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Recipe for Success (story)

shevetshevet Member Posts: 1,661 Arc User
It's been a while since the Foundry closed, but... I did make a couple of missions in it, and I decided they could be converted into, well, straightforward stories. So here's one of them, a slightly silly one, with my favourite slightly silly character in the driving seat.
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  • shevetshevet Member Posts: 1,661 Arc User
    Personal log: Veronika "Ronnie" Grau, officer commanding USS Falcon NCC-93057

    "Diplomacy?" I say. "Since when do I do diplomacy?"

    "There was that incident with the Sheliak," says Saval. Give him credit, his bland Vulcan face with its daft side-whiskers doesn't show even a trace of a smile, there. I'm not smiling much myself, to be honest.

    "It's a formal request through diplomatic channels for assistance," says Tallasa, my Andorian exec. She has her talk her through it and hope she stays sensible face on right now. "I think it's just that we're the closest real starship in range. The ident code is for a DaiMon Nibb, with a matching FCA clearance... I think it's legitimate, or at least as legitimate as the Ferengi ever get."

    "So young and so cynical," I mutter. "OK. Leo." At the comms station, Leo Madena looks up, bright and eager as ever, I don't know what he's smoking but I think I want some. "Put his Nibbs on the screen, then, let's hear what he's got to say."

    Leo does the business, and the image on the Falcon's viewer changes from streaking stars to something much less attractive. DaiMon Nibb turns out to be shifty-looking even for a Ferengi, with a narrow, foxy face sandwiched between those huge Ferengi ears. "Robbed!" he says, without preamble. "I have been robbed! Of my dearest possession!" Money, presumably.

    "OK, calm down," I say. "This is Veronika Grau aboard the USS Falcon, call me Ronnie, everyone does. Robbed? Why are you calling Starfleet and not the local authorities?"

    "There are no local authorities! And I need support! Assistance! I cannot pursue these thieves by myself!"

    I turn to Saval and quirk an eyebrow at him. He quirks one back, and, being Vulcan, does it better. "The signal originates on Xi Arietis IV," he says, "an uninhabited world, formerly the site of a relay outpost of the Ferengi Alliance... decommissioned after trade agreements in 2404 opened up alternative routes through Federation-administered space."

    "Unimportant!" yells Nibb. "The villains are escaping even now! Their destination must be the trading post at Omicron Virginis VII! I demand immediate action! There are treaties! Agreements! Starfleet must assist! Pursue! Pursue!"

    "I think we need some more details, don't we?" I say rather plaintively. "Like, what's been stolen, and who stole it? Just the facts, ma'am."

    That last quote just slipped out. It doesn't seem to bother Nibb. "They have taken my pieces of Grent!"

    "Pieces of what, now? I've heard of pieces of eight -"

    "Grent! Grent! The former Grand Nagus Grent! The value of his remains is - is incalculable! I know, I've calculated it!"

    Oh, boy. Every species has its funeral customs, and they all seem weird to others. The Ferengi custom of freeze-drying the corpses and selling them off, bit by bit, as mementoes... well, I suppose it's no sillier than some. But the market for bits of dead Grand Nagus must be pretty niche, surely? "Who stole them?"

    "Thieves!" Well, obviously. I wait for him to add some useful detail. I wait in vain. "Thieves with a fast ship! My shuttle cannot match their speed! You must pursue! Pursue! Pursue!" He cuts the channel, for dramatic effect, I guess. I lean back in the command chair.

    "Orders, sir?" says Tallasa.

    "Pint of lager, packet of crisps, Stalingrad," I reply. I'm calling up the star maps on my command console. "Omicron Virginis? That's way the hell out on the other side of the quadrant. Saval. Have we any trace of a ship out here? This sector's usually pretty quiet, isn't it?"

    "No warp signatures or subspace disturbances registered between here and Xi Arietis," says Saval. "Of course, our sensor coverage is very far from complete -"

    "Yeah, right." I gaze moodily at the stars on the screen. "Something about this does not add up right," I mutter. "But we won't find out what it is, unless we go look. Jhemyl." Tallasa's sister looks up from the helm console. "Set a new course."

    "Omicron Virginis, sir?"

    "Cobblers to that idea," I say. "Let's have a look at the scene of the crime, first. Xi Arietis IV, cabman, if you will, and a sovereign if you make it in time for the 4.15 express." Jhemyl gives me such a look.

    ---

    Xi Arietis IV is nothing to write home about. There's a tiny Ferengi warp shuttle in orbit, true, but scans say it's empty. Further scans show the Ferengi outpost on the surface, and some life signs down there - might be Ferengi, might not, who knows? Conspicuous by their absence, though, are the subspace disturbances you'd expect from someone zooming off at high warp speeds.

    "OK," I say. "Tallasa, Saval, you're with me, bring some nice butch security guards along for comfort. Leo, Jhemyl, while we're down on the planet, keep an eye on that shuttle, and keep another eye out for bandits. Or thieves. Or dacoits, or wolf's-heads, outlaws or merry men in general." I stand up. "Transporter room, folks, if you please."

    "Where are we beaming down to, sir?" asks Tallasa.

    "Ferengi outpost. Only possible place, right?"

    "That is logical, sir," says Saval without any marked enthusiasm.

    Tallasa opens her mouth. "We'll take as read your objections, as first officer, to your CO placing herself in the way of potential harm," I say quickly. "Come on, guys, let's just get this done, shall we?"

    They troop into the turbolift with me. "Objections to my CO placing herself in the way of potential harm," Tallasa mutters.

    "What about them?" I ask.

    Tallasa's antennae twitch. "I don't have any."
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  • shevetshevet Member Posts: 1,661 Arc User
    The planet's surface is wet and cold and squishy. Evolution appears to have got the local lifeforms up to the algae and lichen stage, and then given it up as a bad job. The Ferengi base is a clutter of prefab housing modules, laid down apparently at random in the shadow of four admittedly impressively-sized comms masts. All deserted, now, and some of the more enterprising lichens are trying to grow on it.

    Tallasa has a phaser in her hand; Saval has a tricorder, and is scanning. "I'm reading two life signs in the immediate vicinity," he says. "There is some interference from the comms antennae - I cannot be entirely sure of the details."

    "OK, fair enough," I say, and then I stop. "Wait. That means the comms masts must be powered up, right?"

    "Affirmative," says Saval.

    "So who did that, and why? Fan out," I say to the security team. "I think we need to get some more details." My own phaser is a comforting weight in my hand, now.

    My combadge bleeps for attention; I slap at it. "Yo."

    "Possible incoming," says Jhemyl's voice. "We had a brief sensor contact - looked like an Orion corvette decloaking to launch something, possibly a stealth shuttle. We're at yellow alert and commencing intensive scans now."

    "Terrific." This situation is not making much sense to me. Nagus thieves coming back for more? And why would you take souvenirs of a Grand Nagus to a miserable dump like this, anyway? "OK, gang," I say to the security team, "stay frosty, we may have company -"

    "Ah. There you are. Good, good. Well, come along, fix the antenna, then."

    The voice is thin and testy, and it's coming from a shambling figure who's just stepped around the corner of one of the prefabs. He doesn't seem remotely surprised to see us. Pink, bald, heavily wrinkled - Yridian, at a guess, and dressed in drab civilian clothes that hang loosely off his spare frame. "Come along, come along," he repeats.

    Another figure hoves into view. This one is shorter, with ears, lots and lots of ears. "What are you doing here?" demands DaiMon Nibb. "You're supposed to be half way across the quadrant by now!"

    "What?" says the Yridian. "No, no, no, I'm supposed to be right here, remember?"

    "Not you!" Nibb hisses. "You! I mean her!"

    "I don't see how any of this is getting that phase coupling fixed," the Yridian complains. "We need to get the antennae in exact phase alignment before we can recover the data. I did explain all this, I'm quite sure."

    "If anyone would like to explain things to me," I say, "I'm in the market for some explanations."

    Nibb heaves a heavy sigh. "Just help me fix the phase coupling," he says. He glares at the Yridian. "Once he's fixated on one idea, he never gives up on it. Over here, this way." He squelches off towards one of the big masts. I exchange glances with Saval and Tallasa. Nobody seems to have any better ideas, so we squelch off after him. The Yridian tuts loudly and vanishes into one of the prefabs.

    "Who is that guy?" I demand of Nibb.

    "Professor Tharious Mophel. Formerly of Beta Aurigae University. One of the best and brightest," Nibb says, instantly destroying my faith in Beta Aurigae University. "Here we are." He stoops down and opens an access panel at the base of the comms mast. Behind it is circuitry, of the kind I know as "someone in Engineering fix that, will you?" Saval, though, steps forward to inspect it.

    "So where's the crime scene?" I ask.

    Nibb just sighs again. "I'll explain everything later," he says, and points at something in the circuit block. Saval is doing things with his tricorder. I try a sigh of my own. It feels good.

    "Sir." One of the security team, apparently determined to earn his pay. "I've got perimeter contacts, bearing four seven, range seven fifty and closing."

    Whoever came on the stealthed shuttle, presumably. Bits of this situation are still not adding up.

    "Yes!" Nibb says, very loudly. "The coupling is in alignment! Finally!"

    "Well, thank you, Mr. Saval," I say. "I'm sure you've been very helpful, though I don't know how, yet. By the way, there seem to be a bunch of Orions coming towards us from a stealth shuttle, anyone got any views on that?"

    "What?" Nibb screams. And suddenly he's running for the prefabs, shouting "They've found us! They've found us! Download the data and go!"

    "You can't rush these things, you know," I hear Mophel say, faintly. Saval is switching things on his tricorder, now. I take a look around, picking out large solid objects I can hide behind.

    "Confirm Orion life signs," says Saval. "Energy signatures consistent with light hand weapons and personal shielding."

    "How many?" I trip my own personal shield, feel the staticky tingle as it comes on.

    "Six." So we're not outnumbered, and they may or may not know we're here. Odds are... not as bad as I would have expected, although I'd prefer more of an edge. I hold to the old dictum that, if you're in a fair fight, you're already doing something wrong. "Set heavy stun and stay lively, guys," I say. Behind me, I can hear Nibb and Mophel arguing.

    I play the old head game of if I were the opposition, what would I do? Too much to hope that they don't know we're here.... If I were them, I'd split into pairs, one pair advancing while another lays down suppressing fire, swapping roles as they advance - while the third pair sneaks in and claims the prize, which must be Nibb or Mophel or both. I make a series of cryptic hand gestures at the security guys, then hunker down beneath the comms mast's foundations and pull my own little surprise out of my transporter buffer.

    Bolts of sick green light flash through the air with a nasty whining sound. Commercial grade disruptors, our personal shields can cope with a few hits from those... but only a few, so little Ronnie had best be careful... oh, stuff being careful, though, it's just not what I do.

    So I fiddle with my little souvenir, an antiproton rifle I took off a Voth shocktrooper who didn't want it any more. It's nearly as long as I am, and it rests nicely on the ferroconcrete base of the comms mast, and when next I see a bolt of green light flash in my direction, I point the business end of the rifle at its source and let fly with a prolonged volley of sizzling scarlet blasts. There is a noise, a sort of a yelp and a staticky crackle and then a cross between a splat and a thud. I think a lot of heavy stun just got through someone's personal shield and did what heavy stun does. I loose off another volley on general principles. Then I poke my head up and have a look around.

    There are two Orions lying spark out and face up in the mud. Chalk two up to little Ronnie, I think. There are other things going on, though. Saval and Tallasa are in a firefight with another pair of Orions. It doesn't last long - the Orions have standard disruptors, my guys have MACO phaser rifles, and very soon the Orions' shields make "made by the lowest bidder" noises and their owners fall down. Meanwhile, the security team either read my cryptic gestures correctly, or worked out a good tactical plan by themselves - either way, the last pair of Orions find themselves bracketed neatly in a crossfire of golden phaser light, and they are down and snoozing by the time I've wrestled the shocktrooper rifle around to point in their direction. I stand up.

    "Good job, team," I say cheerfully. "Wrap this lot up nicely for the cops, and let's be done with it."

    "What about -?" Tallasa jerks her head meaningfully at the prefab, from which I can still hear wrangling voices.

    "Let's go take a look." I flick the shocktrooper rifle back into my transporter buffer, straighten my uniform jacket in my best Jean-Luc Picard manner, and stride confidently towards the building.

    Inside, there are several pieces of sciency-looking equipment, connected by a rats' nest of cables. Data is scrolling up various screens faster than I could read it even if I knew what it meant. Nibb is waving both hands in the air and yelling about urgency, and Mophel is fiddling with a sciency thing and yelling back about phase variances. And, on a table next to a sciency thing, I spot a stack of clear discs, about the size of the palm of my hand, containing a circle of coloured... stuff. A fetching shade of puce, I do declare.

    "Oh, look, evidence," I say, and pick up the stack of discs.

    Nibb gives one of those appalling Ferengi wails and comes at me, arms windmilling. Ferengi are stronger than they look, but so am I: I hold him off at arm's length with one hand, while keeping the discs firmly clutched in the other. Nibb falls back. "OK," I say, "let's be having some explanations, while I'm still in a relatively good mood, because if this day gets any worse, I am gonna be vexed with you pair."

    "I needed more pieces of Grent!" Nibb shouts.

    "Why?" I ask. "Are these eminently not-stolen pieces not enough?"

    "I needed to draw out the owners! If people thought Grent was valuable enough to steal, they might be inclined to sell!" And a Starfleet ship haring off after nonexistent Grent thieves would be publicity, I guess. But there's an obvious problem here -

    "But they'd sell at a high price, wouldn't they? Why are you bumping up the price of Grent, if you're buying Grent?"

    "I need the pieces! The full genetic data! The price doesn't matter! One must speculate to accumulate!"

    "What do you need the pieces for?"

    "Well, obviously," Mophel speaks up for the first time, "we need complete genetic data, as complete as we can make it, to reintegrate with the transporter signal."

    "What?"

    "Grent used these transporters!" Nibb shrills at me. "Before the base was shut down! And the records were preserved! We have his transporter signature! And Professor Mophel has a plan -"

    "Given the genetic data and the transporter logs," Mophel says, in a dead serious way, as if he really believes it, "my modified transporter-refabricator can reconstruct the original signal and regenerate it within an annular confinement beam. The signal may be degraded, true, but when integrated with the genetic data -"

    "We can bring him back!" Nibb interrupts. "Grent! The Grand Nagus! We can bring him back, and he will owe me! He will owe me his very life!" A rapturous expression appears on his narrow face as he adds, "Can you imagine how much that's worth?"

    Oh, boy.

    ---

    The Orions turn out not to know anything. This is pretty standard, for a hit team like this - an anonymous contact describes the job and the targets, they go in, they do the job - or in this case don't - and if they get caught, they don't know anything. I shuttle them off for processing at the nearest starbase - they will vanish into the Federation's criminal rehab system for a few years, and will probably come out as better people, if only because they're low-level Syndicate goons and pretty much anything's an improvement.

    I'd like to do much the same with Nibb and Mophel, but there's a problem there. It's a problem in Admiral's uniform and Science Division stripes, and it's on my screen right now. Admiral Philip Summerfield's eyes are shining like Nibb's were, but in his case it's the pure and virtuous light of Science, which is a lot harder to argue with.

    "Oh, undoubtedly there have been failures in the past," he says airily. "But Mophel's approach to the Heisenberg encoding problem is a genuinely novel one, and the Federation Science Council agrees with me that it needs to be followed up. Just imagine!" God save me from enthusiasts. "This could put an end to death itself! And it could let us bring back heroes of the Federation from times past! Imagine serving alongside the likes of Elizabeth Palmer, Geoffrey M'Benga or Kevin Riley! Admiral Grau, you must accord Professor Mophel and his - commercial sponsor - all the help they need. With the Science Council's authority, Admiral."

    "Yessir." Which is about all I can say, if he's got the Science Council's backing. Great. Summerfield cuts the channel with a pleased look on his face. I sigh and settle back in the command chair. "Bloody marvellous," I mutter. "Status?" I ask, louder.

    "We've brought Nibb's warp shuttle aboard," says Tallasa. "He and the Yridian are on it now - I'll get on to assigning them guest quarters. Do you want us to break orbit?"

    "Not until we've got a clear idea where we're going," I say. Xi Arietis IV isn't much, but at least it's quiet.

    Tallasa nods. "One thing, though, sir, we're getting multiple sensor pings. As if someone's doing stealth flights, scouting runs at the edge of the system. I think someone's still interested in our passengers."

    "Good for them. I wish I was. Saval." Saval looks up. "Remind me again. Mophel's gadget can't possibly work, can it?"

    "The holographic nature of transporter signatures...." I listen for a bit, then I zone out, because he's not telling me stuff I don't already know.

    People think, because replicator patterns and transporter patterns are both solid matter held as data streams, that they're the same thing. But they're not. Transporter signals play with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, using a weird trick that encodes and self-decodes the requisite data without ever acknowledging how it's done to the outside world. A side effect of this is that you can't read a transporter signal - copying it over to another medium just transfers the whole signal to that medium, leaving nothing meaningful behind. I once asked a science type, who couldn't get away in time, what would happen if you printed out a transporter signal and read it. He told me that, first off, there isn't that much paper in the universe, and secondly, if you did that, you would end up with several trillion sheets of random numbers, and you would then have a transporter signal in your head, which would probably be messy.

    Weird stuff can happen with transporters - often, it can be straightened out with transporters, since going over the same signal will sometimes make it self-repair, kind of thing. There are rare cases where signals have been duplicated - Jim Kirk told me a very fanciful tale once about it happening to him, and I believe him, because if anything seriously weird was ever going to happen, it would happen to Jim. And the tale of the Two Fat Rikers is pretty well documented, too.

    Some transporter research has panned out. Bio-filters, for instance, dropping any unknown nasties out of the signal before it gets encoded. Now that was a welcome change - I'm old enough to remember having to rub decontaminant gel on bits of crewmates I'd rather not touch. But, generally, back in my day, when someone tried to get creative with transporter signals, that was my cue to report down to the transporter room with a bucket and a mop, and there would be a closed-casket service later.

    Transporter logs do store stuff, true, but not anything useful. Mophel's idea is about as sensible, it seems to me, as trying to reconstruct Grent's personal correspondence from a study of his discarded envelopes. But what do I know?

    "The only good thing I can see about this," I say eventually, "is that Kevin Riley still owes me five credits...." A serious thought strikes me then. "Tallasa. You know interstellar law, right?"

    "Only enough to bail you out," my faithful exec replies.

    "Well, you know something. What's going to be the legal implications of this? Assuming it works - which I don't, but who listens to me? - what's the status of someone who's been resurrected by transporter? What happens to their will?"

    Tallasa's antennae twitch. "It'd vary a lot based on individual legal systems," she says cautiously. "I don't know if there's any sort of precedent - maybe people revived after long periods in cryosleep -"

    "Or people trapped in time warps for a long time," I break in. "Hell, you had it easy, believe me, the paperwork for my trips through the Rift would choke a hippopotamus." Tallasa was with me on the last trip, the somewhat-truncated one that took us only twenty-four years into the future. "Oh, boy. If someone's got a sniff of Nibb's idea, and they even think it might work... the only people who'd be happy about it are lawyers. He's planning to test this on Grent, right? What do we know about Grand Nagus Grent?"

    "Perfectly ordinary Ferengi businessman," says Jhemyl, promptly. "He made lots of money out of arms sales - gun-running to both sides in Tzenkethi border disputes - and parlayed it into a commanding position in the FCA. No great policy initiatives in his time as Grand Nagus, and he died at the age of a hundred and four in a freak oomox accident." She shivers. "Trust me, sir, you don't want the details on that."

    "No. No, I don't suppose I do...." I gaze moodily at the viewscreen. "Somewhere out there are Grent's heirs," I announce. "Who maybe will have to give back all or some of the money they've inherited, if Grent comes back into the picture. We are dealing, folks, with potentially bankrupt Ferengi. If you can think of anything better motivated or scarier than that, don't tell me, because I want to sleep tonight."

    "An interesting supposition, sir," says Saval, "but not valid unless DaiMon Nibb's plans are already generally known. The classification applied by Admiral Summerfield and the Science Council was need-to-know restricted. It is in the highest degree unlikely -"

    "The Science Council won't talk, because they'd worry about looking stupid," I say, "fair enough." I stand up. "I'm going to talk to Nibb. We know he knows what his own plans are, and I want to know what classification he's put on them."

    ---

    "Need to know only!" Nibb snarls at me. We've given him quite a decent suite of guest quarters; he seems to have settled in OK, with his stack of Grent secured inside a buzzing force field on the desk beside him. I'd have kept the damn things, myself, but protocol suggested I give them back.

    "All right," I say, "so who needs to know? Do you have investors, partners -?"

    "Share this wealth? Never! Do I look like a fool, hew-mon?" I don't answer that. "Only those with the most stringent need have been informed!"

    "So who's got a stringent need?" I ask.

    "Myself! And no others! I have not even trusted my family with this knowledge!"

    Well, I wouldn't trust his family either. "You're sure you've told no one else?"

    "Only those with an absolute need to know!"

    Sometimes I wish I was a Klingon, with an agony booth and a lot of sharp things handy. "Who would those be?"

    "Well," Nibb says, "obviously I had to ensure the idea and the process were protected."

    "Protected? Protected how?" I have a sinking feeling.

    "I registered appropriate patents and other notices of intellectual property with the FCA, naturally." Oh boy. "And I took further precautions! I applied for registration with the Federation Patent Office! With the Hall of Proprietary Knowledge on Qo'noS! With the provisional administration of the Romulan Republic - the Tzenkethi Intellectual Property Bureau - the Cardassian Union Patent Authority -"

    "Terrific," I say. "Nobody knows, except you and every patent authority in the galaxy."

    "Not just this galaxy! I rented time on the Midas Array and beamed a message to Andromeda! If the Kelvans ever do invade, at least my intellectual property rights will be respected!" Nibb is getting even more agitated. "But I transmitted details to the Borg Collective also, and received no reply! No acknowledgement, even! Those creatures are nothing better than Communists! Something should be done about them!"
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  • shevetshevet Member Posts: 1,661 Arc User
    I key the intercom from outside Nibb's quarters. "I think I've found the security hole," I say.

    "We're getting a lot of occasional sensor pings," Tallasa's voice informs me. "I think they're from cloaked scout craft, like the corvette that brought those raiders."

    "Someone, or more likely several someones, kitted out to take down a Ferengi warp shuttle," I muse, "but now they're wondering what to do about a Federation heavy cruiser. I'd like to be out of here before they come up with a good answer to that one. Any ideas?"

    "Some." Tallasa sounds guarded. "There's been a lot of movement in the Ferengi memorials market - the price for Grent shot up astronomically, then went down again, hard. I've been tracking cargo movements - a lot of stuff seems to be transferring to secure sites."

    "Up, then down...." I think. "First it seemed like Grent was a hot property. Then it seemed like Grent was too hot a property, and Ferengi self-preservation instincts took over from Ferengi greed. Those secure sites must figure they're secure enough to hold on to the bits, no matter how much fighting's going on over them. Where's the nearest one?"

    "So-called Shadow Depository at Argus Beta," Tallasa says.

    "OK, great, we have somewhere to get to. And alert Starfleet's lawyers along the way, will you? See if we can buy those Grent bits legally, or get a lien on them some other way. Got to be an angle, that's what we've got lawyers for."

    "On it," Talassa assures me. I stroll on down the corridor, to the turbolift. It's not that I don't trust my exec, I just like to be on the bridge. I can see what's coming so much better from the centre seat.

    "Shadow Depository, then," I announce as the doors hiss open. Some of them at least spare me a quick glance, but not Jhemyl, who just mutters "Already laid in, sir" while staring intently at the helm console. Must be something interesting on the screens, then. I sit down and open up my repeaters.

    "Oho," I say.

    "At least six distinct traces on positive track," says Talassa grimly. "I'm guessing there's as many more out there. A coordinated attack -"

    Smallish Orion warships are still nasty, and twelve to one odds are not what I'd prefer. "So let's not let them get coordinated," I say. Options flash through my mind. "Hold course, impulse only. Never mind a direct course to Argus Beta, fire up the transwarp computer, find me a nearby gateway. We'll sucker these guys in, then transwarp out before they kill us."

    "Hopefully," mutters Talassa. Jhemyl says nothing, but she's suddenly very busy on the helm console.

    The Orion ships are slipping in and out of cloak, at the maximum range of our sensors. They show only as little fugitive glints, appearing almost at random on my repeater screen. If I didn't know better, I'd put them down as optical illusions.

    "Come about," I say. "Steer three seven mark four, let's try to look stupid and oblivious." It should look like we're widening our orbit for a leisurely spiral out to deep space. I can imagine the predatory smiles spreading over green Orion faces right now.

    "Curious," says Saval. "I have partial ID on some of the cloaked ships. They seem to come from a diversity of Orion ports of registry."

    "Multiple Orion Houses, all hired on for the same objective," I muse. "Which would be little old us, now. Lucky us."

    "Transwarp ready," says Jhemyl. She spares a quick glance at me. "We'll need it soon, sir."

    "Confirm multiple targets on intercept vectors," says Talassa.

    I can see them now myself. Still flickering, there's a lot of sensor spoofing going on... but at least half a dozen corvettes, and as many larger ships, some of them probably cruisers. Someone has hired a whole lot of Orion firepower, and just now it is pointed at us.

    "Closest units will be in effective weapons range in one minute," says Talassa.

    "Shields down, weapons offline, we're stupid and oblivious, remember? - Saval, see if you can get a positive ID on some of those ships, it'll help when we send a diplomatic protest to the KDF."

    "Yes, that will help," says Talassa, almost managing to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. I'm looking at the flashes on the tac display. A minute... might be over-estimating, if one of the sneakier Orions jumps the gun a bit.

    "OK," I say. "Jhemyl. Transwarp. Punch it."

    And I get to see the flickers on the tac display turn into something bright and clear and nasty, as the Orions read the sudden build-up in our drive coils, drop their cloaks, and move in fast for a hard kill.

    Fast, but not fast enough. I picture, in my mind's eye, the green disruptor beams and the pinpoint flashes of torpedoes... tearing through the empty space we've just left, as the transwarp flips us light-years through subspace in an instant.

    "Cool," I say with satisfaction. "OK, let's get to that Shadow Depository, then."

    ---

    Another quick leap across subspace whams us into orbit around Argus Beta, and soon I'm looking at a big rock with a fortress on it. Gun turrets, missile emplacements, solid tritanium shielding over a labyrinthine complex of secure vaults and sealed storage units. The Shadow Depository at Argus Beta.

    "As secure a place as you could want to keep your valuables in," I say, studying the readout. "What about their transporter interdiction?"

    Talassa positively grins at me. "This place was built before the locals developed transporters," she says. "And the dense material actually interferes with transporter jammers. We can punch an ACB through pretty much anywhere we want."

    "So that's some good news, then. Let's punch through where there's some Grent to collect, and then we can be on our merry way."

    "That... may pose a problem, sir," says Saval.

    I turn around and give him an I-don't-want-problems look. He doesn't look fazed. "We can't find any Grent?" I ask.

    "On the contrary," says Saval. "The authorities have been very cooperative, and have provided a complete listing of all their Grent relics." Starfleet's legal department has got in ahead of us and done some work. Amazing. "The issue is the number of items listed," Saval continues. "If all these listings are legitimate Grent relics, the former Grand Nagus would have had a body mass, in life, of roughly 1.25 metric tonnes."

    "That's a whole lot of Ferengi," I remark. "OK. So, fake Grent in abundance, so what are we going to do?"

    "We have Nibb's samples, which are presumably authentic," says Saval. "Logically, we should go to the vaults, examine the relics, and retrieve those which conform to the known samples."

    "Terrific." I stand up. "OK, let's get an authentication protocol set up on our tricorders, go down the vaults, and tag the real Grent bits for transport out." Talassa has a grumpy face on. "Oh, come on," I say to her, "what's the worst that can happen to us in a storage vault?"

    "I'm sure you'll find out, sir," says Talassa gloomily.

    ---

    The Shadow Depository turns out not to be much on interior decor. Lots of bare metal walls, exposed piping, and secure vault doors everywhere. And not nearly enough light, which I guess fits with the theme at least. And boxes, boxes, everywhere. Stacks and piles of boxes, crates, canisters, chests, cases.... I give up thinking of synonyms.

    "Does any of this spark joy?" I muse aloud. Talassa shoots me a dirty look. "Well, let's collect the famous sacred relics, then. Come on, Indiana Jones." Talassa's next look is positively insanitary. I stroll off down the cluttered main corridor, checking the tricorder as I go. We have the location of all the supposed Grent, we have the data telling us how to verify the real stuff... it's just a matter of checking the list and sending the transporter coordinates back to the ship, now. A walk in the park, if the park was dark and metallic and full of boxes.

    I find three authentic bits pretty quickly, and am feeling quite pleased with myself when my combadge chirps at me. "Yo," I say.

    "We have inbound sensor contacts, sir," says Jhemyl's voice. "A total of eight Ferengi ships, various classes. They're running with shields down and weapons cold, so we can't presume hostile intent, but Mr. Madena says there is a lot of comms traffic between them and the depository."

    "So what do you think they're up to?" I ask. And then I answer, "Landing parties, at a guess. Presumably with some legitimate business to transact, so the authorities can't intervene. Oh, brother. Step up the pace, people," I yell at everyone around me. "And Jhemyl, start transporter ops now, beam the stuff out as soon as we've got a tag on it."

    So we hustle, rummaging among boxes and crates and whatever, tagging bits of Grent as we go. I hear the heartening whine of transporters, beaming stuff out... then I hear a different whine, as of someone else's transporter frequencies. "We got company," I announce. "Set to max stun, stay frosty."

    And with that I turn a corner, and a beam of brilliant light whistles past my nose. I duck down and spray fire in the general direction of the source. More beams fly - a mixed bag, disruptor green, phaser orange, some tetryon blue. "They've set heavy stun, too," says Talassa, sounding bemused.

    "Well, of course they have, they don't need us dead, and their insurance rates will go way up if they start throwing destructive force around this place." I squint around a box and squeeze off a zap of my own, and am rewarded by the sound of a body falling. "Don't let them get in close, though, they'll have melee weapons too."

    "Noted." Talassa starts zapping on her own account, and it sounds like she's pretty good at it, from the yelling at the receiving end. I take the chance to scan another crate, register another negative, and move on. Then I switch the tricorder to tactical mode, and try to make sense of the situation. It's not a very sensible one, unfortunately. There are hostiles, certainly, but they're disorganized, operating in maybe six or seven different groups, each spitting its own brand of sensor spoofing into the metal corridors - the tac map is flickering and confused, crowded with untrustworthy echoes. This situation has room to go pear-shaped in all sorts of novel ways.

    Talassa scoots off down the corridor with some security goons, while I circle around to the next thing listed as a bit of Grent. Another negative. I'm starting to wonder about calling the whole thing off - we must surely have enough valid bits by now? - when Talassa scoots back. "Ferengi, Orions, some Hupyrians," she says. "Looks like independent, privately financed goon squads - except they must, surely, be coordinating now. And you were right about them carrying melee weapons too."

    "Well, don't sound all surprised about that," I say. "Listen, I think we need to finish up here and get out, smartish. Transport our teams out of any sectors we've already cleared, and pester Nibb and Mophel, see if they've got enough dead Ferengi to work with. If they say yes, we skedaddle out of here, right?"

    "Sounds good to me, sir," says Talassa fervently. There are distant sounds of more mixed weapons fire. I just hope our guys are holding their own. I scuttle further down the corridor, bark a shin on a sticking out box, swear a little, and find a secure container with another bit of Grent in. Scan says it's authentic. More zapping and shouts from somewhere nearby. I hang a tag on the container and admire the sparkle as it vanishes.

    Then there's a scuffling noise from nearby, and suddenly there's someone in front of me. She's a bit shorter than I am - and I'm not tall - and she has huge ears and bad teeth, and the craziest eyes I have ever seen on a sentient being, and, perhaps most importantly, a razor-sharp Klingon bat'leth in her hands. "Hi," I say. "Veronika Grau, Starfleet, call me Ronnie, everyone does. Can we talk about this?"

    She screeches and slashes with the bat'leth, a lightning-fast move that sends my phaser spinning out of my hand. I'm guessing that's a no, then. "Nobody messes with Great-Granddaddy's money!" she screams. Uh-oh. I back away and dodge the next cut, just managing not to get disembowelled by it. She screeches incoherently again, and spins the blade in a textbook-perfect attack kata. I don't know where she got trained in bat'leth fighting, but she clearly got her money's worth. I grab a small box off the nearest stack and throw it at her head. Give me thirty seconds, and I can pull a grenade or the shocktrooper rifle out of my transporter buffer. But I don't think she's going to give me those thirty seconds. I try a kick at her kneecap, and she slashes back at me, and it's close both ways - I don't break her knee, she doesn't quite cut my leg off. I look around for something else to throw -

    Then a bolt of orange light stabs past my head and hits the Ferengi square between the eyes, and she goes down in a poleaxed heap. I turn around and see Talassa. "Thanks," I say.

    "No problem, sir. Nibb says we've got enough of Grent. I recommend we go, sir, now."

    I scoop my fallen phaser off the deck. "Sounds like a plan to me."

    ---

    The Falcon's bridge is humming with activity, most of it not good. Saval is in a huddle with Mophel over at the science station, Leo Madena is punching away at the comms console like he's playing pinball, and Jhemyl and Talassa are working away at helm and tactical. The fruits of their labours are showing on the main screen, and it's enough to make me distinctly not happy.

    "Twenty-six assorted Ferengi and Orion ships," says Talassa. "Ranging from corvettes, which we could probably take, to two Nandi-class warships and a Warbarge dreadnought, which - would be a problem, in combination like that."

    I check the sensors. The hostiles have weapons and shields powered down, which is good, but our detectors show we're being lit up by targeting pings, so many of them that the pings all blend together into one constant squeal. "We are the cynosure of all eyes," I mutter. "OK, folks, let's start thinking our way out of this, shall we? Shooting ain't gonna work, diplomacy ain't gonna work, so let's think sneaky."

    "We don't have a cloak, and even if we did, they will have tachyon grids up and running before we can warp out," says Talassa.

    "Right now," I muse aloud, "nobody wants to fire the first shot. Not while we're in range of the Shadow Depository and its scanners. We don't want to shoot first either, because we're Starfleet and the good guys, and also because we'd get killed. So. Leo, are you doing anything useful over there?"

    "Uh, signalling for support from Starfleet, sir."

    "Good idea! But no. Unless Starfleet can get an entire task force here at once, support's gonna start trickling in, and our buddies out there will be looking at the numbers, and sooner or later someone's going to get an itchy trigger finger. No, what we're going to do is signal our departure to local traffic control in an orderly fashion."

    Everyone looks mystified at that. "Perilous it is to repeat one's effects too often," I explain, "but we're going to have to fake them out again. Jhemyl, set up for transwarp transit to the nearest hub we've got."

    "Some of those ships have transwarp capability too, sir," Talassa objects, while Jhemyl starts banging away at the navigation interface. "They'll follow us."

    "Which is where we get sneaky," I say. "Doesn't matter how fast they can move, if they're moving in the wrong direction. Leo, file a flight plan for, umm, what's the nearest starbase?"

    "Starbase 34, sir."

    "Right. Haven't seen it in years. File the flight plan for Starbase 34. Jhemyl, align us on a straight-line trajectory for Earth Spacedock. Then, once we get to the transwarp hub, we switchback through it and a couple of its friends, and we should lose any possible pursuers in the confusion. Even if one or two of them stay with us, the odds are much more in our favour, then."

    Talassa nods, reluctantly. "I think it'll work, sir. But one thing."

    "What?"

    "Where are we actually going?"

    I tell them.
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  • shevetshevet Member Posts: 1,661 Arc User
    It works like a charm. Some of the enemy ships hung back, suspecting we were up to something when we filed the flight plan; others moved, but too late, as we vanished into transwarp. The screens were completely clear when we flashed up to the first transwarp gateway - it looked like the enemy transwarp-capable ships all took the hint and zoomed off in the direction of Earth, where they will have some 'splainin' to do when they drop out of subspace. Deliciously enemy-free space for the next two jumps....

    And now there's a grubby little asteroid in front of us, with a disused lab base on it. A disused Starfleet lab base, in fact, although it's been taken over by a much more disreputable researcher - our new friend Professor Mophel. He had to have some sort of lab to work from, and it didn't take long to persuade him to tell us where it was.

    Saval and I beam over with Nibb and Mophel, on the grounds that Saval is monitoring the science stuff, and I don't trust either of them out of my sight. Nibb is clutching his stack of Grent to his chest. Mophel has a PADD in his hand and the light of Science in his eye. Worrying.

    "What we need," I say, as we step off the transporter pad, "is proof of concept. All those guys out there, they are trying to stop you from doing this. Once you've actually done it, there's no point them trying any more." I hope. Well, I'm being charitable, here, I have no great hopes of Mophel's gadget actually working, and an abject failure will be just as good at getting the opposition to back off.

    "I can commence preparations at once," says Mophel. "Everything is as I left it."

    Considering the state of the place, that's not saying much. The base was mothballed once Science Division had finished whatever they were doing, but it's now showing signs of having been lived in, by someone too caught up in the adventures of pure intellect to bother cleaning. Mophel potters off down a corridor, past a stack of empty food containers which is starting to whiff a bit. I follow, into what looks like a fair-sized control room, overlooking a lab which has been stocked with distinctly non-Starfleet machinery. Massive science-y things stand around, occasionally emitting bleeps and sparks; in the centre of the room, a single transporter pad stands in the middle of a rat's nest of cabling, a formidable-looking emitter pointed at it from the ceiling.

    Mophel is trying to pry the containers of Grent out of Nibb's arms, and Nibb, being a Ferengi, is instinctively refusing to part with stuff he's paid for. Saval is inspecting the control room with an expression of mild alarm and distaste. "I must have the samples for the genetic analyzer," Mophel says, and Nibb reluctantly lets go.

    On his home turf, and with his life's work ready to go, Mophel has clearly developed a taste for theatre. He deposits the Grent bits in a large transparent container, and sweeps his fingers over a bank of switches with a flourish. "The devices in the main lab must be configured manually, while I monitor the overall process from here," he says. "For this purpose, I have designed and built my Transtatorized Independent Mechanoid Multifunction Ideomotor Effector, or TIMMIE." He presses a button with another flourish, and a locker at the side of the room springs open, revealing what is possibly the least convincing humanoid robot I've ever seen. It steps out of the locker with a clank, and surveys the room with a single red glowing eye.

    "TIMMIE, go to the lab and engage the primary converters," Mophel says. I wait for the robot to reply I think you said - destroy all humans, but instead it turns and lumbers out of the room. Amazing.

    My combadge chirps, and I slap it. "Yo. Hit me."

    "Sensor contact inbound," Talassa's voice says. Darn. "We don't have a fix on the ship's type or capabilities yet, but it's broadcasting Ferengi diplomatic credentials." Double darn. We're not allowed to shoot those.

    "OK. Establish contact and make nice. I'll try and hurry things up down here." I look in a hurry-up sort of way at Mophel.

    "TIMMIE is engaging the primary converters," he says.

    The robot is pulling levers and throwing switches on some piece of apparatus in the lab, fair enough. A shudder runs through the deckplates, as of heavy engineering starting up somewhere. The robot pulls a big impressive-looking lever. There is a bang, and a brilliant flash of light.

    When my vision comes back, and the ringing in my ears stops, Mophel is at his controls, looking a bit hangdog. I peer into the lab. There is a fair amount of smoke, but all the machines are lit up and seem to be doing something. The robot, though, is mostly lying on the floor. One arm is hanging from that last lever, and I can't see where its head went, but the rest of it is on the floor.

    "Corrosion on the final contact points," Mophel explains glumly. "It cleared once the circuit was established, and the lab's equipment is fully operational, but -" He shakes his head. "We're going to need another TIMMIE."

    "I don't think we've got time," I say. I don't want to say what I've got to say next, but - "It's just a matter of throwing the right switches, isn't it? Can you talk me through it, if I go down there?"

    "Oh." Mophel blinks. "Yes. The individual units are clearly labelled, I thought it best that way, so... yes."

    Triple darn. "Terrific," I say. "OK, on my way. Point me at the next thing you want interfered with." And I dash out of the control room, down a short flight of steps, and into the main lab. It is humming. Also bleeping, whining and whistling, but mainly humming. There is clearly a lot of juice in Mophel's circuitry, I just hope he's wired it up properly. TIMMIE's fate does not fill me with confidence.

    "We need to increase power," Mophel's voice booms out at me over the PA system. "Step up the reactor output three more notches."

    I head for a black columnar thing labelled REACTOR, since Mophel is evidently a fan of the old Batman show. It has controls, set up in a way I vaguely understand. I twist a hopeful-looking TRIBBLE until it's clicked three times.

    "Excellent," Mophel says. The transporter pad has started to glow. "Next, throw open the switches on the sonic oscillator."

    Another one that's clearly labelled, and something even I can manage. I throw open the switches. Well, I throw open five out of six switches, and then I'm flat on my back, as the sixth throws itself open in a small bang and a burst of sparks.

    "I didn't expect that," Mophel's voice says. "It's probably some sort of ultrasonic magnetic effect."

    "I'm fine," I say, brushing out a smouldering spot on the front of my uniform. "Thanks for asking." The emitter over the transporter pad is pulsing with light and shuddering visibly.

    "Only one step remains." The booming voice is tense with excitement. "The particle flow configurator."

    Well, it's labelled. "Got it," I say, heading for it. "What do you need?"

    "Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow." Oh, he has got to be pulling my leg.

    But there is an interface on the gadget, and it shows a whole lot of particles, and I can pick out NEUTRON and reverse the polarity of its flow. There is a clunk and a bang from somewhere, and an alarming shower of sparks from the ceiling. Mophel clearly has the mad scientist routine down pat, or at least the mad part of it. A blinding beam of light strikes down from the main emitter onto the transporter pad.

    "Engaging genetic sequencers!" Mophel's voice is exultant. "Superimposing matter-stream waveform! Annular confinement at one hundred per cent! Integrators are in balance! Commencing materialization sequence - now!"

    The transporter's whine rises to a shriek. My one eye is watering from the blinding light - and then the light fades, and the noise dies down. I hazard a glance at the transporter pad, and - Mercy of Heaven, what is that shape behind the parting smoke?

    ---

    Nibb, Mophel and Saval come clattering down the steps, to stare at the thing on the transporter pad. Saval has his tricorder out, and his eyebrow quirked.

    Nibb is the first to speak. "That's not Grent!" he wails. "I know! I've seen pictures! Grent was - taller -" He grinds to a halt.

    "Fascinating," Saval murmurs.

    Grand Nagus Grent, or what's meant to be Grand Nagus Grent, says "mmmooooorrp?"

    "I'm not quite sure what went wrong," Mophel says sadly.

    The tribble is not particularly impressive, even as tribbles go. It's small, and a sort of brindled beige colour, and it inches over to the edge of the transporter pad, rubs up against Saval's boot, decides it's not edible, and goes "mmmooooorrp?" again, in a sad sort of way, as if it's come into a world that's full of not-food things and is generally unjust to tribbles.

    "As I believe I explained, sir," says Saval, "the central concept of Professor Mophel's theory is sadly not tenable. Even the reintegration of the signal to produce this relatively simple life form is remarkable - the odds against it are of the order of millions to one."

    "Or maybe it did work," I say, "and the Ferengi are really just shaved tribbles."

    Even the tribble doesn't look impressed. Mophel, though, gets a thoughtful look. "Perhaps there is something in the genome sequencing," he muses. "I must construct a cladistic map, to identify the latest common ancestor between the species...." Good luck with that one, I think.

    My combadge chirps at me again. "It didn't work," I say cheerfully as I hit it.

    "It - oh," says Talassa's voice. She pauses. "I guess that might help," she says. "We have a positive ID and a hail from a Ferengi Commerce Authority diplomatic cruiser. I think we're going to have to talk our way out of this one, sir."

    "OK, OK, let's talk." I look around the lab. This is a Starfleet facility, there should be a comms station, unless Mophel has buried it under a mountain of litter - "There we are. Viewscreen." I point. "Gather round, everyone! Talassa, get Leo to patch the Ferengi through, we'll see where we can go from there."

    It takes a couple of minutes, but soon the screen goes live, and a Ferengi face fills it, a Ferengi face with an FCA tattoo over one eyebrow and a really nasty sneer. "This is Liquidator Strimp of the Commerce Authority," he says. "Am I in contact with DaiMon Nibb?"

    "Well, he's here," I say. Nibb hasn't said a word for a while; he seems dazed, possibly shell-shocked. I suppose he's effectively paid for the galaxy's most expensive tribble, so it's no wonder he's out of sorts.

    "Good," says Strimp. "A warrant has been purchased for DaiMon Nibb's arrest, on charges of misfeasance, malfeasance, fraud, defalcation, misrepresentation, and grave-robbing." A very ugly smile spreads across his face. "Please tell me he's resisting arrest. My security squads get all antsy when they don't have a proper workout."

    Animation floods back into Nibb's concussed face. "I'm innocent!" he wails. "This is a frame! A travesty of justice!" He turns to me, wild-eyed. "You're with Starfleet! You have to help me!"

    "Calm down, everyone," I say. I have a beatific feeling of relief flooding over me. "Like you say, I'm Starfleet, and I will act in accordance with the best traditions thereof. Strimp. Your warrant's for Nibb, right? No one else?"

    "That is correct," says Strimp in guarded tones.

    "Well, then," I say, "this is clearly an internal Ferengi matter, and the Prime Directive means that Starfleet can't possibly intervene. Have fun sorting it all out yourselves. Talassa? Two to beam up." Mophel can take care of himself.

    Nibb stares at me, aghast. "Don't worry," I say, as I start to sparkle and fade away, "I'm sure Grand Nagus Grent will explain everything."




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  • antonine3258antonine3258 Member Posts: 2,376 Arc User
    I'm fairly done with STO but do pop by on occasion for fiction - this is a great read. Poor Ronnie may not even be the craziest one in this one. :)
    Fate - protects fools, small children, and ships named Enterprise Will Riker

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  • jonsillsjonsills Member Posts: 9,035 Arc User
    :lol:

    Another tour de force, Shevet. Just a pity it took me so long to find it.
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  • shevetshevet Member Posts: 1,661 Arc User
    Thanks, guys.... If anybody is interested, and if the mods allow me.... I've just put two novels into the Amazon Kindle self-publishing system; they should go live in about two weeks (there's a review process, and it's slow because of the virus.) Obviously, this isn't anything Trek-related, but if anyone enjoys my writing, well, I'm about to release some more of it into the wild....
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