The Star Eagle Adventures: QD1 - False Vacuum

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by CeJay, Dec 17, 2017.

  1. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Premium Member

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Interesting...the friction between Donners and Owens and Donners basically coming on to Eagle like she was the captain and Owens the guest.
     
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  2. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    I don't know why, but seeing Amaya doesn't strike me as a good omen. And it makes me wonder all the more about the last story she was in and what trouble she may bring down on Michael and Eagle.

    I can see danger building quickly what with Amaya sending the Eagle off on a cloak and dagger mission. Her bossy demeanor is probably cover to hide her own doubts. Missions that begin this way almost never end well. If you think Michael and Amaya have a tense relationship now, watch what happens when this is all over. Assuming everyone survives of course.

    I'll like to order another round, please.
     
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  3. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    6


    Starfleet’s Department of Special Affairs and Investigations had an obvious affinity for underground installations, Michael Owens mused after he had visited his father’s out of the way base located underneath an old diamond mine located in Siberia on Earth just a few weeks earlier and now, after having beamed into what looked like yet another subterranean facility below the surface of the ninth planet of the Arkaria system.

    However, while the Russian base had clearly been a Starfleet installation with the same streamlined interior design to give it the look and feel that was so common among ships and bases throughout the Federation, the facility on Arkaria IX had obviously been designed by someone with very different aesthetic sensibilities and which seemed to predate Starfleet by a few centuries at least.

    Michael took a moment to appreciate the wide and high, slightly inward curved corridors which almost appeared as if they had been designed for a people much taller than the average humanoid. The décor was mostly painted in dark brownish and amber colors and there was a noticeable alien hieroglyph-like script running along the walls which he didn’t recognize.

    He had a strong suspicion that this place had not been built by the inhabitants of Arkaria Prime and was tempted to ask Amaya about this place to satisfy his own curiosity.

    However, his fellow starship captain had remained uncharacteristically aloof ever since she had come aboard and even more so now since they had beamed down into this mysterious place.

    He had an inkling that he could thank his father for Amaya’s sudden need for secretiveness since that had been very much his specialty and a never-ending source of frustration for him. His father was gone but it seemed that he had managed to pull other people he cared about into his web of secrecy and lies. It was difficult not to resent him for that.

    That Amaya was heavily involved with whatever was happening here was obvious since she led him through the maze of wide corridors with the confidence of somebody who had been here before, even nodding at a few people they encountered with familiarity. Like the base in Russia, this one too was staffed with a mixture of Starfleet officers and non-uniformed civilian personnel.

    After a few mostly quiet minutes traversing the complex, they reached a large oval shaped room which seemed to function as a control center judging by the many computer stations arranged here and personnel monitored various screens. A partition had been set up at the far end which led into a meeting room of sorts comprised of a large and round conference table surrounded by a number of chairs, one of which was occupied by Jarik.

    The tall Vuclan man quickly stood upon seeing them entering the room, a large smile decorating his lips as he approached Eagle’s captain. “Michael, good to see you again, old friend,” he said and quickly grabbed his hand before following it up with a friendly hug.

    Jarik was wearing a red-collared Starfleet uniform with four pips decorating the collar of his shirt. But whereas his and Maya’s insignia identified them as captains, Jarik’s pips were arranged on top of a straight gold bar, denoting a senior administrative role.

    The Vulcan took a step back and considered them both, his smile remaining on his face. “Feels a bit like an Academy reunion, doesn’t it?”

    Michael had to admit that there was some truth to that. He and Jarik had been roommates when they had both been cadets in San Francisco while Amaya had been just down the hall. They had been close friends at the time even if Michael had always suspected that Jarik and Amaya would not have been close if it hadn’t been for him. Regardless of their shared relationship at the Academy, he couldn’t help but feel like the odd man out.

    He nodded. “It does. But I suppose this isn’t exactly a happy reunion.”

    Jarik shook his head. “The circumstances aren’t ideal, no. And I fully appreciate that this caught you by surprise and that you were all but ready to head off into the great unknown to make what I’m sure would have been great new discoveries. I can only imagine how much you must have looked forward to that and I’m truly sorry to have to pull you away from such a grand opportunity.”

    “I’m sure there’ll be time for that later and once we’ve dealt with this latest crisis.”

    “I hope so, Michael,” Jarik said and then seemed to hesitate for a moment. “I know you’ve heard this quite a bit lately, and I know I’ve already offered my condolences to you back on Earth. But I just wanted to say again how sorry I am for Jon.”

    Michael nodded. “Thank you.”

    There was a moment of awkward silence before Jarik continued. “And thank you for coming all the way out here so promptly,” he said and indicated towards one of the many empty chairs. Michael took the proffered seat while Jarik and Amaya took chairs opposite from him. “Looks like that new warp sled our friends at R&D have cooked up really came through, huh?”

    “We had a few initial troubles with it but overall, yes, it really worked quite well,” he said and then decided to cut to the chase. “I understand that there is a medical crisis on a Krellonian colony that we might be able to help out with.”

    He didn’t miss the brief glance exchanged by his two friends.

    Jarik nodded. “That is correct.”

    “And that Eagle was specifically requested for this mission.”

    “Also true and I suppose you’re wondering why that is,” Jarik said.

    “I have my suspicions. Not many Starfleet ships have a Krellonian crewmember onboard.”

    Jarik nodded. “Mister Culsten seems to have some very important connections in his government from the little we could determine.”

    "But there is more going on here than the Krellonians asking for help with a medical emergency, isn't there? Otherwise, I wouldn't be sitting here and I'd be on my way into Krellon space as we speak."

    His two academy friends exchanged yet another look, giving him seemingly indisputable evidence that he was on the right track.

    Jarik leaned forward slightly even if that did next to nothing about the physical distance between them considering that he had chosen to sit on the exact opposite side of the large round table. “Michael, I know of course how your father worked and the secrets he liked to keep but let me assure you, that is not how I wish to operate. Especially not with you. I believe in being upfront with people I work with, particularly when I am convinced that I can count on their discretion and integrity. But before I go into any details, would you mind telling me what it was Jon told you about the work we were doing when you came to see us on Earth?”

    Michael considered them briefly from across the table and couldn’t entirely shake the feeling that he was being interviewed. He had, of course, worked with Amaya closely before and liked to think that he knew her well. And that was not counting his other, more personal feelings towards her. But Jarik was a different story. They had been close while they had attended the Academy together but that had been many years ago and they had lost touch shortly after graduating. He had not truly spoken to him again up until recently when he had been surprised to find that he had been working with his father. He ultimately decided that it was only fair to give Jarik the benefit of the doubt, after all it could not have been easy to step into his father’s shoes, a man who had headed the enigmatic Department of Special Affairs and Investigations for decades, and in doing so, Michael was convinced, shaping it into the organization it had become.

    “Not much,” he said and shook his head. “You were there for most of it. He was insistent that I come to work for him and was incredibly reluctant to share anything about the work he was doing other than to stress how terribly important it was. All I was able to figure out was that it was related to something called Operation Myriad. From what I’ve been able to tell, there is no operation by that name anywhere in Starfleet records.”

    “Not in official records, no,” said Jarik. “But it is what we are working on here and it is a serious threat to the Federation.”

    “What kind of threat?”

    “Before I go any further I just want to make it clear that what I’m about to tell you is highly classified. I am happy to read you into our work here because I think you will need to know, but I must ask you not to share this information with anyone else below your security clearance,” he added and glanced at the woman by his side. “Amaya agreed to that same stipulation when she first came onboard.”

    Michel sighed. “I don’t like secrets. Certainly not those I have to keep from my crew. Having said that, I can appreciate how they might be necessary in our line of work.”

    Jarik nodded. “Seven years ago, while surveying this area of space, the Enterprise made contact with a race of solanogen-based beings native to subspace carrying out a series of gruesome experiments on Enterprise crewmembers by abducting them and sending them back onto the ship with no knowledge of what had been done to them.”

    “I think I remember a briefing on this,” he said. “You believe that this race is abducting people again?”

    But the Vulcan shook his head. "No. We believe that they intend on carrying out a full-fledged invasion of our space."

    He shot him an incredulous look. "How is that even possible? Solanogen cannot exist outside of subspace."

    “True. However, we have compelling intelligence that these beings have been developing some sort of subspace portal which would allow them to transition into normal space. In fact, we believe that the experimentations they’ve carried out seven years ago were part of a larger plan to lay the ground works for this impending invasion. We have confirmed reports that what happened on the Enterprise was not an isolated incident and that people all over this sector have been abducted, studied and experimented on—“ Jarik stopped himself as he was gripped by a short coughing fit.

    Maya turned to him, offering her support, but he quickly waved her off. “I’m alright,” he said and looked back towards Michael. “As I was saying, everything they have done is leading to what we believe to be an imminent attempt to gain a foothold in normal space and this sector. Everything we know about these beings has given us reason to believe that their intentions are hostile and a grave threat to the Federation.”

    Michael needed a moment to digest this before he spoke again. “This is what had my father so worried? Why he insistent that I joined him?”

    "Your father and I had been working on this for years and long before we realized the true scope of the threat we were facing. It has only been over the last few months that we started to understand the full extent of their designs. Michael, this is an enemy we still don't know how to fight. And I probably don't have to tell you that we cannot afford another war so soon after the last one."

    He rubbed his temples as he continued to try and process this dire news. “What is Starfleet doing about this?” he said and made eye contact with Jarik again. “I understand that you and SAI have been working on this, but surely, if this such a significant threat, and if it is originating from this sector of space, why haven’t we amassed a defensive force yet?”

    Jarik offered a heavy sigh. "Starfleet Command is not fully convinced of the nature of this threat even if the evidence keeps mounting. They have only recently given us the go-ahead to pursue this further and allocating resources such as Amaya and Agamemnon, but until we provide more concrete proof, Command will not divert any additional resources to Operation Myriad.”

    “And I suppose you are about to tell me that this is where I come in?”

    Jarik offered a little smile which people who were not aware of his mixed heritage may have found disturbing. “Precisely. Your father was convinced, and I tend to agree, that while these beings carried out their experiments, they were looking for and found a willing partner for their plans right here in this sector.”

    Michael nodded, seeing now where this was going. “The Krellonians.”

    "Yes. Regardless of what technology they may possess to allow them to enter normal space, it is unlikely that they would be able to accomplish this without any assistance from our side. The Krellonians are the perfect partners and since we are not exactly on the best of terms with them, we can't just show up on their doorstep and ask them if they are in league with an alien race living in subspace and attempting to invade us."

    "So this is an intelligence operation under the guise of an aid mission," said Michael, not feeling particularly fond of the idea and unable to keep this out of the tone of his voice. "This medical emergency is taking us to one of the least significant colony worlds of a highly xenophobic people. The chance that we will be able to uncover much of anything seems doubtful."

    Jarik nodded in agreement. "I am not saying that this is not a long shot. But this opportunity is just too good for us to pass up. We don't know how imminent this invasion is. This could be happening tomorrow, next week or next year. We simply need more information and if there is any chance that we can get a clearer picture courtesy of the influence your helmsman can provide than we cannot afford not taking the chance."

    “What about the aid mission itself?” Michael asked.

    "The Krellonians have not told us much," Amaya said. "But we do know it is serious and that people in their colony are dying."

    Jarik took it from there. “Naturally, your mission is to do whatever you can to help the Krellonians fight this thing. The Diplomatic Corps believes this to be an important opportunity to improve our relationship with the Star Alliance and I don’t disagree. But I’d rather gain actionable intelligence on a pending invasion that could kill billions rather than try and save one Krellonian colony.”

    Michael frowned at that. “I’m not going to weigh lives here.”

    Jarik shook his head. “I’m not asking you to. Your mission is to do what you can on both fronts. Nothing more and nothing less.”

    The room fell silent again save for the background noise of the personnel working in the adjacent section.

    “We’ll approach this from two angles,” Jarik continued after a moment. “While you head to the Piqus system, Amaya will continue a search we already began before you arrived. It is not much better than trying to find that proverbial needle in a star cluster, but since we know what we are looking for thanks to information gathered by the Enterprise years ago, it is possible that we can find that subspace portal before it can be used against us.”

    “Those sound like two equally desperate measures,” said Michael.

    Jaris stood. “Unfortunately, at this point, we are desperate. And we are also on a tight schedule. The Krellonians are expecting you, Michael, and the longer we delay the less likely we might be able to learn anything from them. Agamemnon will accompany you into the Amargosa Diaspora until you’ll need to part ways. I’ll make sure you have a full briefing package sent to you. But I will have to ask you once more to keep what you’ve learned here confidential for the time being.”

    Michael followed suit, leaving his chair and a moment later so did Amaya. “That won’t be easy. Not if I will have to rely on Lieutenant Culsten to establish some sort of contact with officials that might know about this alliance.”

    “I trust you to make the right call Michael and find a way to share only what is absolutely necessary while maintaining operational confidentiality,” said Jarik and rounded the conference table to approach him again.

    Michael nodded and then glanced towards her fellow captain. “Maya, do you mind giving us the room for a moment?”

    She offered him a surprised look and then sought for agreement on Jarik’s face who quickly provided it. “I’ll return to Agamemnon and we’ll set out as soon as you’re back on Eagle,” she said and began heading out of the conference room.

    “Maya,” Michael said to her back.

    She stopped and turned around.

    “Let’s catch up later.”

    She offered a sharp nod but said nothing further before she left.

    Michael turned his attention towards Jarik once more. “Is it just me or does she seem a little off?”

    He shrugged. “She’s had a lot on her mind lately. Don’t blame her if she’s not the same person she was during the good old days.”

    He nodded slightly, not entirely convinced.

    “What is it you wanted to talk to me about? I already told you, I don’t want to work like Jon did. I don’t believe in keeping secrets unless absolutely necessary.”

    “I just wanted to know how you’re feeling?”

    His facial expression turned quizzical for a moment, clearly not having anticipated the question. “I’m fine, Michael.”

    He nodded and then took a few steps away from his old friend, considering his next words carefully. “You asked me earlier what my father told me back on Earth.”

    “Yes?”

    He turned back to face him. “I didn’t want to say anything in front of Maya, but he did mention some concerns.”

    “What kind of concerns?”

    “About you. I think part of the reason he was so insistent that I joined him was because he felt that your condition might start affecting your work. He was worried about you, Jarik.”

    The half-Vulcan looked dumbstruck. But only for a moment. His features quickly hardened. “What did he tell you about my condition?”

    He shook his head. “Not much. Just that it was some sort of genetic disease. And that you have been starting to show symptoms.”

    It wasn’t difficult to tell that he didn’t like hearing this. He turned away for a moment as if to hide the emotions this revelation had awoken within him, living up to his Vulcan side for just an instant or so. He uttered a short but humorless laugh, quickly dispelling once again any kind of doubt that he was much closer to his human heritage. “I guess it’s hard to keep a secret from a man who had made it his mission in life to collect them.”

    “Is it true?”

    He nodded without facing the other man. “A few years ago I was diagnosed with Darnay's disease.”

    “I’m very sorry to hear that,” he said, fully aware that there was no cure for Darnay’s.

    Jarik turned around. “I am not at the terminal stage yet. So let me be very clear, regardless what Jon may have told you, I am still fully able to perform whatever duties are required of me. I can manage the symptoms with regular injections and the doctors have assured me that I still have a couple of good years left. I will not let this disease beat me and I most definitely won’t let it affect our work here.”

    He nodded slowly. “Does Maya know?”

    He shook his head. "And I'd prefer if you didn't tell her this. I know I said that I don't like to keep secrets but in this instance, I think it would be better for everyone if we could keep this between us. I will tell her when the time is right. Hopefully, this crisis will be long behind us by the time my body and mind will start failing me."

    “I can respect that. But you have to promise me that you will step away from this if you realize that you can no longer do what must be done. SAI has already lost one leader who refused to look after his own health, I don’t want this job to do to you what it did to my father.”

    He held out his hand. “You have my word, Michael.”

    They shook and soon after they parted ways again so that Michael could return to Eagle and begin the next and most crucial part of his new mission. Prevent an inter-dimensional invasion.

    How exactly he was going to accomplish this, he had no idea.
     
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  4. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Premium Member

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Interesting development with the solonagenic invaders and a possible alliance with the Krellonians--especially at a time where pretty much everyone is weak. Also, the mystery regarding Amaya is deepening--she's definitely not acting as she normally would and I have a feeling this goes beyond mere secrecy issues.
     
  5. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    7



    Even at warp, the Amargosa Diaspora was quite the sight to behold, a starscape of countless suns arranged in close proximity to each other, ranging from the ultra hot and bright dark-blue main sequence stars to white and orange giants all the way up to the dimmer and cooler M-types.

    It was also quite a challenge to navigate, requiring ship pilots to make constant, minor course correction and limiting their cruising speed to warp seven.

    And yet Michael Owens' focus remained not on the mesmerizing background vista or the hard work being carried out on the bridge by his helmsmen, but on that other starship, traveling in close formation just a few short kilometers to their starboard bow and readily discernible from the windows of his quarters.

    It had been six hours since he had received his briefing on Arkania IX and both Eagle and Agamemnon had set out towards Krellonian space. He had tried to reach out to Amaya twice during that time with no success.

    “Lieutenant Deen to Captain Owens.”

    Her voice had not come over the comm system but from much closer. He diverted his eyes from the windows to the other side of the table he was sitting at to see DeMara returning his look expectantly.

    “The bread.”

    It took him a moment to realize that she was asking him to pass the tray filled with freshly replicated toast slices which sat on his side of the breakfast table and that she had likely asked for it at least once before while he had been distracted with his thoughts. "Of course, sorry," he said as he reached for the tray and passed it along.

    “You still haven’t told me what this mission is all about,” she said as she took a couple of slices and began to butter them up. “You know the rumor mill is in full effect. Cleary more is happening here than just a relief mission.”

    He frowned. He was still not comfortable that the crew, especially his senior officers, were left in the dark about their latest assignment and he knew he had to change this soon. Jarik's instructions had been clear regarding the confidentiality requirements of the mission, but he had to find ways to read in people he trusted and whose support he was going to depend on for next few days or otherwise this mission was doomed before it had even started. "I'll schedule a briefing soon."

    “That’s not what has you so distracted this morning though, is it?”

    Michael uttered a sigh, realizing that he wouldn’t be able to keep his true thoughts from the perceptive Tenarian. “It’s Amaya.”

    “Right,” she said and quickly went back to finish preparing her toast with fruit-based preserves.

    “She’s been very distant lately, ever since the funeral when I realized that we had both been on Earth at the same time. And then talking to her yesterday, it almost felt as if we were strangers.”

    “I’m probably not the right person to offer relationship advice,” she said without making eye contact. “But sometimes people just drift apart.”

    He nodded slowly even if he had a hard time understanding why this would have been the case with Amaya. She had given him no signs at all over the last year or so and after their relationship had become more than mere friendship that she had regretted the path they had embarked upon. "Maybe," he said, hoping that this was not the case but also not quite missing that his breakfast companion seemed somewhat disinterested in this topic of conversation. In fact, she had appeared rather dispassionate about a number of things lately, and he couldn't help wonder if perhaps her suspended performance was to blame. He knew that his critique certainly hadn't helped matters.

    He felt that he needed to clear the air; it wouldn’t do having two important people in his life being annoyed with him at the same time.

    But before he could broach the subject, the comm system piped through an actual message into his quarters. “Bridge to Captain.”

    He recognized So’Dan Leva’s voice. “Owens here. Go ahead, Commander.”

    “Sir, we’ve just received a message from the Agamemnon. Captain Donners is requesting permission to beam aboard.”

    He exchanged a surprised glance with DeMara who merely shrugged “Very good. Permission granted. I’ll meet her in transporter room two.”

    “I’ll relay the message.”

    “Owens out.”

    DeMara grabbed a half-eaten slice of toast from her plate and stood. “Well, sounds like your worries were unfounded.”

    "Yeah," he said, halfheartedly. "But still, doesn't this all feel a little forced to you? Requesting formal permission, relaying messages via the bridge? That's not really her style."

    “She’s following protocol, Michael, you can’t fault her for that,” she said and headed for the doors.

    “You finished?”

    She shook her head. “I just thought I’d give you two some privacy.”

    He left his chair. “You don’t have to go,” he said but realized, even as he was saying the words, that in truth, he wanted her to.

    And she could see it too. She was kind enough not to call him out on his bluff. "I should get back to the bridge anyway. There are a lot of stars out there; it helps to have a couple of extra eyeballs focused on sensors," she said and then left without waiting for his response.

    He walked over to his washroom to quickly freshen up and brush his hair before he'd head out to greet her in the transporter room. On his way towards the doors, he stopped, thinking of something else. "Computer, play some ambient music. American Blues. Early to mid-Twentieth century," he said, knowing that Amaya was particularly partial to that genre of music.

    The computer quickly trilled in acknowledgment and filled his quarters with the gentle but sorrowful tones of a singer of a long bygone age, strumming on his guitar.

    Not a moment after, the annunciator to his quarters notified him of a visitor which to Michael felt like a rather inconvenient time. He quickly stepped up to the doors which opened to reveal Amaya Donners already standing there.

    “Hey,” he said surprised. “I was just coming to get you.”

    She stepped into his quarters after he had moved aside to give her room. “You know me, never the patient sort.”

    He turned to face her and allowing the doors to close behind him. “Well, I’m glad you came over.”

    She spotted the food on the table. “Did I interrupt breakfast?”

    He shrugged it off. “Not really. Want to join me?”

    She looked over the second table setting. “Dee?” she asked.

    “Yes. She just left.”

    She nodded but made no move to sit at the table.

    “I can get you a plate,” he said and headed towards the replicator.

    “No need,” she said. “I won’t be staying long.”

    He stopped halfway to the replicator and turned back. “Oh?”

    He guessed it wasn't difficult for her to spot the disappointment on his face and she uttered a little sigh. "Listen, Michael; I know things between us have cooled a little bit."

    He offered a smile. “I guess. We’re both pretty busy people after all.”

    She nodded but didn't reciprocate the smile. "That's right. I mean look at us. We're so busy that for the majority of the time we can't even see each other in person. Every time we try to arrange leave together something comes up either on my side or yours. And then, the one-time coincidence puts us in the same place at the same time, all I get to do is express my condolences to you, almost in passing, after your father died."

    “I don’t blame you for that. And I appreciate you made the time for the funeral.”

    She took a step towards the window as if to study her own ship in closer detail. "This isn't about blame. It's about the practicality of two starship captains being more to each other than just friends. We both have an enormous amount of responsibilities placed on us. Now with this latest crisis, perhaps more so than ever since the end of the war."

    Michael was not willing to give in so quickly. He took a step towards her. "We made it work during the war, and it wasn't easy for either one of us then."

    She finally turned to look him in the eye. She didn’t speak right away.

    “What are you saying here? You want to break this off?”

    “What is this anyway?” she said. “You and me? What would you call it? It’s not really a relationship in that sense of the word. Talking to each every other week or so, seeing each other maybe every other month and worrying for most of the rest of the time.”

    “I will always worry about you.”

    She scowled at him, and he realized that he had phrased that wrong. "What I mean is that we have been friends for a long time. And we'll always be friends. Worrying about each other is what friends tend to do. It shows that we care."

    She nodded slightly, acceding to that point. “Yes, but it’s easier when there is less pressure.”

    “Pressure?” he said, finding her word choice a little peculiar.

    She seemed to sense it too and began to rub the bridge of her nose in apparent frustration. Whatever she had come here to say, it was apparently not going quite the way she had envisioned it. "Listen, I just think we need to slow things down a bit. At least until this crisis is over."

    “There’ll always be some sort of crisis.”
    She said nothing.

    He nodded, the message was clear enough. “Very well. Let’s focus on this mission and saving the galaxy before we decide where this other thing between us is going.”

    Her smile felt forced and never quite reached her eyes. “Thanks.”

    She pointed towards the ceiling to indicate the music that was playing over the speakers. “I love Huddie Ledbetter.”

    “Lead Belly. I know,” he said. “Ever since you’ve told me that you grew up in the same place he was born. Tiny town in the bayou.”

    Her smile widened slightly. “Yeah, I guess I do like to tell that story.”

    They remained in quiet reflection for a spell while the four-hundred-year-old singer lamented over where his girl had been and where she was going to go.

    The song came to an end, and Amaya headed for the doors. Then she stopped, reached into her uniform jacket and dug out a thin isolinear chip from an inside pocket. She handed it over to him. "I almost forgot about this."

    “What is it?” he asked as he took the plastic strip.

    “It’s from your father. He asked me to give it to you before…”

    She didn't have to finish the sentence, and the look in her pained eyes made it clear that she didn't want to talk about it further either. She left without saying another word.

    His eyes lingered on those now closed doors for a moment, unable to stop wondering where he had gone wrong to allow it to get to this point and why he had not tried harder from letting her go.

    Michael glanced down at the chip in his hand. If it had really come from his father as she had claimed, he had to wonder why he had given it to her instead of just passing this on to him directly. But then again trying to understand anything his father had done while he had still been alive had often seemed like a mostly futile gesture.

    He walked over to his desk, sat down in front of his desktop monitor and slotted the chip into the interface.

    The music immediately stopped playing and the image of his father, alive and well, appeared on the screen. Based on the background and the time index, the message had been recorded just a day before his death at his base in Far East Russia and after he had visited him there.

    It was an odd feeling seeing him alive again, knowing that this was likely the last message he had ever recorded, at least to him.

    “Son, I will have to keep this short. I know that you are not inclined to accept my offer to come and work for me. God knows you inherited that stubbornness from both your mother and me. To be honest, I didn't really expect you to. You are a starship captain, and I suppose at heart, that's what you'll always be. I've never truly had that same drive, but I recognize it in men and women who have made it their life's mission to sit in that chair and try to change the galaxy for the better.

    I am trying to do the same thing but on a much larger scale and I will need your help doing it.”

    He looked off-screen for a brief moment, reflecting on what he had said. Or perhaps on what he was about to say next.

    "We've had our differences in the past; I understand this. And I also understand that some of it, maybe the majority of it, was because I involved myself far too much in your life and tried to do the same thing with your brother before he—left us. But you have to believe that I always had a good reason for doing so. That there was more at stake than the happiness of one family.”

    He sighed, and it was clear he didn't exactly relish going down that particular road again and reopening old wounds.

    "Michael, I said I would need your help, and I understand that you are not willing to do so based on the very little I've been able to share with you so far. But regardless if you end up deciding to join me here or not, I truly hope that I will be able to rely on you with whatever may happen going forward."

    Jonathan Owens uttered a little laugh, amused by his own words.

    “I’ve gotten a little bit too comfortable with my own secrets. Forgive an old man for being overly cautious with information which could be fatally dangerous in the wrong hands. I promise I will be able to tell you more soon,” he said before his face became much more serious once again. “In the meantime, and no matter what will happen in the days and weeks, maybe months, down the road, there is just one thing that I need you to promise me.

    Don’t trust anyone.”

    And then the message stopped, and his father's face disappeared.

    Michael was flabbergasted.

    And he was angry. Angry with a man he had spent most of his life being irked with and only just realizing that even after his death, this would not soon change.

    “Goddammit, dad, what have you gotten me into?”
     
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  6. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Premium Member

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    A very nice character piece with Amaya and Michael and yes, long distance separations do take their toll. Also a nice bit of forshadowing with Jonathon's last words to not trust anyone. Could apply to Amaya...Jerik...even DeMara or Leva.
     
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  7. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    8



    He studied the expressions on her face carefully while she watched the same message he had played just a few hours earlier but he once again found that Tazla Star had seemingly perfected the art of disguising her true feelings underneath a practically unreadable mask of inscrutability which would have made a Vulcan proud.

    Michael Owens had wrestled with the idea of showing his father’s recording to his first officer, a notion which would have been unthinkable just a year earlier and after she had joined the crew as a very much unwelcomed and distrusted addition to what he had always considered the tight-knit circle which made up the senior staff of Eagle. It had taken some time until he had been comfortable with having a woman who had briefly been a captain before being court-martialed and imprisoned for disregarding orders at his side. The fact that she had been found out to have been working for a shady group within Starfleet Intelligence which may not have always had the Federation's best interest at heart, hadn't helped much either.

    Things had evolved quite a bit since those early days.

    After first reviewing his father’s message, and then replaying it a number of times afterwards to ensure he had not missed any subtle nuances possibly hidden within the message, he had found himself with the dilemma that apparently the people he needed to rely on for this mission, were the exact same people his father had explicitly warned him against.

    Regardless of what he had been told since the very auspicious beginning of this assignment which had started with Admiral Throl’s unexpected visit, he knew that he needed a second opinion on everything he had learned so far.

    Normally that person would have been DeMara Deen who had functioned as one of his most trusted advisors and a reliable sounding board pretty much ever since he had watched her grow from a child into a young woman as well and an extraordinarily capable officer.

    But since DeMara had been acting increasingly detached over the last few weeks, he had decided to bring Tazla Star into his confidence instead, and disregarding both the instructions he had been given by Jarik and his father’s warning, he had not only presented her with the recording but also brought her fully up to speed on what he had learned about the mission to prevent an inter-dimensional invasion by a subspace dwelling species.

    “In the meantime, and no matter what will happen in the days and weeks, maybe months, down the road, there is just one thing that I need you to promise me. Don’t trust anyone.

    The recording came to an end and Tazla Star leaned back in the chair she had been occupying, sitting opposite Michael, at his desk. She uttered a particularly colorful Trill curse under her breath.

    He nodded as he turned the monitor back around so that it faced him once more even if his father’s face was now no longer displayed. “That’s precisely how I felt after seeing this.”

    “Who do you think he’s referring to?” she asked.

    He shrugged. “That’s the problem. I don’t know. And I don’t know how to find out either. It could be Throl. It could be Jarik or Maya. It could be all three of them and others. It could be nothing more than the paranoid delusions of a dying man.” He knew he didn’t do a good job of hiding his frustration. This message had thrown pretty much everything in doubt. Not just his mission, he could also not help himself but wonder if perhaps Amaya had been given a similar message, perhaps she had been told not to trust him, which certainly could explain her sudden change in attitude towards him. Or perhaps his father had been right in saying that she could not be trusted, perhaps something was wrong with her. The thought of all the questions this vague message raised, all the possibilities they suddenly evoked were driving him crazy and making him so much angrier with his father for having put him in this position. And then, of course, he had the audacity of dying suddenly, robbing him of any chance to be able to confront him about these suspicions and demanding answers for once and for all.

    In short, Jonathan Owens had shaken to his core, his confidence in the people he needed to believe in.

    “I don’t think it would be wise to dismiss it entirely.”

    Michael uttered a heavy sigh and stood from his chair to walk over to the man-high window in his ready room which currently gave him, not only a great view of the Amargosa stellar nursery they were traversing but also of the starship Agamemnon which continued to travel with them at warp in close formation. “And therein lies the problem. I can’t afford to do anything less but heed the warning, even if there is a chance that it is nothing more than baseless paranoia. Not while we might be facing an imminent invasion by a technologically advanced and hostile force we seem to know next to nothing about,” he said and turned around. “But what if he’s wrong and this mistrust he has spread is only complicating an already difficult situation? What is the right move here? Can there even be one?”

    “I don’t know,” she admitted. “ And it places us in the unenviable position in which the only people who do know what is going on are possibly the very same people we cannot trust with anything.”

    Feeling a headache coming on, he began to massage his forehead. “You can see why I didn’t get much sleep last night,” he said and looked right at her. “What are your thoughts?”

    If Star was surprised by her captain's show of faith and trust in her she did well to hide this. She glanced back towards the computer screen which was now blank again as if to recall every last word she had heard his late father speak in his enigmatic message. "I have some familiarity with the Department of Special Affairs and Investigations from my work in the intelligence community. I never met your father but I've worked alongside with, and on occasions perhaps even against, members of his agency. They don't exactly work like more traditional intelligence networks, they have no spies or run clandestine missions, as far as I'm aware, but they do keep things very much need-to-know. And in my experience, if SAI is involved in something, there is a side they want you to see and then there is the truth."

    “I was afraid you’d say something like that,” he said and considered her words a bit further. “You said you’ve never met my father. How about Jarik?”

    She shook her head. “To be honest, I know next to nothing about him. Which in itself is unusual. In my experience, people like that don’t usually come out of nowhere. You said you were Academy roommates?”

    He nodded and took his seat again. "Yes. Good friends once upon a time before we drifted apart after we graduated. I did some digging. According to his file, he did some unremarkable work within Starfleet's administrative circles before joining my father about ten years ago. Nothing else stands out."

    “If you were to look at my file,” said Star, “you would find much the same thing about my career up until Sacajawea. And it would mostly be a complete fabrication.”

    "I considered that. The thing is I actually got a very good feeling about Jarik ever since I met him again on Earth a few weeks ago. Instead of keeping secrets like my father did, he seemed very open with me. I appreciate that it could all be a smokescreen but in the time I knew him at the Academy, Jarik has always been a straight shooter. In that regard, he took after his Vulcan mother. There wasn't a deceitful or malicious bone in his body."

    Star seemed to contemplate her next words carefully. “I hate to bring it up, but what about Captain Donners? How much do you think you can trust her?”

    “It’s a legitimate question,” he quickly admitted. “Three weeks ago I would have said that I’d trust her unconditionally.”

    “And now?”

    He shook his head slightly. “Now I’m not so sure. And I truly hate feeling that way about her.”

    “I understand. But I would suggest, for the time being, that you remain careful around her. It might be a good idea not to share any of this with either Donners or Jarik,” she said, indicating towards the blank screen.

    “I don’t think I have a choice. We’ll keep everything we know between the two of us until further notice and until we have a clearer idea who we can trust.”

    “Agreed,” she said. “What about the crew? What do you want to tell them?”

    Michael thought about this for a moment. It still irked him that he was keeping the people under his command, the people who needed to trust him, in the dark. It was a page straight out of his father's playbook and it didn't sit right with him at all. But trust, he had painfully come to realize, had become a very dangerous commodity. "Call a briefing for oh-nine-hundred tomorrow morning with the senior staff. As much as I hate it, we won't be able to disclose everything we've learned so far, as little as that might be. But we still have a relief mission to carry out, as well as attempt to gather more intelligence on this invasion and how the Krellonians might fit into all this. We are going to have to rely on one of our own if we want any hope of trying to uncover any possible connections."

    Tazla Star offered a sharp nod but even she couldn’t entirely hide the glint of doubt in her emerald colored eyes. There was no point begrudging her over it. Michael felt exactly the same way. And he feared that this doubt wasn’t going to go anywhere anytime soon, sticking around like an uninvited guest, lingering somewhere in the background and just out of reach, until that moment it all came crashing down on them with a punishing vengeance.
     
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  8. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Part Two: Do No Harm


    1


    The tension in Eagle’s observation lounge felt surprisingly high even before the meeting had commenced. Michael thought he had felt it the moment he had stepped into the conference room and the voices of his senior officers had quieted down quickly.

    DeMara Deen had hardly made eye contact with him as he stepped up to his seat at the head of the table and So’Dan Leva seemed to be staring off into empty space. Doctor Katanga was clearly in a fouler mood than usual and was taking pains to avoid looking at Tazla Star which in itself was odd since he knew that the two most recent additions to his crew had been close friends for a long time and had rekindled that friendship since they had reunited on Eagle.

    Commander Xylion also appeared more preoccupied with his own thoughts than he had come to expect from the usually most steadfast member of his crew.

    But perhaps most concerning considering the nature of their upcoming mission was the fact that Lif Culsten appeared oddly quiet and uninterested in the ongoing proceedings, having chosen a seat at the far end of the table and not next to Louise Hopkins where he would have normally expected him, usually at the center of any ongoing conversations while liberally cracking jokes. The young chief engineer didn’t appear greatly concerned that the Krellonian had chosen not to sit next to her.

    The only person who made a rather relaxed impression on him was his Bajoran security chief, the very same person who more often than not was predominately concerned with potential risks to the ship and her crew.

    He haphazardly pondered for just a brief moment if he should have asked the ship’s counselor to attend today’s briefing session as he took his chair. He couldn’t help but feel that she would have given him a rather worrisome report about the current mental state of his senior officers.

    "Thank you all for coming," he said. "I appreciate that the crew might be somewhat puzzled by our unexpected and sudden change of mission and the lack of further details, especially considering all the work and preparation we have put into our mission to the Pleiades. Not to mention the excitement of the prospect of engaging in a long-term exploratory mission of this nature. First of all, let me assure you all that the Pleiades is not going anywhere and that we are still scheduled to be the first Starfleet vessel to venture deep into that corner of space. It's just that something else has come up which we will need to deal with first as a matter of urgency."

    Katanga nodded impatiently. "A medical emergency. Naturally, that must take priority. But I have to seriously question the sanity of whoever made the decision to keep the details of such a crucial assignment under wraps. The sooner I get the full scope of the situation on the ground, the quicker I can prepare for whatever we are dealing with."

    Star shot the African doctor a sharp look to communicate her annoyance with his choice of words which Katanga chose to ignore entirely. And while Michael was not always pleased with his chief medical officer’s bluntness, he could certainly sympathize with his point. Because of the complexities of the situation they had been thrust into he had not been able to give Katanga more than a very basic heads-up on what their upcoming mission entailed, clearly much to the physician’s chagrin.

    He acknowledged his outburst with a tilt of his head before addressing the entire group. “I understand your frustration, Doctor, and I appreciate all your patience in this matter over the last few days.”

    But Star was not satisfied with glossing over Katanga's inappropriate behavior. "But at the end of the day, we are Starfleet officers expected to follow orders. We may not always get explanations, and we may not always like the ones we do get, but that doesn't change the fact that we will follow those orders to the best of our abilities regardless. I want you all to keep this in mind over the next few days."

    Of course, he didn't disagree with anything his first officer had said, but considering the awkward position he now found himself in—he and Star both, really—perhaps he may not have chosen such strong language with the rest of the crew.

    And Katanga, predictably, didn’t respond well to it. “Orders are all well and good,” he said, gracing Star with only a very brief glance before focusing back on the captain. “But if lives hang in the balance, my priorities are clear. And always will be.”

    Michael picked up before Star could respond. Usually, he depended on the Trill to be the buffer between Katanga's brusque and sometimes downright cantankerous ways and his own more diplomatic and subtle command style. Today he felt that if he let Star continue to run interference, she would actually make matters worse. "Nobody is suggesting that we prioritize one over the other, Doctor," he said and saw that it helped calm him down somewhat, even if he continued to disregard Star's poisonous glare directed his way.

    “What’s the mission, sir? Can you share any more details?”

    He nodded at Nora, hiding his surprise that it was his fiery security chief who was attempting to cool down the meeting and bring it back on track. “Yes. The Federation has been approached by the Krellonian government and has formally requested medical assistance following the outbreak of what appears to be an unidentified viral disease on their colony world of Piqus VII.”

    “What do we know about this disease?” Katanga asked immediately.

    “Next to nothing, so far. The Krellonians have not shared any details about the nature of this epidemic. All we know is that their own medical community is puzzled by the situation and currently has no answers to combat whatever this is.”

    “It must be pretty serious if they have come to us,” said Leva. “I don’t believe the Krellonians have ever asked the Federation for assistance with anything.”

    “Certainly not within recent memory, no,” said Star.

    “Have we tried to reach out to their leaders or their medical community?” said Katanga who was clearly already thinking about the best ways to handle the relief efforts. Hardly a surprise considering that he had co-founded Starfleet Medical’s interstellar relief agency a few decades earlier and had led that program for years before joining Eagle. The other co-founder had been Tazla Star’s former host.

    Michael shook his head. “We haven’t even been given a point of contact as of yet. We are hoping to receive a full situation brief once we arrive at Piqus.”

    Katanga nodded slowly. “That’s far from ideal but not at all unusual. Especially for a xenophobic government which is not used to working with other members of the interstellar community. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see quite a bit of resistance to our presence once we get there. I’ve seen that kind of thing before. Even if the central government may have agreed to seek outside assistance, it is more than likely that the local population and maybe even local leaders will object to our presence. Sometimes fiercely so.”

    "Your expertise in these matters will no doubt be invaluable, Doctor," Michael said with a little smile.

    “The key will be to insist as much as possible to be allowed to help and to frame every argument with an emphasis on the wellbeing of their own populace,” he said.

    Michael wasn't quite sure if he liked all of that but for now decided to bow to Katanga's admittedly vast experience in that field. "The situation will also offer us an opportunity to attempt improving our relations with the Krellonian people and officials," he said and then quickly raised a hand to try and cut off Katanga before he could protests. "Not, of course, at the cost of trying to provide whatever help they require," he said quickly. "But as I probably won't have to remind anyone in the room, the Dominion War has left us in a severely weakened state that will take years, if not decades to fully recover from. Since the Krellonian Star Alliance remained entirely neutral in that conflict, it would certainly not hurt if this mission could lead to the first step of an eventual alliance." He considered Lif Culsten closely while speaking, having taken painful note that he had yet to speak at all on the subject, and still remained entirely disengaged, avoiding eye contact with anyone else in the room. "Lif, since we are talking about your people, perhaps you could share some insights into the matter."

    The young helmsman turned to look at the captain but didn’t speak right away. “I wish I could, sir. To be honest, I haven’t been in touch with my people much ever since I left for the Academy. I’m probably not the best source of information on what is happening within the Star Alliance.”

    “And yet you probably know much more than anyone else here. Even Starfleet Intelligence has only very scant details about the Krelloninan people,” said Star.

    The silver-haired, earless lieutenant glanced towards Katanga briefly. “The Doctor is right, my people tend to be xenophobic. I’m very surprised that they’ve even reached out to Federation at all. I would not expect any kind of appetite from leaders for anything more than very specific and targeted assistance. It might even be nothing more than sharing of information.”

    Michael and Star exchanged a concerned look, both, of course, thinking about the wider implications of what Culsten's theory would mean.

    “Lou, didn’t you and Lif only just go visit Krellon a few weeks ago?” said Nora Laas. “What was your impression?”

    The chief engineer seemed noticeably uncomfortable answering that question and looked towards Culsten for support. When he didn’t offer any, she spoke up. “It was quite an experience. Overall, I thought they are a very friendly people. There were some exceptions, of course, but that’s always the case. We did have a few—well, troubles, while we were there.”

    "What kind of troubles?" Star asked, beating Michael to asking the same questions by just a heartbeat.

    Hopkins sought out Culsten once more and this time he did pick up the ball. “This is a turbulent time for my people. There has been a growing dissatisfaction among the populace with how the government conducts certain internal affairs.”

    “How is this dissatisfaction manifesting itself?” asked Nora Laas, now fully in security officer mode again.

    Culsten took a moment to answer the question. "When we were on the homeworld there were growing signs of civil unrest."

    “We got caught up in a rather violent riot just as we were about to leave,” said Hopkins when Culsten didn’t elaborate further. “For a short while there, I wasn’t sure if we were even going to get out of there in one piece.”

    Star looked at both his officers with concern since this was clearly the first time she had heard about any of this. It wasn't, of course, regulation for Starfleet officers to share what happened to them while they were on shore leave, but as a former intelligence operative, Michael could see how she would have liked to have been briefed about these kinds of developments. As, no doubt, would have Starfleet. Michael had a suspicion that there was more to the story his two young officers had shared, especially considering Culsten's obvious reluctance to speak on the subject.

    “Why us?”

    Michael looked over at Deen who had been uncharacteristically quiet so far.

    “We were practically at the other end of the galaxy when this request must have come in,” she continued. “We were just days from a mission to take us even further away from Krellon space and we had to make use of the warp sled just to get us all the way out here in the first place. I can’t help but wonder if all of this is because of Lif.”

    Culsten looked up and Michael could tell that he had been asking himself that very same question. "That's our best guess," Michael said and turned his eyes on the helmsman who now found himself at the center of attention.

    Star prompted him when nobody else would. “Lieutenant. Do you know somebody within the Krellonian government who may have been responsible for requesting us specifically?”

    “I am not sure.”

    Hopkins clearly had an opinion and almost sounded somewhat exasperated when Culsten refused to speak further on this point. “Lif, half your family works for the government. It could be your grandparents or that aunt of yours we met.”

    “I suppose that is possible.”

    An awkward silence fell over the room.

    Michael tugged on his uniform jacket, trying to hide his frustration over his officer’s lack of cooperation. “We’ll be reaching Krellon space within five hours and Piqus shortly after that,” he said and glanced at Katanga. “Doctor, I expect you will make whatever preparations you can given the lack of details we have at hand. I suggest you brush up on your Krellonian physiology.”

    He nodded sharply “Of course,” he said and then to Culsten. “Lieutenant, I will need you to report to sickbay as soon as possible. As unappealing as it may sound to you, I will require your assistance as a living specimen.”

    It wasn’t hard to tell from his facial expression that it sounded extremely unappealing to him indeed. But he nodded nevertheless. “Of course, Doctor.”

    “Very well,” Michael said. “That’s all for now. Dismissed.”

    Everyone in the room save for him and Star left their chairs and streamed towards the two exits until the captain and the first officer were left alone in the observation lounge.

    He looked towards the Trill. “This won’t be easy, will it?”

    Her scowling facial expression was answer enough.
     
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  9. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Premium Member

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    Good job in setting the tense atmosphere in the meeting--Katanga and Star; Culsten and Hopkins, and Laas as the voice of reason...the changed dynamics here is making for a potentially dangerous situation when they arrive at their destination.
     
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  10. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    2

    “We’re now approaching the outer border of Krellon space,” said DeMara Deen from her station at operations before turning around and glancing at Michael in the captain’s chair as well as Tazla Star by his side.

    “Alright, we better do this by the book,” he said and considered his first officer. “Remind us again of the protocol for crossing the border.”

    She brought up the requested details on her computer console. “According to what we’ve been told by Starfleet Command, we are required to drop out of warp immediately before reaching the outer boundary and continue to proceed at impulse while sending a general hail requesting permission to enter Krellonian space. We should then be intercepted by a border patrol vessel which may decide to board and inspect us before allowing us to proceed further. Under no circumstance are we to proceed into the inner boundary until we have been given permission by a designated border patrol agent.”

    “And that’s after we’ve been formally invited,” said Leva from the tactical station behind the two command officers. “They make it easier to enter Romulan territory.”

    Michael was fully aware that Leva spoke from experience since the half-Romulan had in fact been invited to visit the Romulan homeworld during the Dominion War.

    “That tells us how much Krellonians like visitors,” said Deen and then quickly shot a contrite look to her right and towards the helmsman. “No offense, Lif.”

    He shrugged his shoulders. “None taken. And you’re right, they don’t. One of the countless reasons I don’t live there anymore.”

    “Let’s not give them any reason to keep us out,” said Michael. “Drop us out of warp and continue on impulse for the time being. Also, keep an eye on that inner boundary and make sure we keep well clear of it for now.”

    “Dropping out of warp,” said Culsten and not a moment later the viewscreen provided ample evidence that they were no longer traveling at faster than light speeds.

    “Mister Leva,” said Michael, turning to his tactical officer next. “Send a general greeting and request for permission to proceed into Krellon space on a wide-beam subspace channel.”

    “Broadcasting now.”

    “We are crossing the outer boundary to Krellon space,” said Deen.

    For a moment nobody on the bridge spoke almost as if everyone was holding their collective breaths, waiting for something to happen that would make it inevitably clear that they had now passed into another sovereign territory. It wasn't all that surprising, however, when that signal never came, after all, in outer space, territorial boundaries could not be enforced in the same manner as physical borders on a planet, the ever-shifting nature of space-time itself making it a near impossible prospect.

    “So far, so good,” said Star. “Lif, what can we expect from the border patrol?”

    “ConsideringEagle’ssize we’ve probably been on their long-range sensors for a while now. I would expect to see one or two ships on an intercept course long before we reach the inner boundary. If they follow standard procedure, they’ll want to board us and ask a few questions. The whole thing shouldn’t last more than ten minutes but it does tend to be a rather tense affair.”

    “Let’s receive any guests in the observation room and I suggest we serve some food and drinks as well. Let’s try to make this as comfortable for them as we can,” said Michael, looking at Star.

    She nodded quickly and stood. “I’ll arrange it now.”

    “Sir, I have one ship on long-range sensors approaching us at high warp,” said Leva. “Belay that, it’s two ships … no,” he stopped himself and looked up at the captain who regarded him with a curious look. “Make that eight frigates. They’ll be intercepting us in about twenty minutes. And we are being advised to hold our present position.”

    Michael didn’t manage to hide his surprise. “Looks like they’re really rolling out the welcome committee for us.”

    Star smirked. “I better make sure there are enough refreshments set up,” she said and headed out to make the arrangements.

    “Lif,” said Michael. “Bring us to a full stop.”

    “Full stop, aye, sir.”

    “And would you mind joining us in the observation lounge?”

    “Yes, sir,” he said after a brief delay. Michael hardly missed the little sigh he had tried to suppress unsuccessfully.


    * * *​



    It didn’t take long for Eagleto be entirely surrounded by the eight, much smaller border patrol vessels and Michael carefully studied the ships he could make out through the large windows of the observation lounge, holding position just a few hundred meters astern.

    He was once again reminded how rarely Krellonians traveled outside their territory by the almost entirely alien design of the ships, one he had never come across before. He also couldn't deny that they possessed a somewhat interesting aesthetic appearance thanks to their gleaming, chrome-like hulls, their pronounced v-shape, and their wing-like nacelles, making them appear, at least to him, more like pieces of moving art, rather than a militaristic starship design.

    He glanced over to Lif Culsten who stood nearby but the younger man was avoiding making direct eye contact or showing any interest in the ships outside for that matter. In fact, he seemed entirely lost in his own thoughts.

    The doors to the room opened before Michael could address his helmsman’s lack of focus.

    Tazla Star stepped in first, quickly followed by six tall Krellonians. Like with Culsten, their most distinctive physical feature which distinguished them from most other humanoids Michael had come across was the fact that they lacked any kind of auricles attached to their skulls and instead, where most other races had their primary auditory organs, there was nothing more than perfectly smooth skin. All six had uniformly narrow strips of silver hair running from their foreheads, all the way to the base of their necks. He guessed that the dark markings, possibly tattoos, on the side of their otherwise bald heads indicated some sort of rank. They wore heavy chrome-like combat armor and all six of them carried assault rifles. There were three men and two women on their team, even though Michael had to admit it wasn't easy to guess their genders due to their bulky uniforms, similar builds, and identical hairstyles.

    A quick glance towards Star and her slightly exasperated expression let him know that she had unsuccessfully attempted to get them to leave their weapons behind.

    Nora Laas and two armed security officers had followed the Krellonian delegation into the room.

    From a diplomatic standpoint, Michael would have preferred to do this without an armed escort but considering that they had clearly insisted on bringing their own guns, he appreciated Star’s decision to include Nora and the security team.

    He offered a traditional Krellonian greeting gesture he had been shown by Culsten, palms pressed together, thumbs crossed and clenched fingers pointing at their guests, and took a step forward. “Welcome aboard Eagle. I am Captain Michael Owens and on behalf of the United Federation of Planets, we are honored to be allowed to enter Krellonian space,” he said with his best and most disarming smile before pointing at the table where a selection of refreshments and finger foods which were common within the Federation had been set up. “Perhaps you would like to sit down and sample some of what the Federation has to offer.”

    The officer standing at the front of the group, Michael guessed he was the leader since his skull marking were more intricate than those of the others, looked over the table very briefly and then, entirely disinterested with what he had seen, glanced back towards him. “You are the commanding officer of this vessel?”

    He nodded. “That is correct. Captain Michael Owens. I don’t believe I got your name?”

    The man reached for a padd he had strapped to his belt and began to enter commands. "State your full name, race, and rank?"

    Michael shot Star a quick look but she just shrugged, not entirely sure what the purpose of the question was either. “Michael Timothy Owens. Human. Captain with Starfleet.”

    He continued to make notes without looking up. “State your place of birth?”

    “The planet Earth in the Sol System.”

    “I need you to be more specific.”

    “A place called Waukesha on the North American continent,” he said, beginning to feel slightly exasperated. “Perhaps we could discuss arrangements for traveling to the Piqus system. I understand we have been urgently requested by your government to render aid to its population.”

    “This vessel, Eagle, you called it?”

    He nodded. “That is correct.”

    “What is the exact number of its crew and passengers?”

    He had to think about that for a brief moment. Eagle’sordinary complement was seven hundred and eighty, made up of officers, enlisted crewmen, and civilians. But it had been a long time since his ship had been home to that many people. The figure had changed most drastically during the war when all the civilians had disembarked and they had been replaced with a military contingent made out of combat-trained Marines. The crew had been decimated over the war years due to casualties and reassignments alike to such a degree that the total complement had often varied from one week to the next. Following the war, reassignments had continued in order to replenish other ships and bases which had been harder hit by the war than Eagle. Then, just a few weeks ago, following a little bit of soul-searching, Michael had decided to allow civilians to once again return to the ship by parting ways with Marines who had been onboard for nearly two years.

    "Currently, I believe its six hundred forty-nine souls," he said after a moment and sought confirmation from his first officer who quickly nodded in the affirmative. "I hope you don't need me to go through all their names. Otherwise, we'll be here a while," he added with a smile.

    The border security officer clearly had no sense of humor about this at all, nor did his colleagues, who all remained entirely stone-faced.

    Star’s look seemed to say it all: Tough crowd.

    “We will require a breakdown of your crew by race and rank and place of origin. You will also provide a full manifest of all and any cargo your vessel is currently transporting.”

    “I believe that can be arranged,” said Star.

    Michael nodded. “We’re more than happy to fully cooperate with all your requirements,” he said. “However, we would appreciate if we could expedite this process slightly in order to address the medical emergency on Piqus VII as soon as possible.”

    But once again the officer seemed entirely apathetic to the reason Eaglehad come into Krellonian space. “How many habitable decks does this vessel comprise of?”

    Eaglehas thirty decks within the saucer and engineering hulls and another six in the pod,” he said.

    “We will commence a deck to deck inspection of your vessel. Your crew is instructed to cease all activity during the search, disarm themselves were necessary and submit themselves to a security scan. Any interference with the inspection will not be tolerated.”

    Michael frowned, not liking the sound of this at all. Putting aside that he had not been advised to expect such a thorough inspection of his ship and crew, the intrusiveness of what the officer had suggested went far beyond what he would have allowed from an ally, not to mention a people he knew basically nothing about. “How long do you expect this to take?”

    The irritation in the officer’s face was palpable. This was not a man accustomed to being questioned. “Considering the size of your vessel and crew, we will have to prepare six additional inspection team. If your crew cooperates fully, I expect to complete the inspection within eight standard hours.”

    “I appreciate that you have your regulations,” Michael said, trying to sound as diplomatic as he knew how. “But surely we can make some sort of exception in this case. After all your own government has invited us here to address an urgent medical situation. Any delays in getting to Piqus VII will likely also put more Krellonian lives at risk. Besides, I have regulations of my own, I cannot allow your teams to inspect sensitive areas of this vessel.”

    The annoyed expression on the other man’s face made it clear that this was not something he was accustomed to hearing.

    Star took a small step forward. “Perhaps we could reach a compromise. We are still a few hours out from the Piqus system. How about we continue to our destination, with you escorting us of course, and we will let you carry out a joint inspection of Eaglewhile we are en-route?”

    Michael thought that to be sensible compromise and gave the Trill a quick nod to let her know that he fully supported this alternative and appreciated her attempt to try and move this along.

    The border officer, however, was clearly not interested in finding middle ground on anything and quickly shook his head. "Not acceptable. You will follow our instructions," he said, his tone becoming a lot more agitated all of a sudden, and Michael could tell that the rest of his team was beginning to tense-up as well. It was clear that Krellonina border patrol agents were not at all used to discussing their procedures or being questioned on them. As far as they were concerned, there was only one way of doing things.

    Michael turned to Culsten who had been suspiciously quiet once again, not really offering any assistance in dealing with this situation.

    “Justicar,” Culsten said, apparently recognizing the man’s rank insignia. “As you can tell, I am a Krellonian. The name is Liftu-Tensu-Leetu. I can vouch for these people and the urgency of our request to be allowed swift passage to the Piqus system.”

    The justicar considered his fellow Krellonian almost contemptuously. “It does not matter who or what you are,” he said. “You, your commanding officer and the rest of this crew will comply with our instructions.”

    “Or what?” Star said, clearly having lost her patience with this entire affair. She continued before Michel could stop her. “We are trying to be reasonable and cooperate with your directives but may I remind you that we are here at your people’s request? Are you implying that if we don’t comply, you will not let us enter your space to help your own people?”

    "I am implying nothing," the justicar growled, his irritation now having reached blatant anger. "You are already within Krellonian Star Alliance territory. By law, you are obligated to follow any instructions given to you by an official agent of the Star Alliance. You must comply or you and your vessel will be seized," he said and raised his heavy rifle, trying to point it at Star.

    But Star’s reflexes were slightly faster and she grabbed the rifle by its extended barrel and before he could bring it up far enough to line up a shot. Michael could see them both exerting great effort, the justicar trying to raise his weapon while Star tried to keep him from doing it.

    “Remove your hand at once. You are interfering with Star Alliance operations.”

    “You’re trying to point a weapon at me.”

    Things were beginning to spiral out of control. Michael realized he had to act quickly to avoid a potential shootout in the packed observation lounge. “Let’s all calm down and—“

    Star countered his increased effort to raise his rifle by grabbing hold of it with her another hand.

    The weapon erupted loudly with a bright flash and a bolt of crimson energy which burned a large hole into the carpeted floor.

    The other five officers quickly raised their own weapons, for all appearances ready to fire.

    Nora sprang to action and ripped a rifle out of one Krellonian's hand before he could point it at anybody and used the butt of the same weapon to strike him hard enough against the side of his head that he lost his balance and dropped to the floor.

    Michael took a quick step towards the third man trying to get a beat on him and drove his own rifle into his midsection which caused the agent to double over in pain before he lost his grip on his weapon.

    Star had let go of the rifle she had tried to keep out of her face when it had fired suddenly, most likely because of the heat generated through the barrel and now found herself at the wrong end of that exchange with the muzzle pointed right at her neck

    Nora’s security guards had followed their leader’s example and the petite human Skylar McIntyre had shoved her phaser emitter right into the face of a female officer who was now pointing her rifle at the captain. T’Nerr, the orange-furred Caitian had his weapon trained on another border officer who was threatening Nora with her rifle.

    Michael raised the weapon he had commandeered and pointed it at the justicar who seemed moments away from blowing off Star's head. In truth, he had no idea if he would be able to figure out how to operate the rifle, or if it had stun setting for that matter, before the justicar could pull the trigger.

    “Lower your weapons,” said Michael forcefully. “It doesn’t have to end like this.”

    “You provoked this confrontation,” the justicar hissed, holding firm to his weapon, the muzzle of which nearly brushing against Star’s vulnerable throat. “You will lower your weapons and surrender to our authority.”

    “Look around, I don’t think you are in much of a position of authority at present,” said Nora who kept her own liberated, alien rifle as steady as a rock, inches away from one of the agent’s heads.

    Michael shot her a sharp look, making it clear that she wasn’t helping.

    “The way I see things, this can all end peacefully if we just agree to lower our weapons and write this whole unfortunate affair off as nothing more than a cultural misunderstanding. The alternative is that whoever is left standing after we start shooting will have to start picking up body pieces off the floor and explain to our respective governments how a humanitarian mission turned into a bloodbath,” said Michael, trying to keep his eyes on everyone in the room, most of whom had either weapons pointed at them or were pointing them at somebody else. Or both.

    Nobody spoke for a moment as an unsettling silence fell over the room during which Michael was sure he could hear not just his but a number of heartbeats, most of which were racing far faster than should have been normal. He was also fully cognizant that just one slipped finger could lead to a bloody massacre right here onboard his own ship.

    “This isn’t over,” said the justicar. But instead of lowering his weapon, he used one of his hands to tap the back of his gun-wielding hand twice.

    Michael braced himself for what that might mean.

    It turned out to be some sort of retrieval signal as not a moment later the justicar and all of his people were engulfed in a bright yellowish energy beam, before they disappeared entirely.

    Michael uttered a heavy breath as he lowered his weapon.

    “Well, that escalated quickly,” said Star.

    Nora looked more contrite as she handed the alien rifle to T’Nerr. “Sorry sir, I think I may have made matters worse but it looked like people were going to start shooting.”

    “You did what you had to, Laas,” he said and looked towards the ceiling. “Owens to bridge. What is the status of the Krellonian ships?”

    Xylion responded promptly. “We have detected transporter activity and all vessels have powered their engines and are altering their formation as we speak.”

    “Red alert, shields up,” said Michael and then swiftly turned towards the doors, Star, Culsten and Nora close behind him. It took them just a few moments to get back to the bridge one deck above.

    Xylion was already freeing up the command chair as Michael and the rest emerged from the turbolift. “The Krellonian vessels have raised shields and activated their weapons.”

    “Hail them,” said Michael as he headed straight for his chair.

    Leva shook his head. “They are ignoring us,” he said and then looked at Nora, clearly not having missed the concerned expression on all their faces. “What happened?”

    “Things didn’t go well,” she said.

    “To say the least,” added Michael. “What are they doing?”

    Deen took that one. “Nothing for now. They have moved to what looks like an aggressive formation. Their weapons are definitely fully powered as are their shields.”

    “This is ridiculous. Just open a channel,” said Michael.

    Leva confirmed. “Channel open.”

    Michael tugged at his jacket. “Justicar, let’s not escalate this any further than it already has. If you start firing we will be forced to defend ourselves. This will not end well for any of us. If this is what it takes, we are willing to withdraw from your space until this—misunderstanding has been resolved.”

    There was no response.

    Culsten had since taken the helm again. “They are not giving us many ways to escape, we are still mostly surrounded. The most direct course out of Krellon space is blocked off.”

    “They don’t want us to stay and they don’t want us to go,” mused Star. “Make up your minds.”

    “We cannot afford to get into a conflict here. Our mission hasn’t even started yet,” said Michael.

    Star nodded. “Agreed. But that appears to be up to our friends out there at the moment. And I think more than anything else, we may have offended their sense of pride by not following their orders without question.”

    "Sir, I'm detecting a high-frequency subspace message," said Leva.

    Michael turned to look at his tactical officer. “For us?”

    He shook his head. “It appears to be directed at the border vessels.”

    “This could be very good or very bad for us,” said Star quietly.

    “I think it’s the former,” said Deen with a small smile growing on her lips. “The ships are powering down weapons and are moving away. Whatever message they just received apparently advised them to back off.”

    “Agreed,” said Leva. “Receiving a message from the lead vessel now. Text only. We are instructed to proceed to the Piqus system at best speed. We are not to diverge from our course for any reason or suffer the consequence.”

    Star looked at her captain. “That it? No apology? No ‘sorry about nearly decorating your ship with your brains’?”

    “I believe you were right the first time, Commander. This is about pride now. Considering the alternative, I think I’ll take it. Mister Culsten, if you would kindly get us out of here and take us where we need to go. The quicker the better.”

    "Laying in a course and engaging at warp eight," the Krellonian helmsman confirmed.

    “I read three of the vessels following us at a distance,” said Leva.

    Michael nodded in acknowledgment and then let out a breath of air he hadn't realized he had kept in. "Keep an eye on them, Commander," he said and shot an exasperated look at his first officer. "If dealing with other Krellonian officials is going to be even half as challenging as this encounter was, I believe we are going to be in one hell of a mess here."

    She nodded in full agreement. “This mission hasn’t even begun yet and I’m already dreading writing up that report. That’s got to be a new record.”
     
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  11. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    3

    She realized something was up the moment she had stepped out of the turbolift and onto deck thirteen, very nearly colliding with two crewmen transporting a couple of rather bulky containers on an obviously undersized anti-grav sled.

    A potential cargo spill all over the floor was avoided at the last moment by Tazla’s quick reflexes and helping the two surprised crewmen by grabbing hold of the bulkier of the two crates before it could slip off the sled.

    After a brief reminder of standard cargo transport procedures, Tazla continued towards her destination all the while noticing the much heavier than usual foot traffic, most of which seemingly concerned with moving equipment from one place to another.

    This seemed odd to her.

    As the ship’s first officer she prided herself in knowing exactly what was happening at any given time on Eagle, certainly any undertakings requiring this much personnel and hardware, and yet she was not aware of the exact purpose of what she had encountered. More importantly, she had certainly not signed off on it.

    It didn’t seem to be limited to one specific department either. Among the busy crewmembers she encountered on her way down the corridor, she could spot medical and science personnel as well as engineers and quite a few faces belonging to people she knew worked in Nora’s security team.

    She reached cargo bay two and found the heavy doors leading inside already wide open to accommodate the constant traffic of people coming and going, very few of whom were empty-handed.

    Cargo bay two was Eagle’ssingle largest storage space, with perhaps the only exception being the main shuttle bay and the hangar deck directly below it, and remembering the last cargo manifest coming across her desk, she knew that it currently contained a wide range of equipment and other payloads which starships like Eagleoften carried to assist the crew in their varied mission objectives.

    However, it now appeared as if the entire bay had been completely reorganized with much of the regular cargo having been removed in favor of what seemed to be crates upon crates of medical supplies and instruments many of which already unpacked from their storage containers.

    Everything seemed very orderly arranged within designated areas inside the bay, from essential medication and drugs in one corner, to spare tricorders and other tools in another, stretchers, blankets and bandages, all the way to large and bulky items like bio beds, pre-fab parts for a field hospital and even a couple of industrial replicators for medical use.

    A plethora of personnel, primarily blue-collared medical specialists and science officers were moving back and forth across the bay with noticeable purpose, working on adding to, sorting and organizing the equipment.

    Tazla had seen all this before. In fact, in an earlier life, she had helped to write the book on this exact type of medical preparedness procedure.

    She quickly found the brain behind this particular operation when she spotted Elijah Katanga speaking with Xylion near the center of the cargo bay, efficiently giving the Vulcan instructions. She made a beeline for the two men.

    “I want to set up a forward containment area in shuttle bay two with a capacity for at least fifty patients as soon as possible. Liaise with Doctor Nelson regarding containment procedures required to ensure a level four facility. That means both force fields and physical containment sections. Let’s also be ready to have a contingency isolation ward in the main shuttle bay. It’s better to have it and not need it than not having it once we get overwhelmed with patients.”

    The Vulcan was studiously making notes onto his padd as he was listening to the veteran physician’s instructions.

    “Gentlemen? Somebody like to clue me into what we’re doing here?” she said as she stepped up to the two senior officers.

    Xylion stopped working on the padd and looked up at her with what could only be considered a puzzled expression. He raised an eyebrow with apparent surprise before he glanced over at his colleague. “Doctor, I was under the impression that you had obtained approval for this course of action before commencing it.”

    But Katanga ignored the Vulcan, focusing on Tazla instead. “I would think of all people you would recognize this. Or did that also get lost when your symbiont moved hosts?”
    She frowned and swallowed the urge to bite back with a sarcastic reply. She had a good idea what he thought may have been lost in the transition from Dezwin Star to Tazla. He was, of course, wrong on both accounts. She took a moment to let her eyes wander across the bay. “Looks like a standard MAAP preparatory operation. Category three?”

    “Four,” he corrected her.

    She nodded. “Which is interesting since I do not recall seeing a request coming my way to approve any of this.”

    “I am the chief medical officer on this ship. It is within my authority to initiate medical operations as I see fit.”

    “Maybe,” she countered. “But not on this scale. And certainly not involving other ship departments. Looks to me you’ve involved half the crew in this exercise without so much as giving me a heads-up.”

    “That’s why I asked you to come down here now,” he said, doing little to hide his annoyance with the way this conversation was going. “So you may rest assured that we know what we’re doing and authorize additional resources.”

    “Commander,” she said to Xylion. “Could you give us a moment, please?”

    He dipped his head slightly and then stepped away, appearing almost grateful to be excused.

    “What are you doing, Eli?”

    “Exactly what I said. What you can see with your own two eyes,” he said and then, apparently tiring of the conversation, moved on to inspect a row of medical tricorders and giving instructions to the crewmembers preparing the equipment.

    Tazla followed him closely. “We still have no idea what it is we’re dealing with. We have been given no indication whatsoever of the nature of the epidemic or what kind of assistance the Krellonians even want from us. All that hardly justifies mobilizing on this scale.”

    He stopped and turned to look at her. "We have been in orbit around this planet for over twelve hours now. What do you expect me to do in that time? Twiddle my thumbs and carry out theoretical analyses? We need to prepare for whatever we may find down there. This is how we prepare, in case you had forgotten."

    She crossed her arms in front of her chest. “I have forgotten nothing.”

    “Could have fooled me,” he said and moved on to look over the emergency medkits which had been neatly arranged in rows on a number temporary tables.

    She uttered an exasperated sigh. “Alright, fine, you do your preparations and anything else you need to do, I’ll sign off on whatever other resources you need. But this thing between us has to stop. You want to be mad at me, be mad at me, but that doesn’t give you the right to do an end-around and pretend I am not your commanding officer. This isn’t MAAP and you’re not the director anymore. Something like this needs to be approved through the proper channels.”

    With his back turned towards her, he kept his attention on inspecting the medkits.

    “Eli?”

    “Yes, I heard you, Commander. You are in charge and I didn’t follow the rules. Consider me chastised,” he mumbled without ever turning around.

    She continued to stare daggers into his back to no apparent end. Then she turned around and made to leave.

    “Commander?”

    She stopped and turned around. “What else?”

    “Twelve hours. That is not acceptable and you know it. Not when dealing with an epidemic,” he said.

    “We don’t even know what it is.”

    He nodded. “Exactly my point. Enough time has already been lost for us to just sit up here and wait for things to happen. We need to take action.”

    She shook her head. “It’s out of our hands. We may have been asked here but we are still guests. If they don’t want us to help, there is nothing we can do.” She wasn’t entirely able to hide her own frustration over the way things had gone so far. Bad enough that it had very nearly come to blows with the Krellonian agents at the border. After finally arriving at Piqus VII, they had been advised to hold position in orbit and given no further instructions or information. In the meantime, the planet was clearly under a strict quarantine which seemed to include a total communications blackout, since no further hails to the surface had been answered.

    “This is Merian V all over again,” he said. “You remember Merian V?”

    “The Levodian flu outbreak, of course, I remember.”

    “And the regional government was adamant that we did not get involved, believing that all they needed to fight the disease was faith in their gods. They were adamant that allowing us ‘heretics’ to set foot in their province would only make matters worse. Thousands of people lost their lives which we could have saved if we had been allowed access to the most affected areas sooner.”

    She recalled that incident quite vividly, it had been one of the first true tests of the newly created Medical Assistance and Advisory Program which Eli and Dezwin had helped create. Back when they had both still worked as frontline doctors, right there in the middle of any hotspot planet which had requested Starfleet Medical’s help with a crisis. She also recalled his impressive persistence which had eventually worn down any objections from those government representatives who had fought tooth and nail against Starfleet involvement.

    “This is a much more delicate situation than Merian V, Eli. We cannot afford to apply this kind of pressure here."

    “See? That right there is the politician speaking. This new Star I hardly recognize. The one who thinks more about keeping her superiors content than caring about the suffering of people in need. I’ve never been that person. And I don’t want to be. My job is to save lives and I will do whatever it takes to make sure I get my job done.”

    She glared at him, not appreciating his tone, or in fact, any of the words he had chosen.

    “If you are not willing to do it, rest assured, I will. I’ll take this up with the captain and I’ll go right to those leaders on the planet. You know I will. And if that doesn’t help, I’ll track down whoever invited us here and harass the Krellonian head of state until they either kick us out or let us help.”

    The staring contest between them lasted what seemed like minutes but thankfully it was cut short after just a few seconds by an incoming hail from the bridge. “Owens to Star.”

    It took her another moment to answer while she kept her green eyes laser-focused on those of the man she had once called her closest friend. Then she broke contact to take the call. "Star here. Go ahead, sir."

    “I think we might be finally getting somewhere. We’ve just received word that a government official is due to arrive in the system and willing to meet with us. He should be here within the hour.”

    “Excellent news, sir.”

    “Let’s hope so. I suggest you find Doctor Katanga and ask him to join us once he gets here.”

    Her eyes found Elijah’s again. “I’m sure he will be delighted to hear that.”

    “Owens out.”

    Without uttering another word, Tazla Star turned on her heel and left the cargo bay.
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2018
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  12. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Premium Member

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    This conflict between Star and Katanga looks to be approaching critical mass. Something/Someone is going to have to break. I do like how you've been building the tension in the last two installments. Between Krellonian xenophobia and Katanga and Star's rivalry, this situation could get very ugly.
     
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  13. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    It sounds like someone needs to pull the stick out of Katanga's derriere and beat him over the head with it.
     
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  14. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    Wow, still getting caught up on this. So much going on. From subspace invaders to the simmering interpersonal issues among Eagle's crew....wow.

    I'm loving the layers of plot, here. I'm still digesting everything but outstanding story development all around.

    This is some of your finest work, CeJay. Keep it up.
     
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  15. Tribble puncher

    Tribble puncher Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2012
    Location:
    Somewhere witty
    Just recently caught up on this. enjoying it so far.
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2018
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  16. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    4

    After their very nearly disastrous run-in with the Krellonian border patrol, Michael was more than a little wary about their meeting with the government official once his ship had arrived in the Piqus system some fourteen hours after Eagle’s arrival to the seventh planet.

    The concern as it turned out had been unfounded since Councilman Yorlo was nothing like the belligerent Krellonians they had encountered at the border. Physically he was not nearly as impressive, where the border agents had been tall and muscular, Yorlo was short and squat, perhaps even a bit bulky not unlike many other government officials and politicians Michael had met over the years and who spent the majority of their time behind a desk. He wore his long, silvery hair in a similar style as Lif Culsten, tied together at the back of his head.

    For his relatively small size, he seemed to have quite a bit of energy, or perhaps it was anxiety, since he had refused the chair Michael had offered him in the observation lounge and instead remained on his feet and kept pacing back and forth between the tall windows which currently offered an orbital view of Piqus VII.

    Michael, along with Star and Katanga followed the seemingly agitated councilman with their eyes from their chairs. Michael had decided against inviting Culsten to this meeting since the helmsman had not been able to offer much assistance in their last meeting with his kinsmen.

    "After hearing your version of events, the reports I have read from our border patrol are beginning to make a disturbingly amount of sense. I simply cannot believe they acted so obtusely after I had given such specific instructions about your arrival. This is very disappointing and I guarantee that this will not be the end of this matter."

    “We’re just glad that your message reached them when it did,” said Michael, since having learned that it had been Yorlo who had managed to get the border patrol to stand down in the nick of time and before the entire situation could have turned into a bloody conflict.

    “I don’t even want to think about what could have happened if it hadn’t. The political fallout alone, from a border skirmish with a Federation starship within our own territory, could have been catastrophic,” he said.

    “Thankfully it didn’t come to that,” said Star.

    Michael nodded. “You can rest assured that we would have pursued any possible avenue to avoid an open conflict.”

    Yorlo stopped and glanced at the starship captain. “That is a very enlightened attitude, Captain, I commend you for it. I suppose it is true what they say about the Federation. Or at least those few rumors you hear behind closed doors. The truth of the matter is my government takes great pains to keep itself isolated, as you have no doubt seen with your own eyes. And information coming into the Star Alliance is strictly controlled. You will find that many of my fellow kinsmen believe in the inherent superiority of our people and our institutions and do not prescribe to anything that could even remotely challenge those perceptions.”

    “I take it that is the reason we have been sitting on our hands for the last fourteen hours instead of being allowed to help with the medical crisis unfolding planetside?” said Katanga, never one to mince words or afraid to cutting right to the heart of the matter. Once again he ignored the sharp look he received from Tazla Star for his brusqueness.

    Yorlo too took a moment consider the veteran doctor before he spoke. Then he began to nod slowly. “You can ascribe that to long-winded bureaucracy and good old fashioned xenophobia as well, yes,” he said and then finally took a seat at the table. “I wish I could have arrived here sooner to deal with the situation but that simply wasn’t possible.”

    “We fully understand, Councilman,” said Star, once again letting Katanga know, with a quick sidelong glance, that diplomatic tact was a virtue she expected from all the officers under her command, no matter if they were ensigns right out of the Academy or grumpy old veterans who were going on their seventh decade in Starfleet. “What matters now is that you are here and you can hopefully speed up the process going forward.”

    “I’ll certainly do whatever I can.”

    Michael took over. “Perhaps you could start by filling us in as to what has happened on Piqus and why you have asked for our assistance. We have not been given much information so far.”

    “Of course,” he said but apparently was not able to remain in his chair as he quickly jumped back onto his feet, indicating towards the planet behind him. “The first thing you must understand is that there is significant resistance to your being here. Not just from some of my colleagues in the Central Council who believe that any contact with outsiders is tantamount to a betrayal of Kellonina core values, but also from Piqus VII. The local chief administrator, a woman called Chella, has strongly protested Federation assistance.”

    “I take it she was overruled,” said Michael.

    “By a slim majority,” Yorlo said, nodding slowly. “And only after it became obvious that our own medical community would not find an answer to the epidemic currently sweeping across the planet perhaps before its already too late.”

    “Let’s talk about this epidemic,” said Katanga, still not entirely able to keep his tone as polite as perhaps Star would have liked.

    The councilman reached for a case he had brought with him and he had deposited on the chair next to his. He opened the slim case and retrieved a data padd not too different from those used within Starfleet. He activated a few commands and then handed it over Katanga across the table. "This contains everything we have learned so far. Hopefully, you will be able to understand the medical jargon. It is, I'm afraid to say, not my field of expertise." He regarded Michael next. "What we do know is that we believe that this is an artificially created disease."

    “You think this was done on purpose?” Michael said. “By whom?”

    Yorlo uttered a sigh. "There are certain elements within our society who feel that they are treated unfairly and are known to resort to violence. This would mark the first time they have shown such a level of commitment and planning but the fact that only a specific segment of the population is affected supports our theory that a terrorist organization is behind this."

    Katanga it seemed, had already stopped listening, instead he was entirely focused on the content of the padd Yorlo had passed to him, intently studying its contents, his frown only deepening the more he read.

    “Doctor, what can you tell from that data?” Michael said after having taken note of the Katanga’s intense study of the padd.

    “Not nearly enough,” he said and continued reading without so much as glancing up once, almost as if the people around him had suddenly ceased to be.

    “Eli?” Star prompted gently but with a slight edge in her tone. “Anything you can share with us?”

    He still refused to make eye contact. “I will need some time to study this.”

    “Initial impression then, if you please, Doctor,” Michael said, trying hard not to let his impatience surface. He understood that in a medical crisis such as this, he couldn’t have asked for a better medical professional, with more experience or knowledge in his field. He also understood that this level of competence oftentimes came with eccentricity. He was willing to put up with it if it would get results. To a degree.

    “At first blush, this looks like a retrovirus which attacks the host's immune system to a degree that it is unable to fight off any kind of infections or diseases and will eventually lead to the patient's death.”

    Michael nodded. While he couldn't claim to be a medical expert, far from it, he possessed a basic understanding of how retroviruses worked and of medical conditions affecting the immune system. “Those kinds of conditions, don't they usually take years to fully develop? It sounds to me that this epidemic has already caused a number of fatalities in a very short time.”

    “Yes,” Yorlo said quickly. “The latest reports from Piqus indicate that three hundred people have died from this illness in less than a week.”

    Katanga put down the padd. “I will need more to go on than this. I need to see blood work and full body scans. I need tissue samples of healthy and infected patients. I need to know the exact stages of this condition. In short, I need to do a full medical examination on patients who have contracted this disease. We’ve already made all the required preparations and could start transferring patients within the hour.”

    Yorlo looked skeptical.

    “Councilman,” Katanga said sternly. “The longer we hesitate on this, the longer it will take before we get to the bottom of this epidemic and the more people will lose their lives, possibly needlessly. If there is even the slightest chance to stop this epidemic from spreading, we need to act now. Too much time has already been wasted.”

    "Of course, I understand this," he said. "But it will be nearly impossible for me to convince Chella to allow Krellonians to be transported to an off-world vessel. She simply won't agree to it and in those matters, even the Central Council will likely not be able to overrule her. Certainly not in the kind of time frames we need."

    “If we can’t bring patients up here, maybe we can get Doctor Katanga to the patients,” said Star.

    “As long as I can start examinations, I don’t care if I have to do it in a broom closet.”

    “A supervised visit to the surface may be something that could be arranged,” Yorlo said. “I will attempt to make this happen as soon as I return to my ship.” He glanced at Michael. “However, before that, I must ask a favor of you, Captain.”

    He gave him a short nod to proceed.

    “I would very much like to speak to my nephew.” Before Michael could ask, Yorlo continued. “I believe he serves as an officer on your ship.”



    * * *​



    It hadn't been very long ago, just a few weeks, since Lif Culsten had last seen his uncle. It had been during a most awkward family gathering at his grandparents' residence on the Krellon homeworld which Louise and he and visited during their shore leave much to his displeasure.

    Now Yorlo had shown up at his doorstep and after a moment of surprise of finding him standing outside his quarters, escorted there by Tazla Star, Lif had invited him inside.

    “So this is how Starfleet officers live?” he said as he inspected his quarters which despite his relative youth and low rank, were decently sized thanks to his position on the senior staff. “Quite impressive compared to the cramped conditions of an Alliance Navy ship. And yet quite a step down from what you were used to at home, no?”

    Lif watched his uncle silently as he toured his quarters, paying close attention to most everything he could see, the standard, Starfleet-issue furniture, the decorations, including framed pictures of him and his friends from his Academy days and even his choice of Earth-based houseplants. Yorlo, he noticed, still had that same high energy he'd displayed when Lif had been a child and when he and his aunt had visited him in his grandparents' home on regular occasions.

    He stopped his brief survey and glanced back towards the owner of the quarters. "If it were not for the photographs, it would be difficult to guess that the person who lives here is a Krellonian," he said and if he tried to keep his tone free of judgment, he was not entirely successful. "No scrolls of the Infallible Creator's Blessing, no representations of the Yellow Rose, not a single piece of art from within the Alliance."

    “I haven’t had a chance to unpack,” he said lamely.

    Yorlo offered a grin, fully aware clearly of Lif’s tendencies to attempt to distance himself from his own culture. Something that had been obvious even in his adolescent years and just before he had left for the Federation. “And how is your charming, young friend. Louise, was it? I took quite a liking to her.”

    “She’s well.”

    “You don’t live together?”

    “She has her own quarters.”

    “Right,” he said and acknowledged his disinterest in discussing his personal matters with him.

    “Can I offer you something? A beverage perhaps?” he said, almost as an afterthought.

    Yorlo shook his head. “Perhaps some other time. I have much to do after I leave here today.”

    “You want to tell me why you are here?”

    “It’s about your aunt.”

    His eyes grew a little wider. “Garla?”

    “She is up to something and I don’t know what it is. I need you to find out.”

    Lif couldn’t believe his ears. “You have arranged for a Federation starship, half a galaxy away, to come all the way out here and into Alliance space, breaking who knows how many local taboos, just so you could get me to spy on your wife for you?”

    “Of course not,” Yorlo quickly shot back. “In case you hadn’t heard, there is a medical emergency on Piqus VII and hundreds of people are dead or dying. That is a fact. A planet-wide quarantine is in effect and Alliance doctors are not even close to finding a cure. All those things are true and whether the local administrators or my opponents in the Council like it or not, we will need Starfleet’s help to try and defeat this pandemic.”

    Lif nodded slowly. “And how does Garla fit into all that?”

    He uttered a heavy sigh and walked up to one of the windows but when he realized that it was impossible to see the planet from this angle, he turned back to his nephew. “That is what I don’t know and why I need you. She has been diverting resources to this backwater system for years now, and never more than in the last few months. Her status as a Sentinel has allowed her to operate with almost complete autonomy and she has practically refused to answer any questions the Central Council has demanded regarding her operations.”

    “You mean your questions.”

    His expression hardened. “They are one and the same.”

    “I find it difficult to believe that you don’t have your own resources in place to deal with this other than involving me and Eagle.”

    Yorlo waved him off. "Of course I do. There are a number of requests which have been formally submitted to the Eye for full disclosure of any operations taking place in this system. And while you may have forgotten much about our people, I trust you remember the agonizingly slow process of our bureaucracy. It will take weeks for those requests to be actioned. Perhaps months. When this latest crisis unfolded and I realized that we needed foreign assistance, I knew how to address both problems."

    “Two birds.”

    The elder Krellonian gave his younger kinsmen a puzzled look, clearly not understanding the reference.

    “I still don’t understand what you expect me to do about this.”

    “Garla is on Piqus VII, that much I know. I will look into giving you and your doctor permission to visit the surface. In fact, getting authorization for you should be much easier. Once there I want you to seek her out and talk to her. You know she still adores you, has done so ever since you were a child. When the two of us still lived together, she spoke of you often and I also know that she spoke to you privately when you last saw her. No doubt to convince you to work with her.”

    “You want me to spy on my aunt? A Sentinel of the Eye, a spymaster,” he said, sounding just as disbelieving as he felt. “She’s going to see right through me the moment I step through her doors.”

    But he shook his head. “Garla might be very good at what she does but she has one important weakness. She is very sentimental and she cares about family. I know she’ll open up to you. And whatever it is that she is up to here, I’m convinced it is bad news for the Alliance. You haven’t been here but trust me when I tell you that her political views have become increasingly extremist over the years. It is the reason we drifted apart as much as we did. I fear somebody will have to stop her.”

    He quickly shook his head. “That’s not going to be me.”

    "Maybe not. But you can help find out what it is she is doing and how she plans to do it. I am not asking for me, Liftu. I'm asking for your mother and father. For your younger brother and everyone else whose lives will be affected, perhaps even destroyed by what she's up to. You may have turned your back on your people, but can you really live with turning them down in the hour of their greatest need? Can you live with knowing that you could have stopped it all before it even started, if only you had taken action? I implore you, Lif, to help your people and your family to survive this latest crisis before it is too late."



    * * *​



    “You turned him down?” Tazla Star said with palpable surprise evident in her voice as she considered the Krellonian sitting in one of the two guest chairs facing Captain Owens’ desk in his ready room. Still standing by the wall, she shot a baffled look at the captain sitting in his chair.

    “May I ask why?” said Michael who shared his first officer’s surprise after Culsten had briefed them both on his meeting with his uncle which had concluded just minutes earlier in his quarters.

    The helmsman considered the question for a moment, or much more likely, his answer. “It’s just not something I feel very comfortable about, sir. You have to understand, Garla and I, we were very close when I was growing up. For a time, while my mother had fallen ill, she was practically my ersatz parent. I don’t like the idea of spying on her for Yorlo.”

    “What if he’s right and whatever it is she’s doing could pose a serious danger to the Krellonian people?” asked Star.

    “I find that hard to believe,” he said and shook his head. “Garla has always been a patriot first and foremost and a traditionalist second. I don’t doubt that she is up to something, that much was obvious when she last spoke to me on the homeworld but I cannot believe she intends to harm the Star Alliance or her own people.”

    “That’s when she tried to recruit you?” said Michael who recalled that he had mentioned this previously.

    “It wasn’t what you would call a hard sell,” he quickly clarified. “She felt she was doing important work. She seemed passionate about it and believed that I could be a true asset to her in achieving her goals. But she didn’t offer many details and it would have involved me leaving Eagleand Starfleet. Coming back to Krellon. That’s not something I’m prepared to do.”

    Michael simply stared at him for a moment as he experienced a rather painful déjà vu. After all, what the young Krellonian had described was almost the exact same situation he had found himself in just a few weeks earlier, when his father had made his case to him—entirely unexpectedly—to leave Eaglebehind and join him to work on a project which he had believed to be of the uttermost importance to the Federation. And just like Garla had apparently done when trying to convince his nephew, his father had refused to share the true nature of that project. And just like Culsten, Michael had turned him down.

    Star, apparently sensing that Michael was drawing parallels to his own experiences, continued. “I think you should reconsider, Lieutenant. Whatever it is that your aunt is working on, it clearly has your uncle greatly worried. If there is a chance that this could develop into some sort of threat to Krellon or even beyond, it would be better to know about it early instead of risking having to face a possible crisis unprepared.”

    Culsten added a heavy sigh. “To be entirely honest with you, Commander, I have my reasons to doubt Yorlo’s motivations in this matter.”

    “How so?” asked Michael.

    Culsten made eye contact with the captain. “Garla and Yorlo have been separated for quite some time and there is a lot of personal animosity between the two of them. Animosity that goes beyond differences in philosophies and political convictions.”

    “You think it’s personal?”

    Culsten nodded. “I’m convinced that it is.”

    Michael had heard enough for now. "Very well, Lif. Thanks for coming up here and telling us about this." He said this even though it had been Star who had to prompt Culsten to give them both a recap of his conversation with his uncle.

    “Of course,” he said and stood. “Sir,” he said respectfully and gave Star a brief nod as well before he left the ready room.

    Star turned to the captain as soon as the doors had closed behind the helmsman. “So that was interesting.”

    Michael leaned back in his chair. "The timing of all this is certainly suspicious. We've got a possible alien invasion attempt in the sector, potentially aided by people within the Krellonian Star Alliance. The outbreak of a mysterious illness on a populated Krellonian colony within the same sector, and a suspicious Krellonian intelligent agent operating on that very same planet to unknown ends which have her own people concerned enough to break a century-old isolationist policy and inviting us here."

    The Trill took the chair Culsten had only recently vacated. "When I was a child I was very fond of an Earth game called Connect the Dots," she said. "I have a growing suspicion that all these dots might fit together somehow."

    “Just one problem. That game you speak off, it only works if you know how the dots connect to each other. So far we have no idea.”

    Star leaned closer. “Culsten’s attitude towards all this is rather disappointing. I was hoping he’d be more cooperative in helping us solve this puzzle.”

    “In his defense, he doesn’t yet know that there is a puzzle to be solved.”

    “Still,” she said, shaking her head slightly. “He has not exactly been helpful so far when it comes to dealing with his own people.”

    “It isn’t difficult to tell that he doesn’t like being back here. He turned his back on Krellon a long time ago and I have to assume for good reason.”

    “He is also a Starfleet officer. We could order him to meet with his aunt.”

    This time it was Michael who shook his head. “How can I give that order when I can't even trust the very same people who have put us on this course to begin with? I won't force him to face a family he doesn't wish to deal with. Not unless I know for sure that it is crucial he does so. For now, we'll focus our efforts on learning more about this epidemic and help where we can. That might buy us enough goodwill with Krellonian leaders to learn more about any possible connections with the subspace aliens and their plans.”

    Star seemingly knew enough about Michael's own family issues to know not push him on this point and eventually nodded. “It would help if we could get access to the planet. And ideally, before Elijah hijacks a shuttle out of pure frustration and makes a run for the surface on his own.”
     
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2019
    admiralelm11 and DavidFalkayn like this.
  17. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    5

    Ultimately, Elijah Katanga had not needed to hijack a shuttle and instead had managed to wear down any resistance simply by his sheer persistence and tenacity, tricks he was well versed in thanks to his long and established career in the medical field and working with foreign government officials who had, more often than not, been unenthusiastic about the notion of allowing alien medical personnel to get involved in internal health crises.

    Elijah had not been above sending one communiqué after the next to anyone and everyone who could possibly speed up the process of allowing him access to the planet below. He had started with the captain, purposefully going around Star, he had practically spammed Owens’ inbox with statistical reports which clearly demonstrated the death toll within an infected population, correlated directly with the time of intervention by knowledgeable doctors and researchers.

    Of course, fully cognizant that the captain himself was not in a position to make a decision on this himself, he had started to send on those same reports, including case studies of various epidemics which had very nearly wiped out entire populations to Yorlo’s ship which had remained in close proximity to Eagleever since his visit.

    He had been undeterred when the Krellonian official had kindly asked that he ceased the constant stream of data he was transmitting. Instead, he had managed, with a little help from DeMara Deen, to get around the communications blackout on the surface and found comm. addresses for the local government offices, the health department and even the personal address of Chief Administrator Chella herself who had sent back more than a few biting replies, not at all appreciating Elijah's initiative.

    But eight hours after Yorlo's first visit and the beginning of his relentless campaign, a somewhat exasperated Captain Owens had informed Elijah that Yorlo had managed to obtain permission for Elijah and a small away team to beam directly into one of Piqus' medical facilities. Elijah, of course, had already been fully prepared once the word had finally come through. He had identified which members of his team he wanted to come along, had already arranged all the equipment and medication that he thought would be required and was the first man in the transporter room, fully decked out in a biological isolation suit, ready to beam to the planet.

    Star joined him and the medical team with Nora Laas just a few moments later, both dressed in the same containment outfits. "Alright, here are the ground rules we've been given and we've been told to strictly observe at all times," said Star, addressing the away team of five. "We are beaming directly into one of Piqus' main medical facilities which, as far as we are told, currently houses a large number of infected patients. We will arrive unarmed and after beam-in we will be scanned by local security. We will then be escorted to a single wing of the hospital where we will have one standard hour to study a small number of patients. After the hour has expired we are expected to leave the planet. Everybody clear on this?" While she spoke she kept her eyes solely on Elijah.

    “Let’s just get down there, shall we?” he said impatiently.

    “Yes, let’s go,” she said but quickly stepped up to him and holding on to his arm before he could go and join the others on the transporter platform. “We’ll have another conversation about your unsanctioned information campaign later.”

    He regarded her with a scowl. “Got us results, didn’t it?”

    “Funny, here I thought you didn’t prescribe to the theory of the end justifying the means.”

    “I subscribe to any theory that allows me to save lives while keeping the means justifiable,” he shot back.

    “Right,” she nodded. “And you get to decide if they are?”

    He freed his arm. “We’re wasting time,” he said and stepped up onto the platform.

    Moments later the away team materialized in the medical facility. Elijah immediately identified the white, round and mostly featureless room as some sort of quarantine chamber. It was barely large enough to accommodate the entire team and the bright light blinded him for a moment.

    Star took a step forward. “Hello? My name is Commander Star from the starship Eagle. We’ve—“

    “Stay still,”the booming voice interrupted her. It was so loud and unexpected, it caused Elijah to reach for his head as he felt the sound waves penetrating his skull.

    “Whatever happened to good old-fashioned hospitality?” Nora said.

    “Let’s just do as they say,” said Elijah. “I’m sure this is nothing more than a safety precaution.”

    A buzzing sound filled the air and moments later various bright blue light beams began to sweep across the small chamber and over their bodies.

    “What the Prophets?” said Nora.

    “Medical scans. Standard procedure,” Elijah said.

    “A heads-up would have been nice,” said the Bajoran.

    The buzzing stopped as quickly as it had begun, as did the scans. The entire forward section of the room, which turned out to be a curved door, started to slide sideways to reveal the room beyond. Once it was fully open, Elijah could spot six figures in green isolation suit which were slightly bulkier than the Starfleet-issue version they were wearing. Four of the figures had sidearms strapped to their chest.

    “You may step out now,”the voice said, this time at a much more reasonable volume.

    Star led the way but Elijah was only a step behind her.

    The lead figure waiting for them, a woman of average height and middle age welcomed them. “I am Chief Administrator Chella. Welcome to Piqus.” She sounded anything but welcoming.

    “Thank you for having us, Chief Administrator,” Star said. “This is Doctor Elijah Katanga, our chief medical officer. Lieutenant Nora Laas, security chief, and Doctors Barry Nelson and L’Nel.”

    Chella considered Elijah first and foremost. “Doctor Katanga. I have heard quite a bit about you. Most of it from you directly. And quite frankly much more than I would have liked. Before you leave you will have to share with us how you managed to circumvent the communications blackout.”

    “I have to admit that those things are not within my expertise. Our time would probably be served much better if you could show us to your patients who have contracted the disease.”

    Chella kept her displeased gaze on him a while longer. It bothered him very little. He had long since gotten used to the fact that people didn’t like him. He had been given that very same look by Star just moments earlier and as far as he was concerned it was of little consequence what others thought about him as long as he got to do his job.

    “Shall we?” he said with a forced smile on his lips.

    “We’ll head directly to our main ward where we keep the worst cases. Don’t deviate from our directions and do not slow down or loiter until we reach our destination,” she said sharply and then turned towards the exit of the preparation chamber.

    Following her and her guards, the team stepped into a jade colored corridor and the very first thing Elijah noticed were the many patients which were littering the walls of the corridor. Most of them were placed on mobile hospital beds but quite a few were on stretchers on the floor. His first instinct was to examine these people more closely and get some readings but the security guards behind him wouldn’t let him slow down.

    A purely visual examination told him that the majority of these patients were likely at an early stage of this illness. All were displaying clear symptoms of immune system deficiencies, including low energy, clammy and pale-looking skin and signs of mild respiratory distress, like coughing and difficulty breathing.

    The fact that these patients had been placed in the corridor, further told him that the medical facilities on this planet had already exceeded their capacity. This epidemic was getting out of control.

    “These patients right here. What stage are they?”

    “We call this stage two,” said the man by Chella’s side. “Patients at this stage are no longer ambulatory and need to be hospitalized. Patients lose consciousness around stage four and become acutely terminal at stage five.”

    “This is Urnea Turee,” said Chella, indicating to the man who had spoken. “He is the head of our health department. We have over two hundred highly trained physicians and researchers here on Piqus. To be honest, if they are unable to determine the nature of this disease, I don’t really see what you Starfleet types can do. I don’t believe for even a moment that the Federation has some sort of magical medical answer to the ills of the galaxy.”

    “Perhaps not,” Star said. “But we might offer a new perspective. The Federation has accumulated medical knowledge from hundreds of worlds over many centuries. And we are more than happy to share any such knowledge that might assist you in treating this outbreak.”

    Chella was not impressed. “You’ll find Krellonian physiology quite unique to what you are used to. I would be surprised if you have come across anything that could be useful to us,” she said without slowing her stride.

    They stepped into a large, open plan treatment room which was packed with occupied beds, allowing very little room for much else. It was in Elijah’s professional opinion, a terribly ineffective way to treat and examine patients with very little consideration given to medical staff and equipment. This, to him, looked more like a place for people to die rather than trying to save their lives.

    Chella and her people finally slowed down, if for no other reason than that there was not enough space in the room to move quickly or at anything other than single file.

    “These patients are mostly stage four and five,” said Turee who handed Elijah a medical padd containing information on one of the patients they had stepped up on, an unconscious young boy.

    He reviewed the data and realized that this particular patient had apparently contracted the illness just six days earlier. He had moved through the stages of the disease surprisingly quickly, reaching stage three in just four days. According to the chart, he had entered the final stage a day earlier and had been given another two to three days at the most. The patient was only nine years old.

    “Is this rapid deterioration consistent?” Elijah asked as he kept reading the patient’s file.

    Turee nodded. “Unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon. Children and the elderly are particularly susceptible. Patients normally expire between seven and twenty days after entering stage one and exhibiting early symptoms.”

    “I would be interested to see the full work-up of the RNA decay for this patient and compare this with the breakdown rate for patients at all stages.”

    Turee looked at Chella for a moment before glancing back at Elijah.

    “Is there a problem with that?” he asked.

    The administrator answered the question. “We don’t have full cellular work-ups of all patients,” she said, sounding somewhat defensive.

    “What? Why not?”

    “Look around you, Doctor,” Chella said, letting her anger peak through now. “We have thousands of patients all across the planet. We can’t possibly have work-ups for every single case.”

    “We do have general samples for various patients at different stages,” said Turee. “There are at least thirty samples available to review if you wish.”

    But Elijah quickly shook his head. “That’s not enough. Not for thousands of patients with such a high infection rate. I don’t care if you are human, Krellonian or a Horta. Individuals do not all behave in the same manner. What might work for one patient is not guaranteed to work on another. We need much more data if we want any hope of getting to the bottom of this.”
    Chella crossed her arms in front of her chest. “We don’t have the manpower or equipment for what you are suggesting.”

    “That’s why we’re here,” said Star, quickly seeing her way in. “We are at your disposal.”

    “And what exactly can the five of you do in one hour?” asked the administrator, clearly unexcited by Star’s offer.

    “In one hour? Down here?” Elijah said. “Next to nothing. But we have a fully prepped medical facility set up on Eaglewith enough capacity for at least two hundred patients and a staff of nearly as many medical personnel and researchers to work on live tissue and blood samples around the clock. All you have to do is give the word and we can get started.”

    It was Star who spoke up before the Krellonian could. “Doctor, I think perhaps we are getting a little ahead of ourselves here. We don’t even know yet what we are dealing with. There is a reason the planet is under a quarantine.”

    Elijah didn't appreciate Star's overly cautious attitude. She may have been Dezwin Star once, a brilliant physician in his time, but clearly, her medical instincts had been dulled ever since her symbiont had moved into a new host body. Or even worse, her priorities had shifted.

    “There is no way I will authorize Krellonian citizens under my protection to be transported onto a Starfleet vessel to be subjugated to the Creator knows what tests and probes,” Chella said. “Bad enough that I have to content with one looming in orbit above my world.”

    “Fine. There is no reason we cannot set up on the surface instead. Wouldn’t be the first time. It will take a little longer but I have everything already prepared. We can have a field hospital in place within a solar day.”

    Chella shook her head. “No. I was willing to allow for you to come down here and see what we are dealing with and share any data on this illness we have learned so far. But I will not allow Starfleet to set up any kind of facility on the surface, no matter how temporary.”

    “Chief Administrator,” Star said, turning to Chella. “We have come here to help you in any way we can. To try and find a way to contain this epidemic and keep it from spreading and possibly devastated your entire world. But we can’t do this unless you let us.”

    Chella stuck to her guns and Elijah had already stopped listening to the back and forth between the two women. Instead, he had stepped closer to the dying boy, looking over his thin and frail body, his now hairless head, the red rashes which had formed on his skin and the shallow, uneasy breathing as he slept. He consulted the data chart again and after a moment found a way to compare his stats with those of other patients.

    Nora noticed his preoccupation. “What are you thinking, Doctor?”

    “I think that we can help this boy.”

    The Bajoran looked back towards Star and Chella who were still arguing before she considered him again. "Doesn't look like they really want our help on this."

    He looked up then. “There comes a time you just have to take the initiative.”

    “What does that mean?”

    “A tactical move, Lieutenant. I’m sure you are quite familiar with the concept in your line of work. It’s not all that different in what I do.”

    The security officer still seemed befuddled.

    “It’s time for a calculated risk and to force a decision,” he said.

    She quickly shook her head. “Not sure that’s a good idea.”

    “As long as the means are justified,” he said and reached for the seal of his suit which kept his helmet in place.”

    “Doctor, no,” but Nora’s warning came too late and she was not quick enough to reach him in time to stop him from opening the seal and pulling off the top part of his suit.

    Star whirled around to look at him with total astonishment, along with the rest of the away team and the Krellonian delegation.

    “Gods, Eli. What have you done?”



    * * *​



    She couldn't quite remember ever having seen him quite this angry before. Michael Owens was one of the most even-tempered people she had ever known which one couldn't take for granted in a profession that tended to attract ego and ambition. At this present moment, however, his eyes looked as if they were on fire, even as they stared back at them via just one half of a computer monitor inside a small administrative office at the medical facility on Piqus.

    Tazla Star knew exactly how he felt. After all, she was experiencing very similar feelings at present, still so upset over what had transpired a short while earlier, she didn’t trust herself to speak and was thankful that the captain had started out first, speaking up before she, or Yorlo, who took up the other half of the same screen and looked just as exasperated, had the chance. “Doctor, I have to say, I am extremely disappointed by your lack of judgment in this matter. Not only have you violated direct orders, you have put yourself and possibly the entire away team at risk by your actions.”

    Katanga, who had since entirely removed his isolation suit, took the admonishment in stride, his arms stubbornly folded in front of his chest as if he was unwilling to accept that he had done anything wrong at all. “The only person I have put at risk is myself.”

    “I disagree, but that will have to be a conversation for another time,”said Owens via the comm. channel, addressing him and the other two people with him in the office, Tazla Star and Chief Administrator Chella, as well as Councilman Yorlo who had joined this conference call from his ship. “We need to focus on our next steps.”

    Chella shook her head. “Nothing has changed as far as I am concerned. The fact that one of your officers has purposefully exposed himself to this epidemic is not relevant to our previous arrangement. Which, in case you have forgotten, is that you retrieve your team after one hour. That hour expired ten minutes ago.”

    “I am not comfortable with allowing a potentially infected person to leave the surface and risk further contamination,”said Yorlo.

    “They brought this on themselves,” Chella said. “And the only contamination at risk here is to Starfleet. There is no reason for their vessel to have any further interaction with Krellonians after they have left orbit and returned to their space. Besides,” she added and looked at Katanga. “Did you not greatly espouse the quarantine procedures of your own facilities? Return to your ship and leave us be. If you wish to study this epidemic further, you may do so on yourself.”

    Katanga met Chella's infuriated gaze with his own steely expression. "Let me ask you something, Administrator," he said and even Star noticed that the tone of his voice had noticeably softened. "What exactly do you fear you stand to lose by our involvement here? And more importantly: Does it not outweigh what you might gain?" He raised a padd he had been passed earlier and which he had kept hold of. “I've managed to run a few estimates based on the admittedly scant data I've been privy to so far. You currently have six thousand confirmed cases of the Piqus Plague.”

    Chella frowned at the way he had coined the disease but kept her displeasure to herself for now.

    “An average of twenty new cases are reported every day and every day you suffer at least ten fatalities. I'm not a mathematician but even I can tell you that at this rate your little colony here is going to stop functioning very soon. You still have no viable treatment, you haven't even found a way to slow down this virus and your quarantine measures, to be frank, are so inadequate, they might as well not exist at all. You are on the verge of losing control of this epidemic. In fact, I believe you have already gone over the cliff and are in a free fall. I guess the only question you have left to answer is: Do you wish your legacy to be the administrator who doomed her own colony or the one who was responsible for saving it in its darkest hour?”
     
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  18. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    6


    “We have identified this abandoned quarry as an ideal location for the temporary facility. It is located in an unpopulated area, twenty-five point four kilometers to the north of the capital city. The hospital will have an initial capacity to hold one hundred and twelve patients and sixty members of staff.”

    Michael Owens looked over the plan which included not just the modular design of the field hospital, but also a map of its proposed location, all displayed on the inset wall monitor of the observation lounge while Xylion talked him through the proposal. Tazla Star who had returned from the surface stood nearby as well while Doctor Katanga's image was displayed in a rectangle at the bottom of the screen, still at the hospital in the city on the surface.

    “And Administrator Chella has approved all this?” Michael asked.

    Star nodded. "Yes. We can't have more than fifty personnel on the planet and we are not allowed from entering the capital or any other population centers, but she has signed-off on the location and agreed to give us access to patients for transfer and treatment at our facility. Under supervision."

    “She’s not exactly happy about it but in the end, it’s the only choice and she knows that,” Katanga said.

    “She’s not the only one displeased with how we got to this point, Doctor, I suggest you keep that in mind for when you return to the ship,” Michael said sternly.

    “And I will. But you forgive me if I keep my focus on trying to find a way to stop this epidemic first.”

    Michael turned to the Vulcan science officer. “How quickly can we get set-up?”

    “The base foundation can be completed within three hours. This will allow us to add the first module in six hours and twenty-six minutes. If we encounter no unexpected delays, the facility can be operational within nine hours.”

    “That’s pretty impressive,” said Michael.

    “The plans are primarily based on Doctor Katanga’s work,” the Vulcan said.

    Star glanced at the small image of the octogenarian physician on the screen. “You’ve planned all this, haven’t you?”

    He shrugged. “You give me too much credit. But I did expect that we might be required to move our staging area to the surface. And I’ve had more than enough time to make preparations while we were sitting on our hands.”

    Michael referred to his first officer, knowing full well her history, not just with Katanga but also with precisely this kind of work.

    The Trill nodded. "It's definitely not the first time that we put something together in such a short time frame. When it comes to medical and disaster preparedness, every minute counts, so the quicker you can get your infrastructure in place the better. Eli and my former host worked hard to create a blueprint to allow such a rapid deployment."

    Before Michael could respond, he was cut-off by an incoming audio message. “Bridge to captain.”

    He glanced towards the ceiling. “Go ahead.”

    “Sir,” Lieutenant Stanmore, the beta-shift operations manager began. “We are receiving a priority distress signal from the Agamemnon.”

    That immediately captured his full attention. “Any details?

    “No, sir. Just that they require immediate assistance.”

    “Do we have their location?” asked Star.

    “She is still in the Diaspora. About half a light-year away.”

    Xylion had naturally already made the calculations in his head. “We could reach the Agamemnon in eleven point six two standard hours at warp eight point five.”

    "Thank you, Lieutenant. Owens out," he said, closing the channel and keeping his eyes on Xylion before letting them fall back to Katanga on the screen. "Gentlemen, this changes our timetable somewhat."

    Katanga nodded. “It is not ideal, but strictly speaking, we don’t need Eagle to build the facility. We can transport all building materials and pre-fab sections directly onto the surface and assemble them there. It might take a little longer to bring it all together and it would be a tight fit for a couple of days but it can be done.”

    “I agree with the Doctor,” said Xylion. “We would also have to allow for an engineering team to join us.”

    Katanga was already thinking ahead. "I'm sure I can get Chella to agree to a slightly higher number of personnel, especially if it means she won't have a Starfleet ship above her in orbit. Xylion, if you can organize matters on your end, I don't see why we can't have everything we need unloaded within a few hours if everybody chips in. Hell, compared to our timetable back at Yerendi XI, this will be a walk in the park."

    "Yerendi XI required us to transport medical supplies to a war-torn continent while we were being fired upon by both sides of the conflict," said Star with a small grin, recounting her adventures working with Katanga as part of the organization they had created. "I agree, I think we should be able to pull this one off."

    But Michael had reservations, none of which were related to the efficiency of Xylion, Katanga and the rest of his crew to build a field hospital on a mostly unknown world without a starship to support them. Bad enough that Donners and her ship were likely in trouble, he was concerned about the idea of leaving a sizeable number of his crew on a planet which so far had not shown itself to be the most hospitable one to strangers. The last few times he remembered being in similar situations, it had not worked out very well for them.

    Katanga could spot his reluctance. "I don't think we have much of a choice here, Captain. Naturally, we must respond to the distress signal but if we don't get started on building this facility now, we might never get another chance. Not to mention that we are already way behind the curve in our battle against this disease. Any further delays may mean that any help we can provide will be too little too late.”

    "Doctor, you do not need to sell me on the urgency of the matter, you've already done a more than adequate job on that," he said and then looked towards Xylion. "Commander, liaise with Doctor Katanga on the surface directly. Bring in Lieutenant Hopkins and whoever else you need. Get me a feasible plan for making this work within the next half hour."

    Xylion nodded but Katanga, unsurprisingly, was not entirely pleased. “Captain, that will be another half an hour we’ll lose while we await a decision. I would suggest—“

    “Duly noted, Doctor,” Michael said but refused to let Katanga have his say this time. “Stand by, you’ll hear from us shortly. Eagle out." And with that, he tapped a command on the screen to cut the connection.

    Xylion was already on his way out the door to prepare the report the captain had demanded.

    Michael didn’t speak until the science officer had cleared the room. “So help me God, one of these days I am going to lose my patience with that man.”

    "I think I may already have," said Star. "I have to be honest, I had forgotten how stubborn and obstinate he can be to work with. I had to deal with this kind of behavior for years and in hindsight, I should have taken better steps to find a way to curb his ways while he's serving on this ship."

    Michael almost felt pity for his first officer. “I get the impression you might have more luck taming a mugato than getting Doctor Katanga to follow the rules.”

    “I hate to say it, and I certainly don’t condone what he has done so far, but he has a point. I worked on enough medical emergencies to know that we are already on the back foot to try and find a way to slow down or even stop this disease.”

    He nodded. “I’m not disputing that. And I also know that Katanga’s unorthodox methods may have just given us the opportunity to learn more about this potential threat Jarik is so concerned about.”

    “What do you want to do?”

    He considered that for a moment. Just a few minutes ago, he had been fully determined to see things through, put as many resources and personnel as were needed on the surface to ensure Katanga had every tool at his disposal to find a cure for a deadly disease sweeping across that world. But things had changed and he could not ignore the urgency of Agamemnon’s distress signal which not only meant that the ship and crew were in serious danger, but was also very likely related to their wider mission of trying to prevent a full-scale incursion. The distress call could have very well have been the first precursor. For all they knew, Agamemnon may have stumbled across an invading fleet.

    "We'll have to pursue both for now. We can't afford to ignore either emergency. I want you to stay here along with Katanga and his team. Speak to Chella again if you have to, but I want a full security detail and every shuttle we can spare to stay behind with you until we can return. If things go poorly, I need to know that you have an exit strategy."

    “Understood.”

    “And take Lif with you as well. I know he won’t want to go but he remains our best option to learn more about any possible links between the Krellonians and these invading aliens. I am not going to order him to talk to people, but I want you to try and change his mind.”

    “Which will be much easier if he’s on the same planet,” she said and nodded. “We better get started.”

    “One last thing,” Michael said before Star could leave the observation lounge. “This cannot become another Tiaita.”

    Star froze and Michael was fairly sure why. After all, their mission on Tiaita had ended in disaster thanks, primarily, to clandestine Federation involvement, including hers. He liked to think that she had become a different person since those fateful events had occurred.

    “It won’t be,” she said resolutely.

    He gave her short nod, accepting that she’d do anything in her power to ensure it wouldn’t. But even as he watched her leave, he wasn’t entirely sure if it was going to be enough.
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2019
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  19. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Part Three: A House Divided


    1


    The northern continent of Piqus VII was a cold and barren place made even more inhospitable by the frigid gusts of winds that swept across the lands at irregular intervals and Tazla Star couldn’t help but wonder who had thought it a good idea to establish a colony on this world.

    From the little background she had been able to get her hands on, the Piqus system had once been a vital mining outpost for the Krellonian Star Alliance but those rich asteroids had long since been stripped bare and relegating the system as well as its only inhabited planet to near irrelevance.

    It was perhaps for that reason that the central government had not mounted a larger effort to address the spreading epidemic that had broken out here, or perhaps why Yorlo had been successful in lobbying for Starfleet assistance for a planet that in the grand scheme of things was not considered particularly significant.

    Tazla watched through the windows of the runabout cockpit as a team of Starfleet engineers, led by Lieutenant Hopkins, were braving the cold and blustery conditions outside and setting up the field hospital. Three modules had already been set-up; mostly living quarters for the sixty-something staff that would make this installation their home for the next few weeks, the larger modules containing the medical sections were up next.

    The construction effort was proceeding on schedule, despite the inclement weather conditions, the lack of a starship in orbit to assist and the general reluctance of the local government in providing any meaningful assistance to Starfleet’s undertaking which was aimed at helping fight their battle against an epidemic threatening to spiral out of control.

    Tazla understood the challenges they were up against better than most, and not just because of her background in spearheading exactly these kind of missions as Dezwin Sigus and later as Dezwin Star. If this had been merely a medical relief mission, the stakes would have been high enough already. As it stood, this was potentially much more a threat not only to this relatively isolated colony but quite possibly to the entire sector and beyond.

    To make matters worse, presently Tazla was the only person who had any knowledge of this wider threat, certainly amongst her own people, now that Owens had left orbit with Eagleto assist the Agamemnon.

    She wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of keeping secrets. And not because she didn’t know how, in fact, much of her professional career had been spent gathering and containing classified information while working as part of Starfleet Intelligence. It had also led to the most disastrous decisions of not just her life but of the Star symbiont in general. It was little surprise then that she had hoped that she had left that aspect of her life far behind when she had become Eagle’sfirst officer.

    She heard the Nebuchadrezzar’sairlock cycle open and turned from the windows just in time to see Katanga step inside, wrapped tightly in a thick, standard-issue, Starfleet cold-weather parker which he was quickly shedding along with the gloves.

    Unexpectedly, he hardly even acknowledged her presence and instead walked right up to one of the computer stations in the cockpit and began to work the console.

    “How’s it going out there?”

    He nodded. “Good. Hopkins clearly knows what she’s doing. Wouldn’t have guessed that, considering she is practically still a child.”

    It was true that Eagle’schief engineer had apparently been one of the youngest officers to hold that post when she had joined the ship after its commissioning, but Tazla knew she was in her early thirties now which certainly wasn’t an unusual age for an officer in her position and definitely not after the Dominion War. “Compared to the two of us, most of our colleagues are children,” she said with a smile, trying to lighten the mood.

    He simply grunted an unintelligible response and refused to look up from his station.

    Tazla had enough of this and stepped up closer. “Eli, we need to talk.”

    “A little busy here, ma’am.”

    She didn’t miss, of course, how forced he had made the honorific sound. She walked right up to him and looked over his shoulder to see what it was he was working on. Quickly coming to the conclusion that it wasn’t anything too vital, she slipped a hand onto the control panel and with two quick taps shut down the entire console, causing it to turn dark.

    “What the hell?” he said angrily and looked up at her. “I was in the middle of coordinating patient relocation efforts.”

    She crossed her arms in front of her. “Considering we are still at least one day away from being fully operational, I think that can wait a few minutes.”

    “Every moment is crucial, you should know better than—“

    “Spare me another speech about medical expediency, please. Yes, you are right, I do know. Since I helped write the book on it.”

    “Dezwin did,” he said and stepped away in search of another console no doubt.

    “And all his memories are inside me.”

    “His memories perhaps,” he said as he started on another console which was still operational. “Not so sure anything else made the transition.”

    She followed him across the compact cockpit. “You know what, I’ve had it with this. I really have. You want to play hurt and angry, go ahead, I can take it. But as you like to keep reminding me at every opportunity lately, I am your superior officer and I am entitled to a certain level of respect from you, no matter how you feel about me personally.”

    Katanga stopped in his tracks, squared his shoulders and turned to look her straight in the eyes. “You are of course quite correct, Commander. So let us pause our time critical efforts to save an entire world from a deadly epidemic and instead discuss whatever it is that has you concerned about the perceived lack of respect you have been receiving as of late.”

    Tazla uttered a heavy sigh. Had he been any other man, as in, had he not been a dear and long-time friend of hers, as well as quite possibly one of the most experienced and gifted physicians in all of Starfleet, and had he not been the most critical piece to the puzzle of solving their current crisis, she would have wasted no time at all to relieve him of his duties, at least until he had cooled off a little.

    And, of course, Katanga knew this as well. Knew precisely that she had no choice but to put up with him.

    Yet she was not determined to give in so easily. “First of all, I want to discuss your reckless behavior in the hospital yesterday. That was entirely unacceptable and I will not tolerate this behavior from one of my officers, no matter the results.”

    “Noted.”

    She regarded him with a suspicious look. “Is that all you have to say?”

    “What else is there? The only reason we are here now is because of my so-called reckless behavior. And considering that you’re clearly not interested in any kind of justification for it, such as the fact that I was never in any kind of danger, I guess we’d better leave it at that.”

    That threw her for a loop a bit. “What do you mean?”

    "We already knew that this disease was only affecting Krellonians on a planet which is populated by at least five different species, none of which, according to medical reports have shown any kind of symptoms. After that, it didn't take me long to determine from the medical charts in the hospital that this virus is targeting a specific RNA strand within the Krellonian genetic makeup."

    “A strand which is missing in human RNA,” she said.

    “Precisely. As well as in Trill RNA and those found in other Federation races.”

    "And you came to this conclusion after spending just five minutes examining a Krellonian patient? I've been a physician, Eli. I know it has been some time since I practiced medicine, but even I know that that is not nearly enough time to form a valid, scientific hypothesis. Certainly not if you are planning to stake your life on it."

    “I took a calculated risk based on the information available to me at the time. Even Commander Xylion would agree that it was a logical decision considering that we were about to be kicked out for good.”

    She shook her head, seriously doubting that the Vulcan science officer would have come down on his side of things on that one. “You don’t know that. In fact, after what you did, Chella was more than willing to double down on her decision.”

    “I changed her mind though, didn’t I?”

    “Maybe you did. But I don’t see how your actions of exposing yourself helped.”

    “They started the conversation, I thought that much was obvious. Now do you want to continue to discuss the wider implications of what I have done or can I go back to work and making sure that none of it will have been in vain?”

    Tazla worked hard to keep her anger in check but wasn’t quite sure how well that was going. “Next time, you will consult with me before you even think of doing something like that again. Do I make myself clear, Doctor?”

    "As crystal, Commander," he said and then promptly left the cockpit, apparently having decided that he could get his work done much easier and without the threat of further interruptions in the runabout's back compartment.

    Tazla began to massage her temples to try and stave off an impending headache. Her tenure on Eaglehad been difficult from day one, having brought with her a reputation practically burned to a crisp and trying to replace a highly respected first officer who had given his life to save his crewmembers. She had encountered nothing but mistrust from not only the people under her command but also from her own captain.

    She had unexpectedly found a friend and ally when Elijah Katanga had joined the ship and things had steadily improved for her since then. Eventually, that trust which had long eluded the crew and the captain had started to come into play. Then the war had ended and things had looked bright for the first time in a long time for Tazla Star.

    Good things, she had long since learned, were never meant to last.
     
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  20. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    2


    He had never visited Piqus before but just being back in Krellon space, just a few weeks after he had reluctantly spent some of his leave time on the homeworld and after nearly a decade in voluntary exile away from his people, this return to the Star Alliance was making him feel incredibly uncomfortable.

    It had been bad enough that Yorlo had pulled strings to get Eagleredirected to Piqus, forcing him and his crew to delay their greatly anticipated exploratory mission, worse even, Yorlo had wanted him specifically, trying to rope him into what clearly amounted to some sort of personal vendetta against his estranged wife.

    And after he had resolutely made the decision not get involved in any of his uncle’s schemes, the captain and the first officer had apparently decided that he should still remain behind on Piqus VII with the medical teams while Eaglewas heading off to assist Agamemnon.

    Star hadn't even given him a choice in the matter even though he had pointed out that as a pilot and navigator, his expertise was clearly not required for this mission and in fact would have been of greater use to Eagleon her mission. Star had countered that his value came not from his limited medical expertise but that it was his knowledge of his own people that made him integral to the away mission.

    He supposed it made a certain amount of sense to have a Krellonian take part in a mission to a Krellonian colony—no matter how much he’d rather have been a million light-years away from this place—he couldn’t help suspect that more was going on here, after both Owens and Star had asked him detailed questions about his meeting with his uncle.

    He didn’t care.

    Intellectually, he knew that this attitude was not exactly befitting a Starfleet officer, not to mention one with command aspirations which were slowly gaining traction thanks to his recent promotion to full lieutenant. But there had been a perfectly valid reason why he had left his home all those years ago to seek a future within the Federation. He had made a conscious decision a long time ago to leave his home, and as far as he was concerned, it was not fair that he was being asked to come back to the one place he had tried so hard to get away from.

    Lif had always considered himself a good Starfleet officer. He excelled at his job. Except for a few exceptions, he had always followed his orders the way he was supposed to, and he had put his life on the line to protect others, had even been formally recognized for his deeds. So then why could he not be allowed to have at least one weakness? One matter where he could decide not to get involved, at least not voluntarily? He knew that his uncooperative manner had likely already been noted by his superiors but then surely he was not the only officer on the ship who was not always behaving the way everyone else expected him to.

    It was clear that Doctor Katanga had been in a terribly poor mood as of late and that his scorn was mostly directed at Tazla Star. He had even disregarded, if not orders than certainly protocol when he had decided to expose himself to a potentially deadly virus while on the away mission to the local hospital.

    DeMara Deen, usually the very model of buoyancy and optimism had not been her usual self as of late either and it wasn’t easy to tell that her relationship with the captain seemed to have suffered as a result.

    And Leva and Lieutenant Alendra were having some sort of fall out as well after having developed a very close working relationship ever since the tactical officer had returned from his last assignment and bringing the young Bolian officer with him.

    People had personal issues from time to time, so why, he wondered, was it so surprising to others when he exhibited some as well?

    In short, Lif was in a terrible mood and it certainly hadn’t helped that the sonic shower in the tiny living compartment he was staying in on the runabout hadn’t worked right since Eaglehad left. An invigorating shower had always had a soothing effect on him.

    “Alright, good. Now give me section four-baker right on these coordinates. Lif, do you have the junction segments ready?”

    He glanced over to Louise Hopkins who was clad, like he was, in a red and white Starfleet issue environmental suit. While they had not yet taken on any infected patients, and even though Katanga may have been rather cavalier about his own safety, he had issued strict orders to the rest of the team to wear the suits until further notice and once he had been able to rule out any airborne or environmental factors which may have contributed to what had been come to be called the Piqus Plague. Lif didn’t mind wearing the suits since besides keeping them safe from any potential pathogens, it also kept out the cold thanks to its internal heating systems.

    “Lif?” Hopkins said again, shooting him a look.

    He nodded and then quickly entered a few commands into the large padd he was holding, a specialized model which was easier to use while wearing an environmental suit. Part of his job helping to construct the facility had been to ensure all the junction pieces which connected the various outer wall sections were in place and fully secured. Contemplating his misery of being on this Krellon colony had distracted him from this task.

    Trying to draw away from his momentary lapse, he managed to find the right location for the next junction piece using the built-in scanner in the padd. "Got it. Coming now," he said and entered the right sequence.

    Moments later, the transporter operator working in one of the shuttles, locked in on his coordinates and then beamed into place the junction piece from one of the many storage containers which had been brought down from Eaglebefore she had left orbit.

    Hopkins looked over the five-meter tall strut which had materialized at the end of the already present wall section. Instead of solely relying on her tricorder, she grabbed hold of the strut with one gloved hand and ensured it was solidly in place by giving it a few hard yanks. Then she nodded. “Looks good. Adeline, let’s add the next wall section, please.”

    “Energizing now, Lieutenant,”the transporter operator responded via the comm channel.

    Lif watched as a huge piece of curved, metallic wall shimmered into existence, connecting to the rest of the slowly growing structure via the junction rod. The latest piece made up almost half of the entire western wall of the facility and what would very soon be the main patient ward. A large elliptical window made out of reinforced transparent aluminum sat at the center of the section.

    Only now that the window section focused on a specific part of the old quarry that had become their temporary home, did Culsten notice the arrangements of tatty and decidedly non-Starfleet issue tents and the people mingling among them. They were at least five hundred meters away from the Starfleet installation, their shuttles and cargo containers, on the other side of a ravine which bisected the quarry floor and at this distance it wasn’t easy making out details with the naked eye, but he was sure that the group was made out of very different types of people. Different races altogether, judging by the varying body shapes and sizes.

    He took a few steps closer to the window to get a better look.

    Louise joined him there. “They arrived here this morning. No clue how they found out about us. They must be desperate for a cure.”

    But Lif shook his head within his helmet. “I don’t think that’s why they’re here.”

    DeMara Deen had joined the other two. “What makes you say that?”

    “From what I’ve been told only Krellonians have been infected with the Piqus Plague. Those are all Outlanders.”

    “Outlanders?” Deen asked.

    Hopkins answered that question. “Inhabitants from the outlying worlds around the central Krellon worlds. They were mostly conquered over the last few centuries and turned into slave labor. They used to be subject races not unlike those kept by the Romulans or Son’a.”

    Lif knew that Hopkins had learned about the Outlanders during their recent shore leave to the homeworld. The matter was much more complicated than she had made it sound but he didn't feel the need to elaborate on her point.

    “Charming,” Deen said. “But if they are not infected, what are they doing here?”

    “Outlanders are not treated very well in Krellonian society and they tend to be of a poorer social-economic background. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve come here looking for hand-outs,” said Hopkins. “I feel sorry for them. We should try and help them.”

    Deen turned to look at the chief engineer. “That’s not our mission. If we start helping these people where does it stop? Besides those people’s status is a purely internal Krellonina matter.”
    Lif didn’t miss the surprised look Louise was throwing the Tenarian. She did sound uncharacteristically detached and unemotional. She did, of course, have a point.

    Without saying another word, the three of them went back to work.

    But not long after they had fully completed the main sections of the hospital and the facility was truly beginning to resemble an actual structure, even if not the most aesthetically pleasing one, their attentions were once again directed towards the small settlement of Outlanders at the edge of the quarry.

    More specifically it was the two large ground vehicles which came rumbling down the access road with loud, blaring sirens, which brought most of the work to a standstill as the Starfleet crew turned towards the commotion.

    “That’s just what we needed,” said Hopkins. “ Local authorities.”

    Indeed, the vehicles quickly surrounded the tent settlement, causing a great uproar among the group, many tried to scatter away from the uniformed Krellonians streaming out of the transports.

    The peace officers were all armed with what looked like batons of sorts and wore isolation suits. They were also efficient and violent in quickly subduing most of the Outlanders, not hesitating at all to use their batons on anyone who was not immediately surrendering.

    "This is going to get out of control," Louise said, mostly mumbling to herself as she and the others watched on from a distance.

    Lif, of course, was well aware of the methods of local police against unauthorized Outlander activities and hardly surprised at what he saw. It was a sight he had hoped never having to see again.

    Hopkins was not content with simply watching on and quickly found Nora Laas who had emerged from one of the shuttles with four armed officers. “Laas,” she said and indicated towards the scene. “We have to do something.”

    But the Bajoran security chief simply walked over to her slowly, with her armed contingent following closely. Upon closer inspection Lif realized that the team following her were not standard Starfleet security personnel but members of the Niners, the Special Missions Team unit Eaglehad recently taken onboard. These men and women, from various different species, hardly looked anything like one expected from Fleet personnel. Some wore long, shaggy bears, they wore outfits which barely registered as a uniform, their weapons appeared to have been heavily modified and some of them, like the hulking Nausicaan or the green-skinned Orion, didn’t hail from races one excepted to encounter commonly in Starfleet.

    All four of them, as well as Nora, kept their eyes appraisingly on the commotion at the far side of the quarry even as they made their way over to Hopkins and the rest of the team.

    “We can’t just let them beat up on people like that,” Louise continued when Nora had come closer.

    “Commander Star’s orders were pretty specific on this. We cannot get involved with local matters. We’re just here to secure the facility. That’s it.”

    “Yeah, we’re just the babysitters,” said the Boslic woman with the bright violet hair in a noticeably tedious sounding tone of voice. She seemed entirely indifferent to the brief glower the comment earned her from Nora.

    Hopkins looked back at the Bajoran, shaking her head. “That isn’t right.”

    “It’s the Prime Directive,” Deen said simply and then walked away to return to working on the facility. A moment later most of the others followed her lead, leaving the Outlanders to their fate.

    Lif saw that Hopkins was less willing to let things go as quickly and he thought he understood why. Louise was a gentle soul but as an engineer who had always placed her work before most everything else, she had also always been one of the most sheltered members of Eagle’ssenior crew, barely taking part in away missions or getting otherwise involved in matters not related to her engines or technical systems.

    Since they had begun their romantic relationship, he had learned that there was a lot more to her than her brilliant but technically-focused mind and that she cared deeply for other people. It was what he had loved about her but also what had started to create a rift between them after she had accused him of turning his back on his people and their social ills which had been so evidently displayed during their visit to the homeworld. The very same which were once again being aptly demonstrated just a few hundred meters away.

    “I’m sorry, Lou,” Nora said. “But Dee’s right. This isn’t our concern.”

    "I see. We come here to help these people from succumbing to a deadly plague but if they decide to kill each other we are just supposed to stand back and watch on. Is that it?"

    There clearly was nothing else Nora knew to say about this.

    Lif placed a hand gently on Louise’s upper arm. “Come on, Lou, we still got lots of work to do.”

    But she resisted him. At least for a moment, and instead regarded him with a particularly dark look, almost as if to say that all this was his fault. That if he had wanted to, he could have made a difference in the way his own people behaved.

    Lif had already had this argument with her and was not interested in rehashing it. Especially not here. The notion that he could change the philosophy of an entire people remained absurd to him.

    Hopkins' stand didn't last long and her need to follow her own orders and accomplish what she had been asked to do ultimately won out over her sympathies for an unknown group of people. In a last sign of protests, she did free her arm from his hand, whirled around and walked away from him to continue their task.

    Lif exchanged a brief glance with Nora but she had nothing further to add and so he too went back to work.



    * * * ​



    The security chief watched the team of ten technicians and engineers, including Deen and Culsten as they huddled together to discuss their next steps in putting together the facility before she directed her attention towards Sensabaugh or Sensy as his Niners liked to call him.

    The tall, muscular, bald-headed and full-bearded human considered her with calm and appraising eyes.

    “Alright, we might not be able to get involved with what’s going on over there but I still want us to show some force and our general displeasure at what is happening.”

    “One way of doing that,” said Petty Officer Toycel, or Junior as the large, but relatively young Orion was better known as, “is to walk over there and tell those people to take a hike or else. They are not going to want to mess with us, I guarantee you that.”

    But Laas shook her head. “We’re not going to provoke them that blatantly,” she said and looked back at the squad leader. “Get your people to form a perimeter around the facility, facing the east side, make sure they do get a good look at you and your weapons.”

    “That ain’t gonna do much,” said Violet, the Boslic woman. “We just stand around here we don’t look all that intimidating.”

    “Maybe not you,” said Grunt, the Nausicaan who tended to say very little as far as Nora could tell. Of course, then again the Niners had kept pretty much to themselves and didn’t mingle with the rest of the crew. For all she knew, Grunt didn’t stop talking when he was with his own team.

    “I’ll get some more members of my security team to join you,” said Laas.

    “Oh, sure, Fleet security. That’ll make all the difference,” said Violet in a particularly dismissive tone.

    Sensy cut off any further discussion on the subject. “Alright, folks, cut the chatter and get into position. No provocative actions. Just make sure they feel like they’re being watched.”

    His team of three nodded as they set out to take their positions.

    Sensy stayed put. “Can I a word, Lieutenant?”

    Laas nodded and the two of them walked over to one of the large containers holding various medical supplies and equipment and where they were mostly out of earshot of anybody else. “Is this where you apologize for the behavior of your team?”

    He shot her an incredulous look. “I thought you said that you don’t get offended easily.”

    “I don’t. I suppose I’m just used to a greater amount of professionalism from the people I work with.”

    “I guess it’s my turn trying not to be offended,” said Sensabaugh. “But I can guarantee you that there is nobody out there who does the things we do better. That’s the kind of professionalism we are proud of. But it comes at a prize and I think you knew that when you got us to join your merry crew.”

    “Fine. I’m willing to let your people be the way they are. Just make sure you keep them away from the captain. I cannot imagine he would appreciate being talked back to in this manner.”

    “I’ll make sure they are on their best behavior should the big man ever show up. In my experience though, the higher you go up that chain, the less likely you ever see them on the ground.”

    “You may find that Captain Owens will surprise you on occasions,” she said, quickly coming to the defense of her commanding officer.

    He shrugged. “We’ll see. But considering that he has taken Eagleout on a joy ride out of here, that doesn’t seem to be very likely anytime soon though, does it?”

    “Maybe not. What is it you wanted to talk to me about?”

    Sensy took a moment to take in their surroundings, the half-completed facility, the still ongoing kerfuffle between the local security forces and the Outlanders, as well as the quarry in general which thanks to its depth, shielded them somewhat from the buffeting winds which wiped across the surface of this part of Piqus VII. After a moment his eyes came to rest on her again. "All this. This mission of ours."

    She considered him suspiciously. “Don’t tell me you have concerns as well? I wouldn’t think that contemplating our mission profiles is something that falls into your remit.”

    “It isn’t. I don’t care what our mission on this planet is. All I’m thinking about is how to do my job. And standing around and playing sentry isn’t exactly what we do. Violet was right to be annoyed. We’re not security guards, Lieutenant. If that’s what you needed us for, you would have been better suited sticking with the Marines instead. In fact, your own security people are better suited for that task.”

    "I don't know what you expected, Senior Chief," she said, referring to his rank even though it had not eluded her that his own team barely ever used ranks when they talked to each other. "But starship duties are varied. Perhaps more so than you're used to. You might be required to do some mundane tasks from time to time. But since we have you, I'd rather make you stand around and look threatening while we don't need you, so that we have you ready to go when we do. Just don't let the downtime lull you into a false sense of complacency."

    The squad leader looked at her as if she had just sucker punched him. “Thankfully, I have a skin just as thick as yours, Lieutenant. Otherwise I would have taken the implication of complacency as a personal insult.”

    She smirked at that. “I can dish too, Sensy.”

    “I can see that,” he said and then stepped away. He changed his mind, stopped and turned to look at her again. “I understand that things are different serving on a starship. I accept that. But we are a special missions team for a reason, Lieutenant. I would kindly ask that you keep that in mind. If it turns out that our skills and expertise are not truly what you require, I don’t believe that this arrangement will be fruitful. For either one of us.”

    Lass watched him rejoin his people around the facility and couldn’t help wonder if she hadn’t made a mistake in bringing him and his team on Eagle.
     
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