Ispaoreai Hyps’rat (Onyx Station)
Weapons fire struck the wall on either side of him. Qwert fired back at the oncoming soldiers and then threw himself through the open orifice, ducking and rolling as he went. He tumbled head over heels into the room, spinning on his back and bringing his claw weapon up in case one of the Laurentii had followed him. Instead, he saw Benjamani step through much more gracefully, firing back over her shoulder. Moments later, Groves did too.
Laurentii followed, hot on their heels. The aliens never stopped firing, a steady barrage of energy bolts keeping their pursuers from getting too close. Once everyone was in, two of the Laurentii stepped up to the wall, placing their hands against the fleshy surface.
Qwert’s eyes widened as their forearms were swallowed up by two small orifices. Almost instantly, the Laurentii’s eyestrips began to flicker, gold and silver and red cycling in rapid succession. The orifice began to close, sucking inwards.
“Hold them off,” Lkim shouted, putting words to action and firing three times in quick succession through the closing door. Five of the soldiers joined him, Garabaldi amongst them. Qwert glimpsed Laurentii drawing closer, eyestrips black and cloudy with rage.
The orifice had almost closed when Garabaldi was hit. Her form was illuminated by a bright green glow, then her entire body was consumed, reduced to nothing in the blink of an eye. Her cut-off scream still echoed the orifice finally closed.
Qwert sat there, the sound of weapons fire against the wall seeming a distant buzzing. He stared at the place where Garabaldi had been, his eyes glazed over. I should have kept her safe
, he thought. She was under my responsibility.
In the silence that followed, Groves approached him, offering his hand to help him up. Qwert just looked at it for a moment. She didn’t need to die.
“She was only doing her job,” the hu-mon said.
Qwert looked at him. “This was her job? Dying in the middle of some damned fool civil war.”
He was surprised to see the coldness in Groves’ eyes when he met them. The man nodded. “Yes.”
Qwert took the hu-mon’s hand and allowed him to help him up.
“Good thing you showed up when you did.”
“Thank our hosts,” Qwert shot back.
Lkim had led Qwert and Garabaldi through some rear corridors so that they could come up behind the forces attacking Groves and Benjamani. The two of them had been pinned down in a cul-de-sac, and both of them had taken wounds. Qwert knew that if they hadn’t arrived when they did, both of them would probably have been dead. Instead, Garabaldi died. He glanced at Benjamani. It had better have been worth it.
The number of opposing soldiers had proved overwhelming, though, so while the Laurentii lay down covering fire, they had escaped. Here. Wherever here was.
Qwert looked around and realized that they were in the yaszmoot chamber. He turned to Lkim, who had walked over with Benjamani. “This is your safe place? The chamber?”
“This is the safest place outside the kruin’s chamber. It was designed to protect the yaszmoot from any enemy attack.”
“Including if that attack comes from your own people?”
Lkim did not respond, his eyestrip flickering with colours denoting shame and fear. “I am sorry about your kashaboor.”
Qwert glanced at Benjamani. “Flameholder. Soldier.”
“She died doing her duty,” Qwert responded, though the words turned to ash in his mouth. “Protecting me.”
They stood there for a moment, the only sounds in the sudden silence the distant hammering of the Laurentii weapons through the thick flesh walls and the closer noise the loyalist soldiers made as they prepared to fight off an incursion.
“Well,” Qwert said after a moment, “now that we’re ‘safe,” – Lkim’s eyestrip turned a bright green – “perhaps you would like to explain what by the Great Material Continuum is going on here.” And why my officer died.
“War, Admiralqwert,” Lkim replied simply. “The Hegemony is being torn apart from within.”
“But why?” Groves asked. “What the hell are you people fighting about?”
“He said that it had something to do with Sarine,” Qwert answered, his eyes never wavering from the Laurentii havac. “Personally, I’d like to know what he meant.”
“Sarine?” Benjamani repeated, her eyes narrowed. “Where is the captain?”
“A good question.”
Lkim’s breathing flaps fluttered, the Laurentii equivalent of a sigh. “I do not know. Exactly.”
“He’s not onboard anymore, is he?” Qwert pressed.
“No. Minutes after kruin Asuph was killed—“
“The kruin is dead?”
“Murdered by Lkinym,” Qwert snapped, waving away Groves’ question. “He’s the one who set all of this off. Because of Sarine apparently. What I want to know is why?”
“My God, what have we done?” Groves breathed. No one paid any attention to him.
“Minutes after kruin Asuph was murdered, reports claim that a varec known to have been close to him stole a kessif fighter and fled Ispaoreai Hyps’rat. From what I have been able to glean despite the chaos, he was carrying a prone figure. The description corresponds to that of your captain.”
“He kidnapped him?”
Lkim made a fluting sound through his breathing flaps. “Your captain had been shot, Admiralqwert. The varec had killed him.”
Qwert shook his head. Not Sarine, as well. If they’ve killed a Starfleet captain, nothing will save this treaty.
He glanced at the two hu-mons – Groves looked sick, while Benjamani’s face remained impenetrable. “I don’t believe that.”
“I hope I am wrong,” Lkim responded. “Either way, the Sarine is gone.”
“And what exactly did you mean when you said he was the cause of this situation?” Benjamani asked. “What has Captain Sarine done?”
“He has done nothing. It is what was done to him that has caused this war. But that is a very long story, one that I fear we do not have time for now.” He glanced over at the wall, which had started to ripple menacingly.
“Give us the short version,” Groves demanded.
“The short version? Your Captain Sarine was… changed when he was here last. Changed by the kruin who served before Asuph.”
“Changed into what?”
“A weapon. A last attempt to save the Hegemony from a terrible threat.”
“His DNA was modified, his genetic code rewritten with ancient information our former kruin believed to have originated with the Seefu themselves.”
Qwert frowned. Gods? Garabaldi is dead and Sarine is missing and we’re talking about theology?
Anger surged in a dangerous wave that threatened to overwhelm him. He reigned it in as best he could, lowering his voice. “You kidnapped and experimented on a representative of the Resistance in the middle of a war? Are you insane?”
“Many of us thought so. This was a plan spawned by kruin Lissa and continued by his successor. The yaszmoot disagreed, but he overruled us.”
“I thought he couldn’t do that.”
“On many subjects, he can’t. In the case of the Sarine, though, he has the backing of a higher power.”
“The melitnik,” Benjamani interjected.
“The priestly caste. The true rulers of the Hegemony. If kruin Lissa had their backing, there would be nothing that the yaszmoot could do. They serve at the pleasure of the Seefu, and the Seefu are represented by the melitnik.”
Qwert tried to process all of this. Just then, a large explosion sounded from behind the orifice, closer than the other blasts had been. The wall rippled even more.
“Looks like this place isn’t as secure as you thought,” Groves said.
“It was not meant to keep out our own people. The soldiers on the other side are not our greatest threat, however.”
“Lkinym. He is already preparing to take Asuph’s place as kruin. If he manages – no, when he manages – to do that, Ispaoreai Hyps’rat will be his. He will be able to control every corridor, every opening, every weapon onboard. He could kill us with a thought.”
Qwert nodded. “Then we’ll just have to stop him, won’t we?”
“And how do you plan on doing that?” Benjamani demanded.
Qwert smiled. He had been a trader who managed to make a fortune when most of his people were barely able to scrounge an extra loaf of bread for their meal. He had snuck into more Dominion outposts than most Resistance operatives had dreamed of. He had murdered two Founders. He had devised and led military campaigns against the Dominion, against the Klingon Empire and against the Andorians. He had spun all of that into a seat at the table after the war and got himself appointed admiral when most people dismissed him as a doddering old fool. All of that had taught him one thing, one lesson he held to more than any of the Rules of Acquisition.
His smile tightened. “Trust me. There is always a way.”