Captain
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 754
# 61
10-10-2013, 05:25 AM
Shalo

Sutton does not invite me to sit. I take a seat anyway, smiling at him across the table. "Now, we can talk sensibly," I say.

"They are Feds, then?" Sutton says, with a jerk of his head towards the doorway.

"Conceivably."

He smiles. "Federation doesn't pay ransoms on its officers," he says. "Not officially."

"We need not discuss the Federation."

"So who are we discussing, then?"

"That," I say, "is an open question. I am a member of the KDF, and of the Orion House of Sinoom. Your answers may determine which of those takes precedence."

Sutton seems to think for a while. "The Orion woman who was in charge of the Klinks," he says, eventually. "She was asking after old contacts from the House of Sinoom."

"Cysitra Cira'tenis, for instance. How is Cysitra?"

"Dead. She called in Antell, tried to sell the Klinks out to the Feds."

"How distressing," I murmur. "I would have had questions for Cysitra. Can her data records be made available? That would be the next best thing." I see him hesitate, and I reach for my belt pouch. Eyes and drawn weapons follow the movement of my hand. I take a small object from the pouch, lay it down on the table with a click. Sutton looks at it, seemingly hypnotised by the ruddy gleam of the Lobi crystal.

"I do not pay in promises and agreements as the Federation does," I say. "Consider that... an advance, or a consultation fee. Cysitra's data records."

"I'd -" He swallows. "I'd have to make some arrangements - there were people who -"

"Who would rather their data transfers through Cysitra remained private," I finish for him. "That is understood. They must be compensated, of course." Click, click, click, as I put more crystals down on the table. These people are fools. They are not even watching my left hand, let alone Foojoy: he might as well be invisible to them. "Now, then. To other matters. Were there survivors, from the raid?" The man is a narrow-minded opportunist, so I add, "The Federation is awkward about ransoms; other factions are more realistic." I punctuate my words by putting down another crystal.

Sutton licks his lips, but before he can speak, his wrist communicator chimes. "Just a minute." He holds the device to his ear; all I hear is an agitated chittering. He stands up. "Have to deal with this." He retreats to the other end of the bar, muttering angrily into his wrist. I can't hear what he's saying, but I don't need to. Shohl is clearly not cooperating with his idea of holding her for ransom.

I glance at Foojoy, who nods. I pick up the half-empty bottle on the table, take a good look at it, decide against pouring myself a drink. There are watchful eyes all around me, those of Sutton's subordinates; they are nervous. I concentrate on ignoring them.

There is a faint rumbling sound from far away. The sound, perhaps, of distant thunder. Or of angry Andorians with guns.

Sutton comes back. He has two datapads in his hands, and the look on his face of a man considering how best to cut his losses. "The data cores at Cysitra's place were damaged when the Klinks blew the EPS grid," he says, putting one pad on the table before me. "Forensic reconstruction hasn't finished - maybe never will, it's not a priority. I have a raw dump here of all the retrieved data, it's the best I can do." He sits down again, weighing the second pad nervously in his hand.

"The other matter?" I ask.

Sutton bites his lip. He holds out the second pad. "One of the Klinks didn't make it offworld with the rest. A Nausicaan, gave his name as Lieutenant Kurjik. I took him on. We always need experienced men," he says, defensively.

I take the pad, consult it. "Full-service contract... hmmm. You struck a hard bargain, Commodore." I read on. "He claims his previous contract was automatically severed due to battlefield abandonment... the KDF is very unlikely to accept that. 'Battlefield abandonment' too often is used as a cover for simple desertion."

"The shuttle took off without him."

"It would be bound to, if he was running away from it... well, that need not concern us." I compare the biometric data with the listings on my own pad. "No Lieutenant Kurjik on my records, but I have a biometric match for a Warrior Jikkur. It seems reasonable to conclude that they are the same... given a field promotion, perhaps by his captain, perhaps by his own authority." I look up at Sutton. "So. To practical matters, then. How much?"

"Sorry?"

"For Kurjik's, or Jikkur's, contract." There is more noise from outside. I smile. "You are in a seller's market, Commodore. I suspect your troops are becoming rarer all the time. But I want this one. How much?"

He bites his lip again. "A hundred," he says, pointing at the Lobi. "A hundred of those."

"For one lieutenant's contract? Believe me, Commodore, I am doing you a huge favour in taking him off your hands."

"Eighty, then."

"Forty."

"Seventy."

"Fifty. And the ones already on the table. For the job lot, Commodore, the contract and the data dump. It is an equitable price."

He opens his mouth to make a counter-offer, and then the lights in the bar flicker, go out entirely for a second, then come back on, at low power. "Agreed," he says. I reach for my pouch, start to count out crystals. "Where is this Kurjik now?" I ask, as I count.

"He was on patrol in sector four - south-west quadrant near the main landing pads."

"I should be able to find him, then." I finish counting, pick up the datapads, and stand. "Activate," I say to Foojoy.

"Of activation, confirmation there is," he replies. Sutton's eyes widen.

"Look down, Commodore," I tell him. "Carefully."

His eyes widen further as he sees the thin lines of golden light, one on either side of his waist.

"A precaution," I say. "My pilot has deployed a modified Tholian stasis drone in a stealth field. Its entire emitter output is concentrated in those two threads. Under certain conditions, it will burn itself out harmlessly. Under certain other conditions, it will switch the directions of those two threads, so that they cross over each other. Rather like a pair of scissors." The web filaments are a micron thin and rigid to a degree impossible to mere solid matter. Sutton has started to sweat freely. "I need scarcely point out that the conditions... most favourable to you... involve me reaching my ship and departing unmolested. If you were to make incautious movements, or if I were to encounter difficulties - well." I give him my sweetest smile. "I am sure there are parts of your body below the waist that you would miss. Goodbye, Commodore. It has been a pleasure to do business with you." And I turn and stride out of the bar, leaving him sitting there, sweating.
Captain
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 1,539
# 62
10-10-2013, 09:14 AM
Whew! Hope I never have to deal with someone anything remotely like Shalo in real life. My female Orion character in STO is thankfully nothing like Shalo. I'm not sure what I would do if she were.

Looking forward, as ever, to more chapters.
Captain
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 754
# 63
10-12-2013, 04:05 AM
Tylha

The morgue turns out to be quite easy to find; we simply aim for the medical facilities, and look for an outbuilding with a very low overall temperature. A couple of Sutton's mercenaries are guarding the doorway, but they flee at the sight of Thirethequ wielding the flamethrower. To be fair, I would, too.

It's easy enough, too, to find the three bodies we're looking for, to cross-check against Shalo's files, and to confirm identification. I look down on one body, the charred corpse of a Ferasan warrior, and I wonder: what role did he play in this? A Starfleet crew would be obliged to refuse an illegal order, but what choice did the KDF lower ranks have? Klur apparently executed two of his officers for speaking out... but the whole crew could have taken him down, mutinies have happened in the KDF before, and even been condoned when the commanding officer's conduct was bad enough. But would the KDF have decided Klur's plan was bad enough?

I look down on the dead Ferasan, and can't help but wonder what choices he had.

"What's our next step, sir?" Anthi asks, recalling me to the here and now.

"Oh," I say. "Right. We'll do a sweep around the perimeter of the port, checking for Nausicaan, Orion or even Klingon lifesigns, and trying to match them against Shalo's biometric data. If we find any of Klur's crew, we go in and pick them up. Otherwise, we circle back to the landing pad and try to link up with Shalo at the dropship. Amiga, see if you can hack me a link-up with the local communications network."

"I'm reading armed units converging on this building," Anthi says. "It must be more of Sutton's group."

"Right." I consult the tactical overlay on my visor. "They're covering the main and the emergency entrances. So, we'll avoid them, go out that way -" I point "- and head for the vehicular thoroughfare about fifty metres south of here. Questions?"

"Your pardon, esteemed commander," says Thirethequ, "but I fear your plan is impracticable, since we have no means of egress in the desired direction." He's right, of course, I'm pointing at a solid wall.

"Oh, yes," I say. "Fix that, will you, Anthi?" Anthi is already aiming the cannon pistol.

We're through the hole in the wall before the dust has started to settle, and heading south, towards that main street. I'm hoping that Sutton's mercenaries won't be free with their fire if there are bystanders about. As for us - Kluthli, Amiga and I have our weapons set to heavy stun. The cannon pistol and the flamethrower, obviously, don't really have stun settings, so Anthi and Thirethequ will be aiming them, as much as possible, at inanimate objects, for the purpose of intimidation.

We may be in a fight, but we're still Starfleet.

Shouts from behind us, and a scattering of disruptor bolts. I turn, and fire a volley back from my autocarbine. Caught in the burst of fire, two of Sutton's men drop; a third, caught by the fringe of one bolt, howls and clutches his leg. Even on stun, the neural shock from the antiproton bolts is... nasty. There are others in that group of thugs, but they turn tail and run, polaron and phased-tet beams whistling after them from Kluthli's and Amiga's pistols.

There is movement from the mouth of another alley, which stops suddenly as Thirethequ unleashes a green-hot cloud of flame. "Venture forth, recreants, and face immolation!" he bellows. I think he's enjoying himself.

"Scanning," Kluthli says. "Nausicaan life signs at bearing one three seven, range about one-fifty."

"Let's take a look," I say.

"I have that comms hookup," says Amiga.

"OK," I say, "put me on public address." And I make my announcement, trying not to sound too out of breath as I run for the next corner. "Attention, please. We are engaged in a legitimate security investigation, and we're being impeded by a group of criminals calling themselves Sutton's Consolidated Unaligned Mercenaries. Non-combatants are advised to stay clear of possible armed conflict zones. Thank you for your attention, and we apologize for the inconvenience."

"Are you planning on saying who 'we' are, sir?" Anthi asks, as we reach the corner and peer down the main street.

"Not really," I say. "I'm not too sure how to explain all this to Admiral Semok anyway."

"I have an Administrator Kendrix calling for you, sir," says Amiga.

"What the hell," I say, "let's talk to them."

"What is going on?" a fussy voice shrills in my ear. "What security investigation? There were explosions! Gunfire! Who's going to pay for the property damage?"

"Take that up with whoever hired a group of criminals to handle your security," I say.

"We hired them!"

"Well, that'll simplify your lines of communication no end, won't it? My advice is, call them off and disarm them. And tell them not to try knocking visitors over the head, in future. Bad for the tourist trade, as well as their health."

There is a cluster of Nausicaan life signs on my tactical display, but they're not close enough for detailed biometric scans. And there is another cluster of icons approaching from the west, showing personal shields and small arms. I cut off the noise of Kendrix sputtering incoherently. "Hostiles inbound, roughly one zero zero. Let's dissuade them, shall we?"

In the wan street lighting and the dim after-sunset glow, Sutton's men are barely visible, just loping shapes in the dusk. One of them fires a phaser, and I hear the beam hiss by me. I return fire, and he falls. Anthi aims the cannon pistol at the packed earth of the roadway, and fires, sending up a shower of dust and dirt. More phasers and disruptors flash; our guns answer them. Thirethequ sends a great spray of burning gases across the roadway, where it ignites the fuel cells of some ground vehicle, parked by the roadside. The resulting explosion sends chunks of hot metal flying in all directions, and several of Sutton's men are knocked down by the concussion. Not fatally injured, I hope. Well, I try to hope.

I spray fire towards the ones who are still upright; one of them falls, the others dive for cover. I turn towards the Nausicaan life signs - they're inside a nearby building. "Scanning," Kluthli says. "None of them's one we want."

"Get me the next nearest," I say, my eyes still on the road where Sutton's troops are moving in the dimness.

"On it," says Kluthli. "Mixed group of life signs... at least one Nausicaan... two-seven-two, about one-fifty metres."

"Let's move," I say, and we move.

"Reading something else," Kluthli calls, as we run. "Weapons and personal shield signatures - could be consistent with the ones we've been fighting."

A phaser beam snaps out of an alleyway towards us; we fire back. Anthi aims deliberately off-target, but the crescent wave from the pistol hits something that explodes in a shower of sparks. The streetlights flicker off, come back after a second at low strength. "Sorry, sir," Anthi says. "Must have hit an EPS substation or something."

"Don't worry about it. Just property damage." We move on.

"I have Commodore Sutton on the comm link," says Amiga.

"Oh, joy. All right, patch him in."

"Listen." Sutton's voice sounds in my ear, high and strained. "Lay off, just lay off, all right?"

"Pull your goons out of here before anyone else gets hurt," I tell him.

"Or what?" He sounds indignant. "You're outnumbered thirty to one!"

"Only thirty? When we're up against the Borg, it's usually hundreds. And the Borg are better equipped than your mercenaries."

"Over there, sir," Kluthli interrupts. She's pointing towards another alleyway. Somebody has made a makeshift barricade across the entrance, out of packing cases, I think - it's hard to tell in the dim light.

"Listen," Sutton says. "I did a deal with the Orion witch, she's on her way to you, now just lay off, will you? Or we'll have to -"

Whatever he says next is lost in the noise as Thirethequ blasts the barricade with the flamethrower. It's blazing merrily when Anthi fires the cannon pistol, breaking it apart and sending burning fragments flying down the alley. I check my scans. A group of Sutton's troops, all right, now retreating slowly in some disorder - and one Nausicaan among them. I run to the mouth of the alley, firing a warning burst over their heads. "Stand still!" I bellow.

In the dim light, I can see them milling around in confusion. One of them raises a gun, thinks better of it, lowers it again.

"- told you, I did a deal! The Orion witch is on her way to you! She'll cut me in half if anything goes wrong!"

"Cut you in half?" I say. "You want to know what I'm going to do to you?"

"Confirmation, sir," says Kluthli. "The Nausicaan - a match for a Warrior Jikkur, in Shalo's files."

I shut Sutton off. "Jikkur!" I shout. My hand is stiff with tension on the stock of my gun. This is our first chance to take one of Klur's crew... one of the people who murdered a world.

Slowly, reluctantly, a tall figure steps out of the shuffling group. The dying flames from some piece of the barricade strike red reflections on Nausicaan bladed armour. He glares at me.

Unexpectedly, a voice comes from behind me. "There you are. I will handle matters from here." Shalo.

She sweeps imperiously past me into the alleyway. "Lieutenant Jikkur," she says. The Nausicaan freezes in his tracks. Shalo turns to me. "Your Federation interrogation techniques will not break a Nausicaan warrior."

"Don't be too sure about that," I say. We've done it before.

"Well, in any case, it is not necessary," says Shalo. "Lieutenant Jikkur! I have purchased your contract from Commodore Sutton." She holds up a datapad. "Inspect this and verify it."

The Nausicaan takes one slow step forward, then another. I glance about. Thirethequ and Amiga are covering the other mercenaries, Anthi is guarding our rear. In any case, there are no other armed groups in the immediate vicinity on my tactical scan. The Nausicaan reaches the mouth of the alley and stands before Shalo, towering over her.

"Verified," he says. "Sir."

"Good," says Shalo. "It cost me fifty-five Lobi crystals, and I see I must confirm your... field promotion. Now, then. Sutton negotiated a full-service contract, which I have purchased. That means any duty of confidentiality you might have had to a former employer has lapsed. Where is Captain Klur?"

Jikkur stiffens. "I did not have navigation functions on the QIb laH'e' or the shuttle," he says.

"A general impression will suffice," says Shalo.

"We took an evasive course through several emission nebulas and other phenomena," says Jikkur. "When we left the carrier, it was waiting under stealth conditions in a gravitational nexus. I believe it is the gravitic anomaly near the star Massidia Alpha."

Shalo nods. "That makes sense," she says. She turns to me. "You see? A Nausicaan mercenary is loyal to his contract - it is a virtue of theirs."

Possibly their only virtue. "What are you going to do with him now?" I ask. "Contract or not, he's a wanted war criminal as far as the Federation is concerned."

"He is, however, a KDF officer under my command," says Shalo. "And a resourceful one - escaping Klur's crew, getting himself a secure position on this world, that was inventive."

Jikkur seems to swell with pride. "Thank you, sir!"

"Getting caught by the Federation, though," Shalo continues, "was less than competent."

Jikkur's eyes flicker, and he goes for his gun, a fraction of a second too late. Shalo draws her bat'leth and strikes with it in one single fluid movement. Black blood geysers up in the dim light, and the Nausicaan's headless body topples to the ground.

"There is only one punishment for incompetence in the KDF," Shalo says calmly.

I find my voice, somehow. "Rather a waste of fifty-five Lobi," I say, shakily.

Shalo shrugs. "Lobi crystals are of no particular worth," she says. "That is why the Crystal Consortium uses them as the base material for its unorthodox currency."

"Wait a minute," I say. "You mean you paid Sutton in ordinary Lobi crystals? Not Consortium ones?"

"Yes." Shalo turns away from Jikkur's corpse. "We should return to the dropship and make our way to Massidia Alpha at the best possible speed. I am anxious to arrive there before Klur can depart... and I should like to leave here before Commodore Sutton runs some basic checks on those crystals."
Captain
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 1,539
# 64
10-12-2013, 01:26 PM
Best chapter yet, in my opinion. More, maestro!

Possible typo:

can't help but wonder what choices he had. [since "he" is the dead Feresan, wouldn't "he'd had" or "he had had" be more grammatical?]
Captain
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 754
# 65
10-15-2013, 02:44 AM
Ronnie

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

"I think you broke it," I say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No," says Tallasa firmly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Shohl's going to need to know about that," Tallasa says.
Captain
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 1,539
# 66
10-15-2013, 11:03 AM
Can't wait to read what happens next. This is so good. (wriggles like a happy puppy)

One query:

"Peculation." Tallasa spits the word out. "I have particular reasons to dislike peculation." [is there a specific reason why she says "peculation" twice instead of "speculation"? I'm asking, because you've proven that you never do anything without good reason.]
Commander
Join Date: Jun 2012
Posts: 491
# 67
10-15-2013, 06:37 PM
Google it. It means "embezzling", more or less. (theft, misappropriation, etc etc)
Join Date: January 2011
Captain
Join Date: Jul 2012
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# 68
10-15-2013, 09:43 PM
It's a very snarky site, unfortunately...but I must admit, your response made me think of it.

http://lmgtfy.com/?q=peculation

(But it does deliver on useful info. )

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Captain
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Posts: 754
# 69
10-16-2013, 03:58 AM
Tylha

King Estmere shudders as another gravitational eddy sweeps across her path. I check the status lights. Shields and structural integrity are still holding, but the distortion and the energy surges outside are getting fierce.

The central anomaly at Massidia Alpha is a knot in subspace, a multi-dimensional tangle of fields and energies where some unguessable fragment from the Big Bang has died. It emits gravitational and other energies in an irregular pattern of pulses. It is, of course, an impermanent thing - the disruption in subspace will smooth out, the pulses will slacken and cease, sometime in the next billion years or so. Right now, though, it's a problem.

"Signal from the Garaka, skipper," says F'hon Tlaxx.

"On screen."

Shalo's face appears on the viewer, hidden occasionally by bursts of interference. "The warp contrail of the DujHod Chariot is no longer discernible," she says. "Since there are no visible signs of an explosion, it must have veered off somewhere around here - presumably, towards the asteroid field Jikkur spoke of."

Left to the ordinary workings of gravity, matter clumps together, asteroids colliding and coalescing to form planets. Around Massidia Alpha, though, this isn't possible. The anomaly sucks in matter, but keeps it in a constant state of ferment; it is ringed by shoals of asteroids, their orbits continually changing with each gravitational eddy. Between the energy pulses of the anomaly, and the shifting clouds of wandering rocks around it, Massidia Alpha is a very good place to hide.

"Any idea of their heading?" I ask Shalo.

"Not as yet. I recommend that we spiral slowly out from the central zone, and I will direct ship's sensors to search for appropriate warp signatures." Once more, I'm handicapped by the fact that Shalo's data on Klur's ships is more complete than anything I have.

"All right," I say. "We'll follow your lead, then."

"I suggest you stick close. If we find Klur, I would rather confront him with the firepower of both our ships. Garaka out."

On the tactical display, I see Shalo's ship veer off, away from the central anomaly, towards the relative safety of the debris fields. I sigh. We seem to have spent far too long following Shalo's lead....

"Zazaru," I say.

My science officer looks up. "Sir?"

"We're looking for a Kar'fi carrier, right? It feels like we've spent forever looking up the rear end of one of those.... Even if we don't have the detailed technical specs Shalo's working from, surely we've got enough general data on those beasts that we could scan for one?"

Zazaru's soft brown eyes grow thoughtful. "System surveys are always easier when you know what you're looking for, that's true. Still, there's a lot of sensor noise in this place, sir, and -" She holds up her hands in a helpless gesture. "Space is very big."

The classic problem. In theory, it's impossible to hide in space; spaceships are solid, they emit energy and gases, and space is empty, so they have nothing to hide behind. In theory. In practice, there are cloaking devices, phase shifters, and a whole library of dirty tricks you can play with enemies' sensor devices. Klur's ship is huge and hideous, but it's just a tiny chip of metal somewhere out there in the rocks, and if he doesn't want to be found, it's not going to be easy finding him.

I sit back in my command chair and fret, while King Estmere swings slowly out into the rocks, following the plasma wake of the Garaka.

"There's an awful lot of sensor noise," Zazaru says, after a while.

My antennae twitch. "But?" I ask, hopefully.

"I'm not sure, sir," Zazaru says. "I have a reading on something.... I don't think it's just a rock."

"Bearing?"

"Roughly three seven five mark two zero, sir."

"Let's drift on over and check it out," I say. "Inform the Garaka we're moving to check a sensor reading."

King Estmere turns in a shallow arc, onto the new heading. Zazaru is frowning, intent on her readouts.

"There is something there," she says. "Maybe two somethings...."

"The carrier and the shuttle, maybe? If the shuttle was unable to redock, for some reason...."

"No," says Zazaru thoughtfully, "no.... Both of them are high in energy.... can't get a full emissions profile through all the noise. One of them is hugely massive, much bigger than a shuttle... the other one's weird, half the time it looks like it has no mass at all...."

I sit bolt upright in my chair. The Kar'fi carrier is too big, its Fek'lhri engines too noisy, for a conventional cloaking device to work on it - but the Fek'lhri technology enables it to phase and desolidify. If Klur wanted to confuse detector scans - and he most certainly does - he'd be using the phasing technology for all it's worth.

"Go to yellow alert," I order. Can we launch fighters in all this asteroid debris? Probably not yet.

"Signal from the Garaka, skipper," says F'hon Tlaxx. "She wants to know where you're going."

"Tell her we have a sensor contact that might be a phased ship." I find I'm gripping the armrest of the command chair, hard. I have to force myself to relax. It might be nothing, I tell myself. It might be nothing.

"That other thing is huge," Zazaru says. "Certainly bigger than a Kar'fi carrier. The energy readings are...." Her brow is furrowed in thought. "I'm sure I've seen something like this before...."

"Garaka is coming about, onto our heading," Anthi reports from the tac station.

"Shalo must know something," I say. I punch the button on my console. "All stations, red alert. Ready for combat."

"I wonder," says Zazaru. "If we could risk an active sensor pulse, I might be able to get an image of the target area - reflect a neutrino-emission scan off one of the larger asteroids. It wouldn't be very clear, but it might be enough to confirm -"

"Do it."

"Aye, aye, sir." Zazaru's hands fly over her console. "Configured... emitting pulse... data coming in. It'll take a little while to construct the visual." She peers closely at her display. "I'm not reading any changes in energy levels... I don't think they spotted us." A pause, seconds that stretch out like years. "Visual's ready."

"On screen."

The image is hazy, raddled with interference, but it's clear enough to show a black hull, rib-like fins, red plasma clouds spilling from the drive. A Kar'fi carrier, without a doubt. And behind it -

My jaw drops. "What is one of those doing out here?"
Captain
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 1,539
# 70
10-16-2013, 07:57 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by hfmudd View Post
Google it. It means "embezzling", more or less. (theft, misappropriation, etc etc)
Thanks for the clarification. I'd never heard of peculation before Shevet used it in his story.

--------

And I'm really serious about this, Shevet: CBS/Paramount need to take a long, hard look at your continuing story and make a TV series based on as much of it as possible (preferably without any changes). This makes even the best parts of ST:V and ST:E seem bland by comparison. I wouldn't want to have to have cable TV to see this kind of series, but I'd definitely buy it when it came out on DVD. As it is, I guess all I can do is dream. And what excellent dreams they are.

Last edited by philipclayberg; 10-16-2013 at 08:11 AM.
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