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Flights of the Welkin (fiction)

Old Guy

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Trekkies beware!  The following is a parody set in the Star Trek universe.  >:D


JR Hume

Ch 1: Idle Tears

The view from the elevated tramway was interesting, to say the least.  Crew folk and passengers enroute to their vessels stood in clumps on the small platforms spaced along the tramway, watching the activity below.  Human and robot cargo handlers milled about on the main dock, conducting an endless array of material on board waiting starships.  Standard cargo containers and drab military shipping modules filled humming conveyors.

Commander Slim slumped in the open passenger tram, trying to ignore the dock activity and the huge viewscreens spaced along the deck.  Unfortunately, the robot porter seated to his left was evidently programmed to be both a driver and tourguide.

“Look, sir,” chirped the robot.  “It’s a Siren-class freighter!  Bound for Firelight!”  Slim grumbled and looked away - right into the grinning faces of two other Starfleet officers.

“Hey!” exclaimed one, as the tram slid by.  “It’s old Slim!  Off to his new command!”  Both officers burst into laughter.  He hunched lower in the seat.  It would be good to get aboard ship - away from the constant stream of ribald comments.

“Those two seemed to know you, sir,” observed the robot.  It stood up and pointed off to the right.  “A cruiser!  Bluster-class!  Aren’t those equipped with the new 30cm blast cannon, sir?”

Interested, in spite of himself, Slim peered at the viewscreen.  “Yeah, you can see one of the fusion bottle blisters along the rear quarter.”  He shook his head scornfully.  “Ruined her lines!”

“I dare say you’re right, sir,” agreed the robot.  It sank back into the operator’s seat.  “I wish I’d been programmed with a spacer skill.”  The thing actually sounded sad.  They rode on in silence.  Memories welled up.  Slim swallowed painfully and shook his head.  Blisters.  There had been plenty of those, all right.  Red, swollen blisters that eventually burst into fluttery little demi-moths.  Not his fault and the scarring was minimal.  Besides, how was he to know she was the Admiral’s daughter?  He made a mental note to avoid alien lovers for the time being.

Chief Engineer Kirkhill leaned forward and tapped Slim.  “Dan'Janou’s still out,” he said.

Slim swiveled around.  Sub-Commander Dan'Janou lay sprawled across Kirkhill and Lieutenant Franko.  He stank of rotgut Kirelian proto-whiskey and his uniform was filthy.  Ensign Che occupied the next bench back.  Doc Lance sat at the rear of the tram, seemingly comfortable on a pile of space bags.  The ensign resembled a freshly scrubbed puppy.  Slim growled something inarticulate and turned away.  He figured a good growl was better than nothing.  It was a response, it was non-committal, and his junior officers usually interpreted it as permission to do as they damn well pleased, which suited him fine.

Ignoring the robot’s prattle, Slim considered his officers.  Chief Engineer Kirkhill had been with him for nearly two years.  Darkly handsome, urbane and witty, Kirkhill represented everything Slim was not and could never be.  The only reason the CE wasn’t lording it over the Engineering section of an Enterprise-class starship had to do with his accent.  Slim snickered quietly.  Kirkhill had the worst excuse for a Scots burr he’d ever heard.

Lt. Franko, his First Officer, was active and energetic.  Unfortunately, everything he touched turned to snark excrement.  Trained as a weapons officer, Franko had been exiled from his last ship after an incident involving a practice torpedo, two trained seals, and a partially clad female navigator.  Slim wasn’t familiar with the details, not yet having seen the security tapes circulating around the fleet base.  The navigator was rumored to have a magnificent set of -- Slim shook his head and tried to concentrate on the problems at hand.

The ensign had just graduated last in his Basic Officer class.  He suspected Che would be next to useless.  Good candidate for an Away Team, he decided.

Sub-Commander Dan'Janou began snoring.  Slim sighed.  There are few things worse than a Vulcan with a weakness for booze.  It was too bad about Dan'Janou.  He could be one hell of a Science Officer if only he could be kept from the sauce.

Doc, now.  Doc was okay, except the medico had a way of infuriating higher authority and certain alien life forms.  The Klingons were rumored to have a standing offer of ten-thousand credits for Lance’s head.  Just his head.  No questions asked.  Doc never traveled alone. 

The robot was up again, sensor arrays fixed on the next viewscreen.  Its posture suggested something akin to veneration.  “Sir.  Look.  It’s an Enterprise-class ship.”

Slim couldn’t keep his eyes off the screen.  “We need to get off here,” he murmured.

“Oh, aye, sir!”  The robot slipped the tram neatly into a debarking station and began unloading luggage.  Kirkhill hefted Dan'Janou on his shoulder and stood waiting.  Everyone else, except Slim, grabbed space bags.  The robot finished loading the heavier cases on a cargo tote and headed up the ramp toward the shiny new ship.

Slim coughed.  “No,” he said, waving at the robot.  “Not that way.”  The crew started in the opposite direction, Kirkhill in the lead.  “This way,” repeated Slim.  “Come on!”

The robot spun the tote around and followed, struck into silence by the image on the overhead viewscreen across the tramway.  “I’m so sorry, sir,” he mumbled, patting the Commander’s arm.

Glowing letters announced that this ship was the Welkin, RSX-101.  Recycling Scow, Experimental, version one-oh-one. 

“Still want to be a spacer?” asked Slim.  Dropping the tote control, the robot ran off, bleeping in alarm.  Slim laughed bitterly, picked up the control and guided the tote down the boarding tube, sniveling only a little.

Ch 2: One Fine Mess

“I’m picking up unusual signals, Captain.”  Dan'Janou stood stiffly at the Science Station.  They were five days out from Earth Port, running on impulse engines.  The next jump point lay several hours ahead.

“Unusual?”  Slim was slumped in a command chair, feet propped on his console.  “Surely a crack Vulcan Science Officer can do better than that.”  Ensign Che had the helm.  He snickered immoderately until Dan'Janou, without a hint of emotion, whacked him with the plastic baseball bat he kept handy for that very purpose.  Ensigns, he had been heard to say, in even tones, deserved to have the stuffing knocked out of them regularly.

“Faint signals, sir,” added Dan'Janou, racking his bat, “I’ll know more in a few minutes.”

“Sir,” sniveled Che, rubbing his sore ear.  “Are you gonna let him get away with that!”

“Get away with what?”  Slim grinned at the sorry sack of snoof-dung.

“N-nothing,” mumbled the ensign.

“Good.  I wouldn’t want to be forced to take notice of your sloppy steering, soiled uniform and generally tacky appearance.”

Che slumped in his chair.  “N-no, sir.”

Personally, Slim was convinced Che would never amount to more than Away Team cannon fodder, no matter how many times he got the stuffing whacked out of him. 

The intercom crackled.  “Bridge, Engineering.  Can we throttle back a bit, Captain?  We’re about to plug in the ice cream machine.”

Slim sighed.  “Chief, for crying out loud!  Toss another dilythium crystal on the fire!  Don't be such a tightwad with the power settings!”

“Aye – aye, sir.  I’ll shovel a few more into the hopper.”

“Sir,” said Dan'Janou, “the signal is getting clearer.”

“So what’s the verdict?  Anything to worry about?”

“I’m incapable of worrying,” replied Dan'Janou with a slight sneer.  Like all Vulcans, he was certain his crap didn’t stink and that humans were one step above slime mold.  A short step.

“So I’ve heard,” agreed Slim solemnly.  “Still, we poor humans haven’t advanced to your level yet.  Pray enlighten us as to the origin of this signal.”

Dan'Janou smiled in that supercilious Vulcan manner.  None of them ever seem to know when their lower appendage is being pulled.  “There is an object associated with the signal,” he said.  “I think the first emissions we -- I -- detected were probably radiation leakage from the object’s engines.  The neutrino pattern fits nothing in the database and I’m not receiving any ship ID.  We should proceed with caution, Captain.”

“Hot damn!” yelled Slim.  “First Contact!  Oh, man!  I’ll get a dandy promotion out of this one!”

“I wouldn’t be too sure, sir,” said Dan'Janou.  “I believe the alien craft is preparing to fire on us.”

“But --”  Slim was confused.  “We’re friendly.  Just a little old experimental recycling scow out here tooling along innocently.  Why would they shoot at us?”

The intercom crackled.  “Bridge, Engineering.  What’s going on up there?”

Slim had eyes only for the alien ship.  “Oh, my God!” he shrieked.  “They’re going to kill us!  They’re going to kill us!”  He fell to the deck, twitching.  “Mommy!  Mommy!  Mommy!”

Che leaped up and ran screaming off the bridge.  The other crewmen stood fast, being regular, courageous Starfleet types - and because they were chained to their posts.

Dan'Janou nudged the Captain with a booted foot.  “Get up, sir.  You’re setting a bad example.”

“Bad example!” screamed Slim, curling into a ball.  “In a few seconds we’re blown into gobbets of badly roasted meat!”

“Really, sir?” mused the Vulcan geek.  “Roasted?  Unlikely, I’m sure.  Slightly burned, flash-frozen gobbets, more likely.”

Captain Slim lay sniveling, waiting for the inevitable end.  Dan'Janou worked at the Science Station controls, glad that his people had evolved past the crudities of stark terror in the face of death.  “Captain,” he said, allowing himself the barest trace of a frown.  “This isn’t making sense.”  The only reply was a muffled whine.

“Sir,” he said, in a more emphatic, yet emotionless tone.  “They’ve fired.  Several times.  No hits detected so far.”  Several members of the bridge crew started giggling.

Slim stirred.  Giggling?  Why would the crew be giggling?  He sat up slowly, glancing furtively around.  He stiffened at the sight of the looming alien vessel, then leaned forward, frowning.  “What the hell -- ?”

“Something’s wrong with their weaponry,” reported Dan'Janou.  “It’s all starbursts and flares.”

Slim slipped unobtrusively back to his seat and examined his display.  Grinning suddenly, he exclaimed,  “Look!  They’ve launched a tiny shuttle!”

“I detect no sign of weapons on the shuttle, Captain.”  Dan'Janou was still at work, marveling at his own unflinching bravery.  “However, there are a surprising number of life signs aboard.”

“What a bunch of clowns!” exclaimed Slim.  He joined the crew in a burst of near psychotic laughter.  “Clowns!”

Dan'Janou ran another scan.  Obviously the Captain and bridge staff had gone insane with fear.  He wondered how the aliens intended to finish off the Welkin crew.  Perhaps that idiot Che would be done away with in some apt fashion.  He contemplated the possibilities of the ensign’s death without a twinge of emotion – save for a hint of blood-thirsty anticipation.

The wait was not long.  Che himself shuffled back onto the bridge, looking suitably chastened.  A being in a white and red checked coverall followed him.  Other oddly bedecked aliens were close behind.  Dan'Janou looked on in wonder.  The creatures looked humanoid – but all wore some sort of brightly colored covering and had strange features – dotted and grotesque.  Their heads were covered with fuzz or fur in strange colors. 

“Greetings!” boomed the creature sporting a checked suit.  “Take me to your leader!”  He raised an appendage and blew a mighty blast on a horn of some sort.  Dan'Janou moved to get a better look.  He speculated that the shiny instrument was a weapon – perhaps a sonic gun.

“Howdy, Admiral,” replied Captain Slim.  He extended a hand in greeting.  “You gave us quite a start there.” 

Tossing aside his huge red nose and yellow wig, Admiral Horn Toot smiled and laughed.  “Did you piss your pants, Slim?  Or just curl up and whine?  Like the old days?”

“Certainly not, sir!” said Slim, stiffly.  He glared around, defying anyone to say otherwise.

Belatedly, Dan'Janou realized the ‘aliens’ were humans - dressed as clowns.  He’d heard of such things, but only in the realm of science fiction and human religious tracts.  Gradually it dawned on his that Che was going to survive to plague Vulcan and human alike.  He stepped forward and picked up the Admiral’s red nose.  “I assume these items are covered in the Starfleet handbook covering uniform and dress regulations?”

Ch 3: The Plot

“So, Admiral, what brings you to my ship?  And in such a strange manner?”  Slim, Horn Toot, Franko and a marine officer occupied the Welkin’s tiny Captain’s cabin.  Slim passed around a dark green bottle of Cyrellian brandy. 

The Admiral knocked back a healthy dose.  “Had to rendezvous in secret.  Can’t have those meddling Vulcans finding out.“  He nodded toward the other officer.  “This is Major Duey.  He’s a marine, but a fine fellow in spite of that.  I’ll let him explain.”

Duey handed Slim a data cube.  “It’s all here.  You’re going to see some action, sir.”

Franko gasped and turned pale.  Slim fumbled with the cube, controlling a powerful urge to piss his pants again.  “Um -- action?  The Welkin is only lightly armed --”

Duey gave him a broad grin.  “Haven’t been back to the cargo pods, I take it?”

“Of course not!”  Slim was shocked.  The spent fusion bottles they were carrying to a fleet recycling center were just dripping with icky radiation.  “I may want to have children one day.”

The Major frowned.  “Children?”  He looked at Horn Toot.  “I wasn’t told of any children, sir.”

“Never mind, Duey.”  The Admiral chuckled.  “Slim was joking.  He’s already sprinkled the known Universe with offspring – of several species, I might add.”  He waved away further talk of children.  “Tell him about the guns and things.”

“Guns -- ?”  Slim glanced at Franko.  The Lieutenant shrugged and remained mute. 

“Big ones,” said Duey.  “30cm bolt guns.  Four of them.  A full magazine of nuclear-tipped missiles.”  He chuckled oddly.  “Multiple warheads.  Clean ones, of course.  And two new reticulating phaser cannon.”

“Phasers!  In the cargo pods?”  Slim’s head spun.  Everything seemed to go black.

“Oops!”  Light flooded back.  “Sorry, sir,” said Duey.  “Must have hit the light panel.”

Slim swallowed the lump in his throat.  “Ah -- phasers, missiles, bolt guns.  Sounds like we’re to see some action.”  He tried to laugh and only managed a squeak.  “What fun.”

“Damn right!” yelled the Admiral.  “I only wish I could go along.”  He eyed the brandy bottle for a moment, then shrugged.  “Ah, well.  I must be back at HQ, so no one can blame me if anything goes -- well, nothing will go wrong.  I’m sure of it.”

“If you planned it, Admiral,” said Franko, “I’m sure everything will work smoothly.”

Slim ignored Franko’s transparent boot licking.  “Exactly what is the mission, sir?”

The Admiral slapped the desktop.  “A punitive expedition, by God!”

“Yes,” agreed Duey, smiling brightly.  “A lovely punitive expedition.”  He snagged the brandy from Horn Toot and drank off a healthy slug.  “I have a resh - regiment of Marines in position.  You have a cargo of heavy weaponssh – an’ a baish - basic load of ammo for my Marines – an’ all that other crap.”  He sneered.  “Robot paper pushers.  Bottle washers.  P-pissants.”

“Don't underestimate the value of a few robot clerk typists,” admonished the Admiral.  “And no one has ever conducted a decent punitive expedition without bootlaces, toilet paper, a few meters of stout rope, horseshoes, and --” he belched expansively “-- a steel guitar.”

“Of course,” agreed Duey.  “It just sheems so hard to arrange a sh-shimple head bashing.”  The brandy was hitting the Major pretty hard.

“Speaking of bashing,” said Slim.  “Just whose heads are we going to bash?”

The Admiral sat back, grinning.  “You’ll never guess.”

“The Axsh-shanar,” whispered Duey, eyes darting around as if the listeners pressed in on every hand.  “The Axanar,” he repeated.  “Ba-bashturds.”

“But --”  Slim was appalled.  “We just met them!”

Franko was so surprised he forgot his long-range career goals for a moment.  “But, Admiral, the Axanar haven’t done anything to us!  Have they?”

“Of course they have,” replied Horn Toot, waving away their objections.  “We just haven’t figured out what it is yet.  I’ll write up some sort of pretext when I get back to the office.”

“Look,” said Duey.  “Jussht look.  The Klingons have waxed ash all over the galaxshy.  Hell,  the Vulcansh did too.  B-before they turned into good sch - scouts.  Prissy bashturds.  Ish our t-turn.”  Duey’s eyes rolled back and he flopped to the deck.

“Marines.”  Horn Toot shook his head sadly.  “Never could hold their liquor.”

Ch 4: Best Laid Plans

Chief Engineer Kirkhill’s voice issued from the intercom.  “Weapon controls all patched to your console, Captain.”

Slim brought up a ship schematic.  “Right, Chief.  Are all the systems ready?”

“Gun turrets are locked in place and the missile batteries are erected and on standby.  We’ll have the phasers online in a few minutes.”  Kirkhill hesitated for a moment.  “Careful with those bloody phasers, Captain.  I dinna think the engines’ll stand the load.”

Chuckling, Slim replied, “I’ll remember that, Chief.”  He turned to Dan'Janou.  “I think Kirkhill’s been taking lessons.”

“Lessons?  What kind of lessons?”

“Scots burr.”  The Captain laughed again as a look of pure confusion crossed the Science Officer’s face.  He loved it when the Vulcan didn’t have the faintest idea what was going on.

“Are we in firing position, Ensign?”  This last was directed at Che, again at the helm. 

“Um -- well, sir.  I -- uh -- that is --”

Slim eyed the planet looming up on the main screen.  “I thought Axanar had a moon.  Is it behind the planet?”  He leaned forward.  “Give me more magnification, Ensign!”  The picture zoomed larger.  Slim watched in silence for several minutes.  “Gods!” he exclaimed finally.  “What a drab looking planet!  I don’t see any evidence of water.  No lakes.  No oceans.  Why don’t we just let the Axnarians have the place?”

“That is not Axanar,” said Dan'Janou with that faint smile that irritated Slim to no end.  He maintained the smile for a moment then assumed a neutral look and repeated, “It’s not Axanar.”

“Ensign!” roared Slim.  “Where are we!  Why are we not orbiting Axanar!”

The answer was slow in coming.  Eventually though, Che’s error was uncovered.  He had misplaced a decimal point in his nav entries.  In addition, he admitted to overriding the comp alarms concerning the course.  “The figures looked right to me,” he insisted.

“I’m sure they did,” agreed Slim.  He mentally berated himself for not checking the entries.  Still, captains couldn’t be expected to keep up with every little thing.  “Dan'Janou,” he said, “why didn’t you oversee Ensign Che’s nav calculations?”  When in doubt, Slim figured, cast the blame on a Vulcan.

“I wouldn’t have known a correct entry from a dead snarf,” replied Dan'Janou blandly.  “I never got beyond remedial fractions in school.”

“Okay,” said Slim, anxious to change the subject.  “Where are we?  How long will it take to get us to where we belong?”

Comp soon supplied their position.  “Not so bad,” murmured Slim.  He checked his Faux-Snooty timepiece.  “With any luck the marines won’t have started without us.”  It was time to break the bad news to Engineering.

“Engineering isn’t going to like breaking down all that weaponry without firing a shot,” said Franko.  “They’ll be in a snit for weeks.” 

Slim nodded and contemplated the dead planet spinning slowly on the screen.  “This place belong to anyone?”

Dan'Janou did a rapid search.  “The planet doesn’t have a name, Captain.  Just a Vulcan reference number.  It’s metal-poor and has no atmosphere.  Nothing interesting.  No claims.”

“Engineering,” called Slim, “looks like we’re in the wrong place.  You’re going to have to dismantle the weapons and get them back in the cargo pods.”  He grinned at Dan'Janou, waiting for the reply.

“What!  Dismantle them!  Not bloody likely!”  Kirkhill’s voice descended into a pleading whine.  “Can’t we just hop over to the right place with them sticking out?”

“No, Chief, we can’t.  But if you promise to keep the complaints to a minimum, I’ll let you fire off a few nukes at this dirtball planet we’re approaching.  Would that make things all better?”

“Well --”  There was a muffled burst of conversation in the background.  Finally, Kirkhill’s replied.  “All right.  How many can we fire?”

“Oh,” Slim considered the problem.  How many nukes would be enough at Axanar?  Each missile carried three warheads.  He seriously doubted anyone would notice the difference between fifty-four airbursts and seventy-two.  “Fire off an even half-dozen, Chief.  Make your target that little ring of mountains just rolling into view.  See if you can make it a bit deeper.”

“Aye, sir.  Looks like an old impact crater.  Give us a minute or so.”

The resulting launch was suitably impressive.  Engineering salvoed the missiles at thirty-second intervals and sent them on slightly diverging initial courses.  The bridge crew oohed and aahed over the display.  During the fifteen minute missile flight time, Slim let everyone off their chains for a potty and tea break.  All were back in their positions in time to see the first nuke explode.

It was lovely.  A small purple-white sunburst, muted by the screens, followed by a roiling yellow fireball.  On the surface, an impact pulse flashed out in a concentric ring.  Just as the fireball faded away, the second warhead burst.  In all, it took just over thirty minutes for seventeen warheads to explode.

“One dud,” said Kirkhill.  “Sorry about that.”

“No problem,” replied Slim.  “What’s a few megatons more or less?”  He chuckled.  The bridge crew joined in dutifully.  “Start breaking down the other stuff.  We need to be on our way soon.”

“Aye-aye, sir.”

Dan'Janou turned from his displays, uncharacteristically pale and nervous.  “Sir!  Just before the first weapon exploded I picked up a burst of modulated comm traffic!”

“Modulated comm traffic? What the hell are you saying!?”  Slim felt the beginnings of a sick headache.

“Just that, sir.”  Dan'Janou assumed his usual deadpan expression.  “Weak voice comms.  I was unable to get an exact bearing.”

Slim stared at the still-boiling thermonuclear cauldron.  He knew Dan'Janou’s statement about not being able to get a precise bearing meant he’d been surprised by the signal.  Not that a Vulcan would ever admit to being caught off guard, of course.  “So --”  He couldn’t think of anything to say.  What was down there under the now glowing red surface of the unnamed planet?  Who had he killed?  How many?  Did they have relatives?  Was the concept of a blood feud common in their society? 

Franko sat entranced by the nuclear spectacle.  His career prospects seemed to be flying away on moth-eaten wings.  “What do we do now, sir?”

Good question.  Slim shook his head.  What indeed?

Ch 5: Dirtside

Grand Admiral Monk-zib peered over the shattered wall.  “Is that the last of them?”  Captain Limpet, his aide and twenty-third cousin, responded with a high pitched whine and scrabbled to pull some more debris over his body.  Limpet hadn’t contributed much since the attack began.  Monk-zib turned away from the wall and waded deeper into his smashed headquarters complex.

The nukes were all airbursts and sufficiently far away that the camouflaged HQ should have been safe.  Unfortunately, a panicked transport driver managed to ram his vehicle into a fuel tanker in the confusion following the first strike.  Monk-zib saw the whole thing from the HQ entrance.  The transport, naturally enough, was carrying blocks of explosives for Fleet Engineering.  An alert guard dragged the Admiral behind a stout wall just as the transport exploded.  Idly, he wondered if the guard still lived.

An excited naval underling slid to a stop before the admiral.  Quivering at attention, he snapped off a quick salute.  “Grand Admiral!  Sir!  General Bossi-yar has an emergency comm center up and running!  I’m to conduct you there.  Sir!” 

“Lead the way, Drone-Tech.  The Marines always manage to carry on, don’t they?”

“Aye, sir.  The ground pounders seem to hit the dirt quicker than us navy types, sir.”

“That they do.  But then, they get lots of practice.  Good thing they can’t hold their stimulants.”

“True, sir.”  The Tech delivered Monk-zib to the Marine comm center, then headed back to his post, eye stalks twisting in amusement.  Soon the entire force would know how cool Grand Admiral Monk-zib was just after the disaster.

In the bunker, General Bossi-yar was all business.  “They caught us flat-tentacled, sir.  Everything inside the old impact crater is gone.  All we’ve got left is Alpha Force.”

Monk-zib maintained a calm façade, even as his digestive gnorks shriveled in fear.  “I expected no less,” he murmured.  “Their targeting was too accurate to be an accident.  They must have been watching us for several rotational periods.”  He rippled in resignation.  Bossi-yar and he were likely to end up in the vats when they got home.  If they got home.  “Can we strike back?  Is Alpha ready to go?”

“Of course, sir.  At your orders.  But --”  The General was clearly agitated.  “We haven’t been able to locate the main enemy force.  Only one ship has been detected.”

“Impossible!” exclaimed Monk-zib even as he accepted the General’s information.  Whining about the realities of a combat situation wasn’t in his nature.  It was time to strike back.  He knew that to the very core of his grasping appendages.  Old habits die hard.  Besides, a successful counterattack might keep him from the vats.

“Fire on that ship immediately!” he ordered.  “Hold Alpha in readiness for a combat launch once we’ve detected the enemy main force!”

Bossi-yar left to relay the Admiral’s commands.  Soon he was back, body fringes set in the position of cynical amusement.  “We’re vat bait, Admiral.  I request permission to lead Alpha Force.”

“No, Bossi-yar, you’re the best ground commander I have.  In order for High Command to sentence us to the vats, we have to survive the next few hours.  It may come to close-in work.”

“Tentacle to pseudopod?  Paw to tentacle?” mused Bossi-yar.  “I wonder who they are?”

“Fighters.  Skilled warriors.  I don’t care if they have exoskeletons or no skeletons at all, they’ve shown a lot of pluck.”

“Surely it must the Axanarians, Admiral.  They must have discovered our invasion plans.”

“Probably,” agreed Monk-zib.  “Still -- we might be surprised.”

Ch 6: Meanwhile --

“More voice comms, sir,” reported Dan'Janou.  “Now I’m seeing data streams as well.”

Slim rubbed his temples.  He had a splitting headache.  “Can you make any sense of them?”

“No.  Nothing I’ve ever seen.  Comp is running a standard translation protocol, but that may take some time.” 

“Too bad we don’t have universal translators,” said Franko.

Slim snorted.  “Universal Translators?  As if!”

Dan'Janou started to speak, then decided against it.  The universal translators were still in testing.  No sense mentioning the technology to the humans.  Better to spring it on them later, when it was fully developed.  A slight smirk crept across his face.  It was good to be so superior.

“Engineering,” called Slim, “how we doing on getting things packed away?”

“Jeepers, Captain!  It took us hours and hours to set all the weapons up!  Give us a little time here, okay?”

“Sir!” exclaimed Dan'Janou.  “Missiles fired!  Five -- no, six missiles inbound!” 

“M-missiles?  Where?  Who?”

Regaining control of himself, Dan'Janou continued in a normal voice.  “From the surface.  Just west of the crater we obliterated.”

“Omigod!” yelped Slim.  “They’ll kill us!  We’re dead meat!”

Dan'Janou spoke soothingly.  “I suggest we use the bolt guns to take out the missiles, sir.”

The Captain stared at his Science Officer for a long moment.  “Ah --” he said finally.  “Ah -- of course.  The bolt guns.  How could I forget the bolt guns.”

“Engineering,” called Dan'Janou.  “We have inbound missiles.  Slave the bolt guns to the Captain’s position.”

“Missiles!” shrieked Kirkhill.  “Omigod!  We’re dead meat!” 

“You know,” said Dan'Janou calmly, “if you humans didn’t eat so much animal protein, you’d have a better choice of epithets for use in dire situations.”

Slim looked around wildly.  “Epithets!  How can you talk about sex at a time like this!”  He began pushing buttons at random.  Suddenly, a small panel containing a pair of handgrips and a monitor screen popped out of his console and locked into position in front of him.  “Aaaaah!  Now I’m trapped!  Trapped!”

“I think those are the targeting controls, Captain.”  Dan'Janou was smirking again.  “The first missile is twenty seconds from impact.”  He sat back, outwardly cool as a frozen slig cone.  Inside, Dan'Janou desperately longed for a stiff shot of Old Space Slug, the rotgut booze to which many an innocent Vulcan had become addicted.  He sat quietly, enjoying complete calm, other than the little whiskey tickle.

Whimpering, Slim grabbed the handgrips.  “Hey!”  Stark terror turned to truculence.  “I’ve got control of the bolt guns!  And the phasers!  Hot damn!”

“Sir,” whined Franko, “please shut up and shoot!” 

Ch 7: Dirtside 2

Bossi-yar’s fringes were noticeably pale as he reported.  “They got all the missiles, sir.”

“All?  How is that possible?”

“Some sort of projectile weapon according to the Alpha commander.  He requests permission to engage with his full strength.”

Admiral Monk-zib’s fringes fell into disarray.  “Where is the enemy main force, Bossi-yar?  Alpha is our only reserve!”  Monk-zib forced himself to stand still and recite a calming ritual.  “Tell the Alpha commander to hold in place.  Find the enemy main force!”

Bossi-yar signaled whimsical good humor.  “If we gork this up, Admiral, all our offspring will join us in the vats.  Even the breeding females.”

“Look to your marines,” rasped the Admiral.  “When we locate the main force, we’ll dispatch Alpha.  I’ve sent word back to the Nest.  If Alpha fails, we’ll have to hold here until relief arrives.”  He grasped Bossi-yar, staying him for a moment.  “Breeding females are fickle, my friend.  Ours may already be seeking new mates.  Let’s not gork this up.”

“Aye-aye, sir!”  Bossi-yar saluted and went on his way, rippling with wry amusement.

Meanwhile -- 2

Slim swallowed carefully, just managing not to lose his lunch.  “Any more incoming?”

“Negative, sir,” replied Dan'Janou.  His voice carried a hint of disappointment.  A Vulcan’s chance to die bravely in the company of sniveling humans was not to be missed.  Any possibility of posthumous fame seemed to have vanished along with the enemy missiles. 

“Bridge, Engineering.  You used up most of the bolt gun ammo, sir.  If they shoot again, we’ll be snark bait.”  Kirkhill’s voice was now maddeningly calm.  Slim cursed quietly.  Everyone around him seemed to be brave without much effort.  Except Che, of course.  He was cowering under his seat.  Slim let out a shaky breath, feeling superior.  At least he hadn’t crawled under his chair or curled up in a weeping ball on the deck.  Everyone on deck seemed suitably impressed with his performance under fire.  He snickered to himself.  Good thing the firing controls served to lock him into the command chair!

“I have located the enemy position, Captain.”  Dan'Janou’s words jerked Slim out of his reverie.

“Good work!  Now, what can we do to them?  Engineering!  What about our missiles?”

“No good, sir,” replied Kirkhill.  “We already stowed them.  Take at least an hour to erect the bleedin’ launchers.  We might could do it quicker -- but -- do we have that kind of time?”

“Probably not,” sighed the Captain.  “Are the phasers online?”

“Affirmative.  However -- I canna vouch for how long.  They take a bloody lot of power, sir.”

“Damn, Kirkhill, you’re getting that accent down pat!  I see a bright future for you -- if we survive.”  Slim was silent for a moment.  “Put all power to the phasers!  Everything else on backup generators.  Shut down all non-essential equipment.”

Nobody on the bridge said anything.  Equipment panels began powering down.  The lights switched to Emergency.  Slim nudged Che.  “To your position, Ensign!  I may need some heading changes.”  Che whined a little, but obeyed.  For the first time, Slim began to feel confident.  His crew was responding as if they knew what they were doing.

Slim lined up the target reticle on the location designated by Dan'Janou.  In seconds the automated targeting system began displaying a list of armored vehicles, missile carriers, troop shuttles, fuel dumps, outhouses, bathhouses, houses of ill-repute and bars.

The Captain grinned at Dan'Janou.  “I’ll hit everything except the bars.  Okay?”  Not waiting for the stone-faced Vulcan to respond, Slim toggled all the targets except for bars and houses of ill-repute, then hit the ‘fire’ button.

Powerful pulses streamed from the Wilken.  Direct hits and secondary explosions lit the area far below.  The bridge gang cheered lustily.  Che stuck his tongue out at Dan'Janou and said something Slim didn’t hear.  The Vulcan unracked his bat and whacked the fire out of the Ensign, all without changing expression. 

The interval between phaser pulses began to lengthen.  Engineering called with pleas to stop, stop, for God’s sake stop.  Slim ignored them.  He relaxed, wishing for a cigar and a shot of whiskey - and a woman.  Not an alien woman, he thought, suddenly sweating.  Not for a while.

The phasers fired weakly one final time, then everything went black.  Wilken had fired every last erg of energy she possessed into the enemy camp.  Thus, they did not hear the repeated calls from the Axanarian fleet as they dropped into the system.

Axanar One

“Sir, the Starfleet ship seems to have engaged the enemy.”  The comm officer was excited.  “Not only that, sir, but it looks like they eliminated the bulk of the opposing forces!”

“Impossible!” exclaimed the Axanar Admiral.  However, over the next half hour it became clear that the enemy forces had been defeated utterly by a single Starfleet ship.

“What kind of vessel is that?” asked the Admiral.  “Some super-battleship?”

“Well, sir.”  The officer turned a message sheet so the Admiral could read it.  “This comm from Starfleet maintains that the vessel in question is a recycling scow.”

“Recycling scow!” shouted the Admiral.  “Recycling scow,” he repeated, in a lower voice.  Then he smiled and thumped the comm officer on the back.  “Well, let Starfleet have their little secrets.  Just make sure we decorate the crew.”  He stretched slowly, unkinking the kinks that had accumulated over the last few mad weeks.  “Let’s go home.  I wonder if my mistress has already found a replacement?”  Laughing, the two men left the bridge.

Ch 8: RSX Welkin

“Sir,” said Dan'Janou.  “We are receiving a bunch of strange messages.  Axanarian, I think.  Comp is working on a translation.  Also, I’ve picked up a distress signal from a small shuttle.”

“A shuttle?  Where would a shuttle come from?”

“Neutrino emissions!” exclaimed Dan'Janou, momentarily forgetting he was a calm, cool Vulcan.

“How many?  Where?” asked Slim.  He began sweating again.  All thoughts of cigars and other comforts vanished. 

“Thirty or more, sir.  But all the ships have departed.  Neutrino patterns indicate Axanarian.”

Slim relaxed.  “We’ll know what’s going on when we translate the messages.  What about that shuttle?”

“It’s approaching the shuttle bay.  Two life forms aboard.  No sign of weapons.”

“Well, hell!” muttered Slim.  He motioned at Franko and Dan'Janou.  “Go see who our visitors are.”

Grand Admiral Monk-zib stepped from the battered shuttle and sketched a salute to the waiting aliens.  Two apparently unarmed and uniformed figures stood a couple tentacle lengths away.  Other aliens were grouped further back.  Those carried what could only be weapons.  Bossi-yar crawled out beside him.  “They seem surprised to see us,” he ventured.

“So it appears,” said Monk-zib.  He indicated one of the near aliens.  “Isn’t that one a Vulcan?”

“Judging from the ears and supercilious expression, I believe so, sir.”

“My Vulcan is rusty,” lamented Monk-zib.  “One never knows what obscure area of knowledge might be valuable in life.”

“Right you are,” agreed Bossi-yar.  “A philosophical statement, if I may say so, sir.”

Monk-zib waved off the compliment.  “Let’s see if I can make myself understood.”

Only two of the people in the shuttle bay understood the alien’s hoarse croaking.  Dan'Janou, of course, although the creature’s mode of speech was old fashioned and ungrammatical.  Franko caught a few words here and there because he had once dabbled in the Vulcan language while at the Academy, being smitten with the charms of a certain linguist.  He struck out with the linguist, but imagined he retained a smattering of Vulcan.

The creature gestured slowly with several tentacles.  “Bipeds,” it said, “we seek political asylum and shelter from the vats.  We come as friends and immigrants.”

Franko frowned and whispered to Dan'Janou, “What did that thing say?  My Vulcan is rusty.”

Dan'Janou made the appropriate polite response to the aliens and explained the gist of the conversation to Franko.  “They’re Fudniks.  We have had contact with them only sporadically for some hundreds of years.  Their main planet is named Fudd.  These two are male warriors.”

“Males?”  Franko eyed the two Fudniks with disgust.  “The females must be blind!”

Dan'Janou sneered.  “You Earthlings!  Each specie develops its own concepts of beauty!”  He assumed a lofty expression.  “As it happens, the Fudnik females are blind --”

Franko laughed out loud.  “So much for alien beauty concepts!”  He sniffed the air.  “I’ll bet the poor beggars can’t smell either.  What a stink!”

“What are they saying?” asked Bossi-yar.

“I don’t know,” replied Monk-zib.  “They may be admiring our fringes and pseudopods.  I think we might have accidentally made a motion or exuded a smell that triggered their sexual drives.”

“I hope not!  The thought of coupling with either of them is extremely disconcerting!”

“If it comes to that or the vats, I’m sure you’ll find a way to overcome your revulsion.”

“Aye-aye, sir.  I’m a Marine!”

In rough Vulcan, the Admiral conveyed some sense of their fears to Dan'Janou.

“Franko,” said Dan'Janou, “the poor beasties are nervous and upset.  Can you put aside your stupid human squeamishness long enough to calm them down?”

“Of course,” snapped Franko, smarting at the Vulcan’s supercilious attitude.  “I’m a professional Starfleet officer!  What shall I do?”

“Step forward and bow to the smaller one.  He’s a Marine General, by the way.  Extend your arms and bow.  It’s a customary ritual on Fudd.”

Franko missed the sly light in the Vulcan’s eyes.  Controlling his emotions, not to mention his stomach, he did as requested.  The unfortunate consequences of this innocent action were to trouble Fudnik/human relations for years.  Dan'Janou, of course, could never be made to admit that he knew darn well the arm-extended-bow was a gesture of Universal Fudd Love, requiring an immediate physical response from the male receiving the invitation.

Ch 9: Celebration

The party was held in the spacious reception center at Fleet Center Central Center.  The Welkin crew were presented with gaudy Axanarian medals.  Speeches were spoken.  While the last speakers strove to outdo earlier ones, the attendees drifted off toward the Obligatory Open Bar and congregated into convivial clumps of beings.

Major Duey gripped Slim’s elbow and growled, “Quite a pee-peeshe of iron you got there, Com-Commander.”  His eyes were bloodshot and he stank of Klingon eel-wine.  He drained another goblet of the murky stuff then went on in a barely audible snivel.  “Too bad you s-screwed up the mish-mishun.”

Slim steadied the Axanarian medal.  The thing did, indeed, seem to be made of iron.  Circular in shape, a hand span in diameter and cast with wicked looking spikes around the edges, the medal bore more resemblance to an ancient weapon than a decoration.  “Now look here, Major!” he hissed, trying not to draw any unwanted attention.  “If we hadn’t nailed the Fudnik assault force they’d have come swarming in behind us and your precious Marines on Axanar!”  He smiled across the room at the Axanarian ambassador.  “Besides which, Axanar had its fleet deployed and ready to repel the Fudniks.”

Duey nodded glumly.  “Too tr-true.  My Ma-Marines would have been blown to narf schnot by those -- those -- creepsh!”

Slim caught the eye of a splendidly dressed Marine non-com.  “Sergeant!” he called in a low voice.  “I think the Major has had enough partying for one evening.”

The big Marine understood instantly.  Placing his own drink on a side table, he hurried over.  “Major Duey!  I’ve been looking all over for you, sir!  The Duty Officer requests your presence back aboard the fleet dreadnaught.  Something about a form signed in triplicate when the Standing Regulations call for only a duplicate.”  He snagged the feebly resisting Duey and bore him away.

“Good thinking, Commander,” murmured a low voice.  Admiral Horn Toot eased up beside Slim, a fat cigar clenched in one hand and his usual Rum Fuddle (180 proof rum and a pinch of despair) in the other.  “Duey’s still upset over the failure of that punitive expedition of yours.”

“But, sir!” began Slim.  Horn Toot waved him to silence. 

“Not your fault, lad.  Not your fault.  Besides, we never had time to actually write up any mission directives before the whole thing went to pot.  So --”  The Admiral grinned across at his Axanarian counterpart.  “So the plan never existed.”

Feigning a nonchalance he didn’t feel, Slim sipped his Jaded Barfly. (A jigger of cheap whiskey followed by two more jiggers of the same, topped with a bored glance)  “Sir, what about the Marine regiment?  Did they get into position near Axanar?”

“Of course they did!” rumbled the Admiral.  “Blasted Marines!  Always following orders!  Always on schedule!”  He sighed deeply.  “It was horrible.”

Cold fear clutched at Slim.  The Axanarians hadn’t said a word about wiping out any Fleet Marines.  He began to hyperventilate.  Maybe the medal ceremony had been nothing but a wry joke on Starfleet and the Welkin crew.  Maybe --  The Admiral punched him gently.  “Easy, boy.  Easy.  The Marines are okay.  Nothing happened.”

“But -- how did they get away with it?  I mean, how did they get away?”

Horn Toot sniffed.  He seemed near tears.  In a broken voice he explained.  “It was awful, Slim.  Awful.  The only thing the Marine commander could think of was to pass his ship off as a traveling circus.”

“A traveling circus?  But -- how?”

“Quick thinking and blind luck, that’s how.  They had just jumped into the Axnarian system when word of your battle with the Fudniks arrived.  Too late, I’m afraid.  Axanar Control challenged them, of course, and the Marine commander only had a few moments in which to come up with a feasible story.  He claimed to be a traveling circus.  Said they had parted company with their animal transport and inquired if such a ship had happened to pass by.”

“Ooooh, good one,” said Slim.

“Not so good.  The Axanarians, being a bit off the usual trade routes, are starved for cultural activities.  They insisted the circus troupe land and stage a performance.  By that time the whole Axanarian fleet had arrived.  Our guys had no choice but to comply.”

“Blazes, sir!  What happened to them?”  Slim was so upset he accidentally swallowed a huge gulp of his Jaded Barfly.  It quite took his breath away - as if a knife had skewered his ribs.

“Nothing happened to them,” said Horn Toot, thumping Slim on the back.  “You all right, lad?”

“I’m fine,” croaked Slim.  He sucked in a lungful of air.  The lining of his throat felt like the main bore of an impulse engine, but otherwise intact.  “The Marines!” he managed to gasp.  “What did they do?”

“The commander pleaded for delay, citing the need for some ship repairs and the necessity of working up some new acts.”  Horn Toot took a drag on his cigar.  “Good thinking, I have to admit.  Since they supposedly had lost their animal transport, the Axanarians bought the tale.”

“Um -- they needed real acts to replace the fictitious ones that would have been performed with the fictional animals.”  Slim peered deep into his glass.  “I’m confused, sir.”

Horn Toot shrugged.  “Confusion is the lot of junior officers, I’m afraid.”  He knocked the ash from his cigar.  A tiny robot tootled in, sucked up the hot ash and rolled away, trailing smoke.

“What sort of acts can a regiment of Marines manage, Admiral?  Even with a little time?”

“You’d be surprised.  Remember that a circus troupe contains many people who just pick and carry.  Roustabouts, I think they’re called.”  Slim nodded blankly.  He’d never seen a circus.  The Admiral went on.  “Also, most of the acts you can do – without animals that is – consist of aerial work and tumbling.  And, of course, you have to have clowns, sideshow freaks and rigged  games of chance.  No problem for Marines.”

“That still seems a tall order, sir.  Aerial acts?”

“Marines --”  The Admiral stopped speaking and both men stepped back as a small robot lurched by, smoking and making small mewling noises.  It disappeared around a corner.

“Where was I?” asked Horn Toot.  “Ah, yes.  The Marine regiment!  Well, Marines routinely work at tumbling, although they call it Battle Drill.  Zero-G.  Low-G.  They have to do it all.  That part was easy.  And, I understand some of the female Marines made nifty performers.”

“Ah -- ha-ha.  The Marine, uh, ladies I’ve seen, sir, are a bit on the blocky side.  More suited for sideshows, perhaps?”

Horn Toot frowned at the interruption.  “I take that as gospel, seeing who it comes from.”

“Sorry, sir.  Go on, please.”

“As it happens, the Axanar seem to prefer their females over-muscled and a bit dominating.  Be that as it may, the Marines made a slow approach to Axanar while they repainted their transport in circus colors and practiced for their first performance.”

“What about tents, sir?  Trapezes?  Clown suits?  That sort of stuff?”

“A neat problem, Slim.  The Marine officers had no clue.  Finally, they turned the whole thing over to a couple of gunnery sergeants and a senior chief.  Those lads had a tent run up from camo uniforms in a jiffy.  There was enough stout rope for the trapezes – remember my list of things useful to have on a punitive expedition?  Clown suits they made from underwear.”

“Underwear?  Clown patterned underwear on a Marine transport?”

“I was shocked too.”  The Admiral shook his head slowly.  “Evidently a good many tough Marines go about in skivvies with polka dots and that sort of frou-frou.”

“Amazing!” exclaimed Slim.  “Marines!”

Horn Toot made a gesture of impatience.  “Forget that!  Suffice it to say that the ship landed to a huge welcome at Axanar City and gave their first performance that night.”

Slim chuckled, unable to shake the vision of muscular Marines trotting along singing filthy songs, clad in polka dot unmentionables.  The Admiral scowled.  Straightening his face, if not his imagination, Slim said, “So that’s it?  They gave a performance and got away unscathed?”

“It’s not that simple, I’m afraid.  That first performance was followed by another one.  And another.  Ad infinitum.  At last report they were booked through next year.”

A thud and flash silenced all conversation.  Dense smoke drifted up to be drawn into a ventilator.  In a moment a staff robot swept by with a fire extinguisher.  It returned a few seconds later dangling a tiny, charred cleaner-bot.

“Defective robots!” sniffed Horn Toot.  “It’s a disgrace, I tell you!  There should be an investigation.” 

“Um -- yes, sir.”  Slim tried to reassemble his thoughts.  “What about our Marine regiment?”

“Gone, for the time being,” said Horn Toot, wistfully.  “No punitive expeditions for the nonce.”

“Surely we can get them back, sir.  Somehow --”

“Of course we can, Commander.  I could send a messenger tomorrow.”  Horn Toot drained his glass and tossed it over the hedge.  “But, HQ won’t let me.”  Glass tinkled.  Muffled cursing broke out.

Slim took the Admiral by the arm and steered him away from the hedge.  “Why won’t HQ let you order them back, sir?”

“Money, Commander.  Money.  The 1st Marine Circus Regiment is making too much money!  So far they’ve paid local fleet operating expenses through the next fiscal year.”  The Admiral wiped away a tear.  “We may never get them back.”  With an effort, Horn Toot recovered his composure.  “I’ll have some new orders for you in a day or so.  Replenish your -- ah -- special supplies and stand by.”  With that the Admiral wandered away.

Slim tried to imagine what  ‘special supplies’ might mean all the way over to the bar.  Sudden understanding clouted him as he handed his empty glass to the robot barkeeper.  “Bolt gun ammo!” he exclaimed.  “Bolt gun ammo!”  He’d expended most of the munitions for the big guns during the encounter with the Fudniks.  The Welkin’s missile supplies were adequate for wiping out a planet or two.

“Coming right up, sir,” replied the barkeep, reaching for a container marked with three red Xs.

“Ah --”  Slim’s senses were slightly awry, being two Jaded Barfly’s from sobriety.  He watched as the robot poured.

“A measure of Ferengi Insane Delight, sir, followed by the merest hint of Approbation, which I must simulate, seeing that I am primarily electro-mechanical in nature.”  Mocking a stern demeanor, the robot handed the smoking glass to Slim.  “Your Bolt Gun Ammo, sir.”


The voice called from far, far away.  He couldn’t understand the words, but well understood the flashes of searing pain that accompanied them.  Vast, tubular metal objects whizzed down from somewhere Up There and bashed his brains out.  He turned away, trying to scream.  Only a thin gargling noise came out.  More voices boomed and crashed.  He opened one eye and peered down at his brains, all squishy and chunky and bile-green, spread out on the floor.  “Jus lemme die -- ohgodplease -- jus lemme --”

“Sir!  Wake up, sir!”  He recognized the voice.  Ensign Che.  That puppy Che.  He resolved to drown the puppy at the first opportunity.  “Sir!  Wake up!”  The voice and the pain blended into a single gigantic hammer, beating time on a monstrous anvil.

“Gah,” he croaked.  “Ack argh.”

“He’s coming to,” said another voice.  Dan'Janou.  Sub-Commander Dan'Janou, the Vulcan drunk.  He wondered how Dan'Janou managed to be sober and upright when he, Slim, was sodden with booze, alien and domestic. 

“Wah-wah aagk,” he said.

“He wants some water,” said Dan'Janou.  The Vulcan well knew the clutches of demon drink and understood what a just-regained-consciousness sufferer needed.

Moving with glacial dexterity, Slim managed to sit up.  A glass of water and two anti-intox pills restored him to a semblance of life.  Ignoring the barbed knife twisting in his skull and the vomit pooled on the floor, he grabbed Che’s shirt and pulled him close.  The Ensign bleated in alarm.  “I want to sleep,” grated Slim.  “I want to sleep until a Fudnik female wins the All-Empire beauty pageant.”  He shoved the hapless Che away.  “Go away!”

“Sir,” exclaimed Dan'Janou.  The Vulcan minced around the vomit.  “We had to wake you, sir!  The Admiral sent orders!”

Orders?  The dim words slid into the tattered remnants of Slim’s brain.  “What orders?”

“Secret orders, sir,” said Dan'Janou with an oh-so-superior smirk.

“Sir!” Che shifted from one foot to the other, eager to blare out his own message.  “It’s arrived, sir!  It’s arrived!”

Slim glared at Dan'Janou, then at Che.  “What’s arrived?”

The Ensign fairly glowed with his news.  “Your bolt gun ammo!”

Neither officer understood why their Captain groaned with such painful intensity.  Nor did they manage to get clear as the paltry remains of his last meal exploded across the cabin.

Ch 10: The Mission

“But, Major!” exclaimed Slim, then winced at his own words and covered his eyes with shaking hands.  He felt as if someone had taken a gigantic serrated knife and was spreading his brains evenly over a surface coated with hot tar.  He could taste the tar.

“But, Major,” he repeated, this time barely above a whisper.  “We can’t take on a space station!  The Welkin is a recycling scow, not a dreadnaught.”

Duey blinked slowly.  His condition appeared to be only marginally better than Slim’s.  He nodded as if afraid his head might roll off.  “I know, Commander.  The Admiral assures me that resistance will be slight.  Only a handful of pirates man the station when the raiders are out.”

“Even a few of these -- ah -- renegades can operate the station defenses.”  Slim could feel his voice rise into a whine, but couldn’t do anything about it.  He nudged Franko.  “You tell him.  Explain station armament to this idiot.”

The Executive Officer stood up and switched on a bright display tank.  Both senior officers cringed away from the light.  “Sorry,” said Franko, entirely too loudly.  He dimmed the display and spoke quietly.  “This is a standard Rotilla Five Orbital Station.  Fleet Intelligence reports no less than three of these units are missing from locations around the galaxy.”

“Missing?”  Slim rubbed his temples and kept his eyes resolutely shut.  “How does a space station go missing?”

“Fleet Intel was not forthcoming about that, sir.”  Franko tapped the display.  “Opinions vary from outright theft of Starfleet stores to simple miscounts of on-hand space stations.”

“It doesn’t matter!” snarled Duey.  “The pirates have a space station in orbit around Who-Cares Five.  They’re basing at least three frigate-size raiders there.  We’ve got to take it out!”

“Why us?” asked Franko.  “Those stations have offensive missiles and excellent anti-missile defenses.  They mount 50cm bolt guns and super-reticulating phasers, along with ergs and ergs of power and tons of ammunition.  If we go after that station we’ll get our butts blown off.  But a single Fleet dreadnaught could take it out easily.  What about the Enterprise-class ship sitting over at Central?  Why can’t they do it?”

“The Mincer is being held in tactical reserve,” explained Duey.  “The officers have to be available for parties, inter-species weddings, para-military funerals and summary executions.  The business of Starfleet can’t go on without them.”

“Of course it must,” said Franko.  “I hadn’t realized they were on hazardous duty.  But there must be others - or are they all out on five-year missions?”

Duey shrugged.  “I already asked all these questions.  Some are on missions, some are watching the Klingons, a few are keeping tabs on the Romulans.  Fifteen or so are in the body and fender shop.  A couple are bopping around in the Neutral Zone.  At least one has zipped off into the past so the captain can hop in the sack with primitive females.”  He sighed heavily.  “All I know is, there aren’t any available.”

“And no Marines,” added Slim mournfully.

“No Marines,” agreed Duey.

“Just one poor little recycling scow,” sniveled Franko.

Slim nodded.  “EXPERIMENTAL recycling scow.”

Duey grinned and held up one hand.  “HEAVILY ARMED experimental recycling scow.”

Franko rubbed his hands together.  He loved weapons – big, noisy, non-ecological weapons – although the actual use of such devices in combat scared the stuffing out of him – especially if the other side were to shoot back.  Still, he loved his toys.  For the upcoming mission, he only had two questions.  One was, “Do we get to take the nukes?”  The second was, “Can I stay behind?  The Mincer is short of qualified para-military funeral directors.”

“Yes,” said Duey.  “The nukes are yours.”

“No,” said Slim.  “You’re coming with us.  You have to nursemaid the nukes.”

Captain Slim and Major Duey left for the holodeck.  Their presence was expected at the virtual sacrifice of a nubile virgin.  Some members of the crew were of pagan backgrounds and such a bloodletting was required prior to any voyage where icky things might happen.  The sacrifice was virtual because virgins were scarce around Fleet Central.

Franko crept into a dark corner and prepared himself for a panic attack.  It was his usual somewhat-prior-to-battle exercise, modified for nukes.  After a few minutes he realized that his warm-up tantrum was not having the desired effect.  His mind kept straying back to the holodeck and the last virtual sacrifice of a nubile virgin.  Finally, he gave up.  The panic attack could wait, he decided.  A good pre-trip sacrifice was too cool to miss.

Ch 11: Decision Time

Slowly the screens stabilized.  No alarms sounded.  Slim drew a shaky breath.  “Well, we ain’t dead yet.”

Everyone was in space armor, although with face plates open.  Dan'Janou busied himself at the Science Station as the good ship Welkin fell quietly into the Who-Cares system.  Wooden-faced, the Vulcan reported.  “Nothing detected, sir.  No neutrino emissions.  No ship movement.  Nada.  The station is electronically dormant.”  With the flick of a well-manicured hand he brought up an image of Who-Cares Five station.

Slim eyed the display with suspicion.  “It’s too quiet, Franko.”

“Suits me, sir,” replied the First Officer.  “Can we go home now?”

Che giggled hysterically.  Slim ignored both of them.  Turning to Dan'Janou, he inquired, “What do you recommend, Danny?”  He knew the using familiar form of the Vulcan’s name was a minor sort of insult.  It was good to be the Captain.

A flash of irritation crossed Dan'Janou’s face before he regained control.  That Slim had seen the momentary lapse only irritated him more.  In a pet, he spun back to his position, barking one knee painfully.  Teeth gritted, he forced himself to whisper a calming mantra.  “Kill Slim, kill Slim, kill Slim.”

“We’re waiting, Danny.”

“Ah -- yes, sir.”  Dan'Janou brought up a system diagram.  “As you can see, sir, we’ve entered the system just inside the orbit of Who-Cares Six, a gas giant.  Space between us and Five is cluttered with asteroids.  Unless you plan a frontal attack, I think we should find a decent sized rock to hide behind and conduct a careful analysis of the situation vis-à-vis the space station.”

“For the record, I don’t plan any frontal attacks.”  Slim studied the screen with growing trepidation.  The station hadn’t challenged their approach at all.  Trap! screamed a tiny voice in his skull.  Trap!  Trap!  Trap!  He fought back an attack of the heebie-jeebies.

“Sir,” said Dan'Janou.  “A medium size asteroid is approaching from port.  We can slip in behind it and match orbits on thrusters alone.”

Slim sucked in a deep breath and wiped his sweaty hands on his natty Starfleet trousers.  “Let’s do it!” he squeaked.  Then, in a calmer voice, “Match orbits with the big rock, Mr. Che.  The Science Officer will provide maneuvering data.”

The orbital change proceeded smoothly.  Che was evidently learning how to drive.

“Sir,” said Franko.  “What are your intentions?  I mean -- ah -- other than hiding?”  Franko was perfectly willing to spend a considerable amount of time snuggled up to the asteroid, but he knew Starfleet expected a more truculent attitude from steely-eyed First Officers.  He swallowed his zeetafruit gum, leaned forward aggressively and turned his good side to the vid sensor.

The Captain really didn’t want to answer that question right then.  He figured on a day or two, maybe a week of relaxing after their arduous voyage before proceeding with any rash decisions.  But Franko was pushing the issue – hamming it up for the data collectors.  Slim sighed.  Well, there was one sure-fire answer to any situation.  “I’m going to send in an Away Team.”

Che shrieked madly and dashed from the bridge.  Several other crew members stepped quietly behind various pillars and dividing walls.  Those whose tethers were too short for such measures stood and awaited their fate.

“I take it Mr. Che will part of the team?” murmured Dan'Janou.

“Yes.  Along with yourself and two other volunteers.”  Slim pointed at the crew members.  “You choose the volunteers, Dan.  I’m sure you’ll pick wisely.”

Dan'Janou nodded and moved toward the huddled masses.  He knew what the Captain meant.  None of the better endowed females could be chosen, nor any of the really intelligent techs.  That left the foolish and the lame.  Dan'Janou made his choices quickly.  Like all Vulcans, he felt that a cruelty quickly delivered was preferable to the mindless eenie-meenie-minie-moe games played by certain Klingon officers.  He touched Franko on the shoulder.  “Are you coming with us, Lieutenant?”

“Ah -- no.  Not me.  I’ve got a weapons class to finish.  How to Hair-Trigger a Tactical Nuke.”

“Too bad,” said Dan'Janou.  “We may have need of a combat officer of your caliber.”

“Ha-ha-ha,” sniveled Franko.  He fled the bridge.

Dan'Janou turned to Slim.  “Will you be going along, Captain?”

Slim waved the offer away.  “Not this time, Danny.  Someone has to mind the store.”

“Of course, sir.  I understand completely.”  As he left the bridge the Vulcan scoundrel had the nerve to call back over his shoulder, “Shall I notify you if we run into any alien women, sir?”

Slim ground his teeth and let the remark go unanswered, although it was very nearly insubordinate and they both knew there were no really outré aliens on the station, female or otherwise.  He didn’t like being teased that way.

Ch 12: Away Team

Franko tapped Che on the shoulder.  “Get in the back, sonny.  I’ll drive.”

The Ensign started to protest, then thought better of it.  He levered himself out of the pilot’s seat and squeezed past the First Officer.  Franko stopped him.  “Make sure everything is secure back there.  All weapons on safe.  I don’t want any holes blown in the shuttle -- or each other.”

Dan'Janou glanced up once, then returned to his pre-takeoff checklist.  Franko settled into the pilot position and initiated his own check procedure. 

The Vulcan didn’t speak until they had nosed out of the shuttle bay.  “What made you decide to come along?”

Franko shook his head.  “We don’t want to lose you, Danny boy.  Besides, I was flying shuttles when Che was still in diapers.”

“That isn’t saying much, you know.”

“Hah!  That’s true.  Are you developing a sense of humor, Mr. Science?”

“Vulcans have outgrown the need for such trivialities.”

“We haven’t,” said Franko, as he lit a cigar.  “And I hope I’m long dead by the time we do.”

“I hope so too,” muttered Dan'Janou.

They slid along the face of the asteroid and coasted to a stop while still in shadow.  “I’ll ease out just far enough to unmask your sensors,” said Franko.  “Might as well be sneaky.”

Once he had direct line-of-sight with the station, Dan'Janou triggered a quick passive scan.  “Still no emissions from the station.”

“Well, hell!  Does that mean they’ve already detected us?  Are they waiting in ambush?”

“If the station sensors are operating, they must know we’re here, although our movements since we dropped out of warp would be hard to track.”  Dan'Janou flipped through a series of images.  “It’s too quiet.”

Franko laughed out loud.  “Right, kemosabe!  Too quiet!”  The Vulcan frowned in puzzlement.  That made his partner laugh all the more.

“I fail to see the humor in our situation, Lieutenant.”

“I know -- I know.  Never mind.  It wasn’t that funny.  What shall we do now?”

“Head for the station.  Make a low-power approach.  Try not to call attention to ourselves.  These pirates are mostly human, if our intelligence is correct.  Humans are often careless.”

Franko ignored the jibe.  “Okee-dokee.  One sneaky approach coming up.  Here we go.”  He keyed the intercom so those in back could hear.  “Everybody stay strapped in tight.  If we have to get out of Dodge in a hurry I won’t have time for any last minute reminders.”

“Dodge?” said Dan'Janou.  “There are no locations in this system called Dodge.”

“True.  Too true.”  Franko didn’t explain -- just concentrated on driving toward the station in an inconspicuous manner.  He began to doubt the wisdom of joining the Away Team.  Even the opportunity to confound the Vulcan didn’t make up for the possibility of getting killed.

“Still no activity from the station,” called Dan'Janou.  They were about half way there.

Franko began to sweat.  He felt naked.  There was no hiding in the emptiness of space.  Soon they would be in range of simple IR sensors, not to mention the old Mark One eyeball.  His cigar had gone out.  The only sound aboard the shuttle was the faint whir of the main engine.  Dan'Janou sat quietly, watching his displays.

“Damn,” murmured Franko.  “They ought to call these Blown Away Teams.”

“What?”  The Vulcan didn’t look up.

“I said I hope we don’t get blown away.”

“Yes.  Being reduced to fragments would be an undesirable outcome.”  Dan'Janou touched a control.  The space station appeared in one of the large screens.  “This looks strange.”

Franko eyed the image.  “Looks like a standard Rotilla to me.”

Dan'Janou tapped the screen.  “Notice how uncluttered and clean it is?”

“Right --”  Franko increased the magnification.  “I’ve seen two stations right after they were completed -- and they were never that neat.  But what does it mean?”

“We need more data.  Maybe it just hasn’t seen much use.  They’re only supposed to have three ships based out of here.”

“True.  Anything else odd?”

Dan'Janou cycled through another sensor sweep.  “Well -- maybe.  I’m getting an unusually steady gravity generator reading.  In fact, it’s the only activity I’m detecting.”

“Okay.  What does that mean?  Are we heading into an ambush?”

“Insufficient data.  We won’t know until the shooting starts.”

“I was afraid of that.”  Franko shook his head.  “Well, I had my chance.  Ma wanted me to be a dentist.  I could be safe back on Leaning Beak, directing my dental robots while fondling a neat little assistant.  But, no, I had to join the Navy and get shot to pieces in some nameless corner of the Galaxy.”

“It’s not nameless.  Just worthless.”

Franko chuckled.  “More Vulcan humor?”

“No.  I’ve seen the real estate appraisal for this system.  It’s worthless.”

The Vulcan kept his attention on his instruments.  Franko wondered if Dan'Janou had just told a joke.  Finally, he decided it had been an accident.  Vulcans were all humorless bastards.

Dan'Janou tapped a display.  “We’re inside fifty kilometers.  Isn’t it time to be slowing down?”

“Any slower and we’d be stopped.  Keep an eye on your displays, Danny.  I’ll do the driving.”

Who-Cares Five loomed below, its barren brown surface cut sharply by the moving terminator line dividing night from day.  The shuttle was approaching from the rear of the station, with the system sun at a slight angle to their right front.  No lights showed on the station yet the docking bays could be seen clearly.

Franko stared at the rapidly approaching station.  “Is it my imagination or is that thing too bright?  The sun’s on the far side.  The docking area should be completely black, except for approach lights, of which there ain’t any.  The thing almost seems to be glowing.”

Dan'Janou stared at his displays.  He was so distracted he missed his opportunity to make constructive comments about the First Officer’s imagination.  “Object mass is barely registering.  It isn’t matching up with the observed orbital path and Fleet data on Rotilla stations.”

“So what does that mean?”  Franko altered course slightly.  “I’m going to see if we can dock on that platform just below the big hangar doors on the right.”

“None of this is making sense,” said Dan'Janou.  “Should we break off?”

“Too late for cold feet!”  Franko keyed the intercom.  “Get ready back there!”  He slowed the shuttle to a crawl and crept in over the lip of the platform.

Dan'Janou sat calmly.  The story told by his flickering displays was incoherent and useless.  He wished devoutly for a drink.

“Damn,” said Franko in a low voice.  He sat gazing out the side port.  The shuttle was at rest in relation to the station.  “Look at the platform.”


“Just look at it when I blip the thrusters.”  Franko’s voice was clipped and sharp.

A brief burst of thruster gas bumped the shuttle.  As they drifted upward Dan'Janou could see the surface rippling.  He turned to his partner.  “There’s something wrong with the platform.”

“No.  There’s something wrong with the station.”  Franko pointed a gloved hand forward.  “Fire a probe into that thing.”

“A probe?  At this range?”

“Fire a probe into it,” repeated Franko.

Dan'Janou regarded the pilot for a moment.  “One probe.  Coming up.”

A muffled clang announced the departure of the probe.  It shot forward and disappeared into the white wall.  The wall popped inward, then back out and began oscillating gently.

“Bring up the probe video,” ordered Franko.  Dan'Janou forgot to argue.  The center screen filled, showing them a luminous space, interspersed with a network of white tubing.  Both men tensed as a spindly support loomed up.  The probe smashed through it with hardly a flicker.  Jagged white shards spun in and out of view.

“It’s hollow,” observed Dan'Janou. 

“It’s a decoy.”  Franko touched a button, uncaging a turret.  He jockeyed the shuttle back, away from the faux station.  “Let’s see what a few cannon shells do to it.”

Twenty rounds sufficed to shred a small portion of the fabric wall.  Dan'Janou signaled a cease fire.  “Target the gravity generator,” he said, pointing at a display.

“Roger that.”  Franko slaved the cannon to the display and fired at the indicated spot.

“That’s done it,” murmured Dan'Janou.  The vast, billowing station began to slew noticeably.

Che stepped in from the rear cabin and knelt between them.  “What’s going on?”

Franko waved at the station.  “It’s a fake.  A decoy.  Maybe intended as a trap.”

“A trap!” screeched Che.  “A trap?  A trap!”  He flailed wildly.  Franko and Dan'Janou each grabbed a leg and shoved him out of the cockpit.  Franko yelled for help.  The other two crewmen had the Ensign sedated and lashed into a bunk within a minute.  Handling drunks and madmen was a routine occurrence on the Welkin.

Dan'Janou provided a course back to the ship.  The strange station faded into the distance.  Already it had completed a half-turn and was beginning to tumble.  Within the hour it would be destroyed in the meager atmosphere of Who-Cares Five.

Franko relaxed and lit his cigar.  “What was that all about?  Why a fake space station?”

“I don’t know.”  It galled the Vulcan to admit it, but the whole affair puzzled him.  Humans had to be involved.  Klingons seldom planned beyond the next sword thrust and Romulans would never stoop to using a human construct in one of their convoluted plans.  No, he decided, it had to be humans.  But, why?

“Well, at least nobody shot at us.”

“Not yet anyway.  We’re not back to the ship.”

“Never look a gift horse in the mouth.  Not being shot at is a good thing.”

“I’m glad you recognize the relative merits associated with non-combat,” said Dan'Janou.  “Your comment about receiving a horse as an offering made me doubt your sanity for a moment.”

“Not an offering.  A gift -- a present -- like for your birthday.  Didn’t you ever get a present?”

“A present?  Why would anyone give me something?”

Franko puzzled that one over for a moment.  “No reason I can think of,” he said finally.

Dan'Janou meditated for some time on gifts and horses and good luck.  “Why do humans give each other presents?”

“Lot’s of reasons.  Birthdays.  Holidays.  Anniversaries.  Sometimes just for the hell of it.”

“Just for the hell of it?”

“Sure.  You know Boopsie?  That big blonde in Engineering?  I gave her a pet slink.”

“But that wasn’t for no reason!  You wanted to mate with her!”

“Well -- yeah.  What difference does that make?”

“Humans confuse me,” admitted Dan'Janou.  “Things like gift horses give me a headache.”

“You never, ever had anyone give you a present?  Not even for your birthday?”

“Never.  Especially not for a birthday.”

Franko waited for the Vulcan to explain.  After the silence had dragged on a long time he figured the birthday thing must be one of those deep dark secrets Vulcans seemed full of -- like why they have pointy ears.  He personally suspected those ears were the result of trafficking with the Devil -- not that he believed in the Devil.  Whistling softly, he touched the carved grip of his lucky handgun and drove on.

Dan'Janou watched his displays cycle from one mode to another.  He was glad his companion had fallen silent.  Thinking of gift-giving gave him hives.  He glanced at Franko.  The First Officer was probably wearing the ancient handgun given to him by his father.  He fired it often on the range and was inordinately proud of it.

Well.  Dan'Janou shifted uncomfortably in his seat.  He didn’t want a handgun.  Especially not an old battered slug thrower.  He couldn’t think of anything his father possessed that would be suitable for a present -- if he were to ever want such a thing -- which he didn’t.  Once, long ago, he had desired a yellow bouncy ball.  It was on his first trip to Earth.  They, he and his parents, were in a closed vehicle, enroute to the spaceport -- on their way home.  A small boy stood by the road and he was bouncing a little yellow ball against a building. 

Dan'Janou sighed at the memory.  He told his father he wanted a ball like that.  Now, all those years later, he twitched, recalling his father’s calm, quiet reaction -- and the subsequent trips to a therapist.  It wasn’t long before his desire for the little yellow ball was driven away.

Still, it would be nice to have a ball like that.  He’d keep it safe in his pocket and only touch it at times of great stress -- such as when Franko or the Captain called him Danny.  But it couldn’t be just any ball, not even any little yellow ball.  It had to be a gift, he realized -- a freely given gift.

He wondered how he could get Franko or the Captain or Kirkhill to give him a present.  His birthday, perhaps?  If only he knew when it was.  Then he pondered on how he could arrange that the gift be a little yellow bouncy ball.  That led him to the deepest question of all.

Would Boopsie like a yellow bouncy ball?

Ch 13: Dire Straits

“I’ve sent a tight beam report to the ship,” said Dan'Janou.  “They don’t acknowledge.”

“Probably doping off,” growled Franko.

“Doping off?  Is that another obscure historical reference?”

“No.  It’s an obscure way of saying some jerk isn’t doing his job.”

“Well, why not just say it in plain words instead of using those inane, unrelated terms?”

“Because a horse is a nag, is a pony, is a steed, is an equine marvel.”  Franko chuckled.

Dan'Janou sighed and went back to his instruments.  The ship still wasn’t answering.  He sent his message again.  Still no reply.  “We’re approaching from dead astern.  They should be receiving our signal clearly.”

The First Officer considered the image of the Welkin and its sheltering asteroid.  They were within ten kilometers of the ship, yet he was receiving no navigational signal.  “You’re starting to worry me, Danny.  Ship comp isn’t providing any guidance, either.”

“Maybe it’s a simple electronics failure.  Or, perhaps the Captain has the crew gathered for one of those Morale Improvement sessions.”

Franko knew full well that Slim’s ‘morale’ sessions were nothing but beer busts.  The Science Officer was always given the duty at such times because, as the Captain said, “Being a Vulcan, your morale is always above and beyond, eh, Dan?”  The real reason, of course, was because Dan'Janou, like all his tribe, was temperance fanatic, probably because so many them were hopeless drunks.  Certain blended whiskeys attract Vulcans as moths to a flame.

“I doubt it,” said Franko.  “I’m slowing our approach.  Check your passive scan history and see if anything odd happened near the ship while we were occupied with the station.”

“Good thinking,” murmured Dan'Janou.  On the one hand, he really did like Franko’s suggestion.  It represented rational data gathering over impetuous action.  He just wished he’d thought of it first.  One more chance to appear superior all shoot to hell.

They found the clue within a few minutes.  “That has to be an impulse engine flare,” said Dan'Janou, pointing at the display.  “About an hour ago and within a few hundred meters of Welkin.  Could one of the other shuttles have been out?”

“It’s possible.”  Franko glared at the screen.  “I hate this!  It’s not much to go on, but my gut tells me there’s something wrong.  We need more information!”

“There is insufficient data for your alarm, Lieutenant.  But I assume you’re going to lunge ahead with some impulsive and probably illegal action anyway -- on the basis of this ‘gut’ analysis?”

“I am.  Alert those clowns in the back.  We’re going in locked and loaded!  Ready for bear!”

“There you go again,” whined Dan'Janou.  “I don’t know how to load locked bears!”

Franko explained his intentions to Dan'Janou in plain language, then reverted to crude idiomatic expressions in briefing the two crewmen.  They stuffed Che into an emergency p-suit and left him trussed in a bunk.  It seemed risky to let him loose inside the spaceship with a loaded weapon -- or even with his bare hands.

The shuttle bay doors opened normally. Franko guided the shuttle to a soft landing and popped the hatches.  Everyone sprang out, weapons ready.  Silently, the bay doors slid closed and air pressure began to return.  A tense minute elapsed before the red warning lights were replaced by green.  Dan'Janou tried the intercom.  No response.  “What could have happened?”

“I hope it’s an orgy,” replied Franko.  “But that’s not my kind of luck.  Let’s find out.”

Dan'Janou and Franko flanked the hatchway leading forward.  As it slid open, Franko peered down the darkened corridor.  Nothing moved.  “I feel like Alice at the rabbit hole,” he murmured.  With a quick, “Follow me!  Standard battle drill!” he ducked through the door.  Dan'Janou brought up the rear, mentally sifting historical references linking “Alice” and rabbit holes.

Five minutes of dodging down corridors, leaping up stairs and inspecting cabins and work areas (all empty) along the way brought them to the last, short passage leading to the bridge.  Franko slumped against a bulkhead, gasping.  “I need -- to spend -- more time -- in the-- gym!”

Dan'Janou eased up from his rear security position.  “A little less time in the mess might help,” he suggested amiably and received only muttered threats and curses for his concern.

Stationing the two crewmen to provide rear cover, Franko crept down the passage, Dan'Janou close behind.  The Vulcan stepped behind the Science Station and Franko knelt at the entrance to the bridge.  Both had their weapons trained downrange.

“Greetings, fellow beings,” croaked Grand Admiral Monk-zib.  He had one dapple gray tentacle wrapped securely around Captain Slim’s neck.  In the near pseudopod, he gripped a huge tri-barrel blaster, the business end of which was pressed into Slim’s left eye socket.

“Please to drop your weapons,” continued the Fudnik.  “Or your Captain will lose part of his visual apparatus and a trifling portion of brain and skull.”  This mild speech was accompanied by a constant sniveling from Slim.  A puddle of yellow water spread slowly across the deck.

Franko glanced back at Dan'Janou.  “It’s not an orgy.”

Ch 14: Revenge of the Fudniks

General Bossi-yar hunched near the helmsman’s chair cradling a blast rifle.  The bridge crew, including the two who came in with Franko and Dan'Janou, huddled along the rear bulkhead.  Although they weren’t tied up, none appeared willing to risk the blast rifle.  The Captain now lay in a heap, sobbing.  Monk-zib wallowed back and forth in front of his newest victims waving his blaster and a pungent cigar.

“Foolish humans!” he grated.  “Foolish to think their treacherous attack on a Fudnik Horde would go unpunished!”  He slithered to a halt facing Franko.  “Besides, the General and I can’t get back to our breeding females until we make amends for that disastrous loss.”

Dan'Janou translated the Admiral’s words to Franko.  The First Officer nodded his understanding.  “They want to avoid being pitched into the vats.”

“True,” agreed the Vulcan.  “We don’t have much choice, I’m afraid.  They’ll kill the crew if we resist.  And the Captain, too,” he added.

Franko grinned at the Admiral while speaking to Dan'Janou.  “Look around.  All the bridge crew is here, but no one from Engineering.  I’ll bet they don’t even know the ship has been taken.”

“You may be right.”  Dan'Janou addressed Monk-zib.  “What use is a recycling scow to a Grand Admiral of the Fudnik Navy?”

“Useless, truly.  Except for the nuclear missiles in its cargo pods and the other weapons located also therein.”  Monk-zib puffed on his cigar.  “Your vaunted security is insecure.  Every idler on the docks knew what Welkin carried.”

Again, Dan'Janou translated.  Franko laughed suddenly.  “So much for secrets.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Romulan battle group drop in.”  He grew serious.  “I think we can take these guys, Danny boy.  And you know how.”

Dan'Janou was aghast.  “I don’t mind dying in some suitably heroic fashion, Franko, especially if I can do so in the midst of a sniveling pack of humans, but this -- this is plain suicide!”

“No it isn’t.  Remember when we met these tentacled creeps in the shuttle bay?  Think about it.  Are you a Starfleet officer or not?”

Drawing himself up to his full one-and-a-half meter height, Dan'Janou snapped, “Of course I’m a Starfleet officer!  I’ll do anything to protect the crew -- of the -- Welkin.”  His speech slowed and stopped as he realized what Franko meant.  “You can’t mean that!  Not that!”

Franko raised his arms and faced Admiral Monk-zib squarely.  “Come on, Danny.  It don’t hurt that much and I promise to call you Mr. Dan'Janou from now on.”

Dan'Janou squeaked in a decidedly un-Vulcan manner.  His choice was clear.  As a Starfleet officer and Vulcan, he must save the crew.  Raising his arms, he managed a weak grin.  “Promise me one thing, Franko.”

“I already promised you one thing.”

“One other thing.  Buy me a present.  A yellow bouncy ball.”

“A yellow ball?  Have you gone mad?”

“Remember, Franko.  A small, yellow bouncy ball!”

Yelling, “Get them, lads!” the two brave officers bowed, arms outstretched, their universal expression of Fudd Love directed at the Monk-zib and Bossi-yar.  Helpless in the grip of their ancient genetics, the two Fudnik males dropped their weapons and responded.


Though official records are vague on exactly what happened on the bridge of the Welkin at the conclusion of the Faux Space Station Mission, Franko and Dan'Janou were both awarded medals for displaying iron courage in the face of inter-species activities.

Franko kept his word.  To this day he always refers to the Welkin’s Science Officer as Mr. Dan'Janou -- except when he calls him Mr. Wacko or Mr. Science or Mr. Pointy-Ears.

Dan'Janou got his little yellow bouncy ball.  He keeps it tucked away, touching it only when humans manage to irritate him beyond the limits of prudence. 

Boopsie, he discovered, likes to play catch with him and his bouncy ball -- in the shower.

Captain Slim wrote a masterful report of the entire mission, claiming no little credit for the actions of his crew and deflecting any criticism onto others.