Series and story by S.C.Mollmann
“So,” said L’frn’lt to Will Kayden. “Did you hear that that chroniton wave finally finished sweeping through Federation space?” The glass arachnid stared eagerly at Will’s face, waiting for a response or at least recognition.
Will, better known as Stompie, simply continued staring out the viewport on the U.S.S. Rutledge‘s RecDeck.
“Well,” continued L’frn’lt, the starship’s science officer, “it means that today is Stardate 22300.00 and that yesterday was 32299.9. Finally! After 400 stardays worth of confusion. Now I won’t get messed up trying to do the equations for zero-dimensional progressions.”
Stompie sighed and stared at a point of light he had identified as NGC 400.
“It was emanating from the Lesser Magellanic Cloud, did you know that? It was several thousand light-years long. Most scientists seem to think some of the Lesser Magellanians — whoever they may be — are conducting some sort of temporal experiments.”
When Stompie continued to ignore L’frn’lt, the science officer scurried off on his eight legs to the table where Raymond Boone, the tactical chief, and Miles O’Brien, his assistant, were sitting. “It’s no use,” he sighed. “Nothing’s going to cheer him up.”
“I know,” muttered Boone. “Pining over her, especially after that blow up in the mess hall.”
“Aren’t you the least bit concerned?” asked O’Brien. “You know what those Cardassians’ll do to her?”
Boone sipped his Aldebaran whiskey. “I’m trying not to think about it, kid. I hope to God that never happens to me.”
Angela Nolan had been hanging from the ceiling in the nude for five days when Legate Shenob finally returned. “Well, well,” he said. “Been enjoying our stay here at 400A Occupied?” He laughed.
Nolan didn’t answer, but she didn’t exactly have a choice — her throat was completely parched.
“Oh, you’re thirsty and cold?” continued Shenob, as if she had spoken. “Sorry about the lack of clothing; standard interrogation technique. As for your thirst, haven’t the guard been giving you injections for that?” He laughed. “Oh, yes. They only take care of your body’s need for water. They don’t do anything about the physical feelings.” He laughed again. It was getting somewhat annoying. “Sorry. Now tell me everything you know about Starfleet Intelligence’s operations in Cardassian space.”
Nolan managed to gather enough strength to shake her head.
“No?” asked Shenob. “Well, let the fun begin.”
Captain’s Log: Stardate 22300.00
After six days of waiting for Chief Intelligence Officer Angela Nolan to return from Cardassian space, the Rutledge has finally left the rendezvous point under orders from Admiral Riley. Like the rest of Battlegroup D of the Eighth Fleet, we have been ordered to Zayra IV to take on supplies and cargo. Acting Flight Officer O’Brien reports we will be entering orbit in a few minutes.
“Decelerating from warp,” announced O’Brien. Flight Officer Karissya Volodzhe was off-duty, recuperating from her brief experience in Cardassian captivity.
“Standard orbit,” ordered Captain Benjamin Maxwell.
“Standard orbit, aye, aye.” The frigate slid toward Zayra IV and settled into a comfortable orbit. “Orbit established.”
At O’Brien’s left, L’frn’lt checked the calculations. “Standard orbit confirmed.”
“All systems on standby,” ordered Maxwell. The barely perceptible hum of the ship’s engines faded away as the warp core was cooled. “Commander azgn Bem, please draw up a shore leave roster.”
The Pandronian nodded her assent.
“Chief Bonsiorus,” continued the captain, turning around to face the junior engineer at the Aux Eng consoles, “coordinate with Spaceport Control on the planet and begin transfer of cargo by transporter and runabout.”
“Aye.” The Magna Roman opened up the commlink and began conferring with the planet.
“All other hands are dismissed.”
Making sure to act professional, O’Brien, L’frn’lt, and the others headed toward the lift at the back of the bridge. Once they were in it, however, they whooped with glee.
“I hear,” said Boone, “that there is this nice little out-of-the-way establishment on the Brown Continent that uses a low-level energy sheath to block communications and transporters. No interference.”
Security Chief Makras Rendell frowned. “That sounds very non-regulation.”
“Shut up, Makras,” the tactical chief retorted. “You wanna come, Miles, L’frn’lt?” The two nodded. “Gigantic.”
“Gigantic?” asked L’frn’lt.
“It’s a Aldebaran figure of speech,” explained Boone. “Means, I dunno…neat.”
L’frn’lt merely nodded in his arachnid way as Boone fidgeted with glee.
Boone’s scream of agony when he discovered he was not on the shore leave roster rocked the entire ship.
Shenob circled Nolan, who had finally been let down from the ceiling, though she was still unclothed. In his hand was a Klingon ritual painstick. “Barbaric little device,” he commented. “So crude and damaging. Shame to use it on such a pretty little body.” He leered. “Gul Feltor tells me you made quite the Orion animal.”
Nolan tried to spit, but found her throat was too parched to do so. She contented herself with gathering a small amount of saliva in reserve.
He moved toward her and applied the painstick to her arm. She screamed out in agony.
O’Brien, who was also not on the leave roster, found Boone in the cargo bays, watching Lucius direct cargo shuttles in his bumbling manner. On one occasion, two almost smashed into each other. After that, Lucius told Ensign Kratoa to do it.
“Hey, look at this,” called Boone from behind a pile of crates. O’Brien followed the sound of his voice to find Boone playing with something in a crate. O’Brien peered in to see–
He turned away in disgust and nearly gagged. “I hate spiders.”
“It’s not a spider, its a Lycosa tarantula,” explained Boone.
“It’s all the same to me. What’s it doing here?” O’Brien dared another peek, but the sight of one of its wriggling legs changed his mind.
“Well, it was destined for one of the colonies on Volon II, but the fellow who ordered it backed out at the last minute. Unfortunately, it was already on its way there. The mistake wasn’t noticed until it arrived at Zayra IV.” He lifted the tarantula out of the crate and thrust it toward O’Brien.
O’Brien shot out of the room like a phaser beam.
L’frn’lt, Makras Rendell, Sorsak (the Rutledge‘s Vulcan CMO), and Stompie materialized on the surface of Zayra IV.
L’frn’lt set off for a Horta establishment to get some granite while Stompie was heading for that place on the Brown Continent mentioned by Boone, presumably to nurse his feelings over a drink. Rendell and Sorsak decided to sample the local culture by visiting the capital city’s bazaar.
Rendell was quite taken by a small glass sculpture of Zayra and its moon until Sorsak pointed out that dealer’s claim that it was made from refined dirrite was obviously false — one-millimeter grains were barely perceptible, indicating it was made of cheap murryite. Rendell returned the favor by discovering a small symbol on what Sorsak had termed a “fascinating” protoplaser that indicated it was of Tzenkethi make and quite clearly illegal. Rendell and Sorsak agreed to report both dealers to the Better Business Bureau.
Sorsak’s attention was suddenly caught by a passing alien. “A Talarian!” he said in what was nearly an exclamation.
“Where?” asked Rendell.
“Right there.” Sorsak discretely pointed at a strange-looking orange alien.
Rendell raised an eyebrow. “That’s no Talarian.”
“He is not a Talarian per se; he is, however, a Talarian/Gorbrok half-breed. And he should not be in Federation space, considering we are at a state of near-war.”
“Maybe he’s affiliated with the Gorbrok, then,” suggested the security chief, rather skeptical.
“The Gorbrok are a Talarian subject race.”
“Oh.” Makras mused over this. “How do you know?”
“I attended a symposium four-point-three years ago. The presenter, Doctor A’Korleee, theorized that a Talarian/Gorbrok half-breed would have highly fragmented DNA that would result in it not looking much like either race. This DNA would be unrecognizable as either race unless you knew what you were looking for. Zayran Customs probably believes that he is from a previously unknown and unaffiliated race.”
“Whatever he’s here for, it can’t be good.” Rendell flipped open his communicator. “Rendell to Rutledge.”
“Rutledge here. azgn Bem speaking.”
“Ma’am, we’ve identified a Talarian on the surface.”
“A Talarian? How would they get past Customs?”
Rendell quickly explained the fragmented DNA.
“Can you have Sorsak send This One a DNA sample? This One wants to check the Customs computer banks.”
Sorsak hooked his medical tricorder to the communicator and keyed in a sample from memory. “That should be sufficient.”
“Did you get that?”
“Affirmative. Standby.” There was a short pause. “Twelve members of a ‘previously unknown race, presumably non-aligned’ came through five weeks ago. By the Integrator, this is bad. This One is contacting Captain Maxwell right away. You two better call Lucius for beam-up.”
Rendell groaned at the prospect of being beamed up by the bumbling transporter tech, but was silenced by a disapproving look from Sorsak. “Aye, aye,” he said. “Rendell out.” He flipped the communicator shut and then opened it again. “Rendell to Bonsiorus.”
“Two to beam up.”
“Aye, sir.” A few moments later the blue beam appeared around them and they faded from view.
“Report,” ordered Captain Maxwell as he stepped onto the bridge, still in his civilian clothing.
azgn Bem looked up from her computer panel. “All of the senior staff has reported aboard with the exception of Lieutenant Kayden. We are unable to ascertain his location.”
“Where is he?” hissed the captain. “Get Ensign O’Brien down there right away.”
“Already done, sir.”
Maxwell jabbed the intercom button. “Engineering.”
“Status of restart.”
“Well, we have impulse drive and tractor beams online. It’ll be another half-hour before we get phasers, forty-five minutes before the shields and tricobalt torpedoes, and one hour for the warp drive.”
“Thank you, Mr. O’Brien.” He terminated the link. “Any other ships report ready?” azgn Bem had taken the initiative and contacted all the local captains.
Rendell checked his status board. “Negative. The Merkattle, Archon, Ad Infinitium, and Shall Ta Mey are in the same condition as us.”
“Captain!” called out L’frn’lt. “Two dozen Talarian raiders have just entered the system.”
“We’re going to have to go into Starbase Zayran,” pointed out azgn Bem.
Maxwell nodded. “Set a course for the starbase,” he ordered Lieutenant Commander Karissya Volodzhe at helm. “Full impulse velocity. Mr. Boone, have the other ships do so as well.” As he said this, he was thinking, Damnit Stompie, where are you?
Stompie was sitting in a bar on the Brown Continent, quite unaware anybody was paging him, as the bar was protected by an energy sheath. He called for another ale, and the waitress obligingly sat one on his table.
He stared out the window, up at the star-specked sky, wondering if any of those stars was NGC 400 and how Angela was doing.
Angela was not doing well.
Her body had been bruised all over by Shenob’s painstick and everything hurt. Everything hurt a lot.
Shenob continued to remark on how pretty her body was and what a shame he had to damage it. All she had to do was give him a little information on SFI’s actions in Cardassian space.
Shenob walked into the room, probably returning from a hearty meal. What she would give for a single brussel sprout. He moved toward her, his hand reaching for her–
She spat in his face.
He yelped in surprise, jumping backwards and falling on his back. His painstick rolled across the floor to her feet. Nolan grabbed it with her feet and managed to point it at the energy binders holding them together, deactivating them. From there it was a simple matter to use it on the others, thereby freeing herself.
Good thing she had been gathering all that saliva for the past few days.
By this time Shenob had managed to stand up again, but to no avail. Nolan zapped him with the painstick in the head, knocking the legate out. She then made a run for the door of the interrogation chamber.
Elsewhere, two beings continued a previous conversation.
“We are reaching the cusp in the experiment.”
“Ah. Very good. Keep me informed.”
“Entering Starbase,” announced Volodzhe.
“We are the last ship,” added Boone. “Spacedoors are closing.”
Maxwell’s fingers clenched the armrests of his chair. He glanced at azgn Bem on his right and Sorsak and his left. If not for their quick thinking, his ship would be a sitting duck.
Actually, it still was. It was just hiding beneath the mother duck. He hated not being in control of a situation.
“Starbase Command and Control reports they are raising shields,” azgn Bem read off her console.
Rendell span around from his computer. “Nothing’s happening!”
L’frn’lt frantically jabbed at buttons with six of his eight legs. “Confirmed.”
“Time until the raiders arrive at our location?” asked Maxwell.
“Fifteen minutes,” answered Boone, sounding rather worried.
Maxwell jabbed the commlink button. “O’Brien, you reading this?”
“Aye, sir. It appears that the emitter array is giving off a particle stream. Shields will not function.”
“Can you beam in and repair it?”
“Yes, sir. The particle stream will mean I’ll have to beam in about fifty meters way, though.”
“Get on it. Bridge out.”
O’Brien materialized in a standard Jeffries tube. He glanced at his tricorder to ascertain the location of the emitter array. Once he had it, he turned in the proper direction and saw–
Spiders. There were about twenty of them, each with legs a half-meter long. His tricorder identified them as Talarian hook-spiders and indicated they enjoyed two delicacies: Talarian flesh and duotronic emissions equipment, such as a shield emitter array.
His communicator chirped and he pulled it off his belt. “O’Brien here.”
The voice of azgn Bem answered him. ‘”Ensign, is there something wrong? You’re not moving.”
“There are twenty Talarian hook spiders between me and the array. I believe they were responsible for the damage.”
“The Talarian Sorsak and Rendell sighted must have been responsible for that. What’s the problem? Proceed.” She must have then realized what was wrong. “Oh. You’re arachnophobic. This One can get someone else…”
In the background he heard Boone’s voice reporting, “Ten minutes.”
“There’s no time. I’ll do it. O’Brien out.” He flipped the communicator grid down and looked at the fifty meter of Jeffries tube. The hook spiders waved their half-meter legs. Or will I?
Nolan brutally attacked the first guard she saw with the painstick and grabbed his disruptor. She used this on the other two Cardies present in the corridor, not even realizing it was set on disintegrate in her fury. She charged down the hallway, blasting everything that moved and most things that didn’t.
She was free!
She ran down a juncture and recognized the area on her right as where she and her team had initially been held prisoner. Just beyond it was a transporter room, she recalled. She hustled past the cells, blasting the lone soldier who was guarding nothing at all. She came to the transporter room and shot the entry controls and then the door.
Inside were ten Cardassian soldiers. Their stun beams hit her simultaneously.
Her naked body fell to the floor.
O’Brien took a deep breath. “I think I can,” he muttered to himself, echoing the old Earth legend of the magtrain that could. He took one step forward. And then another. A third, a fourth, a fifth, and he was at the first spider. Its hooked leg tentatively moved toward O’Brien. He yelped.
The leg moved back.
O’Brien continued to crawl tentatively forward, past another spider. It also started toward him, and he yelled at it.
This one moved back, too.
They were as afraid of him as he was of them!
Emboldened by this revelation, O’Brien scurried down the Jeffries tube, ignoring the other eighteen hook spiders. One actually touched him, but he shrugged it off.
Finally reaching the emitter array, he saw that the hyperwave guides had been chewed through. He removed a spare guide from his engineering pack and plugged it in. Then a quick application of the heliospanner–
The emitter array lit up! He flipped open his communicator. “O’Brien to Rutledge…”
“…we’re in business.” The voice of O’Brien echoed through the Bridge.
“Good job, Ensign,” said Maxwell. “We’ll handle it from here.” He relaxed his fingers and noticed they had left a visible imprint on the armrests.
“Thank you, sir. O’Brien out.”
“Lieutenant Boone, time?” he asked.
“Two minutes, sir.” The tactical officer’s face was covered with a broad grin.
Maxwell nodded. “Hail what you think is the command ship.”
“Opening a channel.”
The face of a Talarian appeared on screen. He was a full-blooded Talarian and thus looked human, except for a ridge that ran around his head. “I am Commandant Resol Ami. What do you want, human?”
“I am Captain Benjamin Maxwell. You are in violation of Federation space. You will surrender immediately or be subject to our assault.”
“Pah.” Ami seemed rather confident. “At no time in my twenty-year career have turned away from a defenseless prize, and I will not do so now.”
“Defenseless?” Maxwell raised his eyebrows. “Take another look, Commandant.”
In the background, he could hear a junior officer talking. “Sir, all five ships are in the Starbase. And its shields are up!”
“Impossible!” screamed Ami. “How would they know to flee?”
“Perhaps,” suggested Sorsak, startling Maxwell, “you should be more careful when placing your agents. Talarian/Gorbrok fusions are not that common in Federation territory.”
The Talarian commandant’s face began to twist into a furious expression, stopped by a sudden shudder.
“The starbase has locked a tractor beam on the raiders,” announced Rendell. “Admiral Hudec says it’s your show.”
Maxwell smiled. “Now why would the Talarians be interested in Zayra IV? It is nowhere near the disputed Galen System. But the Cardassians on the other hand…” Ami’s shocked expression let him know he was right. “If you could convince your Cardassian comrades to return one Lieutenant Angela Nolan to our position, we would be glad to let you return to Talarian space.”
The veins on Ami’s neck began to bulge. “I will consider it.”
Angela woke up on board what she quickly identified as a Talarian courier. “What am I doing here?” she asked. She was clothed in a gray unisex jumpsuit and lying on the ship’s lone bunk.
The pilot swiveled around in his chair. It was the prefect of 400A Occupied. “You’re going home. A tactical blunder on the part of our former allies, the Talarians.”
She nodded, not understanding.
“I’m sure you’re shipmates will explain. It was mostly their doing, after all. We will be at Zayra IV in a few minutes.” He went back to his piloting.
Indeed, a few minutes later Nolan was materializing aboard the Rutledge. Stompie was at the controls, and waiting for her was Captain Maxwell and her Intel team.
“Welcome back, Mz. Nolan,” greeted the captain. “I’m sure you’ll want to rest.”
She just nodded.
Her team, especially the always emotional Chosar Felonia, was nearly crying. “Oh, Angela, we thought you were dead for sure,” they babbled. “Thank you, thank your for what you did for us.”
She managed a weak smile.
Stompie, too, was glad. “Angela, you can’t believe how worried I was. When you didn’t come back–“
She brushed right past him, going out of the transporter room and leaving Stompie with a shocked look on his face.
Elsewhere, two beings concluded their conversation.
“Is the test complete?”
“How did the subject do?”
“I must admit, she was very resourceful…”
“But, not resourceful enough. She did not escape through her own means.”
“Pity. She was so promising. We will have to move on to another subject.”
Boone found O’Brien in the Cargo Bay watching Lucius trip over a misplaced crate.
“That was a good job you did, Miles. I know how afraid you are of spiders.”
“Thanks, sir. I overcame my fear when I realized they were afraid of me as well.” He turned toward one slightly ajar crate. “I’ve even decided to adopt–“
He removed something from the crate and tossed it at Boone. He was unable to catch it in time and ended up with a Lycosa tarantula standing on his soldiers and staring him in the face. The tactical chief screamed and ran from the room after shoving the arachnid onto the floor.
O’Brien picked it up. “Good job, Christine,” he whispered. “I think we’re going to have a swell time together.” He stroked it along its back, causing a nearby cargo technician to nearly lose his lunch.
– – – – –
Brannon Braga deserves concept credit because this story is based on O’Brien’s comment about fear to Barclay in “Realm of Fear” (TNG), an episode he wrote.
L’frn’lt’s mention of the chroniton wave from the Magellanic is meant to explain why the stardates of the first three episodes of Rutledge are ten thousand units too high. The actual reason is, I must admit, author error.