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Fanfic: Federation Space

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  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    "All right," Crewman Mason said as he squared off with the new deputy, "Let's see what the Academy taught you."

    "Criminal science, sir," the deputy answered as he assumed a common open-handed stance, his left leg forward, his left hand up and out, his right near his chin. He waited, shifting his weight from side to side, but doing little else.

    Mason gave him his time. In port, morning workouts were well attended, and both the Lieutenant and Chief Voght were watching, along with the Ensign and Crewman Sibley. He smiled. It wouldn't do to have the young man actually turn out to be good enough to beat him. But then he didn't want to humiliate the young man either.

    The attack finally came: three attempted punches followed by a kick. Mason deflected the strikes and dodged the foot. His technique was textbook pattern, but his execution was flawed, sloppy. Then the young deputy did something stupid: he attempted to perform a roundhouse kick while spinning. That had to be curbed immediately. Mason dropped to the deck and swept the planted foot while the kick went overhead. He was back on his feet before the boy hit the deck.

    "Break," Mason said as the deputy got to his feet. "Sibley!"

    "Yes sensei!" Sibley said.

    "Explain what happened."

    "Sensei, you knocked him on his behind."

    "Smartass! Tell him why and how."

    "His pivot was wrong. When you let your foot turn with your body you don't have control of the turn. Plus, his knee was sideways to you, inviting a collateral ligament injury if you had put even a few kilos of pressure on the joint."

    "Demonstrate, in slow motion, how a roundhouse is performed."

    Sibley bowed at the edge of the mat, then stepped on. He took his stance, left leg forward, and began the movement toward an imaginary enemy, lifting his knee up almost to his chest. His plant foot pivoted almost all the way around as he held his knee cocked, and with his body leaning away from the imaginary target he snapped his foot out, drew it back, and planted it, effectively having stepped forward in the process.

    "You're still a little shaky in the pivot," Mason said. "Not bad, overall, but if you rely on momentum to keep your balance you will eventually meet an opponent who can use that against you. Go over there and practice in slow motion. You should be in balance at every stage of the motion."

    "Yes, Sensei!" Sibley said, and he bowed off the mat.

    "Now, try the kick again. Three distinct motions: knee, pivot, snap, and two distinct motions, return, and plant. Go slow."

    As the deputy performed the kick Mason guided him. After a few repetitions he made the deputy hold each position. "You don't kick to the side, hip bones don't have much give that way, even for the really flexible. You kick forward and backward." When the deputy's leg began to get a little shaky from fatigue he allowed him to relax a moment.

    "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When you pivot your hips twist. Your shoulders have to compensate, or else you're relying on your plant foot to give your kick its power, and your leg isn't made for twisting power. Another mistake people make is, when they make contact with the target they try to bring their leg back to its starting point. That is a mistake: you step forward. It's an attack. You are taking ground. If they don't give it you should be ready to push them harder."

    "Yes, Sensei."

    "Don't let Sibley's foolishness infect you. I'm Mason."

    "Okay, step off the mat. Lieutenant, show him a proper roundhouse, slow motion, then at speed. I'm your target."

    "Shall I gear up?"

    "I won't hit back, this is a demonstration."

    The Lieutenant bowed onto the mat and performed a flawless slow motion kick: her hips were in line with the swing of her foot, her plant foot a perfect 180 degrees from her target, allowing her to push her kick from the ball of her foot right through the target, and her reset brought her into a perfect left-hand stance.

    "Beautiful," Mason said. "Okay, full speed."

    Mason took his stance, and was almost ready when the Lieutenant unleashed her kick, planted, and delivered the same attack with her left foot. Had he not been wearing full gear she would have staggered him. As it was, her second kick penetrated his guard and landed on the side of his headgear.

    "Well done, Lieutenant!" he said. "You'll be ready to train with the Skipper before I will."

    "Another kick like that and you'll be training with Doctor Sar!" Chief Voght said.

    "Hush, you!" Mason said.

    "Allright, now, let's get back here and..."

    The timer chime went off. "Cooldown! Mason said." He lead the crew though some stretches and flexibility exercises.

    "Mister Star, not a bad showing for your first day. You have to realize we've been at this a lot longer than you have. Do your exercises and train, and we'll have you up to speed in no time."

    "Don't spar with the Chief," Sibley said. "She bites."

    "Okay, okay," Mason said as he saw the flare of temper in the Chief's eye. "Another crack like that and you go in the ring with her tomorrow instead of the Lieutenant.

    "I hope your will is ready," the Lieutenant said as she walked off toweling her face and neck.

    ***

    Leon, it turned out, was a fun date. Masha was just over half his height, but he didn't talk down to her. He was a very good dancer and, once he got past the awkward phase of mumbling and blushing, he was pretty funny. He noticed things most people missed, including Masha.

    By the time she noticed the time it was 0645, and she rushed back to the ship to make it to morning quarters. She was surprised too that she wasn't in the least tired or sleepy, and she felt a bit like Cinderella as she crossed the quarterdeck with minutes to spare.

    "Oh but the ball was ever so lovely, and the Prince! Thank you Fairy Godmother!"

    "Glad you could join us," the Ensign said as she arrived in the logroom two minutes late. She got into line beside Mason and Brock.

    "It looks like Crewman Aktay will be sharing her watches with our new crewman, Deputy Star. He is untrained in starship operations, but we're going to change that. Aktay, your job will be to familiarize him with the quarterdeck watch and with ship's sensors. And since it's your duty day tomorrow you can begin then."

    He turned to Crewman Brock and said, "You'll be dealing with his first aid proficiency qualification. It's not likely he'll need much training; as I understand it the Academy does a good job of teaching first aid, but he still needs his qualifications."

    "Aye, sir," Brock said.

    "And Mason has already gotten started on his martial arts training. I'm guessing he's at about my level?"

    "Pretty close, sir. Looks like you've got another sparring partner."

    "Right. Well, Okay, as for protocols: he is to be treated as if he were a cadet. Once his basic space proficiencies are completed he is to be afforded the respect due an ensign, so, he's an officer, guys.

    Today is in-port beta watch section, which is you, Brock. Check your maintenance schedules for your work assignments. The Skipper has decided that for the next three days, as your work assignments are completed you'll be permitted liberty, but that's dependent upon my authorization, so let's be sure to get the assignments done properly. Understood?"

    "Yes sir," they chorused.

    "Dismissed!" the Ensign said.

    "So, late night, huh?" Mason teased as they headed down the starboard ramp.

    "You are such a snyeatnyk," Masha replied.

    ***

    Chuss, Lee, and Star were walking through Level 25 of Starbase 77. It was an area of small shops and restaurants on the outer ring, with Public Medical and Security in the center.

    Marshal Lee was talking and Lucky was trying his best to listen as they made their way to Station Security where he would present his credentials and be introduced to the station senior staff.

    "... be assembling your network of informants," Lee was saying, "Over time. Some will be less than legitimate citizens, and you are not to protect them, no matter how valuable their warnings, from the legal troubles they get themselves into. The service maintains a fund for marshals and their deputies to pay informants, but every credit has to be accounted for."

    "It seems to me that any informant worth paying will also be a criminal," said Lucky.

    "You'd think that, but there are some who live on the edges of criminal activity without falling in, and there are some for whom information is a commodity,, and who..."

    "Lee!" shouted Chuss as he shoved him. Lee would have managed to stay on his feet had not 200 kilos of felinoid not collapsed on top of him. In his eye the glare of a beam burned his retina with a blue slash that pointed right to a green-skinned man in a business suit.

    Lee rolled Chuss off of him as the Caitian twitched, and heard a snap! as something small exceeded the speed of sound. In this case, it was many somethings small: Lucky traced back the beam to the weapon-wielding Orion, drew his needle-gun, and fired.

    Each cartridge of the needle gun was a bundle of multiple crystalline needles, and the propellant was gas pressurized to extreme pressures. The tiny slivers of crystal flew toward the Orion and struck him in the face and chest. Lucky scanned the mezzanine and counted ten seconds before he saw the Orion fall over the railing to land on the deck below right in front of a schwarma kiosk.

    The crowd had not known what to make of the shot, but dead men falling from the sky was something they understood: it meant to panic! Lee was out from under Chuss and he tapped his combadge, saying, "Medical Emergency! Transport Chuss to sick-bay NOW! Chuss has been hit by energy weapons fire! Get Doctor Sar and transport..."

    "Kestrel here!" said Lieutenant Mirra. "Mason is on his way to Transporter 1 now. Shall we beam you all back?"

    "Just Chuss," Lee said. "Station Security is on the way, and they'll want answers."

    "Keep an open com-line, Skipper," Mirra said.

    "Aye," Lee answered as Chuss de-materialized.

    They trotted over to the corpse and performed a quick scan of the body and scene, then Lee said, "Stay here and report immediately if anyone acts oddly."

    Lee ran up the ramp to the balcony from which the shooter had fallen.

    ***
  • jonsillsjonsills Member Posts: 8,993 Arc User
    edited January 2019
    Possibly a mercy gun? (From Niven, a needler that fires a cloud of slivers of crystallized anaesthetic. Intended to be a non-lethal method of criminal capture, although often lethal on organleggers. In the words of Gil Hamilton, "Allergic reactions were not unknown. Especially when you took something to induce them.")

    It wouldn't be all that improbable for a drug that was a quick-acting soporific on a Human to turn out to be a lethal toxin for an Orion...

    I did take the liberty, in the later Grunt stories, of equipping SCIS agents with slug-throwers, on the basis that most portable force-field defenses seemed ineffective against physical attacks, as well as bullets being disruptive to a shape-shifter's concentration (something of concern to Federation investigative services, in the wake of both the Dominion War and the Undine infiltration).
    Lorna-Wing-sig.png
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    "How did you come into possession of your weapon?" the Starfleet Security officer asked.

    "Legally," Lucky replied. "I manufactured it after having obtained the necessary permits."

    "You manufactured your weapon?"

    "It's not a standard issue weapon you can find on the market."

    "Why would you want a weapon like that when there are safer alternatives, like phaser pistols?"

    "There's nothing unsafe about a needler. And it can't be set to kill if it's stolen from me and the safety interlock is overridden."

    "Your weapon certainly killed. What was in that projectile anyway?"

    "It didn't kill him," Lucky said, paling a bit as he considered again the man's six meter fall. In his mind's eye he saw the flash of blue, his eye tracked it back to the source: an Orion dressed in a casual suit. He drew his pistol and fired. He scanned the mezzanine for another shooter, and out of the corner of his eye he saw the limp form of the first shooter falling like a marionette whose strings had been cut.

    Lucky started when the Starfleet Officer repeated his question: "What was in that projectile?"

    "Melenex," he said. "It's safe for all known species. On Boleans it's a paralytic rather than an anesthetic. Its effects are unknown on Tholians and silicon based life forms, but on carbon-iron or carbon-copper based life it's not fatal."

    "All right," the Security Officer said, "Let's go over his one more time. You were walking on Level 25. Where were you going?"

    "Here." Lucky gave a single snort of amusement and said, "To submit my credentials to Station Security."

    "You weren't on a manhunt? You weren't involved in some kind of operation?"

    "It's my first day on the job. I arrived on station last night and so far I've been from the passenger terminal to the USS Kestrel, to here. I couldn't tell you anything about why this happened; I don't know anything about what's going on."

    "You shot a man and you didn't know why?"

    "I shot him because he shot at my marshal. I didn't know who else he was going to shoot. He still had his weapon in hand, and he had already shown a willingness to use it."

    "Let's go from where you first thought something was wrong..."

    A knock on the door frame caused Lucky to jump. It was the Marshal. "Are we finished here?" he asked.

    "I just want to go over a few more things," the Security Officer said.

    "I'm sorry," Lee said. "Let me rephrase that. We're finished here."

    The Starfleet Officer appeared to want to object, but clamped his jaw instead. Lucky got up and followed the Marshal through the corridors to a window with an archaic grating over it. The sign beside the door said "Evidence" followed by the station's location-identification code. Deck, radius, and number of compartments from center, Lucky reminded himself. This compartment was on Deck 25, 330 degrees from the 0 radius line, and it was the seventh compartment from center. Starship compartments followed a similar numbering scheme.

    A clerk appeared behind the window and Lee passed a facsimile slip to her. She studied him for a moment, then vanished. An older woman appeared and said, "I'll have to confirm this."

    Lee stood unsmiling, waiting. He said nothing. The woman had apparently been anticipating some kind of reaction, and appeared disappointed when she didn't get it. She vanished too. It was a full five minutes before the first clerk reappeared. She carried the black weapon, shaped like an old-fashioned semi-automatic slug-thrower, as if it was dirty and she was soiling her hand. She placed it on the counter and performed some clerkly functions with a P.A.D.D. Then she slid the P.A.D.D. through the slot at the bottom of the window and said, "Thumbprint."

    Lee gestured, and Lucky pressed his right thumb to the P.A.D.D. The clerk took the device and slid the weapon through the slot in its place.

    The weapon was not much larger than his open hand, and almost as flat. Lucky ejected the magazine into his hand, then racked back the bolt and examined the breech. "My shells..."

    "Where's the ammunition that came with that weapon?" Lee asked the clerk.

    "I don't know," the clerk said.''

    "If that ammunition is not here on this counter within two minutes you aren't going to like what follows," he said in a very annoyed voice.

    The clerk vanished and the older woman returned. "What's this?"

    "You know very well what this is. I'm growing tired of the games. I am about to call the station's Chief of Security and see if she can do your job because it's growing increasingly apparent that you cannot."

    "The receipt was for one weapon. It didn't say anything about ammunition."

    Lee took out his combadge and tapped it. "Marshal Lee to Security Chief Antrin."

    "Antrin here, what can I do for you Marshal?"

    "I'm having a little issue with your Evidence Locker Clerks."

    "Just a moment," the woman's voice said.

    A call came in on the desktop console behind the window, and the older woman answered it. "Yes sir... Yes sir... Yes sir... Right away sir."

    "Let me know if there are further problems," the voice on his combadge said.

    "Thank you," Lee said.

    The junior clerk returned in under two minutes with a small plastic container. "I'm sorry, but one of your shells went to the lab for testing..."

    Lucky took the plastic bin, dumped the shells into his palm, and put the bin back. They walked off together without another word as Lucky began to load the seven remaining shells into the magazine.

    On the turbolift Lee asked, "Why a needle gun?"

    "It's a backup. Ballistics tend to do a better job of personal shield penetration, and its use of compressed nitrogen makes it immune to transporter or power-drain technology, unlike chemical propellants or a gauss or gravitic system which requires a power pack. Plus, it's supposed to keep the target alive for questioning."

    "I'm pretty sure he will have taken a difficult to detect, slow acting poison which would have killed him anyway if captured. His handler probably has the antidote to use if he had gotten away. And I'm pretty sure I know why he was trying to shoot me. Thanks for saving my life."

    "Mister Chuss did that," Lucky said.

    "His weapon was recharging for a second shot."

    "Oh..."

    As they stepped out onto the Cargo Deck and made their way to the boarding ramp to the Kestrel Lee said, "That was a pretty good shot. Almost forty meters with a short-barreled ballistics weapon, at a fifteen degree up-angle, and from what I recall it was a snapshot too."

    "At that range the spread is about a meter and a half. It's pretty hard to miss when only one or two crystals is enough to knock a man out."

    "I'll beg to differ on that. You've practiced. You didn't tell me you had firearms training."

    "You didn't ask, sir."

    "I'm asking now," Lee said. Where did you learn to fast-draw and shoot?"

    "Home, sir. My father is an antique weapons collector and competition shooter. I've been shooting since I got my first five millimeter when I graduated kindergarten."

    "Antiques only?"

    "No sir," Lucky said. "I'm classified as a marksman on Type 1, 2, and 3 phasers. I've also used plasma rifles, both chambered and powered, and just for exhibition purposes my father taught me to use his antiproton minigun."

    As they entered the gangway to the Kestrel Lee asked, "Did you see the dancing bear?"

    "The what, sir?" asked Lucky.

    "That was my mistake earlier. I was talking to you and forgot to look around. Chuss didn't forget, and paid the price for my neglect. When you're in the open you need to be alert, always. Now let's go see how Chuss is doing."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    "Doctor Sar is still in surgery, Marshal," Lee said to the Vulcan's image in his wall. "Your choice in deputies was very fortuitous: he was able to deal with the attacker while I was struggling out from beneath Chuss' bulk. If he had been less accurate, or had his reaction been slower I'd be dead, probably along with Chuss and whoever your second choice would have been."

    "Then the assassin is dead, leaving you no starting place to conduct an investigation?"

    "There's his quarters and whatever clues it may contain, but it's very likely that this is the result of the Kmt'aa Cartel's contract on me."

    "Agreed." Senior Marshal T'eset said. "Has the deputy's mental condition been evaluated?"

    "I was going to ask Doctor Sar's advice. There is a Doctor S'lott here on Starbase 77 who has earned the respect of many of my crew if Croaker doesn't feel up to the job."

    "I'm afraid Doctor Sar will have to do for now," T'eset said. "It seems that simultaneously with your attempted assassination, there was a mass escape from the Tantalus Penal Colony. Along with twelve violent prisoners the Kmt'aa Cartel's matron Savaria has escaped. It appears that matron Levina was killed in the event. I need you to get to Tantalus V and find out how this escape happened and to recommend safeguards which will prevent its reoccurrence."

    "Tantalus?" Lee asked.

    "Starfleet is dealing with the escapees and, frankly, they are better equipped for that. You are the marshal who can get there soonest, and the Bureau of Penology has requested our 'best investigator.' I suppose they will have to settle for you."

    "Senior Marshal! A joke? Subtle, personal, and delivered with perfect timing. I am honored."

    "Good, then I assume you will be on your way to Tantalus V at the earliest possible moment?"

    "Yes, Senior Marshal. When Doctor Sar assures me that our movement will not jeopardize Chuss's recovery."

    "Consider the benefits of transferring him to Starbase 77's medical facilities, which are surely superior to you own. However, since Deputy Chuss' condition is as yet unknown, I do not give any orders in this matter and leave it to Doctor Sar's judgement to determine the best course of treatment. You are not to alow this to cause any delays in getting to the penal colony."

    "Understood, Senior Marshal."

    "T'eset out."

    Lee stood a moment before the bulkhead which had resumed the appearance of smooth, textured wood.

    "Shall I inform the crew, sir?" asked Friday.

    "Yes, recall all liberties, with my apologies. And get me Lieutenant Mirra."

    "Lieutenant Mirra is responding, sir."

    "Lieutenant, we raise ship as soon as Doctor Sar is out of surgery, unless we need to transfer Chuss to Starfleet Medical first. In the meantime, can you do me a favor?"

    "Sir?" Mirra asked.

    "See if your friend Doctor S'lott would like to visit Tantalus Penal Colony. We have a young deputy who will need trauma counselling, and we don't have time for him to make twice-weekly office visits."

    "Aye, sir. Anything else?"

    "Yes, who's your best helmsman trainee?"

    ***

    On a station the size of Starbase 77 it took all of half an hour for news of the attack to spread to all corners. On the Kestrel it took less than a minute. The crew had been occupied in their daily maintenance tasks, but from the call for Crewman Mason to man Transporter 1 for a medical transport they had been meeting, speculating, and getting very little work done.

    Then Crewman Aktay and Deputy Star were assigned to relieve Crewman Sibley on the quarterdeck watch while Sibley and Mason were called to the bridge. The Lieutenant was running drills with them on helm and navigation. Speculation ratcheted up a notch: they were off to find the ones who ordered the hit on the Skipper! The assassin left clues and they were following them up, Chuss needed medical care that could only be found on a Caitian world...

    Deputy Star knew as little as any of them, and even Aktay's subtle probing left them clueless. It was Chief Voght whose voice was the reasonable one."When they want us to know, they'll tell us." It was an answer that satisfied none of the crew.

    Doctor Sar finally came out of Sickbay, still wearing his surgical scrubs.

    "Doctor Sar?" Aktay asked as he stepped onto the quarterdeck.

    "He's fine. He won't be getting up today, but he will heal. Excuse me," the Doctor said as he headed up the ramp.

    Moments later a familiar, chubby figure found his way onto the gangway. "What now?" Aktay asked as she saw Doctor S'lott approach with a travel case in one hand and a duffel in the other.

    "Bridge," she said, "Doctor S'lott approaching, with luggage."

    The Bolean psychiatrist had just finished saying, "Request permission to come aboard," when the Lieutenant arrived, coming down the ramp at a trot.

    "Doctor," she said. "I'm so glad you could make it! The guest quarters are ready for you. You remember Crewman Aktay, and this is our new deputy, David Star."

    "A pleasure to meet you, young man. I'm told you're the reason our Captain is still among the living."

    "It was Deputy Chuss, sir," Lucky said. "I was just there."

    "Good, good. I'm sure we'll have a chance to talk later. Lieutenant, I'd like to set these bags down, and then see about setting up an office somewhere?"

    "Of course, here, let me get that, sir!" She relieved him of his luggage and headed up the ramp.

    When Aktay heard the hatch to the guest quarter cycle open then closed and the voices of the Lieutenant and the Commander were cut off she toggled the quarterdeck com-panel and said, "Aktay to Voght."

    "Yes?" Voght responded.

    "S'lott is back."

    There was a pause, then Voght said, "Thanks."

    And there was a final surprise for Aktay: a young boy ran up the gangway and knocked on the airlock hatch. Aktay cycled the airlock for him and he said, "I am Xinwen. I must speak to Li."

    "Just a moment," Aktay said, and she toggled the com-panel again.

    "Yes?" the Skipper's voice said.

    "Sir, a young human boy named Xinwen has just arrived and he said he needs to speak to you. Shall I tell him you're busy?"

    "I always have time for Xinwen," Lee said. "Just a moment."

    It wasn't even a full minute before the Skipper stepped into the quarterdeck, and the boy fired off a rapid string of Chinese words. Lee put a finger across his lips and said, "Shh." He escorted the boy up the ramp.

    "I've never heard of this kid before," said Aktay, and she looked at Lucky.

    "This is my first day," he said. "They didn't prepare me for any of this at the Federation Law Enforcement Academy. Is it like this every day?"

    "No. Some days I know what the hell is going on."

    Ten minutes later Xinwen returned holding a model of the Kestrel, which he 'flew' while making swooshing sounds to accompany it. He winked at Crewman Aktay as she cycled the airlock for him, and he was off and running down the gangway, his spaceship whooshing and bzzing in its erratic flight while tethered to his hand.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    'Doctor S'lott, welcome aboard," Lee said as he entered the bridge. "I apologize for the rush. Have you been briefed on our situation?"

    "Indeed I have. I was also promised a tour of the Tantalus facility." He grinned.

    "We'll see what we can do," Lee said. "Thank you for coming."

    "I wouldn't miss this for anything. Your little ship and crew are always involved in something unexpected. Or so it seems to a desk-bound practitioner such as myself."

    "We'll do our best to tone it down a bit while you're here," Lee grinned as he took his place at Conn. He looked around the bridge. The doctor was at the Comm station, with Sibley ahead of him on Navigation. Opposite Sibley was Mason on helm, and behind him was Tanaka on the Engineering Console.

    "How many more qualifications do you need, Mister Tanaka, before you're qualified Officer of the Deck?" Lee asked.

    "First Aid, Damage Control, Helm, and Navigation, sir. Chief passed me on Engineering last week."

    "Seven months? Not bad. You're in line to beat the Lieutenant for your SWO qual."

    "Oh, no sir, I'd still have Weapons and Combat for that."

    "You'll get there." Lee turned forward and pulled his starboard control board across his lap. "Crewman Sibley, I want the navigation plot to Tantalus V on my board, please."

    "Aye, sir."

    Lee studied the plot, performed some calculations, and said, "Crewman Mason, is the ship ready for maneuvers?"

    "Aye, sir. I mean, it's ready to release mooring lines. Otherwise, we're ready."

    "Good catch. There's nothing like ripping the mooring lines out of their capstans to make you welcome at a starbase."

    "Aye, sir."

    "Mister S'lott, will you request clearance from the starbase for departure?"

    "Aye, Captain," he said.

    Deputy Star entered the bridge and said, "I was told my station was here?"

    Mirra turned and directed the young man to the Science station beside her own Tactical console.

    "You're not logged into the ship's computer yet, so you don't have your access codes yet. We'll get to that. For now, this is the unified sensor display, this is the subspace, and this is gravitic. I'll show you how they work later."

    The Doctor said, "Starbase 77 authorizes Kestrel for departure, Captain."

    "Thank you, Commander. Call me Skipper please. Helm, clear all mooring lines."

    "Aye, sir... Mooring lines disengaged."

    "Ahead one quarter impulse."

    "One quarter impulse, aye."

    "Navigator, lay in our course and transfer it to Helm."

    "Course laid in, Skipper."

    "On course 340 mark 345, Helm."

    "Coming on course, mark. On course 340 mark 345 galactic."

    "Only Tactical uses relative bearings, Helm. When we're fifty clicks from Starbase increase to one half impulse."

    "Acknowledged, sir."

    "Coming to fifty clicks, mark," Sibley said, and the Kestrel's speed increased.

    "Maintain course and speed until we're cleared for warp by the Starbase."

    "Aye, sir," Mason replied.

    "I'm afraid right now it's a bit of information overload for you," Mirra was whispering over the silence of the bridge. "Most sensor operators either come out of Starfleet Academy or one of the service schools, or they have some weeks of training on the job before they get to where you are now. Don't worry if this all seems strange and you forget half of what I say: just take it in and enjoy the ride. It'll begin to make sense with repetition.

    "This big screen here is unified sensors. It's a combined rendering of the various sensors we're currently operating. That's passive EM, Gravitic, Subspace, Alpha, Gamma, and Neutrino emissions. In addition, there is a feedback circuit from the Deflector which gives us a matter-density reading in our flight path. All of those sources of input generate a pattern which the computer collates and displays. You can see the station behind us; it's positively identified, so its ID is listed. You see it here, with the planet Amaranth behind it on the gravitic sensor here, and here on this one which looks like fuzz. It's the subspace sensor. You'll have to learn to interpret that one because it shows abstract patterns when matter interacts with subspace..."

    "Starbase 77 Administrator hailing, Skipper," said Commander S'lott.

    "On screen," Lee said. "Administrator, how may we help you?"

    "Marshal Lee, our security department is holding an Iscari trader who was in possession of an antitoxin specific to the toxin found in your attempted assassin. She too was dosed with the slow-acting poison, but our medical staff has assured me that the antitoxin has neutralized it before it could take effect. I wanted to let you know because she appeared to be in a hurry to board her craft and leave the station."

    "Well done, Administrator! My advice now is to get her off your station as quickly as practical, because she will be a target for assassination or rescue. The facilities at Redemption Island should be adequate for short term holding. Her advocate won't like it, but Judge Arnham of the 12th Circuit court will sign the order if it is made clear that the potential danger to innocent civilians outweigh her convenience.

    "Further: I advise you to scan your prisoner for residue of explosive materials, and to scan your station, as a precaution, for explosive devices. On occasion such people leave a means to destroy evidence of their having been there. I don't expect this to be the case, but it's better to err on the side of caution."

    "My security chief has already expressed such a concern, and a full security sweep in underway now. I must say, this has been a rather interesting day: an assassination attempt and a potential bomb threat. If I am not being insensitive, how is your injured deputy?"

    "My doctor says he will recover in time, and I thank you for you concern, Administrator."

    "I thank you for the advice on how to find our assassin's accomplice. My flight control officer informs me that you are clear to go to warp. Good luck, USS Kestrel."

    "And to you, Administrator. Kestrel out."

    "Channel clear," said Commander S'lott.

    "Mister... ah, Crewman Sibley, is our course clear?"

    "To the extent of our navigation sensors, sir."

    "Crewman Mason, take us to warp 5."

    "Aye, sir!"

    The Kestrel jumped to warp.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    "You wanted to see me Marshal?" Lucky said as he entered the Marshal's stateroom. Doctor S'lot was there, sitting on the couch sipping from a steaming cup, and he smiled at the young man.

    "Yes, I do. Do you recall your Procedures class, which would have been around Week 35 of your Academy Tour?"

    "I'm not sure I recall all of them, Marshal, but I remember Procedures."

    "What is the normal procedure when an officer is involved in the death of a suspect?"

    "An investigation by the Inspector General."

    "Yes, but more importantly, the agent is moved to administrative work until he undergoes psychiatric evaluation. No matter how experienced or capable, when a death occurs it can result in severe trauma for an agent. In most cases you'd have been in field training and undergone several routine psychiatric evaluations before you were exposed to a situation which might result in a death. We'd have had time to teach you what you can expect, and give you coping mechanisms which can help with the processing of such an event.

    "Unfortunately, your time came on your first day on the job. And due to the nature of our assignment, we can't easily reassign you to administrative work. So, to do our best to conform to Service Procedures and Practices, I've hired Doctor S'lott to perform our Trauma Assessment and to guide us through our recovery. Doctor?"

    "The first impulse for many people," said the Bolean, "Is to think of a psychiatrist as a nosy neighbor. I assure you that I've had far more interesting clients to talk about than either of you, and my purpose here is to help you. There's nothing macho about holding it in and toughing it out. In fact, that is how many minor, easily treated illnesses become severe and intractable disorders. The sooner we identify issues and deal with them, the less likely they will present a problem later. Can I count on your active cooperation?"

    "Yes sir," Lucky said. "What do I need to do?"

    "Come with me," the doctor said. "Your Lieutenant has generously provided me with office space, and we can get out of your Skipper's way so he can get back to work."

    Lucky stepped over to the hatch as the Bolean got to his feet. "Thank you for the tea, Lee," he said. And I'll see you at eleven tomorrow, if not sooner."

    "Barring crisis, yes, doctor."

    "Excellent." The Bolean headed to the door.

    "So how did you come to be named 'Lucky'?

    "It's actually my Dad's nickname," Lucky said as they exited. "He was Lucky, and I became Lucky Too..."

    ***

    "What are you doing?" Chief Garadda said as he entered the Control Room.

    "My academics," Sibley said. "The Lieutenant's been after me to get my educational credits."

    "You're on watch! When you're on watch you're supposed to be focused on only one thing: watching!"

    "Aw, Chief," Sibley protested. "We're only going Warp 5. That's no strain for the warp core, and the telltales will signal me if there's anything that needs my attention."

    "You don't get it, do you?" Chief asked. He wasn't being his usual blustering self. He was quiet, calm. Patient?

    "Get it?" asked Sibley.

    "Your ship and your crew rely on you, not on your telltales and alarms. You're more sensitive than any sensor, more intuitive than any computer algorithm. You are the primary safety interlock for the whole power and propulsion system."

    The Chief looked at Sibley's face and confusion was written on it. "Come here," he said.

    "Wha..."

    "Put your hands right here," he said, with his palms on the center of the Engineering console.

    Sibley copied him, looking sideways at the Chief.

    "Close your eyes and concentrate. Feel the ship. When you know every vibration she makes, can identify every sound, anticipate her needs and satisfy them, then you truly become an engineer. Engineering isn't about waiting for telltales to tell you there's a problem. Engineering is about feeling your ship, knowing something's not right, and knowing you can solve it before it becomes a danger to the ship or crew. But to know something's wrong, you have to know what she's supposed to feel like when she's running smoothly. You have to focus on your ship, give her your undivided attention. Learn to appreciate her."

    "Chief, I..."

    "Bah," he exclaimed in frustration. "Either you get it or you don't. Where's that EPS maintenance schedule?"

    He grabbed a P.A.D.D. and headed up the stair to the Starboard Passageway. Sibley stood there thinking for a while, and then he placed his palms on the console, closed his eyes, and just felt the thrum of the warp core and listened to the ship.

    ***

    "Do you have a minute, Commander?" asked Ensign Tanaka, peeking through the open hatch to the room designated "Administration Office" on its nameplate.

    "Come in, ensign," he said with a smile. "I've been planning to talk to you, but I'm still trying to create order from chaos here. What's on your mind?"

    "I.. Is it normal, sir... You see, since that day..." The Ensign appeared to be struggling to say something, and the Doctor waited until the Ensign fell silent.

    "Is it something that you dream of repeatedly?" the Doctor asked.

    "Yes, I... wanted to ask if it's normal to... dream."

    "Close the hatch and take a seat," the Doctor said. "Why don't you tell me about the dream?"

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    "I want to know everything there is to know about those weapons," Lee said to the Lieutenant.

    "Yes sir," she said.

    "And keep a sharp eye out. By now Savaria knows about the Kestrel, and she knows about us."

    "Yes sir."

    "I want both chiefs to find out all they can about those weapons..."

    "Is there a reason you're repeating yourself, sir?" Mirra asked. When he hesitated she said, "We'll be fine. We've deployed the probes; nothing with a cloak is going to get within sensor range of this planet without us knowing. We'll be fine, sir. Brock can take care of Chuss until Doctor Sar gets back, I can take care of the ship, and Doctor S'lott can take care of the crew."

    "All right. Be alert for traps."

    "Yes sir," she said as Lee stepped onto the transporter pad with Dr.Sar, Deputy Star, and Crewman Aktay.

    "Tantalus confirms readiness for transport," Mason said. "The outer shield is down. You'll materialize on the surface near a small building."

    "Energize," Lee said.

    "The Skipper's worried about something," Mason said as the transport was completed.

    "Us," Mirra replied. "Mister Chuss has already taken a shot meant for him, and he doesn't want us to be next."

    ***

    The exterior of the Tantalus Rehabilitation Colony sat on a mesa in the center of a circular crater. Of course, craters don't come in ring-shapes. The massive feature had been carved with a starship's phaser set on full power, and hundreds of thousands of tons of rock had been converted to dust, leaving what could have been a circular canyon on an otherwise featureless dry plain.

    The shield could be seen in the instant it came on as a blue shimmer in the air, but it quickly turned invisible. An unsmiling man in a pale blue jumper with a large logo on the left breast came out of the tiny building in the center of the mesa.

    "I'm Marshal Lee," he said stepping toward the man.

    The man said nothing, but gestured toward the building.

    Lee beckoned his crew and headed toward the open doorway. He paused to examine the burns on the door and the wall, and Lucky scanned them with his tricorder. The silent man just stood and watched them. When they were finished he gestured them inside.

    His silence was contagious, and the rest of the group said nothing as they entered the small room which had on one end a control console and on the other a turbolift. The silent man pointed to the turbolift and he went to a chair behind the console. When the door closed behind them a blue light strobed for a moment, then the turbolift shot downward.

    "Plasma based weaponry on the entrance," said Lucky.

    Lee nodded. "The weapons could be from anywhere, but we'll analyze the signature anyway."

    "Sir, the turbolift," said Crewman Aktay. "It's only controlled from the surface?"

    "One would suppose. We'll know more soon."

    "The facility was designed with the intent of keeping its residents in," Dr. Sar said. "I imagine the concept of a jailbreak from outside was given only cursory thought in the design because Tantalus is primarily a place of healing."

    The turbolift came to a halt and its doors opened. Waiting for them were three staff members wearing the same blue jumper with the open hand with a dove taking flight logo that appeared on the uniform of the man at the surface.

    "Marshal Lee?" asked the woman in the center. She was middle-aged and tending toward stout, with short, iron-grey hair and pale eyes that might have been either green or blue at one time, but which were now the same grey as her hair.

    "I'm Lee," he said, stepping forward to shake her hand. "This is Doctor Sar, Deputy Star, and Computer Technician Aktay."

    "I'm Doctor Alice Kreig, Facility Administrator. With me are Doctors Joachin Melenza and Farzana Sikdar. I'm sorry we meet at such an unfortunate time. An event such as we experienced... unprecedented."

    "And yet all too predictable," Lee said. "I am curious as to how a pair of such recalcitrant criminals ended up at a facility which has the mission of dealing with psychological causes of criminal behavior rather than cultural ones."

    "We don't pick our patients," Doctor Melenza said. "They were assigned to our facility by the court. We were under the impression they were remorseful and seeking to become contributing citizens through therapy. Both were extremely cooperative during their stay."

    "May I?" Deputy Star asked, holding his tricorder up.

    "If you like," Doctor Kreig said. "We want to cooperate with your investigation as much as we can, so long as it doesn't further interfere with the treatment of our patients. We've had quite a few setbacks. If you wish, we've prepared a briefing for you. What we know, and what we have been able to piece together since the attack."

    "Please lead the way," Lee said. As he followed the doctors he said, "Keep up, Lucky."

    Deputy Star snapped his tricorder closed and followed the group into the faciliy.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    Chuss lay prone on the biobed in sickbay, awake again. It wouldn't be long before the next round of drugs were injected and he would fall asleep, but until then he was going to have to endure boredom. People thought that Caitians in general, and he in particular, were able to endure long periods of boredom due to their ability to remain motionless and wait for prey. But it was not boredom one endured then, it was fixation. A hunting species must remain alert while waiting, interpreting every sound, noticing every falling leaf, smelling every scent, even feeling the vibrations of the ground beneath his feet. Fixation was a heightened state of awareness no human could understand.

    In his condition in the biobed there was nothing upon which to fixate. There were no targs which might come within reach of his claws, no leaper-bucks, no burrowing far'r'thess. Only the incessant drone of the biofunctions monitor and the occasional movements of his medic as Brock went about his daily maintenance routine.

    The nerve block on his spine was just below the branching of the nerve which allowed his heart and lungs to function. He had use of his arms, but could not use them to lift himself up because just below the nerve block there was a vertebra which had been shattered and was now in the process of regeneration, along with the severed spinal cord that ran through it. He could reach a drink with a straw on the tray below him and he could reach the pan if he wished to spit.

    The hatch to Sickbay cycled and Chief Voght stepped into the compartment carrying a case.

    "Hey, Chief," Brock said and went back to his task.

    "Heard you were malingering," said Voght, and she slid the case under Chuss' bed.

    "What is this?" Chuss demanded.

    "Masha wanted me to set this up for you. It's a project she's been working on. Says you know about it. Anyway, she wants you to check her work for accuracy."

    "I can only imagine how the tales have gotten garbled in translation. Human language lacks nuance."

    "What is it anyway?"

    "If I'm right, it's a hero's tale translated into Standard."

    "Why can't she just use a universal translator?"

    "Because it lacks what nuance the human language does have. Hero's tales are told on many levels."

    "Huh," the Andorian said. "On Andor lineages and fights are about all we make tales of."

    "Then we have much in common."

    "I'll leave you to your work, then. Brock can get a P.A.D.D. if you need to take notes."

    Voght opened the case, revealing a portable holoplayer, and slid it into comfortable reach of his hand.

    "See you soon," she said as she turned for the hatch. Chuss grunted in reply.

    There were seven data rods in the case: enough to contain an entire library of hero's tales. Chuss had not told her that many. Curious, he plugged in the leftmost data rod and turned on the player.

    Masha's voice and image appeared saying, "In the reign of Lord Chuut, sired by Lord R'r'mar', son of Lord Am'm'm, patriarch of the Forest of the Golden Trees Which Touch The Clouds, a hero died without a name. His nameless son who had one green eye had yet to come of age. When he found his dead father he wailed for his loss for his father was all of the young kit's world.

    "Beside his father's corpse lay the Qith'Pa who had slain him, and the weapon: a gun. By the treaty with the Qith'Pa, in a duel of honor, to use a weapon the foe does not possess brings great dishonor. The Qith'Pa were clawless, and allowed to use metal claws against a hero, who was born with weapons as sharp and as deadly as the knives of the Qith'Pa.

    "The kit examined his father's foe and discovered that though he bled from a dozen slashes, he was still alive. And it came to him that there was a thing he could do which would bring shame onto this Quith'Pa and his clan, and all his children. He bound the Qith'Pa and took all his weapons, then carrying the creature the kit made his way to the Hall of Shifting Shade where the patriarch held court..."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    Administrator Kreig stood at the head of a standard conference room table, with Lee and his team on one side and the station's leadership team on the other. She looked along the table, took a deep breath, then began to give her presentation.

    "The attack began when the unknown vessel deployed four devices which, when they landed outside of our perimeter, drained our shields. Our first awareness of a problem was the alarm on the power generators' monitor, which is separate from the central core. Power output was at maximum and the generators, which usually provide enough power that we can operate one with the other in standby, were being overloaded and still were unable to produce sufficient power to maintain the defense and internal control force fields. Even activating the emergency generator failed to compensate for the power drain.

    "Engineer Loram called for an on-site evacuation of staff. It's a standard riot procedure for which we drill, but we have never had to use it until two days ago. The staff accommodations are separated from the patient facilities in case of riot, and are defended by duranium isolation doors with manual locks.

    "Automatic isolation doors of similar composition should have sealed off the wards, but they failed to activate. The force fields failed, and the patients in the isolation zones were able to move throughout the facility. With unfortunate results. Seventeen patients were killed, and a good many more have been set back in their rehabilitation, perhaps by years.

    "What followed was nothing less than astonishing: we were invaded. Normally the only access to the surface is via the elevator. It is possible to transport into the facility directly, but our hard-shielding, we're under a layer of magnetic hematite, makes transport difficult without a transport pattern enhancer, and we intentionally don't bring any into the facility.

    "Instead, the invaders took control of our upper station where our planetary communications and elevator controls are located and killed three of our technicians before the fourth unlocked the elevator for them. We don't know exactly how many came down, but the two Orion females were taken to the surface where the elder was murdered with a plasma weapon. She was left where she fell, but at least a dozen patients are still unaccounted for and we suspect they went with the raiding party.

    "Afterward, a patient was left in charge of the elevator, and he operated it to bring another thirty patients to the surface where some attempted to escape into the desert. Most of the rest simply wandered around on top of the mesa. The technician who unlocked the elevator was allowed to live by the raiders, but was subsequently killed by the escaping patients.

    "It took us another two days to gain control of the facility and to get a team to the surface where they regained control of the elevator and began to round up the escapees. Food was the critical factor: there is nothing to eat on the surface and the technicians come down to the dining hall here for meals or have them brought up if they're on duty.

    "The two days between our first report to the Bureau of Penology and your arrival we have spent cleaning up and attempting to reestablish the routine. Much of what I've just reported was compiled from patient interviews after the fact but our staff was on lockdown, except for those who were killed, and our internal communications and monitoring systems were inoperative.

    "I'm sure you have questions."

    ***

    The central computer of the Tantalus facility wasn't very large, or very sophisticated. It had been built on duotronic circuitry over a century ago. Crewman Aktay had done her homework, and part of the luggage she carried was a replicated A3 Interface Module which would allow her to directly interface her portable comp with the station computer, and allow her to use her powerful analytics programs to break down the code on which the station computer functioned. The trick would be to do so without disabling any portion of the station's operation.

    "It's an old dance, Masha, and you know the steps."

    "Hm?" asked the facility's computer technician. He was cute in an older, married, kind of way. Hopefully her future husband would age as well, with the grey sideburns and the widow's peak.

    "Sorry, mumbling to myself," she said. "I'll get set up and get to work. How long has it been since the last maintenance cycle?"

    "Seven or eight weeks. They're usually scheduled every twelve months, give or take availability of the crew to do it."

    Masha opened her case and began to assemble the A3.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    Lucky had been given the task of reconstructing the crime, which he felt was rather pointless since the staff had already done so. It was a Norman Newguy chore, but it had to be done because there were no holorecords of the event. He would have to rely upon forensics and upon the questionable testimony of the patients, some of whom would be interviewed by the Marshal and Dr. Sar. To some degree his job was to verify or refute the verbal testimony. You could do a lot with forensics, and that began with full scans of everything. It was tedious, but quite necessary. Today was going to be a long day.

    "Hi," he said to the technician seated behind the control console in the upper reception building at the top of the elevator. "I'll just be doing some scans, if you don't mind."

    The technician looked at him but said nothing. Lucky went about performing his scan. He would have to scan the entire building, then go out and scan the top of the mesa. It was going to be a long day.

    ***

    The two chiefs were busy. Neither spoke much, other than about sharing tools from their toolkits. Crewman Sibley had performed scans of the device, then beamed to the next sites to scan the other three devices. One might assume they were the same, but if any differences became apparent the two chiefs would dissect them as well. For now they concentrated on dismantling the one.

    It wasn't a simple case of taking it apart and getting holos of the components; they had to know how it worked. So each component had to be identified, its function in relation to the overall device determined, and its control pathways established. And if they were lucky they would find a 'black box' type device which held its central processing core. Such a device would yield the basic control parameters as well as the specific instructions the device had been given prior to its launch.

    There was carbon scoring all through the device. It had badly overheated, whether during atmospheric entry or while performing its function of draining the station's power. The optronic fibers had survived; they were made of silica.

    Chief Voght was wearing work gloves which were quickly stained black, and the carbon made visibility in the dark recesses of the device difficult. A tiny reflection in the depth caught her attention. Shading the access from the sun she realized it was an internal indicator light.

    "Why would an unmanned device need an indicator light?" she asked herself.

    "What?" asked Chief Garadda. "Maintenance?"

    "Hand me the circuit diagnostic probe, would you?" she asked.

    He passed the wand to her over the casing of the device and went headfirst back into the access he had been working in. She synched the tool to her tricorder then began to isolate the only powered circuit she had found so far. The tiny white light blinked three times quickly, and again.

    "What did you do Chief?" she asked as it triple-blinked a third time.

    Then it blinked blue three times. Her diagnostic program completed the circuit diagram. Three blue blinks. Voght examined the diagram, and something nagged at her; she recognize this diagram. Three blue blinks. This was a trigger circuit!

    She tapped her combadge as the light blinked green three times.

    "Emergency beamout!" she shouted. Chief Garadda pulled his upper torso from the access and looked at her.

    ***

    From across the artificial crater Sibley heard an explosion. A black cloud had already begun to climb to the sky by the time the sound reached him. He tapped his combadge and began to scan in the direction of the explosion with his tricorder.

    "Kestrel, Sibley here. I just heard an explosion at Alpha site."

    ***

    Dr. Sar had been escorted to the base medical facilities where he was to perform the autopsies. After an examination of the clinic he almost wished he could perform them in his sickbay on the Kestrel. The space was cramped, the tools antiquated, and the morgue consisted of stacked stasis pods containing the twenty-two victims of the prison break.

    Of course, with fewer than one hundred fifty people in the facility, including staff, a large medical facility was not required, but one came to expect shore facilities to be a bit more elaborate.

    He had argued that the young deputy should be involved in the examinations, but Lee's reply had been, "Not until he's cleared by Doctor S'lott."

    With Brock tending the recovering Chuss, that left him to do the examinations alone. Well, not alone. There was Dr. Cetek, a Xindi Arboreal, who had offered his services as lab technician. Even with the doctor's help, performing twenty-two autopsies was going to be time-consuming.

    "May as well begin at the top," he said. "Doctor Cetek, will you help me with this stasis pod?"

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    For the interviews Lee had been given the use of a small lounge. It had a pair of chairs, a couch, and a refreshments resequencer of the old-fashioned kind. It even had Nutri-Cubes on the menu!

    "Why not?" Lee asked, and generated a platter of the red, orange, and green cubes. He set them on the low table between the chairs and sat, taking a green one to sample the preferred snack food of centuries past.It had the consistency of cheese and the flavor of... melon? Something mild and slightly sweet.

    He rose when the door opened and his first subject arrived, a human male of small stature. Barnette Haskel, 160 cm tall, perhaps 60 kilos mass, nervous.

    Lee nodded to the orderly who closed the door behind him, presumably to wait outside. Someone on the staff was, of course, watching on the remote holocams, and, of course, the interview was being recorded.

    "Mister Haskel," Lee said. "Thank you for coming. Please, have a seat. I took the liberty of repl... ah, synthesizing, a snack if you would like, o feel free to synthesize something else if you prefer. I don' know if they've told you, but my name is Mashal Lee. I'm a Federation Marshal," Lee pointed to his badge. "Most people are unfamiliar with the Service, but I can tell you about us if you are curious."

    "Federation Marshal," the patient said in a whiney voice that tended to draw out the terminal syllable of words. "Mandated by the Federation Charter as a protective body for the Federation Judiciary, responsible for the persons of the Court system, including those held for Federation crimes."

    "Very good! then you don't need me to explain why I'm here, and why I want to ask you a few questions."

    "The escape, and th-th-th-"

    "Yes. Exactly." Lee took a seat on the couch opposite the patient. "Are you comfortable? Good. I'm not here to pin blame on anyone, or to have anyone's sentence altered. That process has nothing to do with me. The people I want to catch are the ones who escaped."

    "Fugitives of justice," the nervous man said.

    "Exactly. So I want you to feel you can be completely honest and open here. You know those who escaped are very dangerous, and they will hurt more people. You can help me stop them. And don't worry, they won't be coming back here. This facility is for people who want help. We send the hard cases to places where they can be secured to insure they never get out."

    "I'll try, but I've already told Doctor Mariss everything I know."

    "I appreciate that, and I'm sure Doctor Mariss did a thorough job in interviewing you, but I have to do my job. I want to start with the moment you realized something was wrong. What happened?"

    "I suppose that would have been when the lights began to dim. They flickered on and off for a minute, then went dark. I realized the force fields to the individual cells were down because they have a blue tell-tale that lets you know to avoid them, and that was off too. Other people realized that too. I heard Rozini scream: somebody was beating him. I didn't see anyone, but I knew it was Mal'tk. He always swore he was going to kill Rozini. There was a lot of screaming. Other people were being hurt, and some were just screaming out of fear. I knew Mal'tk would be looking for me next, and I realized the containment doors hadn't closed because I could hear screams from far away, so I ran towards the administration zone. I thought they might be able to protect me, you see."

    "Very quick thinking on your part," Lee said, nodding. "And then?"

    "Wellll... I guess I made a wrong turn because I ended up on the I corridor where the females are held..."

    "Accidentally?" Lee asked.

    "I was knocked down by someone in the dark and lost my sense of direction. Some others had gotten there first. When the lights came on there were... there were... f-f-f... oouurr... b-b-bodies. The Orion woman, she was... she... I..."

    "Take your time, Lee said. I know this is hard to talk about."

    "She k-k-illed themmm. And she was going to k-kill meee. The old one said, 'No, he's our hostage,' and so she just grabbed me by the arm. She's very strong." He pulled up the loose sleeve of his tunic and showed a huge bruise, now turning yellow and brown.

    "That looks quite painful," Lee said, admiring the contusion.

    "She jerked me around a lot. I think she liked it when I... It hurt, you know."

    "Perfectly understandable," Lee said. "Where did she take you then?"

    "The lights... emergency lights... they were starting to come on and she took me straight to the elevator. Everyone was running around, looking for a place to hide, or someone to hurt, or just because they could. They were doing whatever they wanted. By the time the power came back on the elevator was opening and this group of people with guns came out. I remember a Nausican who s-shot someone for no reason. People screamed and ran away.

    "We all went in the elevator and up to the surface. There were more armed people on top. One of them was at the console and he said the shields were down and he had control of the station computer, so the Orion dragged me over to the console and called out a list of names in the intercom and told them to report to the elevator if they wanted a ride off the planet.

    "It took three trips for everyone to get to the surface that they wanted. Dan Sanford was one of them, and I said, 'Dan, what do they want you for?' but he just grinned at me and went out the door. Some of the ones... some who came up... who weren't on the list... th-th-theyyyy sh-sh-sh-shot."

    "Then what happened?" Lee asked.

    "Thennn the... the... one... the one who w-wass on the console, he s-s-said," Lee watched the man tremble as he tried to speak.

    "He s-said, 'M-mistressss, sh-shalll I sh-sh-shoot thiss one?'"

    Lee waited for him to go on.

    "She saaid, 'No, let him run the elevator for whoever wants to come up.' So I did. I didn't want her to change her mind."

    "How long did you run the elevator?" Lee asked.

    "Two days. There was nothing to do, nowhere to go, and it was boring. Some wanted to go back down, some wanted to go up. I just ran the elevator until Orderly Vanien came up with a group and took us down. I was really hungry, you see, and they said they had the hospital secured."

    "Okay," Lee said. "I want to ask some questions, and I hope you'll bear with me. I jut want to be certain I have the story straight. Now, when the lights went off, you said you were in bed?"

    "No," said Haskel. "I was at my table drawing."

    ***

    In the Staff Briefing Room where the holocube had been set up to receive the transmission from the interview room, three staff members were assembled to view Lee's interview.

    "Very good," said Dr. Mariss.

    "Hmm?" asked Dr. Travis.

    "He's very good. Prompting the patient to correct him, thereby forcing the patient to recall overlooked details. He's been trained."

    "He's a policeman," Dr. Froelich said.

    "For a policeman he'd make a good therapist," said Mariss. "Let's see what else he knows that a policeman shouldn't."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    The Bolean psychiatrist found Crewman Aktay with Deputy Chuss when he entered the sickbay.

    "I'm sorry to intrude," he said. "I heard you were injured so I was just stopping by to pay my respects."

    "No intrusion, Commander," Aktay said. "We were just discussing some stories I've been translating from Caitian. It seems I've missed a few important details."

    "Nuance and subtlety aren't human characteristics," Chuss said. "Except for Lee. He seems to understand."

    "I'm afraid they aren't Bolean traits either." His curiosity at Chuss' qualification piqued, and he asked, "What is it you're trying to understand?"

    "Well, the Caitian concept of honor," Aktay said. "It seems poorly defined. It's something you're expected to 'get,' unless you don't have any, and by the fact that you don't 'get it' you demonstrate your lack of it."

    "A classic double-bind," Dr. S'lott said. "Humans have them. As an example, in Starfleet you are expected to follow orders, but you are also expected to innovate. In society you are expected to conform, but you are also expected to be an individual. My own people have many such conflicting demands."

    "Well, how do you know if you're honorable, and what do you do to become honorable?"

    "You don't 'become' honorable," Chuss said. "Either you are, or you are not. You show it in your everyday life."

    "As Commander Lee demonstrates his professionalism and his dedication?" the Bolean asked.

    "Well, yes," Masha said, "But he was taught those things in Starfleet Academy."

    "You aren't taught those things, they make up a part of who you are," Chuss insisted.

    "I disagree," the Doctor said. "You are taught those ideals at an age where you absorb them subconsciously and they become part of you. Absent that early life instruction anyone can become monster, and with it anyone can become a hero."

    Chuss turned his head sideways so he could better see the doctor from his prone position on the biobed. "There are natural tendencies," he said.

    "Indeed, there are. But these are subverted by culture. A natural tendency to violence can be trained to serve a law enforcer or a thug, as an example."

    "I was never trained to be honorable," Chuss insisted.

    "There are many ways to train. Veneration of heroes, role models, parables depicting the desired behavior, peer pressure. Society influences us in countless ways, most of which we aren't even aware, unless we become students of the sociological and psychiatric sciences."

    "So you're saying that Caitians only teach honor to the very young?" Masha asked.

    "I'm not a student of Caitian social development, so it would take me some years of study before I made such a pronouncement, but it is a general trend of societies. One way to determine if this is the case would be the comparison of the various Caitian colony worlds for their different interpretations of honor."

    "How would you go about doing that," Masha asked, "If they don't talk about it because everyone just 'knows' if someone is honorable?"

    "A study of their literature and entertainment might be a place to begin. As it seems you already have if you are arguing an interpretation of a story."

    "So, then explain why you say Hired Warrior With The One Green Eye lacks honor?" Akltay demanded of Chuss. "He does everything his Lord demands of him, and never gets his name."

    "Lacking honor, he cannot earn a name, no matter how great his deeds."

    "So no matter what he does, it's all for nothing?"

    "He is Hired Warrior, a paid servant and nothing more. Lord Chuut buys his loyalty, and a person of honor cannot be bought."

    "If he has no honor, why doesn't he just betray Lord Chuut to one of his enemies in exchange for a name?"

    "Because there is something the Mountain Lout values even more than lands, titles, and names. Translate the Story of The Blazing Herd. You will find your answer in Lord Chuut's Triumph at Fire Grasses."

    As the pair resumed their interrupted discussion the Doctor thought it might be a good time to slip out. His intent in coming was to cheer up the injured crewman, but it seemed he was already being treated by someone with better qualifications.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    [out of story]

    I want to thank patrickngo for his contributions to my fanfic. We've been conversing elsewhere and he submitted a brilliant story based on my Chuss character. I stole it and put it in, in a much altered form. Of course, being patrickngo, he delved deep into the world he was creating and there are now several pages of stories which as yet have not come to light, in addition to what he has posted in his Fan fiction and world building exercise thread.

    I leave it to patrickngo to decide if and how the unpublished works should be made public.

    [/oos]
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    edited February 2019
    Lucky was prepared. He knew where everyone had fallen, and what happened to them before and since the attack. He had conferred with Dr. Sar and confirmed his findings with the autopsies. He nodded to Dr. S'lott as he entered the Briefing Room and took a seat at the end of the conference table.

    One of the crewmen entered, an engineer... Shipley?

    "How's your audio, Mister Chuss?"

    "Good. Thanks Sibley."

    Crewman Sibley tapped some commands into his P.A.D.D. and a holographic starship appeared over the table. "Okay, what's your display showing?"

    "A Tellarite Gem-class freighter."

    "Perfect. I can't wait to use that one on the Kestrel. Okay, anything else you need, give a shout."

    "What's that piece of junk?" growled the Tellarite engineer as he entered the briefing room. He stopped at the bar and poured off a tall glass of dark ale before he took his place at the table.

    "Should you be drinking that, Chief?" asked Sibley.

    "Should you be mining your own ore?" he replied.

    The extremely tall Andorian weapons expert came in next with the very short Dr. Sar. Depending on how one looked, either she appeared freakishly tall or he appeared abnormally diminutive, and Lucky found himself scaling them by the height of the door and the bar.

    "...your opinion on record so we don't..." she was saying as they entered, but she stopped when she locked eyes with Dr. S'lott.

    "Not a problem, Voght," Dr. Sar replied as he took his seat and smiled at everyone at the table. Chief Voght went around the table to sit beside the other chief.

    Sibley placed his P.A.D.D. on the table and said, "I guess I should let you folks do what you do. I'll leave this here if anyone wants to relay images to Mister Chuss."

    "Not so fast," the Skipper said entering the room. "Pull up a seat, Sibley. You're on the team. We're missing Crewman Aktay..."

    As if summoned Crewman Aktay entered the room, still working on her report, apparently, reading the tablet in her hand as she made her way to the table.

    "Okay," Lee said. "Mister Friday, please record."

    "Aye, sir," the A.I. said.

    "I heard you chiefs had a close call today," he said to open the discussion.

    "Mason was on the transporter," Voght said, and shrugged.

    "I assume the booby-traps on the other three devices were disarmed?"

    "Oh, aye," said Garadda dismissively.

    "So, what are they?" Lee asked.

    "Aceton assimilators," Voght said. "They weren't tube-launched by any torpedo tube I've heard about. Far too large for that. Either they were launched via a small-craft catapult, or more likely they were dropped from orbit by just rolling them out of the hangar. It would have taken a fairly good navigator to put them on the right course to come down together like they did, but with the targeting computer I think I could do it."

    "How do they work?"

    "Absorb coherent energy and convert it to heat," Garadda said. "The technical answer is just about that simple. An aceton energy field is a hole in virtually any other kind of energy field, and the device that generates the affected energy field has to produce more and faster than the assimilator can convert it to heat. Nadion, photonic, electromagnetic, gravitic: the assimilator don't care."

    "We target them with torpedoes when used by an enemy," Voght said. "Theoretically. I've never encountered one in combat. You don't want to use a phaser because the assimilator will draw more power than the weapon is designed to emit, and either burn out your emitter or drain your capacitors, or both."

    The voice of Chuss said, "Klingon weapon based on Menthar designs. Relics of the Menthar version are still floating around from the Promellian War era over a thousand years ago."

    "Were these thousand-year-ole relics?" Lee asked.

    "They weren't even thousand day old relics," Garadda answered. "They were manufactured less than two months ago according to my metallurgical scans. An industrial replicator was used, and if I had access to the replicator I could prove it was the one that made them by comparison of its replication errors."

    "The weapon used Orion iconography," Voght added, "And the white/blue/green color code for safe/caution/danger."

    "So to sum it up," Lee said, "They manufactured four of these devices and shoved them off their ship, timed to land in a circle around the shield, drain it, and open the way for them to enter the facility."

    "Not quite, sir," Sibley said.

    "What am I missing?"

    "The placement, sir. They didn't just shove them out of an airlock. If you'd look at Diagram S1, you'll see that they aren't in a square, or even close. You might think they had bad aim. If so, they got lucky."

    Sibley tapped the P.A.D.D. he had set on the table earlier and a 3D map of the entrance to the facility sprang into place on the conference table.

    "See how three are slightly clustered to the northeast? and this one, Charlie, is off from being opposite the center of the others by about twelve degrees. And so what? You might ask. I did."

    Sibley clicked the P.A.D.D. again, and three translucent spheres formed, buried in the ground with only their tops showing. The crowns of each sphere almost perfectly coincided with the location of one of the four assimilators, with the ones labeled Alpha and Delta on each side of the largest sphere.

    "Alpha and Deta bracket the main power plant, a pair of 22 Megawatt fusion generators. Together they might have been able to overload a single assimilator, but with two assimilators they didn't have a chance. It's a good thing the local operations chief shut them down or they'd be slag and a radiation hazard now. Bravo here sits atop the base shield capacitors and the Emergency Power Plant, which is an APU... Atomic Power Unit, that is. Much lower power output, virtually unkillable, unless you absorb the radiation from its pile, umm, that is, the core, which is a stack of radioactive bricks. And Charlie, way over here, sits on the internal force field capacitors.

    "Whoever dropped these was extremely accurate in their placement, and they knew the internal layout of the facility. Move any of these assimilators by a few dozen meters and the base might be able to resist or even overload the devices."

    "The facility plans aren't public data, but it is an old facility," Lee said. "How did you get them?"

    Sibley sat back in his chair. "Spoke to Chief Loram, sir."

    "Looks like they need a refresher on Security Protocols too." Lee leaned back and looked around the table, then said, "Okay, Crewman Aktay, are you finished with your preliminary report yet?"

    "Sorry, sir," she said, setting her tablet down. "It's going to take another three days to complete the audit. What I can tell you now is that there was a computer maintenance cycle fifty-two days ago, and the automatic logs of the event were erased. The maintenance was three months ahead of schedule for the facility. It's going to take parsing a few million lines of code to find out what, if anything, was altered at that time."

    "So where are we now?" Lee asked.

    "Sir, I looked into the station's automated functions first, and it looks like the code that locks down the station in the event of a low-power event was delinked. It's a duotronic system, sir, so the computer operates off of antiquated binary code and ladder-logic. The system has no heuristic capability to analyze itself and correct errors. Delete a link to the code and the processor can read the presence of the data for self-diagnostics purposes: it won't trigger a coding error. But when the algorithm fires, that rung of the ladder is simply bypassed as if it wasn't there."

    "So the lockdown protocol was deliberately altered," Lee said.

    "Aye, sir. Seven weeks ago."

    "Seven weeks ago they didn't even have custody of the K'mtaa Matriarchs," Lee said. "And yet they knew and planned for this."

    "Lee, they might have done the same to a half-dozen other locations," said Chuss. "Security would be higher after the Orions arrived, so doing the same trick in all of the places they would likely be sent would let them prepare before the security teams are alert."

    "Good point. After this meeting I want you to prepare a report for the Bureau of Penology alerting them to the potential security breach. And then I want you to personally contact the local facility administrators as well, in case the bureau is slow to share the report."

    "Busy work?" asked Chuss.

    "Why not?" Lee said with a grin. "You aren't going anywhere for another... How long Croaker?"

    "Two days," said Dr. Sar. "Then he can move about with prosthetic support. There will be rehabilitation therapy and further reconstruction for another fourteen days following that before I begin to assess him for full duty. And don't worry, Chuss, you'll have a beauty of a scar to show off."

    "Who wants a scar on his back?" growled the Caitian.

    "All right then," Lee said. "You're up next, Croaker."

    "So far, nothing of interest to report. The facility is not designed to handle nineteen corpses, and the local doctor is not a forensic pathologist, but so far I have found no outstanding defects in his reporting. Plasma burns are easily determined, as are blunt-force injuries. I am, of course, performing a complete autopsy in all cases, but so far, there have been no toxicology issues or other causes of death. I've completed five of the nineteen cases so far, with sample testing currently being performed, though I don't expect any results from them."

    "Everyone died pretty much the way the Administrator described, then?" Lee asked.

    "So far as I can tell."

    "You're up, David." Lee said.

    Lucky took a deep breath, then stood up. "In eight cases the deaths were caused by powerful plasma weapons at extremely close range, most notably, two in the lower reception area near the elevator and the Orion Matriarch Lavina on the surface. These weren't pistols. I'm running a comparison now of the damage, but at first glance they appear to be Romulan Tagor Carbines: what Starfleet labels the Type 3A(R) assault plasma rifle. All five of the remaining plasma weapon kills were done on the surface, while the victim was running away.

    "Three of the deaths, including that of the fourth facility guard, were caused by falls into the chasm around the reception facility on the surface. The two patients while climbing the walls, and the guard from a fall from height.

    "We were told that the guard was killed by patients on the surface, but this cannot be the case. There is no way, with muscle power alone, they would have been capable of hurling him the fifteen meters necessary to avoid striking the slope of the wall several times in his descent. It is far more likely he was pushed off of an airborne vehicle of some kind.

    "Four of the deaths occurred in the desert due to dehydration. Four were killed by repeated blunt-force blows to the head from a person who is left-handed. The most severe injuries all occur on the right side of the victims. It is likely that all four of these victims were killed by the same killer due to the similarity of the attacks: a right-hand choke-hold, and a left hand strike. We will have to print the accused's right hand and match that print to the observed contusions to verify. Of course, since the perpetrator used bare hands, his own wounds will have resulted in DNA on the victims as well.

    "So, in conclusion: One patient was responsible for four deaths, each of six others were responsible for their own deaths, and all of the rest were killed by the attackers.

    "I have requested that the Kestrel's sensors be used to search the desert for any more bodies which may be out there. There are still twelve patients unaccounted for, and all of them may be with the raiders, or some of them may still be out there undiscovered."

    Lucky took his seat again and tried not to show the release of tension he felt with all of the assembled eyes on him.

    Chuss asked, "You're certain the guard couldn't have fallen or been thrown off the cliff?"

    "No sir. I have a diagram of the location... How do I..."

    "If you will call up the image on your P.A.D.D. I will do the rest," the ship's A.I. said. Lucky fumbled with the P.A.D.D. for a moment, then it produced the file he wanted, and Friday had it displayed on the table almost instantly.

    "As you can see," Lucky said, pointing to the slope on the hologram, "He'd have hit the ground several times before coming to a stop at the bottom. He may not even have made it to the bottom.

    "Ah," Chuss said, "So, he was a conspirator, and the Orions had no further use for him."

    "I hesitate to make that assumption..."

    "But it fits the pattern," Lee said. Good work. "Doctor S'lott, I hope you enjoyed your visit to the facility."

    "It was interesting, to say the least. As per your request, I quietly probed the staff without causing alarm. I'm sure the psychiatrists knew what I was doing, but for most of the staff I was just a curious visitor. They are traumatized by the events, naturally. Surprisingly, psychiatrists are as easily traumatized as anyone else in such conditions, though they have access to mental health care and are actively engaged in post-trauma treatment. I could not identify any individual who was unaffected by the situation, as one might expect a collaborator to be. While I am reluctant to declare any of them innocent, I am unable to identify any who act guilty. I will, of course, continue to observe."

    "Thank you, Doctor." Lee looked around the table. "My turn. I've conducted six interviews. With another seventeen scheduled, plan for at least three more days. What I'm getting is a broad picture of what happened, and it's very similar to that given by Administrator Kreig. The only details I've been able to nail down are the order of events and the nature of the ship and the raiders.

    "The ship itself was probably just a landing craft from a larger vessel. It was, by the description, an Orion Assault Shuttle. They are heavily armored and shielded vessels with a crew of two and acceleration couches for another twenty, with some gear which makes them effective at forced entry into a starship. They haven't been used much in the last century, but the K'mtaa group apparently had access to a lot of older gear.

    "The raiding party which went down into the facility was composed of two Naussicans, a Bolean, a Klingon, and two Orion Males. They left another four on the surface, three Orion males and a human, and an unknown number inside their assault craft.

    "Aside from the automated 'restricted zone' buoys there are no orbital or system traffic monitors to check, so we can't know much about the ship which recovered the landing craft."

    "If they were using an old Cudgel-class Assault Shuttle, the mothership was likely a Lightning or Wanderer class blockade runer," Chuss said.

    "Speculation?" Lee asked.

    "It fits a pattern," Chuss said. "They wanted in and out fast, and they began planning this almost the day after the attack on the K'mtaa base-ship. With that ancient battleship relic as a precedent, you don't think they've been stashing surplus gear in out-of-the-way corners of the galaxy? Even today the hundred year old Wanderers would be among the fastest ships out there."

    "Agreed but speculative," Lee said. "Okay, any other observations?"

    "We should track down the computer technician who did the last maintenance cycle," said Lucky.

    "Good idea. That's your next job. And while you're at it, identify the rest of that group as well."

    "Yes sir."

    "Okay, let's discuss our plans going forward...."

    ***

    EDIT: I can't believe the common four letter word meaning ditch is converted to TRIBBLE. D*KE is not a bad word! I replced it with Chasm. Let's see if that gets converted.
    Post edited by brian334 on
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    Ensign Tanaka arrived on the bridge fifteen minutes early for his watch to find Lieutenant Mirra on the scanners combing the desert for any missing prisoners.

    "Lieutenant," he said.

    "Early? Good," she said. "Why don't you run up the sensors on the Nav console and start on Grid 11-14?"

    "Aye, sir," he said, heading to the inactive console. "Lieutenant, have you got a minute?"

    "Sure, what's on your mind?"

    "How do you do it? I mean, the Skipper, he's a policeman, and I'm sure he's seen a lot of killing, but..."

    "The pirates?" she asked.

    "I have nightmares..."

    "I do too. And so does the Skipper. It's an occupational hazard," she said. "Look, if it's bothering you, you should talk to Doctor S'lott. I do, and so does the Skipper."

    "You do?" He asked in an astonished tone. "I thought..."

    "I'm not made of steel, and neither is he. Look, the Doctor can help you. He can teach you coping mechanisms. For one thing, just having someone to talk about it with helps."

    "I do. I mean, I did. I... I don't know if it's helping."

    "Time and effort, Sean." She paused, then said, "Mister Chuss is from a carnivore species. For him, killing is natural. To feel guilt for what he did would be like you feeling guilty for eating a burrito. But you and I? We've never really been exposed to death or killing. And we all too readily identify with the guys who died. It's called empathy, and we have it for a reason. When death doesn't bother you, there's a problem."

    "I thought... I mean, you didn't show it..."

    "I've been taught coping mechanisms." she sighed and then went on, "For me it was less immediately personal. I was a junior weapons officer on the USS Decker. I had just made JG, and I was still working on my Space Warfare Qualification at the time. We were attacked. I was on duty in the forward local phaser control station when power went out on the ship. We lost everything: lights, internal communications, even the grav-plating. I had a target on my console, and I had a charged phaser bank. I fired.

    "For all I knew, we were the only ones still alive on the ship, but the enemy ship was destroyed. They must have dropped their shields, or they went offline just as I fired. We'll never know, because I chose to kill one hundred eleven people rather than allow them to kill us. But sometimes in my dreams it's us. Sometimes I'm slow, or hesitate, or I just can't hit the button, and it's the Decker that explodes.

    "I go through regular counselling sessions, and I stay awake at night sometimes. For me it's faces. When I can't sleep I remember the faces of everyone who was there the day I was given the citation. Everyone who is alive today because I chose them over the unknown attackers. But you'll need to find a coping mechanism that helps you, and you'll need to keep up with the counselling sessions, even when it seems like it's getting you nowhere, because the dreams won't stop until you come to terms with them."

    After she paused he said, "I thought, when I was at the Academy, that I was ready. That I could take it in stride. It's not like that."

    "Let's hope it never gets like that, because as much as it sucks to have the nightmares, it would suck even more to have lost that spark of empathy you can have for your fellow sophonts. Even ones who are trying to kill you.

    ***

    Dr. S'lott sat at the forward-port booth facing aft in the aptly named Skylight Lounge of the Kestrel. He was enjoying the egg-yolk vitriol 'Bennie' had brought him, though she reacted visibly to its odor and the fumes it emitted.

    He was watching her work, not from a professional point of view, but from private curiosity. She had taken his order when he came in by holding a P.A.D.D. (which was almost as large as a tablet) out to him. She then told him to sit, the only word she spoke in the entire process, and she began to program the replicator for the unusual request. She carried the drink to him, holding it on a tray well away from her, and out to the side as she walked, and watched him take his first sip.

    Afterward she had set about preparing a tray of sandwiches using various ingredients from the replicator. She made a small tray with a few sandwiches made with tiny fishes, Earth aquatic creatures, and another small tray with sandwiches made with a brown paste, most likely a yeast product if he knew anything about Earth foods. She put the small trays together on a larger tray and carried the lot out of the galley.

    Apparently Crewman Ben's sister had made a place for herself on the ship. He had asked about it, and discovered that she had just taken it upon herself to act as the ship's chef and waitress. The trays were for those on watch.

    Chief Voght came up the starboard ramp and replicated something, and turned away when she saw him smiling her way.

    "Chief, a moment of your time, please," he said.

    "I'm busy, sir."

    "I can have the Lieutenant schedule a counseling session if you prefer, or we can talk now. I only require a short time."

    She sighed and retrieved a drink from the replicator before stalking toward him. "What can I do for you, sir?" she asked.

    "First, congratulations on making Chief. They say the only promotion harder to get is to Captain."

    Voght didn't respond, so he went on.

    "Look, I know you don't like counselors in general, and you don't like me specifically. That's okay. You don't have any obligation to like me, and it is a personal failing on my part that I always try to be friendly. But I want to assure you that I have no intention of reviewing the decision that allowed Crewman Ben to bring his family aboard. I'm here by invitation of the Skipper and the Lieutenant on issues wholly unrelated to Crewman Ben."

    "So why are you here, sir?"

    "Because there are regulations of the Marshal Service which must be followed in the aftermath of a death caused by an agent."

    "You're here to report on the Skipper?"

    "I suppose so, but more to the point, my role is to evaluate his emotional reaction to the death of a suspect. Taking part in the killing of a sapient being is a traumatic event. Sometimes it affects even veteran agents in unexpected ways. There are things we can do to help the agent overcome trauma, but we're not perfect. Sometimes the result is too much for the agent to bear and he must be withdrawn from active service. I'm sure you can see that in such a case the mental well-being of the person far outweighs the needs of the service.

    "But in the case of your Skipper, there is no need to fear. He is an experienced agent with many years of active duty, and is well versed in the coping mechanisms needed to integrate and recover from such an event."

    "You're here for Mister Star."

    "Only to fulfill the requirement under regulations. If I could not come with you, their other option was to send him back to Earth. Imagine the trauma that alone would cause! In most cases field agents are pulled from the field and put on administrative duty for thirty days following such an event. My being with you allows him to perform his administrative and evaluation period here where he can continue to train to become a part of your crew. And if, during that time, anyone else on the crew wishes to speak to me, I'm always available."

    "You make it sound like you're our savior."

    "If so I have overstated the case. My intent is never to achieve a pre-determined outcome, but to evaluate the person and diagnose based upon that evaluation. Whatever results from that is, as they say, what it is. I'm far more concerned with the mental well-being of my patients than with petty considerations like career choice."

    "Taking away a person's career can do more harm, sometimes."

    "Yes, it can, and that is a fact I am sensitive to in evaluating a person. Let me see if I can restate this: What would you do if you had a torpedo that was going to explode?"

    "I'd launch it."

    "Why?"

    "Not launching it might allow it to explode inside the ship."

    "So, you get rid of a hot torpedo to save the ship?"

    "Naturally."

    "What about a crewman who is about to explode? Not physically, but emotionally."

    Chief Voght stood there looking at him.

    "Like you with a hot torpedo, I want such a crewman off the ship because he could cause great damage to the ship and crew. But he's not a piece of expendable hardware; I want him in a safe environment where we can help him to recover. Sometimes it means taking away his career, but sometimes that is the price to be paid for his sanity.

    "And then there is the issue of suitability for a particular occupation. Sometimes a person's aspirations are not in line with his abilities or nature, and leaving him there creates a liability for the crew. Someone like that not only fails to contribute, but requires additional support from his crewmates, distracting them from the jobs they are supposed to be doing, and infringing upon the readiness of the ship and crew. In almost all cases, such a person is better served being placed in a position within his competence.

    "But neither of these situations apply to Crewman Ben, who is both competent and emotionally equipped to perform his assigned duties. And neither apply to his sister either. She has shown a remarkable adaptability in creating a role for herself on the ship in spite of her less than functional linguistic abilities. In fact, I am beginning to believe much of what I have heard about Pakled is based on a misunderstanding of Pakled psychlogy. But your Lieutenant seems to be busy setting that record straight, and I wish her, and your crewmates, all the good fortune their efforts merit.

    "All in all, I'm rather glad to see that my prediction that the crew would provide adequate support for the family is proving out."

    "You predicted?"

    "Oh yes. In my recommendation to the Ombudsman of the Families Aboard program."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    The communication annunciator chirped on his desk console and Lee said, "Go ahead."

    "Sir, Ensign Tanaka. I have Crewmn Aktay on hold, she asks if you have a moment to speak to her."

    "Still on the planet at nineteen-thirty?" Lee asked. "Put her on."

    "Aye, sir. You're on Crewman."

    "I hope it's good news?" Lee asked.

    "Sir, it's not, but it's important or I'd have waited till the morning. Can you come down here? I mean now?"

    "Trouble?"

    "Yes sir, and I'm afraid if I leave here what I've found will be erased. I..."

    There was a pause as the line went dead, then it went active again and he could hear someone speaking in the distance. "...Unauthorized use of communications equipment. I'm afraid..." The line went dead again, and stayed dead,

    "Mister Friday, have Crewman Mason meet me in Transporter Room 1."

    The chime on his door tweeted. "Enter!" he said as he pulled on a tunic.

    "Marshal, I've found something you might find interesting."

    "David, good. Are you equipped for a trip to the facility?"

    "Yes sir."

    "Good man," Lee said as he tapped out the combination of a wall locker inside of which were several firearms. Lee removed a Type 1 phaser, slipped it into his concealed boot holster, then shut the cabinet. "Let's go."

    "Sir," said Lucky as he followed the Marshal out of the stateroom, "Aren't weapons prohibited?"

    "Yes they are."

    "I... ah."

    "It's okay, Deputy. This is a special case. Crewman Aktay may be in trouble."

    Mason was already in place when they arrived in the Transporter Room.

    "Crewman, I want you to beam us directly to Crewman Aktay's location. Follow the protocols for a normal transport, but when the shield goes down, beam us to Aktay instead of the reception area. If you can't get a lock, Tanaka has the coordinates on the Comm Console."

    "Sir, there's a three meter layer of magnesite... I can try, but you may wind up right back here."

    "Better than being embedded in stone, but Aktay sounded like she was in danger."

    "I have clearance. Ready?"

    "Do it."

    Lucky had time to gulp as the transporter energized. They didn't reappear on the ship. Fortunately, they didn't merge with the magnesite caprock either. They were in an aisle between two rows of old-style computer data banks.

    "Aaaah! You!" shouted a female voice, and the sounds of a struggle could be heard.

    Lee looked around the cabinet, then stepped out.

    "Stop!" he said in an authoritarian voice.

    Lucky stepped from behind the console in time to see Crewman Aktay release the woman she had pinned against the central console. "Tell him what you did!" said Aktay.

    Lucky checked the rest of the room. There were many data cabinets with aisles between them, but there were no obvious persons in the room other than the four of them. He wished for his tricorder then, just in case someone was hiding inside one of the many cabinets.

    The facility operator said nothing, but glared hate at Aktay.

    "If you are accusing her of something," Lee said, "She has the right to remain silent. Why don't we begin with what you think she did?"

    "It was deleted from the active register, sir. Only a handful of people could do that. It was also deleted from the database. Exactly two people could do that: the Station Administrator and the Communications Technician. If she had also had help from the computer Technician she could have removed it from the archives, which is where I found it."

    "What is 'it,'" Lee asked.

    "A communication between D-Block Room 9 and Savin's Planet, dated thirty-seven days ago, and another five days ago. Same number both times."

    "An off-world communication with a prisoner?" Lee stepped toward the console. "David, please stop her if she tries anything. Miss, if you'll step aside?"

    Lee tapped the console and said, "Facility Administrator, please come to the Computer Room. Facility Administrator to the Computer Room." He tapped the console again.

    "Crewman Aktay, can you make a copy of the file from the archive?"

    "I have it on my portable, sir, but I didn't want her to erase the archive file because she could say I made it up."

    "Good work. David, how long has it been since you've rested?"

    "Sir, I've been up since 0430. Crewman Mason likes to begin promptly at 0500."

    "Ah. I'll send a relief down, but until he gets here you're to see to it that no one touches the computer or Crewman Aktay's equipment."

    "Yes sir."

    "You've had a long day, Aktay. As soon as we wrap up I want you to get up to the ship, eat, and rest so you can be back here at 0700 in shape to do some more good work here, understood?"

    "Aye Skipper," she said.

    "We'll have to put someone on watch down here. If Chuss were up to it I'd post him here, but he's sill recover..."

    The door to the computer room opened and Administrator Kreig entered. "Who called... Marshal, didn't you leave almost two hours ago?"

    "Yes, I did. Administrator, did you authorize the prisoner in D-Block room 9 to receive two communications, the first thirty-seven?" He looked to Aktay who nodded. "Thirty-seven days ago, and he second five days ago?"

    "The day of the attack? Most certainly not."

    "Who has authorization codes to delete communication logs?"

    "No one! It's... Ah, I suppose my codes would do it, but I've not used them in that way since I've been here. Or my Communications Technician..." She turned to look at the woman who was beginning to develop a swelling of her left eye.

    "Carol?" she asked, and the technician had the grace to look remorseful.

    "I presume this is Carol Oorth, the Facility Communications Technician?" Lee asked.

    "Carol, what have you done?" Kreig asked, and the technician slumped. Any pretense of fight drained from her. "Yes. Yes, that's Carol," the older woman said.

    Lee said, "Carol Oorth, I am placing you under arrest on suspicion of being accessory to nineteen murders. Other charges may be brought at the discretion of the prosecutor pending the results of a full investigation. You have the right to remain silent. If you choose to waive this right, be aware that anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to competent counsel. You have the right to communicate your status with family, friends, and colleagues at the earliest practical opportunity. I will now place you in restraints for your safety and mine. Please do not struggle or resist."

    Lee expertly bound her thumbs behind her back with a pair of thumbcuffs. "Administrator, if you would like you may accompany us to the ship to insure your employee is well treated and situated."

    "Carol, do you want me to?" she asked.

    The woman only shook her head negatively.

    "I'll be leaving a rotating watch here in the computer room until our analysis of the databanks is complete, just in case there are other accomplices," Lee said. "How long will that be, Aktay?"

    "Tomorrow, sir. Ma'am." Then she added, "It might be a long day."

    "All right then," Lee said. "Is everything set here? Or do you need a few minutes to get ready to come back to the ship?"

    "I'm good, sir."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    Lucky was relieved by Crewman Ladner, with whom he had had little previous interaction.

    "'S alright, sir. We got one name to remember, you got a dozen. Must be tough being the new guy on a ship with such a tight crew."

    "It's only been a few days. I'm not sure how yet if it' rough or not."

    "You picked the right time to come aboard, sir. Last few weeks has been pretty boring. Except for the pirate attack. And the time the Lieutenant almost got ate by a fish. And the time they flew off and left me and Masha on a surveillance buoy to fight off a ship. Come to think of it, there really haven't been any boring weeks. Welcome aboard, sir."

    "Thank you, I think. Do you have a communicator?"

    "Got my badge," Ladner said, indicating his uniform insignia. When the deputy looked confused he said, "It's got a communicator built in, along with a recorder. I stand relieved, sir."

    "Okay, then. Lock the door behind me."

    "Aye, sir."

    Lucky wasn't sure how he felt about someone four years older calling him 'sir' but then he supposed Starfleet Academy graduates had to get used to that too. He paused outside the door until the 'locked' icon flashed on the door panel, then made his way to the elevator for the ride up.

    When he materialized on the Kestrel it was the Marshal at the controls of the transporter.

    "You were going to tell me something before we beamed to the station?" he asked.

    It took Lucky a moment to shift gears, but he answered, "Oh, yes sir. I've tracked down the maintenance team that performed the early maintenance cycle. There were six 'rush jobs' scheduled between the Kmt'aa event and the matrons being sent here. They are a civilian group, sir, but they were rescheduled by a Bureau of Penology employee, a B7 Administrator named Miconia Deol who works..."

    "On Savin's Planet?"

    "You know her?"

    "No, but I'm finding other links to Savin's Planet. I think we'll pay a visit there when we're done here. We're going to arrange for the simultaneous arrest of all of these maintenance personnel and the Administrator, but first I want you to run a check on a comm-code."

    "Simultaneous arrest?"

    "If we have one person arrested it may cause others to flee, and then we have to chase them down. Let's head up to my office so we can get started. I hope you don't mind working late; you can sleep in tomorrow, but the sooner we move on this the less likely our ringleader will have heard about our arrest of their asset in the facility."

    "Aye, sir," he said.

    ***

    "I've been allowed to come check on you," Dr. S'lott said to the incarcerated woman, who now wore an orange jumper in place of the Tantalus Hospital uniform in which she had arrived. She said nothing, but only looked at him.

    "Do you have everything you need? I understand that you can order food and drink, and can have a bed, or whatever furniture you may need. There are books and other entertainments available as well." He paused between sentences, but she gave no replies.

    "I see. Well, if you should wish someone to talk to, ask for Doctor S'lott. I'm not your advocate, so there's nothing private or protected about any conversations we may have, and everything that happens here, as I understand it, is being recorded. But we can talk about anything you'd like to discuss, and I promise not to try to trick you into revelations or self-incrimination."

    He waited, but got no response. "I see," he said. "I will leave you to your solitude, then. Good night, Miss Oorth."

    He turned to leave, and almost turned back when he heard a soft gasp, as of a repressed sob. "They're going to kill him, you know."

    "Kill who?" he asked without turning.

    "My brother. Foster brother, really, but we were raised together."

    "Who are 'they' and why would they wish to harm your brother?"

    "The Orion Syndicate. It's not really one big organization, you know, but they like to play it off that way. Makes it seem more intimidating."

    "I was not aware of that. Why do they want to hurt your brother?"

    "To get back at me. Even if I don't say anything, they'll think I did, and they'll kill James."

    "Are you sure you want to discuss this with me? The Marshal may be in a position to protect your brother."

    "He can't. Jamey got involved when he was a kid. Hanging with the wrong crowd, stupid rebellion stuff, you know? And one thing lead to another. Now he's one of them. I haven't seen him for ten years, then a guy stops by when I'm on vacation and shows me a P.A.D.D. Jamey, saying to do what I was told, or they were going to kill him. I didn't know they were going to kill anybody else, I just wanted to save Jamey..."

    When he turned back she was sitting on the floor, her back to the bulkhead, with tears flowing down her face.

    "It sounds to me like Jamey is responsible for his own fate. 'When you play with fire,' I believe, is the saying." He watched her for a moment, then said, "If you don't want to speak to the Marshal, you can tell me. Where are they keeping Jamey?"

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    Six warrants were issued and four arrests were made. Two bodies were discovered. Of course, the information percolated through to Miconia Deol, whose position within the bureaucracy gave her access to friends in the know. She had a friend who needed to know. She placed the call.

    Advocate Delery answered, and listened. When she was done he said, "Lose no time. Get out now."

    But it was already too late. There had been a seventh warrant. It had her name on it.

    Advocate Delery was heeding his own advice. His personal computer records were being deleted, as was his communications record. But on his way to the door to his apartment he was greeted with the eighth warrant, eagerly enforced by Starfleet Security. He smiled to himself at the inconvenience, but was certain it was little more than an inconvenience when they showed him the subpoena for his records. They could not convict without evidence, and without his records they had no evidence. He calmly allowed the Security flunkies to escort him to their holding facility confident that upon arraignment he would be released for insufficient evidence to hold.

    ***

    "Sir," Lieutenant Mirra said as she entered Lee's quarters, "Respectfully request permission to inform my grandfather of the current situation."

    "Your grandfather?" Lee asked.

    "Sir, Orions hold the family responsible for the acts of individuals. Savaria might try to retaliate against me by harming my family. Properly warned, Beryl Cruise Lines' security division can defend my family."

    "And you think the new Matron of Kmt'aa Cartel is interested in you personally?"

    "Sir, I manipulated her into revealing the location of the ships which were sent to rescue her, and I captured her mother... Okay, that might have worked out to her benefit, but she's going to see me as a personal insult to her and her family, and she's going to want to retaliate against me."

    "And you think she might know about your family?"

    "Mirra isn't exactly a common name, sir."

    "But you didn't give your name, did you?"

    "No sir. I was Lesedi of Nimbus III when we went to the nebula, and later when I tricked Savaria... That's it! Sir, they've gone to Nimbus, looking for a family of ruddy Orions with a daughter named Lesedi!"

    "Ruddy?" Lee asked.

    "Red-haired. A noble caste, if you will. Ruddy is a term of derision used by the lower castes. My grandfather taught us... nevermind about that. Sir! I feel much better now. They're on their way to Nimbus! They have to be."

    "I'll contact the Senior Marshal and obtain permission for you to tell your family anyway. I'm not certain how good the sources of information remaining to the cartel might be. They may not be as credulous as we're imagining, but if they have gone to Nimbus III... Hmm. I don't recall the marshal in that region. Vance? Valiant? I can have the Senior Marshal alert our assets in the region. Maybe they can catch her and the escapees before they do too much more damage.

    ***

    Only lab work was left as Dr. Sar packed the last body back into its stasis tube. Eventually the bodies would be incinerated or delivered to families if any wished to bury them, but for now they were evidence, and had to be preserved. As he had predicted, there were no surprises. Plasma weapons left distinct traces, as did falls, beatings, and dehydration.

    He was glad to have completed the autopsies. Even a forensics pathologist wearied of making the dead talk.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    The marshal's badge was a nine-pointed gold star, unlike the silver shield worn by Lee and the gold one carried by Chuss and sometimes Doctor Sar. He was a very happy marshal.

    "Your advice to tap the communicator and desk console worked perfectly," he said. "As soon as the call came in the advocate began to delete files, and never figured out that he was simply downloading them to us. Saved us a lot of time and effort in finding them for ourselves."

    "I'll pass your thanks along to my Computer Tech. It was her idea, and her coding."

    "If she ever wants to settle down on a planet, Savin's Planet could use someone with her skills."

    "I'll pass that along too. So, we have what we need to charge Advocate Delery and Bureaucrat Deol of nineteen counts of accessory to murder?"

    "Twenty-one. Two suspects were killed before we could arrest them."

    "That's right. I really wanted to question that technician. I'm betting the other was his handler. I don't think the rest of the maintenance team was involved or they'd probably be dead too, but they'll need to be questioned anyway." Lee sighed. "All right, I'm sending you our preliminary reports and we'll have the complete reports compiled when we arrive with Miss Oorth. I expect the prosecutors will be able to build a strong case, but I fear the Syndicate will close ranks and about all we'll get from anything the suspects tell us is a few more dead bodies."

    "We've cut their access to Savin's Planet at least. I won't forget it. I owe you one, Lee."

    "I take payment in the form of a case of your planet's finest," Lee said with a smile. "I only have a few more details to wrap up here. I should be over Savin's in six days give or take a day."

    "Say, speaking of which, I understand you had a case of Earth Gin last time you were here. You wouldn't happen to have another?"

    "I might be able to scrounge up a bottle of Beefeater."

    "I'll see if I can scrounge up a case of Jenever before you get here. See you soon."

    "Lee out," he said as he toggled the viewer off.

    Mirra said, "Twenty-one. And still a dozen missing, and who knows how many more will die before they finally get themselves caught or killed."

    "Having second thoughts about being my Executive?" Lee asked.

    "Oh, no sir," she answered. "I'm glad there's someone out here taking out the trash. It's just... I never imagined it could be so bad. In the Federation, I mean."

    "It really isn't," Lee said. "Perspective is difficult to achieve, especially when you're new to this work. You've been with me just over half a year now, just long enough to see the grit in the cracks of the Federation. But think: the Redemption Island Rehab Colony on Amaranth has a population numbering less than ten thousand, and more than half of them are voluntary, having completed their sentences but remaining in the colony to pursue their chosen work and settle. Here on Tantalus we have a hundred patients. Dangerous ones, to be sure, but only a hundred. With some twenty rehabilitation colonies and another dozen penal colonies and institutions spread across the Federation, we have a population of less than three hundred thousand living convicted criminals, many of whom have completed their terms of rehabilitation.

    "But compare that to the population of the Federation which is just under ten trillion beings. That leaves us with something like one criminal per thirty thousand individuals, and when you compare only those still actively committing crimes or serving sentences, that's one per almost seventy thousand.

    "None of which matters when it's your loved one caught in the crossfire, but statistically, crime is almost not a problem in the Federation as a whole. You've just gotten a front-row seat on the action. Speaking of which, how is your family?"

    "Grandfather is well, though he's going to kill himself if he doesn't retire. He works too hard. My Dad is more exposed, working in the bush as he does, but he's got trained security people too. Grandfather says they are prepared for whatever might come of this."

    "You worry anyway?"

    "Yes sir."

    "I won't say not to. But surely the President of Beryl Cruise Lines has competent security, and Starfleet Security on Earth has been informed to be on the lookout."

    "Aye, sir. I'll try to keep that in mind."

    "All right. Well. Mister Friday tells me we have some ship's business to tend to. Pull up a chair and let's go over the quarterly evals. Once again, Sibley is hitting the ceiling. Hows his academic prep-work?"

    ***

    Dr. S'lott slumped in his chair, trying to make his image smaller as he listened to the young deputy trying to describe his latest efforts and their outcome. He was communicating, but only external information. He wasn't delving into his personal feelings on the issues, and so it was difficult to extract emotional context. Either he was suppressing feelings, or he wasn't having them. In either case, it could be indicative of issues that needed addressing. He would have to focus the young man inward.

    "The recent killings on Savin's Planet, are they the result of your efforts to identify the culprits?" he asked.

    "I don't know, sir. I'm not familiar with the timing. Maybe they were already dead, or already contracted for death, before I became involved. Maybe afterward. I don't know. And I know you want to know how I feel about the possibility. I've been asking myself that question for a while. I still don't know the answer.

    "Sir, I'm a hunter. My father used to take me out to hunt when I was young. Rabbits, hogs, deer. Sometimes ducks or other birds. He wanted to preserve the knowledge, the skills. He wanted me to know where we came from. Most people are disgusted when they learn I hunted. But it wasn't for fun. It was a life lesson, and it taught me that I can kill and still respect the animals I killed. When I have a son, I'm going to teach him to hunt, because until you've eaten the meat of the animal killed and butchered by your own hand you don't know what it means to be whole. To be self-sufficient. Killing is a part of what we are, but it doesn't define us.

    "So, when you ask me how I feel about killing: it's something that sometimes has to be done, no more nor less glorious than any other distasteful but necessary act. I think about that Orion who fell off the balcony to his death, and I accept that he'd still be alive if I hadn't shot him, but how many others would be dead if I hadn't? The Marshal? Mister Chuss? Myself? Shooting him was necessary, and even though I didn't intend to kill him, I don't feel anything about his death. He caused it, not me, by taking the first shot. If he hadn't planned to murder that day he'd still be alive, and I had nothing to do with his choice to murder. I feel more for the quail I shoot than for him, because the quail was just going about its quail business until I decided I wanted to eat it."

    ***

    Crewman Aktay happened to be on the Navigation console running deflector diagnostics when the message came through.

    "Chief, you have mail from Starfleet HQ, BuPers," said Ensign Tanaka.

    "They finally got around to rejecting me," Voght said from Conn.

    "I've sent it to your mailbox. Why don't you open it and see?"

    "Hey!" Masha said. "It might be good news!"

    "Nobody makes chief their first time up," she said.

    "You'll never know until you open it," Tanaka said.

    "Go on, don't be afraid!" Masha teased, which earned a glare from the Andorian.

    "Oh, all right, I won't get a moment of peace from you two until I do." Voght grumbled and she began to manipulate the communication circuit on the port-side control panel. The letterhead of Starfleet replaced the image of Tantalus and the starfield beyond it on the main viewer.

    The letterhead faded and was replaced with a human Lieutenant Commander in Operations gold. "Voght, Livoyt, Serial Number AND77429.87249, this is official notice that your request for advancement to Chief Petty Officer has been approved. This promotion will become official on Stardate 91665.75. Your test and evaluation data is being sent via channels to your command," the officer consulted her P.A.D.D., "The USS Kestrel. Congratulations, Chief."

    The viewscreen returned to the image of the planet and stars, but Chief Voght just sat there, staring as Crewman Aktay jumped up and whooped for joy. Masha ran to the Conn, toggled the Intercraft Communications Circuit, and said, "Attention all hands! It is now official! BuPers has just sent Chief Voght her confirmation of promotion!"

    Voght slapped the circuit off and tried to glare, but it was difficult to remain angry in the face of Masha's joy. Even Ensign Tanaka was laughing as Masha danced around the bridge chanting, "Whoot! Whoot! Whoot!"

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    Season 1, Episode 16

    "Books?" asked Masha, entering the sickbay.

    Chuss chuckled. He was sitting on the edge of the biobed as Dr. Sar adjusted the frame around his torso. The tip of the Caitian's tail twitched, the only indication of his discomfort.

    "He bought the loyalty of Hired Warrior With The One Green Eye with books?"

    "Imagine the power of literacy in a world of unlettered savages," Chuss said, and grunted as the Doctor made another adjustment.

    "You have to tell me when it becomes uncomfortable," Dr. Sar said. "Pain is an indication that there is a problem. And I don't want you to get all macho and try to bear it. I'll let you know when you can do that."

    "There is discomfort on the left side when I inhale."

    Dr. Sar performed a scan of Chuss' spine and made further adjustments to the prosthetic.

    "So, he wanted power? I thought he wanted a name?"

    "It is complicated. Hired Warrior doesn't know what he wants. He only knows he doesn't want to remain an ignorant lout of the mountains. He wants to improve his situation, for himself and his people. He thinks a name will do that for himself, but for his people, literacy and the ability to retain knowledge rather than to lose it with the death of each master of a field of knowledge, only to have to relearn it in the next generation?"

    "So, he sold his loyalty for knowledge? That doesn't seem very... heroic."

    "On the contrary," Doctor Sar said. "Earth mythologies are filled with examples of great sacrifices in the pursuit of knowledge. The Norse deity Odin was offered knowledge in exchange for his eye, and he immediately plucked it out and made the trade."

    "There is another tal... unh!"

    "Sorry, there, better?" asked the Doctor.

    "Yes, much better."

    "Okay, try to stand. If it's too difficult, don't push it. We do this incrementally."

    Chuss stood.

    "Uncomfortable?" asked the Doctor.

    "No."

    "Move your arms. don't try to exceed the limits allowed by the prosthetic."

    Chuss reached up and to either side. "I feel a pulling of the muscles, but no real pain."

    "Good. Remember, pain tells you what not to do. Don't push it. You will tire easily. If you have trouble resting with the prosthetic I can put the nerve block back on during your sleep cycle. Otherwise, I want you to rely on the prosthetic."

    "It feels good to be able to move again."

    "Allright, then move out of my sickbay and don't forget: no more than four hours vertical before you spend an hour horizontal. More often if you feel discomfort, and if you feel any pain whatsoever, let me know!"

    "Aye," Chuss said as he slowly headed for the exit.

    "So, there's another tale?" asked Masha.

    "The Last Stronghold and Lord Cait's Retreat," Chuss said. "As the Children of the Golden One left Ferasa for the stars, Lord Cait commanded the Last Stronghold. Mountain Folk were mercenaries in his employ, and he had promised them a place on his fleet of ships in exchange for their loyalty, but the Children of the Black One..."

    The hatch closed behind them and Doctor Sar sighed. "Now I'll be able to get some work done."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    Doctors S'lott and Sar sat on either end of the couch in Marshal Lee's stateroom watching the tall man pace.

    "So, in other words," Lee said, "He's going to adjust to and overcome this tragedy?"

    "In so many words, yes," said Dr. S'lott. "David is quite resilient, and his early training has given him the perspective to cope with such events. He doesn't like the fact that he killed, but he has accepted it as a necessary act with greater consequences for not so doing. Of course, he must be monitored for behavioral changes and he must have separation from stressor events until we can determine that he has successfully incorporated the events, or at least has the emotional tools to do so."

    "Doctor Sar, you seem to have acquired a new assistant for a month or so. It will actually be a good excuse for me to do what I wanted to do all along. I want him to be well grounded in forensics procedures, which he seems to have a knack for anyway, and I profited greatly under your instruction some years ago. I expect you will know when he is ready to resume duties as my field assistant."

    "I have no objection to that idea," Doctor Sar said. "David has proven his capability as a crime scene analyst at Tantalus. It will also provide Crewman Brock with ample opportunity to certify his First Aid qualification."

    "Doctor S'lott," Lee went on, "We'll have you back at Starase 77 in just under a week. We have to deliver the prisoner to Savin's Planet and sit through the arraignment hearing. If you wish, alternate transport can be found to get you back sooner."

    "I have ample work here to justify my remaining for another five days." He held up a blue palm, saying, "Nothing that needs concern you, or I would have already brought it to your attention. Simply crew members who have availed themselves of my services. And I'll have another two or three sessions with you as well."

    "I appreciate that," Lee said. He turned to Dr. Sar and asked, "How is Chuss progressing?"

    "On track," Dr. Sar said. "He's spending his first night in his quarters. I have a remote monitor on him. He no doubt suspects, but has made no mention of it. I think he's going to take his rehabilitation seriously, and I hope you encourage him to do so, or at least to refrain from encouraging him to push his physical limits beyond what I authorize. He should have achieved a full recovery in fifteen to twenty days, with another two weeks of physical therapy to insure his regenerated musculature and nervous system are restored to full function."

    "Croaker, you're amazing."

    "Yes, but in this case you can attribute the success of the procedures I performed to the resiliency and recuperative ability of the Caitian physique. Crewman Voght's injuries were not much worse, and yet she required almost twice the regenerative therapy to recover."

    "All right, there's one more patient I wish to discuss. One whose physical and mental health I may jeopardize if what I have in mind is implemented, and I want you two gentlemen to evaluate my plan and tell me if I am proposing a step too far..."

    ***

    The ancient Lightning class blockade runner dropped out of warp at a distance from Nimbus III, and she sat there. She had no cloaking device, but no one farther than one hundred thousand kilometers away would notice her unless they actively scanned the last location of her warp signature. Her passive signature-masking was a built-in feature of the Lightning hulls, as was the shielding on her impulse engines. But as she was now, sitting motionless in a random piece of sky, the chances that she would be accidentally spotted were virtually nil.

    On the other hand, she was able to perform a wide variety of passive scans without revealing her position. Her computer was building up a map of the system, identifying everything in it. But the majority of that was going to be optical and gravitic scans, and would require many hours to complete.

    She was in no hurry. Her mistress was in no hurry. The vast network which had been built by successive generations of her ancestors had been lost by her mother, and with her mother dead, the new Mistress of the Kmt'aa Cartel ruled what remained of her family's empire. It consisted of a handful of loyal soldiers, a handful of mercenaries, and some treasure troves stashed here and there for emergencies. The pirate ship Wildfire had come from such a trove. In time Savaria would rebuild her family's legacy. But just now there was only one job on her mind.

    She examined the growing map of the system. It would not do to enter the lair of the enemy without knowing the shape of the battlefield.
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    Ha'akor Itak was a nickle/iron asteroid which had been in a distant orbit of its orange-red dwarf star on an inclined plane. As one of millions of otherwise uninteresting rocks in a system with nothing of intrinsic value either to colonizers or to miners, it was easily overlooked. And that was its principle value to the Tanta Amu.

    The Tanta Amu was a mercenary band. Ninjas. Assassins. Murderers for hire. There really was no human equivalent to the role they played in Orion culture, because they were also viewed as administrators of justice, and arbitrators of disputes. Ironically, one of their roles was to prevent outright war between the various matriarchs of the Orion houses.

    How Lee had acquired the location of this base, Mirra could not say. He seemed to know far more than he should about Orion customs and practices which were supposed to be family secrets. Even Mirra, born into an Orion household, would not have known where to begin to search if she had ever wanted to contact the secret society which was often dismissed as mythological.

    But here she was walking down the main corridor of a base in which smugglers and criminals haggled, caroused, and otherwise occupied themselves. As she passed they stopped and looked at her.

    She admitted she was a sight. Dressed once again in her leather costume and adorned with weaponry, she created an imposing figure for one as short as she. Indeed, many of the Orion men she saw were easily twice her height and four times her mass. But she had no fear of them. Her expression was one of utter contempt. They were vile, despicable, scum, and it soiled her boots to tread upon the same ground with them.

    She wore flame-colored hair again, grown longer than she typically liked, and it hung in loose curls around her like pleated curtains. Her face, hands, and midriff were exposed and displayed skin of dark olive: distinctly green, but moderated by her usual brown skin tones. And none of that was shy they looked.

    The hormone treatments Dr. Sar had given her had activated her pheromone glands, and she exuded the chemicals which locked onto the brains of males at a level below their consciousness, which made them subject to her whims.

    She saw two younger Orion women, young teens, who looked down when her green eyes locked with theirs. They were subservient to another matron, and would not challenge her. There was another, farther along, whose eyes tried to contest with hers, but Mirra continued walking, and stared the woman down, until she too looked away. There was a dominant female here, and she had thoroughly cowed the few females she allowed into her domain. Mirra would have to be careful, coming as she did, an Alpha female into the lair of another Alpha.

    She saw what she was looking for: an older Orion male sitting with a semicircle of sycophants as he tormented some poor slave of a species Mirra had never seen before. She could not spare even a grain of pity on the poor woman without risking her own life.

    Lesedi in her native Zulu meant 'bright' or 'light' depending upon the interpreter, but it also meant 'queen'. Lesedi would have to be the queen now, regal, authoritarian, and completely in control. She strode directly to the group, which turned to look at her approach.

    The leader's smile displayed a row of gold teeth, and he was about to speak when Lesedi reached into her belt pouch and withdrew a latinum bar with the ancient Orion glyphs on it. She threw the bar at the massive male's feet where it landed with a thunk. And she looked him in the eye.

    His circle of sycophants said nothing, waiting for him to indicate what they should do. After a short moment he shoved the fearful slave off of his lap, sending her sprawling on the deck, and he started to stand.

    "Is'sell ash math shelik Tanta." (I come) seeking (the art of) justice.

    As she said it she projected power, authority, conviction of her own moral superiority.

    It required a moment for the Orion to disentangle the formal High Speech she used. When he got there he leaned back in his chair and asked, in the Middle Tongue, "Who are you to demand justice?"

    In the middle tongue, heavily inflected with High Tongue accents, both calculated to demonstrate her class superiority and to disguise her lack of practice in the everyday use of Orion Middle Tongue, she said, "I am Lesedi of Nimbus."

    "What is your cause?"

    "Savaria of Kmt'aa caused the decimation of her own house in her bid to assume control of her matriarch's throne, and has since blamed myself and my house for the bloody results of her incompetence. She has issued contracts on myself and my servant for the crimes she committed which resulted in the abrogation of multiple lucrative trade partnerships for which Kmt'aa was paid and failed to provide service. If she cannot fulfill the obligations of her house, I demand she be sold and the proceeds divided among those who hold her debts, House Nimbus among them. And I demand that her Right to Justice be declared invalid so long as she remains in abrogation of her responsibilities."

    "You are aware that House Kmt'aa has already contracted for the service of justice. Why should we not simply exercise the contract issued against Lesedi of Nimbus and take the payment?"

    "Three reasons: I can pay, she cannot, and I have a cloaked battlecruiser just outside waiting for an opportunity to destroy this station."

    The Orion laughed, and his circle of sycophants joined him.

    Mirra tapped her wristband and said, this time in perfect Klingon, "DoH So' tIhe!"

    Almost immediately the station's alarms began to scream and people ran in all directions, scrambling to get to battle stations. Mirra stood calmly as she maintained eye contact with the Orion. Then his eyes lost focus as he listened to his implanted communications device.

    "Yes, Mistress... I understand Mistress... She is here, Mistress... Understood, Mistress."

    Mirra allowed the corner of her lip to curl, just a little. Partly sneer, partly gloating.

    "I am instructed to take your contract under consideration," he said.

    "What were the fees offered on myself and my servant? Six hundred bars?" She tapped her wristband and a transporter activated, depositing a small, sturdy box on the floor. She shoved its top with her boot and revealed within were latinum bricks.

    "Thirty bricks to cancel the contract of House Kmt'aa and the value of her auction with a security of another six bricks as a minimum, in case she dies or fails to generate adequate interest in the buyers."

    "Done," said the Orion.

    Again she tapped her armband and said, "jIHvaD lup."

    The Orion stood as she transported away and looked into the box at the gleaming blond surface of the bricks which were marked in Orion rather than the usual Ferengi calligraphy. In his life of crime he had never seen so much wealth accumulated in such a small space. For it to be so casually displayed, and left behind...

    "Who runs this Nimbus Cartel?" he asked his sycophants.

    ***

    Outside the asteroid base the tiny Romulan shuttlecraft and the Klingon battlecruiser turned away, matched speeds, and the shuttlecraft docked as the battlecruiser went to warp.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    As the IKS ghargh je crossed the border back into Klingon space it cloaked. Ten minutes later the USS Kestrel appeared and flew on a course suspiciously identical to that of the Klingon battlecruiser.

    Lieutenant Mirra lead the parade into the Briefing Room, still dressed as the Orion Pirate she had been on the asteroid base.

    "...I thought he was going to do something stupid, but the minute you decloaked the battlecruiser the whole thing turned around," she was saying.

    "I am happy to serve, Mistress," Sibley said, and received a slap on the back of the head from Chief Voght.

    "All right, settle, people," Lee said as he entered. The crew, except for Chuss who remained on watch on the bridge, found places to sit as the Skipper made his way to the rear of the compartment. "First, well done, Lieutenant. I don't know if it will work, but at least we have confirmed the location of the base. Starfleet will be able to monitor activity around it and develop a pattern of operations.

    "Sibley," he continued, "Excellent work with the holograms. You missed your calling as a holoengineer."

    "Thank you sir, but I'm not very good at making stories, just images."

    "Okay, now." Lee stopped and looked at everyone. "From this point on every one of you has a target painted on your back. Once the Tanta realizes they've been duped there will be an attempt to get even. In their business they can't afford to be taken for fools: it's bad for their image. Anyone who applies for a transfer will be approved, no questions asked."

    "No way, sir!" said Ladner.

    "I'm not asking for anyone to speak up now. It's an open offer. We're dealing with professional assassins, and they may respond by attacking any one of us at any time."

    "From a psychological perspective," Commander S'lott said, "The more you attempt to encourage them to leave, the more they will desire to remain. In fact, I have a similar reaction to the current situation."

    "You can't stay," said Lee, "But I appreciate the sentiment." He paused to look around at his crew. "All right. Tomorrow Mason will begin with awareness training. I want you all to be paranoid, all the time. I want you to be alert, and I want you to be careful. I would rather have a dozen false alarms than a single injury because of the games I've set in motion here. What we do is dangerous, and it's going to be that way for some time to come."

    "We will be strong," Ben said.

    ***

    Lee entered his stateroom and pulled off his uniform jacket, but before he could hang it in his locker Cadet Friday interrupted.

    "Sir, there is a call from Senior Marshal T'esset."

    "On the bulkhead, please," Lee replied as he hung the jacket and put it away.

    "Lee, I have had an interesting conversation with Admiral F'dralli," said the Senior Marshal as she appered. "Apparently one of my officers has exposed the presence of a Klingon outpost on the other side of the Klingon border."

    "I assure you, Senior Marshal, that no Marshal or Deputy set foot on Klingon territory. The base in question is in the Neutral Zone, and is not affiliated with the Empire. The funds used to bribe the Tanta Amu were recovered from the Kmt'aa Cartel in the raid on their base and was released by Judge Haskett of Savin's World for the purpose. And the operation confirmed the presence of a smuggling base which can now be monitored by Starfleet Intelligence and used to further expose assets of the various Orion Cartels."

    "You were specifically instructed to not become involved in the hunt for the prisoners who escaped from Tantalus."

    "I did not, Senior Marshal."

    "From my perspective it appears that you did; however, you have never lied to me previously. I would like an explanation for your actions which explains the situation in some way other than as it appears."

    "Just before leaving Starbase 77 an informant delivered to me the location of the base from which the order to assassinate me originated. Since I was already involved in a mission, I could not immediately go there to verify the information until I had completed my assignment and delivered my prisoner to the court, which was done in accordance with your instructions.

    "While at the court I discussed the situation with Judge Haskett of the 549th Judicial District Court, who agreed to the proposal that I buy off the contracts against myself and Lieutenant Mirra using thirty-six bricks of latinum seized in the Kmt'aa raid. The Judge found the idea of buying off Kmt'aa's assassination contracts with Kmt'aa funds amusing. Before leaving for the Neutral Zone I contacted Captain Husband of the USS Sleipnir and informed him of our intent, requesting that he monitor my activities and that he pass along the information to, and request instruction from, his chain of command. He responded with affirmation that his chain of command supported his role as observer, but informed me that he was under no circumstances allowed to enter the Neutral Zone.

    "With the assurance that Starfleet was now aware of the base and of my intent to go there, I disguised the Kestrel as a Romulan runabout, entered the Neutral Zone, and made my way to the base known as Ha'akor Itak. Lieutenant Mirra transported to the base, made the exchange, and we departed to arrive back in Federation Space less than two hours ago. If you have not yet received my complete after-action report, perhaps it is currently still en route in the mail service."

    "I see. And it did not occur to you to contact me before you took your vessel out of Federation jurisdiction?"

    "Senior Marshal, no member of the Federation Marshal Service acted outside of Federation jurisdiction."

    "I suppose you will now try to claim that you acted as a Starfleet Officer while your ship was in violation of the Neutral Zone?"

    Lee simply stood and waited.

    "I want to point out that your emotional reaction to the situation may well have placed the members of your crew in jeopardy."

    "I appreciate that fact, Senior Marshal, and have initiated situational awareness training, from which I have not exempted myself. Indeed, it was my own lack of situational awareness which resulted in Chuss' injury and in Deputy Star's involvement in the death of a suspect."

    "I hope it is sufficient." The Vulcan paused and simply observed Lee for a moment before she went on. "What are your current intentions?"

    "I am currently en route to Starbase 77, where I intend to disembark Commander S'lott and allow the crew liberty."

    "Very well. In the future I would appreciate being informed before you leave Federation jurisdiction."

    "Yes, Senior Marshal."

    "Please pardon me, sirs," Cadet Friday interrupted, "But there is an incoming call from Captain Danna'Q of the IKS Mul'Kak."

    "I was about to sign off. I will be in touch soon. T'esset out."

    She was immediately replaced by the Klingon Captain, who appeared to be seated in his office rather than on his bridge.

    "Captain Danna'Q, it is good to see you again," said Lee. "How can I serve the Empire today?"

    "Marshal Lee, you can explain a curious thing that happened today."

    "I will try, sir. What's this about?"

    "Several hours ago I received a report that a Klingon D5 battlecruiser which is not registered in our fleet was spotted in the Neutral Zone near the Federation border. The vessel cloaked and has not been seen since. In searching for the vessel, your ship was detected just on the Federation side of the border, moving away from the Neutral Zone."

    "Captain, I give you my word as a warrior that nether myself nor my ship violated the Neutral Zone treaty, nor have I been in Klingon space even momentarily since we parted ways after the raid on the Kmt'aa Nebula."

    "Am I to take your word to my superiors, who are currently looking for a D5 battlecruiser which was seen to cross our borders and cloak?"

    "Sir, I am involved in Orion Syndicate trouble at the moment. I certainly do not wish to become involved in Klingon trouble, and I would regret dragging you into Orion Syndicate trouble as well. I cannot explain further over open communications."

    "Then you do know about this missing battlecruiser."

    "Sir, it is the reason my ship was in the area. I have been involved in trouble with the Kmt'aa Cartel's operatives."

    "Yes, I heard you were dead. When I saw the recording of your vessel I suspected that rumor was somewhat exaggerated. So you want me to believe this missing battlecruiser was an Orion vessel?"

    "Sir, I made no such representation," Lee said. "There are things I cannot discuss at this time due to my involvement in criminal cases, but I assure you that neither I nor the Federation has any intention to jeopardize the Alliance which so many worked so hard to achieve."

    "Do you know what my superiors will say? They will say that humans use words as weapons, and that if you listen to them long enough you will find yourself bleeding to death and thanking the humans for the experience."

    "I want to reassure you that my only purpose is to enforce Federation law within Federation borders. If we could meet, either here on my vessel or at Starbase 77, I could explain better. However, if the Orion interests should learn of our conversation they might assume you to be a part of a non-existent plan to... whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing."

    "I will pass along your assurances. While I accept your word, I may be challenged on that count. Many do not trust humans."

    "I thank your for your trust in me, and I take no insult from you questioning, sir. I appear to have inadvertently placed you in a bad situation, and for that I apologize."

    "You may apologize to me over a jug of bye-joe when next we meet."

    "It's a deal."

    "Qapla', Lee."

    "Qapla'."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    Sibley turned off the holographic image of a seashore bungalow and left his stateroom, headed to the Skylight Lounge for something to eat. As he turned to go up the short ramp to the galley an indicator light on a small box mounted at head height on the bulkhead began to blink. Oblivious to the presence of the box, he was caught completely by surprise when a containment field generated around him. He walked into the field effect and bounced back; the only thing that prevented his falling to the deck was the other side of the cylinder.

    An alarm was set off and an automated announcement began. "This is a drill, this is a drill: simulated explosion in compartment C-5-2, Port Galley Access Ramp. Damage Control and Medical Teams respond. This is a drill."

    Ladner arrived first with a fire extinguisher in hand. "Describe situation," he said.

    The computer replied, "Panel C-5-2(A) is damaged and plasma arcs are being emitted. Crewman Sibley is unresponsive."

    "Hey! I'm responsive!" Sibley retorted.

    "Hush, you're dead," Ladner said. He backed out of the compartment and Sibley heard him open an access panel in the passageway. By this time others began to arrive, the first being Ben from the galley. He activated a force field on the galley end of the ramp while his sister deactivated the galley equipment from a circuit-breaker panel. Lighting in the ramp went out.

    Ensign Tanaka arrived with Crewman Brock and Deputy Star, each of whom carried medical kits. Ladner said something to them from the overhead crawlway and Ensign Tanaka said, "Why didn't you activate a force field?" The reply was muffled, but Sibley imagined he knew the answer: because the power conduit to the force field generator at the lower end of the ramp ran through panel C-5-2(A), and was very likely the one which was supposed to be arcing.

    "Plasma Arcing has terminated," the computer said.

    Ladner slid down the ladder and used a tricorder to scan the ramp. "Any further safety issues?" he asked.

    "Jagged metal in the vicinity of the explosion and debris on the deck."

    "Temperature of the area around the plasma discharge?"

    "Four hundred seventy-seven degrees," the computer replied.

    Ladner entered the ramp area sweeping his fire extinguisher ahead of him, simulating discharge. He spent a moment playing it on the supposedly damaged panel, then asked, "Temprature?"

    "Three hundred twenty-two degrees," the computer said.

    "Okay, Doc, give us an atmosphere check."

    "Shouldn't we have done that before you went in?" Brock said as he scanned the area.

    "I simulated donning my breathing apparatus before I left Auxiliary. What's the air like?"

    "Computer, air quality test complete. What are the simulated results?" Brock asked.

    "Oxygen above sixteen percent, CO2 below ten thousand parts per million. Hydrocarbon and other contaminants below one thousand parts per million."

    "We'll need ventilation soon. Computer, have all sources of atmospheric contamination been isolated?"

    "Affirmative."

    "Okay, we're good to go," Brock said. "Ensign Tanaka, would you please examine the injured crewman?"

    Tanaka approached the force field with a tricorder. "Computer, what is the condition of Crewman Sibley?"

    "First degree plasma burns over forty percent of the body, second degree plasma burns over thirty percent of the body, third degree plasma burns over ten percent of the body."

    "Brain activity levels?"

    "Negative brainwave activity."

    "Lifesigns?"

    "Negative lifesigns."

    "Is the condition of the body such that resuscitation is possible?"

    "Negative."

    "Sorry, Sibley," the Ensign said.

    "Computer," Ladner said, "I begin securing the area for safety and in preparation of repairs."

    The force fields shut down and Crewman Mason entered the ramp from the galley. "After action evaluation," he said. "What went wrong?"

    All eyes were on Sibley. "Uh, I walked into your booby trap."

    "Anything, and I mean anything, that is different is a potential danger. You didn't see a big, white box with a blinking light mounted on the bulkhead?"

    "I guess I was thinking about something."

    "From this point on, when you are moving into a new location you examine everything before you think. Distractions cause disasters."

    "Aye, Sensei," Sibley said.

    "Okay, Ladner, good response, and the medical team as well. All hands will be expected to turn in an evaluation of the drill, and I'm going to be doing more of these. Be ready for anything!"

    "Aye," Sibley said. "You won't catch me twice!"

    "That sounds like a challenge. Let me ask you, then: where's your backup weapon?"

    "You won't catch me three times," Sibley said.

    ***

    Savaria sat on the mezzanine overlooking the arena on Nimbus speaking to an overweight, somewhat effete Orion male.

    "...and the contract doesn't specify a price. Just your value at auction," he said.

    She tensed. The ruddy TRIBBLE had issued a contract on her? It was inconceivable! And she suddenly became suspicious as the crowd cheered the death of one of the arena slaves. Would this fat slob try to collect?

    "Of course, we here on Nimbus have our own concerns. Someone came through last year and killed poor old Hassan the Undying after gutting the Tal Shiar operation which was a major source of income for us. Reconsolidation has been an issue as several of our former employees chose to attempt to break away or challenge our authority. Even if I could capture you, I couldn't trust any of my remaining captains with the delivery of such a cargo. I'd never see a slip of the bounty."

    "And you don't know anything about this Lesedi of Nimbus?"

    "I've never hear the name. I suppose it's possible she was part of one or another splinter group which broke away after The Undying changed his name, but ruddies are uncommon. Especially human-mongrels."

    He was protecting her. Or he really knew nothing. The time it would take to discover which was problematic. With a bounty on her head she would be foolish to remain in one place for long. Already there were likely to be some here who were thinking about her value at auction. What a damned dirty trick: to buy off the Tanta Amu. At least that damned Federation pet of hers was dead. Or so the rumors went. She would have to confirm them as soon as possible, but she had to buy off the Tanta Amu before some lucky TRIBBLE tried to collect on her.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    Starbase 77 loomed in the viewer as the Kestrel waited for docking instructions. For Commander S'lott it was a bitter-sweet homecoming. As much as he enjoyed a stable practice in a modern clinic, being on the Kestrel had its attractions. One was his attachment to the crew. It was, he knew, a liability in his profession. It made objectivity more difficult to achieve.

    On the other hand, there was something to be said for living with a tight-knight social group. These youngsters were a team. Friends. They were a family. The call to join with such a group was seductive, but he was no longer young, and nostalgia for his youth, he admitted, was a part of the attraction.

    He would keep in touch. Several of the crew had sought him out as counselor, and he would continue to hold sessions whenever there was opportunity. But he would also have the opportunity to regain some distance between himself and them. To regain some measure of objectivity. After all, he had a practice on Starbase 77, and his clients there needed him too.

    With a part of his attention he watched Lieutenant Mirra instructing young David Star in his new duties at the science station. She was the veteran, with all of her four years experience. Even Sibley, the youngest member of the crew, who now sat at the navigation console, was 'older' in experience. The young deputy wouldn't be long in catching up, though at the moment he appeared somewhat distracted by the Lieutenant's enhanced femininity. She had taken hormones to waken her latent Orion genes, and even though everyone had been inoculated against her pheromones she exhibited a physical attractiveness young males found irresistible.

    Who was he kiding? Even without her Orion genes being active Lieutenant Mirra was an attractive person. If she were bald and blue... Well, better men than he had made fools of themselves over beautiful young women. It was a power to which she appeared oblivious.

    Ensign Tanaka still held her in awe. He was of an age with David, and the two were likely to become friends soon, being peers in experience and age. The difference between them was their intellect. Where Sean was a low-level genius with a high rate of retention and recall; David was merely above average. But unlike Sean, David possessed a drive to achieve accompanied by an insatiable curiosity. Sean would glide up the ladder of success, but David would climb it aggressively. Perhaps exposure to David would improve Ensign Tanaka's drive and ambition.

    And what of yourself, old man? Examining himself was always difficult, especially since he had the capacity to rationalize so readily. He had a rather romantic notion of himself which forty years of self-reflection had failed to excise.

    He was so lost in thought that he almost missed the message from Starbase Traffic Control.

    "Traffic Control, this is the USS Kestrel," he said. "Please repeat your last instructions."

    "USS Kestrel, this is Starbase 77 Traffic Control. You are cleared to dock at external berth 110. Please enable docking telemetry and automated station control."

    "Understood, Traffic Control. Enable telemetry and local control."

    Chuss, still wearing his torso brace, complied, and the station's computer began to feed instructions to the Kestrel's computer. The tiny vessel moved around the perimeter of the station to radius 110 which was already extending its docking port. The Kestrel's gangway unfolded and extended to meet the station's, and as they touched four remotely guided mooring lines reached out to attach themselves to the Kestrl's mooring hardpoints. The light above the station's gangway blinked yellow as the two made contact, and after they sealed and the mooring lines snugged it became a steady yellow. The gangways flooded with atmosphere and the light turned green.

    "Traffic Control to Kestrel, we're showing successful docking. Welcome back to Starbase 77."

    "Thank you Traffic Control. USS Kestrel requests shore power and data connections."

    "Request for shore power and data connections confirmed. Traffic Control out."

    "Station confirms docking complete," Dr. S'lott said to the Lieutenant.

    "Thank you, Commander," she said. "Intercom please."

    "On your board," he said as he toggled the activation key.

    "All hands secure from docking detail. Gamma Watch Section, set the in-port watch rotation. Ensign Tanaka is the Officer Of The Day. I am instructed to inform the crew that liberty will be permitted at the discretion of the department heads. All hands will be on call during liberty, so keep your communicators on your person and maintain heightened awareness as you move about on-station. That is all."

    Sibley snapped the navigation console and it powered down. "Liberty call!" he said as he jumped from his seat.

    "Just a minute," Lieutenant Mirra said. "You have to get the okay from the Chief first, and second, I went over your proficiencies yesterday. You have Helm to test out and you have Security to complete to become Space Warfare Qualified. I'd like to schedule your Helm test for before we leave Starbase."

    "Can we do that on my duty day?" he asked.

    "How about tomorrow instead, after Chief has released you for the day, or right after noon chow at the latest?"

    "Aye, sir," he said with a sigh. "I'm almost ready for my Security practicals too."

    "I'd like to remind you that your academics are lagging a bit. Now before you start whining, I want to let you know that I understand and appreciate the fact that you have prioritized your shipboard qualifications. But as your shipboard qualifications near completion, I want you to transfer that same enthusiasm into your scholastic coursework."

    "Why all the pressure to get my diploma?" he asked. "I'm an engineer, not a scientist."

    "Let's just say I hate to see you have fun. Also, the Skipper wants you to have that diploma."

    "Oh," he said. "I'll let the Chief know about tomorrow."

    "Good. Dismissed."

    Sibley exited the bridge as the Lieutenant said, "Okay, Mister Star, we're done here. You're Alpha Watch Section, so you'll have the duty tomorrow. Check with the Skipper before you disembark the ship, but as of now you're on liberty."

    "Aye, sir," he said, and he followed Sibley out.

    Ensign Tanaka finished setting the Engineering console to in-port mode and stood, saying, "I need to check in at the quarterdeck. If you'll excuse me, Sirs."

    "And I have an appointment with Doctor Sar to have this infernal contraption removed," Chuss said as he followed them to the exit.

    Mirra began to shut down her Tactical and Science consoles while S'lott set the Communications Console to its in-port configuration.

    "Lieutenant, why so hard on young Sibley?"

    "The Skipper wants to recommend him for Engineering LDO. He should have gone to The Academy, but his homeworld didn't have accreditation meeting the scholastic requirements of The Academy. So, if he can get his required credits in the next two months we can submit the paperwork to Fleet Engineering School for him. In two years he can be a Lieutenant Junior Grade and take on an engineering officer's assignment. We've been utilizing him in that role here already."

    "Does he know?"

    "As immature as he is? It would go to his head. The Skipper thought it better to get his quals first, then ask him if he was interested when he's qualified to have the paperwork submitted."

    "You don't want to get his hopes up, in other words."

    She smiled and asked, "Am I that transparent?"

    "Only to your friends. My bags are packed, and it's time for me to resume my duties station-side. Care to escort me off?"

    "Sure. Let's stop by the Skipper's office. He'll want to say goodbye too."

    ***

    The Wildfire skirted the trade routes and the border monitoring stations along her path back to the Klingon border. She had two very important appointments: the first with the Assassin's Guild, and the second with a certain ruddy Orion who served in Starfleet. Savaria brooded as the ship, a relic of a century gone by, moved at half its potential speed to avoid generating a warp signal which could be seen halfway across the galaxy. She was unsure which she resented most: that she had been fooled by a Starfleet operative, or that she had been fooled by an Orion who had betrayed her own race and joined Starfleet. It would take time to get there, but when she did, that ruddy would pay.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    "Okay, Mister Friday, what's next?" Lee asked.

    The diminutive holographic woman in the holographic office on the other side of his bulkhead said, "That was the last item."

    "I'm caught up?" he asked.

    "The ship is in good condition, it's stores are fully stocked, and all of the required reports up to this date are completed and filed. Although I have not been made aware of any administrative duties required by the Marshals' Service, your Starfleet paperwork is complete."

    "In only three days," he said. "Maybe I'll have an opportunity to get in some liberty myself."

    "If you wish I could make reservations for you at the Sign of the Feathered Serpent. It is supposed to be among the finest establishments on Amaranth."

    "I'm not in the mood for maize dishes. What I really want is to just sit on the balcony and read a good book. Do you have a review of the new Sisco novel?"

    "Glass Madonna. Review by Kingston Munch. A tale which begins in a small fishing village on the coast of Earth's Gulf Of Mexico. The protagonist is a young human woman who defies the expectations of her family, (who have for generations worked as fishers,) by declaring her intent to travel to the stars. She breaks ties with the village, but as she explores the galaxy discovers the village is with her wherever she goes.

    "Mister Sisco has once again proven he understands the human heart, both in its yearning for the new and in its craving for the familiar, which often leads to heartbreak as one must be given up for the other. Though the novel becomes a bit introspective at times, the pace is never interrupted, and the characterizations are so vivid and realistic that I found myself invested in them. I cannot say how the story ends without revealing major plot points, but my only disappointment in the novel came from the realization that it was over.

    "After reading Anslem I thought Mister Sisco had written his magnum opus. I'm glad to have been proven wrong. I can't wait for his next offering."

    "Better than Anslem?" Lee asked.

    "That is the implication, sir," Friday said.

    "Download it for me, please," Lee said. He got up and with his tablet in hand ascended the steps to the deck above the emergency escape capsules. "Balcony," he said, and the morning skyline of Hong Kong filled the end of the compartment.

    ***

    The protagonist was arguing with her mother about her future and her family's expectations. The scene could have been cut out of his own life, if it had been set in a Hong Kong apartment rather than a Gulf Coast Acadian house. Words were being said which could never be taken back...

    The chime on his desk rang.

    Jarred back into reality, Lee answered the chime.

    "Sir, incoming call from Senior Marshal T'eset," Ensign Tanaka said.

    "I'll take it here," Lee said, rising from his chair and taking the steps down to floor level. The familiar image of the Senior Marshal appeared in his bulkhead monitor.

    "Lee, what is your status?"

    "Kestrel and I am ready for duty. Chuss is on light duty, and Star is on administrative duty."

    "You are needed on Goanen II. There was an assassination attempt on Circuit Court Judge Shult and her marshal is in critical condition. Your priority is the safety of Judge Shult. A secondary priority is to determine if there is anything Doctor Sar can do to aid the marshal."

    "Understood. Just a moment." Lee toggled a switch on his desk.

    "Sir?" asked Ensign Tanaka.

    "Have all hands recalled to the ship, prepare for departure as soon as Starbase 77 clears us to launch. Let Mister Chuss know our destination is Goanen II."

    "Romulan border?" Tanaka asked. Almost immediately he said, "Aye, sir."

    Lee toggled the switch again, then asked, "Senior Marshal, what information do we have on the situation on Goanen?"

    "Very little, I'm afraid. The would-be assassin was killed by Marshal Therys who was wounded in the exchange. Judge Shult called for assistance. Starfleet is responding, but to what degree is unknown at this time. You have the library data on the region and on Goanen in your ship's computer. I will update you as I receive additional information."

    "How do I contact the judge?"

    "You already have her communicator code. It has been sent to you as an attached file."

    "I'll get to work, Senior Marshal."

    "T'eset out."

    ***

    The image of the Andorian judge jittered a bit as the ship's computer attempted to compensate for their high speed. They were intercepting the signal faster than it was being sent.

    "Please repeat your last, Your Honor," Lee said.

    "The att... human, name unknown. ...kinetic energy ...ea... Marshal Therys in hospital, condition cr...al. The slug is lo...er cardiac nexus and the local me... oper..."

    "Your honor, we will be there in six hours. I cannot advise you how to proceed, but you must remain in a secure area. Another assassination attempt may be made at any time."

    "Underst... ...rel. Six hour... Shult ou..."

    When the transmission terminated the viewscreen returned to its forward view as the stars rainbowed past the Kestrel.

    "How much of our message did she get?" Lee asked.

    "Sir, I was able to slow down our transmission to compensate for the ship's speed, but in unpacking the condensed version of the signal she was sending we were losing bits. If her transmitter had been able to compensate for our velocity we'd have been able to receive her just fine."

    "All right. I want you to work on unpacking distorted signals. We may have to do this again one day."

    "Aye, sir."

    "Alright. Lieutenant, we're on course and at speed for Goanen. Secure from Departure Stations and set the underway watch. I have some studying to do. Senior Staff Meeting in five hours."

    "Aye, sir," Lieutenant Mirra said.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    Marshal Lee, Dr. Sar, and Deputy Star transported to the surface, inside an environmental dome, on the colony world of Goanen II. It was a relatively small dome set in a complex of small arcologies and domes which formed a city on the airless world.

    "Marshal," a human female greeted them. "I'm glad you've made it. I'm Marjorie Taylor, Clerk of Court for the 7th Circuit. I'm to escort you to Judge Shult."

    "I'm Marshal Lee, and this is Doctor Sar and Deputy Star. The Doctor wants to check on your injured marshal."

    "He's under guard at the local medical facility. You'll need clearance from the Judge to gain access. Come, the Judge is quite anxious to see you."

    They walked across an open park toward a building which merged with the dome.

    "Marhal," said Lucky, "Eighth balcony from the left, fourth floor." Lucky kept walking, acting if he had not spotted anything.

    "I see him," Lee answered. "Good eye."

    What they saw was a person, difficult to identify in the distance, who was observing them.

    "What is it?" asked the clerk, looking in the indicated direction.

    "Probably nothing," Lee said. "But one of the ways you avoid being assassinated is by noticing who is noticing you."

    The person on the balcony turned and entered the room.

    "Three people in black uniforms who transport into the city are bound to attract notice," Dr. Sar said.

    "All the same, we want to be careful here," Lee said. "What can you tell us of the attack?"

    "I wasn't there, so all I know is what I've heard second hand. The attacker had a slug-shooter which he used to shoot at the judge. Marshal Therys saw it and stepped between them, used her phaser, and was hit by the shooter. The shooter died, but nobody knows why. Layvis had her phaser set to stun."

    "Was the victim tested for the presence of Paravitellin?" asked Dr. Sar.

    "I don't... What is Para..."

    "Paravitellin. It's an anti-parasitic specific to bloodworms and some form of parasitic cysts. It is also nadion-reactive, which results in severe injury or death when the user is exposed to nadion energy. A direct hit from a phaser set to stun will kill the user due to the drug's absorption of and energetic reaction to nadion particles."

    "Why would anyone..." She paused and shook off the horror she felt.

    "Assassins have a different outlook on life than you or I," Lee said. "When you don't value the lives of others, your own life loses value too."

    As they entered the lobby of the hostel Lee said, "David, find out who our observer is, please."

    "Yes sir," Lucky said, and he stepped over to the counter where a clerk in a red uniform waited.

    Lee and Dr. Sar followed the Clerk of Court to a bank of elevators and rode up past the eighth floor where the curve of the dome intersected the building. Suddenly they were outside the well of the elevator shaft and moving on the exterior wall of the building as they rose up to the twentieth floor, the open clear wall of the elevator car giving them a view of the city skyline. The glare of the sun was dampened by the polarization of the transparent wall, and the black sky was starless above the white and green-blue structures which surrounded them and marched off into the distance.

    "Is there another way down which doesn't leave us exposed to the outside?" Lee asked.

    "I suppose the service elevator," Taylor said as the elevator car came to a halt.

    "I would recommend avoiding public spaces," Dr. Sar said.

    When the doors opened they faced a pair of local guards, a beefy human and a slender Triexian.

    "Identification, please," the Triexian said in a high pitch voice which reverberated oddly.

    Lee was wearing his badge, but he drew a folding wallet from his belt and flipped it open, then put his thumb on the P.A.D.D. the Triexian offered while the human scanned him.

    "You're carrying three weapons," the guard said.

    "I'm a Federation Marshal," Lee answered.

    "On the other hand, I'm carrying only a medical kit," Dr. Sar said. He offered the kit to the guard as the Triexian spoke quietly into a communicator.

    After a moment the P.A.D.D. chirped. "Identity confirmed: Lee, Huang Kai, Federation Marshal 57," the human said. "Hey, I've never seen a number that low on a Marshal."

    "We're in a hurry here, can you scan me and confirm I'm who I think I am?" Dr. Sar asked.

    When the procedure was complete the guard said, "Identity confirmed: Sar, Turaj, Doctor of Medicine, PhD. Federation Deputy Marshal A43462."

    "Glad to know I'm still me," Dr. Sar said.

    Taylor submitted to the same procedure and was identified, though the guards appeared to know her.

    "Another Deputy Marshal, badge number 574, will be arriving shortly," Lee said.

    The Triexian said, "They are cleared to pass."

    They went down a short hallway to a door flanked by another pair of guards, both human, and both, like the first pair, members of the local constabulary. One of them held out a P.A.D.D. with a thumbprint icon, and the trio dutifully touched its rectangle. When the guard accepted their thumbprints the other touched the door control and it slid open.

    Inside was a luxury suite, on the far side of which was the judge, an elderly Andorian who sat facing a curved window which overlooked the city skyline.

    "Marshal Lee," she said, standing.

    "Your honor," Lee answered, "Please step away from the window. It is a target."

    She glanced quickly to the window, then stepped away as Lee went to the transparent wall to close the drapes. "I'd have preferred a room without windows," Lee said.

    "Layvis typically handles security issues," the Judge said.

    "As soon as we can I'd like to get you to the Kestrel where we can do something about keeping you secure. I'm unfamiliar with this world and it's security issues, having had less than seven hours to study the situation. But first I'd like your permission for Doctor Sar to examine your marshal."

    The judge looked over to Dr. Sar and asked, "Are you qualified to treat Andorians?"

    "I have recently gained some experience in treating an Andorian with a severe plasma rifle burn. Don't worry, Your Honor, I will help her if I can."

    "Max," she called and a female human entered from a side room.

    "Yes ma'am?" she asked.

    "Get clearance from the hospital for Doctor... Sar, to visit and examine Marshal Therys. Doctor, if you will follow my secretary, she will get you into the secured wing of the hospital."

    "Thank you, Your Honor," Dr. Sar said. He followed Max back into the room.

    "Your honor, while we wait for my deputy, I'd like to debrief you on the events which lead to us being here. Please make yourself comfortable, this will probably take a while."

    The judge looked at her Clerk and asked, "Marj, when was the last time you slept?"

    "I'm all right, Your Honor."

    "Get something to eat and take a nap," the Judge said gently.

    "Yes ma'am," Taylor replied, and she went through a different door than the one used by Max, closing it behind her.

    "I'd give you the same advice, Your Honor," said Lee, "But right now I need information. It looks like the local constabulary has security well in hand, but I don't know how trustworthy they are, and I don't know why you were attacked, by whom, or how resourceful and determined they are. I'm hoping you can fill me in."

    "I can't say I know much more than you at this point, Marshal." The Judge eased herself back into her upholstered chair and indicated its twin for Lee. "The attacker was human and used a hand-held slug-thrower, a gravitic accelerator, which fired a tungsten projectile at just over six hundred joules of force. I have never seen the human before, and the local constabulary cannot identify him."

    "A gravitic accelerator without a power pack might not be identified as a weapon by automated baggage scanning devices. Such weapons typically use explosive rounds to maximize their effect, but that would have set off alarms as well. This is, of course, assuming that the assassin arrived via commercial transportation. This leads me to believe this assassin was a professional. What else can you tell me?"

    "Nothing really. I haven't handled any high-profile cases or cases involving large sums of money or resources. I haven't been dealing with high profile individuals or corporations. I can't imagine..."

    She paused as Lee's communicator began to scream the Red Alert signal.

    "Your Honor," Lee said as he took out his communicator and tapped it, "You may have been bait."

    The communicator squealed with the sound of a broad band signal-jammer.

    ***

    Lucky was dawdling at the reception counter because he found the receptionist interesting in the way young men find pretty young women interesting. He had learned the identity of the person who had reserved the fourth-floor suite, had learned he had checked in two days after the Judge and her party had arrived, only three days ago, and that he 'seemed nice'. He was slowly working the conversation around to more personal topics when his communicator went off.

    "TRIBBLE!" he said, unconsciously imitating his father's reaction to unwanted surprise. "What's the Judge's room number?" he asked abruptly.

    "20 008," she said, "What's the matter?"

    Without answering he ran to the elevator bank. It was a dangerous choice; the enemy could be monitoring the elevators but, even in peak physical condition, running up twenty flights of stairs would leave him unable to fight when he arrived. Speed was wanted. As the elevator ascended he tapped his communicator.

    "Star here," he said, "Instructions please." The communicator squealed in response and he shut it off. He drew his needle-gun and waited, thinking.

    When the elevator arrived at the twentieth floor he slapped the emergency stop button thinking that it shouldn't be able to be overridden from outside the car, and was leaning with his back against the control panel to present as small a target as possible to anyone in the hallway.

    He saw the lower half of a human lying on the carpet. Moving slowly he extended his view and saw a second and third guard tangled together on the opposite side of the door. Still moving slowly he slid toward the hallway to get a glance into it, and quickly ducked back: a humanoid wearing hotel livery and a green mask tried to aim a rifle at him!

    He could hear the footfalls as the gun-wielder began to run toward him. Lucky jumped to the other side of the door to be where the runner would not expect him to be and relying on sound to judge where the runner would be he stuck his arm out of the door and snapped off three quick shots, trying to cover the whole hallway with slivers of crystalline anesthetic needles. The runner came on, then a thud could be heard as something heavy hit a wall, followed by another as something hit the floor.

    Lucky snuck a peek down the hall and pulled back. Turning around he snuck a peek the other direction. Except for the bodies on the floor he saw nothing unusual except for a twisted metal framework near the distant pair of corpses. He cautiously left the elevator, leaving it locked in case he wanted it in a hurry.

    What he had mistaken for two bodies entangled was actually an alien with three legs and three arms. He checked the human for life signs, and found none. He didn't know how to check the alien. The rifleman lay on the carpet nearby, and beyond him two more guards lay on the carpet.

    The rifleman was an Orion, not a man in a green mask as he had thought. Lucky picked up the rifle, noting that the Orion would require ocular regeneration, haven taken at least one shot directly in the face. Whoever it was, he wasn't playing around. The rifle he carried was a DAR212(K) with the Mk XIV optical sight. Klingon commandos used such weapons. Lucky checked the weapon, found it operational, and holstered his pistol. It would kill instantly, where his needle gun would allow the target up to ten seconds to retaliate.

    He moved down the corridor, but didn't bother to check the corpses. They were charred from the breaching charge which had been used to open the door of the suite. He quick-looked around the doorframe and saw an empty room. Using the optical sight on the gun he scanned the room from behind the wall and saw nothing moving.

    "Vesher!" called a masculine voice from another room. "Come give me a hand with this."

    As quietly as he could Lucky moved to the wall beside the doorway from which the voice came. There were three other doors into this room, all open. A surprise could come from any one of them at any time. Lucky swiveled the optical viewfinder so he could see the weapon's target and poked it around the doorframe into the room.

    It was a small kitchen, complete with a two-burner range, a small oven, a replicator, and a cooler unit. On the far end was the door, obviously forced open, of a service elevator. It would lead down to a central kitchen. In front of the door stood an Orion who was fumbling with the unfamiliar arrangement of a makeshift climbing harness fabricated of bedsheets.

    "I'm Deputy Marshal Star," Lucky announced. You are under arrest for suspicion of murder and accessory..."

    The Orion raised his rifle which hung on a sling over his shoulder. Lucky pulled his trigger. The Orion dropped his rifle as far as its sling would allow it to fall, and he slowly fell backward, into the shaft of the elevator. He struck something on the way down and a bellow of pain came up the shaft.

    "You idiot!" shouted a voice, and it took Lucky half a second to realize his Universal Translator earpiece was translating what he actually heard. It was a language with a lot of S sounds. Lucky waited, but no one exited any of the other rooms. He stepped into the kitchen and carefully poked his borrowed weapon into the shaft.

    There were two figures climbing down the shaft with makeshift harnesses wrapped around the car's cables. One of them was watching and pointed his rifle at the opening, but Lucky ducked back. He tried again.

    "This is Deputy Marshal Star!" he shouted. "You are under arrest for suspicion of murder and accessory to murder. Drop your weapons and cease movement immediately!"

    He got no answer, but when he stuck the borrowed rifle over the edge again he could see them both moving down. The topmost of the pair fired his rifle up at Lucky as he ducked back. Lucky drew his pistol and fired down the shaft. He counted to ten and used the rifle's optics to get another peek down the shaft. The pair of Orions now dangled on their harnesses.

    Lucky tried his communicator again, but quickly turned it off: the jammer was still active. He used the building's intercom to call the front desk. "Hey Tracey," he said when she answered, "This is Lucky. Look, I need you to call the police. There are five dead and three unconscious up here on Floor twenty. I'm not sure I got them all, so tell them to use caution."

    He only hoped she would not panic and actually call the police. Meanwhile, he had the rest of the suite to check, and there was still the matter of the missing judge and the Marshal. With the rifle in hand he exited the kitchen.

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,186 Arc User
    That last line should be, "...actually forget to call the police."

    I sit in a Lowes parking lot using a borrowed laptop and borrowed wifi to make this post. There is a long, sad story to explain this state of affairs, the gist of which is that you should never allow a hackberry tree to live. They grow dying, and fall down, taking your utilities pole with them if a butterfly farts on them. My landlady said, "I ain't payin' to get internet back on a cabin that's empty nine months a year. So, here we are.

    But the story continues! (Heck of a place for a cliffhanger, though!)
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