|The untold tales from around the Federation|
Marrta Slicko was smiling. She was almost always smiling; it was almost as if her brain was somehow incapable of processing anything negative, even when all around her the positive was almost impossible to find. Such as now. The lounge was not the biggest she'd ever seen but it was also far from small. There were around 40 people milling around, reading data from Padds, using personal communicators or drinking tiny cups of water, anything in fact other than having to make eye contact with the others in the room. She smiled even more and as she looked from face to face she noticed hers was he only one making that expression. She huffed slightly in frustration.
Humans were ok, they were pretty social, for the most part and she looked mostly like them. If it weren't for her completely black eyes and total lack of fingernails she could have easily passed for Human. Occasionally she wore dark glasses and kept her hands out of sight and tried to see if people treated her any differently. Generally they didn't, they either took her for Human more than she expected or they were so used to seeing variations throughout the wider cosmopolitan Federation segment of the galaxy that people just didn't care anymore what you looked like.
She rummaged in her hand luggage and pulled out two scarves, one pink, the other a sombre shade of dark brown. She held them up to the light and stared thoughtfully at them for a moment. "What do you think?" She asked a civilian security officer nearby. He wasn't near enough to hear her and stepped over a little closer, checking behind him to make sure it was actually him she was speaking to.
"I'm sorry?" He began politely. "Can I help you?"
"What do you think?" She smiled broadly. "Pink or brown? Am I in a pink mood or a brown mood today?" The officer frowned to himself, still trying to find some way to take her inquiry seriously but failing somewhat. He seemed to be edging away, like he had suddenly found himself in an area his training had not fully prepared him for. "Pink?" He shrugged.
"No!" She told him sternly. "I am in a brown mood today." His reply was a curious expression and although his mouth opened to reply he said nothing. She smiled again and thrust the pink scarf back into her bag and wrapped the brown one around her shoulders. "Maybe pink..." She looked over to the confused officer who stepped back to his post shaking his head.
Station DS401 was an aging trade platform on the edge of Federation space. It wasn't a popular place to visit but was a convenient point on the way to a dense pocket of colonised worlds that were rich in natural ores. If that hadn't been the case then the inhabitants of the station would have packed up decades ago and the station would be a rusting hulk in space, a grim reminder that things don't always work out. As it stood now it was a low-grade installation, it was quiet, people could come here to earn enough experience to move their career forwards after a disappointing start or an unfortunate setback.
Marrta looked around the lounge for someone to chat with. The lounge was the security checkpoint for the station, most had an entry and an exit point and usually a separate bar for the crew but this one threw them all in together. Anyone leaving or entering the station was asked to wait briefly there while security checks were made. These took time, the computer was not what it once was and the subspace communications were exactly what they'd always been since they were installed a century before and so patience was a useful commodity on DS401. In any case the lounge had a decent bar and was quite possibly the only thing of interest on the station.
"I'm Marrta." She introduced herself, sitting down next to an unwary man reading the latest news about the theft of starship parts who had been trying hard not to notice her. He flashed her a polite smile that was an exercise in reserved hostility. "I just got here." She began; oblivious to the fact he clearly didn't want to have a conversation. He began looking around for an escape route. "I've been to lots of places before, some of them were better than this but I like space stations, you meet the nicest people on them." He stared at her for a moment incredulously. "Is it nice here? Is there a lot to do? Are the people friendly? What's the food like? Is there a dominant culture?" She looked set to continue but the man stood up and made a muttered excuse before headed off for some water.
Marrta considered this as no more than a minor setback and began looking for her next target with a happy smile on her round little face.
"No... No... No... Bad... No." Marta turned to see a middle-aged man stood next to her, smiling back but his was far more reserved than hers which would have been more fitting on a psychotic clown with a nitrous oxide addiction. She shrugged her reply. "Sorry?"
"It's not nice here." He began. "There's virtually nothing to do, the people are far from friendly, the food is pretty awful and if you see the replicators you'll understand why. Also there are no lasting cultural trends because nobody ever stays here long enough.
"Maybe you're biased?" She suggested. "Maybe you just don't see how great this place can be?"
"Maybe..." He shook his head solemnly that such a thing was unlikely.
"You're attractive and relatively intelligent." Marrta told him happily. "We should have a drink sometime and if you're humorous and have a good level of personal hygiene I might consider performing an act of procreation with you."
He stared back, not quite sure how to respond while she smiled fixedly at him. "Would I have a say in this?" He finally managed. She shrugged. "Actually I'm leaving." He told her as if disappointed by this unfortunate twist of fate.
"Oh." She frowned briefly. "I just got here."
"I'm Gary, by the way." He reached out to shake her hand. She stared at his outstretched palm and made no attempt to reciprocate but smiled ceaselessly in any case. He withdrew his hand and raised an eyebrow quizzically. "What species are you, exactly?"
"Brof." She told him with a frown. "But I'm a special Brof, most are not like me. I'm Marrta and I'm a bit unique"
"Probably a good thing." He joked. "Would you like some advice, Marrta? Leave. This is not a good place."
"I don't mind about the food." She shrugged.
"The food is the least of your problems here." He told her flatly.
"The drink is bad?" She ventured innocently.
Gary smiled back at her grinning face. He checked his watch, a solid titanium billet machined into shape and fitted with an insanely sophisticated electronic core, vastly over-engineered for something only capable of telling the time. "Join me for a drink; I'm stuck here for at least an hour, maybe two."
"Will you tell jokes?" She asked. "Will we need a private room or do you procreate in public?"
"I really just meant a drink!" He told her, gesturing towards a replicator. "Oh." She muttered, a little disappointedly.
Gary selected two identical drinks from the replicator and handed her a glass. She took it gingerly and sipped at the contents. Her face screwed up instantly in horror. "Not good?" He asked, full of concern. "It's ok..." She told him. "What is it?"
"It's just Cola..." He frowned. I thought everyone liked it. She shook her head and took another sip, this time she made a loud noise of distain and shook her head furiously from side to side. "Can I get you something else?" Gary asked, frowning deeply.
"It's fine." She smiled back. "Tell me about this station..." She lowered her voice seductively. "Tell me about you..."
"I meant it, you know." He began. "You really shouldn't stay here, bad things happen here."
"Go on!" She looked him up and down and grinned.
"I'm a shuttle pilot." He began. "You hear stories here but two weeks ago this thing happened. That's why I'm leaving. Let me tell you what happened..."
The bunk rooms on board the station were hardly comfortable but maybe that was part of the point. The monitor at the far end of the room lit up and began chiming loudly. Above it a yellow light began to flash.
Gary woke up dimly; he was still half-asleep and rubbed his eyes lazily and rolled over on the unyielding, firm mattress. He felt a hand shaking him and knew that resistance was futile. "Yellow alert, man!"
"Yellow alert?" Gary repeated. "How can there be a yellow alert out here? Has the Commander lost his keys? Did someone forget to water a pot plant?"
"Get your lazy arse out of bed, soldier!" Enoch Abulga told him firmly but still in good humour. Gary hoisted himself upright, glancing around the barely lit room. "I'm not a soldier." He corrected. "I'm a civilian pilot and at this time of the morning, bed is where my lazy arse belongs!"
"Enoch Abulga to bridge!" He pressed his comm-badge. "We're on our way, Sir."
The bridge of DS401 was more like a large office, a big single room cut into various sections by makeshift dividing walls. Stations were manned by un-uniformed personnel who dealt with their duties in a slightly more laid back fashion than Enoch would have liked. He entered the bridge with Gary close behind him, Enoch in full station uniform and Gary in whatever was nearest the door as he'd left the room.
"Welcome!" Commander Bailey sniffed and took a big gulp of excellent coffee, his one luxury aboard the tired old station and something that the replicators played no part in; even the water it was brewed in was fresh. "Commander!" Enoch nodded. Gary just perched on the edge of a desk and waved, "morning, John." Enoch cast him an acid stare at his violation of the chain of command. "How can we have a yellow alert out here, John?"
"An hour ago, I was asking the same question." He replied, unconcerned at the informal banter. Enoch raged silently. "It seems we have a situation."
"A situation, Sir?" Enoch stepped forward, his body stiff and his eyes forward as he addressed the Commander. John raised an eyebrow and turned his attention back to Gary. "What's the worst thing you can receive out here, John?" He rubbed his forehead and sipped again at his coffee.
"Oh no..." Gary sighed. "Did you get a letter from my ex-wife?"
"Worse!" He assured him while Enoch broiled with rage. "We picked up what seems to be a distress call." "Out here?" Gary frowned.
"It's badly degraded but yeah, it seems to be a distress call." He said. "One of the Starfleet guys is going to investigate. I need a pilot to send with them, I need a volunteer, Gary!"
Gary groaned. Worse than bunking with Enoch was the thought of being stuck in a long-range shuttle with a Starfleet officer. In fact it would almost definitely be a security officer, endlessly quoting protocol and making recommendations for safe conduct while they travelled at Warp 2 in a totally straight line for hour after mind-numbing hour.
"Shuttle 2 can only manage Warp 2, at best!" Gary complained. "And that's the fastest thing we've got."
"Ted has already fitted upgrades to the engines, she can hold steady at 3.5 now." The Commander told him. "There's no excuses, Gary!"
"I would like to volunteer, sir!" Enoch stepped forwards and bit his lip hopefully for just a moment before remembering himself and staring out forwards, unblinking.
"I would also like to volunteer him!" Gary added.
The Commander looked him up and down. "Sure, I don't care. Just be ready to leave in 20 minutes. Shuttlebay 3." "Yes, Sir!" He barked in reply, the Commander begun laughing out loud.
Enoch already had a travel bag already packed, clothes, tools, emergency supplies and a weapons pack attached to the outside, just in case. He quickly snatched the bag and headed at a brisk pace towards the shuttle bay.
"Are you going to be ok?" Gary patted him warmly on the shoulder.
"Sure!" He said. "This is what I've been waiting for. I need this experience for my application to Starfleet or else it's just going to keep being rejected."
"I see." Gary smirked to himself. "Well then I guess you owe me one..."
"I do." He stopped suddenly and turned to face his colleague. "I know we've not always seen eye to eye, Gary but I do appreciate you standing aside and letting me have this opportunity."
"I just..." He stopped himself and smiled supportively back to the ambitious young fool. "I just know you're going to be fine out there. I have every faith in you."
Enoch reached out to open the access portal to the bay. "I won't let you down, I won't let the station down and I won't let myself down."
"I'm sure you won't..." "Gary grinned. "I'm not even sure how you could."
The bay was large, it was the primary loading bay for cargo and the shuttle was right in the middle of the chaos. It was a poorly maintained Type-6 craft, dirty from frequent use but capable and quite probably safe. The warp drive had been quickly upgraded to make the longer than usual journey a bit easier by the maintenance team but the changes didn't seem apparent. The ship looked mostly standard.
Enoch looked it over proudly, his first proper job since he'd arrived, the first real challenge.
"You'll be ok!" Gary told him, slapping him on the back. He grinned widely and nodded his young, inexperienced head.
Borran Drai stepped onto the deck, rubbing his temples wearily. He looked up at the pair of pilots with a slightly odd look of incomprehension before walking over to them. "Good morning." He nodded, somewhat wearily. He looked at Gary for a moment and smirked to himself. "I'm Lieutenant Commander Drai. I'll be running the investigation into the distress call."
"I'm Enoch Abulga, Sir." He enthused. "I'll be piloting the long-range shuttle. I'm at your disposal."
"Good luck!" Gary told them. "To both of you!"
She cried out again in what sounded like disgust and winced as if something awful had happened.
"Are you alright?" Gary reached for the replicator to get her another drink. "No!" She stopped him. "It's fine. Don't worry."
"Ok..." He agreed hesitantly as she tried to rearrange herself into a more attractive pose in the clumsiest way imaginable.
"It's not that I'm saying your story is boring..." She began thoughtfully. "It just doesn't seem very interesting. I mean why would I want to leave just because of this?"
"I hadn't quite finished." He said as if such a thing were so obvious that stating so made him feel slightly ridiculous. "Oh." She leant back and reached out to touch his collar. "Impress me then!"
Gary had been working aboard a tiny Type 15 shuttle all day. Conditions were cramped and the life support system was due for an overhaul. The air was thick and humid and left him feeling tired and uncomfortable. With no other pilots on duty he'd pulled the unenviable task of sitting in orbit around the station ready to escort larger vessels to the docking clamps. Only one had arrived all day but regulations required that he remain available in case of emergencies. In all it had been a day he would rather forget.
For the last 4 hours he had promised himself a long spell of getting hopelessly drunk in the 401 bar, a complete deck on the top of the main habitation section where most of the crew gathered throughout the day to swap stories and tasteless jokes.
He was still wiping himself with a hand-towel when he got back to the bunk room, at least on the station the air was cleaner and fresher and didn't smell like old socks. At least it didn't unless he went to Enoch's side of the room.
"Computer!" He began. "Put on some music." Some slow old Jazz music began wafting through the room, lifting some of the cares of the day and lightening the mood as the velvet-soft notes caressed his tensions away.
"You have three messages." The computer told him.
He checked the screen and the first was from his ex-wife. He deleted it without opening as there was only so many ways she could call him an idiot without the whole thing losing its charm. The second was from the Commander and the last was from Enoch. He sighed that no attractive women had seen fit to mail him but it was hardly a surprise on station 401. He ignored the duty-rota for the next day and opened the message from Enoch.
It was a video message and his face filled the viewer. In the background the small shuttle stretched back and the Starfleet security officer was sleeping on a bunk behind him. He seemed happy.
"Hello Gary." He began. "I guess this is a personal message so no need for too much formality." Gary smiled. "We've been tracking down the source of the message now for 13 hours and still nothing to report. We're no closer to tracing the source, long range sensors aren't detecting a vessel of any kind although Lieutenant Commander Drai says that's perfectly normal with the sensor equipment fitted to a shuttle. We're not likely to detect anything until we're a lot closer." He paused momentarily to quickly glance to the rear of the ship where the officer was sleeping fitfully.
"The Lieutenant Commander and I seem to be getting on quite well. He's very efficient and seems completely in control." He began haltingly. "He's Betazoid though. It's a little disconcerting knowing that he knows what I'm thinking." He made a stupid grin. "I mean I know he can't read my mind but he knows how I feel, he can experience my emotional state, it's a strange thing and something I've never come across before. I guess it's normal in Star Fleet though. One day!"
Gary shook his head and chuckled at the young man's over-exuberance.
"The shuttle is handling well. There seems to be a lag in the power delivery but I've run a diagnostic and everything is operating within normal parameters. I think the problem may be in the injector manifold. I'm making a full report and recommending a full maintenance overhaul when I get back." He paused, looking even more pleased with himself.
"I don't know when that will be. We're still in sub-space communications with the DS401 bridge but they're not having any more luck decoding the message than we are. I understand Starfleet Command has been apprised of our mission." He sighed to himself.
"I guess I will send another message tomorrow." He leant closer to the viewer. "Thanks again, Gary. This means a lot to me. Shuttle S2DS401, out."
Gary woke up the next morning with a hangover. It was like someone was pushing into his temples and their fingers were somehow meeting in the middle. Luckily he had had the foresight to prepare for this and reached out for a small bottle on a shelf next to his bunk. He downed the salty black liquid and lay for a moment in agony, exhaustion sapping the strength from his aching muscles and his head throbbing from abuse. Within seconds the pain started to fade, the clouds parted and within a minute he got out of bed feeling suitably recovered.
"Good morning, computer!" He began. The computer ignored him. "Do I have any messages?"
"You have seven new messages." It told him. He checked the screen, one was the duty rota from the previous night and there was a second asking if he'd read the previous message and that he was to report to bay 2 approximately half an hour ago. He checked his watch and made an awkward gesture. There were four more from his ex-wife, the title lines demanded his immediate attention so he attended to them immediately with the delete-key. The last was from Enoch, another personal message. He shook his head at the young guy's enthusiasm, wondering if he had ever been that young, that naive and that keen to please, and supposed that he probably had been before marriage had slowly sapped his will to live.
"Play that one." He told the computer as he begun rambling through his clothes for a uniform he could wear or at least something that would cover up the fact he had no intention of taking a shower that morning.
"Good..." Enoch appeared on the monitor and looked away quickly, "morning, I guess, where you are. I just thought I'd send you a quick message." He lowered his voice and glanced behind him. "It's probably nothing but I'm actually getting slightly worried about Lieutenant Commander Drai. As I said, I'm sure it's nothing to worry about and it's just that I'm stuck in a small shuttle with him for such a long time and getting nervous.
He's acting a little strangely. He keeps forgetting my name and he stares at me for ages, 20 minutes at a time he just stares at the back of my head. A few hours ago I asked if he wanted anything from the replicator and he said that soon the house of blood will open and it will consume our bodies and our very souls and then we must live in the house. Then the darkness will burn brightly enough to scorch the eyes from our skulls and cleanse us of our hate and we will be made unto them."
"Pause..." Said Gary. "Repeat that last bit." The computer duly complied and he had heard exactly what he thought he'd heard. "Resume!"
"I'm sure it's fine though. Also he keeps pacing up and down the shuttle. He keeps saying that they're here and he has to find them before they destroy the future of the galaxy. I assume he means the distress call but it seems a bit of an odd thing to say." Enoch looked like everything was far from fine. "I don't want to report this through official channels yet, this might just be how Betazoid behave and I don't want to look like an idiot on my next Starfleet application. I'm going to see how things go."
He looked troubled. He glanced back around. "Also the shuttle is getting worse. Whatever I try to get it to do it won't do straight away. There's a growing lag in response time. It's all going in my report." He scowled. "Shuttle S2DS401 out."
Gary bit his lip thoughtfully.
The door to the bridge swung open with a groaning hiss and Gary stepped out of the turbo lift. The Commander looked up to a large black chronometer on the wall and sighed loudly. "Don't you have work to do?" He asked sarcastically.
"John!" He began, his expression dire. "We need to talk, can we go in your office?"
"What's this about, Gary?" He frowned. "What's up?"
"Your office!" Gary told him firmly.
"Is this about the distress call thing?" He sighed. "I have my best people working on that, computer experts. Enoch is going to be fine!"
"Commander!" Gary insisted loudly enough for the whole bridge crew to hear. "We need to talk in private. This is important."
"It's full of boxes of beer." John shrugged. "You want a box? I can spare you one!"
"Commander!" Gary insisted, gesturing to the office. "Please."
Gary perched himself on a pile of boxes of beer, the Commander moved a couple and sat down behind his desk, intrigued to hear what the problem was but equally annoyed that it had chosen to happen on his station and on his watch.
"It's the Starfleet officer with Enoch!" Gary began. "Enoch has sent me a few messages, he's acting very strangely. I'm not happy with this."
"Enoch?" The Commander shrugged. "He always acts strangely."
"Starfleet!" Gary snapped. "He's talking about all kinds of crazy stuff."
"Gary, words like ‘duty', ‘discipline' and ‘punctual' sound like crazy stuff to you!" The Commander told him, leaning back in his chair with a growing sense of smugness.
"Computer." Gary stood up and went over to a large display set in the far wall. "Access my messages. Gary Martin, approval GM302." He began lifting boxes of beer out of the way so the screen could actually be seen. The list of messages appeared, he had three new ones, two from his ex-wife threatening to do horrific things to him if he didn't reply. He deleted them.
"Oh..." Gary looked at the screen. "There's a new one from Enoch."
"Good." The Commander sighed. "Play it, let's get this over with, shall we before I have to change your duty rota and get you in a work bee cleaning out the blocked waste pipes on the lower levels."
Gingerly Gary looked over to the Commander. "Play message." He said softly and stepped back to watch it.
At first the screen was dark and then there was sudden shock of movement and yelling. A foot that was blocking the screen moved away and Enoch was on the floor, hoisted into a sitting position and edging away backwards from the larger Starfleet officer who was yelling incoherently and arching over the young man.
"I don't know... I don't know..." Enoch insisted, tears rolling down his face as he flinched with every sound, cowering away from the marauding officer. "The hole is deep, the hole is swallowing all life!" The officer yelled. "Blood fills the sky, blood rains down from the towers." He suddenly lurched forwards, pinning the pilot to the ground. "All hope is lost but in darkness. There is an evil in the darkness, it cannot be killed and it can drink the blood that blackens the sky." There was now a constant sound of sobbing and the screen showed only the back of the officer as he yelled relentlessly at the terrified young man.
"The evil must drink the blood!" He cried out, louder than before. "The resurrection must come to pass, evil must fan the flames of blood! What's old must be new again."
The message ended and the screen went dark.
"That's fairly disturbing." The Commander agreed.
"So what happened?" Marrta smiled. "We don't know." Gary told her. "Starfleet classified the whole business, they said they'd deal with it and asked me to sign a secrecy order. I told them where to stick it and resigned my post. That's why I'm leaving."
"Did anyone try to hail the shuttle?" She asked.
"We weren't allowed." He shook his head. "We monitored channels but we never heard from shuttle S2DS401 again. Starfleet will probably send a ship but we'll never find out what happened."
"It's still a good story though." She told him. "If you were staying I would almost definitely procreate with you." She leant forward and smelled him. "Almost definitely." She nodded to herself.
"Well it's nice to know I still have it." He said. "I still have some time. Do you fancy getting a proper drink?"
"You mean one that mildly poisons you and temporarily removes inhibitions?" She discarded the cola to a small shelf and beamed an earnest smile.
"I guess I do." He nodded. She looked back at the last drink and over to a bar where she would could order from a real person. "What was that called again? Cola?" He nodded. She wandered over to the bar.
A single man was serving, old and Human, the skin of his face was rugged and beset with lines that formed a map of the experiences of a lifetime. He smiled at the happy young girl as she came close. "What can I get you?" He asked. "We have a wide selection of drinks and the best food on the station."
"The best food on the station?" She asked. "Is that true?" He looked around the sombre architecture, the rusting replicator housings and the bored, bemused faces. "Yeah, I'm rather afraid that it is."
"Well I need two drinks." She began. "Can you make me something strong with cola in it?"
"Well please don't." She smiled. "Make me something that tastes absolutely nothing like cola."
"I can do that too." He seemed unfazed by her strangeness.
"And food?" She grabbed what she hoped was a menu. "What's good today?"
"Leaving on the next transport out of here." He told her honestly.
"But I just got here." She protested. "And I haven't had lunch yet."
"Are you Betazoid?" The old barman asked, noticing her black eyes.
"No!" She replied. "Brof."
"I had a friend who used to come here every day for lunch. He was a Betazoid."
"Lieutenant Commander Drai!" The barman cried out as the security chief entered the bar. "Why is it that around this time of day your investigations always lead you here and make it absolutely vital to closely examine a bowl of macaroni?"
"We get a lot of reports of stolen macaroni!" Borran Dria told him sternly. "And I have my suspicions about you, old man!"
"I've got a few suspicions about you too, Betazoid!" The barman told him, just as sternly.
"You know something?" Borran told him, leaning forwards to add effect. "I've been told never to trust a barman, they just know too much about you."
"And I've been told never to play cards with a Betazoid." He retorted. "Except you, you're terrible."
They laughed and Borran sat down at his favourite chair and ran his index finger around the collar of his uniform. "I could arrest you for your casual racism, you old bigot." He told the barman, snatching up a menu.
"You're just ageist." He told him, picking up a glass and wiping the rim with a clean, fluffy white towel. "Probably jealous for other reasons too."
"Such as?" Borran raised an eyebrow.
The old barman frowned as if it were obvious. "Well I get all the girls." He said. "I don't leave any for you!"
"Of course." The security officer opened the menu and began scanning through it. "You can read me like you're an empath."
"Well I can tell you one thing I do know." The barman grinned. Borran smiled with him, they both knew what was coming next and they both knew the barman was right, as usual. "I know you're going to scan through the menu for 30 seconds and then order the macaroni."
"Not today." He said assuredly. "In fact today I decided to surprise you. I'm going to order the fish and potatoes."
"Really..." The barman pretended to be shocked. "No macaroni today?"
"Fish." He said firmly.
"Guess what?" The barman held up the glass and nodded in satisfaction that it was clean.
"No fish?" Borran laughed. He nodded back. "How can you have no fish? It's on the menu."
"Well what can I say?" He shrugged, picking up the next glass. "I've had my nets out all morning but we've not caught anything."
"I'll have the macaroni." Borran grinned. "If you can manage that."
"It's your lucky day..." He told him.
Borran Drai leant back in the wire framed black chair and gazed around the bar. There were never many people passing through but enough to make his job barely tolerable. In fact his empathic ability more or less did his job for him. There were no criminals, no terrorists and no political dissidents passing through station DS401. Just minor traffic and occasionally a low level law breaker but those were easy to detect. He opened his mind and felt them, the emotions flowing around the room. He felt the pain, the boredom, the frustrations and resolve around the place. People were just on their way through, even those who lived here were dreaming of being somewhere else before they even unpacked their gear. As usual, there was nothing that worried him.
"You look tired." The barman told him and he knew it was true.
"I am, I guess." He admitted, turning back round to the bar. "Did I mention we caught someone the other day?"
"Were they illegally parked?" The barman quipped.
"Smuggling!" Borran corrected, it had been the most interesting thing to have happened in months. "I have a 48 hour pass to interrogate him. I've been pulling some late shifts."
"Well it's nice to see you do some work for a change." The barman handed over a tray, a steaming bowl of pasta with garlic bread and extra cheese. As always it smelled good, a galaxy away from the rubbish the replicators managed to produce.
"Actually I've not been sleeping." He rubbed his temples and took a mouthful. The food was too hot and he cursed himself.
"You know most people leave here well rested because there's nothing to do except sleep." The barman told him, handing over some paper towels and a glass of iced water.
"That's usually true." Borran agreed. At first the post had been a welcomed change of pace after his last posting. He had served aboard the USS Titan and been badly injured in a skirmish along the Cardassian border. This temporary post was a lateral promotion and gave him time to recuperate and find his way back from his injuries. At least that had been the initial plan but after 4 years he was beginning to think of the station as home and worrying he might never leave.
"So why aren't you sleeping?" The barman asked, returning to the clean glasses that somehow needed the attention of a warm towel.
"What are you, station's councillor now?" Borran quipped through a mouthful of pasta. "Well they asked me to be in charge of security too but I like to be busy." He replied with a grin. "I also failed the IQ test..."
"Really?" Borran asked.
"Yeah, they found one." The barman told him, pretending to be disappointed. "So I didn't qualify."
"I'm glad I have the support of friends like you!" He smiled.
"Borran." The barman put the glass down and stared back at him fixedly. "Whatever made you think we were friends?"
Borran finished up the macaroni and again, turned his attention to the crowds, such as they were. The 401 bar doubled as the security lounge, space was available for proper separate facilities but staff were not, combining them made everyone's life slightly easier and in any case, the Commander didn't care what anyone did.
"So you never did say why you weren't sleeping!" The barman took the empty plate and gestured ironically towards the coffee pot, Borran nodded in agreement.
"Dreams!" He said simply. "I've been having bad dreams."
"A big, strong man like you?" He quipped.
"Real bad ones, actually." Borran said coldly. "Quite nasty, really vivid and always the same."
"Go on..." The barman poured a small cup of very strong, rich coffee, the smell filled the bar as it poured out.
"They started a week ago." He began, his voice lowering as he spoke, his mood growing darker. "I'm in a box, it's dark but not too dark. I feel like I can see. It's not too small, maybe my office."
"If there's no fish in there then it could be my office!" The barman told him but the quip was solemn and was done only to break the tension as the story continued.
"Someone is coming for me. I can feel they're in the room. They're bigger than me, more powerful and I can't fight them." He frowned as he remembered; the images were almost real in his mind. "He's angry, furious even and I don't know why. I'm scared, more scared than I've ever been and I just don't know what to do."
"Ok." He said as Borran paused.
"Then he's on me, he's screaming but I can't really understand what he's saying." He took a deep breath. "He's pinning me down, he's clamping my head with his hands and screaming into my face. I can feel his breath, warm and sickly on my skin, his rage is tangible, so real that I feel like I could reach out and touch it."
This time the barman just waited.
"And then his hands are around my neck. I'm kicking and his grip is closing. He's strong and pretty quickly the world is going dark and I know I'm slipping into unconsciousness. I can feel my legs and arms thrashing but I feel weak, distant like I'm slipping away." He stopped for a moment, holding his own hands in front of his face and staring at them raptly.
"Then the light finally hits him and I see his face..." He stopped and looked straight at the barman as if the next thing was almost too horrible to say. The barman remained respectfully silent, just waiting for him to finish.
"The face..." He began. "The face is my own."
Marrta looked up from behind the menu. "fish?" She asked with an even brighter than usual smile. The barman shook his head. "I'm not sure about the macaroni." She admitted.
"Everyone else is fine with it." He winked knowingly. She glanced around the miserable faces in the waiting room. "I'm going to give it a miss though." She said. "Just the drinks, please."
She took them to a small brown table bolted to the floor with self-sealing stem bolts where Gary was waiting for her.
"Are you ok?" He frowned. "You were ages!"
"I'm great!" She enthused. "I have to say though, there are not many happy stories here." She looked directly at Gary when she said it. She passed him a drink, a cocktail, heavy and pink with a small paper umbrella and a mass of fruit. He seemed slightly surprised, even more so when she sat cradling a beer served directly from a bottle.
"I think maybe..." he passed her the cocktail and took the bottle of beer instead.
"Are you sure?" She smiled. "This one is far more pretty, I thought you might like it."
"Quite sure." He told her.
She sipped at her drink, it was far more to her taste than the foulness of Cola and it made her smile, as did everything else. "So tell me about yourself." He said with a swig of beer. "Why are you here?"
"Travelling!" She said with a shrug. "No planet is safe from me. I want to visit everywhere."
"Oh right..." He frowned. "Well we don't get many tourists out this way."
"I'm not surprised." She told him. "Your stories are all horrible."
"Maybe that tells you something?" He suggested. "Like maybe this is not a good place?"
"Maybe." She shrugged but never once stopped smiling. "I'm going to go to the toilet." He told her, tapping the top of his bottle of beer. I'll be back in a minute, will you be here?"
She nodded happily and sat watching him go. Then she stood up and stepped in front of the first person she saw walking past.
"Hi!" She said to the complete stranger. "My name is Marrta. I'm a Brof."
"Hello." She stepped back in slight surprise, she was carrying a Padd and held it suddenly close to her chest. She was young, in her early 20s and strikingly unattractive with matted, unwashed hair, no makeup and had clearly paid scarce attention to herself for some time. "Vikky." She said hesitantly, eyeing the stranger suspiciously.
"I'm travelling." She continued. "I'm stopping over at DS401 for 3 days. Are you leaving or arriving?"
"Leaving!" She stated firmly. "Leaving!"
"Well I'm arriving!" She added redundantly. "Why are you leaving?"
"Do I know you?" Vikky asked. "I mean who are you, what do you want?"
"Tell me a story." She shrugged her reply. "Tell me why you're leaving and then I'll answer your questions. Deal?"
"It's none of your business!" Vikky's nostrils flared angrily and her face flushed red.
"You don't know who I am." She smiled. "You don't know if it's any of my business or not."
"Are you Starfleet?" Vikky lowered her voice and seemed to calm down a little. She looked her up and down and stepped back. "No. No I guess not."
"Tell me why you're leaving and I'll tell you who I am and what I want." She stopped smiling for just a moment and looked deadly serious.
"Ok." Vikky agreed. "Why not..."
Vikky Stanford sat in her little room with only her computer for company, something that would never let her down, never abuse her, never argue with her about their future and never run off with a pretty little thing, 5 years younger with the brains of an empty hard-drive who happened to be her own sister.
She definitely preferred computers. Station 401 was a special place, it had everything she required as all she currently needed from the world was that it left her alone. 401 had sufficient access to Federation databases and she could follow her work in relative peace and quiet, assured that the people here had even less interest in her than she did in them.
Then the door-chime sounded.
Vikky glanced around urgently, wondering who it could be. Suddenly her flat looked startlingly appalling. She was grimly aware of the piles of rubbish, the clothes lying on the floor and the smell of a room being closed up for just a bit too long.
"Who is it?" She called out. "Security, ma'am." The reply came back through the intercom, the answer sending fresh bouts of panic through her. "What's this about?" She continued, dashing around the room, hiding the dishevelled appearance as best she could.
"Can I come in, just for a moment, ma'am?" The slightly irritated tone replied.
She swallowed hard and said, "Open."
The door slid to the side and she was faced with a man with greying hair, a lacklustre beard, aged around 50 years and dressed in very casual clothes. He wore a station ID clipped to his shirt which was conveniently hiding a large stain. "Security." He said, holding up a Padd. "Miss Stamford? Mrs Stamford? Whatever."
"What's this about?" She stood in the doorway, her arm blocking the way in although he seemed to have no interest in entering.
"I'm to escort you to the bridge on the orders of the Commander." He told her with a lazy shrug. "I don't know what this is all about so there's really no point in asking."
"Do I have a choice?" She grabbed her portable terminal and held it to her chest.
"Do any of us?" He sighed. "My name is Ted, by the way. I'm actually in charge of cargo haulage maintenance but it was lunchtime and nobody else wanted to go so I got drafted into security to come and get you."
"Ok..." She frowned.
"I'll probably miss lunch now." He told her. "There'll be no fish left by the time I get to the bar. I'll end up with macaroni again if I'm lucky."
"The fish wasn't very good today..." She told him, grabbing things as she spoke.
"You had the fish?" He asked accusingly.
The turbolift ride was worse than the conversation in the doorway.
"Maintenance is bad enough" He began. "We've never got enough staff, you know."
"Really?" She huffed in abject disinterest.
"We use automated equipment because we don't have enough staff but then when the automated equipment breaks down where are we meant to find the staff to fix that?" He carried on.
"Exactly!" He told her. "Ted has to do it." He shook his head sadly and so began a moment of merciful quiet.
"Do this, Ted." He began again. "Do that, Ted."
By the time the doors opened onto the bridge she was ready to face whatever fate the Commander could throw at her as nothing else could ever seem so bad.
"That's him." Ted pointed to a dishevelled looking man perched on the side of a desk running his hands thoughtfully through his receding grey hair. "John!" He cried out and then pointed to Vikky. The Commander jumped up and began making his way over. He stepped cautiously over the banks of cables that had been covered with black rubber mats and mismatched plating that had been replaced unevenly at various times.
"Thank you, Ted." He called out. Ted made an obscene hand gesture and muttered something about lunch before disappearing into the turbolift.
He reached out a hand in greeting. "Welcome to the bridge, Miss Standwell."
She shook his hand gingerly. "Stamford." She corrected.
"Are you sure?" He checked the Padd that was lying next to them on a desk.
"Pretty sure." She nodded.
"Ok..." He grunted. "And you're a student of computer science?" She nodded.
"I'm not going to lie to you." He began seriously. "That sounds horribly dull..."
She frowned but found the statement difficult to refute. "Why am I here?"
"Well we have a computer-related problem I need a little bit of help with." He told her, massaging the back of his neck with his hand. "I put my best person on it but there was a problem."
"Was your best person Ted?" She joked. His expression remained fixed, perhaps a little apologetic. "Oh..." she said.
"Look, we're not the military, I can't force you to help." He shrugged. "But without wishing to sound melodramatic, lives could depend on it.
She smiled, relieved that this was far less horrible than she had imagined it could be. "I can try, I guess. What's the problem?"
"Ok..." He perched himself on the edge of a desk. His Padd creaked as his full weight crushed down on it but he seemed oblivious and just carried on. "We picked up a signal from out there." He gestured wildly to space, outside the various windows. "We're sure it's a distress call but the signal is broken."
"Degraded." She corrected. He nodded enthusiastically.
"Degraded, yes." He continued. "We've sent a shuttle to investigate but it's just a shuttle, they have pretty poor sensors, limited warp capability. We're not Starfleet, this is just a supply station. We're making do."
"Ok." She nodded.
"The pilot is a cadet, basically and we sent a security guy." He explained. "We have two Starfleet officers stationed here but to be honest, they're not really much use. The one we sent is suffering from battle-fatigue, he's just here getting his head together, the other one is..." He stopped himself.
"Well anyway, if it is a distress call then we need to help the shuttle find it." He told her. "The best way we can do that is to analyse the signal properly and see if it has co-ordinates or any other information that could help the team."
"Ok." She said with a shrug. "I can do that."
"Yeah?" He smiled.
"Well yeah!" She seemed surprised by his reaction. "I mean I have a lot of work to do on my thesis but people could be hurt out there, I'm happy to help."
"Wow." He nodded in satisfaction. "You're really nothing like Ted."
The only place they could find for her to work was a quiet cubicle on the edge of the bridge. They gave her a terminal and open access to the systems. She almost began to protest when the Commander transferred his security clearance to her name but she actually found it slightly flattering that she was now so important so she let it slide and enjoyed her new temporary rank.
She began scrolling through the files, at first horrified at how disjointed and uneven they were but then slowly amused by their innocent brand of mismanagement.
She was shocked as someone invaded her space, she turned suddenly to see a younger man, maybe around 30 years old and good looking enough to make her nervous and then flush slightly with embarrassment.
"Vikki, isn't it?" He asked, standing to the edge of her work-station. She nodded and pretended the work was both fascinating and that it was imperative she gave it her full attention.
"I'm Tariq." He smiled. "Can I get you a coffee, tea? Anything else?"
"I'm fine." She shook her head. He began to move away. "Tea!" She called out. "I'd actually really like some tea."
"No problem!" He told her. "Milk? Sugar?"
"Yes and no." She nodded. "Not too strong."
"No problem!" He said again. "How's the work coming?"
"Slowly." She frowned. "I have made some progress by installing a fractal algorithm and re-encoding the stream with multi-phasic data sweeps."
Tariq just stood in silence for a moment. "Milk and no sugar, right?" He laughed.
"Yeah." She replied. "Sorry, I get a bit carried away sometimes."
"No problem." He said once more.
"I have found one thing though." She said proudly. "It's a class 2 sub-space carrier wave with an encoded data algorithm."
"Which means?" He shrugged.
"It means it's Federation!" She told him. "It's one of ours."
She came up to the bridge early the next morning. She felt different somehow, more energised. She felt like what she was doing was important and she was enjoying it immensely. She was welcomed to the bridge, even the Commander came to wish her well and insisted he called her "John." He asked if she wanted someone to bring her breakfast but when it became clear he had Ted in mind she politely declined and said she preferred to continue her work.
"How's progress?" The Commander asked as he hovered a respectful distance away.
"Good!" She said. She sat back from her console and pointed to the monitor. "I'm rebuilding what I can from the data-stream. The computer is filling in the blanks for me. Once this round of processing is done I should have some new information."
"Excellent." John remarked. "Ted!" He waved at the eternally irritated maintenance manager. "Bring us a tea and a coffee. Quick as you can!"
The computer chirped that the first data reconstruction was complete. "Done!" She grinned. "The second one will take maybe one or two more hours. After that won't be much more we can do."
"You've done your best!" He told her. "We're all impressed. Nobody in Starfleet could have done any better." She smiled coyly as she perused the data.
"It's still only fragments." She muttered. "Bits and pieces."
"Does it tell us anything new?" He asked, perching on the edge of her desk but him doing so didn't seem to bother her that much any more.
"I have a video fragment." She smiled. The monitor flickered with a hiss of static. Boxes flashed over the screen as the data tried to make sense of itself. Suddenly the interior of a vessel flashed into view, fairly small but normal, no smoke, no fire. The screen went black then flashed to life again and showed the torso of a man running towards the computer and punching down hard onto the controls shouting "Emergency, emergency" and then the screen went dead.
"Oh..." The Commander raised an eyebrow. "Not sure what to make of that."
"It does tell us there's really a ship out there in distress." She said thoughtfully. "The crew is Human, we know the ship is a Federation vessel."
"Any co-ordinates?" The Commander asked solemnly.
"I think so." She nodded. "I have a set of numbers, a location."
"Excellent, show me!" He jumped up excitedly. She pointed to the screen and he read the number out to himself, his lips moving as he did. He frowned and looked at her with a new, grim expression she'd not seen before.
"What?" She asked, slightly nervous.
"That's us..." He said darkly. "That's our location. They must have left from here..."
Breakfast was bad. Very bad. Not that the food was bad but that it was delivered by Ted which meant that Vikky had had to endure a tirade of lazy abuse about his value as a mechanic against the shoddy treatment he received from everyone.
"This is how serial killers get started, you know?" He said thoughtfully, watching her intently while she ate the macaroni he had brought from the bar.
"No fish today?" She asked conversationally to change the subject to one slightly less worrying.
"I didn't ask." He shrugged.
"I asked for fish!" She said softly. "But it's ok. I don't mind really."
"I like fish." He told her. "Fish don't bother anyone, they're calm. You can rely on fish."
"Yeah." She watched him intently while she ate.
"Not Graggor fish from Beetlforx 10." He told her in his dull monotone. "They'll strip the skin off your bones in seconds. If I were a serial killer that's how I'd do it, I think. I hear they're also an excellent source of riboflavin."
"...Right." Just as she was trying to decide whether to ask him to leave while she made some delicate calculations or just hit him with anything that came to hand a voice called out across the bridge.
"Commander." She turned to see what was going on but took pains to make sure that nobody noticed her. Everyone else in the room had also turned to watch.
"I wonder if there's much riboflavin in macaroni?" Everybody turned to watch except Ted.
She stared raptly as one of the station pilots spoke angrily to the Commander. They lowered their voices and she couldn't quite make out the conversation. It was something about boxes of beer.
She watched quietly as the pair went into the Commander's office and closed the door behind them.
"What do you think that was about?" She shrugged.
"Fish?" Ted suggested hopefully.
A bleep from the computer told her she no longer had to make polite conversation with him and she turned to see the what final information the computer had managed to salvage from the data stream.
With a blaze of hissing white noise the screen flickered to a picture inside the ship. Suddenly the sound caught up and there was screaming. She watched in silence, morbid dread that something horrifying could flash onto the screen at any second. "No!" cried out from the recording, a painful scream that seemed to be choked off was then followed by coughing. The screen flashed for an instant an image of a man fighting with another man and then it was silent.
"Wow!" She grimaced. "I think that by the time our shuttle gets there it will be too late."
Ted nodded and pointed to a readout beneath the main screen. "What's that?"
"It's the designation." She smiled excitedly. "It's the number of the ship, we know who it is!"
"S2DS401." Ted read it out.
"Yes, that's the number of the ship."
"What ship?" He shrugged but he didn't look like he was just trying to be awkward for once.
"The one that sent the distress call." She frowned as if the question made no sense. "The one we sent our shuttle out to investigate..."
Ted stood in silence for a moment, his eyes rolled up to the ceiling. "That's impossible. You should go and talk to the Commander." He told her. "Right now!"
She shrugged and looked back to the monitor, still not sure what he seemed so worried about.
"That number!" He began. "That's the number of our ship... that's the shuttle we sent out."
"So that's why I'm leaving!" Vikky told her finally. "I'm leaving because this place is wrong. Something is very wrong here and I don't want to be a part of it."
"Nice story." Marrta beamed and turned around, ready to leave and find Gary again.
"And you?" Vikky stepped forward to stop her. "Who are you and what do you want?"
"I already told you." She shrugged "I'm Marrta Slicko from Brof and I wanted to hear your story. It was very good. Thank you very much." She turned and wandered off, sipping from her cocktail as she went.
"Where have you been?" Gary frowned, beginning to realise that this girl might just be too much like hard work.
"Talking to people." She said simply. "Hearing their stories. I am a tourist, you know? That's what we do."
"My ship is delayed. I'm stuck here another three hours." He told her. "Another drink while we wait?"
"We could..." She dropped her empty glass casually to the ground as if it meant nothing now the contents were spent. "Or you could leave tomorrow and I could procreate your brains out tonight."
Gary looked at her with an expression of outright suspicion. "Ok..."
The room was dark, not so dark she couldn't see but dark enough to clearly view the stars through the transparent aluminium window. She flicked open her personal communicator and pressed it up to her face. She waited, her attention flicking from star to star as her face beamed a happy smile. She glanced over to Gary who was sleeping soundly, snoring in fact and she was more than confident that a quiet conversation wouldn't wake him.
"Daddy!" She said finally as the subspace channel connected.
"I'm on a space-station." She replied excitedly.
"I don't know." She smiled. "I'm not really in a rush. Maybe in a few months. I like travelling for now. I like you paying for it too."
"DS401." She shrugged. "Yes, I heard it can be dangerous out here but that's what makes it fun."
"Yes, that's right."
Suddenly her smile vanished. "Yes." She said. "It's here. I've found it."
"Bye, Daddy!" She smiled and closed the communicator.
|Last modified: 09 Nov 2020