The Star Eagle Adventures VI: Semper Fidelis

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by CeJay, Sep 15, 2014.

  1. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    Finally Taz gets an outlet for everything she's keeping to herself. And someone who's willing to absolve her of her missteps...and to quietly greenlight her impulses to thwart Mahoney.
  2. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    A large, dark-blue Valerian land vehicle with big rubber tires rolled up to the barricades just outside the embassy and Owens watched with some displeasure as the Marines all around him brought up their weapons to track the ground vessel as soon as it had approached.

    It came to a halt and the side door slid open to allow a middle-aged Valerian with dark long hair to step outside. He was a short man, Owens had at least half a head on him, but he carried himself with dignity, his chin up and his shoulders straight. Like many male Valerians he had a somewhat craggy face with large round nostrils positioned underneath his eyes, and flanking his high and prominent nasal ridge. He wore a long leather-like coat which fluttered slightly with the wind.

    “Chief Magistrate Yoral.” Owens pressed his palm against his own chest which he had since learned was a traditional Valerian greeting gesture. “I am Captain Michael Owens from Starfleet. Thank you for coming.”

    The smaller man looked up at Owens, then considered Deen at his side, his eyes widening for just a brief moment before noticing the armed Marine detachment just behind them. He glanced back at Owens. “Yes, yes, Sharval has spoken off you. You are the one who believes he can solve our dilemma.”

    “I am certain that with your help we will.”

    He puffed a little bit. “I’m a busy man, Captain. I’m chief magistrate for the entire southern region so you can imagine that I don’t have much time to waste on trivial matters and folly undertakings.”

    Owens tried hard not to frown. “Sir, I do not believe any attempt to end this war to be either trivial nor folly.”

    “Yes, yes,” he said again. “Fine. Let’s see if your actions are as convincing as you’d like your words to be.”

    “This is Lieutenant Deen, she’ll escort you into the embassy.”

    She stepped forward, repeating the greeting. “Chief Magistrate, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

    Her presence seemed to help lift his mood, albeit only slightly, and he mirrored the greeting for her, something he had not done for Owens. “Yes, yes,” he said. “You are a quite pleasing individual. Now, let’s not waste any more time.”

    She nodded. “This way, Chief Magistrate.” She pointed towards the entrance of the embassy. He puffed a little bit more and then set out.

    Deen exchanged a quick look with her captain, making it obvious that she didn’t think even her natural charm would do much to make this man more agreeable, before she followed him.

    They didn’t get all too far. The Marines insisted on checking the magistrate before he set foot into the building which included a scan as well as a manual pat down. Predictably the magistrate was not happy with this and made his displeasure known, threatening to turn and leave on the spot. Only Deen’s soft reassurances seemed to keep him from putting up with the procedure. And only barely.

    Owens didn’t follow straight away. Instead he glanced towards the vehicle. When nobody else emerged from it he walked up to it and looked inside to find Sharval in the plush passenger compartment. She was sitting way back in her seat with her feet up on another one, clearly having made herself comfortable. “Hello there, Sky Knight. One chief magistrate delivered as promised.” She wore that grin again which Owens had to admit was beginning to grow on him. Even if the nickname didn’t.

    “Are you not coming?”

    She shook her head. “I told you I’m not setting foot in there.” She indicated with her head towards the building behind him.

    “Unless you absolutely have to.” He remembered her words. “You don’t think this qualifies? A chance of ending this war and getting rid of all us meddlesome aliens.”

    Her smile widened. “They’re not all bad.” Sharval continued before he could say anything. “Besides, I’m not a diplomat. I leave that to you and Yoral.”

    “Right,” he said. “By the way, you could have warned me about his general disposition.”

    “I’m sure you’ll get along famously.” Another wide grin. “Good luck, you’re going to need it.” And with that she knocked against the side of the vehicle.

    Owens had barely enough time to jump back as the door suddenly slid shut and the vehicle sped off. He shook his head slightly as he watched it disappear behind a corner. He turned and quickly headed into the embassy to follow Deen and the magistrate.

    He found them in the large conference room he had chosen in which to hold the talks. Like most of the interior of the building, this one too was elaborately decorated with gold rimmed and red satin covered cushioned chairs and a long wooden table adorned with golden legs. A huge crystal chandelier hung from the high ceiling and the walls were decorated with large paintings from Earth’s classical period. The most famous of which was a replica of the Oath of the Horatii depicting three brothers and Roman soldiers pledging to their father while he held their swords above them.

    Owens was sure the painting appealed to Lam for the sense of loyalty and dedication to one’s country that it invoked. But Owens also remembered that the tale behind the painting was about the promise to end a war. For that reason it was strangely appropriate to their current situation. He hoped that differently to the events that were to follow the depiction in the painting, he could achieve this without further bloodshed.

    Yoral showed little interest or appreciation of the foreign art surrounding him and seemed to fidget a little bit in his chair next to Deen. Opposite to him sat Gul Belore. One of Lam’s administrative assistants sat in the corner and two lightly armed Marines guarded the door. They came to attention as soon as General Lam entered, followed by Major Wasco.

    The flag officer regarded the room and its occupants for a brief moment before he found himself a chair at the most remote end of the table to sit down. Wasco took the chair next to him.

    Owens would have preferred if Lam had taken a more central position but for now he was glad he had everyone in the same room.

    “Thank you all for coming.” Owens took a seat at the table and regarded the people in the room, especially Lam and Yoral who he noticed did not make eye contact with each other. “The purpose of us meeting here like this is to discuss the immediate future of Valeria. At least as far as the Starfleet and Cardassian presence is concerned. As you are all aware, the war between the Federation and the Dominion has ended and a peace treaty is now in effect between both powers as well as with the Cardassian Union which is no longer formerly associated with the Dominion. I believe I speak for all of us when I say that our most important task now is to ensure an end to the ground war here on Valeria which has cost thousands of casualties on both sides as well as among the civilian population. Both Starfleet Marines and the Cardassian forces are urgently needed back home to help our respective people rebuilt after the costly fallout which has devastated so many worlds.

    While we do not currently have the resources to remove all the fighting forces on this planet and return them to their homes, we can and must prepare both sides for their imminent withdrawal. The best way to do this is to agree to an immediate cease fire which will put an end to hostilities between all parties.”

    Lam glanced at Owens. “Captain, if I may?”

    “Of course, General, please go ahead.”

    The Marine commander looked at the only Cardassian in the room, then briefly glanced at Yoral before looking back at Owens. “As the supreme commander of all Starfleet forces on Valeria I understand why I am part of your summit here but I cannot see Gul Metral anywhere. How do you hope to agree a cease fire without his presence?”

    Owens nodded slightly, admitting to the difficulty. He along with Sharval and Belore had tried to get in touch with the Cardassian officer again but with little success. Of course he doubted that even if they had been able to talk to Metral he would have agreed to enter deeply into Federation controlled territory and sit down with him and Lam. Thankfully he was not entirely empty handed on this front. He looked at Yoral. “Chief Magistrate, perhaps you could tell us what you have been able to achieve regarding Gul Metral?”

    The Valerian returned an empty look in response.

    “I believe you had some success being able to communicate with Gul Metral.” Owens hoped the clarification would prompt him to speak.

    “Yes, yes.” He spoke quickly and nodded. “However it was not me who spoke with him. I am in close contact with the other magistrates including the one responsible for the northern region in which Metral has his command post.”

    He stopped there as if he had explained everything. The room fell quiet and most eyes regarded the short Valerian.

    Owens suppressed a sigh. “And?”

    “And my counterpart has imparted to him that we are holding these talks with an interest to resolve the conflict. Metral has let him know that he would very much be interested in finding a solution himself.”

    The captain glanced back towards Lam but judging by the general’s mien didn’t find him convinced at all.

    Belore noticed this as well. “And of course I am fully authorized to speak on the behalf of the Cardassian Union as well whose leaders are committed to ending the Valerian conflict and returning all troops to Cardassia.”

    Lam looked at the man suspiciously. “Forgive me, Gul Belore, but from all I have been told, there isn’t much more of a Cardassian Union left. You expect me to believe that a man like you who seems to have been a senior military officer for a very brief time can speak for whatever is left of your government?”

    “It pains me to say this, General, but we are now a conquered and occupied people,” said Belore. “The terms of the Treaty of Bajor have put all Cardassian military decisions temporarily into the hands of your allied occupational authority. What is left of my people’s civilian leadership, as transitional as it may be, supports all its decisions and those which would see remaining Cardassian troops being returned home.”

    “Spoken like a true diplomat.” Lam sounded perhaps a little too dismissive, like a man who didn’t much cared for that profession. He glanced back at Owens. “My concerns about a possible Cardassian overreach on Valeria, with or without the blessing of this Cardassian leadership Gul Belore speaks of, have not been assuaged, Captain.”

    “And I understand your position, General. However the Valerians are an independent people. As Federation representatives, whatever our own concerns may be, they have to be purely secondary to theirs.” He offered the floor to Yoral but it turned out the man had to be prompted yet again. “Chief Magistrate, I believe you have brought a document.”

    “Yes, yes.” He produced a data padd from his coat. The movement caused the Marines at the door to tense but thankfully that was all they did. He placed the slate onto the table and then slid it over so that Lam could consider it. “It contains a statement drafted on the behalf of the Valerian people and signed by myself and my fellow magistrates which declares that we wish for a withdrawal of all foreign troops from Valeria.”

    Lam looked the document over and then glanced up again. “And I assume you would expect us to make the first move?”

    Owens shot Lam a sharp look. “Somebody has to, General.”

    He shook his head. “It would be a mistake and an invitation for Metral to take control of the rest of Valeria.”

    “That will not happen,” said Belore.

    “You don’t know that for certain and it’s a risk I am not comfortable taking. Even with the peace treaty in effect, what is to stop Metral to break with his people who as you say are already defeated elsewhere? With out us, Metral would have free reign to claim Valeria for himself.”

    “General, this is simply not our decision to make.” Owens wasn’t afraid for his voice to take on a somewhat sharper edge now. “We have to respect the wishes of the Valerian people in this matter.” He shot Yoral an intense look to make sure he’d not miss his chance to make his point.

    The man didn’t hesitate this time. “It is our wish for your troops to leave.” He managed to sound just as stern as Owens now. “We are willing to take the risk you have implied, however we are assured by Gul Belore as well as what we have learned from channels coming from Gul Metral, that the Cardassian troops have no intentions on staying on our world.”

    Lam considered that for a moment. “The supreme monarch would disagree.”

    “General, with all due respect, the deal you’ve made with the supreme monarch is not a binding one. He wields no legitimate political power on Valeria and I believe you know that.” Owens’ tone was becoming increasingly icy as he spoke. Perhaps it was not a good idea to push Lam too hard but Owens could tell that he had the military man on his back foot now, desperately trying to legitimize a war which couldn’t be legitimized.

    “The risk is still too—“

    “The risk is not ours, General.” Owens interrupted him. “You have already lost thousands of men in this war. Thousands more have perished on the Cardassian side and among the Valerian populace. It is our job now to put an end to the dying. Not one more person must lose their lives for a war which is already won.”

    Lam glared at Owens. “And I will see to it that their deaths were not in vain.” Lam shot back with twice the intensity Owens had showed and forcing the room into silence once more. He was more settled when he spoke again, shaking his head slightly. “You may not see, Captain, but I know what’s going to happen here. I’ve seen this kind of thing before. Metral is not just going to give up, he too has lost too much to be able to convince himself to simply pack up and go home. No, he will see his people conquered and defeated and he’ll look at Valeria as his chance to make Cardassia strong again. Without us standing in his way, he’ll have no problem taking this world. And then one of two things is going to happen. Either we let it be and watch silently as he slowly but surely burns this world to cinders like they did to Bajor, or the Federation will learn from its mistakes and ask us to come back here and take him out. And once we’ve lost our foothold on this planet it is going to cost us immensely more resources and blood to remove him from his entrenched position.

    I am not willing to accept either of those scenarios and as such I say no to you, Captain. And I say no to you, Magistrate. Not because I enjoy war and suffering but because I want to prevent it.”

    Owens wasn’t sure what he could possibly say at that point. Lam was absolutely convinced of the truth of his words, that much was obvious. Even if it went against everything that he and the Federation were suppose to stand for. He didn’t know if two years of uninterrupted warfare on a remote planet had changed General Lam or if he had always thought this way. He didn’t know what it would take to make him change his mind. He didn’t even know if it was possible. “General Lam, the Valerians do not want us here. Whatever consequences may arise from our withdrawal are not for us to ponder at this time. The Prime Directive specifically forbids us to get involved in their affairs.”

    “We are already involved, Captain. Can’t you see that? We have been involved for two years. And we have died defending these people. I am not going to stop now just because it seems no longer convenient to do so.”

    Owens stood. “Convenient for whom, General? You or them?” Anger was now asserting itself in his tone. “You speak of your sacrifice on this world and I am truly sorry of the people you have lost here. But even you must see that this was never about Valeria. It cannot be about Valeria. This is and always has been about us and the Dominion. And we have all bled and suffered in that war. A war we have won, General. At a high cost. But you are making this personal.”

    Lam stood as well. “How dare you—“

    “You are a Marine, are you not, General? You have your orders from Command. Stand down and prepare to return home. Follow you orders.”

    The two men, standing at opposite sides of the table and ignoring everyone else assembled in the room, were now staring daggers into each other, neither willing to back down from their position.

    It appeared Lam gave in first as he took his seat again. He looked over the padd Yoral had given him. Then he placed it back on the table. Face down. “Captain Owens, you will immediately order your ship to transport to this location Echo Company currently stationed on your vessel as I will take control of that unit and temporarily attach it to Second Regiment, Fourth Division. Further to this you will transport a number of engineers, building materials and replicators to assist in completion of a fusion energy plant.”

    Owens shook his head. “I’ll be doing none of those things, General.”

    Lam shot the other man a sharp look. “In which case I am invoking Starfleet directive 175-b, subsection four, and take command of all Starfleet forces and vessels in this system in response to a direct and imminent threat to the Federation and its interests.”

    “There is no such threat and you know it.”

    Lam stood again and gestured to his assistant. “Lieutenant, make contact with Eagle and advise them that I am now in command and have them execute my orders at once.”

    The man nodded and stood, quickly heading towards the exit.

    “Safe yourself the trip.” Owens glanced back at the general. “Eagle wouldn’t be able to follow that order even if they wanted to. She’s no longer in orbit around Valeria.”

    Clearly this had come as a surprise to Lam, judging by the anger in his eyes. “You ordered your ship away from this planet while fully aware that I required its resources?”

    “No,” said Owens. “They are responding to a distress signal in a neighboring sector. But I have to say that after witnessing the clear overreach of your authority which you have displayed here today, I cannot say that I regret sending them away.”

    Lam was fuming. “Captain Owens, I’m placing you under arrest.”

    “What?” Deen stood, total surprise evident on her features. “On what grounds?”

    “For the willful obstruction of ongoing and essential Starfleet operations and for consorting with known enemies of the Federation.” The general spoke without hesitation and then gestured for his guards who quickly took position at either side of the captain.

    A tiny but humorless smile was beginning to tug at Owens’ lips. He knew exactly what was coming next, suddenly understanding Lam’s game perfectly. And he knew he was too late to stop it.

    “You didn’t really think I would miss that you were having private meetings with Sub-commissioner Sharval?”

    “A Valerian peace officer.”

    “A suspected criminal.”

    “You never had any intention on taking this peace talk seriously, did you, General? You came here with only one intention. Getting me to support your private little war or if not, take command of my ship.”

    “You gave me no choice.”

    Yoral stood. “This, this is an outrage.”

    Not a moment later another, more heavily armed detachment of Marines entered.

    “Sergeant Thelos, escort the captain to the detention complex. Lieutenant Deen, Gul Belore and Magistrate Yoral will keep him company there.”

    Yoral basically trembled with anger. “You cannot do this.”

    “On the contrary, Magistrate. I have the full cooperation of your supreme monarch to identify and detain any Valerians which pose a threat to Starfleet and Valerian interests alike. People like you.”

    Wasco left his chair now as well. “General, don’t do this.”

    Lam turned to the other Marine. “You better start deciding whose side your on, Cesar. Remember who you are.”

    “I’m a Marine, sir.”

    Lam nodded. “Precisely. And you know as I do that sometimes we must make the hard choices. For the greater good.”

    Owens looked at Wasco and then back at Lam. “A great number of tyrants throughout history have used that very same rationale, General. Are you sure you want to be in that kind of company?”

    “With time even you will understand, Captain, I’m sure of it.” He glanced at the Andorian Marine who was leading the armed detachment. “Sergeant, please take them away.”

    Thelos nodded but couldn’t quite hide a little smile, clearly enjoying that particular order after his previous run-ins with the Starfleet captain. He made sure to grab Owens’ shoulder personally, a little harder than he needed to, and dragged him towards the door. “This way, Captain.”

    The other Marines quickly gathered Deen, Belore and Yoral and escorted them out of the door as well.

    “I really hope I’m not a fool for thinking that getting us thrown into jail is all part of your great master plan here.” Deen spoke quietly to Owens as they were being shackled outside the conference room and then led down the corridor.

    Owens didn’t respond to her. There was no point in letting her know that things had gone horribly wrong. Not that the evidence was not already firmly pointing that way anyhow.

    He had to admit that he had always liked to see himself as somewhat savvy in diplomatic settings when he had to rely on nothing more than his wit and a strong argument to convince others to see things his way. This time he had lost control as well as some of his cool when facing Lam but then again he was no longer certain if there was an argument in existence strong enough to be able to cut through General Xiaogang Lam’s absolute dedication to the course he had embarked upon.

    Owens knew without a shadow of a doubt that if they could not find a way to change it soon, it would be thousands of innocent lives that would have to ultimately pay the price for his diplomatic failure.

    * * *​
  3. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    He took that better than I thought.
  4. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006


    He hadn’t immediately understood why Captain Mahoney had been so insisted that he returned to Sacajawea posthaste. After Leva had left Nora and beamed back to the other ship, he had found that repairs to the antimatter generators were still hours from completion even with Louise Hopkins’ helping out. There was little to be done in the meantime and when he had tried to get in touch with the captain, he had actually found him unavailable.

    It wasn’t until an hour after his return from Eagle that Mahoney had made time to meet with his first officer. Leva had stepped out onto the bridge and just as he was about to head towards the ready room, those doors parted to allow a fairly familiar face to step out of Mahoney’s office.

    “Ah, Commander Leva. Small universe we live in, eh?”

    “Appears that way.” He wasn’t fully able to hide his surprise at finding Atticus West, the war correspondent who had been imbedded with Eagle for the last few weeks on Sacajawea.

    “I guess congratulations are in order. Just the other day you were merely a tactical officer and here we are.”

    “Yes.” Leva considered the other man suspiciously. “Here we are indeed.”

    “Don’t look so paranoid, Commander.”

    “May I ask what you are doing on this ship? I thought you assignment was on Eagle?”

    He offered a little smile. “I’m not a Starfleet officer. I don’t have to go where they tell me to go. I can move around as I please. In fact, often times, that’s how you get the best angle for a story.”

    “Is that what you’re doing here?”

    He shrugged. “Perhaps. See it turns out not every Starfleet officer is as tight lipped as your friends on Eagle. Captain Mahoney is actually quite a big supporter of the press, believes in transparency and all that. What a refreshing change.”

    Leva took a step closer to the man and before ensuring nobody on the bridge was paying their conversation any undue attention. “Listen to me very carefully, Mister West. I may be first officer on this ship now but that doesn’t mean I don’t still have loyalty to my old crew. If you try to hurt them in any way, I would be extremely displeased.” His voice was cold as ice as he looked at the other man. West was a tall and able looking man and yet Leva still managed to tower over him as he leaned into him.

    And for a moment the reporter actually flinched, taking half a step back, obviously not having expected such a strong tone from Sacajawea’s first officer standing in the middle of the bridge. No doubt thoughts of viciously brutal Romulans popped into his head. A race of people who had perfected the art of finding ways to cause people substantial agony in subtle yet very efficient ways.

    He recovered quickly enough, apparently remembering that Leva was still a Starfleet officer and then offered a wide smile as he stepped next to him, regarding him with a sidelong look. “Not the first nor the most terrifying threat anyone has ever made against me.”

    Leva shook his head. “It’s not a threat.”

    He padded his Leva’s upper arm as if they were close friends. “You take care now, Commander. We may see each other again real soon.” He headed for the turbolift and disappeared inside.

    “Sir, are you alright?”

    Leva noticed that Alendra had stepped up to him after West had left, noticeable concern in the Bolian’s large eyes. “I’m fine, Lieutenant.”

    She offered a nod and returned to her duties.

    It wasn’t exactly the truth of course. He hated the idea that West was poking in one of his fellow officers’ past but what bothered him even more was that his own captain apparently had no scruples opening up to West about Star. Whatever disagreements the two may have had in the past, exposing a fellow Starfleet officer to the press was a clear violation of an unspoken rule. A serious breach of trust.

    He took a deep breath and stepped up to the ready room doors. Mahoney begged him to enter after he had activated the annunciator.

    The captain was standing behind his desk and for once the light was actually at normal levels instead of dimmed like the way he usually liked to keep it. He did have a bottle of scotch on the table along with two used glasses. Mahoney and West had shared a drink. Leva didn’t miss the fact that the captain had yet to offer him one, not that he was particularly fond of the beverage.

    “Commander, it’s good to have you back on board.”

    Leva nodded but said nothing.

    “Repairs should be completed within the next couple of hours. I have spoken to Commander Star again and we have agreed on a joint approach to eliminate the pirate threat in this sector. As soon as Sacajawea is able to run under her own power again we will both shadow a few Thulian freighters in separate locations and wait for the pirates to make a move.”

    He nodded. “We’ll ambush the pirates for a change.”

    “That’s the idea. We’ll try to take a crew prisoner and interrogate them as to the location of their base of operations and then put a stop to them for good.”

    “Appears to be a sound plan, sir.”

    Mahoney smirked as if he was quite pleased with himself. Considering the one sided conversation he’d had with Star when Leva had still been in the room, he wouldn’t have been surprised if it was indeed Mahoney’s plan. “I need you to get the crew ready. We’re very likely going to see some more combat and this time I want the ship and crew to be up to the task.”

    “I’ll run a number of combat drills.”

    Mahoney took his chair. “Good. I think that’s all, Commander.”

    Leva turned towards the door but then stopped before leaving.

    “Something else on your mind?”

    The first officer faced Mahoney again. “I noticed Mister West came to see you.”

    Mahoney nodded slowly. “Yes, he did. A persistent fellow, but I like his tenacity. He’s got and earned reputation of exposing corruption and wrongdoing in high places.”

    “So I’ve heard,” said Leva. “Is there something I should know about?”

    Mahoney looked straight into his first officer’s eyes, as if trying to see if there was something more behind them. Something left unspoken.

    Leva stared right back.

    Then Mahoney sighed heavily. “Take a seat, Commander.”

    He did so.

    The captain leaned back in his chair. “How much do you know about Tazla Star? I mean, truly know about her.”

    “I know she disobeyed direct orders when she was the commander of this vessel. A court martial following those events found her guilty of being indirectly responsible for causing a number of deaths resulting from her actions. Most of the details of that mission and the court martial itself have been classified but she was demoted in rank and served time at the stockade afterwards.”

    “As you can imagine, I know quite a bit more than that.” He considered the other man carefully. “I was her first officer at the time.”

    “And is that the reason you met with Atticus West? To discuss Star’s past with him?”

    He frowned. “Of course not. As you pointed out those details are classified and I would never share this kind of information with the press. And to be frank, I am disappointed you would even insinuate such a thing.”

    “I am merely trying to understand why you would meet with him in private.”

    Mahoney swiveled his chair slightly until he could see out of the viewport. Out there he could spot the larger Nebula-class cruiser holding position nearby. The subject of their discussion no doubt sitting on her bridge as they spoke. “Mister West has made it no secret that he is interested in writing a detailed article on Tazla Star and seeing as he had the opportunity to speak to her former first officer, on the very ship on which she fell in disgrace, it was simply a chance too tempting to pass up.”

    “You could have refused to see him.”

    The captain turned back to face Leva. “But then how would I have learned how much he already knows?”

    “You’re saying you met with him to protect her?” He did not look convinced.

    Mahoney sighed again. “Look, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that Tazla and I are close personal friends. You were in the meeting with us, you could feel the tension in the room. We didn’t part on the best of terms as you can imagine. She disobeyed orders.”

    He continued to regard him appraisingly.

    “I’m going to tell you something which I hope you will take some time to consider carefully, So’Dan.” He leaned a little closer and Leva realized that it had been the first time Mahoney had addressed him by his given name. “I know that you still feel a certain loyalty for Eagle and her crew and I don’t blame you. You wouldn’t be a Starfleet officer if it were otherwise. But I know Tazla Star a lot better than you do. She does not posses the same sense of loyalty as you and me. Tazla Star looks out first and foremost for Tazla Star and that makes her a very dangerous person.”

    “And yet you agreed to work with her.”

    “I had little choice in the matter. We require Eagle’s help with repairs but we also need them to help us take care of those pirates. As soon as this is done I’m going to be very relieved to part ways with her again.”

    “We’ll have to work together to achieve this.”

    He nodded. “Of course. And I’m enough of a professional to put my personal feelings aside for the duration. I can only pray that she thinks the same way.” He offered a worried frown. “Unfortunately after you left the meeting things only got worse and I am very concerned that she may not be able to do that.”

    “What are you suggesting?”

    Mahoney stood again. “As I said, if we want to accomplish our mission we have little choice but to rely on Eagle’s assistance. We’ll need to work together. But I need you to be very careful around her. Work with Eagle but do not trust Star. It wouldn’t be beneath her to somehow try and establish a rapport with you, counting on your loyalty to your old ship to get what she wants.”

    Leva also left his chair and offered a quizzical look in response. “And what is it she wants?”

    He shrugged. “Hopefully nothing. But it doesn’t help to be cautious, Commander. You understand, don’t you?”

    He nodded. “What does West know?”

    “I beg your pardon?”

    “You mentioned that you wanted to find out what Mister West knew about Star.”

    “Oh, yes,” he said. “Nothing of consequence thankfully and we want to keep it that way. Star may have her troubles but it is not our job to add to them now, is it?” He shot his first officer a meager little smile.


    “Good. I want you to keep in mind what I’ve said. Dismissed, Commander.”

    With that Leva turned and left the ready room. It weren’t Mahoney’s words which played on his mind after he had stepped back onto the bridge. Instead he couldn’t help think of what Nora Laas had told him. He had gotten himself into a fine mess indeed.

    * * *​
  5. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Tazla Star stepped onto the bridge causing Xylion to smoothly stand from the captain’s chair to make room for her. “What do we have, Commander?”

    “The probe’s sensors have detected two Hideki-class starships on a direct intercept course with the Thulian freighter immediately outside this star system. They will enter into weapon’s range of the freighter in eight minutes and twelve seconds.” Instead of heading for his usual science station at the back of the bridge, Xylion moved one chair to his right to occupy the seat usually reserved for the first officer. With Owens off the ship and with Star in command, he was filling in as her XO. It was a position he was quite familiar with, after all he had served as acting executive officer for a number of months and immediately before Star had come onboard.

    She didn’t take the chair straight away but glanced towards the screen where she could see little more than the murky gray and blue haze of the class seven gas giant’s thermosphere which was currently serving as their hiding spot. Just before taking up that concealed position they had launched a number of small, inconspicuous probes to allow them to spy on the space lanes in the area which were frequented by the Thulians and which had attracted significant pirate activity over the last week.

    Star couldn’t deny that she was pleased that in order to have the best possible chance to intercept a pirate vessel, Mahoney had ordered both ships to operate quasi independently which meant she had not seen or heard from Sacajawea since they had set out on their hunt four hours earlier.

    Lif Culsten looked up from the helm. “We can intercept the pirate vessels within three minutes.”

    She shook her head. “Not yet. I don’t want them to see us coming and give them an opportunity to run.” She took the center seat in-between Xylion and Doctor Elijah Katanga.

    Katanga glanced at her. “Let’s not risk the lives of the people on that freighter.”

    “I won’t.”

    But the doctor didn’t look all too comforted by her icy tone or the way she kept her eyes focused on the view screen.

    “I am advising Sacajawea of our situation.” Xylion began to operate the small console to his right.

    “Belay that, Commander.”

    The Vulcan stopped and turned to look at her. “I was under the impression that the mission details specified that we were to make contact with Sacajawea as soon as we were in position to engage a pirate vessel.”

    “They might pick up on the signal. I don’t want to spook them.”

    The Vulcan raised an eyebrow. “Using a low-band encrypted signal, it would be improbable the pirates will be able to detect or understand the nature of our communication.”

    “I just don’t want to take the risk.”

    Katanga leaned closer towards Star.

    She could tell he was concerned. “I know what I’m doing, Eli,” she whispered.

    “Are you sure?”

    She gave him a curt nod, trying to mask the truth. Was she a hundred percent certain she knew what she was doing? No, she couldn’t admit that much. She wasn’t even sure why she was out here hunting pirates in the first place. But one thing she was certain about. She didn’t want Mahoney anywhere nearby and the longer she could keep him away the better.

    And then there was another sensation slowly rising from the pit of her stomach and it took her a moment to realize that her nerves were to blame for it. She hadn’t spent much time in the center seat of a starship after all. She had commanded Sacajawea for the better part of four months but hadn’t seen a great deal of action during that time. And while she had sat in the chair a number of times since having become Eagle’s XO a year earlier, truth be told she had never taken her into combat by herself. She had gotten used to sitting by her captain’s side whenever it had come to it.

    She smirked to herself when she remembered all those times having played second fiddle to Owens and desperately hoping for an opportunity to prove herself. And now that chance had finally arrived even if not exactly the way she had expected it. Regardless the circumstances that had brought her to this point, she was determined not to let her unexpected anxiety show. She was determined not to let it slow her down.

    “Something amusing you?”

    She glanced at Katanga, realizing that she had let something slip after all. She quickly wiped that smile off her face and shook her head. “Just imagining the look on their faces when they see us popping up.” She stood. “Time to intercept?”

    “Less than four minutes until the pirates make contact with the freighter.” The beta-shift operations officer Lance Stanmore was keeping an eye on sensors and ship resources while DeMara Deen was away.

    “Let’s time this right, people. I want to be right on top of those guys as soon as they get within spitting distance of that freighter.”

    Culsten nodded. “In that case we should set out in forty-nine seconds.”

    Katanga was still concerned. “We’re cutting it a bit close, don’t you think?”

    “If they run we don’t achieve anything. I want to get this mission over with today.” She glanced at Lieutenant Trinik, the man who was now the chief tactical officer since Leva had moved on to Sacajawea. Star knew that Leva had trained him well and that he had proven himself on a few occasions during the war. He was young but efficient. His biggest handicap compared to the man who had been handling the weapons before him was probably the fact that he was nowhere near as creative as the half-Romulan had been. “Stand by to go to red alert. Make sure we limit our fire to their weapons and shields. We need to take prisoners.”

    The man offered a curt nod in response.

    “Commander.” Culsten turned to look at her. “This is it.”

    She glanced forward. “Take us out.”

    The Krellonian quickly worked his helm station and Star could see the screen beginning to change as the thick clouds of the gas giant’s atmosphere slowly receded like a veil being lifted. In no time at all, the view screen reveled the darkness of space interspersed with countless bright stars. Eagle made a sharp turn, shooting around the lavender-colored gas giant at high impulse and picked up even more speed thanks to gravity and the slingshot effect as it bore down towards the freighter in distress.

    “Do we hail them?” said Katanga. “It’s only fair to give them a chance to surrender.”

    But Star shook her head. “Sacajawea’s reports show that they had plenty of opportunities to do so. We’re not going to play nice any longer and not until we’ve wiped out their base.”

    The veteran doctor frowned at her tone. “Don’t you go Captain Ahab on me now, you hear?”

    She turned to glance at him. “I’m not chasing a white whale, Eli. We’re trying to put a stop to piracy and ensure people in need get the supplies they desperately require.”

    “Ever hear that saying about the road to hell?”

    She shrugged. “I’m sure if I forget you’ll be here to remind me.”

    “Bet on it.”

    Culsten couldn’t hide a smile. “Coming into visual range now.”

    “On screen.”

    The two Cardassian ships appeared on the view screen, still traveling at warp. Star was quite familiar with the design, they had encountered these ships frequently during the war and they had turned out to be a real nuisance most of the time. Thankfully these ones weren’t quite the same. Instead they were closer in ability to the ones the Cardassians had used during the Border Wars a couple of decades ago. Star was fairly certain that Eagle had a decisive advantage.

    “Have they spotted us?”

    “Unlikely,” said Xylion. “These ships employ a highly focused sensor configuration when at warp. Unless they are actively scanning the surrounding space they will not be aware of our presence.”

    “One minute until contact,” said the helmsman. “We should reach them about the same time as they reach the freighter.”

    Star nodded with satisfaction and then returned to her chair to sit down.

    Katanga leaned slightly into her. “Would you calm down a little?”

    She regarded him with a quizzical look. “I’m perfectly calm.”

    He shook his head. “Please, I’ve known you too long. You have that same look in your eyes that Dez used to get before neurosurgery.”

    “So? Dezwin was a phenom when it came to brain surgery.”

    “Yeah, that’s what he liked to think.”

    “What is that supposed to mean?”

    “Twenty seconds,” Culsten said.

    Star continued to glare at Katanga a moment longer but he clearly didn’t seem interested to elaborate on the medical skills of her previous host and she turned back to focus on the more immediate situation instead. “Red alert.”

    Trinik had the ship battle ready within a few moments, the flashing red lights and the ominous klaxon serving as unmistakable proof. “Shields are up. Weapons on full standby.”

    The screen changed to show the two nimble, amber-colored ships dropping out of warp close to the somewhat cylindrical shaped freighter.

    “We are now within weapon’s range.” Xylion likely beat his fellow Vulcan at tactical to state the same by a heartbeat or so.

    “Open fire on both vessels. Take out their shields and engines.”

    “Firing phasers.”

    On the screen the powerful beams of crimson phased energy struck the unprepared vessels head-on, causing the protective bubbles of their shields to flare brightly. They had most likely expected to find an easy target in the lightly armed and cumbersome freighter. Instead they were now facing one of Starfleet’s most formidable starships.

    Star couldn’t help but smirk, actually wishing she truly could see their faces right about now.

    “Pride goeth before the fall.”

    Star moaned. “Would you give it a rest showing off your knowledge of tiresome human proverbs?” She stood again, stepping closer to the view screen.

    The two pirate ships had weathered Eagle’s opening salvos and where now coming straight at them. They both spew their own weapons at the Starfleet ship but Star could hardly even feel the impacts of their phasers against the shields.

    Trinik confirmed what Star had already suspected. “Minimal damage to forward shields.”

    She nodded. “Keep firing until their shields are down. Star to Transporter room three.”

    “This is Chow, go ahead, Commander.”

    “Chief, stand by to beam the crews of those ships directly to the brig as soon as their shields are down and you can get a lock.”

    “Will do, sir.”

    “Star to Nora, get ready to receive prisoners.”

    “We’re all set up down here, Commander.”

    “Excellent, Star out.” She never once had taken her eyes off the view screen and continued to watch as Eagle kept pounding both vessels with her superior phasers. “Status on those ships.”

    Stanmore had the report. “The lead vessel has minimal shields remaining. The second ship is still at half strength.”

    “Trinik, focus on the lead ship. We do not have to capture both crews.”

    Just then she spotted the second vessel turning back towards Eagle to make another pass. She wasn’t too concerned. Their phasers had not proven much of challenge. That changed suddenly when she realized that they weren’t firing phasers. Those were torpedoes and judging by their bright bluish tint, not the regular variety.

    The ensuing impact nearly flung her to the floor had she not grabbed the back off Stanmore’s seat at the last moment. “What the seven hells was that?”

    “Quantum torpedoes, sir. Direct hit to our forward shields which are down to seventy-eight percent.”

    “How did they get those?” She glanced at Xylion for answers. “Those ships are not supposed to have quantum torpedoes.”

    “They have likely upgraded their vessel recently.”

    “No kidding.” Star made her way back to the captain’s chair, suddenly not quite confident enough to stand in the middle of the bridge during combat. She noticed Katanga opening his mouth but she beat him to it, raising a finger in his direction. “Don’t even say it.”

    He left it at a shrug instead.

    “Mister Trinik, would you please respond in kind?”

    “Firing quantum torpedoes.”

    But their effectiveness was discouraging when Star watched the small ship dodge all three projectiles and instead let go of more torpedoes of its own. This time she saw it coming. “Evasive maneuvers.”

    Culsten’s reflexes were amongst the fastest of any man she had ever known but even he could not mange to avoid all four torpedoes heading their way. Two found their mark, causing the ship to lurch violently yet again.

    Stanmore had to hold on tightly to his console to keep in his seat and then frowned when he read the damage report. “Forward shields down to fifty-one percent.”

    Star gritted her teeth. “Alright, I’m about done playing games with these guys. Mister Trinik, stop limiting your fire and take them out. Do whatever needs to be done short of destroying them.”

    And with that the tactical officer went to work unleashing the full power of Eagle’s offensive arsenal almost like a wounded an angry animal lashing out with a vengeance against its opponents. And Eagle’s vengeance was swift. Within moments the increased phaser fire had punched through the lead vessel’s shields and leaving it very nearly adrift. Then they set their eyes on the second ship, the one which had dared to bring its big guns into this fight. A blanket bombardment of photon torpedoes almost crippled that vessel instantly.

    This time Stanmore’s news were much more encouraging. “Both ships are in retreat at high impulse, heading away from us and into opposite directions.”

    “Looks like they’ve lost their will to fight,” Star said. “Mister Culsten, I want the lead vessel. Bring us into transporter range.”

    “Aye, sir.”

    It took Eagle less than a minute to catch up to the damaged vessel.

    “I am detecting significant activity on the pirate ship, sir.” Stanmore double checked his board. “I think they’re trying to get their warp engines up and running again.”

    “Not on my watch they’re not. Activate a tractor beam.”

    Before they could jump to warp and make an attempt at an escape, Eagle shot out a powerful blue beam which lassoed the much smaller ship, holding it in place.

    “Sir, the second vessel has aborted its escape vector and is now approaching us,” said Trinik.

    Katanga looked at Star. “They don’t want to leave their friends behind.”

    “They’re not going to have a say in the matter.” She turned her head slightly so she could look over her shoulder and towards tactical. “Trinik, warn them off with torpedoes.”

    But the small escort was not deterred. It took one hit and managed to slalom around four other torpedoes before unleashing a couple quantum projectiles which were aimed at Eagle’s bow and the very spot form which the blue tractor beam emanated from.

    Star felt the impact in her bones.

    This time Xylion provided the report. “Forward shields are down. We have taken damage to the tractor emitter.”

    On the screen, Star witnessed with frustration that the energy beam which had held the lead vessel in place fizzled out. “Transporter room, lock on to the crew of the ship immediately in front of us and beam them over while our shields are still down.” She watched with increasing vexation as the pirate vessel jumped to warp, its crew apparently having been able to get their engines back to work. The second ship followed closely behind but not before firing one last torpedo which penetrated the now non-existing forward shields and smashed right into the bright red Bussard collector at the very tip of Eagle’s starboard warp nacelle.

    This time the impact wasn’t all that bad but Star could feel the entire superstructure rattling through her chair.

    The operations manager shook his head in frustration. “Direct hit to our starboard warp nacelle with significant damage to the Bussard ramscoop.”

    But Star didn’t care too much about that right then. “Transporter room, do we have the crew?”

    There was no immediate response.

    “Chow, talk to me.”

    “Sorry, Commander. I only got one. He’s in the brig now.”

    She uttered a heavy sigh. “Bridge to engineering, how bad is it?”

    The chief engineer was on the line with little delay. “This is Hopkins, sir. The starboard Bussard collector took a direct hit. It’s going to take a few days to have that fixed.”

    “We don’t need the ramscoop to go to warp.”

    “No, sir, but the force of the impact has pushed the warp coils out of alignment which means we cannot create a stable warp field right now.”

    Star massaged her forehead. “How long?”

    “My team and I should have them realigned within the hour.”

    “Alright, get on that. Star out.” She stood and headed directly for the turbolift. “I’m going to go and find out what unlucky sod is awaiting my fury in the brig.”

    Belying is age, Katanga quickly jumped onto his feet and joined her before she could disappeared inside the lift.

    She pierced him with a sidelong look. “I don’t need you holding my hand on this one.”

    “And yet I can’t help feel that that is exactly what I should do.”

    * * *​

    Star and Katanga found Nora Laas waiting for them outside the brig. She turned to the doctor first. “He does not appear to be injured.”

    “If you don’t mind I’ll be the judge of that.”

    The Bajoran nodded and led them both into Eagle’s detention complex which featured a number of cells. Only one was currently active with an invisible force field keeping the sole prisoner confined.

    “He’s Valerian.”

    Star offered the security chief a surprised look and then stepped up in front of the cell to see for herself. Indeed the man sitting on the cot was unmistakably Valerian with his craggy face, a prominent ridge running over his nose and high into his brow, long purplish hair and two round nostrils under his eyes. He appeared to be middle aged which Star considered particularly lucky as it hopefully meant that he had been a ranking officer on the pirate vessel, perhaps even its captain.

    “He hasn’t spoken a word since we beamed him onboard.” Nora took up position to Star’s left.

    Katanga had since retrieved a medkit and using the medical tricorder inside he scanned the prisoner. “Well, Lieutenant, it appears your instincts were correct. Other than a few superficial scratches and cuts he is in good overall health.”

    Star focused on the man in the cell refusing to make eye contact. “I am Commander Tazla Star and you are on the Federation starship Eagle[/]i. We are holding you as a prisoner following your acts of piracy against cargo vessels in this sector.”

    He turned to look at the Trill. “Federation.” He didn’t sound particularly fond of that term, in fact he nearly spat the word. “This is neutral space, you have no jurisdiction here.”

    She shrugged. “Maybe not. But it also doesn’t stop us from playing the role of Good Samaritan and protect those who cannot protect themselves. Besides you have wantonly attacked and damaged Federation starships. We don’t take kindly to that.”

    “You fired first,” he said angrily. “We merely defended ourselves.”

    Katanga grinned. “He’s got you there.”

    She gave him a scolding look, letting him know that he wasn’t helping, before she glanced towards the Valerian once more. “This time, yes we did. But you have already demonstrated your willingness to attack Starfleet vessels trying to protect the shipping lanes in this sector. So really, it’s you and your band of pirates who have escalated this matter. Now, that doesn’t mean this has to all end in bloodshed. I am more than willing to discuss a peaceful solution. All you have to do is give us the location of your base of operations. We will dismantle your ships and take your ringleaders into custody but allow the rest of you to go free.”

    Instead he just turned away. “I’m not telling you a thing.”

    “You should really consider that offer. It’s the best you’re going to get. We have two ships looking for your base now which means sooner or later we will find it. And if you force our hand and needlessly drag this thing out, a lot of people are going to get hurt.”

    But he clearly wasn’t interested in making a deal the way he kept his back to their jailers.

    Star shot the security chief a brief glance. “Lower the force field.”

    Nora didn’t hesitate and the barrier disappeared.

    “What are you doing, Taz?” Katanga’s tone was foreboding.

    She didn’t pay him any attention. “Wait here.” She stepped into the cell.

    This caused the pirate to actually turn around. “What is this?”

    “You are going to talk to me, one way or another.”

    He shook his head. “I know your type. You are a Federation starship officer. You won’t use force on a prisoner. You can’t.”

    “Ordinarily you’d be right. But there is one thing you should probably know about me,” she said as she stepped closer. “I wasn’t always a starship officer.”

    He took a few steps back until the wall left him no further room for escape. His face turned into a mask of fear when he spotted those hard eyes focusing in on him. They spoke of something dark and sinister hiding behind them. Of a person willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wanted. A person not afraid to step over lines others would not dare cross.


    She stopped then and turned to look at a concerned Elijah Katanga.

    “Do you remember that road we talked about?”

    Star turned back towards the frightened Valerian and then with a small sigh she let him be and turned to exit the cell. “Relax, I was just trying to scare him.”

    “Sure you were.”

    With a sudden cry the pirate had relocated his mettle and rushed towards Star who still had her back towards him, standing just outside his cell. With the force field still down he had a real chance to get to her before she could defend herself.

    The Trill turned around only to see Nora Laas quickly step into the cell and right towards the charging pirate. But she didn’t reach for her phaser clipped to her waist. Instead she raised her arm and swung it out wide so that her biceps struck the man right under his neck even while he was charging at full speed.

    The force of the hit cut out the feet underneath him just before gravity claimed him and pulled him onto his back, causing him to crash onto the floor of his cell with a loud thud.

    Katanga was the first to react after that and quickly took a knee next to the fallen man, scanning his prone form with his tricorder. “You damn near crushed his trachea, Lieutenant.”

    She shrugged as she looked down. “Reflex.”

    “Well, next time, use your reflexes to stun him with your phaser instead.” He applied a hypospray right to the side of his neck. “Much more merciful.”

    Star joined the doctor. “Will he be alright?”

    The pirate gasped for air just then and Katanga nodded. “He’s gonna be sore for a while but he’ll live.”

    Star looked him over as he reached for his neck but clearly still far too dazed and hurt to do much more than that. Then she stood and turned to the security chief who didn’t look particularly penitent over the actions she had taken. Star had no desire to reprimand her over them. “What do you make of the fact that he’s Valerian?”

    “Not all that odd. From what I understand Valerians are fairly common in this sector. No surprise the pirates would recruit amongst their ranks.”

    Star nodded in agreement.

    “Commander, we have to find a way to make him talk. And soon. The longer we are out here the longer we aren’t able to support the captain if he needs us. And I’m not comfortable with that.”

    “Neither am I.”

    “So far I am less than impressed with both of your attempts to make this man cooperate with us.” Katanga continued to monitor the prisoner. Then he looked up. “Both of you need to seriously reconsider your approach. And I want him moved to sickbay. At least until I’m satisfied that he is recovering.”

    Both women frowned.

    Katanga stood and squared his shoulders. “I apologize, I don’t believe I made myself clear. That was not a suggestion.”

    Star aimed her old friend a hard stare which did nothing to but cause the veteran doctor to stare right back, easily matching her intensity. She lost the impromptu contest of wills when she flinched first and shot a brief look at Nora. “Lieutenant, see to it please. But I want him under guard twenty-four seven.” Then she turned on her heels and left the brig.

    * * *​
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2015
  6. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    I've a sinking feeling that it's more than just coincidence that Valerians are all the way out here causing trouble. This has to be connected to what's happening on their homeworld.

    Star's willingness to bend the rules and take unnecessary risks in order to complete Mahoney's mission as quickly as possible has turned out to be problematic. The enemy is tougher and more wily than she gave them credit for, and Eagle has suffered damage as a result.

    Fortunately, she's got Dr. Katanga nipping at her heals, keeping her on the right side of the tightrope she's walking. The trick will be if he can keep her there.

    Wonderful stuff, CeJay! :)
  7. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Owens, Deen, Belore and Chief Magistrate Yoral had been escorted to a nearby detention complex under surprisingly heavy guard. No less then twelve well-armed Marines had almost entirely surrounded their prisoners as they had been walked to their cell.

    Owens found it to be an old-fashioned design, using doors, walls and bars instead of force fields, no doubt to safe on energy which seemed to be in scarce supply on Valeria. The sparse cell contained just two cots as well as two hastily added thin sleeping mats and a small washroom alcove which afforded very little privacy. The room wasn’t quite as sterilely clean as a brig on a starship but it wasn’t exactly filthy either. It did contain a particularly bad and lingering smell as if somebody had died in this place once and the odor had never been fully masked.

    Deen headed for one of the cots as soon as the guards had locked the doors behind them and let herself fall down on it. “Put a note in your log, I’m officially changing my view on Lam.” It was clear there was no way she could maker herself comfortable on the utilitarian bed. “He’s most definitely not the very model of modern major general.”

    “I’m not so sure.” Owens had remained close to the sturdy doors to spy through the barred window to determine how many guards had been left behind. “If I’m not mistaken that particular character was meant as a mockery. If nothing else, General Lam is making a mockery of what it means to be dedicated to one’s mission.” He found that only two Marines had remained to guard their cell. But they stood entirely out of his reach while keeping a close eye on the door itself.

    “I cannot believe I agreed to this ridiculous meeting.” Yoral puffed angrily before turning to Owens. “And you and your ludicrous promises. You have achieved nothing but get me imprisoned, you fool.”

    The captain nodded slowly. “I admit I underestimated the lengths to which General Lam is willing to go to continue this war.”

    “Yes, yes, you certainly did that.” The short Valerian was not appeased. “You greatly underestimated and see where your incompetence got us.”

    Deen stood and quickly came to her commanding officer’s defense “That is not fair, Magistrate. The captain had the right intentions and the stronger argument. He did everything he could to try and make Lam see the pointlessness of this war. How could we have known that he was so obsessed with Valeria?”

    He considered the Tenarian for a moment as if to reconsider his next words. Turned out even her charm was not sufficient to calm him on this occasion. “You could have been here for he last two years. But no, your Federation was never interested in what was happening on this planet. They didn’t care that they had put a mad man in charge of their soldiers.”

    Owens did not feel like defending himself any further and went to sit down on the cot instead.

    Deen was not so willing to concede. “The Federation had no idea that Lam had gotten this out of control. If they had known—“

    “If they had known what would have happened then, huh?” he said. “Would they have stopped whatever else they were doing at the time, stopped fighting your mortal enemy and come here to protect us Valerians?” He smirked when he found her struggling to confirm this.

    Her shoulders slumped visibly at having to admit the truth.

    Yoral turned to find Owens again who had leaned back against the wall, seemingly staring at nothing. “If at least you had kept your starship in orbit we could have relied on their help now. I may not agree with General Lam on anything else but he was at least right about that. You should have never sent it away.”

    When Owens didn’t respond Deen decided to jump in again, shaking her head. “It wouldn’t have made much of a difference,” she said. “With all the transporter and communications scramblers in effect on this planet Eagle would have had a hard time trying to free us. Besides, if she hadn’t left there is a chance that General Lam would have managed to take her over and use her resources to help him fight this war.”

    “Yes, yes.” He annoyance at the entire situation was still in evidence. “And maybe he would have managed to secure swift victory and the war would have ended in short order. This war must end, I do not care by what means.”

    “But I do.” Owens looked straight at the magistrate now. “And I am not willing to be responsible for any more deaths on this world because of this war. Federation, Cardassian or Valerian.”

    “Very noble of you, Captain. But how precisely do you expect to accomplish this from within this cell?”

    All eyes turned towards the starship captain, either skeptically or hopefully expecting some sort of plan that would see them prevail in their mission to put a stop to Lam against all odds.


    “You cannot be serious,” said Yoral. “You mean the same man who stood by General Lam’s side while we were being arrested? That’s the best you can come up with?” Frustrated the magistrate turned away from Owens and the others. “We are all doomed.”

    “You have to admit, Captain,” said Belore. “The major appears to be firmly in General Lam’s camp. In fact I haven’t heard him say one bad thing about that man ever since we got here. He’s fiercely loyal and not a man who would turn against his own general.”

    “You are right, Gul Belore.” Owens nodded. “He is fiercely loyal but Lam is not his general.”

    Deen stepped closer to her friend. “He’s a Marine, Michael. Do you really think he’d turn against his own?”

    “We’re his own, too. He’s our best chance to get out of here.”

    Before either Deen or Belore could respond, a loud explosion in very close proximity shook the room and forced everyone in the cell to cover their ears and fear for the ceiling to come crashing down on them as it began to rain small debris.

    When his ears had stopped ringing, Owens thought he heard weapon’s fire. He quickly jumped up and raced towards the door.

    “Any chance Wasco would organize a jail break?” Deen was still holding on to one of her ears.

    Owens nodded. “No. This isn’t him.”

    The two guards just outside had brought up their rifles but unfortunately for them they had turned the wrong way and before they realized that the assault was approaching them from the opposite direction it was already too late and they had been cut down by a number of phaser blasts. After that the corridor itself become almost eerily quiet safe for the sounds of alarms blaring from somewhere nearby and weapon’s fire being exchanged seemingly outside the complex.

    A familiar face stepped right in front of the door and regarded Owens through the bars of the window. “Hello there, Sky Knight. I suggest you take a few steps back.”

    He didn’t need to be told twice and quickly did as suggested, ushering everyone to the far corner of the cell.

    A smaller explosion did short work of the door which collapsed inward with a cloud of smoke and dust. Before it had even settled, Sharval stepped through, holding a large phaser rifle. She had exchanged her security forces uniform for dark civilian attire.

    “You are a sight for sore eyes, Captain.” The magistrate glanced gratefully at the Valerian before shooting Owens a brief but smug look. “Looks like we don’t need you or your kind to rescue us after all. Valerians will look out for themselves.”

    “Chief Magistrate.” Sharval wasn’t able to keep her own smile in check, apparently quite appreciating his words. “If you would like to follow me, I’ll get you of this place.”

    “With pleasure.” Without further delay he headed for the gap in the wall which had once contained a door.

    Belore took a step to follow him. “What about us?”

    Sharval considered the Cardassian and the two Starfleet officers, her phaser rifle, they noticed, still held up and ready to fire. “I’m really just here for the magistrate.”

    The Cardassian saw his chance and pressed it. “You leave us here and these Marines will capture us again in a matter of minutes. Help us get out here. We could be valuable allies.”

    Owens however was not convinced. “That is not a good idea.”

    “With all due respect, Captain, but if it’s between being at the mercy of General Lam and taking my chances with the Valerians, the choice isn’t that hard. And I’m not holding out much hope that your major will be of much help either.”

    Sharval shrugged. “I suppose there might be a certain advantage in having you around.” She looked straight at Owens. “All of you.”

    Belore took the invitation and joined her while Owens and Deen remained by the far wall.

    Owens glanced at Deen but even she seemed to agree with Belore. “Not much we can do from within a cell.”

    Yoral was getting annoyed with all the delays. “Can we please leave now? If we stay any longer this whole breakout would have been for nothing.”

    Owens finally nodded. “Very well.” He stepped forward with Deen close behind.

    Sharval graced him with a wide smile, then reached for her sidearm and tossed it to the starship captain who easily caught the weapon. “I knew you’d come along. Looks like we’re going to have some fun.”

    “I have no intention of firing at my own people.”

    She shrugged. “We’ll see, won’t we?” Then she hurried out of the door with Yoral and Belore.

    “Why do I have a feeling I’m going to regret this?” Owens glanced at Deen just before he rushed out of the cell to follow the others.

    Outside they found a few more Valerians, similarly dressed to Sharval and also carrying phaser rifles.

    “So, what’s the plan?” He glanced her way. “We won’t be able to just walk out of here.”

    “We’re getting out just like we got in,” she said. “No, getting out is not the problem. Staying out, that’s the tricky part. Lam is not going to be very happy to hear about losing you and your friends, I’m sure. He’s going to send half an army to come looking for us.” She led the freed prisoners down the corridor.

    Just as they turned around the corner they stopped suddenly when they found a single Marine standing in their way.

    Owens was quick to recognize the man. “Major Wasco.”

    Wasco quickly drew his phaser when he spotted the armed Valerians.

    Sharval raised her rifle but Owens pushed it away as he took a step closer. “Major, what are you doing here?”

    The man considered the group in front of him suspiciously, certainly not missing the fact that he was heavily outgunned. Owens may have kept Sharval from opening fire but the two other Valerians did not look as reluctant and they kept their aim.

    “I’ve come to see you, sir,” he said. “But it looks as if you’ve already made some other friends.”

    “Did you speak to Lam? Have you been able to convince him that he’s wrong about all this?”

    Wasco shook his head. “The general is not a man to easily change his mind.” He kept his weapon trained on the Valerians even as he spoke.

    Owens sighed at the dilemma. The notion of fighting the Marines was abhorrent to him. They were all on the same side after all. At least they had been during the war. And Owens had witnessed their strength, their bravery and their loyalty to him and his ship on more than one occasion over the last two years. He had never dreamed that he would have to one-day turn against them. It was then that he understood an important distinction. He hadn’t turned against Lam, Lam had turned against him and the rest of the Federation. And he had an army to back him up. An army, it seemed, which would follow him to the ends of the universe.

    “If we’re going to find a way to stop Lam we’re going to need you help, Major,” he said. “Come with us.”

    But there was obvious doubt in Cesar Wasco eyes now.

    “We don’t have time for this.” Sharval raised her rifle and before the Marine could take a bead on her, she fired, hitting him square in the chest and pushing him back into the wall.

    “No!” Owens rushed to the fallen man’s side.

    Deen shot the woman a baleful look and pushed down the barrel of her rifle. “You didn’t have to do that.”

    The Valerians freed her weapon easily enough but kept the muzzle pointed away from the fallen Marine. “I disagree.”

    Owens took a knee next to Wasco’s unmoving body, trying to find a pulse.

    Sharval stepped up next to him. “Calm down, Sky Knight. I just stunned him.”

    With relief he found a steady pulse on his neck and then stood, regarding her with dark eyes. “You could have told me.”

    “More dramatic that way.” She offered an easy shrug. “Now, would you mind terribly if we get the hells out of this damned, forsaken place?”

    * * *​
  8. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Interrogating their prisoner hadn’t gone very well. In fact he had not even volunteered his name and Katanga, showing off his dark humor, had taken to refer to him as John Doe while he was recovering in sickbay. To Star, the most frustrating part to all this had been the fact that she knew at least five different ways in which to make Doe sing like a bird. None of those of course were sanctioned by Starfleet and she had no interest in reverting back to her dark days or endanger the second chance she had been given. There were already more than enough people in her life who were actively trying to accomplish this and she was determined not give them any help.

    At least one of them was on his way to meet Eagle at high warp. She had tried to keep information about their encounter with the pirates and detaining one of their number from Sacajawea as long as possible. If they had managed to make Doe talk, she wouldn’t have hesitated to deal with the pirate base herself in order to resolve this mission quickly and spare herself any more encounters with her former first officer.

    But when Mahoney had finally been in touch, demanding an update, she’d seen no other choice but to let him know what had transpired. Unsurprisingly he had not been pleased about her silence on the matter and immediately ordered her to rendezvous with his ship.

    A soft chime from the tactical station on the bridge behind her interrupted her concentration and not a moment later Trinik offered his report. “Commander, we are being hailed by the Sacajawea?”

    Star, sitting in the captain’s chair, regarded Rachel Milestone instead, the young and petite woman who was presently in charge of operations. “How long to the rendezvous?”

    “Less than thirty minutes, sir. She’s really flying. Doing warp nine point five.”

    Star was hardly surprised. Mahoney had sounded furious when he had found out about her prisoner, or more precisely that she had failed of informing him of taking one straight away. Especially since he had not been able to accomplish a similar feat. And from her time on Sacajawea she understood that he was really pushing those engines.

    Culsten turned to look at the first officer. “Would you like me to increase speed, sir?”

    Eagle was doing warp six, a leisurely pace compared to the racing Sacajawea.

    Star shook her head. “I’m not the one in a hurry.” She was only telling a half-truth. Sure, she wanted to get this over with as soon as possible but she had no desire of setting new speed records while doing so. And if that annoyed Mahoney, so much the better.

    The tactical officer spoke up again. “Commander, the Sacajawea is still hailing us.”

    Star suppressed a sigh. “Very well, Lieutenant. Put him on screen.”

    Mahoney still looked incensed. Perhaps more so now that she had kept him waiting. He stood on his bridge and in front of his own chair as if too agitated to consider sitting down. “Commander Star, what took you so long?”

    She shrugged. “Just got to the bridge.”

    Culsten shot her a quick glance over his shoulder, probably surprised by the obvious lie.

    Mahoney, judging by his skeptical look, didn’t buy it either. He didn’t dwell on it. “You had strict instructions to advise me the moment you had made contact with an enemy vessel. I am gravely disappointed you failed to do so.”

    “We’ve discussed this already in private. Is there any point in rehashing this now other than to make my crew aware that you are not pleased with our efforts?”

    He frowned deeply, no having expected Star to put him on the spot like this.

    She kept a grin in check she felt coming on when she realized that she had been exactly right.

    Sacajawea’s captain decided to let it go and finally took a seat in his chair. “We will rendezvous with you in twenty-seven minutes. As soon as we arrive I want you to beam over so that we may discuss the progress you have made.”

    Star’s voice dropped noticeably. “We had an understanding.”

    “I am aware.” His grin spoke of little honest humor. “And I have no intention on joining you on Eagle. I asked you to come and see me.”

    She scowled at him but that was really all she could do. She had told Mahoney that as her condition for her cooperation she didn’t want to see him back on Eagle for the duration of this mission. She had expected this to mean that she didn’t want to be in his proximity in any manner. He had clearly decided to use semantics to get around this and Star was hardly surprised. But there was little point in objecting to this, especially not in front of the crew.

    “I’m sure you’re looking forward to visit your old ship, Commander. No doubt it’ll bring back memories.” His irritating grin remained on his features. “Sacajawea out.”

    She was left fuming after he had disappeared from the screen. She promptly got out of her chair and for once thankful Katanga wasn’t on the bridge to see her like this. But she didn’t care for anyone witnessing her sour mood and so she quickly headed for the turbolift. “Lieutenant Culsten, you have the bridge.” She almost hissed her words just before slipping into the waiting car.

    Not half an hour later, Tazla Star stepped foot onto a ship she had hoped she would never have to see from the inside again. And to make matters worse, a familiar face greeted her in the transporter room.

    “Welcome back. It is just so good to see you again and you look really good. Healthy as well. I am so very pleased about this.”

    She stepped off the transporter platform. “Permission to come aboard?”

    “Granted of course.” Sacajawea’s chief medical officer who was the only person in her welcoming committee considered her with what appeared to be a benevolent smile on his hawkish face. “There really is no need to stand on such formalities. After all we’re all friends here, aren’t we?”

    “Sure,” she said. “How have you been Doctor Newheiser?”

    “Oh, just splendid. We have seen more than our share of losses during the war so you might find a lot of fresh blood on the ship. In fact, I believe the captain and myself are the only leftovers from your era.”

    “A very brief era.”

    “Brief but distinctive. And you must believe me that I am incredibly pleased to see that you have recovered so well from— shall we say, the challenges you have faced?”

    She replied with her own little smile. Alan Newheiser probably knew more about those challenges than anybody else who had been onboard Sacajawea three years earlier. After all the man wasn’t just a doctor. Just like she had done, he too had played a second and very much clandestine role on the ship and for all she knew he was still doing so now.

    “And how is our mutual friend these days?” She was referring to the man she had once worked for and who was responsible for a number of things that had happened to her over the years. Most of them bad.

    He didn’t answer straight away and instead regarded her carefully, no doubt trying to ascertain if she was attempting to fish for information. “There are some things not worth reminiscing about.”

    She couldn’t help but agree even if he was clearly trying to evade the question.

    “And how have you been, Commander? Any health problems I should be aware of?”

    Newheiser was intimately familiar with her health situation and not just because he had been her doctor once.

    “I’m doing fine.” She fell back to half-truths once more. But she had little desire to share details with him or to let on that she had started a rehabilitation regimen which sought to cure her from the very addiction his boss had once used to control her.

    “Yes, I can see that.”

    She was quickly tiring of this conversation. “I believe Mahoney is looking to speak to me.”

    “Oh yes, of course.” He pointed towards the doors. “Quite eager to do so in fact. He’s waiting for you in his quarters. I’m sure you remember the way.”

    But Star didn’t move. Not straight away. She shouldn’t have been surprised really and yet she couldn’t believe Mahoney’s audacity to decide to receive her there.

    “Shall we?”

    Star nodded and walked out of the transporter room.

    Newheiser had remained right and she found her way easily. Even though this place had been her home for only four months and as such even Eagle was much more familiar to her by now than this ship, it was not a place she was likely ever going to forget. Her certitude in finding her way didn’t stop the doctor to stay with her.

    He attempted some more conversation, clearly trying to pry out more information out of her, but ever mindful that whatever she might say could find its way back to people she had no desire to have much knowledge about her at all, she kept her responses very brief.

    “Well, it has certainly been a great joy to see you again, Commander. Feel free to stop by sickbay anytime to catch up on old times.” He regarded her once more once they had reached the doors to Mahoney’s quarters.

    She nodded even though knowing perfectly well that she would never set foot into his domain ever again. At least not willingly.

    He responded with a parting nod and left her.

    Star worked up the courage she knew she was going to need and then activated the door annunciator. Mahoney quickly asked her to come in and she stepped into the very room which had once been part of her own quarters.

    Mahoney stood by the table and was in the process of pouring an amber colored beverage into two long glasses. He picked them both up and turned to his guest. “Commander Star.” He held out one of the glasses. “I believe to remember that you were partial to Saurian brandy.”

    She didn’t make a move.

    “I hope you enjoyed seeing Doctor Newheiser again. I thought it might be nice if you were greeted by an old friend.”

    “It was an incredible gesture. Thank you for that.”

    He held up the glass again.

    “I’m not thirsty.”

    Mahoney shrugged and instead emptied it with one large gulp before placing it back on the table. He kept hold of the second glass. “How does it feel to be back on your old ship, Taz? Does it bring back memories?”

    “Will you cut the crap? Do you want my report or not?”

    “What’s the hurry?”

    “I don’t know, you tell me? I wasn’t the one who nearly blew out my engines to make this rendezvous happen.”

    He considered her for a moment longer before stepping away and making use of the space of the large quarters. “It’s been a while since you’ve been here so I guess you don’t really know what this ship is capable of these days.” He indicated towards his surroundings. “Do you like what I’ve done with the place?”

    There wasn’t much to see. Star had never had much of a chance to personalize her quarters while onboard and other than hanging a few vanilla paintings, he hadn’t really done anything spectacular with it himself.

    She was getting agitated. “What the hell do you want, Evan? You made me come all the way over here when I made it clear I didn’t want to be around you and now instead of talking business your forcing this small talk crap. It’s in both our best interests to get on with things and get out of each others lives as quickly as possible.”

    He turned around then. “Is that so?”

    Star regarded him with sharp eyes. It wasn’t difficult to detect an ulterior motive in play.

    “You want to know what I want, Taz?”

    “More than anything.” She did nothing to hide the sarcasm.

    Mahoney stepped closer and held out the untouched beverage. “I want you to have a drink with me. Is that too much to ask for?”

    Her hard eyes continued to stare daggers into him but when he didn’t seem to back down she sighed and took the glass off his hand.

    Smiling, Mahoney refilled the other one and then joined her again, holding it up in the air to make a toast. “To old times.”

    “Whatever.” She took a small sip.

    He watched her carefully and then followed suit. “Did you know that I recently made a new friend?”

    She decided to let him keep talking.

    “And he was actually traveling on your ship before.”

    Her eyes widened, not liking at all where this was going.

    “Yes, he’s a very interesting man. Famous even. You’ve probably read his work on that scandal in the Federation council a few years ago.”

    “Atticus West.”

    He nodded. “That’s the fellow. The two of us had a terrific conversation. It turns out he is very interested in you, Taz. Not that I can blame him for that.”

    She put down her glass. “What did you tell him?”

    He smirked with self-satisfaction. “The truth of course.” He seemed to enjoy her rising anger. “That you were a terrific captain when you first came aboard three years ago. A little inexperienced perhaps in running a starship but that we complimented each other. That we made a really good team as long as it lasted.”

    “That’s complete nonsense and you know it.”

    His eyes hardened. “Yeah, well, I wasn’t quite ready to tell him about our more intimate relationship or how you eventually decided to drop me like a dead tribble. I didn’t give him details about that little mission of yours that went so horribly wrong. Not yet that is.”

    She took a step closer. “You know that’s classified. You could get yourself into a lot of trouble if—“

    “Not nearly as much trouble as you’d find yourself in, I guess.”

    “Evan, I swear if you—“

    “You do what?” His voice had taken such sudden volume she found herself at a loss for words. “What is it you think you can do if I try to tell the truth, Taz? Nothing, that’s what.” His tone normalized somewhat again and he took another gulp form his drink. He stepped closer to the Trill woman, forcing her to back paddle until she hit the bulkhead behind her.

    She smirked when he kept coming. “Is this it? Is this what you want then? Back to your old ways of extorting me for your own perverse pleasures? You haven’t changed a bit over the last few years, have you? You always wanted to be the captain and now that you are it seems to have made no impact on you whatsoever.”

    “Oh, I’ve changed, Taz, I’ve changed quite a bit and I’ve had plenty of time to think about things. Think about you.” He placed his palm against the wall and right next to her head, practically trapping her in place with his outstretched arm.

    “You’ve been thinking about me all this time?” An evil grin played on her lips. “I had no idea you had such a hard time getting over me.”

    “Don’t flatter yourself.”

    “I can see it in your eyes, Evan. You still want me, don’t you?” She began to unzip her jacket, noticing his eyes following her hand. “You still want this body” She didn't leave it at just the jacket and after a moment her crimson uniform shirt hung open as well to reveal a gray tank top. “Was it really that good for you or was it just the idea of sleeping with your captain that had you all excited?”

    He reached out and touched her face, brushing a few loose strands of her fire red hair behind her ear. “Don’t pretend you didn’t enjoy yourself.”

    “I’ll let you in on a little secret.” She let him move a bit closer and watched as his other hand slowly reached out for her hip before she drove her balled fist right into his solar plexus. “You were as miserable a lover as you are a person.”

    “You bitch.” He doubled over in pain but still managed to strike back viciously, hitting her right across her face.

    Star had been hit worse but the pain still stung and the force of the impact nearly caused her to collapsed to the floor. Instead she managed to extricate herself from Mahoney and put some distance between them. He came after her with murder in his eyes.

    “Don’t do this.” She slid across the table to keep it between them, knocking the bottle of Saurian brandy to the floor in the process. She had enjoyed hurting Mahoney but now realized that she had done herself no favors by baiting him like this. “We’ve both made mistakes. Let bygones be bygones.”

    He laughed out loudly. “Now you want to sue for peace? I don’t think so. I am going to destroy you, Taz, and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.”

    “Don’t be stupid. You think this is going to hold any weight?” She kept moving around the table trying to stay away while he followed her. “All I’m doing is defending myself from your unwanted advances.”

    “I don’t care how I have to do it. I don’t care if I have to tell West and the entire galaxy every last detail about that mission. I don’t care if I get thrown out of the fleet for this, hell, Command wants me out anyway. But I won’t stop until they strip you of your rank and uniform and they throw you back into that stockade where you belong. I won’t stop until you have nothing left.”


    “Why?” He pointed towards the bedroom. The very same which had been her bedroom once. “You know precisely why and what you did to me in these very quarters. You poisoned me! You damned near killed me when you pumped that drug into my system. Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to get over that? I’m struggling with the after effects to this day. Hell if not for Doctor Newheiser and his connections I would have ended up as a goddamned junkie on some backwater planet.”

    “Welcome to my life.”

    “You had not right!” He yelled at her but stopped trying to chase her.

    “I had every right.” She matched his intensity. “How deluded are you, Evan? You didn’t have to try and blackmail me and you sure as all seven hells didn’t have to try and take advantage of me. But I suppose you just couldn’t help yourself, could you? You are a sorry excuse for a man and you always will be. You got everything you had coming to you.”

    He smirked at her. It was a nastym evil kind of smile. “And you’re going to deserve everything you’re going to get.”

    The door chime sounded then, forcing both of them to look towards the doors.

    “Who is it?” Mahoney kept his hateful eyes on Star.

    The voice coming over the intercom sounded somewhat concerned. “Commander Leva, sir. Are you alright?”

    “Damn it, Commander, I said I didn’t wish to be disturbed.”

    “I understand but there has been an urgent development.”

    Star took the opportunity to zip up her uniform, wiped a few droplets of blood off her lips and tried to fix up her hair after a number of strands had come lose during their little dance.

    Mahoney straighten his as well. “Come in.”

    The doors parted and the half-Romulan stepped into the quarters. He did so cautiously, taking a moment to look around and then consider the two occupants as well as noticing the bottle lying on the floor, spilling its contents onto the carpet. “Captain.” He looked at the Trill second. “Commander.”

    She responded with a curt nod.

    “Is everything alright?”

    “Of course, why wouldn’t it be? I’m just debriefing Commander Star on Eagle’s encounter with the pirates.” He shot the Trill the briefest of glances before regarding his first officer once more. “You mentioned something urgent, Commander. We’re quite busy, please get on with it.”

    He nodded. “We’ve received a message from the Thulians. Apparently one of their colonies has been attacked by pirate ships and they are requesting our assistance.”

    Star spoke up first, recognizing her chance to escape Mahoney and this ship. “I better get back to Eagle.” She headed towards the doors without delay.

    “Commander Star.”

    She stopped and turned to face Mahoney once more.

    “Keep in mind what we’ve discussed here today.” He kept his facial features carefully schooled.

    “I don’t believe I’m going to forget any time soon.” She looked towards Leva.

    “I’ll escort you to the transporter room.”

    The pair left Mahoney’s quarters but didn’t exchange any words until they had reached their destination. Once there Leva turned to the young woman manning the control console. “Ensign, you’re excused.”

    She nodded sharply and stepped out to give the two senior officers the room.

    Leva turned to regard Star as soon as the doors had closed again. “Commander, your lip is bleeding.”

    She gently touched her mouth and found her fingers coming away with a few drops of dark red blood. “So it is,” she said. “Must have bit myself accidentally.”

    Leva wasn’t buying and watched her skeptically. “Sir, what exactly is going on between you and Captain Mahoney?”

    She shook her head. “It’s not your concern, Commander.”

    “I respectfully disagree. My new duties on this ship mean that I am now responsible for her safety as well as that of this crew. Not that I needed any more reasons to be suspicious since Mahoney gave me an entire speech about all the reasons why I shouldn’t trust you. But after seeing what I saw today, I can’t help but be very concerned about what is happening between the two of you.”

    She sighed heavily. She didn’t want to bring Leva into any of this. “I guess you figured that the two of us have some history from the time I was his captain here. Things went ugly between us after and he hasn’t quite come to terms with that.”

    It wasn’t very difficult to tell that Leva immediately understood that there was much more to what she had said. “Just tell me one thing, Commander. Is this going to get out of hand?”

    Tazla Star wanted to laugh out loud. She had hit Mahoney and he had struck her right back. By any measure of imagination things were already out of control. Instead she stepped onto the transporter platform, ready to have herself beamed back onto Eagle where she could look forward to at least some sense of normalcy again. She turned to face him. “Not if I can help it.”

    Moments later and after she had returned to Eagle, she realized that she may not have the last word in this matter. Mahoney had left no shadow of a doubt that he was going to do whatever he could to make sure that honor went to him instead.
  9. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    As if it wasn't out of hand already...
  10. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Getting out of the Marines detention complex had turned out to be almost as easy as Sharval had implied. What she had not mentioned however was the fact that they had to make their way through the city’s expansive sewer system for a good three miles to complete their escape.

    It had been the first time Owens had visited a sewer and he quickly realized that he had not missed out on much. He had read about them in old books and novels but even then he had never felt any desire to see one in person. It was dark, damp and a very cramped space. Worst of all was the stench which had put whatever smell had lingered in their cell to astonishing shame. And yet he couldn’t entirely deny that there was something exciting and adventurous about escaping prison through the local sewers and if the stakes hadn’t been as high, if they hadn’t been doing all this in order to try and stop a war, Michael Owens might have enjoyed himself a little bit, maybe even pretended this was some sort of holodeck fantasy adventure.

    He glanced at Deen and it wasn’t difficult to tell that the young woman wouldn’t have enjoyed this under any kind of circumstances. “Not quite what you’re used to, is it, Princess?” he said, using a nickname he had first bestowed upon her when they had met on her home world and which she had immediately come to dislike even if perhaps it wasn’t entirely inaccurate, considering she was the daughter of one of the her world’s most senior rulers.

    Her bright, shining blonde hair caught the little light in the narrow tunnel and reflected it, functioning almost like a torch. Her mood was anything but bright however and she shot him a dark look. “This place is really growing on me. As if the constant rain wasn’t enough, we also got thrown into a prison and now are slinking around in one of the most disgusting places I’ve ever set foot in.”

    “Speaking about setting your foot into things.” Belore pointed at a brown puddle into which the lieutenant had accidentally stepped into. “You really might want to watch your step down here.”

    Deen uttered a frustrated growl as she lifted her boot out of the puddle and finding something slimy and indefinable sticking to its sole.

    Belore seemed quite amused. “Starfleet officers must live a sheltered existence.”

    Owens shook his head. “No, just her.”

    “I am a scientist.” She explained even as she futilely attempted to rub off the sticky material from underneath her boot. “I have studied things that would make your skin crawl. I just don’t enjoy dirty, smelly, damp places filled with substances even a tricorder wouldn’t be able to identify.”

    The captain smirked at her. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

    “I’ll tell you as soon as we get out of this place.”

    “Then you are in luck, child.” Sharval received another disapproving look from the Tenarian who apparently appreciated being called a child even less than a princess. “We have arrived.” She paid little attention to the other woman’s displeasure and began to climb up a narrow ladder.

    The others followed her topside where they were once more greeted by Valeria’s never-ending rain and found themselves in a small yard surrounded by low buildings and in a part of the city Owens hadn’t seen before. A few uniformed security forces personnel were waiting for them there and for a moment Owens feared their escape had come to an abrupt end.

    But as it turned out the Valerians were all on the same side and after Sharval and her people had exchanged a few words, she handed Yoral over to them, explaining that it would be easier to evade those looking for them if they split up. “Besides,” she had said, “it’s much less of an effort to hide a fellow Valerian than three aliens.”

    “Sorry to be an imposition.” Owens offered a half-smile.

    She answered with another one of her easy shrugs. “We’ll manage somehow.”

    “I still do not understand why we had to leave Major Wasco behind though.”

    “I’m not usually accustomed to helping out people who pull a gun on me,” she said. “Besides, he was unconscious and he would have only slowed us down and made it more difficult for us to avoid your Marines.”

    “I guess I’m new to this whole being a fugitive thing.”

    “I’m confident you’ll learn.”

    “Let’s hope it won’t come to that,” said Deen. “I’d rather not spend the rest of my life being on the run and hiding away in sewers.”

    Sharval produced a number of dark blue, hooded cloaks for Owens, Deen and Belore to put on and explained that they would come in useful in hiding their identity and blend in where they were going.

    “And where would that be?” Belore asked after they had boarded a ground vessel just large enough to accommodate Sharval and her three companions.

    “If I could I would take you towards the eastern continent to a region a few hours from here. It’s one of the few remaining places on this world where neither Cardassians nor Starfleet troops are fighting each other.” She shook her head as she carefully piloted the vehicle down the road. “But there are likely far too many checkpoints we’d have to pass through to get there, especially now that Lam is looking for you. He’d be expecting us to try and head into that direction. I’m taking you to one of my safe houses just outside the city instead. With any luck Lam won’t come looking for you there.”

    “What makes you think that?” Owens noticed that they were leaving the scarcely populated capital city behind them and had entered into a dense wooden area. “Why do you think he wouldn’t look for us there?”

    “You’ll see.”

    After about an hour’s drive on increasingly smaller and narrower roads through the forest, they seemed to approach their destination when trees began to give way to expansive fields and rolling hills. Sharval piloted the vessel towards what looked like a large castle like building surrounded by high walls and sitting on top of one the tallest hills in the region. Small groups of Valerians were working in the surrounding fields or pushing old-fashioned carts along the dirt road.

    All of them, Owens noticed, were wearing the same style of robe Sharval had given them to conceal their identities. As they entered the grounds of the compound consisting out of a number of old stone buildings, he could see quite a few of these Valerians sitting in small clusters and praying or meditating.

    Deen made the connection first. “This is some sort of monastery.”

    Sharval nodded. “Yes. The monks and nuns here are from a peaceful order which shuns modern technology for the most part. They pride themselves in remaining neutral in any conflict but thankfully for us they are also obligated to help those in need and who have nowhere else to go.” She brought the vehicle to a stop in front of the steps leading up to the main building. “I believe that would be an apt description of our current situation, don’t you think?”

    But Owens frowned at that. “I’m not sure how comfortable I am with the idea of exploiting these people’s religious beliefs for our own gain.”

    “Relax, Sky Knight, there won’t be any need to spoil your immaculate Federation morality you are so proud of. This order’s sole reason for existence is to lend a helping hand to those who need one. They won’t enter their glorious afterlife if they can’t fulfill their sacred mission. So if anything, we’re helping them by letting them help us.” She shot him a grin before exiting the vehicle.

    Owens didn’t feel particularly reassured.

    “She was right about one thing,” said Deen. “We don’t really have anywhere else to go.”

    He nodded and then followed her out of the vehicle with Deen to join Sharval and Belore. The Cardassian, apparently suffering no moral hang-ups, had been one of the first to get out of the car.

    Sharval was already speaking to one of the monks. The elderly Valerian had pushed back his hood to reveal long white hair with streaks of blue and much of it finely braided. “Welcome back, Sister Sharval. I see you have brought us a few lost souls.”

    She nodded and then bowed respectfully. “Yes, Father Broyal, I have. If it is no imposition we would kindly ask for shelter and food for a few days and until we can find another place to stay.”

    Broyal smiled kindly at her and then at Owens and the others as well. Up close it wasn’t difficult for him to spot that neither of them were Valerians but if this in any way concerned him, he hid it well. “What is ours, shall be yours. Please just remember our single condition.”

    “Of course.” Sharval nodded. “None of us are armed and we will bring no weapons into your home.”

    Broyal bowed. “Then be welcome, all.”

    Sharval hid the vehicle in a nearby barn and then led the others into one of the smaller buildings making up the large monastery. The way she navigated the many rooms and corridors it seemed clear that she had been here many times before. It became even more obvious when she stepped into a large room which with a heavy wooden table at the center on which Owens found a number of padds as well as a few maps of the capital, the surrounding area as well as of all of Valeria.

    “Make yourselves at home.” She indicated towards a few makeshift wooden bunks that had been set up along the stonewall at the far side of the room. “If you are hungry you’re in luck, it is just about supper time and the monks should have finished preparing the evening meal. There’s a dining hall at the bottom of the stairs.”

    “I wouldn’t mind a bite to eat,” said Deen. “That is if I can wash the smell of those sewers off of me.”

    Sharval showed them to a nearby washroom and even found new clothes and shoes for them to wear until their uniforms could be cleaned. All four of them took the opportunity to freshen up. Belore politely declined a new set of clothes, preferring to stay in his armor instead. Afterwards he and Deen headed for the dining hall while Owens stayed with Sharval in the main room.

    She aimed a questioning look at Owens once they were alone. “What is it?”

    “I beg your pardon?”

    She leaned casually against the heavy table as she regarded the Starfleet captain. “You have been giving me this look ever since I came to break you out of that cell.” She crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Something between suspicion and I don’t know, maybe disappointment. In our culture it is much more common to thank a person who has risked their own life to help another.”

    “And I am thankful.”

    “Could have fooled me.”

    Owens sighed. “I truly am. I may not be happy about these circumstances and of being forced into the role of a fugitive from my own people but we had little choice after Lam decided to arrest us instead of facing reason.”

    “There is a but there, isn’t there?”

    Owens walked up to one of the windows in the room to take in his new surroundings. The rolling hills with patches of bright sunlight pushing through the irregular cloud cover gave this place a somewhat picturesque quality, even if the rain had shown no sign of letting up. He could spot the dense forest which lay between them and the capital city where General Lam was very likely marshaling his Marines to search for him and the others. He turned to face the woman who had freed him from Lam’s prison, finding her wearing one of her little bemused smiles again. “Where you responsible for the attack on the barracks?”

    The smile never wavered as if she had expected this very question. “That’s what’s been eating you up all this time, hasn’t it?”

    “Just answer my question.”

    She took a step closer to him. “Why does it matter? Will you storm out of here with indignation and throw yourself at General Lam’s mercy if I were to tell you that I am what your friends in the Marines call a ruthless terrorist?”

    “No.” He shook his head. “And I suppose you’re right. It doesn’t make much of a difference at the moment. I am stuck with you for now. For better or worse.”

    “Mostly better, I hope.”

    “But I defended you to Lam and the others and knowing that I was wrong about you—“

    “If it makes you feel any better we don’t have to talk about this. We can just pretend that I am just a concerned patriot who has only the best interests of my world and my people at heart and who would do almost anything to make sure they are both safe. And you know what?” Her grin widened slightly. “We wouldn’t even have to pretend very hard at all.”

    He nodded. “I suppose I can live with that as long as you agree that you will not use deadly force against Starfleet personnel.”

    “From what I understand nobody died in that attack on the barracks.” Sharval shrugged. “And if they don’t try to kill me or the people I care about, I won’t try to kill them. I think that’s a pretty fair deal.”

    Owens accepted that. He had little doubt by now that she had been responsible or at least played a large part in the assault on the Marine barracks and probably a number of other actions which Lam would have classified as terrorist attacks. But she was right that there had been no casualties in the latest attack. A great amount of damage and a number of wounded Marines, yes, but nobody had died. He wasn’t entirely sure if this had been planned or if it was simply fortuitous happenstance that things had turned out that way. And he also had no way to verify if any previous attacks had similarly resulted in no fatalities. He did know that she could have easily killed Wasco and the other Marines in the detention center but had chosen to stun them instead. For now that was good enough for him. “The questions then is, what do we do next? I am not just going to hide here and do nothing while Lam continues his war. And we’re not going to engage in guerrilla warfare with the Marines. It’s not effective enough and I am not willing to risk the casualties.”

    “Always the noble Sky Knight.”

    “Could we drop the nickname please? How would you like it if I kept referring to you as Land Maiden?”

    She smiled in response. “I would encourage you to do so,” she said. “Legend has it that the Land Maiden was the most ravishing and perspicacious woman in all the world. So there are obvious parallels right there.”

    Owens couldn’t quite help but return the smile. “Yes, I suppose you are correct.”

    “Is that a twinkle of amusement in your eyes?” She sounded almost surprised. “I don’t believe I have witnessed you smile more than once since our first encounter. Wasn’t even sure you were capable of it.”

    “I’m certain there is much about me you don’t know.” He stepped up to the table to look over the maps.

    She joined him. “I suppose you are correct.”

    Owens ignored her mimicking his tone and quickly found a map which showed him most of the landmarks he was already familiar with. The Federation embassy at the center of the capital city, the barracks just down the road and the detention complex a few blocks away. He even found the monastery on one of the maps of the surrounding area. Then he spotted something else not too far from heir current location. It was a grayed out area taking up quite a bit of space on the map. Somebody had scribbled a few notes in Valerian next to it which he wasn’t able to read. He did notice a crude drawing of the Starfleet chevron right at its center. He pointed at the area. “What’s this?”

    “That’s Lam’s new fusion plant he’s been building for the last few weeks. It’s been slow going thanks to Lam being short on resources but I’m fairly certain he’s getting help from somebody to make it operational.”

    “I recall General Lam mentioning this. In fact he wanted us to help him with the construction efforts.”

    “I guess it’s a good thing you are not,” she said. “But it won’t stop him altogether. We expect that it will go live within the next week or so.”

    Owens nodded as he tapped the map. “Lam needs this desperately. He doesn’t have enough energy to continue this war otherwise, they are already rationing wherever they can. Without this plant his plans for Valeria might just fall apart.”

    She looked at him. “Too bad you don’t believe in guerrilla warfare.”

    “This is different.” He shook his head. “It’d be a tactical strike and one with real consequences for Lam.”

    “Well, it’s a nice idea no matter what you want to call it but the place is practically guarded like a fortress. We’ll never get close enough to shut it down.”

    Owens stood upright again. “There must be a way to either destroy or otherwise render the facility useless before it can go operational. Can you take me to a place where we can have a better look at it?”

    She responded with a smirk, clearly enthused by his new attitude. “I like the way you think, Sky Knight. We’ll make a guerrilla fighter out of you yet. And I know just the place for a recon mission.”

    “Let’s not waste any time then.”

    “Before we go there’s just one question I’ve been burning to ask.”

    He turned to look at her expectantly.

    Her smile once again turned into a huge grin. “Do you really believe am as ravishing as the Land Maiden?”

    * * *​
  11. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Good Lord, where to begin?! :eek:

    Owens and party are actually forced to decide between remaining imprisoned by Lam, or joining an insurgency, a choice that’s going against all the captain’s training and intuition. Still, Lam hasn’t given them much choice in the matter, as it seems the good general has gone quite off the proverbial reservation.

    The fact that Owens is considering acts of sabotage against the Marines is testament to how awful, sordid, and complex this whole mess has become in such a short span of time.

    Oh, and fleeing through the sewers? I loved how Owens was reflecting that such an avenue of escape always seemed so much more palatable in fiction! There’s no doubt the Starfleet diplomatic team is in the shit… now literally! :guffaw:

    And Star vs. Mahoney… dear god I want that man to die, but slowly. He’s about as warped as any character we’ve seen in Starfleet in the UT universe. He lives solely to inflict pain and suffering on others, giving his actual Starfleet duties short shrift. Now that we’ve discovered what a monster he truly is, and how far he’s willing to go to exact vengeance on Star, I pity Leva all the more. It’s likely he’s the one who’s going to have to intercede to stop Mahoney and Star from murdering one another.

    All around fantastic work, CeJay.
  12. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    After he had escorted Star to the transporter room, Leva had returned to the bridge to find Captain Mahoney already back in his chair and having ordered a new course for Yarra III, a planet not too far from Ultima Thulia and the very same the Thulians had advised had come under attack by pirate forces. Sacajawea was heading there at maximum warp with Eagle not far behind.

    Judging by Mahoney’s determined visage, he was hoping he’d be able to catch the pirates in the act.

    Leva wasn’t entirely sure what had transpired in the captain’s quarters between him and Tazla Star. He had heard their loud and clearly agitated voices when he had approached the cabin which had seemed a good indication that they had been in the middle of a heated argument. When he had stepped inside, both their faces had been flushed and their body language tense as if their argument had gone beyond mere words. He had been in security long enough to read the situation. It had come to actual blows between the two officers, Star’s bleeding lip giving further credence to his theory.

    The fact that neither of them had seemed willing to discuss the incident, formally or even off the record, made it clear to Leva that much more had to be going on than a failed relationship some years ago.

    It was highly uncommon in Starfleet for senior officers to engage in violent altercations in this manner. This wasn’t the Klingon Defense Force, where he understood such occurrences were commonplace. Even while serving for a few years as a security chief on a busy starbase where he had broken up more than his share of bar fights and disorderly conducts brought on by bad judgment or inebriation, he had never once come across two senior officers, each responsible for the crew of an entire starship, to engage in such a manner.

    What made matters even worse had been the conversation he’d had with Mahoney before that episode and so he couldn’t help but be concerned that whatever this was could lead to a situation in which his loyalties would have to be tested. And if so, where would they fall if he had to decide between Tazla Star and Evan Mahoney, between Eagle and Sacajawea? He wasn’t entirely sure and dreaded to have to make such a decision.

    “Time to arrival?” Mahoney gave no outward sign that he had been engaged in some sort of physical altercation with a fellow officer just minutes ago.

    “At our current speed of warp nine point five we should reach the Yarra system in forty-six minutes but I’m not sure if we can keep it up.” Alendra looked at him from operations.

    Leva stepped up to the captain. “We’ve already taxed our engines significantly to make that rendezvous with Eagle.” Leva did his level best to keep any accusation out of his tone. At the time he had advised Mahoney not to push the engines so hard merely because he wanted to speak to Tazla Star in person as soon as possible. But the captain had been visibly upset at the time and insisted on maximum speed. He had called her actions a blatant disregard for his orders when she had failed to advise him of taking a pirate prisoner. “They may not take much more of this. I know Hendricks is concerned—“

    “I’ve served on this ship longer than your or even Hendricks, Commander, I know what these engines can do.” He didn't glance at his first officer as he spoke.

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Marjorie, long range scan of the system, can you detect any pirate vessels?”

    The Bolian shook her head. “Sorry, sir, our sensors are not quite powerful enough for a full scan of the system at this range.”

    Mahoney was not pleased by this response.

    “Sir,” said Leva. “Eagle has a more extensive sensor suite which may be able to give us more data about long-range starship activity.”

    The captain turned to look at the half Romulan with eyes mirroring accusation, as if questioning Leva’s loyalty to his own ship merely by suggesting getting help from Eagle.

    Leva also thought that Mahoney was likely in no mood to speak to Commander Star again so soon after the episode in his quarters. “I can request an uplink to their sensor equipment to carry out the scan myself.”

    To that the captain nodded. “Do it.”

    Leva acknowledged and then headed to his console to put in a request. A small smile came over his lips when he received a response from Commander Xylion, granting his request immediately and allowing him full access to Eagle’s sensors via a remote uplink. “We are connected, sir.”

    “Good.” He regarded the Bolian operations officer again. “Lieutenant?”

    It took her a moment to work her controls, it wasn’t every day she had to scan a system by using somebody else’s equipment. Thankfully Starfleet technology was fairly uniform across the board allowing her to get the results she needed without too much delay. “Scans show no starships in that system however I am detecting a number of recent warp trails.” She turned to look at the captain. “Consisted with those of Cardassian escorts.”

    “Damn, we’re too late.”

    Leva swiveled around in his chair. “The colony may still require our assistance.”

    Mahoney nodded. “Assemble an away team and prepare to beam down once we enter orbit around Yarra III.”

    The first officer nodded. He also planned to liaise with Eagle. As the bigger ship with the larger crew, they had more personnel they could dedicate to rescue operations. He decided not to mention this to Mahoney however. Instead he pointed at the operations officer. “Alendra, you’re with me.”

    The Bolian nodded smartly and handed over her console to a duty officer before following him into the turbolift.

    Leva ordered the lift to deck six once she had stepped inside. But only a few moments into their journey deeper into the ship, he asked the computer to stop the car.

    Alendra turned to look at the first officer with a questioning look on her cobalt-colored face. “Sir?”

    “Marjorie, I have to ask you about the captain.”

    She sighed and then turned to look away. “To be honest, I’d rather you didn’t.”

    Leva was fully aware that she had been reluctant to discuss Mahoney from the first day he had set foot on Sacajawea. Considering his own first impression of the man he wasn’t surprised. “I wish I had a choice. Tell me, have you ever witnessed him behaving violently?”

    She turned to look at him again. “You mean other than in combat?”

    Leva nodded.

    “No, not really. What is this about?”

    He didn’t want to tell her too much. She had been the first officer before him but there was no point in laying all of his suspicions on her. This was not for her to deal with anymore. “I’m just trying to get the measure of the man.”

    She was too smart to accept that. “This is about him and that Tazla Star woman, isn’t it?” She continued when he neither confirmed nor denied this. “I don’t trust that woman at all. I know she used to command Sacajawea before my time and most others still on board but rumor has it that she nearly got everybody on this ship killed in a bad way.”

    Leva shook his head. “Don’t pay attention to rumors.”

    “I admit that I’ve had my concerns about the captain especially since he became more and more reclusive but he was finally getting out of that odd mood when we started chasing down these pirates. And then she shows up, drags up bad memories and the captain is understandably affected by all this.”

    “Something bad happened between Mahoney and Star but I’m not entirely confident that the captain is completely blameless in the matter.”

    She regarded him carefully. “What are you saying, Commander?”

    He sighed. “I am concerned that whatever their history, it may start to affect our ability to function as a cohesive unit.”

    At that her eyes widened noticeably.

    “I just need to know that I can rely on you if some sort of crisis would arise because of all this.”

    Alendra took a moment to allow this to sink in. “My loyalties are to this ship and her captain, Commander.” She turned to face the turbolift doors again, signifying that she was done discussing this.

    “Of course they are.” He suppressed another sigh. “Computer, resume lift.”

    By the time Leva reached the transporter room via a detour to his office which on this ship really just meant the antechamber of his quarters, he had already spoken to Commander Star on Eagle to coordinate their efforts and then found Alendra and Doctor Newheiser waiting for him, along with a couple of armed security guards and two medics carrying equipment. Leva didn’t miss that the security guards and medics were terribly young men and women, probably mere weeks out of basic training.

    The Bolian woman avoided eye contact when he first stepped into the room. Newheiser was not so shy. “Commander, the bridge just called to let us know that they have not been able to make contact with the surface. The colony consists out of six-thousand people according to the Thulians. We may need additional medical personnel.”

    “I have liaised with Eagle and they will beam down more teams but only after we’ve completed an initial sweep of the area and we know what we’re dealing with. The pirates may have left behind some surprises.” He strapped on a phaser to emphasize the point.

    Newheiser nodded. “Of course, we have to be careful. But I’m quite looking forward to meet my old friend Elijah Katanga.”

    “Mahoney to transporter room, we’ve just entered standard orbit. You may proceed. Bridge out.

    Leva indicated to his team. “You heard the man.”

    The three officers and four crewmen placed themselves on the platform and moments later the transporter disintegrated their bodies down to their molecules only to reassemble them a few seconds later and thousands of miles below.

    So’Dan Leva found it to be a hot planet, or at least that particular part of Yarra III. The single sun, shining brightly and intensely down on the mostly flat and barren surface. It was not a place he would have chosen as a colony. But of course he didn’t know much about the Thulians. Nobody really did and this environment may have been ideal for their requirements.

    Not twenty paces away Leva spotted another team materializing out of blue columns of light. The Eagle away team was led by Lieutenant Commander Xylion and consisted out of Nora Laas, Doctor Katanga and a pair of security officers and medical personnel.

    Eagle’s science officer and temporary XO approached the group from the Sacajawea. “The Thulian colony lies immediately beyond this ridge.” He pointed at a slight rise about four to five hundred yards in front of them. They had chosen this beam in location on purpose in case the pirates had laid a trap within the colony. “I suggest we approach with care.”

    “Agreed, Commander.” Leva wore a little smile, feeling an immediate sense of familiarity settling in from working once again with the crew of the ship he had served on for so long. “Laas and I will take point.”

    “Very well.”

    Leva glanced at Nora and the Bajoran security chief stepped up next to him and then walked at his side as they headed out towards the colony.

    “What’s the word from the ship of damned?” she whispered after they had set out.

    He skewered her with disapproving sidelong look. “Becoming more damned by the minute.”

    “I know Star came over to see you. I don’t think I ever seen in her in such a foul mood before.”

    “Same can be said about Mahoney.”

    “I don’t like this, So’.”

    He uttered a little sigh but didn’t respond, forcing himself to focus on their more immediate mission instead.

    He debated for a moment if he should have made some introductions but dismissed the idea, they had more important things to attend to. Besides, he could hear Newheiser already seeing to it.

    “Doctor Katanga, such a pleasure to meet you again.”

    “Uh, yes, nice seeing you too, Doctor … ?”

    “Newheiser. Alan Newheiser. We’ve met at a medical conference on Casperia Prime a few years ago.”

    “I’m sure we did. I apologize, Doctor, as you can imagine at my age I have attended so many conferences over the years, to be brutally honest after a while it all just becomes a bit of a blur. Please don’t feel offended I didn’t recognize you.”

    Leva couldn’t help but smirk. Clearly Newheiser, who didn’t seem to have anything further to say on the subject, wasn’t nearly as close to Katanga has he would have liked.

    They had nearly reached the top of the rise when Alendra consulted her tricorder. “Readings appear to be inconclusive.”

    “I’ll show you what’s not inconclusive.” Nora pointed at the dark smoke rising from just beyond the rise.

    Xylion had his tricorder out as well. “Agreed. We should proceed with extreme caution.”

    Leva nodded and looked over the combined team. “Spread out and confirm phasers are on stun.”

    Alendra and Xylion put away their tricorders and reached for their weapons and then stepped up along with the four security guards while the doctors and the medical team made up the rear.

    They slowly made their way to the very top of the ridge and were rewarded with a good view of the colony just below. Or rather, what little remained of it.

    “God have mercy,” said Katanga as he reached their position.

    And yet it was clear as day that no deity had shown any in this place. The colony had been wiped off the face of this world. The only things that remained were deep craters in the soil as evidence of heavy orbital bombardment and dark scorch marks where once buildings had stood. None were left. Any medical help for those who had once inhabited this colony would have come far too late as it was obvious even to the most optimistic observer that nobody could have survived an assault of such devastating scale. The attackers had made absolutely certain of this.

    Leva immediately understood that this was no rescue mission. This was purely recovery.

    * * *
  13. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    I don't envy Leva the choices he's going to have to make between the loyalty he has towards his former shipmates, and the loyalty he owes his captain as the XO of Sacajawea.

    And not only are these pirates especially well armed, they've no mercy whatsoever, as the smoldering remains of the colony so colorfully attest.

    As ugly as things have become on Valeria, they're no less dire out here for the shipboard personnel.
  14. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    It hadn’t taken them long to get to a spot from which they could get a better look at the fusion plant. Sharval had taken Owens, Deen and Belore on a short twenty-minute trip in her ground vehicle until they had reached another forest. From there they had walked perhaps two miles or so through mostly dense vegetation which had offered some protection from the rain, until they found themselves at the edge of a small valley. Sharval had handed them all binoculars before they had set out and just to be safe they had approached the last few yards crouching on their bellies and until they were positioned close to a precipice.

    In the valley below and between them and an expansive shoreline further to the North, Owens spotted the power plant, a collection of four large, square buildings as well as a large empty adjacent space which looked very much like a landing port. All of this within a walled compound perhaps the size of Eagle’s saucer section. It looked fairly close to completion, in fact he could hardily spot any external works remaining, leaving him to speculate that they were most likely finishing off construction to the fusion generators inside those buildings before the plant could go live and provide the energy which Lam needed to run his army.

    He took a look through the binoculars which allowed him to zoom in closer. The most discouraging discovery were the large number of Marines protecting the facility, stationed in a number of sentry towers spread along the thick walls as well as patrolling the outside of the compound. Owens guessed there to be at least a hundred Marines in total but probably more. Considering that Lam had been concerned about a shortage of troops, the numbers he had deployed to protect this facility gave further proof of how significant he considered it to his plans. It also made Owens’ much more difficult.

    “As you can see, Lam takes protecting this place seriously.” Sharval was lying directly next to Owens. “A ground assault is pretty much out of the question.”

    “What about from the air?” Deen had placed herself on Owens’ other side and was equally spying through her binoculars.

    “Perhaps if you still had a starship in orbit,” she said. “But even then you’d be lucky to get a target lock with all those scramblers throwing off sensors. See those little rotating spheres on top of the walls?”

    Owens zoomed in closer to focus in on one of them. They weren’t very large, perhaps the size of human head. He had never seen anything quite like it before but he couldn’t admit to be an expert on ground warfare either. “What are they?”

    “Smart launchers,” said Sharval. “One or two of them can be devastating enough but there are at least two dozen down there. More than enough to blow anything that comes too close out of the skies. Even hives are likely not going to make much of a dent. That’s if they can get through the shields.”

    “What are hives?” Deen glanced at the other woman.

    “I’ve heard of those.” Belore nodded slowly but didn’t take his eyes off the compound. “Miniature drones which act almost like insect swarms. They were developed by the Dominion for ground bombardments.”

    “Sounds lovely.” The Tenarian returned her attention to her binoculars.

    Belore shook his head. “I admittedly do not have a significant military background but I would estimate we’d need close to a thousand men to get past those walls and the guards to take control of this power plant.”

    Sharval shook her head. “There aren’t a thousand men in all the Valerian security forces in this region.”

    “What about a military unit?” said Owens.

    “We don’t have one.”

    He gave her an astonished look.

    “What? We are a peaceful people. We used to have a small defensive fleet before Lam pretty much disbanded it. But other than that we never had a need for a standing military.”

    Deen slowly nodded her head in agreement and Owens could understand why. After all she herself hailed from a race of people who shunned all military conflict, had pretty much overcome the need for violence centuries ago. But while the Tenarians had been lucky enough to find themselves in a remote pocket of space, the Valerian sector was anything but. Not with the Cardassians and the Breen as neighbors. No wonder General Lam considered them vulnerable enough to require protection from an opportunistic would-be Cardassian occupational force. No matter how misguided his intentions.

    Belore glanced at the other. “What if we secured additional reinforcements from other regions?”

    The Valerian was still not convinced. “It still wouldn’t be enough. Certainly not to take control of the plant. It would be a suicide mission.”

    “I don’t want to take control of the plant, I want to destroy it.”

    “And prey how, great Sky Knight, do you plan on accomplishing such a magnificent feat?”

    He ignored her and instead looked towards Deen and Belore. “I want you two to walk around the edge of the valley and get a look at that facility from every angle. See if you can identify any kind of weak points, blind spots or other vulnerabilities that would allow us to possibly sneak into the plant undetected. But stay hidden and don’t get any closer. Let’s not give them an opportunity to take prisoners again.”

    Deen nodded. “Don’t worry, after last time, I have no desire to get another taste of General Lam’s hospitality.” She crawled back and away from the ledge again and Belore followed her moments later.

    Sharval looked after her for a moment. “She likes you, doesn’t she?”

    “Who Dee?” But his focused remained on studying the compound through his binoculars. “I told you, we’re close friends. I’ve known her since she was a child, ever since my ship came across her home world on my very first assignment out of the Academy.”

    The Valerian scooted a little closer to Owens until her body was practically touching his. “Come now, I’ve seen the looks the two of you exchange. There is more there than just friendship.”

    He put down the binoculars to regard the woman at his side, suddenly so close he could easily smell her fragrance. It wasn’t at all unpleasant. But she had one of those wide grins plastered to her face again, making it difficult to know if she was being serious or just trying to get a reaction out of him. “Trust me when I say we’re just very good friends. Besides, as you have noticed, she’s still very young.”

    “Sure.” She shrugged. “But what does age have to do with it?”

    Owens uttered a sigh. “She’s like a daughter to me, alright?”

    “You’re not that old. Are you? Truth be told I can’t tell with humans.”

    “I suppose not quite old enough to be her biological father, no.”

    “Well, then maybe the attraction is one sided.”

    “Do you mind if we spoke of something else? Such as finding a way to destroy that power plant.” He was doing his level best not to let his exasperation at her chosen conversation topic show in his tone. “I really rather think that should be our priority right about now.”

    “You’ve been here a couple of days. I’ve spent months thinking of ways to do this and haven’t come up with anything.”

    He looked right into her eyes. “Maybe you haven’t thought of everything. Ever consider that you might not have all the answers?”

    She bit her bottom lip. “I like you when you show some attitude.”

    “Sharval, please—“

    “Hey, you notice something.” She looked up and towards the sky.

    It took him a moment to realize what she was talking about. Then he understood. “It has stopped raining.”

    She nodded and then looked past the plant below and towards the shoreline a few miles to the North and the ocean at the horizon. It had gotten late and Valeria’s large sun had begun to set, giving the impression of the massive star slowly descending into the sea in an array of colors ranging from bright orange to dark crimson spreading across the watery surface, giving the appearance as if the sun was slowly melting into the ocean itself.

    It was one of the more stunning sunsets Owens had witnessed.

    “You know, the story of the mighty Sky Knight coming to save the precious Land Maiden and her people from the Ancient Enemy is one of my favorite legends of my childhood. In it there is this moment when the rain stops during the sunset and the Maiden gazes longingly into the sky. It is told that in that brief moment, as the gods take a short respite from their arduous tasks of keeping the stars in the sky, they are predisposed to listen to the wishes and desires of mere mortals.”

    He looked at her. “Who is this ancient enemy?”

    She shrugged. “Just stories parents tell misbehaving children. Personally I think the legends of the mysterious and dangerous Ancient Enemy are based on historical facts. But nobody knows who they are. My guess has always been the Breen. Mysterious and dangerous seems to be an apt description for them.”

    Owens offered a nod, fully aware that it wasn’t usual for ancient myths to be based on at least a kernel of truth.

    “In the legends it was at a moment just like this that the Land Maiden asked the gods for a miracle and they delivered her the Sky Knight.”

    Michael Owens watched the Valerian woman as she looked towards the sunset again and brushed a few strands of long purple hair away from her face. He had never quite expected Sharval, a captain of her world’s security forces, a secret rebel, a jokester and quite clearly a free spirit, to have such a sentimental side to her as well. And yet as he regarded her sharp profile so close to him, he also had to admit something that he had, in fact, noticed from the very first time he had met her, being shoved to the ground by overeager Marines who in hindsight may not have been all that wrong about her after all. She was beautiful. Not like DeMara Deen, she didn’t posses any of that youthful and ethereal quality or innocence the Tenarian was naturally blessed with. On the contrary, her beauty was much more earthly and accessible. And even her often brutal honesty had a certain charm.

    She turned to look him right in the eye, perhaps thinking of him and his qualities as much as he was about her. Then she leaned in, she didn’t have to very much, they were already close enough to touch, and she pressed her lips against his.

    Against his better judgment he opened his lips and their tongues met as their eyes closed. After a moment they slowly parted again and she uttered a little sigh as she looked back into his eyes almost as if she had expected there to be more. “I’ve never kissed an alien before. It’s interesting.”

    He wasn’t sure what came over him in that moment but he wasn’t ready to just leave it at that. “I can do much better.” He reached out for her face and gently guided her lips back onto his, this time taking the initiative, he kissed her with a passion that even surprised him.

    Her eyes were sparkling at him when it was over. “Oh, Sky Knight. That was good.”

    “Michael,” he said softly.

    “Right. Can we do it again?”

    It was only then that it started to dawn on him what a very bad idea this had been. When he had been much younger he had frequented a number of areas not to different to this one where he and his girlfriend would spend hours doing little else than what he had just done with Sharval. But none of those places had been on an alien planet, engaged in a violent war and while he was scoping out power plants which he was determined to blow to high heavens.

    Before he could consider the inappropriate nature of what they were doing any further he could hear footsteps. He turned and was relieved to find that they belonged to Deen as she stepped out of the forest behind them. That relief quickly vanished when he spotted her face. Her eyes filled with concern.

    He quickly crawled away from the edge of the cliff and a moment later Sharval followed.

    Owens couldn’t immediately tell the nature of Deen’s perturbations and if they were related to her task of finding a weak spot in the power plant’s defenses or if they were about something else. Inexplicably he found himself hoping that it wasn’t the latter. “Are you alright? Where’s Belore?”

    She nodded slowly. “I’m fine. We split up to cover more ground.”

    Owens nodded.

    A subdued beeping sound from a small device on Sharval’s wrist caught his attention. She inspected it and frowned.

    “What is it?”

    “I’m not sure. I think it may be a message but the comm scramblers in this area are too strong to get a clear signal. I need to get back to my vehicle, it carries more powerful equipment.”

    He nodded. “Go ahead, we’ll wait for Belore and then follow you.”

    Sharval took off and Owens painfully realized that he was left alone with Deen. Something that shouldn’t have been an issue at all except for the fact that he felt a certain awkwardness between them all of a sudden. Maybe even an irrational tinge of guilt. “Did you find anything?”

    She shook her head. “I’ve looked closely at the eastern and southern sides of the facility and I couldn’t find anything that looked even remotely like a weak spot.”

    “Perhaps Belore had more luck.”

    Her purple eyes practically skewered him. “Did you get a chance to spot anything else?” Her voice was cooler than usual. “You seemed a little distracted just now.”

    He considered her carefully. “We were discussing options.” He sounded lame even to his own ears.

    “Didn’t look like that’s what you were doing.”

    “Where you spying on us?” He tried to sound outraged by the idea.

    “I wouldn’t call it that.” She shook her head. “Why? Were you doing something you’d rather keep a secret?”

    Owens frowned at the young woman he had known for the majority of his Starfleet career. He couldn’t remember her ever sounding quite so malicious before. “If there is something you want to say, just say it.”

    “It’s just that I don’t think that this is the time or place to get involved with that woman. We came here to complete a mission. A very important mission. To end a war.”

    “You don’t think I know that?”

    “Oh I see.” She took a few steps away before turning back to face her captain again. “So you are just doing your part to foster a working relationship with the local population. Is that it?”

    “You are out of line, Lieutenant.”

    “I’m out of line?” She sounded genuinely astonished now. “And what would you call what you’ve been doing with Sharval?”

    Owens took a few steps towards the Tenarian to make sure he could keep his voice low. Then he looked right into her sparkling eyes, brimming with more than their usual intensity. “You know, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’re jealous.”

    She laughed at that. But it wasn’t the same sound he was accustomed to. It didn’t contain half the warmth and honesty it usually did. “Jealous? Don’t be ridiculous. If anything I’m worried about you.”

    “How’s that?”

    “Well for one there’s your relationship with Donners. Or at least I think there’s a relationship. I knew how terrible you felt about that whole cheating affair and the time travel episode. And now here you are with that woman. I thought you had learned from your mistakes.”

    Michael uttered a heavy sigh and this time it was he who turned away to spare himself her accusatory glances. She was right of course. He had strong feelings for his fellow starship captain and Academy friend Amaya Donners. Always had, even back when they had been in San Francisco together. Back then there had been another woman however and he had made the fateful mistake of trying to carry on with both of them. It had naturally ended badly and ruined a valuable friendship. Much later he had been given the unexpected chance of a lifetime to fix his past mistakes. And it had only been a few months since his relationship with Donners had promised to finally go to places he had always secretly hoped for it go. Was he really willing to endanger all of that for Sharval? Had he truly not learned from the mistakes of his youth as Deen had pointed out?

    Belore returned then stepping into the clearing, shaking his head as soon as he spotted the two Starfleet officers. “This place puts a Cardassian citadel to shame. I really cannot see a way to even get near it.” But neither Owens nor Deen were paying him much attention. “Did you have any luck?”

    The Tenarian shook her head but keeping her eyes on her captain. “No, no luck at all.”

    “We may need to consider a new plan then.”

    Owens turned away from Deen only very slowly but then quickly realized that they didn’t have the time to consider his personal life any further. Deen had been right about another point. They had a mission to accomplish. “You might be right. Let’s go find Sharval.” He headed back out into the forest beyond which Sharval had left her vehicle.

    They spotted her after just a few minutes, practically running towards them.

    Owens could see the anxiety on her face as she came closer. “What is it?”

    “The Marines.” She was slightly out of breath after running back to find them, needing a moment to catch it again. “They are moving against the monastery.”

  15. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Following their discovery of the eradicated colony, Mahoney had taken Sacajawea to attempt and chase down the pirates responsible by following the warp trails they had discovered while Eagle remained in orbit around Yarra III to fully investigate the scene.

    Star was naturally relieved that Mahoney had decided to split up again, clearly his desire to eliminate these pirates which now appeared more ruthless then ever trumped his wish to see her destroyed, as he had put it. At least for now. Of course it wouldn’t be too difficult for him to accomplish both his goals. Once she had returned from her painful encounter with him she had found out that he hadn’t bluffed about Atticus West. The FNS reporter had in fact left Eagle during their previous encounter with the Sacajawea and had remained on that ship, no doubt on Mahoney’s suggestion. She had thought it unlikely at first that he would go as far as reveal classified information to the reporter and thereby endanger his own career, but she knew better now. The man had become obsessed with trying to tear her down even if it came at the cost of his own commission. There wasn’t anything more dangerous in Star’s book than a man with nothing to lose.

    She forced herself to stop obsessing about the threat to her own career. There was little she could do at present to foil Mahoney’s plans unless she was willing to chase down Sacajawea, bring Eagle’s more formidable weapons to bear and blow her out of the stars. Had it not been for the two hundred or so innocent crewmembers on board, she was actually quite fond of that idea. Her many critics within Starfleet would have been hardily surprised if she had done just that. Instead they would’ve basked in the knowledge that they had been proven right all along in insisting that Star was dangerous and unfit to ever wear the uniform.

    She was fairly determined not to give them that kind of satisfaction. Plus, mass murder really wouldn’t look too good on her already tainted resume, she decided with a little smirk, trying to find the humor in her quickly disintegrating life.

    With those dark thoughts banned to a far corner of her mind for now, she stepped into main engineering where she found Xylion, chief engineer Louise Hopkins and Nora Laas standing around the table-shaped master control station. “What did you find?”

    “Not a lot.” The Bajoran shook her head. “They didn’t leave us with much.”

    “What we have been able to establish with certainty,” said the Vulcan science officer, “is that the attacker used photon torpedoes against their target. The latent energy signatures are consistent with matter/antimatter projectiles and we were able to detect trace elements of torpedo casings.”

    “Could you tell the origin of the torpedoes?”

    Hopkins took that one. “These were just trace elements but we are fairly certain they were Cardassian made.”

    Star nodded. “Which would be consistent with the warp trails we found in orbit.”

    “And we know that the pirates like to use outdated Cardassian ships.” Nora crossed her arms in front of her chest as if she had spoken the last word on the issue, as if the mystery had been solved.

    But Star wasn’t entirely convinced yet and considered for a moment what she had learned. Then she glanced back at Xylion. “You said attacker. Singular. Do you believe only one ship was responsible for this?”

    The Vulcan offered a minuscule nod. “We have been able to trace the torpedo paths by analyzing the ion trail disturbances left in the atmosphere when they were deployed. We were able to determine that a total of twelve projectiles were fired from a single vessel in low orbit.”

    Nora noticed Star’s thoughtful expression. “What are you thinking?”

    She looked up at the Bajoran. Even though Star had been a starship captain once, she had never been very good at sharing her thoughts with others. Even back then she had preferred to take in the information her crew provided her but rarely had that been a two-way street. Since coming on Eagle she had started to learn that people tended to work a lot better when they shared their thoughts openly. She couldn’t help but wish she had realized that two years earlier. Perhaps her life wouldn’t have taken such a drastic turn into the wrong direction. “We’ve detected multiple warp trails, implying more than one ship arrived here. But only one fired on the planet, why?”

    “It may be possible that they decided they required only one vessel to destroy the colony. Turned out they were right.” The young chief engineer looked over the computer readouts again.

    “Then why bring more?”

    Nora looked at the first officer. “An escort perhaps?”

    Star nodded slowly but obviously not yet won over by that theory. “Commander, how long do you think it took that ship to fire twelve torpedoes and destroy the colony?”

    The Vulcan worked a computer station to gain access to the requested data. “Judging by the decay rates of the ion trails, I would estimate that the attack lasted a total of at least eight minutes and twenty-six seconds.”

    “If they had used two or three ships they could have easily halved that time, reducing the chance of being intercepted or take damage from ground defenses.”

    Hopkins shook her head. “From what we can tell the colony never returned fire.”

    The first officer regarded her with a surprised look. “Over eight minutes and they just sat there and took it without once returning fire?”

    The security chief shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe they didn’t have defenses.”

    “Would you set up a colony this far from your home world in a less than stable sector without means to defend itself?”

    She shook her head. “I wouldn’t, no.”

    Granted, Star didn’t know much about the Thulians, even with her extensive intelligence background, but she was fairly certain they were not pacifists like some races she had come across who stubbornly insisted on refusing to use weapons of any kind, even in self-defense. “Something just doesn’t feel right about this.” She didn’t miss the empty looks she received from her officers in response. “I think we need to have another chat with our guest.”

    * * *​

    Only a few minutes after their meeting in engineering, Star and Nora Laas entered the brig. John Doe had since been returned to his detention cell after his stay in sickbay and over Elijah Katanga’s objections. But this time Star had stood firm. After all the pirate had quickly recovered under the veteran doctor’s care and she saw no reason why he shouldn’t be kept locked up as long as he was unwilling to cooperate with them.

    She found the Valerian man lying on his back on top of the retractable cot of his cell which had to be a lot less pleasant than the biobed in sickbay. The two women stepped up to the force field but the prisoner took no notice of their presence. Instead he kept staring at the ceiling.

    Star grinned. “Comfortable, Mister Doe?”

    “That’s not my name.” He made no eye contact.

    “Seeing that you have not provided us with one, what would you prefer us to call you instead?”

    “I would prefer you did not speak to me at all.”

    “Tell you what. You start sharing with me everything I want to know and I promise I will never come to see you again.”

    “And rot in some sort of Federation penal colony for the rest of my life? I don’t think so.”

    Nora Laas offered a cold stare. “What makes you think that you’re not going there anyway?”

    But Star was still willing to make a deal. “My offer from before stands. I just want the ringleaders. The rest can go free. So the choice of heading to prison is really your own.”

    “Have you ever considered that perhaps I’m a ring leader?”

    To that Nora uttered a little laugh. “You just don’t seem smart enough.”

    It got a reaction out of him and he sat up on the cot to glare at the Bajoran through the force field. “Why don’t you come in here and say that to my face?”

    She regarded him with a puzzled look. “Really? You want that? After what happened last time? Tell me, are you a glutton for punishment by any chance?”

    He crossed his arms defiantly. “I have nothing further to say to you.”

    “Fine, then just listen,” said Star. “After your friends’ unprovoked attack on what appears to have been an unarmed Thulian colony, this little piracy game your playing here just got a whole lot more serious. You’re associated with a group of mass murderers now, which means whatever restraint we have shown up until now is going out of the airlock. We will hunt them down and bring them to justice no matter what. And if they continue to resist, we will not shy away from using deadly force.” Her voice carried a razor-sharp and threatening edge now, one she had perfected when working deep cover in the Orion Syndicate and it left very little doubt that she meant business. “You’ll find we’re not your grandfather’s Starfleet anymore. Not after fighting the Dominion for two years. If nothing else, they’ve taught us a very important lesson. When we see a threat, we will take action. And we’ll do so quickly and without compromise and before it has a chance to truly hurt us.”

    She could feel Nora’s eyes on her, probably not quite having expected such a tone and she most likely wondered how much of what she had said she truly meant and how much had been merely an act to force their prisoner to talk. Truth be told, she wasn’t entirely sure herself.

    The Valerian pirate’s eyes had widened slightly however, showing at least some evidence that he hadn’t entirely dismissed her words as he stared back at the Trill commander. But he still refused to speak. Silence settled over the brig for a moment.

    “Have it your way. But know that whatever happens next will be solely on you. Know that you could have stopped it all.” Star turned on her heels to head back for the doors. Nora remained only a heartbeat longer, shooting the man in the cell a poisonous glare, before following the commander.

    “It wasn’t us.”

    Star stopped just before she had reached the doors and turned back to find John Doe now standing near the force field of his cell. “Say again?”

    He shook his head. “We didn’t do this,” he said. “The attack on that colony you mentioned. It wasn’t us.”

    “And how can you be so sure?” Nora had also turned to face him once more. “You were our guest while this attack took place. Perhaps your friends decided to escalate matters in your absence. Perhaps even as retribution for us taking you prisoner.”

    “I don’t believe that.”

    Star took a step closer to the man. “You have to give us more than that.”

    But he was obviously reluctant to do so. “I suggest you have a closer look at those Thulian freighters.”


    He shrugged and stepped back to his cot, lying down again and returning to stare at the ceiling. “I’ve given you enough.”

    Star and Nora exchange brief glances before they left the brig and stepped into the corridor outside.

    Nora faced her the moment the doors had closed behind them. “Don’t tell me you believe any of this? He’s bound to say whatever it takes to try and disassociate himself with his mass murdering friends.”

    Star considered her words for a moment. “It wouldn’t hurt to look.”

    “Commander, may I remind you that we need to go back to Valeria. It’s been two days already and the captain may require our help. Instead we’re out here on a wild goose chase. As chief of security you have my support but even that will only go so far. My main concern is with the captain.”

    Tazla Star nodded. Some months earlier Nora would have been a lot more blunt about her disagreements so she couldn’t help but at least appreciate the restraint on her part. Of course it didn’t change anything. She was in charge of Eagle at present and she was going to give the orders even if they were an extension of Mahoney’s. And she couldn’t abandon them just yet. Not until she could figure out a way to stop him from getting her thrown out of Starfleet. Was that selfish of her, she wondered? Perhaps, but she also couldn’t help but feel that there was more to this pirate hunt he had committed them on than met the eye.

    “I’ll note your objections in my log, Lieutenant.”

    She shook her head. “I don’t want you to log my objections. I want you to resolve whatever this is and get us back on mission.” Without another words she turned to walk down the corridor.

    The Trill sighed. “Commander Star to bridge.”

    “This is Culsten, sir.”

    “Lieutenant, are there any Thulian freighters currently in range?”

    The helmsman only needed a few seconds to find out. “Yes, sir. There is one about four hours from our present position at warp eight. It’s heading towards Federation space on a routine shipping route.”

    “Set a course to intercept and engage. Star out.” She watched Nora Laas disappear into a turbolift further down the corridor. If only things were as easy as she had implied, Star thought to herself. When it came to the mess that was her life, it seemed as if they never were.

    * * *​
  16. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Owens had insisted they headed back towards the monastery even if both Sharval and Belore had strongly suggested to avoid it at all cost and attempt to locate a new safe house now that the Marines had seemingly successfully picked up their trail. But as far as Michael was concerned, he couldn’t live with the idea that the monks who had taken them in would come to harm just because they had given him and his fugitive allies refuge. He still hoped Lam’s men wouldn’t go that far, after all they were part of Starfleet, trained to protect the innocent, but Deen had been right when she had pointed out earlier that Marines were a different kind of breed. Their allegiance was unquestionably to General Lam and he was certain that it overrode whatever Federation ideology they should have followed.

    He wasn’t sure what he and the others could do to stop them from possibly ransacking or even injuring the peaceful monks and nuns that had been so willing to help them but he was determined to at least try.

    Sharval approached carefully and didn’t steer her vehicle directly towards the monastery. Instead she headed for a small hill a few hundred yards away and stopped at a spot that was partially concealed by a number of large trees.

    All four occupants disembarked and made use of their binoculars to get a picture of what to expect. Owens immediately spotted the small shuttle in the courtyard. It was fairly similar in design to the ones they carried on Eagle, but instead of the white livery with red stripes, this one had an olive tint and judging by its smaller nacelles, he suspected it wasn’t warp capable, perhaps not even designed for orbital or outer space operations.

    “I am counting five Marines,” said Deen. “And wait—is one of them Major Wasco?”

    Indeed it was. He was standing next to an Andorian Marine Owens also recognized and the two of them seemed to be questioning Father Broyal. Three more heavily armed Marines were standing nearby, holding their assault rifles at the ready as they carefully studied the buildings from the outside

    Owens nodded. “Yes. But thankfully they only sent a small scouting team.”

    “Reinforcements won’t be far behind.” Sharval kept her eyes on the Marines as well.

    Belore had joined also. “If we are lucky, these monks will not tell them anything and all we have to do is wait for them to move on.”

    And so they waited and hoped. But those hopes were soon dashed when two Marines entered the building and a short time later reemerged holding what Owens quickly recognized as a couple of Starfleet uniform jackets. It was his own and Deen’s which they had left behind after they had changed into clean civilian attire.

    Wasco considered the pieces of clothing and then turned away from the monastery to carefully take in the surrounding landscape as if looking for somebody.

    “Get down.” Sharval flattened herself to the ground and the others followed instinctively.

    When Owens spied through the binoculars again he could see the major’s face as he looked into the distance. Wasco knew they weren’t in the monastery anymore but he rightly suspected that the people he was looking for hadn’t gone far.

    Sharval could see it too. “We need to get out here.”

    The Cardassian nodded. “I agree.”

    But there was something on Wasco’s face which made Owens hesitate. He couldn’t quite place it but it gave him pause “And go where? It doesn’t appear there is any place on this planet they won’t find us.”

    Deen glanced at Owens. “Getting off it is not currently an option.”

    Sharval carefully got back on her feet and headed towards her vehicle.

    “Where are you going?” Owens turned to follow her.

    “I don’t know if you had noticed but if you want to stay and confront them, we are at a serious disadvantage.” She got back behind the controls. “Get in.”

    Owens and the others boarded the ground vessel again and Sharval quickly had them on the move once more. Thankfully the whisper quiet electrical engine would not draw much attention.

    Owens shot her a quizzical glance. “What are you thinking?”

    “You’ll see.”

    She didn’t head directly back to the monastery. Instead, after a very short drive, they approached what Michael thought to be a barn like building, most likely housing livestock or supplies. Sharval parked the vehicle behind it and they disembarked.

    Inside the barn they found a number of four-legged animals, most of which had thick gray fur with dark spots, a little smaller than cows but larger than sheep, many with single horns growing out of their foreheads. Owens suspected that they fulfilled similar roles as the two Earth species. They seemed pretty docile and didn’t pay their humanoid guests any mind, much more interested in munching on their food instead.

    Sharval led them to the far corner of the building and indicated towards an area with a number of wooden barrels. “Help me with these.”

    On her instructions, Owens, Deen and Belore assisted Sharval with moving four heavy barrels filled with foodstuffs to one side to than allow her to remove a tarp on which the barrels had rested and locate a hidden trap door underneath. With Owens’ help she lifted a wide chest out of the hiding place.

    She opened it to reveal an assortment of weapons. Owens recognized two Cardassian rifles, a compact Bajoran carbine and a few disruptor pistols, also of Cardassian design.

    Deen looked over Sharval’s shoulder to take note of the small arsenal. “I thought you were not supposed to have weapons here.”

    She glanced up at the Tenarian. “Really? You’re going to give me a hard time over that now? Besides, Broyal didn’t want me to bring weapons into the monastery. Technically we’re outside of it.”

    “Good enough for me.” Owens took one of the rifles and passed it on to Belore. Sharval kept the carbine and he handed Deen one of the pistols while he kept the second rifle. It wasn’t a weapon he was used to but after quickly looking it over he found all the usual functions even if much fewer than on a comparable Starfleet weapon. He was relieved to note that it did have a stun setting. Michael had no intention of trying to kill a fellow Starfleet officer. “I am still not comfortable with firing on my own people.”

    Sharval stood and activated her weapon. “Well, you better get comfortable. And quick. Because you’re the one who wanted to stay. And if we do, I don’t see a way around a fire fight.”

    “I want to try and appeal to Wasco again.”

    Sharval smirked. “He might not be in such a good mood after last time.”

    Deen shot her a dark look. “That would be thanks to you.”

    She just shrugged at that.

    The Tenarian considered Owens next. “So, what’s the plan?”

    “We need to find a way to get Wasco alone.”

    Belore had moved back towards the main doors which had remained partially open. He turned back towards the others. “It appears as if they are coming to us.”

    That caused Owens and the others to join him. They spotted one of the Marines slowly making his way towards the barn, carefully sweeping the area with his weapon.

    Belore took aim with his disruptor. “I think I can take him out.”

    Owens shook his head. “Hold your fire.”

    But the Cardassian pulled the trigger anyway. Owens watched as the amber-colored beam went wide, missing the solitary Marine by a couple of feet. In response the man threw himself to the ground and pretty much out of sight.

    Sharval skewered Belore with piercing scowl. “What kind of Cardassian soldier are you?”

    He shrugged. “Really more of a diplomat than a soldier.”

    While they couldn’t see the Marine anymore, he apparently seemed to have a good idea where they were and promptly returned fire. The entire barn trembled slightly when he hit the outside wall. The animals took notice.

    Owens and the others quickly slipped into cover as the Marine fired again. This time he managed to find the opening between the doors and the phaser beam struck a support strut within the building, causing the entire barn to rattle even more.

    The livestock quickly became agitated, bellowing loudly they apparently correctly gathered that their home had become a very unsafe place to be. It took another phaser strike to convince them to make for a swift escape.

    Owens turned towards their berths to see about a dozen angry and scared animals freeing themselves and heading towards the only exit. The very same he and his team were currently taking cover behind. The options it seemed were either to be trampled to death by a stampede of infuriated beasts, be impaled by their sharp-looking horns or otherwise attempt to stay ahead of the animals and flee out of the doors only to become an easy target for the Marine outside.

    It was then that he spotted the two ladders attached to the wall and flanking the gate, leading to the barn’s upper level and he quickly gestured towards them. “Go up!” He reached out for Deen who stood closest to him and pushed her towards the nearest ladder.

    He made sure she was on her way to climb upwards before he glanced at the opposite side of the barn to find that Sharval and Belore had found the ladder there as well. Then he reached out for the rungs and followed Deen.

    Not a moment too soon it turned out as the first animal came racing passed him, taking out the lower rungs of the ladder while doing so and then with the combined bulk of its friends, they tore the main gate wide open to rush out of the building.

    Once Michael had made it to the safety of the upper level he glanced across again to see Sharval give him a nod to indicate that she was alright. Balore had taken a knee beside her.

    The second floor of the barn was really just a couple of ledges attached to the outside walls and overlooking the gate and the main floor below. Owens indicated towards what had once been the doors and the others nodded and trained their weapons in anticipation of the Marines making a move through the only entrance.

    Now that Belore had already opened fire, he didn’t hold much hope that they would be able to talk to Wasco. The Marines would come after them and they would come in shooting. Their only hope was to try and stun them all and perhaps then he’d be able to talk some sense into Wasco. Truthfully he didn’t like their chances. These were men and women trained for exactly this kind of thing. And far better than regular Starfleet officers like him and Deen or a diplomat turned soldier like Gul Belore. Sharval could hold her own in a fight but her security training had most likely not prepared her to fight Marines in combat.

    Five tense minutes passed with barely a sound coming from outside other than the soft trickle of rain against the buildings tin roof. Even the agitated animals could no longer be heard, either because they had calmed down or because they had long since fled the scene.

    Lying flat on her belly next to him, with her pistol pointed at the entrance below, Deen ventured a cautiously optimistic look towards her captain. “Maybe they’re not coming.”

    Two small cylindrical devices rolled through the torn-down doors.

    Owens needed a second to figure out what they were. By then it was already too late. He tried to shout out a warning even while he diverted his eyes.

    The explosion turned his vision into a sheet of white nothingness and caused his ears to ring painfully, unable to hear anything but a terrible high-pitched screech. He felt a sudden sickness building in the pit of his stomach. He forced himself to ignore it all and opened fire, unable to see or hear clearly, he could only hope he was getting the general direction right.

    When his senses slowly returned, he could hear additional weapon’s fire having joined his own. He could see figures taking shape below but they were nothing more than dim outlines in the foggy surroundings which had become his world. He did his best to aim at them anyway.

    He heard a loud grunt coming from the other side of the barn and when he looked up he saw a figure doubling over and falling from the upper level. Michael felt a sense of momentary panic, hoping it hadn’t been Sharval who had been hit.

    Then he felt the ground underneath him suddenly give way. Somebody, he wasn’t sure if it hadn’t been the Marines or one of his own people, had hit another support strut, possibly by accident.

    “Hold on!” He felt gravity take hold of the ledge and the entire thing went tumbling towards the floor below.

    The impact was painful but had been soften by large bales of hay located all over the barn. He heard a lot of scrambling and did the same when he realized that the entire upper level was coming crashing down on them. He somehow managed to keep hold of his rifle and stumbled back onto his feet once he thought he was in the clear.

    His vision was almost back to normal now and one of the first things he spotted was a Marine who must have jumped out of the way of the collapsing upper deck and who was trying to pull herself back up.

    Owens didn’t hesitate and struck her right in her solar plexus before following up with another hit close to her neck as she bend over, causing the woman to collapse back to the ground. He wasn’t proud of it but he knew that she wouldn’t have hesitated doing the same.

    A second Marine stood nearby, still distracted by the destruction all around him and Michael quickly drew a bead. His weapon however refused to fire, either because it was old and out of regular use or out of energy, he wasn’t sure. And he had no time to check as he threw himself at the man, dragging him down with him.

    He tried to knock him out quickly with a blow to the head but Michael only managed one good hit before the other man brought up his arms to block him and protect himself.
    It was only then that Michael realized that trying to take on a man who must have spent the better part of his day training for pretty much exactly this kind of situation, who had to be at least ten years younger and was in far better shape had not been his best ever idea.

    The Marine struck back with the heel of his palm and the force of the blow nearly caused Michael into unconsciousness. He hung on but couldn’t stop the Marine from trying to get off his back.

    They rolled across the barn floor, knocking over another Marine in the process, almost like a bowling pin, and until they hit one of the animal berths with Owens still on top but purely by sheer luck.

    The Marine got out his knife but Michael managed to knock it out of his hand before he had a chance to bring it to bear. In doing so he couldn’t stop the man’s other hand which grabbed hold of his neck, squeezing it with an impressively firm grip.

    But before the Marine could prove hat he was able to throttle a man with a single hand, Owens felt another hand taking hold of his shoulder, pulling him off the Marine with such force he landed on his back a few meters away.

    When he looked up again he saw the blue face of Sergeant Thelos glancing down at him. He placed his heavy boot on his chest and applied pressure. Still feeling the pain of being nearly choked to death, the boot pressing down on his torso made it very difficult to breathe. Thelos had a large smirk on his face, revealing rows of white teeth as he leveled his phaser rifle, the business end pointing directly at his head. Here was a man who clearly took far too much pleasure from his job.

    There was nothing Michael could do to stop him and he knew even if that rifle had been set on stun, a direct hit to his head, at this close a distance, did not give him a great chance of survival. Judging by his amused facial expression, Thelos was aware of this. And more, he appeared pretty damn ready to pull that trigger.

    He didn’t get a chance as he was struck by an energy beam from behind, causing his eyes to open wide for a brief second just before he sagged to the floor not far from where he had pinned down Owens.

    Michael quickly looked around to find which of his allies he had to thank for this timely intervention.

    It turned out to be Major Wasco who quickly turned his weapon on the two other still conscious Marines. The man with whom Owens had tussled and who was getting back onto his feet and another woman who had been knocked over during their struggle and who also looked ready to rejoin the fight. “Stand down and drop your weapons. I won’t say it twice. Do it now.”

    The two Marines appeared confused for a moment, unsure why Wasco seemed to have turned on them but when they spotted the determined look in his eyes, they decided not to take chances and followed his instructions.

    Owens pulled himself back up very slowly, feeling most of the muscles in his body strained or bruised. But he also felt a great sense of relieve when he spotted Deen and Sharval emerge from the debris, covered in cuts and bruises but otherwise not appearing seriously injured. He couldn’t immediately see Belore anywhere.

    Sharval still had her own weapon and quickly drew a bead on Wasco.

    Owens raised his hand in her direction to stop her from firing. A coughing fit didn’t let him speak right away. “It’s alright.” He glanced at the major. “I’m pretty sure he’s on our side.”

    * * *​
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2015
  17. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    He had not left his station since he had returned from the surface of Yarra III and Mahoney had ordered them to chase down the Cardassian warp trails, ostensibly left behind by the pirates following their vicious attack on the Thulian colony, leaving it completely annihilated. And yet it weren’t those warp trails that had caught Leva’s attention as he ran a third computer simulation in a row to verify his results.

    Had he been on Eagle he would have run his findings by somebody like Xylion or Deen but Sacajawea really didn’t have any experienced science officers on board, a position which hadn’t been in high demand during the war, and the only other person he thought somewhat qualified to look over what he had discovered had pretty much done her best to avoid him since they’ve had their little talk in the turbolift earlier.

    He turned away from his station when Alendra spoke up suddenly. “Commander, I’ve lost the warp trail.”

    Noticing that Mahoney was not currently on the bridge, Leva stood from his station and headed towards the center chair but decided against sitting in it, remaining by its side instead. “Ensign, drop out of warp. Full stop.”

    “Aye, sir, coming to a full stop,” said T’Sara, the Vulcan woman at the helm.

    “Same as before?”

    Alendra nodded. “Yes, sir. It just vanished. I don’t think it’s due to regular decay either.”

    Leva considered that for a moment. It was the second warp trail they had followed and which had ended quite suddenly for no discernible reason. As the Bolian had rightly pointed out, warp trails weren’t all that reliable and tended to degrade quickly. They were often not a dependable way of chasing down starships. While one could fairly accurately determine which direction a ship had taken initially, as an experienced tactical officer, Leva knew that if you were trying to hide, you’d throw off any pursuers easily by carrying out multiple, random course changes before settling on your actual destination. It hadn't stopped Mahoney from still trying his luck.

    What was unusual here however was the fact that the warp trails hadn’t just degraded. They had simply vanished.

    “Can you register any possible pirate vessels in sensor range? Or are there any locations along this course which may lend themselves as a hiding place?”

    Alendra checked her instruments. “None, sir. It’s pretty much clear space for the next ten light-years.”

    He didn’t miss her clipped tone or the fact that she refused to even make eye contact with him.

    The doors to the adjacent ready room opened to allow Mahoney to step onto the bridge. “Why have we stopped? Did we find something?”

    Leva shook his head. “I’m afraid not. Just another warp trail leading us nowhere.”

    The captain glanced at the screen as if he could spot something there. Of course warp trails, even if one still existed, were invisible to the naked eye. “Damn.”

    Leva glanced at the captain. “I’m starting to believe that these trails have been faked. The way they simply terminate is very suspicious.”

    “You can do that?”

    “With some ingenuity it’s not too difficult to fake warp trails. It’s perhaps not something I would have expected from a group of pirates using outdated Cardassian technology but it certainly is possible.”

    “Alright, so we need a new plan.”

    Leva headed back to his station. “I might have something.” He took his chair and went back to work, quickly noticing that the results of his latest simulation had come back positive. “While we had the uplink with Eagle I helped myself to some of their data they’ve collected on the pirate vessels they have encountered.”

    Mahoney joined him, looking over his shoulder at his screen. “Well done, Commander. But how does that help us tracking down these pirates?”

    Leva activated a few controls to send his data to the large main screen at the front of the bridge. The empty starscape on the viewer was replaced with a three dimensional tactical map of the sector they were currently occupying. Sacajawea’s position was highlighted by a Starfleet chevron at its center.

    “I’ve had the computer analyze the approach and departure vectors of the ships Eagle has encounter and compared them to the ones we have dealt with as well as with the warp trails from the ships left behind at Yarra III.”

    They both turned to look at the screen which now showed the locations of all four pirate encounters, along with green and red paths which indicated the directions the pirates had most likely taken.

    “I think we may be able to extrapolate the general location of their base of operations. The only problem is that the warp trails leaving Yarra III do not match the others at all.” Leva pointed at the screen to show that the trails they had been following were taking them into an entirely different direction.

    Mahoney studied the screen closely. “So they’ve been trying to throw us off their scent. That’s hardily surprising.”

    “It is certainly a possibility. But if we were to disregard Yarra III altogether, we get this.” Leva entered a few more commands and removed the former Thulian colony from the equation. The remaining pirate paths all seemed to originate from the far upper quadrant of the map which was highlighted by a bright white border.

    Mahoney smirked. “Maybe we got too close and they used Yarra III to try and confuse us. I think we need to focus on that region of space.”

    “Sir, that is still a very large area,” said Alendra who had obviously listened to every word. “It would take two starships a week to search it all.”

    But Leva shook his head as he went back to work. “My thoughts are that as these pirates have only been operating for a short while, they likely didn’t have the time to build any significant structures and therefore would have chosen a location which would offer a suitable environment. We know from the prisoner Eagle has taken that they are most likely made up of oxygen breathing humanoids.”

    “A class-M planet?”

    Leva nodded. “I think so. There are five class-M worlds in that area of space.” After operating a few more controls, the five different worlds were highlighted on the map. “I believe we can safely rule out Onessias IV, it is too distant considering the speed and range of the ships the pirates are using. Iora II is also unlikely as it is home to a planet-wide industrialized civilization which would make it very difficult to hide amongst the native population. That leaves us with three possible locations.”

    Mahoney studied those planets on the screen after the two least likely options had been removed. “Merka VII.”

    “A planet with a harsh climate and high surface temperatures according to our records.”


    Leva nodded. “Could lend itself as a base. It appears to have recently emerged from a global ice age and Starfleet suspects that it was once home to a Breen colony.”

    “And Mittias IIIb.”

    The tactical officer stood. “The second moon around a ringed gas giant. There is significant electromagnetic interference throughout the system caused by high levels of gamma rays from a nearby hypernova explosion a few decades ago. It won’t affect the planet’s surface thanks to its atmosphere but it will render sensors unreliable in the system.”

    “The perfect hiding spot.” Mahoney’s grin widened as he focused on the last planet on the map. “That’s where we’re going to find our pirates, Commander.”

    “I think you might be right, sir.”

    The captain turned back to face his first officer. “With those pointed ears of yours one might be forgiven to mistake you for a Vulcan, but your cunningness is all Romulan.”

    “Half Romulan, sir.”

    “Whatever it is, I’ll take it. Well done, Commander.” He headed towards his chair and sat down. “Advise Eagle that we have found the pirates likely hideout and to join us without delay so that we may put an end to them for once and for all. Helm, set a course for the second moon of Mittias III. Warp nine.”

    * * *​
  18. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    The barn looked like a war zone after their firefight with the Marines. The entire upper level had come crashing down onto the floor below, destroying more than half of the animal berths and littering the ground with wooden debris. But all considering, Michael Owens actually thought the outcome wasn’t all too bad, in fact things could have been much worse. The property damage was a shame of course, but at least nobody had been killed.

    Thanks to Wasco’s timely intervention, the remaining Marines had been quickly neutralized. And only Belore had apparently been injured. He remained conscious and after making him comfortable on a small stack of hay, Deen had gone to find a medkit to treat his wounds.

    In the meantime, Michael had noticed that Sharval was favoring her right arm and appeared to be in pain even if she seemed determined to keep it to herself. “Are you alright?”

    She looked up at him from where she was leaning against one of the few remaining support struts. “Perfectly fine.”

    But he could see that she was not. He stepped up to her and gently touched her shoulder causing her to immediately pull away. It wasn’t because she was shy; she had already proven that the opposite was the case. “Stay still and let me have a look at you.”

    Begrudgingly she followed his instructions and uttered a short gasp of pain when he felt her shoulder again.

    “It’s dislocated. Must have happened when you fell from that ledge.”

    “Can you fix it?”

    He nodded. “I think so. Your anatomy is fairly similar to mine. But it will hurt.”

    At that she offered a crooked grin. “I didn’t think we would be talking about our anatomies so soon.”

    He aimed a frown at her.

    “Just do it. It already hurts badly enough as it is.”

    He gently turned her so that her injured shoulder was resting against the support strut. “I thought you said you were perfectly fine?”

    Before she had a chance to respond, he pushed her hard into the strut while holding on to her arm and shoulder blade until he heard an audible pop.

    She let out a loud and surprised shriek which drew the attention of the others in the barn and then turned and practically collapsed into his arms. “Damn you. A little warning would have been nice.”

    Now it was his time to smirk as he looked her in the eye, not missing that she was practically holding on to him and pressing herself against him. “Easier that way.”

    “For you or me?”

    “Well, do you feel better?”

    She moved her left arm effortlessly. “Looks like that did the trick,” she said and playfully looked up at him. “Now, where there some other parts of my anatomy you’d like to discuss?”

    It was then that Deen stepped back into the barn with a Federation-issue medkit squeezed under her arm which she had likely found in the Marines’ shuttle.

    As is if caught red-handed while engaged in the most taboo of circumstances, Michael quickly disentangled himself from Sharval.

    If Deen had noticed, she didn’t let it show. “The monks are fairly displeased that we’ve used their barn for target practice.” She headed straight for the downed Cardassian, took a knee and opened the kit to attempt to treat his injuries. “I managed to calm them down a little and they’ve agreed to give us some privacy.”

    Michael stepped up beside her to look at Belore. His sturdy armor had taken the brunt of a phaser blast but not all of it. They had removed the shell-like armor and temporarily dressed the wound with some emergency bandages they had found on one of the Marines. Deen peeled them away slowly to find him still bleeding. “How is he?”

    He managed a little, knowing smile. “Perfectly fine, Captain.”

    Michael rolled his eyes; obviously he had overheard him and Sharval.

    “Let’s leave the diagnosis to the person with the basic medical training, shall we?” Deen prepped a hypospray and emptied it into his neck. “That should take care of the pain.” Next she used the medical tricorder to run a scan and then glanced up at Owens. “Doesn’t look like any major organs were affected. It appears to be mostly tissue damage. I should be able to clean the wound and use a dermal regenerator to close it.”

    “So what you’re saying, basically, is that he’ll be perfectly fine?”

    Deen shrugged. “Basically.” She turned back towards her patient and began to work on the wound.

    Owens offered the Cardassian an encouraging glance. “Looks like you’re in good hands.”

    “No argument there.”

    He turned away from the patient and his medic and found Major Wasco who had just completed securing Sergeant Thalos who had since recovered from being stunned, as well as three of his Marines. They were all sitting on the floor now and bound in pairs to some of the sturdier berths which had survived the collapse of the upper ledges.

    “Major, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you’re on our side but you had me worried there for a while.”

    The broad shouldered Marine turned to look at the captain. “I have to admit that the general made some interesting points but at the end of the day you were right. We have no business remaining on this world. I want to see our people be able to go back home where they can do more good than fighting a war which has already been decided.”

    Owens glanced passed him and at the bound Marines—the Andorian especially, to judge if any of those words had registered with them. But all he could find was anger at having been betrayed by one of their own. No doubt Marines took this more personally than most other people.

    “I had been on my way to tell you of this in the detention complex.” Wasco shot a piercing stare at Sharval, who was leaning casually against the support strut again considering the major with her own suspicions. “But I never got the chance.”

    The Valerian shrugged. “I guess I can get carried away a little bit. But you really expect us to believe that you’re on our side all of a sudden?”

    “I’m not sure that I’m on your side.” He looked back at Owens. “But I’m on yours, sir. We have orders from Starfleet to bring our people home and those trump any orders from the general, in my opinion.”

    Owens responded by giving the man a firm nod and placing a hand on his shoulder.

    But Sharval still didn’t look convinced and walked over to the injured Cardassian who Deen had nearly fully patched up again. She found his discarded armor nearby and the suspicion in her eyes became noticeably more pronounced.

    Owens could see it too. “What is it?”

    She picked up the black armor and showed him the hole in the chest piece from the phaser blast. Then she dropped it and found one of the Marine’s phaser rifles. Michael recognized it to be the same Sergeant Thalos had wielded earlier and which had come dangerously close to taking off his head. After inspecting it she aimed an accusatory glare at the major. “What exactly where you planning to do here? This weapon is set to kill.”

    Wasco looked confused. “I gave strict orders for all weapons to be set on stun.” He indicated for Sharval to show him the weapon but when she refused to hand it over he picked up one of the others and judging by his facial expression, he was surprised by what he found. He whirled angrily on Thalos. “Explain yourself, Sergeant. You disregarded a direct order. Why?”

    But the Andorian simply glared back, his own anger and despise written all over his blue face.

    “Clearly he was following other orders.” The Valerian walked up to the prisoners. “Orders which superseded yours. And I bet they weren’t in a sharing kind of mood. Isn’t that right?” She pushed the muzzle of the rifle against the side of Thalos’ head.

    Wasco wasn’t entirely able to contain his fury. “Who gave you that order, Marine?”

    Sharval kept her eyes on the Andorian. “I think that much is obvious, don’t you think?”

    “I want to hear him say it.”

    Thalos looked as if he’d rather wait for a hot day on Andor before answering the questions of a traitor.

    Owens didn’t have that kind of patience. “You do realize that if this is true, you followed an illegal order? I don’t know, perhaps if you’re lucky a court martial may come down on your side of this, but if you refuse to talk, you’re the one who will go down for the attempted murder of fellow Starfleet officers.”

    The Andorian didn’t look at Owens but kept his brimming eyes on Wasco instead. “It came from the general,” he said. “Captain Owens and the Cardassian were not to come back alive.”

    Wasco turned away disgusted at what he had heard a fellow Marine admit to.

    Belore managed to stand with Deen’s help. “I’m not sure if I should be flattered or outraged. I suppose I’m mostly surprised. Appears to me Starfleet officers aren’t quite as noble as they like to make the rest of the galaxy believe.”

    Owens regarded the Cardassian with a dark scowl. He wanted to point out that Lam wasn’t really a Starfleet officer. That he was a Marine and that Marines thought and acted differently. But then he realized that it would have been a poor excuse and an insult to Wasco and the vast majority of the Marines who would never have dreamed of scooping to such a disturbing level. It confirmed however his theory that after two years fighting on this world, Lam had lost all perspective in his obsessive need to win his war. That he had to be stopped at any cost.

    He heard the slight whine of a phaser rifle charging up and he turned to see that Sharval had taken a few steps backwards and leveled the weapon at the four prisoners. “What are you doing?”

    “I told you before, they don’t try to kill me; I won’t try to kill them. Clearly things have changed.”

    Deen took a step forward. “We don’t execute prisoners.”

    Sharval was unmoved. “So instead we do nothing while they keep coming after us trying to put us down? I don’t think so.”

    Wasco raised his own weapon, pointing it at the Valerian. “I will not allow you to do that.”

    This in turn prompted Owens to pick up a rifle. He found himself torn whom to target. He glanced at Sharval without taking aim. “Lower your weapon. We’re not killing anyone.”

    “You need to start deciding whose side your on, Sky Knight.” She kept her weapon on those Marines as she spoke. “You want to come out of all this with your hands clean but it just doesn’t work like that. Not when we’re up against this.”

    “She’s right,” said Belore. “We need to start thinking like our enemy.”

    But Owens shook his head. “These people are not our enemy.”

    The Valerian regarded him with an incredulous look. “So it is perfectly normal then for your friends to try and kill you, is it? I suppose we live on different worlds after all.”

    The captain made sure his rifle was set to stun and then took aim at Sharval. “It’s Lam who’s trying to kill us.”

    “Through his men.”

    “Make no mistake,” Wasco said. “If you do not lower your weapon in the next five seconds I will shoot you.”

    And so for a moment, or at the very least, for the next five seconds, they appeared to be at a stalemate. Sharval determined to kill the Marines, Wasco determined to shoot her before she had the chance and Owens stuck in the middle.

    He made his choice before Wasco’s ultimatum was up. He lowered his own rifle and very slowly stepped towards her, blocking Wasco’s line of fire in the process. “You don’t want to do this. You’re not a killer.”

    She looked him in the eye. “You don’t know me that well.”

    “I know that you could have killed Major Wasco and the other Marines when you rescued us but you didn’t do that. I know that you could have killed a great number of them when you bombed those barracks but you made sure there wouldn’t be any fatalities, didn’t you? It would be much easier to fight an uncompromising war against the Marines but you’ve decided that you didn’t want that. Because it’s not who you are.”

    “Because if I did that, they’d turn against my people.” She kept her rifle firmly on her target.

    Owens stepped directly in front of her, fully aware that it meant her rifle was now pointing at his chest. “I don’t believe that’s the only reason. I believe you want to free your people but you want your own hands to remain clean as well. Besides, if you start killing these men, you might still get the one thing you wanted to avoid. A full-out war on the Valerians.”

    She locked eyes with him then, ironclad determination still written all over her face. Then it began to waver and she threw down the rifle with noticeable frustration. “Why must you be so irritably rational all the time? Tell me, are all Starfleet captains this annoying or is it just you?”

    “It’s one of our more endearing qualities.” He stepped closer to her, offering a little smile. “But I always thought I had most of my fellow peers beat in that regard.”

    She mirrored his move and also took a step forward, getting so close in fact that she was able to press her palm against his chest. “Must be what I find so irresistibly interesting about you.”

    Owens heard Deen clear her throat and then, realizing how close they had gotten, quickly stepped away again. He found her looking rather displeased by the way in which he had talked her down. He wasn’t sure if it was because he had put himself in front of a deadly weapon or if it was related to the more personal touch that had followed.

    Wasco had lowered his own rifle now and didn’t seem to care one-way or the other.

    The Cardassian couldn’t entirely hide an amused smirk even if he had taken Sharval’s side earlier. “So what happens now? No doubt General Lam will come looking for his people and seeing that we have decided to do the noble thing and not get rid of them, he will find them. Which means we can’t be anywhere near here when their friends arrive.”

    Owens nodded and then indicated for Wasco and the others to follow him into the far corner of the barn from where they could keep an eye out on their prisoners but where they were out of earshot. He still believed that their best plan of action was taking out the power plant and thereby denying Lam the one key element he required to continue his war. He explained this much to the major.

    Wasco nodded. “The general did mention a new fusion plant to go operational in the next few days. He has a major offensive planned against Cardassian-held territory as soon as he can secure enough energy for weapons and equipment. He is convinced that it is the first step to securing a final victory on Valeria.”

    Deen glanced at Owens with noticeable concern. “No wonder he was so eager for us to help him finish this plant of his.”

    “Perhaps we should just let all this play out,” said Wasco. “If the general is right and he can secure a victory and the Cardassians surrender, the war will be over.”

    Belore didn’t like the sound of this and shook his head. “The war is already over, Major. I’m not willing to accept any more Cardassian casualties just so that your general can get a sense of closure and accomplishment. Besides, what if Metral won’t surrender so quickly? My people tend to fight to the last man if their commanders demand as much.”

    Sharval agreed. “And any large scale offensive like this is bound to cause significant collateral damage. I’ve seen this before. The last time both sides through everything they had at each other, hundreds of my people ended up in the crossfire.”

    Owens nodded. “We have to find a way to end this war before Lam can go on the offensive.” He looked at the only Marine amongst them, fully cognizant that he had defended the general before. “Major, I need to be sure that you are on our side on this. That you will do whatever it takes to end this war. With as little bloodshed as possible.”

    To this credit the man neither blinked nor hesitated. “You have my word, sir. You are my commanding officer and my loyalty is unquestionably to you.”

    Michael decided that that was good enough for him and gave the major a curt nod.

    “But considering how significant this plant is to the general’s plans, it will be very difficult to try and get passed its defenses with just the five of us.”

    “We’ve already had a look at it ourselves.” Deen glanced from Wasco to Owens. “And I have to agree with the major on that one.”

    The captain was not yet willing to give up however. “I realize that. What we need is to get Lam’s men on our side and make them see that they are fighting for a pointless cause.”

    Sharval looked back at their prisoners and Owens followed her glance. They still looked defiant and Thalos in particular appeared eager to get a shot at Wasco’s throat. Owens nodded as he understood the difficulty of getting Marines to turn against their commanding general. “We won’t have any luck trying to get random Marines on our side. What we need is somebody influential. A senior officer. Somebody who could challenge Lam’s authority.” He aimed a meaningful look at Wasco.

    The man immediately shook his head. “Not me, sir. We may all be Marines but these men consider me an outsider. There is no chance I could sway the numbers we would need away from General Lam.”

    Judging by the murderous look in the Andorian’s eyes, Michael tended to agree. “Fair enough. But there must be somebody else? There are over fifty thousand Marines stationed on this world and I refuse to believe that everyone here is willing to blindly follow Lam once they realize that they are fighting a war which has already ended.”

    Wasco considered that for a moment before he began nodding slowly. “There might be somebody. We used to be close friends and we both served under Lam during the Border Wars. She’s a lieutenant colonel now and commands First Battalion from a forward operating base. I had meant to seek her out when I realized she was stationed here.”

    Sharval did not like this idea at all. “You cannot be serious? These are the people who are trying to kill us and you’re suggesting we just stroll right into one of their bases? We might as well lay down our weapons now and wait for Lam to execute us all.”

    The Marine ignored her and instead looked at Owens. “I cannot guarantee that she’ll turn against Lam. He was as much a mentor to her as he was to me. But she’ll listen to us. She owes me that much.”

    Owens considered their options for a moment until he came to realize that they didn’t really have many of those left. If they wanted any chance at standing up to Lam and forcing him to end this war, they needed support and from what Wasco had told him, his friend was perhaps their best chance of providing it. “I suppose we’re going to find out.”

    * * *​
  19. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006


    “Explain to me again why we are chasing freighters?”

    Star shot the man sitting next to her on the bridge a sidelong look. “Because something about Yarra III doesn’t sit right with me. John Doe categorically denied that his people were responsible and seems to believe the answers to my questions may be on those freighters.”

    “And this is the same John Doe which you detained for piracy?” Katanga offered an incredulous look in response. “The same man who was entirely unwilling to cooperate or give us as much as his real name?”

    She didn’t respond to this. He damn well knew it was the same man.

    “And we’re trusting pirates now?” He continued when she wouldn’t humor him.

    “Wasn’t it you who told me I needed to reconsider my approach?”

    He nodded. “Yes. But that was in relation to not knocking the man unconscious in his own cell. I didn’t suggest we go chasing down starships on his say so.”

    Star shrugged. “Call it a hunch then.”

    “Oh boy, I remember Dezwin’s hunches. They usually involved somebody ending up inside a brig. And that was usually the two of us.”

    She cracked a smile when she remembered Star’s previous host’s escapades with a much younger Elijah Katanga. The two had indeed been fast friends and some of their adventures together had involved a fair share of run-ins with security or other law enforcement agencies. Her smile turned mischievous as she regarded him once more. “If I remember correctly those misfortunate incidents were as much on your head as they were on his.”

    “The folly of youth.”

    Star sighed. “Tell me about it.” Then she stood. “Lieutenant Stanmore, time until we intercept the freighter?”

    The blonde-haired operations officer checked his instruments. “Ten minutes, sir.”

    She turned to the tactical officer next. “Still no response to our hails?”

    The Vulcan shook his head fractionally. “None, sir.”

    “Why would they just ignore us?”

    Nobody on the bridge had an answer but Katanga, who tended to have one ready for most every question. “Perhaps they’re just not the talkative type.”

    It had been meant in jest, Star was sure, but it was probably not too far from the truth. The Thulians after all were a secretive people. Sure, they were active in interstellar trade but even then they kept strictly to themselves, hardly ever making contact with outsiders. As far as she was aware they hadn’t even allowed the Federation to establish an embassy or a consulate on their world. If nothing else, Mahoney should have considered himself very lucky that they had decided to open a dialogue with him. If that man hadn’t been so misguided and obsessed, she was sure Starfleet would have been quite pleased with his efforts of making contact with a previously secluded race.

    “Commander, we are receiving a signal.”

    She turned back towards the Vulcan. “From the freighter?”

    “The Sacajawea, sir.”

    She suppressed a heavy sigh.

    The tactical officer checked his console. “Text only, sir. Captain Mahoney is advising that he believes that they have successfully determined the location of the pirate base of operations. He is requesting that Eagle joins Sacajawea in the Mittias system to assist efforts to neutralize the base.”

    Star listened but didn’t respond.

    Katanga stood and walked towards her, making sure he was close enough to keep his voice low. “Last time you ignored Mahoney it didn’t go too well.”

    She nodded. That much was certain. Then she looked back at Trinik. “Lieutenant, acknowledge receipt of the message and advise that we will join them shortly.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “No mention of our little chase?” Katanga said.

    “Something tells me he wouldn’t like that very much.”

    “Imagine that.” Katanga went back to his chair to sit down.

    “Commander, we’re approaching the freighter.” Lance Stanmore briefly glanced back at her. “Its speed is unchanged and remains a steady warp four.”

    She nodded and regarded the helmsman next. The young Andorian woman, Srena, held that station presently. “Ensign, get us as close as possible without us looking too much of a threat and then match their speed.”

    Srena swiveled her chair towards the commander. “Without looking like a threat?”

    “Just approach them gently. Creep up nice and slow.”

    The Andorian offered a smirk before she turned back to her station. “Creeping up slowly, sir.”

    Next Star looked at her Vulcan science and acting first officer who was sitting in her usual chair next to the one at the center. She pointed towards the science console at the back of the bridge and he understood, following her to the aft station. There he took a seat while she remained behind him, looking over his shoulder. “Commander, I’d like you to initiate an intensive scan of that vessel. I want to know the color of the bolts they use inside their warp core.”

    Xylion looked up at her, one eyebrow slightly arched. “Sir, such a scan will very likely be considered intrusive by the crew of that freighter.”

    “Do it anyway.”

    He held her look for only a brief moment longer before acquiescing to her wishes and using Eagle’s powerful sensory equipment to probe every square inch of the vessel traveling not too far from their own bow.

    Star could quickly see that he wasn’t having a great deal of success.

    “The freighter is heavily shielded, Commander. Sensors are not able to reliably penetrate its outer hull.”

    “Now that’s suspicious.”

    Xylion turned and regarded her again. “Not at all. Most Thulian vessels possess reinforced armor which makes it difficult to scan their interior. As you may be aware, the Thulians hold their privacy in the highest regard.”

    She couldn’t tell if the subtext to his words was an indication that he agreed with such notions of privacy or if he disagreed with her attempts to ignore their customs by prying into their affairs. Or quite possibly both.

    “Sir, the freighter is hailing us. Audio only.”

    She looked at the other Vulcan on the bridge and nodded. “Let’s hear it.”

    “Attention Starfleet vessel. We have detected your attempts to scan our ship. Note that this gesture is not welcomed. Please state your intentions.” The disembodied voice sounded distinctly robotic and Star wasn’t sure if this was their natural voice or an artifact of the universal translator.

    “This is Commander Tazla Star of the USS Eagle. We are carrying out a random inspection of freighters in this sector. As we are unable to verify your cargo with sensors, we will need to board your vessel instead.”

    The voice responded with no delay. “That is not acceptable. We will provide you with a full cargo manifest for you to review.”

    Star stood a little straighter and shook her head even if the other party wasn’t able to see this. “That will not be enough, I’m afraid. Please drop out of warp, come to a full stop and prepare for an inspection.”

    The voice remained infuriatingly calm. “Starfleet lacks any jurisdiction in this area to carry out an inspection of our vessel.”

    Annoyed Star signaled Trinik to mute the channel.

    When she looked at Xylion he offered a minuscule nod. “They are correct. We are outside Federation territory. We cannot carry out a legal inspection of their vessel without their consent.”

    “There must be some sort loophole we could exploit.”

    Xylion only needed to think for a second. “Technically speaking as their stated destination is within Federation space we could invoke a rarely used provision which would allow us to stop any vessel heading towards Federation held territory which is suspected to carry dangerous or illegal cargo. But we do not have any probable cause to—“

    It was enough for Star and she indicated to Trinik to reopen the channel. “Thulian vessel, you are being inspected on the suspicion of transporting dangerous cargo into Federation space. So I say again, come to and prepare to be boarded.”

    There wasn’t an immediate reply and Star suspected that perhaps they were looking up the very provision she had just based her actions on.

    “Eagle, we will be altering our flight plan and this vessel will no longer be heading towards Federation territory. As such you have no reason to carry out an inspection.”

    She stopped herself short from uttering a shout of frustration. They truly didn’t want anyone coming aboard their ship and would go as far as abandoning their cargo run, most likely losing a significant amount of investment in time and resources doing so. Star didn’t care. She was committed now. “Thulian vessel, you have thirty seconds to come about or we will be forced to take measures to stop you.” The implication was obvious. Pull over now or find out how quickly a Nebula-class cruiser could disable a lightly armed freighter.

    The voice that responded remained calm as ever even considering the threat Star had just leveled against them. “We will do as you request as you have given us no other choice. However, do note that we will issue a formal complaint to the Federation Council over your inappropriate and possibly illegal actions.”

    Trinik advised that the channel had been closed from the other end.

    “Good luck with that,” Star said to nobody. “How do you make a complaint if you don’t even maintain formal diplomatic relations?”

    “Last time I checked, the absence of relations isn’t a right to bully others.”

    She ignored Katanga. “Commander Star to Lieutenant Nora.”

    “Nora here. Go ahead, Commander.”

    “Lieutenant, I need you to lead a team to board and inspect a Thulian freighter we are in the process of stopping.”

    The security chief took a moment to respond and Star thought she knew why. After all this wasn’t exactly a routine procedure for this ship. “We are inspecting freighters now? Commander, with all due respect, you’re not in the Border Service anymore. This isn’t really our thing.”

    She was right about that of course. Starfleet ships rarely carried out such inspections. This was usually left to the Border Service which specialized in this kind of activity with a fleet of dedicated cutters and personnel. And Nora was right about something else as well, Star had served in the Border Service once before. What the Bajoran probably didn’t know however, was the fact that she had carried out very few inspections while there. In fact she had never even set foot on a border cutter. Her assignment to Starfleet’s less prestigious branch had really been on paper only. “It is today, Lieutenant.”

    Star could hear her soundless sigh. “Fine. What are we looking for?”

    “I don’t know yet.”

    “That’s not helping.”

    “Just take a close look at their cargo. Let me know if you find any inconsistencies or any suspicious items. Star out.” She closed the channel before the matter could escalate into an argument.

    She spotted Xylion’s eyes on her. If he had been anything other than a Vulcan she would have called them doubtful. If she was honest with herself, so was she. That was the problem with playing a hunch.

    Within minutes the freighter had finally dropped out of warp and come to a complete standstill to allow Eagle to transport a six-man inspection team led by Nora Laas and consisting out of five security guards and specialists. Star had decided against sending a heavily armed unit or even the Marines like they may have done in the Border Service. She figured she was on thin enough ice as it was by bending regulations close to the breaking point. No need to aggravate the situation further by sending a fully-fledged boarding party and being accused of intimidation tactics. She didn’t expect the Thulians to cause trouble with a Starfleet cruiser parked just off their starboard bow.

    “Lieutenant Nora reports that her team is ready to beam onto the freighter,” said Lance Stanmore still sitting at operations.

    Star nodded but before she could give the go ahead, Trinik spoke up. “Sir, we are receiving another message from the Sacajawea. Captain Mahoney is advising that under no circumstances should we board the Thulian freighter. He is further instructing us to join his efforts to eliminate the pirate base with no further delay.”

    Star balled her right hand into a fist and fought an urge to bring it down hard onto the armrest. A good thing to as she very well might have smashed it to pieces. “How the seven hells did he found out about this so quickly?”

    “I’m assuming the Thulians told him.” Katanga considered Star sitting at his side again very carefully as if to judge her reaction to this most unexpected and unwelcome development. “It sounded to me like a direct order, Taz.”

    She clenched her teeth angrily. Yes, he was right. It was. Of course Mahoney didn’t know what she knew as she had not let him in on any of her thoughts or suspicions since they had investigated Yarra III and spoken to John Doe. It didn’t matter of course. She knew that he wouldn’t care what she thought either way. In fact he would have adopted a contrary opinion on the matter just because he loathed the idea of agreeing with her on anything. There was little point to even try. He wanted things done his way and without argument.

    “Nora to Star. Are we doing this or not?”

    The Trill glanced at the ceiling for a moment as if the security chief was located somewhere above her. She was fully cognizant that not following orders had been what had caused her disgrace and downfall to begin with and she couldn’t deny a certain sense of déjà vu, even if the circumstances weren’t really the same. Was she truly willing to make the same mistakes all over again and give Mahoney just the reason he needed to fulfill his spiteful objective? In fact if she went against his orders now she might even do the job for him. He could get his way and have her drummed out of Starfleet without even having to sully or endanger his own career.

    Katanga could apparently tell the struggle which was playing out in her mind and he leaned over the armrest separating them. “If you didn’t have any history with this man,” he said quietly. “If he wasn’t on a personal quest to destroy you, what is it you’d do in this situation?”

    She looked at him. “I’d follow my instincts. I’d go ahead with this.”

    “I told you before, don’t let him control you.”

    She sucked in a lungful of air and then nodded.

    “Nora to Commander Star. No offense, but would you kindly let me know—“

    “Lieutenant, you are cleared to board that vessel.”

    “Understood. Nora out.”

    She let out a heavy breath, trying hard not to think of the consequences of having once again disregarded a direct order from a superior officer.

    She soon came to regret her decision. After twenty minutes of nervously drumming her fingers on her armrest, Nora came back on the line.

    “We’ve searched this ship from bow to stern, Commander but have not been able to locate anything that seems even a little bit suspicious.”

    Star came close to utter a particularly nasty Trill curse. “There must be something.”

    “We may not be Border Dogs but we do know how to search a ship. There are no hidden compartments, no holographic walls or fake cargo containers. We even looked for dimensionally shifted phenomena. Nothing. It’s all here and exactly as it is on the manifest.”

    Star nodded, trying desperately not to lose hope. She understood that all this would become so much worse for her if her hunch had not paid off. “Alright, Lieutenant, tell me what is on the ship then.”

    “We’ve got a lot of duranium, some dilithium, self-sealing stembolts, parts for a couple of industrial replicators, duridium ore and various other raw materials.”

    “What is their stated destination?”

    Nora conferred with a crewmember before responding. “It’s all intended for the Nehru colony.”

    Star knew that the Federation world of Nehru had been devastated by the Dominion during the war and was most likely undergoing heavy reconstruction efforts. And that manifest read pretty much exactly like what that colony would need to rebuild. She got out of her chair and walked back towards the science station finding that Xylion was still sitting there. “Lieutenant, have the Thulians transfer over their complete manifest and flight path and stand by. Star out.” It took less than a couple of minutes until the requested information popped up on Xylion’s screen. “Have a look at the manifest with those studious Vulcan eyes of yours. Does anything appear suspicious to you?”

    Xylion consider all the data for just a brief moment. “No, sir. The manifest contains no anomalies and has been prepared in line with Federation shipping guidelines.”

    Star sighed and turned back towards the screen where she could spot the wedge-shaped Thullian cargo ship which refused to be anything other than what it appeared.

    A tone from the tactical console indicated another incoming signal and Trinik turned to regard Star. “Sir, Captain Mahoney is requesting an update on our ETA.”

    “Tell Mahoney that he can…” she stopped herself before she could say something she would have regretted uttering out loud and in front of the crew. Considering the nature of Vulcans, she wouldn’t have been surprised if Trinik would have sent her words verbatim. She didn’t need to give the man any more reasons to get her court martialed again. She’d already given him more than enough.

    The tactical officer considered her with a somewhat quizzical expression, clearly awaiting the second part of her instructions.

    “The flight path is not entirely efficient.”

    Star whirled back around towards the science station and Xylion upon hearing his words. She quickly placed herself next to him. “Say again?”

    He indicated towards the freighter’s flight path marked by a bright yellow line on his screen. “The flight path is not the most efficient route between Ultima Thule and the Nehru colony.”

    “Have they noted any other stops along their route?”

    “Negative.” He worked at his console again and a second path was displayed on the screen, this one clearly a much more direct route to their destination. “This is the most efficient route between their point of origin and their final destination. At present the Thulians stand to lose four point eight days by following their chosen route.”

    “I can’t imagine they are such lousy navigators.” Star leaned closer to get a better look at the screen. She noticed that the variation in their route was bringing them fairly close to a star system they’d otherwise would have avoided easily. She thought it looked familiar and she pointed at it. “What system is this?”

    “That is the Valerian star system.”

    Star shot Xylion a surprised look. “The same system in which Starfleet and Cardassian troops have been fighting a ground war for the last two years. The same system our pirate prisoner hails from. That’s too much of a coincidence.”

    “However it may be just that.”

    She shook her head. “I don’t believe it.” Then she headed back towards her chair to join Katanga.

    “What do you think it all means?”

    “I don’t know yet but I intend to find out. Something’s going on here we’re not seeing.” But she also understood that she didn’t have all the pieces yet and until she did, she had no choice but to follow her orders. Or at very least pretend to go along with them. “Stanmore, get Nora and her team back on board. Trinik, advise the Sacajawea that we are on our way. Srena, set a course for the Mattis system and engage at maximum warp as soon as our people are back on board. Something tells me that we may find the last puzzle piece there.”

    * * *​
  20. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    For a moment I thought Star might have made a mistake and was following a red herring.