'Not one word of the following is true.' - Stephen Fry
'Not one word of the following is true.'
- Stephen Fry
A large spoon banged repeatedly on the conference room table.
'Everybody here?' Euan asked. 'Everybody awake and sober?'
'Um...' Ratbat nodded pointedly to where Leila had fallen asleep again.
Euan donged her on the head with his spoon. 'Come on, wake up.'
'Yes, I'd love a coffee,' she said.
Euan sighed and banged the table again. 'People, please! I'd like to bring this staff meeting to order--'
'Beer,' said Nick.
'Beer,' added Jared.
'Leather,' Graham put in.
'Pimms,' Sam said.
'SHUT UP!' Euan shouted.
Despite the giggles from around the table, the assembled staff straightened up and paid a little more attention.
'Right. Item one on the agenda: Minutes from the last monthly staff meeting. Um. Did anybody take minutes at the last meeting?'
'I sort of did,' said Carmen, picking up a padd.
'Thank you, Ms King, please read them.'
Carmen stood up and cleared her throat. '"Minutes of the last monthly staff meeting, held six months ago: Item one: Minutes of previous meeting discussed. It was declared that, since nobody had taken any, Item one should be replaced by Item seven; refreshments. Captain Bowen tried to raise Items two through six and was overruled by the combined medical staff on grounds of being a big smelly party-pooper, and the meeting was adjourned early."' Carmen smiled and sat down.
Euan sighed. 'Do we all agree on the minutes of the last meeting?'
Sam raised a hand. 'I thought he was overruled on grounds of being a pain in the arse.'
'Shut up, Sam,' Euan growled.
There was a boop of the intercom. 'Sam, there's a communication for you here on the bridge. I told them you were in a meeting and they laughed at me. Do you want to come and take it?' Ruth's voice asked.
'Yeah, no worries. Not like anything important is happening here,' Sam said, and walked out of the meeting.
'Why isn't Ruth here?' Euan asked petulantly. 'I did say all senior and otherwise important staff should come.'
Lieutenant Leuning raised her hand. 'I'm here by her proxy, Captain. Ruth said she wasn't coming because these meetings are a farce.'
Euan pouted. 'They wouldn't be a farce if more people would take them seriously.'
'Aye, and we'd take them more seriously if they weren't such a farce,' Ratbat added.
'I move that all future meetings be postponed till they stop being a farce,' Graham said. 'All in favour?'
'AYE!' was the resounding response.
'That's it, Euie, no more meetings. Let's go to the pub.'
Sam sat back down at his console. 'OK, Ruth, what have you got for me?' he asked.
'Well, I've just managed to hack through all the encryptions, so I'll know in a sec...' Her hands danced over the console. 'And the winner is...' A few more beeps and what sounded suspiciously like a circuit board frying. 'It's a top secret message from Starfleet Intelligence.' She looked over at Sam. 'It's from your dad!'
'Right. Um. Yes. He works there. Sometimes. In his roving work capacity. As a cleaner. You know,' Sam covered badly.
'Oh, look really, Sam, if your dad wasn't a spy, why would he use all these fancy encryptions?' Ruth asked. 'You're just grasping at straws now.'
The Compromise crew had long held the view that Sam's dad was a spy. All his protestations to the contrary had met the same good-natured disbelief as Euan's insistence that he'd never had sex with Graham. Even more frustrating was the fact that it was all completely true - Euan really had never had sex with Graham, and Sam's dad really wasn't a spy. His role was more being the manager and co-ordinator of spies. It's like the difference between being an actor and being the director.
'Well, aren't you going to take it?' Ruth said.
'No. Not here. 's top secret, isn't it? What if somebody's put a bug on the bridge?'
Ruth pulled out her phaser. 'Look, I was pretty sure we'd eradicated all the experimental killer cockroaches but if you're worried about it I could--'
'No, it's OK, Ruth. I'll just take this in Euan's ready room.'
She shrugged. 'OK, suit yourself.'
It seemed that Euan had been renewing his efforts to build a Lego robot that could solve a Rubik's Cube, judging by the complicated structure that had been built on the desk in the ready room. Trying hard not to break it, Sam carefully moved the structure aside to get to the comm system. 'Ogborn here, go ahead,' he said.
'Hello, Sam. It's Dad here,' his father said, quite redundantly.
'I know, dad, I can see you. How's things?'
'Not too good, I'm afraid. I know I said I'd try not to do this, but we really need your help.'
Sam sighed. 'Dad, we talked about this last time. I'm not a field agent, I don't like going on field missions, and besides you never paid me for the last one!'
'Sam, it's the 24th century. You don't get paid.' His father's expression was exasperated. 'Look, I'm sending you a dossier of what's happened in the last twelve hours. We've only got a limited time before this Cardassian splinter group executes all our ambassadors to the Tamuli Peace Accords.'
'Yes, and in the alternate reality where I give a shit, that might mean something. Send somebody else!'
'Sam, the Cardassians have all our operatives under surveillance. Don't ask me how they got all of their names, we're working on that at this end. The upshot is, if we try to send any of them anywhere near the Tamuli system, the Cardassians will execute one ambassador every ten minutes until they're all gone. And they mean it. You're the only one we can use because you're not a field agent.'
'For Gods' sake, Dad, what part of "I don't give a shit" did you miss?'
'You might give a shit when you see what I'm sending you.'
Sam folded his arms defiantly. 'N-O spells NO!'
The dossier began to skip text and graphics files across the screen. His father's disembodied voice continued over the top.
'Their demands are pretty simple, really. The splinter group wants all former members of the Obsidian order who are currently in Federation prisons to be released and granted amnesty. But we're not going to let loose a couple of hundred dangerous criminals on the galaxy - the President has said that is an unacceptable outcome...'
The voice continued, but Sam's attention was more firmly fixed on the screen. More specifically, at the curves and contours, full lips and flashing eyes of the ambassadors' pictures, as radiant beauty shone out from every photo.
'Dad...' he said, interrupting his father's monologue. 'I'll do it.'
'Good lad. I knew you'd see reason. Now, stay put for about half an hour. We're having somebody come to the Compromise to pick you up. Give that weirdo captain of yours a bullshit excuse and be ready to leave at 1200 sharp.'
'Your uncle? What uncle?'
'The one who is the brother of my mum,' Sam said.
'Well, yes I know what an uncle is,' Euan said. 'But why does he want you specifically?'
Sam shrugged. 'Well, let's just say that we have special skills in my family.'
'You're bullshitting,' Carmen remarked into her Guinness.
'Maybe I am and maybe I'm not--'
'Definitely bullshitting,' Ratbat agreed. She frowned at her empty glass. 'Why have I no booze left? Give me booze!'
'Ah, our little girl is growing up.' Graham wiped away an imaginary tear. 'So Sam, you reckon your uncle's llama farm is in dire straits and they need you right away.'
'Yes. It's not that big a deal, honestly!' Sam wished he'd thought of a more convincing excuse.
'I don't really care if you want to go and play with llamas,' Euan said. 'But it's a very weird reason to just bugger off suddenly with no warning.'
'Llama season only lasts a short time,' Sam said, lying at record speed.
'Honestly, you must think we'll just believe anything,' said Carmen.
'Well, just about anything--' Sam began.
'All right, all right, just everybody shut up!' Euan slopped beer over the table. 'Sam, if you just go quietly and don't cause any more trouble, will that make you happy?'
Sam shrugged. 'Sure.'
'OK, fine. Llamas it is. When do you leave?'
'Good. You can join us for a beer then,' said Carmen.
'No, look I really should go and pack--'
'Agent 004!' a joyful voice cried.
Sam winced and turned around. A short, skinny man with a shock of wild black hair bounded into the bar and hugged him.
'So good to see you again! It's been far too long, Agent 004!'
Sam sighed. 'Well, that's never going to help the "my dad's not a spy" campaign.'
'So, Agent 004,' said Euan. 'Are you going to introduce your friend?'
'Yeah, all right. This is my old friend from school, Kyu Ji Han. And don't call me that.' Sam scowled at the captain.
'I'm very pleased to meet your friends, Agent 004, but we really have to be going. This mission is going to require a lot of preparation. Are you ready to leave?' Kyu took out a small device that looked like a garage door opener.
Sam shrugged. 'I guess. I'll be back in a few days.'
'I'm going to ring my dad and get to the bottom of this,' Euan scowled. 'I don't like you having secrets, llamas or no llamas.'
Sam poked his tongue out.
'Let's go.' Kyu pushed the large green button and he and Sam vanished.
'I dunno, this is weird. That guy definitely didn't look like a llama farmer to me,' said Leila, who was still about twenty minutes behind on the conversation.
'So our little Sammie's a secret agent?' Carmen went to the bar for another round of drinks. 'Seems he's been quite secretive about it.'
'Well what did you expect, Carms, he's a secret agent. He's not a "blabs about it in a loud voice all the time" agent,' said Ratbat. 'Make mine a quadruple this time.'
'That's what it was last time.'
'Then quadruple it again.'
Euan sighed. 'I wish I could be a secret agent. It must be so exciting and fun! What's he got that I haven't got?'
'I'll get the list,' said Ratbat.
Sam and Kyu materialised out of a glowing circle of light on to a raised platform in the middle of a large open-plan laboratory. White-coated individuals bustled around the many benches, calibrating, adjusting, noting and assessing the many pieces of equipment. Judging by the view out the window, they were now on a planet, which Sam was pretty sure hadn't been anywhere near the Compromise.
Kyu smiled at the garage-door opener. 'Andy! It worked!' he called to a nearby scientist.
'What is that thing? Long range transporter?' Sam asked.
'Precisely. It's got a range about twenty-five times that of the conventional transporter over pre-determined ranges, isn't disturbed by shields or ionic phase shifts, and uses a third of the power!'
'Interesting.' Sam took the thing and looked it over.
'Yep, and we've nearly got it up to a 67% success rate! Haven't had an explosive re-materialisation for at least three weeks!'
Sam dropped it. 'Right. Anyway, I've got some work to do, Kyu, so if you could get me kitted up and briefed I'd really appreciate it.'
'No problems. Follow me.'
Kyu led the way to a small office off the main laboratory. A large case was open on the table, full of odd equipment.
'We've got a full set of kit for you, 004, including some of our newest developments! Observe:'
Kyu pulled out what looked like a telescope and handed it to Sam.
'Right. What do you do with it?' Sam asked, extending it and looking through the lens.
'If you focus it right, it makes things that are a long way off look much closer,' Kyu said proudly.
Sam gave him a reproachful look.
'Well, it also detects and deactivates mines. And in a pinch you can use it as an extendible club.'
Sam started to rummage through the rest of the pack. 'Right. Power-Phaser Kinetic, with optional laser sighting, very useful... Gucci wristwatch, diamond set with second hand, day and date, leather strap...' He turned it over. 'Oh, and laser-guided missiles, very nice.'
'It tells the time as well,' Kyu pointed out helpfully.
'Keyring with full set of skeleton keys to every type of lock, I like that...'
'Oh, check this out. I'm very proud of this,' Kyu said.
He held up a condom. 'Now, pay attention, 004...'
'I know how those work,' Sam said.
Kyu grinned. 'Watch and learn!'
He ripped open the wrapper. A large rubber life-raft exploded on to the table and inflated itself.
'Nice!' said Sam. 'So what do you do if you want to have sex?'
'We're still working on that. You go and put this on while I get the briefing together.'
For an awful second Sam thought he was talking about the condom-raft, and was quite relieved when Kyu handed him a suit-bag.
As Sam slipped into the regulation-issue tuxedo he couldn't help grinning at himself in the changing room's mirror. For all his protests, he really quite liked his occasional work as a secret agent. However, he also liked his head the shape and size it was, and liked being able to sleep in on Sundays, so piloting the Compromise had won out as a career choice.
'OK, here we go,' Kyu's voice came through the door. 'Ready when you are.'
The briefing was set up at the main table. Kyu and Sam had been joined by Keith Ogborn, commonly referred to as Sam's dad (or Dad IV) and a svelte woman dressed all in tight-fitting black leather who Sam had never met.
'Ah, good to see you, son,' Dad IV said. 'Have you met Nikita?'
'Not yet,' Sam said.
'Nikita Albertson, this is my son Sam. Nikita will be helping with your preparation before you're deployed.'
'Nice to meet you,' she said blandly.
'Likewise,' Sam said, trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice.
'OK, please pay attention. We have very limited intelligence on the complex where our ambassadors are being held, so make the most of what we've got.'
A full set of blueprints complete with security diagnostics flashed up on the viewscreen.
'Kyu, how does this qualify as limited intelligence?' Sam asked.
'We don't know the colour or material of the interior design elements, which could have a critical effect on the success of your mission,' Kyu said sharply. 'Now be quiet.'
'This facility used to be the headquarters of one of the most notorious Tamuli gangsters ever,' his dad continued. 'We understand that once she was imprisoned for tax evasion the property was bought by the Obsidian order for its excellent security and nice location - close to the shops and public transport, I believe.'
Sam rolled his eyes. Dad IV looked slightly embarrassed.
'Anyway. Now that most of the Order is in Federation prisons, a number of subsidiary agents have formed a new group - the Invisible Pony. It's this group that has kidnapped the ambassadors.'
'Invisible Pony?' Sam asked incredulously.
'It's not the world's greatest translation but in Cardassian it sounds like somebody clearing their nose. Right, now the ambassadors are held here, on the second basement level,' he pointed to a small row of rooms on the diagnostic. 'As far as we can ascertain, the entrance to the level is via a small two-person elevator. It is guarded at both ends and has a numeric security code to ensure no unauthorised access.'
'Once you're in the elevator you have to input the security code on the panel before you can select which floor you want. If you fail to enter the right code or take too long, all the oxygen is sucked out of the lift and you'll suffocate within minutes,' Nikita added.
'Right...' Sam was a little taken aback by all this. 'So how the hell am I meant to get in?'
'It is a puzzler, isn't it?' his dad said with a wry grin. 'I'm sure you'll think of something.'
'What? I'll think of something? What about all your fancy science blokes? Why haven't you given me a full breaking-into-big-arse-secure-buildings kit?'
'It's your job to get in there, get the ambassadors out and preferably not get anybody killed. How you do that is up to you.'
'Gee, Dad. Thanks. Really.'
Nikita, who had sat through most of the discussion looking terribly bored, cleared her throat and leaned forward. Sam couldn't help trying to see down her front.
'There is also another problem that we have only just found out about.'
'Nikita?' Dad IV asked.
'Sensors have detected a change in the Tamulon interplanetary defence system. It took our programmers a while to get through without disrupting anything but it now seems that the Invisible Pony have managed to take over the system completely. Its sensors are now trained to detect any incoming craft and shoot them down. Obviously they think we're going to mount a rescue mission.'
'Right,' said Kyu. 'Well I think we can get around that if we're careful in our use of the transporters.'
'Additionally, the major defence platform is of serious concern. It is usually de-activated, ever since the cease-fire was signed for the major Tamuli conflict five years ago. It has now been reactivated and is aimed squarely at Starbase 87.'
'You're kidding!' Sam gasped. Starbase 87 was a high-turnover transport hub. On any day there would be up to nine thousand transients and a thousand staff on board.
'Are we evacuating the base?' asked Dad IV.
'No, we only just have this information to hand. Transports are going to be instructed to give it a wide berth but the passengers that are already there... well...' She shrugged. 'There isn't much we can do at this point.'
'I've got to try and deactivate that system!' Sam exclaimed, thumping the arm of his chair with a fist.
'That was part of the idea, yes,' Nikita said somewhat coolly. 'We have reason to believe that the defence system is being controlled from the same facility that the ambassadors are being held in. It's been very carefully code-locked, though, using a multiple-level encryption system. Our computer engineers are unable to crack the codes. Essentially, you're going to have to find the computer that set them up and deactivate it from there.'
'Right,' said Dad IV, straightening in his chair. 'Son, you've got forty-seven hours to find those codes and rescue the ambassadors.'
'Ready to go Agent 004?' asked Kyu.
'What? No! I'm not ready! I'm not going if you can't give me a bit more help!'
And here we have a planet.
It's a fairly average planet, its surface made up of blue and green blobs of land and sea. It's called Tamulus IV, although that doesn't really matter much for what we are about to see.
A small Federation runabout slowly flies towards the atmosphere of the planet. A number of satellites scan and take note of the runabout, but do nothing more. It hasn't come close enough to activate them - at least, not yet.
A few kilometres from the runabout, just inside the outer layer of the planet's atmosphere, we suddenly see a small shimmering and a body materialises out of the air. It takes a second for the planet's gravity to realise that there's a body there, but once it does, plummeting ensues.
Sam, inside his specially insulated helmet and hyper-tensile tuxedo, tried to angle himself to hit the next layers of atmosphere with the minimum of resistance. This was definitely not what he'd had in mind when he'd agreed to do this stupid mission! Being transported out of a perfectly good shuttle and having to free-fall for several minutes before it was safe to open his preliminary chute? Not one of the more fun parts of his job!
A minute or so later, he could make out landmarks and started moving to direct himself to a long empty green stretch near one of the larger cities. The first of his multi-stage parachutes opened, slowing his descent and letting him control where he was heading.
Details became clearer. The green stretch was a very long moor, bisected along its entire length by a road which drove, arrow straight, toward the large city.
He checked the altimeter that was strapped to his wrist. That was close enough. He pulled the ripcord and activated the second, main parachute.
Closer, closer, closer...
There was a car on the road, a bright red convertible. It was driving along at a respectably safe speed, steering over bumps but always headed dead straight towards the large city. There was nobody in the driver's seat.
Sam used the handles on his parachute to direct his descent to match the trajectory of the car. It was quite easy, after two years of flying the Compromise after Graham's refit prank had gone rather wrong. With a delicate wrist motion he gently flicked himself to land in the front seat, and popped the parachute loose. Sam briefly wished he had a camera crew around to smile suavely at.
Then he realised that he was sitting in the passenger seat.
'D'oh,' he muttered to himself.
The Compromise bunny-hopped a few times, then stuttered into a slow impulse speed.
'I still don't see why I have to do this,' Suzy complained. 'You know I never passed basic piloting at the Academy.'
Ratbat, sitting in Euan's chair, shrugged. 'Eh. It was either you or me and I've lost my no-claims bonus since I backed into the Tetrapli Ambassador's wife.'
Suzy crunched the gearbox a few more times before managing to jam the ship into warp. 'Right. We're going. Happy now?'
'Not really,' Ratbat said dryly. 'Ye're going in the wrong direction.'
'Graah!' Suzy continued to wrestle with the controls and tried to bring the ship about. 'I thought we had a whole bunch of standby pilots for when the usual conn officer couldn't be here. I'm supposed to be being diplomatic!'
'Alira's handling it OK isn't she?' Ratbat said.
(The Silurian delegate on the viewscreen looked positively livid. 'Now hear this. If you don't accede to our demands within twenty four hours, the entire Silurian empire will immediately attack all Starfleet interests in the sector, you slime-eating pus-monster!'
Alira held up a finger. 'Tut tut, Mr Delegate. Just remember the old adage: I am rubber, you are glue. It bounces off me and sticks to you. Boing, fwip!')
'Anyway,' Ratbat added. 'It's only for a few days. Sam should be back soon.' She stretched out in her chair. 'It's a bit of a bugger, really. As soon as someone kidnaps some ambassadors, our pilot has to go off and hob-nob with a bunch of shapely foreign agents!'
Suzy looked thoughtful for a few moments. 'Did they mention if any other ambassadors had been kidnapped?'
'I don't see what you're getting all worked up for,' Leila piped up from under a pile of comics. 'It's only llamas after all.'
'I think you've missed the point somewhere,' Suzy remarked.
'Sod it. I'm bored. Can I stick the Playstation on the main viewer?' asked Leila.
'I'd actually prefer to be able to see where I'm going,' Suzy said.
'And how is that more important than The Sims Cybernetic Romulan edition?'
The city limits sprawled over the countryside that Sam drove through, suburbs and industrial areas carefully separated out with the occasional recreational park. Sam got the distinct impression that the Tamulons were rather anal.
The complex was on the south-western edge of the city, carefully located so that it was not too near any densely populated areas. He approached it from the north, where a small hill gave a vantage point.
The mine-deactivating telescope was rather good, he discovered. A quick scan of the secure complex revealed pretty much what he had expected. Well guarded and with a high-level security field over it, it had provided Tamulus IV's last great gangster family with the height of protection.
'Right,' he muttered to himself. 'Time to do what I do best.'
If he'd thought about it a bit longer he might have asked how drinking potentially lethal quantities of vodka and staying out late were going to help particularly well in this situation, but he didn't.
'Agent 004, can you hear me?' a voice sounded in his ear.
'It's Kyu. We implanted a small transceiver in one of your hair follicles. Should be undetectable, we think. I'm talking to you from the lab! How's it going?'
'Um. Fine so far. Which hair follicle?'
'Get on with it,'
'Leave me alone. Having you talking out of my hair is very disconcerting.'
'We think your best chance to get into the facility will be around the back.'
'Do you want to come down here and do this?'
'Well not really--'
'I don't need a back-seat agent! Leave me alone!'
'Fine. Scream if you get into trouble. Kyu out.'
Despite not wanting a back-seat agent, Sam agreed with Kyu's assessment. The rear of the facility backed on to some neatly-trimmed woods, giving him a well-covered approach.
He crept out of the trees, watching carefully for any guards. The back didn't seem to be of particular interest to the guards, because he couldn't see any anywhere.
The rear of the complex was a sheer wall around four metres tall. There was razor wire on the top, making any vertical assault a complicated matter. A single door stood in the middle, carefully locked. There was no handle.
A garden gnome stood rather incongruously next to the door, a jaunty smile on its face and a fishing rod in its hands. Sam stared at it for a minute, trying to fight the impulse that was growing inside him. After a minute of internal conflict he finally gave in. Taking a carefully planned run-up, he kicked it far off into the trees.
On its now empty pedestal was a small key.
Hardly wanting to believe his luck, Sam picked it up and unlocked the door. It swung open.
'Hm. Almost too easy.'
He sidled into the building. Inside was a smallish storage area that opened out into what appeared to be a kitchen. It was deserted and completely empty aside from a few empty food wrappers on one table. It looked like the new occupants of the building went in less for grand-scale cooking and more for cheap takeaway.
The kitchen had a large double door that opened on to the entry foyer of the building. Sam crept out of it, keeping his eyes open for any Invisible Pony operatives. Three guards stood idly by a large front door and a fourth stood next to the door to what was obviously the lift.
Sam pulled the Walther PPK (Power-Phaser Kinetic) from his jacket pocket, fitted the silencer and moved noiselessly over the thick carpet.
Two were down before they even knew they were under attack. The third turned and gave a yell as the stun bolt hit him in the chest. The man by the lift pulled out a gun. 'Hold it right there!' he yelled.
'Sure thing.' Sam stopped moving and held the phaser up submissively. 'Come and cuff me.'
The guard, obviously slightly smarter than most of his ilk, approached with caution. 'Right. Drop your weapon.'
Sam did so.
'Hold out your hands.'
He did so.
The guard approached slowly with a set of magno-cuffs. 'Right. Now, I'm going to--'
A fizz of phaser fire erupted from the ground. The timer and remote target acquisition device had worked perfectly. Sam made a mental note to thank Kyu for that as the guard collapsed.
He quickly piled the comatose guards in the large refrigerator in the kitchen area, now sadly depleted except for some truly disgusting Vlastifloorian beer. Not being a particularly vindictive man he left the door ajar so they wouldn't suffocate. Not being a particularly nice man, he hid their trousers.
The entrance hall remained deserted as he crept to the lift door. He knew he had to act quickly before the leaders of the Invisible Pony realised that something was wrong and raised the alarm, executing the prisoners and probably destroying Starbase 87.
The lift door opened with a soft swishing sound, allowing Sam to sneak inside. The security information Kyu and his father had given him was very specific - he knew that the code was a four-digit sequence and that he had a grand total of thirty seconds to input the code before lift sealed itself, all the oxygen was sucked out and he suffocated.
The fact that there were almost certainly several dozen armed guards on the other end was another problem he was preparing to face in its own time.
Opening the cover on the numbered keypad, he pulled a small cover off his watch. A hidden compartment held a small spoonful of a grey substance. Knowing that he was working against the clock, he knelt down in front of the keypad and carefully blew the small pinch of graphite dust onto the pad. As he had hoped, the dust attached itself to the skin oils left by people who had used the keypad, showing which four keys were used in the combination.
A quick factorial calculation told him that there were 24 combinations that could be the code. Sweat starting to run down his temple, he punched feverishly at the keypad.
Fortunately he managed to identify the correct code on the fourteenth try, just as the thirty seconds was running out. He breathed out hard. 'Right. So far so good.'
'Are we even going anywhere?' Suzy asked irritably. 'It seems to me like you're just trying to make me look like a crap pilot.'
'You are a crap pilot,' Carmen said, not unreasonably. 'And we're going to Vega IV.'
'Why are we going to Vega IV? Since it became affiliated with Las Vegas on Earth the only thing you can do there is gamble and watch dodgy cabaret acts.'
'Wrong,' said Graham, striding onto the bridge. 'You can also drink.'
Suzy sighed. 'Am I going to have to get involved in excusing you from another interplanetary incident, Unky Gra-Gra?'
'Yeah, most likely.'
'No, but seriously - why Vega IV? Is there something important that Starfleet wants us to do there?'
'Aye,' said Ratbat. 'The royal family from Omicron Persei 8 will be there for a function - we've got to go and deliver Starfleet's most respectful respects and humbly apologise for last time.'
Suzy jumped out of the conn chair. 'Gah! This is a diplomatic mission! Why the hell are you distracting me from my job when there's work to be done?'
'Well someone's got to fly this boat!' Ratbat said.
'Why the hell don't we have some standby conn officers?' Suzy ranted as she stomped toward the turbolift.
'We do,' Graham said to her departing back. 'They're currently all... detained in sickbay.'
'Callum,' said Ratbat into the comm system. 'Could you come up to the bridge and drive the ship?'
'She finally got the shits with you? Fair enough.'
Ruth, who was cleaning her nails with a bat'leth at the security console, laughed. 'So the whole Suzy-flies-the-ship thing was you being a pain, yes?'
Ratbat grinned. 'I had a bet with Niki. Looks like I'm up ten strips.'
'Speaking of strips, while we're at Vega IV do we all have to go and apologise to the Omicronians?' Graham asked.
'Graham Furry-Butt Henstock, you are not using our trip to Vega IV as an excuse to take Nick and Jared to strip clubs and get them so drunk they admit to all the things that you're actually guilty of!' Carmen scolded. 'That's why we've got to go apologise to the Omicronians in the first place!'
'Oh yeah, I'd forgotten - that was his umbrella, wasn't it...?'
'Don't you have people in sick-bay to attend to?' Ratbat asked pointedly.
Graham shrugged. 'I do. I'm making them wait.'
'Because I can.'
Just another day of being a guard for the Invisible Pony. T'kroth was standing by the secure elevator on the second basement level and was, frankly, bored out of her skull. She was beginning to suspect that the Invisible Pony had not been made up of the best and brightest the Obsidian Order had to offer. Although she had done mercenary work for some insalubrious and occasionally just downright nutty people, the Invisible Pony was the first that she was considering ditching on grounds of sheer boredom.
She sighed and started counting the ceiling tiles again. She'd already counted them nine times today, seventeen times yesterday and a record-breaking twenty-two times the day before. It was vaguely tempting to just execute one of the prisoners for fun.
In her vague stupor it took a moment to register that the sound she was hearing was in fact the elevator. She frowned. That wasn't right. The guard wasn't changing for another hour.
The lift stopped moving with a gentle 'ding', and the door slid open. T'kroth leaped in front of the door brandishing her phaser rifle at...
...nothing. It was empty.
She stared in surprise at the empty lift. Out of nowhere two feet swung toward her face, catching her under the chin and in the nose. As the world went black, she had a vague image of a small white guy in a tuxedo...
Sam dropped out of the lift ceiling where he had concealed himself and examined the prone guard. She was happily unconscious, nose bleeding slightly and with a large bruise on her chin. So far so good. He picked up her phaser rifle on the premise that an extra weapon is always handy to have, and crept forward.
Two guards on either side of the corridor were on the ground before they knew what hit them. Aside from the guards, which in didn't seem to be the most attentive and alert bunch in the world, there was no sign of surveillance. He padded down the corridor to where it opened out into a large basement area.
The security diagnostics Kyu had showed him had indicated that this area was covered by a high-definition sensor field, so he activated the tuxedo's Stealth Mode as he sidled around the first corner and into the room.
What had once been a large basement for storage had been converted into a holding area. A large cage made of duranium bars stood in the middle of the room. Inside Sam could see a group of people, all women.
'Right-oh, ladies, hold on to your garters because here comes Samuel,' he muttered to himself.
He sidled up to the bars. 'I'm Agent 004. I'm here to save you,' he said in his suavest voice.
'Oh, how wonderful!' the closest woman closest turned around to face him. 'We were beginning to wonder if we were ever going to get out!'
Sam kept the suavely confident smile on his face while his brain did a quick loop-de-loop. The woman speaking to him was quite obviously very... mature. So was the woman next to her. So were the other seven in the cage. While they had obviously all been very attractive once, that day had been many, many moons ago. Probably not a working hip among them. Sam began to get the feeling that he'd been had.
'So... uh, right.' Sam snapped out of his mental turmoil and tried to get back to business. 'I've got a colleague in orbit. As soon as I can set up the tetryon disruption field she can beam you out without your captors knowing.'
'You're very brave,' the first woman gushed, beaming at him. 'I'm Ambassador Terren. These are my friends, Nurien and Ferria. If there's any way we can show our appreciation...'
Sam mentally shuddered as he used his skeleton keys to break into the large cage. 'Maybe forty years ago, darl,' he muttered under his breath.
As the elderly group filed out of captivity Sam removed his bow-tie and attached it to the end of his telescope, standing it up and adding one shoelace and the strap of his watch. The disruption field stuttered twice and then held. It was small, only enough room for one at a time, but he was pretty satisfied. It wasn't everyone who could build a tetryon disruption field out of their wardrobe.
He used his watch to send the signal to Nikita that the field was in place and she activated the sub-radiant transporter.
'Right, just step into the field and you'll be transported to the ship and to safety. One at a time please,'
'Oh, isn't he lovely?' Nurien was saying to Terren and Ferria. 'He reminds me so much of your little grandson, Ferria.'
'No, don't be silly, dear, Ian is much taller than that.'
'Yes but do you remember what he wore to Irene and Stuart's wedding? They could be twins.'
'Ooh, did I tell you that our Daisy finally had her twins?'
'You never! How is the poor darling?'
Sam sighed. Rescuing geriatrics hadn't been part of his plan for the day. At least he'd soon be rid of them and be able to get on to the much easier task of decoding a rogue planetary defence system.
On the top floor of the building a shadowy figure sat in a large chair in front of a large bank of monitors watching the ambassadors step into the field one by one and vanish. Kyu would have been rather embarrassed to see that she was also watching Sam, whose stealthy tux was not preventing him from being seen on video but was rather rendering him entirely plaid.
'Boss,' a large henchman stood behind the chair. 'They're escaping! Shouldn't I go stop them?'
She waved a hand. 'Not at all, my dear Trellan. The ambassadors were never part of the plan - they were simply bait for this young man. See to it that he finds his way up here. Then... we will see what happens.'
Trellan looked worried. He hadn't been part of the Invisible Pony for long but it had seemed strange that this Romulan would be interested in the group's goals. Now it seemed that she was deliberately undermining them.
'Ma'am, how is letting the ambassadors escape going to help the release of the Obsidian Order members?'
She turned to glare at him with icy eyes. 'Trellan, I am getting rather tired of your constantly questioning my orders. I believe I told you what to do; it is now your job to do it.'
'Perhaps I didn't make myself clear,' she cut him off curtly. 'You may be used to having discussions with your superiors about the finer details of their plans when you were part of the Obsidian Order, but we in the Tal Shi'ar do not put up with that kind of insubordination. Do as I say and do it now.'
As he stomped away Trellan regretted ever leaving Patou. Then he changed his mind and started regretting the day this stupid Taris bitch had got involved with the Invisible Pony.
The elevator was still on the second basement floor where it had let him out. Sam wondered if anybody had been alerted to his presence yet. Thus far the mission had been very easy - almost too easy. He stepped into the lift and pressed in the code again, selecting the ground floor.
The foyer remained deserted as he crept out of the lift and toward the large sweeping staircase that led to the upper floors. The blueprints Kyu had managed to find did indicate a large, heavily shielded room on the second floor - most likely where the Tamuli defence array was being controlled from.
There was still no sign of anyone as Sam reached the second floor. The corridors were thickly carpeted, making his footfalls almost completely silent. He crept along the corridor towards where his watch sensors were telling him there was a large area of electronic equipment.
He heard a step behind him. 'Hey, you!' a voice said.
He spun around quickly, taking up a florid martial arts stance and yelling 'HAI!' as he did. He then thought better of it as his opponent was absolutely enormous, filling the corridor, and was also holding two disruptors. Using his momentum to turn his spin into a complete 360, he took off down the corridor like a hare.
As he bolted for a corner to hide behind there was a sizzling noise and part of the plaster wall exploded. He ducked under a nearby table and wriggled to the end, catapulting himself out and through a nearby doorway.
There was a flash of phaser energy and everything went black.
In the runabout above Tamulus IV, Nikita finished seating the ambassadors and distributed tea and biscuits in proper Starfleet Secret Service Courtesy Protocol fashion. So far the plan had worked flawlessly. The next part was the hard part - Sam had to find and deactivate the Tamuli defence network before it destroyed Starbase 87. Her smooth, suave exterior would never have betrayed anything aside from languid boredom, but Nikita was starting to feel slightly worried.
'Kyu,' she said into the comm system. 'How is he doing?'
'So far so good,' Kyu said. 'He's reached the second floor. I think--' He cut off.
'You think what? What's happened?' she asked.
'Uh, well I think we've lost contact with the tracking device.'
'That's not what we wanted.'
'No, it really isn't.'
'Can you get in contact with the transceiver?'
She heard Kyu punching at some keys. 'Something's disrupting it. It's possible he's walked into a magnetically shielded area, or...'
'It could mean that he's been shot.'
Nikita's heart sank. 'Oh great.'
'I can try to hack through it again but there's no guarantee I can resume contact with him.'
'Just do it.'
'Excuse me, dear?' Ambassador Ferria patted Nikita on the shoulder.
'Ambassador? How can I help you?'
'Well me and the girls couldn't help overhearing your conversation. Is that nice young man who rescued us in trouble?'
Nikita considered lying for a minute, but shrugged. 'Yes, he could be in very serious trouble. But there's nothing we can do for him up here.'
Ferria shook her head sympathetically. 'You poor thing! Well you should get down there immediately and save him. I once had to rescue my husband from a Ferengi prison camp. It was hard work and very dangerous but I had to do it - for the sake of the children if nothing else.'
Nikita paused for a minute, trying to work out what Ferria was saying. 'What? No! No, Sam isn't my husband!'
'Really?' Ferria was obviously surprised. 'Well he should be. The two of you would look lovely together.'
'He's two feet shorter than I am!' Nikita protested.
Ferria looked disapproving. 'Now now,' she said. 'Don't be sizeist. He's very brave and he looks just darling in that little suit.'
Nikita ground her teeth and turned back to the comm system. 'Kyu, get that transceiver working properly, and quickly please!'
Sam's head ached massively. He blinked a few times as the world blurred into being around him.
He was lying spreadeagled on a large table, his hands and feet chained to its four corners. With difficulty he moved his head to look around the room. It was dimly lit. He could just see a shadowy figure standing in front of him.
'Ah, Mister Ogborn. Glad to see you back with us,' she said.
'Mum?' he said muzzily. 'Mum, is that you?'
The figure moved forward into the light. It soon became blatantly clear that it wasn't his mum, because he was fairly sure that last time he'd seen her, his mum had not been a Romulan.
'Good afternoon, Mister Ogborn. Or should I say, Agent 004. Welcome to the headquarters of the Invisible Pony.'
'Right. Um. Thanks?'
'Allow me to introduce myself. I am Taris, a Centurion in the Tal Shi'ar. You are a Starfleet operative attempting to infiltrate my base. I wonder how this story might end?'
Sam's confused brain was spinning. 'Wait a moment - is this the Invisible Pony or the Tal Shi'ar? It can't be both. Can it?'
Taris smiled at him. 'Oh, but it can. The Invisible Pony is a group of incompetent malcontents who could not locate their posteriors with a map and a specialised sensor. The Tal Shi'ar has taken over operations and so far has been far more successful than this pathetic group could ever have been without our intervention.'
Sam tried to smile in a superior fashion. It's not easy when you're chained to a large table but he gave it a good try. 'You may think that, but you would be wrong,' he said in a supercilious voice. 'The ambassadors you were holding in your basement have been safely evacuated.'
Taris smiled a thin-lipped smile at him. 'Oh, really?' Romulans always had more fun because, unlike their Vulcan brethren, they had mastered sarcasm. 'Agent 004, you will probably be amazed to learn this, but that group of geriatric pains in the lumbar region was not the intended target of this exercise.'
'So you're going to destroy Starbase 87?'
'Oh, please. That is hardly going to achieve anything, is it? It was simply to get Starfleet's attention.' She pushed a button on a nearby console. 'There - deactivated. No, Mister Four, you will soon learn that the intended target of this operation was not a group of antiquated diplomats. Nor was it to destroy a large number of Federation tourists, although I am sure the loss would not be a great one. No, I'm afraid the intended target of this exercise was you.'
(In the runabout above the planet a sensor suddenly dinged loudly. 'Kyu!' Nikita called into the comm. 'Is that what I think it is?'
'Yes,' his voice came back. 'The planetary defence network is back under Tamuli control. Starbase 87 is safe!'
'Well that's a relief!' Nikita said.
'I'm nearly through to the transceiver as well. We should be able to regain contact with him any minute.')
Sam looked apprehensively at the large apparatus that was suspended over the table he lay on. 'So...' he said, trying to keep his tone conversational. 'You want to get some information out of me?'
Taris was smiling again. She raised an eyebrow. 'Information? Maybe. Do you have some that you'd like to share?'
'Uh,' He thought quickly. 'I can tell you who was having sex with Graham last week.'
'Don't be ridiculous, I don't care what Ensign Colquhoun does in her spare time.' She sighed in mock regret. 'I suppose I will just have to torture you.'
The apparatus was being lowered closer to him. Several rather unpleasant looking appendages began to move around, training themselves on various parts of his body. Sam began to sweat.
'Do you expect me to talk?' he said with mock bravado.
Taris smiled again. 'I expect you to scream,' she said. 'Is that the same thing?'
A hum of energy began to buzz through the room. 'Now,' Taris said. 'Let's start with something small. Your... right bicep.'
A thin beam of energy shot out of the machine and began burning its way through Sam's sleeve. He yelped with pain as it burned into his arm. Taris smiled at him, breathing in the smell of charred flesh that filled the room.
'How very nice. And from there, just to make things symmetrical, we should proceed to the left calf.'
'How's about we don't, bitch?'
There was a shimmering in the corner, and Nikita's black-leather-booted foot lashed out of nowhere and caught Taris in the chest. The Romulan flew backwards, crashing into a console and rolling to her feet.
Nikita picked up a chair and hurled it at Taris, who ducked underneath and took out Nikita's legs with a low spinning kick. Nikita rolled to her feet and brought her head up sharply under Taris's chin. The Romulan staggered backward and tripped over the fallen chair.
Sam, still chained to the table, tried to keep track of the fight. If nothing else, it was quite an education to watch Nikita fight. She had an intensity that reminded him of Ruth, and a grace that was purely her own.
Nikita sent Taris to the floor with a sharp elbow blow and kicked her a few times in the ribs. The Romulan lay still.
'Right. How you doing?' she said, barely out of breath.
'Well, I'm chained to a table with a hole in my arm but aside from that I'm feeling pretty good,' he answered. 'Would you mind?'
Nikita used her phaser to cut him loose and then, before he could protest, picked him up and slung him over her shoulder. 'Computer, two to beam up.'
'eep...' Sam said.
Sam had to admit, his father looked embarrassed.
'Well? Would you like to give me a straight answer, dad? Or do I write you and mum off the Christmas card list for ever?'
'We had to get you on board,' Dad IV said guiltily. 'I knew that if we told you all the ambassadors were elderly ladies you'd never agree to take the mission. So we got the photos from when they all first joined the diplomatic service. We didn't exactly lie to you, just... well, we left out a few years, that's all.'
A few? thought Sam. 'So you were playing on my libido?'
'Uh... yes. Sorry.'
Sam sighed. 'Ah, don't worry about it. I got Nikita's phone number in the runabout on the way home.'
Sam had been returned to the Compromise just after it left Vega IV. The wound in his arm was almost completely healed and he'd been allowed to keep some of the equipment that Kyu had given him for the mission. All in all it hadn't been all that bad.
'OK, I'm going to hang up now. Next time you want me for a mission, try being straight with me.'
'Really? And you'll consider it?'
'No. But I'll appreciate your honesty. Ogborn out.'
'And this end too. Take care.'
Taris, still walking awkwardly with her bruised ribs, entered the conference room and sat down.
'Thank you for coming, Taris,' her superior said. 'I have read your report from the mission. The outcome was very gratifying. Well done.'
Taris nodded. 'Thank you, sir.'
'It seems that our sources within Starfleet have managed to infiltrate the highest level, even within the special services. This mission was the final acid test. I think we are ready to start the next major part of our plan.'
Taris leaned forward in anticipation. 'Do I have a role to play in that plan?'
There was a flash from something in the man's hand. After a moment of complete surprise, Taris's body fell to the ground.
'I'm afraid not.'
10-Foreplay had been forsaken that evening. The crew had decided to welcome Sam back from his uncle's llama farm with a special spy-themed party in the holodeck. Sam decided not to push the point. It saved time in the end. And a party was a party - never to be sneezed at.
He drained his eighth pint and put the glass down on the bar. It seemed that the 'no B' rules instituted by Nick and Jared were working - the party was going very well and had not degenerated into a farce yet.
Leila bounced up to him and gave him a hug. 'It was really dull when you were gone, Sammie, I'm so glad you're back!' she said.
'Uh... OK, well I have been back for nearly a week, you know,' he said.
'Yes, but I've been so busy I didn't get a chance to see you yet!'
'I had dinner with you yesterday!'
'Oh, that was you?'
'I'm glad your dad let you not be a spy any more. It must be hard when your folks keep wanting you to go into the family business. How long has your dad been a spy for anyway?'
Sam sighed. 'He's NOT a SPY!'
'Yes, but wouldn't he say that anyway even if he was a spy?'
'Yeah, but--' He realised. 'No! No he wouldn't!'
She laughed. 'How about you just get another drink and relax?'
Sam turned to the hologramatic bartender and put on his suavest face as he made his order. 'Beer,' he said. 'Shaken. Not stirred.'
Lieutenant Sam 'Agent 004' Ogborn
Captain Euan Bowen
Commander Daria 'Ratbat' Sigma
Lieutenant Commander Carmen King
Ambassador Suzy Styles
Commander Ksenia Forde
Lieutenant Ruth Crabb
Dr Graham Henstock
Transporter Chief Noomy Schwinghamer
Counsellor Leila Fetter
Lieutenant Alira Prideaux
Lieutenant Nick Akhurst
Kyu Ji Han
Keith 'Dad IV' Ogborn
Lieutenant Nic Leuning
Illustrations by Daria Sigma
© Recycadelic Cacti MMVII
[The main page]
 The lab boys had debated for a long time about whether a reflecting telescope or refracting telescope would be more efficient with mine disposal but had finally gone for one of the new laser-sighted digi-optical type because all that business with the mirrors and the lenses was just so last millennium.
 Not impossible, of course. Sam's tuxedo came with bullet-proof, armored and wire-cutting modes, but it did mean installing the special lapels, and he thought they made him look rather silly.
 Sam had always had a strange compulsion with garden gnomes ever since the incident referred to rather ominously as That Day in the Admiral's Garden.
 Don't ask why a phaser needs a silencer.
 Hanging out with Nick and Jared did things to a person.
 The Stealth Mode made all electronic senor devices detect nothing but a random fluctuation in magnetic fields. It worked incredibly well right up until the point where somebody, well, looked at him.
 Again, difficult in his position but he tried.
 Romulans are really good at this.
 The 'no B' rules were as follows: No Bitchin', No Barfin', No Bawlin', No Biffo, No Breakups. They'd first been trialled at the previous New Year's Eve party with excellent results. A little like a global disarmament treaty only a lot more effective.