"You know, sir, I did tell you this would happen."
TREA sighed. "Yes, you did. Whoop-de-doo for you."
"I told you twenty times, sir," the ship continued in its pestering tone, "That you needed to get my warp engines looked at back when we were on Rygel Seven. But noooooooooo, you just had to go chasing some Orion tail through the…"
"Shut UP!" TREA kicked the console. "I'm not any happier about our situation than you are, and you aren't helping by reminding me of how I screwed up, so just put a diode in it and give me some peace and quiet."
"As you wish, dimwit." A few seconds of silence. "You know, if you didn't have to try and race with every female Captain you…sir?" TREA had opened the glove box and was searching through it. He soon found what he was looking for—a small red data stick. "Um, is that what I think it is?"
"You bet your servos," TREA said, and crouched down to stick it in the computer's terminal.
"I-I'm sorry, sir, I didn't mmmbmf—mmm!" The device was, in fact an electronic gag. At this point, his ship's computer's muffled protests were music to his ears.
"And now for some standby." TREA kicked his feet up, put a blindfold on, and reclined his chair. It was probably just a matter of time now.
Scarcely a minute had passed when the console began beeping, and a red light flashed. TREA tried to ignore it. "MMM!"
"What is it?" TREA mumbled, not removing his blindfold.
"Mm'mm bmm-mm hmm!"
"We're being hailed?"
He removed his blindfold and sat up. "Okay, put them through, whoever they are."
The screen clicked to life, showing the bridge of a starship. A brown-haired, handsome man sat in the Captain's chair. To his right was a white-haired man with narrow eyes, and to his left was a man with a visor over his eyes. At the left console was a long-haired Cardassian whose face seemed cemented in a grin, and at the right was brown-haired woman with a chain earring on her right ear and a ridged nose—a Bajoran, no doubt. "Greetings, freighter," the man in the Captain's chair said. "I'm Captain Sousuke Aizen of the iU.S.S. Noches/i. May I ask what your name is?"
"I'm TREA. A merchant by trade, and Captain of this freighter."
"TREA—that's an odd name. I'm just wondering, why aren't we picking up any life signs from your vessel?"
TREA smiled. "That's probably because your sensors are only calibrated to detect carbon-based life signs. My name is an acronym—Translator Robot of Extreme Attractiveness."
Aizen folded his hands together. "I see. And would the fact that our sensors indicate that your warp engines are non-functional also be due to a deficiency on our part?"
"No, your sensors are right about that."
"Would you like some assistance? I'm sure my Engineering crew could get your ship up and running in a few hours."
"That'd be great, Captain," TREA said. "My warp core was on the verge of overloading, and I had to jettison it. I've got a delivery to make, and I'm sure my recipient doesn't want to be kept waiting."
"I understand. Lieutenant Nnoitra, lock a tractor beam onto his ship, and lock it into position."
"Tractor beam locked on, sir," The Cardassian replied.
"Just 'TREA', if you don't mind, Captain."
"TREA," Aizen corrected himself. "Shall we beam you aboard?"
"Okay. It'd be nice to talk to you face-to-face."
TREA stepped off the transporter pad. The Bajoran that had been seated at the console greeted him. "Welcome aboard the iNoches/i, TREA. I'm Ensign Ueda Miska." She noticed his eyes moving up and down her body. "Excuse me! My face is up here!"
"Pardon me, Ensign Ueda," TREA said, looking into her eyes. "It's just that it's a rare occasion when I'm graced by the presence of a woman as lovely as yourself."
"Flattery and a base-level knowledge of my culture will get you nowhere, buster."
"No, I suppose not," he said. "After all, you Bajoran women are quite renowned for your feistiness. Personally, I think it's very cute."
She tried to ignore his compliment—if that's what she dared call it. "I'll be taking you to the Bridge to meet the Captain."
"How busy is he right now?"
"Quite busy. He's got some tactical data for Starfleet Command that he needs to discuss with Admiral Unohana."
"In that case, let's not bother him. Would it be too much trouble if I asked you to give me a tour of your ship?"
She raised her eyebrow and led him down the hallway. "Are you trying to pull something?"
TREA gasped dramatically and put his hand on where a heart should have been. "Ensign, you wound me! To think, a simple, honest trader like me would be accused of having ulterior motives in personal interactions."
"Honest?" Her eyebrow seemed frozen in its position. "I'm the one who scanned your ship. You're carrying spice and disruptor rifles, several models of which have been banned by the Federation. Lucky for you, we're not currently in Federation space. If we were, I'm afraid we'd have to confiscate all your wares and throw you into the brig."
"Just where are we, anyway?" TREA asked. "My warp engines overloaded and the stress blew out my navigational system. I didn't have the right tools to repair it, and my replicator didn't work."
"That many systems went out because of hull stress?"
"Nah, my replicator hasn't worked for a very long time. I don't really need it because, well, you know…android. Don't need to eat. But I sure do miss it."
Miska pointed down the hallway. "Our mess hall is just around the corner, and our replicators are working just fine."
TREA stepped up to the replicator. "One red velvet cake, please."
"Please specify size."
"Um…one kilogram." A very large cake materialized in the replicator. "I like your computer. It doesn't sass back at me." TREA removed it and carried it to a nearby table.
"That's a rather large cake," Miska observed.
"I haven't had cake for over two years," TREA said. "But…would you care to have some?"
She stared long and hard at it, as if there were a war being waged between her palate and her figure. "Yes. I'm quite fond of red velvet cake."
He dished it up. "You still haven't answered my question, Ensign."
"The question of where we are."
"Oh, yes," she said. "About a year ago, the iNoches/i was hit by a wave of zeta radiation. At the time, we had been pursuing a renegade Klingon ship that had plundered several planets within the Klingon Empire. We were being assisted by two Birds of Prey when the radiation wave hit. We still don't know where it came from. All we know is that it knocked us to the far end of the Beta Quadrant, rather close to the border of the Delta Quadrant, and nearly destroyed us. The Klingon ships, on the other hand, didn't stand a chance."
"How DID this ship survive, anyway?" TREA asked. "I'm afraid it's one model of Starfleet's that I'm not familiar with."
"It's a Valiant class ship. It was designed primarily for battle. Right now, it and its predecessor, the Intrepid Class, are the only models in Starfleet that can pass through a plasma storm without sustaining any damage."
"Might I have a look at the schematic?" TREA inquired. "I'd like to see what makes this ship impervious to plasma storms. If I could make the necessary modifications to my freighter, I'd be able to cut about a hundred light years off my shipment route."
"Sorry," Miska said, "But that would be a violation of the Prime Directive."
"Ah, yes," TREA said, now halfway through the entire cake. "That one pesky little Starfleet rule. It's made life hard for me more than once."
Miska's gaze grew stern, and her tone defensive. "The Prime Directive isn't an obscure technical regulation. It's our highest law, and a philosophy. We do not give our technology to people who are incapable of handling it wisely, nor do we interfere in the natural course of cultural evolution!"
"Lieutenant," TREA stared into her eyes, "Has anybody ever told you that you're really cute when you're angry?"
Her face turning red, Lieutenant Ueda looked away. "No."
"Really? That's quite surprising."
Miska was about half way through her cake. "Shut up."
TREA's smile deepened. "Now you're even cuter."
She just ignored him, hoping not to provoke any more smart remarks. He shoveled the last quarter of the cake into his gaping jaws, then closed them as if nothing had happened. "How did you do that?" She asked with a mixture of disgust and amazement.
"Unhinged my jaw," TREA said nonchalantly.
It seemed that Miska's favorite facial expression was one eyebrow raised, because she was making it again. "Whatever were your creators thinking?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I'll probably never know, since I never asked."
"So, where did you come from?" She had finished her cake, and picked up the plates, which were recycled by the replicator.
"I don't know my true origin, but my earliest memories are from living on Velana, a planet in the Gamma Quadrant. Its inhabitants were an all-female society known as the Tha'vara, and they programmed me to be a pleasure droid and translator."
This seemed to catch Miska's attention. "Oh really? How do you know they didn't create you?"
"Because I was the only one of my kind. The women would constantly fight over me, and let me tell you, those fights got serious. I cared about them because they were kind to me, and eventually, I just decided to run away and make a life for myself somewhere else so they wouldn't kill each other over me. A few years later, I found out that the Tha'vara had all been killed because they refused to submit themselves to Dominion rule."
Miska's eyes were wide, and aglow with sympathy. "That's…horrible." Her hand found her way onto his. "It must have been so hard for you."
TREA put his thumb over her fingers, rubbing the knuckles lightly. "I've managed. I don't feel guilty about it anymore. After all, it happened over forty years ago."
Instead of her normal facial expression, Miska raised both eyebrows at this. "Forty years ago? Just how old are you?"
TREA shrugged. "I don't know. I serviced the Tha'vara for fifty years before I left their planet."
"You have ninety years' worth of memories?"
"Something like that. The Tha'vara gave me a personality algorithm that makes me constantly act like a twenty-year-old man. They considered that the ideal age for male lovers. But enough about me. Could we please see more of the ship?"
"Oh!" Miska stood, realizing that her hand was entangled with his. "Sure." She lead him out, and to the aft section of the ship. "This is Engineering. Our warp engines use variable geometry pylons, which allows us to exceed warp five without damaging subspace."
"Mila Rose!" A woman's voice called. "Is that calibration finished?"
"Just a minute, sir!" Came the reply from the walkway above.
TREA followed the first woman's voice to its source, and saw her climbing up from a lower deck. She appeared to be a blonde Vulcan, which was a true rarity. "That's Lieutenant T'Ia Halibel. And in case you're wondering, she's only half Vulcan."
The woman on the walkway above them appeared to be a Klingon. "You two down there!" She yelled. "Either help us, or get out of here!"
"I think that's our cue to leave," TREA said.
"I agree." Miska led him back into the turbolift. On their way up, they were joined by a red-haired Lieutenant.
Before TREA could inquire, the woman reached her hand out, her face lighting up like a class seven pulsar. "Hello there! I'm Orihime Inoue, ship's counselor."
He shook her hand. "Translator Robot of Extreme Attractiveness—you can call me TREA for short."
"You're pretty cute for an android," she said.
"I get that a lot," TREA said, winking at her.
Orihime giggled. "You're funny, too."
The turbolift stopped. "Yes," Miska said, glaring at Orihime, "He has his funny moments."
"She's got me outdone," TREA said to Orihime, pointing his thumb at Miska. "The truth is that I'm an obnoxious ass who loves getting a rise out of her at every opportunity."
Miska grabbed his thumb and wrenched it behind his back. "Look, do you want to continue this tour or not?"
"Yes," TREA said.
"Then get your act together!" She pulled him out of the turbolift amidst Orihime's fit of laughter. "I swear, that girl's brain is so sugar-coated, she finds everything funny."
"She certainly is a ray of sunshine."
"That she is," Miska said. "I think we would have given up on our journey home long ago if Orihime hadn't been here to brighten our spirits. We've had three encounters with the Borg, all of which ended badly. Anyway," she opened the third door on the left. "This is our sick bay, which is managed by Doctor Szayel A. Granz."
A pink-haired man sat at a desk. All of the beds were empty. "Don't disturb me," he said without looking up from his work.
"We don't mean to, Doctor Granz," Miska said, "I'm just giving a tour of the ship to our guest."
"Look all you want. Just don't touch anything, and don't bother me."
Miska pointed to the ceiling. "Our ventilation system has a laser grid on the inside which destroys all airborne pathogens. I don't think that'll be much of a concern for you, though."
"Androids can get sick, you know."
"Really?" Miska asked. "What's that like?"
TREA looked into her eyes. "My guidance gyroscopes go out of alignment, my thermal regulators shut off, my emotion algorithm goes haywire…an android fever, if you will. In fact, I think I feel one coming on now."
Miska looked back up at him, smiling with narrow eyes. "That's got to be one of the cheesiest pickup lines I've ever heard."
TREA was unfazed by this. "And yet, you liked it. You like being admired, just like every sentient creature in the galaxy."
Miska's face reddened once more, but whatever she was going to say was interrupted by a tone from her comm badge. "Aizen to Ensign Ueda."
Relief swept over her. "Ueda here."
"Our guest is getting a subspace transmission on a secure frequency."
TREA bent down, putting his face a mere three inches from Miska's badge. "Captain, do you think you could patch it through to Sick bay?"
"I'm afraid not," Aizen answered. "He insisted that his conversation with you be kept private. He won't even let me see his face. You can use my Ready Room to speak with him. Just come to the Bridge, and I'll show you where it is."
"Thanks, Captain. I appreciate it. TREA out."
"You know," Miska said, "He could have heard you just fine without you bending down."
"Really? I guess I'll have to remember that, then."
"You'd better," she growled. "Now get going."
"Later, hot stuff," TREA said as he walked out of the room.
The turbolift doors opened. "Nice to finally meet you in person. I've never been face-to-face with a real android before, much less one with his own freighter." Aizen extended his hand.
TREA shook it. "And I've never been on the bridge of a Federation vessel, with or without permission, much less a ship as impressive as this one."
"Let's save the mutual flattery for later. My Ready Room is this way," he gestured to a door on the end of the bridge, and they walked through.
"Sir? My guest is here to speak with you," Aizen said upon entering the room.
A deep, slow laugh echoed through the room. "Goo!d. If y!ou wou!ld be so gracio!us as to l!eave us al!one, Fed!eration Capt!ain."
"Of course," Aizen walked out.
"Hello, Yami," TREA said when the door closed. "What can I do for you?"
"Woo hoo hoo hoo hoo," the viewscreen came on, and showed a bloated Hutt with red stripes painted over the top of his head, and a bowl of Altairian chocolates in his arm. "I wa!s so wor!ried abou!t y!ou w!hen I coul!dn't cont!act y!our vesse!l, T!REA. Who wo!uld hav!e e!ver gue!ssed, y!ou, ab!oard a Fed!eration sh!ip?"
"These things happen," TREA said. "My warp engines overloaded, and I got stranded out in the Beta Quadrant. Luckily, the iNoches/i spotted me, and they're fixing my ship right now."
"A!nd th!ey t!ook y!ou ab!oard with!out conf!iscating y!our carg!o or int!errogating y!ou?"
"Yes," TREA answered, amused. "The Federation have no jurisdiction over this part of the quadrant, and they're so uptight about rules, they just left my cargo alone."
"Hoo hoo hoo! A!ll the mor!e fo!ols, t!hey." Yami grabbed a handful of chocolates and shoveled them into his mouth.
TREA stared. "Don't get ahead of yourself, Yami. Despite what Romulan propaganda might tell you, Starfleet are not fools. They refused to share their technology that allows them to pass safely through plasma storms, because they worried I might give it to an unprepared or untrustworthy party."
"I!t's as i!f t!hey kno!w yo!u alr!eady," Yami laughed.
"Just cut to the chase. You didn't call me solely to congratulate me on being party to overly lucky circumstances, did you?"
For the first time in their conversation, Yami looked serious. "Luc!ky? I sh!ould say n!ot! Y!ou are runn!ing la!te on my orde!r, and it w!ill c!ost y!ou. I'm cut!ting f!ive hund!red ba!rs of gol!d-pres!sed la!tinum ou!t of y!our paym!ent."
"But," TREA pleaded, "My engines malfunctioned."
"I d!on't wa!nt exc!uses!" The angry Hutt bellowed. "Y!ou sho!uld !have gotte!n y!our en!gines serv!iced at a st!arbase!" He leaned in close to the screen, making his large, slimy face fill it. "If y!ou was!te an!y mo!re t!ime, y!ou ca!n expe!ct to se!e y!our fa!ce on t!he nex!t epi!sode of 'B!ig Sh!ot'." The transmission ended, displaying the Federation logo on the screen.
TREA stood up and walked out, and Aizen noticed him. "You don't have to tell me, but who were you talking to?"
"My boss," TREA said, looking nothing if not a little annoyed. "He was just giving me a browbeating for running slow."
"Who exactly is he? He gave the universal translator a bit of trouble."
"Yami the Hutt," TREA answered.
"I've never encountered Hutts before. What are they like?"
"Imagine, if you will, a half-ton Talkarian slug with no antennae, short, stubby arms, the temper of a Nausicaan, the appetite of a Hynerian, and the greed of a Ferengi."
"Sounds…charming." Aizen said, looking uncomfortable.
"They're not much to look at or talk to, but they're powerful, and they pay well. Oh, and speaking of payment…"
"Forget it," Aizen said. "The Federation has no currency. You don't need to pay us for repair, as we're obliged to render aid."
"I wouldn't feel right not doing isome/ithing to show my gratitude," TREA put his hand on Aizen's shoulder. "I took a look at your navigational array. This is an area of space that I've been through before. You're headed into Romulan territory, and the only way around it will add another five hundred light years to your journey. Knowing the Romulans as I do, I would not advise you to let your presence here be known to them. They'll use it as an excuse to start a war with the Federation."
"That's all true," Aizen said. "In fact, Admiral Unohana was telling me the same thing. I would have asked her for a solution, but…well, let's just say that behind her pretty face and elegant hairstyle, she's got a way of making your skin crawl."
"That kind of woman, huh?" TREA nodded understandingly. "Well, I think I can be of help to you. As it so happens, my freighter is equipped with a cloaking device. I'd be more than willing to give you the technical specifications for it as a gesture of gratitude for repairs."
Much like his Ensign had done, Aizen raised an eyebrow. "What do you ireally/i want for it?"
"I told you the repairs will do!" TREA insisted. "Is it really that hard to believe that I don't want something else? Come on, we're both Captains here. Why can't we trust one another?"
Aizen shrugged, TREA's hand dropping from his shoulder. "Who am I to refuse? You don't need food or drink, after all. You have a deal." He held out his hand to seal the bargain, and TREA shook it. "Computer, have you been recording this conversation?"
"Affirmative. The transaction has been stored in memory."
"You'd use a recording to hold me to my word?"
"Of course," Aizen said. "You can never be too careful, especially outside the Alpha Quadrant."
"And here I was beginning to think you knew nothing about me. I'll contact my ship and have the technical diagram sent to your Lieutenant Halibel." He touched a spot on his forehead. "Worvil?"
TREA stifled a laugh. "The Engineering team hasn't removed your gag?"
"They're smart. I want you to transmit the schematic for the cloaking device to the iNoches/i."
"Mm mm fmm?"
"Of course I'm sure. Just do it."
"Mm mmbm mmhm."
"We have the schematic, sir," the Cardassian said. "Sending it to Engineering."
"Oh, hey there!" TREA noticed him. "Mind if I call you 'Spoony'?"
"Yes," he replied. "My name is Nnoitra."
"Nnoitra…what an odd name for a Cardassian."
Nnoitra ignored him, and the comm system chimed. "Away team to iNoches/i."
"iNoches/i here," Aizen replied.
"We have finished replacing the warp core, and have repaired all the other damaged systems."
"Stand by to be transported back."
"Well," TREA said, "It was nice meeting you. I'm glad we could be of service to one another."
"Maybe we'll meet again. I'm sure my crew's families will want to thank you." He tapped his badge. "Ensign Ueda, please escort our guest to Transporter Room 1."
"Gladly," came a voice from behind them.
TREA stepped onto the pad. "Are you really that anxious to get rid of me?"
"Let's see," Miska counted on her fingers. "You're obnoxious, you're gluttonous, and you're a pervert. On the other hand, you did just save our lives."
"One out of four isn't bad," TREA smiled. "Yes, I'll miss you, too. You intrigue me like few women have."
Miska held up her hand, giving a small wave. "Energize."
TREA landed back in the cockpit of his freighter. The computer wasn't making its muffled cries, so he removed the gag. "Nothing to say, Worvil?"
The computer sighed. "Yes, sir, I underestimated you. I'll never do it agai—WHAAAT?"
"What's rattled your processor?"
"Sir…don't tell me…in your arm…is that really…"
TREA opened a compartment in his arm and removed a smile vial containing a clear liquid. "Yes, it is. They had a liter of it in their sick bay."
"What the hell were you thinking? Don't you know that's number one on the Federation's contraband list? Just ASKING for it is a crime! They'd probably notice if even one milligram was missing!"
"With this, I'm hoping Yami will reconsider docking my pay. Now, resume our original course. Warp three."
The computer sounded nervous. "If you say so, sir."
Back on the iNoches/i, Doctor Granz had a hunch; one of those familiar hunches that the mad act upon and the sane brush off as delusions. He decided to examine the container in his medicine cabinet. THAT container. Sure enough, his hunch was right. "Sick bay to Bridge."
"Go ahead, Doctor," Aizen's voice came.
"Has the freighter left yet?"
"He's powering up his…oh, he just went to warp. Why, what is it?"
"You have to go after him," Granz said in a tone of urgency that rarely manifested itself outside of work hours. "It's very important."
"Because," Granz's voice was trembling with rage. "I am missing three grams of bio-mimetic gel!"
"Oh hell. Nnoitra, put us on an intercept course. Maximum warp."
"Aye, sir," Nnoitra entered the data. "Engaging." The ship shot into warp.
"TREA," Aizen said to nobody in particular, "You are by far the stupidest android in the galaxy."