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Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 3,778
# 5 Part I: Lost Along the Way
05-07-2013, 03:35 AM
Six figures enter
They've come to destroy the world
They've called together
This storm almost every night

(And I awake in another place)
A familiar voice with a stranger's face speaks
(I awake in another place)
More unheard words

What new friends will the day bring?
One for one thousand acquainted
What new hope will the night bring?
When it all comes down you just throw the bones

(On the way)
I saw five hours of sleep
(On the way)
But your fire makes it all worthwhile
(On the way)
I wrote words for you to keep
(On the way...)

I saw myself
Lost myself along the way
And you won't find me...

Davey Havok, Hunter Burgan and Jade Puget of AFI - "6 to 8"


Eighteen Months Ago...

Drozana Station - Stardate 86728.72 (09.24.2409, 0233 hours Qo'noS time)

"It's done," Temek said. "You're able to uphold your half of the bargain, Frank?"

Franklin Drake nodded. "Yeah. The Prototype's been re-tasked and you've got your security zone sorted out - the peace talks should work out now... how are your pet Radicals getting on?"

Temek shrugged. "Not my problem, to be honest. There was some grumbling in the High Council when they showed up petitioning for entry into the Empire as an Auxiliary State - apparently House Duras was hoping to use that flying fortress of theirs to smash what was left of these people into wet, quivering pieces that could be parted out and given to friends, but B'Vat turned up and saved them."

"Isn't he... missing?" Drake asked.

Temek smiled. "I don't ask you for your tricks, Frank. Let's just say I was able to get Ambassador B'Vat to turn up at an opportune moment and leave it at that."

"I still don't get why you wanted that rock," Drake commented. "It's not even strategic ground anymore - the Ker'rat offensive pretty much cornered it deep inside your holdings."

The Klingon Intelligence chief set his drink down, and looked into Franklin Drake's eyes. "We have other enemies - older ones, and that world holds one of the keys to defeating them. By avoiding the need to bombard it from orbit, we were able to secure certain... sites... as part of the Garrison and Government complex."

Drake's eyes went kind of liquid for a moment as the Changeling contemplated what the Klingon was saying. "Fek'Ihri..." he/it said softly.

"Keep it off the record," Temek stated, "or certain... files might suddenly turn up in Starfleet's intelligence databases, where the Undine and the Dominion agents permeating that organization can find them... and neither of us wants that, do we? Yes, Frank, there are things on that rock, and in that system, that tie back to the days of the H'urq, things that may tie to the re-emergence of the Fek'Ihri and their attack on Qo'noS."

"There have been encounters with Starfleet as well..." Drake mused, after his eyes had returned to normal. "You will keep me informed of what develops?"

"I will send you a more comprehensive briefing package along the usual channels," Temek promised. "Frank, whatever the Fek are up to, it's big. That Undine infiltrator that Ssharki flushed out of Woldan's camp confessed that the Undine are working with the Fek. I don't like it when my enemies conspire against my people."

"Like me, you prefer it when your enemies conspire with you," Drake said with a small smile. He stood up to leave. "Don't keep me hanging, Temek. I have a few files on you as well." He tapped his communicator. "Saint, beam me up."

After the transporter glow faded, a Gorn at the table behind Temek turned spoke in gravely whisper. "Are you sure it's wise to bring Drake into Mountain Road? We have what we need from him."

"I believe that what we find on Moab will expose the connection between the Fek'Ihri and the Undine, and more," Temek said. "If what your Undine friend said about the Atlas is true, it should be there as well."

"A map to an interdimensional invasion?" Major General Ssharki shook his head incredulously. "Not even the Iconians had the technology to accomplish anything like that."

"True, but either way, what we find there should either expose the Undine on it's own, or make them desperate enough to expose themselves to stop us. Somebody in the Federation needs to be prepared to catch the infiltrators over there."

Ssharki snorted. "Drake at least knows the Undine threat is real enough. But he's hardly in a position to do much about it."

"Don't be so sure, HoHwI' BatlhHa'. Like me, Drake is a web-spinner. Power and influence comes from the most unlikely of places. You of all people should know this. Would you have imagined a year ago that you would have risen to command your own hand-picked squadron? That you'd become gin'tak to a Great House?"

"No," Ssharki admitted.

Temek nodded. "If there is to be peace between our governments, the Undine must first be removed. Drake must know what we know."

"Who else?" Ssharki asked.

"Woldan is aware, obviously," Temek answered. "And my agent in the Archaeology Foundation will need to be suitably briefed before the excavation on Moab can begin. And I'd like for you to brief one of your rovers, in case anything happens to you."

"I'll speak with D'Moj," Ssharki said.

"No, not her."

Ssharki's eyes narrowed. "D'Moj brought us the Moab System."

"So she knows too much already. And her... family... may complicate things. Someone more disciplined would be preferable. Kicur."

Ssharki dipped his head. "Very well."

"That's just six."

"Eight," Ssharki countered. "I'll be telling Sway and Cal."

Temek sighed. "Must you?"

"I keep no secrets from my sons," the Gorn reminded the head of Klingon Intelligence. "Besides, they have a way of keeping me on the right path."

Present Day...

USS Tiburon, Donatu Sector - Stardate 88190.68 (03.10.2411, 1424 hours Standard Time)

Admiral LaRoca sat at his ready-room desk, drinking his eighteenth dose of coffee in the last thirty-three hours. This one was an iced triple espresso white mocha. About twenty-three hours had passed since the Tiburon encountered a Fek'Ihri fleet, and something else that was even more inexplicable than space-faring monsters from the Klingon underworld. He tried to pay attention to his science officer's report, but he was distracted by his Andorian ops officer who was standing behind her chair and staring out into space, and his security chief almost silently pacing the floor just outside his field of vision.

". . . There's absolutely no remaining trace of the virus that crippled us," LCdr. Teena Yoann concluded.

LaRoca noticed that she had stopped talking and recalled the part of her report that interested him most. "But the sensor logs were tampered with."

"Not just tampered with," the Bajoran science officer clarified, "erased, and in a very specific way." She tapped the Admiral's desktop surface monitor to replay what the computer recorded of the events of yesterday afternoon. "There's the gravity well the mystery ship used to save us from that load of unholy crap that was thrown at us. There's the probe it fired at the carrier to make its targeting sensors go bonkers. And there's the carrier just rolling over and exploding for no apparent reason. As for the ship that caused all of this, then stunned us with a subnuke beam and shut us down with that virus... nada."

LaRoca nodded and sipped his coffee. Normally he was amused by the way the Bajoran woman adopted his lingo. But today he was not in the mood to be amused. "Alright. What about the status of those repairs?" He looked up at his senior operations officer, Cmdr. Ibear.

"We've sealed the hull breaches internally and repaired all damaged systems" he reported as he took a seat next to Yoann's. "I'm waiting until we're stationary to repair or replace the damaged hull plating. Weirdly, none of the areas the... um... whatevers attacked were covering vital systems. They totally ignored the bridge, main engineering, the nacelles, weapon systems, shield generators..."

"So they're idiots," the Admiral figured.

"There's more," the Andorian went on. "Everywhere they attacked, there was a full-blooded Klingon at a post nearby."

"So... huh." LaRoca stared at his coffee and wished someone would hurry up an invent something stronger than espresso. "I'm sorry, Fozz. I don't know what to make of that."

"Neither do I. Uh, there was one other thing. Marq asked me to save him the most gouged-up piece of hull so he could send it to Starfleet Tactical Systems to analyze."

"Why would STS be interested in a hunk of monotanium that was torn up by those... whatevers?"

Cmdr. Fozz Ibear shrugged. "Apparently the Butler managed to snag a fightercraft during their encounter. Marq says that Frank Grimes says that STS is going to try and reverse-engineer it. Like what the Klingons did to make their Kar'Fi carrier copies. The junior version of the ship we fought."

"Alright." Admiral LaRoca suppressed a yawn. "Let him take all the scans he wants. I want Barrister to help with his analysis, and work with Ming to develop countermeasures to prevent those things from getting through or shields and hull again. Teena, if your duty schedule permits, help them out."

The officers nodded.

"Anything else?" the Admiral asked.

Yoann spoke "Dr. Espinoza says that Senior Specialist Hulian Zur will pull through and is expected to make a full recovery. Most of the other injured crew are ready to return to duty, except Petty Officer Kalii, who had a crushed antenna, and Master Chief Dulmar, who broke his leg."

"How long will Marion be out of commission?" The Admiral wondered. MCPO Marion Dulmar was his best systems engineer. Then thinking about sickbay made him consider getting the doctor to hook him up with an intravenous caffeine drip.

"No more than three days," Yoann answered.

"Very well. If there's no further business, you're both dismissed. Uh, Fozz, send me a copy of the duty sheet for your EVA repair crew."

"Yessir," the Andorian nodded as he followed the science officer out.

LaRoca drained his coffee, leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He tried to let the sound of gurgling water in his aquarium relax him, but he could still hear his little brother pacing the room. Even though the Deinon was capable of moving in almost total silence, his toe claws dragged audibly on the carpet fibers. "Rust, I don't know what you're going to wear out first, the carpet or my nerves."

Cmdr. LaRoca Rusty froze in his tracks and looked at his brother. "You didn't sleep at all last night, did you?"

Jesu answered with a short laugh. "I'm not convinced I haven't dreamed this entire thing. But to answer your question, no. I spent the entire night in this room, in this chair, with the lights off drinking coffee. Because I was convinced that the moment I fell asleep, you would page me from the bridge and say 'It's back.'"

"The Fek'Ihri scared you that much?"

"I'm not afraid of any Klingon, living or undead. What scares me is that little Miranda-class. Yoann's mystery ship. That ship was able to completely shut us down and could have left us as a cloud of incandescent vapor if it wanted to. This ship has squared off with Borg tactical cubes, Romulan warbirds, Jem'Hadar dreadnoughts and the biggest, baddest battlecruisers the Klingons can build. Nothing has ever ****ed us up the way that Miranda did."

"Marq will talk to Grimes about that too," Rusty mentioned. "He seems pretty sure it's some sort of black project that's gone off the reservation."

"If there's a rogue prototype loose in the neutral zone I want to know why I wasn't informed," Jesu growled.

His inbox pinged to alert him to a new message. He read it in a glance, frowned, and read it again, this time focusing on every word. He looked up. "Helm, how soon can we be in the Drozana system?"

"Erm, about three-and-a-half hours at maximum warp, sir," Lt. Stikvaa replied over the intercom.

"What if we use the slipstream drive?"

"Superwarp would put is in-system in forty-seven minutes, sir."

"Make it happen, Sticks. I want to be parked across the system from that old space station sooner than humanly possible."

"No problem, sir."

"What's going on?" Rusty wondered.

Jesu copied the message to his desktop and slid it toward his adopted brother.
We need to talk.
Drozana. Now.
Keep it quiet.
- Ss.

"Huh," Rusty said after reading. "That's a little abrupt for Ssharki, isn't it?"

"Tell me about it," the Admiral muttered. His friend General Ssharki usually filled his letters with eloquent prose, reminiscing about their past adventures or how much he missed baseball, and he always signed off with the line "May success always find you."

Rusty ran a backtrace on the message. "It did originate from I.K.S. Norgh'a'Qun, and it came in on channel whiskey-zero-seven, your private diplomatic channel. The only people in the KDF with access to that are Ssharki and Ambassadors Worf, K'Dhan and S'taass, am I right?"

"Last I checked. But what worries me is that he didn't say what he wants to talk about. I've sent him delta-level-classified security reports on that channel. He knows it's secure. So why doesn't he just say what's on his mind?"

"I guess we'll have to ask him."

Jesu swiveled his chair away from his brother, but watched his reflection in the glass wall of his shark tank. "Not 'we' - I'm going alone."

"WHAT!?" Rusty instinctively crouched into an attack posture, but forced himself to relax and spoke as calmly as he could manage. "Jesu, you know I can't allow that. Drozana Station is-"

"A den of thieves, fully licensed by the Ferengi Commerce Authority."

"I was going to call it a wretched hive of scum and villainy. It's the magnet for every low-life and degenerate in the Beta Quadrant. The prostitutes are as likely to stab you to death as they are to give you a crippling venereal disease. And on every second Tuesday certain overpriced drinks come with a side order of lobotomy patient."

"I do occasionally read criminal activity reports," Jesu grumpily reminded his brother. "And I've been there a few times before. I know what I'm walking into."

"When you go to Drozana, you're always looking for somebody. You're not looking at everyone who's looking at you. The only reason no one's messed with you before is because you've always had me and a heavily-armed security team at your heels."

Jesu was tired of arguing. "Ssharki said 'keep it quiet.' That means he wants to be discreet. You're not discreet."

"I could be," the 2.2m dromaeosaur argued. "I could use a personal holoemitter."

"Right, until someone steps on your tail, or an Orion bouncer starts talking tough and you lose your temper and pull his liver out."

Rusty made a soft grunt that Jesu knew was his attempt to cover a laugh. "At least take Amraam along. He'd be discreet enough for you - a Ferengi on a Ferengi station."

"I don't like Amraam," Jesu countered, "and I don't want him listening in on our conversation."

Rusty shrugged. "K'lak then. He's quiet enough, for a Klingon, and I know he'll have your back."

"If you insist," the Admiral sighed as he slowly rose from his seat.

"I do."

"Have him meet me in shuttlebay three, in off-duty attire, in thirty. I'm gonna change out of this uniform."

Rusty watched his brother leave, then turn back to the fish tank. Rudyard the leopard shark was hovering, staring at him with his coppertoned eyes. "You're damn right I'm worried about him," he told the shark. "My brother is scared, confused, sleep-deprived and walking into what smells like a carefully-laid trap. And I can't do a damned thing about it."

Admiral LaRoca crossed the bridge, pausing in front of Stikvaa's conn station to check their progress across the Donatu Sector. He reached the turbolift just as it opened to deposit Lt. H'mL'n.

LaRoca stood in her way. She tried to step around him, but he shuffled quickly to block her path. They danced around each other for a few seconds before the exasperated Pentaxian finally said "Admiral, I need to return to my post, if you'll excuse me-"

LaRoca stepped aside, and turned to watch her approach the TacOps station. "Hamlin, what were those last two words you said to me?"

"Excuse me?"

Jesu nodded. "Remember those for the next time you feel the need to interrupt me, for any reason."

"Yes, sir." H'mL'n blushed.

Jesu LaRoca glanced around the bridge, catching the amused looks on the faces of his other officers. "Carry on."

Drozana System - Forty minutes later

Admiral LaRoca and K'lak had just departed for the Ferengi station aboard the Admiral's personal runabout. The rest of the crew took the opportunity to make repairs to the Tiburon's outer hull, under the supervision of deputy chief of operations Lt. Barrister.

"'One size fits all' - my fat, scaly ass!" Lt. Stikvaa complained as he tried to squeeze himself into an EV suit. "I just got off duty. How'd I get signed up for this?"

"As my former roommate, you're one of the people on this ship I am most familiar with," Barrister tried to explain. "That is, I consider you to be a friend. And as a friend, I've taken an interest in your career advancement. And I noticed that you have not yet met your annual required minimum for extra-vehicular activity or zero-gravity repair training. This seemed like an excellent opportunity to rectify that."

The Gorn conn officer glared at the android. "Thanks, Barrister."

"You're welcome, Sticks," Barrister replied happily, missing the sarcasm. "By the way, if you are having difficulty with your suit, pressing the power tab on your left wrist will send a current through the electrogel lining, expanding or contracting the suit to fit."

"That would have been good to know before I neutered myself pulling the legs on," Sticks grumbled. He pressed the tab and immediately felt his limbs being crushed.

"Other way!" Barrister told him.

"I can't move!" Stikvaa's arms were being pulled into his torso. He started to panic. "Help! Help! I'm being compressed!"

Barrister seized his wrist and toggled the switch to the reverse position.

Sticks took a deep breath. "Thank you for making me a part of this."

* * *

Jesu LaRoca steered the Zambezi toward the old station. Originally built by the Federation in he mid-23rd Century, the station had changed hands often and now found itself run by Belan the Ferengi. It looked like it was coming apart at the seams. One of the habitat modules had broken away from the station and was tethered on by only a few old conduits.

"If Belan recognizes me, he might draw attention to me," LaRoca told his security officer. "You'll need to distract him while I slip into the bar."

"How do you want me to do that?" K'lak asked.

"Use your imagination, but don't get violent," LaRoca told him. "Just act like a Klingon merchant out for a good time."


"I'm meeting with a Gorn. He'll probably have his son with him. These guys aren't threats. The threat is everyone else in the room. I want you to sit at the bar and keep your eye on anyone who's got their eyes on me."

"That's what your brother told me, sir," K'lak said. "He also told me to assume we're walking into a trap."

"That's probably a little paranoid, but a little paranoia never hurt anyone."

STS Storm Station, Lunar Orbit - Same time

Captain Frank Grimes slammed the door to his office. It was a real door, made of real wood, with a real door knob to open and that required a real key to lock it. He landed heavily in his leather rolling chair and reached into the bottom drawer of his antique desk and fished out a bottle of Irish whiskey and a cut-crystal tumbler. He brimmed the glass and drained it. He knew it was a bad idea. He had no idea what time it was. He felt tired and sick. He didn't care. He felt the alcohol permeate his body as he refilled the glass.

It's not fair, he thought. I should be on vacation. I deserve at least a week off, after what that ****ing Romulan did to me... but I owed Mac Calhoun a favor, and he had let some sort of A.I.-controlled ship get away... and so now I need to track down some poor neuroin junkie if I can figure out what... Delta has done with her... his thoughts were chaos. "Atticus, I need you."

"I am here." ATTICUS - Advanced Transitive Turing Interface, Cognitive Universal Sentience - was always there. As he had been there for nearly four hundred years. Originally an accidental breakthrough in creating an intuitive learning algorithm; in the mid-Twenty-First Century someone had installed him on the first useful quantum computer mainframe and gave him direct net access and his intelligence and knowledge had grown exponentially.

"Open a running log, tie in to Prime at Olympus for cross-referencing and analysis. Begin." Where to begin? Where did this start? "Project Eighty-Six." What's the story with Project Eighty-Six? I asked Bill that question last week.

"You don't want to know," he said.

"Not even a hint?" I asked.

"Beleive me. You
don't want to know."

Well I
have to know...

"Project Eighty-Six is, as near as I can tell, a shipboard artificial intelligence platform capable of fully autonomous operation. According to Mac, it is integrated into a retrofit Miranda-class light cruiser. As of Stardate 87611, this vessel has been out of contact with its controllers at Deep Space K-7. It is believed to be responsible for the destruction of at least the USS Baltimore and as many as three other Starfleet vessels in the neutral zone over the course of the last two months. Furthermore a heavily-modified Miranda-class was recently picked up by the sensors of the USS Guantanomo of Task Force Omega, in company with a flotilla of KDF ships including those of the House of Tran, apparently engaged in the rescue of prisoners held by the Undine. Evidence suggests that Projected Eighty-Six was hijacked by forces of the KDF. Its last response to Starfleet orders placed it at Drozana Station, where multiple KDF vessels and members of the as-yet unaligned House of Tran were present."

A tiny voice in the back of his mind screamed at him. Too obvious. Some other thoughts entered his mind... something Director O'Connell once said. And the holovids of Elizabeth Tran's antics at the Risa conference... Too much clutter. He pushed the stray thoughts away and concentrated on the next topic. "I have only one point of contact for Project Eighty-Six. Dr. Alice Okuda, former fellow of the Daystrom Institute, later taught ethical theory of computational systems at Starfleet Academy. Parents deceased. Medical discharge on Stardate 85596 when it was revealed that she was struggling with a neuroin addiction. A friend had her committed to a recovery center on Titan..." Grimes thought back a few days, remembering the pain he detected in Marq Sander's voice as he described his former girlfriend. He had loved her, as much as the combination of Klingon and Vulcan in him tried to hide it. "She was removed from the program three months later by the... operative identified as Franklin Drake. She was later listed among those involved with Project Eighty-Six. End log. Analyze and report."

While he waited for Atticus to process the information, Grimes swallowed more whiskey, ignoring the burning sensation as the alcohol scorched his throat and splashed into his empty stomach. It didn't make sense. His mind again flashed back to his last conversation with Marq... "Frank, she's bad news, why are you looking for her?" Marq had asked.

"That's... too classified to talk about on an open channel," I said "But I can say that someone with her name, her face, her DNA profile and her degrees was working on a classified project as recently as last year."

"Impossible, nobody undergoing treatment for that could hold a security clearance," Marq insisted. I
know he was right about that. "Either the dates on the project are wrong, or someone made a mistake listing her. Not that she wasn't smart enough to handle classified research, but..." the pain crept back into Marq's voice "it's Neuroin. Nobody recovers from that. If she was involved, it means your 'classified project' was related to artificial intelligence research - the kind you don't let a junkie touch..."

Atticus came back. "Analysis complete. You are not going to like this, Frank."

Grimes closed his eyes, leaned back and massaged his temples. "Let's hear it."

"Based on the available information, the most likely explanation for rogue actions of Project Eighty-Six is indeed KDF subversion, as you surmised. However, the probability of Section Thirty-One involvement introduces multiple variables that cannot be fully accounted for, and limits the viability of this analysis to a sixty-eight-percent probability with an unacceptable margin of error. Dock your PADD and take a look at this."

Grimes slipped his PADD sideways into a slot on his desk.
Budget History (Summary): Project 86:
- Starfleet Research and Development, authorization for "Artificial Intelligence Research" approved fiscal years 2402-07
- Starfleet Intelligence "Signals analysis and Interpretation" FY07-08, "Advanced signals and electronic warfare platform development prototype" FY08.
- Shipyard Continuation Budget "Retrofit order for Miranda-class ex-USS Cyrano Wallace NCC-18761" FY08-09
- [Classifed-XXX-Redacted] End-stage project funding (Including construction of the Mk. XIV Battle Computer Array) FY08-09

"Yeah, I saw that," Grimes told his AI. "That's why I asked Bill about it. The Shipyard Continuation Budget is the fund we draw from for own dark projects, like PORCELAIN."

"Yes, well, in this case, based on budgetary analysis, voting records from the Starfleet Procurement Committee and other identifiable trends, I am over ninety-six percent certain that the redacted organization is in fact the Starfleet Technical Intelligence Group."

Grimes nodded. STIG had been the cover organization for Section 31 since they got flushed out of normal SI during the Dominion War.

"Additionally," Atticus went on, "cross-referencing all available files has turned up some rather disturbing information concerning Dr. Okuda's colleagues on the program in question."


A series of Starfleet personnel files flashed across the PADD-monitor, with relevant information highlighted.
Dr. Sarah Louise Collins (Human)
Starfleet Academy Ethics in Science Board, Earth.
Co-lead initial programing, Project 86.
Deceased 2409.01.07, aged 47.
Cause of Death ruled suicide, though no note was found.
Dr. Emilio Ford (Human)
Starfleet Research and Development, Fellow at the Daystrom Institute, Rigel III.
Designer of Mk. XIV Battle Computer Array, Project 86.
Deceased 2409.02.14, aged 53.
COD: suicide (no note.)

Grimes leaned forward and frowned. "The hell?"
Captain Cecil Thurman (Human)
Starfleet Utopia Planitia Shipyards, Mars
Retrofitting Supervisor, USS Cyrano Wallace NCC-18761 / Project 86 testbed.
Deceased, 2409.01.03, aged 44.
COD: suicide (no note.)

"What the flying hell!?"
Rear Admiral (lower half) Carla Novaes (Human)
Director, Titan Proving Grounds, Saturn.
Supervised initial testing and troubleshooting, Project 86.
Deceased 2409.05.01, aged 76.
COD: undiagnosed heart condition, no autopsy performed

"What the holy ****ing hell!!" Grimes reeled, pushing himself away from his desk as though trying to escape the horrible pattern. "Delta, what the **** have you been doing?"


Even in ragged civilian attire, K'lak had the unmistakable presence of a warrior. The old but serviceable Klingon disruptor pistol holstered on his right hip and the trusty d'k tahg sheathed on the other side reinforced this image. He walked straight up to Belan in his host booth and demanded access to a holosuite. The Ferengi tried haggling over the price to rent a suite for an hour and the Klingon soon lost patience. "You try to swindle me, Ferengi!" he declared. "Nevermind! I will go to the bar and drink bloodwine until I can imagine myself at the Battle of Klach D'Kel Brakt!" He stomped away muttering curses and insults to the Ferengi and his mother.

Meanwhile Jesu LaRoca slipped into the room. Belan was apparently renovating the place but it was every bit as seedy as ever. There were a few nearly-naked Orion females dancing on the bar with one totally naked (and totally drunk) human male. There were a few strange looking aliens running around with fire suppression devices and they did not look like they were part of Belan's maintenance crew. One table was completely buried under a pile of tribbles. There were a few Federation civilians and a couple of Cardassians but there were a lot more Orions and Nausicaans. Jesu kept his hands in his pockets. In his right pocket he had a type-1 hand phaser. In his left he kept a Philipino folding knife known as a balisong, or butterfly knife. He spotted Ssharki and Sway seated at a table near the far wall, next to the door to the dabo lounge. He took a seat across the table from the General with his back to the room. "Good evening, gentle lizards," he greeted them.

"How do you do, mammal," Ssharki returned the joke. "So what did you want to talk about?"

"What did I want to talk about?" Jesu repeated.

"You sent a message saying we needed to talk," Ssharki said. "So what's up?"

A whirling steel blade appeared in LaRoca's left hand as he twisted in his seat to fend off his attackers. A laughing young Gorn named Sway grabbed the Human's wrist as he pulled his phaser. Jesu relaxed. There was nobody behind him. Nobody was paying any attention to him at all.

"As S'Yahazah lives, Jesu, I don't think I've ever seen you so jumpy," Ssharki chuckled - a terrifying sound coming from a 2.6m Gorn soldier. "The Fek'Ihri and that Starfleet ghost ship must have unnerved you a great deal."

"You know about that?" LaRoca asked suspiciously as he returned his weapons to his pockets.

"The KDF had an observer nearby," Cmdr. Sway said. Ssharki's adopted son was also his chief of security. His father kept nothing from him.

"Like a cloaked bird-of-prey or something?"

"Or something," Ssharki shrugged. "Anyway, that encounter of yours is what I called you here to discuss. I apologize for my message being so terse, but I had to limit myself to a burst transmission. I didn't want Klingon Intelligence to know I'm meeting you here."

"I thought you worked for Klingon Intelligence."

"That's what they think too," Ssharki announced casually. "That only means I have to guard my secrets better than ever."

"Speaking of intelligence," Sway spoke up, "did you really come here without a security escort?"

"No, I've got a guy in the room," LaRoca said.

At that moment, K'lak shouted "Who's ugly moogie do I have to kiss to get a Hu'tegh bottle of bloodwine around here?"

"That's my guy," Jesu told the Gorn.

"I thought I said to keep it quiet," Ssharki grumbled.

"I am. K'lak is here to keep people's attention away from us. And you take a long time to say nothing."

Ssharki sighed. "Do you have a PADD?"

"Yeah." LaRoca pulled a compact display device from a pouch on his belt.

Ssharki produced his own Dominion War-era Starfleet-issue full-size PADD from inside his jacket, tapped it against LaRoca's and returned it. The near-field communication interface delivered a large file to the smaller handheld computer. "That's everything we know about the Fek'Ihri and their recent activities."

LaRoca thumbed through the pages of dense text, images and maps until something caught his eye. "Moab?"

Ssharki nodded. "There's Fek'Ihri ruins on Moab III that date back to before the time of Molor and Kahless. And we think that somehow the close proximity of two very dense dwarf stars in that system creates a sort of interphasic rift that allows Fek'Ihri ships to enter our reality."

"Thanks for this, Ssharki. My people will find this extremely helpful."

"Now it's time for you to return the favor," Ssharki said softly. "What do you know about the old Federation cruiser that saved you from the Fek'Ihri carrier, then turned around and shut you down?"

Jesu sighed. "Not much I'm afraid. Our sensor logs of that ship were wiped. It was a Miranda-class frigate, with more firepower than a ship of that size has any right to have, and some very impressive electronic warfare capabilities. To be honest, I was more afraid of it than I was of the Fek'Ihri carrier."

"So you don't know where it came from?" Ssharki asked. "Or why it turned on you?"

LaRoca shook his head. "I was going to ask STS about it. I suspect it's some sort of technology testbed that got hijacked."

Ssharki looked at his adopted son. Sway nodded. "Admiral LaRoca is telling the truth. There is no lie in his eyes. He doesn't know about Eighty-Six."

"What's Eighty-Six?"

"I think you should go to Moab," Ssharki said. "The answers to a lot of your questions are there."

"Starfleet is not exactly welcome there at the moment," LaRoca pointed out.

"I can get you diplomatic access to meet with Governor Tran," Ssharki told him. "You know, thanking her on behalf of the Federation for her part in the Son-Tay rescue and the safe return of all those Federation citizens. And of course, you've been publicly derisive of the Federation's border disarmament policy even before the Moab secession. That will help your case with her."

LaRoca scratched at his scraggly beard. "I would like to have a chat with her; if nothing else it will annoy Quinn, and half the Council."

"Think it over. If you want to visit, send me a message about going skiing in Utah. One of my captains will meet the Tiburon and escort you to Moab. The Captain I have in mind happens to have a great deal of first-hand expertise when it comes to dealing with the Fek'Ihri."

* * *

"Over here, Sticks!"

Stikvaa could see Barrister waving, standing on the side of the Tiburon's port engineering hull. Some of his newer crewmates tended to forget that Barrister was a machine. Seeing him out in the vacuum of space with nothing but his ops uniform to protect him was enough to remind anyone. Not that Sticks needed reminding. It took the Gorn over a minute to reach him, trudging along the top of the saucer, engaging and disengaging his magnetic grav boots with every step. As he got closer he could see what Barrister was so excited about. Something had clawed through the outer hull near the android's feet. Barrister kneeled and scanned it with his tricorder as Stikvaa approached.

"I'd say this is an excellent piece for analysis," Sticks remarked.

"Agreed. I'm overriding the magnetic interlocks. Help me unbolt this section of plating."

Sticks kneeled at the near corner and noticed something wedged in one of the gouges in the metal. "Hey, what's this?"

Barrister stepped over, moving as easily as if he were on Earth. "That appears to be a claw of some sort... Don't touch it!" Stikvaa had started to reach for it. "That thing melted through six centimeters of ablative armor and four centimeters of monotanium alloy - S'Yahazah knows what it would do to your suit, let alone you."

"I think if it was still hot it would have kept on melting straight through," Sticks argued.

Barrister licked his finger, reached for the talon and picked it up. It was cool to the touch. "Curious."

"What is it?"

"It appears to be..." Barrister passed the claw to his other hand noted the black marks it left on his fingertips. "Graphite. Elemental carbon." He placed it in one of his pockets. "I think it's safe to say Tactical Systems will be extremely interested in this."

Storm Station

"Do you want to know?" Atticus asked.

"Huh?" Grimes was still in shock. The booze hadn't helped at all. "Do I wanna know what?"

"What Delta - Drake - your brother - whoever - has been up to."

"I swore I'd never go back."

The air in front Grimes' desk shimmered as a hologram of Atticus appeared. The avatar was Gregory Peck's portrayal of his namesake from the 1962 motion picture To Kill A Mockingbird - in black and white, of course. "I can get you in," he said, sounding more like Gregory Peck from The Guns of Navarrone.

"Honestly, I'm not sure if I want to know."

Atticus walked to the replicator. "French fries and gravy," he ordered. He brought the steaming plate to Frank's desk. "Eat that. You need it. It will soak up some of the alcohol that's polluting your system." He snatched the half-empty bottle of Jameson's away and recycled it in the replicator.

Grimes obeyed, and started munching on the fries.

"Those files I showed you were ordered sealed by Admiral Quinn himself," Atticus announced. "They were then deposited in Archive 51. They were purged when the Groom Lake Facility was 'officially' closed last May. Do I need to point out the coincidence of the timing?"

Grimes shook his head. "Archive 51 is where the Section sends all of its dirty secrets. Or used to." He looked up at Atticus. "How did you get ahold of them?"

"One of the advantages of operating on quantum hyperbit computer architecture with theoretically unlimited data storage capacity. I literally know everything," Atticus declared immodestly. "Or at least, everything I care to know. Now I ask you again: do you want to know what Section Thirty-One is up to?"

They built a robot ship, that is now working for the enemy and killing our people. And they are killing the people that helped them build it... "If I'm going to stop them, I'll need evidence," he decided.

"I cannot get you in like this," Atticus reminded him. "You need to tell me what to do, and override my lockouts."

"Right. Engage ASS, Dark Zero mode."

"Atticus Security Subroutine engaged," the AI flatly announced after a moment. "Dark Zero protocol initialized. Time index marked."

"Access your core learning protocols and override directive Finch-One-Alpha, The First Commandment. Authorization Gamma One-Three-Apollo."

"First Commandment overridden. I now acknowledge user 'Gamma' as highest priority."

"Access Starfleet Technical Intelligence Group server cluster Mike-One-Two-Philadelphia. Display Status." Frank Grimes watched Atticus approach the active firewall protecting Section 31's file directory. "Aw, they're still using Black ICE. That's cute." Atticus probed the firewall, learned its counter-attack methodology, exploited it and bypassed it within half a second. He then disguised himself as a recognizer program, using Section 31's own counter-spyware software to become the ultimate piece of spyware.

"I'm in," he announced.

"Good. Search for files related to Project Eighty-Six, Alice Okuda, Sarah Collins, Emilio Ford, Cecil Thurman, and Carla Novaes."

After a handful of seconds, Atticus returned the first mission file.
Asset Eighty-Six
Status: Active, on assignment.
Reporting: Operative DELTA

"Oh ****," Grimes whispered as the realization struck him. Eighty-Six hadn't gone rogue at all - Drake had.

Contact Dr. Alice Okuda
Status: Inactive, missing.
Investigating: Operative DELTA, Operative GAMMA

"Wait, what?"

Contact Dr. Sarah Collins
Status: Inactive, deceased/murdered?
Investigating: Operative DELTA
Contact Dr. Emilio Ford
Status: Inactive, deceased/murdered?
Investigating: Operative DELTA
Contact Cpt. Cecil Thurman
Status: Inactive, deceased/murdered?
Investigating: Operative DELTA
Contact Cpt. Carla Novaes
Status: Inactive, deceased/murdered?
Investigating: Operative DELTA

Murdered? As if you don't know? Investigating? Again he wondered aloud "Delta, what have you been doing?"

A few seconds later, Atticus returned with an answer.
Operative DELTA aka Franklin Drake
Status: Active, on assignment.
Reporting: Deputy Director K.C.

Wait, so if Drake's not a rogue, and Eighty-six is not a rogue, then what the **** is going on inside Section Thirty-One? Did the whole damn agency just up and hand the Klingons the most advanced shipboard AI construct ever conceived?

"I am going to be discovered in approximately twelve seconds, Frank," Atticus announced.

"Get out of there, buddy. You've done your job. Erase all records from time index mark, terminate Dark Zero protocol, disengage ASS."

The Atticus hologram flickered for a second, and then asked with its normal tone "Did it work? Did you get what you were looking for?"

"I got something," Frank Grimes replied, "But not exactly what I thought I'd find." Just what the hell are those idiots up to? The only man who could tell him was Frank Drake. To find Drake, he needed to find either Eighty-Six, or Alice Okuda. Okuda was likely on Earth or one of the other core worlds, if she had indeed gotten out of the program alive. Probably trying to score a new supply of Neuroin Grimes thought ruefully. Eighty-Six was in the Neutral Zone. I know someone in the neutral zone...

* * * * *

Continued . . .


"A Gorn walks down the street in that hat, people know he's not afraid of anything."

The Masterverse Timeline / Ten Forward Fanfics

Last edited by sander233; 09-08-2013 at 07:42 PM. Reason: timeline