took care of them, Commander. Convinced them that they’d successfully convinced you that Waystation isn’t real again. They’re returning to their space convinced that none of us is real and will pretend they never met me.”

“That’s…good work, Craig,” Beck said, rubbing her eyes. “I guess.”

Admiral Wagner stepped up, placing a hand on Beck’s shoulder. “I don’t know what you did to stop those omnipotent creatures, Commander, but it worked.”

“Just something I learned from Mike Myers.”

“Who?”

“Never mind.” Beck looked around at her crew, such as it was. “Okay, guys. Let’s see about repairing this place so we can open for business in the near future.”


That night, Bradley tossed and turned in the plush, king-sized bed he had in his quarters on the new Waystation. With Waystation Village gone, the residents and crew had been forced to move into the slightly-damaged new facility. But Buck Winters had assured them that with just a few minor renovations to the renovations, they’d be as good as new. And since Buck thought the battle was so much fun, he even offered the services of Zenedron to fix any damage to Bradley’s hotel, offices, and store.

Honestly, Bradley couldn’t have cared less at the moment. His mind was elsewhere. He knew that Leximas wasn’t really dead. Her body may have been destroyed, but her…soul, life-force, essence, or whatever, was still out there.

But the result was the same for Bradley. She was gone. His one friend on the entire station was gone. Bradley had never had much use for close relationships in his life. Business kept him fulfilled, but Leximas had changed that. She had no interest in his dealings or his income. She was only concerned with him, and she truly cared. For that, she’d mean more to him than she’d ever know.

He hadn’t even said goodbye. That was the part that hurt the most. She’d been there, all astral and glowing, and all he could think to say was “You’re leaving? I don’t believe it.” Of all the stupid…

“Mister Dillon,” a familiar voice said softly in the darkness of his bedroom.

Bradley shot up in bed and looked around. “Lexi?”

Gradually, her form shimmered into existence a few feet away from his bed.

“You did not think I would leave without saying goodbye, did you?” she said serenely.

“I…I didn’t know,” Bradley said. He smiled weakly. “I’m sure you’ve got a busy death ahead of you.”

“I do indeed. There is much to learn if the Critics are to be stopped. However, I felt the need to stop here first.”

“I’m glad you did. There’s so much I want to…”

“I understand…Bradley. You have been a friend and companion to me throughout my time here, and I thank you for that. You taught me the ways and customs of your people and extended me many kindnesses that I’m afraid I cannot repay.”

“But you did,” Bradley replied. “You already did. I’m going to miss you…more than you know.”

“Actually, I believe I do know,” Leximas said smiling warmly. It was the first time Bradley had ever seen her smile like that. She placed her translucent hand on top of his; he could feel a rush of cold energy touching him.

“Goodbye, Lexi,” he said.

“Goodbye…my friend.” Then she disappeared, her body gradually fading from view as Bradley strained to commit her visage to memory. A moment later, she was gone.

And for the first time in his adult life, Bradley Dillon cried.


THE DELTA QUADRANT


Sesil watched with growing excitement as his ship, recently acquired by the Critics, fire-red and thrumming with fierce power, sped through space.

According to the Critics, there were some people from the Alpha Quadrant here in the Delta Quadrant, or the “DQ” as they casually referred to it, and it was up to Sesil to recruit some for his new Starshine Kids, since those saps at Waystation had taken all his former followers.

The Critics assured him that getting these humans would be a piece of cake. They also encouraged him to stay away from a ship known as Aerostar and a certain creature named Mirk. They’d deal with that end of the operation for now.

So, obligingly, Sesil went where he was told and found himself a huge Borg ship, pounding away at a slightly less huge ship of unfamiliar design.

Sesil plunked the controls on his panel at the front of his massive vessel to key into the audio.

“Flarn Starship Vendregad, you will leave the area immediately. You do not possess what we are looking for. If you remain in our path you will be destroyed,” said the Borg in their always-snarly voices.

“Whatever!” Sesil said joyfully. His ship was safely tucked into the subspace manifold, as the Critics had instructed him, so he was out of danger. He gleefully watched the Borg slice the so-called “Flarn” ship in half and dart out of the system.

“Well well well, what do we have here,” Sesil said, cracking his knuckles and watching the viewscreen. He counted the human life signs on his lower panel. How he hated doing everything for himself. So lonely! But that wouldn’t be a problem for long. He counted 100 humanoids over on that dead Flarn ship. Sesil happily sped out of the pocket in subspace to capture his new followers. “Oh, shiny times are back again, shiny times are back again!”

And he activated his transporters. Boy, were these kids in for a surprise!


WAYSTATION - TWO WEEKS LATER


Yeoman Tina Jones stepped out of the turbolift into ops and immediately had to close her eyes to block out the rush of memories that came back to her. She could almost see Sesil and that blasted orb sitting there.

“You’re up late,” the voice of Lieutenant Commander Morales said. Jones forced her eyes open again. Morales was standing over by the docking control console. The only other person in ops was Ensign Mason. Of course, night shift was usually pretty sparse.

“Yeah,” Jones replied. “Counselor Miller thought it’d be a good idea. Aversion therapy. I don’t know if I trust him, though.”

“Lieutenant Porter seemed to think he knew what he was doing.”

“Yeah, but he keeps asking for pictures of me in swimwear.”

“Maybe he finds them therapeutic,” Morales replied with a smirk.

“I guess it could be worse. At least Sesil didn’t shave my head like the rest of the converts. And I hear Lazlo is putting the marines who joined Sesil through Hell.”

“I’m sure it will be better than staying a brainwashed zombie,” Morales said. “Of course, we’re not even supposed to be talking about this.”

“We aren’t? Why not?”

“Vice President Maruac had the whole incident declared classified. As far as the Federation’s concerned, there’s no such thing as the Starshine Kids.”

“Let’s hope Sesil feels the same way,” Jones said.

“Sir,” Mason said. “The last of the Zenedron ships has just entered warp.”

“So, it’s official. We’re open for business,” Morales said.

“Here’s to two more years of nothing happening,”Jones said. “I think I’m ready for a break.”

“Sir!” Mason exclaimed. “I’m picking up some sort of activity in the Bermuda Expanse!”

“The Bermuda Expanse? What the hell?”

“It’s a ship. We’re being hailed.”

“On speakers.”

“Is anyone out there?” a voice asked fearfully. “Is this the Alpha Quadrant?”

“Who is that?” Jones asked. Morales just shrugged.

“I’m trying to get a reading, sir,” Mason said. “They’re at the edge of our scanning range, and the data is a bit screwy due to interference from the Bermuda Expanse.”

“Screwy, huh?” Morales said. “Is that better or worse than wonky?”

“With all due respect, sir, I don’t appreciate the joke. I’m a trained professional.”

“No offense meant, Mason. Just put me through to the ship.”

“You’re on.”

“This is Waystation, Lieutenant Commander Walter Morales speaking, and you are indeed in the Alpha Quadrant. Now who the hell is this? And where the hell did you come from?”

“That’s a long story, Commander,” the voice replied.

“Sir, I’ve got an ID on that ship. It’s the USS Aerostar.”

“Aerostar!” Jones exclaimed. “But they’re…”

“Back,” Morales said. “Mason, get Commander Beck up here. She’s going to want to see this….I take that back. She isn’t going to want to see this, but she’d better anyway.”

“The Aerostar,” Jones said again in shock. “We’re officially open for ten seconds and they show up. I don’t think that’s a good sign for our future.”

“Me either, Yeoman. Me either.”


THE END…FINALLY


And there you have it! We hope you enjoyed reading this series as much as we enjoyed writing it. And be sure to check out the adventures of the USS Aerostar in Star Traks: The Vexed Generation. Just follow one of the numerous links scattered throughout the Traks pages. Thank you and good night…or day depending on when you’re reading this.