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Old January 7 2013, 04:38 AM   #6
DarKush
Rear Admiral
 
Re: Dark Territory: Shadow Puppets (Revised)

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Corvallen freighter Astral Eddy
En Route to Benzar System

Samson Glover kept his head down, his eyes on the gray sludge in his bowl. He was waiting for something alive in the soup to break the surface. While in line, he had asked the server what kind of soup it was. The burly violet Varno had grunted, “gruel,” before dumping in into his bowl. Before Samson could ask him to specify, an equally large Chalnoth had bumped him on down the line.

Glover hadn’t wanted to make an issue of it so he had just taken his bowl and found an empty spot on the table. Thankfully the rest of the crewmen eating lunch had given him a wide berth. They were clumped together, men and women from an array of species, including human, all shoveling their food, slurping their beverages, and engaged in animated conversations.

The former admiral caught snatches of them. The topics ranged from relationships to money woes to the latest sports scores.

He was content to merely be a spectator, needing some company but afraid to draw too much attention to himself or too many inquiries. As far as the captain and crew of the Astral Eddy were concerned, he was a merchant, on his way to Benzar to pursue business on Merria, the massive spaceborne city orbiting the planet.

The Corvallen captain Ronzek had been satisfied with the story that Glover was traveling so cheaply due to his miserly nature. Having a Romulan with him helped bolster the idea that Samson was seeking to curry favor with the real rulers in the Benzar system. And Daneeka played her role as muscle almost naturally. And she largely kept the more avaricious members of the Eddy from seeing Samson as an easy payday.

Unfortunately that didn’t result in the cooks treating him any better. His stomach queasy, he held his spoon, forever it seemed, over the bowl. Some of the rough crew that he shared the long table with looked at him with a mixture of bemusement and suspicion.

“You going to eat that?” A familiar voice asked, before the woman sat down beside him. The former admiral glanced at the younger Bolian. He slid the bowl to her.

“It’s all yours,” he said. She took the bowl and plunged her spoon into it. She gobbled down the contents quickly.

“What was that stuff?” He asked. The woman shrugged. Like him, she was dressed in simple, roughhewn, and drab brown tunic, matching pants, and dusty black boots.

“Don’t know,” Daneeka answered.

“You didn’t know, but you ate it anyway?” Samson asked, with a mix of surprise and disgust.

“Hey, Bolians are carrion eaters,” Daneeka shrugged again. “This stuff isn’t much different. Quite tasty actually.” She picked up the bowl and downed the rest. Glover’s stomach twitched. Placing the bowl down with a smack, Daneeka wiped her greasy lips with the back of her hand. She was playing the ruffian role to the hilt.

Or maybe it wasn’t completely an act, he thought, recalling that Daneeka had spent some time in prison for her role in Leyton’s failed coup. Since that time she had redeemed herself, most notably during her service at DS9.

“Daneeka you must have the constitution of a Cartagan elephant,” he remarked. The Bolian raised an eyebrow, a question in her expression.

“Never heard of that,” she said, “But it does sound delicious.” Samson couldn’t help but laugh, and was thankful to Daneeka for it. He needed the stress relief.

“That’s what I like to hear,” Captain Ronzek rasped, “Everyone having a good time on my boat.” The tall Corvallen strode into the mess hall, a large capped bottle in one hand. He wiggled his way between Samson and Daneeka.

Typical of the Corvallen species, the man’s face was covered with large, heavy scales that looked to Samson like plates. His long scaled face ended in a sharp chin. His obsidian eyes glinted with merriment as he held the bottle aloft. “It is rare that we ferry passengers, and especially to Merria,” he said, prompting a few hoots from the crew. “So in honor of the shore leave to come, I thought it prudent to pop the top of this fifty-year-old Canopian brandy,” he said.

“You shouldn’t,” Samson said, trying to wave off the gesture. He wanted to keep his wits sharp.

“I insist,” Ronzek said, good-naturedly. “I’ll have you know that it is bad form to refuse a Corvallen offer of drink.”

“Then we accept,” Daneeka said quickly, shooting Samson a quick look. The human was in her debt again for preventing a scene. He wanted to be remembered by as few of the Eddy’s crew as possible, which would’ve been impossible if he respected the ship’s captain.

“My colleague is of course correct,” Glover smiled at the captain. Ronzek nodded with satisfaction.

“Four glasses!” He shouted. There was a clamor in the kitchen and a young Draylaxian rushed from a swinging door, four glasses precariously on a tray. The young felinoid carefully placed the glasses down by the captain, Samson, and Daneeka.

“Four glasses Captain Ronzek?” The admiral asked, wondering what other surprises the Corvallen had up his sleeves.

“That’s for me,” Ousanas Dar swept into the galley. The tall, silvered Romulan was dressed in a gray traveling robe with jutting shoulder pads and wide sleeves. “He stopped by my quarters to make his ‘gracious’ offer,” Dar said, adding just enough scorn in his voice to pull off suffering from a typical Romulan superiority complex.

“Hah, Mr. Xerius,” Ronzek chuckled, using Dar’s alias. “Please, come join Mr. Gabler and Ms. Magen,” he said. Samson slid Daneeka a sly look. The woman scowled at the mention of the alias. She had wondered why Glover had chosen those names, the question drawing a chuckle and a glimmer of disappointment that the younger generations didn’t seem to be as enthralled by the history of James Kirk as his had been.

Ousanas glared at the proffered bench, his nostrils curling. He brushed off the space before gingerly placing his posterior on it, beside Daneeka. Ronzek poured four glasses of bright amber liquid, sliding them all to his guests. “Now, I caution you,” he warned, with a half-smile, “This packs quite a kick.” He clutched his filled glass and waited silently for the others to do the same.

Once they had, the Corvallen said, “May the solar winds always be at your back,” he declared before downing the liquid. Against his better judgment, Samson did likewise. The alcohol burned a plasma trail down his throat, before alighting in his stomach. The human lurched forward; about to heave what little contents remained in his stomach, before he forced the bile back down. It left another burning sensation in his throat, along with an acrid stench. The guffaws from the crew were near deafening, wounding Samson’s pride a little, until he remembered how foolish such a reaction was.

“Ha,” Ronzek said, slapping Samson hard on the back and nearly knocking him across the table. “Good first swig,” he remarked. “You took that like a real tramper,” he declared. Samson smiled weakly at the man. With his back smarting and flickers of flame still dancing on his tongue, Samson rasped:

“You call that a kick?”

This reply drew laughter of a different variety, one of camaraderie. Glover took quick stock of the room and saw a more respectful gleam in the eyes of many of the Eddy’s crew. Daneeka smirked in approval and Ousanas gave a pinched expression. Samson had worked long enough with the man to know that he also approved and thought that their ruse was working.

“I like you Gabler,” Ronzek declared, “Stout heart for a human,” he stated, roaring with laughter.

“Stout stomach too,” Daneeka added, eliciting another boisterous burst from Ronzek.

“Unfortunately I must return to the bridge,” he said, leaving the bottle. “We have several deliveries to make before we reach Benzar,” he stated, “And we are on schedule to arrive in that system in four days.”

“And not a moment sooner, I hope,” Samson took on a hectoring tone. He wanted them to believe that time wasted was money spent for him.

“You’ll get there, with time to spare,” Ronzek promised. “Now please, enjoy the rest of the brandy, it’s on me.” After he left, Samson considered the bottle, his stomach wilting, before getting up from his seat.

“Please Xerius, we have business to discuss,” he said, for benefit of the Eddy crew. Dar rose quickly, as did Daneeka. Unfortunately, the Bolian grabbed the Canopus brandy. When Samson looked at her reproachfully, the woman shrugged.

“Hey, business talk makes me thirsty.”
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Astral Eddy
Captain’s Quarters

Captain Ronzek didn’t go directly back to the bridge. He took a detour into his private chambers. Once there, the door closed, and ensconced within the room’s soundproofed walls-the only ones on the Eddy-the Corvallen sat at his desktop computer and turned it on.

It took forever, but eventually the old machine whined to life. Ronzek taped in a code and a shadowed form, sitting in a dark room appeared. “How are our guests?” The voice was modulated, computerized, but not well enough for him to not know that the speaker was a female. He couldn’t tell what species though. Her gender didn’t matter to him as long as the latinum bars she promised him were real.

“They are well, for now,” he said, hinting at a threat. Perhaps he could get more coin than he had been promised.

“And they will remain so,” she said, her voice neutronium hard. The man hissed, a reaction many would consider threatening, but Ronzek knew it masked his fear. “You will be paid what you agreed to, not a penny more.”

“Of course, of course,” he smiled and dipped his head, his gesture an attempt to mollify her. “But you can’t blame a guy for trying. It’s a tough universe out here.”

“Spare me your sob stories,” she said. “I want the three items we agreed to, bound and read for transfer at the rendezvous point.”

“They will be,” he nodded strongly. “Even now they are drinking liquor laced with a sedative. One immune to Corvallens…”

“I don’t need the details,” the woman snapped, “Just have them ready.”

Chastened, the man nodded. “That will be…” The woman severed the link. Ronzek’s face twitched as the fury mounted within him. He didn’t like to be talked to in so disrespectfully, even for the amount of money they were giving him. He had half a mind to bypass the rendezvous point or blow whoever was there out of the stars.

That rebellious thought lasted for about a nanosecond, before reality returned. The Corvallen calmed himself. He would do what he had agreed to do, whether he liked his paymasters or not. “As long as the latinum clinks,” he muttered to the empty room.
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Astral Eddy
Passenger Quarters

Once the trio had entered Samson’s room, Ousanas Dar removed a small device from the folds of his robe and placed it between the doors’ seams. If anyone tried to enter without their permission they would receive a stun burst. Holding a finger to his lips, he produced another device, this one pyramidal in shape. He walked over to the small, worn coffee table in the center of the room and set the pyramid upon it. The Romulan tapped along its smooth surface and the darkened device lit from within an ethereal violet light.

“What is that?” Samson asked.

“Phalkerian sound suppressor,” Ousanas replied, “Now we can talk freely.”

“Okay,” Daneeka said, taking another swig from the bottle. She had forgone the cup. Samson was at least glad to see that Ronzek’s gift wasn’t going to go to waste.

“Samson, you can still back out of this,” Dar offered. “We don’t have to go through with this. There has to be another way.”

“If there was, don’t you think someone would’ve come up with it by now?” Samson asked, pained to have to do so. He had been trying to find a way to keep his mind off of the upcoming mission and all the destruction it would entail, but hadn’t had much luck. The distraction in the mess hall had been nice, but Dar had drug him right back into the muck of conscience.

“A lot of people are going to die,” Dar pressed. “You know that.”

“A lot of people have already died,” Samson shot back. “Because of this damned war with the Dominion and the Romulans are trying to exploit it, which might lead to another war.”

“And we are going to help them along,” Dar shook his head, his expression pitying. Samson’s anger began to blot out his guilt.

“Why are you here?” Glover snapped, his bottom lip quivering. “Why did you come if you harbored such concerns?”

Ousanas sighed. “You know why I’m here,” he said.

“No, I really don’t,” Samson riposted.

“I don’t either,” Daneeka interjected. The Bolian had availed herself of Samson’s couch, and was now raptly watching the two men parry like she was sitting in the stands at a Wimbledon tennis contest.

Both men glared at her to which the Bolian took another drink. “Perhaps you should lay off that Lieutenant,” Dar admonished.

“I’m not an officer anymore, sir,” Daneeka said. “No longer your subordinate.”

“Daneeka wants to know, like I do,” Samson said, “Why are you here? “ He asked, wanting to bring the conversation back on track.

“I know this can’t be easy for you, anytime you have to deal with the Romulans,” Samson said, with concern.

“No, it isn’t,” Ousanas admitted, “But I-I feel responsible for what happened to Dietra, I failed your wife, and I’m not going to be the cause of your death too.”

The man’s words made Samson’s chest hitch with emotion. He and Ousanas had known each other for decades. But over the last twenty years their friendship had been strained due to Ousanas’s role in the Ghorusda Disaster, which had claimed his wife’s career. In an attempt to revive her moribund career, Dietra Glover had taken a fateful assignment aboard the Tombaugh which had led been lost, with all hands.

“You…,” Samson struggled to say the words, but knew he had to, “It wasn’t your fault,” he finally uttered, his throat feeling like gravel. “You did make a mistake at Ghorusda, but the decisions Dietra took after that…they were her own. It was wrong for me to blame you for that too.”

Ousanas took a step back, and then forward. He reached out a hand and Samson grasped it firmly. “Truth is,” Samson admitted, “I wouldn’t want to be on this mission with anyone else.”

“Remembering the old times, eh?” Dar smiled. The mood in the room lifted monumentally.

“Something like that,” Glover replied, with a grin.

“I just hope that you are right,” Dar said, “I hope that the deaths will be minimal. A blood bath is going to look nearly as bad for Santiago as the Benzites seceding from the Federation.”

“I know,” Samson replied. “I’ll be back in a moment.” He walked into the small adjoining bedroom. When he came back moments later, he carried a small silver case in one hand and a pistol in the other.

He placed them beside each other near the Phalkerian device. Samson opened the case and a small, silvery black metallic six-legged insect was nestled inside. “You’re reminding me of Logan right now, having to show that thing off again,” Daneeka shuddered, “I hate bugs.”

“This is the nanomite,” Samson said, “the sole carrier of the Iconian virus that we have.” He then gestured at the disruptor. “And that, as you well know, is a Breen Type 3 disruptor,” he said. “Now, Ousanas, the choice is really yours. I won’t stop you if you want to slag that nanomite.”

The former admiral took a step back and watched as a torrent of emotions stormed across the older Romulan’s face. Dar took a step toward the disruptor, his fingers outstretched and eager to grab the pistol. Samson’s heart pinched at the revulsion in the man’s eyes as he gazed upon the inert nanomachine.

Ousanas knew full well what devastation the small robot could cause. How it could invade a computer system and spread like a lethal self-replicating disease. It could destroy computer cores, eat through starship hulls, and infiltrate living cells even. The biotechnology on Benzar would not stand a chance against it.

Samson patiently waited the man out as he struggled against himself. Duty warred with honor, loyalty with compassion. Part of Samson wanted Ousanas to pick up the disruptor and vaporize the infernal device, to do what Samson didn’t have the courage or foolishness to do. After an interminable time, Ousanas’s shoulders slumped.

The battle was over. Glover didn’t feel relieved. Because now he knew the time for regretting had begun, for Dar and all of them.
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