Thread: Fallout
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Captain
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 755
# 65
10-15-2013, 02:44 AM
Ronnie

Tallasa comes storming into my ready room with a face like thunder. She has a bunch of PADDs in her hand; she slams the first one down on my desk. "Casualty reports." Slam, as the next one joins it. "Repairs to ship's systems." A third. "Revisions to lists of spares." That one comes down so hard, the screen goes blank.

"I think you broke it," I say.

"So add it to the list of everything else that's broken around here!" I don't think I've ever seen Tallasa this angry. */*---memory retrieval---commencing comparisons*/* No need, Two of Twelve, no need. "Sir," Tallasa carries on, with icy formality, "as your executive officer, I am confirming to you that the ship is not ready for combat operations without further repairs."

"Ahepkur says we're operational," I protest.

"Ahepkur is a gung-ho Klingon idiot, and she'll tell you whatever you want to hear!" Tallasa blazes at me. So much for Starfleet protocol, then. "We're operational enough to get to Spacedock for proper repairs, and that is it!"

If I were a Betazoid */*species 1599*/*, I'd be sensing hostility right now. "There's a space dock at Nali Caerodi," I say.

"Which is eighty-odd parsecs further away than Earth, and in the middle of Ferengi space. Do you have some sudden compulsion, sir, to pay for our repairs?"

"There's a reciprocal repair agreement in place," I say. "Starfleet repairs and refits free in exchange for similar facilities for the Ferengi at Starbase 105. I do think of these things, Tallasa, honest I do."

"And what's eighty extra parsecs on a set of damaged warp coils, after all?" says Tallasa. It's a very bad sign when she's sarcastic.

I try to marshal my thoughts, which is never easy. Except when people are shooting at me; concentrates the mind wonderfully, that does. Was that Samuel Johnson? Never mind.

"Look," I say. "I've been going back over that stuff we got from Memory Alpha -"

"That you got. And it is not our problem, sir."

"No." Somehow, I find my thoughts coming into clear focus. "No, you're wrong. It is our problem, because this is big enough to be everyone's problem. And we have to do whatever we can, because we're Starfleet, and that's our job."

That gets to her, I can see that. She stands up straight, her eyes widen, her antennae stiffen. "You'd better explain, sir." It's grudging, but it's better than her shouting at me.

"All right. The key to all this lies in a lot of very dry, very boring data about industrial shipping. That's what I've been sifting through. How did Klur get the amount of tricobalt he used at Bercera? Someone provided the stuff, and someone physically transferred it onto his ship. I figure that was when they changed the name. When the plan was set in motion, and they wanted to make it plain. Symbolism, the Klinks are big on symbolism, sometimes. I don't think this was the only symbolic act, either, but -" I'm wandering from the point. I take a deep breath and try to get back on track.

"Two of them were executed when Klur gave his orders. Kysang, the one I think was a Section 31 agent, and Talakh. Talakh had contacts in Ferengi space, his House is a cadet branch of the House of Toros, and they've got clout in the Klingon High Council. But they don't have the manufacturing capacity to produce the tricobalt, their commercial interests are in merchant shipping more than anything. But even merchant shipping has its uses, because a House of Toros transport was in Nali Caerodi when the IKS Shara'nga changed its name to the QIb laH'e'."

"There must have been a thousand ships in Nali Caerodi," says Tallasa. "And where was Klur's ship, whatever it was called?"

"That, I don't know. Missing a link in the chain, there. That's why I want to go to Nali Caerodi. Get some info on the spot. No space battles, nothing to break the ship, just some -"

"Spooky spooky spook stuff," says Tallasa. "I see."

"T'Jeg of the House of Toros has been calling for total war in the High Council," I say. "That's bad. Escalation ladders, we already have one foot on one, Gref nearly brought us up a rung -"

"You're starting to make less sense than usual, sir," says Tallasa.

"Escalation. The theory and practice of total atomic war, as elucidated by my ancestors of mid-to-late twentieth century Earth. Say, conventional warfare is the bottom rung of the ladder, then limited tactical atomic strikes are the next rung up; then counter-value strikes against first military bases, then civilian industry, then civilian population centres. There are subdivisions -" My voice is starting to shake as the old nightmare comes back to me. "Hitting Bercera IV was pretty high up that ladder. Gref's threat at Aznetkur was actually a rung or two lower - and he didn't go through with it, thank heavens for that - but we're still on it, and we could start climbing again any time." I look at Tallasa and my one eye is pleading with her. "There's nothing good at the top of the ladder. Spasm, they call it. The no-win situation where each side empties its arsenal of nukes until there's nothing left - of the arsenal, or of the opposition. Or of the world."

"Klingons aren't stupid." Tallasa's eyes are thoughtful. "Your people didn't get all the way up that ladder, did they? Klingons are certainly not stupider than twentieth-century humans."

"Doesn't matter how clever you are, sometimes, if you are angrier, or prouder, or more scared. The Klingons don't want this, why would they? But someone else might. Maybe the Tholians got tired of having oxygen-breathers around. Or the Undine want to sit pretty in fluidic space and watch this quadrant burn." I clutch the side of my head, feeling metal and plastic under my hair. "Too many possibilities. We need some answers. Because if we don't get them, we might burn."

Tallasa nods. "If you've put some of the pieces together, sir... it's worth a side trip to Nali Caerodi."

I keep myself from sighing with relief. I would far, far rather have Tallasa on my side than against me. "It might turn up something useful for Tylha Shohl, too," I say. "You want to help out a fellow Andorian, right?"

She pulls a face. "Shohl," she says. "Shohl has a family name... I'm none too sure she'd want my help." And she turns to go. I've never really known the whole story of whatever it was that made Tallasa and her sister clanless outcasts. Somehow, I'm thinking this is not the time to ask.

---

Virtue bursts out of subspace, into the chaos of the Ferengi orbital shipyards. The planet, Nali Caerodi, is a class L world, brown and cold and unappealing; the system's population lives mostly on the stations that circle it. A staggering seven hundred and seventy plus Ferengi commercial operations, ranging from O'Neill cylinders, twenty kilometres in length, to prefabricated living modules bolted to a work grid. Shuttles and orbital transports zip between them, space is alive with chatter and signals on every wavelength. In the chaos, it's hard to pick out the one I want - even the Virtue, lean, powerful and battle-scarred as she is, is almost unnoticeable in the confusion.

*/*resource allocation inefficient---unify---centralize controls*/* Shut up, Two of Twelve. The Ferengi */*species 180*/* just don't do things that way.

I follow the beacons to the station I want. Virtue slides into place inside the arms of a docking cradle, a kilometer or so from the graceless orange bulk of a Ferengi Marauder. I can see the relief on Ahepkur's face as our over-stressed engines power down.

"OK," I say. "Engineering, go do spaceship-fixy sort of stuff. I'm on my hols. Tallasa, you're with me." I stand up. "Let's go introduce ourselves to the guy in charge."

"I take it that rest and recreation are not foremost in your thoughts, sir," says Saval.

"Officially, I'm taking a break. What I do on my own time isn't Starfleet's business. Just to make that perfectly clear, on the record, all that sort of guff." I turn to the comms ensign. "You. Face-ache. Make sure I've got a channel open at all times. Just in case I have to come back from my holiday really quick, if you know what I mean."

"Aye, aye, sir," says the ensign.

"Transporter room will stay on round the clock alert," growls Ahepkur. Well, all right, I guess.

The dock's control centre is hot, cramped, humid, and busy, with Ferengi scurrying hither and thither, going about unguessable errands. A big status display tells me the Virtue and the Marauder are the only ships docked just now. I reach out and grab a passing Ferengi by his collar. "I need to talk to the boss," I say. "Where do I find him?"

He scowls at me. "Make an appointment, hew-mon."

I point to my collar. "See these? Starfleet Vice Admiral insignia. Means I'm the one authorizing payment on this shindig, means I'm the customer, and the customer is always right. That's a rule of acquisition where I come from. Now where's your boss?"

The scowl deepens. "Level four, main offices," he says. I let him shake me off.

"Come on," I say to Tallasa. She spears the Ferengi with a disdainful glare, then follows me to the turbolift.

The main offices are just as cluttered and busy, but there's one big desk in one corner, with a top made of some sort of real wood, non-replicated, highly polished. The one behind the expensive desk is usually the one in charge. I saunter up, ignoring the glares of a bodyguard or two, and say, "Daimon Prago? Veronika Grau, call me Ronnie, everyone does."

The Ferengi behind the desk is plump and sullen, wearing an entrepreneur's jacket in sombre hues of black and deep purple. He looks at me with an oddly resigned expression. "Yes?" he says.

"Thought I'd get in touch. You know Starfleet usually uses other yards for refits. But I'd heard so many good things about yours, what with the work you've done for the House of Toros -"

"Yes," Prago interrupts, "I thought it would be that." He glances at the bodyguards. "You can go," he says. They look surprised - at least, the human one does, I can't read the expression on the other's face, if it's got a face. "You can go," Prago repeats, and they do.

I pull up a chair and sit down, facing him across the desk. Tallasa stands at my right shoulder. I can't see her face, but I'm betting she's giving Prago a look that would scare anyone into a virtuous life. "So you were expecting us," I say.

"Someone like you," says Prago. "Ever since -" And he stops.

"We don't have the whole story," I say. "Why don't you give us your side?" I glance sideways at Tallasa. "Better start at the beginning for my sidekick here. She's not well versed in the ways of the real world."

He follows my glance. Tallasa's face is thunderous. All right, Ronnie, time to play good cop, bad cop. "Shall we start with Talakh?" I ask.

Prago nods. "He... was in contact with us before the war even started. We had a deal with him, and through him to the House of Toros, to handle shipping on miscellaneous cargoes -"

"Profiteering off Klingon commerce raiding," says Tallasa sharply. Oh, she is a natural for the bad-cop role.

"If it wasn't you," I say reasonably, "it'd be someone else, right? Most likely the Orion Syndicate. At least this way the Empire and its allies don't keep all the money." I'm really starting to enjoy this. And Two of Twelve has shut up for once, she is out of her depth, she doesn't understand how to get information out of people without sticking wires in their heads.

Prago wants to talk; all I have to do is find the right way to let him.

"We had a shipping deal," Prago says, "and, yes, I guess you're right about the cargoes, but the thing is... I'm pretty sure Talakh was - well, you know how these things work."

"No," says Tallasa firmly.

"I can guess," I say. "Difficult to keep these miscellaneous manifests in order, right? A few errors are bound to creep in, and if some of them were in Talakh's favour, well, who's hurt?"

"Apart from the initial victims of the raids, sir," says Tallasa.

"When the war actually started," Prago continues, "it went on much the same, really. Raids are raids, right? You'll never stop the Klingons doing a little piracy on the side. Part of their culture." He directs a sneer at Tallasa. "You shouldn't interfere with it. General Order Number One, yes?"

"But then something else happened," I say, quickly, before Tallasa can explode.

"About a year ago," says Prago, "a cargo run came through, and it was squeaky clean, everything accounted for down to the last self-sealing stem bolt. So clean it had to be dirty, you know what I mean?"

"Talakh thought someone on the KDF side had rumbled him," I say.

"Yes," Prago says, "yes.... The next run, though, things were back to normal. So I figured, yes, someone had caught Talakh with his hands in the till -"

"And they'd decided to split the take, rather than turn him in," I finish for him.

Prago nods. Actually, I don't think that's what happened at all. My guess is, the person who caught Talakh out was Kysang, the one I've pegged as a Section 31 agent - and Kysang used Talakh's crookery as a hold over him from then on out. But there's no point letting Prago know this.

"Peculation." Tallasa spits the word out. "I have particular reasons to dislike peculation."

"So don't emigrate to Ferenginar," I tell her. To Prago, I say, "That isn't what's worrying you, is it? This is just business as usual, across the lines of the war zone. Sure, it offends my officer here, she is a high-minded person of strict principles, sometimes I wonder why she puts up with me. But the last cargo - it would have to be the last cargo - that was something different, right?"

"I didn't know what it was." Prago's eyes are anguished. A Ferengi with a conscience; some people will tell you that's a contradiction in terms, but Ferengi are people too, and everyone has lines they won't cross. "Talakh came in, his face was like death, I'd never seen him like that... and he wanted clearance and expediting on a special cargo. A Klingon R-class freighter with sealed cargo bays, sealed and with radiological protection. It wasn't until after - after the news broke - that I realised - oh, the ship's name was different, but it was Talakh's ship still, it had to be, and that amount of radioactive material, there's no commercial use for it -"

"It was the cargo of tricobalt munitions Klur used on Bercera IV," says Tallasa, and her voice is like the tolling of a bell.

"I didn't know!" Prago shrieks. Six hundred and fifty million dead. Even a Ferengi can't find profit enough to balance that loss.

"House of Toros ship?" I ask, trying to keep everyone focused on the practicalities.

"Yes. But the House of Toros -" Prago swallows. "No way they could have done it alone."

"No," I say, "no, I don't suppose there is. One other thing I haven't got straight. How and where did the freighter link up with Klur's ship to deliver the stuff? It wasn't here -"

Prago tells us how it was done. When he's finished, Tallasa and I exchange looks.

"Shohl's going to need to know about that," Tallasa says.