Series and story by S.C.Mollmann
Lieutenant j.g. Angela Nolan picked up a card to discover it was a blue moon. Damn! she thought. “Uh, twenty.” She pushed forward a pile of chips. She was careful to let nothing show through her face.
Lieutenant Commander Karissya Volodzhe, the Rutledge‘s chief flight officer, drew a card from the deck. Her nose wrinkled in disgust. “Too much for me. I’m out.” She dropped her hand onto the table, revealing five asteroids: the worst possible hand in the game. She stood up from the table and wandered over to the bar.
Will Kayden, better known as Stompie, picked up another card. He smiled. “Thirty.” He slid forward a larger pile of chips. Nolan had no choice but to add ten of her own as well.
Commander Yozika azgn Bem also drew a card. She frowned slightly. “Thirty as well.”
Nolan almost sighed in relief. She was barely making it as it was. But she would not back down; no self-respecting Irishwoman would ever back down in a game of Centaurian solar. She picked up a card. The South Polar Comet. She restrained herself from smiling and frowned instead. “Ten,” she said, pushing forward a pile of chips.
Stompie smirked. “Pass.” He tossed fifty chips into the pot and added, “Fifty.” Nolan could barely stop herself from screaming with glee and added the required forty.
azgn Bem glanced at her own chips. “This One only has thirty-six,” she sighed. She slid them forward and stood up. “This One is out.”
“Pass,” said Nolan, pushing forward more chips. “One hundred.”
“Pass,” replied Stompie, obviously worried. But no self-respecting Irishman would ever back down in solar either. He added all his chips to the pot. “One hundred and one.”
Nolan nodded and added one chip. “Now let’s see your cards.” Once every player had passed, the round was over.
Stompie lay down five crystal stars. “The best hand in the game.”
“Almost,” amended Nolan and lay down four of her five cards.
“You can’t mean–“
Nolan lay down her South Polar Comet and smiled.
Stompie grabbed his head and cried out in agony. “No! The South Polar Comet and a blue moon! That’s impossible. What are the odds?”
Sorsak, the ship’s Vulcan CMO, looked up from his PADD and replied even though he hadn’t been following the game. “One in six million, five hundred twenty-two thousand, nine hundred and thirty-eight.”
Nolan gleefully grabbed the chips and placed them in her pouch. “Until next time, Stompie.” She stood up and turned to leave the RecDeck.
Stompie walked over to the bar where his best friend Miles O’Brien sat. He plopped down next to him and watched Nolan’s retreating figure. Her miniskirt swished around her attractive legs as she stepped through the doors. “Ah, she’s quite a woman, isn’t she, Miles?”
Miles shrugged and downed a shot of whiskey. “Stompie, I haven’t even thought about it. I’m an eighteen-year-old cadet; she’s a twenty-six-year old senior officer.”
“Good,” grinned Stompie. “‘Cause I’m gonna get her.”
“What’s she got that you want so much, anyhow?”
“She’s got looks…intelligence…cunning…”
“A temper that could kill a Klingon.”
“Well, at least she’s not English.”
Captain Benjamin Maxwell sat in his ready room, filling out PADD after PADD. The door chimed. “Come.” It was his first officer, Yozika azgn Bem. “I thought you were off-duty.”
“This One was off-duty. Now you are off-duty as of fifteen minutes ago. This One had assumed command of the bridge when This One was informed you were still here.”
“I know…it’s just that there’s so many damn reports to fill out after a major engagement like Dorthan XII.” Maxwell rubbed his head and sighed.
“But we didn’t even take damage.”
Maxwell turned his hands palms-up in exasperation. “I didn’t write the regs.”
“Nevertheless, you’re off-duty.” azgn Bem grabbed Maxwell’s shoulders. “Up. And out.”
“I’m going, I’m going.” Maxwell made his way from the ready room down to his quarters. He changed into his Starfleet issue pajamas and sat down upon his bed after looking at the holo of his family on his desk.
He was just getting into an ancient fantasy novel called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when the comm chimed. “Bridge to Captain Maxwell,” announced azgn Bem.
Maxwell leaned over and slapped the tabletop comm. “I thought you wanted me to get some rest, Commander.”
“I do sir, but Starfleet Headquarters doesn’t care about local ship time.”
“Starfleet Headquarters!” He raised his eyebrows. “Pipe it down here.”
The elderly visage of Vice Admiral Kevin Riley, the coordinator for the Eighth Fleet, appeared on Maxwell screen. “Max!” Despite his age of at least a century, the admiral looked as chipper as ever. “How’re you doing?”
“Not very well,” grumbled Maxwell.
“What was that, Max?” asked Riley.
“Oh, quite all right.”
“Good. Starfleet’s gearing up for a strike on one of the Cardassians’ key ore-mining facilities, Kosef Nor. We need advance reconnaissance. So, we’re assigning the Rutledge‘s Intel team to infiltrate one of the automated Cardassian listening outposts on the border.”
“Didn’t they just do that to us?”
“Yes, but we’re going for the quiet and sneaky approach, not the brute force approach. Give Lieutenant j.g. Nolan all the latitude she needs for this assignment. We need that data. All relevant information is in a packet attached to this transmission.”
“I understand, sir.”
“Riley out.” His image winked away and was replaced by the Starfleet Command emblem.
Angela Nolan woke up to the chirp of her communicator. She had been having a very nice dream about…what had been about? Somebody Irish. But that was hardly surprising, as most of her friends and acquaintances outside of Starfleet were Irish.
She shrugged it off and picked up her communicator. “Nolan here,” she said rather crossly.
“Lieutenant, this is the captain and I’m not happy about being woken up either. Call your Intel team and have them meet me in the briefing room; you have something to do now other than run simulations.”
“Aye, aye. Nolan out.” She snapped the communicator shut. Of course she would have to call her team; she would get all the flak of having to wake up at — what time was it anyway? She glanced at the chronometer. 0130! Gods, didn’t these people have any bloody sense?
Fifteen minutes later Nolan was the first to arrive in the briefing room. She was followed closely by Yadote, her second-in-command. “What’s this about?” asked the Bolian.
Nolan shrugged. “All I know is that I was in bed when the captain called me.”
“And I was in bed when the admiral called me.” It was Captain Maxwell, just stepping in. “Where’s the rest of your team?”
“On their way.”
The doors hissed open to reveal Alexander Rutherford IV, the technical expert, and Chosar Felonia, the weapons expert. The two were inseparable, despite (or perhaps because of) their great differences in temperament.
The last to enter was the Zakdorn Ne Kolrami. Despite being a tactical genius, like most of his people, he had opted instead to major in Intelligence, wanting to be “different.”
Maxwell quickly briefed the team on what Riley had told him and handed out PADDs with copies of the data packet. “You have one day to come up with a working plan. Do whatever you think is necessary, within reason of course. Get to work.” And with that he left the briefing room, no doubt to get some sleep.
Nolan glanced at the PADD. “It’s a small automated facility on NGC 400A. We have to knock out the shields and tap the data.”
Yadote skimmed his PADD and added, “Without being detected.”
“This should be easy,” murmured Felonia.
“Unlikely,” replied Rutherford.
Nolan nodded in acknowledgement of her team’s comments. “So, any ideas?”
“We’re going to have to get five light-years across the border without being detected,” said Yadote.
“Perhaps we could pretend to be Orions with slavewomen,” suggested Felonia. “I understand the Cardassians have eased their restrictions just to annoy the Federation.”
“You can’t be serious!” exclaimed Kolrami.
But Nolan pursed her lips. “Go as Orion animal-women…I like that idea…”
Rutherford put his head in his hands. “Oh no…oh no, oh no,” he said, shaking it.
That morning O’Brien managed to convince his superior officer, Lieutenant Raymond Boone, that the tactical isolinear subgrid needed recalibration and that he was the man for the job. O’Brien did this about once a week so he would have a chance to talk to Stompie.
“Morning, Miles!” exclaimed Stompie when O’Brien popped his head into the chief technician’s office.
O’Brien nodded. “Morning, Stompie. Here to recalibrate the tactical isolinear subgrid.”
Stompie stood and moved to help him. “You know, I believe the tactical subgrid is the best-calibrated isolinear subgrid on the ship. Sorsak recalibrates the medical one monthly and L’frn’lt has yet to calibrate the science subgrid.” He grabbed a toolkit and they clambered into the Jeffries tube that provided access to the subsections of the isolinear grid.
Behind and below them came a scrambling noise. “Stompie!” It was Chief Lucius Bonsiorus, the assistant technical officer.
“What is it, chief?” asked Stompie, looking up from where he had applied a heliospanner to the subgrid.
“We’re having trouble with the plasma flow regulators.”
“What’re they set at?”
“I dunno. I’ll go check.” Lucius scrambled off.
“I could kill the man who recommended he stay on after the fiasco at Dorvan,” muttered Stompie. “The guy’s incompetent.”
O’Brien simply nodded in agreement, as he himself had made the recommendation to Captain Maxwell.
Lucius was back. “Level-W!” he yelled.
“Which is for use when the ship’s in warp drive,” Stompie called back. “We’re at stationkeeping, so switch to Level-K.” He rolled his eyes and O’Brien smiled.
“Uh…yes, sir,” said Lucius before he departed.
The two worked in silence for a few seconds before O’Brien began to speak. “So,” he said conversationally, “I hear Nolan’s dressing up as an Orion animal-woman.”
“What?” Stompie gasped. He dropped his heliospanner and it clattered down the tube to Engineering.
“Something about going undercover in Cardie space. It’s all over the ship. I’m surprised you haven’t heard.”
Stompie yelled for Lucius to pick up the heliospanner and went back to work.
Maxwell entered the conference room to find the Intelligence team asleep, their heads lying on top of the PADDs. A bit of drool trickled out of the corner of Ensign Rutherford’s mouth.
Maxwell cleared his throat. “Ahem.” Ensign Kolrami muttered something under his breath and rolled over. Other than that, no one stirred. Maxwell stomped on the floor. “Wake up!” he yelled.
Nolan jumped up with a start. “Sorry sir, its just that we’ve–“
Maxwell gave her a soothing smile. “It’s all right, lieutenant.” The other team members were slowly waking up. “So do you have a plan?”
“Actually, yes.” She activated the viewscreen, showing a map of nearby space. “Our team will use some simple plastic surgery techniques to disguise ourselves as Orions–“
“What better to infiltrate a territory where slavery is legal?” Nolan asked. When Maxwell shrugged, she continued, “We will board a small craft, preferably non-Starfleet, and flee across the border with the Rutledge and another Federation starship in pursuit.”
“Making it appear,” added Yadote, “that we are slavers on the run.”
“We have targeted this craft,” explained Kolrami, pointing at the viewscreen. “The Hideki-class Type-2 C.D.S. Erkcus, CCC-9661. When we come on board, we will offer the gul ‘payment’ for rescue and transportation.” He nodded warily at Nolan and Felonia.
“We will disarm the gul and remove his command-code chip, using it to gas the rest of the ship,” explained Felonia. “We will then take the Erkcus on a course that passes twenty-two border worlds, one of which is NGC 400A. When they regain consciousness they will have no idea where we went.”
Maxwell nodded. “Sounds good. I’ll encrypt it and send it to Admiral Riley. He and FleetIntCom will want to look it over, but I’m sure it’ll work out.” He started to leave, but turned around. “How are you guys getting back?”
Rutherford highlighted NGC 400A, showing a close-up of the facility. “The listening post is equipped with a small workbee capable of Warp 2 for only two days. We will rendezvous with the Rutledge at prearranged coordinates and time.”
As Maxwell started out the door once again, he turned to look at the faces of the bright young crewmen who had concocted this plan. Most of them had circles under their eyes and look worn out. “Oh, go get some sleep,” he said. “That’s an order.”
Nolan sprang to attention. “Yes, sir!”
In the mess hall at lunch, Stompie took his usual seat across from Sorsak and between O’Brien and Ensign L’frn’lt, the ship’s Halmaki science officer. L’frn’lt was the only alien whose cuisine had not disgusted Stompie at one point; the glass arachnid usually ate rocks, minerals, and vegetables. Today he was eating gold with a sprinkling of monotanium and a bowl of salt on the side.
Stompie turned back to his lunch and dug in. It was what he had everyday: two corned beef sandwiches and a bowl of chocolate pudding. However, he didn’t attempt engage O’Brien in a good-natured dispute or even spirited conversation. He simply stared over the shoulder of Sorsak and watched the line in front of the replicator.
O’Brien made a few attempts at conversation but Stompie replied only by nodding and muttering, “Uh-huh.”
Finally Stompie saw Angela Nolan in line. He stood up. “Where are you going?” asked O’Brien.
Stompie shrugged. “Seconds.” He moved toward the line, ignoring O’Brien’s protest that he never got seconds. He knocked two security ensigns out of line in an effort to get to Nolan. “Hello, Angela,” he said.
“Hello, Stompie,” she answered warmly. “Seconds? Isn’t that a bit unusual for you?”
He shrugged and didn’t answer. “So, I heard something about the Intel team dressing as Orion animal women…?” He let the question dangle.
“Ye–es…I should’ve known the rumor mill would pick that one up quickly.”
Stompie gasped and tried to mumble a few words. “Orion animal women…you…”
She studied his shocked face. “Oh, I get it. You think I’m a slut, don’t you, and that this is just an opportunity for me to go about my slutty habits?!”
“No–no,” said Stompie frantically. “Never!”
“Well, guess what, ‘Stompie,’ I am a perfectly fine woman simply carrying out my duties!” She then realized everyone was staring at them. She turned around, abandoning her place in line, and left the mess hall.
He followed her into the corridor. “Angela!” he yelled after her to no avail. “Angela!” He caught a glimpse of her retreating figure as she entered the turbolift. Realizing it was probably in his best interest not to return to the mess hall, he continued down the corridor to pick up a turbolift of his own and return to his quarters.
As he was dialing up the ‘lift, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He whirled around and saw it was O’Brien. “Miles! I suppose everybody in the mess hall is laughing at what I did.”
“Well…not laughing, but definitely talking.” O’Brien gave him a weak reassuring smile. “I can see why you did it, though I don’t think it was very smart. I don’t like ‘those kind’ of women myself and wouldn’t be trying to date one.”
Stompie sighed. “You’re not helping. Just go away.” He banged his head on the ‘lift door.
“OK, OK,” said O’Brien, raising his hands in mock surrender. “Just remember, ‘great friends are recognized, not made.'” With that bit of Stompie’s wisdom reflected back at him, O’Brien returned to the mess hall.
Captain’s Log: Stardate 32281.5
Admiral Riley and FleetIntCom have approved Lieutenant j.g. Nolan’s plan, with one small exception. It is their opinion that it is unbelievable that three Orion slavers would have only two slave-women and have requested that one additional female be added to the team. I have talked it over with Lieutenant Nolan and we have decided that Lieutenant Commander Karissya Volodzhe is the woman for the job. The Intel team is now in Sickbay receiving surgical alterations.
Doctor Sorsak finished running the dermal reconfigurer over Ensign Rutherford and stepped back to admire his handiwork. Nolan’s Intelligence team now looked like suitably green-skinned Orions. “The men can now leave,” he said. “If the women will come with me…?” He led Nolan, Felonia, and Volodzhe down the hallway to the Biochem Lab.
“What?” asked Volodzhe.
“Though you may look like Orions,” he answered, “males will not have the same response to you as they would to a genuine Orion female. Therefore, it is necessary to inject you with Orion female pheromones.” He walked over to the Biochem replicator and replicated two hypospray cartridges, one green and one white. He loaded the green one into the hypo and quickly injected the three women.
“What’s the other one?” asked Felonia.
“Deltan pheromones. In most cases, Orion pheromones alone are not sufficient unless one has the physique of an Orion female.” He reloaded the hypospray with the blue capsule and injected them. “That should be sufficient. Dismissed.”
Nolan made her way down to the communications room. The comm tech on duty was startled when he saw an Orion woman in Starfleet uniform enter the room. “What are you doing here?” he asked. “I didn’t think there were any Orion women aboard the Rutledge…I’m sure I would’ve noticed…”
“Relax, ensign,” she said. “I’m Lieutenant Nolan…undercover, you know.”
“Oh!” he exclaimed, visibly relieved and disappointed. “What do you need?”
“I need a channel to the Merkattle,” she said, naming one of the Eight Fleet’s Akuzi-class enhanced defenders. “Encrypted.”
The tech raised his eyebrow at that, but carried out his orders. Moments later static replaced the Starfleet emblem on screen, but it slowly dissolved into the face of Commander Dratkins, the Merkattle‘s communications officer. “U.S.S. Merkattle, how may I help you?” he said.
“Hello, ‘Drat,'” answered Nolan. “How’s everything going?”
Astonished, Dratkins replied, “Angela! A secret mission, I suppose.” Nolan had served on the Merkattle as Captain P’rnoggit’s security advisor.
Angela nodded. “Can you patch me in with the captain?”
“I guess. Standby.”
The image fuzzed up again and then cleared. It was the orange face of Captain P’rnoggit. “Damn,” he said. “Drat told me it was you; otherwise I wouldn’t have even recognized you. How can I help you, Angela?”
“I assume you have some small, nonaffiliated craft in you shuttlebay?” Captain P’rnoggit had been forever picking up small ships, fixing them up, selling them, and giving the profits to Starfleet.
“Uh, yes. A Claw-class superiority fighter. Found it during a jaunt in the old Sha’kurian Ducal Territories a few months ago.” Seeing her confusion, he added, “That’s in the Beta Quadrant, beyond the Klingon Empire.”
“How many people can it hold?”
“Oh, ten easily.”
“Good. We only have six. Can I borrow it?”
“Well…I just finished fixing it up…I was going to get quite a sum, it is an antique, you know…”
“The money would go to the ‘Fleet. This is for the ‘Fleet.”
“Oh, I guess. I’ll have Drat bring it over in an hour.”
“Thanks, Captain. You’re the greatest.”
“All part of the service. Merkattle out.” His image winked out.
Nolan leaned back in her chair and sighed. Now all they had to do was actually go and do the mission.
“Report,” ordered Gul Feltor. The C.D.S. Erkcus was patrolling the front lines of Sector 21756, and it was rather boring, even if the dreaded Eight Fleet that had just taken Dorthan XII was in the same sector.
Glinn Dvang at Ops sighed. “Nothing on scanners,” he said, daring to add, “just like nine minutes ago.”
“You didn’t even check!” protested Feltor.
“Why bother?” asked Dvang, feeling more daring. “There will be no difference.”
“Check!” ordered Feltor.
Dvang sighed and fiddled with his controls. “Nothing– wait! Sensors are picking up two Federation vessels — one Steamrunner-class and one New Orleans. They appear to be in pursuit of something…a small fighter.” He looked up. “The fighter is hailing us.”
“On screen,” ordered Feltor, excitedly.
An Orion male appeared on screen, wearing the customary helmet of an Orion raider captain. He was flanked by two other men. These were dressed in the more flamboyant clothes of Orion slavers. “Help us. We are but humble traders, under attack because the Federation does not like our cargo.”
Feltor grinned. He could think of only a few kinds of cargo the Federation would dislike and of those, only one he would like. “This is Gul Feltor of the C.D.S. Erkcus. What would that cargo be?”
The image on screen shook as the Orion fighter took weapons fire from the two Starfleet vessels. The camera panned over to show three Orion animal women, scantily-clad and chained to the wall. “We would, of course, provide payment for your assistance,” said the Orion raider.
One of the slavers shouted, “Our shields have collapsed!”
“We don’t have much time!” implored the captain.
“Are they in transporter range?” asked Feltor.
Dvang checked his sensors. “Barely.”
“Beam them aboard.”
On screen, columns of yellow light appeared around the six Orions and they began to fade away just as the fighter’s cockpit exploded into flames.
Yadote materialized on a typically ugly but functional Cardassian transporter pad. Rutherford and Kolrami stood next to him, dressed as slavers, while Nolan, Volodzhe, and Felonia were behind, in the scraps that passed as female clothing in Orion culture.
He stepped off the pad and grasped the hand of the transporter officer. “Thank you. You shall be paid for your timely assistance.” He nodded his head toward the women.
The doors hissed open and two more Cardassians stepped in, the gul and his glinn. “I’m pleased to report,” said Gul Feltor, “that the two Federation starships have withdrawn. They did not wish to risk an incident.”
Yadote nodded his head. “Thank you. If I may provide each of you a payment…”
The transporter officer and the glinn leered. “No,” said Feltor. “I will have all three. Dvang, show Mr., erm…”
“Magro,” supplied Yadote.
“…Mr. Magro and his associates to their quarters. I will take the women to mine.”
Yadote nodded in acquiescence and allowed the glinn to lead him out. Rutherford and Kolrami followed as Feltor took Nolan, Volodzhe, and Felonia with him. The gul was positively drooling.
Nolan, Volodzhe, and Felonia entered Feltor’s quarters. “Begin,” he ordered curtly.
The three writhed and wriggled around him, as drool dripped from his chin onto his metal uniform. Nolan got behind him as Volodzhe and Felonia stood on either side.
In one coordinated attack, Volodzhe and Felonia grabbed his arms and Nolan removed his disruptor from his holster and fired at his spinal ridges. He fell to floor unconscious before he could even protest what was occurring.
Felonia removed his command-code chip and plugged it into the computer. After confirming that the men were in their quarters, she ordered the system to flood the entire ship except the guest and gul’s quarters with a light nerve gas. When the computer registered all crew unconscious, she nodded at Nolan. “Success.”
Nolan contacted Yadote and the others to inform them while Volodzhe opened the emergency access panel on the wall and removed three gas masks. After Felonia set the ship on the predetermined course, they made their way back to the transporter room.
The three men were already in the transporter room, the guest quarters being closer than the gul’s. “Good job,” congratulated Nolan. “Better than I could have hoped for. Time to NGC 400A?”
Rutherford fiddled with his Intel tricorder. “On current roundabout course, two hours.”
Nolan sighed and sat down on the transporter pad. “Better get comfortable, people.”
Stompie stared out the viewport as the Rutledge made its way toward the rendezvous, while the Steamrunner-class Archon that had aided in the chase of the Intel team returned to Dorthan XII. He hoped Lieutenant Nolan…Angela was all right. Despite that blowup in the mess, he was worried.
So many Intel teams had been lost to the Obsidian Order. Too many.
Would the next casualty list read U.S.S. Rutledge Experimental Intelligence Team, Lt. j.g. Angela Nolan, commanding?
“Uh, sir?” It was Chief Bonsiorus.
Stompie sighed and turned around. “Yes, Lucius?” he said sharply.
Even Lucius could tell Stompie wasn’t in the best of moods. “Uh, nothing sir. Sorry to have bothered you.” He snapped off a rather sloppy salute and started to walk off.
“Lucius, are you sure it was nothing?”
The Magna Roman turned around. “Well, actually, there’s a small variance in the magnetic bottles, but I’ll just get Ensign Kratoa instead.” He paused. “I heard about the row in the mess hall, but your genuinely worried about her, aren’t you?”
“Huh? Oh, Angela.” Stompie had been drifting off again. “Yeah.”
Lucius patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, sir. I’m sure they wouldn’t have made her a team leader if she couldn’t bring her teams out alive.”
“Thanks, Lucius.” Stompie smiled. “Let’s get to work on those magnetic bottles, shall we?”
Six Orions materialized on the dreary surface of NGC 400A. They had been beamed down by a Cardassian vessel. They weren’t Orions, however, and the Cardassians hadn’t done it of their own free will. They were, of course, the U.S.S. Rutledge Experimental Intelligence Team.
Ensign Rutherford (the Fourth!) pulled out his specialized Intel tricorder the fastest. “Very good transport,” he remarked. “Shield perimeter is one meter to the left.”
Ensign Felonia snorted. “Of course you’d say that. You did it.”
Nolan rolled her eyes. “The shield disruptor, you two.”
“Aye, aye,” they chorused. They bent down and slung their packs onto the ground. Felonia removed the pieces while Rutherford fit them together with expert efficiency.
As they did this, Volodzhe removed the dermal reconfigurer from her own pack and ran it over the team members, restoring their skin to its natural colors.
“Ready, sir,” announced Rutherford, glancing up at his superior.
Nolan nodded at Second-in-Command Yadote who briefly inspected the device. “All appears to be in order.” He turned to Ne Kolrami. “Do your stuff.”
Kolrami ran it through the power up. The small ion cell began to glow. He pulled a few levers and twisted a knob to adjust field intensity and location. Then he activated the targeting scanners to find the shield’s oscillation matrix. Once he had found it, his finger hesitated for the briefest moment and stabbed down on the big red button.
“Shield down,” announced Yadote, looking up from his tricorder.
“Love these stealth models,” commented Kolrami as Felonia and Rutherford disassembled the device. “No huge lightning bolts crackling over the entire perimeter.”
The team set off for the small curving tower that was 400A Automated. The majority of the processors, etc. were underground, only the antenna was visible.
Suddenly a hole opened up in the ground in front of them. Out came a Cardassian autogun. Alarms and orange flashing lights started on the tower ahead. Angela glanced around. Cardassian soldiers were materializing all over the compound.
Makras Rendell sat in the command chair of the Rutledge as it slipped across space toward the rendezvous point. It was his first time in command of a starship, and he had been extremely apprehensive when Captain Maxwell had offered to let him command the night watch. The captain had pointed out that Rendell had almost nothing to do except coordinate shipwide security drills as the responsibility of security officers in the entire ‘Fleet had plummeted ever since the 2329 reorganization and the creation of the tactical officer.
Rendell very well couldn’t refuse his captain, even if it was a suggestion, and had taken the job.
He had felt uncomfortable sitting down in the Big Chair and so he was sitting in Commander azgn Bem’s seat on the right. “Time to rendezvous point?” he asked.
The night helmsman glanced at his controls. “Forty seconds.”
What would the captain say? “Slow to one-half impulse.”
“One-half impulse, aye.” The helmsman (Rendell had no clue as to his name) manipulated the controls with ease and the ship slowly decelerated.
I did it! He had given his first order of the night! “Projected time to the Intel team’s arrival?” he asked the science officer.
The pasty-faced ensign glanced at the chronometer and did some mental math. “Thirty-four hours.”
Rendell nodded. “Good,” he said, stoically as normal. But on the inside he was thinking, Two orders! Wow!
As they hadn’t had a chance to raise their weapons the team was captured without a shot. The Cardies lead them toward the antenna tower, in which there was an elevator shaft. They were taken down in groups of three prisoners and five Cardies.
Yadote, Kolrami, and Felonia went down first. When the lift returned about five or six minutes later, Volodzhe noticed a few splats of red blood on the floor. Presumably the three had tried to escape. Had they failed?
Volodzhe felt the business end of a Cardassian disruptor pushed against her back and walked dutifully into the lift, followed by Rutherford IV and Nolan. As the doors closed, she had an idea. She managed to turn toward the others and mouth, Close your eyes. The Cardassians looked wary. The universal translator would only work if they spoke aloud, and they had no idea as to what had transpired.
Rutherford glanced quizzically at his commander, who nodded. The two squeezed their eyes shut.
Volodzhe began to concentrate. It’s dark, she thought to herself. It’s really, really dark. Getting darker fast. Undercave black.
Her skin lit up in dazzling purple. The Cardassians tried to shield their eyes, but it was too late. They had been blinded. She reached out and quickly removed one’s disruptors. She prodded her companions, who opened their eyes and assisted her in disarming and stunning the other guards.
“What was that?” asked Rutherford.
“We Bela Landans are a subterranean species,” explained Volodzhe. “Our skin is bioluminescent.”
Nolan nodded. “Brilliant.”
They turned to face the door. It opened to reveal three more Cardassians, who were quickly dispatched.
“Which way?” Volodzhe glanced up and down the corridor.
While Nolan studied the signage, Rutherford grabbed his Intel tricorder from the Cardassian that had confiscated it. “This place is two kilometers in length,” he announced, amazed. “And FleetIntCom said it was automated. I read upwards of twelve hundred Cardies.”
Nolan finished studying the sign. “This way,” she said. “The cell block is just down this corridor and to the left.”
The quickly jogged down it, dispatching three more soldiers. One of them must have activated an alarm, though, because sirens began blaring all across 400A Automated — or was that 400A Occupied now?
Rutherford used his Intel tricorder to open the cell door lock and Felonia, Kolrami, and Yadote came tumbling out. Kolrami’s cheek was cut. “Which way to the transporter?” asked Nolan, all business.
Rutherford consulted his tricorder. “This way,” he said, pointed. The jogged further and dispatched the two guards at the doors with alacrity. No one was inside.
Nolan ordered Yadote to ready it while the rest took their positions. Yadote fiddled with the controls. “There’s no workbee!” he exclaimed.
“What?” gasped Kolrami, stepping off the platform to join him. He examined the controls. “No ships in orbit either.”
“Double damn,” muttered Nolan. “Set the beam for the surface, as far away as you can get it.”
“The whole planet is a giant rock face,” warned Felonia. “Nothing more advanced than a few bacteria.”
“I know,” said Nolan. “But it’s our only hope.”
Kolrami and Yadote set the beam for time delay and stepped onto the pad. Just as the yellow shimmering surrounded them, Cardassian soldier charged into the room. A few fired disruptors through the beams with no effect.
…in jail cells. Their weapons and equipment were gone.
“Triple damn.” Nolan was furious. “They must have locked the beam in the buffers and reset it.”
A Cardassian enter the cell block. Nolan examined his rank insignia. He was a grade-2 gul, which the Cardassians also called prefect. It translated into Standard as commodore. “Very good,” he said. “A feisty batch, aren’t you?” When he received no answer he went on. “The legate will arrive on his personal shuttle tomorrow. Then we will get some good information out of you lot.” He strode off, metal boots clanking on the floor.
“How is it going?”
“Bad, very bad.”
“This is turning out to be a far better field test than we could have hoped for.”
“Captain,” announced Ensign L’frn’lt. “It’s the rendezvous time.”
“Where are they?” Maxwell asked, more to himself than anyone in particular.
“This One does not know,” sighed azgn Bem. She, for one, had enjoyed the time spent waiting for the workbee. She had utilized it to organize six security drills, two core breech drills, and one ion storm drill. Therefore, the crew (Captain Maxwell included) had not enjoyed their stay.
“Anything on sensors?” asked Maxwell.
L’frn’lt pored over his data. “Nothing. Not even a UV radiation spike.”
Ensign O’Brien, who had taken over for Volodzhe while she was gone, ran through his own checks. He sighed. “Flight control confirms.”
Maxwell almost asked Raymond Boone at tactical, but decided that would show a lack of trust in his officers. “Prep one of the runabouts for departure,” he ordered instead. “We’ll risk a short flight toward Cardassian space.”
“Aye, aye,” said Stompie, who was at the subsystems monitor on the bridge. After he had relayed the order to Lucius, he turned to face the captain. “Uh, sir, permission to go aboard?”
Maxwell saw the expression of worry on the young lieutenant’s face and nodded. “Permission granted. Doctor Sorsak and Ensign L’frn’lt will accompany you.”
His face displaying glee mixed with worry, Stompie jumped out of his chair and made his way toward the turbolift, the arachnid science officer right behind him.
A short, wiry Cardassian bearing the rank of legate entered the cell block. “I am Legate Shenob,” he said. “And you are Lieutenant j.g. Angela Nolan, Lieutenant Command Karissya Volodzhe, Ensign Yadote, Ensign Alexander Rutherford the Fourth, Ensign Chosar Felonia, and Ensign Ne Kolrami.”
They said nothing.
“Ah, I see you are the strong, silent type.”
Nolan spoke up. “I heard you were as well.”
He turned to face her, curious. “What do you mean?”
“If I recall, a Grade-1 Gul Shenob was captured by Rokan the Relentless of the Tal Shiar on Stardate 10666.7–“
“Do not speak of it.”
“Shenob prided himself on murdering millions. He had been tortured twice before with no success. But this time–“
Shenob’s spinal ridges were bulging. “I said, be quiet!”
Nolan continued. “–he broke. The Romulans had access to most Cardassian fleet positions and won the minor war in which the two societies were engaged. Shenob was disgraced–“
Seeing that his ranting was having no effect, the legate entered Nolan’s cell.
“–but eventually rebuilt his career, this time as an Obsidian Order interrogator and not a mass murderer.”
Shenob charged the Irishwoman. She had seen it coming and immediately rolled to avoid him. With a quick flick of the wrist his disruptor was in her hand. Instead of stunning him with it, she tossed it through the cell bars to Felonia who knocked out the two guards. Meanwhile, Nolan delivered a quick chop to Shenob’s spinal ridge, knocking him out.
“You’re getting old,” she muttered to the unconscious Cardassian.
She unlocked the cell doors, freeing her comrades. “Where are we going to go?” asked Rutherford. “There was nowhere last time.”
Nolan tsk-tsked as the team began moving down the hallway. “If you recall, the prefect said Shenob came in his personal shuttle. It wouldn’t leave if Shenob was here, would it?”
Rutherford nodded and when they entered the transporter room (after stunning two more guards) he moved toward the control console. It was off, but as soon as he turned it on alarms rang out. “Christ in Heaven,” he muttered. “They’re blocking me. If I leave to join the rest of you, they can reset the targeting scanners.”
Yadote realized the implications of this. “One of us has to stay behind.”
“I’ll do it,” said Nolan immediately, motioning for Rutherford to take her place on the pad. She positioned the targeting scanners on Shenob’s little shuttle.
“Angela, you can’t!” called out Volodzhe, but it was too late. She had already slid up the activation bars and the team dematerialized.
LEGATE SHENOB’S PERSONAL SHUTTLE…
They rematerialized intact and took no time to reflect on the inevitable loss of their commander. The team set about the power up with unerring efficiency. Volodzhe offered to take helm control as she was the best pilot present, and Yadote agreed.
The shuttle was halfway through the atmosphere before 400A Occupied realized something was wrong. In a belated attempt to do something, the autoguns popped out of the ground and fired a few potshots. Volodzhe dogged most of these expertly with some fancy flying, but one shot clipped the shuttle’s starboard nacelle.
“Plotting a course for the rendezvous point,” she announced. “We’re going to be a few light-months short though. Plasma leak.”
Yadote sighed. “I’m sure there’s a way we could save her. Can’t we beam her out now?”
Kolrami shook his head. “Not at all. They’ve undoubtedly thrown up an inhibitor field.”
“Good God,” murmured Felonia. “Do you realize what they’ll do to her?”
The others’ silence indicated they knew all too well.
The Cardies charged into the transporter room almost immediately thereafter. Nolan’s first shot was fired, not at one of them, but at control console so the Cardies would have to take some time to find her team.
As a result of this, she was unable to defend herself adequately and was dragged back to her cell like a limp rag between two soldiers.
Legate Shenob and the prefect were waiting at the doors. The legate scrutinized her unconscious body carefully. When the soldiers began to drag her into the cell, he held up his hand. “No.” Then he grinned. “Take her to the interrogation chamber.” The guards nodded to indicate their understanding of the order and moved off.
“If she had not resisted, we could have done this the easy way,” reflected the prefect ruefully.
Shenob smiled evilly. “That is, easy for her.”
U.S.S. VAN GELDER…
“We have to go deeper!” yelled Stompie.
“No way,” said L’frn’lt.
“Absolutely not,” added Sorsak. “Logic dictates that we remain here. Any closer and we risk detection by Cardassian patrols. We are already inside their long-range sensor perimeter as it is.”
“But that utility workbee could be just ahead, its fuel expended! Angela could be in jeopardy!”
“No,” said L’frn’lt. “Captain Maxwell mandated that we stay outside of their sensor range.”
“Stupid aliens,” muttered Stompie, turning away. “Bet you don’t even know what its like to have be in love.”
“On the contrary,” said Sorsak. “I am in love, though I do not often admit it. I am bonded and wed to T’Kloma of the Clan Krebav.”
“And I,” said L’frn’lt, “am married to Dr’ns’mk, my childhood companion.”
“Well, what if it was her over there,” exclaimed Stompie. “Wouldn’t you try everything within you power to get her back?”
The two aliens glanced at each other. L’frn’lt sighed. “Very well,” said Sorsak, “Take us deeper.”
L’frn’lt activated the warp drive again. “Coming up on calculated patrol route,” he announced. “Netel-class destroyer, dead ahead.”
“Evasive,” ordered Sorsak calmly. The Van Gelder dipped underneath.
“They are reacting.” The arachnid manipulated his console with six-legged ease. “Raising shields.”
Phaser beams lanced out from the Netel and L’frn’lt easily dodged them. The Netel’s power distribution problems meant that if their phasers were at full intensity, their maneuverability would be rather sluggish. This made L’frn’lt’s job a lot easier as compared to an encounter with a Galor-class cruiser.
“Warp speed…now,” said Sorsak, somewhat dramatically. Stompie activated the warp controls and the Van Gelder shot way with a rainbow trail. “They will logically not follow us, as doing so could open a gap in the lines for a starship. They will instead dispatch another vessel.”
“If they decide to behave logically,” pointed out Stompie.
Fortunately, the Cardassian gul must have been of the same mind as Sorsak, because the destroyer did not pursue and returned to its position.
Stompie’s console beeped. “Am detecting a Cardassian craft dead ahead.” He sifted through the data. “A small shuttle. It is not moving and leaking drive plasma.”
“Shields down,” ordered Sorsak. “Full sensor sweep.”
“Several life-forms aboard,” L’frn’lt read off his board. “Bolian, human, Tagran, Bela Landan, and Zakdorn. It has to be the Intel team.”
Sorsak read over his shoulder and concurred. “Drop from impulse.” He almost added, “Energize,” but it was unnecessary as Stompie was already pushing up the activation levers.
Five people in Orion clothing materialized on the transporter.
“Thank God you showed up when you did,” said Felonia. “Our life support was almost kaput.”
Stompie scanned the group. “Where’s Angela?”
“I’m sorry, Will,” comforted Volodzhe, placing her hand on his shoulder. “She didn’t make it.”
– – – – –
TO BE CONTINUED IN
STAR TREK: U.S.S. RUTLEDGE