Archive Page 2


The Titanium Ribbon

    Sal thought about the last 16 hours and could not believe the changes that had transpired. Back at the Maze he was a stranger. It was obvious that he didn’t belong in this painting. He could have easily past for a travelling businessman speculating new frontiers in the Cluster. Tranquility was hardly a ‘Club Fed’ resort spa but there was booming commerce there. The City spanned nearly a 25-kilometer radius and many of the buildings rose to 50 or more stories in the Federal District.

    The whole scene had reminded him of Platte on Goren IV. The Goren system edged the Briar Patch and contained three habitable planetoids, two of which were minor planets that loomed above the huge gas giant of Daugant. The third was known as Helbosia by the natives and categorized as Goren IV as it was the fourth world in the system to be surveyed. Platte was one of the larger settlements on that world and a major space port in the area. Helbosia was an arid world and barely met the classification requirements to be considered class-M. It was nearly 30 degrees warmer year-round and life outside man-made structures was brutal.

    The El Paso was sent to Helbosia in ’98 to investigate some geological phenomenon that was occurring there. They had picked up Dr. Gail Winters, PHD and her entourage on twenty geo-physicists at Starbase 216 and taken them to Platte. The El Paso was stationed there in standard orbit for nearly six weeks while Dr. Winters collected data on the geothermic ribbon that lay just beneath the planet’s crust. Sal served as the liaison between Winters’ surface team and the El Paso and so he had several opportunities to beam to the surface. Sal learned that the ribbon actually contained pure molten titanium and was 5 kilometers wide in some places. Dr. Winters wanted to tap into this resource that lay 450 kilometers below the planet’s surface. Although the phenomenon was interesting to Sal, the work was extremely tedious and often boring.

    Platte, however, could not be described as boring by anyone. Like Tranquility City, it was contained beneath energy domes that maintained a stable atmosphere. Although it was smaller in size, Platte had several different sections and they all had their unique flair to them. The populous was mostly made up of titanium miners with a smaller municipal group that governed and managed the city. Sal’s temporary assignment included escort duties and so he had spent a week prior to Winters’ arrival studying the local culture and customs of Helbosia. One thing that was never boring about being a Starfleet officer was the many hats that one had to wear. The infamous 32nd Avenue was well known for its open-air bars that lined the street and Sal had spent many evenings with members of Winters’ group who required time away from their terminals and mundane data streams.

    The Helbosians were a brutish people and why Sal was assigned this duty baffled him. He was thankful that a detachment of security officers were at his disposal. Although the expedition was essentially funded by the UFP, Winters’ group were not Starfleet officers and so sometimes their actions needed to be restrained. The games that the Helbosian miners played were a little more extreme than what the naïve scientists had expected and that usually resulted in trouble. There had been many times that the mixture of drink and low oxygen content had gotten the better of peoples’ morality.

    Sal shook his head and brought himself back to his present surroundings. He hadn’t thought about Helbosia in at least 10 years and often wondered if, Franks, that young scientist who had stayed behind, had ever adjusted to his new life with the woman he had met there.

    The one thing that stuck in his mind and wouldn’t let go was the Titanium Ribbon of Tranquility. After Winters’ visit and the subsequent development of the drilling rigs that released that vein of pure, the planet Helbosia had changed. The planet was the center of attention for nearly five years as it contained the largest natural resource of titanium within Federation borders. The UFP had placed two research facilities, R-1 type orbital platforms, in permanent orbit in the system. McCormick Station was now15000 kilometers above Platte in geosynchronous orbit and the Edison-Blake Research Facility hung about the Goren sun which was known on many Terran star charts as Wasat, at approximately 1 AU distance. With this new found wealth came speculators and developers from across the Federation who built hundreds of cities that climbed out of the harsh Helbosian deserts. Fortunes were made and many peoples’ lives changed almost overnight.

    Tranquility had been abandoned by the Federation and yet the Taurians, the natives of this cluster, had focused vast amounts of wealth in developing this unforgiving landscape. Sal wondered what it was that had kept the investor’s interests salivating. He wondered about this Minos character and he also wondered about Manning. Had one or both discovered Tranquility’s secret? Sal needed time in front of a terminal. He needed to get the information promised him from Harry’s father on the Captain. He needed more data and running around chasing bad guys in rough neighborhoods was not filling in the blanks fast enough for him.


Pain By The Hour

Shane rolled his eyes and turned around abruptly near the end of the alleyway, almost causing the other two to run into him. “We’re eliminating possibilities,” he said in a low annoyed growl, locking his stony gaze onto Sal, “If our man is not at his or the Deltan’s room, then we can easily assume that something is indeed up. If the Deltan lied about her quarters here or told anyone a different story than what she told the Captain, it indicates that she is up to something.”  


Turning back towards the end of the narrow walkway, he spoke over his shoulder as he pulled the wide brim of his hat to shadow his face, “Now either shut yer trap or pipe down, the place is just down the street. Orion, link your ODRI to commlink 552791 and I’ll let y’all know what I see.” Stepping from the shadows onto the busy street, he blended into the traffic of party goers and pleasure seekers unnoticed, stumbling a bit and mumbling under his breath. Within a few yards of the alleyway, he sat down in a heap with his back against the brick wall with his knees scrunched up to hide the communicator in his organic hand and his bionic arm tucked into his jacket across his lap. His head hung down as if he was falling into a drunken stupor and he observed the entrance to the pleasure hotel half a block down.   


In the misty and almost non-existent rain that sprinkled the dimly lit street, Sal met her gaze and there was an instant and unspoken understanding between them. As for Muscle, who had chose to sit down against a wall, Sal knew that he was rough but that came with the territory. Sal was still very happy to have him with them. Pher was right. Timing was everything.    

The picture was starting to become clearer to Sal. The QoB was most likely the only non-Guardian vessel with extended Warp speeds, those beyond Warp 5. If Minos needed a means to escape the system then the QoB would be a perfect choice. One thing that Sal knew was how fast and maneuverable the Klingon Bird of Prey were. He had chased far too many of them. That was why they had been in service for as many years as they had been. They were very versatile ships. And that was yet another piece of the puzzle, a bit of random data that Sal needed. It was one answer to why?    

Enough talk and enough thought. He could appreciate Shane’s comment which basically indicated that actions were needed, not words. Sal stood in the street and tried not to be so long winded.    

“First of all, Pher, you’re in charge. We’ll follow your lead.” He nodded to Shane and continued as Shane grunted. He chose his next words carefully because he was not too familiar with the capabilities of her implants, “I think that you and Audrey would get farther without our chaperone. That being said, I could start be looking for clues in Baldy’s room and I believe that Shane here could convince the manager to give us access to it. Shane?”    

Standing up, as the option of pre-observation seemed to have been decided against by the others, Shane nodded to Sal, “He’ll give us access, one way or another.” Pher gave him a look and he assured her, “I know, I won’t kill him.” Peering back towards the hotel he said, “If we’re splitting from you, Pher, then we should enter separately.”    

Pher looked at them and considered. Maybe she was wrong. She shouldn’t underestimate their life experience. They were well travelled sentients of the galaxy. Maybe they did know more about talking to night managers of sleazy rent by the hour hotels than she did.    

She’d give them the benefit of the doubt.    

“Just watch out for the bomb on Baldie’s door,” she said. “Two blocks past the hotel, there’s the Busted Flush. I’ll be there in a bit. I’ve a few other bases to touch, and I’ll walk Audrey some.”    

[LIVE SIM]    

[Sal and Shane attempted a frontal assault which failed miserably as the Klingons were not very inviting to them. After being literally thrown out, Shane came up with the idea of entering via the roof. They went to the hotel next door, walked up to the roof and then jumped onto the roof of the Klingon Hotel. They then entered the hotel’s sixth floor to find a Klingon woman refreshing rooms. ]    

The female Klingon, dressed in a normal Klingon uniform, stood there with the pistol in her back. She heard 2 behind her but knew not of who they were. She was tempted to turn and look but wanted to see what they wanted of her first. Maybe they wanted her for HER. But then again no species could ever handle what a Klingon female could dish out but a Klingon Male. She froze for a moment then decided to speak. “What is it you want? I do not have anything of value to you here. I only have supplies and new spikes for the beds.” She then went silent waiting to hear what they had to say before she decided if she would call for her companion that was in another room just down the hall.    

As she spoke Sal froze. She had spoken in English or a form of it and wasn’t screaming. He knew very little about their culture. While the Klingons were a member of the Federation, they rarely served aboard mixed cultural vessels. He thought about what he’d told his daughter, about tolerance and diversity. The spike that was in his hand dropped back to the cart from where it came. He knew that Shane was all action, this required words and he chose them carefully.    

“Ma’am, we’re not looking for trouble. We’re actually looking for a friend. He would have been in acquaintance with a Deltan woman. She had mentioned that she was staying here. The front desk was unoccupied so we just came up to look around for help. Sorry about my friend here. He gets a little excited, if you know what I mean…”    

Standing behind the Klingon with his Gauss pistol in his real hand and his bionic ready for any moves on her part, Shane sighed in frustration at Sal’s politeness. ‘So much for seeming like a threat’, he thought, keeping the pistol in place. He spoke in his low voice, “Just tell us what we need to know about the Deltan and we’ll leave without blowing a hole in your chest.”    

The Klingon woman thought for a moment. There had not been another Terran here but the Deltan had been. She took a long deep breath and motioned for the two to follow her into the next room so they wouldn’t be seen. She grabbed the cart and pulled it in with her, watching as the two followed, the weapon still pointed at her. She knew she wouldn’t have time to pull her own weapon if these two meant what they said about using theirs.    

After entering the room she motioned for them to close the door. They were in the room alone, and she kept her hands where they could see them. She didn’t want any mistakes.    

“The dalten you speak of was here but no one of Terra was with her. And Yes I do speak your language as SOMEONE needs to be able to translate your words. The Dalten has not been seen in a few days. She managed to use her TRICKS to sway the manager to allow her to stay. This is a KLINGON Hotel only. So I suggest you make your retreat before someone sees you.”    

Sal moved slowly with the group and closed the door behind them. He spoke quietly in reply to the Klingon’s comments and motioned for her to remove her side arm; that in doing so the weapon in her back would also be removed.    

“Yes. That is what we feared happened to our friend; pixie-dusted. Since we have also lost communication with him, he fails to respond to his ODRI, we also fear that he may be in danger. Do you know which room is-was hers? And can you give us access to it so that we may look for clues as to her whereabouts?”    

“Did you not hear me? This is a Klingon Only Hotel. ONLY Klingons Stay here. If you are caught here you will be killed. I doubt you would be able to fight your way out of a crew of upset Klingon males.”    

Stepping back from her cart of spikes, she crossed her arms and watched the two, waiting for the opportunity to take her weapons back. She then gave a huff and wished to be done with these fools.    

“Fine. THIS is her room. Look it over. But do not blame me if you find yourself face to face with the Klingon Sec detail.”    

Sal motioned for the Klingon to be quiet. He had heard motion in the hallway. He waited for it to fade away before he spoke quietly.    

“First of all, thank you. I can tell from your generosity that we share similar opinions toward the Deltan species. Like I said, we mean you no harm so please be still and we will all come out of this unscathed.”    

He then began to survey the room. Redera was correct. This wasn’t exactly ‘the Ritz’. There was a single window that appeared to be frosted but might have just required attention. Below it along the floor was a space heating environmental control device of sorts. It was all labeled in Klingon but its purpose seemed obvious to Sal. The double bed had two opposing sideboards that provided light. One had a glass half full of a clear liquid. Sal assumed it to be water. The other had a book and a couple of brochures scattered about. It also had a lower shelf that had various Klingon magazines. He pulled one out and flipped through the pages. It was obviously an ‘adult’ magazine. He stopped at one photo in particular and showed it to the Klingon, “You wanna explain that?”    

He smiled at her and waved his hand not expecting a response, placed the magazine back where he’d found it and continued his search. Opposite the bed was a bureau with three drawers. He opened the top one and found it empty. As he opened the second one, Sal asked quietly, “How long has she been here?”    

In the second drawer he found various tunics and outfits folded neatly and he looked beneath each one trying to be careful not to disturb their arrangement. In the next stack of clothing Sal found a single slip of paper. He looked at it and although it too was in Klingon, it was obviously a sales receipt of some kind. The paper was crinkled slightly but had been smoothed out again. He turned it over and it had Klingon characters written by hand. His first clue! He could not read it presently but was certain that it had something of importance on it.    

Sal closed the drawer, opened the third which only contained a single pair of slacks. He closed it and looked around at the rest of the room. The slip of paper found its way into his pocket for later evaluation. There was a closet next to the entry and he opened it. Two outfits were hung. One was long and of a blue silky material, almost translucent. The other was more of a business suit, grey and tan in color. He checked the inside breast pockets which were empty. On the floor next to a device that he did not dare to ask the purpose, Sal found two cases. He pulled them out, went to toss them on the bed and stopped in mid-throw. The bed was not a reasonable surface with its spiked adorations.    

He set one on the floor, looked around and set the other in a chair next to the bed. He opened it. It was another obvious item, personal stuff, feminine stuff. Sal felt like he was going through a woman’s purse and we all know what odd things a man finds there. What he did find that he bothered to show Shane was a single key and also a key-ring that contained some interesting and perhaps useful items. Sal pocketed those, closed the case and set it next to the other one. He then set the other one on the arms of the chair as it was a bit larger. It was empty barring two spare hangers and a business card. He looked at the business card and it was written in English. Unfortunately it was only the business card of the sales person who had sold her the suitcase. He closed the case and then placed them both back into the closet.

Sal rose to his feet and closed the closet then turned back and walked toward the Klingon. Something had shifted in his attitude as he had searched the room. He knew that they were hardly free and clear of danger. As Shane had said, at any moment someone may find this Klingon missing. But was she really that important in the grand scheme of things. She was a chamber maid, a servant class. Sure she had a weapon. From what Sal knew, all Klingons carried weapons of some sort. He looked into her eyes and could see her disgust in the situation. She had told them immediately to leave, that their lives were in danger. The actions that she had taken thus far had put her own life in danger. She could plea duress but would the Klingon warriors buy this. If they were caught she too may loose her life. Sal believed that she knew all of this as he reached her. He pulled the slip of paper out of his pocket and handed it to her,

“Translator, huh? What’s that say?”

She looked at the paper, grunted and replied, “It’s just a sales receipt from the local chemist.”

“The back please. What’s written on the back?”

“Looks like delivery instructions. Do you know the city?”


“Because the instructions give reference to the ‘Walking Bridge’ between this district and the Mercenary district. Time was set for 3 chronos.”

“What was purchased?”

“Some drugs I guess, look, I don’t know anything about this stuff. You guys need to leave before the patrol makes their rounds.”

The big man glanced to Sal and said impatiently, “Are you done here?”
At the other man’s nod, Shane held out his bionic with the claws open with a low whir of machinery, “Give me your gun.”
With a puzzled look on his face, Sal took the girlie gun out of his pocket and placed it in the outstretched claws of the artificial appendage. With practiced ease and without hesitation, the cyborg switched Pher’s gun with his Gauss pistol in his real hand, pointed it at the Klingon woman and pulled the trigger. The blast knocked her back into her cart of spikes, tipping it over in a loud clatter. Shane tossed Pher’s gun back to the dumbfounded Sal and moved to the door, stepping over the Klingon on the floor.
“Come on,” he said, cracking the door open and peering out, “back to the roof.”

Sal looked at the motionless Klingon woman lying on the floor, bent down and retrieved the slip of paper containing the Klingon text. ‘Perhaps the Doc could determine what the drugs were for’, he thought. He then quickly followed Shane out into the corridor.


Looking for the clues

It was clearly understood in Sal’s mind that this explosion was not accidental. Sal really wasn’t ‘up’ on the latest news of the Cluster. He was 72 light-years from his stomping grounds. This place was a completely different world to him. Half way between settled and unexplored, he knew that he would have to keep ‘up’ if he was going to survive, let alone earn his keep. This Minos character was topping his short list. What Sal wanted to do was spend some time in front of a terminal conducting some proper research first hand. There simply wasn’t time for that. Perhaps Ms. Pheromone could bring him to speed. One thing that Sal did not like was flying by the seat of his pants. Alas, that was all he could do at the moment.
Even though ‘Mr. Muscle’ seemed very impersonal to him, Sal was very glad to have him along. What ever this was all about these people were serious and many innocent lives had just been lost in this explosion. This event had triggered a deep emotion in Sal, a desire to right the wrong, step outside of his sheltered world and onto the cold turf of his current reality with vigor and confidence. He laughed to himself as he recalled a pet name that was given to him in the Academy, “Johnnie Rocket”. In the end, though, Sal knew that what he could add to the immediate equation was knowledge and analysis. When it came to brains and brawn he was most definitely NOT the latter.
Sal thought about the Deltan as he scurried to catch up with Pher and Shane. His mind started to pick apart everything he overheard. He was an analyst and so he focused his brain-power on the data that he had been presented. She had referred to him as a ‘fleeter’. Naturally this added a negative connotation toward the Federation. However, she was over-emphasizing this in her posture as if she was acting. Acting? Sal thought about that for several seconds remembering how predictable her act had seemed to him. It was the worse he’d ever seen. Joia had done better in her Elementary play three annuls ago where she was a tree. Sal had had trouble believing that Mr. Nickles was falling for the Deltan charm that easily. She must have been pushing that pixie dust pretty hard. He thought more on the conversation and how Nickles had been trying to impress Redera. It was enough to make Sal feel ill. She had said that she had very little money and then Nickles offered for her to stay with him. “Show me!” Sal recalled. They weren’t headed to her hotel. They were headed to his. He thought once again about how the Deltan had been playing her role and leaving misleading clues in her mannerisms. If this Deltan was as devious as Pher had suspected then they weren’t ‘headed’ for either place.
It would be a rare night which would blend well with the events as they had been unfolding. A thick cloud bank had covered the skies and a light rain had started to fall. Although the districts were shielded by bioenvironmental domes these domes were energy-based and controlled by complex filtering schemes. Basically, if it was raining outside the dome then it was raining inside as well. Light from the grid work of streetlamps, patterns of windows in the buildings rising on either side and from the various billboards and signs began to glisten off every surface. The sun had disappeared hours ago and would not return for long time.
Traffic was heavy and the faces of the people that they had passed were cold and expressionless. They seemed depressed and in some eyes Sal saw panic. The architecture was a mixture of new modern age with traditional Klingon stone work and older rectangular glass and steel frameworks. The writing on the various signs was also a mixture of Terran and Klingon languages and fonts. It reminded Sal of a trip to the San Francisco Museum with its cultural diversity.
Sal focused on the sketchy data that he had just trying to keep pace with Pher’s swift steps. There wasn’t much to go on. Basically Nickles had been seduced and probably rolled. Sal had seen this before. Poor Jackson lost all of his credits, IDs, personal communicator and his socks. Yeah, his socks. He returned to the ship the next morning to explain what had happened and he had no socks on his feet. Sal chuckled to himself, perhaps out of nervousness. He was liking and not liking this whole thing. The adrenaline rush was starting to peak as his eyes scanned left and right looking for any addition data that might help their situation.


Shore Leave in Crystal City

MAY-JUN 2398, Aldebaran Sector

Sal was tired. He had spent much of the last 16 months updating UFP databanks with the myriad of differing planetary systems and astronomical phenomenon that they had encountered while touring the Aldebaran Sector. He had led a team of 16 navigational engineers and so a lot of icon pushing was involved. His office walls were closing in on him and he needed to get away from the techno-titanium world that he called home. Captain Cumings had promised the crew shore leave as soon as they reached the Aldebaran System. Many had requested leave on Aldebaran IV which was the home world of the native Aldebaranese race. To Sal, this was simply more of the same and so he had made plans with four other crew-mates to take an adventure on Tartessos.
Aldebaran III was known to the natives as Tartessos. Originally it was categorized as a class K planet back in the 23rd century when Aldebaran membership to the federation was established. Since then there had been terra-forming on Tartessos however the planet is nearly twice the size of Earth and much of the planet is still quite arid and barren. Outside the terra-formed areas the average surface temperature was 75 degrees C and the atmosphere was still only at about 65% O-N standard.

Crystal City was not the oldest settlement, only 80 years in development, but it was still too highly developed for Sal and his band of explorers. The newer sections of the Green River Valley and Lake Beane were still under restricted access, but they offered a more rural environment where they could get back to nature. Terra-forming had been underway there for only 30 years and although there were a couple of small villages these areas still depended on much of their commerce and support from Crystal City and its intergalactic spaceport.
Sal walked up to Lt. Celia Johns quarters and pressed the entry chime. He heard a voice respond that sounded muddled,
“I’m in the shower, Sal. Come on in and make yourself a drink.”
Lieutenant Johns worked in security and Sal had befriended her two years ago when she came onboard. They both had a fascination for old 2D visual entertainment records. Celia even liked the ones that were monochromatic but Sal couldn’t justify it, too artsy for him. His mother had liked this form of entertainment and so it was passed onto Sal as a child.
Sal entered Celia’s quarters and found the replicator. Usually Sal would drink some kind of ale but he was officially on leave now and so he selected high ball. After taking a sip he called out,
“What are you drinking?”
“Sal, you know I only drink Tequila! I think there’s a good starfire mix. Make it a double!”
Sal heard laughter from the other room and called up Celia’s request.
“Are you all packed?”
“Yeah, I’ve already had my bags beamed down to Crystal City. We’ll be there for two days, right?” She answered as she finished getting dressed. She came into the room wearing the smallest dark green shorts that Sal had ever seen. Celia was very attractive but Sal had sensed little physical attraction to him. They were just really good friends in his mind.
“So, where are we meeting them?”
“In Crystal City at three o’clock. The shuttle to Happersville doesn’t leave until 5. We’ll have time to get a bite to eat.”
“I thought we had a couple of days in Crystal City?”
“We do. Happersville is where the nightclub that Tony and Kris wanted to go. It should be a lot of fun.”
“Yeah, I was thinking I might drag you out on the floor.”
“You don’t wanna spoil the whole evening, do you?”
They both chuckled and Celia led Sal to the sofa where they sat and continued to chat. Celia seemed especially delighted that Sal had asked her along and she in a very light mood. They laughed and finished their drinks and then left to the transporter room so they could meet up with the rest of the group on the surface.

The buzz in the air was the Andorian Miracle Cure. Sal didn’t know much about medicine but Frank Donnager did. Frank was with Tony and Kris when they arrived on the plaza transport pad in Crystal City. Celia knew Frank from a previous assignment and he was the newcomer to the group that Sal was known to hang around. Frank had some theories about the Zencarian metabolism and its unique strain of antibodies. Sal was certain that he’d hear all about them over dinner. Celia kissed Tony on the cheek and grabbed Kris’ arm. The women were in good company. The guys would be lucky to see them after that evening. They had other plans in Crystal City. This was the first real port that the El Paso had seen in four months.
“Hey Kris… Tony”, opened Sal, “Did you get everything off the El Paso okay?”
“Yeah”, Kris responded, “We’re all set for this wild adventure you got planned. I even had Tony pack an extra portable LSU. We’re staying inside the terra-formed regions, right? I don’t think any of us are equipped to venture outside. Besides, we’re on vacation! That would be too much like work for me!”
Kris, Lieutenant Commander Kristina Flanningan, was a senior environment specialist on the Science Team. She had been dating Tony now for four years. Sal & Celia had teased that they were never going to take that step. Tony, Lieutenant Anthony P. Hurtus, worked for Sal. He was a bright engineer and had helped Sal out of a couple of fixes. They became friends soon after Sal had joined the El Paso crew. Tony wasn’t as ambitious as Sal, though. So even though they were of the same rank when they met, Sal had advanced further and taken over the department when Chief Peterson was transferred. Tony didn’t mind. He preferred not to be in the spotlight, as it were.
“Hey Frank! Did you remember to bring that Capellan brandy of yours? That should go down smoothly when we’re roughing it on the Green River.”
“Yeah Sal, I did. Also brought an extra-thick EV bag since I’ll be flying solo this trip”, Frank laughed and Sal returned an appropriate smile knowing that he too was in a similar situation. Celia and he would be sharing a tent on the river but other than that it was separate but equal billing.
Everyone got settled into their hotel rooms and Sal caught back up with everyone on the Plaza Deck that overlooked Crystal Bay. It was late afternoon and Baran-6 hung quietly on the blue-within-blue sky. This was a unexpected feature of Tartessos because the skies of the other worlds of the Aldebaran System all had deep red hues. Aldebaran was 40 times the size and 150 times as bright as Sol. It dominated the sky with its off-red glow but the oxygen-rich atmosphere of Tartessos overpowered its energy. It was still quite warm and everyone had opted for short pants and sleeves. Even the doctor who had extremely white calves wore a pair of low contrast gray shorts. The girls wore swimwear though Kris had a light wrap around her shoulders.
The special was Kansas City Barbeque which was always a favorite on a Human colony. Everyone sat down and grabbed menus from the holder that was centrally located.
“Well, I’m having ribs. Haven’t had real meat in several months”, popped Celia as the server approached the table.
“Can I start you off with some refreshing Aldebaran Tea?” asked the server.
They all looked at each other, nodded and stated in unison, “Stiffer!”
Sal pointed to a particularly potent liquor on the menu called gPuk and said, “Neat.”
“I’ll have a planetary nebula… with whipped cream”, exclaimed Kris in her soft-spoken voice, “Hun. You want a beer?”
Tony nodded and Frank waited for the server and then spoke, “I’ll have a whiskey and soda. Celia. What are you having?”
“I think I’ll have that tea you mentioned. Someone’s gotta get these boys back to their rooms.”
The table laughed and the server smiled, “I’ll get those drink right away.”

Dinner was much quieter. Frank didn’t once mention medicine and Sal thought that made everyone feel more at ease. Kris and Tony kept on about this new entertainment group who used real instruments. They had seen them before and knew the group was in for a treat.
Sal couldn’t help noticing a Vulcan sitting in the shade alone. He had an iced tea that he had not touched and several times Sal had caught him looking in their direction and taking notes of some kind. If he was fleet then he was out of uniform. Celia told him that it was some form of diplomatic attire. Frank disagreed and said that it looked more civilian than anything. Regardless, it was unsettling for the entire table and so when everyone was satisfied they all left together. As they left, Frank motioned, “This one’s on me.”

Everyone went back to their rooms to change into their evening attire. They would not have much time for primping. Sal entered his room and found his suitcase, opened it and quickly hung the items that needed to be hung. He then selected the jet black suit with a brightly colored tunic. He got dressed and pulled a comb through his hair, did the usual masculine primping which wasn’t much and dashed out of his room. He tapped his lapel and nothing happened. His personal communicator was lying on the nightstand. Frustrated with himself, Sal returned to his room and grabbed it and tapped again,

“Tony? You guys about ready?”
“Just about Sal. We’ll meet you downstairs.”
Sal tapped it again,
“Yes, Sal. I’m on my way.” There was an attitude attached to her voice but Sal knew her well enough as she knew him. She would probably beat him to the lift but would be there when he arrived. And she was.
Dressed in a tightly fitted shimmering blue frock, Celia smiled as Sal approached. She looked like a million credits and Sal could hardly imagine how she was able to pull that off in 30 minutes. Celia took note that Sal’s mouth was on the floor and allowed him a moment’s opportunity to pick it up before they entered the lift.
“Nice jacket”, she commented, actually meaning it as she sized up her escort for the evening.
“Thanks. That dress is something else too.” Sal replied with a smile, “Wow.”

As expected, Frank was at the lobby bar and saw them exit the lift. He was wearing a green pin-striped suit with a subdued tunic and tie. Celia grabbed his arm and they trotted off to the shuttle stand at the far end of the lobby area. There were several cabs available and so they stood away from the crowd and waited for Kris and Tony to arrive.
Kris was in a long black formal pantsuit and heels. She had put her blonde hair up in a swirl, letting one strand fall freely across the side of her face. Tony was in white and they approached from the left in a near panicked state. The women instantly started chatting while Tony located an appropriate cab.
Happersville was about 5 kilometers outside of the city complex. Aldebaran had disappeared over the horizon and so everyone’s sense of direction had been slightly skewed. Sal knew from the map he had reviewed that their destination was west of the city and that Crystal Bay lied just to the north. The buildings were sparse outside the complex but they still hugged the edges of the street. The few that were set back were most likely residences or facilities that depended little on the commerce of tourism.
Celia and Kris were sitting next to each other in the back with Tony. Celia was pointing at this and that but there wasn’t very many street lights outside the complex and things were hard to see. Sal, who was sitting next to Frank in front looked ahead at a soft glow and then nodded back to Tony,
“Looks like it. The Trapezium will be set back from the other buildings.” Tony looked at the brochure in his hand which had a rough map of Happersville on its back page. There were just a few side streets off the main highway that criss-crossed in a twisted grid pattern. All of them were on the north side of the highway filling the space between the road and the waterfront.

The shuttle was an autocab. There was no driver, perse’. They operated similar to the turbolift system onboard a starfleet vessel. Tony had fed in the destination coordinates when they had entered the cab and after everyone was seated, he set them in motion by the simple “engage” command directed to the programming panel. These cabs operated throughout the city complex but also recognized a limited number of destinations outside the complex as well. The brochure had indicated that the Trapezium was included in these destinations.
The cab turned off the main highway and headed down a long drive that was lined with lights. There were personal conveyances parked on either side of the drive and people walking up the sidewalk that lead to the club. The cab pulled up to the main entrance and the door slid open. Kris was the first to get out, quickly followed by Tony and then Frank. Sal waited until Celia was through before he exited. The cab door closed and the cab zipped away into the darkness.
The fanfare was definitely different from life on the El Paso. There were people in every direction wearing a variety of different styles. Most were formal and the group had consciously released a simultaneous sigh of relief. Being underdressed was sometimes fun, especially if it was the intent of the evening. On the flip side, being overdressed usually meant for a cold and uncomfortable time. Celia grabbed Sal’s arm which was not out of the ordinary but pleasantly received by him. He wasn’t going to push it, but he thought that perhaps there was something more to this relationship than he had realized.
They found an open table near the wall and a server quickly took their drink orders. Everyone was drinking this time and Celia had made a comment, “oh just one or two to take the edge off.” The conversation was gay and light-hearted and there was an excitement in the air as the crowd slowly quieted and the main lighting of the room was dimmed. A voice came over the PA system,
“Ladies and gentlemen, Platinum Junction”
There was a brief applause and a steady murmur that continued as a spotlight fixed on a lone guitarist to the left of center-stage. The acoustics of the room had captured the melody and it floated like a gentle breeze. Sal leaned back in his seat and Celia, still on his arm, snuggled closer as they listened to the soft picking echoing through the room. A saxophone soon joined the melody which was followed by a piped instrument called a sentic. It was from the planet Valakis and added a unique stir to the mood of the music. Celia’s eyes were closed but Sal scanned the room in an attempt to share the experience with others in the crowd. Frank was a bit edgy but Kris was in Tony’s arms at the front of the table facing away from Sal. They were obviously enjoying the tapestry being painted.
As Sal scanned he noted an open bar with a variety of patrons in a number of different groupings. Most were duets or trios but there were a couple of people who sat alone. He continued to slowly pan his eyes across the room not fixing them on anyone in particular. Then they stopped abruptly. It was enough for Celia to take notice and she whispered to him,
“What is it?”
“The Vulcan.”
“The wh—“, she looked quickly in the direction he was looking and continued to whisper, “Oh my god, you’re right. It is him.” Celia paused for a moment and then nudged Sal, “He’s probably here to enjoy the concert as well. Come on. We’re here to relax, okay?”
“Vulcans don’t—“
She scolded him with a smile and squeezed tighter to his arm. Sal lamented and waited patiently for the song to conclude. Celia noted that he had continued to look quickly over at the Vulcan in attempts to catch the Vulcan doing the same but kept it to her self. She tried to enjoy the music and sipped her tequila. Sal was back to drinking ale and he’d finished his as the song ended and the crowd began to applaud. Sal rose,
“I’ll be right back. Nature.”
Celia knew that ‘Nature’ was not calling him but also knew that he wouldn’t relax until he found out who the Vulcan was and what he was doing there. Sal excused himself from the table and looked around for the restroom sign. Not finding it he headed toward the bar. The band started their next number which was very light and fun. The crowd had started clapping and everyone was smiling and laughing. Even the bartender was clapping as Sal approached her. It was noisy and so Sal tried to visually communicate with her. She eventually got his meaning and pointed off to the right with a smile. As Sal walked away he saw out of the corner of his eye that the Vulcan was watching him. He glanced down at something in his hand and then stood and walked toward the exit. They met in the hall.

“Who are you and what do you want?” Sal spoke curtly. “You are watching us and frankly, scaring the women.”
The Vulcan looked cautiously at Sal but did not pause before he replied, “I am Stubin. You are not mistaken. I have been observing you and your party since your arrival on Tartessos. I had to be certain before I approached you. You are Salvatore Rosetto, of the El Paso, correct?”
“I could be”, Sal returned a curious stare, “How is it of concern to you?”
“Sir, I work for the Vulcan High Counsel in the capacity of currier. Can we continue this conversation else where. This is not a secure location.”

The music was considerably livelier and drowning out his voice but Sal got the jest of his statement. The two men walked outside and Stubin led Sal to the conveyance parking area. It was much quieter there and while they walked Stubin told Sal why he had sought him out. It wasn’t about Sal at all. Stubin had wanted to reach Donnager. Stubin knew thought that Donnager did not trust Vulcans and so it was logical that Stubin contact a friend and establish trust through Sal. Stubin seemed to have dossiers on everyone that Frank knew. This business that Stubin spoke of was highly sensitive and he knew that it must be approached with the strictest care.

Donnager had to trust that Stubin was who he’d claimed to be without question and without using a mindmeld which would raise Donnager’s total suspicion. It wasn’t that Donnager didn’t understand this Vulcan technique. It was quite the opposite. Stubin knew that Donnager believed that Vulcans could use this to make people believe anything that they wanted them to believe. Through Sal and Celia, Stubin could gain Donnager’s trust and be certain that the information was transferred properly and accurately between Donnager and Colonel DiAngelo.

Sal’s head was spinning. He wasn’t exactly sure that he had followed all that Stubin had told him but he did know from past experience that Vulcans did not lie. It was completely illogical to speak about things that were untrue. Most commonly humans told lies to save face, be it their own or someone with whom they had a bond of friendship. It was to avoid embarrassment. Seldom did he find that another human was truly deviant.

“So, I guess we have to get Celia out here next?”
“This will raise suspicion. In fact, you should return to your table right away. You have been gone much longer than would be expected for a—“, the Vulcan paused in thought, “How do you humans say it? A call of nature.”
Sal smiled and Stubin continued,
“Let us meet back at the hotel tonight at 0130 hours. Bring Lieutenant Johns with you and we shall proceed from there.”

Sal agreed and the Vulcan nodded once, turned and walked into the darkness. On his way back to the table Sal pored over everything the Vulcan had said and realized that he’d hardly said anything. The three major bullets were Vulcan High Counsel, Colonel DiAngelo and Frank. Sal approached the table quietly and resumed his seat next to Celia. The band had taken a short break but the house lights were not raised.

“Everything alright?”
“Yeah, I’ll explain later. How’s the show?”
“They’re pretty good. Kris and Tony went out and danced for one song. I’m dragging you out on the next one.”
“Yes. Really. So put on those taps shoes of yours and get ready mister, cuz I’m ready to cut some carpet”,

Celia smiled at Sal knowing that he would probably try to find a way to get out of it. But she was also building up her own courage with the help of the tequila and was determined that she would be dancing with him before the evening closed.

“How’s Frank holding out? I mean—“
“He’s fine. We have been chatting. He decided to go up to the bar and introduce himself to that Akaalian woman”, she pointed. Sal looked over and saw that Frank looked like he was doing very well. “He may find his own way home tonight”, she added.

Celia smiled and Sal joined her as he reached for his ale. Surprisingly, it had been refilled and not flat. Celia was making brownie points and Sal was beginning to come around to exactly what this two week adventure had in store. He’d never really thought long about how it might be with her; had given up on that many months ago, before they had started their tour of the sector. Sal was now thinking that perhaps he had misread her altogether.

The rest of the concert went very smoothly and Celia did get Sal out on the dance floor for a couple of songs. The canary seemed very satisfied with the kitten that she had cornered and Sal had seen this as a new beginning to his life on the El Paso. Frank never did come back to the table but it had been half expected and hoped that he would find someone with whom to enjoy the evening. It was 1230 by the time they returned to the hotel. Sal and Celia wished Kris and Tony good evening as they stepped out of the lift. As soon as the doors shut again Sal found his lips pressed firmly against Celia’s. He thought to himself, ‘Just add tequila’ and grabbed her into his arms. They barely made it back to his room before she had his jacket tossed on the bar and his shirt wadded in a corner.

Sal awoke a while later sudden and almost panicked. Celia was standing by the window looking down on the plaza below. “What time is it?” he asked. She looked at her chronometer and replied, “Almost 2AM.”
Sal jumped up, pulled his pants on and began looking for his shirt. “We going somewhere?” She asked.

“There’s someone that I want you to meet. I made the arrangements earlier with him. It completely slipped my mind. We were supposed to meet at 1:30…”
“You mean the Vulcan?” she questioned without it being a question and she continued, “Because I think he’s the same one I’m looking at and he doesn’t look like he’ll be meeting with anyone anytime in the future.”
“What do you mean”, Sal replied stumbling over to the window next to her.

They both looked down as the local police had arrived. Stubin’s body laid motionless on the concrete with a visible wound in his lower back. Whoever had done it knew exactly where a shot would be fatal.

The next morning their trip was cut short due to three days of questioning and the five returned to the El Paso to repeat everything to Captain Cumings. In his confidence Sal revealed what the Vulcan had told him. He assured the captain that the authorities also knew what he had just said. Sal really knew very little as to what was going on. He just wanted to put it all behind him.

As the months passed his relationship with Celia waned and she transferred to another vessel when she was promoted. It was a quick good-bye by Sal knew that it was good-bye. He had not seen her since. Frank, too, seemed to disappear from the group. He was always called away on some medical emergency and Sal never found the opportunity to sit him down and explain who the Vulcan was.

Vulcan motivation was still a mystery to Sal.


The QoB 25 credit tour

Sal came up the main hatchway ramp in the aft of the vessel. This had become the only way to normally board the QoB since the transporter systems had been removed. It was a huge open bay area with storage racks on either side and a central hall ahead. In the hall were three closed doors and a gangway leading up to the main deck.

On this deck as he entered from the gangway he found a long corridor that lead to the main bridge. Another gangway was adjacent leading up to the crew quarters and a short hall behind opened into main engineering. Entering main engineering, the chief’s office was left and work shop and tool crib were on the right. There were steps down to the main floor where the reactor cores and various control panels stood. The impulse power reactor was housed behind the primary warp reactor and the ceiling was lower back there. Access to the warp coils was gained via port/starboard gangways at the end of corridors on either side of the deck.

Coming back out of Engineering and into the central corridor, the junior crew quarters, where he would be staying, were to the right and the left half was divided into three small staterooms for passengers. Further down the corridor was the Astrophysics and Primary Computer Labs. Just before entering the main bridge was a gangway leading down.

Eyeshot, when entering the main bridge, was the captain’s chair with its raised ceiling and lighting. On the right was a door to the captain’s Ready Room and Office. Opposite the Ready Room was the 1st mate’s office. Sal stepped onto the main bridge standing behind the captain’s chair. There was a clear view of the primary screen with control stations flanking it on both sides. To the far right was the gunner’s turret and beyond that was access to the main sensor array control room. His stations, Navigation, Science and Helm were to the captain’s left.

Leaving the bridge, Sal went down the gangway just off the bridge which led to the VIP quarters. There were large accommodations for the captain, 1st mate and also two VIP suites. Beyond the suites in the forward compartment was the torpedo room. Sal discovered that it could now only be accessed via the sensory control room above it.

Sal left the VIP Quarters and went back down the main corridor. He then climbed the gangway that led to the upper deck. This was a longer gangway for this deck was perched above the raised ceiling of the engineering deck. Here Sal found the Sickbay, Mess Hall, a workout room, laundry and the kitchen. The deck also contained the senior crew quarters which lined the starboard side.


Making Friends Is Easy

Sal looked around the table. Chris was engaged in conversation with Redera. That wouldn’t be interrupted by a freighter passing through the room. Then there was this man with the mechanical arm. He wasn’t saying anything, just clasping a glass of water and staring off into space. Sal tried to catch his eye but the man just wouldn’t turn. This wasn’t going to be easy. ‘What did Harry always say?’, he thought, ‘When confronted with the quiet type?’ Sal couldn’t remember so he just attempted to start a dialogue,
“Hey. Shane, right? I’m Sal, Sal Rosetto. You look like a man who’d be up for a challenge. I saw a dart board on the other side of the bar. You up for a game?”

The cyborg’s cold grey eyes moved from the large room over to the well dressed man across the table from him, his face hard and expressionless. He looked down at the big metal contraption on his shoulder, unsuited for anything small and delicate, then back at Sal again. Was this guy serious? Shane turned his gaze to the room once more without saying a word.

“Not your game, huh? Hmmm… What else have I seen in this place?”
Sal pulled the mug of Rom Ale to his lips waiting for a response that he was apparently not going to get. He finished his brew in one quick swallow and then spoke again in Shane’s general direction,

“Not the real stuff, but a close proximity. Whatcha drinkin? I’m going to get a refill.”
He raised his glass to the man who just refused to look.
“May be the last freebie we see in quite a while. Common pleasantries seem to be at a premium in these parts.”

Sal paused and looked at the man again hoping that he wasn’t being impolite,
“You can speak, right?”
Then chuckled to him self almost embarrassed, “Of course you can! I heard you speaking earlier.”

Shane inwardly sighed in growing annoyance as Sal kept talking. He hated these kinds of guys, friendly and outgoing; there was a reason they didn’t last long around here. All he wanted was to get the job, get onboard a ship and get off of this rock.

After several more minutes of jabbering, Shane couldn’t take it any longer. He slammed his glass down on the table, shattering it to pieces and causing Sal to jump. Standing up, he leaned over the table, staring straight at the other man and speaking in a low, menacing voice,
“Look, what’s your name? Rosey. I don’t want to ‘chat’. Not at all, get the hint.”
With that he turned and started off for the bar where he wouldn’t be bothered. He also wanted to get another drink. This water wasn’t cutting it anymore.

Sal was quite shocked at Shane’s response and was starting to get discouraged again but that wasn’t why he was here. All he wanted was to get a job and get off this forsaken rock. If he was going to join this crew then he would have to work with them. As the quarters were tight on most of these jobs, one would have to learn to eat, sleep and breathe their crewmates. With this in mind, he grabbed his now empty mug and followed Shane to the bar.

He approached the bar, handed Pete his mug with a confirming request for refill and moved over to where Shane was standing. Sal poised himself and then stated with confidence,
“Look. I don’t want to chit-chat either. I want to go to work. That’s why I’m out here. Unfortunately with the port closed, even if we get these jobs we are not leaving anytime soon. I will be serving as a Scientific Engineer but my forte’ is Navigation. I suspect that you applied for the Weapons or Engineering positions. I know a little bit about engineering.
The point I’m trying to make is that if we are going to be on the same vessel then we need to try to find some common ground. The only way we’re going to be able to do that is through an open dialogue.”

Sal waited patiently for a response from his quiet crewmate. He didn’t know what kind of response he’d get but he hoped that it would be at least within a range of cooperation.

The muscles in Shane’s real arm flexed as he debated punching this guy’s teeth out. For the sake of his possible job, he forced himself to be settled with a response.
“What are you, a dadgum counselor?” he looked at Sal next to him with an expressionless leer leaning on the bar with his huge mechanical arm,
“Here’s your dialogue: you speak to me only when absolutely necessary and I won’t toss you out the airlock. Sound good?”

“As you wish, and therefore since I would classify this as necessary, I guess I should tell you that you just picked up the wrong drink.”
Sal nodded to the glass in Shane’s hand as he spoke. The gentleman and that was a loosely used term, looked up from his dom-jot table, handed his stick to his partner and started walking their way. Here came that freighter through the room…

Glancing down at the mug in his hand, Shane closed his eyes in an angry wince and mumbled something about city slickers and beatings with blunt objects. He spun slowly to meet the approaching patron and his friend to be suddenly greeted with a hard right to the face.

“Think you can just steal drinks cause you’re half-made of metal?” the obviously drunk man slurred out, “I’ll teach you to…”

He was muffled by Shane huge metal claws clamping around his face and lifting his feet off the ground. With his eyes burning in anger, Shane brought the struggling man to eye level with his scarred face and growled,

“That was a mistake.” With a powerful overhand swing, he chunked the drunk head first into his partner, sending both flying back into a table. The wood collapsed under the force of the men hitting it and left them moaning or unconscious on the floor.

Wiping the blood from his nose, Shane dug some credits out of his pocket and set them on the bar,
“Sorry about the table, Pete.” He grabbed his drink, the right one this time and with one final glare in Sal’s direction, stalked to find his table again.

Sal picked his jaw up off the bar, smiled meekly at Pete while grabbing his own mug.
“Uh, I guess I need to…” Sal motioned and pointed to Shane. Pete just shook his head with a painful look on his face. He had just replaced that table.


In His Mind

Sal was doing his best; making a show of it, but he really didn’t know what to think of this place, this crew, this captain, this whole situation. He sat and listened to the others chatting and laughing as if they had no care in the universe. Was it that they had truly found their freedom out here? Or maybe they were just as confused and uncertain as he was? Sal didn’t have any answers; none that made any sense. He sipped his Rom Ale and laughed quietly at someone’s off-handed attempt at a joke. It wasn’t that funny to him. But then he wasn’t really listening either. Their voices all seemed to melt together like a gaggle of geese near a cool pond of water.

Sal could do that; disappear into the wallpaper. Perhaps it was due to his upbringing. That’s how he had attributed it. Right or wrong didn’t really matter. The fact was that though he wasn’t consciously focused on anything, he would remember almost every conversation in the room. His mind was preprocessing the information and simply storing it away for evaluation at a later time. It was all a state of mind; a built-in autopilot.

What Sal was focused on was his performance, or lack there of, during this interview process. He couldn’t read this Manning fellow at all. Sal struggled with this because usually he picked up on psyches quite easily. He could do the task as required and had proven that many times over in his career. Whatever it took, Sal would figure out a way of getting the job done. But this seemed different because he really didn’t know what his job would entail.

A bottle had hit the floor. There was a dispute at the dom-jot table. He turned to see one gentleman picked completely off the floor and placed precariously and unwillingly on a hi-top table. Sal turned away as the other gentleman pulled back his huge unclad left arm while holding the man with his right. The sound of his fist repeatedly striking the man’s face had made Sal cringe. What ever the dispute was about it was best to keep one’s place, he thought. It was, after all, none of his business.

June 2018
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