When the fiercely xenophobic Krellonian Star Alliance faces a planetary emergency on one of their colony worlds which has left their medical community baffled, they have no choice but to turn to the Federation for desperate needed help.
The starship Eagle
, after much needed shore leave and a comprehensive systems overhaul, is dispatched to cross half a quadrant to assist the Krellonians before the situation can get out of hand.
But as Captain Owens and his crew are quick to learn, much more may be afoot on this remote world than they were led to believe as a threat to not just to the Federation but to the entire galaxy begins to emerge.
Take the first step in a journey that will go beyond time and space in Book One of the Quantum Divergence
And don’t miss the Road to Quantum Divergence
stories, Civil War
Expanded Universes Characters:
The Star Eagle Adventures
18 Dec 2017 Updated:
24 Feb 2018
1. Somewhere, Somewhen by CeJay
2. Prologue: Anything Goes - 1 by CeJay
3. Prologue: Anything Goes - 2 by CeJay
4. Part One: Trust No One - 1 by CeJay
5. Part One: Trust No One - 2 by CeJay
6. Part One: Trust No One - 3 by CeJay
7. Part One: Trust No One - 4 by CeJay
8. Part One: Trust No One - 5 by CeJay
9. Part One: Trust No One - 6 by CeJay
10. Part One: Trust No One - 7 by CeJay
11. Part One: Trust No One - 8 by CeJay
Somewhere, Somewhen by CeJay
All of reality was dying.
That much had already been determined. The equations and calculations simply could not allow for any other conclusion. To deny this simple fact was tantamount to denying the existence of reality itself.
And the study of reality was their entire raison d'être, their paramount purpose and their most sacred of responsibilities.
Perhaps it had been different once. Before such considerations as the past, the present and the future had warranted separate and altogether different avenues of thought and philosophy. But once those distinctions had been left behind and deemed irrelevant when contemplating the total sum of reality, considered as too much of an impediment to fully comprehending and appreciating everything that was, is and ever will be, once they had reached that next stage of cognitive evolution, their duty had become inescapably clear.
And who was there to say otherwise?
In the age before this one, when linear thoughts about time and space had still prevailed, there had been other voices alongside their own. There had been such a time when life had been abundant within reality.
Long before the great leap forward, before the vast obligation to all of the meta-universe had even played a role in their thoughts, there had been galaxies and stars and planets on which other beings toiled their daily lives away. And they had reached out to many of those, even if their inferiority had never been in question. There had been a community once, spreading across the galactic hemispheres.
Other life had simply run its course over the millennia. Stars and entire galaxies had come and gone while at the same time they had grown and spread and evolved until they were all that remained across the universe.
And once all of the cosmos was explored and understood and all thought and contemplation on a single universe had been fully and entirely exhausted, it was only natural to look beyond those feeble borders and seek out a purpose within the infinity of not just their universe but within all of reality.
It was just around that time when the mere concept of time itself lost its consequence.
And it was shortly thereafter—if one insisted on thinking about it all in linear terms, which they had of course long since abandoned—that they had arrived at their ineludible supposition as to the ultimate fate of all of existence.
It is, it will and it has always has been dying.
And it can be changed.
But in order to do so, something drastic has to be done, something that in all of the endlessness of reality, in the countless number of universes had never been attempted or possibly even considered.
It must end and it must commence anew.
But what if there is a different way? A voice asked.
This in itself was peculiar since discord and disagreement were not something they engaged in. The conclusion, after all, had been accepted as an inevitability as certain as that stars were born and died.
Perhaps, the voice said, the conclusions are correct. Perhaps, the voice said, the solution is not.
But this too seemed inconceivable.
The end of reality was assured. Everything would perish, including those who had taken on the obligation to guard reality itself. This could not be allowed.
The vastness of reality does not permit half-measures or minor corrections to the flow of things.
No, such attempts, born out of ignorance and incompetence, attempting to corrupt the natural balance of space—and yes, also of time—have only weakened and in fact accelerated the ultimate demise of all things. Small-minded beings in countless universes, unwilling, but first and foremost, incapable of fully comprehending the impact of their reckless actions by meddling with the delicate fabric of space and time which holds all of the meta-universe together have also, inadvertently, lead to its doom.
It was fully understood that the workings of linear time can be safely disregarded when it is a hindrance to appreciating the full scope of reality. However, it mustn’t ever be perverted in the manner it has been, by using it as if it were nothing more than a tool, an inconvenient barrier which can be broken down and rearranged at will with enough force and determination.
Within those simple and inferior minds, the voice said, hundreds of millennia will come and go before reality will even begin to bend to such an extent that it will eventually break beyond all repair.
Such thoughts were not germane to deliberations taking place outside of time, without beginning or end. The fates of lower beings, of single galaxies or even universes, simply warranted no consideration when fulfilling the enormous responsibility of ensuring the endurance of the entirety of everything.
All that can be seen, has been seen, the other voices said. All that is, all that has come to pass and all that will come to pass has been seen, has been considered, has been understood.
The fate of reality is incontrovertible.
The panacea has been determined.
And dissension is proscribed.
So the voice was no longer heard.
Prologue: Anything Goes - 1 by CeJay
She stepped out of the darkness with slow but determined steps, exuding a kind of confidence which could have been called alluring.
The effect was without a doubt only enhanced by the elegant, crimson evening gown she wore and which sparkled brightly under the spotlight as if it was covered in diamonds.
The dress, of course, wasn’t the only reason she commanded attention. It would have been difficult not to take notice of her golden locks flowing over her perfect shoulders or those intense and gleaming purple eyes seemingly focused on no one, accompanied by a smile that seemed to speak to everyone.
She just stood there a moment, moving hardly a muscle, as if she was the center of reality itself, allowing the universe to gaze at her and her magnificent beauty and be in awe.
Then the up-tempo, jazzy tune began and it had her quickly snapping her fingers in perfect rhythm as her smile widened. When she began to sing, her voice was low and husky but no less alluring than her appearance:
“Times have changed,
And we've often rewound the clock,
Since the Puritans got a shock,
When they landed on Plymouth Rock.
Any shock they would try to stem,
'Stead of landing on Plymouth Rock,
Plymouth Rock would land on them.”
She took a quick step forward in line with the song’s diminuendo to reveal one of her long, bare legs through the almost provocative slit running up her dress and just before the music swelled once more with the brass instruments kicking in.
“In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
As the music picked up she too became more active, beginning to pace the stage, her smile turning into a wide and bemused grin.
“Good authors too who once knew better words,
Now only use four letter words,
The world’s gone mad today,
And good's bad today,
And black's white today,
And day's night today,
When most guys today,
That women prize today,
Are just silly gigolos.
Though I'm no great romancer
I know that you're bound to answer
When I propose,
When grandmama whose age is eighty
In night clubs is getting matey with gigolos,
When mothers pack and leave poor father
Because they decide they'd rather be tennis pros,
If driving fast cars you like,
If low bars you like,
If bare limbs you like,
If Mae West you like,
Or me undressed you like,
To molest at night,
Nobody will oppose!
When every night,
The set that's smart,
Is indulging in nudist parties in studios,
The elegant red dress came off her with a quick tug, revealing a skimpy white and blue bathing suit she was wearing underneath even while the stage was being invaded from all sides by cheering male and female dances, all dressed in naval inspired costumes.
The music once more sped up and the group of dancers quickly fell into line with the singer remaining center stage and together they broke out into an elaborate tap dancing routine which had them flying all over the stage, the rhythmically tapping sounds of their shoes complimenting the song flawlessly.
For a full five minutes, legs and arms were swinging left and right, there were twists, spins, jumps, shuffles, and kicks every which way, all while staying in perfect tempo with the music and tapping away in concert.
The big number concluded with the singer being picked up by two large men and being thrown clear a few meters up in the air, only to be caught easily just above the stage where she continued to pantomime the tap dance in midair for a brief while until her shoes made contact with the stage once more and she finished the dance with an increasingly faster set of moves as if in competition with her background dancers.
The music cut out and for a while, all that could be heard were the rhythmic taps of a dozen dance shoes moving in unison until every last dancer froze on the stage in mid-step.
Then the entire group began breaking up again, cheering loudly while the singer roamed back and forth in-between the dancers and playfully kissing a few of them on the cheek.
The music began anew and the group jerked forward to continue their song in a loud and rapid chorus:
“Just think of those shocks you've got
And those knocks you've got
And those blues you've got
From those news you've got
And what pains you've got
If any brains you've got
From those little radios.”
She continued solo for the next verse as she returned center stage and the dancers arranged themselves around her.
“They think he's gangster number one, so they've made him
The favorite son, and that goes to show.”
The chorus stepped back as she moved forward and they belted out the final lines of the song together.
Anything, Anything, Anything Goes!”
The act ended to modest applause from the small number of spectators and the clearly exhausted performers took deep breaths as they congratulated each other.
Michael Owens continued to applaud as the singer walked over to him. He offered DeMara Deen a beaming smile and then quickly passed her a towel which she gratefully took off his hands. “Bravo. That was one breathtaking number.”
She returned his smile as she began to wipe the sweat off her face and arms. "Breathtaking is right," she said, still drawing big gulps of much-needed air after her performance. "But I still think we're going slightly out of sync in the third verse."
“Well if you did, I certainly couldn’t tell. And I’m sure nobody in the audience will either when you perform this in the concert next week.”
She shook her head. “I’m not so certain. We have a few Vulcans on board who are quite sensitive to this kind of thing. They’re known to have a very acute sense of rhythm,” she said and hung the towel over her bare shoulder.
“Something tells me this type of performance may not exactly be in their wheelhouse,” Michael said and handed her a bottle of water next.
She took that one too. “I don’t see why not.”
“I for one don’t recall Cole Porter being quite so racy.”
She gulped down the water and then pinned him with a scowl. “You call this racy?”
He looked her up and down.
“Oh please, so I’m showing a little bit of skin. What’s wrong with that?”
“I didn’t say that there was anything wrong with it.”
“Right. You just would have preferred if I had stuck to that Rossini aria you’ve been talking about, wearing a stuffy costume Earth women used to wear five hundred years ago. I told you, I don’t have that kind of range.”
But Michael Owens disagreed. While he had known DeMara Deen since she had been a child and had never really considered her as a singer, he and the rest of Eagle’s crew had been pleasantly surprised to discover just a year earlier that she had an amazingly beautiful, not to mention powerful singing voice when she had performed a small part in another shipboard performance. She had also turned out to be incredibly versatile, something she had clearly already demonstrated while performing an old Broadway standard which required her to simultaneously execute a challenging dance routine.
“I think you would have made a great Zelmira,” he said. “I’ve heard you hit some of those high notes and I’m still convinced you’d be a fabulous coloratura soprano if you applied yourself.”
“Not everybody shares your fondness for Earth opera, Michael.”
“Plenty of people do. And if you gave it a try, I think you could really move people with your voice instead of getting a rise out of them by ripping your clothes off,” he said and regretted those words the moment they had come over his lips and he saw the darkening frown on her face.
“That’s what this is really about, isn’t it?” she said, her voice taking on a sharper edge. “You don’t like seeing me this way. Michael, I’m not a child anymore.”
He quickly shook his head, trying to dispel any notion that that’s how he still saw her. “Of course not. But you have to admit that this isn’t really you.”
“Why not?” she said pointedly, demanding an answer.
And he didn’t have one.
“Because it doesn’t fit the image you have of me?” she said, answering her own question. “Because you, and many others have come to expect me to look and behave in a certain way and if I do anything that doesn’t fit that mold, I’m suddenly no longer myself? But that’s not true. I’m still DeMara Deen. I’m still that same person you first met when you visited my planet all those years ago. But I’m also older and there is more than one side to me.”
“I ‘m not denying any of that, Dee.”
She crossed her arms in front of her. “I think sometimes you have a hard time seeing me as anything other than that small girl I once was. Like a little sister you need to protect or worse, as the daughter you’ve never had and for whom you are responsible. I don’t need a father figure in my life, Michael. I would think of all people, you would understand that.”
Those words hit harder than he would have expected.
Deen, of course, knew well of his troubled relationship with his own father which had mostly been the result of early childhood neglect which he had overcompensated for in later years by getting heavily involved in his life to such a degree that it was rumored within Starfleet that Admiral Owens had pulled various strings for his son to make it to the captain’s chair.
He had never been able to confirm or deny those rumors to his own satisfaction and now he would never get the chance since Jonathan Owens had recently passed away suddenly and just days after Michael had visited him on Earth.
Deen winced ever so slightly as if she had realized that perhaps she had aimed a little too low but then quickly shook it off as she apparently moved passed it. She returned the towel and the water bottle to him. “We still have plenty of rehearsals to do here and little time until the premiere.”
He nodded. “Of course. For what it’s worth, I still think it will be a rousing success.”
“Thanks,” she said, but her smile wasn’t quite as brilliant as it had been before. She turned back towards the stage to confer with her performers and crew.
Michael watched her for a moment longer before he dropped off what he was holding and left Eagle’s cargo bay which had been converted into a rehearsal stage for the upcoming performances which would be put on once Eagle had finished its current assignment. He was unable to completely shake her words and the conflicting feelings they had aroused within him.
Prologue: Anything Goes - 2 by CeJay
Piqus VII was an unremarkable world by any measures of significance. Located at the outer edge of the Krellonian Star Alliance, it was far removed from the center of power and culture of the core worlds. It had been settled by Krellonians nearly two hundred years earlier, at the very height of the expansionist wave that had driven the people of Krellon to spread their sphere of influence over their neighboring systems. It had been an unbreakable devotion to a divine destiny which had fueled their drive to conquer the stars and which had ultimately resulted in the creation of an empire forged by brutal conquest and the enslavement of races considered inferior and requiring the steady yet firm guidance of a people preordained to rule the galaxy by the Infallible Creator.
That religious fervor had of course long since passed and in fact considered an archaic byproduct of a past age by most present-day Krellonians. Slavery, too, had been abolished and its mere existence once upon a time was but a historic blemish best left forgotten least it evoked a sense of guilt and shame within the descendants of those who had allowed those atrocities to be perpetrated.
And Piqus VII which had once been a prosperous outpost of the Star Alliance, thanks to the mineral abundance of the system’s asteroid belt which helped sustain a resource hungry empire, had also become part of the past when those rich deposits had finally been exhausted after decades of unrelenting extraction efforts.
The planet’s generally inhospitable surface had never made it an attractive prospect for anything other than a massive ore-refining operation and the inevitable growth of industrial and commercial interests which came with a prosperity firmly linked to the local mining trade.
Once that had dried-up, many had left to seek their fortunes elsewhere rather than stay behind on a diminishing and bleak world without much of a future. What remained were a handful of crumbling population centers, made up of a very small amount of influential families who had accumulated their wealth through their old industries, a sizeable but increasingly poor class of administrator, and a much larger number of Outlanders, Krellonian subject races, former slaves who had eventually become the cheap labor force toiling in mines.
For most, leaving Piqus was an unaffordable impossibility, even if work was hard to come by these days. Piqus had always been a far-flung corner outpost of the Star Alliance. Travelling towards the core worlds was expansive and leaving the Alliance altogether was almost impossible. Beyond the Piqus system, the galaxy opened up into the star-jammed region of the Amargosa Diaspora, a stellar nursery so dense, it made navigation not just difficult but outright dangerous. And somewhere beyond all those bright stars was the home of another empire few within Krellon space knew or cared much about. A place called the Federation.
Garla looked out of the viewport of her personal yacht to take in the dull, brownish-red planet her ship was approaching and not without a tinge of dread. After all, as far as she was concerned, Piqus VII epitomized everything that was wrong with the Krellon Star Alliance, and as a woman who greatly cared for her people and their future, she found it difficult not to look at this world without appreciating the nearly insurmountable problems they were all facing.
It took only a moment for a sense of swelling hope to replace her dreary concerns. Things were going to change, and soon. After much hard work, they had now finally entered into the final and most crucial stages of making the most radically sweeping changes to the very fabric of Krellonian society and which would promise to forever alter her people's destiny for the better.
It was the very reason she had come to this backwater world, far removed from the prying eyes of the ineffective government and military forces on the homeworld. This then was the perfect place to make those dreams she had chased since childhood finally into reality.
Her reverie of a more glorious and perfect future was interrupted by the sound of an incoming message from the computer console in her quarters.
She tore herself away from the viewport and swiftly walked over to the console to learn who was trying to contact her now. She frowned when she identified the sender.
It was one of those very same ineffective government officials she had tried to leave behind in the capital. As a Sentinel of the Eye of Krellon, the most powerful security and intelligence agency within the Alliance, she had far-reaching authority and autonomy in all her work and was mostly free to tend to her business with very limited oversight. But it also meant that as much as she may have despised the current policies of her government after all was said and done, she was still beholden to them. Along with the Star Navy, the Eye was the principal instrument of government power and influence in the Alliance, and as such, she was obligated to answer enquires of any member of the Central Council promptly and with little delay.
Garla canceled the incoming message.
She was in no mood to speak to that particular councilmember and she could always justify her actions later by claiming interference or a system failure. It was unlikely that Yorlo would believe any of this but it was even less likely that her estranged husband would make a formal complaint that his wife wouldn't take his calls or go as far as involving the paramount—the leader of the council, and de facto ruler of the Star Alliance—directly.
Another warning sound alerted her to their impending descend into Piqus VII’s atmosphere and Garla sat down in her chair and strapped herself in. She had made this trip more than enough times to know that the strong gales sweeping across the surface of her destination at this time of year would make for a turbulent approach.
Her interstellar corvette crewed by three loyal Eye officers bounced and rocked predictably as it raced towards the planet's capital and the most populous city surrounded by the cold and dull tundra of the Southern hemisphere.
Glancing back out of the viewport, Garla watched as the clouds gave way to the sight of the city below with its modest skyline at its center and the sprawl of old habitats and large, mostly abandoned industrial zones surrounding it.
Her ship was heading straight for one of those skyscrapers at the city’s center, not the tallest—that would have been too conspicuous for a regional headquarter of the Eye—and she could see the large and sharply angled glass roof of the building parting to reveal the landing bay ensconced within it just before the sight dropped out of view.
The ship landed with a thud and Garla had released the constraints and jumped out of her chair the moment she had felt the touchdown. She grabbed her already prepared briefcase and hurried towards the exit ramp to finally set foot on Piqus after her two-week journey from the homeworld, thankful to finally be breathing non-recycled air again, even if it was much cooler than she was comfortable with.
She observed for a moment as the deck crew quickly approached her ship to secure the vessel, unload any cargo and promptly refuel it in case a speedy departure was called for. Above her, the darkly tinted, synthetic-glass roof sealed tightly once more to safely hide the innards of this secretive facility.
Like was the case in many places within the Alliance, the more menial and laborious tasks were performed by Outlanders. The deck crew looking after her ship was made up of three green-scaled reptilian Zel, two, large-bodied and dark-furred ursine Buoth and a petite, humanoid Kridrip while the officer in charge was a bulky, middle-aged Krellonian who from all appearances didn’t believe in exposing himself to much physical exercise.
He also, Garla noticed, didn’t seem to believe that his workers were performing their tasks with enough motivation.
“I want this ship fully secured and prepared for lift-off on the double. No more of that poky Outlander pace you have been passing off for work around here lately. It’s no trouble at all for me to replace every last one of you with a crew that actually knows the meaning of hard work, do you read me?”
His little speech seemed to spur on his small troop but also made one of the Zel noticeably nervous and in his haste to attach a refueling conduit, it slipped out of his three-clawed hand, causing liquid fuel to spill onto the deck.
"Infallible Creator, preserve me," the supervisor fumed as he waddled over to the fuel control station to engage the shut-off valve. "How did I end up with the most useless bunch of Outties this side of the Galactic Divide?" Once the fuel leak was contained, he hurried over to the still startled Zel and harshly yanked him backward with enough force that he went flying onto the deck. The supervisor didn't afford him a second look and instead took in the sight of the spill. "Look what a mess you've made. This will all be deducted from your pay. And you remain here until every last drop of this has been cleaned up."
Garla joined the supervisor by his side and the rotund man glanced up at her, startled for a moment that she had managed to approach him without him even noticing. “Sentinel, I am so very sorry for this. It’s these rotten Outlanders. Some of them are damn-near useless with those moronic claws they have for hands.”
She looked back at the Zel who was slowly being helped up by his fellow reptilians and then nodded. "Would it not help avoid these kinds of incidents if you were to assign them tasks more befitting their skill sets?"
He snorted a laugh at that. “What skill sets? One is worse than the other.”
"I see. If your workers are not sufficiently qualified for this work, perhaps you should consider hiring a different workforce."
The supervisor considered her for a moment, clearly not used to a high-ranking sentinel such as Garla to concern herself with such low-level personnel decisions. “It would be challenging to find qualified Krellonian workers at the pay that we can offer. There is also the matter of the quotas we need to fill to employ Outties.”
Garla nodded. “I understand.”
He looked back at the spill and Garla followed suit. “It’s a real mess but it is what it is.”
“For now, yes,” she almost whispered.
He aimed her a quizzical look, clearly not having fully perceived her words.
Garla waved him off and then made to walk away. Then, as if she had remembered something, she turned back to the supervisor. “What is your name?”
“Veetu,” she repeated and nodded. “You realize of course that it is a criminal offense to physically assault an Outlander?” She didn’t give him an opportunity to respond and instead bestowed him with a look so steely, he couldn’t suppress an involuntary gulp. “I ever hear you laying a hand on another worker again, I will ensure you will never work for a government agency ever again.”
She promptly turned on her heel and strode away before he even had a chance to think about a possible reply to this.
Another Kridrip, almost a full head shorter then Garla and with delicately braided long hair and large eyes, came rushing through the heavy doors of the landing deck even while Garla was heading towards her.
Clutching a data padd in both hands as if his life depended on what it contained, he surveyed the scene of the stunned supervisor next to the fuel leak surrounded by the Outlander deck crew for just the briefest of moments before he glanced towards Garla striding towards him, offering her an exasperated look. “My sincerest apologies for the delay, Sentinel, I’ve been held up by unexpected developments.”
Garla simply shrugged, took the slate off of him in passing and continued through the now open exit without so much as slowing down. “That’s quite alright, Tann.”
“I hope you had a … uh … pleasant journey,” he said, still seemingly distracted by whatever commotion had transpired before his arrival but recovered quickly enough to follow her through the doors and into the elevator.
“As pleasant as one can be cooped up in a small ship for days on end,” she said as she glanced over the padd Tann had passed her.
He nodded as he entered their destination into the control panel following which the lift immediately began its descent. "Is there anything that I should know regarding the landing bay crew?"
Garla shook her head. “Just a case of an overzealous supervisor, nothing to worry about,” she said and then looked up at her assistant. “You mentioned an unexpected development. What is it? I don’t see anything in my brief.”
“Yes,” he said. “I was only just informed so I have not yet been able to update it, I’m afraid. Chief Administrator Chella arrived a short while ago and insists on speaking with you.”
Garla sighed. “Speaking of overzealous supervisors. Must be something in the atmosphere here. What does she want?”
The doors of the lift opened to deposit them on the floor Garla’s office was located on.
Tenn followed her closely. "She didn't declare her intentions to me, however, there have been some … concerns in the city and beyond over the last few weeks. I wouldn't be surprised if she wishes to discuss those."
It wasn’t a very long walk to her office where Garla deposited her briefcase on her large desk. “Security concerns?”
This came as a surprise to her.
“I have advised Administrator Chella that you would not be available to see visitors today but she was quite insistent to speak with you. If you wish I can have her removed from the building.”
Garla smirked at the thought. “As tempting as that may sound, forcefully removing a planetary administrator from a central government facility may invite the wrong kind of attention.”
“Of course. I shall see her in then. Also, you have an urgent message from Councilmember—“
She nodded. “He can wait. He may have significantly more clout within the halls of power, but he’s less likely to appear uninvited on our doorstep if we let him stew a little. Anything else before I meet with Chella?”
“You asked to get a personal status update from the site supervisors at the facility. All three of them have since arrived and are waiting to meet you in person.”
“Very good,” she said as she took a seat behind her desk. “I’ll meet with them once I’m done with Chella. Considering how far behind schedule we have fallen, they have much explaining to do.”
“Indeed,” Tenn said with a sharp nod and then left to fetch her guest.
Garla contemplated the unexpected meeting for a moment. Chella was a typical local leader, high-strung and over-preoccupied with issues she had no immediate control over. As a sentinel working for the Eye, Garla wasn't required to involve local officials in any decisions or projects she was involved in even if said projects were situated within their jurisdiction. She had found it helpful in the past to try and keep on good terms with the locals but the latitude she was willing to extend only went so far. The project was far too important to be endangered because of a mid-level politician who was sore about somebody else playing in her pond.
“Chief Administrator,” Garla greeted the woman as she was shown into her office, maintaining an easy smile which was meant to communicate to the other woman that the moment she had stepped into this building she had surrendered all the control she would have taken for granted outside those walls. The slightly pained expression on the administrators’ face seemed to indicate that she understood this. “Welcome. I must say, however, I was not aware that I had made my travel arrangements public knowledge,” Garla added.
Chella walked up to her desk and offered a nod in greeting. “I like to keep track of the arrival of important officials to Piqus wherever I can.”
"I see," said Garla and stood to be at eye level with the other woman. They were both about the same age—for Garla it was a matter of professional pride to know everything there was to know about a possible political adversary—but thanks to Garla's strict fitness regimen, she was clearly in much better shape and could pass far more easily as a woman a decade younger than she truly was, whereas Chella very much looked her middle-age. Perhaps her much lighter skin and her entirely hairless head, both common characteristics for Krellonians who had grown up on Piqus, attributed to this, as well as the fact that Chella had borne a child whereas Garla had not. "If I were a paranoid person, I would fear that you are keeping track of my movements," she said. And of course she was a paranoid person, had to be, considering her occupation, and she was pretty certain that Chela was doing exactly as she had suggested.
“I am a busy person. I have far more important matters to concern myself with.”
“So I would hope. I take it one of those matters has brought you to my office today.”
She nodded. “There is a growing concern that Piqus has been targeted by an Outlander terrorist attack.”
This was news to her and a very serious accusation. “What kind of an attack?”
"A biological attack. There has been an outbreak of a yet to be identified illness in this city which has been spreading quickly."
“And what makes you think it is an attack?”
Chella allowed herself a minuscule smile, clearly not because she enjoyed the news she was sharing but more likely because she seemed to possess information a Sentinel of the Eye, a spymaster for all intense and purpose, had not yet learned. The administrator was clearly relishing the feeling of momentary superiority this afforded her. "So far only Krellonians have been affected by this illness. There hasn't been a single reported case of an Outlander contracting whatever this is. My investigators are fairly certain it is a targeted attack, likely using an artificially engineered virus of sorts."
“But you have no evidence of this?”
She shook her head.
“Then perhaps, Chief Administrator, it is to early to jump to such conclusions. The physiology of all the Outlander races is significantly different to our own. It even varies a great degree amongst the Outlanders themselves. It may be that they are just immune to this illness.”
"It is possible but Outlander unrest is at an all-time high on Piqus. It stands to reason that this is just the latest in a long string of terrorist activity orchestrated by their ringleaders."
Garla wanted to argue that perhaps the systematic violence perpetrated by Chella's own security forces against Outlanders was part of the problem. But even she had to admit that the matter went much deeper than that. Racial tensions had been a problem for the Alliance for centuries and it had only been getting worse over the last few decades. A real change was needed and soon before the tinderbox which was the fragile state of Alliance society would finally explode and put them all on a path they would not be able to turn back from.
It was no longer even a hypothetical concern. Garla had seen it happen and was determined to do whatever was necessary to avoid it.
“There have also been rumors,” Chella continued when Garla kept her thoughts to herself, “that whatever activities the Eye is involved in on Piqus may have contributed to the spread of this illness.”
Garla shot the other woman a look sharp enough it could have cut steel. It had the intended effect and Chella lost her composure for a brief moment. "I sincerely hope that such rumors are not propagated in any way through your office, Chief Administrator."
Chella took on an air of surprise. Garla couldn’t tell if it was honest or put on. “Of course not. I would never suggest such a thing. I understand that the Eye’s primary concern is the wellbeing of the Krellonian people.”
“Of the entire Alliance,” Garla corrected.
Chella nodded as if that was one and the same. “If you were able to cooperate with my investigators by sharing some of the details—“
“Thank you for bringing this situation to my attention,” Garla said sharply and sat back down, avoiding eye contact. “You can rest assured that I will be looking into this further. May the Infallible Creator bless the remainder of your day.”
The other woman remained glued to the spot for a moment longer, as if not entirely sure, or perhaps not able to believe that she had been dismissed so brusquely, considering her station. “And … yours as well, Sentinel,” she finally said before heading out the door.
Tenn appeared in her stead just moments after she had left.
Garla spoke even while she continued to look contemplatively into the distance. “This health situation. How come I am only learning about this now?”
“It has been kept pretty quiet by the administrator’s office. It has only become news over the last few hours and while you were still in transit.”
Garla shook her head. “That’s not good enough. We should have known about this at the same time the administrator did. In fact, we should have known before.”
“You are correct, of course, my apologies, Sentinel.”
She looked up at him. "It's hardly your fault Tenn, you are my assistant, not an agent working for the Eye. But clearly, the people in this building have not been doing their jobs properly while I was gone. Somebody will have to answer for that. I'll deal with that later."
“Understood. Do you wish to see the facility supervisors now?”
“Yes.” But before her assistant could leave the office again, she called after him. “Tenn?”
He stopped and turned to regard her once more.
“How many Outlanders work in this building?”
He needed to consider this for only a moment. “About one-hundred and fifty.”
She nodded slowly as she processed this. “I want you to draft a proposal to reduce that number by eighty percent before the end of the day. All non-critical Outlander personnel are to be put on furlough until further notice.”
To his credit, he didn't hesitate. "Yes, Sentinel."
She looked up at him. “Put yourself down as critical personnel.”
“I’ll meet with the supervisors now.”
As Tenn left to organize her next meeting, Garla quietly considered what she had learned so far and the more she thought about it, the more furious it made her. She had worked too long and too hard for her plans to be undone at this juncture by a group of angry Outlanders who had decided to pick this time to vent their frustrations over the injustices they were exposed to within Piqus society.
Garla could emphasize with their plight but did not condone their behavior. Not all Krellonians held on to age-old racial views that Outlanders were inferior and did not deserve the same rights as Krellonians. A blanket attack—if that was indeed what had caused this latest crisis—was entirely unacceptable and unforgivable. It was also the last thing that she could afford considering other more recent setbacks.
Tenn returned with three Krellonian supervisors, all three clearly locals considering their shaven heads and the pale color of their skin. She recognized two of them from previous meetings right in this building or from visits to the facilities where they worked. The third man she hadn't met before in person and she was a little startled by his appearance. He looked even paler than the other two except for his nose which was clearly inflamed and his bloodshot eyes were evidence that he had not slept well in quite some time.
She stood. “I need answers. The latest reports show that we are way behind schedule even after we have ramped up production. This is simply not good enough.”
The most senior or the three spoke up first. “We’ve encountered difficulties since we lost the secondary facility. A single site simply cannot make up for the loss.”
But Garla shook her head. “This was already discussed. We adjusted our production figures following the incident and I was assured that we would be able to meet the new demand and make up for the shortfall by deploying more personnel.”
The second supervisor spoke next. “Personnel has been the problem.”
“How so?” Garla said.
The third man shook with a nasty cough. "Apologies, Sentinel. I am Reetu Denur, I am in charge of personnel at the facility."
She nodded, she knew his name.
"Fewer and fewer people have been showing up for work over the last two weeks. At first, we thought it was merely related to a seasonal condition but we now fear that—" he had to stop himself when another coughing fit forced him to pull out a handkerchief.
The first supervisor took over. "We've been heavily relying on Outlanders to pick up the slack but we don't have nearly enough in place and considering the high-security clearance the work requires, it is unlikely we can make up the shortfall in a quick enough manner by relying on new personnel."
“Nor should we attempt it,” said the second supervisor. “Not with those rumors going around that the Outlanders are to blame for this.”
Garla had to agree. It was not a chance she was willing to take.
Reetu’s coughing fit didn’t seem to end which was beginning to grate on her nerves. “For the Creator’s sake, go and get some medicine.”
He looked up at her in embarrassment and nodded quickly. “My … apologies, yet again, Sentinel,” he managed to croak between coughs and then headed for the exit. He managed two steps before he collapsed right onto the carpet.
“By the Creator, not him too,” said the first supervisor who quickly knelt next to the fallen man to look him over.
“What is happening?” asked Garla but made no move to step away from behind her desk.
“It’s that illness,” said the second supervisor. “It’s been impossible to tell who has it and who just shows the symptoms.”
Tenn who Garla hadn’t even noticed leaving the room returned suddenly with another man she recognized as one of the physicians that worked for the Eye.
“Step away from that man,” the doctor practically barked at the supervisor kneeling next to the now motionless Reetu on the floor. “I need everyone to leave this room straight away.”
It was only now that Garla noticed that the physician was wearing a mask and rubber gloves. “What is it?”
The man looked up at her. “It has only just been confirmed, Sentinel. Whatever it is we are dealing with here is not just deadly. It’s highly contagious as well.”
The two other men quickly stepped away from their ailing colleague.
“Then that man needs to be isolated straight away,” said Garla.
But the doctor shook his head. “I’m afraid it’s much worse than that. Word has just reached us from the Chief Administrator’s office.”
Garla threw him a quizzical look, not fully comprehending what he was getting at.
“A planet-wide quarantine is now in effect.”
Part One: Trust No One - 1 by CeJay
Part One: Trust No One
Humans, he believed, referred to it as giddiness, a word that had quite a different, almost opposite meaning on Vulcan where it was most often associated with an illness and not with the obvious state of excitement he had observed in Louise Hopkins recently whenever he had visited Eagle’s main engineering deck.
While the emotion was mostly foreign to him, he could appreciate why the chief engineer had been in such a positive mood as of late, considering that Eagle had just days ago completed a three week, major systems overhaul at Earth station McKinley which most notably had led to the complete replacement of the ship’s primary power plant, the matter/anti-matter drive assembly.
The new class-ten warp core which was a significant improvement to Eagle’s previously outfitted and now outdated class-eight drive which, even though upgraded and refined many times over the years by starbase maintenance crews as well as by Hopkins and her team of engineers, could simply no longer match the newest and most advanced drive Starfleet had designed in both raw power output and performance.
“This baby is using a tricyclic input manifold, producing four thousand five hundred teradynes per second at peak efficiency and will give us a top speed of warp nine point eight five and an emergency speed of warp nine point nine six for up to six hours," said Louise Hopkins as her eyes almost reverently followed the multiple deck-high and horizontally aligned assembly.
“Any more than that and the nacelles will come flying clean off,” said Lif Culsten, the ship’s flight control officer who stood just next to her.
Xylion understood that the young Krellonian man had most likely meant his comment in jest since it was accurate that Eagle’s over twenty-year-old Nebula-class spaceframe would likely begin to show signs of significant structural failure if exceeding those speeds even if there was no evidence to suggest that either of the warp nacelles, slung underneath her saucer-shaped primary hull, would physically detach themselves from the rest of the starship if exceeding maximum warp velocities.
“Still,” the silver-haired helmsman said. “I wouldn’t mind pushing her to the limits and see if we can break any speed records.”
“That seems unlikely, Lieutenant. The current warp speed record was set by the USS Enterprise in 2364 when, assisted by the entity known as the Traveler, the vessel was able to accelerate at speeds beyond the warp scale.”
“Having some super-powered being turbo-charge the warp drive is hardly fair,” he said, throwing Hopkins a pointed look. “I’m talking about a naturally aspired speed record. How about it?”
But the chief engineer quickly shook her head. “No dice. Not going to let you do that to my new engine, super-powered or otherwise. Besides, we’ll need to do a whole host of reconfigurations and adjustments to the injectors, the regulators, the intermix chamber and a bunch of other components before I fully trust this thing. She may look shiny and new now and she may be behaving nicely while we’re cruising leisurely at warp six, but she won’t reveal her true character until we really let her loose. And I want to make sure she doesn’t blow up in our faces once we do.”
Culsten grinned at her. “Admit it, you’re looking forward to playing around with your new toy.”
The young engineer kept a stern visage. “I’ve spent five years fine-tuning our old engine. It’s probably going to take me just as long to get this one purring like the old one did.”
“Yeah, but you’re going to have a whale of a time doing it.”
Her stern expression broke to be replaced by a large smirk. "It's going to be a blast."
“The swirling is going to need some getting used to,” said DeMara Deen.
Xylion considered the Tenarian operations officer for a moment. On what already was a relatively young senior crew, Deen was by far the youngest but not necessarily the least experienced. She also tended to be the most high-spirited member of the senior staff, exuding an optimism which he had felt on occasions bordered on what humans liked to refer to as Pollyannaism. He had not failed to observe that her usual buoyancy had been much less obvious in recent years which he attributed to the general downturn in ship morale during the Dominion War. And while Xylion, as a Vulcan dedicated to the stoic lifestyle of his people, could not claim to be a great student of emotional intelligence, he had noticed that while the end of the war had significantly increased the general mood onboard, DeMara Deen’s recovery had appeared much slower than what he would have expected from her.
She was of course entirely correct in her remark that due to the tricyclic nature of the class ten warp drive, the matter and anti-matter flow visible through the blue, tubular magnetic construction segments feeding into the central core assembly possessed a distinctively swirling motion instead of the steady and regular pulse on the previous drive.
“I don’t mind what it looks like as long as it gives us enough power for our overhauled weapons and the new transphasic shields,” said So’Dan Leva, the half-Romulan tactical officer who stood at the master control station which some engineers had nicknamed the pool table due to its vague resemblance to the popular gaming accessory. “If you ask me this is by far the most interesting update we’ve received.”
“Agree to disagree,” said Hopkins.
“I’m sure you’ll see things my way if we should ever find ourselves surrounded by enemy ships and those impenetrable shields are the only things standing between us and certain destruction,” Leva said.
“The transphasic shields do not, technically, provide impenetrable protection,” said Xylion who was quite familiar with the design since Eagle had been used as a testbed for the technology during a mission into a nebula containing radiation which would have been deadly to the crew without it. "Its rapid frequency shift into alternate phase states has shown a nearly sixty percent increase in blocking beam and projectile impacts as long the significant power input the emitters requires can be met."
“And that’s the crux of the matter,” said Hopkins. “The new warp core gives us quite a bit of additional punch, but even that won’t be enough to run those shields for much longer than a few hours. And that’s while not at warp and under optimal conditions.”
Alendra nodded. “In my, admittedly limited experience, optimal conditions go out of the airlock the moment you have engaged in battle.”
Lieutenant Marjorie Alendra was one of the most recent additions to Eagle’s crew. The blue-skinned and bald-headed Bolian officer had come onboard a few months earlier on Lieutenant Commander’s Leva recommendation who had served with the woman briefly on the USS Sacajawea when he had been made her first officer in an assignment which had lasted a mere days before the ship had been destroyed. According to Leva, Alendra had served on the other vessel in multiple roles at various times, including as a pilot, as an engineer, a tactical officer, as well as at operations and even as the executive officer, mostly due to the shortage of experienced officers during the war years. On Eagle, she had ostensibly become Leva's deputy tactical officer but her versatility had allowed her to pick up various tasks as required.
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Leva said. “You’ve seen plenty of combat during the war.”
“Enough to last me a lifetime. I’d be happy not to get into another major battle for the rest of my career.”
“I can’t promise that,” said the tactical officer. “What I can say is, regardless of how long the transphasic shields last under fire, even having just a few additional seconds during a heated battle can mean the difference between life and death.”
Culsten nodded. "Agreed. A little bit of extra security doesn't hurt, especially since we're about to embark on a mission which will literally take us where no one has gone before." He quickly continued when he noticed Xylion raising his eyebrow. "Except for maybe automated probes and whatever indigenous people call it their home."
He offered a short nod at his accurate correction.
“But we’ll be the first Starfleet ship crew to get to see the Seven Sisters with our own eyes. Now, I don’t know about you guys, but that’s what got me really excited,” he said.
Xylion had always found it somewhat peculiar that Lif Culsten, as a Krellonian and non-Federation citizen, seemed to exhibit a surprising comfort and familiarity with human traditions and customs instead of displaying much of his own people’s heritage, almost as if he had chosen to fully assimilate into a culture not his own. This was evidenced once more by his decision to refer to the star cluster they had set out to explore by its human nickname.
“I would be more excited about this if we didn’t have to rely on untested technology to get there,” said the chief engineer. “Whoever thought that using a warp sled to travel space was a good idea?”
“I think it only adds to the appeal,” Culsten said.
To that Alendra shot him a puzzled glance. "I'm surprised to hear you say that. All the pilots I've ever known hated the idea of surrendering control of their vessel to anyone else, especially a machine."
"There is that," he said, nodding slowly. "But the idea of going faster than even Lou's new drive could possibly make us go? I don't know, it makes me feel giddy, I have to say. Come to think of it, maybe that's the way to break those speed records, huh?"
But Hopkins crossed her arms in front of her chest, not nearly as excited about the idea.
“As long as we get to be explorer again, I don’t think it matters too much how we get there,” said Deen. “It’s what we are supposed to be doing. I mean, when was the last time we had a chance to live up to the Starfleet charter and discover actual new worlds?”
“Three years, ten months and fourteen days,” Xylion said.
“Way too long,” said Culsten, nodding in agreement.
Alendra nodded as well. “For me, it’s the first time, so I’m definitely excited.”
“Let’s focus on the task ahead first. Before we even get a chance to seek out new life and new civilizations we will need to travel through occupied Cardassian space which these days is some seriously dangerous territory,” said Leva, who to no one’s surprise, was focused primarily on the tactical situation of their upcoming mission. “Warp sled or not, we may easily find ourselves in a sticky situation before we even get to where we need to be going. We’d be lucky if we’ll be able to speed our way through that hot zone.”
“No kidding,” said Alendra. “We’ve already lost two ships, the Phoenix and the Sojourner earlier this year, not to mention Point-Station Epsilon and the destruction of the Klingon headquarters on Lakesh.”
“But we’ll be mostly traversing Romulan occupied-space,” said Deen. “Isn’t it much calmer on their side?”
“The only reason for that,” said the Bolian, “is because they tend to squash any sign of trouble with the use of disproportional force. And since violence only begets more of the same, I think it’s only a manner of time before things will spiral out of control in their territory as well.”
Leva didn't seem to like what he was hearing, or perhaps the tone of Alendra's voice. "There are Romulans who are trying to make the occupation work and are genuinely interested in helping the Cardassians rebuild. I think it's an unfair characterization to paint them all with the same brush."
“I suppose you have some special insight into that situation,” she said, sounding, at least to Xylion’s ears, surprisingly confrontational.
“Just because my mother is Romulan doesn’t mean I have a greater insight into how that half of my people conduct themselves,” he shot back.
She shook her head. “I meant to say that you have friends in the Romulan Guard.”
Leva and Alendra stared at each other for a moment.
“One,” he finally said.
Xylion believed that he was referring to a female officer he had met during his mission to Romulus during the war and with whom he had briefly reunited a few weeks ago while she had traveled to Earth as part of a diplomatic delegation. He couldn’t be certain but it seemed as if this subject of conversation had suddenly introduced some tension between them.
“Right. Well, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bridge shift starting soon,” said Alendra and then promptly left engineering.
Xylion was fairly certain that her scheduled shift was not due to commence for another two hours and twelve minutes.
“I’ll better get on my way as well,” Leva said only moments after Alendra had departed so suddenly. He glanced towards Hopkins before he went. “We’ll schedule some simulations on how the transphasic shields will hold up with the new warp core before we reach Cardassian space.”
“I will make sure to make time for those.”
He nodded and left in Alendra’s wake.
“Was it just me or did that feel somewhat awkward?” said Culsten once the doors to main engineering had closed shut again behind the tactical officer. “If I didn’t know any better, I would say there is something going on between those two.”
“Best not to pry,” said Deen.
Hopkins nodded in agreement and went back to work on the master control station. “I suppose you have to appreciate that he still stands up for his people even considering he’s not fully Romulan himself.”
Xylion agreed with that sentiment, fully appreciating that So'Dan Leva had noticeably struggled with his identity and his split heritage ever since he had known the man. The fact that he was able to identify with his Romulan side was certainly a positive step in his opinion if for no other reason than to satisfy his own scientific curiosity of exploring the shared commonalities between the Vulcan people and the Romulans who after all, at one point, had all been one people.
He was just about to continue assisting Hopkins, Deen and Culsten on the work they still had to complete before Eagle could be safely coupled to the warp sled which was due to take them further then they had ever traveled before when he noticed that unbeknownst to Hopkins, Culsten was still considering the chief engineer with a skeptical expression decorating his face, apparently still considering her last words.
“Or maybe he has just taken a liking to his Romulan friend. Maybe this has nothing to do with him standing up for his people.”
She looked up at him, surprised and clearly not having expected his retort. Xylion, too, had to admit that he wasn’t certain why Culsten had insisted on making that point.
“Maybe,” she said carefully. “But then I would rather like to think better of him.”
“Defending a people who have shown a systematic disregard for the good of their own populace does not make one a better person,” he said, sounding uncharacteristically forceful considering the subject matter. Xylion had never known Culsten as a man of great convictions. That was not to say that he couldn’t be serious if the occasion called for it. He had, in the past, shown more than once his ambitions to rise above his current station in Starfleet, but it was unusual to hear him take such a strong position on what appeared to be a social or even political issue.
“Maybe defending such an institution or government is wrong, but he’s right in saying that not all people who live in such a society are necessarily complicit in the actions of that government. There’re good people in most bad societies actively trying to make a change,” said Hopkins, and surprisingly to Xylion quickly matching Culsten’s sharp tone, implying that this wasn’t the first time they had engaged in this topic of conversation.
“Well, I don’t see him trying to make a change. I think he’s mostly just content to stay out of it altogether.”
“Does he, though?” she shot back. “A couple of years ago he went back to Romulus, the very heart of the Romulan Empire, to appeal directly to their senate to enter the Dominion War.”
“On Starfleet orders.”
“From what I heard it was mostly a suggestion. Besides, he’s clearly still engaging with his own people and showing an interest.”
Culsten dismissed this with a wave of his hand. “His interest seems to have very little to do with his desire to improve the conditions of his people in general.”
Deen jumped in before Hopkins had a chance to respond, perhaps sensing the impending circularity of the argument that was unfolding. “I am going to go on a limb here and assume that we are not actually talking about Romulans anymore.”
Both Culsten and Hopkins threw her very similar blank looks which quickly turned into embarrassed expressions when they realized that they had allowed their argument to be voiced so openly.
“You know what?” Culsten said and very briefly glanced at Hopkins while doing so. “I still need to review the navigational data for our upcoming trip. I’m sure you can finish here without me,” he added and then left almost as quickly as Alendra and Leva had done before him.
“And the Captain is waiting for my progress report on the warp sled integration,” said Hopkins, picked up a padd and then headed for the exit as well, except she headed for the exact opposite direction Lif Culsten was taking.
Xylion looked at Deen at her side, the only member of the senior crew remaining with him in engineering. “I may be mistaken but it certainly appears that the tension level amongst the crew is surprisingly high considering the recent shore leave and the nature of our upcoming assignment.”
She considered him for a brief moment but then simply shrugged. "I hadn't noticed," she said and then went back to work.
As Deen was clearly not interested in discussing his observation on their colleagues any further, which in itself seemed somewhat out of character for her, he decided to join her since the unexpected reduction of their original team had now significantly increased their workload.
After all his years working alongside emotionally-inclined species, he had to admit that they still had a tendency to perplex him on a fairly regular basis.
Part One: Trust No One - 2 by CeJay
2* * *
“I haven’t seen a starship crew this excited over a mission since my first assignment out of the Academy. It’s not just that we’ll get a chance to finally truly explore new regions of the galaxy. I think it’s also the fact that we’re getting to do it now, after the Dominion War and the various crises that we’ve had to deal with before and after. There has been an increasing sense of resignation—and I don’t mean just on this ship—that the purpose of Starfleet has become fighting wars and dealing with galactic emergencies. It has become so prevalent that some of the younger officers and recruits these days only know about Starfleet’s mission of exploration through reading about it. But I’m convinced that for many of those people—and I count myself among those—when they first dreamt about joining Starfleet, they did so because they were enrapt by the stories of the great explorers of yesteryear and the chance to someday follow into their footsteps.”
Tazla Star nodded with a growing smile on her face while listening to her captain speak. “Some of my career choices may say otherwise, but I was one of those kids with stars in her eyes when I grew up. There was a time when I had wanted to be an explorer more than anything.”
Michael Owens considered his red-haired first officer sitting opposite him at the desk of his ready room and had to admit that he didn't have an easy time imagining her having had the same dreams he'd had when he was a child. And perhaps this was because part of him still saw her as the woman she had been when she had first joined his crew two years earlier, when all he had truly known about the former starship captain had been that she had shown poor judgment and acted rashly just months into her first command and as a result people had lost their lives. She had later admitted that she had spent a significant time of her career as a clandestine operative for a shady branch of Starfleet Intelligence, mostly beholden to one ruthless individual who had been chiefly responsible for her eventual downfall.
He had long since moved past his trust issues with Tazla Star who had repeatedly shown herself more than willing to not only start her career anew on Eagle but also put herself in harm's way to protect her new ship and crew. There was no denying that she had come a long way since that first day she had stepped into his office, and perhaps—Michael thought—it wasn't so hard after all to imagine that this version of Star had once shared much more in common with him than he would have ever thought possible.
The annunciator interrupted his brief reverie and he glanced towards the doors of his ready room. “Come in.”
The doors parted with a hiss to allow Louise Hopkins to step into his office, bringing with her a padd. “Captain. Commander.”
“Lieutenant,” Star said. “How’s that new power plant fitting in?”
The young engineer smirked. “Oh, she’s fitting in quite nicely, Commander. I know the Mark-X wasn’t designed for this class of ship but I won’t stop until she feels like the most natural fit and purrs like a wildcat.”
Michael nodded. “And you’ll have the time to do just that. It’ll take us a good three weeks to reach the Pleiades, even using this new warp sled we’ll be using to get us there.”
“That’s why I’m here,” she said and handed him the padd. “I’ve finished the work schedule to get the ship ready to connect to the sled. I’m still a little nervous about the idea of hooking all our systems up to another vessel and letting it take us into warp, especially with the untested upgrades we’ve only just installed on Eagle.”
“I’ve been assured that this warp sled is perfectly safe and fully compatible with all our systems,” Michael said as he glanced over the padd.
“Yes,” the engineer said, sounding cautious. “I have been told the same thing. But still, we’ll be the first Starfleet ship to use this technology during an extended period of time. I guess I just don’t like the idea of being the guinea pig for Starfleet R&D.”
Star smirked. “Ah, Lieutenant, where’s your sense of adventure? Starfleet was founded on the idea of testing new and experimental technologies. The first transporter, the warp-five engine, the duotronic computer system; it all had to start somewhere. Why not us for the next great thing? Imagine, they may mention your name in the history books among Cochrane, Erickson, and Daystrom.”
But Michael could tell that Louise Hopkins wasn’t the type to clamor for glory and fame. After all, differently to him and Star, she had clearly not signed up to Starfleet to become an explorer, generally having preferred the more familiar surroundings of her engineering room instead.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of new technologies. Eagle hasn’t exactly been on the forefront of cutting-edge systems over the years. It’s just with the new warp drive, the improved weapons systems, those transphasic shields and now the warp sled, there is a lot of things that could go wrong and if they do, we might be a long way from a friendly port to get help.”
“Sounds like a challenge to me,” Michael said. “And if there is one thing I know you’ve never shied away from it’s a challenge.”
The little spark in her eyes revealed that she wasn’t about to start now. “I guess that’s true.”
“That’s what I thought,” he said and handed her back the padd. “How long to make the necessary modifications to prepare for the warp sled?”
“Oh, those are easy. Half a day or so. We should be all ready to go once we get to our rendezvous. I suggest we take our time once we get there though, I want to complete a few full level one system diagnostic before I'm going to be totally comfortable to hand over our propulsion to another vessel."
“Sensible,” said Star and exchanged a quick nod with the captain. “Make sure you work closely with Culsten on this,” she added. “We’ll still be responsible for navigation and I want to make sure he is as prepared as he can be piloting the sled.”
Michael didn’t miss the pained look that crossed her features when Star mentioned the Krellonian helmsman. “Uh, yes … yes, of course. If you’ll excuse me now. I better get started on the modifications.”
Michael dismissed her with a nod and the engineer headed for the exit.
“Oh, Louise?” he said before she had reached the doors.
Hopkins turned around.
“I know you’ll be busy over the next three weeks working on your new warp core, not to mention keeping an eye on that sled but I really hope you’ll be able to join us for the ship’s concert. The performers really worked hard on their acts.” Ordinarily he wouldn’t have felt it necessary to remind anyone about the upcoming concert but Hopkins had a tendency to skip social gatherings whenever she could.
“I’ll make sure to make time for it,” she said and then quickly left.
Michael looked back at his first officer. “Is there something the matter between our pilot and engineer I’m not aware of?” he said. While the couple hadn’t exactly advertised their relationship, it hadn’t been a great secret either, especially since they had only recently spent nearly three weeks on shore leave together.
“I’m not entirely sure,” she said. “But I think there may have been some tension between them ever since they came back from Krellon a few weeks ago.”
There was a reason why he wasn’t exactly fond of the idea of his officers engaging in relationships with each other. And while Starfleet was infamous for its proclivity of having long and detailed regulations on most aspects of the service, and had quite a few guidelines regarding fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel, there were no rules against members of a starship crew, of any rank or position, to become romantically involved with each other.
And Michael could appreciate that it was unrealistic to expect people who served together on a relatively large starship which practically functioned like a small community, not to gravitate towards each other over time. He also understood that this could also lead to serious challenges as well, such as when Gene Edison, his former first officer who had fallen in love with ship’s security chief Nora Laas had been tragically killed in action while at her side. It had taken the usually steadfast Bajoran a long time to get over that terrible loss.
Star seemed to know what he was thinking. "I'll keep an eye on them," she said, and he nodded. "Now, about that ship concert," she added, clearly not wishing to stay on the subject, most likely since she possessed a more liberal view on inter-ship romances than he did. "I hear you've gotten a sneak peek at some of the acts already."
He smiled, remembering DeMara impressive rehearsal he had witnessed the previous day. No, it hadn’t been Rossini, which he would have preferred, and the performance had felt a little bit too forced and risqué for his tastes, but there was no doubt it would be a hit with the crew once they got to see her and her troop singing and tap dancing all over the stage in a week’s time. “Yes, I was lucky enough to get an early taste.”
She offered him a beaming grin. “Rank hath its privileges.”
“Indeed. And from what I’ve seen, they will quite literally bring the house down,” he said.
“Bridge to Captain.”
Michael glanced towards the ceiling upon hearing Lieutenant Alendra’s voice who was apparently the duty bridge officer at present. “Go ahead, Lieutenant.”
“Sir, we’ve just picked up a ship on an intercept course. And they’re in a real hurry to get to us.”
Michael and his first officer exchanged puzzled looks, neither of them expecting a rendezvous until they reached the Aldebaran system where Eagle was due to link up with the warp sled.
“We’ll be right there, Owens out,” he said and stood.
“Are we expecting guests?” Star asked as she followed him onto the bridge.
“Not to my knowledge,” he said just before he stepped through the parting doors and walked onto the bridge where Alendra had already gotten up from the command chair to make way for him.
“Sensors have just identified her as the Alexander Hamilton. And she’s doing warp nine point two,” she said.
Lieutenant Lance Stanmore turned around from the operations console he was currently manning. "Sir, according to her transponder signal she’s carrying Admiral Throl’s flag.”
Michael nodded. Throl was his commanding officer but it was unusual for him to come out in person to speak to him. In fact, he could not remember the last time they had met under such circumstances. Whatever it was he wanted, it was very urgent, very important, or quite possibly both.
Alendra had moved to the tactical board on the horseshoe-shaped console behind and above the command area. “Sir, the admiral is requesting permission to beam onboard.”
“Helm, drop out us out of warp and prepare for the rendezvous,” Michael said.
“Aye, sir,” responded Ensign Srena and after only a moment, the Andorian had cut the warp engines as evidenced by the settling starscape on the view screen. “We’ll be in transporter range in four minutes.”
Michael turned to look at Alendra first. “Lieutenant, advise the Hamilton that we’re ready to receive the admiral,” he said and then to his first officer: “I guess we’re having a guest after all.”
She dipped her head slightly. “I shall welcome the admiral on board and show him directly to your ready room.”
Just a few minutes later Tazla Star received Admiral Throl in the transporter room.
Tazla liked Throl.
The Denobulan flag officer, almost a full head shorter than she, didn’t carry with him the same kind of arrogance and standoffishness which was often commonplace amongst members of the Admiralty. It was also refreshing not to be subject to the often unspoken but almost always judgmental looks she received from officers of his rank who were not willing to look beyond her blemished record which had ultimately led to her months-long stint at the Starfleet stockade.
Of course she understood that suspicion was justified, after all, the decisions she had made in her past had led to preventable casualties, even if there had been mitigating circumstances, and had it not been for the Dominion War, she most likely would still be in that prison cell today.
Yet Throl seemed to be thinking none of those things as he bounded down the transporter platform, evidencing his great energy and defying his age, and then offered Star a typically wide Denobulan grin after she had formally given him permission to come onboard.
She escorted the admiral up to deck one during which Throl made a few polite comments about the ship and her crew but refused to give away any indication as to the purpose of his visit.
“Michael, it is so good to see you again,” said Throl once he had entered the ready room along with Tazla Star. He had quickly crossed the small office while Owens had left his chair and then vigorously shaken the captain’s hand with both of his.
“Admiral, always a pleasure,” Owens said, returning the friendly smile even if he was biologically incapable of mirroring the Denobulan’s width. “Can I offer you something?”
“I know you are fond of tonic waters,” the admiral said. “I’ll try one, thank you.”
Star beat Owens to the replicator and ordered three beverages before placing them on the captain’s desk.
“I was just pointing out to Commander Star what a fine ship and crew you have here.”
Throl may not have been the most typical Starfleet admiral she had encountered but making general platitudes seemed to be an inherent part of a flag officers repertoire.
“Thank you, sir, we’re all very proud of her,” he said.
"I'm glad we finally got her in for that much-needed overhaul," the admiral continued as he took a sip from the tonic water but without settling down in the chair. "Uh, bitter. But not bad, not bad at all," he said, the unfamiliar beverage distracting him only momentarily. "Starfleet has been very pleased with Eagle’s performance and the new modifications will ensure that she remains one of the fleet’s most reliable ships of the line.”
Owens exchanged a quick look with her before he considered the admiral again. “That’s good to hear and I have every confidence that she will.”
“So do I, Michael,” he said and took in the ready room. “I don’t think I’ve been on Eagle since you first took her on her maiden voyage. I really don’t get out enough.” He stopped in front of the large canvas of the colorful painting of a green landscape surrounding a yellow country home which hung on the far wall. “That’s quite something. Reminds me of an Edward Hopper.”
Tazla threw Owens another look, this time surprised to find that Throl was apparently somewhat of an art aficionado and judging by the captain’s expression he was just as surprised.
Owens smirked as he joined him. “Nothing quite as fancy, I’m afraid. It’s a watercolor painting of my family home on Earth. It was done a few decades ago by a close friend of my father’s.”
Tazla was out of her element, not being particularly familiar with art, all she could really tell from her rudimentary knowledge was that it had been painted in the style of realism and that she had always thought it odd that Owens had it in his office, since it had clearly once belonged to his father with whom he’d had a conflicted relationship while he had still been alive. Not to mention that as a self-proclaimed explorer, she would have expected him to decorate his office with something less homey.
The admiral turned away from the painting and to Owens. “I was very sorry to hear about your father’s passing and that I was not able to attend the funeral. We lost a great man.”
Owens nodded, acknowledging his sentiment but said nothing.
He hadn't opened up to her much about how he felt after his father had passed away just a few weeks ago and while they had still been on Earth. She had actually been right there with him, on shore leave on a boat on the Australian coast, when he had gotten the news. And it had been obvious that it had hit him hard. Much harder, she guessed, than he would have expected. Shore leave had naturally been cancelled, at least for the captain and she had spent a bit of time speaking to him afterwards, but very little of what he had talked about had actually given her any insight into how he had felt about his father when he had been alive, or now, that he had passed.
“Admiral, I take it you didn’t come all the way out here for a social visit. Not that we don’t appreciate you joining us,” Owens said and indicated towards one of the two chairs facing his desk.
Throl nodded and took a seat, followed by Owens. Tazla took the remaining chair by the admiral’s side. “Yes, of course. I’m sure you have been wondering about that and I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. In fact, it is quite imperative that we discuss the matter I’ve come to see you without further delay.”
“I assume your personal visit means that we are no longer heading for the Pleiades,” said Owens, doing a decent job of trying to mask his disappointment even if he wasn’t entirely successful.
"Just to be clear, it is merely delayed. Not canceled," he said quickly. "Now that the war is over, Starfleet still has every intention to allocate some of our admittedly dwindled resources to the purposes of expanding our reach into previously uncharted regions of space."
Owens nodded. “That is good to hear. What is the nature of this delay, Admiral?”
"The Federation Council was contacted five days ago by representatives from the Krellon Star Alliance asking for urgent assistance with a medical emergency on one of their border colonies. An outbreak of a highly infectious viral disease of sorts which has mystified their medical community and has spread across the entire planet in a matter of days."
“The Krellonians?” Owens said, clearly surprised. “I cannot recall a time they have ever sought out any kind of assistance from the Federation.”
“They have a number of trade treaties with us,” said Tazla who was in her element when it came to galactic politics thanks to her intelligence background. “It is a mostly one-sided affair in which we export quite a few resources to them for very little import in return and ostensibly to foster improved relationships with their highly xenophobic government. They’ve also imposed very strict guidelines on any trade or travel arrangements. Last I heard, Federation ships are not allowed to cross in Krellonian space and any cargo is usually transferred onto their own freighters at the border.”
Throl nodded, "That is exactly right, Commander," he said and looked back at the captain. "As you can imagine, the Federation Council believes this to be a possible step to improve and perhaps even normalize relationships between our people. Following the war, we are desperate for new allies and if there is even a small chance that this could lead to more than a costly trade agreement, the Council is willing to extend any help that has been requested."
“Not to mention trying to be a good neighbor,” said Tazla.
Throl offered her grin. “And that, of course.”
“What kind of help have they asked for exactly? What do we know about the medical situation on their world?” Owens asked.
“Very little, I’m afraid. They have not been willing to share any details about the nature of their medical crisis beyond what I’ve told you.”
"Krellonian space is deep in the Beta Quadrant," said Tazla. "It would take us weeks to get there. There must be closer ships which could respond to this emergency, not to mention actual hospital ships which would be better suited for such a mission."
“All very true, Commander. However, Eagle has been requested specifically for this assignment.”
This brought up both officers short. Alarm bells were already beginning to sound in her mind but Owens asked the question first. “Why us? If this is such a critical emergency and they’re reaching out to us for the first time in what seems like forever, why would they request a very specific starship?”
“They haven’t told us. Our best guess is that it might have something to do with your pilot.”
“Lif?” she said.
He nodded. “There aren’t many Krellonians in Starfleet. They can probably be counted on one hand. Lif Culsten I understand is fairly well connected within the Krellonian government even if I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly how due to the secrecy in which the Krellonians like to shroud themselves in. As it turns out, Mister Culsten hasn’t been exactly forthcoming with his family connections either, according to his file.”
Owens uttered a sigh and tugged down on his uniform jacket which Tazla immediately interpreted as a sign of discomfort. She didn’t blame him at all. “Admiral, I have to be honest, I don’t like any of this.”
“I didn’t think you would, Michael.”
“The last time we were asked to travel to a world to seek out a potential new ally, the mission turned into a disaster. And mostly because of how Starfleet had decided to handle that situation internally.”
She was thankful that he had not looked her way when saying this, considering that she’d had something to do with the way things had turned out on the mission he was referring to.
Throl acknowledged this with a small nod. "I know what you are thinking. This will not be another Tiaita. Yes, Starfleet is desperate for allies but not nearly as much as it was during the darkest days of the war. We are not bending over backward to accommodate the Krellonians. Your mission is to go to their planet and assist them in a medical capacity in any way you can. If you are able to create some goodwill amongst their leadership in the process: Excellent. If it turns out you are not able to assist at all: Than so be it. Neither I nor the Federation Council expects you do to do anything beyond that."
Owens nodded slowly. “There is still the point of getting there.”
“You’ll continue on to Aldebaran and link up with the warp sled. But instead of heading towards Cardassian and Ullian space you’ll be going towards the Amargosa Diaspora. Krellon space lies just beyond. If the sled works out as advertised, the trip will take just a few days.”
“Admiral, a question, if I may?” said Tazla.
“If this is merely a medical mission—putting aside for the moment that we were specifically requested—why did you come all the way out here in person to tell us this? You could have briefed us about this mission just as well over subspace.”
The admiral hesitated for a moment and the look on Owens’ face made it clear that he had been wondering about the exact same thing. “Commander, would you mind giving us the room for a moment?” Throl said.
She shot a brief look at the captain who gave her a nod. “Of course,” she said, stood and left the room.
* * *
“I don’t really appreciate keeping secrets from my first officer, Admiral,” Michael said after the doors had closed behind Tazla Star.
“Nothing I’m about to tell you has to be kept from her, Michael. I just wanted to tell you first before you decided if you wish to share this information.”
He leaned back in his chair slightly, bracing himself for whatever was coming next.
Throl took another sip from his beverage and allowed his gaze to briefly wander over to the large painting before he spoke. Then he looked back at the captain. “This mission is being handled through the Department of Special Affairs and Investigations.”
That in itself was, of course, no great revelation or reason for concern since SAI often took an interest in missions which could have wider implications. But Michael understood why Throl had decided to tell him this in private. SAI had been headed by his late father and what Throl likely didn't know, was that Jonathan Owens had very surprisingly asked him—demanded really—that Michael leave Eagle and came to work for him just a day before he had died.
“There isn’t much more I can tell you since SAI is almost as bad at sharing information as the Krellonian government seems to be. What I can tell you is that since your father’s passing, the agency is being led by a man I think you know quite well.”
"Jarik," Michael said, referring to his half-Vulcan former Academy roommate with whom he had reconnected while on Earth recently and after he had been startled to learn that he had been working for his father for years.
Throl nodded. "Yes. He has been named interim-director and will assume operational command of this mission. He is awaiting you in the Arkaria system which is practically on your way to Krellon space and he will brief you in more detail once you get there."
“I’m confused,” Michael said. “You mentioned that there were no more details to share. That the Krellonians had been very vague about their request.” He continued on before Throl had a chance to speak up again. “No, let me guess. There is more, it’s just that you’re not privy to that information. Something else is going on here. I mean why else would SAI be involved and presumably make you come see me in person instead of using subspace.”
The admiral nodded slowly. “I suspect as much, yes. But Michael, I am not negating on my point from earlier. No matter what else Jarik and SAI are up to, your mission as far as Starfleet Command is concerned is clear. You are to assist the Krellonians with their medical emergency. You are not authorized for anything beyond that. This is not an intelligence op and you are not expected, or in fact cleared, to carry out any kind of clandestine mission against a foreign power.”
“Right,” he said, sounding unconvinced. “And if Jarik asks me to? You said it yourself, he has operational command and Arkaria is at the outer edges of Federation space.”
"Michael, I trust your judgment. You have navigated these kinds of waters before. And whatever decision you end up making, I will back you completely."
“I appreciate the vote of confidence.”
Throl stood. “You’ve earned it,” he said and shook his hand once Michael had stood also. “Watch your back out there and good luck.”
Michael had called Star back into his office to escort the admiral to the transporter room but the nervous energy that Throl’s visit had created didn’t allow him to settle back down in his chair.
The expedition he and his crew had been looking forward to had been put on hold and instead he had been tasked to cross half a quadrant to help out a people suffering from an unknown affliction. Had this been the end of the story, he would not have given the matter another thought, but as was so often the case, there was much more to this seemingly innocuous mission than met the eye, the involvement of his late father’s agency the surest proof of this.
It also couldn’t be a coincidence that Jon Owens had summoned him just a few weeks earlier to his secretive base hidden beneath an old Russian mine to get him to drop everything that mattered in his life to join up with his cause, whatever that may have been.
He had said no at the time, even if after learning of his death due to a heart condition he had kept from him he had wished that he had at least given it some further consideration or at least been less dismissive to his father’s request.
But Jonathan Owens had never shied away from meddling in his Starfleet career, leading many to suspect—him included—that he had pulled the right strings at the right time to get him his own command. It had been a source of constant tension between the two men.
His father had spent most of his early childhood ignoring his existence but when he had managed to drive Matthew—his older brother—away from his family by his constant pressure to follow his own footsteps and join Starfleet, that attention had suddenly shifted on him and Michael had eventually given in. That influence hadn't ended there and for the longest time, Michael had been unable to shake the feeling of his influential father controlling his life from the shadows.
His eyes found the painting of his childhood home which first and foremost reminded him of his better days when his mother had still been alive and before his brother had left it behind for good. Yes, it had been his father's but he had always drawn strength from it, perhaps despite its previous owner. It had served as a reminder where he came from and perhaps what he was trying to leave behind.
Part One: Trust No One - 3 by CeJay
3* * *
“Now passing warp eight point five. Eight point seven. Eight point nine.”
Michael listened closely as Lif Culsten read out their speed from his flight control station positioned at the front of the bridge and to his right, between the star-streaked view screen and the command area.
He felt the ship shudder slightly underneath him. After five years commanding Eagle, he had come to learn the meaning of every shake and tremble, liked to think that he could usually quite accurately predict his ship’s status from the way the floor plating rumbled underneath his boots or from the manner in which his chair vibrated ever so slightly. However, this latest quiver was entirely new to him and it left him puzzled and unsure of what it meant. He didn’t care for that feeling.
“That’s the fastest we’ve been able to make her go,” said Star sitting in her usual chair to his right, her eyes focused on the console to her side.
“Third time’s the charm, is what they say,” Michael said. The last two attempts of pushing the warp sled they had docked with back in the Aldebaran system had ended after the warp field destabilized once the vessel had pushed itself and Eagle embedded within just passed warp eight. Hopkins and her team of engineers had worked on fixing the issue all day and it seemed now, already late in what ordinarily would have been beta shift, that they apparently had found the solution.
“Warp field is stable,” said Alendra who was standing at the aft engineering station and liaising directly with Hopkins and her team in the engine room. “Phase variance is in the green and well below the critical threshold.”
“I’m having a good feeling about this,” said Michael.
“You had a good feeling the last time,” said Deen from her operations console to Culsten’s left without lifting her own gaze from her board.
“I suppose your optimism is rubbing off on me.”
Deen offered no retort which Michael felt wasn’t like her. Of course, she had been much moodier than usual lately, especially since learning that the changed mission to the Amargosa Diaspora and the delay to their expedition had also put a hold on the shipboard concert and its opening act for which she had practiced so hard.
“The ODN connection between Eagle and the sled are within standard parameters,” said Xylion from the science station. “Data transfer rate remains stable.”
Michael acknowledged the report with a quick bop of his head and then glanced towards his first officer. “I say it’s about time we get to see what this sled can do?”
She offered a grin in response. “Agreed,” she said and looked towards the helmsman. “Mister Culsten, if you please.”
The Krellonian nodded eagerly. “Alright, everyone, hold on to your hats. Here we go,” he said and dramatically entered the acceleration commands into his console. “Warp nine point one, point two, point three…”
“Field intensity remains stable,” reported Alendra.
“Warp nine point four, point five.”
Alendra turned from the engineering station. “I’m getting abnormal spikes in the sled’s primary intermix chamber.”
“It’s happening again,” growled So’Dan Leva quietly as he hovered over his tactical board.
But Michael was not willing to give up so quickly. “Can we compensate?”
“Attempting to switch to secondary intermix chamber now,” said the Bolian.
But Xylion had more bad news. “ODN levels are indicating a possible overload in progress.”
The captain turned to look towards his first officer, a dark, almost annoyed frown having replaced his earlier good cheer.
Star nodded slowly, fully cognizant of what this meant. She sighed heavily. “Mister Culsten, shut it down.”
Nora Laas turned away from the viewport with an eye roll as she noticed the starfield, which just moments ago had been streaking by the ship, having once more turned into the endless and star-dotted vista of outer space.
It were moments like these that she was thankful that she had made the decision to focus all her efforts on being a security officer, instead of pursuing the tactical track and spending the majority of her time on the bridge, staring at instruments and more than likely feeling the frustration of having to witness the third shutdown of the warp sled’s warp engine over the last ten hours.
At their current pace of trial and error, she figured that they would have been better off just ditching the sled altogether and head for the Amargosa Diaspora by using their supposedly much upgraded, native warp engine.
Those, however, were considerations better left to the captain and his bridge crew upstairs on deck one. She had her own issues to deal with as she turned to look at the ten assembled men and women who had made themselves at home in one of Eagle’s smaller crew mess halls.
She successfully managed to stifle a yawn. It was already fairly late and long after her normal duty shift had ended, but just like the bridge crew, she too was working long hours today, mostly because this had been the only time she had managed to get all the people who needed to be part of this meeting into a room together.
It was a wild bunch and one that at first glance looked nothing like a regular Starfleet crew. And of course, they weren't.
There was the tall, caramel-skinned, shorthaired and clearly quite muscular woman everyone apparently just called Diamond. Like with most of the people in this group, who seemed to prefer to go by nicknames, Nora had no idea why she was called this or what her real name was.
The short but stocky Tellarite went by Charm and it wasn't hard to guess that the moniker had been chosen sarcastically. It wasn't exactly a common theme for the rest of the group since the imposing Nausiccan was called Grunt, which seemed to accurately describe his preferred manner of communication. One-Shot was human and apparently unbeatable with a sniper rifle, or so she had been told. Violet had surprisingly luminous violet hair which was not uncommon for Boslic women, and Boom, the Andorian was apparently an explosives expert. The largest member of the team, a massive green-skinned Orion was usually referred to as Junior, Nora guessed because he was also the youngest member of the team. She could only guess how Ivory had gotten her name; the statuesque woman had skin as dark as the void of space and her calm and quiet manner seemed disturbing even for a Vulcan. The team of operatives was led by Chief Petty Officer Reynolds Sensabaugh who everyone simply referred to as Sensy. Perhaps more than the others, he could have passed for a regular member of Starfleet, had it not been for his perfectly bald head and thick beard which covered most of his lower face and which was an uncommon sight amongst the usually more clean-shaven crew.
None of these people wore Starfleet uniforms and instead were dressed in a mixture of combat fatigues or slacks and simple vests and tunics. Violet, the Boslic woman wore a particularly revealing and low-cut top which highlighted her well-endowed chest while Ivory wore the most conservative outfit which at least had some resemblance to a uniform even if it seemed a tighter fit and darker in color than the current service dress.
To Laas, the Niners, as they called themselves, or, more officially, Starfleet Special Missions Team Nineteen, looked more like a group of randomly assembled and lawless mercenaries one would expect to find on a pirate vessel than special operations operatives assigned to a ship of the line.
However, in this meeting, it was she and her deputy, Josè Carlos, who were the odd-men-out in their perfectly pressed uniforms and regulation haircuts.
The Niners had only recently joined Eagle’s crew and on Laas’ own recommendation to supplement her security team and attempt to fill the void left behind by the Marines detachment which had left the ship after two years of great service and sacrifice and who had been deemed no longer a necessity since the Federation was now officially in a state of peace.
The Niners’ overall appearance and a number of other issues were in fact at the center of the meeting’s agenda.
“I don’t understand the issue,” said a flustered Carlos who was sitting at one of the tables with a padd in front of him. “You are all members of Starfleet. Members of Starfleet are expected to wear a Starfleet uniform. It comes with the job.”
“Not with ours, it doesn’t,” quibbled Violet who was leaning back in a chair casually with her boots up on a table, paying the security officer very little attention otherwise.
“It’s not really a choice,” said Carlos.
“Listen, we’ve never worn regular uniforms,” said One-Shot while he was playing with a particularly large combat knife. “I don’t see why we have to start wearing one all of a sudden just because you wanted us to come here to help you. Just don’t add up to me.”
“That’s right,” said Junior, the massive Orion. “Besides they don’t make those clown outfits in my size.”
That caused a round of laughter from his fellow team members. Ivory and Sensabaugh the only ones abstaining.
"I'm fairly certain we could replicate something that would fit you," said Carlos but was mostly drowned out by the amusement which had gripped most of the operatives.
"Alright, guys, let's all shut up for a minute," Sensabaugh barked loudly enough to cause his team to quiet down. Not immediately but his words had an undeniable effect. "We all knew this wasn't going to be an easy transition for either us or the Fleeters," he said and then focused in on the Hispanic security officer. "But they have a point, Lieutenant. SMTs don't usually serve on Starfleet ships, it's not really what we do. You call us in when everything else has failed and you need a quick, surgically precise resolution to a tactical problem. We are not rank and file."
"Exactly," said Diamond, the tall woman who acted as Sensabaugh's second in command. "So you can't treat us as such."
The team leader held up his hand. “No. But perhaps there are some compromises we can make. This is a new role for all of us but the last thing I want to hear is that Niners are not flexible,” he said and regarded his people who were spread out all over the mess hall. “Least we forget that being adaptable is one of our key strengths.”
“Does this mean we have to play dress up and wear colorful uniforms?” Charm the Tellarite growled. “I look terrible in gold.”
“You look terrible in anything,” Violet said with a wide grin.
Laas felt it was time to interject. After all, she had a significant stake in making this arrangement work since it had been her brainchild to bring the special operators onboard when the captain had mulled over the decision of either keeping a full company of combat-trained Marines on board or rather allow civilians to return to Eagle after the two-year moratorium during the war. The much smaller SMT team had seemed like a perfect compromise since they took up only a fraction of the space of a one hundred and fifty men strong contingent thereby making enough room for civilians and still maintaining a highly-specialized combat unit on board. "Compromise is a two-way street, I've been told. I think I can sell the captain and first officer on the idea that a small group of people under their command do not wear uniforms."
This went over well with the operatives. Carlos shot her a surprised look, however.
“But you will need to wear combadges while on duty. And they must be visible at all times, preferably affixed to your left chest.” She glanced over at Violet and the plunging neckline of her vest. “And you will have to maintain a certain dress standard in line with regulations.”
The Boslic’s grin widened. “There is an old saying I like to go by you’ve probably never heard of before. If you’ve got it—“
“It’s that or standard uniforms,” Laas said, cutting her off. “Your choice.”
“Does Starfleet still have those cute little skants?” said One-Shot, shooting Violet a wide grin. “I think you’d look mighty fine in one of those, showing off those nice long gams of yours.”
“Dream on, buddy.”
“You know me too well.”
"I think we can all agree to combadges and sensible clothing on duty," said Sensabaugh sharply.
“What’s sensible, Sensy?” asked Junior. “I mean, do I have to wear a shirt all the time?”
The team leader rolled his eyes. “Your all grown men and women and this isn’t a schoolyard. I trust you all to figure this out, including you Junior.”
“If in doubt,” said Diamond. “Consult with Ivory, she’s sensible enough to know what proper attire looks like.”
The dark-skinned Vulcan woman offered the barest nod but said nothing at all.
Carlos glanced back at the security chief, looking slightly exasperated by this conversation but Laas simply nodded, letting him know that this was good enough of a compromise in her book. He turned back to the operators. “My next point is joint training and exercise routines. Some of my people have been complaining that you’ve been rather … well, standoffish when it comes to that. Your team acts as an extension of the security department on this ship. We are expected to work together, so it only makes sense that we train together as well.”
Diamond looked at her boss, shaking her head. “That’s not going to work, Sensy. We’re not going to mollycoddle the locals so that they can feel like we’re all together in this.”
“Now wait a minute,” Carlos said sharply, clearly offended by the implications. “We might not be special forces here but we are lead by one of the toughest people I’ve ever known and I’d like to think that it shows in our training.”
“You keep thinking that,” said Charm who clearly didn’t have the word diplomacy in his vocabulary. “I don’t care if your chief is the second coming of Kahless the Unforgettable and Attila the Hun all rolled up into one, whatever little games you and your people play on the holodeck is nothing compared to what we train for pretty much every waking hour of the day. You wouldn’t last ten minutes going through what we do.”
One-Shot winced slightly at Charms gruff tone and aimed Nora Laas a slightly contrite look. “You know, no offense.”
“None taken,” she said quickly. “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt insulted by the words of a Tellarite.”
Violet guffawed at that. “Hear that, Charm? Sounds like you really need to up your game here.”
“The point we’re trying to make,” said Diamond, “is that we don’t really play well with others. We’re not like the Marines. We are an extremely fine-tuned machine, each one of us performing a vital role. When we say we train and work as a unit, we really mean that. And it’s a formula that just doesn’t work if you add a whole bunch of other elements to the mix.”
“I have to agree with her, Lieutenant,” said Sensabaugh. “I still think that having us here on Eagle could work for the both of us. If you insist on trying to integrate my team into your security department, I won't stop you, but I will guarantee that you will not get the efficiency and effectiveness you were hoping for when you got us to sign-up to this gig."
Nora nodded slowly. “Very well, we’ll do it your way. As long as I can rely on you and your people to follow my orders and do what needs to be done when you are called upon.”
“Facta non verba.”
Nora aimed the Vulcan a surprised look. It had been the first time she had heard the other woman speak.
“That’s the creed,” said Diamond and all her fellow operatives nodded along silently to underscore the motto by which they lived by. Deeds. Not Words.
Part One: Trust No One - 4 by CeJay
4* * *
The speaking hall was packed to the seams with rapt listeners who had traveled long and far to hear this speech and even he could not deny a certain amount of excitement about hearing what he had to say. Very few people commanded quite the same amount of respect, not politicians, nor scientists or entertainers and yet the speaker was a bit of all three. He had been greeted as he stepped onto the stage with thunderous applause.
“We have entered into our greatest age.” His opening words had the audience spellbound. It was perhaps the folly of men to believe that their generation was superior to all that had come before; that they were wiser and knew better than anyone who had preceded them. That it was their destiny to surpass all previous generations.
"We have entered this marvelous age because, after thousands of cycles of intelligent life on this planet, we have finally understood the true purpose of our collective existence. We have glimpsed the future of our kind and we are willing and able to grasp it and become that which we were always meant to be."
The speaker walked across the stage, seemingly looking at each and everyone in attendance and feeding off their enthusiasm.
“We now know that what has held us back all this time has been the physical limitations of our forefathers who were enslaved to the feeble limits of the rotten shells they inhabited. Their lives were intrinsically linked to bodies which would fail them just when their minds were ready to fully comprehend what it meant to be alive.
But we have now at last conquered this deficiency by developing shells which give us abilities we never even dreamed of before and for the first time allowing us to truly evolve as a people by allowing our minds to develop over centuries instead of over just a few cycles.”
It was no longer possible to deny that the temperatures which had been climbing steadily over the last fifty cycles were now beginning to show their toll on the general populace. It had become much more fashionable for those who could afford it to relocate away from the regions close to the equator which for centuries had contained the most popular cities thanks to the high levels of sunshine and comfortably warm climate during all seasons.
The official statements from government scientist proclaimed that the sun was undergoing a period of increased solar flare activity which was likely going to last a few decades while the system’s lone star underwent a period of rapid expansion which the scientists claimed was no significant concern and simply a natural occurrence of the stellar transformation due to its age.
Once the star had fully completed this transformation, so the scientists claimed, solar flare activity would once again drop significantly and temperatures would once more return to the usual levels.
"The progress we have made on our shells has been indisputable," the speaker had said. "Only a few hundred cycles ago, the temporarily increased temperatures we are currently experiencing would have led to widespread medical conditions but thanks to having evolved beyond our need for purely biological bodies, the new environment we now find ourselves in hasn't been much more than a minor inconvenience.
We have eliminated the majority of all ailments our forebears would have had to endure because of the eventual breakdown of their biological processes. We are able to perform physical tasks without concerns over the limitations of our bodies and as a result have been able to undertake projects which have reshaped our entire world and advanced our civilization.
For a great many of us we have been able to ensure that our shells match precisely the way we see ourselves and have been granted the unrestricted freedom to express ourselves in whatever form we wish and continue to do so whenever we replace our outer forms and thereby increase our longevity and our capacity for expanding our minds further than anyone has ever considered possible.”
The promised halt to the rising temperatures never came. Instead they continued to climb with each new cycle until the government had little choice but to focus the energy of almost the entire available workforce to undertake the most ambitious civil works project in the history of their people by constructing elaborate underground cities, some of which rivaled those found above the surface and which were being deserted by more and more of its inhabitants.
Soon it was no longer feasible to leave one’s home during daytime hours due to the relentless heat and depending to the season, people migrated to cooler parts of the planet until almost the entire population spent the majority of its time below the surface.
"Some have argued that we should have focused our great energies on developing other technologies instead of perfecting the synthetic shell. Some voices have tried to get us to abandon our greatest enterprise to instead divert our energies on some far-fetched notions as cloning or space travel. But instead of exploring the stars, we as a people have chosen to answer a much greater calling. We have chosen to explore our own minds and souls in order to fulfill our truest potential.
Instead of looking beyond our world for answers, we are looking within ourselves to explore the true limitations of what it means to be a sentient being. And once we have unlocked this promise, we will find that there will no longer be any barriers to stand in the way of what we can accomplish as a people.
Our future will be filled with unlimited possibilities as we will be able to achieve whatever we will set our minds to.”
For all the obvious signs that had existed for many cycles, the day the world ended still came upon them all as a surprise. The government had refused to acknowledge the true scope of the crisis until the bitter end. With no viable alternatives to escape the death of their planet, the decision was made to let the populace die in ignorance, instead of allowing them a chance to prepare for the end.
He had been one of the very few privileged persons who had known what was coming and as such had enjoyed the dubious honor of having a front-row seat to the apocalypse.
The unbearable heat, the sky turning into colors entirely unnatural and never once seen before, the sudden demise and then death of flora and fauna, the breakdown of communications as the satellites in orbit stopped working and then burned up in the sky, the failure and breakdown of technology and finally the mass extinction of an entire people, all this within mere hours.
The world had ended.
Bensu awoke with a start.
He required a few moments to remember that he was exactly where he was supposed to be, in his quarters on the starship Eagle.
Looking out of the viewport beside his bed he could see that the ship was currently traveling at high warp, most likely thanks to the warp sled they were docked with but which he could not see from his window.
Looking at the star field deceptively streaking past the ship made him feel even queasier than he already did. Covered in sweat, he climbed out of his bed and walked over into the refresher to splash some cool water on his face.
The tired looking visage that glanced back at him through the mirror, the roundish face, the dark green, almond-shaped eyes, the dark skin and his hairless head with its multiple white bony ridges which ran from his forehead all the way to his neck, it was the exact same face he had seen in his dreams. It was the same face, the same body, of the man who had survived the end of his world.
Except, of course, it wasn't.
That body had died with the rest of Celerias a very long time ago.
This body was much newer but modeled almost precisely on the one he had once occupied.
How or why he had survived the destruction of his world, he didn’t know. In fact, he had only very recently learned about that previous existence at all, thanks to an excursion to the Vulcan’s Forge with his long-time friend Xylion. The same man who had come across his katra as a child some seventy years earlier and with whom he had shared a mind for over half a century.
Xylion had hoped that retracing their steps which had led to this very unusual bond between them so long ago would provide answers to their many questions. As it turned out the answers had only raised more questions.
Ever since he had managed to unlock some of the memories of his former life, he'd had the same dreams, or rather nightmares, of Celerias' elites espousing the many great virtues of the synthetic bodies which had become such an important part of the people's lives during the last few hundred cycles before their word's ultimate demise.
A glance at the chronometer brought him out of his sad reflections, realizing that he was going to be late for his shift behind the bar in the Nest, the ship’s main crew lounge, if he delayed much further.
Like he had done on so many other occasions lately, he decided to leave the past where it belonged and instead prepared himself for the day ahead and making sure that he put on the face that people on Eagle had come to expect from him. One that was always willing to listen and never seemed to show the slightest hint of his own, and as of late, increasing tribulations.
While his two lunch companions hadn’t noticed, it had not escaped his meticulous attention to detail that Bensu had not been behind the bar as was usually the case at this time of the day when he had entered the Nest along with Tazla Star and DeMara Deen.
As they often did, Xylion and his companions had chosen a table on the upper level of the Nest and near the sloped and forward-facing windows which usually allowed for a great view of outer space but which were currently obstructed by the warp sled to which Eagle was attached to and which after a few, frustrating attempts, had finally allowed the ship to travel far faster than it would have been under its own power.
“Not much of a view today. Or for the next few days for that matter,” said DeMara Deen as she picked a chair, selecting the one which faced away from the windows and instead gave her a direct line of sight of Goldie, the man-high, golden statue of the Terran eagle captured with its wings fully unfurled.
“Just until we reach Arkaria,” said Star. “If we had continued towards Seven Sisters we would have had to put up with this view for at least three weeks.
“Not sure if that makes up for it. I wouldn’t have minded sacrificing the view in exchange for a real exploratory mission,” said Deen.
The first officer nodded in agreement. “Hopefully we’ll still get the chance once this current mission is resolved. Besides, I can’t wait for that concert. I’ve heard great things.”
“Not from Michael, I’m sure. He’s still fuming over the fact that I decided against opera.”
Xylion could see that Star seemed slightly confused by that response and he wondered if DeMara Deen had exaggerated the captain's feelings over her choice of performance act. The young Tenarian wasn't prone to embellishments as many other more emotional people he had met over the years. She was, however, one of the most emotional and therefore often difficult to predict.
Since Deen clearly did not seem willing to elaborate on her statement, he decided to take the conversation in a different direction. "Has the captain made a decision on briefing the crew? As of yet we have not been given any indication of the nature of this new assignment which has already preempted a carefully planned expedition."
Star shook her head. “Not yet. But he will soon. Probably once we get to Arkaria. The captain doesn’t like keeping secrets from the crew. And trust me, he was just as excited about the Pleiades as you were,” she said with a little grin. “He’ll do whatever he can to make sure we get this latest mission resolved as soon as possible and get us back to do what we were meant to.”
“Excited is not the term I would have used,” he said. “However, a significant amount of planning has been invested to ensure the success of our exploratory assignment.”
“Of course,” she said, still grinning. “And I’m sure you’re simply expressing the missed opportunity to satisfy your scientific curiosity.”
“Not just mine, Commander. Any exploratory mission has the potential to further the scientific knowledge of the entire Federation.”
“Anyone seen Bensu?” said Deen, looking around. “Isn’t he usually already serving us by the time we sit down?”
Star offered the younger woman a frown. “The replicators are just over there if you can’t wait. It’s not part of his job to serve us.”
But before Deen could offer a retort, the resident bartender did appear, climbing up the spiral staircase while skillfully balancing a full tray. “Apologies for the delay, folks.”
“None are required,” Star said and shot Deen a quick look. “We are perfectly happy to serve ourselves.”
“Nonsense,” Bensu said. “The hardest working officers on this ship deserve a little bit of pampering now and then,” he said and began to distribute the food and drinks he had brought. “Plain boring Plomeek soup and a Vulcan mocha for you, Xylion,” he said and placed a bowl and cup in front of him. “A chicken club sandwich and raktajino for the commander and a baba ghanoush with a Tamarin frost for the lieutenant.”
Deen looked at her beverage for a moment.
Bensu noticed. “Something the matter with your usual choice?”
She bit her lower lip. “Actually, I feel like something a little different today if you don’t mind.”
Star appeared mildly annoyed by Deen’s insistence on making things more difficult but Bensu seemed more than happy to accommodate her. “Of course. What can I get you instead?”
“How about a Supernova?”
Bensu visibly froze and simply stared back at the Tenarian as if she had just grown a second head.
Deen briefly glanced towards Star, uncertain why her request had prompted this response. “Is there … something wrong with that?”
When the bartender remained unresponsive, the Trill first officer gently touched his shoulder. “Bensu, are you alright?”
He turned to look at Star. “Huh?”
“Is something the matter? You seem out of sorts.”
Bensu quickly shook his head, offering her and Deen a beaming smile again. “No, no of course not. I’ll get you that drink now.”
But Star was not willing to let the matter go quite so quickly. “Are you sure? You really zoned out there for a moment.”
Bensu kept his confident smile. “It’s nothing to worry about. To tell you the truth, I get a little dizzy when traveling at very high warp speeds. It usually goes away after a while,” he said, picked up the unwanted Tamarin frost, placed it back on his tray and then quickly departed to fetch the replacement.
“Do you think he’s alright?” Deen whispered to the others.
“Perhaps next time, just get your own drink,” Star said.
“Sensations of disorientation are not uncommon in many humanoid races when exposed to excessive warp velocities. Considering that Eagle has never traveled at this speed for extended periods of time, it is not entirely unexpected that some persons may experience discomfort.”
“It would help if we knew what race Bensu belongs to,” said Deen.
“If he doesn’t know—“
Star didn’t get to finish her sentence and she stopped herself suddenly when she spotted Xylion jump onto his feet.
He had watched Bensu carefully after he had left the table, possessing a great amount of certainty as to what had prompted his odd reaction to Deen's drink choice. After all, he had shared the memories Bensu had only recently unlocked via a mind meld he had facilitated.
Even while Xylion had spoken, he had observed Bensu sway slightly in his walk and when it had become clear that he was about to collapse, he had quickly stood up to get to him before he could reach the staircase.
He was not quite fast enough to keep Bensu from losing his grip on the tray he was carrying which, along with the beverage it still carried, crashed loudly onto the deck, followed a moment later by Bensu himself.
Star and Deen jumped up from their seats as well.
Thanks to the head start, Xylion was by Bensu’s side first and already tried to help him back up and onto a nearby empty chair when the other two joined him.
“Bensu, are you alright? What happened?” Deen asked with obvious concern.
“I don’t know, I just got really dizzy for a moment and next thing I know, I’m on the floor.”
Star was already looking him over for injuries. “Are you hurt?”
He shook his head once he was in the chair. “Nothing but my pride, Commander. Pretty darn clumsy of me.”
“Maybe we should take you to sickbay,” said Deen.
Bensu quickly shook his head. “I’ll be alright. As I said I just get a little dizzy at high warp. I probably just need to catch my breath and then I should be perfectly fine again,” he said and tried to stand up but Star had put a firm grasp on his shoulder, keeping him from leaving the chair.
“I’d be much more comfortable if Eli gets to look you over first.”
Xylion knew that she was referring to Elijah Katanga, Eagle’s veteran chief physician whom Tazla Star’s previous host had been a close friend to. He also understood precisely why Bensu didn’t like the idea of being examined by a doctor. “We seem to understand what has brought on his loss of balance. It is doubtful that Doctor Katanga would be able to significantly add to this diagnosis.”
Star aimed him an almost puzzled look which quickly morphed into a more determined expression. “Regardless, I want him checked over. He may have been injured without knowing it. Or there might be a remedy for his condition.”
Bensu glanced up at the Trill with an almost pleading expression on his face. “Commander, that’s really not necessary. I’ll just go get some rest and take it easy until I’ve fully acclimated to racing across the stars.”
Xylion could tell from the look in Star’s eyes that she had made her decision and was not going to be swayed. “You’re going to sickbay, Mister. And just to make sure you get there, I’ll take you myself.”
Bensu uttered a resigned sigh. “Very well, Commander.”
“I shall accompany you as well,” Xylion said and shortly after all three of them set out to take Bensu to the medical bay.
As it turned out, Xylion’s prediction as to the level of assistance Doctor Katanga could provide Bensu had been fairly accurate. With his patient sitting somewhat restlessly on the biobed with both Xylion and Star nearby, the octogenarian physician ran a number of tests on Bensu seemingly without much success.
“Anything you can do?” Star said with her arms crossed in front of her as she watched on as the doctor had just completed a third scan.
Katanga didn’t respond to the question as if he had not heard her speak at all. Xylion observed a noticeable frown growing on the Trill’s face, clearly not appreciating the way she had been rebuffed.
Not for the first time Xylion took note that a number of crewmembers who he understood to be on friendly terms with each other acting in rather unexpected ways as of late. And also not for the first time did he realize how much simpler and less confusing interactions between Vulcans were compared to those of races who insisted on displaying their emotions so openly.
“I’m fine,” said Bensu and looked over his shoulder at Star. “It’s just as I told you earlier. A bit of space sickness and nothing a good rest cannot fix.”
“I would thank you to leave the diagnosis to the professionals,” said Katanga sharply.
“Which is?” said Star.
Katanga looked up to at least acknowledge her presence this time but said nothing and returned to consider the readouts of his tricorder instead and murmuring quietly to himself.
Bensu continued when the doctor did not offer an answer. “I just really hate making a fuzz over this and wasting everyone’s time.”
“The wellbeing of every member of this crew, Starfleet and civilian alike, is never a waste of time,” Star said, sounding just as crisp as the doctor had.
Katanga nodded. “Quite so,” he said without affording the Trill a look. “You are a most interesting individual, Mister Bensu.”
“Just Bensu will do, Doctor.”
“Right. What race of people did you say you belonged to?”
Bensu glanced at Xylion before answering. “Well, there is no easy answer to that question, I’m afraid.”
Katanga looked at his patient before following his glance towards the Vulcan.
Xylion squared his shoulders and clasped his hands behind his back. “Bensu’s exact origins have not been determined. It is a matter we have both explored in some detail and continue to do so.”
“Interesting,” said Katanga, more to himself than to anyone else in sickbay.
“But not entirely uncommon,” said Star. “I appreciate it is not the same circumstance but my own parentage is somewhat of a mystery.”
Xylion recalled that according to Tazla Star’s personnel file, she, or rather the host which had later merged with the Star symbiont had been either orphaned or possibly abandoned while she had been an infant.
“Perhaps. But in your case there was never a doubt that you are a Trill,” said Katanga. “Whereas what we have with you, Bensu, is a complete mystery as to your origins. And what I can tell from my surface readings, you possess a very remarkable anatomy which I would be quite interested in studying further.”
Bensu stood. "If it is all the same to you, Doctor, I would rather return to my quarters and rest. Unless, of course, there is something specific you think you can do for me. Without any further examinations, that is."
“To be honest, with that unique anatomy of yours I wouldn’t even know where to begin and it would be quite reckless to simply prescribe you something without having a closer look at what makes your body tick. But I believe we absolutely should schedule some time to have a closer look at you. Not just to satisfy my own medical curiosity, but we might find further clues to your own origins as well as be better prepared for any medical emergencies you may suffer in the future.”
Bensu offered Katanga a wide grin. “I promise I will consider that kind offer, Doctor.”
“You know, I could make that an order. As the chief medical officer of this ship I do have that authority.”
Xylion considered Katanga very carefully. “I believe, Doctor, that since Bensu is a civilian, you will find that there are certain limitations to your authority concerning any non-essential medical procedures.”
“Of course, I forgot that you swallowed the Starfleet rulebook when you were a child,” Katanga said with a good-natured smile to which Xylion merely raised an eyebrow. The doctor turned back to Bensu who was clearly ready to leave sickbay. “I apologize, I didn’t mean for that to sound like a threat, nor would I ever suggest to misuse my authority in such a manner. I merely want to make sure that we’ll be able to treat you should the occasion arise.”
Bensu was clearly not offended. “Thank you, Doctor, I do appreciate your concern. And as I said, I will consider what you have said. Now if you will all excuse me, I think I’ve already taken up more than enough of your time today.”
“You’ll be heading straight back to your quarters to rest for the remainder of the day, won’t you?” said Star.
He gave her a firm nod. “You have my word, Commander.”
“I will ensure you reach your quarters without further incident,” said Xylion.
“And Bensu, if you experience any other—“
“Rest assured you would be the first person I call, Doctor. Thank you again. All of you,” he said and then headed for the exit with Xylion following closely behind.
* * *
Tazla Star remained behind after Xylion and Bensu had left, and for a moment simply watched on as Katanga began clearing up the instruments he had used to unsuccessfully attempt to diagnose his patient. “What are your thoughts on Bensu?” she asked after a moment of awkward silence had passed.
He finished putting away the instruments and shrugged. “He doesn’t like doctors. Certainly wouldn’t be the first iatrophobic person I’ve come across in my career,” he said and then headed towards his office.
When he refused to stop, Tazla followed him. “Alright, mind telling me when all this is going to stop?”
He took his seat behind his desk and picked up a padd without gracing her with another look. “When is what going to stop?”
She uttered a heavy sigh at his insistence on sticking with these immature antics, particularly considering that he had celebrated his eighty-eighth birthday not to long ago. “Aren’t you getting a little too old for these childish games and holding on to grudges?”
At that, he did look her in the eye. "I don't know, Taz, shouldn't you know better, with those many lifetimes of experiences inside that slug of yours, than to betray your closest friends."
“That’s a bit melodramatic.”
"I don't think so. You acted against my implicit wishes by issues an apology in my name regarding a decision we made over sixty years ago and which I still fully stand by to this day. I would call that a betrayal."
“Fine,” she said and took a few steps closer. “And I apologized for doing it. How much longer are you planning to punish me for it?”
He uttered a little humorless laugh. “You apologize for a mistake or maybe an error of judgment. You knew exactly what you were doing and you were fully aware that I didn’t wish you to do it.”
She nodded. “I made a command decision. And in the process ensured the Federation maintained a vital trade ally.”
“Exactly,” he said. “You aren’t sorry at all. You did what you needed to do and clearly would do it all over again in the same situation. That’s not regret. You are looking for forgiveness.”
"I am sorry that you're so upset over this," she said, trying to offer an olive branch.
“Well, you should have considered that before you chose to take that particular path. As you’ve said, you’ve made a command decision. Now you will need to live with the consequences.”
Star realized that there was no winning her argument. “You’ve always been the most stubborn man I’ve known,” she said and headed for the doors. She turned back to look at him before she left. “Just you make sure this will not become one of those things you’ve end up regretting. We’ve been friends too long to let something like this come between us.” She held out a tiny bit of hope that she’d be able to get through to him but when he refused to look back up from his padd, she uttered another sigh and left Katanga to steam on his own.
* * *
Xylion and Bensu hadn’t spoken after leaving sickbay and until they had reached the turbolift and even then Bensu didn’t talk until the young enlisted man with whom they were sharing the car had stepped out after arriving at his destination.
“Thank you for your support in sickbay,” Bensu said without even looking at his friend.
“I am not entirely comfortable with obfuscating my knowledge of what we have learned regarding your origins.”
He turned to look at the Vulcan. “You said it yourself, I’m not in Starfleet. It is my choice if I wish to share this knowledge with other people. I am not subject to the same regulations as a member of Starfleet.”
"Perhaps not. However, you are a member of this crew and this community. Therefore you have certain obligations to ensure the safety and wellbeing of this crew and not to compromise either."
“Xylion, the moment I believe that I might be putting anyone on this ship at risk I’d be more than willing to be forthcoming about anything I know. Or perhaps even leave Eagle if I must. But while that is not the case, I'd rather not advertise that I come from a race of extinct beings who transplanted their minds into cybernetic bodies or that I somehow managed to survive the destruction of an entire planet only to end up being a passenger inside your head. I'm also not so sure how people would react to us building this synthetic body in secret and transferring my consciousness."
“It would not be a simple explanation,” Xylion acknowledged.
“No, it certainly wouldn’t. Nor am I interested in becoming a science project to be studied and dissected.”
“Federation law protects all sentient beings. It is unlikely you would be subjected to any treatment against your will.”
The turbolift arrived on the deck Bensu’s quarters were located on and the doors opened. “Let’s just say I don’t want to put those laws to the test,” he said and left the lift with Xylion following closely.
“I take it you have continued to experience dreams of your former existence.”
He nodded. “Far too regularly than I care for. And I wasn’t lying about the dizziness at high warp. I’ve always had that.”
“That might be related to your physiology.”
“I am thinking the same thing. After all my people never really experienced space travel thanks to their enormously foolish shortsightedness.”
“And yet their accomplishments in creating cybernetic bodies cannot be disregarded.”
They both stopped outside the doors leading into Bensu’s quarters. “Really? Tell me, how many other Celerians have you met?”
“I understand that to be a rhetorical query since the answer to your question is obvious and meant to imply that none other have survived the destruction of their homeworld.”
Bensu offered him a large smirk. “Looks like sharing a mind with you for all those years has really rubbed off on you.”
Xylion raised an eyebrow. “I suggest we engage in mediation techniques to try and address your ailment and your recurring nightmares. We might be able to uncover more about your origins in doing so.”
But Bensu quickly shook his head. "To be honest, I'd rather not. I've had enough meditation to last me a lifetime when we shared a mind. Besides, what else is there to learn? These people focused all their attention on building shiny, new bodies to live longer, to be smarter and to be stronger. And then, when their planet suddenly died, they all died along with it. End of story."
“Evidently not. You remain.”
"Yes, lucky me," he said and yawned. "I have to be honest, all this excitement has tired me out. Besides, I've promised the good doctor and Commander Star that I'd be resting for what's left of the day. I think I'll do just that. Let's leave the past where it belongs, burned up and annihilated a very long time ago and very far away from here." With that, he turned and disappeared into his quarters.
Part One: Trust No One - 5 by CeJay
After a few initial teething troubles with the experimental warp sled, the rest of the three day journey at high warp had turned out to be mostly problem free and both Hopkins and Xylion agreed that the technology was sound, reassuring Michael that it should be able to take Eagle all the way to the Pleiades once the time finally came.
Of course, the trip from the Federation core to Arkaria and the Amargosa Diaspora, deeper inside the Beta Quadrant was merely a stone’s throw compared to the far more distant star cluster.
“Disengaging warp drive in five, four, three, two, one.”
True to Culsten’s countdown the starfield which had seemingly streaked past Eagle for the last three days returned once more to its only slightly less deceptive fixed state and Michael could once more feel the slight groan of the ship’s deck plates as Eagle returned to the calmer surrounds of normal space after their seventy-two-hour sprint.
“At least disengaging the warp sled is much less complicated than getting it to start up,” said Deen from operations. “Location confirmed. We are just outside the Arkaria system. One final warp jump should get us where we need to be.”
As a safety precaution, they had avoided setting a course which would have had them drop out right inside a populated system or for that matter even pointed at one with what amounted to a super-powered missile strapped to the outer hull. If something had gone wrong with the shutdown sequence, Eagle would have found itself barreling right through empty space instead of needlessly endangering a populated world.
“Mister Xylion, Miss Alendra, if you would be so kind as to get us out of our rocket pack. I think it’s time for us to part ways again,” said Michael, offering Tazla Star a quick smirk which she quickly reciprocated.
“Beginning decoupling sequence,” announced the science officer. “Sled drives are powering down.”
"Antimatter generators on the sled deactivated. Main power reduced to standby mode," added Alendra from the engineering station at the rear of the bridge. "Now disengaging umbilicals."
“ODN connections are disconnected. The warp sled is now in autonomous operational mode,” said Xylion.
“All umbilicals and connectors are released, Captain. We are clear to maneuver away from the sled,” said Alendra and looked towards the command area.
Michael nodded. “Helm, push us off, maneuvering thrusters only. Nice and easy, Lif.”
Culsten began to tap away at his console. “Thrusters engaged. Pushing off at ten meters per second.”
Star turned to her own console and after activating the right commands, the view screen angle changed to show the bulky warp sled which Eagle had been attached to over the last few days slowly moving away.
“It’s sure not much to look at,” said Deen.
“It did its job,” said Leva.
“Eventually,” she added.
“Distance now one thousand kilometers,” said Culsten, keeping a close eye on his instruments.
“Mister Leva, make a note of its location. It wouldn’t do if we lost Starfleet R&Ds newest toy out here,” said Michael.
Leva nodded. “Location marked in the log.”
Star glanced towards the ceiling. “Bridge to engineering.”
A response came quickly. “Engineering. Hopkins here.”
“How does that new engine look? We ready to turn our own power back on?” Star asked.
“Ready whenever you are.”
Michael rose from his chair. “What’s the status of the engine overall? I appreciate you didn’t get nearly as much time to configure it as you would have liked.”
“That’s true, sir,” she responded. “I can give you anything up to warp eight with a fair amount of confidence. But I’d rather not strain her too quickly until we’ve had more time to work out all the kinks.”
Star frowned at that and considered the captain. “I don’t like the idea of not having a fully powered warp engine at our disposal. Feels like we’ve got one hand tied behind our backs.”
He nodded, feeling much the same way.
But Hopkins responded before he had a chance. “The engine is rated up to warp nine point nine six and I can probably give you that in a crunch if you really need it. I’d just rather not go too fast for a little while.”
“Message received, Lieutenant,” said Michael. “We’ll try to be accommodating. And we won’t need a whole lot of power to get is into Arkaria.”
Culsten picked that one up. "No, sir. A quick warp-two jump will get us there in a few minutes. Will hardly even have to touch that dial."
“Excellent, lay in the course and engage when ready,” said Michael and once Hopkins was off the comm again, making sure to oversee a warp engine which had laid mostly dormant over the last three days.
Moments later Eagle engaged at her own power. And not long after that that they were already inbound on the green-hued planet of Arkaria Prime.
“Approaching the planet at half impulse, sir,” said Culsten.
Michael could already see the large Remmler Array in the planet's orbit consisting of two massive, grid-shaped planar generators which were designed to expose any ship docked inside the array and between the generators with powerful baryon sweeps to eliminate particles which accumulated on a starship's hull when traveling at warp speed. Since bayron particles were particularly common around dense star clusters like the Amargosa Diaspora, the Remmler Array in the Arkaria system was particularly busy and it came as little surprise then that a starship was currently being prepared to be serviced by the array.
From what Michael could tell it was a Starfleet vessel and a familiar one at that.
“It’s the Agamemnon, sir,” said Deen and turned in her chair to glance at him. “Did you know she was out here?”
He shook his head. This was news to him. However, in hindsight, he realized that he shouldn’t have been surprised. Not since he already suspected that Amaya Donners, the captain of the Agamemnon and his close friend from his Academy days, had been working with his late father, having apparently met with him just days before his sudden passing on Earth.
He could feel Star’s eyes on him as well. It wasn’t a well-kept secret that he and Amaya had become more than friends recently. She most likely wondered how it was then that he had not known that she was out here, at the exact same place they had been called to on short notice and after their well-planned and prepared exploration mission to the Pleiades had been so suddenly suspended.
He was wondering the exact same thing.
“We are receiving a message from the Agamemnon, sir,” said Leva from the tactical station. “Captain Donners is requesting permission to beam onboard.”
Michael nodded. “Lif, get us in transporter range, I’ll be in transporter room two,” he said and quickly departed the bridge.
Amaya Donners materialized on the transporter pad just moments after he had stepped into the room. Her brilliant eyes found him quickly. "Permission to come aboard."
He nodded and watched her step down the platform. “Fancy meeting you here.”
She offered him a little grin. “I was in the neighborhood.”
“Sounds to me there is a bit more to it than that.”
The tall, caramel-skinned starship captain nodded. “Perhaps. And I promise I’ll tell you all about it. But first I need you to head towards Arkaria IX. I’ll hitch a ride with you if you don’t mind since my ship’s in the shop right now.”
“Is that where we’re meeting Jarik?” he said.
She answered with a subdued nod even while she was already heading for the doors. Michael may have won that race to the captain’s chair they had both embarked on even while they had still been cadets, but here, on his ship, she was behaving like a veteran Starfleet commander, no longer used to waiting for others and expecting people to follow her lead.
He tailed her out of the room and into the corridor as she confidently headed for the nearest turbolift as if she was still on her own ship. “Are you going to tell me anything about why I’m here? Not that I’m not glad to see you again since we had so little time together on Earth.”
In truth, he still felt a slight tinge of bitterness that he had found out that Maya had not only been on Earth while he had been there, he was also fairly confident she had at one point been in the same building, but had not found it necessary to reach out to him until his father’s funeral. It had been a little over a year now since they had taken their relationship to a new level, and thanks to the war and their busy schedules, they had managed to see each other in person only a handful of times during that period. Starship captains tended to partake in the most extreme version of long distance relationships simply by virtue of their chosen occupation. It made it all the more frustrating that she had chosen not to take advantage of their most recent opportunity to spend time together during a time in which he could really have used the company.
They stepped into the turbolift together and it was she who called out for the bridge as their destination. She glanced at him for a moment before she spoke, perhaps sensing what he was thinking. “Michael, I’m really sorry about your father. He was a—“
“Great man, yes, I know,” he said with perhaps a little more annoyance than he had planned. “Forgive me, but I’ve heard that line quite a bit lately.”
She nodded. “I know that you and your father didn’t get along very well and I understand that there is a difference between a public persona and the one shared by friends and family. I can see how he could not have been an easy man to live with.”
“Not to mention having him as your father.”
“Regardless of how challenging this may have been for you, he was still your father and I wish I could have been there for you after he passed. Trust me, if I could have been I would have,” she said, sounding sincere.
“You don’t have to apologize to me for being a Starfleet captain.”
They arrived on the bridge and once again it was she who walked out first, striding onto the bridge as if she owned the place. Michael tried to not let it bother him.
“Captain Donners,” Star said as she stood and greeted the other woman. “Welcome onboard.”
“Commander Star,” she said and shook hands with the Trill. “It is good to meet you again.”
Michael thought it was remarkable how easy it came to Amaya to pretend to like somebody. He was fairly certain that she didn’t think much of his formerly disgraced first officer, she had pretty much told him as much after she had learned that she had been assigned to Eagle. It was impossible to discern any of that from the bright smile she offered Star. The brief greeting also made him realize that they had shared no physical contact at all after she had arrived in the transporter room, not even something as innocuous as a handshake.
“You look well, Dee,” she told DeMara next. “One of these days you will have to share that Tenarian secret with me that keeps you eternally young.”
“You look very well yourself, Captain,” she responded with an equally friendly smile. “I don’t believe you need any tips from me.” DeMara had briefly served with Amaya at the same time as Michael had on the ill-fated Columbia under the late Captain Mendez.
With the greetings out of the way, all eyes turned expectedly towards Michael again, anticipating new instructions, including Maya’s who may have felt comfortable on another captain’s bridge but was well aware that there were certain lines you didn’t cross. One of which was to give orders to somebody else’s crew.
“Mister Culsten, get us to Arkaria IX please.”
“Aye, sir. Course set, engaging at full impulse. ETA, fifteen minutes.”
He noticed that Amaya kept her eyes on the Krellonian officer at the helm for a little longer than was necessary. Considering what Throl had told him about their mission, he thought he knew why. “Gives us a little time to catch-up,” he said to her and pointed at the doors leading to his ready room. “Can I offer you a quick drink?”
She shook her head. "I think it would be better if I prepared for our next meeting. I'll see you back in the transporter room in fifteen," she said and then raised a hand when he was about to speak up again. "No need to for an escort," she said with a playful smile which felt designed to deflect from her brusque attitude. "I tend to know my way around a starship." With that, she quickly ducked back into the turbolift.
Both Star and Deen quickly returned to their duties, trying to avoid eye contact with the obviously snubbed captain.
Michael quietly took his seat, trying and failing to avoid the awkwardness which had suddenly settled over the bridge.
Part One: Trust No One - 6 by CeJay
Starfleet’s Department of Special Affairs and Investigations had an obvious affinity for underground installations, Michael Owens mused after he had visited his father’s out of the way base located underneath an old diamond mine located in Siberia on Earth just a few weeks earlier and now, after having beamed into what looked like yet another subterranean facility below the surface of the ninth planet of the Arkaria system.
However, while the Russian base had clearly been a Starfleet installation with the same streamlined interior design to give it the look and feel that was so common among ships and bases throughout the Federation, the facility on Arkaria IX had obviously been designed by someone with very different aesthetic sensibilities and which seemed to predate Starfleet by a few centuries at least.
Michael took a moment to appreciate the wide and high, slightly inward curved corridors which almost appeared as if they had been designed for a people much taller than the average humanoid. The décor was mostly painted in dark brownish and amber colors and there was a noticeable alien hieroglyph-like script running along the walls which he didn’t recognize.
He had a strong suspicion that this place had not been built by the inhabitants of Arkaria Prime and was tempted to ask Amaya about this place to satisfy his own curiosity.
However, his fellow starship captain had remained uncharacteristically aloof ever since she had come aboard and even more so now since they had beamed down into this mysterious place.
He had an inkling that he could thank his father for Amaya’s sudden need for secretiveness since that had been very much his specialty and a never-ending source of frustration for him. His father was gone but it seemed that he had managed to pull other people he cared about into his web of secrecy and lies. It was difficult not to resent him for that.
That Amaya was heavily involved with whatever was happening here was obvious since she led him through the maze of wide corridors with the confidence of somebody who had been here before, even nodding at a few people they encountered with familiarity. Like the base in Russia, this one too was staffed with a mixture of Starfleet officers and non-uniformed civilian personnel.
After a few mostly quiet minutes traversing the complex, they reached a large oval shaped room which seemed to function as a control center judging by the many computer stations arranged here and personnel monitored various screens. A partition had been set up at the far end which led into a meeting room of sorts comprised of a large and round conference table surrounded by a number of chairs, one of which was occupied by Jarik.
The tall Vuclan man quickly stood upon seeing them entering the room, a large smile decorating his lips as he approached Eagle’s captain. “Michael, good to see you again, old friend,” he said and quickly grabbed his hand before following it up with a friendly hug.
Jarik was wearing a red-collared Starfleet uniform with four pips decorating the collar of his shirt. But whereas his and Maya’s insignia identified them as captains, Jarik’s pips were arranged on top of a straight gold bar, denoting a senior administrative role.
The Vulcan took a step back and considered them both, his smile remaining on his face. “Feels a bit like an Academy reunion, doesn’t it?”
Michael had to admit that there was some truth to that. He and Jarik had been roommates when they had both been cadets in San Francisco while Amaya had been just down the hall. They had been close friends at the time even if Michael had always suspected that Jarik and Amaya would not have been close if it hadn’t been for him. Regardless of their shared relationship at the Academy, he couldn’t help but feel like the odd man out.
He nodded. “It does. But I suppose this isn’t exactly a happy reunion.”
Jarik shook his head. “The circumstances aren’t ideal, no. And I fully appreciate that this caught you by surprise and that you were all but ready to head off into the great unknown to make what I’m sure would have been great new discoveries. I can only imagine how much you must have looked forward to that and I’m truly sorry to have to pull you away from such a grand opportunity.”
“I’m sure there’ll be time for that later and once we’ve dealt with this latest crisis.”
“I hope so, Michael,” Jarik said and then seemed to hesitate for a moment. “I know you’ve heard this quite a bit lately, and I know I’ve already offered my condolences to you back on Earth. But I just wanted to say again how sorry I am for Jon.”
Michael nodded. “Thank you.”
There was a moment of awkward silence before Jarik continued. “And thank you for coming all the way out here so promptly,” he said and indicated towards one of the many empty chairs. Michael took the proffered seat while Jarik and Amaya took chairs opposite from him. “Looks like that new warp sled our friends at R&D have cooked up really came through, huh?”
“We had a few initial troubles with it but overall, yes, it really worked quite well,” he said and then decided to cut to the chase. “I understand that there is a medical crisis on a Krellonian colony that we might be able to help out with.”
He didn’t miss the brief glance exchanged by his two friends.
Jarik nodded. “That is correct.”
“And that Eagle was specifically requested for this mission.”
“Also true and I suppose you’re wondering why that is,” Jarik said.
“I have my suspicions. Not many Starfleet ships have a Krellonian crewmember onboard.”
Jarik nodded. “Mister Culsten seems to have some very important connections in his government from the little we could determine.”
"But there is more going on here than the Krellonians asking for help with a medical emergency, isn't there? Otherwise, I wouldn't be sitting here and I'd be on my way into Krellon space as we speak."
His two academy friends exchanged yet another look, giving him seemingly indisputable evidence that he was on the right track.
Jarik leaned forward slightly even if that did next to nothing about the physical distance between them considering that he had chosen to sit on the exact opposite side of the large round table. “Michael, I know of course how your father worked and the secrets he liked to keep but let me assure you, that is not how I wish to operate. Especially not with you. I believe in being upfront with people I work with, particularly when I am convinced that I can count on their discretion and integrity. But before I go into any details, would you mind telling me what it was Jon told you about the work we were doing when you came to see us on Earth?”
Michael considered them briefly from across the table and couldn’t entirely shake the feeling that he was being interviewed. He had, of course, worked with Amaya closely before and liked to think that he knew her well. And that was not counting his other, more personal feelings towards her. But Jarik was a different story. They had been close while they had attended the Academy together but that had been many years ago and they had lost touch shortly after graduating. He had not truly spoken to him again up until recently when he had been surprised to find that he had been working with his father. He ultimately decided that it was only fair to give Jarik the benefit of the doubt, after all it could not have been easy to step into his father’s shoes, a man who had headed the enigmatic Department of Special Affairs and Investigations for decades, and in doing so, Michael was convinced, shaping it into the organization it had become.
“Not much,” he said and shook his head. “You were there for most of it. He was insistent that I come to work for him and was incredibly reluctant to share anything about the work he was doing other than to stress how terribly important it was. All I was able to figure out was that it was related to something called Operation Myriad. From what I’ve been able to tell, there is no operation by that name anywhere in Starfleet records.”
“Not in official records, no,” said Jarik. “But it is what we are working on here and it is a serious threat to the Federation.”
“What kind of threat?”
“Before I go any further I just want to make it clear that what I’m about to tell you is highly classified. I am happy to read you into our work here because I think you will need to know, but I must ask you not to share this information with anyone else below your security clearance,” he added and glanced at the woman by his side. “Amaya agreed to that same stipulation when she first came onboard.”
Michel sighed. “I don’t like secrets. Certainly not those I have to keep from my crew. Having said that, I can appreciate how they might be necessary in our line of work.”
Jarik nodded. “Seven years ago, while surveying this area of space, the Enterprise made contact with a race of solanogen-based beings native to subspace carrying out a series of gruesome experiments on Enterprise crewmembers by abducting them and sending them back onto the ship with no knowledge of what had been done to them.”
“I think I remember a briefing on this,” he said. “You believe that this race is abducting people again?”
But the Vulcan shook his head. "No. We believe that they intend on carrying out a full-fledged invasion of our space."
He shot him an incredulous look. "How is that even possible? Solanogen cannot exist outside of subspace."
“True. However, we have compelling intelligence that these beings have been developing some sort of subspace portal which would allow them to transition into normal space. In fact, we believe that the experimentations they’ve carried out seven years ago were part of a larger plan to lay the ground works for this impending invasion. We have confirmed reports that what happened on the Enterprise was not an isolated incident and that people all over this sector have been abducted, studied and experimented on—“ Jarik stopped himself as he was gripped by a short coughing fit.
Maya turned to him, offering her support, but he quickly waved her off. “I’m alright,” he said and looked back towards Michael. “As I was saying, everything they have done is leading to what we believe to be an imminent attempt to gain a foothold in normal space and this sector. Everything we know about these beings has given us reason to believe that their intentions are hostile and a grave threat to the Federation.”
Michael needed a moment to digest this before he spoke again. “This is what had my father so worried? Why he insistent that I joined him?”
"Your father and I had been working on this for years and long before we realized the true scope of the threat we were facing. It has only been over the last few months that we started to understand the full extent of their designs. Michael, this is an enemy we still don't know how to fight. And I probably don't have to tell you that we cannot afford another war so soon after the last one."
He rubbed his temples as he continued to try and process this dire news. “What is Starfleet doing about this?” he said and made eye contact with Jarik again. “I understand that you and SAI have been working on this, but surely, if this such a significant threat, and if it is originating from this sector of space, why haven’t we amassed a defensive force yet?”
Jarik offered a heavy sigh. "Starfleet Command is not fully convinced of the nature of this threat even if the evidence keeps mounting. They have only recently given us the go-ahead to pursue this further and allocating resources such as Amaya and Agamemnon, but until we provide more concrete proof, Command will not divert any additional resources to Operation Myriad.”
“And I suppose you are about to tell me that this is where I come in?”
Jarik offered a little smile which people who were not aware of his mixed heritage may have found disturbing. “Precisely. Your father was convinced, and I tend to agree, that while these beings carried out their experiments, they were looking for and found a willing partner for their plans right here in this sector.”
Michael nodded, seeing now where this was going. “The Krellonians.”
"Yes. Regardless of what technology they may possess to allow them to enter normal space, it is unlikely that they would be able to accomplish this without any assistance from our side. The Krellonians are the perfect partners and since we are not exactly on the best of terms with them, we can't just show up on their doorstep and ask them if they are in league with an alien race living in subspace and attempting to invade us."
"So this is an intelligence operation under the guise of an aid mission," said Michael, not feeling particularly fond of the idea and unable to keep this out of the tone of his voice. "This medical emergency is taking us to one of the least significant colony worlds of a highly xenophobic people. The chance that we will be able to uncover much of anything seems doubtful."
Jarik nodded in agreement. "I am not saying that this is not a long shot. But this opportunity is just too good for us to pass up. We don't know how imminent this invasion is. This could be happening tomorrow, next week or next year. We simply need more information and if there is any chance that we can get a clearer picture courtesy of the influence your helmsman can provide than we cannot afford not taking the chance."
“What about the aid mission itself?” Michael asked.
"The Krellonians have not told us much," Amaya said. "But we do know it is serious and that people in their colony are dying."
Jarik took it from there. “Naturally, your mission is to do whatever you can to help the Krellonians fight this thing. The Diplomatic Corps believes this to be an important opportunity to improve our relationship with the Star Alliance and I don’t disagree. But I’d rather gain actionable intelligence on a pending invasion that could kill billions rather than try and save one Krellonian colony.”
Michael frowned at that. “I’m not going to weigh lives here.”
Jarik shook his head. “I’m not asking you to. Your mission is to do what you can on both fronts. Nothing more and nothing less.”
The room fell silent again save for the background noise of the personnel working in the adjacent section.
“We’ll approach this from two angles,” Jarik continued after a moment. “While you head to the Piqus system, Amaya will continue a search we already began before you arrived. It is not much better than trying to find that proverbial needle in a star cluster, but since we know what we are looking for thanks to information gathered by the Enterprise years ago, it is possible that we can find that subspace portal before it can be used against us.”
“Those sound like two equally desperate measures,” said Michael.
Jaris stood. “Unfortunately, at this point, we are desperate. And we are also on a tight schedule. The Krellonians are expecting you, Michael, and the longer we delay the less likely we might be able to learn anything from them. Agamemnon will accompany you into the Amargosa Diaspora until you’ll need to part ways. I’ll make sure you have a full briefing package sent to you. But I will have to ask you once more to keep what you’ve learned here confidential for the time being.”
Michael followed suit, leaving his chair and a moment later so did Amaya. “That won’t be easy. Not if I will have to rely on Lieutenant Culsten to establish some sort of contact with officials that might know about this alliance.”
“I trust you to make the right call Michael and find a way to share only what is absolutely necessary while maintaining operational confidentiality,” said Jarik and rounded the conference table to approach him again.
Michael nodded and then glanced towards her fellow captain. “Maya, do you mind giving us the room for a moment?”
She offered him a surprised look and then sought for agreement on Jarik’s face who quickly provided it. “I’ll return to Agamemnon and we’ll set out as soon as you’re back on Eagle,” she said and began heading out of the conference room.
“Maya,” Michael said to her back.
She stopped and turned around.
“Let’s catch up later.”
She offered a sharp nod but said nothing further before she left.
Michael turned his attention towards Jarik once more. “Is it just me or does she seem a little off?”
He shrugged. “She’s had a lot on her mind lately. Don’t blame her if she’s not the same person she was during the good old days.”
He nodded slightly, not entirely convinced.
“What is it you wanted to talk to me about? I already told you, I don’t want to work like Jon did. I don’t believe in keeping secrets unless absolutely necessary.”
“I just wanted to know how you’re feeling?”
His facial expression turned quizzical for a moment, clearly not having anticipated the question. “I’m fine, Michael.”
He nodded and then took a few steps away from his old friend, considering his next words carefully. “You asked me earlier what my father told me back on Earth.”
He turned back to face him. “I didn’t want to say anything in front of Maya, but he did mention some concerns.”
“What kind of concerns?”
“About you. I think part of the reason he was so insistent that I joined him was because he felt that your condition might start affecting your work. He was worried about you, Jarik.”
The half-Vulcan looked dumbstruck. But only for a moment. His features quickly hardened. “What did he tell you about my condition?”
He shook his head. “Not much. Just that it was some sort of genetic disease. And that you have been starting to show symptoms.”
It wasn’t difficult to tell that he didn’t like hearing this. He turned away for a moment as if to hide the emotions this revelation had awoken within him, living up to his Vulcan side for just an instant or so. He uttered a short but humorless laugh, quickly dispelling once again any kind of doubt that he was much closer to his human heritage. “I guess it’s hard to keep a secret from a man who had made it his mission in life to collect them.”
“Is it true?”
He nodded without facing the other man. “A few years ago I was diagnosed with Darnay's disease.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that,” he said, fully aware that there was no cure for Darnay’s.
Jarik turned around. “I am not at the terminal stage yet. So let me be very clear, regardless what Jon may have told you, I am still fully able to perform whatever duties are required of me. I can manage the symptoms with regular injections and the doctors have assured me that I still have a couple of good years left. I will not let this disease beat me and I most definitely won’t let it affect our work here.”
He nodded slowly. “Does Maya know?”
He shook his head. "And I'd prefer if you didn't tell her this. I know I said that I don't like to keep secrets but in this instance, I think it would be better for everyone if we could keep this between us. I will tell her when the time is right. Hopefully, this crisis will be long behind us by the time my body and mind will start failing me."
“I can respect that. But you have to promise me that you will step away from this if you realize that you can no longer do what must be done. SAI has already lost one leader who refused to look after his own health, I don’t want this job to do to you what it did to my father.”
He held out his hand. “You have my word, Michael.”
They shook and soon after they parted ways again so that Michael could return to Eagle and begin the next and most crucial part of his new mission. Prevent an inter-dimensional invasion.
How exactly he was going to accomplish this, he had no idea.
Part One: Trust No One - 7 by CeJay
Even at warp, the Amargosa Diaspora was quite the sight to behold, a starscape of countless suns arranged in close proximity to each other, ranging from the ultra hot and bright dark-blue main sequence stars to white and orange giants all the way up to the dimmer and cooler M-types.
It was also quite a challenge to navigate, requiring ship pilots to make constant, minor course correction and limiting their cruising speed to warp seven.
And yet Michael Owens' focus remained not on the mesmerizing background vista or the hard work being carried out on the bridge by his helmsmen, but on that other starship, traveling in close formation just a few short kilometers to their starboard bow and readily discernible from the windows of his quarters.
It had been six hours since he had received his briefing on Arkania IX and both Eagle and Agamemnon had set out towards Krellonian space. He had tried to reach out to Amaya twice during that time with no success.
“Lieutenant Deen to Captain Owens.”
Her voice had not come over the comm system but from much closer. He diverted his eyes from the windows to the other side of the table he was sitting at to see DeMara returning his look expectantly.
It took him a moment to realize that she was asking him to pass the tray filled with freshly replicated toast slices which sat on his side of the breakfast table and that she had likely asked for it at least once before while he had been distracted with his thoughts. "Of course, sorry," he said as he reached for the tray and passed it along.
“You still haven’t told me what this mission is all about,” she said as she took a couple of slices and began to butter them up. “You know the rumor mill is in full effect. Cleary more is happening here than just a relief mission.”
He frowned. He was still not comfortable that the crew, especially his senior officers, were left in the dark about their latest assignment and he knew he had to change this soon. Jarik's instructions had been clear regarding the confidentiality requirements of the mission, but he had to find ways to read in people he trusted and whose support he was going to depend on for next few days or otherwise this mission was doomed before it had even started. "I'll schedule a briefing soon."
“That’s not what has you so distracted this morning though, is it?”
Michael uttered a sigh, realizing that he wouldn’t be able to keep his true thoughts from the perceptive Tenarian. “It’s Amaya.”
“Right,” she said and quickly went back to finish preparing her toast with fruit-based preserves.
“She’s been very distant lately, ever since the funeral when I realized that we had both been on Earth at the same time. And then talking to her yesterday, it almost felt as if we were strangers.”
“I’m probably not the right person to offer relationship advice,” she said without making eye contact. “But sometimes people just drift apart.”
He nodded slowly even if he had a hard time understanding why this would have been the case with Amaya. She had given him no signs at all over the last year or so and after their relationship had become more than mere friendship that she had regretted the path they had embarked upon. "Maybe," he said, hoping that this was not the case but also not quite missing that his breakfast companion seemed somewhat disinterested in this topic of conversation. In fact, she had appeared rather dispassionate about a number of things lately, and he couldn't help wonder if perhaps her suspended performance was to blame. He knew that his critique certainly hadn't helped matters.
He felt that he needed to clear the air; it wouldn’t do having two important people in his life being annoyed with him at the same time.
But before he could broach the subject, the comm system piped through an actual message into his quarters. “Bridge to Captain.”
He recognized So’Dan Leva’s voice. “Owens here. Go ahead, Commander.”
“Sir, we’ve just received a message from the Agamemnon. Captain Donners is requesting permission to beam aboard.”
He exchanged a surprised glance with DeMara who merely shrugged “Very good. Permission granted. I’ll meet her in transporter room two.”
“I’ll relay the message.”
DeMara grabbed a half-eaten slice of toast from her plate and stood. “Well, sounds like your worries were unfounded.”
"Yeah," he said, halfheartedly. "But still, doesn't this all feel a little forced to you? Requesting formal permission, relaying messages via the bridge? That's not really her style."
“She’s following protocol, Michael, you can’t fault her for that,” she said and headed for the doors.
She shook her head. “I just thought I’d give you two some privacy.”
He left his chair. “You don’t have to go,” he said but realized, even as he was saying the words, that in truth, he wanted her to.
And she could see it too. She was kind enough not to call him out on his bluff. "I should get back to the bridge anyway. There are a lot of stars out there; it helps to have a couple of extra eyeballs focused on sensors," she said and then left without waiting for his response.
He walked over to his washroom to quickly freshen up and brush his hair before he'd head out to greet her in the transporter room. On his way towards the doors, he stopped, thinking of something else. "Computer, play some ambient music. American Blues. Early to mid-Twentieth century," he said, knowing that Amaya was particularly partial to that genre of music.
The computer quickly trilled in acknowledgment and filled his quarters with the gentle but sorrowful tones of a singer of a long bygone age, strumming on his guitar.
Not a moment after, the annunciator to his quarters notified him of a visitor which to Michael felt like a rather inconvenient time. He quickly stepped up to the doors which opened to reveal Amaya Donners already standing there.
“Hey,” he said surprised. “I was just coming to get you.”
She stepped into his quarters after he had moved aside to give her room. “You know me, never the patient sort.”
He turned to face her and allowing the doors to close behind him. “Well, I’m glad you came over.”
She spotted the food on the table. “Did I interrupt breakfast?”
He shrugged it off. “Not really. Want to join me?”
She looked over the second table setting. “Dee?” she asked.
“Yes. She just left.”
She nodded but made no move to sit at the table.
“I can get you a plate,” he said and headed towards the replicator.
“No need,” she said. “I won’t be staying long.”
He stopped halfway to the replicator and turned back. “Oh?”
He guessed it wasn't difficult for her to spot the disappointment on his face and she uttered a little sigh. "Listen, Michael; I know things between us have cooled a little bit."
He offered a smile. “I guess. We’re both pretty busy people after all.”
She nodded but didn't reciprocate the smile. "That's right. I mean look at us. We're so busy that for the majority of the time we can't even see each other in person. Every time we try to arrange leave together something comes up either on my side or yours. And then, the one-time coincidence puts us in the same place at the same time, all I get to do is express my condolences to you, almost in passing, after your father died."
“I don’t blame you for that. And I appreciate you made the time for the funeral.”
She took a step towards the window as if to study her own ship in closer detail. "This isn't about blame. It's about the practicality of two starship captains being more to each other than just friends. We both have an enormous amount of responsibilities placed on us. Now with this latest crisis, perhaps more so than ever since the end of the war."
Michael was not willing to give in so quickly. He took a step towards her. "We made it work during the war, and it wasn't easy for either one of us then."
She finally turned to look him in the eye. She didn’t speak right away.
“What are you saying here? You want to break this off?”
“What is this anyway?” she said. “You and me? What would you call it? It’s not really a relationship in that sense of the word. Talking to each every other week or so, seeing each other maybe every other month and worrying for most of the rest of the time.”
“I will always worry about you.”
She scowled at him, and he realized that he had phrased that wrong. "What I mean is that we have been friends for a long time. And we'll always be friends. Worrying about each other is what friends tend to do. It shows that we care."
She nodded slightly, acceding to that point. “Yes, but it’s easier when there is less pressure.”
“Pressure?” he said, finding her word choice a little peculiar.
She seemed to sense it too and began to rub the bridge of her nose in apparent frustration. Whatever she had come here to say, it was apparently not going quite the way she had envisioned it. "Listen, I just think we need to slow things down a bit. At least until this crisis is over."
“There’ll always be some sort of crisis.”
She said nothing.
He nodded, the message was clear enough. “Very well. Let’s focus on this mission and saving the galaxy before we decide where this other thing between us is going.”
Her smile felt forced and never quite reached her eyes. “Thanks.”
She pointed towards the ceiling to indicate the music that was playing over the speakers. “I love Huddie Ledbetter.”
“Lead Belly. I know,” he said. “Ever since you’ve told me that you grew up in the same place he was born. Tiny town in the bayou.”
Her smile widened slightly. “Yeah, I guess I do like to tell that story.”
They remained in quiet reflection for a spell while the four-hundred-year-old singer lamented over where his girl had been and where she was going to go.
The song came to an end, and Amaya headed for the doors. Then she stopped, reached into her uniform jacket and dug out a thin isolinear chip from an inside pocket. She handed it over to him. "I almost forgot about this."
“What is it?” he asked as he took the plastic strip.
“It’s from your father. He asked me to give it to you before…”
She didn't have to finish the sentence, and the look in her pained eyes made it clear that she didn't want to talk about it further either. She left without saying another word.
His eyes lingered on those now closed doors for a moment, unable to stop wondering where he had gone wrong to allow it to get to this point and why he had not tried harder from letting her go.
Michael glanced down at the chip in his hand. If it had really come from his father as she had claimed, he had to wonder why he had given it to her instead of just passing this on to him directly. But then again trying to understand anything his father had done while he had still been alive had often seemed like a mostly futile gesture.
He walked over to his desk, sat down in front of his desktop monitor and slotted the chip into the interface.
The music immediately stopped playing and the image of his father, alive and well, appeared on the screen. Based on the background and the time index, the message had been recorded just a day before his death at his base in Far East Russia and after he had visited him there.
It was an odd feeling seeing him alive again, knowing that this was likely the last message he had ever recorded, at least to him.
“Son, I will have to keep this short. I know that you are not inclined to accept my offer to come and work for me. God knows you inherited that stubbornness from both your mother and me. To be honest, I didn't really expect you to. You are a starship captain, and I suppose at heart, that's what you'll always be. I've never truly had that same drive, but I recognize it in men and women who have made it their life's mission to sit in that chair and try to change the galaxy for the better.
I am trying to do the same thing but on a much larger scale and I will need your help doing it.”
He looked off-screen for a brief moment, reflecting on what he had said. Or perhaps on what he was about to say next.
"We've had our differences in the past; I understand this. And I also understand that some of it, maybe the majority of it, was because I involved myself far too much in your life and tried to do the same thing with your brother before he—left us. But you have to believe that I always had a good reason for doing so. That there was more at stake than the happiness of one family.”
He sighed, and it was clear he didn't exactly relish going down that particular road again and reopening old wounds.
"Michael, I said I would need your help, and I understand that you are not willing to do so based on the very little I've been able to share with you so far. But regardless if you end up deciding to join me here or not, I truly hope that I will be able to rely on you with whatever may happen going forward."
Jonathan Owens uttered a little laugh, amused by his own words.
“I’ve gotten a little bit too comfortable with my own secrets. Forgive an old man for being overly cautious with information which could be fatally dangerous in the wrong hands. I promise I will be able to tell you more soon,” he said before his face became much more serious once again. “In the meantime, and no matter what will happen in the days and weeks, maybe months, down the road, there is just one thing that I need you to promise me.
Don’t trust anyone.”
And then the message stopped, and his father's face disappeared.
Michael was flabbergasted.
And he was angry. Angry with a man he had spent most of his life being irked with and only just realizing that even after his death, this would not soon change.
“Goddammit, dad, what have you gotten me into?”
Part One: Trust No One - 8 by CeJay
He studied the expressions on her face carefully while she watched the same message he had played just a few hours earlier but he once again found that Tazla Star had seemingly perfected the art of disguising her true feelings underneath a practically unreadable mask of inscrutability which would have made a Vulcan proud.
Michael Owens had wrestled with the idea of showing his father’s recording to his first officer, a notion which would have been unthinkable just a year earlier and after she had joined the crew as a very much unwelcomed and distrusted addition to what he had always considered the tight-knit circle which made up the senior staff of Eagle. It had taken some time until he had been comfortable with having a woman who had briefly been a captain before being court-martialed and imprisoned for disregarding orders at his side. The fact that she had been found out to have been working for a shady group within Starfleet Intelligence which may not have always had the Federation's best interest at heart, hadn't helped much either.
Things had evolved quite a bit since those early days.
After first reviewing his father’s message, and then replaying it a number of times afterwards to ensure he had not missed any subtle nuances possibly hidden within the message, he had found himself with the dilemma that apparently the people he needed to rely on for this mission, were the exact same people his father had explicitly warned him against.
Regardless of what he had been told since the very auspicious beginning of this assignment which had started with Admiral Throl’s unexpected visit, he knew that he needed a second opinion on everything he had learned so far.
Normally that person would have been DeMara Deen who had functioned as one of his most trusted advisors and a reliable sounding board pretty much ever since he had watched her grow from a child into a young woman as well and an extraordinarily capable officer.
But since DeMara had been acting increasingly detached over the last few weeks, he had decided to bring Tazla Star into his confidence instead, and disregarding both the instructions he had been given by Jarik and his father’s warning, he had not only presented her with the recording but also brought her fully up to speed on what he had learned about the mission to prevent an inter-dimensional invasion by a subspace dwelling species.
“In the meantime, and no matter what will happen in the days and weeks, maybe months, down the road, there is just one thing that I need you to promise me. Don’t trust anyone.”
The recording came to an end and Tazla Star leaned back in the chair she had been occupying, sitting opposite Michael, at his desk. She uttered a particularly colorful Trill curse under her breath.
He nodded as he turned the monitor back around so that it faced him once more even if his father’s face was now no longer displayed. “That’s precisely how I felt after seeing this.”
“Who do you think he’s referring to?” she asked.
He shrugged. “That’s the problem. I don’t know. And I don’t know how to find out either. It could be Throl. It could be Jarik or Maya. It could be all three of them and others. It could be nothing more than the paranoid delusions of a dying man.” He knew he didn’t do a good job of hiding his frustration. This message had thrown pretty much everything in doubt. Not just his mission, he could also not help himself but wonder if perhaps Amaya had been given a similar message, perhaps she had been told not to trust him, which certainly could explain her sudden change in attitude towards him. Or perhaps his father had been right in saying that she could not be trusted, perhaps something was wrong with her. The thought of all the questions this vague message raised, all the possibilities they suddenly evoked were driving him crazy and making him so much angrier with his father for having put him in this position. And then, of course, he had the audacity of dying suddenly, robbing him of any chance to be able to confront him about these suspicions and demanding answers for once and for all.
In short, Jonathan Owens had shaken to his core, his confidence in the people he needed to believe in.
“I don’t think it would be wise to dismiss it entirely.”
Michael uttered a heavy sigh and stood from his chair to walk over to the man-high window in his ready room which currently gave him, not only a great view of the Amargosa stellar nursery they were traversing but also of the starship Agamemnon which continued to travel with them at warp in close formation. “And therein lies the problem. I can’t afford to do anything less but heed the warning, even if there is a chance that it is nothing more than baseless paranoia. Not while we might be facing an imminent invasion by a technologically advanced and hostile force we seem to know next to nothing about,” he said and turned around. “But what if he’s wrong and this mistrust he has spread is only complicating an already difficult situation? What is the right move here? Can there even be one?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “ And it places us in the unenviable position in which the only people who do know what is going on are possibly the very same people we cannot trust with anything.”
Feeling a headache coming on, he began to massage his forehead. “You can see why I didn’t get much sleep last night,” he said and looked right at her. “What are your thoughts?”
If Star was surprised by her captain's show of faith and trust in her she did well to hide this. She glanced back towards the computer screen which was now blank again as if to recall every last word she had heard his late father speak in his enigmatic message. "I have some familiarity with the Department of Special Affairs and Investigations from my work in the intelligence community. I never met your father but I've worked alongside with, and on occasions perhaps even against, members of his agency. They don't exactly work like more traditional intelligence networks, they have no spies or run clandestine missions, as far as I'm aware, but they do keep things very much need-to-know. And in my experience, if SAI is involved in something, there is a side they want you to see and then there is the truth."
“I was afraid you’d say something like that,” he said and considered her words a bit further. “You said you’ve never met my father. How about Jarik?”
She shook her head. “To be honest, I know next to nothing about him. Which in itself is unusual. In my experience, people like that don’t usually come out of nowhere. You said you were Academy roommates?”
He nodded and took his seat again. "Yes. Good friends once upon a time before we drifted apart after we graduated. I did some digging. According to his file, he did some unremarkable work within Starfleet's administrative circles before joining my father about ten years ago. Nothing else stands out."
“If you were to look at my file,” said Star, “you would find much the same thing about my career up until Sacajawea. And it would mostly be a complete fabrication.”
"I considered that. The thing is I actually got a very good feeling about Jarik ever since I met him again on Earth a few weeks ago. Instead of keeping secrets like my father did, he seemed very open with me. I appreciate that it could all be a smokescreen but in the time I knew him at the Academy, Jarik has always been a straight shooter. In that regard, he took after his Vulcan mother. There wasn't a deceitful or malicious bone in his body."
Star seemed to contemplate her next words carefully. “I hate to bring it up, but what about Captain Donners? How much do you think you can trust her?”
“It’s a legitimate question,” he quickly admitted. “Three weeks ago I would have said that I’d trust her unconditionally.”
He shook his head slightly. “Now I’m not so sure. And I truly hate feeling that way about her.”
“I understand. But I would suggest, for the time being, that you remain careful around her. It might be a good idea not to share any of this with either Donners or Jarik,” she said, indicating towards the blank screen.
“I don’t think I have a choice. We’ll keep everything we know between the two of us until further notice and until we have a clearer idea who we can trust.”
“Agreed,” she said. “What about the crew? What do you want to tell them?”
Michael thought about this for a moment. It still irked him that he was keeping the people under his command, the people who needed to trust him, in the dark. It was a page straight out of his father's playbook and it didn't sit right with him at all. But trust, he had painfully come to realize, had become a very dangerous commodity. "Call a briefing for oh-nine-hundred tomorrow morning with the senior staff. As much as I hate it, we won't be able to disclose everything we've learned so far, as little as that might be. But we still have a relief mission to carry out, as well as attempt to gather more intelligence on this invasion and how the Krellonians might fit into all this. We are going to have to rely on one of our own if we want any hope of trying to uncover any possible connections."
Tazla Star offered a sharp nod but even she couldn’t entirely hide the glint of doubt in her emerald colored eyes. There was no point begrudging her over it. Michael felt exactly the same way. And he feared that this doubt wasn’t going to go anywhere anytime soon, sticking around like an uninvited guest, lingering somewhere in the background and just out of reach, until that moment it all came crashing down on them with a punishing vengeance.
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