"Sorry, all holodecks are in use right now – and for the rest of the day. You need to schedule at least a day in advance, you know."
"Eh? I’m not here to use a holodeck."
"Could’ve fooled me, dressed like that."
"I need a ship."
"A ship. I need one. Know where I can get one?"
"Hey, this is a respectable dining establishment, not a back-alley black market."
Ferdia scowled. She knew what was coming. "Perhaps, if I ordered something, you might remember someone who could help?"
The Ferengi behind the bar grinned. "So, what’ll it be?"
"Umm…I’m not sure." She wasn’t sure if the bar served anything she would be able to safely drink….but she had to order something. "What do you recommend?"
"A flask of Ugathra Mael-toc."
She eyed the bartender warily. "Isn’t that the most expensive drink on the menu?"
He shrugged. "You asked."
"How about something without synthehol in it? Some fruit juice, maybe? Do you have anything like that?"
"I have some prune juice."
"Ick," she made a face. "Pass. How about some water, then?"
"Yes, water. Good ol’ dihydrogen monoxide. H-two-Oh."
"You come into Quark’s Place, the finest dining establishment in five sectors, and all you can think to order is a simple, tasteless, completely commonplace three-atom molecule?!? The cheapest drink on the menu?"
"I’m insulted! Most people that come in here looking for something at least have the brains to-"
"Oh-o no you don’t! I’m sick of your four-brain-lobes-are-better-than-two air of superiority! It’s not what you’ve got, but what you do with it!" Ferdia yelled, the stress of her current situation getting the better of her temper.
Quark growled, filling a glass and practically throwing it at the bird before heading to the opposite side of the bar. He proceeded to ignore that end of the bar entirely, a fact that angered patrons there that wanted refills. Tiring of trying to flag themselves a bartender, patrons got up and wandered to the other side of the bar, glaring at Ferdia.
"What?" she asked innocently as they passed by. As more left, she idly swirled the water around in the glass. "Guess that pretty much rules out that option," Ferdia sighed.
"Pissed him off pretty good, didn’t you?" chuckled someone to her left.
"Yeah, well, I’m not exactly in the best of moods myself," she muttered. "I’m stuck here."
"Oh, compared to my problem, that’s nothing to be upset about! I, I have single-handedly destroyed a century’s worth of painstaking negotiations! My descendents will wander about the cosmos in shame! Oh, ancestors forgive me!"
Ferdia arched an eyebrow and turned to face her companion. He was a short, pudgy, brown-furred mole-ish creature. And judging from his looks and the collection of empty mugs in front of him, he was drunk. "So….who’re you?"
"It doesn’t matter. See, when the rest of the delegation finds out what has happened, they’ll kill me, and banish the rest of my family. So it really doesn’t matter who I am."
Ferdia squinted at the mole-creature. "You drunk?"
He took a swig from his mug, eyeing the amount of golden liquid remaining. "Almost."
"But….I didn’t think you could get drunk off synthehol."
He finished off the mug, banging it on the bar until a young Ferengi rushed up and refilled it. Chugging half its contents immediately, he wiped the foam on the back of his sleeve and fixed his gaze on the wall in front of him. "Oh, you can, you can. It just takes a lot more beers. Been workin’ on this buzz for hours."
"Because! Because of me, a war that has raged for the past seven centuries will continue! I knew something like this would happen! Damned intergalactic transports! They always lose my luggage!"
"A war’s going to continue because you lost your luggage?" Ferdia arched an eyebrow. "How many beers did you say you’ve had?"
"Not nearly enough!" He snapped, nursing his beer. "It’s all the Corellians’ fault. It’s their stupid tradition too! They should’ve brought an extra!"
He sighed. "You’re not very up-to-date with current events, are you? I’m part of the Kurdish peace delegation. We were supposed to sign a peace treaty with the Corellians, ending the war between our worlds. BUT to do that, we need a ceremonial quill. And the transport lost it!"
"A quill? As in, a feather?" Ferdia struggled to keep the laughter out of her voice. "That’s your problem?"
"Don’t laugh! It’s not that simple! You see, it must be an actual bird’s feather – not just something thrown together by a replicator! And it can’t be a Corellian feather, either – no, that would just make things too simple! But my fellow delegates have searched the entire spaceport – and none of the merchants have one! It’s hopeless! Oh, the shame, the shame!" He buried his head in his hands.
Try as she might, Ferdia couldn’t help herself. The laughter she’d kept at bay bubbled over and broke free. She laughed until her sides hurt, tears streaming down her face.
"It’s not funny!"
"I know – it’s just-" She leaned on the bar for support, still chuckling, and tried to sound serious. "It’s just – well – um….Would one o’ these do?" She asked, jerking her thumb towards her tail and fanning her feathers.
Turning to face her for the first time, the mole’s jaw dropped.
"C’mon, it’s not polite to stare."
"You’re a – a-"
"Bird? Yep. Now, about my payment…"
"Anything, anything! Name your price!"
"I want a ship. One with good defenses, warp capability, and more than enough fuel to fly from here to the ends of known space and back. And preferably one that’s easy to fly."
"Don’t ask for much, do you," the mole chuckled, shaking his head. He thought a bit. "You say warp capability? Would a hyperdrive do?" he asked hopefully. "The technology’s a bit older, but it’ll take you up to the equivalent of Warp 2 or 3, easily. And judging from your attire," he added, eyeing her uniform, "I’d say you’re a bit of an antique buff yourself."
Ferdia shrugged. "As long as it’s spaceworthy. But I’ll want to see it first."
"Excellent!" He yelled, downing the rest of his drink and leaping from the barstool. "Come with me, I will show it to you!"
Ferdia shook her head, smiling as she jogged after him. This ought to be interesting…
The freighter sped across the void, ducking and weaving and trying desperately to escape the trio of pirates behind her. Phasers bounced across her bow, steadily wearing down her failing shields. A lucky shot streaked through, tearing into the ship’s engines. Powerless but for life support, the freighter began to drift, her crew now frantically calling for aid – and finding their communications jammed. The pirate came up alongside, transmitting an audio message over the only channel they left open.
"This is the pirate fighter – uh – er – hmm…" a voice boomed into the freighter’s bridge. "Hang on a second." The voice dropped, addressing someone else. "Hey, this ship needs a name. Any suggestions, kid?"
" ‘Rosebud’?" Ivan repeated. "What the heck kind of name is that for a pirate ship? Next!"
"How about ‘the Scarlet Tanager’?" Lita ventured meekly, ducking back as attention shifted to her. "Or not."
" ‘The Scarlet Tanager’? Better, I guess. It’ll do for now, anyway. So. Freighter! Stand by while we beam over your cargo! And don’t anybody try anything funny while your files are scanned! We just want you star charts!"
The freighter crew sat quietly throughout the transfer – which was really all they could do until their engineering staff fixed the engines. The weapons were a loss, true, but the charts? Surely the pirates had much more extensive maps of the area than they. Why would they need the freighter’s limited charts?
"So, can you fix it?"
"I’m not sure, Master Beak. If so, it will take a while. The travelers will need to spend a few days here. Will they mind?"
"They seem to be in a great hurry. The blue one said something about searching for his sister. Is it possible to speed up the repairs?"
"Well, if they don’t mind traveling without their weapon systems or visual communications, I should be able to finish it overnight."
"Do it. I’ll accompany them and fix what I can along the way."
"Beak, you are leaving us?"
"The Great BaNAna prophesized that I would leave the village to aid the primary-colored ones in their quest."
"Beak, the Great BaNAna also prophesized that hydrogen was a good stabilizing gas in combustion engines. It has been wrong before."
"But it says I can’t learn anymore here, that I must complete my training on my own. Besides, I’ve always wanted to be an explorer."
The mechanic stopped his work to peer at the young Jedi. "Beak, are you sure they can be trusted? The yellow one has done nothing but talk of coffee since he entered the village. He could be an agent of the Java Empire."
Beak shook his head. "Or he might just be thirsty. They’re trustworthy, I know it. And I’m going."
"Mommy, lookit, lookit!" The young kiwi pointed up at a red blur darting through the trees. "She flying!"
Iiwi flit through the village, ducking around trees and surveying the differing levels. The place was a dead ringer for an Ewok village if there ever was one, but it was populated entirely by brown kiwi creatures. Taller, with longer necks and feet than Bob’s variety, they seemed to be the only civilized species in the area, and the wood and straw huts, however primitive-looking, did a good job of hiding otherwise space-age technology – though she hadn’t seen any other ships. She looped around the village once more, looking for Bob and Ferdie and noticing the points and stares the natives directed at her. These kiwis couldn’t fly any more than Bob could, she realized – and evidently they weren’t aware that other birds could. The thought made her feel a bit like Action Comics’ Supermouse. Spotting Ferdie, she dove down, alighting on one of the wooden railings.
"Hiya Ferd. What’s the news on our ship?"
"Beak says they can have it ready to fly by tomorrow morning or so, if we don’t mind taking him along to finish some things."
"Sounds fine to me."
"About the flying….You’re making them nervous."
"So….talk to their Elders, don’t keep avoiding their questions, and above all – stop buzzing the village!!!"
"Great. Even in the lost woods there’s a speed limit."
"Computer, open a deep-space communications channel."
"Authorization required for compliance. State your name and rank."
"Captain Squeaks Arcadia."
"Error: target designate is deceased. Authorization denied."
"Computer, open a communications channel to engineering. Authorization: Squeaks Arcadia."
"Error: target designate is deceased. Authorization denied."
Squeaks paused. After hours of door ramming and several failed attempts to hack into the computer system – as well as a ‘shocking’ attempt to hard-wire the terminal – all he had to show for his efforts was a collection of bruises and some singed fur. Out of ideas, he’d begun looking for some sort of back door. And now he thought he’d found one.
"Computer, scan the ship for biodesignate: Arcadia, Squeaks."
"Scan failed. Subject: Arcadia, Squeaks does not exist."
Squeaks smiled. Evidently no one had bothered changing the status of his file – and the computer could only search for ‘living’ targets – targets whose files listed them as alive. The same glitch that had rendered Ferdia invisible to the system’s scanners would now do the same with him. Now he had a back door.
Ferdia just stared.
It was all she could do, gawking up at a ship straight out of the cinematic blockbusters of her childhood. Though much of its paint job was streaked with burnt marks of shots that had been too close for comfort, there were spots where the metal was as polished and shiny as it was for the ship’s maiden flight. And aside from the burns, it seemed perfectly intact. Ferdia stood in front of it in awe.
"Well?" the mole asked, impatience and worry in his voice.
"An x-wing…" she breathed, reaching out as if to a ghost and running her hand along the fuselage just to convince herself it was really there. A series of warbling beeps brought her attention to the top of the fighter. "And an R2 unit, to boot."
"You know of them?" the mole asked appreciatively. "Then you truly are a fan of history."
"And she flies?"
"Yes. I – All that I needed to do was fix her paint job, and she would’ve been completely restored. I was planning on selling her to a collector on a nearby starbase – she’s worth millions, you realize."
"I can only imagine." She climbed a stepladder and peered into the cockpit. The instruments were all there, just as she remembered them from the movies. A helmet and headset even rested on the seat.
"So, she’ll do?"
"Oh, yes. Very nicely." She jumped down, giving the ship a pat before walking back to the mole. Wincing, she plucked a feather from her tail and handed it to him, grimacing as she inspected her remaining tail feathers. "Rate this is going, I’m not gonna have any of these left at the end of the week," she muttered, offering the mole her hand.
He accepted the handshake, smiling sadly and gazing wistfully over her shoulder. "As sorry as I am to part with her, I’m glad I’m giving her to someone like you. You’ve managed to keep that antique weapon of yours in superb condition, and the uniform – well, given how many centuries its seen, I’m sure some tatters would be unavoidable. With your obvious respect for historical objects, I know you’ll take good care of this ship."
Ferdia smiled uncomfortably, remembering her running tally of wrecked squad cars as well as her infamous shoot-outs in San Viano’s historical district. "I’ll do my best," she promised.
Squeaks couldn’t remember the last time he’d so cramped. Wedged into the air duct, he continued to squirm toward the maintenance hatch. "If this were for anyone else, I’d tell them where to cram it," he grumbled. "I hate being cliché."
With all other exists from his room blocked, he had had no other option but to enter the ventilation system – a strategy still taught at the Academy, in spite of the fact that the computer was now programmed to report the presence of any living creature in the system. However, with the computer convinced he was not a living creature, it became a viable option, if not an attractive one.
The vents lead him to the maintenance tunnels, which ran the length of the ship. Dropping into the tunnel, Squeaks took a grateful moment to stretch. Though they carried the risk of an encounter with engineering personnel, he would stay in the tunnels for now. He needed to figure out exactly where on the ship he was, and where he wanted to go. The thought of taking a craft from the shuttle bay was enticing, but the odds were that there were only shuttles in the bay – and a shuttlecraft would be no match for the Ducks’ ship if he were pursued. Perhaps Mallard could be reasoned with….
Drake pressed the comm pad again, listening as the chimes sounded inside the room. Squeaks had had a few hours to calm down and think, and he hoped his old friend saw the situation more clearly now.
Hrph. No answer. He pressed the intercom button. "Hey, Ace, it’s me. What say we sit down and talk like civilized people, eh?"
Still no answer. Odd. Squeaks wasn’t one for the silent treatment. Regardless of how mad at you he got, he’d always have something to say to you, insult or not. "Computer, open the door," he commanded.
Drake entered the room cautiously, half-expecting an ambush. When none came, he looked around the room. The first thing he noticed was the computer terminal – panels were torn out, exposing the computer’s innards. Many of its wires had been cut or spliced together, though the terminal looked burned out. The replicator was a similar mess. And there was no sign of Squeaks. He hit his combadge.
"Drake to Security – Squeaks has escaped!"
Even in the maintenance tunnels, Squeaks heard the alarm sound off. So much for subtlety, then. This would have to be done the hard way.
D’Gal stormed down the corridor, shoving aside all those too slow to get out of his way. Even Galaxia’s Dust Bunny sentries backed away as he approached, allowing him to proceed into the Captain’s study without incident. "Galaxia!"
"Didn’t anyone ever teach you to knock, D’Gal?" she snapped. "You can’t just come barging in here and -"
"And what? Point out how stupid this course of action is? We’ve been orbiting this damned rock for hours! And now you’re sending messages out on open channels! Do you want the Ducks to find us?"
Galaxia leaned forward confidently, steepling her hands on the desk in front of her. "So that’s what this is about? I sent a beacon out on one of the Bagels’ channels to let them know where we were."
"It’s more effective than just wandering around uncharted territory, isn’t it? The Bagels responded a few minutes ago – they’ll be here in a matter of hours. And," she waved dismissively, wanting to ebb the fury in the ebony Ducks’ eyes, "it was a visual signal, so it’s not a trap."
D’Gal leaned across the desk, catching her wrist in a vice-like grip. Surprised, Galaxia’s eyes widened. "It had better not be," D’Gal began, "Because until our systems have been fully repaired, we’re defenseless against the Ducks. I don’t need to remind you what that means."
"Don’t threaten me! I’m your commanding officer!"
D’Gal released her wrist and turned to leave, brushing off his uniform as he did so. "Hrph. I signed onto this crew to figure out what this weapon was, and that’s all. I’ll be damned if I let anyone order me around. Calling you ‘Captain’ is bad enough."
"You heard me. You’re an accomplished spy, I admit, but you couldn’t fight your way out of a paper bag. From now on, all decisions go through me, got it? Or you’ll find yourself in the brig."
"You can’t do that!"
"Can’t I? Whom do you think your crew is more afraid of? I’ve taken ships bigger than this one, remember?"
"This ship is *not* moving until the Bagels get here."
"You’re stubborn, I’ll give you that," D’Gal snorted. "Fine. We’ll stay. But at the first sign of the Ducks, we’re gone. Period. Deal?"
"Deal. Now get out of my study."
D’Gal bowed mockingly before leaving the room. Some people just needed a blade at their throat before they could see the danger of their situation.
"So, Counselor, where do you think Squeaks has gotten to?"
"Why do you ask me, Captain?"
"Because I value your opinion. And moreover, since the computer refuses to locate him, your opinion as an empath and as a psychologist is probably as good of a starting point as we’re going to get."
The redheaded Duck thought for a bit. "Well, given his training and the fact that he’s currently unarmed, I’d say he’d head to Security for a phaser."
"Why would he go to Security? He’s got to know the entire ship is after him," Drake pointed out.
"Exactly. And since we can’t locate him with scanners, we’ll distribute teams throughout the ship. Except for a guard or two, no one’ll be left at Security."
"Good point," Commodore decided. "Drake, take a team to Security, and have the others spread out from there. We’ll find him."
Squeaks dropped into the darkened room, thankful that the ship was on its ‘night’ shift. The dimmed lights and smaller amount of personnel on duty were making things much easier.
Darting to the desk, he began searching its drawers. He needed a weapon, even if he had no desire to use one - and knowing Mallard, Security would be the first place they’d look for him. Which was why he wasn’t in Security. He was in Sickbay.
Finding nothing in the desk, he moved to the storage cabinets across the room. Jackpot! His spare service revolver was still in its holster, and nothing else on the belt had been touched – nightstick, radio, and extra ammunition were all there. As were his badge and wallet, though his uniform was nowhere in sight. Ah well. Disappointing, but otherwise unimportant. He grabbed the gear, then ran back to the ceiling vent.
So much for that. Next stop: Engineering. He needed some access codes.
"So it’s fixed?"
"Well, not completely, but I can fix the rest on the way."
Bob poured himself another cup of coffee. "You’re coming with us?"
"Would you rather I didn’t? The mechanic can have the rest of the ship fixed in a day or so, if you’d rather wait," Beak ventured.
Bob thought about it. "I don’t know. What do you guys think?"
Iiwi looked up from the nest she was making in the straw. "I say let him come. The villagers say he can fight. They say he’s a Jedi."
Beak choked on his drink. "Who told you that?" he sputtered.
Iiwi shrugged. "This little girl. She begged me for a ride and a feather, and in flight told me just about everything about everybody. Like this Java Empire. Based on her description of their insignias, I think they’re the ones that shot us down."
"Iiwi’s a detective even when she’s off duty," Ferdie explained.
"All the same, I’d rather not let news like that out. The Empire’ll hunt me down like the others!"
"Like in the movies," Bob added. "Okay, you can come. Our planet’s really far away – we’ve never even heard of this Empire. You should be safe there."
"That sounds wonderful. But you were looking for someone first, right?"
"Yeah, my sister. But once we find her, we can go home."
"Great! We leave tomorrow, then. Goodnight, travelers."
"….Ferdie, you failed to mention the fact that we have no idea where we are."
"Details, details. How big can space be?"
Bob looked from Ferdie to Iiwi. "He’s never seen ‘Lost in Space’, has he?"
It was the R2 unit’s incessant beeping that woke her, and the firefight in front of her that kept her awake. As different as space was, she could still recognize a burglary in progress. She sped towards the ships, separating her ship’s wings as she drew near.
"Hey! Back off!" She dove at the ship in the lead of the trio of thieves.
The pirate responded as she thought it would – by shooting back at her. Curiously, the other two ships appeared to be drifting behind the leader – and as it turned its attention to the newcomer, the fleeing ship sped away, thankful for the rescue but not foolish enough to stick around.
Ivan pounded his fists as he watched his catch speed off. Their charts hadn’t helped him much – and he hadn’t had a chance to finish grabbing their cargo. Gold-pressed Latinum didn’t sound too impressive to him, but Lita had been very excited in reporting it, so it had to have some value. Well, a lot, actually, judging by how much ordinance she was firing at the meddling little fighter that had interrupted them. He watched the fight bemusedly – the seemingly timid rabbit evidently had some of the killer instinct in her, judging by how she chased the fighter all over the screen. His sign holder was getting into it as well, cheering her on like one would someone playing a video game. Ivan almost felt sorry for the fighter’s pilot.
And then he caught a good look at the fighter as it streaked by on the viewscreen.
"Wait a minute - ! Cease fire, cease fire!" he peered at the screen. "That’s an x-wing!"
"Really?" the sign holder looked at the viewscreen. "Cool! Can we keep it?"
He turned to his long-eared pilot. "Ready the tractor beam."
Ferdia was really enjoying this. The ship handled beautifully – and the R2 made minor adjustments to dodge the phaser bursts, so most of the blasts missed her. Not wanting to press her luck too much, however, she turned to leave as the ship stopped firing at her – only to come to a jarring halt. As the R2 unit chirped in confusion, the ship started sliding backwards.
A tractor beam! It had to be! The Ducks’ had one, so why not this ship? She cursed angrily.
"This isn’t fair!" she punched the communications to the frequency the R2 told her the pirate was operating on. "HEY!! No fair playing dirty!"
Ivan did a double take as the voice came through the speakers. He knew that voice!
"Do you hear me, coward?" the voice repeated. "Fight like a man, or so help me, when I get out of here -"
"-You’ll turn my shuttle bay into a remake of San Viano’s Historical Theater?" he supplied.
"No, I’ll – waitaminute. What’d you say?"
Ivan smirked. Unbelievable. "That’s you, ain’t it, Ferdia?"
A pause. "Ivan? What the hell are you doing out here?"
"Trying my hand at interstellar piracy. How’m I doin’?"
"Hold on a sec – Galaxia brought you out here, didn’t she? You were the three ships that came out of her ship!"
"Uh, yeah. Can’t figure it out. She drags me outta bed and then gets me blasted to God-knows-where, all without explaining exactly what she wants me to do. I think I prefer run-of-the-mill street crime. At least with the Black Market, I know where I am. How’d you get out here? And how’d you get that ship?"
"Do I detect a hint of envy there? I got it for a song. Well, a tailfeather, actually."
"A feather? You got that ship for a feather?"
"I’ll bet, detective. So, um….you have any idea where we are?"
"In relation to a certain space station, yes. In relation to home, no. And judging from your charts, you don’t know, either."
Ivan scowled at Lita. "Next time we’re scanned, tell me."
Ferdia listened to the exchange with more than a little amusement. She felt her ship’s backward motion cease, and the R2 informed her that the tractor beam had been disengaged.
"Say, detective….since neither of us knows where we are, but we’re both lookin’ for the same thing, how about we, uh…."
"Team up?" she supplied. "Fine, but no more piracy."
"I was only after their star charts!"
"All units to the shuttle bay! He’s here!" the ensign shouted over the din, ducking phaser blasts and trying to get a bead on the mouse himself.
Squeaks dove behind a shuttle, thankful for the phasers he’d found in engineering. True, most either needed a new power source or some minor repairs, but their stun settings all worked, thankfully. The shuttle bay crew had discovered him a little too quickly. And while that spoke well of their training, it was making his life rather difficult.
Slapping a small device onto the shuttle’s side, he loosed a quick burst of cover fire and dashed for the next shuttle. Fortunately, the bay only had four shuttles at the moment. Unfortunately, the entire security force – as well as most of the ship’s officers – was about to converge on the bay. Which was going to make things, well, complicated.
"Come on, we’ve got him now!" Drake yelled, racing ahead of the trailing detail. He was tiring of his old friend’s antics. If Squeaks was having such a hard time realizing the crew was only trying to help him, then he had definitely been on that savage little planet too long. They should’ve had the Counselor speak with him. And they would – right after they got him back in custody. "Phasers on stun!"
Squeaks skidded to a halt as the bay’s doors bay slid open, scrambling for cover as dozens of phasers opened fire as the detail spilled into the room. He dove for the nearest shuttle, rolling out of sight and glancing in the direction of the launch control room. Somehow, he had to get there.
He darted for the next shuttle, dodging a renewed volley of phaser fire and returning fire as best he could. He dove as he drew closer to it, rolling behind it and pausing for breath. The phaser blasts around him reminded him of a particular endeavor he and Ferdia had fought their way through a few weeks ago. It had been a raid on a particularly nasty weapons ring, whose members fell back to their warehouse storerooms when confronted. The resulting shootout had ended with yet another squad car a twisted rendition of Swiss cheese and fifteen of San Viano’s finest in the hospital. Walking out of the burning warehouse bloody and singed but triumphantly dragging the cuffed ringleader, Ferdia had jokingly called it ‘just another gunfight at the O.K. Corral’ – and though he knew the Ducks’ phasers were probably set to stun and therefore not nearly as lethal as the thousands of bullets loosed in the raid, Squeaks felt he was in the middle of it again.
Wait. Bullets. That gave him an idea. He looked up at the bay’s ceiling, then at its walls. Sheet metal – or, rather, a comparable substance. Excellent. Most of the Ducks had no experience with projectile weapons – and even those that did regarded them as incredibly fearful, dangerous gadgets. And he was counting on that fear to give him the diversion he needed. He pulled his revolver and fired a single shot at a corner
The gun’s discharge was much louder than the phasers’ blasts, and he heard a few gasps – followed by shouts as the bullet ricocheted off the corner and around the bay. Predictably, the Ducks dove for cover to avoid being hit by such a deadly – and to them, unpredictable – missile. Knowing the bullet was too high to hit anyone, Squeaks took the precious seconds the diversion bought him to run to the control room and bar the door.
The bullet zigzagged madly across the room for a few seconds before embedding itself in an unguarded mechanic’s diagnostic console, sending out a shower of sparks. Looking up from their hiding places, the Ducks took aim at the shuttle again –but did not fire. Believing he was still behind the shuttle, Drake took on the role of negotiator, trying to coax his friend into surrender.
It was almost comical, Squeaks thought, taking out the datapad he’d gotten in Engineering and entering a series of codes into the computer. Just as it was almost sad that he had to do this. Tragic, really. The bay doors began to open, revealing a field of unfamiliar stars streaking by. Careful to keep the shield that held the ship’s air in engaged, Squeaks typed in another code, and all four shuttles’ engines began to whine.
Drake stopped in mid-sentence as the shuttles hummed to life. No! Squeaks must have somehow gained the access codes to the shuttles and was planning on setting out in them! But the ship was still traveling at warp eight! Any shuttle attempting to leave the ship would be crushed!
"Aim for their engines," he instructed his team, "all of them. There’s no telling if he darted into another ship after firing at us. But be careful!"
The crewmen complied, concentrating their fire on the shuttle in front of them but firing on the other three as well as all four rose a few inches front the floor and began inching forward. A few shots went astray, hitting the sides of the ships and sending sparks flying.
Realizing Squeaks had not engaged the ships’ shields, Drake started to repeat his word of caution – and then the far right ship suffered a critical blow to its underbelly, exploding and plowing into the side wall as it crashed to the floor. He saw one of the younger ensigns cringe.
"Don’t worry about that one, it was too far away to be the one he’s in," he reassured him, "Maybe now he’ll realize we mean business, eh?"
Hunched down in the control room, Squeaks heard the exchange and shook his head, smiling. All other things aside, his old friend had become quite a leader since the academy. He’d captain a ship like this one some day. For now, however, he had to think of Drake as an enemy. Increasing the shuttles’ speed, he pressed a button on the control panel and listened to the shocked cries as another shuttle exploded.
At least the jury-rigged detonators were working.
Drake watched as another shuttle crashed to the floor. A third was starting to flounder, one engine smoking. "Hold your fire!" he yelled to the others.
Suddenly the remaining shuttles’ engines glowed brighter. Realizing they were about to launch, Drake jumped up and ran after them, trying to flag them back.
"Wait!!! Ace, the ship’s still in warp, you’ll never make-"
His words were drowned out as the shuttles sprang toward the opening. The lead ship flew out first; the force of the warp speed slammed into it like a freight train, crumpling the bow and flipping it sideways into the limping shuttle just exiting the bay as it exploded. The crash rammed the ships into the side bay opening, prompting another explosion and sending the crumpled, burning wreckage skidding back into the bay.
The Ducks watched it burn in shocked silence, not wanting to believe their eyes. Many of them had known Squeaks in his academy days; the others had all listened to the stories of his exploits. All felt numbed by this last, ill-fated, desperate act.
Squeaks watched the explosion as he climbed back into the air ducts. An impressive display of pyrotechnics, if he did say so himself. And now the ship-wide search for him would cease.
He felt sorry for Drake, though. The Duck stood, stunned, in the middle of the bay, looking for all the world like he’d been shot.
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