2 She had tried to sleep again. A couple of times. But after spending hours merely tossing and turning in her sheets, unable to find any kind of meaningful rest, she had ultimately given up on the idea altogether. Sleepless nights weren’t a new thing to Tazla Star. Years earlier, when she had worked as an intelligence agent, she had made the fateful decision to expose her body to Syndicate-Y, a powerful and addictive drug common among the Orion Syndicate in order to better keep their operatives in line. The decision had benefited her mission in the short term but she had found it impossible to kick the habit entirely afterward and had spent countless miserable years addicted to a substance that kept her body and mind on constant edge, rarely allowing her a full night’s sleep. She had finally conquered the worst aspects of her addiction thanks to the efforts of Elijah Katanga just a few months earlier and had begun to enjoy routinely sleeping five to six hours a night, something that would have been nearly impossible before, and not just because of the war. She took a long sonic shower in lieu of sleep, trying to shake off any lingering sense of enervation and to successfully overcome the gentle pangs craving a quick shot of Y. By the time she was done, she could see from the viewports of her quarters that the ship had dropped out of warp. But instead of being greeted by the colorful starscape of the Amargosa Diaspora, all she could see was a dense field of icy asteroids that made it virtually impossible to spot anything beyond it with the naked eye. It led her to believe that they were currently hiding inside an Oort Cloud. It bothered her immensely that she didn’t know their exact whereabouts or that she had no access to the latest mission updates. She hated the feeling of being out of the loop. As the first officer, it was not a feeling she was overly familiar with. It was worse knowing that the captain was still missing and that by any rights, she was supposed to be overseeing the ship and crew and their efforts to retrieve Owens. It didn’t take her long to decide to get dressed and head for the bridge. Her arrival went mostly unnoticed by the senior staff that was discussing a space station visible on the main screen. An ugly squat construct that had somehow, quite impressively she had to admit, been grafted to the inside of a broken-up moon orbiting a bright gas giant. “I can no longer detect the source of the captain’s signal,” said DeMara Deen from operations as her fingers danced over the console. “But our latest triangulation puts him either on this station or in near proximity of it.” “What do we know about the station?” said Tazla as she slowly made her way down the ramp connecting the aft part of the bridge to the command area. All eyes turned to her, including Xylion’s who smoothly stood from the captain’s chair and added a raised eyebrow to indicate his surprise at finding her on the bridge. “Commander, may I remind you that you are still off duty.” “Certainly not.” “I do not wish to confine you to quarters, sir, but Doctor Katanga was very specific about his instructions and I do not intend to ignore them,” the Vulcan continued. She raised her hands defensively. The last thing she needed now was to have a security team drag her back to sickbay. Once she was in Elijah’s care again, she’d be stuck down there for the next week. “I’m not here to take command. I’m just observing,” she said, and then to stress her point she took a seat not in her usual chair to the right of the captain’s seat, but on one of the jump chairs on the far left of it. “Pretend I’m not even here.” Both Deen and Alendra at the helm couldn’t quite suppress grins as they watched her take a seat. Xylion, of course, didn’t smile. It took him a moment to consider his next move, no doubt running through regulations in his mind concerning off-duty officers and their access rights to the bridge during medical leave. He ultimately decided to tolerate her presence with a minuscule nod and then glanced at Deen. “Are you able to detect the captain or the away team on the station?” Deen quickly turned back to her console. “Not at this distance and if I move the sensor probe any closer to the station we risk it being detected. However, I am reading several different races. There are over five-thousands beings on board, it wouldn’t be difficult to hide a couple of humans and Krellonian life signs among all that activity.” “Which means we need to get over there,” said Tazla, immediately causing Xylion to look her way again. “I mean, that’s what I would do if I were in command. Which, to be clear, I’m not,” she said, avoiding eye contact with the man who was. “It won’t be easy. The probe we launched is fairly small but they would most certainly see us coming the moment we leave the Kuiper belt,” said Deen. “A shuttle then?” Tazla said Xylion was about to speak up but Leva beat him to it. “We could attempt an in-system warp jump from inside the belt to the far side of the gas giant and from there it should be relatively easy to get to the moon station.” Deen nodded along. “The moon is gravitationally locked to the gas giant. It does not rotate on its own axis and keeps the station perpetually facing away from the planet. It should be possible to approach the moon from the gas giant undetected.” The Vulcan science officer considered the bridge officers for a moment, most likely carrying out his own calculations as to the soundness of their logic. “Seems like a plan to me,” said Tazla with a little smile. The science officer looked at the half-Romulan at the tactical board. “Do sensors detect any Dominion activity in the area?” He shook his head. “None at present. But that could change.” Tazla thought she could see the barest hint of indecision on Xylion’s face. He was Vulcan of course, logical to a fault. But he was also a science officer first and foremost, not used to having to make command decisions, certainly not the kind that could determine the fate of the entire ship and crew, not to mention, quite possibly, an entire universe. She wasn’t exactly comfortable with the stakes either but she was confident with what needed to be done. “If anyone were interested in what I think, I believe our best chance of finding the captain and the away team is to go over there and have a look around. We’re not going to accomplish anything from staying here,” she said and then leaned back in her seat. “Of course, that’s merely a suggestion on the account of me being off-duty.” Xylion considered her only briefly before his eyes found Leva once more. “Commander, assemble an away team and board the station via shuttlecraft. Ensure you conceal your appearance and life signs to not cause suspicion. Your primary mission is to locate the captain and to avoid any and all unnecessary contact with local elements on the station.” Leva, who was also the ship’s third officer, offered a sharp nod in response and then indicated for Deen to let her know that he wanted her to come along, prompting her to quickly leave her station to follow him to the turbolift. “If it were me going over there,” she said just before Leva and Deen had reached the lift, “I’d make sure to take some of the Niners with me to cover my back. And I’d take some holo-masks as well. They worked out fairly well last time.” She was pretty certain that Leva’s tactical acumen had already told him much the same thing but then she couldn’t quite help herself. She heard the turbolift doors open and close, knowing that her message had been received. Xylion took the captain’s chair again. “Commander, I believe I would prefer that you observe events in silence, considering your current status.” She raised her hands again. “You won’t hear another peep out of me,” she said innocently but already fully aware that Xylion’s request was going to challenge her immensely.