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Fanfic: Federation Space

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  • jonsillsjonsills Member Posts: 8,211 Arc User
    brian334 wrote: »
    I like the solution presented in story but....
    brian334 wrote: »

    That said, I understand the desire to resolve the situation in a manner which doesn't drag the service through the mud. My experience in the military was one of mutual respect, and I have a high regard for the military and those in it. I would hate to see the media treat what I consider an anomaly as if it were common.

    So a bunch of people get harassed and a quiet end instead so the service looks good? That's a sterling example to let others know they can get away with it. Explains some of the current statistics.

    The issue jonsills reported is an anomaly, not the norm by anything I experienced while in service. But the media would have reported it as if it were the universal experience of female service members. Obviously, having never been a female member of the uniformed services, I am not in a position to know how common harassment was for women in uniform in 1980, but my guess would be that it was lower than in civilian life.

    Why?

    Core values. By example and by training, the services set a high value on respect, both up and down the chain of command. Disrespect is intolerable. There are other core values which are as important, but none more important than respect.

    As I said, those criminals should have been broken and sent to Ft. Leavenworth, but in order to do this it would have become a media circus which painted everyone in uniform as a sex offender. There is another core value in play here: to do nothing to bring dishonor to the service.

    I would have let the media have its day, but I understand why a career officer of a generation previous to my own would choose the course he did. 1980 and 2018 are very different times. Today there would be a different outcome, and that is ultimately a good thing.
    Partly it was a very different time, yes - things that would earn a quick court-martial today were just "boys will be boys" back in the day. For instance, I later learned of a woman who was a junior officer in the Army around that time, who was sexually assaulted by another officer. The JAG discouraged her from reporting it, telling her that they'd "have to" charge her with adultery as well. (And as recent testimonies have come out in the wake of certain public events, apparently there are still some sectors of society where that nonsense holds sway.)

    Partly, though, it was similar in nature to a plea bargain. "We've pretty much got you dead to rights here, but rather than going to the trouble of a lengthy (and, yes, showy) court martial, whose sentence could be in doubt, we'll just semi-publicly humiliate you and end your career."

    I mean, you can't reduce a bird colonel in rank without having a court martial first, but when you're reassigned from command of a headquarters squadron at a major command base to deputy commander of some remote airbase, you're never, ever going to see that first star, and everyone knows it - and knows why. As for the sergeant, being "invited to retire" can raise questions in people's minds about why you were given such an "invitation", and the only thing that moves faster than light in an Einsteinian plenum is gossip. If he was lucky, what got noised about was the true story; if not, he might well have been dogged by rumors of drug abuse and human trafficking at every veteran's event he attended for the rest of his life.
    "Science teaches us to expect -- demand -- more than just eerie mysteries. What use is a puzzle that can't be solved? Patience is fine, but I'm not going to stop asking the universe to make sense!"

    - David Brin, "Those Eyes"
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  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    Starbase 77 was an older design, a relic of a bygone century. It had never come under attack, never been damaged by infiltrators or saboteurs, never played a role in any major campaign conducted by Starfleet. It had been built in a time of peaceful expansion, and its border location was rapidly left behind as colonization and exploration pushed the Federation borders toward the Azure Nebula. Starbase 77 was now little more than a waystation for ships passing through, for traders in local merchandise, and for ships in need of maintenance.

    It bore some resemblance to K-7 and some of the older border stations which were themselves a century or more older than 77, except that instead of three cargo pods its arms were fitted with shipyard gantries. It also resembled more modern starbases like 39 Sierra in the smooth contours of its hull.

    In design, location, and function it was stuck somewhere in an indeterminate middle, the forgotten sibling in a very large family. It orbited Amaranth, an insignificant farming colony which was the product of terraforming. Its 'nature preserves' were areas of barren rock, and a single small sea isolated from the world ocean by the convergence of three continental plates. Even these areas were under assault by imported life forms: bacteria and algae blown in on the winds. Few cared. The combination of small scale subsistence farming and large scale commercial farming left the citizens of Amaranth little time to consider the preservation of the planet's dead past, and every year someone brought up the possibility of extending the terraforming efforts into the Anling Sea Basin.

    Amaranth had one other vestige of the colonial era, besides Starbase 77: Redemption Island Penal Colony. A subcontinent isolated in the ocean of the southern temperate zone had been terraformed and worked by prisoners, some of whom had stayed on past the end of their sentences to continue the work they had begun. They had found a more rewarding life in prison than they had ever known as free beings. It was not a hard life, but it left little time, or opportunity, for crime. From orbit the island was only a brown smudge in a green expanse beneath white wisps of cloud.

    The USS Kestrel shared Starbase 77's orbit for a time, then her impulse engines flared and she dropped down into the upper reaches of the manufactured atmosphere of the planet. Matching speeds with the winds of the upper atmosphere eliminated the fire and fury of a meteoric entry, and the tiny ship's antigravity thrusters controlled her plunge down through the clouds. When the ship finally broke through the irregular triangle of Redempion Island stood out from the pale green ocean surrounding it. Along the coastlines a thick band of darker green transitioned to the dun of the central desert which dominated the island. As the ship continued to descend the dark green regions began to take definition as squares and circles of different hues of green and gold, and the lines of roads formed webs which linked them to small cities.

    The Kestrel's course veered away from these features, toward the center of the featureless brown region, to the white tower and dome that emerged and grew in the featureless expanse of sand as the ship descended. It was the penal colony's receiving station and medium security facility. The colony no longer accepted maximum security prisoners, but here new arrivals and those who were resistant to therapy could begin their rehabilitation without the temptation to escape into the population at large before they were ready. A landing pad a football pitch away from the tower kicked up a cloud of dust as Kestrel came in to a gentle landing, her forward landing struts extended to either side with a rear foot extending beneath the bronze aft deflector dish.

    "More dust," groused Mirra as the ship settled and balanced on its landing gear.

    "Don't worry," Lee answered. "The particulate filters on the boarding ramp will catch this kind of dust."

    Lee tapped his console and announced, "Attention all hands, we are now on Redemption Island. Code 2 security measures will be in force until we are cleared to leave by colony officials. There will be no liberty until we return to Starbase 77. Post a security detail on the Starboard Quarterdeck. Secure from Underway Stations and set the In Port watch rotation."

    He tapped the console and the end of message chirp sounded. "Who has OOD?" he asked.

    "My turn," said Chuss. His console powered down and he rose. "I'll check the security detail at the boarding ramp before I make my rounds."

    Lee tapped his console again, saying, "Dr. Sar, meet me on the Starboard Quarterdeck when you have time."

    "On my way," came his reply.

    Lee cleared the Command board, called up the Security layout, then stood. "She's all yours, Chuss."

    "Aye," the caitian growled.

    "Lieutenant," he asked, turning to the tactical station, "Have you ever been to a penal colony?"

    "Sir," interrupted Ensign Tanaka, "Redemption Island Receiving Station acknowledges our arrival and asks you to submit to security screening at Gate 1."

    "Thank you Ensign."

    "A penal colony?" Mirra said. "Are you sure it's okay?"

    "Only if you have an escort," he said with a grin. "No weapons, recording, or computing devices allowed. That means no com-badges too. Come along if you like, this might prove interesting for you."

    "Aye, sir." She set her badge on the tactical station and followed the Skipper out.
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    Dr. Sar examined the prisoner with a scanning device issued by the prison staff. He was much shorter than the prisoner, who was verging on the unhealthy side of the body-mass index. In contrast to the heavyset human, Dr. Sar appeared thin.

    "The devices seem to have had no lasting harm. Your regeneration treatments seem to be well under way. All in all, I'd say you are one of the few lucky ones. How are you feeling?"

    "Like I've been cheated. You don't know what it's like, to have that kind of power, that kind of control, and to have it taken from you," the prisoner answered.

    "The illusion of control," the doctor corrected. "You were well on your way to becoming a puppet when you were captured."

    He performed a second scan of the prisoner's head. "But your lesions are healing and new brain tissue is forming where the implants were. Do you have noticeable memory loss?"

    "Only when someone asks me about things I don't remember. It's like discovering what's missing by stumbling through a dark room and realizing you didn't bump into the couch that was supposed to be there. I don't remember what I don't remember until I know I was supposed to remember it." The prisoner was fumbling for an answer, his face showing his own frustration at his inability to describe the problem.

    "Cherish the memories you still retain. And concentrate on making new, and better, memories." Dr. Sar abruptly changed the subject. "They tell me you've been making friends. Anyone special?"

    "Ah, well," and suddenly the prisoner was awkward, and yet smiling. "Not special like that, you know, just a friend."

    "Good, good," the doctor said in soothing tones. "It demonstrates that you are returning to health. Friends are important to a healthy lifestyle."

    "You know," the prisoner said, I don't think I had any. Before. Maybe that's why I was, you know..."

    "Best not to dwell on the past. Concentrate on your future. There will be a future for you now, with more friends in it."

    Dr. Sar placed the scanner in an alcove and it dematerialized. "The Marshall will want to see you now. Don't worry, he's not here to cause you any trouble. He just has a few questions. Cooperate as well as you can. That's part of you therapy too, you know. To make what restitution you can. It will help you to put the past in perspective, to help you realize you are not the person you once were."

    "My examination is complete," said the doctor as he stepped toward a door. It opened into a tiny alcove with a second door. Dr. Sar's small body almost filled the space, and a blue beam flowed down from the ceiling to the floor. "Good luck to you, Mr. Largent," he said as the door closed.

    The Marshall and Mirra stood with a pair of prison officials in medical garb with a stylized butterfly patch on their blue lab-coat pockets.

    "He seems to be developing nicely, well done, doctors," Dr. Sar said to the staff. To Lee he said, "He is at about the level of a late teen in his emotional development. The parts of his brain that the nanites dissected are regenerating, but emotional development takes time. He was effectively emotionally lobotomized. It may be a key to how the nanite infestation works in reordering the brain to their purposes.

    Mirra turned to the viewscreen, and suddenly, to her, the prisoner who had been described as a dangerous threat became an object of pity, sitting on the edge of the examination table in his orange jumpsuit. She didn't hear the Skipper ask permission from the staff doctors to enter the examination room so his sudden arrival in the room startled her. The doctors had turned the sound off when Dr. Sar had exited, She could no longer hear what was said, but she could see the prisoner tense up in apprehension, and she could see how the Skipper helped the man to relax as he shook his hand then casually leaned on the edge of the bed beside the prisoner, chatting as if they were old comrades.

    She turned when she overheard one of the staff doctors say, "...aren't sure any memory he has is reliable now. The damage was extensive, and memories are easily altered, erased, or implanted on the scale at which the machines work."

    Dr. Sar said, "I don't think he is relying on actual memories. The Marshall is very good at his job because he has the ability to understand the nature of an individual. I think he's trying to identify things central to the personality, to discover common core attributes of the victims of this horrific technology. In essence, I think, he is trying to understand the predator by studying his prey."

    "And what would these common attributes be?" asked the other doctor.

    "I certainly wouldn't know. I'm a forensics pathologist. If it doesn't show up on a scan, can't be measured and scientifically verified, I'm as lost as you are. He operates on a different level. I don't have to understand the phenomenon to observe it's effect, but it's one I have never been able to analyze in the ten years I have had the honor of working with Marshall Lee."

    Mirra returned her attention to the viewscreen as the prisoner laughed. In just a few moments he had turned an apprehensive prisoner into someone who was seemingly his best friend. That was certainly an effect worthy of study. Then another, darker, thought occurred to her: had he used this ability on her?

    ***

    The Starboard Quarterdeck was different from the first time Lieutenant Commander Lee had entered the ship from the boarding ramp. There was no Marian dust, of course, but there were no nameplates by the doors, and no legends on the keypads which operated the doors and environmental controls. He ushered Director Mahller into the space which was filled with the bulk of Deputy Chuss and Crewman Mason. Only Mason was armed.

    "Welcome aboard, Director," Chuss said as he made room for the guest and three members of the crew.

    Lieutenant Mirra requested permission to board as she exited the airlock, then turned to the Director. "Dr. Mahller, it was a fascinating experience. I must admit to complete ignorance about your line of work, but I learned a great deal today. Thank you for allowing me to visit your facility."

    "I always welcome the opportunity to introduce new minds to the potentials of rehabilitation. It is the stigma, the shame, of mental illness which prevents so many from receiving the early treatment they need. We at Redemption Island are the unfortunate last grasp as the people we are called upon to treat fall from the ledge."

    "I hope I have a new appreciation for the issue, and the people involved in it," said Mirra. "If you will excuse me, Direcor, Skipper, I have shipboard duties to attend."

    "Pardon me, sir," interrupted Crewman Mason, "But you must submit to a full bioscan before you can leave the quarterdeck."

    Mirra submitted, then watched him scan the other arrivals before unlocking the hatch to the ramp which lead up to the Starboard Passageway.

    "You were interested in our Detention Deck design, Director," Lee said as he lead the older, but not yet elderly, woman to the forward hatch. "This space was originally a laboratory, so it already had the necessary power conduits to supply our force field generators. He tapped a code, then a second, then a third on the control panel before the hatch opened. Inside was a compartment six meters wide at the aft bulkhead and ten meters long along the inboard bulkhead, with the outboard bulkhead curving to conform to the shape of the hull. Two partition walls extended from the curved wall to section the space into three cells.

    "If you'll notice, there are no breaks in the walls, no joints between deck or .wall plates, no access panels, no fixtures of any kind." Lee tapped the adjacent bulkhead and said, "We've impregnated the duranium alloy liner with an osmium/iridium crystalline matrix which scatters any known scanning beam, as well as some which are only theoretical. From outside this compartment you can't even read the presence of biosigns, much less get a transporter lock on anyone in here, even if power on the ship goes out."

    "It looks a little Spartan, even for a prison transport," the Director mused.

    "We have hologenerators in the overhead, protected by 3 millimeter duranium sheathing, and the deck above them is similarly impregnated with the crystalline lattice. There are also force field generators to reinforce the bulkheads and to contain the prisoner."

    "Computer, isolate cell number 1," he said, and a force field appeared over the opening to the forward-most cell.

    "Computer, add maximum security accommodations to cell number 1." This time a sanitary unit and bunk appeared.

    "Computer, generate dietary supplement for a human prisoner in cell number 1," he said, and a tray of food appeared on what appeared to be a folding table with what appeared to be silverware.

    "The silverware is a bad idea, Marshall," she said.

    "It's completely holographic. Not the food, that's replicated, but anything else generated inside the cell, even the bone in a chicken leg, is holographic. The moment anything is used in any manner not appropriate for its function it is simply erased. I tested the system myself for two weeks. I couldn't even manage to scratch my skin with the knife. And of course, if your bioscans aren't recorded in the computer's permissions log you can't issue any commands to the computer. Give it a try."

    "Computer, create silk sheets for the bed," she said, and nothing happened.

    "We also have better accommodations for medium and low security prisoners and for the transportation of protected witnesses."

    "Naturally," she said as they turned back to the hatch. There was only a blank wall where the control panel should have been. She looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

    "Computer, request exit."

    There was a hum as a blue beam scanned the pair, then the hatch opened.

    Only Crewman Mason was in the quarterdeck as they exited the Detention Deck, and the airlock was secured.

    "The the bulkheads of this compartment are also impregnated with the crystalline lattice," Lee said as they passed through to the transporter room behind the aft hatch. It appeared to be a fairly standard transporter room with a control console and a raised platform which could accommodate three or four humans. "The transporter room is also protected, though a wave-guide has to pass out of the compartment to an external transceiver array. There is a very narrow arc centered above the transporter pad which is vulnerable to outside interference."

    "Interesting design, but isn't its proximity to the detention area somewhat of a risk? For that matter, the boarding ramp is a risk."

    "Most of the time the other side of the boarding ramp will be in vacuum, and we have lockouts which prevent airlock cycling without permission from the bridge just in case." Lee smiled. "But we have one more surprise. If you would, Director, initialize a transport."

    She stepped up to the console and tapped the control panel, and the console, along with the transporter pad, vanished.

    "What?" she asked as she looked around the room.

    "Holographic," said Lee. What we couldn't make with a hologenerator we buried in the sub-floor or overhead. This room is almost as secure as the detention deck.

    She looked to the hatch and noticed its control pad was gone as well.

    "Computer, request exit," Lee said. "All of the resets are on the bridge security station. Would you care to take the full tour and have a cup of tea?"

    "I can skip the tour but I'll accept a of coffee if you have it. I'd like to discuss some of these security features in detail," she said as the blue beam scanned them and the hatch opened. "We might incorporate some of them, though I'm not so sure about the vanishing transporter."

    "I agree that for a prison colony transporter technology, no matter how well protected, presents risks.

    Lee ushered her up the ramp to the Starboard Passageway."But holographic technology with proper safeguards can help with some of your more difficult prisoners...

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    The prisoner transport barge was slow, by design. If a prisoner stole it it would be easy to catch. But that meant that relatively short trips took much longer than usual, and that in itself was becoming a problem. The barge usually held twelve prisoner couches with restraining fields and physical restraints. All but one had been removed for this trip, and the prisoner looked well subdued secured in its web and shackles.

    It had been four weeks since that mockery of a trial convicted him of a non-crime and packed him off like a load of bad meat, to be stored away in some freezer for the rest of his life. But he had left his servants behind with instructions. There had been a courier captain with a small, fast runabout. He would be waiting, when the barge dropped out of warp, to remove him from this scow and help him avenge himself on this crew of sadists who had heaped indignity upon insult during their little voyage.

    He had a special revenge in mind for that one: the one they called Tuck. Protected by force fields and body armor, he had presumed to make insulting demands of him. He might dally a bit with that one. Or take him with him. He might be useful once his little servants had a chance to do their thing. The thought of Tuck as a puppet of his servants amused him and he smiled.

    The guard noticed it, but a smile was, after all, just a smile.

    The barge dropped out of warp. He could see a normal starfield in the corner of the bridge viewscreen that he could see from his restraining field. Now was the time.

    "He's gone and peed himself," said Tuck on his armor's short range radio.

    "Leave him," said Junit, their Rigelian pilot. "We're only an hour away from the prison, let him sit in it."

    "Bad timing, Con. You're going to have to wait until you get through processing now," said Tuck through his suit's audio communicator.

    "I'm getting some funny readings on the comm circuit," the copilot and relief guard said. "Something going on back there, Tuck?"

    "He's just sitting there smiling."

    "What the? We just sent some kind of a signal. Junit, see if you can lock down that transceiver."

    "You do it Taylor! I have a navigation error here, the helm just went off. No, it just made a course correction... TRIBBLE!"

    Tuck turned to look through the transparent panel in the door to the cockpit. Gravity went off. The prisoner shed his restraints and launched himself from the chair.

    Tuck saw the prisoner flying toward him and turned back, but didn't bring his rifle to bear. The prisoner would bounce off the force field. And as he had that thought he realized the force field was probably off...

    "Prisoner has escaped!" he managed to say as the prisoner collided with him.

    The prisoner was half his mass, not of a robust build, and had seemed piteously out of shape throughout their whole journey. Now he wrenched the assault phaser from the hand of a trained prison guard as if taking a toy from a child. His other hand closed on the the neck collar of the armor suit. From his wrist a nanoprobe extended, penetrated the armor, and injected the sadistic guard with some special nanites. They would make sure that Tuck was cooperative, at least for a while!

    The prisoner flung the body behind him, hurling himself against the forward bulkhead. He grabbed the door frame and pushed. The locked door opened. The surprised copilot turned drawing her phaser and he shot her with Tuck's weapon. The Rigelian had also drawn her weapon. She was screaming something as she fired her pistol into the control console repeatedly.

    After he shot her he realized what she had been saying: "Mayday, mayday! Prisoner attempting escape! Mayday!"

    He flung the corpses out of his way and turned his attention to the console. It was useless. Given a week he might repair it, but he could not even get off a call for transport to the tiny ship he could see less than ten kilometers away. In a rage he fired again and again into the corpses and the armored suit. Then he realized he was not in such a bad position. Someone would respond to the mayday.

    If they were nice he might even thank them for their assistance.

    ***

    Ensign Tanaka was on the midwatch, sitting at the Communications console. But the Andorian crewman sat at the Conn station. She was reading something. He was more than a little intimidated by the very tall woman. She had been in Starfleet for more years than he had had weeks. At least, since the Academy. But he was an Academy graduate and an officer and she was not. So why was he so intimidated by her?

    Sure, she was tall, but he had known tall people before who didn't intimidate him. She was beautiful. Well? So what, it wasn't like they would ever date: he was an officer. She had respected his rank, called him sir, but he could see behind her eyes that she was judging him. Always judging him. And she was OOD qualified: he was not. She was 'training' him.

    One of her antennae turned toward him half a second before her head turned. Her smirk told him she had known he was staring. Could Andorians see with their antennae? Were they telepathic? He blushed and looked back at his console.

    The Lieutenant had checked him out on it, certified his qualification. It was a standard layout, like the one he had used at System Traffic Control. The lieutenant didn't intimidate him the way the Andorian did...

    A light flashed on his console. He picked up his earpiece and toggled the circuit, a half second after the Andorian, who had it up on the main screen.

    A Rigelian was saying, "Mayday, mayday, prisoner attempting to escape! Mayday!"

    He sat back in his chair as the Rigelian woman glanced back over her shoulder at the door being pushed open by a man using his foot. The copilot sitting beside her turned and began to stand when the barrel of an assault phaser poked through the door and began firing. The copilot was thrown against the console, her weapon spinning uselessly in the air as she flopped across the copilot's controls.

    The Rigelian continued to scream "Mayday, mayday," as she drew a phaser pistol and shot the console, and the barrel of the assault rifle, centimeters from her head glowed bright blue as the image went dark.

    Ensign Tanaka realized the Red Alert alarm was screaming before he realized the Andorian was too.

    "... all crew to return to the ship! Wake up. Mister Tanaka!"

    "Uhh, yes sir!" he said as he fumbled for the circuit that would send out a recall alarm to everyone who was on liberty.

    The Andorian vaulted over the tactical console, landing behind the Science Station. Had she stood in the captain's chair? But the captain came onto the bridge wearing his pajama shorts and nothing else, half a second before the Caitian barreled through the other door.

    Tanaka got a response. Only one. The lieutenant was over his shoulder now, and he blushed when he realized she was no better dressed than the captain. Well, she was wearing a tank top. The captain and the Andorian were leaning over the science console and the younger engineer, who had taken the time to dress, came in and landed in his station.

    "Ensign, wake up!" the Lieutenant said, "Who's still on liberty?"

    "I'm only getting one response, sir. Billet E9. Aktay. That would be Crewman Aktay."

    He fumbled through his Reports list, Main Engineering manned, Auxiliary engineering manned. Security not manned. Damage Control manned, Paser Control manned, Torpedo Control not manned. Medical not manned. No, it just turned green. Deflector Control not manned, that was Crewman Aktay's post, then it turned green! And there went the Security light.

    "Sir, all stations except Torpedo Control showing manned and ready!" he reported over the sound of everyone talking at once, and he was startled by the amused face of the Andorian. "But she's right there..." he said uselessly.

    "I have the Conn," said the captain. "OOD, I relieve you."

    "I stand relieved, sir," the Andorian replied. She gave a final smirk to Ensign Tanaka as she left the bridge.

    "Two and a half minutes at Warp 5, Lee," said the Caitian.

    "Engines ready for warp in 30 seconds," said Crewman Sibley. "You have Impulse now."

    "Take us out, Chuss. Ensign, inform Starbase 77 we are responding to the distress call," the Captain said.

    "Aye, sir," Tanaka said. The Kestrel had gone to warp before he completed that task. "Station acknowledges, sir!"

    "Very good Ensign. Now go to my quarters and get my Armoir, bring it here."

    "Your armoir?" asked the confused ensign.

    "A case for carrying armor. Ask Friday, she knows where it is."

    "And grab a tunic for me while you're down there," the Lieutenant added.

    "You have a tunic in the captain's quarters?" Tanaka felt like an idiot even as the words left his mouth.

    "I have a replicator in my quarters," the captain said. "Move!"

    He jumped from his seat and ran. The hatch almost didn't open in time and he dashed past a surprised crewman, the Master At Arms, who was equipping himself from the Bridge Security Station locker.

    Down the ramp to the Captain's stateroom, and the door opened before he could command it.

    "Friday, I..."

    "The captain's trunk is beneath his bed. Lift the bedframe," the very feminine voice of the AI said. "I have taken the liberty of replicating a uniform tunic for Lieutenant Mirra as well. It is in the replicator alcove."

    "Thanks, Friday. How did you..."

    "I am in the ship's computer. You have one minute until the ship drops out of warp."

    Tanaka grabbed the red tunic in the replicator alcove, threw it across his shoulder, then lifted the bedframe, which folded up against the wall. There was the trunk, as Friday had said. It was very heavy, so he dragged it out of the room and up to the bridge. When Crewman Mason saw what he was doing he ran over to help, and between them they got the case onto the bridge and put it by the captain's feet.

    "Thanks," Tanaka said to the back of the retreating crewman.

    The Captain had been talking to someone as he entered and Ensign Tanaka missed it when the Captain said something to him.

    "Open the case and help me suit up!" the Captain repeated.

    Tanaka fumbled the latch open and looked at the pieces of an armor suit in confusion. Then the Lieutenant was there, already wearing the tunic he had forgotten he was carrying. "I want you at the navigation console. Not for navigation, use the sensors! Keep a lock on those two ships, and sweep the region for any other ships!"

    No sooner than he had the console powered up and the sensor display centered than the Caitian bounded off the bridge. Was he going to have to fly the ship from the Nav Console? But no such order had been issued, and at least he knew what he was doing with the Sensor controls.

    There was the ship, marked Target 1 by the Tactical Station, and there wasTarget 2. 2 was in a decaying orbit, ten kilometers closer to the gas giant they were orbiting than Target 1. There was nothing else on the screen. He looked closely into the polar distortion fields. He had once missed a threat on a practical exam because a target was hiding there. This wasn't the Academy. But he couldn't see anything there, on either pole. None of the several nearby moons showed anything either. He located a ship, a merchant, on a course for Starbase 77, and certainly no threat to them. He tagged it Civilian 1. Then he deep scanned the nearest moon, in case something inside or behind it might prove to be a threat.

    "Good idea, Ensign," the Lieutenant said. He noticed the bridge had gotten quiet. He turned and looked, and saw only himself, Crewman Sibley, and the Lieutenant still there. "Check the next moon," she said, as she held his Comm earpiece in place.

    ***

    The prisoner had waited all of four minutes for a ship to appear. A small, fast ship! How perfect! He snatched up the assault rifle the moment he felt the tingle of a transport begin.

    As he materialized he saw a suit of cobalt blue armor such as he had seen grav-bike racers wear, and beside him was another who manipulated the transporter controls. He released his little helpers as the transport was complete, and before the transporter operator had time to raise his own phaser. The armored person just stood there. So he shot him.

    Nothing happened. He fired again. Nothing. They had disabled the weapon. No matter. He dropped the weapon and smiled. The transporter operator just stood there, phaser rifle pointed at him. The armored person used a tricorder, said something muffled by his helmet, and lowered the tricorder.

    His servants were hooking themselves into circuits, analyzing the system. They suddenly stopped transmitting. The transporter pad disappeared from beneath his feet and he fell about twenty centimeters. The console was gone. The keypad by the door was gone! His servants could find nothing they could use! He would find something! Those two would be very useful!

    A blue light flashed, sending out a glow which rose and fell, sweeping the room. He lost communication with his servants. The light pulsed around the room again, and the prisoner realized the light was destroying his tiny friends! He lunged for the blue armor, and somehow landed on his back where he started. He got to his hands and knees as the blue armor took two strides to him. He reached out a hand and grabbed an ankle. He extended a nanotube... he commanded the nanotube in his left wrist... He commanded the right wrist... Nothing.

    Nothing? His communication with his own body was being blocked! He couldn't command the nanite factory in the place where his kidney had been to produce more nanites. He couldn't access his memory chips to reboot the system. He couldn't activate the repair protocols! A short, white-haired man came through the hatch then with a somewhat more bulky tricorder in hand and scanned him, then the room.

    "All clear," the white-haired man said.

    "Thanks, Croaker," the armor said. "Mason, the next time this prisoner resists, shoot him."

    "Aye, sir," the transporter operator said.

    "He can't do much more than annoy you now, Lee," the man addressed as Croaker said.

    "He's already done enough of that for today," the armor said.

    The prisoner didn't resist as the armor lifted him to his feet and marched him through the hatch, through a second hatch, and into an otherwise empty cell. He didn't bother to test the force field. As soon as his servants could rebuild themselves he would test it. Until then, there was only one question he had on his mind.

    "How did you know?" he asked.

    "Know what?" asked the armor.

    "Know I was coming today."

    "I didn't," answered the armor. "We just happened to be here on other business."

    "Just happened?" he asked incredulously.

    "Today's your lucky day," the armor replied. "Exit."

    The blue light shone around the even darker blue armor, went off, and he stepped through the hatch that closed behind him.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    "Starbase 77 has secured the two vessels, and Dr. Sar has the three corpses in stasis," Lieutenant Mirra said.

    She had had time to get into uniform, but the Marshal still wore his combat armor. At least the trunk was no longer tucked under the Engineering console. Law Enforcer Chuss had not yet come back aboard. Apparently he was still involved with the investigations of the barge and the runabout.

    "Skipper, if you would like a few minutes to get yourself cleaned up I can take over here."

    He turned to her as if just becoming aware of her presence, then he looked down at his suit and the helmet on the deck beside his feet.

    "Sorry, Number One. I was thinking. Has Starbase 77 acknowledged the quarantine protocols we sent?"

    "Yes sir. There was some argument about implementing them until the files Mr. Chuss sent began to circulate. They're Borg nanites, aren't they?"

    "They were, originally." He gave a long sigh. "I need to hold a crew briefing. Schedule that, would you? I've got to deal with the Starbase Administrator at 0800, make sure the Starbase takes those quarantine protocols seriously. Speaking of which, how are Tanaka and Mason doing?"

    "They've cleared the Transporter room and are in the Detention Deck now. I also have Aktay, Ladner, and Sibley going through the surrounding void spaces from this side of the sheathing. Chuss might find his stateroom a mess when he gets back. The Chief is on diagnostics now, complaining that it's a waste of time, of course."

    "It probably is, but better safe than sorry. Nanotechnoloy can be pervasive."

    "In that case, why did we take those corpses on board? That runabout pilot..." Her shudder finished her thought more eloquently than any words.

    "Dr. Sar developed the protocols for dealing with this particular problem. I thought it was a problem we were done with. It appears I was wrong. Or Marshal Jasse shot the wrong guy." He sighed. "I hate when a cold case goes hot."

    "Skipper, it's 0545 now. Why don't you get cleaned up, get some breakfast, and get ready for your meeting with Admiral Millne? As it is you'll have to go with half-a-night's sleep."

    "You'd be surprised how long you can run on adrenaline, Number One. But the point's taken. We're in synchronous orbit with Starbase 77, under quarantine protocols, and missing our pilot. The bridge is yours, Lieutenant."

    "Aye, Skipper," she said to his back as the port hatch closed behind him.

    She sat in his chair and accidentally kicked his helmet. She picked it up with the idea of going after him, but thought twice. She'd return it to his stateroom after he was gone to the starbase. She smiled. Meanwhile...

    It was a full combat helmet, complete with HUD and multi-spectral scanners. It was fully enclosed, without the transparent faceplate of her second helmet, or the hinged visor of her first. Instead, he had an optical imaging system that began as hundreds of dimples all around the outer surface of the helmet and collapsed their composite images to two rectangular viewports on the inner surface, squeezing 360 degrees of input to a stereoscopic image that would make sense to his eyes. In effect, it gave him eyes in the back of his head.

    She had never seen the design before, and was tempted to put it on to see the effect for herself when the hatch opened.

    "Sir, I..." As she came to attention she noticed it was Crewman Voght, holding a covered tray.

    "You're the second officer to call me sir today, Lieutenant. Where's the Skipper?"

    "In his quarters. What's that?"

    "His breakfast burritos. With enchilada sauce. Ben's turn at galley duty today, and I figured that with everyone else pulling extra duty, Weapons department should help out. Ben's taking a tray to the crews on vacuum detail. I thought we were done with that after Mars."

    "Thanks, and I've put a mention in the log for your quick response this morning."

    "Just doing what any good OOD would do," she said, waving the issue away. "Nice helmet. I thought yours were red?"

    "The Skippers. He has a lot on his mind right now."

    "That reminds me." She fished in her pocket and drew out a P.A.D.D. "Preliminary diagnostics reports. The Level 1 report will be ready before midday chow."

    Mirra accepted the P.A.D.D. then said,"Here, since you're going to the Skipper anyway, take this."

    "Sure you don't want to try it on?" The Andorian was wearing her customary smirk.

    ***

  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    The Briefing Room had been set up as a lounge, with a pair of intimate tables, a small bar with five matching stools, and a couch facing a pair of armchairs. Someone had turned the couch sideways so those seated on it could see the aft windows. If Law Enforcer Chuss had been there someone might have had to stand for the Skipper's presentation.

    When the Skipper entered the room everyone stood, but he quickly waved them down, saying, "As you were, as you were."

    He paused when he got to the aft end of the compartment, looking around at his crew. He wasn't smiling. He wore a face they had never seen before, with a serious, stern demeanor, like a coiled spring held back by willpower, ready to unleash its stored potential at any moment. His mood infected the crew as they realized the Skipper meant business.

    "We got lucky today," he said, then paused. "Very lucky. It usually doesn't happen like this. Usually when we hunt a fugitive it requires weeks of preparation, study, reconnaissance. We talk to hundreds of people, check hundreds of computer banks, involve hundreds of people to check, verify, locate. This one walked right up to us.

    "When he did you were prepared, and you acted, all of you. When I began this project I made it clear I wanted a ship, not a crew. Starfleet said I had to have a crew. Today you proved the admirals right, and I am glad to say I was wrong.

    "We were in port, on the night watch, but within two minutes of the Red Alert every station was manned and we went to warp. If any ship has ever done it faster, I've never heard of it. I'm proud of each and every one of you."

    He paused to look around the room. "You deserve to know what we faced today, and will probably face in the very near future. Mr. Friday, have you prepared the presentation?"

    "Affirmative, sir."

    "Begin, please." He stepped aside as the windows vanished and were replaced with an image of the prison barge.

    The feminine voice of the Skipper's Artificial Intelligence said, "Prison Barge 7532803, assigned to the Federation Judicial System, Bureau of Rehabilitation, was hijacked eleven hours ago," the image changed to a rotating bust of the prisoner, "by the prisoner Dresden Galt, who was in custody and en route to the Redemption Island Penal Colony. The prisoner had been captured, tried, and convicted on the planet Jura, a protected developing world, for the smuggling of restricted technologies. The prisoner was deemed to be a minimal threat, though reports made by the transport crew indicated he had become uncooperative, and even violent on several occasions before and during transport.

    "At or around 0100 hours this morning the prison barge dropped out of warp." The video of the attack on the transport bridge replaced the rotating bust. "At 0114:43 the prisoner effected an escape from restraints, disabled the security force field, and attacked the crew, subduing one and using his weapon to kill the other two.

    "At 0114:03 the prison barge sent a coded omni-directional subspace pulse. At 0115:23 the pilot of the barge discharged her phaser weapon into the control console and subspace communications panel, and all recordings ceased at that time.

    The bridge viewscreen view of the two vessels was being displayed now. "The USS Kestrel arrived on the scene at 0118:31, noting the presence of a second craft in orbit of the gas giant. No life signs were detected on the civilian vessel. Deputy Marshall Chuss was dispatched to investigate while the crew of the USS Kestrel prepared to deal with the escaped prisoner.

    "At 0120:15 the prisoner was transferred via transporter to the USS Kestrel. The presence of a weapon and of a nanite infection were noted by the ship's transporter and steps were taken to eliminate both threats while the prisoner was contained in the transport buffer. The prisoner was restrained on the Detention Deck of the USS Kestrel at 0124:49."

    "Thank you Mr. Friday, very well done," the skipper interrupted, and the screen blanked to be replaced by the windows of the briefing room.

    "Mr. Chuss found the remains of the pilot of the runabout. The nanites, without the control of the master unit in the body of the prisoner, the vinculum, as it's called, continued to reproduce and alter the body. Friday?"

    The windows vanished again, replaced with a scene of the runabout which had been altered by the nanites. From the shrunken and desiccated corpse strings of oddly-shaped wires were looped to and through control panels and into the bulkheads, overhead, and deck. A missing arm, little more than bone, had fallen to the floor and from it a network of the oddly angular wires ran aft along the deck.

    "This is the end result of the use of Borg nanites which were modified by Dr. Aguilar several years ago when he began experimenting with them. Dr. Aguilar had been commissioned by Starfleet Medical to develop therapies which could help people recovered from the Borg to return to normal life. The idea was to have the nanites repair the damage they had caused while excising the mechanical and prosthetic adaptations they had imposed on the victim."

    Images of Borg nanites, magnified many hundreds of times, played behind the Skipper.

    "It was later discovered that he had infected himself with nanites and controlled them with a variant of the Borg vinculum, the display switched to a diamond-shaped object aboard a Borg vessel, "which controls Borg activity. It is a nexus which integrates the many individual minds of a collective. His variant controls only those nanites created by its subsidiary systems."

    This time an autopsy was being performed by a medical crew, who removed a 3 centimeter octahedron from the center of the brain.

    "We've determined there are several specializations within the nanites designed by Dr. Aguilar. There are the 'queen' nanites which build a vinculum in the brain of their victim, the 'drone' nanites which are directly controlled by the vinculum and can infest and control machinery, and 'warrior' nanites which hijack neural tissue and control living victims, both the original host, and those whom he injects."

    He looked at the grisly scene of an autopsy of a human cadaver whose nerves had been replaced by chains of nanites.

    "That's enough, Mr. Friday."

    The image vanished.

    "The body you saw in that autopsy was the body of Dr. Aguilar. We presumed wrongly that he was out of business. But apparently his work is being continued by someone else. Unfortunately, everyone of whom we know to have been infected by Dr. Aguilar's nanites has died, with two exceptions. The prisoner I came here to see two days ago, and the prisoner who arrived this morning. I want to capture Dr. Aguilar's apprentice, and I don't want to lose any of you in the process. That's why I'm showing you this, and that's why I'm going to have Dr. Sar hold a series of lectures on how to recognize and deal with these nanites should you ever encounter them.

    "Dr. Sar?"

    The doctor, who was not much taller than the Tellarite engineer, stood beside The Skipper, making the Skipper appear to be a giant by comparison.

    "The trick, of course," the doctor said, "Is to not get infected with nano-technology..."

    ***

  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    edited October 2018
    Season 1, Episode 3

    The examination room was empty, except for the prisoner and the bio-bed to which he was secured with medical devices which were attached to his skull either directly or via tubes. Surgical tape had been applied to a section of his skull where several tubes entered it, and the red hospital gown he wore concealed the destinations of several more.

    The Marshal entered the room with a staff doctor. He stood there looking at the patient as would an entomologist examining a new species of insect.

    "What do you want," the belligerent patient asked.

    "I want to know who gave you the nanites."

    The patient smiled, and said, "I made them myself, and I'll do it again."

    The Marshal stood there a moment, continuing his examination.

    "You are incapable of creating those nanites. You lack the education, the native intelligence, and the access. They were given to you, or traded, very likely while you were in prison on Jura. There was enough time for them to construct the vinculum, the part of the system which was attached to your brain, and not enough time for them to significantly advance in the lobotomization of your forebrain. But you were well on your way to becoming a puppet, controlled by the nanites that you thought were granting you power.

    "So I ask you again, who gave you the nanites?"

    "I made them!" the prisoner shouted. "Me! I don't need to buy anything, I'm a lot smarter than you think I am."

    "You are not important, other than that you can answer the one question I asked. To be honest, I expected this trip to be a waste of time. I rather thought the nanites had cored you they way they did the six previous victims. As I told you before, today was your lucky day. We caught you in time to save your life, to save your mind, by a freak stroke of luck.

    "I hope that in time you come to realize just how lucky you were. If you do decide to be more forthcoming, tell the staff here whatever you can recall about the person who gave them to you. But when it comes down to it, you were meant to be nothing more than a distraction, and I don't have any more time to waste on you."

    The Marshal turned to the doctor and said, "I'm done here. Thank you for your time."

    As the Marshal was being scanned by the vestibule security beam the prisoner screamed, "He knows all about you! He knows you're looking for him! He'll be ready for you! You aren't so smart! He's on to you!"

    Chuss waited on the other side of the vestibule. "Anything?"

    "Yes, and no. Aguilar is getting ready for something or he wouldn't be trading his nanites to smugglers." Lee looked up at the Caitian. "How was your checkup?"

    "Apparently I have been eating too much vegetable fiber. Human food tastes good, but is not good for me."

    He saw the expression on Lee's face and said, "I am uninfected."

    "Well, we can start by looking around Jura," said Lee, answering a question his colleague had not asked.

    "Perhaps I can arrange to get arrested and put in jail," said Chuss.

    "Good idea. But I doubt anyone would believe you could be arrested, or held in jail if you were."

    "We'll figure something out. Maybe Croaker will have some ideas."

    ***

    A starfield slowly slides by as french horns play a familiar refrain. Marshal Lee's voice recites the lines of a poem:

    Federation Space,
    A vast ocean of stars.
    Each world an island with it's own people, its own culture, it's own laws.
    When criminals evade those laws by fleeing into space, I catch them.
    I'm a Federation Marshal.

    The starfield is shattered by the USS Kestrel flying through at warp speed to the sound of a heavy drumbeat, and as the shards fall scenes of the Marshal and his crew fighting, running, and shooting fill the screen as the opening credits roll.

    *********
    Post edited by brian334 on
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    Lee sat at his desk, reclining to see the image of an old friend in the viewer projected on the holopainted wall above his desk. The image was of a Rigelian male wearing a Stetson hat several centuries out of style. The hat was appropriate for the distant red mesas in the background and the scrub brush which filled the foreground.

    "Lee! What's so urgent that you called me while I'm on my first vacation in three years? Not that I mind: you can have that Cadet Friday of yours call me any time. What's she look like? She wouldn't give me a visual."

    "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

    Lee paused then said, Jasse, it's Aguilar. He got another one: a smuggler. Not a very good one either. His Honor has my report, but I'm calling to let you know to watch your back."

    "Lee, I shot Aguilar. Then I spent three months in hospital with Dr. Sar treating me like a lab mouse."

    "Maybe the guy who gave my smuggler the nanites wasn't Aguilar," Lee conceded. "But I think the smuggler mistook me for you. I wanted to let you know. You be careful. If this is Aguilar, and he has a vendetta..." Lee let that hang.

    "Damn." Marshal Jasse removed the hat and used a bandana to wipe its band before putting it back on. "You know how to take the fun out of a vacation."

    "Sorry about that. His Honor wanted to recall you. I convinced him to let you finish your vacation. But we both thought it a good idea to warn you. Are you familiar with Dr. Sar's new protocols for dealing with the nanites?"

    By the movements of the background it was apparent the creature Marshal Jasse was riding was becoming restless.

    "I was his test subject. I'll get a tricorder."

    The annunciator chimed and Lee said, "Enter." Lieutenant Mirra came in, saw what Lee was doing and turned.

    "It's all right, Number One. Marshal Jasse, meet Lieutenant Mirra of Starfleet."

    "My pleasure, Lieutenant. Lee, I don't think you have any idea how lucky you are. You have to number them? I might get me a Starfleet ship if they come equipped with Lieutenants and Cadets like yours."

    "Sir, if I may, pat the horse's neck. Firm, but not hard," Mirra said to the image on the wall.

    The Marshal looked at her a moment then complied, and the horse steadied down almost immediately. "How did you know..."

    "I've ridden a horse before, sir. She was getting restless because you hadn't given her any commands, and she didn't know what to do."

    "Thanks," the Marshal said. "I hope we get the chance to meet in person so you can teach me more about the finer points of horsemanship."

    "Good luck, sir, with your ride," Mirra said.

    "I think that about covers things, Jasse. You take care. I don't want to attend another funeral any time soon."

    "Thanks for calling Lee. You be safe out there."

    The call terminated, leaving a blank grey spot in the wood paneling of the wall.

    "Number One, I have a problem I want you to help me solve."

    The annunciator chimed again, and Lee said, "Enter." This time Ensign Tanaka entered.

    Lee got up and lead the officers deeper into the stateroom, where a couch and two chairs encircled a low table. "Sit, sit," he said as he took one of the chairs.

    "A problem, sir?" Mirra echoed.

    "Sir, I want to apologize about yesterday. I..." He paused when he saw the strange expression on the Skipper's face.

    "No need to apologize, Ensign. You performed admirably under the circumstances."

    "It's just that Crewman Voght and the Lieutenant, well, they knew what to do and I..."

    "Performed admirably, as I said, Ensign." Lee said, "Mr. Friday, read the after action report concerning Ensign Tanaka's conduct during the events of yesterday morning, please."

    The voice of Cadet Friday said, "...given the horrific violence he had just viewed and his lack of experience, Tanaka showed a remarkable ability to recover and continue to follow instruction in a very chaotic situation." She paused. "Will that be all, sir?"

    "A captain knows he's dealing with people, and people have reactions to unfamiliar situations. It's what you do afterward that counts. You didn't curl up into a ball or try to hide. Every instruction you were given you followed. It was simply a situation for which you had not prepared. We drill because that imposes reflex actions for times when your mind doesn't know what to do. Just like the defensive moves Crewman Mason has been teaching you in the morning workout sessions. You'll get there, but don't criticize yourself because you didn't respond like a veteran crewman with twelve years experience or even a superior officer with four."

    "You were trained on sensors, and you caught something I missed," the Lieutenant said, "I didn't think to deep scan the moons. There could have been a fleet hiding there for all we knew."

    "I... oh. Thank you sir. Sirs."

    "There was a problem you wanted me to deal with, Skipper?" Mirra asked.

    "Crewman Sibley."

    "Altering ship's systems again?"

    "Not that I'm aware. But no, the issue is that he's demonstrated aptitude in many fields outside his specialty. He's a Warp Systems Technician, but he holds down the bridge Engineering station like he was born to it, he's redesigned the holographic imaging equipment on half the quarters on this ship, as well as Transporter Room 2 and Sick Bay, and he's helped with the design and construction of a prototype torpedo."

    "That's a problem, sir?"

    "Why is he a crewman? His aptitude scores show he is qualified for the Academy. All he needs is a sponsor. If he were ten years older I'd make him a chief. If he were four years younger I'd sponsor him to the academy. But I think his career should go in another direction."

    "Fleet Engineering School," said Ensign Tanaka.

    "Exactly."

    "I can get the paperwork started on that right away, sir," said Mirra.

    "The problem is that he lacks the proper scholastic credits," said the Skipper. "Without which he cannot be granted a commission. That's where you come in. You can use the Virtual Educational Curriculum used by Starfleet vessels with families aboard to allow him to earn the scholastic credits he needs before he can attend Engineering School."

    "He would have to be motivated to earn those credits, sir." Mirra paused, then said, "I think he might like the challenge. He's been asking about qualifying on Helm."

    "I didn't know that, but it reinforces my point. Sibley would make a good officer with the right opportunities."

    "I'll talk to him after his watch."

    "Good. Now that that's settled, we have another issue along similar lines. Mr. Tanaka, why aren't you Space Warfare Officer qualified?"

    "Sir? I... It takes time..."

    "It took me 14 months to qualify as SWO. How long did it take you, Lieutenant?"

    "Nine, sir. That is, junior officer qualifications, on the Decker. It took another month to meet the senior and command officer quals for the Falcon class."

    "Nine?" Lee whistled. "Now I feel dumb." He turned to Tanaka. "You have nine months to qualify as Junior SWO on the Kestrel. As soon as you do you can pin another pip on your collar. Speaking of which..."

    Lee got up and went back to his desk, fished in a drawer and came back with a small box. "It is a tradition on Starfleet vessels from time immemorial that the senior ensign of a ship wear a special rank insignia."

    He opened the box to show an old fashioned gold Ensign bar stamped with the letters B.U.L.L. "As senior ensign of the USS Kestrel you will wear this insignia of your authority and seniority until such time as an ensign with more time in grade is appointed to this crew, or until you evolve into the higher life form known as Lieutenant."

    The Skipper removed the gold pip from the collar of the ensign's tunic and replaced it with the larger, more archaic rank insignia.

    "Okay, your first task as the Bull Ensign of the USS Kestrel is to earn your Engineering qualification. The Chief Engineer will be expecting you at 0715, after morning quarters tomorrow."

    "Aye, sir"

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    The Jurans were a friendly people who had been exposed to warp civilizations far too soon by Federation standards. There wasn't much anyone could do when an early colony ship crash landed on their world, but the Jurans had adapted. Some of them were in a hurry to gain access to high technology and they were given the option to go out among the stars, but most were content to let their world grow and progress at a slower pace.

    Federation citizens were allowed to visit Jura, but they weren't allowed to replicate the wooden square tiles the Jurans used for currency, or to replicate tools, toys, or other artifacts which could be traded for currency. What they were allowed to do was sell handcrafts and art. The Jurans found the art of spacefarers to be fascinating.

    Crewman Aktay had earned a few of the wooden 'nickles' as the crew of the Kestrel were calling them by reciting several poems, and crewman Ladner had sold several baskets he had made using the local riverside reeds. They were now spending their currency on a local beer in the local version of an inn while Ladner was instructed Crewman Brock on the finer points of basket weaving with several of the women of the local village looking on.

    The inn was a raised platform with a wooden roof but no walls built into a large u-shape with an open center. The open end faced the village, and the brewery was on the bottom side of the u. Plank tables with plank benches were the only furnishings, and teenaged boys wandered the inn with jugs of beer and wooden mugs. A nickle bought a beer, but if you wanted to keep the mug it cost another two nickles.

    Crewman Aktay was laughing as she told her crewmates how she had returned from Liberty on the day of the attempted escape.

    "When the alarm went off I had time to grab my com-badge and kiss Thomas goodbye before Mason had me beamed aboard. So there I was, in violation of Starfleet dress code, running through the cargo bay to Deflector Control with nothing to pin my com-badge on!"

    She laughed again at Ladner's ferocious blush.

    "After half an hour he came back with a onesie uniform and held it in the hatch of Deflector Control without coming in himself. I thought about asking him to help me zip it up, but the poor guy was almost as shocked as Ladner there!"

    "I wouldn't have bothered dressing," Crewman Voght said.

    "If I had a body like yours, I might never wear clothes," Aktay said.

    "What's wrong with your body?" the Andorian asked. "Many humans share your body type."

    "You don't know... I've never been pretty. Oh, guys say I'm cute, fun, friendly. But never pretty. Not like the Lieutenant. Or you."

    "Me?" asked the Andorian.

    "Well, yeah. Tall, athletic, thin. I wish I could be you for a day."

    "But then you wouldn't be cute, fun, and friendly!" said Brock.

    "Oh, shut up, Doc," Aktay said.

    "No, really." he insisted. "Do you think Ladner always blushes like this when he hears about women running naked through the cargo bay?"

    "You weren't the only one in an improper uniform," said the Andorian. "The Lieutenant and the Skipper both showed up on the bridge in their sleepwear. Then the Skipper ordered Ensign Tanaka to go get his armor, and the Lieutenant said to get her a tunic while he was there, and the poor boy said, 'You have a tunic in the Captain's quarters?'"

    Crewman Ladner had trouble keeping down the beer he had just swallowed and Brock administered a few pats on the back.

    A shout from the village was followed by several more shouts and screams, and a running Juran could be seen coming down the lane between the houses toward the inn. He was followed by two Jurans in uniform and by Law Enforcer Chuss, who was closing the gap between the first runner and himself.

    Crewman Voght vaulted the table and ran out to the street's end, arriving just ahead of the first runner. When he spotted her he turned to run down an alley between the houses, but then Chuss accelerated. When the runner vanished behind the house, Crewman Voght ran in the same direction along the side which could be seen from the inn. By the time the rest of the crew went into action she and Chuss had vanished behind the structure.

    They arrived to see the runner face down on the ground with Chuss holding him pinned, claws extended but not penetrating the woven jacket he was wearing, and Crewman Voght blocking the exit to the alley. All three were panting heavily. Then the uniformed Jurans arrived, as out of breath as the rest, just ahead of a gathering crowd of Juran citizens.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    Lee stood in the wooden-paneled room looking down at the seated prisoner, the Juran that had so recently been apprehended. A uniformed Juran stood beside the door, armed with a billy club and a scowl. Lee paced slowly, steadily, around the chair, and the prisoner turned his head to watch the Marshal.

    "You were supposed to dispose of the hypo-injector, but you didn't. Do you have any idea how dangerous that little toy is? Of course you don't." Lee gave an exaggerated sigh as he continued his slow, steady pace.

    "When we found that, it lead us to the rest of the goods you've helped to smuggle onto your world. We haven't found them all yet, but we will. As far as the money you've 'earned,'" Lee put an obvious tone of derision into the word, "I believe the law on your world is very specific, that it be confiscated. You are a very poor man, with a very dark future ahead of you."

    He continued to pace, slowly, steadily, around the chair. The prisoner, judging by the throbbing of his bronchial tubes, was very nervous.

    "Mister Da'naan't," Lee said to the guard, "Do you recall the sentence for technology smuggling?"

    "I believe it is fifteen years hard labor at the salt works in the Garta'an Desert."

    "Fifteen years." Lee shook his head. "You are, what, about forty years old now? Add fifteen years to that. And I understand that the salt dust is very damaging to your respiratory system. Your family won't recognize you when, if, you return. Perhaps you should have smuggled some dust filters, just in case, well, this, happened."

    The Marshal paused and turned to face the captive Juran.

    "If you will tell me what I want to know, I might be able to put in a good word with the magistrate. She's a fair person. Once she sees that you have been fully cooperating, she might be inclined to leniency. Of course, you will have to genuinely cooperate. Can you do that?"

    "You'll get nothing from me! I know your laws! You can't make me talk!"

    The uniformed Juran leaped toward the prisoner, drawn billy in hand. Then he had the man in a choke hold, his billy across the prisoner's neck squeezing the bronchial tubes, the openings of which, on the left side, convulsed as they struggled to take in air.

    "You listen to me, you drik-filth!" the Juran policeman said, "You aren't as smart as you think you are! I know Juran law, and right now I can make you talk!"

    "Please, Mister Da'naan't, please," Lee interceded. "There will be time for that later."

    The police officer looked at the Marshal for a moment, then released his billy with a savage jerk.

    "I can send for a Federation Judicial Advocate. She will advise you to cooperate. But so far, you have not been charged with any crime under Federation law. You are under the jurisdiction of Juran law. They have allowed me to question you as a courtesy only."

    Lee resumed his pacing as the law officer resumed his post by the door, but kept his billy in hand.

    "It seems to me that you have two choices, Mister Ren'a'la." Lee paused again. "Cooperate with me, or cooperate with Mister Da'naan't. Take your time. Think about it."

    Lee resumed his pacing.

    "I want to be charged under Federation law," the prisoner finally said.

    "You are a native of Jura, accused of violations of Juran law. What Federation laws have you broken that supersede their authority to hold you to justice?"

    The prisoner began to talk. Slowly at first, under the scowling eyes of the Juran officer, but then detail piled upon detail. They would have to be checked out, of course, but the smuggling efforts in this system were already well on their way to being undone.

    ***

    "Your Honor," the Marshal said to the image on his wall, "I don't think this smuggling ring has anything to do with Dr. Aguilar. It's apparently a local concern limited to Jura and a few other nearby systems. The link is Juran spices and Delvanian jewel woods. The Juran authorities are unraveling the gang as we speak. The advanced technology part of the deal was almost a sideline."

    "Then why did Dr. Aguilar make use of a minor smuggling ring?" asked the image, dressed in archaic black robes and wearing a powdered wig.

    "I'm guessing here, but I think it was a message to Marshal Jasse. He thought Jasse would be at Starbase 77, and infected that poor smuggler as a warning, and a distraction. The smuggler should have been able to cause quite a bit more mayhem than he did. If we weren't here, If Dr. Sar hadn't been here..."

    "The consequences could have been much worse if the smuggler had managed to escape."

    "Yes sir."

    "I'll have Marshal Jasse assign a deputy to Jura, to review any new information the Jurans uncover. There may be a link we don't know about yet." The judge paused to examine Lee.

    "If you didn't have your hands full already I'd assign you a new deputy."

    "As soon as Deputy Claire is free I'll have one of the best deputies available," Lee said. "Any word on when that might be?"

    "Not for a while. Lee, if things go well, I'm considering Claire for a Marshal slot. She's the best candidate to replace Thrr."

    "I'd hate to lose her almost as much as I'd hate to train her replacement," Lee said, "But I can't hold her back. She's very good. I'd bet she'd find the link I'm missing here, given the chance."

    "This leaves you with a cold trail, doesn't it?"

    "The prisoner did describe a person very much like Dr. Aguilar, but yes sir, it's a cold trail."

    "All right. I've approved your request for extradition for the Juran citizen known as Ren'a'la. If the Jurans protest, I won't challenge their authority to try the case. Judge Hackett can handle the case if they allow extradition. You'll have to transport the prisoner.

    "Meanwhile, there is another case pending that needs to go to Judge Hackett. The prisoner is currently being detained on Ramoth. I'm sending you the file. As soon as you can wrap up there, get to Ramoth. They are having trouble holding her."

    "Yes, Your Honor. I'll get it done."

    "I know you will, Lee. Webster out."

    ***
  • aricwilischaricwilisch Member Posts: 15 Arc User
    Captain William"s hand gripped the edge of his chair and used it to pull himself up.

    He could barely see through the smoke filling the bridge of the ship he had commandeered from Starbase One moments before it had been blasted by something.

    "REPORT!"

    His voice carried over the klaxxons and the crackling of shorting consoles and heard rather than saw someone move off to his left.

    "Shields are down! Main power is offline, the batteries are keeping the lights on but barely. Breaches on decks 5 and 8..." His XO, Commander Matthew Jones, continued to rattle off failing systems and damage from across the ship.

    He grunted and pulled himself into his chair, using one of the arm consoles to try to get more details about his ship.

    USS Albatross...Walker Class, he thought to himself. Well at least it wasn't a transport. He didn't have a lot of options when the evacuation order had been given and had barely gotten what remained of his crew aboard whatever was at the current airlock.

    She was older, but he always believed they didn't make them like they used to. Probably why they were still alive...

    "Helm, you got anything?"

    "Barely sir. Maneuvering thrusters are at 25%" Lieutenant Edgers shouted out from somewhere ahead of him.

    He scowled and turned in the general direction of his XO, "Dammit Matt, can we try to get some of this smoke out of here, and turn off those damn alarms!".

    The silence was almost deafening as the klaxxons tapered off, the red strobes of the alert lights continuing to illuminate nothing but the smoke around him.

    "Transferring aux power to environmental, standby."

    A whirring seemed to hum up from the decks and a second later the smoke seemed to be sucked from the room, showing the devastation of what was left of his bridge.

    He pushed himself out of his chair towards the motionless form of a crewman crumpled against one of the bulkheads. "Get medical up here, and see about getting the view screen"s up. I want to see what"s going on."

    He felt for a pulse, finding a weak one, and caught the medkit his XO tossed him. He discharged a hypo into the mans neck and was relieved to feel his pulse strengthen slightly.

    "Screen's coming up Captain. Sensors are.....sort of working, but things aren't making sense."

    Alec patted the crewman on the arm and pushed himself towards the helm. He was slightly disturbed to realize it took a lot less effort than it should. gravity plating seemed to be off a bit.

    He caught the back of the helmsmans chair and looked over his shoulder, "What's going on John, were are we?"

    The helmsman was working a little to frantically at the controls, never a good sign. "The stars are there, but slightly off and there's something BIG out there."

    Alec frowned, "Starbase One? Was pretty sure that kick of the pants we got was the base going but I'd love to be wrong"

    "Captain we"re being hailed by the USS Endevour. She's coming up on our position and requesting permission to send over repair parties" his comm officer called from across the bridge. At least he could see her now.

    "Granted. Jessie, see if they have any medical teams and have them beam directly to the bridge."

    "Um, Captain, I don"t think we're in Kansas anymore" his helmsman said softly as he looked up from the helm, watching as the screen flickered to life.

    Alec wasn't sure what he expected to see, maybe the Endevour holding station, maybe even the wreckage of the Starbase One. But he barely noticed the sleek unfamiliar lines of the Starship approaching, slowly straightening as his eyes locked onto the massive Starbase floating off in the distance. Starbase One could have fit in that thing twice and still have room for ships.

    "What the hell?", he whispered as he heard the tell tail sound of transporters behind him. But the pitch sounded all wrong. He turned and watched as several blue columns consolidated into men and women in rather strange uniforms. But there was no mistaking the Starfleet symbol on all their chests.

    "Captain?" one of the officers said. He shook of the uneasy feeling slowly growing in his gut and responded, "Captain Alec Williams, thanks for the assist."

    The woman looked around briefly taking in the damage before looking back at him, "I'm Commander Dunn, USS Endevour. We have teams transporting to other decks seeing to your wounded and our ship should have you in a tractor in a few minutes to keep you from continuing to drift until we can get your engines back online. Looks like you've had a....bit of a ride." The woman seemed to be hesitating, like she was second guessing what she was saying.

    She was holding something back. That uneasy feeling grew to a sick queasiness in a matter of seconds as his mind latched onto his command training, specifically on recognizing when certain situations have occurred.

    "Yeah, you could say that. But I have a feeling the ride....isn't over.....is it...."

    The woman's eyes caught his and he caught a flicker of sympathy.

    "Captain your Ready Room is still functional.... We will take care of your crew and your ship, but I think we should...chat..."

    He had a feeling that was the understatement of the century....whichever one this happened to be....
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    Crewman Mason operated the transporter and two images materialized, the Skipper and his prisoner. The prisoner was dressed in very revealing clothing, exposing much of her dark green skin. Her almond-shaped eyes were almost as green as her skin, and dark black hair cascaded down to her waist. She smiled at Mason.

    "This way, please," said Chuss as he took her thin arm in his huge hand. She followed his lead with an imploring look over her shoulder at the transporter operator.

    The Starboard Quarterdeck was empty and its hatches sealed while she was escorted through to the detention deck. The occupant of the first cell watched in silence as the Caitian who had caught him put the green woman in the farthest cell.

    "Secure Cell One," the Caitian said, and the perimeter of the cell entrance glowed with a soft white light.

    "Medium Security Accommodations in Cell One." A cot, a sanitary unit, and a table and chair materialized in the cell. "Food. Orion standard diet," he said, and an assortment of fruits and cheese-like products materialized.

    "If you need anything, ask. If you try anything cute your accommodations will become less comfortable."

    "You could give me a tour of your ship, couldn't you? Maybe a... private... tour?" she walked suggestively toward the force field.

    "The air recycler in this room is not connected to the rest of the ship and, even if it were, the ship's doctor has inoculated the crew against Orion pheromones. I advise you to behave yourself. It is not a long trip to where we're going. Make good use of your time. Perhaps by dictating your confession."

    The Caitian turned away, missing the hateful look on her face as he was scanned before exiting the Detention Deck.

    ***

    "Their conversation is interesting," said Lee, "In a boring kind of way. They are both smugglers, and each thinks the other is a plant trying to elicit secrets from them. So far, nothing of real interest has come up, except that I now know a few new recognition codes."

    "The Orion is furious that her regular bag of tricks isn't working," Chuss said.

    Dr. Sar said, "Orion pheromones have been well understood for a long time now. It's a wonder anyone is uninformed enough to fall victim to them any more."

    "That may be why she's working the backwater worlds, going to locations which have been isolated or which lack the medical technology to suppress the effects." Lee stretched. "We'll be in orbit of Salvin's Planet tomorrow. Judge Hackett's staff is well informed about Orions and the counter-agents needed to suppress their pheromones. The inoculations you've given her should last for a few days even if they aren't on their toes, or if she should escape.

    "That's what worries me. Escape. She seems to believe she won't be going to a rehab colony."

    "She would have confederates waiting for her to arrive on Salvin's," said Chuss. "Or in orbit."

    "There is usually a Starfleet frigate in the Salvin system," Dr. Sar said. "It's unlikely they would wish to engage in space, though they are likely to have a blockade runner shuttle or small vessel on hand to effect their escape after releasing her."

    "You're both treating this fancy of mine as if it were true," Lee said.

    "You have a knack for reading people," Chuss said.

    "And it never hurts to be prepared for a worst case scenario," said Dr. Sar.

    "All right," Lee said. "If we're going to do this, let's do it right. Mr. Friday?"

    "Yes sir?" said the voice of the ship's AI.

    "Give me a breakdown of the known and suspected smuggling elements in this sector."

    "Yes sir, coming in on your wall monitor now."

    ***

    Crewman Mason smiled as the three women mounted the transporter, the short brown woman, the medium-sized green woman, and the tall blue woman. The one in the middle wore wrist and ankle restraints. The wrist restraints were energized while the ankle restraints were not, allowing her to walk. The gauzy clothing she wore was designed to reveal more than it concealed, and at the moment it was revealing a scornful sneer directed at Crewman Mason.

    By contrast, her companions were both fully clothed: the Lieutenant in a red tunic with black slacks, while the Torpedoman wore a red Skater style uniform dress with calf-high black boots. They each held the Orion by an arm as they waited.

    "Cleared for transport," announced the gravelly voice of the Chief Engineer.

    Crewman Mason pulled the transport levers.

    ***

    Salvin's Planet was a bustling port at the halfway point between Romulan and Klingon space. It was too far away to have been of any use in the various wars over the years, but now it was close enough to the new Romulan Republic capitol that it had become a logistics outpost supporting Federation and Romulan Republic activities.

    What had begun as a human colony world two centuries ago was now a polyglot society of the many races and cultures of the sector. It was a true Federation world. The Federation Governmental Complex occupied seven hectares of its largest city which had been named for an otherwise forgotten explorer, and it was the regional administration center for dozens of worlds both Federation aligned and protectorate worlds.

    It was no secret that criminal elements operated in and around the complex. Groups which wanted a piece of the action were drawn to centers of power and authority. Several branches of security cooperatively policed their activities, but the criminals always found the hidden TRIBBLE in the armor of society,

    Roderman was one who had found those TRIBBLE. He enjoyed the lifestyle his position gave him, and he seldom had to work to maintain it. Instead, other people worked and gave him a share of their profits because he had other people work to cover their tracks. He was a middle-man who fancied himself on top. Until orders came down from above.

    He paid his dues diligently, and those higher ups never bothered him unless they needed something. Last night they had called and oh-so-politely asked him for assistance. Assistance which could get him killed, or worse. They had politely threatened him with worse as they made their request.

    He had people for jobs like this, but even he could see he must be there to make sure everything went smoothly. It would cost him his comfortable position. He would have to use up his escape plan. He would have to expose the web of corruption he had spun over the years. It would cost less than the alternative, and he could always start over somewhere else.

    When the Orion and her Starfleet escort exited the Transportation Center on their way to the Judicial Complex, he triggered the alert. Twenty seconds later the bomb went off. It was a distraction, and it appeared to be working as the normally lazy mid-day crowd panicked and ran in every direction.

    Under the cover of the confusion four operatives converged on the Orion. Only one was armed; they were street toughs, ready, willing, and able to do violence in a very personal manner. The Andorian saw them first, drew a box, and the Orion collapsed to the ground, her ankles suddenly as bound as her hands had been.

    Thesk was a Promethian, taller and broader, and somewhat less intelligent, than the average humanoid. He relied upon strength and bulk. He attacked the smallest of the trio. In less than a second Roderman knew that had been a mistake. The tiny woman savagely attacked him, using his own bulk and clumsiness against him. He hit the ground hard.

    The Andorian had drawn a phaser and shot Micah. He was on the ground even faster than Thesk. She shot Thesk immediately after as he struggled to get back to his feet. Danil was smart enough to know he had no chance, and equally smart enough to know that his only chance to get out of this alive was to complete his task.

    The Drevonian was fast, and agile. He was able to get in close enough to toss the transponder to the Orion as the blue woman dealt a savage kick that bent his leg at an odd angle. He hit the ground and she phasered him too.

    The last of the foursome had finally drawn her plasma rifle and fired at the Andorian, who leapt for cover behind the Orion. Before she could take aim a second time the small woman had a phaser in hand and was firing back. The fight was over.

    Almost.

    Roderman had the handheld controller out and was trying to get a lock on the transponder. Its code had been keyed in! Why couldn't he get a lock?

    He heard the sound of a transport behind him and turned to see yet a third red Starfleet uniform. He ran.

    It did him no good. The human was on him before his second stride and he skidded, face-first, on the concrete plaza, coming to a stop with a Starfleet boot on his neck.

    "Got him, Lieutenant," the Starfleet officer said. And on the plaza more uniforms were beaming in.

    ***

    The smuggler ship was old, but well maintained. It had been parked in a secret location, and a warehouse had been erected around it. A very small, very select crew had maintained it as a contingency: a way off the planet when all else failed.

    When the very large Caitian entered the warehouse panic set in. How had this bumbling oaf found them? The engineer was explaining that it was a display, not a real starship when the beacon went off. An emergency beam-in was in progress! It was too soon! Where was the captain?

    Then an officer in blue armor barreled into the warehouse at the head of a squad of civil police.

    It was time to go! The pilot fired up the engines and the engineer, still outside the ship, screamed and lunged for the boarding ramp. The Caitian swatted him aside and swarmed up the ramp. As it cycled closed the policeman in blue armor jumped.

    The pilot locked down the airlocks and turned to his controls. Engines powered up. The transporter was showing it had powered down; that meant the captain was now aboard. There was no time like the present! He toggled the switch that set off the explosive bolts. The roof of the warehouse split in half, falling outward with the side walls of the warehouse.

    Liftoff! The corsair was free of her prison and flying for the first time in a century. The pilot set a course for open space and powered up the warp drive.

    Hearing the sounds of phasers and a bellow of rage, the pilot realized the Caitian had made it into the ship. But the troops would handle him soon enough. Except that the sounds got closer to the bridge.

    He was still below the upper reaches of the atmosphere and accelerating. He needed to locate and avoid the patrol ship that usually hung around Salvin's Planet. Instead he looked to the internal monitors, and found the Caitian on the crew deck, a trail of troops in the passageway behind him. One of the remaining troops had him pinned behind a stanchion with a steady rain of pulse-plasma bolts discouraging him from leaving cover.

    The door to the bridge opened and the blue-armored policeman entered, a phaser pistol in his left hand and an assault phaser rifle in his right. The pilot knew better than to reach for his own weapon. He put his hands up.

    The policeman shot him anyway.

    ***

    Lee was finally back on his bridge with his crew accounted for. Chuss was wearing his new plasma burn like a badge of honor, and enjoying the attention of Crewman Aktay almost as much as he had loathed Dr. Sar's ministrations. They were celebating the victory in the Briefing Room, Kestrel style. Lee had been with them until the call from the USS Slovenia had come in. He sent Ensign Tanaka, the new OOD, to inspect the Briefing Room for fire hazards while he took the call. He sat back in the center seat and toggled the communications circuit.

    "Captain Rader, please accept my apologies for making you wait. We're still wrapping up over here."

    "Not a problem, Commander," the human captain replied. "I wanted to let you know those codes you sent have been unlocking the encrypted computer data arrays. We're still piecing it together, but you've found a treasure trove of blackmail and extortion records going back decades."

    "It's a common practice for criminals to keep hidden records of the activities of other criminals as a kind of insurance. Dead Man Files which can be exposed in the case of the owner's untimely demise, or used for extortion."

    "This Roderman character seems to have been well placed. We'll be going over these files for some time to come. That was a nice piece of work you pulled off there. I've sent a preliminary report to Starfleet HQ, and your name figures prominently in it, but I wanted to give you my congratulations personally."

    "Thank you, Captain. I couldn't have done it without your help. Your troops and your medics covered up a major oversight on my part. I didn't anticipate a bomb."

    "You told us to be ready for anything. And the bomb was only intended as a distraction. We aren't aware of any deaths, though there are some significant injuries."

    Lee held his hand to his forehead a moment, then wiped down. He looked at the viewscreen and said, "I'd have let her escape before I endangered so many people if I had suspected anything like that was going to happen. Protecting people, not endangering them, is what I'm supposed to do. We can always track down a fugitive. It's not worth a life, even potentially, to catch one right now."

    "You may be right. I don't think so, though. These people were dangerous. Just their being out there was endangering people. If you read some of the things we're uncovering in these files..."

    "I can imagine, sir," Lee said. "Judiciary will want a copy of those files when you're through with them."

    "Judge Hackett has a man here observing already. You'll get your copy as soon as we have it decoded." The captain paused then asked, "Is there anything we can do for you and yours in the mean time?"

    "We're well situated, sir, but thank you. If you have time in the next few days, stop by for a tour. It's a small ship, but we have a well-stocked bar."

    "I'll hold you to that. Until then, you all take care of yourselves."

    "We will, and thank you sir."

    The captain terminated the transmission. Lee leaned back in his chair and sighed. Then he tapped into the subspace communications link located on the borders of Salvin's World's stellar system. With that link established he typed in a familiar code. A very familiar face in the foreground invited him to leave a message then stood there waiting with his familiar, crooked smile.

    "Tim, I know you don't want to talk to me, but it's been too long. I don't want our last memory of each other to be a fight. Even if you can't accept my decision, even if we're destined to never see each other again, I want you to know I miss you. I can't stop being me, but I can't stop loving you either. If you ever do want to talk..."

    The screen blanked then resolved on the bedside comm unit. Tim's face was framed by tousled hair, and shadowed by the illumination of Hong Kong's lights shining through the bedroom windows. Tim's face.

    Lee sat silently, wishing he could reach through the viewscreen.

    "Huang." Tim sat up and touched the illumination control. His shadowed face became visible. "Huang, I'm sorry I've put you off for so long. I've been, I... I miss you too."

    "I wanted to say..."

    "I want you to know..."

    They each spoke at the same moment, then paused, and Tim smiled and said, "You go first."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    Season 1. Episode 4

    The bridge was crowded. Everyone not on duty elsewhere wanted to watch, and the Starbase 77 engineering crew added to the crowd. The Engine Room was probably just as crowded. The simulations they had run on the Starbase computer were promising enough to excite their engineers, who had volunteered to be a part of the project as soon as Admiral Franklin's approval had been granted.

    Lee was hunched over his port side console running calculations. The young lieutenant in engineering gold who occupied the seldom used Navigation console called out their speed as Kestrel accelerated. What they were trying to do wasn't new; it was a primitive version of the Slipstream Drive which had leapfrogged the brainchild of a promising young Dr. of Warp Theory who worked for the Theoretical Propulsion Group of the Utopia Planetia's Experimental Design Bureau. If the Falcon Development Project had not been canceled its trials would have preceded Slipstream by some few years, at least long enough to have been noteworthy as a step in the development of warp drive. Now the idea of Variable Warp Field Geometry was a curiosity, only exciting to the bored engineers of a backwater repair and replenishment station and a few theoretical physicists. And to Lee.

    "Warp 8.2 and accelerating," said the young lieutenant, who's chiseled jaw and windblown blond hair could have gotten him a part in a Starfleet Recruiting holoprogram. "Approaching Warp 8.3, warp shell stable."

    Lieutenant Mirra was at the Science Station with a pair of engineers flanking her. "Main Deflector locked on to the warp field frequency, I'm having trouble with the aft deflector."

    "It should have been a Subspace deflector instead of a Gravitic one," said the engineer behind her Tactical station. "Let's see what I can do to help." He began manipulating the controls.

    Crewman Bagogg tried to observe over his shoulder, but Crewman Voght pulled him back, holding her hand over her mouth.

    "That should do it," said the engineer at the Tactical console.

    Lee turned to the engineering team captain who was hovering over Crewman Sibley's post. "Are your people ready?" he asked.

    "Looks good from here," the captain answered. "Ready when you are."

    "Number One, begin warp shell manipulation."

    "Beginning warp field manipulation," she said as she used the deflectors to push the forward and aft ends of the warp shell surrounding the tiny ship.

    What should have happened was the creation of fore and aft bulges in the warp field. With the power output of the nacelles unchanged, this increase in length should have been accompanied by a reduction in the other dimensions in order to maintain a constant volume within the warp shell, creating an elongated, spindle-shaped warp field which would not only present a narrower aspect to the subspace energies through which it plunged, but it would separate the bow and stern wakes, reducing their amplitudes, and thus the amount of energy required to push against the fabric of subspace. The result should have been dramatically greater speed with a constant energy output.

    Instead what happened was that the Kestrel shook violently, as if a giant drummer were beating it on both ends like a bass drum. Lieutenant Mirra tried to extend the deflector's push, thinking that it was a transitional effect, but the throbbing became worse.

    "Warp field instability!" Crewman Sibley shouted over the noise of vibrations and the engines whining with the strain. "Thirty seconds to warp field failure!"

    "Shut it down!" Lee commanded, but Mirra was already backing down on the deflectors. With a final lurch the ship dropped out of warp.

    "Engineering, status report," Lee demanded.

    "Reactor coolant temperature high but within safety tolerances," Sibley said. "The Chief is running a diagnostic, but my board only shows marginal overheating in the warp coils. Structural integrity shows high stress, but within tolerance."

    "Number One, what happened?" Lee asked as he scanned his boards.

    "Deflectors well within tolerance, sir. It should have worked."

    "All right, but I want a diagnostic on the Main Deflector before we try to go to warp. Helm?"

    "Controls within normal parameters, Lee," the Caitian reported.

    "Bring us about on impulse and lay in a course for Starbase 77. We'll wait for a complete diagnostics report before we go to warp."

    "Aye."

    Turning back to the captain, Lee asked, "Any idea what just happened?"

    "Everything was in order. I didn't see any systems failures. We'll have to parse the data before I can say more."

    "Aye, sir," Lee said to a very subdued bridge.

    "It jumped," Crewman Bengogg said into the silence. He tapped the shoulder of the shipyard engineer who was running diagnostics at the Tatical station in front of him. When the man turned to him, he repeated, "It jumped."

    "That it did," said Mirra as she reset the deflector controls.

    Nodding, he said, "Fast, slow, too fast, too slow. It jumped."

    "Come on, Ben," Crewman Voght said. "Let's let these people work."

    She took his arm and lead him off the bridge. When she stopped to talk to Crewman Mason at his Security Station, Ben repeated, "It jumped."

    They nodded, and Crewman Voght patted his arm. But they didn't understand.

    Ben left them to their talk and went down the ramp and forward. His quarters were behind the second-to-last hatch at the end of the hallway, with the last being his work station in Starboard Weapons Control. Inside his quarters was disorder: all the furnishings had been pushed away from the forward bulkhead and shoved haphazardly against the aft side of the room. His desk was cluttered with oversized P.A.D.D.s, but from the end of his desk to the hatch of the forward escape pod the forward bulkhead was clear.

    On its holopainted surface was a series of equations which were a failed mathematical proof that subspace was not a real place. He had introduced correction after correction, each refining subspace theory, but each tweak introducing additional errors in other areas as they smoothed out the problem the tweak was intended to correct. Once again, the simplest answer was that subspace was not a location, but a field effect. Next time he would seek to disprove that assertion. He tapped the P.A.D.D. and sat down in the small chair that sagged under his bulk.

    With the blank wall in front of him, he leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He envisioned the problem, the forces as they interacted one with the other. The field equations he didn't know he summoned up on his P.A.D.D., transferred them to the wall, and he began to study.

    He began to wonder if others could not visualize the problems and see their solutions the way he could. He had been very clear, he thought, in telling them what the issue was. They should have been able to see it. He had to put it into a language they could understand. His fingers rapidly tapped out instructions on the P.A.D.D., and the language of math that so many could use, but few really understood, began to fill his wall with icons, graphs, and equations.

    ***

    Crewman Voght led Ben into the Briefing Room where the Lieutenant sat at the bar with half-a-dozen P.A.D.D.s set out in front of her.

    "Got a minute, sir?" Voght asked.

    "What can I do for you?" the Lieutenant asked.

    "Nothing for me," she said, "But I think Ben's done it again."

    "Done what?" Mirra asked.

    "I'm not really sure. Higher level math isn't my thing. But I think you want to see this." Voght looked up, a habit she had when speaking to the computer. "Mr. Friday, are you there?"

    "What can I do for you, Crewman Voght?" the Skipper's virtual yoeman replied.

    "Can you do your hologram thing with the data on this P.A.D.D.?"

    "Please step to the rear of the compartment," Friday said. The area beneath the curved windows of the aft bulkhead was replaced by a massive wall of calligraphy and three dimensional graphs.

    "These look like warp signatures to me," Voght said, tapping and expanding one segment of the display.

    "They are," Mirra replied. "I have scanned enough of them to recognize that much."

    Voght tapped and expanded another panel of graphs. "And these are deflector power curves."

    Mira nodded. She looked at Crewman Ben with narrowed eyes. "You did all of this, Crewman Ben?" she asked.

    He nodded his head. "It jumped," he said.

    "And this explains why it jumped?"

    He nodded his head again. "We will go faster."

    "This is the one that really caught my eye, Lieutenant."

    Crewman Voght tapped a yet another series of graphs. She found and expanded a three dimensional graph which incorporated warp power, subspace density, and deflector intensity. Where the three fields overlapped there was a plot: a curve from Warp 0 to Warp 9.999. The deflector intensity began to increase sharply after Warp 6.1, to it maximum at around Warp 8.3. But the warp power curve diminished rapidly at the same point, smoothing out to a low point at Warp 8.3, then it radically inclined on a hyperbola which never touched Warp 10. At the engine's maximum rated output the acceleration curve intersected at Warp 9.999. At this point the relative density of subspace prevented any further increase in speed given the power available to the warp and deflector systems.

    "Ben," said Lieutenant Mirra, "Why did it jump?"

    The Pakled crewman tilted his head back in his silent version of a laugh, then scrolled down the various graphs associated with the acceleration curve. The one he selected showed a steady pumping up of warp power to the engine's peak performance. As the warp power increased the power to the navigational deflector increased as well to compensate for the relative kinetic energy of particles in the ship's path. The faster the ship moved, the more power the deflector required. At Warp 8.3, the graph showed a continued increase of power to the deflector, which was used to manipulate the warp shell. At that point the graph showed a discontinuity in the acceleration curve. Even a very slight deviation of warp geometry at that point greatly reduced the power required to attain much higher speeds. In effect, the ship was trying to achieve higher speeds instantly, without the intermediary speeds along the curve of acceleration.

    It tried to jump. A physical impossibility for matter.

    Ben pointed to the discontinuous curve and said, "It jumps."

    Mirra nodded. "Mr. Friday, do you understand this?"

    "I'm sorry, Lieutenant," the artificial intelligence said, "I am not a theoretical physicist. I can assemble the related educational material in this field for your examination if you wish."

    "Not at this time, thank you," the Lieutenant said. "Skipper, Lieutenant Mirra here. You may want to come to the Briefing Room at your earliest opportunity."

    "Something urgent?" he asked.

    "Not urgent, but it does have to do with our problem," she said.

    "I'll be right there," he replied.

    Ben said, "We will go faster," in a very certain tone of voice.

    ***
  • jonsillsjonsills Member Posts: 8,211 Arc User
    I think I see - similar in nature, although not identical, to White's refinement of the Alcubierre equations, vibrating the edges of the field in order to reduce the mass of exotic matter required from approximately the mass of Jupiter to about 700 kilos. (That leaves aside, of course, the question of where exactly one gets 700 kilos of exotic matter, but that's not a matter for theorists... :wink: )

    Will there be a similar level of detail on how they'll overcome the near-instantaneous transition between warp states? (I confess, I dig technobabble.)
    "Science teaches us to expect -- demand -- more than just eerie mysteries. What use is a puzzle that can't be solved? Patience is fine, but I'm not going to stop asking the universe to make sense!"

    - David Brin, "Those Eyes"
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  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    edited October 2018
    It's harder to explain than it is to draw in a graph. I have several. I lack a holographic imaging system on which to display them. I do intend to present a solution, as the Kestrel's speed will be a plot element later. There are some bugs for them to iron out first.

    ***

    A freighter captain spoke to a traveling businessman at a port-side replimat. The businessman spoke to a technician who called a friend. The friend happened to be on his way to Starbase 77, and there he told a custodian with whom he shared a drink at the Double Sevens Lounge. There was no paper trail to follow, no subspace communications log, nothing to incriminate the freighter captain if the object of the tale ever learned there was an informer.

    When Lee returned to Starbase 77 and dropped off the engineering team, (with Crewman Bangogg's calculations in hand,) he stopped for lunch at a local 'Chinese Food' establishment which offered a commercially acceptable, but inauthentic, line of foods which had a vague relationship to the original. A few moments later a custodian sat down at his table and they exchanged a few polite phrases. The custodian spoke of his recent vacation to a wilderness planet, named a waterfall and a resort town, and finished his lunch to return to his duties.

    Lee returned to his duties as well. Six hours spent on the computer and in speaking with various agents and informants via subspace communications gave him what he needed. He recalled the crew from liberty.

    "Breeland, Jackson Robert," he told his deputies after the Kestrel had gone to warp. "Convicted of armed robbery, hijacking a commercial transport, and kidnapping, escaped from Troika Penal Colony six months ago and disappeared. We have word that he's been spotted near the Klingon border. The information is that he's using an alias, Winford Jeffers, and is involved in information trafficking with the local criminal element.

    "Mr. Friday, the files, please."

    The virtual viewscreen on his wall showed a rather plain-looking man wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. Beside this portrait was another of a white-haired businessman in a generic mall. It was the same man with cosmetically altered hair.

    "Mister Jeffers," said the AI, "Is openly involved in the distribution and maintenance of refurbished computer systems on Faenar III. He is also believed to be monitoring the Faenar System automated tracking array, which is an obsolete but still functional part of the old Klingon Neutral Zone Monitoring System. The data he is believed to be collecting on Klingon and Starfleet ship movements in the area is suspected of being sold to black marketeers. It is believed that this benefits cross-border smuggling operations, which consists primarily of weapons and military hardware in exchange for illicit drugs and their manufacturing equipment and components."

    "We have to plan this carefully and act quickly." Lee said. "If Breeland suspects we're coming he might slip across the border and out of our grasp before we get there." He looked at his deputies and asked, "Any ideas?"

    ***

    Mirra relaxed in the command chair, going over reports as the generic starfield flew past in the viewscreen. Ensign Tanaka was sitting at the Engineering console when the notification on the Communications Console chirped. He was tempted to cross the bridge to answer it; he was the Communications Officer after all, but he was supposed to be getting time in on the Engineering watch station.

    Mirra grinned at the conflicted Ensign as she took the call. A woman in a blue Starfleet uniform filled the viewer. "Lieutenant Mirra of the USS Kestrel," she said. "How may I help you?"

    "Lieutenant Commander Kyle of the Pakled Mission. I received an interesting inquiry some days ago, from you I believe. It was followed up by a rather interesting call from a Captain Sanders of Starbase 77. Your crewman, Bengogg, appears to be causing quite a stir."

    "He has, indeed, Lieutenant Commander. It's amazing. But we seem to be having communications issues. He knows things but can't express them, and he learns at an alarming rate, but incompletely. He appears to be oblivious to important aspects of our training programs." Mirra paused, then continued, "I would appreciate it if you could help us break through the communications gap."

    "That may not be possible," Commander Kyle said. "You do realize the Pakled never developed a verbal or symbolic language? They work cooperatively, share tasks, and specialize, but so far we haven't figured out just how they organize their society. I'm a xenolinguist with a doctorate in interspecies communications, and I'm as clueless as you are."

    "Our Ben speaks, in very simple terms, but he is a wizard at higher mathematics. I've recently learned he's been playing around with subspace theory, a field I would hesitate to enter without a computer in hand, and he's created some new theoretical twists which, I'm told, the experts are taking seriously."

    "Lieutenant," the Commander said, "Do you know the history of the Pakled's first warp drive?"

    "I'm afraid my entire exposure to Pakled culture has been in dealing with Crewman Ben, Commander. In trying to find better ways to help him integrate with our crew I've exhausted our library files on Pakleds. There's not all that much available."

    "Fifty years ago a freighter crashed on the Pakled Homeworld," the Commander said. "It was so badly damaged that none of the crew survived. Ten years later, with the parts they could salvage and the rest of their ship reverse engineered from the debris, the Pakled made their first launch into orbit of their planet. The same day they operated their first warp drive.

    "It was an incredibly fast development for a scientifically undeveloped people. Of course, their lack of language has handicapped them in interstellar affairs, but even there they have been borrowing words and concepts from other races and are rapidly building a Pakled language. For a linguist it's an incredible development to watch."

    "I'm sure it is," said Mirra. "I'd like to get some tapes of that language for our Universal Translator, if I could."

    "I doubt it would help you. Your Crewman would have to study it to learn it, and he seems to be using Standard already. His native language would appear to be mathematics."

    "Math as a language?"

    "Of course," the Commander said. "There are concepts which can only be expressed with math, though many of the concepts we take for granted have no mathematical foundation. If you can't express an idea either emotionally, visually, or through mathematics, the idea may be one your crewman will never comprehend."

    "Are all Pakled like this? Geniuses who can't speak?"

    "Oh certainly not," Commander Kyle answered. "Most are of average intelligence and aptitude when compared to the average human. They are physically larger and stronger, perhaps less agile. But even that is not certain because they appear to have excellent hand/eye coordination, but they are no more, nor less, intelligent. And a few exceptional Pakled have more or less become adept with alien languages.

    "But every once in a while you encounter a genius. Their society appears to be a pure meritocracy, and their geniuses rise to the top very rapidly. You may have the Pakled Newton on you hands, Lieutenant."

    "A Newton?" Mirra asked.

    "Indeed. When our mission sent out the word that Starfleet would accept Pakled recruits, it was with the hope that they could learn, and then teach us how to better interact and exchange ideas with the Pakleds here. We anticipated a high rate of failure, but we also hoped. Of the twenty-six applicants, seventeen failed basic training, six resigned, and the only one who qualified for Starfleet Academy washed out in three months, but then went on to complete basic training and join your crew. Currently there are three Pakled crewmen in Starfleet.

    "Your crewman appears to have sought out the one place available to him where he could be exposed to higher mathematics, where he could expand what he knew using a symbolic language he could comprehend, and eventually to participate in the mathematical conversation of his time.

    "In a way I envy you, Lieutenant. I would love to be in your place right now."

    "I don't think I'm as well equipped to deal with him as you are. I'm a tactical officer with my eye on the center seat. I've never studied linguistics."

    "I'll keep the lines of communication open between us, Lieutenant, if you ever need advice, help, or a shoulder to cry on when it becomes too frustrating, but so far you've done a marvelous job. I've already sent a few files you may find of interest. One bit of advice: when introducing new ideas, try to use visual imagery as much as is possible. Pakled are excellent observers: they will make exceptional detectives and scientists one day, once we crack the language barrier."

    "Commander Kyle, I can't thank you enough. If there's ever anything I can do for you, please don't hesitate to ask."

    "Actually, there is one thing you can do for me: keep me updated on Crewman Ben's progress."

    "You can count on it."

    "All right, then. I'll sign off, but I'll be waiting for your call, at any time. Kyle out."

    "Thank you," said Mirra as she closed the circuit.

    "Newton?" asked Ensign Tanaka.

    "That's not to get out," said Mirra. "To the crew Ben is just another one of them."

    "Aye, sir," he said.

    "That goes for you too, Mr. Friday."

    "Excuse me, Lieutenant, what goes for me?"

    "The conversation I just had with Commander Kyle is to remain private."

    "Understood, sir. But I do not eavesdrop on personal communications, either on the comm circuits or face to face."

    "Good," said Mirra, even though she didn't believe it.

    ******
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    Jack Breeland, aka Winford Jeffers, opened the computer repair shop he tended. He wasn't worried that his business suffered from his late arrival. Few customers had ever come in before the lunch hour, and most of the paying customers didn't arrive until much later in the day. It was a sweet little setup; people came to him with the data he wanted, locked in memory storage on their broken devices. He would download the data, repair their equipment, and then access their data arrays at leisure. And even for that purpose he had programs to do the real work.

    Really, all he did was plug in machines that told him which data crystals or circuit cards to replace. The machines did the rest, even highlighting what bits of the stolen data might prove useful. His only real chore was to deliver the data to an address in the city where a frazzled appearing receptionist took his data rods in exchange for a bank draft.

    And once every few weeks he would receive a coded transmission. That would go in his files, and he would get a bonus. It was a sweet setup. The best part of it all was that no one was looking for Winford Jeffers, computer repairman and used office equipment salesman. So long as he stayed out of the way of the local law enforcement officers he could hide in plain sight forever.

    With his storefront unlocked and his breakfast in the food warmer he was content to relax and wait for today's first customer. That customer turned out to be a very large Caitian who was lugging a forty kilo data processing unit which had been removed from a desktop.

    "If you can't repair it let me know," the Caitian said, "I'd rather just buy a replacement than spend a fortune trying to repair it only to discover I need a replacement anyway."

    "Let's plug it in to the diagnostics computer and see what it says," Jack said. "It'll take a while to run. Let's take a look at some of the desktops I have available while you wait, and you'll be able to figure out which way you prefer to go when you get the report."

    "The first thing we need to figure out is, what do you want to do with the unit? A financial analyst has different needs than a real estate broker, for example. What kind of business are you involved in?"

    The Caitian became cagey at that point. He took a minute to think before he said, "I'm an agricultural investor. I find new sources of food and medicinal plants for my world's luxury consumer market, then build up the infrastructure to export it. I don't have the financial support of my government so I have to operate on a tight budget. At least until I have an export going to pay the bills."

    There was only one plant of which Jack was aware that interested Caitians. While chag grass might be misconstrued as both a food and a medicine, it was illegal on most worlds inhabited by Caitians. Now Jack was more than ever interested in the data on that old processor, and desperate to be the one who sold this fellow its replacement!

    "I have some refurbished models over here that might be of interest to you, and I can let you have them for a reasonable price. If you throw in that old processor, I might be able to go even lower, depending on how much it will cost to refurbish."

    The Caitian was looking through the refurbished, (and erased,) desktop units along the wall when the second customer came in. She looked like a techie, a young, modern kid who bashed together old computers and haunted the data networks. Her hair was pink and limp, her clothing secondhand and mismatched, and her figure verged on unhealthy. She wore the techie badge: a pocket comp hung on her belt with its integral one-handed keyboard under her left hand (which was covered with rings,) and what appeared to be a very modern pair of monitor lenses set in thin gold frames.

    Most techies pretended to be poor, but their gear was exceedingly expensive for an unemployed youth. Like most of the so-called dropouts the techies idolized, she was probably the child of well-to-do parents who were excessively tolerant of their lazy offspring.

    She ignored the displays and walked right up to the counter. And waited, looking right a him.

    Before he could decide what to do about her the Caitian growled, "I was here first."

    "That's all right," Jack soothed. "I think she knows what she wants and she'll be out of here in just a minute. You look over these units and if you don't like what you see, I have some more in the back that are still being prepped for resale."

    He went to the counter and said, "What do you want?"

    "A KL 9393 chip card from a Kensater 87 Mod A. Your net page said you have one in stock, but you don't answer net queries."

    "You can see I'm too busy to bother with net traffic." He couldn't keep the scorn from his voice. He hated rich kids with their attitude of entitlement. But the Caitian was watching him, so he went to the back of the shop to comb through the stacks of chips for the one the inventory computer said was in Bin R43, along with two hundred very similar chip cards.

    The moment he was behind the door the young woman drew a tricorder from her quilted sporran and tuned fully around scanning the shop. She nodded, seemingly to herself, when the Caitian turned to look at another model.

    The shopkeeper returned with a chip card, laid it on the counter, and said, "Sixty credits, and I can't guarantee its condition."

    "You're killing me, Jack!" the woman said.

    He reflexively tensed at the use of his name before he remembered that Jack was the local slang for anyone who was not a member of the techie club.

    "I have a business to run," he insisted.

    "That's only worth forty-five new," she insisted.

    "Fine by me," he said. "Good luck finding a new one."

    "All right, I'll go fifty. Tops."

    "I have a serious customer to deal with right now. You want to play games, come back when I have some free time and you can entertain me." He picked up the chip card.

    "Wait," she said, laying her right hand, the one without rings, on his. "I can go fifty-five, but I'm going to micro-scan it first."

    "Suit yourself, but the price is sixty."

    She sighed and removed a micro-scanner from her sporran, turned it on, and passed it expertly along the circuit paths embedded in the card. Then she held up the scanner and allowed her monitor lenses to link with it as her left, many-ringed hand tapped out instructions to both instruments. Jack realized she was the real deal, and not simply a kid playing with her parent's used equipment.

    She dropped the scanner into her sporran and pulled the zip. "All right, sixty," she said. "Where is your printer?"

    He pulled a device from beneath the counter and set it in front of her. She 'printed' her thumb on it and it registered "Transaction Accepted." She gently took the chip card in the way real techies handled their components and turned for the door.

    He read her account info on the printer. Apollonia Victoria Burnell. Cripes! A Burnell! One of the wealthiest families on the planet!

    "Come again soon," he said to her back as she opened the door.

    "At these prices?" she asked, and let the door flap closed behind her.

    His hope that she would return was rather faint, but who knew? His shop had an accumulation of old and esoteric parts. He might have something else she might need one day. Rich kids he hated. Rich customers were something else entirely.

    Returning to the Caitian, he discovered the giant had decided to buy a refurbished unit after all. The one with the half-moon desktop that was pearlescent with pink and green whorls so faint they appeared to be optical illusions. It was one of the more expensive items. The Caitian couldn't afford it. He couldn't afford to let the Caitian leave without a sale. He had to have an 'in' with this grass smuggler. Data was leverage, and leverage was cash.

    "I can arrange a lend-lease on it," he said, in his desperation to make the sale. "One quarter down, and monthly notes of eight percent for ten months. The downpayment would be about what it would cost to repair the processor you brought, and you'll have this beautiful, like-new unit for your office."

    They filled out the forms, the Caitian gave a retina scan, (his paw had no prints, and the calluses were too thick to allow a blood vessel scan by the printer,) and he gave a delivery address.

    "Give me three days," the Caitian said. "I have to be out of town for some field studies. Over on the Fallsworth Continent there are some promising new agricultural ranges I'm looking into. I'll be back in three days, but my boss wants us all to be familiar with the new growing zones."

    Jack smiled and nodded as if he believed that story. Fallsworth was mostly desert with a rainforest at its southern tip. Any agricultural range there would be quite small. There wouldn't be room for expansion if his venture were to pay off. No matter, three days would give him the time he needed to install a Trojan Horse chip that would allow him to monitor the activity of the Caitian 'Agricultural Investor' on a daily basis. And the Caitian also allowed him to keep the old processor if he reduced the ten payments to eight.

    His luck was improving. Who knew? The techie might come back too! He would have to be more careful with her, but hey, every crooked storefront had to have at least some legitimate customers!

    ***

    Chuss returned to their den to find Lee debriefing Crewman Aktay. He was armored, as usual. Crewman Mason was not, but he was armed. The civil defense officer and his junior were fascinated by Masha's report. Of course, for their purpose her scans were considered an illegal intrusion of privacy, but Marshal Lee had full authority to deal with the shopkeeper as he pleased the moment Masha's scan showed that Mr. Winford Jeffers was really the fugitive felon Jackson Breeland.

    "...standard perimeter intrusion alarm, but no internal monitoring. The Trojan Horse has already been plugged in, and his diagnostics computer should already be compromised. Any recordings from its data files should be similarly compromised, as will any system those recordings are played on.

    "It would take a better computer programmer than me to find those programs, and there are no commercially available scanners that will."

    "You sound particularly confident," the officer said.

    "I'm good," she said. "I also had help from someone even better when I was creating them. A real expert in computer systems. You might say she was born to it."

    "Mr. Friday's skills are above average," Lee said. "All right, Stan, it's your ball now. Three days till we make the Breeland arrest and turn over the information on the compromised array to Starfleet. You have that long to trace the movements of our little gift to the local mob."

    "We'll put our best people on it. Thanks for your help."

    "Don't thank us until it's over," Lee said. "If this goes off without a hitch you owe us a case of that smokey liqueur you were telling me about."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    It was all over and Jack knew it.

    An Andorian, a Tellarite, and a Vulcan, all wearing Starfleet uniforms, were at a sidewalk cafe when he came out of his apartment for his evening's entertainment. The others hadn't seen him, but the Vulcan had looked.

    It could have been the opening line of a bad joke. Jack laughed to himself: "An Andorian, a Tellarite, and a Vulcan walk into a bar..." Only it wasn't funny. It wasn't funny at all. His plans changed even as he walked away from his apartment. He had a sweet bankroll stashed there. It was forfeit. It was more dangerous to go back there than it was just to keep going.

    He stopped at an automated teller and made an inquiry. His funds were available. Not his Winford Jeffers account. That was forfeit too. He had another account that he had set up a long while back under the name of a man who was more or less his look-alike. A man whose current condition precluded any interest in money. It was a matter of time until that account was discovered by Starfleet snoops.

    When the Starfleet hounds started sniffing it was a matter of time until they sniffed out everything. It was over, here, no matter what else he might try. The smart man knew when to run, and when and how to cover his trail. He walked through a section of town which would have been called 'seedy' by the locals. There was a bar, and a guy who knew the comings and goings at the spaceport.

    There was another thing he needed to do. It was vitally important. Maybe the man could help with that as well. He ducked around the corner of an alley and waited. No one passed. It never hurt to check if one was being followed. Followed by an Andorian, a Tellarite, and a Vulcan. Fifteen minutes of waiting satisfied him they weren't following him. Out of the alley and across the street was another alley. It was dark, dank, and filled with a clutter of junk. The path twisted through the debris to a simple back door with a hardened black plastic face and no TRIBBLE. He waited.

    The scanner was invisible, he didn't see the beam. But he was certain he had been scanned before the door opened. He was escorted through a storeroom filled with boxes, through a short hallway with a single dim lighting fixture, and into the aisle between the curtained booths at the back of the bar. His mute guide opened the curtain to the one farthest from the bar.

    It was empty. Jack slid in. A few minutes later a waiter came to take his order and left, returning a few more minutes later. He thumbprinted the receipt, and doubled the tip. It didn't matter. After tonight he would never use that secret account again to miss the extra credits. When the man came in and sat with him he drew his Jeffers ID from his breast pocket and passed it to him.

    "There's just over six hundred thousand credits on that account. I trust you'll know how to make it look good. Jeffers has to disappear tonight, and not from here. The more false leads the better."

    The man nodded. He knew people who could use a bit of business here and there across the city. Winford Jeffers was going to go on a city-wide binge, and if certain establishments wanted to take a bit extra for rounds on the house, custom liquor orders to be shipped, or even to pay for the damages due to the inevitable fights, well, who's to say those things hadn't actually happened? By tomorrow Mr. Jeffers was going to be a very poor man.

    "I need passage on the fist ship heading to Klingon space, and an ID good enough to fool a Klingon border agent, along with however much latinum you can scrape up before the ship lifts," he said as he passed over his second, his secret, ID.

    "Latinum is harder to deal in than credits," the man said.

    "I have sixteen bars, seventy-two strips, and one hundred eighteen slips of gold pressed latinum in a safe beneath my... Mr. Jeffer's, closet. I can't touch it. You can have it. I'll give you the safe code just before I board the ship you arrange for me to be on."

    "You don't trust me?" the man asked.

    "I want to be well clear of this planet before the person you send after that latinum touches it. My apartment is being watched, but there are seven other rooms on that hallway. Your guy can get in. I can't. Here's the key."

    Jack passed a metallic strip dangling from a fob to the man, who took it and tucked it into a pocket. Jack took a red business card from his breast pocket

    "I need two more things: a place to sleep until I can board that ship, and someone to bring a message to the Lareal Data Management Solutions office in the Redmont Building before 9 o'clock tomorrow."

    He passed the card to the man, who made it vanish into another pocket.

    "I'll see about the ship right away. You won't need the latinum or the ID until you board. You can stay here until I send someone to show you to your lodging if I can't get you passage tonight.

    ***

    Samalk had endured several hours of 'bonding' as his human crewmates termed it, and was relieved when his shore-leave was over. He had learned that non-Vulcans were almost universally easier to deal with after one indulged them in their nights on the town, or touring groups, or even, on one regrettable instance, indulging in a game of volleyball on a beach. He would not be able to sleep until his body converted the alcohol in his system to sugar, which required the consumption of a week's water ration in several hours, and the elimination of a similar volume of fluid.

    One could always meditate. He remembered the plain man with white hair and a gaudy, but conservative by local standards, suit. Of course he remembered. The man had stared at him. One presumed such a provincial had never seen a Vulcan before. Whatever the man's reason, it was not a moment worthy of remembering, save that one trained to observe and recall could not, at will, simply not observe and recall. He remembered it as he had remembered the four-winged local wildlife licking crumbs from the paved sidewalk of the dining establishment.

    It was simply one of hundreds of details which held no particular importance, save that they had been observed and thus remembered. Tomorrow the engineering crew of the Auxiliary Repair Vessel U.S.S. Itzamna would perform maintenance on the Faenar Autonomous Tracking Array, then be on their way to their next scheduled rendezvous with yet another autonomous tracking station, or Stellar research outpost, or whatever equipment required occasional maintenance along this stretch of the border.

    He slipped into a meditative trance as he waited for his system to purge the alcohol.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    The door chime announced a visitor and Masha didn't really feel like visitors. She threw a robe over her sleeping attire and said "Enter."

    The hatch opened revealing the Skipper in his black uniform decorated only with a silver shield.

    "Sir! I didn't..."

    "At ease, Crewman. May I come in?"

    "Yes sir. Please, have a seat." She grabbed a blanket off the couch to make room for him, tossing it onto the unmade bed. "I'd have straightened up a bit if I knew you were coming, sir," she said.

    He took the offered seat. "Don't worry about it, this isn't an inspection. I wanted to talk to you about the recent..." He paused to stare at a furry pillow. "Did your cushion just move?"

    "Ah, it's not, exactly, a cushion, sir. She's a tribble. Her name is Dorothy."

    "A tribble?"

    "She's neutered, sir," Masha said. "I have the certificate on that. I've had her for eight years now, and not a single pup."

    "What do you feed her?"

    "Nothing. Well, not exactly. She eats dander. On the floors, walls, wherever. She hardly sheds at all."

    "Does she do anything else?"

    "Well, she cuddles. Tribbles are great for that. And she exfoliates elbows and knees, and heel callouses."

    "Is Dr. Sar aware of her?"

    "I didn't... Sir, I've gotten into the habit of keeping her low profile. Some people panic when they hear the word tribble."

    "I can understand that, but the doctor is responsible for the health of everything living on this ship. I can't believe you've managed to keep her a secret through you whole Starfleet career."

    "It hasn't been a perfect secret, but for the most part it hasn't been that hard. Most of the time my roommates have taken to her and kind of helped me to keep her secret."

    "Let the doctor in on your little secret. It's the kind of thing the Chief Medical Officer needs to know." He looked up at the crewman. "Please have a seat, Crewman. I wanted to talk to you about the incident of the last week."

    She sat on the facing chair and said, "I'm sorry, Skipper. I thought that Trojan Horse program would be undetectable."

    "So far as we know, it was." the Skipper said. "It wasn't anything you did that busted the case. Your work was above reproach. The fact is, it was my error, my mistake."

    "Sir?"

    "We've been having a run of luck lately. In my business, you can't rely upon luck. It's a lot of legwork, research, cultivation of information sources. And even with the best work, the most extensive preparation, things go sour."

    He slid to the edge of the seat and said, "When I had confirmation that a fugitive was located, I should have insured the safety of the local civilians then made the arrest. Period. Instead I got greedy. I wanted to catch a whole ring instead of just one fugitive. I was gambling, and I know better."

    "Then what happened?" Masha asked.

    "As best as we can figure, it was just bad luck. An engineering repair vessel arrived making its regular rounds to service the automated facilities, subspace beacons, and so on, and the crew went on shore leave. Breeland saw them and panicked. He ran. The data rods that were downloaded from the processor you 'fixed' were never delivered.

    "The local law enforcement establishment has determined after the fact that several persons were involved in covering his trail, and by the time they entered his residence to look for evidence his valuables had been removed. We now believe he's gone across the Klingon border, and out of my reach."

    He looked her in the eye, saying, "None of that was your fault. You did exactly what we needed you to do. But luck caught up with us. I tried to gamble and I lost. It's as simple as that. But there's an even more important matter that I want you to consider: in my line of work there will always be unforeseen contingencies. Things happen, and sometimes even when you do everything right the bad guy gets away, or people get hurt, or the critical point of data needed to secure a conviction gets lost.

    "I don't ever want you to beat yourself up over anything that goes wrong. If you've done your job, I can't ask more of you. In this case, you did more than your job, and you did it very well. I couldn't have asked for better. But even if there had been an issue caused by you, the only thing I would ever ask is that you learn from your mistake. Nothing more."

    "Thank you, Skipper," Masha said. "I guess I have been a bit hard on myself. After blowing the Communication Station on the bridge, I thought this was a chance to redeem myself."

    "Blowing it?" the Skipper asked. "Aktay, you are too hard on yourself. Comm isn't an easy station to man. It's where we put Command Candidates for their first assignment, to teach them how to multitask under pressure."

    "Ensign Tanaka?" she asked.

    "Admiral Franklin wanted me to take on another six crewmen. I got her to settle for an ensign and a yoeman. I wanted a navigator, but she sent me a Communications Officer. We already had four Nav qualified officers, even though we're all on other duty stations. So you were sent to Deflector Control, not because you did anything wrong on Comm, but because Ensign Tanaka wasn't qualified for any other bridge station. Also because we need someone on the Deflector."

    He paused to look at the tribble which had moved across the couch to his side. Seeing his glance, Masha said, "She's well trained. She won't crawl on you without being asked. She likes to smell new people."

    The skipper reached out a hand. "May I?"

    "She'll love you for it, sir."

    He stroked the long sand-colored fur and the tribble responded with a purring vibration.

    "They are a bit psionic, sir," Masha said to break the trance that petting tribbles induced. "You can lose track of time when you pet a tribble."

    "I see," he said, pulling his hand away. "Crewman, I have to deliver a case of Lagavulin to a certain police officer. You're authorized shore leave but, of course, what you do with your down time is your business." He rose from his seat with a final stroke of the tribble, and Masha got to her feet too.

    "Thanks for stopping by, sir."

    "Thanks for listening," he said, stepping through the hatch.

    Masha smiled, sat on the couch and cuddled Dorothy for a minute. "Shore leave, huh? What do you think, Dorothy?"

    Dorothy cooed.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    Masha felt better after a sonic shower and a good application of body powder. She would have felt even better if they had been able to get the data rods into the hands of the criminals. She was trying to decide between a flowing nu-silk blouse and her uniform when she realized it wasn't the rods that were important. She decided on her uniform.

    But a plan was hatching in her mind. She donned her sporran with her hand-comp on the belt, and began to think about it. The real key wasn't a low-level flunky who was set up to be disposable, an easily dismissed link in their chain. The one indispensable link was the array itself. If she was correct, the routine maintenance had interrupted their ability to intercept data. The criminals would have to restore their hijacking circuit, however it was arranged, and assign a new flunky to deliver the data.

    The one thing they wouldn't want was to lose their ability to monitor traffic within range of the array. The idea was growing, but she would need help.

    Her quarters were on the starboard passageway just aft of the crossover passage. Ladner's was its opposite on the Port side. She grabbed a soda on her way through the Mess Deck. He answered the door still in his engineering coveralls, with a multitool in hand.

    "What in the world?" she said as he opened the door to what at first glance appeared to be a workshop. Then she belatedly asked, "Are you busy?"

    "Come on in," he said. "Don't mind the mess, I'm just fixing a few old things." He removed a complicated looking machine from a chair then pulled up the desk chair and put what was on it on the desk-turned-workbench. "What can I do for you?"

    "I'm hoping you can help me. I know the software, but not the hardware."

    Their talk went on for most of an hour before Ladner looked at the chronometer display and said, "I go on watch in Engineering in half an hour. Let's go talk to the OOD. You know who's on duty?"

    It turned out to be Mr. Chuss. He listened, watching the pair with his green-gold eyes, giving no sign of his opinion on what he was hearing.

    "I'd best get going if I'm going to relieve Sibley on time. With your permission, sir."

    Chuss nodded. Then he called the Skipper. Chuss gave him the abridged version of the plan. They would work out the details in the morning.

    He ended the call with, "Good work, Aktay."

    ***

    "I was born a rock-hopper," Crewman Ladner said over the suit communicator. "Don't worry, your suit's good, and you're tethered to me. Easy as walking."

    "You said you didn't learn to walk until you were two," Crewman Aktay quipped.

    "But I was bouncing off the walls of my zero-g nursery before I could talk."

    "Not reassuring, considering your current speech patterns."

    The starboard cargo airlock cycled and the outer hatch opened. "Okay, here we go," Ladner said as he pushed the component they had banged together earlier that day out of the airlock. Aktay followed, almost striking the ceiling that was caused by the curve of the hull of the ship aft of the transporter room. Above the concavity of the cargo airlock access was the Chief's Quarters. The sloping ramp used for hauling cargo into the ship from the ground would have easily allowed an erect human to avoid the obstacle, but the ramp had not been deployed. She and Ladner were using their tiny vac-suit thrusters to move themselves and the insulated package between the ship and the Faenar Array.

    The array was a massive butterfly, it's solar power absorption surfaces being the majority of its bulk. Most of the remainder was a variety of antennae, receiving a very broad range of signals. Of course, it was not alone. There were nineteen individual receivers in this array, spread out over many kilometers, giving the array a much wider aperture which, when fed through the interferometer produced an aggregate picture of the various signals, increasing the resolution of the array by simulating a single, massively larger, receiver. This central receiver was unlike its siblings in that it contained a control module which coordinated the eighteen other receivers in the array.

    Crewman Aktay's lack of skill in a weightless environment caused some trouble as they approached the receiver, but they managed to avoid a collision with the pod. Now was the time to make good on her idea. She would make no mistakes. Except that the congratulatory malted she had consumed after their successful test of the component was trying to escape. Apparently her stomach didn't like zero-g. She wouldn't give in. She swallowed and used her suit jack to connect to the array's computer while Ladner went halfway around the curve and started using his power drill to unfasten the access panel.

    She was ten minutes into her reconfiguration of the computer code when Ensign Tanaka announced over their suit speakers, "Abort! Return to Kestrel now!"

    "Belay that, stay where you are!" Lieutenant Mirra said as the Kestrel silently went from motionless to accelerating away at very high speed.

    The blue flare of a photon torpedo's exhaust flashed by. It was over a kilometer from the receiver, but Masha would have sworn it went by centimeters beneath her boots. Kestrel turned toward its point of origin, red-hot exhaust plasma forming trails behind her as she rolled away from another torpedo. Then the ship was too tiny to see without optical assistance.

    After a moment Ladner said, "Shoemaker, stick to your last."

    "What?" Aktay turned from her futile attempt to see what the Kestrel was doing to look at Ladner.

    "We can't help them. But we came here to do a job. Let's be done when they get back, okay?"

    ***

    A freighter without cargo pods had a lot of excess energy. Enough to power a pair of photon launchers and a military grade plasma cannon. And enough engines to outrun anything the provincial patrols might send after them. But they weren't designed for a dogfight.

    Mirra sent the Multiband Targeting Disruption Pulse, commonly called ECM by those who knew nothing about the spectral bands of targeting sensors, and yet another photon torpedo failed to lock on to Kestrel. Kestrel's phasers were overheating the target's very powerful shielding. It was not able to avoid her repeated strikes, and after a few attempts to maneuver so that it could get Kestrel into its cannon's firing arc its commander decided that cowardice was the better part of valor. It went to warp leaking radioactive plasma from its overheated auxiliary power reactor.

    "Course laid in!" Chuss said.

    Mirra had to give the Caitian from Beta Lyra credit. His defensive piloting had made Kestrel such a difficult target that her shields were still at full. She was almost as eager as he was to continue the fight.

    "Make your course back to the array."

    "Lee, I..." When he turned and saw the look on the Skipper's face, which luckily Mirra could not, he turned back to his console and said, "The array, aye."

    Crewman Sibley was very busy at his console, but Ensign Tanaka had turned to look at her. His question was obvious, but unspoken: What could make Chuss back down from a human one quarter his mass?

    "Comm, status report on our crewmates on the Faenor array."

    "Aye, sir," Tanaka said, glad to have something to do.

    The Skipper sat motionless, looking toward the viewer.

    ***

    The crew was back on the ship and the outer hull sealed when the Skipper asked, "How long to intercept that pirate ship?"

    "It will be over the Klingon border before we can catch it," said Chuss.

    "Mr. Tanaka, get me someone on the Klingon side of the border."

    "Who sir?" Once again Tanaka regretted his mouth. The Skipper turned to him with a very blank expression on his face, and said, "Anybody."

    Mirra said, "There is a battlecruiser on long range sensors, the Mal'kak." She sent the coordinates to the Ensign's station, and he began to contact them.

    Lee rose from his chair and walked between the empty Navigator's Console and his helmsman. He inspected his neat black uniform for any flaw, then assumed a stance the Klingons used when a subordinate addressed a superior. Not quite the stiff-backed attention pose humans used, but a wary, ready-to-defend-but-not-attack posture. Regardless of rank or seniority, he was asking a favor. He would act like it.

    "I have the ship now. Their communications officer wants your visual. You are addressing Captain Dannak."

    "Send it." Lee waited to hear the chime indicating an open circuit, then said, "Captain Danna'Q, forgive my intrusion, but I have fought a battle against a pirate who seeks refuge on your side of the border."

    The image of a seated Klingon appeared in the viewer, the misty fog of a warm and humid bridge creating the illusion of everything beyond the focus of the captain being indistinct and slightly fuzzy.

    "And who are you?" demanded the captain.

    "I am Commander Lee of the USS Kestrel."

    "I do not recognize your uniform."

    "I am a Federation Marshal. Your intelligence officer may be able to provide you with more information, but my jurisdiction ends at the border of the empire. The ship which attacked me will be across that border before I can reach him."

    "Why should I concern myself with someone who attacks Federation law enforcers?"

    Apparently his intelligence officer had provided the information. "Because the ship which attacked mine is unlikely to be any more law abiding on your side of the border than he was over here. If you are too busy perhaps someone else on your side of the border will want to capture the pirate. The Federation would be very appreciative if you were to assist us in bringing this criminal to justice."

    "Where is this pirate?" the captain demanded.

    "Transmitting the tactical data, and course and speed to you now," Lee said without turning around.

    Tanaka almost missed the cue, but recovered and sent the data file Lieutenant Mira had sent to his station.

    "And if the peta'Q should flee back to your side of the border when he detects my vessel?" The Klingon captain was reading the data as it arrived.

    "I hope he does, Captain Danna'Q. I will be waiting for him."

    "This is a small vessel, and no real challenge for my warship," the klingon said.

    "Perhaps you have a shuttlecraft and a bekk with an urge to win some small honor," said Lee.

    The captain laughed, and said, "I will try to turn your quarry back to you. Good hunting, Commander Lee, Federation Marshal."

    "Qaplah, Captain Danna'Q!" said Lee, and the viewer went blank.

    "Okay, Chuss, your best pursuit course and speed. I want to be there when the peta'Q tries to run from a Klingon Battlecruiser."

    Almost before the Skipper finished speaking the Kestrel went to warp, but it wasn't fast enough. The modified freighter was destroyed by the Battlecruiser Mal'kak, or more properly by fighters launched from the battlecruiser. It seemed there were bekks on board who wanted to earn a little honor.

    Captain Danna'Q was kind enough to transmit his scans of the wreckage.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    Season 1, Episode 5

    Crewman Bengogg sat on the edge of his chair in the Skylight Lounge, which was what the crew had begun calling the Mess Deck back on Mars when its five transparent ceiling panels had still been covered in a centimeter of very fine Martian dust. He was staring at the person speaking to him on the viewscreen located at the forward end of the compartment which usually repeated what was on the ship's main viewer, The human-sized chair sagged under his bulk, and he sat on it with his feet wide apart on the deck, his fists on his thighs, and his elbows sticking out to both sides. His head was slightly bowed, and he kept peering at the speaker through one eye, then the other with a peculiar rolling of his head.

    "... made some wild predictions about the nature of subspace and have upset half my department, and you cannot even answer the simplest of questions?"

    The Doctor of Applied Theoretical Subspace Applications, or whatever he called himself, was obviously angry. His neck was as red as his face, and his transparent dome of a forehead revealed an increasingly purple tint to his very grey brain.

    "I am livid!" the doctor shouted unnecessarily.

    "You are not smart," said Ben, in a low growling tone Crewman Voght had never heard him use before.

    "Now you insult me?" the Galamite said. "I'll see to it you rue this day! You uneducated provincial! You utter imbecile!"

    "DOCTOR!" shouted Voght, stepping between Ben and the viewscreen, "I am turning this channel off now. If you ever attempt to contact Ben again I'll..."

    "Crewman!" The Skipper's voice was very soft, but in the silence which followed it seemed to echo even louder than Voght's shouting. Even the Galamite turned to see the tall human dressed in soft brown trousers and a plaid button-up shirt. "You are dismissed."

    After the slightest of hesitations, crewman Voght stormed off, her anger as apparent as an Andorian heat wave.

    The Skipper turned his gaze to the Galamite on the screen, and in very measured, very polite tones, said, "The crewman's threats are not idle, Doctor. Let me add that if I ever hear of you or anyone else abusing your authority in such a petty manner again, I will come down on you like a ten ton meteor. You will never address Crewman Bengogg, nor anyone else on my crew, in such an unprofessional manner again. Have I made myself clear?"

    "You don't understand!" the Galamite insisted. "This is a fundamental pri..."

    "Terminate transmission," the skipper said, and the viewscreen blanked, restoring an image of a very dry world with rust-colored seas and mottled ochre deserts brushed with white streaks which cast blood-red shadows slowly rotating beneath them.

    Crewman Brock sat quietly in a booth with Crewman Mason, both of whom seemed to wish they had business elsewhere. As Lieutenant Mirra came up the ramp from the port side passageway she saw the Skipper place a hand on Crewman Bengogg's shoulder and ask, "Are you okay?"

    "He is not smart," Crewman Bengogg said.

    "I will deal with him, Ben," the Skipper said. "I want to know if you are okay?"

    "I am strong," Crewman Bengogg said. "I must work now."

    The Pakled crewman stood up, relieving the strain on the chair, and turned to look the Skipper in the eye.

    "All right," the Skipper said softly. "Do your work, Ben."

    Ben ambled off with an uncharacteristic downward look, still rolling his head slightly from side to side.

    The Skipper said, "Lieutenant, you're with me," and he left the Skylight Lounge with a face so expressionless it could have been graven stone, but his stride, his poise, told Mason that someone was in real trouble. Today would be a bad day to be a certain Galamite Doctor of Applied Subspace Theory.

    "Keep Thalys out of trouble!" insisted the Lieutenant as she hurried after the Skipper. She had been looking at Mason.

    Of course it was his job to keep the crewmen out of trouble, but Mason didn't relish the idea of confronting an angry Andorian. Especially one he had spent the last three months training in hand to hand combat.

    "Good luck, champ!" encouraged Doc as Mason sprinted to the Starboard passageway to begin his search for the Andorian. She wasn't in the Starboard Weapons Control Room nor, after Ben answered his door, did he discover her in his quarters.

    "Follow the sound of things breaking," he said to himself.

    The next hatch was an empty crew stateroom, then Aktay's quarters, then following the curve of the passageway, his own quarters, the Ensign's, a void space just aft of the paired inboard -facing ramps to the Bridge and the Starboard Quarterdeck where the boarding ramp tucked up when not in use, then the three officer staterooms. Beyond that was Engineering, and nobody went into the Chief's domain without reason. He looked down the ramp and thought, transporter!

    Down the ramp and aft, but no, the hatch was shut, and the transporter on this side was off line. The other side? It was a small ship! How could Thalys get lost so quickly? Through the cargo bay hatch, and...

    Smack-smack! Thud-smack-pop!

    He looked toward the sound and at the forward end of the cargo bay, on the other side of the Deflector Power Conduit which bisected the Cargo Bay, there she was pounding the stuffing out of the heavy workout bag. Her hands were not wrapped, and with the force she was applying she was in danger of hurting herself.

    She performed a perfect roundhouse, her heel almost at the level of her own head when it impacted the bag, ripping one of the three straps which attached it to the overhead and spilling the cellulose dust that gave the bag its weight and resilience. Ignoring that she followed the kick with a flurry of jabs that might have decapitated a man.

    Whether she had seen him coming or not, she continued to pound the bag. Her feet were shod in regular boots that did not support the toe-bones, knees, elbows, hands, also ungloved, unwrapped, and vulnerable. She performed a triple kick with her left foot, right up the centerline of the bag, crotch, solar plexus, neck.

    "We need to wrap your hands before you hurt yourself," he said.

    Mason had trained since his early teens in martial arts. Since the time that he decided he wanted to join Starfleet. He had been exposed to many forms of hand-to-hand combat over the years since that time, and he held degrees in three human forms and an Andorian form. He had even trained extensively in a Vulcan form of martial arts. He was completely unprepared for the furious assault from Crewman Voght, and his extensive training was perhaps the only thing that saved him in that moment of surprise when his brain had not yet grasped the situation.

    Her attack was savage, but her style was still 'Andorian Schoolyard Brawl'. His training program had helped turn that undisciplined style into an effective, if somewhat wild, style all her own. She was a very dangerous opponent, and he knew it. He also knew that if he could maintain his defense he could out-last her. Andorians overheated quickly, compared to humans. Survival to that point might be a bit of a problem, though.

    He began to push her. Unexpected strikes to her major muscle groups: thigh, upper arm, shoulder, midriff. His goal was not to break or dislocate her bones, but to weaken the blows he was taking injuries to deflect. She backed, grudging every centimeter, challenging him, pushing back, but she gave ground until her back was against the bulkhead of the Deflector Control Room and she had nowhere else to retreat. She had a blue eye and a split lip that ran with bight blue blood and bruises on most of her visible skin. He wondered what he looked like.

    When he tried to grapple her to gain control of her arms she ripped his shirt half off and tried to use it to control him, but he was physically stronger than she, if only by a little. The tattered shirt flew, forgotten as she slammed an open-hand strike into his core, missing his solar plexus by the amount he was able to turn after he saw the blow coming, and she grappled him by the waistband of his slacks. They too ripped and fell about his knees and tangled on his feet.

    When a fighter falls to the ground in a sport-fight there is a referee to separate them, to give the fallen fighter a chance to get back on his feet. In a real fight, the fallen fighter is usually kicked to death unless he fights from the ground. Mason made no attempt to recover his feet. He grappled the Andorian's legs and brought her down to his level.

    She bit his face, struggling to get from beneath him as he sought to control her. She half turned and shoved and gained enough room to struggle up to her knees, kicking back at him. He caught her leg and pulled. The pleated skirts of her dress had pulled up revealing...

    She hit him, and then bit him again. There was the sound of ripping cloth and suddenly the red cloth of her dress was replaced by the blue skin of her badly bruised torso. She was gouging him with her nails, and they both managed to get up to their knees again, but as he attempted to control her flailing elbows they fell through the hatch of Deflector Control.

    An hour later Crewman Aktay, on her way to perform a routine check of the main deflector alignment, saw the tattered remains of two uniforms, and could faintly hear the sounds of combat on the other side of the closed hatch. She reached up to the control panel, locked the hatch, then walked away.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    "Crewman Bengogg is very fluent in the language of mathematics," Mirra was saying, "But he can only recite a few phrases in a spoken language. I'm told it has to do with how Pakleds perceive symbols. He is very good at deducing emotional context, or learning from example, but his ability to grasp verbal instructions is limited."

    Admiral Franklin sat at one end of the table silently, frowning. At the other end sat Admiral Qare, equally silent and dour. Between them were a civilian Deltan who had been introduced as Dr. Assandrei and a human Starfleet captain intrduced as Counselor Ladrille.

    The counsellor asked, in his most professional therapist tone of voice, "Are you sure it's wise to have a crewman with communications disabilities serving on a starship?"

    "Crewman Bengogg performs his duties admirably, Counselor," the Skipper said from just behind and to the side of Mirra.

    "Captain, Crewman Bengogg has been an invaluable member of our crew, and he has met every proficiency and qualification required for his post. He learns the jargon necessary to perform his duty very quickly. His difficulty is with conversation, not competence in the performance of his duties."

    "Then how do you explain his alteration with Dr. Vobedai?" asked Dr. Assandrei.

    "The only altercation, Doctor," said Lee, "Was when your Dr. Vobedai began to abuse my crewman. He initiated a communication with my crewman, he demanded answers to questions Crewman Bengogg could not process due to his limited linguistic capability, and he initiated an insulting tirade which was quite frankly an embarrassment to your institution."

    "My report shows that your crewman threatened Dr. Vobedai!" the Deltan insisted.

    "That will have been Crewan Voght, Doctor," said Mirra. "She is his superior, and an Andorian. She is very protective of her subordinate, which is a common trait of Andorian females."

    "Actually, Doctor," Lee interrupted, "She never got as far as an actual threat before I cut her off. I merely informed your Dr. Vobedai that Crewman Voght does not make idle threats. Then I informed him that I will not tolerate abuse of my crew. By anyone. I have recorded and sent the transmission to Admiral Franklin. You may review it at you leisure."

    "Captain," said Counselor Ladrille, "I'm not liking what I'm hearing. Can you see how this appears from my perspetive?"

    "Your perspective has been distorted by a report from a Doctor whose vanity has clouded his reason. From the moment he learned that his latest theory on subspace field mechanics was debunked by an uneducated Pakled he has been on a crusade to discredit Crewman Bengogg. I am reminded of Galileo Galilei's final words.

    "But if you wish to see my crew in action, to see their interactivity, to see how they are at their best and at their worst, I invite you to come to my ship and observe them yourself. I have guest quarters waiting for you."

    The Counselor appeared to be thinking about saying something when Mirra said, "Captain, I am not so foolish as to think that Crewman Bengog's situation is without issues. That's why I'm in regular contact with Commander Kyle of the Federation Mission to Pakled. She is their Senior Linguist, and is deeply involved in research into better communication with Pakleds. We maintain an open dialogue, track Crewman Bengogg's progress, and discuss the successes and failures of our various experiments. She believes that Crewman Bengogg is vital in aiding us to bridge the communication gap."

    "All right, Commander Lee," Admiral Qare said. "We'll review the recording and contact you if there is any further need. Is there anything you wish to add?"

    "Only that I am quite serious about my offer to Captain Ladrille. I am proud of my crew, and we have nothing to hide."

    The Skipper might have been less certain of this offer had he known a badly bruised Crewman Voght was peeking into the Port Passageway from the Emergency Escape tube from Deflector Control with the rags of her torn uniform clutched to her while Crewman Mason was doing the same from Sensor Control's Emergency Escape tube on the Starboard side.

    ***

    A Ferengi female dressed provocatively in a lace wrap walks out of the kitchen with with two bottles containing a viscous mint-green liquid.

    "Hi, girls, Drulbon here! We all know our males love Slug-o-Cola because it's the Slimiest Drink In The Galaxy."

    She passes one of the bottles to a Ferengi sitting on a sofa watching the Daily Stock Report, then holds out her hand until he places a coin in it. With a smile and a quick stroke of his earlobe she says, "Love you bunbun," and he answers, "Love you gumgum!"

    Then she walks across her well appointed living room holding up the remaining bottle saying, "But did you know that in every bottle there is 43% live algae that gives your teeth that beautiful green tint you've always dreamed of? And that's not all!

    "Slug-o-Cola is rich in vitamins and minerals that give your skin that slick shine that drives the males wild!

    "It's an important source of silicates to keep you regular, and its flavor lingers on the tongue, giving your breath that fresh-from-the-swamp aroma!"

    "Of course, Slug-o-Cola is the Slimiest Drink In The Galaxy. But you and I know it's the healthiest too!"

    She holds the bottle near her smiling face and winks as the camera fades.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    Redemption Island Rehabilitation Center accepted the two prisoners they dropped off, and they gained a guest at Starbase 77.

    "Welcome to the USS Kestrel, Commander," Lieutenant Mirra said. "The Skipper is off the ship at the moment, but I will arrange for you to meet at the earliest opportunity. In the mean time, I have been instructed to assign quarters for your use."

    She turned to the other occupant of the Port Quarterdeck and said, "Crewman Mason, will you take the Commander's bag to the Guest Stateroom?"

    "Aye, sir." He tapped the airlock control panel and the airlock sealed.

    "Crewman," the Commander, wearing a Starfleet uniform which was just a shade darker than his own blue skin, said, "Crewman... Is that a bite mark on your face?"

    Mason blushed just a bit and said, "Martial arts training, sir." He turned without being dismissed and stepped up the ramp quickly.

    "Martial arts?" the Bolean Commander asked Mirra.

    "We're not the typical Starfleet ship, sir," Mirra said. "We drill in handling prisoner escapes and rescue attempts. The Skipper wants us to be ready for anything."

    "But a bite?"

    "It's a Klingon technique," Mirra said. "Would you like a tour of the ship? Or would you prefer to freshen up?"

    "The tour can wait. I'm more interested in the crew," the Bolean said. "I have their profiles, of course, but it's one thing to read about them and another to see them in person,"

    "I agree, Commander Slot."

    "That's S'lott," the Bolean said. "I suppose to your ear the distinction is difficult to detect."

    "My apologies, Commander S'lott. Follow me, and we'll see who's on board this evening. Most of the crew is on liberty call at the moment, but if anyone is awake and not on duty they'll probably be in the briefing room."

    At the top of the first ramp Mirra pointed to the second to last hatch on the curving passageway as Crewman Mason exited. "That's your stateroom."

    They continued up the second ramp and turned aft through the area designated as a combined Security Station, Ship's Logroom, and Emergency Battle Dressing Station. The hatch to the briefing room was open and inside were Chief Garadda and Crewman Brock.

    The Chief was shaking his finger in Brock's face, yelling, "...will eat salted meat whenever I please, you merliton-headed splint-wrapper, and if I want a salted drink I'll have that too! I was eating the food I like when you were still a pup, and I've lived this long, so who are you to tell me what I can and can't do?"

    The Starfleet crewman in a medical jumper said, "Listen, you crooked-toothed, mushroom-breathed, fur-covered swine! I'm telling you what Doctor Sar told you, and you need to listen because I don't want to have to pack your smelly carcass into a body bag and explain to the Skipper that you were just too stupid to break your salt-addiction!"

    Mirra cleared her throat and they both turned to her.

    "May I introduce Commander S'lott. He'll be joining us for a while. Commander, this is Chief Garadda, our Chief Engineer, and Crewman Brock, our Ship's Medic."

    "Pleased to meet you both," the Bolean said. What were you yelling about?"

    "Are you as stupid as you are fat?" growled the Chief. "I have to get back to Engineering, Lieutenant."

    The Chief walked out without waiting for acknowledgement.

    "Sorry about that, sir," said Brock. "Eating human food has given him a taste for salt, which is bad for his cardiovascular system. He got mad at me for coding the dietary restriction on his replicator."

    "I see. And do you usually call your patients by those names?"

    "No, but I make an exception in his case. When he gets argumentative and starts calling you names, you have to give back in kind or he'll think he won the argument."

    "Is he always like this?" the Commander asked.

    "No sir, but the Chief doesn't like being told what to do by anyone but The Skipper. If I go to the Skipper with this, or even to Dr. Sar, I'll lose his respect."

    "And respect is important to you?"

    "It's important to him, sir."

    "I see," the Bolean said looking around the room. "I was told this was a briefing room, the sign over the hatch control panel says 'Briefing Room', but it looks very much like a bar... Except I don't see a replicator."

    "The Skipper says a replicator in a bar is for drunks. A person who enjoys a good drink should get the real thing from a real bartender."

    "You have a bartender?"

    "No sir, that's the Skipper's job."

    "The commander of the ship tends bar?"

    "Not all the time. Lieutenant Mirra is getting pretty good at mixing up daiquiris," Brock said with a smile.

    The Bolean looked down at the Lieutenant.

    "Only under the Skipper's supervision. I haven't met the quals yet," she said.

    "Interesting."

    "You were working, Doc?" asked Mirra, looking at the stack of P.A.D.D.s on the table.

    "Quarerly Crew Health Reports, sir. Nothing of interest to report, just the usual paperwork shuffle."

    "We'll let you get back to your work, then, crewman," the Commander said.

    "Thank you sir, Lieutenant." He sat down at his table, drank from a mostly full brown bottle, then picked up a P.A.D.D. and began reading.

    "Where else might we find your crew?"

    "Good question," she said. "Mr. Friday, who is still aboard and where are they?"

    A soft, feminine voice said, "Crewmen Aktay and Voght are in the Skylight Lounge, Crewman Mason is on watch at the Port Airlock, the Chief is in Main Engineering Control Room, Dr. Sar is in his stateroom. He is asleep. Crewman Brock and yourself are in the Briefing Room, and the guest identified as Commander S'lott is with you as well."

    "Would you care to go meet Crewmen Voght and Aktay?"

    "Certainly," she said to Mirra. "Mister Friday, I notice that you did't give your own location. Are you on watch on the bridge?"

    "I am not qualified to stand watches on the Bidge, sir. My location is Port Computer Access Shaft, Rack Four, Slot A."

    "I see, thank you, Mister Friday."

    "You are welcome, sir."

    ***

    Crewmen Aktay and Voght were sitting together in the forwardmost booth on the port side of the Skylight lounge with two spoons and a large bowl of Andorian Spumoni between them.

    Voght said, "So it was you who locked the hatch? We each though it was the other one of us."

    "I saw the clothes, heard the sound of, umm, combat, and decided it was best if nobody walked in on you two. Of course, I didn't know it was him at the time. You are so lucky, he's soo cute!"

    "It was unexpected. I was so mad, and he was there, and I went a little crazy, I think..."

    "Sounded like you were going crazy when I heard you! So, what, are you two a couple now?"

    "No!" Her temper flared and a pair of reversed quotation marks formed between her eyes. "No, I... He didn't... I don't know." Her antennae were turned inward, writhing, their tips grasping.

    "Hey, it's okay," Masha soothed. "Sometimes crazy things happen, you know? And you do stuff in the moment that seems right, only it isn't." When Thalys' face and antennae turned to her, suddenly very stiff, she added, "Or, you know, it can be the best thing ever. You never know."

    Masha scooped a bit of the foamy blue frozen concoction, then asked, "What are these?"

    'These' were black berries with a red center which, when their skin was broken, stained the frozen froth around them purple.

    "Eurls. A berry that grows in the snow. That's about all I know about them, other than that they're a popular flavor of Crytsal Candy."

    "So what did Brock say?" teased Masha.

    "Brock?"

    "When he was treating your injuries."

    "I went to Dr. Sar."

    "Good thinking. He hardly talks to anyone."

    "I wish you wouldn't either," the Andorian sighed.

    "So what did the man with the cold fingers say?"

    Thalys did a fair imitation of the doctor's nasal twang and said, "I wish you would consider the long term impact of aggressive full impact training before you engage in it. Fortunately, your bout didn't leave you blinded, crippled or, in this case, pregnant."

    Masha had to hold a napkin over her mouth when she tried to suppress a laugh.

    "Humans and Andorians aren't usually interfertile, but with a few hormone injections and some amniotic infusions it can, in time, be achieved without resorting to in vitro manipulations."

    Masha looked up and said, "Oh wow! I never thought about that."

    "Neither did I. Not before he said it. Now..."

    "Now you're thinking of a little guy with pink skin and antennae?"

    "I haven't even talked to Mason about it." Thalys choked a bit and said, "I don't even know his first name."

    "Race."

    "What?" Crewman Vogh's eyes narrowed and her antennae focused on Aktay.

    "Computer tech, remember?" Masha tapped her ever present portable comp. "If it's data on the ship's computer, I know it."

    Thalys relaxed and scooped the blue ice cream, then looked at her spoon without eating.

    "What kind of a chance do we have? The life we live, the way we move around. I didn't even know his name until you told me."

    "Hey, is that..."

    The Andorian shoved her thigh suddenly, almost dumping Masha out of the booth, and said, "Commander on deck!"

    "Please remain seated," the Bolean said as he and the Lieutenant turned up the ramp into the lounge. "If you don't mind, we'd like to join you."

    "Not at all, sir," Aktay said, sliding back into her position beside Voght. "We were trying some Andorian Spumoni, if you'd like some."

    "I'll pass, thank you. I've just recently participated in a discussion about following doctor's orders and, as you can see, my doctor has warned me about sweets."

    "How about you, Lieutenant?"

    "I'll grab a spoon while I'm still up."

    As the lieutenant turned back to the aft wall in which the replimat/galley was installed the Commander asked, "Crewman, how did you get that shiner?"

    "Martial arts training, sir," Crewman Aktay said quickly.

    "I don't remember giving you a black eye, Crewman Voght," the lieutenant said. When the Commander turned to look at the Lieutenant she added, "We're sparring partners."

    "It was a special class, Lieutenant," Aktay said.

    "Come to think of it, I haven't seen you at morning workout for the last few days," the Lieutenant said. Did Doc put you on restrictions again?"

    "No sir," said Voght.

    "It's the quarterly reports?" asked the Commander.

    "That's it, exactly, sir!" said Crewman Aktay. "I'm swamped with them myself, and I have an ensign to do most of mine. Voght here has the whole weapons system to check out, diagnose, and report on."

    "I hear you have a crewmate to help you. Isn't he carrying his weight?"

    Voght's eyes narrowed and her antennae zeroed in on the Commander. "He's doing fine. Nothing to worry about there."

    "Lieutenant, you haven't tried any of this spumoni. It's really good!" Crewman Aktay said as she scooped a spoonful and savored it. "Mmm, so good."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    It was well into the fifth watch when The Skipper returned with Crewman Ben. The crewman was burdened with a stack of the over-sized P.A.D.D.s he preferred, but appeared content. The Skipper appeared to be tired. They were welcomed aboard by Crewman Aktay.

    "How was your day, sir?" Aktay asked as he stepped onto the blue starfield of the Port Quarterdeck.

    "I'm beat," he said, "But I think Crewman Ben here had a fine time."

    "Doctor T'srel is smart," he said with a smile, or rather, his version of a smile which consisted of lifting his head as if he were laughing.

    "Doctor T'srel thinks you are smart, Ben," the Skipper said, and the Pakled crewman tilted his head further back. "Ben, you did a good job today. Your work is finished."

    "I will shower so I don't stink," said Ben.

    "Good idea, Ben. Me too," the Skipper said.

    Bengogg exited the quarterdeck via the hatch into the Cargo Bay.

    "He impressed the finest mathematical minds on Starbase 77 today," the Skipper said. "I was an A/B student in Subspace Field Theory when I was at the Academy, and they lost me in under an hour."

    "He's really that good, sir?" Aktay asked. "I couldn't understand any of the things he was working on, to be honest. I never made it past Boolean Logic. I'm just a programmer and burned out hardware replacer."

    "And a very good one. But I was so far behind the class today that I felt like replicating one of those cone-hats with the word Dunce on it for myself."

    He changed the subject, asking, "Has the Lieutenant gone to sleep yet?"

    "She's OOD, I can get her if you like, sir."

    "No, no, don't wake her. It's not an emergency." He turned toward the ramp and said on his way out, "That shower sounds like a good idea."

    Crewman Aktay was certain that whoever invented the Quarterdeck Watch had done it specifically to bore her to death. Four hours of standing by the door, waiting for nobody. Crewman Mason would replace her at zero hundred hours, she would get a few winks, then replace him again. And be bored again from 0400 to 0800, when the Beta Watch Section took over for the day. Two security watch standers and an OOD made up a watch section.

    She wondered if Crewman Voght would get kicked down from OOD to security once Ensign Tanaka qualified, or if it was more likely that the ensign would replace the Lieutenant on Alpha section. Then she wondered if the ensign would replace Mr. Chuss on Beta section: none of the Deputies stood watches except him. In port watches anyway.

    She envied Thalys in that at least on her watch she could sit down, or take a nap, or read. Security watches were boring.

    But the annunciator chirped and she looked on the gangway monitor to see Mr. Chuss coming at a run. She cycled the outer airlock hatch. Protocol when trouble was suspected: never open both hatches! Protocol also said to call the OOD!

    "Quarterdeck to OOD," she said, Mr. Chuss on the gangway at a dead run!"

    The Yellow Alert siren went off, and the strobe as well, with the computer voice saying, "Condition Yellow, this is not a drill. Condition Yellow, this is not a drill."

    The Caitian was inside the hatch, by himself, so she cycled the airlock, closing the outer hatch and scanning the occupant simultaneously. Of course the Deputy was armed. Two Type 1 phasers and four throwing knives were concealed in his bandolier and kilt, and he openly wore a Type 2 phaser pistol on the belt of his skirt opposite a 40 centimeter long kukri-type weapon sheathed on his left side. The tricorder in his sporran was almost an afterthought.

    Before the inner hatch could fully cycle open the Skipper arrived, and as the Caitian almost fell into the quarterdeck. The hatch to the Cargo Bay opened, and behind it was Crewman Mason with his phaser assault rifle slung at the ready across his chest.

    Aktay turned to the Quarterdeck Communications Panel and toggled the lit circuit. "The Skipper is here, Lieutenant," she said as Deputy Chuss said, "It's Aguilar! He's got Marshal Jasse!"

    "Where are they? Does Hishonor know?"

    "Mirell VI B, sixteen hours away by my guess. I don't know if Hishonor knows yet."

    Aktay noticed the blue-clad Bolean on the ramp, and said, "Sir,"

    The Marshal and his deputy looked at her, then at the Commander.

    Mr. Chuss, with characteristic subtlety, said, "Who are you?"

    "Our guest, Commander S'lott," Crewman Aktay said, "Marshal Lee, Deputy Chuss."

    "Commander, you are welcome to tag along, but we won't have time for a counselling session just now." The Skipper turned to Aktay and asked, "Who's out?"

    "Ensign Tanaka, the Chief, Crewmen Brock, Ladner, and Sibley."

    "Ten minute recall," the Skipper said.

    Crewman Aktay triggered the recall alert, then made room for Mason as he squeezed by to Transporter Room #1.

    "Chuss, set a course." The Skipper turned to the Commander and said, "Follow me, unless you want to get off the Kestrel now. We were supposed to be in port for the next week, but it looks like our plans have changed."

    "I wouldn't miss this for the world," the Bolean said as Chuss sprang past him on the ramp.

    As the hatch closed to the Cargo Bay automatically the hatch to the Transporter opened and Ensign Tanaka stumbled in.

    "Sir," she caught the intoxicated ensign and said, "Sick Bay! Straight ahead! You don't want to run into the Skipper until you've had your shot!"

    "Right, right, right!" the Ensign said, staggering toward the hatch to Sickbay. "Bloody Skipper will make me Paint The bloody Devil if he sees me like this! I think I'm going to be sick. I know, I'll go to sickbay!" He thought this very funny as he repeated, "Go to Sickbay to get sick! Get sick in Sickbay!"

    The closing hatch mercifully concealed what came next. Then Brock, Ladner, and Sibley came in together. Mason must be overheating the transporter circuits!

    "Doc," she said, "The Ensign came in at Warp 9 with no deflector. He's in Sickbay."

    "You two okay?" Brock asked.

    "I'll be fine, Doc, you go and take car of the Ensign," Ladner drawled.

    "Masha, have a mint?" Sibley asked.

    She handed him a packet of gum from her pocket as she toggled the three crewmen as present. He was off and running up the ramp with Ladner on his heels.

    "Why haven't you toggled Mr. Tanaka as 'On Board', Crewman Aktay?" the Lieutenant asked from the comm panel.

    "Sir, he's..."

    "I heard, but he's on board. It's not your place to protect him."

    "Aye, sir." Masha toggled the Ensign's status just as the Chief stepped through.

    "... And just as I draw the seven of Osmium the damned recall goes off," the Chief was complaining as he lead Mason from the transporter room.

    Aktay toggled the Chief's status to 'on board' then said, "All crewmen on board, Lieutenant."

    "Aye, Quarterdeck watch," she said.

    Maason leaned over her and said, "Lieutenant, request permission to relieve Crewman Aktay at the security post so she can go fire up the deflectors."

    "Permission granted, Mason. Good job getting everyone back on board."

    "Thank you, sir," he said, then toggled the intercom off.

    "Mason, you need to talk to her."

    "What has she been telling you?" Mason asked.

    "Nothing. I was the one who locked the door. But you need to talk to her."

    "She's avoiding me. I thought, well, forget what I thought."

    "Men are so dumb sometimes. Especially the cute ones. Look, I don't know what she wants, I don't know if she does either. Talk to her. Tell her where she stands."

    "Always good advice, Crewman," Dr. Sar said as he opened the hatch to Sickbay, then paused. "If you think I'm cleaning that up, Ensign, you have another think coming!"

    The doctor daintily stepped through the doorway as a vile odor wafted into the quarterdeck.

    "You're needed in the Deflector Control Room," Mason reminded her, and she opened the hatch to the cargo bay. "Remember, talk to her!" Masha said, just to get the last word in.

    "All hands to Departure Stations," the Lieutenant's voice said in a very routine tone of voice.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    His Honor Daniel Webster of the Federation Fifth Appellate Circuit Court, who was considered a very likely candidate for the next opening in the Federation Supreme Court, was on the Bridge viewscreen. The Skipper and Mr. Chuss stood side by side as the USS Kestrel flew to its rendezvous. Mirra did her best to not be awed. Failing that, she determined to not act like she was.

    "Barry, Marshal Jasse's deputy, was on 77 working on some new gadget or other, you know how he is, Yourhonor," Chuss was saying. "He told me he was worried about the Marshal, that he was late for his daily check-in. I was saying not to worry, that Marshal Jasse was probably sleeping in a warm, clean hostel bed when his communicator gave the alert.

    "Deputy Barry was telling me that they had been tracking some stolen medical equipment. He has a list. When the call came it was a high priority message with one word: Aguilar."

    "All of Marshal Jasse's deputies have reported in, they all received the same message." The judge folded his hands behind his back, and his archaic judicial robes opened to reveal a grey weskit over a coarse-woven white blouse with a ruffled neckline. The style was as ancient as his brown pantaloons, knit woolen stockings, and silver-buckled loafers.

    Mirra, never the fashion-conscious person, wondered how such a respected jurist could wear such an antiquated costume while the judge continued.

    "Senior Marshal T'eset is debriefing them now. They are in a panic as much as you two, but stop and think. You have sixteen hours, and so does Aguilar. You may be walking into a trap. I'm going to get Starfleet in on this. No objections on this point!"

    He paused to gauge the reaction of his two subordinates. "You are the tip of the spear. I want intel, but I don't want to lose another Marshal, or a deputy, to get it."

    "So you think it's too late?" asked the Skipper.

    "I didn't say that." The judge paused again, then said, "Jasse is one of the best. If anyone can keep his skin intact it will be him."

    "But a realistic evaluation..." began the Skipper.

    "Aguilar is not a fool. He will know that Jasse has knowledge he could use. He will want it. That will take time. Save him if you can, but capture Aguilar. You've done it before."

    "Those idiots at New Hope..." growled Mr. Chass.

    "It happened. What's your preliminary plan?"

    "A flyby with Kestrel to get a passive scan of the moon, with Kestrel appearing to continue on to the colony on Mirelle II. We'll drop back on low power and land just outside of the old mining base Barry described. Chuss and I will go in from there, with Dr. Sar in the transporter room, ready to assist just in case. The Starfleet crew of my ship will remain on board to defend the ship if necessary, but will stand by to transport us out if it gets too hot, or if the danger to the ship is too great."

    "Contingencies?"

    "Personal transporter pattern enhancers with an emergency beamout beacon and Dr. Sar's ultrasonic bug-repellent devices."

    "Doctor Aguilar probably knows about that trick by now. Be careful, Lee, he may have adapted."

    The judge appeared to be restraining himself from pacing, but his foot developed a nervous tapping.

    "Lee, use your resources, but don't endanger your Starfleet crew any more than necessary. They didn't sign up for this. You did. Jasse did. I'd hate to lose either one of you, but Aguilar must be captured. We need to end this."

    "Yes, Your Honor."

    "Senior Marshal T'eset will be contacting you with the data she obtains from her debriefings. Until then, take care of yourself. Webster out."

    "Lee out," the Skipper said. "Number One, you have the bridge. Chuss, go to the Doctor and get a sleep inducer. You and I need to be well rested for this. We can finalize any plans when we wake up."

    "Marshal, I would like to help," said the Bolean, who was seated at the powered down Navigation Console.

    "Thank you, Commander, buy you heard His Honor. I am not to needlessly endanger my Starfleet crew."

    "Oh, I'm not qualified to go on your raid, Marshal. I am, however, a trained psychiatrist. I may be able to give you insights into the character of this Dr. Aguilar, if you will allow me access to the data. I have nothing else to do for the next sixteen hours."

    Lee fixed his gaze on the Counselor for a moment, then said, "Mr. Friday, please allow Mister S'lott access to the files regarding Dr. Aguilar.

    "Aye, Skipper," replied Friday.

    ***

    A knot of crewmen had gathered in the Skylight Lounge to watch the conversation with the judge. They heard only one half the conversation, and had time to talk in between the judge's comments, mostly to comment on the judge's wardrobe, until he spoke of endangering the crew. There were protests by some of the crew, who were shushed by the rest so they could hear the conclusion.

    When the conference ended and the starfield was restored on the viewscreen which duplicated the main viewer, the crew began to talk, loudly and over one another. Ben watched them. He was very good at watching. They wanted to fight. They wanted to be strong. The man on the viewer was not real, but he had upset his friends. He loved his friends, and they wanted to be strong. He rose from his chair after a few moments and ambled off to his quarters thinking, "We must be strong." He had an idea how that might be accomplished.

    "This here is Doctor Nanite that Doctor Sar was warning us about, right? Well, I've been thinking. You know that ultrasonic thing he made? What if we made a flash-bang with it?"

    "A what?" asked Crewman Aktay.

    "A flash-bang is a kind of grenade that temporarily blinds its target with a pulse of intense light," Mason said. "That's not its technical name."

    "Whatever," said Ladner. "I got in mind an ultrasonic pulse type thingy. Kill all them nanites in its pulse range."

    "You are going to invent a new kind of grenade in less than sixteen hours?" Crewman Voght said scornfully.

    "Why not?" Ladner asked. "I got you two who know all about weapons to help design it, and if you can give me a circuit diagram I can make anything."

    Mason and Voght's eyes met for the first time in days.

    "Come on, let's go to the terminal in Weapons," Ladner said, leading the way.

    "Crewman Brock, you are wanted in Sickbay," Lieutenant Mirra announced over the intercom.

    "That's me," Doc said. "Gotta run."

    "I'll come with you. There's something I want to ask Dr. Sar." Crewman Akay said, following him down the ramp to the port passageway.

    ***

    "I want everything covered and sealed in polysilicate bags!" Dr. Sar shouted as Crewman Brock carried the portable bioscanner through the hatch to the Cargo Bay.

    "Doctor Sar, would it work?" insisted Crewman Aktay.

    "I don't know. We would have to perform tests," he replied. "Now, where is that surgical unit?" The doctor was opening wall cabinets at random and looking into them.

    "Can I at least try? They're little computers. A virus might shut them down."

    "It's been done before," mused the Doctor, "But you'd have to get the virus into the vinculum, and at that point you may as well destroy it as reprogram it. It's a much more certain method of shutting down the nanites." He slammed another cabinet, apparently unsatisfied with its contents.

    "They have a control unit?" Aktay asked. "What if there were two co... vinculums... vinculi?"

    "I don't see how that would matter, other than to require both to be destroyed... Ah! This will have to go as well." He pulled a bulky frame with an articulated probe from its locker and set it on the floor.

    "What if one was friendly to us?" Aktay said.

    The Doctor opened and closed two more cabinet before he paused and really looked at Aktay for the first time since she had arrived. "Friendly?"

    "Do the nanites care which vinculum they listen to?"

    "They are machines, they don't care."

    "So if I made a vinculum telling the nanites not to attack the Skipper?"

    "A vinculum requires a mental pattern to control it..." Dr. Sar was thinking, though, and that encouraged her.

    "Could a tricorder simulate one? Good enough for a control unit?"

    "A tricorder..."

    Brock came in and tapped Aktay on the shoulder. "I think Doctor Sar wants that over in the Detention Deck." He pointed to the framework device as Aktay moved out of his way.

    "It would have to be tested and calibrated." He looked around, then said, "I have to get an emergency surgery and decontamination area set up. I won't have time to do any of this if I start experimenting with wild speculations."

    "I have time, Doctor. If I had access to the data files, I might be able to come up with a few ideas you could test after you're finished what you have to do."

    "If it will get you out of my hair," he said, stepping into the clear-walled cubicle that served as his office. With a few quick taps on his desktop it lit up with page after page of documentation on the modified nanite problem.

    He went back to work and Aktay sat down with a smile. Parsing data was her specialty.

    ***

    The Chief was setting up continuous sweep diagnostics programs to monitor the ship's systems for infestations when Crewman Sibley entered the Engineering Control Room.

    "Chief, I've been thinking," Sibley said.

    "Oh merciful progenitors save us all," the Chief said.

    "You know that ultrasonic signal Dr. Sar told us about? The one we used to be sure none of the nanites survived when we took on that prisoner from the barge?"

    "Are you saying I'm too old to hear what Croaker said less than two months ago?"

    "We'll table that argument for later. What I was thinking is, if we got three phasers set on low power and programmed that ultrasonic signal into their emitters, we could keep the nanites off the landing gear."

    "It's a dumb idea," said the Chief.

    "Dumb how?"

    "I'll tell you how: it's dumb because what do you do about the ones that get blown in on the wind?"

    "You're right, Chief! There's a better way!"

    "What are you babbling about now?"

    "We have six defensive deflectors with variable intensity/variable frequency emitters! We don't even need the phasers!"

    "We'll make the phasers anyway," the Chief said.

    "Why? Once we modify the deflectors, the whole ship will be protected, from the outside at least."

    "Because I'm going with the Marshal, and I want to have a few tricks up my sleeve. We'll modify six phasers. We'll have two each."

    "We need you here, Chief."

    "Yeah, you do. But he'll need me out there. The Engine Room will be yours. Ladner's a good boy, but he doesn't understand the drives half as well as you do. That's a warp reactor, not a kitchen appliance, and she needs somebody who understands her to keep her from exploding. That's you. Let him take the title and the paperwork, he's got the time in grade. But you keep my engine running, understand?"

    "Chief, you're not... The Skipper woudn't..."

    "He can't stop me, boy. I'll be back, but just in case, you mind what I said. Now, you work out those frequencies on the port-side console; the Lieutenant won't want to be bothered by half-baked ideas. I have some programming to do here."

    "Aye, chief."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    Sibley was the first to arrive with a suggestion that the defense deflectors be modified. It sounded like a good idea. She double-checked his proposal, and tentatively approved it pending the Skipper's veto. He then went in search of Crewman Mason to use the same algorithms in hand-phaser emitters. Sibley was confirming the Skipper's observation that he should be an officer.

    She was surprised when Crewmen Voght and Ladner came in an hour later with a device they called a grenade. "It's not loaded, Lieutenant," Ladner said when she expressed her opinion of carrying live grenades on the ship. After they explained, she agreed that having a dozen on hand wouldn't hurt. Two dozen might be better. And Mason and Sibley were doing something similar with some phasers, they informed her.

    There was at least a four hour pause then, as Kestrel flew toward its destination. Ensign Tanaka wasn't yet qualified to stand an underway watch, and was probably nearly comatose in spite of the metabolic enzyme injection he had been given. The headaches from those were almost as bad as the hangover headache one acquired naturally, but she would need sleep, and she hated to pull Crewman Voght off of her self appointed task.

    She called the Chief. "I need you to spell me for a few hours, Chief. I've been awake for twenty-five hours now, and I'll need my wits about me when we get to Mirell."

    "I have the same problem, Lieutenant," he responded.

    That's when she learned he was going with the Skipper. "Those two couldn't open an open-topped pushcart. They need an engineer in case a door is stuck."

    She agreed. She had no idea if the Skipper would agree.

    Once again it seemed Crewan Voght could read her mind. She entered with a gym bag in hand and Ensign Tanaka in tow. He was a little bleary-eyed, but he was coherent, and very sober.

    "You need your rest, Lieutenant," Voght insisted.

    "You do too, and you have those grenades to finish."

    "Ladner can do that; I'm just in the way now. I can sleep when you're rested and back at your post."

    "All right, wake me when the Skipper gets up."

    "No sir. Lieutenant, we're still eight hours out. Set your alarm for six hours and a shower."

    The ensign said nothing, his face was bland. In fact, he was doing a very good imitation of someone who wanted no part of the conversation. But Voght was adamant.

    "All right." She turned and exited the bridge before words like insubordination occurred to her.

    "You can call up the Conn Panel on the Navigation Console," Crewman Voght said.

    Then she dropped her bag beside the captain's chair and sat. Reaching beneath the seat she did something and the forward edge of the chair extended up and out forming a footrest, then the back reclined. She remove a pillow from her gym bag, punched it under her head, and laid back.

    "Wake me if you need me, or when the Skipper wakes up," she said to the Ensign.

    "I didn't know the chair could do that."

    "Most captains spend a lot of time in the chair," she said as she drifted off.

    ***

    Both the Skipper and Mr. Chuss woke when their sleep inducers timed out. Chuss had gone to sleep about two hours ahead of the Skipper, so the Kestrel was still four hours from Mirell when he entered the bridge. Mason was asleep in an uncomfortable position beside his Armory Locker, and Voght was asleep in a very comfortable position at the Conn.

    "Sir!" said the Ensign, jumping to his feet from his place at the Navigation Console.

    Chuss held his forefinger across his mouth: the 'Silence!' signal humans used. Ensign Tanaka had the Conn display on his board. Fine. Chuss checked the Navigation board on his Helm Console, confirmed everything was on course and time, and quietly stepped over to the Ensign.

    "How long have you been awake?" Chuss whispered.

    "Four hours, four-and-a-half," Tanaka whispered back.

    "Go eat, relax. Be back in half an hour. I have the Conn."

    "Aye, sir. I stand relieved."

    The truth was that Tanaka had been suppressing the need to relieve himself for quite a while, but could not bring himself to wake the Andorian who had the courage to give orders to the Lieutenant then go to sleep on watch. The Officer's Manual didn't cover this situation.

    He ran into the Commander just outside the bridge. When the Commander spoke up in greeting, the Ensign whispered, "Shh!" and immediately regretted it. "I'm sorry, sir, crewmen sleeping."

    "I see," the Commander said, looking at Mason, whom Tanaka had not noticed until that point.

    "Sir, I have to eat, clean up, and be back on watch in half an hour," Tanaka said. Is there something I can help you with?"

    "No, I don't think so."

    "If you'll excuse me, sir." Tanaka didn't wait. From the moment Mr. Chuss had mentioned relaxing, his bladder had been signaling its desperation, and that signal was becoming painful. He dashed to the Starboard ramp and was gone.

    The Commander entered the bridge, which was at half illumination, and saw the Caitian deputy on the empty space in front o the viewscreen performing some kind of slow-motion stretching exercise. The Caitian twisted his torso just a little too far for S'lott's comfort, (such a move would permanently cripple him,) and held a forefinger across his lips. That's when S'lott noticed the sleeping Andorian.

    "Is she asleep on watch?" the Commander whispered.

    "No, she's just here if the Ensign needs her."

    "There's a crewman asleep in the logroom as well."

    "He should have gone to his quarters. Listen, S'lott, they will need their rest. They have to defend the ship tomorrow, from who knows what. We are flying headfirst into a well-laid trap, and they know it. I'd rather have them asleep now than asleep when we need them to be alert."

    They both looked back when Crewman Voght turned and mumbled in her sleep.

    "Let's wait for the Ensign to finish his breakfast, then we can go get ours. Have a seat," Chuss whispered, pointing at the Navigation Console. He resumed his stretching.

    The Counselor whispered "Is that the Mok-bar-ra?"

    "Tai Chi," Chuss whispered.

    "Where is that from?"

    "Earth."

    The Counselor watched, fascinated by the beautiful, flowing movements. The Ensign hadn't used his whole half hour, returning just short of twenty minutes later with a mug of tea in one hand and a very large biscuit wrapped in a napkin in the other.

    "I'm back," he whispered unnecessarily.

    "I stand relieved, sir," Chuss whispered. He nodded to the Commander, who followed him out.

    In the replimat Chuss ordered prosciutto and ate it the way a human would eat an apple. S'lott chose a Bolian cheese omlette.

    When Chuss could speak again the Commander said, "Is this common? Crewmen sleeping in the passageways, on the bridge?"

    "This is the first time I've ever seen it. But Commander, this is a small crew, and they are getting ready for battle. They don't have the luxury of extra crewmen to stand watch while they sleep."

    "It seems a little unprofessional, a lot unprofessional, to me."

    "Commander, most captains have the opportunity to build a crew. They pick key personnel around whom they build their staff, and constantly headhunt for better. This crew was assembled in a few days from people between assignments. From the day they came on board they have been building a string of surprises. They surprised the admirals when they got this ship from mothballs to operational in a month, they surprised the Space Trials proctors by beating every challenge thrown at them, and twice they've surprised criminal gangs by just plain beating them. They've been together for three months and they are already a crew. Not only that, a damned good crew. Pound for pound, they have more fight in them than any crew in Starfleet, and more dedication than any two crews in Starfleet.

    "The Skipper they call him, Marshal Lee. Any one of them would jump in front of a plasma rifle for him, and he knows it. He told me just a couple of weeks ago a passage in a book he was reading. Adolphus Greer, I think. The passage said something like, 'A dog that has been cared for all its life in a loving and comfortable home will be a good dog. It can't help it, it's in its nature. But a dog that has been abandoned to wander the world alone, who is then fed, comforted, given a place by his master's side: that dog will worship his master, go to any lengths, even to its own death, to please him.'

    "Then he said, 'Chuss, it frightens me, this power they've given me. You and I, we do dangerous work. We chose this work. They are my stray dogs. They came to us because they needed a place that was out of the cold. I'm afraid I'll let them down.'"

    "The Commander reads Greer?"

    "I think he reads everything."

    Before he could respond the lights came up to full illumination and the Andorian's voice came over the internal communications speaker.

    "Skipper's awake, look alive, everyone. We're just under two and a half hours out of Mirell."

    ***

    "This Aguilar will have stacked and nested contingencies," the Bolean Counselor was saying. "He plans very meticulously, and in depth He will have thought through every likely scenario and several unlikely ones, and he will be prepared. I can't advise you what he's not prepared for, but the less you adhere to doctrine, the less likely he is to have developed a contingency plan."

    "Thank you, Counselor," Lee said as he finished his breakfast. "What do you think, Chuss?"

    "Doctrine exists because it works. I understand your point, Counselor, but randomness is dangerous too."

    "I agree. I'm afraid I don't have a solution, but I want you to recognize that you are dealing with a methodical, meticulous genius. It may be that brute force is the only answer."

    "I want to save Jasse if I can." Lee sighed. "Okay, does the plan we outlined last night still look good?"

    "To me, yes, except that I hate wearing vacuum suits."

    "Don't worry, you'll have your watsai. You should invent a suit that lets you use your claws. You won't need to, but it'll make you feel better."

    "I would become a beloved hero overnight if I could do that," Chuss sighed, and Lee laughed.

    "Skipper," the AI said, "Please pardon the interruption, but the crew requests your presence in the Briefing Room."

    "Requests my presence?"

    "Yes sir."

    "What is this all about?"

    "I have been instructed to offer no further comment unless so ordered, sir. It is a surprise."

    "Of all the days to hold a surprise party," the Skipper said. "Okay, on my way."

    The crew was assembled in the briefing room when he arrived. Lieutenant Mirra said, "Sir, we now you are busy, but this will take only a moment of your time. Crewman Sibley!"

    "Sir," the engineer handed him a P.A.D.D. and said, "Those are the specifications for an adaptation of our ship's defensive shielding to use Doctor Sar's ultrasonic bug repellent to protect the entire ship. The modifications will take less than an hour to implement, and won't interfere with the normal shield functions. Bringing the ship's shields up to full power will reset the modifications to the deflector's default state, but at full power the nanites won't be able to get in the ship anyway. Request permission to begin the modifications."

    "Lieutenant?" Lee asked.

    "They look good to me, sir."

    "Very well, permission granted."

    "Thank you sir," Sibley said as he hurried out of the room, presumably to set up his shield modifications.

    Mirra said, Crewman Ladner, front and center!"

    "Sir, I'm not as wordy as Sibley, but I thought you might want a way to clear a bunch of bugs quick. It hasn't been tested, but it uses the same frequency the Doctor showed us in the 'don't get bit' lecture."

    He partially unrolled a sheet, exposing twenty pear-sized objects with a pull ring.

    "These go off for ten seconds, and broadcast that signal in a ten meter radius on about twenty bands, including the ultrasonic. You can throw them pretty hard and they don't break."

    "You made these last night?" Lee asked.

    "Yessir. Had some help. Everybody was pitching in."

    "Thank you, Ladner"

    "Crewman Mason, you're up," Mirra said.

    "This was Sibley's idea, but he needed my help," Mason was saying as he pulled the cloth further, exposing three Type 2 Phasers, a Type 3A Phaser Assault Rifle, and two Type 3 Phaser Rifles, one equipped with an adjustable beam aperture and the other with a scope.

    "These weapons have an integrated circuit which sets up a resonance pattern in the beam that duplicates Doctor Sar's ultrasound generator. It works on all settings, and if the ultrasound part fails to work for some reason, it's still a phaser."

    "I'm impressed."

    "I guess I'm next," the Chief said. "This one's mine," he said, picking up the rifle with the scope. "You can't stop me from joining you, and you might need a mechanic along if you have to do something complicated like open a door You can argue with me if you like, but if you don't say yes, I'll go along anyway."

    "The ship needs you, Chief."

    "Maybe at one time, but not any more. You need me. That's that."

    Lieutenant Mirra cleared her throat.

    "Please continue Lieutenant."

    "Crewman Aktay, your turn."

    "Skipper," she said as she stepped in front of the blanket and pulled, revealing a pair of tricorders, "These two tricorders contain a vinculum, controlled by an artificial brainwave pattern. Each has three settings which I hope will be effective. The first is a command to simply stop whatever they are doing. The second is a command that they get away from the source of the transmission as fast and as far as possible, and the third setting commands them to begin to harvest one another for raw materials. We were able to test them in the Doctor's lab against very small samples of nanites, but we're not certain of the effect on larger groups. Doctor Sar says to not presume it will be as effective in the field as in the lab.

    "You're reprogramming nanites?"

    "No sir. That was my first idea, but Doctor Sar said it wouldn't work as long as they had a vinculum to obey. This is a second, and a third, vinculum to add to the equation. We know they work, but not how well in the field."

    "We'll field test them," the Skipper said. "I'm glad you're on my side."

    "We will be strong," the Pakled crewman said.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    The USS Kestrel had been conceived as single purpose long range scout. Almost a sixth of her interior volume was filled with senors of various kinds, a ratio unmatched in any other ship class. Although these sensors were twelve years behind the technological curve, they were still vastly superior to anything to which a civilian would have access, and for that matter, all but the cutting edge prototype science vessels which had been built since her birth. Even without the use of her active sensors, her passive scans were capable of developing great detail at extreme ranges.

    And she had another trick: a warp probe. This torpedo-tube launched mobile sensor platform was state-of-the-art as of her launch a mere two months ago. While it lacked the resolution of the Kestrel's sensor suite, it was extremely stealthy when in passive mode. It used a tight-beam subspace antenna to send data to the ship, which was then processed in the ship's computer which had been designed around the sensor suite.

    "The probe is moving out of range now, sir," the Ensign said.

    "We have what we need. Helm, maintain course and speed," the Skipper said.

    "Sir, the compound is mapped about as well as we can on passives," the Lieutenant said.

    "All right, on screen."

    The Counselor was impressed with the degree of detail shown. He had been expecting the shapes of buildings, and possibly some power sources. These scans had the look of architectural drawings, even down to the detailed power system schematic.

    "These appear to be defensive emplacements, short-range plasma, useful for point defense." Three areas highlighted in red as the Lieutenant spoke. "They are also probably very effective against ground targets,"

    She manipulated the controls and highlighted a ring of spots around the compound, with a second ring that included a generous portion of the building. "Transport Inhibitors. It's unlikely, but possible, that they have an additive effect. It looks more like they were laid out so they covered the whole area rather than intended to be a shell within a shell."

    Another area was highlighted just outside the compound. "This square is shielded. I can't get a reading from it. It doesn't have a very large power feed, so if it's a weapon it's a launched one."

    "Or a means of escape," the Counselor interrupted. "Sorry, please continue."

    "Speak up, Counselor," the Skipper said. "I want to know what I'm overlooking before it comes back to bite me."

    "Contingencies. The subject thinks in contingencies, like a chess player. He has a plan, no matter what move you make. Or he at least tries to."

    "It could be a weapon on that basis, Counselor," Crewman Mason said.

    "Agreed," the Counselor said. "If so, what's his evacuation plan?"

    The skipper said, "Okay, move on."

    "A shield generator, here between the two power plants. Fusion/plasma, not unlike our auxiliary power reactors, but capable of generating far more power than that little base would have required. Sensor nets here, here, here, and here," each highlighted in their turn.

    "I can't tell you to what use any particular room is put, but the power distribution system indicates heavy use in these four rooms in the center, an underground room which has feeders out to the perimeter, and a section over here, isolated from the main building. My guess is a laboratory or workshop, a defensive control room, and private quarters."

    "Note the proximity of the private quarters area to that undefined area?" the Counselor insisted.

    "Noted."

    "Beyond this, I'm guessing," the Lieutenant said. "I've downloaded these maps to your suit computers, You should have them on your HUDs. 'Map' is the file and password."

    "Okay. Thoughts on entry?"

    "I recommend that unidentified square first," the Counselor said. "If it is a means of escape you can cut it off, and if not it's probably the greatest threat down there."

    "It's also covered by two of the four sensor nets," Crewman Mason said. "It looks like these two," he highlighted them using the tactical console, "Have a very narrow gap between them. This ridge of ejecta from this crater is the nearest approach under cover, and if you can use this defile, there are low boulders and rubble to mask your trail. It'll be a hard go in space suits, but then that's probably why they didn't worry about that region too much.

    "Also," Mason continued, "It is under the cover of what we think is a plasma gun. The designers would assume its sensors would fill that gap but if the weapon is powered down its sensors aren't active. Field guns rarely have greater than a negative fifteen degree elevation, so at a height of twenty meters, that gives it an eighty meter zone from is base where it can't fire on you."

    "If you can get down from that ridge unseen," Mirra said. "As long as you're on that ridge you're cannon fodder."

    The Skipper waited, staring at the details on the main viewer. There were five minutes of silence, broken only by the sounds of the ship's equipment.

    "Here's the plan. We use the crater route and breach beneath the gun emplacement. That's our closest proximity to the to the control room. Once we're in there, Sparky, you're on your own. Shut down, bypass, whatever you can to mess up operations without bringing the place down on our heads. Chuss and I continue until we find Aguilar. Marshal Jasse is a second priority, after Aguilar is captured or dead."

    The skipper looked around the room. "Discussion?"

    "Sir, the USS Charybdis will be here in eight hours." The Lieutenant was speaking quietly, as if she knew the answer before she spoke.

    "Marshal Jasse may not have eight more hours."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    Chief 'Sparky' Garadda wasn't new to combat. He had seen his share in twenty-five years aboard various starships. What he was was old for combat. He knew it as soon as they topped the rise and looked down the crack through which they would proceed to the base.

    Chuss went first. In armor that looked like a dozen polished mirror balls stuck together, he appeared almost comical. Sparky's first thought was that such a get-up would attract attention like a lit helmet torch in a mine shaft. At twenty meters, however, the bent reflections of the rock around him rendered the Caitian virtually invisible, like a stage magician hiding behind a mirror.

    Lee went next. Garadda was scanning the compound through the scope of his sniper rifle, looking for movement behind the black windows, on the gun towers, at the airlocks. When he looked down a moment later, Lee, almost invisible in a black shadow behind a boulder, was urgently gesturing him down.

    Lee was gone from his rock when Garadda got there, having already moved on to the next. Sparky moved again, then again. Each time he feared he would be exposed, caught in the beam of a searchlight, shot without warning. But he arrived at the next hiding place, and saw Lee ahead preparing for the next leg of the torturous trek across the boulder-field.

    It wasn't a smooth-floored surface with boulders sticking out here and there. It was more like a bed of giant gravel, with more gravel beneath, and the ever-present risk of getting a leg caught between them or having one shift as he put his weight on it. The saving grace was that the gravity of Mirell VI B was somewhat less than that of Mars.

    By the time he made it to the shell of the building the Caitian had already sprayed a ring of adhesive and was stepping into the breaching bag. He joined him, as did Lee, and the Caitian sealed the edges in the foamy glue, then sprayed the fixing agent that would create an airtight bond in seconds. The breaching bag had been designed for a four-human fire team. It was small for an over-sized Caitian, a human, and a Tellarite. They waited while the bag's pressure bottle filled the bag.

    Next came a highly corrosive paste applied with a nozzle not unlike that used by a pastry chef. It ate a door-shaped outline into a panel segment, and when it had stopped smoking Lee sprayed it with a neutralizer. Chuss handed the panel to the Sparky then used his long knife to hack the insulating material from between the wall's layers. With the narrow space cleared, Lee used his phaser to drill a tiny hole in the center. It gave very gentle puff when the hole drilled through, equalizing the interior and exterior pressure. With another ring of paste the interior panel fell inward, but Lee sprayed the perimeter of the hole to prevent the corrosive from burning through their suits when they brushed against it.

    Inside was dark, with night-lights throwing more shadows than illumination around the room. Lee activated his tricorder; the one with the attachment Crewman Aktay had made. A puff of dust moved away from him as he stepped into the room. Chuss squeezed through the hole, likewise turning on his tricorder.

    The room had been a bunkroom for four. It was empty except for dust covered furniture, but as Sparky moved past a desk he noticed the dust moving away, as if repelled...

    He tapped Lee's shoulder and demonstrated how the dust swept away from a wave of his tricorder. Lee nodded, his faceless helmet displaying no hint of his expression. The clear bubble of Chuss' helmet showed him bare his left fang. The dust was nanites. Billions of nanites. Billions just within the wave of the tricorder would be required to actually see them as dust, and dust covered every surface. This place was a deathtrap.

    Chuss covered the door with the assault phaser as Sparky bypassed the lock and opened it. The hallway was equally dark beyond it.

    "Map," whispered Sparky and the HUD displayed the corridor and room and the adjacent rooms around him. The path to the suspected control room was to the right and down a stair.

    A doorway behind them opened, spewing bright white light into the corridor.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    Sibley sat in the Chief's chair monitoring his programs. Any leaching of power, any flicker of displacement in a structural integrity field would be seen. He wouldn't miss it. There was a formula, and a firing pattern, that would get the warp core up to full power in twenty seconds or less. Right now it was pulsing slower than his heart. Much slower.

    Mason stood at the transporter console in Transporter Room #2. Any sign of an emergency transport beacon would send him into action, but right now simply using the scanner to locate the three in the attack party would increase their danger. He silently practiced the mantra he had been taught by a Vulcan colleague so long ago: Structure, Logic, Function, Control. The structure cannot stand without a Foundation, Logic is the foundation of Function. Function is the essence of Control. I am in Control. I am in Control. Then he thought, If I am in control, why does my mind drift to images of blue skin and passion?

    Bengogg was in his control couch, tapping away on his P.A.D.D. The problem he was working on was a very small subset of Subspace Theory. If he could prove the equation false, it negated an entire segment of the basic theory which postulated a universal coordinate system within subspace. He paused to consider the ramifications: if subspace lacked a coordinate system it was simultaneously contiguous with everywhere and everywhen. Time as a subspace coordinate? But in that case, it invalidated the known spatial dimensions as well. X, Y, and Z were not axes, but field vectors. He sighed, waiting for the light on his console to blink and began to investigate the Subspace Density equation. The constants in that formula had no foundation but observation. What if they weren't truly constants?

    Doctor Sar paced in the Starboard Quarterdeck, dressed in a silicate isolation suit. He wondered what he was forgetting? There must be something, or he wouldn't worry about having forgotten it. Some piece of equipment he would soon require was fifteen meters away in Sickbay, and he would have to break quarantine to get it. Now would be the time to remember. It never occurred to him that the missing thing was his young protege who was now his boss, and that he would worry until Lee returned.

    Ten paces forward of the Doctor, Crewman Brock was focused on the surgical equipment. He looked up at the nanite suppression devices stuck to opposite sides of the prison cell which they had converted into an isolation ward. He wanted to triple-check the imaging scanner. That last calibration had been off by .000092 millimeters. That was half the width of a nanite. Better get it to zero.

    Ladner was in Port Auxiliary Systems Control Room #1 with his Damage Control satchel beside the door, waiting. There was an old deuterium injector nozzle from the Falcon's Auxiliary Power Generator siting on the workbench waiting to be refurbished. Idle hands, as they say, so he had brought something to do while they waited. He just needed to get this slip ring off... Why wouldn't it come off?

    Voght was fuming. She was at Tactical on the bridge, waiting and staring at the back of the Bolean's bald head. That doctor of applied idiocy had harangued Ben, then sent this new doctor, a 'counselor', to get Ben removed from the ship. She wasn't stupid; she knew that fat Bolean had an agenda. She wondered if Boleans kept their gonads where Andorians and huanans did, and if they did, how much it would hurt if she kicked that Counselor's so hard he'd choke on them? But the Lieutenant needed her. She couldn't indulge as long as the Lieutenant needed her. "Just a few hormone injections and amniotic transfusions..." Now why would she be thinking about that doctor's foolishness?

    The Ensign was waiting, passive sensors only, for a sign to show on sensors that they had been detected. But standing at the Science Station beside the Andorian crewman made him nervous. She had been cout-martialed for hitting an ensign once, or so the gossip in the Officer's Club on Starbase 77 went. "Watch out, Sean," they teased, "You're next!" Andorians were supposed to be cold, but this one radiated heat. And the looks she directed at the Counselor... He had watched the Lieutenant and the Andorian spar in morning workouts. Maybe he was off the hook, as they say; she looked like the next officer she wanted to hit was a certain Bolean Commander.

    "Waiting is not an easy thing to do," said S'lott. He had meant the comment to be a tension-breaker. It fell flat. He turned with a smile from the Comm Console to see the Lieutenant bowed over the Helm Console and the ensign and torpedoman standing side by side at the Science and Tactical stations behind him. The torpedoman was scowling at him as if his comment had been inappropriate. They were worried. But this... He was reminded of Greer, a psychiatrist who was also a fair writer, and his "Hero Veneration" theory. A little was the glue that bound a team together, too much and it became a personality cult. Why had this Marshal been reading Greer anyway? What other aspects of psychological training interested him?

    It had been a while since Mirra took the Helm. She had dreamed of flight school, but her Midshipman Cruise had been spent as the yoeman of Captain Alfadi. From that point on all she could think was, 'That will be me one day.' So she brought the captain tea, reports, meals. She made certain his uniforms were pressed and laid out for his mornings and his dress functions. She attended to the details so he could tend to the big picture. She didn't like being a Midshipman Maid, as the others in her class teased when she got the assignment. But in a very short time she came to realize that she had learned many of the lessons he was teaching by example from her father, who guided wildlife tours through the Velds of South Africa. One of those lessons was to gauge the tension of the animal. An elephant could be the highlight of an offworlder's vacation, or a deadly tragedy. Right now she could feel the tension on the ship, coiled like a puff adder waiting for a foot to tread on it. The Helm controlpanel was in the center of her console, but the sub-panel was Conn and the tertiary was Communications. There was a voice on the Deflector Control station, but the Counselor apparently wasn't paying attention. She switched it on, about to ask Aktay to repeat, when she heard something unexpected. Mirra patched it through to the rest of the ship.

    Aktay had a great deal of respect for the skipper, but the truth was, she was worried about Mr. Chuss. He was reckless, brave, heroic. He saw himself as one of the heroes of his world's mythology. She loved that about him. She had no illusions that they could ever have anything but a platonic relationship; for one thing, she lacked certain physical attributes, such as claw-proof skin! But she was certain he would give his life for the Skipper, and was maybe too eager to do so. This situation looked really bad. She had learned a poem from the library, recorded in the Beta Lyran version of Caitian, and translated to Standard by the Universal Translator. It needed work. The translation, not the original. She though she would surprise Chuss with it one day, once she had it polished a bit. Maybe if she tried to run through it by memory she could stop her useless worrying. He would be fine, right? And so long as he was, so would the Skipper and the Chief. How did that line go? "I sit between ticks of the clock... No:

    Between breath and breath I wait,
    An eternity of yesterdays, an eternity of tomorrows,
    Waiting between ticks of the clock,
    For the word that will shape,
    What was and is to come.

    In the infinity of now I wait,
    An unknown past, an undreamed of future,
    Waiting for the breath yet to come,
    For the order that will restore,
    My life that is over and is yet to be.

    Of the battle to come I have dreamed.
    Playthings of children, memories of soldiers,
    Waiting to learn the color of my blood,
    For the chance to prove to myself,
    That I have earned my next breath.

    Between cowards and heroes I wait,
    Will I prove faithless, will I prove strong?
    Waiting to learn where I stand,
    For the moment that defines me,
    As the hypocrite or the soldier I'll be.

    Between breath and breath I wait,
    An unknown past, an undreamed of future,
    Waiting to learn the color of my blood,
    For the moment that defines me,
    What I was, what I am meant to be.
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    Down the stairs they went, the Marshal in the lead, Chuss in the rear. Sparky never saw what had opened the door, and Chuss didn't fire. It took him a minute to open the door to the supposed Control Room; inside was Hell.

    It had been a control room. Now it was a macabre display of desiccated corpses flayed and spread over the consoles. Wires of flesh ran from place to place, penetrating cabinets, consoles, corpses. Skulls were loci where many strands of the twisted, jagged wire ran, the bodies were mostly consumed by the nanites which had used them as spare parts, to be removed from here and repurposed there.

    Sparky switched his comm unit to local audio only and said, "Lee... I don't think I can fix this."

    The Marshal slung his rifle over his shoulder and removed his phaser pistol from its holster. He turned it to its lowest setting, adjusted the beam to maximum dispersal, then played it across the consoles like a fire extinguisher. Wherever it touched the black jagged wires turned to ash, slumping or falling away.

    He hadn't gotten very far along when an alarm went off.

    "Wipe them all!" Lee shouted over the klaxon.

    With great speed Sparky imitated Lee, but Chuss remained by the door. Sparky spent an extra second or two on the heads of the corpses, which seemed to be where the nanite webs originated, and for good measure swept the panels on the walls too. His phaser had gotten hot.

    They were at the door now. Lee was adjusting the choke on his rifle while Chuss waited impatiently, one hand holding the door shut and the other cradling the assault rifle. Sparky holstered his pistol and unlimbered his rifle, powering up its powerful pulse.

    "Chuss!" he said, aiming the rifle towards the door.

    The Caitian nodded, waited. Lee nodded. Chuss sprang back and the door flew in. Several bodies fell over each other when they lost their support. Sparky fired, and the massive discharge pulsed into the mechanized humanoids. Chuss fired into them, then Lee bounded out of the door with Chuss a half a step behind him. Sparky took one last look at the room and saw a power distribution control panel. He shot it with the second pulse of his rifle and ran.

    Stepping on the bodies sickened him, but he had to to get out. Ahead Lee and Chuss were firing, at what he couldn't see. From the way they had come in a humanoid figure was shambling toward them in an uncoordinated way. Sparky fired at it with his rifle and it fell, splattering the walls as the bolt passed through. Lee and Chuss had moved on. He was slowing them down!

    At a run he turned the corner into what might have once been a cafeteria. Lee and Chuss were surrounded by the badly animated, poorly coordinated humanoids. They were both dodging, attempting to avoid the touch of the once living beings. Sparky drew his pistol and set the beam to a medium focus, sprayed a pathway to one of the doors, then sprayed the manual operating lever. He pulled and the door shut, trapping an unknown number of the altered beings behind it.

    "This way!" Lee said, and they ran toward a wide stair ahead. Chuss leapt onto a handrail, reached up to another handrail, and pulled himself to the next level. Lee took two leaps to the switchback landing and two more leaps to the top. Sparky ran up without missing a step. There was a broad hallway at the top.

    This was where Lieutenant Mirra had said there were labs. Chuss was kicking doors and looking inside. Lee was using a tricorder. Neither one saw the thing coming from the darkened end of the hallway at a run. It came with its body turned somewhat to the side in bounding leaps, long front legs, short back legs.

    "Down!" Sparky yelled as he leveled his rifle.

    Chuss leapt into the room he had just opened, but Lee fell prostrate, twisting as he did to see what the Chief was pointing at. Sparky fired. It knocked the creature down, but it shook its head and started to get up. Lee fired his pistol at it, and now they could see white fur streaked with blood. It shook its head and screamed, showing off a formidable set of teeth. Sparky fired again and it went down.

    "Here!" called Chuss, poking his head out of the lab, assault rifle first.

    They joined him to discover a room set up very much like an ordinary medical clinic. Instead of a biobed there was a chair much like that of a captain's Conn. Onto this chair a Rigelian had been bound, bolted. It took the Chief a moment to realize that the odd thing that he had failed to note right away was that the top of this man's head was missing.

    It was connected with wires, and metallic looking objects were set like jewels in his... crown... but his head had been opened!

    Lee took Sparky's tricorder and reset it. He laid it on the Rigelian's lap. "Give me your guns!" he said.

    "Lee, I...

    "No arguments! You need that tricorder to stay alive, and so does he! Your guns!"

    Sparky reluctantly handed them over.

    "Use your pattern enhancer now!" Lee shouted as he headed out of the door at a trot. Chuss paused to hand him something before he too bounded out. With the unidentified object in hand Sparky set off his transponder and called on his communicator, "Two to beam out! Two, and a chair!"

    Mason must not have heard the last because when they beamed in to the Kestrel the chair was gone and it was all Sparky could do to stop the Rigellian from hitting the floor and spraying brains all over the place. Then Brock and Doctor Sar were there with a stretcher, carefully moving the body, and Mason was shouting at the Chief. Almost as an afterthought Brock took the object from him, and it was then he realized he had been holding the top of the Rigelian's skull.

    "...decontamination! Hold still!, take that suit off! It's infected!"

    The Tellarite had never undressed so fast in his life when those words penetrated his consciousness. The space suit was abandoned on the transporter pad and Mason had it converted to energy in seconds. Then the blue strobe flowed up and down the room, sending its pulses of various energy types intended to neutralize and destroy the nanites.

    "Do it again, just in case," Sparky said, and Mason laughed. But he did scan the room and the Chief again.

    "Chief, would you mind scanning the quarterdeck? We have emitters placed there, but it never hurts to be safe."

    Sparky took the scanner and went into the quarterdeck. "Don't try to leave, we're in quarantine until the Doctor clears us!" Mason said as the hatch was closing.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    The lights finally went off, whether from what had been done in the control room or some other cause. Lee switched to active sonar. It utilized ultra- and infra-sound pulses to produce a colorless image of the world around him. At the end of the wide hallway an airlock waited, sealed. Chuss tapped him on the shoulder and pointed down a narrower passageway. He nodded.

    Chuss went first. Lee paused long enough to set his rifle to narrow beam. It wouldn't help if he tried to shoot past him and hit his Deputy with the dispersed beam he had been using. He tugged a cord from his gauntlet and plugged into the rifle just forward of the trigger guard. When he flipped up the rifle's sight his HUD overlaid its infrared imaging over the sonar image. Chuss, of course, glowed in infrared. It was partially a byproduct of his own body heat, and partly the result of infrared lamps embedded in the pauldrons of his armor. The Caitian's eyes could see well into the infrared spectrum.

    Chuss carefully maneuvered around a corner that formed a tee, with the passage they were in continuing straight ahead. He ducked back as green bolts impacted and splashed against the wall beside him. Lee signaled him to make room, then poked his rifle around the corner, intending to rely on its sight to target the shooter. He had enough time to recognize that it was a ceiling mounted turret before he had to duck back and wince as the plasma splash splattered his suit.

    He slipped the lanyard of the sniper rifle off of his shoulder and passed it to Chuss, waited for the Caitian to ready the weapon, then dashed across the opening. The turret fired. Chuss fired. Lee had his back against the wall when the plasma bolts struck the back wall and splashed again. He disconnected his cable, transferred the weapon to his left hand, and plugged it in on that side. The infrared image returned to his HUD, along with is targeting reticle. Turning to face the wall he poked the rifle around the corner again. Chuss gave him half a second and whipped the sniper rifle into position and fired again.

    The second shot had been gratifying but unnecessary. The turret was already split open from the first shot; the second shot tore it out of its gimbals and it dropped to the floor. Chuss slung the rifle and readied his assault weapon. They were about to go into the passageway which lead to the area Lieutenant Mirra had guessed was living space when a bang attracted their attention. It had come from the direction of the area that had been shielded from their scans.

    Lee was off like a shot. The escape plan! Aguilar was going to escape! There was a turn, a second, and a long strait passageway. With Chuss on his heels he sprinted to the door at the end of the blank-walled passageway. It was closed and locked, a pressure door! Did it lead to a secret ship? Another weapon?

    Chuss had the nozzle of the breaching compound against the hatch and was drawing a door. It fell through seconds after the circle was complete, and rather than wait for the neutralizer, Lee leapt through. To his left a cybernetically enhanced human was standing on a transporter pad firing a gun that emitted a white spray. Lee tried to dodge as Chuss fanned the platform with his assault rifle set on full automatic, but the transport was nearly complete and the confinement beam began to bounce shots in random directions.

    Chuss stepped gingerly through the hole and sprayed Lee with his phaser pistol set to wide dispersal at the lowest power setting. The blue armored suit had been breached, and Lee fell to the floor, whether from the stun or Aguilar's weapon he could not say. Chuss activated Lee's transporter pattern enhancer, then after Lee began to dematerialize, his own. He had just enough time to step over to the transporter console and examine it before he too was beamed away.

    ***

    Mirra had fallen into a deadly calm. She had experienced this once before, when the USS Decker had been in a firefight. Power and communications were lost throughout the ship. She had a target lock. The enemy ship fired, and she fired back. As a brand new Lieutenant Junior Grade she continued the fight, even though her ship was crippled. For ten minutes, from the Forward Weapons Control Room she coordinated the crewmen assigned to her watch, restoring communications with the engine room as the pirate vessel attempted to finish off the crippled cruiser.

    For her time had slowed. She had plenty of time to consider each action, to decide what counter she would use. Adrenaline did funny things. As it was doing now.

    "An alien ship lifting from the moon, one hundred klicks bearing 234!"

    "Active scans, Mister Tanaka, let's see it!" she said, dead calm. It was just another training exercise.

    "Sibley, bring her up to full," Mirra said, "We're lifting. Mason, do you have the Skipper?"

    "He's in the pattern buffer!" came the reply.

    "Aktay, full shields as soon as Mason says go, don't wait for orders. Ladner, give me more power from Aux. Ben, charge capacitors. Red Alert!"

    As she spoke she was lifting the Kestrel, retracting the landing gear.

    "Got him!" shouted Tanaka triumphantly. "A Nausican Figate, sir, armament unknown!"

    "Mister S'lott, hail that frigate please, Mister Tanaka, target lock. Voght, if it shoots, kill it."

    She had lifted the ship to twenty-five meters and was moving toward the compound when Mason said, "I have Mister Chuss!"

    Mirra and Aktay simultaneously announced, "Shields up!" Mirra turned toward the frigate. It was easily twice their size.

    ***

    Bengogg set aside his P.A.D.D. when the red light flashed. The Lieutenant said to charge capacitors, so he did. Then he armed and loaded two torpedoes in the tube and charged its capacitor. Photon torpedoes would help make them strong. He prepared his second trick. He saw the incoming ship, saw its shield power, and decided the first shot would have to count. He took local control of the phasers.

    The order to fire came too soon, they were not yet close enough. He waited. He heard the voices. They were anxious. Thalys was mad. He would show her something that would make her not-mad.
    When the range was close enough the enemy began to fire, and he waited. At 5k he opened fire. He hit the forward shield with both main capacitors and with all fourteen secondary capacitors. He had target lock, and as the main capacitors charged he dumped a second pulse on the target.

    He fired the pair of torpedoes and reloaded a single. More than one was a strain on the launcher's systems, but it could be done. In the second pulse the forward starboard dorsal emitter burned out. There were three more emitters which could fire on that arc.

    When the torpedoes hit, one right after the other, the shredded shield was of little use. Both torpedoes impacted the hull of the ship. His plan had worked. He unlocked local control and sent the ready to fire signal to the bridge. The emitters could not safely be overloaded again until he had inspected them for damage.

    The enemy ship ran, and dropped mines in it's wake. Ben laughed his silent laugh, and set up the multiple firing routine using the secondary capacitors. Then when the first pulse was finished he dumped the main capacitor into the secondaries for a second pulse, then a third. The mines were gone, and the ship continued to accelerate after the broken enemy vessel.

    ***

    Mason and Sparky ripped the armor off of the Skipper as Chuss tore off his own. The blue lights were pulsing, but they were taking no chances. The Skipper's shoulder and neck were running blood, his suit had been penetrated in a hundred places, and the two were growing nervous about their silicate isolation suits being breached as they struggled to get the still-active nanites off of the Marshal.

    At this point Lee could only clench his jaw, grunt, and try to shy when their ministrations touched the damaged area. It was like a large area burn: any contact resulted in excruciating pain. With the suit off, Mason vanished and the Chief began to use one of Dr. Sar's toys on him. Thankfully he didn't see when Mason converted his combat armor to energy. The blue light pulsed again, but the pain wouldn't go away. Then Crewman Brock was there with a hypospray and everything faded out.

    ***

    "Captain, you have to quarantine that moon! It is infested with Borg-derived nanites! We are in pursuit of the person responsible, but he will be out of our sensor range in less than two hours! You won't catch him, but you can keep anyone else from stumbling into that deathtrap!"

    "Lieutenant Mirra, my ship is faster, and I have placed a warning buoy in orbit of the moon. It was reckless of you to chase that vessel knowing that your own top speed was insufficient to keep up."

    "Sir, I didn't know that at the time, and I had good information that a Starfleet ship was headed to the moon. I hoped I could impress upon you the importance of blockading that moon and simultaneously contacting another vessel along our flight path which could continue the pursuit. I have a sensor lock on him now!"

    "You priorities appear to be misaligned. Your captain is injured and in need of medical care. That should be your priority. Starfleet will find this vessel no matter where it runs. Your task now is to get your ship to safety and your captain to a medical facility capable of treating his injuries."

    "He's being treated by the galaxy's foremost authority on this particular type of injury, sir. I can keep a sensor lock..."

    "Lieutenant, I gave you an order. Your priority is the safety and welfare of your ship and crew. Make your course to the nearest starbase, which would be 135, and await further instruction. Sidrea out."

    "Lieutenant," the Bolean said, "Vulcans rarely act from personal motivations."

    "And I am?"

    "You may be acting in what you believe is your Skipper's interest. But you have been given a direct order."

    She sighed and turned back to the helm console. And dropped to warp 6. And she toggled the intercom.

    "All hands, go to Yellow Alert. Quarantine enforced on the detention deck until further notice. Stand easy on all stations."

    "Crewman Ladner," she called on the Damage Control circuit.

    "Sir?" he replied.

    "I want a scan of the compartments around the Detention Deck for any signs of nanites."

    "Will do, sir," he answered.

    She turned to the Ensign and the topedoman and said, "You two get some breakfast or whatever. I'll need to be relieved at 1200."

    "Aye, sir," they echoed.

    "And Voght..."

    "Yes sir?"

    "Tell Ben he did real good. He did real good."

    "Yes sir."

    As she laid in the course to Starbase 135 the Counselor said, "You will be a fine commander one day, Lieutenant."

    "Then why do I feel like TRIBBLE?"

    "Because you were forced to choose the least bad of bad options. Commanders sometimes have to do that."

    "Mister Friday, do you remember the comm circuit the Skipper used to contact Senior Marshal T'essa?"

    "Of course, Lieutenant."

    "Can you input that circuit into the Comm Console without violating orders?"

    "I was not instructed to keep that information Confidential, Lieutenant."

    ***
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