"Deployment is complete." There was not even a tremor in the operations officer's voice as she made her report.
Captain Klur nodded, and leaned back in his command chair, his eyes scanning the bridge of the IKS QIb laH'e'. "Bring us to low orbit," he ordered. "Signal the planetary administrator."
A low rumble echoed in the bridge as the carrier's impulse engines sprang to life. With a deep intake of breath, First Officer Talakh rose to his feet.
"Sir," he said, "I formally protest against your orders in this matter. This course of action is -" He took another deep breath. "Sir, you must find an alternative. This action will not be accepted by the Council, it will -"
He got no further. Klur raised his hand, and the disruptor pistol in it spat green light across the bridge. Talakh collapsed on the spot, his chest a smoking ruin.
Klur snarled. "Does anyone else contest my orders?"
Commander Kysang rose from the tactical station. He was the oldest officer on the bridge, and admired by all for his long record of battles in the Empire's service. He spoke, now, with the authority of complete conviction. "This action is without honour."
Klur's disruptor spoke again, the bolt hitting Kysang between the eyes. As the headless body toppled to the deck, Klur shouted, "How many more must die before I am obeyed?"
No one spoke.
Klur holstered his disruptor. "Second Officer Tayaira. You are now First Officer. Have those corpses removed. And where is my comms channel?"
"I have the administrator now!" the comms officer shouted, fear edging his voice.
"On screen," Klur ordered.
The main screen shimmered, and the administrator's image appeared. "I am Administrator Frerv," the Tellarite said. "Say your piece, Klingon, then get off this channel, and haul that wreck of a ship out of my sky."
"I will be brief, then," Klur said. "I demand your immediate surrender, and that your world recognizes the overlordship of the Empire. Resist, and you will be destroyed."
"Empty threats," the Tellarite sneered. "That Fek'lhri carrier of yours might look impressive, but it's one ship, Captain. You can't take on a whole world with one ship. All right, I've heard your ultimatum, now you hear mine. Get out before a Starfleet task force arrives and kicks you out of this system in a million smoking pieces. Clear?"
"Pellucid." Klur smiled. "Very well. I have presented my demands, you have rejected them. The next step is for you to take the inevitable consequences." He turned to the operations officer. "Activate."
The operations officer froze at her post. "Activate what?" Frerv demanded from the screen.
Klur drew his disruptor. "Is your hearing deficient? Activate."
The ops officer swallowed hard. Her hand came down on her console. "Activating," she whispered. She looked down. "Activation... confirmed."
"I offered you the choice of life under Imperial rule," Klur said to the screen. "I do not offer you any alternative, Tellarite. I have seeded the high orbitals with tricobalt cluster munitions, and they are now descending. Some are targeted at your planet's population centres, but the majority will detonate at altitude, creating a coordinated airburst -"
"You're insane!" Frerv interrupted. "An attack like that will irreperably damage the planet's ecosystem!"
"It will sterilize half your planetary surface!" yelled Klur. "And the nuclear winter that follows will finish off all life that remains! That is the death you have chosen, Tellarite, so embrace it! I burn your world as an offering to the Empire!" He turned to the comms officer. "All that is necessary has been said. You may close the channel."
"Wait!" Frerv screamed. "We - we surrender! Call it off! We surrender!"
"I regret," said Klur, "that the mass of the munitions, and my own limited resources - I have only the one ship, as you pointed out yourself - meant that only the most basic command and control interface could be included. The weapons are descending now, and they cannot be recalled or destroyed. You have perhaps three minutes left of life, Administrator Frerv. Enjoy them. Close channel."
Personal log: Tylha Shohl, officer commanding USS King Estmere, NCC-92984
Six hundred and fifty million.
It takes less than a second to say. I could take the rest of my life, though, and still not reach a clear understanding of what it means. Six hundred and fifty million. On the screen, above the bar, the newscaster is speaking, words that go unheard, even though the room is otherwise completely silent. Behind him, two images: one of the Tellarite colony world, Bercera IV, as it was... the other, of the same world, as it is now. The first, a fertile class M world with a population of six hundred and fifty million; the second -
Impossibly, a bleary voice beside me says, "What th' hell, 's just Tellarites."
I turn. The drunken human to my right continues, oblivious. "Stupid pig-face losers, goin' on an' on about bein' founders of the Federation - all they ever do is run freighters anyway - bet they'll be all, like, 'oo, Starfleet, come an' save us', an' -"
I pivot on my heel, and my fist comes up of its own volition. I barely feel the impact, but all of a sudden, the human is sitting on the floor, burbling stupidly through smashed lips.
There is a group of Tellarites in the corner of the bar, so I may just have saved his life, at that.
A chirp sounds from my pocket. "That," I say, "will be Starfleet, not waiting to be asked." I fish out my combadge. "I only wish we'd been quicker. Shohl here."
"Vice Admiral." I don't recognize the voice. "Starfleet is going to maximum defensive alert, all planetside leave is cancelled, you are asked to report immediately to Earth Spacedock for a briefing."
"I'm in San Francisco now," I say. "I can see a transporter terminal from where I'm standing, I will be on my way right now."
"Clearing you for direct transporter access," the voice says, and clicks off.
I step over the fallen human, and run for the transporter pad.
Spacedock is always humming with activity. The hum is louder and more urgent today, though.
Admiral Semok meets me at the transporter room. "Vice Admiral Shohl. I regret the interruption to your well-earned leave."
"It had barely started, sir. I'd just stopped off for a quiet drink in a bar when - What are our orders, sir?"
The portly Vulcan consults a PADD. "Our experimental engineering group has been called upon to consider possible methods of reprisal." His eyes, normally bland and emotionless, look - anguished. "If the Klingons have stepped up their attacks to include wholesale planetary devastation -"
"We might have to fight fire with fire." I don't feel any happier about it than he does.
"Yes. One matter we have been asked to assess is the practicability of a c-fractional strike on Praxis."
"Praxis? Oh, I see...." The broken moon around the Klingon homeworld isn't the first target you'd think of. But it was shattered once, and if its orbit were destabilized again... the whole thing could come crashing down on Qo'noS, an unstoppable battering ram of destruction.
It's hard to control a planet, even with the resources that Starfleet and the Klingons can command. But it's surprisingly easy to destroy one, or at least to render one uninhabitable. C-fractional strikes - missiles moving at relativistic speeds - are the traditional method, if there are any traditions in this thing. But there are other ways. A single starship, even an old Constitution-class cruiser, can devastate a planet past the point of recovery. A ship like King Estmere could do it without breaking a sweat.
But this sort of war - crosses a line. The war is being fought for a mixture of reasons, but prime among them is control; control of territory, of resources, of the populations of the precious habitable planets of the galaxy. That the Klingons have started the wanton destruction of these resources... is a new, and alarming, development.
"Destroying the Klingon homeworld, though," I say, "is a move that might well backfire. Quite apart from any - humanitarian - considerations... it'd leave the Klingon factions leaderless, most of them thirsting for revenge, and out of control."
"This is my assessment also," says Semok. "I hope that it will be the conclusion reached by calmer heads on the Federation Council, too. However, some strong response is clearly necessary in the face of this atrocity."
We make our way to the stateroom. Normally, this is busy only with lecturers and brown-nosing cadets, but today it is crammed with so many senior officers, you could choke on the pips. Mere Vice-Admirals like me have to stand at the back and breathe in. If we want to breathe... because the holographic image of Bercera IV, floating in the air over the podium, is enough to make anyone choke.
Beneath it, the top brass have gathered. Admiral Yanishev looks as though he is graven in stone; Quinn is visibly distressed. As we enter, though, it's Admiral Routledge of Logistics Command who has the floor.
"A relief effort is under way as we speak," the elderly human says. Routledge was only a few months from mandatory retirement, last I heard. "The odds for survivors are... not good. It's possible, though, that some who've sought shelter in isolated rural areas... may survive the toxic and radiation contamination long enough for a pickup to be made. All available transport ships have been diverted. As for the main cities -" he shakes his head. "Our long range probes confirm. Total devastation."
Admiral Yanishev steps forward. "Fifth, Seventh and Tenth Tactical Wings are committed to cover similar possible targets in the immediate vicinity," he says in a voice like death. "We have a preliminary assessment of - possibles. We will act to protect them. As for an immediate response -"
"That's what we're here to discuss," Quinn says.
Yanishev nods. "Obviously, a major retributive strike is necessary," he says. "The Klingons will expect it, of course - in a way, that makes it even more necessary. If we even look like we're backing down, over this, they will be all over us. Plans for assaults on targets in the Archanis sector have been in evaluation for some time." His face turns grimmer still. "We are activating those plans. First, Second and Fourth fleets will hit strategic Klingon systems within the week. The Klingons' response to that - well, it will tell us something. Conventional warfare would be - in a way - good news. More attacks of this kind, though -"
"Hold on, hold on." A querulous female voice breaks in. The speaker is a Vice Admiral, a skinny human female with several very obvious Borg cybernetic implants. "Look, I'm rolling this around in my head," she says, "and none of it fits. We need to figure out what this means before we go off all guns blazing, right?"
"Vice Admiral Grau," says Yanishev. He doesn't sound pleased.
"Listen," says Grau. "Bercera. Soft target, well behind our front lines, not that lines mean anything much in space combat. So why is it a target? What's at Bercera? Can't be a terror attack, the Klinks aren't fools, they know we won't back down from a show of force, we can't afford to. So what else could it be? Why is J'mpok raising the stakes by burning off an entire world?"
Yanishev looks like he's about to speak, but Grau carries on regardless. "Could be desperation, end-game bravado, last desperate stroke of a dying man - except the Klinks aren't dying, the war is doing their internal economy no particular good, but they're a long way from being beaten yet. So, 'when I am dead, let fire the Earth consume' - no, it doesn't fit, because J'mpok ain't dead yet. But Bercera is a soft target because it's not a significant part of the war effort, right? So why kill it? Unless it's some sort of spook stuff? Were we using Bercera IV for spook stuff? Oh, right, I mean, did Starfleet Intelligence have any major assets on the planet?"
"No," Quinn says, suddenly. "Nothing of the kind."
"Well, there you are, then," says Grau. "Like I said, I'm turning this over in my head, and I can't fit it in with Klink strategy. Got to know the reason for this one. Know the reason, you know how to respond. Sure, sure, kick 'em back, kick 'em hard and low and dirty, so they know they've been kicked - but we need to work out where best to kick them. So we have to know why this happened. It doesn't make any obvious military sense, so it must be spook stuff. If not ours, then theirs. I'm telling you."
"Thank you for your contribution, Vice Admiral," Yanishev says with finality.
"Still," Routledge says, "we do need to study the situation. Someone should go in to support the rescue operation and salvage... as much data as we can."
"If I might make a suggestion," Semok speaks up. "My group has been tasked with researching planet-killing methods - I will not say we are experts in the field, since we have never needed such - but we are to contribute our resources in this area. Further, we have at our disposal a multi-functional carrier vessel which can support the relief effort, serve as a combat-capable craft if need be, and carry out any investigations in the field, as required. Vice Admiral Shohl can be ready to depart in a matter of hours." He glances at me. "I am correct, Vice Admiral Shohl?"
"Of course, sir." There's really nothing else I can say.
"Very well," says Routledge. "Vice Admiral Shohl will rendezvous with my rescue fleet and begin investigations. Now, as to the logistics of our armed response -"
Afterwards, I head for the docking bays with purpose in my eyes. Before I make it, though, a hand grabs my sleeve. I turn, to see the human-Borg woman, Grau.
"Listen," she says. "You're going out there, right? You keep an open mind."
"I intend to," I say. "We need the facts. You're right about that at least."
"Facts, facts," she says, and looks around, before turning her gaze back to me. The Borg targeting laser covering her left eye scans erratically over my face. "We haven't met, have we? Veronika Grau. Call me Ronnie, everyone does."
"Tylha Shohl," I answer. Then I frown, as I recollect something. "There was a Veronika Grau during the Romulan War, wasn't there? She did - hmm, something impressive, I guess. Were you named after her?"
"No, no," she says, "that was me. Roms, they're not as sneaky as they think they are. Oh, right, yeah, it was a while ago. Time warps. Bane of my life, time warps. Listen. There is something wrong about this whole setup. Watch your back out there. There's spook stuff at the bottom of this, you mark my words. And it's spook stuff that's already eaten a planet, so it won't stop at swallowing a Vice Admiral. If you get my drift."
I grin at her, without humour. "It'll choke on this one. I promise you."
King Estmere is ready by the time I get to the bridge; everyone is bustling around doing last-minute checks, but I know they're just a formality. I take my seat in the command chair.
"We have priority clearance to depart when ready, sir," Anthi Vihl says. My exec's tone betrays no emotion, but I can tell from the stiffening of her antennae just how angry she is. "Your orders, sir?"
"Put me on ship-wide address," I say to F'hon Tlaxx, who touches his console and nods to me. "Attention, all hands. This is Vice Admiral Shohl. Our orders are to proceed at best speed to the Bercera system, there to render all possible assistance to the relief effort, and to gather evidence relating to this... atrocity." I pause, and take a deep breath. "It's possible - only possible - that we may run into the Klingon war criminals responsible for this. In which case, we will be ready for combat... and may the Infinite have mercy on their souls, because we will show none to their bodies. Shohl out." I turn to Anthi. "Clear all umbilicals, proceed on thrusters to spacedock exit."
King Estmere's deck quivers beneath me, and we are on our way.
Personal record: Shalo of the house of Sinoom, commanding officer, IKS Garaka
The knock at the door of my room is... unwelcome. It is only since attaining my current rank that I have had the privilege of private quarters when staying at the First City barracks. The privacy, the seclusion, is still a novelty, and one that I value. I do not care to be disturbed.
"Enter," I say.
The bekk does not cross the threshold. "Forgive the intrusion, Lieutenant General," he says, "but you are commanded to appear at a meeting of the High Council. The Chancellor himself has ordered your presence."
"Immediately, sir." There is something in his manner, some stress or nervousness. Klingons do not often show nervousness. I frown.
"I will be there directly. Has the Chancellor stated why he requires me?"
"No, sir." The bekk's nervousness increases. "It may be that it has something to do with the news -"
"What news?" I demand.
"You have not heard, sir?"
"I have been... meditating. In seclusion. What news?"
"A world, sir. A whole habitable world... destroyed."
I stiffen as cold anger grips me. "What? Where has the Federation attacked?"
"No, sir," the bekk says, wretchedly, "I have not made my meaning clear. The Feds have not destroyed a world. We have."
Murmurs seem to fill the Great Hall, a tide of hushed conversation that rises even to the stone heads of the great statues of Klingon warriors who tower up the roof above us. The Chancellor stands in his usual place on the steps. His face is as stony as the statues'.
One of the Councillors - T'Jeg of the House of Toros - turns as I approach, and asks, "What is this Orion female doing here?"
"I am here at the Chancellor's order," I snap back. One must always assert one's self - one's position, one's rights - when dealing with Klingons. It is fatal to back down, perhaps literally so.
"It is so," J'mpok says, in a voice like stone breaking. He makes a gesture with one hand, and I take the place he indicates, to the side. Near enough to hear all, far enough away that it is clear I am not to be consulted.
More Councillors arrive: I have never yet seen the Great Hall so full. "Are all here?" the Chancellor demands.
An aide replies, "Save for those Councillors who are out-system and unable to respond, yes, Chancellor."
"Then we shall begin," says J'mpok, "with a simple statement of the facts. Forty hours ago, the IKS QIb laH'e', under the command of Captain Klur, son of Durgor, of the house of Mak'teth, was on a deep penetration raiding mission in Federation space. Captain Klur approached the Federation colony world of Bercera IV, demanding its surrender to the Empire. When this was refused, Klur deployed tricobalt devices in a continent-wide strategic pattern, creating a global firestorm -"
"The Jol'qah effect," one of the Councillors says, knowledgeably. "I have never yet heard of it being used in practice."
J'mpok glares at him. "It has been used now," he says, "along with direct strikes at the planet's population centres. Bercera IV is utterly devastated. Casualties exceed half a billion, almost all of them civilians. We now meet in council, to discuss... what must happen next."
The murmuring is stilled, now. Faintly, outside, we can hear the sounds of First City.
Someone speaks: I cannot see who. "Was this... action... authorized?"
"No," the Chancellor says, "it was not. Though whether anyone will believe that... is another matter. Klur submitted his Record of Battle with his after-action report in the normal manner, via subspace radio. In all respects, he acted as if this were a conventional military action."
"Where is Klur now?" asks Councillor Tol'beq of the House of Kador.
"Unknown. His ship did not return to its scheduled patrol pattern." J'mpok glowers. "I have, naturally, ordered the ship back to Qo'noS so that Klur may... answer for his conduct. Equally naturally, he has yet to respond."
"Did none of his crew protest their orders?" asks T'Jeg.
"Two officers spoke against Klur, and were executed in the normal manner."
"Is it important?" J'mpok turns to an aide, who hands him a datapad. "First Officer Talakh, and Commander Kysang."
"Then those officers bear no responsibility," says T'Jeg. The Chancellor looks at him for a moment, and frowns.
"In any case," he continues, "we are faced, now, with a crisis. The Federation has regaled half the galaxy with fanciful tales of Klingon atrocities since this war began... now, they have an indisputable, real, atrocity they can hold up. The propaganda value alone will be worth a hundred fleets to them. And we must consider their most likely military response, which I anticipate will be soon, and forceful." His expression grows yet bleaker. "There is also the possibility that they will respond to our attack in a similar vein."
"Countervalue strikes on planetary targets?" says Councillor Darg of the House of T'llan. "The Federation has no stomach for such actions. It is run by idealists and pacifists -"
"When have you ever fought them?" J'mpok demands.
"It is true," Ambassador S'taass of the Gorn speaks, for the first time, "that Federation ideals become - tempered with pragmatism - when their lives are at stake. Do not underestimate their will, Councillor, you do so at your peril."
"In any case," Councillor K'tag, an old and experienced warrior, says in a dry, practical tone, "we must consider matters, as the Chancellor says. Do we choose to repudiate this Klur's action?" Shocked eyes turn to him, and he makes an impatient gesture. "Bear in mind, no repudiation we make will be believed. Execute this Klur with dishonour, and the Federation will simply say, 'What great traders these Klingons are! See, they offer the life and honour of a single ship's captain, in exchange for an entire world, and claim it a fair bargain!' So... since we shall have the repercussions of this action to live with, no matter what, shall we not claim it as our own? Our enemies would know fear, to think that we should go so far...."
Incredibly, the Chancellor seems almost to be considering this. "No," he decides, after a worrying pause. "No. The Empire is a defender of the weaker peoples, it is a bulwark against the infiltration of the qa'meH quv, it defends the ancestral rights and the honour of the Klingon people. It does not make war against defenseless civilians. We are warriors, not murderers, and to take this act as our own would... dishonour us. It does not matter what the Federation speaks, if we know the truth in our own hearts."
K'tag nods. "Then I offer another unthinkable thought," he says. "With this act, we have raised the stakes of the war, to a level none would have contemplated. This being so, can we not say that we have gone too far? That it is time to end the war altogether, rather than move into a spiral of retaliation that will leave both empires shattered?"
Again, J'mpok seems to consider. "There is much in that," he says, "but the war cannot end before our territorial rights are... guaranteed. But you show wisdom, K'tag. We must think the unthinkable, now that one of us... has already done it."
"Returning, then, to the merely urgent," K'tag says, "our intelligence analysts must build up a list of likely targets for Federation attack, and ships despatched to those targets without delay. The Federation's military response will not be long in coming, and it will be driven by righteous vengeance and anger. Bercera IV was a Tellarite world, and the Tellarites are not known for pacifism or forgiveness."
"They are traders, not warriors," Darg says with a sneer.
"Again, valued colleague," says K'tag, "you have not fought them. We must also expect a diplomatic and a propaganda attack, and have our answers ready for those."
"And to that end," J'mpok says, "we must fully understand, ourselves, what has been done, and why." He turns his gaze, for the first time, to me. "Lieutenant General Shalo, I will speak with you privately on this matter, afterwards."
I enter J'mpok's private office with some trepidation. It is, on occasion, profitable to have the Chancellor's full attention, but it is also, often, perilous.
"Shalo of the House of Sinoom," he says, studying me with those heavy-lidded eyes of his.
"The House of Sinoom is fallen," he says. "Its assets dispersed, its speakers in the councils of the Orions dismissed, its peoples scattered. Yet you cling to that loyalty?"
"I do," I say. "My House's fortunes are currently in eclipse, and yet who can say what the future holds? Besides, loyalty that does not withstand adversity - is not loyalty."
He gives voice to a short, sharp bark of approving laughter. "I like that," he says. "Yes, you speak truly.... When your House... went into eclipse... you, yourself, sought out the KDF, took your place in its ranks. I know your record. You have fought well, and with honour. Like many in your position, you have made yourself more Klingon than the Klingon. And in... certain events, that did not take place... you would have acquitted yourself well, if those events had ever happened."
"Thank you, Chancellor."
"More Klingon than the Klingon," he repeats. "And, yet, not Klingon, and that is important. I doubt Klingon faces will be welcomed in Federation space, and your mission will take you there."
"I live to serve, sir," I reply. "What is my mission?"
J'mpok scowls. "I must know the truth of this matter," he says. "You are to find it. Go to Federation space, if you must - you will be given diplomatic credentials. Find this Klur, and discover the truth. Whatever it may be."
"Am I to bring him back, sir?"
"Bring him back. Or bring back proof of his death. That is important, yes, but it is more important that I must understand. Is he a replicant, one of the qa'meH quv, or worse? Was he perhaps suborned by the Federation themselves, that they might have an atrocity for their propaganda?" Another short, hoarse laugh. "I do not believe that - the Federation is not that pragmatic. But the alternative - that a Klingon warrior is so lost to honour - or that he believes I might think his act an honourable one - I would rather not believe that, either." He looks directly at me. "What I believe does not matter. Find out the truth."
"I will, Chancellor. But - why me? There are other officers -"
He makes a sweeping gesture. "Reasons. You are Orion, which may smooth your path, as I have said. Your ship is a Kar'fi carrier, the equal of his in combat. And - you are of the House of Sinoom."
I frown. "How is that relevant, Chancellor?"
"Others of your House entered service with the KDF. One such is aboard the QIb laH'e'. Her name is Tayaira, and if Klur's transmission can be trusted, she is now his First Officer. It may help you. It may not. For now, go, and be about your business. And may fortune attend you." Yet again, he laughs. "We will require much from fortune, before we are done."
(I threatened to start something longer, in a Literary Challenge thread, a little while back. So this is me, starting something longer. With luck it'll get finished.)
I really want to see how it develops, so don't you dare suddenly abandon it or end it early. This sounds like it will be a long, involved, complicated story (and based on what I've already read, I will expect no less). Give it all the room it needs to breathe, develop, and honorably attack its enemies with a bat'leth.
Might want to put a RP or story tag on this one because you got my hopes up about information about a new Fallout game like Fallout 4 or a Fallout MMO.
Excellent stuff so far, shevet. I like the interactions between Tylha and Grau, and further like the introduction to Shalo and your own take on the Orion perspective (what is it with the regular LC contributors and their fascination with Orions? :P) But above all else, I am eager to find out what Klur's story is. Please continue.
The Orion woman with the close-cropped dark hair strode with military efficiency along the corridors of the QIb laH'e'. They were dark, almost deserted. So many of the crew were... not sulking, exactly, she thought... but withdrawn, sullen, fearful.
She reached the door, took a deep breath, held it for a count of three, exhaled. She touched a panel, and a buzzer sounded.
For a moment, there was no response. Then a muffled voice said, "Who is it?"
"Captain," she answered, "it is First Officer Tayaira." No intercom. He was on the other side of the solid door, and she hoped he could hear her. "We are at the coordinates you ordered. We have been phased and under strict sensor and radio silence for two hours. Your crew awaits your further orders, sir."
The door hissed open. Klur was standing there, just inside the room, his dark hair tangled and unkempt. Behind him, his quarters were in almost total darkness, just one fitful flame burning in an ornate holder - some religious trinket, she remembered, from a conquered world; he had kept it as a memento. He stared at her, and his gaze seemed unsteady.
"Orders," he said, "yes." With a sinking feeling, Tayaira realized that she could smell alcohol on his breath. How drunk was he? And how bad were things -?
"Come in," he said, and turned, blundering his way to a desk console. He hit switches, blinked as the lights came on, rummaged on the desk for a datapad. "Here. We're to proceed to -" his finger came down on the pad "- these coordinates, now, at warp. Nebula, emission nebula - mask our warp signature -" He heaved a sigh. "The Feds will be looking for us, hard."
"They are not alone, sir," Tayaira said. "We are receiving orders, repeatedly, from Fleet Command. They order us to return to Qo'noS. Sir, they are becoming increasingly forceful and urgent."
"Figures," said Klur. "No response. Maintain subspace silence. Can't return to Qo'noS if Starfleet gets us, can we?"
"No, sir. And your plan to mask our warp signature is a sound one. But, sir -"
He scowled at her. "What?"
"Sir." She screwed up her courage. "If I am to be your First Officer, I must know something of what is in your mind. Simply enough to - to be effective. It is necessary, sir."
His scowl faded, slightly. "Necessary, yes." He stumbled towards the bed, sat down on it heavily. "All right, ask."
"Sir... what is to become of us? Are we - are we renegades? Have we acted outside the High Council's wishes?"
He laughed. "Yes and no. Politics. High Council's full of politicians. 'm waiting for a word... to show they've made their minds up. They will. They will back me. I have promises."
"Promises." Her spirits plummeted. Promises. A Klingon's word was inviolable, a promise bound up his honour with his truth... except when it didn't. Was Klur really so foolish as to trust a politician's promises?
"They jus' need time," he said, "time t' get their heads around it. What we've done. They can't take it back, so they have to... to own it. Make it their own. Got t'be the way. Jus' need a little more time t'make the decision... then we go back t' Qo'noS as heroes. Besides. They owe me. Did 'em a favour."
"A favour, sir? Destroying the planet... was a favour to someone on the High Council?"
"That? No." He laughed. "That wasn't the favour."
Personal log: Veronika "Ronnie" Grau, officer commanding USS Virtue NCC-92780
Datarecord: 2/12 2ndry adjunct unimatrix 07 (pending reassimilation/reclassification)
Tallasa has that look again.
I'm sitting comfortably in the centre seat of the Virtue, and my Andorian */*species 4464*/* first officer is being all brisk and efficient */*efficiency 56%---suboptimal---introduce cybersystems, cerebral cortex, visual sensorium---optimize*/*
Oh, do shut up, Two of Twelve.
Anyway. Yes. Brisk and efficient and thoroughly Starfleet like she always is, and she has that look she always gets, the look that says you are my commanding officer and I am your loyal crew and it is not my place to criticize, but, boy, do you need some criticism right now.
"We have eighteen hours before we rendezvous with Admiral Gref and the rest of Sixth Fleet," she says, in her oh-so-reasonable soft Andorian tones. "Sir, shouldn't you get some rest?"
"I'll rest when I'm dead," I snap at her, and then say, "Sorry." But I'm not. Andorians don't even have a fixed sleep cycle, where does she get off criticizing mine? Blue meanies. */*species designation not recognized*/*
In fairness to her, the Virtue does seem to be humming along pretty nicely. She's a good ship, possibly better than I deserve, what with her being an ultra-modern Chimera class heavy destroyer, and me being a time-displaced ex-cyborg with a list of negative psych evaluations that makes War and Peace look like a bus ticket. I'm good in a scrap, though. Don't let anybody ever tell you Ronnie Grau isn't good in a scrap.
Fighting is one thing, though. */*tactical functions offline*/* Spook stuff is another, and this situation is fraught with spook stuff. Spooky, spooky spook stuff.... I see Tallasa and her sister Jhemyl exchange meaningful glances. "Aw, cripes, was that my out-loud voice again?"
"I really think you should rest, sir," says Tallasa.
"Yes," I say. "No. Maybe. I'm fretting, I don't mind admitting it. Fretting. Whole damn situation doesn't add up right. Don't expect me to sleep when I'm fretting, little Ronnie would have bad dreams." Bad dreams is right. Little Ronnie has two heads, one inside the other, and both of them are full of bad wiring, and right now the sparks are flying.
*/*---inaccurate---no electronic/electromechanical failures detected*/*
"There's nothing you can do about it at the moment," says Tallasa in soothing tones. She's right, of course. I'm lucky to have her - her, and Jhemyl, and the rest of my loyal crew, amazes me how loyal they are, sometimes, I'm pretty sure I don't deserve it. Loyal, but on this occasion, wrong.
Tallasa has stopped exchanging glances with Jhemyl, and has started sharing them with Saval, instead, my Vulcan */*species 3259*/* science officer. Last time they exchanged those sorts of glances, I woke up in sickbay twelve hours later. Saval, who is actually no slouch at the science stuff, had rigged up some sort of cortical suppression field, turned me right off like a TV set. It shut Two of Twelve up for days, so I guess I ought to be thankful. Of course, what he doesn't realize is, she adapted. She does that.
I look around the bridge. "You. On comms. Face-ache." It's a new ensign, and he looks flustered. "Get me a subspace channel, band delta, frequency 23861.2." He looks more flustered, but he starts tapping away at the console.
Tallasa is frowning. "I don't recognize that frequency, sir, and band delta hasn't been used by Starfleet in years."
"Decades, probably," I say. I beam at her. It makes my mouth hurt. "Before your time. It's the frequency for the phase two space navigation grid, whole lot of subspace beacons chatting to each other. Obsolete now, but it's still there as a backup in Sirius and Alpha Centauri space. Has a whole lot of spare bandwidth, too, and we used to use it for, you know, back-channel chat. Like ham radio."
"What do you expect to find on it now, sir?" Tallasa asks. You daft old bat, she doesn't add, but her body language speaks volumes.
"Not a lot. But if we're dealing with spooky spooky spook stuff, I want more information. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data." Since Tallasa only reads slushy Andorian romances about tragic love pentangles and such, that literary reference flies over her head like the daring young man on the flying trapeze. Never mind. "Know what else is obsolete, but still working? The duotronic computer core at Memory Alpha. They still use that for backup, and it's got a subspace linkup we can reach through that back channel." I pull over my armrest console, and start tapping away. "Oh, how it all comes flooding back."
"We can query Memory Alpha through regular channels," Tallasa says.
"Yeah, but this way's more fun," I say. "Besides, queries only get back answers if you know what to ask. This way, I can get in and root around for a bit, follow up links, maybe get a peek at stuff they wouldn't release through regular channels."
"It is illogical to assume," says Saval, politely, "that you will be able actually to access the content of the duotronic core. You would need appropriate user permissions."
"Oh, but inappropriate ones are so much nicer. Did I ever mention I was there when they put that duotronic core in? Did I ever mention I saw the systems admin choose a password for it?"
OK, Two of Twelve, says I to myself... to my other self. Time to earn your keep.
*/*organic memory---local storage---long term---accessing
---building heuristic index
---adaptive mnemonic enhancement engaged
---converting sensory to symbolic memory
I type in the access code while Saval is still bleating about biometric ID. "They set up a text-only code to bypass the biometrics," I tell him. "In case they ever needed remote access in a hurry. A back door to the back door, which we reached through another back door. Now, then. I've got root level access to Memory Alpha, shall I format it, or are you going to let me browse in peace?"
They shut up. I start looking at the data structures as they come through on the console screen. The thing about old-fashioned backup devices is, people never expect to have to look at them. So they're perfect for putting stuff on, when you don't want people coming looking for it. You'd be amazed what you can find in archives, sometimes.
"I'll get some rest," I say, and actually I do feel easier in my mind, somehow. "The old lady's going to get her head down, don't you worry. Just want some bedtime stories before I nod off, that's all."
There are intelligence digests, here, that I'm pretty sure will repay closer investigation. Bedtime stories, yes. And maybe a side order of Boris Savinkov to go with it.
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