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Fanfic: Federation Space

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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    edited October 2018
    The Skipper was conscious by the time the Kestrel reached Starbase 135. It was a while before Mira could get away long enough to speak to him.

    The Kestrel arrived transmitting a plague warning. It was the prudent thing to do. It kept the other ships away, and got the attention of the otherwise very busy starbase personnel, but it took a bit of time to explain that it was a mechanical, not a biological plague. And then she was swamped with coordinating the ship's screenings, scannings, and repairs.

    Two doctors from the starbase volunteered to beam aboard to assist Dr. Sar with his two patients, and after consultation with Dr. Sar she accepted their help. Isolating the ship from other vessels, (they avoided entry into the gravity wells of any of the system's worlds, moons, or asteroids,) was a precaution, not a necessity. As was sending two of the station's maintenance shuttles back along Kestrel's path scanning for evidence of nanites left in their wake.

    The station's commander was a bit miffed about the conscription of his personnel until the first reports from Mirell VI B came across his desk. The scans of the Control Room shut him up. Thereafter his station personnel were very accommodating. But he was not the only one who wanted a report.

    Senior Marshal T'essa had been the first, and she had reacted by going into action. Deputy Specialists were on their way, both to Starbase 135 and to Mirel VI B, long before the Kestrel got near the starbase. A Starfleet Admiral, two deputy assistants of the regional executive council, a Starfleet Corps of Engineers Fleet Captain, and a Doctor of Advanced Cybernetics Studies all wanted reports. The doctor even wanted samples of the various nanites to study. He was shocked to learn they had been, and would continue, systematically destroying every nanite they could find, and they would not, under any circumstances, consider saving even one nanite for his use.

    There was a call from Admiral Franklin. Her first question: how was the crew? Her second: how are you? She never asked about the ship's status, or how the mission had gone wrong. She simply concluded with, "You're doing fine, Lieutenant."

    Her final interview was with the Bolean Counselor. At first she didn't realize it was an interview. It came between the reports, the instructions to the starbase personnel and the crew, and it was disguised as general conversation. He smiled when she caught on, saying it was his job to assess the mental state of his assigned subjects, and most of his subjects resented having their mental states assessed.

    "So, how is my mental state?" she asked.

    "Under great stress," he replied. "And to add to your stress, I must inform you that over the next few days I'll be performing personal interviews with each member of your crew."

    "They aren't going to like it, sir," Mirra said. "They already think you're here to take Crewman Bengogg off the ship."

    "While that is a potential result of my presence here, it's not my goal. My goal is to study the crew of this ship. The agendas of those who arranged for me to be here are not my concern. Your mental health, individually and collectively is."

    "And if your report turns out bad?"

    "That's a subjective judgement. I look at it from an objective perspective. Regardless of the results of my observations, my goal is to help my subjects. If, hypothetically speaking, your Crewman Bengogg is not mentally fit to work as a member of a Starfleet crew, then moving him to a place and an occupation which better serves his needs is beneficial, both to him, and ultimately to your crew."

    "I can't help but think you've already reached a conclusion on that."

    "Another subjective judgement? Lieutenant, I am a scientist. I observe and record, then carefully weigh the data before reaching a conclusion."

    ***

    Mirra entered the darkened room, illuminated by a holographic viewer on the ceiling which was displaying reports. The Skipper was trying to sit up as Mirra entered.

    "Lights ah! Lights full," he said and the room brightened.

    "Lay back, Skipper," Mirra scolded. "Doctor Sar was very specific in his instructions to me."

    "Tell Croaker to..." He winced as his shifting dragged the bed's sheet across his bandaged neck and shoulder. He fell back against his pillow and winced again when his shoulder touched the pillow. "Tell him I'll just lay here for a while."

    "If you would like, I can call him for some pain relief."

    "He's busy. Too busy to talk to me, apparently. I want to know: how is Jasse?

    "Sir, Doctor Sar said he won't know for sure..."

    "Lieutenant, tell me what you know now."

    "Sir, it doesn't look good. It looks... Marshal Jasse may never recover. His body, yes. But his memories... Parts of his brain have been removed, replaced with machines."

    The Skipper sighed. "Too late," he whispered.

    "Sir, we did everything we could."

    "I know. Sometimes it's not enough." He sighed and looked at the wall for a long moment. "Okay," he finally said, "Have a seat and fill me in. Start from the beginning.

    Mirra sat and started talking.

    ******
    Post edited by brian334 on
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    Season 1, Chapter 6

    When the USS Kestrel arrived at Starbase 77 the Counselor was packed. In two weeks he had become attached to this little crew, It was this realization that made him reluctant to leave, not because he would miss them, but because of the report he was supposed to file. It was a week overdue.

    His superiors were willing to give him extra time due to the extenuating circumstances, but the extra time was making it harder rather than easier. Not that they were all accepting of him. They were mostly wary of him. But they were very protective of each other. The interviews, for example:

    Counselor S'lott: What do you think of the way work is allocated among such a small crew?
    Crewman Gareth Ladner: Well, it's all right, I suppose. I'm handy, and I like to keep busy. It's all good, you know?
    Crewman Masha Aktay: We all kind of specialize. I try not to worry what other people are doing. I don't keep score.
    Crewman William Sibley: The Lieutenant is always on me about getting my primary education credits. I stay busy. (What about the workload of your crewmates?) Oh, I guess they stay busy too.

    Counselo S'lott: How do you spend you time when you're off duty?
    Deputy Chuss: I'm never off duty. (I mean when you socialize with the crew?) We talk.
    Crewman Thalys Voght: I sleep.
    Crewman Emanuel Brock: I have to keep current on my proficiencies. You know how the medical profession is, always a new technique to learn, or an old one to relearn a new way.

    Counselor S'lott: What do you think of the Skipper?
    Crewman Race Mason: Best Skipper in the fleet. He's teaching me martial arts, the Caitian form. He says I'll be join in on the training sessions with him and Mister Chuss soon.
    Lieutenant Mirra: He's an example I will strive to emulate. He's every great captain you've ever read about in one package. He' concernd with the welfare of the crew, he's conscientious about the duties of his office, he's a teacher and a guide. He sets a high bar, then helps you to set the bar even higher.
    Chief Sraggat Garadda: He's a reckless damned fool, if you ask me. Got a few bolts missing on his manifold cover. If you told him to push left he'd turn right just to see how much he could TRIBBLE up the job.

    Counselor S'lott: What do you think of Crewman Bengog?
    Crewman Bengogg: I am strong.
    Crewman Voght: He's okay.
    Crewman Sibley: Oh, he's brilliant. You know he developed the math we use to regulate the warp reactor? Back in spacedock we were having trouble with harmonics: he ran some calculations, and now she purrs like kitten in a sunbeam.
    Crewman Mason: Don't wrestle with him, or get in a duel with pistols.
    Crewman Aktay: Oh, he's sweet. Dorothy loves him too. (Dorothy is a pet tribble, neutered, she showed me a certificate to suppot that claim.)
    Crewman Voght: Leave Ben alone.
    Ensign Tanaka: Highly creative is the way I would say it. You know he taught himself math? Brilliant, and a hard worker too.
    Crewman Ladner: Good with his hands. Which is strange, most guys with big hands can't handle tools, but Ben is a wiz.
    Lieutenant Commander Lee: He's a valuable asset. I'm not certain where his career will go after this assignment, you realize this is an experimental assignment, right? Next year he'll be out in the fleet somewhere, but whoever gets him on his ship is going to be very happy to have him.
    Chief Garadda: Good kid. Couldn't talk his way out of a wet sack, but I know people with university degrees who have the same problem, for all that they can recite the Kanthaar Debates word for word.
    Crewman Voght: (She stared at me for two full minutes.)

    The crew was a mess. The kind of mess that can only happen by accident. it was like accidentally dropping exactly the right spices into a stewpot. The odds were against it, but these people had beaten the odds. Oh, there were problems. The Lieutenant's hero worship, for one thing. But a year of that would do her no harm, and having a memory of a great commandeer in her past would make her a better commander in the future. And the tension between Mason and Voght: there was a love affair about to boil over. Maybe. He had no idea if it would work, but remembering his own misspent youth, he wished them well.

    They were a team, and a team was greater than the sum of its parts. At least, this one was. He met the ship's officers one final time on the Port Quarterdeck, the Lieutenant Commander, the Lieutenant, and the Ensign. The Skipper said for him to come again soon, and meant it. The Lieutenant's farewell was somewhat more nervous. The Ensign was glad to see him go.

    "I'll be here if anyone wants someone to talk to," he said, by way of his own farewell, and he meant it.
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    edited October 2018
    The Marshal had been placed on a week of light duty and he resented it. Dr. Sar and the medical staff of Starbase 135 had cleared him, but Senior Marshal T'esat had given the order. So rather than spend his time moping around the ship thinking about what he could have done differently in the previous week he decided to do something fun.

    Starbase 77 personnel began to arrive. Engineering, Deflector Control, and the bridge were their primary destinations, but any place with a computer monitor and a viewscreen was fair game. The Kestrel was too small to board everyone who wanted in on the fun, but they outnumbered the tiny ship's crew when Kestrel detached the mooring lines.

    Crewman Aktay had been very firm about maintaining her position when the two lieutenants and the crewman barged in. She politely informed them that they were free to observe, but the console was her duty station, and they weren't on the list of qualified watch-standers on the Kestrel. She moved two of them over to Sensor Control, where the deflector control panel could be mirrored, but she locked out their ability to manipulate the controls. The cute LtJG, on the other hand, was welcome to look over her shoulder during the test runs, if he didn't mind the close quarters.

    Chief Garadda barked. If he hadn't successfully intimidated those who had invaded his domain he was at least successful in keeping them off of the machinery. And why was that damned-fool lieutenant crawling around on the reactor's access scaffolding? "Hey!"

    Crewman Ladner was at his post in Auxiliary Machinery Control Room #1, and he was uncomfortable. He had never been the popular type, so why was this very pretty ensign squeezing in around him to get a look at the engineering panel? She had a lot of questions, too. What did his home planet have to do with engineering? He mumbled that he hadn't seen a planet until he was five years old, and that brought out another flurry of questions. Her big, brown eyes smiled as she listened to his attempts to make a coherent reply.

    Crewman Voght ran three different groups out of Weapons Control and the look she gave to the two young warp systems engineers who were badgering Ben about his control algorithms was enough to send them in search of another place to watch the show. No less than four discovered that both Weapons Control Rooms were empty when the weapons crewmen made their way to the bridge, on the Skipper's request.

    There was chaos on the bridge. There were at least three engineers at every station, except the helm. They were giving the growling Caitian all the room they could, but the crowd was big for such a limited space. When Ben arrived on the bridge the Skipper removed two engineers from the Tactical Console and installed the Pakled there. "If you can't see from there, there are empty seats on the Mess Deck," he said to the displaced engineers.

    When he took his place at Conn he discovered that one of the engineers had reversed his port side console and was trying to bring up the engineering control panel. He slowly rotated it back in place as he gave the engineer his 'thousand yard stare'.

    "Sorry sir," the engineer gulped and then went to jockey for a view of the Navigation Console.

    "Mister Tanaka," Lee said into the babble of voices on the bridge.

    "Mister Tanaka," he repeated.

    A loud, very piercing whistle erupted behind him. "Silence!"

    Mirra's voice was not exactly a shout, but it projected over the voices of the twelve engineers in the crowded space.

    "If you cannot remain silent, you will be asked to leave the bridge!"

    Lee repressed the smile that threatened to show on his face. She was easily the smallest person on the bridge, but she resonated with authority.

    In the silence which followed he said, "Mister Tanaka, please overlay the deflector and engineering panels on the main viewer and begin your recording of the test.

    "Aye, sir," the Communications Officer said from behind the cluster of engineers who were crowding in to watch his monitors.

    "I presume all stations are ready?"

    "Ready on deflectors," said the Lieutenant.

    "Course laid in," said Chuss.

    "Recording all stations, Starbase 77 says good luck, sir."

    "Engineering green on all boards," said Sibley.

    "Crewman Ben," the Skipper said, turning to face him, "Warp 6.1?"

    The Pakled nodded, saying, "Warp 6.1274."

    "Mister Chuss, make your speed Warp 6.1274."

    "6.1274 aye."

    The Kestrel went to warp. It took longer for the helmsman to settle the engines at such a precise setting than it did for the ship to get up to speed.

    "Reading stable warp shell, sir," Sibley said.

    "Forward deflector locked on warp shell frequency, aft deflector is a bit trickier," Mirra said. "Aft deflector locked."

    "Okay, Helm, transfer engine control to Tactical, and read out our speed as it changes. Engineer, when Helm calls out our actual speed, I want you to tell us what speed the warp reactor output should be generating."

    "Aye," the said in turn.

    "Crewman Ben, it's your show."

    The Pakled leaned his head back, then focused on his task.

    "Deformation of the warp shell initiated," Mirra said.

    There was a tiny shake of the ship that smoothed out as the Pakled adjusted the engines. When it settled out Mirra increased power to the deflectors.

    "Warp 6.3," Chuss said.

    "5.9," Sibley echoed.

    "Shh!" Hissed Mirra as the gathering began to murmur.

    When Mirra forced the deflectors to push harder on the warp shell there was an increasing vibration, which Ben's manipulation of the engine controls settled, allowing her to push harder. Step by step they went up in power to the deflectors, and consequently in speed, as Ben reduced engine power to the warp coils.

    "Warp 6.5," Chuss said, and Sibley replied,"Warp 5.75"

    "Warp 6.7," and "Warp 5.655."

    "Warp 7," "Warp 5.412."

    "7.4," "Warp 5.116."

    "7.9," "Warp 4.78."

    "8.3," Chuss said, and Sibley echoed, "Warp 4.7."

    "Aft deflector at maximum power," Mirra announced. "I can push a bit harder on the forward deflector."

    "Bad, bad," said Ben. "Bad wave."

    "Let's just maintain what we have for a moment," the Skipper said. "Engineering, report."

    "Warp shell intact, sir, but I'm getting some funny readings. Reactor output holding at Warp 4.7. We have more power, and to spare."

    "Helm?"

    "Steady on course at Warp 8.3"

    "All right then. Let's see what she can do now!" Lee said, "Crewman Ben, full speed ahead."

    "We will go faster!" He announced, and he adjusted his controls.

    "Coming to Warp 9, mark," Chuss announced.

    "Warp 5.6," Sibley echoed.

    "Warp 9.3," and, "Warp 6.193."

    Warp 9.5," "Warp 6.996."

    Warp 9.7," "Warp 7.57."

    Warp 9.8," "Warp 7.91."

    Warp 9.85," Chuss said, and Sibly responded, "Warp 8.212"

    At this point the ship was beginning to vibrate, though nowhere nearly as badly as badly as during the first attempt.

    "How long can we hold this speed?" asked the Skipper, raising his voice over the vibration's noise."

    "Indefinitely," said Sibley. "Structural integrity will give out before the engines!"

    "How is structural integrity now?"

    "Green, Skipper. Fifteen percent of tolerance. It's leaching power from the warp core, but not enough to bother the Chief."

    "Understood. Ben, bring us back down."

    Their speed, and vibration reduced gradually, with some shaking as they dropped below Warp 8.3 and Mirra was forced to manipulate the deflectors again, but at Warp 6.1, when the deflectors disengaged from the warp shell, the engines and ship returned to its usual smooth ride.

    "Okay, helm, drop us out of warp. Communications, send a message to Starbase 1, care of Admiral Franklin. Tell her the Kestrel achieved Warp 9.85 in its first successful test of the Variable Geometry Warp Field."

    There was a cheer, quickly stifled by the Skipper's upraised hand. "Half an hour to crunch the numbers. I want to know the cause of the vibrations, and how to eliminate them. The next time we use the VG I want to be able to drink a cup of tea without splashing it on myself."

    The Skipper turned to Crewman Bengogg and asked, "Do you know the cause of the vibrations?"

    "Yes," he said, while shaking his head." Lee had come to realize this gesture was his way of saying, "Maybe."

    "Work on it for me, and let me know when you have the answer." And Lee was certain he would have an answer as the crewman, with his Andorian crewmate in tow, left the bridge.

    ******
    Post edited by brian334 on
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    The Skipper stood up in the front of the bridge, his back to the viewsreen, facing the assembled engineers and crew, and the buzz of conversation almost instantly died.

    "We have a better idea of what happened on our first run now. We're going to try a second run, and then run the diagnostics again to see if we're learning from our mistakes. I'm glad to say that our resident theoretical physicist and Captain Chatterjee's team agree on what's going on, so we're at least in agreement as to the next step, which is refining our technique. For those of us who aren't up to speed on the math, and for the test records, I'd like to ask Captain Chatterjee to step up and give us a presentation on our current understanding of the issues.

    Between the test engineers and the crew, the bridge was packed. Lee had to step between officers seated on the deck to get to his chair. It was hard to not see the optimism they shared in the success of these trials, and it was infectious.

    The captain of the engineering team stepped to the side of the viewscreen and said, "Mister Friday? The first panel please."

    It was a graph very similar to the one Crewman Bengogg had used to demonstrate why the ship 'jumped'. Subspace Density, Warp Field Intensity, and Deflector Strength were variables, with an acceleration curve shaping a hyperbola from Warp 0 to Warp 10.

    "Below Warp 6 the use of the Variable Geometry effect produces negligible returns due to the relative lack of resistance from subspace. Theoretically this is not a true limit, but a limit of the hardware design of the USS Kestrel. It is possible to achieve positive results at much lower velocities, with resulting savings in fuel usage and damage to subspace in heavily trafficked regions. Indeed, this concept may well be incorporated on all new civilian and merchant vessels as a means of reducing fuel expenditures and of reducing the mass of the engineering systems required operate them.

    "Be that as it may, our design has an optimal point of Warp 6.1247386 at which relative subspace density, due to the velocity of the ship through subspace, has enough effective resistance to further speed increases that it becomes practical to manipulate the shape of the warp shell. Just as an arrow has better aerodynamic properties than a rock, the Variable Geometry Warp Field more easily penetrates subspace than the typical spherical warp shell. By elongating the field and restricting its girth we turn the rock into an arrow. Thus, it requires consequently less energy to push our vessel through subspace."

    As he spoke the graph was replaced with a schematic of the Kestrel with a wireframe grid around it that bulged fore and aft, never quite becoming a true spindle, but becoming ever narrower as the fore and aft bulges pushed outward. Vector arrows simulated subspace density impacting and deforming the shell. They formed turbulent wake-lines from the tip of the bow, the thickest part of the center, and from the stern.

    "As the warp shell's girth retracts, the result is the capacity to achieve much greater speeds for a given warp field density. Indeed, the issue in the first trial several weeks ago was that instead of a gradual decrease of resistance from subspace density, we were achieving better subspatial dynamics without a reduction in the warp field density. In effect, the ship was attempting to go two speeds at once. By finding the point approximating unity of subspace and warp field densities, in this case Warp 6.1, though later ships may achieve unity at a much lower velocity, and then decreasing the density of the warp field as it presents a narrower aspect to subspace, higher speeds can be achieved with a lower investment of power.

    "As we refine our understanding of the phenomenon, we will be better able to generate computer algorithms to set performance parameters to optimize fuel economy, acceleration, or subspace turbulence. That alone will reduce the ship vibration experienced during our acceleration.

    "As to the terminal vibrations we experienced, that is a result of our subspace wake, or more properly, our subspace bow wake. Elongation of the warp field beyond a certain point allows a constriction of the warp shell just aft of the point of greatest pressure. This allows the bow wake to impact the mid-line bulge of the warp field, generating even more turbulence. We are still working on ways to mitigate this, but the effect does not become pronounced enough to, as Captain Lee has said, splash his tea, until above Warp 9.6.

    "Even with this minor issue, today's test has been a success, and I am honored to have been invited o be a part of it. Any questions?"

    The Captain had been determined to take a question from the crew before he answered any from his own team, so when the plump woman with brown hair, brown eyes, and antiquated spectacles raised her hand he called on her

    "Crewman Second Class Aktay, sir; thank you for you presentation. My question is, why not use the defense deflectors?"

    "Defense deflectors?"

    "To get rid of the constriction aft of the bow. It would make your wire-frame more like a teardrop than an arrow, but at least you get rid of the bow wake impacting the surface just aft of the constriction."

    With that comment the room filled with a buzz of conversations as engineers tapped out equations on every console and hand computer in the compartment.

    After blinking a few times the captain said, "Mister Friday, the wire-frame model of the warp field again, please."

    It was an hour later that they began the second run. By then Aktay had formulated a speed curve/power setting algorithm for the computer to use during testing. The second run was much smoother. The third even more so. Someone brought the Skipper a steaming cup of tea for the fourth run, and he didn't have the heart to tell the engineer he preferred green teas.

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    Once again the Kestrel was performing prisoner transportation duty, this time for a pair of Kasheetans who had set themselves up as god-kings on a primitive world then demanded tribute in the form of dilithium ore mined by manual labor from the world's naturally rich deposits.

    Lee was doing the unending paperwork required by Starfleet with the able assistance of Cadet Friday when a call came in from an unexpected source. He stood and had the call routed to a virtual monitor on his wall.

    "Captain Danna'Q, I am honored that you would take the time to call. How may I serve the Empire today?"

    "Marshal Lee, I heard you were dead. Then I heard you were not dead, but performing engine tests on your little vessel."

    "I'm not dead yet, Captain, but I am working on it."

    "Ha! But I am glad you are not yet dead. I have discovered something interesting in the wreckage of that converted cargo ship you chased into my space not so long ago."

    "You have my attention, sir."

    "The navigation computer was discovered in the wreckage and my engineers were able to recover its flight logs for the past 271 days. A curious pattern was discerned. Do you know of the Kmt'aa micronebula?"

    Friday converted the Klingon name to Standard and placed it on a map with the human name, Brigg-Hurst 987. It was a small nebula, possibly the result of half a dozen nearly simultaneous supernovas in a star cluster some millions of years ago. Its only interesting feature was its location straddling the Klingon border.

    "I have just been made aware of it, sir."

    "I like you, Lee. Most Starfleet 'captains' would have pretended knowledge they did not possess."

    "I pretend poorly, Captain. This nebula caught your attention, and now you have mine."

    "Good. Because what captured my attention is that this converted freighter visited that nebula five times in the last 262 days before it was destroyed in Klingon space."

    Lee's mind was drawing mental pictures of a smuggling ring operating out of that nebula, using the Faenar Array to track the movements of both Klingon and Federation ships along the border.

    "I see you are reaching the same conclusions I have reached."

    "Captain Danna'Q, I must wonder why the Empire has not acted to investigate this situation?"

    "We are. This is why I have contacted you. If I go in there the pirates will destroy their records and flee in all directions, only to start over somewhere else. If you go in there with your tiny ship you might be able to get enough information to break their organization before they realize there is a threat. Besides, you chased game into my sights, it is only fair I return the favor."

    "Now I must ask, intending no disrespect, if there is information I am not being told?"

    "Since I began watching the nebula I have seen two ships exit it, both going into the Federation."

    "Klingon ships?"

    Captain Danna'Q sat passively, his expression unreadable even to Lee.

    "Klingon ships belonging to influential houses?"

    Again Captain Danna'Q remained stone-faced.

    "Captain Danna'Q, I thank you for this information. I will have a barrel of blood wine sent to your ship to honor the hard work of your engineers."

    "One more thing, Lee," Capain Danna'Q said, "My random paIrols sometimes take me near that region of space. If I am there in the next five days or so, I will be watching you to... insure you do not violate our borders... but if a request for help came from a Federation ship, I would gladly honor the Alliance by giving aid to an ally."

    "Captain, when this is over, I'd like to invite you to my little ship so that I may share a bottle of baijiu with you."

    ***

    He briefed the crew in the briefing room, in a far more casual atmosphere than was typical for a Starfleet crew. It had the effect of inviting input from everyone, and of course, Crewman Sibley had ideas.

    "Why is it," Mirra asked, "that every time there is a problem, you want to solve it by altering ship's systems?"

    "Lieutenant, the Osaarian Merchant is longer, but the nacelles fit pretty close. Most of the hologram would be off the bow. If we go in looking like a smuggler we might have more time to look around, collect data. Plus, if someone starts shooting at us they might hit the hologram instead of us."

    "I suppose I could program the warp core to act like an Osaarian, conform to their power curve," said the Chief.

    "You too chief?" she demanded.

    "It's not a bad idea," the Chief said. "We're going in there blind, and I don't want to get shot."

    "There's more to being a smuggler than warp core signatures and hull outlines," said Lee. "Successful smugglers are smart."

    "All the more reason to not go charging in blind," Mirra said.

    "No. We do need a default option," the Skipper said, "And we can't leave Starfleet out on this."

    "But we're going in?" she asked.

    "Captain Danna'Q is right. If he goes charging in most of the smugglers will get away, and they'll destroy whatever records they have. The same applies to Starfleet. If this does involve Klingons somehow, we can't expect help from that side of the border because our 'help' may be compromised. And we know Starfleet will send a squadron which will be spotted long before they get there. Infiltration looks like it might be our best option."

    "You're seriously considering this?"

    "I am. And I'll tell you something else I'm considering." He turned to Lieutenant Mirra. "How would you like to be Captain?"

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    "The hormone will stimulate pheromone production by activating your recessive genes, nothing more. Once active they will remain active until suppressed, but I assure you your body will be in no way harmed. It's an otherwise entirely natural process. Your recessive Orion genes don't produce the hormone I've synthesized, but the genetic factors are there."

    Dr. Sar was examining a block of genetic code carefully as he spoke. "Were you aware you have the genetic potential for red hair? Another recessive gene. It may be triggered by the hormone as well, though it will require some time to grow in."

    "You said my 'body'. What about my mind?" Mira asked.

    "You mean the paranoia?"

    Mirra just looked at him.

    "Lieutenant, there is a known tendency to paranoia among certain segments of the Orion population, but that appears to be a cultural artifact rather than a genetic one."

    "So you don't know."

    "I wouldn't intentionally endanger your life, Lieutenant. The best research available informs me that there is no genetic basis for the high rate of paranoia and of schizophrenia among the Orion female population. And if there were cause for concern, it would certainly require more than a week to manifest. You will have completed your mission and returned for the repression treatment by that point."

    "Lieutenant, you are free to refuse the assignment," the Skipper said. "It will not be mentioned in any way on your record, and I will not think less of you if you did. Volunteering to have your body altered is something you will have to decide you want to do or not. If not, we'll find another way."

    "Red hair, you said? Can you go ahead and stimulate my follicles so I can grow some out before we get there?"

    ***

    When the Kestrel entered the Kmt'aa Nebula there was a sensor disruption zone that was twenty kilometers thick: obviously not natural and extremely convenient. They speculated it was a particulate dispersed for the purpose of concealment, and that the field would require maintenance. Once clear of the field there was another surprise.

    They had expected some derelict station or freighter which was being used as an intermodal facility. What they found was enough to leave them awestruck.

    "Passive scans only, we don't want to tip our hand by showing off sensors we shouldn't have," the Marshal said, "But locate every power source just in case they want to start shooting." They were moving in very slowly toward a massive Orion battleship.

    The Orions had not built ships of its size for hundreds of years; it was a relic of their last open war. It was shaped like a massive blunt torpedo with four pitifully small nacelles ringed around it's mid-section with similarly small impulse drives inboard on the struts which supported them, and four much larger nacelles around a massive ring-shaped impulse drive with the nozzle of a fusion drive poking from its center. Just forward of and centered between the nacelle supports were a pair of dual plasma cannons of massive size, one forward and hugging the hull and the other mounted on a raised barbette, allowing it to fire over the forward turret. The stern pair were reversed and rotated ninety degrees from the forward pair, with the barbette mounted weapon superfiring over the aft turret. It was easy to extrapolate a second pair opposite each of these, hidden behind the curve of the hull.

    Such a vessel would be ponderous and slow to maneuver, but there were dozens of turret mounted plasma weapons from point defense weapons to starship cannons. What would have seemed large and powerful weaponry otherwise were dwarfed by the main battery guns. Then Ensign Tanaka began to identify missile ports. There were, extrapolating the pattern around the hull; there were over twenty missile launchers in addition to the guns. And the ship was armored. What should have been significant sources of power appeared tiny in the passive scans, shielded by a meter or more of armor.

    "At the first sign of trouble, run. Get these scans to Starfleet, to Captain Danna'Q, or anybody. Do not try to fight it."

    When no one answered the Skipper repeated, "Do not try to fight it, Chuss. Intelligence is a weapon too."

    "You be careful out there, Lee," the Caitian replied.

    "I will, my brother. I want my ship back."

    "Incoming call," Mirra said.

    "Calmly, by the plan," Lee said as he stepped over to the Comm to replace Mirra.

    "Identify yourself," Lee said in a surly tone of voice.

    "You entered our space, in a vessel we don't recognize," came the reply. "I want a visual now, and I want you to identify yourself."

    "Listen you brainless aehallh! I have important..."

    He was interrupted by a green-brown hand reaching out and caressing his face, then Lieutenant Mirra leaned in, putting her face beside his.

    "Now, don't be that way, darling. He just wants to know who we are so he can invite us over for a nice friendly cup of tea, right?"

    Lee appeared to be shaken by her interruption, his eyes locked onto hers, and he stared at her hungrily.

    Mirra had changed. Her complexion, which had always had a dark olive tint, was brighter, greener, yet it retained the soft brown tones that mellowed the intensity of the green. Her eyes were green as well, tinged by hazel bands radiating from her pupils, and her once conservatively cut black hair was now a cascade of dark auburn with loose curls falling around her like a lion's mane with a permanent. She had lost a few pounds, and with her well developed muscle tone she appeared thin, almost emaciated, like a marathon runner.

    And just to enhance the sensuality of her new appearance she wore a bizarre combination of leather and lace which revealed tantalizing glimpses of her skin while concealing a variety of assassin's tools strategically hidden on her person.

    She spoke the Orion trade language to the communications officer on the other ship. "I'm Lesedi, and that's all you need to know about me. My ship is the Serpent's Coil, and that's all you need to know about that. I am here to talk to your mistress about a matter which concerns us, and that is all you need to know about that."

    "Mistress," the voice said, "I will need your recognition code."

    "Oh this is so tiresome," she said, coiling a lock of the Skipper's hair around her finger as if bored by the proceeding. "Let's see, I think it was 123-101-126-101-122-111-101." Then Mirra turned to face the camera with a fierce glare and said, "Now run along and tell your mistress I want to speak to her."

    When the comm blinked on again it showed the image of an Orion male of the smaller body type with a very different voice. "The Mistress informs me that you are to beam in to this point," he read off some coordinates, "And that you are to come unarmed."

    When Lee and Mirra beamed onto the battleship, Lee was conspicuously armed with an Andorian Combat Rifle, equipped with an integral bayonet and a pair of Romulan disruptor pistols, both hung on his right hip with the forward one reversed for a left-handed draw. On his left hip was a D'k tagh in a forward facing sheath and he also carried a mek'leth slung over his right shoulder. He wore what at first appeared to be a leather gauntlet on his left hand, but upon closer inspection it was revealed to be a leather vambrace with six leaf-bladed throwing daggers set in leather loops. As a final touch he carried a pair of stillettoes in integral sheathes on the sides of his steel-tipped boots.

    Mirra's weapons were invisible to all but the scanners which would obviously be in place here. Lee stepped forward and raised his rifle as the three Orion guards did the same.

    "You were told to come unarmed!" the largest of them said.

    "Stop!" Mirra commanded. She touched the barrel of Lee's rifle with her left hand and reached up to touch his face with her right. In a soothing tone of voice she said, "You don't want to kill them, darling. they might shoot back and hit me instead of you. You don't want that, do you?"

    Lee had reacted with a jerk as of an electric shock when she touched him, and as she stroked his cheek his barrel lowered and he bent forward as if she was pulling his face down to her level. "No, I don't want that..."

    She held her position a moment, but twisted from the waist to face the Orions. "Now, stop talking nonsense and take me to your mistress. I have business to discuss."

    After a moment's hesitation the largest guard said, "This way," and turned to walk off, leaving the other two still holding their weapons but not pointing them.

    Mirra followed the larger of the trio with an exaggerated sway of her hips, ignoring the two she stepped between, but Lee, following her, glaring at them both with a hate-filled face. He used his apparent paranoia as a cover, seeming to glare at everyone and everything, as if constantly seeking a danger to his mistress, but he was performing reconnaissance.

    Humans, Klingons, and assorted aliens were wandering around, working on tasks undefined. The corridors were wide, but debris and merchandise of various kinds was stacked all around forming aisles through which they meandered toward their destination. Most of the workers wore a device stapled to their necks, but some wore simple collars. The Orion males were universally displaying cybernetic implants of various kinds, typically with a copper or bronze finish. There was a smaller group of Orions, or not really a group, but individuals seen here and there, whose green skin had an ashen hue. These were less physically robust than the greens and they wore more of the implants.

    Mirra ignored them all. If she deigned to notice something it was only to sneer at it or to step around it with a look of disgust. The ship was old, and filthy. The people in it were beneath contempt. If she didn't have a job to do she would never be in this disgusting place. She kept her thoughts focused on her superiority and their inferiority. She was a princess, and they were dirt, created to be trodden upon.

    They came to what appeared to be a shuttlebay door, but it was an airlock with a fifty-person capacity. There were four armed guards and an officer inside.

    The captain of the guard said, "You may enter, he stays here."

    Mirra laughed in his face. It was not a laugh of amusement, but a bitter, mocking laugh of utter contempt. "Try no to be as stupid as you look," she said, her voice dripping with derision.

    "Mistress said..."

    "I said, 'Stop being stupid,'" and this time there was venom in her voice. "Either I go in with my... friend, or I leave, and if you try to stop me, well, let's just say I think my friend can take care of all of you before you can blink."

    It was only then that the guard captain realized his 'prisoner' was pointing his wicked looking blade-tipped weapon right at his head. None of his guards had even seen the movement, but they were waking up to it and raising their weapons.

    "Tinaak!" A female voice whipcracked as a small door opened. "Allow my guest and her escort to enter."

    Mirra's fist thought was, In Xanadu did Kublai Kahn a stately pleasure drome decree...

    But this pleasure drome was occupied by a least twenty man-servants operating control consoles around the perimeter of the room while a half dozen very young Orion girls, children, really, played a childish game on the furniture on one side of the room.

    "It's okay, now, darling," Mirra said, stroking Lee's face again, and again he jerked as if she had been charged with static electricity. But then he leaned forward, drawn by her touch as she said, "Just watch the door, you don't want anybody to try to hurt me, do you? Okay, watch the door while I talk to my friend." With that she gave him a light kiss, then turned as if he was forgotten to approach the woman on the reclining couch.

    She was old. And still majestic: her body had not withered, though her hair was platinum white with a few remaining strands of copper twining through her almost forgotten curls. Other than her hair, Mirra almost forgot why she had thought the woman old, until she saw the eyes again. Ice blue, washed out by the years upon years of cynical decadence, the contrivances, the plots, the schemes. She was old in a way only the truly jaded can be old.

    "I don't know you, yet you come in here and disrupt my peaceful little nest. Who are you and how did you get the security code you gave my guards?" Her voice was demanding, imperious, and just beginning to roughen with age.

    "Your welcome is as beautiful as your dress, Your Highness," said Mirra in the High Tongue, the language of her Grandfather's house, corrupted by the contempt she felt, and must feel in order to maintain her disguise. "Is it Tholian silk? Why, it's beautiful enough to be buried in!"

    Mirra sauntered closer to the 'throne' as she spoke, her eyes locked on the eyes of the old woman.

    "And you dance beautifully in the serpent's nest," the old woman replied in the coarsest use of the Low Tongue. "But as you can see, I am too old for patience, and too jaded for games."

    "As honey your words fall from your mouth, Your Highness," Mirra said in the Middle Tongue. "Who I am is not important, but my message is, perhaps. I was given instructions, and a promise of payment. Her name is Savaria."

    "You know all the words, but you are no true Orion, are you, my little serpent?" the old woman asked.

    "Everywhere it counts, I am," she replied.

    "Because of your little plaything?" she asked, still using the Middle Tongue. "With a flick of my finger I could squash him like a bug."

    "Of that I have no doubt, Your Highness. But I beg your restraint and indulgence. He is very useful to me in my... line of work."

    "And in what line of work is a dancer like yourself employed?"

    "I am a troubleshooter, Your Highness. I make problems... go away. And my pet is very good at making problems... go away. He would be difficult to replace, and he loves me so," she turned to Lee, who had half turned so he could watch the door and Mirra at the same time. "Don't you, my darling?" she asked,switching to Standard.

    He took a step toward Mirra and she held up a hand, stopping him. "The door!" she cooed. He turned back to watch the door.

    In the Middle Tongue she said, "He would be difficult to replace. His skills are unique."

    The exchange got a smile from the old woman, but she said, "They are all replaceable, but you are young enough to not believe that yet." The old woman sat up from her reclined position and perched on the edge of her couch. "What kind of ship do you have out there?"

    "As Your Highness can see it's an Ossarian Freighter."

    "Mostly what I see is a hologram."

    "And the deception worked so well on those poor Federation fools on Savin's Planet."

    "When you get to be my age you learn to see deceptions everywhere, to anticipate them, and to know how to determine when a young dancer dances around a thing. If that is an Ossarian Freighter, I am a Ferngi Oomaks merchant."

    "How's business?" Mirra asked, in the Low Tongue. This impertinence got a glare form the woman, so Mirra said, "It's a Kestrel."

    "A... a shuttlecraft? You flew all the way here in a Romulan shuttlecraft?" The old woman leaned back and laughed. It was not a forced laugh, but a genuine laugh of released tension and amusement. For a moment she was almost beautiful, but as the laughter died the reptilian gleam returned to her eyes and the look of jaded contempt formed in the lines of her mouth.

    "In my business a shuttlecraft is more useful than a battleship, especially my little ship. It's cozy, but I've made it my home."

    "I am Lavina, and Savaria is my daughter. Who are you and..."

    "Mistress," an Orion male interrupted, "We've lost contact with Gorjes!"

    "Oh my," Mirra said, "I hope you didn't send him to my ship! And I hope you didn't value him very much."

    "What did you do to my squad?"

    "A girl like me? I did nothing at all. But my ship is protected. If a biosign that is not mine, or his," Mirra pointed a thumb over her shoulder at Lee, "Is detected, the transporter transports them away, and then deletes the pattern buffer. And if one attempts to overwhelm the system by transporting too many aboard, well, the singularity core and the auxiliary reactor are both programmed to self destruct. And if all that fails, the Romulans have a foolproof scuttling charge which requires a positive signal from the computer or it goes off. If I had suspected you wanted to look at my ship I'd have told you all about this. It's a very secure system, I can't deactivate it. Even trying will, well, you know."

    The old woman sat staring at the young one for a few minutes. Mirra affected an attitude of unconcern, as if the elimination of five lives meant nothing to her.

    "Who are you, and where are you from?"

    "I am Lesedi, and I am from a little place you may never have heard of on the Romulan border. It's called Nimbus III."

    The Orion male was still standing there, waiting. "Send no more boarding parties," the Orion matron said to him. "GO!"

    "I could destroy your little toy up there," the old woman pointed toward the ceiling, "And right here," she pointed at Lee. "And I could destroy you as well, with the flick of a finger."

    "Ah, but then who will save your poor little Savaria?" Mirra said, then she whispered, "I hear the Federation controls their prisoners with drugs!" Resuming her normal voice she said, " You know, I saw the attempted rescue. You really shouldn't send more incompetent idiots. It was a fiasco."

    "You are offering to do it?"

    "I have a price. Meet it and I will. It's not my usual line of work, mind you. If you would prefer, I can make the problem go away instead. Let one of those little princesses inherit your throne." Mirra waved to the playing children.

    "I think not. But I may choose to hire you for the rescue, if your price is reasonable."

    "I want a freighter filled with latinum," Mirra smiled, "But I'd settle for a corvette. Not an old, used up one. I want one right off the assembly line, with a captain's chair that has never been sat upon."

    "A shame. Used I could do, but new?"

    "How used?" asked Mirra.

    ***

    "When my Mistress gets through with you you're going to beg her to give you to me!" the Orion shouted through the force field.

    Mason smiled. The prisoner ranted on, but his four colleagues sat sullenly around their shared cell.

    "Computer, Exit," Mason said. A blue light scanned him and he was allowed to leave. After a while one of the prisoners tried the food the Starfleet crewman had caused to materialize on the table. It was better than the garbage they ate on their ship.

    Someone got the idea to try ordering wine, to order the door to open, to lower the force field which contained them. The computer didn't listen. One of them tried to conceal a fork in his harness, but it vanished as he tried. Still, the food was good.

    ***

    Mirra reminded herself to harden her heart at the despair, the degradation she saw all around her over the next two days as she wandered the ship, waiting for the summons. They are scum. They deserve what is happening to them. They are vile filthy creatures! But the thin little boy, starved really, who was being beaten, did he deserve that? I can only save him if I remember to hate him!

    Lee followed her like a very dangerous pet, a tiger who would kill without hesitation and expect to be praised for it. He was much better at this, Mirra thought. What kind of person does it take to do his job, day in and day out, for a lifetime? She didn't know if it was pride or pity she felt for him. But it was relief she felt when she was summoned back to the queen viper's nest.

    ***

    "The ship is ten years old. It has disruptor weaponry and photon torpedo launchers both fore and aft, and it can accommodate up to a dozen shuttlecraft of whatever type you like."

    "Good," Mirra said. "Place one shutlecraft on it and deliver it to these coordinates," She handed a portable computer to the Orion male controlling the monitor they were viewing. "It shouldn't take me more than a week to effect the rescue and make it to those coordinates. If my man likes the ship we'll make the trade. Your crew and your princess can use the shuttlecraft to come here, or to wherever. If you're thinking of a double-cross, I'd advise against it. I always take out an insurance policy."

    "As do I," the old Orion said.

    ***

    "Cloaked vessel bearing 329 mark 340," Mira said as they exited the particulate cloud surrounding the Orion battleship.

    "Ignore it for now," Lee said. "Maintain Warp 5, course for Savin's World. Let's see how much insurance the Viper Queen takes out.
  • Options
    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    edited October 2018
    Season 1, Episode 7

    "Skipper! I deserve to go!" Mirra said with an uncharacteristic vehemence. "I've earned the right to go!"

    "Number One, you performed admirably. You definitely earned something, but you can't go." Lee paused to look at his young protege. She had earned something, his respect. But she had also earned his honesty.

    "Lieutenant..." He paused, then started over, "Lesedi, look at me." He waited for her to face him before he continued. What you did back there, the way you held it together for two days under very stressful conditions. It was amazing. If you wanted to you could become a fantastic field agent. But."

    He sighed. "You've become emotionally invested in this case, and in every instance that is a handicap. Be honest with yourself, and critically examine the situation. Would you send you back into that cesspool, knowing it's a combat mission, knowing that those poor people, many of them, are going to die?"

    "You went after Marshal Jasse." She was defiant.

    "Yes, because I was closest. If Marshal T'esat had anyone else available she would have ordered me to stand down. And I almost got myself killed too. Remember that."

    Mirra was not happy, but at least she was not talking back. "Look, Kestrel and the crew need you here. I need Kestrel to do a very important job while Chuss and I are gone. I need you to keep the Viper Queen's eye on you, and I need you to take care of my ship and crew."

    "I disagree, sir." There was a slight hesitation, then she said, "But I know how to follow orders."

    "Good. You know the plan. Deliver the P.A.D.D. to Judge Hackett, wait for his approval, and if you get it, get to work. Three days from now my assault begins. Whether Starfleet is ready or not."

    "I wish we were in a better situation for communications."

    "That's a key part of what you're doing. As long as our shadows are out there there's not a lot we can do about it, and a runabout certainly wouldn't have the sensor suite to detect them the way we have."

    "This is all so hastily put together, sir. Something's going to go wrong. If I were there with you..." She saw his look and changed what she was going to say. "I would worry less."

    "And I would worry more."

    "Please pardon the interruption, sirs," the voice of Cadet Friday said, "But I have a message: the crew requests your presence in the Briefing Room."

    "A going away party?" asked Mirra.

    "Let's go see," Lee said, leading the way out of his stateroom and up the ramp.

    Crewman Voght was on watch on the bridge, and Crewman Sibley in the Engineering Control Room, but the rest of the crew was present.

    "Sir, if you'll step this way," said Ensign Tanaka, leading Lee to the rear of the compartment where a large box sat beneath the curve of the aft windows.

    "Crewman Ladner was the driving force behind this, sir, so if you don't mind, Crewman, step up."

    Beside the Skipper the tall, lanky crewman appeared somewhat short and awkward. He smiled a bit, then opened the box.

    "I don't have a speech, sir, but everyone helped. We though you might want it."

    'It' was a suit of armor in the same cobalt blue of the suit he lost to the nanites. Immediately Lee realized he was wrong: it was a slightly different color, with purplish highlights and an opalescent finish. The power pack was reduced in size as well, and there were slightly different contours along the arms, legs, and up the back.

    "It looks amazing," Lee said, "But it looks a little different from my old suit."

    "Mason was able to save the pattern when he beamed it out, Skipper," Ladner said, but we couldn't just beam it back because of the nanites, so we copied the pattern. And then we put one of Doctor Sar's nanite repellent emitters on it, on the suit, not just an audio signal, so even in vacuum it'll work."

    "I appreciate that," Lee said, holding his shoulder and flexing it.

    "Then when Masha, umm, Crewman Aktay, found out what we were doing she added some software to the data system, especially the imaging system in the helmet. And Ben helped design the targeting system. We needed to call in Crewman Sibley to work up some new power distribution networks, and he decided to save weight by distributing power cells throughout, which allowed us to reduce the mass of the backpack unit without a loss of net power, then..."

    "Wait, wait, wait," said the Skipper. "Was there anyone on the crew who didn't have a hand in the suit?"

    "My only role was to keep it a secret from you, sir." Ensign Tanaka said.

    "I knew nothing about it, sir," said the Lieutenant.

    "Actually, Lieutenant," Ladner drawled, "Crewman Voght scanned your suit. Yours has better resistance to nadion particles, though the Skipper's design is more resistant to disruptors, so we used a microfilm nadion absorption matrix under the finish, similar to yours but with some modifications she added. For example, when you take a phaser hit some of the energy will be absorbed by your power packs rather than just dispersed around the suit."

    "Sir," Cadet Friday said, "The transmission you were expecting has been received."

    "My kit is already on the transporter platform," Chuss said as he slammed the lid on the new suit and threw the latches. "Mason, if you would help the Marshal."

    Chuss picked up the case and carried it out of the Briefing room.

    ******
  • Options
    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    "Savin's Planet Orbital Control to Ossarian vessel 'Serpent's Coil,' you are cleared to land in vertical landing zone twenty-three, please set your autopilot for ground control."

    Mirra transferred control of the helm to the ground-based landing computer. When the Kestrel last landed here she was a Starfleet vessel, and as such the world's traffic control laws allowed her to land unassisted. It was only pragmatic, however, that civilian craft, with a wide variety of pilot backgrounds, training, and skill, were required to submit their vessels to computer control when in proximity of the planet.

    "Thank you, Serpent's Coil. Happy landings, and please enjoy your stay on Savin's Planet."

    "Hologenerators holding, sir," Sibley said. "I'll need a really good image of the landing site, sir."

    "Scanning now, crewman," Ensign Tanaka said. "Are you sure you can do this?"

    "I can fake out a pack of cloaked pirates, and I can fool a starport traffic control system. This is going to be easy, sir."

    "Two more days," Mirra muttered.

    "Sir?"

    "I said, 'Two more days,' Mister Tanaka."

    "Yes sir," he replied. He watched her with an expression of concern on his face, then turned back to the communication's console.

    ***

    The illusion of an Ossarian freighter gently settled through the atmosphere of Savin's Planet toward Landing Pad 23 which, from ten kilometers in the sky, was invisible beneath a thick blanket of clouds. With Kestrel's scanners, even in passive mode, the clouds would be no obstacle to viewing the busy port facility. They had to assume that the cloaked ships, the Viper Queen Lavina's 'insurance policies,' were capable of seeing through the clouds as well.

    The vessel broke through the clouds on a steep decline, floating like a leaf to the ground. The observant would notice the rain passing through the forward part of her hull, but then the Viper Queen already knew that the forward part of the ship was a hologram.

    ***

    "Thalys," Mason said.

    He wasn't in his usual uniform; he was dressed in thigh high boots and leather trousers with a white blouse open to the navel. His brown hair had been dyed black and trimmed in an imitation of the Skipper's short slicked-back style. He wore a leather vambrace ringed with blades, a harness of leather bristling with weapons, and he carried an Andorian combat rifle with an integral bayonet. Although he was almost a head shorter than the Skipper, they hoped the perspective from a ship in high obit would render that detail difficult to detect.

    "Thalys!" Mason raised his voice, but the Andorian continued forward on the curved port-side passageway. But he was certain she had heard him because she winced slightly when he called her name.

    He ran up the passageway and caught her as she passed the hatch to the Skylight Lounge. She puled away from his hand on her shoulder, but he grabbed her again and spun her around, pinning her to the bulkhead beside the hatch to the unused crew quarters just aft of her own room. They stood there a moment, the difference in their height forcing the human man to look up to look into the eyes of the Andorian woman who was a head taller than he.

    "Are you trying to seduce me?" she asked in a cold voice. Her antennae were reared back and spread apart, a signal of wariness to those who knew: she was ready to fight.

    "I'm trying to talk to you! Why have you been avoiding me for the last two weeks?"

    "I haven't been, you're imagining things."

    "It's a small ship! I haven't been able to get you alone in the same compartment with me for two weeks. I leave messages you don't answer, I even come to your door and you won't answer. Talk to me!"

    "About what?"

    "About us, about me, about, I don't know, about what's the matter with you that makes you want to avoid me!"

    "I'm not avoiding..."

    "Stop it!" he said. "Look, I didn't think, I didn't plan for... that night. For what happened. But it did, and I'm not sorry! I didn't think you were either! I don't know where this is going, but if that one thing changed everything else between us..."

    He let her go and leaned against the opposite wall. "I don't want to lose you. Look, you set the rules. You tell me the boundaries. We're going to be on this ship for another nine months. We have to work together, we have to see each other. Tell me what I did wrong so we can make it right."

    "It's not you, it's me," she said quietly, her antennae drooping and leaning forward a bit.

    "Oh no," he said.

    "Yes," she insisted. "It's stupid and embarrassing and I can't talk about it."

    "I didn't mean to embarrass you," he said, and a flush of anger washed through him.

    "No!" she insisted, and now her antennae were focused on him. "It's... it's..."

    He watched her antennae withe, as if attempting to stroke one another. He had upset her, had somehow made her emotionally vulnerable. He waited, fearing he would say something stupid, fearing that not saying something, anything, would make things worse somehow.

    "I can't stop thinking about it." It was a whisper.

    Mason whispered, "About what?"

    "It's stupid," she said. "A stupid, juvenile..."

    "About what?" he insisted, still whispering.

    "After... you know, after, I went to see Doctor Sar, to hide... to treat the bruises, and he said, he said..." Her antennae were writhing again in agitation.

    Mason waited.

    "It was possible. For us. For a human and an Andorian to... you know."

    Mason's mind was racing, but he thought that, in that moment, he must look like a slack-jawed idiot. Crewman Voght was looking at the floor, her hands, the hatch at the end of the hall, anything but his face, so she missed whatever expression his face betrayed in that moment.

    "And I can't stop thinking about it. About a baby with pink skin and antennae."

    She looked at him now, defiance in her eyes, her antennae spread wide and erect, their tips pulsing as if tasting the air. He realized she was expecting rejection.

    "Listen to me, Thalys," he said. "I don't know where this is going; I can't read the future. In two weeks you might hate me. I don't want to take advantage of you, and maybe I did, then, that time, I don't know. But I want to be your friend. I don't want to lose what we had before. And I want to see where we can go, together."

    He leaned away from the wall, toward her again. "I want to learn how to love you, if you will let me."

    Lieutenant Mirra's voice on the intercom interrupted their conversation. "Touchdown in five minutes. Ladner, Mason, you're up!"

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    The deuterium truck rolled across the landing zone taxiway toward the holographic ship. Mason and Ladner exited the Kestrel using its boarding ramp, which was concealed from above by the hologram of an Ossarian Freighter, and when the truck arrived with its three crew and its massive deuterium tank, Ladner was waiting to handle the refueling umbilical. It appeared coincidental that his working jumper matched that of the ground crew.

    While Mason wandered around the perimeter of the ship apparently inspecting it from various angles, (conveniently visible from above,) Ladner supervised the refueling from beneath the aft end of the vessel, conveniently concealed beneath the hull of the ship. Half an hour later, and after having loaded much less deuterium than a ship of its apparent size would require, Ladner disconnected the umbilical and asked if the ground crew would mind giving him a ride to the spaceport administration building. The moment the deuterium truck drove away Mason returned to the ship.

    ***

    Ladner entered the Starport Administration Building in his working jumper and exited in civilian clothing after removing his jumper and tossing it in the dressing room trash can. He boarded a public transportation tram and rode it halfway across Savin City to the Federation Administration Annex. He went to the seventh floor of the building, East Wing, Inner Ring, to the 549th District Court Administration Center. He said the words he was told to say to the receptionist, who told him to have a seat as the message was processed. Then he waited for almost half an hour, watching the folks come and go about their business, none of which looked like work to him.

    "Mister Ladner?" said a fellow wearing a suit like the Skipper usually wore. His badge was gold, not silver like the Skipper's and the suit didn't seem to fit as well as the Skipper's suit fit him.

    "That's me," Ladner drawled, standing up as the man approached.

    "This way, please," the uniformed man said, and he lead Ladner through a maze of consoles and cubicles with people in them talking, typing, and reading.

    Their walk ended in a small room with a table and half a dozen chairs. In one of the chairs, facing the door, sat an older man in a similar suit. His guide drew back a chair and instead of sitting in it, gestured for Ladner to do so. The older man sat there a moment, just looking at Ladner, and it gave the Crewman the creeps. But he waited.

    "What's this all about now?" asked the older officer.

    "I'm to see Judge Hackett, sir," and with this Ladner pulled out the badge he had been given, pinned inside a patent leather wallet. It was gold, like theirs, but the printed words and number were much larger. It read, '577' in large numbers across the shield with 'United Federation Of Planets' in a scroll across the top and 'Deputy Marshal' in a scroll beneath.

    "Why didn't you show your identification to the receptionist?" demanded the older man.

    "I'm not to answer the questions of anyone except the Judge, sir. Orders."

    The older man looked at the badge, then the crewman, then sighed and nodded to the younger officer who immediately exited the room. "So how's old Marshal Thrr doing these days?" he asked when the door closed behind the younger oficer.

    "I couldn't say," Ladner answered.

    "Why not? Orders?"

    "That too," Ladner drawled.

    "What can you talk about?"

    "Got any news on the Scrums? It's been a little while since I kept up with the sports net."

    "Scrums?" asked the older man. What are Scrums?"

    "Oh, well, it's kind of like rugby, I'm told, though I never seen a rugby match. But in a 3D, zero-g field."

    "How would you play rugby in a zero-g field?" asked the older man.

    "I wouldn't know, but I played lots of scrum as a kid. I was even offered a scholarship to Lovall Polytech on Elasia. Couldn't cut the academics. Shame. Lanky, skinny kid like me, I could have been a star."

    "Does Marshal Jasse follow the scrums?"

    "I wouldn't know, and you already know I can't talk about that. You're a tricky one. I told them they should have sent Sibley. He'd be pumping you for info about now."

    "Is Sibley a Deputy Marshal too?"

    "He seems to be whatever he wants to be. Boy's going to come to a bad end one day, mark my words. He keeps fooling with stuff that's none of his business, it's got to end bad, you know?"

    "No, but you don't seem to like this Sibley person. Why is that?"

    "I like him just fine, where'd you ever get the idea I didn't?"

    "You just said he's going to come to a bad end, that he was fooling with things he shouldn't."

    "Well, that don't mean I don't like him. But it does mean you're still trying to trick me into talking about stuff I shouldn't. Why not let's wait and talk to the Judge, all right? I can talk about the scrums all you like."

    "All right," the officer said, "How do you play this game?"

    "Well, it's played in a tank, a twenty meter diameter cylinder with padded sides, with a fifty meter field between the goals. There's a brace at midfield, with six spokes meeting at a hub, and the goals are mounted on six spokes, but they have a four meter ring instead of a solid hub. The other team's goal is forward to your team, and you can pass the ball laterally or back, but not forward. You advance the ball by carrying it forward, and the other team can try to grapple to stop you or steal the ball, or intercept a pass. Players can use the walls or the spokes to move, but only the goal tenders and ball carriers can touch the goal ring. If the ball carrier touches a spoke he has to pass or hand off the ball..."

    The door opened behind Ladner and he turned around to see that the younger officer had returned. The young man nodded to the older one, and the older officer said, "Sorry, we'll have to finish this later. Follow Officer Harrin, if you don't mind."

    The three of them filed through the maze of clerical workers to a bank of turbolifts and entered one. The younger punched a button and the turbolift hummed to life. Neither officer spoke and the door opened after only a few seconds. The maze here was less crowded, and the furnishings were less utilitarian. Ladner guessed, (correctly,) that these were the offices of the senior clerks, but they were too busy to notice the three as they passed. The entered a wide door marked, 'Office of the 549th Judicial District Court, Judge Myron K. Hackett.'

    Beyond the door was a room too small to be a judge's chamber. Instead there was a couch on one wall bracketed by similar leafy plants and on the other a desk behind which sat a law clerk not much older than Ladner.

    "His Honor will see you now," the clerk said, and promptly went back to his work, ignoring the trio.

    A door identical to the entry door opened into a room about twice the size of the Kestrel's briefing room. At its far end in front of a holographic window sat a huge wooden desk. The walls of the room were lined with book shelves and on either side of the entry door were small chair and sofa sets ringed around low tables.

    Behind the desk, in an over-sized, overstuffed chair sat a bald man with a white ring of thin, short hair broken by his tall, wrinkled forehead. The man could have been any age between eighty and one fifty, and he exuded authority: wore it as easily as Ladner wore a space suit.

    "Well, don't just sand there," the Judge said. "What's all this about, Deputy?"

    "Sir, if I may, that is, if you don't mind," Ladner stammered.

    That got an annoyed twitch of the lip from the Judge, who said, "Come on in and tell me what you came to say."

    Ladner approached, reaching into a pocket in his vest. The young officer grabbed his hand and the older one reached in and pulled the object from his pocket.

    "Hey!" Ladner said, "It's just a P.A.D.D.!"

    The older officer used a small scanner then said, "It's just a P.A.D.D." Then he turned to Ladner and asked, "Why didn't our scanners detect it?"

    "Because Sibley made my vest." He ignored the look on the officer's face as he took the device back. He keyed a code into it then said, "Voiceprint, Ladner." Then he gave the P.A.D.D. to the Judge and without invitation sat in one of the upholstered chairs facing the Judge's desk.

    "Your Honor," said the voice of Marshal Lee, "By the time you receive this message I will be well into Klingon Space and out of contact. It is important that you aid me in this task, as many lives depend upon its success. On the Detention Deck of the USS Kestrel there are five Orion prisoners who were apprehended during an act of attempted piracy. My crew will remand them into your custody as soon as possible, but my crew must maintain a fiction we've created to divert the attention of the four cloaked pirate vessels currently in the Savin System away from our true goal.

    "Crewman Ladner is a Starfleet Crewman, deputized for the purposes of delivering this message to you and to answer what questions you may have for him about this mission. I need you to take certain steps to help my crew maintain their deception and to insure my infiltration team has a fighting chance to get the data required to take this ring of pirates and smugglers down permanently. I apologize that I cannot go into greater detail, but my time is very limited here.

    "The first step is to get the Orion pirates off of my ship..."

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    "I like this bye-joe," Captain Danna'Q said, pouring another generous portion into his pewter mug. "It has a meaty flavor. What animal is it made of?"

    Lee took the bottle and refilled his tiny ceramic bowl, (the Klingon had disdained the use of such a small drinking vessel.) "It is made of sorghum. This particular brand is aged for twenty years in a vat buried in a mud pit which has been used for this purpose for thousands of years."

    "Why do you drink from such tiny cups? Are you afraid you will become intoxicated?"

    "It is traditional to make a toast before we drink. We require many toasts in an evening of drinking baijiu."

    "Then let us drink to the success of your plan, Marshal!"

    "Qapla'!" Lee said, and drank his bowl. He topped off the Klingon's mug before refilling his bowl.

    "Let us drink to your generosity in providing the assistance we need to carry out the plan." Lee clicked his cup against the bottom edge of the Captain's mug and they drank again.

    "Let us drink to that ancient Orion monster!" the captain said. "I had no idea such a relic still existed."

    "I don't think anyone had such an idea," Lee said after their toast. "It's probably been parked there for the last three hundred years. I have no idea if those main battery guns even work, but if they do many people will die."

    "Then may they die well," said Captain Danna'Q.

    "It would be better to capture the ship than to destroy it," said Lee. "Imagine such a trophy placed in orbit of your homeworld."

    "I think you are more concerned with yourself and your friend than in my trophy collection."

    "To myself and my friend," toasted Lee. That got a chuckle from the captain but he toasted and drank.

    "The truth is, my first thought was to plant spatial charges on its secondary warp reactor. But then I thought about all the things the relic could teach us about the smuggling activities in the region. Perhaps I overreach," Lee said. "I have done that in the past. Lend me your wisdom, Captain."

    "Those who do not dare do not succeed. Those who fail while daring great things are met by their honored ancestors at the gates of Sto'vo'kor. My wisdom is that your plan is sound. If you will listen to me, I think we might make your plan better."

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    Captain Syrell of the USS Advance sat on her bridge examining her orders again. She was to proceed to the Savin System, where she was to engage a runabout which had an escaped prisoner on board, and she was to destroy the runabout rather than attempt to capture it. And the best part of this was that she was to make it appear that she just happened to be passing by.

    "How do you make it appear that we are just passing by?" she asked her Bolean first officer.

    "Fly in nonchalantly?" Lieutenant Commander Darott quipped.

    ***

    "Tomorrow at 1840 hours the Klingon border patrol will engage this vessel," an image of the Orion battleship appeared over the briefing room table of Captain Guthrie of the USS Pulsar, which was an old Nebula class vessel in its fourth refit.

    "To give you all a sense of scale, let me add the Pulsar's image for comparison."

    There were gasps from the assembly. The Nebula-Class cruiser could fit inside its hull with room to spare, and it was ten times the length of the Starfleet vessel.

    "Captains, we are to converge on this location," he pointed out a supergiant star which was spewing out vast columns of stellar debris in preparation for its inevitable nova which was scheduled sometime in the next million years, "And hide in it's radiation belts until just before the battle is engaged. Then we attack the battleship which is hiding nearby in Brigg-Hurst 987. There will be Klingon fire teams aboard that ship attempting to deactivate its combat systems. Our job is to take out the warp nacelles and to draw fire away from the smaller Klingon ships.

    "There are two primary areas of concern, the main battery plasma weapons and the fusion reaction drive. You want to avoid placing your vessels in the field of fire of either of those weapons."

    "What is the output potential of those weapons?" asked a Saurian captain.

    "Ten to the twelfth power terrawatts. The fusion drive will be much more powerful, but easier to evade."

    "That's... my shields can't withstand a single hit by one of those!" said a Benzite captain.

    "Agreed, so stay out of its field of fire," Captain Guthrie said.

    ***

    Captain Danna'Q said, "Six cloaked Birds of Prey will deliver the fire teams to their transport coordinates. Each team will proceed to its designated reactor and disable or destroy it. Five minutes after the attack has begun, the Birds of Prey will open fire on the battleship's weapons systems, with a first priority of taking out the active ones. It will do us no good to destroy those massive guns only to be taken out by their secondary weaponry, and Birds of Prey should be able to evade the main battery weapons."

    He paused to look at the group assembled in the officer's mess of his battlecruiser. He saw the desire for battle in many faces, and he was certain his officers and men would get their share of that, but he worried that some might be too eager.

    "There will be a bonus for each live prisoner. Dead crew will earn you nothing. But before you begin to take prisoners, I want those reactors shut down. Any team which fails to secure its generator will get nothing for any prisoners they happen to have taken. Am I clear?"

    "Yes, sir!" the assembled officers chanted.

    "One more thing. Commander Lee!"

    Lee stepped forward in his new blue armor, and beside him was Chuss wearing nothing but his kilt.

    These two will be in there with you. They have a task to perform, and you will not fire upon them. If either one of them gives you an order, obey it or you will answer to me. Am I clear?"

    "Yes, sir!"

    ***

    Savaria had been bored to tears in the little cell beneath the Federation court. She had been given a human female advocate who complained constantly, when she bothered to show up. The last visit had been two days ago, and she wasn't expected for another three days. Which meant three more days of boredom, boredom, boredom.

    The alarm went off, followed by, "Escape Attempt in progress, all zones in lockdown, all prisoners return to your assigned cells or face disciplinary action."

    It was the evening shift and most of the prisoners, except for a few trustees, were in their cells already. But she could hear a rising noise, and it took her a moment to realize it was the sound of a hundred prisoners screaming in the excitement. She was the only occupant of the high security area, a circular room ringed by ten cells. From her force field curtain she could not see into the passageway. The woman who occupied the desk at the center of the room leapt from her chair and ran toward it, and out of Savaria's view.

    The alarm repeated its warning and that was followed by an orange bolt sizzling close enough to the force field to make her jump back in alarm. A person wearing bright red combat armor ran into the center of the semi-circular desk and hit a control, hit it again, then turned and faced the cell. She raised a very large combat rifle and fired.

    Savaria screamed and fell into a curled heap in the corner of the cell, as far from that beam as she could get, and heard rather than saw its bolt finally collapse the force field. When she looked the armored person was firing back down the hallway.Then she, (by now Savaria could make out the person in the armor was short, and very feminine,) turned and pulled a grenade off of her belt clip, tossing it into the cell. Savaria tried to back away, but she was already as far as the walls would allow her to go. She sat, horrified, waiting for the device to go off.

    "Take it, you idiot!" the woman's voice screamed between shots down the passageway. "It's not a bomb, it's a transporter signal enhancer! Take it and twist the top!" After another shot the woman screamed, "NOW!"

    Green eyes in a dark green face, seen through the helmet, with ringlet of dark red hair framing the face... Savaria's only though then was that Mother had sent help! She crawled on hands and knees to the device, found the top, and twisted as the red-armored woman fired down the passageway again in full automatic mode.

    Savaria arrived on a small three or four person transporter pad in an empty transporter room. Seconds later the armored woman materialized beside her and grabbed her upper arm, lifting her to her feet with incredible strength. she tossed the gun to one side carelessly, then shoved Savaria toward the door. She slapped the panel beside it and the hatch cycled open into a tiny compartment. It had a mini-galley on one side and a double bed on the other, with various bits of gear and odd assorted things lying around or hung as if a sloppy attempt at decorations had been made. There was a second hatch forward of this room, and the armored woman removed her helmet, tossing it aside as carelessly as she had tossed the gun away.

    Now Savaria could see this woman was an Orion, but not a purebred Orion. Her darker skin tone was the first clue, and her auburn hair was the second. The half-breed daughter of a Ruddy Orion, probably a male, and probably with a full dose of the high and mighty attitude the Ruddys so often displayed. Savaria instantly disliked her, and was justified in her decision a moment later as the armored woman, half a head shorter than she, shoved her through another hatch and into the control room of a very small ship.

    "Take navigation," the woman said as she did something on the control panel behind them.

    There were two seats, separated by a small console, and both were behind and partially beneath a series of curved transparent panels. They were on a ship located at the starport!

    "Not that one, the other one!" the halfbreed ruddy said, pushing her toward the right-side seat. It was only then that Savaria realized she had been talking the Orion language the whole time. It was an accented version of the High Tongue. This half-breed had been trained!

    "What's the matter, don't you know how to pilot a ship?" the half-breed asked as her gauntleted fingers tapped out instructions on the control panel. The language used to label the controls was strange, and as Savaria looked at it she began to wonder if it was Vulcan.

    "I can't read the controls!" Savaria said.

    With an exaggerated sigh the ruddy woman reached over and tapped a panel, scrolled the strange language, then tapped a selection on it. The controls were suddenly labeled in Orion!

    "I'll get us off this rock. Lay in a course for delta six four-four-eight by nine-oh epsilon."

    The tiny vessel began to shake as the engines suddenly powered up, and Savaria could see the ground fly down and away as the nose of the little ship pointed toward the clouds. For a heart-pounding moment the fast little ship vanished into a cloud bank, then emerged into a starlit sky, huge and wide ahead of them!

    "The course! I need that course! I want to go to warp as soon as we break free of this planet's gravity!"

    Savaia began to look over the unfamiliar navigation controls. In truth, she was a poor pilot and navigator; someone else always did that for her. "What were the coordinates?" she demanded.

    "I said, delta-six-four-eight by nine-oh-epsilon!" The ship took a series of hard twists and the ruddy said a word in the Low Tongue that would have embarrassed a grey.

    "We have company!" Up ahead Savaria saw a Federation vessel. It wasn't very large, but it was much larger than this little craft.

    "Look, we may not make it," the ruddy said in a panic as she manipulated the controls. "I think your mother sent help, cloaked ships. Call them, maybe they can beam us off before that ship can capture us."

    She banked and evaded a shot from the ship, but took one from behind.

    "We can't outrun those fighters behind us!" She evaded something again, throwing the ship into a loop which put them behind a small fighter. She fired, but the fighter jinked up and was lost to sight.

    "Call the ships!" the ruddy screamed.

    Savaria finally figured out the controls for the subspace communications array and called, "To all vipers, to all vipers, this is Cobra! I need help! Transport me off of this deathtrap!"

    "Both of us!" screamed the ruddy.

    The ship took a hit and sparks flew from the engineering console located behind the helm. The ruddy began cursing in the low tongue again: a steady stream of nonsense as she fought the controls.

    "All vipers! This is Cobra! Repeat, this is Cobra!" She screamed as she saw a photon torpedo fired from the Federation ship headed toward their vessel. The torpedo grew larger and larger, correcting with every twist and turn the ruddy made.

    It impacted, and Savaria fell away.

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    Captain Kreb watched the little green runabout fight is way up from the starport, pursued by a handful of fighter craft which launched moments after the runabout. The holographic Ossarian Freighter they had followed from The Refuge had vanished. Apparently the little ship could not afford the energy cost to maintain its disguise.

    The whole thing had taken him by surprise because his attention had been on the Sarfleet ship his computer said was a Steamrunner class vessel. The ancient relic of bygone wars named itself Advance, and who knew what that meant to Starfleet? His concern was whether the sensor sweeps that vessel was conducting had exposed him or his allies.

    When he heard his sensors officer call out that the Freighter, now a runabout, had launched, he thought to himself that it was intending to rendezvous with the Starfleet ship. Then the fighters launched and he thought the assassin's luck had just run out.
    He made no move, but observed, recorded, and waited as the tiny ship dodged the fighters and flew into range of the Starfleet ship.

    "A message on the Emergency band, sir!" his communications officer said. He signaled to play it, and the image of Savaria appeared on his viewer, an expression of panic on her face.

    "To all vipers! To all vipers!" the image of his Mistress' favorite daughter said, "This is Cobra! I need help! Transport me off this deathtrap!"

    He heard a second voice in the background, probably the assassin's voice, but his only concern was Savaria!

    "All vipers, converge on that runabout!" He trusted his communications officer to insure the other ships in his squadron heard, though it was very likely their commanders were themselves seeking to be the ones who rescued the Mistress' daughter. Such a deed would earn great favor in her eyes.

    Then a torpedo was fired! A torpedo! Against a runabout! Kreb watched in shock as the tiny ship shattered, then he cried, "Attack those murderers!"

    "Captain," his Sensors Officer shouted over the noise of the bridge as department heads issued orders to their subordinates throughout the ship. "A transporter signature was detected just before the explosion!"

    "A transporter?" Kreb asked, then he said, "Find her! She is on that ship! I want her transported here when those shields go down!"

    The Klingon cloaking device, adapted to fit his ship, powered down and the surge of energy that resulted was channeled into the disruptor banks of the interceptor. It fired at point blank range. Had Kreb coordinated with the other ships in his squadron he might well have taken down the shield facing in the initial attack, but the Steamrunner class was built tough, and with the attacks coming from multiple angles and staggered in time, its shields held. A phaser returned fire from the old Federation vessel and chewed into the interceptor's shielding as it fired its torpedo. The shield, which was already recovering from the initial attack, bounced the interceptor's torpedo away from the Advance before it could explode.

    ***

    The bridge of the Advance was chaos as the four Orion Interceptors decloaked and began firing.

    "Shields holding Captain!"

    Captain Syrell acknowledged the order, her antennae focused on the viewscreen, her pale grey eyes shot with the blue streaks that only showed when she was angry.

    "Commander Darott," she said, "I want those attacking ships disabled! Now! Target engines, and fire!"

    "Aye, sir!" the other blue officer on the bridge said.

    "Helm," Syrell continued, "Make my course 285 by 015, half impulse, I want some maneuvering room, we're too deep in this planet's gravity well."

    "285 by 015 aye, sir." Then he said, "On new heading, half impulse."

    "Sir," the Vulcan navigation officer said, "New target rising from the planet, four starport defense fighters in pursuit!"

    "Shall we fire on it?" asked Darott.

    "Interceptors first," Syrell said.

    Lieutenant Commander Darott focused his fire on one of the interceptors, but it twisted and turned, always presenting a different shield face to the phasers. The vessel was being damaged, but slowly, and the four interceptors were damaging his shields too. The fifth ship might just tip the balance in the pirates' favor. Then he saw the pattern and staggered his fire, caught the same shield twice, and fired a torpedo. The Interceptor's impulse drive blew.

    The fifth ship and its fighter pursuit began firing then, simultaneously! Their combined phaser fire knocked down a second interceptor's shield facing and as the ship, not much larger than the interceptors flew through the battle at an extreme speed, (it had started to outrun the fighters,) it launched a pair of torpedoes at point blank range. Their impact blew the warp nacelles off the interceptor, but the small white flattened-egg-shaped ship was through and beyond before the percussion wave of the torpedoes expanded away from the point of impact.

    ***

    Savaria fell on her rump as a force field sprang up between her and the Ruddy Orion Halfbreed. She was inside a holding cell... the holding cell! This was the transport ship that had brought her to Savin's Planet and that damned prison! The one with the Caitian, and the grinning human, and the Andorian TRIBBLE and the...

    "YOU!" she screamed. "You! How did you..." Savaria tried to compose herself in the face of the ruddy's smile. "You're dead, halfbreed! You know that don't you? You're dead!" She realized she was ranting now, and stopped, but the ruddy TRIBBLE just stood there smiling.

    "By now your mother thinks we're both dead. Won't she be surprised when she joins you in prison?"

    The hatch opened and there was that smiling human male, followed by five prison guards in black armor. All women.

    Three of them lined up with neural batons in hand, the kind that could stun a prisoner who resisted, while a fourth approached with a set of shackles. The fifth stood beside the red-armored woman holding a stubby phaser rifle. Savaria didn't resist when the smiler ordered the computer to lower the force field.

    As the five women ranged around her and herded her off the ship she called over her shoulder to the ruddy, whom she now knew as the same lieutenant who had escorted her to the prison the last time she was on this ship.

    "You're dead! You know that, don't you?"

    When the last guard was off the boarding ramp she told Mason, "My rifle's in the transporter room. Lock up here, I have to go to the bridge."

    She paused only long enough to pick her helmet up from the floor of the Starboard Quarterdeck before jogging up the two ramps to the bridge.

    "Get to the engine room, chief," she said as she entered.

    The Chief muttered something as he jumped for the exit, and Mirra dropped into the Helm position.

    "We don't need the hologram any more, Sibley. Good work. Good work all around."

    Sibley turned off the hologram, which had been showing a bare paracrete landing zone to anyone looking down from orbit, and the Kestrel appeared as if out of nowhere.

    "Voght," Mirra said, "That was very good timing on the Screamer. "I owe you a stack of commendations for that."

    "Sir, the Advance is under fire," said Ensign Tanaka.

    "Get those starport fighters back here with us, we'll fly cover for them in the first wave." She toggled the controls and power surged into the impulse engines, lifting the ship from the paracrete. Even before the landing gear could fully retract she was in a vertical climb and adding power to the thrusters.

    "Voght, is Ben ready on the weapons?"

    "Yes sir," the Andorian said.

    "All right, pick his target, but let him pick his time. Mister Tanaka, tell those fighters to hold fire, then fire on our target."

    Very few Stafleet vessels, even those with powerful antigrav lifting thrusters, could stand on their tail and fly straight up inside a 1G field, but Kestrel did it, accelerating the whole way. They began to leave their escort behind. Lieutenant Mirra was surprised when the Pakled weapons operator opened at long range, cycling the Type IV capacitors to create a steady stream of fire from the arrays. She turned into the target Crewman Voght had picked, still accelerating. The fighters began to fire in a ring around the Kestrel, adding their phasers to the mix.

    Then the Pakled weapons tech fired a double-loaded torpedo and opened simultaneously with both main phaser capacitors. The Kestrel was past the explosion's radius before the torpedoes impacted. In an imitation of Chuss, she slammed the impulse drive into reverse, pivoted the ship as its momentum dragged it forward, then slammed the impulse drive to full, zeroing in on the last two ships Orion ships even before the ship's backward progress halted and the ship could begin to move toward the enemy, both of whom were hugging the Advance's hull to avoid fire from the fighters.

    As the Kestrel began to accelerate one of the interceptors, now trailing plasma, tried to ram the Advance, impacted the shield, and exploded as its warp core breached. Suicide! Then Mirra saw the second pull away in a curve. It intended to do the same!

    "Aktay!" Mirra shouted on the internal communications band, "Set the deflectors to push! Don't let that last interceptor hit the Advance!" Mirra aimed the Kestrel to ram the interceptor, adjusting, adjusting, adjusting course as they closed. The interceptor was on a course to ram the Advance's rear facing, where the warp core breach had blown her shield generator and damaged her starboard nacelle. Mirra did her best to center the impact, but when it came the interceptor jerked and slid in the grip of the forward deflector. Instead the Kestrel's shields impacted the shields of the interceptor causing them to fail. The interceptor tried to resume its course, but then it was seized as if in a great hand and jerked away.

    Aktay had the aft gravitic deflector locked on the interceptor and was dragging it, with its engines screaming in protest as the Kestrel pulled away from the wounded Advance. When is warp nacelles broke off, pulling its main engines with them, Aktay released the aft deflector and the Kestrel jerked forward.

    The Orion's warp core blew. Moments later the remains of the interceptor splattered against the side of the advance, but the explosion was too far away to do much more than annoy the blockade runner. Then the two remaining badly wounded interceptors used their scuttling charges rather than suffer the humiliation of living with defeat.

    "Aktay, that was brilliant," Mirra said as she turned the Kestrel back toward the crippled Federation ship.

    "Thanks, Lieutenant. I always wondered why this ship wasn't equipped with a tractor beam. Then it occurred to me that we did have one. A tractor is just a gravitic deflector running in reverse."

    "Mister Tanaka, hail the Advance."

    "They're hailing us," he said.

    "On screen. Voght, scan the damaged areas of the Advance and send them to their Repair Chief."

    "I'd appreciate that, Commander," the Andorian captain said.

    "Lieutenant, sir. Lieutenant Mirra, of the USS Kestrel. Thank you for your assistance. Is everyone okay over there?"

    "We've been better. What have you been doing to cause all of this, and where is your commanding officer?"

    "I don't have time to explain, sir, but if you're good over there, I have to get going. I'll ask the fighters to remain at escort stations for you as long as they can. I just want to say thank you, and I owe you an explanation as soon as I can talk about it."

    "Lieutenant Mirra? I'm going to hold you to that."

    "Yes sir. Kestrel out."

    When the screen blanked, Mirra said, "Did you transmit the scans of the damaged areas?"

    "Yes sir," said Voght and Tanaka simultaneously.

    "All right, Engineering, how do we look?"

    Sibley said, "The Chief is mad about that hairpin turn, sir, but we're green on all boards.

    "The chief is about to get madder," she said. Then she toggled the intercom and said, "All hands, prepare for emergency full speed. All stations report readiness to engage the VG Drive!"

    She set the warp engine control to accelerate to Warp 6 and engaged the engines.

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    The Bird of Prey moved slowly through the particulate barrier so it would not be detected by its wake. Lee stood beside its young commander, watching the massive battleship appear ahead of them.

    "Why do you wear that armor? Are you afraid to die?" asked the Commander. His name was B'ak'lat, and he wore the scar on his face as if it were a medal, always turning so it could be seen. It must have been a source of great honor for his house, but Lee could only imagine that he had been foolish to acquire it.

    "Courage untempered by wisdom makes a brittle sword, Commander. I am far more effective alive than dead, no matter how honorably I die."

    The commander looked at him a long moment, unsure if he had been insulted or not. Then he laughed.

    "Now I know why the Captain likes you, human. You must have had a Klingon ancestor."

    "Who can say?" Lee asked. "But your ship is more useful alive than dead in this case. Do you have your targets selected?"

    "I am assigned the forward dorsal arc. Six plasma canons and four missile launchers. They are heavily armored."

    "I'm certain you will succeed, Commander. Your destiny to become a Dahar Master requires it."

    "Commander, the raiding squad is ready."

    "Very good," Commander B'ak'lat said. Turning to Lee he said, "Qapla'!"

    "Qapla'!" Lee replied, as he turned to the exit from the bridge.

    The Bird of Prey was a tiny ship. Its warp reactor and nacelles were reduced in size to allow space for additional armor and for fusion power plants to power its weapons. The crew accommodations were spartan even by Klingon standards and it relied upon a mothership for maintenance and repair.

    Its crew was small, composed of young warriors seeking to earn a name, which made these vessels dangerous. It also made many of them short-lived in combat. For Lee's purposes it needed only to survive long enough to deliver himself and his raiding party to their destination; it's fate thereafter was the concern of Commander B'ak'lat.

    His concern waited for him in the transporter room: Chuss, a warrior, and five bekks. He didn't know their names; they hadn't offered when they were planning the raid. Still, he was responsible for them. He entered the transporter room where they clustered around their gear. Lee stepped onto the transporter, locked down his new helmet, and powered up the suit.

    He had not had time to practice in the new suit, and it still felt a bit clumsy when the strength augmentation circuits were active, but the new HUD was superior to that of his old suit, with the data arranged around his peripheral vision expanding when he looked at it and shrinking down when he looked away.

    Chuss tossed him his belt. It held six concussion grenades, two phaser pistols, and his tricorder. When he had it belted on Chuss threw his combat rifle. As soon as his hand touched the grip its reticle appeared in his HUD, a red plus sign with range to target in meters, which constantly shifted as the barrel of his weapon moved around.

    "Mount up," he said and three bekks joined him on the transporter. Chuss and the rest would follow immediately after, carrying the data-pack.

    "Countdown to transport," said the transporter operator. "Qapla'!"
    .
    Nine seconds was a long time while waiting.

    They transported into the ship's marketplace, among the stacks of crates and cargo containers. Whether or not they had been seen, it was certain someone on the ship would have detected their transporter beam. They had a very tight schedule, before the Orion crew could get the ship's shields on line all of the assault teams had to be in place. They would have to wait for the transporter to reset before the second group could beam in, and hope that the other ships were on the same schedule as theirs.

    ***

    Lieutenant Malk transported in, just outside of the Orion vessel's central core. He set up a quick perimeter to wait for his second squad to beam in with the explosive charges, but he wasn't fast enough. An Orion up on a second level walkway began to fire down into his position. His return fire hit the Orion, who fell four meters to the deck, his rifle flung aside as the limp corpse flipped in the air.

    The wide passageway filled with junk and crawling with dirty people turned into a mob-scene as panic took control of the occupants of the area. The reactor was shielded, and its armor casing was thick. He turned to see the arrival of the second squad when he heard their beam-in, and that's when he noticed the marksmanship of the now dead Orion had not been as bad as he thought. Lah'qur was face first on the deck with a smoldering wound just beneath her shoulder.

    "Get that hatch open!" he shouted to the breaching team, who rushed to the armored doorway with the breaching charge carried between them.

    He checked his comrade quickly; her second heart still beat, though the muscle and bone of her shoulder and ribs was burned through, and even showed damage to the upper lobe of her right lung. At least the plasma rifle had cauterized the wound. He activated her recall circuit but she was not transported away. The Orions had gotten their shields up.

    Malk looked up to see the breaching team attach the charge to the thick armored hatch, then to see a squad of Orions turn a corner down the long passageway.

    "Ikla!" he shouted, "Guard the rear! Everyone else on my mark!" He opened fire on the onrushing Orions and scored a hit. They dropped behind cover and began to shoot back.

    Brudda and Khem'tak ran back and dove over the crates they were using as parapets, shouting "DOWN!"

    The breaching charge was huge. It's explosion, implosion, technically, because it was a focused blast against the armored door, spewed molten metal and debris. The Orions were firing into the smoke of the explosion, but neither side could see the other.

    Malk had no way to know if the charge had done its work because it couldn't be seen. "Follow me!" he ordered and trusted that the breaching charge had opened the door.

    ***

    Ludai sat on her bridge, selecting her targets as the chronometer on the main viewer sped down to the five minute mark. Twelve weapons emplacements, six of them as large and as powerful as any Negh'Tev main battery. She hoped they were as slow to orient on their target. Sax, her Gorn helmsman, was very good, but those weapons were very powerful. The planet-killing power of the main batteries was unimaginable, but that wasn't her concern.

    When the countdown reached zero she was less than one diameter of the battleship away from her target, and she fired. The first volley from her cannons caused a secondary explosion within the turret and it's housing which contained the emitter head blew clear leaving a tiny hole in the hull. When the adjacent missile port opened she had her point-defense turret fire into it as she picked out her second turret. It's shield was up, but the missile port erupted like a plasma torch.

    Her weapons officer concentrated fire as the little Bird of Prey jinked away from a blast from another weapon. It was taking forever for the turret's shield to crack. Her proximity to the vessel made it difficult for her enemies to target her, but a volley of missiles flew past her. They were trying to fight back!

    ***

    Lavina was relaxing, watching her grandchildren play when a nervous officer approached. "Mistress," he said, then appeared to not wish to say more.

    "What is it?" she demanded with a tone of annoyance.

    "Captain Kreb on the comm," he said.

    "Show me," she ordered.

    Her communication panel rose from the floor, and was flooded with the image of a starship bridge clouded with smoke, an older, fat Orion seated at the conn.

    "Report!"

    The officer startled at her command, then said, "Mistress we have failed."

    He keyed a switch and his image was replaced with the recording of the event. They saw the Ossarian freighter vanish to be replaced by a Romulan shuttlecraft which was flying straight up. A moment later four starport fighters launched one after another. It looked like the shuttlecraft would evade them until a Starfleet ship flew into view. The Starfleet ship fired its weapons, but the little green ship evaded them.

    Then the screen expanded to show a second view, this one of the message sent by Savaria! She watched her daughter call for help, heard her scream as the Starfleet vessel fired its torpedo, saw the flash of light... And there was Kreb, sitting on his fat TRIBBLE in his comfortable chair.

    She turned to her assistant and said, "If Kreb survives this, kill him." She turned off her monitor.

    The sounds of her operators, usually easily ignored, were clamoring now. Their whispered voices rose to an echoing din.

    "Silence!" she screamed. "Don't you know she'd dead? DEAD! All of you leave me now, and turn off that noise!

    The consoles blacked out one by one as the crew departed the room.

    "No, my babies," she said as the children made their way to the exit. "Come sit with 'Vinny a while."

    The girls were nervous, afraid. They knew what came next, that they would be weeded out, possibly through killing each other off as each one sought to be the last one alive to inherit their grandmother's wealth and titles.

    "Come, gather around me, I need you all so much right now." One of them caught on and rushed to her grand mother, to hold her and sob dramatically as her grandmother clenched her. The rest followed her lead, none wanting to cry less than the others for the aunt, (or in once case mother,) they hardly knew.

    Less than two minutes later the officer returned uninvited, and before she could speak to reprimand him he said, "Mistress! Klingon raiding parties have beamed aboard!"

    "Kill them!" she screamed.

    "Mistress, we must get you and your children to safety!"

    "Kill them, every one of them!" she screamed.

    "Yes, Mistress, I have dispatched troops, but Mistress, there must be a cloaked ship! We need the consoles here, and we need you to be in a secure location!"

    "Attend to your duties. If I am not safe here you will die before I do!"

    "Yes, Mistress," he said and he rushed to the hatch to allow a stream of operators back in to access their consoles.

    "We're under attack a multiple locations!" a voice shouted. "Bringing the weapons on line!" another shouted. Explosion outside Reactor 3!" "Sending reinforcements to..."

    The noises all blended in, became a meaningless babble as Lavina's mind turned to her beautiful daughter, now vaporized on some vile planet. She would kill every man, woman, and child on that world just as soon as these Klingons were dead. The ashes of millions wouldn't be enough to assuage her grief, but it would be a start.

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    The USS Pulsar lead a cobbled together fleet of vessels, including an Ambassador and two Excelsior class vessels, all in their advanced years, kept on as second-line vessels until some part should wear out that caused their decommission. Around these four ships another eight mid-sized ships of various types formed small squadrons. They had their instructions, and as they sped toward the micronebula Captain Guthrie had opportunity to wonder what would go wrong. Something always went wrong.

    The prize of the fleet was the USS Sleipnir, a relic of the Dominion war which was a recommissioned relic even then. It was pushing Warp 8.3 and falling behind the rest of the fleet. It would catch up when it could. The only good thing about this mission was that the ship they were going to fight was older than every ship in the fleet by at least two centuries.

    Surprise was the key. The initial attack was intended to draw the enemy's attention; their attack was intended to destroy the vessel's capacity to maneuver or to warp out of the area. There was a Klingon ship that was supposed to join them. But the real battle would be fought by boarding parties on the ship itself, once its shields and weapons were off line.

    They dropped out of warp just outside the nebula's perimeter, coasting through a particulate barrier that scattered their sensors. They had been warned of this. On the other side the battleship waited.

    And seeing was believing. There it was: a massive cylinder studded with weapons and warp nacelles. Guthrie gave the order, and the old Pulsar's main phasers fired for the first time on an enemy ship since the end of the Dominion War. Concentrating on the nacelle he he had drawn when the assignments were made, he watched as the rest of the fleet spread out.

    There were half a dozen Klingon warp fighters tucked in close to the vessel, evading its fire control by hugging the hull.

    "Careful of the Klingon ships!" he said on the Fleet control circuit.

    "Shield collapsing on the number one nacelle," his Tactical Officer announced.

    "Torpedoes away," Captain Guthrie said, and his ship launched a pair of photon torpedoes that wrecked the aft end of the nacelle.

    The other ships in his fleet had begun to have an impact when the aft main battery began to slowly train on his ship. "Evasive maneuvers!" Guthrie said, trying to avoid sounding as panicked as he felt. The gun's power level rose, unbelievably high, and fired.

    ***

    USS Sleipnir was not only aged, she was built of spare parts intended for other ships. Her hull was from a canceled Larson Class Destroyer, her pod and bridge were spare Miranda parts, and her nacelles and warp core were from the decommissioned Essex, an old Constitution class ship. Nothing fit, and her Chief swore she was going to fly apart one day, but Captain Husband was pushing her for every joule of power she could give.

    And the old girl gave. Far behind the rest of the fleet, she was running as hard as she could and then some. Husband sat in his chair pretending a degree of calm he had not felt since the assignment was given.

    "On course at warp 8.34, sir," his navigator said.

    "Mister Theiron, what if we stay at warp until we are inside the nebula?"

    "The bussard collectors..."

    "Shut them down. We don't need the mass." Husband was truly calm now, he had fallen into a strange kind of dream.

    His navigator looked back, then turned back to her console. "New destination set, dropping out of warp in seventy seconds...mark."

    "Weapons, full spread of torpedoes, all four tubes. I'll pick the target."

    "Aye sir," the Benzite said.

    "Twenty seconds to nebular cloud. Bussard collectors closed." The navigator's voice was betraying her nervousness.

    "Helm, prepare to maneuver. It's going to be quick."

    Sleipnir dropped out of warp trailing a bolt of fire: a giant slash though the debris field almost a light year long. Helm rolled the old ship hard to starboard to avoid the broken Bird of Prey that was limping away from the battle with one nacelle missing.

    "There's your target," said Commander Husband. "That fusion drive port."

    "Target locked," Mister Monar said.

    "Fire," Husband said, and the tubes spewed three torpedoes each.

    There was the Pulsar, dead in space, its starboard nacelle and the underside of its saucer section badly scored. The ancient battleship was worse off. Its aft nacelles were shredded and the cruisers were going for the forward ones. The aft dorsal main gun sets had been blown half off and were still spouting fire, while several massive holes had been created from internal explosions.

    Still, the old relic fought. Its powerful secondaries remained in action here and there, pounding the attacking ships, and an occasional missile fired every once in a while. The smaller ships were doing their best to knock out the weapons, but the fusion drive was powering up, and just aft of the battleship sat the crippled Pulsar.

    Then twelve torpedoes hit. Three hit the cowling ring which contained the main maneuvering thrusters. Two went between the cowling and the engine nozzle and vanished into the heat exchanger that ringed the fusion engine. Four impacted the base of the nozzle, and two impacted the nozzle itself. The final one went into the exhaust port. None of them, save those that impacted the thruster ring on the cowling, appeared to do very much damage to the massively armored ship, but deep within something broke. As the first licks of fusion flame jetted from the nozzle they were yellow-white instead of the invisible ultraviolet they should have been.

    A second later the nozzle blew off and a nuclear fireball blew the back of the battleship open as if its walls had been made of cardboard instead of a meter or more of duranium. The aft secondary weapons blew themselves outward in fountains of fire as the concussion of the explosion rippled through the giant vessel.

    At the edge of the blast the Pulsar was hit by flying debris and jets of fusion flame, but her damaged shield facing had been turned away from the blast, and the explosion pushed her away from the battleship. But the Sleipnir wasn't finished. As her torpedo crew frantically reloaded, single shots in each tube this time, her phaser was going to work on every weapon emplacement she passed, striking some which had never activated, and others which were still shielded enough to resist her phaser. She pulled around and came in line with the ventral starboard nacelle, which was being attacked by the USS Hedford, and unloaded her torpedo tubes again.

    The base of the nacelle was their target, and while one of the torpedoes struck the hull uselessly, two impacted the maneuvering thruster and the fourth the pylon which supported the nacelle.

    From within the ship more explosions erupted and four great hatches opened, one only partially. From these a swarm of small craft surged in waves. Most turned to make attacks on the attackers, but some few tried to flee.

    ***

    Two of the bekks were down, unconscious or dead. Chuss and the young warrior were holding off a squad of attackers while Lee did his best to concentrate on the data-pack connections. The ship's computer control room had been guarded and it had taken longer to fight his way in than anticipated, and now it was taking longer to figure out the antiquated computer circuits than anticipated, but he finally held the last command pathway in his hand.

    The data-pack, with an array of molecular data storage devices suspended in a subspace field, would download entire computer into its matrix as soon as he made this final tap. If they hadn't erased the data banks yet, it was too late. He made the final connection.

    With a grin he stuck his last grenade on the end of his rifle and fired down the hallway toward the improvised barricade the Orions had erected.

    When it exploded the entire ship shook. Light fixtures throughout the area blew apart, showering hot plasma sparks everywhere, then the gravity went off. Lee wondered a moment, then laughed. There was no way his grenade had caused this much damage! But the tiny zero-g thrusters embedded in his backpack, heels, and palms were now strong enough to propel him past the flailing warrior and his deputy towards the stunned guards at the end of the passageway!

    ***

    "Mistress, we must leave! Now!"

    "My ship!" she wailed.

    "It is lost. They sent a fleet. Mistress, you must go!"

    The children were being herded by an elderly male towards the emergency shelter where a fast shuttle would take them to safety.

    Lavina didn't want safety, she wanted revenge! To get it she must survive. She allowed herself to be lead away from her control room, finally noticing that over half the control stations had either blown or gone dark. Oh yes, she wanted revenge. Five generations of her family had ruled from this hidden refuge, and now it was all gone.

    She had a face in mind, a brown face with red curls. It was her fault. Knowing the woman had died with her daughter wasn't sufficient. There was a planet, Nimbus III, where her family lived. Lavina would find them, and they would all die. As surely as that world that had slain her beloved Savaria.

    She allowed herself to be shoved into her shuttlecraft and launched. From the center of the ship her craft followed a launch tube not unlike that of a torpedo tube, with gravitic coils accelerating them along its length. It was already moving at a high speed when it was ejected from the dying battleship, and her last sight of her family home was of its fusion drive flaring like a tube of fireworks, spraying pretty fire in every direction.

    She ignored the crying girls and concentrated on her desire: revenge!

    ***

    Mirra pushed the Kestrel past Warp 9.99, exceeding their best time during their earlier trials. The three forward defense deflectors were exceeding their tolerances to maintain the curve of the warp field against the subspatial density they were impacting. If one failed catastrophically, they might wind up as atomic debris scattered across several sectors. They were nearing the micronebula, and at a rapid pace.

    Many other Starfleet vessels were also headed that way, as were some Klingon warships. But she was closest when thirty or more shuttlecraft emerged from the nebula, all fleeing in different directions.

    "Escape craft?" ventured Crewman Voght as they seemed to spread like debris from the point of an explosion.

    Mirra eased back on the throttle and the vibrating hum that had permeated the ship, (and worried the Chief Engineer very badly,) eased off. Their warp speed dropped slowly below Warp 9, and slowly down from there as Mirra tried to make sense of what they were seeing.

    "Subspace traffic from the nebula is coming through, sir," Ensign Tanaka said. "They are still fighting, it sounds like."

    "Try to hail the Skipper," Mirra said.

    "Aye, sir."

    "That's a fast one," observed Voght as one of the shuttles quickly outpaced the rest.

    The other shuttles were standard shuttlecraft, with a maximum speed of just under Warp 6. One was already going Warp 7 and accelerating. In a very short while it would be out of the zone and able to blend into the regular traffic lanes. And who would be on such a ship? And if she had a prisoner...

    "That's our target. Voght, when we get in range, try to take out a nacelle/"

    Lieutenant Mirra was already increasing speed back up over Warp 9 as she set an intercept course. "Mister Tanaka, any luck on contacting the Skipper?"

    "None, sir, there's too much interference."

    "All right, hail that shuttle and tell them to stand down."

    "Aye, sir."

    The shuttle was struggling to get above Warp 8.5 when the Kestrel caught up with it.

    "No answer sir, they are receiving our hail; they are ignoring it."

    "Okay, Voght, take them out of warp. Mister Sibley, take the navigation station please."

    "Aye, sir," the crewman said as he scrambled for the chair forward of his engineering station.

    "Mirror the helm controls and take the helm."

    "Aye, sir," Sibley said.

    The forward phasers fired once, twice, and on the third shot the shield fell, leaving the starboard nacelle a scorched mess that spewed fire. The shuttle dropped out of warp and Mirra had to dodge to avoid ramming it."

    "Okay, I've got helm, sir, but don't expect anything fancy."

    "Just piloting is fancy enough, Sibley. Tanaka, you have the bridge. I'm going over there before they get their shields back."

    "Sir!" Tanaka said. He saw the look Mirra gave him and backed down.

    Mirra grabbed her helmet and as she passed the Security Station she grabbed Mason, who handed her her rifle as he followed her down to the transporter room.

    "I should go with you sir," he said.

    "Protect the ship," she answered.

    He beamed her over.

    The little girls screamed and one of the two males in the cockpit area stood and turned, and was shot for his effort. The second was shot for just turning his head to see his comrade fall.

    "I wouldn't move, Viper Queen," Mirra said.

    "You!" the Viper Queen said. "You're dead!"

    "Not even a little bit," Mirra said. "Play this right and you and your precious cargo will get out of this alive."

    The viper queen drew a tiny assassin's pistol from her pocket, but Mirra was faster, and her kick while wearing her armored boot was powerful enough to break bones in the Orion's hands.

    ***

    By the time the Kestrel returned to the micronebula towing the Orion escape shuttle, with its crew in the Detention Deck under guard and the juvenile passengers ensconsed in the guest quarters, also under guard, the battle was over. Federation ships were rounding up the escaping Orions on their side of the border while the Klingons were rounding up the escapees on the other side.

    There were close to a thousand live prisoners, a quarter of them wounded, with another two hundred dead on the battleship. The Klingons had lost two Birds of Prey with forty dead and ten badly wounded. It looked like the Pulsar would need its fifth refit before it was suitable for service, but Federation losses were much less, with eighteen dead on the Pulsar and another seven in the rest of the fleet with an assortment of minor injuries numbering in the dozens.

    Lee said nothing, but listened to report after report, went through the paperwork such a venture required, and congratulated the various captains and commanders.

    Cptain Danna'Q was angry. "You destroyed my trophy!" he screamed, leaning forward in his chair to emphasize his anger.

    Lee was standing in the open space between the Navigation and Helm consoles, with the Klingon large and looming over him. "I apologize, Captain," Lee said in a perfectly calm and matter of fact tone of voice. "If you wish we can put the Orions back on the battleship, give them a while to repair it, and we can try again. It shouldn't take them more than a century or so to fix it."

    The Klingon appeared about ready to explode, then said, "A century?" After a pause he repeated it and fell back in his chair laughing.

    "It's too bad you weren't born a Klingon, Lee!" the captain bellowed.

    "Captain, I have my prize, you have yours, and I am eternally in your debt. What is the Klingon tradition in such a situation?"

    "To celebrate the victory with bloodwine, to sing the praises of the fallen, and to go our separate ways."

    "Captain, if ever you need my help, call and I will come."

    "There is no debt between brothers, Lee. Glory to you and to your tiny ship."

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    Season 1, Episode 8

    "Come in, Lieutenant. Formal dress?"

    The Skipper was dressed in grey slacks and a pastel blue knit pullover. Lieutenant Mirra was wearing a dress uniform. Her hair had been trimmed short and its usual black color was restored, but the olive in her complexion was still a bit greener than her usual soft brown tone. Her face was still thin, showing her jawline and cheekbones, and her eyes were beginning to lose the hazel streaks that had manifested while her Orion genes had been stimulated.

    "When the Skipper invites you to dinner..."

    "I should have said, 'Dress casual.' Hang your jacket on the locker there if you like."

    The Skipper stepped to the replicator to remove a tray, which he carried up to the deck above the escape pods. As in all the quarters on the ship, this area was low, and the tall man had to duck beneath the beams that divided the curved windows. He set the tray on a low table which was already holding dishes.

    "I have tea here, but order what you like from the replicator," he said.

    "Tea will be fine, sir." Mirra hung her jacket and joined her Skipper, who had just sat down on the deck. He used his hand to tuck his foot into the bend of his knee, then said, "Computer, Balcony. Hibachi, two hundred-fifty degrees."

    The area was transformed into a small balcony overlooking Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong, with the massive towers of the crowded city clustering on the coastline across the harbor, obstructing views of the hills to the north which could be glimpsed between them. It was mid-morning, and a humid haze floated over the city bluing out the distant hills which were surrounded by their own white and green towers that divided the higher elevations from the wetlands.

    On the deck between them an ancient iron brazier filled with bricks glowing with heat appeared. On either end of the brazier a matched pair of creatures with five necks emerged from the thick steel base, each neck ending in a different animal's head. There was a horse, ram, lion, wolf, and a dragon, each with its mouth open.

    The Skipper picked up a skewer from the low table and began to stab various items on the tray he had taken from the replicator. Mirra saw that it contained vegetables cut into chunks and bits of chicken, mutton, and shrimp.

    "Help yourself," the Skipper said.

    When his skewer was loaded he used a soft brush to paint a light coat of oil dipped from a bowl that had sesame seeds on its bottom, then hung the skewer on the mouths of the horses. Mirra followed his example as the Skipper poured steaming green tea into a pair of bowls. When she had hung hers on the wolves' mouths, Lee passed one of the bowls to her and held the other in the palm of his hand. She tasted the tea, smiled and took another sip.

    "Hot but good," she said. "It's not the kind of tea we had at my home. Darker teas are what I grew up with."

    "Yes, but at least it wasn't that sickly sweet stuff the Americans drink. They pride themselves on using the most bitter leaf they can find then adding it to sugar syrup."

    "Here, try the rice." He passed her a bowl filled with rice which had been mixed with finely diced meats and vegetables. He poured a small amount of a thick orange sauce on his and passed her the sauce-bowl. He ate his with chopsticks, pushing the rice around to form a small lump which he could then lift to his mouth.

    "How do you... I admit I've never used chopsticks before."

    He turned his skewer over the fire, then showed her how to cradle one of the sticks in the web of her thumb and guide it with her ring finger, then balance the other on the tip of her thumb using the forefinger and the middle finger to rock it back and forth to open and close the tips of the two sticks.

    She fumbled at it, eventually picking up a grain of rice which she promptly lost when the ends of the chopsticks crossed each other.

    "The greedy old women eat like this," he said, holding his bowl by his mouth and using the chopsticks to scrape the rice into his mouth.

    "It takes practice," he admitted. "I grew up eating with them. The first time I used a western fork I stabbed my lip."

    "Ouch," she said.

    "I have some silverware there, under the napkins if you like," he said. Then he added, "You might want to turn your skewer."

    "Thank you for inviting me, sir. I mean, we work together, but outside of the Briefing Room we never really socialize, and I get the feeling you aren't there to socialize even then."

    "I have to confess my goal here isn't to socialize. I'm an observer, and one of the drawbacks of that is that I'm not a very good participator."

    "I see," Mirra said. "This is about the last couple of days, isn't it?"

    "Mister Friday, please give us privacy."

    "Aye, sir," the ship's artificial intelligence said.

    Lee put down his half-empty bowl and rotated his skewer before speaking, as if measuring the words he wanted to say carefully.

    "What was the last thing we spoke of before I left the ship?"

    "About becoming emotionally involved in your business."

    "And after I left, did you reflect on that idea? To see how it applied in this specific case and generally?"

    "Sir, I followed your orders to the letter, but... I was worried..."

    "You were emotionally involved. That woman Lavina was everything you were taught to hate, and she represented the part of you that you wished you could erase. I saw it too late, but then I've been told by reliable sources that I use people."

    "Sir, that's not fair."

    "Which part? The part about you, or the part about me? Both judgments are fair and accurate, I'm afraid. I wrestle with my own character flaws as much as anyone, Lesedi.

    "Let me explain: when I suspected we were dealing with an Orion family I exploited my knowledge that you were raised in an Orion household on Earth. You know the manners, the customs, the languages, and you know them as only one who grew up in such a household could know them. I made use of that knowledge to further my own agenda.

    "I now know that was a mistake. I saw its effect on you. It took an emotional toll I don't think you've come to terms with yet. That is entirely my fault, and when I saw what I had done, which I would have seen earlier had I bothered to think it through before hand, I tried to disconnect you from the case. I gave you a job that would keep you busy until I could get back.

    "I didn't anticipate your attempt to get back into the game. I should have. Because I knew you were emotionally involved."

    "Skipper, I thought you might need help..."

    "Help I couldn't get from a Klingon battlecruiser and a fleet of Starfleet ships?"

    "I did catch the leader of the smugglers, sir."

    "And so it says on my report. You might want to turn your skewer." He turned his own, then continued, "But in so doing you endangered the ship by pushing its performance using a marginally tested technology, then you left the ship under the command of an Ensign who is not yet qualified to stand underway OOD watches to assault an armed crew without backup. Can you see where my concern lies?"

    "Sir, I thought... you... I thought they might have had you..."

    "Lesedi, you can't feel your way through command decisions. I tried to explain that to you before. And I don't need rescue. I may die, doing what I do, but if I do, I don't want to get a bunch of other people killed trying to rescue me. That's not your job anyway. What is your job? Why are you here? What is the job of any ship's first officer?"

    "The first officer's duty is to the ship."

    "You know the words. But they mean something. When your captain leaves the ship he leaves someone in command. When you came with me to the Orion battleship I left Chuss in charge of the ship. When Chuss and I left the ship I left you in charge. How can you command from the deck of an enemy vessel?"

    "I let..."

    "You put an inexperienced crewman at the helm and an inexperienced ensign at the conn, and you abandoned my ship to fate,"

    "That's not... It's not what I intended to do sir."

    "No, but then you were thinking with your emotions, not your head." He sighed and turned his skewer again. "One of the hardest lessons a commander must learn is to think when she wants to feel. Your best friend just got killed? You have to set that aside and deal with your ship and crew. Your feelings are a poor substitute for your brains, and if you can't make that disconnect, if your feelings mean more to you than your logical, analytical mind, then you have no business in the big chair."

    "It won't happen again, sir."

    "If it doesn't I'd suspect you of being Vulcan. Nobody expects perfection of you but you. I just want you to improve, to become more of the commander I know you can become. I can discuss the specifics of your actions with you if you'd like to go over what happened, but my report to Starfleet reflects that you performed well, and according to orders. I'm sure the admirals can read between the lines, but then they expect a little rash behavior from eager young lieutenants. As long as they learn from their rash behavior, that is."

    He added, "Speaking of which, I think your dinner is about to burn."

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    I'd like to thank those who have read this far. I appreciate the interest you've shown, (all two of you!) and would appreciate feedback, especially concerning parts which confuse you or which you find hard to read due to clumsy writing.

    This is still in rough draft form, but since it will never be formally published, (copyright issues,) I'm not planning on a major effort to edit it. However, like Lieutenant Mirra, I need to learn from my mistakes to improve, so your feedback will be valued.
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    Crewman Bengogg sat in the mess deck chair in front of the viewscreen, upon which another Pakled was displayed. The chair, designed for human-sized sitters, sagged under his bulk, but he hardly moved at all: just a tiny shift of position here and there as he gazed at the similarly silent and motionless image.

    Crewmen Aktay, Voght, and Ladner sat together in a booth nearby, whispering conspiratorially as they speculated as to the nature of the call.

    "The quietest call I've ever seen," said Ladner. "Looks more like a staring contest than a conversation."

    "Who is it? His girlfiend?" Aktay asked.

    "I can't tell if it's a male or a female, they look so much alike," Voght said. "I don't even know if Ben is male."

    "His record lists him as male," Aktay said, "But you're right, that might be his brother or his mother for all I know."

    "He's never spoken to me about his family," Voght said, "He usually doesn't speak at all unless it's work."

    "I don't know," Ladner said, "Don't you ladies love the strong, silent type?"

    Voght glared at Ladner, as if he'd crossed some invisible line of decorum, but Aktay laughed. "If that's the case, you're doomed, Gene!"

    "Hey, where I come from I'm known as a right strong fellow."

    "A prospector's shuttle in an asteroid belt?" Aktay asked. "You had to work out for two years to physically qualify for Starfleet."

    "Because I'm a fine, strong specimen of the male physique!" Ladner boasted. "Guy with my build would wow them down on the Appenacia Belt or over on Fomalhaut."

    "And frighten them on Risa," Voght said venomously.

    "Kind of you to think so," he replied, apparently unconcerned with Crewman Voght's tone.

    Ben's chair creaked as he stood. The trio noticed the viewscreen had resumed repeating the starfield that was displayed on the bridge main viewer.

    "Hey, old buddy!" Ladner called as Ben turned away from the screen. "Come sit with us and chew the fat a bit."

    The large Pakled crewman turned to their booth, dragging his overworked chair to its open side. His bulk would never fit on the booth's bench without first removing the table.

    "There is no fat to chew," he said, looking at the empty table.

    "It's just an expression. It means we want to talk to you."

    "Hold on a second," Aktay said, sliding from the booth and stepping down to the replicator on the rear bulkhead of the Skylight Lounge.

    "So who was that on the vid?" Ladner asked. "Your girlfriend?"

    "She is my sister," Ben replied.

    "That explains why you look so much alike," Voght said. "Why did she call? You two didn't say a single word."

    "She is making babies."

    "Oh, well, congratulations, Uncle Ben!" Ladner said.

    "How do you know?" Voght asked, "She didn't say anything."

    Crewman Aktay returned with a bowl of imitation pork rinds, "Fat to chew!" she said, and holding one between her teeth she crunched the crisp, salty treat.

    Ben looked at one, then smelled it, then he too bit one and savored it. "I like to chew fat," he said.

    "Hey, Masha, did you hear?" Ladner asked. "Old Ben is going to be an uncle!"

    "Oh! How sweet!" Aktay said. "How long until the baby is born?"

    "They are born?" Ben asked.

    "Yeah, you know, until the baby comes into the world," Aktay said.

    "They are in the world." Ben nodded.

    "You mean they have already been born?" asked Voght.

    "Yes," he answered, shaking his head negatively.

    "Well, why didn't you sister show you their pictures?" Crewman Aktay asked.

    "Pictures?" Ben asked.

    "You know, new mama holding her baby."

    "Wait," Voght said, and her antennae were pointing at one another as they did when she was very amused, or very thoughtful. "He said, 'Babies,' and 'They.' Ben, are they twins?"

    "Yes," he said, nodding affirmatively.

    "And they are already born?" Voght inquired.

    "Yes," shaking his head negatively.

    "They are born, but not born," Voght said. "Why can't we see them?"

    "They are tiny," he said, showing his smallest finger on his very thick hand.

    "And where are they now?" asked Voght.

    "With my sister." He patted his ample belly. Then he added, "I must go to her."

    "To visit?" asked Voght, suddenly looking suspicious.

    "To care for her. She is making babies."

    Suddenly they all had questions for him, and his answers tended to only bring up more questions.

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    "Doctor Sar, Lieutenant Mirra, Chief Garadda, Deputy Chuss, please report to the Captain's Office," said the voice of Cadet Friday over the intercom.

    The compartments designated for the Captain's Office were unfurnished and unused, located aft of the Ship's Logroom on the starboard side of the Briefing Room. A matching pair of compartments on the port side had originally been intended as an airlock and EVA locker, but the conversion of the shuttle dock into a briefing room left the spaces unassigned. The aft compartment, with a hatch connecting it to the Briefing Room, had been converted into a storage room for the bar, and the forward one was now used for Lieutenant Mirra's office.

    The Skipper used his stateroom for an office, and Lieutenant Mirra was the first to arrive.

    "Lieutenant, come in," he said when she stepped to the open hatch.

    "Problem sir?" she asked.

    "Just a job to do. We're on our way to Car'ad'ak, a world which has just recently joined the Federation. We have it listed as the fourth planet in the Carreda System."

    "Never heard of it," said Chuss, ducking through the hatch.

    "Neither had I before half an hour ago, but it's about a day away at Warp 6. By the time we get there I want you to be an expert on it."

    "Expert on what?" asked the Doctor as he edged around the Caitian to get to the replicator.

    "Come in, everyone find a place to sit. Let' wait till Sparky gets here so I don't have to explain the whole thing again."

    "Since we'll have a minute, sir, I'd like to bring up a couple of things. Sort of a good news, bad news situation."

    "I prefer the bad news first, Lieutenant," said the Doctor. "That way you have something cheerful to look forward to when the bad news has been heard."

    "I'm with Croaker," said the Skipper. "What is it?"

    "We may be losing Crewman Ben."

    "Because of Commander S'lott's report?" the Skipper asked.

    "No sir. It seems his sister is going to have a baby, and he feels it's necessary to go home to take care of her."

    "Why is that?"

    "I'm not clear on that, sir, but Crewman Bengogg is determined to take care of his sister."

    "I'd hate to lose him. I thought we were really making progress in learning to communicate with him. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to stand in the way of a crewman and his family obligations."

    "Why couldn't his sister come to stay on-board with him?" the Doctor asked.

    "I'm looking into that as an option, sir," Mirra said.

    "Option of what?" interrupted the Chief as he stepped through the hatch.

    "Option to be on time so conversations don't have to be repeated," Chuss said.

    "Look into the available options," the Skipper said, "But it's ultimately Crewman Bengogg's choice. He knows better than any of us what's best for his family."

    "Oh, that." the Chief said. "Good kid. Hate to lose him."

    "Aye, sir. Now for the good news: Crewman Voght has completed her Space Warfare Specialization qualifications. That makes her eligible for promotion to Chief Weapons Specialist, as well."

    "She has the time in grade for Chief, but her disciplinary record is, shall we say, spotty?"

    "Aye, sir, but I think she's changing. Part of it is being responsible for Crewman Ben, part of it is that she's growing up, and away from the streets of Adnoyondar City."

    "And part of it is having the chance to bea up on a certain Lieutenant twice a week."

    "It's an outlet, sir. I intended that and maybe it's working, but I think she was just a bit slow to mature. She needed responsibility."

    "And now you want to give her more?"

    "Yes sir."

    "Fill out the paperwork. If she's approved, I'll put my chop on it."

    "Aye, skipper."

    "Now, the reason I've called you here is to discuss the reason we're going to Car'ad'ak in the Carreda System. A Federation Commissioner has been killed. He, or she, is Gru Mre Pak, a native Carredian. Mister Friday is pulling up everything the computer has on the world, but it is a recent addition to the Federation, but the Commissioner's office is claiming it was murder. The details of that are in the report Mister Friday is compiling. I want you all to be experts on the Carreda system by tomorrow morning.

    "For now, let's go over what I know. One: the Carreda system is not strategically valuable, has no technological or mineral resources we rely upon, and is not located on a major trade route. Two: the office of the Commissioner is claiming the attack was undertaken by a rival minority of their world with the aid of off-world technology. Three: there were no hints prior to the attack that there were disputes between the rival group and the government of Car'ad'ak. Four, the meeting which resulted in the death of the Commissioner was supposed to be a planning session for the creation of vocational schools for the minority culture.

    "And that's about it."

    "When a murder occurs without a reason, is it not then most often a personal matter?" asked Chuss. "Who disliked this Commissioner enough to kill him?"

    "Unknown," Lee said.

    "What about the method employed in the murder?" asked the Doctor. "The means selected often exposes the nature of the killer."

    "Unknown at this time. I'll need you to do a full workup on the commissioner when we get there," said Lee.

    "Maybe it's just a sicko getting his jollies through murder," said the Chief.

    "Sir," Mirra said, "You said 'minority.' 'Rival minority.' Is there a factionalization of the population that we should know about?"

    "Their last conflict was was two centuries ago," Lee said. "In their petition to join the Federation the Ambassador was fairly certain that the old rivalries had been subsumed into a cooperative competition which benefited both sides. The idea that those old rivalries might be rekindled is not unreasonable, but the Commission issued no report that indicated hostile actions or even intent between the two nations since the conflict."

    "Which leaves personal motivations," repeated Chuss.

    "Excuse me sir," said the AI. "The report you wanted is now compiled."

    "Thank you, Mister Friday." Lee stood up and said,"Okay, you all have some studying to do. We'll talk again after morning quarters tomorrow. We should be in Carreda by lunchtime tomorrow. Dismissed."

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    "Commander Kyle, thank you for making time for me today. I hope you weren't too inconvenienced."

    The woman on the viewer in Lieutenant Mirra's office was drying her long hair with a plush towel. Its usual dark blond color was even darker from the water, and her typically pale skin was pinking on her nose and shoulders.

    "Just a day at the beach, Lieutenant," said the Commander. "The Pakled have some beaches that rival the best on Earth, and they never use them! I think they think our interest in them is strange. But it's gorgeous here!"

    The Commander picked up her communicator and panned it around the area. There was a thick band of sugar-sand on which a half dozen humans and a pair of Pakled dressed in human-style swimwear were playing volleyball, a coastal forest which was laced with colorful plants, and a turquoise sea extending out to a distant horizon, at the edge of which a cluster of human children wandered with pails and nets.

    "Keep that place a secret!" Mirra said when the commander set the communicator back down. "I want to visit it before it becomes a tourist trap! How is the surfing?"

    "I don't know. The waves here have been gentle all day, but I'd imagine this big beach gets its share of big waves from time to time."

    "Commander, I don't want to keep you from your day off, but I have a problem, and I don't understand why. I was hoping you could help."

    "I'm listening," the woman said.

    "Crewman Bengogg spoke to his sister, or rather, didn't speak, and now he's convinced he has to return home because his sister is making babies."

    "Ah, I see," Commander Kyle said, nodding her head. "Family obligations are important to the Pakled."

    "But why Ben?" Mirra insisted. "Shouldn't the father be responsible for the babies, and his sister too? He's just an uncle."

    "Pakled society doesn't work like that," the Commander said. "Let's see, where to start? Okay, did you know Pakled always have twins?"

    "I didn't. Commander, most of what I know about Pakled I learned from watching Ben and listening to you."

    "Actually, they probably have four or so pups per birth, but the mother has only two nipples in her natal pouch, and the pups lock on within a few minutes of suckling, so the extra pups never develop. Apparently, birth happens when the mother is asleep so the pups have to find their way into the natal pouch by scent and without any assistance. At that point they are probably three centimeters long.

    "The two pups that manage to get to a nipple develop gender, one of each. It may be a hormone in the mother's milk analogue, or it may be an exchange between the suckling pair, we're not really clear on that yet, but from that time on the pair are brother and sister, and almost never separate for any length of time for the rest of their lives.

    "There is a stigma against children who don't have a twin, and to be honest, I thought your Bengogg might have been one of those. He's been away from his sister for quite a while now, hasn't he?"

    "At least six months."

    "Yes. Most sibling pairs do everything together, so if one joined Starfleet, the other would as well. It's difficult to ask about family matters because so few Pakled use verbal language with any proficiency. So anyway, back on the subject: Pakled twins are the primary social bond, and the family unit is based on this bond. The mother has a strong, dedicated protector and provider in her twin, so a husband would be superfluous.

    "The male twin will act as the analogy for the human father, raising and training his sister's children while he may never even know his own offspring. It leads to some interesting dating situations but, so far as I can tell, jealousy and all its assorted ills are non-existent here."

    "So you're saying he has to return to his sister?"

    "A mother without a brother is socially stigmatized here. I think your Crewman Bengogg will return as quickly as he can."

    "Would his sister be comfortable coming to join him here?"

    "Is that really an option? I can see that she might. The only real problem would be if they aren't together, but if they can be together I don't think it would matter where they can be together."

    "I don't know if it's an option yet or not. I'll have to get approval from the Office of the Ombudsman for Family Affairs. They will have a lot of questions I don't have the answers to. Yet. I have a huge favor to ask of you, Commander: can you send us everything you can get on Pakled natal development? If we can provide a positive environment for Pakled children, I'd like to get approval for Ben's sister to join us with her babies."

    "I'll send what I can get my hands on, Lieutenant, but you may find that Crewman Bengogg wouldn't want to take his sister away from her home. She may not want to go."

    "I'm exploring options. Right now they may not think they have any."

    "I'll help in any way I can. In fact, I want to speak to this ombudsman, send me her name when you find out who's handling Ben's case. And I'll send all the files I can."

    "I can't thank you enough, Commander."

    "Think nothing of it, Lieutenant. Your work with Bengog has been very enlightening. So far you've done a better job of cracking the Pakled communication problem than I have, and I'd hate to lose you."

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    Carreda IV, known as Car'ad'ak by the natives who called themselves D'jul, was orbited by two moons. The nearer was a small one named An'Mak'Dek and the more distant was almost a planet in size called An'Mak'Surk. On Carreda IV B, (An'Mak'Surk,) the Federation built a mission, first for its embassy, then later repurposed for the Interstellar Trade Commission which had been established to assist the D'jul in integration into the interstellar economy. It was to this distant moon that the Kestrel went when it arrived, touching down near the Mission on the nearly airless world under the intense orange light of the star listed as Carreda on Federation star maps.

    The Marshal, Deputy Chuss, Dr. Sar, and Crewman Brock transported over to the mission complex where they were met by the Deputy Commissioner Jalla Harmon, a human who worked for the Federation bureaucracy which administered the Commission.

    "Welcome, welcome," the Deputy Commissioner greeted them as they arrived. "I'm sorry you've had to come all this way, but we already have the murderers in custody. We're only waiting for the government of Car'ad'ak to take them back to their home planet for trail."

    "Why haven't they been transferred already?" asked Chuss. "The murder happened three days ago."

    "The D'jul are a proud people, and insist on using their own space ships. They have four vessels which require rocket assistance to get off of their planet, and it takes them a few days to fuel and prep them for flight. They then have to coast most of the way here in order to have the fuel reserve required to land and launch from the moon and set a course to return to their world. They require about seven of our days to make the trip here, and I believe their launch was scheduled for this morning," the Deputy Commissioner paused to cough into a handkerchief, "It shouldn't take more than a week for them to get here."

    "I thought they were warp capable?" asked Lee.

    "Capable theoretically. They have the one ship, now a museum relic over on An'Mak'Dek, the moon nearest their planet. It has a primitive base where they performed their initial warp tests."

    "If you don't mind," interrupted Dr. Sar, "I'd like to get started with my task. I have some examinations to perform."

    "Ah, you're the doctor?" asked Harmon. "We already know it was food poisoning. We've isolated the botulinum toxin in the Commissioner's blood."

    "Thank you, but I am required to perform a complete and thorough investigation. Which way to your medical facilities?"

    "Ah, okay, if you insist. But our staff medic has confirmed our findings."

    "We're here, Commissioner. We may as well do our jobs, right?" said Lee.

    "Deputy Commissioner," Harmon said. "I guess it's your time to waste. This way, please."

    The mission was a large, but largely empty compound; it had been built to support a Federation Ambassador and her staff. With the entry of the D'jul into the Federation as full members, their representatives had moved to the regional assembly and communicated directly with their government via subspace communications. There was no longer a need for an embassy. The Trade Commission, which now occupied the mission complex and dealt with no more than a few dozen ships a year, was scattered about the compound.

    "We dream of a day when this facility becomes a trading hub for the region," Harmon said. "For now it's just too big for our needs. I advocated closing off large sections and concentrating everyone into one of the smaller domes to save on maintenance, but the D'jul who work here like the extra space. They tend to claustrophobia, probably because of their inexperience in space as a species."

    "What can you tell me about the situation on the planet?" asked Lee as they followed the meandering corridors on their way to the medical facility.

    "On the surface everything appears to be fine. The Os'ar'ak, the dominant culture on the planet, have been working very hard to bring the more backward Ver'si'ak up to their technological level, but there is a small minority of the Ver'si'ak who want to maintain the old ways. As their population has grown it's become untenable: subsistence farming and herding takes too great a toll on the land. The dissident Ver'si'ak blame crop failures and droughts on their more technologically able neighbors. I guess there's been growing discontent among the Ver'si'ak about the distribution of Federation technology as well, but the truth is, they just aren't ready. They have the lowest educational levels of any social group in the Federation."

    The Deputy Commissioner coughed again, stopping to support herself by leaning against an empty kiosk counter.

    "Have you had that cough checked by your physician?" asked Dr. Sar.

    "I'm fine," she said. "It's just the last bit of a cold I caught when I went skiing two weeks ago on the Go'ak Glacier." After she cleared her throat she said, "All this walking is stirring it up."

    When she appeared to have recovered, Lee said, "You were discussing the educational disparity between the two cultures?"

    "Yes. In fact, that was the point of the visit of the Ver'si'ak delegation: to discuss the establishment of vocational schools. The Ver'si'ak seem to want the benefits of technology without the commitment to earn it. They obviously came with a different agenda."

    "I assume word of this has been kept from the general population?" Lee asked.

    "Well, no. Within a day or so of my report to the government the Ver'si'ak delegates to the general assembly were demanding the release of their citizens. I'm afraid things are quite tense down there at the moment. We may have allowed the D'jul into the Federation a bit prematurely. Thankfully the majority of the D'jul on this mission are Os'ar'ak. The few Ver'si'ak members of the commission have been keeping their feelings to themselves. No real hostilities have broken out here."

    "All right then," Lee said. "As soon as we get Doctor Sar set up in the medical facility, I'd like to have Deputy Chuss begin a survey of the Commissioner's correspondence while I speak to the prisoners. The sooner we wrap this up the sooner you can get back to doing your real job here."

    "Here we are," Harmon said. "The medical center. There's a duty medic and an on-call doctor who should be able to answer any of your questions."

    "You aren't coming in?" asked Dr. Sar.

    "I'm sorry, but I'm not used to seeing... the deceased. Besides, the Marshal wants to get started interviewing the prisoners."

    "The correspondence first," Lee said.

    "Yes, then the prisoners. If you need anything don't hesitate to call on the intercom," she said. "Right this way, Marshal..."

    As she lead the Marshal and his Deputy Dr. Sar heard her cough again, and paused to watch them walk away.

    "Doctor, these cases are getting heavy," Crewman Brock said.

    "Indeed," the Doctor said. "Let us interview our deceased Commissioner then, shall we?"

    They were greeted inside by a medic and a doctor, both of whom were D'jul.

    "Here are the autopsy reports," the D'jul doctor said.

    "Thank you, but I prefer to begin with a clean slate. I'll be happy to review them when I've completed my preliminary report, in case I overlooked something, but I find working without a preconceived notion of what I am examining helps me to avoid confirmation bias in my work."

    Brock was just happy to finally set down the heavy case filled with Doctor Sar's equipment.

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    The communications center was quiet. Built to handle the daily traffic of an embassy staff, it was now operated by two who spent most of their watch playing a complicated game of tiles and dice that Chuss had never seen before. They assured him the Communications Center could get busy at times, but for the most part routine calls to home by the D'jul staff were handled by the computer. The computer routed calls from the mission to one of five regional distribution centers located in geosynchronous orbit of the planet, with three centered above one of the major landmasses and the other two sharing the largest continent.

    There was a subspace relay located on the fringes of the star system that boosted the signals from the planet and from the mission when an interstellar call was made, but only those originating from the station required any assistance from the operators.

    Chuss had been given the task of searching the records for contacts with the Commissioner which could not be explained as official business. The Deputy Commissioner expressed her opinion that such a search was pointless, but the Marshal had explained that evidence which corroborated the guilt of the accused could be used in their trials. And Chuss could patiently examine files for hours, or even days. His species had evolved from hunters, and if there is a universal trait of hunters it is patience.

    The game players continued their game, with the occasional distraction which required them to actually do their job while Chuss hunted. He listed each call to the Commissioner, and each call from the Commissioner, seeking a pattern. Each line was a call; the information listed was the time, location of origin, and location of destination. For every call there was a unique index number, and the index number appeared again when the call was terminated as another line. Every six hours there was an automatic diagnostic which included a pulse to and from the subspace relay.

    A pattern developed, but not the one he expected. There were missing index numbers. They came in clumps, spread over the last three months. One of the missing index number clumps coincided with the subspace relay diagnostic, which was also missing. He continued searching, back four, six, ten months. All of the missing index numbers were from the last three months. Two clumps missing, then a month of no missing numbers, then eleven in the last five weeks, with no missing numbers in the last week before the Commissioner's death.

    Chuss was tempted to ask one of the operators if they knew how to delete the record of specific calls, but thought that the question might get back to whoever erased those calls. Besides, he knew someone who might know the answer.

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    The prisoners were housed separately in unused rooms on a dead-end passageway. They had once been quarters for the Embassy clerical staff, but they now had locks welded on their outer surface. Lee spoke to the guard at the end of the passageway for a moment before beginning the interviews. He was a human, and he seemed very bored.

    When he entered the passageway the Deputy Commissioner followed. Lee halted and turned to her.

    "Deputy Commissioner, I'd appreciate it if you would allow me to do my job."

    "I thought my presence might lend an official tone to the investigation. After all, the D'jul have never seen a Marshal before and they really don't understand our legal system."

    "I, however, do. Your presence is not required, nor do I feel it would be beneficial for you to be present."

    "Well, if that's the way you feel." The Deputy Commissioner stood for a moment as if trying to think of an objection, then turned, coughing as she walked away.

    The security officer stood patiently, pretending he had not seen or heard any of the conversation. When the Deputy Commissioner had gone, Lee turned to him.

    "I will, however, require you to observe. Do you have a tricorder?"

    "No sir, I wasn't aware there would be a need for one. Besides, the rooms are under twenty-two hours a day surveillance, so everything will be recorded anyway."

    "Interesting. Still, I will need you as an observer. What's your name and position?"

    "Daniel Mahr, Station Security."

    "Thank you, Mister Mahr. I want you to observe, but not to interfere. Please do not speak or otherwise attempt to interact with the prisoner."

    "Can do, sir," the security officer said. "I suppose you want to begin with the Hierarch?"

    "Actually, no. I'm told there are four prisoners, the Hierarch, an Administrative Assistant, a Host of the Festival, and a Chef. I want to begin with the chef."

    "All right, sir, follow me." Security Officer Mahr went to the last door on the left, keyed the lock, and pulled the door to the side, allowing Lee to enter before he stepped inside to stand in front of the opened door.

    The room was undecorated and unfurnished except for a bed, a chair, a desk, (with its computer terminal disabled,) and a small washroom. Its D'jul occupant was humanoid, trending on the short end of the scale and very fine-boned. Her face and bald head were pink and smooth, with a very fine pattern of scales which were about the size of Lee's thumbnails at the central crest, but much smaller everywhere else, often so small they couldn't be discerned as individual scales. Its sex was indeterminate, but the face had a vaguely feminine appearance.

    It sat on the edge of the bed wearing a gauzy pastel green robe, rising when Lee entered the room.

    "Hello," Lee said, pausing just inside the doorway. Can you understand my speech?"

    "Yes. You have a translator?" the feminine voice of the D'jul asked.

    "I do. I want to be certain that you understand what I'm saying. If there is anything you want help to understand, please ask. It is important that you are fully aware of certain facts concerning your situation."

    Lee stepped over to the chair, then asked, "May I sit? I feel my size may be intimidating to you, and that is not my intention."

    "You are tall," the D'jul admitted. "Even for a human."

    "Some humans are taller. Most are not," he said as he took the chair.

    "I'm Marshal Lee of the Federation Justice Department. I'm here to investigate the death of the Federation Commissioner. My first question is, have you been assigned an advocate?"

    "A voice?" the alien asked.

    "Someone who is knowledgeable of the law and who can advise you in your defense."

    "I have never heard that word before. No one has advised me, other than to demand I confess to... to... I didn't do anything like that! I couldn't!"

    "I see. My next statement is very important. It is a fundamental principle of our law: you are not required to speak, either in your own defense or to issue confessions. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you do say may be used against you in your trial. No coercion or compulsion may be used on you to force you to speak. Is this clear?"

    "Yes," she said.

    "Okay. I want you to know that I will arrange for an advocate to advise you on your case, and that I will not be asking you questions about that case until you have the advice of competent counsel. I want to ask you about other things, but you are free to decline to answer. Do you understand?"

    "I think so."

    "Okay, have you been advised that you are under arrest, and of the charges against you?"

    "They said I mu... mur... killed a man, the Commissioner Gau'Mre'Prek. I didn't! I didn't! I'm not a killer!"

    "You are not required to deny the charges at this time. Your advocate will consult with you and with her advice you can decide how best to defend yourself. I only want to be certain you know why you have been placed under arrest.

    "My next question: Has anyone attempted or threatened to harm you or anyone else to get a confession?"

    "Harm? Not... no. They said that if I confessed it would go easier on me at the trial. They said if I said I was under orders, I might be absolved... and if I didn't confess, I would be on a work-gang for the rest of my life."

    "I see. My next question is, have you been fed adequately while under arrest? Have you been given the opportunity to exercise or engage in social activities?"

    "Fed? They give me food. It's not very good."

    Lee smiled. "It's not required to be good food, it's required to be safe, healthy, and nourishing. We'll look into getting better. How about socialization and exercise?"

    "No, I've been in here alone except when they feed me."

    "I'll see what I can do about that as well," Lee said.

    He rose to leave, and the little alien rose with him saying, "I didn't do it. I'm a chef, I own a restaurant, it's my life's work. If anyone thought I used food to hurt anyone, it would ruin me! But even that, it's not... I couldn't do anything like that, you have to believe me."

    "I'm not a judge, I'm an investigator. I promise you I will only look at the facts, then report them to the court. And I will do it in strict accordance with Federation law."

    ***

    The next two interviews were very similar, except for the attitudes. The Host was certain his, (her?) career was over. He had been asked to set up a traditional Harvest Festival for the station's entertainment and it had resulted in the death of a highly placed official. The Administrative Assistant was angry, and was certain Lee was simply trying to trick her into saying something he could use to further incriminate herself.

    The final interview was the shortest, and possibly the most difficult.

    "Hierarch, I cannot conduct a proper interview with you due to the situation. Your right to counsel has been violated, and your right to due process has been ignored. I am going to see to it that you and your co-defendants are given your full due as Federation citizens before I proceed with any formal questioning."

    "Thank you," the older woman said. "I don't know if it will help, given how eager everyone seems to be to see me impressed to a work gang."

    "The Federation does not employ convict labor. And there is the real issue: you are being charged in the wrong court. The murder of a Federation Official is a Federation Crime."

    "I don't see how it matters. Once I am found guilty, the plans for the school will fall through. This was our one chance to bootstrap ourselves out of the subsistence trap."

    "The subsistence trap?"

    "Yes. Subsistence farming is a full time job. From a very young age our children devote their lives to agriculture, but all of their work is spent just surviving. There is no time for art, music, literature: only chores. Their future is written in their parent's past, and their children will do as their grandparents; toil from before the light until after the dark, day after day until they are too old and broken to toil any more."

    "And how would the school help you to bootstrap your people out of the trap?"

    "By giving us the beginnings of an industrial base. One mine might not seem like much, but it's a start. A school to teach the young how to be miners, a profitable raw material to export, income to invest in better schools and other projects... all just a dream now."

    "What kind of raw materials would be profitable enough to start that kind of renaissance from a single school?"

    "It was supposed to be a secret, but I suppose it doesn't matter now," she said. "It was something called lithium ore."

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    Marshal Lee sat at the conn on the Kestrel, fielding the latest in a string of calls via subspace communications.

    "Magistrate, I'd like to be granted access to the logs of your orbital communications relay stations. I've uncovered some interesting details which require further investigation."

    "Absolutely not! You've been nothing but trouble since you arrived. We have all the evidence we need for a conviction, and I will not have you running around causing disturbances. I certainly will not have you interfering with our communications system on top of the other inconveniences you've created."

    "I'm sorry you have been inconvenienced, Magistrate Mar'na'nak, but this crime is a Federation matter and will be dealt with in a Federation District court as directed by Federation law. I have informed the proper authorities; an advocate is on the way now to provide legal counsel for the accused. When my investigation is completed I will then transport the accused to the appropriate court for arraignment."

    "I disagree, Marshal. A murder was committed in Car'ad'ak territory, and my government is demanding a speedy resolution to this matter."

    "The murder victim was a Federation official, Magistrate. The matter will be resolved according to Federation law."

    "I protest this action! This is clearly a local matter involving two high ranking citizens of our world. We don't need your interference!"

    "You are free to protest all you like. I advise you to make your protests known to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Until then, the 591st District Court, Judge Aarasi, has jurisdiction. She is awaiting the results of my investigation so that a prosecutor may be assigned to the case. In the mean time, she has assigned an advocate to assist in insuring that the rights of the defendants are preserved, and until the accused have the advice of counsel they will not be interviewed, interrogated, or intimidated."

    "Marshal, I don't appreciate your tone. Are you accusing my office of impropriety?"

    "I'm not accusing anyone at this time, though I reserve the right to do so if I discover such actions were initiated by officers in your department. What I know is that the defendants' rights have been violated, and I would not be at all surprised if the very first action by their assigned counsel is to file a motion before the court to have the case summarily dismissed due to violations of their civil rights."

    "Violations? What are you talking about?"

    "I'm talking about individuals arrested and interrogated without benefit of counsel. I am talking about attempts to coerce confessions from defendants. I am talking about suspects held and not allowed opportunities to contact their families, to arrange for their defense. I am talking about suspects being held in isolation for three, almost four days.

    "I have no evidence at this time that your office had anything to do with these abuses, so I am not accusing you or anyone in your office of them. I am informing you that they occurred, and that my first priority is to insure that they cease and do not occur again. My advice to you is to insure that the officials in your office are acquainted with the laws regarding the treatment of suspects so that they are prepared to dispense sound legal advice to arresting authorities when this kind of situation comes up again."

    "When I get there in five days I'll get all this straightened out. Until then you are not to move those prisoners!"

    "Magistrate, let me be clear: this investigation, and any judicial proceedings which arise from it, are matters before the Federation Court. I am not subject to your orders, and will not be bound by them if you choose to issue any. I am informing you of the steps I have taken, and intend to take in this matter as a courtesy. This is not, and has never been, a matter for the authorities of Car'ad'ak.

    "If you wish to protest, as I have advised, your protest is properly filed with the 5th Appellate Court."

    "Marshal, we'll see how things lay when I get there. Until then, any actions you take will be held against you when I report your disrespect of our laws and sovereign authority."

    "Magistrate, you are free to come here if you like, but I strongly encourage you to contact Judge Aarasi's office before you attempt to interfere with my investigation or with my disposition of the prisoners. Are there any other issues you wish to discuss before I get back to my work?"

    The D'jul glared at the Marshal a moment, then terminated the signal.

    "That went well," said Lieutenant Mirra.

    "Not as badly as I expected." the Marshal said. Then he turned to Mirra and said, Get Ensign Tanaka and Crewman Sibley up here. And have Crewmen Aktay, Mason, and Voght report to Transporter Room One with two days of clothing and standard Away Mission gear."

    "You have something in mind?"

    "How would you like to take a little trip?" Lee asked.

    ***

    When Lee set Crewmen Mason and Voght to guard the prisoners the dismissed station guard reported to his superiors, which brought the Deputy Commissioner running.

    "You cant do this!" she shouted. "This is my station, and those are my prisoners!"

    "I am acting under the authority granted me by the Federation Charter as an agent of the Federation Court. And if I were you, I would be as cooperative as possible; you're already in enough hot water."

    "Look, I made a mistake. But we've got all the evidence we need to prove those four are guilty of conspiring to kill the Commissioner. It's an open and shut case."

    "Then you should have no fears about the outcome of my investigation. I will, however, complete it and file an appropriate report with the Office of the Prosecutor for the 591st Judicial District."

    "I don't understand why you want to show up here and disrupt everything for no good reason," the Deputy Commissioner said with a petulant tone of voice.

    "Deputy Commissioner, I am of the belief that upholding the law is a very good reason to disrupt anything."

    The Deputy Commissioner went away, coughing lightly, and the Marshal went into the corridor unlocking the doors.

    When the four prisoners had gathered in their Hierarch's room he said, "You are free to come and go as you like within this area, but you may not leave the corridor. If anyone attempts to escape I'll have to use the locks again. You are also free to have guests, so long as they are willing to submit to a scan by my security team both entering and leaving the area. Your communications terminals will be enabled, but your conversations may be monitored.

    "And you have an advocate on her way to help you determine your best defense against the charges that have been brought against you. All conversations between you and your advocate will be confidential, and could not be used against you in court. I strongly advise that you are completely honest with your counsel, and that you heed her advice.

    "Once you have had an opportunity to speak to your counsel, I will want to question each of you. Your advocate will be present for every such session, and I again advise that you seek her advice."

    "Thank you Marshal," said the Hierarch.

    "Thank me?"

    "For helping us."

    "Hierach, you should know that I am going to follow the evidence wherever it leads, and if that should be right to you, you can count on it being used in your trials."

    "I am very relieved, Marshal. Because I know we are innocent, I know the evidence cannot lead you back to us."

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    Dr. Sar concluded his autopsy and asked the D'jul physician for directions to the galley where the food was prepared for the festival.

    "You're convinced now it was food poisoning?" the doctor asked, somewhat sarcastically.

    "There is no doubt the botulinum toxin was involved," Dr. Sar said, ignoring the sarcasm. "I would like to be certain the contamination was not spread to others on the station."

    "We've had no other reports of illness or death," the physician said. "But the hall used for the festival is not far; my orderly can show you where it is."

    "Thank you."

    The Doctor, with Crewman Brock carrying his forensics kit, silently followed their guide to the hall. It had been a cafeteria before the embassy was disbanded, and sat largely unused now other than for large meetings. Since the festival it had not been used, according to their guide.

    "Will you need anything else?" the orderly asked.

    "We have what we need, I think." Doctor Sar was examining the room with a tricorder, and the orderly, after being ignored for a minute or so, turned and left the room.

    "So what do you think it is, Doctor?" asked Brock.

    "I think it is too soon to begin speculating." Doctor Sar carefully examined the corner where the wall and floor met, walking the length of the room to the end of the serving counter.

    "Crewman Brock," he said while scanning the serving counter, "When you suspect an injury has occurred during one of our Lieutenant's vigorous exercise programs, do you immediately treat the suspected injury?"

    "Well, yes, I do. The sooner the patient is treated the less scar tissue develops and the less chance there is for an undiagnosed problem to create secondary injuries or infections."

    "Indeed, so if you suspect a broken bone the first thing you do is immobilize the bone?"

    "Well, no," Brock said. "You need to perform scans to be certain the issue is a broken bone and not some other problem."

    "Ah, then you want to be certain that you have all the information before you make a diagnosis?"

    "I see. You think there's going to be more information? More evidence?"

    "Even the absence of evidence is information, Crewman. In forensics work, one must reconstruct the crime. The more information one has, the more accurate that reconstruction will be."

    "But you already know food poisoning was involved, or so you told Doctor Fre'pa'dak."

    Doctor Sar was scanning the kitchen prep area and the large pots used to cook for large gatherings. "Did I say that?"

    "You said botulinum toxin was involved, and that only comes from food poisoning."

    "It comes from a bacteria native to Earth and spread across many worlds in food and soil products. Humans have the natural ability to synthesize an antitoxin, if they are young, healthy, and don't ingest large quantities of the bacteria or its waste products. So far, I have not found any of the living organism clostridium botulinum, but I have discovered a good bit of the toxin on these cooking surfaces."

    "What does that tell you?"

    "It tells me I require more information before I attempt to reconstruct the crime."

    ***

    Crewman Aktay sat at the desk of the deceased Commissioner, operating his computer terminal. The desk and chair were short, and she felt comical sitting in his half-sized seat, leaning over his half-sized desk. But her job was quite serious: to restore deleted files which might contain the data the Skipper needed to prove the guilt of the prisoners.

    "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown," she recited to herself.

    "What crown?" asked Chuss.

    The Caitian had reclined on a couch. He was using a P.A.D.D. to compile the comm files which he had discovered had been erased, attempting to reconstruct how many lines were missing in the communications logs. He had a good idea from averaging daily activity, and he was certain of the start and stop times of the erasures, but by compiling the calls which began and had no closing line, and the closing lines which had no starting line, he could weed out the calls which were irrelevant, reducing the total number of files for which they would have to search in the computer's database.

    "It's a line from Henry the Fourth, a hero's tale by William Shakespeare."

    "What does it mean?"

    "It means being responsible for other people sucks."

    "Ah, and this task makes you responsible for other people?"

    "Their futures depend on whether I do a good job or not."

    "The hunter does not cause the wind to shift."

    Aktay looked over her monitor spectacles at the tawny deputy. "What does that mean?"

    "It means that doing your job will not harm or help anyone. Their actions placed them in a position that jeopardizes their future. You will not be creating evidence; any evidence you discover will have been created by them. The evidence will lead to the guilty, and you had no part in creating their guilt."

    "What if I don't find the evidence which could have exonerated an innocent?"

    "Why do you think the Marshal is exploring many trails at once? One fact will not determine guilt or innocence. Before we arrest someone it is required that we meet the Burden of Proof, which is that evidence indicates the arrested person is likely to have committed a crime. Before the person is formally charged we must demonstrate that a Preponderance of the Evidence indicates the arrested person did in fact commit the crime of which he is accused. Before the person is convicted we must demonstrate Beyond a Reasonable Doubt that the person and not anyone else, did in fact commit the crime. One footprint will not jeopardize anyone's future. One must uncover the trail which leads to the culprit."

    "Hmm, I think I just found a footprint. It's a deleted communication. Am I allowed to look at it?"

    "I am," the Caitian said. The victim is always considered willing to cooperate in the conviction of his murderer."

    ***

    The subspace relay was about three meters in diameter and twelve meters long with a clusters of antennae on one end which added another five meters to its length. Its other end was a spherical control module. Ensign Tanaka stood on the edge of the cargo bay airlock looking down on the control module.

    "Never spacewalked before, have you?" asked the Chief.

    "Sure I have. It's required in the Academy."

    "It's a bit different with your chums around you, teasing you, daring you. Makes it easy to be brave."

    "It's not that," Tanaka said. "I'm remembering when we left Crewmen Aktay and Ladner behind."

    "Ah. Well, we did go back for them," the Chief said. "But they won't be leaving without me, I'm their chief engineer, and you're tethered to me."

    "Hey," interrupted Crewman Sibley on their comm circuit. "I might be able to get that big promotion if you get marooned, Chief!"

    "Pay attention to your work, boy!" the Chief growled. "All right, Mister Tanaka, I'll go first. Just push off and let your suit's automatic stabilization thrusters do their thing."

    With a tiny push the Chief was off; the Ensign was two seconds behind him. The Chief used his suit's thrusters to stop himself and when the Ensign was almost in contact with the relay he popped the lanyard connecting them and pulled the Ensign to a dead stop, transferring that motion back to himself, dampening it with his thrusters until he had made the lightest contact with the relay.

    "Be careful, sir. Too much yanking will set the relay in motion, and its stabilization motors will fire up. Nice and easy, that's it. You're on! I'll set the unit in diagnostics mode while you download the logs."

    It took the ensign a few minutes on the keyboard of the relay to find what he wanted, but then he said, "Kestrel, Tanaka here. Are you ready on the receiver?"

    "Aye, sir," said Sibley.

    "Okay, transmitting traffic logs now," Tanaka said.

    "Receiving the files, nice work, sir!"

    "How are you looking, Chief?" Tanaka asked.

    "Looking good here. No debris damage, some micro-pitting, but nothing that would compromise hull integrity."

    "We'll note it in the report."

    The Chief smiled to himself but said nothing. Of course they would note it in the report! In ten minutes the Ensign had gone from immobilized by fear to being an old timer at space-walking. Put that in your report, youngster! Chief Garadda reflected on how fragile young Ensigns really were, but then it was the job of Chiefs to give them the backbone they needed to become officers.

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    The Marshal was back aboard the US Kestrel where he was safe from the prying eyes of the station security team, which appeared to be everywhere the Marshal's team went in the compound.

    "The Advocate will be here tomorrow, and I want to be ready to conduct the interviews of the accused and witnesses as soon as practical. The next day there will be a Magistrate of Civil Security by name of Mar'na'nak who will want to be involved, and ideally we'll have completed everything we need to do before she sets foot in the mission.

    "So, let's begin with the missing time-blocks in the comm record. Ensign Tanaka, did you recover anything from the relay?"

    "Yes sir. Time block number two contains two calls, one from the mission comm system to a nearby world called Lavour, I have its coordinates and it's only eight light years from here. It lasted forty-three minutes. The second call in block two came less than ten minutes later, originating on Lavour and received in the mission. It lasted seventeen minutes. The beginning of thefirst call coincides with the starting time of the erasure, and the termination time of the second call coincides with the ending time of the erasure."

    "The relay itself showed no sign of tampering or alteration of its data?" the Marshal asked.

    "None, sir. The Chief performed a diagnostic and a visual inspection, while I ran a heuristic analysis of the data files. I found no errors or signs of tampering. That is, we. The Chief and I."

    "Thank you. Did you check to see who received the fist call and who initiated the second?"

    "Yes sir. Both were from the headquarters of Lavour Minerals A.G. It's a mining outfit in the Lavour system."

    "Thank you. Deputy Chuss and Crewman Aktay, what did you find on the Commissioner's computer?"

    "Masha reconstructed a lot of deleted files, including some interesting conversations between the Commissioner and the Hierarch," Chuss said. "We believe we've recovered all but two of the missing communications files. There may be some that we've presumed are not relevant, between parties having nothing to do with this case, but without a subpoena we won't be able to access those communications to verify that belief. However, with the information Mister Tanaka gave us, we've accounted for every time block.

    "We have the very first conversation between the Hierarch and the Commissioner; it's a friendly call discussing the discovery of a rich dilithium vein in Ver'si'ak territory and the desire of the Hierarch to begin exploiting it by first creating a mining school, then using local workers to operate the proposed mine. She felt, and the commissioner agreed, that using local labor, even though it would result in slower startup time and greater initial cost, could in the long term benefit Ver'si'ak society in ways that hiring offworlders to exploit the ore would not. The Commissioner agreed to abide by the wishes of the Ver'si'ak, promising to arrange offworld assistance and expertise to help with her plan."

    Chuss consulted his P.A.D.D. then continued, "Two days later the first call of Mister Tanaka's was recovered between the Commissioner and a Mister Wright Bohm of the Lavour Minerals company. It dealt with the hiring of mine engineers who were competent to teach and arranging a labor exchange for the purpose of training young miners to form a cadre of skilled labor for the Ver'si'ak mine proposal. Mister Bohm promised to make what arrangements he could and scheduled a call to discuss the details for the day after the murder.

    "It was Mister Bohm who suggested that all plans regarding the matter should be kept secret. He assured the Commissioner that mention of a dilithium vein would generate undue attention for the region, inviting offworld speculators, prospectors, and thieves to attempt to steal whatever part of the planet's wealth they could before the government was prepared to secure the resources.

    "We then searched for the second of Mister Tanaka's calls, but could not find it on the Commissioner's computer. Either he took the call on someone else's comm system or the call was placed to someone else. For the next few weeks there are a series of calls between the Hierarch and the Commissioner detailing plans for the upcoming festival which was to be an excuse for the Hierarch to get to the mission. without revealing her true motive, which was to discuss plans for the mine school.

    "The second missing call came thirteen days before the murder, and we have no further information on that call. Its file was not recovered. After this there are two more calls between the Hierarch and the Commissioner, both concerning trivia related to the upcoming festival.

    "Masha found several files unrelated to the communications logs which were deleted from the Commissioner's computer. These were universally concerned with familiarization with mining techniques and practices, safety, environmental quality, and other mining related fields."

    The Marshal said, "So it looks like both the Hierarch and the commissioner were interested in the success of the mining plan."

    "Yes."

    "And what motive would the Hierarch have in ordering the Commissioner's death?"

    "None that I can see. I would think she'd have a vested interest in keeping the Commissioner alive."

    "All right. Croaker, what did you find?"

    Dr. Sar consulted his P.A.D.D. then said, "The most likely cause of the Commissioner's death was exposure to the botulinum toxin. Note that I say toxin. I found not a single bacteria capable of synthesizing that compound anywhere in the mission. Either the toxin was synthesized locally or manufactured remotely and imported.

    "The method the toxin was introduced to the Commissioner's body was as an aerosolized particulate. The victim inhaled the toxin, which resulted in respiratory failure within hours of exposure. This was very likely accomplished via the air duct supplying air circulation to the Commissioner's sleeping quarters. I found residue of the toxin in the vent and inside the ductwork as far away as an access hatch to the duct. I also found residue of an aerosol compound in this same area.

    "Additionally, there was a good deal of the toxin in the galley of the communal cafeteria which was used for the festival. Since mild soap and water is sufficient to break down and remove the toxin, and since the kitchen was well cleaned after the conclusion of the festival, I conjecture that the toxin was sprayed in the area after the cleanup of the kitchen was complete. Since none of the staff displayed any symptoms of respiratory paralysis, they are unlikely to have been guilty of administering the toxin in the galley."

    "So, you confirm it was intentional murder?" Lee asked.

    "It could hardly have been otherwise."

    "Croaker, would the Ver'si'ak have the technological capability to create the toxin?"

    "Create? Oh yes. It doesn't require any sophistication at all. The little bacteria produce the toxin as a byproduct of their existence. Isolating the toxin without damaging it, and aerosolizing it is another question entirely, and I don't think they could do that. There would have been unexplained deaths. Unlike humans, D'jul bodies have no ability to manufacture an anti-toxin that would allow their bodies the ability to fight back once the toxin is ingested. It is a paralytic neurotoxin, and its effects are nearly immediate when inhaled."

    "Humans are immune?" Lee asked.

    "Oh my no! In very small doses botulinum is at best tolerable to humans. Large doses can kill humans within days, or even faster if inhaled. Its paralytic properties cause the organs which concentrate it to shut down."

    "I see," the Marshal said. "If anyone thinks of something you've forgotten or overlooked, don't hesitate to inform me. I'll be conducting interviews tomorrow, and I don't want to miss an opportunity when I do."

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    The transporter terminal in the mission was a raised open platform in the middle of a garden and water sculpture. The design incorporated many plants native to the local world, and its overall pattern was intended to make the D'jul feel at home on the alien base constructed on their moon. Onto that platform a Saurian, two Tellarites, and two humans beamed in from a transport vessel in orbit of the moon.

    "Welcome to Car'ad'ak, Advocate. I am Marshal Lee.

    The female Saurian was tall, thin, and almost regal in her bearing. Lee recognized the hours of training she had endured to achieve that poise, and thought it might be useful in a courtroom where appearances sometimes mattered almost as much as evidence.

    "I am Selss, of the Public Defender's Office of the 591st District Court. With me is Trajakk Mose of the Office of the Prosecutor, his aide Manmanna Crigg, my aide Elsa Crocker, and Deputy Constable Vernon Talber."

    Lee nodded to each as the introductions were given, then said, "I am pleased to make your acquaintance. If you have any needs, please let me or a member of my staff know and we will do our best to accommodate you."

    Turning to the Saurian he said, "I would appreciate very much that you meet with the four accused. I am troubled by their situation, of which I believe you were made aware in my report to the Court."

    "It troubles me as well. You have made no attempt to question the prisoners in the time since that report?"

    "I have not, and with the exception of the guard I posted, I have not allowed anyone to be alone with the prisoners with the exception of their invited visitors. I have not recorded their conversations and I have restricted all of my crew to discussions of their needs and comforts."

    "Very commendable. Shall we visit the prisoners then? And I would appreciate it if the Deputy constable be allowed to inspect your security arrangements."

    "If you'll follow me," Lee said as he lead the way through the low garden toward the isolated section of the mission where the prisoners were housed.

    "The old Embassy is largely abandoned, so there will be no trouble with quarters. If you prefer, there are spare bunks on Kestrel, but only one of you would get a room to herself. The Kestrel is a small ship."

    "Thank you, Marshal, but the West Wind has accommodations for us all, and has been contracted for the duration of our stay."

    "Ah, here comes one of my deputies. He appears to have good news." Lee waved and Chuss turned toward the group.

    "The advocate?" Chuss asked as he joined them.

    "Advocate Selss and Prosecutor Trajakk Mose and their staff," Lee said. "May I introduce Deputy Marshal Chuss."

    "You're a big one," the Tellarite Defender said. "I might want to borrow you when I want to intimidate a suspect."

    "I don't intimidate suspects, I rip their living spleens from their bodies and eat it as they die," Chuss growled.

    "Other than that, he's a fairly good deputy," Lee said. "You've made the calls?"

    "Yes," Chuss answered. "They went as expected."

    "Very good then. I want you to get back to the ship and arrange the paperwork we discussed."

    "Aye," the Caitian said. He turned and walked away without another word to the group.

    "Nice fellow," the Tellarite assistant said.

    "Yes, he is," Lee confirmed. "This way, if you will."

    When they arrived at the end of the passageway to the prisoner's quarters Crewman Aktay was on guard.

    "Crewman Aktay, this is Advocate Selss," Lee said by way of introduction. "She and her aide are to be granted unlimited access to the prisoners. Please scan them for your access logs, and make sure the other watchstanders are aware of this."

    "Aye, sir," Aktay said as she scanned the two Public Defenders.

    "Anyone else is to be allowed in only as permitted by the Advocate or as invited guests of the prisoners."

    "Yes sir."

    "Any further instructions, Advocate?"

    "I would appreciate it if the Deputy Constable is allowed to supervise the security of the prisoners."

    "Not a problem," Lee said. "Crewman, where is Mason?"

    "Aah... sleeping... sir. I'll call him." Aktay tapped her comm badge. "Aktay to Mason, Skipper wants you at the security station."

    "Coming!" he said after half a minute's wait.

    Mason came out of the left side doorway at the near end of the passageway pulling his tunic over his head. "Yes sir!" he reported when his head popped through.

    "Mason, this is Deputy Constable Talber. He's in charge of security detail for the prisoners now. I want you to show him our security plan, introduce him to the other crewmen of the detail, and assist him in any way possible to carry out his duty."

    "Aye, sir!" Mason agreed. Turning to the Deputy Constable he said, "I have the security plan in my quarters if you'd like to review them. Otherwise, we can begin where you like."

    "The plan is a good place to begin," said Talber.

    Mason lad them into the passageway, but Aktay stopped the Constable, saying, "For the record, sir," as she scanned him. "You're clean," she said, waving the Deputy Constable in.

    "This way, sir," said Mason as the deputy turned to the left side-door. He opened the door on the right and entered.

    "Didn't you just come out of..." he was saying as he followed Mason in and the door closed behind him.

    Lee looked at Crewman Aktay whose lips were flirting with the smile in her eyes, then he said, "If you don'mind, Advocate Selss, I'll make the introductions, then familiarize the Prosecutor with the details of the case. You will be granted full access to the same information, of course. My crewmen have the ability to get in touch with me when you want me."

    "Lead the way," the Saurian said.

    ***
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    Okay, at this point in the story the Marshal has a good idea what's happened. I am specifically looking for feedback on the breadcrumbs I've dropped along the way, and if I've been too blatant or too subtle in laying out the clues you need as readers to determine the Five W's and an H. I think I've answered them all at this point, if the reader can put them together. If I've left the answer floating like a Baby Ruth in a public pool, then I need to trim back on the clues a bit. On the othere hand, I'm not trying to go full Ellery Queen here either.

    So, let me know if it's too hard, you think you might have it, or if it's just too darned easy. Thanks!
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    jonsillsjonsills Member Posts: 10,410 Arc User
    I'm pretty sure I've got the culprit and method worked out, I'm just not clear on the "why" yet (if I'm even right, and I'm not saying lest I accidentally influence your own choices). Then again, I'm comfortable with leaving some of the details to be cleared up in the denouement.

    So far, I'm quite enjoying these tales.
    Lorna-Wing-sig.png
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    jonsills wrote: »
    I'm pretty sure I've got the culprit and method worked out, I'm just not clear on the "why" yet (if I'm even right, and I'm not saying lest I accidentally influence your own choices). Then again, I'm comfortable with leaving some of the details to be cleared up in the denouement.

    So far, I'm quite enjoying these tales.

    My choices were written before I first typed the intro. It's hard to write mystery if you don't already know all the answers. Unless you're M. Night Shamalander or whatever his name is. In which case, you write yourself into a corner, pop some Deus Ex, and call it a twist!

    But it sounds like I'm in the groove. If your deductions prove to have been to easy once we get to the end, or if you go, "Hey whatnow?" let me know.

    Thanks for reading.

    Here we go again!

    ***

    An unused office near the prisoner's corridor was selected for the upcoming interviews, and Crewman Sibley spent most of the preceding day setting up. While the newly arrived advocate and prosecutor were interviewing the defendants and familiarizing themselves with the accusation and the supporting evidence, and while the Deputy Constable was inspecting the arrangements for the care of the prisoners, Sibley was setting up and testing a portable communications rig that connected to the Kestrel's subspace communicator.

    The last thing he did before he was finished was to set up a passive holographic recorder for the room and turn it on.

    The first thing he did in the morning was to return to the recorder and check its data rod: it was blank. Apparently a bad rod had been put in the recorder. The Skipper acknowledged his report without expression, and asked him to be certain there was a good data rod in the machine now.

    "Ladies and gentlemen," the Marshal said as the advocates and prosecutors arrived, "These are not the usual accommodations for the questioning of witnesses and of the accused, but there is no official presence here of the Federation Court except through your persons. I wish to record the interviews and interrogations for future review, and all recordings made here today will be made available to you and your offices. You are invited to make your own recording of the proceedings if you wish. I can have tricorders and transcription devices delivered to you if you don't have you own. Is there any objection to this?"

    "Only that you seem to be erring on the side of caution today," said the Saurian advocate, "When it is quite apparent that there have already been egregious violations of the civil rights of the defendants."

    "I hope to address those issue today, Advocate. However, since you do not object to the procedure, I will proceed. If, however, at any point you or your counterpart deem a possible violation of Federation Law is occurring, please feel free to speak up. Also, if either of you wish to present questions to any of the witnesses, or to call your own witnesses, please feel free to do so."

    "Understood," said Advocate Selss.

    "Get on with it," said Prosecutor Mose.

    "Thank you. Crewman Mason?"

    "Sir!"

    "Please instruct Deputy Chuss that we are ready to interview Mister Daniel Mahr."

    After a moment the security guard entered, smiled to the gathered audience, then took his seat in a chair facing the Advocate and Prosecutor.

    "Mister Mahr, you are not under oath, but I must inform you that to intentionally lie under questioning during a Federation investigation is a felony offense. Is this understood?"

    "Why would I lie?" he asked with a grin.

    "You'd be surprised how many times people lie to investigators, and what their reasons are for doing so. I only intend to insure we don't get started on the wrong foot here. So, let's be official about this, shall we? Please state your name and occupation for the record."

    "Daniel Mahr, Chief of Station Security for the Interstellar Trade Commission to Carreda."

    "Thank you, Mister Mahr. Can you recall for the record the first time we met?"

    "Sure. I was guarding the prisoners when you arrived. You asked me to watch while you interviewed them."

    "At that time did you hear any of the prisoners relate to me that there had been attempts to coerce confessions from them? That threats of punishment and promises of leniency had been made to them prior to my arrival?"

    "Well, sure they said that kind of stuff. They wanted your sympathy."

    "How many of them related such stories?"

    "All of them, I suppose."

    "Didn't you record these conversations?"

    "Well, no. I didn't have a tricorder, I told you that."

    "I was informed that the rooms were monitored and recorded. Do you recall who informed me of that?"

    "I suppose I did, but they weren't working. It's an old station, with second-hand gear. Things break."

    "Mister Mahr, you expect me to believe that the recorders in all four rooms which were routinely monitored suddenly and inexplicably failed to record at just the time I happened to be there?"

    "Well, no. It's not like that. It's just... there's one recorder, that's all. When we noticed we replaced it."

    "Ah, okay. That does explain it quite well, thank you. Now, were there any threats, or attempts to coerce the prisoners to confess while they were in your custody?"

    "No!"

    "Are you certain? Perhaps at another time when the recorders weren't functioning?"

    "Absolutely not!"

    "All right, Mister Mahr. I have to be thorough. You know how it is in security work. I came up through Starfleet Security, back when. Where were you trained?"

    "On the job, I suppose."

    "Ah, the School Of Hard Knocks. I have a lot of respect for those who learn the craft the old fashioned way. How long have you been in security?"

    "Two years."

    "Two?" Lee looked at him with an expression of wonder. "Two years, and you're chief of security at a major installation? I am impressed. Tell me, what did you do before coming here?"

    "I was a supercargo."

    "Interesting, so you crossed over, so to speak, from cargo handling to security. Very impressive. Okay, let me ask you if you recall certain evens on the evening Commissioner Gre'mre'prek was murdered. I'm a little unclear on the order of things, and I hope you can set me straight if I have some of the details wrong, okay?"

    "I'll try."

    "As I understand it, the D'jul keep a twenty-two hour clock with eleven hours of day and eleven hours of night. Local time here is by that clock, and official records are kept according to that clock as opposed to Stardates, is that correct?"

    "Yes, well, sort of. We timestamp records with the Stardate for reference purposes."

    "Good. Now, the Festival hosted by the Hierarch of Ver'si'ak concluded at eleven, is that correct?"

    "Officially, yes, but they kept the party going for a while afterwards."

    "Until when?"

    "Until I arrested the Hierarch and his entourage at four point five-oh. What we'd call zero four thirty."

    "Ah, and how did you conclude that the Hierarch and her party were responsible for the murder?"

    "I didn't. That part of the investigation was already done before I found out about the murder."

    "So, you didn't perform an investigation?"

    "No, I didn't have to. Doctor Fre'pa'dak said it was food poisoning, that was caused by the food fed to the Commissioner by the Ver'si'ak delegation, and that it was a toxin that couldn't have been accidentally been introduced to the food."

    "Did you test the food?"

    "No."

    "Why not?"

    "It was gone, cleaned up."

    "During the party, which was still ongoing?"

    "The Commissioner's plate was gone, we already knew the cause of his death, so it really didn't matter, now did it?"

    "I suppose we'll never know now. But I accept your answer to be, more or less, that you never performed an investigation to determine the cause of the Commissioner's death, nor did you secure vital evidence which might have proven the guilt of the accused. Is that correct?"

    "Not... It's just... Look, we already had the evidence we needed to convict the Ver'si'ak. It was in the Commissioner's body."

    "And nowhere else?"

    "What?"

    "You found the toxin nowhere else?"

    "What do you mean?"

    "I mean, the toxin must have been brought to the site of application somehow. It's not the sort of thing you just carry in your hand. Did you find the device used to transport the toxin?"

    "No. I see what you mean, but no. It was probably destroyed anyway."

    "Later, yes, but I think not at that time. Be that as it may, the opportunity to discover the delivery device, and the person carrying it, appears to have been lost. I assume none of the arrested had such a device on their persons at the time of arrest?"

    "No, we searched them before we locked them up."

    "In separate rooms?"

    "Yes."

    "And did you allow the prisoners to communicate with each other while they were locked up?"

    "Well, no."

    "Did you allow them access to competent counsel?"

    "Nnn... There wasn't... Nobody on the staff has that kind of training."

    "I see. Did you allow them to place calls to their families, or to seek advice from counsel?"

    "We didn't think... it wouldn't have made a difference."

    "Who do you mean by 'we' when you say it?"

    "Me. Me, and my staff."

    "Are you familiar with Article 183 of the Federation Charter, Mister Mahr?"

    "Should I be?"

    "It details the rights of those accused of crimes. They are entitled to private and secure access to counsel by a competent advocate, they are entitled to communicate their situation to family and friends, and they are entitled to social and recreational activities. Were they afforded those entitlements?"

    "No, not... we don't have the facilities..."

    "Within one hour of my assuming custody of the prisoners they had all of those things, plus one more, which is a basic right under the Federation Charter: freedom from self incrimination. Do you know what that is?"

    "The right to remain silent."

    "Were you aware of, or did you make any attempt to elicit confessions from the people you arrested?"

    "Mister Mahr," interrupted the Saurian. "I advise you to not answer that question."

    "Would you care to explain how four people who were held separately and incommunicado from the time of their arrest until I arrived all reported to me that they were subjected to threats in an attempt to elicit confessions?"

    "I... I can't answer that."

    "Okay, let's see if you can answer this: did you remove a perfectly good data rod from the recording devices set up in this room last night?"

    "What? No!"

    "Mister Friday?"

    "Yes sir," the A.I. on board the Kestrel answered.

    "Did you record the transmissions from the holoequipment placed in this room yesterday?"

    "Yes sir."

    "Please show us your recording of the activity in this room after Crewman Sibley completed his assigned task."

    The hologenerator lit up and showed the interior of the room as Crewman Sibley adjusted the controls then left. There was a virtual clock in the corner of the image which sped up until it showed several hours had passed, then it returned to normal time when a figure entered the room, poked around the equipment, and finally looked right into the holorecorder. It was clearly Daniel Mahr.

    He then opened a panel and attached a device which he had to stuff inside the panel in order to force the door to close. After that he left the room, and again time was accelerated until he returned an hour later with a data-rod with which he replaced the one that had originally been installed by Sibley.

    The Marshal removed the device from his pocket, allowing it to dangle by its connection clamp. "Do you recognize this?"

    "I advise you to not answer, Mister Mahr," said the Advocate.

    "With your permission, Marshall," interrupted the Tellarite prosecutor, "I have something to say to the witness."

    "Please," said Lee, standing aside.

    "Mister Daniel Mahr, you are under arrest for obstruction of an official investigation of a crime, and for participating in the deprivation of Federation Citizens of their civil rights under the law. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to competent counsel. You have the right to communicate your situation to your family, friends, and associates by the most expedient means available."

    The prosecutor turned to the Constable and said, "Please assume custody of the prisoner and assure that he has privacy, access to a communicator, and to his advocate."

    As the Marshal presented the evidence to the prosecutor, the advocate's aide got up and followed the newly accused Security Chief out of the room.

    "This is certainly not the direction I envisioned these interrogations to go, Marshal," the Advocate said. "What other surprises do you have waiting for me?"

    "Surprises? Advocate, I simply follow the evidence. If you would like, we can take a break until your aide returns."

    "No, unless you plan to arrest everyone you question."

    "Certainly not my next witness," Lee said. "This will be Administrator Del'na'nuk of the Warp Research Project on An'mak'dek, or Carreda IV A." Lee turned to the hologenerator and said, "Mister Friday?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "Has Mister Tanaka placed the first call?"

    "Yes, sir, Mister Del'na'nuk standing by."

    "On my screen, please."

    The image of an elder D'jul appeared in front of the Marshal, who was easily twice the height of the D'jul.

    "I apologize for keeping you waiting, Mister Del'na'nuk," Lee said.

    "Si," the alien said.

    "Excuse me?" Lee asked.

    "Si Del'na'nuk. I am in my female phase at the moment. You used the masculine address."

    "Oh, please forgive me, Si Del'na'nuk, I intended no offense. I am a single-gendered alien, and the concept of gender fluidity is still new to me."

    "No offense has been taken. You would be Da Mashal Lee?"

    "If Da is the masculine address, yes, but Marshal is sufficient title. I thank you for your time. If I may, the reason I've called is to inquire about a ship which arrived in the vicinity of your station some three weeks ago."

    "Ah, yes, the school-children! What a pleasure that was, to introduce young minds to the fascination of technological research!"

    "Did you take the opportunity to visit the ship?"

    "Oh my no! It was incapable of landing and I'm not about to have my atoms converted into energy!"

    "It's a perfectly safe method of travel. One day your people will use such technology, if your station doesn't invent a better way to travel before then. Where were these school-children from?"

    "They were from a nearby world. Lar... no, Lavour, that's it: Lavour."

    "Are such visits frequent?"

    "Oh no, not at all. I can't recall ever having such a lively bunch of children all on the station at once! It was quite a joyful time."

    "I'm sure it was," said Lee. "There's one other thing I'd like to know: were there any other unusual visits during that time?"

    "Now that you mention it, yes. A week before the arrival of the ship there was an unscheduled stop by one of the shuttles that service our moons. It was strange because the regularly scheduled shuttle was only a week later, and we have nothing pressing for which waiting ten days or so would have made a difference."

    "So, let's see if I understand this," Lee said, "An unscheduled stop by your moon shuttle was followed seven days later by the arrival of a ship from Lavour, loaded with school children who wanted to tour your facility, and then five days later your regularly scheduled shuttle arrived?"

    "I'd have to check the dates to be certain, but yes, as clearly as I can recall, that's true."

    "Thank you, Administrator. You have been most helpful."

    "I can't say I understand how."

    "I'm not at liberty to discuss that at the moment, but I thank you for your time."

    The call terminated and Lee said, "Mister Friday, is the second call ready?"

    "Yes sir," the A.I. said. "Exalted Cel'dre'sk of the Go'ak Monastery."

    Another hologram appeared, this time of a very thin, almost emaciated D'jul who wore a heavy knit garment that was open in the front. It resembled the style of the garments most D'jul wore, except for its bulk.

    "I thank you for accepting my communication, Exalted. I am told you rarely speak to outsiders, but this matter is very important. I will try to resolve it quickly."

    "Then do so," the D'jul said in a tone that conveyed annoyance.

    "I am told you allow offworlders to visit you monastery. Is this true?"

    "Yes, yes, tourists. We hope to teach enlightenment, but they want pictures. It's a waste of time, but we are required by the Law of Hospitality to accept visitors who come to us on the mountain."

    "My people have a similar custom. May I ask if anyone has been there in the last month to ski?"

    Lee glanced to the door as it opened, allowing the advocate's assistant to enter, but he turned back to the screen quickly and she quietly returned to her place beside the advocate.

    "To what?"

    "Ski. Skiing is a sport in which a person clamps two pieces of wood to her feet and slides down a snow-covered slope on them."

    "No one does that here. Snowfall is very rare, and we spend a great deal of energy attempting to not slide on the ice."

    "Ah, I was told you allowed skiing; I was misinformed. Then one more question: Has anyone of my race visited your monastery in the last month?"

    "Human? No. We get humans from time to time, but not in the last month. Probably not in the last six months."

    "I see. I apologize for disturbing you and your sanctuary, and I thank you for your time."

    "Hm," the D'jel said as the hologram faded.

    "I assume that's leading to something?" asked the Tellarite.

    "Hopefully to the truth, Prosecutor Mose."

    "All right, I can't wait to see who you want to speak to next."

    "Mister Mason, please inform Mister Chuss I'm ready to speak to Lis'fal'uk."

    "Yes sir," the Master At Arms replied and he opened the door to step out. A moment later he returned with a chubby D'jul who was just over half his height. He lead the D'jul to the chair facing the Advocate and the Prosecutor.

    "Please forgive me, but is it proper to address you as Da or Si at this time?" Lee asked.

    "I am Da," said the D'jul.

    "Thank you, and I hope you can forgive an alien's ignorance. I am Marshal Lee. If you could, please state your name and occupation."

    "I am Lis'fal'uk, and I am the senior cook for the Commission."

    "Thank you, Da Lis'fal'uk. As senior cook, do you normally use the kitchen which was used for the festival last week?"

    "No. We have a smaller kitchen. Our staff here is small, so we use the Ambassador's Galley for our regular meals."

    "And to your knowledge, no one has used the larger kitchen since the Festival?"

    "No, it's not needed. It wasn't even needed for the festival, but someone thought the larger dining area would be better for the festival activities."

    "Do you know who had this thought?"

    "No, but it was most likely the Host who planned the whole party, from the menu to the activities."

    "You aren't certain, but that is your belief?"

    "I can't imagine anyone else caring about that sort of detail."

    "Okay. Da Lis'fal'uk, did you and your staff participate in preparing the festival meal?"

    "Of course we did."

    "And did you clean up afterward?"

    "Who else would have done it?"

    "I'm sorry. I realize these questions seem trivial to you, but it's very important that we get our facts as clear as we can in order to insure justice is served."

    "I'd like to serve a little justice!" said the cook. "Serve them a heaping spoonful of the same poison they served the Commissioner!"

    "You will help to accomplish that best by being as clear and as truthful as you can be," Lee said. "Okay, I want to get the order of events, and as clearly as you can recall, the timing. Let's begin with the serving of the dinner. What time was that?"

    "Promptly at eight."

    "You're certain?"

    "Yes."

    "Okay, and about what time was the service ended?"

    "The final dish was served at just before nine."

    "Did you notice the Commissioner at that time?"

    "Yes, I was demonstrating the couscous flambe."

    "A difficult technique, I presume?"

    "Yes, you have to get the sugar to thicken without browning the dough."

    "And the Commissioner seemed fine to you then?"

    "Yes."

    "Okay, when you finished the flambe dish, what did you do?"

    "We returned to the kitchen to clean up while the guests enjoyed the party. We left a buffet of the left-over items on the serving counter, and when the clean up was as done as we could get it we joined the festival."

    "What time?"

    "Oh, about nine point seven or nine point eight."

    "Did you notice the Commissioner then?"

    "I don't know, not exactly then. We passed one another in the line dances once or twice and Si built a Ma'grat Tower at one point."

    "I presume a Ma'grat Tower is a party game of some kind?"

    "Yes, it's a game of skill. You place cylinders atop one another to achieve the highest tower with the least buttressing."

    "Did Si appear ill when building the tower?"

    "Not that I noticed, but I wasn't thinking about that then."

    "You were enjoying yourself. Is it fair to say the Commissioner was enjoying herself as well?"

    "Si seemed to be. That is, when I noticed her. It was a festival, after all."

    "When was the last time you saw the Commissioner?"

    "Must have been around eleven. Si was a little drunk at the time, and gave a speech about prosperity and the future, and how if Si didn't get to bed Si would embarrass herself."

    "And was she showing any signs of illness or distress at that time?"

    "Not that I could see, but I'm telling you that I was enjoying myself and had more than a few celebratory drinks."

    "I understand, and I appreciate your honesty. So, what happened after the speech?"

    "The party went on for a while afterwards, and people began to drift off, until around four when the guards came to arrest the Ver'si'ak for murdering the Commissioner."

    "I see. And then you cleaned the kitchen?"

    "Oh, my no! We were all a little too drunk to do anything but crawl off to bed at that point. Nobody felt like continuing the party after we learned..."

    "Oh, but you said there was food left on the counter?"

    "Yes. We returned the next day to finish the clean-up."

    "How did you clean up?"

    "The usual way: we washed everything and put it away."

    "Forgive my ignorance, Da Lis'fal'uk, but I'm not a cook. Did you use ultrasonic cleaners? Chemical cleaners? Water?"

    "Oh, I see, yes. Well, kitchen cleaning is a standard practice in my profession. We use an enzymatic solution to clean the cooking utensils and working surfaces and finish with a dilute solution of sodium hypochlorite in water which is allowed to air-dry."

    "And this was done the day after the festival?"

    "Yes, and I was sober by then! Sanitation is a very important part of kitchen operation."

    "I thank you for sharing your expertise with me. You were most helpful." Lee turned to the observers and asked, "Do any of you have questions for the witness before I dismiss him?"

    "I have none," the Tellarite said.

    "You said the Commissioner showed no signs of illness," said the Saurian, "However, you also said the commissioner was intoxicated?"

    "I don't think that Si was drunk enough to become ill," the cook said. "Si was happy-drunk. We all were."

    "Thank you," the Saurian Advocate said.

    The next person I'd like to interview is Doctor Fre'pa'dak, if you please, Crewman Mason."

    ***
  • Options
    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    Mason returned with the D'jul doctor, helped him to the seat, and returned to his place by the door.

    "Doctor Fre'pa'dak, thank you for your time. I have some questions for you regarding the death of the Commissioner. If at any time I appear to be unclear, please let me know. It is vital to get the details as exactly as we can in order to properly prosecute the guilty."

    "I understand," the D'jul doctor said.

    "Good. My first question is about the discovery of the body. At what point were you called to the scene?"

    "I was called when the Commissioner failed to answer an attempt to contact her. The Deputy Commissioner felt she might have fallen or something, and wanted me to be on hand in case I was needed."

    "Do you remember the time?"

    "It was just after two."

    "Who was present?"

    "Myself, the Deputy Commissioner, and the Chief of Security."

    "That's all?"

    "Yes."

    "And what did you discover when you entered the Commissioner's room?

    "The Commissioner was in her bed, dead."

    "What was the cause of her death?"

    "Food poisoning."

    "How did you determine this?"

    "From the presence of the botulinum neurotoxin in her blood."

    "Forgive me for my ignorance, but did you do any other tests to determine other possible causes of death?"

    "There was no point after we discovered the toxin. It's a paralytic agent which causes muscle and organ failure."

    "Thank you, so, let me get this straight: You discovered the body at around two, pronounced the Commissioner dead, and discovered a deadly neurotoxin in her blood? How long did this take?"

    "We did attempt resuscitation for an hour before we pronounced her dead, then it took another hour to compete the blood tests and other procedures."

    "Other procedures? What other procedures?"

    "We discovered fluid buildup in her lungs and brain hemorrhages, so biopsies were performed in both regions for analysis."

    "I wasn't aware that brain damage was a possible result of food poisoning."

    "It isn't in humans, but is effect on D'jul are not documented."

    "I presume stomach and bowel samples also showed the presence of this toxin?"

    "I didn't take any. It appeared obvious that such material would have to have been the source of the toxin, and the blood samples were positive for botulinum toxin."

    "Okay, doctor. My next question is about your followup investigation: where else did you discover the toxin?"

    "Oh, it was in her blood, so it had been transmitted to all part of her body."

    "I apologize for my lack of clarity. I meant, where else in the compound? Did you discover any in the kitchen? The dining room? The hallways?"

    "Oh, I see. No, I didn't discover any anywhere else because I never looked."

    "Why not?"

    "It never occurred to me to do so."

    "Didn't it occur to you that others might fall ill or die from this toxin?"

    "I saw no evidence of that."

    "No one else on the station became ill or died?"

    "Correct."

    "Okay. At what time did you rule the cause of death to be food poisoning?"

    "Three point nine-one exactly."

    "Thank you for being very precise, Doctor."

    Lee turned to the observers and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, if you have no further questions, I'm sure the Doctor is a very busy person who would like to return to his work."

    "Fine with me," the Tellarite said. The Saurian said nothing, but was watching the Marshal closely.

    "Okay, the next witness will be Doctor Sar, who is my deputy. He is a forensic pathologist as well as a medical doctor, and is certified as an expert witness and officer of the court. Crewman Mason?"

    "Yes sir," the crewman said and he left the room, returning with the Doctor a moment later.

    "Doctor Sar, please tell me how the Commissioner died."

    "He drowned."

    "He didn't die of food poisoning?"

    "No. In fact, the one place which was free of the botulinum toxin was his gastrointestinal tract."

    "All right. If you would, how does a healthy D'jul drown in her bed?"

    "D'jul lungs secrete a fluid constantly which is pushed up and out of the lungs by cilia, to be swallowed. The botulinum neurotoxin is a paralytic which, when inhaled, paralyzed the cilia, preventing them from removing the fluid, which built up in the lungs until the victim choked and expired."

    "Did you notice anything odd in the victim's brain tissue?"

    "Yes, there were hemorrhages."

    "And what caused these hemorrhages?"

    "A combination of a weakening of the blood vessels of the brain and an excess of blood pressure during the terminal stage of the toxin's progression."

    "What would weaken the blood vessels of the brain?"

    "Trichlorethane aerosol."

    "Was this present in the brain?"

    "In trace amounts."

    "And you said the victim's blood pressure was a problem?"

    "In the terminal stages of the poison's effect, the victim would have been coughing in an attempt to clear her lungs of the built up fluids. The coughing would be quite intense, and quite painful."

    "I'm sorry to hear that, Doctor. Let's move on. Did you search for other locations where the toxin could be found, other than inside the victim?"

    "Yes, I did."

    "Please tell us, Doctor."

    "In the victim's bedroom, in a ventilation duct leading from a hatch accessible from the passageway into the victim's quarters, and on the surfaces of the kitchen which was used to serve the Festival meal."

    "Doctor Sar, I'm told that the kitchen was cleaned after the party with a combination of an enzymatic solution and a sodium hypochlorate solution. Would these compounds leave the toxin behind?"

    "Either detergent or bleach alone would suffice to eradicate the majority of the toxin."

    "How do you explain the presence of the toxin in an area which was cleaned with both?"

    "It was applied after the fact."

    "After the festival someone applied the toxin to the kitchen?"

    "It is the only conclusion I can draw from the evidence. I found that the kitchen was clean, with the exception of the upper surfaces of the cookware, preparation surfaces, and floor. I discovered that there were no microbes in the kitchen capable of synthesizing the botulinum toxin, nor were there even the spores which could potentially survive a cleansing of the kitchen. And everywhere I discovered the neurotoxin I also discovered traces of trichlorethane."

    "Thank you, Doctor Sar. I've read your report, which will be made available to our colleagues for their use. Does anyone have more questions for the Doctor?"

    "Doctor Sar," the Tellarite asked, "Are you saying this was not a case of food poisoning?"

    "That is correct. The food inside the victim's digestive tract contained no trace of the toxin."

    "And the only way she received the neurotoxin was through breathing it?"

    "The presence of so much of it in the blood and the extensive damage to the lungs clearly indicate this to be the case. Any other means of absorbing the poison would have rendered those tissues paralyzed, and there is no indication of this anywhere else on the body."

    "How do you explain Doctor Fre'pa'dak's findings?" asjked Advocate Selss

    "I don't."

    "Excuse me?" the Saurian said.

    "I meant no disrespect, nor did I make a clumsy attempt at humor. Madam Advocate, I do not explain the work performed by others when I did not witness that work."

    "Professional courtesy?" she asked.

    "Practicality. I am not informed enough on the Doctor's state of mind, what influences he may have been subject to, his medical background and history, his competency. I am unqualified to comment on the work of Doctor Fre'pa'dak."

    "I see. If I asked you to conjecture?"

    "Please don't. I will support my own findings, and allow Doctor Fre'pa'dak to support his."

    Lee gave them a moment to digest this, then said, "I have one more witness to question."

    As Doctor Sar rose from the chair Chuss entered the room, walked over to Lee, and whispered. The four observers could hear his rumbling voice, but his words were too soft to hear.

    "Excuse me, Advocate, Prosecutor, a ship has just arrived from Carreda IV with some people who will want to observe these proceedings. If you will take a fifteen minute break, I'll have them set up and be ready to continue the interviews.

    ***
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