What is the Arc Client?
Fanfic: Federation Space
Chief Petty Officer Voght saw a vessel on the scanner moving toward the planet at high warp. It had no transponder signal and it made no attempt to communicate with the planet or the Kestrel. She hit the Red Alert icon on the tactical console then linked to Communications and triggered the Emergency: Crew Recall switch.
Something in orbit with the Kestrel began to jam the communications frequencies.
Lieutenant Mirra made it to the bridge ahead of Mister Chuss, whose back-brace appeared to be an encumbrance.
"Incoming vessel, high warp, no transponder, no registry. Something in orbit is jamming comms," Voght said as Mirra jumped into the Conn and brought up the scanner displays on her boards.
"Helm, be ready to move," Mirra said.
Chief Voght was moving toward the exit, intending to go to her duty station in Weapons Local Control when the Lieutenant said, "Voght, I need you at Tactical. Let Crewman Ben handle Weapons."
"Yes sir," she said.
Sibley and Tanaka tied for last place in the race to the bridge, both landing in their chairs almost simultaneously.
"Warp power in fifteen seconds," Sibley said. "Chief's running up the plasma pressure now. You have auxiliary power and impulse. Shields at full."
"I can't cut through the jamming, sir," Tanaka said. "I have a sensor lock on the source: orbital device."
"I'd bet a Ferengi's fortune the Skipper's in trouble down there, but leave it; it's got to be TRIBBLE with their comms too. Is this an Orion vessel?"
"Affirmative. Lightning class. A relic from over a century ago," Voght replied. "ETA forty seconds."
"Get us out of the planet's gravity well, Mister Chuss. I want room to maneuver."
"Full impulse now," Chuss said. "Where do you want to go?"
"Not too far. Just far enough to get room to fight."
"Sir, is that a good idea? They're bound to have looked at our schematics..." Sibley began, then paused when the Lieutenant laughed.
"I hope they did," she said, "I hope they did!"
"We have legroom, Lieutenant," Chuss said. "They dropped out of warp aft of us and are headed our way at fast impulse."
"Chuss, can you do a Picard Maneuver? Put us on their aft shield?"
"Aye," the Caitian growled. "Sibley, drop shields on my mark...Mark!"
The long, angular vessel identified as a Lightning Class Blockade Runner in the Starfleet database was built for speed. The Lightning and her sisters were pirate ships from an era when Starfleet was much smaller and each vessel had to patrol a much larger sphere of Federation space. The blockade runners were more than a match for any commercial vessel and a serious challenge to the dedicated patrol vessels of their day. They had even been known to confront the Constitution Class heavy cruisers, though they had to rely on cunning and their speed and agility rather than brute force in those situations.
They were built tough, but their true purpose was smuggling. They were, like the Kestrel, designed to survive long enough to run away. Unlike the Kestrel, their shields were little more than token defenses intended to deal with small debris when moving at high speeds. Their protection came from armor and a reinforced frame. And because they were built with over-sized warp engines intended to enable the vessels of the class to sustain warp eight or higher for extended periods of time, they had power to spare at impulse speeds. The excess power was usually put to use powering any of a variety of weapons systems procured by their crews and typically upgraded at every opportunity.
When the Orion Pirate vessel charged the Kestrel she opened up with disruptor cannons which had been salvaged from a Klingon Bird of Prey. Just as her weapons fired at the scout ship a second Federation scout vessel appeared on her aft quarter and began firing a pair of Type II phaser beams into her aft shields while the image upon which the pirate Ship was firing streaked away at warp speed.
"A warp mirage!" Savaria screamed. "They used that trick with their warp engines! If they drop shields to try that again get a tractor beam on them!"
"Yes, Mistress," a middle-aged Orion male said.
She had boarding parties standing by: she wanted that ruddy Orion halfbreed who called herself Lesedi captured alive. The rest? She didn't care about them. If they could be sold for profit, so much the better. If they turned out to be troublesome they were better off dead as far as she was concerned, but she wanted that ruddy TRIBBLE in chains! Her revenge would last a good long time!
The Wildfire pivoted, bringing her main disruptors to bear as another vessel separated from the image. The same trick twice? How dumb was she? "Fire at the forward one!" she ordered as it tried to get past her and onto her aft quarter again.
As they pivoted to follow the target the warp shadow sat in place, and then opened fire on her aft quarter! The forward image, finally struck by the disruptors, exploded with a very low yield.
Wildfire's aft shields went down and the ruddy's phasers began to impact the cowling of Wildfire's impulse engines. The ruddy's ship fired a torpedo but Savaria's males were on the job and its targeting sensors were overloaded causing the torpedo to lose track of the Wildfire.
The Wildfire's main weapons finally got the Federation vessel in their firing arc and opened up.
"Shield Number Four down to forty percent," Sibley said. Recharging..."
"Anticipate where they will shoot next," Mirra said, "And overcharge that shield. Those are some powerful disruptors."
"Sir," Tanaka said, "I can try to jam their sensors."
"Wait until they fire a torpedo," the Lieutenant said. "As soon as they fire one use every trick you can to make it lose its target lock."
"Yes sir," Tanaka said.
It became a game of tag as the two vessels, each designed for evasion, tried to inflict damage on the other. Both vessels were relying upon their agility and the skill of their pilots to evade, causing the majority of attempts to strike their opponent to simply miss the target. Several times the Kestrel penetrated the Wildfire's shields only to come up against her armor, while every time the Wildfire managed to inflict damage on a shield the little scout turned away to present an undamaged facing. While the Wildfire's main weapons were more powerful the Kestrel had to be within an arc from just forward of one hundred twenty degrees from the nose of the vessel to be hit by one of the pair of disruptor cannons, and within a thirty degree cone forward of the nose to be hit by both simultaneously. Meanwhile the Kestrel's weaker phaser beams could fire in any direction, and did so virtually constantly making it difficult for the Wildfire to maintain any shielding against her.
Like a prize fight between two evenly matched lightweight boxers, the match became one of scoring points while dodging the other's attacks. Unlike a prize fight, there was no referee to keep score and there was no bell to give the combatants a chance to catch their breath. It was a fight with a single goal, but it began to appear as if neither could achieve it.
"How many more decoys do we have?" Mirra asked as they came around yet again to fire another torpedo at the engineering section of the blockade runner. The blockade runner targeted the projectile with its countermeasures and once again the torpedo's guidance burned out. Chief Voght tried to detonate it as it made its nearest approach to the Orion vessel but its control system was scrambled and the torpedo flew onward.
"One," answered Voght. "Queue it up?"
"Not yet," Mirra said as Chuss pitched the Kestrel into a sharp roll to avoid disruptor fire. "I'm thinking we need to get her on our stern for about fifteen seconds without letting her blow out our shields. Mister Sibley, how good are you at simulating battle damage with our external holoprojectors?"
"I'll need some help from Masha," he said.
Savaria considered her source and deduced that she had been sold bad information. The USS Kestrel was almost twice as powerful as the data file suggested, and its maneuverability was on par with or maybe even a little bit better than that of the Wildfire. Although its phasers couldn't do much damage against Wildfire's armor, in a long, drawn out battle of attrition the little damages they did inflict would start to add up. Meanwhile, Wildfire's own weapons were scoring significant damage to the scout ship's shields but by the time she maneuvered to get a second shot on a damaged shield facing the shield was restored. She thought of the Azhati, still in its hidden cache, waiting. She had considered taking the old lady out of mothballs for this job but dismissed it as unnecessary after she read the specifications her informant had passed to her. She had calculated that Wildfire was more than a match for the tiny scout ship. The deciding factor had been that Wildfire needed only one-third the crew of the larger vessel, and she had a temporary shortage of skilled personnel. Another important factor was the Warp Six maximum speed of the Azhati, which made it less than desirable as an aggressor inside Federation space unless it was on a one-way mission.
While she reflected on ways she might break the stalemate she saw a plasma conduit blow out on Kestrel's dorsal heat exchanger. "What happened?" she asked, trying to keep her excitement in check.
"EPS failure. Their Number Five shield is slow to recover, Mistress," her navigator said.
"Focus on the Number Five shield!" she said, though it was obvious they were trying to do just that as the Federation ship maneuvered to avoid allowing it. It took them a while to get back on the target, and the fountain of electroplasma had been reduced to a trickle by the time they got a clear shot on the damaged shield facing.
"Target hit: the shield facing is down." The navigator said it as though he was announcing that dinner had been served. Savaria was on the edge of her seat with excitement.
A sudden, piercing, shriek played over the communications system and the viewscreen pixellated to a noise pattern. It took a second for the operator to shut it off as he yelled, "They're jamming all bands! Sensors, comms..."
"I know what that means, idiot! Find the nexus of the signal and target it now!"
"I have it!" the navigator said as the static on the main viewer faded somewhat. Ahead was the ruddy's vessel with another fountain of plasma spewing from the now failed number five shield emitter.
"They're still jamming, but I'm cutting through... Their impulse engine is offline!"
"Check fire!" Savaria shouted. "I have the TRIBBLE now! Send the boarding parties!"
"Boarding parties away," said the communications operator.
"Mistress, I'm getting a strange energy buildup midships," the engineer said.
"Battle damage?" she asked.
"None registers, Mistress. I'll go look."
Before he could get up from his seat the ship groaned and began to vibrate.
"A second vessel just decloaked!" said the navigator.
"Decloaked?" she asked, and then the Wildfire shook and its grav-plating failed.
"Structural integrity failure amidships," said the engineer. "We've lost pressure from Bulkhead 60 aft, and we've lost aft subsystems controls."
"How is the TRIBBLE doing this?" she demanded.
"Graviton buildup amidships. A microsingularity formed."
The navigator said, "The other ship was a holographic decoy. We beamed sixteen soldiers into vacuum!"
"Do we still control our engines?" Savaria demanded.
The computer began a countdown: "Ossissepnass, devnasepnass, sistsepnass, vuldasepnass, acstisepnass, voulssepnass,..."
"We have engine controls, if the engineering crew can contain the warp core breach which will happen in just under two minutes."
"To Hell with that! Ram that ship!"
"They are hailing," the communications operator said. He put it on screen before Savaria could refuse.
"Savaria," the ruddy TRIBBLE in her viewer said. "Your ship is in danger of a warp core breach. We're going to begin transporting you and your crew to the Kestrel. Don't try to fight us or we won't have time to get everyone to safety."
"You!" Savaria said. "I will kill you even though it's the last thing I will ever do!"
"You're wasting time. Give the order and lower what remains of your shields. We have just enough time to get this done."
Savaria screamed. "Turn off that TRIBBLE and fire something at her now!" she commanded.
For forty years Savaria had been princess of an ancient, wealthy house. She had viewed life as a game, and everyone in it was her pawn to play with as she desired. Even her mother, who was a dangerous pawn but a pawn nevertheless, was nothing to Savaria but a means to an end. And this ruddy halfbreed runt had come along and ruined everything. Her house was destroyed, its slaves scattered to the winds. The remnants of her vast fortune existed now only in hidden caches of relics too old to be of service but too valuable to be simply discarded. She could spend a lifetime rebuilding and never achieve what she had once taken for granted. And it was all...her...fault!
She flung herself over to the helm control and shoved the male seated there out of her way. She plotted a ramming course. She set the ship's autodestruct, and now a second countdown began, this one from thirty seconds. She...
"NO!" she shrieked as she began to dematerialize. She was being transported!
Mirra watched the scene on Kestrel's main viewer. She was the only one who could understand what was being said on the Orion bridge, with the possible exception of Chuss, whose latent telepathic ability might aid him in comprehending a language he had never learned.
"Mason, can you get a lock on any of them?" she asked, leaning toward the communication panel.
"Their shields are up. I can't get a clean lock, and if I force it..."
"Keep trying. There are twenty lives over there."
"Aye, sir!" he answered.
They watched Savaria shove the male Orion. Without grav-plating he was hurled across the bridge to collide with a console. She manipulated the helm console and a second countdown began.
"Oh no..." Mirra said.
"What?" asked Voght.
"Self destruct," Chuss said.
Then Savaria screamed as she began to dematerialize.
"Mason! You got her!" Mirra said. Then she heard the familiar sound of materialization, on Kestrel's bridge!
Savaria materialized forward of the helm and navigation consoles facing the viewscreen but she pivoted while drawing a knife from a concealed sheath. She saw Mirra, screamed, and charged.
"Shields up!" Mirra yelled as she tumbled sideways over the port conn console which sagged when her weight proved too much for its supporting pivot-arm, turning what was intended to be a graceful roll across the console into a clumsy spill. When she hit the deck Savaria was over her and the knife came down.
Mirra rolled, then kicked Savaria's knee. Savaria saw the kick coming and twisted so that Mirra's foot hit the back of her thigh, and as Savaria continued to spin she kicked with the same leg into Mirra's midriff. She tried to bring the knife down again but Mirra was quicker. With one heel she slammed the top of Savaria's foot and felt something crunch. Then as she rolled away she hooked the other leg with her foot and pulled it sideways at the knee. Savaria dropped to the knee with her face in the ship's defense display just forward of the Engineering station. As Mirra bounced to her feet she noticed Chuss' chair at the helm spinning, empty. But Chuss wasn't helping with the fight; he had simply moved over to the navigation station.
Chief Voght also moved when Savaria beamed in: to the Bridge Armory Locker. It contained two Type III phaser rifles and four Type II phaser pistols. Mason had keyed the locker to voice authorization, but hers was not one of the authorized voices. She began to try to guess the password, which she entered manually. It was something Mason wouldn't forget. "Maizel." Not his mother's name. "Cerberus." Not his first ship. "Guiness." Not that human ale he drank. The password could be anything! Damn him, what was it? What would he never forget, even in an emergency? He's a human, think like a human!
The display blinked and "WAIT!" appeared. Then, "Thalys," came up.
The panel fell down exposing two rifles on racks within the compartment and four pistols in slots in the door. She said, "Thanks, Friday," grabbed a pistol and turned around...
The Type I hand phaser was small, easily concealed, and very powerful within a limited range and with a limited number of charges. On advice from Dr. S'lott Sean had begun to carry one, set to stun, in a belt-holster under his uniform blouse. He had been having trouble dealing with the lethality of Chuss when their ship had been boarded and the doctor suggested it might give him an alternative in case it ever came up again. Just knowing it was there had helped with his anxiety. And of course he practiced with it. He was really quite good for a novice, or so Mason said. When the Orion woman beamed in he froze for a moment. She screamed and charged the Lieutenant. The Lieutenant rolled away, took a kick in her side, rolled again and pulled the Orion woman from her feet. Chuss moved. Sean thought that Chuss was about to disembowel the woman. Without realizing it Sean had drawn his little phaser and fired.
Then Mason was there. "Good job, sir!" he said in passing, and he pressed the Ensign's arm down before he passed in front of the phaser.
"Lieutenant, you've been hit," Mason said as he put restraits on the unconscious Orion.
Mirra looked down to her red uniform tunic and saw a brown stain spreading from a small puncture in her uniform blouse. She touched it and her fingertips came away with green on them.
On the viewer there was a brilliant white flash and the Kestrel shook violently.
Waiting was difficult, as it always was. Lee stood by the door to the kitchenette, which was also adjacent to the door to the corridor. They had not turned on any lights, and in the semi-dark, illuminated only by the city lights which penetrated the heavy draperies on the window-wall, it was easy to imagine all sorts of bad things happening in the building, in the city, in space. But right now the only thing that mattered was the safety of the judge.
He had his comm badge turned down to its lowest setting and still he could hear the warbling whine of the signal jammer. It must be playing havoc with the planetary communications network which relied upon a series of satellites in synchronous orbits above the planet's equator to link the distant cities. Within the cities, however, due to the way radio and other EM radiation bounced around inside domes and around angular skyscrapers, the local communications grid was an integral part of the electroplasma power distribution system, and was very likely unaffected by the jamming device. If he dared to use it he might be able to summon help. If it was tapped he could alert the enemy to his location and they could potentially get to him quicker than local law enforcement.
Fortune had played him two wild cards and he intended to get the best use of them that he could. The first was that Dr. Sar was still in the service elevator when the Red Alert went off. Had he stepped out of it the car would have been stuck in the basement, locked until a bell-hop could be found to unlock it. Dr. Sar immediately returned to the twentieth floor with the judge's clerk. The second wildcard was that room number 2108, a floor above the room being used by the judge, was unoccupied. There was no one to panic and cause a disturbance when they arrived. Lee quickly sent the elevator car to the basement level where its automatic controls would lock it against unauthorized use, and incidentally lead anyone who looked to conclude that he had taken the judge down to the basement level. There was no way to know if his ploy was a success, except to have the attackers arrive or to wait for the jamming signal to cease.
But waiting was difficult.
The suite was clear, though the beds had been ransacked for their sheets. Those were now in the elevator shaft with the unconscious attackers. Lucky returned to the comm panel and keyed it for the receptionist.
"Hi, it's me again," Lucky said. "I'll stay on the line this time until the police arrive. I want to talk to the first officer you can get to the comm, okay?"
"Is this some kind of crazy joke?" the receptionist asked. "Are you hoaxing like on that pranking show?"
"No, I'm not pranking you. You did call the police, right? This is very serious, and I have three people in need of medical care who also need to be arrested for murder. Look, I know this sounds crazy, but someone was trying to assassinate a Federation judge, and I'm a member of the service that protects them."
"So, what, you go around shooting people? I mean, this is crazy!"
"No, we don't go around shooting people. This is rare. This is the first time anything like this has ever happened that I know of. Usually someone makes a threat or something, like when the judge sentences them to rehab, but they don't ever carry it out."
"I still can't believe this!" she said. "You seemed like a nice guy, and then you call me and say you went and killed five people?"
"I didn't kill anybody," Lucky said. "Well, the one guy who fell into the elevator shaft. But that was an accident..." Lucky realized how foolish he sounded and stopped. "I agree, this is crazy. But I need to speak to the officers when they arrive, and we need medical teams on the twentieth floor."
"They're here," she said. "Officer! Hey! I have someone who needs to talk to you!" Then she remembered to mute her pickup.
Lucky could just imagine the conversation. It would be a miracle if the police didn't charge up and arrest him as the perpetrator of the murders!
"Sergeant Milhouse here," said a businesslike woman.
"Deputy Marshal David Star, Sergeant. I have, so far as I can tell, secured Room twenty-oh-eight and the corridor from the elevator to the room, but I have not checked any of the other rooms. The four members of your security detail are dead. Focused disruptor beam. One of the four attackers is most likely dead from a fall into the service elevator shaft which serves the oh-six and oh-eight rooms. There are also two unconscious attackers in that same shaft so do not use it until the people have been secured and removed. My marshal, another deputy, and the judge with her staff are not in the room, and I presume they are still in the hostel because it appeared the attackers were still looking for them when I arrived. I, the Marshal, and the other deputy are in uniform with badges displayed... your team is arriving via the elevator now?"
"Just stay where you are, Mister Star, and we'll take care of this."
"There may be other attackers in the building, but I can't be certain. The squad is coming down the corridor now," Deputy Star said.
"In here!" Lucky said in a voice intended to carry. "I'm Deputy Marshal David Star! My hands are empty!"
"Step out into the corridor," a masculine voice said.
The squad was an eight-man assault team, complete with armor and combat rifles, (hopefully set to stun!)
David stepped into the corridor with his empty hands showing. Four red aiming lasers focused on him.
"Get medical teams here, there is one unconscious attacker there on the floor and two more in the elevator shaft."
"Secure the subject," said one of the armored officers. As the officers moved to allow the pair tasked with 'securing' him to pass the four dots remained steady.
Dr. Sar sat with the judge and her associates in the largest of the three rooms. On his lap he cradled a phaser, and his chair faced both the door and large window over which the draperies had been drawn when he first entered. They had not been opened. In the dim illumination that leaked through them he listened to the whispers of the judge and her staff. It gave them the sound of conspirators hatching a plot, or of children at a slumber party. Both ideas were somehow amusing to him, especially considering that the whispers were wholly unnecessary. There had been an explosion earlier which he had reognized only by the vibrations in the floor of the building. They could have an argument and not be overheard in the adjacent suite.
When he had said, "Charges," Lee had nodded and said, "Your Honor, I want you and your staff in the back, away from the door if anyone tries to come in. Doctor Sar will guard you."
That had been just under half an hour ago, and he could discern the impatience in the whispers of the judge and her people who were huddled on the bed.
On cue, the Judge raised her whisper and asked, "How long will we be here?"
"I do not know. I conjecture that we may be safe now: professional criminals tend to act quickly and move on, especially when they fail to obtain their goal as planned. Staying longer only increases the chance they will be apprehended."
He didn't whisper, which seemed to shock the judge's clerk of court. One whispered while hiding! He gave her a little smile, uncertain if she could see it in the twilight.
"If we're safe now we could go back to my room and I can get back to work. I detest being idle."
"Conjecture is not certainty, Your Honor. We will remain here until the Marshal determines that another course of action is wise."
"And how long will that be?" she demanded. He could tell that she was anxious, frustrated, and needed an outlet. She was using him as the focus of that frustration and her mild sarcasm was her way of relieving her tension. To insist that he remain obedient to the Marshal's instructions would only heighten her anxiety and frustration. Instead, he would allow her to achieve the desired emotional release by acceeding to her command.
"I shall ask Marshal Lee," he said.
As he rose to step over to the door he felt a familiar tingle.
"It appears I am wanted elsewhere," he said as he dematerialized in a transporter beam.
The police van outside the hostel was spacious, considering he was its only occupant. The two benches along its outer walls would have had knees banging had there been others seated in the van with him, and eight men would have made the space cramped.
The back door opened and an armored officer who had doffed her helmet entered.
"Sergeant Milhouse, I presume?" he asked.
"Yes, and you are David Star, Deputy Federation Marshal. Turn around please."
He turned and she released the cuffs that bound his wrists. when he turned back she handed him his badge, which he pinned on. She then held his weapon out in the way those familiar with firearms do: overhand by the barrel with the handgrip facing his right side and the muzzle pointing down.
"Interesting weapon," she said as he checked the load and returned it to its holster.
"It has its disadvantages. If I'm right in my assumption of who those attackers were, the three men I shot with it will have taken a slow-acting toxin. Your medical staff needs to neutalize it."
"Is that what's making them turn funny colors?"
"No," said David with a grin, "My weapon uses melenex crystals. It's a harmless temporary side effect."
"You said you think you know where the judge and your marshal are hiding?"
"I think they are in the hostel, but I would advise against hunting for them. The Marshal is extrmely dangerous."
"Says the young man who took out four would-be assassins by himself. What would you advise?"
"To wait for our crew to deal with that signal jammer. Then I can simply call him on his communicator. Meanwhile, I presume you've cordoned off the building. Anyone who tries to enter or leave should be scanned for medical gear and possibly the agent that neutralizes the poison."
"All of that has been done, except for the antidote bit. Your crew. The ship in orbit?"
"I'm told it broke orbit some time ago, and that there was a flash consistent with a warp core breach just before I came in."
"Then I don't know what to tell you. I have a high degree of confidence in our crew. I do know that if armored men unknown to the Marshal kick in the door of his hiding spot, there are likely to be dead armored men."
"You seem to have a high degree of confidence in your marshal too."
"Ma'am, he does his morning workouts with a two hundred kilo Caitian."
"Alright, we'll play this your way." She slapped the door twice and it opened. To the officer who opened it she said, "Search teams are restricted to public spaces and corridors. Only enter rooms which ask for escort. Have Aerel make public announcements in the building that this is an Emergency Response Training Exercise, and if a guest wishes to exit his room to call the front desk and ask for an escort. For purposes of training, all guests discovered outside their rooms without escort will be detained. Thank the guests for their cooperation."
"Yes sir," said the armored policeman.
"You're with me," she said to David as she exited the van.
Other vehicles had arrived since his being placed into the van. The officer who had opened its door was trotting toward the hostel and they followed at a normal pace. Another armored policeman shoved her helmet and a P.A.D.D. into the sergeant's hands. She said a profane word and quickened her step.
"Lieutenant!" she shouted as she entred the lobby of the hostel. "Lieutenant!"
"About time you got here," the uniformed, but unarmored and rather pudgy officer said. "This is shaping up to be a..."
The fair-skinned sergeant was three shades of red darker than usual as she said, "You do NOT show up at MY crime scene and begin countermanding my orders, SIR!"
Sergeant Milhouse turned to the armored, three-armed, three legged officer on the comm panel at the registration desk and said, "Aerel, disregard the Lieutenant's instructions. My orders stand."
"Now look here," said the Lieutenant, "As senior officer present I'm..."
"Not the senior officer," said Star, interrupting the Lieutenant a second time. "Deputy Federation Marshal David Star. This case involves the security of a Federation Judge and her staff, which places it in my jurisdiction. Sergeant, you have your orders."
"Yes sir," she said.
"Lieutenant, if you would, let's step over here and talk while the Sergeant does her thing. Better yet, do you have a command vehicle?"
Lee heard the panic in the bedroom and just as he moved a voice made an announcement over the room's telecom system. He ignored the telecom and entered the bedroom where the judge and her associates sat on the bed. Dr. Sar was missing.
"He just transported!" the judge said.
That's when Lee realized the static was no longer keening from his communicator. He tapped it and said, "Volume to five, Lee to Kestrel."
Almost immediately he got another call, "Deputy Star to Marshal Lee."
"Lee here," he answered.
"Kestrel here, Skipper," said Chief Voght's voice as simultaneously Star said, "The local police have the building cordoned off and they are anxious to find you and the judge."
"Hold on, you're talking over one another. Voght, put us on the same channel."
"Aye, sir... Done."
"Good, do you know where Doctor Sar is?"
"Hopefully in sickbay, sir," said Ensign Tanaka. "Lieutenant Mirra was injured. It's a superficial wound, but poison is involved and Crewman Brock can't identify it. She was having breathing difficulty and paralysis. Brock put her on a respirator but he couldn't stop the progress of the poison. We needed Doctor Sar. Sir, Brock says it may not matter. The poison..."
"You've done what you could, Ensign. What's the status of the ship?"
"The Kestrel is intact, undamaged. We have Savaria and one of her officers in the brig, but their ship is a cloud of radioactive vapor now. They did it themselves, or
did. Self destruct."
"I'll review the logs later. Are there any other vessels in orbit or in the system?"
"Sir," interrupted Chief Voght, "There are two system service shuttlecraft in operation between the planet and its orbital cargo transfer station, and several mining vessels in the outer system, all Warp 2 class or lower. Currently there are no starships in the system."
"Thank you Chief," Lee said. "Ensign, there are three lifesigns within three meters of my communicator. Have Crewman Mason go to Transporter Room 1 and beam them aboard. It is the judge and her party. They are to be given access to the guest quarters and to the Briefing Room, and Cadet Friday is to assist the Judge with whatever materials and data she requires."
"Understood, sir," Tanaka said.
"Okay, David," Lee said, "Go ahead."
"Marshal, the police have cordoned off the building and are searching anyone who wants to leave for weapons, medical gear, or antitoxin compounds. I've strongly discouraged them from performing a room to room search for you, but they are anxious to begin doing just that for any surviving attackers."
"Did you mention our observer on the balcony to them?"
"TRIBBLE! Sir, I forgot about that. Lieutenant, inform the sergeant that we want to question the occupant or ocupants of room, ah..."
"Three-oh-two," Lee prompted.
"Three-oh-two," Lucky repeated. "Sorry, sir, if he was smart he's already moved and I've cost us a suspect."
"If he was smart he'd have moved before the attack began. He is likely either one of the attackers or an innocent guest who was enjoying the view. Deputy, I..."
He paused as the judge and her staff dematerialized.
"You're in room twenty-one-oh-eight," Lucky said.
"Very good, Deputy. The judge has been transported to safety now. The police may search the building."
This was her third time in this cell. The first time was after she was captured by that customs officer on a backwater world that segregated their population by sex. They put her into this cell during her transport to the Federation Court on Savin's Planet. She should have been able to free herself from that mess, but
had to interfere and send a halfbreed ruddy mercenary to 'rescue' her. Only, the ruddy turned out to be a Starfleet officer working for some kind of Federation policeman. She had never even heard of a marshal before the fake rescue resulted not only in the loss of her actual rescuers, but of her family's empire. And now, her revenge failed, her last assets used up in the attempt, she was once again in this same damned prison cell on this same damned ship. Her advocate wouldn't be able to help her this time as she had heard he had been arrested.
At least the Good Masters had given her the opportunity to make one last gesture: that ruddy TRIBBLE was dead now, or would be soon! Just the thought was delicious. She laughed.
"What's so funny, Mistress?" asked a male from the adjoining cell. She had been unconscious when they brought her in, and was unaware until that moment that she had company.
"Valeem?" she asked. "What are you doing here?"
"I was transported at the same time you were."
"They captured you alive?" she said in shock.
"There were two of them when I transported in, they both had phasers. Set to stun, I presume. I attacked anyway, and woke here."
"How did I end up on the bridge and you in the transporter room if they transported us together?"
"They transported only me. Faezal transported you."
"What? Why?" she shouted, "That TRIBBLE had no right..."
"He did it to save your life, Mistress. We are expendable, you are not. With you goes Kmt'aa Cartel, house Ghovasse, and five thousand years of history."
"And I've lived to see that five thousand years come to an end! Better I should have died!"
"No, mistress, no. Better you should live to rebuild what was. In five thousand years the name Ghovasse will still be spoken with reverence, and slaves will count themselves fortunate to serve in your name. The dynasty dies only if you die."
"I have a daughter," Savaria said.
"A child, untrained, untested. Without an heir of the lineage to tutor her in her place in history. She may one day be fit to rule, but that day will be many years from now."
"A great house brought so low as to have one slave, one heir, and one matron, and she in prison, at that!"
"One slave?" he asked.
"I'm sorry, Mistress, but I've broken my tooth."
"Ah," she said. He had been fitted with a prosthetic tooth which contained a lethal substance. As a safety precaution a waxy resin surrounded the substance and it could be spit out if the tooth was broken accidentally, but once the coating dissolved or was bitten there was no antitoxin which could stop the progress of the poison.
"You were a good and loyal slave, Valeem. May the Good Masters reward you for your years of service."
"Thank you Mistress. I will do my best to die quietly."
Five thousand years,
she thought. Five thousand years from now she could be known as the matron who saved a defeated house and returned it to greatness, or she would be forgotten. Five thousand year ago her ancestress had less than she had now and built a fortune that lasted and grew over many generations. With her wit, her knowledge, and her name, Savaria could not fail, but it would require patience and planning. She would work on gaining the first while she did the second.
The debriefing with the local constabulary was exhausting. By comparison, the debriefing with Starfleet was short and concise. Lee hoped the trend would continue when he got back to the Kestrel and made his report to the Senior Marshal. But there was one more task to be done first.
"Madam Minister," he called to the Triexian Minister of Security, and waved to gain her attention as he moved through the crowded office in her direction.
About twenty percent of the local population was Triexian, and they stood out not only for their height, which averaged slightly above that of humans, but for their strangely smooth three-legged stride. They appeared, at a distance, to float among the pedestrians.
When she approached he said, "Madam Minister, if you have time, I'm on my way back to my ship and I'd like to introduce you to the cause of all of this recent trouble."
"I am Aerinx. Madam Minister sounds so pretentious, don't you think? How long will it take to make this introduction? I have meetings which cannot be delayed."
"I would be happy to wait until your schedule allows enough time, Minister. As you know, we're ordered to stay here until a board of inquiry can convene. There's no hurry on my part, but my ship is equipped with transporters. We can be there in just a few minutes, and you can meet the prisoners, examine our ship's logs, or ask questions of my crew. If you prefer, one of your deputies could go in your place."
"I would like to see these prisoners, and the mighty warship that saved our world from a pirate ship."
She turned and waved to her aide who appeared to slide through the crowd toward her. "Aemox, let Deputy Minister Fellows know that I will be delayed in getting to the Carpathia Cantonment Summit. He is to convene and chair the meeting."
"Yes, Minister," he said. He looked down at Lee, then turned and glided away, his three legs quick-stepping in the strange Triexian gait.
"I now have about two hours, Marshal."
"I'm Lee," he said. "It's a pleasure to make your aquaintence, though I would have preferred a less serious occasion to do so." He took the Starfleet combadge from his pocket and said, "Lee to Kestrel."
"Kestrel here," said Chief Voght.
"Have Crewman Mason report to Transporter Room One to receive myself and the Minister of Security."
"It shouldn't take long..." Lee began when Mason's voice came over the combadge.
"Skipper, is the Minister the alien standing beside you?"
"The Minister is Triexian."
"Yes sir. Two beings locked in and ready to transport on your order."
"We are ready."
A few heads turned as they began to dematerialize, and a moment later they were aboard the Kestrel.
Mason played his Bosun's Call, the signal for visiting dignitaries, and announced, "Attention all hands, Minister of Security is aboard the ship!"
He reached over and tapped the door control panel and the hatch to the quarterdeck opened. In the quarterdeck Chief Voght and crewmen Ben, Aktay, Ladner, and Sibley were standing in line at attention.
Lee smiled. "We have so few opportunities for ceremony, Minister. Please come this way." He lead the minister out of the transporter room, past the Honor Guard on the quarterdeck, and into the Cargo Bay.
"My apologies," Lee said as he ducked beneath the power conduit that divided the compartment, "It's a bit low here."
"Do not worry," the Minister replied. "I am Limbo champion of the security department. We Triexians are far more limber than humans, and our center of weight is considerably lower." She demonstrated her flexibility as she flowed beneath the obstacle.
When Lee opened the hatch to the Starboard Quarterdeck they had to pause as Dr. Sar and Crewman Brock manipulated a stretcher with a lage male Orion on it.
"What's this?" Lee asked.
"A corpse," Dr. Sar replied as he backed through the hatch.
"I can see that. As of my last report this person was alive."
"Indeed," said Sar as he backed across the Cago Bay. "I suspect poison, and I suspect it was self-inflicted. I am curious as to how it was gotten past our sensors; that flaw should be corrected. It should have been picked up in the transport buffer or by the Brig Security Screen."
He was short enough to walk upright beneath the power conduit, though Brock had to stoop as he passed.
"Let me know what you find," Lee said.
"I always do," the Doctor replied as he entered the hatch to the Port Quarterdeck.
"This way, Min... ah, Aerinx," said Lee as he lead the way into the Starboard Quarterdeck. "I'm not surprised that an Orion male would suicide in the face of defeat, but I am surprised that our safeguards didn't catch the poison and eliminate it. We'll have to upgrade our security screening process once we find out how it was gotten past our filters."
"What will you do with the body now?" she asked.
"I had intended to have the Orion charged with piracy in a Federation court. Now, I suppose I'll turn him over to your government for processing in whatever manner your world finds suitable."
"And if we don't want him?"
"Starfleet disposes of corpses in the nearest star. 'From stardust we were made, and to the stars we return,' I believe, is the line in the standard funeral service."
"It would seem a convenient way to dispose of evidence of mistreatment of prisoners," the Minister speculated.
"Which is why, before we do anything else, the Doctor will take three-dee full-body scans for the record. Of course, if you wish, we can have the body transported to your forensics laboratories for full anylisis. I would request that Doctor Sar be present for the autopsy so that I can insure we learn what killed the man and find a way to prevent its happening again."
"Oh, no, I'm not accusing you. I have a naturally suspicious mind honed by years of police work."
"As do I. It's an unfortunate byproduct of our craft. If you will follow me," Lee said and he opened the hatch to the brig.
A blue light flashed and scanned each of them as they entered. The first two cells were empty, though the center one still had its holographic furnishings. The last contained Savaria, who stood by the force field.
"Where did you take Valeem?" she demanded. "You're going to kill him, aren't you? You murderers!"
"Minister Aerinx," Lee said, "Meet Savaria Ghovasse, former matron of the Kmt'aa Cartel, escaped Federation Convict, achitect of the assassination attempt on the judge, the murder of four of your peace officers, and the person responsible for the recent blackout of your world's communications network."
"I didn't do any of those things!" shouted Savaria. "I'm innocent! I want to see my advocate!"
"She has a point," the Minister said. "She is entitled to an advocate."
"And the courts will appoint one to her in due time. For now she is an escaped felon, and I require no writs or warrants to hold her until such time as she can be returned to the custody of the Bureau of Penology."
"They have the wrong girl, Minister!" said Savaria in a pleading tone. "Do I look like I could kill anyone?"
Lee said, "Of course, your world will want to prosecute her for the crimes she committed in your space. I've arranged for the recordings of the battle with the pirate vessel to be submitted to your prosecutor's office, and we'll coordinate with your world's court system in arranging for her trial."
"I realize this is a multi-jurisdiction case," said the minister. "But that will be a matter for our legalists to work out. I'm in law enforcement."
"Is there anything else you'd like to see before we head up to the Bridge? I'm due to speak to my supervisor, and she will no doubt wish to speak to you as well."
"Look at me," Savaria begged. "I'm innocent! I couldn't do any of those things! They're going to kill me like they killed Valeem! Don't let them do this, Minister! Take me with you!"
"I think I've seen enough here," the Minister said.
Lee lead the Triexian back to the hatch and said, "Exit." Once again the blue light flashed and scanned both of them before the hatch opened.
"I'm INNOCENT!" Savaria screamed. "LET ME OUT!"
The hatch closed on her, leaving her alone again. This time without even the company of her dead slave.
Chuss entered the Sickbay where Mirra lay on the biobed he had so recently occupied, though she, at least, was able to lie on her back.
"I am glad to see the Doctor was able to treat the poison," he said.
"Thanks for coming," the Lieutenant said. "I wanted to ask you something."
He stepped over to the bed and waited as she looked at him with her strange green eyes. Eyes like those of a hero out of the Honor Tales of his childhood.
Finally she said, "Mister Chuss, you like fighting hand-to-hand. You're good at it."
"Thank you," he said, and waited again.
"So why didn't you?" she asked. "You just got up and moved out of the way."
"I would never interfere in an honor duel between rivals," he said.
"Honor duel?" Mirra asked. "She used a poisoned knife! Where's the honor in that?"
"Orion and Caitian standards differ," he said simply.
"I wasn't fighting for honor! I was fighting for my life!"
"At least one of you thought the fight was personal," he said. "I'm betting both of you did. So long as the duel was conducted ship-to-ship there was no doubt but that I should act in my capacity as a member of its crew to help you defeat your rival. When the battle became personal there was no question but that I should not interfere. It is a matter of honor."
"Ensign Tanaka interfered," she challenged. "Does that mean I'm dishonored?"
"No. It means your fight is not yet over. You were moments away from defeating her in a manner she could not help but recognize as defeat. Now? She has an excuse, and she will continue the fight. Your duel is not finished."
"She's in the brig. It's over."
"Is it?" Chuss asked. "Perhaps I am mistaken. Ask Savaria."
Sibley stood behind the bar polishing glasses and putting them away as he told his tale to Aktay. Chief Voght and Ensign Tanaka flanked the computer technician, and Chief Garadda sat on the stool at the end of the bar facing back toward the entrance of The Briefing Room.
"The Lieutenant was starting to tremble," he said, and she stumbled on her way to the Conn. Chief Voght had to catch her and help her sit. Mason was telling Mister Friday to tell Brock to come to the bridge, and Mister Tanaka just stood there holding his little phaser."
"I was thinking!" the Ensign said.
"Finally Chief Voght said, 'Mister Tanaka, you're in command!' By this time the Lieutenant was starting to tremble hard, and it must have been pretty painful because she had her jaw clamped and her breathing was short and hard. By then Mason had Savaria shackled and he flipped her onto his shoulder and headed for the brig.
"Brock came in just as Mason was leaving, only he had a phaser rifle instead of a medkit. 'Give me a hand,' he said to me, and he started helping the Lieutenant to her feet.
"The Ensign finally said, 'Chief Voght, your advice?' and she said, 'We need Doctor Sar!'"
"Crewman Brock said that," the Ensign said.
"Chief said it too," Sibley insisted. "But by that time the Ensign was in control. He jumped into the Conn and got busy while I helped Brock get the Lieutenant to Sick Bay. The last I heard was Mister Tanaka saying, 'Mister Chuss! Back to the planet!'"
"So what happened after that?" Aktay asked.
Chief Voght said, "The Ensign called up the Comms controls on the unbroken Conn console and worked his magic."
"I just paralleled the jamming signal and fed it into a noise cancellation subroutine," the Ensign said.
"I didn't know you could do that," said Voght.
"Well, not against active jamming, but a programmed jammer? Sure."
"Anyway, it worked. I was finally able to penetrate the noise with the sensors, though Comms were still jammed. When we got close enough to the planet I managed to get a sensor lock on the Doctor's combadge, so I sent the coordinates and the link to the Transporter Room and told Ra... Crewman Mason to get the Doctor.
"The Ensign was still having trouble with the jammer, and we needed comms. When I asked he said, 'I can't shut it off!' so I said, 'I can!'"
"She blew it up!" the Ensign said. "It was evidence! We needed that jammer intact!"
"I only meant to disable it," Chief Voght insisted. "I used a low-power burst from a single secondary capacitor. That thing had a self-destruct charge on it."
"I could have shut it down," the Ensign protested. "I just needed more time."
"It would have blown up anyway," the Chief said.
"We'll never know for sure now," Aktay said, heading off a potential argument. "Mister Tanaka's finest hour, and I missed it!"
When the door slid open they turned to see Ben and Bennie coming in. Bennie had something in her hand. It was about twenty centimeters tall and half that in width and depth, and it was draped with a cloth. She set it on the bar between Aktay and the Ensign and stood back, her head tilted slightly back.
"It is for you," Ben said, looking at the Ensign.
"Well, thank you," he said. "What is it?"
Aktay reached over and pulled away the cloth. It was a tiny replica of the Kestrel's Conn with the port console broken at the pivot and tilted to the deck. Seated at the Conn was a very realistic miniature Ensign Sean Tanaka with the starboard console turned across his lap. His face was a study in concentration and he leaned forward, his right hand on the console, his left on the armrest of the chair as he gazed forward toward some distant view.
"It's perfect!" said Aktay. The Ensign just stared.
Chief Voght turned and put her hand on Bennie's arm with her head tilted back in the Pakled gesture for amusement.
Sibley asked, "Why is there a snake on the floor?"
Carved into the deck beneath the Conn was a snake, its head pointed to the Ensign's left foot and its body forming the sinuous posture a snake assumes before it strikes.
The Vulcan captain tapped the bell on the table before him and said, "The room will come to order."
There was an immediate hush followed by the sounds of the assembly taking seats. The conference room was on the USS Sharin, an older Excelsior-class vessel which was still in service as a second-line patrol vessel. The room had been set up for a board of inquiry, with three chairs behind a long table on one end of the room flanked by flags of the Federation, a central seat facing the three board members with a court recorder to one side, and beyond that several rows of chairs, enough for about fifty observers and witnesses, also facing the board.
The Vulcan gave the bell three double-taps and said, "This Board of Inquiry is now in session. The purpose of this inquiry is to establish the facts of the recent incident involving the USS Kestrel and an unidentified vessel which resulted in the destruction of the unidentified vessel and its crew, with the exception of one survivor, who is currently held in custody by the Federation Marshal Service as an escaped convicted felon. Arrangements are currently being made to convene this board to hear the testimony of this survivor, with respect to the Marshal Service's safety and security requirements. All relvant logs and recordings have been submitted to this board and are made a part of the official inquiry. Have the members of the board had sufficient time to examine these records?"
The human captains flanking him both nodded affirmatively.
"Very well, we shall move on to the testimony of the crew of the USS Kestrel. With the consent of the members of the board, I would like to call the Kestrel's acting commanding officer during the incident, Lieutenant Mirra."
The two captains nodded agreement and the Vulcan JAG officer who was acting as recorder for the inquiry called out, "Lieutenant Mirra, please take the stand."
Before she took her seat the Vulcan JAG Lieutenant swore her in, then stepped over to the recording computer terminal.
"As you are aware," the Vulcan captain said, "This is not a trial. You do not have the right to remain silent, and must answer any and all questions put to you as thoroughly and as accurately as possible. The computer will monitor your testimony for veracity. Is this understood?"
"Yes sir," Mirra said, shifting to get comfortable in the hard-backed chair.
"Lieutenant, this is the second occasion of our meeting," the Vulcan said. "Do you recall the circumstances of the first?"
"Yes, I do," Mirra answered.
"Please describe those circumstances."
"I was in temporary command of the USS Kestrel and in pursuit of Doctor Aguilar, an escaped convicted felon who is still at large at this time."
"You were aggressively seeking a foe with the intent to become involved in ship-to-ship combat?"
"I was pursuing a dangerous murderer with the intent to bring him to justice."
"Could you have captured this criminal without combat?"
"Sir, I... No. I couldn't have. But I wasn't going to catch him. His ship was faster than mine; I could only keep him in my sensors and guide other ships..."
"And now," the captain interrupted, "we have yet another situation in which you, as acting captain, chose to engage in combat. The pattern is quite disturbing."
"It's not a pattern, sir," Mirra said. "I didn't seek out combat: Savaria attacked my ship. I moved the Kestrel away from her apparent destination and she chased us down."
"Regarding your movement away from the planet: when asked where you wanted the ship to go you replied, and I quote from the Bridge Recording: 'Not too far. Just far enough to get room to fight.' This and other comments made by you would appear to indicate that not only were you anticipating combat, but that you did nothing to mitigate the possibility. You made no serious attempt to avoid combat."
"You are right, sir," Mirra said with a sigh. "I could have taken the Kestrel to warp and abandoned the Marshal to whatever fate Savaria of the Kmt'aa Cartel had in mind for him. I chose to not abandon my Skipper, and I did not attack until she made it clear that combat was her intent."
"How did you know it was this Savaria?" the Vulcan asked.
"I didn't. But it was a good bet that an unregistered Orion-built vessel headed toward my ship at high warp, blocking all attempts to communicate and activating a wide-band jamming device wasn't just dropping by for tea. At the time the only living Orion who held a grudge against me and my ship was Savaria."
"You made no attempt to call for assistance or to report this hostile vessel, but instead prepared to engage it in combat based on a 'good bet'?"
"I didn't take the time to calculate a probability curve, no sir. I trusted my intuition and my knowledge of Orion culture, then gave the other vessel the opportunity to prove me wrong. As for calling for help, there was none which could reach us in time to be of any assistance."
"And what was your emotional reaction when the unidentified vessel confirmed your intuition?"
"Confidence in my ship and crew, anxiety that Savaia had something more than straightforward combat in mind, concern for my Skipper and his deputies on the planet. I suppose one could say my emotional reaction was multi-faceted."
"There was no pleasure or anticipation for the upcoming fight?"
"Captain, I like to train to fight. I'm not bad at it, and the challenge of putting myself in situations which call upon my very best performance is exhilirating. But I don't like to actually fight. It's dangerous, people get hurt or killed, and any positive feeling is overshadowed by terror that I might do something wrong and it will cost the life of someone I love."
"Then could you please explain the reply you made in response to Crewman Sibley informing you that the enemy may have read the specifications of your ship and be prepared for the fight. You said, and I quote, 'I hope so.'"
Mirra smiled. "Sir, people have been reading the Kestrel's specifications and underestimating her for a long time. She fights well above her listed performance parameters. If Savaria based her decision to fight the Kestrel on the publicly available data on the Falcon class scouts, then she had made a severe strategic error. An error I intended to fully exploit."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," the Vulcan said. "I may have you return to answer further questions if any arise in the subsequent investigations."
The Vulcan Captain turned to his left and said, "Captain Syrell, your witness."
"We've met as well, briefly, over Savin's Planet."
"Yes sir. How's your ship?"
"Better now, thank you," the captain said. "That was one Hell of a bit of piloting you did that day: disabled three interceptors in what, forty seconds?"
"I had help, sir, not the least of which was that they were all shooting at you at the time."
"An advantage, to be sure. But your aggression and decisiveness in battle were also key components in the outcome that day. And this time as well. My concern is that your aggression may be obscuring other possibilities than combat. What other alternatives did you consider before committing to a fight?"
"Sir, have you ever dealt with Orions? Not the ones like me who grew up in the Federation, but the old-fashioned kind? For them there is but one law: dominate or submit. There is no middle ground, no room for negotiation, no accommodation for differences of opinions, no respect for the personhood of others. To such Orions, one is either a slave or a master, and Savaria clearly sees herself as a master. In her mind I challenged her, and her choices were simple: to dominate me or to submit and become my slave.
"The best, the very best I could have hoped for in that situation, if I managed to avoid combat, would be to have that combat later at a time and place of Savaria's choosing, and very likely without the strategic and tactical advantages I held at that moment. In other words, there was nothing to gain and a considerable amount to lose by delaying the inevitable fight. And yes, Starfleet might have stopped her elsewhere, but they hadn't caught her in the previous ninety days and she is an experienced smuggler who has spent a lifetime eluding Starfleet. And even if a Starfleet vessel caught up to her, she was never going to submit without a fight."
"I see. Thank you. Captain Husband?"
"We've met before as well," he said. "Twice. You're a bit greener now than the last time we met. And your captain, Skipper? Was in command at the latest event. But both times your little ship got my ship involved in combat. I know of front-line units which see less action. Can you explain how everywhere you go you seem to end up in armed conflict?"
"If you recall, sir," Mirra said, "The first time you and Captain Syrell were involved was to aid in bringing down the Kmt'aa Cartel base, which was a major cross-border smuggling operation that was feeding Klingon weaponry into Federation space in exchange for Federation drugs and technology which they sold to the Klingons. Every subsequent combat action was the direct result of attacks by Kmt'aa Cartel operatives or by bounty hunters paid by Kmt'aa remnants. We didn't seek out conflict, sir, they sought us out with the motive of revenge for destroying their once great house.
"Thanks to Starfleet and the Klingon Defense Force, a once powerful criminal cartel is now broken and its last matron sits in the Kestrel's brig awaiting transport to a maximum security rehabilitation facility. If there are any remnants of the Kmt'aa Cartel out there still, they aren't looking for a fight. With any luck, the Kestrel's seen her last battle."
Mirra sat in the big chair on the Kestrel's empty bridge once again. It was the midwatch and Crewman Aktay had just wandered out on her rounds after bringing her a berry tart Bennie had made for tomorrow's breakfast. The Pakled woman was a marvel, to have so quickly adapted to a culture and technology so alien to that of her homeworld. She even knew what humans would like to eat and was turning out to be a wonderful chef.
Mira glanced at the delicious half-eaten tart sitting on the starboard Conn console, then at her slimmer, more toned abs and sighed. She would regain her subcutaneous fat layer once the Doctor's hormone inhibitors began their work, but she would work very hard to retain the muscle tone her Orion genes had given her.
She had a call to make, which was why she was on the bridge instead of in her quarters napping. Grandfather's morning tea was taken at eight o'clock, Cape-Town time. Before and after he was very busy, and she hated to interrupt him during business hours, but he would always set aside what he was doing when she called.
"Computer, what time is it in Cape Town, South Africa, Earth?"
"It is now zero seven fifty-two."
"Place the call," she said, and waited while the computer routed her com-signal through various subspace relays to Earth.
The Beryl Cruise Line logo, a green tiger's eye, appeared on the screen and a voice said, "Please state the party to whom you wish to speak and the purpose of your call."
She smiled. Grandfather was screening his calls today. "Code Princess," she said, and the logo vanished to be replaced by the familiar wrinkled green face of Umkhulu.
"Princess! What have you done?" He asked as he saw her in his monitor.
She stood and turned about. "You like?" she asked.
"Princess," he said with a stern expression on his face, "On the day you were born I saw the most beautiful sight I shall ever see. You were perfect then, and as you have grown you only became more so."
He paused to look up toward someone behind his desktop pickup, then said, "You handle it; it's just a simple negotiation. Reach an accord we can live with and still make a profit, or threaten to pull out and let someone else have the concession."
After a moment he nodded, said, "That will work. Cabo, I'm ready for my morning tea."
"Unkhulu, you work far too hard," she chided.
"Shush, child. If I stopped working I would shrivel up. So, I hope this new look is cosmetic. Does it have to do with the topic of our last conversation?"
"Yes, Umkhulu. That's why I'm calling. We have the Kmt'aa matron in the brig now and will be transferring her to a rehab facility as soon as we're cleared by the board of inquiry in the destruction of her ship. The look isn't exactly cosmetic. It's a hormone treatment that activates my natural latent tendencies. Doctor Sar has inhibited the hormones now and within a few weeks I'll be back to my plain old self again. I'm going to miss being skinny."
"I'm glad it is temporary. You look so much like your grandmother did at your age, that to see you is like traveling back in time to a younger part of my life. You keep me young."
"Umkhulu, why did you never mention that we are noble caste?" she asked as she raked her dark red hair with her fingers.
"Because in choosing to live among humans I set aside castes and prejudices. When my mother sent me away for my protection she was engaged in trying to bring about that very change on our homeworld, but when the Dian matron challenged we had civil war instead. There were strongly entrenched forces within our society who benefited from the old ways and who weren't prepared to give up their advantages. Happily, most of them went with Dian to the Empire, and those who remain in the Federation must at least pay lip service to the Federation Bill Of Rights."
"Your mother... She was Alesade of House Shafir? Then you would be..."
"The Dauphin, yes. But legends say the Dauphin is dead, and the matrons all believe it to be so. I am happy to let it remain so, so I can live my life without a bunch of power-hungry females trying to use me to advance their agenda."
"So you don't call me Princess because of my mother?"
"Dorcas was justly proud of her heritage, but about eighty percent of South Africa can claim direct descent from Shaka Zulu. You are royalty on both sides of the family. Your father is my firstborn and you are his, so you would be in line to assume the Jade Throne if it hadn't been broken and sold as jewelry when I was still very young."
"But Aunt Mavin is female..."
"And might have killed your father for his place had she been able, or perhaps his suitors would have killed her. It is a life I am altogether too happy to have left behind. It was a bloody mess, but my mother did the right thing when she tried to break the caste system and institutionalized slavery. It cost her her life, but half of our people now live as she dreamed they could. As for the other half, they too in time will be free. But these memories are best kept in the family and never spoken of, Princess. They are of a time that is past and will never come again."
"And if the secret were to get out..."
"I am too old and from a time to long gone to be of any importance, and your father is half-human. Our line has no claim to power among those who still practice the old ways. Yet some matron might try to strengthen her hand with ties to the old regime, or demonstrate her power by assassinating the last members of a defeated house. It is best as it is: fogotten."
"I will keep the secret, though I reserve the right to tell my children one day," she smiled. "Not that I have any such plans in the near future. I still have to earn my starship command."
"Ah, it's a shame. That nice young man I spoke with some time back seemed like a capable fellow."
"He's my captain. Also, I'm not his type."
"A shame. Still, there's hope I will have great-grandchildren soon enough to spoil them. I understand your cousin is enjoying the attention of a young astronomer."
"Katha?" Mirra asked. "She never went for the brainy types. Are you sure he's a scientist and not a football player on a team named 'Astronomers?'"
"You should know by now that I do my best to remain well informed," he said. "I can't have just anyone trying to usurp control of my empire through the affections of my grandchildren."
"I'll keep that in mind when I decide on a partner," Mirra said. "So, tell me about this guy. What's he like, and why is Katha interested in him?"
Mirra entered the brig in dress uniform, waited for the obligatory scan, then stepped over to stand in front of Savaria's cell.
After a moment of shock the Orion woman screeched, "YOU! YOU'RE DEAD!"
"Not even a little bit," Mirra replied. "What? You thought you could use
on a Noble Caste? The Good Masters gave our kind immunity to any poison
could dream up."
"I swear, when I get out of here I'm going to devote my life to making sure you die and stay dead!" Savaia hissed.
"What a waste of a life. You could have been so much more than a petty criminal and a schemer. You're smart, brilliant, I'd say. You're not hard to look at, you were given an education and held position in society. And you wasted it all for what? Money? Status? Because you were bored? I don't understand you at all, I think. You could turn your life around, but here you stand promising what you can never deliver, and for such a petty reason as
You could be so much more.
"I don't care what it takes, you halfbreed runt! You are dead, and it will be my hand that kills you!"
"So sad," Mirra said. "Anyway, I'm not here to reform you. I have a message to send, and you're a part of it. Feel free to say whatever you like. I'm sure my friend will enjoy hearing it."
"I won't cooperate!" Savaria said.
"As you wish," Mirra said. "Computer, create a monitor opposite the arch to Cell One and record video and audio from that point of view. Display the image on the monitor as it is recorded."
A rectangular blue border formed on the inboard bulkhead and displayed Mirra and Savaria. Mirra turned her back to Savaria and faced the monitor.
"Hi, it's me again," she said. "I just want to let you know that I've taken care of that little business transaction we recently negotiated. Say hi, Savaria."
Mirra turned and saw the angry face of Savaria turn away from the monitor.
"She's in a mood, isn't she?" Mirra asked. "Anyway, I'm sure by now you know who I am, so there's no question of me dropping by to collect the bounty. And you can keep the thirty-six bricks of latinum; they were hers anyway."
"Thirty-six bricks?" Savaria screeched, turning around to look at Mirra.
"As of now the Kmt'aa Cartel is no more. Anyone claiming to be a member of that failed family is a masterless pretender..."
"Whoever you are, I'll pay seventy-two bricks for this TRIBBLE's head! House Ghovasse still has assets and power! I'll be free of this Federation cage soon, and whoever hands me the head of this ruddy halfbreed will earn my undying gratitude!"
"As you can see," Mirra continued as if Savaria had never spoken, "I have the last matron of the Kmt'aa Cartel in my custody, and I also have her heir, who will soon forget she was ever a part of it."
"Kill her! I can pay! I have assets, slaves, and a name that goes back five thousand years! I'm Savaria Ghovasse! Kill the ruddy TRIBBLE and earn my favor, and my latinum!"
"For my part, our business is concluded. If your matrons should think there is still some matter between us,"
Mirra tapped the force field with a tip of one finger, placed to obscure Savaria's face when the screen pulsed in response.
"Remind them of the fate of House Ghovasse," Mirra said. "Computer, end recording. I'll edit it later."
The computer chirped as Mirra turned back to face Savaria.
"Don't worry, I'll leave in every word you said. Enjoy your hate, because it's all you will ever have of me. I think this will be the last time we see one another. As I said, for my part, our business is concluded. Goodbye, Savaria."
Mirra turned and headed to the hatch as Savaria screamed a long, inarticulate scream of hate and frustration. "Exit," she said, and the blue light scanned her before the hatch opened.
"I'll kill you! You're dead! You'll see! I'll kill you!" Savaria screamed as the hatch closed behind Mirra.
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