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Part of USS North Sea: Comp Entires

The Flamingo Crystal

The USS North Sea
1/24/2023
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For three days, the North Sea crew studied a new stellar nursery. The science teams cataloged each baby star, determining which would survive and which would be obliterated over time. As fascinating a find as it was, analyzing the data was tedious and taxing. Captain Fawkes oversaw much of the study.

Seated at her computer in her ready room, Charlotte Fawkes mulled over her report before sending it to Starfleet. She was tired. Pulling double duty as a captain and heading the research team on the nebula had taken its toll. She was tired. “Computer, send the report.”

“Acknowledged. Report sent to Starfleet Command.”

“Thank you,” Fawkes said as she stretched and yawned. “Computer, how about a cup of Darjeeling tea, Autumn flush with a dash of milk.”

Across the room, the replicator hummed as a swirl of light shimmered into tea. Fawkes took a sip and closed her eyes. It was a taste of home. “That reminds me. I still haven’t looked at that holonovel Aunt Henrietta sent.” Fawkes entered her bed chambers as a warm bath and bed called to her. “Dammit,” she said. Fawkes exited her bedroom and placed the teacup in the replicator to be recycled.

“Computer. My Aunt sent a copy of her holonovel. I forget the name, but was it something about a dinner party?”

“Affirmative – entitled ‘The Flamingo Crystal,’ the holonovel is set in England circa 1947. You are Dr. Ilsa Louisa Sundström, a geologist from Sweden, and your contact is an American CIA agent named Alec Walters. The setting is a mansion in the English countryside, Ferguson Hall. You should dress accordingly.”

“Ferguson Hall? That’s where I grew up.” A smile touched Charlotte’s cheeks as she lost herself in memory. “I’ll have a dress replicated. Please reserve a suite for me, and thank you, Computer.” Fawkes left her ready room for a fitting. She was looking forward to the diversion.

~

Dressed in a rayon crepe black dress and holding a small purse of the same color, Charlotte entered the holosuite. The grid on the floor disappeared and was replaced with white lace marble. The walls were a decorative floral pattern, cream in color. In the midst were thirty people dressed in tailored suits, dresses, furs, and adorned with exquisite jewelry. Fawkes took a deep breath and moved through the crowd; she fit right in.

A fog hung from the ceiling from the cigarettes. Charlotte coughed but remained composed. She smiled at a few guests, none of whom she knew. The woman knew how to stay cordial in polite society and spoke briefly to a few, making her rounds across the room. Then, spotting the bar, she took a seat and ordered her usual.

“Sazerac, please.”

“Coming up,” the bartender said in a broad cockney accent and started on the drink.

Fawkes turned around to take in the scene. The people seemed happy; some were even ecstatic. “There was a war a couple of years ago, correct,” she asked the barkeep. 

“Where have you been hiding, lady?” The bartender gave her the side-eye and slid the drink across the bar.

“Sweden,” a voice said from behind Charlotte. The bartender made a sour face and left. Fawkes spun around to find a tall, sharply dressed man in his early 40s. “Giving Germany all that iron early in the war didn’t win you many friends, did it?” asked the man. He took a sip of bourbon and set it on the bar, then took Fawkes by the arm.

“I beg your pardon?” she said and yanked her arm back.

“Now you’re a fighter,” he joked and thumbed toward the balcony. “Come on, before people see us fighting and think we’re married.” 

Charlotte walked with the man to the terrace; she recalled her history and how her country of birth was neutral during World War II. She wondered if the gentleman had lost someone early in the war or was belligerent like the bartender. Char put the subject out of her mind and played along for the time being. 

Once on the balcony, the night air cleansed her mind. A cool breeze blew as she reveled in the vista below– hills, trees, green grass, and heather adorned the land for miles. She wished Rey was there. 

The gentleman leaned against the stone railing and lit a cigarette. “I have heard that Sweden is home to a bounty of beautiful women.” He eyed Charlotte slowly. “If you are any example, I heard right.”

“Thank you,” replied Fawkes. “You must be the man I’m supposed to meet, Alec Walters.”

 “That’s me, the lucky man himself.” The agent dug into his inner coat pocket and handed a small black box to Charlotte.

“Are we getting married?” she asked with a chuckle.

“Heaven forbid. Open it.”

Fawkes opened the box and gasped. “Oh, my gods. It’s dilithium.”

“Di – what?” asked the agent. “You know what this stuff is?”

“Yes,” said Char, placing the closed box in her purse. “Where did you find this?”

“Tell me what it is, and I’ll –

Heavy footsteps entered the balcony. A short, bald man in a long, thick, black coat moved toward the couple. Behind him stood two large brutish men. “Dr. Sundström? Dr. Ilsa Sundström?” asked the bald man in a German accent.

“I’m she,” responded Charlotte.

The little man placed himself close to Fawkes. His smile was crooked. “I am Dr. William Leach. I knew your father when you were a little girl. Why don’t we reminisce on our way to town? I know a lovely restaurant, and my car is just outside.”

“Scram, Wilhelm. The lady’s not interested,” barked Walters, stepping toward the man.

Charlotte felt something hard and metal jab her in the lower ribs. She caught Walters’ eye, shaking her head. The two henchmen moved closer to Fawkes but took no other action. Leach took her purse and pressed his gun harder into her side. 

“Dilithium, was it?” asked Leach. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. Please come with me, Dr. Sundström.” 

Charlotte thought about how she wanted this to play out. Would she be the hero or let the CIA agent save the day? The captain didn’t fancy an interrogation from this Leach character. Besides, Rey might add a bit of torture for fun, but her aunt would never think of it. 

“Look, guys, this has been fun, but I’m exhausted and want to take a bath and go to bed. Maybe I’ll see you this weekend?” 

Both Agent Walters and Dr. Leach eyed Charlotte as if she was crazy. 

“Computer, end simulation. Uhm … reset holonovel. Rey and I will –

Leach jabbed Fawkes in the ribs for a third time. 

“I beg your pardon!” Char shouted and elbowed the little man in the face. The gun dropped from his hand. He stumbled back. Alec leaped for the weapon. Leach took the purse and ran. 

“Computer! End sim now!” she yelled again.

“What the devil are you yelling about?” cried Walters. “He’s getting away with your purse and the crystal!”

Walters and Fawkes both took off for Leach, but his brutes remained, their guns drawn. Finally, both moved in on the duo. From the party inside, a woman screamed when she saw the firearms displayed. Both henchmen turned. The crowd ran out of the room, several people in hysterics.

“Come on!” The agent grabbed Fawkes’ arm as they dove from the second story. Charlotte dropped and rolled into the grass. As she stood, the Captain noticed blood on her knee. “Oh, bloody hell.”

“Oh, bloody hell is right! Come on!” Walters grabbed Charlotte’s arm again as multiple shots exploded from the balcony. 

“Stop grabbing my arm!” 

“I’m trying to save your life, you crazy lady!”

The two ran across the lawn, ducking behind a clump of bushes. Fawkes caught her breath. “Gods. The safety must be off.”

“Of course, the safety is off,” Alec said, looking at Leach’s gun. “That lunatic was trying to kill you.” 

“I don’t mean – never mind.” Charlotte had to think. Holodeck protocol instructed that in such emergencies, the only way to end the program was to finish the story. She turned to the agent. “Once I’ve identified the crystal, what were you supposed to do?” she asked the agent. 

“I have orders to take the rock and you back to Washington tonight. Our guys don’t know what that is, and they were hoping you could tell us.”

“It’s too powerful, is what it is. No one should have it. Not yet.” 

“Well, whatever it is, we have to get it back. So why didn’t you put it somewhere else?”

Charlotte puffed out her dress. “Does this look like it has pockets?”

Walters peeked out from behind the bush. Men in long black coats waved flashlights, still searching the premises; Dr. Leach stormed across the lawn, Char’s purse under his arm. “It looks like our friend is still looking for something, probably you. And he still has your purse.”

“In that long, heavy, black coat? The man has no fashion sense at all,” Char quipped. Then, suddenly, a henchman from the balcony stepped near the bushes, weaving his flashlight through the shrubs. Charlotte and the agent froze. 

“Search the back yard!” cried Leach. The brute nodded and did as ordered.

Fawkes waited until the man was gone, then grabbed Walters by the arm. “Come on,” she said. “I have a plan.”

“Hey …” The agent grumbled.

“I have an idea,” said Fawkes. “Follow me.” The Captain and Walters slowly crept through the bushes, stopping as flashlights threatened too close. They could hear the mumbling of Leach’s men still looking for her. 

“We need to make a run for the old well house.” She pointed to the small stone building a few feet ahead. 

“We need to get that crystal,” he grunted. The agent scouted the area, spotting two brutes rounding the corner of the house and out of sight. 

“We will. Trust me,” said Charlotte. The two moved quickly but quietly to the well house. It was a small building constructed only a few years after the main house. In 1947, it still acted as a pump house. As soon as they were inside, Fawkes hooked the latch, locking the door behind them, then knelt on the stone floor. “Here, give me a hand with this slab.”

“What the devil are you are doing?” asked the aggravated agent as he aided in removing the flat stone.  

“During the Protestant Reformation of the 1600s, priests were often given refuge by practicing Catholics. As a result, they would hide in secret spaces, tunnels, and entire rooms.” 

Walters took the flat slab and placed it on the floor. “You mean there’s a secret tunnel under there?” 

“Yes,” said Charlotte. 

“Then why didn’t you say there’s a secret tunnel under there and spare me the history lesson?” 

Fawkes scowled and moved down into the darkened hole. Walters followed her down the ladder when Charlotte screamed, landing with a thud. 

“Are you all right?” 

Charlotte rubbed her injured knee again. “The third step in the ladder isn’t there anymore. So, watch it. It’s also pitch black down here.” 

Walters jumped down, helping Fawkes to her feet, and lit a match. “We better take a look at that.” 

“I’ll be fine,” she said and hobbled down the tunnel, sticking close to the agent’s light. The tunnel’s walls were stone, roughly the same type and age as the house. The floor was dirt, with a few slabs for flooring.

“How did you know about this anyway?”

“I used to play here as a child – when I would visit.”

Walters didn’t comment as the two moved toward the hideaway. Once the first match went out, the agent lit another one. Charlotte opened the door to find the hideaway had been converted into an air raid shelter. “Just as I suspected,” Fawkes said, pulling on a chain for the light. Walters blew out his match. The woman scanned the shelter for supplies. “Let’s see, radio, bed, canned jam, canned potted meat, jarred preserves, tea, vinegar, first aid kit …” Fawkes went on, listing the items. “No firearms?” She sighed. 

“Sit down and let me look at that leg,” demanded Walters.

“I’m fine,” Char shot back. The agent lifted her skirt.

“I beg your pardon!” Fawkes shot a terse look at the agent. “I know several self-defense methods.”

“You’re also bleeding. Sit down.”

With no other choice, Charlotte took a seat on the bed. She felt its firmness, thinking about her bed in her quarters. Walters lifted the woman’s skirt beyond her knee and reached for the first aid kit. “This will sting a bit,” he said, reaching for the rubbing alcohol.

“I’ll be fine.” Fawkes folded her arms across her chest. “There’s two of us against three, four … five? How many did you – OW!” The brunette flinched he leg back as the grain alcohol splashed over her wound. 

“Hold still. I need to bandage it.”

“That’s it. Alcohol. No, something better,” Fawkes exclaimed, standing to her feet. “Hand me the vinegar,” she said, holding her hand out. “Do you see any bleach?”

The agent began to protest but rolled his eyes and handed Charlotte the bottle of vinegar from the shelf. He looked around. “No. I don’t see any bleach. I don’t think clean clothes were a life-or-death dilemma.”

Charlotte paused for a moment. “That’s a matter of opinion,” she said and tapped her chin. “It’s probably in the laundry. You need to find it.” She grabbed two jars (one big and one small) from the shelf and emptied the contents onto the floor. “Now, take these; put bleach in one and vinegar in another. It doesn’t matter what goes in where, but close the little jar, place it in the big jar and seal that. When I call, smash it against the wall. The sodium hypochlorite from the bleach will mix with acetic acid in the vinegar and create a cloud of chlorine gas.”

Walters looked at Fawkes cockeyed. “What? Who the hell are you?”

“They taught us chemical warfare in finishing school,” Char joked and started up the ladder and into the house.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to give myself up. Remember, bleach and vinegar. Don’t let them mix until you smash the jars. Then, lob it like a grenade.” She demonstrated the toss and continued up the ladder. Seconds later, the starship captain emerged in the downstairs study.

“My father’s study,” she said quietly. It was amazing how little had changed. The large oak desk looked the same as she knew it in 2368. “No time to reminisce, girl. You need to pull this off.” Charlotte limped from the study and into the foyer. “Yoo-hoo!” she called. Loud footsteps came running down the stairs.

“Hold it right there!” shouted one of Leach’s mooks. He pulled a gun on Fawkes and ran to open the front door. “Doc! We have her!”

Charlotte strolled into the drawing room and took a seat.

“I said, don’t you move, lady!”

“I’m not moving. I’m sitting,” replied Fawkes.

The bald little man marched in with the two brutes from before. Once he saw Fawkes seated, his eyes darted around the room. “The man who was with her. Find him.” Leach then smiled and moved to Charlotte, handing the purse back to her.

“Thank you,” she said.

“You are welcome, Dr. Sundström.” He pulled a chair over as his brutes surrounded her. “You’ve hurt yourself,” he said, looking at her knee. “It’s bleeding.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“I’m sure you will,” Leach commented and pulled a flask from his coat pocket. He slowly undid the top and took a sip. “Schnapps,” he said with a smile and offered Fawkes a drink. She shook her head. The bald man grinned darkly and tilted his flask, pouring the alcohol onto her wound. Fawkes hissed. “I’m so, so sorry, Doctor. How clumsy of me.”

“I’m fine,” Char replied.

“Good,” he began, pulling the small black box from his coat pocket. He opened it to reveal the pink chip. “Dilithium, was it?” One of the brutes pressed his gun against Charlotte’s back.

“Yes. It is a chip from a dilithium crystal used in warp propulsion systems to regulate matter/antimatter reactions to distort space/time in a subspace bubble.”

Leach bent down, nearly nose to nose with Fawkes, and glared at the woman. Then, a smile lit up his face as he began to giggle. “That’s very – you should write those fantastic novels.” He began to laugh, as did Fawkes. Then, without warning, the little man grabbed Charlotte’s knee and squeezed. She grimaced. “We will take you to the restaurant I spoke of earlier, where we have some sodium thiopental on the menu. If that does not work …” he glanced at Charlotte’s knee. Leach removed the small, pink chip from the box. “We call it the flamingo crystal because of the color.” He nodded. “Yes, we had it a year ago, and the Americans stole it from us.” The bald man turned somber. “A year too late for our Germany.”

From another room came a crash. Leach eyed his henchman. “Finde den Mann!” he yelled.

Charlotte grabbed the chip from Leach’s hand and tossed it in her open mouth. She swallowed.

“No … you didn’t. You … couldn’t.”

“I did.”

She shrugged.

“Arruughhh!” Leach leaped onto the woman, his hands around her throat.

“HIQaHjaj!” she yelled and countered with a poke in each eye.

Again, Leach screamed. He fell back. Charlotte rose quickly and kicked him in the knee. She ran as Leach grabbed his knee in pain. Unfortunately, the captain didn’t get very far—two of Leach’s mooks, their guns drawn, stopped her in the foyer.

“Hands up, lady,” one of them said, his German accent thick. Fawkes complied. In the drawing room, Dr. Leach began to rise. Then – the crack of a glass jar. Charlotte ran as the henchmen started to cough. She ran and punched Leach in the temple, then smashed through a window and rolled onto the ground. The starship captain stood only to find the last mook holding a gun on her. He smiled wickedly. She sighed and raised her hands again.

Bang!

Captain Fawkes flinched as the last of Leach’s men fell into the grass.

“I heard your yoo-hoo and came as fast as I could.”“That wasn’t very fast.”  “Well, I was busy with – Anyway, that was a pretty amazing stunt with the window,” said Walters as he approached Charlotte. He put away the gun and looked her over. Blood trickled down her cheek, arms, and legs. “I think we better get you to the hospital.”

“I’ll be fine,” she said.

“Fine? You’ve glass all over you. You’re bleeding from … everywhere.

She placed her hand over his lips. “Just kiss me so we can get this over with.”

“Kiss you? After all this running around, you suddenly want me to kiss you?” He folded his arms over his chest, turning his head. “I’m not someone you can just use, you know.”  

“I know,” she said, grabbing the man and kissing him deeply.

Charlotte watched as the house and grounds of Ferguson Hall dissipated and melted back into the holosuite. She stood silent for a moment, her knee in pain, blood all over. The captain let out a long breath. “Computer, start a hot bath, please. Then I’m going to bed.” 

Comments

  • Wonderful story, captured the essence of the competition as well. Great work! I really enjoyed the story.

    January 25, 2023