Phantom Days: Reporting For Duty
Phantom Days - Reporting For Duty - 10 Monday the 3rd of May, 2376 AD. Stardate: 53943.1
Alexander Harris passed through the airlock and hit traffic. Uniformed officers were hauling bags, cases and equipment past each other in the narrow passageway of the small Starfleet spacecraft that was the U.S.S. Phantom
. He’d only ever seen the cramped ship with a skeleton crew and now the joint was heaving. It took him by surprise. He looked back to find his team, but only managed to locate Anya some distance behind before he was propelled into the stream of crewmembers heading for the front of the ship.
Xander found himself being cattled through the jammed corridors like a milk cow and had to stop to cradle his pounding skull. He didn’t stay that way for long. Closing his eyes for even a second set the world spinning around him and turned his stomach in on itself. He held in a barf and threw his sack down against the wall to wait for the others. There were a few complaints but the masses soon cut a fresh path around him. He dropped his new Starfleet-issue uniform case to the carpet and spotted Anya working toward him. She looked as ill as he felt and he remembered how bad everyone had been on waking up early that morning...
Xander had opened the apartment door to find Lieutenant Kimberly Clegg leaning on the wall outside with her face in her hand.
She’d heard the door and composed herself quickly. A chunky case hung from her shoulder and she was already in uniform – the black bodysuit with grey shoulders. But something was new. Her turtle-necked undershirt was neither red, yellow nor blue, but was black. Xander wondered if, somehow, she’d chosen her own colour – her favourite colour. He didn’t know any department with a black shirt. Then he remembered that Paranormal Research was a new department. But, still, it suited her, he thought. Black uniform, black hair, black nails.
She was obviously hung over, but her smile was as bright as ever. “Morning.”
“You feel like hell too?” Willow had asked her.
Kimberly rolled her eyes. “I’ll feel better after a hypo. What a night, ay?”
“I think I got a little giddy,” said Will. “Did…I…set an alien on fire?”
That startled Xander. “You mean that really happened?”
“Oh, it happened.” Kimberly bit her lip.
“Do you think he’s all right?” asked the witch.
“I did some checking with the medical facilities a few minutes ago and no Nausicaans have been treated. I think you just frazzled his hair.”
“Are we gonna get in trouble?” she asked.
Clegg failed to hide a guilty smile. “I think we got away with it.”
“Well I had a good time,” declared Anya. “There are gaps in my memory, and I feel like crap, and I have a gourd full of helium monkeys for a head. But the parts I remember were fun.”
“It wasn’t fun when you threw-up in the car,” Xander pointed out.
She chewed her lip. “That must be one of the gaps.”
Xander remarked to Clegg; “I bet it didn’t go down with your ex as well as it came up.”
She sighed. “I don’t think he’ll be giving me another lift anytime soon.” * * *
Willow struggled her way onto the Phantom with a sack over one shoulder, a new case over the other, and a potted plant in her hands. She hoped its delicate stems were safe in the path of barging shoulders. There was something exciting about the whole mood of the Phantom now, she thought. On their last trip it was empty and glum but now it seemed so vibrant and alive. It made her feel great. A little seasick, but great. The journey here had all but alleviated her fears of working with a new crew…
Kimberly had walked them through the Academy grounds to the spaceport.
Groups of people had turned their heads as the word spread down the line. Willow could just imagine what they were saying.
They were here – right among them – in the flesh! The Spooky Group!
All the years of secret slayage and now they were famous for it. They didn’t just represent something heroic to these people; they represented a world of myth and magic.
Students were all over the campus and, all along their path, the crowds stopped and stared after them, whispering amongst themselves. Willow felt like a rock star.
A young man sprang up behind them, his awkward glances back suggesting he’d been egged-on by his friends. “Hey, could I take a picture with you guys? That is, if it’s alright?”
Willow had been more than happy to oblige.
“We got fans,” Xander said as the student skipped away.
“I feel like a short Jewish Elizabeth Montgomery,” said Willow with a glow in her eyes.
“I always wanted to be famous,” Anya revealed. “Do people always do that when you’re famous? Come up to you in the street and bother you with signature and photograph requests? I think that could become annoying.”
But Willow didn’t think so. She was a famous witch. Once, back in her own world, she had almost been burned at the stake for it and now she was a hero. People actually looked up to her and wanted to be around her for what she was, no secrets. Kimberly certainly loved being in their company, and being seen with them. Will got a buzz from that too…
She shuffled through the Phantom with the plant in her face until a ‘Hey, Will’ turned her around and she found her two co-Scoobs huddled against the wall. She thought she could hear a girl shouting out room numbers somewhere down the hall.
“Where’s Kimberly?” she asked them.
They shook their heads and looked back but there was no sign of her. It was very busy.
The spaceport had been busy. Lots of young recruits were leaving for their first assignments off-world, and many were transferring to new posts. A few were visitors heading back to wherever it was they came from. There were a number of Starfleet officers boarding with them on their transport, which was a boost for Xander. It wasn’t just him that preferred to take a practical nuts-and-bolts approach to travel.
They’d had a pleasant surprise, though, when Giles had turned up to join them on the shuttlebus ride to Spacedock.
His tweed had finally been put to rest in favour of more up-to-date gentleman’s attire. He looked futuristic, yet still dignified in a 24th century business suit. He’d travelled with them to the shuttlepod dock where they said their goodbyes, as the three of them prepared to move to their new home onboard the Phantom. Willow felt a pang of jealousy that Giles was already confidently travelling around without a chaperone.
“It’s really quite easy to get around,” he’d been saying. “They have anti-gravity trams that fly about like hovercraft.” He’d snorted like an excited schoolboy for a brief second, then recovered himself. “Well… I’ve been getting settled in. They’ve appointed me a nice little place in Westwood Park, and Beverly…Doctor Crusher… has been helping me to acclimatise.”
Willow and Xander shared a secret look. Old Ripper and ‘Beverly’ seemed to be getting along.
“And Captain Picard, of course,” added Giles. “I’m having a meeting with him shortly, as a matter of fact. But, well… couldn’t let you go without seeing you off.”
“How’re you and Spike getting on?” teased Xander. “Enjoying afternoon tea together? Eating crumpets and finishing each other’s sentences – just like the good old days?”
Rupert’s face soured. “Hardly likely. Honestly, it’s like living with an anarchistic malcontent.”
“Giles, it is living with an anarchistic malcontent,” Xander pointed out.
“…Yes,” he agreed. “And trying to convince him to allow the Paranormal Research Department the chance to study him is proving difficult.”
“Guys, the last transport’s ready to leave,” Kimberly informed them. “It was good to meet you, Mr Giles.” She headed off to check them in.
“We better go, Giles,” said Will. “If we’re late we’ll get in trouble. The new captain’s strict.”
“Strictly strict,” Xander added. “In the strictest sense of the word strict.”
He nodded regretfully. “Well… I suppose this is goodbye for now.”
“Hopefully not for too long,” Willow bemoaned.
Giles agreed. Will gave him a hug, Xander a dignified hand shake, and they wished each other well.
Then it was Anya’s turn. She gave him a wave. He supposed that was worth a hug in anyone else’s book.
“Aren’t you going to tell us to take care?” she asked.
He smiled at her. “I expect you to regardless of what I say. But please do take care. We’re still no better prepared for what awaits you out there. And now you have a crew that hasn’t faced it before. Take care of yourselves, and take care of them
“We’ll show them how we roll.” Xander assured him as they left.
Giles watched them depart. Within, he was somewhat glad to be keeping his feet safe on solid ground for a while.
Once their pod was away, unknown to his friends, a man in black approached Giles from the shadows of the orbital facility.
“Rupert Giles? Thank you for meeting with me. My name is Frederick Breznahan, Director of Temporal Investigations.”
Giles looked the stranger in the eyes. The man was a little older than him and was grey-haired, calm and strong. He reminded Giles of Terence Stamp.
“You’ll be pleased to know that Agent Hellström’s request has been authorised. Picard awaits us, and I’ve just received word that the Vulcan representative has arrived. He’ll meet us in the Admiral’s office presently. We’ve asked you along as we’d appreciate your input in planning the forthcoming operation.”
Ripper gave him a nod. “Of course.”* * *
Lieutenant Clegg found her three seasick advisors grouped against the Phantom’s bulkhead and she rallied them to load up their luggage and pulled them through the crowd until they reached a female yeoman tasked with directing people to where they needed to be.
Kimberly gave their names and examined the yeoman’s computer PADD. She turned to Will. “Guess what – looks like we’re gunna be roomies.”
Willow couldn’t believe her luck.
Clegg showed Xander & Anya to their room, number 23, where she handed them a data chip of yesterday’s photos. She apologised for them not being holo-images and told them they were on duty at eleven-hundred hours and to report to deck four, section two, the new PRD lab.
Xander looked once again at the unwelcome sight of the infamous bunk beds and the less-than-ambassadorial pint-sized accommodation.
Willow followed Clegg a short way down the hall to their room on the other side of the corridor. Room 18.
“I meant to ask,” said Kimberly as they dropped their gear in their new quarters. “You have a plant. …Why?” She wasn’t sure where it was gonna live.
Will peered from behind the big green leaves. “Oh, witches draw their strength from the earth – from nature. So… I figured it can’t hurt to have a bit of earth and nature with me.”
“‘Kay then.” Clegg approved. They could find a spot for it somewhere. “You top or bottom?”
She stammered back, “I’m…I…I like to think I’m versatile… Oh,” she saw the bunks and blushed. “I mean… y’know…either is fine.” Her roommate didn’t seem to pick up on her little faux pas.
“Mind if I take the bottom?”
Will smiled and shook her head. She didn’t mind at all.* * *
Laine, in his yellow security uniform, a huge kit bag slung behind his shoulder, pushed his way through the tight corridors, giving his apologies to those who took head shots from his pack. It didn’t help things having people doing finishing repairs to the ship along the way.
Something tiny passed beneath his bag and he spun to see the little Ferengi in his own yellow-shirt uniform. Nog looked back at him.
“I suppose this ship is spacious to you,” teased Laine.
The Ferengi scowled. “You must be pretty jealous,” he fired back, stretching his arms across the corridor before moving on.
Laine chuckled to himself and pushed through to the yeoman with the PADD.
It didn’t take much for her to notice him. “Name?”
“Laine. Lieutenant Commander.”
“You’re assigned quarters are… room thirty-eight, section four.”
That was the ass-end of the ship and they were now almost at the bow.
She looked back at the mass of bodies writhing through the tight passageway as far as the eye could see and then seemed to study his rather considerable size. “You might be better boarding from the aft walkway.”
He thought about getting off the ship and making the walk. He didn’t much like the idea. Certainly not while hung over. “Where’s the nearest transporter room?”* * *
The heavy metal door to the rear right of the bridge slid open and Captain Rayner stepped onto his new command deck.
It was the smallest bridge he’d ever seen. It had a darkness to it that was ominous and moody and the décor of the carpet and seats, like most areas of the Phantom, were in purple tones. His chair was on a raised platform in the centre of the room with controls on either side. Ahead was the solo pilot’s station. To the left – Science/Comm, and Ops. To the right – PRD, and Engineering. His new pilot was already at her post; a young blonde Icelandic transfer from Enterprise named Lori Gunnlaugsdóttir. His Chief Engineer, also new, was at his bridge station getting it set up how he liked.
Commander Joshua Carver turned to head for main engineering when he saw the captain in the doorway. “Morning, sir.”
Rayner gave him a sour nod of acknowledgement. “Status?”
“Almost everything’s powered up and operating at full specs, Captain. Just minor issues.”
“What kind of issues?”
“Um…The new internal forcefield generators are still unresponsive but we’ve isolated the problem. I’ve got a team on it now. There was some trouble with one of the brig doors, and a food replicator that wouldn’t replicate. Little things like that.”
“Little problems like that get a lot bigger when we need them to work,” Rayner pointed out.
“Yes, sir,” answered Carver. He tried to find a positive note to end on. “Oh, and the new tactical station is up and running.”
Rayner glanced to the left where a new work terminal that matched the design of the helm had been set up behind the command chair. It was the only standing position on the bridge. With PRD in the old tactical position, and with his security chief’s size making it difficult to fit in the small seats, it had been necessary to come up with a new station for tactical and defence.
When Rayner turned back to him with a blank expression, Carver smiled awkwardly and excused himself. “I should get back to engineering and see everything’s ready for the launch.”
“The turbolift sticks,” complained the captain.
“I think they replaced it after the last one was destroyed,” Carver explained.
“Couldn’t they replace it with one that works?”
The engineer pondered. “It’s probably just the new buffers on the safety clamps that need a little shaving off.” But that was a hell of a dirty time-consuming job.
“See to it.”
Carver sighed inwardly. “Yes, sir.”
Captain Rayner spotted his Vulcan number two at the science station and called him onto his readyroom.
Carver watched them leave the bridge. “Okay, so, I heard he was crabby, but…”* * *
Commander Varik was a tall 94-year-old Vulcan with the face of a man a third his age. His skin bore a dark complexion – his features reminiscent of Earth’s Indian ancestry and his hair was longer, dark and wavy. Not the usual flat Vulcan peak. He also had what Xander would later refer to as ‘designer stubble’. Varik, as a science officer, wore the blue shirt under his black and grey uniform.
Javen Rayner dropped into the chair behind his new desk and eyed his executive officer.
After a beat, Varik observed; “You wish to know why I failed to attend the gathering yesterday evening.”
That wasn’t the case, but now that he mentioned it; “Yeah, why didn’t you grace us?”
“Waste of time,” the Vulcan said bluntly. “Captain, I will become familiar with the crew as I work alongside them. Devoting an entire evening of my time in an attempt to form immediate associations in such a ‘bonding’ exercise would have been a misuse of energies.”
“That’s what I figured,” nodded Rayner. His manor was much more relaxed with Varik than with other members of his crew. “You spent the night plucking the lint from your uniforms again didn’t you?”
One of his angled brows went up.
Rayner moved on to the serious issue of why he asked to speak with him. He needed to gauge Varik’s opinion of the situation he was in to get a clear picture of his first officer’s headspace. “So, you’ve read the reports. …What do you think about this round-up operation?”
Varik took a very Vulcan moment to consider his response. “May I ask a question?” His friend gave him the floor and he continued; “Why did you insist upon my assignment to this vessel? Your mission is to capture supernatural beings. Beings that, logically, should not exist. I am a man of science, Captain. My presence on this mission would seem counterproductive.”
He squinted at the Vulcan. “Are you pissed because you would’ve taken command of the Marriot?”
He didn’t grace the joke with a response.
“Look, Varik, you’re exactly what I need as a First Officer, just like always. Your scientific approach, your unbiased sense of reason. Because some of this crew – especially in the PRD – are going to be jumping all over everything we come across like it’s the boogieman when most of what we encounter will likely be explainable using scientific methods. I need a man at my side I can trust. And I need the cold hard eye of a Vulcan.”
Varik seemed satisfied with that. “Then, Captain, it is fortunate that I have two.”* * *
Doctor Pushpinder Singh, a man with high combed-back hair and a dignified and manly moustache gracing his upper lip, had been alone in sickbay for 2 hours by the time 9am came around. He’d gone about his usual start-up routine, setting all the parameters for the medical instruments and calibrating the tricorders. He’d just finished arranging all the medical staff’s shift rotations on the system and was ready to send the assignments to his nursing teams. He stopped at that point and asked the computer for a hot strong coffee.
With a steaming mug in his hand, he surveyed his new workplace, pleased with how well his preperations had gone. It was thanks to Beverly Crusher of course; who had left things much tidier than most of his predecessors tended to.
Singh had spent most of the time organising his staff the way he believed was best – 2 shifts on 12-hour days each, so that more medics were on duty when emergencies happened. He found it the most sensible way to work, especially on the Phantom with a mission statement such as it had. That way, he could lead one shift while his co-Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Galeia, could take charge of the other. Technically, Galeia was the CMO and Singh just the assistant CMO, but it was just a technicality, no doubt to avoid the possibility of two doctors having a clash of egos and not being able to compromise or make collective decisions. Singh did wonder why the young Doctor Galeia had managed to get the top billing when Singh had been in medicine for almost 35 years and a CMO for most of them.
He began carefully tilting the hot drink toward his mouth when the door swished open, startling him. His coffee rolled up and burned his lip.
A young man of 32 years, his hair short and blond, his face handsome with the nose ridges of a Bajoran, marched into the room with an over-bearing air of confidence, clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “Okay, lets start setting these computers up.”
Singh fingered his sore lip and weighed-up the young stallion. From the blue uniform and the pips on his collar, it seemed he was looking at Doctor Galeia Yanek.
Singh couldn’t believe he was turning up half an hour before departure and expecting to do what he himself had spent 2 hours doing. Start setting the computers up
“I already did that,” Singh informed him politely. “It didn’t take long, Dr Crusher ran a very organised facility.”
“Well, we’ll have to do it again, won’t we,” said Galeia, waving a data chip in Singh’s face. “It’s a new calibration matrix designed by Dr Harbacher – he’s a medical systems genius. This little beauty’s gonna increase program efficiency by two-and-a-half percent and free up at least a quad of memory.”
Singh opened his mouth but Galeia had already moved off before he could respond.
The younger Doctor checked the screens Singh had been working on and saw his shift assignments. “Did you send these out already?”
“I was about to,” answered the older man. “It seemed a little rude somehow not to at least let you look them over first.”
“Good,” he said, not letting Singh’s subtle insinuation that he was above Galeia effect the strength of his response. “‘Cos we’ll be using the standard three-shift rotation.”
“Oh…” Singh was taken aback. “I…find the two-shift pattern more efficient for emergency care. That way, when heavy casualties come through that door, and we can expect this for sure, we are more equipped–”
“Rotating teams of on-call staff works just fine in emergency situations,” Galeia butted in, “and we won’t have all those extra bodies milling about the place twiddling their thumbs, and-or similar opposable appendages.”
Singh didn’t look too happy. He looked like he was going to protest further.
Galeia took a firmer stand; “Look, it’s a long time since you were a nurse, Singh. Your teams don’t want long hours. They don’t mind being on call. More importantly, we’re not having a debate here. We’re working three shifts.”
Without apology, the young CMO quickly re-arranged Singh’s arrangements and restructured the staff, much to Singh’s disdain.
It was almost half past nine when Galeia got around to checking the crew’s medical files. There were a few members of the crew he needed to have brought in as soon as possible, the Spooky Group being at the top of his list. Crusher had forwarded their updated files but he needed to get their full medical histories. He was intrigued to find that Lieutenant Commander Laine’s file was locked. According to the attached notice, he had to see the captain about getting clearance.
Doctor Galeia Yanek sat back in his chair and wondered what that was all about.* * *
“This’s gonna be murder on my back,” said Laine when he arrived at the bridge to see his new workstation. The tactical terminal behind the command chair was low. Very low. And he was not.
Nog spun his chair around at Ops, marched over to tactical, tapped a button in the top corner of the unit, and marched back.
Laine watched as his console rose up by almost 2 feet until it was at the perfect height for him. They’d really thought this one through. He leaned on the station and gave the grouchy Ferengi a wink.
The captain’s readyroom opened up and Varik returned to his post on the bridge. Rayner appeared in the doorway.
Laine closed his eyes for a moment to find some of the courage he was renowned for, then he stepped over to his new commanding officer and asked to speak with him privately.
The giant man ducked his head under the doorframe into his captain’s office and the door closed behind him.
Laine hadn’t been sure if he would find the nerve to go through with it, knowing Rayner’s reputation, until he had actually opened his mouth and let the words out.
Within a couple of minutes, however, the young officer had told his new captain everything that had happened at The Traveller’s Stronghold in San Francisco’s seedy South of Market district.
Told him that he’d taken their new advisors with him to the city, and told him about the confrontation with the Nausicaans. For a big strong man, he delivered his confession like a timid schoolboy in the principle’s office.
“I expect we could have got away with it, sir,” Laine admitted, “but… I didn’t want to start on a new ship with a new captain by shirking my responsibility as an officer of Starfleet, or by hiding the truth.”
Rayner pulled a PADD out, laid it on his desk, and slid it over to Laine. It was a formal complaint from a bar owner in San Francisco. Damn
. He already knew.
His own words rang in his ear: I expect we could have got away with it
Laine forced himself to look his captain in the eye.
“You were wrong,” said Rayner.
Laine was at a loss for words.
“This is your first time as chief of security.”
“You’re not off to a great start, are you Lieutenant Commander?”
“No.” He retrieved the PADD and considered it briefly. “You’re a commander now, and with that comes command responsibility. Leadership. Setting an example for those beneath you. All attributes you appear to be severely lacking. Quite frankly, if this had been the Marriot, you’d be packing your bags already.”
Laine’s face was burning up like a hot coal.
“And yet,” Rayner decided, “I think I’m going to let this one slide – just this once – because you had the good sense to come to me with this before I had to send out a death squad.” He could see the mix of worry and relief on his security chief’s face. “It does
mean that you’ll owe me a favour. And I will
call it in, believe it.”
“Of course, sir. Thank you.”
“Don’t for a second think I’m soft.”
“Absolutely not, Captain.”
Rayner eased back in his chair and considered the man before him for a moment. “While you’re here, Mr Laine, I’ve had the chance to look over your personnel file. All of it. Now that I’m fully aware of your situation I can see why you were posted here. I will assume the arrangement you had with your previous captain now applies to me.”
“Then, under no circumstance without my explicit instruction are you to use your ability while on duty. Preferably while off duty also. The fewer people aware of this, the greater our tactical advantage.”
Laine turned to go – to get himself the hell out of there as quickly as possible.
“Wait,” said the captain, turning him around. “I want you to keep both eyes on PRD.”
“Make sure what they’re doing down there doesn’t jeopardise this ship.”
He nodded and, after an awkward beat, Rayner waved him away and he ducked out the room. * * *
When Javen Rayner re-entered the bridge, everyone was in place. Ensign Gunnlaugsdóttir had the helm, with Nog at Ops, Varik on science & communications, and Laine at the tactical platform.
“What’s the time, Lieutenant Nog?”
“Zero nine-hundred thirty hours, Captain.”
“Everyone is onboard, sir.”
“Incoming message from Spacedock, Captain,” Varik reported. “We are cleared to leave at our convenience. That is… at your
“Well, we’d better get going, hadn’t we?” He stood behind the pilot and looked through the viewscreen to the busy observation windows of the space facility. “Get us clear of Spacedock, helm.”
Lori fired up the thrusters and took them out through the huge hanger doors of the orbital garage. “We’re clear, Captain.”
“Ensign – set co-ordinates for Epsilon Ursae.”
“Co-ordinates laid in, sir.”
He gave thought to what they were about to do. He wasn’t a man that tolerated embarrassment and failure well and they were headed for uncomfortably new territory. He also remembered he wasn’t going on this insane mission by choice. He hadn’t been offered the ship. He’d been handed the assignment. In fact, most of the crew were Command-appointed. Not the best condition to work under.
Lori turned to see if he was still there. He’d paused too long and he gave her an accusing look that turned her back to the controls.
“Warp eight.” He sat in his chair. “Go.”* * *
Xander zipped up his new jumpsuit and looked at the mirror. He’d been dying to get a load of himself in the grey and black uniform with the funky new PRD black shirt. He remembered how cool it had been back on Epsilon Ursae-Six when Captain Freeman had let him wear the security uniform.
Fresh from the shower, Xander had opened his new case and lifted the outfit up into the light… and screwed his face. “What the…?”
The whole one-piece suit was grey with a zip from crotch to neck and a thick black stripe that ran across the chest and down both arms. The undershirt was the same as Clegg’s but without rank pips.
Xander scowled at the mirror. “I look like a janitor.”
Anya grumbled her agreement and he turned to see her tight slim hourglass figure being hugged lovingly by the same costume. He looked back at himself. Maybe it was him that didn’t look good on the uniform.* * *
“So much for getting our own uniforms,” Anya said as she came through the doors of PRD with Will and Xander. “What are we supposed to be?”
Kimberly skipped over to them. “Oh, training uniforms. They’ve been modified.”Training uniform?
thought Xander. “Great. I’m wearing a Starfleet diaper.”
Mei-Li was already there at a central computer column. She gave a shy smile and continued her work.
They were in a large room right in the basement of the ship in front of the shuttle deck. It looked fresh. Newly installed. The carpet was deep orange, which stood out from the purple tones in the rest of the ship. The walls and computer terminals were brownish grey, and seated workstations bordered the room on both sides with corridors going off left and right. In the centre of the room was a four-sided column of computer consoles and beyond this was an office at the back of the room. There were replicators and equipment lockers staggered along the walls. Xander figured the whole room must have been prefab and installed onto the ship in less than a day.
He caught a glimpse of an old lady through the office window, then the main doors whooshed apart and he thought he’d gone cross-eyed.
Two vibrant pink lady-creatures stepped into PRD in their Starfleet uniforms.
He was looking at a pair of petite girls with hairless smooth skin and bald heads. The sides of their scalps had a line of soft purple seaweedy nodules – like leafless stems of sea kelp, and fishy eel fin-like material grew out the back of their heads like a partial mohawk. They had an aquatic quality that was exotic and fascinating.
Their faces held sharp features. Large glistening metallic blue eyes, ridge-lines like a tyre track running up the nose and centre of the head back to their finny mohawks, and strange tubular ridge-lined ears. Their otherworldliness aside, they had lips as kissable as any he’d seen. They were odd but attractive, even with their tiny dangly turkey-wattle nodules hanging under their chins and their bright pink flesh.
Harris went slack in the mouth. “…Hi.”
“Hello,” they said together, in exact unison and with perfect harmony.
He eyeballed the pair. “So, wow, you’re pink.”
you?” said Anya.
Xander grimaced. “An, you can’t just keep asking people what they are like that.”
“Why? Is there a better way?”
Willow scanned them with her tricorder just to make sure they weren’t Demons.
“All right, come along now,” came an aged quiet voice from the back of the room.
An old woman bearing a gentle grandmotherly face walked across to them. Her pure white hair looked like it had been styled with rollers. The Starfleeters gathered around her and the Scoobs followed suit. She was one of the crinkle-nosed Bajoran folk, Anya noticed.
“All right then, so, for those who are new to PRD, my name is Commander Merran Araya, head of Starfleet’s Paranormal Research Department. I’m not accustomed to operating onboard a starship, so please bear with me as I find my space legs.” She smiled bashfully. Despite an outwardly timid demeanour, she still held an air of authority. It was something down either to her age or her experience. She continued; “From PRD I’ve brought with me the Taro Twins and Mei-Li here. To our virgin members; Lieutenant Kimberly Clegg and our advisors from the paranormal universe, which we’re calling the Paraverse, …welcome. Now, just to be clear, I won’t be looking over your shoulders or scrutinising your every move. All I ask is that you work hard, do your best and be responsible.”
Xander saw the Fleeters stand straighter. All that was missing were the military salutes.
“The Phantom has been tasked with finding and apprehending any Demonoid life-forms that may have escaped into our galaxy,” explained Commander Merran. “It will be our
job to facilitate this operation – to locate, identify, capture, detain and analyse as many of these creatures as we can lay our hands on. This will be important for two reasons – the safety of the civilian public, and to understand the variety of their species. We’re bound for Epsilon Ursae Six – the last known location of the Demonoid beings, and the captain will surely ask where to start looking. It would be useful if we can offer some guidance in this regard.”
She assigned the twins with that task, and Mei-Li with her original PRD job, starting with the study of data from Merran’s own examination of Baragnos’ corpse and the Electro Demon.
Clegg had been set on as her number two, so Commander Merran assumed she’d done her homework. She charged her with introducing their new advisors to PRD. “I’ll trust you to familiarise them with the department and assign them duties.”
“Now, I have to attend the senior staff briefing,” said the commander, “and Captain Rayner may ask that I take the bridge PRD post for a good deal of the time. So, If I can’t be found here, I’ll likely be at the bridge station. You can contact me there directly.”
She considered their eager young faces with more than a little envy. “I’m sure that, together, we can bring success to this mission, save many lives, and advance the knowledge of our societies and come to understand the paranormal elements we are today faced with. Let’s do good work, kids.” She set off for the top deck. “Take care of my department, Miss Clegg.”
“Of course, ma’am,” replied Kimberly with her usual cheeriness.
“Not a bad old bird,” commented Xander when the old girl had gone. He looked to the odd assortment of characters around him, noticing he was the only male in a team of eight. He liked those figures. “So, this is the new Slay-Team?”* * *
A set of double doors opened into a room full of glowing machinery. A control station in the centre separated what looked like a transporter from a large stage that shone with white light.
“I guess they heard about your shopping list for the big spell you used at Epsilon,” said Kimberly, “because we’ve got our own cargo-size replicator platform …and a transporter pad for rapid response situations.”Wow
, thought Willow. “They put these in just for us?”
“Pretty special, huh?” said Kimberly.
“Don’t suppose they threw in a hologram room while they were at it?” asked Xander.
Clegg showed them to a single door at the end of the corridor. Inside was a gridded room – like a holodeck, but with hexagonal devices scattered all across the walls.
“Those are specialised sensors built by PRD for detecting spooky stuff that regular scans can’t. It’s like a… paranormal sensor suite.”
Willow felt another wow
coming on. “How does it work?”
Kimberly smiled at her enthusiasm. “I’ll get you a manual.”
She took them back across the main room and down the second corridor. They came to a long hall with four prison cells on either side. “Demon brig. This’s where we’ll cage the monsters.”
Willow studied the control panel at the entrance to the cells. “They’re fitted with the… alternating frequency shields?”
Clegg nodded. “All the cells operate with an adaptive phase-modulated subspace isolation field, yes.” It was the only known way to contain supernatural energy.
“I was just gonna ask about that,” lied Xander.
“If it’s any relief, we’re just calling it a para-field.”
“Phew,” he replied with relief.
“I have a question,” Anya said. “We’ve been wondering… What did
happen to all the Demons rounded up after our big space battle? So far they haven’t told us much.”
“They’re being held in an underground detainment facility at PRD HQ.
Will, Xander and Anya shared a knowing look of doom. It was the Initiative all over again.
“It’s just until, y’know, we figure out what to do with them,” explained Kimberly. “We don’t know how dangerous they are until we know what
“For public safety and study, right?” said a cynical Xander.
“Well,” said Anya, “there’s
an apocalypse waiting to happen.”
Clegg frowned at them.
“It’ll never work,” Willow warned her. “It’s been tried before.”
The young Starfleet officer considered. “Let’s hope it’s different this time.”
Back in the main room, Clegg showed them the eight stations around the outer walls of the room – four to each side of the main doors. Each was linked to a cell in the brig. Any creatures they captured could be studied and kept an eye on at all times.
Then she showed them the tall four-sided central column. Each side had a desk of buttons and a data screen with an overhead monitor angled down at them.
“This is where we’ll be building up our X-Files and analysing data of supernatural importance,” she informed them. “Any beasties we pick up go into a database that we can access on these hand units during away missions.” From one of the control stations, she removed a device similar to a data PADD, but smaller and with a handgrip. “That way, if we encounter the same species again, we’ll be prepared.” Clegg looked the workstation up and down thoughtfully. “The database is a little… empty at the moment.”
If only they could fill it with all the knowledge in Giles’ and her own books from back home in the ‘paraverse’, considered Willow.
Mei-Li was still operating at one of the database stations.
“I suppose I should introduce you properly,” realised Kimberly. “You’ve already met Ensign Hua,” she said, pointing to Mei-Li.
“The Asian sensation?” said Xander. “Sure.”
Mei smiled at that.
“They…are the Taro twins,” Kimberly went on, pointing across to the pink sisters. “Their names are a little…difficult to remember.”
Willow asked; “Where are they from?”
“Aquiinari. It’s a water planet forty light-years from Earth.”
“That sounds far,” said Will.
“It’s not so bad.”
“So,” Xander rubbed his hands together. “What are we meant to do here?”
“Well,” replied Clegg. “…Advise, I guess.”* * *
Xander was soon facing a screen flanked by the twins. On the screen, he was told, was the Epsilon Ursae region of space. When he asked why that was important, they shook their heads as one. The twin on his right pointed a frog-toe finger, of which she had three, to a small ball of rock in the middle of the screen.
They both explained in their synchronised euphonious way; “This
is where the Klingon warship crashed and you overcame the commander of the Demon army.”
He was stunned. How the hell did one know what the other was going to say, let alone say it at exactly the same time with exactly the same intonation? “Oh. That place.”
They showed him where the Vulcan monastery had been and generated a radius showing the amount of ground the escaped Demons might have covered. It was a lot of ground, with very little actual ground to stand on.
“Any ideas?” they asked him.
It amazed him that they looked so alien yet sounded so human. “They like to lay low,” he explained about Demons. Then he reconsidered. “But…they did hit a few of your space stations. ‘Course, they were under the thrall of the Prince of Darkness Junior at the time. Couldn’t hurt to check in with any outposts nearby.”
They began scanning for outposts within the radius.
Xander eyeballed the girls. “You ladies are from a water planet, I hear,” he said in his smooth voice. “That, like, a planet totally made of water?”
“No.” they said in amusement.
“Seriously?” scoffed the one on his left, which surprised him.
“It’s much like Earth,” said the other.
“Only one-hundred percent surface water,” they finished together.
“All the land is submerged under the Great Ocean,” said the one to his right.
“Waterworld, huh? Kevin Costner could have used that place. Probably would’ve been cheaper to fly to another planet.”
“It’s beautiful,” she mused dreamily.
He puzzled over how beautiful a big wet planet could be.
The one on his left, the one with attitude, could see his doubt.
The kinder one seemed to pick up on something on her sister’s face. She turned to him and smiled. Her metallic eyes were glowing. “You have to see the rainbow kelp forests of the Great Southern Deep.”
“And the floating cities of Suunomey,” recalled the other.
They both tried to convey the image to him; “Glass cities half submerged in the waters, with their giant domes shining in the light of three distant suns.”
That did sound pretty cool. “So, you can’t actually live under water?”
“Of course we can,” said the one on his left.
“There are bigger animals than us in our ocean,” explained the other.
“We’re not exactly top of the food chain back home,” said the tough one.
“We didn’t grow up in the cities, though,” her sister pointed out.
“You guys must be pretty toned, then. With all the swimming.” He got a shock when the kind one gave him a slap across his chest. He might have expected it from the other one. She apologised immediately, looking rather embarrassed.
“No problem,” he assured her. “Sometimes I could do with a good slap from a wet fish.”
The one on his left shook her head and went back to work. The other giggled and returned to the job.
Xander’s gaze wandered over to the central database column where Anya worked with Mei-Li. But Anya wasn’t paying attention to the work. She was giving him the sternest glare he’d ever encountered. He realised the central column wasn’t that far away. Certainly close enough to hear his smooth voice.
The tough twin gave him a nudge and he spun back red-faced.
They regarded him quizzically. “Are you all right?” they asked.
“Your face is changing colour,” said the gentle slapper twin.
“He’s starting to look like us,” said the other.
“He’s all blushy,” Anya cut in. “He’s attracted to you.”
“What?” Xander choked. “No I’m not. You’re nice and everything…very neon… you’d fit right in in Vegas. But…as you can see,” he whispered, “I’ve already got my hands full.”
Mei-Li said something and Anya returned to the screens. She wouldn’t have to worry about him using his smooth voice anymore at least.
“It was a carbon-based creature. That much we know that for sure. Though, every humanoid life form is basically carbon-based.”
“Huh?” said Anya. “What are we looking at?”
Mei pointed to the top monitor. “Baragnos the Mutilator. His bio-readings, bloodwork, and autopsy report.” She pointed to the lower screen. “And the energy pattern generated by the electrical entity.”
That stuff meant very little to Anya.
“We need a scanning method more accurate than this,” said Mei. “Something that can filter out species, and distinguish between a corpse and the animated dead. Also, a way of detecting Demon weaponry. We need more energy readings.”
“We need more Demons,” concluded Anya.
Mei brought up a new screen. “Maybe you can I.D some of the ones we already have in custody.”
Anya looked over the many panels on the monitor. “Mug shots?” There were quite a few on display. She put a finger on one large bumpy specimen. “I might have made out with one of those at a party once.”
“Can you remember the species or the particular genus?”
“It was a long time ago.”
“It can’t be more than a few years. You’re sure you don’t remember?”
“A few years? Yeah, try a few hundred.” Oops
. No one here knew she was a former Demon. “Um… because of the year two-thousand… being three-hundred and seventy-six years ago. It’s time travel humour.” Move on
… “What else you got?”
Another page loaded up and Anya’s finger found another freakish man-beast. “Oh, those guys. They’re old. They’re supposed to be extinct, actually.”
“What can you tell us about them? Anything useful?”
“I heard they liked feet. Collected them or something. The only ones safe back then were the fish. …And snakes. …And worms. …Snails. …Slugs. And I don’t think they were ever house-trained.”
“That’s not very useful,” said Mei.
“I’d like to see anyone else here do any better. …Ooh! Vampire!” It was a picture of Spike.
“Yes,” said Mei with a subtle sigh of defeat. “We know.”* * *
A tricorder danced gracefully around the paranormal sensor suite.
Willow focused her mind and used her hand to guide the object.
She was having trouble coming up with new tricks. She’d done the fire conjuring, and blew out one of the sensor clusters with a deslavo blast. But she couldn’t think of anything else. Man, she was out of practice. She needed her spell books. The subtle hangover headache didn’t make it any easier.
“What about Betazoids?” Will asked. “They have psychic abilities, right?”
“They have a paracortex area of the brain,” explained Kimberly. “It uses a chemical called psilosynine as a neurotransmitter to create their psionic ability.” She examined the readings on her interface unit. “At least we can measure that. I’m thinking…a zero-point energy field.” She changed some of the sensor settings.
“That’s theoretical science.”
“And you’re a mythical witch.”
“Geneticists on Darwin station created children with telekinetic ability,” said Kimberly. “But you somehow acquired it through becoming one with the natural forces of the mother goddess of Wicca. It’s like your abilities come from nowhere. You can generate enormous power, possibly from another dimension, from your Wiccan Goddess. Or
…by harnessing and converting natural stored energy around you? There’s gotta be some science behind it.”
“Would you believe I’ve met the Goddess?” said Will.
“Don’t doubt it. But maybe she’s an entity that was once like us and evolved into something greater. Like Q.”
“Long story. I hope you never have to find out. My point is, our technology is like magic to the less advanced.”
“I know what you’re saying. That magic might just be an advanced system of science, right? But… I’m pretty sure it’s just… magic.” She floated the tricorder back into her hand. “This one time, Buffy’s ex – a good Vampire – totally lost his soul and turned evil and I got it back for him with a crystal ball and an ancient Romany spell. Just a glass ball and the right words – no science. …I would’ve saved the day, too, if Buffy hadn’t already skewered him and sent him to Hell.”
Kimberly looked up from her interface unit.
“And this other time, I closed a Hellmouth with an orapherical conversion spell that I created myself. Oh, and I channelled the spirits of Gods and made an evil spooky mastermind corporeal so Buffy could teach it pain.”
“Didn’t he turn into a fire-breathing dragon or something?” said Clegg.
“Yeah,” Will remembered Xander’s description. “That sounded nasty.”
“And didn’t Xander fry it with a phaser?”
“Oh…sure, he helped.” She set the tricorder hovering again.
Kimberly set a new scan parameter. “Okay, basic science. Energy force carriers? Poins, photons, gravitons?” her readings came up blank. “Maybe a static force creating virtual particles?” Nothing. “Strong interaction? Gluons? Some…kind of…Quantum fluctuation? …Quantum tunnelling!”
“Like a subspace travelling wave?” said Will. “Are those even real?”
“Maybe. If so, it’d be a force measurable in newtons.” She modified the scans again. “That’s not it. …Could dipolar gravity have anything to do with it?” She didn’t know much about that field. “Displacement waves that manipulate gravitons?” She detected no graviton movement. “You know…If your mind does operate on the zero-point energy field, then it could, in theory, create motion in another level of reality.”
Willow flew the tricorder into her holster. “You haven’t got a clue, have you?”
Clegg began to pout. She looked disappointed. “We’re gonna have to rethink this whole thing.”
“So what now?”
Kimberly bit her lip. “Levitate me.”
“C’mon, please. I’ve always dreamed of flying. Levitate me.”
“We’re in a spaceship,” Will pointed out. “You could just…turn the gravity off, right?”
Kimberly looked at her in earnest. “I wanna defy
Those big blue eyes and that sweet delicate face so full of cuteness. How could Willow hope to resist? “Hold onto your tush.”
A naughty grin sprouted across Clegg’s face. “It’s in your
hands now,” she said of her tush.