The Star Eagle Adventures: QD1 - False Vacuum

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

  1. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    3

    Michael Owens wasn't exactly a stranger to the incessant sensation of nervous anxiety. He doubted there were many starship captains who could claim to be immune from experiencing such feelings. He liked to think that he had perfected the way in which he hid those feelings from the people around him, after all, it was imperative that as leader of men he radiated strength and confidence to his crew even if he didn't always feel that way. As far as he was concerned, when he sat in that chair, at the center of the bridge, anyone who happened to glance upon him needed to know that this was a man who knew exactly what he was doing and had the certitude to know how to do it.

    It had been the same with the people who had come before him. Back when he had been a lowly ensign on his first assignment, the Fearless, he had looked at his captain and had known, almost instinctively, that he was the unquestioned leader and the very epitome of her ship’s name. And again when he had served on the Columbiaunder Captain Mendez, he had never once doubted that the man in the center chair possesses the supreme confidence to guide his people through any storm. He had drawn strength from those people and he was determined to follow their example now that he was the man in that chair.

    It wasn’t always easy to play that role. Not when he had to make choices such as leaving a large part of his crew to fend for themselves on a colony belonging to a people, if not outright hostile to the Federation, at least not exactly friendly either.

    It was also difficult not to draw parallels to the last time Eaglehad left an away team on a planet to answer a distress signal. Just a few months earlier the roles had been reserved when Michael had stayed behind on a war-torn world with a small team while Tazla Star had taken Eagleto assist a fellow starship.

    The mission had ultimately been successful but at a high price and Michael still wondered if he could have avoided casualties if he had given different orders, perhaps even decided against sending Eagleaway.

    And yet he had done the exact same thing again, hadn’t really seen another choice at the time.

    Even worse, the stakes felt personal this time, with Amaya needing his help after the cryptic distress signal she had sent, indicating that she was in serious trouble for which all help could already be coming too late.

    “Lieutenant Stanmore,” he said, addressing the operations officer at his forward station. With half his senior officers back on Piqus, he had to rely on the beta-shift relief personnel to step up. He was confident in their abilities, from Stanmore at ops, to young Ensign Srena at the helm and veteran science officer Xylion as his first officer, a role he was quite familiar with since he had filled that position on a temporary basis previously. Steadfast tactical officer So’Dan Leva was the only senior officer left on the ship who was not acting up in some sort of capacity. “Distance to the Agamemnon?”

    “We are one hour and thirty minutes out from her last known position,” the blonde-haired officers said.

    “Mister Leva, anything on long-range sensors?”

    "No, sir. But the high levels of particle radiation within the Amargosa Diaspora are severely limiting the range and effectiveness of the long-range array," the half-Romulan said.

    Michael nodded. He had of course known this already but it had not stopped him from asking the question. He needed to know Agamemnon’sstatus. “Ensign, increase our speed to warp nine point six.”

    “Aye, sir, increasing speed.”

    He was almost relieved that chief engineer Hopkins wasn’t onboard. She would have likely noted some sort of concerns over pushing their still new and untested engines this far. Then again, her absence also meant that they were missing their most experienced warp field specialist in case something were to go wrong with the engine. It was one of the reasons he had waited until now to put the pedal all the way down to meet the metal. The last thing he needed was to be stranded in the middle of nowhere, useless to both Agamemnonand his team left behind on Piqus.

    “New ETA: Twenty-five minutes,” said Stanmore.

    “Yellow alert. Raise shields. Weapons on stand-by. I want all sensors locked in on Agamemnon’slast known at maximum resolution.”

    The orders were quickly acknowledged by his efficient bridge crew and he thought he could feel the deck plates beginning to tremble underneath his boots. The new warp core was being asked to pump out more raw power than it had ever done before, energizing not just their high-velocity approach, but also the shield grid, the sensors and feeding enough power into the phasers and torpedo systems to make them operational at a moment's notice. It was a lot of strain; he knew, but what better way to test a brand-new engine than by putting it through its paces?

    “Mister Leva, once we drop out of warp, I want to be able to deploy the transphasic shields quickly. Depending on the situation, we might need to extend them around Agamemnonas well.”

    “Understood, sir,” he said. “As you know the transphasic shield requires a significant amount of energy. We will not be able to engage warp drive while it is deployed and our weapons will be limited.”

    Michael stood from his chair and tugged at the bottom of his uniform jacket. “It’s a sacrifice we may need to make if we are forced to play defense before we can go on the offensive,” he said and looked at his acting XO next. “What is the status of sickbay if we need to take on wounded?”

    "The majority of our medical staff has remained on Piqus VII. However, Doctor Nelson has prepared sickbay to receive casualties. In addition, all crewmembers with basic medical training are standing by to assist if required."

    “Sir, I’ve got her,” said Stanmore which immediately caused Michael to turn back around and towards the view screen which at present only showed a streaking field of stars.

    Anticipating his next order, the operations officer tapped away at his console and the screen shifted to show the catamaran-shaped Akira-class starship.

    Michael took a step closer to the screen, focusing on keeping his composure in front of the crew but also prepared to expect the worst. From the current angle, he could not immediately determine what was the matter with the other ship. "Magnify, please."
    The image quickly zoomed in twice and until she filled the entire screen. Agamemnon’sdark gray hull gleamed under the lights of the many nearby stars and looked as flawless as if she had just rolled out of the shipyard. Of course, appearances could be deceiving. "Status report."

    Xylion took that one. “All power levels on the Agamemnonare within standard operating parameters. Sensors are detecting a full crew complement. Deflector shields and weapon systems are powered down,” he said and then looked up from the console he was working on. “Sir, I can detect no apparent sign of distress.”

    Michael took another step towards the floor-to-ceiling view screen, carefully studying the other ship. He had been in Starfleet long enough to know that starships could be in distress for many different reasons, some of which were not always immediately apparent. “Ensign, drop us out of warp here. Let’s keep our shields up. We’re staying at yellow alert until we know more.”

    “Dropping out of warp,” the Andorian helmsman said and not a moment later she had the ship back to sub-light, judging from the way the deck plates shifted as the inertia dampeners exerted their forces to keep them all in one piece during the sudden transition.

    “Mister Xylion, begin a full sensor sweep of the area. I want to know of any possible threats within half a light-year from our position.”

    The Vulcan headed towards the back of the bridge to take his more familiar position at the science station to give the task his full attention.

    “Sir, we are being hailed,” said Leva.

    Michael felt the need to brace himself yet again before he spoke. “On screen, Commander.”

    Amaya Donners face appeared larger than life projected on the viewer just a few meters in front of him. “Michael, glad you could make it here so quickly.”

    He considered her for a moment and judged her to be in good health and positive spirit judging by the subtle smile on her lips. “We answered your distress signal,” he said, even if that much seemed obvious.

    “I understand.”

    “What is the nature of your distress?” he said slowly, his relief of seeing her well and unharmed slowly beginning to abate.

    She took a moment to answer the question, clearly picking up on his growing suspicion. “To tell you the truth,”she said. “It’s not so much that we are in distress than that we require your assistance. I apologize for the ruse but it was the only way I could make sure to get you out here without giving away the nature of our mission.”

    “You misused a distress signal,” he said. It wasn’t a question and he couldn’t quite keep his voice free from accusation. He had never heard of a Starfleet vessel using a distress signal under false pretenses. In fact, he was pretty sure that there were regulations pertaining to this very thing.

    "If you want to get technical about it, then yes, I guess I did. But I had a good reason. Let me come aboard and explain why you are here,"she said, her tone having cooled noticeably.

    He nodded after a moment. "Very well. We should be in transporter range shortly. I'll see you then. Eagleout.”

    Her image disappeared from the screen to be once more replaced by that of her vessel.

    Michael turned away from the screen to regard his officers. “Stand down from yellow alert and drop shields. Ensign, bring us into transporter range.”

    Once again orders were quickly acknowledged and followed.

    Xylion stood from his station and headed back towards the command area of the bridge to join with the captain. “Initial sensor sweeps have not detected any vessels or anomalies within range. I have initiated a more thorough scan of the area but the full result will not be available until the scan is complete in approximately twelve minutes.”

    “Thank you, Commander.”

    Xylion still had more to say since he held his ground. “Captain, protocol would demand that we formally log Captain Donners’ misuse of a priority one distress signal.”

    “Let’s hold off on this until we’ve heard what she has to say. If need be I will mention it in my log,” he said which seemed to satisfy Xylion. Michael hoped she had a damned good reason for what she had done. The idea that he had left Star and a large away team behind on Piqus for what had turned out to be a fake distress call vexed him a great deal.

    Once again, and as he had done so often before, he did what he needed to do to ensure his emotions were not playing out on his face and give his crew any indication at the thoughts hidden beneath the veneer.

    Presently, none of them were positive.
     
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  2. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Sounds a butt-kicking approacheth. Donners versus Owens.
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2018
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  3. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    4


    He had to admit that he was quite pleased with the work his team, as well as the engineers under Lieutenant Hopkins' competent supervision, had accomplished in very little time.

    The facility was mostly operational just twelve hours after the first foundation piece had been laid down even without the assistance of Eaglein orbit.

    Some work still remained, not all isolation wards were fully functional yet and crew quarters had been de-prioritized in favor of more essential medical facilities on Elijah's instructions, meaning that for now sleeping arrangements had been mostly relegated to the shuttles, the runabout, and tents, making it an adequate albeit uncomfortable fit for most of the away team.

    Naturally, for Elijah, a bit of discomfort when dealing with a crisis was nothing new, or of course, was a rapid medical deployment under difficult circumstances. He knew that Eagle’screw lacked some of his significant experience and yet he had to admit that they had performed admirably when setting up the hospital to his specifications.

    Administrator Chella who had remained highly skeptical of Starfleet’s efforts on her world, hadn’t changed her tune much since they had first met her less than a day earlier and it was mostly thanks to her chief physician, Doctor Urnea Turee, who was clearly much more attuned to the value Elijah and his people could bring to the table in their fight against this plague, that the field hospital received their first patients even before the facility was fully up and running.

    Elijah estimated that the facility would reach full capacity by the end of the day, considering the pace at which new patients were being admitted, which perhaps didn’t so much speak to the trust the locals were beginning to place in him and his team, but rather the desperation they felt and the urgent requirement for more space to house the increasing number of people affected by the Piqus Plague.

    He had thrown himself into work, taking blood and tissue samples, cataloging data and carrying out research even while the proverbial hammers were still banging away all around him, but he had long since learned to filter out the noise.

    Along with his team of doctors and researcher, he had already made some early progress by the time Chella unexpectedly arrived at the facility, asking for a full inspection.

    Naturally, he wasn’t exactly enthused about the idea of having to stop work while showing her and Doctor Turee around, he at least understood that they would require her further cooperation if they wanted any chance at making real progress.

    As such he had agreed to personally tour the installation with both of them. And while he was convinced that what they had built here, in pretty much record time, was still superior even to the medical facilities he had seen in the nearby capital city, Chella remained unimpressed. Even when he pointed out the triply reinforced force fields to maintain quarantine protocols, the various airlocks between each section to provide an extra layer of isolation, the state-of-the-art research labs in which his people were working tirelessly to analyze samples with the assistance of a computer core with enough processing power to control a starship, and the much more organized observation wards, one for patients of each stage of the disease.

    It was mostly Turee who nodded and asked questions as Elijah led them through the hospital and who showed some appreciation for what the Starfleet team had been able to accomplish in a very short time frame.

    Elijah, still the only non-patient in the facility without an isolation suit, had purposefully left the best part for last as he guided his two visitors along with Tazla Star to a set of observation windows which looked into yet another patient ward.

    Differently to the ones they had already visited and which had contained Krellonians of various degrees of deteriorating health, the five patients in this ward looked fairly healthy, sitting up on their beds, some even standing, and talking to each other.

    “A control group of some sort?” Turee asked as he carefully studied the two women and three men inside the room.

    “Good guess,” said Katanga with a smirk. “But no.”

    “So then what am I looking at here, Doctor?” Chella asked with much less patience. “Are you telling me that you are keeping healthy Krellonians confined in this facility for no good reason?”

    He shook his head. “Oh there is a very good reason for these people to be here, I assure you. You see, up until last night, four of these patients had been diagnosed as early stage one. Berina over there,” he said and pointed at the young woman now laughing with another patient, “was closer to stage two.”

    That left both the Krellonian doctor and the chief administrator speechless for a moment.

    Elijah took the opportunity to explain further. “It is too early to say for sure if the remission is permanent but the signs so far are encouraging. At least for these patients. Unfortunately, we have seen no improvement in a dozen others who were subjected to the same treatment. But it is a start.”

    Turee turned to Katanga. “What kind of treatment?”

    His smile widened a bit. "Well, Administrator, you were quite right to point out that Krellonian physiology is rather unique and that it was unlikely that we had come across a similar physiology or genetic makeup in other races within or without the Federation. However, we did find a surprisingly similar DNA match in our database. It belongs to a non-sapient insectoid species which developed on Archer VII over the last few million years. There aren't many obvious physical similarities between that species and Krellonians but genetically the differences are minuscule. We were able to replicate certain nucleotides based on that species’ DNA which have proven to be resistant to the active retrovirus which spreads the infection.”

    “Are you telling me that you’ve taken some insect DNA to alter the genetic makeup of Krellonians?” Chella said, sound anything but pleased. Even Star looked at Elijah with obvious concern at the implications.

    He quickly shook his head. "We have not altered the genetic makeup of these patients. That would be immoral and highly illegal within the Federation. Instead, we used the replicated nucleotides to create a vaccine to help fortify the infected cells against the virus."

    “I still don’t like it,” said Chella. “The notion that you used some primitive life form’s genetic material for a vaccine for Krellonians doesn’t sound right to me.”

    “A great many of those so-called primitive life forms are very close genetic matches to higher, sapient races like ourselves,” said Tazla Star who had kept mostly quiet while Elijah had shown them around the facility. “On Trill, for example, a species of small and furry anthropoid primates share nearly ninety-nine percent of our DNA. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same was not also true for some sort of animal on your homeworld which nowadays probably shares very few if any physical resemblances to Krellonians.”

    Turee nodded in agreement but Chella seemed to have a more difficult time accepting this. “I don’t like it,” she said again. “But if there is a chance that this will slow down or even stop this epidemic, I suppose I’m willing to give this a try. I expect to receive regular updates on your progress, Doctor.”

    “Of course,” Elijah said quickly.

    “Administrator,” Star began. “Before you leave here, I was wondering if we could talk about another visit to the city. I think we should take this opportunity to learn more about each other’s people. This could be a great first step to demonstrate to our respective governments what we can accomplish if we join forces and cooperate.”

    Elijah had to give Star credit for the attempt of trying to improve relations with the notoriously xenophobic Krellonians but he had to wonder if this really was the best time to push for interstellar relations. He would have preferred if she kept her focus on trying to cure this disease instead of making diplomatic inroads.

    Considering his strained relationship with her at present, he decided to keep those thoughts to himself for now.

    "I've already made it clear that any further visits to the city or any other population centers are out of the question. You are here for one purpose and one purpose alone, Commander. I have no interest in learning more about your people and to be quite frank, I'm already unhappy about the extra strain on our resources in order to provide security for your facility."

    Star got the hint that she was not going to make progress with her current approach and quickly shifted gears. “I understand. Of course, if we are a strain on your security resources, I’m more than happy for you to redeploy your security teams elsewhere. I am certain our own security is more than adequate to handle the occasional group of Outlanders drifting by.”

    “The fact that you have even brought armed personnel onto Piqus soil is still a thorn in my side, Commander,” she said bluntly. “And I certainly will not keep you here unsupervised. Besides, you are dangerously underestimating what the Outlanders are capable of. They may give the appearance of being hapless and disorganized but don’t let that fool you. It’s the Outlanders who have brought this plague upon us.”

    Seeing that the Trill first officer could not win with the administrator, no matter what tact she was employing, Elijah decided to speak up. “It would be incredibly beneficial for our efforts to learn exactly how they have accomplished this,” he said. “Any evidence you could provide on how the virus has been dispersed would be helpful.”

    “We are still working on collecting the evidence,” offered Turee. “But since we are yet to fully understand how this virus operates, we are not really in a position to determine how it was weaponized in the first place.”

    Chella aimed her dark eyes at the Federation doctor. “I expect you to come up with some valid theories, Doctor. You have made a strong case for your presence here and I will not be satisfied until you can show me results.” She pointed at the recovery ward beyond the observation window. “That is not a bad start, but you will need to show me much more than a few people walking around because of some insect serum you concocted before I am willing to consider tolerating your continued presence on my planet,” she added before she turned on her heel and headed for the nearest exit.

    Turee stayed just a moment longer as if to silently disagree with his superior before he followed her to the exit.

    Star looked at Elijah. “Not easy to impress her, is she?”

    “We are not here to impress her. We are here to find a cure.”
     
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  4. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    5

    Since it had already been proven that Krellonians were highly susceptible to the Piqus Plague, and to further minimize any chances of accidental exposure, Doctor Katanga—who had more than once voiced his displeasure to Commander Star for including Lif on this mission in the first place—had instructed that he stayed on the runabout instead of joining the rest of the team in the living quarters of the recently completed medical facility.

    Louise Hopkins had agreed to keep him company at nights—albeit in different bunks, since their relationship which had started of well after a long friendship a few months earlier, had encountered some troubles in recent weeks and after their shore leave to the Krellon homeworld.

    Hopkins had accused him of turning his back on the plight of his people, or more precisely, that of the Outlanders, by running away from his home and refusing to involve himself in anything that could potentially improve the conditions in the Star Alliance while Lif was angry at her for judging him based purely on a single visit to his home, even if it had been an eventful one, and accusing her of applying her Federation morality indiscriminately, without fully appreciating the issue or, in fact, his own, personal history with the problems his people were still facing.

    They had made small strides in trying to overcome this rift that had opened between them, even if they had put their romantic endeavors on pause for now.

    For this particular mission, the highly modular design of the runabout had been configured primarily for medical purposes with only a small number of very compact crew cabins. But Hopkins had found a little bit of space in the aft section where she had placed a tri-dimensional chest set on a crate, with two more containers functioning as improvised seats.

    He knew that chess had always been one of her favorite pastimes, perhaps because the logical aspect of it appealed to her, and she had eventually managed to get him hooked on the game as well.

    “That sonic shower is still on the fritz. Any chance you can work your magic on it?” he said while she sat cross-legged on the crate opposite his, studying the multi-layered boards to consider her next move.

    “I’ll try to look at it in the morning,” she said, without taking her eyes off the set. “I can’t make any promises though. As far as priorities are concerned, creature comforts are not on the top of our list.”

    “It’s on top of mine,” said Lif who was leaning back against the bulkhead behind him, his arms folded in front of his chest.

    She shot him a brief look, smirking. “I’m sure it is. But Doctor Katanga doesn’t see it that way. He’s thinking about finding a cure for this virus pretty much twenty-four seven,” she said and then refocused on the board.

    “The man is a medical genius. He’s been doing this kind of thing longer than the two of us have been alive. If there is somebody I trust in finding a cure, it’s him.”

    Hopkins moved her black rook to the second board from the top and captured one of his white knights in the process, taking it off the board. “Did you give any more thoughts to meeting with your aunt?”

    He shook his head. “I couldn’t even if I wanted to. Administrator Chella has made it quite clear that we are not welcomed in the city.”

    “Starfleet isn’t,” she said. “I’m not sure if she could keep you from going if you went as a fellow Krellonian civilian. Besides, from what you’ve told me about your meeting with your uncle, I’m sure he’d be more than happy to pull the necessary strings.”

    “Perhaps,” he said without making eye contact.

    “Your move.”

    He glanced back at the chess set, found his bishop on the lowest pane and captured a black pawn on the board immediately above.

    “So then there’s probably nothing stopping you from going to see her,” she said, looking right through the three-dimensional chessboards. “If you wanted to go, that is.”

    “I still don’t.”

    She nodded. “Yeah, I’m getting that,” she said and moved on his queen.

    “I don’t really get it, you know.”

    Hopkins looked up again. “You don’t get what?”

    "Why this is all such a big deal with everyone. For the first couple of years I've known So'Dan, the merest mention of his Romulan roots would have put me at serious risk of getting my head chewed off. Laas practically never talks about Bajor either and I don't think she has been back there since she left as a child. But when it comes to me, and I show any kind of reluctance to deal with my people, I'm considered out-of-line and uncooperative."

    She shrugged. “Maybe its because you haven’t earned the same reverence yet.”

    He moved another pawn to take a pawn. “I’m a full lieutenant now, same as Laas. I should get the same respect extended to me.”

    She shot him a disbelieving look. “You want to be compared to Laas? Are you serious? She’s the head of security, you’re the helmsman. She started fighting the Cardassians on her homeworld when she was a preteen. She escaped that world almost single-handedly while she was an adolescent and she distinguished herself over and over again as a Marine and later as a Starfleet Security officer.”

    “I’ve achieved things too.”

    “I’m not denying that,” she said and took his pawn he had just used.

    “And you can barely be objective on the matter.”

    That garnered him another glare. “Why, because Laas and I are friends? I am friends with you too, last I checked. Maybe even a bit more than that.”

    He just grumbled at that unintelligibly.

    “And you know what else separates you from Laas and So’Dan? They don’t spend their time pouting about the unfairness of the universe, especially not when their input could be critical to the success of a mission.”

    "What success could I possibly contribute to?" he said. "I'm no medic. There is no point of me being here, Lou."

    "What about during that incident at the border? From what I heard you were anything but helpful in trying to de-escalate that situation. Your move, by the way."

    He ignored the board. “That’s not fair. Just because I’m Krellonian doesn’t mean I hold any kind of sway over any of my people.”

    “Your uncle doesn’t seem to agree.”

    “My uncle is a fool,” he said and moved his remaining knight to threaten the black queen.

    Hopkins shook her head. “That’s not a good move, Lif.”

    He glanced at her, trying to understand if she meant his play on the chessboard or something else entirely. “Too bad, it’s the one I’m making.”

    She shrugged and placed her bishop within striking distance of his king, taking out his knight while doing so. She didn’t need to say it. Check.

    He rolled his eyes. “I don’t even know why I still play with you. You always end up winning.”

    “You’re not a bad player, Lif. If you focus on the game that is.”

    His response was cut off by the shuttle’s red alert klaxons coming to life.

    Hopkins jumped to her feet. “What’s going on?” she asked, clearly confused by hearing that sound while the ship was positioned firmly on the ground.

    Lif was on his feet within moment also, already heading towards the cockpit at the front of the craft. “The sensors must have picked up a threat in the area.”

    “What could be threatening us out here?” she said as she followed him out of the aft section.

    Once in the cockpit, Hopkins quickly accessed the sensor console and quieted the alarm, leaving it to continue flashing its crimson warning lights instead. “Multiple non-Starfleet life-signs detected near the supply caches. I think we are being raided.”

    Culsten was already in the process of pulling on his isolation suit and a moment later Hopkins followed his example. After a couple of minutes and once they had checked each other’s seals, they both retrieved hand phasers from the equipment locker and stepped outside.

    They each needed a moment to find their footing once they had emerged from the airlock as the winds had picked up and were forcing them back towards the runabout.

    Lif helped Hopkins to steady herself and as the gusts lessened a bit, they began to make their way towards the supply cache, an arrangement of a few dozen large cargo containers, some stacked up on top of each other, each at least half the size of the runabout itself and creating in essence a small container city with narrow alleyways between the bulky crates for access.

    The area was not lit very well at night, in fact, the only light came from the runabout and the main facility which stood at least fifty meters away. With the sun having long since set, the container city stood in almost complete darkness.

    “Maybe we should wait for reinforcements,” Hopkins said as she let her wrist beacon sweep across the now ominous looking containers.

    “Right, let’s wait for the fearless, former independence fighter and Marine to take care of this. After all, a lowly helmsman won’t be able to deal with intruders,” he said, unholstered his phaser, raised his beacon and began to slowly step into the narrow alley between two rows of containers.

    “You’re lucky I’m not a counselor,” she said and followed him in, with her own phaser in hand. “Otherwise, I would think you are suffering from a serious complex.”

    He hushed her. “There’s somebody here,” he whispered and indicated for the junction up ahead.

    She nodded as they both pressed themselves against the container and very slowly moved along the length of it until they reached the edge. Lif looked at her and mouthed the words, on three. When she nodded her understanding, he silently began to countdown.

    They jumped out with their phasers at the ready on his mark, seeking to confront whatever foreign intruder had trespassed.

    There was nobody there.

    Too late did Lif realize that the threat was behind them and that whoever they were, they had both him and Hopkins dead to rights.

    “Drop it now,” the gruff voice snarled.

    They looked at each other and then dropped their phasers, realizing that they had little choice in the matter.

    He ventured a glance over his shoulder only to be blinded by a bright light being shined directly into his face.

    “Who told you to turn around?” asked another voice, this one distinctly female.

    Lif angrily picked up his phaser again and turned around fully to face the two SMT operators who had their weapons and lights pointed at them. “You mind getting those things out of our faces? We are not the intruders here.”

    Hopkins followed suit.

    “Probably because they ran away from all the noise you were making back there,” said the Boslic female who had lowered her weapon but kept her light pointed at him. She stepped closer only to push herself past both of them.

    Her companion, the large Orion Lif believed went by Junior, skewered them both with a disapproving glance. “Next time, wait for the professionals,” he said as he followed the Boslic.

    Hopkins gave Lif a telling look. “I think that’s what I was saying.”

    He dismissed her and followed the operators.

    After a couple more junctions they met up with Nora Laas and Tazla Star who like the others were wearing isolation suits. Nora wasted little time to indicate towards a nearby container, giving hand-signals which Lif interpreted to mean at least four intruders inside or around that container.

    Under Star’s instruction, the team split up, with her leading him and Hopkins and Nora taking the two Niners to approach the container from two angles.

    Only a few meters out, Lif could see a humanoid figure huddling by the container doors which had been forced open.

    “You there. Stop what you’re doing and lay face down on the ground,” Star called out to the person, raising her phaser rifle.

    The intruder responded by firing his weapon at them. Lif and the others dropped onto the ground for cover and the poorly aimed shots only struck the container behind them.

    A single phaser blast, coming from somewhere on the other side of the intruder, hit him square in the back and he fell down.

    A commotion within the container ensued and four more figures appeared. Lif began to fire on the targets but it was difficult to make them out in the darkness and he didn’t dare use his beacon and give the intruders an easy target.

    Instead, he used the ambient light created by their suits and phaser blasts. Most of their shots seemed to hit little more than the containers, as did those from the intruders.

    “Cease fire,” Star ordered. “We are storing sensitive medical equipment here. We can’t risk it being damaged or destroyed.”

    Lif understood that she was more concerned with the intruder's weapons fire since their own phasers were set only to light stun, meaning that they wouldn't damage solid material. The weapons of the intruders, on the other hand, were scorching and piercing the containers. Star was clearly hoping that by stopping to return fire, it would eventually cause the intruders to cease shooting as well.

    Her tactic paid off. After a few more blasts clearly intended as covering fire, the intruders made a run for it. Lif could see that there had to be at least six of them, not counting the one they had already stunned.

    Four managed to slip away while the two staying behind to cover their retreat didn’t get far. The first was taken down by the Boslic who—to Lif’s utter surprise—came flying down from the top of the container to rip him off his feet. She followed up with a couple of well-placed hits with a collapsible baton she was holding and the intruder was incapacitated.

    The second one was easily dispatched by the Orion who despite his size had appeared out of seemingly nowhere, using the distraction caused by his fellow Niner, he had picked up the much smaller intruder and unceremoniously flung him against the wall of a nearby container where he sagged to the ground. Nora Laas stuck a phaser in his face before he could even think about standing up again.

    Star stood from her crouched position she had since adopted and quickly joined the rest of the team, with Hopkins and Lif bringing up the rear.

    “Seven hostiles,” said Nora as she watched the Orion secure the downed intruders with restraints. “Three neutralized, four more on the run.”

    Lif looked over the intruders and noticed that all three were Outlanders, two lupine T'aq, and one humanoid Kridrip.

    “Get a security team to pick these up. Let’s get the others,” said Star.

    Nora nodded and called it in before she followed Star and Hopkins the same way the intruders had taken for their escape. The Boslic—her isolation suit barely even slowing her down—took the high ground by pulling herself up onto the container. Junior had already faded into the darkness somewhere.

    Lif quickly caught up with the rest of his people. They reached the edge of the container town and he could see the four figures fifty meters or so ahead, trying to make it to the edge of the quarry.

    They didn’t get there. Just after traversing the small, improvised bridge across the steep ravine which bisected the quarry, two armored vehicles came careening down the access road and intercepted them, cutting them off from their escape route and lightening up the area with bright floodlights. A third vehicle blocked them in when they tried to change direction.

    Lif watched as local security forces clad in isolation suits streamed out of the vehicles and immediately began shooting at the Outlanders. Two went down instantly in the hail of weapon’s fire. The other two were struck as well but managed to keep on their feet, at least briefly.

    "Hold your fire, hold your fire," Star shouted even as she and the others rushed towards the scene.

    The commander of the security forces signaled his people to stop but they kept their weapons firmly trained on the two remaining Outlanders who were now huddled together, holding their wounds and entirely surrounded by the security forces and the Starfleet team coming up behind them.

    Lif was out of breath by the time he managed to join up with Star, Nora, and Hopkins, all four of them keeping a respectful distance from the local security team.

    Star was already conversing with the commander. “It’s not that we aren’t appreciative for your assistance,” she said, looking over the two intruders who had been shot. One of whom, a brown-scaled reptilian Zel, was no longer moving and a green blood-like fluid was oozing out of multiple wounds. The humanoid Kridrip was writhing in pain, also having been shot numerous times. “But I think you’ve done enough.”

    The commander shook his head. “Security is our concern. If anything, you have done too much. You should not have gotten involved here.”

    Nora shot the man a dark look. "Considering that they were stealing from us, surely you don't expect us to just stand around and do nothing? We already incapacitated three of their compatriots. Without having to resort to bloodshed by the way."

    “You will hand over these criminals immediately,” he insisted.

    “I think considering the way you have treated these people, it may be best if we hold on to the wounded for now,” said Star. “At least until their injuries have been seen to.”

    But the commander frowned and resolutely shook his head. “Unacceptable. These people are dangerous criminals and must be incarcerated. A judge will determine their fate.”

    Hopkins had walked over to one of the backpacks that the intruders had dropped in the commotion. She looked inside and then at Star. “All they’ve taken are medical supplies.”

    The commander nodded. “Precisely. To make more biological weapons to use on our people.”

    “Or maybe to treat their wounded,” said Nora. “I would imagine the local hospitals are not exactly taking any more patients with the plague epidemic what it is.”

    “Let us take care of the wounded. We will hand them over to you once they have been stabilized,” said Star. “It would also be helpful to study precisely why these Outlanders are immune to the virus. That will help us find a cure.”

    The commander walked over to the bleeding reptilian still on the ground “It’s too late for this one, he’s already dead,” he said as he nudged the body with the tip of his boot and elicited no reaction. He stepped up to the humanoid next. “This one is very close.”

    “Then let us take—“

    Star didn’t get a chance to finish her sentence as the commander raised his weapon and shot the injured Kridrip right in the head, the blast pretty much evaporating its skull.

    Hopkins wasn’t able to suppress a shocked gasp at watching the execution taking place right in front of them.

    Nora and Star watched on in astonishment.

    “That wasn’t necessary,” Star said angrily.

    “You are guests here, I suggest you keep that in mind,” he said and aimed his weapon at the two remaining Outlanders.

    “Don’t do it,” Star said through gritted teeth, raising her phaser rifle.

    “I would listen to the lady, brother. You take that shot and you’re the next one to drop.”

    The commander looked up but was unable to see who had spoken. Lif knew the voice belonged to Junior and he was fairly certain that he must have climbed on the top of one of the armored vehicles, the bright lights hiding his bulky frame.

    “You wouldn’t dare,” he said, fuming. His men now taking aim at the Starfleet team, at least those they could see.

    Star seemed unperturbed by this. "You know what? You're right. I won't open fire on you and neither will any of the people you see here. But the thing you should know is that the two people you can't see, those who have their weapons aimed at your head, they're somewhat new and not used to doing things my way. Unfortunately, that also means that they may take that shot with our without my order. And, differently to me, they won't care about the consequences."

    The commander looked directly into Star's eyes, trying to decide if he was going to call her bluff. Finally, he lowered his weapon and told his people to do the same. "Keep them then and treat their wounds. But don't be surprised when they stab you in the back the moment they are well enough to hold a knife."

    Star nodded. “We’ll take precautions.”

    “You will also allow a security team to remain in your facility.”

    “Done.”

    “And rest assured that I will file a formal complaint about what has happened here with the chief administrator’s office.”

    Star offered him a smile even if it lacked any genuine humor. “She’ll have two of those then.”

    The commander indicated to his men to board their vehicles again which they did with little delay before he followed them inside. The vehicle’s floodlights were switched off and replaced by much dimmer operational lighting and even after Lif’s eyes had readjusted, he couldn’t see any sign of the two SMT operators.

    Nora had joined Star in the meantime. “I hope you know that they wouldn’t have fired without direct orders.”

    "Maybe. The important thing is that he didn't know that," she said. "Now, let's get these people some medical attention. And I want a full security detail on them at all times. It also looks as if we are going to have some more guests," she added as she glanced at the vehicles which had not yet moved. "Goes without saying we need to keep an eye on them as well, considering their proclivity to shoot first and ask questions later."

    Nora nodded sharply.

    Hopkins had holstered her phaser again and was beginning to make her way back to the runabout. “Still think you can’t contribute to try and fix this mess?” she said under her breath as she passed Lif, not waiting for a response.

    In truth, he had none to give her.
     
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  5. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    6


    She had beamed onboard pretty much as soon as Eagle had entered transporter range and then had made her way up to his ready room next to the bridge without an escort, as had been her wont lately, not content to wait for Michael or one of his officers to come and collect her.

    Amaya Donners had also forgone the usual pleasantries, ostensibly since they had met only a few days prior.

    "We've made some real progress out here in tracking down the subspace aliens and I believe we have found a way to open a gateway into their domain, and possibly preempt any invasion attempts. However, we will need to—" She stopped herself mid-sentence after getting a good look at Michael's facial expression which he had been unable to keep from revealing his ongoing concerns. "You're still miffed about the distress signal," she said, correctly interpreting what he had been thinking.

    “Wouldn’t you be? We were in the middle of a mission back on Piqus which your fake distress call interrupted.”

    “I gathered from your last status update that you were not making any progress in getting access to the surface.”

    “Things have moved on. We were in the process of establishing a medical facility on the planet when your signal came in.”

    Amaya took one of the guest chairs in the ready room. “I didn’t know that.”

    “I had to make a tough call. I left a sizable portion of my crew on Piqus, among a people who are not exactly on the best of terms with us. I did that believing that you were in trouble and needed immediate help. And now I find out all of this has been nothing more than a ruse to get Eagle out here.”

    She seemed to consider her next words before she spoke. “I didn’t realize you were in that position. But it doesn’t change things. You’re here now and they’re back on Piqus. I have to believe that you wouldn’t have left them behind if you believed that they were in any real danger there.”

    It hadn't been what he had wanted to hear from her. He wasn't sure what he had expected. Perhaps an apology, some sort of contrition over her actions maybe which after all were in flagrant violation of Starfleet protocol. But Amaya was playing the role of Starfleet captain to perfection, with no hint that she was not entirely confident of her own decisions. It was a role he understood well, of course, but considering that they were among equals now, considering their relationship, he had expected, or at least hoped, that she would be willing to open up to him, treat him like a real person, instead of just another officer she needed to shield her real emotions from.

    She could clearly tell that he was not being swayed by her arguments and carried on. “Listen, I understand that this wasn’t ideal. I understand you are upset and I probably would be as well if I were in your position. But none of this changes the fact that I need you here,” she said, softening her voice slightly, sounding almost like the Amaya of old, the woman he had fallen in love with probably as early on as their Academy days. But that tone soon changed as she stood again. “Your mission to Piqus was a crapshoot, Michael. A long shot created by an unexpected opportunity. Jarik seems to believe the Krellonians are somehow involved with the subspace aliens but there isn’t any substantive evidence I’ve seen to support that theory.”

    “The disease ravaging that world is very real.”

    She offered a nod. “I’m sure it is. And I’m sure it’s tragic. I hope your people can find a way to help them and who knows, in doing so we might even be able to improve relations with the Krellonians after the centuries they’ve spent in near-isolation. But building diplomatic bridges is not why we’re out here. We’re attempting to prevent an invasion and this won’t happen by trying to play nice with the Krellonians. The invasion, we know, will start right here and we may have found a way to stop it before it can start.”

    He looked up at her bright, shimmering eyes as she spoke, and couldn't quite shake the feeling that she was reading him the riot act. He was the more senior captain between the two of them, had been in rank almost a year longer than she had been, and yet here she was, taking charge and expecting him to toe the line. He had no intention of challenging her since it was obvious that she had been read into their mission in far more detail than he ever had. But her lack of deference bothered him somewhat. "Why here?"

    She regarded him with a quizzical expression. “What?”

    “This invasion; why will it start here? The Amargosa Diaspora is not exactly a strategically valuable sector of space. Most of it is uninhabited and almost all of it sits outside our borders. Other than an abundance of stars, there isn’t really much out here. The entire sector is a nightmare to navigate, the Krellonians don’t venture out here either and beyond Arkaria there aren’t any noteworthy Federation outposts or planets for light-years. What would make this sector so inviting to launch an invasion?”

    “Perhaps it is all those factors you’ve just mentioned. As you said, there isn’t much here. That also means it is poorly defended. Besides, the argument is moot. We have already detected signs of the subspace alien’s activity. It’s why I brought you out here. We know they have their sights set on this place. We can find out their precise motivations once we have made contact.”

    He nodded slowly. “Alright, so what is it you need me to do, exactly?”

    “We have located highly localized concentrations of inverted tetryons in this area.”

    “That shouldn’t be possible outside of subspace.”

    She nodded quickly. “We believe that they have leaked into normal space and are a byproduct of spatial ruptures which have been created to allow the subspace aliens access into our space. We think we can force one of those ruptures open and allow us to enter into their domain.”

    “And you need me for that?”

    “I need Eagle. We have found a way to zero in on the tetryon concentrations and locate the gateway aperture of the ruptures but they are not stable. Like a wormhole, the aperture doesn’t remain fixed in a point in space. We have had some success in wrangling it but in order to do so we need two energy sources to create enough power to attract the ruptures.”

    “Like two starship warp cores?”

    She nodded. “Precisely. We’ve tried it with shuttles and even a runabout, but we haven’t been able to generate raw enough power that way.”

    “So you just need Eagle for what? To be the bait?”

    “Pretty much. Eagle can generate enough power to attract the rupture. We have been able to determine where the rupture’s aperture is likely to manifest itself once it has been attracted. Agamemnon will be waiting for it and I’ll have a team already prepared to enter the subspace fissure.”

    “And then what?”

    “Then we make contact with the subspace aliens, find out their exact plans and stop them if necessary.”

    He couldn’t help but look skeptical. “Just like that.”

    “You don’t have to worry about the details. I’ll handle that part.”

    He considered that for a moment. Jarik had promised him that he wouldn’t be working the same way his father had done. He had touted transparency and openness in the way manner in which they would handle this latest threat. Amaya apparently didn’t share this same belief. Or perhaps there was another issue in play here he didn’t yet see. Perhaps it had something to do with his father’s cryptic message which had kept him up at nights as of late.

    “All the same, I would like my science officer to go over your data first.”

    She clearly didn’t like the sound of this. “We don’t have time for that. You said it yourself, you have an away team back on Piqus. The quicker we get this done, the quicker you can return to pick up your crew. Besides, Jarik’s instructions were quite clear. This is need-to-know only. The fewer people are aware of this, the better.”

    “Are you telling me you didn’t share this information with your crew? I find it hard to believe you’ve been able to get this far without involving them.”
    She hesitated for a moment. “I brought people into my confidence where I had to.”

    Same as he had done, he thought, considering the way he had shared pretty much everything he had learned with his own first officer. He had decided that he would draw a line in the sand. There was a limit on how far he was willing to go without understanding the full implications of what he had been asked to do. "You want my help, my condition is that I know at least as much as your own crew. And I want my own people—at the very least my science officer—to be read in as well. You can count on Commander Xylion's discretion, I'm sure."

    He could see the battle that was being waged behind her steely gaze. Then she offered a small nod. “Fine, I arrange a briefing on Agamemnon,” she said and turned towards the exit. “Join us at zero-nine-hundred hours.”

    “Maya?”

    She stopped short of the doors and turned to face him again.

    He stood from his chair and rounded his desk. There had been a question he had been burning to ask her ever since the day she had come to his quarters and had given him a message which had made him doubt everything. The very nature of that message made it almost impossible for him to talk to her about its content. And yet he knew he needed to.

    She considered him expectantly when he didn’t speak further.

    “A few days ago you gave me a message from my father.”

    She nodded but he could tell that she was tensing up, her facial features becoming guarded all of a sudden.

    “Did you listen to it?” he asked.

    She frowned. “Of course not. It was meant for you, Michael. Why would I listen to it?”

    “Do you have any idea why he gave it to you?”

    “No, Michael, I don’t. We both know he had his own ways of doing things. Maybe he wanted to make sure that you get it. Maybe he was concerned that it could get lost or intercepted over normal channels.”

    “That does sound like my father.”

    For a moment they just stared at each other, neither of them speaking and Michael wondered if she had lied to him. If she had, in fact, listened to the message herself. There had been a time, not so long ago, when he had been able to read her quite well, had been able to tell if she wasn't entirely forthright with him. Lately, she had been a complete mystery to him.

    “Is there something else? We’re burning daylight here, particularly since you are demanding a full briefing package,” she said, sounding cold as ice.

    He shook his head. “No. We’ll be over in half an hour.”

    “Good,” she said and then left his ready room with quick strides, once again not waiting for anyone to escort her back to the transporter room.

    He uttered a sigh as he kept his eyes on those now closed doors. She had indeed been a mystery to him as of late. Except that he was now more certain than ever of at least one indisputable fact.

    Amaya Donners was hiding something from him.
     
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  6. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    7

    Elijah Katanga had been doing medical research long enough to understand the value of patience and yet he had never been very good at exhibiting that quality. He had earned a reputation not just of being stubborn, but also of being terrible at waiting for results.

    He hadn’t been able to stop himself from pacing the entire length of the medical lab, his eyes glancing back forth between the chronometer displayed on one of the computer screens and the main doors.

    He had every reason to be filled with nervous energy, he thought. After all, the next few minutes could determine if he had indeed found an antidote to a virus which had infected an increasingly large portion of the planet-wide population and whether they would be able to start saving lives now, or if the death toll would continue to climb into the hundreds of thousands before a cure could be produced.

    The doors finally parted and he immediately whipped towards the entrance to see DeMara Deen step into the lab. Like most non-Krellonians, she no longer wore an isolation suit since Katanga had been able to evidence with near total certainty that non-Krellonians lacked the biological makeup to be affected by the virus.

    The Tenarian was carrying a tray containing three rows of medical pallets, each one, he knew, containing blood and tissue samples. She placed the tray onto a table.

    "At last," he said and then quickly pulled on his surgical gloves before he picked up the first sample and sat down at a workstation. He slid the palette into a microscope and looked through the viewfinder. "These were just taken?"

    She nodded as she took the workstation next to him to examine the next sample on the tray. “Yes, fifteen minutes ago. I took samples from all groups, including the control group.”

    “The virus is still present in sample A,” said Katanga, trying hard to not let that discourage him.

    “Same with sample B,” said Deen after a moment.

    Elijah reached for the next one and Deen took the one after that.

    He quickly shook his head. “C is no good either,” he said and moved on to the next, not waiting on Deen’s report.

    Together they checked every last sample until the truth became inescapable and left Elijah to utter a loud and heavy sigh as he pushed back in his chair. “It didn’t work.

    “I don’t understand,” said Deen, her own frustration lacing her words as she went back to the microscope to double check their results. “The antiretroviral injections should have neutralized the cell coreceptors which are allowing the virus to replicate. Without the coreceptor, the virus should have no way to attach itself to healthy cells."

    “If there is something I’ve learned in my time as a physician, it’s that organisms find ways to propagate, especially when you are trying to stop them from doing that,” he said, looking off in the distance. “Sometimes the only thing that makes us believe that we can stop nature from taking its course is our own arrogance.”

    Deen looked towards the veteran doctor. “What are you suggesting? Are you saying we should just give up and let this virus kill its hosts?”

    He quickly shook his head. “No, of course not but clearly we need to start from scratch. This is a dead end.”

    “I can’t believe that. We had really promising results with our early trials.”

    Elijah still refused to make eye contact. “All those trials showed us is that there is a small percentage of Krellonians who have a genetic mutation which makes them resistant to the virus if their cells are properly stimulated. It’s not the answer we were hoping for,” he said and stood. “We still don’t know enough about this damn virus and how it infected the first patient. We’re still missing a crucial piece to the puzzle. It’s like trying to plug a leak without knowing where the pipe is broken.”

    The doors to the laboratory opened to allow Tazla Star to step inside. Elijah picked up a nearby padd to continue to explore his thoughts on the matter which he considered to be a much more valuable use of his time than to acknowledging Star’s visit.

    “Any news on the antiretroviral treatment?” she asked.

    “It didn’t work,” Deen said. “Doctor Katanga doesn’t believe it’s the answer we’re looking for.”

    He could feel her quizzical eyes upon him but kept his focus on the padd.

    “We’ve set up our operations here less than twenty-four hours ago. I suppose it was overly optimistic for us to expect to have a viable treatment option available this quickly. These things take time.”

    "And in the meantime, people die," he said without looking up.

    Star decided not to pursue the topic further. "What about our Outlander patients? Local security is eager for us to release them back into their custody. Do we think they'll be able to provide us with any kind of insights into this virus? If not, I really don't believe we can justify holding on to them any longer."

    Deen spoke up again when Katanga clearly didn’t have an opinion to share. “Their injuries have been attended to and they are well on their way to making full recoveries. We’ve also taken plenty of blood and tissue samples. I don’t see a reason to keep them here.”

    "Sure, let's cut them loose just so those trigger-happy, so-called security forces can go and finish the job and shoot them all dead," Elijah said, his eyes still on the padd.

    "I don't like it any more than you do, Eli, but we are not here to try and fix Krellonian social ills. Besides, what is the alternative? This is a hospital, not a prison. And I for one could do without having armed Krellonian guards running around the place."

    He lowered the padd to look her in the eye for the first time since she had arrived. “They were executed in cold blood. Not a hundred meters from where we stand. That’s barbaric and I will not be party to those kinds of atrocities. Not if there is any way I can prevent them.”

    “I’ve been told that the responsible officer acted in violation of established protocols and will be held accountable for his actions. Chief Administrator Chella assured me personally that the Outlander prisoners will receive a fair trial once they’ve been handed over.”

    Elijah turned back to his reading. “I don’t find that reassuring at all. Regardless, it’s a moot point for now. I still need them for additional tests.”

    “What kind of tests?” Star wanted to know.

    “I’ll let you know once I’ve decided, Commander,” he said and shot her brief glance by looking up from the padd. “Anything else?”

    Star remained rooted to the spot for a moment longer as she stared back at the doctor. She exchanged a quick look with Deen who simply shrugged before she turned around and quickly left the lab.

    “I see the two of you are still getting along fabulously,” said Deen once the doors had closed behind the Trill.

    He simply grumbled in response.

    “It’s a shame, really. I know you two have been very close friends for a long time.”

    Elijah turned and looked at her, considering the winsome young Tenarian for a brief moment. “Sometimes it’s the people closest to you who end up hurting you the most.”

    “I suppose that’s true,” she said, “but usually they don’t do it on purpose.”

    "Dee, I believe you are an amazing person, I really do. I don't think I've ever met anyone more kind or caring or—for that matter—more stunningly attractive in my nearly ninety years in this universe. But there are matters I don't believe you are able to fully appreciate at your young age. For all of your great qualities, there are things you simply do not yet have the wisdom—which one can only obtain through good old-fashioned experience and worldliness—to really understand. You'll just have to accept that occasionally that lack of sagacity will be a handicap you won't be able to make up with all your many other skills.

    So please, forgive me if I don’t feel like exploring my deeply-rooted and complicated issues with Tazla Star with somebody who has lived a life a mere fraction of the time I’ve been around. And it’s not as if you would feel comfortable discussing your own your recent troubles with our esteemed captain with me. Or am I wrong?”

    Deen’s wide-open and brilliant purple eyes simply stared back at Katanga, clearly having been caught entirely off guard by those words and now unable to find any of her own.

    Fortunately for her, she didn’t have to, since the lab doors opened yet again to allow another visitor to enter. This time, a uniformed, male Krellonian security officer. He wore a breathing mask to protect himself from potential containment and whereas Star had strode into the lab confidently earlier, the Krellonian appeared downright uncertain about his intrusion.

    Elijah shot the tall man with his Mohawk-style haircut which Krellonian military and security officers seemed to favor an annoyed glare. “What is it you want?”

    The man looked at the doctor for a moment before his eyes slowly came to settle one Deen. “I … uh … need to arrange feeding the prisoners.”

    “Prisoners?” Elijah said sharply. “You mean my patients.”

    He nodded slowly. “The Outlanders, yes.”

    “And?”

    He shot another awkward glance towards Deen, even though his muscular physique, not to mention his chosen line of work, seemed to imply that this was not a man prone to the kind of shyness he was now displaying. “Right. The Lieutenant here has been assisting me with the arrangements.”

    Deen turned to look at the officer for the first time as if she had only now remembered. “Yes, of course. Aspirant Retrel, was it?”

    He nodded quickly. “Orltu Retrel. Just … uh … Orltu is fine,” he said and offered her a growing grin.

    Deen smiled back. “Very well, Orltu. I’ll meet you in five minutes by the replicators.”

    The young officer stayed in place for a moment longer than seemed appropriate, simply grinning at Deen, before he left the room again, without giving the doctor a second thought.

    “My God woman, do you have this kind of effect on all the men you meet?”

    She seemed confused by that.

    “Oh don’t give me that look,” he said. “I didn’t need a tricorder to know that his heartbeat was accelerated to a medically unsafe rate just by being in the same room with you.”

    Deen simply shrugged. “Some people respond to me more than others.”

    “It’s that Tenarian Glow of yours. I would love to study that in more detail and in what ways exactly it affects others around you. Is it a biological effect? Is it purely psychological?”

    She didn’t appear fond of the idea, judging by the relatively cold look in her eyes. “I am about as eager for you to study me as you are discussing your personal relationships, Doctor.”

    He nodded. “Fair enough.”

    “I better get going. These Krellonians don’t like to be kept waiting.”

    “Something tells me that young Aspirant Orltu wouldn’t mind waiting for you until hell freezes over.”

    She regarded him with a disapproving look. “A much more likely scenario is that I will be questioned once more as to when we will release the Outlander patients. And I’m running out of excuses. They’re no longer buying my story that we’ll need them to develop a potential cure for the epidemic,” she said but was already heading for the doors.

    “Maybe not a cure,” Elijah said, almost to himself as a thought was beginning to form in his head.

    Deen stopped to look at him.

    “What have we been told about this virus?” he said. “How this entire epidemic got started in the first place?”

    “That it was a purposeful act by a terrorist group. A biological attack,” she said.”

    He snapped his fingers. “Exactly. By the Outlanders.”

    “Targeted specifically at Krellonians. If that is true, don’t you think they’ve already tried every trick in the book to attempt and get that information from those they believe to be responsible? You’ve seen what they’re capable of. I wouldn’t be surprised if they haven’t tortured people to death to get this information. What makes you think an Outlander would speak to you about this?”

    “Simple,” he said. “I’m not Krellonian. The problem is I can’t get within two meters of an Outlander without one of those security goons sticking his nose in. Now, if I could get some alone time with one of our patients, maybe I could get some answers.”

    “I don’t think I like where this is going.”



    * * *​


    As it turned out, DeMara Deen hadn’t liked Elijah’s plan at all. And yet she had begrudgingly agreed to go along with it.

    All the Outlander patients, those who had raided the facility just the previous night and had all been wounded to some degree or other by the Starfleet team trying to stop them, or, much more viciously, by the Krellonian security forces, were being kept in individual isolation rooms, carefully guarded by armed Krellonian officers.

    One of those rooms allowed easy access via a side door which Elijah could use to slip inside and speak with the patient undisturbed, as long as the single officer standing guard by the main door would not pay attention to the room and the people inside.

    That guard happened to be one Aspirant Orltu Retrel and by the time Elijah had unlocked the side door to gain access, sometime after dinner had been distributed to the patients, Retrel was deeply involved and eagerly participating in a conversation with DeMara Deen a few meters away from his normal post just outside the isolation room.

    Elijah had no idea what it was that Deen was speaking to him about that had him entirely distracted from his duties, but he was certain that the subject of the conversation mattered little to the young officer, as long as he had an excuse to be in her company.

    The patient was an amber furred, lupine T’aq. Since the Krellonians had not been very forthcoming in sharing information about the composition of the Star Alliance, least of which details on the Outlander population, most of what Katanga knew about the T’aq had come from Culsten.

    The lupine race originated from a planet about three light-years from Krellon Prime and had been conquered early on during the Krellonian period of military expansion and conquest. A formidable species in its own right, it had apparently taken decades and many bloody campaigns to fully subjugate this naturally aggressive race. Their athletic prowess, as well as their high level of intelligence, had quickly made the T'aq one of the most favored slave races within the Star Alliance and since their quasi-emancipation, they had also become the loudest voices demanding equal treatment within the Star Alliance.

    As far as Katanga understood matters, Outlanders had the same rights under the law as Krellonians, at least in theory, but in reality, were treated like second-class citizens. It was little surprise then that they had formed armed resistance groups and the T'aq, apparently, were often found among their leaders.

    "Another test?" the T'aq named Hou said upon noticing Elijah stepping inside his room but without paying him much attention. He was lying down on top of his bed, wearing a medical gown which clearly hadn't been designed for his tall and lanky body which to Eli looked like a cross between a full-grown human man and a timber wolf, complete with a fully fur-covered body, a broad and elongated snout and small ears standing up from the top of his skull.

    “I thought perhaps we could have a conversation instead.”

    He directed his gray eyes towards Elijah. From his medical file, he knew that Hou was somewhere between twenty and twenty-five years, which made him a fully-grown, albeit young adult as far as his anatomy was concerned. Those eyes appraising him quietly, however, seemed to speak of a far older individual. “You wish to … talk?”

    Elijah nodded. “Yes, why not? I would like to learn more about you and your people. And I’m happy to share more about mine. I imagine you don’t get to hear much about the galaxy outside the Star Alliance.”

    After a moment he glanced towards the observation windows where he would likely have expected his guard to watch over him.

    “Don’t worry about the security officer. He’s currently otherwise preoccupied.”

    Hou glanced back at Elijah. “What is it you want, Human?”

    It was obvious that he suspected an ulterior motive. “You know why we are here?”

    “To try and help the Krells,” he said and turned away again, seemingly no longer interested in this conversation.

    “I’m a doctor. My job is to help anyone who needs it. I don’t care if they are Krellonian or T’aq or whatever. If somebody is sick, it is my duty to help them get better. It is a code that I and those like me live by. I treated your wounds just like I am treating those who have been affected by this virus.”

    “You have a code. So have I.”

    Elijah took a step closer to the bed. “And what’s your code telling you to do?”

    He said nothing, didn’t even make eye contact again.

    “Do you know anything about this virus, Hou?”

    The corners of his mouth drew upwards in what Elijah assumed was an approximation of a smile, except that his looked much more menacing as he revealed razor sharp teeth. "You wish to learn what I have learned?" He reached up with one arm, his four-fingered hand looking very much like a paw, and then pulled down his garment to reveal his chest.

    Katanga had not treated Hou’s wounds personally but had been told by his staff that some of the Outlander patients had shown signs of physical abuse which predated their most recent injuries. He could see that those reports had been somewhat understated. Entire swaths of his fur had peeled or burned away to lay bare relatively fresh scars where the skin underneath had been cut so deeply, deep and unnatural valleys had formed, crisscrossing his chest and in dire need of skin grafts. There was little that shocked Elijah anymore except perhaps of the callous violence sentient people still insisted on perpetrating on each other. As a physician with decades worth of experience, his first thought, however, was to ensure those wounds would be seen to as soon as possible.

    “What do you think you can do to me, Human, which has not already been done?”

    Eli took an undeterred step closer. “First of all, I will ensure you get the medical care you require.”

    “I suppose you would like me to reward you for that care with information.”

    “No. I don’t require a reward for practicing my craft. But I am asking, as one sapient creature to another, to help me find a way to cure this virus. For you to share whatever information you may have to allow me to do that.”

    Hou pulled the bed sheet over his battered body again and turned his head away once more. “And why would I want to do this? This virus is only killing the Krells. It was designed for that purpose. Why would I want to stop it?”

    “Then you are confirming that this is an engineered virus? That it was spread via a biological attack?”

    But Hou seemed to have no interested in speaking about this further.

    “This pandemic, it’s affecting every single Krellonian. Women, children, the elderly, those who probably have never harmed an Outlander in their life, or would think of doing so. I know enough about your society to know that not every Krellonian is an enemy of your people. Can you truly be satisfied with unleashing a virus which has the potential of eradicating an entire race of people? Can you be callous enough to be party to genocide?” Elijah said, unable to keep the rising fire out of his voice.

    “Perhaps it is divine retribution,” he said coolly, keeping his head turned away. “Perhaps it is the Wolfmother’s will to end the Krells for once and for all. To punish them for all the sins they and their forefathers have committed against the T’aq and the others. I won’t stand in the way of celestial destiny.”

    The door to the isolation room opened suddenly and when Elijah looked up he could see a rather unhappy Retrel standing in the doorway, one hand precariously resting on top of his holstered sidearm. “Doctor,” he said, sounding noticeably aggravated. “You are not authorized to visit a prisoner unsupervised. I must ask you to step out of the room immediately.”

    Deen appeared at his side and placed a gentle hand on his arm which caused him to relax visibly. “That’s quite alright, Orltu, I’m fairly certain that he didn’t mean any harm and that he has finished with his examination of the patient. Aren’t you, Doctor?”

    Elijah looked at them both and then spared on last glance at Hou who refused to look at anyone. “Yes, I suppose I’m done here,” he said and headed for the doors where Orltu and Deen made room for him to step outside. “But we’re not done with Hou’s treatment. I’ll have a team come by later to treat the rest of his injuries. I expect you to allow them full access so that they can do their jobs.”

    Deen stepped in again. “That shouldn’t a problem, should it, Orltu?”

    He swallowed before he spoke. “No, no of course not. As long as … I can supervise their efforts.”

    “Just don’t get in the way,” Elijah barked and then shot one last, parting glance at the lupine in the room. When he showed no signs of interest at all, he left the room and then briskly walked down the corridor to leave the isolation ward.

    Deen caught up with him after a few moments.

    “That was a total waste of time,” he said. “I won’t be able to cut through centuries of mistreatment and growing resentment and mistrust in one short conversation. I doubt even you, with all your charm, could accomplish that feat.”

    “Probably not.”

    Elijah stopped once they had left the ward to face the Tenarian. “And talking about charm, do you really have to be that friendly with the guard? The Krellonians are nothing more than cruel bullies in the worst possible way.”

    Deen responded by crossing her arms in front of her chest defiantly. “You asked me to distract him and that’s what I did. You don’t get to criticize me for how I did it.”

    “Right,” he said.

    She relaxed slightly. “Besides, Orltu isn’t that bad. We had a very interesting conversation, he and I.”

    “That’s nice. But do me a favor and don’t go and become best friends with the people trying to abuse and kill my patients,” he said and turned to walk away.

    “That is hardly fair, Doctor,” she said after him. “Not when it appears I’ve been much more successful than you have.”

    He turned around again to regard her with a quizzical expression. “Oh yes? How do you figure that?”

    She took a step closer. “While your patient may not have been in a mood to talk to you, our eager aspirant was more than willing to open up to me. I learned quite a bit which could prove useful.”

    “Such as?” he asked, sounding doubtful.

    “For one, Orltu doesn’t believe that Hou is involved with the terrorist group behind the virus. So even if he had wanted to speak to you, he probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything useful.”

    “Fantastic. But I don’t see how that helps us.”

    “Well, maybe this will,” she said as she continued. “Orltu was among the security officers who came across the first patients infected by this virus. He can’t tell me where those patients are now but he could tell me exactly where they were found. I think he may have just given me ground zero of this epidemic.”

    Elijah couldn't hide his surprise.

    Deen’s smile widened. “You see, Doctor, I may be young and relatively inexperienced compared to you with your long and illustrious career and I may not have that same wisdom and world-weariness you seem to be so proud of. But that doesn't mean I can't get results through other means. I suggest you keep that in mind the next time you require my help," she said and then turned to walk away, leaving Elijah to watch her stride off, not entirely able to keep a dumbfounded expression off his face.
     
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  7. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    8



    The general interior design of the Agamemnon didn’t differ a great deal from that of Eagle but since she was a slightly newer ship, the color palette was more subdued, with more beige, brown and dark crimson instead of the prevailing gray-tones, oranges, and blues which could be found throughout Michael's command. The design was also more streamlined, perhaps as a reflection of her more aerodynamically shaped outer hull which seemed to speak of speed, agility, and power.

    Michael had always felt a little odd stepping onto a starship with wasn’t his own and perhaps this was true for most ship captains who had gotten used to the feeling of being in control—or at least, in command of their surroundings at most times. On the Agamemnon, however, he was merely a visitor, a guest with no authority over the men and women who crewed her and who looked upon another to lead them.

    He didn’t much care for that feeling and wondered how Amaya had made it look so effortless when she had come to visit Eagle, or perhaps, he now wondered, it had just been a front and she had been just as uncomfortable as he was now, which certainly would have helped to explain her recent attitude.

    He dismissed those latter thoughts, fairly certain that there were other factors to explain her behavior than feeling ill at ease on another captain’s ship.

    Michael and Commander Xylion had been greeted in one of Agamemnon's transporter rooms by Maya’s first officer, an efficient and affable Bolian by the name of Arden Texx, who had exchanged the usual pleasantries before escorting both of them to the ship’s briefing lounge positioned behind the main bridge on the top of her saucer section.

    Michael tried to not let it bother him that Amaya’s briefing room was somewhat more spacious than his own.

    She was already waiting for them along with a tall, dark and broad-chested officer wearing a blue shirt under his uniform and whom she introduced as Wayne Daystrom, Agamemnon’s chief science officer.

    Michael didn’t know Wayne personally but was naturally familiar with his famous grandfather, Richard Daystrom, who had been one of the foremost scientific minds of his generation and the inventor of the duotronic computer on which most modern computers were still based. If not a spitting image of his more famous forbearer, Wayne possessed the same large and imposing frame and while he seemed young to be the head of a science department on a ship of the line, Michael figured that if he had a mind just half as sharp as his grandfather’s had been, he was probably more than qualified.

    Amaya had taken her chair at the head of the conference table as was befitting the ship’s commanding officer and she spent little time on introductions, instead jumping right into the matter at hand. He thought she was doing a poor job of hiding her resentment at having to hold this meeting in the first place and at his instance.

    “Wayne, why don’t you walk our guest through the plan to ensure they’re confident with what we are proposing and alleviate any concerns of possible risks to either ship?”

    Daystrom nodded and then did what science and engineering officers always did throughout the fleet when called upon to demonstrate their latest findings or solutions. He stood from his chair and walked over to the large screen mounted into the wall to give his presentation with the aide of the computer. The young human did so with perhaps a little bit more noticeable enthusiasm than Michael was used to from his more seasoned and somber Vulcan science officer.

    “Of course. We’ll be using a similar method the crew of the Enterprise utilized seven years ago, channeling warp energy directly to the main deflector dish. This will allow us to locate a spatial rupture which we believe functions as a gateway to the subspace domain inhabited by the aliens,” he said and activated the screen to show what appeared to be a scan of a spatial rupture. “However, the location of the rupture is not fixed and will only remain stable for approximately one hour. After that, the rupture itself destabilizes again. We have been able to predict where the rupture will appear which has been consistently at roughly point six light-years relative to our position when we initiate the scan.”

    Michael shot a quick glance towards Xylion, fully aware that he had already made the calculations.

    “At warp nine point nine five, it would require one point three six hours to travel zero point six light-years,” the Vulcan said without delay.

    Amaya nodded. “We’ve tried this a number of different times but on every attempt, we were unable to reach the rupture before it had already destabilized again,” she said with a look in her eyes that was clearly meant to impart that she had not reached out to him and Eagle on a whim.

    He was still not convinced that it justified the abuse of a priority distress call. “If you have the approximate location of where the rupture will appear, why couldn’t you just get a shuttle or runabout near those coordinates and just wait for it to show up?”

    Amaya turned to Daystrom. “Wayne, would you mind taking that one?”

    The young scientist hesitated for a moment, as if not knowing what to make of her tone before he turned back to the screen to activate a simulation. "We've attempted this as well," he said as another part of the screen began to display a computer graphic of the region of space shaped into a grid. A large Starfleet delta on the left-hand side of the screen represented Agamemnon. The delta lit up to indicate that the ship had started the process to scan for the rupture which appeared shortly thereafter near the center of the screen and represented by a red dot.

    “This is what happens when we try to detect the anomaly. As I mentioned it will appear approximately point six light-years from our given position,” he said and entered another command. This time a smaller Starfleet delta representing a support craft, took position near where the red dot had appeared. But on this occasion when Agamemnon initiated the scan again, the rupture reformed not where it had before but some additional distance away from Agamemnon and the support craft.

    “It doesn’t like to appear near a solid object as far as we can tell,” said Maya.

    Eagle is a solid object,” Michael said.

    She once again referred to her science officer.

    "Here is what happens if we invert the shuttle's warp field," he said and entered a few more commands. This time the dot appeared much closer to the shuttle. "In this next exercise, we inverted the warp field of the runabout which has a more powerful warp core." The dot appeared even closer to the smaller delta now. "It's still not close enough to reach it before it destabilizes, especially not with the limited speed of a shuttle or runabout, but we've been able to determine that the rupture distance directly corresponds to the power of the vessel's warp drive. Or more precisely, to the strength of the inverted warp field that the vessel is able to generate."

    “Think of it like a magnet,” said Maya. “The more powerful the magnet and the magnetic field it can produce, the higher the level of attraction, and the closer the rupture appears.”

    Wayne nodded along. “According to our calculations, the warp drive of a starship will be able to produce an inverted warp field powerful enough to attract the rupture to a distance close enough to allow us to reach it before it collapses. “

    "And once we do, then what?" Michael said, looking at his fellow starship captain. "Do you expect us to just walk into subspace and confront these aliens? How do we even know this rupture will take us where we need to go?" He realized that he had sounded slightly more confrontational than perhaps he had wanted to, but the truth was, he was growing increasingly irritated with the way Amaya was running this operation without so much as consulting him first. Perhaps he was even somewhat hurt that she had adopted such a single-minded approach.

    She clearly didn’t miss his prickly tone and responded in kind. “You won’t have to worry about any of that,” she said curtly. “In our plan, Eagle will be the ship to initiate the scan for the rupture and we will be in a position to approach the anomaly. I already have a team prepared to enter the rupture and make contact with the subspace aliens."

    He considered her for a moment longer, but when she had nothing more to add, he instead turned back to his own science officer. “Commander, what are your thoughts on this plan so far?”

    Xylion raised an eyebrow in typical Vulcan fashion before he responded, keeping his eyes on the screen which still ran Daystrom’s most recent simulation. “I would need to study the data in more detail before I can form a definitive conclusion. Subspace anomalies are difficult to predict and often do not adhere to established astrophysical parameters.”

    Maya shook her head before he had even stopped talking. “We don’t have the time for a second opinion on this,” she said and looked at Michael. “We’ve already studied this phenomenon for the last few days and I’m not willing to waste any more time. We need to do this now. Besides, you said it yourself; you have your own mission and half your crew stuck back on Piqus. The sooner we get this done, the sooner you can get back to that.”

    Michael had to acknowledge that she did make a decent point, certainly regarding his concerns about leaving Star and her team practically stranded on a Krellonian colony. Maya seemed to be determined that Eagle was to do little more than playing the role of a glorified lighthouse, showing Agamemnon the way to where they needed to go, meaning that all of the risks were Amaya's to shoulder. And who was he to tell her what risks she should and shouldn't take with her own ship and crew? Still, it bothered him. "I don't think this a good idea," he said but then continued when he noticed her growing frown. "But I understand the urgency and accept that this is a risk worth taking."

    “Excellent,” she said and quickly stood, clearly eager to get underway after the time already lost explaining her plan. “Wayne will let you know everything you need to know to make the necessary modifications to your ship. As soon as you are back on Eagle, we’ll set course for the location we believe the rupture will appear. You should be able to get started in … what?” she said, glancing briefly at Daystrom. “Four hours?”

    He nodded.

    “We’ll head your way as soon as the rupture has appeared,” Michael said.

    "There's really no point. By the time you reach us, the rupture will already have closed and we'll be back in normal space. We'll have to work on a strict timeline."

    He decided to stick to his guns. “Nevertheless, I’d be more comfortable if you have some backup even if we won’t get there in time. Just in case something does go wrong.”

    Amaya clearly didn’t want to spend time arguing the point and simply offered a short nod. She turned to her first officer who had not spoken throughout the meeting. “Arden, make sure you escort our guests back to the transporter room as soon as they are done here.”

    “Will do.”

    She offered one last brief glance towards Michael and Xylion, exchanging nothing more than curt nods before she quickly left the room and by doing so removing any chance for him to try and speak to her further about this plan or anything else for that matter.
     
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  8. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    9

    Most people who had crossed paths with Doctor Elijah Katanga over his long and illustrious medical career had come to learn that not much was able to come between him and a task he had set himself and that it was usually easier for everyone involved to either stand beside him or just get out of the way altogether. It was a lesson the crew of Eagle had learned pretty quickly after he had come aboard.

    So when Elijah was barreling down the hallway of the field hospital, making a beeline for the administrative office, Nora Laas, who was standing guard outside the doors and who, by all accounts, was a person not afraid of facing any foe, quickly stepped aside when the physician didn’t even slow down his approach.

    Elijah had not even stopped to consider why the security chief was guarding the small administrative section of the facility and had been too preoccupied to even notice the trio of Krellonian security guards that had been with her.

    Instead, he stepped right through the parting doors with the singular mission of confronting Tazla Star and get her to approve what needed to be done.

    “Ah, Doctor Katanga, just in time,” said the Trill first officer when she spotted him entering the room, doing an admirable job at hiding her irritation at the way he had barged inside.

    Elijah paused for a moment, confused by her surprisingly accommodating tone, one he hadn’t expected considering the heated nature of their latest encounters. It was only then that he took stock of the other person in the room. Chief Administrator Chella, wearing a breathing mask, stood to one side, apparently having arrived for another round of inspections.

    “We were just discussing the progress you have made on identifying the nature of the virus,” Star said.

    “Or rather the lack of it,” said Chella, sounding noticeably displeased which as far as Elijah was concerned, was her default demeanor, since he had never observed the woman with anything else but a frown etched into her serious features.

    “We have made more progress in isolating and identifying the active retrovirus attacking the Krellonian immune system in two days than your physicians have done in two weeks.”

    Chella’s frown only deepened. Whereas Elijah would have considered such news a positive development, the Krellonian leader seemed to take offense to his brazen tone.

    Star, ever playing the part of the diplomat—which was curious in itself, since he vividly recalled that her previous host and his good friend Dezwin, had been anything but—quickly put on a smile. “What the good doctor is trying to say,” she said and threw him a quick, warning glance, before turning back towards Chella, “albeit rather clumsily, is that it takes time to find a cure for a such a viral disease, but that we are pursuing a number of promising avenues.”

    Elijah had no idea when exactly she had turned from a plain truth-speaker to somebody trying to twist and embellish reality in order to present it in a more favorable light. It hadn't been after Dezwin had been joined with Star, that much he was sure of. That only left the possibility that it had to have been Tazla's ambitions that had steered Star into this direction. For all his medical knowledge and experience, he wasn't an expert in Trill psychology and how multiple joinings over the centuries, with the symbiont moving from one host to the next, each time merging with a new individual, affected the new person this fusion inevitably created. He knew, however, that he was beginning to resent this latest iteration of Star. "At the moment there really is just one avenue I am interested in," he said.

    Star gave him a surprised look, clearly not happy with the contradiction, nor, apparently knowing exactly where he was going with it, and probably having hoped he’d voice such thoughts in private with her first.

    That was too bad, as far as he was concerned. He needed to move on this now.

    “And what would that be?” Chella asked.

    “We need to identify where this virus first originated and who the first patients were.”

    She shook her head. “The first victims of this attack are already dead, Doctor.”

    "I'll need to carry out extensive autopsies on their bodies. But in the meantime, I need access to the Paradise Quarter in the city."

    “What for?” Chella said.

    “I have it on good authority that it might be the epic center of this disease.”

    But the administrator shook her head. “Out of the question. I will not allow alien visitors to mingle with our people. I made that very clear from the start. Besides, there is nothing to find in the Paradise District. It’s a rundown slum filled with abandoned buildings and a few dilapidated tenements occupied by Outlander low-lives. It's the last place these terrorists would have released their weapon. Krellonians do not tend to frequent that area."

    "Be that as it may," he said, not willing to back down, now that he had an angle to pursue. "I'll still need to investigate the area. If it is as abandoned as you say, there won't be much chance of us disturbing the natives."

    Star frowned at his choice of words.

    Chella didn’t like it either. “This is a line I am not willing to cross. And that is my final decision on this matter. If you feel that there might be something in the Paradise Quarter that could help you, I’m willing to send some of my security people to investigate if you tell me what they should look for.”

    “It’s not going to work that way,” he said, shaking his head in frustration. “I won’t know what I’m looking for until I see it. I’m the one who will need to go.”

    Chella glanced at Star in exasperation, trying to prompt her to talk some sense into her subordinate.

    But before either of them could respond, the door of the room opened and Aspirant Retrel stepped inside. “Apologies for the disruption, Chief Administrator, but you have an emergency call.”

    Chella reacted immediately, like an official who had gotten quite efficient in dealing with ongoing crises over the last few weeks. “Excuse me,” she said and promptly followed the aspirant out of the room.

    "Very nice, Eli," Star said in a mocking tone as soon as the doors had closed behind her. "Really, well done. Why don't you try to insult her some more while you're at it? I can't see how it could possibly hurt our efforts at this point."

    “Spare me the sarcasm, it doesn’t suit you at all.”

    “It seems I haven’t got much else left,” she said, shooting back.

    “I don’t know, looks to me you have plenty of smiles and pretty words to offer to the pigheaded administrator.”

    “It’s called tact. You might want to try it sometime.”

    He just turned his back to her. "I'll have plenty of tact once this crisis is over. For now, I need plain and simple action. Not dancing around the issues at hand and desperately trying to make friends in high places."

    She took a step towards him. “That’s what you don’t get, Eli. No one can deny that you’re a brilliant physician. Dez would never have admitted it, but even he knew that you were more talented than he ever was. But you can’t solve every problem with a direct approach. Sometimes you have to grease the wheel a little bit to get what you need.”

    “Well, I’ll leave the wheeling and dealing to you, you seem to have gotten quite adept at it. I’ll focus on the trying to save this planet.”

    She uttered an exasperated sigh. “You’re not making that part easy on me. Now, what’s this talk about the Paradise Quarter?”

    He turned back to face her. “You can thank our lovely DeMara and her inexplicably powerful charms for that information. According to some members of the Krellonian security forces, that’s where the first victims came from. I need to see for myself.”

    “If Chella is right about that place, it doesn’t sound like it makes sense as the target of a biological attack.”

    “At the moment, I don’t care what may or may not make sense. It’s a lead and we need to follow it.”

    Star determinedly shook her head. “We’re not going to disregard directives from Krellonian authorities while we are playing in their backyard. I could try to get in touch with Councilor Yorlo and see if he can put some pressure on her, but I don’t like the idea of what that could mean for our relationship with her. We’ll still need to work with Administrator Chella here on the ground.”

    Eli groaned inwardly as Star yet again expressed her concerns about the political implications of their actions instead of focusing on what was truly important. “Yorlo is not exactly expedient. The last time we tried to get something done through him we were sitting on our backsides for days. We don’t have the time for this.”

    The doors opened once more and Chella reemerged. Elijah quickly realized that frowning was apparently not the only expression in her repertoire. The Krellonian woman looked positively distraught. Close to tears, in fact. “It’s my daughter. They found her collapsed in our home. She’s got the plague.”

    Star, to her credit, immediately sprung into action. “Let’s have her beamed directly to this facility,” she said and then looked at him. “Get an examination room prepped for an incoming patient.”

    Elijah didn’t hesitate either this time and quickly stepped out, beating both Star and Chella to it, in order to lead the team examining this latest patient himself.

    Less than two minutes later, Chella's daughter had materialized in one of the hospital's examination rooms. Elijah guessed her age to be between twelve and fourteen and of average size and build for an adolescent Krellonian girl. Her face was already paler than it had any rights to be and she was unconscious.

    Not a moment after she had materialized, her upset mother barged into the room. "Yira, no. Please, no. I told you, I told you to stay at home. To be careful. How is this possible?" she cried, verging between anger, frustration, and fear.

    DeMara Deen was on hand before Elijah had to say it and the Tenarian gently reached out to the woman. “Administrator, please, let the doctor and his team do their jobs. We’ll be able to observe from outside the room and stay out of their way as they help your daughter.”

    Chella made eye contact with Deen and her calm demeanor seemed to rub off on her as she was being gently guided out of the room, even if her increasingly wet eyes darted back to the form of her unconscious daughter on the biobed.

    Elijah and his team worked on their newest patient for twenty minutes, first confirming what they were up against—it was, without doubt, yet another case of the Piqus Plague—then using various proven methods to stabilize her fluctuating bio readings before trying to apply some of the treatments which had shown success in slowing the spread of the retrovirus to the victim’s immune system.

    When he emerged from the room a good twenty minutes later, Chella was waiting for him, along with Tazla Star.

    “She is late stage two,” he said in that tone that doctor’s used when breaking bad news to their patients’ loved ones. “We’ve stabilized her for now.”

    Chella seemed shaken with disbelieve. “Stage two? That’s not possible. She has shown no symptoms at all. No signs that she had even been infected.”

    "The symptoms are all there. The best I can guess is that she has been hiding them very well," he said and didn't add his second best guess, which was that Chella had simply not noticed them.

    The pained look in her eyes seemed to confirm that it was probably the more accurate hypothesis and that the chief administrator had been so busy with the unfolding medical crisis on her world, that she had not had the time to take note of the deteriorating condition of her own daughter.

    “I …” she started out but the rest of the words died in her throat. “Can I see her?”

    He nodded. “She is conscious but weak. You can talk to her for a few minutes.”

    Chella turned towards the room.

    “Administrator, there’s still the matter of—“ Elijah stopped when he felt a hand around his arm. He turned to see that it belonged to Star who gave him a persistent look, shaking her head slightly.

    When he looked back towards Chella, he realized that she hadn’t even noticed him speak and had instead continued into the room to be with her daughter.

    This time Eli relented. But as Star let go of him and he left the examination ward, he was more determined than ever that he was not going to give up on the task ahead of him. After all, and as most people who knew him were very much aware, little could stand in his way to deter him once he had set himself one.
     
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  9. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    10


    “Doctor Katanga has some ideas on what needs to be done in order to find a cure for this epidemic. Let’s just say they are not exactly orthodox and the local authorities here are not overly impressed with his suggestions.”

    Michael nodded, having known the stubborn physician long enough to be able to picture exactly what Star was reporting. “I trust you have things in hand.”

    To this, she uttered a sigh.

    “That bad?”

    “The good doctor has been more difficult than usual as of late,” she said as her picture monetarily dropped out from his screen due to interference, only to be quickly replaced again.

    “I had noticed,” he said, not having missed the unusual animosity between his XO and chief medical officer. He had his suspicions as to the nature of their disagreement but had not pried into the matter.

    “I will handle it,” she said, sounding much more resolute and dispelling any concerns that her quarrels with her longtime friend and colleague would endanger the mission.

    Truthfully Michael had none. It had been a long journey—for both of them—but he had learned to trust Tazla Star’s instincts and abilities to overcome the challenges she faced. “I’m certain that you do.”

    She offered a small bop of her head to acknowledge his confidence in her before she moved on. “I am also glad to report that our other personnel issue is starting to make progress.”

    “Oh?”

    "The officer we were discussing previously and who has raised some motivational concerns in the latest performance evaluations has started to show some actual interest in performing her duties in the manner we would expect her to. It's too early to say if it will show any results but it is a good first step."

    He needed no further reminder of what Star was talking about. Her long background in the clandestine intelligence community had made it easy for her to talk about something of significance without making it appear important to anyone possibly listening in to their conversation. The channel was encrypted as to standard procedures, of course, but that alone didn’t guarantee their privacy, especially not since she was transmitting from a planet ruled by a xenophobic government which as far as they knew, could have been plotting with an alien race to invade the Federation.

    “Glad to hear it. Keep a close eye on the situation. I expect all my officers to perform their duties to the best of their abilities, but in this particular case, I appreciate that there are mitigating circumstances to consider.”

    She nodded. “I understand,” she said. “And I will be available to offer my full support where necessary.”

    “It is in our best interest that this officer moves past her recent issues and shows some initiative soon. But let’s not yet force the issue.”

    Star smirked. “I’ll be gentle.”

    He nodded.

    “How about your situation?” she asked. “Is the Agamemnon all right?

    Michael uttered a little sigh. Mindful that this transmission could be intercepted, he couldn’t just come out and say what was really on his mind or offer any details on why Eagle had returned to the Diaspora under pretenses. “Her situation is currently stable. However, they will require some additional assistance before we can return. Working with Captain Donners hasn’t been as smooth as I would like.”

    Star seemed to appreciate his ongoing frustration with the greater issues at play and which only the two of them understood at present. Or rather, didn’t. At least not fully. "We should be fine fending for ourselves for a while longer. We had a small incident with looters yesterday and a rather overzealous and disproportionate response by the local security forces but we've been able to contain the situation."

    Michael perked up. “Any casualties?”

    She shook her head. “Not on our side. But some of the looters were killed by the security forces. Administrator Chella has assured me that she’s looking into the matter but I’m not holding my breath. Civil liberties don’t appear to be priorities in Krellonian society. Not where certain segments of the population are concerned.”

    "Just be careful and don't get involved in internal politics, no matter how tempting. Our mission focus must remain on providing medical assistance and try to find a way to cure that disease. That's how we spread goodwill and perhaps improve relationships in the long term."

    “You don’t have to tell me, sir. And I think, for the most part, our people understand this. With a few minor exceptions. But I’ll handle those.”

    He had a pretty good idea whom she was referring to.

    “Our relationship with Administrator Chella has improved since her daughter has unexpectedly fallen sick and we have taken her in as a patient. We’re hopeful that the disease hasn’t spread so far that she cannot still be saved. Once we find a cure, that is.”

    Michael frowned as he noticed her image on his computer screen beginning to distort with static. It hadn’t been stable from the start, mostly thanks to the suboptimal conditions for subspace communications inside the Amargosa Diaspora and the heavy electromagnetic radiation prevalent within due to the high concentration of stars in the cluster.

    “We’re about to lose the real-time uplink,” he said, expecting the connection to terminate shortly. “I have every confidence that you’ll stay on top of the situation on the ground, considering the challenging circumstances. I’ll try to contact you again within twenty-four hours.”

    He could just about see Tazla Star nodding but her words were too heavily distorted to make out clearly before she cut out completely.

    Michael leaned back in his chair, considering the screen of his computer console which once again only displayed the blue and silver seal of the Federation. He hated the feeling of being so far removed from his own people, for all intents and purposes, stranded on an alien world. But he also knew that at least for now, Star and her people were on their own while he dealt with a potentially far larger concern. He had lied when he had said that he trusted Star and her team on Piqus to be able to handle whatever came their way. He just wished he had the same confidence about what Amaya Donners was up to while they were meddling with forces beyond regular time and space.
     
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  10. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    11

    Lif Culsten hated being on Piqus. He hated being sequestered in the runabout to reduce the chance of being infected by the patients in the temporary medical facility he had helped set-up just next door, he hated the cold and windy climate which made it downright hazardous to step outside during certain times of the day, and he hated being surrounded by the small-mindedness of his own people who looked upon any stranger with guarded suspicion and treated the Outlanders, the very people they had once enslaved, still little better than second-class citizens even after so-called reformed and equal rights.

    He also hated the fact that Eagle had come to this world for apparently no other reason than because his own uncle had pulled the necessary strings to get him—not a Starfleet ship, or urgently needed medical assistance—but really only just him, all the way out to this planet.

    The epidemic which was raging across this small colony world was a terrible disaster, of course, and Eagle was well equipped to deal with such a calamity, especially since Doctor Katanga was a specialist not just in virology but also, as he had already proven, in quickly setting up a medical operation on planets far removed from the Federation. But the fact that he served on Eagle was nothing more than a lucky accident and if not for Lif, it could really have been any Starfleet ship that could have been dispatched to try and solve this crisis.

    He wasn’t sure what had been more depressing, the fact that this virus was killing hundreds of Krellonians, or the fact that his uncle had used this disaster as a pretense to get him to Piqus and find out what his estranged wife was up to.

    Lif was particularly unhappy that he had been asked to stay behind on this planet after Eagle had left to answer Agamemnon’s distress signal when he had made it clear that he had no interest whatsoever to get involved in the personal or, more likely, the political squabbled within his own family.

    And yet everybody around him had appeared to have an opinion on it, starting with the captain who had made it clear, for reasons which still mystified him, that he should take his uncle up on his request. He had stopped short of ordering his compliance but it was obvious that Star expected him to fall into line, simply by the tone in her voice and the way she looked at him every time she checked up on him, which he had found had become far more frequently than he would have liked.

    Louise's feelings on the matter were equally apparent, especially since the incident of the Outlanders being executed by security forces practically right in front of their eyes. She had been colder and more distant since they had returned from shore leave where she had not only discovered about the poor treatment of Outlanders on the homeworld but also about his refusal to get involved with this highly divisive and political issue.

    It hadn't stopped there. Following the most recent incident, he had been able to see a change in the way many of his friends and colleagues regarded him as if they couldn't understand how he could have so much in common with a people who considered civil rights an inconvenient afterthought.

    So he had finally given in. He didn’t expect that it would make much of a difference, but he understood that he needed to be seen to at least try and make a difference and so, after long contemplation, he had reached out to Star to let her know that he was ready to try and meet with Garla.

    Chief Administrator Chella, who as it quickly became apparent, was aware of Garla’s presence on Piqus and not at all a big fan of a Sentinel of the Eye operating on her turf with impunity, did however allow for Lif to travel to the nearby capital city as long as he went as a civilian, left his Starfleet uniform behind and was not accompanied by any non-Krellonian offworlders.

    Approval was further expedited by the fact that Chella had pretty much started living at the medical facility since her daughter had been admitted.

    Just a few hours after Lif had approached Star with his decision, he materialized in the central transporter station near the core of Piqus City and just a few blocks away from where he had been told he’d be able to find his aunt.

    The weather was milder and much less blustery in the city thanks perhaps to the cluster of high-rise buildings at its center, and while it was by no means Risa, he had little difficulties to navigate the unfamiliar city which in essence resembled many other medium-sized Krellonian population centers throughout the Star Alliance.

    The Eye kept their local headquarters in an indistinct high-rise building with markings and signage that gave no indication to its true purpose.

    It wasn't until he stepped into the foyer of the building that he realized that he was probably in the right place since the area was dominated by heavily armed security personnel.

    A delicate Kridrip Outlander with long braided hair and large eyes seemed to spot him immediately after he had stepped inside. “Liftu?”

    He flinched slightly by the way he pronounced his name. “Yes.”

    “I am Tenn. Sentinel Garla is expecting you.”

    His surprise lasted only a mere heartbeat. It seemed a foregone conclusion that a person who made her living as a spymaster would have already been expecting him. "Lead the way," he said. The fact that Garla had Outlanders working for her gave him hope that she was not as bigoted as the general Krellonian population, particularly on a provincial colony world such as Piqus. The truth was that although he and Garla had been very close when he had grown up, it hadn't been until his late adolescents that he had even become consciously aware of the pervasive intolerance among his own people, including among his own friends and family. Garla had always seemed somehow above petty racism and discrimination but he had to admit that he didn't really know her personal politics.

    Tenn led him towards an elevator, the three armed men guarding it, stepping aside wordlessly, and once inside he waved his fingers in front of a console, causing it to speed up the tall building.

    “Do many Outlanders work here?” he said as they stood in silence while the lift was speeding to its destination.

    Tenn simply turned his large yellow eyes towards him, regarding him for a few moments but didn't respond making Lif wonder if he had perhaps offended him. If he had, his facial expressions which remained cool and neutral didn't reveal it.

    The lift arrived before the silence between them threatened to become awkward. “This way,” he said as the doors opened and he stepped out of the elevator.

    Lif understood that her role as a Sentinel—a position for which there really wasn’t any comparable role within Starfleet or even the Federation that he was aware of—gave Garla a great level of resources and autonomy to pursue projects she considered significant for the good of the Star Alliance. As such he had expected Tenn to escort him into a large office for someone befitting her importance. He was surprised when he was led into a holodeck instead.

    A very good one as it turned out and certainly much more advanced than the early versions he had encountered before he had left for the Federation.

    They stepped into a very faithful representation of what he believed to be the Great Rivers Lowlands, an expansive area of mostly untouched wildland where three of the largest rivers on Krellon merged and dropped into a massive waterfall.

    Great Rivers was just a few kilometers to the south of where Lif had spent much of his childhood and as far as he knew was also where Garla had been born.

    They found her standing on a natural overlook which offered a spectacular view of the cascade. As far as he could see, the three of them were the only people for kilometers.

    Lif marveled once more at how well his aunt had aged over the years as she still looked almost exactly the way he had remembered her from his childhood, with the same short, dark hair cut, a tall frame and a trim and athletic body, well-defined in a brown and gray formfitting suit which was more uniform than business suit and seemed to imply that she was ready for action. Her age-defying appearance seemed unsurprising since he remembered her always having been very athletic.

    “I was wondering when you would finally come to visit,” she said with a beaming smile which revealed rows of white teeth. “You’ve been on Piqus for two days now and I haven’t even heard a peep until now.”

    “I was not aware you’d be here,” he said, only half-lying. He had certainly not expected to run into her on this backwater world. Not until Yorlo’s unexpected visit.

    Her always-appraising eyes revealed that she didn’t fully buy it. “Thank you, Tenn,” she said to her assistant. “That will be all for now.”

    He nodded deeply and then, without gracing Lif with another glance, he quickly departed the holodeck.

    Lif walked closer to the edge of the outlook. It only now occurred to him that the usually ear-splitting rush of the waterfall below had been muted significantly, likely to allow for conversation. “I always liked this spot.”

    She nodded. “We could arrange a trip to the real thing.”

    He quickly shook his head. “That’s a couple of weeks round trip from here,” he said. “I can’t leave for that long.”

    “I suppose not. Besides, you’ve only just been back to Krellon—what has it been? Three weeks ago? Did you get a chance to come here then?”

    “We didn’t have the time to take in all the sights,” he said, keeping his eyes on the majestic waterfall.

    “And I remember you brought a companion along. How is your friend the engineer? You seemed quite fond of Lieutenant Hopkins.”

    He turned to face her, frowning slightly. It bothered him that she recalled her name with such ease after only meeting her once, and even then only briefly.

    “Don’t give me that look,” she said. “It is my job to know these things.”

    “Of course it is.”

    “Why don’t you tell me a little bit more about you instead?” she said as she walked over to a tree stump and took a seat. “We didn’t get much of a chance to speak the last time.”

    “All you wanted to talk about was the supposedly great work you were involved in and how I could help you with making it a success, but you never really told me what it was about.”

    “Why? Have you changed your mind about my offer?”

    He hesitated. If his purpose of coming here had been to learn more about her work, as his uncle had asked him to do than it made sense for him to pretend that he was interested. But he knew that Garla would see through his ruse almost instantly.

    “Or have you come here because my misguided husband is desperate to learn my secrets?”

    His eyes betrayed his surprise for a moment. He knew she was good at reading people, he hadn’t expected her to know the exact nature of his conversation with Yorlo.

    She smirked. “Please. What kind of Sentinel would I be if I didn’t know about the comings and goings of influential council members and their meetings onboard foreign starships?”

    “I am not interested in whatever is going on between you and Yorlo. As far as I’m concerned that is between the two of you.”

    "If it were only that simple," she said as she momentarily glanced past him and towards the waterfall. "So tell me then, my dear nephew, what is it that has you interested? That made you come to see me after you had sworn off dealing with any of your own kind ever again."

    His frown deepened, not appreciating her psychoanalysis. “I didn’t come back here by choice. I’m a Starfleet officer and I go where they send me.”

    “Yes,” she said, not quite able to keep the suspicion out of her voice. “And they’ve sent you all the way out here. To a meaningless rock in the middle of nowhere.”

    “On which a serious epidemic has taken hold among the populace.”

    She nodded. “That is tragic. But I can’t imagine that it is the Piqus Plague that has brought you to see me. I’m no physician and last time I checked neither are you.”

    Lif took a moment to let his eyes wander across the lush landscape of hills and mountains, and thick forests and blue rivers before he settled back onto Garla. "I came here because I am sick to death of how my so-called people treat everyone who is just a little bit different then they are. With their total lack of respect, decency, and compassion for other beings. I am ashamed and disgusted that after all those decades since we have subjugated and enslaved half a dozen races, we still haven't been able to come to grips with the horrible things we have done, and continue to allow ourselves to wallow in our own ignorance and narrow-mindedness as if history never happened."

    Garla's smile had disappeared as she stood to look directly at her nephew, standing nearly face-to-face with him. "If that is how you truly feel, Lif, than you have come exactly to the right place."

    “How is that?”

    “Because I agree with everything you just said. And what is more, I have the cure to not just what has been ailing you, but to the cancer which has plagued the entire Star Alliance for centuries. I know how to fix everything.”
     
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  11. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Part Four: Charybdis



    1

    “Sir, we have reached our target position,” Ensign Srena, the Andorian helmsman reported as she turned to look at the captain sitting in his chair behind her.

    “Very good. Come to a full stop.”

    “Full stop, aye sir,” she said faced her station again to execute the order.

    Michael could feel the ship slowing and within moments Srena reported that they had come to a standstill. He stood from the captain’s chair and walked up the slight incline and towards the back of the bridge where Xylion sat at the aft science station. “Commander, are we ready to scan for the anomaly?”

    The Vulcan offered a minuscule nod as he worked his instruments. "We have received the exact specifications from Agamemnon and engineering reports that we are ready to channel warp energy through the main deflector,” he said. “According to Lieutenant Daystrom, this will cause the subspace rupture to appear approximately point six light-years of our position.”

    “And close to Agamemnon’s current coordinates?”

    "Once they invert their warp field, her energy signature should theoretically attract the rupture to appear close to their location," said the Vulcan.

    Hearing it all for the second time didn't change the fact that he still didn't much care for this plan. He turned back towards the front of the bridge before he glanced at Leva at tactical. "Commander, hail the Agamemnon, please.”

    He activated the required panels on his board and Amaya Donners promptly appeared, larger than life, on the main view screen. “Are you ready to initiate the scan?” she said without preamble.

    Michael nodded but wasn’t quite able to keep a frown off his face. “Yes. Are you still planning on entering the anomaly once it appears?”

    “We’ve already covered this. I will lead a team into subspace as soon as we have made contact with the rupture.”

    His eyes opened a little wider in surprise. He had known that she had planned to send a team, but she had not told him that she was planning on leading it herself, which seemed a clear violation of standard protocol pertaining to commanding officers partaking in potentially dangerous away missions. He knew that Amaya had always been a very hands-on starship captain, preferring to lead from the front rather than watching others take the risks instead, and while he thought this was admirable in theory, he also understood that there were good reasons for protocols like these. “You are planning to go yourself?”

    “Michael, we don’t have the time to go through all the details. Yes, I’ll be leading the mission since I have the greatest amount of knowledge about what we might be facing in subspace. It makes the most sense,” she said, indicating that she may have briefed her crew about some of the details about their mission, but apparently, and as to Jarik’s instruction, had kept some of them to herself.

    He could tell that there was little point in trying to talk her out of it. “And how do you actually plan to accomplish this?” he said, ignoring her increasing impatience. She needed him and Eagle to do what she had planned, the least she could do is answer his questions first, he argued. “Taking a stroll into a subspace domain isn’t exactly standard procedure.”

    “Rest assured we’re well prepared,” she said. “We will be using specially modified personal shields which will protect the away team from the environment we expect to encounter long enough to fulfill our mission. Now, if you don’t mind, we are on a bit of a schedule here.”

    He nodded slowly and turned back towards his science officer. “Commander, initiate the sequence.”

    "Initiating the main deflector now," he said as his fingers danced over the console.

    On the main screen, Maya’s lips curled up into a little smile. “We’ve got it. Just where we thought it would show up. Well done, Eagle. We should be able to get in range in just a few minutes and—“

    “Sir, the rupture is destabilizing,” said Xylion.

    Amaya’s smile disappeared. “That shouldn’t be happening.”

    “At the present rate it will disperse before the Agamemnon will be able to make contact,” the Vulcan said.

    She shot Michael a sharp look across the screen. “You’ve made an error in your calculations.”

    He walked over to Xylion to look over his shoulder even if much of what his screens displayed was beyond his much more elementary grasp of subspace science. “Is it possible?”

    Xylion reviewed his data at a speed which threatened to give him a headache and then looked up. “No mistakes, Captain. The calculations are exactly as provided by Lieutenant Daystrom.”

    Obviously, they are not,” she said from the main view screen. “If they had been the anomaly wouldn’t have destabilized so quickly.”

    Michael whirled back around, trying to keep his anger in check. Her recent attitude was beginning to test his patience, more so now that she found it so easy to blame them for the failure of her own plan. “We’ve done exactly as you asked, Maya. If there is an error, it’s not on our side.”

    The two starship captains glared at each other for a moment and Michael wondered once again at one point they had become so adversarial with each other. She backed off first. “Fine. Still, to be sure, I recommend you carry out a level three diagnostic of all the relevant systems including the main deflector. And send us all your data on the attempt and we will review the calculations and make any amends as necessary.”

    He nodded slowly but said nothing.

    “Let’s try this again once we know what went wrong, Donners out.” And with that, her face blinked out from the screen.

    Michael looked back at his science officer. “Let’s do as she says and send her everything, including the outcome of the diagnostics.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Bensu to Captain Owens.”

    Michael looked up upon hearing the unexpected voice and then exchanged a puzzled look with Xylion. It wasn’t often that he heard from his bartender, in fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he had commed him directly. Judging from Xylion’s raised brow, he too had not expected this.

    “Yes, Mister Bensu, how can I help you?”

    “Sir, I was wondering if I could come see you on the bridge.”

    That too was rather peculiar for a civilian who had never shown any signs of interest in starship operations. “This isn’t exactly the best time, Mister Bensu.”

    He seemed undeterred. “I think it might be important. And … well, I’m already in the turbolift.”

    He glanced towards the closed doors of the lift just to his right. “Very well,” he said, having to admit that he was at least somewhat curious why the enigmatic bartender had chosen this precise moment to get in touch.

    No sooner had his words come over his lips, the doors to the lift hissed open and Bensu stepped out. Clearly, he had not only been in the lift already, he had been right behind those closed doors.

    Bensu took a couple of gingerly steps onto the bridge, taking in these clearly unfamiliar surroundings before he spotted the captain and walked towards him.

    Michael once again took note that Bensu was still a mystery to him in more ways than one. He knew next to nothing about the man's background, couldn't even place his species, knowing only that he had never encountered it before. All he knew for certain was that he and Xylion were close friends. It was the only reason why he had allowed his request to join the crew and why he had agreed to this unorthodox visit.

    Xylion for his part stood from his chair. “This is highly irregular,” he said.

    “I know,” Bensu said and nodded and then looked at the captain. “And I apologize for the timing of my request, Captain.”

    "You said it was important," he said, unable to imagine what could possibly be so significant that he needed to speak to him right this moment.

    Bensu looked towards the main screen as if he could see more than the ubiquitous and colorful backdrop of the globular cluster that was the Amargosa Diaspora there. “I … I believe you are trying to open a rupture into subspace,” he said.

    Michael couldn’t hide his surprise at this statement and his first thought as to how he could possibly be aware of this was a seemingly unlikely proposition.

    Bensu seemed to sense this. “No, Xylion has not been sharing any details about our current mission with me,” he said. “Far from it.”

    Michael searched the Vulcan’s face for some confirmation of this but Xylion’s expression remained unreadable while he kept his eyes on Bensu. He found it difficult to believe that Xylion would have revealed anything about a classified mission with a civilian, even if he was a close personal friend. And yet he couldn’t, for the life of him, figure out how else Bensu could have attained this knowledge.

    “It may be difficult to understand,” Bensu continued. “Truthfully, I don’t fully understand it myself, but I can sense what it is you’ve been trying to attempt.”

    So’Dan Leva, the chief tactical officer, had now taken an interest in this odd conversation as well, and to little surprise since the topic of conversation had started to take on security implications. “Sense it? How is that even possible?”

    Bensu regarded the tall half-Romulan officer, but clearly not being intimidated by his suspicious attitude. “I can’t say precisely. The best I’ve been able to come up with so far, is that I have some form of sensibility to this kind of thing. It would also explain why I have been feeling unwell lately, particularly when we were racing through space at very high warp speeds.”

    “I can attest to the fact that Bensu required medical attention while we were traveling under the power of the warp sled,” Xylion said.

    “Putting aside for a moment that this is quite a gift you seem to have there, Mister Bensu,” Michael said. “Why did you feel it necessary to come up here and tell us this now? How is what you’ve been experiencing significant to what we are trying to do?”

    Bensu looked him right in the eye. “Because, sir, I believe I think I know how to create the subspace rupture you are attempting to create.”

    That left him speechless for a moment.

    Leva seemed somewhat more sanguine about this revelation. “How exactly do you think you can do that?”

    “Again, I can’t say for sure,” he said before glancing back at the captain. “But if you would let me, I will try.”

    Michael didn't even know where to start with this. This entire conversation was so surreal and unexpected; that a member of his civilian crew could possibly not only know what they were trying to do but in fact was able to offer to do it for them, was so far outside of what he could have expected, it left him without words.

    “I understand that this is unusual and if you wish, I can leave you to this and never mention the matter again. But I do know that you will not be successful without my help.”

    “You can’t possibly know that,” said Leva, his suspicions rising to new heights.

    “You are right,” he said without any signs of taking offense. “I shouldn’t. But I do.”

    “How?” the tactical officer challenged.

    “You don’t know,” Michael said, already expecting this response.

    Bensu simply nodded.

    He turned to his science officer. "Commander, would you like to chip in here perhaps? You know Bensu better than anybody else on board. How feasible do you consider these claims to be?"

    Surprisingly Xylion didn’t make eye contact with the captain when he spoke, instead keeping his gaze firmly focused on Bensu. “He has shown certain aptitudes since I have known him which have been difficult to explain and yet have been irrefutable,” he said and then finally looked at his captain. “I have no reason not to believe that he might be able to do what he claims.”

    Michael shook his head in amazement. "There clearly is a bigger story behind all this and under different circumstances, I would ask that you let me in on all the details before attempting something as crazy as this. But we are operating on a clock here so I'm inclined to trust you on this, Commander. For now," he said and looked back at Bensu. "What do you need?"

    “Access to the sensors and the warp energy distribution grid,” he said promptly.

    “Captain,” Leva said, clearly not liking the sound of this at all. “I urge caution.”

    He nodded. “Agreed,” he said and looked back at the unexpected civilian guest. “You can have limited access to those systems from the science station right here,” he told him. “But Commander Xylion will oversee everything you do, and you will not be given access to any other critical systems of the ship.”

    “That should be just fine, Captain. And thank you for trusting me.”

    But Michael shook his head. “Let’s be very clear on this, Mister Bensu. I trust my science officer. You have done nothing to earn my trust so far.”

    “That is perfectly reasonable.”

    Michael sighed. “God, I hope so.”

    Xylion led Bensu to his station where the man who usually tended the ship’s bar, ten decks below, took a seat in front of a bridge station that as far as Michael was concerned, he had never even laid eyes upon. This entire plan looked like anything but reasonable to him.

    Xylion activated a few controls, presumably to ensure he had the access he had requested and nothing else beyond this.

    Bensu nodded. "This will work just fine," he said and then began to gingerly activate a number of controls, evidencing that he was not used to this interface. It didn't take him long, however, to get used to it, as, after just a few moments, he was tapping away as if he had worked on a Starfleet bridge all his life.

    Leva had stepped up to the captain while they both observed Bensu at work. “This feels very wrong, sir,” he said in a low tone of voice.

    “I know it does. But if I’ve learned one thing over the years, Commander, it’s that sometimes the most unusual and unorthodox methods are the ones that bear the most fruit. We wouldn’t be out here if not for our willingness to embrace the strange and unfamiliar.”

    “You think this can actually work?” he asked.

    “Right now, I’m just trying to keep an open mind.”

    A warning chime from his tactical board distracted Leva from continuing the conversation or keeping his skeptical eyes on the civilian working away at the science station as he turned back to his console. “Sir, I’m reading a spatial disturbance.”

    “The subspace rupture?” he asked.

    “If it is we may have a big problem,” Leva said and looked up. “It’s forming on deck thirteen.”

    Michael quickly stepped up to Bensu. “You didn’t say you were creating the rupture on the ship.”

    “I didn’t intend to,” he said as he continued to work on the console. “But I think I can contain it.”

    “That’s a big risk,” Michael said. “I’m not sure I’m happy taking it.”

    The science officer looked over the readings on the science station. “So far all readings indicate that the anomaly is stable, sir.”
    He glanced back over his shoulder. “Commander, evacuate deck thirteen and post armed security all access points. I want level ten force fields around the anomaly.”

    “Aye, sir,” the tactical officer said and went to work.

    Bensu stopped and lifted his hands off the console.

    “What is it?” Michael asked.

    He looked up with a tiny smile. “It’s done, sir. The subspace rupture is stable for now.”

    Xylion continued to study the data. “Confirmed, sir. But it is showing signs of degradation. According to my calculations, it will remain stable for approximately one hour and eleven minutes.”

    Bensu shook his head. “I think this is the best I can do. And I’m not sure I would be able to do it again if I tried,” he said. “This might be the only chance we’ve got.”

    Michael shot the man a blank expression. He already knew better than to ask for an explanation considering how little he had been able to provide so far. Besides, their clock had just become a lot tighter. “When this is all over, we’ll need to have a long chat, Mister Bensu,” he said and then stepped away.

    “Deck thirteen is fully evacuated. Force fields are in place,” Leva said.

    Michael nodded and walked up right beside him until he was standing at the tactical board. He looked down and found the command panels to activate a channel to theAgamemnon.

    Amaya reappeared on the screen. “We are still reviewing your data. Do you have your diagnostic results yet?” she asked.

    “No, but we have something better. We have been able to create the subspace rupture. Right here on Eagle.” As odd as it sounded to say it, he had to admit that he took just a moment’s worth of pleasure from her confused expression, considering her recent demeanor.

    “That’s impossible.”

    “Feel free to run your own scan. We have a stable subspace rupture on deck thirteen.”

    She consulted with Daystrom on her bridge for a moment before they both turned to look at him with stunned expressions. “How?”

    He suppressed a little smirk, after all, he wasn’t quite so sure himself. “Let’s just say we had some unexpected help. I’ll explain everything in due course but we don’t have much time. The rupture will only remain stable for just a bit over one hour and we may not be able to recreate it once it is gone. We need to act now. I suggest you sent us the specifications for that personal shield module.”

    She emphatically shook her head. “You aren’t prepared to enter the subspace portal. I have a team in place which has trained for this.”

    “Think this through, Maya. By the time you and your team get here, that portal is long gone. If we want to do this, we need to do it now. Send me the specs and we replicate it. Then I will lead a team to make contact with the aliens. And the longer we hesitate, the less time we have to make this work at all. This might be our only chance at this.”

    She stared back at him, clearly not having expected this turn of events. Of course, then again, nobody had. “I don’t like this. I don’t like it at all.”

    “That would make two of us.”

    Then she nodded slowly and entered a few controls into a nearby computer station. When Michael glanced back down at the tactical board, he could see that they had received a data package from the Agamemnon.

    “We’re heading your way at maximum warp,” she said and gave the order to her helmsman.

    “Send me everything you have on this subspace domain. You had weeks to prepare for this. I’ll have minutes.”

    “It’ll be with you shortly.”

    “I’ll see you when I get back,” he said. “Owens out.”

    Once she had disappeared from the screen again he turned to consider his science officer. “Commander, we don’t have much time. Get a team together and outfit them with the personal shield. Have them meet us on deck thirteen. We’ll enter the rupture as soon as we are ready.”

    “Understood. However, it is my duty as acting first officer to remind you that it is in violation of Starfleet protocol for you to lead a potentially hazardous away mission.”

    Michael smirked despite himself, wondering if Amaya's first officer had quoted her with the exact same regulation. "We don't have a choice in this matter," he said. "I am the only person onboard fully briefed on the situation," he added, even if, in truth, he wasn't entirely certain how well exactly he had been briefed on this mission, considering that it should never have been him or his crew who were expected to enter into subspace. But then, of course, adapting to changing circumstances was as much part of the job as keeping an open mind about the strange and unexpected. "And I will need you on the team as well, which means, Mister Leva, you are in charge while we're gone."

    “Yes, sir,” the tactical officer said.

    Bensu had stood from the science station in the meantime. “Sir, may I request that I accompany you as well?”

    “Absolutely not,” Leva said, without hesitation.

    “I believe it is critical that I do.”

    Michael looked first at Bensu and then at Xylion who once again remained stone-faced. “Ordinarily I would have to agree with Mister Leva on this but it looks as if ordinary has just gone out of the airlock.”

    “Sir,” Leva protested.

    Michael simply clasped him on the shoulder. “Open mind, remember,” he said. “Now, let’s get going. Taking a stroll into subspace wasn’t exactly on my to-do list when I got up this morning. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we are going to get some answers,” he said as he headed towards the turbolift with Xylion and Bensu following close behind.
     
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  12. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    2


    To his credit, he had considered making his case to Tazla Star again, even if he was fairly certain what the outcome might be. In fact, he had sought her out again, finding her back in the small office of the medical facility and speaking to Lif Culsten who apparently had only just returned from the city.

    He hadn’t known exactly what they had been discussing, but it appeared to him that it was important to Star since she had glared at him angrily when he had interrupted them and made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that she was not interested in another confrontation with him and that her focus was on the young Krellonian for now.

    It suited Elijah just fine. After all, he had already made up his mind that he’d be going through with his plan with or without her blessing. The latter, he figured, actually would make the execution much easier.

    “I don’t think this is such a great idea,” said Louise Hopkins as she followed him and Deen inside the Nebuchadrezzar. “The city is supposed to be off-limits.”

    “Cleary not,” countered Elijah who had already exchanged his uniform, which he rarely if ever wore as to regulation specs anyway, for civilian garb, most notably a large and heavy coat with a deep hood, designed not only to keep him warm in the cold climate but also to hide his very un-Krellonian ears. “Considering that Mister Culsten has only just returned from that same city.”

    The chief engineer looked unconvinced. “I don’t think that’s quite the same as you visiting the city. He is Krellonian after all,” she said but found him unimpressed by her argument while he collected and looked over a medical tricroder he meant to take with him. She glanced over towards Deen instead to find an ally to her argument.

    But she just shrugged. “He outranks us both. I suppose he could order us to help him.”

    Elijah looked up after he had secured the medical device and then shook his head. “I am not,” he said. “But I will go through with this either way. The only lead we have in fighting this virus is in that city and I mean to find it. You two are under no obligation whatsoever to help me. But I will say this. If you don’t, I will go through with this anyway and I am not exactly all that confident anymore with how those blasted transporters work. If I had to operate them by myself, there is a fairly good chance I’ll beam myself right inside a wall or some such thing.”

    Hopkins gaped at him. "Great, so my options here are to either face the wrath of Commander Star or be potentially responsible for you accidentally atomizing yourself."

    He grinned.

    “I could probably get you into the city,” said Deen, “but it would likely not go unnoticed.” She looked at Hopkins. “I know you were given the access codes to the local transporter net in order to beam Lif into the city. It wouldn’t be difficult at all for you to get him in without raising any alarms.”

    Hopkins sighed. “Yes, I suppose I could.”

    “Excellent,” said Elijah with another large smile. “Time’s a wasting, let’s get to it.” He stepped into the runabout’s small transporter alcove and raised the hood of the heavy coat over his head.

    “I would be more comfortable if you’d let me accompany you, Doctor,” Deen said as she watched him take position.

    But he quickly shook his head. “Let’s not make this worse than it is already. Miss Hopkins is quite correct, Taz won’t be happy about this once she finds out. I can handle her ire, but I don’t mean to put you into that position.”

    Hopkins walked over the controls. “As if she won’t know that you had help.”

    “You can always claim that I sweet-talked you into doing this,” Elijah said. “I would have you know that I was quite the charmer in my younger days.”

    Hopkins stopped and looked up at him with a blank expression. "No offense, Doctor, but that argument will definitely not stand up at my court-martial."

    “Must have lost a step or two over the years,” he mumbled to himself.

    Deen smiled at him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Just one or two?” she continued before he could protest. “Good luck out there. And watch yourself. If you get into any kind of trouble, let us know and we’ll pull you out.”

    He gave her an appreciative nod.

    “All right, I think I've got it. The Paradise Quarter, was it?" said Hopkins.

    “That’s right,” said Deen and joined her by the controls.

    “Well, that’s nowhere near where Lif beamed to. Appears to be in the outskirts of the city,” the engineer said.

    “Then that’s where I need to go,” he said and then knocked against the transporter bulkhead. “Energize this contraption whenever you’re ready.”

    Deen and Hopkins exchanged a quick smirk and then Hopkins activated the controls. “Contraption being energized.”

    Elijah had never fully enjoyed the process of being broken down into subatomic parts, being shot across the ether and then being reassembled again in some other place altogether. Perhaps it was because of his medical background and his understanding of how delicate a living body truly was, and how much could go wrong with it. Or maybe he just didn't like the idea of entrusting a machine with knowing exactly how to dissolve a human being, and more importantly, how to put one back together.

    He preferred the old-fashioned way of transportation using shuttles and other vehicles which didn’t depend on deconstructing a person to get them from point A to point B. He did, however, appreciate that sometimes transporters were enormously practical, such as when you needed to get somewhere quickly without anybody else finding out about it.

    He wasn’t entirely sure what to expect once he arrived at his destination. What he realized straight away, however, was that the Paradise Quarter did not live up to its name at all.

    He had materialized in a narrow alley between two not just old but clearly quite dilapidated buildings which looked as if they had not seen any kind of regular maintenance in his lifetime. There was an almost overpowering stench of garbage and sewage in the air and he was fairly sure he could hear overlapping sounds of people shouting and crying and a lot of banging sounds as if somebody was purposefully smashing pieces of metal together.

    “Charming locale,” he muttered. “Must remember to book my next shore leave here.”

    “Deen to Katanga.”

    He felt the combadge he wore under his heavy coat vibrate slightly. He found it and tapped it. “Katanga here.”

    "Doctor, did you arrive all right?"

    “Surprisingly, I’m still in one piece. Right in the middle of Paradise.”

    “What is that terrible noise?”

    “It must be what goes on Krellon for popular music. Honestly, I’m not surprised they don’t have ears with all this dreadful commotion,” he said, even though he was quite aware that Krellonians picked up sound waves through the epidermis of their skin. However, after hearing this ruckus, he was wondering if perhaps they perceived sounds differently. He made a note to look into that once he had some more time on his hands.

    “I’m glad you arrived safely, Doctor. I suggest you try to keep a low profile. We’ll have to keep comms to a minimum from now on if you wish to remain undetected. Once you’re ready to come back, just tap your combadge twice and we’ll hone in on your position and bring you back.”

    “Thanks, Dee. Katanga out.”

    After closing the link he set out by carefully walking down the ally and doing his best to breath through his mouth to try and avoid the awful smelling fumes lingering in the air.

    The ally led to a wider street with fast-moving traffic. The skimmers raced left and right, hovering above the surface of the street and never slowed as if trying to get through this area as quickly as possible. He couldn't exactly blame the drivers.

    The sidewalks looked pretty devoid of foot traffic. He spotted some individuals who were mostly moving with purpose, avoiding eye contact with each other and with the few people who were occupying makeshift dwellings made out of torn cloth or boxes.

    Very few of the people he spotted were actual Krellonians. Instead, he saw lupine T'aq, like his reluctant patient back at the hospital, as well as Kridrips and reptilian Zel. He guessed that the majority of Krellonians were behind the controls of those skimmers racing by.

    He pulled out his tricroder as inconspicuously as he could and ran a quick scan for signs of the infection. It came up negative.

    He brought up an area map on his device instead and found the more specific area that Deen had learned had been the likely epicenter of the virus and headed out, keeping to the many, narrow alleyways and avoiding the larger thoroughfares.

    He only realized that this approach had been a mistake after it was already too late. While there was much less traffic in the back alleys, he did draw more attention to himself in the narrow passageways and while he kept his human facial features well hidden under his hood, he couldn’t as easily disguise his alien gait.

    “You don’t belong here,” the tall, lanky, and brown-scaled reptilian said who was blocking his path and made no move to step out of his way. “Who are you? I never seen you here before.”

    “Just … passing through,” he said and cursed himself for not having come up with a better cover story for his presence. But then again, he was a doctor, not a spy.

    “Yes. I am as well,” he said with a large grin which revealed a wide row of long and sharp teeth, many of which were crooked. “I am passing through myself. Have been passing through here for the last twenty cycles.”

    “You must take to the locale then, I suppose.”

    “Lovely place. Lots of soft, chewy humanoids.”

    The alleyway didn’t offer many places to escape. The only choice he truly had was to turn back the way he had come from but one look at those powerful legs on the Zel told him that he would likely not make it five meters before he caught up.

    “You look chewy.”
    “I think you’d be rather disappointed,” said Elijah. “I am old and slow, don’t get as much exercise as I should and my diet has far too little carbohydrates and saturates to make for an appealing meal.”

    The reptilian tilted his head sideways in confusion. Or maybe it was female, Elijah was entirely sure. What was clear, however, was that the creature didn't follow. He noticed something else. Its pupils looked dilated and discolored as if he was under the influence of some sort of substance. He had seen this before in Saurians and other reptile species.

    The Zel made a threatening step closer, forcing Elijah to make one back. “You’ll make a decent little snack. And the fact that you are old means I don’t have to chase you much.”

    Elijah hadn’t brought a phaser with him, didn’t believe in them. But he had something else and he searched for it under his coat as he spoke. “The other thing you should probably consider is that I’m not from around here. In fact, I’m not even from within the Alliance. Your metabolism won’t know what to make of me. You’ll probably have a miserable time digesting me for days. I expect some serious gastrointestinal distress. It might even kill you eventually,” he said and pulled his hood back to reveal his face.

    There were other humanoids within the Krellonian Star Alliance, of course, but none looked quite like humans and the surprise was noticeable in the reptilian’s widened eyes.

    “I like exotic food,” it finally snarled.

    Elijah found what he had been looking for in his inside pocket and pulled out the hypospray. “Or you could have some of this,” he said.

    “What is it?”

    “A particularly potent drug called Syndicate-Y. Peddled mostly by the Orion Syndicate, not sure if you have heard of them. It guarantees a marvelous high which can last for hours, sometimes days. No other drug is known to have quite the same hallucinatory effect on the brain and the senses. In other words, it’s one hell of a trip.”

    The Zel was immediately intrigued and stepped closer “I have heard stories of the Syndicate and their drugs.”

    “In which case you really should get a taste, shouldn’t you?” Elijah said and then quickly brought up the hypospray and pressed it hard against the scales of its arm until the low hiss indicated the successful delivery of the agent.

    The reptilian hissed angrily and struck out, hitting Katanga square in the chest. The blow of the impact lifted him up and pushed him hard into the nearby wall where he sagged down to the dirty ground.

    “What have you done?” he snarled and approached Elijah threateningly.

    “I’ve given you what you wanted,” he said as he tried to pull himself up onto a sitting position, fighting through the pain of his bruised body. “Right now, the Y is beginning to course through your veins and mixing with your cold blood. It’ll reach your higher brain function any second. Once it does, you’ll thank me.”

    “I’ll bite your head off first,” he said and continued to approach.

    Elijah couldn’t help but start wondering if he had miscalculated. After all, he knew little about the anatomy of the Zel and had only guessed based on other reptilian races he was familiar with. It was not out of the question that this particular one was immune to the effects of the drug he had administered. It would have been the last mistake he’d ever make.

    “You think you are too clever,” he said.

    “I’ve heard that one before.”

    The Zel opened its wide mouth as it began to bend down.

    Then it stopped.

    “It usually starts with a tingling sensation in your fingers. Well, claws in your case.”

    The Zel closed its yaw and brought up his claws, looking at them curiously.

    “Next you’ll likely feel a little numb in your legs. That’s perfectly normal.”

    He sagged a little bit as he took a step backward.

    “And you’ll feel lightheaded.”

    He reached up to grab hold of his large, scaled head.

    Elijah picked himself up from the ground slowly. “You’d really want to sit down for this.”

    The reptilian pretty much crashed down into a heap and looked up at Elijah who was now hovering above him. “What have you done?”

    “You’ll thank me later.”

    Then the Zel passed out.

    “Particularly once you realize that the anetrizine compound I just gave you will give you the best sleep you’ve likely had in years. Mark my words, drugs are bad for you and will kill you eventually. Get some help,” he said and readjusted his coat, which had come slightly undone and pulled his hood back up. His bones ached terribly from the blow he had received and he was fairly certain he had bruised his sternum and his backside in the subsequent landing. “I’m getting too old for this.”

    After a few minutes, he had left the napping Zel behind and had closed in on the area where the Krellonians had first discovered victims of the Piqus Plague.

    Unfortunately, there wasn't much to find. The area was made up of what looked like large warehouses which had fallen into disuse. The few buildings he managed to gain access to seemed mostly empty.

    His tricorder wasn’t much help either, finding no trace of anything that could lead him to a possible cause for the disease.

    Left with little options, he found a lupine T'aq huddled in a corner, licking its dirty fur. Judging by the grayish pelt, he was advanced in years and likely not as much of a threat as the Zel had been. He hardly even reacted to Elijah stepping up to him and after a moment he thought he knew why his eyes were unnaturally white and glazed over.

    “I’m looking for something and I was hoping you could help me find it,” Eli said.

    The T’aq turned his snout up and tried to focus his eyes but seemingly to little effect.

    “I’ve been told that people around this area got sick a little while ago. Do you know anything about this?”

    But the lupine remained silent, considering Elijah with empty eyes.

    “Maybe you’ve heard something?”

    “This one hears things,” he said and then, as if everything on the subject had been said, returned to licking its pelt.

    “What have you heard?”

    “This one hears the crying and the shouting. It hears the wind howling and the ships buzzing.”

    Elijah looked around for a moment to take in their surroundings. The shouting and banging were still noticeable even in this abandoned part of the Paradise Quarter. The howling winds had become so ubiquitous, he had almost started to tune it out. He couldn't see or hear any ships, however. He glanced back at the T'aq. "You've heard ships?"

    “Every night this one heard the ships. Coming and going, coming and going, humming and buzzing. This one didn’t care for the humming and buzzing. It disturbed this one when it tried to sleep.”

    “Are these ships still coming here?”

    “This one doesn’t hear the buzzing anymore. This one sleeps now at nights. Undisturbed.”

    He wondered how one could possibly sleep in this part of town at all without the help of a powerful anesthetic. “When did the ships stop coming here?”

    “Five and ten nights. Maybe. Ten and ten nights. Maybe. After the soldiers came and took away those who did no longer walk. Quiet nights since then.”

    “I guess, quiet is relative,” Elijah said. “But that might coincide with the beginning of the outbreak. And if those who fell sick came here on ships, perhaps this virus came from off-world. It may have been introduced to Piqus here but it could have originated elsewhere.”

    The T’aq wasn’t paying any attention to his musings.

    “These ships where did they land? Where was it the noisiest?”

    The lupine pointed at one of the larger warehouses. “Stay away from that one, if you wish to sleep at nights. This one did.”

    He had already attempted to enter the building that he had pointed out but he had found the only access door securely shut with no obvious way inside. There had been no windows or even cracks to get a glimpse at the interior either.

    “Thank you, you were really quite helpful,” Elijah said and headed back towards that warehouse, beginning to round the entire building which was no easy task since it was quite expansive. If some sort of starships had landed here, it had to be sizable.

    After searching for the better part of an hour, he finally found a possible way inside. But it would require to climb up a tall ladder and onto the roof a good twenty meters above.

    He craned his neck back to look at the narrow ladder and tugged at a few of the rungs to make sure they would hold his weight. He uttered a heavy sigh. “I’m definitely getting too old for this.”

    “I agree wholeheartedly.”

    Elijah whipped around upon hearing the voice behind him to find a very angry Tazla Star standing just a few meters away flanked by two Starfleet security guards.

    “And while I normally like to think that age is not a factor in keeping us from achieving our goals, I know for a fact that it should imbue us with the wisdom not to run off half-cocked on our own and disregard all orders and good prudence,” she said as she crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Then again, prudence has never been your strength, has it?”
     
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  13. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    3


    It was not unlike if somebody or something, some deity or advanced and superior being, had ripped a hole right into the fabric of the universe itself, torn away, as it were, at the thin veneer that covered all of reality to lay bare the ugly and frightening innards of all of existence.

    And space-time had been ripped open right in front of their eyes, in the middle of an otherwise unaffected and unexceptional section of starship corridor.

    The fissure glowed and pulsed like an angry wound, only a meter or so of it was fully exposed, the rest of it vanished right into the bulkhead and was partially visible from the room that lay on the other side of the corridor.

    The area inside the two-meter tall fissure, a mass of dark crimson and burnt orange swirled with no apparent pattern and with no indication whatsoever what awaited them beyond.

    “And we are quite sure that this … thing … will lead somewhere?” So’Dan Leva said, almost to himself, as his eyes stayed focused on the unlikely anomaly which had appeared inside the ship and behind a couple of force fields which albeit stable, he was beginning to have serious doubts would be powerful enough to protect the rest of Eagle from whatever this fissure could do if it decided to expand.

    “Yes.”

    He glanced over to Bensu who looked even more mesmerized by the rupture and refused to let it out of his sight for even a moment.

    The captain, standing nearby, seemed more fascinated by a padd he had been studying and which he believed contained a brief they had received from the Agamemnon only shortly after Owens had made the call to enter the fissure himself. It had been marked eyes-only so he had not seen the content.

    Also present where four of the Special Mission Team operatives which they had only recently brought onboard for exactly these kind of missions. The team was made up of their second-in-command who went by the moniker Diamond, a tall, muscular and dark-skinned woman who looked strong enough to give him a run for his money. He couldn’t recall the odd names the others went by; a blue-skinned and short-haired Andorian male, a Vulcan woman with an exceptionally dark complexion and a mean-looking Nausicaan who stood taller than anyone else present. All four of them appeared dangerous as did their decidedly non-standard issue weaponry they were currently in the process of checking over. And as if they didn’t stand out enough already, none of them wore proper Starfleet uniforms.

    Interestingly, none of them seemed the slightest bit fazed by the anomaly as if encountering a subspace fissure was an everyday occurrence for them. So'Dan was fairly confident that this was not the case.

    The final member of the away team was science officer Xylion who was finishing up calibrating his tricorder for whatever he expected to find on the other side.

    So’Dan turned to the captain. “Sir, I know we have covered this already, but I feel like I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t try at least one more time to talk you out of going in there yourself.”

    Owens handed him the padd, clearly having finished with it. Leva quickly noticed that he had already wiped the content. "I can see that your stint as first officer has had an effect on you," he said and offered a smirk. "Which is good as it makes me more comfortable about leaving Eagle in your excellent care. But my mind is made up on the issue. It’ll have to be me, I’m afraid.”

    He knew when an argument was lost. “Understood, sir. I guess I don’t have to remind you to be extremely careful.”

    “I’m sure our new friends have this part covered.”

    Diamond said nothing but the woman offered a marginal nod.

    So’Dan didn’t doubt their capabilities and yet somehow he couldn’t help wish that it was Nora Laas who was accompanying the captain instead. His Bajoran friend and security chief had made a name for herself in protecting the captain over the years.

    Hearing somebody approach from behind, he turned to see Alendra coming jogging down the corridor with two crewmen in close pursuit, all of them carrying armbands of some sort.

    They came to a stop in front of the group. The young Bolian was briefly distracted by the unusual sight of the pulsating rift in the corridor just a few meters ahead before she turned to Owens. “We’ve just finished replicating the personal shields. According to the instructions from Agamemnon, these will need to be configured precisely or you will not be able to withstand the pressures in subspace for long. And even with these devices, you’ll have less than an hour before you’ll be forced to return.”

    “That's just enough time until the fissure destabilizes again,” he said as she began to attach the first device onto his right upper arm. He glanced at the armband as it hummed to life. "Were you able to test them?"

    “Not as much as I would have liked,” she admitted. “We know they work and theoretically should keep you reasonably well protected. But a lot of this is guesswork since we are not entirely sure what you will encounter on the other side of the anomaly.”

    “A risk we’ll have to take,” said Owens and watched her finish calibrating the armband and then activate the shield which briefly flickered around him, covering him from head to toe in a nearly skintight energy envelope.

    She then moved on to Xylion while the two other crewmembers did the same for the SMT operatives and Bensu.

    “Are we ready?” Owens said once all had been fitted, looking over the rest of the team.

    Everyone responded in the affirmative.

    “Very well,” he said. “Mister Leva, your first priority is to keep the crew safe. Keep a close eye on the fissure. If it threatens to expand in any way, putting Eagle in danger, I want you to get this thing off my ship by any means necessary. Even if we are not back yet.”

    He didn’t like the order, but he understood the necessity. “We’ll jettison this entire section if we have to.”

    Michael nodded in agreement and then turned to look at the fissure. “Computer drop the force field immediately in front of me.”

    The computer acknowledged with soft trill and the force field flared briefly before it vanished.

    Owens and the others stepped closer to the anomaly carefully. Then the captain looked back at Leva.

    He nodded. “Computer, re-establish the first force field.”

    It snapped back into place immediately.

    “Time to see where this rabbit hole takes us,” Owens said and to Leva’s chagrin took point as he was the first man to step into the fissure, disappearing from the ship. The remaining six members of the team followed him with no hesitation.

    “When you asked me to come join you on Eagle you never told me I had to face reality-bending nightmares such as this,” said Alendra as she kept her eyes on the vanishing away team.

    “Welcome aboard, Lieutenant,” said So’Dan as he watched Bensu disappear last. “Reality-bending nightmares are just another Tuesday afternoon around here.”




    * * *​
     
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  14. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Michael hadn’t been sure what to expect when leaving behind their realm and step inside one entirely foreign to him and those others like him; carbon-based lifeforms who dwelled solely in a universe with well-established laws of physics.

    It was an immediate assault on all his senses all at once.

    Bright, pulsing lights robbed him of his sight as soon as he had stepped through the fissure, unable to make out almost anything around him. A high-pitched screech, like the sound of an entire flock of dying birds, drilled deep into his brain, making it near impossible to focus on anything. It was hopeless to even try and define the odors he perceived, clearly beyond anything he had ever experienced before. More importantly, however, he found it extremely difficult to breathe, as if he was swallowing gulps of bitter tasting liquids with each breath he took.

    He thought he perceived somebody at his side but struggled to make out any features. Whoever it was reached for the band around his upper arm and he was far too dazzled by his stunted senses to offer any form of resistance.

    Then, slowly, things began to normalize. His vision began to clear up and he was beginning to make out the clear shapes of objects and people around him. The persistent high-pitch tone lessened until it faded to little more than background noise, and his breathing, which had threatened to become panicked with the prospect of slowly suffocating to death, slowed as his lungs began to fill with much-needed air, even if it still left a foul taste in his mouth. Considering the alternative, he gobbled it down greedily.

    He was finally able to make out Xylion who had apparently stepped up to him to reconfigure his personal shield. "I have recalibrated the phase variance of the force field in an attempt to mitigate the effect of the subspace environment on our carbon-based organisms. We will still experience a level of disorientation due to an absence of carbon in this dimension, but it should allow us to operate for a limited time in this realm."

    It was still odd watching Xylion, who stood less than a meter away from him speak. His mouth moved but his words didn’t seem to register until a few microseconds after, causing his lip movements to be noticeably out of sync with his voice. When Michael tried to nod to acknowledge what he had said, his head felt heavy; the sensation of each movement greatly exaggerated. “It definitely helps. But I’d rather not stay here a moment longer than we have to,” he said, his voice sounding distorted and alien to his own ears. Moving very slowly, he turned to consider the rest of his team.

    Two of the Niners, the Andorian who went by Boom, and the team leader Diamond seemed most affected. Grunt was on all fours already, slowly shaking his head, while Diamond had dropped on one knee with her head resting in one of her hands. The Nausicaan remained on his feet but the tall man was noticeably swaying while the Vulcan woman, Ivory, seemed to handle the strange environment slightly better, keeping fully upright but noticeably distracted.

    Bensu, Michael was barely surprised to find, looked the least affected, studying their surroundings carefully and other than his much slower movements, he showed no signs that he was feeling the same effects he and the other team members experienced.

    “Help the others,” Michael said to Xylion, he assumed that the Vulcan science officer had already made the necessary alterations to his own force field, since he moved fairly steadily as he began to tend to the rest of the team, even if to his eyes, every move he made looked slightly twisted, and he left behind a noticeable wake, almost like an after-shadow.

    Satisfied that the team was being tended to, Michael took a few steps forward himself, feeling almost immediate resistance from an unseen force. As an avid diver, he equated the sensation to swimming through a particularly dense ocean on an alien world.

    The strobing bright lights had been replaced by a dull crimson and orange glow which seemed prevalent here, like a veil covering every square meter of this world. The fissure had led them into what looked like a windowless room with a high ceiling and unremarkable walls which had visibly protruding conduits and tubing.

    Most interesting perhaps was the floor which seemed to consist of a bright, bluish walkway constructed of a solid but transparent material. Michael guessed either force fields or some form of hard light. These light bridges didn’t always extend all the way to the walls and had no handles or railings. He could see no floor underneath, just a dark empty void which gave him a sense of vertigo the longer he looked at it.

    Bensu walked passed Michael and further into the room, looking around carefully before his eyes wandered back towards his.

    “Does this place look familiar to you?” Michael asked. “Have you been here before?”

    He seemed to ponder that question for a moment but his face only mirrored confusion. “I cannot be certain.”

    Michael noticed that Xylion had seen to the Niners who were now all back on their feet again. “I don’t care for this place,” grunted Boom as he was slowly trying to get used to his surroundings.

    “Agreed,” said Michael. “Let’s try to do what we came here for and get out as soon as possible.”

    “What exactly, if I may ask, are we here for, sir,” Diamond said. She sounded almost defiant, or perhaps it was the way her voice echoed oddly in this place. Either way, Michael was sure she was not used to speaking to superior officers, which was hardly surprising since the Niners usually didn’t tend to split up and she was likely more comfortable following their team leader than a starship captain she barely knew.

    Michael had to acknowledge that he had given them very little information about their mission, partially because of the strict operational security Jarik had insisted upon, but also because there had been little time for a mission brief, considering the circumstances. “This area of subspace is inhabited by a race of beings which we believe are planning an invasion into our realm. This is a reconnaissance mission. We are to learn whatever we can about their plans, either by capturing data or obtaining intelligence directly from these aliens.”

    To her credit, Diamond seemed entirely unfazed by learning about a possible invasion and simply offered a nod. “What’re our rules of engagement?”

    “We are here to reconnoiter only. That means we are not to directly engage these aliens unless we have no other choice. Ideally, they never even knew we were here.”

    The Nausicaan uttered a rough sounding chortle to this.

    It was Boom, the Andorian who put a finer point to it. “Best laid plans.”

    Diamond was not having this. “Stow it, people,” she barked. “This is the kind of thing we do. If the captain wants us to be ghosts, we’re ghosts. Facta, non verba.”

    “Facta, non verba,” the others repeated quietly. Ivory, the Vulcan seemed to barely mouth the words.

    Xylion pointed towards the only visible door. "I propose we set out in that direction."

    Michael nodded and looked at the lead Niner. “Take point.”

    Diamond for her part delegated the task to Ivory who raised her compact phaser rifle, which barely resembled the Starfleet-issue carbine it seemed to be based on, and moved out without a word. Diamond followed, then Xylion, Michael, and Bensu with the remaining two operatives taking up the rear.

    Ivory managed to open the door quietly, using a surprising amount of strength her trim figure did not reveal she possessed, and the team slipped through the gap she had created.

    Beyond the initial room, they found a corridor which split into three directions, each one lined with a narrow walkway which was also the main source of light. The Vulcan glanced back at him to be given instructions.

    “I am having difficulties adapting the tricroder to this environment,” Xylion said when Michael considered him.

    Michael picked a random direction and the team continued on.

    The walls and high ceilings didn’t change much from what they had seen initially. There were markings and alien script decorating some parts but nothing Xylion’s tricorder was able to translate.

    Michael couldn't be sure, and certainly, his senses were barely reliable in this bizarre environment, but had he been back in their home dimension, he would have thought that they had arrived on a ship or space station of some kind.

    The team moved single-file down the corridor since there wasn’t much room on the light bridge, as expected the Niners moved quietly and alertly even through the dense atmosphere which made every step slow and awkward.

    Michael could see the end of the corridor up ahead and shortly before they reached it, Ivory slowed and then finally stopped, taking a knee and holding up her fist. She had spotted something. She quickly relaid her findings to Diamond who joined him to give a report. "There is a larger room ahead," she whispered. "At least two individuals inside. Possibly three."

    “Let’s have a look,” he said and then set out slowly, along with her, Xylion and Bensu to get as close as possible to the edge of the room without being noticed. All three took turns to glance into the room.

    On his first attempt, Michael could spot two individuals, tall and dressed in long, silvery robes with deep hoods covering their heads. Both had their backs turned towards him making it impossible to see any faces. They seemed to utter soft clicking noises which could have been an alien language.

    “One of the aliens is working on what appears to be a computer console,” said Xylion quietly after he had spied into the room. “We might be able to extract information from that device.”

    “Worth a try. But we would need to get rid of the aliens first,” said Michael.

    “They are not expecting an attack,” Diamond said. “We should be able to neutralize them quickly.”

    But Bensu shook his head. “You have no idea if and how your weapons will work here, or what kind of effect they may have on these aliens.”

    “We may not need weapons,” said Michael after he had ventured another look, noticing both aliens walking, or rather waddling, towards a far exit and leaving the room.

    “That’s convenient,” said Diamond after she had verified what he had seen.

    “It’s an opportunity,” he said, “Let’s move.”

    Diamond took the lead this time and slipped inside with the butt of her modified combat rifle resting against her shoulder as she swept the room. The others followed.

    Not a moment after he had stepped into the room, Michael heard urgent clicking sounds coming from somewhere behind him.

    Ivory reacted quicker than anyone else, whirling around with impressive speed and delivering a direct strike against the alien’s head with the stock of her rifle. To Michael the whole thing was nothing more than a blur, until the creature tumbled out of the shadows, stumbling at first before collapsing onto the floor.

    Diamond was already instructing her people to secure the only two entrances to the room as she and the others assembled around the fallen alien. Its hood had fallen back slightly to allow them their first proper look at it.

    Michael had seen images of these beings from the intelligence package Jarik had made available and which had come from Starfleet’s only previous encounter with this race seven years prior, but seeing one close-up was no comparison.

    The creature looked reptile, almost insectile, with clearly purplish and scaly skin, a spiky ridge traveling from its flat nose all the way up its face and head and two large, bulging round eyes with deep, dark and soulless cavities at their center. He couldn’t entirely suppress a shudder at seeing this nightmarish-looking creature, even if he wasn’t proud of this reaction to encountering an alien life form.

    Diamond had taken a knee next to it and was studying the creature more closely. “One ugly bastard all right. And I cannot say if it is alive or dead.”

    “It’s still alive,” said Bensu which earned him a few blank looks, none of which he seemed to notice.

    “Keep an eye on it,” Michael told Diamond. “We'll see what we can learn from the computer console they were working on.”

    The woman stood back up and leveled her rifle at the incapacitated alien while he, Xylion and Bensu stepped away.

    The first thing Michael noticed was the large, oval-shaped viewport in the room. Beyond it, he got his first look at what lay beyond. It was difficult, however, to say with certainty if they were on a planet, in space or some other environment altogether. All he could see through the window was a mass of swirling coral-colored something with occasional white streaks moving across it. He wasn't sure if he was looking at a form of matter, gas, or something else entirely.

    He decided to focus on the freestanding, black and cylindrical shaped console instead which stood almost like a column, taking up the entire height of the room and which was half-embedded into the wall. The holographic control interface glimmered with a faint greenish light, hovering just above the otherwise blank and featureless panel.

    Xylion had his tricroder out again. “I have been able to configure the tricorder to partially recognize our environment, however, I am not able to establish a data link with this console. However, I do detect an underlying current of an unknown energy pattern.”

    “What is the nature of that pattern?” Michael asked

    “Unknown. It does appear similar to certain forms of psionic energy.”

    Michael didn’t miss Bensu staring at the console, his eyes taking on a focused look as if he was trying to concentrate on something. “Are you getting anything from this?”

    Bensu didn’t respond straight away and then turned to consider him just as he was about to repeat his question. “There’s something here, of that there is no doubt. But — I can’t be sure what it is. I think we need to be very mindful of our next steps,” he said with noticeable uncertainty lacing his voice, he seemed reticent to even approach the device looming in front of him.

    “We came here for a reason and we’ve got to start somewhere,” Michael said as he stepped closer to look over the holographic panels of the console, none of which, of course, told him anything. There was also a distinct lack of any kind of screen or output device, making him wonder how any of this was meant to function. He reached out for the controls gingerly, his fingers passing right through the holographic projection and he felt the surface of the console smooth and cold to the touch.

    A sudden bolt, like a static shock, caused him to quickly withdraw his hand.

    “Captain?” Xylion said.

    “I’m fine, just a little charge of some—“
     
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  15. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    It had been more than that, he realized almost immediately as he felt himself stumbling backward suddenly and for no obvious reason. He heard voices he believed belonged to Xylion and Bensu but he couldn't make out what they were saying. His eyes focused on the viewport where the world outside had begun to expand into the room, quickly filling out his entire vision until there was nothing left but the coral-colored mass, having completely engulfed him. He felt the light bridge underneath him give way suddenly and he began to tumble into an endless void.

    He saw images race passed him the way he had always imagined they would when a person was about to die, his own life, literally flashing in front of his eyes, offering him one last glimpse of his past before it would all disappear from his grasp forever.

    He saw himself back home on Earth with his late mother who had passed when he had still been young. He saw Matthew his brother, who had lost his life years earlier. He saw Amaya smiling at him like she hadn’t done in some time. He saw his father still alive and well. He saw himself back in familiar surroundings on the bridge of Eagle.

    But none of it, he quickly realized felt right. Because none of it had ever quite happened in the way he was seeing in those snippets. His mother looked older than she had been when she had died.

    Matthew, too, looked quite different than how he remembered him, wearing his hair much longer than he had ever done when he had been alive. And he was with Westren Frobisher, the man who had been his brother's longtime friend and colleague and who had been responsible for his death and who had been killed years later when he had fallen off a precipice after he had attempted to change the past. In this vision, the two men were once again close and dear friends.

    Amaya looked as lovely as always but she seemed to be practically glowing now as he held her in his arms, kissing her more passionately than he ever recalled doing with no sign at all of her recent aloofness.

    That image of bliss lasted only mere seconds before it was replaced with one of outright horror, and every Starfleet officer’s greatest nightmare: The Borg. There were drones everywhere he looked, mercilessly inching closer from all directions until he was entirely surrounded. He screamed as he felt their injection tubes worming deep into his skin and releasing their deadly nanobots into his bloodstream until he felt himself turning into a cyborg from the inside out.

    His vision blinked out for a moment and when the light returned, all he could see was a massive, ring-shaped structure, spinning slowly like a wheel, creating a headache-inducing vortex.

    The massive head of the alien being emerged from the eye of the maelstrom, its dark, dead eyes flaring with sudden bright and blinding light until his world turned into bleak, white nothingness.

    "Captain, are you all right?"

    He heard the voice somewhere in the back of his head and couldn’t be sure if it was still part of the visions or if it was real.

    When he felt a hand on his shoulder, he opened his eyes to see Bensu and Xylion hovering above him. He was lying flat on his back on the smooth light bridge which apparently had never stopped functioning. He raised his arm to grab the hand Xylion was holding out for him. The Vulcan easily lifted him back onto his feet. “What happened?”

    “You appear to have been affected by the physical contact with the device. You lost your balance and fell. You were also unconscious for five point three seconds.”

    “Felt much longer than that.”

    “You saw something,” said Bensu.

    Michael shook his head, trying to clear his head of the cobwebs which were still clinging to his mind. “I think so. They were visions of some sort. Of my life but also … not.”

    Xylion briefly considered the device again. “It is possible that the console operates by creating a telepathic link with its operator. Since humans and other carbon-based lifeforms are likely not compatible with this technology, you may have experienced hallucinations instead.”

    “Maybe,” Michael said. “Or maybe it did work and it showed me things that are real.” He recalled Jarik mentioning a subspace portal that he believed the aliens were building to allow them to invade into their space. The ring-shaped structure and the vortex it had created certainly fit that bill. “If that’s true, I think I may know how they plan on carrying out their invasion.”

    Bensu didn’t look as convinced. “Xylion is right. What you have experienced might not have been visions at all. For all we know they could be random images generated by your subconscious mind. Or some other anomaly created by your contact with alien telepathic technology. It might be best not to draw definite conclusions from what you’ve seen.”

    Xylion offered a brief nod. “I agree. We have no way of verifying what you experienced is in fact based on reality.”

    Michael knew that they were both right, and yet something he couldn’t quite explain told him that those hadn’t been just random images spawned by his mind like a fever dream. He also understood that he needed to see more before he could even hope to begin to understand anything he had experienced. “Commander, perhaps we can try a more controlled approach via a mind-meld. We could attempt to link with the device using you as some sort of buffer.”

    “I would not recommend such an approach,” Xylion said immediately.

    Michael didn't have time to consider it further either since Boom was hissing an urgent warning from the far entrance he was guarding. "We are about to have company."

    Michael could already hear the clipping noises drawing nearer. The aliens were returning, perhaps trying to find out what had happened to their fallen comrade.

    “And this time, it’s a crowd.”

    Michael was momentarily torn between trying to get more answers and avoiding an all-out conflict with the locals. The safety of his team easily won out the argument. “Let’s get out of here,” he said but pointed at the unconscious creature Diamond was still guarding. “But we’re taking that one with us.”

    Xylion stepped up to the downed alien and easily picked up the robed creature to carry it over his shoulder. Not a moment later the team set out, retracing their steps and returning the way they had come, this time at a much more rapid pace.

    The clicking noises pursuing the team were still closing in, increasing in speed and urgency and soon Michael thought he could hear the ghastly sounds coming not just from behind him but from every angle.

    “Let’s move,” he said, trying to spur on his team. “We need to get out of here now.”

    “Not so easy when trying to walk through molasses,” said Boom, showing his frustration at the slow progress they were making due to their environment.

    Michael could feel it too, the faster they were trying to move the tougher the resistance seemed to be. Even Xylion, who additionally had to contend with the alien he was carrying, was beginning to show signs of exhaustion. Only Bensu, it appeared, remained unaffected, having since taken over point from the Vulcan woman who had been leading them previously.

    By the time they reached the three-way junction, Michael was entirely out of breath and felt increasingly disoriented by those popping sounds, unable to tell if they were coming from behind or the front.

    The SMT team instinctively moved to secure the three passageways while Michael and Xylion moved to the door which would lead them back towards the fissure. Unfortunately for them, the gap Ivory had created only a few minutes prior was now closed again.

    Michael tried his hands on pushing it open but struggled to move the heavy panel until Bensu stepped up to help him.

    The clicking and popping were now so loud and noticeable, Michael was certain one of the aliens had to be standing right behind him. He turned just in time to see one of the cloaked figures emerge from the corridor on the far right and strike out with a tall, staff-like weapon and striking the Nausicaan standing closest right across the chest.

    The massive man flew backward from the force of the impact only to go smashing into the far wall with a painful groan. Michael sprung forward and reached him before he could go over the edge of the light bridge.

    The other operatives responded by opening fire on the alien with their phaser rifles, striking it once, twice, three times before it dropped to its knees.

    From another corridor, another creature emerged, holding another staff. It thumped it loudly onto the floor, creating a powerful shockwave which flattened the remaining Niners and pushed both Michael and Bensu against the door.

    Diamond managed to squeeze off a shot with her rifle even as she tried to get back onto her feet, but the beam did little more than cause the creature to stumble.

    “Go, go,” Michael shouted and reached out for Grunt, the Nausicaan, picking him up and pushing him towards the small gap in the door.

    Clambering back onto their feet the remaining operatives followed suit, as did Xylion and Bensu.

    Michael could see the pulsating fissure just ahead, mere meters away now. He couldn't tell if it was his imagination, or if something had happened to the dense atmosphere, but the closer he got to it, the harder it became to move as if something was trying to actively hold him back from reaching their only escape route.

    Two more robed figured appeared between the team and the fissure where none had been a moment before.

    The first brought up its staff and without thinking, Michael grabbed it between its claw-like hands, trying to either wrestle it away from it or stop it from using it on the team.

    What he hadn’t factored in, however, was the alien’s much greater physical strength, or perhaps it was merely the fact that it could move within this atmosphere with far more speed and alacrity. Whatever it was, Michael felt himself being lifted off the floor as the creature raised the staff higher, and then with a quick sideways jerk, causing him to lose his grip and fly across the room and hit the wall with such force, he felt all the air bursting out of his lungs.

    Through half-open eyes, he watched the rest of the team trying to take on the aliens with little success.

    Diamond landed another hit with her phaser which was easily absorbed before the staff struck her across the side of her head with enough force to send her tumbling to the ground.

    Ivory used her own weapon to deflect a strike from the other creature, but when it took a second swipe at her, with more force, the rifle went flying out of her hands. She tried to duck underneath the third strike but wasn't fast enough to avoid getting struck across her back when the alien pulled its swing back towards her a fourth time.

    Boom and Charm combined their attack on the first alien, the two phaser blasts forcing it onto its knees before the other creature unleashed another and more focused beam from its staff which instead of traveling in a straight line, actually zigzagged across the room to down both operatives.

    Bensu appeared behind the alien out of seemingly nowhere and struck it hard in the back of its right leg. Even before it lost its balance, he snagged the staff out of its claw and swung it in a wide arc, hitting the other creature, still on its knees, across its hooded head with enough strength to cause it to fall over.

    He managed to hit the first alien with the same sweeping motion of its staff, making it stumble further even if it ultimately managed to keep its balance. But now without a weapon, the alien faced Bensu wielding its own staff.

    Michael watched as Bensu didn’t hesitate and pushed the dull end of the rod right into the creature’s left shoulder. It hadn’t looked like a violent attack, and yet the alien’s uttered an ear-splitting shriek, grabbing the staff with its claws, trying to dislodge it. Bensu kept up until the alien sagged to the floor and only then let go of the rod.

    Xylion stepped up to Michael, still carrying the unconscious alien they had captured, and yet still managed to reach out for him as well and pull him back on his feet. In the meantime, it was a real effort for Michael to try and ignore his aching body. "Through the fissure, now."

    The team didn't need to be told twice. The two aliens had been downed but judging by the still prevalent clicking and popping noises all around them, many more were right behind those.

    Bensu helped a couple of SMT operators on their feet, all of them injured or bruised, still, they managed to limp their way to the fissure, supporting each other's weight.

    Michael watched them all disappear, one after the next. Xylion urged him to go next but Michael simply shoved the Vulcan and his captive into the fissure instead. Once he was satisfied that he was through, he turned around to see Benu still lingering behind. “Come on, let’s go.”

    Bensu walked up towards him and the fissure but came to a sudden halt just a few steps in front of him.

    “What’s the matter?”

    Bensu tried to turn around but it was too late.

    Michael saw his eyes opening wide like saucers and then he heard the sound of something crushing through skin and bone until the sharp end of a staff came bursting through Bensu’s torso.

    Just over Bensu’s shoulder, Michael could see a kneeling creature holding on to the other end of the staff.

    The door opened wide and a dozen or so more cloaked aliens were streaming into the room, their collective clicking sounds urgent and overlapping and almost deafening now.

    Michael reached for Bensu's shoulders and then stumbled backward, losing his balance but also pulling the impaled man with him as his body slipped off the staff lodged inside him.

    Michael allowed gravity to do most of the work as he fell into the fissure behind him, refusing to let go of Bensu but already certain that any help awaiting them on the other side would come far too late to save him.
     
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  16. ElectricSupernova

    ElectricSupernova Cadet Newbie

    Joined:
    Aug 9, 2018
    Looks good!
     
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  17. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    4


    “What the hells were you thinking?” Star said, fuming, which had been an all too frequent mood of hers as of late when confronting her long-time friend. She couldn't deny a measure of anger at herself as well for not having anticipated such a foolhardy move from the infamously stubborn physician sooner, after all, he had all but declared his intentions to her, but she had been too busy dealing with Lif Culsten and his first contact with his high-ranking government agent aunt to focus on what Katanga might or might not do.

    She had suspected something was the matter once she had noticed the suddenly evasive, almost guilt-ridden attitude of Louise Hopkins which had prompted her to try and locate Katanga unsuccessfully. The young woman may have been a naturally gifted engineer but she was a terrible liar and hadn’t held up ten seconds under Star’s questioning, quickly revealing that she had beamed the doctor into the city.

    “I was thinking that somebody needed to take the initiative since nobody else was willing to act,” he said defiantly, crossing his arms as he stared her down from where he stood.

    “By disregarding orders and possibly putting our entire mission here into jeopardy?”

    “Our mission here was already in jeopardy. The mission of trying to find a cure for this epidemic that is. Of course, you wouldn't have noticed with your entire focus dedicated to whatever cloak-and-dagger operation you're running behind the scenes.”

    “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said, trying to deflect with anger.

    It didn’t work. “Oh please, you can play the indignation card as much as you want. But you forget, I’ve known you—Dez, that is—for a long time and I knew when he was up to something. I could see it in his eyes as much as I can see it in yours now.”

    She took a few steps forward to shorten the distance between them and also to put some between her and her security entourage. “My indignation is not an act, Eli,” she said through clenched teeth. As a former intelligence officer—a good one, she liked to think—she was naturally concerned that he had been able to intuit her more clandestine mission by nothing more than her body language. “You have crossed a line here.”

    “I can see that you think that,” he said. “Clearly I’m such a threat you’ve brought an entire security detail to apprehend me. Tell me, what was the plan? Are you going to have me shot and dragged back in irons?”

    “You have no idea how appealing of an idea that sounds to me just about now,” she said but then relented slightly and turned around to regard her escort. She closed in on the higher-ranking one of the two, the Caitian junior lieutenant. “T’Nerr, return to base, I’ll handle this myself.”

    The Caitain nodded and he and his partner turned away and contacted the facility to be beamed back.

    Star hadn't thought she needed back up to bring the Katanga back, but she had hoped that the show of force would drive home how serious she considered his transgression. She should've known better than that and that it wouldn't impress him much, and in truth, the additional Starfleet personnel only made the overall infraction of disregarding Administrator Chella's directives worse.

    Once the security team had gone, she promptly whirled back around towards Katanga and quickly covered the distance between them, approaching him with long, determined strides, as if she was getting ready to throw down with him right here and now. She was satisfied to see him flinch briefly. “We’re going back, too.”

    He regained his composure. “Not until I have some answers to my questions.”

    “Don’t make me knock you on your ass,” she seethed. “Because trust me, I’m very close to doing just that.”

    “If I had a slip of latinum for every time you’ve threatened me with that, I’d be rich enough to buy my own moon.”

    “I’m not playing around here. You‘re in serious trouble.”

    “Am I? How about you start telling me why you think whatever the hell you are up to is more important than potentially saving millions of lives? Maybe I’m in trouble with you and the captain and whatever imbecilic Starfleet regulations you think I’ve violated, but my conscious is clear. I am trying whatever I can to save these people. Can you say the same?”

    She uttered a heavy sigh, clearly not in the mood of putting up with his self-righteousness. “Did it occur to you for even a minute that perhaps there are other and more significant stakes involved here than the fate of just one planet? Do you really think so little of me these days that you’re convinced that I make such arbitrary decisions to keep you from saving lives? For once in your life, can you just take a step back, get off your moral high horse and consider that not everything that happens revolves around you and your direct sphere of influence.”

    “You have been a physician once,” he shot back promptly. “Dare I say, a halfway decent one even? You should know what a slippery slope it is to start worrying about hypothetical scenarios and big picture ideas in that profession. We have sworn an oath, to help those who need it, no matter what. You and the captain can debate wide-reaching implications as long as the cows come home, but I don’t have that luxury. I am not here for some sort of abstract agenda. I’m here to save lives, by any means necessary. No more and no less. I won’t be a doctor who loses sight of that like some others have done over the course of history. My name won’t appear next to your Mengeles, Ishiis or Mosets.”

    Star rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so melodramatic.”

    “Then don’t ask me to turn my back on the people that need my help.”

    She slowly took in their surroundings. This part of the Paradise Quarter was fairly isolated, filled with decrepit and mostly abandoned looking warehouses. She had hardly seen another soul other than Katanga since she had beamed here. Ultimately her eyes once again landed on the intractable frown on his face. “What exactly makes you think you can find any answers here?”

    His expression began to soften. “The witness I spoke to seems to think that ships regularly landed and took-off from within this building,” he said and pointed at the warehouse behind him.

    “So? That’s hardly a smoking phaser.”

    "Maybe not, but the fact that this quarter also appears to be the epicenter of this disease might be. What if this thing wasn't created here? What if it was brought to this place from off-world? This could give us the best clue yet in trying to figure out where this disease originated."

    Star uttered another sigh as she looked up the building and the ladder leading up to the roof some fifteen stories above.

    “We need to investigate this building and find out if there is a connection to the epidemic and these ships. I’ve already checked, there is no way to get into this building but we might be able to get access from the roof.”

    “Ten minutes,” she said sternly. “Then we’re out of here.”

    Katanga nodded and then turned to grab hold of the first rung of the ladder and began climbing.

    Star looked after him with a scowl, then she followed him.

    She could hear his exertion after just a few moments. “Are you sure you’re up for this? You’re not exactly—“

    “Don’t tell me I’m old, I know that already,” he barked without slowing his pace. “Not everyone gets the luxury of being outfitted with a brand new body when their old one begins to fall apart.”

    "For a physician, you have a surprisingly awful grasp on how the Trill work," she said.

    “I know enough.”

    "And you might want to start taking care of yourself a little better. This whole excursion of yours was not just foolhardy but also incredibly dangerous on your own," she said while cranking her neck back to look at him climbing above her.

    “I can take care of myself just fine,” he said between labored breaths.

    "Yes, I've seen that reptilian you took care off in that ally. You're lucky that worked out in your favor but that could have been you lying on the ground, passed out or worse."

    “Less talking, more climbing,” he said and Star guessed not just to deflect from the topic but also to save his quickly fading strength.

    If she had been by herself, she would have likely managed to reach the roof within a couple of minutes, but with Katanga leading, it took them nearly twice that long to get to the top. When Star stepped off the ladder, he was already sitting down on a heating unit, desperately trying to catch his breath again.

    "Are you all right?" she asked.

    “Peachy.”

    She left it at that and began to look across the roof. There wasn't much to see, however. Save for a few, spread-out ventilation and heating devices, the roof was almost completely flat over its entire length. She certainly couldn't see any access points.

    “There must be something here,” he said after he had found his breath again and was beginning to slowly explore the wide space. “An entrance hatch or something like that.”

    But Star shook her head. “There is nothing here, Eli. This is a waste of time.”

    “When exactly did you become this impatient?”

    She turned on him. “Maybe it happened when one of my officers decided to ignore all orders and take-off on his own into restricted areas, nearly getting himself killed in the process.”

    He shrugged, paying her little attention. Instead, he was staring at the roof by his feet "Maybe. But tell me, what is this?"

    “What is what?” she said and joined him where he had slowly dropped onto his knees and was now carefully studying something on the roof. She quickly found what had aroused his interest. It looked like some sort of crease.

    “This could be a way in,” he said as he traced it with his fingers.

    “Could be,” she said. “But I doubt we’ll be able to open it easily.”

    He looked up at her. “Why not?”

    She pointed down the length of the roof which spanned nearly a hundred meters or so. He followed her outstretched arm and the crease which continued all the way down to the other end of the roof. He pulled himself back up onto his feet.

    “Lend me your tricorder,” she said.

    He pulled the device from under his cloak and handed it over. “It’s medical version.”

    “I guessed as much. But if you know what you’re doing, it can be more than that,” she said as she flipped it over, opened a small flap and began to reconfigure some of its settings. Once she was satisfied, she closed it up again, turned it back right side up and activated the device. She began to scan her surroundings while slowly walking down the length of the groove. “Curious, I cannot scan the interior of the building, but this is definitely a retractable roof.”

    “And a big one. Which means ships have been coming here. Probably landing inside,” he said.

    She lifted the tricorder higher to get a better reading of the space above and around her. “I’m picking up significant trace elements of anti-gravitons and chemical residues consistent with thruster exhausts. Considering the high levels of saturation, I’d say this place has seen a lot of traffic. And not until that long ago.”

    “So I was right. There were vessels coming here. Plenty of them,” he said.

    “I'm also seeing evidence of what looks like impulse signatures.”

    “What does that mean?”

    She looked up from the tricorder. “The only reason you would need a vessel with an impulse drive within the atmosphere is to leave a planetary orbit.”

    “We need to follow those signatures.”

    She hated to admit it, but he was not wrong.
     
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  18. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    5


    On Star’s urging, Lif had accepted Garla’s invitation to return to the city and visit her again after their initial meeting during which she had made clear that she had major designs to improve the status quo within the Star Alliance, even if she had been mum on the details.

    The first officer had been intrigued and Lif had to admit that he was as well. She had hinted towards bigger plans before, weeks earlier when he and Louise had visited her on the homeworld, but back then he hadn’t given them much thought, had in fact been much more interested in leaving Krellon space behind as soon as possible instead, hopefully, for good. Things, of course, had not worked out that way.

    This time he had no choice but being back here and he had resolved that if there was something that he could do to make his former home a better place for billions of people, he was at least going to try. Garla seemed to be the best chance of making this happen.

    For his second visit, she met him not at her headquarters but right by the transporter station. In fact, she came up and greeted him the moment he had materialized. She wore a long dark coat and like most Krellonians lately, himself included, she wore a compact re-breather mask to protect herself from the pandemic sweeping this planet.

    “Welcome, Lif. I thought we’ll take a little tour through the city today. Believe it or not, this is actually quite a mild day for Piqus.”

    Considering the temperature was well below what Culsten would have considered comfortable and the blustering winds were still whipping through the streets, that was indeed difficult to believe.

    Outside the transporter station, Garla and Lif were joined by an entire cadre of her people. They were not uniformed security forces, but Lif could tell that they wore weapons underneath their coats, and each one of those serious looking men and women appeared dangerous even without visible armaments.

    “Piqus doesn’t strike me as a prime location for sightseeing,” he said as they set out down the street, walking side by side with Garla while her people formed a lose and inconspicuous perimeter around them.

    She uttered a little laugh at that. “Certainly not. I know I would much rather be back in the Great River Lowlands. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t miss those majestic, emerald lands.”

    “And yet you spent most of your days in these parts lately.”

    She shot him a look, momentary suspicion dancing in her bright eyes. It vanished quickly. “As unappealing as this corner of the galaxy may be, it too is part of the Star Alliance. It may not be as significant as the core worlds but we cannot forsake it or its people because of its diminished role.”

    “The plans you spoke of,” Lif said. “Are they tied to this place?”

    She didn’t answer straight away as they continued to walk down the packed streets near the center of the city where Krellonians urgently went about their business.

    “My plans will change everything, Liftu. They’ll transform not just this little speck but the entire Alliance.”

    Before he could ask any more questions, he noticed an increasing commotion up ahead. People had begun to move noticeably faster and away from the area ahead.

    Garla continued as if she hadn’t noticed. “This may not be the kind of glorious world our esteemed leaders like to discuss in the hallowed chambers of the Central Council or at parties catering to the rich and powerful, but it is a microcosm of the state the entire Alliance finds itself currently. What is happening here is happening everywhere across Krellon space.”

    “Maybe,” he said, trying to get a better view of what was happening up ahead, as more and more people were beginning to flee the area, even as they still continued towards it. “I can’t believe though that this plague is helping things. Particularly if the rumors are true that the Outlanders are behind it.”

    Garla stopped suddenly when she spotted a petite Kridrip woman in cheap and tattered clothing, a small child clinging to her chest, both looking around with anxiety and concern.

    As far as Lif could tell, those two were among the very few Outlanders among the now rapidly thinning crowd here at the center of the city.

    Garla had quickly grabbed the young woman by her arm, towering far above her, the Kridrip looked up at Garla with wide, fearful eyes. "This is not a good place for you to be right now," she said to her with a benign smile. She handed the woman some local currency. "Take this and head back that way. Keep going and don't stop until you are out of the area."

    The woman took what she was given gratefully and then quickly followed Garla’s instructions.

    Lif considered his aunt. “What is happening?”

    She looked after the escaping Kridrip and her child a moment longer before turning back to him. “What has been happening here and in places like these all across the Alliance with far too much frequency in recent years.”

    Lif looked back towards the commotion ahead and found that the crowd had cleared enough to reveal a large group of Outlanders, made up of humanoids, reptilians, lupines and even a few ursine, clashing with local security forces.

    It wasn’t a pretty sight. It was violent on both sides and already a number of vehicles had been damaged, one had just been engulfed in flames. The security forces had quickly switched to deadly force, firing openly into the Outlander crowd which easily outnumbered them three to one. The Outlanders for their part showed little constraint either, using energy weapons and other more makeshift weapons like clubs and stones and anything else that could be thrown or swung against the authorities.

    Lif felt like the entire thing was moving into their directly rather quickly. “I don’t think we should be here either.”

    “Agreed,” said Garla, and pointed towards a side street. “We might be able to get out of their way.”

    Their team promptly slipped into the smaller road to try and flee the swath of chaos and destruction which was heading into their direction.

    “This is insanity,” said Lif, slightly out of breath after they had dashed towards their escape route. “I know there have been some incidents on the homeworld but when did it become this bad?”
    “It’s been bad for a long time, Liftu. The signs were all there even before you left, your parents just did a very good job to isolate you from all of this.”

    “But I don’t understand. The laws changed years ago. Things shouldn’t be like this anymore.”

    Garla uttered a little, humorless laugh as they made their way down the road, the sounds of battle slowly receding behind them. "Changing laws is easy compared to changing the way people feel and think. We've kept the Outlanders as slaves for centuries, treated them no better than property. For a century after that, they had no rights to speak off and even today they are second-class citizens at best, most of them poor, many had turned to crime for a lack of opportunities. All that builds up resentment which over time turns into a powder keg."

    “You think it will happen here, don’t you?” he said. “You think it will blow up right here on Piqus.”

    “Not if I can help it.”

    Almost as if out of nowhere, a dozen or so Outlanders, led by a couple of vicious and angry-looking lupines came streaming out of an alley and bearing down on Garla and her team, having apparently picked up the scent of the Krellonian group. They came at them screaming, shouting and hissing.

    “That’s not good,” Garla said dryly and then urged her people to head them off, even if it was clear that they were entirely outmanned by the wave of the angry mob rushing towards them.

    She reached into her coat and pulled out a phaser, thrusting it into Lif's hand before he could even object. "Go, that way," she said and pointed towards the direction they had been headed. "Take a left and a right, that should take you back towards the Eye building which will be secure. We'll hold them off. Hurry." She practically shoved him forward before she pulled out what looked like a baton from her coat and followed her men to confront the Outlanders.

    Lif didn’t consider himself a coward but Garla had shoved him so hard, his momentum was already moving him away from the clash and he decided to keep going. While he may have been a fellow Krellonian, he also understood that he was here, essentially as a Starfleet officer, and as such he had to do whatever he could to try and stay out of strictly internal affairs. Star had made this very clear to him before he had set out to meet with Garla.

    It couldn’t get any more internal than a civil war. From everything he had seen so far, this seemed to be exactly what was happening here. And if it wasn’t a full-blown war yet, it certainly had all the hallmarks of the beginnings of one.

    Lif joined a throng of others, both Krellonians and also a few Outlanders who were running away from the chaos that was beginning to spread out from behind them. He did his best to follow Garla’s instructions, which had seemed simple enough, but the pushing and shoving of the people around him made it a challenge to stay orientated in this unfamiliar city, gusts of wind routinely flared up and forced him the wrong way until he found himself totally lost.

    He stumbled into some sort of yard which was surrounded on all sides by high and unscalable walls. It was eerily quiet here, even the persistent winds didn't seem to reach this little, peaceful refuge.

    A rare sight for this rather barren planet, the yard contained a small but lush green garden, with a handful of trees, a patch of grass and a little pond nestled right at its center.

    Lif took a deep breath, seemingly for the first time since this sudden flare of violence had erupted, and then took a step towards this unexpected oasis which stood in such stark contrast to everything he had seen on this planet so far.

    The roar behind him shattered the momentary tranquility he had found. He whirled around to come face to face with a massive, dark-furred Buoth. The ursine was at least two heads taller than him, and growling madly as he approached.

    “Wait, hold on, I’m not your enemy,” he said desperately, holding up one arm in the Outlander’s direction but perhaps for a moment forgetting that he was still holding Garla’s phaser in the other.

    The Buoth swung a paw his way and Lif felt his feet lifting off the ground as he went flying from the force of the impact, only to land in the shallow pond.

    The shock of the cold water made him lurch back up, ignoring the pain in his burning shoulder. He slipped on the slick stones and fell back into the watery surface. The Buoth in the meantime was barreling his way, felling a couple of smaller trees in the process, which snapped almost like twigs as he bore down on him.

    He had no idea where the phaser had gone and could do nothing when he felt a firm grip on his ankle, the massive Outlander easily pulling him out of the water only to toss him around like a ragdoll.

    Lif grunted in pain when his back hit the trunk of one of the larger trees. He slipped out of the Buoth’s grip and crashed into one of the far walls.

    Krellonian bones, thankfully, were particularly dense, and had he been any other humanoid, the impact against the stonewall may have broken his back. His tough physiology didn’t prevent him, however, to feel practically every inch of his body aching with terrible pain.

    Through blurry eyes he could see that the ursine was not yet done, from the raving expression on his face, he guessed he wouldn’t be until he had torn him limb from limb.

    Lif spotted the phaser by a tree just behind the now approaching Outlander who was in the process of raising both arms, likely planning to bring down the razor-sharp claws on the top of his paws to dissect him from head to toe.

    Remembering his Starfleet close-combat training which Nora Laas had insisted all officers take part in on a weekly basis, he ducked and rolled forward, right underneath the approaching giant, bear-like creature which was too slow to stop him.

    Lif hit the tree hard but didn’t let that stop him. He frantically reached for the phaser and then whipped around, his back leaning against the trunk to steady him.

    The Buoth was getting ready to leap once more, probably squashing him and the tree behind him both in the process.

    Clutching the weapon with both hands in front of him, he was unfamiliar with its design but thankfully the trigger was exactly where he would have expected it.

    The bright crimson beam struck the ursine right in the head and burned a perfect hole clean through his skull as well as leaving a scorch mark on the wall behind him.

    His eyes went wide for only a heartbeat before they glazed over and the beast dropped onto the ground with a loud thud so powerful it caused the tree behind Lif to shake.

    He remained frozen in that position, the weapon still pointed forward at an opponent who was no longer a threat, his soaking wet and sore body trembling all over. He wasn’t entirely sure how long he had remained that way until he heard the approaching voices behind him.

    It was Garla who reached him first, taking a knee next to him and gently lowering the weapon until she took it out of his hands completely. “Are you injured?”

    But Lif just stared at the heap of Buoth just a few meters in front of him, its empty eyes looking right through him. “Is he … is he dead?” It didn’t occur to him until later that considering the prominent hole in the Outlander’s head, the question had been rather redundant.

    Garla clearly didn’t need to check. “Let’s get you out of here.”
     
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  19. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    6


    The transition back into normal space was nearly as disorientating as stepping into subspace. Falling backward into the fissure, he had felt weightless for a moment just before he had landed hard onto the deck back on Eagle. The bright overhead lighting and the much sharper and more defined shapes all around him were so dramatically different from what he had barely just gotten used to in subspace, his eyes burned with a stabbing pain and began to tear up, his lungs too, couldn’t immediately handle the much higher concentration of oxygen and nitrogen they were suddenly asked to take in again, and Michael felt as if he was about to drown in air.

    He desperately fumbled with the armband on his personal shield to try and reconfigure it for his new surroundings or even deactivate it. When he failed to get the desired results, he simply ripped the entire armband away, causing the shield to instantly fizzle out and slowly begin the transition back to normalcy for his senses.

    Michael’s relieve was short-lived.

    The fissure in front of him was literally spitting out lightning which looked eerily familiar to the weapon’s fire the aliens had employed against them. They were still shooting, into the fissure and right into normal space.

    The twisting beams crackled over his head and slammed into the bulkheads and ceiling of the corridor, leaving dark scorch marks behind. They also slammed into the force fields which still surrounded the gateway, and which were holding for now.

    Michael reached for his phaser and returned fire, right into the maelstrom that was the angry, pulsating fissure, hoping he would hit anything within it.

    He heard the force fields being dropped behind him and looking back he could see that Leva had smartly stationed armed security personnel down the corridor who now quickly followed the captain’s example and opened fire at the anomaly as well.

    Unfortunately, it also made them vulnerable to the erratic lightning-like energy blasts, and a snaking discharge clipped one security officer, causing her to drop and struck another in the chest, slamming him hard into the bulkhead.

    Michael looked over to see Diamond, the SMT team leader, starting to get back around herself after having removed her armband and he noticed the cylindrical devices attached to her belt. “Grenades, now!”

    Diamond didn’t hesitate, unclipped the explosives and chucked them into the fissure, one after the other.

    There were no explosions. At least none that Michael could see or hear.

    Instead, the entire anomaly erupted with a sudden bright light and with such intensity, he had to shield his eyes and turn his head. It still blinded him.

    A silent shockwave followed which flattened him to the deck plates. Once the pulse had washed over him and his vision was slowly returning, he pulled himself up and looked back towards the fissure into subspace.

    It was gone. In fact, except for the smoldering bulkheads were the alien energy blasts had left their marks, there were no signs at all that the portal had ever existed in the first place.

    Michael clambered to his feet, losing his balance on the first attempt, but then managed to get upright on the second. He looked back at Diamond who was pulling herself up as well. “Report. Injuries?”

    “Nothing but our pride,” said Boom, the Andorian, as he sat up against the bulkhead holding his right arm.

    Michael was sure that was an understatement. Pretty much every operative seemed to have been wounded at least to a minor degree, even if all of them remained conscious.

    Further back he could see the two security specialists who had been hit, but they were already being seen to by their fellow colleagues, and from what he could determine their injuries were not fatal either.

    “Captain.”

    Michael turned upon hearing Xylion’s voice. He was relieved to find the Vulcan in one piece as well but his concern appeared to be focused on the alien he had managed to bring back through the gateway.

    The creature was lying flat on its back and had started convulsing heavily, flopping around not unlike a fish out of water. Michael figured the analogy was probably fairly close.

    “I do not believe it will survive for long under these conditions,” Xylion said.

    It was only then that Michael spotted the final member of their team. Bensu was lying on his side, motionless against the bulkhead. In all the confusion he had almost forgotten that it had been Bensu who had allowed them to escape in the first instance, and also that he had suffered the most grievous injury when he had been impaled by one of the alien’s weapons.

    Ivory got to Bensu first, took a knee beside him and gently turned him on his back.

    Michael joined her a moment later, noticing the gaping wound on Bensu’s chest, his shirt drenched in dark green blood, his eyes empty and staring at nothing.

    Ivory seemed to be looking for a pulse but found nothing. She looked up at him and slowly shook her head.

    Michael tapped his combadge. "Owens to transporter room two, medical emergency. Lock on to Mister Bensu's combadge and beam him directly to sickbay."

    Moments later Bensu dematerialized in a haze of blue light.

    Michael had seen more than enough dead bodies during his career to know that there was little hope left for the enigmatic bartender who had so surprisingly turned out be not just knowledgeable about the aliens they had faced, but also impressively able to oppose them and give him and his team a chance to escape subspace. He had given his life for them.

    “Sir, we need to take action now. I recommend we beam the alien into a containment area in which we can simulate atmospheric conditions similar to the ones we found in subspace.”

    Michael turned back to Xylion who was now kneeling above the still convulsing creature and for just a brief moment he marveled at his ability to be so entirely detached after witnessing the death of what by all accounts had been one of his closest friends. Of course, he would not have expected anything different from the Vulcan and also quickly understood that Xylion’s priorities were absolutely correct. They had gone through too much to lose the only tangible evidence they had been able to recover from their deadly excursion into subspace now.

    “Set up a containment area in cargo bay two and beam it there.”

    Xylion offered a small nod in acknowledgment and began to give orders to the bridge to create the correct conditions at the other end.

    A number of medics came jogging down the corridor with medkits and other supplies to tend to the wounded and Michael allowed one of them to look him over as well as he sat back down on the floor with his back against the bulkhead, thankful in fact to rest his aching body for a moment.

    While the medic worked, he kept his eyes on the creature as it was finally beamed away, still convulsing heavily.

    He could only hope that they had not paid too high a price to obtain it. If Jarik had been right about their intentions, if these subspace aliens were on the cusp of leading an invasion, then Bensu’s sacrifice may have been well worth it in the end.

    But too many questions remained unanswered, and doubt had been Michael’s constant companion ever since this entire mission had first begun.
     
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  20. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    7


    “I didn’t have a choice. It was either me or him in that moment. If I hadn’t shot him when I did, if I had hesitated for only a moment, you’d still be scraping pieces of me from that wall.”

    Lif was sitting on his bunk, back on the Nebuchadrezzar, pushed all the way back, with his knees up against his chest, as he was relieving the traumatic experience back in the city just a few hours earlier when he had come face to face with an enraged Outlander.

    Louise Hopkins stood by the bulkhead opposite him, considering him carefully. “Are you trying to convince me or yourself?”

    He glared up at her. “You weren’t there. You didn’t see that Buoth’s rage-filled eyes the way I did. There was going to be no reasoning with it. No stopping it.”

    Louise shook her head. “I am not saying I don’t believe you, Lif. It just doesn’t sound like you are entirely confident about what happened.”

    “Of course, I'm not,” he snapped at her. “I killed somebody today. And not an enemy Jem'Hadar or a Cardassian soldier in battle. Not some faceless opponent on another ship. But another person, right in front of me. A person with whom I had no quarrel with.”

    “He clearly had quarrel with you.”

    He uttered a heavy sigh. “But that’s just it, he shouldn’t have. I wasn’t there to hurt him. I had no interest whatsoever in getting involved with his issues.”

    She crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Maybe it was enough that you are Krellonian. Maybe in his eyes that automatically made you the enemy.”

    “I don’t even know if he was part of the riot. For all I know I could have been intruding on his home. Maybe that garden was his private refuge I stumbled upon and he thought I was there to hurt him.”

    “What were you doing there anyway?”

    Lif looked back at her. “I was trying to get away from the riot.”

    She shook her head. “No, I get that. I mean why were you anywhere near the riot in the first place?”
    He considered that for a moment. “Garla wanted to show me the city.”

    “During a period of heightened civil unrest? While a pandemic is sweeping this planet? That seems like an odd time for a sightseeing tour.”

    Lif climbed out of his bulk to face her. “What exactly are you implying?”

    She shrugged her shoulders. “Just that it is a little strange that she would put you in this kind of position to begin with, don’t you think?”

    The inference made him angry. “You were the one who told me to seek her out and try and make a difference. You wanted me to do this. And now you’re telling me that I shouldn’t have?”

    “I’m just saying to be more careful.”

    “Thanks, I’ll try to remember that,” he said and began to head towards the door of the small cabin. “I should be making my report to Commander Star.”

    “She’s not around.”

    He stopped and turned to look at her again. “Where is she?”

    “I’m not entirely sure.”

    Lif immediately knew that she was holding something back and he skewered her with a look that told her as much.

    She uttered a sigh. “Doctor Katanga went into the city to follow-up on a lead regarding the outbreak of the plague. Star found out and went after him. They haven’t returned yet.”

    It wasn't difficult to tell that there was more to that story but for now, Lif decided he had more important things to worry about. "Who's in charge while she's gone?"

    “Star left Nora in command in her absence.”

    “Fine. Just go tell her what happened.”

    “Where are you going?”

    “I need to go see Garla again.”

    She took a step after him. “Wait, you’re going back?”

    “I thought you’d be happy about that. You were right, after all. Something needs to be done before the entire Star Alliance rips itself apart. It might all start right here. So far, Garla seems to be the only person who is willing to do something about it. I need to find out what that is and help her if I can,” he said and then left the cabin to return to the transporter.

    Lif arrived back in the city with more than a little trepidation.

    Signs of the riot from the previous day were everywhere he looked, from the trash-strewn streets, the burned-out hulks of skimmers and the visible damage to buildings and storefronts. Security was out in full-force, heavily-armed teams were patrolling the streets and were seemingly posted to every corner. Civilian traffic was light compared to what it had been the day before, and Lif couldn't make out a single Outlander amongst them.

    He was greeted at the transporter by another armed team, this one identifying itself as working for Garla. Differently to the last time he had run into her men, these were clearly uniformed agents of the Eye, which helped speed them along passed the many security checkpoints they had to pass through.

    Once inside her headquarters, it was Tann, her aunt’s Kridrip assistant who escorted him to the upper floors.

    “That was quite a riot yesterday,” Lif said in the elevator after nothing but silence had passed between them, Tann once again turning out to be a terrible conversationalist.

    He simply regarded him with his large eyes.

    “Do you know how many people were hurt?”

    “Too many,” he said and then looked away.

    Lif wasn’t sure if the man blamed him for the death of a follow Outlander or if he was just naturally aloof.

    “Are these riots happening frequently here?”

    “Frequently enough.”

    Lif nodded. Clearly, he wouldn't get any more information out of that man.

    The elevator stopped but Tann didn’t make a move. After an awkward moment had passed, Lif decided to head off alone. The other man spoke up just before he had reached the doors.

    “Let’s make one thing perfectly clear,” he said sharply. “I don’t trust you. And I don’t think the Sentinel should trust you either, even if you are related to her.”

    He whirled around to face the man who was now staring him down.

    “You have no business being here. You’ve turned your back on the Star Alliance a long time ago.”

    Lif couldn’t really disagree with his point and yet he felt a sudden anger rise within him. “And have you shared those feelings with Garla yet?”

    He hesitated a moment, then shook his head slightly, diverting his eyes. “It is not my place to advise the Sentinel on her business.”

    “I'm glad to hear that. Now, why don't you remember your place, and take me to her?” He wasn't proud of the tone of his voice, or even of the words coming over his lips, and for a brief moment, he wondered if he had always talked to Outlanders this way without even having noticed it before. He liked to think that it was just this particularly recalcitrant man who had gotten the worst out of him.

    He nodded. “Yes. I’ll do that. And I’ll also be keeping my eyes on you.”

    “If nothing else, that should be part of your job.”

    They exchanged a brief, poisonous glare before Tann led Lif out of the lift and towards Garla's spacious office.

    Once inside she quickly left her chair and walked around her desk to greet Lif. “I’m glad you came back.”

    He nodded at her.

    “That would be all, Tann, thank you.”

    But Tann stayed, which caused an irritated look to cross her features. “Is there a problem?”

    He quickly looked at her as if embarrassed by his hesitation. “No. No problem at all, Sentinel. I’ll be right outside if you need me,” he said and then promptly left the office.

    Garla looked after him with a puzzled expression. “I think these latest events are starting to take a toll on him. Can’t say I blame him.”

    Lif said nothing as he stepped up to the large, floor-high windows of her office. Located on the sixtieth floor of the building, the windows gave him a great view of the city and the surrounding area. While it was certainly not the tallest building in the city, he had an almost unobstructed view of the chaos that had been created by the riot which clearly had spread much wider than he had first thought.

    She joined him. “Not a pretty sight, is it?”

    He shook his head.

    “It’s a real shame. Not that this city—this entire planet—is much to look at in the first place, but the riot killed fifty people on both sides and injured a few hundred more. Not the kind of thing we need right now.”

    “You knew this was going to happen, didn’t you?”

    She remained silent as they both kept their eyes on the ant-like people and tiny vehicles below which were hurrying back and forth in an effort to try and clean up the damage that had been done.

    “I had my suspicions.”
    He turned away from the window to look at her statuesque profile.

    “Suspicions? Please, you are a Sentinel of the Eye of Krellon. You’ve been a spy since I have been a child. Gathering and analyzing intelligence is what you do. You knew exactly what to expect.”

    “That doesn’t mean that I could’ve stopped it.”

    “But you had no qualms to put me right into the middle of it all,” he said angrily. “If you hadn’t, I would never have been in a position where I had to kill that Buoth.”

    She turned to look at him and nodded slowly. “You are right. I did need you to see how bad things had gotten. I had to make you understand the enormous danger we are facing,” she said and shook her head. “But I didn’t mean to put you into that position. This time my intelligence wasn’t as solid as I had expected and the riot spread much faster and wider than anticipated. If it hadn’t, you should have been fine.”

    “Well, I wasn’t.”

    Garla walked back to her desk. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry about what happened to you, I truly am. But the truth is that what you experienced has become the norm for many of us who live here. On Piqus and beyond. At this pace, a civil war is going to be inevitable and it will tear the Alliance apart," she said as she took her chair again.

    Lif followed her. “What can we do to stop it?”

    She shook her head sadly. “We have to change as a people, Lif. We have to, for once and for all, accept our mistakes and the terrible injustices we have collectively been responsible for, either by partaking in them directly or by enabling others and turn a blind eye to what we all knew was happening.”

    “The Great Shame,” Lif said quietly.

    “Yes. But it’s not enough, you see. We can’t just label our history and try to move on from it as if it never happened. It happened, Lif, our forefathers set out into the galaxy, believing themselves to be so far superior to every race they came across, they believed they possessed a mandate from the Infallible Creator himself to conquer and subjugate them all. That dark legacy will stay with us for all time.”

    “Then how do you reconcile this? How do you move forward from all that pain and suffering?”

    “You don’t.”

    He shot her a quizzical look. “I don’t think I understand.”

    “It’s really quite simple, Lif. Some stains run too deep to ever be erased. Some wrongs simply cannot be made right again. Our people, the Krellonians and the Outlanders will never be able to come together, our differences are too vast and our shared history is built on a foundation that is far too damaged to allow to build upon.”

    Lif wasn’t sure what she was saying. “What then are you proposing?”

    She looked passed him and back towards the windows before she spoke again. “I call it a Stand-Alone Society. Or rather, societies,” she said and then looked Lif right in the eye again. "At this point, it is our only chance to not just save ourselves but the Outlanders as well." She stood up again. “We need to go it alone, Lif. It's the only way forward.”
     
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