Tin Can

by Pat Greiner

(Paramount owns the rights to the Star Trek universe. We just play here. No copyright infringement is intended.)

“It’s an amazing structure,” Beverly said as they stared at the enormous collection of conduits, intake bays, and cargo containers stretching away from them.

“Twice the size of Utopia Planetia’s orbital docks,” Jean-Luc nodded in agreement.  “But it’s dedicated to taking ships apart instead of putting them together.  Look, there’s a panel opening there.  That must be our ID tag coming toward us.” 

From the side of the gargantuan construction, a dull silver disc about half a meter in diameter came spinning towards them.  It slowed as it approached Mistral, sailed past the viewscreen, and they could hear a faint thunk as it affixed itself to the starboard side of the ship.

“It does seem like a rather primitive way of telling visiting ships from ones that are here to be processed,” observed Beverly.  “But if it keeps us from getting run through the shredders, I can’t really object.”

They had dropped Mistral out of warp to see the Skrez Recycling Facility.  Soon after the wormhole had deposited them in this region of space, they began to hear the expression “send it to the Skrez,” which meant the item in question was trash.  For the last few months, they had heard that phrase more and more often.  It seemed that the Skrez could dismantle anything from an escape pod to a large asteroid.  Learning that the Skrez processing plant was located not far off their course back to Federation space, they decided it might be worth a look. 

The Skrez plant was in orbit around Epsilon Theta 27, a large yellow star known locally as Sharmak.  The star had no planets, no natural ones at any rate.  Drawing ample solar power, the plant was reputed to be almost entirely automated, with only a very few of the Skrez in residence.  The Skrez were a giant arachnoid race, not so much hostile as completely indifferent to humanoid life forms.  They did not operate a recycling center from any sense of conservation, and they seemed only slightly more interested in the economic gain it created.  No, the Skrez derived some intrinsic pleasure from gathering things and dismantling them into their component parts.   They were reputed to be quite intelligent, but their culture was of such a different order that no one claimed to have successfully communicated with them on anything other than the concrete points of buying and selling scrap.

“Computer, hail the Meensar.” 

“Channel open.”

“Captain Borm, we have just received the ID tag you told us to expect.  I take it the Skrez had no objections to our visit?”

“Excellent, ambassador.  No, no objections at all.  They don’t get many visitors, so you may find them a little less than gracious, but that’s just their way.  They will hail you shortly to give you instructions for your visit.  I’ve got to be on my way.  I hope you find your experience here interesting.”

“Thank you for making the contact on our behalf.  You’ve been most helpful.  Good journeys to you.  Mistral out.”

“No, ambassador, it is I who should thank you.  Closing communications.”  The one-man scout ship deftly turned its nose away from the processing plant and headed away from them.  After a few seconds, they saw the flare as it jumped to warp speed and vanished. 

“I wonder what he meant by that?” said Beverly.  “Why should he thank us?”

“It could be nothing more than a local idiom.  Or perhaps arranging for our visit increases his standing with the Skrez.  He did say that he makes a majority of his living from the recycling fees he earns.  He’s probably just currying a little favor.”

They continued staring at the huge plant.  After a few minutes, Jean-Luc grew tired of waiting for the promised contact.  “Computer, open a channel to the Skrez plant.” 

“Channel open.”

“This is the Federation diplomatic sloop Mistral.  We appreciate your allowing us to see your facility,” he began.   There was only silence in response.   “We are awaiting your instructions,” he added.   More silence. 

“Their reputation for not being very sociable seems to be accurate so far,” Beverly said. 

“Computer, scan hailing frequencies for any communication from the Skrez plant,” he ordered.

“No transmissions detected coming from the facility.  One channel actively transmitting to the facility.”

“To the facility?”  Jean-Luc was surprised.  The Mistral was the only ship within visual range, besides several obvious derelicts awaiting demolition.  “From what source?”

“The transmission is coming from the object now attached to the ship’s hull.”

“The ID tag,” Beverly chimed in.  “I hope it’s saying ‘don’t recycle this one.’”

“We might as well listen in if we can,” Jean-Luc said.  He had never been very good at simply waiting.  “Computer, can you intercept the transmission from the ID tag to the plant?”


A few seconds later, a flat mechanical voice began droning steadily.  “ … 2.3 merj.  Transparent aluminum, 3.7 merj.  Phased steel, 23 merj.  Polyduranium, 42 merj …”

At that moment, the entire ship shuddered slightly, and they saw the plant slide slowly across the viewscreen as the Mistral began to rotate. 

“Computer, confirm ship stabilization,” Picard snapped.

“Unable to comply.  Mistral is currently controlled by a tractor beam originating from the Skez plant.” 

A moment’s glance between Jean-Luc and Beverly was all it took for them to share the realization that something was very wrong.  “That transmission from the ID tag sounds like a listing of the ship’s component materials,” Beverly said.   “I think we’ve been tagged for recycling.”

“Computer, open a channel to the Skrez.” 

“Channel open.”

“This is the Federation diplomatic sloop Mistral.  We must insist that you immediately release our ship from your tractor beam.”    Silence again.

“We believe that we have been misidentified as a ship to be processed and recycled.  That is not that case.  I repeat, this ship is not here for processing.  We are visitors.  Release us immediately.”   There was still no answer. 

“Computer, set a heading of four seven two, mark three.  Full impulse power.  Engage.”  They felt a shudder as the engines strained against the grip of the beam. 

“Unable to comply.” 

Mistral was being drawn slowly along the side of the enormous floating factory. 

“Is there a way we can get rid of that ID tag?” Beverly asked.  “Perhaps the beam homes in on that.”

“If it uses some sort of maglock, we may be able to throw it off by reversing polarity in the hull,” Jean-Luc replied.  “Beverly, can you see the ID tag from the star deck?” 

She dashed out of the cockpit and ran to the upper level.  “I can see the edge of it.  It’s on the forward starboard side.”

“Good, keep watching it.  Computer, reverse hull polarity.”

“Polarity reversed.”

“Any movement?”

“No, it’s still there,” Beverly answered from her observation post. 

“Return to normal polarity.”  He thought a moment.  “Computer, send an electrical pulse through the hull.”

“Strength and duration?”

“500 megawatts for 5 seconds.”

Beverly saw sparks arc from beneath the alien disc, but it did not move.  “No good,” she reported. 

Ahead of them, they saw a row of four battered ships floating near a vast intake conduit.  Inexorably, Mistral was being moved toward that row. 

“We may have to remove it or disable it physically,” Jean-Luc fumed.  “Beverly, we’re going to have to suit up.  Computer, establish a repeating alarm beacon on all channels compatible with Skrez communications.” 

Beverly was coming down from the star deck as Jean-Luc left the cockpit.  As they strode quickly to the storage locker near the transport pad where the thruster suits were stored, he outlined his plan.  “I’ll go outside and try to pry it loose.  If that doesn’t work, I may be able to disable it with a phaser.  You’ll monitor its transmissions from in here.  It’s probably best if we both suit up.  If I do need some sort of assistance, I’m likely to need it quickly.”  At his touch, a panel in the wall slid up.  Beverly grasped her suit and pulled it out easily.  Jean-Luc’s did not move.   “It’s caught on something,” he muttered, reaching into the locker to free the suit. 

Beverly was already pulling on the bulky garment. “Can you see what it is?” she asked.

“Not yet … it’s all the way in the back, of course.”   The suits lay flat on the floor of the small locker, feet toward the back.  The opening was not even tall enough to allow him to crawl on hands and knees.  He pulled himself to the back of the locker on his stomach and found a deep tread groove on the sole of one boot wedged over a stem bolt head.  “Got it!” he called, just as the locker hatch slammed shut. 

It was pitch black inside the locker.  “Beverly!  Open the locker door.” 

“As soon as I find it.  All the lights have gone out.”  He heard a few soft thumps as she felt her way toward the locker in the bulky suit.  “The latch isn’t responding.  Jean-Luc, this isn’t just a partial power failure.  Listen!”

He did, and heard nothing.  Not even the soft hum of life support.  The faint vibration of the ship’s engines was also absent. 

Outside the locker, Beverly turned on her suit’s built-in lights.  Neither the glovelight nor the headlight responded.  Mistral was in total darkness.  Not an emergency light glowed … not a breath of air moved through the ventilators.  “Computer, status report,” she requested.  Sill there was only silence.  “We must be in a power damping field,” she said.

“I’m afraid you’re right,” he agreed.  “It would be a sensible precaution to take before recycling a ship – render anything that might generate any sort of energy reaction harmless before taking it into the machinery.” 

“Can you reach the manual hatch release from where you are?”

“Unfortunately, there is no manual release in this locker.  I don’t believe the designers anticipated that anyone would ever be inside it.  Beverly, you’ve got to make contact with the Skrez quickly.”

“I know – there’s got to be a way.” 

The darkness in the storage locker was absolute.  It was perhaps a meter wide, about half a meter high and just over two meters in depth … and he was sharing it with a thruster suit.  There was not even room enough to reverse his position and place his head near the hatch.  With nothing to do but listen, he heard Beverly closing the latches on the remainder of her suit.  “I’m going out now.  I’ll get into the station and find someone who can release the ship.”  There was a moment’s pause.  “Jean-Luc, I love you.”

“I love you, too, Beverly.  But we don’t need farewells – you’ll get us out of this.”

“You’re right.  Well, sit tight.”  Even in the blackness, they both made small, tight smiles and brought their mounting tension under control for a moment.

She felt her way to the emergency airlock, opened the manual release on the inside door, stepped inside, and sealed it.  Then she seated her helmet and closed the latches.  The small amount of air contained inside her suit would last for only a few breaths – she’d have to escape the damping field quickly.  She opened the outer door, and left it open.  Fortunately the airlock was on the side of Mistral facing the enormous plant.  Their faithful little ship was now immobile at the end of its row, with other ships that showed no lights, no signs of power whatsoever.  The damping field must extend all along here.  But there were lights directly ahead of her, on the Skrez plant itself.  Four of them marked the corners of the intake conduit they had noticed earlier.

Beverly hung onto the outside manual release for the airlock as she tucked her legs under her, making sure both feet were flat against the surface of Mistral.  Then she released her grip and pushed with every ounce of strength, glad for the frequent dance workouts in the holosuite that kept her legs in excellent shape.  She exhaled and fog began to form on the faceplate of her helmet.  Forcing herself to breath slowly, she inhaled as she kept her gaze on the opening that was slowly growing larger.  A second exhalation added to the fog.  Now the lights were fuzzy bright spots.  As she inhaled she noticed the beginnings of staleness in the air.  Still keeping her eyes fixed on her target, she extended her arms out in front of her and tried the switch on the glovelight.  No response. 

She exhaled again.  The fog was so thick that she couldn’t make out the lights at all.  When she inhaled, her lungs filled, but there wasn’t enough oxygen left in the air.  She still felt a pressing desire to breathe in.  Again she slapped the light control.  Nothing.  How far did the damping field extend?  This time as she exhaled she pursed her lips and forced the air out in a tight stream.  It worked – the blast cleared a patch a few centimeters in diameter on her face plate.  By twisting her head, she could just see out.  The lights of the Skrez plant were still ahead of her, but her momentum was slowing.  She gasped a breath in, but felt as though she hadn’t breathed at all.  Her exhalation this time was an uncontrolled blast that immediately fogged over her view.  She inhaled in a ragged gasp that turned to a strangled victory cry as she saw bright light through the mist – light that shot out from her own glove.  She was clear of the damping field, and a second later she felt a current of air against her forehead from the suit ventilator. 

After a few breaths, her faceplate began to clear.  She saw that she was still moving toward the station, although slowly and a bit off to the right of the opening she had aimed for.  With a short burst from the suit’s thruster, she corrected her course and sailed through the opening on the side of the plant.  It led to a vast bay.  A ship that had suffered heavy battle damage was midway through the bay, where it was being scanned by numerous beams.  The walls of the bay displayed changing patterns and colors that might be some sort of readout, but there were no life forms in evidence to see them. An enormous hatch at the far end of the bay was open, and the ship was slowly being drawn towards it. 

Beverly spotted a set of transparent aluminum doors easily 4 meters square on one side of the bay.  Through it she could see a hallway leading away from the bay at right angles.  A touchpad almost half a meter in diameter was on the wall by the door.  Beverly shot towards it and pressed hard.  The doors slid open and she flew into the hallway, where she found a matching touchpad and closed the doors.  There was gravity in the hall, a bit less than standard Earth, and she would be able to move quickly, even in the suit. 

“Hello?  HEY!  HEEYYY!!” she shouted.  That was no good.  Even if she screamed at the top of her lungs, the suit would muffle her actual sound, and the speakers that transmitted her voice outside the suit did not produce enough volume to carry far.  She scanned the walls for anything that might be a communications system, but it was hopeless.  There were some markings on the wall, but they were so alien that she couldn’t even guess whether they were art or signs.  She flipped open her tricorder.  “Activate automap mode.”  If this place turned out to be a maze, she wanted to be able to get out again.  Beverly set off down the hallway at a run. 


Jean-Luc Picard had always considered civilian clothing something of a troublesome luxury.  It was far easier to put on a uniform that required no choice than it was to give consideration to one’s mood, activities, location, companion, and the myriad other factors that Beverly suggested should be considered in choosing an outfit.  But it pleased her to see him out of that same old uniform, and it pleased him to please her.  Thus it was that he was wearing a dark green tunic of warm, fleecy fabric with a deep cowl neck … and it was that neck that had brought all this into his thoughts. 

He pulled the folds out and stretched the cowl up and over his head.  With no power of any sort, Mistral would soon begin to lose heat to the deadly cold of space.  He knew that the back end of the locker extended all the way to the outer hull of the ship.  It would be one of the first areas where the cold would begin to penetrate, and indeed, his bald head was already glad for the warmth of the cowl.  

How long has Beverly been gone, he wondered.  Feels like about twenty minutes, but I know that I’m not a patient man.  I tend to perceive waiting as longer than it actually is.  Realistically, it’s probably been more like ten minutes.  He had already tried sliding down toward the door and kicking it repeatedly, which got him nothing more than a bruise on his heel.  He’d tried to power on the glovelight and headlight on his suit, for something to do.  No results, of course. 

He began considering whether he could maneuver into his suit within the close confines of the locker, as an additional defense against the cold.  In order to make that most effective, the sooner he put the suit on, the better, before he was too chilled to generate much body heat.  Well, it would be something to do.  To start with, the feet were by his head and vice versa.  Just turning the suit around would be the first challenge. 


As she ran, Beverly was again grateful for a dancer’s legs, and slight reduction in gravity.  The hallway stretched on endlessly.  It was huge – a good four meters tall, and what markings she did see were placed high on the wall.  Giant arachnoids.  If she had any options at all in the situation, she would choose not to deal with enormous spiders.  But options were just not an option right now.   The doors in the hallway tended not to be doors as such, but round openings fitted with a flexible lens-like material that allowed one to squeeze through. Their “sills” were usually 4 to 5 feet high, and the center of the lens beyond her reach.   She banged on the wall near each door, and scanned for lifesigns.  There were none. 

Finally she reached an intersection where another major hallway teed off from this one.  Her tricorder showed she’d been running for eight minutes.  With pauses to scan and check openings, she guessed she’d come a bit over half a mile.  She scanned down both hallways for life signs and found nothing.  The one she’d been following seemed to skirt the outside of the station.  As she continued along it at a steady lope, she tried to remember whether they had seen anything that looked like a control room or entry area on the leading edge of the plant.  That’s where she would put it.  Of course… that’s where she would put it.  But where do spiders monitor their structures from?  She pivoted and headed back to the intersection, to the hallway that struck off into the heart of the Skrez plant. 

Within a hundred meters, she began to notice that wall markings were more frequent in this hallway, as were the doors.  And in the distance, she thought she could hear some sort of high-pitched droning, almost like an alarm.  This looked more promising, and she pushed herself to run faster.  After another five hundred meters, she could see a reddish glow at the end of the hallway.  Oh no, not a furnace of some sort?  Had her spider logic been completely wrong?  But any sort of burning would have to be more contained, wouldn’t it?  Just then, she saw a huge spiderlike being emerge from an opening near the red glow, cross the hallway, and disappear into the glowing space. 

Beverly covered the last hundred meters at a sprint.  As she neared the end of the hall, she began shouting as best she could through her helmet speakers.  “Hello!  Hey!  Help, I need help!  There’s a living being aboard a ship you’re about to recycle!”  As the hallway opened up into a large octagonal room, she saw all the operational lights were red – those that shone from overhead and from the large readout screens that filled much of the room.  One look at the red multifaceted eyes of the Skrez and she knew this must be their native spectrum.  The alarm-like sound she had heard was louder, and was actually made up of several alarms.  The Skrez appeared to pay no attention to any of them. Was this their equivalent of background music?   If their distress beacon from the Mistral had gotten through, it would simply have been lost in the screeching and squealing.   The red, glowing, cacophonous atmosphere full of giant spiders was so stereotypically hellish that Beverly wondered for a second if she might actually be hallucinating the whole thing.

The nearest Skrez turned toward her and extended a single leg.  Its black exoskeleton appeared metallic, except for the rough hairs, thick as her little finger, that jutted out from it.  With surprising delicacy, it tapped lightly on the top of her helmet, then on her arm, her leg, and the toe of her boot.  Beverly ground her teeth together and confined the horrified scream she wanted to make to the very back of her throat, swallowing it with a barely audible whimper.  But she stood her ground, and repeated her message in short simple phrases, hoping that universal translator could make sense of it in Skrezy.  “Living being … trapped on ship … we were supposed to be visitors.  Captain Borm of the Meensar contacted you about us.”

The nearest Skrez turned abruptly and began a high-pitched chittering exchange with several others.  The translator was having a hard time dealing with the extremely unfamiliar form, but a few words came through.  “Borm … Meensar … violation of standard trade …”   All five of the Skrez in the room began vibrating the huge hairs on their legs, and their chittering became even higher pitched.  Among humans, I’d say they were upset, Beverly thought.  Among spiders … who knows. 

She felt a sudden push and realized the nearest Skrez has reached one of its back legs around behind her and was nudging her to move closer to its fellows.  I can do this, I can do this, she repeated over to herself.  And I have a phaser if things get really bad.  She felt the huge leg again tap on her helmet, and saw five pairs of huge eyes peering in through her faceplate.  The chittering died down to a lower pitched grumble, and one word emerged clearly from the translator.  “Goo.”   Then the agitated vibration and chittering began again. 

Goo?  They seemed to mean her.  Is that what humanoids are to them?  Goo?  It could make sense, in spider logic.  Now why would that upset them so?  Maybe they simply find us disgusting.  Maybe they’re horrified that I’m even here and they’re just arguing about which one has to step on me.  A few more words emerged from the translator.  They seemed to be upset with Borm, but it had to do with some sort of trade violation.  Suddenly one phrase cut through.  “Clean ships!  No goo!”  

The first Skrez turned back to her and put one of its eyes up close to her helmet to peer in.  Please don’t do that, Beverly begged internally, but forced herself to keep her eyes open and return his gaze.   “More?” came the single word through the translator in a stern tone.

I see now.  That’s it.  They’re bothered about humanoids – goo – on the ship.  I’ll bet they don’t give a damn about us, but maybe the goo gums up their works somehow.  “Yes, more.  Lots of goo.”  Instantly the Skrez set up their agitated reaction once again, and as their pitch began to rise, Beverly shouted for all she was worth, “I’ll clean it!” 

The noise stopped as the red eyes swiveled toward her.  “I will clean out the goo.  But I need power.” 


“I will need to operate ship’s systems to remove the goo.” 

“Do what with goo?”

“Put it in escape pod and eject it.”

Again the chittering conversation.  This time the translator picked out elements of a disagreement between those who were reluctant to give up the escape pod and those who would be glad not to deal with the goo.  They turned back to her.


“Now.  It will take me fifteen minutes after power is restored and I return to the ship.”

“Take only goo.  We will monitor.”

All right, she could deal with that.  They shouldn’t be able to tell what would be happening on the Mistral until it was too late.

“Good,” she said.  “Go now.”  She turned and headed back out into the hallway, then looked back and used her best command voice.  “Now!”  She set off with no hesitation, and after a moment looked back to see one of the Skrez striding after her, its small head and body close to the ceiling, atop the enormous legs.  She was not actually running from the spider, but it felt that way to part of her brain.  Adrenaline and urgency combined to let Beverly keep running through exhaustion. 


The darkness didn’t bother him.  One doesn’t get to be a Federation ambassador by being afraid of the dark.  The cold was annoying, but he had been cold before.  It was getting a bit stuffy as well.  The confinement was perhaps the most difficult challenge to face, but his mind could compensate for that.  He focused on one particular memory of Beverly in the Eebronian mist bed; it both occupied his mind and gave him a pleasantly warm feeling.  He had managed to push the pants of the thruster suit down to the end of the locker, then pull them on.  But there was simply not room to wriggle into the top half of the suit, and his torso was increasingly cold.  He pushed the suit under him so he was not lying on the bare metal of the locker floor.  That helped a bit.  The memory of Beverly appearing and disappearing in the blanket of mist, each time with a bit less clothing, helped more.  Periodically he would strain for any sound he might hear, but the comparison that came to mind was always “still as a tomb.”  Lying there in a confined rectangular space, cold and dark and stuffy, it was not a comparison that he chose to pursue.  His teeth chattered, and he felt a slight headache coming on, probably caused by diminishing proportions of oxygen in the locker.  It wasn’t airtight, but the gap under the door was barely wide enough to slide a piece of paper under, and it was at the far end of the locker from him.  Hurry Beverly, he thought.  Be careful, but … hurry.


By the time Beverly reached the double doors that led out to the bay area, she was exhausted and really mad.  Although she’d run as fast as she could, the long-legged Skrez could move much faster, a fact it reminded her of by prodding her in the back every now and again.  On a few occasions those prods had sent her sprawling, and she could have sworn the creature made a noise that was some sort of a laugh.  The giant spider touched the markings high on the wall, while watching the displays on the bay walls through the double doors.  She saw some sort of change in response to what it had done.  It turned to her.  “Power restored.  You have fifteen minutes.  Then power will be off.” 

The Skrez hit the touchpad and the doors opened.  It shoved her rather rudely out and closed the doors quickly.  They must be able to withstand open space for a few seconds, she noted, but probably not more than that.  As she left the bay, Beverly eyed the display that the Skrez had been watching when it shut down the power.  When she cleared the entranceway, she looked up and noted a cluster of emitters at the top of the station, with conduits that ran in the direction of the display.  Let’s hope they build logically, she thought as she powered up her thruster and crossed the space to Mistral – where friendly lights were now blinking on the outside of the ship and glowing through the top of the star deck. 

With her suit functioning, it took her only about thirty seconds to make the crossing that had taken almost four minutes earlier.  Stepping in through the airlock door, she powered it shut, opened the inner door, and unlatched her helmet. 

“Beverly!  Are you here?” she could hear the voice clearly, muffled as it was by the locker door. 

“I’m coming, Jean-Luc!”  She slapped at the door control and felt the cold air that spilled into the room from the locker.  All she could see were the boots of his thruster suit.  She tucked them under her arms and began to pull, only to find the suit pants came out quite easily, leaving Jean-Luc’s feet and legs still in the locker. 

“Beverly, this is not the time,” he said as he hooked his heels over the lip of the door and pulled himself out of his metallic prison.  He was shivering with cold and her practiced eye could see the strain of tension in his face, but he hadn’t lost his sense of humor.  “I see my faith in you was not misplaced.” 

“We’re not out of the woods yet.  Or out of the scrapyard.  The Skrez aren’t giving up possession of Mistral  voluntarily, but they do object to life forms aboard recycled ships.”  She helped him to his feet and wrapped her arms tightly around him for a minute.  “Apparently we’re considered ‘goo’ that interferes with the works of their processing plant.  I’m here on the premise that I’ll eject all our goo in an escape pod within …” she glanced at her tricorder, “… ten minutes.  Let’s get to the cockpit.”

“The escape pod?” he began to question, but she cut him off.

“Of course we won’t do that.  Quick – we have ten minutes at the most to prepare our escape.”

“You have a plan?”

“I do.”

They reached the cockpit and activated the viewscreen.  Beverly pointed out the cluster of emitters that she believed controlled the power damping beam, and with luck the tractor beam as well.  As she targeted all their phasers there, Jean-Luc laid in a course that would take the ship away from the Skrez plant at warp speed.  First, however, they had to get out of their “parking space.” 

“Phasers targeted,” she confirmed.

 “Course laid in,” he replied.  “Computer, release helm control to manual.” 

“Manual control mode established.”

“On my mark, Beverly?”


“And … mark.” 

With a stationery target, it wasn’t difficult to score a direct hit.  After five seconds of direct fire, Beverly’s marksmanship was rewarded with a burst of smoke and shrapnel.  “Target destroyed,” she whooped.  Jean-Luc immediately dropped the Mistral sixty meters straight down, placing the row of derelict ships between them and a direct line of sight from the entry Beverly had used.  Spinning 180 degrees on its axis, the nimble ship turned her tail to the Skrez station and jumped to warp speed. 

“We made it!” Beverly exclaimed as the stars turned to smudges on the viewscreen. 

“You did it!” he exulted as he swept her into a bear hug.  “You’re not fit for the Skrez yet, old girl,” he added. 

“I hope you meant Mistral by that ‘old girl,’” she said with a smile. 

“Of course,” he returned.  “Although I certainly wouldn’t recycle either of you.” 

“Good to know.”  She laid a hand on his cheek, then took his hands.  “You’re still freezing cold.  I know just the thing.” 

She pulled him up from his chair and led him out of the cockpit to the holosuite.   They stood on the plain grid that could become anything.  “The perfect antidote for a cold, dark metal box.  Computer, recreate the beach at Sestros Seven.  Weather sunny, time of day noon. Air temperature 92 Fahrenheit, water temperature 84.  Breeze six kilometers per hour.  One doublewide lounge, two pina coladas.” 

“This is hardly beachwear we’re in,” he said.  He still wore the fleecy tunic and pants he had begun the day in.  She had not even had time to pull off her thruster suit, although the helmet now lay on the floor by the open storage locker. 

“You’re right,” she smiled as she started to pull off the bulky suit.   Jean-Luc was about to request replicated beachwear from the computer when she stepped out of the last of the suit, and continued, stepping right out of the clothing she wore under it.  His attention was riveted as she strolled thigh-deep into the surf, dove under for a second, then turned toward him with the water glistening on her skin.  “Come on in; it’s perfect,” she called. 

“It certainly is,” he said to himself with a smile as he sat on the edge of the lounge and contemplated the exquisite view while removing his own clothing.   He would usually toss his worn shirts into one of Mistral’s internal recycling chutes, but something stopped him this time.  With a smile, he instead draped it over the back of the lounge.  Some microscopic dust mite had just received the same reprieve from him that they had grabbed from the Skrez.  Life goes on.

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