Star Trek: Into the Void - Season One

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by admiralelm11, Jul 16, 2023.

  1. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Chapter One

    Captain’s Log, Stardate 55594.7;


    It’s been three weeks since we were pulled into this part of the Gamma Quadrant. And it’s been three weeks since Lieutenant Commander Huntington sacrificed our warp core in order to convince the Chobraq Mutuality that we were destroyed.

    Well, it worked.

    The only trouble now is that we’re trapped over three lightyears from a habitable world without a warp drive. At full impulse speed, it would take us over twelve years to get there. That was if we had the fuel to do it. Even if we did, the chances are that this world could be a Mutuality outpost.

    Morale is surprisingly high among the crew. I think that they genuinely believe that I’ll get them home somehow. I wish that I shared their optimism. I keep hoping for another encounter with Captain Sisko and that he will provide me with a way out of this situation because I’ll be damned if I can see one.


    Isabel Cardonez kicked hard, expelling a cry of rage when she did. The punching bag flew high and to the side, straining the chain that held it hanging from the ceiling. As it swung back again, she spun around on her left heel, striking the bag again with her right foot.

    She had been in the gym for almost an hour and her blue vest top was sodden with sweat that seeped from every pore. Several people had come and gone while she was kicking seven kinds of Hell out of the punching bag. None of them had stayed particularly long with their Captain’s rage being somewhat distracting. Now she had the place to herself. That was good because it meant that she could really let go. Pounding her rage into the bag normally helped.

    Today, it wasn’t.

    For the last week, she had been feeling antsy and she didn’t know why. She was pissed off, short-tempered, and generally felt like a bear with a sore head. She couldn’t even blame it on her period. That was weeks away and even with PMT, she wasn’t usually this pissed off.

    She knew that it was frustration. Normally, the Testudo seemed huge but lately it was getting more and more claustrophobic. It was inactivity as well with three weeks spent skulking around this asteroid field, and hiding from the few Mutuality patrols that meandered by. She wanted, no, she needed to do something or she was going to go mad.

    She stopped using her feet, instead jabbing at the bag with her fists. A left, then a right, and then another left.

    Her combadge chirped and she paused. She relaxed for a moment, catching her breath while the combadge continued to chirp. Finally she tapped at her breast and shut it off. “Cardonez,” she barked.

    “Captain,” came the voice of her First Officer, Yashiro Masafumi,” I just wanted to remind you that our daily meeting begins in five minutes.”

    She had forgotten the meeting. “Shit,” she muttered under her breath.

    “Captain?”

    “Nothing,” she said. “I’ll be right up. Don’t start without me.” After that, she tapped her combadge again. Then she grabbed up her towel and headed for the door.


    ****


    Commander Yashiro Masafumi was a fastidious man and never more so than this morning. His uniform, clean and pressed, and with his hair and beard neatly trimmed. Sometimes, he wondered why he even bothered. While he waited for the Captain to arrive, he cast another glance around the Conference Table.

    As usual, Lieutenant Commander Adam Huntington was smart and clean-shaven. He was sitting back in his seat, looking both relaxed and like a coiled animal all at the same time. After him, though, it all went downhill.

    There was Zia Kehen, Masafumi’s lover and soon-to-be-mother of their child. The Helm Officer looked quite presentable but that effect was wasted on him. He knew from first-hand experience how slovenly she could be. And he was sure that she had grabbed yesterday’s underwear when she had gotten dressed this morning.

    Valian Kandro looked as bored as usual. The Betazoid’s uniform was slightly creased and sitting askew on his shoulders.

    Doctor Hollen Azahn sat next to him. He was perhaps the scruffiest officer of them all. His hair was a tangled mess and his beard was desperately in need of a shave.

    Then there was Lieutenant Louise Ramblin. As engineers were known to do, the sleeves of her uniform were rolled up past her elbows. Masafumi understood the tradition but he didn’t approve of it. Ramblin’s blonde hair looked neat enough, tied back in a ponytail. As per usual, she was pouting and he wondered what Kandro had said to upset her this time.

    At least, Testudo’s Commanding Officer was always well-presented. Masafumi mused over this, just as Cardonez walked in and dispelled him of that idea.

    “I’m sorry,” she said, curtly without a hint of sorrow before dropping herself down at the head of the table. She hadn’t changed and the Commander easily detected the odor of sweat coming off of her body.

    “Captain, we could easily postpone this meeting if you wanted to grab a shower.”

    She rolled her eyes in his direction. “Thank you, Commander, but let’s not make this meeting drag on any longer than it has to.”

    Masafumi nodded in acquiescence. “As you wish.”

    Isabel grabbed both ends of the towel hanging around her neck, pulling on each end of it so that it ran first, one way and then another. “Let’s get this show on the road. Updates from yesterday, Lieutenant Ramblin?”

    Ramblin sat up straighter once she was picked upon and picked up a PADD that had been lying on the table in front of her. “There’s nothing much that’s new to report,” she said. “We’ve completed another inventory of our fuel supplies. We have enough deuterium to last us for approximately thirteen months.”

    “What?!,” barked Cardonez, pausing in her towel tugging. “You gave us twenty-one months yesterday!”

    “I know but we’ve had to revise our estimation. The truth is that we’ll need to use the replicators a lot if we’re going to construct a replacement warp core.”

    “And there’s no way that we can stretch out the fuel that we have?,” asked Masafumi.

    “No, sir. Not anymore than we already have. We’ve banned all non-essential replicator usage. The holodecks are offline and we’ve cut power and life-support to Decks Eighteen and Nineteen. Every system online is essential and we can’t save from anywhere else. Without access to a deuterium tanker or the ability to go to warp so that we can use the Bussard collectors…” Ramblin let the sentence hang there and everyone in the room understood that what fuel that they had was finite.

    “Okay,” Cardonez said, commencing with her tugging once more. “Any further thoughts on our replacement core?”

    Ramblin sighed. “Well, as I’ve said, it will be tricky. We don’t have access to a Spacedock or an industrial replicator of the size required. Yes, we can fabricate a shuttle if we need to but a warp core is a much larger proposition. I’ll have to build it in sections and that means that it won’t be as stable as our old core was.”

    “Fair enough,” said Cardonez. “What kind of timescale are we looking at?”

    “A long one. I estimate three months to build and test all of the relevant parts. Because of the size, we’ll have to assemble it outside of the ship after that so add another month, minimum. It’s important to note that it won’t be anywhere as efficient as our old core. I can’t stress that enough. I’m not even sure if I can do it. I’ve never had to build a warp core from scratch before.”

    “What kind of performance can we expect?,” asked Huntington.

    “It’s hard to tell,” Ramblin replied. “The worst case scenario is that it doesn’t even work… or it blows up…”

    “My morale is going up all the time,” said Kandro.

    “Kandro!,” Isabel shouted and he shut up. “Go on, Lieutenant.”

    Ramblin continued with her report. “Our estimations are that the absolute best that we can hope to achieve is a capability of Warp Four.”

    A few gasps went up at this announcement.

    “So, a three-hundred year trip home,” Kehen stated.

    Ramblin shook her head. “I doubt we would get that far. Our best estimation is that we would get approximately thirty or forty lightyears out of the core before it was worn out.”

    “I don’t think that’s enough to get us home,” said Hollem.

    “I know,” said Ramblin with a tight smile.

    Chatter started up around the table but Cardonez stopped it dead by banging her fist down on the tabletop. “People, quiet!,” she snapped at her senior staff. “I know that it’s not perfect but it would give us the ability to find a habitable planet if nothing else.”

    “Any planet that close,” said Masafumi,” could likely be a Mutuality world.”

    “Yes,” offered Huntington,” but we count always steal one of their ships.”

    “Or, at the very least, find a decent engineer,” said Kandro.

    “Bite me, Kandro.”

    “Valian!,” shouted Cardonez. “The point, at least, is that we will have options.”

    Kandro nodded. “Warp Four is a damned sight better than nothing,” he said, muttering a “Sorry”, in Ramblin’s direction.

    “That’s okay,” she responded. “We’re all under a lot of stress.”

    “We must be if you two are starting to be nice to one another,” Hollem said with a grin.

    “Doctor?,” said Cardonez.

    “Yes?”

    “Your report.”

    “Report?,” the doctor asked, frowning.

    “You were going to report on the status of our medical supplies?”

    “Oh, right,” the Bajoran said. “I’m sorry. I haven’t had time to do much of an inventory. Crewman Lynch broke his leg yesterday and several female ensigns seem to have come down with what looks to be Rigelian Syphilis.” He coughed, looking embarassed. “I haven’t managed to find a causal link between the two women yet.”

    Cardonez couldn’t help it. She looked over at Lieutenant Kandro.

    “Oh, no,” he said, wagging his finger in the air. “You can’t pin that on me. I haven’t been near a woman in…” He paused for a moment. “Well, not within the gestation period of Rigelian Syphilis anyway.”

    Cardonez’s blush would have been noticeable if she wasn’t still flushed from her exercise. She wondered if she was the last person to sleep with the Betazoid. It seemed to be a trifle odd that the Testudo’s resident ladies man had been sleeping alone for over a month now. “Keep looking into it,” she told Hollem. “Do you have anything else to report?”

    Hollem cast a sideways glance at Kandro. “Well, my survey isn’t complete but we do seem to have adequate supplies of most medicines. There is one potential problem but I would rather talk about it in private if you don’t – “

    “It’s me,” Kandro said, interrupting the doctor. “Or more specifically, it’s my Pylium.” He was referring to the drug that kept the worst ravages of his condition, Silena, at bay.

    Cardonez looked at Kandro, the sweat dripping down her back suddenly feeling cold to the touch. “How long?,” she whispered.

    “Three months.”

    “You can’t stretch it out?,” asked the Captain, tearing her eyes away from Kandro and focusing on Hollem.

    He shook his head. “I’m sorry, no. Anything less than a standard dose will have no effect whatsoever. It’s my fault.” Cardonez raised a questioning eyebrow. “There was another fifteen milliliters of Pylium aboard the Lusitania, awaiting transfer. I was busy and… I forgot. I guess I just thought that I would arrange for the transfer after the war games were over.” Hollem looked over at Kandro. “I really am sorry, Valian.”

    “Doctor, no one could have guessed that the Lusitania would attack us and then hightail it off to the Gamma Quadrant,” said Huntington.

    “The Commander’s right,” said Cardonex. “As for the Pylium… well, that’s another reason for tracking down the Lusitania.”

    “Captain,” Kandro said,” maybe you should start considering replacements for the Ops position. I’m not going to be much good to you by the time that we get the warp core online.”

    “Can it. You’re my Operations Officer until I tell you otherwise.”

    “You know that I won’t be able to function?”

    Cardonez did know it. Without Pylium, Kandro would be assaulted by headaches of such ferocity that he would barely be able to stand, let alone function normally. She remembered the horror stories that he had told her about how it used to be on Betazed before Pylium was discovered. When the sufferers of Silena routinely went mad from the pain.

    The room was silent. Each person there knew fully well that, if not a death sentence, it was as near to it.

    It was Azahn who broke the silence. “Look, I hate to be the only one thinking this but wouldn’t it make some sense to consider surrendering?”

    Cardonez smiled. “You’re not the only one thinking that, Doctor. The truth is that we can’t endanger the crew for one person.” Even when she said it, she felt like a hypocrite. She had risked the crew to save Kandro six months ago when he had foolishly joined the Borg. Of course, that act not only risked her crew but it indirectly led to what happened to Liz Tennyson.

    She looked at Kandro. “I promise that we’ll do all that we can to get hold of some more Pylium.” It might have been an empty promise but there was some steel behind her voice.

    “Captain,” Masafumi said,” if I may, we might have another option that would enable us to regain warp capability far sooner.”

    Everyone perked up at that news. “Explain,” said Cardonez.

    “Very well,” said Masafumi. “As you know, we have, for several days, been aware that there are several habitations within this asteroid field.”

    Cardonez nodded. “Yes, but we decided to steer well clear of any Mutuality outposts, at least, for now.”

    “Indeed. However, you didn’t preclude us from scanning those habitations and we have some quite unexpected results.”

    When Masafumi didn’t continue, Cardonez snapped,” Well?”

    He smiled. “We’ve identified almost one hundred outposts across the asteroid field. They appear to be very old structures in need of constant repair to maintain life-support. As well, we also have detected over twenty ships that are shuttling between these outposts.”

    “So, the Mutuality has substantial mining operations going on here. It just means that we have to be careful,” said Cardonez.

    “Actually, Captain, I do not believe that these outposts are Mutuality ones. The general shoddy state of repair suggests that they were in existence before the Selvee conquered the original Chobraq Mutuality.”

    “Like the colony that we found on Pollera Four?,” asked Kehen.

    Masafumi nodded. “Or Circadia, to give it the Chobraq name. Each of the ships that we’ve detected traveling between these outposts have been old as well. In addition, they have been all sublight only ships. We haven’t detected any evidence of warp drive. Well, almost none.”

    “Explain.”

    “Well, we’ve seen two Mutuality ships pass by in the last few weeks. The evidence that Commander Huntington had accumulated suggests that there weren’t regular patrols.”

    “They were looking for any evidence that we survived,” said Huntington,” but not too closely from what I can gather. It was a formality and nothing more.”

    “Why do I get the feeling that there’s more that you have yet to reveal?,” asked Isabel.

    “You know me all too well, Captain,” said Masafumi. “In addition to the sublight ships and the two Mutuality ones, we also detected this.” With a flourish, he tapped the computer controls and the monitor screen on the far wall lit up.

    The image was grainy and the ship that it displayed was in the far distance. Still, it was recognizable. The curved hull spoke of a Mutuality ship, although one much larger than the more cumbersome-looking ships that they had encountered so far. Rather than twin nacelles sweeping outwards at the bow, this ship had two struts heading upwards near its stern and its nacelles were obvious copies of a Shangri-La-class tactical cruiser.

    “That’s a Mutuality ship.” It was Kandro who stated the obvious.

    “We would disagree,” said Huntington.

    “We believe it was a Mutuality ship,” added Masafumi. “We have several pieces of evidence to support this theory. First of all, scans indicate that the ship is likely to be thirty years old. It also appears to be in poor repair. The nacelles are dead and it’s likely that they have been for fifteen years or so.”

    “So what’s it doing here?,” asked Cardonez.

    “I would hypothesize that it’s a ship that got lost, a long time ago and it has been acquired by the inhabitants of one of these inhabitations. It appears to be a freighter and I would guess that it’s been used as such.”

    “Even if it isn’t a Mutuality ship,” said Ramblin,” I fail to see how this helps us.”

    Masafumi thumbed another button and a display of the freighter’s interior appeared before them. The ship was about one hundred-and-fifty meters long, the Captain guessed, with six distinct decks. As she watched, Yashiro focused in on the aft section of the ship and what looked like a warp core.

    “So it has a warp core. It must be as dead as the nacelles are and even if it isn’t…,” Ramblin began.

    “Oh, it isn’t.”

    Ramblin snorted, looking at the Security Chief and then the Captain. “Even if it isn’t, then there’s no way that we could utilize it as anything other than spare parts.”

    “It’s an exact copy of a Zee-Twenty,” said Masafumi.

    This news caught her attention. “Really?”

    Masafumi nodded.

    “Okay, for those of us who aren’t blessed with engineering knowledge, what exactly is a Zee-Twenty?,” asked Cardonez.

    Her Chief Engineer’s gaze returned to her. “It’s an old-style warp core that’s popular on Federation freighters during the past hundred years or so. It takes the word generic to a whole new level. Solid, reliable, and – “

    “Skip to the point,” Kandro pushed her.

    Ramblin glared at him. “The point is that it’s so generic that we would be able to install it with little or no trouble.”

    “It’s smaller than ours, right?,” asked a confused Kehen.

    “Yes,” said Ramblin,” but that I can work around. The point is that it’s designed to function with Federation technology and the reason that it’s still popular is that it’s a classic design. No matter what direction that warp field theory went in, the Zee-Twenty always seemed to be compatible.”

    Meanwhile, the Betazoid Operations Officer had stood up from his chair and walked over to the display screen. Staring intently at it, he said,” It would be a lot thinner than ours. We would need to find a way to stabilize it or it would rattle around and destroy itself the first time that we went to warp.”

    Ramblin stood up and joined Kandro. “We could fit reinforced joints on Decks Thirteen and Seventeen.”

    “Additional inertial dampers would be a good idea.”

    Cardonez half-smiled. She loved it when these two clicked like this. Ninety percent of the time, they were at each other’s throats, but, occasionally, they proved to be a formidable team.

    “I agree,” said Ramblin. “Now we need to create some kind of funnel from the matter-and-antimatter supplies to make up for the stunted nature of the core.”

    “Excuse me, but this can’t be possible,” said Kehen.

    “I’m sorry, Lieutenant,” said Huntington. “It’s well within the realm of the possible. I even saw it done once. I saw the warp core from a deuterium tanker put into a Miranda-class starship.” He shook his head as though he still didn’t believe it. “It was the damnedest thing that I ever saw.”

    “Are we talking about stealing this core?,” asked Doctor Hollem.

    Masafumi shook his head. “No. The chances are that the owners of this ship don’t realize what they’ve got. Scans have shown that its impulse engines are powered from a Lectracite reactor. Lectracite seems to be the only mineral left in most of these asteroids. It appears that many of the outposts run on similar power sources.”

    “You hope that we can trade for it?,” asked Cardonez.

    Masafumi nodded. “However, there are two problems.”

    “There would be,” said the Captain.

    “First of all, strictly speaking, this is a pre-warp society. They may live in space but from their radio chatter that we’ve intercepted, it appears that they have little idea about how they got here or that anyone else exists.”

    “Well, that’s easy to sort out,” said Isabel. “Doctor Hollem can make us look like the Chobraq easily enough and we’ll take a shuttlepod.” She turned in her chair to where Kandro and Ramblin were still standing in front of the display screen, examining the schematic. “Lieutenant, do you have any problem with converting a shuttlepod to look a little bit more retro?”

    “None at all,” said the Chief Engineer.

    “Okay, that’s one problem sorted,” said Cardonez. “I’ll go and take Louise with me. When we contact this ship, we’ll exchange… something…”

    “You’ll need a good pilot,” Kehen piped up, enthusiasm playing on her face. “Dodging asteroids is talented work.”

    Cardonez smiled at Kehen. “I’m sorry, Zia, but I think you’d be a little noticeable.”

    Kehen looked crestfallen.

    “We’ll take Pam Tilmore with us,” said Isabel. “That way I can also preclude Commander Huntington from telling me that I need to take a Security Officer.” She cast a sly glance sideways.

    Huntington was nonplussed. “Well, you do keep forgetting,” he said. “Are you sure that just the three of you is wise?”

    Cardonez shrugged. “There’s not a lot of room in a shuttlepod.”

    “Are you sure that it’s wise for you to go?,” asked her First Officer. “As Ship’s Captain, you would be, perhaps, better served with staying here, especially given our predicament.”

    “Probably,” she replied,” but I’m exercising Captain’s Prerogative. I need to stretch my legs and this mission will be the perfect opportunity. Now then, you say two problems. What’s the second one?”

    Masafumi looked embarrassed. “The second problem is that we don’t actually know where the ship is.”
     
  2. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Very interesting quandary - a pre-warp society with a warp engine... And Star Fleet officers about to play Ferengi...

    That's going to be fun. Thanks!! rbs
     
  3. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Chapter Two

    Despite being the home of both Starfleet Headquarters and the President of the United Federation of Planets, it never ceased to amaze Miguel Cardonez just how undefended that Earth always was. Today had been no different as he and Tennyson had seen while their shuttle took them into orbit. Only one starship was slung low in Earth orbit and it was their destination.

    They could have used a transporter but Miguel had insisted on seeing the ship up close. “I don’t get to fly often enough,” had been his explanation. Liz was nonplussed. If this panned out correctly, she and Miguel would soon be traveling a long way.

    She couldn’t help but be impressed when the shuttlecraft panned down low over the Luna-class starship. Although, in truth, she felt a little guilty as well. The ship was fresh out of Spacedock but it was already assured of a legendary heritage. Even from a distance, Tennyson could make out the lettering on the hull.

    USS Voyager, NCC-74656-A.


    ****


    “Thank you for seeing us, Admiral,” Miguel said while they sat in a very plush Ready Room.

    “It’s no problem,” purred Rear-Admiral Kathryn Janeway from the other side of her desk. “You’re just lucky that you caught me on a Friday.” She smiled before she picked up a cup of fresh coffee and took a hearty gulp. “So, what can I do for you?”

    Similar drinks sat on the desktop in front of Miquel and Liz but they weren’t drinking yet. Both of them were back in uniform. “We’ll get better results this way,” Miguel had argued. She felt oddly claustrophobic to be back in uniform. Although it was strangely comforting at the same time.

    “I have been informed that you’re taking over responsibility for Sector 29004 from Admiral Gavin,” said Miguel.

    “That’s half-right,” Janeway said with a smile that Liz found to be half-warm and friendly, but also half-patronizing. “Actually, I took over yesterday.”

    Miguel smiled back. “Well, half-right is always preferable to all wrong as my father used to say.”

    “Wise words.” Janeway put her cup down. “I take it that this is about the Testudo?”

    Miguel nodded.

    Janeway sighed. “I’m afraid that I can’t tell you anymore than the official report. The ships were on routine maneuvers. There was an ion storm that disrupted communications for several days and once it had passed, there was no sign of either ship.” She paused with a grave look on her face now. “I am so sorry for both of you.”

    “No offense, Admiral,” said Tennyson,” but we didn’t come here for pity.”

    “Liz,” said Miguel.

    Janeway smiled a tight, cold smile. “That’s all right, Captain Cardonez. I’ve never been afraid of letting junior officers speak their minds.” She gestured towards Tennyson. “Please, go on.”

    “We want you to either reopen the search, or let us have a ship so we can go looking for ourselves.”

    Janeway actually looked surprised. “I appreciate how you must be feeling. However, three Federation starships went over the area quite thoroughly. I assure you that they found nothing.”

    “Doesn’t that say something?,” Miguel asked her.

    Janeway sighed again. “Lord knows that nobody understands the kind of bizarre phenomena that can wreak havoc on a ship better than me. The trust is that what happened to Voyager was highly unusual. And…” She paused for a moment. “If you’ll forgive me for being blunt, but a starship imploding can leave every little in the way of debris.”

    “Two ships,” Miguel asked,” leaving no trace? No offense, Admiral, but I think that Starfleet could spare more than three weeks of looking.”

    “So do I,” said Janeway. “Unfortunately, other pressing matters are diverting our attention at the moment. The Talarians are rattling their sabers again lately and we have intelligence placing several Breen fleets close to the borders of Federation space. This ship,” – she gestured around her – ,” hasn’t even had her shakedown cruiser yet but we’re on our way to the border tomorrow to show the flag and hopefully intimidate the Breen. Diplomatic relations with the Gorn and the Tholians have been chilly lately, these last few months. All of this activity plus several skirmishes between the Klingons and the Romulans. Starfleet is spread pretty thin.” She sighed again and took another gulp of coffee. “How about this? When we pass by Sector 29004, I’ll have Voyager make a detour through the area where the ships were last seen. Maybe we can detect something that the other ships missed.”

    “Thank you, Admiral,” said Miguel,” but I do feel that this needs a really in-depth search.”

    “And I’ve made it clear that Starfleet doesn’t have the resources to do that at this time,” Janeway said, voice cold like ice.

    “At least, let us go with you to Sector 29004,” said Miguel. “All that we ask is for the lease of a runabout when we get there.”

    Janeway had still been holding her coffee mug but now she put it back down on the desktop. “I’m not in the habit of picking up hitchhikers,” she said. “This ship might very well have to go into combat and I don’t want my officers worrying about two Starfleet officers traipsing around in a runabout.” She glanced down at her computer terminal. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have another meeting to prepare for.”

    The implication was clear and Miguel took it, standing up with his shoulders hunched. Tennyson stayed where she was seated. “This is just because you don’t like Captain Cardonez, isn’t it?,” she asked and no one was under any delusion that she was referring to Miguel.

    Janeway pursed her lips. Since this meeting had started, Tennyson had seen her looking more and more like a schoolmarm as time passed by. “My personal feelings towards Captain Cardonez are not at issue here. I’m not the kind of person who hides behind pleasantries. I don’t like the woman.” She looked up at Miguel as thought she was mentally apologizing but no words came out. “Under no circumstances would I allow my personal feelings get in the way of my duty.” She glared at Tennyson and for her part, Liz stared back. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really do have other matters to attend to.”

    “Come on, Liz. We have other avenues.”

    Tennyson let her gaze linger on the admiral for a second or two before standing and heading for the door with Miguel. Just as the doors slid open, she paused and turned back. Janeway was already engrossed in a PADD. “Tell me something, Admiral,” she said and the older woman looked up,” how quickly did people give up on you?”

    Janeway surprised her now because she actually looked sad. No, she looked more wistful. “All too soon,” she said before returning to her work. “I hope you find them soon.”


    ****


    Isabel Cardonez’s face itched but she had said nothing while she and Masafumi strolled along the corridor towards the Shuttle Bay. She had just come from Sickbay where Doctor Hollem had just slightly altered her appearance. Now a raised blue vein bisected her chin and another two veins ran in semi-circles around each eye before they blended into her nose.

    “You’ll need to keep a low profile,” Masafumi was saying. “From the communications chatter that we’ve intercepted from them, these colonies appear to be quite paranoid about Selvee invasion.”

    “Just like the guys that you found on Circadia?”

    He nodded. “Very much like them. They don’t seem to have a real idea of who or what the Selvee are.”

    “Join the club,” she said. “Even during my mind meld with Stredu, I never got to see one.”

    “Interesting,” said Masafumi. “Well, they may be more paranoid than usual. It appears that the flight of those Mutuality ships through the field was a rarity. They were definitely looking for us, but some of these Chobraq saw them and they seem to believe that they’re Selvee.”

    “You do have to wonder why the Mutuality has never made contact with these people?”

    Masafumi shrugged. “They may feel that they have nothing in common with them. These people have spent half a millennia developing in a different direction. As I said, it would appear that this asteroid field has little intrinsic value. Just Lectracite and nobody could use that unless they had to. It’s dirty, quite inefficient, and plus it’s easily replicated.”

    “Well, let’s hope that we’re convincing as members of a remote colony,” said Cardonez. Her raven-blue hair hung loosely to her shoulders, shielding her pointed ears from view. Her uniform was hanging in her quarters and now she wore beige trousers cinched tight to her waist by a black belt, a tight blue tee-shirt and a loose-fitting beige jacket. The trousers and jacket looked faded and worn, despite the fact they had been replicated previously, less than an hour ago. In places, there were patches of differently shaded beige, blue, and black. A pair of dark boots were on her feet, looking old and worn.

    They remained silent for the last few minutes of the trip. Whereas the corridor had been quiet, the Shuttle Bay was a cacophony of sound when they entered. Several officers were milled around the shuttlepod sitting in the center of the bay. Or, at least, Isabel assumed that it was the shuttlepod. It certainly didn’t look like it was standard issue anymore.

    “Hi, Captain,” said Louise Ramblin. She was standing off to one side, along with Pamela Tilmoore and Adam Huntington.

    Both Ramblin and Tilmoore had been altered as well. The Chief Engineer had a blue vein bisecting her chin and another one that ran up her nose before splitting into two rows across the top of both of her eyebrows. Tilmoore’s alteration was more subtle. She merely had veins ringing her eyes. Ramblin was dressed in a one-piece, loose-fitting overall that was dark blue in color and as faded as Cardonez’s outfit. Her blonde hair was tied back in a rough ponytail. A wide dark belt ran around her waist and she wore boots that matched her Captain’s. The smallest of the trio, Ensign Tilmoore wore an outfit similar to Captain Cardonez’ except it was dark blue in color and it even had more patches. Her long blonde hair was woven into a single long plait that ran halfway down her back.

    “Nice job,” said Cardonez who gestured towards the ship when she and Masafumi approached it.

    What had once been a Type-Eighteen shuttlepod was now barely recognizable as such a vehicle. A multitude of metallic shapes had been welded to its hull, giving it the appearance of a much older ship. A ship that had been added to over a period of years and slowly growing in an almost organic fashion into the ship that it was today. The ship was scored in several places by burn marks and the tiny impacts of a thousand meteorite fragments had been simulated and the shuttlepod was pitted with small dents.

    “It looks good from the outside,” said Ramlin. “There wasn’t a lot that we could do with the interior so we hope that no one gets too close.”

    Cardonez saw that Huntington held several objects in both of his hands. “Presents?,” she asked with a wry smile.

    He responded with a smile of his own. “I thought that you could do with an edge or two. First of all, I have a pair of these for each of you,” he said, handing over three small boxes.

    “These had better not be earrings,” said Tilmoore.

    “Close,” said Huntington.

    “Why, thank you,” said Cardonez after she opened her and discovered a pair of earplugs. “It’s just what I’ve always wanted.”

    “Well, with what Commander Masafumi told us about the Chobraq on Circadia, it appears that at one time, the Chobraq employed some sonic weapons of some kind.”

    Cardonez had a flashback. It was a memory belonging to someone else and the mention of an acoustic cannon. “How much protection will these provide?”

    “They exclude all sounds above one hundred decibels,” said Huntington. “Plus, they’ll filter out any ultrasonic noises between twenty and seventy-five kilohertz. Infrasonic, too.” He shrugged. “We have no real idea how effective that they’ll be but it’s something.”

    “Thanks, anyway,” she said, slipping the first one and then the second one into her ears. Ramblin and Tilmoore did likewise.

    “What about weapons?,” Tilmoore asked.

    “Well, it’s tricky to know what won’t stand out. So I made these,” Huntington said, handing over a small dagger in a dark sheath to each of them.

    “Oh, great,” said Ramblin sarcastically. “Knives.”

    “They’re not just knives,” the Security Chief said. “There’s a micro-phaser in the hilt. The activation switch is here.” He motioned to a small raised button on the butt of Ramblin’s weapon. “It holds enough energy for about ten shots and it only responds to the DNA of the three of you on the switch.”

    “How powerful?,” asked Tilmoore.

    “It’s equivalent to a Level-Two, medium stun setting.”

    Cardonez strapped the sheath to her hip and then she drew the knife, hefting it in her hand and getting a feel for the weight. It was a simple design. The blade was perhaps ten centimeters long, dark with one edge serrated. “Hopefully, we won’t have to use them,” she said, slipping the knife back into its sheath.

    “One question,” asked Ramblin, tipping her knife. First, one way, and then another way. “Which way do we point it?”

    Huntington smiled. “The emitter is secreted in the point of the weapon.”

    Ramblin focused on the tip of the blade. Squinting her eyes, she finally smiled. “Oh, yeah, neat.” Putting the knife on her hip now, she asked,” What about a tricorder? I’ll need to run scans on the warp core.”

    “Here,” said Masafumi, handing her one. ‘Keep it out of sight.”

    She frowned. “I have been on undercover missions before, you know.”

    “Any more toys, Q?,” Tilmoore asked, mischievously.

    “Not really, but if you get into real trouble, just check out your boot heels.”

    The three women looked nonplussed at this remark. “Just trust me,” Huntington said with a wink.

    “Okay, then,” said Cardonez. “We had better head off.” She turned toward Masafumi. “You know my orders. If we aren’t back inside forty-eight hours, you take off. Move the Testudo to a new hiding place and proceed under the assumption that we’ve been either captured or we’re dead.” Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t compromise the Testudo, trying to rescue us. Your priority is the crew and somehow warning Starfleet about the Chobraq Mutuality.”

    “Aye, Captain.”

    Cardonez smiled. “Good luck, Commander. We’ll be back.”

    “Good luck, Captain,” he said, shaking her proffered hand.

    “Yes. Good luck, Captain,” said Huntington.

    “What is this? Junior officers don’t need well wishing?,” Ramblin asked while Cardonez and Tilmoore turned around and started walking towards the converted shuttlepod.

    “No, they don’t,” said Huntington.

    “Indeed,” added Masafumi. “In fact, I pity the Chobraq that gets in your way, Lieutenant.”

    Ramblin scowled. “I get enough of that from Kandro without the two of you starting,” she said and with a snort, she turned around and followed after the others.

    Testudo’s First and Second Officers watched them leave. “Perhaps we should have wished them luck?,” asked Masafumi.

    “Nah. I’ve been in sticky situations with all three of them. They’ll be fine.” Huntington turned his head to look at him. “So, are you planning on staying in command of the ship this time?,” he asked with a faint grin lifting the corners of his mouth.

    “Oh, yes,” Masafumi said, turning to look at Huntington. “The last time that I left you in command, you destroyed our warp core. Lord knows what would happen if I did so again.”

    “You’re not funny.”

    “People insist on telling me that,” Masafumi said, a grin of his own appearing now.


    ****


    Technically speaking, the Type-Eighteen shuttlepod had seats for four people, although it was such a tight squeeze that this rarely occurred. Tilmoore sat in the right-hand pilot’s seat and Captain Cardonez sat next to her. Louise had a bit more room in the back but it wasn’t much.

    Pamela was engrossed in her pre-flight check but she still managed to call over her shoulder. “You’re sure that this thing will still fly with all of that junk stuck to it?”

    “Positive.”

    Tilmoore nodded and fired up the engines. “We;;, we’ll know soon enough,” she said. “Permission to depart, Captain?”

    Isabel looked up at the open hangar doors. A force field was all that stood between them and infinity. Dozens of rocks of varying sizes floated out there in the void and every one of them was capable of tearing the small craft apart. Despite this and despite the tight confines of the shuttlepod, she felt less claustrophobic than she had felt in days.

    “Permission granted.”


    ****


    On the Bridge, Valian Kandro watched from the command chair when the small shuttlepod exited the Shuttle Bay.

    “They are away,” said Ensign Giren Ra-Moveii from the Betazoid’s usual seat.

    “You don’t say,” muttered Kandro.

    “Do you think they’ll be okay?,” Kehen asked no one in particular.

    “I hope so,” Kandro said while he watched the shuttlepod grow smaller and smaller until eventually it could no longer be perceived by the naked eye.

    “Now what do we do?,” the Efrosian asked.

    “Now we wait for the Captain to pull off another miracle,” Kandro replied. He tried to inject his words with as much hope as possible. Silently, he ruminated that Captain Cardonez had been in many dangerous situations before and that she always got out of them. Strangely though, this thought didn’t comfort him. Sooner or later, everyone’s luck ran out.


    ****


    “Is everything okay?,” asked Cardonez, slightly concerned at the from on Tilmoore’s face while the petite Ensign piloted the shuttlepod.

    “Pretty much. She’s just a little sluggish.”

    “I thought that you said this ship would fly normally?,” Cardonez asked over her shoulder.

    Ramblin opened her mouth to speak but Tilmoore beat her to it. “I don’t think it’s the shuttlepod, Captain,” she said. “At least, not directly.”

    “Explain.”

    “Give me a second,” Tilmoore said when she concentrated on her sensors.

    Cardonez looked out of the viewports. Three rocks, all of them several meters wide, were tumbling lazily straight for them. She felt her throat tightened when they came ever closer and yet Tilmoore wasn’t trying to evade them.

    “Uh, Pam?,” said Louise.

    “I see them,” said Tilmoore. “Trust me, okay?”

    Cardonez’ eyes widened. The rocks were almost on top of them and still Tilmoore did nothing but fly straight ahead. The Captain began to consider the possibility that she had either been frozen by panic or she had gone insane. She was on the verge of taking the controls herself when the three rocks began to peel away from one another while the shuttlepod flew right through them.

    She relaxed and Louise’s sigh of relief reverberated around the small cabin.

    “I’m sorry,” said Tilmoore. “I realized that it was easier to fly between them, then try to go around them.”

    “That’s okay,” said Isabel. “My heart doesn’t get enough exercise as it is. Now then, you were saying?”

    “Yeah, the ship’s sluggish. All of these rocks… Lots of them are generating gravitational fields that bounce off of each other creating eddies. You don’t notice it in a starship but in something that’s this small, it takes a lot of effort to keep on cause.”

    “It’ll take us over five hours to reach the colony where we last sighted the freighter. Let me know when you get tired and I’ll take over.”

    “Will do,” said Tilmoore.

    “When we reach this colony, we’re just going to ask where the big ship went?,” asked Ramblin.

    “That’s the plan,” Isabel replied. “Hopefully the tub of Lectracite that you’ve got there will grease a few palms.”

    “And if it doesn’t?”

    She was silent for a second. “Then we wing it,” said Cardonez,” but one way or another, we’re finding that ship and that warp core.”
     
    Robert Bruce Scott likes this.
  4. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    So liz and Miguel are trying to put together a cavalry... Interesting critter design on the inhabitants of the asteroid field. High stakes high jinks skirting the Prime Directive... sounds like fun - Thanks!! rbs
     
  5. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Chapter Three

    Louise Ramblin yawned. It was a wide, expansive yawn of tiredness mixed with frustration that reverberated around the enclosed space like a ball rebounding off the walls of a squash court.

    “Are we keeping you up?,” asked Cardonez.

    “Sorry,” Ramblin said with a smile,” but it’s been almost five hours and my legs are starting to go to sleep, not to mention the rest of me. As soon as I can walk around, I’ll be fine.”

    “You see,” Pamela Tilmoore said,” I always knew that there were advantages to being short.”

    The three women laughed. It was a welcome way to ease the tension. For the last hour, they had flown in complete silence and Cardonez was glad that Louise had yawned. Ironically, it had woken everyone up a little.

    “Are we there yet?” This question came from Louise.

    “Almost.”

    Cardonez looked out of the viewport but she saw nothing but a dark curtain of night, dotted with rocks. “Where is it?”

    Tilmoore consulted her scanners before she looked up and pointed toward the upper left-hand corner of the viewport. “That large one there.”

    “Which one?,” Isabel asked. There were a multitude of rocks in that direction.

    “The one that’s shaped like an L.”

    “Ah, I see it.”

    Tilmoore was right. It was shaped like a very ragged L. Its surface was almost black and she could only detect it because it was tumbling gently upon itself.

    Suddenly, a light came up on the dash that was accompanied by a single toneless beep. “We’re being hailed,” said Tilmoore.

    “You don’t say,” said Ramblin.

    Tilmoore looked over her shoulder. “You know, sometimes I can really see how you and Valian got together,” she said with a smile.

    “I was drunk, not to mention young and naive.” She fluttered her eyelashes.

    Tilmoore laughed and said,” You were never young and naive.”

    “We should probably answer the hail, shouldn’t we?,” asked Cardonez, eager to turn the conversation away from Valian Kandro. She was still embarrassed with the memory, or lack of memory as the case turned out, of her own one night dalliance with Testudo’s resident ladies man. Without waiting for a reply, she activated the intercom.

    “Attention, unidentified Quave. This is Shevett Sixteen Flight Control. Please identify yourself,” came a harsh female voice over the intercom.

    “Cardonez composed herself. “Here goes nothing,” she said before pushing the control that would allow her to reply. “This is the Quave, Alumbra, out of Bosar Thirteen.” She knew that Quave meant ship and Masafum’s communications chatter had given them the names of a few colonies. As far as they had been able to determine, Bosar Thirteen was a great distance away. As far as the Universal Translator could make out, Alumbra meant a beast of burden of some kind.

    The communications channel was silent.

    “They’re not buying it,” said Ramblin.

    “Do you want me to fly casual but program in an evasion course? Just in case.”

    “Okay, Pam.”

    Another minute, and more silence. They were getting closer to their destination and closer to whatever defenses that the Shevett Sixteen colony possessed.

    “I have a really bad feeling about this,” said Tilmoore.

    More time passed and Isabel opened her mouth, preparing to tell Tilmoore to bug out when the intercom beeped again. “Alumbra here,” she said.

    “This is Shevett Sixteen Flight Control. You are cleared to dock in Bay Four. We’re transmitting our landing beam. Please follow it in.” The voice now sounded like they were bored and uninterested. As though the shuttlepod had been an exciting diversion at first but now it was just another mundane fact of life. Cardonez took great comfort from this.

    “I have their landing beam,” said Tilmoore. “A simple radio beam that’s easy enough to follow in. Assuming that we’re still going, of course?”

    “We had better be,” said Ramblin. “I don’t care how dangerous it is in there. I’m not sitting still for another five hours!”

    “Nothing has changed. Take us in.”

    Tilmoore complied and slowly but surely, the converted shuttlepod eased closer to the colony. When the asteroid dominated the view, the three occupants could see their destination up close.

    The rock was larger than Cardonez had thought that it was, their vicinity giving her a better perspective of scale. It wasn’t as dark either because lights illuminated some of its surface. For the most part, it was a barren jumble of jagged peaks, none of them rising up more than a few hundred meters above the surface. Almost at the dead center of the asteroid was clearly a man-made structure. A large, rectangular edifice that rose out several hundred meters from the surface. The structure was roughly three hundred meters square, according to Isabel, with four rough ellipsoid openings filling the bottom half. She assumed that these were the docking ports. Glancing down, she played with the ship’s sensors.

    “I’m reading an oxygen atmosphere and almost Earth-like gravity. There are three hundred and twenty-nine lifesigns inside. All of them are pure Chobraq.”

    “How big is it?,” asked Ramblin.

    “It looks like half of the asteroid is hollow. There are mazes of tunnels all over but it looks played out though. I’m detecting a meager amount of Lectracite buried deep and not close to any tunnels. It’s likely that either they don’t know it’s there or they haven’t mined that deep yet.”

    Ramblin rested her hand on the small drum that sat beside her. “This baby’s value is going up all the time.”

    As the shuttlepod approached the aperture at the lower right-hand corner, the ship shuddered.

    “What the hell was that?,” asked the engineer.

    “Just passing through some kind of force field,” replied their pilot.

    “Agreed,” said the Captain. “I’m registering an atmosphere.”

    Soon enough, all that they could see was the docking bay around them. It was brightly lit with a low ceiling. Anything much larger than their shuttlepod would have a hard time with getting in or out. The deck of the bay had four landing pads, each of them slightly larger than the shuttlepod. They were well-spaced out and several large taks sat between them.

    Only one of the pads was occupied by a squat, boxy ship that looked much older than their shuttlepod. Its hull was a dusty brown and it sat on four thrusters. A crude ladder ran down its hull and Cardonez watched while a single person climbed onto the flight deck.

    The rest of the bay was empty and she guessed that it was being used as cargo space. There were several large doors in the distance but that was it.

    Tilmoore brought the ship inside to land so deftly that they barely felt the landing. A moment later after they set down, Isabel saw one of the far doors open and three people began walking towards them.

    “That looks like our welcoming committee,” she said. “Pam, you stay inside. Make it look like you’re checking the systems out.”

    “We’ll actually be ready for a quick getaway?,” asked the ensign.

    “You’ve got it. Louise, grab out cargo and let’s go.”

    Both women clambered outside. Cardonez instinctively checked that her knife was still hanging by her waist. Something didn’t feel right about this and as the three people came closer, she felt jumpier.

    There was a woman leading the group slightly ahead of two men. She looked like she was fifty years old with a hard, lined face that made her look like a child’s idea of a wicked witch. This illusion wasn’t helped by her jet-black dress that reached down to the deck, making it seem like she was floating. Her hair was dark and short to the point of brutality. The men on either side of her were fairly nondescript and dressed in beige jumpsuits. Cylindrical objects hung at their waist and the most noticeable thing about them was how well-fed and dressed that they were. Their clothing appeared almost new and it was certainly a far cry from what she had expected.

    “Greetings,” Cardonez said with a friendly smile when the trio came to a halt a few meters away.

    “Greetings,” the woman said and Isabel recognized it as the woman who had hailed them. She gestured towards the ship. “Impressive Quave.”

    Cardonez’s smile widened. She often wondered why, with its almost infallible ability to translate most languages, the Universal Translator insisted on refusing to translate some words. Was it a curious attempt to add local color and ethnic diversity to what could easily become generic conversation? She didn’t know but she kind of liked it. It reminded you that you were dealing with an alien.

    “Thanks,” she replied. “It’s getting on a little but it gets us where we want to go.”

    “It has brought you a long way. It has been many turns since we had visitors from Bosar Thirteen colony. We thought that you were all dead.”

    “Very much alive.”

    The woman nodded. “Obviously,” she said. “I am Administrator Wen. I assume that you can pay your docking fee?”

    “We can,” Cardonez said and waved Ramblin to step forward.

    Testudo’s Chief Engineer placed the drum on the floor. “We have ten liters of liquid Lectracite,” she said with a flourish. “How much will the docking fee be?”

    Administrator Wen frowned. “Lectracite?,” she asked. “I’m afraid that you will need something a little less common.” Smiling now, a tight and none too pleasant sight, she looked past the two of them and into the shuttlepod’s cabin. “How about your pilot? She’s young and quite attractive. I could offer quite a bounty on top of paying your landing fee.”

    Cardonez let her smile fade away. “I’m afraid my crew aren’t for sale,” she said. “All we have is Lextracite. If you have no need for that, then we’ll be on our way.”

    “I think not,” said Wen. “It’s costly to activate our landing beam. You will pay the docking fee before you go.”

    “We’ll be happy to leave the Lectracite as payment.”

    “You might be happy with that but I am not,” said Wen. “Premets, seize them and their ship.”

    As the two men began to move, Cardonez stepped back into a defensive crouch and drew her knife. “Don’t even think about it,” she said.

    The men laughed. Slowly they drew their cylinders and aimed them. “Drop the knife, little girl,” said the man on the right.

    “You’ll dent your price if you’re damaged,” said the other man.

    Without any warning, the man on the left thumbed the top of his cylinder right away. Cardonez heard it right away. It was a whining sound that would build up in intensity. Her head hurt but she quickly realized that the earplugs were warding most of it off.

    Upon seeing that their attack was having no effect, both men inverted their cylinders into crude clubs and ran forward.

    Cardonez debated using the phaser but she decided against it. The truth was that she was still antsy and these men had done nothing to improve her mood. As the first man reached her, she ducked to the left and flipped the knife in her hand, hitting him on the back of his head with the hilt when he blundered by. The second man ran headlong into her, knocking them both to the ground. Her knife tumbled out of her grip and the two of them rolled several times before her attacker managed to get astride of her and lifted his club, ready to bring it down on her head.

    The single phaser blast hit him square in the chest, knocking him back and away from Cardonez.

    The Captain jumped up. The first man was now rising up to his feet, rubbing groggily at the back of his head. Ramblin had her weapon trained on Wen who now looked to be somewhat frightened now.

    Isabel spotted her knife and grabbed it. Her finger hovered over the activator button while she kept an eye on Mister Groggy.

    “This is intolerable,” Wen said, regaining some of her composure.

    “That’s why you get for trying to impound my ship,” Cardonez said before she glanced at Ramblin. “Why’d you have to shoot him? You know, I had him.”

    “I’m sorry,” she said with a smile and a shrug of her shoulders.

    Cardonez looked back at Wen. “Okay, then. As I said, we’ll be going now. First things first though, I want some information.”

    “I’ll tell you nothing,” said Wen. “More Premets will come soon. You will be overwhelmed.”

    “Yeah, yeah,” Cardonez said, snapping her gaze to the left. Mister groggy had recovered now and his gaze was flitting between her and Ramblin, wondering which one to attack. She took the decision out of his hands and shot him.

    As he fell heavily to the ground, Wen’s fear returned. It was heightened when Cardonez aimed the point of the knife in her direction. “Anyone comes near us and you get shot first. Understand?”

    “Yes, yes!,” Wen stammered. Her hands were clutching at the neckline of her dress now, tugging at the material in frustration and fright.

    “Right. Louise, get back into the ship and tell Pam to get ready to leave.”

    “Roger.”

    Cardonez smiled. “Right then. Now for that information. There was a ship that visited here a day or two ago. A very large ship. I need to find it. So where did they head?”

    “Large ship?,” asked Wen. “You must mean the Takasnit. What do you want with Captain Levvok?”

    “That’s not your concern. Let’s just say that he owes us a debt. Now, where did they head?”

    “I don’t know. Nobody knows.”

    “You’re lying.”

    Wen’s eyes were wide with fear now and her voice was broken. “I’m not. They just turn up every few months. They take tribute and provide items in return.”

    Cardonez paused for a second when the doors opened. Four sets of booted feet could be heard running towards them. She saw them and gauged the distance. “Call them off,” she commanded.

    For a second, Wen hesitated as though she was reluctant to turn around, fearing that she would be shot in the back. Cardonez’s scowl pushed her into action. “Halt!,” she shouted. “Return to the other side of the bay. I am unhurt.” The four men stopped but they made no move to retreat.

    “Get them out of here!,” seethed Isabel.

    “Return to the other side of the door!,” shouted Wen. “That’s an order!”

    For a moment, they hesitated and then they moved, slowly walking backwards until they reached the door and went through it.

    “Okay, then,” said Cardonez. “The Takasnit. It must visit other colonies. Who does it visit after you?”

    “I’m not sure,” she replied. “Shevett Seventeen or Bosar One, I think. They don’t follow the same schedule every time though. I swear, that’s all that I know.”

    “Okay. Next time, be nice to visitors,” Cardonez said and she backed towards the shuttlepod before scampering inside. “It’s time to leave,” she added before she slipped into one of the rear seats. Ramblin had taken the co-pilot seat.

    “You’re not kidding,” Tilmoore said. “They’re closing the hangar door.”

    “Move it then!,” said Louise.

    Tilmoore’s fingers moved lightning fast and the shuttlepod quickly rose up and began to turn. Before them, they caught a glimpse of the four men who were back in the hangar bay and running towards Administrator Wen who had collapsed to her knees. The view quickly changed though and now they saw the way out. The freedom of space was tantalizingly close but the way out was narrowing when a blast door started to close down from the ceiling.

    “There’s no time for subtlety,” Tilmoore said, punching the impulse controls.

    Leaving any docking facility at one-quarter impulse power is never advised. Blasting your way under a closing is even less so but Tilmoore knew what she was doing. With thrusters, they would have never made it before the door closed. Angling the nose of the shuttlepod, she held the ship steady as it flew out into space. The door closing the gap was a nanosecond too late.

    “We made it!,” cried Ramblin.

    “You sound surprised.”

    “We’re not out of the woods yet,” said Cardonez as the shuttlepod shook from a nearby explosion.

    “Concussion charges,” said Ramblin.

    Tilmoore didn’t wait for the order, even as Cardonez said,” Evasive maneuvers.” She was already one step ahead. The shuttlepod swung to port just before another charge exploded where it once was.

    “Two more, incoming,” said Ramblin.

    Tilmoore saw them on her scanner and set a course between the two explosions that were equidistant from each detonation. The shuttlepod shuddered but it was unharmed.

    “Damn, I’m good.” Tilmoore smiled but it faded fast.

    “Those last two blasts,” said Ramblin,” weren’t aimed at us.”

    Cardonez stared over her shoulder. The scanner showed the shuttlepod at the center of the screen. On either side were myriad small objects blossoming outwards from two separate points.

    “They blew up two small asteroids,” said Ramblin. “We’ve got incoming on both sides.”

    Tilmoore began to maneuver away but it was impossible. Small fragments of rock had been thrown in every direction. Whichever way that the ship went, it would be hit. “There’s no way out.”

    Cardonez leaned over. “Set course one-four-seven, mark two-zero-two. It seems to be the path of least resistance.”

    “Gotcha,” the young woman said and the shuttlepod jerked to one side.

    It was the direction that was least strewn with rocks but it wasn’t devoid of them. The first rock to strike was only five centimeters across but it violently shook the ship. The next rock was only four times larger.

    “Hull breach!,” Cardonez yelled when she heard the telltale hiss behind her. She reached for a can of sealant foam and awkwardly moved between the two rear seats. Another impact knocked her sideways and she winced when she hit her ribs on the edge of a seat. Regaining her balance, she fired off a quick squirt of form.

    “We’re nearly through them,” Tilmoore said as the ship shuddered twice in quick succession.

    Cardonez ignored her. Her focus was on a small droplet of foam while it hung momentarily in the air before it was sucked upwards toward a miniscule hole that was micrometers wide in the ceiling. She watched it go and followed its path with a longer burst of foam. Drawn unavoidably towards the hole, the foam quickly accumulated in one small patch. She kept the foam flowing until the hiss ended and rather than be sucked upwards, the foam fell downwards to the floor.

    Relaxing somewhat, she returned to her seat. “What was that about nearly being out of it?”

    “I meant it,” said Tilmoore. “We’re in the clear.” She glanced over her shoulder to smile at her Captain.

    Then the ship shuddered violently once more and the lights died.
     
    Robert Bruce Scott likes this.
  6. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Quite friendly, these natives. Good cultural design - hard, desperate people doing hard, desperate things.

    Thanks!! rbs
     
  7. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Chapter Four

    The first sound that penetrated the dark shroud around Isabel was a gentle hiss. The first sensation was pressure at her neck and her first sight upon opening her eyes was that of Louise Ramblin, backlit by overhead lights.

    “She’s awake,” she heard the Chief Engineer say before she moved back on her haunches, a hypospray clutched in her hand.

    Cardonez blinked in the light and sat up, rubbing the side of her neck while she did.

    “Are you okay, Captain?,” asked Ramblin.

    Cardonez blinked again. “I’m fine,” she said, resisting the urge to answer her question with sarcasm. “What’s our status?”

    “Not good,” said Louise,” but it could have been much worse.”

    “Give me specifics, Lieutenant,” snapped Cardonez.

    “I’m sorry,” she said with a smile. “We took hits from five more asteroid fragments. The first one knocked us hard and you and I were knocked unconscious. The other four fragments hit in quick succession. Luckily, all of that crap welded to the hull acted like a crude form of ablative armor so that we didn’t get any more hull breaches.”

    “Skip to the bad news.” Cardonez rubbed her neck some more.

    “The impulse drive is fried,” said Ramblin with an air of finality. “We have thrusters only.”

    Cardonez closed her eyes and groaned. “How long will it take us to rendezvous with the Testudo just using the thrusters?”

    “About thirteen years. Give or take the odd month.”

    “Life just keeps kicking us in the teeth, doesn’t it?,” asked Isabel. It was a rhetorical question and neither of the other women were foolhardy enough to answer it.

    Cardonez picked herself up off of the deck and slumped down into one of the rear seats. Ramblin clumsily made her way into the co-pilot’s seat.

    “Can we signal Testudo?”

    “I’m afraid not,” said Tilmoore. “The communications system isn’t working.”

    “And neither are the sensors,” added Ramblin.

    Cardonez balled her right hand into a fish and struck the wall to her right so hard that it reverberated around the cabin. The two junior officers were afraid that she might have broken her hand, but she had no such concerns. She was more worried about their immediate future.

    “How long will life-support last?”

    “Twenty to twenty-two hours,” said Louise.

    Cardonez nodded. “Pam, are there any settlements that we could reach in that timeframe?”

    “Just the one that we blasted our way out of.”

    “Damn.”

    “We’re screwed, aren’t we?,” asked Ramblin.

    This time, Cardonez couldn’t be bothered to keep sarcasm at arm’s length. “You think?,” she asked with wide eyes.

    “You know, Captain, I was only asking.”

    Cardonez was about to reply that it was a stupid question to ask when Tilmoore interrupted their argument. “Hey, guys, is it me or is it getting darker?”

    Cardonez and Ramblin looked ahead and saw that she was right. It was as though a huge shadow was drawing on them from behind. The implication was clear.

    “Pam, start maneuvers!,” shouted Isabel. “Louise, I need sensors.”

    The darkness rose as whatever was behind them inched closer to them. Cardonez could only guess at how big that asteroid was. Certainly, it was big enough to crush their small ship like an empty beer can.

    Ramblin banged her own fists down on her console. “It’s no good. It’ll take me hours to fix the sensors.”

    “We don’t have hours. Pam, why aren’t we moving?”

    “I don’t know,” said Tilmoore. “The thrusters are firing but it’s like we’re caught somehow.”

    Suddenly it all made sense when the shadow grew and suddenly darkness assailed them from all sides and the shuttlepod slid between metallic walls.

    “A tractor beam,” said Cardonez.

    The three women couldn’t do anything when their field of vision closed in. Soon all that they could see was a small circle of light ahead that was drawing tighter and tighter until it was gone and they were in total darkness. With a sudden shudder, the shuttlepod crashed half a meter to the floor.

    “Oh, man,” said Pamela,” I’ve seen this Bond movie!”


    ****


    “I’m truly sorry, Captain Cardonez,” said the man on the small viewscreen. “I met with your daughter and her crew just a month or so ago and they seemed to be remarkable people.” He sighed. He was dressed in a Starfleet uniform and his multi-lobed ears marked him as a Tiburonian native. “In my business, I get to meet a lot of families who have lost their loved ones. I could say that I understand who you’re going through but in truth, I would be lying. All of those people, but I’ve never had to go through it myself.”

    “That’s okay,” Miguel said, finding it strange that he should be the one offering comfort to a man that he had never met in the flesh.

    The Tiburonian on the screen smiled. “I wasn’t fishing for sympathy,” he said softly. “I was just trying to refrain from offering the usual platitudes. In my years with the Federation Retrieval Unit, I’ve learned that people usually see right through them.”

    “True enough. So there’s nothing at all that you can do?”

    “I’m sorry. Despite any personal feeling that I may have in wanting to find the Testudo, we have many other ships and crews who have been missing a lot longer.”

    “Do you have any idea when you’re likely to get around to my daughter’s ship, Commander Tavuhn?”

    He shook his head. “There’s no timescale that I can give you,” he said. “I could hypothesize that the soonest that Testudo and Lusitania will come across my desk is six months from now.” Tavuhn smiled sadly. “I’m sorry.”

    “That’s okay,” said Miguel. “I appreciate your honesty. Thank you for your time.” He reached over to hang up the transmission.

    Tavuhn held up a hand. “For what it’s worth, Captain, I really do hope that you find them.”

    Miguel nodded and cut the connection.

    “No luck?,” asked Tennyson from behind him.

    Miguel stretched. “No,” he answered. “The Federation Retrieval Unit was probably our last hope.” He was sitting at his desk. Around him was the home that he and Cassia had made for themselves. The room was large but sparsely furnished with just a few sofas and a smattering of pictures on the wall. He was sitting at a large, plain-looking desk where his computer sat.

    Tennyson stood near a window and despite the spectacular view of the Andes Mountains rising up from the jungle around them and into the dawn, she kept her eyes focused on the elder Captain Cardonez. The last few days had taken their toll on him. He looked haggard and very tired. He still wore his Starfleet uniform but he seemed to have shrunk within it. She knew that she wasn’t doing any better. The back of her head ached and she had a headache that just wouldn’t go away. She wasn’t sleeping well and the urge to harm herself rose every time that she caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror. That was one of the reasons why she avoided looking out of the window. It was painful to see her reflection in the glass.

    “No news from Admiral Gavin?,” she asked him.

    Miguel shook his head. “No. All that anyone can tell me is that he’s negotiating some kind of treaty with the Gorn. I’ve tried to relay messages through several of his aides but I doubt that they’re reaching him.”

    “Then it’s over,” she said. The finality of it was almost comforting. A part of her longed to retreat back into the cocoon that waited for her back at the Durant Institute. She wanted to hide from the world, the pain, and the disgust that she felt.

    “There’s always the Klingons,” said Miguel. “The Ambassador swore that he would pass my message onto Dru’sk’s father and the House of K’Lem is a powerful force to have on our side.”

    Liz wearily sat down onto a comfortable wicker sofa. “I wouldn’t hold out a lot of hope. For a start, Dru’sk didn’t exactly leave home on the best of terms. His father will want to assume that his son died in glorious battles and that he is, even now, living it up in Sto’Vo’Kor.”

    “You’re probably right.” Miguel wondered how he was going to cope once all hope was gone. When there was nothing to take his mind off of the likelihood that his Izzy was dead.

    He left the seat and moved over to an identical sofa to the one that Tennyson was sitting on. Sitting down, he gazed out of the window. It was so beautiful here. No matter how many wonders that he had seen in his life, Venezuela was still the most wondrous place of all. One day, he hoped to show his grandchildren their heritage. It wasn’t meant to be. He sniffed, feeling tears welling up in his eyes.

    There was a knock at the flimsy pine door. Despite the fact that this was her home as much as it was his, Cassia eased the door open and peered around it nervously. “Miguel,” she said.

    Seeing her lifted his spirits momentarily. “Yes, my sweet?”

    “We have a visitor,” Cassia said, opening the door fully and stepping inside. She wore a plain white cotton dress and her face was devoid of makeup. Her snowy white hair was in need of a brush but she looked as beautiful to him as she ever had. It had taken him a long time to find anyone that he would love as much as he had loved Isabel’s mother. Finally, in their twilight years, two kindred spirits had found one another.

    Miguel allowed his gaze to reach out beyond Cassia and to the woman who stood behind her.

    She appeared to be fifteen years younger than himself and Cassia, although the years hadn’t been as kind to her. She was short and quite plump but in the way of someone who enjoyed life rather than someone who ate to fill some void within themselves. Her face was round and, when she smiled nervously, her cheeks had a rosy glow to them. Her hair was gray and tied back from her face to accentuate its roundness. She wore too many clothes. A dark woolen skirt and a peasant-style blouse beneath a thick coat with a dark scarf draped around her shoulders. She was obviously used to a colder environment.

    Miguel stood up when the woman approached him.

    “Hello, Captain Cardonez,” she said. Her accent was faint but it was obvious that it originated in Eastern Europe. “We haven’t met but I know all about you.”

    “You’ve met me,” said Tennyson and Miguel was surprised to see a warm smile light up on her face.

    “That I have, my dear. Although it seems like a long time ago.” She glanced away from her and saw the look of confusion on Miguel’s face. “My name is Natalia,” she said, holding out a hand. “Natalia Huntington. And I think I know someone who can help us.”


    ****


    When the lights had come on, they found that their shuttlepod was nestled inside of a small Shuttle Bay. Rust-colored walls rose up, ten meters on either side and a dim light trickled down from ceiling-mounted fluorescents that bathed the bay in an eerie glow. There was only one other ship present. It was a large boxy shuttlecraft that reminded Captain Cardonez of one of the old Starfleet Galileo-class shuttles. It was dusty gold in color and the twin warp nacelles were of a more modern design that ran along either side of its hull.

    “Captain, those nacelles look operational,” Louise Ramblin observed. Isabel felt that this situation was getting curiouser and curiouser by the minute.

    They remained inside their ship for a period of five minutes before a large door at the end of the bay clanked open, sending a shaft of bright light across the deck to illuminate the area more. Ten men followed the light inside and surrounded the pod. They were a variety of ages and they dressed in a variety of clothing. From dark jumpsuits, reminiscent of Mutuality uniform, to flamboyant multi-colored ponchos. All of them looked rough and almost pirate-like. Isabel almost laughed when she saw that one man had an eyepatch.

    Almost.

    This wasn’t exactly the time for humor.

    The only thing that the men had in common was that each of them held a large and long barreled pistol in their hands. All of them were aimed at the shuttlepod.

    The man with the eyepatch, a lean individual of indeterminate age with long red hair and wearing a jumpsuit, had gestured through the viewport with his gun barrel for them to exit. After a second or two, Cardonez ordered Ramblin to open the doors. She knew that this was a fight they couldn’t win and that their only hope was a more opportune chance to come along later.

    Upon exiting the ship, Eyepatch ordered them to drop any weapons and three knives clattered to the ground. Several of the men proceeded to grab them and search their clothing. It was a search that got a little too personal at one point. It resulted in Ensign Tilmoore breaking the nose of a man. Cardonez had tensed up, ready to enter the fray if things turned nasty.

    Well, nastier…

    The fallen man’s comrades had merely laughed at his misfortune.

    The search had been less intrusive after that but they still saw their earplugs were removed and there was the discovery of Ramblin’s tricorder. Isabel saw that none of the men treated it as out of ordinary.

    Convinced that the women were now unarmed, the men herded them out of the Shuttle Bay and into a long blank corridor before they ushered them into a large cavernous space that the Captain guessed run, at least, a third of the length of the ship. Here, they were herded further into the final third of the room that was sectioned off by prison bars. Inside this giant cell were rows upon rows of crude bunks with twelve women of various ages sitting on several of them. The men locked the three Starfleet officers inside before leaving, laughing as they did while leaving one of their number to stand guard by the doorway.

    Louise Ramblin stood by the bars now. Her arms were looped through them while she rested her chin on one of the crossbeams. “My father always told me that entering Starfleet was a stupid idea for a woman,” she said. “For the first time ever, I’m inclined to agree with him.”

    Isabel and Pamela stood on either side of her, both of them standing up straight and merely grasping the bars “Do you think that it’s worth talking to them again?,” the younger woman asked, hooking a glance at the gaggle of women that they shared a cell with.

    Cardonez looked at them too. The women had gathered together in a far corner, wary of the new arrivals. Upon entering the cell, she tried to speak to them but it was to no avail. She surmised that it had been almost an hour ago.

    “Probably not,” she replied to Tilmoore.

    “Pretty soon Commander Masafumi is going to leave the area with the Testudo, isn’t he?,” she asked her.

    “Are you kidding?,” Cardonez asked with a smile. “He’ll move Heaven and Earth to find us. There’s no way that he’ll leave us behind.”

    Tilmoore frowned. “But you ordered him to leave if we didn’t come back.”

    Cardonez wrinkled her nose. “Nahh… I just said that to make him feel guilty if he had to disobey my orders. I like to mess with his head.”

    “The trouble is that they have to find us,” said Ramblin. “That could take time and who knows what will happen to us in the meantime.”

    “Well, we’ll just have to escape and take over the ship,” Cardonez said with an air of certainty.

    Louise looked up from her resting place. She rapped her nails on the bar nearest to her. “That’ll be easy.”

    “You know, Louise, you’re really far too negative,” the Captain said, looking up, down, left, and right. “Every cage has a way out. We just need an opening.”

    “Maybe we could use the power of three?,” queried Louise and Isabel merely glared at her.

    “At least we know why Lectracite isn’t worth much in these parts,” said Tilmoore.

    Cardonez nodded. Taking up several square meters on one wall outside of the cell was a large replicator. “That explains the fresh clothing back on Shevett Sixteen,” she said. “It looks like whoever is running this ship is in a very powerful position. They can provide anything that the people living on those rocks need, and they seem to take their profit in cash.” She motioned once more towards the group of women who were huddled in the corner. Despite their varying ages, the one thing that the women had in common was their attractiveness.

    Ramblin gazed over at the lone guard. “I suppose one of us could always pretend to be sick.”

    “Nobody ever falls for that scheme except in fiction,” Cardonez said, sighing. “Still, if we can’t come up with a better plan…”

    “Boots!,” Tilmoore suddenly exclaimed so loudly that the guard looked up from a sheaf of papers that he was reading from and scowled at them.

    “Excuse me?”

    “Our boots,” Tilmoore said, only quieter this time. “Remember what Commander Huntington said?”

    She nodded. “Yes, but I forgot.” She moved away from the bars and sat down on a nearby bunk. Pulling off her right boot, she examined it while Louise and Pamela stood over her, keeping her shielded from the guard, even though he had returned to his reading.

    Cardonez reached inside the boot with her right hand. She shook her head. “Nothing there.”

    “Maybe it’s got hollow heels?,” Ramblin suggested.

    Isabel tugged at the heel but it wouldn’t budge. She tried tapping on it but it didn’t sound like it was hollow.

    “Maybe Huntingtin expects us to throw them at people?”

    “Who throws a shoe?”

    Then Tilmoore giggled.

    “Did I say something funny?,” asked the Captain.

    “No. I just realized what the deal is with the boots. Here, both of you shield me from the guard.”

    Cardonez looked at Ramblin and shrugged. Slipping her boot back on, she took a position next to the engineer while Tilmoore faced them with a huge beaming grin on her face.

    “Will you stop grinning like an idiot and just tell us what’s going on?”

    “Okay,” Tilmoore said and without another word, she clicked her heels together, three times like Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz… and disappeared.

    “What the –” Cardonez’ comment was drowned out by a piercing scream from the distance. The group of female prisoners were clustered around a member of their group who was pointing at where the ensign had once stood, her mouth agape and with terror in her eyes.

    “What’s going on?,” came a gruff voice from behind them.

    Cardonez and Ramblin turned around to face the guard who now stood suspiciously on the other side of the bars. They stood tight together. “Nothing,” Isabel said. “One of your prisoners saw a mouse.”

    “A mouse?!,” he exclaimed. “What the hell is a mouse?”

    “Well…,” Ramblin began to say while trying to snake something up.

    “Shut up!,” shouted the Guard. “Where’s the other one? There were three of you.”

    Cardonez watched his hand reach for the grip of his pistol. She racked her brains trying to find a way out of this situation but she couldn’t. How did you explain vanishing to someone?

    “I’m waiting,” he growled.

    She opened her mouth but she never got to say a word.

    “I’m here, you dumbass!,” Tilmoore said, poking her head between Cardonez and Ramblin. “What’s the matter?” She smiled at her cleverness. “Is your sight going?”

    He gazed at them for a moment with a puzzled look on his face. He knew that something was wrong but he couldn’t pin down what it was. Finally, he snorted. “Just keep quiet,” he said before he returned to his station.

    Once he was out of earshot, Cardonez turned around. “Where the hell did you go?!”

    “Nowhere,” was Tilmoore’s reply before she tapped her heels on the floor. “Holoemitters in the heels create a sort of mini-cloaking shield. Commander Huntington used them to outwit Doctor Shatterhand the first time that we met.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I should have remembered earlier.”

    “Neat,” said Ramblin. “How many times can you use it?”

    Tilmoore looked sheepish and clicked her heels together again. “Only once, I’m afraid.”

    “Great,” said Cardonez. “You’ve just wasted one shot on a test.” She paused and looked over at the ever more frightened huddle of women. “Not to mention scaring the locals.”

    “I said I was sorry.”

    Cardonez sighed. “It’s okay, Pam. It’s just me. I’ve been pissed off for the last few days. I wish I knew why.”

    “That time of the month?,” Louise queried, looking uncomfortable.

    Isabel shook her head. “Nope. Far worse.”

    “Sheesh,” said Tilmoore.

    “Okay,” the Captain said,” we still have two shots at this.” She reached out and grabbed one of the bars. We need to get out of here first.” She mused over their situation and after a moment’s thought, she shouted at their guard. “Hey, you! Get over here!”

    “Shut up!,” he called back to her.

    “I said get over here!,” she shouted. “I have an important message for your Captain.”

    “A likely story,” he said, his unmoving head still looking down and reading.

    Cardonez was mad now. “Then I guess he won’t be interested in a Selvee invasion!,” she shouted back.

    He looked up at this pronouncement. “You’re lying,” he said but his voice lacked conviction. Cardonez supposed that when your entire civilization was conquered, even if it was five hundred years ago, you get a little paranoid.

    “Come over here and I’ll prove it.”

    He ruminated on this for a moment and then he walked over. “Okay,” he sneered. “Prove it.”

    Cardonez smiled. She had often been told that she had an evil streak and right now, that streak went forward. She enjoyed watching the guards sneer before they fell into open-mouthed fear when she pulled her hair back and held it into a ponytail, turning her head first to one way and then another way as though she was showing off a new hairstyle… with rather very un-Chobraq-like ears.

    She let her hair drop. “Need any more convincing?,” she asked them. Without waiting for an answer, she grasped the vein bisecting her chin tightly between her thumb and forefinger, pulling as hard as she could. Hollem’s glue was strong, but the half-Romulan blood that flowed through Cardonez’s veins was stronger. With an audible tear, it came away in her fingers.

    The guard actually gasped. Isabel completed her display by throwing it at him. He flinched but it still struck him full in the face before it bounced onto the floor.

    “Why you…,” he said and drew his gun. His arm was shaky when he pointed it at Cardonez.

    “Good idea. Kill the Selvee spy before she can reveal the secrets of the invasion,” Cardonez said. Her blood was racing now and she knew that she was gambling with her life. Strangely enough, she didn’t care right at this moment. “Now, are you going to call your Captain or not?”

    The man’s face was red and his blood was boiling too. However, self-preservation won out and he lowered his gun. Grabbing at his waist, he flicked open a communicator and spoke while he regarded Cardonez warily. “Drekeir to Bridge. One of the prisoners wants to see the Captain.”

    In reply, Testudo’s Captain merely smiled sweetly.
     
    Robert Bruce Scott likes this.
  8. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Cloaking boots... Yeah, those might need to become standard gear... Nice setup with Cardonez pulling the old "Take me to your leader" gag.

    Thanks!! rbs
     
  9. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Epilogue

    Cardonez was saddened when the guard hadn’t merely left her out. Instead, he called for two other men to escort her to see the Captain. After they opened the cell door, Tilmoore and Ramblin tried to follow her but they were driven back by pointed guns.

    “I’ll be okay,” Cardonez said over her shoulder. “I’ll just have a quick word with the Captain and sort this whole mess out.” She turned her head back to look forward and she moved along with a guard on either side of her. “Then I’m sure that we’ll get bumped up to the First Class accommodations.” She smiled while either man on each side of her looked quizzically at her.

    Cardonez’ plan had been to use the cloak once she was out of the cell, but the guards were just too close. Now, as they walked through a corridor, there was too little room.

    Besides, she wanted to see the leader of this band of brigands.

    The corridors were generic-looking with a definite Starfleet influence. Unsurprising when this ship was built by the Chobraq Mutuality, a power with ties to a Federation starship that had vanished a century ago. When they reached a turbolift, she almost expected it to have handles on the wall that you had to twist to get anywhere and she was slightly disappointed when it didn’t. Instead, one of the guards, truthfully she couldn’t tell them apart, gruffly said,” Bridge.

    The turbolift hummed into action and after a few seconds, it opened out onto a Bridge with a design that looked all too familiar. After her mind meld with Ensign Stredu, she had vivid memories of the Bridge of a Constitution-class starship. Even without those memories, she would have recognized the origin of this ship in a flash.

    Of course, it was smaller, but the workstations arranged around the outside of the circular Bridge and the evenly-spaced rails sectioning off the central section where a single seat sat behind two others, marked it out as being inspired by Starfleet design.

    There were only two men on the Bridge. At the console that she imagined was the helm sat a young man with sparse, thinning, and prematurely gray. As they stepped out onto the Bridge and the doors shut behind them. The other occupant sitting in the Captain’s chair rose up and turned around to greet them.

    He wasn’t at all what she was expecting.

    He was tall, almost gangly, with neat curls of golden hair on top of a head whose face spoke of maturity and yet, it still barely looked old enough to shave. His eyes were narrow and blue, highlighted by the blue veins circling them and when he smiled, he showed perfect rows of white teeth between perfect lips. The only thing to spoil the illusion of some beautiful cherub was his nose which had obviously been broken once in his life and not more. It was crooked, veering just slightly to the left. Isabel had never been one for pretty boys but the sole imperfection of his nose was just enough to make him attractive.

    … very attractive.

    Then Captain Isabel Cardonez realized why she had been so antsy lately.

    “So,” he said with a cultured voice that wasn’t like those of the other men aboard,” this is our mysterious Selvee spy.” As he spoke, she tried not to imagine his butter-smooth voice whispering in her ear. He reached out with his right hand and lifted her hair away from one ear. There was an almost audible spark when his fingers touched her.

    “You look to be more Vulcan to me,” he added with a smirk.

    Cardonez didn’t let her surprise show. “What’s a Vulcan?,” she asked. “I’ve told you. I’m Selvee.”

    The Captain wagged a finger in the air. “Oh, no, if you had ever seen a Selvee, then you’d know that you could never pull that off.”

    “Am I to believe that you’ve never seen a Selvee? Or a Vulcan for that matter.” Her voice was filled with disdain.

    He shook his head. “No, but I’ve read about them. This ship’s computer is very clever,” he said with his boyish grin growing wilder. He looked her up and down, allowing his gaze to linger on her curves which were barely concealed by her clothing. He met her eyes once more. “They didn’t describe anything as wonderful as you. I’ve always thought about taking the warp shuttle and traveling outside the asteroid field but I’ve never had the nerve. Oh, if there are more like you out there…”

    Time to change tack, thought Cardonez. “Okay, you got me. I’m a Vulcan. Commander Selen of the Chobraq Mutuality.”

    He pursed his lips. “No, I don’t think so,” he said. “You’re something else. I don’t expect you to tell me though. Where would the fun be in that?”

    “Where, indeed?,” she asked in the way of a reply.

    “You’ll tell Grosus here.” He gestured towards the guard on her left side, a weasel-like man with rat-like teeth. He smiled lecherously at her.

    Cardonez blew him a kiss. Turning back to her host, she asked,” What’s your name?”

    He took a slight bow. “Captain Dill Jevon at your service. Why do you ask?”

    She shrugged. The guards were still too close to her but there wasn’t any point in waiting for a better opportunity. She wasn’t going to get it. “I always like to know the name of the man that I’m going to kill.” She smiled.

    He laughed. “Women!”

    Cardonez laughed too. “Men!,” she chimed before she clicked her heels together three times.

    She didn’t actually notice any difference. However, the men around her gaped and began to grab her. Or rather where she had been. As soon as she knew it was working, she dropped into a crouch, swinging her leg out to sweep the man called Grosus off of his feet. As he hit the deck hard, she grabbed the pistol from his hand before rolling over the top of him.

    As they saw Grosus cry out in pain as though something was on top of him, the other two guards reacted instinctively and fired. Luckily for Cardonez, she had already rolled over the top of him. Of course, it proved to be very unlucky for Grosus when two burnt black burns appeared in his chest and the perplexed look in his eyes gave way to lifelessness.

    Cardonez got up into a crouch. After all, she only had seconds. The two guards were considering firing blindly. She could see it in their eyes. The helmsman was out of his seat and heading her way with a pistol in his hand while Jevon was backing up against one of the rails with his own weapon drawn. The pistol in her hand was heavy. It was some kind of energy pulse weapon, she judged, by what it had done to Grosus. The grip was worn and clammy to the touch. She also had no way of discerning if there was a stun setting.

    Her first priority was the two remaining guards. She fired twice in quiet succession, shifting her aim slightly between shots and hitting both men square in the chest.

    She was already moving when she fired the second shot, shifting her position and turning around to face the oncoming helmsman. She fired once, hitting him in the shoulder but he kept coming. So she fired again… failing to see that she was visible now. Her second shot tore through the upper part of his head, knocking him backwards and killing him all at the same time.

    Realizing that she could now be seen, Cardonez began turning towards Jevon. She got halfway there.

    “Drop it!,” he shouted, his voice echoing around the tight Bridge.

    She stopped in her tracks. He stood with his gun pointing right at her while her own weapon was pointed towards the ground. She sighed. There was no way that she could do as he asked. This was their only chance of freedom. If she could kill Jevon, even at the cost of her own life, then no one would know how she did it. Ramblin could still utilize her own magic boots and make another attempt at freedom.

    “I can’t do that,” she said.

    “Listen,” he sneered and the buttery lilt in his voice was gone now. “I’ve run this ship for five years and my father ran it before me. It’s made my family very powerful and if you think that I’m going to let some woman ruin that…”

    “I’m not some woman,” Isabel said, letting the corners of her mouth turn up. “I’m damned well exceptional.” She moved, throwing herself to the left while bringing her weapon up to bear.

    Jevon fired first but he had the disadvantage of a moving target. He hit her but not where he wanted to. When she felt a burst of hot fire tear through her right side, Cardonez screamed but it wasn’t a scream born of pain but rather one born of rage. She pulled the trigger, once, twice, three times. None of the shots struck him but the second one blazed within millimeters of his right hand and the sensation of blistering heat was enough to make him drop his gun.

    Cardonez’ scream ended at the same time that she skidded to a halt beside the helm. She lay there with her side burning white hot and keeping her gun pointed in his direction.

    “Amateur,” she spat out while she slowly rose to her feet. Once there, she took a step forward. “Now then, we’re going for a little walk…” The lance of pain was sudden and sharp in her side. She winced and her hand dropped, just a fraction, but it was all that Jevon needed. He charged at her.

    Cardonez tried to bring her gun up but she was too slow. He barrelled into her and the two of them tumbled backwards. She tried to hold tight to the gun but her back slammed into the deck and the shock forced the air from her lungs and it made her hand relax just enough for her to lose her grip on the gun. The pain in her side was greater now when the weight of Jevon bore down on her.

    “Bitch!,” he yelled out when he rose up and lashed out with his right fist, catching her with a glancing blow across her chin.

    Still stunned from the impact with the deck, Cardonez just lay there while he punched her again. Her vision was blurring now and she knew that one or two more punches would seal her fate. She tried to get some leverage with her legs to throw him off but he was right against her and she could barely move them. In desperation, she reached up with her right hand but he grabbed it and forced it down with his left hand. As he struck her again, she tasted blood in her mouth and she was sure that a tooth had been cracked.

    She barely had the strength to lift her left hand and no strength to use it. She tried to grip his throat but she could barely feel her fingers and they fell uselessly against his shoulder.

    Her eyelids were growing heavy and the pain in her side and in her face was intense. Jevon was leering down at her with the grin of a madman plastered on his face. She saw him draw back his fist one more time and the temptation to give it was tremendous.

    To just let sweet oblivion take her.

    Cardonez wasn’t the sort to just give in though. Countless enemies from the Jem’Hadar to the Borg had found that out. This time, sheer guts wouldn’t be enough though. She was too weak to fight.

    So she didn’t… and what she did took her as much surprise as it did Jevon.

    Instinctively, her numb fingers began to grip at his shoulder. Not hard. She didn’t have the strength for that. Instead, they played gently around his shoulder as if they were searching for… for something. She watched his eyes, seeing the moment that he decided to drive forward and punch once more. That was when she used her last reserves of strength to grip, ever so gently, with the fingers of her left hand.

    The manic look in his eyes died. His eyelids fluttered and he fell forward. Cardonez screamed when his full weight collapsed upon her but she managed to remain conscious. Although he was dead weight now, he was easier to move and after several attempts, she pushed him off of her.

    With the pressure off of her body gone now, she just lay there, breathing deeply and letting her lungs fill with air. After several minutes, and despite the fact that all she wanted to do was sleep, she hauled herself up and retrieved her fallen weapon. Staggerly drunkenly, she headed for the turbolift. She had no idea how many of the crew were left and honestly, she didn’t know if she could fight any more.

    As she passed by the command chair, she realized something. Turning back around, she dropped into the navigator’s seat. Looking ahead, she watched rocks tumble in the darkness and she was relieved to see that the helmsman had activated the autopilot before she had a chance to kill him. Checking further, she was pleased to discover that there were no security protocols in place. It was likely that the crew of the ship didn’t know half of what it could do.

    The controls were old and laid out in a curious way. However, at the end of the day, they were based on Federation technology and she soon had the internal scanners working. She smiled when she realized that there were only ten more crew members aboard and eight of them were in one room. By the looks of it, it was a recreation room. With a few strokes of her fingers, that room was sealed with a security code that would be necessary to open it up again. Another man was asleep in his quarters and when he awoke, he would find it equally difficult to leave.

    That left one man and it looked like he was guarding the prisoners. Grabbing up her gun, Isabel headed for the turbolift now. Even in her weakened condition, she was more than a match for one unsuspecting guard.

    Before entering the lift, she paused and looked back at Jevon. Lifting her left hand, she examined it. She wasn’t expecting to see anything different and she didn’t. Still, she wondered, when exactly had she learned to do a Vulcan neck pinch?


    ****


    Liz Tennyson didn’t hold out much hope. It was just another Ready Room, just like Admiral Janeway’s and that had been a wasted trip. She didn’t think that this would be any different. However, Miguel could hardly contain his optimism. “This is the one,” he had told her. “This is the one who will help us.”

    Of course, the Ready Room that she, Miguel and Natalia sat in wasn’t quite as opulent as the Admiral’s. Of course, it only belonged to a Nova-class ship and to a Captain that she had never heard about before.

    “It’s funny, you know, Captain Radcliffe, but I don’t recall Adam ever mentioning you,” Natalia said, sitting between Miguel and Tennyson. She was still dressed in her winter clothes but, at least, she looked more comfortable in them now.

    The man sitting on the other side of the desk smiled warmly. “Please call me Richard.” He was a slight man and Tennyson guessed that he was in his early sixties. He had a Southern American accent and coupled with his white beard, hair, and laid back manner, she was reminded of a southern gentleman from a holodeck adventure.

    “Richard,” Natalia said,” as I said, Adam never mentioned you. How do you know each other?”

    “We were stationed together aboard the Amazon, just after he left the Academy. We got into a few scrapes, I can tell you.”

    Natalia smiled. “That sounds like Adam. Of course, that was before I met him. I hear that he was quite the lady killer back then?”

    Radcliffe chuckled. “Oh, yes, we both were. Of course, time makes you lose touch. I’ve spent the greater part of the last twenty years on deep-space explorations.” He sighed. “Of course, now Starfleet has reassigned me and put me in charge of a squadron of cargo ships.” He shook his head sadly and Tennyson got the impression of a beaten man. He gestured around them. “This is my last day aboard the Louisiana. As of tomorrow, I’ll be flying a desk.”

    “I’m sorry to hear that,” said Miguel. “I know how you must feel.”

    He waved Miguel’s pity away. “Ah, don’t worry about me. I’ve done my adventuring. It’s time for the younger generation to do theirs. The truth is that my wife will be glad to actually see me for longer than a few days at a time.” He laughed again.

    “Excuse me,” asked Tennyson,” but how exactly can you help us?”

    “Simple, little lady,” Radcliffe said and Tennyson was amazed that she didn’t feel patronized by him calling her that. “I have a few friends aboard Voyager and when I heard that Admiral Janeway wasn’t going to help you out, I started looking into what I could do. It turns out that one of my cargo ships is due to make a run to Starbase One-Forty-Eight soon. The ship doesn’t leave for four weeks but that’s mainly due to a lack of personnel.” Then he winked.

    “I don’t understand?,” said Natalia.

    “I do,” Miguel said, smiling. “That Starbase is close to Sector 29004.”

    “Very close,” said Radcliffe.

    Tennyson was wise to his game now. “Exactly what personnel is this ship lacking?”

    “Oh, not much. A Captain, a Chief Engineer, and maybe a Chief Medical Officer.” His smile was broader now, like a man who had gotten one over on an old rival. Tennyson wondered if this was his last act of rebellion before he settled down into his twilight years.

    “Four weeks,” said Miguel.

    Ratcliffe nodded. “Although, I might be able to stretch it out to six. Once you’re out there…” He let the sentence hang in the air.

    “There are all sorts of reasons that a starship might get delayed further,” supplied Liz.

    “It’s not long, I know, but it’s the best that I could do.”

    “It’s fantastic,” said Miguel. “It’s better than we could have hoped for.”

    “So, what’s this ship?,” asked Tennyson.

    Radcliffe passed a PADD over to them. “She’s a Mediterranean-class ship. The USS Wyoming.”

    Tennyson looked up. “The ship that performed the first-in-depth survey of Sector 29004?,” she asked in disbelief.

    “Ironic, isn’t it?”

    They talked for another few minutes. Radcliffe had already done a lot of the ground work. Miguel was still technically a Starfleet captain and it had been easy to reactivate his commission. Liz’s commission proved to be slightly harder but a quick call to Doctor Durant saw that her commission was reactivated as well. It turned out that Cassia had never completely resigned from Starfleet. She was the easiest of them all.

    “What about me?,” asked Natalia. “I know that the Wyoming doesn’t need a teacher but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to help look for Adam and the others.”

    Radcliffe shrugged. “Passengers,” he said, looking at Miguel,” are always carried at the discretion of the Captain.”

    Miguel smiled. “We wouldn’t dream of leaving you behind.

    A few minutes later and the group was gone, leaving Captain Radcliffe alone in his Ready Room. The aged man yawned but then a satisfied smile danced across his lips. Turning his computer screen to face him, he looked at his reflection in the glass. Picking an item up from the desk, he ran it across his head and face. A pale blue light illuminated his hair and when he had finished, his hair and beard were no longer white. They were black with specks of gray intermingled with them. He looked like he was ten years young now.

    Hitting the intercom button, a woman’s voice quickly responded. “Muriel here.”

    When he spoke, the southern drawl had disappeared and been replaced with a clipped British accent. “Make sure that everything is in order for Captain Cardonez to take over command of the Wyoming,” he said.

    “Did it go well?”

    “Very well.” The man masquerading as Captain Radcliffe allowed himself a small chuckle. “Everything is going according to plan.” The man known as Richard Radcliffe to one Captain Cardonez was better known as James Tyrell, Section Thirty-One agent to another Captain Cardonez, closed the channel.


    ****


    Isabel Cardonez strolled nervously down the corridor of Deck Five aboard the Testudo. It had been ten hours since the away team’s return, triumphant and in control of the Takasnit. After removing its warp core and warp-capable shuttle – which now resided in Shuttle Bay One – they had turned the ship over to the female prisoners and set the ship on a precise course for Shevett Sixteen. She had been tempted to throw its pirate crew out of an airlock but she resisted. Without the warp core’s limitless power and the replicator, Jevon wasn’t going to be half the power that he had once been. Of course, that hadn’t stopped him from threatening all sorts of revenge from behind bars.

    Get in line, thought Cardonez.

    Doctor Hollen had checked the three of them out, and after a little work with a bone knitter, he pronounced them in good health and prescribed them a healthy night’s sleep. Louise Ramblin had protested that she wanted to get started on installing the warp drive but Isabel had ordered her to rest.

    Of course, she wasn’t practicing what she preached. If she was, she should be in her own quarters, getting some well-deserved sleep. But she wasn’t. She was stalking the corridors of Deck Five instead because there was still the matter of the itch that she couldn’t scratch. She was no good to his crew by being antsy and she needed to fix that. The fight with Jevon had helped but there was only one thing that would kill the urge.

    At least, for a while.

    She stopped outside of a set of doors. After casting furtive glances to her left and right and ensuring that no one else was around, she tapped the door chimes. Seconds passed by and she found herself tapping her foot impatiently. Her mouth was dry and she licked her lips. She rang the chimes again and looked around once more.

    More time passed by and she had almost convinced herself that this was a bad time when the doors slid open. He blinked sleep from his eyes while he adjusted to the light. He wore a faded brown wraparound robe that was held tight around him. A pair of pale legs descended from the bottom of the robe.

    “Captain?,” he asked. “What’s wrong? Do you know what time it is?”

    She pushed quickly past him. “Lights,” she ordered and his quarters were suddenly bathed in brightness. She turned around to face him. “Close the door.”

    He shook his head wearily and complied, moving so that the doors automatically closed. “Captain,” he asked again,” what’s wrong?”

    Cardonez ignored his question. “One rule,” she said softly. “Just one rule. You don’t tell a soul.” After that, she began to undress.

    The sight of her nudity shook away any last vestiges of sleep from his body now. He smiled when she slid her undershirt off and threw it after her uniform jacket on the floor. As she reached down and pulled her vest top over her head, revealing her tight breasts to his gaze, he sighed contently.

    “Well, I suppose I can follow one rule,” he said and without another thought, Valian Kandro let his wraparound robe fall onto the floor before he followed his Captain into the bedroom.


    The End… or is it?
     
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  10. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
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  11. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    No wig needed as my hair is longer than Kate Mulgrew's ever was...
    [​IMG]
     
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  12. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Cardonez and Valian Kandro? Crew-mates with benefits... Liking how that urge took her unawares. Sweet transition from Cardonez's victory via surprise neck-pinch to away team back aboard. No need for a blow-by-blow.

    Thanks!! rbs
     
  13. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    I'll get started on my next story so for this series. I've been a little under the weather lately. I apologize for any delays that I have made in delivering new content.
     
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  14. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    And now for my next trick... I mean, story...


    Star Trek: Into the Void

    Episode Twenty-Two - ‘Puzzle’

    By Jack Elmlinger


    Prologue

    From a distance of only a million kilometers, the asteroid field was almost undetectable. The nearest star was over three lightyears away and no light reached this dark and isolated jumble of rocks. The asteroids moved leisurely around one another like men and women at a formal dance. Occasionally, two of them would collide but they never truly destroyed each other. Instead, they merely spawned children as chunks of smaller rocks were knocked off of them or they were splintered into shards that headed out to find their own eccentric orbits.

    The last ship to pass by had done so over thirty hours before. It was a freighter of indeterminate origin that had been forced out of warp by a fault in its warp core. It had stayed precisely for thirteen minutes before heading off on its way. So there was no one to see when the New Orleans-class starship slowly and gracefully found its way between the rocks at the outer edge of the field and emerged into clear space for the first time in weeks.

    “Well, I, for one, am glad to be out of there,” Lieutenant Zia Kehen said from her seat at the Testudo’s helm console.

    “Indeed,” said Commander Yashiro Masafumi. “All of those asteroids were beginning to look like tombstones in some giant graveyard.”

    Captain Isabel Cardonez shuddered in her command chair. “Will you stop that? They’re just rocks.”

    “Well, it’s not like we ever have to see them again,” said Kehen, twisting her blue-green skinned head back to smile at her Captain.

    “Not so,” Lieutenant Commander Adam Huntington said from the horseshoe-shaped Tactical Console above Cardonez’s head. “There is always the chance that we might have to take refuge again, sooner than we think.”

    “Well, I kind of liked them,” said Ensign Giren Ra-Moveii from the Operations console. The young Efrosian smiled. “They remind me of my home planet.”

    “You lived on an asteroid?,” asked Kehen.

    Ra-Moveii looked down his nose at her. “No, I lived on a planet but it is ringed by thousands of small satellites.”

    “Oh, I see. That place must have been quite homely.”

    “I believe that was what I was saying,” he said.

    “Maybe we can visit it one day,” said Cardonez,” when we get back to the Alpha Quadrant.”

    Masafumi allowed himself a wry smile. It was nice to hear the Captain sounding optimistic. Until a few weeks ago, she had been acting quite negative as though she was troubled by something. However, lately, she was almost back to her old self.

    Hope lit up in the Efrosian’s eyes. “You really think that we’ll get back?”

    Cardonez nodded and smiled. “Yes, I do,” she said. “Of course, it all might depend on what’s happening fourteen decks below us.”


    ****


    On Deck Fifteen, for the majority of the staff in Main Engineering, it was like watching some kind of hideous shuttle crash. It was terrible and you just couldn’t look away. Like the asteroids that they had so recently sheltered among, the two individuals that were the focus of everyone’s attention danced around one another but unlike the asteroids, any collision was unlikely to spawn any offspring.

    “I’m telling you that the lower MCS cap is misaligned by point-three microns,” said Lieutenant Valian Kandro.

    “And I’m telling you that I don’t care,” said Lieutenant Louise Ramblin.

    They were standing toe-to-toe and glaring into each other’s eyes. They were standing in front of Testudo’s new warp core and a pale blue neon light backlit them.

    To Ensign John Walden, Kandro and Ramblin always reminded him of his parents whenever they bickered, which was ninety percent of the time that they were together. He wasn’t sure that was a good idea. His parents hadn’t spoken in ten years now and the hatred still burned within each of them. Even to the point that at his graduation from Starfleet Academy, eighteen months ago, they had sat rows apart and he had to have two sets of official photos done, much to his embarrassment and sadness. These two photos now adorned the walls of his quarters, side by side. It was the closest that his parents had been in a long time.

    There was a pool going on about how long it would be before the Betazoid and the Chief Engineer fell back into bed together. Walden hadn’t partaken in it. Not because he had any moral compunction against gambling, but merely because he honestly believed that they never would.

    “You don’t care?,” snarled Kandro. “It could blow up the whole antimatter injector assembly!”

    “The chances of that happening are microscopic,” Ramblin replied. “There’s always misalignment in an MCS cap. It’s perfectly normal.”

    “Maybe, but I’ve never known of more than a point-two micron misalignment.”

    “Well, you need to get out more,” she spat back at him. “The Noble functioned perfectly fine with a point-eight deviation. In fact, her old Chief Engineer used to be proud of that. She said that it was the best that she had ever managed.”

    “Okay, I accept that, under normal circumstances, it would be acceptable,” he conceded.

    “Hah!”

    “But these are hardly normal circumstances.”

    Walden knew what Kandro meant. The young dark-skinned engineer looked beyond the arguing senior officers for a moment and focused on the Testudo’s new warp core. It looked incongruous after being slotted into the space vacated by the original warp core. For a start, it was smaller. Both thinner and shorter, although you couldn’t tell that just by looking at the exposed section. It went beyond that though. The core might have been a copy of a generic Federation design but for some reason, it still looked alien. The color of its housing was muddy-brown and if Walden hadn’t known, it was impossible that he might have thought that it was rust. The blue glow emanating from the core was wrong and not nearly bright enough. He knew that it was his imagination but Engineering seeked to be a darker place right now.

    “Look, the only way to reduce the misalignment would be to pull the whole thing out and reinsert it,” said Ramblin. “That would take days and under these conditions, the chances are that we wouldn’t get an improvement. In fact, I would guess that we would get the opposite.”

    “Oh, so you’re willing to guesstimate with our lives?”

    Ramblin leaned in and Walden thought that she was going to hit Kandro. “On;y with yours.”

    When Kandro retorted, it was so far below the belt that he wouldn’t be surprised if it hit someone down on Deck Sixteen. “Liz would do it.”

    That did it.

    Even the few people who hadn’t been transfixed by Kandro and Ramblin stopped what they were doing now. The two officers had somehow managed to edge even closer to each other now like a pair of boxers trying to psyche each other out. There was an almost electrical tinge in the air but fortunately the Testudo’s Captain interceded before blood would be spilt.

    “Cardonez to Engineering. Are we ready?,” came her disembodied voice over the intercom.

    Ramblin kept her gaze on Kandro with her jaw tight. “Yes, Captain, we are.”

    Kandro began to open his mouth but he stopped short. He was many things but he wasn’t stupid. He knew that he had crossed the line and he knew that Louise didn’t deserve being compared to Testudo’s former Chief Engineer. Yet, he couldn’t bring himself to apologize. Silence was as close as he came.

    Their gazes stayed locked for a few seconds more before Ramblin broke away. “Captain, you can get underway.”

    “Understood.”

    Ramblin had her back to Kandro when she barked orders to her engineers. “Henderson, Devek, monitor the antimatter flow. Schultz, keep an eye on the plasma manifolds. We’re going to be pumping a different kind of energy into the warp nacelles. I don’t want them to be getting food poisoning.” She turned towards Walden. “Walden, help Russell with the warp field calculations.”

    “Aye, sir,” he said, glad to have, at last, something to do.

    Ramblin turned back around. “Are you still here?”

    “Don’t you remember?,” Kandro asked with a smile. “I’m seconded to Engineering until the test is over.”

    “Good. Make yourself useful,” she told him. “Get me a coffee, triple sweet.”


    ****


    “Ready?,” asked Cardonez.

    “As ready as she’ll ever be,” reported Kehen.

    She smiled. “Lay in a course dead ahead and engage at half-impulse.”

    “Half-impulse, aye,” the Yulanian said and Testudo began to move even faster.

    “Prepare to go to warp on my mark.”

    Isabel leaned forward in her seat and she cast a look over at Masafumi. “Here goes nothing,” she said. “Andale.”

    Testudo shuddered momentarily but then the stars streaked by them on the viewscreen.

    “Warp One,” said Kehen.

    “Well, that’s encouraging,” said Huntington.

    Cardonez hit the intercom button on her chair. “Cardonez to Engineering. Any problems?”

    “Negative,” came Lieutenant Ramblin’s voice in reply. “Unless you count the lousy coffee that Kandro just replicated for me, of course.” Several chuckles echoed around the Bridge.

    “Any objections to us stretching our legs?”

    “No, sir. Push her as far as you can. I’ll let you know if she starts to give.”

    “Excellent. Cardonez out. “Zia, you heard the lady. Stretch our legs.”

    Kehen nodded and she began to increase the ship’s speed. “Warp One-point-Five… Warp Two.”

    Masafumi swung his monitor around to face him and he began monitoring the readings coming off of the warp core. “No problems so far.”

    “Warp Three… Warp Three-Point-Seven… Warp Four,” intoned Kehen.

    Cardonez was surprised. She hadn’t actually believed that they could do it. No matter what Ramblin and Kandro had said.

    “Warp Five,” said Kehen. “Five-Point-Three… Five-Point-Eight… Warp Six.”

    Isabel smiled. She sat back in her chair and started to relax.

    That’s when it happened.

    Kehen had just informed them that the Testudo was at Warp Six-Point-Seven when the ship suddenly shuddered hard. Almost everyone managed to grab hold with the exception of Ra-Moveii who fell sideways out of his chair.

    “Ensign, are you okay?,” Cardonez asked him.

    “Aye, sir,” the Efrosian replied shakily while he returned to his feet and retook his station.

    “There’s a spike in the plasma flow,” Masafumi said as the Bridge continued to shake. “It’s causing instability in the warp field.” He looked up from his console. “Lieutenant Kehen, reduce our speed to Warp Six-Point-Five.”

    Kehen nodded and a second later, the shuddering stopped.

    “Can we go back and get my stomach?,” Commander Huntington asked.

    Cardonez smiled and pushed the intercom button. “Cardonez here. What’s our status?”


    ****


    In Main Engineering, Ramblin was leaning over the shoulders of Crewman Schultz who was sitting at an Engineering workstation. “I’m sorry, Captain. We didn’t see that coming. The plasma coming from the core is subtly different. We’ve been making adjustments as we go but there was an unexpected surge that we’re compensated for now.”

    She reached over and tapped several controls. “You can continue at any time. Engineering out.”

    Suddenly she felt the presence of someone standing behind her. It was Kandro, staring over her shoulder. “Can I help you?”

    “I just wondered if you wanted another coffee,” he asked mischievously.


    ****


    Meanwhile, the Testudo began to speed ahead again, only this time with no more surprises. Eventually, Kehen turned around in her seat. “Sir, we’ve struck a wall at Warp Seven-Point-Four.”

    Cardonez sighed.

    “We knew that the performance wouldn’t be brilliant,” said Masafumi.

    “I know,” she said. “It’s a damned sight better than impulse speed after all.” She sighed again. “Full stop, Lieutenant.” The stars on the main viewscreen came back into focus as the ship came to a full stop.

    She tapped the intercom button on her armrest again. “Lieutenant Ramblin, what’s the verdict?”

    “The verdict is good. Aside from the plasma surge, the warp core functioned perfectly. Amazing, given its age.”

    “Any chance of improving on Warp-Seven-Point-Four?”

    “I’m sorry, Captain but no. In fact, I would recommend we don’t go above Warp Seven unless we have to. Getting to Seven-Point-Four put a lot of pressure on the core that I don’t think it could take for long.”

    Isabel sighed for a third time. “You and your team have done a brilliant job, Lieutenant. On behalf of the entire crew, you have our thanks.”

    “You’re welcome,” Ramblin said and Cardonez cut the link with Engineering.

    “Now all that we need is to set a course,” said Huntington.

    “Easier said than done,” said Cardonez. “It’s a thirty thousand lightyear trip home on the direct route. Twenty-four lightyears if we head for the Gamma Quadrant end of the Bajoran wormhole. Plus we’re in enemy territory.”

    “We have to try and get back,” said Masafumi. “Voyager proved that it’s possible.”

    “Maybe they did but I’ve never been one for long trips,” said Cardonez. “Somewhere, there’s a cascade that leads us back to Sector 29004. I intend for us to find it and maybe give the Mutuality a bloody nose along the way.” She sat upright in her chair. “Lieutenant, set a course for the nearest star system, Warp Seven.”

    Masafumi tried very hard to suppress a smile. Captain Cardonez was definitely back to her old self now.
     
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  15. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Chapter One

    Captain Isabel Cardonez sat alone in her Ready Room. She didn’t know how captains in the past had managed to survive without them. Being able to lock yourself away from the rest of the crew in order to get some work done was a godsend.

    Of course, on this occasion, she wasn’t working. That was just an excuse. Instead she had her feet up on her desk and she was scanning absently through one of the comic books loaned to her by Huntington. She was sure that it was his plan to get the whole crew reading the adventures of Kirk Robinson. He had hooked Doctor Hollem on them, first of all. Then Kandro and then Pamela Tilmoore. Now he had managed to foist them onto her. Kirk Robinson was slowly assimilating the crew with a greater efficiency than the Borg. No, strike that. It was more like some kind of vampiric virus.

    She wasn’t overly enjoying the comic. Kirk was an amusingly ironic creation but she had never been one for the twenty-second century and she had never really liked comic books. However, it was either Kirk Robinson or her quarters. She knew that if she went to her quarters, she would end up giving Valian a call. Their relationship, if you could call a series of one-night stands, a relationship, had been ongoing for two weeks and they had fallen into a familiar pattern. One of them would turn up at the other one’s quarters and they would talk. Inevitably though, they ended up in bed. Sometimes, they would stay the whole night but more often, they would nervously leave soon after. They never arranged to see each other again because they both knew where they stood.

    It wasn’t love.

    It wasn’t romance.

    It was fun.

    It was sex.

    Isabel was worried that it was happening too often though. Sooner or later, the crew would find out and she really didn’t want that. So, tonight, she had decided to hide out in her Ready Room with Kirk Robinson rather than find herself in bed with Valian Kandro.

    As it turned out, remaining in her Ready Room saved her time as…

    Her combadge chirped. “Cardonez,” she replied.

    It was Masafumi. “Captain, we need you on the Bridge. We’ve detected a ship nearby.”

    She didn’t even bother to reply. Dropping the comic book onto her desk, she jumped up and strode to the door. When she came out onto the Bridge, Masafumi relinquished the command chair and moved over to his own chair.

    She sat down. “Report.”

    “We detected it a few seconds ago. It appears to be a freighter and it appears to be dead in space.”

    “Any distress call?”

    “None that we can detect,” said Huntington. “Maybe they’re just making repairs.”

    “Can we tell if it’s a Mutuality ship?,” asked Cardonez.

    Masafumi shook his head.

    The Captain pursed her lips. “Lieutenant Kehen, drop us out of warp. Let’s get a closer look at them.”

    “Captain, do we really want to let the Mutuality know that we survived?,” asked Huntington.

    She shrugged. “We can’t hide forever.”

    “We are approaching the freighter,” reported Ra-Moveii.

    “On screen. Bring us to a dead stop.”

    The viewscreen changed views and the image of the vessel appeared. It was small and it looked old. Built along crude and blocky lines, it was wedge-shaped with a single protrusion running along the length of its spine that looked like a warp nacelle that was unlike any that Cardonez had seen before. It was emitting a dull green glow.

    She looked at Masafumi. “What can you tell me about it, Commander?”

    He got up and took the Science station that was located diagonally with the helm against the wall of the Bridge. “The ship is seventy-five meters long and it appears to be over two hundred years old. The warp drive is archaic. I donut that the ship could do much above Warp Two.”

    “Lifesigns?”

    “I’m detecting twelve distinct life signatures.” Masafumi looked up. “They’re unlike any lifeform in the database.”

    “Well, at least, they aren’t Chobraq,” said Kehen.

    “Hail them,” ordered Isabel.

    “I’m trying to but they aren’t receiving it,” said the Tactical Officer behind her. “The ship’s hull is heavily ionized. I’ll need to increase signal strength by a factor of three to get through it. It should take a few minutes.”

    “Captain,” her First Officer said,” this is most odd.”

    “What is it?”

    “According to our sensors, that ship is at full impulse.”

    “What?,” Cardonez said, standing up and joining her First Officer at the Science Station. He showed her the sensor readings. “They aren’t moving,”

    “They appear to be caught in a tractor beam,” said Masafumi.

    “Coming from where?,” asked Huntington. “There aren’t any other ships out there.”

    “Maybe not.” Cardonez returned to her seat and sat down. “Let’s not take any chances. Zia, bring us about and get us some distance from that ship.”

    “Aye, sir,” the Yulanian said and she began to input commands into her console.

    On the viewscreen, it was as though the freighter was moving. Isabel knew this was an illusion because in reality, it was Testudo moving.

    “Captain!,” Masafumi suddenly shouted. “I’m reading an energy surge thirty thousand kilometers off of the port bow. There’s a ship … decloaking…”

    They all watched while the ship appeared on the port side of the freighter on the viewscreen. It hung there for a moment before a flash of white light emanated out from it and it vanished again.

    When the light struck the Federation ship, the view froze and the ship jolted slightly.

    “Report,” said Cardonez.

    “We’re not moving,” said Kehen. “Thrusters are at full power but to no effect.”

    “Full impulse power.”

    “Captain, that won’t have any effect,” said Masafumi. “Whatever power that is holding the freighter is now holding onto us now.”

    “Understood, but try it anyway.”

    “Full impulse,” said Kehen. The image on the viewscreen didn’t seem to waver.

    “Damn it. Can we go to warp?”

    “No,” said Kehen.

    “As well as some kind of tractor beam, that ship seems to be creating a subspace dampening field around the ship,” said Masafumi. “It’s impossible to generate a warp field.”

    “What was that?,” asked Ra-Moveii.

    “It was beautiful,” said Kehen. “I’ll give it that.”

    It had been beautiful in the few seconds that it had been visible, it had made a striking impression on everyone on the Bridge as it was unlike anything that they had seen before. Its main body had been a large sphere, glowing white hot. At least, a dozen smaller spheres like mooning orbiting a planet circled around it. They circled at high speed and yet they never collided once.

    Cardonez joined Masafumi once more. “Cut impulse power, Zia,” she said on her way. There’s no point in wasting energy.” She sat down in the spare seat next to Yashiro. “Did you get a chance to scan that ship?”

    “Just briefly,” he said. “It would appear that, in order to extend its reach, it had to momentarily divert power from its cloaking device. It’s a powerful vessel. That much is certain. I detected power levels that were quadruple of what even the most powerful warp core could produce.”

    “Any lifesigns?”

    “None that I could detect,” said Masafumi. “It’s a fascinating design.” He brought up a computer simulation of the ship on one of his monitor screens. “Each sphere seems to perform a different function. We couldn’t scan all of them but it appears that there are approximately twenty spheres. At least four of them contain warpfield generators. One of them appears to be a weapons pod and another one looks like it’s a subspace dampener.”

    Cardonez looked back. “Commander, can you hail them?”

    Huntington tapped his fingers across his console and then he shook his head. “No reply.”

    “Put me on,” she said, and when he nodded, she began to speak. “This is Captain Isabel Cardonez of the Federation starship Testudo. We mean you no harm. Please deactivate the subspace dampening field and we will leave this area peacefully.”

    Huntington shook his head again. “Still nothing.”

    “I don’t understand why it grabbed us,” said Ra-Moveii.

    “I think I do,” said Commander Masafumi. “It appears that this ship had some kind of security perimeter around it. We were outside of that perimeter until the Captain ordered us to turn around. We have to move forward slightly to gain momentum and I would hypothesize that when we breached the perimeter is when the ship reacted.”

    “Hail them again,” said Cardonez. “I repeat: this is Captain Isabel Cardonez of the Federation starship Testudo. Deactivate your dampening field or we will be forced to take aggressive action.”

    “Still nothing,” said Huntington.

    “Do we have shields and weapons?”

    “We’re fully operational,” reported Masafumi,” except that we can’t move.”

    Cardonez nodded and returned again to her command chair. “Shields up. Red Alert,” she ordered and within seconds, the alert klaxon sounded. “Target phasers on the position of that ship, one quarter power.”

    “Ready,” Adam said from Tactical.

    “Fire.”

    Twin streak of crimson energy raced along either side of the saucer section’s dorsal side before meeting up and firing outward towards the hidden vessel. At the approximate distance, the beam stopped as though it was hitting an invisible wall. After a second, the beam died.

    “No effect.”

    “Raise to one-half power,” said Cardonez,” and a longer burst.”

    Testudo fired again with the same effect.

    “Full power,” she said. “Fire.”

    The phaser beam that fired this time was brighter than those that had come before but the effect was no different.

    “It would appear that the ship is well-shielded,” said Masafumi.

    “What about quantum torpedoes?”

    “Captain,” he said,” I wouldn’t recommend them at this range and I’m not sure if they’ll do us any good.”

    Isabel sat back in her seat and let out a sigh of frustration. “I’m open to suggestions.”

    Everyone was silent.

    “There is one thing,” Masafumi said, eventually. “From the initial scans of the ship and from what I’ve learned from the phaser fire on their shields, I believe that it might be possible to transport aboard. Initial scans do show a breathable atmosphere.”

    “But the shields?,” asked Huntington.

    “They are reactive to phaser fire only. It’s possible that the civilization that built this ship wasn’t aware of transporter technology.”

    “Why couldn’t we just beam a warhead or two aboard?,” asked Cardonez.

    “Well, we could,” answered Masafumi,” but there’s no guarantee that it would work. If we could get aboard, we might be able to deactivate the dampeners from within. It’s obviously an advanced ship from a culture that we’ve never encountered before. It would be a shame to pass up this opportunity.”

    The Captain laughed. “We’re trapped thirty thousand lightyears from home, held prisoner by an empty ship and you want to go exploring?”

    Masafumi nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Think of it this way. We might be able to find some useful technology.”

    “Okay, you sold me, but you’ve got one hour. After that, we’ll send a couple of tricobalt devices aboard and blow the thing to pieces.”

    “Just remember to beam us back aboard first,” Yashiro said, standing up and tapping his combadge. “Doctor Hollem, meet me in Transporter Room Two.” He tapped his combadge off. “Commander Huntington, Kehen, you’re with me.”

    “You want me?,” asked Kehen. “Don’t get me wrong. I would love to go but what use will I be over there?”

    Masafumi smiled. “Probably more use than you are here at the moment,” he said, gesturing toward the helm.

    Kehen wasn’t about to argue. “Fair enough,” she said and jumped up out of her chair.

    While the three of them headed for the turbolift, Masafumi tapped his combadge again. “Lieutenant Ramblin, are you able to accompany us on an away mission?”

    “Probably not,” came the Chief Engineer’s voice in reply. “I know that it sounds silly but I don’t want to leave this new core for the moment.”

    “I understand. If you could dispatch an engineering officer to meet us in Transporter Room Two, that would be most helpful.”

    “No problem.”

    The lift doors opened and Kandro came out. “I thought that I could be of more help up here.”

    “Yes, you can be,” said Huntington. “You can take over at Tactical for me.” With a grin, he, the Commander, and Kehen pushed past him. “All of the controls are clearly labeled,” he added before the doors closed shut.

    “Engineering, Tactical… Why does no one want me at Ops anymore?,” Kandro muttered while he took Huntington’s station.

    “It’s just temporary, Valian,” Cardonez said. “Now I need you to contact that freighter. Commander Huntington was about to boost signal strength so that we could cut through the ionization of their hull.”

    “Will do.”


    ****


    The trip to Deck Three took less than a minute. Inside the Transporter Room, there was a person already standing on one of the pads.

    “Chief,” asked Masafumi,” you’re our engineer?”

    Chief Petty Officer Michelle Leong smiled. “I’ve been angling to get back into Engineering,” said the Testudo’s Chief Transporter Officer. “Lieutenant Ramblin thought that this might be good experience for me.”

    “That’s fine with me,” he said as he and the others took their places next to her. “Do you have the coordinate locked in, Ensign?” He looked at the officer manning the controls.

    “Yes, sir,” said Bernie Nannup, a young and gangly man from Northern Australia who was fiercely proud of his Aboriginal heritage. He grinned and added,” Unless the ship moved, of course.”

    The doors to the Transporter Room slid open again and Doctor Hollem Azahn, the ship’s Bajoran Chief Medical Officer, jogged in. “I’m sorry,” he said while he went and stood on a transporter pad between Huntington and Kehen. “I got caught up with something.” As usual, his dark hair was a mess and his beard could do with a trim.

    “That’s okay, Doctor,” said Masafumi. He despaired at the doctor’s slovenly appearance but he knew that it came with the man. Hollem seemed to live slightly out of kilter with the rest of civilization and he was often forgetful. However, he was a talented physician and he had a knack for seeing solutions that others could miss. He was about to order Nannup to energize when he noticed that Kehen was looking furtively from side to side.

    “Something amiss, Lieutenant?,” he asked the woman who was carrying his child.

    She frowned. “Two blueshirts and two goldshirts. I’m the only redshirt. Why doesn’t that inspire me with confidence?”

    Masafumi laughed and said,” You’ll be fine.”

    “Probably,” Huntington said, straight-faced after a moment.

    “Energize.”


    ****


    Valian Kandro frowned. “Okay, I’ve sorted out the interference. We should be able to hail them now.”

    “Good,” said Cardonez. “Please do so.”

    “Okay, but I think that I should point out first that the sensors have just detected four ships on an intercept course.”

    “What?! Can you identify them?”

    “Oh, yes,” the Betazoid said. “Mutuality ships.”

    Cardonez looked up. “How long?”

    “At their current speed, they’ll be in weapons range in two hours and fourteen minutes.”

    Isabel looked back at the viewscreen and the empty area of space where she knew that the spherical ship lay. “Shit,” she muttered under her breath.
     
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  16. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Caught in the spiderweb, going for the spider... So is the spider Mutuality or something new?

    Quite liking the complexity of the Kandro/Cardonez relationship.

    Thanks!! rbs
     
  17. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Spider? What spider?
     
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  18. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Chapter Two

    Upon rematerializing, the first reaction of several away team members was terror.

    Leong and Hollem both screamed and Kehen squeezed her eyes tightly shut. It was an old Yulani superstition. If you couldn’t see death, it couldn’t see you.

    Adam Huntington merely smiled while Yashiro Masafumi looked around and tried to fathom why people were screaming. “Oh,” he said suddenly and embarrassingly,” I probably should have mentioned that it was zero-gee over here.”

    Leong and Hollem stopped screaming. Partly because they heard the Commander but mainly because they weren’t falling. Kehen opened one eye and noticed the same thing before she opened her other eye. The five Starfleet officers hung in mid-air and, now that the terror had passed, they looked in awe at the sight around them.

    They were floating inside of a bright white sphere that seemed to be several hundred meters in diameter. Its walls were covered in identical hexagonal tiles with each of them being a luminous white. When they looked inwards, they saw another smaller sphere that hung in the exact center of the larger sphere. There was nothing connecting it to the main sphere and there was no indication whether it was held in place by force fields, an anti-gravity field or just by pure chance.

    The smaller sphere was a dull gray in color and all around its equator were perfectly round holes spaced out at intervals of approximately three meters. Each hole looked to be big enough to fit an average-sized humanoid through but all that could be seen was a dim darkness beyond each aperture.

    “Have any of you ever seen anything like this?,” asked Chief Leong.

    The rest of the away team shook their heads.

    Masafumi grabbed his tricorder. “Still not registering lifeforms,” he said. “The power readings coming off of the walls are incredible.”

    “Weird,” said Huntington.

    “What is?,” asked Masafumi.

    “It’s like a cathedral but there’s no echo. It’s like the walls are absorbing the sound.”

    “Is this the whole interior?,” asked Kehen.

    Before the Commander could give her an answer, Hollem butted in with his own answer. “Pretty much,” he said. “There’s probably a few meters taken up with the outer hull but that’s all.”

    Huntington raised an eyebrow. “How do you know that?”

    “Huh?,” asked Hollem. “Oh, the size. It’s simple spatial dynamics. I have an intuitive feel for space. It comes from all of the art study that I do. I checked the stats on this ship before we beamed over. It’s approximately two hundred meters in diameter and I would estimate this interior to be… Oh, I don’t know for sure… I would say one hundred and ninety meters in diameter.”

    “One hundred and eighty-seven-point-seven to be precise,” said Masafumi.

    “Nobody likes a showoff,” said Kehen.

    “Are you talking to me or him?”

    “Both of you.”

    “That center sphere,” asked the Security Chief. “Is that a control room or living quarters?”

    “There’s only one way to find out,” said Masafumi. “We have to…” He was interrupted when his combadge chirped. He tapped to answer it. “Masafumi here.”

    “Commander,” came the voice of Captain Cardonez,” we have Mutuality ships inbound and they’re less than three hours away. I’m afraid that I’m going to have to cut your sojourn short and revert to Plan B. We’ll beam you back aboard and send explosives to try and destroy the ship. I’m sorry but I can’t take the risk that they’ll get here earlier.”

    At another time, Masafumi would have argued the case for staying but he knew that Cardonez was making the best choice. The chances of figuring out how an alien ship worked in a few hours was almost an impossibility, no matter what the holo-novels led people to believe.

    “Understood, Captain,” he said. “We’ll be ready when you are.”

    “Short trip,” said Hollem.

    “Such a shame,” Yashiro said when they waited.

    … and waited.

    “Okay, I’m guessing that something isn’t right,” said Huntington.

    “Indeed,” added the Commander before his combadge chirped again. “Masafumi here. I take it that there’s some problem?”

    “You could say that,” said Cardonez. “We can’t seem to get a firm lock on you.”

    “That’s impossible,” said Leong. “We beamed through the hull once. Why not again?”

    Masafumi swept his tricorder around and he aimed it at the outer wall.

    “We don’t know what the problem is,” Cardonez continued,” but we’ll keep working on it.”

    “I’m not sure if that will do any good,” said her First Officer. “I’m running a scan on the outer hull of the ship. There appears to be a layer of quizitanium running through the sphere.”

    “Quizzy-what?”

    “It’s an extremely rare metal,” said Masafumi,” with quite curious properties. It allows energy to pass through in one direction but not in the other.”

    “That’s impossible, surely?,” asked Cardonez.

    Masafumi shook his head, even though she couldn’t hear his brain rattle around in his head. “Think of it like a two-way mirror, Captain. From outside, we could see in but from inside, we can’t see out.”

    “That’s ridiculous,” said Kehen. “Why would they have it set up that way? You would think that they would rig it so you couldn’t beam in.”

    “Unless you wanted to trap people inside, of course,” Hollem said, absently examining the top of the sphere.

    “That’s a comforting thought,” said Huntington.

    “There must be a way to circumvent it,” said Cardonez over their combadges.

    “None that I’m aware of,” said Masafumi. “Its rarity means that it hasn’t been studied extensively. It is quite fascinating to discover this amount in one place. I would estimate that the amount running through these walls far exceeds the amounts held at any of the Federation’s research facilities.”

    There was a long pause. “Commander, we have just over two hours until those ships get here and I don’t have to tell you how impossible it will be to defend ourselves in a fight when we can’t move.”

    “I understand, Captain. We will revert to our original plan. Perhaps we can deactivate the dampening field or find some way back.” Now it was Commander Masafumi’s turn to pause. “Captain, if it becomes apparent that we won’t succeed, you have to revert to Plan B.”

    “I won’t do that, Commander.”

    “Masafumi’s right,” said Huntington. “It’s the safety of the ship and the crew against the lives of five people.” He smiled sadly at Lieutenant Kehen. “Well, six.”

    “Perhaps, but we don’t even have to think about that for two hours. In the meantime, get moving. If there’s anything that we can send over to help, let us know. Cardonez out.”

    Everyone hung in solemn silence now, contemplating what Captain Cardonez might be forced to do. All except Doctor Hollem who was still looking up at the ceiling. “I’m sorry,” he said, jerking his head down. “What’s Plan B again?”

    “Plan B is when the Testudo beams over tricobalt explosives to try and destroy this ship from the inside,” said Huntington.

    “But we’ll still be here?”

    “You catch on fast, Doc,” said Huntington.


    ****


    Isabel Cardonez bit her bottom lip. I won’t be forced to make that call, she told herself, even though she knew, even if she couldn’t admit it to herself, that if it came down to it, she would. “Valian, time to try hailing the freighter?”

    “I’m on it,” replied the Betazoid. “No reply. However, I’m getting something. Damn… these controls are configured wrong.”

    “Kandro.”

    “I’m getting there,” he replied. “Got it. The ship has cut its engines and it appears to be rerouting power into its… “ He paused for a second. “Weapons systems.”

    “Shields back up!,” Cardonez barked.

    Kandro scanned the console wildly, trying to locate the shield controls.

    Isabel stared at the freighter on the main viewer. There was no change in its appearance but she knew that wasn’t always a good sign.

    “Got it,” Valian said, punching down hard on the console’s display and raising the shields.

    He was just in time as Cardonez watched a globule of white energy fire from the bow of the freighter and hurl through space towards them. As it hit, there was barely a shudder.

    “What hit us?”

    “I’m trying to figure that out,” said Kandro. “Give me a minute.”

    “It’s some kind of pulsed plasma weapon,” Giren Ra-Moveii said, suddenly. “It’s quite ineffective and archaic.”

    “I was almost there.”

    Cardonez smiled. “Thanks, Ensign. Valian, did it damage the shields?”

    For once, Kandro found the answer quickly. “Not remotely,” he said with a shake of his head. “I don’t think they realized that we were here until we hailed them. The ionization of their hull is probably affecting their sensors.”

    “Put me on.”

    “Okay,” said Kandro.

    Cardonez stood. “This is Captain Isabel Cardonez of the Federation starship Testudo. We mean you no harm and we only wish to make peaceful contact with you.”

    On the viewscreen, the reply to her words of peace was another white plasma bolt.

    “Still no damage,” Kandro said when it hit. “No, wait. There was a point-three percent power drain.”

    “So they want to peck us to death like Efrosian turkeys?,” asked Ra-Moveii.

    “I doubt it’ll come to that,” said Cardonez. “Let’s try again. “This is Captain Cardonez. Cease firing. Our shields are perfectly capable of resisting your weapons systems. I assure you that we have no hostile intentions.”

    “I’m getting a reply. Audio only.”

    “Patch it through.”

    The voice was undercut by static and a strange gravel-like timber. The words were unintelligible for a moment but soon enough when the Universal Translator took over. “... not surrender. If you Mutuality Gevets wants us, you’ll have to come over here and get us but be warned. We will fight to our last breath.”

    “Friendly bunch,” said Kandro.

    Cardonez gestured for him to put her on once more. “This is the Federation starship Testudo. We’re not a Mutuality vessel. I say again, we’re not a Mutuality vessel.” There was no reply so she decided on a more aggressive stance. “If we were a Mutuality vessel, we wouldn’t need to come over there. We could destroy your ship from a distance.”

    There was no reply.

    Cardonez trotted up the ramp to the upper Bridge stations. She stopped next to Kandro, leaning in close to check the Tactical readouts.

    “You smell nice,” he whispered.

    “Kandro,” she warned him.

    “Sorry,” he said, smirking.

    “No, you’re not,” she said, pointing at the console. “We could fire a phaser burst at fifteen percent power that wouldn’t damage their ship but it might shake them up a bit.” She pushed the Betazoid aside and started to punch in commands.

    Kandro stood to one side and folded his arms with an amused look on his face while he stared at her.

    She felt his eyes boring into her and she looked up from her ministrations. “What?,” she asked him, conscious of several crewmen manning the aft Bridge stations.

    “Nothing. Just a bit of deja vu, seeing you at Tactical again. It used to be quite a comforting sight when we were aboard the Galaxy together. The last time that I remember you doing it was aboard the Osprey after Pacifica.”

    “We had some good times on that ship.”

    “Yeah,” said Kandro. “You, Liz, and I.”

    “The Three Musketeers,” she replied. “I can still remember the day that Jorgen named us there.”

    “Our first R&R during the war,” said Kandro. “During a very drunken night out.”

    She smiled. “It’s a shame about Jorgen. I always liked him.”

    “Yeah, me too. He had lousy luck, dying the day after the war ended.” The Betazoid winced. “Damned Cardassian sleeper mines.”

    “Come on. Let’s do this,” Cardonez said, wanting to change the subject. As she looked back at the console, she paused.

    “What is it?”

    “Lifeform readings,” she replied. “According to this, they’ve dropped from twelve to ten.” A light flashed on the console. “And now we’re being hailed,” she added with a raised eyebrow.


    ****


    “Okay, then,” said Masafumi,” first things first. We need to find a way of getting to the central sphere. “I’ll ask the Testudo to beam over some…” His sentence was cut short when Huntington shoved him hard in the chest.

    His push wasn’t designed to inflict pain. However, it did propel him backwards and towards the central sphere. “Quite novel,” he said as he drifted backwards. With the grace of a gymnast, only made possible by zero-gravity, Masafumi turned in mid-air and reached out towards the oncoming sphere.

    “Just be grateful that I’m not humming the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey,” said Huntington.

    The Commander took care. He knew that impacting with the surface of the sphere might be enough to send him tumbling back again. So he twisted to his left side and when his outstretched hands made contact with the surface, they gripped the edge of one of the holes and he held fast like a swimmer gripping the edge of the pool.

    “As I was saying, I’ll get the Testudo to beam over some thruster belts. It’ll prove easier.”


    ****


    Cardonez had forsaken Tactical when she realized that the incoming message was visual. The Captain’s place was in the command chair and so she left Kandro up at Tactical. “Okay,” she said as she sat down in her chair,” put them on.”

    There was a single person sitting on the other end of the line. The room that he was in seemed to be cramped with barely enough space for him to sit down. The walls were lined with flashing computer banks that backlit him in a rainbow of colors.

    Isabel had never seen a species like them before. He was tall and spindly. His skin was black and it shone like glass, almost obsidian in its texture and look. His nose was almost nonexistent but it might have merely seemed so because his eyes were so large like elliptical saucers that blinked when he saw her on his viewscreen. His hair was purple in color and cut like a monk’s with a bare patch in the center. Although it was longer than any other monks, it fell past his shoulders.

    When he spoke, his thin lips parted to reveal rows of small white teeth that were almost childlike. “You look like Mutuality to me,” he said and Cardonez was amazed by how soft his voice was.

    Cardonez smiled with what she hoped was an act of friendship. “We’re not Chobraq,” she said. “We’re a mixture of races from the other side of the Galaxy. We represent a Federation of over a hundred worlds.”

    He chuckled. “The Mutuality says the same thing,” he said before he leaned in for a closer look. “You don’t quite look like Chobraq but you look like their allies, the Humans.”

    Oh, boy, thought Cardonez, what do I say now? Deception wasn’t her strong suit though and so she chose to tell the truth. “I’m half-Human,” she said. “Many members of my crew are Human as well but we’re not allied with the Mutuality.” She paused for a moment. “It’s a long story.”

    He blinked and his eyes narrowed. Isabel was amazed by how expressive they were. “Well, your clothes are certainly more colorful than the Mutuality.” He focused on Ra-Moveii. “While many of you appear to be quite familiar, I have never met a creature like him before.”

    “Creature?,” asked Ra-Moveii.

    “Quiet, Ensign,” said Cardonez. “If you wish to beam aboard, I would be happy to explain everything to you.”

    “Why should I place myself in the hands of potential enemies?”

    Cardonez’ smile shifted into one that was less than friendly. “Because it’s the only chance that you have. Mutuality ships are closing in and I suspect that they’re after you. I’m quite happy to leave you there. Your weapons can’t hurt us and, to be honest, I doubt if your ship or crew would be much help in escaping the pull of this alien vessel anyway.”

    “Then why invite me?”

    “Because that’s who we are,” she said. “Our entire philosophy is based upon making peaceful contact with other lifeforms. I don’t have to help you but I would hate to leave you here if we can both escape.”

    He nodded. “Your words make sense. You may beam me aboard.”

    “Thank you. My name is Captain Isabel Cardonez.”

    He bowed his head slightly. “I am Blux, Thirteenth Midnighter of the Selvee.”

    “Selvee?”

    “Didn’t you know?,” he replied, his eyes widening in surprise.
     
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  19. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Ahhh - the mysterious Selvee... Interesting critter design. Looking forward to the context they can provide.

    Testudo andthe Selvee ship are caught in the spiderweb and Masafumi, et. al. are exploring the metaphorical spider.

    Thanks!! rbs
     
  20. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Chapter Three

    Yashiro Masafumi shone his wrist-mounted palm beacon into the opening. Adam Huntington was now on the other side of the aperture with a belt-mounted thruster pack around his waist.

    “It smells funny,” said the Security Chief.

    “Yeah, it does,” Masafumi said, looking inside. “I can’t make out much. I’m going in.” He slipped inside. The moment that he crossed the boundary, there was a flare of light and the inner sphere lit up.

    “Interesting,” he said, hanging onto the inside of the aperture. Inside the sphere, it was dominated by a central structure that ran down its center. This axis was a long pole at which several platforms branched off at irregular intervals. Each platform was perhaps long enough for a humanoid to lie down on. Examining the inside of the sphere, he saw that its walls were practically smooth, although there were what looked like handholds attached to the walls at regular intervals.

    Gripping at the nearest one, he swung himself away from the entrance hole. “Coming?”

    “I thought you’d never ask,” Huntington said as he entered the sphere.


    ****


    Outside, still where they had beamed in, Kehen, Hollem, and Leong hung in mid-air. “You know, I actually think that they’re having fun,” said the Chief.

    “Aren’t you?,” Kehen asked in all seriousness.

    The small Asian woman sighed. “Not really,” she said. In her hands, she held a PADD that had been beamed over, a few minutes earlier. She lifted it up and gestured towards the Yulanian with it. “Reading up on the information about quizitanium is just depressing. Don’t get me wrong. I know transporter systems inside and out but some of the guys who had studied this stuff are the greatest minds in the Federation when it comes to transporter technology: Velnek, Shrovney, Malik, O’Brien…” She sighed again. “If they could never figure out a way to circumvent quizitanium, then how the Hell will we?”

    “I don’t know,” said Zia,” but you’re not stupid and neither is Yashiro. Heck, even the Doc here is quite bright… most of the time.”

    “What?,” asked the Bajoran, jerking his head downwards. He had been staring up at the roof of the sphere again.

    “Nothing, Doctor,” Kehen said with a smile.

    He frowned at her for a moment. “Whatever,” he said. “I’m going to check on something. I’ll be back in a minute.” He triggered his own thruster pack and two small jets of compressed air propelled him upwards.

    “I’m going to go over these notes again,” said Leong.

    “Great. I’m the only one with nothing to do. I knew I’d be a waste of space.” Zia sighed deeply. “Ah, screw it. I’m going for a look around.” She kicked in her own jets.


    ****


    “It looks like a bird feeder?,” asked Huntington.

    He and Commander Masafumi were standing on one of the platforms and examining a boxlike device that was attached to the pole. It was about a meter tall and it was composed of a single piece of white metal. Near the bottom was a single hole that was wide enough to reach three fingers inside. Near the top, a single clear tube protruded outwards.

    “Careful,” Masafumi advised as Huntington reached into the hole.

    “There’s not a lot of room,” he said, twisting two fingers around. “Hang on. I’ve got something.” His face contorted while he tried to grab one of the many objects piled high inside the hole. Finally, he triumphed and he pulled his fingers out, being careful not to drop his find.

    “Aha!” He held it aloft.

    “I hope that isn’t what it looks like.”

    “Ugh. So do I,” said Huntington. What he had found was small, round, and a pellet of some sort. Its brown color marked it out as potentially something unpleasant. He held it in his palm now which was held out as far as it could go. “Just scan it.”

    “Certainly.” Masafumi smiled, running his tricorder over the tiny object and his smile broadened. “Well, it’s not what we feared. It appears to be food of some kind.”

    Adam nodded. Placing the pellet back where he found it, he pointed at the clear plastic tube. “Do you want to bet that you can’t get water from that?”

    “Not a bet that I would take. Your first reaction was correct. A bird feeder.”

    “This place does remind me of a birdcage. With all of the perches and all.”

    “I doubt that the occupants were avian in the way that we think of them. It does seem strange that there’s no gravity when everything else seems to be functioning.”

    “What are you implying?”

    “The occupants lived in a gravity-free environment or they were, at least, comfortable in one.”

    Huntington looked around him. “I guess that would make sense. They would be used to flying around in low gravity. Like the Elaysians?”

    “Just like them, yes. I visited their homeworld once and it’s a fantastic place. It’s beautiful in its own right but…” Masafumi looked wistfully off into the distance. “To fly around it without the need for a vehicle … is spectacular.” He looked down and lowered his voice. “I had thought that it would be perfect for a honeymoon.”

    “You’re asking Kehen to marry you?”

    “Shh,” the Asian told the Englishman, looking up again. “I merely said that I had considered what a wonderful place for a honeymoon that it would be.”

    “Yes, but to do that, you must have been thinking about marriage.”

    “Perhaps I was. However, finding oneself trapped thirty thousand lightyears from home changes your view.”

    Something in Masafumi’s eyes prompted further questioning and Huntington latched onto it. “Is that the only reason?”

    “It’s the only one that I wish to discuss,” said Masafumi.

    “Fair enough,” his comrade replied. “So, what do you think this is? Control room?”

    Masafumi shook his head, grateful that the subject had been changed. “I don’t think so. This seems to be more like crew quarters to me.”

    “So, where are the controls?”

    Masafumi shrugged. “Good question.”


    ****


    Captain Cardonez straightened her uniform jacket while she stood waiting in Transporter Room Two. Beside her, Lieutenant Kandro was fiddling with his collar.

    “Boy, do you two look uncomfortable,” Bernie Nannup said from behind the controls.

    Cardonez glared at him but Nannup kept a huge grin on his face. She knew that he meant they looked uncomfortable waiting for the individual named Blux to beam over but she couldn’t help with feeling just a little paranoid. “I’m not a big fan of First Contact,” she said feebly.

    “Well, at least we know what a Selvee looks like now,” said Kandro.

    “Yes, indeed,” she said but as a form coalesced into a humanoid form on the transporter pad, her perception changed.

    The first thing that she saw was how tall that Blux was. He had seemed so small on the viewscreen but it hadn’t done him any justice. Off hand, she would say that the tallest person aboard Testudo were Doctor Hollem and their resident Klingon, Crewman Dru’sk, and yet both men would have to look up at this man as he seemed to be five centimeters taller than either of them.

    His outfit was ochre in color and, although it looked like a sleeveless jumpsuit at first glance. When she looked harder, it appeared to be constructed of one continuous piece of cloth wrapped around his body and held in place by small daggers at various points.

    Cardonez didn’t believe that weapons were appropriate for First Contact but on this occasion, she had secreted a Type-One phaser under her uniform at the small of her back, just in case. She didn’t know why she was being paranoid. Maybe it was because of her experience, watching the memories of Ensign Stredu, a few weeks ago. The impression that she had of the Selvee was as a conquering and enslaving race. She had tried not to let that color what were, in reality, her first perceptions of them.

    “Welcome aboard the Testudo.”

    He nodded, stepping off of the transporter platform. Even dropping a short distance to the ground didn’t diminish his size. “Thank you, Captain,” he said. His voice had a ponderous and syrupy quality to it. It was almost as though he was slurring his words although she could understand him perfectly.

    She stuck out her right hand. Blux took her by surprise by taking it and shaking hands with her. Up close, his skin seemed to be darker. She had imagined that it would feel like cold glass but the texture seemed to be more like marble, though it was cool to the touch.

    “You know about shaking hands?,” she asked him, feeling like an idiot for saying it but usually in these situations, the newcomer looked at the outstretched hand in confusion. She sometimes wondered why it was still Starfleet procedure.

    Blux laughed a gravely sound that seemed to emanate from deep in his throat. “The Humans introduced the custom to the Chobraq and as I spent the last thirty years of my life, living as a slave in a Selvee Enclave on Parna, I have adapted it as well.” There wasn’t a trace of bitterness in his voice. He seemed to be genuinely amused.

    “Parna?,” she asked him.

    “It was once a Selvee world until it was invaded by the Mutuality, eighty years ago.”

    Cardonez nodded. Silently, she wondered if it had, in fact, been a Mutuality world to begin with until it was conquered by the Selvee, five centuries ago. The politics of this corner of the Gamma Quadrant were confusing.

    “This is Lieutenant Kandro, my Operations Officer,” Cardonez said, wanting to change the subject.

    Blux moved forward and shook Kandro’s hand. “Another Human, I see.”

    “Actually, I’m a Betazoid,” Kandro replied, gesturing to his pupils with his free hand. “You can tell by the eyes.”

    “And I’m only half-Human, remember. My mother was from a race known as the Romulans.”

    “Ah,” said Blux.

    “I’m fully Human,” said Nannup.

    Cardonez smiled. On some ships, such a breach of decorum would have resulted in a stern word for the Ensign but she liked to keep her ship informal. “And this is Ensign Nannup,” she explained. “He’s the most important person aboard.”

    “Ah,” Blux said, smiling at him. “Then perhaps I should be meeting with him?”

    The Captain was pleased to see the twinkle of humor in Blux’s eyes. She was starting to like him. “This way. How should I address you?”

    “Midnighter Blux is sufficient,” he replied.

    “Are you the Captain of that ship?,” asked Kandro.

    “I am now,” replied Blux but he said nothing more.

    Cardonez’s brow furrowed slightly. “We have a room that is a little more comfortable,” she said, leading him towards the doors.


    ****


    Michelle Leong didn’t feel remotely self-conscious hanging in mid-air. It was actually quite relaxing and she had decided that in the future when she needed a quiet place to read, she might turn off the artificial gravity in her crew quarters… as long as her roommate was out, of course.

    Maybe it’s what I’m reading that’s relaxing me so much?, she thought to herself. Her long black hair was tied into a single long plait that now hung over her right shoulder. She played with it in her right hand while her left hand held the PADD. she had always liked reading articles by Miles O’Brien. He wrote like a man who hated to have to put his thoughts down on paper. As a result, his work was often quite sparse but not in a bad way. Unlike most academics who dressed up their theories, he got his ideas across as simply and quickly as possible. She had attended a lecture that he had given at the Academy, a year ago and he came across as a man who wasn’t comfortable at all with his position. He may have been more comfortable in the field but there was no doubt that when it came to transporter systems, he knew his stuff. Unfortunately, that included his conclusion that there was no way to beam through quizitanium.

    “Any luck?”

    Commander Masafumi’s voice was the first indication she had that he and Lieutenant Commander Huntington had returned from the interior of the smaller sphere.

    “Not really,” she said. “O’Brien and Shrovney both postulate a similar solution to transporting the wrong way through quizitanium but it’s dependent on technology that doesn’t actually exist yet.”

    “Keep trying, Chief,” said Huntington. “We still have another ninety minutes or so before this party gets crashed.”

    “I’ll take a look in a moment,” said Masafumi,” and see if I can spot anything.”

    Leong could have taken it as an insult but she knew the First Officer well enough to know that it wasn’t arrogance. He was a very clever man, proven by the number of awards that he had won, and he knew it. If there was something that she had missed, he would spot it.

    “Where is everyone?,” asked Huntington.

    “Kehen went wandering and the Doctor… Well, he went to look at the roof.”

    “The ceiling?,” asked the Security Chief with a quizzical raised eyebrow.

    Leong shrugged. “Don’t ask me why. You know what he’s like.”

    “I think that we should all regroup,” said Masafumi. “I’ll go and find Lieutenant Kehen. Commander, why don’t you go and retrieve the doctor?”

    “I always get the fun jobs,” Adam said before jetting upwards.


    ****


    Huntington found Hollem exactly where Leong had said where he would be. The Bajoran was hovering about a meter away from the apex of the larger sphere. He was staring intently at the surface with a tricorder in his hand.

    “I don’t think there’s a door there,” he said with a grin.

    Hollem looked down and smiled back. “If I were Kirk Robinson, I wouldn’t need a door. My Hauser Nine-Millimeter would make one for me.”

    Huntington laughed. “I hope that the Captain lets us start using the holodecks again now that the new warp core is installed. I’m looking forward to your latest Kirk Robinson holodeck program.”

    “You might be waiting for a while. I’m still some ways off from finishing it. Besides,” - Hollem stopped grinning - ,” we need to get out of this place first.”

    “Good point. So, if it’s not too personal of a question, what the hell are you doing up here?”

    Hollem’s smile returned. “Look,” he said, pointing at the section of ceiling that he had been examining.

    Huntington took a close look. The first thing that he saw was that the fluorescent tiles that lined the walls stopped about a meter away from the top. The inner apex was just a plain white surface and, as he looked closer, he saw that there were symbols drawn there.

    “You saw this from down there?”

    Hollem shook his head. “Not really. I just theorized that we might not be the first people to beam in without a way out. I noticed that there was a bare piece of wall up there and I figured that if it were me trapped in here, I would want to leave a message.”

    “I hate to tell you this but you are trapped in here,” said Huntington.

    “Exactly,” said Hollem and Huntington shook his head. “Anyway, I decided that this patch of wall was a logical place to find such a message left by a past occupant.”

    “Logical? Doc, the day that someone figures out how your mind works, they’re likely to go insane.”

    “Perhaps, but I did find a message.”

    “True enough. Can you translate it?”

    Hollem frowned. “Sort of. The language is Wadi.”

    “Wadi? Their space is clear across the Gamma Quadrant.”

    “Exactly. I think that this ship had been traveling for a long time. That’s part of the reason why the tricorder is having trouble with translating it. It appears to be an older dialect than we’re familiar with. It looks like a child’s rhyme which isn’t making it any easier.” He pointed to the first of four rows of symbols. “Kala-maraine, hit it twice. Sala-maru, this one twice.”

    “Enchanting,” said Huntington.

    “The trouble is that so many Wadi words, especially in the older dialects, have different meanings. Take Kala-maraine. There are fifteen different meanings that the tricorder came up with from a game involving jumping to a bitter dish served at the Wadi celebration of games.”

    “It could just be gibberish,” said Huntington.

    “Maybe, but have we found any remains?”

    Huntington shook his head. “In that case, maybe the Wadi got out. And if they got out, so can we.”


    ****


    Zia Kehen hung low on the other side of the ship, hidden by the central sphere. Masafumi found her when he flew underneath it. She was facing the wall. Even though sound didn’t seem to travel well inside this ship, he heard her.

    She was sobbing, quietly, holding most of it in certainly but sobbing nonetheless.

    “Zia?,” he asked softly.

    Her back straightened up and he heard the crying dry up. After a moment, she turned around. “Ready to talk?,” she asked him. The skin around her eyes was a darker blue than the rest of her.

    “I don’t follow.”

    Kehen folded her legs, sitting in mid-air now. When she folded her arms across her chest, he knew that he was in trouble. “Don’t you?,” she asked him. “How about this? There was no logical reason to bring me along on this away mission. What do I contribute to it?” Yashiro opened his mouth to answer her but she didn’t give him the chance. “Nothing. That’s what.”

    “I thought you might have some input on the flight controls of this ship.” Even as he said it, it sounded weak, even to him.

    Kehen snorted a laugh. “Right. The real reason was that you wanted to talk.”

    “If I wanted to talk, the Testudo was probably the best place for that.”

    “Really? Then why have we barely spoken in the last month?”

    “We’ve both been busy with the new warp core and all.”

    “Bullshit,” she said, imploring him. “Talk to me, Yashiro. We’ve barely made love since I got out of that warp-induced coma. What’s wrong? Tell me so we can fix it.”

    Masafumi sighed. Using his belt’s thruster jets, he maneuvered himself next to her. “I wish I knew.”

    “Is it because I didn’t tell you about the baby?”

    He nodded. “Partly, I guess. Zia, a relationship is supposed to be built on trust and yet you hid the fact that you were pregnant from me. I had to find out about it from Doctor Hollem.”

    “That wasn’t my intention.”

    “I know exactly what your intentions were,” Masafumi said, harshly. “Either you would tell me that you were pregnant or else you would have aborted it and I wouldn’t have ever known, still living in blissful ignorance.”

    “I was confused, okay. I’ve been through one pregnancy and as much as I love Liella, it wasn’t the nicest experience of my life.”

    “Was that it? Was that really what you were so afraid of?”

    “No,” she answered. “I was afraid of you. I was scared that you would want to make things more permanent.”

    “You think that I’m so old-fashioned that I would have proposed?”

    “Yes, actually, I do.” She smiled at him.

    “Well, I probably would have done it. Your actions made it pretty clear that you don’t see much of a future for us.”

    “If I didn’t see a future, I wouldn’t still be sharing quarters with you, Yashiro. Don’t mistake my being unsure about the baby for being unsure about us.”

    Masafumi took a deep breath. He didn’t want to say what he was about to but after what he had said about honesty, he couldn’t be a hypocrite. “Maybe I don’t see a future for us.”

    He looked at her eyes and saw that she was fighting back the tears now. “Do you mean that?”

    “I honestly don’t know, but I’m not sure that I’m ready to be a father and a husband again. My last experience wasn’t that much of a success.”

    He expected her to cry but instead, she merely laughed. “Oh, this is fantastic,” she said. “You’re just as scared as me! I feel a lot better now.”

    “I’m not scared.”

    “Yes, you are,” Kehen said. “You’re terrified of being a dad again. You’re scared shitless about having to marry me and of screwing up another relationship like how you screwed up your first one. That’s why you’ve been pushing me away. Well, it’s too bad because I’m not going to let you push me…” She touched her stomach. “Push us away. You’re stuck with us, buster.” She blinked away a single tear.

    “It isn’t that easy,” he said. “I thought it would work out last time with Marie, especially after William was born but it didn’t.”

    “Don’t judge us by the same standards. You told me that Marie wasn’t happy with your life, even before your son was born.”

    “She wanted a quiet life, studying the ruins on Adrianis. Gallivanting around the cosmos with me was wearing her down.”

    “Right. Whereas I’m more than happy to go gallivanting around the cosmos with you. I’m sure that Kally will too.”

    “You’re still going to call her that?”

    “We’re still going to call her that,” she corrected him,” because that’s her name.”

    “Because you saw a grownup vision of her while you were in your coma?”

    If she detected the incredulousness in his voice, she didn’t show it. “Damn right. She’s going to be named Kally. She’s going to be born and she’s going to live aboard the Testudo with us.”

    “You’re not sending her home to live with your parents? That’s not very traditional of you.”

    “Is that another problem? You thought that you were going to lose her, just after she was born? She might be half-Yulani, but she’s half-Human as well. We can break up if you want but Kally and I are going to be living with you so if there’s a chance for us, you might as well take it.”

    He smiled. “It seems that I have little choice.” He reached out and took her in his arms. She allowed him to and they kissed.

    “I love you,” she said as they broke away.

    Masafumi grinned. “And I love both of you,” he said when he rested his hand on her stomach. “Whoa!” He pulled his hand back. “She kicked.”

    “She takes after her father then,” said Kehen. “Oh, and one last point.”

    “Yes?”

    “You were so right to bring me.”

    Without another word, she extricated herself from his embrace and jetted the short distance to the wall. “You wanted flight controls,” she said and she proceeded to press three of the white tiles in a row. Each tile went dark and after the third one, there was a small sound, almost like a burp and all three tiles lit up again. “Flight controls,” she said with a smile.

    Masafumi frowned. “Now comes the hard part,” he said. “Understanding them.”
     
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