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Literary Challenge #40 : Redux

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  • marcusdkanemarcusdkane Member Posts: 7,439 Arc User
    edited March 2013
    Literary Challenge #14 : Facility 4028

    Raison d'etre


    2329:
    Commander Rebecca Ravillious strode purposefully along the corridor, barely lifting her gaze from the PADD in her hands, and the chronometer in the corner of the screen, displaying a countdown to when she had to be back in the lab. If she didn't make it back in time, the experiment could destroy half the ship. Avoiding assorted crewmen, Rebecca's unerring sense of direction brought her to the USS Eden's forward lounge, and she smoothed the front of her dress uniform before entering the crowded room.

    "Are you ready?" enquired her closest friend, Lieutenant Commander Naomi Chandler.

    "As I'll ever be," Rebecca replied, taking one last glance at the chronometer before handing her the PADD:

    19:45...19:44...19:43...

    By the forward viewports, she saw Captain Ahmed Nasir, his hands folded serenely in front of him, clasping an old, leather-bound book, and to his left, dressed not in a Starfleet uniform, but a civilian tuxedo, stood Paul Kane, the dark-haired engineer who had won her heart.

    At a nod from Nasir, someone in the congregation activated an audio file, and the room filled with the sound of church organs, and Rebecca began to walk sedately towards the front of the lounge.

    "I was beginning to think you weren't coming," Paul muttered with a wry grin as Rebecca stood before him.

    "Just left something running in the lab," she replied lightly.

    "Anything I should know about, Number One?" Nasir enquired, leaning his head forwards.

    "As long as we're done in fifteen minutes, Sir, nothing to worry about," Rebecca assured the captain, who shrugged, then looked up to address the room.

    "Ladies, gentlemen, and otherly gendered species, it brings me the greatest pleasure to perform a duty today seldom required of me in my role as a Captain, as we come together to witness the joining of this man, and this woman, in the state of matrimony. As I understand time is a factor, I shall be as brief as ceremony allows.

    "Marriage is a solemn undertaking, not one to be entered into lightly, for a moment's uncertainty, can lead to a lifetime of regret. If anyone knows of any lawful reason why these two people should not be wed, let them speak now, or forever hold their peace...

    Paul's eyes flickered around the room of assembled officers, then back to Rebecca, who's bow-like lips quirked into a smile.

    "Paul William Kane, do you take this woman, to be your lawfully wedded wife? To cherish and honor, to protect and provide for, for as long as you both shall live?"

    "I do,"

    "Rebecca Louise Ravillious, do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband? To cherish and honor, to guide and nurture, for as long as you both shall live?"

    "I do,"

    "Then by the power vested in me by Starfleet Command and the United Federation of Planets, I hereby pronounce you husband and wife. Mister Kane, you may kiss your bride, and may Allah have mercy on your soul."

    As the assembled officers applauded and laughed, Paul and Rebecca leaned forwards, to share their first kiss as a married couple.


    2334:
    Captain Ahmed Nasir gazed sightlessly at the forward viewscreen and the rolling vista of Adigeon Prime, and leaned on the arm of his command chair.

    "Say again, Mister Hendricks," he requested. "There is considerable interference on the channel."

    "Commander Kane is attempting to stabilize the thalaron generator now, Captain," stated the voice of Lieutenant Thomas Hendricks. The security chief's normally relaxed voice taut with stress. "Containment is fluctuating, and the generator is at risk of going critical."

    Nasir closed his eyes.
    "Oh Allah, have mercy, they know not what they do..." he whispered. The idea of a thalaron generator was bad enough, but for it to have been constructed on an inhabited planet was lunacy.

    "Please repeat, Captain," requested Hendricks' voice.

    "Never mind, Mister Hendricks, I was just thinking aloud. Nasir to Kane, what can you tell me, Commander?"


    Rebecca Kane's fingers flew over the touchscreen of her PADD as it ran an integration subroutine to interface with the generator's systems, when she heard the Captain's voice addressing her over Hendricks' communicator.

    "The system is crashing, Captain, but I'm attempting to interface with the generator's systems to bring it to a controlled shutdown." She explained, brushing a long bang of hair out of her face with her wrist. "Containment momentarily dipped by point zero zero one per cent but is stabilized. As long as I can shut it down, it will be okay."

    "And if you can't? Should we begin evacuation procedures of facility 4028?"

    "No, Sir. If I can't shut this thing down and it goes critical, the radiation cascade will kill every living thing on the planet in under an hour. Calling an evacuation at this point would only cause panic to the population, in this instance, I would suggest that ignorance will be bliss."

    "Understood, Commander, standing by."

    Looking at the PADD, Rebecca looked over the EPS flow, and began to reduce the feed to the thalaron intermix matrix, while maintaining the power to the containment grid. Gradually, the cyclic humming of the generator slowed, reducing in pitch and intensity, before dropping below the range of Human hearing.

    "Kane to Eden. Crisis averted," she reported with a sigh. Reaching up, she moved to lift the PADD away from the control surface, when a sudden surge fed back through the device, shocking Rebecca and dropping her to the floor, where she lay unconscious.

    At once, Hendricks was at her side, along with two Adigeon researchers, who raised tricorders to scan the area.

    "No residual thalaron radiation detected, Lieutenant," reported the avian scientist. "But your commander should be taken to an infirmary immediately, her heart beats are incredibly erratic. One is strong, the other two are much weaker."

    "Those aren't her heart beats, doctor," replied Hendricks. "The commander is eight weeks pregnant with twins."

    The bird-like scientist squarked something which the universal translator was unable to comprehend, before rapidly trilling and chittering into his communicator.
    ***

    Rebecca opened her eyes, and saw the face of a female Adigeon looking down at her, accompanied by the Eden's chief medical officer, Doctor Callum MacLeod.

    "What happened?" she demanded, lifting herself up on her elbows.

    MacLeod grimaced.

    "There was a feedback surge in the generator as it shut down, and there was another fluctuation in the containment grid, releasing a barely detectable amount of thalaron radiation. I've stabilized your condition, but there's -- a complication with one of the embryos."

    Rebecca's slate grey eyes flew open and she automatically put a hand to her still-flat stomach. My boys!!! she thought, as an icy hand clutched at her heart.

    "What kind of complication, Cal? Tell me!" she demanded, struggling to keep her panic under control.

    "One of the embryos has suffered genetic damage to the Y chromosome," MacLeod explained. "You've got a big decision to make, but you have to make it now. If we don't act immediately, and I do mean immediately, you will lose the child."

    An unnatural calm descended on Rebecca as her training took over.

    "Options?"

    "Adigeon physicians are highly skilled genetic engineers. They are proposing to replace the damaged Y chromosome with a copy of the X chromosome to stabilize the genetic sequence and save the child."

    Rebecca's eyebrows drew closer together. A double X chromosome could only mean one thing.

    "But that will change the sex of the baby..."

    The Adigeon nodded her head.

    "The embryo will continue to develop as a female."

    "But they're monozygotic twins," Rebecca pointed out. "Can't you copy the undamaged Y chromosome from the healthy embryo to repair the damage?"

    "Even monozygotic twins always have a different phenotype," MacLeod replied. "Even at this stage of development, there are already hundreds of genetic differences, and the two codes would be incompatible. The differences would lead to errors in genetic replication as severe as if the damaged chromosome were to be untreated.

    "The only option is to replace the damaged Y chromosome with a copy of the undamaged X chromosome from that embryo, it is the only way the genetic code will properly stabilize."

    Rebecca shook her head, tears beginning to roll down her cheeks.

    "But I'm having two boys, Cal! Paul and I are naming them after our fathers, Alexander and Marcus!"

    "You're still going to have two children, Becca," MacLeod assured her. "I promise you that the genetic re-sequencing of the embryo will stabilize the genetic code perfectly. It will create a gender reassignment so complete that there will be no male genetic coding whatsoever, the embryo will develop as fully female as you or your mother. She will be able to have children of her own and lead a perfectly normal life, but we must begin the procedure immediately, or you will miscarry within hours."

    "Alright," Rebecca sighed with a nod, before fixing the Adigeon woman with a narrow-eyed glare. "But nothing else! I know the kind of genetic work you people do here, and I won't have my child turned into some kind of Augment freak!"

    The Adigeon nodded, and raised her claw-like hands in a supplicating gesture.

    "You have my word, Commander," she assured her. "No unnecessary alterations or enhancements. We would never tamper with such genetic coding unnecessarily or without request."

    "And don't you dare do anything to the other child!" she snarled. "Do you hear me? Not a single thing!"

    "I'll be observing the entire procedure, Becca," MacLeod promised. "I guarantee that nothing will be done to the other embryo, and he'll be absolutely fine. We gave him a complete genetic analysis to make sure there was no chromosomal damage, and his coding is -- absolutely fine. I assure you, he's going to live a very long and healthy life."

    "Alright, Cal. You can begin," Rebecca consented. "I don't know how I'm going to explain this to Paul..."


    2345:
    Marcus Kane felt the shift in the mattress, and looking over his shoulder, saw Alix pull the duvet over her shoulder. Facing away from him, her wavy hair fanned across the pillow as she settled. Even with the king-sized mattress, whenever she snuck into the bed, she always woke him. For a moment, he lay on his right side, gazing out of the window, before bringing his right arm up to his face, and tweaking the sides of the rubberized black bracelet with his left hand. A pale azure watch face appeared within the seamless bracelet: A five-spoke coronet formed the 12 marker, with linear rectangular markers at each of the other hour positions. The digitized hands clearly indicated the time 2:24.

    Putting his head back on the pillow, Marcus closed his eyes, seeking to return to sleep, but over the ever-present rain, he was sure he could hear voices. One was his father, Paul, the other, was unfamiliar. He couldn't make out the words, but the conversation seemed strained. Sitting up, Marcus slid out of the bed and pulled a robe over his pajama top. At the foot of the bed, his loyal rotweiller, Zack, raised his massive black head, tilting it quizzically as he regarded Marcus.

    "Can you hear Dad?" Marcus whispered.

    Awwwrrr... Zack rumbled, propping himself up on his front legs, ready to follow his master.

    Making his way silently though the hallway and down the stairs, Marcus moved like a wraith through the castle, Zack at his side, until they approached his father's study. He was close enough now to make out the second voice properly: Male, speaking English, with what almost sounded like a hint of a Louisiana drawl in an otherwise British accent like Mama's, and from the bluish-white light spilling into the hallway, a subspace comm link. Kneeling down, Marcus poked his head round the open door frame.

    "-- but you know what these Cardassians're like, Paul, it's not the kind of situation I want to send an operative into without some kind of backup." said the man on the viewscreen. He wore a Starfleet uniform, and Marcus' eyes focused on the rank insignia on the white shoulder strap. Not a Captain or Commander's strip , but a four-pointed star-- An admiral...

    "I here ya, Wes, I've got some ideas on the drawing board," replied Paul, flipping through some files on his PADD. "But don't forget, we relocate to Vulcan next week, so my project time's going to be restricted."

    On the screen, the man nodded, his attention drifting, as if he was looking at something just off-camera in his office, maybe a junior officer handing him a report.

    "I'll speak to you in a few days to touch base, but you really need to upgrade your security, Paul, you've got a couple of operatives on your six as we speak," he paused, his gaze locked firmly on Marcus, and he winked. "Cooper out."

    As Cooper's face was replaced with the Starfleet emblem, Paul turned in his chair.

    "Hey, pal, can't sleep?" he asked as Marcus and Zack entered the study.

    Marcus shrugged as he absently stroked Zack's side.

    "Ali woke me," he said, stifling a yawn.

    Paul sighed. So much for last week's talk on staying in her own bed...

    "She only does it because she loves you, pal," he replied. "You're her big brother. She looks up to you."

    By all of ten minutes... Marcus thought, slumping down on the low couch. Zack immediately took up sentinel duty at his feet.

    "I know," he admitted. "Did Auntie Karen ever do the same to you?"

    Paul sighed again. How to explain the genetic restructuring, which Alix's obsessive connection to her twin and social difficulties were a result of...

    "Ali doesn't see things the same way as we do, pal," he began. "She doesn't realize that she sometimes says or does things which others don't always understand. Remember that patience is a virtue, and remember that she loves you, and would never do anything to hurt you. Did I ever tell you about the time your aunt bonded a PADD to my hand while I was asleep?"

    Marcus grinned and nodded.

    "Yeah, I remember, Dad. I guess Ali's never done anything like that to me," he admitted.

    "Well, it's going to be getting light soon, and you ought to try and get more sleep if you're going sailing with Mama later."

    Marcus nodded and boosted himself up off the couch.

    "Okay, Dad," he said, making his way out of the study, before slapping his hand twice against his thigh. At once, Zack was on his feet, ambling after Marcus.
    ***

    What had begun as a pleasant weekend activity, had rapidly turned into a nightmare. Rebecca Kane clung to the partially capsized pontoon of the trimaran, struggling to push Marcus' insensate body up out of the water. She couldn't tell the extent of the cut across his scalp from the falling boom, but blood slowly oozed from beneath his hairline onto his face, partially diluted and washed away by the torrential rain.

    "Wake up, baby, wake up!" she shouted, climbing onto the pontoon and checking her son's airways. He was breathing clearly, and Rebecca said a silent prayer of thanks. She raised her arm to check the miniaturized tricorder she habitually wore in a black synthleather strap, but the interface was smashed beyond use, probably in the collision with the coral reefs which had torn the Eden to pieces. Eventually, Marcus coughed and stirred.

    "Mama, where are we?" he asked, his slate grey eyes wandering as he struggled to focus on the horizon, but the storm was so severe, that sky and sea were indistinguishable.

    "We've lost our comms gear and we're being blown south east, away from the reefs," Rebecca explained.

    "Towards Serena's Necklace?"

    "I hope so," replied Rebecca. "If nothing else happens to divert us, the wingboat factories on the northern island should pick up our beacon."

    "I feel dizzy, my head hurts," Marcus said, trying to raise a hand to his forehead, but only succeeding in sliding further down the pontoon.

    "You have to stay still, baby," Rebecca ordered. "You've been hit in the head and probably have a concussion. Try and stay awake. Can you do that for me?"

    "I'll try, Mama," Marcus promised. "It won't be like this on Vulcan, will it."

    "No baby, you know Vulcan is a desert planet, it only has shallow equatorial seas. Won't it be nice to be dry though, not to be wet all the time?"

    "I don't want to go," Marcus admitted. "I'll miss Matt and Andrew, and Miss Carter."

    "You'll make new friends, and have new teachers to learn from," Rebecca assured him. "You'll see, everything will turn out okay. Just have fai--"

    Rebecca's voice died on her lips as her eyes picked out shadows in the water, drifting around and beyond the periphery of her vision.

    "Mama, what's wrong?" demanded Marcus, but before Rebecca could reply, he saw them. "Oh no, no no..." The delta-shaped fins protruding above the waterline, gliding leisurely closer. Raptor Sharks. The evolutionary apex of oceanic predators, they made the Terran Great White look like a placid koi carp, and Marcus was seized by a terror he had never before felt.

    "Mama..."

    Before he could say anything else, Rebecca turned to him, unstrapping her tricorder and securing it around his wrist.

    "Now Marcus, I need you to be brave, and I need you to listen to me," she said, using the same calming tones she had used with junior officers a decade previously. "My tricorder is broken, which means it is automatically emitting a distress beacon. No matter what happens, someone will find you. You have to stay awake, and out of the water. Do you understand?"

    Marcus nodded, his brow furrowing with confusion.

    "Yes, Mama, I'll try, but what about you?"

    "The raptors have caught the scent of your blood. Until they feed, nothing will divert them from that purpose. Now I need you to be brave, and I want you to look after Ali. You're her big brother, and it's your job to look out for her."

    Reaching out, Rebecca brushed Marcus' fringe out of his eyes.

    "My handsome son, always remember how much I love you," she implored.

    "I will, Mama, I promise, but I still don't understand!"

    Without another word, Rebecca turned from Marcus and dove into the churning ocean, striking out towards the shadows of the raptors, powerful kicks taking her further from the wreckage of the trimaran.

    "Mama!" Marcus shouted. "Come back! Mama, please come back! Mama, Mama, MAMA!!!"
    ***

    Paul Kane strode resolutely down the hospital corridor, Alix clutching his hand.

    "How is he?" he demanded, as they approached the nurse's station.

    "Better than when he was found," the young doctor replied. "We've stopped the sub-cranial bleeding and repaired the skull fracture, as well as performing surgery to repair the damage to his vocal chords."

    Paul frowned.

    "I don't understand," he admitted. "I was told he'd been hit in the head by a piece of the boat when it broke up on the reefs."

    Doctor Reynolds nodded.

    "He was, and had a severe concussion, but by the time the rescue craft found him, he'd been screaming for his mother for hours."

    Paul nodded silently. As they entered the private room, Alix broke away from her father, sprinting across the room to launch herself at her brother, flinging her arms round his neck.

    Marcus looked up at his father, his eyes wild.

    "Did they find Mama?" he demanded, his voice still hoarse.

    Paul's eyes closed involuntarily, flashing back to the mortuary. The sheet drawn back from the ruined body on the table so he could formally identify the remains: a mere legality, given the DNA identification, but it had to be done. It could have been anything, or anyone, but then Paul's eyes fell upon the tattoo on the inside of the right forearm: The Huguenot Cross, and he knew it was his beloved Rebecca. How could he explain what he had seen to his son? How could he explain the result of his mother's sacrifice? Would knowing the truth bring him closure, or would it plague him with nightmares and drive him mad? Paul knew only that he had never lied to his son, and had no intention of starting now. He nodded.

    "I'm sorry, pal," was all he could say.

    For a moment, Marcus' lower lip trembled, then he began to scream.

    Alix backed away from the bed, her eyes squeezed shut and her hands pressing against her ears, anything to block out her brother's tormented howl .

    "Marcus, stop it," Paul snapped. "I said stop it! Marcus! You're upsetting your sister!"

    That realization registered, and Marcus fell silent as if slapped across the face.

    "Sorry Ali," he murmured, before rolling onto his side and curling into a fetal position, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings.

    Paul turned to Reynolds.

    "Is there anything I can do? We're supposed to be relocating to Vulcan in less than thirty six hours."

    The doctor nodded.

    "I can put you in contact with a Vulcan tutor who specializes in emotional instabilities and traumas," he said. "If anyone will be able to help Marcus, it will be Master Sovak."
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  • sander233sander233 Member Posts: 3,992 Arc User
    edited March 2013

    Break me in
    Teach us to cheat
    And to lie
    Cover up
    What shouldn't be shared

    And the truth's
    Unwinding
    Scraping away
    At my mind
    Please stop asking
    Me to describe

    For one moment
    I wish you'd hold your stage
    With no feelings at all
    Open minded
    I'm sure I used to be
    So free

    Self-expressed
    Exhausting for all
    To see
    And to be
    What you want and what you need

    And the truth's
    Unwinding
    Scraping away
    At my mind
    Please stop asking
    Me to describe

    For one moment
    I wish you'd hold your stage
    With no feelings at all
    Open minded
    I'm sure I used to be
    So free...

    Wash me away
    Clean your body of me
    Erase all the memories
    They will only bring us pain
    And I've seen
    All I'll ever need


    Matthew Bellamy of Muse - "Citizen Erased"


    ERASED


    XXX_EYES-ONLY_ACCESS_-_CLASSIFIED_MATERIAL:_DELTA_TOP_SECRET_-_SECURITY_CLEARANCE_LEVEL_TEN_REQUIRED_XXX

    REPORT FILED STARDATE 87623.8

    FROM:
    Vice Admiral Jesus LaRoca, Office of Diplomatic Liaison to Starfleet Security

    TO:
    Upper Rear Admiral Gregorr Vladimir, Office of the Inspector General, Starfleet Command


    CC:
    Councilor Redmond Boyle, Security Committee, Federation Council;
    Councilor Kucan, Security Committee, Federation Council;
    Councilor Kle' TRIBBLE, Security Committee, Federation Council;
    Professor Udo Kier, Project I.S.I.S., Daystrom Institute;
    Fleet Admiral Carvil, Inspector General, Starfleet Command;
    Vice Admiral Tanya Adams, Deputy Chief of Operations, Starfleet Intelligence;
    Vice Admiral Biehn, Chief of Starfleet Department of Corrections;
    Captain James Kurland, Commander of Deep Space Nine;
    Commander Mesi Achebe, Starfleet Liaison to Bajoran Government;
    Commander Eva, Project I.S.I.S., Starfleet Advanced Technologies

    BCC:
    Franklin Drake, secure channel Sierra-Three-One;
    Lieutenant General Ssharki, Klingon Defense Force Central Command, diplomatic channel Whiskey-Zero-Seven

    All -

    This report pertains to the breakdown of security at detention center known as Facility 4028 during the removal of Inmate 00001 (the Female Changeling) from that facility. The events relating to the seizure of Deep Space Nine by temporally displaced Dominion fleet and Dominion's subsequent eviction are matters of public record and not covered in this report. This report is in response to the inquiries made to my office dated SD-87618.9 and SD-87621.2 (see attached) by U. R. Adm. Vladimir in his capacity as the Adjunct Inspector General.

    Vlad -

    Let me say right off the bat that I resent your implication that the forces of the KDF were in any way involved with the security breach at Facility 4028 or the shutdown of the I.S.I.S. core. First of all, General Ssharki happens to be a personal friend of mine; an individual who I have known for nearly my entire life and I can vouch for his character as being honorable and trustworthy. Second, Ssharki and his security officer were with me for nearly the entire time up until the security breach occurred. The exception was while we were interviewing separate subjects in separate isolation wards (both in zone A, refer to attached facility map) and the facility's holocam recordings and the Warden's testimony both corroborate that Ssharki and his security chief did not and could not have interfered with I.S.I.S. at this time. I know we've had our past differences but for you to suggest such grievous deficiency in my character judgment and my powers of observation without any supporting evidence is completely improper and an egregious violation of protocol.

    The following account was constructed using ships' sensors and recordings, Facility 4028 holocam recordings and my first officer's and my own personal logs. This should establish conclusively the whereabouts and actions of all parties involved in the incident. The account begins on Stardate 87571, after General Ssharki and I had made contact with Vorta Field Supervisor Eraun 6 with the "assistance" of the Ferengi trader Farek...



    Idran System, SD-87571.8

    The motley crew aboard the Federation runabout Zambezi watched the Ferengi cruiser warp to safety. The cabin was entirely silent for a moment apart from a disappointed grunt emitted by one of the Gorn.

    The silence was broken by warbling chirp from the comm panel. "Eraun is hailing us, Admiral," Commander Winters reported.

    Jesu LaRoca withdrew his right hand from the tactical console. Had he lowered his index finger another millimeter, the modified Yellowstone-class runabout would have slammed a spread of photon torpedoes into the hull of the Nerrak, easily destroying the damaged freighter. It would have been so easy to rid the galaxy of that... "worm" as Farek called herself. Too easy. And Eraun wanted him to kill her. In the end, that's why he decided to let her go. Besides, he thought, you never know when a Ferengi who owes you a favor may come in handy. He stared at the blinking light on the comm panel and waited just long enough to ensure that Eraun was thoroughly annoyed, before he commanded "Onscreen."

    The forward view of the unfamiliar stars of the Gamma Quadrant beyond the waiting trio of Jem'Hadar warships was replaced by the visage of one furious Vorta.

    "You- you come seeking my aid and then refuse a simple request? This is not an auspicious start to our-"

    "Come off it, Eraun," LaRoca interupted. "That insignificant creature was no threat to me, you, or Dominion interests. I don't get my hands dirty for you or anyone else unless it suits my purpose."

    "But pleasing me does suit your purpose, Admiral." Eraun heaved an exasperated sigh. "Nevertheless, you have something I want, and I have something you need. The only logical conclusion is cooperation. I will return to the Alpha Quadrant with you and render whatever assistance I can."

    A surprised Admiral LaRoca turned in his seat and locked eyes with his friend General Ssharki. Too easy, he mouthed.

    The Gorn General nodded.

    "Hmm, there is a price, though," Eraun announced.

    LaRoca turned back to face the screen. "I could have guessed. What is this thing we have that you want?"

    "Not a thing. Not even a person, in the limited sense you see life." Eraun leaned toward the viewer and increased the overtone of condescension in his voice to an almost unbearable level. "For more than thirty years, Starfleet has held one of the Founders as a prisoner of war..."

    LaRoca's eyes narrowed. "The Female Changeling who oversaw the Dominion forces during the war is being held at a secure facility for crimes against sentient life."

    Eraun ignored him and went on. "Imagine..." he paused for emphasis, "the hubris it takes to contain a god! The arrogance!"

    "Actually," Ssharki remarked "all you need to contain a Founder is a hermetically sealed jar, about one-point-two liters in volume."

    "Ssharki..." LaRoca made a show of disapproval, but he was trying very hard not to laugh out loud.

    Eraun glared at the Gorn for a moment before facing the Starfleet Admiral again. "When the Founder is returned to me, you will have the Dominion's complete cooperation, and my guarantee that Kar'ukan and his fleet will not trouble Deep Space Nine again."

    LaRoca had been afraid it would come to this. He wanted the Female Changling to remain right where she was. Death was too good for her. LaRoca wished she would spend eternity locked away in a tiny prison cell, separated from the Great Link, allowed to go slowly mad from sheer boredom. "Do you really expect the Federation will capitulate to your demands?"

    "Do you really expect we'll ever reach a peaceful solution if they don't? I know the last thing the Federation wants is to go through another war with us. Especially now that you have your hands full in a war with the Klingons, interfering in the affairs of the Romulans and Cardassians, and preparing for the Borg to invade your space. Even if you get the KDF to cease hostilities and join you - doubtless those lizard-people with you are here to imply exactly that - you will still be over-extended and ill-prepared to deal with our sheer numbers. The fleet Kar'ukan and Lorris brought through the wormhole is less than a tenth of a percent of our total might, and look at how easily they overwhelmed your defenses. Using ships and weapons technology thirty-five years out of date, no less."

    Ssharki crossed his arms and addressed the Admiral. "I know you don't want to hear it, but he's right. We have nothing else to offer the Dominion. We either give them their Founder, or we give them war."

    LaRoca nodded. As much as it turned his stomach to think of the Female Changeling going free after all of the atrocities she had committed, the thought of going through it all again was even more appalling. "Very well, Eraun. I will transmit your appeal to the Federation Council with my recommendation that they approve the release of the Female Changeling to your custody."

    The Vorta made an odd sort of half-nod, half-bow and his image disappeared from the viewscreen. The heavy escort cruiser he was aboard moved off toward the wormhole at full impulse.

    LaRoca yawned and stretched. "Okay, Yoann, configure the tractor emitters for towing through the wormhole. Winters, take us back to the Ho'norgh's last known position."

    The Starfleet officers responded with an instant chorus of "Aye, sir."

    LaRoca turned to Ssharki. "DS9's sensors should still be down, and the Denorios Belt will mask our impulse signature from any Jem'Hadar ships nearby. But if we are discovered, we'll have to cut your shuttle loose and warp to Bajor."

    "Thanks for trying anyway."

    "This assumes those swarmers left anything to recover," Commander Vishka remarked. The Orion pilot assigned to the mission by Klingon Intelligence was decidedly pessimistic.

    "Not to worry," Ssharki insisted. "Her hull is three and a half centimeters of neutronium alloy. I doubt even the phaser array on this thing could get through it. We'll just have to repair the engines, maybe touch up the paint, and she'll be good as new."

    "By the way, Admiral, how did you stop the swarmers from going after your engines?" The query came from Ssharki's security chief, a young Gorn called Sway.

    "Our engines run off a tetryon-infused plasma mixture," LCdr. Yoann Teena answered. "We vented that from the drive manifolds. The swarmers didn't like the taste."

    "Ah."

    "There it is!" Ssharki pointed. The Ho'norgh was tumbling slowly about all three axes as it drifted lazily through space, but it was at least in one piece. It had a sleek and angular appearance, looking very much like the giant shark tooth it was named for.

    The Zambezi's tractor beam gripped the shuttlecraft. A sudden jolt rocked the Federation vessel as the coupled inertial mass applied a tensile stress to the runabout. But the dampeners quickly compensated, and the Zambezi set off after the Jem'Hadar cruiser, and the odd little convoy passed through the wormhole without incident.


    Aboard USS Tiburon, Bajor System, two hours later

    Vice Admiral LaRoca entered his flag conference room to find his Gorn guests enjoying a late-night snack. Ssharki had a large bowl of seafood gumbo, while Sway was eating... "Is that... mint chip ice cream?"

    The young security chief nodded with his mouth full.

    "The kid likes ice cream," Ssharki semi-explained. "Don't ask me why." He pointed to his gumbo with his spoon. "This tastes like Sisko's recipe."

    "It is," LaRoca told him. "Or close to it, anyway. Didja get that from a replicator or Deck Six?"

    "Replicator," Ssharki answered. "What's on deck six?"

    "Crew lounge. Just forward of the port-side turbolift. I've got a coupla chefs down there who've taken a vow to only use natural ingredients wherever possible. You should try that next time you're hungry."

    "I'll do that." Ssharki finished his gumbo and pushed the bowl away. "What's happening with that Changeling?"

    "I sent Eraun's proposal to Headquarters, and they said they'd take it straight to the Council. I'm sure they'll come to the same conclusion we did, but they're politicians so it will take a while." LaRoca walked to the replicator subtly mounted in the wall near the doorway. "Triple-shot mocha, light whip," he ordered. He retrieved the coffee beverage as soon as it materialized and took a seat at the conference table. "Anyway, Ming is working on repairs to your shuttle. He says it needs a new phase inverter coil and he's bartering with other Klingon ships in orbit to find a spare. Any class of shuttle should have what he needs, though."

    Ssharki nodded. "Give Commander Domingo my thanks and best regards."

    Sway looked up from his ice cream. "Isn't Domingo another old shipmate of yours, General?"

    "Yes. Ming, Jesu's father and I all served on this ship under Captain Sander during the Dominion War." Ssharki made a short, hissing laugh. "It was just supposed to be a short-term assignment as part of a cultural exchange program. But I was here for the first shots and stayed on right up until the Female Changeling signed the Treaty of Bajor." The General looked to LaRoca. "If it's all the same to you, Jesu, I'd like to see this through to the end. I assume you'll be the one they send with Eraun to pick up the Founder. I'd like to go with you, my friend."

    LaRoca took a sip of his coffee. "I'll have to pull a few strings but it shouldn't be a problem since you're already on a diplomatic clearance. And I'd be honored to have you along. And hopefuly this won't be the last time we'll get to work together."

    "I'm sure it won't. I was encouraged by the talks at the Borg Conference. Before the Dominion showed up, that is."


    Kassae Sector, en route to Ayala System, SD-87576.4

    Vice Admiral LaRoca had just ordered a plate of cold, raw Doryteuthis opalescens from his ready-room's replicator. He was about to feed the squid to Rudyard, his pet leopard shark, when the door chimed. "Enter!" The door hissed open behind him, and then closed a moment later. The visitor entered silently. This gave away his identity. Still facing the aquarium, Jesu LaRoca greeted his chief of security. "What's up, Rusty?"

    "Permission to speak freely, sir?" Cmdr. LaRoca Rusty requested. "I need to speak to my brother."

    "Of course." Jesu slid the last piece of cephalopod off the plate and watched his meter-long shark gobble it up. He returned the plate to the replicator and activated the recycle function. Then he sat down at his desk, across from Rusty, who had already taken a seat. "What's on your mind?"

    "The Founder, Jesu. I want to meet her."

    "I'm not sure if she will grant an audience, but I'll see if I can arrange something."

    Rusty shook his long head. "I want to see her today. I want to accompany you to Facility 4028."

    The Admiral leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. "Request denied."

    "But- but-" Rusty stood and paced the room. "I have to see her! She made me! Or at least, she commanded the scientists who created me. There is so much I want to ask her..."

    "I know. That's why I can't let you speak to her before the crisis at Deep Space Nine is resolved." Jesu adjusted in his seat and leaned forward with his forearms on the desk. "Rusty, I love you, but you tend to let your emotions get the best of you. Negotiating with the Changeling is going to require tact and a cool head. I'm afraid that you could be a disruptive influence. I'm sorry, but that's my final answer."

    Rusty looked up at the ceiling and scratched the underside of his jaw as he thought up another argument. "What about your personal protection?"

    "You know I can take care of myself. Besides, I'm beaming down to a maximum-security detention center patrolled by state-of-the-art holographic guards and I'll have two Gorn and half a Klingon with me. I'll be fine." Jesu gazed at his adopted brother. Even though he had been genetically altered with Cardassian and Vorta DNA, he was still predominantly Deinon, and at 2.3m from nose to tail he was a particularly intimidating example of the species. "Rust, you were the sole survivor of a botched attempt to improve upon nature's ultimate soldier. If you're seeking some sort of catharsis, the Changeling isn't going to give it to you. At best she'll only offer some persuasive justification for her actions. As your commanding officer and your brother, I simply can't allow you to confront her. Not yet."

    "Alright then." Rusty stood and walked to the door.

    Jesu stopped him. "Commander..."

    Rusty turned his head. "Yessir?"

    "I want you to stand by in transporter room two with a level four security team. Just in case."

    Rusty's lipless mouth twisted into his version of a smile. "Yessir." The security chief stepped out onto the bridge.

    Admiral LaRoca turned his chair around and stared at his aquarium, idly watching Rudyard swim in lazy circles amongst the stalks of artificial kelp. And just how will I react when I meet the Changeling? He'd told the Council, Starfleet Command, and he'd even told himself that he would handle her just as he'd handled the many other prisoner exchanges he'd overseen, with a dispassionate professionalism. But he knew this one would be different. The Female Changeling wasn't merely the commander of the Dominion forces during the war, she was the Dominion. She had destroyed the Odyssey with all hands in 2370. She had wiped out the Seventh Fleet. She had invaded Betazed. She had ordered the Breen to attack Earth and destroy Starfleet Headquarters. And she had killed the mother of a four-year-old boy named Jesu LaRoca...

    "Admiral, we are approaching the Ayala System," Cmdr. Marq Sander announced over the intercom.

    "Acknowledged." LaRoca rose and opened his locker. He pulled on his gold-trimmed dress uniform jacket and cinched it with a belt that had the UFP emblem for a buckle. He checked his reflection in the mirror, combed back a few stray hairs, ran a gloved hand through his neatly-trimmed beard. He looked over his array of personal weapons and selected his Tegolar sword. He had found the Nausicaan weapon, with its wicked 90cm curved blade and serrated back edge, while searching the personal effects of a Klingon captain who's ship he'd captured. In its scabbard, it completed the ceremonial look he wanted to establish for his diplomatic functions. But in his hand, it suited his swashbuckling nature. It was his favorite weapon for dispatching Borg drones. After all, if there was one thing they couldn't adapt to it was a cold, razor-edged monotanium blade.

    Fully attired, LaRoca walked onto the bridge as the Tiburon dropped out of warp.

    "The asteroid containing Facility 4028 is dead ahead, sir," Marq announced. The half-Klingon first officer was in full dress uniform, in preparation to beam down with the Admiral. "And Eraun's ship is standing by."

    Jesu stood in front of his command chair. "Hail the facility."

    Within seconds a gray-haired humanoid figure appeared on-screen. "Hello, Admiral LaRoca," he said.

    "Hello. You must be the Warden."

    The Warden nodded. "Your authorization to visit has just come through from Starfleet Command. We don't get many visitors here, so this is quite an occasion!" The hologram's eyes suddenly narrowed with suspicion. "However, we are detecting two ships in orbit. Why is there a Jem'Hadar vessel with you?"

    "Didn't Starfleet tell you?" A puzzled Admiral LaRoca asked. "We have a Vorta guest. Eraun is here to see the Founder."

    The Warden frowned. "That is most irregular, Admiral. I have only received authorization orders permitting you and General Ssharki to visit us."

    "Surely admitting a Vorta is no more irregular than permitting a Lieutenant General of the Klingon Defense Force to access your facility," LaRoca argued.

    The Warden seemed to think it over for a moment. "Very well. I will permit you and the General to beam down. Each of you may be accompanied by one of your officers. The Vorta, however, will have to remain on his ship. Come speak to me, and if everything is in order I will allow him to enter the facility."

    "Alright, stand by." LaRoca turned to Cmdr. Traa'cee, at TacOps. "Close channel, and hail Eraun's ship."

    "Aye, sir."

    The grim face of the Warden hologram was replaced on screen by the beaming Vorta. "Well, Admiral?"

    "I've made contact with Facility 4028-"

    "Excellent!" Eraun interrupted. "I'm ready to beam down immediately! The Founder has been trapped among solids for far too long, and the Great Link is diminished without her august presence." Eraun keyed his controls, frowned and said "Excuse me a moment."

    "Eraun, there's a slight problem with your access authorization..." LaRoca tried to explain.

    "He can't hear you, sir," the Vulcan tactical officer reported. "He's muted the audio channel."

    The Tiburon's bridge crew watched while Eraun and his Jem'Hadar aides poked buttons and argued for a minute before the confused Vorta reopened the channel. "Um, Admiral, there appears to be a slight problem. My officers tell me that our transporter signal is being blocked." The Vorta's facial expression and tone shifted from confusion to indignation in an instant. "Do you intend to keep me waiting here on my ship like some sort of unwelcome guest?"

    "It's not that you're unwelcome, but there are... security concerns."

    Eraun laughed. "Security concerns? Admiral, if the Dominion wanted to conquer this facility, we could do so. I'm sure you Starfleet people think you're very clever and have all sorts of electronic defenses, but as we've proven in the past, even the Federation's most well-defended locations are vulnerable to a squad of Jem'Hadar warriors."

    LaRoca sighed. The Vorta was extremely wearisome. "Eraun-"

    "But fortunately for you, I'm not here to conquer. I'm only here to reach a mutually beneficial solution."

    "So am I. So if you'll just let me clear up this misunderstanding-"

    "Misunderstanding? I see this as a deliberate affront! If I'd had you fly to the Gamma Quadrant on the invitation of the Founders in order to retrieve a Federation Council Member we had in custody, and then you were told to wait while some bureaucrat cleared up some 'security concerns' I imagine you'd be nearly homicidal with outrage!"

    LaRoca was starting to get a headache on one side. "Look, Eraun, just wait here until I talk to the Warden. I promise this matter will be resolved as quickly as possible."

    "Hmmph. Very well, Admiral. I'll wait. But I find this lack of trust very insulting! I thought friends trusted one another. Perhaps offering to help you was the wrong decisi-"

    Traa'cee closed the channel without being asked.

    "Thank you." LaRoca massaged his right eye socket. "Marq, you're with me. Traa', you have the ship."

    "Very well, sir." The Vulcan left her TacOps console and moved to the command chair. "General Ssharki, please report with your party to transporter room one."

    Jesu and Marq rode the turbolift to the transporter room and found the Gorn officers straightening their ceremonial shoulder pads and linked-metal sashes. "Are we allowed to beam down with weapons?" Sway asked.

    "I haven't been told you can't," LaRoca answered.

    "Good." Sway opened a weapons crate he'd brought with him and tucked a pair of disruptor pistols into his belt. Ssharki pulled out a pulsewave assault rifle and slung it over his shoulder.

    LaRoca rested his left hand on the hilt of his sword and looked at Marq. His first officer opened his coat to reveal his own trusty old Klingon disruptor pistol - a 23rd-Century design which he'd retrofitted with modern components.

    "Okay, let's go." LaRoca waved the others forward onto the transporter pad, stepped into one of the yellow circles, looked at the transporter officer and said "Energize."

    They rematerialized on another transporter pad. There was nobody there to meet them.

    "Okay, what now?" Ssharki wondered.

    "I guess we look for the Warden," Marq suggested. He pulled out his tricorder. "I've downloaded a map of the facility. It looks like there's a series of rooms on this level through that door there."

    LaRoca led the way. The door opened to a large room with a glass-walled control center on one side.

    "Antechamber A" a feminine, mechanical voice announced from an overhead speaker.

    The group looked around. There were guards standing at doorways ahead and to the right side of the room and several more behind the glass wall on the left, but none of them seemed interested in the visitors. LaRoca cleared his throat. "Hello?"

    A holographic XO drone appeared and scanned each of the officers in turn. Then the voice spoke again. "Authorized visitors must report to the Warden. Follow the blue line to Isolation Zone A."

    LaRoca looked at the floor. There were four lines - one white, one red, one blue, one yellow. The yellow line led to the door on the right. The others went forward to a door marked Processing A. "Come on."

    The door led to a short hallway and another room. "Processing A" the voice greeted them. There were more guards here, overseeing several prisoners in orange jumpsuits and restraints. The blue line on the floor broke off from the others and led to a door off to the right. The door opened, but their path was blocked by a force field and beyond that, a yawning chasm stood between them and elevated platform with some sort of control room.

    "The hell?"

    "Try that interface panel next to the door, sir," Marq suggested.

    LaRoca looked at the panel. It wasn't the standard LCARS interface. It mostly displayed numbers and acronyms that were total nonsense to him, but one button marked ACCESS seemed clear enough. He pushed it.

    "ISIS Access Granted. How may I assist you?" the same computerized female voice came from a speaker built in to the panel.

    "What's ISIS?"

    "I am ISIS - the Inmate Security and Information System. How may I assist you?"

    "We... need to get to Isolation Zone A."

    "Visitor Jesus Lorenzo San Gregorio LaRoca - recognized. Visitor Marq Son of Breq Sander - recognized. Visitor Sfwyrnamokaarn-" Sway grimaced at the mispronunciation of his full name. "...Recognized. Visitor Ssharki HoHwI' BatlhHa' - recognized. Visitor authorization - verified. Access level two - authorized. Welcome to Facility 4028. Please report to the Warden before proceeding into the facility."

    "That's the idea," LaRoca muttered, as the force field blocking the doorway vanished and a new one formed a bridge to the control room.

    "You may proceed," ISIS announced.

    "HoHwI' BatlhHa'" Marq repeated. "'The one who kills without honor'?"

    "That's what the Klingons call me," Ssharki replied with a shrug. "And that's the name on my official KDF records."

    LaRoca led the way across the force field walkway and found the Warden. He was dressed identically to all of his guards, in black and yellow body armor that must have just been meant to intimidate the inmates, but unlike the guards he had no helmet.

    The Warden greeted each of them in turn. "Hello, Admiral. General. Commanders. Is there anything I can do to assist you?"

    "What should we call you?" Ssharki asked. "Is it just 'The Warden'?"

    "Heh, a bit disconcerting isn't it? I understand that the EMH Mark One had the same problem. But in this instance, instead of the programmers forgetting to give me a name, it was intentional. The thought was that I would be less approachable and therefore our guests wouldn't consider me a target for manipulation. Or perhaps it was their little joke. You've met ISIS? I find it quite intriguing that our computer received a name, but I and the rest of the photonic staff did not."

    "I see." Ssharki glanced around the control room and the isolation wards beyond. "What can you tell me about Facility 4028?"

    "Not many people know about this place, General, and that is intentional. We are a Federation penal institution designed to house the most high-profile and most dangerous prisoners. Most are quite violent or disruptive, but a few are targets for attack that we need to keep here for their own safety. Because of the danger, this facility is almost completely staffed by photonic personnel. There are only a handful of humanoids authorized to work here-"

    "Excuse me," LaRoca interrupted. "Ssharki, we're not here for you to learn about the Federation penal system. We're here to see the Founder. And you..." the Admiral turned to the Warden "sure talk an awful lot for an unapproachable hologram."

    "I'm sorry," the Warden said, although the hologram did a poor job of expressing it. "You said you were here to..."

    "See the Founder," Jesu LaRoca repeated.

    "Oh, really? That is quite unusual. You see, I thought General Ssharki here was the KDF representative I requested to speak to Inmate 53160! He's been waiting for quite some time."

    Jesu and Ssharki looked at each and shared a look of bemusement. Jesu turned back to the Warden. "And what would I be doing here, if that were the case?"

    "Why, escorting the General, naturally. Listen, I will need to contact Starfleet Department of Corrections to verify your authorization to see the Founder. I'm sure everything is in order, but I need to make certain and I'm afraid this could take a while. Until then, General, would you willing to speak to Inmate 53160?"

    Ssharki shrugged. "Sure. Why not."

    "Great. He's in Isolation Ward A One. You can get there from this area. Just use that panel there to extend the walkways. And Admiral, while you're here, I wonder if you wouldn't mind sparing a few minutes to talk to another inmate? He just recently asked to speak to a member of the Federation diplomatic corps. I hadn't gotten around to processing his request yet, but since you're a diplomatic consul, your arrival seems serendipitous."

    "I suppose it can't hurt."
    * * *

    Ssharki and Sway approached the first cell door in Isolation Ward A1 and an ISIS interface panel popped out. Ssharki tapped the display and stepped back in revulsion. The face of one of the foul shapeshifters that called themselves the Undine stared back at him. He was about to move on to the next door but his curiosity got the better of him and he read the information on Starfleet's captive shapeshifter.
    Inmate 98639
    - Name: Unknown
    - Species: Undine
    - Type: Class I
    - Sentence: Pending
    - Requirements: Isolation Ward protocols. Full access for Starfleet Intelligence. Other visitors must be approved by Warden. Access to technology restricted. Must be accompanied by Rapid Response Team at all times when out of cell.
    - Notes: Infiltrator impersonating Captain T'Vix of the U.S.S. Cochrane. Removed from ship along with three other Undine on Stardate 73967.3. Testing of isomorphic capabilities remains inconclusive. Remanded to Facility 4028 for detention and debriefing. Refer to Order 54937-Drake-6 fro details.

    "Fascinating." Ssharki closed the file and moved on. There was only one other occupied cell.
    Inmate 53160
    - Name: Karak
    - Species: Klingon
    - Type: Class II
    - Sentence: Pending
    - Requirements: Isolation Ward protocols. Visitors must be approved by Warden. Food and water intake must be monitored by medical personnel.
    - Notes: Captain of the I.K.S. Hakra. Allied with the House of Torg. Captured by Starfleet forces on Stardate 86640.4. Held at Starbase 157 for processing. Uncooperative and violent with staff. When assigned to isolation, went on a 32-day hunger strike that ended only when he was reassigned to general population. Transferred to Penal Colony 47. While there, led three prisoner uprisings that resulted in six deaths. Remanded to Facility 4028 to await prisoner exchange or trial.

    Sway leaned around his elder to the read the Klingon's bio. "House of Torg, eh? This will be fun."

    Ssharki said nothing. He opened the cell door. A force field sprang into place on the other side. Karak was sitting on his bed. He didn't look up at first. "Captain Karak? You wanted to talk to someone. Let's talk."

    Karak raised his head and looked toward the door. A gleam of recognition appeared in his eyes, replaced quickly by a flash of fear. "The Empire sent you?"

    "I'm here, aren't I?"

    "Very well then. I have heard the stories of your victories, General. I know you are a valiant warrior. Look then, upon my miserable state. Here I sit, caged like an animal waiting for slaughter. And not even the sweet release of death will wash the stains of dishonor off of my soul. The barge to Gre'thor waits for me, as it waits for us all."

    Sway laughed out loud. "That is what you called someone here to hear? The sad, self-pitying song of a warrior without teeth?"

    Ssharki silenced his adopted son with a sharp look, and turned his glare back to Karak. "So what do you want?"

    "Can the dead want anything?" Karak heaved a miserable sigh. "I felt like I had been forgotten by the Empire - by everyone. It has been so long since I have seen another warrior... and these holograms are nothing but pale shades of life. I made my request for a representative simply to see if anyone still cared that I was still alive. Now that you're here? At least I know that the Empire continues. That life continues outside these walls. It is enough."

    Ssharki looked at the utterly defeated Klingon Captain with a mixture of pity and contempt. "I'll mention you in my report to KDF Central Command, but that's all I can do for you. If death is all you want, I hope it finds you soon."
    * * *

    "What is this? Some sort of sick joke?"

    "Funny, I was about to track down that Warden and ask him the same thing." LaRoca glared at the Human on the other side of the force field. Amar Singh was probably the only person in this prison who rated the same level of loathing as the Changeling.

    Singh paced angrily in his cell. "I ask for Starfleet to send a representative so I can explain why I must continue my research..." he spun to face LaRoca, his face expressing pure outrage. "And they send you? The one who put me here?"

    Jesu smirked at him through the force field. "Would it help to know that I consider your arrest on H'atoria to be one of the proudest moments of my career?"

    "Hmmph. I'm sure you were very pleased with yourself." Singh's voice veritably dripped with sarcasm. "You probably earned all sorts of medals and promotions for stopping my mad plans to conquer the galaxy with a race of perfect monsters."

    Admiral LaRoca kept smirking. "My first Christopher Pike Medal of Valor, induction to the Legion of Merit, and a promotion to four-pip Captain. My greatest reward, though, was the gratitude of all those Gorn prisoners of yours whose genes and brains you hadn't scrambled yet. A bunch of them actually joined Starfleet. One of them's my helmsman. I'm told he still has nightmares about you."

    Singh shook his head and glared at the Admiral. "I see now that this was an exercise in futility. Your mind is too small to understand anything I have to say."

    "You're a psychopath," LaRoca stated matter-of-factly. "Nobody wants to hear anything you have to say."

    Marq spoke up, figuring one of them should act like a Starfleet diplomat and not like a bully. "Why should Starfleet let you continue your research? Genetic manipulation is illegal."

    "The genetic code holds no secrets from me! I can cure diseases, extend lifespans, make the perfect warriors..." Singh turned back to LaRoca with a pleading look. "Admiral please hear me out. The Federation is at war. Many lives are lost every day. But what if I could make the people on your crew stronger and more resilient? What if your reaction time was increased tenfold or your body could heal from almost any wound?"

    LaRoca sighed and rolled up the sleeve of his jacket to reveal the polyalloy weave body armor he wore under his uniform. Then he produced an enhanced optical eyepiece and a regenerative hypo from his combat kit. "With our technology, we have that already."

    "Genetics is a technology like any other! The difference is these enhancements would be built into your bodies, without the need for clumsy devices or armored suits. I can create perfection. All I need is time and resources."

    "And by 'resources' you mean 'test subjects,' right?" LaRoca sneered. "I saw what you did to your last batch. They were in so much pain it drove them mad. I wouldn't wish that kind of misery on any sentient being. Except you. Adios." Jesu closed the door and started walking back to the control room.

    Marq followed him. "You know, he has a point. Some genetic engineering has produced beneficial results. Like Dr. Julian Bashir, for example. Singh's research might be dangerous, but I'm not so sure that it needs to be illegal, so long as it's properly controlled and regulated."

    LaRoca shook his head. "For every Bashir, there have been a dozen men who would be Khan. Trying to direct our own evolution without any understanding of our nature is simply asking for trouble." He saw Ssharki and Sway approaching from another isolation ward. "How'd it go?"

    "There wasn't really anything we could do for him," Ssharki replied. "You?"

    "Same." They approached the Warden in the control room. "We did as you asked. May we see the Founder now?"

    "Of course," the Warden answered. "I've verified your authorization and granted permission for your Vorta friend to transport as well. However, he must remain outside the isolation zones. I realize this is an unusual situation, but security protocols must be maintained."

    "Understood." LaRoca was secretly pleased that Eraun would not be allowed to approach the Changeling in her cell. He and Ssharki would have some time with her alone.

    "We're losing our first and most famous inmate," the Warden went on. I suppose I should be a little sad, but... it's not like she was very easy to get to know. She's very different from our other inmates. I Don't suppose that she has much use for us. Inmate 00001 is being held in Isolation Ward B Two. If you follow the red line into the facility, you'll pass through main holding and another processing area. Beyond that is Isolation Zone B."

    "Thanks. We'll call ISIS if we get lost." They returned to the processing center and found Eraun standing in the middle of the room. "Sorry to keep you waiting," LaRoca lied.

    "The Founders have tried to teach patience to my species," Eraun said impassively. "The Founders are wise in all things."

    Ssharki made an exaggerated roll of his eyes. "Follow us. We'll take you to the Founder."

    "Finally!" Eraun stepped closer to Admiral LaRoca and spoke with all the force he could muster. "The safety of the Founder is now your responsibility. Don't forget that. If she is harmed, the Dominion will be forced to respond. And then Kar'ukan will be the least of your problems."

    LaRoca started to say something rude in response, but decided against it, limiting himself to a curt "Let's go."

    The red line on the floor led them down a long stairway that descended forty meters deeper inside the asteroid.

    Apparently allergic to silence, Eraun attempted to strike up a conversation with Ssharki. "You know, General, your psychographic profile is required reading for all Vorta field supervisors."

    "Is that so."

    "It is! Would you like to know what it has to say about you?"

    "No."

    "Main Holding," ISIS announced as they passed through another door.

    They looked around the sterile cell block. Most of the prisoners were behind locked doors, but a few were eating meals or exercising, screened off by force fields and being watched by the holographic guards. There were also a few automated phaser turrets, squat and menacing. They were aimed at Ssharki.

    "Congratulations on being the greatest perceived threat," Jesu joked to his friend.

    Sway made a hissing laugh at that.

    Ssharki walked up to the nearest cell door and tapped the ISIS panel.

    "What are you doing?" Marq asked him.

    "Just curious to see the sort of people the Federation keeps locked up in this place."

    "I don't think we have time for this," LaRoca said.

    "I'm actually intrigued myself," Eraun announced. "The Founder has waited for thirty-six years - another fifteen minutes won't hurt her." He looked around the group in a semi-panic. "Don't tell her I said that!"

    "Wouldn't dream of it." LaRoca stood next to Ssharki and skimmed the prisoner bio he was reading.
    Inmate 51099
    - Name: K'staa
    - Species: Gorn
    - Type: Class II
    - Sentence: 40 years with the possibility of parole.
    - Requirements: Diet plan 85-Beta (non-replicated food.) Meals served in cell. Bite restraints must be in place at all times when out of cell.
    - Notes: Tactical officer and battle leader of Gorn vessel S'Yahazah. Captured by Starfleet personnel in Argelius System on Stardate 86450.4. Convicted of murder of 17 non-combatant civilians in attack on S.S. Celestia. Remanded to New Zealand Penal Colony, where he attacked and critically injured two guards. Transferred to Facility 4028 for remainder of sentence. Not eligible for prisoner exchange.

    Ssharki shook his head with sadness and disgust and went on the next cell.
    Inmate 72604
    - Name: Alevant
    - Species: Lethean
    - Type: Class IV
    - Sentence: 28 years with the possibility of parole
    - Requirements: Holographic interface only. Hostile telepath - Protocol Zeta-8 in effect.
    - Notes: Apprehended on Lissepia on Stardate 86302.4. Convicted of hostile telepathy, mind control and attempted murder of Central Bank of Lisepia official. Suspected of eight attacks on financial officials in Bolian sector. Previous conviction for mind control and robbery on Capella IV, where he used telepathy to read the mind of a Janus Mining manager and gained access codes to the company's topaline vaults.

    "And that is precisely why I do not allow Letheans in my presence," Ssharki told Sway as he closed the interface. "Telepaths are not to be trusted."

    The next one was of particular interest to Jesu and Marq.
    Inmate 91407
    - Name: Makkan
    - Species: Cardassian
    - Type: Class V
    - Sentence: 35 years with the possibility of parole
    - Requirements: Interactions with other inmates must be monitored. Private recreation and study access. Guard required at all medical treatments and counseling sessions. Outside communications must be approved by Warden.
    - Notes: Commander of True Way strike team that attacked colony on Klaestron II. Convicted in fatal bombing of amusement center in Lakarian City. Suspected in string of attacks on Bajoran freighters and attempted infiltration of U.S.S. Eperai. Incarcerated at Facility 4028 at request of Cardassian government. All communications about Inmate 91407 must be reviewed by Emara Larnian at the Cardassian Ministry of Justice.

    "A True Way petaQ," the Tiburon's first officer remarked.

    "One less of them out there for us to worry about," Jesu said, and he followed Ssharki over to the next door.
    Inmate 79478
    - Name: James Fadi Mehra, aka Princep Khan
    - Species: Human (Augment)
    - Type: Class VI
    - Sentence: 20 years without the possibility of parole
    - Requirements: Interactions with other inmates must be monitored. Private recreation and study access. Guard required at all medical treatments and counseling sessions. Communications with inmate must be approved by Warden. Access to technology must be approved by Warden.
    - Notes: Leader of the radical augment group known as the Children of Khan. Born 2374 on Mars; underwent accelerated neural pathway engineering on Adigeon Prime at age eight. Further enhancements to physical attributes, reflexes, vision and stamina followed two years later. Subject exhibits extreme anti-social and psychopathic tendencies. Bipolar symptoms may be due to difficulty processing neural input. Manipulative to an extreme degree - caution is recommended in all interactions. Remanded to Loews Institute on Stardate 70773.7 for long-term therapy. While there, led a patient uprising that resulted in the deaths of all staff on-site. The patients, now calling themselves the Children of Khan, then attempted to enter Romulan space. Apprehended on Stardate 84310.7, Mehra is too dangerous to be housed in a psychiatric facility. Remanded to Facility 4028 until suitable arrangements make a transfer possible.

    "Well, Marq? You still think genetic engineering is a viable pursuit?"

    The half-Klingon former research scientist had no answer.

    "Qajay'!" Ssharki cursed at the next ISIS panel. "What fresh hell is this?"

    LaRoca approached and read the bio.
    Inmate 79962
    - Name: Taris
    - Species: Romulan
    - Type: Class IX
    - Sentence: Pending
    - Requirements: Interactions with other inmates must be monitored. Private recreation and study access. Protocol Zeta-9 in effect. Jammers must be active wherever inmate is present. Communications with inmate must be approved by Warden. Access to technology must be approved by Warden.
    - Notes: Commander of I.R.W. Haakona and present at the discovery of the planet Iconia. Appointed as second-in-command to Fleet Commader Tomalak in 2382; defected to Imperial Romulan State a year later. Commander of remaining Romulan military forces after destruction of homeworld. Named Praetor of the Romulan Star Empire in 2394. Deposed by Sela on Stardate 80957.96. Known agent of Iconians responsible for destruction of Romulan and Reman homeworlds. Apprehended by Rear Admiral Jesus LaRoca on Iconia, Strardate 87068.2. Incarcerated at Facility 4028 pending trial.

    Jesu LaRoca was wrong earlier, when he thought only Amar Singh was as despicable as the Female Changeling. Taris deserved at least the same degree of contempt. He looked up at Ssharki and said "Um, yeah."

    The General was staring down at his friend. "Do you care to explain any of this?"

    "The evidence linking Taris to the Hobus Supernova and the details of her arrest are Delta-level classified," LaRoca stated in a quiet monotone. "I cannot discuss them with anyone without the explicit permission of the Federation Council Security Committee."

    Ssharki shook his large head and walked away. Taris occupied the last cell in the row. Ssharki led the group down the stairs to floor of Main Holding. A red line pointed to a door marked Processing B. The group followed the Gorn General through the door and down another 40-meter staircase to a second processing center. This area was completely deserted.

    Marq checked his map. "Isolation Zone B should be... just through there." He pointed to a door with a sign above that indicated as much.

    LaRoca nodded and turned the Vorta. "Okay, Eraun. You'll have to wait out here."

    "What? Why?"

    "Because the computer who runs this place doesn't like you, and hasn't granted you access to the isolation zones."

    Ssharki started walking. "Don't worry," he called over his shoulder. "We'll get the Founder and be right out."

    Eraun fumed. "I don't suppose it would do me any good to point out just how unbelievably offensive this all is."

    "Nope, it sure won't," LaRoca answered, and he and Marq set off after the Gorn.

    Like the isolation wards in Zone A upstairs, Isolation Ward B2 contained only two cells. The first cell was occupied by a Tholian, according to its ISIS panel. LaRoca checked the next one. "Inmate 00001. Name: Unknown. Species: Changeling. Here she is." He opened the door, lowered the forcefield and stepped inside. Ssharki followed, ducking under the door frame. The room was occupied by what appeared to be the sort of abstract sculpture that was popular on Earth during the 1900s. There was also a bucket full of an amber liquid. The liquid poured itself out and took on a female humanoid shape with a disturbingly familiar not-quite-humanoid face.

    The Female Changeling glared at her visitors. "What do you solids want?"

    Jesu LaRoca had to exert a great deal of self-control not to react violently. This... shapeshifter had once stated that it was her life's goal to rid the Galaxy of all "solids." Starting with my mother... But he was not here for revenge. You're a diplomat, Jesu. Time to act like one. He made a polite, respectful bow and said "Founder, I am Admiral Jesu LaRoca, of the Federation. This is General Ssharki, representing the Klingon Empire. We have a situation at Deep Space Nine. We humbly request your assistance to-"

    "Your situation is not my concern," the Changeling interrupted. "Even if I agree to help with whatever problem you have, what guarantee do I have? Will you send me back here when you are through with me?"

    "No, Founder, I can offer you a..." say it... "a full pardon from the Federation Council."

    "Your offers are meaningless. What is that Human saying? 'To learn about a people, learn how they treat their prisoners.' I have been here for many years, Admiral, and I have seen much. Solids are irrational, fearful creatures. You cannot be trusted."

    Ssharki was crouching in the corner of the cell behind LaRoca, trying hard not to look intimidating and failing. He spoke up. "Founder, if I may ask: if you are so distrustful of us solids, why did you choose to surrender to the Federation?"

    The Changeling stared at Ssharki for nearly half a minute before answering, as though reevaluating him. She looked him up and down as one might appraise a piece of furniture, then she nodded slowly and spoke. "My captivity was the price of life for my people. We were dying - infected by a virus created by Starfleet Intelligence. Odo cured me, but when I linked with him, I knew that he needed his "justice." Otherwise he would have stayed with the solids... stayed with that woman." If she could have spit in disgust at the memory, she would have. "I surrendered myself so he would take the cure to the Great Link. Once he joined it, I knew he would never leave. I am immortal, General. A few years here is a minor inconvenience - a 'drop in the bucket' if I may ironically borrow another Human idiom. Time is meaningless. I will endure. And the prizes I gained were well worth the cost."

    LaRoca tried again. "Founder, I understand why you don't trust us. But a Vorta came here with us to prove our intentions. If you help us resolve the crisis on Deep Space Nine, he will return you to the Gamma Quadrant. We will take you to him now."

    The Changeling stared down LaRoca even longer than she appraised Ssharki. The Admiral matched her gaze. "Very well. I have waited here long enough. It is time to rejoin the Great Link. I'm sure all that I have seen and heard over these long years will be of great interest."

    LaRoca made another small bow and stepped out, with Ssharki on his heels. Marq and Sway were waiting outside, and they fell in behind the Changeling as she exited her cell. They met up with Eraun in Processing B.

    The Vorta was practically overcome with joy at the sight of his god. He prostrated himself on the floor as she approached. "Founder! Your ordeal is finally at an end!"

    The Founder looked at him as though he were a street beggar. "Save your sycophancy for a more appropriate time, Eraun! I want to leave this place."

    Marq checked his tricorder and pointed to a door marked Antechamber B "There should be a transporter room just through-"

    Four combadges chirped. "Tiburon to away team," Cmdr. Traa'cee's voice called out from the tiny transducers.

    LaRoca tapped the badge on his chest. "Go 'head."

    "Admiral, were you expecting company? A large flotilla of Jem'Hadar warships just appeared in the system."

    LaRoca looked at Eraun. The Vorta shook his head. "Negative, Tib. I don't know anything about them, and neither does our friend. Assume they are hostile. Do not engage them, and stand by to go to warp. If you can't beam us out, the ship comes first."

    "Acknowledged. Sir, they're approaching the facility. They appear to be setting up some sort of dampen-" Her transmission was cut off.

    At that instant, Kar'ukan beamed in to the room, with four of his soldiers. Ignoring the Starfleet officers and the Gorn, he strode into the middle of the group and knelt before the Changeling. "Founder! We have taken Deep Space Nine in your name, and are prepared to spread our campaign throughout the quadrant! Give your blessing to our victory! We are yours to command!"

    The Founder's facial features twitched with faint recognition. "I know you... Kar'ukan! Your fleet failed us in the battle for Deep Space Nine! We lost because you did not arrive in time."

    Kar'ukan jumped to his feet and tried to explain. "The fleet was diverted passing through the anomaly! We did not-"

    The Founder cut him off. "I need soldiers, Kar'ukan, not excuses. You failed the Dominion once. I will not give you the opportunity to do so again. You are... released."

    Kar'ukan backpeddled in horror. "No it can't be!" He unleashed a primal scream and turned to his troops. "Attack! Kill everyone but the Founder!" More Jem'Hadar beamed in. "We are dead! We go into battle to reclaim our lives!"

    LaRoca unsheathed his sword and heard his friends draw their weapons, but then Eraun stepped between him and Kar'ukan before he could give the order to fire. "Not so fast," the Vorta said smugly. "Did you really think I'd come all this way without a little... protection?" He looked around the room and called out "Soldiers of the Gamma Quadrant! Show yourselves! Defend your god!"

    Several Jem'Hadar warriors - who must have been invisibly following Eraun the entire time - unshrouded themselves and stepped forward, brandishing kar'takin pole-arms. Suddenly outnumbered, Kar'ukan keyed a command into his wristband and transported himself out and beamed half a dozen Jem'Hadar soldiers in his place. The room was suddenly full of Jem'Hadar hacking and shooting each other, and the Starfleet and Gorn officers were unable to tell which side was which, so they let Dominion soldiers fight amongst themselves and only used their weapons in self-defense.

    After a minute of unimaginable violence, the fight was over. Kar'ukan's forces were defeated and Eraun's two surviving Jem'Hadar took up defensive positions on either side of the founder. The Tiburon away team holstered their weapons and looked around the room in a daze. It looked like abattoir. They became aware of the voice of ISIS repetitively saying "ISIS is offline. Emergency protocols engaged."

    Marq was the first to recover. "Admiral, I've lost contact with the Tiburon," he reported. He tapped away at his tricorder. "I'm detecting power failures all over the station and there are signs of weapons fire, but there's some sort of dampening field blocking my scans. I'm detecting multiple Jem'Hadar lifesigns but I can't get a complete reading." He switched the display to show the map. "We're near the secondary ISIS core. That might be the best place to determine what's happening and what we can do to get back to the ship."

    LaRoca nodded. "Lead the way."

    They jogged down a short corridor to Antechamber B. The secondary ISIS core was housed in a small room off to one side. LaRoca activated the interface.

    "Please input command."

    "ISIS, Security override!"

    "I'm sorry, Admiral. It is not possible to override the emergency protocols at this time. Primary ISIS core is offline. This secondary core has limited functionality. Intruders have been detected in all levels. Power failures in the security grid have allowed inmates to escape, and all holomatrices are offline. Until order is restored, Facility 4028 is on lockdown. Communications are blocked, a transporter inhibition field has been activated, and the shuttlebay is protected by a Class Ten force field."

    "Okay, what do I need to do to bring the primary core online and get out of here?"

    "The primary ISIS core must be reinitalized from the primary core control room near Antechamber A. Additionally you will need to remove hostile inmates and intruders from both processing zones and the main holding area. Peripheral cell blocks and isolation zones are contained with force fields, however ISIS control cannot be restored while prisoners or intruders may have access to either the primary or secondary ISIS cores. Two protocols are accepted to restore order in the case of a catastrophic event in the facility. If prisoners in main holding and processing areas are subdued using either lethal or non-lethal protocols, you will then be able to reboot the primary ISIS core."

    "Describe these protocols."

    "Emergency site-to-site transport is available. If you subdue the prisoners using non-lethal measures and then tag them for transport, I will be able to move them to a safe holding zone. When order is restored, you will be able to bring me completely back online. The holographic staff can take over from there. However, in the instance of a complete loss of control in the facility as now, Starfleet Command has authorized use of a lethal protocol. While the loss of life will be regrettable, it has been deemed preferable to allowing the residents of Facility 4028 to escape. Be advised that I have insufficient resources to devote to support multiple protocols. Please decide which protocol you wish to follow and input your selection at this time."

    "Non-lethal," LaRoca responded.

    "Lethal," said Ssharki, simultaneously.

    "Command not recognized," ISIS stated. "Please repeat."

    Jesu LaRoca glared at his Gorn friend. "There are a lot of prisoners up there with a lot of valuable information in their heads, and Starfleet Intelligence would prefer that they remain intact."

    "There's also a lot of Jem'Hadar up there," Sway pointed out, "and they'll cheerfully kill anyone. Prisoners, Eraun's people, us... The only way to stop them is to kill them first."

    "I know how to fight the Jem'Hadar," LaRoca grumbled.

    "My point is," Sway went on, "a stun setting for a normal humanoid will barely slow a Jem'Hadar down, while something that would stun one of them would be lethal for many other species, including Humans. And it would be impractical to reset our weapons for every enemy we encounter. Besides, your sword doesn't have any stun setting."

    LaRoca fingered the hilt of his Nausicaan saber.

    Ssharki voiced his opinion. "I say we set our weapons to maximum and kill everything that moves."

    LaRoca rolled his eyes. "Oh, that's your solution to everything."

    "That's because it always works!"

    "Ugh! Why are we even arguing about this?" Eraun whined.

    "Shut up," everyone else said together.

    "What about K'staa, that Gorn up there?" Jesu argued. "Do you want to kill him too?"

    Ssharki crossed his arms. "Actually, I do. You read his bio. K'staa murdered seventeen civilians for no good reason. If he was on my crew and he pulled something like that, I would have personally blown him out of an airlock."

    LaRoca sighed and looked to his first officer.

    Marq raised his arms helplessly. "I'm sorry sir, but I have to concur with Ssharki and Sway. Though the non-lethal option would be preferable, it's not at all practical in this situation."

    "Alright, fine." Jesu LaRoca keyed the ISIS interface. "Lethal."

    "Lethal option accepted. ISIS will monitor inmate lifesigns in main holding and processing areas and lift primary core lockout once lifesigns in these areas are terminated."

    LaRoca turned to the Changeling. "Founder, we need to fight our way through three levels of this facility in order to escape. I'm afraid I don't have a weapon to offer you but-"

    The Founder's forearms shimmered and liquefied. "I am a weapon."

    Admiral LaRoca nodded. "Of course." He drew his sword and stomped to the door. "Let's get bloody."

    They returned to Processing B just as the opposite door opened for the Lethean convict Alevant and several other inmates. Alevant's red eyes bored into LaRoca and rooted him to the floor. The Human knew he was being telepathically attacked but there was nothing he could do about it. He could only see red light shooting from the Lethean's eyes and drilling into his skull.

    Fortunately the rest of the group was unaffected by Alevant's rapture attack. The two Gorn sprinted along the far wall to flank the prisoners, firing as they ran. Marq crouched in front of the Admiral, set his disruptor pistol to emit a beam of hyperonic radiation and started shooting at Alevant. The Founder and her Jem'Hadar bodyguards charged the group of prisoners. The Changeling spread her arms and tackled a mass of prisoners. She moved in a blur of amber fluid and started flinging inmates into the walls.

    Alevant's telepathic hold on LaRoca finally weakened. He shook his head clear, shouted incoherently and ran toward the battle, but by the time he crossed the room it was all over. Marq had just fired a final disruptor bolt through the Lethean's head. The other prisoners had all either been blasted by the Gorn or battered to a pulp by the Changeling.

    Marq caught up with LaRoca. "Hold still, sir."

    "Ah! What is that?"

    Marq removed the hypospray from the Admiral's neck. "Melorazine. Neural restorative. You needed it."

    "Uh. Thanks. That does feel better." LaRoca looked up. There was a stampede of feet pounding the deck plating above. "Sounds like more of them are coming down the stairs. Let's be ready!"

    "On it." Ssharki led the way through the door and knelt at the bottom of the stairs. He opened his fabrication kit and quickly deployed a pair of rapid-fire disruptor burst turrets, a shield generator, and a frisbee-shaped support drone.

    LaRoca looked on incredulously. "You're carrying all of that with you?"

    "You never know when you might need an arsenal," Ssharki answered as he pulled out the finishing touch: a hexagon-shaped piece of translucent polycrystalline composite that unfolded itself eighteen times to form a nigh-impenetrable cover shield in front of the shield generator. "Just duck back here when your personal shield gets worn down," Ssharki instructed his comrades. "The generator will charge you back up."

    "Here they come," Sway announced. The prisoners came around the corner on the landing above and froze. Then one of them shouted something and the horde poured down the stairs. It was a massacre. The few inmates who made it past the withering disruptor fire had to choose between LaRoca's sword, the Jem'Hadars' kar'takins or the Founder's clutches. It was over in seconds.

    "Weapons fire detected. Possesion of weapons is a violation of facility regulations."

    "Shut up, ISIS," LaRoca muttered, wiping the green blood of some logic-deprived Vulcan off his Tegolar saber.

    They went up the stairs to Main Holding and found it a scene of absolute bloody chaos. Kar'ukan's Jem'Hadar forces were fighting off dozens of enraged inmates, armed with table legs, utensils, stolen Jem'Hadar weapons and their bare fists. Adding the surreal quality of the setting was ISIS repeating through the speakers "Violence is against facility regulations. All inmates are ordered to return to their cells." In the middle of the action there was a three-meter tall, 400kg Gorn named K'staa who was destroying everything he could reach. Jem'Hadar, fellow inmates, furniture, whatever. As the eight unlikely allies watched, K'staa picked up a Tellarite, bit his head off, and threw his body at a pair of Jem'Hadar.

    Ssharki had seen enough. He stepped forward and shouted at K'staa in their native language. The universal translator interpreted the challenge as "I'll turn your yellow hide inside-out, you murdering snake!"

    K'staa faced his smaller adversary and sneered. He picked up a long table, held it over his shoulder like a bat and charged. Ssharki ducked an rolled away from K'staa's clumsy swing. The General got under his opponent and launched shoulder-first into his stomach. The gold-plated blade of Ssharki's shoulder pad gouged deep into K'staa's thick skin and muscle. He grunted and doubled over, but recovered quickly. He swung back at Ssharki as he tried draw his weapon. The assault rifle blocked the blow but the force of the impact still sent Ssharki reeling. K'staa laughed and stepped up for another swing. This time Ssharki used a mok'bara technique to step under and then move with the swinging table. He gripped it from the other end and transferred his momentum to it, accelerating its rotational motion and wrenching it of K'staa's grasp. Ssharki released the table and sent it helicoptering off into a crowd of inmates and Jem'Hadar.

    K'staa raised his claws and opened his mouth and lunged at the General. Ssharki caught him in the throat with bu
    16d89073-5444-45ad-9053-45434ac9498f.png~original

    ...Oh, baby, you know, I've really got to leave you / Oh, I can hear it callin 'me / I said don't you hear it callin' me the way it used to do?...
    - Anne Bredon
  • superhombre777superhombre777 Member Posts: 147 Arc User
    edited March 2013
    Based on LC 21, Saying Hello
    May 2410


    I made a fool of myself during my first crew transfer. I was fresh out of the Academy and joining the crew of the Nightingale. My nerves were high, but I was almost giddy with delight to finally leave Earth and do something productive.

    I re-materialized onboard Nightingale and looked around. The two other officers next to me quickly left the transporter room. I looked around for whoever it was that was supposed to greet me...and only saw the transporter officer. His voice was disgruntled. "Please step away from the pad now ma'am. I have another group coming in thirty seconds." Then the Tellarite looked down at the controls and ignored me.

    This time would be different. Four years and two ships later, I was ready to get to work onboard Odyssey. The rumors here on Starbase 24 said that Odyssey was not the most desirable posting, but I didn't care. Rumors from the lower decks are always negative, even onboard Enterprise or Aventine.

    I beamed over with three Ensigns - a Bolian and two humans, all male. One of the humans had an enormous duffel bag over his shoulder. Apparently he didn?t coordinate with the quartermaster before coming over.

    No one greeted us as we re-materialized onboard Odyssey. The testosterone cloud slowly migrated out of the transporter room and turned left. A tall Hispanic man skirted around them and went to my right. I decided to follow that man instead. He was asking the computer questions, but I didn't bother to listen in. He'd eventually lead me to a turbolift away from the newbies.

    He turned a corner. I decided to pause for a moment to make it a little less obvious that I was following him. Then I resumed walking...and ran into him. He was hunched over the entrance to a Jeffries tube. I didn't hit him very hard, but it was enough to make me lose my balance and fall over.

    As usual, my words came out as a jumbled mess under pressure. "I...I'm really...I'm sorry...are you ok?"

    He took my hand and pulled me up. "I should be the one asking if you are alright, Lieutenant. I should have been more careful." His stare deepened. "Didn't I just see you leaving the transporter room with a bunch of ensigns?"

    "Yes sir. I have been onboard for two minutes and I've already made a fool of myself."

    He smiled. I could tell that it was an honest smile. "That's nonsense. Welcome onboard. My name is Miguel Jarvis, and I'm the chief engineer."

    I really wanted to maintain eye contact, but I just couldn't. "I am Lieutenant Amanda Carpenter. Nice to meet you, sir."

    "Likewise Lieutenant. You are probably wondering why I am about to crawl through the tubes. I am about to go sneak up on my deputy. He thinks that I am onboard Starbase 24 visiting my old roommate. Unfortunately Sam has a nasty virus, so I am stuck here. The only fun I can have today is surprising him in the tubes. Anyway, if you ever need anything, let me know."

    "Thank you. Can you tell me where the nearest turbolift is?" I managed to keep eye contact for the entire sentence.

    Jarvis picked up the access cover and put it back in place. "I can do better than that. It's almost lunchtime anyway. Can I give you a brief tour followed by lunch in our outstanding cafeteria?"

    "I would be honored, sir. Thank you."

    He gave another one of those beautiful smiles. "It's my pleasure. And you can stop calling me 'sir.' Most of my friends call me by my last name. Since you don't report to me, we can be informal."

    This turned out to be the best transfer of my life.
  • gulberatgulberat Member Posts: 5,505 Arc User
    edited March 2013
    Star Trek: Online
    Tales of Alyosha Strannik

    LC #3, "My Haven"


    "Who Sings the Song of Hosts"


    2407


    I, Alexei Ivanovich Strannik, having been appointed Captain, United Federation of Planets Starfleet, do solemnly swear that I will represent the Charter of the United Federation of Planets in my service, that I will support and defend that Charter when necessary, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office which I am about to enter.

    So help me God.


    I still couldn't believe it. I had made it.



    Just an hour ago, I had been standing in Admiral Quinn's expansive office on Earth Spacedock with a small cadre of those who had helped me to get to this place. My foster parents. My best friend, Thraz, a fellow commander stationed on the Laikan. My current commanding officer, Captain Teeglar, the diminutive Roylan captain of the exploration cruiser Avandar. Admiral Kane could not be present, but he had sent his regards.

    Quinn had smiled, his features filled with subdued warmth as he regarded me standing at attention before him. "It's good to see you here, Alexei." His demeanor in that moment had reminded me of the late, lamented admiral J.P. Hanson. And how far both of us had come since that awful day at Starfleet Academy...

    "You'll be assigned to the 77th Fleet under Admiral ch'Harrell, to the Chin'toka. I know you were expecting a science ship, not an escort. We still intend you to engage in exploration...but with the war, there are times when that's going to have to be backed up with superior firepower. I know you can handle it."

    "Is Admiral ch'Harrell briefed, sir?"

    Quinn nodded. "Believe me," he said in a low voice. He hadn't just been looking at me--but at my foster parents, the Azarovs, as well. They--and he--had all aged since then...and I had adjusted my human image accordingly...but he had to have remembered them from that call in the commandant's office. "I don't send my officers into traps. Ch'Harrell needs only an officer's honor to judge him by. Your record shows a competent officer who is right for this position.

    Then Admiral Quinn had pulled a small case out of his desk drawer and opened it to reveal...my fourth pip--a gold parallelogram in the 25th-century style.

    I had actually worn a real dress coat for the occasion instead of shapeshifting it as I did the rest of my clothes. It felt like it must feel to a human to have sunglasses on, since it blocked a large section of photoreceptors on my body--far larger than what my commbadge did. True, I could and often did restrict my visual field in order to understand what my humanoid colleagues saw, and could not see, but I didn't particularly care for not having a choice in the matter.

    As uncomfortable as the dress coat made me...it had been absolutely worth it for that.

    Admiral Quinn led, and I had sworn the oath. Though my new rank would only be effective at 0001 hours the next day, the unaccustomed weight of the coat and the feel of its fabric brushing against my skin...not to mention the strange sensation of the Trill-human hybrid reaching up and pulling on the coat's collar in order to clip on the new rank pip...these drove the enormity of the moment home.

    Despite everything...I had made captain. That was a cause for celebration--one that very, very few people would ever understand the true extent of. I had certainly not been one of the many below-the-zone captains that had entered into Starfleet's O-6 ranks of late, now that personnel shortages were starting to hit. Not even close. And I'd had to fight for every on-time promotion I had received. But I had made it. I, Alyosha Strannik...first and only Devidian in Starfleet, had achieved command rank.

    But it was also a moment for reflection. I was not merely a captain. I was a wartime captain, with all the grave responsibilities thereof. And I had been assigned the command of an escort. Cast in an exploratory role or not, I would see battle, and it would be up to me to protect my crew and get them out of each mission alive.



    Captain Teeglar and I walked side-by-side through the corridors of the Avandar for one last time--except that this last time, the same rank insignia sat on both of our collars. The small, ceratopsid-looking Roylan favored me with a long look with his ink-black eyes. "It has been an honor serving with you, Alyosha. I'll miss you. And Dr. Sei. I understand why you're taking her from me--and that's why I agreed to the transfer--but you will both be keenly missed."

    Teeglar stopped in the middle of the corridor. He glanced in both directions--no one was coming. We faced each other now. "It's a matter of trust. When I brought you aboard the Avandar...I knew that you of all people would look past my relatively small stature and voice, and understand the need to be not just my executive officer in job function, but to demonstrate your support and respect--without fail. That what you did as first officer would be reflected in the conduct of the crew.'

    "'Do unto others'..." I said.

    "Exactly. The impact of that will be felt upon this crew long after you're gone. Still..." He emitted a nearly inaudible...well, 'whimper' was the best term for it. "I wish I didn't have to part with you." Teeglar shook his head. Then he refocused upon me--though to be honest it was the change in his neural energy that let me know of the greater intensity of his gaze, than his solid black eyes. "You must want out of that coat."

    "And you must want to get off of the ground," I replied in kind.

    "I would fix that for you--but...you know." I shrugged. Teeglar knew quite well why--out here in a public corridor, where there were cameras, wasn't exactly the place to use my telekinesis.

    Then it registered with Captain Teeglar...I guess I can call him just 'Teeglar' now, without getting in trouble...where we were standing: just outside the entrance to Holodeck 3. "Feeling the muse?" he asked. I nodded, understanding what he meant by that. "Must be pretty rough if it even beats getting out of your dress coat."

    I nodded again. "I can always find someplace to hang it in-program. But yes...I really need to cut loose."

    It was more than just a muse. More than just the passion for singing that constantly followed me. I could not even laugh according to my own nature--could not cry--could not shout for joy--without scaring the devil out of everyone around me and giving away my very non-humanoid nature. Even among those I knew well, I still restrained myself most of the time out of respect for their sensibilities. And while I could often sublimate it into the sound of human laughter, or into a song...it wasn't easy to force down my natural emotional reactions. I was no Vulcan, after all; if I was any indication, apparently Devidians were no more wired for that than humans.

    Teeglar smiled. "Then don't let me stand in your way...'Captain' Strannik." True, I still had a few hours left as a commander, but Teeglar's message came across loud and clear. "Have fun."

    "I will."

    I keyed open the holodeck. Once the door slid shut, I called, "Computer--begin program Abbey Road Studios."

    As soon as the entryway materialized, I ordered the computer to produce me a coat rack, and I gratefully slid the dress coat off and stretched. As I did, I released myself from my human form. I still needed to remain in human phase, of course, to interact with the program, but it gave me one less thing to have to focus on. But one of the great things about the 25th century was a lovely little setting in most holodeck programs that could, if you so choose, require the characters to ignore each and every characteristic that might set you apart from the species you happened to be roleplaying in the story at that moment.

    So it was that as I entered the studio--even though I'd selected a time period in the 22nd century where humanity had had very little contact with any other species than the Vulcans, that the holographic employees simply smiled and calmly greeted me as I gave each of them a polite nod, not noticing or caring that my features corresponded only in the barest of ways to their own, or that my feet only intermittently happened to be touching the floor.

    One of them called out to me as I passed him in the corridor. "Will you be needing me to call any session musicians for you today, Mr. Strannik?"

    I shook my head--even in my natural form the impulse came too readily to ignore. "That will be all right, Mr. Kelsey. I'm doing some remix work today; the DJ has already prepared the recordings I'll need." Which in reality had been me, in a previous session.

    "Very well. Just let me know if you need anything."

    "Of course," I replied in a pleasant tone that was sufficient for the holoprogram to read and cause the photonic producer to respond as though I had favored him with a smile.

    I slid the door to the studio shut, and started working my way through the relaxing routine of bringing the 22nd-century recording equipment online and calling up the song I wanted in the precise way required by voice recognition software of the time, which pre-dated the introduction of the Universal Translator and still hadn't quite mastered all of the nuances of humanoid grammar.

    An airy, electronic song with traces of dubstep and Orion trance music, of the type of music that had dominated humanity's musical output in the immediate post-First-Contact era burst forth from the studio's speakers, quite a bit louder than most humanoids could tolerate. But then again, since I heard in such a different way, I had no tiny inner-ear organs to damage by cranking the volume.

    It took me the first thirty seconds of the song to find my footing--but I decided on that day to dispense with all pretense of a human voice.

    I cried out at a pitch far too high for all but a human first soprano, with a timbre and power completely Devidian--the shriek of a Nazgul, almost, but in this case sweeping up-up-up again, a cheer, a cry of jubilation rather than predatory glee.

    Then the sound morphed almost of its own accord, as the notes of the centuries-old song wrapped almost tangibly around me, into a soaring electric violin. Nothing but what I knew of the instrument restricted me from creating as many notes at a time as I felt like; I spoke...I sang with a natural transducer rather than larynx, lips, and tongue. I knew instinctively what sort of waveform I wanted to create...and I sang, my technique an eclectic combination of metal guitar solo, Arabesque violin, and Orion sahad-mur.

    Only a few had ever heard me sing in this way...not even Captain Teeglar had heard me this unrestrained. I gave thanks for the gift given to me on this day. I pleaded for intercession. I poured out my hopes and fears in a way I suspected even my own species would never comprehend--my song understood only by myself and my God.

    At least for a moment, in my own small way, I joined the great song of hosts.

    Christian Gaming Community Fleets--Faith, Fun, and Fellowship! See the website and PM for more. :-)
    Proudly F2P.  Signature image by gulberat. Avatar image by balsavor.deviantart.com.
  • ambassadormolariambassadormolari Member Posts: 709 Arc User
    edited March 2013
    Literary Challenge #36: The Haunting of Deck 13



    On October 21, 1805, the fleet of the British Royal Navy, under the Command of Admiral Lady Horatia Nelson, engaged the combined fleets of France and Spain off of Cape Trafalgar. What ensued would be the most decisive naval engagement in the whole of the Napoleonic Wars.

    Splitting her fleet into two long columns, Lady Nelson sent her ships forward in a pincer attack against the French and Spanish battle line. The tactic effectively broke up the enemy line of battle, and before long the French and Spanish ships found themselves isolated and cut off from one another, battling desperately against the more coordinated British vessels. Smoke billowed from the discharges of hundreds of cannons as ships on both sides unleashed devastating broadsides into one another. Bows broke, rigging was torn asunder, and men were either smashed apart by cannon or shredded by wooden shrapnel as the thunder of the exchange echoed far into the Spanish mainland.

    At the height of the battle, Lady Nelson's flagship, H.M.S. Victory, came under fire from no less than four Franco-Spanish ships of the line. Her crew suffered horrendous losses as the proud ship was battered and shot full of holes, before the French seventy-four Redoutable closed the distance, eager to capture Lady Nelson and her flagship. As the two warships exchanged broadsides, they became locked, their masts entangling, but before the French could attempt to board, the British Temeraire came up on the Redoutable's starboard bow and raked her with cannon fire, forcing the Frenchmen to break off. The Victory was saved, but not before an opportunistic French sniper put a musket ball through Lady Nelson's left shoulder, felling her.

    And so it was that Britain's greatest hero was dragged below decks by her crew, the ship's surgeon sadly declaring that there was nothing he could do for her. Gravely, the Victory's captain, Sir Thomas Hardy, leaned over the dying admiral. "Lady Nelson...is there anything we can do?" he asked.

    Weak from blood loss, Nelson looked up at her flag-captain. "Take care of my dear Lord Hamilton, Hardy," she managed to say, "take care of my poor husband. Kiss me, Hardy."

    Solemnly, Hardy leaned down as Nelson closed her eyes...

    There was a sudden beep. "Captain Nair to Ensign Saan."

    Neazri Sann, Science Officer of the U.S.S. Da Vinci. opened her eyes and gave an irritated sigh before slapping her comm badge. "Sann here."

    "Ensign, we need you on Deck Two. We're experiencing a...phenomenon...that we think you should take a look at."

    She sighed again. As ever, the universe and its myriad scientific mysteries had the worst possible timing. "I'll be right there, Captain. Sann out."

    The Trill sat upright, brushing herself off and ignoring the fatal musket wound that she was supposed to have, much to the astonishment of the assembled officers of His Majesty's Navy. "Right! Sorry to abandon you gentlemen," she said, pulling off her bulky admiral's coat and sash and slinging them across her shoulder, "but I'm afraid I shall have to retire from this battle. Do send my compliments to Admiral Villeneuve."

    Sir Thomas Hardy (whom Sann had programmed with the likeness and physique of the 21st-century English actor of the same name) looked befuddled. "What? But...Lady Nelson..."

    "Shush, Hardy," Sann cut in, raising a finger to the captain. "England expects every man to do his duty. Now please let this woman go do hers. Computer, end program."

    And with that, the lower deck of H.M.S. Victory vanished, replaced by the familiar polished black walls and yellow latticework of the holodeck. Shaking her head to herself, Sann and turned and walked through the main door, returning to the rigours of real life.


    *****

    Because of the seeming urgency of the call, Sann hadn't bothered stopping by her quarters to change. As such, she attracted more than a few stares as she walked through the ship wearing the white shirt and leather breeches and boots of the nineteenth century, with her brown hair done up in a short ponytail reminiscent of the era, and Admiral Nelson's coat and sash slung unceremoniously across her shoulder. Thankfully, the walk to Deck Two didn't take long-- the Da Vinci was a small old ship with only two actual decks, and not much walking space between either. The Miranda-class light cruiser had been in service since before the Dominion War, and Sann liked to imagine that she heard the bulkheads creak with age every time she walked past. Not that that would ever happen of course, as between Starfleet's regular maintenance and the updates that Captain Nair had implemented, the old girl was still fresh, modern, and structurally sound. Most officers would have considered assignment to a relic like the Da Vinci to be demeaning, but not Neazri. If anything, she was quite happy to be serving on an old ship like her instead looking at it in some orbital museum.

    Every one of Sann's hosts, she reflected as she walked, had been defined by their passions. Tandru Sann had loved flying Peregrine fighters, engaging in arm wrestling competitions in mess halls, and fighting Jem'Hadar in melee combat. Lennia Sann had loved abstract paintings, operas, and Cardassian stalactite sculptures. Chendral Sann had loved wine, women, song, and haggling with his customers over prices. Neazri herself had two diverging love affairs-- astrophysical and biological science, and all of the mysteries of the universe that could be explored therein, and the rich and quirky history of the planet Earth. The new and the old, intertwined in the obsessions of an eccentric girl from Trill Prime.

    In a short while, she reached the main aft hall of Deck Two, and was greeted by the sight of a large cluster of ochre-shirted security personnel, standing on guard and looking particularly uneasy. Captain Nair was standing in their midst, conversing with Ensign Virek over a matter of seeming importance. Captain Arkos Nair, the only Korda serving in Starfleet, was a man of medium height and build, and...well, Neazri supposed he might be considered handsome by his race's standards, although Nair's grey-blue skin, vestigal, tendril-like swirls at the corners of his cheeks, and the long, bony ridges on either side of his bald head had always made Sann think of a cross between a Bolian and a Jem'Hadar. She wouldn't deny that Arkos was an effective Captain, though. He had a good-humoured, easy nature with his senior officers that belied a quick-thinking, rational mind suited for command. It also helped that Arkos had an eager curiosity for the universe that mirrored Sann's own, though the expectations of command meant that Arkos often got into trouble for this curiosity.

    Noticing Sann, Arkos gave a quick nod to Virek before turning to face her. "Ah, Sann, glad you could--" He trailed off when he noticed Sann's unusual attire, and raised an eyebrow. "Gender-swapping Human history again?"

    Neazri smiled and gave Arkos an innocent shrug. "What can I say, I've always been fascinated by could-have-beens," she replied. "At least I wasn't being Nikolette Tesla again."

    Arkos grimaced. "Please don't remind me," he groaned. "Adim complained enough about you 'borrowing' the DCM coils for that role." He inclined his head, motioning for Sann to follow him, and the two of them headed down the hall, flanked by Ensign Virek and his security detail.

    "So, what's the situation, Captain?" Sann asked as they walked down.

    "Well, as you know, at least two hours ago, we passed through that polaric ion field that turned up from out of nowehere on our scanners," Arkos replied. "Incidentally, I still expect that report from you by the end of the day."

    "Noted, sir," Sann replied with a nod. "The initial readings I got are pretty fascinating." So fascinating that she had spent a full hour in the main science lab poring over them with a glass of kanar, before finally convincing herself to take a holodeck break before she drove herself crazy.

    "Well, anyway, after we passed through it, we experienced a few power fluctuations on Deck Two," Arkos continued. "Nothing too serious, or at least, that's what we thought at the time. It was only after the fluctuations ended that we started getting...odd reports."

    Neazir raised an eyebrow. "Odd reports?"

    The Captain nodded. "Ensign T'Nar reported seeing the silhouette of a humanoid figure walk through a wall near her quarters. Twenty minutes after that, Security got a frantic report from Ensign Park about a ghost wandering the aft hall."

    Sann almost stopped in her tracks at that point as she gave her Captain a bewildered stare. "A...ghost, sir?"

    "Those were Park's words. He said that the figure appeared human, was dressed in antiquated Human clothing, and seemed oddly white and transluscent. Anyway, to get to the point, we've found the ghost and have it cornered in the aft hall."

    This time, Sann actually did stop in her tracks. "Wait, wait, wait...sir...you cornered a...ghost?" She knew Arkos Nair to be firmly opinionated that spirits, demons, gods, angels, assorted other celestial beings did not exist. To hear him talking candidly about a ghost was alarming in and of itself.

    Arkos turned and gave Sann a nonchalant shrug. "Well, until you determine what it is, Ensign Sann, that's the word I'm going to be using," he replied calmly. "As silly as the term is, it fits. We found the apparition wandering the halls with no discernable purpose or pattern, but after it passed through more than a few walls, bulkheads and very surprised crew members, it stopped at the end of the aft hall. As we speak, it's still standing there right now, and as far as we're able to tell, it wants to communicate."

    This entire case seemed more and more bizarre with each passing second. Arkos had been right to call it a 'phenomenon' in his initial summons. "And did you communicate with it?" she asked.

    Arkos' shoulders sagged slightly. "Well, I tried to," he admitted. "Unfortunately, it didn't seem to like me. It called me a 'flat-head' and a 'chump' and told me to 'beat it.' Incidentally, I don't suppose you know what any of those phrases mean, do you Sann?"

    Sann's face reddened. Not only did they have a seemingly non-corporeal humanoid figure wandering the ship, but one that used Twentieth-Century American slang. "I...think I do, sir."

    The Captain's face brightened. "Good!" he replied with a smile, clapping his hands together. "That's why I brought you down here, Sann. Seeing as you're the ship's resident expert and afficionada of human history, I figured I'd let you have the honour of trying to talk to it. And maybe in the process, you can use that brilliant scientific mind of yours to determine what it actually is."

    At that moment, Sann's stange day had officially become even stranger. Her Captain had essentially ordered her to go talk to a ghost. "This is...unexpected, sir," she said. At that point, though the 'Science Officer' part of her brain switched on, and she remembered the proper protocol for a situation like this. "I'm going to have to request that you initiate standard quarantine procedures if you haven't already, sir. We don't know what it is that we're dealing with, or what kind of effect it might have on its surrounding environment."

    "Already ordered, Sann," Arkos replied with a nod. "If you want, I can wait for some EVA suits to be brought down from Sickbay."

    Sann shook her head. "Thank you sir, but the...ghost...might go through another wall by the time the suit arrives," she said, before adding with a smile "Besides, we don't want to keep our guest waiting."

    Arkos gave her a quick nod, and took a step back-- a wordless signal for Sann to proceed. If Sann was honest with herself, she was more than a little excited by this opportunity. In her experience, the more bizarre a case was, the more likely it was that there was a wholly rational, and very intriguing, answer behind it. Besides which, she was a scientist: dealing with the strange and the inexplicable was all a part of the job description.

    As Sann rounded the corner, she saw another cluster of security personnel directly ahead, forming a living barrier in the hall. As she approached, she saw the figure that the team was staring down, and, for a brief few seconds, stopped and gaped.

    The figure was...or at least, appeared to be...a Human male, somewhere in his forties, with a tall and lean build. He wore a simple white shirt and a black pair of pants with a matching suit jacket, the pockets of which he had stuffed his hands into. He was leaning against the wall in a laid back, almost belligerent posture, staring down the security team as though daring them to try something. But what Sann immediately noticed was that he was completely devoid of colour: beyond the black and white of his outfit, his coarse, ovoid face was a collection of various greys. Between that and the odd, shimmering quality to his form, he gave off the impression of an image from an old black-and-white film.

    Something about him also struck Sann as familiar. His hair was thin and slickly combed, and his eyes had a cold glint to them. He had an aloof ruggedness to him that dangerous, and yet at the same time oddly attractive.

    "Geez, do you gorillas know how to make a guy feel welcome, or what?" he said aloud to the security officers. He had a voice to match his face: flat and nonchalant, with a rough-around-the-edges New York accent that carried with it all of the grime and grit of that city. "I told you I wouldn't cause no trouble, so what's with the long faces? Did I insult your mothers? If it makes ya feel any better, I'm the one feelin' like a TRIBBLE here right now."

    Taking a deep breath, Sann reminded herself that she had a job to do, and moved past the ochre-shirted officers. "Stand aside," she ordered. "The Captain has given me clearance."

    The closest security officer gave her a curt nod. "Yes, ma'am," he said, before he and his compatriots stepped aside to let Sann through. At this, the black-and-white oddity raised an eyebrow, but otherwise remained visibly unimpressed.

    "Finally, some action around here," he muttered, straightening up a little as he looked at Sann. "You the one in charge of this tin can?"

    "No, the one in charge is Captain Nair," Sann replied patiently, "the man who you insulted and told to leave. I'm Ensign Neazri Sann, Science Officer of the U.S.S. Da Vinci."

    "Funny name. Sounds a little European." The faint edges of a smile crept upon the man's lips, and his coarse face seemed to soften a bit. "I kinda like it." Slowly, the man drew one hand free from his pocket, and pulled out a small white box. As he effortlessly flipped the lid of the packet open, Sann instantly recognized it as pack of cigarettes-- narcotic cylinders that had been extremely popular in Earth's Twentieth century. Pulling one of the tiny white sticks free, the stranger extended it to Sann as though in offering.

    She had read enough of the history of the tobacco industry to know bad a cigarette would be to a joined Trill like herself. "Sorry, I don't smoke," she said with a shake of her head.

    The man looked a little disappointed. "Ah, well, nobody's perfect." He stuck the cigarette in his mouth, produced a lighter and proceeded to take a drag from the stick. Curiously, Sann didn't notice any smoke emerge when the man exhaled. "So that fella's your Captain, huh? Interesting forehead condition he has going on. He should probably get that looked at."

    Neazri was about to explain to the man that Captain Nair wasn't human, and so didn't have a 'condition,' but decided not to complicate this conversation any more than she had to. "Is there any way I can help you, Mr..."

    Her voice trailed off abruptly when the cold realization hit her, then and there, why this man looked so familiar. His face, his voice, his mannerisms, the way he casually took a drag from a cigarette, and even the fact that he was in black and white...it all clicked into place.

    "Humphrey Bogart?"

    The figure made no reaction to the name. "Yeah, what's it to you, sweet cheeks?" he asked, taking another drag from his cigarette.

    Sann's mouth fumbled a reply. "Sorry, I've...never met a...Hollywood celebrity before," she managed to blurt out, the historian in her going giddy with excitement.

    Something about Sann's awkward reply must have struck a chord in the...entity...that appeared to be Humphrey Bogart, as he gave her a warm smile. "Aw. Well, dere's a first time for everything, Miss Sann," he replied. "Unfortunately, I think I left my pen back home, so I won't be giving out any autographs today."

    "That's..." Sann realized she was not acting as a Starfleet officer ought to, and regained her composure. Think science, Neazri, you came here to solve a problem. "Aside from me saying that I thought you were great in The Maltese Falcon, Mr. Bogart...I'd really like to know what you're doing...here. On our ship. Out in the middle of space."

    Bogart gave her an innocent, nonplussed look. "Oh, I didn't mean to bother nobody," he replied casually. "I was just passing through."

    Neazri frowned at the comment. "Passing through?" This, and her inability to smell any tobacco from Bogart's lit cigarette, piqued her curiosity. She quietly pulled out her tricorder and began to run a full diagnostic on the black-and-white that stood before her.

    "Yeah, I was in the neighborhood, and so was your ship," Bogart replied. "I wanted to see if there was any familiar faces aboard." He frowned, suddenly, as Sann's tricorder passed close to his face. "Hey, watch it with that gizmo, lady. Don't start any funny business, you understand?"

    "Don't worry, Mr. Bogart," Sann replied calmly, "I'm just scanning you. You're the last person I'd want to start funny business with, believe me." Readings began to pop up on the tricorder's screen, giving Sann a full layout of the entity's composition. Some of the results confirmed Sann's suspicions, while others surprised her. Slowly, an idea began to form in her head as she took in the data."You said you were looking for familiar faces?"

    Bogart nodded. "Yeah, that's right. An old friend of mine left me a message a while back, said he wanted to meet up. I was checking to see if he was still around." A look of bitter disappointment crossed the movie star's face. "As far as I can tell, though, he ain't here. He's forgotten about old Humphrey. Rotten way to treat a guy, I tell ya."

    Sann gave a slow, understanding nod as she folded the tricorder. "I see. Well, Mr. Bogart...it could be that that that old friend of yours is still around somewhere," she suggested. "It's just...he might not remember you so well."

    The Bogart entity frowned. "Not remember me? What kinda guy sends a message and then forgets about it?" He took an another, angry drag from his cigerette. "What a heel."

    "Don't be so hard on him, Mr. Bogart," Sann said. "It's probably been a long time since that message was sent. I'm sure that old friend of yours would be happy to make amends if you just gave him a second chance."

    Slowly, Bogart's expression softened. "You know...you might be on to something, kid." A slow smile lit his coarse face. "I think I'll stick around for a bit, then, and see if I can't find out what that friend of mine is up to nowadays." Holding his cigarette between two figures, he raised his hand in passive gesture to Sann. "Maybe we'll bump into each other again at some point. Here's looking at you, kid."

    And then, in the blink of an eye, Humphrey Bogart vanished into thin air.

    Behind Sann, the security team instantly sprang into action, searching and securing the area. Captain Nair stepped into the foreground, looking understandably confused. "Sann...what just happened?"

    She turned to face Arkos. "He's gone, sir, but...I think I now know what our 'ghost' was."

    "Yes, you seemed to know him by name," Arkos said. "Care to explain?"

    "He was...or at least had the likeness of...Humphrey Bogart, sir," Sann said. "A famous film actor from Earth's Twentieth Century. And I think I know why he looked that way."

    Arkos gave her a quiet nod, a signal for her to go ahead an explain it to him.

    She popped upon her tricorder, and turned it around so that Arkos could see the readings it had collected. "I was detecting a heavy amount of electromagnetic radiation when I scanned him, sir," she explained, "along with a high concentration of photonic particles. He was also generating less than one-tenth of the mass of a normal human being."

    Arkos raised an eyebrow. "Are you saying he was some sort of hologram?"

    "Yes, and no sir." She folded her tricorder. "The readings match some of the data I took from the photonic ion field we passed through. Consider though, that...Humphrey Bogart...appeared to us in black and white, looking exactly the way he did in Earth's early cinema. Colour generation technology was very limited up until the late 1940s, so most of Bogart's movies were in black and white. Now, consider as well the fact that when the Humans began heavy use of radio and television in the 1940's and 1950's, they inadvertently sent waves of electromagnetic information outwards into space. Electromagnetic information, sir, that is still travelling after all of these years."

    A look of understanding dawned on the Captain's face. "Are you suggesting, Sann, that someone else has picked up these signals?"

    The Trill nodded. "It's wholly possible, sir. There could be some form of sentient life in that polaric ion field that recieved all of those signals a long time ago. That's why the 'ghost' appeared to us as Humphrey Bogart, sir, and mentioned having recieved a message. It was literally replying to a centuries-old signal!"

    "And was communicating to us in a physical form it thought we might recognize!" Arkos finished. "That's why he didn't want to talk to me. I look nothing like the original senders of the message, whereas you can pass for Human." The Captain smiled. "I'll notify Starfleet of what happened. When they give us the go ahead to attempt further communications, we'll head back into the ion field to see if we can contact this lifeform again. Congratulations, Ensign. You've just established first contact with...well, a movie star."

    Sann laughed. "Of all the polaric ion fields in all the solar systems in all the quadrants in all the galaxy, we had to stumble onto his."

    Arkos frowned, and raised a puzzled eyebrow. "What?"

    Sann grimaced. "Er, sorry sir, you wouldn't get the reference. But I'd be happy to make help make the necessary preparations for contacting these entities again. "

    The Captain nodded. "I think we'll be needing your historic knowledge again quite soon. Dismissed."

    Nodding, Sann headed off towards her quarters, resolving to change back into her uniform and start watching as many old film extracts as possible. Inwardly, she hoped that if they did make contact with the polaric aliens again, then the next one she talked would be Claude Rains...
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]
  • ironphoenix113ironphoenix113 Member Posts: 0 Arc User
    edited April 2013
    Literary Challenge #3: My Haven

    From Darkness, Light


    Bryan gazed wearily at the viewscreen of the U.S.S. Athena. He felt almost as if he wasn't entirely there, but that some piece of himself was left in the Embassy where he had told his mother to leave him to live his life just a few hours ago. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the bridge door open.

    "Ibalei. What do you need?" he asked the Joined Trill women who stepped through the doorway.

    "You look like you could use a break Bryan," she said.

    "When my duty shift is-"

    "Bryan, as your first officer, I must insist that you take the rest of your shift off."

    "My shift isn't even halfway-"

    "Fine, as your wife, I demand you take the rest of your shift off," She said smugly.

    Bryan sighed, knowing that it was only a matter of time before she played that card. "Fine. But just this once. I'll be in the holodeck if anyone needs me. Commander Ibalei Zizania, you have the con."
    *******

    Bryan stepped into the massive holodeck, empty and still in its inert grid pattern. He looked around, and walked to the middle of the room, hearing the door hiss shut behind him.

    "Athena," he called, "Load simulation Valot number Zero-Zero-One."

    "Aye, sir. Simulation loading now," The AI replied.

    The room around him shimmered and warped, until suddenly he was standing in a great black void, pierced only by small, spiraling dots of light. He looked around, and smiled a little.

    "Play some music, Athena," he said.

    "Care to be a little more specific, sir?"

    He paused for a moment, thinking. "Cosmos, by Vangelis."

    The entire room was filled by the soothing combination of synthesizer and piano music. Bryan looked around at the galaxies as they passed him by, imjagining the wonders that lay there, merely waiting to be discovered. Even as he did so, the troubles that had plagued him for so long seemed to simply fade away, as they always did when he stood among the stars. He closed his eyes, letting the music gently wash over him, as he thought in silence, rationalizing everything that had occurred to him recently. Ibalei nearly being killed, proposing to marry her, Joining her to a Trill symbiont, finally marrying her, and letting go of the last vestiges of his biological family, had really begun to take their toll on him. But, in here, among the stars, the billions and billions of stars, all of that seemed so much smaller, and only the light stood out. Bryan reopened his eyes, smiling as he gazed around, the galaxies as numerous as grains of sand on any beach. At least, he felt at peace, and all his troubles seemed to simply melt away.
    Vice Admiral Bryan Mitchel Valot
    Commanding officer: Odyssey class U.S.S. Athena
    Admiral of the 1st Assault Fleet
    Join date: Some time in Closed Beta
  • marcusdkanemarcusdkane Member Posts: 7,439 Arc User
    edited April 2013
    Literary Challenges 3, 11 and 28 - My Haven, Hidden Agendas and Stranded

    Under the Night

    Captain Amanda Palmer looked about the bridge of the USS Valkyrie, quietly satisfied with the progress of the repairs.

    "Captain," said Commander Brandon Mayer, coming up to Palmer with a PADD in his hand. "Just to let you know, the new communications array has been installed, the computer cores have been re-booted, and Meliden tells me that the nacelle calibration is underway."

    Palmer smiled, noting how different Mayer looked in tactical red, rather than operations gold, and how easily he had settled into the role of an executive officer.

    "That's good to know, Brandon," she replied, taking the PADD from him, and initialing an approval for new holo-emitters and photonic interface. "It would seem that things are just about ship-shape once more, and I'm going to leave things in your capable hands while I take the evening off."

    "Have you anything nice planned, Captain?" Mayer enquired.

    "Relaxation," Palmer replied simply, as she crossed the bridge towards the rear turbolift. "If you need anything, I'll have my comm badge with me. You have the bridge, Commander."


    The Osaka night solidified around Palmer as the transporter beam released her, and she entered the Yuki Pocari bath house.

    "One please," she said as she approached the counter, and was given a single locker key. Making her way into the changing area, she stripped out of her uniform, neatly folding each garment before placing it in the locker. Twisting her hair up, Palmer thrust a set of chopsticks through to hold the up-do in place, and securing her comm badge to a towel, padded across the tiled floor to the washing area, before crouching on a stool, and waiting for the attendants to begin soaping her with rough sponges. As she felt the sponges pummeling her knotted muscles, she began to relax, then she was rinsed clean with scalding water. When they were finished, she rose, and made her way through the tiled room to the main area, where there was a series of sunken baths, maybe eight feet in diameter set into the bamboo flooring. Despite the open roof, the heat from the steaming tubs maintained a comfortable temperature. Folding her towel on the edge of the tub, Palmer stepped in, gingerly at first, the water so hot, that her foot felt cold, then lowered herself in completely, and sat on the molded interior, the surface of the water coming up to her shoulders. Resting her head against her towel, Palmer closed her eyes, allowing the heat to melt the tension of the past weeks from her muscles, as she listened to the rhythmic tapping noise of a bamboo water feature.

    Feeling a rippling on the surface of the water, Palmer opened her eyes, and saw another female leg entering the tub beside her. Looking up, she saw that the woman's entire back was covered with an exquisite tattoo. On her lower back, a kitsune, a nine-tailed fox, sat in repose at the side of a stream which flowed down onto the right buttock, while the tails curled down onto the left. Above the fox's inquisitive head, clouds drifted across a full moon on the woman's upper back, before gently rolling over the shoulders to cap her deltoid muscles with fan-like wind bars. Her black hair was cut in a severe jaw-length bob, and Palmer initially thought she may have been Japanese, but when she sat on the opposite side of the tub, Palmer saw that she was Caucasian.

    "I hope I'm not disturbing you," she said, her accent clearly British, but a region Palmer was unable to identify. Almost London, but not quite.

    "Not at all, it's a public bath," Palmer replied with a friendly smile.

    "I like your tattoo," the woman said, nodding towards Palmer's left shoulder, and the simple loops which led down to a pair of triangles at the curve between the deltoid and biceps.

    "Thank you, it was done on Zildar, about ten years ago," she said. "I couldn't help but notice your work though, it's incredible."

    The woman smiled slyly.

    "One of the benefits of having a brother who is a tattoo artist," she replied, leaning forwards and extending her hand. "I'm Bella. I've not heard of Zildar."

    "Manda," Palmer replied, leaning over to shake Bella's outstretched hand, the motion making the water almost unbearably hot. "It's a small planet in the constellation Lyra. My crew made first contact there thirteen years ago."

    "Ahh, a Starfleet officer," said Bella. "You must have seen some sights over the years."

    "A few," Palmer admitted. "But it's always nice to be back home. We've been undergoing a refit, before launching tomorrow for a diplomatic mission."

    She tilted her head to gaze up at the stars, easily locating McKinley Station among the various satellites and orbital habitats.

    "I hope you have a safe voyage," Bella said, before leaning her head back to enjoy the heat in companionable silence.
    ***

    Ahd'r I'sH'd glanced around the small workout room as he entered. It was relatively empty, with a few Humans, a male Bolian and a Vulcan girl on the various pieces of equipment. They barely acknowledged his presence, as he moved to the anti-grav treadmill, which was as he wanted it, although he did notice that one of the Human females watched him as he walked, and his lips quirked in amusement at her interest. Dropping a towel beside the device, I'sH'd set it to free run, and jumped on, quickly building up an impressive pace. Thumping, energetic music blasted from hidden speakers. It was hardly the Alba Ra, but it would be sufficient motivation... As he ran, he chafed at the indignities which had led to him, an Ahd'r in the Pentaxian millitia, being assigned aboard the USS Valkyrie.

    It had begun with the dishonor of his grandfather, R'sH'd, who, in some misguided sense of patriotism, had attempted to stall Pentaxia's entry to the Federation by attempting to assassinate heir Empress Ch'K'rr before her coronation. I'sH'd had been five when, in a televised broadcase, his grandfather was put to death for treason. He would never forget the look on R'sH'd's face as the imperial guards had carried out the sentence: Stripping him of his sword, and using it to sever his head, executing the former First Minister like a common thief. For a Pentaxian male, his sword was his honor, his status, his very manhood. To have it taken and used against him was the ultimate humiliation. For it to be used to end his life -- no more grievous insult was possible. There had been Federation representatives present for the Empress' coronation, and they had done nothing to stop the execution, hiding behind the shield of the Prime Directive. I'sH'd would never forget the look of cold fury on the young Terran captain's face, as he had turned the face of a teenaged girl to his shoulder, preventing her from witnessing R'sH'd's demise.

    The shame to R'sH'd's son, I'sH'd's father, had been so great, that he had simply left the capital and walked into the desert, never to be seen again. I'sH'd had struggled all his life to overcome that shame, and to restore honor to his once noble house. He had served diligently in the militia, steadily climbing the ranks, till his promotion to Ahd'r, the equivalent rank to that of a Starfleet captain. Then he had been summoned before the Empress. He had never seen her in person before then, only ever holo-images, but age had not dulled the beauty of her youth, and she was still a striking woman. With her head shaved in the g't'lla ritual to show bereavement, I'sH'd was reminded of his mother. She had praised his accomplishments, and said that he was being chosen for an assignment of great prestige.

    "Ahd'r I'sH'd," Ch'K'rr had said. "Ambassador S'rR's was once my protected ward. She is my daughter, my sister, my confidant. You are to guard her life as you would my own."

    Then she had walked in... Even though over two decades had passed, even with her head shaved in mourning, I'sH'd had recognized the girl from the balcony who had cowered against the Terran captain as his grandfather had been executed. As she had drawn closer, I'sH'd saw first that the uniformity of her purple irises was sullied by pale grey outer rings, then he realized that she had no claws, but smooth fingernails like a Terran! She was a half-breed! Lower even than the v'nai, the untouchable caste who worked with filth and the dead! To be assigned to protect an ambassador was one thing, but for that ambassador to come from such low stock, to be someone so utterly unfit to represent the purity of the Pentaxian Dynasty -- It was to be assigned to protect the lowest of the low, and an insult as grievous as to be relieved of his sword!

    Anger drove I'sH'd's feet, faster and harder until he was sprinting, then he continued to push harder, his cardiac tubes contracting painfully and his lungs burning in air much colder than what he considered comfortable.

    "Warning," intoned the computer's synthesized female voice. "User cardiac arrest imminent -- Initiating emergency equipment shutdown."

    Unable to react in time, I'sH'd continued running, colliding with the wall then bouncing back, cracking his forehead against the edge of the treadmill with a force which nearly rendered him unconscious. He lay on the floor, a heap of anger and humiliation, as his pulse gradually returned to normal.

    "Sir, are you alright?" asked the young Human female who had stared at him earlier: Ensign Campbell-Black, I'sH'd remembered, from his memorization of the crew manifest. She reached out with a towel towards the bleeding wound on I'sH'd's forehead.

    "Don't touch me!" he snarled, jerking his head away from her attempted ministrations. Seeing the look of hurt confusion on her face, I'sH'd felt shamed at his misguided anger. Reaching up with his own towel, he wiped the magenta blood from his forehead, then held it up, so she could see the fabric of the towel dissolving where the blood had soaked in. Looking down, the ensign saw the edge of the treadmill was also bubbling and caving in on itself, corroded by the acidic qualities which actively filtered Pentaxian blood in the vein.

    "Do you require assistance?" enquired Ensign T'Natra, extending a hand.

    "No, thank you," I'sH'd said, slowly raising himself to his feet. "For your own safety, do not get close." Holding his towel to his head, he walked out of the workout room towards the turbolift.

    The doors opened, and S'rR's walked out, nearly colliding with I'sH'd.

    "Are you alright?" she asked.

    Suppressing his instinct to simply growl and tilt his head in disgust at such an obvious question, I'sH'd forced himself to respond civilly.

    "I'm fine, Ambassador," he said. "Just a minor accident. I am going to sickbay now to have the wound tended before I bleed on the deck and do more damage." Sliding passed S'rR's, I'sH'd entered the turbolift, deliberately facing the rear till the doors sighed closed.

    With a mental shrug, S'rRs' turned and walked along the corridor towards main engineering, her long coat flowing as she walked. As the doors slid open, S'rR's looked about, before being approached by an Andorian Chief Petty Officer.

    "I'm sorry, Ambassador, but engineering is restricted to Starfleet personnel only," he said.

    S'rR's raised an eyebrow.

    "I beg your pardon, Chief?"

    "Captain's orders, Ambassador," replied th'Shaan. "No non-Starfleet personnel in critical areas."

    "I know that you're new, Chief, but I do hold a Starfleet commission," S'rR's pointed out. "I have higher clearance than you do. I need to speak to Commander Bowen."

    "That may be so, Ambassador, but the Captain's orders were specific."

    th'Shaan's antennae gradually crept closer to his scalp, and S'rR's realized further argument was futile.

    "Very well, Chief," she conceded graciously, taking a black wrist-strap from inside her coat and handing it to th'Shaan. "Please can you see that Commander Bowen gets this, and ask her to meet me in the Sidewinder at her earliest convenience?"

    th'Shaan nodded, and took the synthleather strap.

    Turning on her heel, S'rR's strode out of engineering, and turned left, heading towards what had once been a secondary conference lounge but which had been re-fit as a bar and lounge, and had been dubbed the Sidewinder by the crew. Behind the bar, stood a Bolian female of statuesque proportions, who S'rR's had not seen before.

    "Human mother?" S'rR's asked, leaning against the bar.

    Selya Chirk nodded.

    "That's right, Ambassador," she replied. "I inherited my mother's legs, and my father's bust."

    S'rR's chuckled easily, noting Selya's impressive figure.

    "I got my mother's legs too," she said, before frowning. "Well, if a genetic donor can be considered a mother... Nevermind, I'll have a glass of k'lr liqueur if you have it."

    "Only replicated, I'm afraid," Selya admitted. "We don't get much call for alcohol strong enough to kill a Human within minutes."

    As she placed the glass on the bar, the doors sighed open, admitting Lieutenant Commander Meliden Bowen. In her hand, she held the wrist-strap S'rR's had given to th'Shaan.

    "Hello darling, sorry I missed you in engineering, I was in nacelle control, calibrating the plasma stream," she said, sliding onto the stool beside S'rR's, before holding up the wrist-strap. "What's this, and what do you want me to do with it?"

    "I found it while going through some things on Caladan," S'rR's replied, taking a sip of the liqueur. "Seems to be some kind of miniaturized tricorder, I wondered if you might be able to get it working again for me?"

    Meliden popped open the covering flap and examined the damaged control surface.

    "Leave it with me, darling, I'll see what I can do," she replied. "I'm sure it's nothing a little reconstruction won't fix. Not long now before we get underway. Have you any idea where we're headed first?"

    "A diplomatic mission with the Mu'Naii," S'rR's replied. "They claim to have something which belongs to the Federation, despite the fact they only achieved warp capability a year ago."
    ***

    Ensign Todd Mitchell shivered in the cell, clutching the remnants of his uniform jacket about his shoulders, and tried to ignore the pangs of hunger which speared through him. The Mu'Naii had not mistreated him in the months since his Manta-class fighter crash landed, but they only ate once every thirty six hours, and saw no reason to think another being would have different requirements. Reaching into his pocket, Mitchell ran his fingers over the familiar delta shape of his comm badge, the shape somewhat distorted, having been beaten with his boot heel until the casing had broken, ensuring that the subspace beacon activated.
    909d7cda93335d83bb43d3459b4dfcd5_zpsayiqcsfi.jpg
  • zidanetribalzidanetribal Member Posts: 218 Arc User
    edited April 2016
    Literary Challenge #40: Redux

    LC40: AUDACIA REFUGIUM
    Captain's Log, Stardate 86928.01. Starfleet Command has commissioned a new line of Andorian-designed corvettes as part of expanded Starfleet deep space operations against enemy commerce raiders. I have chosen a select portion of the Lord English crew to join me one of these escorts, named IGS Doc Scratch, to combat True Way insurgents in the Zeta Andromedae Sector Block. Commander Taylor will be in command of Lord English in my absence.

    ===

    The Keldon warship Gloril and its four Galor companions hung dead in space, the glow from their burning husks fading as an Andorian escort's warp trail faded into the distance. On board the IGS Doc Scratch, Commander Newa, the Caitian chief technician, relaxed in the captain's chair as the bridge crew continued running telemetry from their latest deep space encounter. The night shift was almost over, and Newa was eager to turn the Doc Scratch's command over to her capricious CO, Admiral Remus Lee.

    As she entered the ready room to call Admiral Lee, she was shocked to see him already awake at his desk. busy wiping down a Mk. IV Phaser Split Beam Rifle. She could see the words "AUDACIA REFUGIUM" engraved on the side of the rifle, and a giant crack running down the middle, bisecting the gun.

    "Admiral, you're up early today," Newa commented. "You usually don't report in until two hours from now."
    "I noticed these Andorian vessels aren't keen on displaying trophies, which is a shame, because I thought of putting up some thematically appropriate trophies in the captain's room," he replied.

    Newa looked around on the floor. Cardassian military insignia and Jem'Hadar ketracel-white tubes lay all over the floor. Admiral Lee was certainly not one of the tidiest captains in Starfleet, she discommended.

    "I see True Way Alliance paraphernalia all over the floor, Admiral, so what does a Mk. IV phaser rifle have to do with the True Way?" Newa asked.
    "Oh, this?" Lee stated as he gestured towards the rifle. "I found it while clearing out all the True Way junk from my bank storage. It's a relic from the time when I had two and a half pips."
    "Two and a half pips? You mean Lieutenant Commander?" Newa questioned. She found Lee's muddled speech annoying, but wanted to know more about Lee's past.
    "Yes, exactly. This came from Commander Taylor's predecessor. There's a long story attached to this, if you want to listen."
    "Shouldn't you be clocking in, Admiral?" Newa replied.

    ---
    Portrait of a young man: Lieutenant Commander Remus Lee, twenty-five, ship captain, time traveler. Mr. Lee has been tasked by a shadowy organization to go back in time to kill an enemy leader. The fate of the Federation, nay, the entire quadrant, rests on his shoulders; with time travel, success and failure can hinge on a single misstep which can change history as we know it. It's just another "day" in The Neutral Zone.

    ---

    "I don't know what these things are, but they're all over the station! They're killing people! Please, you have to help us!"

    The crew of the Excalibur-class USS Eridan Ampora marveled. The run-down Drozana station which they were familiar with was replaced by a shiny K-7 style station painted in 23rd century glossy white, the same color as the Constitution-class vessel which they unceremoniously left adrift. Ensign Kay Taylor was the first to regain her composure.

    "Commander, sensors detect multiple triolic rifts on Drozana Station and signs of weapons fire in the interior. We'll need to seal the rifts directly to prevent more Devidian incursions before we can start destroying Driffen's Comet."

    Chief Engineer Shrad Ildytov chimed in from the Transporter Room.

    "Triolic waves are saturating the station. If we don't stop the source of the waves, the entire station is going to glow blue. I've locked onto a cargo bay which is still relatively free of radiation, but we're going to need to go ASAP or else we won't be able to get on."

    Lieutenant Commander Remus Lee stood up from his chair and took a heroic pose as he hailed the crew.

    "Attention all hands, as you may have seen, we are now in the past due to *mumble mumble* in order to destroy Driffen's Comet and prevent an invasion of the Federation. The nature of time travel means that we must do as little as we can to affect the past while we're changing the past, but I'm confident that this crew will perform admirably. Lieutenant Eloni, Chief Ildytov, Dr. Lulare, please meet me in Transporter Room 1."

    "That was a very inspiring speech, Commander," replied Lieutenant Jhamyn Eloni, Ampora's Andorian first officer, as she slipped out from behind him.
    "You were there?" Lee exclaimed.
    "Yes, always," Eloni replied.
    "Are you ready to go down to Drozana, then?" Lee asked.
    "Yes, always," Eloni replied, as she pulled her phaser split beam rifle from her back.

    The two officers entered the turbolift together en route to the transporter room.

    ---

    The groans of the wounded punctuated the atmosphere at the Drozana bar, as the Devidian assault force dissolved away in the face of the Ampora's strike force. Dr. Coroin Lulare began examining the wounded as Master Chief Petty Officer Shrad Ildytov set up medical generators. First Officer Eloni began an analysis of the situation.

    "Most of the triolic energy is concentrated in what would be the dabo room in our time; energy readings there are through the roof, which may mean the focus point of the Devidian invasion is there."
    "There are non-Devidian lifesigns in the room," Dr. Lulare butted in, "If we don't rescue them soon, they'll succumb to triolic poisoning, and that would be bad for the timeline."
    "The door is barricaded, but a few hits with a phaser should take care of that," the barkeep added.

    The strike team began converging on the door. Lee began moving forward to place breaching charges but was stopped by Eloni.

    "I think we'll need to break the door in order to enter," Lee said to Eloni as he tried to brush her off.
    "Starfleet regulations require the first officer to enter potentially dangerous situations. As I am first officer, that task falls to me," she replied, pulling Lee back.
    "I'll be asking you for a first officer to shove in front when I get to your rank, commander," she added, as she placed the charges.

    Before she could set off the charges, however, a bright white spike stabbed out from the door and into Eloni. As her neural energy began draining from her body, the door charges blew, and out from the lounge floated a large, menacing figure wielding an Ophidian cane dripping blue. This was the Shrouded Phantasm, leader of the Devidian incursion.

    "Do not attempt to stop us! We hunger. We must feed!" it cried, as Devidians flooded out of the room to drain everyone's neural energy.

    Separated from the rest of the station by the Devidian surge, Lee was left aside the corpse of Lieutenant Eloni, as the Shrouded Phantasm approached menacingly. With his Anti-Devidian rifle on the far end of the corridor, his only weapon left was Eloni's phaser rifle, shorn in half by the Devidian's stabbing.

    Fully expecting a death by neural drainage, Lee was spared when, rather than draining his energy with his Ophidian, the phantasm closed in to grab him. This gave him the split second he needed to take Eloni's weapon and send a pulse straight down the phantasm's gullet, causing a shockwave in its body which rippled out, knocking the other Devidians out of the timeline. The phantasm, the enemy of Drozana Station and Eta Eridani, was defeated.

    As the Devidians phased into oblivion, Dr. Lulare rushed over to Lieutenant Commander Lee. The backfire of the broken rifle had burned his hand.

    "Don't mind me, is Lieutenant Eloni ok?" he asked as he shrugged her off.

    Dr. Lulare sadly shook her head.

    "The physical injuries were life-threatening enough, but the neural damage wouldn't have been repairable even with 25th century technology. She's gone, sir."

    Lee brokered no emotion as he stared the engraved words "AUDACIA REFUGIUM" on the phaser rifle in his now mangled hand.

    "Refuge in audacity, eh?" he said to himself, as Dr. Lulare worked on healing his hand.

    ---

    As Admiral Lee finished his story, Commander Newa found herself tearing up despite herself. She realized that it was already noon and Admiral Lee still didn't clock in. Still, she found herself engrossed with the story.

    "What happened afterwards, with the crew of the Ampora and the Devidians?" she asked.
    "That's a good question," Lee answered as he put down the rifle.
    "Chief Ildytov eventually became a vice admiral himself. He's now captaining USS Problem Sleuth on the Klingon Front.
    "As for Dr. Lulare, I'm sorry to say the pressures of her job got to her and she ended up defecting to the Klingon Empire only to fall in trouble and die at the hands of the Orion Syndicate on New Sydney."
    "The Devidians haven't been active since Driffen's Comet was destroyed; I think there might be one Devidian being a Starfleet officer or something, but I heard he's an alright guy. Goes by the name of Strannik, I think."

    Newa sat there in awe at the Admiral's story, until a chime from the comm channel broke her out of her reverie. It was the voice of Commander Kay Taylor, Lee's first officer in command of the Lord English.

    "Admiral, you haven't responded in over four hours. We're at your position waiting to transfer crew and supplies to you."
    "Understood, Kay," he replied.
    "Let's get to business, then. You are now cleared of your duty, Commander Newa," he added, as he adjusted his collar and walked to the bridge.

    ===
    Captain's log, supplemental. The Doc Scratch will be rendezvousing with the Lord English to exchange crew and supplies. While Doc Scratch will still be hunting True Way raiders, Lord English will be aiding planets in the Zenas Expanse. Commander Taylor continues to serve as a model officer and stellar commander. If fate is kind, she will serve in this capacity for a long time.
    Post edited by zidanetribal on
  • pwebranflakespwebranflakes Member Posts: 7,741
    edited April 2013
    The time has come. But, what an incredible month it's been?! Thank you to every single one of you who not only participated in #40 but also discussed the entries. Seems like you all had a great time being able to catch up on past challenges. We may have to do this again in the future ;)

    Unsticking, but as always, feel free to continue making entries. #41 coming up!

    Cheers,

    Brandon =/\=
  • sander233sander233 Member Posts: 3,992 Arc User
    edited April 2013
    Nevermind all the lines, I'm coming
    And there is no better part of me, you'll see
    The darkest light, the blind I'll be
    I accept that you chose to forget
    The horrid thing you made of me, my dear
    It is all that it is so

    The laughing feels so good
    But the world misunderstood all I said
    There was no joke in what I meant

    Someone please come shelter me from
    All that I am, and never again
    Will I believe the same old story...

    I've given up on all I loved for
    An honest moment of clarity, well I need
    To feel alright, please let me breathe
    In a life I made out of nothing
    To cleanse this useless identity
    Will you hear all the word in its wisest way?

    Will the other half be as good?
    Well if only I misunderstood
    I wait on this judgment I've been arraigned...

    There's no understanding in miracles
    When the worst, it always comes true

    I am the nothing you have saved...

    It eats us like cancer, we're coming for something
    Maybe an answer with all that you've done for me
    Made out of nothing...


    Claudio Sanchez and Travis Stever of Coheed & Cambria - "Made Out of Nothing (All That I Am)"




    MISUNDERSTOOD ME


    Operational log, Unit Six Eight Yankee, Entry 47, Stardate 86499.0

    Recap of past entries: I was assembled in the Noonien Soong Laboratory at Star Enterprises in the city of Seattle on Earth and activated on Stardate 86302. (See operational log entry 1.) After passing all functionality tests (See entries 2 through 18) my basic education followed, beginning with languages and arithmetic, before moving on to more advanced disciplines such as xenopaleontology, counterinsurgency tactics, interphasic quantum topology and temporal mechanics. (See entries 19 through 32.) I was given a choice of anthropological model, gender, skin and eye color, name and occupation. (See entry 33.) After careful consideration, I selected Human male, with light gray dermal pigmentation and black eyes in a desire to distinguish myself as an android but to avoid a repulsive appearance. (See entry 34.) I chose to defer selecting a name until I had acquired additional experience, but the career choice was an easy one. I elected for a career as a Starfleet Operations officer, following the example of Data - the android I and those like me were modeled after. (See entry 35). Having completed all required Starfleet Academy exams with a 100% grade (see entries 36 through 42) I was commissioned as a Starfleet officer on Stardate 86376. (See entry 43.) I underwent training in starship operations at Utopia Planetia (see entries 44 and 45) and successfully passed the Lieutenants Test with a perfect score, allowing my promotion to the rank of full Lieutenant on Stardate 86495. (See entry 46.)

    Entry 47 follows: Today I begin the first assignment of my Starfleet career: to serve as the Deputy Operations Officer aboard USS
    Mako - a heavily-modified Defiant-class-derivative tactical escort frigate. I am downloading the Starfleet record files of all of the officers and crew members I will be serving with. I must say the Captain and the senior staff have achieved an impressive record of accomplishments in the past year. The Captain in particular seems to be a remarkable individual, having been promoted from the rank of Ensign to full Captain in the course of just over eight months. Although, it does appear that he used to hold the rank of Lt. Commander before being demoted after a particular incident, the details of which have been redacted. At any rate, I am joining a crew that is battle-tested and decorated, under a highly resourceful and dedicated Captain who is both a brilliant strategic thinker and extremely motivated to succeed in the face of extraordinary odds. I am very much looking forward to starting my tour of duty with the Mako.

    Entry ends.

    * * *

    USS Mako, McKinley Station, Earth Orbit

    Fozz checked his readouts and swore as he tapped his combadge. "Ming, that emitter amp you installed is drawing power from the phaser relays!"

    "Imposible," Cmdr. Domingo protested. "This little ship has more than enough power to go around. Her sister actually blew herself up when the warp core was at only ninety-four-percent of its maximum output! If anything, I'm worried about blowing out components, not power loss."

    "Well, check the plasma distribution manifold. Somehow or other, we've got an EPS drain up here."

    "Okay, you know what, I think I know what the problem may be. I'll have to shut down the reactor to adjust the flow regulators to compensate for the drain from the paratrinic shields. Gimme half an hour."

    "Arright, great. You do that while I count the dead spiders up here." LCdr. Ibear closed his combadge channel and looked up at the dark-skinned Human who had just ducked into the port weapons bay. "Hey, Captain."

    "How's it going, Fozz?" asked Capt. Jesu LaRoca.

    "Great, assuming you don't need the phaser cannons to take out anything tougher than a redbat. I wish we had time to actually test the weapons before we went off chasing after B'vat. As it was, we barely had time to clean out the mothballs. And so now we have to replace every phaser relay on the ship in addition to overhauling the entire EPS grid and adapting those paratrinic shields we picked up..."

    "Also, we're upgrading the torpedo launchers and heavy cannons," LaRoca told him. "The weapons we stripped off the Snaggletooth were just temporary."

    "Great." Fozz spotted a live spider scurrying across the grate and he tried to stomp it with his boot. The arachnid escaped, and LaRoca let it go as it scampered out into the jefferies tube. "Permission to speak freely, sir?" Fozz asked with a sigh.

    "Please do."

    "Whatever possessed you pull this thing out of storage, instead requisitioning a new Gallant-class or a Defiant refit?"

    "Well first of all, the Gallant is muy feo. But the reason I picked this particular ship over a newer Defiant is because this would have been my father's ship if the weapons program it was part of hadn't been cancelled."

    "I see." Fozz hesitated before bringing up something that had been nagging him. "When I first started installing the weapons, I noticed that there was a lot of power originally routed to the torpedo bays, and some unused weapons slots past the quad cannons, and the turret housing. Would mind telling me what sort of weapons this boat was originally built to carry?"

    "You should ask Ming," LaRoca told him. "He was part of the team that originally built this thing."

    "I did, and he said he wasn't cleared to discuss it, and I should ask Captain Grimes. And he said-"

    "Let me guess," LaRoca interrupted with a sly grin. "Frank gave you something along the lines of 'I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you'?"

    "He actually said he'd kill me, then bury me in a shallow grave, dig me up and kill me again to be sure."

    LaRoca chuckled. "Well, I probably better not say anything either. Learn to live with the unknown, Fozz. Welcome to Starfleet."

    "Yeah."

    "Security to Captain LaRoca."

    Jesu slapped his combadge. "Go 'head, Rust."

    "Sir, the new ops officer is ready to beam aboard," his brother reported. "Did you want to meet him in the transporter room?"

    "Yeah, I'm on my way." LaRoca looked at his ops chief. "You should come too, since you've got nothing to do but stare at spiders for a few minutes."

    "Arright." Fozz crawled out after the Captain, then once the left the jefferies tubes he unfolded himself to his full 2.1m height. "I hafta tell ya, sir, I don't know if I can work with an android."

    "Hundreds of people served under Captain Data until he retired a few months ago," LaRoca reminded him.

    "Data's different."

    "What makes him different from a more advanced android based off his template?"

    "Data went through the Academy, served as a Starfleet officer for over half a century, and worked his way up through the ranks. This android we're getting was programmed to be a Starfleet lieutenant. He has no hands-on experience apart from an accelerated ops training course at U.P., and he doesn't even have a real name. I can tell you, a lot of my people won't like taking orders from a machine with no name that was practically born yesterday."

    "Give him a chance, Fozz," Jesu said as they entered the transporter room. "I'll bet he'll impress you." He nodded to Rusty.

    "Energizing," announced the Deinon at the transporter control panel.

    The android materialized in the center of the pad, facing the wall. "Curious," he said. "I appear to have been transported into a room with no doors."

    Captain LaRoca cleared his throat. "Behind you."

    They android shuffled his feet as he turned around. "Ah. Captain Jesus Lorenzo San Gregorio LaRoca. Human, male, age forty standard years. Born San Diego, California, Earth, June seven, twenty-three six-"

    Jesu interupted. "A simple 'Hello Captain, permission to come aboard' will suffice."

    Six Eight Yankee closed his mouth, took have a second to process the implied order, then repeated back "Hello, Captain. Permission to come aboard?"

    "Granted," LaRoca said with a straight face. He could see Fozz smiling out of the corner of his eye, and he sensed his adopted brother behind him trying very hard not to burst out laughing. "Welcome aboard the Mako. This is Commander Ibear, the head of your department."

    Six Eight Yankee turned his head to face the Andorian. "Lieutenant Commander Fozzter'Dayn th'Ibear. Andorian, thaan, age forty-two stan-"

    "It's not necessary to quote our entire Starfleet files to us," Fozz informed the android with a laugh. "We know who we are."

    "I... Understand. Commander."

    "So what are we supposed to call you?" Fozz wondered. "Or is it just Six Eight Yankee?"

    "That is my designation," the android confirmed. "I have not yet selected a name."

    "How about 'Yankee' for short?" Rusty suggested.

    The Android looked at the reptilian security chief in the back of the room. "Lieutenant... Rusty. Yes. 'Yankee' is acceptable as a nickname in the interim."

    Rusty crossed his arms. "Actually, I'm formally addressed as 'Lieutenant LaRoca.' Rusty is my given name."

    "I apologize, Lieutenant LaRoca. Deinon naming conventions were not covered in the course of my studies."

    "No prob. You can just call me Rusty."

    "It seems you have a lot to learn, Yanqui," the Captain remarked.

    The android looked back and forth between the LaRoca brothers, his face wrinkling as his personality subroutine simulated an expression of his growing confusion.

    "I'll give you a few minutes to settle in," Fozz announced. "When you're ready, find me in the portside weapons bay."

    Yankee turned and nodded. "Understood, sir."

    "I'll show you your quarters, Yankee," Rusty offered.

    "Thank you, Rusty, but I do not require a sleeping berth. Only a small space where I may perform self-diagnostics, change my uniform periodically, and record my operational logs in privacy."

    "Don't worry," Rusty laughed. "Your quarters aren't much more than that. And you're sharing them with our new conn officer, who takes up a lot of space."

    Jesu watched the android follow his brother out and down the corridor. "Hoo, boy," he said after the door hissed closed. "I guess you were right, Fozz. I don't think this guy is gonna work out."

    "Are you kidding? He's perfect!" Fozz exclaimed. "I was afraid he was gonna be a know-it-all smartass, but he's totally clueless! Everybody's going to have to help him learn how to not make a complete idiot out of himself."

    "Well, Fozz, I can only hope you and your people are up to it. Because we leave for the Sierra system next week and both he and the ship need to be ready."

    "Leave it to me, sir. I'll sort him out."
    * * *

    Operational log, Unit Six Eight Yankee, Entry 48, Stardate 86501.0

    My first day aboard the
    Mako has ended. My impression of the crew's reaction toward me is rather mixed. My immediate superior and department head, LCdr. Ibear, seems to enjoy my company and his guidance has been very beneficial in easing my assimilation into the crew. I helped him and the chief engineer - Cmdr. Domingo - trace the cause of a power drain to the phaser relays this afternoon and they both seemed impressed by my abilities and knowledge of shipboard systems.

    The junior officers and enlisted personnel who serve under me for the most part respect my rank and accept my authority with good spirits. A Cardassian explosives expert and a Ferengi quartermaster are the only exceptions so far - POfc Toront actually referred to me as a "toy." I reported his conduct to LCdr. Ibear, who relieved him of duty and confined him to quarters for twenty-four hours. I will speak with him tomorrow and try to reach an understanding with him.

    Outside of my department, it would appear that I have made a friend in Lt. LaRoca. He seems happy to see me whenever he and I are in the same room. But he is the only Deinon I have ever met and I have no knowledge of his species, so perhaps that is simply the way he is with everybody. My roommate is Lt. jg. Stikvaa - a Gorn who according to Lt. LaRoca recently defected from the Klingon Defense Force and was seconded into Starfleet through some loophole provision I confess I was not aware of. My interaction with him has been limited to a curt greeting this evening when he entered our quarters. I am instructed to call him "Sticks."

    Of greatest concern to me is how Captain LaRoca feels about having me aboard his ship. His Starfleet records and psychological profile indicate a flamboyant and enthusiastic personality, and not bound by the restraints of formality. However, his interactions with me thus far have been coldly professional. He does not seem satisfied with my performance, he is uninterested in hearing the entirety of my reports, and he has no desire for personal interaction with me. My educational programming of Human behavior and psychology leads me to believe that my presence disappoints him, somehow. Perhaps he expected me to be something that I am not.

    To remedy the situation with the Captain, I will endeavor to demonstrate my capabilities (without overtly calling his attention to my work, which may come off as boastful) and to endear myself to him by expressing interest in things that interest him. According to his files, his hobbies include deep-sea fishing and quasi-historical holodeck simulations involving criminal conduct on the high seas in the Caribbean region of Earth in the late 17th and early 18th Centuries. Perhaps I should limit my conversations to fishing. His other interests include marine biology, fishkeeping - he has a pet fish called a leopard shark which he is particularly fond of - and early works of science fiction literature.

    On a side note, I have finally selected a name for myself. As part of my effort to improve my relationship with Captain LaRoca, I have selected a name which intersects with his interests. The name I have selected is that of a sentient shark character from the novel "Saturn's Race" by Larry Niven and Steve Barnes. I am now known as "Barrister."

    Entry ends.
    16d89073-5444-45ad-9053-45434ac9498f.png~original

    ...Oh, baby, you know, I've really got to leave you / Oh, I can hear it callin 'me / I said don't you hear it callin' me the way it used to do?...
    - Anne Bredon
  • sander233sander233 Member Posts: 3,992 Arc User
    edited April 2013
    Big picture slowly fades
    Walls are closing in
    And there I was, cursing the ground
    Unable to understand
    I won't let the world break me
    So I need to change direction
    Nothing special and far from perfect
    Light the way for me...

    Walking where the dead ships dwell
    These are shores I left behind
    Streets were getting smaller
    And I had to leave...

    All I hear is noise
    Hearts of false hope
    Guess I took it for granted
    I know I went too far
    I won't say I'm sorry
    I got what I deserve

    Feel I was running an endless mile
    The last candle burns and I'm dying inside
    All of this will turn to ash
    A change for a peace of mind


    Bjorn Gelotte and Anders Friden of In Flames - "Where the Dead Ships Dwell"




    THE LAST CANDLE BURNS


    First officer's log, G.W.S. Basiliscus, Captain Leguaan commanding. Stardate: 63504.71

    We have spent four-hundred-and-forty-seven days in orbit of Gila IV, as part of the Gorn Defense Command's response to the build-up of Klingon forces across the border. Our fleet continues to grow. Last night the supercarrier G.W.S.
    Komodoensis arrived in-system. Our sensors have recorded some minor subspace fluctuations that could be small Klingon ships warping in and out of the system under cloak. So long as they are content to merely look around and not attack we will make no response. I doubt very much they would attack now that the Komodoensis is here! No other unusual activity has been reported. Close log.

    Cmdr. Ssharki turned off his trusty Starfleet-issue PADD and returned it to his hip-pouch. He sat in the command chair and addressed his tactical officer. "Lieutenant Y'mallor, put the Komodoensis onscreen, please."

    "Yessir."

    The massive ship appeared on the viewer; at over three kilometers in length she dwarfed every other ship in the fleet, including the Zilant-class battleship Basiliscus. The supercarrier's deflector dish alone was wider than one of her Vishap-class escorts was long. The Komodoensis had just arrived from Gornar, bringing among other things fresh food from the Homeworld, and Ssharki's sister, R'rissaa.

    "Hail them, please," Ssharki ordered.

    Y'mallor keyed her console, and the image of the Balaur-class dreadnought carrier was replaced by the image of its bridge. Her commanding officer, Commodore Tsaagan, smiled through the viewer. "Commander Ssharki! It is good to see you, friend. What can I do for you?"

    Ssharki dipped his head out of respect to the flag officer. "Good morning sir. I was hoping I could beam over to have breakfast with your chief engineer, if that's not too inconvinient."

    "Of course! I'm sure your sister will be delighted to see you. I will tell her to expect your arrival."

    "Thank you, sir. Basiliscus out." Ssharki smiled, anticipating the reunion with his family. R'rissaa was all the family he had left - the only survivor of the Black Crest terrorist attack on Two Rivers in 2374. Was it only twelve years ago? Ssharki thought, remembering his parents. His father had served as the magistrate in what was technically a Federation city on Cestus III with a very large minority Gorn population. Either the Black Crests did not realize this, or were counting on it because most of the Gorn living there were supporters of the Royal Family. Many were even related to the King, including Ssharki's mother. R'rissaa was on Betazed at the time attending a friend's wedding; she later narrowly escaped the Dominion invasion of the planet.

    "Sir!" Lt. Y'mallor interrupted his thoughts. "Klingon warship decloaking, eighty kilometers off the port side."

    "Alert the fleet," Ssharki ordered. He pressed a button on the armrest of the command chair. "Captain Leguaan to the bridge!"

    "Bird-of-prey, B'rel-class," Y'mallor reported.

    They still use those? Ssharki pondered.

    The Captain sleepily responded to the call over the intercom. "What is it, Ssharki?"

    "A Klingon bird-of-prey just decloaked nearby, sir."

    "On my way," Leguaan replied through a yawn.

    "The Commodore has ordered the S'fenodon and the Haakgreerius to engage," Y'mallor announced.

    Ssharki called up a tactical plot and saw a Tuatara-class cruiser and a Draguas-class support vessel moving to intercept. "They're heading into a trap," Ssharki figured. "Signal them to eject warp plasma to flush the Klinks out."

    The two ships obeyed, and sure enough two more newer, heavier birds-of-prey and a K't'Inga-class battlecruiser were forced to decloak. The Haakgreerius deployed an aceton assimilator and both ships engaged the K't'Inga, destroying it before it could raise shields. The birds-of-prey tried to fight back, but with the assimilator device draining their power levels they didn't stand a chance. Several more Klingon ships decloaked and began attacking the fleet.

    Captain Leguaan finally arrived on the bridge just as an old Sornaw-class raptor decloaked and fired a disruptor cannon barrage into his ship's flank. "Open fire, all disruptor arrays!" he ordered. "Bring us about and arm the photons!"

    The helmsman, Lt. H'rvaath obeyed. The asymmetrical battleship turned ponderously. "Get me emergency power to the engines!" he snarled into the intercom. The Basiliscus jumped like it had been kicked. The enemy raptor tried to maneuver out of the battleship's forward arc but H'rvaath increased power to the starboard engines and the big ship swung her nose at the fleeing Klingon vessel. Y'mallor opened up with the heavy cannons and a set of photon torpedoes, destroying the smaller craft.

    "Damage?" Leguaan asked.

    Ssharki checked his systems display. "None. They barely made a dent in our shields."

    Leguaan nodded. "The Komodoensis?"

    Y'mallor tapped her console and the massive dreadnought appeared on screen. She was firing off disruptor beams and photon torpedoes in all directions, and her Naga-type fighters and Vishap-class escort frigates were chasing off the surviving Birds-of-Prey. The remaining Klingon ships cloaked. The violent battle was suddenly over.

    Commodore Tsaagan hailed the fleet. "Who ordered those ships to vent their warp plasma?" he demanded.

    "I did, sir," Ssharki replied. "I realized that the lone B'rel was only there as bait."

    "Of course it was," Tsaagan growled. "And because you acted out of line and flushed their trap, their capital ships did not engage us and a potential major victory was reduced to a mere skirmish."

    "I apologize, Commodore," said Ssharki, his head low. "I am used to our ship commanding the fleet. I forgot my place."

    "Excuse me, Commodore," Y'mallor spoke up, eyes glued to her console, "but our sensors just picked up a massive subspace distortion. A large number of cloaked ships just went to warp."

    Tsaagan looked at someone on his bridge and nodded. "Our sensors detected the same thing."

    Y'mallor compiled sensor readings from several other ships and processed the data. "I estimate... no fewer than thirty capital ships and battlecruisers, and at least twice as many smaller vessels."

    "So they still outnumber us two-to-one," Tsaagan figured. "Perhaps it is for the best that you broke up their attack, Ssharki."

    "We can defeat them," Leguaan declared. "We defeated their first attack with no losses-"

    "That was only their diversionary force," Tsaagan interrupted. "And only those who were stupid enough to decloak without waiting for their fleet to get into position. Their main force is now regrouping. They will give us a much tougher fight when they return."

    Ssharki nodded. "We've dishonored them with defeat. Now they will accept nothing less than total victory. They will not rest until they have taken the planet."

    Tsaagan sighed. "I will call for reinforcements and order the colonists to evacuate the planet. All ships, maintain defensive watch. The Klingons could come back at any time, and I expect them to hit us before our reinforcements can arrive. Komodoensis out."

    Lt. H'rvaath looked back his first officer. "I guess breakfast with your sister will have to wait, sir."

    Ssharki only grunted in response.


    The next day - 1203 Gornar Standard Time

    The attack began with a pair of battlecruisers decloaking inside the fleet's defensive perimeter and assaulting Gila IV's main city of Susspekt'm from low orbit. Unwilling to divide his forces, Commodore Tsaagan moved the entire fleet to intercept the assailants. As the Gorn entered weapons range, the Klingons cloaked moved off. Then a large group of battlecruisers and birds-of-prey decloaked around the orbital dockyard, several thousand kilometers behind the Gorn fleet. Again, Tsaagan ordered his entire force to engage. But due to its ponderous turn rate and high inertia, the supercarrier Komodoensis ended up straggling behind the rest of the battle group.

    The Gorn fleet was just over five hundred kilometers from the dockyard when the remainder of the Klingon assault force - led by a pair of Negh'var-class heavies - decloaked and ambushed the Komodoensis. The Gorn turned to defend the flagship, and the Klingons assailing the spacedock turned and joined the battle. Caught between two forces, the Gorn formation was quickly overwhelmed and the confrontation of fleets rapidly dissolved into a free-for-all.

    H'rvaath brought the Basiliscus about to help the supercarrier fight off its attackers. "Target the nearest Negh'var and fire on my mark," Cpt. Leguaan ordered. The Basiliscus suddenly took a barrage of disruptor fire. "Where'd that come from?"

    Ssharki cycled external viewer angles on his personal display until he saw what hit them. It was a Vor'cha class, painted black, with rows of white teeth around its fore superstructure and blood-red streaks dripping down the ship's thick neck. He recognized this ship. He'd fought alongside it during the Dominion War. "It's the Norgh'Iw," he announced, almost reverently.

    Fear flashed in Leguaan's eyes. He knew that ship's name. It translated as Blood Shark. He also knew its reputation. He blinked and focused his attention on his targets. "Return fire with the aft disruptors. Are we in weapons range of that Negh'var yet?"

    "Almost," H'rvaath replied.

    Another Klingon ship dropped out of warp, just behind the Komodoensis; a huge Vo'Quv-class carrier. Though only half the size of the Gorn dreadnought, the Vo'Quv was evenly matched in terms of firepower. The Klingon's flagship deployed several birds-of-prey from her hangers which quickly slaughtered the Gorn ship's fighter squadrons.

    "The Komodoensis just lost her port shields." Y'mallor noted. The Negh'var took full advantage, unleashing a massive spread of torpedoes into the Balaur-class supercarrier with devastating effect.

    "We're in range!" H'rvaath announced.

    "Fire at will!" Leguaan ordered. He scanned his tactical plot and noted two Gorn cruisers also in range. He signaled them. "Calyptratus and Elgaria, fire on my target!"

    "The Butaan is also moving in," Ssharki observed. The sleek Varanus-class fleet support vessel was bigger than the Basiliscus, but not quite as heavily armed. The Butaan deployed repair platforms to aid the flagship while she added what firepower she had to the other ships engaging the battlecruiser. The second Negh'var broke off its attack on the Komodoensis' starboard flank and went after the Butaan.

    "Target's shields failing!" Y'mallor announced, as the energy envelope around the Klingon heavy battlecruiser flickered and died.

    "Fire torpedoes!" Leguaan commanded.

    Fiery red orbs homed in on the Negh'var from four different directions. The battlecruiser accelerated forward to try to evade the torpedoes, but about half found their target, wreaking massive structural damage. Nonetheless, the Klingon ship kept accelerating, its overloaded impulse engines burning red-hot.

    Ssharki realized what the Klingon commander was planning. "Sacred eggs, they're gonna ram the Komodo!"

    The Butaan's captain must have realized the same thing, and desperate to protect the flagship, he drove his ship over the top of the supercarrier on a collision course with the Negh'var. The Klingon's momentum drove both ships back into the Komodoensis, crushing the flagship's bridge and sending the massive vessel reeling. The Negh'var's warp core went nova, annihilating the Butaan along with itself and breaking the Komodo's back. The entire three-kilometer supercarrier actually buckled and bent in the middle. Her armored hull was perforated, and plasma fires burned her from within.

    "They have a warp-core breach in progress!" Y'mallor declared. "They're abandoning the ship!"

    "C'mon, R'rissaa, get out of there," Ssharki whispered, knowing full well that his sister would remain at her post to the end, forestalling the inevitable core breach and giving her shipmates the best possible chance at escape. Escape pods were jettisoned from the Komodensis and were immediately shot down by the second Negh'var and several smaller Klingon ships that were moving in to finish off the dreadnought. When they realized that the Komodoensis was about to explode, the Klingons fled. The Negh'var was too slow, however, and was crippled by the shockwave from the multi-gigaton chain reaction explosion that finally destroyed the Gorn flagship.

    Ssharki sucked air through his nostrils, filled his lungs and hissed it out through his teeth in a Gorn expression of grief.

    Leguaan had no time to grieve. "Engage their carrier," he ordered the surviving ships.

    "What about the Norgh'Iw?" Ssharki asked. Their battleship was still trading disruptor fire with the Vor'cha-class.

    "Let them eat plasma," Leguaan growled. "H'rvaath, get us in range of that Vo'Quv."

    The cloud of warp plasma vented by the Basiliscus choked the Norgh'Iw's engines, blinded her sensors and weakened her structural integrity field. The Gorn Zilant-class battleship accelerated away, and joined the Calyptratus, Elgaria and the frigate Macularius assaulting the enemy carrier. The Basiliscus brushed aside the birds-of-prey defending their mothership and fired her heavy cannons in concert with her allies, quickly overwhelming the Vo'Quv's forward shields. The Klingon carrier struck back, lashing out with its disruptor beams and torpedoes. The shields of the Basiliscus - already weakened by the Norgh'Iw's constant punishment, buckled under the onslaught.

    Sparks flew and the bridge shook as the Klingon torpedoes struck home. "Hull breaches, decks six, seven, and twelve forward," Ssharki reported. "We've lost power to the forward disruptors." He tapped at his console, directing damage-control teams to make the needed repairs.

    "Then fire torpedoes!" Leguaan ordered. Y'mallor complied, striking back at the Klingon carrier. The Vo'Quv was rocked by successive impacts and was soon showing the symptoms of an imminent core breach. "Fall back!" Leguaan ordered his ships.

    The Klingons decided to take at least one Gorn vessel down with them. They tractored the Macularius and pulled it in close just before the huge ship exploded. The birds-of-prey angrily harassed the smaller Gorn cruisers. With their forward weapons offline, the crew of the Basiliscus could only watch helplessly as the Calyptratus and Elgaria were successively cored.

    Leguaan looked over the tactical plot and counted only six other surviving ships fighting off over sixty remaining Klingons. "All ships, fall back! Defend the civilian convoy!" The Basiliscus was rocked again. The Norgh'Iw was back. "Get us out of here, H'rvaath!"

    "Warp drive is offline!" Ssharki declared. "They hit our port nacelle!"

    H'rvaath diverted power to the impulse engines and steered the damaged battleship toward the planet's horizon. "I'll slingshot us around the planet. That'll put plenty of distance between us and the Klinks."

    The Norgh'Iw took one last shot before the Basiliscus left its weapons range, firing a single massive missile. Ssharki recognized the device. "It's a bio-neural torpedo!" The weapon, guided by an onboard AI and packing a massive tricobalt warhead, homed mercilessly on its target. Y'mallor fired a spread of torpedoes at it from the aft launcher but the missile shot them down with its point-defense turrets. "It's gonna hit!"

    "All hands, brace for impact!" Cpt. Leguaan failed to heed his own warning. The torpedo detonated with a huge shockwave which overwhelmed the battleship's inertial dampeners and shook its crew like a cup full of dice. Leguaan was launched from his chair and thrown into an explosion of overloaded EPS conduits and ODN lines that erupted in the middle of the bridge. A piece of metal plating frisbeed across the room and beheaded Lt. Y'mallor.

    "I've lost helm control!" H'rvaath shouted as the ship pitched and rolled over. He looked out the viewscreen at the planet looming ahead. "S'Yahazah save us, we're going in!"

    Ssharki couldn't tell if the Captain was dead or not, but it didn't matter. The huge, asymmetrical vessel would never survive a high-speed entry into a planet's atmosphere, and there was no time to stop it from happening. He issued his first and last order in command of a Gorn warship. "Abandon ship! All hands abandon ship!" He grabbed a fire suppressor from under his console and tried to extinguish the flames that had erupted from the middle of the bridge.

    H'rvaath helped, pulling tangled bits of metal off of the Captain. He was still alive, barely. "Hang on, sir. We'll getcha outta here."

    Leguaan looked up at the viewscreen, then down at the twisted floor joist that had impaled his leg. "Forget it, guys. Get yourselves off the ship."

    Ssharki pushed the flames back from his Captain and knelt next to his leg. "This will hurt, but I think I can pull you off and-"

    "Don't, Ssharki!" Leguaan snapped. "I won't make it. I'll only slow you down."

    "He's right sir," H'rvaath admitted. "We're less than a minute from atmo. If we want to live, we have to go now."

    "Say a prayer for me, brother," Leguaan muttered. He laid back and closed his eyes.

    Ssharki stared at his Captain in silence until H'rvaath pulled him away. "Ssharki, come on!"

    Ssharki followed the conn officer off the bridge. "The escape pods won't withstand atmospheric entry at these speeds," he noted. "We'll have to get to the shuttle bay."

    "Right."

    The battleship shook again, and kept shaking, as she punched into the planet's mesosphere. Ssharki and H'rvaath made it to the turbolift just as the ship reached the stratopause. The impact with the ozone layer ripped off the starboard nacelle, which peeled open the whole side of the ship like a can of sardines. The corridor the two Gorn were in suddenly opened up the burning atmosphere. Ssharki pulled himself into the turbolift and watched H'rvaath fly off into the ship's fiery wake. The turbolift's doors closed and he heard himself screaming.

    "Directive not recognized," the computer calmly declared.

    Ssharki pulled himself together. "Port shuttlebay," he ordered. The turbolift moved him down (or was it up?) to the bottom of the ship, miraculously making the trip without getting stuck or dropping the lift into the atmosphere. The shuttlebay was a shambles. Gravity plating was offline, so "down" was the aft end of the ceiling, and several Sesha-type shuttles had piled up there in a heap. Ssharki opened the bay doors along the port-side wall and launched himself across the space, landing on the ceiling and sliding to the other end of the hangar.

    He climbed into a relatively undamaged shuttlecraft, powered up its engines and engaged its shields before exiting the shuttlebay. The craft was immediately caught up by the hypersonic slipstream, slammed into the side of the hangar door and bounced along the battleship's underside before tumbling off in her meteoric tail. The impulse engines were wrecked, but Ssharki was able to stabilize the shuttle with its thrusters in time to watch the Basiliscus enter the troposphere. He realized with horror that the ship was directly over the city of Susspekt'm, but relaxed when he remembered the planet had been evacuated.

    The ship underwent explosive ablation on contact with the thickest layer of atmosphere, leveling of much of downtown Susspekt'm. The blazing remnants of the ship crashed in the outskirts of the city, where its warp core finally exploded and destroyed thousands of acres of suburbs. Ssharki fervently hoped there was no one still down there. He had his own concerns to worry about, however. His shuttle was plummeting toward the city, almost out of control. Ssharki aimed the damaged shuttle at the largest open area he could find, which turned out to be the baseball park. He passed a billboard reading Susspekt'm Stadium - Home of the Gila IV Monsters! and crash-landed in left-center field.


    Some time later

    Ssharki woke up from a half-dream, half-memory of playing baseball as a child and looked around the wrecked cockpit of the Sesha shuttlecraft and slowly remembered where he was and how he got there. He looked at the chronometer. It read 1623 but he couldn't tell if it had stopped or not. He had completely lost track of time during the space battle and had no idea how long he'd been unconscious. He crawled out of the ruined craft and walked through a hole in the outfield wall knocked down by the impact. He wandered through the city streets with no clear idea of where he was going.

    The streets seemed too small, somehow - too narrow by Gorn standards. He realized he was walking through the industrial area north of the stadium. This part of the city had been built by and for the Technical caste. The larger Soldiers were never expected to enter the area. Ssharki kept walking, leaving the crowded industrial zone and finally the city itself behind. I spent over a year defending this world, and the Klingons attack the day after my sister shows up. He looked back at the city; the only major population center on a planet most noteworthy for being the farthest corner of the Gorn Hegemony's territory and home of a two-time quadrant-champion baseball team. My sister died for this? He looked at his feet and cursed the ground on which he stood.

    He heard transporter beams behind him. The Klingons had arrived. Ssharki turned and counted six heavily-armed soldiers, all pointing weapons and shouting at him. He couldn't quite understand what the Klingons were saying; their voices were overlapping, and his universal translator was apparently not working. And of course the Klinks weren't bothering to use theirs. But he could pick out a few words, like nuch (coward) and petaQ (which doesn't translate well into other languages, but it is the Klingons' favorite insult.) Ssharki waved his arms and called out to them in their language "SoH Suv jIH Qo'!" (I won't fight you!)

    Their commander raised her arm, and the soldiers with her stopped talking. She snarled back a reply. "romuluSngan Hol yIjatlh, lung! He'So' QIchlIj." It took Ssharki a second or two to translate. Speak Romulan, lizard! Your accent stinks.

    My Romulan is even worse, he thought. "How about English instead?" he offered, using that language.

    "Humangan Hol?" The Klingon commander frowned then nodded. "English is acceptable. I would rather speak the language of the Federation than have you butcher ours."

    "Why will you not fight?" one of her lieutenants demanded. "maH'e' SoHvIp?" Ssharki knew that phrase. Are you afraid of us?

    "I'm not afraid of you," he replied. "In fact, I'm pretty sure I could kill you all with nothing more than my teeth and claws. But what purpose would this serve? You have the planet. There is no one left here to defend. Why would I fight you now?"

    "You could fight for your life," the commander suggested, hefting her disruptor rifle.

    Ssharki smirked. "It would be dishonorable of you to kill an unarmed prisoner."

    "You just boasted that you could kill us without a weapon," she argued.

    "And you'll never find out if I actually could or not," Ssharki said. He lowered his arms and crossed them over his chest. "Either shoot me, beam me up to your ship, or leave me alone. It doesn't matter anymore."

    The Klingon stared at him for a minute, before making up her mind and lowering her weapon. The warriors with her did the same. She tapped her wrist communicator. "Norgh'Iw, B'tor. jol SochDaq."

    Ssharki was caught in the red glow a transporter beam and experienced the peculiar sensation of being converted into energy and back to matter. Gorn transporter technology made the process seem instantaneous. He blinked uncomfortably as he rematerialized in the transporter room aboard the I.K.S. Norgh'Iw.

    B'tor turned to the warrior who had asked Ssharki if he was afraid. "K'Mach, lung'e' Dor bIghHa'Daq," she ordered, which Ssharki correctly guessed was something along the lines of escort this lizard to the brig.

    "Move," K'Mach commanded, pushing Ssharki off the platform with his disruptor rifle.

    At least he has the courtesy to speak English, Ssharki thought. He followed K'Mach's prodding to the turbolift.

    "bIghHa'," the Klingon demanded. The door closed and the turbolift moved them through the ship.

    "Is this the famous Norgh'Iw?" Ssharki asked his captor.

    "Yes," K'Mach answered. "I'm sorry, how rude of me. Welcome aboard." The turbolift stopped and the door opened. "Left."

    Ssharki walked down a short corridor and entered the brig. There were eight cells. All empty. "I'm the only prisoner you took?"

    "You were the only one we were interested in," was the cryptic reply. K'Mach pointed him to the nearest cell. Ssharki entered and sat, and the forcefield went up. K'Mach departed. Ssharki wished he was still dreaming.

    * * *

    After an indeterminate length of time had passed, K'Mach returned. "Captain wants to see you."

    The forcefield dropped and Ssharki followed K'Mach back to the turbolift and up to the bridge.

    They found the Captain in the process of chewing out a junior officer. "Abraham Kovl puqloD, vavlI' quv Say'moHmeH nuj bIQ vIlo'chugh, nuj bIQ vIlammoH. naDevvo' yIghoS, SoH muS Qovpatlh Hu'tegh petaQ."

    The target of the Captain's wrath departed, shame-faced. It took Ssharki a few seconds to process what had been said to Abraham, son of Kovl, but once he put it together, he winced. If I use spit to clean your father's honor, I only dirty the spit. Now get of my sight, you... (insult, insult, curse, insult.)

    The Captain shook his head and snorted, and aimed his glare at K'Mach. "nuqneH?" he demanded (What do you want?)

    K'Mach indicated Ssharki and said "SoH tlhob qama'." (The prisoner you requested.)

    "Ah." The Captain looked Ssharki over and addressed him English. "I'm told you do not speak tlhIngan Hol, prisoner."

    "I do, but not well enough," Ssharki replied, "at least according to Commander B'tor. Anyway, I am Ssharki, and I presume you are Captain Dward?"

    Dward's eyes narrowed. "Have we met?"

    "No, sir, this is the first time I've had the honor. But I certainly know of you. You see, I served as an armory officer on the U.S.S. Tiburon during the Dominion War, and I had the profound pleasure of seeing your ship in action."

    Dward smiled. "You were on that Zilant-class we shot down, weren't you?"

    Ssharki nodded. "I was."

    "What was your function?"

    "First officer. My responsibilities included damage control, and leading boarding parties and landing teams."

    "What happened to your Captain?"

    "You killed him with your last torpedo."

    "Then he died with honor. He was a worthy opponent. I hope to see him in Sto'vo'kor." Dward glanced at his tactical display. "By destroying all of our capital ships, your Captain has promoted me to commander of the of the 113th attack wing."

    "DoS ghoS!" the ship's tactical officer reported.

    "What target?" Ssahrki wondered.

    "jIH!" Dward ordered, and the target they were approaching at high warp appeared onscreen.

    Ssharki recognized the type of ship immediately. "That's a Gorn cargo transport!"

    "Yes, and it is heading into Klingon space," Dward stated. "I was hoping you might have an explanation."

    Ssharki thought of one. "There were some Klingons living on the planet. Political refugees, mostly."

    "And so now they hope to return home, as if we would overlook their treason?" Dward turned to his tactical officer. "Hail them, Nodar. And activate the translator so I can stop talking like this."

    Nodar obeyed. "No response, sir."

    "Helm, bring us into position in front of them and match their speed. Nodar, activate the tractor beam once we are in position."

    "Aye, sir."

    The two ships dropped out of warp. Dward and Ssharki beamed over, accompanied by B'tor and K'Mach and several other assault troops. The passengers and crew were all herded into the converted cargo hold. Ssharki took a head count. Sixty-eight, all Klingons.

    "I must know," Dward began, addressing the refugees, "what thought was in your heads?"

    One of them spoke up. "We fled the Homeworld nearly twenty years ago, during Gowron's purge. We thought after so long, Martok would grant us amnesty."

    Dward shook his head. "For nearly two years, the Gorn have been our enemy. Yet you continued to live among them. You will find no amnesty, only a dishonorable death."

    The Klingon refugees did not take that news well. More than one wept openly, most made some sort of dismayed expression. Their spokesman only nodded with grim acceptance.

    Dward frowned. "I am sorry it must be this way. But the orders of the High Council were clear. Any Klingon we found living among the Gorn is to be considered a traitor and dealt with as such."

    "We understand," the refugee spokesman said. "Carry out your duty."

    Dward stood in silence as he weighed his options, then he turned to Ssharki and lowered his voice. "What was your name again?"

    "I am Ssharki, son of B'rassiln."

    "Ssharki, I know from the actions of the Tiburon and your last ship that you are valiant warrior. I have need of a damage control engineer, and I know you would be a great asset to my assault teams. I would welcome you to my crew, if you were to pledge and prove your loyalty to the Empire."

    Ssharki was so surprised he didn't know what to say at first. After a moment he asked "How would I prove my loyalty?"

    "You could start by executing these men."

    Ssharki looked over at the refugee spokesman. "That man is my bartender. He taught me what Klingon I know, and introduced me to bloodwine, gagh, mok'bara and opera. He is my friend and my brother."

    "Ssharki, if we take him to Qo'noS, he and those with him will be tried and executed for treason. Or worse, sent to Rura Penthe. There is no honor in such a death. But you are a Gorn officer, and this is a Gorn ship. You could execute them as enemy combatants, allowing them to die honorably. The Gorn conduct shipboard executions by spacing, do they not?"

    "Yes..."

    Dward nodded. "Quick, clean and painless. I've always admired you people for your practicality." He lowered his even further to nearly a whisper. "The alternative is to allow them to commit mass suicide, which would be very messy, and there may be one or more cowards in their midst who would refuse to take his own life. Or..." he looked Ssharki in the eyes "I return to my ship with my people, leaving you here with them. You 'escape' from us, forcing me to personally torpedo the ship. And then I have to live with the dishonor of having sent sixty-nine good people to their deaths."

    "You Klingons aren't the only ones who live by a code of honor," Ssharki grumbled.

    "I know I'm asking you to take their dishonor upon yourself," Dward stated, "and I know this would be difficult for you. And so I can think of no better way for you to demonstrate your allegiance to me."

    Ssharki stood very still for a long minute as he considered Dward's offer and the implications of his demand. Damn the Klingons and their sense of honor. My honor demands only that I take no life without a just reason. And that is exactly what I must do so that these mammals may preserve their honor... Can I work with these people, let alone pledge loyalty to them? When they are at war with my kind? He looked down at Captain Dward. "I could not kill a Gorn."

    Dward nodded. "I would not ask you to."

    "You are a fair and decent man," Ssharki decided. "Very well, I'll do it."

    "Thank you Ssharki," said the barteneder.

    Ssharki looked at him. "Die well, brother."

    Dward gave Ssharki his communicator. "Signal us when your task is complete."

    "Understood."

    Dward rejoined his warriors, who had witnessed the exchange in solemn silence. "Beam us up," B'tor said to her wrist.

    Ssharki watched them dematerialize in a red glow, then faced the refugees. "I am Commander Ssharki of the Gorn Defense Command," he announced, loudly enough for all to hear. "By taking this vessel into enemy territory with the intention of surrendering it to the Klingons, you have made yourselves enemies of the Gorn Hegemony. Since I am not able to take you back to Gornar as prisoners, I have no recourse but execution."

    Several refugees actually cheered at that. It turned Ssharki's stomach. He left the cargo bay, sealed the door behind him, and opened the cargo bay to space. There was a window in the door. He didn't look through it. He tapped the blinking button on the wriststrap he was holding. "It is done."
    * * *

    Ssharki rematerialized on the transporter pad, again blinking with discomfort. That will take some getting used to. He saw Cpt. Dward, LCdr. B'tor, and Lt. Nodar in the transporter room waiting for him, along with several other Klingons who were presumably the rest of the Norgh'Iw's senior staff.

    Ssharki knelt on the pad with his right fist on his chest and said "Captain Dward, I hereby pledge my allegiance to Emperor Kahless, to Chancellor Martok, to the Klingon people and to you. May success always find you!"

    Dward nodded and replied "Qapla'! Welcome to the crew of the Norgh'Iw, Ssharki HoHwI' batlhHa'."

    Ssharki looked up at that, recognizing the meaning of his epithet even before the universal translator converted the Klingon words to his language. The One Who Kills Without Honor.
    * * *

    Ssharki was given private quarters, a lieutenant's uniform, a disruptor auto-rifle, a bat'leth and orders to report to the bridge for duty at 0600 hours. The quarters were spartan; typical for a Klingon warship. There was a hard slab for a bed, a tall wardrobe for him to store his clothes, a replicator and a shelf set in a groove in the outer bulkhead. After arranging his few belongings, Ssharki replicated four candles, placed them on the shelf and lit them. The four candles represented the Four Sides of Life: Family, Honor, Service and Faith. Family. This was first and most important. I have no family. Not anymore. Ssharki extinguished that candle, and looked at the second. Honor. I am now "The One Who Kills Without Honor"... The candle went out. He eyed the third. Service. I have given myself over to the Klingons. I no longer serve my King. I have betrayed my service. He snuffed that one. The fourth and final candle represented Faith.

    Ssharki hadn't given a thought to his faith in a long time. He had been raised to believe that S'Yahazah the Egg Bringer held the destinies of all Gorn in her clutch. But in his travels he had encountered many different religions and reached the conclusion that none of them really had any answers. Nothing could explain the mysteries of the universe, certainly not some eternal mother-of-all who existed somewhere beyond space and time. But then, what else could? What else but divine intervention could bring me here? he wondered. He remembered a line from a passage of Human scripture he had once read. "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies... " I can either choose to believe that S'Yahazah prepared this table for me, or I can believe in Klingon compassion. He laughed at that thought. Without faith, I am no longer a Gorn. That is what it comes down to. But my faith is the one thing they can't take away from me...

    Ssharki backed away from the shelf, sat on the edge of his bed, and whispered a prayer to S'Yahazah that she would guide the spirits of Captain Leguaan, the Bartender and the rest of the refugees to Sto'vo'kor. And he watched the last candle burn.
    16d89073-5444-45ad-9053-45434ac9498f.png~original

    ...Oh, baby, you know, I've really got to leave you / Oh, I can hear it callin 'me / I said don't you hear it callin' me the way it used to do?...
    - Anne Bredon
  • marcusdkanemarcusdkane Member Posts: 7,439 Arc User
    edited April 2013
    Literary Challenge # 16: First Contact

    To Seek Out Strange New Worlds...

    Crossing the corridor T-junction on deck four, Ensign Todd Mitchell entered the computer core's main level. The area appeared deserted, and Mitchell's eyes were momentarily drawn to the top of the massive cylindrical processors.

    "Ensign Mitchell, can I help you with something?"

    Startled by the unexpected voice behind him, Mitchell spun, involuntarily flicking his wrist, and feeling the reassuring weight of his shank drop into his palm from within his sleeve. He found himself facing a Human lieutenant cradling a PADD to her chest, her dark brown eyes widening in surprise.

    "I'm sorry, Ensign, I didn't mean to startle you," she apologized, turning away from the wall panel completely. She made no reference to the shank as Mitchell replaced the improvised weapon in his sleeve, and repeated her question. "Can I help you with something?"

    "No, I'm sorry, Lieutenant-" Mitchell paused,

    "Claire," replied the dark haired officer.

    "Lieutenant Claire-"

    "Just Claire. The rank's only for show..."

    "Okay, well, I'm sorry Claire, I guess I've not quite gotten used to the fact that I don't need to watch my back all the time."

    Claire shrugged her slim shoulders and gave a placating smile.

    "That's quite alright, Ensign, you've had a considerable ordeal," she assured him. "What can I help you with?"

    "I was trying to do some research, but was having difficulty determining the best source, so thought I might have better luck here."

    "That's why I'm here," Claire replied, moving away from the wall panel and gesturing around.

    "Are you the ship's archivist?" Mitchell enquired.

    "In a manner of speaking," Claire replied. She ran her fingers over a desktop interface, and it sprang to life beneath her touch. "What were you trying to research?"

    "The Ahd'r and the ambassador," Mitchell began. "I wanted to learn more about their culture..."

    "In that case, I'd suggest reading Garth's original first contact report," Claire replied. "Almost all reference texts on Pentaxia just copy from it anyway, you might as well go to the original source."

    Mitchell's dark brows drew together.

    "Garth of Izar? Didn't he go mad?"

    "Fleet Captain Garth did not 'go mad', he came to suffer mental instability having been given the ability of cellular metamorphosis," Claire replied rather stiffly. "The Human body, the Human mind, is not meant to be arbitrarily re-organized in such a manner. Human beings are not Founders -- is it any wonder his neural pathways became conflicted? Before his illness, Garth was one of Starfleet's greatest explorers, and to be honest, makes James Kirk look like an incompetent farm-hand by comparison. His exploits were not made required reading for no reason, Ensign."

    "I... I guess I never considered that perspective," Mitchell admitted. "May I read the file?"

    "All set up for you," Claire replied, gesturing to the desk, and encouraging Mitchell to sit. "If you need anything else, just ask."

    "Yes, ma'- I mean, thank you, Claire," he said, sitting at the desk and lowering his gaze to the cerulean text.

    Captain's Log, stardate 3629: Fleet Captain Kelvar Garth, Commanding Officer USS Heisenberg recording.
    Following sensor contact with an unanticipated warp signature near Talarian space, we have spent the past week in orbit of the planet Pentaxia, enjoying the hospitality of the planet while engaging in a cultural exchange with the Emperor. Before providing my sociological review, I must report the loss of a crew member. While attending a diplomatic feast held to commemorate the introduction of our peoples, Lieutenant Christopher Byron accepted a glass of k'lrr liqueur which, unbeknownst to him, contained enough alcohol to kill a horse, and succumbed to alcohol poisoning within minutes. It is never easy to lose a member of one's crew, but if it is of any condolence to the Lieutenant's family, his death was, if not painless, mercifully swift, and not at the hands of an enemy. My findings on the Pentaxian Dynasty are as follows:
    Planet
    Pentaxia is the fourth planet in a binary system, and almost three times as massive as the Earth. According to the size of the planet, Pentaxia's gravity is approximately three times greater than Earth normal. It falls within the upper limits for a minshara class world, with average daytime temperatures of sixty celcius, rivaling those of Vulcan, and has a comparably thin atmosphere. Although tolerable in relaxed circumstances, use of tri-ox compound is recommended for extended periods or in instances of strenuous activity. Thirty percent of the planet's surface is covered by oceans, with much of the landmass comprising deserts and canyons. Pentaxia has no moons. At night, pitch blackness is prevented by deposits of a luminous mineral called sh'rsi'te, which creates a twilight-effect similar to when using nightvision equipment. In addition to the Pentaxian people, another form of life exists on Pentaxia, which could be considered as the top of the food chain. Humanoid in appearance, and appearing to exist extra-dimensionally, these creatures are refered to as d'v'ash't'ya --hungry spirits-- and they feed by draining all neural energy from their victim. They appear randomly without warning at any time anywhere on the planet, and have plagued the Pentaxian people throughout their recorded history.
    Biology
    Externally, Pentaxians and Humans are virtually indistinguishable. A minor difference in the shaping of forehead and temple areas is noticeable upon close examination, but not noticeable enough to draw immediate attention in passing. What is immediately noticeable, is that instead of clear, flat fingernails, Pentaxian fingernails are a milky white, feature a bifurcating tented ridge, and grow to a natural point. Controlled by a voluntary muscle, these claws are consciously extendable and rather than keratin, are formed from extremely dense chitin, making formidable natural weapons. While they do not grow continually, they will re-grow if torn from the nail bed. Unlike humanity, which comprises a multitude of ethnicities, all Pentaxians are of homogenous appearance, closely resembling Scandinavian Caucasians, with pale blonde hair and vibrant purple eyes. These eyes feature a tapetum, allowing near perfect vision in almost complete darkness, and also a set of dark nictitating membranes to protect the sensitive structures from the almost blinding daylight.
    Internally, Humans and Pentaxians are radically different. Their cardiovascular system is considerably more complex, featuring two independent circulatory systems, one for each side of the body. Rather than a chambered heart, the 'heart' of the Pentaxian circulatory systems are a mirrored-trio of muscular cardiac tubes which occupy space in the chest cavity behind, beside, and in-front of a pair of highly efficient lungs. Unlike the breathlessness experienced by many species during a cardiac arrest, with Pentaxians, the drop of pressure in the cardiac tubes enables the lungs to over-work, and deep, rapid breathing is observable. Injury or failure to one set of tubes while not necessarily fatal, would be catastrophically incapacitating to the individual, as one side of their body would essentially shut down. With fourteen vertebrae, Pentaxians have forty six ribs, arranged in a double-layered rib-cage, with the secondary ribs occupying the space behind the intercostal muscles of the primary ribs, forming a near impenetrable barrier to shield the cardiac tubes. The cardiac tubes feed into an organ called the sh'an, where a Human's liver would be, which saturates the blood stream with compounds, which, activated by the high core temperature, makes the resulting mix a powerful acid. Unlike the kidneys of other species which filter, these acidic compounds actively purify the bloodstream in the vein. Cellular enzymes protect Pentaxians from the acidity of their own blood and the blood of others. Even though spilled Pentaxian blood is as corrosive as sulfuric acid, it rapidly becomes inert as it cools. Pentaxian blood is magenta in color. In order to maintain a consistently high core temperature, averaging forty nine degrees celcius, in response to cold conditions, or while sleeping, where the body temperature naturally lowers, Pentaxians will secrete a light, clear fluid which is high in lipids, and retains much of the body's warmth. While not truly the same as a Human's 'cold sweat', the Pentaxian word 'h'vae' essentially translates as such, with production increasing in keeping with the drop in temperature. Although odorless, this fluid does not evaporate, so can become unsightly if allowed to accumulate, meaning Pentaxians will bathe periodically throughout the day, much like the Islamic practices of ritual bathing. While comfortable in warmer climates than Humans, Pentaxians are capable of tolerating much colder temperatures, with a survival range comparable with Andorians at one end, and Vulcans at the other. Pentaxians have a layer of involuntary muscle across the shoulders, neck and scalp, and when angered, the contraction of this layer causes their hair to raise in a threat display. Considered a 'loose' erogenous zone, with the exception of immediate family or very close friends, to touch this area uninvited, would receive the same reaction as to touch the genitals uninvited. More densely packed than Human hair, Pentaxian hair is softer to the touch, much like the fur of a Terran Persian cat, and grows constantly throughout the individual's lifetime. While Pentaxian males are capable of growing facial hair, both sexes are otherwise hairless from the neck down, as their h'vae provides sufficient insulation.
    Although essentially mammalian in biology, a further divergence from mammalian norm is that females do not bear live young. During the initial gestation, the placental wall forms into a tough, leathery egg, which is delivered at six months, and then allowed to develop for a further four months, before the child tears through the egg with its claws, once all internal yolk has been depleted. After delivery of the egg, it is traditional for parents to tattoo the egg with proverbs, blessings and other words of wisdom which they wish to impart to their child. Males and females both develop at a comparable physical rate to Humans, with a similar life expectancy of around a hundred years, although cognitively, they develop slightly more rapidly, with a five year comparative variance. A thirteen year old Pentaxian, will have the emotional and intellectual capacity of a Human of eighteen years. While Pentaxians reach sexual maturity around thirteen years of age, they are not considered to have reached adulthood until they are twenty. The average height for a Pentaxian female is five feet ten inches, with males averaging six feet four inches.
    Culture
    A proud and noble people, honor, trust and generosity are of immense importance to the Pentaxians. Open and free with their hospitality, Pentaxians will extend considerable friendship even to a complete stranger, not expecting a favor to be repaid. However, if betrayed, their wrath is equally potent, and a legitimate grudge will be carried for years, if not to the grave. Constantly carrying short swords, Pentaxian males maintain a dueling culture, but they, nor females, should in no way be compared to the aggressive raucousness of Klingon society. Instead, their behavior is more analogous to that of Andorians: Calm, observant and restrained, until they lose their tempers, when they become capable of explosive violence which makes Klingons appear placid by comparison. Duels are always fought to the death, and will not result in prosecution of the victor. To die in a duel, like the Andorian ushaan, is legally considered suicide. Equally, suicide is a surprisingly common occurrence in matters of personal disgrace, and considered an unquestionable manner of restoring the honor of one's reputation, as it involves taking full personal responsibility for the offense or infraction. Thus to be executed and to have that responsibility over-ruled and negated, is a terrible shame. To touch or attempt to steal a Pentaxian male's sword carries the same cultural impact as to grope a female stranger's genitals, and is considered grounds for assault. For less severe personal infractions, a person will place themselves at the service of the injured party, until they are able to think of the person without immediately recalling the offensive act. Dating back to the Pentaxian middle ages, is the custom of j'sh'an ha'lock, which means to save the life of another, literally means to own that persons life for the remainder of their natural life. Unlike similarly analogous customs in other cultures, where if the favor is returned, ownership is revoked, in Pentaxian culture, those people will then own each other's lives, and will be considered j'laa (beloved) to each other, and thus considered inseparably bonded as brothers, sisters or spouses. In feudal times, this was a way of securing loyal allies, as the acts which typically involve the saving of a life, tend to engender an imprinting as with a typical mating bond. Like the times of ancient Greece, Pentaxian sexuality does not distinguish between gender, and a person may experience a multitude of sexual responses over the course of their lives without stigma or judgement from their family or peers. In addition to the almost 'arranged' marriages of j'sh'an ha'lock, Pentaxians permanently imprint future mates, frequently at twelve or thirteen years of age, often based on a first impression, much like an animal will imprint on its parent. Divorce is almost unheard of, except in cases of abuse or depravity. Similarly, due to the intense nature of imprinting, infidelity is essentially unknown. Paradoxically, Pentaxians historically practiced plural marriage. During the middle ages, it would not be uncommon for an individual to be bonded to several others via j'sh'an ha'lock, even if they were not necessarily emotionally imprinted. In such situations, the initial spouse is considered Prime, taking seniority in the relationship over the others, with subsequent spouses being considered to be their bonded brothers and sisters. In modern times, with less feudal activity to invoke tradition, plural marriage is considerably less frequent, but still legally binding, and indeed, some family units function upon this template. Once imprinted, a couple will remain bonded until death, at which time, the bereaved will ritually shave their head in mourning, and shave it daily for each day of the relationship. To approach a male or female undertaking the g't'lla ritual amorously would be considered one of the grossest breaches of social etiquette, and would essentially require the offender to make amends by taking their life. While permanently removing them self from the social circle of the wounded party would suitably satisfy honor, should the person's reason for relocation ever be discovered, they would still be considered a social pariah and would be similarly shunned by that new social circle, so suicide would still be preferable to enduring a lifetime of universal subterfuge and contempt. Even after the period of mourning has passed, the widowed party will still refer to themselves as bonded, and is almost certain to not take another mate for the rest of their life.
    Pentaxian funerary rites involve placing the deceased upon their back upon a pyre with their worldly possessions. When the pyre burns out, attending family and friends, beginning with a mate, then parents, then children, are to select a surviving item, which they must then incorporate into their daily life as a way of remembering the deceased.
    Pentaxians habitually live in multi-generational homes, and one of the most social events are meal times. To pass negative comment on the food presented is considered to be hugely ungrateful and an insult to the hospitality of the host, and is perceived as an implication of an intent to poison. While such behavior may be grudgingly tolerated from a family member, in a guest, it would almost certainly sever a friendship or business relationship, as implication of the intent to kill by subterfuge is literally the most grievous insult possible to a Pentaxian's honor, and even hired assassins will introduce themselves to their targets, giving them forewarning of their purpose. While most Pentaxian foods are delicious, many are not easily tolerable to the Human digestive system, and some are quite simply toxic and to be avoided entirely.
    While not a religious people, Pentaxians show a reverence to departed family members and loved ones, and any dream or vision of the departed is to be unconditionally believed and considered a cherished experience, rather than one to be feared and disturbed by. It must be noted that in sufficient quantities, the luminous mineral sh'rsi'te, which is kept in carved forms in all Pentaxian homes as night lights, observably interferes with electronic mediums, and may similarly impact on the bio-electrical processes of neurological activity.
    Pentaxian Creation myths are scarce, and refers to their earliest ancestors as 'the crafted hunters'. Whether this refers to a tribal culture which participated in handicrafts, or refers to a deliberately bio-engineered species, is unclear, and attempts to discuss this with the Emperor were disregarded as irrelevances.
    Artists of any medium are always encouraged, with music and song being the most accessible. To Human observers, Pentaxian opera seems to contain vast sections of silence, but in reality, these segments contain notes sung both above and below the range of Human hearing. Even the most vocally untrained Pentaxian can hit a note capable of shattering glass without effort.
    The Pentaxian language is written in flowing text known as spyroglyphs which is read from top to bottom, and left to right, with a ninety three character alphabet. When transliterated into English, many letters are substituted with apostrophes, thus it would take a native understanding of the words and sentence structure to correctly identify the intended vowels. When spoken, the Pentaxian language creates an accent like that of Humans from Australia. Containing many complex vowels which are simply not present in any Human language, Pentaxian is a difficult language for Humans to converse in, with maybe only a dozen words which can be easily pronounced by the novice student. Additionally, given the difference in vocal range between Humans and Pentaxians, certain modes of speech, which employ different tones, will always be impossible for the unassisted Human speaker, so although they would be capable of making themself understood in the mid-registers, certain elements of subtlety and nuances of meaning will always elude their speech.
    Society
    Comprising the homeworld and a dozen off-world colonies, the Pentaxian Dynasty is a monarchy of succession by bloodline. The Imperial family maintains an advisory parliament, although ultimate power resides solely with the reigning Emperor or Empress, and is determined by genetic succession. The Dynasty operates on the basis of a caste system. At the first signs of sexual maturity, typically in their thirteenth year, a youth is expected to show an interest in a particular caste, and make the necessary devotions and allegiance. While it is common for a youth to enter into the same caste as their parents, it is not an inherited obligation and is a free choice. Equally, if later in life someone feels the calling of another caste, if the calling is true, their conversion is to be accepted. The castes are broken down thus:

    h'lL'r - The academics, creators and planners of society. In Human terms, these would be considered the educators, the executives, and the political.

    c'r'nai - Essentially the working masses of the Dynasty, who may undertake any number of occupations or employment.

    v'nai - Members of this caste are often considered 'untouchable' by others, as they work with filth and the dead. They perform the most menial, but utterly essential, of tasks, so are afforded the solitude of their occupations.

    Sh'nN'rr - In addition to the caste system, there also exists a sub-caste which consists of the Noble Houses. These are statuses and titles, and can only be born into, adopted into, married into, or confirmed by imperial appointment. Houses will support a number of occupations and workers, allowing the Sh'nN'rr to pursue individual interests. If one commits a grave dishonor, such as by treason, the house will be thus marked, until action by another member merits the dis-commendation to be lifted. Even if one's house is dishonored, one still retains the titles of rank, as a reminder of how far one has fallen from the position of privilege and an incentive to restore one's honor in some way.

    Pentaxian naming conventions are relatively easy to follow. At birth, each child is given a name by their parents, and it is common for a child to be named after an ancestor, albeit with the name modified to avoid confusion between individuals of different generations with the same name. A Pentaxian child also inherits their family or house name. Upon entering a caste, or if born into a noble house, the individual will adopt that name as their second name, and in daily address, that will then substitute for their family name. If an individual enters into the service of a noble house, they will assume that family name, at the loss of their own family name, with their middle name serving as a clarification to others between employer and employee, although the employee would legally be considered a family member, rather than a mere servant. As a point of note, the sub-caste term Sh'nN'rr is a gender-neutral title, equivalent to the English titles of Lord and Lady, but conveying a social status, or peerage, more akin to the title Sir, as conveyed on a knight of the realm. The root form sh' meaning 'that which shines'. For one of lower social class to not address one of noble birth by both their birth and honorific names, while not necessarily a dueling offence, is certainly considered an unacceptable discourtesy.

    All Pentaxians, both male and female, are required to serve five years of National Service in the militia, from the ages of eighteen to twenty three. Following this period, the individual may either chose to remain in the militia as a potential career officer, or retire to civilian life with training relevant to their chosen caste, so they can contribute their skills productively. While the caste system is acknowledge by the militia, it is not a contributory factor as on many worlds. For example, a member of the h'lL'r would not automatically find themselves fast-tracked to officer training, and equally, a member of the v'nai would be capable of eventually achieving the command rank of Ahd'r should they display the necessary aptitudes and commitment to a career in the militia. The only level of the militia which is not open to all members, is the A'nla sh'ck: the elite shock troops of the militia. Like the position of the Sh'nN'rr, the A'nla sh'ck are literally born into the role: Created via gene-splicing techniques, these artificially inseminated and gestated beings are created from samples taken from Pentaxia's greatest female athletes, and subjected to advanced critical neural pathway formation therapy during development to create reactions, strength and stamina nearly treble that of the most conditioned Pentaxian athlete, heightened cognitive function and intellectual capacity, and trained to kill from infancy. Despite their superior capabilities, these specimens remain controllable, as they are subliminally conditioned to defer to the highest authority present, and to follow any legitimate order. As an additional layer of control, civilians are imprinted to be considered a greater authority than a military officer, and a member of the A'nla sh'ck separated from their unit in a residential area poses absolutely no threat to any civilian. In an incident where members from a militia platoon became intoxicated and engaged in a brawl with a civilian, the A'nla sh'ck officer present killed their fellow platoon members in defense of the civilian.
    An athletic and martial games is held annually, which is open to all who wish to compete. The Pentaxian martial art ka'l'n'ra could best be described as a blend of capoeira and krav maga, and is both beautiful and horrifying to witness, for both its flowing elegance, and focused brutality.
    Technology
    Technologically, the Pentaxian Dynasty is in every sense the equal of the Federation, with a warp capable space fleet and equipment capable of gravity manipulation. Planetary travel mainly consists of atmospheric flyers and monorails rather than transporters, although there some individuals who collect and race vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. In terms of medicine and genetics, however, Pentaxia far exceeds Federation capability. The procedures used on Earth to create the Augments have long been perfected, although they are only used by the military. A less aggressive form of genetic manipulation, translated as 'parthenogenesis', is frequently used by single women who wish to bear children, but who do not wish to have a husband. The technique involves fertilizing an ovum with its own DNA. While not dissimilar in initial concept to cloning, the resultant off-spring will not be an identical replica of the genetic donor. As when a male and female couple conceive, the same DNA is randomly mixed, resulting in siblings with different, if similar features, and of course, different genders. With parthenogenic fertilization, the existing DNA is re-mixed, so results in different traits to the genetic donor, who is legally considered the child's parent. One aspect of Pentaxian technology which is incongruous to other levels of development, although understandable, is that they have never developed artificial lighting. Even the interiors of their vessels are illuminated by mounted sh'rsi'te lamps.

    Sitting back and looking up, Mitchell realized that he was alone in the computer core, although he did not recall hearing the sound of the doors opening. With a shrug, he picked up a PADD which was lying on the desk and typed Thanks, before standing and leaving the room.
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  • sander233sander233 Member Posts: 3,992 Arc User
    edited April 2013
    Into the night
    Desperate and broken
    The sound of a fight
    Father has spoken...

    Into your eyes
    Hopeless and taken
    We stole our new lives
    Through blood and pain
    In defense of our dreams...

    The age of man is over
    A darkness comes at dawn
    These lessons that we've learned here
    Have only just begun

    We were the kings and queens of promise
    We were the victims of ourselves
    Maybe the children of a lesser god
    Between heaven and hell...


    Jared Leto of 30 Seconds to Mars - "Kings and Queens"




    THE VICTIM


    On the outskirts of Tzoryp, on planet Seudath - Stardate 76859.70 (2399.11.06, 1748 local time)

    Sway sprinted down the ringorb court, balancing the rubber-coated ball on the back of his left hand. Srenor blocked his path and tried to swat the ball away, but Sway skidded to a stop and flicked the ball to his right hand. Gripping the sphere with his claws, he leaned back away from his Selay friend, who was trying to reach for the orb without touching Sway and drawing a stationary foul. When Sway could reach no further, he rolled the ball onto the back of his wrist and spun away to get his feet under him. Srenor stepped up, but Sway twisted in the other direction to squeeze between his friend and the wall of the court and fired the ball at his target. The orb sailed through the red ring, turning it blue, and an electronic buzzer sounded.

    "Ha! That's five-one, Srenor!" Sway exclaimed.

    Srenor looked around the court as she retrieved the ball and saw that her Gorn friend was right. Only Srenor's home ring remained red. "It's no fair!" she complained. "Your hands are bigger than mine and you have more fingers!"

    "So? You're a good quarter-meter taller," Sway pointed out. The two children, though roughly at the same stage of development were very different in age as well as height. Srenor was six standard years old. Sway was eleven. Both were the equivalent of a Human eight-year-old. They had been the same size when Srenor's family first arrived on Seudath two years ago. Tzoryp was a Gorn freeport, much like Y'Threzz on the Gorn continent of Cestus III. Alien merchants and traders were welcome here. Srenor's parents imported Tholian silk and crystalline ornaments.

    Sway and both of his parents were from the Soldier caste. Sway's mother was named R'kssathln and his father was Royrork. They were both over three centuries old, and retired from service in the Gorn Defense Command. Thirteen years ago they had resettled on the exotic freeport colony world of Seudath with its warm and windy climate. Royrork took an administration job with the Tzoryp police force to supplement their pensions while R'kssathln put their new home in order. Life was almost too comfortable for the retired soldiers, and so they decided to raise another child.

    Sway hatched twenty-eight months later into a world very different from the one where his egg was laid. While he was incubating, the Klingons had attacked and seized the Gila IV colony. Royrork and R'kssathln had five other children. One was the chief of the colonial militia on Gila IV. Another was the commander of a Vishap-class frigate assigned to the system's defense. Both had been killed. The other three immediately put in for transfers to the Seudath system, to protect their parents' home.

    A cold war followed, occasionally flaring up in violent confrontations such as the Gorn attempt to take the strategic Gamma Orionis system, but life remained fairly peaceful on Seudath. The Gorn Defense Command maintained a strong fleet presence in orbit, since the planet was so close to the Klingon border. Klingons and Orions living on the planet were placed under a curfew and were restricted from accessing any military facility or vital infrastructure without a Gorn escort. Nausicaans traders had always been coming and going around Tzoryp, but after the Gorn Hegemony formed an alliance with them they were suddenly everywhere, and they were picking fights with Klingons, Orions, and even Humans and other unaligned species.

    Sway grew up unaware that this was not how life was supposed to be. But the war didn't affect him directly, so he didn't pay much attention to anything. As long as he was going to the best school on the planet, and as long as the fleet kept the ridge-headed mammals away, what did he care? So what if the mammals were beating each other up in the streets. They were savages - his teacher said so. It was in their nature to fight for no good reason. It didn't matter to him. Until today...

    "Sway!" his mother called. "Come inside! Srenor, run along home!"

    "Aw, ma," Sway whined. "I've almost beat her, for the first time in like forever-"

    "Now, Sway."

    No threats about the "Great Father" gobbling me up? Sway thought. Either she's figured out I've outgrown that crazy story, or she's not that serious. "Just five more minut-"

    "S'fwyrnamokaarn!" his father shouted, using all five syllables of his full name.

    Uh-oh, Sway thought. They're serious.

    "Get your hide in the house this instant!"

    Sway flashed his friend an apologetic look and obeyed, scrambling off the court without saying a word.

    "Srenor, you go to your house as fast as you can," Royrork ordered. "And tell your parents I said to take shelter!"

    "Okay, sir." The Selay girl sprinted across the sand to her dwelling.

    Sway reached his family's shrine room to find his parents checking over their antique disruptor blast weapons and strapping on belts loaded with grenades. He had never even seen these weapons before, but he recognized them for what they were. And they scared him. "What's going on?" he asked, in a frightened squeak.

    "Klingons," his father growled. "Made a sneak attack on the dockyards on the far side of the planet. The fleet responded, flew straight into an ambush." Royrork looked skyward, inhaled deeply through his nostrils, and let out his breath through his teeth. "They're all dead."

    "You don't know that, Roy," R'kssathln protested. "They could've made it to the escape pods, and-"

    "The Klinks use escape pods for target practice," Royrork interrupted. "And even if they made it planetside, the Klinks are landing troops all over the surface. If they're not dead, they soon will be."

    Sway glanced at the holo images of his siblings that rested on a shelf, interspersed with four burning candles. Two had died before he was hatched, but the others all visited as often as their duties allowed. They youngest of them was older than he was by a hundred and sixty years, and she had grandchildren of her own. But he loved them dearly. He had to. They were his family... He suddenly burned with anger. The Klingons have killed my family...

    "All that matters now is protecting Sway," his father concluded.

    "Alright," his mother agreed. "If you take defilade in the ringorb court and cover the road heading north, I'll watch the road from the city."

    "You're the infantry tactics expert," Royrork said. He made his way to the door, and checked his old Federation-issue tricorder for Klingon lifesigns.

    "Can't I help?" Sway asked.

    "No, Sway," his mother replied.

    "But I could watch father's tricorder, while you-"

    "Sway!" his father snapped his jaws. "You will go to the sleeping chamber and hide there until this is over." And with that he took off for the ringorb court, his 400kg body disappearing in a green scaly blur.

    "But-" Sway started to protest.

    "Father has spoken," his mother hissed. "You will obey father."

    "Yes, mother."

    She ran out the door, her even more massive body moving just as fast as her husband's.

    Sway went to the bedroom and burrowed under the thermal covers on his parent's mattress. Super not fair. I'm bred to be a Soldier like they are. I've been learning battle tactics. I'm at the top of my class in pistol marksmanship, with either hand! I could help them kill those marauding ridge-head bastar-

    Sway's world exploded. There was light and noise and a hot rush of wind and everything went spinning and he wound up pinned to the ground with something heavy on his back. It took him a few seconds to figure out the heavy thing was the mattress. He tried to wriggle out from under it, but stopped when he saw the evening sky. Then the sky disappeared. A ship was landing outside. A Klingon heavy bird-of-prey, Hegh'ta-class. Sway had completely memorized the starship recognition guide, and he wasn't even supposed to start learning that for another year.

    A voice spoke. "I am Captain V'rengh of the Imperial Klingon warship HeH'gonDoq" The voice was everywhere. Sway could feel it in his bones. It must have been coming from loudspeakers on the ship. "My men are searching the area for survivors. Surrender, and you will be treated well. But if we have to find you, things will not go well for you."

    Sway wasn't sure what HeH meant but he knew gonDoq was the Klingon word for razor. That ship sounded dangerous. He would stay right where he was. After a minute he could overhear Klingons talking. They were close. They had their universal translators on, presumably so their prisoners would understand them. "I've got a big dead lizard over here, Captain" one shouted. "Looks like she's... no, wait, here's another one. Looks like a male. Big old fellow. Almost as big as his mate."

    "Make certain they are dead, Talor," the voice of Captain V'rengh replied, much less loud this time. "Gorn are extremely dangerous when injured. Especially if they are protecting family."

    "Understood, sir."

    Sway heard a disruptor bolt being fired, and a few seconds later another one. He muffled his mouth with thermal covers and silently screamed.

    "Hey, sir?" someone else called. A female voice.

    "What do you want, T'nemen?"

    "I found some live lizards in this house here, sir. They don't look like Gorn. They say they're Selay. What should I do with them?"

    "Bring them to the brig, Lieutenant. One reptile's as good as another as far as the Orions are concerned."

    "Aye, sir."

    "Got a lifesign here sir," the first Klingon called. "In that pile of debris there. Cold-blooded. Kind of faint."

    "I'll check it out."

    The mattress was pulled off Sway's back. He rolled over and looked up, opened his mouth and hissed, and raised his claws to defend himself.

    Captain V'rengh almost burst out laughing. "Look it this scrawny little thing! I wouldn't feed this to my warrigul."

    The Klingon called Talor who had shot Sway's parents walked up, tricorder in one hand and disruptor pistol in the other. "Shall I dispatch it, sir?"

    "Nah, save your power cell. It's no threat. There's no honor in killing such pitiful, defenseless little creature."

    "That's it sir!" Lt. T'nemen reported. "No more survivors in this area."

    "Very well. We move on. I want to cover as much ground as possible before Brigadier Klag gets here to set up the occupation zone."

    Another ear-splitting voice came from the parked bird-of-prey. "V'rengh!" A woman's voice, not using the U.T., and she sounded mad. "mo'Dajvo' pa'wIjDaq je narghpu' He'So'bogh SajlIj!" The Klingons' communicators translated after a moment. "Your stinking pet has escaped from its cage and appeared in my quarters!"

    "Ghuy'cha', my wife," V'rengh muttered.

    "I told you it would be bad luck to bring her along, sir," Talor said.

    "It would be far worse not too..." the Klingons boarded their ship, and it took off and went after another settlement.

    Sway stood up and walked out to the road. He saw his father's feet sticking up over the edge of the ringorb court. His mother was in a heap in the road behind an overturned hover car. He ran to her side. She was clearly dead. The disruptor had burned a hole right through her head. Sway nestled himself next to her body. And he laid there crying without tears all through the night. And the night after. And many nights after that...


    Klingon Military Academy - Stardate 80671.32 (2403.09.02, 0658 local time)

    Lt. S'stas looked over her desk at the diminutive, malnourished youth she'd been asked to process. "You can't possibly be over fourteen."

    "I'm fifteen, ma'am," Sway said. "In standard years, anyway."

    The Gorn female sighed. Fifteen - that made him legally an adult, as far as the Klingons were concerned, and therefore eligible for conscription. Nevermind that the Gorn don't reach maturity until twenty-four standard years of age on average. She looked over the records again, sent by the Klingon occupational governor's office on Seudath. S'fwyrnamokaarn, born SD 65669.32, parents deceased. She leaned back, scratched her cheek and sighed again. Fifteen and a day. Perfect timing, you filthy mammals. "What happened to your parents?"

    "Murdered by the Klinks when they took the planet."

    "You'd better not call them that," she told him. "You work for the Klingons now." The assignment officer looked for another loophole. "Any brothers or sisters?"

    "Also killed. Some were in the fleet at Seudath. Others died at Gila IV before I was born."

    Damn "Why'd they send you here, instead of a Gorn infantry unit?"

    "I guess they thought I was officer material," Sway mumbled.

    S'stas could see their point. The orphanage school had continued his caste-specific education. The boy's test scores were unbelievably high for strategic thinking, tactical analysis and small-unit command. His rifle marksmanship scores were subpar - S'stas couldn't even imagine the child holding a rifle butt up to his tiny shoulder - but his pistol skills were exceptional. He also possessed a perfect eidetic memory - not uncommon among the Gorn species but rare enough amongst the Klingons and the rest of their allies. Well, he'll probably be safer as an officer on a ship than he would be in front-line infantry, assuming the animals here don't tear him apart. She poked at her screen for a minute and announced sadly "Congratulations, Bekk Sway. You are now enrolled in the prestigious Klingon Military Academy."

    Sway matched her glum tone. "Thanks."

    She read the speech that scrolled across her screen without any enthusiasm. "The next two years will be difficult. But should you endure, you will prove that you have the heart of the warrior. You will be respected by your peers, and feared by your enemies." She managed to work up some energy to deliver the last word of encouragement, because Sway would need all of the success he could get. "Qapla'!"

    For a second, Sway's face formed... not quite a smile, but at least a smirk, as he tapped his right fist to his chest and repeated the word. "Qapla'." He looked around the Academy command center. It was full of Klingon officers - and the odd Orion here and there - all sharing jokes, laughing and carousing as they went about their business. They were all dressed in dark-colored leather or fur and had uncomfortable-looking pieces of metal strapped to their bodies. They moved with the unmistakable swagger of the victor. They killed my family, the boy thought. And now they want to make me one of them.

    S'stas leaned over her desk. "Listen. I've been working for the Klingons for a while now. I defected after Seudath fell; I could see which way the wind was blowing, and I put myself on the upwind side before anyone could put a disruptor to my head." She saw Sway wince at that phrase, and she hesitated, but then went on. "I've gotten to know the Klingons. I know they're rough and tough and rude and crude because they have to be. If you want to survive, you have to be just as mean as they are. You understand, kid?"

    Sway nodded.

    S'stas keyed her screen again. "I've added plenty of replicator credits to your account. It's linked to your retinal scan. Go see Master-at-Arms Torgo at the shooting range across the grounds past the calisthenics platforms. You'll need to requisition a target pistol, a d'k tahg, and a bat- hmm." A bat'leth stood on its point would be taller than the young Gorn. "Make that a mek'leth. Then see the uniform tailor on the other side of the statue of Kahless. From there, the barracks are just down the hill, on either side of the gate."

    "Okay. Thank you, ma'am." Sway departed, wriggling through the crowd of Klingon bodies.

    Poor thing, S'stas thought. I almost hope someone just stabs him and gets it over with quick.


    That night

    Sway's head slammed crest-first into the massive pedestal supporting the great statue of Kahless the Unforgettable. The Gorn pulled his face from the mud, grimacing in pain. Even though his head-spines would not grow in for several years, the crest was nonetheless an extremely sensitive part of the Gorn anatomy, especially for young males. He flashed a glare skyward at the face of the statue, and then back at the four laughing Bekks who'd thrown him there. And their Klingon drill sergeant, who was laughing hardest of all.

    "C'mon, get up, lizard boy," Master Sergeant Rejets called.

    "Nah, let him sleep there," a Klingon called J'ngav suggested.

    "What, in front of the statue of the Great Kahless?" another Klingon male, Magh'nt argued. "are you kidding me? Let him sleep with the targs."

    "Just as long as he doesn't come tracking mud back in the barracks," said an Orion by the name of Sechukr. He went back inside, passing two female bekks who had come out to watch.

    Another Orion male, Ciraybe, laughed as he followed his friend. "I think the mud would actually cover up his lizard stink..."

    It started raining again. The laughing Klingons went back inside before they could get wet. S'Yahazah forbid you should be exposed to anything resembling a shower, Sway thought, as he staggered to his feet, and let the cold rain rinse off his body.

    "Get back inside, boy," Sgt. Rejets ordered from the doorway. "Or don't. It's not like I give half a bok-rat's TRIBBLE."

    Sway watched the rest of his Academy unit go indoors. He didn't want to follow. But the rain was so cold... He could hear laughter inside. They can hurt me all they want, Sway thought, but they will not laugh at me. He walked back to his barracks and went inside. The other bekks stopped laughing. Sway ignored them as he stood in the doorway, dripping and shivering, but he feel them glaring at him. He could feel their hate. And it felt... good. He went to his bed, or the slab the Klingons called a bed. He pushed the heavy block of metal closer to the fire in the middle of the room. It made an unpleasant screeching noise. He removed his belt with its ridiculous uniform loincloth, rolled it into a pillow and laid down on his side, facing the fire.

    "Qajay, lizard?"

    Sway turned his head just enough to see who was swearing at him. It was J'ngav, the Klingon who was apparently the alpha of this pack of mammals he'd thrown to. "What do you want?"

    "Can't you take a guess? We don't want you here."

    "Believe me, I don't want to be here either," Sway muttered. He turned away and shifted his shoulders. "Yet here I am." He felt the Klingon's hand seize his neck. He reacted with blinding speed, scratching J'ngav's face with his claws and kicking him the chest.

    "You Hu'tegh petaQ!" J'ngav drew his d'k tagh and snapped open its secondary blades. "I'll have your hide for nIvnavmey!"

    Sway bared his teeth and hissed back.

    "Hey!" Sgt. Rejets shouted from across the room. "No fighting in the barracks, remember? That's why I had you throw him out in the first place."

    "Can I throw him out again?" J'ngav asked.

    Rejets checked the time. "Too late. It's after curfew."

    J'ngav closed his d'k tagh and returned it to his belt. "Tomorrow, lizard, your qIv is mine."

    Sway stared at the fire as J'ngav went back to his own bed. Sway smiled a little, imagining how ridiculous the Klingon would look wearing Gorn-skin pajamas.


    The next morning

    After reverie, uniform inspection, breakfast and kitchen duty came the morning calisthenics drill. Sgt. Rejets led his unit out to the platforms in the middle of the grounds. Other bekks were already on some of the platforms, swinging away at each other with bat'leths. Sway was expecting to exercise, but apparently the Klingons defined calisthenics differently than most other species. Master-at-Arms Torgo walked down their line distributing weapons. Sway was given a mek'leth. The others had bat'leths, three times the length of his sword. Of course, Sway thought. The little guy gets the little sword.

    Rejets stood in front of the bekks. "I will pair you off. You will fight each other with swords. If you lose your sword, you lose the match. If you fall down three times, you lose the match. If you fall off the platform once, you lose the match. If you are injured too badly to lift your sword, you lose the match. And if you die, you lose the match. Try not to die. I hate dealing with the paperwork." He looked at the line. "Aleida, Naja," he called to the females. They went up the nearest platform and faced off. "Ciraybe, Magh'nt." The Klingon with big hair and the bigger, dumber Orion went off together. "Sechukr, you're with me. J'ngav, take the lizard."

    "With pleasure." J'ngav looked over at Sway and grinned maliciously.

    Sway walked over to the nearest empty platform like an automaton, with absolutely no thought about how he would survive this encounter. He reached the edge of the platform and looked back at his opponent. Rejets had held up J'ngav and was whispering something to him. Sway was able to read his lips well enough to pick out part of a sentence: ghaH HoHQo'... Don't kill me? Sway wrinkled his nose in confusion, then remembered Right, paperwork. He caught a look from J'ngav and saw something in his eyes that made him think the younger Klingon was not planning to obey the sergeant's order.

    Sway clambered on to the platform. J'ngev leaped up using a nearby crate an immediately aimed a cleaving blow at Sway's head. The Gorn ducked and rolled away. He turned back and caught J'ngev's boot on his chin and was laid out flat on his back.

    "That's your first fall, lizard."

    Sway sat where he fell.

    "C'mon, get up," J'ngev goaded.

    "The Master Sergeant said we'd fight with our swords, not our legs," Sway said as he warily rose to his feet, and quickly stepped back out of range.

    "When you fight with the sword, your body becomes the sword," J'ngev quoted. He whirled his blade around, passing it from hand to hand, before holding it couched in his right arm. He beckoned to Sway.

    The young Gorn circled his opponent, eyeing his feet, gauging how quickly he would need to strike to avoid the blow.

    "It's a fight, lizard, not a dance." J'ngev stepped up and slashed at Sway's neck. Sway ducked, and raised his sword to block J'ngev's reversed backslash. He leaned both of his arms into the handle of his mek'leth to keep the stronger Klingon from overpowering him. J'ngev suddenly spun his sword away. Sway stumbled forward, and J'ngev struck at his backside. Sway jumped and yelped, and turned to find J'ngev almost doubled over with laughter. "I told you your qIv is mine!"

    Sway reached back and felt the stinging wound in his left buttock. The razor-edged point of the bat'leth had sliced through his loincloth, the seat of his stippled pants, and two cm of his scaly flesh. Not too bad. He'd heal after a day or two. He checked his hand. Not too much blood. He looked at the mek'leth in his other hand. Your body becomes the sword... He charged. J'ngev was ready, and he extended his sword to impale the Gorn. Sway slapped it away with his own blade, spun away from J'ngev's counter-slash, and lashed out with a sweeping kick, connecting with both of the Klingon's ankles and dropping him to the mat.

    J'ngev was on his feet an instant later, snarling has he parried a pair of wild swings from Sway. The Gorn tried to press his advantage, but he lacked the skill to do so. Soon J'ngev squarely blocked a chop, and using his superior height and strength he simply pushed the Gorn to the floor. But Sway was a fast learner. He realized that his advantage was in speed, not strength or skill. He successfully fended of a whirlwind of strikes from the Klingon and landed a blow of his own, cutting the Klingon on the back of his forearm. J'ngev swore and backed away to check the wound.

    "Qajay', what's taking you so long?" Bekk Naja demanded.

    J'ngev flashed a glare at her, then glanced around. The rest of the unit had finished their matches and had surrounded the platform, watching him and Sway. They young Gorn took advantage of his distraction, lunging through the air, drawing up both of his feet and delivering a powerful kick to the Klingon's chest, knocking him on his back. Their classmates laughed.

    J'ngev bounced back to his feet and came after Sway in a rage, delivering one powerful blow after another. Sway was able to deflect the strikes, but he had to backpedal to absorb each one, until he stepped right off the edge of the platform. J'ngev leaped down after him and raised his bat'leth, ready to drive it through Sway like a stake.

    Rejets caught his arm. "Bekk J'ngev! The match is over. You have defeated your opponent."

    Sway scrambled out of striking range and stood up, brushing dust from his uniform tunic and loincloth.

    Rejets looked him over with a cold eye and said to his bekks "Return your weapons to the Master-at-Arms, then assemble before the Great Statue to hear a song of victory from Loresinger Ch'toh!"

    Sway trailed behind the others. "I want a better sword," he told the fat Klingon who was in charge of the weapons. "I want a bat'leth."

    "For you, there is no better sword," Master-at-Arms Torgo replied as he took hold of Sway's mek'leth. He twirled it in his hand. "Have you ever used one of these before?"

    "No," Sway admitted.

    "Have you ever held a bat'leth in battle?"

    "No."

    "Then what makes think it is better?"

    "Well, its longer, it hits harder-"

    "It would slow you down, taking away the one advantage you have. You are too small; you do not have the strength to wield a bat'leth effectively. But you are also fast. And you have the eyes to see the weakness in your enemy. With these gifts, and this sword, you could defeat a bat'leth champion, if you learn how to use it."

    Sway fixed the fat Klingon with a suspicious gaze. Torgo stared back "I speak truth, young lizard. Listen, I do not care what species you are - you are to be trained to be an officer of the KDF. And so you must learn to use a sword. The mek'leth can be a lethal instrument, but you must make it so. You must learn to attack your enemy."

    "That's what I was trying to do," Sway grumbled.

    "No, you were only pretending to attack so that your enemy would not attack you. A defensive strike is not a killing blow. When you drew blood on your opponents arm, his left ribcage and throat were also exposed. Why did you not strike him there?"

    "Because if I missed, he would have had a free shot at my head," the Gorn replied.

    "Only if you held back," Torgo told him. "Or if he moved away, but I am sure he is too slow. A true warrior cannot focus on his own self-preservation. He must always look for a way to defeat his enemy. This is what you must learn."

    Sway watched Torgo return his weapon to its velvet-lined case. The case had a cutout that nested the mek'leth perfectly, protecting it from any harm. Sway then realized that weapon he had been offered was indeed much more than a mere child's toy. "Will you teach me?" He asked the Master-at-Arms.

    "That is my purpose here. But now you are late for your next lesson. The song has begun."

    Sway tilted his head and heard someone bellowing in tlhIngan Hol at the bottom of the hill. "Thank you, Master Torgo," he called as he raced away.
    * * *

    Life settled into a sort of routine for Sway. He went to class (where he excelled) he drilled with his unit (where he performed well, in spite of his classmates' best attempts to sabotage him) he ate his meals alone (or tried to, anyway) and he slept on his uncomfortable bed. And of course there were the daily beatings to break up the monotony. He could stand up against any of the other bekks individually, but they always ganged up on him. They were careful though, not to injure him too badly. Mostly because if they killed him or crippled him, then he wouldn't be around anymore and their fun would be over. Also they were afraid of Rejets, who hated to lose bekks. They also had a particular prank they liked to play on him at mealtime. Knowing how the Gorn hated the cold, they would replicate a dish of a Human treat called ice cream and shove Sway's face in it. He pretended he hated it, but he really didn't mind. He actually developed a taste for ice cream, and started to look forward to his free dessert surprises.

    Sway took his revenge little by little, starting with his nicknames for the gang of bullies. He pretended to struggle with his pronunciation whenever he addressed them and they quickly got used to his version of their names. Actually, Sway spoke Klingon very well, but his English was better, being by far the easiest of all common humanoid languages for a Gorn to speak. J'ngav became "Junk," Magh'nt was "Maggot," Ciraybe got called "Crybaby" and Sechukr transposed to "Sucker." And then the biggest bully of all, Sgt. Rejets: Sway called him "Reject." Sgt. Reject was cruel to all of his bekks but he really had it out for Sway. Reject was short for a Klingon, but he was built like a boulder and his authority was unchallenged. He picked Sway to handle the most unpleasant duties of cleaning their barracks and always left him in an unfair position for their war games.

    There were also two females in their unit. Bekk Aleida was an Orion. She didn't participate in the attacks on Sway directly, but she enjoyed the show, and egged the males on with the influence of her pheromones. Bekk Naja was a Klingon, and the closest thing Sway had to a friend. She wouldn't actually be seen helping him, and she rarely spoke to him, but when no one was looking she would help with his cleaning chores or tend to his wounds. He didn't know why she treated him kindly, but he was grateful.

    Torgo kept his word, and Sway's skills with the mek'leth steadily improved. Of course, his opponents were receiving the same sort of training, so he still got knocked down and cut up a lot. But he was able to hold his own, and at least Torgo didn't treat him like dead gagh. He also learned how to handle a disruptor rifle. Even though he couldn't hold a target rifle to his shoulder comfortably, with practice he got quite good at firing from the hip. And his pistol marksmanship was the envy of the unit.

    As the months went on, more Gorn appeared at the Academy. Mostly older, all males. They were divided up into different units though, and Sway wasn't permitted to socialize outside of his unit. The odd Nausicaan started to wander in as well. One of them, Tidrip, got assigned to Sway's unit. At first he treated Sway sympathetically - their species had been allies during the war with the Klingons, after all. But then to gain the acceptance of the Klingons and the Orions he soon joined in with the bullying. Sway called him "Drip."


    Stardate 81453.54 (2404.06.13, 1202 local time)

    Bekk Sway was eating lunch - alone, as usual - the first time Naja sat down across from him. He looked up from his meal and said a surprised "Hi!" She nodded at him and started eating her leg of targ, seeming to forget he was even there. Sway shrugged and returned to his meal.

    Naja glanced up as she chewed and watched Sway cut a slice of pale flesh with his d'k tahg. (The only utensils in the Klingon Academy mess hall were spoons.) "Are you eating... kradge tail?"

    "Yup." Sway impaled the slice of meat with his knife and lifted it to his mouth.

    Naja looked revolted. "Isn't that like... cannibalism?"

    "What, just because I'm a reptile and so's the kradge? Seriously?" Sway cut another slice. "Genetically, you're closer to your targ than I am to this tasty little critter." He took another bite and smiled at her. "You should know that. You scored ninety-eight percent in biology last term, didn't you?"

    Naja giggled. "I'm sorry. I just... I look at you and even though I know you're an intelligent, rational and sensitive being, I see a lizard. I can't help it."

    "That's okay." Sway kept eating. "I look at you, and I see just another hairy, ridge-headed mammal, even though I know you're not a blood-thirsty, violent maniac with an irrational hatred for my species."

    "I guess our people have a lot to learn about each other, if we're going to be allies."

    "Yup."

    Naja abruptly got up and jumped two chairs over, and dug into her food. Sway heard Junk, Maggot and Crybaby laughing behind him. "Yup," he repeated to himself. He stuffed the rest of his kradge tail in his mouth and cleared his plate.


    Stardate 81941.88 (2404.12.09, 1740 local time)

    The beating was particularly savage this evening. Sway knew he'd brought it on himself. He'd been a bit of a show-off at the pistol range earlier that afternoon. After getting perfect hits on all of his targets with the minimum number of shots, he'd started firing at his neighbor's targets and nailing those too. Junk and Drip didn't care for that. And they got their gang together to let him know it.

    After fifteen months of beating up Sway on a daily basis, they had learned how to cause him maximum pain with a minimum of physical injury. Part of this included waiting just before the evening meal to inflict their punishment, so he would be either in the infirmary or in too much pain to eat his dinner, leaving him hungry all night. Sucker and Maggot held his arms and legs while Junk applied a chokehold and dug his knuckles into Sway's crest and Drip and Crybaby took turns pummeling other sensitive areas.

    This went on for about fifteen minutes before the bullies started to get bored. Sway had learned they got bored easily if he took their abuse with stoicism instead of screaming in pain like he wanted to. They finally released him. He collapsed in a quivering heap. The bullies laughed and started to walk off. "S'Yahazah bless you!" Sway called out as loudly as he could, knowing they really hated that.

    Junk immediately spun around and kicked Sway in the face. The claw in the toe of his boot flayed the Gorn's cheek open. "You know why you ghuy' lizards lost the war, don't you?" J'ngev sneered. "It's because you were waiting for your Hu'tegh lizard-god to save you. See, we Klingons know better. We don't need our gods. We never did. So we killed them. And if I ever meet your great *****-in-the-sky, I'll kill her too." He turned and stomped off, following his laughing comrades to the mess hall.

    They can insult me all they want, Sway thought, but they shall not insult S'Yahazah.

    As soon as the pain levels subsided enough for him to move, he staggered to his feet. He tongued the wound in his cheek. The bleeding had stopped. It would heal in a few days, but it might leave a scar. He tested his joints before he walked up the hill. A sprained ankle, a wrenched elbow, a dislocated finger. Nothing he couldn't live with.

    A few merchants had set up stalls along the parade grounds, selling various souvenirs and trinkets to ship captains who visited the academy to recruit warriors. They also sold various supplies and non-regulation articles of clothing to the bekks. A couple of weeks ago during a harsh cold spell, Sway had purchased a scarf that was almost immediately stolen. One of the merchants was a Gorn elder named S'kaa, who dealt mainly in "specialty" items.

    "I need a gun, S'kaa," Sway hissed, leaning across the arms' dealer's counter, trying to keep weight off of his swollen ankle.

    "What do you have for money?" S'kaa asked him. "Szeket? Latinum? Quatloos?"

    "What can I get for sixteen hundred replicator credits?"

    "Energy credits?" S'kaa leaned back and frowned. "Ya see, credit purchases can be traced, and that's no good for me."

    "Well, that's all I got," Sway told him. "Thanks anyway." He gingerly pushed away from the counter.

    "Now hold on." S'kaa scratched his lower jaw. "I could sell you a power cell. It would be a bit overpriced, but, it might come with a nice pistol attached."

    Sway nodded. "I need a disruptor pistol with a wide-beam setting, and enough power to vaporize a room full of people."

    "Ssshh!!" S'kaa waved his hands in front of Sway's face. "You know wide-beam pistols are illegal!" he whispered.

    "Yeah, so's half the other baQa' you sell," Sway came back without lowering his voice. "Can you get it or not?"

    "Listen, kid, I'm on sliding sand with the authorities as it is. The only reason I'm in business is because Lieutenant B'Emara thinks she's getting half my profits. If you shoot one Klingon, and then immediately overload the pistol so it blows up, you can get away with it. But what you're talking about doing, that would drain the power cell, so there's no way you could destroy the evidence. And if the security force finds out that I sold a gun that was used in a mass murder, I'd be on the first transport to Rura Penthe. And I do not want to go to Rura Penthe."

    "And I do not want Bekk Junk to live through tonight after he insulted S'Yahazah."

    S'kaa winced. "Okay, listen, kid. I've seen you take hits that would leave me begging for mercy, but you don't even flinch. You have no idea how often I've been tempted to use my merchandise on those filthy sons of targs you're with. But if you want to really live among these animals - and I don't just mean here, I mean when you leave this place and get out into space - you gotta learn to take an insult just like you take a punch. And I don't mean just a personal insult, like 'you stinking lizard.' I mean an insult to your honor, your culture, your family, your faith, to everything that makes you Gorn. Because that's a part of life outside these walls. For all of us, we have to live with the insult of being servants to these mammals every waking hour. Do you get what I'm saying, kid?"

    "Yeah." Sway knew sense when he heard it, and S'kaa was talking sense.

    "As much pleasure as it would bring me to do business with you, you should save your money. Get yourself some food instead, before the mess hall closes."

    "Arright." Sway pushed away from the counter. His injured joints had numbed and he felt only the usual dull ache. "Thanks for talking me down, S'kaa."

    "Sure thing, kid. Now get out of here before your sergeant sees you and wonders what you're up to."

    Sway limped toward the mess hall. He ducked behind a pillar when he saw Junk and the others emerge, still laughing. S'Yahazah, as surely as you live, I will kill that petaQ.


    Stardate 82061.26 (2405.01.22, 0838 local time)

    "Today's drill will have you firing at a live, moving target," Sgt. Reject announced. "Your practice rifles do not have the power to kill. You must use your d'k tahgs to finish off your victim. You can thank the Orion Syndicate for providing the targets. And the Syndicate thanks you for finding a use for worthless slaves."

    Sway sheltered his eyes and stared into the rising sun. At this latitude and at this time of year, daylight only lasted for about seven hours. He could make out a hover-truck across the drill range with figures being unloaded and shoved roughly into line.

    Reject went on. "The targets have been told that your weapons will only stun them, while the soldiers behind them will kill them if they do not run toward you. They are armed with knives and clubs, and they will hurt you if you allow them to. This will be a test of your shooting skill, but primarily a test of your resolve. Can you kill a person who has done you no harm? Because you will have to, one day, on the field of battle. If it helps, know that you are giving these people an honorable death." Reject looked at his bekks, spread out along the range, and glanced across the field. "Your target is directly in front of you. Begin firing as soon as he enters weapons range." He turned and shouted at the Orion slaver thugs handling the prisoners. "Release them!"

    Sway squinted at the target running towards him in haphazard zigzag. Once it closed within fifty meters, he opened fire. He missed, short and wide left. The target stopped. Sway adjusted and fired again. High, this time, and still a little wide to the left. A burst of disruptor fire from behind the target struck the ground at its feet. It ran, forwards and to its left, Sway's right. The Gorn fired again. Just missed to the right. The target zigged the other way. Sway fired two more quick bursts, bracketing his target. It ran straight toward him. Sway fired yet again, and this time the target spun away just as he pulled the trigger. The target was close now, just inside of twenty meters. The shouting of his fellow bekks told him they'd already hit their targets. This made Sway angry. He fired again, and the target again spun away. It started shouting something at him, but he couldn't make it out through the noise around him. Ten meters now. It raised its arms. Sway saw sunlight glinting off the knife it held. He pulled the trigger again, and finally hit the target squarely, center-mass torso. He pulled his d'k tahg from his belt and sprang forward, covering nine meters in less than a second. He pounced - the claws on his toes dug in the target's flesh even has he drove his blade into the Selay female's throat-

    "Sway..." she whispered, as air, blood and life seeped out of her body.

    Sway stared down at the body he suddenly recognized as the girl who had been his best friend. "Srenor?"

    She didn't answer. She couldn't. She was dead.

    Sway retrieved his knife and stood up. He felt... nothing. No remorse, no sadness, no sense of loss. He had followed orders to kill someone. That someone turned out to be his best friend. And he didn't care... "S'Yahazah save me," he muttered. "They've done it to me. They've made me one of them..."


    Stardate 82207.96 (2405.03.16, 2144 local time)

    Sway crawled across the floor of the barracks, in too much pain to stand. He pulled himself onto his bed-slab, clenching his jaw so he wouldn't scream. He gingerly rolled onto his back and lay there for a few minutes, gasping for air in agonizing breaths. Then he peeled off his bloody tunic and slowly ran his undamaged left hand over his torso and counted which ribs were broken, cracked or dislocated. The door opened. Sway's hand dropped to his d'k tahg, but then he remembered he'd lost in the fight. He painfully tilted his head to see who was there.

    "Oh, Sway, what did they do to you?"

    It was Naja. The nice one. Sway relaxed. "The usual, just... more of it."

    "You're... you're bruised! I didn't even know that was possible!"

    Sway looked down and saw that she was right. The pale skin of his chest was discolored from blood pooling under the surface. "Huh. Yeah."

    Naja knelt at his side and examined his extensive injuries. "They really banged you up this time, Sway. ghuy'cha. I've got to get you to the infirmary. I don't care who sees me carrying you. This has to stop, Sway."

    "Tell that Sergeant Reject," Sway mumbled. "He's the only one who can do anything about it."

    "I can do something about it too." She stroked his head. He flinched when she touched his crest. She jerked her hand back. "Oh! Sorry, I-"

    "It's okay," Sway assured her. "I'm just used to it hurting when someone touches me there."

    Naja gently stroked him again. This time when her fingertips brushed the nubs of his head-spines, he gave a contented sigh.

    "Qajay', what are you doing with that piece of baQa'?"

    Naja spun to face J'ngev. "He needs medical attention! You petaQpu' almost killed him!"

    "What of it, lizard-lover?"

    "What of it?" Naja sprang to her feet and drew and snapped open her d'k tahg with the same motion. "I'll show you what of it-"

    J'ngev slapped the knife out of her hand and punched her in the face.

    Sway saw her go down and yelled out "Leave her alone!"

    "Shut up, toDSah!" J'ngev ground his boot into the bruise on Sway's chest. Sway screamed in agony.

    "Get off!" Naja pushed J'ngev over and he landed in the firepit. He yelped and cursed and threw off his burning jacket and came after her. He wrapped his hands around her throat and slammed her against the wall. She got her arms inside of his and pushed them away, and headbutted him in the face, breaking his nose.

    "You Hu'tegh *****!" He moaned, his hands holding his face together.

    "Hey!" Sgt. Rejets had arrived. "How many times must I tell you: no fighting in the barracks!"

    "Sway needs to go to the infirmary!" Naja said, pointing at the whimpering Gorn.

    "Me too," J'ngev muttered, still holding his nose.

    Rejets glanced at the bloodied Klingon. "Go." J'ngev departed. Rejets looked at Sway. "What's the matter with him?"

    "I'll tell you what's wrong with him Master Sergeant," Naja spat venemously. "Your pet yIntaghpu' beat him to a pulp, and crushed his ribcage." She approached Sway again. His breaths were coming in shallow gasps. "QI'yaH, I think J'ngev just punctured one of his lungs. He'll die without medical attention, Sergeant!"

    Rejets waved toward the door. "Take him."

    Naja carefully placed her arms under his shoulders and hips and picked him up. She was surprised by how light he was. Not even seventy kilos, for a one-point-eight meter Gorn? "You're too skinny, Sway," she told him as she carried him out into the cold night air. "You need to put on some fat to cushion yourself."

    "Heh." That was the best he could do for a laugh. He started shivering and his breathing grew even more ragged. "Naj-a..."

    "Shh! Don't try to speak."

    He tried anyway. "Why are- you so- nice to me-?"

    Naja started to cry. "Because you are the most courageous and noble person I have ever known, Sway. You deserve kindness. I only wish I'd shown you more."

    Sway felt her hot tears splash on his chest. "It's okay-"

    "No, no it's not. It's not right..." She was sobbing now. "Ghuy'cha, why didn't I have the courage to stand up for you before..."
    * * *

    Sway had lost track of the time that had passed since he was brought to the infirmary. The medics had anesthetized him for the surgery to repair his damaged lung. He woke up to the throbbing ache of boneknitters doing their work. They'd given a hypo of painkiller and everything was sort of hazy after that. He knew at least a few days had passed before he was finally able to sit up.

    "How's your pain level?" the medic with him asked. She was a Ferasan call H'rassa.

    Sway gave her a wry smile. "Well, no one's walloped me for a few days now so... better than normal, I guess."

    There was a commotion as another patient was brought into the infirmary. "H'rassa, we could use a paw- a hand here," Dr. Prongo called.

    H'rassa sprang to the Orion's side. "Another beating?" she asked him.

    "Looks like it," Prongo replied. "She has numerous contusions and lacerations, broken bones in her face and hands..."

    Sway felt a sudden and overwhelming sense of dread as Dr. Prongo described the victim. "Who is she?"

    "A... Klingon female," H'rassa replied.

    Sway got up from his biobed. "Is it Bekk Naja?"

    H'rassa looked back at him. "Sit down, Sway!"

    The Gorn ignored her and pushed her aside, and looked down at his only real friend. "Naja!"

    "Sway..." she was weak. She had been in a serious fight.

    "Get back to your bed, Bekk," Dr. Prongo ordered.

    Sway stayed where he was. "Who did this?" he demanded.

    "Medic, please get him out of the way," Prongo commanded.

    "Come on, young one," the Ferasan said - and pulled - firmly.

    "Naja! Give me his name!"

    "J'ngev..."

    Sway pushed off from H'rassa and ran for the door.

    "Hey!" Prongo called after him. "I haven't cleared you to leave yet!"

    Sway got outside and paused. It was daytime. He looked at the position of the sun in the sky and guessed it was mid-day mealtime. He sauntered toward the mess hall, soaking the rays of the sun, letting them energize him. He breathed deeply through his nostrils, filling his lungs. It hurt, especially on his right side, where the lung had been punctured. But he'd defeated J'ngev in a calisthenics match feeling much worse.

    He pulled open both doors to the mess hall. His eyes went straight to his unit's table and locked on J'ngev. He pointed and roared "YOU!!"

    Everyone in the packed mess hall looked up to face him. His table started laughing, and many others joined.

    Sway glanced down and realized he looked more than a little ridiculous, wearing only a baggy pair of synth-cotton pants and the flex-seal bandage still on his chest. His eyes went back to J'ngev. He sneered and strode through the room on a straight line to his enemy, shoving tables, chairs and people out of his path. He stepped up on to his table and stopped directly in front of Bekk Junk, with one foot in his food. He crossed his arms and looked dowm. "You. Hurt. Naja."

    J'ngev looked up with a deadpan expression. "You're standing in my racht."

    Sway crouched, hooked his fingers under J'ngev's shoulder pads and stood to his full height, lifting the much-larger Klingon off the floor and up to his eye-level. "I challenge you to a duel of honor."

    "Ha! You must first have honor to challenge, lizard."

    Sway pulled J'ngev closer and snarled in his face "You and your friends beat up a female, whose only crime was showing kindness to me. It is you who is without honor!"

    J'ngev looked down at his friend Magh'nt.

    Sway shook him and shouted "Don't look at him, petaQ! Look at me!"

    J'ngev gave Sway his full attention.

    "Are you afraid to die by my hand?"

    "There is nothing in you for any Klingon to fear," J'ngev said defiantly.

    Sway could see the lie in the Klingon's eyes. Junk was terrified. "You will accept this challenge, or you are no Klingon." Sway drew back his right hand and slapped J'ngev across the face as he released him. The Klingon flew back and crumbled against the wall.

    His friends leaped to their feet, d'k tahgs at the ready. Sgt. Rejets was standing as well. "Stop this!" he ordered.

    "I accept!" J'ngev yelled, as he rose to his feet. "Our blades shall cross, and you shall die, little lizard!"

    "NO WEAPONS!" Reject shouted. "And no killing!"

    Sway looked down at his unit's leader. "Mok'bara. First to three falls. If he defeats me, nothing changes. If I defeat him..." he looked around at the other bekks "none of you ever lays a hand on me or Naja again!"

    "Agreed," said Reject.

    Sway glared at his opponent. "Junk?"

    "Agreed," was the reply.

    "You will be at the mok'bara court in fifteen minutes, where you will face me alone, or else..." he turned the face the rest of the hall "everyone in this room will know that you are a coward, and no Klingon warrior." With that he strode along the tables toward the exit.

    He paused halfway, and looked down at an Orion eating a bowl of ice cream. "Is that mint chip?"

    She stared up at him with goggling eyes and a spoon in her mouth and nodded.

    "Do you mind?" he asked.

    She shook her head.

    Sway picked up the dish and slid its contents down his throat. He tossed the bowl over his shoulder and kept walking down the tables and out the door.
    * * *

    The young Gorn stopped at the barracks to change clothes. He pulled on a fresh pair of pants and cinched his belt - sans the preposterous loincloths. He peeled off the bandage and checked the wound. It had mostly healed, but there was faint red line where his scales hadn't grown back. And the bruising was still evident. He pulled on his padded tunic and left.

    The mok'bara court was already crowded with spectators when he arrived. The sea of bodies parted for him as he approached. He stood in the middle of the court and waited. He saw S'kaa in the crowd. And Master-at-Arms Torgo. And Lt. S'stas. And a very large Gorn wearing the uniform of a KDF Commander was staring at him with great interest.

    Junk arrived, with his friends, and Sgt. Reject. Junk and Reject stepped up onto the court with Sway. "You have agreed to the rules," the Master Sergeant announced. "This duel of honor will be settled by unarmed, hand-to-hand combat. Three falls, and you're out. I will officiate-"

    "Not you!" Sway snapped. "I don't trust you." He scanned the crowd. "Master Torgo! Would you please oversee this contest?"

    "It would be my pleasure, Bekk." Torgo stepped up, and Reject backed away with a sour expression. Junk's apprehension seemed to grow. Torgo asked "Are you ready, Bekk Sway?" The Gorn nodded. Torgo looked at his opponent. "Are you ready, Bekk J'ngev?" The Klingon hesitated, but then nodded as well. "Then begin."

    Sway immediately dropped into a defensive posture and waited for Junk to make the first move. J'ngev was pensive. The Gorn's display in the mess hall had shown him that he could not rely on superior strength any longer. The scrawny adolescent Gorn was fueled by pure rage, making him at least as strong as J'ngev himself. Nor did he have any advantage in speed. He knew that from their calisthenics matches. He had size and reach on his side. That was all. He approached Sway, and stuck with a straight-arm jab at his throat.

    Sway twisted away from the clumsy first strike and seized his opponent's wrist. He swatted away Junk's other arm that chopped at his neck, hooked his left leg under Junk's kick, and spun on his back heel, pulling the Klingon off-balance. He then leaped forward, driving his chest into Junk's side. (This hurt, but not as much as it would hurt Junk.) Simultaneously he slammed his free hand into the Klingon's hip and shoved him to the ground.

    "First fall for Bekk J'ngev!" Torgo announced.

    Junk rolled over and got to his feet, giving Sway a hateful look. Sway charged, making a feint to drive head-first into Junk's chest. J'ngev braced his feet and readied his hands to repel the brute-force lunge. Sway swerved and spun away at the last second, lashing out instead with a sweeping kick aimed at Junk's leading ankle. J'ngev jumped away just in time. He tripped over Sway's shin and stumbled, but did not go down. Sway's back was to him. He seized his arms, trying to put him in a hammerlock. Sway ducked and twisted away, and J'ngev repositioned to go for a chokehold.

    Sway got his chin down under Junk's forearm. He opened his mouth and bit hard. Junk yowled in pain, and Sway snapped his head back, striking the Klingon in the jaw with a stunning blow. The Gorn drove both elbows back into Junk's ribs, putting a little distance between the adversaries. Sway jumped and spun and delivered a powerful kick to the head, laying J'ngev out.

    "Second fall!" Torgo announced.

    "Foul!" Reject protested. "The lizard bit him!"

    "Did anyone establish a rule that said 'No biting'?" Torgo asked.

    Reject opened his mouth and closed it without saying anything. J'ngev staggered to his feet, cradled his left arm and shook his head dejectedly. Sway licked blood off his chin and smiled.

    "I thought not," Master Torgo declared. "Two falls to none. Continue!"

    J'ngev went on the offensive, launching a wild flurry of punches so that Sway could only defend himself and left no opening for a handhold. Sway was being pushed back off the court. He dove to his left and rolled into a somersault, repositioning himself in the middle of the ring with some distance between him and Junk. Sway was breathing hard, and he realized he needed this fight to end soon, before he ran out of energy.

    J'ngev stepped up again, but this time he dropped into the defensive form, daring Sway to come after him. Sway did. He tensed every muscle in his body to exert all of his strength at once, and lunged. He reached top speed in only two steps and leaped feet-first into his target. Junk's eyes bulged, clearly never expecting a cold-blooded creature to move that fast - and Sway ploughed into him at over 40kph, overpowering his rooted resistance and hurling the Klingon out of the ring.

    "Victory to Bekk Sway!" Torgo shouted, amidst a collection of groans and angry curses with a smattering of cheers.

    "NOOO!!" J'ngev ran back to the court, his d'k tagh held high, ready to strike.

    "No weapons, damn you!" Reject hollered, ignored by everyone.

    Sway caught Junk's knife arm by the elbow with both hands and ripped, tearing bone from tendon from muscle from ligament. J'ngev grabbed his own wrist with his left hand tried to push through with his momentum and drive the knife into the Gorn's neck. Sway backpedalled and pulled the knife down and twisted it, forcing J'ngev to stab himself in the chest.

    A mix of pain and fear entered J'ngev's eyes. Sway's filled with hatred and cruelty, as he reached for the handle of the knife. He squeezed the tab that caused the secondary blades to spring open inside J'ngev's chest cavity. The Klingon's face warped with agony. Sway twisted the handle ninety degrees. J'ngev made sickly gasp. Another quarter-turn, and the Klingon's mouth opened in a silent scream. Sway closed the d'k tahg, pulled it out and stepped away from the gushing blood as J'ngev fell to the ground and died a painful, messy and dishonorable death.

    Sgt. Rejets came out of nowhere, tackling Sway to the ground and screaming incoherently. Too exhausted to fight back, Sway curled up into a ball and braced himself for the beating. Reject kicked, stomped and pummeled Sway relentlessly until someone came up behind him and shouted "Hey!"

    Rejets spun to meet a scaly fist crashing into his chin with meteoric force, launching him off his feet and over the edge of the court. The blow would have knocked almost any other humanoid unconscious, if not killed them outright, but Klingons have incredibly strong neck muscles and a very thick skull. Rejets started to sit up, shaking his head in a daze.

    The Gorn Commander who had delivered the punch carefully stepped over Sway, walked up to Sgt. Rejets, kicked him back to the ground and planted a boot on his chest. Rejets stared up at over two-and-a-half meters of hulking, armor-clad Gorn, wearing a linked metal sash that declared him a Commander of a KDF warship. The Gorn glared down at him and spoke in a deep, vicious growl. "If you, or any of the bekks in your unit ever lays a hand on that boy again, I will hear of it. And I will come for you. And on that day..." he sucked air through his teeth and continued. "It would be better for you to face Fek'Ihr himself a thousand times than me on that day. Do you understand?"

    "I... understand... Commander..." Rejets could barely breathe from the crushing weight on his chest.

    "Good. Then remember this: the next time you see me, you will be addressing me as Captain, and that boy will be a member of my crew. My crew is my family, and you should know what happens to anyone who stands between a Gorn and his family..." The Commander suddenly lost interest in Sgt. Rejets and he turned his head toward young Sway. The youth was still curled up in his ball, but he was watching the Commander with wide eyes, and listening. S'stas, S'kaa, and Torgo were standing around Sway, unsure of what to do.

    The Commander walked back over and crouched beside the boy. "Hello, young one. My name is Ssharki. What is your name?"

    "Sway."

    Ssharki smiled and gently placed his huge hand on the youngster's head. "That is what you are called. But what is your name?"

    Sway tried to remember. It had been a long time since he heard it. "Suffa- no... S'fwyrna... S'fwyrnamokaarn."

    Ssharki closed his eyes for a moment before looking up at Torgo. "It means 'Sweet Delight' in the old language," he explained. He turned his attention back to Sway. "Your mother must have loved you very much. What happened to her?"

    "Killed. Her and my father. They were trying to protect me..."

    "I understand. What about the rest of your family?"

    "Killed. Fighting the Klingons."

    Ssharki brought his head down the boy's level. "S'fwyrnamokaarn, I lost my family too. Many years ago. I would like to start a new family with you, if that's alright."

    "You mean..." Sway started to uncurl himself "you want to... adopt me? You want to be my father?"

    Ssharki nodded. "If you'll have me."

    Sway felt the fear, hatred and anger he'd carried with him for the last five years drain away, replaced by an emotion he'd never felt before - hope. "Yes, please!" he cried.

    Ssharki carefully picked up the battered child, stood to his full height and cradled the boy to his chest. He looked at S'stas and S'kaa. "You will witness this." The two Gorn nodded, and Ssharki looked skyward. "S'Yahazah, you have cared for this boy who has no family. Now I ask your leave to care for him myself, to make him a part of my family. May you deal with me ever so harshly if I fail in my duty to protect him from harm, or to raise him to honor the Four Sides of Life. I am now the father of S'fwyrnamokaarn."

    S'kaa looked up and said "S'Yahazah is my witness, I recognize Ssharki as the father of S'fwyrnamokaarn."

    S'stas and then Master Torgo repeated the same words.

    Ssharki looked into Sway's eyes and smiled. "We are family now, my little Soldier Boy."

    "Um." Lt. S'stas shifted her feet. "Sway doesn't graduate for another six months. But he could leave here after two, and complete his coursework aboard your ship. Uh, unless, as his legal guardian, you want to remove him from the Academy program."

    Ssharki kneeled and placed Sway standing on the court. "What do you want to do, my son?"

    "I... think I can stick it out for two months," the boy said. "I have a friend who needs looking after, and I don't think I'll have to worry about anyone hurting me again. I heard what you said to Sergeant Reject."

    S'stas and Torgo had a chuckle at the nickname.

    "I'll be around," Ssharki told him. "Right now I'm handling security for the House of Martok, so I'll be on-planet for a while and I'll drop by as often as I can. And in two months, I'll bring you up to the Norgh'Iw."

    Sway hugged Ssharki and said "Thank you, father."


    IKS Norgh'Iw, Qo'noS Shipyards - three hours later.

    Commander Ssharki entered his quarters aboard the battlecruiser. He dug around his repair kit until he found his plasma torch, and then he approached the shelf on the far side of the cabin. There were four candles on the shelf. Only fourth one was lit. Ssharki focused on the first one.

    The first candle represented Family. Ssharki closed his eyes, thanked S'Yahazah for bringing him a son, and lit the candle.
    16d89073-5444-45ad-9053-45434ac9498f.png~original

    ...Oh, baby, you know, I've really got to leave you / Oh, I can hear it callin 'me / I said don't you hear it callin' me the way it used to do?...
    - Anne Bredon
  • marcusdkanemarcusdkane Member Posts: 7,439 Arc User
    edited May 2013
    Author's notes:

    - This story deals with Adult Themes and scenarios. If you feel you would be offended or disturbed by reading about such themes please click away now.

    - The Pyramid Club and its status is the creation of Sander233.



    Literary Challenge #22 : Undeniable Evidence

    The Things Which Cannot Change


    Starfleet Command, San Francisco: 2363.01.16, 0024 hours

    Commander Marcus Kane could feel ligaments in his shoulder separating as his arm was forced behind his back by the Capellan guard, and he was guided through the corridor like an errant child.

    "This is all a misunderstanding," he insisted, attempting to relieve the pressure by rising onto his toes, but only succeeded in losing balance. "I haven't done anything!"

    "That's what they all say -- Sir," Chief Petty Officer Kollaar snarled, turning Kane through the brig door, and shoving him towards the isolation cell. "You're a disgrace to the uniform."

    Tripping on the raised field emitter, Kane fell forwards, cracking his head painfully on the edge of the narrow bunk as the forcefield shimmered into existence. For a second, he lay stunned, before automatically pushing himself into a kneeling position. "I didn't do anything," he insisted, raising a hand and wiping blood from the deep cut.

    "Your supervising officer has been informed of your arrest, Commander," Kollaar informed Kane's back. "They're going to throw the book at you for what you've done."

    Taking hold of the bunk and hauling himself off the floor, Kane realized that his shoulder no longer burned, and probing his forehead with his fingers, could feel nothing but smooth skin. That was fast... he mused absently.

    "I haven't done anything!" he shouted at the Capellan's retreating back as he left the brig.


    Starfleet Command, San Francisco: 2363.01.16, 0038 hours

    In five hundred and thirteen years of life, Admiral Wesley Cooper had fought in countless wars, attended numerous weddings, lost more friends than he cared to count, and seen sights he would never have imagined possible in his childhood in Dartmoor, but in all that time, he had never been woken at midnight by a friend under arrest. First time for everything... he thought, stifling a yawn as he was lead to the brig.

    "What can you tell me, Chief?" he asked.

    "At twenty three fifty hours, Commander Kane made an emergency call for medical assistance," began Kollaar. "Responding med techs found the Commander in his apartment with a dead hooker, killed by a complete neural collapse caused by a point-blank phaser discharge."

    Cooper stopped for a moment, halting the guard with the edge of his hand.

    "Dead hooker?" he repeated skeptically. "Anything to back up that claim, Chief?"

    The Capellan security officer drew himself to his full height, towering head and shoulders taller than Cooper.

    "Preliminary report from Starfleet:CIS is that there was a bloodied knife and a partially clothed woman on the bed, and the Commander's personal phaser had been discharged."

    "Are you sure it was the Commander's phaser?" Cooper enquired.

    Kollaar nodded.

    "It may be a modified prototype, but the serial number on the pre-fire chamber matches records with the one issued to the Commander when he returned to active duty four months ago."

    "Has he said anything?" Cooper asked.

    "Other than protesting his innocence, nothing," Kollaar replied, shaking his head. "With no other suspects present, we were obliged to take the Commander into custody and notify the JAG while S:CIS continued to sweep the apartment for further evidence."

    Phillipa Louvois... This is going to get messy... Cooper thought bleakly. With a sigh, he indicated that Kollaar should proceed to the brig. As they approached the door, Cooper felt a premonitory chill at the base of his skull, the warning signal created by the resonance when two immortals came within proximity of each other. The doors slid aside, and Cooper saw the young man he had mentored for nearly a decade, standing in the isolation area like a caged animal. His expression hardly changed, but Cooper knew him well enough to see the subtle wave of relief which washed across his handsome features.

    "You've got to get me out of here, Wes," he said, getting close to the forcefield. "They've got it all wrong, I didn't kill Ali."

    Cooper frowned in confusion.

    "Ali?" he repeated. "You're not making sense, Marc. The guard said something about a dead hooker. Tell me what's going on."

    For a split second, a look of rage flashed across Kane's face. He immediately regained control, but when he spoke, his voice had dropped, taking on a dangerous tone.

    "Ali is no hooker," he said pointedly. "Wes, they're accusing me of killing my sister!"

    Wide-eyed, Cooper spun to face Kollaar.

    "Is this right, Chief?" he demanded.

    "I have not been informed of the identity of the deceased," Kollaar responded calmly.

    "Drop the field immediately, Chief," Cooper insisted.

    "With respect, Admiral, the JAG has not yet arrived to take a statemen-"

    "I said drop the field!" snapped Cooper. "As head of Starfleet Intelligence, and Commander Kane's supervising officer, I'm taking personal responsibility for his custody." He paused and gestured about the brig. "I understand that there are procedures to be followed, but seriously, where do you think he's going to go? Drop the field, and get the man a glass of water. I'll de-brief him and make a report available to Captain Louvois upon her arrival."

    Kollaar's eyes narrowed, but he eventually nodded.

    "Aye, Sir," he acknowledged. Moving to the free-standing console, he entered a command into the control surface and the forcefield winked out of existence.

    Stepping out of the isolation area, Kane turned to Cooper, shaking his hand before sinking heavily into one of the chairs present.

    Looking away, Cooper addressed the air:

    "Computer, is Lieutenant Commander Leigh-Ann Parsons within command grounds?"

    "Affirmative, Lieutenant Commander Parsons is in Domicile fifteen of the residential facility."

    "Excellent," Cooper muttered, before reaching up to tap his comm badge. "Cooper to Parsons."

    "Go ahead, Admiral," said a disembodied voice with a lilting Betazoid accent.

    "I'm sorry to disturb you, Leigh, but I need you to meet me in the brig as soon as possible. I'm going to be conducting an interview and need your insights."

    "Very well, Sir, I shall be with you as soon as I can. Parsons out."

    "Okay, Marc," Cooper said, setting his PADD to record and placing it on a nearby console. "Start at the beginning, tell me what happened."


    Pyramid Club, San Francisco: 2363.01.15, 2030 hours

    The sound of slow jazz drifted on the air as the turbolift doors opened. The distinguished maitre d' looked up from his desk, and seeing two lifetime members approach, he smiled broadly and came to the front of the narrow reception desk to greet them.

    "Ah, Miss Kane, Commander, so good to see you both again," he said, shaking hands with the Starfleet officer. "If I may say, Miss Kane, you look stunning this evening."

    "Yes, I know," Alix replied disinterestedly, her eyes scanning the patrons of the restaurant, as well as taking in the view of San Francisco afforded from the top floor of the TransAmerica pyramid.

    "Is our usual table free?" Kane enquired. Sensing that Alix was about to walk across the restaurant, he slid an arm round her waist, holding her in place.

    "It is indeed, Commander," the maitre d' replied, leading the way across the restaurant to one of the corner tables. The occasional head turned as they passed -- women admiring Alix's floor-length gown of shimmering Tholian silk, men admiring the beautiful woman wearing it.

    The maitre d' stopped by a corner table, and pulled out a chair.

    "Miss Kane," he said graciously.

    "I'll sit here," Alix stated, pulling out another chair, and sitting so her back was to the wall, affording her a view of the entire restaurant.

    "Thank you," Kane said, taking the offered chair, and sitting opposite his twin. It was almost like looking in a mirror.

    "Would you care to view tonight's menu?" the maitre d' enquired.

    "No thank you," Alix replied. "I'll have the smoked salmon and cream cheese on rye crackers, with a side order of liver pate and smooth sandwich pickle."

    With a nod, the maitre d' entered the order onto his PADD, before turning to Kane.

    "Commander?"

    "I'll have the same, thank you," he replied. "Ali, blue lagoon?"

    "Mm hmm," she replied, her lips pursing and eyes narrowing, as across the room, a woman of similar age fumbled clumsily with a set of chopsticks.

    "And a large pitcher of blue lagoon with two glasses," Kane requested.

    "Certainly, Commander, Miss Kane, enjoy your meal," the maitre d' said before moving away from the table.

    Seeing the look on his sister's face, Kane's brow furrowed slightly.

    "What's up, Ali?" he asked.

    Alix nodded towards table twelve on the far side of the restaurant, which was occupied by a quartet of young women. They appeared to be eating Japanese cuisine.

    "She looks entirely too pleased with herself," she muttered darkly, as one of the women speared a piece of sashimi with a single chopstick and popped it in her mouth. "Hardly anything to be proud of, making a scene of herself like that."

    "How's business?" Kane enquired, knowing that changing the subject was the easiest way to distract Alix's judgmental tendencies.

    "Boring, as usual," she replied, shaking out a napkin and spreading it across her lap. "Productivity statistics, developmental conferences, requisition orders, all the stuff Dad hated dealing with, but it's something to do, I guess. How about you? You said you had something important to tell me. Are the test flights going well?"

    "Your drinks," an impeccably presented waiter announced, placing two highball glasses on the table. He proceeded to fill them from a large pitcher of sparkling blue liquid, before placing a second full pitcher in the middle of the table.

    Picking up her glass, Alix smiled sweetly, before taking a sip, and returned her penetrating gaze to her brother.

    "Not so well," Kane admitted, as the waiter walked away. "We hit a snag with the containment system for the warp core, and it failed during testing last week. That's why you got that call."

    Alix put down her glass, her dark brows drawing together.

    "I know, it was the weirdest thing. I was away from my desk for lunch, and when I got back, I had two messages. One saying that you'd been in an accident and that I should come as soon as possible, then another, saying everything was okay, and to ignore the first message. Bureaucratic mix up?"

    "Something like that," Kane said. "As you can see, I'm absolutely fine."

    "Yes, you are," Alix replied, before picking up her glass again, and sucking on the straw until the glass was drained.

    "Not here," Kane said quietly, picking up his own glass and taking a long draught.

    Alix's eyes sparkled with amusement.

    "I doubt anyone here would notice, let alone care," she pointed out with a positively obscene smirk. "You think the Rigellian Ambassador over there is simply taking those women out for a birthday treat? Or those TRIBBLE on table twelve aren't all f**king each other? Why do you think those Deltans are both heading towards the bathroom at the same time?"

    "You're probably right," Kane agreed lightly, refilling their glasses as the waiter approached with their meals. The content of the plates may have been identical, but the arrangements of the food were not, and it was clear that the dishes had not simply been replicated.

    "Can I get either of you anything else?" he enquired.

    "Actually yes," said Alix. "I forgot to ask for some toast for my pate."

    "Of course, madam," replied the waiter, producing his PADD. "What kind of toast would madam require?"

    "Four slices of thick-cut wholemeal, lightly toasted, and cut in diagonal quarters," she said.

    "Very good, madam," said the waiter, jotting down the request, before looking up. "Anything else for you, sir?"

    "Not for the moment, thank you," Kane replied, picking up a cracker.

    "So what's the Big News?" Alix asked again as the waiter departed.

    "I'll tell you when we get back to my apartment," Kane replied, before biting into the cracker. "We have good food and nice music. It's something which can wait till later, and which needs to be discussed privately."

    "They have sound dampeners at every table," Alix pointed out. "We can say anything with total privacy." She took a breath, before loudly stating: "I f**ked my brother twice before we came here this evening!"

    All around the restaurant, even at the adjacent tables, diners continued with their meals, totally unaware of Alix's outburst.

    "Everyone's so appalled!" she exclaimed sardonically, putting her hand to her mouth as her eyes widened in faux-shock. With a grin, she kicked Kane's chair under the table "Jeez, lighten up, Polo. What can you have to say that is so secret?"

    "It's something I'll need to show you as well," he admitted. "If you don't see it for yourself, you won't believe it, and it's not something I really want to do in public."

    Alix frowned momentarily in recollection.

    "I don't remember seeing my name tattooed on your TRIBBLE," she mused.

    Kane shook his head, but Alix could see the amusement in her twin's eyes.

    "I'll tell you later," he promised. "Now behave yourself, your toast's coming over."


    Starfleet Command, San Francisco: 2363.01.16, 0105 hours

    Cooper's fist crashed into Kane's jaw, nearly knocking the younger man from his chair.

    "Aah, what the f**k, Wes??" he protested, sitting upright and putting a hand to his cheek as he experimentally articulated his jaw.

    "You know your dad would have done the same thing," Cooper replied calmly, shaking his right hand and flexing his fingers. "I never thought I'd say this, but I'm glad your parents aren't alive to se-"

    Kane scrambled up from his chair, launching himself at his mentor, only to receive a second right cross which dropped him to the floor of the brig with a ringing in his ears.

    "Dammit, Marc, get it together before that Capellan throws you back in isolation," Cooper advised, crouching and helping Kane to his feet. "Sovak taught you better than this."

    "I don't remember striking a junior officer still being authorized in the Starfleet disciplinary guidelines," Kane muttered, but Cooper could detect the undercurrent of amusement in his voice. "At least in isolation you can't hit me anymore."

    "You think your dad would let you off any easier?" Cooper said rhetorically and gesturing back towards their chairs as the door to the brig opened, and admitted a slender dark haired woman in a mustard-colored operations uniform.

    "Ah, Commander Parsons, so glad you could make it. You've... already missed the best bits, but I need to verify the truth in what the Commander is telling me."

    "You think I'm lying?" Kane gasped incredulously.

    Cooper chuckled.

    "Marc, if I thought you were lying, I wouldn't've hit you," he said. "I need something which Captain Louvois cannot pick apart or question, and I suspect you'll find the Commander's presence less intrusive than Chief Kollaar hooking you up to a polygraph."

    Kane nodded.

    "If you need to make physical contact, Commander, I have no objection, I have undergone several mindmelds on Vulcan," he said.

    "That won't be necessary, Commander," Parsons replied, sipping from a sealed beverage container and taking a seat beside Kane. "Please accept my condolences for your loss."

    Kane looked from Parsons to Cooper, who nodded.

    "She's that good," he replied, before tapping the PADD. "Back to your confession, Marc, believe me, you do not want to be having this conversation with Phillipa Louvois..."


    Residential Facility, Starfleet Command, San Francisco: 2363.01.15, 2340 hours

    Kane sat on the edge of the bed in a midnight blue robe, staring sightlessly at the tajtiq, the long Klingon knife which could be wielded as if it were a sword, which he held on his lap. He felt a dipping of the mattress, then Alix's arms sliding round him, her chin on his shoulder and her cheek against his neck.

    "What's on your mind?" she asked. "You still haven't told me your Big News, unless you simply wanted to explain why you sleep with a phaser under your pillow."

    "No," he acknowledged. "That's a habit I got into while on Bajor. The camps were a dangerous place, and you can't trust a Cardassian as far as you can throw them... Devious, predatory creatures...

    "Two years ago I encountered three Cardassian officers beating a Bajoran woman. She had been trying to stop them attempting to force themselves on a Bajoran child. I killed two outright with this, the third got away with a flesh wound. I never saw the child again, but the woman died from her injuries."

    "Was she someone you knew?" Alix asked.

    Kane nodded.

    "Do you remember me telling you, when I crash landed on Bajor during a training mission in my final year at the Academy, how I was pretty banged up in the landing and that a Bajoran girl looked after me before Federation troops evacuated me?"

    Alix nodded, not lifting her head from his shoulder.

    "I remember," she admitted. "I took the first shuttle from Harvard as soon as you were back in San Francisco." She could feel the resentment lumping in her chest just as she had when she had first heard Marcus talk about Shanna, and the thought that some Bajoran TRIBBLE might come between them...

    With a nod, Kane continued:

    "After graduation, after the loss of the Pegasus, I was assigned to Bajor as part of an ongoing intelligence operation to monitor the Cardassian occupation. That's why I was supposedly kicked out of Starfleet and unable to visit you while you were living on Bolius. I was simply unable to leave Bajor until I was officially recalled. It was during that time that I met Shanna again, and that was when I saw those Cardassian TRIBBLE beat her to death. I really think you would have liked her."

    "I doubt it," Alix replied matter of factly, but with no malice in her voice, and she felt her brother's diaphragm flex beneath her arms as he chuckled silently.

    "You would have liked her," he repeated. "That's why I sleep with my hand on a phaser, but not what I needed to tell you."

    Sitting back on her heels, Alix adjusted the front of her Tholian silk robe.

    "Then what is it?" she asked.

    "Those calls you missed last week," he began. "Something did happen to me. We were testing a new warp-capable fighter near Titan, when there was a containment breach in the core, and I had to use the emergency transporter to bail out. I was in a pressurized suit, so would have been fine till the observing shuttle beamed me aboard, but the fighter exploded, and I was hit in the shoulder by a piece of shrapnel. I could hear the suit de-pressurizing, remembered my training for what to do in the event of a hull breach, and then I remember reviving in the medical bay on Titan."

    "So they got to you in time and saved you," Alix said, absentmindedly fingering the edge of her robe.

    "No, I suffocated and was dead for over half an hour before the shuttle got to me," Kane replied. "Some engine problem of their own. When I revived, the base physician unlocked part of my medical file and showed it to me. Apparently I have extra chromosomal base-pairs, something they called the Lazarus gene, and that is what brought me back.

    "They said no one is ever told about it before hand, as sometimes the gene is dormant, but when it is active, upon death, it triggers a backup synaptic system and permanently accelerates the body's regenerative systems, bringing the person back to life, and also rendering them immortal."

    "Do you know how crazy that sounds?" Alix asked.

    Kane nodded.

    "That's why I couldn't say anything in the restaurant, but have to show you."

    Turning, he drew the blade of the tajtiq across the tip of his finger. The razor-sharp blade effortlessly parted the flesh, and dark red blood welled up.

    "Ohmigod, are you crazy?!" Alix demanded, immediately using the edge of a sheet to staunch the flow of blood.

    "See for yourself," Kane replied, pulling his hand free, and showing a finger tip which was completely undamaged.

    Alix's eyes and mouth widened,

    "F**k me, that's a good trick!" she gasped.

    "Ali, it's no trick," Kane insisted. With swift movements, he slashed the tajtiq across his palm, his wrist, and forearm, opening deep wounds, from which blood freely poured forth. Within seconds of the injuries being inflicted, the skin appeared to liquify, flowing back together, sealing the wounds then resolving with the same texture as the rest of Kane's skin. "I'm not joking with you, I'm immortal."

    Alix looked at him as if seeing him for the first time, her face reflecting the whirlwind of thoughts in her mind.

    "So you're immortal because of your genetic code?" She mused, no longer looking at her brother, but inwardly focusing on something only she could see. "We're identical twins, we share the same genetic code, apart from how they -- re-engineered me..."

    She got up from the bed and began to pace excitedly. That would mean that I have that gene too! If I activate it, we can always be together... In time, no one would know our past, no one would judge us...

    "Yes, but they'd probably need to do te -" Kane's musings broke off as he saw Alix leap back onto the bed, her hand diving beneath the pillows, and emerging with the angular form of his prototype phaser. "Ali! What're you doing?!"

    Her fingers adjusting the beam controls, she looked up, her eyes alight as if she had experienced an epiphany, and she smiled.

    "See you in a minute," she said, raising the emitter cone to her temple.

    "Ali! NO!" Kane yelled, diving forwards in a low tackle.

    His shoulder made contact with Alix's hip...

    The hiss of the phaser beam impossibly loud in the otherwise silent room

    ... bringing her down onto the bed, her hair cascading over her face as the phaser clattered to the floor.


    Starfleet Command, San Francisco: 2363.01.16, 0115 hours

    Cooper slumped back in his chair, shaking his head.

    "I don't know what to say," he admitted. "I tried to explain this to you last week. This is why no one is told they carry the gene. Why do you think immortality is made out to be a fairytale? This is why! Because people can't be trusted with their own mortality."

    "I didn't think she would do that, I had no idea she would do that..." Kane murmured, pacing the brig as tears fell across his cheeks, before turning to face his mentor. "Why did she do that?"

    "Because you showed her the possibility," Cooper sighed massaging his temples. "You proved the impossible and showed her the possibility it could happen to her too."

    Kane's face lost all expression, and he sank slowly down the wall till he sat on the floor of the brig.

    "I killed my sister..." he murmured. "I killed her..."

    "Listen to me, Marc, you can't say that again or Louvois will make sure you spend the next forty years in New Zealand! You did not kill Alix!" Cooper insisted. "She made a mistake and had an accident! You couldn't have anticipated how someone with Alix's perspectives would respond to such life-changing possibilities."

    "Absolutely," Parsons contributed. "I saw the events as you accessed them in your memory, and there was nothing you could have done. I will be happy to testify to that if Captain Louvois requires."

    "Thank you, both of you," Kane said. "Wes, is there any chance I can have some time to myself?"

    Cooper nodded.

    "You're going to have to speak with Captain Louvois, there's nothing I can do to prevent that, but I'm sure this will be sorted in a few days," he said. "I can, however, release you back to your apartment if you want?"

    "Right now, my apartment is the last place I want to be," Kane replied. "I'm fully aware that I could be discharged for conduct unbecoming an officer, but at the moment I really don't care about that. I just saw my sister kill herself because of something I told her, and I'd like to be alone."

    Cooper nodded silently, and escorted Parsons from the brig, leaving his former student alone with his thoughts.
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  • ambassadormolariambassadormolari Member Posts: 709 Arc User
    edited May 2013
    Literary Challenge #20: Saying Goodbye


    The bridge was deserted. The seats were empty, and the consoles and stations lay unmanned and unadministered, the screens and readouts continuing to blink out information that was left unread. Bereft of any crew or personnel, the bridge had a tranquil, quiet quality to it, accentuated only by the hum of power systems and the occasional, expectant beep of the readouts.

    Captain Arkos Nair was standing at the centre of it all, taking in the silence. The entire bridge crew, along with all non-commissioned duty officers, was currently away on shore leave on Earth Spacedock. The only reason Arkos was still on the bridge was because, as the Da Vinci's captain, it was his final job to conduct a last-minute inspection before Starfleet maintenance crews took over.

    He frowned. No, he knew, that was a lie. He was here because this was his ship, and in an hour or so he would have to leave it behind forever.

    It was, he reflected, almost cruelly ironic. The Da Vinci-- predecessor to the more famous Sabre-class of the same name serving with the Corps of Engineers-- was one of the oldest ships still serving in Starfleet, and had gone through a list of captains as long as Arkos' arm. She had served during an era when heroes like Picard and Sisko were still active, and had gone through the hell of the Dominion War and survived in one piece. For more than a hundred years of service, the Da Vinci had survived space battles, freak anomalies, disasters, and the relentless harshness of the void, and had endured. For a starship class as renowned for its fragility as the Miranda, the Da Vinci had an impressive record for surviving the worst that the galaxy could throw at it.

    And now, at the ripe old age of a hundred and fifty, the U.S.S. Da Vinci had succumbed to that most relentless of adversaries: old age.

    It had been inevitable, really. A ship could only be modified, updated, and upgraded so many times before the rigours of an outdated design and the stresses of age finally took their toll. During his year of captaining this ship, Arkos had personally authorized a quarter of those upgrades alone, updating the ship's weapons, deflector, engines and shields with whatever meagre resources he could attain (sometimes through less-than-legitimate means, given how all the good stuff at Starbases was reserved for heavier ships of the line). For a year, those new upgrades had worked perfectly, and the updated Da Vinci had been operating at peak efficiency in whatever operation Starfleet Command had sent her into.

    Then, only a week ago, a mandatory Starfleet-wide computer update had caused several of the Da Vinci's shipboard systems to crash, leaving the ship floating dead in space for several days. Arkos and his crew had tried to fix the problem as best as they could, but the more they worked on it, the more it became clear that it was an issue of age: modern Starfleet system requirements were simply incompatible with an old ship design like the Miranda-class, no matter how much you tried to modify and adapt them. After Arkos and his crew had finally exhausted all of their options, they contacted Starfleet Command for assistance and orders. A day later, the U.S.S. Hadrian arrived to the rescue, with orders to tow the Da Vinci back to Earth Spacedock for decomissioning.

    He felt a knot tighten in his throat. When he'd first joined Starfleet, he had scoffed at the age-old notion of captains becoming emotionally attached to their ships-- a starship, he had thought at the time, was spacefaring conglomeration of engines, integrated systems and bulkheads, nothing more, nothing less. It wasn't a person, it had no personality or endearing features to speak of, and had nothing that deserved any sort of emotional attachment. It always baffled him whenever he had heard Starfleet captains speak of their vessels with pride or, in the case of decomissioned or destroyed ships, sadness.

    And now, after only a year of having his own command, he understood that emotional attachment all too well. For a year, this ship had been his home, and its crew had been his family: as a man exiled from his own homeworld, it was a wonderful feeling to be a part of something, to have a place he could truly call his own. Under his command, the Da Vinci had survived the Battle of Vega Colony, had participated in fleet actions against the Klingons and their allies, and had delivered aid to the people and allies of the Federation. The Da Vinci had prevented a Mirror Universe invasion, survived the disastrous division of the Kai augments, had been shunted back in time to New York City, and had even made first contact with a polaron-based species who had based their appearance on 20th-century Earth movie stars. The thought of leaving the old ship behind after all of those adventures and memories hurt Arkos more than he thought it would have.

    He took a deep breath, and took one last glance at the bridge. Idly, he walked over to the dedication plaque, and silently read over the words embossed on the bronze plate:

    Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do. -Leonardo da Vinci.

    He had always liked those words. He had tried to live by them during his command of the Da Vinci, to act wherever possible rather than simply making brave but utterly useless statements. That was what Starfleet was all about, as far he was concerned: to not simply have principles about exploration, scientific advancement, and defending the rights and safety of sentient beings, but also going out and doing those things.

    He glanced at his timepiece. He had half an hour before Starfleet's maintenance crews would put the ship off limits and put the Da Vinci down like some dying animal. He knew what he had to before that time.


    ******

    "Computer, initiate Holodeck Program Sigma-Epsilon."

    The computer beeped in reply, and the holodeck doors opened with a great hiss of hydraulics. Taking a deep breath, Arkos stepped through.

    He was greeted by a busy street in a city of white brick, red tile, clear, unpolluted skies and bright sunlight. Human men and women in finely-spun, gaudily-coloured clothing walked past, seemingly oblivious to the grey-skinned alien in their midst. Merchants, jugglers, nobles and couriers continued their daily bustle without pause, their programming enabling them to overlook the walking anachronism that Arkos presented.

    It was a city from a place and time that was utterly alien to Arkos. Ensign Sann, though, had emphasized that this was as accurate a depiction as possible of the city of Rome, in Earth's sixteenth century.

    Arkos did have to admit, the architecture had a fascinating, baroque quality to it, and was certainly well-designed for such a primitive era. Arkos took in the sights of the city as much as possible as he walked down its streets, drinking in its smells and sounds. A bygone city from a bygone era. he thought to himself. I wonder if these humans ever realized or appreciated that one day, this would all be antiquated.

    Eventually, Arkos reached a small, two-storey building set in the middle of classy-looking residential area. As Arkos approached, the main door opened, and a tall man in a white, cowled garb exited and quietly disappeared into the busy swirl of the street. Of course, Arkos thought to himself with a wry grin. The old man would have patrons visiting, even at this hour.

    He strode forwards and opened the door, and was greeted by the smell of burning oil and lingering paint fumes. A figure in a baggy red robe sat near the centre of a cramped, dimly-lit atrium, hunched over an easel that he was busy prodding and dabbing at with a brush. As Arkos entered, the robed figure waved a gnarled hand towards him in a dismissive gesture.

    "Ah zoccaro, go away!" a grumpy voice exclaimed. "I'll have no more visitors today! I don't care how much you'll pay for my ideas, an old man needs his sleep!"

    Arkos ignored the curses as he strode into the cramped, dimly-lit room. "That's not a very nice way to treat your visitors, messere," he said with a smile. "And you certainly aren't sleeping."

    The robed figure turned around, revealing a tangled white beard and a pair of blue eyes which, despite being rheumy and red from lack of sleep, still glimmered with intelligence. His expression brightened as he recognized his visitor. "Ah, Arco!" the man exclaimed. He hastily stood up and hobbled over towards Arkos, momentarily abandoning his canvas-- the half-finished nobleman he had been painting seemed to stare out imploringly as the old man hobbled over and clasped Arkos' hand. "My apologies. Sometimes it seems that every figlio di puttanta in Roma is trying to get me to paint this, or design that, or to come up with an ingenious solution to some mundane little problem. But I always have time for my pupils and friends, Arco."

    Arkos smiled at the old man and clasped his hand firmly. "Oh, that is absolutely terrible," he replied sarcastically. "The famous Leonardo da Vinci, actually being given paying work!"

    Leonardo gave Arkos a sour look. "Men of lofty genius, when they are doing the least work, are the most active," he replied sternly. "And there is a strong difference between having one's genius fostered, and having it smothered."

    "I'm sure," Arkos replied with a grin. He moved over to sit down on a nearby chair, next to a strange congolomeration of brass tubes, canvas sails and blade-like axles-- a concept model which had been cited as the first design of a "helicopter," a rotorcraft which would be invented several centuries later. Around Arkos sat a treasure trove of creations and contraptions-- steam-powered bellows, ingeniously crafted puzzle-paintings, colour wheels, steel mechanisms, and an endless pile of schematics. In the midst of it all, a brown tabby lay on top of a folded pile of books, yawning lazily.

    He had been introduced to this holodeck program only two weeks ago, on Ensign Sann's recommendation. It was a favourite of hers, and apparently it had also been a favourite of Admiral Janeway's during the famous exodus of the U.S.S. Voyager. Arkos had always known that his ship had been named after some ancient Human polymath, but had never had any interest in the man himself until recently. His forays into the holodeck had shown him why Starfleet considered Leonardo da Vinci to be worthy of a starship's name: da Vinci was, if the program was to be believed, a brilliantly creative man with an active and fertile imagination. In his discussions with the holographic da Vinci, Arkos discovered that he had a broad knowledge of archaic science, chemistry, physics and philosophy, but even more impressively, he had an innovative, undogmatic mind that was never satisfied with taking things for granted. Against his expectations, Arkos had found himself liking the man, and he had found himself engaging in discussions and debates with his ship's namesake whenever he had the holodeck to himself.

    "You should leave Rome, then, if you find becoming wealthy to be so emotionally traumatizing," he said with a chuckle.

    Leonardo simply sighed, sat down at an opposite table and and took a sip from a nearby goblet of wine. "Oh, how I wish to do so, Arco," the old human replied. "If I must be honest, if I could live anywhere, it would be far away from Roma, from the Papacy, and all of this city's stiff-necked nobles and puritans." He took another sip of wine. "If I had a choice, I would much rather be back home in Firenze. True, it's under the ownership of the French right now, but it's still my home." He gave Arkos a conspiratorial chuckle. "That, and I've heard that French patrons are just as foolish with their money as Roman ones."

    The old man's wish to return home seemed all too familiar to Arkos. It was a futile wish. He knew, all too well, that he could never return to Nar-Etulis. "Yes, well...some roads are closed to us, Leonardo,," he replied sombrely. "Maybe guess the only road open to people like us is always a different one."

    At this, Leonardo chuckled again. "You'd best write that down, Arco, otherwise I may take all the credit." He took another sip of his wine, grabbed a feather-quill, and began to hastily write on a piece of parchment on his desk-- one of the few that hadn't already been defiled by his scratchy handwriting. "So, what brings you to my humble workshop tonight of all nights, Arco? Perhaps you wish to learn more from the most ingenious mind in all of Italia?"

    "Or point out how deeply flawed your proposition for a water-powered combustion device is," Arkos suggested.

    Leonardo gave him a side glance and a sour look. "Vaffanculo. Once I get the funding to have it made, Arco, you won't be so snide..."

    Arkos sighed and shrugged. "Anyway, that's not why I'm here, Leonardo. I came to say goodbye."

    The words were enough to make Leonardo stop writing. He swivelled in his chair to stare at Arkos. "Goodbye?"

    "Yes, goodbye, and I don't believe for a second that you're going deaf, old man," Arkos said. He straightened up, uncomfortably, in his chair. "The business that brought me to Rome has been concluded. As...as much as I would like to stay, Leonardo, I've been tasked elsewhere, far from Italy. And I will have to leave as soon as possible."

    Leonardo blinked a few times, as though he had difficulty understanting the statement. Slowly, though, his expression became downcast. "Ah," he said. "That is...a shame, Arco. I had so looked forward to our continuing conversations."

    Arkos gave the human a sombre nod. "As did I, messere," he replied. "As did I. But I've heard it said that all good things must inevitably come to an end."

    To Arkos' surprise, Leonardo's downcast expression disappeared as he straightened up in his chair. "And what do you intend to do, Arco, in your new locale?"

    Arkos blinked in the face of this unexpected question. "What?"

    "Sacred virgin, 'what' is precisely what I am asking you!" Leonardo exclaimed in mock exasperation. "In the short time that I have known you, Arco, you have impressed upon me that you are a bright and earnest young man with an eagerness to learn and to explore. You are no slave, Arco, so you must have plans and hopes for yourself beyond what your employers wish. What do you intend to become?"

    Arkos, admittedly, had never considered that. He had always figured that his destiny would be wherever his Starfleet career took it. "I suppose, Leonardo, that any...plans for myself, will be what they always have," he replied. "To learn, to explore, and to expand my understanding. And as to what I will become...I suppose that all depends on what I learn and discover, doesn't it?"

    The answer made Leonardo smile, and he clapped his hands together. "Magnifico!" he exclaimed. "Then this, Arco, is precisely why you do not need to be so downcast!" He gesticulated emphatically as he spoke, waving the feather quill around as he did so. "The conversations we've had have been enlightening, Arco, but think of them as only the beginning of your journey. A journey that, I suspect, will be much like mine-- one driven by a desire to know and to understand. And the noblest pleasure, Arco, is the joy of understanding."

    Arkos was quiet for a few seconds as he slowly thought over Leonardo's words. "So...you're saying that I should look at this as an opportunity, not as something to have regrets over?"

    Leonardo's reply was heralded by a shrug. "Well, regret is only natural, Arco. We are only human after all. But you learn nothing if you allow regret to tie you down."

    The was the exact sort of thing Arkos had figured da Vinci would say-- he had, after all, looked at da Vinci's programming beforehand. On some level, Arkos realized he had expected as much, and he supposed that was why he had come down here in the first place. He just needed to hear it spoken by another person.

    He gave a resigned shrug. "I suppose you're right, Leonardo."

    Leonardo chuckled. "Of course I'm right!" He went back to his scribbling. "I'm the most ingenious man in Italia, after all!"

    The comment made Arkos smile. "And it reassures me immensely to know that the fact hasn't gone to your head." He stood up and straightened his uniform. "Well...I really should be off, Leonardo. I'm expected elsewhere very soon." Especially since the ship will officially be closed off in five minutes, he mentally added as he extended a hand to Leonardo. "It has been a pleasure, though, to have known you, messere."

    The old human smiled back at Arkos, stood up, and shook his hand firmly, staining Arkos' palm with holographic ink. "The pleasure, Arco, has been all mine."

    Shaking da Vinci's hand, Arkos stood back and took a deep breath. "Computer," he said, "end program."

    Leonardo, his workshop, and all of the surrounding sights and sounds vanished, replaced by the black, cubelike room and spidery yellow latticework of the holodeck. Exhaling, Arkos turned and left, the hydraulic doors hissing shut behind him.
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]
  • marcusdkanemarcusdkane Member Posts: 7,439 Arc User
    edited May 2013
    Literary Challenge # 37: Mirror, Mirror on the... Viewscreen? Part II

    Through a Glass Darkly

    The older man nodded.

    "Introductions and explanations are in order," he said. "Do I look familiar? My name is Marcus Darien Kane, and I am the head of Kane Industries. This ship, is my finest creation."

    "You're my counterpart?" Kane replied incredulously, breathing now almost an impossibility. "There would appear to be a discrepancy in our ages and appearances."

    The older man chuckled, and nodded. "Call me Darien, I always preferred our middle name. Unlike you, I was not killed test piloting, and am not only quite mortal, but running out of time thanks to a rather nasty virus I picked up on Cardassia. You, however, are going to help me change that."

    "I hate to break it to you, but so am I," replied Kane. "I recently underwent a procedure which rendered me mortal, and thanks to your drones, I don't think I'll be alive much longer"

    Darien laughed and began to cough, before recovering himself.

    "Oh I'm well aware of that, but don't worry, the nanoprobes will soon get that genetic encoding working the way I want," he said. "Don't misunderstand the situation in which you find yourself. I have spent my entire adult life following in my father's footsteps: Designing weapons and selling them to the highest bidder, namely the Alliance, and have lived a satisfying life. Unfortunately, money cannot buy health, and I find myself requiring a genetic transplant in order to survive. With my brother being long dead, that makes you the only available donor, and I have absolutely no intention of dying."

    Kane frowned.

    "Your brother?"

    "My twin brother, Alexander," Darien replied, lowering himself onto another biobed. "Damn fool died orbital skydiving not so long after our twenty eighth birthday. His anti-grav harness and chutes failed, and when they opened his suit, there weren't many parts which were connected to each other anymore, and as you know, separating an immortal's head from their body is a permanently fatal injury. Even if Alex had become immortal upon that death, the injuries themselves were quite unrecoverable. No, I am afraid that you are my only option, and it behooves me to tell you, you will not leave this ship alive."

    "Get it over with," Kane spat defiantly.

    "As you wish," Darien replied obligingly, before turning to Amanda. "Miss Palmer, initiate the static transport sequence on our guest."

    With a nod, Amanda entered commands into a console, and even through the numbness caused by the nanoprobes, Kane felt the beginning shiver of a transporter, then nothing.


    Four months later:


    As we walk down the corridor, I see her coming towards us, a PADD nestled in the crook of her arm. Confident, well presented, professional: For a moment, I see a shadow of the cadet I made my executive assistant over thirty years ago and who became a fine captain. From the four months I have spent in this purgatory, I know the timing, the exact moment she will see us. Good morning, Manda, I think.

    She looks up from her PADD, and smiles.

    "Good morning, Mister Kane," she says in greeting, and for a nano-second, it feels like a conversation.

    "Good morning, Miss Palmer," replies the identity I have come to think of as the Beast, walking past her with barely a glance, and then she is gone from our field of view as we proceed through the corridor and past the labs.

    We continue down the corridor and arrive in the Beast's office. As we enter, lights activate and the computer interfaces spring to life, some with design schematics which actually interest me, others with pornographic images so vile they utterly disgust me. I have no reason to experience this, there is nothing I can gain from witnessing them, nor any influence I can exert to affect or alter his actions, so I begin the meditative processes Master Sovak taught me as a boy, shutting out the images, shutting out the sounds, shutting out the world which is my prison.
    ***

    I hear the ever-present rain of Caladan, and am able to open his eyes. Slowly, I swing his legs out of the bed, careful not to move suddenly and risk waking the sociopath, but for the moment, while he sleeps, the body is mine. As is my habit, I touch my fingers to my thumb in one of the simplest of ka'athyra exercises, my movements smooth and coordinated. From experience, I know that when I begin to fumble the sequence, he is regaining consciousness, and my control is fading. At the first sign of such an event, I need to begin covering the tracks of my activities. The preparations needed to even attempt to make contact beyond the quantum boundary are complex, and not something I can do swiftly or easily.

    Should the Beast ever begin to suspect that there is more to his nocturnal activities than mere somnambulism, he has resources at his disposal which may detect my presence, and methods of extraction which might indeed be able to exorcise me from this living hell, but certainly only a release into oblivion, so I must be ever vigilant. I do not want my preparations to be undone, as I have no intention of remaining trapped like this. If I can somehow escape here without costing anyone their life, I must do so.

    Sliding out of the bed, I pull on a long blue robe of Bolian cotton. Behind me, I see a shoulder turning away from me, and before I can stop them, the memories of what the Beast did to the young girl flood my minds eye. Sensory input so intense, that even the Vulcan techniques Master Sovak taught me could not block them. There comes a point where discipline can shield us no longer, Marcus, he had said in one lesson. And once we reach that point, we must simply endure. The disgust which I feel for my counterpart is such that I feel the bile rising in my throat. To be trapped in the body of such an individual, to be witness to his depraved tastes and practices utterly sickens me, but I know I cannot afford the luxury of vomiting. If I do so, the Beast will wake, my control will be taken, and the girl will once more be at his mercy. As a Starfleet officer, I cannot allow someone to come to harm, whom I have the ability to protect. Crossing to the bathroom, I hold my hands beneath the faucet, gulping down frigid water, then run my hands over my face and back through my hair. I look at the reflection in the mirror above the glass basin. The face is mine, that which I have seen for nearly fifty years, but the hair is worn longer than Starfleet regulations advise, the beard a neatly clipped goatee, rather than full coverage. Familiar but different enough that I feel only a disconnection when seeing the reflection.

    Moving to the computer terminal, I log into his financial accounts, and to see the total is always a shock. I have always known that my family had been considered 'rich' since the turn of the twentieth century, with a fortune in the millions by the end of World War II. In nearly five hundred years, business acquisition and interest has inflated the sum to incredible heights. In Starfleet, I had no need to keep track on the family business, leaving much of its running to my beloved sister, and later my cousin. To actually see the number in hard figures is hard to comprehend in realistic terms. Anything is available at any cost without a moment's thought, the amount almost unspendable. The furthest five right columns of the figure are constantly changing, like a chronometer timing an event. Glancing at the clock in the corner of the screen, I see that there are five hours before the Beast would usually rise for his morning routine. My fingers touching to my thumb as if in contact with the strings of a ka'athyra, I calculate the interest the account would generate in that time, then transfer the twenty million credits out of his account, immediately erasing all traces of the transaction. He won't miss it, as he would have no idea what the total would even be. All I need now, is the girl's palm print, and she will be independently wealthy for the rest of her life. Synching a PADD to the account, I cross to the bed, gently lifting her arm, and laying her palm flat against the touchscreen.

    "What're you doing?" she demands, snatching her hand away and pulling the sheet across her TRIBBLE as she sits up.

    "Just making a transfer to your account," I explain, holding up the PADD so she can see the amount, and her eyes become wide.

    "That's -- a bit more than we agreed on," she replies.

    "I want to apologize for what happened earlier," I say. "That wasn't me doing those things to you, it was someone else. I want to make sure you never have to be treated like that ever again."

    The girl looks at me in confusion, surprise and suspicion in her smoke-colored eyes.

    "Ever heard of multiple personalities?" I ask, and she nods warily. "You had the misfortune to meet -- the other guy. He mostly runs the show... I'm sorry I couldn't do anything to stop him."

    "For that kind of money, you can do it all again if you like," she says with a wink which saddens me.

    "No need," I reply. "The one condition for the money, is that you're to ignore any future communiques from the other guy. Inbox, calls, anything like that, just ignore them. He'll take the hint and move on to someone else, and when he does, I'll do the same for them."

    "Okay, deal," she says, throwing her arms around me.

    "Please don't," I say, feeling a kind of compression of my senses. Backing away, I consciously slow my breathing, employing Master Sovak's meditative techniques to filter the sensory input for a moment, until it feels like the compression eases, and the stirring Beast returns to its slumber.

    The girl looks at me with a mixture of trepidation and concern.

    "Are you okay?" she asks.

    I nod, careful to not allow myself to focus on any one thing too closely.

    "For the moment," I say. "But if he wakes up, I'll lose control and won't be able to do anything to stop him or protect you. You seem like a nice girl, and I don't want to see you wind up like some of the others did. Please, put your clothes on and get out while you can. Get as far away from here, from him as you can."

    "Thank you, Mister Kane, I won't waste the opportunity you've given me," she says, sliding out of the bed and hurriedly pulling on her clothing.

    I smile and shrug, feeling a numbness in my fingers which mean my attempts to retain control are failing.

    "My name is Marcus," I say. "And you're very welcome."
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  • cmdrscarletcmdrscarlet Member Posts: 5,137 Arc User
    edited July 2013
    Literary Challenge #4 - Passing Grades

    The alarms shut off and the pair of female cadets took a step back from the console. A male voice boomed into the room. "Cadets, the ship has been destroyed. Test will resume in five minutes." The Andorian wearing a red striped Cadet uniform pounded the table with both fists and growled in frustration. Looking up at the woman with a blue-striped uniform in front of her, she regretted the outburst. "I'm sorry, I'm not seeing a way out of this mess."

    Kathryn grinned. "It's okay, that's a part of the test, remember? We are standing in Engineering because that's not our specialty."

    Looking down at the schematics on the table , the Andorian female sighed to relax. "Fine. Let's review the situation again." She pulled the tie out of her hair and wrapped it back into a ponytail.

    "Anthi, did I ever tell you that you are a beautiful when you concentrate?"

    The look on Anthi's face told Kathryn that brevity was not allowed and she quickly looked to concentrate on the diagram as well. "The schematics for the FWF-1 warp engines of the Miranda-class should be re-classified as ancient. I hope my first deployment is not on one of these."

    The Andorian smirked, "Now you said it, so you can bet on it."

    They were finishing their analysis of the previous trial when the diagram reset to prearranged parameters. Signals on the table started flashing and sliding within various fields. Alarms started blaring and a hose expelled a white vapor to simulate damage from somewhere else. The room shook violently and both cadets gripped the table to prevent falling to the ground.

    Kathryn reviewed a panel. "Damage to the port nacelle. Inverted plasma coupling destabilizing."

    "Re-routing power to aft auxiliary conduits." Anthi furiously tapped onto a side panel.

    "What about fore conduits?"

    "That would transfer warp power through the ionic grid network. The stress would tear the nacelle off the hull."

    Kathryn nodded then started tapping commands furiously on the shared keypad to her right. "Shutting off plasma valve to port nacelle."

    The warning claxon stopped abruptly and expectantly. After a few seconds, Anthi furrowed her eyebrows as she focused onto a part of the ship schematic. Pointing to a part of the image toward the rear of the ship, she asked, "what's that magnetic interface disturbance?"

    Looking at the signal on the table, Kathryn tried to recall her training and instantly knew the test had deviated from the three previous incarnations. "I don't ... that's different from last time." The feeling of the simulation faded as she became absorbed trying to solve the problem. "Isn't that near the thermal protective manifold?"

    "Checking." Anthi's fingers darted across the keypad to her left as she also became absorbed into the simulation. "Yes, running internal scan." After a few moments, information scrolled on the screen. " The disturbance is magnetic in nature but its also emitting tetryon radiation."

    Kathryn smiled at the revelation. "Let's see, ordering the manifold be removed would expose the interior to deadly artificial tetyrons. Leaving the problem would cause the magnetic field of the disturbance to effectively melt the thermal shielding over time. Damned if you do."

    "That's the sum of it, so what can we do from here?" Anthi wrung her hands together.

    Kathryn looked at the blinking anomaly and bit her lower lip. "Open the access hatch, here." She pointed at a nearby location. "That will freeze the manifold, minimize the magnetic disturbance and vacuum out the radiation. We can order an evacuation of any nearby crew."

    Anthi stood straight and placed a hand on her chin as she thought. "What if the disturbance is immobile? Sucking the radiation particles is a quick clean-up but doesn't remove the problem."

    The science cadet looked around the room as if the answer would appear from somewhere, then she looked up at the tactical cadet. "What if it does remove the problem? Otherwise - " she looked down at the schematic, "we activate hazard shielding here, here, here ... and here below those decks to contain the source until we get a crew in Hazard Suits to inspect from outside the ship."

    "I'm not so sure."

    Kathryn's eyebrows came together. "I am. I have half a mind to release the hull plates exposing the location to the void of space for the rest of the journey." She paused for effect. "Open the access hatch."

    Anthi's face became serious. After a few seconds, she tapped a command on the console. The signal faded.

    Both released their breath loudly and relaxed their shoulders.
    ---

    "That was an interesting move, Cadet." The instructor was scrutinizing Kathryn's test results as he sat behind his desk. He smoothed his mustache with one hand as was his habit. "Not particularly innovative, but direct."

    Kathryn stood at attention and did not look away from the spot on the wall above the instructor. "Thank you, sir."

    The instructor placed the PADD on the desk. "At ease. What was the motivation for the choice you made?"

    Cadet Beringer relaxed visibly. Of the options available, it was the least invasive to the ship, sir."

    He nodded without looking away. "Hindsight being 20/20, do you have any other solutions?"

    Without pause, Kathryn responded, "No, sir."

    "That's good. There were none. You made the right choice which ultimately lead to your passing the course."

    Kathryn beamed a very wide smile. "Thank you, sir!"

    "No need for thanks, you did the work. Tangentially, how would you rate your partner in the test?"

    "She will have an excellent career, sir. I would be honored to serve under her command."
  • cmdrscarletcmdrscarlet Member Posts: 5,137 Arc User
    edited July 2013
    The sword crashed against the rifle barrel. Sparks flew in all directions and both participants winced as the struggled to overpower the other. The man holding the rifle twisted to the right, forcing the sword-wielder off-balance. This was the opening he needed to raise a foot and connected to the enemy's torso. She turned with the kick, reducing its effectiveness, but didn't stop the attack entirely. He stood quickly and hefted the rifle like a bat then swung at the female's head. She completed her spin and raised the sword to shield her head and deflect the strike against her.

    The rifle hit hard and she was pushed to one knee to prevent from falling. As he lifted the rifle for another blow, she swept her leg around and knocked the attacker onto his back. She jumped onto him and held the sword up to point the tip of the blade to his throat. She paused as the fight coordinator shouted, "Enough!"

    Looking up at the woman straddling his waist, Ricol said, "This isn't over."

    Kathryn Beringer smirked as she lowered her sword. "Oh, I think it is. Try this again and nothing will stop you from choking on my blade." She leaned down and kissed him. She forced as much passion as she could and it became easier with each swirl of her tongue. Ricol did not fight against her this time and welcomed her surprise attack. When Kathryn pulled away she immediately slapped Ricol across the face with as much might as she could muster. His head struck the arena floor with a crack and the crowd roared into applause and laughter. She stood and activated the Tholain weapon, the blade shimmered as it vibrated at frequencies too fast to be seen. She raised the weapon high and the laughter disappeared into the applause.

    The fight coordinator stood, he stood slowly due to his corpulence and he sweat profusely in the outdoor heat almost drenching his uniform. He raised his hands to quiet the crowd in the arena and they complied within seconds. "The Trial of Grievance is over. Captain Kathryn Beringer is victorious over Captain Hassid Ricol. By the laws of the Empire, the ISS Solaris is hers to command."

    ---

    On board Solaris...

    The Orion stretched with arms and legs fully extended. When she exhaled both arms swung in a wide arc to encompass the width of the bed. "I could get used to this." Her yellow-tinted dress flowed across the sheets but one leg was raised to reveal her shiny skin.

    Kathryn stepped from another room, two cups filled with Romulan Ale. She wore a nightgown that was translucent and bright red, revealing it was the only item of clothing draped over her shoulders. Smirking at the comment, she sighed, "I've worked very hard to get us here. Now I can take make war as it should be: with brute force. Ricol was weak and he wasted this ship's potential to crush the Alliance." Her olive-skinned partner purred when she received the drinking glass.

    "I'm curious: why this ship above the rest in the fleet?" The Orion licked her lips after a long sip and placed the drink on the stand next to the bed.

    Raising an eyebrow, Kathryn sipped from her cup. "To be honest, Staza, I love her lines. It's a classic look, but underneath her beauty is a dangerous animal. That is appealing to me."

    Staza Murai pushed herself up and leaned in toward Kathryn. "Well said, my love." They kissed and Kathryn snapped her fingers, turning out the lights.
  • takeshi6takeshi6 Member Posts: 752 Arc User
    edited August 2013
    Challenge #7 - The Best and Brightest

    The Devil Instructor

    Instructor-Captain Nanoha Takamachi, Captain of the Aventine-Class Multi-Mission Reconnaissance Explorer USS Wolfram, stood on the second-floor walkway of her ship's Hangar Deck, clad in her standard Tactical Instructor's Uniform, watching as Academy Shuttles landed, disgorged their cargo of Cadets, and took off again. Standing next to her were her Senior Officers, all of whom also doubled as fellow instructors and were also clad in the uniforms of Academy Instructors. "How many did we get this year?" the chestnut-haired human woman asked.

    A blonde-haired human woman wearing a Tactical Instructor's Uniform consulted a roster she had been given. "One hundred and twenty, Nanoha-chan," she replied. "All of whom were the top scorers among the third-year cadets last year."

    Nanoha nodded, smiling. "Thank you, Fate-chan," she said, and Fate Testarossa-Takamachi, Nanoha's wife and First Officer, nodded in reply.

    "A hundred and twenty," a blond Bajoran male wearing the uniform of an Academy Sciences Instructor muttered. "If I'm not mistaken, that's our biggest batch yet."

    "Very much so," said a brown-haired human woman in an Engineering/Operations Instructor's Uniform. "And judging by the variety of division colors down there, they're ranging the whole gamut."

    "More work for all of us, I guess," replied a black-haired Betazoid woman in a Medical Instructor's Uniform.

    "Standard Training Regimes, Captain?" asked a Bajoran woman in another Engineering/Operations Instructor's Uniform, to which Nanoha nodded.

    "Just another year for the Devil Instructor and her crew," remarked a blue-haired Bajoran woman in a Tactical Instructor's Uniform, before she was slapped upside the head by an orange-haired human woman who was also wearing a Tactical Instructor's Uniform.

    "Sobaru, you know the Captain hates that moniker," the orangette scolded.

    "It's practically legend, though, Tia," the bluenette whined. "We had to go through her Training Regime from the Deepest Pits of Hell during our Fourth Year..."

    At this point, the last shuttle had disgorged its load and left, and Nanoha stepped to the edge of the walkway, as all the Cadets turned to look at her.

    "Welcome to the Wolfram!!" she called out. "I am Captain Nanoha Takamachi, and I will be supervising your training for your fourth year."

    The entire group of cadets started to look nervous, and various whispers of 'Devil Instructor' and 'Oh, TRIBBLE' filtered up from the deck.

    "For the next year, you will live, study, and work aboard this ship," she continued. "The training will be harsh--my Crew and I will push you to your very limits, and possibly even beyond in order to expand those limits as far as we can."

    She paused for a moment. "Those who are unable to handle my training will be sent back to the Academy, repeating their fourth year under more traditional teaching methods, but automatically placed at the bottom of their classes. And those who do really badly will be dropped from the Academy altogether."

    She then smiled. "But I believe you can cut it, though. I say this because you all share one thing in common--you all scored among the top five percentile during your third year, which is where I always ask the Academy to pick my students from. And if you do manage to make it all the way through to the end, you will graduate from the Academy with top honors without the need for a final exam."

    As the group of cadets started smiling, she continued, "We will start every morning with physical exercise in the Holodecks before breakfast, and then after breakfast you will report to your Division's Senior Officer for the day's assignments, and individual hands-on training. However, you have these first couple of days off, in order to get a feel for the ship and learn where to go."

    "For now, follow the Ensigns at the Doorway to the enlisted quarters, where you will be staying for the duration of our trip. Dismissed."

    As the cadets filed out of the hangar into the halls of the ship, Nanoha turned and walked out as well, Fate right next to her as her other officers followed in groups. "You ready for this, Nanoha-chan?" Fate asked. "Like Lieutenant Scia said, this is our biggest group of cadets yet."

    "Of course, Fate-chan," Nanoha said before giving her wife a kiss. "I have you supporting me, as well as the rest of the crew. This year will go just as well as our previous years."
    Fate smiled, even as they walked back to their own quarters. They had a day or two before they set off from Earth again--might as well enjoy it.

    (Disclaimer: If you recognize it, I don't own it)
    76561198160276582.png
  • cmdrscarletcmdrscarlet Member Posts: 5,137 Arc User
    edited August 2013
    LC 6 - Not THAT guy

    "I'm telling you man, she was amazing!"

    The Vulcan listener rolled his eyes as he looked out the viewport. "I have no doubt your tryst on Risa was ... enlightening."

    "Oh, boy was it! The way she moved was unlike anything I have experienced. I fell in love, then got left at the alter."

    "Please remind me, Randolph, what was her name again?"

    The talker sighed. "I ... I don't remember." He rubbed his chin. "Cassandra? Kaitlin? Kathy? Maybe not. Baylyn ... or maybe Tala?"

    The Vulcan turned to his friend with an eyebrow raised. "That's a wide range of options. I think it is best you let it go. The odds of meeting the same woman within your lifetime with only memories of her physical features and ... abilities ... is statistically against your favor. If I may be so bold."

    Randolph was undaunted and he waged a finger. "I disagree, Tevos. Humans believe in serendipity and fate. Chance is best at the dabo tables, not love."

    Tevos returned to looking out the window. The Excelsior-class ship was in view as the shuttle banked away from the transport vessel. "But wasn't it random chance to have met this woman in the first place?"

    A finger was poked at the Vulcan's ear. "Nope. Fate brought us to Risa. We were meant to be together."

    "Yet, you don't recall her name and she has not made contact with you since you left Risa two weeks ago, correct?"

    "Pfft, she's probably looking for me as we speak." Randolph looked at the white cruiser out the viewport as the shuttle slowed its speed to approach the ship's aft hull. The shuttle bay doors began to open. "Who knows, maybe she's on this ship!"

    "Again, possible, but highly improbable."

    ---

    The shuttle's doors opened slowly, exposing the interior to the grand innards of Solaris's docking bay. To the side was an Aenar with Ensign pips on her mustard colored uniform. She raised a whistle box and blew the attention tune. Several officers stepped forward, the tallest being the Captain of the ship, Kathryn Beringer. Her long dark red hair pulled back into a thick bun with side strands resting against her jaw. Wearing her standard-issue uniform, the white-colored shoulders standing apart from the rest of the other officers. The new members of her crew started to exit the shuttle, twenty total of various races. They lined up at attention and Kathryn looked at the row before starting a close-up inspection when someone gasped nearby.

    Kathryn turned to see her ship's counselor face go pale. Concerned she whispered loudly, "Christa, is something wrong?"

    Christa Harrington shook her head slightly, her dirty blonde hair quivering. "Not that guy. Of all the ships in the galaxy."

    Looking at the row of duty officers, one man's eyes were darting back and forth. He was of average height and build with black curly hair. His thick lips, high cheekbones, rounded edged nose and sunken eyes made him handsome by Kathryn's standards. She could see he muttered something and a Vulcan to his side quickly looked toward the ship's officer line.

    She smirked. "Well, Christa, it seems like you'll be doing the talking later because I'm ready to listen." Kathryn could see from her peripheral vision that the counselor's shoulders slumped a little.
  • patrickngopatrickngo Member Posts: 9,755 Arc User
    edited September 2013
    Starfleet Academy, 2398/10/14, 0300 hours...

    "...don't have the guts to do it." Zhiv Parette was saying, "little Gonzo here, she's trying to work off demerits." The andorian girl said with a knowing look.

    "Guts to do what, exactly?" Melinda Gonzales asked. The three seniors sat on the floor of their dorm-room. Melinda, Zhiv Parette, and Lucy Qu'hon.

    "You know you lost your guts when Kev-bo graduated." Zhiv said, "Just like when Aura Threll goes, you've turned into miss 'nice girl'."

    Melinda sighed, "What's the game?" she asked, "You want to play, so what're we playing?"

    "Truth or dare." Lucy said.

    "Jesus, what's next, spin the bottle or something?" Melinda asked, "You're worse than my little sisters."

    "You don't have any little sisters." Zhiv pointed out, "just three brothers in the New Zealand reform facility and-"

    Melinda's fist crossed the space before her mind caught up or could stop it, knocking the Andorian girl back. "you will ****ing never talk about my family, TRIBBLE." she spat, "Never."

    Zhiv sat back up, and wiped her bloody lip, "Well, at least you don't hit like a girl."

    "I have an idea." Lucy said, brushing her black hair back and standing, "um, guys?"

    Melinda looked away from zhiv, and slowly untensed.

    Lucy opened a panel behind the bed, and brought out several metallic components. "I've been working on something, since we're all restricted to post and can't get into the O-club." she said, "It's a little...science project."

    Melinda stood up and walked over.

    "see? the yeast's culturing pretty well..." Lucy told her.

    "Is that what I think it is?" Zhiv asked, also coming over to look.

    "Fermentation vat, yeah-I'm using that terrible rice they serve in the caf as a base, with a little bit of corn, and some yeast I picked up in downtown last pass." Lucy said.

    "That is going to be naaaasssty." Zhiv stated.

    "Well, it will be-until it's distilled." Lucy told them.

    "It's an honorcode violation, Lucy." Melinda said.

    "um...yeah...if we get caught." Lucy said.

    "Lucy, that's great for you, and me, but miss prudish over here doesn't drink...do you?" Zhiv said, adding, "Truth time, or you can take a dare, you've never had a drink...not in your whole life, have you, Gonzales?"

    "What's that got to do with anything?" Melinda asked self-consciously, "You've never broken into a system, Zhiv, and Lucy, you've never-"

    "Answer the question, or take a dare." Zhiv pressed.

    Lucy made a pouting face, "Boys like to buy girls drinks, Gonzo...so do girls..."

    "So?" Melinda said.

    "Omigod, you're a virgin too?" Lucy sat forward, "everyone thought-"

    "Everyone was wrong." Melinda said impatiently, "Kevin was just a friend-my best friend-I would've if he asked me, but he never did...at least I'm not like some people spreading their legs for every Kirk wannabe on Campus."

    "Okay, you dodged the question, so it's dare time..." Zhiv interrupted, "We dare YOU, Cadet Gonzales, for the Honour of the corps, to build Lucy's still, and drink at least a liter of what comes out of it when her brew's ready."

    "a Liter?" Lucy said, "I'm not sure this batch is going to produce a Liter."

    "Okay, then the first cup." Zhiv amended.

    "What if I say 'no'?" Melinda said, "I can, you know."

    "you do, and by this time tomorrow, everyone on campus will know all about your family." Zhiv said, "Details, even, like how your mom's a Neuro-head in a recovery centre, or your brothers serving a sentence for dealing sezz and stolen goods..."

    Melinda's feet shifted to a fighting stance unconsciously and her hands clenched into fists.

    "Yeah, don't try it, I'll break both of your arms." Zhiv said casually, "You sucker punched me once...once."

    "Loosen UP!" Lucy stepped between them, "Seriously, you're supposed to be my friends, stop it!"

    "Party next weekend." Melinda said, locking eyes on Zhiv. "Is your batch going to be ready by then?"

    "Yeah!" Lucy stated.

    "Fine. Zhiv, I'll make the still, and I'll drink the booze, you bring the boys." she said quietly, "Gonzo is not gone just because Kevin is....but..." she gently pushed Lucy aside, "You ever threaten me like that and We are no longer friends, and if I ever think you've talked about what I told you in confidence with anyone, anywhere, If you ever say another word about my family, I will ****ing destroy you. There won't be a hole you can hide in that I won't booby-trap, a bed you can safely sleep in, a house you can walk into or anywhere you can hide that I won't personally make sure to turn against you." she stared into the Andorian's eyes as she said it, "I swear on my grandmother's grave, before God, I will make you suffer if you EVER try that again."


    Counseling office, Albequerque Social Services, 2394/07/17...

    Counselor Raine regarded her with those dark, dark, betazed eyes, "You want to talk about your father?" she asked.

    Melinda Gonzales, age 15, shook her head. "No."

    "Listen, the judge says you have to attend, and I'm given a good living to be here once a week, but we've been at this for two years now, and-"

    "No." Melinda said, "I don't want to talk about it. He's finally dead." she said.

    "What about your brothers?" Raine asked.

    "Their case is still on appeal." Melinda stated, "I don't CARE what City says, I never saw them break the law."

    Raine sighed, "You don't want to talk about your father, but you are...why not just tell me?"

    Melinda glared at her.

    "Okay..okay, Now, I understand from your Guardian ad litem that you've managed to get an appointment to Starfleet Academy...are you excited?" Raine asked, glancing at the clock.

    "It gets me out of here." Melinda said, "out of the Welfare island, away from...here...yeah, I'm excited, I can't wait to go."

    "I know some people at the admissions office." Raine said, "if you would just open up a little, I might be able to get them to waive your last year of High School-you've already got the academic credits..."

    "What can I say? Julio and Ramon at least TRIED to stop him. After Ramon got out of the sublet into his own place in Gallup, I had somewhere to run-and the district took that away from me." Melinda told the Counselor, her eyes were tearing up. "I'm GLAD he's DEAD, I wish I could've been the one that killed him!"

    "Why would you wish that?" Raine asked.

    "y-yyou kn-know gggodddam good and well why..." Melinda blubbered, "it-it-it's in th-th-th-the files why."

    "but you need to face it, Melinda..." Raine said, "You need to face it, and you need to heal, or you'll never have a normal relationship with anyone, ever."

    "maybe I don't need or want one of those." Melinda told her, "Did that ever occur to you?"


    Starfleet Academy, October 21, 2399...

    "...suppresses the emissions, and it runs on ordinary current-no more than a normal desk lamp." Gonzo had her long, black hair tied back in a ponytail as the machine hummed. "See?"

    "wow, it's so...professional." Zhiv marvelled, "Tom, come here and see this!"

    Tom Warburton was one of the Graduate Students taking an extra year for advanced courses, , but he was a big, muscular fellow on the honours list-and that meant he was exactly Zhiv's type.

    Melinda thought, privately, that he was a blowhard and a bit on the dumb side. she scooted to the side, and he looked it over.

    "wow, this is really good." he said, "you designed it?"

    "I built it." Melinda said, "I had help designing it."

    "I know guys in the grad programme who wouldn't put this much detail into their work." he said, "who helped?"

    "She studied base principles and technology for most of the week." Lucy interjected, "her 'help' was a couple kiloquads of information on booze-making in a dozen cultures, plus Advanced fabrication Techniques for the field, Tech Manual 221321."

    Lucy looked at the time, "****! I've got an appointment tonight! ****!"

    "What, a date?" Melinda asked.

    "No...part of the distraction-I'm getting help in Quantum Subspace Interactions-Nanoha's Tutoring me tonight...****." Lucy started pulling on her uniform and grabbing books.

    "I'll save you some." Melinda said, "When it's done."

    "You better!" Lucy dashed out of the dorm-room.

    "I would've figured she'd be on a date with Fate." Zhiv said after Lucy left, "They're an item, you know, Nanoha and Fate..."

    Melinda made some adjustments to the still's controls, "Don't know what Fate sees in her-maybe she likes the stick up her TRIBBLE."

    "That's Gross!" Zhiv scolded, "also mean."

    "Just sayin." Melinda stated, "just about done...there we go...okay, unplug my lamp and plug the still in."

    "If this doesn't work...I've got backup." Zhiv told her.

    "You won't need it." Melinda stated confidently, "yes, my skillz are THAT Q."


    Visitor's area, New Zealand Reform Centre, 2398/12/25...

    Ramon sat across from her at the table, separate from her by a forcecage and a wall.

    "You need to forget about me and Julio now-you're going to be a Starfleet Officer." Ramon said, "You can't have us draggin you down, little sister."

    "What?" Miranda demanded.

    "I've heard some rumours, you been getting into trouble." he said, "You gotta knock that **** off, you don't want to end up in a place like this as a guest, or in a rehab like momma, you gotta get your act straightened out." he said, "Stop getting into trouble, stop making trouble...you're smart, you can actually make somethin' out of yourself, but you gotta stop doin' **** to get Demerits."

    "How do you know about that?" Melinda asked.

    "I'm in prison, not at the bottom of the sea in isolation-they let me check up on you." Ramon said, "the Counselors say it's helping curb my...'criminality'." He leaned forward, "When Julio and I get released, I don't want you anywhere near us, I want you to go out there-up in the stars, and make us proud by doing good."

    "What are you saying?" Melinda demanded.

    "I'm saying we-me and Julio-we're guilty as charged, okay? Fencing stolen goods, selling Sezz and Neuro, forging records-we did all that stuff...we also did something for you."

    "Dad." she whispered.

    "Keep it quiet." he said, "or report it-doesn't matter, they can't charge you as an accessory now-because we're already scheduled for trial...and you better not be there either. Keep your grades up, get a good assignment, maybe you'll make the news and make us both proud of you."

    "You're pleading guilty?" she asked.

    "Better, my Lawyer says there's a good case for 'justifiable homicide', means we'll only be facing charges for vigilantism, that's only a fifteen year sentence in a minimum security...but you can't come here again. I mean, I appreciate you doin' it, and on Christmas, but..." he shook his head, "Jailbird in the family's bad for your future." he said, "so...don't come back here again."


    Starfleet Academy, October 21, 2399, 2100 hours...

    "It's ready-party time!" Melinda announced, and set a coffee cup under the toggle-spout.

    "Hey, you gotta mix it with something..." Zhiv said, "you KNOW it's going to taste like ****..."

    21:30

    Zhiv and one of the boys were on the bed, necking. Melinda felt a little bit sick to her stomach as Warburton pawed drunkenly at her chest. "Get...off me...I'm gonna be sick..."

    She struggled out from under him, and ran for the room's head, barely making it before her stomach pumped upward, filling it with something that was nearly as foul smelling, as it tasted.

    She heard Zhiv invite him to join her and...whoever that other guy was. I need a walk... Melinda walked out of the room, down the hall, and out into the night.

    The nausea was smaller outside. no, it's less because he's not touching you there... a little voice in her head told her.

    she looked down, and realized she had one of Zhiv's 'backup plans' in her hand.

    "yah...it's not the alcohol, it's...being pawed like that..." she told herself out-loud, then took a swig, it burned it's way down.

    "Who needs a pass?" she muttered, and headed toward the gate. Ramon said to stop getting into trouble! her little voice-or maybe a different one, scolded. she heard footsteps behind her, and looked.

    In the patchy illumination of the sidewalk, he was...he looked like...no, he's dead. Ramon killed him... Her heartbeat spiked and skipped as the light reflected on a face fifty feet behind her-a face that looked like her father's leer.

    she ran.

    not-real-not-real-not-real!!!

    She reached the decorative west gate, and shook it, it was locked.

    So she tried to climb.

    her hands were numb, and so were her feet, she fell off.

    but the footsteps were gone. I'm tired... she thought, I'll just take a little nap...so tired...

    she blacked out.


    Emergency Room, Starfleet Medical..

    "...can you hear me..?" noise,a nd colours assaulted her, and something was blocking her nose...

    Dean's office, October 30, 2399...

    "I'm not doing it." Commandant Alice Jackson said, "No...this kid is salvageable."

    "She was found on ground near the West Gate, they found a distillery in her room." Commander Parker, the Security chief for the site, pointed out.

    "I know." Jackson said, "We had one in the dorms when I was a cadet-kids do stuff, her roomies already owned their part of it-she was experimenting with drinking-like YOU experimented with sex." the Commandant folded her hands, "I won't buy off on an expulsion-you've seen this girl's scores?"

    "Yeah, and I have a disciplinary file on her as long as-" he started.

    "NO." Alice told him, "You can take it up with the board of governors if you want-we pitch this kid out now, and she'll be back in the slums, working for the criminals-and frankly, Parker, THAT isn't in the best interests of the Federation, Starfleet, Earth, OR her."

    "So...what do you want to do instead?" Parker demanded.

    "One year on Academic Probation, one year set back, Mandatory counseling for substance abuse, and six months Campus service-give Orbison a pair of hands that actually can handle tools-so she repeats her senior year here, with a six month tour as a maintenance worker-that'll keep her so busy she can't get into trouble."

    "She's undisciplined..." he insisted.

    "Fix that-part of her probationary period is supervised, right? so Discipline her." the Commandant ordered.
  • ambassadormolariambassadormolari Member Posts: 709 Arc User
    edited September 2013
    (This story takes place immediately after my entry for LC47:
    http://sto-forum.perfectworld.com/showpost.php?p=12009841&postcount=39)



    "...repeat, I am Vrasskos, warrior and leader of the Gorn on Rumaka Station," the voice on the message growled. "Up until now, my kin and I have slaved and suffered for the Empire. We have been burned by plasma, maimed in accidents, emaciated by radiation and brutalized by our Klingon overseers, all for little reward or recompense. Scores of us have died creating the Empire's experimental warheads, but for the longest time, we have accepted our suffering as a necessary burden, for our people and for the Empire. Until now."

    As he listened, Lynathru took a brief moment to glance at his bridge crew, to gauge their reactions. At the navigational panel, Sadra sat with her eyes fixed on the jagged, floating castle that was Rumaka Station hovering on the viewscreen, staring with no small amount of consternation at the disruptor cannons that bristled like cactus spines from the station's arms. To Lynathru's immediate right, Kovar was glowering, as usual, his stern visage locked on the station as though gauging how best to engage and defeat its defenses. Rresh, standing at the main operations console, looked uncomfortable, the hulking Gorn's reptile jaws creasing as he listened to the recording. Farra, the ship's tactical officer, was glaring down at her tactical readouts, her one good eye tensed with irritation. And Ressic...

    ...was looking right at him, his expression unreadable. Biting back a shudder, Lynathru looked away, not wanting to lock stares with those insidious red eyes again. He knew he might have been misjudging the Notqa's science officer, but simply being in the same room as Ressic made him feel uncomfortable, as though the Lethean were boring into his thoughts from a distance. He would probably never be happy on the Notqa, he decided, until he devised some way to get Ressic transferred elsewhere.

    "We have risen," the message went on, and have torn off our chains. No more shall we slave and die while our rights and dignity are trampled upon. We have taken control of the station, along with the experimental weapons we have died in the dozens trying to make for your Empire. There are forty-seven Klingon slavemasters now chained up as our prisoners, at our limited mercy. Unless you wish for them all to die honourless deaths, you will listen to our demands."

    Next to Lynathru, Kovar gave an angry grunt. At the edge of the bridge, Lynathru could have sworn he had heard a low growl emanating from Rresh's throat.

    "We are tired. Tired and fed up, of suffering from radiation poisoning, of being scalded by plasma burns, of being fed tainted rations, and of being denied basic medical services and living conditions. We demand proper safety equipment, proper workers' rights, and the respect that is due to us for our labours. Refuse, and I shall personally vent every single Klingon on this station out into deep space."

    There was a short, hissing intake of breath. "And afterwards...we shall make use of the weapons that we have suffered so long trying to build...and we shall mete out justice on the Empire that made slaves of us. The Klingon Empire has exactly eight hours to comply."

    And with that, the transmission devolved into static. At his console, Ressic tapped in a few commands. "The message loops onwards after this, Captain," he said. "I have determined that it is roughly five hours old at this point."

    Kovar spat a gobbet of phlegm across the bridge, narrowly missing Sadra's head. "Honourless serpents!" he growled. "We spared them during the Gorn wars, and made them an active part of the Empire. And this is how they repay us?"

    Before Lynathru could respond to the old Klingon's invective, Rresh suddenly spoke up. "If they had been treated with proper respect, the Gorn workers on Rumaka might not have rebelled," the Gorn hissed.

    Kovar turnd to face Rresh, his bearded face twisting into a disdainful frown. "Respect, engineer, is something that is earned, not freely given!"

    Lynathru knew where this exchange was headed, and acted quickly, slamming his gauntleted fist down hard against the arm rest of his command chair with a loud, metallic clang. "Enough!" he snapped. He turned in such a way that he was glaring at Kovar and Rresh both. "When I desire your opinions on this situation, then I will ask for them. Until then, speak when you are spoken to!"

    Rresh, thankfully, backed down in the face of his Captain's anger, a suitably chastened look crossing his reptilian features. Kovar, on the other hand, still looked proud and disdainful towards the Orion, though thankfully he said nothing in reply. Normally, Lynathru wouldn't have cared if Kovar and Rresh had come to blows-- indeed, he would have set up bets among the bridge crew over the victor. But Rresh, in addition to being a fine engineer and well-liked among the ship's Gorn, was one of Lynathru's few allies on the Notqa, and Kovar, for better or worse, was Lynathru's First Officer. At the moment, he really couldn't afford to lose either.

    Turning back to the image of Rumaka Station, Lynathru grimaced. He had been hoping that this would have been yet another Orion revolt-- that way, he could have swooped in and crushed it mercilessly to save the day, and then no one in High Command would doubt his loyalty. But instead, it turned out that rioting workers were all Gorn...and aside from Rresh, few of Lynathru's experience with the reptiles had ever been pleasant.

    This was, in more ways than one, a nightmarish situation for Lynathru. He couldn't withdraw from this situation without angering High Command even more-- Rumaka Station was one of the Empire's main production facilities for the dreaded har'pheng torpedoes, and backing off would mean leaving valuable armaments in the hands of rebellious Gorn-- rebellious Gorn who, to make matters worse, were making active terrorist threats. More importantly, to withdraw from a hostage crisis like this would be seen as an act of weakness, and would lose him the respect of his crew...which, in turn, would probably lead to him eventually getting murdered or abandoned on an away mission. Given the diverse nature of the Notqa's crew, however, Lynathru's other options weren't very attractive either. To launch an aggressive action against the mutineers would risk angering the ship's Gorn, many of whom probably sympathized with the workers as much as Rresh did. On the other hand, negotiating with the mutineers would probably earn him the anger of Kovar and the ship's other Klingons. No matter what Lynathru did, the end result would inevitably be a civil war on the ship...and his own head getting put on a spike.

    He sank uncomfortably in the edge of his chair, inwardly cursing his horrible luck. "Rresh, are there any other ships in range?" he asked. Perhaps, he hoped, someone else could deal with these Gorn instead.

    Rresh deftly ran his claws across the comm panel. "No, Commander," he quickly responded. "The closest ship is the I.K.S. G'roth under Colonel Yevchu, and it is roughly eight hours away at maximum warp."

    Lynathru swore under his breath. Under ideal circumstances, the situation would have best been handled by a Gorn commander. The mutineers might have listened to one of the KDF's celebrated Gorn heroes, like General Ssharki, or Captain Gorvar, or even that scaly cretin S'tass. Instead, however, it was down to him, an Orion-- a race that neither the Klingons nor the Gorn had any love for.

    He took a deep breath, as his painful memories of the KDF Academy came to the fore again. On an Orion ship, he would have had absolute control by virtue of blood ties, and could have been as much of a tyrant as he wanted. But here, on a Klingon ship, it was expected of him to consult his senior officers in the event of a crisis like this. He turned to his First Officer. "Kovar, your thoughts?"

    Kovar straightened up. "We act, quickly and decisively, Commander," he replied. The white-bearded old Klingon turned and gestured to the screen. "A head on assault on Rumaka Station would be foolish, but we are still cloaked. We can take them by surprise and eliminate their weapons platforms in a single pass, before beaming down to take the fight to them. Either way, we must retake the station or destroy it. Honour demands that we must atleast try to free those hostages, but if we cannot, then the the station must be destroyed. The Empire's weapons research must not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands!"

    Farra quickly spoke up from her tactical console. "We can easily get within their shield arc under cloak, Captain," she offered. "From there, it would be easy to take out their main batteries the moment we decloak."

    Lynathru nodded to both of the Klingons, before turning to Rresh. "How about you, Rresh? You're the Gorn here, how should we deal with this issue?"

    Rresh's tail twitched uncomfortably. "Well, Commander...even though it wouldn't be the Klingon way..." He shot a venomous glare at Kovar before continuing. "...we should perhaps beam down to the station and try to talk to Vrasskos and his people. If we can work out some sort of...I don't know, agreement with the workers...then I am certain that they'll be happy to get back to serving the Empire again."

    Kovar gave a loud, derisive snort at this comment. Lynathru fixed him with a glare-- a glare which, distressingly enough, Kovar didn't seem cowed by. Thankfully, however, another argument between Kovar and Rresh was interrupted by the deep, velvety voice of Ressic.

    "Commander, if I may, I have a suggestion," the Lethean said. "Rresh has made an interesting point. If we were to send an away team down to Rumaka Station, we could avert the crisis and potentially convince the Gorn to stand down." The Lethean took a brief, sideways glance at Kovar. "And if our attempts at...diplomacy...fail, then this away team will be in a prime position to eliminate Vrasskos and the other Gorn leaders personally while the Notqa deals with the station defences from space."

    At Ressic's comment, Kovar leaned back a little in his chair, seeming a little more at ease. "As risky as it is," he grumbled, "I suppose there's merit in confronting these Gorn face to face." He turned to Lynathru. "Will you be leading the away team, Commander?"

    At that moment, Lynathru was painfully aware of the fact that the eyes of his bridge crew were on him, watching expectantly. As much as he wanted to say no to Kovar, he knew he couldn't do so without looking weak. This meant that he was going to have to go down there, he knew, and confront hundreds of angry Gorn who would no rip him to shreds if he angered them in some way. He grimaced, and caught himsel at the last minute to make it look like an expression of grim resolve instead.

    "Of course," he replied. "Isn't that the Commander's duty, after all?"


    *****

    For his landing party, Lynathru chose Kovar, Rresh, Sadra and Ressic to accompany him to Rumaka Station. Rresh was an obvious choice, as the presence of a Gorn officer in the landing party might make the negotiations go more smoothly. Sadra was also there to keep tempers from flying-- Lynathru had no idea if the potent pheromones of Orion females would work on Gorn or not, but it wouldn't hurt to find out. Ressic was chosen because, as nervous as the Lethean made Lynathru, his telepathic abilities might undoubtedly be useful in the negotiations. And Kovar was chosen because, as Lynathru's First Officer, protocols dictated that he be there as the commander's right hand. Furthermore, for any possible negotiations, an actual Klingon officer had to be present to represent the Empire. If worse came to worse, Lynathru supposed he could also throw Kovar at the Gorn to buy himself some time.

    The landing party was rounded out by Janga, the Notqa's QoS Devwl', and five of his chosen Bekk for added protection. Janga, a hulking, rebreather-masked Nausicaan was about as violent as all of his species, but he was also obedient enough not to start any firefights against Lynathru's orders. Either way, having the Bekk on hand would be a nice insurance policy in case things went south.

    At Lynathru's orders, the Notqa decloaked just below the guns of Rumaka Station, and the party beamed aboard the station's command centre before any shields could be raised. The eleven KDF warriors materialized right in the middle of a cluster of Gorn on the station's bridge, all of whom hissed in alarm and leapt from consoles the moment they saw the shimmer of the transporter. The Gorn all wore ragged trousers and belts, and their scaly hides sported numerous dark bruises, burn marks and unpleasant-looking discolourations. And quite a lot of them, at that moment, were reaching for disruptors.

    "Hold your fire!" Lynathru yelled, raising his arms even as his own away team reached for their weapons. "We're not here to fight...although if want to you start one, I promise you'll regret it." His fingers hovered within quickdraw range of his holstered disruptor pistols. "We heard your message, and on behalf of the Klingon Empire, we're here to talk."

    One of the Gorn-- a hulking brute who stood a head taller than his kin, wearing an a battered iron cuirass and work trousers-- shouldered his way forwards. His scales were dark, almost obsidian, and he fixed Lynathru with a pair of glaring yellow slit-eyes. Even if he hadn't been a head taller than his kin, this Gorn exuded a palpable aura of menace and barely-restrained violence that was quite intimidating. "Who are you?" he snarled, his voice sounding like claws raking against flesh.

    Lynathru kept his nerves in the face of this reptilian monster. "I am Lynathru, Commander of I.K.S. Notqa, which you have undoubtedly just picked up on your sensors," Lynathru replied, noting the image of the rusted winged shape of his ship on the station's viewscreen. "Incidentally, you should know that my ship has orders to open fire if I don't contact them in the next ten minutes, so I'd keep your firearms out of this conversation if I were you." He folded his arms behind his back in a casual pose. "And you, I would imagine, are Vrasskos?"

    The Gorn stared silently at Lynathru for a few seconds, as though weighing his options. Slowly, though, he let out an uncertain growl. "And you have come to talk, then? To plead for the lives of your precious Klingon overseers, green-skin?"

    "The Klingon Empire does not plead, Gorn!" Kovar spat.

    "bIjatlh 'e' yImev!" Lynathru snapped at Kovar, knowing, but not caring, that he was probably mangling the Klingon word. He turned back to Vrasskos, and gave him his most charming smile. "If I remember correctly, Vrasskos, you issued the Empire some terms: better conditions for yourself and your kin in exchange for the lives of the Klingon officers here on Rumaka. Isn't that right?"

    Vrasskos bared his teeth. "Yes," he replied. "We refuse to toil for the Empire any longer until our demands are met! If they refuse, then we will deliver on our promises! All of them."

    Rresh suddenly took a step forward. "If you do that, then the Empire will kill all of you!" he exclaimed. "And that goes double if you unleash any of those har'phengs against the Empire! Do you have any idea what sort of danger you've placed yourself and your kin in?"

    The larger Gorn turned and looked down at Rresh, his reptile jaws baring in what Lynathru guessed was the Gorn equivalent of a sneer. ""Better that we die free," he said, "then live as slaves...even if it is as glorified slaves like you, hatchling!"

    Rresh's own teeth bared in reply, but Lynathru quickly stepped between them. "Before...we discuss your terms, Vrasskos," he said, "might we see your prisoners in person?"

    The hulking Gorn turned to stare down at Lynathru, the fanged reptilian sneer still present on his face. "Why, Captain Lynathru? Are you afraid we've eaten all of our hostages by now? Your ridged overseers are safe and sound, Orion. You have my word."

    Lynathru met the Gorn's gaze, and slowly smiled up at him. "Either I see the Klingon officers," he said, "or I beam back to my ship and blow this station to atoms. It's really that simple."

    The sneer disappeared, transforming quickly into a bared snarl. "You wouldn't dare," he hissed. "You would kill those officers in the process. And your Empire values its precious warheads too much for you to destroy them."

    "Maybe," Lynathru replied smoothly, "but I know for a fact that High Command would rather see those warheads destroyed then let them fall into the claws of an enemy. And as for the officers, well...I'm sure I'd be applauded for sparing them further dishonour." His smile widened a little. "I'm seeing those forty-seven Klingons you have locked up, Vrasskos, and I'm speaking to them. This isn't up for negotiation."

    A sibilant hiss escaped Vrasskos' jaws. Lynathru was reminded of the ferocity of a cornered animal-- for all his talk about dying free, Vrasskos clearly had no wish to die any time soon. He was an opportunist, Lynathru realized, not a fanatic: he had taken advantage of this rebellion to grab a position of leadership and power among the Gorn, and despite his incessant demands for concessions, it was obvious that he intended to either use or sell Rumaka Station's warheads for his own gain. Now, though, Vrasskos was running out of options, and his frustration was showing.

    "Very well, Captain Lynathru," he finally hissed, "but be warned: my kin and I shall be wary of any tricks you may decide to pull."

    "I wouldn't dream of it, Vrasskos," Lynathru replied suavely. "By all means, lead the way."


    ******

    The forty-seven surviving Klingons, out of an original garrison of eighty, had been corralled into Rumaka Station's brig and left there, guarded only by a pair of bored-looking Gorn as they lingered behind forcefields. They were all in a pretty dismal state-- Lynathru saw torn armour and tattered uniforms, not to mention a myriads of cuts and bruises, both fresh and new, and a few obviously broken limbs here and there. It was obvious that none of them had eaten in days, and at least two of them looked seriously ill. But most significant of all, Lynathru saw their expressions-- their trademark defiance and anger was gone, replaced by tired looks of humiliation and defeat. In his year and a half of living in the Klingon Empire, Lynathru had never before seen Klingons look so broken before.

    Well, that last part wasn't true. He had seen members of almost every single race look battered and subjugated in the slave fairs of Terjas Mor. But that had been before his name in the Syndicate had been blackened beyond repair.

    As they approached the forcefield, however, many of the Klingons perked up. One of them, in particular, stood up to his full height, his bedraggled black beard dangling loosely from his chin as he stared at Lynathru with wild, suspicious eyes.

    "An Orion?" he growled, seemingly to himself. The tattered remains of a ranking pin was visible on his upper arm. "High Command sent a green petaQ to rescue us?"

    "I suggest you watch your tongue, fool," Kovar spat back, "or he may deign to leave you here."

    Lynathru, however, simply smiled at the captive. "It's nice to know that my efforts are appreciated," he said. "I am Captain Lynathru, of the I.K.S. Notqa, and right now I'm someone you should treat with a little more respect if you want to get out of this mess alive." He glanced at the other Klingons. "I take it you're the former station commander?"

    The Klingon straightened up and met Lynathru with a fierce, prideful gaze. "I am stillthe station commander!" he spat. "I am Kormagh, son of Rogh, and this is what's left of my crew." He glanced at Lynathru's party, and his expression intensified. "If you're here, why are the Gorn still about? Why haven't you tried to retake the station, Captain?"

    Lynathru noticed Rresh give Kormagh a venemous look, and quickly replied before things could get ugly. "Because this station is useless to High Command without a work force," Lynathru replied flatly, crossing his arms. "If I went and murdered every single lizard on this station, har'pheng production would be set back weeks, if not months...and in case you've forgotten, Commander Kormagh, we're at war right now."

    Kormagh let out a frustrated grunt. "You would spare the Gorn? They have rebelled against the Empire and taken my station!" He edged closer to Lynathru's face from behind the force field. "You ought to kill them all and be done with it!"

    "It sounds to me like you were doing that well enough before," Rresh cut in.

    Lynathru shot Rresh a warning glance, but the insult had already flown. Kormagh glared angrily in the Gorn's direction. "I won't sit here and be insulted, Captain Lynathru!" he snarled. "Do you intend to liberate this station or not?"

    Turning back to Kormagh, Lynathru adopted an aloof expression and made a show of scratching his chin. It had only taken a few seconds for him to develop a low opinion of Kormagh-- the man seemed like a prideful fool and a craven, and Lynathru wanted to make it absolutely clear which of them was in control here.

    "That depends," he replied nonchalantly. "Are Vrasskos' accusations true, Commander? Did have these Gorn work in hazardous conditions without protection or medical assistance?"

    Kormagh seemed to calm down a little, and leaned back from the forcefield. "Why should I allocate valuable medical and technical resources to conscripted labour?" he sneered. "I have scientists and engineers on this station whose services are ten times more valuable than those of some mud-crawling reptiles! The Gorn should simply accept their lot and work efficiently instead of bawling like infants!"

    It was just as Lynathru had suspected: Vrasskos' accusations were true. Lynathru was hardly surprised-- the Klingon Empire had lasted for centuries as just the Klingon Empire, and had only recently allowed non-Klingons into its ranks under Jm'pok's rule. The Klingons were, however, by their very nature, a traditionalist and conservative society, and it wasn't surprising that they continued to chafe at the idea of Gorn, Nausicaans and Orions having the same status and priveleges as them. That chafing usually led to active instances of discrimination, like the brutalization of the Gorn here on Rumaka Station. Given the attitudes of the Klingons, Lynathru was surprised the Orion revolt hadn't happened sooner.

    Lynathru's train of thought, however, was interrupted by the interjection of a deep, rasping voice.

    "You see?" Turning, Lynathru saw Vrasskos stride into the room, glaring triumphantly at him. A group of armed Gorn followed in his wake, and Lynathru tensed at the possibility of violence. "The head slavemaster admits it! My people have been denied their welfare, their dignity and their rights!" His fangs bared as he turned towards Kormagh and his assembled Klingons. "We refuse to endure such treatment any longer, Captain Lynathru, and we shall not rest until the Empire accedes to our demands!"

    Kormagh turned beet-red at the sight of Vrasskos, and quivered visibly in rage. "Honourless serpent!" he snarled. "You murdered my warriors! I would see you in Gre'thor before I gave you any concessions!"

    Vrasskos' jaws pulled back in a sneer. "Then to Gre'thor you shall go, slavemaster! I shall send you there myself, along with your your warriors!" Behind them, a few more Gorn had gathered, and they all raised their sibiliant voices in growls of approval.

    The Gorn, however, were not the only ones forming a mob. Around Kormagh, the surviving Klingons got to their feet and crowded at the edge of the forcefield, hurling names and abuse back at their Gorn captors. In a few seconds, the scene devolved into utter bedlam: Klingons and Gorn yelled at one another from opposite sides of the forcefield, insults, mockeries and threats crisscrossing back and forth like weapons fire. And Lynathru and his crew were caught in the middle of it all.

    He glanced at Kovar, who was looking increasingly bewildered and frustrated by the scene. Next to him, Janga was looking increasingly agitated, and Satra looked like she was on the verge of a panic attack. Only Ressic, damn his Lethean eyes, seemed calm in the middle of this storm. Lynathru, though, had been in enough bar-room brawls and marketplace melees to know where this was heading. It would only take a single spark, forcefield or no, for this scene to erupt into violence.

    And then, like a glimmer of thunder in a storm, Lynathru had an idea.

    Thinking quickly, Lynathru did something which he knew was very, very stupid. He pulled one of his disruptor pistols free and fired several loud shots into the ceiling.

    The sound of the disruptor discharge caused everyone else in the room to jump. He was suddenly conscious of dozens of Gorn and Klingon eyes staring at him in confusion. But, thankfully, no one was reacting by shooting back at him. His luck had held out this time.

    "Thank you," Lynathru grumbled as he holstered his pistol. Knowing he had a captive audience, he decided to use that to his advantage. "I think I may have a way of resolving this little dispute," he announced. "One that will be completely fair, that will resolve the matter in an honourable fashion, and will be recognized by Klingon law." He gave a subtle nod to Kovar as he spoke. He figured he might as well throw the Klingon a bone by bringing honour into the solution.

    vrasskos responded by banging a large, scaly fist against the nearby bulkhead. "Enough of your prattling of honour, green-skin!" he snapped. "Give us what we want!"

    In an instant, Rresh was at Lynathru's side. "You won't even hear him out?" he growled, staring down all of the assembled Gorn. "He's here to talk, to negotiate your terms instead of retaking this station by force! You owe it to him to at least hear what he has to say!"

    Rresh's interjection was just what the situation needed. "Wait..." a voice said from further behind Vrasskos. One of the Gorn in the crowd edged up to be seen. "what does the Orion have in mind?" Vrasskos fixed his subordinate with a withering glare, but the arrow had flown. A number of other Gorn piped up in agreement, and soon all of them were shouting, demanding that Lynathru be allowed to speak. Vrasskos snarled at them, but the sound went unheeded, and the big Gorn looked more and more distressed as he lost control of his followers.

    Holding back the urge to smile, Lynathru raised an arm, and slowly the Gorn went quiet. "It's simple," he said, remembering the basics of Klingon law that Khe'Rath had taught him. "Whenever two parties hold some grievance against one another, Klingon law permits them to settle the matter in single combat." He let the words sink in a little before continuing. "Each group will select a champion to represent them, and those two champions will take up bat'leths and settle the matter in a duel to the death. The winning party, by custom, will have their grievances and demands met. The law of the Klingon Empire will recognize the outcome of such a duel, no matter who wins, for a trial by combat is seen as a sacred thing among the Klingons."

    He heard murmuring from the imprisoned Klingons, who by and large seemed to approve of the idea. "Vrasskos," he said, to the Gorn leader, "if the Klingons win this challenge, will you and your Gorn release the prisoners and return to your work, with or without your concessions?"

    Vrasskos gave a seething hiss. "This is foolish!" he snarled. "I will not gamble our demands away on some idiotic challenge!"

    With a long sigh, Lynathru gave a wistful shrug. "If you feel that a Gorn cannot defeat a Klingon in a fair fight, then..."

    Just as Lynathru had hoped, this set the rest of the Gorn off into a series of hissed shouts. Many of the Gorn, Lynathru noticed, were directing these shouts at Vrasskos, urging him to accept the offer. With a low growl, the Gorn leader raised his arms in a vain attempt to silence his cohorts.

    "Fine, FINE!" he snarled. "We agree to these terms!" The other Gorn, seemingly satisfied, began to quiet down.

    Giving a satisfied nod, Lynathru turned to the Klingons. "And Kormagh...if the Gorn win this challenge, do you promise to grant them better health services and to improve their working conditions, and not carry out any reprisals for their uprising?"

    Kormagh fumed silently, clearly outraged by the very idea of giving the Gorn concessions. Slowly, though, he nodded. "Yes," he said stiffly, "I promise it."

    Lynathru smiled and clapped his gauntleted hands together. "Good." He turned so that he was able to face both the Klingons and the Gorn. "Choose your champions, then. We will settle this with blades!"


    ******

    A few minutes later, the Klingons had been released, and were corralled at gunpoint into one of the station's main loading bays-- a wide, spacious room that made for a perfect arena. The Klingons and Gorn now formed a raucous circle, with insults and threats echoing all across the bay. Neither side attacked the other, however-- the Klingons, for all their anger, wanted to settle this honourably, and the Gorn, in turn, were eager to beat the Klingons at their own game. At the corners of the bay, Janga and his Bekk stood with weapons at ready in case things got ugly, while Lynathru and his crew stood near the centre of the circle to officiate the duel.

    Unsurprisingly, the Gorn chose Vrasskos as their champion-- he was not only their leader and their voice, but he was also clearly the biggest and most ferocious among their number. Already, the Gorn strode into the middle of the circle, a confident grin on his reptilian features as he hefted up a bat'leth in one hand as though it were a child's toy. He glanced briefly in Lynathru's direction and sneered, though Lynathru responded with a nonchalant smile of his own.

    Opposite Vrasskos stepped up the Klingons' champion, Worrak, son of Warg, one of the station's Bekk. A tall young man who, by Klingon standards, was quite handsome, Worrak was the strongest and most physically fit of the surviving Klingons and, according to Kormagh, the most skilled with a bat'leth. The Klingons cheered as Worrak stepped into the circle, rotating his own bat'leth from hand to hand with practiced ease as he glared silently at the hulking form of Vrasskos. There was real anger in that glare-- Worrak wasnt just fighting for the honour of the station's forty-seven Klingons, but for the memory of the thirty-three the Gorn had killed.

    As was customary, the two combatants stepped within an arm's length of one another, waiting for the signal from Lynathru. Vrasskos seemed to grin down at Worrak as the two squared off, seemingly confident in his immense physical advantage, but Worrak, to his credit, seemed undaunted. Slowly, Lynathru stepped between them and did a quick, cursory check for hidden weapons or shields, before quickly stepping back.

    "BEGIN!" Lynathru shouted with a chopping motion of his arm.

    No sooner had Lynathru made this shout when Vrasskos made a lunging sweep with his bat'leth. Alarmed, Worrak barely managed to bring his own weapon up in time to block: there was a tremendous peal of metal on metal as Worrak was sent staggering back, only barely retaining his balance, while the spectators began cheering and howling as the fight began in earnest.

    Pressing his advantage, Vrasskos swung again, but this time, Worrak was ready. Ducking the hissing sweep of the bat'leth, Worrak swing back, the barbed edges of his weapon raking across Vrasskos' forearm. Black scales parted like paper as the bladed edge cut down to the bone, and the Gorn was sent staggering back, staring in disbelief at the ichor dripping from his wounded forearm.

    The opening was all that Worrak needed: with a battle-cry, he lunged, and unleashed a furious whirlwind of blows. Vrasskos suddenly found himself on the defensive as Worrak attacked relentlessly, never once giving the Gorn a chance to counter-attack or regain the initiative. Fat sparks flew as the bat'leths clashed again and again, but steadily, Vrasskos found himself being forced back by the smaller Klingon. He may have had size and strength, but Worrak had speed, skill, and above all, fury.

    Then, moving with a speed that belied his size, Vrasskos suddenly spun, his heavy reptilian tail lashing out sideways. Worrak was caught by surprise, and was knocked flat on his back with a loud thump. Hissing malevolently, Vrasskos swung down, aiming to bisect Worrak, but the Klingon rolled away at the last possible second, the barbed edge of Vrasskos' blade impaling the floor where his head had been moments before. Rolling, Worrak spun up to his knees, and managed to bring his bat'leth up just in time to block Vrasskos' follow-up downward swing. There was another tremendous clang of metal on metal, though one of the barbed edges of Vrasskos' weapon still tore open Worrak's cheek, sending blood oozing down the side of his face.

    Gritting his teeth, Worrak pushed back, and sprang back up to his feet before launching himself at Vrasskos again. Once again, the chamber echoed to the sound of clashing blades and the roars of spectators. Vrasskos, though, was holding his own this time: despite his slower speed and the fact that his mangled arm was hampering him, the Gorn was able to keep up with Worrak's furious blows, even as the Klingon slashed and spun in all directions. This fight was turning out to be far more entertaining than Lynathru had initially expected, and he felt a pang of regret at not having set up a betting pool on this fight.

    Then, finally, it happened. Feinting left, Worrak tried to swing his bat'leth low for a bisecting strike that should have disembowelled the Gorn. With remarkable quickness, though, Vrasskos parried this, and with a single arm almost contemptously shoved back, almost unbalancing Worrak as the Klingon was forced back several steps. With a wide reptilian grin, Vrasskos countered with a downward stroke: Worrak barely managed to bring his own blade up horizontally to block the blow in time.

    There was a tremendous, metallic crack, and Worrak's bat'leth flew apart in two seperate pieces. The sound was followed by the wet tearing noise as Vrasskos' bat'leth cleaved down through Worrak's shoulder, parting leather, flesh and bone alike with horrible ease as it carved its way down into Worrak's chest.

    The assembled Klingons gave a collective gasp, and even Lynathru winced a little. Even with brak'hul, Worrak had cleary suffered a mortal wound. The young Klingon warrior could only stare directly ahead, his eyes and mouth wide as shock set in. Vrasskos, by contrast, gave a fanged grin, even as ichor bubbled at the corners of his mouth. With a great, rasping hiss, he released his blade and raised his arms with a rasping, saurian cry of victory.

    It was to be Vrasskos' last mistake: even a mortally wounded Klingon was dangerous, and Worrak still had the shorn half of a bat'leth n one hand. With a rasping cry of his own, Worrak shot his arm forward, and with his remaining strength, drove his shorn blade right into Vrasskos' exposed throat.

    Vrasskos' moment of victory turned into one of horrible surprise as his reptilian eyes widened. Staggering back, the Gorn clutched feebly at the broken blade embedded in his windpipe, gurgling all the while. Even as Worrak finally collapsed onto his back, his foe's bat'leth protruding grotesquly from his torso, Vrasskos staggered in all directiions across the circle in his death throes, surprised Gorn parting ways before him.

    Finally, Vrasskos toppled forwards, his immense body keeling over with an immense crash. For a few uncertain seconds, the Gorn gathered warily around his body in seeming disbelief at his death...or, perhaps, in fear that he might get back up again.

    A loud, metallic clang broke the reverie as Lynathru clapped his gauntleted hands together. "Both combatants have fallen!" he announced. "However, as per the standard rules of bat'leth duels, victory shall be given to the first combatant to strike a mortal blow against the other! Vrasskos was the first to strike that blow, and so I award him...and the Gorn of Rumaka Station...the victory!"

    At this announcement, the chamber was flooded with hundreds of loud, cheering voices as the Gorn burst into celebration. Lynathru saw them jump, dance, and hug each other in their joy, whatever they had been feeling over Vrasskos' death momentarily forgotten. The Klingons, meanwhile, glowered at the cheering Gorn, or stared with sadness at the fallen body of Worrak, but none of them made a sound of objection. They were Klingons, after all, and even if they didn't like it, they couldn't contest that this was a fair ruling.

    In the middle of it all, Lynathru took a quick glance at his own crew. Rresh seemed just as overjoyed as his Gorn brethren, though to his credit, he kept himself aloof and neutral as befitted a member of the KDF. Kovar, meanwhile, looked like he had just eaten something particularly foul. Upon seeing Lynathru, however, Kovar simply gave his captain a curt nod. As much as he didn't like the result, Kovar seemed satisfied that this whole affair had been solved the honourable way. The Klingon way.

    As the cheers began to die down, Lynathru raised a hand to beckon silence. "As per the conditions agreed upon, the Klingon officers of this station shall be released and returned to their posts!" Lynathru declared. "All of the Gorn workers on this station, meanwhile, will return to their quarters. I will notify High Command of what has transpired here, and they will send a review board to ensure that proper medical and protective accomodations are put in place for the station's work force! When those accomodations are approved, warhead production will resume! Are we clear!"

    Lynathru was met with a chorus of approving grunts from the Gorn, and, after a while, from the Klingons in return. As the Gorn began to release their prisoners, Lynathru saw Kormagh come storming towards him.

    "Captain Lynathru, this is outrageous!" Kormagh spat. "You cannot possibly award the Gorn the victory!"

    Lynathru raised an eyebrow at the irate Klingon. "I just did, Commander Kormagh," he replied. "Your boy Worrak fought well and died honourably, but Vrasskos won this fight, fair as fair."

    Kormagh's face scrunched up in impotent anger. "Then you have just allowed these Gorn to shame the Empire, fool!" he exclaimed.

    "No, I have put Rumaka Station back in business," Lynathru replied curtly. "The Gorn will honour their agreement and go back to producing har'pheng warheads for the war effort...provided that you give them the better working conditions and health care that you promised."

    At this point, Kormagh's face was turning a deep shade of red. "I will not!" he fumed. "They are treasonous pe'taQ, every last one of them! You might have caved in to their demands, but I will not!"

    Lynathru's expression darkened. "Commander Kormagh, you gave your word," he said, allowing a little more steel into his tone. Stepping forward, he grabbed the Klingon by the shoulders and leaned close to his ear before he could back away. "I may be green," he whispered, "but I know that the Empire's laws don't look favourably on oathbreakers. Which means that I would be well within my rights to have the head of my Bekk rip your arms off and strangle you with your own innards for breaking your word."

    He backed away, and noted with satisfaction that Kormagh looked suitably chastened. "Now, let's try this again," he said. "The Gorn will continue to make har'phengs for the Empire...provided that you honour your word."

    Ashen-faced, Kormagh gave a slow nod. He may have been a craven, but he wasn't a complete fool. "Yes," he said stiffly. "I will give the Gorn the accomodations they've been requesting."

    Lynathru smiled widely. "Good!" he exclaimed, giving the Klingon a friendly pat on the shoulder. "I knew you were an honourable man." Turning away from Kormagh, Lynathru straightened up, adjusted his armour, and turned to face the assembled Gorn and Klingons-- many of whom seemed to be watching him to see what happened next.

    "We are leaving now," he announced. "I am pleased to see that peace and order have been re-established here on Rumaka Station, but it is up to you to keep it that way! You are all citizens of the Empire, Klingons and Gorn alike, and the Empire is best served when you carry out your duties in harmony instead of resorting to petty squabbles! From now on, the Klingons and Gorn of this station will treat one another as equals! Because if you don't..." He unfolded his arms and glared at the station crew. "...if I hear of any further riots, or abuses or broken promises by either species...then I will come back and blow this station to atoms, along with everyone in it! Understood?"

    Not a single voice spoke up in reply. The chastened silence of the station crew was enough of an answer in and of itself.

    With a worldless nod, Lynathru turned away from the crowd. As he turned his back, he finally allowed himself a smug, satisfied smile. This had all worked out perfectly: he had managed to restore order on the station without any bloodshed, had reached an amicable solution that satisfied the occupants of the station and his crew, and he had done it all without having to get his hands dirty. The fact that he had humiliated a fool like Kromagh and ensured the death of a dangerous adversary like Vrasskos was the icing on the cake. But above all else, he had just given High Command a good reason not to exile or imprison him. His chances at the upcoming tribunal suddenly looked a lot better.

    He keyed his communicator. "Away Team to Notqa, eleven to beam up. Energize."
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]
  • sander233sander233 Member Posts: 3,992 Arc User
    edited September 2013
    This is what I am
    This is what I have become
    Repeating yesterday
    Drain me of my very essence
    To form again what lasts...

    This is what I am
    This is what I have become
    What is love without
    (What is love?)
    What is love without
    (Sacrifice)

    My tears hold no weight
    If my commitment
    Is only failure
    Each day I
    (I am)

    Repeat
    The yesterday

    Each day
    I am born (I am born)
    Again to be (again to be)
    A child (a child)
    In the eyes of love

    Repeating yesterday
    Repeating

    Drain me of my
    Very essence
    To form (to form) again
    To form (to form) again
    (What lasts)

    This is what I am
    This is what I have become
    What is love without
    (What is love?)
    What is love without


    Tim Lambesis and Phil Sgrosso of As I Lay Dying - "Repeating Yesterday"




    T O . F O R M . A G A I N . W H A T . L A S T S



    Captain's log, I.K.S. Norgh'Iw, Col. Ssharki commanding - Stardate 85685.6 (09.09.2408, 0559 hours Qo'noS Standard Time)

    We've entered the Ker'rat System under cloak on a reconnaissance mission for the upcoming offensive action, which will permanently remove both the Borg and the Federation from this system. Central Command wanted to send an expendable pair of birds-of-prey rather than risk my ship. I argued that the vital importance of the mission demanded superior intel, and a battle commander's perspective to collect it. In war, winning and losing all starts with the mind of the scout. That's why they call it "intelligence."

    Being here though, brings back bitter memories of loss. The battle in which the Empire lost this system to the Borg is still fresh in my mind. Even worse was the battle for the Otha system - even though we turned back the Borg advance, the cost was very high, and personal. I lost a dear and trusted friend there, my security chief, Commander Lan.

    Replacing him will be difficult. There is no obvious choice to make in terms of a successor. Commander K'mach, my assault squad leader, is next in the chain-of-command. But though his troops respect him, he lacks the tactfulness and discretion that the position demands. I know I can trust K'mach with my life, but probably not my secrets. Besides, I prefer to follow the Gorn practice of keeping my security forces and assault forces separate.

    My two most trusted security lieutenants are Gokran and Sway. Gokran is the most senior, having served this ship for years before I took over as her commander. But he shows no talent for administration and is frequently drunk. Sway, on the other hand, in the last three years has shown a great deal of promise as both as a leader of men and as a warrior. He has the tongue of a diplomat and the mind of a spy. He is also well-liked and respected by the entire crew. But he is so young - still a child, really - he just turned twenty years old, which is the equivalent of a Klingon ten-year-old. And I do not wish to show my son any favoritism.

    Besides, Sway was devastated by Lan's loss. Lan was more than a commander to my son - he was a friend and a mentor. After the way he was treated at the Academy, I was worried that Sway would never trust a Klingon man. But he grew past his fear and suspicion, and the two developed a mutual bond of respect and friendship. Actually, I suppose it's only right, in light of this, that Sway should take over Lan's position. At any rate, even though Gokran has filled his duties as deputy chief, I'm told the security troops already look to my son for leadership.

    I shall inform them of my decision before the first watch. For now, I must focus on the mission.


    "End recording." Ssharki tucked his old Starfleet PADD into the inner pocket of his greatcoat and left his cabin, and rode the turbolift up to the bridge. "Who keeps the record of battle?" he demanded.

    Hunter Commander, the senior officer of the night watch, rose from the captain's chair. "Colonel, sir! We dropped out of warp and are making a patrol sweep of the outer system under cloak at full impulse. Long-range passive sensors detect numerous enemy contacts in orbit of Ker'rat IV. Also, it appears that the planet's moon has been over-mined for resources."

    "On-screen," Ssharki ordered the Ferasan.

    Hunter nodded to the tactical officer, who displayed the planet and what was left of its moon on the main viewer.

    Ssharki groaned inwardly at the sight. He had often hunted kolar beasts on Ker'rat IV with General Dward and his brother, Councilman Woldan. The nocturnal creatures could only be hunted by moonlight. That would never again be possible, with half of the moon simply gone.

    "Sir, I count over a dozen active Borg Cubes and Tactical Cubes," reported the night watch science officer, "along with many more Cubes inactive in various states of repair or disassembly, and about fifty Spheres and Probes." The young Nausicaan's voice was somewhat muffled by the filter mask he wore.

    "They've turned the moon into a giant shipyard," Ssharki figured.

    "Yeah, basically," the Nausicaan said with a shrug.

    "Any sign of the Federation, Sker?"

    The science officer nodded. "Two Starfleet transponder signals in the planet's orbit, sixty degrees up-spin from the moon. They look like they're taking passive scans, same as us, but they're not bothering to hide it."

    Ssharki nodded. "The Borg would only attack if they perceive a threat. But if Starfleet is sending scouts, that means they intend to be a threat."

    "Shall we engage them sir?" Hunter asked.

    Ssharki stared at the Ferasan. "No. We are on a scouting mission. We are to avoid hostilities, with Starfleet in particular." He smiled at the second officer's disappointed expression. "Don't worry - there will be plenty of shooting to be done before we're through here. Finish your patrol sweep, then approach the shipyard. Find me one of those damaged cubes that's both fairly isolated and has its vinculum operational."

    "Understood, sir."

    "And remember, our orders are to avoid any hostile action. Especially now that Starfleet's here; we must not alert them to our intention to retake the system."

    "Understood, sir," the Ferasan repeated.

    Ssharki approached the command chair and tapped the comm panel built into its right armrest. "Maddox, K'mach, Abraham, Gokran and Sway - please join me in the wardroom for breakfast."


    Otha II - twelve days earlier

    Sway sprayed the advancing Borg with his disruptor pistols, and watched their adaptive shields shimmer green as they absorbed each hit.

    "Fall back, Sway!" Lan ordered over the comm channel. "If you get assimilated, your father will kill me. Get your skinny little qIv back to the command post, on the double!"

    "Sir, my position is the only thing defending your line of retreat!" Sway protested, as he holstered his pistols and primed his last grenade.

    "You heard me, Lieutenant. Get out of there while you still can!"

    Sway chucked the grenade, drew his mek'leth and looked up the hill to the Commander's fire team. The wave of drones would overrun them in seconds. "You're coming right behind me, right sir?"

    "Sure, kid. Now GO!"

    Sway chopped off a drone's arm and kicked the gray cyborg into the ones that followed. "You heard him," he announced. "Fall back, troops!"

    The two Nausicaans with him drew their tegolar sabers and slashed a path through the drones. Sway sprinted on ahead, hacking at anything that got in his way, until he and the Nausicaans were clear.

    He looked back at the hill. It was covered with black and gray and green bodies and topped with sporadic disruptor fire. He tapped at his communicator. "Norgh'Iw, can you get a lock on Commander Lan's fire team?"

    "Neg-ive, -ir," was the choppy reply. "-org are thro-ng out t- -uch interfer-"

    "Commander!" Sway shouted. "Lan! Get the hell outta there!"

    The communicator crackled. "Heghlu'meH QaQ jajvam!" And then silence. The Borg slowly began turn around and descend from the hilltop.

    Sway made a squeezing gesture in front of his eyes, and his spec-ops eyepieces zoomed in and enhanced his gaze. There was no body left on the hill. "Oh, QI'yaH," he whispered.

    "Sway! What's going on over there?" his father called from the CP.

    "It looks like Lan just got assimilated."

    He heard a hissing sound over the comm unit - a sound he recognized as a Gorn expressing grief.


    Ker'rat - present day

    "And so, for those reasons, I am naming Lieutenant Sway my new chief of security," Ssharki concluded.

    Gokran looked up briefly from his scrambled 'Owon eggs, mumbled "Very well," and resumed eating.

    "Gokran, I'd like for you to keep your position as his deputy," Ssharki told him. "With your support, the rest of the security force should support him as well."

    The Klingon swallowed and said "Aye, sir."

    Ssharki looked to his son, who appeared to be stunned by the news. "I will accompany you to the armory this morning and announce the transition."

    Sway just nodded.

    "What about me, sir?" K'mach asked. "Do you want me to report to the Lieutenant?" He tried hard to remove any trace of sarcasm and incredulity from his voice, but failed.

    "No," Ssharki informed the veteran assault commander. "Your chain-of-command now goes straight to Commander Maddox." He waved a hand toward his first officer. "If Sway requires any of your troops, or you need any of his, you will coordinate your efforts, but otherwise you are independent of the security chief."

    K'mach nodded.

    "Now that that's settled, let's get to the mission at hand. I want to know what the Borg are planning now that we've turned them back at Otha. I'm sending a team to board a damaged Cube and access its vinculum. Abraham, select two engineers for this mission. Discriminate based on their skills with Borg technology, not their combat utility."

    "I have a pair of Gorn in mind who will satisfactorily fulfill both criteria," the chief engineer said. The Klingon-Human hybrid had been raised by his mother in Eastern Europe, on Earth, and spoke Federation-standard English with an unusual accent. That and his frequent use of large words often annoyed the mixed-race crew. And the fact that he was one of the "Dishonored" - the original group of Klingons assigned to serve under Ssharki because their name could not be tarnished further by serving under a Gorn commander. But his abilities to solve problems and to improve his ship's performance were more than enough to make up for these deficiencies, at least in Ssharki's eyes.

    The Gorn Colonel turned to K'mach. "I want you to select a squad of between twelve and sixteen assault troops who will ensure that the engineers reach the vinculum and extract safely."

    K'mach had served on this ship longer than any of her current crew, and was part of the away team that had originally captured Ssharki on Gila IV over twenty years ago. Ssharki had saved the Klingon's life several times since then, buying his unwavering loyalty. He was another among the handful of Klingons who had volunteered to remain with the crew when Ssharki took over as commander of the Norgh'Iw. "My men and I will be ready, sir."

    Lastly, Ssharki looked back to his son. "Sway, assemble a phalanx of no fewer than three and no more than five of your men to escort the engineers."

    "Okay, um..." Sway looked at the table as he recalled his crew list from memory. "Shralak, Atzik, Hrrki, Reader, and me makes five-"

    "Not you," Ssharki said. "This mission is too dangerous for you."

    Sway looked up at his father. "Sir, if I am to be their leader, there can't be any mission that's 'too dangerous' for me. I can't send them where I will not go myself."

    Ssharki sighed as he reconsidered. He knew Sway was right. And that was another problem with making the boy his security chief. But it also showed again why he would be so perfect for the job... "Very well. Assemble the boarding party in the main shuttlebay after change-of-watch."


    Otha II - twelve days earlier

    Lan could imagine himself feeling the nanites crawling through his blood vessels and tissues, replicating, breaking down his body parts and repurposing them. They were in his heart, in his lungs, in his stomach, and in his brain.

    WE ARE THE BORG they announced.

    Pleased to meet you. I am Klingon.

    SPECIES FIVE ZERO ZERO EIGHT. YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED.

    I will not.

    YOU WILL ADAPT TO SERVICE US.

    I serve my Captain, I serve my House, and I serve the Empire.

    YOUR BIOLOGICAL AND TECHNOLOGICAL DISTINCTIVENESS WILL BE ADDED TO OUR OWN.

    "Distinctive"? I don't think you understand the meaning of that word.

    RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.


    I will resist...


    Norgh'Iw, main shuttle bay - present day

    "Risac, did you modulate each of our weapons to a different frequency?" Sway asked the armory officer.

    The big Orion nodded. "Yes, master. Each weapon has a different modulation, and once the Borg adapt, the remodulation devices will apply a random frequency-"

    "Random isn't good enough," Sway interrupted. "We're carrying in twenty-six personal weapons and a dozen disruptor turrets - each will need to be modulated to a different frequency across a very narrow band of the EM spectrum. I want you and Nariash to manually pre-program three different frequencies into each weapon's remodulator and make sure there is at least a fifty-hertz variance between each one."

    "Yes, master." The sixty-year-old Orion bowed to the twenty-year-old Gorn and set about his task.

    Ssharki looked on with a combination of amusement and pride. "Lieutenant Sway," he called out. "When you have a minute."

    "Yessir," Sway called back, before pointing to his disruptor pistols and addressing the armory officer again. "Remember, separate modulations for each of these." He approached his father. "Yessir?"

    Ssharki brought him into an empty shuttle and knelt to his eye-level. "I really do not want you to go on this mission."

    "Sir, with respect, we discussed this already."

    "I know, and as a commanding officer, your words make sense." Ssharki inhaled deeply through his nostrils. "But as your father, I'm asking you to reconsider."

    "Father, you always say your crew is your family," Sway reminded him. "That means it's my family too. I must look after my men, as I would look after my own family." He looked into Ssharki's eyes. "You taught me to love my family."

    Ssharki nodded.

    "And what is love without sacrifice?"

    Ssharki hugged his son. "Just try not to sacrifice yourself today. Look after your men, but remember your father, and your par'Mach'kaI. Come back to me and Naja."

    Sway returned the embrace. "I will."
    * * *

    The trio of cloaked Toron assault shuttles slowly approached the gaping wound in the side of the Cube.

    "I thought the Borg were able to regenerate their ships' structure and repair any damage?" Sgt. Shralak remarked.

    "Their regeneration rate is dependent on two factors," Lt. T'Rrak, the engineer explained. "The first is the available energy and/or matter. The second is the will of the Collective."

    "It would seem the Collective is ignoring this particular Cube," Reader Lieutenant noted.

    Shralak grunted as their shuttle entered the superstructure. "Lucky us."

    "Just because it's not their priority doesn't mean they won't defend it," Sway reminded them.

    "E-Team, this is A-Team One," K'mach called from one of the shuttles ahead of them. "It looks like we have a clear path almost to the central core. Pretty quiet so far."

    "Acknowledged, Commander," Sway radioed back.

    "I don't like it," Reader muttered.

    "You don't like anything," Hrrki growled.

    Reader bared his fangs to the lowland Ferasan.

    "Silence!" Sway snapped. "Reader's right. It's too quiet."

    The shuttles touched down on an exposed deck deep within the Cube. "Positive atmosphere readings," T'Rrak announced. "Breathable. But their environmental controls must be off. The pressure is reduced, and it's not as humid as usual for a Borg ship."

    "Fine by me," Shralak muttered as he picked up his minigun. "I wasn't looking forward to lugging this through ninety-two-percent humidity."

    "Right - Shralak, Reader, take point," Sway ordered. "Hrrki, Atzik, bring up the rear. T'Rrak, Rraathsh, stay close to me. Let's go."

    Reader opened the hatch and they filed out. K'mach's assault team had already secured the LZ. "Which way do we go?" the Klingon asked.

    T'Rrak pointed to a distribution node in the ceiling. "That conduit should lead us to the central core."

    They advanced deeper into the Cube, until K'mach called a halt. "There's Borg in the next room," he reported, "regenerating. If we ignore them, they should ignore us, right?"

    "That's the idea," T'Rrak answered, "but they'll wake up when they figure out what we're doing here."

    "Maybe we should rig up some explosives to a motion trigger," Sway suggested.

    "Good idea," K'mach agreed. He turned to an Orion female. "Deiniz, get on it."

    The rest of the teams kept going, and reached the vinculum, which was protected by a force field. The Gorn engineers set to work while the security and assault teams spread out to watch for the enemy.

    "Reader, are you sensing anything?" Sway whispered after several tense minutes.

    "Nothing," the old Ferasan telepath replied. "All I hear is silence. There must be tens of thousands of Borg on this ship, but I can't hear them. It's eerie."

    "You'll hear something in a minute," T'Rrak announced. "Okay, this is what I think is gonna happen. If we did our wiring right, we should bring down this force field and simultaneously project a dampening field which will extend out to where we left the shuttles. That should prevent the Collective from knowing that we're tampering with their vinculum here, and from finding us while we make our escape."

    "What about the Borg you catch inside your dampening field?" K'mach wondered. "Like the ones we left in that room back there?"

    "Well, that's where it gets tricky. You see, the way the Borg hive mind works is the central plexus, on the other side of the core, communicates with other Borg ships and transwarp conduits all the way back to the nearest unimatrix. But what the vinculum here does, is it links all the nearby drones. So it will still act as a central processing unit for all of the drones it can connect to. And it will probably wake them up to come to its defense."

    "But I already took care of them," Deiniz said.

    "Just the ones between here and the shuttle," T'Rrak explained. "But this dampening field will affect every drone within that radius. We could have a few thousand drones coming our way pretty soon."

    "What about the drones outside the field?" Sway asked. "Won't they figure out something's amiss?"

    "For a second or two, until their cortical implants interlink with another nearby ship. The Collective should just assume that some sort of feedback surge in the transneural matrix deactivated this particular vinculum. Especially after I set it up to do just that."

    "So they won't realize that we were ever here," Sway confirmed.

    "Correct. And once I knock this thing out, all the drones still linked to it should be disabled as well. Should."

    "I've deployed troops and turrets to cover all the access points," K'mach announced. "We're as ready as we'll ever be."

    Sway nodded. "Do it, T'Rrak."
    * * *

    He opened his eye. I will resist. He looked down at his body, covered in tubes and circuits and mechanical enhancements. His ocular implant identified each unfamiliar component and its function and current operative state. No. I will resist.

    He could hear them calling him. There were intruders at the vinculum. They must either be assimilated, or eradicated.

    No.

    He left his alcove and started walking, against his will.

    NO. He stopped. I WILL resist.
    * * *

    "They've adapted to me!" Shralak called out. "Cover me while I remodulate!"

    "Again Sarge?" Sway leaned around the hatchway and shot the Borg that were marching toward them.

    "Look, this thing fires about a thousand disruptor bolts a minute. It shoots a lot quicker, so they adapt a lot quicker."

    Sway fired again and watched the drone's shield flash green and hold. "Ready now?"

    "Yup." Shralak stepped forward into the breach and sprayed the Borg with green bolts of destruction. For a few seconds. And then "****! Remodulating..."

    Across the room, K'mach was having similar troubles with his autorifle. "Ghuy'cha" he muttered as he remodulated his weapon yet again. "Note to self - weapons with a high rate of fire are not terribly effective for long term engagements with the Borg."

    Hrrki vaporized a group of drones with his pulsewave weapon. "This seems to be terribly effective," the Ferasan quipped.

    "Alright, we've got the download interface stable!" T'Rrak called. "Transferring to the remote array, then we can fall back to the shuttles."

    "You shouldn't've said that," Reader groaned. "Now they're looking for the shuttles."

    "Oh."

    "Better hurry!" K'mach shouted. The Borg had closed to hand-to-hand range with him. He slammed one with the butt of his useless rifle and drew his bat'leth. "Sway! Get them out of here!"

    Sway and Shralak lobbed a pair of photon grenades down the corridor, clearing it. "T'Rrak, can we go now?"

    "Wait one- got it!"

    "Arright! Move it!"

    Hrrki was driven back from his post by weapons fire. "They're bringing up tactical drones!" he warned. He was hit in the arm by a plasma bolt, and he fell to the deck, screaming in agony.

    "Atzik! Help him!" Sway ordered. "Everyone else, fall back!"

    K'mach eviscerated the nearest drone and scrambled to the corridor, scooping up Hrrki's pulsewave on the way and blasting the first tactical drone that followed him. "You heard him!" he shouted to his troops. "Move it!"

    They came to the room that had been full of hibernating Borg and found it... gone. No room. No walls, no ceiling, no floor - just a hole in the middle of the deck.

    Sway looked at the Orion explosives expert. "Deiniz, did it not occur to you that we would need to come back this way?"

    "I never worry about the little things," she said.

    "If we take that side junction back there it should lead us to a parallel corridor about thirty meters in," T'Rrak said, pointing.

    K'mach was at the back of the line. He led the way back up the corridor. "I thought the vinculum was supposed to be disabled by now?"

    The engineer checked his remote display. "The feedback loop is still building its recursion cycle. Give it a minute."

    "Here they come!" Reader announced, firing at the Borg who were pouring down the corridor after them.

    "We don't have a minute!" Sway said.

    "I'll buy us a minute..." K'mach overloaded the pulsewave's power cell and stepped forward.

    "Commander, wait!" Sway protested.

    "It's okay, kid," K'mach assured him. "Tell your father my debts are settled."

    Sway nodded in understanding. "Die well, Commander."

    "That's the plan. Qapla'!" And with that, he charged the Borg, screaming out a warcry. The exploding power cell cleared the corridor, giving the rest of the team a way out.


    Norgh'Iw

    Ssharki stared at the massive geometric form, trying very hard not to think about his son.

    "Sir!" LCdr. Dou'gal called out from the science station.

    Ssharki whipped his massive head around. "nuqneH?" he demanded.

    The smaller Gorn swallowed hard. "Sir, we... we lost somebody. I think. I'm missing a comm transponder signal."

    "Who's?"

    "I'm not sure, sir. Too much interference from the dampening field. But it had officer codes... it's either K'mach, T'Rrak, or... Sway."

    Ssharki's jaw clenched. He inhaled deeply through his nostrils and let the air escape through his teeth as he resumed glaring at the Cube.


    Cube

    "Turn right here," T'Rrak said, guiding the team. "And then-"

    Shralak stepped right into a Borg drone, who slammed the surprised Gorn into a bulkhead and raised its arm to use its assimilation tubes.

    Sway instinctively attacked the drone with a flying dropkick. He rolled into a crouch, drew his mek'leth and buried it in the Borg's skull in one fluid motion.

    "Behind you!" Shralak warned.

    Sway jumped to his feet and caught the drone with a reverse elbow. It staggered back, and Sway slashed his sword across its throat.

    Another drone wrapped an arm around his neck and seized his right wrist, and held him for a fourth drone. This one extended its arm, exposing the assimilation tubules in its wrist. Sway's eyes widened in fear. "NOO!!"

    The Borg suddenly stopped advancing and went limp. The one who was holding him released his grip.

    Sway pushed them away and rejoined his troops.

    "Sway, if your father saw that, he would be very upset," Sgt. Shralak announced.

    "Don't tell him," Sway pleaded. He looked back at T'Rrak. "Feedback pulse?"

    "Yeah, finally." The engineer heaved a sigh of relief.

    "I still hear something," Reader said. He closed his eyes and concentrated. "Just one... one lone drone..." His eyes popped open and he looked at Sway. "It's Lan!"

    "Lan? How could he- are you sure?"

    Reader bobbed his head excitedly. "I know his voice. His thoughts... he's damaged, but it's him, no question."

    "Where?"

    "I don't know."

    "We have to find him," Sway declared.

    "Sir, we have a mission to complete," T'Rrak reminded him. "We have to get the intel we downloaded back to the Norgh'Iw. We're not here to mount a rescue."

    "We are now," Sway decided. "Shralak, Atzik, get the engineers and Hrrki back to the shuttles. Assault team, form an outer perimeter around the LZ in case that dampening field goes out. Reader, you're with me."
    * * *

    He couldn't hear them anymore. I have resisted. But he was still one of them. Still on their ship. He started walking, not sure where he was going. Not sure where he should be. Who he should be. Who he was...
    * * *

    "I wish I'd brought Fang along," Sway remarked.

    "I'm not sure he'd be much help," Reader said with a sniff. "I can't smell anything but death."

    "Me neither, but that dog could track a man through a blizzard-"

    "Wait, quiet!" Reader held him and paused. "Did you hear that?"

    "No. But my ears aren't as good as yours."

    Reader stood erect, his ears pivoting on the top of his head. "Footsteps... two decks up... this way!"
    * * *

    He tripped and stumbled over one of them. The ocular implant must be malfunctioning... no, self-diagnostic shows normal function. I saw it. I just didn't care.

    He stared at the fallen drone. It was a female - species 56... 18? I don't remember. Human? Why would I... He heard something - somebody - coming toward him. Intruders. He stepped toward them. He saw them. He heard them talking at him, but he couldn't comprehend their words. It was just noise outside of his head, not clear direction like THEY had given him.

    What were their last instructions? Yes, I remember. Intruders. Eradicate. Assimilate. He raised his arm and approached the reptile, species 3751. They shouted at him. The feline raised a weapon. He knocked it away. Then the reptile raised its sidearm and shot him. He paused a moment, as the nanites adapted to the neurological shock, and then took another step. The reptile fired again, and this time everything went black.
    * * *

    Sway panted, letting the adrenaline drain from his system. "That was Lan, wasn't it?"

    "It was him, yes," Reader replied. "But I don't know who that is now."

    Sway holstered his pistol and checked his former commander. "I think he's stunned. Help me carry him."

    "Sway, if he wakes up before we can get him into a force field-"

    "I can't leave him here, Reader. You said you heard him in there. If he's in there, we need to get him out."


    Norgh'Iw, Bridge - ten minutes later

    "Sir, I'm picking up the shuttles," Dou'gal reported. "They're on their way back."

    Cmdr. Maddox looked over from the ops station. "Do you want to hail them, sir?"

    Yes! Ssharki thought. But he said "No. Maintain radio silence. I will see them in the shuttlebay. You have the bridge, Maddox."

    "Yessir."

    Ssharki took the turbolift down. It stopped at deck four, and Naja stepped in. "Colonel," she said, with a salute.

    He nodded, but didn't say anything. His mouth suddenly felt very dry.

    The lead shuttles had just docked when he and Naja reached the shuttlebay. He ignored the assault troops piling out and watched the third shuttle slip through the force field and land. He approached the hatch as hit open and heaved a relieved sigh when he saw his son step out.

    Sway grinned and struck his chest with his fist. "Mission accomplished."

    Ssharki returned the salute. "Qapla'!" he said hoarsely.

    Naja saluted as well. "I am pleased to see you back, Lieutenant."

    Sway walked right up to her, grabbed her head and licked her ridges. She sighed contentedly and embraced him.

    Ssharki cleared his throat and swallowed and asked "Who did you lose?"

    "K'mach sacrificed himself to clear our escape route," Sway said solemnly. "But we found someone else." He looked back to the shuttle as Reader Lieutenant and Sergeant Shralak exited, carrying a Borg drone with a familiar face. Or at least the half of the face that wasn't covered in cybernetic implants was familiar to Ssharki.

    "Lan."


    Medical Bay - eight hours later

    LCdr. Dr. Tr'vayn emerged from the operating theater and sighed wearily as she walked to her office. "Arele," she called to a young Cardassian medic, "be a dear and fix me up a cup of red leaf tea." She sat down at her desk and stared at nothing for a while before reaching for the comm panel. "Colonel Ssharki, Lieutenant Sway, I'd like to see you in my office, please."

    "We're on our way, doctor."

    Arele Mang brought the gray-haired Klingon woman her tea.

    "Thank you, Arele. How is Hrrki?"

    "He'll be fine, but he won't stop licking his burn."

    "Let him be. Ferasan saliva contains potent healing enzymes."

    "And a lot of bacteria," Mang countered.

    "Nothing his immune system hasn't already adapted to."

    "If you say so, ma'am."

    The doors opened, and Ssharki entered, followed by Sway and Naja, with Reader trailing, keeping a respectful distance from the Colonel.

    "That will be all, medic," Tr'vayn announced as she rose from her chair.

    "Yes ma'am." The Cardassian hurried out before the huge Gorn stepped into the office.

    "How is he, doctor?" Ssharki asked.

    "Lan is... damaged. Physically, he will recover. The nanites still integrated to his system will see to that. I've removed every cybernetic implant except for those tied into his brain - like the eyepiece - and I've deactivated those not needed for him to function, including the neural transceiver. He is permanently disconnected from the Borg."

    "I'm sensing a 'but,'" Sway said.

    Tr'vayn took a deep breath and nodded. "The Borg have irreversibly damaged several key portions of his brain. For starters, they completely removed his amygdala, which from the Starfleet personnel recovery records I've seen, appears to be a common procedure for the Borg to perform on its victims. The amygdala regulates emotional response, and is involved with the formation of memories associated with emotional events. Without it, his social behavior patterns will be... abnormal."

    "But he can learn and function adequately, right?" Naja clarified. "The amygdala is not strictly necessary for long term memory creation."

    "True. But he won't remember any new emotional impression. He won't make new friends. He won't be able to fall in love. And his emotional responses will be unpredictable, especially with strong emotions, like love, fear and anger."

    "We'll just have to be careful not to set him off," Sway figured.

    "There's more," Tr'vayn went on. "His inferior frontal gyrus was mutilated. That's the part of the brain that handles the formation of speech. He will likely be unable to talk."

    "But... I heard his thoughts!" Reader spoke up. "Oh, I see. He can still generate coherent thoughts, but can't express them verbally."

    Tr'vayn gave the Ferasan telepath an annoyed glance. "As I was going to say, he could communicate with Reader here or another telepath."

    Ssharki nodded. His intolerance of telepaths was well known, and that would be a barrier to Lan returning to duty. "Anything else?"

    "I'm afrait it gets worse. Parts of his hippocampus were damaged, specifically the parts containing his personal memories. They were very selectively erased. I believe the Borg were attempting to purge his self-identity, and I'm afraid they might have been successful."

    Ssharki and Sway looked at each and shared a frown. "When will we know?"

    "As soon as he wakes up."


    Six hours later

    He awoke to silence. He activated his ocular implant and opened his eye, and identified the being looking down at him as species 37... Gorn? Male. Juvenile. Soldier caste. Somehow familiar...

    "Hello, Lan," the Gorn said. "It's me, Sway. Do you remember?"

    No.

    "He recognizes you, but he doesn't remember you," said a voice, also vaguely familiar.

    He searched for it, and spotted a... Ferasan, that's what they were called. Who are you?

    I am Reader Lieutenant the Ferasan answered without speaking. You used to call me "Spitz."

    Reader... mind-reader?

    That's right.

    He sat up. What am I? WHO am I?

    "Your name is Lan, son of Krad," Reader answered aloud. "You are Klingon."

    No. I am... Nine.

    "Nine? Was that your Borg designation?"

    He blinked, and tried to think. It was so difficult to remember.

    "Nine of what?" the young Gorn, Sway asked.

    Nine. That's all I remember.

    "Nine of Nine?" Reader repeated.

    Maybe... why can't I talk like you can?

    "The Borg damaged your brain. That's why you can't speak with your mouth, and why you can't remember things."

    "Is he that bad off?" a female voice asked. A Klingon woman was standing near his feet, behind the young Gorn. A younger Klingon female and an older Gorn male were standing a short distance behind her. The older Gorn looked like someone he should know and trust.

    "He doesn't seem to remember anything about who he is," Reader told the woman. "He has a vague memory of us... some of us... Sway, Ssharki, me."

    "Lan... Nine," Sway spoke. "Do you know where you are?"

    He looked around the room. Some sort of medical facility.

    "That's right," Reader said, "but do you know what ship?"

    Ship? No. This looks like a Klingon ship... but the big Gorn... Ssharki? His sash identifies him as Captain... no, Colonel- that can't be right. The Klingons don't- wait. House Woldan. Dward. Ssharki. Of course! Norgh'Iw. This is the I.K.S. Norgh'Iw.

    "Very good!" Reader looked to Ssharki. "He just remembered how to identify Klingon technology, Klingon ranks, and House symbols. Then he remembered Councilman Woldan, General Dward, you, and this ship, in that order."

    Ssharki nodded. "But still no memory of who he is?"

    Nine shook his head.

    "You are chief security officer on this ship," Sway told him. "Reader and I are two of your lieutenants."

    Nine looked to Reader. Tell them I'm sorry, but I don't remember any of this. I don't remember anything before waking up a few minutes ago.

    "That's okay. Maybe you will, in time."

    What will I do in the meantime?

    "He wants to know what he's supposed to do now," Reader announced.

    "You have quarters on this ship," Ssharki told him. "Once Tr'vayn releases you, you'll be taken there. And then... I don't know. You are the last of your family's line. You have no relatives, as far as I know. And I can't return you to duty like this." He sighed. "I'm not sure what to do with you."

    Nine frowned. I understand.

    "Don't worry, Lan," Sway said, reaching for his hand. "We'll figure something out. Everything will be okay."

    Nine looked at the smiling young Gorn, and he believed him.


    The next day

    Their mission complete, the Norgh'Iw was en route to rendezvous with the rest of the 7th Battle Fleet, to prepare for the assault on Ker'rat.

    Nine was to taken to Lan's quarters by the friendly and eager young Sway and the compassionate but sad old Reader.

    "If you need anything, well, I'll hear you," Reader told him before he left.

    "Abraham and T'Rrak installed a regenerator above your bed," Sway pointed out. "If you'd rather sleep standing up - like, uh, like a Borg - let Reader know and they'll take care of it."

    Nine put his hand on the young Gorn's head and gave him a grateful smile.

    "You're welcome. I need to get back to work now. I'll see you later, Lan."

    Nine watched his old (new?) friend leave, and looked around Lan's (his?) cabin. Everything looked familiar, and yet he was sure that none of it belonged to him. There was a mirror above the head. He stared at his face. It was the face of a stranger.

    Lan, son of Krad, was killed by the Borg two weeks ago, he thought. I am Nine of Nine. This is what I am. This is what I have become...

    * * * * *

    ...
    16d89073-5444-45ad-9053-45434ac9498f.png~original

    ...Oh, baby, you know, I've really got to leave you / Oh, I can hear it callin 'me / I said don't you hear it callin' me the way it used to do?...
    - Anne Bredon
  • takeshi6takeshi6 Member Posts: 752 Arc User
    edited September 2013
    Challenge #21, "Saying Hello"

    The Gift


    (Note: This takes place about a couple of weeks after the final battle of 'The Chase')


    RRW Decius, Scorpion-Class Attack Fighter, System D-15...

    Veleen Takor sat at the controls of her Scorpion-Class Attack fighter (something she'd gained at the same time as the Seruk, and found to be much more enjoyable to fly than a Kestrel due to how much more responsive it was than a Kestrel), guiding it through the system that Erde had directed her to, a small convoy of Kestrels trailing behind her, carrying her Senior Officers and fifty of her most trusted crew.

    As she flew, she thought about the fight against the Orion Cultists and Starfleet Defectors around that gate... and what had happened when the gate had been destroyed.

    As they'd been pulling away from the gate to bug out, Fek'Ihri had shown up, hitting the Seruk with a Subnucleonic Beam and damaging its shields and engines, forcing the Smedley Butler to serve as their shields and support. When the gate had detonated, the shockwave had flung both ships away, the Butler taking the brunt of the wave and sparing the Seruk from destruction.

    The Valdore-Class Warbird had still suffered extensive damage, though... The Port Nacelle had been sheared off, both wings were riddled with holes, the superstructure was almost folded in on itself... it was only by pure luck that the Singularity Core hadn't failed - if it had, it would have destroyed what was left of the ship.

    As it was, they'd had to be towed back to New Romulus, her Science Officer managing to get the Seruk's Tractor Beam going and using it to tether them to the Escalvantine, allowing the Armitage-Class Vessel to tow them into dock. The Seruk was slated for extensive and intensive repairs and retrofits, but that would take several months. The crew hadn't been much better, with over three-fifths of the ship's 900 crew members being killed, the rest all receiving varying degrees of injury. Veleen herself had a broken arm and broken leg, and while they had been repaired rather quickly with Federation Medicine, Veleen had still had to wear a sling and cast for about a week, just to make sure nothing happened to break them again while the mending process finished naturally.

    After that week had passed, she had received a message from Tieria Erde, requesting her presence in this system with her Senior Officers and fifty of her most trusted crew. She'd complied, wanting to see what was up, and so here she was, leading a convoy of about 10 Runabouts through this minor system, which wasn't on any regular star charts.

    The convoy flew around a small planetoid, Class-D by the look of it, and saw... a shipyard. It was small, but definitely there. And in that Shipyard was a Vigilant-Class Tactical Escort, painted a dark gray, almost black.

    She received a hail from the Shipyard, and quickly answered it. "Incoming Romulan fighter and shuttles, this is D-15 Control," came a voice. "You are in a restricted area. If you do not state your intentions or turn back, you will be fired upon."

    Veleen hit her comm unit to respond. "This is Commander Veleen Takor of the Romulan Republic," she replied. "We received instructions from a contact of mine to come to this area."

    A brief pause. "Please recite the Authorization Code given by your contact, Commander," the voice replied.

    "Vega-Iota-Rho-Tau-Upsilon-Epsilon," Veleen recited. There was another brief pause.

    "Clearance granted, Commander," the voice informed. "Erde mentioned you would be coming. The shuttles carrying your crew are to land in the facility hangar, while your fighter can land in the hangar of the Warspite."

    Veleen nodded, assuming the Vigilant-Class was the ship named Warspite. "Understood," she said. "Did Mister Erde have any messages for me?"

    "He did, Text-only," came the reply. "We'll send it over now."

    "Thank you, control," Veleen replied, bringing up the message on a small monitor on her control panel.
    Miss Takor,

    I apologize for what happened to your ship - it was partly my fault for dragging you into this affair in the first place.

    To repay you for your assistance, We are hereby giving you the Vigilant-Class Tactical Escort USS Warspite. Please use it in your duties for the Republic while your regular ship is in drydock.

    I thank you for all you have done for us so far, as do my superiors in the agency, and look forward to continuing to work with you to safeguard both our peoples.

    Sincerely,
    Tieria Erde

    "Thank you, Mister Erde," Veleen whispered as she flew up to the hangar, the ventral access doors opening to accept her fighter.

    This was going to definitely be different, but she knew it was worth it to help keep her people safe... safe from the Tal Shiar, safe from the 'Masters', and safe from anyone else who might wish to harm them...
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