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(Author's Note: The name "Sky Falls In Thunder" is a tribute to Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda. The original was an off-screen character mentioned in an episode or two. You can always just call her T'Sariv Shalan if you prefer.)
Gently Shmun placed T'Lana on her feet. He tried to ignore the smooth, pale flesh exposed by her rent gown but the heat from the burning temple behind them was as nothing compared to the fever that the sight of her perfect skin ignited in his blood. Quickly he turned away, gazing across the sands and trying to regain control. He drew a ragged, shuddering breath.
"Forgive me, Priestess. I... I..."
"There is no offense where non is taken." He stiffened as T'Lana placed her hands upon his shoulders, her fingers lightly tracing the smooth, firm musculature. He turned back to her, striving to deny what he felt, unable to resist.
"Priestess.. we... we must not! This is passion, not logic!"
She slapped him, her eyes flashing. "Do you deny the fire that burns in your blood? Where is the logic in denying what must be? You are the master of my heart. You, and you alone." She stepped close to him and of their own volition his arms encircled her, crushing the priestess to his breast. He felt the flutter of her breath upon his chest and knew that all was lost.
"But... this is improper."
T'Lana looked up at him, her eyes reflecting the eternity in the stars above.
"If this improper, then I do not wish to be proper."
“Captain? Excuse me, Captain?”
Sky Falls In Thunder, Captain of the USS Rage of Angels snapped the old style book closed turned to glare at the intercom. “Come.”
The door whisked open to reveal Lt. Elena Danziger, the Delta Shift Science watch. The pretty redhead was nervously shifting from foot to foot. Between the chewing out her last commander had given her for calling “unnecessary alerts” and the fact that she had only recently earned a place on the bridge rotation she was feeling as nervous a tribble at a targ party. The fact that her new captain was a 7 foot tall, pure strain Augment who’s adoptive Vulcan name translated to “Whispering Storm” did nothing to ease her fears.
The Captain was by no means a muscle-bound grotesque, but rather had the solid but sleek build of a career athlete who maintained a balance of strength and agility. And that scared the hell out of Lt. Elana Danziger.
Like many, Danziger was still wrapping her head around an Augment alive and not on a penal colony, much less in Starfleet. Even though their role as Humanity’s Official Cultural Boogieman had gradually been supplanted by the Borg, Augments were still pretty scary to any human who knew her homeworld’s history. And more scary to those few who had learned of the Genesis Incident or the Heran War of 40 years ago. It seemed like you couldn’t have a century go by without an Augment of some bigger, scarier model showing up to start something awful. There were dark whispers that Sky Falls In Thunder's acceptance into Starfleet suggested a growing level of desperation on the Admiralty's part. And other, darker rumors floated that she was some sort of prototype, a test of a new generation of super-soldier.
“Report.” The Captain’s voice was surprisingly soft, not what one expected from a woman who looked like she could hunt mugatus with a piece of string and some pocket lint. Danziger gulped. According to the “Old Hands” who’d served with the Captain on her last vessel, the USS Fury Of Avalon, the more quietly she spoke, the more irritated she was. Pleasepleaseplease let that Vulcan foster parent of hers have taught her all about Surak so she doesn't twist my head off. I heard she did that to a Klingon ambassador once…
“Lieutenant. I need to know what’s happening. You didn’t come in here with chocolates and flowers so I assume that your here on business. The fact that your business is Science suggests that there’s something Sciencey happening that you think I should know about. I’m not going to tear you in half and eat you unless your delay is putting my crew at risk. Report.” The glint of humor or gentle smile didn’t even register on the girl’s sensors. As the Captain pulled on her trousers and boots, Danziger’s training took over and told the extraneous parts of her brain to just shut the melon-chatter the hell up already and just make the report.
“Sorry, er, yes Captain! There are some strange sensor readings coming from Shuttle Bay 3. Some sort of tachyon signature, but I can’t get a fix on it. I paged the Shuttle Bay, but nobody’s answering.”
“Very well, Lieutenant. You were quite correct in summoning me. If I didn’t wish to be available I wouldn’t sleep in my Ready Room when the XO’s away. Let’s take a look. And kindly summon Val to the bridge.”
Danziger scampered back to the bridge where she keyed her communicator to page the ship’s Chief Science Officer. It didn’t even occur to her to wonder why the Captain didn’t do that herself. She then piped her display to the central monitor as the Captain reclaimed the center chair.
“Captain to Engineering. Do we have anyone in Shuttle Bay 3? We’re getting some unusual readings up here.”
“Engineering here, Captain. Chief Pain.. Ah, Commander Payne was working on rigging a shuttle to deploy one of those prototype sensor probes he’s been toying with. I’ll see if… Captain? I can’t raise him.”
The Captain stabbed at a button on the arm of her command chair. “All hands, Yellow Alert. Security to Shuttle Bay 3. Medical team to Shuttle Bay 3.” A few more taps on her command interface and the main screen brought up a view of the shuttle bay. One of the shuttles was literally bouncing up and down in the center of the bay. As she watched, the bay doors slid open and the shuttle, still bouncing, made its way out of the bay into open space.
“Get a tractor on that thing! And see if there’s anyone on board!” she barked as the ship’s Science Officer entered the bridge and took her station. The Synthetic was synced with the ships communications system so there was no need to waste time briefing her.
“There is an increasing amount of tachyon interference coming from the shuttle, Captain. Sensors are unable to make a lock on the shuttle. I believe that the SRSN is aboard and that it’s jamming function is active. I can neither tractor the vehicle back in nor determine if there are any life signs present. The shuttle’s coarse is growing increasingly erratic. I believe we will only be able to track it for another…. Ah. I can no longer track the shuttle.” Valkyrum Command Remote 541’s voice displayed mild curiosity, and even a small bit of pleasure. Unsurprising considering that before being recovered by Starfleet, the Synthetic had spent untold centuries tumbling through space, alone in the night. Boredom was her one single fear.
The intercom chirped for attention. “Security to the bridge. Ensign Thes reporting. Captain, the bay’s empty. There are some tools here, and the access log indicates that Commander Payne entered the bay, but didn’t leave. And the prototype SRSN unit is gone.”
“Very well, Ensign. I want a shipwide search for my chief engineer, just in case he’s still on board. Val? Find a way to track that shuttle, extrapolate it’s course, sniff for spoor, whatever it takes. I want my engineer back, and I want that prototype back. We do NOT want a hostile power getting their hands on either. Helm, lay in a general search pattern, best guess as to the shuttle’s last bearing until Val can firm things up for you.”
For the next 3 hours Val provided a steady stream of technobabble that even Sky’s Augmented intellect had trouble keeping up with. Finally, Val stopped and simply said “Handshake.”
“Excuse me?” Sky sat forward in her chair. Someone had brought her uniform jacket from her Ready Room, but she hadn’t bothered pulling it on over her halter. No one had commented, but despite the crisis Ensign Taylor had started glancing sideways at her and smelling just a little sweaty and inappropriate. Dusky skin was apparently his downfall.
The Synthetic turned towards the center chair. “Captain, if we transmit the signal for the SRSN to activate, the shuttle will deploy it and it should respond with a brief handshake protocol before it begins self-replicating. It will broadcast the handshake each time it replicates. It should only take 2 or perhaps 3 handshakes for me to locate the shuttle.”
Sky nodded. “That’s assuming that Chief Pain… ah, the Commander had time to install it properly before things went haywire.”
The Synthetic’s voice was solemn. “Correct. If it does not deploy, it’s self-replication will rupture the shuttle’s hull within 2 replications.”
“Payne may be injured or heading into God only knows what. We’ll have to take the chance and hope for the best. Send the activation code.”
The tense silence on the Bridge seemed to stretch for hours, but it was only a minute or two before Val’s console chirped. “Handshake received. I have an initial bearing…. Captain. The shuttle appears to be moving into an area that the Hirogen have claimed as a hunting ground.”
Sky sat back in the command chair looking like a Sultana from an ancient Orientalist painting, pondering the fate of an unfortunate peasant or Crusader. “Lay in a pursuit course, maximum warp. But first… activate the holoprojector. A nice, little Intrepid class, I should think…”
As the Rage Of Angels sped in pursuit of it’s wayward engineer, Val turned to the captain. “How much latinum did it take to get your hands on that?”
Sky shrugged. “None. I bartered a signed, first edition, first print of Vulcan Love Slave for it. I understand that Quark’s bar charges 5 slips of gold pressed latinum just to be in the same room with it, and 5 whole strips to actually look at a page. Which of course then leads to a Very Special Offer regarding the holosuites. I should have held out for 2 holoprojectors, but I felt guilty. I can always just have Shaikatra sign another copy any time I need it, after all.”
The Synthetic nodded her approval.
An hour passed, then two. Finally they received another handshake that let them correct their course. Before, long, sensors picked up the shuttle… ducking and weaving for all it was worth while 3 Hirogen escorts took stabs at it with their tractor beams. Sky’s smile was soemwhat regretful as she called the Red Alert. The Rage of Angels had been on it’s way to rendezvous with the USS Thevin’s Stand, a Defiant class escort which would be returning Sky’s XO from her shore leave. They’d engage the Hirogen before Shaikatra got back, and the irritable shen would be giving her an earful over dinner tonight. Shaikatra really hated Hirogen.