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Star Trek Universal - The Lady by J. Grey

The untold tales from around the Federation

Rob March slumped into his seat with an exhausted sigh. It had been another long day and he was glad that the most unpleasant part of it had finally ground down to a shuddering halt. His work was mentally undemanding, and the drudgery of it drained him from an intelligent keen young man into a tired, apathetic shadow of his former self.

"Drink?" Dave West shouted out from the bathroom. He stepped into the shared lounge and gestured with his thumb to the replicator.

"Drink?!" Rob smiled weakly. "Are you kidding? Beer. Bring me lots and lots of beer." Dave grinned back at him ordered two from the machine. They appeared in a shimmering beam of light.

"You look as tired as I feel! Another long day, huh?" Rob shifted around in the seat but couldn't quite manage to find a comfortable position. He sighed to himself wearily as he looked down at the beer like it was both the cause of and the answer to every problem in his life. He looked up towards Dave in much the same way, and sighed again as he nodded his reply.

"Yeah!" Dave agreed. "These days are always the worst. Every time we dock with another ship and new passengers come aboard, my team has to work twice as hard. Tomorrow will be fine again, I should think." He sat down heavily next to his roommate and the pair drank greedily at the first of what would probably be many beers that evening. The cool bitterness washed over their senses.

"Twice as hard as what?" Rob frowned. "You lot don't do anything. Two zeros are still zero, you know?"

"Computer," said Dave, "is there anybody here who cares what Rob thinks?"

"Unable to respond to question." the computer replied. Dave shrugged and looked over to him.

"Nobody cares what you think, Rob. Even the computer doesn't care."

"Did you check out the new passengers yet?" Rob gasped as he swallowed a mouthful of cold beer. "I was working on the forward guest lounge today. I think I saw most of them as they came through for lunch."

"I saw them." Dave grinned. "I saw three in particular. A brunette, a blonde, and a bald girl caught my eye. I'm guessing the bald one is not from Earth. I'm more interested in the brunette though. She's pretty attractive—not as attractive as me but I don't mind lowering my standards once in a while."

"Standards, Dave? Since when?" Rob frowned. "Anyway, how do you know the bald girl isn't from Earth? Lots of people on Earth shave their heads you know!"

"She had horns." Dave shrugged. "Three of them. They were coming out of the top of her head. I'm not saying it was a bad thing. In fact, I think she was probably the second best looking passenger to come aboard. With a few beers inside me I would definitely try my luck with her." He grinned widely. "With enough beers inside me I'd probably try my luck with you."

"I saw the brunette." Rob sat back and smiled to himself. "Tall, slim and businesslike. She was Asian and dressed really neatly in a grey suit, and had dark eyes." She was strikingly attractive and he had been struck.

"Yeah." Dave nodded and narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "That sounds like her. Did you talk to her then?"

Rob took a deep breath and smiled smugly.

"Yeah." he nodded slowly to himself. "I talked to her. I think we developed a real connection."

"No way!" said Dave, shaking his head.

Dave had a confidence with women, an easy charm he turned on like a switch. He was good looking and he knew it, and coupled with his easy-going personality it was enough to afford him a great deal of luck with certain members of the opposite sex. As there was little else about him of note, this simple fact was something he took a great deal of pride in. He enjoyed exhibiting his success in front of his room-mate whose luck with women while aboard the ship was limited to a single brief drunken encounter with an unidentified alien female who was covered in a layer of fine green hair. He had no particular talents and no particular skills. He was so utterly bereft of ability he considered it something of a speciality, and often bragged that he was able to turn his hand to practically nothing. He considered himself a "Jack of no trades", and one night after consuming copious amount of beer he had postulated the theory that this might actually be a super-power and that perhaps he had been bitten by a radioactive idiot.

What Rob lacked in confidence and success with the opposite sex he made up for in intelligence, at least while not under the influence of alcohol. He was studying for a brighter future and specialised in warp-field theory whenever his busy schedule of consuming huge amounts of alcohol and then regretting the consumption of huge amounts of alcohol would allow. His talents were not matched with enthusiasm and he'd taken a year out to go travelling aboard a commercial ship in order to see and build a greater understanding of the galaxy. A year had stretched into three—so far—and still he hadn't found a direction that really interested him. If the truth be told, he had seen and understood less of the galaxy than he would have by doing practically anything else in the known Universe; with the possible exception of being Dave.

"Oh yeah!" Rob told him, remembering the woman fondly. "We had a long conversation."

"You?" Dave frowned suspiciously. "You had a long conversation with the best looking passenger to come aboard this ship?" Rob simply nodded. "Well... what did you talk about?"

"Well." Rob began thoughtfully. "First she asked me about the lunchtime specials, and then she ordered the salad."

Dave laughed.

"Yeah that sounds about right! For a moment I must have forgotten who I was talking to"

"Yeah." Rob shrugged. "Always the bridesmaid, never the bride."

"So what do you know about her?" Dave asked. "Is she travelling alone? What's her name? Where is she going?"

"She asked for a clean fork." Rob told him. "She said that the one on the table was a little bit dirty and would I mind changing it. What she didn't do was tell me her entire life story. People don't do that to waiters for some reason. Maybe that's what wrong with society?"

"Well I guess I'll have to find out for myself, as you're so useless." Dave told him with a wry grin. "Luckily people do like to tell security officers everything. Females like to tell handsome young men like me all about themselves, and occasionally I even listen to them. At least at first."

"You're not a security officer!" Rob laughed. "You bring people towels and report problems with replicators. On a good day you supervise repairs to the passengers' toilets."

"Problems with shortages of towels could conceivably threaten the security of this ship!" Dave scowled at him angrily. "Anyway, I don't think that the Federation would collapse if a table went without a waiter. I don't think the Borg are waiting for the first sign of a slightly dirty fork before they invade our space again."

"Ok." said Rob. "I agree. In terms of the wider universe we're both a complete waste of time and resources. We're less useful than a Klingon marriage guidance councillor."

"What if that Klingon needed a towel?" Dave asked. "Just think about that for a minute."

"No. I refuse to think about that for even a second." Rob shook his head and returned his interest to his beer. "Computer." he said. "Put on today's local news."

"Computer! Don't you dare." Dave interrupted.

"Unable to comply." the computer responded. "Please clarify the command."

"Now you've confused the computer!" said Rob with a grin. "Throw a towel at it or something."

Dave glared at him.

"I'll throw a towel at you in a minute."

Rob shrugged. "So?" Dave looked away grumpily as the news came up on the main viewer. "People have been known to survive encounters with towels. Even Klingon towels."

"Do you think Klingons use towels?" Dave mused. "Do you think they have showers?" He frowned thoughtfully as if pondering something of great importance. "I don't think they have towels."


Federation passenger cruiser

The image of a man appeared on the screen. He was tall and austere, and as he spoke he did so with a kind of confidence that inspired trust in his words. At the bottom of the screen his name flashed up informing the audience he was a level 2 investigator.

"Today, Hephaistos Engineering have responded to recent reports of widespread inconsistencies in their shuttle supply network. Hephaistos Engineering is the largest independent small vehicle development company in the Federation and have contracts to supply type 6, 7 and 12 shuttles. They also developed the replicator patterns for many more designs including the type 9, 10 and the Danube class Runabout. There is an unsubstantiated rumour that they are working closely with the Star Fleet Command to develop the replacement for the Runabout, the Everest class scout vessel." He looked directly out of the screen and smiled, showing off two rows of perfect white teeth and a smug belief in his own arrogant sense of self importance.

"Federation United News reported last week that as many as 40 type 6 shuttles have gone missing over the past three months and at least two Danube class Runabouts are still unaccounted for. The chairman of Hephaistos, Mr. Grego Pachman made the following statement..." The image of the man faded away.

An older gentleman filled the screen. He seemed almost bored with the matter as though it was far beneath his interests. His office was large and ornately styled. Most of the furniture was old, made of wood and metal and was decorated with small models of famous vessels that had been built by his company.

"I find the accusations of missing shuttle-craft absolutely ridiculous. In the first instance we're primarily concerned with the development of shuttlecraft design, construction is a secondary concern. The shuttles we do supply are usually to small outposts without the ability to replicate and construct them with their own engineering staff. Outposts such as these rarely have the excellent record-keeping and level of professionalism that either Starfleet or ourselves maintain." He paused momentarily to look directly at the holographic imager the interview was recorded on.

"I would like to address any additional concerns by reminding your viewers that when a shuttle leaves our assembly plant it is barely more than a shell. The engines are separate. It will have no reactor installed and the batteries will be completely discharged. There is no way the vessels could be operated without final assembly by qualified personnel. Additionally they are all unarmed. Weapons are never fitted at our factories—if phasers are to be installed then they're built and fitted elsewhere and such equipment is quite outside our experience." He smiled smugly. "I would like to address the issue that was mentioned in the previous news article that our ships come with weapons mounting points and could be armed. Well in some cases it's true that our shuttles have holes. They are designed to have several empty bays which can accept mission-specific equipment. I hardly think we're causing any significant danger by supplying empty spaces."

A slightly muffled voice called out from behind the recorder.

"And what are you doing to investigate these allegations?"

"Well I believe the allegations are ridiculous." The chairman shrugged. "However it would be irresponsible of us not to take them seriously, so a review of our security procedures has been undertaken. Additionally we've ordered a full investigation of our inventory, which I'm certain will show that we can trace each and every vessel that has left our plant."

"Thank you for your time." The muffled voice said. The chairman nodded graciously and muttered something about it being no problem.

"Off!" Dave called out. "That's enough news for now. We're drinking beer, this is no time for your brain to start working."

"You know if you don't use your brain, it will become even more useless than it is now." Rob warned him. "You really need to address this issue because today I served a piece of asparagus that I actually think could have beaten you in a game of chess."

"Yeah, that means a lot coming from a waiter with an advanced degree in Warp-field theory dynamics and a class 1 certificate in pouring out little glasses of water and folding paper napkins." he grinned. "Another beer?"

"Do Klingons eat their own young?" Rob replied rhetorically, frowning at himself for agreeing with his room-mate's sentiment. His casually racist comment was a colloquial expression from his home town, an obvious statement of fact used to imply that such a question could only have an obvious positive answer. It was similar to the older practice on Earth of asking if the Pope was Catholic, or if bears crapped in the woods. These phrases however had lost a great deal of their cultural impact now that Catholicism was largely forgotten and bears were mostly extinct. Some examples of the species existed in the American Museum of Ancient Horrors, which by coincidence, also exhibited a wax effigy of the last Pope in the neighbouring section.

"You know what?" said Dave thoughtfully. "I think they probably do."

Rob took a sip.

"So you think you've got a chance with this brunette?" he asked sarcastically. "You think a beautiful, intelligent lady is going to be interested in the dubious sexual charms of a self-absorbed moron who shows up at her door with a friendly smile and a fluffy pink towel, asking if her toilet is in full working order?"

"I saw another girl come aboard." Dave sat back down, grinning. "She had a transparent head and three eyes. As she spoke, a kind of green liquid ran out of what I can only assume was her nose. She was hairy and she smelled like burning rubber. I think I've got more chance with the brunette than you've got with that one."

"Really." Rob glared at him out of the side of his eye, his annoyance growing steadily. "Care to make a bet about it?"

"A bet?" Dave laughed. "You've got nothing I want. Everything you own came out of the replicator. My replicator, because even that's on my side of the room. You actually have nothing of any value and no skills. You're not even a very good waiter. You can't even make paper swans out of the napkins." His mood suddenly darkened and he took on a serious expression for a moment. "I don't think you realise how disappointed I was when I found out I was sharing a room with a waiter that couldn't do the paper swans."

"That's not going to be an issue because I'm not going to lose." Rob scowled at him.

"You want to bet on the alien?" Dave smiled. "I'm not even sure I like those odds for you but I don't mind being a little bit charitable, just this once."

"The brunette!" He shook his head. "I bet you I can get further with her than you can."

Dave looked at him for a moment, a smile carved itself on his face. He had the expression of a man who thought such a thing was ridiculous and that his friend was an idiot. Possibly a ridiculous idiot that he didn't really want as a friend.

"I'm intrigued." he admitted. "I'm intrigued that you think you have a shot with any woman on this ship that doesn't live in a holodeck or charge by the hour."

"Ok." said Rob with a shrug. "I understand that you're afraid to lose. Don't worry about it. You can walk away with your version of pride more or less intact."

"No, no." said Dave, grinning widely. "I'm very much in. This is going to be fun—too much fun to pass up."

"Excellent." Rob smiled. "If you win I'll do your laundry for a month. You can do mine when I win."

"Ok..." said Dave thoughtfully. "But you have to do it manually."

"Sure." he agreed. "Why not?"

"I'm going to eat Klingon food for a month so that when you wash my underwear you really enjoy the experience on a multitude of emotional levels." Dave told him with a serious expression intended to convey to Rob that he really meant what he was saying. "And I'm going to bring her back here as often as possible. I might even use your bed to seal the deal."

"No problem." Rob told him. "It's never going to happen. I'm going to win. You may have confidence and charm, but in truth you're little more than a noisy haircut. I'm willing to bet she's not the kind of woman that jumps into bed with someone out of gratitude for the delivery of a clean towel."

"Maybe you're right." Dave conceded with a shrug. "Maybe she's the kind of girl who desperately needs to understand the warp-field dynamics of her cutlery while she tries to decide if she wants the soup of the day or a delicious salad."

"So it's war!" Rob told him gravely. "Let it begin."

"Fine!" said Dave with a note of steadfast severity. "Go get me a beer." He pointed at the replicator and his eyes narrowed aggressively.

"Ok." he nodded. He stared back at him, their eyes locked together. "What kind of beer would you like?"

"I would like selection 38." he growled. "It's a little less gassy but still full-flavoured."

"That's a good choice." he spat through gritted teeth. "I think I'll join you."

"Thanks." Dave frowned deeply. "You won't regret it. It's nice."

The door slid closed behind him with a customary hiss. He ran his hand over his short ginger hair and loosened the collar of his civilian uniform. It was designed to look similar to a Starfleet uniform, but with differences obvious enough to be noticed by anyone with an adult level of intelligence.

"Computer. News." he called out as he stepped into the cabin. It was a small room, but with just enough space for the pair of them to be relatively comfortable. Like all the crew quarters it lacked a window with a view of space, but it had a bathroom, a decent computer interface, separate beds and a replicator. It was, in fact, better equipped than officers' quarters on board some small starships.

A woman appeared on the screen. She was quite pretty but had a maturity that made her more appealing to a wider audience and more trustworthy besides. She was dressed in clothes that were neat, but were not interesting enough to draw attention from the importance of what she was going to say. She frowned out of the view screen as if the following message would have earth-shattering implications.

"Breaking news, another act of piracy was reported earlier today, which brings the total to three incidents this month in this region alone. Admiral Chor of Starfleet has issued the following statement." The screen switched to a view of very fat officer standing outside Starfleet Headquarters on Earth.

"Starfleet is aware of the growing activity from pirates in the 401-408 sector, and we have strong grounds to suspect that this is indicative of a new rise in activity from the Orion Syndicate. Although the syndicate never formally stopped operating, our patrols have for the most part successfully inhibited their ability to function freely in Federation space. These latest incidents are quite troubling, if indeed they do show a re-emergence of Orion activity. We are dispatching two vessels to the region to investigate. Let me be clear in reiterating that the Federation takes a very hard stance on piracy. Those responsible will be found and dealt with to the full extent of interstellar law." He glared at the audience accusingly and flushed red with rage.

The screen flashed to a shot of space with two small Starfleet vessels cruising along.

"A pair of cruisers have been sent to patrol the region and raise the level of defensiveness. Starfleet is confident that the acts of piracy will cease and threats to civilian vessels will remain negligible."

"News off." Dave waved his hand at the computer screen. "That's quite enough of that. Nobody cares what's going on in the Universe."

"I actually do care!" Rob grumbled weakly. "I wanted to hear that."

"Starfleet, huh?" Dave sighed wistfully, ignoring him. "Sometimes I wish I were aboard one of their mighty ships. I wish I was on patrol, hunting down Orion pirates and keeping the space lanes safe for civilians."

"I think they have enough towels!" Rob told him.

"You know what bugs me about you?" Dave glared at him with a strangely serious expression that seemed highly out of character. "You could be in Starfleet. You know all about warp stuff and space things. You could be running a ship's engineering team in a few years if you wanted to. Instead you serve little bread rolls to people who don't even like to make eye-contact with you."

"You forget that in most evenings I get horribly drunk." Rob reminded him in his own defence, gesturing with one hand towards the beer he was holding in the other.

"I will concede that point." Dave admitted. "But don't you wish you were doing more than just wasting your life on a trade route being a waiter when you're already qualified to do something more?"

"Not really." he shrugged. "I know you don't watch a lot of news so I don't know if you realise, but a lot of people shoot at Starfleet ships. Even if nobody's shooting at them, they blow up all the time, shuttles crash far too often, there's an appalling fatality rate for junior officers, especially those in yellow shirts and it seems like there's a life threatening or dramatic incident aboard most starships every week."

"Yeah." Dave said thoughtfully. "It does seem to happen every week, usually on a Tuesday. I wonder why that is?" They looked at each other in silence for a moment. "Guess what?" Dave said finally with obvious excitement.

"I don't know." Rob shrugged. "Have you been experimenting with a new kind of fabric conditioner? Are your towels now huggably soft? Do they have the delightful fragrance of summer meadows? Has someone discovered how to unblock a toilet with a towel, thus making your life complete?"

"It's nothing to do with towels, I assure you. It's much more exciting."

Rob frowned curiously. "I honestly dread to think." he said thoughtfully. "The last time you asked me to guess what happened, you had got a date with an Altraxian officer in charge of cargo bay 2. Remember that, he turned out to be a man?"

"We don't talk about that. We agreed." Dave reminded him sternly, pointing an accusing finger. "I still can't go down to the lower bay. I just can't bring myself to do it."

"And why did he agree to date you again?" Rob smiled.

"He thought I was a girl." Dave frowned darkly. "Or a very pretty man. Apparently the distinction is not such a big deal on Altrax."

"I particularly like the part of that story when you found out he was a man, when it turned out you had both brought along precautions, and both took them out at the end of dinner to show how responsible you were prepared to be to someone of the weaker sex." Rob grinned. "Yes, I think that's my favourite part of that story. I think that might be my favourite part of any story, ever."

"Anyway..." Dave frowned at him. "Today I was called to room 42 on Passenger deck 3. Guess who's staying there?"

"Is it a man with long hair?" asked Rob with an innocent shrug. "Perhaps a very pretty man?"

"It's a brunette." he grinned back smugly. "It's a Miss Somari Rakdee. She needed help from the passenger services division. Before you ask, she didn't need a towel!"

"Blocked toilet?" Rob shrugged.

"It wasn't blocked as such..." he frowned back. "Anyway, she's travelling alone. I turned on the charm and I found out she isn't married and she has no children." Dave smiled with a sense of overwhelming self-satisfaction. "I almost feel sorry for her—she has no chance."

"I actually do feel sorry for her." Rob told him. "Not as sorry as I feel for you..."

"Shall I leave my laundry on your bed?" Dave grinned.

"Leave it in Bangkok." Rob told him with a grin. Dave shrugged back, slightly mystified. "That's where she was born, although her father was French." he continued. Dave narrowed his eyes suspiciously and glared at him. "She speaks three languages, English, French, Thai, and she's learning German."

"German?" Dave rolled his eyes. "Who speaks German? French people?"

"German people!" Rob told him, shocked at his abject stupidity. "German people speak German."

"So why do Americans speak English? Why don't they speak American? Why is Earth so confusing?" asked Dave, clearly struggling to make sense of things so basic a child would have been frustrated at him.

"You come from Earth? I don't know how you can find any of this confusing".

"It takes a lot of effort." He frowned to himself.

Rob grinned at him.

"What I do know is that she likes orange juice and she doesn't like chicken soup."

"I'm impressed." Dave finally admitted. "You've spoken to a woman. I actually didn't think you had it in you. Of course talking to one is a lot different to throwing them out of your place after breakfast. Before breakfast is better."

"Well I didn't have the awesome negotiating power of a blocked toilet at my disposal." said Rob with an expression of sarcastic regret. "But well done for finding out that she had a name. Good for you. That puts her one step ahead of your last three girlfriends."

"This isn't over!" Dave told him, shaking his head sadly as if in pity. "This is just beginning."

"Bring the beers!" Rob instructed with a wave to the replicator. "Then I think we should go to the crew lounge where I have heard there is a supply of the kind of beer that gives you a headache if you drink too much of it."

"That's my favourite kind of beer!" said Dave thoughtfully. "Shall we drink too much of it? Shall we drink until we think chatting up the girls from the docking crew is a good idea?"

Rob frowned and looked away in disgust.

"I don't think there's that much of any kind of beer on the whole ship."

"Let's hope you're right, shall we?"

The end of a shift was always a special part of the day for Rob. It meant he had a few moments of peaceful time to himself before Dave's shift also finished. They had little in common, but you couldn't share a small cabin with another crew member without becoming friends unless you were willing to kill them. Rob far preferred becoming friends, although he had done some research into the disposal of corpses into the replicator matrix. Dave had in fact been a pretty good friend, and they had shared many interesting nights getting so drunk that he could barely remember any of them.

"News!" he said, and the viewer flicked up the latest report.

The report began, the voice sounding extremely serious as the viewscreen lit up with an image of a suspected pirate vessel.

"Reports coming in from within Romulan space claim that Orion Syndicate vessels have begun appearing and threatening small vessels, with the most likely intention of stealing technology. According to sources on Romulus, an incident was recorded in which a ship of unrecognised configuration fired upon a small science vessel. The energy discharge matched the configuration of a Starfleet type phaser beam."

The screen went blank and then flashed to a very angry looking officer, craning forward over his desk, glaring into the holographic imager as he began to speak. Below him the report flashed that he was Rear-Admiral Paul M Cass, responsible for security in this region of Federation space.

"This incident brings us two problems. Firstly, there's the fact of the Romulans claiming that a Starfleet type weapon was discharged in their space. From a peacekeeping perspective this is already a serious concern, but if the report turns out to be accurate, then we'll have the additional task of trying to determine who is in possession of one of our phasers and how they came by it. By design, each phaser weapon is coded to the power generation signature of the vessel it's mounted to—you can't simply bolt one onto the side of a pirate ship and go shooting holes in unarmed Romulan vessels, or else everyone would be out there doing it." He paused for a moment and sat back. "Secondly, if pirates are hunting down Romulan technology, then we have to assume they may come into possession of a cloaking device. If that happens, then we're all in trouble. Starfleet is investigating these claims as we speak, and will hopefully resolve them to everybody's satisfaction before the situation escalates. We are currently enjoying the best diplomatic terms with the Romulans that we've had in a century and we intend to maintain this enviable situation."


Coming in to dock

"Computer." said Dave as he walked through the doors which slid open automatically. "Turn off the news and play some music." Rob glared at him and began to open his mouth to protest.

"Please specify." the computer prompted.

"Something good." Dave told it. The computer started playing something reasonably melodic. He made an expression of disapproval but let it play in any case. "How was your day, Rob?"

"It was fine." he shrugged, still frowning at his room-mate. "I was actually interested in the news."

"Well I'm interested in the brunette!" he grinned. "So I win."

"Somari Rakdee?" Rob reminded him sternly. "She has a name, you know!"

"They all have names." Dave smiled to himself. "I can't remember all of them. Anyway, I was in her room again today."

"That's great." Rob sighed. "What did you find out this time? Did you discover what kind of toothpaste she uses while your arm was entrenched in her U-bend?

"Actually..." began Dave, seeming suddenly thoughtful, "she was talking on a secure communications line. I had to deliver the access codes because there was a connection problem. I heard a bit of the communication—it was pretty intense. There's more to this girl than what she's hiding under that dress."

"I wonder what constitutes intense to a man whose primary role in life is ensuring the passengers have something to dry their hands on?" Rob goaded him.

"She was talking to someone about missing shuttles." Dave continued. Rob went quiet, his face taking on a look of interest. "She mentioned the supply lanes and she said she knew where they were going."

"Interesting." Rob rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "So you think she might be involved in the missing shuttles?"

"Yeah. Now you said that, I do." Dave nodded in agreement. "That's what I think!"

"There is just one problem with your theory, as I see it." Rob began thoughtfully. Dave gestured for him to continue. "You're an idiot, Dave."

"Agreed! But you didn't hear the best part."

"I dread to think." Rob frowned and braced himself for the best part.

"She mentioned the news article." Dave began. "She said she had watched it and then she got angry. She said she'd sort it out next time, and they had better get it right or else there was going to be big trouble."

"She actually said that?" Rob frowned. "That they had better get it right or else there was going to be big trouble? That's exactly what she actually said?"

Dave put his hand on his heart.

"I swear to the gods of beer and shuttle-racing." he began solemnly. "That is basically exactly more-or-less what she said."

"Well it doesn't mean anything." Rob shook his head and tried to look like he was ignoring him.

"I'll tell you what it doesn't mean." Dave grinned. "It doesn't mean I'm going to give up on our bet. Today I ate an authentic Indian curry from the canteen, which was appalling by the way. I had them make up an especially ferocious batch brimming with authentic herbs, spices and germs. I feel like I've been eating infected razorblades, Rob, and I'm actually concerned about my anus turning inside out from the amount of time I've spent sitting on the toilet. I farted and turned the entire toilet bowl yellow, Rob. I'm going to wear my underwear for an extra day to make washing it even more special for you." Rob looked at him in something that surpassed disgust. "Tomorrow, Rob, I'm going to have them make me an authentic Thai green curry. Extra spicy. Last time I ate that I lost half a stone in a weekend and 98% of the functionality of my left kidney. I'm doing this just for you, Rob. It's the only way you'll learn. I only hope you appreciate all the effort I'm going to for you."

"Yeah, I heard that it made its way onto the lunchtime menu. I actually recommended the curry to her before I found out what you'd done. The sick-bay is full of people who think they're decomposing from the inside out and they're replicating toilet-rolls around the clock." Rob frowned and shook his head at him sadly." At least she remembered me from yesterday though."

"So?" Dave shrugged. "You have bright ginger hair. Your head looks like a rat trying to escape from a basketful of carrots. You're easier to remember than a scary clown at a children's party. People are going to be describing you to their councillors in twenty years time." He paused for a moment and narrowed his eyes. "In fact if you wore a big red nose..."

"So anyway," Rob interrupted as Dave began smirking to himself, "I got chatting about things as I took her order. She asked me my name. Did she ask you your name?"

"No." Dave frowned. "She calls me ‘the toilet-man'."

"We actually got talking about my degree in warp-field theory." Rob smiled smugly.

"Really!" said Dave with a sarcastic expression as his lips pulled into a beaming smile. "I bet her clothes just fell off, didn't they? What woman could possibly resist a man talking about complicated maths while serving her a crunchy salad? You've definitely cracked it there, Rob."

"She seemed very interested." Rob told him. He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Actually she seemed very interested. She asked why warp-theory is so different for shuttles as to what it is for larger vessels."

"Wow. You're virtually engaged." Dave grinned. "I couldn't possibly compete with your raw sexual powers. I wish I knew all about something mind-numbingly boring instead of being interesting and attractive to women."

"Yeah." Rob shrugged. "Actually you're right for once. Women aren't usually interested in that kind of thing, and she asked a lot of questions."

"So she's boring?" Dave shrugged. "I can handle that. It's not like I'm ever planning to see her again afterwards. That's not how I roll."

"Maybe." Rob started at him fixedly. "Or maybe you're right. Maybe she is up to something."

"Well whatever she's up to, it won't be with you." said Dave earnestly. "There is only one sensible and mature manner in which to proceed."

"I think you're right." Rob nodded gravely. "It's time for beer."

"And lots of it!" Dave added.

"There are three new news reports for this region." the computer stated succinctly. "The titles of the reports are, ‘Orion vessel in unconfirmed sighting in sector 402', ‘Shuttle manufacturer confirms parts are missing from inventory', ‘fish deliveries from Omega-prime cause chronic flatulence in Vulcans shock."

"No." Dave winced. "I don't want to hear about any of that. Search news feed for the words ‘underwear' and ‘bikini'."

"Searching." the computer replied in an artificial monotone which still sounded somehow disapproving. The doors slid open suddenly.

"How was your lunchtime shift?" Dave asked as Rob walked into the cabin with a stain on his uniform and an expression which conveyed the message that it had not been everything he could have possibly hoped.

"It was just peachy." said Rob, pointing to the stain. "This is peachy too. A kid threw it at me because, apparently it wasn't peachy enough."

"Just stick it in the laundry. It'll be fine." Dave smirked in amusement.

"This is going back in the replicator." Rob grumbled. "This is beyond laundry."

"I saw the brunette again this morning." Dave called out. "There is definitely something strange going on with her."

"Yeah?" Rob called back from the bathroom. He stepped out with the jacket of the uniform removed and was dabbing at the shirt underneath with a towel. "I was thinking the same thing. I spoke to her at lunch and I think you might actually be right about something for once."

"I guess it had to happen sometime!" Dave shrugged. "You'll never guess what I saw in her room."

"If you're going to describe her underwear in painfully graphic detail, then I should warn you that I've had a bad day and I'm looking for someone to direct the full force of my ginger rage at." Rob told him evenly.

"Interesting." Dave rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I didn't know you could feel anger. I thought ginger people didn't have souls."

"We don't." Rob shook his head. "That's why I can kill you without feeling any remorse whatsoever. Do you want me to show you?"

"Maybe later." Dave shrugged, but gave him a slightly suspicious look. "Before my next double-shift would be ideal for me. You'd actually be doing me a favour."

Rob smiled back and nodded in agreement.

"I know what you mean. So what did you see in her room? Please keep it clean."

Dave frowned and his expression hardened into something more serious.

"She'd left a Padd on her table and I read it." he began. "It had details of where the stolen shuttles were being transferred to. It had a map open."

"Really?" Rob tried to look sarcastic but couldn't quite manage it. "I chatted with her about the ship that transferred her on—the small transport vessel we docked with."

"And?" urged Dave expectantly.

"It came from Starbase 33." Rob's brow furrowed thoughtfully. "According to the news, that's where the supply depot that the shuttles went missing from is located."

"14 people came aboard from that transport." said Dave, his voice low and serious. "Every one of them looks suspicious."

"How do you know?" Rob asked. "How comes you managed to meet them all?"

Dave looked away and bit his lip.

"They all needed towels..." he said finally. Rob tried not to smirk. He tried, and he failed. "But still, they all looked strange to me. They weren't the normal people we get aboard. The brunette was travelling alone too. Even that seemed odd."

"I don't know." Rob shook his head. "It does look bad."

"Hephaistos Engineering has confirmed today that it will be requesting assistance from Starfleet in its investigation into the loss of several shuttle components from their manufacturing facility on Starbase 33." The screen opened to a hologram of a nervous bald man whose eyes flicked around sharply. He seemed ill at ease with the imager pointing at him and stood awkwardly, his arms tightly wrapped around him as he shifted his weight from foot to foot.

"Can you tell us what your own investigation has shown up?" a voice called out from behind the imager.

"Well..." he began with a measured nod. "Shuttle parts are missing."

"Can you tell us what exactly is missing?" the voice called out once more.

"Parts!" The nervous man wore a badge on his overalls stating he was the factory foreman. "Part of shuttles. Shuttle-parts."

"Which parts exactly?" the voice asked once more, a little wearily.

"Computer parts, I think." he shrugged awkwardly. "Bits that control other bits. Parts that make other parts do things so that other parts do things too. Control unit parts that control units."

"I see..." the voice said behind the viewer. "And how did they go missing?"

"We lost them." the foreman admitted. "We're still investigating. They could be anywhere. They're probably still here somewhere—some of them are very small and easy to lose. We have people looking for them now. Looking for the parts. The shuttle parts."

"Ok," said the voice, clearly giving up, "you've been very helpful, thank you."

The foreman shrugged.

"Can I go now?"


Federation small transport

"We need to talk." said Dave as he came into the cabin, pulling off his uniform jacket and discarding it casually onto the back of a chair. "This is getting serious!"

"Go on!" said Rob, finding himself slightly disturbed that his room-mate had found something beyond running out of beer to be truly worthy of concern. "What's happened? Did someone block the captain's toilet today?"

"The brunette. But she didn't block the Captain's toilet. At least not that I know of." he said simply. Rob sat back in silence and let him continue. "She's going to a space-station. It's 2 days away, and she said that's where the shuttles are being transferred."

"That would be station DS401." Rob mused thoughtfully. "It's a cargo transfer station. To be fair, that is where a lot of shuttles get transferred. What makes you think there's anything to worry about?"

"She said something else." Dave smiled grimly. "She said a smuggler from the supply network was arrested there. She said she was going to go and sort it out. She said she needed to get there before the people from Earth-Central News got hold of the story."

"Really?"

Dave nodded and perched himself precariously on the back of his chair.

"She's got something to do with these missing shuttles. She's going to sort out the problem. The problem must be that this smuggler got caught. It must be why they're on the news."

"So what do we do?" Rob shrugged.

"We should have a beer!" Dave told him, nodding to himself in approval.

"I meant what should we do about the brunette girl who's involved with an interstellar smuggling ring who we suspect of stealing armed shuttles from the Federation?" Rob told him with a sigh.

"Yeah." said Dave thoughtfully. "When you put it that way I do find her slightly less attractive. Does that make me shallow? I don't like to think of myself as shallow but I do—I think of myself that way all the time." He sighed and hung his head. "Maybe I should have a meaningful relationship with someone who isn't shallow. Maybe I could find a soul-mate—someone as cool and good-looking as I am. Then I wouldn't be shallow anymore."

"We have to tell someone!" Rob told him flatly, slightly stunned at how well he was illustrating his own stupidity.

"Or we could investigate ourselves!" Dave grinned. "Why couldn't we be the heroes of the situation and solve the crime that's on all the news programs?"

"Because I'm a waiter and you're an idiot who delivers towels." Rob shrugged. "I'm not Shakespeare Holmes and you're not Doctor Livingstone."

"That is a good point." he agreed. "We should tell the Captain, I suppose."

"Tell her what?" Rob shook his head. "We haven't got any evidence."

"How can we get evidence?" asked Dave. "What is evidence anyway?

"We need to prove she's involved with the shuttle thefts. We need something that shows there's definitely something going on."

"Her padd?" Dave shrugged. "It has all the information we need on it. I could steal her padd!"

"That's a brilliant idea." said Rob.

"I know." said Dave, grinning wildly. "What could possibly go wrong?"

The Captain sat down on the chair between the two crewmen as they looked nervously to one another and then away; anywhere, in fact, but back towards the Captain. She was accompanied by two officers, one security officer who guarded the door to their cabin, and the other, the head of passenger-services who stood behind her looking ferocious and glowering down at the pair angrily. She looked them over, one after the other as they sat in silence, desperately avoiding her furious gaze.

"So..." she began finally. "I hope you both realise that this is a very serious accusation that's been made against you."

"Yes." Dave agreed with a nod. He hung his head to the ground like a guilty child. "Is it that serious?" He glanced to Rob and shrugged. Rob nodded. Dave grimaced and looked away. "Yes, Captain, we realise now that we're very sorry. We've learned from our mistakes and it won't happen again, whatever bad thing it is that we did this time." Dave shook his head and tutted as if rebuking himself for his stupidity. He turned to Rob. "We done a bad thing again, Rob."

"Would either of you like to explain to me why you stole a padd from Miss Somari Rakdee's cabin?" she asked angrily. "Perhaps you, Rob, as you seem to be the brains of this outfit?"

"He did it." Rob pointed at Dave. "I don't know anything about it. It was all his idea."

"Thanks, Rob. I appreciate your support."

"Enough!" the Captain shouted, standing up from the chair fast enough to send it skittering along the metallic floor of their cabin. "I do not expect to start my day with a complaint from a guest that a member of my staff has pilfered items from her room. This is incomprehensible. Padds are freely available—you can get one from the supply office you work in. Why in the galaxy would you steal one?"

"It's a long story." Dave said weakly.

"I'm listening." she told him sternly, her eyes boring into him with an intensity that went far beyond making him feel uncomfortable.

"Rob can tell it better." Dave pointed at him and flashed him a tiny smile.

"Fine." Rob scowled back at his friend. "We needed evidence."

"Evidence?" The Captain turned her anger on Rob who far preferred it when it was pointed at Dave.

"Dave and myself have had a great deal of contact with Miss Somari Rakdee over the last few days and we came to believe that there was something untoward about her." Rob explained.

"A great deal of contact?" the Captain smiled knowingly, but it held not a shred of warmth. She cast a glance to the security officer at the door who shook his head at the pair as if disgusted by them. "I have also had additional complaints from both of your shift supervisors. You've both been far too familiar with Miss Rakdee for the last couple of days. I hear you've made yourselves a total nuisance to this poor young lady."

"We were just trying to get a date!" Dave explained. "There was nothing untoward about it, we were just doing it for a bet."

"A bet?!" she scowled at him, her anger growing more intense. "I see. Go on."

"If I sleep with her, Rob has to clean my underwear for a month." Dave explained. "I've been eating curry."

"Curry!" she groaned and rolled her eyes to the ceiling. "Half the people on board have heard about your special batch of curry."

"That was how it started!" Rob jumped in quickly to capitalise on the fact the Captain had seemed to focus on the least offensive thing Dave had mentioned in some time. "But we started noticing things. We started realising that there was something wrong!"

"I should say there's something wrong!" the Captain shouted back at him. "You two are always going wrong!"

"No..." Rob winced. "I mean with Miss Rakdee. There's something not right about her."

The Captain narrowed her eyes and stared at him, then turned away from the pair. She clasped her hands behind her back and gripped hold tightly. The pair looked at one another in abject terror.

"You had better explain yourselves, and be extremely careful about what you say." she said coldly with note of measured calm.

"Yes, sir." Rob agreed. "It's about the missing shuttles that are on the news."

"What?" She turned back to them, her brow furrowed deeply. "What about the shuttles on the news? What are you talking about now?"

"We think she's been stealing them!" Dave explained.

"What?" the Captain roared at him. "What the hell do you mean?"

"Sir!" said Rob, trying again to calm things down. "We heard things she was saying—it seems like she knows all about the shuttle thefts. The story is all over the news. It's the biggest story going on in this part of space."

"So you stole her padd because she knows about something that is all over the news?" The Captain frowned at him accusingly.

"Well it does sound silly when you say it like that." Rob admitted with a shrug.

"We were about to bring the evidence to you." Dave continued. "I took the padd because I saw it open with details of where the stolen shuttles were going."

"Right." The Captain flashed an expression to the security guard standing by the door who smiled back knowingly. She shook her head and looked back to the pair. "So... you're telling me that in the course of sexually harassing a passenger, you came to believe that she was so well informed about an incident on the news that she simply had to be involved in criminal activity?"

"Exactly!" Dave agreed. Rob slapped his arm and frowned at him.

"The pair of you are confined to your quarters until I decide how to deal with you. I promise you that it won't be pleasant this time." she told them. "I'm very disappointed in you both. Why do I always have to be called to your cabin every couple of weeks to deal with your nonsense? What is it with you two?"

"Yes, sir." said Rob dejectedly. "We're sorry. Again..."

"Firstly, Miss Somari Rakdee has every right to expect a reasonable level of privacy aboard this vessel." the Captain began. "If she's involved in any wrongdoing, then it's up to the authorities to deal with that matter, not a couple of waiters."

"I'm not a waiter, Sir. I deliver towels." Dave corrected. She gave him a look that withered him instantly.

"If you have suspicions then it's your duty to bring those suspicions to the proper authorities, not steal from the passenger's cabin."

"Yes sir." Rob agreed. "I realise that, sir."

"And for your information, yes, Miss Rakdee does know a lot about the news. She's a journalist; she writes the news. She's travelling with us while she continues her investigations."

Rob hung his head in exasperation.

"Oh!" exclaimed Dave. "That makes far more sense than what we came up with."

"Yes!" the Captain told him. "And as for the sexual harassment, let me assure you both that you're really not her type." She glowered at them for a moment before turning to leave. She stepped through the door still churning on her rage. The passenger-support officer at the door left with her, hefting a large plunger. He stopped to glare at them with an extra little measure of hostility that he had to work hard to find. Dave watched them both leave, and turned to Rob frowning.

"He's got my toilet plunger. How dare he? That's cruel and unusual punishment to take another man's plunger."

"Shut up, Dave." Rob told him. Dave started to protest but gave up.

"So who won our bet? Do you still have to clean my underwear, because honestly, it's gone too far for me to even risk touching it again?"

The security officer stood for a moment glaring at them, shaking his head like a teacher watching two children with special needs eating glue.

"You really think you had a shot with Miss Rakdee?" the security officer asked, gazing with mild bewilderment at the pair.

"I thought I did!" Dave admitted. "I knew Rob had no chance, I mean look at him."

"Neither of you had a chance." he told them as he walked towards the door, still shaking his head. "She's been seeing the Captain. You're really, really not her type."

"The Captain? The Captain is a woman." Dave frowned. "Isn't she?"

"I think so, yes." Rob agreed weakly with a shrug

"You two are total idiots." said the officer as he left. "You need to be more careful. This is how rumours get started."

They watched as the doors closed.

"We are idiots." said Dave. "It's nice to have it confirmed once in a while though, isn't it?"

"You know something, I'm actually not." said Rob softly. "I think I'm going to quit being a waiter and get a proper job. I think it's time I lived up to my potential."

"Maybe I should live up to my potential too." Dave shrugged. The silence dragged on awkwardly for several seconds.

"You know somewhere across the vastness of the galaxy there's a Borg scout watching us with powerful sensors that glow green for some reason that I don't care about." said Dave solemnly. Rob turned to look at him. "A Borg drone will look up from his console and say the time is now for them to attack the Federation. A dirty fork has been detected in our sector. It begins with a fork and then a plate. Before you know it the table-cloths are at slightly wrong angles and the little paper towels don't look anything like swans."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Rob shook his head in dismay. Dave raised a finger and gestured for silence. He continued.

"The second scout agrees—civilisation is breaking down, the entire Federation is in danger of collapse. The Borg Queen readies her fleet of funny-looking square space-ships."

"Dave?" Rob sneered. "What the hell have you been drinking this time?"

"And then you know what happens, Rob?" Dave smiled thinly. "They try to press the buttons that make the ships work and they're just too slimy. They slide off and the invasion has to be aborted. It's a towel, Rob. The lack of a towel saved us all." Rob just shook his head. "That's what we do, Rob. We're saving the galaxy one dirty fork, one fluffy towel at a time. Without us there wouldn't be a Federation. There'd be wet hands and slightly dirty cutlery. Anarchy, Rob. Madness."

"There are no words." Rob told him, aghast.

"If only the Borg had beer, Rob." Dave shook his head sadly. "Something fully flavoured and less gassy."

"Shut up, Dave."

 

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