The Star Eagle Adventures: QD1 - False Vacuum

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

  1. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Following the plasma trail left behind by unknown vessels Tazla Star had discovered, without anybody taking notice, was not a simple proposition. First and foremost, much of the air and orbital space around and above the major population centers were carefully monitored by the authorities as would have been expected by any modern society. Taking off in a shuttle and taking it into orbit would have drawn immediate and unwanted attention, particularly since the Starfleet contingent on Piqus had been given strict restrictions regarding their allowed movements.

    But something else had occurred to Tazla. Piqus itself had been under a stringent quarantine protocol which not only predated their arrival on this world but judging from the decay rate of those plasma trails, also predated the telltale signs of orbital traffic they had uncovered in the Paradise District.

    This seemed to imply that whoever had piloted those vessels would have had to contend with the same problems they were facing now, trying to head into orbit undetected by any ground-based observatories. Save for a number of satellites, Piqus did not possess any orbital platforms.

    Any vessel leaving the surface may have been able to fool initial scans by running on low-energy mode, perhaps even using some basic stealth technology, but even that would only get a ship that far before it would be detected by sensors constantly searching the skies in order to enforce the quarantine.

    The answer to the riddle became obvious once Tazla managed to figure out where the plasma trails were leading initially. Not directly into orbit, as she had first expected, but towards the planet’s northern magnetic pole, located just a few hundred kilometers from the city. The overlapping trails spoke of significant traffic over the last few weeks, perhaps even months, the ship’s always staying low to the surface, following a course to avoid the few spread-out population centers and taking advantage, no doubt, of the dark Piqus nights.

    Since the plasma trails were already decaying rapidly, Tazla and Katanga had wasted little time to take to the Emerson, one of the half-dozen shuttles Eagle had left behind, and then using the cover of darkness to set out to follow the plasma trails towards the planet's North Pole.

    Once they had reached the arctic region, Tazla realized that her assumption had been absolutely correct, the trails lead straight up into orbit from here, the magnetic interference in the area likely hiding any ships entering or leaving the atmosphere.

    The plasma wakes led away from the planet and deeper into the Piqus system, towards the once mineral-rich asteroid belt which as far as Tazla was aware, from the admittedly limited intelligence they had been able to gather, had long since been mined to depletion.

    “This doesn’t make any sense,” Katanga said, sitting to Star’s right in the shuttle’s cockpit while the Trill piloted the vessel towards the asteroid formation. “Why would anyone introduce a virus to Piqus from somewhere as close as the asteroid belt?”

    “There must be more to this,” she said while she concentrated on flying the compact type-eight shuttle. “The multiple trails clearly hint at continuous traffic between the city and the asteroid belt.”

    Katanga nodded. “My witness seemed to indicate a frequency of travel as well.”

    "In which case, this isn't necessarily just about introducing a virus to Piqus," she said and looked at him. "Think about it, these vessels continued to operate even after the quarantine, meaning long after the virus was first introduced to the planet, and they've only stopped recently."

    “If at all,” said Katanga. “For all we know they may have just changed their base of operations on Piqus.”

    She offered him a short nod. “Whatever is going on here, I’m starting to think it might be bigger than just a disease.”

    He offered her a grin, a rare sight on his features over the last few weeks.

    “What’s got you so amused all of a sudden?”

    "Oh, nothing. Just Dez and Eli back in action, solving the mysteries of the universe. Just like the good old days."

    She shook her head as she focused back on her console. “You have a fundamentally distorted view of our past endeavors.”

    “I don’t know, it strikes me that we did some good work back then. After all one of the things that came out of our adventures was the creation of MAAP,” he said before his face darkened once more. “Then you got that new, curvy body of yours and now it’s all about orders and politics, instead of the common good like it used to be.”

    She swiveled her chair sideways to face him, trying hard to keep her rising irritation in check. "All right, let's get this over with for once and for all, shall we?"
    “This is hardly the place or the time,” he said without making eye contact.

    Star turned back to her controls but only to bring the shuttle to a full stop, after which she turned right back to him, determined not to go one inch further until they’ve had a long overdue talk. “We’re doing this now,” she said with finality.

    He sighed and moved his own chair to face her. “Very well.”

    “I am really getting sick and tired of your constant accusations that I somehow lost all compassion for other people since my days as Dezwin. First and foremost, let’s get one thing perfectly straight. Yes, you’re right that I’m not Dezwin anymore. I fondly carry all his thoughts and memories inside me, but I am my own person and have been ever since I was born and even after I joined with Star. I am the first to admit that I have made a number of bad decisions since my joining, some might even argue, disastrous ones, but I’ve worked hard over the last few years to regain the respect and trust of the people I work with. And the fact that I have lost yours—the man I possibly respect and trust the most—has hurt me a great deal. And I don’t think it’s entirely fair.”

    "Was it fair for you to take it upon yourself and make decisions on my behalf after you knew precisely that I would not agree with them?" he said, crossing his arms defiantly in front of his chest.

    “Fair? No, perhaps not. But Eli, you have to appreciate that you’re working within a command structure now. A command structure in which I outrank you and on occasions have to make decisions that you may not like. If you have difficulties acclimating to working in this manner, perhaps you should not have volunteered for starship duty again.”

    "This isn't about following orders, and you know that. You made a unilateral decision about something I should have had a say in and you chose to ignore that. I know the years after you became Tazla Star were tough for you and that you still suffer from it. Hell, I've been the one helping you get you off that Syndicate poison you were addicted to, but I just cannot stand it when people take it upon themselves to make so-called hard decisions consequences be damned and then justify them by quoting some sort of hypothetical greater good."

    She massaged her temples, trying to stave off a headache. “It was a gods-damned apology, Eli. A few meaningless words in a statement to a half-senile head of state holding a stupid grudge.”

    “It’s the principle, Taz. Maybe it’s just a few words today, but what about tomorrow? Tomorrow it might be more than words, once more justified in the name of some ethically questionable concept. What is it the Vulcans like to say? ‘The good of the many, outweighs the good of the few’? That is a dangerous precedent to set and I don’t want to be party to it. And certainly not as a tool for you to resurrect your career,” he said, staring her right in the eye as he spoke.

    “And that,” she said and pointed at him, “is complete nonsense. The notion that I did any of that for my own personal gain. Honestly, that hurts me the most, that you would have such a low opinion of me. Yes, I did it because there was a greater good to be achieved, but I would have done it regardless of how it would have affected my standing with the captain or even within Starfleet itself. Because it was the right thing to do at the time.”

    The two old friends glowered at each other for a moment.

    It was Katanga who began to nod first. “Okay.”

    She shot him a quizzical look. “Okay?”


    “What do you mean, okay?”

    “Just that.”

    Her look darkened noticeably. “We’re good?”

    He nodded. “Yes, we’re good.”

    This in itself did not appease her at all, if anything it only made her madder. “What the hells, Eli? All the anger and righteous indignation you’ve been throwing my way over the last few weeks, making it a nightmare to even try to talk to you, and now, suddenly, it’s all forgotten? What was all this about then?”

    He turned to face his controls again. “I just needed to hear you say it.”

    “Say what?”

    “That you were convinced that it was the right thing to do on its own merits. That you didn’t act this way because others expected you to. I needed to know that you had conviction of your beliefs.”

    “Godsdamned it, you could have just asked.”

    He shrugged.

    She just shook her head and turned to the flight controls, putting the shuttle back in motion towards the asteroid belt. “You know what, Eli? You’re an old, pigheaded son-of-a-bitch sometimes and a real pain in my backside.”

    He offered her a brief smile over his shoulder. “Just the type to keep you honest.”

    Before she could consider this sudden development in her interpersonal relationship with Elijah Katanga, she noticed him leaning closer to the forward facing viewport, his eyes noticeably squinting. “What in the blazes is that?”

    She followed his gaze until she found what had startled him so. They were heading deeper into the dense asteroid belt, filled with thousands of rocks of all sizes, most of which posed no danger to the shuttle and its shields. Katanga had fixed his attention on one of bigger ones, not quite the size of a small moon, but multiple times larger than a major starship.

    It didn’t take her long to realize why it had drawn his notice. Almost half of the large rock was outright missing.

    She glanced down at her instruments to run a scan. “There’s a lot of background radiation in this asteroid field and the shuttle’s sensors are not powerful enough to cut through it.”

    “Don’t need sensors to tell me that there’s something very wrong with that asteroid,” he said. “And that they’re usually not hollow.”

    "Hollow?" she said and looked back up and out of the viewport. Indeed upon closer inspection, she realized that he was right. A clearly artificial interior was visible where the outer mantle of the asteroid had presumably shed-off and was now exposed to the vacuum of space. "Good eyes."

    “Other parts of me might be slowing down, but my vision is still excellent, thank you very much,” he said and regarded her with a frown.

    She turned back to her console. “I think that asteroid is the main source of the radiation I’m registering. There are also signs of significant subspace disruptions in the area. Odd.”


    She shook her head. “The radiation. It looks familiar. I’m sure I’ve seen the pattern before but I cannot quite put my finger on it.”

    “Let’s go over there and have a look.”

    “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

    But Katanga was not going to take no for an answer. “Dez, we’ve come this far, no point in turning back now. The answers we are looking for are over there,” he said and pointed out of the viewport. “Let’s go get them.”

    She hesitated for a moment but perhaps what finally won her over was not the strength of his argument, but the fact that he had reverted back to calling her by her former host’s name, which she had always considered a sign of endearment and one he had mostly abandoned over the last few weeks.

    She glanced back at her board. “It won’t be easy,” she said. “There is a lot of radiation and I don’t think we can trust transporters. We would need to go EVA.”

    “Suits me just fine,” he said and stood to get ready to leave the shuttle.

    It took Tazla a few minutes to get the shuttle close enough to the asteroid to attempt boarding the exposed internal areas. She also spotted something that looked like a large landing bay but she ruled out the possibility of trying to set down the shuttle within the asteroid itself due to a total lack of gravity and the large amount of debris littering the deck. Instead, she backed up the small vessel as close as possible to the asteroid base and then lowered the back ramp after ensuring the force field protecting the ship's interior pressure and atmosphere was at full strength.

    By the time she had locked down the controls and left her chair, Katanga had already retrieved two white and red environmental suits.

    Tazla and Katanga quickly stripped out of their uniforms, pulled on the formfitting undersuits and then helped each other into the hard-shell EV suits. Katanga struggled a little bit with getting the bulky helmet sealed in place at first.

    “Is this a good time to check when you were last certified for extra-vehicular activity?” she asked as she helped him with the helmet, referring to the standard training process every Starfleet officer had to complete at regular intervals. At least in theory. Like many things in Starfleet, seniority could get one out of a number of unpleasant tasks.

    “Let’s just say that I’ve likely done more of those in one lifetime than you had to do in all of yours,” he said impatiently.

    She wasn’t quite sure she agreed with that and it had also not answered her question. She made a mental note to check the records once they were back on Eagle.

    “I swear they make these blasted things tighter every few years on purpose,” he said grumbling once the suit was fully sealed. “God forbid anyone should ever be comfortable while taking a stroll through the vacuum of space.”

    “The more likely story is that you’ve gained some weight.”


    Star just smirked as she connected a tether to the shuttle and then attached it to both their suits. “Just stick close to me. I’d rather not lose you out there, especially now since we are such good buddies again,” she said over their helmet comms.

    She stepped out of the force field and onto the ramp extending into nothingness first and then waited for Katanga to follow her with ginger steps. “Stand by to deactivate your magnetic boots. I’ll use my thrusters to get us over there, you just hang on.”

    “By all means, lead the way.”

    And so she did. She turned off the boots, immediately feeling herself becoming weightless and then glanced over to Katanga who quickly followed suit. Then she activated her thrusters and gave them both a gently burst towards the asteroid which was just a few hundred meters in front of them.

    The trickiest bit was dodging the debris and asteroid fragments swirling all across their path. Clearly whatever had happened to the asteroid had not been on purpose and there was enough evidence to suggest that the interior areas had experienced an explosive decompression, which meant that if the base had been staffed at the time, it would have been very likely that the incident had led to multiple casualties.

    “This looks bad,” he said.

    She nodded inside her helmet. “I don’t think they saw this coming.”

    Star dodged and redirected a few, large storage containers in their path, not worrying too much about smaller items which were becoming more numerous as they got closer, such as various handheld tools, devices and even some articles of random clothing.

    She sat down gently on the outer edge of a large room which was fully exposed to the vacuum and reactivated her boots. A moment later she looked on as Katanga did the same. They both reached for their tricorders and began scanning.

    “Radiation is definitely more pronounced here.”

    “I see it, too,” he said. “I would have to take more readings but I’d bet my bottom dollar that this radiation would wreck havoc on biological organism if not properly shielded.”

    She turned to look at him. “Enough to cause a rapid degradation of the immune system?”

    “Perhaps. As I said, I’ll need more data.”

    She nodded and then sat out deeper into the room, taking short, small steps and making sure that Katanga stayed close at her side.

    The further they stepped into the facility the more obvious it became that whatever had happened to the station had happened recently. “Judging by the decay rate of the radiation, I’d guess this happened two, maybe three weeks ago,” said Star.

    “And yet the plasma trails we have been following here are much more recent.”

    She had considered that herself. For now, she had no explanation for that discrepancy.

    “What is this over here?” said Katanga and then headed towards a number of heavy doors arranged in a row. One of the doors had ripped away from the wall and was nowhere in sight.

    Tazla followed him to find a large but featureless and empty room behind the missing door. The walls of the room were scorched black as if something very powerful had burned itself out within it, perhaps even blown that heavy door off its hinges.

    “I’m reading trace materials of boronite and painite here. Those are some seriously rare minerals.”

    “And boron-based, if I’m not mistaken.”

    She turned to look at him. “Yes. Why is that important?”

    “Boron is mostly harmless to many humanoid species but it can be very dangerous to insectoids.”

    Star followed. "And Krellonians have genetic similarities to insectoids from their early evolutionary development. A significant exposure to high levels of boron could have caused the Krellonian metabolism to break down rapidly."

    “More than that, I wager. If our theory is correct, not only would significant exposure have led to a breakdown of biological functions, it may even have created the virus itself, incubated within those who were initially infected.”

    “And if whoever worked here came from Piqus, they would have taken it back with them and then infected other Krellonians who were never even close to the initial boron exposure,” she said.

    Katanga nodded. “I think this might be exactly what happened here. And now that I know that the virus was triggered by boron-based radiation, I might be able to devise an antidote.”

    “The question still remains why the boron was here in the first place. What were they doing with it?” said Tazla and then moved on to the next door which was still sealed in place and contained a small viewport.

    “Does it matter? We may have just figured out how to beat this plague.”

    She raised her tricorder to scan the contents of the sealed room but froze when she noticed the readout on its small display.

    "Omega? What does that mean?" Katanga asked as he noticed the blue symbol for the Greek letter appear on Star's tricorder.

    Her only response was an ancient Trill curse the likes of which startled even the world-weary Elijah Katanga.

    He didn't get much of a chance to inquire further on the matter since her tricorder was sounding yet another, urgent alarm.

    “When it rains,” she mumbled to herself and then looked up at the puzzled doctor. “I set up the shuttle’s sensors to alert me of any activity before we left. Looks like we’re about to have company.”

    “We need to get out of here. Take what we’ve found back to Piqus,” he said.

    She clipped her tricorder to the waist of her suit. “No argument here. In fact, the quicker the better. Hold on to me,” she said as she reached out for him.

    “Why do I have a feeling I’m not going to like this part?” he said but still grabbed hold of her outstretched arm.

    “No point complaining now, you were the one who wanted to come here.”

    “One thing you should know about aging humans,” he said, “is that complaining about things is our favorite thing to do.”

    “I had noticed. Turn off your boots,” she said and then did the same to her own, causing her to start drifting away from the deck plates once the magnetic lock had been broken.

    He did the same and with moments he was floating next to her.

    “Hold on, this might be a little uncomfortable.”

    “I’m a Doctor, I know that means you’re understating things.”

    With her free hand, she wrapped some of the slack tether around her gloved hand and then, once she had a firm grip, pulled on it sharply.

    The tether reacted almost instantly, reeling back at high speed and jerking them both forward and towards the shuttle. The mad dash through the outpost barely afforded them a chance to dodge any debris and loose items still floating between them and their destination, and for the most part, the best they could do was try and turn their heads to protect their face places from any impacts.

    Thankfully they had already cleared most of the larger items which had been in their path earlier but Katanga did have a close run-in with what looked like a heavy fuel drum tumbling right in front of them.

    Tazla was certain she’d be sore in the morning, particularly since they were both unceremoniously dumped into the interior of the shuttle, landing hard on the deck once they had passed the force field and the artificial gravity took hold of them once more.

    "All right, let's not do something this stupid ever again," Katanga groaned as he struggled to pull himself off the floor.

    Tazla was on her feet much quicker, practically ripping off her helmet and climbing behind the controls, not bothering with removing the rest of her suit for now. She looked over the console. “We’ve been scanned.”

    “By whom?” Katanga asked, still in the process of getting off the floor, having only managed one knee so far.

    She shook her head. “I’m not sure but—“ Glancing up towards the large forward viewport, she stopped herself when she caught sight of another asteroid, this one easily as large as the one they had just come out of. She hadn’t paid attention to it before since it was mostly unremarkable except that a large section of rock was now shimmering out of existence in front of her eyes to reveal yet another asteroid base, albeit this one with what appeared to be a fully operational interior.

    “I suppose this answers our questions where those other ships leaving Piqus have been going,” Katanga said as he slowly approached the forward cockpit section.

    Moments after the holographic cover had dropped, a large, bulky vessel emerged from within the asteroid. The chrome-colored ship glinted noticeably in the light of the Piqus sun. To Tazla it didn’t look much like a warship but like something much more utilitarian instead.

    The three small and sleek, equally chrome-covered shuttles which followed the freighter, on the other hand, looked dangerous, with visible weapons ports attached to their forward hulls.

    “We need to get out of here now,” she said and was working feverishly on getting the shuttle to move.

    “I think it may be too late for that.”

    Tazla allowed herself only the briefest glance back towards the asteroid but it was all she needed to realize that Katanga was absolutely correct. Those combat shuttles were opening fire.
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  2. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Dec 13, 2003
    Good to see that Katanga and Starr have resolved their issues as they stumble on someone's illegal mining operation and in the process make a key discovery. Of course, now there's those combat shuttles to deal with...
    CeJay likes this.
  3. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    Part Five: Lazarus


    He watched her materialize on the transporter pad until her body had fully formed. For the briefest of moments, she glanced at him with something akin to relieve in her eyes. It quickly vanished, to be replaced by a stern, professional visage, befitting a person of her stature and position.

    Amaya Donners bounded down the couple of steps leading from the platform to the deck of the transporter room. “Report.”

    He caught himself snapping at her for her tone which would have been more appropriate for addressing a subordinate than a fellow starship commander. “The subspace fissure disappeared shortly after we made it back. There has been no further sign of it or of any incursion attempts by the subspace aliens.”

    “That was a few hours ago. It should’ve stayed stable for longer.”

    He scowled at her. "Getting out of there wasn't exactly a cakewalk. The aliens didn't take kindly to our visit and we very nearly didn't make it back in one piece at all. In fact, I lost a crewmember to those creatures."

    She offered a brief nod to acknowledge the casualty. “Your civilian. Mister Bensu, was it? I’m sorry for your loss but I’m still not sure why he was part of that mission in the first place.”

    “He possessed knowledge about the subspace fissure and those aliens none of us had. You’ve seen what he was able to do before we even left. If not for Bensu, we would not have been able to open the fissure at all.”

    She considered that for a brief moment. “And how exactly did he come to this knowledge?”

    He shook his head. “I don’t know. And now it appears we might never find out.”

    “Damn it, Michael, you shouldn’t have gone through that thing by yourself. I had a team ready and fully trained for this mission.”

    He was glad that he had excused the transporter chief before Amaya had even beamed onboard, having already expected some sort of confrontation, he had not wanted any of his crewmembers to be a witness to this conversation and their growing conflict. “I did what made the most sense at the time. You were obviously out of position and would not have been able to get here in time before we lost the fissure again. There is no point in bemoaning what went wrong. Let’s focus on where we are now.”

    His sharp tone startled her for just a moment but she quickly recovered. "All right, let's do that. What did you find out?"

    Michael didn't respond straight away since, in truth, the intelligence they had obtained by visiting the subspace realm was admittedly very thin. All they had really accomplished was to secure a prisoner who may or may not offer valuable information. He prayed that the creature would cooperate since otherwise their mission would have been a complete failure and Bensu would have lost his life in vain. "I made contact with … something over there. I'm still not entirely sure what it was. My science officer believes that it may have been a telepathic connection. It only lasted a moment in real time, but during that period I saw things that I'm still trying to sort out in my own head."

    She didn’t look encouraged by this. “It could be nothing at all. Random mental imagery brought on by the obvious differences in brain chemistry between carbon and solanogen-based life.”

    “Yes, it could. But I saw something else. It looked like a portal of sorts. Not like the subspace fissure but something much more stable and tangible. Artificially constructed.”

    That did pique her interest. “A portal into subspace? It could be what we’ve been looking for. The means by which they plan to carry out their invasion.”

    He nodded. “That’s what I thought.”

    “Did you see anything else? Anything at all that could give us an indication of where to find it?”

    He shook his head. “No, nothing like that. And the images I saw were not clear. It was all very nebulous. Literally, like hidden by a thick fog.”

    She uttered a sigh. “Then it’s a dead end.”

    “Not if our prisoner can fill in the blanks for us.”

    “What’s its status?”

    "We managed to stabilize it by flooding one of our cargo bays with solanogen gas and changing the composition and consistency of the atmosphere and gravity in that section. We don't know enough about its race to hold it indefinitely, I don't think, but for now, it remains conscious. We've tried to communicate with it without any success."

    “Very well, let's go see our guest then,” she said and headed for the doors.

    “Maya,” he said, stopping her short and forcing her back around.

    “I can't believe I even need to say this but I think it’s time we established some ground rules,” he said.

    She almost smirked but it never quite reached her eyes. “Ground rules?”
    “I’m willing to put up with quite a bit for the good of this mission. Whatever that turns out to be. I always thought—no, strike that—I know that we have had a good relationship in the past. Professionally and otherwise,” he said, letting that last sentiment hang in the air for a moment.

    She didn’t rise to the bait. “Get to the point please.”

    “This is my ship. When you’re on board Eagle I’m in charge and regardless of our present issues, or whatever you want to call it—I expect you to follow my lead here. I won’t tolerate anything less.”

    Her facial expressions turned into noticeable annoyance. Then she reached for her forehead, massaging it slightly. “Michael, there’s no need for posturing. Your ship, your rules. It goes without saying.”

    He was about to respond, telling her that as of late, whenever she had been around, it hadn’t quite felt that way at all. But he was interrupted by an incoming call.

    “Sickbay to Captain Owens.”

    He recognized Doctor Barry Nelson’s voice, and it sounded somewhat agitated. “Owens here, go ahead, Doctor.”

    “Sir, we need you here right away.”

    He exchanged a quick look with Amaya. “Can this wait? There is some urgent business we need to see to.”

    “I’d rather you’d come to sickbay first, sir.”

    Michael sighed but ultimately nodded. “On my way, Owens out,” he said, closing the link and then glancing back at his guest. “Let’s make a quick detour.”

    Less than three minutes later and with Amaya in tow, he entered sickbay and found Nelson and Xylion waiting for him. Both men had their backs turned to the two captains as they approached. "All right, Doctor, what exactly was so urgent that it couldn't wait."

    Nelson and Xylion turned around and in doing so revealed a third man sitting upright on the biobed in front of them.

    Michael couldn’t keep his mouth from dropping open in surprise.

    It was Bensu. Alive and well.

    Amaya spoke first. “I thought you were supposed to be dead.”

    “I got better.”

    Michael didn't appreciate Bensu's quip, not considering that he had been led to believe that he had died, practically in his arms just a few hours earlier, had seen his broken body and soulless eyes himself. Certainly a far cry from what he looked like now. His astonishment was quickly followed by a sense of relief, followed by a tinge of anger at having been lied to in such an unscrupulous manner. "What the hell is going on here?"

    “As it turns out,” Nelson said, not sounding terribly certain of himself as he spoke, “Mister Bensu may not be entirely … biological.”

    “What?” Amaya said, beating Michael to it by a microsecond or so. “What does that mean?”

    Xylion continued. “Bensu possesses a synthetic body which superficially appears entirely biological, even to medical scans. It is a body we constructed to house his katra over multiple decades.”

    That, to Michael, explained almost nothing. Instead, it only raised new questions. He pointed at Xylion and then Bensu. "You and you. In my ready room. Now. And you both better have a damned good story to tell," he said and then turned on his heel.

    “Michael, I’m not sure we have time for this,” Amaya said as he walked straight by her.

    But he was done delaying this conversation which he knew had been overdue the moment Bensu had unexpectedly appeared on the bridge. “We’ll make time.”
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  4. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Dec 13, 2003
    It's looking like things between Owens and Donners are about to come to a head as the mystery deepens as regards Bensu. And now, Bensu and Xylion have a lot of 'splainin' to do.
    CeJay likes this.
  5. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Lif had thought long and hard about the things Garla had told him and he had come to the conclusion, that for now at least, he was going to help her and see where her bold designs might lead.

    There was no doubt in his mind that her plan of a so-called stand-alone society was both bold and unorthodox. It also was clearly antithetical to everything he had learned and come to accept after he had left Krellon and begun to immerse himself in Federation culture and society which, first and foremost, prided itself on its tolerant and inclusive philosophy.

    But there was also little doubt that the Federation and the Star Alliance had very different histories and as such its people had taken very divergent philosophical avenues. Yes, he had argued with himself, the Federation was made up of a great many worlds, most of which with dark histories of their own in which entire sections of populations had been targeted for genocide, enslaved, disenfranchised or otherwise subjugated and discriminated against.

    But most of those shameful histories lay in the distant past for those worlds and they had generally managed to overcome those internal challenges long before they had decided to join an intergalactic community in which all people were guaranteed the same basic rights.

    The Krellonians, as recently as two hundred years ago, had set out to conquer their neighbors, devastated their worlds and abused their populations as slave labor. Conditions, of course, had improved since, but the rift between Krellonians and Outlanders had never even come close to healing while systematic racism throughout the Alliance was alive and well, as he had experienced first hand.

    And Lif did understand that the Star Alliance was certainly not unique in the Alpha and Beta Quadrant with this dilemma. After all the Klingons, the Romulans and the Cardassians all shared similar histories in subjugating races of people they had deemed inferior, and yet he knew of no other people who struggled more with the question of equality or who were so close to a dangerous and ever-widening precipice which was threatening to tear its society apart.

    So when all was said and done, and while he was not exactly proud of this, Garla’s plan made a certain amount of sense, and it was the only solution he had ever heard from a Krellonian—or an Outlander, for that matter—to seriously address the great issue of their time.

    And while she had still not shared every detail of how she intended on implementing a scheme to entirely separate multiple societies and people who had been closely linked for many decades, he remained curious to learn how she intended to do accomplish this and if perhaps this solution, at long last, would mark the end of a struggle which had lasted for centuries and which had caused Lif—and likely many more like him—to become ashamed to be called Krellonian.

    “I know this might sound somewhat ironic, considering what we are trying to achieve, but in order to make what I have proposed work, we’ll need help,” Garla told him in her office.

    “The Federation?” he asked.

    She quickly shook her head. “No. I don’t trust the Federation and I’d rather have nothing whatsoever to do with them. I’m still convinced that Yorlo inviting them here was a grave mistake.”

    He shot her a dark glare. “I work for the Federation. Without Yorlo I wouldn’t even be here.”

    “Yes, I know. And that might be the only good thing that came out of this. But the Federation would never sanction what I am proposing. They would never be party to it since it is entirely anathema to what they stand for and promote throughout the galaxy. What you and I know but the Federation doesn't understand, is that their ideology, as noble and progressive as it might sound, is not an automatic fit for every society in this galaxy,” she said and shook her head. “It won't work for us, Lif. And once we have completed the momentous task of rebuilding the Star Alliance, you, me and countless others, Krellonians and Outlanders alike, will be able to begin anew without the fears and anxieties which have plagued our thinking and our very lives for decades.”

    Lif squirmed in his chair a little. "I just want to be very clear about one thing, Garla. I will not be party to any plan that promotes violence or suffering. There have been far too many examples in the histories of countless worlds of people who have sounded like you, people with great and benign ambitions which all ended in widespread bloodshed and misery in the end."

    “I am not a monster, Lif. You should know me better than that. I have worked very long and hard on these plans, going to great lengths to ensure that it is the right solution for our people. For all people. I don’t want to tear down, I am planning to rebuild.”

    Somewhat appeased, Lif nodded. “Good. So what exactly does this plan involve?”

    She considered him for a moment with her brilliant, dark eyes, as if she could see deeper than the outer layers of his skin and get a glimpse into his mind instead. “I trust you, Lif, I always have. I think you are one of the smartest people I’ve ever known and the perfect partner for this undertaking of ours. But trust also needs to be earned. I will share everything with you eventually but for now, let’s take it slow, shall we?”

    “Fair enough. But you did mention that we'll need help to make all this work. At least tell me whom we're working with.”

    “Let’s just say it is not anyone within the Alliance.”

    “A foreign power, then?”

    She nodded.

    “I find it hard to believe that you would trust foreigners with reshaping the future of our people,” Lif said.

    “I don't. Not entirely. But it is a mutually beneficial agreement. They require resources I can provide and in turn, they will give us what we need to make the stand-alone society a reality. Don't worry, I won't keep you in the dark for long, I promise. After all, I will need your help for this. But for now—“ she stopped herself when something on her desk captured her attention. She picked up a padd and scanned its content. "I need to deal with something," she said and stood. "This won't take long. Stay here and I'll be right back." Garla quickly headed towards the exit and left the office.

    Lif looked after her, wondering what had been so urgent. He understood that she wouldn't open up to him so quickly, after all, Garla had been a Sentinel of the Eye, a Krellonian spymaster, for decades, and one didn't get that far in a security and intelligence organization without being careful whom to trust. He was fine with that, at least for now. If Garla was on the level, if what she was proposing was truly possible, he simply couldn't afford not trying to do whatever he could to make it a success. For his sake but more importantly, for the sake of billions of Krellonians and Outlanders.

    He stood from his chair and began to look around the large office located high up in the Eye skyscraper building. He wasn’t snooping, he told himself, merely trying to see if there was anything he could spot which would give any more indication on what exactly Garla had planned.

    He headed over to a bank of computer screens taking up almost the entire far wall of the office. Most of the screens were currently dark, while a few others were seemingly performing routine monitoring tasks. He could see nothing immediately noteworthy displayed on any of them and he was not willing to abuse Garla’s trust by starting to dig deeper.

    But just as he was about to turn away, one of the screens came to live with an urgent, flashing warning light. Without any prompting by him, the screen began to display multiple warnings. From what he could tell, it was some sort of proximity alert, what he couldn’t determine was what proximity exactly it was monitoring.

    He shot a quick look at the still closed doors, noticing that Garla had not yet returned from whatever she had left to do, and then turned back towards the screen which seemed to demand attention and awaiting further commands.

    His curiosity piqued, Lif activated a few panels on the console and the screen immediately displayed what apparently had triggered the alarm.

    Lif froze.

    The screen showed some sort of asteroid field and what looked like a damaged base within that field which was partially exposed to the vacuum of space. However, that was not what caused the feelings of dread rising in his stomach. There, right by that asteroid sat a Starfleet shuttlecraft, one he knew quite well since he had flown it before. It was the Roentgen, one of the shuttles Eagle had left behind, and which as far as he had been concerned should have still been safely parked by the field hospital set up just outside the city. It was the Roentgen and her clearly unauthorized presence in that asteroid field which had raised the alarm.

    Looking at the screen closer, he could see a tether attached to the opened interior of the shuttle and leading into the damaged base, meaning that somebody from the away team was most likely presently inside that asteroid.

    Two figures emerged from the base, clad in standard-issue, Starfleet environmental suits, being pulled by the tether and quickly disappearing inside the shuttle. Lif went back to the console and rewound the visual feed, then paused it and zoomed in closer onto the two figures only to recognize their faces illuminated by their suit helmet lights as belonging to Tazla Star and Elijah Katanga.

    He heard footsteps outside the office.

    Concerned what it would mean if Garla found out that members of his team had apparently, not only violated the mandated Piqus quarantine but also, seemingly, trespassed on an Eye facility, he quickly deleted the entire feed and the corresponding alert and then whipped around just in time to hear the doors to the office opening.

    It wasn’t Garla entering the room, it was her assistant, the Kridrip Tann who strode inside. He stopped sharply when he spotted him. “Where is the Sentinel?”

    “She had some business to attend do. She should be back any minute.”

    Tann considered Lif suspiciously and then walked over towards him and the computer console. “What are you doing?”

    “Nothing. Just waiting for Garla to return.”

    It was clear that he wasn’t entirely satisfied with that response and as he walked by him and stepped up to the computer, he began to activate the console and study the various screens. Lif wasn’t entirely sure if he had deleted the feed correctly since he had not had much time to do it and it had been a while since he had worked with Krellonian technology. He looked on with dread as Tann seemed to be checking every single screen in great detail.

    “You shouldn’t be here unsupervised. You are not authorized,” he said, continuing to scan the screen.

    “Obviously Garla trusts me enough to be here by myself. The very fact that she left me here, means that I am authorized,” he said, using indignation to try and distract from what he had done. “Maybe start to get used to that.”

    To Lif’s relieve Tann stopped looking at the screens and turned to face him instead. The scowl on his face, however, seemed to attest that he would not ever be comfortable with him around.

    Garla came rushing into the room then, clearly in a hurry and judging by her voice and demeanor, greatly concerned. “We have a developing situation at the facility,” she said.

    Lif felt a cold shudder shoot up his spine.

    “What kind of situation?” Tenn asked, briefly giving Lif a look which seemed to confirm his suspicions about him.

    “It’s one of the freighters. It’s been hijacked.”

    He felt a weight lift off his chest. “A freighter?”

    “I’ll explain on the way,” she said. “But we need to leave right now and resolve this situation no matter what. It is essential for our plans that we take care of this now.”

    Lif took a few steps towards her. “Leave where? There’s a planet-wide quarantine in effect.”

    “I’m a Sentinel, Lif, there are very few things that I cannot get around if I have to. Now, let’s go, we don’t have much time. Tann, I need you to stay here and coordinate our efforts,” she said and then turned on her heels and headed back out.

    Lif followed her closely, no longer concerned with the Kridrip but now wondering how this apparently hijacked freighter factored into the picture, and perhaps more importantly, how Star and Katanga were involved. He also quickly understood something else. After what he had just seen, and after what he had done, he was now balancing on a razor’s edge and one wrong move could have disastrous consequences, not just for him but potentially for the away team as well and on a much grander scale, possibly even for the entire Star Alliance.
    mthompson1701 and DavidFalkayn like this.
  6. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Commodore

    Dec 13, 2003
    Seems that Garla has made a deal with a devil, and now Lif might have to make a hard choice.
    CeJay likes this.
  7. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    She had known immediately that there was not going to be any chance outrunning those small and nimble-looking combat shuttles which had emerged out of the second asteroid base, certainly not in the Roentgen, so instead of trying to make a likely fool-hardy run for it, Star had hit the forward thrusters and unceremoniously backed up the shuttle into the hollow asteroid directly astern with no consideration for the debris and flotsam in their path. She had powered down all non-essential systems and for all intents and purposes played possum.

    The presumably Krellonian shuttles raced right past them without even slowing down, chasing after the freighter which had departed the hidden base mere moments before.

    “Why are they shooting at one of their own?” Katanga asked as he followed the bizarre scene playing out in front of them as long as he could and until all ships had moved out of visual range.

    “To be honest, as long as they’re not shooting at us, I don’t really care all that much.”

    “So they didn’t see us?”

    She shook her head. “I’m not sure. We were definitely scanned, that much seems clear. I don’t think we’re totally out of the woods yet.”

    “Well, we can’t stay here. We have a potential cure for this epidemic and we can’t afford to sit on it now.”

    She considered her options for a moment. Then, after making sure the freighter, as well as the shuttles, chasing it had moved on, she reactivated the thrusters to nudge Roentgen forward again. “I’ll plot us a course back the way we came, but we’ll need to stick to thrusters until we’re out of the asteroid field.”

    Leaving the belt without the use of the impulse engine took some time during which Taz and Katanga sat mostly in silence, the latter more than likely considering everything he had learned on the asteroid and how he could use this knowledge to quickly and efficiently synthesize a cure.

    It wasn’t until they had finally cleared the asteroids and Piqus came back into view that Katanga asked the question Star had been dreading ever since they had left the destroyed base behind. “What was it you picked up in that base that had you so spooked?”

    She kept her eyes glued to the viewport for the moment, avoiding eye contact with Katanga.

    Of course, ignoring Elijah Katanga had never been a strategy proven to be successful. “Taz?”

    “I can’t talk about it,” she said without moving her head.

    “Not this again. I thought we had been through all this mystery bull already. I thought we had come to an agreement that—“

    She turned to look at him. "Eli, I love you. I really do. And trust me if I could I would share with you whatever it is I know. But you have to accept that there are things that—because of my position—I am not at liberty to discuss with you. I'm sorry if that puts a strain on our friendship. I wish it wouldn't. But sometimes it isn't up to me. We are both small parts of something far bigger than either one of us and in times like these we just have to accept that and move forward."

    He glared back at her with an intense stare which to Taz felt as if he was attempting to pierce her skull. Thankfully she was fairly confident that Katanga, for all his skills, was not a telepath. “This thing you’ve found,” he said. “Do you think it is related to the disease on Piqus?”

    “The boronite clearly does,” she said without hesitation. “But I don’t see how anything else we found on the asteroid is related.”

    This seemed to appease him slightly. “Could what you found pose a danger to us and the planet?”

    She faced away again. “Yes.”
    “Then what do you plan to do about it?”

    She had no immediate answer to that question.

    * * *​

    It wasn’t often that Michael Owens was conflicted about how he should feel about an issue. Even though, of course, he hadn’t truly known Bensu that well, and up until recently had considered the enigmatic man as not much more than a civilian member of his crew who thanks to arrangements made by his close personal friend Xylion had been allowed to stay on Eagle even when most other civilians had left when the Dominion War had broken out, Michael was undeniably pleased to realize that the news of his demise had been wildly exaggerated when he had found him alive and well in sickbay.

    Bensu's surprising knowledge of the subspace aliens and their domain, making it possible for Eagle’s away team to reach it in the first place, had raised a number of questions. The revelation that Bensu was, in fact, a synthetic lifeform, something that appeared to have been well-known to his own science officer and which had never been shared with Starfleet or with him, felt at best like an unacceptable omission and at worst like a betrayal by one of his senior officers.

    The very same he was now staring daggers at as he stood in front of him in his ready room, posture perfectly erect, eyes pointed straight at the bulkhead behind where Michael sat at his desk.

    The subject of this entire mystery stood to one corner of the room, making eye contact with nobody.

    Amaya Donners who had also shown some confusion at this latest revelation, even if it didn’t seem to rival Michael’s own feelings on the matter, sat on the couch on the other side of the room, her attention split between the Vulcan and the civilian.

    Xylion had just finished explaining the origins of Bensu, dropping one twist after the next, which had left Michael pretty much speechless for most of it. Bad enough that apparently Bensu’s spirit—his katra, Xylion had called it—had apparently resided within Xylion’s mind ever since he had come across his incorporeal form while he had crossed the unforgiving Vulcan desert of the Vulcan’s Forge while he had been a child, Xylion had further admitted that the two individuals, sharing one body, had worked together over decades to create, what for all intents and purposes had turned out to be a nearly perfect synthetic body to house Bensu’s mind, which had stood up under rudimentary medical scrutiny as being entirely biological.

    “Let’s make one thing perfectly clear, Commander,” Michael said once Xylion had seemingly reached the end of his amazing tale. “I am not upset to learn that Mister Bensu is much more than meets the eye.” He shot a brief look at the alien in his now, once again, fully restored synthetic body. “After all Starfleet’s main mission remains to make contact with new life in all of its forms. And Mister Bensu certainly qualifies as one of the more unique lifeforms we have come across. What I have a difficult time wrapping my mind around is that you felt it necessary to hide this matter from your commanding officer all this time.”

    “Sir, I propose to you that if Lieutenant Commander Leva or Lieutenant Deen had asked permission for a civilian associate of theirs to join Eagle’s crew, and that if this associate had certain physical properties outside what is considered the norm, for example, a synthetic limb, you would not have felt it a requirement for this information to be shared with you."

    “Mister Bensu doesn’t have a synthetic arm or leg,” Amaya said, leaning forward from where she sat on the sofa. “He’s an entirely synthetic lifeform.”

    Xylion considered the other captain. “That is not entirely correct, sir. Bensu’s body is synthetic. His mind, however, is not.”

    Michael shook his head. “There is a big difference between somebody having an artificial limb and having an entirely artificial body, especially since there is practically no precedent for it within Starfleet.”

    “There is an artificial lifeform which serves on the U.S.S. Enterprise—“

    Michael waved him off. “I am well aware of Commander Data, Mister Xylion. But the key difference here is that his crew, as well as Starfleet, were well aware of his nature as an android long before he became an officer.”

    “Mister Bensu does not serve in Starfleet.”

    “You are missing the point, Commander.”

    Xylion raised an eyebrow in response.

    Michael uttered a frustrated sigh and once again glanced towards the subject of their discussion who was still perfectly content to avoid taking part in it. He turned back towards his science officer. “Are you seriously telling me that you believe that hiding Mister Bensu’s true nature from us—from me—while he was part of this crew, was appropriate? That it was logical?”

    That seemed to bring him up short. “No, I cannot in good conscience state that it was a logical decision.”

    “You shared a mind with Mister Bensu for what, seventy years?” Amaya said. “Is it possible that this may have clouded your judgment somewhat? Hell, if I had to share my mind with another person for that long, I’m pretty sure I’d go nuts.”

    Xylion turned to look at Donners. “If you are asking me if I believe that my experiences with Bensu have made me unable to function logically, I would point to my exemplary service record on this vessel as evidence to the contrary.”

    “Alright, nobody is saying that you are not an impeccable Starfleet officer, Commander, or for that matter, a lesser Vulcan. But isn’t it possible that on the matter of Mister Bensu you may possess a somewhat subjective viewpoint?” Michael said. “You admitted yourself that the decision of hiding the truth about him was not logical.”

    “Considering the evidence I must agree to your theory, sir.”

    Maya stood from the couch. “We can sit here and discuss if Commander Xylion was right or wrong all week long,” she said and then took a couple of steps towards Bensu. “What I want to know is how you were able to create a subspace rift and why you know about the subspace aliens.”

    Bensu looked up for the first time. “I wish I could tell you. The truth remains that I just don’t fully understand how I’ve come in possession of this knowledge.”

    Amaya didn’t seem satisfied by that response judging by the dark frown on her face. “I’m not buying that. We’re facing a possible invasion attempt by a hostile and mostly unknown, extra-dimensional threat, and here you are, another mostly unknown element. I can’t help wonder if you may not also be a threat to us.”

    “I can attest that Mister Bensu does not pose us or the Federation any harm,” said Xylion.

    She shot him a skeptical glare. “And I’m not clear how you could possibly do that since you seem to know just as little about him as he claims he does.”

    “They have shared minds for decades,” Michael said. “I would think that if Mister Bensu truly were a threat, he would not have been able to hide it.”

    "Or maybe this mind-sharing had a more profound effect on Mister Xylion than even he realizes. We've already established that his logic has been flawed as it pertains to Mister Bensu."

    But Michael was not yet willing to go down that route. He had to believe—and nothing in his five-year experience with the Vulcan told him otherwise—that Xylion was still as reliable an officer and a man as he had ever been. “I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here. For now.”

    Amaya Donners was clearly not as convinced, but apparently remembering his earlier warning when she had first beamed onboard, she backed-off, satisfied, at least for the time being, to let him handle this matter how he saw fit.

    “We’ve been focusing a lot about what we don’t know,” Michael said and considered the two men again. “Why don’t you start telling me what we do know about Bensu’s background?”
    With Bensu still reluctant to speak for himself, Xylion picked up the question instead. “We have only very recently learned that Bensu appears to belong to a race of people not native to this galaxy. This race developed technology to make it possible for their minds to be transplanted into fully synthetic bodies.”

    “How did he end up on Vulcan?” Michael asked.

    “It appears that he survived the destruction of his homeworld. The manner in which his mind was able to span the distance between his galaxy and ours is still not clear.”

    Agamemnon’s captain shot Michael an insistent and clearly skeptical look but Michael decided to ignore it for now. “And you learned all this how?”

    “By retracing our steps in the Vulcan’s Forge and using residual energies which were still present at the location of our first joining, we were able to initiate a mind meld which unlocked some of Bensu’s memories.”

    Michael nodded, recalling that Xylion and Bensu had only recently been on shore leave together on Vulcan, ostensibly to honor a tradition of revisiting Xylion’s maturity ritual decades after he had first undertaken it. It was clear now that there had been much more to that trip. “I’ll need some time to consider the full implications of this bombshell you two have dropped on me. For now, you’re both dismissed.”

    Xylion turned and left the ready room without delay. Bensu hung back just a moment longer, making fleeting eye contact with the captain before he too followed the Vulcan.

    Amaya turned towards Michael as soon as the doors had closed behind them. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

    Michael took his chair again, massaging his forehead to try and stave off a headache he felt coming on. Considering what he had just learned, he thought it to be a futile effort.

    “I don’t believe half the stuff I just heard.”

    He glanced up at her. “You’ve been in Starfleet long enough to see some strange things, I’m sure.”

    “There’s strange and then there’s strange and then there’s this.”

    The intercom signal interrupted their deliberations. “Leva to Captain Owens.”

    Michael was almost grateful for the intrusion. “Go ahead, Commander.”

    “Sir, we’ve just received a priority signal from Arkaria XI. We’ve been instructed to return there at once.”

    Michael looked back towards Amaya. “Understood, Commander. Owens out,” he said, closing the channel. “Jarik.”

    She nodded.

    “I take it you told him about our guest.”

    “He needed to know that we’ve taken one of aliens prisoner. And I suggest we make our way back there as quickly as possible. We’ve lost enough time already.”

    But Michael was torn on that subject. Part of him just wanted to hand over their prisoner to Amaya so that he could return to Piqus as soon as possible where he had left Star and a good quarter of his crew. Her last update had indicated that she had decided to investigate anomalous readings which might force her to ignore the planetary quarantine. He had somewhat questioned the wisdom of trying to antagonize the Krellonians but he trusted Star to know what she was doing. But he also knew that without Eagle providing backup, Star and her team were exposed and vulnerable.

    At the same time, he couldn't ignore the developments all around him. The things he had seen in the subspace domain, the increasing evidence of an impending invasion, and, of course, the latest revelation of Bensu returning from the dead, and his mystifying origins and unexplained awareness which seemed far too specific to be a mere coincidence.

    Amaya seemed to know what he was thinking. “Transfer the prisoner to my ship and I take it back to Arkaria, leaving you free to get back to your people.”

    It was a good offer and one that made perfect sense.

    In the end, it was his late father's cryptic and ominous words which made him hesitate to take her up on it.

    He stood, tugging down on his uniform jacket as if it would cement his resolve. “I want to have a talk with that prisoner first. And something tells me we’ll want to have Mister Bensu around when we do.”
    DavidFalkayn likes this.
  8. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Garla had taken Lif to the top of the Eye building which functioned as a landing bay below an angled and semi-transparent roof. The sentinel walked Lif passed a larger ship parked on the deck and instead boarded one of the sleek looking shuttles, joining an already assembled team waiting inside.

    Lif watched as the tinted roof above them slid open to reveal the dark and cloudy night sky before Garla jumped behind the piloting controls herself and took the shuttle out.

    True to her claim, she followed a course which seemed to circumvent any sensor facilities tasked with enforcing the planetwide quarantine, keeping the shuttle close to the ground and making use of Piqus’s magnetic poles to hide their orbital ascent.

    While Garla was busy navigating the ship, Lif checked the back to consider the team of twelve operatives, all armed with high powered phaser rifles and wearing body armor, a strike force, Lif thought, outfitted for a major military engagement.

    Once they had reached orbit it didn’t take long at all to catch-up with the bulky and much slower freighter which was already being chased by three combat shuttles not at all dissimilar to their own.

    Lif watched through the viewport as the three shuttles kept firing potshots at the larger ship, infuriating Garla. “Lif, toggle the comms.”

    He found the right panels promptly. It had been some time since he had been in a Krellonian shuttle, but he had grown up with vessels like these, had learned to fly in them, so it all came back to him quickly.

    “The next person who takes a shot at that freighter will be assigned to scrubbing clean the inside of sanitary tanks for the next month,” she said angrily. “Keep your distance and hold your fire.”

    Lif confirmed that all three ships had acknowledged the order.

    Garla nodded and brought their shuttle closer until they were practically surfing in the freighter’s engine wake.

    Once satisfied that the other ship was squarely within their grasp, Garla activated the autopilot and then swiveled around in her chair to face the strike team in the back. Lif followed suit.

    “All right, here's the situation. A number of armed Outlanders have taken over that freighter and are holding the crew hostage. The freighter's shields are up but, what they don't know is that these ships have a weakness in their aft shield rotation, a tiny window which we can exploit to beam onboard,” she said.

    “What do the hijackers want?” Lif asked.

    “It’s always the same. Freeing prisoners, better living conditions, total autonomy, take your pick. It doesn’t matter.”

    “Some of those are valid demands.”

    She shot him a dark scowl. “You think I don’t know that? But this is hardly the way to do it. That freighter is transporting vital cargo and we cannot afford to lose it. We’ll deal with their demands once the situation has been resolved.”

    Lif didn’t exactly like that approach but he understood that this was Garla’s call and there was no doubt that she had much more experience in these matters than he did.

    Once it was clear that he had no further objections, she continued. “According to our remaining operatives on board, the mid-section is currently under our control. We’ll beam over and attempt to neutralize the hijackers and free the hostages. If that is not possible, we’ll attempt to take control of the flight systems,” she said and stood after she had received clear nods from her team. She walked over to an equipment locker, removed a phaser rifle and handed it over to Lif.

    He hesitated. “Maybe I should stay behind and keep an eye on the shuttle.”

    But Garla shook her head. “I may need someone with real piloting skills over there in case the crew doesn’t make it,” she said, clearly not willing to take no for an answer.

    Lif reluctantly took the rifle.

    “Just stay close to me and keep your head down,” she said.

    He looked over the phaser she had given him, making sure he knew how to operate the weapon. It was not quite as versatile as a standard-issue Starfleet rifle but it seemed easy enough and he quickly found the safety toggle, as well as the stun setting.

    “Standard boarding formation,” Garla ordered and her team immediately raised their rifles, six operatives took a knee, while the remaining four assumed position around Garla and Lif. “Computer, energize transporter sequence,” she said.

    The shuttle’s onboard computer executed the order at once and Lif could feel the telltale tingle of his molecules beginning to be scrambled.

    Things went badly from the very start.

    The shooting seemed to have started even before he had fully materialized on the deck of the freighter. The dark corridor he found himself in was alight with phaser fire blasting back and forth. He could make out flashes of figures somewhere further down, and while it was difficult to be certain, he thought they were the ones shooting at them.

    He hadn’t even gathered his wits yet before he heard the screams.

    “Get down!” He couldn’t clearly see her in the phaser-lit corridor but he recognized Garla’s voice.

    The screams had belonged to some of her people.

    At least half of them had gone down and hit the deck within moments of their beam-in.

    His first conscious thought in the chaos was to find cover. Before he could even make a move, he felt the hit. A searing, burning heat, and a sting so painful, it felt what he’d imagine it would be like if a full-grown wildcat would burry its razor-sharp teeth deep into his arm.

    The force of the blast forced him to spin around and lose his balance. He landed on top of another body, rolled off it and came to rest on the hard deck.

    Looking up through tear-filled eyes, he saw others go down as well in what was beginning to look more and more like a crossfire with him and Garla’s team stuck right in the kill zone.

    He still couldn’t see her in the confusion and the dark corridor which remained lit only be the weapons fire flaring back and forth.

    He could make out, however, a clearly lupine shape closing in on his position, blinking in and out with every phaser blast whirling around them.

    Lif fumbled to find his weapon but he had lost it when he had been hit. By the time he looked back up, he could see the fur-covered Outlander hovering above him, just a mere paces away now. So close, in fact, he could make out his razor-sharp teeth glinting in the ongoing exchange of fire. He could see him raising a pistol to take aim.

    The Outlander hesitated once the phaser was level with Lif’s head, and he wasn’t entirely sure why he had decided to delay the inevitable now that he had a clear shot and all that was left to do was to pull that trigger.

    It took him a moment to realize that the delay had not been one of his choosing. Dark blood erupted out the T’aq’s mouth and he began to sack to the deck.

    The corridor went dark momentarily, and when he could see again, he saw Garla where the Outlander had stood a heartbeat earlier, a blood-dripping knife still clutched in her hand.

    Then she was gone again. But only for a moment. Faster than he had thought possible, she had moved behind him. “I’ve got you,” she said and reached out for the neck of his tunic, pulling him towards a small alcove where she propped him up against the bulkhead. “Are you injured?”

    “I think so. Left arm,” he said, silently admiring the calm tone in her voice, considering the circumstances.

    She quickly inspected the wound. “Grazed you good, but doesn’t look deep. No damage to the bone or arteries. You’ll live.”

    It still hurt like hell. He did his best to try and ignore it. “What happened?

    He saw her looking up but it was doubtful she was able to see much as the firefight continued. “Good question. According to what I was told, ten seconds ago, this was a safe beam-in spot.”

    “Well, that has changed.”

    Garla surveyed the corridor, even in the near darkness which was now much less regularly interrupted by sporadic flashes of phaser fire. “Three, maybe four Outlanders left down the corridor.”

    “How many still on our side?”

    “We‘ve lost at least five men. Not sure how many are left alive,” she said.

    Judging by the fact that phaser fire was still being exchanged by both sides, Lif had to believe at least some Krellonians were still in the fight.

    “Can we beam back to the shuttle?”

    She shook her head. “That trick of beaming through the shields only works one-way. We need to make a different play here,” Garla said and then thrust her phaser pistol into his hand. “Do you think you could draw them off?” She pointed towards what may have been another alcove on the other side of the corridor, in the poor light Lif wasn’t entirely sure. “Take a couple of shots and then hurry over there. That should be all the distraction I need.”

    He looked at her as if she had just grown a third arm.

    “We stay put and we may not make it out of here alive. I’m going either way, but our chances will be much better if you can create a diversion.”

    Lif took a deep breath, realizing that she was probably right. For just a fleeting second he wondered how he had managed to get himself in such a desperate situation yet again, once more fighting for his life. The moment passed and he nodded, "Help me up." With her assistance, he managed to get back onto his feet.

    “I just need a few seconds, don’t try to do anything stupid.”

    “You mean besides following you on a hijacked ship and running down a dark corridor while people are trying to shoot me?”

    “Besides that.”

    He took one last deep breath. “Here goes nothing.” He leaned forward, toward the edge of the bulkhead and fired three blasts down the length of the corridor, each shot illuminating at least three Outlanders scrambling for cover. He felt a tap on his shoulder and took that as the sign to go.

    Ignoring the burning pain in his shoulder, he took off as fast as he could, crossing the corridor with only one thought in mind: Don’t get shot. Again.

    He saw the sprawled out body of the Krellonian operative too late and tripped over his legs. Fully aware that if he stopped now he was likely dead, he did the only thing he could think of in that situation and jumped forward even as he fell, diving head first for cover.

    He landed painfully on his wounded arm and managed to roll into the alcove until he hit the bulkhead, breathing hard as relentless pain shot up his arm and spreading to the rest of his body.

    Renewed phaser fire from the opposition once again lit up the corridor and he could see Garla smiling at him from the other alcove.

    Then she was gone.

    She may have been just faster than he had given her credit for, and in truth, it was difficult to focus on much of anything in their gloom-filled surroundings, but he could have sworn that she had disappeared into thin air.

    He wondered if she had lied about beaming back to the ship and had instead abandoned him.

    Then he heard the screams. But these ones didn’t belong to the boarding party.

    He pushed himself up, rather painfully, to the edge of the alcove to be able to spy down the length of the corridor. There he could see the frenzied phaser fire which was now no longer aimed at his direction but at a threat much nearer and more immediate.

    Garla reappeared once more and smashed the head of an unprepared Kridrip into the wall of the bulkhead with such force and brutal efficiency, it left behind a large and visible blood smear.

    Next the sentinel took to the air, elevating herself by using the body of the falling Outlander and pushing herself off the bulkhead, she practically leaped across empty space with the grace of a ballet dancer half her age, and with one outstretched leg she easily felled another opponent, her boot striking him right across the face, before she brought her legs back together and slammed her knees into the chest of a reptilian Zel, knocking him onto the deck.

    Driven by momentum, she executed a forward roll, wheeling over the Zel and then came back up to deliver a perfect uppercut to the last Kridrip still standing, knocking him onto his back.

    She made sure the last two men stayed down by delivering two vicious kicks against each of their heads.

    Another phaser blast whizzed by Culsten from the other end of the corridor, missing Garla by a hair’s width. “Cease fire, you fools,” she barked.

    A couple of Krellonians emerged from the other side, holding beacons to illuminate the corridor and the many dead or injuries bodies littering the deck.

    Garla found what looked like the highest-ranking Krellonian and addressed him first. “By the Infallible Creator, you better have a good explanation for this mess?”

    The man seemed flustered and clearly exhausted. He was bleeding from a few wounds which looked mostly superficial. “Sentinel, my sincere apologies. We thought … we thought we had the situation under control. The hijackers made an unexpected push for the bridge, just before you beamed onboard.”

    Garla seemed no longer interested in what had happened. “What’s our status now? Have the cargo modules been compromised?”

    He shook his head. “No, the cargo is secure. However, there are at least two dozen hijackers left who are holding the rest of the flight crew hostage in the aft compartments. But there is no way they'll be able to get into the cargo units.”

    Garla considered the man for a moment and then glanced back towards the aft part of the ship. “Given time they will.”

    “We can take back the ship and—“

    She turned back around to face him. “Collect the wounded and the dead and abandon ship.”

    The officer looked back at her with a dumbstruck expression. It didn’t last long, apparently it wasn’t a wise career move to disregard the orders of a sentinel. He nodded quickly and then went off to follow her instructions.

    Garla walked back to Lif who had witnessed the exchange from where he was leaning against the bulkhead. “Can you walk?”

    He nodded. “I think so.”

    “Good, I need you to come with me to the bridge,” she said and set out.

    He followed her gingerly. He could walk all right, but it wasn't exactly smooth or painless. "I thought we're abandoning ship."

    “We are. But first we need to do something.”

    “What about the hostages?”

    She didn’t respond to that.

    They reached the bridge located at the very front of the freighter after just a short walk. They found the compact command center made up of a handful of computer consoles and five chairs abandoned, the entire crew either preoccupied with holding back the hijackers or already having fallen victim to them.

    “Get to the helm. I need you to get ready to engage the autopilot and activate the warp engines on a delay to give us time to clear the ship. I’ll make sure that nobody will be able to interfere with the controls once we’re set,” she said, even as she was headed for an auxiliary control station.

    He did as he was told, lowering himself into the pilot’s seat. “What course shall I set?”

    She looked at him for a moment. “It should already be pre-programmed.”

    He nodded when he saw the coordinates which as far as he could tell where nowhere near anything of importance at all.

    The ship shuddered slightly as a number of escape pods shook themselves loose from the freighter.

    “We don’t have much time left.”

    “You mean to leave the hostages?”

    “The future of our people is at stake, Lif. The future of the entire Star Alliance. We cannot get derailed now by the actions of a few extremists. I hate having to make sacrifices but I’ve not been given another choice.”

    “What happens to them when the ship gets to those coordinates?”

    A loud bang against the bridge door caused them both to whip their heads around. The sound was quickly followed by more clattering and the heavy panels were beginning to budge. Someone on the other side was clearly determined to get in.

    “We’re out of time,” Garla said.

    Lif activated the delayed warp startup sequence. "Ten seconds to warp."

    “Let’s go,” she said, pointing at the bridge’s only remaining escape pod.

    Lif got out of the pilot’s seat and made his way towards it. Garla took the phaser he still carried out of his hand and then fired it at the helm station, causing it to erupt in a shower of sparks and smoke. Then she followed him into the pod.

    He could see the doors to the bridge opening to allow a gap wide enough for a number of Outlanders trying to get inside, just before the hatch on the escape pod slammed shut and he and Garla were catapulted away from the freighter.

    Through the small viewport he watched the ship jumping to warp, most likely dooming anyone left onboard.

    No matter how thankful he felt for having escaped that ship, he wasn’t able to ignore the sick feeling deep down in the pit of his stomach that something about all this was terribly wrong.
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  9. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    “Boronite?” DeMara Deen said, unable to mask her astonishment. “I would never have guessed. How did they even get access to it? I don’t think I’ve ever even seen more than microscopic amounts of it myself.”

    After their return from the asteroid field, managing to return to Piqus just as inconspicuously as they had left it, Elijah Katanga’s very first order of business had been to wake up Deen and a handful of other researchers and medical personnel and take his new found knowledge about the cause of the disease directly to the lab.

    “I’ve been sworn to secrecy, I’m afraid.”

    Deen stopped her work on the tissue sampler to pin the veteran doctor with a hard stare. “That does not sound like you at all.”

    He simply shrugged. “My priority has always been to find a cure to this illness, nothing more and nothing less. I am not interested in uncovering secrets or exposing conspiracies. Sometimes we just need to do our jobs and trust others to do theirs.”

    Her look turned into one of astonishment. “Dear Doctor, I hardly recognize you. It seems like your little trip with our first officer didn’t just produce a possible cure for the Krellonian people but may also have cured you of—“

    “Please, don’t say it,” Elijah warned her. “Let’s just focus on the task at hand. We have tens of thousands of patients all over the planet relying on our efforts. We’ve got at least thirty critical cases in the final stages right in this facility who might not survive the night.”

    She offered him a smile instead and then nodded and went back to work. “I guess Lou was right after all.”

    “Right about what?”

    Deen shrugged as she activated the tissue sampler again. “Something about dogs and tricks. Human adages can get confusing.”

    He frowned. “I think I’ll need to have a talk with our chief engineer at some point,” he said and then redirected his entire focus on the microscope where he observed the way the latest tissue samples were responding to his anti-boron serum he had developed.

    His eyes quickly grew wide. “Sweet Lord Jesus.”

    Deen abandoned her workstation to join him. “Good news?”

    “I’m seeing dramatic effects on the infected samples. An eighty percent reduction in the proliferation of the virus in sample B. Almost a ninety-five percent reduction in sample C.”

    Deen was speechless.

    “An initial reduction of twenty-five to thirty percent is considered a clinical success,” he said.

    Her beaming smile was practically radiant. “Congratulations, Doctor. I think you just found the cure.”

    He nodded slowly. “We need to run a few more tests before we can think of applying it to a patient but just in case, let’s get somebody prepped to receive it.”

    “I think I know just the right one.”

    Elijah, Deen and a small army of doctors, researchers and medical technicians spent the next six hours running a barrage of tests and trials with various tissue and blood samples as well as making use of the most advanced holographic technology Starfleet Medical had access to in order to run one simulation after the next. And in every case, the diagnosis remained as positive as it had been the first time.

    It was just after dawn that Elijah made the decision to administer the serum to their first patient, and one that was acutely in danger of losing her life within the next few hours.

    Elijah was well aware of the risks of installing potentially false hopes in terminal patients, particularly when children were involved, and it was a well-used practice within Starfleet Medical circles to show the uttermost caution in those cases. But Chief Administrator Chella had barely moved more than five paces from her sick daughter’s side since she had been brought to the Starfleet-run hospital, had practically relocated her entire office and half her staff into the facility—much to the chagrin of the medical staff who had since found itself surrounded by armed Krellonian security forces and administrators on a near constant basis while Chella was virtually running all of Piqus and its ongoing medical emergency from the hospital.

    The proximity to her sick daughter had ensured that she had been immediately aware that Elijah and the rest of the staff were preparing her daughter for a new kind of treatment.

    He had expected her to bombard him with questions about the treatment—questions he would have had a difficult time answering since it would reveal their clandestine circumvention of the planetary quarantine—but instead the woman had simply stood by her daughter quietly, holding her hand whenever she could, even if she was barely still conscious, and kept her hopeful eyes on the staff busily going to and fro to prepare to administer the latest vaccine.

    Elijah had played with the thought of having her removed from the treatment room more than once but hadn't been able to bring himself to do it since she did her absolute best to try and stay out of his people's way.

    Chella remained by her daughter’s side even after the treatment had been delivered and while most of the medical personnel had already cleared the room, she had fallen asleep in a chair by her side.

    “It’s been what? Two hours?” said Deen, noticeably suppressing a yawn as she watched the still unconscious patient through the room’s observation window. “Shouldn’t we have seen something by now?”

    Elijah fought to stave off his own exhaustion, briefly glancing towards another window to see the early morning light beginning to break through the cloud covered sky. He couldn’t quite remember the last time he had slept since his unsanctioned visit to the city, followed by the rather eventful journey off-planet and then working through the night on the vaccine. Fatigue was a physician’s greatest enemy, he knew, but he was sure he wouldn’t be able to find any rest until he had some results, positive or negative.

    “Medicine isn’t as black and white as astrophysics or quantum mechanics. Just because something worked in a lab, doesn’t mean it will translate to an actual patient,” he said, trying not to sound as pessimistic as he was beginning to feel.

    “The fact that you believe quantum mechanics to be a black and white field tells me that you don’t know much about it,” she said with a brief glare.

    “I know that it won’t help us heal that little girl. That’s all that matters right now.”

    Deen turned back towards the observation window and nodded. “Agreed.”

    Tazla Star joined them both. “Any progress?”

    He shook his head. “Not yet.”

    “You two look awful,” the first officer said. “Have you gotten any sleep yet?”

    “I’ll sleep once I know if this works.”

    The Trill turned on her old friend. “You need to get some rest, Eli. Don’t make me order you to your bunk.”

    “I’m fine,” he insisted.

    But Star shook her head. “You’re about to keel over, I can see it in your eyes. And the last thing I need is for my chief medical officer to become a patient. Doctors make the worst kind and I know because I’ve been both.”

    He was about to give in to her demands when he realized that Chella, who had been slumbering until a few moments ago, was now awake. She was bent over her daughter who had opened her eyes and was now speaking to her mother.

    “I’ll be damned,” said Star.

    Deen pointed at the nearby monitor. “Heart rate is way up, blood pressure is normalizing and her fever is down,” she said with a beaming smile as she considered Elijah.

    “It’s working,” he said. “It’s really working.

    Through the window, they watched as Chella hugged her daughter tightly, who had managed to sit up on her bed already. Even while she held her, Chella was looking right at the three Starfleet officers through the window, tears streaming down her cheeks, she mouthed the word thank you.

    “We need to get some more blood and tissue samples from the patient,” said Elijah, already thinking ahead.

    But Star shook her head. "No, you two are officially relieved of duty for the next few hours and until you've gotten some rest. I'll make sure that the samples are taken. You will both need your strength because the hard work is only just beginning. We need to start cranking out this cure as quickly as possible and get it to anyone who needs it. I'll get the ball rolling."

    Elijah hesitated for a moment. It was, after all, a moment of triumph which as far as he was concerned had eluded him for too long. Now that it had finally come, it wasn’t easy to let go and slow down.

    Star put an arm on his shoulder. “Get some sleep, Eli. You’ve done a great thing today. I’ll make sure the duty shift will get to work on this straight away. And no doubt we’ll all work some double shifts the coming days. Well done. Both of you.”

    Overwhelmed, momentarily, by the joy he felt, Elijah hugged Star and then Deen as well.

    “You did it, Doc,” said Deen.

    “We did it,” he said and looked at them both. “We all did it.”
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  10. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    The creature had been put up in the spacious cargo bay three on deck fourteen, where a circular area measuring about ten meters in diameter had been secured with floor to ceiling, level-six strength force fields to not only keep the alien contained but also in order to amend the environmental settings within to something more akin to the atmospheric conditions the away team had discovered in its native subspace domain.

    Michael had since been advised that the creature had been close to death when it had been exposed to relatively low-gravity and oxygen-nitrogen rich ship atmosphere and had slowly begun to recover after the environmental conditions had been amended within its makeshift cell.

    He could tell that it was still suffering from the sudden exposure even now, as the long-robed reptilian moved much slower around the restricted area than what he had observed in subspace. It gingerly touched the force field at various points with its three-clawed hand as if to determine any weaknesses.

    It seemed to pay little attention, however, to the people who had assembled in the cargo bay, including Michael, Amaya Donners, Xylion, and Bensu. Jose Carlos, who was in charge of security in Nora's absence was also present, standing nearby with a phaser strapped to his hip. Carlos was clearly not taking any chances since he had six additional armed security officers positioned throughout the bay, guarding the prisoner from almost every angle.

    Xylion had presented him with a small silver device after he had entered the cargo bay. It looked like a diamond-shaped bracelet that clipped to the wrist. Its smooth surface contained no features he could determine.

    "This was the only instrument on the prisoner," the Vulcan said. "Initial scans suggest it may be a communications device. The manner in which the alien was attempting to use the device, I theorize it may function as a retrieval system. Judging by the powerful energy it emits, it may be able to work across dimensional plains."

    “That’s a lot of power for something so small,” Michael said as he studied the unassuming device closer. “Are we sure it has been disabled?”

    “It appears to only function if in direct contact with the alien, however, we have taken additional precautions by activating a wide-frequency jamming field in the cargo bay.”

    “I wonder if we could use it to return to subspace ourselves.”

    Xylion offered a small nod, showing that he had considered that possibility himself. “That might be possible. I would require to further analyze the device in detail before we can understand its full functionality.”

    Michael looked back towards the alien behind the force field. “Has it attempted to make any contact with us?” Michael asked Carlos who had kept an eye on their guest ever since they had brought him here. He didn’t like using an indeterminate pronoun to refer to the creature since he thought it was important to not lose sight of the fact that it was a sentient being, but he couldn’t even guess its gender, or if its race even had any. He knew that initial medical scans performed by Doctor Nelson and his staff had been inconclusive so far.

    Carlos shook his head slightly from where he stood; his muscular body tense and ready to strike at a moment’s notice. “No, sir. Nothing that could be construed as such. Mostly it has been exploring the limits of the confined area.”

    “It stands to reason that the creature is highly disoriented by its new surroundings and may not be equipped to fully process them,” said Xylion. “Its initial attempt to trigger the communications device may have been an instinctive reaction.”

    Maya Donners was not convinced of that theory. “It belongs to a race which has abducted and experimented on people from our domain. A race now planning an invasion of our space,” she said and shook her head. “It knows exactly where it is and what is going on.”

    But Michael didn't get that impression from the captive alien, to him, it looked more confused and bewildered than anything else. Of course, he was quick to admit that it was almost impossible to judge certain species merely by their appearance or even their observed behavior.

    Amaya took a step closer to the force field but the creature continued to ignore her and the rest of its visitors. "By all accounts, these creatures acted in a hostile and violent fashion when you encountered them in subspace."

    “Correct,” said Xylion. “However, their behavior was not an unexpected response to our intrusion into their domain and our efforts to abduct one of their kind.”
    “In other words,” said Michael. “They may have just been trying to defend themselves. In their eyes, we might very well be the bad guys.”
    Amaya nodded slowly, her eyes still glued to the reptilian while rounding the edge of its cell. “All the more reason to attempt to make contact with it.”

    “The universal translator has so far been unable to identify or replicate the syntax of their language. This may be due to the limited sample size we have available,” the Vulcan science officer said.

    “So we need to get it talking,” said Amaya and then began to round the cell from the outside to get closer to the alien. But the creature continued to ignore the starship captain, even when she began to follow as it waddled along the circumference of the force field. “I am Captain Amaya Donners of the United Federation of Planets. We seek to establish a dialogue with your people.”

    Michael watched on as she was entirely ignored, much to her frustration. After half a minute or so, she stopped and looked back at him. “This is ridiculous.”

    “If we cannot understand its language, it might not be able to understand ours,” he said to her as she returned to the group.

    Bensu stepped forward until he stood right by the force field. He watched the alien coming slowly towards him and when he was nearly facing it, he reached out to the touch the force field. The alien stopped and turned its large, dark eyes towards him.

    “Well, that’s a start,” said Michael.

    The creature made contact with the force field on its side so that their hands were nearly touching if not for the thin yet powerful, and now flaring energy field between them.

    Then the creature began to talk.

    Or at least Michael thought it was talking since it was practically impossible to tell by the fast clicking noises it was producing and it certainly was still not enough for the universal translator to make sense of it.

    And Bensu was clearing listening.

    Michael, Amaya, and Xylion quickly moved closer, observing what appeared to be a one-way conversation.

    After a few moments the creature pulled back again and stepped away from the force field, in fact, it was retreating as far from Bensu as the cell allowed.

    “Were you able to understand it?” Michael said.

    “Some of it. But it’s difficult to make sense of it all.”

    “How about a name?” asked Maya.


    “Beholder?” Michael looked at Bensu and then back at the creature in the cell. “Is that its individual name or what they call their people?”

    Bensu shook his head. “I cannot be sure. It could be either, or it could be something else entirely.”

    “What else did it say?” Amaya said.

    “I think it is scared. It doesn’t seem to fully comprehend what has happened to it. It’s hard to tell. It could be angry at having been taken against its will,” he said and then looked towards Xylion and the wrist device he was still holding. “I believe it wants that back.”

    Amaya shook her head. “Well, that's not happening. But we will need to find a way to communicate with this creature more reliably,” she said, considering both Michael and Bensu. “I suggest you keep working on it, even if you just get it talking. With any luck, the UT will eventually catch on.”

    Xylion reviewed a padd he had brought. “I can confirm that the universal translator has made minor progress in deciphering the language based on the small sample it has received. It is not yet sufficient to attempt translating its language or allowing us to communicate with it directly.”

    She turned to Eagle’s captain next. “We need to get this alien back to Arkaria IX. Hopefully, we'll be able to communicate with it by then. But we are wasting time if we're just sitting here. I suggest you let me transport the creature along with Mister Bensu to Agamemnon and we part ways.”

    Michael considered that for a moment. He wasn’t comfortable with the idea of handing over the creature and his enigmatic bartender to Amaya. Perhaps a few weeks ago he wouldn’t have hesitated, but things had changed. Of course, he disliked the idea of leaving Star without support on Piqus just as much.

    “No offense,” said Bensu. “But I’d rather stay right here on Eagle.”

    “You don’t have a choice in the matter, Mister,” said Amaya sharply. “Your knowledge and skills—regardless of how you’ve managed to obtain them—are mission critical. We’ll need you along with the creature.”

    Michael shook his head. “Bensu is a civilian. If he doesn’t wish to join you on Agamemnon, he can’t be made to go.”

    The glare in her eyes seemed to say otherwise. “Civilian or not, he is attached to your ship which means he is your responsibility and answers to your authority.”

    Michael didn’t care for the lecturing tone in her voice nor was he so certain about the legality of what she was alluding to. He understood that any civilian serving on his ship still had to follow his orders just like any other crewmember but he also understood that there were limits to this. Such as ordering Bensu to join another crew to carry out what was essentially a Starfleet mission.

    He knew he had to make a decision since she was absolutely correct about at least one point she had made. Staying put was probably the worst course of action he could take. “Return to Agamemnon,” he said. “We’ll follow you to Arkaria.”

    She hesitated for a moment as if she was considering trying to argue her case, clearly more comfortable with her suggestion, perhaps because she saw him and Eagle as an unnecessary complication. She eventually thought better of it, offered him a sharp nod and then headed for the transporter room.
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  11. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Louise Hopkins couldn’t remember ever having been more tired her life.

    It had been a long day. After Doctor Katanga and his medical team had managed to synthesize a viable cure for the Piqus Plague, Star had drafted every available member of the away team to work double shifts to make sure it could be produced in the quantities required. It would have been a difficult task even with Eagle providing support, but on their own, it had been a real undertaking which remained in progress, even a full day after the initial discovery.

    Louise wasn’t a stranger to hard work, but since she wasn’t used to working off-board, usually preferring the familiar surroundings of her engine room, she had not coped well with adapting to the twenty-eight hour day on Piqus.

    She had looked forward to getting at least a decent six-hour rest in her bunk before being called back to continue to work on the cure when Lif had urgently called her to his cabin on the Nebuchadrezzar.

    He bid her inside the moment she had activated the annunciator.

    “There you are,” he said as soon as the door had slid open. “I called you ten minutes ago.”

    “It’s been one of those days.”

    “Let’s not compare notes,” he said.

    She shot him a glare. It wasn’t that she thought that her day had been worse, she already knew he was having a difficult time working with his intelligence officer aunt, having come in serious danger at least once already, but it was the manner in which he had said it. He had been downright patronizing and sounding not at all like his usual self. “Okay, so we had both bad days. Why don’t you tell me about yours?”

    He shook his head. “To be honest, Lou, I don’t have time to get into details with you. I need to get back to the city. All I want is a shower and a quick change.”

    She considered him askance. “So why did you call me at oh-dark-thirty?”

    “Because that Creator-damned sonic shower unit conked out again.”

    Her eyes went wide. “You’re kidding me?”

    “I’m dead serious.”

    “You called me all the way over here, in the middle of the night, because you’re having trouble with your sonic shower? I’m not a plumber, Lif, and I sure as hell don’t make house calls. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve all had to make sacrifices and creature comforts were on the bottom of the list of our priorities,” she said, trying to keep her increasing ire about this ridiculous situation out of her voice. Not very successfully.

    “You’ve already looked at it twice, Lou. Just help me understand how it’s possible that one of Starfleet’s finest engineers, who works on complex warp engines all day long, can’t keep a simple sonic shower working.”

    “I’m just going to pretend you didn’t just insult me and write this off as both of us being tired. I’m also going back to bed,” she said and turned to leave.

    “All I’m asking for is one, quick sonic shower. That cannot be too much to expect around here,” he said, practically shouting before he grabbed a large padd lying on his cot and slinging it so hard against the bulkhead, the display cracked before it dropped to the floor.

    Louise was so taken aback by the volume of his voice and the sudden violent outburst, she noticeably flinched and jumped backward, her wide-open, and shocked eyes focusing on the broken padd on the floor.

    For a moment neither of them spoke.

    “That’s all I ask,” he said, very quietly now.

    Louise was startled again when the door behind her opened up again but then quickly relaxed, feeling a tinge of relieve when she spotted Nora Laas step over the threshold, a concerned expression on her face. “Everything all right in here?” she said, looking at Louise first and then at Culsten.

    “We’re dandy,” Lif said quickly but without making eye contact with either one.

    “That padd isn’t,” she said, pointing at the device on the deck.

    “Yeah, well, it fell,” he said, bend down to pick it up and tossed it carelessly back onto his bunk.

    “Lou?” Nora said, considering her friend who still stood like petrified. “Are you okay?”

    “We just had a small disagreement, no need for security to get—“

    Nora raised a hand in his direction to cut him off. “Lif, all due respect, I’m talking to Lou. And your small disagreement was loud enough to be heard half-way around this nasty little planet,” she said and then considered Louise again who only very slowly made eye contact with the Bajoran.

    “He’s having some issues with his sonic shower.”

    “So?” she said and shrugged. “Can’t this wait until tomorrow? Prophets know I haven’t had a proper shower in a couple of days.”

    “Apparently not,” she said.

    “Listen, I don't have time for all this, all right,” Lif said, cutting into their conversation. “Can you fix it or not?”

    Nora pierced Lif with a look sharp enough to cut through diamond. “I think you need to cool down, Mister,” she said. “I suggest maybe you take a little walk outside, that ought to do it. I have no compunctions about throwing you in a cell for a few hours if you prefer to calm down that way.”

    He raised his hands defensively. "You know what? Forget it, both of you. I've got to go anyway," he said and then pushed himself past the two women, Nora not giving him an inch while she kept her dagger-like eyes on him until he had left the small compartment.

    Once he was gone, she considered the engineer again. “Want to tell me what is going on with him?”

    She just shrugged. “Beats me. But whatever it is, it’s really getting to him. I’ve never seen him like this before.”

    “It’s no excuse. I think we better loop Star in on this.”
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  12. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    As to Amaya’s recommendation, both Eagle and Agamemnon had traveled at maximum warp to return to the Arkaria system as quickly as possible and Michael had offered no objections since modern starship engines had long since been upgraded to prevent the dangerous emissions which had been found to be so destructive to the fabric of subspace.

    And the sooner he could get the situation with their alien prisoner resolved, the quicker he could return Eagle to Piqus to support his away team.

    Star's latest update had been mostly positive, indicating that they were close to administering a planet-wide cure. It was what she hadn't said that had him worried. She hadn't been able to speak openly on the subspace channel, even an encrypted one, but it had been obvious from her word choice and phraseology that something else was amiss. Something significant. It wasn't an immediate threat to the away team—he had no doubt she would have found a way to communicate to him if it were—but that didn't mean that it couldn't become one.

    For now, Michael tried not to focus on the away team and instead watched as his old Academy friend and roommate materialized on the transporter pad, shortly after Eagle and Agamemnon had entered standard orbit around Arkaria IX.

    “Permission to come aboard.”

    Michael nodded with a smirk. “Granted.”

    He walked down the steps, taking in the transporter room even as he did so. “It’s been a while since I set foot on a ship-of-the-line,” he said. “Never fails to impress.”

    Michael didn't think the transporter room was particularly interesting or distinct from other such facilities but he couldn't help feeling a certain sense of pride nevertheless. "Nothing quite like it," he said and pointed towards the doors.

    Jarik headed straight for them and both men stepped onto the corridor outside.

    “Don’t tell Maya I said this, but I was always fond of the Nebula-class design. Such a great fusion of function and design. These newer ships all look far too aggressive to me as if we're building ships to try and intimidate whomever we may meet in the depth of space."

    Michael smiled as he escorted him toward the nearest turbolift. “Your secret is quite safe with me. And I happen to agree fully.”

    They walked into the lift and Michael ordered it to take them to deck fourteen.

    “What’s the latest on the prisoner?” Jarik asked.

    “Mister Bensu has made some progress in engaging the alien. I wouldn’t exactly say that we’ve started a dialogue but at least the universal translator has picked up enough to attempt one.”

    “Bensu. That’s your mysterious bartender?” he said, giving Michael a skeptical look.

    “Trust me, I’m as surprised by this development as you are. But there is nothing more I can tell you about him other than what I’ve put in my report already. He appears to be a mystery even to himself.”

    “It certainly sounds pretty fantastical.”

    “Yes, but that is the business we are in, is it not?”

    “You may be," he said just before the lift doors slid open, depositing them on deck fourteen. "As a starship captain, this kind of thing is probably just another Tuesday for you. I prefer more tangible answers to my questions.”

    He followed him out of the turbolift. “Not sure you’re going to get them out of Bensu.”

    “I can live with that for now. As long as I get answers from our prisoner.”

    They stopped in front of the doors leading to the cargo bay and Jarik turned to Michael again before they crossed the threshold. “Listen, don’t think I am not thankful to both you and Mister Bensu for what you did to salvage this mission and to get us a prisoner who should give us the answers we are looking for but I don’t think we’ll need you or Eagle for our next steps. At least not now. I know you still have a team in Krellonian space, not to mention your own mission which may still play a role in all this. I am happy to take the prisoner off your hands to let you focus on that.”

    Michael considered the half-Vulcan for a moment, not missing the fact that Amaya had made him practically the exact same offer just a few hours earlier. “I think I want to see this through. We’ve gotten this far already.”

    It wasn’t hard to tell that it wasn’t what he had wanted to hear. His worry-lines were quickly replaced by a good-natured and very un-Vulcan smile. “Of course, I understand. And once all this is over, we really need to take some time to properly catch-up. It’s been too long since we’ve done that.”

    He nodded. They had met over drinks briefly a few weeks ago when they had both been on Earth, but considering they had been as close as best friends back at the Academy, that had seemed hardly enough time to reconnect. “Agreed. Shall we?”

    Michael led him into the cargo bay where they found Amaya Donners already waiting for them. The captain of the Agamemnon had also brought her science officer Wayne Daystrom along, arguing that he had spent a significant amount of time studying everything there was to know about the subspace aliens, even if it wasn’t much.

    Xylion was also there, as was Bensu, Doctor Nelson, Josè Carlos, and his armed security team. The subspace alien stood motionless at the center of its cell.

    Jarik headed directly to the edge of the force field to get a better look at the reptilian prisoner who did nothing to acknowledge its latest visitor. “Remarkable. How is it able to survive outside of its subspace realm?”

    Xylion took that question. “We have been able to alter the atmospheric conditions within the force field to closely match the conditions we encountered in subspace.”

    “It is not a perfect recreation, however,” said Daystrom. “There are certain elements we don't fully understand and cannot replicate. The creature is already showing signs of early cellular degradation. It's likely is not going to be able to stay in our realm for longer than a few days.”

    Jarik nodded, keeping his eyes on the prisoner. “Hopefully it will have told us what we need to know long before then. Will it be able to understand me?”

    Xylion glanced at his captain and Michael nodded his assent. He activated a panel on his padd. “The universal translator is now active and the audio within the cell is enabled.”

    “We have brought you here to provide us with information about your upcoming plans.”

    The alien glanced at him but said nothing.

    Jarik turned to look at the Michael and the others. “Have we established a name for this individual?”

    Bensu answered. “The only thing I’ve got out of him which is even close to a name is Beholder.”

    “We don’t know if this refers to its name or that of its race,” said Amaya.

    Jarik nodded and focused back on the prisoner. “Beholder. You will answer my questions. It is the only way we will consider releasing you. Do you understand?”

    The creature stepped closer to the force field. “Prisoner.”

    Jarik offered another nod. “Yes, you are our prisoner. You will remain one until you have answered my questions.”

    “You have questions.”

    “Yes. We know about your invasion plans.”


    “What is the location of the subspace gateway?”


    Despite his Vulcan appearance, it wasn’t difficult to tell that Jarik was growing irritated with the alien’s one-word responses. “We know about the subspace gateway. We need to know its exact location in our space.”


    “What are the coordinates?”


    Clearly frustrated, Jarik turned away. “Is it just parroting whatever I’m saying?” he said and then looked at the only civilian in the team. “Bensu, was it? Have you had any more luck communicating with this creature?”

    He shook his head. “Not really. I am not even convinced it has the mental capacity to understand complex questions.”

    “Its people are planning an invasion and have built a subspace gateway into our realm,” said Amaya. “I find it hard to believe that they don’t possess a high level of intelligence.”

    “Unless you captured the one imbecile in the bunch,” said Jarik, looking at Michael and sounding at least somewhat accusatory.

    “We didn’t exactly have the time to carry out an IQ test.”

    Jarik’s attention returned to the prisoner, studying its blank, reptilian face in detail. “I’m not buying it. It knows more than it is willing to let on. You said it cannot survive in our atmosphere?”

    “That is correct,” Xylion said. “It lacks the biological ability to process nitrogen.”

    “I want you to increase the nitrogen concentration inside the force field to one hundred parts per million,” he said, staring down the prisoner.

    Xylion once again made eye contact with Michael who once again gave his consent. He entered the required commands into his padd. “The atmosphere inside the force field now contains a nitrogen concentration of one hundred parts per million.”

    It was obvious, pretty much immediately, that the prisoner could sense the change as it began to move from left to right as if to determine what was happening.

    “That is a taste of what it feels like to be in our galaxy,” said Jarik. “I believe you’ve already experienced this before. This can get a whole lot worse, or I can make it go away. All you need to tell me is the location of the subspace gateway.”

    But the creature was now more preoccupied with its changed surroundings than Jarik’s questions.

    “Mister Xylion, increase the concentration to five hundred parts per million.”

    “This is getting us dangerously close to seriously endangering the life of the alien,” said Daystrom who had stood by mostly quiet until now.

    “I have to object on medical and ethical grounds,” said Doctor Nelson who was taking readings with a medical tricorder to monitor the creatures bio-signs.

    Jarik considered both men. “Duly noted. But we’re talking about a full-scale invasion which will potentially affect billions of lives. We have no choice in the matter. If any of this makes you uncomfortable, you are free to leave,” he said and then glanced back towards Michael since Xylion was clearly taking his cues from his captain.

    He once again nodded and Xylion followed the order. Both Daystrom and Nelson stayed put.

    The creature lost its balance and dropped onto a knee, clearly unable to handle the nitrogen exposure.

    “Help me stop this,” Jarik said sharply as he stepped as close to the force field as he could. “Tell me the location of the gateway.”

    Nelson was consulting his medical tricorder, shaking his head. “It’s life signs are beginning to deteriorate. We cannot keep this up.”

    “Tell me the location,” Jarik barked.

    The creature dropped onto the deck.

    “Increase nitrogen content to one thousand parts.”

    “Sir, with all due respect—“ Daystrom started but was quickly cut off by Michael.

    “Re-establish the previous atmospheric conditions and remove all nitrogen from inside the force field.”
    Jarik turned on Michael with clear anger etched into his Vulcan features. “We are so close. Don’t stop this now.”

    “I disagree. We’re getting nowhere.”

    “You’re gambling with billions of lives. And for what? The health of a single alien which aims to destroy us?”

    Michael’s glance wandered over the others in the cargo bay. “Give us the room, please.”

    Xylion, after having normalized the nitrogen inside the force field, quickly left the room along with Daystrom, Nelson, Bensu, and Carlos. Amaya stayed behind, along with the six armed security officers who were guarding the alien. The prisoner, in the meantime, was slowly recovering from its ordeal.

    Jarik took a step closer to Michael. “We have it right here, Michael. It knows what we need to know. We can stop this invasion now.”

    “So far I’ve seen nothing to hint at that this alien knows what you’re talking about, let alone understand the meaning of your words. Even after it has been nearly tortured to death.”

    “Don't be so naïve, Michael. That is the enemy set on our destruction. We don't take action now, it may be too late.”

    But Michael shook his head. “I’m sorry, Jarik, I’m just not convinced. And I cannot allow a prisoner in my care to be tortured based on nothing more than your conviction.”

    “I can make it an order.”

    They stared at each other for a moment before Michael spoke. “I wish you didn't. I would have to consider it illegal under Starfleet regulations and feel obligated not to follow it. We would have to refer the matter all the way up to the Judge Advocate General's Court. As far as I know, there isn't one in this sector.”

    “Fine,” he said, sounding slightly exasperated but seemingly understanding that he wouldn’t win this argument. “I respect that you are not comfortable in doing what needs to be done due to ethical objections. The solution to this doesn’t have to be difficult. Just have the prisoner transferred to my facility and I’ll handle matters from here on in without you ever having to get your hands dirty.”

    Michael shook his head, somewhat disappointed with how poorly Jarik seemed to understand his concerns. "Since I know what you're planning to do with the prisoner once it is in your care, your solution wouldn't change anything. I cannot, in good conscience, allow you to take possession of the prisoner."

    “Damn your conscience,” Jarik barked. “Things are much bigger than that.”

    Michael said nothing, unwilling to be moved from his position.

    Jarik turned to Amaya in order to find an ally. "Do you want to weigh in on this?"

    She considered both men. “For what it’s worth, I agree with you,” she said to Jarik. “But it’s his ship and his rules,” she added.

    Jarik reached for his forehead in frustration, looking back at the alien who had resisted all attempts at being interrogated so far, now back on its feet and no longer paying attention to the drama unfolding outside its cell which was ostensibly determining its fate. Then he glanced at Michael one last time. “This isn’t the end of this,” he said and then promptly left the cargo bay.

    “Why do you insist on making this so difficult?” Amaya asked him once Jarik had left.

    “I am not the one trying to violate Starfleet regulations and Federation law. I am the one in the right here, Maya.”

    She nodded. “I’m sure that will be a great comfort to you once we are neck-deep in an alien invasion, fighting for all our lives,” she said and then followed Jarik.

    Michael already knew it wasn’t going to be a comfort at all. He desperately tried not to think about how he would be able to live with himself with something like that on the very conscience he had tried to keep so clean.
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  13. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jan 17, 2009
    Vancouver, WA
    If you can’t follow Starfleet regulations, you shouldn’t have joined Starfleet.
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  14. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Lif was angry with Hopkins and Nora. How was it they couldn’t understand the pressure he was under? Granted, he hadn’t shared all the latest details with either since Star had asked him specifically to report only to her for the time being, apparently suspecting that Garla was up to something much more sinister than what she had claimed.

    Then again, reshaping the Star Alliance from the ground-up and creating her so-called stand-alone society was nothing less than a drastic move, and so far Garla had still failed to explain to him how exactly she planned on executing her vision.

    Regardless what Star thought, however, Lif had a strong feeling that Garla’s motives were well-intentioned. She truly cared for her people. And not just the Krellonians. She wanted a better galaxy for the Outlanders as well. It just so happened that she didn’t believe that these two, very different people could live and work together harmoniously. And who was to say that after the terrible and atrocious history of his people that she wasn’t right believing that the only way forward was to start over separately?

    Since the incident on the freighter, Garla had started to put more of her trust in him and he was certain that it was only going to be a matter of time before she'd share all the details of her ambitions with him. In that sense, it was almost a shame that Katanga had managed to find a cure for the Piqus Plague since it would also mean the end of Starfleet's mission in the Star Alliance.

    He mentally caught himself before taking that macabre thought to its dark conclusion and then promptly dismissed it. Katanga’s triumph was reason for celebration and nothing else. He wondered when he had started to become so cold and clinical in his thinking and then quickly resolved to keep his mind on the task ahead.

    He had returned to the city after his confrontation with Hopkins and Nora and had apparently been given enough clearance that nobody even stopped him when he strode through the lobby of the Eye building and boarded the lift that would take him to Garla's office.

    He found the large doors open and his aunt along with her assistant Tenn standing by the large computer console behind her desk, studying something displayed on one of its screens with great scrutiny.

    Garla apparently heard his approaching footsteps and turned. “Lif, good timing.”

    “What’s going on?” he asked as he stepped closer.

    “Tenn here found a security alert.”

    Lif slowed, a bad feeling beginning to spread from the pit of his stomach. “The freighter?”

    Tenn shook his head, keeping his focus on the computer console. “No, this happened just before we learned about the hijacking. I’m not sure how this was overlooked.”

    “Is it related?”

    “It doesn’t appear that way,” said Garla, now once more looking over her assistant’s shoulder.

    “It definitely originated in the same area,” the Kridrip said as he worked the panel. “It’s from Site-B.”

    Lif slowly reached under his jacket until his nervous fingers felt the outline of his Starfleet combadge hidden underneath. “What is Site-B?”

    “Think of it as a research station,” Garla said, offering him a brief glance. “We had an accident there a few weeks ago and had to shut it down,” she said before she focused on the screens again. “What else can you tell about the alert?”

    “It looks like sensors picked up something.”

    “Can you tell what it was?” Lif said, mindful now to keep his distance to the computer and the two people working on it.

    Tenn shook his head. "No, and I don't understand why. It seems like the files have been corrupted. Every time I try to access the log, all I get is an error message."

    “We’ll go and see for ourselves then. Perhaps we can find a clue to what set off the alert,” Garla said.

    “I don’t believe that is a good idea, Sentinel,“ Tenn said. “Another unauthorized departure so soon after the last one increases the likelihood of you being detected by orbital control. I would humbly suggest that we focus our efforts on analyzing the data we have right here.”

    “But we have nothing,” said Lif. “This could turn out to be a complete waste of time.”

    Tenn regarded him with large, skeptical eyes and Lif immediately knew that he had pushed too hard, regretting his words instantly.

    “Perhaps we just need to be patient,” he said, trying to deflect from the growing suspicion. “Our team has made significant progress in finding a cure to the epidemic. Within a few days, I’m sure the quarantine will be lifted and we can check out Site-B without raising any flags.”

    “We can’t wait a few days,” Tenn said sharply. “This could be a significant threat to our operation.”

    Garla seemed torn between the two men’s arguments for a moment, considering them both carefully. Then she turned back towards Tenn. “What if anything can you learn from here?”

    The assistant considered that for a moment. “I can’t get to the files. They are corrupted somehow as if they were erased. But that isn’t possible unless—“ he stopped himself and went back work.

    “Unless, what?” Garla said.

    “Unless somebody deleted them on purpose,” Tenn said as he continued to work the panel. “If true, I won’t be able to get the data back but I can check the access logs. If somebody did delete the files, there would be a record and a time stamp.”

    Lif began to back-up slowly.

    “Yes,” he said euphorically. “Here it is. Somebody accessed the system and deleted the files.”

    “Can you tell who did it?”

    Tenn shook his head. “No, but I can compare the date stamp with internal sensors. The files were definitely erased from this station but at the time of the deletion there was only one person in this room.”

    Lif had backed up all the way to the door.

    “Who?” Garla said.

    Tenn turned around, a small smile now decorating his lips as if being finally vindicated. He pointed at Culsten. “Him.”
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  15. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    He had naturally expected for Jarik to make a move after the way they had left things in the cargo bay, Jarik had made it very clear, after all, that his refusal to allow what Michael had considered being outright torture of the alien creature had, in fact, not settled the matter at all.

    Within a few hours of Jarik having returned to his base below the surface of Arkaria IX, he had sent word back to Eagle that he urgently wanted to meet with Michael. In person, alone and at his base.

    This request had immediately raised suspicion. Michael wanted to believe that his old Academy friend would not stoop to any unsavory methods to try and get his way but the truth was that he hardly recognized his former roommate from their days at the Academy and it was undeniable that he had changed a great deal since those days. He couldn't help wonder if perhaps the half-Vulcan had fallen away further from the youthful ideals they had once so proudly stood by, the ease with which he had ordered the alien's torture seemingly incontrovertible evidence of that supposition.

    He could not refuse the request solely based on suspicion, since Jarik still held operational command of the mission and therefore, at least for now, acted as his superior. Starfleet regulations allowed him—in fact, demanded—that he refused an illegal order, but he could not do the same for a simple summons, no matter what dark speculations were playing out in the back of his mind.

    Amaya who in the past had always been a steadfast ally could not be relied upon this time, she had made her own thoughts clear on the matter. He was left then to hold a quick crisis meeting with his acting first officer before he ventured into the proverbial lion’s den.

    Xylion’s orders were clear: If anything were to happen to him, he was not to surrender the prisoner into either Jarik or Donners’ care if its safety from cruel or unusual torture or punishment could not be guaranteed. Since the Vulcan science officer was, by his very nature, a steadfast supporter of the Federation Constitution, Michael knew that he could trust him to follow those orders to the letter. In the hopefully unlikely event that he was forced to take action, Xylion’s instructions were to take Eagle to Starbase 123 in the adjacent sector, which was the nearest Starfleet installation containing a full JAG presence which he hoped would be able to resolve the issue.

    It was all he had been able to do before beaming onto Arkaria, alone and unarmed.

    Jarik was waiting for him in the makeshift transporter room, extending him the same courtesy he had shown him when he had visited Eagle.

    He stepped off the portable transporter platform which had been set-up in the repurposed room. He could only guess what its original function had been whenever it had been designed by its now long lost and forgotten architects.


    “Michael,” he said. “Thank you for coming so promptly.”

    He nodded. “Of course. But if you’re hoping that I changed my mind, I’m sorry to say that I have not.”

    The other man offered a small smile. “Honestly, I would be surprised if you had. You wouldn’t quite be the same Michael Owens I remember. I have to admit that I have always admired that about you. The way you stand by your idealism and your principles.”

    “Funny, I always thought we shared those.”

    “We do. Except that I’m also a realist and I’m willing to make necessary compromises when the greater good is at stake.”

    “Is this why you asked me to come down here?” he said even as Jarik was leading him out of the room and into one of those wide and high-ceiling corridors the ancient outpost was seemingly comprised of. “To convince me that your cause is just and necessary.”

    “Something like that,” he said, walking down the corridor at a brisk pace while Michael remained at his side.

    “You know, I always thought it was a shame that we didn’t stay in touch over the years.”

    Jarik nodded. “That’s how life works sometimes. You had yours and I had mine. We were both too preoccupied with the paths we had chosen for each other.”

    “Maybe. But it shouldn’t be that way.” For a moment the thought brought back memories of the many other regrets he had accumulated over the years. One of the biggest had not necessarily been losing touch with his old Academy friend and roommate, but losing contact with somebody else he had met during his time in San Francisco. The young woman and later follow cadet with whom he had fallen in love with and then left behind after he had graduated. They had reunited many years later on Eagle and only once she had gone out of his life again, this time forever, had he truly realized the terrible mistakes he had made as a young man.

    Jarik came to a stop in front of a closed door. Differently to the mostly smooth surfaced, flat panel doors on Eagle and most Starfleet installations, the doors on this base looked thick and heavy, and had an almost wooden quality with what looked like intricate designs carved into the material. He was certain that archeologists would have had a field day with this well-preserved relic of the distant past. Somehow he doubted that Jarik had allowed any onto his secret outpost.

    “There is somebody I’d like you to meet.”

    “Somebody you think will change my mind? I find that difficult to believe.”

    “Maybe it’ll just give you a different perspective on things,” he said and pointed at the doors.

    He stepped forward and the doors parted. When he realized that Jarik wasn’t following he turned back to him. “You’re not coming?”

    “I think you better do this on your own.”

    “I don’t like this, Jarik.”

    “Indulge me.”

    He sighed and stepped into the room. It was dark and before he could even try to make out what awaited him inside, the doors behind him shut close, adding to the gloomy interior.

    There was a faint glimmer coming from a few screens on the wall and he could see the shape of a desk at the far end.

    “What is this?” he said as he took a few steps forward. “I’m in no mood for games.”

    “Trust me, this is very real.”

    He turned around at hearing a familiar voice behind him that couldn’t possibly have been there.

    A man was stepping out of the darkness and it took a moment for his face to be fully revealed in the weak light.

    Michael froze on the spot. “This can’t be.”

    “Hello, son.”
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  16. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jan 17, 2009
    Vancouver, WA
    Holy plot twists!
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  17. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    Part Six: Breakdown


    “What have you done?”

    There was no doubt in his mind that there was murder in Garla’s eyes after the realization had hit her that it had been him who had deleted the sensor data. In all the time he had known her, he didn’t think he had ever seen her more furious as she did when she glared at him from across her office.

    “I warned you that he was not to be trusted,” Tenn said, fanning the flames. “He has betrayed us, Sentinel. He is working with our enemies.”

    Lif quickly shook his head. “That is not true. I can explain,” he began but already knew that it was a pure desperation move. In truth, there was very little he could explain, at least to the point of dispelling the fury and sense of betrayal which had gripped Garla.

    It was Tenn who had pulled a weapon first, pointing the phaser pistol right at him, but Garla did nothing to stop him, even when he pulled the trigger.

    Lif’s faster-than-human reflexes saved him yet again as he jerked sideways, slipping on the floor and falling down but also avoiding the blast which had been meant for him and causing it to harmlessly strike the still open door behind him.

    He couldn’t tell if it had been set to kill or stun and he had no intention of finding out. He scrambled back to his feet and raced out of the door, only to barrel right into one of Garla’s people who had been startled by the unexpected noise of weapons fire.

    They both went down in a heap but Lif recovered quicker, driven now by adrenaline racing through his veins. Turning his head he spotted both Garla and Tenn starting after him.

    He quickly slammed the office doors shut and noticing a tall, palm-like tree standing next to the entrance, he tipped it over so that it fell in front of the doors, hopefully barricading them in the process.

    It would buy him a few seconds at the most, but his actions were dictated by instinct now. He didn't stay to check if it would slow his two pursuers and instead took off, running past a number of startled workers.

    As he ran back towards the lift he found his combadge again and quickly tapped it but the discouraging trill it was emanating made it obvious that he wouldn’t be able to get help that way, unsurprisingly the local headquarters of the Star Alliance’s premier intelligence service were well shielded against unauthorized communications.

    He thought better of getting into the lift as he got closer and instead barreled into what he hoped to be the auxiliary staircase and when he found that his guess had remained true, he didn't hesitate to leap upwards instead of trying to reach the exit on the ground floor dozens of floors below. Perhaps, he thought, if he could reach the much closer roof, he had at least a chance, minuscule as it may be, to call for help.

    He only had to climb three levels to reach the uppermost part of the building which was made up of the cavernous hangar bay with its tall, dark-tinted and semi-transparent roof which he knew could open if required to allow vessels to land and take-off.

    He counted a handful of ships in the hangar: Garla’s mid-sized, interstellar corvette, and a few smaller shuttles, one of which looked very much like the one they had taken to intercept the freighter.

    A new plan formed in his head even as he was racing towards one of the shuttles. He was familiar enough with those designs from his youth, practically having learned to fly in ships very much similar to these, and as long as he could gain access to one, he just might be able to use it as his getaway vessel. He had no clear idea what to do once he had facilitated his escape, he hadn’t thought that far ahead yet.

    In his haste, he hadn't spotted the armed security guards until it had been too late. The four Krellonians had apparently already been appraised of the situation of his suddenly changed status and pulled their phasers to take aim.

    Lif tried to come to a screeching halt but running at full speed, he slipped on the smooth deck and once more lost his balance as he tried to change direction.

    And once again it was his own clumsiness that saved him as the initial phaser blasts whirled over his head.

    Running back the way he had come from, he stopped short when he saw Garla, Tenn and four more guards coming up behind him to block the only exit, all but Garla pointing weapons at him.

    Trapped, Lif did the only thing he could think of and raised his arms in surrender. “Garla, listen to me—“

    “No, I’m done listening to you, Lif. I thought I could trust you. I thought you cared, if not for me, at least for the future of our people and the Star Alliance.”

    “I do.”

    “How can I believe a single word you say?” she said as she began to step closer. “I don’t know what you’ve been up and who you’ve been helping. I don’t know if Yorlo put you up to this or if you are working with your friends in Starfleet, but whatever you’ve been doing, it’s over. And you know what the worst of it is, Lif?”

    He began to take a few steps back as the enraged sentinel closed in on him with slow steps but obviously menacing intent.

    “You broke my heart.”

    He felt his combadge vibrate underneath his jacket. A distant and distorted voice seemed to be talking but he couldn’t make out what it was saying through whatever jamming system Garla employed.

    She stepped up to him until she was right in his face, her attention drawn to the indistinct voice as well. She pulled his jacket aside to reveal his combadge. Then she looked back up at him with a quizzical expression on her face. “What is she saying, Lif?”

    He shrugged, unable to make it out either. “Sounds like … backhand-lover?”

    Their eyes met suddenly when they figured it out at the same time. “Duck-and-cover.”

    “Do it. Do it now,” Nora’s voice pressed with obvious urgency.

    Momentarily started by those words, Garla looked upwards while Lif decided to follow the instructions and dropped onto the floor, going onto his knees and covering his head with his arms.

    Not a second later he felt the floor underneath him tremble just as he heard a series of loud bangs and then the sound akin to glass shattering en-masse.

    He peeked upwards and then immediately knew better as he got a glimpse of the ceiling coming down on them. He instinctively flattened himself to the floor keeping his arms above his head.

    He wasn’t entirely sure what material the roof had been constructed off but it was painful as it dropped down on top of him in tiny pieces. Mercifully, it only lasted a few seconds and once it was over, he could feel the cold and blustery air rushing into the hangar.

    Looking up again, he saw the sky above clearly, and in a rather uncommon occurrence on Piqus, the early-morning sun was making its presence known through gaps in the usually thick cloud cover.

    It wasn't the rays of bright sunlight that captured his intention but the four figures seemingly falling from the sky and for the moment at least, with the sun right in his eyes, he was unable to make out any features but their clearly humanoid shapes.

    Louise had once told him the story of mythological beings from Earth's spiritual past who had been believed to live above the clouds and who swept in on large, white and feathery wings, dispatched by the gods in order to save mortals in peril below. He could see no wings but perhaps he could have been forgiven, at that moment, for drawing those parallels, since the four figures revealed themselves to be Nora Laas and three SMT operators, wearing anti-grav boots.

    The roof had collapsed so suddenly, it had caught everyone on the landing deck by complete surprise, most of the crew and the guards had made a run for the exit to avoid debris raining down on them, the few who had stayed behind were too dazed to offer much resistance.

    The SMT operators landed on the deck and needed to do little more than to keep the few remaining guards at bay. Since most of them had lost their weapons when they had tried to shield themselves from the debris, none dared to make a move once faced with the heavily modified and dangerous looking rifles the operators were yielding.

    Garla, however, seemed entirely unimpressed by the intruders and Lif didn’t see her approach until it was too late to do much about it. He heard the glass-like material crunch under her boots first but by the time he whipped around, she was already upon him. Bleeding from a few scratches on her face, and her suit ripped in places, she seemed otherwise unaffected by the assault.

    She was also entirely uninterested for the moment in the people who had carried it out, her entire focus instead solely directed at the one person who had betrayed her.

    She delivered a perfectly placed right hook which stopped Lif in his tracks from trying to get back onto his feet and instead dropped him back to the floor. “You are not getting out of here,” she said, spewing fury and vitriol. “You will learn that those who abuse my trust pay dearly.”

    She reached down, grabbed him by his throat and lifted him back to his feet, astonishing Lif once more with her strength, given that she was near twice his age. Her grip was like an iron vise as he lifted him just high enough that his feet hung in the air. She meant to strangle him right then and there, her eyes burning with anger as he desperately clutched at her arm with little success.

    The pressure abated suddenly and she dropped like a stone, letting go of Lif who went tumbling down after her.

    When he looked up again he saw Nora standing over them both, holding her rifle with the stock turned out, apparently having used it to deliver a powerful blow to Garla from behind. “Clearly a friend of yours,” she said.

    Lif reached for his sore throat, still burning after her strangulation grip. “My aunt, actually.”

    She nodded. “Anger issues seem to run in the family,” she said and then held out her arm. “Ready to get out of here.”

    He took it and let her pull him back up. "By all indications, I've overstayed my welcome," he said as he looked around at the chaos which partially he had instigated. The armed guards, including Tenn and Garla, were all down or dazed, somewhere in the corner a small deck crew comprised of Outlanders waited for the things to be over, for now being kept at bay by the Tellarite sweeping his pulse rifle over them.

    The bald and bearded human and SMT team leader was glancing at a display built into the arm sleeve of his combat jacket. “We’ve got more tangos incoming. Suggest we ex-fil two minutes ago.”

    “No argument here,” Nora said.

    “Can we beam out of here?” Lif asked.

    She shook her head. “Nothing quite as conventional. Way out is the same way we came in.”
    Lif looked up into the sky. “You’re kidding?”

    “I’m not a kidder,” she said and grabbed Lif, pulling him close. “I don’t often say this but step on my boot and hold on really tight.”

    He did as she had instructed but then got a stern look from her in response. “Not quite that tight,” she said. “Don’t think Lou would appreciate it.”

    Blushing slightly, he relaxed just a bit so that he was not pressing up against her as much.

    “We could use some cover here, Sensy,” Nora shouted over to the SMT leader.

    He didn’t even have to acknowledge the order as the Boslic and the Tellarite both tossed grenades towards the exit, almost instantly releasing plumes of thick smoke which obscured everything in that direction.

    Nora looked at Lif, practically hanging at her side. "This is where the fun starts."

    “You sure this can hold—“ He didn’t get to finish the sentence as he was gripped by a sensation of sudden weightlessness and he watched with increasing concern as the floor underneath him began to disappear. Within seconds they had cleared the roof and were shooting higher and higher into the Piqus sky.

    It was fortunate that as the ace-pilot he liked to believe he was, he was not prone to vertigo or sudden g-forces pulling at his body. And yet, normally, in his experience, these were usually mitigated by the hull of some sort of vessel between him and the elements.

    The buffeting winds made the trip anything but smooth and at least twice he thought he would slip off and pummel to his untimely death. Despite Nora’s earlier warning, he was clinging on to her as tightly as he possibly could and as if his life depended on it. Which he thought it very likely did.

    After what felt like half an eternity in the air, the shuttle appeared above them and he could not recall a time in his life when he had ever been more happy to see one. Unfortunately, the blustery conditions and the additional weight made it no easy task for Nora to stay on course and he could hear her utter a frustrated Bajoran curse when it became clear that they were beginning to angle away from the relative safety of the shuttle’s wide open rear ramp.

    Just as Lif was beginning to wonder if he'd rather be strangled to death by an outraged family member than splatter all over the inner city pavement, out of seemingly nowhere the Boslic woman appeared beside them.

    “You’re heading the wrong way, Lieutenant,” she shouted over the bellowing winds.

    “Thanks for the tip.”

    With a wide grin, the SMT operator nudged her enough to put them back on track and within moments they were once again headed for the shuttle, even if perhaps a little too fast and unsteadily.

    Lif saw the team leader already having landed and as soon as they were close enough, he practically grabbed Nora out of the air and with impressive strength and dexterity pulled them both into the shuttle.

    Their landing was not exactly graceful as they tumbled inside and dropped onto the shuttle deck with a thud.

    Lif stayed on his hands and knees for a moment, just thankful to have something solid underneath him once more.

    Nora was quickly back on her feet. He watched her tap the team leader’s shoulder. “Having fun yet?”

    The man offered a quick nod. “Yes, ma’am,” he said but couldn’t quite hide a grin under his thick beard.

    “Have to admit, you SMT boys and girls have all the best toys,” she said as she began to remove the boots.

    “Perks of the job.”

    Tazla Star walked up to Lif from the front of the shuttle and pulled him up from the deck. "Are you all right?"

    “I’m … I’m not going to complain. Thanks for the rescue. How did you know?”

    The Trill indicated towards Nora. "After your little outburst earlier, we thought to better keep an eye on you. We didn't have much time to act when we realized you were in trouble so we improvised."

    “Hell of an improvisation,” he said.

    “Wasn’t sure they could pull it off,” said Star and shot Nora and the operators an impressed look. “Now, sit down and relax. It’s not every day you get the first officer to drive around the pilot,” she said and took the seat behind the controls again. “We’re not totally in the clear just yet. In fact, we may have just kicked the proverbial hornet’s nest, as our human friends like to say.”

    Lif glanced out of the back where he could still see the rapidly disappearing sight of the city's skyline, including the Eye building with its now shattered roof and immediately understood that Star's statement was likely a terrible understatement. Garla was on the warpath now, of that there could be no doubt after the way she had come after him with pure and unadulterated rage.

    It was bad enough to make a sentinel, with all their training and resources, an enemy within the Star Alliance. Having a sentinel with a personal grudge after them, while stuck deep within Alliance borders, was akin to a no-win scenario.
    DavidFalkayn likes this.
  18. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    A rush of euphoria gripped Michael Owens at seeing the face of a man he had never expected to ever see again, who had died so suddenly just a few weeks earlier and who had left such an unexpected emptiness in his very being.

    Michael had never really been that close to his father, in fact, he had resented him for a long time, perhaps unfairly blaming him for his brother’s death, subconsciously perhaps even for his mother’s passing, even though in Matthew’s case it had been the crazed scientist Westren Frobisher who had been responsible while his mother had perished in an accident while he had still been a child.

    What had never been ambiguous, however, was the fact that the man who now stood in front of him and whom he had thought lost for good had never been a good father or a good husband. He had always chosen Starfleet over family, even if he had not been shy about mixing those when Michael had entered the Fleet in order to manipulate his career. He had always resented that side of his father and it had only been recently that he had finally started to come to terms with his own conflicting feelings, ironically only after Jon Owens had passed away.

    Except, of course, that all present evidence seemed to clearly indicate that he never had.

    “Dad,” he said and quickly stepped up to him, grabbing his father by his shoulders as if to reassure himself that he was in fact real. “You're alive.”

    He nodded slowly, considering him with a smile. “Very much so, yes.”

    “But I buried you, I saw your body.”

    Jon Owens sighed and when Michael finally let him go, he walked towards the desk by the far wall, the dimmed lights coming up as he walked. “It’s complicated, son.”

    Michael remained rooted to the spot, following him with his eyes only. “You faked your own death?”

    He sat down behind the desk. “I had little choice after you turned down my offer.”

    “You faked your death because of me?”

    He seemed to consider his answer for a moment. “There were factors to consider which I cannot get into. At least not right now. Time is not on our side.”

    That sensation of elation he had felt was quickly evaporating and being replaced by increasing anger and irritation. “I think you owe me an explanation. And a damned good one at that. You made me believe you were dead. Hell, half of the Federation was at your funeral.”

    “So I heard. Apparently, Madame Vrettia gave a divine performance of La mamma morta which would have made Maria Callas proud. I’m sorry I missed it.”

    Michael threw him a dark glower. “Really? You make me mourn you like a fool and all you have to offer in return are jokes?”

    He shook his head, his expression quickly turning more serious. “I’m sorry that I had to put you through that, I really am. But believe me when I say that I wouldn’t have done it if it hadn’t been absolutely necessary.”

    He took a few steps closer to his desk. “And you can’t tell me why?”

    “Not yet.”

    “I see. Appears death hasn’t changed you much, has it?”


    “No, dad, I’m done with this,” he said and turned towards the exit. “You’ve finally crossed a line and unlike faking your own death, you cannot come back from this one. I’m no longer playing these games with you. I was sick of it before but I’m sure as hell done with them now.”

    Jon stood from his chair. “You walk out of that door now, and you consign billions of people to their death. Whatever we’ve been just through with the Dominion will seem like a schoolyard tussle in comparison. Don’t turn your back on the Federation, son. Not because of my mistakes.”

    His better judgment told him to just keep walking. To return to his ship, drop off his prisoner at Starbase 123, tell Admiral Throl that his father was alive and well and that he was done with this mission. Pick up Star and the rest of his crew from Piqus and then set out for what they had meant to do from the beginning and head towards the Pleiades. Right now all that sounded mightily tempting, nothing more so than putting a few hundred light-years between him and his suddenly resurrected father and his schemes.

    But his legs were not moving. Jon Owens seemed to know exactly which buttons to push. Michael turned back to face him.

    “The invasion Jarik told you about, it’s coming. And sooner than we thought. But you’ve given us an edge we’ve never had before, son. You’ve brought us a prisoner who can give us the information we need to stop it all.”

    “From what I’ve seen, that prisoner knows about as much about the invasion plans you speak of as I do.”

    Jon walked around his desk again, shaking his head. “I’ve been studying the subspace aliens and their designs for the last few years, Michael. Jarik and I have amassed volumes of intelligence data on who and what we are up against. And I tell you right now, that creature you are holding has the answers we need. It just needs to be properly motivated.”

    “By which of course you mean tortured.”

    “I don’t like it either, son, but sometimes we have to make the hard choices. The ones nobody else is willing to do. Sometimes we have to sacrifice our souls for the greater good and see past the limitations of our moral principles.”

    “You may not have been much of a father to me but those moral principles you want me to disregard so easily, you were the one who drilled them into me from the time I was just a child.”

    Michael thought he looked almost longing at bringing up his childhood. It passed quickly. “You can appreciate then that this is not something I ask of you lightly. I understand perfectly what this means to you. What it means to me. But if we don’t act now, I simply would not be able to live with myself knowing that I could have done more to avoid the consequences which will result from our inaction. Regret, Michael, is the most devastating emotion of all. Worse then hate, envy or even loss. I beg you not to go down a path where regret will be all that we’ve got left.”

    The words hit him hard. Perhaps because he knew all too well about regret. About the things he could have done differently when he had been a young man, when he had loved and lost the woman who had once meant more to him than life itself. When he had lost his brother, when he had lost Jana Trenn for good, when he had lost Gene Edison and, of course, when he had thought he had lost his father as well.

    “You won’t kill him.”

    “You have my word.”

    “We’ll do it on Eagle. Under my supervision.”

    Jon Owens nodded. “Of course. But we have to do it now. We’ve lost too much time already.”

    Michael nodded and left the room to contact Xylion so he could make the preparations.

    But even while doing so, it struck him that his father was absolutely right about regret. The problem with it, however, was that one could never be quite sure which actions would lead down the road his father had warned him of.

    Regret could cut both ways and for all he knew, he was halfway down the wrong path already and unable to see the true implications of his decisions until it was already too late.

    * * *​
  19. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Oct 27, 2007
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    Getting caught up. Wow, great twist. Michael's father is obviously a firm believer in "the ends justify the means" philosophy. Michael...well, not so much. I think his father's return will ironically create a new rift between them that won't ever be healed. One of the many sacrifices for this mission. Let's all hope it was worth it.
    CeJay likes this.
  20. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    Jarik had turned out to be quite the efficient torturer, and likely thanks to his Vulcan side, had begun to demonstrate an enormous amount of patience as he kept asking the prisoner the same questions over and over again, rarely with different results.

    Doctor Nelson who had monitored the alien’s vital signs with increasing dread had uttered numerous protests until Jon Owens had ultimately dismissed the man after which the physician had left the cargo bay but not before making sure his objections to the treatment of the prisoner had been officially logged.

    Michael wasn’t sure if it was fortunate or perhaps a missed opportunity to end this farce of an interrogation earlier had Elijah Katanga been present, who he was convinced would have had to be dragged out kicking and screaming instead of walking out in silent protest over the travesty being committed.

    Wayne Daystrom, Amaya’s towering science officer had raised similar concerns, all of which had been summarily ignored by his father, Jarik and even his own captain.

    At least Amaya had the decency of looking somewhat uncomfortable after Jarik had brought the prisoner close to unconsciousness by drowning its air with nitrogen for the fifth time in a row.

    His father, on the other hand, watched the entire thing with stone-faced apathy.

    It took nearly an hour of this until the prisoner surrendered anything even remotely close to actionable intelligence. The vast majority of the utterance coming from the creature, the universal translator had deemed to be gibberish, except for a set of numbers which Jarik insisted were the first part of spatial coordinates. As far as Michael was concerned, it may as likely have been a serial number or the alien’s birth date.

    “I do not believe it will be able to survive this treatment any longer,” said Xylion who had taken over monitoring the creature’s vital signs along with Daystrom ever since Nelson had left.

    But Jarik, who had insisted of being able to control the nitrogen content in the cell himself via a data padd he now brandished, didn’t seem to pay attention.

    Michael decided that it was a time to put an end to things and stepped up. “We need to stop this, now.”

    Jarik shook his head. “We’ve finally made some progress, we can’t stop now.”

    Michael glanced over at the alien still lying on the floor of its cell, barely moving at all.

    “Jarik is right, Michael, we’re getting closer. The creature has already surrendered part of the information we need. It’s only a matter of time until we get the rest,” Jon Owens said.

    “We don’t even know what we have,” Michael said. “For all we know those digits are entirely random. Torture is an unreliable method to gather information. Which is just one of the many reasons it has been outlawed in the Federation.” He had meant to make it very clear that Jarik and his father were violating not only Starfleet regulations with their actions but also breaking Federation laws. It didn't have the intended effect.

    “We've talked about this, son, the stakes are simply too high. We can do this here or we can move the prisoner to the outpost.”

    Michael was tempted to use more drastic measures to put a stop to these proceedings but he also knew that forcing the issue could lead to a confrontation he very well might lose. It pained him to think so but he couldn’t be entirely sure where his own people’s loyalties would fall. If Nora Laas had been around, there would have been no doubt in his mind that she would have stood by him no matter what, but he couldn’t tell if her deputy Josè Carlos would be as loyal or if he would side with his admiral father if push came to shove.

    Jon Owens softened his stance a little bit upon seeing Michaels growing reluctance. “I don’t like this any more than you do, son, but sometimes you just have to play the cards you’ve been dealt.”

    He decided that if he wanted to end this, he needed to find a subtler way. “Let’s at least give the prisoner some time to recover,” he said. “We can administer a stimulant to stabilize its vital signs. If we continue like this and the creature expires, we get nothing.”

    It was Amaya who regarded him suspiciously but Jarik nodded. “Fine, go ahead. But let’s be quick about it. We’re wasting time.

    Michael watched as Jarik, Maya and his father huddled together to confer without him, which suited him just fine and allowing him to seek out Xylion and Daystrom instead.

    “Gentlemen, it is my opinion that this has gone on for much longer than is acceptable. I wish to put a stop to it. Permanently,” he said quietly. “If there are any objections from either of you, speak up now.”

    “I have no objections,” Xylion said quietly. “I am uncomfortable with the continued torture of a sentient being and it is in direct violation of Starfleet directives. I support any move to rectify this situation.”

    Michael glanced at Daystrom. He didn’t know the young scientist very well and he was obviously one of Amaya’s people but he had gotten the distinct impression that he too was disturbed what his captain had quietly sanctioned so far.

    “The recall device,” Daystrom staid immediately. “We’ve been able to disable it by jamming the receiver but there is a way to reactivate it. In theory, that should allow it to reestablish a link to its home domain and with some luck, transport it back there.”

    Michael looked at Daystrom with surprise. It was obvious that he had already considered this plan.

    “I fully agree that what we’re doing here is wrong. We need to do something to stop it. I’m with you on this all the way,” he said quickly.

    “I can shield Commander Xylion since he is under my direct command but it’s a different story for you. If Captain Donners finds out—“

    He nodded before he could finish the thought. “I accept that risk, sir.”

    “I appreciate your support, Lieutenant,” Michael said. “Now, how do we get this done quickly?”

    Daystrom revealed a hypospray. "This one is empty. But it would give me a reason to get close to the prisoner. Once I am, I can slip the comm bracelet back onto the alien," he said and pulled out the alien device with his other hand.

    The Vulcan offered a small nod. “It will not be difficult to calibrate the force field to allow a person to approach and interact with the prisoner. Once the device has been reattached, I can disable the jamming field.”

    “I like the plan, gentlemen. Except for one small adjustment.”

    The two men considered him with quizzical expressions.

    “I’m going to be the one doing it. Tell me how,” Michael said and took both the device and the empty hypo out of Daystrom’s hands.

    Daystrom protested for only a moment and once it was clear he was unable to change his mind, he talked Michael through exactly how to reinitiate the wrist device.

    Michael didn’t miss that Jarik was getting restless and wanted to continue his interrogation as soon as possible, so without any further delay, he headed towards the creature.

    True to his word, Xylion configured the force field so that it allowed Michael to close in on the prisoner, the energy field parting in front of him like a veil of cloth. He knelt down next to the mostly motionless creature. It was noticeably in pain, still writhing ever so slightly. He could see his own reflection within it large dark eye sockets but couldn’t tell if it was even aware of his presence.

    Michael had positioned himself so that Jarik, Amaya and his father couldn’t see his hands since he needed to make contact with the creature’s wrist to slip on the bracelet.

    His hands easily passed through the energy barrier, causing his skin to tingle where it made contact, and he gently grasped the creature's right arm.

    It trembled slightly but otherwise made no move to stop him.

    It’s scaly skin felt rough, slick and cold. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience but he knew he didn’t have a choice.

    “It’s all right,” he whispered. “I’ll get you out of this.”

    He slipped the device onto its wrist where they had removed it earlier when they had first moved it to the cargo bay. He followed Daystrom’s instructions which he hoped would reactivate the device, sending a homing beacon back towards the subspace realm the creature originated from. Xylion in the meantime readjusted the jamming frequencies which kept the device from operating correctly.

    “I am assuming that you can use this device to call your people and have them bring you back,” Michael said to it quietly. “I’m not sure if you can understand what I am saying to you but you must use it now to leave this place. If you stay here, I cannot guarantee your safety.”

    “Let’s get on with this,” Michael heard Jarik say behind him. “I’m not particularly fond of keeping the creature suffering either. The quicker we get this done, the better for everyone.”

    “Nearly there,” Michael said loudly and then felt the device vibrate slightly which he hoped was a good sign. “Get out of here now,” he whispered again. “Go.”

    But the creature hardly even steered.

    “Come on, Michael, let’s get a move on with this,” Jon Owen said and he could hear him starting to step up to him.

    Left with no other choice, he stood back up. “Go,” he whispered again, more urgently this time.

    Still nothing.

    He turned around and shot Daystrom and Xylion puzzled looks but judging by their expressions it was clear that they had no answers to offer.

    “Did you give the creature a stimulant?” Jarik asked, pointing at the hypo he was still holding.

    Michael looked at it.

    “What's happening?” Jon Owens said sounding concerned as he stepped closer to the force field.

    Michael turned around to find what had startled his father and then saw it too. The prisoner was beginning to fade away. He took a few steps back.

    “It appears the creature is returning to its home dimension,” said Xylion.

    Jarik didn’t like the sound of that. “Stop it.”

    “There is nothing we can do,” Daystrom said.

    And in fact, within moments, the creature had entirely disappeared.

    “I cannot believe this,” Jarik said, unable to keep his anger out of his voice.

    “We should be lucky we got anything out if it,” Jon Owens said. “Let’s analyze what we have and see if it is useful at all.”

    But Jarik didn't move from his spot and continued to stare at where their prisoner had been just moment's before. He looked up at Michael who did his level best to appear as dumbfounded as he was. Truth be told, however, he had never been a great actor.

    Jon Owens was not a man to dwell on his failures and was already halfway to the cargo bay doors. "Jarik, let's go, I want to review what we've learned. Michael, I don't think we'll require your services any longer. Why don't you go back to Piqus and get your people? We'll catch up when you return."

    Jarik considered the two science officers. “The creature was not supposed to be able to reestablish contact with its home dimension while we were jamming the frequencies.”

    Daystrom seemed to be at a loss for words to cover what they had done and Michael worried about Xylion who as a Vulcan was famously incapable of lying.

    “There is still much we do not understand about the subspace aliens. There is a possibility that they found alternative means to retrieve their missing kinsman,” Xylion said with his usually stoic facial expression.

    “Goddamnit,” Jarik said, demonstrating a noticeable emotional disparity between the two Vulcans and their divergent philosophies. Jarik offered Michael a final look before he quickly followed Jon Owens out of the cargo bay.

    Amaya, however, was not as easily fooled. She stepped right up to him and looked him straight in the eye. And apparently, she found what she was looking for there. “Where's the comm device we removed from the creature?”

    “It must have been recalled along with the alien,” Michael said. Not an all-out lie, but obviously, not entirely the truth either.

    “I see.”

    They continued to stare at each other as if they had engaged in a contest of will. Michael was determined to hold her penetrating gaze.

    “I know what you did, Michael.”

    He said nothing.

    “Mister Daystrom, let’s return to Agamemnon,” she said without ever taking her eyes off her fellow starship captain. “I have a feeling we’ll be having words.”

    The young science officer visibly swallowed. “Yes, ma’am.”

    It felt like an eternity until Maya finally turned on her heel and strode out of the cargo bay with her science officer in tow.

    Michael didn’t envy Daystrom for the uncomfortable conversation that was likely in store for him. It was a small sacrifice for saving a sentient beings life, he decided.

    He considered his own science officer who along with the security detachment was the only person left in the cargo bay. “Somebody once told me that Vulcans don’t lie. I guess I must have been misinformed.”
    “Not all, Captain. However, exaggerating the truth is not outside the scope of our abilities.”

    Michael offered him a rare clasp on the back as they both headed towards the exit. “Mister Xylion, you never cease to surprise me.”