The USS Capri & The Quest For The Holy Grail
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Join Date: Jun 2012
The USS Capri & The Quest For The Holy Grail
11-22-2012, 05:24 PM
The airlock hissed open. The humanoid creature stepped forward, its gait a cruel march. The polyglot Starfleet crew, of so many races and worlds, craned their necks and stopped in their tracks to observe this fantastic being, believed for so long and so many to be a myth, a fairy-tale.
A living legend would soon be serving amongst them! To think of it...!
Down the crowded and overlit corridors the creature strode, into the briefing room on Deck 3, glad to be out of the prying eyes of the crowd. Commander R'Miarr, two security officers and a swarthy, timeless el-Aurian were already waiting for her; the former stood at the head of the table, arms crossed his massive chest in an imposing stance; the security officers, a Vulcan and a Tellarite, stood astride him, backs to wall. The el-Aurian, relaxed, seemingly jaded, as it were, looking classy in her plum-colored civilian tunic and trousers, sat at the briefing table, a rather functional piece of replicated serpentinite furniture quite a bit less classy than those seen on the bigger capital ships.
"Welcome aboard the USS Capri, T'Rei. I am Commander R'Miarr." He paused for effect, then, with cautious sincerity: "It is my hope we can resolve what I would prefer to believe is a misunderstanding...and that it does not color our subsequent working relationship." Not bloody likely; he trusted the Captain, but to allow one of these creatures aboard the ship...and in such a sensitive role, no less...
"This was found in your luggage when it was beamed aboard the Capri." R'Miarr held up a five-centimeter-long transparent glass vial, the side engraven with Romulan characters. The vial was filled about two-thirds full with ball-bearing sized white spheres. "I am not sure what the Romulan term is for these, but I believe the Humans refer to them as...'Mickeys'..."
"I was not aware it was Starfleet custom to search the luggage of guests aboard your vessel," said the Romulan curtly, her dark, handsome features betraying all the impassivity of a Vulcan and all the barely contained rage of a Klingon.
"You are not our 'guest', T'Rei...you were sent here by your government to serve aboard our vessel. To put it plainly, you work for us. I am first officer of this vessel, so that means you work for me. We don't search the luggage of our crewmen without good reason. We searched yours after this was found by the transporter's safety scan." R'Miarr realized he had made a mistake; he had played right into the Romulan's hands. He had given her at least two pieces of information, while she had given him none, and in doing so, allowed her control of the dialogue. He made a point of wresting it back. "We know what these are. The question is, what are they doing in your possession? Who was your intended target?"
"There was no...'intended target', Commander. It is a tradition amongst my people that those who prepare meals for an estate keep poisons in their larder, both as a symbol of fealty to their lord and as a means of service, should such a thing be necessary."
"This is not a Romulan senator's estate, T'Rei, and Starfleet neither poisons its guests nor do we allow our guests to possess the means to do so."
"I thought you said I wasn't your guest." Score!
Reflex furrowed R'Miarr's brow a moment before he suppressed it. "We don't allow our crewmen to possess them either."
"But you allow them to keep on hand items significant to their cultural heritage, that is part of your charter, is it not?"
"We do not allow them to keep on hand instruments of killing."
"Really. So do you confiscate a Klingon's bat'leth, a Vulcan's dirpa, the knives held by some Humans?"
"Those are items of ceremonial nature, T'Rei. Do not split hairs with me. We wish to keep our relationship as friendly as possible. We will be confiscating these poisons, and..."
"...in doing so insult my heritage with your hypocritical double-standard." T'Rei cocked her head in a mock Vulcan gesture. "You allow other races their murderous implements in the name of cultural tolerance but not mine. Is this to be a new beginning for our peoples, Commander? Or must we remain mired in distrust? ...I give you my word, Commander, as...a loyal Romulan citizen...that I will not poison anyone aboard this ship." She broke her dispassionate mock Vulcan gesture with a wacky smile. Behind R'Miarr, the Vulcan security officer grimaced. "Unless you order me to."
R'Miarr opened his mouth and was about to issue an ultimatum, but a quick second thought saved him that faux pas:
my word as a loyal Romulan citizen
"I believe we understand each other, T'Rei. Starfleet respects all cultures, yours no less than any other." R'Miarr forced a smug smile, monstrous on a Caitian's leonine face. "Jolan tru... Now, as to this...contraband...you brought on board."
"Contraband?" T'Rei laughed, almost good-naturedly. "Commander, why would you accept my services if you are to call my wares 'contraband'?"
"Apologies. What I mean is, Starfleet does not allow the dispensing of alcoholic beverages aboard ships in deep space."
"Ah yes. You drink that feeble synthale stuff. I suppose you also declaw your sehlats?" T'Rei turned her gaze to the Caitian's great articulated paws. Almost seductively. Truth to tell, their virile strength was impressive.
"We sometimes serve Romulan ale at diplomatic functions or give it out as a gift. Sometimes crewmen going on shore leave like to take a bottle with them. Or a case. You will be permitted access to your stores, on such occasions as should warrant it..."
"And the rest of the time, what?" T'Rei smirked again. "You brought me on board just to be a part-time quartermaster and replicator dumbwaiter?"
"Surely there must be a Romulan equivalent of synthale."
"Romulan synthale is a contradiction in terms, Commander. My people are weak in neither discipline nor passions." Another barb for the Vulcan. "We have never had occasion to invent such a thing, for we do not need it any more than...how does the Human idiom go...'like a mollusk needs a wheeled cart.'"
"Well, then, I guess you'll just have to get creative," said R'Miarr succinctly. Cutting his losses. He handed the Romulan a PADD. "Your quarters are on Deck 7. If you have any needs or concerns, don't hesitate to contact me. I am sure we will forge a positive relationship between our peoples. Dismissed." R'Miarr picked up a PADD off the table, pretended it was activated and began hitting random points on its screen. T'Rei grasped right hand around left wrist, bowed, and exited the room, feeling smug and giddy.
That feeling lasted until she entered her new quarters. A Starfleet petty officer - she knew from the pips on the tunic neatly folded on the center table - sat at the desk, clad in a functional olive brasserie and boyshorts, her shoes lined up like a pair of neat little soldiers a meter away, gazing intently into a mirror and trimming her long black eyebrows.
Without hesitation and without modesty the Vulcan rose and faced her new bunkmate, grasping right hand around right wrist and bowing slighly. "T'Rei. Jolan tru. Welcome aboard the USS Capri."
The Romulan followed her instincts. "Who are you and what are you doing in my quarters? And put your clothes on."
Actually, it wasn't T'Rei's intent to be sarcastic; her first thought had been that she had been swept into some treachery before the possibility even occurred to her she would be assigned a bunkmate, let alone...a Vulcan.
"Petty Officer Supine. Systems engineer, first class." The Vulcan cocked her head. "Romulan vessels typically quarter crew together, do they not?" She moved to comply with the Romulan's request, wrapping her tunic around both wrists before moving it over her head and down her body. Vulcans were logical about their appearances, but Romulans were vain, and Supine was a bit better endowed than her bunkmate.
T'Rei scowled. "There is only one bunk."
"These quarters were designed for one officer. This ship was designed for eighty officers and crew, but the Capri regularly has a manifest of over five hundred. Overcrowding is a fact of life here. Hot-bunking is part of that life." Matter-of-fact, no condescension.
"So we have to sleep in the same bed."
Supine raised a freshly-trimmed eyebrow. "Not at the same time. Or was that not your meaning, T'Rei?" Decided not to give the furious Romulan time to respond. "It is logical that we each change the blankets after we use the bunk. Are we agreed?"
"No." Like a warbird charging its great plasma torpedo and striking a decisive blow by clever means, she prepared to strike down this arrogant Vulcan. "I will change the blankets before I sleep, and after you do. Is it not logical that I take the initiative to establish good will between our peoples?"
Her bunkmate stared, shrugged. "Perhaps, but I don't see how changing the sheets twice a day achieves that goal..."
"Did not the great Spock say that peace in our time would be achieved not by politics or diplomacy, but by small gestures...?"
T'Rei's cunning strikes were well-aimed. Carefully: "This seems a small gesture indeed, T'Rei, but I thank you. Now, regarding matters of modesty...surely...neither of us has anything the other has not seen before, and as we will be living together, we will observe the the degree of both respect and tolerance to be expected between bunkmates."
"Agreed, most logical. You can take your clothes back off if you're more comfortable that way, Lieutenant."
The Vulcan raised an eyebrow. Her right eyebrow, half-plucked; a few excess strands protruding near the bridge of her nose and above her small mouth. Actually, she no longer felt more comfortable without her uniform, but decided it was 'logical' to convince the Romulan of her good will and expand her own comfort zone to what the arrangement would require. "Thank you, T'Rei. And while I am off-duty, as you are not enlisted, you may address me as Supine." The Vulcan removed her trousers and then shirt, folding them as neatly and precisely as before upon the center table, positioned in the same spot down to the millimeter, and once more sat at the desk, plucking her eyebrows in the vanity mirror.
T'Rei stood, still as a martial column on Imperial Square, nearly blind with fury at this turn of events. The Vulcan's back was fully turned to her; by all appearances she was fully engrossed in her personal hygiene. For a good thirty seconds, T'Rei stood like that, visualizing herself breaking furniture over the Vulcan's back, stabbing her repeatedly with a stiletto, zapping her again and again with low-intensity disruptor blasts, flaying her alive, the Vulcan's passionless expression broken into wails of agony and cries for mercy. Her rage boiled and percolated until it receded back into her green-blooded veins. She decided to walk it off.
Down and down the overlit corridors. Garish. Indecent. Immodest. Disgustingly clean, like that Vulcan harlot's plucked brow, lips, and lower body. Already she was dreading spending two years aboard this...this...fluorescent circus. Having a Vulcan bunkmate would be bad enough but it was so much worse that every corridor was three times the brightness that was decent, appropriate and necessary for a room of such size. It reeked of Human profligacy.
Into the mess hall. A crowded mess of all races. She spotted a few Romulans, way in the back, morbidly nursing cups of broth and...some sort of alien dumplings...but her instincts of passion and distrust welled to the surface and she turned away. Never take the initiative to charge into an unknown circumstance; let Romulus come to Sargon. Pride beyond arrogance was veil and aegis against the meager races that crowded the place, and, at least, provided some decent anonymity against the brazen fluorescent lighting.
Wary but cool she proceeded with deliberate purpose into the mess hall, down the aisle into the cantina area. Bottles of all sorts of alien beverages lined the inner shelves. Most didn't have labels; some T'Rei could visually identify, others were ambiguous, some were exotic and unknown to her. No kali-fal or anything like it could be seen. The rest of the bottles aroused only her race's characteristic chauvinism.
"Excuse me, this area is for authorized galley personnel only." Turned. Face-to-face with a...Gorn. She felt her blood begin to boil. No, smaller than a Gorn. Saurian. Her blood cooled slightly. Her expression gave nothing away. "I am 'authorized galley personnel'. My name is T'Rei. I am a fully qualified sommelier, licensed by the Imperial Distilled Spirits Authority of the Romulan people."
"Oh, hey, so you're the new Romulan bartender! I've been looking forward to meeting you. ...Hey, you got any of the 'good stuff'?
"If by 'good stuff' you mean kali-fal, the answer is no. My stores were confiscated by Commander R'Miarr. But if you like, I know a Barolian who can...'hook you up'."
"Oh, don't let the Commander bother you too much, he's a nice chap, really. A big lion of a man, but really, he's a softie. But hey, without any kali-fal to serve, what are you doing here?"
"My bunk is...occupied at this time. I am here for some...fresh air."
"Oh, you're bunked with Lieutenant Supine, aren't you? She's a real doll-"
Alarms rang and klaxons wailed in T'Rul's head. "How do you know that!"
"She was talking about it, you know," said the Saurian bartender laconically. "Was looking forward to having a good sparring partner, someone to play kotra against, have interesting discussions about, you know, whatever you people like to discuss. Guys, I suppose."
"There is no 'you people'. I am a Romulan. She is Vulcan. We are different peoples. And, we do not 'discuss guys', for leisure!"
"Oh, I see. You mean Romulans, or Vulcans?"
"Oh, well, you have that much in common, I guess. So only during...what do you call it...pon'farr? You'll have to forgive me, xenosexuality is an interest of mine. It can be a useful thing to understand in this line of work...I'm sure you know that."
T'Rei stared at the Saurian, blind with fury. Every fibre of her being lusted to rip this Saurian limb from limb, and only her vain dignity, her preening Romulan ego, prevented her from doing just that. "I think you should confine your inquiries to the ship's computer, Saurian, just as I confine my profession to the serving of spirits. I am here only to see what would be my place of work."
"But you said you don't have your goods. So what will you do? Program the replicator for some Romulan synthale?"
"A Romulan synthale is a contradiction in..." Didn't want to create a ship's meme. "Just leave me be, Saurian."
"It's Burrtio. But everyone calls me 'Burrito', after the Human dumpling! Pleased to meet you, Miss T'Rei. Hey, if you don't want to be in your quarters, and you have nothing to do here, might want to check out the holodeck programs."
"Romulans do not console themselves with fantasy-" But the Saurian was on his merry way through the saloon-style novelty double doors between the galley and the cantina. He left behind the sharp scent of brandy.
T'Rei stood there, catatonic with rage, before reaching under the shelf and grabbing what looked to her like the hardest swill on the rack. Grabbed a reasonably clean glass off another shelf, thrust it under the ice dispenser, pulled the lever, filled the glass, brought it to her lips and sipped deeply. Her face contorted with disgust. Synthale. If not for the full room and the impositions of her dignity she would have shattered the glass against a wall, although as it was made of crystalline transparent aluminum, any such effort would have been quite in vain.
"You look like you need something hard," said a smooth voice.
T'Rei turned. The el-Aurian. "Don't try me, listener. I know your kind."
"Likewise. Romulans always try way too hard. Anyway, did you want something hard or not?" The el-Aurian had the advantage. T'Rei relented. "Hit me."
"I assume you mean metaphorically. I'm Rulian, by the way - Rulian Mazan. I keep the cantina running." "You mean you're my boss." "No, I said, I keep it running. Doesn't mean I have to boss anyone around. And you don't look like the type that could stand it." The olive-skinned el-Aurian fumbled with surprising grace under the sonic sink, producing a bottle of what looked like some sort of cleaning fluid.
"I am not drinking cleaning fluid," said T'Rei, although she somehow already knew that wasn't what was in the bottle.
"Of course not. It's real Terran vodka. Comes from a place on Earth called Russia. Try some." She offered the Romulan a glass of the glistening, colorless fluid. The Romulan accepted the glass, and deciding not to give the el-Aurian any more advantage by presuming to show distrust, took a deep gulp. And another one. The cool bitterness of the vodka thrilled her and warmed her lithe, sallow belly. "So why become a sommlier? You look like a girl who knows how to handle herself," nodding towards T'Rei, compact but toned under her grey civilian turtleneck and trousers.
This was not her favorite topic of discussion. "I enrolled in sommlier school after being rejected by the Imperial War College. I scored above the 90th percentile in all the entrance exams. But the day before I was to be formally admitted, my physical turned up a minor defect in my aorta ulterior. Apparently, the defect either was missed, or hadn't manifested itself, before I came of age. If it had, my father would have been obligated to dispatch me."
"I see. Do you wish he had?" "Yes." "So why don't you, you know, do yourself in?"
"It is not the Romulan way to commit suicide just because one is unhappy with one's predicament in life. Suicide is for the desperate and cowardly. I am neither. Anyway, as it were, all Romulan technical academies are affiliates of the military. Being rejected from a military academy due to fitness triggers automatic rejection from any technical vocation. My choices were to attend sommlier school or go back home to my plebian family and spend the rest of my life as some aedile's housemaid. I chose the former."
"So how did that bring you here?"
"As a child, my favorite story was about Keras, the plebian commander who gave his life for the empire. I'd always dreamed that one day I would have the honor of laying down my life for my people, against the myraid threats here amongst the stars..." T'Rei gazed out the window. Wrinkled her nose at the obtrusive Starfleet logos on the beams left and right of the viewpoint, protruding into her view, dragging her back to her present settings. "My family owned a small estate. It had been in the family since the time of Sargon. It's gone now, of course...I keep imagining our family gods floating somewhere out there amongst the rubble of our homeworld...
"I was on a warbird at the time of the disaster. A prestigious posting. For the best sommlier in the fleet." Wrinkled her nose again. "Our commander was as loyal as he was brilliant. He knew 'Empress' Sela was mad. When he saw an Imperial colony attacked by our Hirogen 'allies', exercising their right to 'free hunting' in our space, he opened fire. The Hirogen had us outgunned, they crippled our ship, but rather than allow them to hunt citizens of our once-glorious empire like game animals, he destroyed both the Hirogen and the colony with our thalaron weapons, then put his ship and crew at the disposal of Starfleet. While the Federation Council debated what to do with us, most of our crew deserted, and our commander, believing that Starfleet would only use him as a tool, committed suicide, so that he could die with dignity.
"So while I continued to wait for the Federation council to decide what would be my fate, I was permitted a life as a pensioner on Earth...wasn't sure what to do with myself...I decided to read up on the culture and history of our erstwhile adversaries who were now our hosts. I was surprised to learn that the great Picard had come from a family of sommliers and had been without a functioning heart for most of his career. Since his gens was extinct, the family estate had been turned into a museum...a 'tourist trap'. I almost thought it a worse end than being hunted by the Hirogen or incinerated in a supernova. For one's home to be open to the rabble like a...circus...
"I felt like...a living fossil. A citizen-soldier of an empire that no longer exists. I felt that my passion demanded an outlet, service to something or someone worthy. So when my people began to settle colonies, and Starfleet became the guarantor of our freedom and safety, I felt that I had to volunteer for the exchange program - that by doing so, I would somehow prove we were more than a defeated and angry people." Another wrinkle. "By serving them cold drinks and listening to them gripe about their little lives."
"And now you're here. Sharing a bunk with a Vulcan. How does that make you feel?"
T'Rei blinked. She realized she had just told this stranger her entire life story. She felt disarmed, bewitched. Foolish. What gives? "Angry."
"I see. Well, that sucks." The el-Aurian shrugged and shuffled off.
T'Rei looked about the room, filled with its motley crowd. Spotted a Vorta and a couple Breen. The former was gesticulating with both hands, despite the deafening din of the room, she could see his lips and chest heave with a gross, disgustingly fake laugh at some remark made by his Bolian compatriot. The Breen stood rigid in their environmental suits in a corner - they might as well have been preserved corpses in sarcophagi.
The Romulan stormed angrily down the corridors to the holodeck. There was one activity she had found reliable stress relief since taking up residence on Earth, even though partaking in it made her loathe every fiber of her being. She stopped by the replimat and ordered a change of clothes. Entered the holodeck, got undressed and changed into the change of outfit - felt nothing but self-hate and loathing as she slid the strange fibers over her taunt olive form, she put on the ridiculous headgear and stepped out before the gawking photonic crowd.
"Computer." Hesitated. Was she really about to give this command? "Remove audience." The computer complied. The pews of the great arena suddenly were empty, food and beverage containers and all. "Replace pre-programmed audience with...a suitable Romulan plebian audience." The computer complied, and the pews were suddenly filled with a positively bloodthirsty Romulan audience - all their practiced control stripped away for the occasion and expecting to see some aliens or convicted criminals fight each other to the death for their amusement. She doubted the Starfleet holodeck would even allow the sort of programming they preferred, they'd have to settle for what they got.
The Human pitcher's sandy-brown hair and brilliant blue eyes stared down at T'Rei, standing left of the plate. Apparently, ninety percent of Humans were born right-handed, and while long ago they had corrected the perceived abnormality of preferring the opposing hand, something her people still did, they had instead preferred to tolerate the aberrant and design computer programs to do so as well. This degree of decadence made adjusting the program for a Romulan player more convenient. Still something was missing.
"Computer. Replace...team Yankees with team...Logicians. Belay that." T'Rei pondered. "Create a player database comprised of members of 1927 Earth Series Yankee Team and the 2399 Starfleet Logicians. Create a new team roster, from said database, drawing players based on performance rankings relative to their teammates for that season. Normalize team uniforms based on contemporary baseball fashions on...Bolarus, and apply that team composition to the present program."
The computer beeped, hummed and worked for a moment. Obviously, such a command was quite unusual. The relevant data certainly wasn't cached, and required the application of some artificial intelligence to create original subroutines for its implementation. But sure enough, a moment later, the team of the 1927 Yankees vanished and was replaced by T'Rei's original creation. The team, dressed in gaudy red short-sleeved overall-style jerseys, was pretty evenly comprised of impassive Vulcans and almost as impassive European Humans.
Her own team. Simple... "Computer, superimpose the identities of the twenty top finalists of the 2345 lirpa championship on Romulus onto player team." The computer buzzed. "Data not available."
"Superimpose the identities of the best-ranked twenty Romulan athletes, known to the computer, onto player team." "Insufficient data." T'Rei's blood began to boil again. Her hands were sweaty upon the stock of her ash bat. "Superimpose the identities of..." -inspiration hit her- "twenty Romulan starship commanders, known to the computer, between the ages of thirty and ninety, in service with the Romulan military between 2200 and 2375, preferring entries based on volume of available data."
This, the computer was able to do. The pallid figures of the Pittsburgh Pirates were replaced by the sallow, stoic faces of the greatest commanders the Romulan Empire had ever known. One final command. "Computer, replace player team uniforms with...Romulan martial arts outfits, with the legs narrowed to a width suitable for running. Superimpose the Romulan war eagle for team insignia, and adjust the color scheme of the outfits to be a shade of grey aesthetically complementary for said insignia."
The computer complied. Keras, Tomalak, Toreth, Tebok, Galodorn and other greats, were now sitting in the bleachers, in their Romulan-styled baseball outfits, waiting impassively for their turn at bat, with the same grim determination as if they were about to charge over the trenches with arms in hand against hordes of Klingon savages.
Now...they would "Play Ball".
Baseball was a challenging game. Challenging, and stimulating in that particular way that appealed to Romulans. All about focusing on the moment, and then moving with total determination, complete focus of will and passion and strength, and striking with overwhelming force, shattering all resistance. Choosing the moment to strike, the moment to run, the moment to slide, proceeding with a totality of purpose. Humans were physically inferior to Romulans, but the holodeck program perfectly balanced the two teams around T'Rei's ability - quite proficient, by Human standards.
Yet through it all she never got over her revulsion at so enjoying a Human game. It made her sick.
She used up her entire holodeck ration for the month in a single six-hour session. Changed back into her simple grey civilian outfit, throwing the filthy baseball fatigues into a duffel bag - she would not suffer the indignity of a Romulan being seen in such garb by the Starfleet crew. Proceeded back to her quarters. Hers, and the Vulcan. Disgust welled up within her once more, but her blood was enervated by the vigorous physical exertion.
Upon entering the quarters, dripping with sweat and exhaustion, she found Supine sitting at the table, wrapping up a game of Katra. The orb-shaped grid of lights blinked in unison as the puzzle was solved. The Vulcan at least spared T'Rel the grotesque display of self-adulation some other Federation races might have made upon such a triumph, and instead simply tapped the game control. This evening, the Vulcan preserved her modesty with a cassock-like off-duty garmet.
"You enjoy baseball, T'Rel."
The Romulan froze. "My recreational activities do not concern you, Lieutenant."
"I merely made a deduction. You are walking stoop-shouldered, your left hand and wrists have signs of exertion and the characteristic imprints left by batting gloves, and you are carrying a duffel bag, long enough to hold a baseball bat, with the sort of abrasions consistent with contact with holographic sand. Therefore, I deduce you were playing baseball." Supine cocked a Vulcan eyebrow. "Or were you playing golf?" Without waiting for an answer, Supine continued. "I enjoy the Human game as well. Perhaps we should play together sometime? Or...against, if you prefer."
T'Rel stared. "I will consider your suggestion." She deliberately said it in a passive-aggressive tone, but she really meant it. But wanted the Vulcan to think she didn't. "When is your duty shift?" "In thirty minutes. I take it yours is...by personal discretion?" "So I would assume. How many bartenders does this vessel have? I met two already." "The Capri has...twelve bartenders, not including you." "Twelve bartenders. Out of a manifest of five hundred. On a ship built for eighty. Is all of Starfleet so...eccentric?"
Supine cocked a Vulcan eyebrow. "Since the reforms of 2395, I would say Starfleet has been more ?eccentric', as you say, than it used to be. The Capri is certainly more ?eccentric' than most. Our captain has a style all her own. But it's very effective."
"How is having twelve bartenders aboard a deep space science vessel ?effective'?"
"I believe that only the wider frame of reference gained from empirical observation could adequately answer that question."
"So, in non-Vulcan, I'm just going to have to wait and see." "Yes." "Does this mean I'm going to be going on missions? Perhaps I'll be asked to fight a live sehlat with my bare hands?" "You might. Another one of our bartenders, Emosy, did." "Fought a live sehlat with her bare hands." "Something like that, or so I am told."
T'Rel's stoic features didn't bat a long eyebrow, but inwardly she felt something like excitement. To die in the service of my people...or something. Supine rose and turned into the bathroom area. Changed out of her cassock and into her Starfleet engineering uniform. "The quarters are yours alone, T'Rel." She nodded to her Vulcan bunkmate and headed out down the corridor.
The Romulan took the time to use the sonic shower, order a meal from the replicator (terrible imitation of viinerine, clearly programmed by someone who had never tasted it and made a sort of educated guess as to its composition), changed into nightclothes and got some sleep. Restless and still hungry, she rose from her bunk, changed back into her civilian clothes and decided to see what the galley had to offer.
It was 0200 hours; the lights were dimmed for "night shift" (on par with "day shift" on a Romulan vessel and more to T'Rel's liking, she decided then and there to assume a crepuscular sleep cycle for the duration of her tour of duty). The polyglot crowd had thinned out and many tables were completely unoccupied, yet the room was still full enough to allow her to feel reasonably anonymous. She glanced towards the galley. A Vulcan and a Ferengi stood in the prep area behind the counter. If ever a Romulan were glad to see one of their simpleton cousins...
She concealed her mirth and walked over to the counter, making a point of not muffling her footfalls, so that the Vulcan would notice her; this he did, glancing up and meeting the Romulan at the counter. "Greetings, T'Rel. I am Spon. The galley of the Capri is at your service. What will be your pleasure tonight?" Matter-of-factly. "Plomeek soup, Raal style." She waited for the Vulcan's raised eyebrow or pseudo-logical sarcastic barb, but it never came. Instead he nodded. "Very good, ma'am. Anything else?" "A glass of water. Cold." "Very good." Spon turned and set to work.
T'Rel patiently stood and looked at nothing, occasionally glancing at the prep area. The seabreeze smell of freshly cracked mollusks, then the scent of the grill, made her mouth water. She resisted the impulse to glance over more often, confining herself to a casual gaze every two minutes. Her eyes wandered to the Ferengi and noticed-
"You fool! What are you doing!?! Give that to me!"
T'Rel hurled herself over the counter and wrested the vial from the Ferengi's grubby little hands. The vial was...almost empty. "You have been putting this in the food you are preparing?"
"I...uh...didn't know it was yours, Missy. I'll be happy to pay you for it, twice what it costs...in gold-pressed latinum or Federation credits or new Romulan script or-"
"Silence! You have been putting this in the food? Just this dish or-"
"It's Apnex sea salt, isn't it?"
"It's poison. A very lethal poison, Ferengi. Each of those crystals is of lethal potency diluted in a hundred liters of broth."
"Aaaaaaaa oh no! I thought it was sea salt! I'm so sorry Miss T'Rel, I've been putting it in my fried grubs and onion rings all night!"
T'Rel's mind swam. She did the only thing she could do. Tapped her combage. "T'Rel to R'Miarr. Please report to the mess hall. We have a situation."
Spon had remained silent through all this, continuing to stir the broth. "T'Rel. I believe we do have a situation here, but our immediate concern should not be the crew dropping dead. How long does this poison take to affect a humanoid victim?"
"Death by heart attack is certain within a minute of consumption."
"And how great a diversity of species does it affect? What is its mechanism of action?"
"It's a powerful blood clotting agent. Affects pretty much any species with blood, whether copper, iron or cobalt-based."
"May I examine that vial, please?" T'Rel handed it over. The Vulcan uncorked the vial and shook a few crystals into the plomeek soup he was preparing. Gave it a good stir. And...took a deep sip from the ladle. T'Rel's eyes widened but she had the good sense to remain silent.
The Vulcan blinked. "A bit too much sea salt, I think. Ashtoo has been using this ?salt', which, I believe, is exactly what it is, all night. If it were actually poison, the death count would already have been substantial."
No sooner had Spon so spoken than R'Miarr entered the galley. "Is there an emergency, T'Rel?"
"You talk of cultural tolerance, trust, a new beginning," the Romulan spat, "yet you despoil our traditions. Starfleet is a band of self-righteous hypocrites." Snatching the nearly empty vial from Spon, she held it up in front of R'Miarr. "When did you make the swap? When you beamed my luggage aboard?"
R'Miarr's green eyes nictitated. "Starfleet doesn't deal in bad faith, T'Rel. I gather that somehow your vial of poison was swapped with an ineffectual substitute." R'Miarr thought for a moment. "The transporter did indeed detect poison in that vial. I personally removed it from your valise within a minute of it being discovered, and brought it with me to the conference room. After you left, I passed it off to Rulian to bring down here. The swap must have taken place sometime between then and tonight ? in that space of ten hours. Our first step should be..." R'Miarr tapped his combage. "Captain Aestu, please report to the mess hall." "On my way, Commander," a soft voice murmured. "Rulian Mazan, please report to the mess hall." "Late-night tranya, Commander?" "Something like that. With alacrity, please, Ms. Mazan."
A few minutes later and all were gathered. T'Rel sized up Aestu. About as tall as herself, custom uniform, alien of a race she didn't recognize, opaque eyes, high cheekbones, face gave nothing away. Couldn't make anything of this woman at all. She sensed a mind in there, though. "So, Rulian, you remember meeting with Commander R'Miarr and T'Rel earlier today..."
The el-Aurian's face went blank. "No, Captain, I'm sorry, I don't..." "You never attended that meeting?" "I don't believe I attended any such meeting, Captain. I spent most of the morning on the Holodeck. The activity logs show so much."
R'Miarr made the customary mannerism of craning his neck to address the computer. "Computer, when within the last twenty hours did Rulian Mazan enter and leave the holodeck?" "Rulian Mazan entered Holodeck 2 at 1012 hours and exited Holodeck 2 at 1115 hours and at 1317 hours." "Entered once, left twice?" Aestu said thoughtfully. "Clearly, whoever, or whatever, left Holodeck 2, was not Rulian.
"Computer, what was Rulian Mazan's location at 1130 hours?" "Rulian Mazan was in Holodeck 2 and in the main conference room." "How could she be in two places at once?" "Unable to speculate. " Aestu tried again. "When was there last two individuals identified as Rulian Mazan tracked by the ship's internal sensors?" "1200 hours." "And...what was the last known location of the Rulian Mazan that subsequently disappeared from the ship's internal sensors?" "Main cargo bay." "Who else was in the cargo bay at the time?" "Lieutenant William Shakespeare was the only other individual in the main cargo bay at 1200 hours." Aestu nodded. "Commander, investigate the main cargo bay for anything unusual." R'Miarr nodded back. "Aye, Captain."
A few hours later, the doors of the conference room hissed open once more for Commander R'Miarr, Lieutenant Mace, the Capri's photonic chief of security, and Lieutenant Commander Armita, chief of engineering. Aestu, Mazan, and T'Rei were already seated at the table. R'Miarr summed up the report. "We have a good idea what happened, Captain, but we don't understand why."
Mace explained. "Ever since ship-wide holoprojectors became standard equipment and photonics like myself were recognized as both sentient beings and members of the crew, ship computers have been programmed to identify them as individuals, just like every other sentient aboard the ship. If you ask the computer current location, it will say I am in the main conference room, because it recognizes me as a sentient by cross-indexing with the ship's manifest. At 1115 hours yesterday, someone or something programmed the computer to create a photonic Rulian Mazan just outside Holodeck 2. Because Mazan is on the ship's manifest, the photonic Mazan registered as another instance of the same individual.
The photonic Mazan went from there to the conference room, participated in the meeting with R?Miarr and T'Rei, then took the vial of mickeys, emptied them into the mess hall matter decompiler, refilled the vial with replicated sea salt, then went to the main cargo and disappeared, at which point the computer program that created the photonic Mazan self-deleted without a trace."
"It has been determined the mickeys were destroyed?" asked Aestu.
"Yes, Captain, absolutely, from the matter decompiler logs," said Armita.
Aestu thought for a moment. "So we can deduce that the intent of whoever did this was to...make it appear that someone will be poisoned, when in reality they will not be. And if not for Ashtoo's fortunate mistake, we might never have known. I think the best thing we can do for now is refill the vial with sea salt...but this time...we will lace the sea salt with a trace amount of radium. We will be able to track whoever consumes it by the radioactive signature. Whomever eventually is contrived to consume the ?poison' will have the answers to our questions."
"Captain, I am sure, you must suspect that I am party to this...conspiracy," said T'Rei.
"Not at all, T'Rei. You came on this ship with what you believed to be a vial of mickeys. Why go to the trouble of having a photonic double dispose of them when you could have caused less trouble by just replicating the salt yourself? Nothing suggests that any of this was put on for our benefit. And surely you're as curious as the rest of us about what is going on..." T'Rei nodded.
"So here is what we will do. We will replace the mickeys, and proceed as if nothing happened. Lieutenant Mace, I want you to keep a 24/7 scan on the ship's interior for any irregularity in the radium signature." Mace nodded. "It may be days, or months, or even longer before events come to fruition. It's also possible that the perpetrator has already become aware of our investigation and may have changed his plans. We will just have to play things by ear. Dismissed."
Everyone rose and began to leave the room; Mace, feeling unconstrained by humanoid propriety, simply dematerialized. Aestu, however, did not move ? "T'Rei, a moment?" The Romulan stopped and waited for the room to clear. "How do you like life aboard Capri so far? You may be candid ? I'm sure there's a lot for you to dislike." Aestu's opaque eyes and still smile gave nothing away. "We have a ship's baseball team. I understand you are a mean batter. We'd be honored if you chose to participate..."
"I see my secret is out," said T'Rei wryly.
"Not quite. During the course of our investigation, we naturally tracked your activity and noticed you ran a rather interesting holodeck program. I have only to commend your creativity. No one other than myself, R'Miarr, and Mace knows of your hobby." "And Petty Officer Supine."
"Ah, yes, Mister Supine. How are you two getting on? I had some concerns about bunking you with a Vulcan, but space is at a premium and I felt that even with ?sibling rivalry', ?cousins' would better be able to understand each other and coexist than bunking you with, say, a Human or a Ferengi."
"Do all your crew get on so well?" Not exactly answering the question.
"More or less," said Aestu, cooperatively ignoring the lack of constructive response. "Everyone has something to contribute. Especially you." "Is that so..." "Yes. I want you...to create a Romulan synthale."
"A Romulan synthale is..." ? gritting her teeth ? "a contradiction in terms."
"So, what you're saying is, you don't have the skill to do it."
"That's not what I said, what I said is, it's a contradiction in terms." "Why?" "Because it's an insult to the traditional beverage."
"Your people are making new traditions all the time recently. Did you want to become a warbird commander just to rehash old tactics, or were you hoping to demonstrate a bit of originality of your own? How could you expect to develop an original tactic if you can't even create an original beverage?"
"The two are...not comparable. With all due respect, Comm- Captain, you are being obtuse."
"That sounds like a failure of imagination. Is it really your preference to while away your life doing what has already been done? Two years on this starship, T'Rei ? do you want your experience to be endless tedium, milling about between the odd diplomatic function?" Aestu gazed at the Romulan for a moment. "You once dreamed of becoming...a chemical warfare specialist." "Telepath." "Yes. I try not to abuse the ability. But you were...thinking rather loudly right there."
"And what am I now thinking?" "How this would benefit the Romulan people... Well, it would help make you more than victims of ?charity'...and I could see a statue of yourself in the new capital, as the brilliant sommlier..." "Not what I'd prefer to be remembered for." "Yes, well, give it some thought." "...Am I dismissed, Captain?" Aestu smiled. "Indeed. Oh... and the ship's lighting does take a bit of getting used to. My people also prefer low light." T'Rei offered only a blank look and exited the room.
Returning to her ? their ? quarters again, she found Supine laying, well, supine, in their bunk. T'Rei was feeling fatigued and would have really preferred the use of the bunk. She didn't want to return to the ship's galley ? be reminded of the new treachery she was being drawn into. Supine's kotra set rested on the corner of the table, next to her folded-up uniform and personal effects. T'Rei had already expended her holodeck ration, and didn't feel comfortable practicing martial arts in the same room as the napping Vulcan. With nothing else to do, she picked up one of the PADDs and began an LCARS search on transitional states in alcohols...made some notes...gradually got drawn into her work...
A few hours later the Vulcan rose from the bed, going from fully asleep to fully awake in a moment. Removed her cassock and changed into her uniform, disturbing T'Rei's intensive study. The Romulan took this occasion to bully the Vulcan. "Mister Supine, the light level aboard this ship is not to my liking. I wish to keep these quarters at half-standard luminosity." Supine did not even look up as she tied up her boots. "That is acceptable to me, T'Rei." More aggression was clearly required. "And keep your katra set and uniform off the center table. I intend to do work here." "As you wish. I can stow them easily enough in my footlocker. Any other requests?" "That is all for now. I shall inform you if there is anything else I require of you." "Very well. I am on duty in ten minutes. Good day, T'Rei." She headed out into the corridor, leaving the Romulan feeling vaguely unsatisfied. With nothing else to do, she continued her work on the Romulan synthale.
Three months into her tour of duty and T'Rei made not one friend amongst the crew. Her non-relationship with her bunkmate continued; T'Rei would have liked more occasion to bully the Vulcan and otherwise make her life more difficult, but the Vulcan's infuriatingly imperturbable cordiality and the lack of anything to complain about in the rather austere quarters frustrated her goal. T'Rei spent most of her time meditating and performing endless martial arts exercises and push-ups in her quarters when Supine wasn't present, and quietly working on her project when she was.
In the months following her arrival on board, T'Rei had learned to stagger her holodeck time. The only social activities she partook in were the crew's weekly games of poker and dabo ? she played the simple games with cold cunning, disregarding the social element of the games, winning more than she lost, desirous only of obtaining more holodeck time to get away from her infuriating, despicable Vulcan roommate.
It was, definitely the worst diplomatic disaster in the Capri's long history of gloriously successful diplomatic functions, punctuated by the occasional ironic occasion. The Bajoran delegate was dead before his head hit the plate, its weight discharging briny hasperat stuffing across the room. As the small Nova-class did not have a true morgue, the corpse was secured in a torpedo casing and stored in the cargo bay, pending transfer to Bajor.
"We have completed our investigation into the death," said Vedek Jai Coban to the Capri officers and diplomats gathered in the ship's conference the next day. "My brother, Jai Solor, was poisoned, by means of a blood clotting agent traditionally used by Romulan sommliers." Aestu sat at the head of the table. Showed no expression. "Are you quite sure of this..." "Yes, Captain. The blood tests were quite conclusive." "But there are many coagulating poisons utilized by many cultures. Do you have any specific reason to believe that such a specific conclusion is appropriate?" "There was a Romulan sommlier present at the reception...perhaps you are protecting her..." "It is my wish that we get to the bottom of this. Surely you must agree that if the Romulans were involved, they would not be so...obvious." "The facts speak for themselves, Captain."
Aestu thoughtfully leaned back in her chair. "Do you have a motive?" "Yes, Captain. During the Dominion War, my family was the Romulan Navy's main local purveyor of food and beverages. We were able to leverage our gains and connections to establish a network of franchises across the quadrant. In doing so, we made powerful enemies within the Romulan military establishment, and they arranged to have my cousin killed to discourage our continued prosperity." Aestu thought for a moment, then tapped her combage. "Aestu to Mace. Take T'Rei into custody."
The Vedek offered a grimace. "Thank you, Captain." "I am sure your family ? and the people of Bajor - desire quick closure with this matter, Vedek. With your permission, I will arrange a court-martial here aboard the Capri tomorrow at 1400 hours. I believe that we have all the evidence we need..." Jai made that curious sort of effeminate bow common to Vedeks ? almost a curtsey ? and exited.
T'Rei had to admit, Jai gave a polemic that would put half the Romulan Senate to shame ? long-winded, full of bluster and vitriol, substance meshed into style rather than the other way around, often seeming to say one thing but argue something else. The gist of it was that this was the latest case of Romulan perfidy against the Bajoran people, from the staging of a military base on their moon during the war to profiting off Bajoran slave labor to bitter economic recalcitrance, and that the only solution could be economic sanctions against the Romulan Empire.
A recording of the reception caught T'Rei in the act: serving the delegate a Romulan ale from the replicator, dropping a mickey in the glass, the Bajoran slumped over the table a few moments after his first sip of the treacherous beverage. T'Rei could not resist the temptation to roll her dark eyes at some of the more overwrought similes Jai narrated the movie with. Of course, R'Miarr, serving as her advocate, pointed out that she had been in Holodeck 1 during the entire reception ? how the computer recorded her in both places at once was an unanswered question ? but Jai argued that the holotape made such speculation moot, there was no question that she had been recorded dropping a mickey in the glass, that she had then returned to Holodeck 1 and exited two hours later, shortly before being apprehended...and that the murdered man was now dead.
The captain was compelled to agree. "It is my finding as captain of the USS Capri that T'Rei, our exchange officer from the Romulan Star Empire, did contrive to murder by way of poison Jai Solor. T'Rei will be confined to the brig for the remainder of our tour, to be transferred to the next Starbase we have occasion to make port at."
T'Rei actually rather liked the brig. No roommate, nice and austere, the bunk a bit firmer than the too-soft pad in the quarters she had shared with Supine. To her, being imprisoned in such a manner was less an offense to her dignity than the outrageous sentimentality that seemed to her to pervade the entire experience. What was the point of keeping a convicted criminal alive in a box? And if the purpose was to make her miserable, why did the security staff allow her whatever books and entertainment devices she requested? She could even order the same meals from the replicator or carry-outs from the mess hall. Stupid Human sentimentality. Well, at least she didn't have to put up with that despicable harlot Supine or spend her productive time brushing arms with the mongrel crew ? she was able to peacefully while away her time reading books and doing exercises. For now. Unfortunately...she knew she would be sprung within a month.
Aestu knew better than to allow a diplomatic symposium to be called off for tragedy - the week-long affair went on, endless talks and speeches and role-playing games, the sort of thing everyone hated but pretended to enjoy. The delegation of the two dozen surviving Bajorans were then to be transferred to a Bajoran consular vessel, to continue their diplomatic tour into the Cardassian Union.
A formal send-off was had at the cargo bay: the transporter rooms were too small to accomodate forty Starfleet and Bajoran diplomats. An effort was made to spruce up the overly functional interior, a lavish blue carpet with the Federation insignia was rolled out across the floor, tapestries awned from the high ceiling, and an effort was made to discreetly conceal the boxes and barrels behind potted plants brought out for the occasion. Lights were dimmed in the rear of the cargo bay, and brightened in the center.
Aestu spent hours personally nitpicking the arrangment - ordering more bric-a-brac to be put out, filling corners of the reception area with personnel, adjusting the wavelength of the lights, never quite satisfied with the result; indeed, she still felt terribly like a reception was being held in a warehouse. R'Miarr again gently pushed the idea of "upsizing to a bigger ship", but the captain was very attached to her Nova, citing the ship's excellent maneuverability, functionality and reliability. "It's almost as sturdy as an Excelsior, twice as reliable as a Nebula, and way more maneuverable and easier to maintain than anything else that's come out of Utopia Planetia for a century now." It wasn't the first time they'd had this discussion.
The room really didn't look so bad once it was populated with the diplomats and their entourage - one's field of view was more confined to the activity in the reception area. Vedek Jai delivered the farewell address to the captain as his people filed onto the stark cargo transporter.
"Captain, I must thank you again for your hospitality...as well as for your rectitude in dealing with this tragedy. I assure you, this incident shall not adversely affect relations between the Bajoran people and Starfleet." "Indeed, Vedek," agreed Aestu. "Starfleet has ordered us to provide you an escort to Cardassia ? the True Way are in force lately. I have arranged that your brother's remains be transferred to the consular vessel." "Thank you, Captain. The consular vessel has a top speed of warp two, so your Capri will be quite delayed staying with us...that will not be a problem?" "Starfleet has no priority above your safety," the captain said reassuringly.
The pretense, Aestu's idea, had been authorized by Starfleet in response to the captain's full report on the situation. When she was awoken by klaxons in the middle of the night, it came as a total surprise to her. Well, not a total surprise. Not for nothing did she wear her custom polyspandex uniform; she slept in it, saving her the time of getting dressed and allowing her to get out on the bridge half a minute sooner, with her dignity intact.
Lieutenant Commander Nophla, the Aenar zhen science officer, rose from the command chair and addressed her captain. "True Way ships attacking, Captain. Two Galor-class destroyers, type 3-B, one Jem'hadar attack ship, alpha-4 series. Port shields are gone. Other shields are holding. We have sustained minor damage to the secondary hull in the port of the drive section."
"Tactical!" A heads-up holographic display of the battle appeared before the command chair as the captain assumed her station; a few moments later, the rest of the officers arrived through the turbolifts and took their stations. They had to get changed first, after all. Aestu smirked slightly.
The True Way vessels had brought the ship out of warp with their first volley. They were now chasing the Capri, gaining ground even as they swerved around the space mines dropped from the rear of the vessel. The small, squat, rust-colored consular ship was running a few hundred kilometers ahead of the Capri, forward shields deactivated for more power to keep the Capri behind it and ahead of the True Way. Two tetrads of mines had been dropped already - five remained intact; two had struck one of the Galors and one had struck the attack ship.
The Capri was now making a long parabolic arc, trying to reduce exposure to its wounded port side and offer a fresh shield on the other. In response, a Galor was going the long way around, towards the starboard, and the other Galor and the attack ship were flanking to the port. The attack ship was more manueverable than the Galors, so it could potentially cut the angle perpendicular to the Capri's trajectory and join up with the other Galor. Victory would depend on denying it the opportunity to do so by neutralizing it first.
"Activate primary tractor-repulsors. Emergency power to shields. Tactical teams to stations. Target the engines of Bogey Galor Two. Auxiliary power to port thrusters; take us hard to starboard."
The nimble Nova-class vessel did what it did best: fired off its graviton emitters as it buckled and rolled. The engines of the Galor flying abreast of the attack ship fritzed out, sailing away on inertia as its wingman and the other Galor furiously flew into the repulsor beams. The Nova continued to sail away, out of range of the first ship. Three opponents were now two, even as they continued to pound away at the small vessel's fresh starboard shield.
"Get a tractor beam on Bogey Galor One and move us counter-clockwise away from it. Bring us to bear on Bogey Attack Ship. Target their shields and prepare a full spread of plasma torpedos." The shovel-shaped destroyer was thrown behind the Capri - firing away at her intact aft shield - as the Capri turned its one remaining shield on the attack ship that now loomed firmly in its sights.
"Captain, that ship is turning faster than us, getting out of our sights. But I can even the odds by creating a temporary artificial singularity in its path," volunteered Nophla. "Do it." A thrill of graviton energy shot forward from the deflector and a massive hole in the heavens appeared squarely in front of the two ships; the Capri, its drive systems already prepared for the disruption, was unaffected, while the attack ship was thrown about.
"Target all weapons on their dorsal section and fire." A furious volley of tetryon and plasma energy consumed the attack ship in an even more furious antimatter fireball, and, having drawn first blood, the Capri hurled about on its axis to face its remaining two opponents - the other Galor had restarted its engines and was now entering weapons range.
"Full Kaufmann retrograde. Pull energy from rear and side shields to our primary shield. Starboard pitch as we go, fifteen degrees. Target the weapons of Bogey Galor Two, then focus everything on Bogey Galor One." "They're returning fire, Captain!" "All decks, brace for impact!" yelled R'Miarr as the viewscreen filled with a growing, growing, growing ball of photonic energy... "Continue fire! Damage report!"
Armita worked her controls furiously. A console to her left overloaded, delivering a first-degree burn to her arm and torso, but her Borg implants (and acquired instinct) disregarded the agony as less relevant than her immediate concerns. "Navigational deflector and EPS taps in forward drive section offline. Warp drive, offline. Heavy damage to decks five through seven. Twenty-seven casualties. We are leaking drive plasma from the feeds to the starboard nacelle. Balancing to compensate." Taking hits was something the Nova-class did not do so well. "Deploy engineering teams to the affected decks. Secure damaged sections."
"Bogey Galor One disabled, sir." reported Mace in his flat, authoritative synthetic voice. "Overload detected in their primary reactor. Looks like a self-destruct..." "Full ahead! Yaw up!" The Capri came to a momentary halt before surging forward and up, above the remaining Galor, which flew on full thrust into the explosion. "Aft weapons, fire!" "Their shields are down, captain. Torpedo bays are ready to finish them off."
Starfleet training spoke louder than tactical instincts. "Open hailing-" "Sir, they're firing...at the embassy ship!" "Extend shields around the embassy ship! Transfer all power other than weapons to shields - finish Bogey Galor Two off!" Armita shook her head. "Captain, the embassy ship is at...ten kilometers. Our shields..." - reacted to her console - "...sir, the consular ship has been hit. They are severely damaged but their reactor is stable. They are reporting casualties...they need assistance." "Bogey Galor Two has been destroyed, Captain," said Mace matter-of-factly. "No survivors."
"I want a full damage report in three minutes, complete with repair time estimates. Focus on getting our warp engines back online. The True Way may send reinforcements to finish us off. As for the consular ship...our priority must be the safety of its diplomats. Notify the consular vessel to prepare to evacuate to the Capri and abandon ship. Tell them to set their self-destruct for five minutes.
"R'Miarr, I want you to take an Away Team to supervise the evacuation and secure any sensitive materials. You are also to ensure that all hands aboard that ship are accounted for." Aestu emphasized the latter. "Aye, Captain."
"Mister Armita...you are relieved. Get yourself to sickbay, for heaven's sake." Armita looked up at Aestu, momentarily confused, then glanced at her arm, where raw flesh, glistening with blood and highlighted by the dull green glow of a mangled implant, protruded through the shreds of her left tunic. Suddenly she became aware of the pain and blinked hard. "A-aye, Captain."
R'Miarr and his team - two redshirts, a engineer and a junior science officer - materialized just outside the heavily damaged bridge. R'Miarr held a PADD with the consular ship's manifest, and followed by the Away Team, moved with dispatch down the smoky corridors of the cramped embassy ship. Originally a cargo ship, it had been embellished with gaudy Bajoran tapestries and state symbols, but in its damaged state, it looked like what it originally was, a piece of kitbashed post-occupation engineering. Crew of ten...plus twenty consular personnel. R'Miarr and his men spread out, taking names and beaming the personnel one by one.
R'Miarr made for the embassy suites - the priority. First suite, two personnel; next suite, two more; next, one; last suite starboard side, two. R'Miarr ran with broad leonine strides back up the corridor, around the fork in the ship's main corridor and down the port suites - only the first was accesible, the rest were consumed in radioactive plasma fire, he could feel the strange tingling on his whiskered face - like a million tiny needles - and knew he could get no closer. Entered the first suite port-side, the only one he could reach.
Fires crackled outside and the tingling on his face grew disturbingly stronger as he entered the room. Inside he found...the brothers Jai. Solor lay on the floor. From experience he could tell the dead man's wounds were terminal; a beam had impaled his lower torso, his intestines were a mess, he was hemmoraging badly, he would be dead (again) soon. The other had taken an impact to the temporal lobe from the same beam; his brother's body had absorbed most of the kinetic energy of the impact, he was unconscious and bleeding from his crown and shoulder, but would be fine. His work here was done.
"R'Miarr to Capri. Three to beam directly to sickbay. Security to sickbay."
When Vedek Jai Coban awoke, Aestu wasn't in a particularly diplomatic mood. She allowed T'Rei to discreetly look on: it was her turn for 'closure'. "So, Vedek Jai, would you do us the courtesy of explaining what this is all about? We know what you did, but we're still not exactly clear on why."
The soon-to-be-excommunicated Vedek's eyes were full of tears. "My...brother?" "We were unable to save him. Again." Vedek Coban burst into sobs. Aestu looked on coolly, allowing him his emotion. Patiently waited. "This is...my punishment. Our punishment." Sobbed. "We did it...for greed, Captain. I tried to talk my brother out of it, but I am as guilty as he. We believed that if a Romulan bartender were caught in an act of murder and treachery, it would drive them out of the markets they have been taking for themselves since the dissolution of the Neutral Zone...markets that we previously monopolized as middle-men. It is true that we were purveyors for the Romulan Navy during the Dominion War; that was how we obtained our supplies and connections. It was never anything personal, you see. Strictly business. We bribed a Ferengi photonics vendor to introduce a small virus to your holodeck computer via an entertainment program you were given as a 'promotional' offer."
Aestu nodded. This confirmed her thinking. "The great irony is, Vedek, the True Way attack was completely incidental and unexpected. It is the first such attack in years now. Starfleet authorized our escort of your vessel to Cardassia because we knew that your brother would have to disembark eventually. We intended to nab you both when he eventually resurfaced. If you had not attempted to frame our Romulan friend, your ship would have been without an escort, and you would surely have all been killed. Ironically enough, your misdeeds saved the lives of most of the delegation."
"The Prophets...are wise. But...what I do not understand is, how did you know?"
"By chance. Someone mistook the mickeys for sea salt and added them to food. When the switch was discovered, we knew something was afoot, but we didn't know what. So we decided to allow events to unfold on their own. Besides, even if that random occurence hadn't happened, you made a fatal mistake." "Mistake...?"
Aestu allowed herself a small smile as she drew a thermos from a nearby table. Removed the cap and poured out a glass of the luminiescent blue fluid. "Your holographic T'Rei served the deceased a glass of replicated Romulan ale, because, as you know, alcoholic beverages are not served aboard Starfleet vessels. However, the real T'Rei brought some contriving of her own to fruition a few weeks before you arrived on board." She brought the glass down so that the prone Bajoran could see - and smell - the contents. "Romulan synthale. An invention of hers. Very convincing, isn't it? She's kept the cantina cooler well-stocked with it. Even if we hadn't discovered the fake mickeys, we would have known that the real T'Rei would never serve replicated swill. We would have figured out the rest on our own." Aestu allowed herself a sip of the potent blue beverage.
"This is...my punishment." Gazing up at the Romulan standing discreetly in a corner, just behind his right side and out of his field of view. Hoping to plea bargain for his conscience: "I...am sorry." T'Rei grimaced. "Somehow I think you would have been a lot less sorry if you got away with it. When we Romulans commit treachery, we do it for honorable reasons, and we don't seek redemption in the eyes of our victims."
Aestu gazed down at the Vedek. "The Council has already been notified of what has happened here. I am told it is highly unlikely that you will retain your office. If you wish for civilian clothes before your return to Bajor, you may request them from the replicator. As you are still a guest, you will be afforded the courtesy of an embassy suite instead of our brig. You will be kept under guard at all times." "I...understand, Captain." T'Rei rolled her eyes and exited the infirmary. The captain decided to follow.
Aestu took up stride beside the Romulan. "Was that not sufficiently satisfying for you, T'Rei?" T'Rei stared straight forward and continued her quick soldiers' gait. "Amongst my people, an accusation is as good as guilt. I was damned the moment the swap was discovered. I can never return. Not without having to look over my shoulder for the remainder of my life. Someone will inevitably use this incident to frame me for something else."
"Do you still hate it here?" "Yes."
"Let me rephrase that. Do you hate it here more than everywhere else in the galaxy?"
T'Rei stopped in her tracks. Her expression clouded, like any Romulan about to make a big decision. "I cannot allow the secret of my creation to leave this vessel. Not until...the galaxy is ready for it. And. I struck out against Supine last week. If I leave now...it will appear to be an admission of defeat."
Aestu allowed herself a wry smile. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to recruit a Romulan bartender?" "No, Captain. And with all due respect, sir, I don't care. I assure you, it doesn't matter. You now have one, congratulations. How does the Human idiom go? 'Finding the holy grail'? A legendary drinking cup?" "Welcome aboard, T'Rei." "I'm not more unhappy to be here than anywhere else, Captain. And I promise not to slip anyone a mickey without being ordered to do so."
Pause. "Double or nothing for next week's ship games...?"
Last edited by aestu; 11-29-2012 at