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Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 3,938
# 7 Part II: At the Borderline
05-11-2013, 02:02 AM
Go down to wait all night
She's bound to run amok
Invested enough in it anyhow
To each his own
The garden is sorted out
She curls her lips on the bow
And I don't know if you're dead or not
If you're anyone

Come on and get the minimum
Before you open up your eyes
This army has so many heads
To analyze
Come on and get your overdose
Collect it at the borderline
And they want to get up in your head

'Cause they know, and so do I
The high road is hard to find
A detour in your new life
Tell all of your friends goodbye

The dawn to end all nights
That's all you hoped it was
A break from the warfare in your house
To each his own
A soldier is bailing out
He curled his lips on the barrel
And I don't know if the dead can talk
To anyone

Come on and get the minimum
Before you open up your eyes
This army has so many hands
Are you one of us?
Come on and get your overdose
Collect it at the borderline
And they want to get up in your head...

It's too late to change your mind
You let loss be your guide...

James Mercer and Brian Joseph Burton of Broken Bells - "The High Road"


Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, K'Lan-ne, Vulcan

"Traa'cee..." The voice called her again. A familiar voice, deep and somehow soothing. Strange, coming from a Reman. "Traa'cee, wake up. I know you're still in here."

She was. And so was something else. It wouldn't let her answer. It wouldn't let her reach out. It wrapped itself around her like a pandree snake, constricting her, choking off her words. It held her, trapped her inside her own mind, forced her to watch over and over and over again as the man she thought was her father morphed into a massive tripedal alien and attacked her.

"Traa'cee, please, it's K'Jetsk, your friend. I can help you wake up, but you need to-"

IT covered her ears so she could no longer hear her friend's voice. It enveloped her. It was inside of her. It had words for her. It spoke to her, from inside of her. She wanted to scream. But It wouldn't let her. It forced her hear the horrible things it had to say. It wouldn't let her escape.

* * *

K'Jetsk let out a frustrated sigh as he lifted his hands from Traa'cee's head. Her neural activity had jumped again, but he sensed that she had withdrawn even deeper within herself. He checked the neural scanner and watched different parts of her brain activate. "Another nightmare." He trudged out of the room. "Another day, another nightmare." He nodded to Dr. Prol in the observation room and went to the replicator. "Spice tea, lukewarm."

"Any progress?" Prol asked.

"Not yet. I sense she's aware of me, and part of her wants to reach out to me, but she won't. Or can't."

"She definitely hears you," The Vulcan neurologist said, nodding toward the brain function scanner display. "But she also hears someone else, in her dream, and that voice is much stronger."

K'Jetsk pulled an object from the pocket of his coat. It was the Tal Shiar neural interface device that had caused Traa'cee to enter the coma. "I've accounted for everything," he said. "We repaired the neural damage. What is holding her back?"

"We can try again after her dream has ended," Prol suggested. "And the priestess will return tonight. She will make another attempt to draw out her katra. She is in there. And she will emerge, in time."

The Reman stared at the device in his hand for a moment before returning it to his pocket. "Then I hope that time is on her side."

USS Tiburon, en route to Deep Space K-7 Stardate: 88191.47 (03.10.2411, 2120 Standard Time)

Jesu LaRoca hadn't had any coffee for six hours. He was drinking water, trying to flush the caffeine from his system, hoping he might be able to sleep tonight. It was going to work. He was falling asleep now in the middle of this very interesting staff meeting.

"There's no way that graphite could possibly carve through your hull," Frank Grimes told the Tiburon's senior staff from the wall monitor in the flag conference room. "Diamond would be a totally different story, however."

"But diamond does not turn to graphite through any sort of natural process," chief engineer Cmdr. Hector "Ming" Domingo pointed out.

"I think it's safe to assume that when it comes to the Fek'Ihri, some very unnatural forces are at play," Marq declared.

Frank nodded assent. "I have already turned over all of that data you sent me to my research team. So far the one thing we know for certain about the Fek'Ihri is that they use some exceedingly sophisticated nanotechnology. It could be that your graphite claw is a destabilized assemblage of carbon nanotubes, which would be compatible with the wreckage the Smedley Butler recovered."

"But how were they able to claw through our armor, and penetrate our shields?" Yoann wondered.

Grimes rubbed his chin. "We're still working on that. One thing I can tell you is that when you combine nanotubes with very high levels of energy, you get some rather exotic effects."

"Like compressed plasma fields," Marq mentioned.

"Exactly. Once we figure out how they do it, we'll send you recommendations for countermeasures. Between your scans, sensor logs, and all the background the Admiral's KDF contact gave us, we should have enough to develop a working theory."

"We'll be offloading the material evidence at Kilo-Seven," Marq told him. "It can be routed to wherever your research facility is."

"Thanks," Grimes nodded. "I'll take care of that."

"What about Eighty-Six?" Jesu sleepily asked from the head of the table. "Any ideas for countermeasures there?"

"The only way to counteract her is with a smarter AI with more computing power," Grimes said. "And that simply isn't going to happen. Her positronic net can out-flop your bioneural circuitry by several orders of magnitude, no matter what your operating AI is capable of. Even if I gave you an AU-26 copy, it wouldn't be smart enough."

"I don't want my ship to be smarter than I am," Admiral LaRoca declared. "I just want to know if there's any way I can safeguard against her hacking me again."

"Honestly, I don't know enough about her to answer that," Grimes admitted. "This project was blacker than black. It's got Section Thirty-One's fingerprints all over it. I'm investigating, but so far I've barely scratched the surface. I do know that not only is she intelligent, she's also creative and unpredictable. Those qualities are extremely difficult to instill in an artificial intelligence construct. When I find whoever programmed her, the first thing I'll ask is how they pulled that off."

"Do you think Mac will be able to give us more?" asked Hank "Hacksaw" Miller, Admiral LaRoca's intelligence advisor. "You said he worked with this ship for a while."

"I don't think he held back anything from me," Grimes answered. "He wants her stopped, at any cost. Me, I'm not so sure that's necessary, or even in the Federation's interest."

"It's clearly working for the KDF, it shut us down, and it destroyed the USS Baltimore," Rusty ticked off on his fingers. "I'd call that a pretty significant threat to the security of the Federation."

Frank Grimes took a deep breath. He looked very uncomfortable. "Okay, first of all, I have information that indicates that Eighty-Six is still under Section Thirty-One's control. They may be a dangerously misguided bunch of amoral sociopaths, but they believe in protecting the Federation just as strongly as any of us. Second, all she really did to you was erase your sensor logs of her. The battle was over. You were in no danger. If she wanted to harm you, she would have. She didn't. And then the Baltimore..." Grimes looked away from the screen and nervously ran his hands through his hair. "The Baltimore was engaged in hostilities against civilian colonists who were former Federation citizens."

"Moab," Jesu mumbled.

Grimes turned back to the screen. "Exactly."

"Ssharki said my answers would be there."

"Maybe," Grimes said. "But if you really want answers about Eighty-Six, you need to find Franklin Drake. I believe he is the one who is controlling her. She may be working with the Moab rebels, and thereby indirectly with the KDF, but she answers to Drake."

"How could you possibly know that?" Miller demanded.

"Let's just say I know Drake better than you do," Grimes answered.

Xarantine Sector

The ship had waited at the designated coordinates for over an hour. He processor cores were at a dead idle, functioning at adequate capacity to monitor the long range sensors and little else. She used that little else to ponder a few alternate history scenarios. In one, Molor defeated Kahless and the Klingon Empire never came to be - just one squabbling, insignificant warlord after another fought over Qo'noS until they were wiped out by the Hur'q. In another, John F. Kennedy had not been killed in Dallas, Texas in 1963, and had served two full terms in office. Not much changed of any real historical significance until March 30th, 1981, when a lax U.S. Secret Service allowed John Hinckley Jr. to successfully assassinate Ronald Reagan. Then in 1984, the Soviet Union attempted an invasion of West Germany, and the ensuing conflict rapidly escalated to global thermonuclear war, which destroyed much of North America, including Malmstrom AFB, the launch site of the Phoenix and killed the grandmother of its designer, Zefram Cochrane.

Eventually she detected an inbound Delta-class shuttle. She was briefly amused by the coincidence of the shuttle's classification sharing the name of the operative who piloted it. She increased her active processing power to a moderate level and engaged the life support system and set her transporter pad to receive. Then she activated her remote - a 2.14m android she used to interact with organics. She walked down her corridors and entered the transporter room just as Frank Drake materialized on the pad. "Hello, Franklin," she said sweetly.

"You were spotted again, Eighty-Six." Drake told her has he walked by her. "You need to stop interfering with things that do not affect your primary mission."

"Where are you going?" She called from speakers in the corridor.

"Head," was the reply. "The plumbing's backed up on the Saint."

Eighty-Six was confused. "I thought you were - I mean, I thought you didn't need to-"

"I consume food and drink, I extract nutrients, and I excrete waste like any other biological organism," Drake told her. "A little privacy, please?"

"Sorry. I'll be waiting in the lounge when you're ready." She walked out into her corridor and made her way to her forward crew lounge. It was the most comfortable space she had. She stretched out a reclining chair and thought about all of the various inconvenient biological processes she would never have to endure.

Drake entered and went straight to her well-stocked bar. "Your job is to protect the Moab system, and assist those who live there," he told her as he fixed himself a smoky martini. "Not to come to the rescue of any Federation starship that finds itself in trouble."

"My job, and yours, is to protect the greater good," Eighty-Six argued. "And this wasn't just any Federation starship. This was the Tiburon."

"And she would have gotten on just fine without you," Drake said as he stirred his drink.

"My simulations showed a twenty-eight-point-ninety-three-percent probability that Admiral LaRoca would be killed in the-"

"LaRoca?" Drake interrupted. "You were worried about him? Really?"

"My simulations indicate that he will have a positive impact on the future of this galaxy, and that his untimely death-"

"Oh, yeah, I know, he's a great guy." Drake sipped at his drink. "And he's been laughing at your odds of survival for years now. Seriously, if he died every time your simulations predicted, he would be dead twenty times over by now. Check his service record. Count how many times he's managed to talk or blast his way out of a no-win situation."

"Hmm. Twenty-three, actually. There's a less-than oh-point-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-one-percent chance of his surviving every near-death encounter to date, and yet, there he is."

"There he is," Drake nodded. "That guy lives a charmed life. Either that or he's being looked after by a higher power than you or me. Don't worry about him. Worry about Moab and the other neutral-zone colonies."

"I understand." She curled her lips into a smile to underline her bitter sarcasm. "Very well, I will tend your little garden of sedition and leave the rest of the house for you to manage."

Drake ignored her attitude and stared at the stars through her forward viewports. "Any idea where that demon fleet was heading?"

"There were no discernible targets along the course of the Enemy-Infrared vessels before they changed course to intercept the Tiburon. They were heading off into deep space, into territories occupied by Enemy-Black and Enemy-Violet."

"Why would they be heading that way?" Drake wondered.

"I don't have enough information to formulate a valid hypothesis," Eighty-Six told him.

Drake slowly drained his martini in deep thought. "I don't like it. Infrared has been way too active recently. We know Violet is using them, or working with them, but why?"

"Again, I don't have enough information to even guess at an answer. But Drake, there's something else you need to know about."


"The Son Tay deployment was sabotaged by someone in Starfleet. While we were doing battle with Enemy-Infrared forces inside of Enemy-Violet space, a heuristic virus activated inside of several sets of isolinear chips in the Moab refit birds-of-prey. These chips were manufactured by Macintosh Terra - non-restricted technology, commercially available. The Moabites smuggled them in anyway. Macintosh produces trillions of these chips on annual basis. And somehow the Moab militia ends up with a batch with malware pre-installed. Malware that Enemy-Infrared knew how and when to activate."

Drake pondered the information for a moment. "That's further indication that the Undine are influencing the Fek'Ihri in some way. Perhaps the Iconians are indirectly involved as well..."

"You mean, Enemy-Ultraviolet?"

The Section 31 man looked at the remote. "Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Eighty-Six. I'll take care of it. You just keep an eye on Moab, and keep an eye on Infrared. And please try not to draw too much attention to yourself." Drake set his glass down and tapped his combadge. "Saint, beam me up."

Eighty-Six watched Frank Drake dematerialize. She left her small body and returned to her larger one, and watched Drake's shuttle warp away on a heading that would take it to the Sol system. She plotted a course to Moab, set off at warp eight, and tried not to think about anything for a while.

Tiburon - 2230 hours

Jesu LaRoca staggered down the corridors toward his stateroom. He wasn't sure how much sleep he'd had in the last week, but he knew it wasn't enough. Now that the initial terror of the Fek'Ihri and the NX-86 had worn off, he could relax enough to get some decent shut-eye. Dr. Espinoza had given him a soporific sleep aid that promised to put him down for eight solid hours tonight.

"Excuse me, Admiral?"

LaRoca turned. "Yes, Hamlin, what is it?"

Lt. H'mL'n stood nervously, almost at attention, except for her hands which were fidgeting. "Sir, I would like to apologize for my breach of protocol earlier today, and yesterday... and since I've come aboard, really. I guess I haven't made a great effort to adapt to Starfleet regulations. But that's no excuse really; my conduct has been totally unbecoming for a junior officer addressing a flag officer."

LaRoca smiled wearily. "At ease, Lieutenant. I don't demand formal treatment from my crew. In fact, I insist that they do not behave as if I were anything more than this ship's Captain. I only require that my officers treat me and one another with politeness and respect."

"Understood, sir," H'mL'n bobbed her head. "I will remember that in the future."

"By the way, what were you doing off the bridge earlier?" LaRoca wondered.

"You mean when I bumped into you coming out of the turbolift? I was... in the shower."

Jesu raised his eyebrows. "During your duty shift?"

"I cleared it with Commander Marq, sir. I had to remove the h'vae - it's a substance Pentaxians excrete from our skin when our body temperature lowers. When it accumulates, it becomes rather... nasty."

"I see." LaRoca rubbed his beard as he covered a yawn. "Would raising the ambient temperature on the bridge help?"

"It certainly would, but I wouldn't want to make other species uncomfortable for my sake."

"I'm sure Sticks would appreciate it being a bit warmer as well. In the morning I'll tell Marq to raise the bridge temp for Alpha shift to twenty-six degrees."

Hamlin's violet eyes lit up. "Thank you, sir!"

"Anything else you need? How's the food?"

"It's... a bit bland, for my taste, to be honest. Bajoran hasperat has some flavor. And I've tried a Human dish - jerk chicken? That was alright. Some other Human dishes from your South Asian subculture smelled palatable, but, I can't quite get used to eating with utensils."

"You should have dinner with me tomorrow night," LaRoca suggested. "I'll show you some spice." He saw Lt. jg. Zain walk into view as he said that, and she looked mortified.

"I'm not sure that would be appropriate," H'mL'n said.

Jesu focused on her. "Nonsense. I have a meal with every member of my senior staff at least once every few weeks. As my senior tactical officer, you're invited to the club. My quarters, 1830 tomorrow. Come hungry."

"Very well sir. Your quarters are..."

Jesu pointed down the hall. "Right down there. Two-oh-one."

"Thank you, Admiral. Goodnight."

"Buenas noches Hamlin." He turned to his projectile weapons officer. "Can I help you, Miss Zain?"

"Um, yessir." She approached with trepidation. "A requisition order for torpedoes and mines. I figured while we were at Kilo-Seven we should make sure our magazines were fully stocked before returning to the neutral zone."

"Good thinking." LaRoca took the PADD and stylus she held out and scanned the order. "What's this item - nadeon detonators?"

"It adapts our torpedoes to deliver a powerful photonic shockwave," Zain said. "I thought it might be useful against those ghoul-swarms."

"Good thinking." He signed the order and handed the PADD back. "Anything else?"

She looked at something on the floor off to her left. "Um, nossir."

"Arright. Carry on."

"Yessir." She shuffled off.

I wonder what's got her bothered? Jesu briefly wondered as he walked to his rooms. He'd forgotten all about it by the time he entered the darkened suite. He removed his jacket and shoes and tossed himself on his bed and almost instantly fell into a deep sleep.

Storm Station - 0142 hours

Frank Grimes was dozing in his comfortable office chair when Atticus announced "I think I found her."

Grimes sat up and rubbed his eyes. "Found who?"

"Sasquatch." Atticus materialized his hologram avatar, who gave Frank Grimes a sardonic frown. "Dr. Alice Okuda, of course."

Grimes snapped himself awake. "How- Where? When?"

"The 'How' was not easy. Since the Citizens Privacy Act has banned virtually all surveillance holocameras from core Federation planets, I was forced to scan archival news holorecordings and hope for the best." He tapped a button on Frank's desk and activated a wall monitor. "Fortunately I lucked out. The 'Where' is Powell's City of Books and Holoprograms in Portland, Oregon, Earth. The 'When' is twelve days ago."

Grimes watched an interview with the well-known historical fiction holonovel author Niles Barclay, discussing his latest release - a program in which the protagonist has to flee the city of Pompeii as Mount Vesuvius is about to erupt. "Sometimes I create things just to destroy them in fire and horror..." Barclay was saying.

The holovid paused. "There she is," Atticus pointed, "walking into the door."

Grimes squinted. "Can you enhance?"

Atticus did. Alice Okuda emerged in the middle of the screen. She looked nervous and alert. She clutched a PADD to her chest. Her hair was in disarray, but Frank noted it was raining outside. Atticus led the image play at .25 normal speed. She walked quickly through the background of the holocam shot, her eyes rapidly darting to everyone in the room before she disappeared from view.

"She's dosed."

"Or she was," Atticus responded. "Cross-referencing medical files and addictive behavior analyses, I would say she dosed almost six hours before this holocapture was taken, and was starting to come down."

"So why is she going to a bookstore?" Grimes wondered aloud. "What does she want? What does her controller want?"

"Following the pattern of behavior for neuroin addicts, she may well have been trying to steal something," Atticus suggested. "Powell's City of Books does house one of the planet's largest collections of rare print media."

"When she's on neuroin, her IQ is pushing three hundred," Grimes argued. "There's no way she'd let herself get holocapped if she was about to commit a robbery."

"It might depend on how desperate she was for her next dose, and how badly her source wanted whatever she was sent to steal."

"Check the store's sales records for her ret pattern," Grimes ordered.

"Frank, I have been looking for her retina pattern to pop up on the grid for weeks now. I do not think-"

"Try anyway. And if you don't find anything, search all retscans from the time she entered until closing and check for any anomalies."

After a few seconds, Atticus asked "Does a dead Orion count as an anomaly?"

"Now you're talking. Show me what you found."

A picture of the interior of someone's eyeball appeared on the screen. "That is the retina pattern of an Orion by the name of Sorbo Dial, arrested on Stardate 82208.9 for attempted kidnapping and burglary. Released 85916 as part of a prisoner exchange with the Syndicate, and reported dead by Starfleet Intelligence as of Stardate 86322.7. His retina pattern is identical to that of a Human female named Allison Kuo who registered with the Earth Immigration Authority on Stardate 86892.3 and has this face." A familiar visage appeared on the screen - surgically altered to fool facial recognition programs, but nonetheless recognizable as Alice Okuda.

Grimes nodded in understanding. "When an Orion slave has outlived his usefulness, he's often cut up for parts. A lot of black-market eyes are out there for anyone looking for a new identity. And since Earth civil authorities don't have access to SI files or even DOC files unless they're parolees... She's clever alright. And so's her controller."

"We know that Drake is clever," Atticus reminded him. "But if he is looking for her, he must no longer be her controller. And if he has not found her, than he must have turned her loose over a year ago."

Grimes nodded. "Okay, great work. If you could please put together a profile on Allison Kuo, at least try to determine her current residence, I'll pay her a visit first thing in the morning." He walked towards the door.

"Where are you going?" Atticus asked.

"Bed! I feel like I haven't slept for days."

Tiburon, Docking Pylon 2, Deep Space K-7 - 0725 hours

Admiral LaRoca felt refreshed after a good night of dreamless sleep. He entered his ready room and greeted Hank Miller and Post-Captain Mackenzie Calhoun. "Sorry to keep you waiting, gentlemen," he apologized as he maneuvered around them and walked behind his desk.

"No problem, Vice Admiral," Calhoun said obsequiously. "I just came aboard a few minutes ago myself." Mac Calhoun was actually a Xenexian, but like most of his species serving in Starfleet he'd adapted a Human name, since his real name was incomprehensible to others. The former skipper of the USS Excalibur now served as the Starfleet Intelligence liaison to the forces in the Neutral Zone. He looked like a lot of Humans; broad-shouldered, pink-skinned, dark haired. Except for his red irises, and a jagged plasma burn from his days as a freedom fighter on Xenex that he stubbornly refused to have surgically repaired. "I understand you weren't briefed on our runaway prototype."

"My first introduction was when she shut us down with a viral matrix," Jesu said before turning to his replicator. "Coffee, decaf, little milk, lotta sugar. Want anything?" he asked his guest.

"No, thanks."

"No caffeine?" a surprised Hacksaw Miller asked.

"Don't need it this morning," LaRoca replied. He sipped his coffee and then requested "Four hundred milligrams of opalescent squid, raw."

"That's a... rather odd choice for breakfast," Calhoun remarked.

"This isn't for me," LaRoca explained. He picked up a loose tentacle and slipped it in his mouth. "It's not bad though." He carried the rest of the plate over to the fish tank and fed Rudyard. "There you go, little guy. Nom nom nom."

Calhoun stared as the shark messily devoured the pieces of cephalopod. Hacksaw waited patiently in his chair for LaRoca to sit down.

He did. "So. What's the story with Eighty-Six?"

Calhoun shifted his stare to the Admiral. "Um. Eighty-Six. Right. Last June, Commodore Michael Peres- excuse me, Rear Admiral, lower half Michael-"

"I know Mike," LaRoca interrupted. "He prefers 'Commodore.' Go 'head."

"Right, well any way, he came over with this toy he said Starfleet R&D wanted to field-test. So I'm sitting in my office and we're talking about the idea of a crew taking orders from a ship and the M-5 incident and we end up having a... philosophical discussion about artificial life, when all of a sudden Eighty-Six herself walks in."

"Wait, what?" LaRoca had been drinking his coffee and nodding and waiting for Calhoun to say something interesting when he said that. "You want to run that by me again, Mac?"

"Yessir. She walked right into my office. Two-point-one meters and change of fem-bot. She said she was a 'remote' for dealing with the crew. And she was, um, persuasive."

"Did anyone tell you what she was built for?" Hacksaw wanted to know.

"Sure. Fighting the Borg. She told me so herself. Of course, now I'm not so sure that she's totally trustworthy-"

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves here, Mac," LaRoca brought the discussion back. "So you took her out for field testing."

"Yeah. She wanted to go off to Moab III and help the colonists there fight off an Orion raiding party. I decided it was too high-risk, being that deep in the Neutral Zone. Besides, as it turned out, the fight was over before we could have got there. Something like both sides thought they were dealing with amateurs, and one side turned out to be right."

"I've been thoroughly apprised of the Moab situation," Jesu said as he refilled his coffee.

"Right. Anyway, a month goes by, and I get word of something fairly big going down at Drozana. Major slave auction. The place is gonna be lousy with Orions, the KDF will be poking around, and to top things off, the folks from Moab III are going to be selling off the Orions they captured. Turnabout is fair play, and all that."

"Sounds like a SigInt bonanza," Miller said.

"That's what I thought." Mac Calhoun brought his hands together. "So I gave Eighty-Six some extra crew, partly to make sure she'd have plenty of security in case the Klinks tried to pull anything, and also to provide the illusion that she was just there to let the boys off for a bit of weekend leave. So she hangs out there for a while, picks up some great intel, and then... she's gone. In the middle of the night, without any warning, she floods her decks with anesthezine, beams her crew into a cargo bay on Drozana, and disappears. I don't mean she warped off to places unknown - I had three ships nearby with round-the-clock sensor lock on her. I mean she ****ing disappeared."

Jesu finished his second cup of decaf. "And that was the last you saw of her?"

"Yeah. Well, sorta. For months after that, any Fed ship that looked like it was looking at Moab got taken out. The Baltimore's black box picked up what looked like a Miranda-class, with a warp core that belonged on a Defiant, and a positronic reading that was off the charts."

"Did anyone get off?" LaRoca asked.

"Um, well yeah. That was the funny thing - according to the survivors we picked up, she would shut down everything except life support, shuttle bay doors and escape pods, and force the ship to self-destruct. If the ship had saucer-sep, she'd leave it with impulse and thruster control. She let them get away, but she always wiped sensor logs."

"Except the Baltimore" Miller pointed out.

"But that one was a total loss," Calhoun explained. "I guess she forgot to clean up the wreckage."

"Or maybe she wanted you to know it was her," Miller suggested.

"I don't know. That's when I started to panic a little. I called Commodore Peres and asked if he knew why his prototype had run amok. He said it wasn't his. The damn thing had just been dumped into his lap and orders came in from the Old Man to arrange field testing. So then I called in a favor from Frank Grimes, and he said he'd look into it. He hasn't gotten back to me yet."

Jesu and Hacksaw looked at each other. "I'm going to Moab," the Admiral announced. "If I find out what your wayward prototype is doing there, I'll let you know."

"That's not a good idea, Admiral," Mac stated. "I told you what happens to any ship that gets too close to Moab."

"I've been guaranteed safe passage by the KDF. Diplomatic access."

"I'm not sure Eighty-Six answers to the KDF."

"I'm sure she doesn't," LaRoca said with a shrug. "But I'm betting she can be reasoned with."

Calhoun threw his hands up and said "It's your call, Admiral. I'll make sure we have a rescue tug just in the neighborhood just in case."

"Thanks, Mac. And thanks for dropping in."

"My pleasure, Admiral. This is a fine ship you have here." Calhoun stood up and walked out.

LaRoca asked the door "Bridge, how soon can we be underway?"

"About half an hour, sir," his brother replied. "We're still loading up on torpedoes."

The older LaRoca checked the time. Alpha shift would come on watch in ten minutes. "When Sticks comes up, tell him to set a course for the Moab System, warp eight. Then gather the DABo table in my conference room. Bring Marq in with you."


"You want me in there too?" Hacksaw Miller inquired.

"Yeah. If you could please prepare a quick briefing package on Moab and Elizabeth Tran for the DABos, that would be great."

"I'll get right on it." Miller went to the flag conference room through the door next to the aquarium.

Jesu collected a bowl of cold cereal from his replicator and ate his breakfast while he composed a short message to send to General Ssharki.
I have decided to go to Utah for a ski trip.
I could use a break.
Do you have any vacation plans?
- Jesu.

IKS Norgh'a'Qun, Ganalda System

General Ssharki sat in his study, remotely monitoring the Orion Grand Auction at Eryphis. Although he personally found the sale of sentient beings to be distasteful, it was a useful means of acquiring certain specialists the KDF did not bother to train, and a much more profitable means of disposing of criminals and non-Federation prisoners than sending them off to Rura Penthe. His own Orion agents were making a killing unloading the baggage, and had made several prudent acquisitions of undervalued assets.

The computer console on his desk beeped to alert him to an incoming message. It was on Admiral LaRoca's private diplomatic channel. He read it in a glance and fired back a reply.
Helping an injured bird is said to bring luck.
May success always find you.
- Ss.

He left his study and crossed the bridge. "Sway. Come," he commanded. The young security chief left his station and followed his father into the wardroom. Colonel Uminoe Kicur and Captain Nine of Nine rose and stood at attention. Ssharki handed The Ninth his old Starfleet PADD. "He's on his way. You know what to do."

The former Borg Drone nodded, keyed his communicator and beamed off the ship.

Ssharki faced Kicur, the Trill. "Awaken your host," he ordered.

She closed her eyes, and a psychopath opened them. "General! What are your orders?"

"I need to know first that you will follow my orders, whatever I may ask of you."

"You are my sponsor. You know you have my undying loyalty-"

"I know that I have the loyalty of the Kicur symbiont," Ssharki growled. "But I require you for this mission, Uminoe, and you are not to be trusted." He handed his adopted son a hypospray. "Inject Uminoe with this."

Sway obeyed, pressing the hypo into her neck and depressing the cylinder. Uminoe didn't flinch.

"Sway just injected you with a metabolic poison," Ssharki informed her. "I had my biology department prepare this specially for your species' heightened metabolism. You should start to feel the effects in a week, perhaps ten days at the most, depending on your diet and exercise. You will die three or four days after the effects become apparent, unless you receive the antidote from me. Do you understand?"

Uminoe nodded. "I do."

"Good. You will go to the Moab System, under cloak. You will remain cloaked. The Cha'bIp will be escorting a Federation ship - the Tiburon - a modified Akira-class. Your objectives are two-fold. First, you are to monitor and intercept any transmissions made by this ship. Second, you will not allow that ship to be destroyed. If anyone fires on that ship, you will fire back, with extreme prejudice. If the USS Tiburon is destroyed, I will allow you to die. Do you understand?"

She smiled, and nodded again. "I do."

"I have selected you for this mission because I know you will fire on anyone - Klingon, Moabite, Fek, whatever, without any hesitation whatsoever."

"I will," the Trill murderess stated. "I will remain cloaked until the Tiburon is fired upon. And then I will destroy whoever tried to harm your friend."

"Thank you, Uminoe. I am sorry I had to go to such great lengths to ensure your loyalty, but you understand that I cannot take chances. The stakes are much too high."

"If I were in your position, I think I would have come up with a similar arrangement," she said a bit too cheerfully.

Ssharki nodded. "The Qun would draw to much attention if she entered the Moab System, but I will be nearby. I will see you in a week."

She saluted, striking her chest with her right fist. "Qapla', General!"

Ssharki returned the gesture. "Qapla'!" He watched her beam out, then went out to the bridge to watch her Tor'Kaht-class battlecruiser vanish.

"Sir, the Cha'bIp has gone to warp, and the NIteb mo' has just cloaked," the first officer reported.

"They are following my orders, Maddox," Ssharki stated as he walked up to the elevated command platform. "The Federation has been nosing around the Neutral Zone. I wish to make our presence known as well. Plot a course to Archanis and a sweeping patrol route from there to Donatu. Engage at warp factor six when ready.

"Very good, sir."

Ssharki sat in his command chair, and Sway stood by his side. "Father, it seems you're going to an awful lot of trouble to put Uncle Jesu in a great deal of danger," the young Gorn whispered.

"I am. But Operation 'Mountain Road' will be coming to a head in the next few days. If it succeeds, I want the Federation to have a credible witness on-scene. And if Temek's plan fails..." Ssharki sucked air through his teeth. "Then I hope Jesu will be able to piece the events together and figure out why we tried."

USS Tiburon, Aldebaren Sector

DABo was Admiral LaRoca's acronym for his Diplomatic Advisory Board - five specialized attaches from the Federation Diplomatic Corps. Three of them were waiting in his conference room. The other two were on Ajilon Prime assessing that colony's situation.
Jesu could feel Ennari Dai staring at him as he entered the room. The Trill was either thirty-three years old or three hundred, depending on which one of her you asked. Jesu flashed a glare at Kugid Denaia, who quickly removed his cowboy boots from the conference table. The Orion had at one point found himself hunted by both the Syndicate and Starfleet Intelligence, and he turned to the side that would not lobotomize him. LaRoca found him to be extremely useful for dealing with unscrupulous cultures. The Admiral returned a respectful nod from Stazratts, an eleventy-one-year-old Gorn Warrior-Intellectual and Federation citizen who hailed from Cestus III.

Jesu took his seat as Marq and Rusty entered from the bridge, and he nodded to Hank Miller at the other end of the table. Hacksaw began his briefing. "I've uploaded to your PADDs all of the data we have on the Moab Colonies and senior officials. For this briefing I'll just cover the pertinent data on the Moab System and Governor Tran." He flashed an encyclopedia file on the wall monitor.
Originally Posted by patrickngo

File 487: Moab System (Human/Earth Colony)

Star: Type-K white dwarf / Type-O blue dwarf (binary)

Celestial Bodies:
- 3 Rocky planets (1 in habitable zone - "Moab III")
- 4 Gas giants (outer system), 33 total moonlets of Luna size or larger (1 habitable - "New Saigon")
- 2 Colloid (asteroid) belts
- 1 Oort cloud

Alignment: Klingon Empire (protectorate state)

Date of Colonization: unknown, presumed sometime prior to 2110)
- (Re)contact with Earth Starfleet: USS Challenger NX-03 (2155.05.13)

Population: 356 Million (last census)


- Ethnic breakdown:
- - Asiatic: 44%
- - Caucasian: 20%
- - Semitic: 15%
- - African: 10%
- - North American Aboriginal: 1%
- - Other: 10% (including non-Humans)

- Male/Female ratio: 1/3

- Occupation:
- - Manufacturing/Light: 30%
- - Mining/Mineral extraction: 21%
- - Manufacturing/Heavy: 15%
- - Services: 15%
- - Farming: 5%
- - Government/Administrative: 5%
- - Government/Military: 2%
- - Other: 3%
- - Unemployed: 4%

- Official Language: Klingon
- Secondary / Trade Languages: English, Spanish and Vietnamese
- Spoken Languages (some overlap):
- - English/Federation dialect: 72%
- - Klingon: 35%
- - Spanish/Old Mexico dialect: 13%
- - Vietnamese/Asian Pidgin: 31%
- - Hebrew: 15%

- Literacy rate: 93%

Military type: Modern professional service with conscription.

- Fleet levels:
- - 14 Bird of Prey (all marks)
- - 3 Battle Cruisers (all marks)
- - 2 Federation-type cruisers
- - 22 Corvette level warp-capable small craft
- - 171 Shuttles of all types

- 1 Military space station (KDF design, recent)

- Ground forces tactical breakdown:
- - Infantry: 50%
- - Armor: 12%
- - Combat Engineering: 9%
- - Special Forces: 5%
- - Artillery: 3%
- - Military Police / Riot Control: 3%
- - All other branches 18%

- Standard small-arms: KDF Standard ground weaponry.

GT (General Technology level): Increased from GT score 3 (enforced, kept at 2150's level) to GT score 5 (on par with industrialized worlds in the Klingon Empire)

Historical issues:

- Original colonists were intended to be placed on "Home" - the world established initially over Proxima Centauri. The original colony convoy had an incident with what is believed to be a wormhole of unstable nature, depositing it a considerable distance from their original goal, leaving them out of contact with humanity for approximately fifty years. A local culture developed and was reassumed after initial Starfleet contacts were established.

- Primary wave of colonists were political and religious dissidents; secondary wave included Hayekian Capitalist agitators and other groups that were not fitting well into Earth society due to various objections regarding cultural direction and ideas regarding ethnic and/or cultural diversity.

- Moab III was brought into the Federation and listed as an Earth Colony immediately prior to the 1st Romulan conflict. Population growth was slowed due to issues such as high infant mortality and environmentally shortened lifespans, due to high concentrations of borderline toxins in the native environment, aggressive parasites and dangerous wildlife.

- Three attempts were made in the 22nd and 23rd Centuries to convince the settlers to relocate closer to the Federation Core. All three attempts failed for various reasons including local cultural resistance, and hostility to outside interference.

- With the outbreak of the Klingon/Federation war, Moab was left virtually unprotected as Starfleet moved personnel out of the area, and another push to encourage the locals to emigrate closer to the Federation Core was initiated, including the withdrawal and removal of industrial assets and whatever military assets the system retained under Governor Gordon.

- The intent to create a 'no man's land' or demilitarized zone along this portion of the Federation Border backfired in 2409 with the attempted raid by elements of the Massanna syndicate - an Orion splinter group working in conjunction with [Classified-XXX-Redacted] to destabilize the Klingon/Orion alliance and displace Melani Di'an.

"What that file doesn't tell you is that the Klingon Archaeological Foundation - yes, there actually is such a thing - recently uncovered ruins on the planet which date to before the Empire's founding and are believed to be Fek'Ihri in origin. We hope that Governor Tran will grant our request to allow our archeologists to poke around there. Dai, wasn't one of your previous hosts an archeologist?"

She nodded. "Alnel, my third."

Miller flashed a rare smile for the briefest of moments. "Excellent. Your expertise will be extremely useful. As for Miss Tran..." A new file appeared on the wall.
Originally Posted by patrickngo

Starfleet Intelligence File #642926031.8b:
Elizabeth Tran (ne-Trac) of Moab

Human (Ethnicity: Asiatic extraction, SE Asian ancestry)
Born: Stardate 55387.9 (Age: 32)
Current Position: Governor of Moab Confederacy (Klingon Empire protectorate state), head of House of Tran, seat on Klingon High Council (non-voting).

Aptitude: Unrated at present, upper 98th percentile when rejected by Starfleet Academy.

Languages: Fluent English, Vietnamese, Ferengi, Klingon; speaks/understands Romulan, Vulcan; understands/speaks trade-level Ferasan/Caitan.

Psychiatric profile: Widow of George Trac, industrialist, New Saigon/Moab III system. It is believed at this time that she has not sought romantic involvements subsequent to her husband's demise. High work-ethic, known admirer of Klingon and Andorian philosophy as well as some lay study of Vulcan and Romulan mysticism.

Known Hobbies: Sleight-of-hand / prestidigitation, acting / theatre.

Known Skills: Administration, sentient resources allocation, rhetoric, political sciences, economics (including Ferengi), believed to practice some martial arts (see attached holovid record: filename 2410 Risa Conference time index 121,234 to 126,987).

Political orientation: Considered a bit of a moderate by Klingon standards, liberal economic policies and pro-development/growth/military bent. Individualist. Political views are inconsistent with current Federation policies.

Religious Elements: Unknown, previously agnostic.

Aggression Profile: Biggs testing shows Ms. Tran to be a highly aggressive, confrontational personality with a strong secondary adaptive streak, followed by a high level of analytical, with a low score for accommodation. She is likely to attack if threatened, to reveal any blackmail attempts and attack the blackmailer, and to be very direct or confrontational when presented with an ultimatum, however her methodology for doing so is likely to be highly reliant on misdirection and subtlety (see file: 2410 Risa Conference.) Ruthlessness coefficient is borderline pathological - Ms. Tran is known to have willingly risked her own life, and sacrificed the lives of friends, to accomplish her goals.

Criminal charges: suspected of smuggling, arms-dealing, theft of Federation property (pre-war); convicted in absentia of treason, sedition, and terrorism. (Charges held in abeyance, conviction suspended following 2410 Risa Conference.)

"I would encourage you to review the holovid files and cross-references to her Maquis family ties," Hacksaw Miller wrapped up. "She could either be a cunning and dangerous opponent, or a powerful and beneficial ally. Right now she is neither. Which she will choose to be will depend largely on us. Please prepare your recommendations for the Admiral by no later than this time tomorrow."

Portland, Oregon

"Atticus, are you sure this number is correct?"

"Positive. The hotel's records confirm she ordered room service this morning."

Grimes sighed. "Okay, I'll try again." He reinitialized the link between his PADD and his communicator and made another attempt to call Room 206 of the Hotel Lucia.

Finally there was a response. "Hullo?" The woman who answered barely resembled Alice Okuda. She seemed ill, and feverish, which she would be if she was undergoing neuroin withdrawal. She was wearing a hotel bathrobe and looked she just woke up. "Who are you? Whaddaya want?"

"Dr. Okuda, I'm here to help you. Please do not hang up!" Grimes pleaded. He could see her starting to reach for the viewer. "My name is Frank Grimes. I'm a Starfleet Captain. I need to talk to you. I believe your life may be in danger."

"Hunh." She made an odd sort of laugh-grunt through her nose. "Of course my life's in danger. Why do you think I changed my name? I know what happened to the others..." she was talking in a listless monotone. "Still, you found me, but you called me instead of just coming to my room and killing me. So you're probably not the shapeshifter..."

Grimes felt a sharp pain in his head like someone had stabbed him with an icepick. "Shapeshifter? You mean a Changeling?"

"No, the other kind. Enemy-Violet..." She looked at him suspiciously. "You said your name was Frank?"

"Grimes. Frank Grimes. I know you were with Franklin Drake a couple of years ago-"

"Hunh. Drake. Easily manipulated. Easily avoided. Threat assessment, minimal..."

"Alice, I'm in the lobby of your hotel. Do you want to come down to talk?"

Her eyes narrowed again. "Is this channel secure?"

"Yes, but not as secure as talking in-person."

"Hmm. Alright, Mr. Grimes. I'll be down in a minute." Okuda ended the call.

Grimes leaned back in his chair. The lobby was a good place to talk - public enough that Alice would know he couldn't kill her and get away with it, but quiet enough that they could talk in privacy.

Okuda emerged from the turbolift. She'd gotten dressed in clothes that were fashionable last year and put her hair up. She stumbled as she crossed the lobby but recovered. Grimes stood and helped her sit in a couch. "Thank you, Mr. Grimes," she said in her quiet monotone.

"Do you want something to drink? Some coffee or something?"

"Um. Some water, please."

Grimes went over to the nearby replicator and returned with two glasses. He handed one to Okuda and noticed that her hands were shaking. "How long has it been since your last dose?"

"My last... I don't know... What day is today?"

"The twenty-second."

She counted backwards in her head. "Twelve... no, thirteen... thirteen days. Twelve days."

"Where's your hookup?"

"I don't have a hookup." She tried to smile. "Do you think I'd be living in a nice place like this if I was somebody's neuro-slave? I stole Drake's stash and hacked his EC account. I split for the closest dabo table, converted half the credits into cold, hard, gold-pressed latinum, bought a new pair of eyes from an Orion flesh-peddler and found a Denobulan plastic surgeon who preferred latinum to chit-chat. I've been hiding out on Earth ever since; figured this was the last place Drake or the shapeshifter would look."

Grimes nodded. "How much more neuroin do you still have?"

Okuda looked away. "Enough. I try not to use it until it gets so I can't do this anymore..." She watched her right hand as she tapped her fingertips on her thumb in succession, index to pinky to index to pinky to index. It took her a while. "Hmm. I'll need to dose again the day after tomorrow." She stared at Grimes. "Do you know what Alzheimer's disease is?"

"It's a form of dementia that used to afflict elderly Humans with a certain gene, before researchers found a way to correct it in the early Twenty-First Century," Grimes said.

"The cure was found, but it wasn't widely available for a hundred years after that. It never made it to certain colonies. My great-grandmother suffered from Alzheimer's. And I mean suffered. Toward the end, she woke up in the morning and she didn't remember a thing. Who she was, her husband, her kids, her grandkids, me... Great-grampa would explain and the light would come on for a while, but after an hour she'd start to forget again. She was always frustrated and upset and angry because she couldn't remember anything, and she blamed it on any new face she saw. I still remember the first time she yelled at me..." Her eyes hardened. "That's what it's like to be totally off this stuff, Mr. Grimes. It's the worst possible way to live. No memory, no ability to form memories, no life. You're just breathing. So if you're here to drag me off to another recovery program, you can just forget it."

"I'm not going to do that to you," Grimes told her. "In fact, I actually need your memory intact." He discretely set his PADD to record the conversation. "What do you remember about Project Eighty-Six?"

"Oh, God." Her eyes rolled back and the tremors picked up. Grimes thought she was having a seizure, but then she started talking. "Drake brought me to this... computer... there were other people there, people Drake spoke to, I think he worked for them... I only saw Drake... They had me... in the computer and I was... I was the computer? I became the computer... I wanted to... to become the computer. And then Drake brought in the others."

"His bosses?"

"No, others... like me. Other... volunteers. I had to... he made me... copy their minds, take their minds. They were all good people. They only wanted to help... I... I think I killed one of them. Patient Eleven. Her mind was... so beautiful. Not damaged, not like the others. I just... took it, and took until there was nothing left... and when I was done, the computer was all of us."

Grimes had nothing to say. He just stared at Alice Okuda in open-mouthed horror.

She didn't notice. "When it was over, when I realized what they had made me do, I got away. They tried to stop me. It's hard to stop someone on neuroin from doing something once they set their mind to it. I got away and I hid, and since then I've been trying to put together what happened, what I did to those people, to find some way to help them, to help myself. There's a bookstore a few blocks from here, they have holoprogramming suites you can rent. I did my work there, while I was dosed..."

She focused on Grimes. "If you want to help me, come back tomorrow morning. I'll have a chip for you. You put the chip in Eighty-Six, and you'll set us free..."

* * *

Frank Grimes walked down Portland's rainy streets toward the transporter pads, replaying Dr. Okuda's words in his mind. She's lost it, he thought. "The computer was all of us"? "Set us free"? He'd heard of consciousness transfers before, of course. Dr. Soong had achieved successful results transferring his wife's mind into an android's body. And Ira Graves had transferred his consciousness (temporarily) into Data... but those people had died in the process. And multiple personalities in a single computer? Impossible to stabilize. Right?

His combadge chirped. "Grimes here."

"Have you found her?" It was Admiral William Davis - his boss.

"Found who, sir?"

"Alice Okuda."

Frank hesitated. "Yeah, but she wasn't much help."

"Listen, son, I want you to forget about this business with Eighty-Six. Tell Mac Calhoun it's out of your hands, take a vacation, come back and get to work on Project OASIS. Do I need to make that an order?"

"No, Admiral, you're right. I'm getting nowhere with this."

"Good. Then I'll see you at Olympus Station in two weeks. Enjoy your time off, Frank."

"I will, sir." His combadge chirped off. He looked for a hotel to check in to. "Starting tomorrow."

Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, K'Lan-ne, Vulcan

It wrestled again with Traa'cee inside of her mind. The terrible images, the horrible words, the sick smothering feeling returned to her.

She fought back. She pushed, clawed, kicked and screamed.

And just for an instant, she caught a glimpse of It.

Purplish-green skin. A bulbous, sloping forehead. A yellow eye with a cross-shaped pupil.

It was Species 8472.

It was Undine.

It was the thing that had replaced her father.

It had invaded her mind...

USS Tiburon, Donatu Sector - 1830 hours

Jesu LaRoca set the table as Alejandro Cruz - the Admiral's personal chef - brought out the food. His door chimed. "Come in!" he called.

H'mL'n did, wearing her formal off-duty attire. She looked at the Admiral and realized she had over-dressed. He wore only a multicolored pullover shirt over his standard duty uniform pants. She correctly guessed he wouldn't know current Pentaxian fashions and would overlook her faux-pas. "Good evening, Admiral."

"Bienvenido," he greeted her. "Nice outfit. Pentaxian?"

"Yes." She sniffed the air. "This smells delicious!"

"I did a little research. It seems your people enjoy food they can pick up and eat with the fingers, shredded meats, breads, and lots of spice. To me, that sounded like carnitas tacos a la Cruz." Jesu pulled out a chair for her. "Almost everything you'll have tonight is hecho en Mexico, my homeland. You want anything to drink? I don't have any alcohol that's quite as strong as what you're used to, but I've got some agave tequila plata that might come close."

"I'll try... whatever you have to offer," H'mL'n said as she took her seat.

"Okay. Try this first." Jesu placed a basket of tortilla chips in front of her, followed by a bowl of chunky red paste. "Dip this, into this." He demonstrated. "Salsa habenera. Made from one of the spiciest chili peppers native to Earth. This will give us a good baseline. Let me know how you like that, and we'll kick it up from there."

She sampled the salsa while Jesu fixed some drinks. "That's very good! Nice, complex flavor. A little mellow, but I certainly wouldn't call it bland."

"Okay. Cruz, if you'd please bring out my salsa picante collection for Miss Hamlin?" He set a highball glass down in front of her. "A Tequila Sunrise is a drink that contains one part tequila and six parts orange juice with a dash or two of grenadine. This is sorta the opposite, in terms of proportions of tequila to juice, so I call it the Tequila Sundown. If I tried to drink this, I'd be fairly inebriated before I reached the bottom of the glass. But I'm something of a lightweight, even by Human standards. See how you like it."

She drained the glass before LaRoca could sit down. "It's alright. I'd probably have to drink twenty of these before I felt intoxicated, but it tastes good, at least."



"Alejandro, another Tequila Sundown for the lady."

Alejandro grunted and refilled H'mL'n's drink.

"Okay, main course," Jesu anounced. "Now, to make your tacos, you start with a tortilla." He demonstrated, placing a corn torilla in the middle of his plate. "You add your carnitas- don't tell anyone, but this is real pork. Sprinkle on some queso if you wish - this is Monterrey Jack, this is cojita. Some cabbage, guacamole, crema agria, and top it off with the salsa picante of your choice. Uh, pass the little bottle in the middle, there, in front of you." Hamlin did, and Jesu drizzled a little over the top of his food. "Then you simply fold the tortilla over, pick it up, be careful to hold it level, and enjoy!"

"Seems simple enough." H'mL'n had made her own taco up. "What's that uh, picanta you had there?"

"It's called 'hot sauce' in English. This one is distilled essence of the habanero pepper, with habanero puree and pineapple juice. The other sauces are ranked from mildest to hottest, with the hottest being on your far right."

She selected the bottle on the right.

"I wouldn't recommend that one," Jesu warned her. "It's pure capsaicin extract, which is the oil that gives chili peppers their spice. It's basically flavorless, but it will deliver a burning sensation on any tissue it touches. I only use that in cooking, and usually only when I'm taking revenge on somebody."

"I see." H'mL'n picked up the bottle second from the right. "How about this?"

"That one is made from a combination of Jimbalian fire fruit, Risan scorpio chili, and the Bhut Jolokia or 'ghost' chili from India on Earth. I can't stand more than a drop of that stuff per taco."

H'mL'n opened the bottle, sniffed it, made a pleased expression and splashed a liberal quantity on her taco.

"You might um... you might regret that," Jesu predicted.

"I'm sure anything a Human can handle won't hurt me," H'mL'n said, before digging in. "Whoa. Whoa, whoa, whoa! Haaa!" She drank her tequila concoction, which just made the burning a lot worse. "Mah mouf if om fiah!"

Jesu was trying very hard not to laugh out loud. "Cruz, would you please get the lady a tall glass of milk?"

Hotel Lucia, Portland, Oregon - the next morning

Grimes had been knocking on door 206 for five minutes. "Alice? It's Frank Grimes. Come on, let me in, or at least answer."

Someone on the hotel staff approached. "Can I help you, sir?"

Grimes showed his combadge. "I need to speak to the guest in this room. Urgent Starfleet business."

The staffer shrugged, and she unlocked the door with an override code. It hissed opened and revealed Alice Okuda, sprawled across her bed. Her head was hanging over the side, her eyes and mouth were open. Her skin was gray. "Oh my God!"

"Alice!" Grimes sprinted to her side, raised her head and checked her neck for a pulse that wasn't there. "Don't just stand there," he snapped at the staffer, "get a doctor!" The terrified young woman had never seen a dead body before. She gave a panicked nod and ran off. Grimes knew it was hopeless. Okuda had been dead for hours. He tried to reposition her body in a more dignified position but then realized too late he was interfering with a potential crime scene. He found something clutched in her right hand. It was an isolinear chip, with the number 4-86 etched on one side.

"Well, this looks unfortunate," a familiar voice said from the doorway.

Grimes whipped his head around, took one look at the man in the black leather uniform and snarled "Delta."

Franklin Drake nodded to his brother. "Gamma." He closed the door behind him and sealed it.

"What the **** did you do to her?"

"I certainly didn't kill her. I've been trying to find her on and off for the last fifteen months, to get her back into rehab. Then yesterday I heard you found her and I followed you here." He approached Okuda's body and pulled a medical tricorder out of his back pocket and scanned her. "Hmm. Residual neurotransmitters are elevated off the scale... massive amounts of neuron-55 in her bloodstream... neuroin overdose, no question. Huh, maybe technically I did kill her, if she's still using my supply-"

Grimes felt like exploding. "You dosed her up on neuroin, ripped her mind, and built your next-generation M-5 using her thoughts... you're a bastard, Delta."

"Let's not get into that again shall we?" Drake sighed. "I know you disagree with our methods, but-"

"Gee, you think maybe that's why I left you?"

"You didn't leave us, Gamma. Nobody ever leaves." Drake stared out the window. "I know you're trying to find out what went wrong with Eighty-Six. Don't bother. I have her doing exactly what she was meant to do - protecting the Federation from all threats, conceivable and inconceivable."

"And I suppose you'll tell me the Baltimore and those other ships she took out were sacrificed for the greater good," Grimes grumbled.

"Not that it will make you feel better, but yes. And most of their crews got away without injury. You don't need to worry about Eighty-Six. You need to worry about whoever is killing the people who created her, and who is trying to sabotage Operation 'Mountain Road'."

"What's that?"

Drake held out his hand. It liquified. "It would be easier if I just showed you," the Changeling said.

* * * * *

Continued . . .

Last edited by sander233; 09-08-2013 at 06:47 PM. Reason: timeline