The Dosadi Suite

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FOREWORD
For those of you not terribly familiar with the Star Trek universe (all rights owned by Paramoallow me to provide a brief background.
“The United Federation of Planets (abbreviated as UFP and commonly referred to as the Federation) was an interstellar federal republic, composed of planetary governments that agreed to exist semi-autonomously under a single central government based on the principles of universal liberty, rights, and equality, and to share their knowledge and resources in peaceful cooperation and space exploration. One of the most powerful interstellar states in known space, it encompassed 8,000 light years and at least a thousand planets.  The total number of formal members worlds was over one hundred and fifty.
Unlike its imperial rivals, who derived power from a single species subjugating other races, the Federation’s various member worlds joined willingly and were equals in the Federation’s democratic society.  The Federation Starfleet was incorporated to maintain exploratory, scientific, diplomatic, and defense functions.” (Source: https://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/United_Federation_of_Planets)
For clarity, units and numbers are converted to more human-friendly terms. Dosadi use base-8 numbering and most space-faring nations base distance calculations on the wavelength of the hydrogen absorption line – a universal constant – rather than Earth-centric light-years or parsecs.
All 5 cycles in this book follow the actions of a mixed-race family from their foundation through the first generation of children.
Cycle 1: Fugue
A young Star Fleet ensign joins the Officer Exchange Program with the Dosadi Imperium and ends up finding more than he bargained for while he keeps unknowingly crossing paths with a mysterious alien Colonel. Love, Loss, Life, and Death all play their parts.
Cycle 2: Triad
A Star Fleet crewman and his alien wife become entangled with a foreign colonel and stolen data with the USS Hood and USS Yorktown caught in the middle.
Cycle 3:  Pivot
A Star Fleet engineer and his alien wife are caught up in the schemes of several powers’ intelligence services. Meanwhile, a genetically engineered polymorphic plague is heading, undetected to the core of the Federation.
Coda 1: Raid!
This is mainly a starship combat story and as the title suggests, is a reprise of events already covered. It is the story of the Dosadi raid on Romulus as told by Colonel Jons about 10 years after the end of Pivot.
Coda 2: Free For All At Toulagai
Again, mainly a starship combat story that reprises events already covered. The story of a single Dosadi fleet out-gunned 3:1. The Dosadi carrier group fights for its life against the Hydran carrier group, Klingon battleship force, and the Gorn’s cruiser force. Continues the stories told by Colonel Jons about 10 years after the end of Pivot.
Coda 3: The Long Night
A more detailed telling of the final combat in Fugue as told by Colonel Jons about 10 years after the end of Pivot. The Dosadi are coming to get a defector from the Gorn battlestation at Airdrie and have to fight their way through a minefield, two Gorn fleets, and a battlestation.
Cycle 4: Minuet
The half-human/half-Dosadi daughter of Wilkes and Sooth joins Star Fleet as a fighter pilot and undertakes a mission that requires a sacrifice that may be more than she can bear. Minor cameo appearances by Sulu, Kirk, and McCoy. Set just before the events of “The Undiscovered Country’
Cycle 5: Finale
Picks up 20 years after Cycle 4, following the actions of a battered old Dosadi Special Forces operator and his Raider Team after the Cardassian Union conquers a key Dosadi resource. A young child begins to show him that there’s more to living than killing and more to coming home than an address, after a desperate battle.
PROLOGUE
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago–never mind how long precisely –having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on…No, no. Forgive me. I have recently been exposed to a number of ancient entertainments of various types and I’m afraid it has warped my sense of humor somewhat.
The truth is, I’m normally a reporter, not a historian. But the two seem to overlap sometimes as one must truly dig into the background of a story to understand it and accurately present it. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve done enough solid, popular work for the media outfit I work for that I was allowed to follow my nose on a story of my own choosing. You never really know where such investigations will take you or how the story will affect your life. It’s not uncommon to become as much a part of the story as those you’re reporting on.
When I was still in primary school on Earth, there had been an incident between the Federation and the Cardassian Union. At that time the Cardassians were still very much an unknown to humans and I was at just the right age for it to enthrall me. It had all the elements of an adventure story, a spy story, and a war story, and I still remember watching all the coverage I could find. I think those stories and the excellent work done by those doing the producing played a major part in my becoming a journalist. I wanted to be the man telling these stories, not just watching them.
During my early years with Argus (you may not know this but Argus is actually owned by a Hydran conglomerate – look it up yourself!) I found myself doing a fair amount of war reporting – conflict always attracts people’s attention – and made something of a name for myself doing so. I did some historical specials focusing on Federation heroes, and even one in Klingon on the legend of Kahless. So it was natural, when given leave to do an independent project, that I would return to that first story that captured my attention and start looking into the background of the main players.
I’m sure you’re all aware that history is replete with individuals who seem to stand astride the events of their day and re-align things to their own liking. Individuals such as Napoleon Bonaparte of Earth, Surak of Vulcan, Kahless of Qo’noS, and more recently for the Federation, Captain James T. Kirk or Captain Jonathan Archer. There is always the on-going question as to whether the events make the man, or the man makes the event. With individuals of such surpassing influence, I prefer to believe that the man makes the event, at least in their rare cases.
However there are also, scattered throughout the history of man – in whatever form you find him, be it Human, Vulcan, Dosadi, or any other sentient shape – entire families that seem to be intertwined in the fabric of history with influence well beyond what one would expect. These families exert a tremendous impact on our times, but sometimes seem to remain nearly unnoticed.
When I began to pull on the threads attached to the young woman who had been so central to that story which had so captivated me as a boy, I found just such a family. Encountering them nearly killed me and has deeply altered the course of my life.
There are really five major strands to their story and I shall break my tale down to follow those paths. The first three take place across almost twenty years and covers several events you may never have even heard of, though they were tremendously significant to the Federation and a number of other powers. The fourth finally tells the true story of the incident that set me on my path, and the fifth covers the more recent events that most everyone in the galaxy is familiar with to some degree.
To begin, I will need to take you back over fifty years ago, to the glory days of Captain James Kirk and the USS Enterprise…
CYCLE 1 – FUGUE
CHAPTER 1
“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.”
– John Pierpoint Morgan – Earth (Human)
STARFLEET ACADEMY, SAN FRANCISCO, EARTH
JUNE 2267
Ensign Thomas Wilkes looked wistfully at the scenery at the edge of the landing field. San Francisco was beautiful any time of year, but early summer always seemed to bring out the best in the Bay area and the view was spectacular. The Golden Gate Bridge was poking her towers up above the sparkling blue waters of the bay, with a few puffy clouds overhead in the cobalt sky. The aroma of California Roses from the Academy’s immaculate gardens scented the air.
He had to admit that it had been an interesting four years and he’d often wondered if he’d be allowed to graduate at all. He’d had plenty of fun, exploring California’s hills and coast, much as he’d explored the various offerings at the Academy before finally settling on Engineering and Power Generation and Distribution Systems as a focus. He sighed to himself. Nothing really seemed to ever catch his interest for long. Taking the entrance exam at 16 back in North Yorkshire, England, had been a freak thing – passing it had been even more of a freak event.  But he really didn’t have anything better to do with his time. His parents were not all that well off so University was out, and taking over the family farm just really didn’t seem like his thing.
Starfleet only asked for eight years – and four of them were spent in the Academy – so why not? A chance to get out, see some of the universe, have some fun, then maybe try to figure out what to do with his life. It was insane expecting teenagers to know what they wanted to do with themselves. But there you had it – that’s how the world worked. You were expected to fit in, to be like everybody else and do the same things at the same time and… He sighed again.
“Hey Wilksey, why the heavy sighs?” he heard a silky voice ask.
Turning to face the speaker he replied “Hello Angie.” and smiled. Angie had been one of the very nice things about his Junior year and in fact had almost been responsible for him flunking out. Well, one of the times he almost flunked out anyway. Spending time in his quarters with her was a lot more fun than going to class. But it had really only been a fling for both of them – She had plans for her life and had her eye on the big chair.
Glancing down at the way she filled out her gold Command-branch uniform tunic he continued “Just being me, is all. Still not really sure where I’m going or why.”
She laughed, a sound that still sent thrills up his back, “Wilksey, I just have the feeling that there’s something out there for you. I have said for AGES that you’re special. You just need to-”
He interrupted with a laugh, “Apply myself! I know, I know. I’ve heard that about every two weeks from one counselor or another since I was 12.”
She leaned in close and gave him a solid kiss, which he returned with interest. “I got the posting I wanted!” she smiled and began putting her very non-regulation long chestnut brown curls into a more regulation pony-tail.
“Enterprise?” he asked, stunned. The USS Enterprise was the top choice of pretty much every graduate. There were legends going around about that particular ship, and you had to be cream of the crop to get a berth there.
“Yes. I’ll be starting out in astrogation, so I might even get bridge qualified in a few weeks!”
“Angie, that’s amazing!” he said, genuinely pleased. “You’ll be Captain Stone before you’re 30!”
She laughed again, happy and excited, “Probably not that fast, but who knows? Where are you headed? That garbage scow you always figured Dr. Reynolds had in mind for you?”
He laughed, “No! Believe it or not, the Hood.”
She was surprised, “The Hood? For real? How’d you swing that?”
“I have no idea. Dr. Reynolds told me that I was specifically requested. He looked like he’d just bit into a lemon when he told me.”
She looked at him for a few moments. “Requested? Wilksey, I don’t want to be mean, but you were the absolute bottom of the class. One more demerit, one point less on any test and you would’ve flunked out. Why would they request you for one of the top Constitution-class cruisers in the fleet?”
He shrugged, “I have no idea. But I’m supposed to report to Chief Engineer White in Main Engineering.”
Shaking her head but smiling, she kissed him again and said, “Wilksey, I’ve said since I met you that you’re the luckiest man on Earth. I’ve got to go – my shuttle’s boosting in like 2 minutes.” She slung her duffel over her shoulder and hurried off to a waiting shuttlecraft, emblazoned with NCC-1701/3 USS ENTERPRISE along her side and the name COPERNICUS in jaunty script on her nose. He enjoyed the view as Angie walked away. Definitely something to miss.
He wondered again why he couldn’t seem to really commit to a relationship; or anything else. Angie was an amazing woman; you’d think he’d have chased after her with everything he had in him, but it had been the other way around. She was only his second lover after an awkward and fumbling affair in secondary school. Women were just one more thing that he liked but could never really get that focused on.
Sighing again, he shouldered his own duffel and walked the short distance across the field to the shuttlecraft from the Hood, found a seat and strapped in. A few minutes later the little ship lifted off, pointed her nose to the stars and he was on his way. He spent most of the ride up wondering just why he had been requested, and by whom.
When the shuttlecraft landed in the Hood’s aft bay, he didn’t have long to wait. Each of the eight newly-minted Ensigns aboard were met by a runner from their section and escorted directly to their waiting supervisors.  Since Wilkes was the only Engineer among the group, he quickly found himself standing at attention in front of a compact little Australian with a neatly shaved head. The office was packed with technical manuals and the man’s desk was covered with coffee stains and paperwork. At the moment he was kicked back in his chair with his feet on his desk, scrutinizing one Ensign Thomas Wilkes.
The subject of his study was getting more uncomfortable by the second. Trying to keep his back straight and his eyes focused on an imaginary spot on the office wall, he wondered exactly what was going on here. He’d been called on the carpet before, but usually they started right in as to what was wrong. But he hadn’t done anything yet!
Finally, Chief Engineer Ethan White broke the silence, “And why are you here in my office, Ensign Wilkes?”
Thoroughly puzzled, he tried to explain, “Sir, I was ordered to report to Chief Engineer White aboard the USS Hood and that is why I am here.”
“Don’t be a drongo, Wilkes. You’re an Engineer. Explain to me why you’re here.”
“Someone aboard specifically requested me, sir.”
“And why would that be?”
“I honestly have no idea, sir. I was expecting a… smaller ship.”
“You were expecting a garbage scow. I spoke to Dr. Reynolds at the Academy.” White laughed.  “You were the Goat this year. In fact, you’ve managed to set a sort of record – you have the lowest passing score ever recorded for a Cadet. In fact, the lowest score possible for a Cadet. So again, why are you here?”
Thinking quickly Wilkes came up with the answer, “You requested me, sir?”
“Very good Wilkes. Any idea why?”
“No, sir.”
“Wilkes, the Goat is a rather unique position at the Academy and that… honor… traces its lineage back to the old military academies of pre-atomic Earth. Interestingly, the Goats have a tendency to exceed all expectations and often surprass the accomplishments of the top of their class. They are statistical odd-balls and misfits who seem to be able to find a way through the most unusual circumstances and come out on top. Often heroically.
“I’ve looked into your history, Wilkes. You are young. You took the entrance exam – and passed – despite nearly flunking out of secondary school. How is that possible?”
Clearing his throat, Wilkes said, “I guess I just never applied myself, sir.”
“Psycho-babble bullshit, Wilkes. I’ve read your files. I’ve talked with your parents. I know everything there is to know about you. You’re a square peg in a world of round holes in a lot of ways. But I think there’s some potential here, and I intend to take advantage of this tendency of yours to fall into the shit and come out smelling like a rose. Get your gear squared away in your quarters. You report to Lieutenant Jerkowycz tomorrow morning at dilithium control.
“And Wilkes, you’re holding out on me. Cough it up.”
“OH! Yes, sir!” Wilkes dug into his duffel and pulled out a wrapped package. “Mother didn’t say who this was for.”
“Your mother is a saint, Wilkes. A home-made Yorkshire curd tart FROM Yorkshire is too good to pass up. I’ll admit that’s part of the reason I requested you. If I catch you causing her any stress, I’ll have you fed into the warp drives. Dismissed.” As Wilkes walked away, White was happily unwrapping his treat.

* * *
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS HOOD, UNDER WAY
DECEMBER 2267
Six months later, Wilkes again found himself in front of White’s battered old desk, uncomfortably bearing the scrutiny of the Chief Engineer.
“Wilkes. Once again you come before me. And why is that?”
Wilkes hated White’s tendency to start his ‘interviews’ by demanding that the one summoned explain why he was summoned. He hadn’t done anything wrong… lately. Of course he hadn’t done anything spectacularly right either. He had just done what he was supposed to do. “I believe you want to check on my progress, sir? It’s been almost six months since I reported aboard.”
White rolled his eyes, “Wrong! Bzzzt! Good guess though, I suppose. How do you like working on the engines, Wilkes?”
Uh-oh. “It’s OK, sir.”
“Not terribly exciting, is it? At least not if you’re doing everything right. In Warp Engineering, if things are getting exciting someone has really stuffed it. Ever think of branching out?”
“Branching out?”
“There’s a lot more to Starfleet engineering than just warp power, Wilkes. A lot more to learn. If you’re ever thinking of really moving up in rank you have to broaden your focus. Or are you just a one-term wally? Keep your head down, do the bare minimum, never poke your head up, and get out. Waste your whole enlistment doing nothing?”
Wilkes bristled, “No, sir. I just don’t really know what I want to do yet.”
“And you never will until you get some experience beyond fine-tuning matter/anti-matter flow rates and juggling plasma fields. From what your supervisor tells me, you’re not having any trouble with the work. You have an excellent understanding of the theory and the practice, you just lack the hands-on experience.” He paused. “Wilkes, what do you know about the Dosadi?”
Dredging his memory from the Academy he answered, “Um, they’re a race of cat-people. Very vicious fighters, and they like to fight a lot. The Federation made first-contact a bit over a century ago. They use a lot of Federation technology and we tend to back them in brush wars, which they fight a lot of. Smaller empire out towards the Klingons and Romulans if I recall. You see them on Earth every now and again in some of the bigger cities. They seem to be historians if I recall correctly.”
“Close enough. Tell me about fighters.”
“Fighters, sir? The Hood doesn’t normally carry fighters.”
“I didn’t ask you what the Hood carried, Wilkes.”
“Fighters. Either a big, heavily armed shuttlecraft with limited warp capability or a really small, underpowered and under-armored starship depending upon your point of view. Becoming more popular in fleet actions for their flexibility and ability to deliver heavy payloads, but they have very high casualty rates.”
“Good. I prefer the very small starship point of view myself. Did you study their systems at all?”
“Yes, sir, actually I did. One of my professors was a big proponent of fighter tactics; I got to work on a couple different models. They’re a lot more complex than shuttlecraft with more redundant systems, and of course they’re optimized for combat.”
White smiled. “Spot-on, Wilkes. How married to the whole idea of rank are you?”
“Sir?”
“How important is it to you that you outrank crewmen and you can give them orders? Is your status as an officer critical to your self-image?”
“I like being an officer, sir. But I suppose I don’t really care. When you’re working on something it just matters that you get the job done to standard.”
“That’s pretty much what your supervisor told me about you and about what I’d expect from you. You never struck me as someone who was that concerned with symbols and all the trappings of rank and all that crap. All right Wilkes, I think you’ll do. Come with me.” He then stood up and began to leave the office.
Completely confused again, Wilkes followed his Chief down to one of the smaller briefing rooms. As they entered the room Wilkes almost missed a step. There, big as life, was a five-foot tall version of puss-in-boots.
Now the Chief’s question about the Dosadi made sense, Wilkes thought to himself. And this one had rank, if he was reading the silver stripes on the alien’s shoulders correctly.
White walked up to the big feline, clapped him on the shoulder and said, “Captain Nolin! It’s great to see you again.”
The tan-and-cream colored cat smiled back, showing some good-sized canines and gripped his shoulder. “White. It’s been too long. Captain Karmes said that you had a candidate in mind.”
“I believe I do. Nolin, this is Ensign Wilkes; one of our newest engineers with a focus on power engineering, but I think he’s more of a generalist than that.”
Wilkes wondered exactly what the Chief had in mind as he tried to study the alien Captain. He looked like a big cougar that had decided to stand upright and upgrade his paws for hands. He was wearing dark blue trousers with a bronze stripe down each leg, a sword for Christ’s sake, black boots, and a black cloak. He spoke Standard but with a hint of an accent. Wilkes thought it sounded almost Swedish. Then he noticed that the cat was sizing him up as well.
“Wilkes, did Chief Engineer White tell you what we’ve got in mind?”
“No, sir. Not yet, sir.”
Nolin turned slightly and smiled, “Still keeping secrets from everyone, White?”
“Old habits die hard, mate.” He smiled back.
Turning back to Wilkes, Nolin continued, “Are you familiar with the Officer Exchange Program, Ensign Wilkes?”
Wondering if every senior officer in the universe started their interviews out with questions he answered “Yes sir.”
“Ever consider it?”
Wilkes was genuinely surprised. The Officer Exchange Program was usually for the elite – people who would represent the very best of the Federation. How did he get picked for this? “Honestly sir I had not.”
Nodding, Nolin put his hand on his sword hilt and thought for a moment. “Chief Engineer White thinks highly of you Wilkes, or he would not have brought you here. I command the Imperial Dosadi assault carrier Delos. She’s brand new, still fitting out, really. White and I are, as you’ve probably guessed, old comrades. He suggested a trade to help both our cultures. But, there’s a bit of a difficulty.”
“What’s that, sir?”
“Well, the person I want to send over is an enlisted rank. A Crew Leader – A Petty Officer in your system. Chief  Engineer White is fine with that, and he’ll be filling in your position with a temporary rank of acting Ensign. If you decide to take advantage of this opportunity. But here’s the problem. You would be filling in his position – a position beneath your rank and status.”
Wilkes thought to himself Ahhhh….Now I understand all the questions White was asking about that. But Nolin was continuing:
“However, you’d be in charge of more people than you are now – you’d have a crew of 4 reporting directly to you and you’d be in charge of all the power, energy weapons, and shields on an F-14 Tomcat fighter. You’d be getting experience in leadership and in a broad range of systems. But it is beneath your rank. In fact you would be reporting to an enlisted man, and although you would outrank him, your position is beneath him. It’s technically grade-inversion and that’s usually a bad idea. I’m willing to make an exception in this case based upon White’s recommendation.”
White spoke, “Wilkes, I’d advise you consider this. You’d be experiencing another culture, you’d be leading men, you’d have an entire ship that was your responsibility instead of just bits of one. And you’d see things you’d never see aboard the Hood. We’d still be your home ship; you’d return to us when you’re done.”
“How long is this posting for, sirs?”
White spoke first, “A year.”
Wilkes thought about it. Serving aboard the Hood was easy, comfortable, and frankly, boring. The crew were nice, the work easy and it just wasn’t that different from the Academy. Or home. The decision was easy, “I’d love to take a swing at it, sirs.”
Big smiles showed all around and Captain Nolin said, “Well done, Wilkes! I think I can promise you an interesting year. If you survive it, of course.”
CHAPTER 2
“It is only at the first encounter that a face makes its full impression on us.”
– Arthur Schopenhauer – Earth (Human)
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, UNDER WAY
DECEMBER 2267
Imperial Marine Crewman Sooth was walking with her friend, Ensign Eletha. As they made their way down the corridor of the Dosadi assault carrier Delos, she was trying to rub the kink out of her right shoulder, swinging her right arm while her left hand rubbed the muscles.
Eletha smiled and asked, “Tough drill?”
“You kidding? When aren’t they?” Sooth laughed, “I think I need to adjust my armor.  Whenever my rifle kicks it digs a – ” and she stopped dead in her tracks as a Crew Leader walked towards them escorting a human in Starfleet red and black. The human looked over at her and as their eyes met, Sooth’s widened.
Eletha had walked a pace or two past when she realized that Sooth had stopped. “Sooth?” she turned and looked back at her friend.
“Uh, what?” she shook her head in surprise and hurried to catch up with Eletha.
“Oh. I didn’t even think about it. The human, right?”
“Yes. I just haven’t seen one in quite a while. I didn’t expect to is all.” Her eyes had a far away look.
“I heard he’s here for the Officer Exchange Program with the Federation. I didn’t even think about it Sooth, sorry.”
She smiled, “It’s OK. I’ll get used to it again. He’ll be aboard for a year, right?”
They continued walking towards the East Living Pod and Eletha answered, “Yup, it should be interesting. I’ve never met a human before. I heard he’s going to be working on the flight deck, so maybe T’Laren will introduce us.”
“Assuming you can ever pry your mate out of his fighter, anyway.” Sooth laughed.
“As if it’s any easier to pry you out of your armor and away from those endless drills?”
“So? It’s fun!” her eyes sparkled, “It’s got to be a lot more fun than being stuck in the nursery with all those kits hanging all over you.”
Eletha thought about her response for a pace or two, “You’ll feel differently when you have kits.”
“I’m never having kits, and you know it.”
“Well not if you never let anyone get close to you. Sooth, not everyone leaves or dies right away, nor do you have to keep running and fighting everyone and everything.”
“I don’t fight everyone. I’m just ready in case I have to. And I let you get close.”
Eletha sniffed and twitched her ears at her friend, “I didn’t really give you any choice in the matter, now did I?” She glanced at the young woman, “And if you don’t fight everyone who tries to get close, what happened with Kam the other day? One minute you two are finally sharing a cozy sleeping spot, and the next he’s flying through the air.”
Sooth laid her ears back, “He got… pushy.”
“Oh.” Eletha, seeing the signs decided to back off, “Well, if you’d like some non-pushy company tonight, T’Laren, the kits, and I are gonna all be in the pod tonight, you’re more than welcome to curl up with us any time.” As they walked through the doors into the East Living Pod, they took a moment to adjust to the change in environment.
The Dosadi arrange their ships quite differently than other space-faring species. Although heavily influenced by the traditions of their Federation patrons, they put their own spin on it. As a culture they preferred things in their natural state, so directions aboard ship were based upon a compass; The forward part of the ship was North, the right side East, and so on. As a social species that lacked most privacy taboos, they didn’t have individual quarters. Instead there were several large living pods that served as barracks, recreation hall, mess hall, and meeting room. Stuffed with greenery and liberally supplied with soft places to sleep, drape, climb or sit, they were the most comfortable areas aboard the ships. The overhead was designed to mimic the Dosadi sky, cycling from dawn to dusk and back again, complete with the yellow-white sun during the day and familiar stars overhead at night. It was a comforting touch of home in the endless night of space.
Currently the lighting show it to be early evening aboard ship. Several groups of friends could be seen with their evening meal fresh from the replicators, and there were a few people already catching a nap. Eletha could see Kam sitting with some of the other crewmen from the Astrogation section, softly playing a flute while one of his friends tapped along on a small drum. Sooth noticed him as well.
Eletha rolled her eyes, “From your expression, I’m guessing we should go over that way instead…” and lead the way to the far side of the large space. “You haven’t even talked to him since you threw him half-way across the pod. You ever going to again?”
Her tail lashed as she glared at Kam. “No. I trusted him and he… he didn’t deserve it. I’m not going to make that mistake again.”
Eletha was worried for her friend’s happiness. Sooth was quite young; barely 17 and fresh out of her initial year of training for the Imperial Marines. In the few weeks since she had been assigned to the Delos she had made no really close friends, except Eletha; the only males who had attempted to strike up a friendship had ended up much like Kam. She had a reputation as unapproachable, and as a slightly strange loner. The Dosadi have a strong streak of individualism, but they are a very co-operative culture as well, and Sooth wasn’t really fitting in outside of her combat team. But perhaps now wasn’t the time to push, Eletha thought. So as they ate their evening meal she kept the conversation to safer topics.
As they were finishing up their chow, a tall Dosadi male wearing a hard-won Warrior Pendant around his neck plopped down between them and with a cheery smile said “Hiya!”
A startled Sooth started to swing at him, catching herself before the blow landed. Continuing to smile, he didn’t even flinch. Eletha laughed, “Hello Corin. You’re lucky she didn’t knock you on your tail!”
“It’s not me she’d have to worry about then,” he grinned as another female gracefully sat down next to him, curling her tail around his waist, “It’d be Nollos avenging me!”
“Or not.” she snorted. “You did that deliberately and would deserve whatever you got.”
“Ooh! My own mate abandoning me! What a cruel, harsh world…” he splayed himself onto his back.
Nollos ignored him. “My mate, the drama-queen.”
Shaking her head, Eletha asked, “Corin, you’re a Team Leader on Lieutenant Commander Delac’s fighter right? Do you know anything about that human that we saw earlier?”
“I – well here he is now, in fact.” he interrupted himself as the door cycled open again. Standing up he called out to the obviously disoriented young man, “Ensign Wilkes! Over here!”
Clearly relieved to see someone he at least vaguely recognized, Wilkes made his way over to the little group. “Hello, Team Leader.”
“We’re off duty Wilkes; I’m just Corin. This is my mate and my reason for being, Nollos. She’s a Hornet Team Leader. This lady is Ensign Eletha, a disruptor targeting officer when she’s not nursing; her mate is T’Laren, a Thunderbolt pilot, he might be here later. And this is Sooth, she’s a Marine.
“Everyone, this is Ensign Wilkes. He’ll be one of my Crew Leaders for the next year.”
“Hello everyone. I apologize in advance if I get names and faces mixed up. I’m struggling to tell you all apart. You still all look alike to me, mostly.” He glanced at Sooth, “You I think I recognize at least…Sooth? Didn’t I pass you in the corridor earlier?”
“Um, yes. You have a good memory, I think.” she answered shyly.
“Hey, there’s hope for me yet!” Wilkes said with a smile, thanking God above for whoever invented the Universal Translator implant.
Corin laughed and said “Have a seat Wilkes. I’ll grab some chow – you prefer human foods or are you feeling adventurous?”
“I’m here aren’t I?” he smiled at Corin as he sat down cross-legged in an open spot in the circle of people.
As the introductions and basic questions continued, Eletha noticed that Sooth had pretty much clammed up. “So Wilkes, if we all look alike to you how did you recognize Sooth?”
Sooth’s ears twitched back and forth, and Wilkes said, “I think her eyes look different than those of anyone else, and she’s got those two black stripes coming up off them that are very beau… umm… distinctive.”
Eletha noticed that Sooth was trying very hard to disappear. “Well to us, scent plays a big part in it too. How do you tell each other apart?”
“Our noses aren’t that good. For us it’s all about how different everyone looks; Shape of the nose and ears, the way they smile, height and weight, hair color, eye color, that sort of thing. So far most of the Dosadi I’ve met have golden colored eyes, but hers are blue.”
Nollos said, “That’s not that common for us. Eletha’s kits all have blue eyes right now, but that doesn’t usually last more than a couple of years. There’s some people with green eyes too. More common than blue, but still not very common.”
By the time the lights had dimmed past dusk Eletha’s mate and their four kits had arrived and Wilkes was thoroughly enjoying himself. The four little ones had been initially terrified of him, but within a few minutes decided that he was more interesting than frightening. Within half an hour they were climbing him like a tree. One seemed to take particular delight in sitting on his head.
T’Laren reached up and set the little ball of fur down again, “Ceena, stop doing that.” he chided the little girl.
“It’s OK. I don’t mind.” Wilkes said good naturedly. “Fortunately their claws don’t go in too far, but I’m starting to see a real disadvantage to not having fur…”
Nollos laughed, “I didn’t want to say anything, but you look to us like a big bald monkey. I’ve studied up on Earth animals: I want to go there to study your military history. There’s an academy in Russia I really want to go to.”
Wilkes scratched his own armpits and said, “Ook! Ook! Ook!” to everyone’s amusement. The children immediately picked up on the noise and began aping him.
Eletha noticed that Sooth was watching the young man rather carefully – if surreptitiously. “Tell us a story from your world Wilkes. We Dosadi love stories, so I’m going to put you on the spot.”
Wilkes said, “Okay. Fortunately for you I’ve studied a little bit of a lot, and folk stories are something I enjoy.” He thought a moment while everyone settled in, even the little ones, and he began, “This is a story from Ireland, a small country near where I was born, and it’s called Connla and the Fairy Maiden.” He hoped the Translator had all the concepts for this story.
Now this tale happened a very long time ago when there was still magic in the world and all manner of wizards and magical folk. Connla of the Fiery Hair was the son of the king, Conn of the Hundred Fights. One day, as he stood with his father on the heights of Usna, he saw a beautiful maiden in strange garb coming towards him.
“Where do you come from, maiden?” said Connla.
“I come from the Plains of the Ever Living,” she said, her voice as musical as tiny bells on the wind, “there where there is neither death nor pain. There we keep holiday always, and need no help from anyone in our joy. And in all our pleasures we have no strife. And because we make our homes in the round green hills, men call us the Hill Folk.”
The king and all with him wondered to hear a voice when they could see no one.     For save Connla alone, none saw the Fairy Maiden.
“To whom do you speak, my son?” said Conn, the King.
Then the maiden answered, “Connla speaks to a young, fair maid, whom neither death nor old age awaits. I love Connla, and now I call him away to the Plain of Pleasure, Moy Mell, where Boadag is king for aye, there has been no complaint nor sorrow in that land since he ascended the throne. Oh, come with me, Connla of the Fiery Hair, ruddy as the dawn with thy tawny skin. A fairy crown awaits thee to grace they comely face and royal form. Come, and never shall they comeliness fade, nor thy youth, till the end of days.”
Now the king was much afraid, he did not wish to lose his son. “You would take my son from me? You are a fell voice and I shall summon my Druid to banish you from my lands!”
The maiden spoke again, “Oh mighty king, why do you keep your son from such an adventure and from everlasting joy and life? Is it I who am evil, who offer only love and happiness while you wish to keep your son for your own selfish desires until he too grows old and dies?” And she slowly became visible to all.
The king was struck by the wisdom of the fairy maid. He spoke to his son, “Oh Connla, what is in your heart and mind?”
“Father, all men know that I love my own folk above all things, most especially you. But yet, a longing seizes me for the maiden.”
When the maiden heard this she answered, “The ocean is not so strong as the waves of my love for you, Connla. Come with me in my curragh, the gleaming straight-gliding crystal canoe. Soon we can reach Boadag’s realm. I see the bright sun sink, yet as far as it is, we can reach it before dark. There is too, another land worthy of thy journey,  joyous to all that seek it. Only wives and maidens dwell there. If you wish it, we can see it and live there alone together in joy.”
The king looked to his son, the joy of his days and said, “My son, I free you to find your own path and your own destiny, though you shall always have a home here.”
Connla of the Fiery Hair rushed away from his father and taking the maiden’s hand, they sprang into the curragh, and the king, his court, and all saw it glide away over the bright sea into the setting sun. Away and away till the eye could see it no longer, and Connla and the Fairy Maiden went their way on the sea and were no more seen, nor did any know where they came.
As he finished, Wilkes though to himself, “Now why did I pick THAT story?”
“Nice story Wilkes! Well done!” Corin cheered him.
Sooth said flatly, “So he left.”
Puzzled, Wilkes asked, “Beg pardon?”
“He left. He left his family to go with her.”
“Well his father realized that all our children grow up and need to find their own way in the world, and he said he understood. He set him free; he didn’t just leave.”
Sooth looked at him. “Maybe.”
Heading this particular line off, Eletha jumped in, “We should tell you a story now.”
Still a little puzzled, Wilkes said, “Yeah, um, say, how did my people even encounter yours anyway? First contact missions always have a story attached to them.”
Nollos said, “Oh I love this story, I’ll tell it.”
CHAPTER 3
History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.
– CICERO, Pro Publio Sestio – Earth (Human)
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, UNDER WAY
DECEMBER 2267
Looking around the assembled group of friends and reading the happy anticipation in their expressions, Nollos settled in to a more comfortable position before starting her tale.
“We Dosadi have taken much from the experiences of your Federation since we first encountered you over a century ago.” she began, looking at Wilkes as she spoke.
“We are avid historians with a rich history of our own, but you humans have fascinated us since that long ago first-contact. Your history is one of barbarism, dishonor, cruelty and hate arising again and again. And each time, those evils were struck down by civilization, honor, kindness and love.”
The group all were nodding in agreement as she continued the tale, her voice starting to take on an almost professorial tone.
“Your Federation presents itself as a pacifist organization, but you fight like demons out of hell at the drop of a hat and possess the most frightful weapons in the known galaxy. Your species always struggle to remain true to those principles, and are always seeking to better yourselves. That paradox is one of the things that attract the Dosadi to you so much. It is also the biggest reason you will often see Dosadi studying the writings and deeds of your great generals like Leonidas, Sun Tzu, Giap, Mao, Patton, Washington, Nelson, Kirk – and great philosophers like Ghandi, Lincoln, Buddha and more.”
Taking a small breath, Nollos once again addressed Wilkes directly, “Now Wilkes I understand you might not know much about us, so I will add more of our background than usual so there are no misunderstandings. I’m sure everyone will agree to that.”
Everyone was enjoying listening to her and simply waved her on, nibbling on snacks or enjoying some of the fiery Dosadi whiskey.
“All right. Dosad is a heavily forested planet orbiting an F-class yellow-white star in the constellation Cygnus, as your people see the stars. As we evolved, our species focused more on predation than agriculture, staying nomadic long after other species had settled in city-states. We’ve never been a very populous people – Our reproduction rate is low and our mortality high as you shall see. Even once we began to cooperate on a scale larger than small tribal bands, our cities stayed small and were much more integrated into the forest than any on Earth. Even our heavy industry is green-belted.” Indicating the growing plants throughout the Living Pod she said, “As you can tell, we prefer to be among living things.
“Our culture has become one that reveres valor in battle with a drive to constantly test ourselves and to better ourselves. Our religion and philosophy focus more on how you live your life and who you are, rather than the things you have. You humans have always been focused on the things one can aquire – another puzzle to us!” and she smiled. Now, Death to us is the end to all our stories. How you meet your fate is a critical part of your life.
“But, our focus on philosophy rather than things meant that we were slow to develop advanced technology compared to most of the major powers. Believe it or not, Wilkes, our species is almost a hundred thousand years older than yours – but we didn’t develop a warp drive until about a hundred years after you did. So now, I’ve got you caught up a bit and I can move on to the day the Federation first contacted us.”
Nollos’ tone and manner changed as she told her tale in grand style, right down to the accents involved:
As it happened, one of the first Federation cruisers, the USS Defiant was passing through the sector about the time of that initial warp flight and made first contact. Naturally, her captain was immediately challenged to single combat. Fortunately for future Federation-Dosadi relations, Captain Heather Sterling was a student of military history and an expert in several different martial arts including grappling styles such as Hakko Ryu JuJutsu and striking styles such as Muay Thai . Lacking real teeth and claws, standing a good six inches shorter than her opponent and massing some twenty kilos less, the Dosadi were expecting a quick victory. Still, it was important to see HOW these hairless apes fought – Were they honorable? Or cowards? Could they fight at all? Would they use their superior weapons to take vengeance after their Captain was slain? Much can be learned in the challenge ring.
Recognizing a warrior culture immediately, she knew the significance of this fight. “No,” she thought, “this ceremony.” Her security chief, Lt. Desoto-Cortez, nearly half a meter taller, twice her weight and muscled like a mountain gorilla, had begged to be allowed to represent the Defiant, but she refused. First Contact missions were the most challenging and delicate of any in Starfleet and had effects that echoed through centuries. This fight was hers, and hers alone. Her opponent, five and a half feet of sleek fur-covered muscle, teeth and claws snarled at her as he stripped his clothes off. “When in Rome…” she decided and followed suit, answering his snarl with a smile.
“Lewtenant, if yon critter shuld happen ta kill me, take it wi’ good graces. Tis’ vital important tha’ we show nothin’ but honor an’ style.” she explained as she pulled her red hair back into a pony tail.
“I understand, Captain, but I don’t have to like it.” the massive Spaniard grumbled.
A howl rose over the crowd as several of the bagpipe-like instruments the Dosadi called ‘trusk’ began to play a driving beat with flute and drums providing the counterpoint. ‘Och,’ she said to her Security Chief, “Dinna fret naow. I feel raht at home, lad.” And with a laugh, she stepped naked into the ring. Several of the big cats surrounding the arena began to take up a song, a song which grew louder as more joined in and the fight went on.
Hith’an circled slowly towards Sterling’s left, suspicious that the Federation Captain wasn’t reacting at all. A quick feint likewise brought no more than that smile and a wink. Were they capable of fighting at all? He lunged in fast and low, going for a crippling slash at her legs only to be met with a stunning elbow across the side of his skull. Rolling away from her rising knee, he slid face first across the ring, scrambling away from her with new-found caution.
Again, she stood motionless. He regained his feet and faced her again. He laughed, a mix of a purr and a meow and dipped his head in respect, his ears erect. Clearly this was no fool. He closed in carefully, in a light-footed combat stance, his tail providing exceptional balance.
“Ah, “ Captain Sterling thought, “This one won’t be suckered again. Time to play for keeps.” And so began an epic battle between two expert combatants. Hith’an was one of the most feared fighters on Dosad and had never lost a challenge in his thirty years. Captain Sterling, though nearly a decade older had won many full contact tournaments against fighters from across the galaxy. At this level, fights are either over very quickly or they drag on endlessly until one person either makes a mistake, or injuries or bad luck simply overwhelm them.
Sterling’s fight was one of the latter. After almost half an hour of combat, the two elected to take a rest break for water and to treat some of the more obvious injuries. The Dosadi mid-day sun and high humidity were brutal – Hith’an was panting for all he was worth and Captain Sterling was dripping sweat and blood. Desoto-Cortez fussed as he tried to staunch some of the deeper gouges with a med-kit. Two of her fingers were broken and she was showing a stunning selection of bruises across her chest, belly and legs. Sterling chuckled, “Ha, the lad’s in nae better shape! But bugger, he knas wa’ he’s abou’.”
Indeed, on his side of the ring, Hith’an’s tail was hanging limply from a broken vertebra, one ear had been torn off almost entirely and one side of his skull was fractured, the swelling beginning to distort his vision on that side. Several teeth were missing and he was spitting blood.
Another 30 minutes and another break. And another. And another. The gathered Dosadi were nearly ecstatic – no challenge had EVER gone on so long or at such a level of expertise! Both fighters had passed on strikes at their opponent after a slip and fall – both had conducted themselves with the utmost courage and honor. The warrior cats were astounded that someone so small, so weak, and so lacking in natural weapons as Captain Sterling, could face their greatest champion at all, much less for such an epic battle! Stories of this match would be told for centuries.
Finally, an exhausted, overheated Hith’an made a mistake. His attempt at a grapple that would have held on a fur-covered Dosadi instead slipped neatly off the blood and sweat-slick Sterling, and she quickly took advantage, grabbing two fistfuls of forearm-fur and locking his arm into a painful bar while wrapping her legs around his throat and neck. As his other hand came up and began raking deep, bloody gouges in her legs, she leaned backwards with everything she had left, hearing the bones in his arm splinter and seconds later, he passed out from the choke.
Releasing him, she stood weakly and said, “Baws, I shouldna don’ tha’.” and collapsed across him.
A short while later, she regained consciousness in a Dosadi medical bay, next to Hith’an and a crowd of onlookers. Unlike the match, it was nearly silent – she thought she heard purring. Lt. Desoto-Cortez was getting more nervous by the minute; The landing party was badly outnumbered and in close-quarters and he had no way of judging the aliens’ mood. The Emperor had flatly refused his request to beam back to the Defiant to provide medical care for the Captain.
Trying to focus her swollen eyes she asked, “Och, Lewtenant, wa’ happened?” before he could answer, Emperor H’Rath asked, “Captain Sterling. Why didn’t you kill Hith’an? The victory was yours. The battle hard-won.”
Even groggy, exhausted, and in pain, Heather Sterling was aware of the stakes. “Nae. The lad fought better than any I’ve met on a dozen different worlds. With courage, honor an’ skill ta spare. Were I ta kill ‘im, I’d lose the chance to face ‘im again.” The howls were deafening and it took a moment for Desoto-Cortez to realize that the Dosadi weren’t about to attack.

* * *
Returning to her normal manner, Nollos continued, “From that moment on, the Dosadi would be steadfast allies of the Federation. The names ‘Heather’ and ‘Sterling’ suddenly became popular names for Dosadi kittens. Over the years since that first contact, Dosadi units served with Starfleet ground forces, aboard their ships, and often as mercenaries or proxies when the Federation needed force applied, but with political deniability. The Federation went to great lengths to maintain their image as the shining knights of the galaxy, but sometimes dirty work needed to be done.
She smiled, “I bet you didn’t know that, did you, Wilkes? I’ve got friends who’ve been to Earth. We’re portrayed as these crazy vicious primitives that the Federation tries to keep on a leash, but a lot of the fights we get into are at Federation urging. Most of our technology is Federation supplied or derived from Federation designs, but with a unique Dosadi flavor. For instance, we loved the different colors that you use in your uniforms to indicate which branch you’re in. That’s why our fighter wings are named after colors and the crew wear coveralls in colors to match.
“But we have a lot of respect for the Federation – especially you humans. The Vulcans, well, we have a hard time trusting them. Honor and Logic don’t seem to get along all that well sometimes. It’s one reason we tend to name our weapons systems after ancient and legendary Earth weapons or warriors. Well, and there’s always the flattery aspect of it too. We’re a small power and we rely heavily on the Federation for technological support.
“And all of this has come about because one Federation Captain over a hundred years ago understood what Honor was, and showed us that humans are worth trusting and knowing.”
As she finished her tale, she was passed a glass of whiskey and Wilkes said, “Wow. I didn’t know much at all of that story.”
CHAPTER 4
“If we deny love that is given to us, if we refuse to give love because we fear pain or loss, then our lives will be empty, our loss greater.”
– Unknown
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, UNDER WAY
JANUARY 2268
The next few weeks were busy ones for the crew of the Delos as they finished her shake-down cruise. Even more so for Wilkes as he struggled to learn a new culture and new ways of doing things, new systems, and new people. He was constantly challenged to learn more, faster, and to expand what he thought he knew. He realized he had never been happier.
He had become friends with the other Crew Leader on his team, a tough, wiry little male named M’Ralin, as well as with Corin and Nollos. And he kept finding himself looking for reasons to spend time talking to the young Marine, Sooth. He found that the nights where she was sleeping in the same group with him that he tended to stay up much too late talking with her. As a dilettante, he found her single-minded focus on her Marine training almost hypnotically different. As it turned out, they both enjoyed poetry, loved looking at stars and being outdoors, especially on the water. He remembered that conversation.
“Wait. You’re a cat and you like water?” he teased.
“I think that was a joke, but it didn’t translate very well. What’s a cat?”
“Oh, Damn, I’m sorry, Sooth, I wasn’t trying to be a jerk, I was kidding.” he started to reach his hand out to touch her on the shoulder but she flinched away so he stopped and rather lamely made out that he was smoothing his hair. “A cat’s a small house pet on Earth that looks very much like a miniature Dosadi and they’re famous because they HATE being wet.”
She thought about that for a second. He really did look upset that he had said the wrong thing. “Oh.” she said, “Nollos is the one who knows all the Earth animals. I’ll have to get her to show me one some time.” She spent a few moments looking at him, almost involuntarily being drawn to his eyes.
“Sooth?” he asked quietly.
Shaking her head a little she answered, “What?”
“Who hurt you so bad?”
She bristled, “What makes you think someone hurt me?”
“I’m sorry if I’m being nosy. I don’t want to be rude, and I don’t want to say anything stupid, especially nothing that would make you not want to be my friend. It’s just…You have like this big wall up that says ‘don’t come close to me!’ and the only people I’ve ever met with walls like that have been hurt.”
She looked away.
He waited a few moments, “I don’t want to hurt you either, Sooth. I like talking with you too much.” and he smiled at her, getting a small smile in return. “Can I ask you something really silly?”
“What?”
He blushed, “Can I please touch your shoulder? You guys all look so soft, I’ve been dying to feel someone’s fur but I think I’d look like a total ass if I asked. You’re about the only person I trust enough not to think I was an idiot, or laugh at me, or beat me to a pulp.”
Her ears swiveled back and the wall came crashing down. He hurriedly spoke again,
“Never mind – really. I’m sorry, Sooth. I shouldn’t have asked.”
He almost held his breath to see if she would just get up and leave. Instead she said, “Okay.”
“Are you sure? I feel pretty stupid asking, like a tourist or something.”
“No, it’s OK.”
Slowly he reached his hand out, noticing that she tensed up, and he gently touched her shoulder, feeling the silky fur there. He let his fingers stroke along her shoulder briefly and then pulled his hand back. “Wow. You are really soft. That’s amazing. Thank you, Sooth.”
“It’s just fur.”
“I meant for trusting me enough to let me do that.”
She looked at him again. He met her eyes with his, watching her thoughts play through them. He wondered what had happened to her that she was so jumpy about a simple touch, and the answer he got wasn’t a good one. He decided to steer the conversation to a safer topic.
“Enough of me being a fool.” and he smiled, getting one back. “Can I ask why you decided to join the Imperial Marines? You can…” bam, the wall was back. He quickly shifted gears, “Or you can ask ME anything you want, I’ve probably been nosy enough for one night.”

* * *
That conversation hadn’t seemed to hurt their growing friendship, much to his relief. He would occasionally try to pry more details out of her about her life, but she was always hesitant to open up. She was like a puzzle and she absolutely fascinated him.
One day, as he was heading towards a locker room to shower up after a long shift running drills in the hangar deck,  he realized that he had been spending more time with Sooth than with pretty much anyone else aboard. Starting to strip off his forest green coveralls, he saw three Dosadi come in and head over to where he was changing.
“Hey there, Wilkes.” one of them said.
“Um. I’m sorry, I don’t know your names yet? I’m still awful at that.”
“I’m Inveth. I’m Sooth’s Crew Leader.”
“Oh hi! I’m glad to meet…Um.” they didn’t look all that friendly. “I think I’ve seen this scene in a dozen different entertainments.” Wilkes finished.
“Scene? What are you talking about?” Inveth was genuinely confused.
“Let me guess, you three are here to kick my ass for daring to get friendly with Sooth, right?”
“What the hell? No!” Inveth laughed, “Dosadi don’t work that way. If we want to fight you, we’ll challenge you straight up. We just want to know what you’re after.”
“After?” Wilkes asked.
“Look, Sooth’s had it tough. She doesn’t need to get hurt any more, OK?”
“What happened to her?”
“That’s not our story to tell. Ask her.” Inveth made a sour face, “You’re only here for a year, right?”
“Yes.” Wilkes agreed.
“Is this just like a game then? Have fun for a year, then leave?”
“I really don’t know, Inveth. I got offered the chance and I took it. I’ve really liked everyone I’ve met so far. Sooth is just…” he paused and thought, smiling as he pictured her face, “Special. There’s something about her that’s different than anyone I’ve ever met. I thought it was just that she was so totally focused on being the best Marine in history, but I’ve had friends with that kind of focus before. So I don’t really know.
“But if you’re asking if I’m just out looking for a score and a heart to break, that’s not it at all.”
Inveth was struggling with the translation, “A score?”
“Sorry, slang term, it means to have sex with someone.” He grinned as he saw all three pairs of ears swivel backwards. “Guys, seriously, I like Sooth a lot. I’m not going to do anything to hurt her.” He was trying not to smile at the image of a fair maiden’s three big brothers coming after the charming rake.
“We don’t put up with people hurting our friends, Wilkes. You humans have a reputation that you frequently do hurt your friends. This is not going to be like that, right?”
“No, it’s not. I’m not like that, Inveth.”
“I’ll take your word on it then, Wilkes.”
Wilkes grinned, “Actually, I like that she’s got friends who look out for her. I get the impression she doesn’t really let anyone get close at all.”
“She doesn’t, but we’re her team. That’s different. She’s had a couple of bad experiences with some other friends, and we just don’t want to see that happen again. Thanks for understanding, Wilkes. Maybe I’ve misjudged your species. I guess we’ll see.”
All three of them turned and stalked out the door. Maybe stalked was too strong a term, he thought. These were Marines after all, they pretty much stalked everywhere no matter what species they were. As he showered, his thoughts kept turning back to Sooth. Maybe it was just the mystery about her past that attracted him. Or that she was so easy to talk to. Well, she was pretty too.
Checking himself, he began to question his sanity. She looked like a cat. Angie was pretty. Angie had a fantastic set of curves while Sooth barely had hips. And Sooth had those insanely beautiful eyes, and they were just framed perfectly in her face. Even her nose was…What the hell. He stuck his head under the water. The more he tried to think of Angie, the more images of Sooth intruded. And she really did have a nice tail end. The tail only added to her wiggle when she walked GAAA!!! Turning the water to full cold he decided he had some serious mental issues. He was getting turned on thinking about a large, bi-pedal cat.

* * *
The next day, Sooth invited him to go and visit the Delos’ nursery to see Eletha and her kits. Having children wasn’t something he’d ever really thought about as part of his life and he’d never really spent any time around anyone’s kids. But since he came aboard, there always seemed to be kids running about and he found he actually enjoyed the little buggers.
Unlike other races, the Dosadi lived, fought, and died as families. Kits were given duties aboard commensurate with their age and abilities. Whether it was cleaning decks, scrubbing air passages, maintaining the many plants aboard, or helping keep on-duty crews hydrated and fed, there was always something that needed doing and youngsters were perfect for these unskilled tasks. There were those who said that was one reason the Dosadi fought so ferociously – in every battle, they were defending everything they loved. The loss of a ship was a tragedy to a relatively small species, although they all understood the need to sacrifice few for many when the time came. There was great honor in such a sacrifice – but only if it paid off. Only fools threw lives away without a commensurate gain.
A nursery aboard a warship was something that Wilkes wanted to see. Being able to spend more time with Sooth may have played a part in it as well and he enjoyed sharing some old jokes with her as they walked. Her laugh was yet another thing that he found attractive. So by the time they arrived, she had actually rubbed shoulders with him and seemed more accepting of the occasional touch, much to his delight.
Walking into the big, greenery filled place Wilkes was surprised. It wasn’t what his mental image of a ‘nursery’ was. There were about a dozen obviously female Dosadi and nearly fifty kits of various ages running rampant, chasing each other, climbing, napping, pouncing…Sooth bumped into him as he stopped in the doorway. “Wilkes!” Much to his further surprise, she took hold of his arm and steered him into the nursery.
Within seconds, Eletha’s four kits had spotted him and swooped in to ‘attack’. Allowing himself to be bowled over, he put up a fierce resistance while Sooth began to talk to Eletha.
Smiling at her kits, Eletha said, “I think he spends more time with the kits than any male who’s not a father.”
Sooth just watched him wrestle with the little ones, listening to the savage growls coming from four little throats. “He’s definitely different.”
“I like that you’re spending time with him. It’s really helping him learn how to be part of our crew and to learn our culture.” Smiling at her friend she continued, “And I think maybe it’s helping you to open up a little too.”
Flicking her tail, Sooth ignored her last comment. “I heard he’s a really good leader. His crew respects him and he knows a lot about the Tomcats. Corin said that he doesn’t even care that he’s actually a higher rank than his Team Leader. He just gets the job done.”
“Really? So it looks like he has honor as well.”
Twitching one ear back, Sooth said quietly, “He’s still leaving in less than a year.”
“So? Does distance really matter to a friendship?”
Sooth was thinking about that when they heard Wilkes say “Whoa, hang on a second.” and she watched him stand up and walk quickly over to where an older kit had just cuffed a smaller one. The kit’s mother was swooping in like a hawk.
Wilkes picked the bigger kit up and just held him aloft. “What’d you do that for?”
Eletha signaled the kit’s mom to wait, getting a glare in return. “Cuz he’s puny and he’s stupid.”
“Really? You think you are going to impress people by beating up people smaller than you?”
The kit thought about that, “No. But he still deserves it.”
“And you know this, why?”
“Cuz he’s stupid.”
“I’d bet if you and I compared what we know you’d come out looking pretty stupid. Should I beat you up?”
“No, but that’s different.”
“No, kit, it’s not. Everyone’s different. Just because right now you can do something, because you can make fun of someone who’s in a different place than you doesn’t mean you should.” He put the kit down and said, “I’m going to tell you a story from my planet about how unwise it is to do that”. At the promise of a story, quite a few kits started coming closer, and once Wilkes had released her kit, his mother relaxed some. Eletha noticed Sooth was watching Wilkes with a different expression than she’d ever seen on her friend’s face.
“A long time ago, in the land of Japan, there lived a fierce warrior people. Their nation was ruled by the Emperor, who was the son of a god. He gave his instructions to the Shogun, who appointed judges to rule on the law and make sure that everyone followed the rules. The most famous of these judges was Judge Ooka, and he lived in the city of Yedo.
“One day, Ooka was walking through a district of shops and he noticed a little boy standing outside a sculptor’s shop, gazing longingly up at three big terra cotta dogs. Noticing that the boy’s kimono was patched and worn, it was obvious that he was much too poor to be able to afford anything at the shop and the shopkeeper was ignoring him.
“Now Ooka was a very kindly man and had a grandson not much older than the little boy, so he asked him, ‘What is it you are looking at there, boy?’”
“The little boy answered, “My grandfather is the best grandfather in the world, and he loves dogs. But we are too poor to afford a dog. But a stone dog like this wouldn’t eat anything, so that’s a dog he could have.”
“Ooka smiled and said, “Well, I like to think that I’m a pretty good grandfather, but that’s a wonderful gift. Do you think you can afford it?” and catching the shopkeeper’s eye, he made a small sign, intending that he would make up any difference in price out of his own pocket.
The little boy said, “I have a single ryo” – that’s a small coin at the time – “I hope that is enough.””
“Ooka said, “I imagine that it might be!” and winked at the shopkeeper.
“But the shopkeeper was a bitter little man, and thinking that Ooka was like himself, he thought only to belittle the boy. Smiling a cruel smile he said, “Certainly! Why, that is enough for all THREE dogs!”
“The boy was shocked at his good fortune and his smile of pride was like a beacon.
“The shopkeeper continued, “Of course, you can only have them if you can carry one home all by yourself.” and he laughed since it was clearly impossible for such a small boy to carry such a heavy sculpture home. Crushed by the shopkeeper’s mocking his hopes, the little boy turned away.
“Judge Ooka was furious. He quickly called out to the lad, “Boy! Stop! Come back here, and bring with you that small stone in the road.” Puzzled, the boy did so. “Now take that stone and smash one of the dogs, then you can easily carry it home piece by piece.”
“Wait! Wait!” the shopkeeper cried, “You are a judge! You cannot allow this boy to destroy my property!”
“YOUR property? You struck a bargain. The dogs are HIS, all he must do is carry one home. You didn’t specify how he had to carry it home.”
“But I meant…”
“What you meant is of no matter. The law is quite clear. The boy may do with his property as he wishes.”
“But my lord! This will bankrupt me!”
“Perhaps you should have thought of that before you cruelly decided to torment someone smaller and less fortunate than yourself. But perhaps the boy is made of better stuff than you. I imagine he would be quite willing to give you back two of the dogs if you would provide a porter to carry but one of them home to his grandfather.”
Grudgingly, the shopkeeper agreed, and Ooka left him with this advice, “Take the boy’s little coin. Don’t put it in your strong box. Instead, put it on your wall where it can remind you whenever you are tempted to take joy from hurting others.”
“So you see, kit, you never really know where other people are in their lives, or where you will be. You gain honor from doing the right thing, from helping those weaker and less fortunate than yourself, not from hurting or from doing things just because you can.”
The bigger kit digested this for a moment and finally said, “Maybe. I’ll think about it.”
Deciding that was the best he could hope for from so young a person, Wilkes said, “That’s all anyone can ask of anyone, kit.” And he stood up. Turning, he realized that he had quite a bit more audience than he thought he had. “Um. Sorry. Might not have been my place.”
Sooth was just watching him, so Eletha said, “No, that’s OK. On Dosad, children are raised by everyone – That’s his mother there, she was just making sure that you weren’t going to hurt her kit. She might say something else to him as well, but she’s not going to interrupt your say.”
Later, as they were getting ready to leave, Sooth looked at her friend and then at Wilkes, “Um, Wilkes?”
“Huh? What’s up, Sooth?”
“I was just wondering if you wanted to sleep with me tonight.”
Wilkes’ jaw dropped. “I…wait..I don’t think the translator did that right. Sooth, I’m sorry if I’m being an idiot, I’m still not very good with your language. In my language, that phrase means something really different than what I think you meant and if you meant what I think you meant oh Christ, I’ve confused myself. “ Both Eletha and Sooth were staring at him. “I got it, I think. Sorry – You mean share the same sleeping place, right?”
“Of course. What did you think I meant?”
Blushing, Wilkes said, “The translator took that phrase as a slang term for something else.”
Both women’s eyes went wide and Eletha said, “Oh my.”
Wilkes said, “Like I said, I was being stupid. I do that a lot.” and he smiled, “Sooth, I would absolutely love to, if you really trust me enough.”
“Well now I’m not sure I do!” Sooth said.
Eletha laughed, “Sooth, don’t be silly. It’s not his fault the Universal Translator messed up.”
“Yeah, I guess not.” She smiled shyly at Wilkes, “Sorry if I’m a little jumpy.”
“It’s OK, Sooth. I don’t mind, as long as you keep being my friend.”

* * *
A few hours later, back in the East Living Pod, Wilkes was almost as jumpy as she was. They had found a raised, round platform with a recessed soft area for sleeping in. He said, “Sooth, are you sure you’re OK with this?”
“I think so. I really am sorry to be so…jumpy. I get nervous about people.”
“You’re not nervous about Corin and Nollos, or Eletha.”
“That’s different.”
He watched her, enjoying the way she looked in the deepening light of the night. She was trying very hard not to look at him, sitting on the far side of the platform. He thought to himself, Why do I feel like I’m back in secondary school and my parents are out of the house? Instead of showing his unease, he smiled and lay down on his side, leaving plenty of space for her to be as close, or as far, as she chose. A minute or so later, she lay down about a foot away, facing him.
“It does feel different when there’s no one else right next to you, doesn’t it?” he asked.
“I think that’s what makes me so jumpy.”
“It’s a lot more personal. More private. Closer.” he watched her face.
“Yes.”
He very slowly reached his hand towards the pendant around her throat. She stiffened and he cautiously touched it, asking “Sooth, I see a lot of Dosadi wearing these, but not all of them. What are they?”
“It’s a Warrior’s Pendant.” She swallowed and he let his fingers brush the fur on her throat while he examined the pendant. “It…You have to go out into the wild and prove your courage to earn it. You try and find the biggest, fiercest creature you can and fight it. If you win, you bring it back as proof of your courage and you’re judged by a council of elder Warriors. If they think you’re worthy, you’re given the right to wear it. It takes a lot to earn one.”
He moved his hand back, and again moving very slowly, brought his finger up to the tattoo around her left eye. It could be hard to see through the fur sometimes. Gently tracing along the lines he asked, “And this?”
Trying to keep her voice steady she explained, “It’s an Honor Tattoo. It’s something you’re awarded by others in your unit, or your town for doing something that earns you high honor. They get more complex as you earn more. It’s always fun to ask people the stories behind theirs.”
“Am I pushing you, Sooth? I mean, making you uncomfortable at all? I don’t want to do that.”
She swallowed again. “No, I think I’m OK. I’m just nervous. It’s stupid.”
“It’s not stupid. Maybe some day you’ll tell me why you’re so nervous. We’ve slept next to each other a lot. The only difference here is that it’s just us two.”
“Like you said, it’s more personal. It…To us, if you sleep with just one person it’s a sign of a really close friendship. I haven’t had a lot of those.”
“How many?”
“Well. I almost had one friend that close. He turned out to be an ass.”
“Oh.” Gently, he reached his hand up and stroked the side of her face, “I’m honored that you trust me enough, Sooth.” Feeling her tremble, he pulled his arm back. “Sooth, please tell me if I do anything stupid or anything that makes you not comfortable? I don’t want to lose your friendship.”
She nodded, still trembling.
“And some day, I’d love to hear about your Pendant, and your tattoo, and your family…” she stiffened again, “Oh.” Another piece of her puzzle fell into place. “Some day, Sooth. When you’re ready. I’m too nosy, I know, but you fascinate me and I want to learn as much about you as you’ll share. Let’s just sleep now though, OK?”
That got a brilliant smile and she actually reached up and touched HIS face, which pretty much made his day. She rolled onto her other side and a few moments later, he felt her scootch closer until they were spooned together. He moved his arm so that it was draped over her. Not moving, he waited for her trembling to subside, and then for her breathing to deepen as she finally drifted off to sleep.
“God help me, I’m falling in love with a cat.” he thought to himself. He nuzzled the back of her neck, enjoying the faint cinnamon-scent of her and the silken softness of her fur. He fell asleep like that, vaguely thinking that he’d never felt so content. There was none of the urgent passion of sleeping next to Angie and frankly, he didn’t miss it.

CHAPTER 5
“Character is much easier kept than recovered”
– Thomas Paine, Earth (Human)
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, UNDER WAY
JANUARY 2268
Wilkes awoke the next morning to find a pair of sapphire-blue eyes studying him intently. Smiling, he lay there enjoying the moment; He actually had the morning off and so did she. Finally she said, “You snore.”
He laughed and started to reach for her and stopped himself before she could jerk back. “I think most humans do, don’t Dosadi?”
“Not very often.” she smiled. “We’re built differently than you are, we don’t spend as much time on our backs, I think.”
Feeling very pleased with life in general, he decided to take a small risk. “Sooth, would you let me hug you?”
“What does that mean?”
“Um, humans use it a lot to show someone that you like them and are glad to see them. You just get close to each other and wrap your arms around each other and squeeze is all.”
She thought about it for a moment. “Our shoulders are a little different than yours. I’m not sure it would work.”
“Do you want to try? It’s a nice way to show someone that they’re special to you.”
“Okay. Sure.”
She was clearly nervous about the idea, so Wilkes went slowly. As he slid closer to her, she again stiffened up defensively. “It’s OK Sooth, I’m going to put my arms around you, if you don’t like that, tell me and I’ll stop.”
She nodded as he slid one arm under her shoulder and the other over her.
“Now you do the same thing.” he said to the shaking young woman, wondering why someone like her could be so terrified of a simple hug. She finally managed to get her arms in the right places. Mostly.
“It’s hard to wrap them like you have them. Our arms don’t rotate in as much as yours do.”
Smiling Wilkes said, “It doesn’t matter. Now just squeeze a little.” Pulling her into him, he held her close, feeling her tremble, feeling her heart pounding as she began to return the hug. She was shorter than he was and had ended up looking down slightly, her face against his throat and chest. “What do you think?” he asked.
She nodded, not trusting her voice to say anything. She thought to herself, “This is stupid. I shouldn’t let him get close to me like this. He’s just going to leave. I don’t have time for this sort of thing anyway. There’s more training to do. I shouldn’t trust him. I shouldn’t like this so much.”
Wilkes slowly began to rub his hands along the soft fur on her shoulders and upper back, reveling in the touch of her body against his. His feelings for her were very different than any relationship he’d ever had before and that left him feeling a little off-balance. Noticing two pairs of ears and bright blue eyes peering over the edge of the platform at them he said, “Sooth, we’ve got an audience.” and smiled.
She jerked her head back, barely missing his chin and saw Eletha’s other two kits staring down at her. One of them, a little male named Kaileen said, “What are YOU doing? It looks weird!”
Disentangling themselves, they both sat up and Wilkes said, “It’s called a hug, kit. Humans do that to show that someone’s a really good friend and they’re glad to see them.” He thought that the very weak privacy taboos that the Dosadi culture had took some getting used to.
“Humans are so weird.” he decided. “Mother! They’re awake!” he called down to Eletha and as Wilkes looked around the Living Pod he noticed that there were an awful lot of people staring up at them and more than a few smiles.
Stretching and scratching at his hair he decided he really wanted a shower before breakfast. Sooth stretched luxuriously and yawned and he thought that waking up next to her was a definite treat. One he’d very much like to repeat. A lot. Keeping his thoughts to himself, he followed Sooth down the various steps and rungs to the deck. Just as he was about to yell good morning to Eletha and the rest of that group, a male Dosadi sauntered past and said,
“Rather sleep with animals, is that it, Sooth?” and glared at her.
Her ears went flat against her skull but before she could say anything, Wilkes stepped directly in front of him and said, “You little shit.” Hoping that the translator would put in all the venom he intended he continued,  “I know who you are. You’re not worth the time it would take to turn you into a rug.”
Kam hissed at him, “You need a lesson, ape.”
“Think you can teach me? You don’t even have a Pendant or a tattoo, that tells me you’re a coward as well as a fool.”
Kam was beside himself with rage, “I challenge you, animal. NOW.” and people began to back away, clearing a ring around them. He dropped into a crouch and bared his teeth.
Wilkes was fervently hoping that the year he had spent on the Academy Combatives team would pay off. He’d seen a few challenges play out since he’d come aboard, he just never expected to be in one. He kept his arms wide, his hands open and watched Kam. Wilkes was bigger, but probably not stronger. He wasn’t sure about Kam’s speed, but after last night he knew a lot more about Dosadi anatomy and he had some ideas.
People had begun cheering both of them on and offering helpful suggestions to the two fighters. Kam made a couple of fast swipes with a clawed hand, but Wilkes simply dodged the blows, getting a feel for how he moved and how fast. Kam tried a fast leg-sweep, and Wilkes took the chance for a snap-kick into his shin as it swept in. Spitting, Kam rolled away and back to his feet, limping some. Kam tried another couple of strikes, but Wilkes blocked them, getting some deep cuts in his forearms in the process.
“You bleed like a teeg.” Kam smiled. Wilkes ignored him, continuing to leave wider and wider targets for Kam to swing at. Finally, when both Kam’s arms were out wide, Wilkes ducked, feinted a hook and as Kam moved to block, drove in close, grappling him to the ground and moving quickly into a front mount, pinning him to the deck.
Wilkes decided that he needed more of a lesson than just a choke-out and began to pound his face with his fists. Kam was clawing at his legs and trying to get his arms up to block, but their arms didn’t work as well as a human’s did, in-close. Especially not in such a disadvantaged position. Once he had his face thoroughly bloodied and the big cat groggy from the repeated blows, Wilkes dropped flat onto him and slid one arm under the back of his neck and the other across, using his own neck fur to apply an Ezekial-choke hold, cutting off both his air and the blood to his brain. In seconds, Kam went limp. He kept the choke on a few seconds longer than he needed to in order to guarantee he’d wake up with the mother of all migraines, and then he sat up and got to his feet, leaving the limp, bloody Kam laying on the deck.
“Anyone else want to say something about Sooth?” he asked. There was a smattering of laughter from the ring around them, but no takers. Shaking the blood off his arms he saw Inveth watching him – Wilkes thought the Marine approved, but he wasn’t sure. Walking up to Corin he asked, “Brawling in the barracks – In Starfleet, that’s a week in the brig, how bad is it here?”
“Bad?” Corin laughed and put his hand on his shoulder, “You just had your first challenge and you absolutely kicked his tail! It’s not bad, it’s excellent. We’re different than your people, Wilkes. This is our way of settling disputes – and this settles it. Completely. I know humans are big on revenge, we’re not. You don’t need to bring it up again to him or his friends.”

Nollos came up with a med-kit and said “Well done! Everyone wondered if you’d ever challenge anyone about anything. Let me close up those cuts – you’ll have to clean up your own mess off the deck though.” she chuckled, indicating the bloody trail he had left from the wounds. As she waved the wound-sprayer across the cuts, closing them up, she asked, “So, why did you challenge him? Because he called you an animal, right?”
“No, because he insulted Sooth. I don’t care what he calls me.” he answered, watching her heal the gouges in his arms and legs.
Sooth said, “I don’t need anyone to fight for me, Wilkes.”
“I know you don’t, Sooth. You guys have your culture and I have mine. In my culture a man who insults a woman is scum. And any man who cares about her will step up to defend her whether she needs it or not. I’m not just going to walk away like that.”
As Nollos was finishing with the wound spray, the alert siren began to wail. Wilkes said, “Dammit! I had the morning off!” and everyone began jumping for where their gear was stored.

CHAPTER 6
“Qui audet adipiscitur” (Who dares, wins)
– David Stirling – Earth (Human)
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, UNDER WAY
JANUARY 2268
As usual, the alert siren was a drill. But, like any drill you had to do the job the same way you would if it were real – Train like you fight and you fight like you train. That motto had been around longer than there had been space flight.  The First Officer aboard the Delos, Commander Sethos, felt that drilling was needed both to shake down all the new systems aboard and to gain the proficiency needed to win in combat. He liked realism and had been known to start a second drill as the first was winding down in order to simulate a surprise attack.
M’Ralin had his crew hanging weapons on pylons on the big Tomcat fighter while Wilkes and his crew dumped in all the charge the phaser and shield capacitors would take. During a scramble, everything has to happen all at once in order to get the birds into their launch tubes and ready to go as quickly as possible. The hangar launch bays were in the two long, heavy pods that ran along the tips of the ‘wings’ of the Delos’ squat, rectangular hull. Fighters recovered by flying through the big clam-shell doors on either end of the pod. The long, open deck allowed fighters to be recovered at much higher speeds than other carriers. Unlike most space-faring nations, the Dosadi placed their warp engines close to the center-line and put weapons pods out where other races’ had their warp nacelles, trading improved fields of fire for higher shielding requirements and a slower maximum speed when traveling at warp.
It was while they had the fighter on the tug and were guiding it towards the launch tube that things went wrong.  M’Ralin and one of his crew were finishing the connections between one of the Countach anti-ship drones and the Tomcat’s power systems when there was a loud bang, a bright flash, and the fighter collapsed onto it’s left wing, pinning M’Ralin and Tovath under the missile they had been working on as smoke began curling out of the wing’s access panels.
Corin immediately slapped the alarm panel and the team began trying to free the trapped crewmen. Lieutenant Commander Delac, stuck inside the cockpit of his powerless fighter, was trying to operate the manual egress system. Shouting orders, Corin directed two of the team to pull the manual canopy release and another to get a power lift but before they could start on these tasks, they heard the high-pitched whine of the phaser power system beginning to overload and open flames broke out on the wing, curling slowly towards the warhead on the drone.
They had just about 60 seconds to evacuate the bay and trigger the isolation field before the fighter exploded from either the phaser overload or the warhead on the drone cooking off.
Wilkes dove under the crippled fighter and popped an access panel off the aft end and began working frantically inside while Corin and the others tried to free the trapped crewmen and Delac and it was becoming very obvious that they were going to lose the race.  The two on the fuselage finally managed to pop the canopy and haul Delac out. As they sprinted for the bay door, Corin ordered the rest of the team out.
“Wilkes! I see you under there. Get the hell out of the bay!”
“No, I got this. Just hang on.”
The phaser overload was becoming a scream. “Dammit, Wilkes, that’s an order!”
“Sure thing, boss.” came the muffled answer, followed by another loud pop and flash and every loose piece of gear in the bay slammed into the walls as the Tomcat’s shield generator powered on.
Corin felt all the fur on his body stand on end from the force field that now surrounded him. “Wilkes! What the fuck did you do?” He continued trying to get the lift to engage under the wing, knowing that he was out of time. “Wilkes! I said get out of there!” A pointless order, he thought since the blast door was down.
“Wilkes?” He noticed that the scream from the phaser power-pack had leveled off. Finally getting the power-lift to engage on one of the outboard missile mounts, he started the lift up. The screaming sound was starting to taper off, he thought. “Wilkes! Answer me!” Pulling M’Ralin and Tovath out from under the drone that had trapped them, he dropped flat and slid under the fighter towards where Wilkes was still half inside the access panel.
“Wilkes?” He shook his shoulder, getting no response. The whine was definitely getting fainter, much faster now. Pulling the unconscious  Ensign out of the belly of the fighter, he noticed burns across his face and arms and splatters of metal all over the area. Checking for a pulse and finding none he cursed, “Oh shit. Dammit, Wilkes!” and he tried to figure out what to do for a human with no heartbeat.
Taking his best guess, he started chest compressions over where he hoped his heart was, listening to the phaser pack slowly wind down.

* * *
Wilkes opened his eyes and immediately regretted doing so. Every inch of him ached. His chest felt like an elephant was sitting on it and his head felt like it was in a vice. He heard a voice speaking Dosadi and tried to get the Universal Translator implant to activate, mentally kicking it several times.  Looking at the medic he said, “Slowly, please. I don’t understand.”
She winced and said, in Standard, “Your accent is horrible, Ensign. I said, ‘So you’ve decided to live, have you?’” and she smiled.
“Can I go back and change my decision?” he winced at the sound of his own voice.
She laughed and patted his leg, “No, I’m afraid not. I promised I’d call your Team Leader when you woke up – I’ll be right back.”
A few minutes later, Corin came into Sick Bay and looked down at him, frowning. “You going to make a habit out of disobeying orders, Ensign?”
“No, Team Leader, I’m not. I didn’t, in fact, disobey. When you made it an order, I was no longer capable of obeying.”
Shaking his head, Corin laughed, “Technicalities. What the hell did you DO anyway? We’ve spent the last two days safeing all the systems on Delac’s bird, but there’s a lot of damage to the power systems.”
“Well, in the Academy I got to spend time working on a couple different fighters. One of my professors was a huge fan of fighter tactics and systems and he had our class tear them down and build them back up again. One of them was an older mark of Tomcat. They’re really amazing birds. Anyway, when I heard the phaser capacitor start overloading, I figured out that M’Ralin must’ve caused a short in the power-systems when they coupled the Countach in on its hard-point. So basically, that caused a run-away in the power system with the capacitor in a feedback loop.
“In the back end though, the shield-generator power-coupling is pretty close to conduits for the phaser system. We found out the hard way at the Academy that you can bridge the two with a spanner and drain the entire phaser system into the shields. It makes a real mess of the insides though and makes a pretty spectacular bang. When we did it though there was only residual power left in the system.
“I took one of the 2” spanners and shorted between the two systems so that instead of feeding back into itself, all the power dumped into the shield system. I didn’t think I’d get the jolt that I did though. My buddy at the Academy got himself blown out of the access panel and his hair stood on end. He had some burns was all. I’m guessing I got knocked cold?”
Corin stared at him. “Damn, Wilkes, that’s clever as hell. The shields crushed anything even slightly fragile and smashed tools into wall panels all over the bay. It was a good thing that they had the isolation door down or it probably would’ve thrown the rest of the team across the hangar deck. And it’s a damn good thing we were all in contact with the hull or we would’ve gone too.
“You got a bit more than knocked cold. The spanner fused into the power system and blew molten iridium steel all over you and the inside of the Tomcat. Oh, and incidentally, the little jolt you got stopped your heart. Fortunately for you, I’m not only an amazing Team Leader, I’m also a miracle healer and I was able to keep you alive until the shields collapsed and they opened the bay up again.
“M’Ralin and Tovath are still in regen over there” he waved his arm to the far side of Sick Bay “Their lower halves got kinda smashed, but they’ll be fine in a couple of weeks.”
“That explains why my chest feels like you were jumping up and down on it.”
“Well, I pretty much was. Plus, I was seriously pissed off at you. I hadn’t given you permission to die.”
Wilkes laughed and regretted it. “So when can I get out of here?”
“Up to you. The medics say you’re physically fine, you’re just going to feel like shit for a couple of days.” Wilkes slowly started to work his way out of the diagnostic bed. “Oh, and Captain Nolin says ‘Thank you’. He seems to feel your quick action saved a lot of damage to the Delos, my life, M’Ralin’s, and Tovath’s as well. Delac says to tell you that you’re going to have to repair the mess you made in the guts of his bird though.”
Corin watched him stand and finally spoke again, “Wilkes, Sooth’s likely to be really mad at you, OK?”
“Huh? Why?”
“She’s let you get closer than anyone, closer even than Nollos and me and I think even Eletha. She’s…Look, she’s not had anyone stick around in her life very long and she’s pretty much run away from everyone for as long as anyone can remember. They had to work on you for a bit before your heart kicked in again and she found out about it. She looked like someone gut-punched her.
“Just don’t take it badly if she’s mad, OK? Don’t let her run away.”
“I won’t. I wouldn’t anyway. But thank you for letting me know; at least I’ll understand why.”
“Hey, what are leaders for, right?”
Wilkes grinned at him, “Oh, by the way, any idea why my UT implant isn’t working? I can’t get it to respond and my Dosadi still sucks. Thank God most every one speaks Standard.”
“I think you fried it when you tried to become part of the phaser system, Wilkes. Time for a crash-course in Dosadi.”

CHAPTER 7
“Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it”
– Bill Cosby – Earth (Human)
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, UNDER WAY
JANUARY 2268
As they walked back to the East Living Pod, Wilkes decided that moving wasn’t going to kill him after all. “What time is it anyway?” he asked.
“Typical for you, you’ve managed to miss the entire work day – it’s just time for the evening meal.”
“I’ve always had good timing.” Wilkes smiled.
“I think you’re just lucky.” Corin snorted.
“It works out the same.” he laughed just in time for the door to cycle open. Corin led the way over to their favorite spot for chow. He could see the rest of the group there, and of course the first person he looked for was Sooth.  Sitting down in between her and Nollos, he greeted them all “Hey everyone, sorry I’m late!”
Nollos laughed, “Only by a couple of days.”
Eletha handed him a glass of the dark green Dosadi whiskey, “Here, I’m guessing you need this.”
Taking the glass he said, “Thank you!” and turning to Sooth he said, “Are you OK?”
Glaring back at him she said, “Why wouldn’t I be? I’m not the one who plugged himself into a phaser-capacitor.”  But her eyes lingered on his face.
Nollos said, “Well I’m glad he did. They said the whole thing would’ve exploded in the bay and killed Corin, M’Ralin, and Tovath if he hadn’t.”
Sooth glanced at her, and then back at Wilkes. She reached her hand up and touched his face around his left eye. “I guess it looks good on you.”
Confused, Wilkes asked, “What does? Am I still burned?”
Nollos giggled and Eletha said, “Corin! Didn’t you tell him?”
“It didn’t really come up.” he shrugged.
“What?” he put his hand up and tried to feel what was different about his face. Even Sooth stifled a giggle. “Um, little help? Anyone got a mirror?”
T’Laren pulled out a small inspection mirror and handed it over with a smile.
Wilkes held the mirror up and noted a simple, single strand tattoo around the outside of his left eye. “What the hell?”
Corin said, “Well, Force Leader F’Aath thought you’d earned it. The rest of us agreed. That was a hell of a thing, Wilkes.”
Trying not to smile too widely he said simply, “Thank you.”
Nollos reached over and squeezed his arm with a big smile. “You should get some chow.”
“Actually, what I want is to steal Sooth away for a few minutes, if that’s OK?” She snapped her head around to glare at him.
“Why?” she asked.
“I want to talk with you. In private. Please?”
“Fine. I’m done eating anyway.” She stood up
They walked a short way away from the rest of their friends until they found a quiet place in the midst of some hanging ivy-like vines and he asked, “Sooth, are you mad at me for something?”
“No. Why should I be?”
“I’m not sure. You just seem really angry and distant and I’m not sure why.”
She looked away and down. He waited a few moments to see if she’d answer him.  “Sooth, did I hurt you somehow?” Still no answer. He reached over and gently touched her arm. “If I did, I’m sorry, and I sure didn’t mean to.”
Finally she answered, “No, it’s not you, I just…I let myself…It’s me, all right?”
They stood there like that for a little while, neither of them saying anything, until Wilkes said, “Sooth, I think you’re one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.” he began to slowly stroke her arm as he talked, “I would never deliberately hurt you, or make you upset, or afraid.”
She flicked her eyes back at him. “That’s it, isn’t it?” he asked.
She looked away again. “You’re making me afraid right now.”
She turned back towards him again, “What? How am I doing that?”
“I’m afraid you’ll shut me out. That you won’t want to be my friend any more.” Her eyes got wide and he said more softly, “I don’t want you to leave my life, Sooth.”
She opened her mouth, but nothing really came out. She tried to turn away but he gripped her arm and held her fast. She turned her head as far around as she could and he stepped closer to her. She started to pull back but Wilkes wrapped his arms around her and hugged her gently. She started shaking, and he realized that she was crying. He wasn’t even aware that Dosadi could cry. She was very quiet about it, but she was gulping air in big racking sobs while he held her.
As she cried herself out, she clumsily returned the hug, burying her face in his neck, the fur wet with tears and he brushed his hand along the back of her head and neck. He caught a quick glimpse of Eletha’s concerned face peeking in at them. Looking surprised, she left again without making a sound.
“Can you tell me a little about it?”
She sniffled but made no answer. He waited. Finally she said, “I’m sorry. I…I’ve never really had any luck with people.”
“How come?”
“Everyone I ever tried to get close to died, or left, or got rid of me. I thought you were going to die too.”
“I’m fine. Corin was there for me. What about your parents?”
“They died when I was two. I don’t want to talk about them now, Wilkes. OK? Maybe later.”
“Okay, Sooth. I don’t want to push. Didn’t you get adopted or something? Don’t the Dosadi treat kids as like everyone’s responsibility?”
“Normally. But I wasn’t on Dosad. I was on a Federation research vessel. For a few years anyway. Then they gave me to a Dosadi destroyer they ran into. I lived with them for a year. Then they dumped me in T’Elesh on Dosad. No one knew me, or my parents and I didn’t fit in anywhere. I didn’t know how. People got tired of me fast, so I moved around a lot before they’d get sick of me.
It’s easier if you don’t let anyone get close, so you don’t care about them. It only hurts if you care, right?”
He squeezed her tight, “Jesus, Sooth. No wonder you’re so gun-shy.”
She sniffed again, “I’m kind of a mess. I fit in really well with my team though, because I lived with the Marines on the Raleen before they kicked me out. No one else really seems to get along with me.”
“Sooth, I’m sure they didn’t kick you out – they were sending you someplace where you had a chance at a family. The crew of a destroyer is going to be too small, I’m sure they wanted to give you more options. And I know a lot of people here like you. Eletha? Corin? Nollos? Your team?”
“Eletha’s different. She’s been really nice to me. I’m not sure about the rest. I think they put up with me anyway.”
Wilkes chuckled. “You really don’t see it, do you?”
Surprised she said, “See what? What’s funny?”
He smiled at her and ran his finger along the soft fur of her ear. “Sooth, everyone likes you and cares about you way more than you know.” She snorted and he continued, “A while back your entire combat team looked me up in the shower to let me know that they wouldn’t put up with me hurting you. Eletha thinks you’re awesome and worries about you all the time. And today, Corin warned me that you were mad at me and wanted to be sure I wasn’t going to let you push me away.”
“What?”
“Yeah. Everyone here wants you to be happy, Sooth. They care about you. Now I know why everyone was staring at us this morning, no wait…I’ve lost track of time. Whenever that was. The morning after we slept together and why so many people were smiling.”
“They were?”
“Yup. I wondered about that. Now I know. They were just happy that you were happy.”
She thought about that for a little while, resting her head on his shoulder. “I’m not sure I believe you.”
“That’s OK. Just do me a favor and just watch, and see if what I just said makes more sense than what you’ve believed about yourself, all right? Maybe you’ll surprise yourself.”
“OK. I can do that.”  She paused for a moment, “Am I too messed up?”
“For what?”
Quietly, she said, “For you.”
Laughing he said, “Hell no, Sooth. I’m messed up too. Everyone is one way or another. I think you’re amazing and I want to learn everything there is to know about you. And I always want you to be my friend and in my life.”
“But you’re leaving, you’ll go back to the Federation.”
“That’s a long way off yet, Sooth. I don’t know what I’ll do then. But I do know I like you, I think more than I’ve ever liked anyone.”
She squeezed him again, not meeting his eyes, and they stood hugging each other for another few minutes. She sniffed again and said, “We should probably go back.”
“Sure.” He unwrapped his arms and smiled at her. “Would you share a sleeping spot with me tonight?”
Smiling back she answered, “If you really want to.” and they walked back to their friends.

CHAPTER 8
Few things are brought to a successful issue by impetuous desire, but most by calm and prudent forethought
– Thucydides, Greece, Earth (Human)
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, UNDER WAY
FEBRUARY 2268
A month had come and gone since the accident in the hangar bay and Wilkes was finding himself feeling truly at home for the first time in his life. Looking around the large group of friends, he wondered why it was that he fit in so much better with an alien species than his own. It wasn’t that he didn’t have friends on Earth, it was just…that’s all they were. People to hang out with and sometimes do things with. Even Angie had been a temporary thing and they both knew it. Neither of them had ever said ‘the L word’, and neither of them had expected it.
He looked over at Sooth, talking with Nollos and a couple of her friends from the Disruptor section. Did he love Sooth? He wasn’t really sure, but he couldn’t imagine not spending time with her. He had never really committed to anything in his life and the idea was scary. Corin and T’Laren were tormenting two of Eletha’s kits and M’Ralin and Tovath were playing a tune that some of group were starting to sing along with. How had these people become so much more to him than his classmates at the Academy?
He’d had a few more challenges in the last month as well, some for fun, some to prove a point. He’d never again done as well as his fight with Kam, but he’d hung on to win one and pull a draw in another. But his match against Force Leader F’Aath over F’Aath’s disciplining of one of Wilkes’ men had not gone well at all. The older man had studied military history at Heidelberg in Germany on Earth and was quite used to matching against humans. He had pretty thoroughly taken Wilkes apart. He grinned ruefully at the memory of that match. It had taken him a few days for all the bruises to go away and he had a few new scars to remind him of it.
Looking up at the pale blue lighting across the high ceiling of the East Living Pod, he thought that, as usual, the day was going by too fast. Dosad had a 20 hour day and their ships kept their clocks in synch with the capitol on Dosad. That was always one of the confusing things about the fabric of interstellar society and culture – time.  Your ship was on one schedule, any ship you encountered from another species was likely to be on a very different one. And no matter what planet you encountered, their clocks would be still different. Most captains tried to time their arrivals so that they at least started in the day time for their vessel and for whatever part of the planet they had business with. But, of course, if you were arriving for a scheduled event, that wasn’t an option.
Not for the first time he was glad he wasn’t a senior officer. The Delos was entering orbit around a Federation Starbase on the planet Toulagai. There was some big diplomatic  thing going on, but what was an early evening event for Toulagai was the middle of the night for the Delos. So he’d be asleep with his friends while the crew in the West Living Pod got to pull the duty for that – and the senior staff had to be down on Toulagai, getting no sleep at all, poor things.

* * *
FEDERATION STARBASE 26, TOULAGAI
FEBRUARY 2268
That evening on Toulagai, Commodore Selek was watching the shifting patterns of individuals mixing at the annual Ambassador’s Ball. He found the bits of order that appeared in the semi-random patterns fascinating. The fact that this year there also happened to be a major medical conference meant that there was a lot of Starfleet blue mixed in with the more usual diplomatic tan or command gold. The conference had attracted a number of other races to this rather exposed outpost. Even non-aligned smaller powers such as the Gorns, Hydrans, Dosadi, Tholian, and Lyran’s were present.
Although there was a cold peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire at the moment, the presence of a sizable Klingon delegation was definitely cause for care. As a Vulcan, he felt he was rather uniquely qualified to see this complex mix of races, interests, and activities through to a successful conclusion. Had he been a member of a more emotional race, he’d likely be seen as smug. After all, there were fleets from six different space-faring races in orbit around his starbase and all were co-existing quite peacefully. Truly an example of what logical pacifism could accomplish.
Scanning across the currents and eddies of people in the large ballroom, he raised his left eyebrow upon noticing a group made up of several different military factions. As he was calculating whether that should be broken up or not, his First Officer, Commander Jackson, interrupted his thoughts. A tall black man with close-cropped hair and a narrow mustache, he had a commanding presence, a trait that the Commodore had often made use of.
“Hey boss, you see that little knot over there in the corner?” he gestured with his cigar, an affectation that Selek found both curious and disgusting.
“Of course, Commander. They are in full view, after all.”
“I think we might wanna go over there and break that up before trouble starts. I don’t like the mix.”
“I’m curious as to your reasons, Commander Jackson.” Although he was following the same chain of thought, he wanted to know the Commander’s rationale. His human intuition often reached the correct conclusion before logic would dictate the same course of action. And after years of successful teamwork, Selek had learned to trust that intuition like he trusted the starbase’s library computer.
Jackson took a long puff on his cigar. “Well, the big Gorn there, Admiral T’Skay, he’s been drinking a bit more than is smart. And you know the Dosadi, Ambassador Solyn, he’s not exactly the calm and content type of pussycat. They’ve been sparring verbally all night and Solyn’s been coming out on the short end of it. Admiral Kremble there, she’s commanding that big new Hydran carrier, the Kingdom, she seems to be backing the lizard. Drake, the Klingon who brought that battleship here, he just seems to want to see a fight. He’s been playing the ‘let’s you and him fight’ game for a while. He’d LOVE to see these alliances go out the window.
“Then it may indeed be prudent to gently separate the group, Commander. How do you suggest we go about it?”
Near the cluster of military men that was troubling Selek and Jackson, Lieutenant Christine Chapel was chatting with the Toulagai ambassador. The Toulagai were near earth-normal humanoids with a very slight empathic ability leading to comparisons to the Betazoids and endless theorizing about the spread of humanoid races throughout the galaxy. An utterly pacifist race, they welcomed the Federation’s offer of a starbase as it meant protection and stability for their precariously placed planet.
“Lieutenant, now that the conference is complete, will you be returning to your duties aboard the fabled Enterprise?” the ambassador asked in Standard. By universal custom, the language spoken was that of the hosts, in this case, the Federation.
Chapel allowed herself a slight chuckle, “Fabled? I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, and I’m very sure Dr. McCoy wouldn’t. He’d probably make some complaint about the ‘infernal gadgetry’ and ‘gallivanting across the cosmos’. But yes, I’m looking forward to it. I learned quite a lot here that I’ll be presenting to the medical staff aboard.”
The ambassador smiled, “Your presentation was also quite interesting. I don’t believe anyone expected that a fleet-duty Starfleet nurse would be sharing such advanced research on multi-phasic neural re-growth therapies for disrupted tissues. Perhaps a doctor from a research station, yes, but from a Starship? This is only one reason among many as to why I say ‘fabled’, Lt. Chapel.”
The volume of conversation from the group near them was starting to attract attention.  Chapel noticed the Starbase Commander and his First Officer heading across the ballroom towards the group. Gesturing towards  a Dosadi in the uniform of a ship’s captain, she commented “I know it’s unprofessional and likely racist, but I always want to pet the Dosadi. They just look so cuddly!”
The ambassador’s eyes widened.  He looked at the Dosadi officer she had indicated. He was slightly over 5′ tall, and looked like nothing so much as a Terran cougar that had decided to walk upright and upgrade his paws for fur-covered hands. The uniform consisted of a beaded necklace with a jeweled pendant strung snugly about the throat, a black cloak with the four broad silver stripes of a Fleet Captain across the shoulders, calf-high black boots and dark blue trousers with a bronze stripe down each leg. The Captain wore a long sword and had a silver hoop earring in his left ear and a complex tattoo around his left eye. He turned back to Nurse Chapel, “The Dosadi? Cuddly? Do you see the Warrior’s Pendant around their necks? They earn that in a ceremony that involves going into the wild, naked and unarmed. Each competes to bring back the greatest trophy of their courage possible, and only those who are judged worthy by elder Warriors are allowed to wear the pendant. Many make several attempts before success. Many never achieve it. Many never return. They are a strict honor/shame society that reveres courage and valor in battle above all. They get along well with the Klingons and often engage in personal combat with them as a test of courage and honor – a practice the Klingons encourage and participate in with great gusto. Raids between the two races are not seen as an act of war, but more of a sport. They recently nearly exterminated the entire planet of Romulus. They are allied with the Federation because it was a Starfleet cruiser, the Defiant, that made first contact with them over a century ago and the Federation has provided much assistance to them in the years since. There is nothing about them that is ‘cuddly’.”
Chapel rolled her eyes, “You don’t understand. Anything that looks like a great big kitty looks cuddly. Give him a hat with a feather in it and he could have walked out of a fairy tale – Puss in Boots.” She smiled and in a conspiratorial whisper said, “They’d probably enjoy being scratched behind the ears…”
The ambassador was almost sure she was teasing him.
Admiral T’Skay was enjoying himself. Baiting Ambassador Solyn was very amusing. The big cat had been getting more and more angry as the night had gone on, and was a little past civil by now. He and the Hydran female, Admiral Kremble, had made something of a game of tormenting the diplomat. He leaned over to the short, chocolate skinned humanoid female and stage-whispered, “How do you think he’d react if I pulled his tail?”
The Hydrans were a small interstellar Kingdom made up of several humanoid races spread across half a dozen planets. All shared a few traits in common – they were quite small in stature and inter-breeding had given them a genetic predisposition towards skin and hair in a wild mix of colors. One Federation wag, a fan of ancient entertainments, had tagged them with the nickname ‘Oompa-loompas’, an obscure reference to characters in a pre-atomic story who happened to look a lot like the Hydrans. Calling a Hydran an Oompa-loompa was a sure way to start a fight. – but the nickname had stuck.
Kremble giggled and pushed her bright pink hair back behind her ears again. The big cat looked like he was going to spit. Whatever the Federation stewards had been serving as drinks, it wasn’t Synthahol and it was making her feel a little fuzzy. “I dunno. Maybe he’d like some catnip.”
The ambassador pulled his lips back into a snarl and laid his ears back nearly flat on his head.
Admiral Drake, the Klingon, turned to his aide and said “Strange, I didn’t think a warrior people would put up with this level of dishonor. Tsk.”
Snarling, Ambassador Solyn spat out, “There is no dishonor in being insulted by lesser creatures who are very likely mentally damaged besides. As an ambassador, it is my duty to maintain alliances, even with those who are despicable and beneath me.”
T’Skay said, “Well, of course! After all, we all know why dead cats are fatter than live cats, right?” Commodore Selek and Commander Jackson had just reached the group as T’Skay went on, “Because the live ones run faster!”
Solyn’s eyes were slits and his ears were flat against his skull. Even Captain Nolin’s ears were back. Commodore Selek moved to prevent an explosion, “Admiral, that was neither an accurate statement, nor an effective joke…”
T’Skay interrupted him “Joke? I wasn’t making a joke. I’m sure all those Dosadi who fail their Warrior testing provide some very useful protein to a wide variety of species!”
Jackson was barely too slow to catch Solyn as he leapt onto the eight-foot tall T’Skay, all claws and teeth. Kremble, realizing that T’Skay had gone too far, made a grab for the massive tyrannosaur-looking Admiral, her 75 lbs having absolutely no effect upon the quarter ton alien.  Selek quickly stepped in front of Nolin and managed to keep him from joining the fracas. Although T’Skay was considerably more massive than Solyn, Solyn was faster and was swarming all over the Gorn, leaving bloody claw marks in his wake.
There was a loud hissing sound not coming from the Dosadi and the Ambassador slid off of T’Skay’s back onto the floor, unconscious. T’Skay spun around, enraged, and Nurse Chapel held the hypo-spray up and said “There’s more than enough here for you too, Admiral. I suggest you cut it OUT…Sir.”
Selek released Captain Nolin and spoke calmly,  “Excellent timing, Lieutenant. I think it is time for you gentlemen to find other – separate – amusements this evening. You are behaving in a most undignified manner and are disturbing our other guests.”
Nolin’s fur was spiked out and as he was collecting Solyn he hissed at the now bloody Gorn, “This is NOT over. We’ll blow you out of space you dishonorable coward.”
Drake could barely conceal his glee. Clapping his hand on T’Skay’s huge shoulder he laughed, “Ha! We’ve got you outnumbered better than three to one, pussycat!”
Kremble was trying to decide if she wanted to play a part in this. Her ships were new, untried in battle. By allying with the Gorn and Klingons for a little scrap, she could give her ships a nice live-fire trial with little risk.  She made her choice adding in, “Don’t even try it, cat. My carrier is every bit the equal of yours and we’ve got a lot more firepower than you can even dream of.”
Jackson tried to calm everyone down, blowing a cloud of noxious smoke into the group in an attempt to distract them from their posturing. “Now, why don’t we all settle down. This is a party – let’s head back to our tables and have something to…”
Nolin pulled out a small round communicator from his belt and hissed something in Dosadi. Indicating the three across from him he growled “Defend yourselves, fools.” and seconds later, he and the unconscious Ambassador dissolved in a transporter beam.
Selek attempted to regain some control over the situation, “Now, there is no need for you to return to your ships. The Dosadi will not attack vessels in orbit over the Starbase. We must allow time for the situation to stab…”
No one was listening. In rapid succession the Gorn, Klingon and Hydran contingents beamed out, leaving the Federation officers staring. Commander Jackson took a long draw on his cigar and growled, “God DAMN those cats are more trouble than they’re worth.”
Selek answered, “Indeed, Commander. I’ve often wondered how such a small empire can cause so much heartache for so many other governments. I’ve often questioned the Federation’s wisdom in providing them with advanced technology and utilizing them as mercenaries.”
Jackson said, “No shit.” as red alert klaxons began sounding.

CHAPTER 9
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. – Benjamin Franklin, Earth (Human)
Explosions are not comfortable. – Yevegny Zamyatin, Earth (Human)
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, IN ORBIT OVER TOULAGAI
FEBRUARY 2268
Back aboard the ISS Delos, Corin was jarred out of a sound sleep by the alert siren. Curled up with him, spoon-fashion, Nollos laid her ears back and spat, “IF that bald rat Sethos is running another drill I’m going to rip his tail off.” People were uncurling throughout the East Living Pod, and Corin allowed himself a fast chin-rub across the top of Nollos’ head before jumping to the floor. The lights had gone from a dim blue-grey with simulated stars over the greenery to the heat and glaring yellow-white of a Dosadi mid-day in an instant. As he was pulling on his forest green coveralls, Corin searched through the groups of crewmen, using eyes, nose, and ears to locate the members of his team and make sure they were on the move.
As always, one face stood out from the sea of cream and tan fur and the red, white and green coveralls – a lone human pulling on the red and black uniform of Starfleet’s Engineering crews. Corin had been impressed with Ensign Thomas Wilkes’ courage and the enthusiasm with which he approached his assignment. He could only hope that Crew Leader Toralin was doing as well aboard the Federation heavy cruiser USS Hood.
Corin felt that Ensign Wilkes had adapted well to the Dosadi’s very different patterns. During his six months aboard the Delos the twenty year-old human had stood his ground in several personal combats,  even winning a couple. He had several new scars to prove his courage and his Force Leader had awarded him an honor tattoo around his eye. But before the gods he would never learn to speak Dosadi properly.
“Wilkes!” Corin called out in Standard, “Make sure your crew checks the a-grav units in Lieutenant Commander Delac’s bird. He said there was a flutter the last time he launched and that’s not acceptable.”
“Understood, Crew Leader.” Wilkes answered back, gathering up the four Dosadi that made up his crew and heading out of the living pod at a trot. Crew Leader M’Ralin and his crew were already gone. Corin caught Nollos’ eye as she made her way out of the pod towards the hangar bays and twitched his whiskers at her. She rewarded him with a flick of her tail and a bit more wiggle in her hips as she jogged out of sight.
Endless drilling aboard the Delos was the standard. The big assault carrier was the pride of the Dosadi Imperial Fleet. But she was the third such vessel built – at great cost – and the only one surviving. The first, the ISS Thorin had been lost with all hands along with two corvettes the day she had launched, destroyed in a Romulan ambush. The second, the ISS Loreth had also been destroyed by the Romulans, but this time a single A-10 Thunderbolt fighter had survived along with her SWACS shuttlecraft and crew. Her death had been part of the Dosadi Razing of Romulus and had cost Corin one of his brothers, but the records brought back by the ISS Avric and the Loreth survivors were instrumental in advising design and training modifications for the Delos and her escorting corvettes.
Captain Nolin was determined that the Delos would have a long and valiant career and drilled his crew mercilessly. His First Officer, Commander Sethos was feared and respected throughout the crew. He thought nothing of staging drill upon drill and was an absolute terror in the challenge ring. However, as a result of this endless training, his crews could preform their duties in their sleep.
Wilkes was on his knees, pulling the west a-grav unit out of the big Federation-designed F-14 Tomcat fighter as someone on the bridge began piping battle music into the hangar bay. The big cats liked music and used it throughout battles – something he could never quite get used to after the austere silence of the USS Hood. The skirling bagpipe-like trusk, flutes, and drums sounded very Scottish to him. He had always heard bagpipes described as looking and sounding like someone had a cat under their arm with its tail in their mouth. Looking around him at the big, sentient cats preparing for battle, he couldn’t help but smile at the thought. And as always, that led him to “A bunch of tom cats working on a Tomcat.” and he stifled a chuckle, bending to his work making sure the bi-lateral anti-gravity units were properly synchronized.
As Corin reached the hangar bay, he saw the two crews of four and their leaders that made up his team already swarming over Lieutenant Commander Delac’s bird. Battle music was being piped into the space, helping to motivate the crewmen.  He spared a moment to look down the length of the deck towards the bay where Nollos’ white-clad form was working on Lieutenant Tam’s F-18 Hornet. He sighed and mused “More lost sleep and closeness wit…”
His wistful thoughts were interrupted by the high-pitched whine of the waist phaser banks firing and the slight surge in ship’s gravity that always rippled through the Delos when she went to maximum speed and he realized that this was NOT another drill. “What in the name of Loreth?! We’re in orbit around a Federation starbase!” Seconds later the aft phasers discharged and the ship rocked from incoming fire. Crew looked up from their work, realizing that this was the real thing. Suddenly, adrenalin lent new urgency to the familiar tasks.
Pilots in flight-suits came racing in to the hangar bays, pulling on combat helmets as they ran. Tugs began to hook up to the fighters, ready to push them into the launch tubes. LCDR Delac strode up to Corin, “We’ve got a good fight on our hands!”
“What’s the challenge, sir?” he asked as he began helping the Wing Commander into his Tomcat.
“We’re going up against three fleets at the same time! Another carrier to boot – Hydran – a battleship, a few cruisers and some corvettes. Klingons and Gorns along with the Hydrans. Should be interesting.”
Corin glanced down at the anti-ship and anti-fighter missiles festooning the Tomcat’s wings and the big phaser mount in her nose. Getting a whisker and ear flick from his lead weaponeer, he said, “You’re ready to go, sir. Honor above all!”
Delac bared his fangs, “Honor above all!” and closed the canopy on his fighter. The tug pushed the bird into the launch tube, Wilkes connected the quick-release computer, power, and coolant connections and Corin primed the systems to launch-ready. One of the kittens was making the rounds of the crews with energy drinks and he took one, giving the kit an affectionate pummel. He didn’t recognize the little male, so he was evidently just learning his duties. Watching the kit hurry off to another crewman, he allowed himself to daydream about what his and Nollos’ kits would look like. She hadn’t been given leave to have a litter yet, but would be soon he was sure.
In the years since Federation first-contact, the Dosadi had expanded their empire to nearly a dozen planets and three different sentient species. Taking their cue from the Federation and their own philosophy, the members of the Dosadi Imperium were not slaves, but free partners. By now, even those who had been brought into the Empire through military conquest were willing members of a greater Empire.
Waiting for their bird to launch, Corin thought that deck crews had a difficult job to do. They had to work frantically to get the birds ready, and then wait. Then when they returned, work even more frantically to get them repaired and ready to go again and then more waiting. It could be maddening. Corin brought up a small holographic copy of the tactical display in the Bridge so that the crews could keep track of what was going on. Other Team Leaders did things differently, but he felt that keeping his team informed lead to better understanding and better performance.
Sitting on tool boxes, they watched the two fleets beginning to maneuver, seeing the great number of enemy ships facing their small fleet. This would be a fight worth many a tale. Someone began to sing along with the music being piped into the bay and in moments, most of the crew were adding their voices to the mix.
Wilkes looked around him. This always gave him the shivers and today it was even more energizing. This would be his first real battle and he was terrified he would fail.
CHAPTER 10
Love can do much, but duty more.
– Wolfgang Goethe, Earth (Human)
ROYAL HYDRAN LIGHT CRUISER SUCCESSION, IN ORBIT OVER TOULAGAI
FEBRUARY 2268
Colonel Sir Jons Seins, Knight Commander of the Royal Hydran (Sword Worlds) Marines was bored.  At the moment, he was on the bridge of the light cruiser Succession.  For this ship, the hour was very early morning, and his Marines were still in their sleeping chambers. Safely in orbit around the Federation starbase at Toulagai, there was really very little to do for Marines. His battalion, spread throughout the four ships of the task force, were certainly not going to be invading Toulagai and weren’t terribly likely to be conducting boarding operations against any of the other ships in orbit either. Peace could be so dull.
Still, it was their duty to remain ready at all times and he was not one to fail at his duty. His normal command post was aboard the carrier Kingdom but he liked to make these little unannounced inspections, usually combined with a drill of some sort. It helped keep his troops on their toes and at their best. He would wait another few minutes and then see how this company performed.
Their culture was a very strict patrilinear feudal caste-system where women usually stayed home and tended to hearth and family. Seeing female Hydrans in any position of power was rare and meant an individual of surprising drive and capabilities, as well as powerful patrons. The Colonel wasn’t too sure how he felt about being placed under the command of Admiral Lady Kremble Mika, despite her connections to the Duke he owed his fealty to. His own wife was at home, where she belonged, managing his estate and finances and seeing to their four children, as was right and proper, while the Admiral wasn’t even married. He harbored certain suspicions about that situation.
As he inspected the various bridge stations aboard the Succession, he paid particular attention to the helmsman. Seated, Starfleet Ensign Akemi Yoshida was nearly as tall as his 4′ 2”, and he was tall for a Hydran. As he scanned her workstation for flaws, he briefly wondered if the Federation was sending a calculated insult to his people by assigning a woman to their officer exchange program. He would make a point of inspecting her sleeping chamber and reviewing her Chief’s reports on her efficiency and attention to her duties.
For her part, twenty-two year-old Akemi was nervous. It was an honor to be nominated to the Federation’s Officer Exchange Program, but she wished her Lieutenant had given her a few more months to get used to fleet duty aboard the USS Yorktown before she had to try to learn her duties and an entirely new culture as well. And why THIS culture? The Hydrans were so conservative they still treated their women like chattel most of the time. They lived aboard ship like monks, complete with daily rituals and strict codes of behavior. And now the Colonel she had heard was a total bear was standing right behind her, no doubt looking for any mistake. The bridge of the Succession was a small rectangular chamber with the Captain’s station above and to the center rear with various stations around the edges and a holographic sphere projecting the space around the ship hovering in front of everyone. It felt even more cramped with the little Colonel looking over her shoulder.
Suddenly, all her nervousness was swept away by stark terror. Her hands flew across the helm controls and the Succession rolled into a tight corkscrew, her engines straining at the sudden override demand from the helm position. The gravity wavered slightly from the power surge and the Colonel opened his mouth to demand answers from this alien woman. Before he could speak, a phaser blast lanced into the space where the Succession had been moments before, flashing green light into the bridge from the forward view-screens and the alarm horn sounded its brassy notes.
“What in the seven hells is going ON?!” the Colonel barked out. “Who is firing??”
The defense officer spoke quickly as he began routing power to weapons, shields, and defensive fields, “Sir, the Dosadi! They just started firing. They didn’t even use targeting systems! They’ve also engaged the Kingdom and the  Horval. Sir, they scored hits on both before they got their shields up.”
Lieutenant Rals Orens, the watch commander spoke up “Colonel, incoming message from the Admiral.” and seconds later, the image of Kremble filled the front of the bridge. After a moment scanning the bridge crew, she spoke “Colonel Jons, I’m afraid you’re going to be stuck over there for the duration. The Dosadi have elected to attack us, the Gorn, and the Klingons for reasons that I’m sure make some sort of sense to them.
In any case, we massively out-gun them. Lieutenant Rals, you will keep the Succession in close formation with the Kingdom. I intend to use you as the anvil and our fighter groups as the hammer and crush them between our fires. The Gorn are taking the opposite flank while the Klingons hold the center. This should be quick and easy. By the numbers, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, Admiral. You can count on us.” He stood and bowed, as did the Colonel.
When she had cut the connection, the Colonel turned to Ensign Yoshida with a frown on his violet-skinned face. “Ensign. You acted without orders and without authority. How did you detect the phaser fire? Sensors had no warning whatsoever of any targeting or shields being raised anywhere.”
Sweating and sitting at rigid attention she said, “Sir. As helmsman, it is my duty to keep the ship on a safe course at all times. That duty provides the authority to act in an emergency. As part of that duty, I have been maintaining a regular scan of all other vessels in orbit near us. I noted the Dosadi vessels’ power-consumption curves going to emergency maximum.  The Command Destroyer Shagrat rolled to present her starboard weapons pod to us while other Dosadi vessels were maneuvering similarly. I concluded that they would try a snap-shot and acted accordingly.”
He studied the young Earth woman for a moment. Glancing up as the Succession’s captain stalked into the bridge he continued, “Well done, Ensign. Continue your attention to your duty. As I must attend to mine.” He headed off the bridge to the Marine command post. The Marines did double-duty as damage control techs during combat, but were always expected to be ready to conduct boarding or defense operations as well.

* * *
FEDERATION STARBASE 26, TOULAGAI
FEBRUARY 2268
Almost a thousand kilometers directly beneath Colonel Jons, Commodore Selek and Commander Jackson gave up trying to talk to the now wildly maneuvering ships racing out of orbit.
Jackson gnawed at his cigar, “That’s done it then. They got hits on the Kingdom, the Horval, Tyrannus, Tooth, and the Devisor. Someone was awake on the Succession though. That was their only miss – woulda hit ’em right square in the bridge too from the looks of it. I swear the Dosadi have ‘relations’ with their weapons. No one should be able to shoot that well without computer targeting.”
“There is no need to be crude, Commander. It is well known that the Dosadi drill extensively with their weapons both with and without targeting systems. Evidently, the prevailing wisdom that it is impossible to hit maneuvering targets at battle distances and speeds without computer assistance is incorrect.
“Raise shields and energize the weapons. I do not anticipate becoming involved, but there may be stray weapons fire. I do not want to see this situation spiral any further out of control. Also, make sure that all available sensors are tracking the battle and recording. If nothing else, this should provide excellent intelligence for Starfleet analysts.”
Petty Officer Bennett, at the Sensory station interrupted them, “Sirs, you might want to see this.” and he pushed a toggle, bringing up a local broadcast. A somber-looking man spoke directly into the pickup, “To recap, war has come to Toulagai. Despite the presence of the Federation Starbase, even now dozens of starships are battling it out over our planet for reasons unknown.” The image on the screen cut-away to an orbital platform’s capture of the Delos engaging several vessels and beginning to rocket away from them, dodging their return fire. The big carrier was charging straight at the pickup and in moments her blue-grey hull flashed past while the green lines of phasers went back and forth.
Jackson snorted at the image. Someone had helpfully added a dramatic soundtrack to the shots including a rumbling bass line for the Delos’ engines and the high-pitched whine of phaser fire. “Nice touch.” he said, but the newscaster was continuing,
“Clearly all that the presence of this military installation on our peaceful planet has done is to attract even more firepower.” The view shifted to a long-shot of the impressive bulk of the Klingon battleship Reaver.  “Violence and the tools of violence, infesting our peace-loving world. Was accepting this starbase really the benefit that we’ve been told that it was? We…”
Jackson gnawed his cigar to the other side of his mouth and said, “Turn that shit off, Bennett.”

CHAPTER 11
“Cry ‘havoc!’ And let slip the dogs of war!”
– Chang (Klingon) aboard a Bird of Prey near Camp Khitomer
ROYAL HYDRAN CARRIER KINGDOM, MANEUVERING, TOULAGAI
FEBRUARY 2268
Admiral Kremble watched the image of the big Gorn Admiral T’Skay on her viewscreen. He was explaining his battle plan and had some concerns. “If we can just keep that Klingon in line with us, the Dosadi don’t stand a chance. We’ve got them out-gunned almost three to one.”
She stood up and walked closer to the main screen. Her dark-chocolate skin and bright pink hair made a startling contrast to the Gorn’s olive-drab hide and glittering multi-faceted eyes. “You’re worried about a Klingon warrior in a battle? Why?”
T’Skay made a face. And when what looks like a bad-tempered dinosaur makes a face, it has a definite impact. “He’s an inexperienced political appointee that hasn’t the foggiest idea what he’s doing. He’s got no experience with a single ship, much less a fleet action. And those Dosadi are so damn tricky…”

* * *
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, MANEUVERING, TOULAGAI
FEBRUARY 2268
Corin got up from watching the maneuvering fleets in the holo-display and checked to be sure that the tools, parts, lubricants, coolants and other consumables were ready.  The tune being piped in from the bridge was a slower song more suitable to waiting, but with a slowly increasing tempo. He smiled to himself; Whoever was in charge of the music today was matching song to events well.
All appeared to be in order. Med-kits, fire-fighting tools, emergency seals and patch-kits all in their quick-release housings. The sensors controlling the air-tight doors and last-ditch isolation fields were clear and their panels’ self-tests indicated they were operating properly. In the event of a hull-breech too big for the smaller patches, the entire launch bay could be isolated and sealed off from the rest of the ship in a few seconds. You did not want to get caught on the wrong side of the door as the air would get rather thin very quickly.
Hearing the whhhooooof of fighters being fired out of their launchers, he turned back and rejoined his Team at the holo-display. LCDR Delac’s fighter was in the lead of Green Wing, taking the lower portion of a pincer type formation. They could hear some chatter over the com circuits as the wings began targeting the Klingon fleet in the center of the enemy formation. When most of the other fighters launched their missiles, Delac and half of Green Wing held their fire and accelerated along with the seeking weapons. As the fighters closed with the Klingon vessels, Delac’s three birds suddenly fired everything they had, performed a skew-flip turn and began applying a massive delta-vee to change their vector back to the carrier.
“On your feet! Get reloads up from the storage racks now and get ready to re-arm and recharge.” Corin ordered. “I want them ready to launch again in two minutes from when they hit the deck. You hear me now? TWO minutes.”

* * *
IMPERIAL KLINGON BATTLESHIP REAVER, MANUEVERING, TOULAGAI
FEBRUARY 2268
Aboard the Reaver, Admiral Drake had panicked. Despite his officers’ assurances that they could track and deal with the hundreds of blinking red lights cutting quickly across the hexagonal grid showing the space around their battle group, all he saw was death. All the lines were closing rapidly with his ships and none of his warships had fired yet. His battle manager tried to calm him down,
“Sir! Courage!” He was disgusted. “Our close-in defenses are designed to work close-in…Sir! There is no need to…!”
Drake saw the group of fighters closing with him launch even more missiles at his vessel and then flip around before his force engaged them. “Come right to 050 and descend! There’s too many in-bounds.”
The captains of the two corvettes were even more disgusted, trying to track along with the massive battleship as it nearly ran one down and left the other hurrying to remain in formation. Their captains toyed with the idea of breaking orders and engaging on their own, but that was simply not the Klingon way. A warrior people who made the Dosadi look calm, the Klingons loved any sort of challenge. Drake’s view screen came to life with Admiral T’Skay’s enraged visage.
“What are you DOING you IDIOT?!” he hissed, “Stay in formation!”
Drake, terrified at the complicated tactical plot he really didn’t understand shouted back, “I can’t you fool! I’ve got hundreds of drones and two plasma torpedoes targeted on me! I cannot allow this ship to be disabled!”
“That’s what your fucking corvettes are for, you ass!”
The warning beeps of the sensors detecting the incoming missiles were getting faster as the range dropped. “There are too many!! They’re too close!” T’Skay could see his nerve break. “Emergency stop! Eject the wild weasel!” he cried out.
“NO! Damn you!!” T’Skay yelled. He broke the connection and set about trying to save his own fleet. The giant Reaver and the Devisor both slammed on the brakes and ejected shuttlecraft. The two corvettes, confused by the sudden maneuver began trying to figure out where they were supposed to be now. The Deceit swung straight down and away from the imposing bulk of the motionless Reaver. Her captain was damed if he was gonna try and stay close to that idiot. The Assassin spun first right, then left, then charged into the heart of the drones, trying to shoot them all down as that was what the little ships were designed to do. Nobody had told him about the wild weasels currently attracting all of the seeking weapons.  The first weapons began to slam into the fleet as dodging ships cut across the flight path of the powerful weapons, allowing them to re-acquire the ship instead of the electronic bait of the shuttlecraft. The explosions rattled Klingon shields, but did little else. When the two mid-sized Type-S plasma torpedoes the Shagrat had fired exploded on the little wild weasel near the Devisor, they actually had to drain batteries to reinforce their shields.
All around them, captains tried to maneuver their ships around the sudden obstacles as well as the seeking weapons that nobody now knew where they were targeted. Several Klingon and Gorn fighters, unable to dodge quickly enough were caught in the drone wave or the explosion of nearby torpedoes and were destroyed. The neat formation was a shambles.

* * *
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, MANEUVERING, TOULAGAI
FEBRUARY 2268
As crewmen scrambled to get what was needed, the dots representing the Klingon vessels began scattering across the paths of their Gorn and Hydran allies. M’Ralin called out, “Look! They’re running!” Heads turned across the bay as the enemy formation dissolved into chaos. The bay doors on each end of the deck slid open and fighters began to recover, flying into the large space at high speed, from both fore and aft.
A cheer went up from the teams as weapons began to impact across the enemy fleets. The high-pitched sounds of phasers and torpedoes firing had become a normal background noise as had the occasional vibration from the impact of enemy weapons. Delac’s Tomcat was the last into the bay, skidding across the deck as he backed the power and the retarding fields grabbed hold of the ship. As Wing Commander, he would expect to be the first ready to launch again and Corin’s team raced to get the fighter into the bay even as crew were prepping weapons mounts and connecting power and coolant cables. Even while his bird was being pushed into the bay, Delac leapt out of the cockpit and grabbed Corin “Did you SEE? Did you SEE?” The two of them laughed aloud as more Green Wing pilots ran up and joined in.
FOUR enemy ships out of action for several minutes at least and the enemy formation scattering to the skies! A spectacular result for what was, in reality, a fairly small strike. Corin disengaged from the celebrating pilots and returned to working on Delac’s Tomcat.  M’Ralin was struggling to get one of the Countach anti-ship missiles hung on its launch rail.  Corin yelled to a pair of kits, “You two! Lend a hand! MOVE!” and watched as the two, obviously brother and sister from their identical markings jumped to work, their small hands helping connect up the mount.
Checking the power couplings and charge rates for the F-14’s phaser and shield capacitors, Corin made some small adjustments and ordered another kit to clean the canopy. They were still working on the bird as Delac clambered back into the cockpit and the tug began to push her nose back into the launch tube. Glancing up at the status board, he smiled to see that Nollos had Lt. Tam’s Hornet in the tube first. She was hard to beat, that woman, hard to beat…
Wilkes got his attention, “Corin, they’re closing awfully fast.” and he pointed at the battle display. The Gorn fleet had gone to flank speed and was making course directly for the Delos, coming in from behind. The sound of occasional weapon impacts on the Delos’s shields was getting more frequent.  Silently, they watched as the heavy destroyer Dosin arced up above the Dosadi formation, rolled onto her back and charged straight into the heart of the Gorn ships, weapons blazing, filling space with phasers, torpedoes, and disruptor bolts in all directions. In seconds, one of the Gorn corvettes was falling away, obviously out of control and the destroyer Tooth had felt some of her wrath as well.
But the Dosin was clearly out of the fight. M’Ralin stood silently by. Wilkes spoke softly, “Aren’t your parents aboard the Dosin?”
“Yes. Mother is a phaser Crew Leader and a father is a Master Torpedoman.”
Seeing that the Gorn heavy cruiser Tyrannus had executed an emergency stop to reinforce shields against the Dosin’s attack, Corin said, “They bought us the time we needed, M’Ralin. Let’s make it count, right?”

* * *
ROYAL HYDRAN LIGHT CRUISER SUCCESSION, MANEUVERING, TOULAGAI
FEBRUARY 2268
Being rattled about in the command chair aboard the Succession, Captain Lord Rince Del exclaimed, “God’s TEETH!” Ensign Yoshida made no reply as she continued to force the light cruiser into maneuvers that stressed her hull and engines to the limits of their design – and beyond. The Chief Engineer’s loud complaints were getting no traction with the captain as the ship rolled, slid, skid, spiraled, and surged past Klingons, wild weasel shuttlecraft, plasma torpedoes, fighters, missiles, phasers and disruptor bolts. The artificial gravity struggled to maintain normal levels and vectors and people rocked in their seats or staggered across the deck in time to the groaning of the hull.
Captain Rince had long since decided to keep Yoshida in the helm position for this fight. Not a single shot fired at – or even near – the Succession had struck home. The woman was clearly a virtuoso at the helm with a sense of what the enemy were doing, seemingly before they even knew themselves. “Engineering shut UP! If you cannot meet my requirements I assure you that I can find someone who will. Now attend to your duties and be silent!” and he slammed his hand on the control panel, cutting the circuit. “Weapons! Continue harassing fire at the carrier. Helm, get us out of this mess and away from those damn Klingons!”
Mindful of the Admiral’s orders to keep her ship in close with the Hydran carrier, Yoshida slid the cruiser around the bigger ship, almost as though she were in orbit around it, taking station where she could continue to provide fire support but was out of the path of the scattering Klingons and the remaining seeking weapons the Dosadi had loosed upon them.
Below decks in the Marine command post, which doubled as damage control, Colonel Jons was bracing himself against the gravity’s surges. “Lieutenant, if enemy fire doesn’t damage us, I believe that the helmsman might!”
The lieutenant laughed, “Either way, we’re ready sir. My company is at battle stations in full equipment ready to fight or fix as required.” The two of them studied the repeater-display of the tactical situation available from the bridge.  The Gorn formation was scattering for their lives, one corvette out of action, a destroyer clearly damaged and a cloud of missiles streaking towards the heavy cruiser and the other corvette. A Dosadi heavy destroyer was curving slowly down and away from the Gorn, badly damaged. The Klingons were motionless and taking fire from three Dosadi Thunderbolt fighters. Their corvettes milling about aimlessly.
Suddenly, three new symbols winked into the display. “What the devil?” Jons asked, leaning forward to get a better view of the display.  “Oh, there’s going to be hell to pay.” A Federation heavy cruiser and destroyer, the USS Hood, and USS Samurai, and a Dosadi light cruiser, the ISS Alisar had dropped out of warp near the Klingons and were already changing course to intercept them.
“Lieutenant, I don’t believe we’re going to get much help from the Klingons.”
“Doesn’t look to me like they were much help anyway, sir.”
“Indeed. However, that was the center of our line, and the Gorn on the opposite flank have been routed. The Admiral may have bitten off more than she can chew…”
The display continued to get more complex as their sister ship, the heavy frigate Hydrus launched a plasma shotgun made up of eight type-F plasma torpedoes and the Delos launched all eighteen of her fighters. Seconds later, the Kingdom launched her own fighters. Again, space was full of twisting ships, beam weapons, missiles and plasma torpedoes.

* * *
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, MANEUVERING, TOULAGAI
FEBRUARY 2268
The Delos’ weapons were firing continually. The whine of the phasers, the thunk of missile launchers, the odd sounds of the photon torpedo and disruptor launchers firing, all intermixed with the ringing sounds of enemy weapons impacting on her shields. The gravity was surging in both direction and intensity as energy demands from weapons, shields, and engines argued it out in the ship’s computers.
Corin steadied himself against a hull former and shouted to his team, “Make sure your tools are secure! It’s going to get rough.” Crewmen bent to pull netting across their kits as the music from the bridge swelled to a crescendo. “YES! We got a frigate!!” A cheer went up and the Dosadi again began singing as the symbol indicating the enemy frigate began to spin slowly away from the Hydran fleet.
Wilkes was checking his crew, making sure everyone was hydrating, that their tools were secure, that they had what they needed to recharge and rearm the Tomcat when Delac returned. He had just decided that they were ready when weapons began to leak through the Delos’ shielding, the sound of explosions echoing through the big hangar bay and vibrating through the deck plates.
A sudden shower of sparks and coolant doused him from above while the force of the impact drove him to his knees. Terrified, he tried to clear his eyes from the blue fluid and beat out the glowing embers that had landed on his red shirt. One of the kits was down, a heavy chunk of ceiling half-covering his small furry body and one of his crew was screaming in pain, obviously badly burned. There was a high-pitched shriek of atmosphere leaking from a hull-breech and he didn’t know what to do! There was blood on the deck and people shouting, the screaming sound of a coolant leak and a strobe-light effect from flickering lights and arcing short circuits and the weird sound of Dosadi music behind it all.
Struggling to his feet, looking for where to run he saw Corin. The big cat’s tail had been broken about half way down but he was grabbing a patch-kit from the wall recess and yelling orders. Wilkes had no idea what he was saying or who he was issuing orders to. How could he be so calm?! Time seemed to slow down for the young human.
He wondered what was going on. It was as though he had all the time in the world. Glancing at the holo-display, he saw the six Hornets from White Wing were engaged in a swirling dogfight with all eighteen of the Stings from the Hydran carrier while Delac’s Green Wing was adding pot-shots at the fighters and attacking the Kingdom herself. The Lavet Cair was shooting her up as well. The Nareth had reduced the Gorn destroyer Tooth to a smoking ruin and the Shagrat had shot the Tyrannus up pretty badly.
He looked around the damaged bay in the strobing arc-light glare – Everyone was moving in slow motion. He really wanted to get the hell out of there before the entire bay blew out. He looked again at Corin. He was close to the air-tight door, he could leave if he wanted to. The door was going to close. Why wasn’t he leaving? It looked like he was yelling at M’Ralin, the other Crew Leader. Leader. And something clicked in Wilkes’ sub-conscious.
Time snapped back to normal as he raced further into the bay, slapping controls to de-energize the bay circuits and yelling orders to his crew to recover the wounded. Now, instead of time moving slowly it seemed like everything was happening faster than it was possible. As he tried to lift the heavy panel off of the limp kit he knew he was too late. The air-tight door had started closing to isolate the bay and protect the ship and they were on the wrong side, he didn’t have time. If he ran now, he could make it.
Instead, he bent his back again, giving one last effort to try to get the chunk of hull off from the little male. He thought to himself, “God dammit, if I’m gonna die, at least I’m gonna die trying!!” The plate lifted, but there was no way he could get the kit – and he saw Corin’s mate, Nollos had run into the shattered bay, helping to recover the wounded. She grabbed the kit and he dropped the plate, the two of them laughing and racing for the door. As they got there, Corin urging them on, the hull took another hit and blew out, the hurricane force winds caused by venting atmosphere starting to drag them back. Corin grabbed both of them with one hand each and M’Ralin grabbed Corin, the door inexorably lowering on the struggling group.
He and Nollos both had one of the kit’s arms, and Corin had one each of theirs. Despairing, Wilkes looked into Corin’s strained and anguished face – It simply wasn’t possible to pull three people against the force of the air blowing out. He could save one of them, and the kit, but not both. “It’s always the guy in the red shirt.” Wilkes thought to himself, a bitter and oft-voiced complaint brought about by the far higher casualty rates suffered by Starfleet’s services branch. And with a desolate cry, Corin and Nollos let go of each other at the same moment, his free hand sweeping down, now with enough strength to haul Wilkes and the kit out of the bay as the door closed, sealing the breech.

* * *
HYDRAN KINGDOM LIGHT CRUISER SUCCESSION, MANEUVERING, TOULAGAI
FEBRUARY 2268
Colonel Jons was furious. His battalion was being shot to shit and he was stuck on this cruiser, not where the troops who needed him were! Watching the Horval and Hydrus being cut to ribbons he knew that his Marines were being killed – The little ships had no real protected spaces and as damage controlmen they were no doubt in the thick of things. He desperately wanted a status report from the platoon aboard each ship, but knew better than to interrupt their leaders during a battle. They would send word when they could.
On the bridge, Captain Rince gave rapid fire orders, “Helm! Close with that corvette! NOW! Weapons – fire the missiles at the ship, phasers at those double-damned fighters! They’re slaughtering our Stings!!” Hoping that the Federation vessels would stay away from her ship and keep focusing on the Klingons, Yoshida rolled the Succession around the back side and under the Kingdom and Captain Rince stood half out of his chair, “HELM! I said…” and as the cruiser continued it’s tight orbit around the massive carrier, it came up and under the Lavet Cair, her missile launchers firing immediately and her phaser crews attempting to engage the twisting Hornets, to little effect.
The Captain sat back down, straightened his uniform and said, “My apologies Helm. Well done.” as he watched the Dosadi corvette begin trying to limp away from his ships, clearly out of the fight, the burning holes from his missile impacts glowing across her warp engines. Noting three Tomcats rolling in on the Kingdom he continued, “Weapons, what have we got left? We need to get those fighters off the Kingdom!”
“Nothing, sir. We’re recharging everything. Between engaging the Delos, the Lavet Cair, and the fighters we’re completely discharged. Hydrus and Horval are out of it and the Kingdom’s reporting they’re out of battery power, all weapons discharged, shields badly damaged and beginning to take damage throughout the ship.”
“Damn it to hell! What about the Gorn? Or the Klingons?”
“The Gorn are scattered, sir, all they’ve got left is the Tyrannus, and she’s shot up. The Klingons are fighting for their lives, both corvettes out of action, the Devisor’s damaged, and the Reaver’s lost her entire forward shielding. They’re fully engaged with the Federation vessels and the Alisar.”
Looking at the Dosadi fleet in his battle-sphere, he shook his head, “How in the hell do they DO that?”
Admiral Kremble signaled a moment later, “Captain, we are disengaging. Prepare for an immediate warp 4 jump at 315 mark 270 on my signal. Take the Hydrus under tow. We will take the Horval.”
“Yes, Admiral. What about the Gorn?”
“This really wasn’t our fight anyway, Captain. There will be another day. Our duty is to preserve our vessels and our crews. On my mark, Captain.”
He stood and bowed, “Understood, Admiral.”
Colonel Jons would count the dead. He knew them all, by face, by name, by family. Of his battalion of six hundred Marines, he had lost nearly a third. He would spend much of the voyage back to the Sword Worlds preparing the funeral ceremony for his troopers. They had done their duty and done it well. The reports he had in hand indicated that without their valor, both frigates would have been destroyed and the Kingdom would likely have been crippled.
Right at that moment, there were very few creatures in God’s universe he hated more than the Dosadi. He would have his revenge one day. For each and every troop they had murdered.

* * *
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, MANEUVERING, TOULAGAI
FEBRUARY 2268
Shaking, in pain, exhausted, and in shock, Wilkes looked at his Team Leader. The big cat was looking forlornly at the air-tight door sealing off the destroyed launch bay. “Why?” he asked, his voice breaking.
After a moment, Corin looked at him and managed a sad little smile. “Why what, Wilkes?”
A medical team raced up and began treating the injured team, one of the medics administering a hypo to the critically wounded kit with a loud hiss.
“Why ME? She was your mate!”
Corin flicked an ear back and cocked his head. “Yes? What does that matter?”
“Why did you save me? I’m not your mate! I’m not even a Dosadi! I’m nothing to you!!” he was almost crying.
“You really don’t understand us at all yet, do you Wilkes? She was my mate, but my responsibility was to you. She knew that, as did I. There was no choice in the matter. She and I are Team Leaders. Our team is our first responsibility. Had I saved her, and allowed you to die, I would have dishonored us both so badly our only choice would be to kill ourselves in shame. Honor means doing what is right – always – even if doing so costs you everything you have or even dreamed of having.
“I would not be the man she loved nor she the woman that I loved had we both not known that basic truth before we were even weaned.”
“But…” Wilkes tried to digest this. After a few moments he hung his head and said, “I hate those bastards.”
Genuinely surprised, Corin asked, “Who? Why?”
Wilkes looked at him, now almost angry, “The Gorn! The Hydrans! They’re the ones who did this!! We’ll get them back.”
“Get them back? For what? This was a clean fight and we all fought well and with honor. There was no  treachery, no dishonor…what is there to hate them for?”
“They killed Nollos!”
“And many others. And we killed many of theirs. Star Sailors with mates and children and mothers and fathers who loved them dear. They fought hard, and they fought well. We just fought better today. We’ll tell the tales and remember the dead of both sides and light incense for them to honor their sacrifices.
“There will be other mates, and other fights. Those of us who live now must live on for those who died. I will mourn Nollos in my own way, in my own time.”
Wilkes was dumbfounded. A medic was treating his burns while another was waving a medi-scanner over Corin’s tail. “You did well, Wilkes. I think, perhaps, you understand more than you know. Why did you go back into the bay after the first torpedo hit?”
Wilkes thought. “I guess because I saw you. You were so damn calm. Yelling orders and putting the patch-kit on the hole in the hull. And I couldn’t leave the kit, I guess.”
Corin watched him for a second. “You are on the right path there, Wilkes.” He stood and offered his hand to the young man, “We’ve still got work to do. We’ve lounged here long enough.”
Fighters, most of them damaged to some degree were flying into the bay, smoke, coolant, and energy scattering across the deck as the pilots struggled to recover safely. Wilkes saw a Thunderbolt, missing one ‘wing’ and afire, blow through the open South bay doors, slamming into the heavy deck plates, buckling several and skidding into a spin as it careened across the bay.
Running towards it, Wilkes joined the bird’s crew in trying to put out the fire and rescue her pilots. The fighter was barely in one piece, most of her paint having blistered off. “Jesus. These poor bastards are cooked.” he thought to himself as he struggled with the blasted canopy. A damaged Hornet shrieked past them, barely missing the ruined Thunderbolt and the crew working on it.
They finally got the canopy off, struggling not to slip on the firefighting foam that was splattered everywhere and Wilkes helped reach in for the pilot. As he grabbed hold of one side of his harness, he recognized the pattern on the undamaged portion of his combat helmet. It was T’Laren, Eletha’s mate. Or it had been. The Team Leader was screaming for a medic, but Wilkes knew it was much too late. The other crew was using plasma torches to cut the gunner out of the rear cockpit and Wilkes looked inside. It looked like a Gatling phaser had caught them. The front cockpit had been blasted open to space, many of the controls and instruments were destroyed and wires and chunks of components were hanging loosely. How T’Laren had managed to stay conscious, let alone fly back to the Delos he had no idea.
Standing straight, he looked around the battered hangar deck. Many of the fighters had taken damage and medical teams were treating wounded pilots and crew who had been caught in weapons hits like his team had.
But, they had won the battle.
As the fleet headed back in to orbit around Toulagai, he wondered if it had been worth it.

CHAPTER 12
“The most powerful symptom of love is a tenderness which becomes at times almost insupportable.”
– Victor Hugo – Earth (Human)
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, UNDER WAY
FEBRUARY 2268
It had only been two weeks since the battle at Toulagai. It just seemed like an eternity had passed. Wilkes lay on his back, watching the now-familiar Dosadi stars on the ceiling of the East Living Pod, Sooth curled up on one side of him, Eletha on the other and a puddle of kits by her side. Sometimes Corin would join them, but tonight he had wanted to be alone again. He had been spending a lot of his nights alone since Nollos died, and his friends all worried about that; It wasn’t entirely normal for a Dosadi to isolate themselves that much. He listened to the warbling sound of the whirks – the little bugs always reminded him of cicadas.
He thought Eletha had fallen asleep, but Sooth was still awake. He turned his head to look at her and found her watching him. “I still have a hard time just moving on like you Dosadi do.” he admitted.
“Still blaming yourself for Nollos?” she asked quietly.
“Yeah. I mean, I understand why Corin made the choice he did, I think. I just…I can’t accept it. I know he doesn’t, but I think he must hate my guts. Every time he sees me he has to be reminded that because of me, his mate is dead.”
“Not really. Wilkes, she ran into the bay to help. If you hadn’t lifted the plate off the kit, she would have tried and she still wouldn’t have made it out. Probably neither of them because Corin would’ve run in to help. You can play what-if games forever, but no one knows what would have happened, Wilkes, only what did happen.” She reached her hand up and caressed his face. “I liked Nollos too, Wilkes. She helped me a lot. But I’m glad you’re alive, and glad that we knew her.”
He watched her face in the dim blue-grey light of the starry sky.  “Got time for a stupid question?”
She smiled, “Sure.”
“How do Dosadi kiss?”
She giggled. “Nollos told me you were going to ask me that. She was always studying up on human culture and traditions and history and…” she sighed. “I miss her too.” Meeting his eyes again she continued, “We don’t really ‘kiss’. Our faces are built differently than humanoids are.”
“Oh.” he was clearly disappointed.
She looked down for a second, then leaned her face in close to his, nuzzled his cheek and he felt her tongue give him a quick raspy lick. She giggled again. “That’s what we do.”
Wilkes smiled at her, “It’s nice.”
“Well…you’re the first one I’ve done that to.”
“You’re kidding me. I’m your first kiss?”
Her ears drooped a little, “I told you I haven’t had any close friends.”
“No, no – Sooth, I’m flattered, I’m amazed I’m…” he shut up and touched her face, stroking her cheek with his thumb. After a moment, he leaned closer to her, tipping his head a bit more than normal so that he didn’t bash her nose and gently brushed his lips against her mouth. She inhaled sharply, her eyes wide in surprise. He pressed a bit more firmly, extending the kiss for a few seconds and then pulled away. “That’s what we do, Sooth. To people we love.”
He watched her trying to analyze what had just happened and he heard a muffled “About damn time.” from Eletha. He couldn’t help it. He started laughing, pulling Sooth close to him. There were a few muffled calls to ‘be quiet!’ and he tried to stifle his laughs.
Sooth pushed him back a bit, poked her head up and peered up at Eletha, “What do you mean?”
She rolled over and said, “Everyone’s been hoping you two would pair up. You never know when your story will end, Sooth. You have to wring everything out of it you can.” She rested her hand on Wilkes’ shoulder, “You two are always happiest when you’re with each other. It only makes sense. Stop being so afraid to be happy.
“You’ve become some of my most special friends but by all the gods you are two of the densest beings I’ve ever met!”
Wilkes looked over his shoulder at her. “What did I do?”
“Shush.” She shook his shoulder then pointed at Sooth. “You too. Just listen for a minute. Wilkes, Dosadi are individualists in many ways, we don’t have a lot of the laws and rules and such that humans do. But what lets us be individuals is because we have a really tight web of friends and family that supports us and guides us. Part of growing up Dosadi is building that net – As kits you have playmates from all over and all ages. You start finding the ones that are going to become special, your really close circle of friends. Usually by the time someone is Sooth’s age, they’ve played at being mates with a number of different people from that inner circle, trying them out, seeing who makes a good partner for them and who doesn’t until two of them find the right match and stabilize on each other. But that web is always there. And your web interacts with everyone else’s. It’s strong.
“But Sooth has kept herself isolated her whole life – it’s almost impossible to function in our society like that. None of the people she should be able to count on for help, for counsel, for laughter, for joy, for fun are there. She’s been adrift her whole life.
“And then you showed up. I don’t know if it’s because you’re just the sweet person that you are, or because she spent so much of her kittenhood with humans or what, but you two click. You fit together. Nollos and I found out about you, Wilkes. You’ve wandered through your society without any roots.”
“I know…But wait..How did you…”
“Shush. I’m talking.” she gave his shoulder another friendly little shake. “We take care of each other, Wilkes. Always. I wasn’t going to let someone rip her loose from her friends again. I was saying, you’ve got a lot in common with her.
“But when I see the two of you together, you’re a team. I’m finally seeing that web coming into being for Sooth. And for you. Think about it: You two in the center, Corin, me, T’Laren, M’Ralin, Tovath, and Nollos close in, and it gets wider going out more and more. You two aren’t just these isolated individuals any more, you’re part of us.”
“You are fools if you let that slip away. And Sooth, I know what you’re afraid of. Don’t let that stop you – I miss my mate more than anything. It hurts. But the reason it hurts is because it was so wonderful. I’ll get through the hurt, and I’ll find another mate because that’s how I’m strongest and because T’Laren would want me to be happy again.  And I will be happy again.
“I’ve got you, and Wilkes, and Corin, and everyone else to help me through the loss, just like I’ll help them through theirs. Now, I’m going to go back to sleep. You two go back to…” she smiled, “being happy for once.” And she rolled over, pressing her back against Wilkes’.
Wilkes looked at Sooth and whispered, “Who am I to argue?” and he nuzzled her cheek in a Dosadi kiss. A few moments later he heard a faint rumbling noise coming from Sooth while they cuddled. Surprised he asked,  “Are you…purring?”
“I’m sorry. I can’t help it.”
“No! It’s awesome. I didn’t know Dosadi purred. Cats on Earth purr. I thought that was like unique to Earth.”
“It’s involuntary. It just happens when we’re feeling really content or satisfied.”
“That is even nicer, then. I’m going to have to try to make you purr a lot more.”

* * *
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, UNDER WAY
MARCH 2268
Another two weeks passed and their relationship had grown even closer much to the delight of their friends. Wilkes found himself feeling more and more settled aboard the Delos and found it hard to believe that only four months had passed since he left the Hood and not even a year since he graduated from the Academy.  Briefly he wondered how Angie was doing aboard the Enterprise. By now, she was probably standing bridge watches and planning how to be next in line for the Captain’s chair. He thought back to graduation day on the landing field at the Academy when she had told him that there was something out there for him. She had been right, as usual.
Wilkes finished putting his gear away, closed out the files on his PADD for the maintenance they’d done on Delac’s Tomcat this shift, and headed back to the East Living Pod. He had gotten one of the machinists aboard to make him something special and the woman had finally finished it. He looked at the tiny little box and smiled, slipping it into his pocket. Walking through the Delos’ busy corridors at shift-change always had an impact on him. You tended to forget how many people it took to keep a starship – especially a carrier – running and humming. As a Crew Leader he was usually one of the last to leave his post, which meant he was also usually one of the last to make it to chow.
Indeed, as he walked into the Pod, he could see the rest of his friends had already started in on their meals, so he made a quick stop by a replicator panel and joined them happily. He was glad to see that Corin was there – evidently Eletha had been firm with him about being alone too much. He was even teasing one of her kits, so that was a good sign. Sitting next to Sooth, as usual, he leaned in to her shoulder. “Hiya.”
“Hi.” she smiled back at him. “Did you like Setho’s little double-drill today?”
He laughed, “No. We cycled the damn bird in and out of the launch tube three times, then we got declared ‘destroyed’ so we ended up sitting there reviewing maintenance procedures for the last half.”
“So you loafed. We got yanked from damage control to full armor and a simulated assault transport, then back to damage control drills – while we were still in armor. That’s always fun.”
Everyone began sharing their stories of the day’s drills and wondering if Sethos would give them the night off or run another all-hands drill in the middle of the night. Someone started passing a bottle of Dosadi whiskey around and M’Ralin and Eletha struck up an old a capella song about a famous Dosadi hero who had slain a monster that was carrying off kits in the night.
As the lighting in the ‘sky’ was dimming to the darker blues of late evening, he leaned close to Sooth and whispered, “Would you share a sleeping spot with me tonight? Just us?”
Eletha cocked an ear at him and smiled. “Damn’d Dosadi ears.” he thought to himself.
Sooth smiled shyly and said, “OK.”
Holding his hand out to her, he helped her stand up and the two of them went off in search of a comfortable spot for the night. Wilkes finally managed to steer them to one of the more isolated little platforms.
As they curled up with each other, Sooth said, “You’re being a little strange tonight, Wilkes.”
“I have something for you.”
Puzzled she asked, “What?”
“It’s a gift. Something to show you that you’re special, even when I’m not right near you to tell you so. This will always tell you that.” He pulled out the little box and handed it to her. Silently, she opened it up, pulling out a tiny silver bell with a clasp. Holding it up, she gave it a very slight shake, listening to the faint, musical tinkling sound. “It’ll clip on your earring. It’s tritanium so it’ll never rust, and I made sure it’ll be faint enough so that you can hear it whenever you move your head, but it won’t be very loud, even to your ears, so it won’t be distracting.”
She reached up and attached the little bell with a smile. “No one’s ever given me anything like this before.”
“No one’s ever given me what you have, Sooth.”
“I haven’t given you anything.”
He touched her throat and cheek, “You’ve given me a home, Sooth. You’ve given me your trust, and you’ve given me the most real happiness I’ve ever had. I haven’t had any really bad times, I’ve just been sort of…neutral I guess. Just existing. But you make me feel alive.“ He pulled her close into a hug. They had worked out a method that worked even with the differences between the two species.
As he held her close, he realized he was getting more nervous by the second. “Sooth, if I ask you something, will you promise to at least give me a chance to explain if it comes out wrong?”
“Okay, I guess. What is it?”
He tried to keep his nerve intact. This is ridiculous, he thought. We’re both adults. I feel like I’m 13 again. “Well, um.” He went for the detached approach, “in uh, your culture, how does say, one person let another person know that they…well…want to…mate.”
Her eyes got very wide. Her voice squeaked, “ME?”
He squeezed her tight, “Yes, you.” the trembling was back again, “I don’t want to push you into anything Sooth, I never want to make you uncomfortable, I never want you to be mad at me. If you don’t want to, I won’t ask again”
There was a long silence that he didn’t dare to break. “I.” more silence. “Are you sure? With me?”
He kissed the top of her head, “Yes. There’s no one else on any world that I would want to with, but you.”
“Wilkes, I’ve never…”
“That’s OK, Sooth.”
“But…Wilkes, humanoids are the most prolific species in the galaxy for a reason. I don’t know anything. Dosadi aren’t that…creative about it. What if I…”
He interrupted her. “Hush. Sooth, I don’t care about all that crap. What I care about is you. Being close to you, being part of you, being part of your life. We’ll figure our own ways out to have fun.”
“You won’t laugh at me?”
He kissed her mouth. “Never.”
Much later, he nuzzled at her ear, listening to the faint purring sound coming from her throat as she slept in his arms. It wouldn’t be the last time in his life he wished that he could purr.
He opened his eyes the next morning to find that the ‘sun’ was already well up and that he could hear the sounds of the people on duty today heading out to start their shifts. To his delight, Sooth was still asleep in his arms. Slowly sliding his arm out from under her, he thought that he’d go grab something quickly from the replicators and surprise her with it. Breakfast in bed wasn’t really something the Dosadi did, but he figured today was a good day to introduce the concept.
As quietly as he could, he pulled on some shorts and climbed down to the deck, getting a couple startled glances from people nearby. As he made his way over to the replicator he found that everyone he passed was grinning at him. Even Kam twitched his ears and whiskers at him and shot him a huge smile before turning away. As he picked up the food tray, he heard Eletha say “Oh my.”
He turned to face her. “Good morning!”
She had her hand over her nose. “Um, Wilkes.”
“What? What is wrong with everyone this morning?”
She giggled, “Um. Our noses are a lot better than yours.”
“So?”
“Scent seems to really cling to you humans.”
“Scent? Wha…oh. Shit.”
“You really need a shower, Wilkes.” She was smiling from ear to ear. Leaning close to him, she gave him a quick Dosadi kiss and said, “I couldn’t be more happy.” and she moved over to the replicator leaving him standing there feeling like he had just walked into a classroom naked.

CHAPTER 13
“Look at an infantryman’s eyes and you can tell how much war he has seen”
– William Henry – Earth (Human)

IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, UNDER WAY
APRIL 2268
Two months after the battle at Toulagai, Corin was relaxing in the Delos’ East Living Pod enjoying a snack and some conversation with Wilkes and the rest of their extended group of friends. At the moment, Wilkes was being mauled by Eletha’s four kits, roughhousing with them in mock battle. Their mother, still nursing and therefore assigned to duties in the Delos’ main nursery instead of her usual post as a disruptor targeting officer, had long since learned that she could trust the young human and that she genuinely enjoyed his company. Wilkes had become something of a favorite uncle for her kits who had quickly learned that he had no claws, no fur, and a high tolerance for being used as ‘prey’ and an endless variety of stories.
Shifting his gaze from the ferocious kits to the younger woman, Sooth, Corin wondered what the future held for her and for Wilkes. The pretty young Marine was actually purring and removing one of Eletha’s kits from Wilkes’ back while he was ‘savagely’ mauling two more.  The two, or sometimes three, of them often spent their nights together which had led to more than one rumor floating through the crew – rumors Corin did his best to squelch.
The Dosadi didn’t have a body- or sexual-privacy taboo like the humans did. The clothing they wore was for its utility, not for modesty. Soft boots protected the feet, loose trousers provided pockets and a cloak had many uses, from hammock to jacket to tent. But Corin knew that the humans had both taboos; strong ones.  So he tried to give Wilkes some privacy in both areas. But that didn’t mean he didn’t wonder. There had been quite a few jokes and stories spread about Wilkes and Sooth mating and the oddities involved in that coupling, some of which Corin believed, some of which he didn’t. But it did lead to questions about whether the two species could successfully breed. It wasn’t unheard of for two different races to interbreed but it was unusual. Vulcans and humans were a well-known, if uncommon hybrid and their biochemistries were much more different than humans and Dosadi. He tried not to grin as his imagination provided the image of a hairless pink Dosadi with Wilkes’ face.
Eletha’s quiet voice interrupted his thoughts, “What’s so amusing?”
“Nothing, really. Just letting my mind run free.” He smiled at her. She was pretty enough, he thought, and he enjoyed her company, so why couldn’t he seem to spark any serious interest in her as a mate? Perhaps because every time he looked at her, he saw Nollos’ smiling face, the delicate black markings across the backs of her ears and…He shook his head to clear the vision and she smiled at him,
“I know. It can be hard, can’t it? Like an echo.”
Flicking his ears back and drooping his whiskers he answered “That obvious?”
“Only to one going through the same thing.” She looped her tail across his and nodding towards Wilkes and Sooth asked quietly, “Is that pairing wise?”
Clicking his jaw he chuckled, “I have no idea. What will they do when he returns to the Hood and to his own people?”
“That’s a long journey yet, and the gods alone know its end. Let them have their fun while they can.”
“They’ve surely been doing that.”  he rubbed his shoulder against hers.
“My point was that they are living now, not in the past as we are, nor in the future.” she leaned back into him, surprising him by purring softly.

* * *
DUCHY OF THE SWORD WORLDS, HYDRAN KINGDOM
MAY 2268
As the dawn sun broke over the distant low hills that marked the edge of his holdings, Colonel Jons leaned over the balcony railing, watching as the first light crept across his fields. This was his favorite part of the day, a time of quiet and introspection when one felt the closest to God and one could hear His voice through the silence, setting the tone for the day to come.
When the sun was fully up, he turned and went down to breakfast. His wife, Marin, had the children setting the table and preparing the house for the working day to come. Truly there were few joys as great as home and family, he thought to himself. Though the sight of his two newest children provided just a hint of sadness and regret.
They were the biological children of two of his troopers killed over Toulagai. Both men had joined up to better their caste and were without family or patron. He thought back to that place, unimaginably distant from the Sword Worlds, and to that battle many months ago. Trooper Arens’ damage control team had responded to a plasma fire caused by a Dosadi phaser hit in the heavy frigate Hydrus’ warp drive. With no way to regulate the matter/anti-matter reaction the ship was minutes away from exploding. Without hesitation, Arens had picked up a conduit bridge and charged into the flames, reconnecting the damaged reactor regulation system and saving the ship. He died of his injuries, still holding the conduit bridge in place. His fifteen year-old daughter Sorral and his wife, Beton were now part of Jons’ household. Duty demanded that he look after his men in life, and in death.
The same stern charge brought Trooper Tenon’s wife and young son to his table.  Tenon had been less fortunate – or more, depending upon your point of view – than Arens. Tenon’s battle station aboard the heavy frigate Horval had taken a direct hit from a Dosadi disruptor bolt, leaving nothing but a ragged hole in the hull.
Marin gave him a kiss as he sat at the head of the table, indicating the family should sit as well. “My lord, how are you this lovely morning?”
“Very well, my wife. But I know that look – what clever plan are you about?”
She laughed, a musical sound, as she began serving the members of the household at her table. “I can never hide anything from you, can I Seins? And my plan is not so clever, just sensible. As are they all.”
“How well do I know it?” he grinned at her, “Since we were wed, my holdings have more than doubled in size, I’ve advanced three grades in rank, and our treasury fairly bulges with the results of your skilled handling. My father knew what he was doing when he arranged our match!”
“The best matches advance both partners.” she agreed, “Duty has its demands, but that doesn’t mean one cannot have fun nor gain even more rewards for obedience!”
She put her hand on Sorral’s shoulder, “As such, I believe I know of a good match for our newest daughter here.” the pretty girl blushed, her bright pink skin turning a deeper red and her mother smiled broadly.
“So soon? She’s been with us but a single season!”
“Her skills and charms are obvious to many young men. Lieutenant Sir Chon Tims has been spending quite a lot of time talking with young Sorral here. I think there is much potential for the two of them.”
Jons thought about it. The Lieutenant was young and a bit impetuous. A member of a well-connected artisan-caste family, he was well known for his skill and valor in combat as well as his lack of sense outside of battle. He had been knighted after his first battle but had made little progress since. Sorral, from a peasant class family, had already shown that she had solid good sense and the ability to get people, especially young men, to listen to her. The match would advance her caste beyond her father’s wildest dreams and provide the young Lieutenant the grounding he so sorely needed. Further, the alliance between his house and that of the Chon family would add to his influence in the business world.
“As I said, wife, a truly clever plan. I will speak with his father this very day.”
“You are wise, oh Lord.” she teased him.
Grinning back he said more seriously, “I’ll need that wisdom. I’m to be posted to the Gorn battlestation at Airdrie for the next couple of months as part of a diplomatic mission.”
By now she knew better than to ask for details. “Will it impact our holdings or dealings?”
The reason for the posting was as a military liaison to the Gorn Confederacy. The Gorn and Hydrans had been stirring up the Avatan’s frequent conflicts with the Dosadi and generally doing what they could to make life difficult for the cat people. A few months ago, the Dosadi had lost a major ground battle on the Avatan planet of Corlon. The Marshal responsible for the debacle had been well manipulated by agents of the Gorn Confederacy and had recently defected rather than accept his shame before his own people when the facts became known.
He considered the situation carefully before speaking, “Possibly. Investments in Federation munitions suppliers may be wise.”
“I’ll see to it.” she said, reading between the lines. Conflict was possible, but unlikely to spread, so something that stayed local and was far away. There was the chance for a lot of profit if the margins were played with skill. The future was tricky, but a wise planner could account for likely outcomes.

CHAPTER 14
“Pity the warrior who slays all his foes.”
– Klingon proverb.
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, UNDER WAY
JUNE 2268
The Delos had made good her losses in crew and fighters in the four months since Toulagai. Her new crew members had been trained up and fully integrated into the extended family that made up her crew.
Newly promoted to Admiral, Nolin hoped that they were as good as he and Sethos thought they were. The sensor pickups went live and he began addressing the crews of the largest fleet the Dosadi had assembled in some time. Two assault carriers, a battleship, two heavy cruisers, two destroyers, a frigate, four corvettes, and a pair of minesweepers. Seven full Wings of fighters and a full battleforce of nearly a thousand Marines. In his formal uniform for this broadcast, he truly did look like Puss-in-Boots, but only Ensign Wilkes noticed the similarity, or indeed was familiar with the fairy tale.
“There has been treachery.” He began. To a Dosadi, this was beyond dishonor. “The commander entrusted with the warriors at Corlon was the pawn of the Gorn. Rather than admitting his shame and paying the price, he has fled into their systems, no doubt hoping that he will find some sort of honor among the lizards.” he paused, looking into the visual pick-up. “This cannot stand. He has betrayed his family, his name, and all those who put their faith, their trust, their very lives into his treasonous hands.
“We are going to get him back.” Another pause, “We know now where he hides. And we are going to get him back. The challenge is great! We must cross the Romulan Empire, sneak through the Gorn border patrols, breech a minefield, and defeat an entire fleet before we can even begin to crack open the hole he has hidden himself in – an entire battlestation, covered in heavy phaser cannon, torpedo and missile launchers. But. – We are going to get him back.
There is an additional challenge. The Federation, our friends, our allies, are allied also with the Gorn. Out of respect for them and to avoid creating difficulties for the humans, we must apply the minimum of force needed to get Furball back. But we are going to get him back. I will be calling on all your skill in this battle, all of your courage.
“Your Captains have their orders. We leave immediately. The gods alone know when, or if we return! Honor above all!”
Lounging together in a small clear area in the East Living Pod, Corin, Eletha, Wilkes, and Sooth looked at each other as the broadcast ended. The Dosadi were excited at the challenge – Wilkes dreaded the coming battle. Since Toulagai, the Delos had been in a couple of smaller scraps and each time Wilkes was nearly physically ill from worry. What if the terror he felt at Toulagai hit him again? What if this time, he ran, like a coward?
What would Sooth think? Or Corin? OR Eletha’s kits? The thought was almost more than he could bear. How could the Dosadi be so damn casual about combat? The Challenge Ring was easy compared to battle.
Sooth, draped across Wilkes’ lap said, “About time we Marines got to do some real ground-fighting instead of all this damage control work. And against Gorn too! This is going to be fun!”
Eletha, nursing three of her four little ones said, “For you, at least. I’ll be stuck herding kits in the nursery until mine are weaned and I’m finally free of these damn things” she indicated her six full breasts.
Wilkes, gently rubbing behind Sooth’s ears asked “How can you not be scared? Gorn are twice your size and you’re going to be going toe to toe with them, with nothing to protect you.”
“Scared? I’m terrified! But that’s part of what makes it such fun! I’ll finally get to see what I’m made of – to earn a true tale to tell my kits.” she giggled, “assuming I ever have any.”
Wilkes blushed at the implication and tried to reconcile feeling both terrified and excited at the same time. There was a slight ripple in the ship’s artificial gravity as the fleet moved into warp drive and headed towards Airdrie, in a small outcropping of Gorn space, far from home.

* * *
GORN BATTLESTATION AIRDRIE, IN ORBIT OVER AIRDRIE
JULY 2268
Inspecting Gorn Marine positions aboard the Airdrie Battlestation, Colonel Jons walked alongside Admiral T’Skay. The eight-foot, quarter-ton and more Gorn towered above the four-foot two-inch, eighty-five pound Hydran with his violet skin and bright white hair and his severely cut black and silver uniform. The contrast against the towering, olive-drab colored Gorn in their glittering metallic uniforms could not be greater. “Admiral, I do believe you are ready for any eventuality. Your commanders know their business well, from the electronic defenses to the more…” he waved his hand at the assembled Gorn troops, “Physical. I believe it would take a Division at least to overcome your internal defenses, and they would pay heavily for doing so.”
“I don’t really anticipate anyone trying it, Colonel. With our isolation here, the Romulans on one side and the Federation on the other, a massive minefield and our Fleet positioned to defend us, there is simply no way anyone could dream of trying to take this station.”
As they moved away from the assembled troops, the Colonel looked up at the big lizard, “It’s not exactly ‘anyone’ we’re concerned with here, is it, Admiral? You know what the intercepts are pointing towards.”
T’Skay hissed in frustration. “Yes. They’ve lost track of several Dosadi vessels, but ‘cannot reveal which ships’ to avoid compromising intelligence sources. And the idiot paper-pushing rats have delayed getting Furball deeper into the Confederacy at every turn. ‘Delicate alliances with the Federation’ they say. I’ve again been assured that Furball will be moved within a day or two – for the third time this week. There are days I wonder how the Confederacy can manage to feed itself, much less conduct operations of any sort.”
Jons smiled, “A hazard of any interstellar government, I’m afraid. We men of action must endure the bureaucrats and pay the price for their folly. Still, you are well prepared. If the kittycats do show up, I expect once they see what’s facing them, they’ll turn right around again. At least if they’ve got any sense at all.”
The big Gorn admiral paused, “They’re going to know what we’ve got, Colonel. The damn Federation has saddled me with a Dosadi ambassador to try to ‘normalize relations’. We’ve done our best to keep him away from anything that can transmit further than the kitchens, but I’m expecting that he’s found some way to get the word out.”
The little Hydran hissed, “Then there will be hell to pay.”
“Just so long as the damn cats are the ones paying the bill, I’ll be happy.  Will you be attending the party tonight? We’re showing off Furball to the various diplomatic missions AND, to add to the fun, he’ll be giving a speech!”
Stifling a groan, Jons said, “As the Sword Worlds military attache’, I’m afraid I’m required to be there.”
Later that evening, both military men were trying to drink enough to drown out the yowling coming from Marshal Furball’s seemingly endless speech. Colonel Jons thought to himself, “Thank GOD the Gorn continue to serve food and drink throughout these things or we’d all starve to death before he shuts up.” Jons’ dinner partner that evening was an attractive, if too tall, young functionary from the Federation. And of course, the humans had no real variation in skin color, which made their appearance rather bland to the Colonel’s taste.
The Dosadi ambassador was obviously in a foul mood, which only made Jons feel better about being stuck at the rather silly party. Continuing to engage the empty-headed woman in conversation, Jons noticed T’Skay following an aide out of the ballroom and wondered what was pulling the Admiral away from his triumph.

CHAPTER 15
Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won
– Duke of Wellington – Earth (Human)
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, APPROACHING AIRDRIE
JULY 2268
Corin checked the readouts on Delac’s Tomcat again. Not for the first time he pitied the pilot, stuck inside the launch tube. At least the Thunderbolt pilots had a gunner aboard to talk to. Rejoining his team around the holo-display, he sat back down on his toolbox.
The Delos and her task force had dropped out of warp almost on top of the Gorn minefield and he could see the foggy space indicating the detected mines already beginning to clog up the display. Off to their left was the big Gorn battlestation and a lot of ships. This was not going to be an easy fight, that was for sure. His Team cheered at the loud whhhoooof of the fighter being launched. Minutes later, the com channels began to broadcast the usual chatter from the initial formations as the first orders were issued and acknowledged. The bridge’s selection of battle music started out with an ancient Earth tune, slow and low, ‘The Gael’, matching the tempo of operations aboard ship. Corin thought again that whoever was the bard on the bridge needed some sort of award.
A volley of missiles streaked away from the fighter groups and Corin ordered “Right! Get the reloads up from ready storage now, make sure you’re ready to re-arm and recharge as soon as they’re back. We’re still early on so take your time and do it right.” As was his long habit, he glanced down the hangar bay towards where Lt. Tam’s Hornet was berthed. The new Team Leader there was male and seemed to have things well in hand. Corin always felt that Nollos was still there, somehow, and always half-expected to see her white-clad form smiling back at him. But now, he also spared a thought for Eletha, attending to the kits too young to have regular duties. The nursery was well protected and for that he was glad.
His thoughts were interrupted by a squad of armored Marines jogging up in full battle-gear. One Marine approached him in his mottled blue-grey and tan armor, plasma rifle, and helmet in hand. The one solid, one broken bronze stripe across his shoulders marking him as a Team Leader. “Team Leader Corin?”
“That’s me.” he noticed one of the most junior warriors was Sooth and that she was trying very hard to look as hard as steel.  He was quite sure Wilkes noticed her as well.
“Your Team will be needed to prepare a boarding pad for assault transport.” Different than standard transporters, the boarding pads were high-powered transporters and were send-only. They were designed for rapid evacuation of a ship, or to beam boarding parties through enemy jamming and were placed alongside some of the launch bays, each large enough to beam a standard team of ten and their leader at a single pass.
“Understood. What’s the time-frame?”
“Third wave.”
“Got it.” he turned to his Team. “Crew Leader Wilkes, you will take charge of that duty. Can you get it done?”
“Yes, sir! I’ll get them where they’re going.”
“Right. Go get the Team Leader and his team situated and prepared for beaming, then get back here as fast as you can run. You’re going to have to juggle both duties, but when the time comes, the Marines take priority, right?”
“Understood sir.” Wilkes said, gathered up his crew and jogged off, leading the Marines to the pads.
M’Ralin cheered “They got one! A minesweeper just blew up!” and the other Dosadi joined in. Corin spoke quickly, “We’re trying to keep casualties to a minimum, remember? This is more like the Challenge Ring – we need to win without killing, to force them to give in, not to kill them.”
Ears and tails drooped throughout the team, “Yes, sir.” M’Ralin answered back. Neither of his parents had survived the battle at Toulagai when the weapons pods they were stationed in aboard the heavy destroyer Dosin had been savaged by Gorn fire.

* * *
GORN BATTLESTATION AIRDRIE, IN ORBIT OVER AIRDRIE
JULY 2268
The human woman…”What was her name?” Jons wondered to himself, oh yes, “Rebecca” or some such, simply would not be quiet. She seemed compelled to maintain a steady stream of chatter about the most insignificant happenings across the Federation. Had it not been for his experience with the truly exceptional Ensign Yoshida aboard the Succession, he would discount the entire breed. She suddenly stopped her prattle when a group of half a dozen fully-armored Marines came trooping into the ballroom and took up ‘honor guard’ positions around Furball.
Jons stifled a grin. Someone had screwed up. Had they been in dress uniforms, they might have explained it away, but in combat gear? Were they afraid Furball was going to run? He looked mad enough to spit and the look he shot T’Skay was pure rage.
Realizing that the woman had asked him something about the Marines he answered “No, no, my dear, a guard of honor is not unusual at all for military men.” That was true as far as it went, but in true diplomateese, it left much unsaid. Smiling to reassure her, he was further distracted by a bright flash outside the ballroom’s truly massive crystalline windows, a small white blossom of death slowly turning an angry red against the black of space.
He frowned. That was a ship dying out there somewhere. T’Skay’s leaving the ballroom earlier, the guards, the flash, it could only mean one thing. They were coming for Furball. T’Skay had run out of time. In fact, T’Skay was hustling out of the ballroom again, no doubt to get to his command post. The Colonel wished that he could accompany him rather than being stuck here out of the loop, unable to contribute. His duty was here, unfortunately.

* * *
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, MANEUVERING, AIRDRIE
JULY 2268
Corin and his team were hustling. All 18 fighters had recovered at high speed and they were re-charging and re-arming them as fast as they could. The music reflected the frenetic pace with a fast tempo driving tune; even the kits were moving as fast as their much shorter legs could carry them.
They quickly cycled through their tasks, the tugs pushing the fighters back into their launch tubes, the leaders connecting the various lines and making them ready to launch. Crewmen panted while the kits ran about with energy drinks and small snacks or cleaned up the work areas. Moments after the last fighter was loaded into its launch tube, the loud ‘whoooooouf’ of them launching echoed through the bay again.
Catching their breath and catching up on the battle outside, they saw a Gorn corvette begin making a wobbly turn away from the other ships towards the battlestation, obviously grievously wounded. The fighters again deployed into wings, and again weapons streaked across space.
The tension in the bays increased with the music as the fighter groups held their fire, accelerating to their maximum speed and closing with the Gorn cruisers. Corin ordered, “Get battle damage kits now and make sure the medical team’s ready to go.”
His Crew Leaders jumped to carry out their orders as the tiny dots within the holo-display merged, and then split again. Counting the returning fighters, Corin was stunned to see them all on their way back while both the enemy battlecruiser and a frigate were staggering out of line. But…The entire team was shocked into silence. The huge Dosadi battleship Dorsai was clearly hit badly by the Gorns’ return fire.  Everyone aboard was friends with or knew someone serving on her and the fear everyone felt for their well-being was palpable.
But there was no time to worry about their friends as damaged fighters began streaming into both ends of the open deck, slamming into the retarder fields. Delac’s Tomcat had taken a couple of light hits from enemy phasers, gouging melted tracks through her wing and hull plates, but nothing serious. Two of M’Ralin’s crew began bonding patches and replacing damaged wiring and optical harnesses while Wilkes’ crew struggled to reload the bird’s weapons and re-charge her shield and phaser capacitors.
Corin spared a moment to glance into the next bay. Medics were hauling the pilot, Lt. Rrawl, out of her smoking cockpit. A replacement pilot was already standing by while the team struggled with replacing the Tomcat’s canopy and bonding plates over the gaping hole in the hull. There was no time to worry about their friend. Others now had the responsibility for her. The bird needed to be ready to go again, immediately.

* * *
GORN BATTLESTATION AIRDRIE, IN ORBIT OVER AIRDRIE
JULY 2268
Colonel Jons could hardly be more disgusted. There was clearly a massive battle going on outside and he was stuck in a dress uniform at a dancing party. “Might as well be a dress.” he thought to himself. Young Rebecca was pestering him for his opinions on what might be happening, and displaying a bureaucrat’s usual knowledge about military matters: None whatsoever.
“My dear, starship combat is not quite what you’ve seen in the entertainment suites. There are no handsome, heroic pirates flying to the rescue in a shuttlecraft, nor are things quite as clean as you see there. A ship is a team where everyone must play their part and believe me the casualties are very real, very bloody, and very personal.”
She seemed to not believe him, “What I don’t understand is how there’s any sort of fight at all. Whoever it is must know that Starfleet doesn’t allow this sort of banditry. Do they think there’s something to steal? Do they think they can get away with disturbing the peace and causing all this damage? It’s not right.”
Struggling to maintain his diplomatic composure, the Colonel tried to explain, “Madame, in the first place, we are a long way from Federation territory. In the second, Starfleet allows, and in fact often encourages, a great deal of banditry in the name of maintaining the peace. Thirdly, if what I think is occurring is in fact occurring, they are not coming here to steal anything. No bandit possesses the firepower needed to seriously threaten this station, much less the Gorn fleet stationed here.”
“Why Colonel! You must not know very much about Starfleet. They’re the maintainers of peace throughout the galaxy! Why, they protect everyone – they’re a force for Justice.”
Staring at the woman, Jons made one more attempt. “And do you think the Romulans, or the Klingons, or the Orions would agree that Starfleet protects everyone? Or do you think that they would even agree with your definition of Justice?”
She was clearly struggling with the concept, “Well, Justice is a universal, Colonel, everyone knows that. And yes, I think they would agree with me. The only times we’ve fought with them it was because they attacked US. Starfleet is a defensive organization only.”
He smiled, “But of course. How silly of me.” Another very bright flash outside the window caught his attention. Looking back down, he saw the Dosadi ambassador offering a silent toast across the room to T’Skay, who got up and quickly left again. “Well, in any case, Starfleet is not here, but it appears that the Dosadi ARE.”
“The Dosadi? They’re so cute! I don’t think they would attack the Gorn – we’re all allies, it would be silly for them to attack an ally. If they were attacking us do you think the Dosadi ambassador would still be here? Look! He’s having a great time! And the guest of honor is a Dosadi besides.”
“My dear child, the Dosadi are not whatever you think they are. They are vicious, blood-thirsty and utterly without fear. Their entire lives are dedicated to fighting anyone and anything that gets in their way. The guest of honor there, is an outcast who has, to their twisted way of thinking, betrayed their society and they are very likely coming here to get him back,whatever the cost.”
“Well, I guess we’ll see who’s right, won’t we, Colonel?” she smiled brightly, utterly certain that she was correct and Jons, as a Soldier, was just too ignorant and hide-bound to really understand the world as it was.
Jons rubbed his temple and reminded himself again that his duty was to be diplomatic, to be patient, and to be calm. “Indeed, we shall! If you are right, I shall buy you a bottle of your favorite wine as a prize.” and he smiled at her.

* * *
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, MANEUVERING, AIRDRIE
JULY 2268
The fighters had returned again, and again his team moved as quickly as they could, hauling 400 lb missiles, heavy cables, hull patches, parts, and tools up and down the birds. The exhaustion was starting to tell on his team. But the work needed to be done fast, and perfectly every time. Each time they returned, there was more battle damage to be repaired, more friends being hauled out of cockpits with burns, impact or shock injuries, and more parts to be replaced – both living and mechanical.
They had damaged the enemy carrier though, with Delac leading Green Wing in an assault that was followed by the destroyers and the heavy cruiser Thelet. Her fighters were airborne now though – it was vital that the Delos’ own birds be back up immediately or the Gorn fighters would do to them what they had just done to the Gorn. It seemed like an eternity before the fighters were finally back in their launchers and the familiar sound of their launching echoed throughout the bays.
Sitting on his tool box, panting and trying to down an energy drink, Corin watched the swirling combat outside his ship. The holo-display showed six Gorn Thunderbolts being annihilated by Delac’s Tomcats before they could even get a shot off. Three of the Hornets from the heavy cruiser Dinen charged into six Stings from the Troy, and while the dogfight raged, six Gorn Tomcats launched their own missiles at the Delos moments before being obliterated by a plasma-torpedo shotgun fired by the Dinen.
Watching only a single Sting struggle away from the fight, Corin wondered about the Gorn. Three entire wings, destroyed. 24 pilots and gunners, gone just like that. The Gorn maintenance crews waiting for their birds to return, for their friends to jump out of cockpits with their tales to tell of valor and courage. But of course, they would never hear those stories. He knew one of the Team Leaders in Black Wing and wondered if one of the three lost Dosadi Hornets was his. They would have to tell the tales for those who no longer had a voice. The Gorn pilots were brave and fought hard. They deserved no less.
And again he found his thoughts returning to Nollos, her smile, the ferocity with which she did her job and drove her team, and how much he missed her.  He hoped that Eletha was staying safe. But the empty fighters were returning again – there was no time to waste on personal thoughts.
“On your feet!” he roared, “Break time’s over you lazy kits! Get the reloads up from ready storage NOW! You! Kit! Get that crap off the deck! Wilkes! You had better get those fucking tools where they belong or you’re going to be eating them when Delac lands – Secure that shit.”

* * *
GORN BATTLESTATION AIRDRIE, IN ORBIT OVER AIRDRIE
JULY 2268
Colonel Jons had just regained his seat after safely maneuvering his much taller partner around the dance floor to a dance that had been popular on Earth before they even discovered warp drive. He was glad that he didn’t have to try to dance with a Gorn. As he reached for his wine, he noticed T’Skay drench several people sitting across from him. He wondered what it was the aide whispering in his ear had said. Whatever it was, it obviously wasn’t good as T’Skay almost ran out of the ballroom.
He tried to think how many ships the Dosadi could have brought with them – it couldn’t have been very many. The Romulans would never let a large fleet through their territory, they hated the Dosadi more than anyone after the Razing of Romulus.. Would they? What would it take for them to do so…?
The flashes outside the big windows were getting closer. That clearly meant that things were not going well for the Gorn. The green lines of phaser blasts were visible now and the streaks of missiles and fighters racing between invisible starships glittered against the deep black of space. What size fleet had the cats brought with them? The Gorn fleet was massive, with fighter support from both a carrier and the station. He began to wish he had brought his own battle armor and weapon with him. The closest thing to a weapon he had available was a steak knife. Rebecca interrupted his thoughts again.
“I said, thank you for the dance, Colonel.”
“Huh, what? Oh, of course, I’m sorry, I was distracted. The pleasure was entirely mine, madame. The Gorn set an excellent table, do they not?”
“Yes, they do – what is this wine?”
“Ah! It is actually a drink from my home-world. A fermentation of a vine-fruit that is close to your grapes but with a much crisper flavor, I think you’ll agree.”
“Oh definitely.” She glanced up as a number of rapid-fire flashes lit up the windows. Colonel Jons recognized them as exploding fighters and grimaced at the deaths that represented.
“Well, battle or not, it’s quite pretty from here.” she said. “Like fireworks!”
The Colonel made no reply, saying a silent prayer for the souls of the dead – of whichever side.

* * *
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, MANEUVERING, AIRDRIE
JULY 2268
Wilkes, dripping sweat and splattered with lubricant and coolant got Corin’s attention, “Corin, we’re down to our last reloads in ready storage, we’ve used up about half our total missile reloads and if they don’t start giving us more power for re-charges, it’s going to take a lot longer to get the birds ready to go again. We’re running low on hull patches and coolant. They’re pushing the birds harder then they were ever designed to go and they’re getting shot to shit.”
Corin studied the holo-display. The fleet was closing with the battlestation, and several more Gorn ships had been forced to disengage. The Delos staggered as several weapons struck home. Most of the ships had begun taking damage but so far Nolin was maneuvering his ships like a master, forcing the Gorn to continually engage different ships without the opportunity to concentrate their fire.
“Corin, they’re on their way back again.”
Sighing heavily, his tail drooping Corin replied, “Get the last reloads up from ready storage I’ll tell the bridge we need more made available. Figure out something on the power, we don’t have it to spare. Use the coolant and the patches until they’re gone, and then piss in the damn tanks and cut plates off the hull if you have to.” He turned to a comm-panel and began punching buttons.
As Corin finished his report to the bridge, the first fighters began to slam down the deck, the scream of displaced air matching the groaning of the retarding fields and the exhausted teams jumped to their tasks again.
The music was still playing throughout the bay, but the weary crews were too tired to sing. Pilots staggered out of their cockpits to lay flat on the deck while frightened, tired kits tried to give drinks and snacks to the sagging adults. Almost half of the pilots had become casualties to one degree or another and the Delos was out of replacements. Laying on his back next to his shattered helmet, his face bloody and trying to recover some sense of balance, Delac was still issuing orders through his com-set. “Tell the medical officer that he needs to start triaging the pilots. We’re all beat up. We need to keep the birds manned and flying, that’s all there is to it.”
Delac watched the holo-display while he tried to catch his breath. Another Gorn ship exploded. As thick, green lines raced across the display from the battlestation to their sister-ship the Eleth, he exclaimed “By all the gods!” The phaser-IV’s slammed into the carrier along with a cloud of weapons from the Gorn fleet. In return, the Eleth’s fighter groups were shooting the hell out of anything that moved.

* * *
GORN BATTLESTATION AIRDRIE, IN ORBIT OVER AIRDRIE
JULY 2268
“What on EARTH?!” Rebecca exclaimed as the lights in the ballroom dimmed and the entire room flashed bright green for a moment.
Furball spun around in his seat and looked out the big crystal windows, finally realizing what had been happening behind him.
Colonel Jons picked up his wine glass and admired the crystalline sapphire color of the drink. “That, my dear, is a Federation designed fusion-powered heavy Phaser Cannon Mark IV, with an impact energy of about 20 megatons. The fact that the station is firing them means that the Dosadi have managed, somehow, to burn through a rather large minefield, shoot through T’Skay’s massive battle fleet and get close enough to the station to be in range of those weapons. I believe your phrase for it is ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner?’” and he smiled.
The young woman looked up, her mouth hanging open. “It just can’t be. There must be some other reason. Come, dance with me! It’s still a party, right?” The Colonel was stunned. Did this woman inhabit some other universe? He allowed himself to be urged onto the dance floor. They were still dancing when the lights dimmed to a battle-red and a full squad of twelve armed and armored Marines began to take up defensive stations in the ballroom. There was light applause from the bewildered diplomatic guests as six Thunderbolt fighters launched past the windows, angling up into space.

* * *
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, MANEUVERING, AIRDRIE
JULY 2268
Corin was still watching the holo-display as he argued with the Manpower officer on the bridge. The Delos was still taking hits although it sounded like her shields were holding most of the time and the damage was minimal. The ISS Dinen in an act of valor beyond anything he had ever seen had undertaken a nearly single-handed attack on the battlestation, absorbing a constant pounding by the phaser cannon and managing to down the station’s number-six shield in the process. She was now racing up and away from the station, all six of her shields utterly collapsed and damage scattered across the entire vessel. Corin simply could not understand how the ship had not been destroyed.
But while they were shooting the heavy cruiser, they were NOT shooting anyone else. The Gorn fleet was essentially combat-ineffective with only one vessel still actively maneuvering against them. They had closed to within transporter range and the fighters were sitting in their launch tubes waiting for the next strike assuming their pilots didn’t collapse from exhaustion while sitting in their cockpits.
“Wilkes! Take your crew down to the boarding pad. It’s time.”
Clearly exhausted, Wilkes got to his feet, gathered up his four crewmen and made their way down to the boarding pad. He approached the Team Leader, a big male named T’Awn. “Team Leader, if you wanted to get your team ready, we’re within range now. The order could come at any time.”
“Understood Crew Leader. We’ve got a few minutes – one of my crews is on a damage control call right now, but I’ll signal them to return.” He began to speak into his com-set as Wilkes caught Sooth’s eye. They made their way a short bit apart from the rest of the Marines.
“Are you ready? Are you OK?” he asked her.
Her blue eyes were wide and she was trembling slightly. “I think so. I can’t decide if I’m more excited or terrified.” she chuckled. “I think terrified.”
He studied her for a moment. She looked supremely dangerous in her camouflaged armor, with a heavy plasma rifle in her hands, her armor festooned with ammunition, knives, and explosives and a combat helmet tucked under her arm. But what he saw was a beautiful young being, someone who had become more dear to him than anyone or anything in the universe. The fact that she looked like a large cat had nothing to do with what his heart felt. He wrapped her in his arms in a powerful hug – not a gesture the Dosadi used but one Sooth was well familiar with by now and returned with gusto. A few of the other Marines chuckled at this odd display and exchanged knowing looks.
Wilkes turned away from her and began preparing the transport pad, opening sensor arrays and looking for weak points in the Gorn jamming fields designed to scatter transporter beams.

* * *
GORN BATTLESTATION AIRDRIE, IN ORBIT OVER AIRDRIE
JULY 2268
Rebecca was becoming irritated. The dim lighting was acceptable, but when the heavy fiber-coil window shields slid into place, cutting off the view of the stars and the Marines stationed in the ballroom began to flip tables over, it was simply too much. The gas-tight doors had come down, effectively trapping them all in here and was this really necessary?
Still dancing with Colonel Jons she whined, “I say, I don’t see why they have to dirty up OUR party! Why, these Dosadi won’t bother us! We’re civilians! See? Even the Dosadi ambassador is still enjoying his dinner!”
Disgusted, Jons glanced at the ambassador. He was digging into his steak with a huge, fang-baring smile on his face, chuckling every now and again. The Colonel would have sworn that the man was purring. Returning his attention to the empty headed Federation bureaucrat he said, “Madame, the Dosadi consider civilians to be a particular delicacy. If this station cannot fight them off, you may find yourself being served at THEIR next party.”
“Eek!” she said, dumfounded. Sheltered her entire life by the power of the Federation Starfleet, she had almost certainly never been in any physical danger in her life. The concepts she had been exposed to tonight had shaken her to her very core.
Moments later the station began to shake and ring as though the entire structure were being slammed by a giant hammer. Her eyes wide, she tried to grasp what was happening. Colonel Jons said “I’m sure that Starfleet won’t allow anything to happen. Shall we continue our dance? We should set the example, after all!” and he urged her back into motion.
They continued to dance as the sound of distant explosions began to be heard over the music. The Colonel felt that things were getting a bit surreal. He could hear the sounds of infantry combat through the hull plates and knew that Marines were fighting it out. He hoped that the Gorn defenses were as strong as they looked. But, he noted, there were ragged gaps in the Phaser Cannon fire coming from the station and he was not hearing much, if any, anti-fighter fire from Gatling phasers. That did not bode well.

* * *
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, MANEUVERING, AIRDRIE
JULY 2268
Wilkes held up two fingers to the Team Leader “TWO minutes! TWO!”
The big cat signaled his team and they crouched into assault formations, each crew of four and their leader ready to clear their side of whatever space they materialized in. An assault transport was the riskiest possible military operation. Defenders would have a fraction of a second to see where they were going to appear, and another fraction of a second before the Dosadi could react. Training – both quality and quantity –  meant the difference between life and death.
Sooth tried to stop her hands from trembling as she knelt, looking through her close-quarter optics and covering what would be her sector as soon as they materialized.
“SIXTY SECONDS!”
Her mouth was dry and she desperately wanted to pee. Her heart was hammering in her chest. She could hear her teammates breathing in her ear-piece.
“FIVE SECONDS!”
She reminded herself of her training, deep breaths to calm herself and steady her heartbeat. Scan your sector. Engage any targets. Her crew would move to the Crew Leader’s right and clear that half of the room, then sweep around clockwise and meet up with the other crew. Easy.
“ENERGIZING!!!!” She felt the world turn inside out. Wilkes shamelessly stole power from any system he could find, working the slides on the console to find a weak-point in the timing of the Gorn jamming fields. There was a large open-space on the sensors with what looked like a low population density. He aimed for the center of that spot and slammed the beam down as quickly as the system could manage it, praying to a God he had long forgotten that this would give Sooth that extra fraction of a second and keep her team intact…and then everything was obscured by a new wave of jamming. Breathing hard and with a sick knot of fear in his gut, he stepped back from the controls and headed back towards the fighter bay.
Colonel Jons opened his mouth to suggest that the two of them return to their seats when he heard the loud hum of a transporter beam. The music would mask the sound from anyone not within a few feet, but to him it was like an alarm horn. Shoving the empty-headed young woman down and away, he dropped into a fighting crouch as a blue-grey and tan mottled Dosadi Marine appeared directly in front of him, the muzzle of a plasma rifle inches from his face.
With the lighting speed of the highly-experienced combat-veteran that he was, he grabbed the barrel of the Marine’s weapon and dragged them towards him. In a gun fight when you had no gun, the safest place was right on top of your enemy.
Sooth blinked to clear her vision from the fastest transport she had ever been through and felt someone grab her rifle. As she pulled back, dragging the tiny violet-skinned humanoid towards her, she heard her team opening fire. The two of them tumbled, with the little man kicking into her belly and launching her up and away. Maintaining her hold on her weapon, she landed on her back and swung the barrel – and the man, still clinging tightly to her weapon but seemingly crawling up it – back down, firing several rounds towards what could only be Gorn Marines as she did so. She had no idea if she hit anything or not and the sounds of plasma rifles and rail guns were drowned out by her own cursing and by that of the strange little man in the black and silver uniform. As they struggled they rolled across a young human female who was screaming and crying in terror. Flat on her back, Sooth was finally able to slam the butt of her rifle up and under the man’s chin and then followed with a smashing blow to his face, knocking him off of her. As she rolled onto her stomach and began engaging the Gorn on her side of the room she felt a searing pain go up her back as her armor slammed up into the back of her helmet.
It was an agony like nothing she had ever felt before. There was more noise, and screaming and it was getting hard to see. Probably the smoke, she decided. She continued to fire at the knot of Gorns across from her, unsure how many were still returning her fire. There was an explosion near her, people swearing in Dosadi, and she realized her helmet was gone and with it her com-set.
Struggling to reload her plasma rifle, she noticed the floor was covered in blood. That was going to be a serious mess for some kit to clean up. She finally got the magazine into the weapon, and decided that she should start to sweep clockwise. Her team was supposed to go clockwise. Rising to her knee, she shot several Gorn troopers who had been firing in a direction that made no sense to her. She felt good about her marksmanship; she saw them fall. The plasma rifle was a devastating weapon and she was quite good with it.
She tried to turn more to her right. It was getting very quiet in the room, perhaps they had got them all. Even the lights had been shot out, she thought. She felt another impact in her left shoulder but it didn’t really matter. She had armor. She could barely see another pair of Gorn troopers in the dim light and engaged them both, wrestling with the heavy rifle since her left arm didn’t seem to want to work any more. Probably because Wilkes was laying on it. Whenever he did that it always fell asleep like this. And sleeping with him was always so nice. He was warm, and she was so very cold for some reason.

* * *
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, MANEUVERING, AIRDRIE
JULY 2268
Wilkes was trying to hurry back to the fighter bay. He had heard them launch again and knew he and his crew would be needed there within minutes. He saw Corin and M’Ralin manhandling a Countach missile out of the ready locker and then a Gorn phaser sliced through the hull and into the bay, splitting the 20′ missile in half and throwing both men into the bulkhead like rag dolls.  Firefighting gas was discharging into the bay as burning coolant, lubricants and propellant sprayed in all directions.
It was the nightmare all over again, except now, Corin wasn’t there – Corin was hurt, his head a bloody mess. It was all Wilkes. He was the only Leader left. Everyone in the bay was down and the fire was spreading fast. And finally, Wilkes understood. He understood the Dosadi philosophy, he understood his own life, and everything made sense in one blinding shock of clarity. Our lives are a story, a story that always ends for everyone. What mattered was when you came to the end of your tale, how you wrapped it up.
Yelling over his shoulder as he ran, “FOLLOW ME!!” he led his crew into the burning bay against the smoke, the flames and the venting atmosphere. “Get them out of here! MOVE!” The ready-locker was open, its ballistic door blown off by the phaser blast, a half-dozen missiles exposed to the flames. If those went off inside the bay, there wouldn’t be anything left of anyone. He grabbed a fire-fighting kit and began blasting the flames away from the locker, his back to the warheads.
But he was running the Red Queen’s Race – having to run twice as fast just to stay in one place. If he could just hold the fire off long enough for his crew to get the wounded out of the bay, they could blow a hull-plate and vent the fire into space or something. But there was no time – the door was closing to isolate the bay and it was getting so hot. His uniform was beginning to scorch and blister and he could feel his face burning. God it was hot. The fire-fighting kit wouldn’t last forever and it felt like the flames were getting closer. If only he could see if they had gotten everyone out, he could leave and they could let the door close. But it was too hot, he couldn’t even keep his eyes open and god it was hurting so bad. He hoped Sooth was OK. He coughed as he inhaled a lung-full of toxic smoke and that was the last thing Wilkes knew.
CHAPTER 16
“What we leave behind is as important as how we’ve lived. After all, Number One, we’re only mortal.” – CPT Jean Luc Picard (Human) aboard USS Enterprise
“Speak for yourself, sir. I plan to live forever.” – Commander William Riker (Human) aboard USS Enterprise
GORN BATTLESTATION AIRDRIE, IN ORBIT OVER AIRDRIE
JULY 2268
Colonel Jons came back to consciousness with a start. The first face he saw was that of Consular Officer 4th Class Rebecca Roberts. “Colonel? Oh, please be OK. Please!!”
He tried to sit up but gave up on that idea almost instantly. When he tried to speak, he found that was nearly impossible, producing a mumbled groan. From long experience he realized he had taken some fairly massive facial trauma. That meant weeks in regeneration, but it was certainly better than being dead. He struggled to make her understand that he needed to know what had happened, what the situation was and she finally got some glimmer of what he was after.
“Oh! It’s terrible! Everyone’s dead and everything’s blown up and it’s horrible and we’re all going to die!!”
Since Jons could hear people moving around and wasn’t hearing weapons fire, he was reasonably certain she was incorrect. He managed to gargle out “Dottthadi?”
“They left. It was so awful! You almost crushed me when you grabbed that one! She shot a bunch of Gorn. She was terrible! I thought the Gorn were going to win and then she just started killing all of them!”
His eyes bugging open despite the pain, he struggled to ask “Wwooman?!”
“Yes, it was a girl. Her helmet got blown off when something exploded near us. It’s a good thing the Dosadi were all around where it blew up, it HURT!”
Grenade, he decided. And it would seem he was continually underestimating the females of other species. That was a habit he was going to have to break. “wwoooman.” he slurred again, slowly shaking his head back and forth.
“Oh it’s OK, Colonel. I think she died. They shot her a lot because she was killing them.”
Slowly turning his head to one side, he could see large chunks of Dosadi battle armor scattered around the floor, big pools of congealing blood and a shattered blue-grey and tan combat helmet as well as several empty plasma rifle magazines. Bits of medical kits, and bits of people were mixed in with the scorch marks and other debris. He could also see the bodies of over half a dozen Gorn Marines laying grotesquely where they had fallen. His eyes welled up at the losses. “Fucking Dosadi” he thought to himself. Trying to speak clearly he gurgled out “Wwheere?”
“I said already. They left. After they killed everyone they talked to the ambassador and a few minutes later they all left. Even the ambassador!”
Struggling with his damaged mouth he gasped out “bodieth?”
“All OVER!” Seeing the expression on his face a small, dim light went on in her brain and she said, “Oh. The Dosadi, They took them with them. I think there were seven of them killed. I know three were. You could tell. Some of them got on me.” She shuddered and then vomited at the memory and began weeping uncontrollably.
Finally a medic made his way over to them, “Sorry to take so long , Colonel. There were heavy casualties.” He relaxed. At least he would live to see his home and family again.

* * *
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, UNDER WAY
AUGUST 2268
Eletha sat nursing two of her kits, listening to the soft whirs and beeps of the medical equipment attached to the diagnostic beds. The other two were playing quietly around the equipment, but being good.  The deeper thrum of the pulse monitor began going faster and she leaned over the form in the bed, still covered in healing-gel, the burns visible even through the disgusting blue-green of the gel.
Wilkes’ eyes opened and darted left and right, struggling to make sense of what they were seeing, struggling against the restraints. Eletha said quickly, in Standard, “Shh! You’re going to be OK. Don’t fight. You’re in the hospital and immersed in gel. Your lungs and skin were badly burned. This will help you heal but you must relax and let it work. It’s going to feel very strange, but don’t try to breathe – your lungs are full of gel. But you don’t need to breathe. It’s OK. You’re going to be fine.”
His mouth opened and closed again, his eyes puzzled.
Eletha pulled a small circular communicator out of her belt and spoke into it. Wilkes was clearly struggling to say something but there was simply no way that was going to happen.
A few minutes later, Corin came into the room sporting a rakish eye-patch and with a sizable chunk missing out of his right ear.  He leaned into Wilkes’ field of view and smiled. “Well, it looks like there’s something left of your tale after all! I’m glad I’ll be around to hear it, thanks to you as I understand it.”
Wilkes struggled again and Corin said “Be still, Crew Leader. I know – you want to know what happened. Relax and listen to the tale and each part will be in it’s proper place.” Corin hitched his butt up on the edge of the bed so that Wilkes could see him through the gel. Having been in the gel himself once before he knew how distorting it was to both sight and sound. He hoped they’d be able to regenerate his eye and ear without another trip into that horrible muck.
“I’ll begin where my memory ends. The phaser hit came from the battlecruiser Zion and cut straight through the Delos’ east hangar pod. It was just our bad luck that it hit when we had the ready-locker door open. In any case, the explosion knocked myself and M’Ralin and his entire crew out of the fight. M’Ralin didn’t make it, I’m afraid, but the rest of his crew did, thanks to you. Your crew was able to get everyone out before the door closed, even those that were buried under debris.
“And there you were, standing in a plasma fire like one of the gods themselves, forcing the flames away from the ready-locker while the air-tight door came slamming down like Loreth’s blade. Now let me just say that you are the luckiest being that I have ever encountered. Apparently one of the hull plates let loose right after the door closed and blew you – and the fire – and a bay full of atmosphere out into space. Directly in front of Lt Voreth’s crippled Thunderbolt on recovery. He said he almost ran you down, but instead, his gunner had the forethought to snag you with their grappler beam on the way past and into the landing deck. You were exposed to vacuum for about 15 seconds is all. Which, of course, is plenty long enough to give you more scars than anyone should be allowed!
“The reports I got back from the Marine party you beamed down were also astonishing.” Wilkes eyes were narrowed, focusing on Corin with everything Wilkes had.  “According to them – and the transporter logs – that was the fastest transport on record. Speaking of which, Admiral Nolin wants to speak with you personally about an unauthorized redirection of power from the fighter bays to the boarding-pad. However, they were also the only team that materialized in an intact formation until we took out the Gorn jamming fields so I wouldn’t worry too much about that.
“There’s some hard news though, Wilkes. The Marine team materialized almost in front of Furball – how you managed to find him none of us will ever know, but they were surrounded by no less than eighteen Gorn Marines. A bunch of the Gorn grabbed the traitor and ran, but engaged our team on the way out while the remaining dozen shot it out with the team. They were getting slaughtered when Sooth, who had been grappling with some Sword Worlds diplomat clubbed him like a baby seal and just started picking the Gorn off like she was on a shooting range. The Gorn seem to have taken that personally.
“They shot the hell out of her, Wilkes. When the team recovered wounded, her armor had been almost completely shot off. But while they were shooting her, she just continued killing them one after another. Battle records show that she was directly or indirectly responsible for killing eight of the twelve and wounded two of the six guarding Furball. They fought with great honor, Wilkes. Not a single civilian was hit by our fire, but they paid the price. Five dead including the Team Leader and six injured, three massively.”
Seeing Wilkes struggling in the gel, Corin finally realized what he had failed to say “No! No! Ahh! I’m a fool, Wilkes, she’s alive. She was one of the critically injured! I said when they recovered wounded they got her.”
Wilkes’ eyes were still wild and Eletha said quietly, “Tell him.”
“She’s not conscious, Wilkes. The medics don’t know if she ever will be. She lost a massive amount of blood and they’re having to regenerate a good size chunk of her shoulder and a lot of her back. Her skull was fractured in several places, one ear was shot off…” Wilkes eyes were closed. It was impossible to really cry immersed in healing gel, but it was obvious to the two aliens that that was what was happening with his mouth open and his chest struggling against the gel. The Dosadi believe knowledge is power and have no culture of breaking bad news gently. There was a faint hissing sound as the bed administered an anesthetic and Wilkes lapsed into a drugged sleep.

* * *
DUCHY OF THE SWORD WORLDS, HYDRAN KINGDOM
OCTOBER 2268
Finally healed and back on his own holdings, Colonel Jons was indulging himself with a glass of wine by a roaring fire while a winter monsoon doused the fields. Thanks be to GOD he was done with regeneration and able to again enjoy his wife’s cooking and little creature comforts like this.
Sorral was safely married off to her young Lieutenant and his wife had already taken advantage of the new influence that pairing had brought them. Truly the woman was a marvel. He allowed himself to gaze into the fire and thought about that. He knew women – the good ones at least – were capable managers of house and purse. But he was forced, now, to accept that there was much more to the gender than domestic pursuits. That young human aboard the Succession for instance. He had never in all his 75 years encountered someone able to helm a starship like that.
Rubbing his hand along his newly regenerated jaw, he remembered the Dosadi Marine who had crushed his face. He had reviewed the ballroom sensor logs that T’Skay had sent him and she had been very young. Her battle armor had no stripes of rank on it whatsoever – she was a raw Troop but had reacted flawlessly, beating him fairly and then carrying out her duties with a single-minded focus like none he had seen in many bloody battles. He recalled watching the tapes as she calmly fired her weapon despite repeated hits from Gorn fire and then reloading and continuing to fire even after a grenade hit and one shoulder had been blown nearly off. He had actually wept when she finally toppled forward into a pool of her own blood, but then, the Colonel was a very emotional man.
It was a pity she had died, but the Federation woman was right. There was no way anyone could survive that many wounds. He would have liked to have met her under different circumstances. Woman or no, she had been a Warrior and definitely worthy of the title Marine.

* * *
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER ISS DELOS, UNDER WAY
FEBRUARY 2269
Corin walked along with Wilkes as they headed towards the Delos’ launch bays. “So, you’re returning to the Hood?” he asked. His new eye itched and the new skin on his torn ear was still hairless and left it feeling cold.
“Well, it’s time, Corin.” he laughed, “My orders were to the Delos for a year, not forever. That’s not how the Exchange Program works. They had to extend it to allow me to recuperate here.”
“Yes, but you’re not seen as a Federation officer any more, Wilkes. You’ve proven yourself. You’re a Dosadi – just an uncommonly ugly one.” He smiled at the human, “Look at yourself! A Warrior Pendant, an Honor Tattoo around your eye and an earring. I’ve seen Federation entertainments – they’ll think you’re a pirate.”
Wilkes laughed, “I’ve already cleared being able to continue to wear both as a ‘Foreign Decoration for Valor’”  But I’ll tell you this, it’s not forever, Corin. We just wanted her to get a taste of MY culture before we settle someplace. Captain Karmes was fine with taking Sooth on as a Security Officer, despite her injuries – and you’ll get another human in exchange!”
Corin groaned as they entered the shuttle bay. “Hopefully THIS one can learn to speak Dosadi. Your accent is still atrocious.”
Wilkes and Sooth both laughed as Wilkes took the handholds on Sooth’s wheelchair and began to push her into the shuttlecraft. She was still a patchwork of fur, scars, and bald new skin. She turned her head towards Corin and said, “Once I get out of this damn thing and we get back here, I hope to hear that you and Eletha are mated.”
“It’s too soon for that, yet, Sooth.” Corin said and as the shuttle door slid closed he said more softly, “But in a year’s time? Who knows? That’s a long journey yet.” and he turned to go back to the East Living Pod.

CYCLE 2 – TRIAD
CHAPTER 1
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” – Plato (Human), Earth.
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER, USS HOOD, UNDER WAY
JUNE 2269
He was holding his arms out to Sooth as she moved towards him across the bay and she suddenly dissolved into blue-white plasma, surrounding him with agony. He tried to scream, tried to beat the flames back with the fire-fighting kit but nothing was happening. He couldn’t move – he couldn’t breathe. The flames solidified into paralyzing blue-green slime, filling his lungs, drowning him. He tried to shout that she needed help, that she was hurt that…
Ensign Thomas Wilkes woke with a start, drenched in sweat, gasping for breath and on the verge of tears, feeling Sooth’s arms pull him close, “Shh.” she spoke softly in Dosadi, “It was just a nightmare. I know. It’s OK. Let it go.” Still shaking, he buried his face in the soft fur of her chest, letting her heartbeat and the soft whirring sound of the USS Hood’s ventilators wash away the sound of the flames from his nightmare. They had gotten considerably less frequent in the year since the battle at Airdrie, but they would never go away entirely.
If it wasn’t him waking with a scream or in tears, it was Sooth crashing awake and trying desperately to get clear of him. More than once he had found himself thrown across the room while she screamed curses in Dosadi at him. His trips to Sick Bay to get the deep scratches resulting from her kicks patched up had become something of a running joke to the late night Med-Techs. Usually good-natured, but there was always the occasional twit making comments like ‘More rough-sex with the cat lady?’ No matter how far human society and culture evolved, there would always be idiots.
Not that their relationship hadn’t caused a lot of running jokes and crude commentary anyway. Starfleet was remarkably tolerant of different cultures, even of people enjoying relationships with people in those other cultures. But usually it was something a bit more…well, HUMAN. Vulcans looked like slightly mysterious people. Orions – particularly the women – were just humans with a bit more color and exciting appetites. Betazoids were indistinguishable from humans…but a cat?!  Wilkes had been disciplined once for beating to a pulp a Lieutenant from the astrogation section after the man made a comment about whether or not there was a litter box in their quarters.
It didn’t help that Wilkes continued to wear the Warrior Pendant, nor the tattoo around his eye. He had taken the earring out while on duty, but he flatly refused to take the Pendant off, and Captain Karmes had allowed it besides. It really didn’t matter much to Wilkes what the few fools thought, or said. The vast majority of the crew aboard the Hood were good people and most saw him as an interesting eccentric and Sooth as a fascinatingly exotic teammate. Although he refused to discuss specifics of what had happened during his tour aboard the ISS Delos, stories still spread. Some true, some false.
The Federation was at peace and military skirmishes like those that the Hood had participated in at Toulagai were very rare and of little importance to those not directly involved. Usually the risk to Starfleet crews was from the unknown, the undiscovered, or the undetected. Most of their time and most of their missions were spent on voyages of exploration and science, not of battle and conquest. It was a sharp contrast to the smaller, fringe empires like the Dosadi who spent a lot of time squabbling over resources or territory.  More than one person had commented that the Federation encouraged these little fights as test-beds for their weapons, tactics, and technology.
To the Hood’s Engineering section, Wilkes’ heavy combat experience with Green Wing was a welcome source of real-world expertise and the Chief Engineer had rewritten a number of the Standard Operating Guidelines (SOGs) and procedures based upon his recommendations. In Security, Lieutenant Wu had placed Sooth in charge of training and they now ran frequent boarding and damage-control drills based upon her experiences. But like Wilkes, outside of her duties, there was no real discussion of what she had seen, or experienced, especially not those horrible few minutes at Airdrie, nor the many agonizing months of healing and therapy afterward.
That morning, the Security Team had just finished a repel-boarders drill and Sooth and her new partner Petty Officer Kalea Mahi’ai were stowing their gear in the womens’ locker room. As the drill leaders, they were the last in to get cleaned up. Putting the heavy armor into the rack, Kalea said, “I’ve been in Starfleet three years and I don’t think I’ve worn this crap as much in the whole three years as I have since you came aboard, Sooth.”
Sooth smiled, “I was surprised how little Starfleet wears armor. We wear it all the time in the Imperial Fleet – it stops a hand phaser cold and even a phaser rifle takes a solid hit to get through it. I don’t understand why Starfleet Security still uses hand phasers at all.” She ran her hands across her head and ears, “Ugh. Helmet fur.”
Kalea explained, “Starfleet doesn’t do a lot of combat – at least not without plenty of warning. You can’t stun someone with a plasma rifle or a rail gun.” She winked, “We’d rather do our enemies in by peaceful means…”
Laughing, Sooth stripped off her uniform and headed into the shower, “Must! Get! Clean!” Always a fast learner, by now her Standard was quite good, although still with a noticeable accent.
A few moments later, Kalea followed her in, teasingly saying, “And here I thought cats didn’t like water.”
Sooth bared her fangs at her, but her ears were up and she said, “One of these days I have GOT to see one of these cats everyone says we look like in person.”
“When I was a little girl in Waimea – back on Earth –  we had a kitty, she was so soft and fuzzy.” Pausing a moment the little Hawaiian said, “Sooth, can I ask a really personal question?”
“Yes.” Sooth began applying shampoo – a sizable task on a five-foot being covered in fur.
“Well, how old are you, anyway?”
“I’m 18 Earth-Standard years. Dosadi are considered adults at 16, Earth-Standard. And we usually live to the late 80’s if we die of old age, which isn’t often.” and she chuckled.
There was a pause, filled only with the sound of running water and Kalea continued, “But don’t you want to have kitte…I mean a baby some day?”
Sooth laughed, “We call them kittens, well, that’s the closest Standard word to it. And yes, I do. Now, anyways. I didn’t used to.”
“CAN you? With Wilkes, I mean…I’m sorry, that’s really personal. I shouldn’t have asked you that. My dad always said I was as curious as a ca..um.”
Sooth smiled, “I don’t mind. We don’t know yet. There’s something about chromosomes and haploid numbers and after that it got technical.” she shook her head, spraying water in a dozen directions, “There’s at least one doctor who thinks it’s possible, on Earth.”
“Um….would it look like you, or like Wilkes?”
“I have no idea. Just so long as they have fur…” she flicked her arm towards Kalea, the water sheeting off her fur in a blast.

CHAPTER 2
“Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.”
– Ambrose Bierce, Earth (Human)
IMPERIAL ROMULAN WARBIRD VENGENCE, UNDER WAY
JUNE 2269
Relaxing in the guest quarters aboard the Romulan warbird Vengeance, Colonel Sir Jons Seins, Knight Commander of the Hydran (Sword Worlds) Marines picked up his PADD and let the device do a fast scan for listening devices or monitoring fields. Finding none, he frowned. There was simply no way that the Romulans would leave a foreign officer unmonitored. They had simply changed the fields to something that he couldn’t detect.
Removing a small hourglass shaped decoration from his uniform, he set it on the desk and activated it. The Klingon device, a flat hourglass shaped bit of metal, began emitting weird multicolored lights and a loud hissing sound. Smiling to himself, Jons thought “Whatever they’re using, that will block both audio and visual.” and he activated his PADD and began reviewing his notes from this mission. Ostensibly he was returning from what was left of Romulus after delivering tons of Hydran medical supplies and Federation quadrotriticale grain to help with the humanitarian crisis that had engulfed the planet after the Dosadi raid that had devastated an entire continent almost 3 years ago. However, in addition to his overt mission, Jons had conducted a bit of business – business that would be extremely profitable for his own family and for his Duke and which, if played properly, could lead to just the right amount of instability between the various Star Empires of the known galaxy.
Scanning the information on his PADD, he examined a sort of ‘wish-list’ from the Romulans. Information on the Federation’s latest cloaking-device detection technology as well as some of the more subtle refinements to phasers and shields topped the list. The Romulans were on the ropes and needed all the help they could get, Jons thought to himself. And they were willing to pay handsomely. Add to that the construction contracts for firms he had an interest in and things were working out rather nicely. His wife was an absolute marvel at managing the massive web of directorates, stock interests, and the various commodities that made up interstellar trade. For instance, the Federation had no trade with – and in fact had an active ban on trade with – the Romulan Star Empire. So, many Hydran companies acted as a sort of neutral third party, brokering deals both legal and illegal – from the Federation’s point of view anyway. Hydran financial rules were extremely strict about privacy and virtually guaranteed that private business stayed private. One’s duty demanded that confidences be kept. They did business with everyone – Klingon, Federation, Avatan, Romulan, Gorn, Orion, it didn’t matter. Business was always non-aligned.
There was a soft chime from the door and Jons quickly killed his PADD, deactivated the sensor jammer and replaced it on his uniform. “Come.” he said.
“My Commander wishes you to know that we will be de-cloaking soon to rendezvous with your cruiser. You will want to make ready to disembark.”
“Very well, Centurion. Thank you.”
CHAPTER 3
“We cannot destroy kindred: our chains stretch a little sometimes, but they never break..”
– Marquise de Sevigne’, Earth (Human)
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS HOOD, UNDER WAY
AUGUST 2269
The USS Hood was making way towards Earth, a rare event for Starfleet cruisers. Usually they were on the frontiers patrolling or exploring or showing a Starfleet presence. However, there had been rumors of espionage by the Romulans and Captain Karmes and his first officer, Commander Kagiso Botha had information too sensitive to transmit over sub-space, encoded or not. They were to be met by the USS Enterprise as apparently Captain Kirk and Commander Spock had been actively involved in counter-espionage against the Romulans as well. Meanwhile, the USS Yorktown was taking over their patrol duties in this sector.
The visit would allow them to exchange several officers as well, trading several experienced section leaders for raw new officers fresh out of Starfleet Academy and promoting several other officers aboard-ship. Others would muster out of Starfleet, their tours finished, and new recruits would join the ship as enlisted crew fresh from training at Great Lakes Facility or it’s sister site at St. Petersburg, Russia. Further, the trip meant a rare opportunity for Earth-side leave for those who had family there.
Among those requesting such leave was Ensign Wilkes, to see his parents living in the hamlet of Leyburn in Yorkshire, England. Sitting in the Chief Engineer’s tech-manual cluttered office he said, “Sir, I’ve got more than enough leave accrued. My medical leave aboard the Delos doesn’t count against me.”
Chief Engineer Ethan White leaned forward, his elbows on his coffee-stained desk, “Thomas, it’s not whether or not you’ve got the leave coming to you. Your section chief and I are both worried about…well, your plans for the future and how they will impact both your service to Starfleet and your family on Earth.” The little Australian was clearly uncomfortable with the topic.
Wilkes was irritated and decided to make the man come right out and say it. “My plans, sir?”
Looking disgusted, White said, “Yes, your plans, Wilkes. I know you’re planning on meeting with Dr. Mantoux in Marseille. Have you really thought through what trying to have a…a…a whatever with her will be like?”
“It’s a child, sir.”
“Don’t be an ass. I know that. But what kind of child you young drongo!? Is it going to be more human, or cat? Do you have any idea the difficulties that child will have growing up no matter what it turns out to be? Neither human, nor Dosadi, just a..a..bitser, a half-breed.”
“I thought we had gotten beyond that sort of thing these last few centuries, sir.”
White glared at him. “Of course we have, Wilkes. I’m not being a bad guy, nor a racist, nor a tyrant. But no matter where you go there will be those who will see any child of yours and Sooth’s as a monster. Even people who are tolerant of aliens are going to be unsettled. Children of two different cultures – especially those as different as Dosadi and human, always have it hard. And when you’re talking mixing two entirely different species and two entirely different basic biologies…You’re asking for a nightmare. Assuming it’s even possible and assuming the pregnancy doesn’t kill her anyway. Did you think about that?”
“Yes, sir. We’ve talked about all of those things. Dr. Mantoux feels certain that he can produce at least one viable embryo and that he can devise a protocol so that she can carry it to term, and that it will be a healthy, happy, child.”
“Are you sure his name isn’t Frankenstein?”
“Sir?”
“Never mind. I’m sure you know that Starfleet regulations do not allow me to interfere with decisions of this nature in any way, but I can and DO strongly advise you to consider what it is that you are attempting, how it will impact your lives, your families, and her. I like Sooth and I resent you trying to make me out to be some sort of intolerant bigot. I’m almost three times your age, Wilkes and I’ve seen more cultures on more planets than you can even imagine. You think that the whole world’s against you and you’re in love and that’s all it’s going to take. I hope like hell that you’re right, but I can tell you life is not a fairy tale, nor one of the damn space operas that’s so popular right now and it rarely turns into happily ever after.” He kicked his feet up onto his desk and growled out,  “Now get out of my office before I kick your ass on general principle. And give my best to your parents. If your mother gives you any of those Yorkshire curd tarts she makes and you fail to give me some, I will see to it personally that you spend the rest of our trip back to the Toulagai sector cleaning the spare dilithium crystals with your tongue.”
With a laugh, Wilkes stood up and said “Yes, sir. I’ll tell  her, sir.” and stepped back into the corridor. As he walked back to his quarters, he did think about what the Chief Engineer had said. His parents were ultra-conservatives, still living in the same village they had been born in. Neither had ever been off planet, or indeed out of England,  and both were still active members of the Church Of England, which despite all indications several times in the past, still existed. They had been excited to see him join Starfleet, but as fans of popular entertainments were sure that he would be killed by space pirates, kidnapped by bug-eyed aliens, or forced into slavery in the kingdom of the insect people. He had tried to keep his letters home neutral and hadn’t mentioned the severity of his injuries at Airdrie, nor a lot of details about Sooth.
He was beginning to worry about that last part. They knew he was in love with someone. They knew he was going to make a life with her. They knew he wanted children with her. What they didn’t know was that she was Dosadi. He had always thought he’d find a way to tell them later. Well, it was later and he was out of time. He decided he’d just bull his way through it. After all, this was the 23rd Century, not the 18th.
Sooth was considerably more worried than he was. Like all Dosadi she was fascinated by history and had spent quite a lot of time reading up on human culture. Her friends among the crew had given her plenty of information about human mating traditions – and she knew that Wilkes’ parents were big on traditions, something she approved of.
Dosadi mate for life. Sex between unmated couples was common and seen as a sign of a deep and lasting friendship. But once a Dosadi took a mate, their interest in anyone else pretty much went away. They were monogamous by choice and by tradition. There was no real ceremony to recognize the change in status, it simply became a fact of life. Wilkes was her mate and had been since before Airdrie – but in the human world, there were ceremonies to go through, rituals to complete, and the ever present forms to be filed. And she had absolutely no idea how she would, or could, fit into any of those traditions and rituals.

* * *
NORTH YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND, EARTH
SEPTEMBER 2269
Riding the shuttlecraft down from the Hood to Heathrow, Wilkes was holding Sooth’s hand. To his eyes, she was beautiful, the silver of her earring and the cream and tan of her fur against the midnight black of her cloak with it’s solid bronze stripe of rank. But she was trembling. Come to think of it, he decided, he was a little nervous himself. He wondered how his parents would react to his appearance.
He had put on several pounds of muscle since he had signed up. The last time they had seen him was when he had posted to the Hood. Freshly graduated from Starfleet Academy, his mother had loaded him up with biscuits, a Yorkshire curd tart, and plenty of tears. His father had given him a solid handshake and a clap on the shoulder, a massive display of emotion for the big Yorkshireman. And now, he was wearing the uniform of a Starfleet Lieutenant (Junior Grade), a Dosadi Warrior Pendant around his throat, a silver earring in his left ear and a tattoo around his left eye. There were still some faint scars visible on his face and neck. Perhaps not quite what they were expecting. Glancing at Sooth he thought not at all what they were expecting.
When they stepped off the APV at the village station, his parents’ eyes widened.
His mother, short and a little overweight clapped her hands to her mouth and said, “Or my god, ‘es turned pirate!”
His father, a tall, solidy built man and ever unflappable said, “Don’t be daft. Nah then, son, oo’s this…lass?” he finally decided.
Taking her hand in his, he said, “Mother, Father, I would like you to meet Sooth… my mate.” Trying her best, Sooth put her hand on the hilt of her sword and executed a reasonable curtsey.
There was a complete silence stretching out into several seconds. His poor mother finally said, “Tha’s marryin’ a….cat?’
Sooth’s ears and tail drooped instantly and Wilkes was quick to correct her, “Mother, Sooth is a Dosadi, she’s also a Marine and a decorated combat veteran.”
His father said, “Aye, the lass looks proper tired too. Le’s ge’ home fer tea.” Fortunately home was a short walk from the station in the tiny hamlet and Wilkes’ mother was desperately trying to make up for her faux pas while his father, his usual talkative self, contributed perhaps six syllables.
A short while later, Wilkes was in the yard with his father so ‘our lasses can ge’ ta know each other a bi’.’ and he started trying to explain what had happened to him. His father, always reticent, simply listened as his son began to talk, and it all came spilling out. The terror he felt at Toulagai and the horrible guilt after Corin had saved him and let Nollos die. How Sooth had been there for him, how they had fallen in love. About Eletha’s kits, and the fire and the horrible events over Airdrie and what had happened to Sooth. He talked about the healing-gel and what he felt like when he thought she was dead, and almost worse, helping her through the pain of regeneration and the endless therapy and his own scars. He told of seeing his friend M’Ralin’s blasted body, and the pilots who didn’t make it, of friends killed or burned or wounded and about how he felt like a chip in a stream being tossed about by waves he had nothing to do with. He told his father about the nightmares they both still had and finally, the dreams they had for the future. Finally, there was nothing left to say and he lapsed into silence, feeling washed out and empty.
His father looked across the rolling green hills of England and said, “Rate. Sounds propah nasteh. An I didn’ take t’lass t’be nesh.” Stretching he said, “Le’s ge’ back an see how our lasses or gettin’ on.”
Wilkes laughed so hard he almost cried. He finally gained enough control of himself that he hugged his discomforted father and they walked back into the house.
As they came into the sitting room where the tea was still set out, his mother jumped to her feet and held him tight, crying “Oh, Thomas, I ‘ad no idea i’ was like tha’!! Thee didna’ say tha’ was hur’ tha’ bad!! Nor tha’ bloody nightmares!”
Holding her tight, he looked at Sooth. Her ears dropped a little and she said, “She had the right to know, Wilkes.”
“Mother, did she tell you HER part of the story?”
“Nae, Thomas.” She sniffled and looked at her son. “Thee ha’ better tell the whole thin’.”
Wilkes sat next to Sooth and began to tell his tale again, this time with Sooth contributing her side of the story as well, sparing nothing. The Yorkshireman and his wife sat silent, listening as their son and his mate told of horrors and of wonders. Of friends and comrades who would never return, of shipboard life and quiet times shared together. Wilkes tried to explain how it was to try to adapt to Dosadi patterns, and Sooth explained the meaning of the Dosadi awards he now wore. She talked of her family and her culture and her struggles to adapt to life aboard the Hood. They talked for hours while his parents listened, and watched the two of them.
As they talked, his parents stopped seeing an alien in their sitting room and instead began to see a person. And the more they watched the two of them exchanging little touches and contributing to each others tale, the more they saw what their son saw.
The sun had long since set when they finally finished talking about their hopes for a child.
His mother finally spoke, “Tha’ canna’ have a child ou’ o’ wedlock! Tis a sin, an thee has sinned enough.”
Wilkes broke down in howls of laughter, much to his mother’s annoyance, and Sooth swatted him several times, “Wilkes! Stop that! Respect your mother!”
“I’m sorry! It’s just that with everything we’ve been through and all the problems ahead of us…sin isn’t high on my list of things to worry about, mother.” Sooth swatted him again and his father glowered, saying,
“T’lass has better sense than thee, Thomas.”
“Mother, I’ve not been to church since I was a boy, and Sooth isn’t even a member of the Church!”
“Tha’s nowt, Thomas. I’ll call t’vicar in t’morning.” Fortunately for Wilkes, the Church of England was not the sort of denomination that discriminated. Which is why two days later he found himself slightly bewildered, wearing a dress uniform standing next to Sooth in a borrowed wedding dress saying vows in front of a church full of very curious locals.
One of the natives leaned over to his neighbor and whispered, “I nae though’ I’d see a ca’ in a dress bein’ married before God.”
His neighbor looked at him and said, “Nae, thee no dou’ expected a sheep.”

CHAPTER 4
“Espionage, for the most part, involves finding a person who knows something or has something that you can induce them to secretly give to you. That almost always involves a betrayal of trust.”
– Aldrich Ames – Earth  (Human)
PARIS, FRANCE, EARTH
SEPTEMBER 2269
Colonel Jons was sitting at a street-side table at Cafe Le Sancerre on Rue des Abbesses in Paris. Away from the more popular tourist locations, it suited his purposes. Though he was wearing civilian clothes, it is simply not possible for a short, violet-skinned man with white hair to be non-descript in a human city. Aliens were not uncommon in Paris, but they still stood out from the crowd of everyday Frenchmen no matter where they went.
Enjoying a strong black coffee and reading a real paper copy of Le Monde he watched the city go through its morning rituals. Jons felt that coffee was one of humanity’s lasting contributions to the universe and inhaled the aroma gratefully. As he was glancing over the cricket scores – a sport he followed avidly when he was in human space – a tall Frenchman in a dark suit seated himself across from him.
“Bon jour, Colonel Jons.”
“Just Seins today, Robert. And Standard, please. My French isn’t what it should be.” He folded the paper and set it down, smiling at his guest.
“Very well, Seins. Is this a…good place to talk?”
“You know as well as I that as things stand these days, one place is as good as another.”
“I see. What brings you to Paris?”
“I’m here for the shopping, of course.”
The tall man smiled, “You diplomats, always shopping. Of course, Paris is famed for it’s shopping. Are you looking for anything special? And is this trip for yourself, or for a friend?”
“The same friend I was shopping for on my last visit – and perhaps for myself as well. I have a list, of course. Some coffee?” He reached for the pot and poured the man a cup. At the same time he smoothly dropped an isolinear chip into the saucer as he clunked the spout of the pot on the edge of the cup, masking the sound of the chip falling.
The Frenchman enjoyed his coffee, the two of them turning their discussion to the cricket matches and France’s chances against England in the football World Cup this year.
“Well, Seins, it was as always pleasant to talk with you. I wish you luck with your shopping. Are you in Paris for many days?”
“Perhaps another week, and then I must make a short trip to Marseille to conclude some business for my Duke. There is a duty that I must perform.”
“You Hydrans and your duties…” the Frenchman shrugged and stood up. “Bon jour.” and he made his way down towards Rue Ravigan. As he left. Jons noticed a tall black woman who had been window shopping across the street immediately turn to follow him.
Frowning to himself, Jons thought for a moment. Robert would, as was his habit, make a loop around the block to see if he was being followed. He would have to cut through the park before taking the Metro. Habits would get a man killed in this business, Jons thought disgustedly.
Leaving a few credits on the table he got up, pulled his cap more tightly onto his head and headed directly to the empty park. Finding a place where his small stature would leave him concealed but without making him look like he was trying to hide he relaxed as though he were simply enjoying the morning air. He didn’t have long to wait. A few minutes later, Robert came walking past as though he hadn’t a care in the world. As he headed down to the Metro station, the woman following him was hurrying to catch up before she lost sight of him. Focused on Robert, she didn’t see Jons and he quickly took advantage of her inattention, the flat-bladed Hydran knife killing quickly and silently as he stepped backwards with her into the shadows of the greenery, another sad victim of a robbery gone wrong.
Quickly relieving her body of anything of value, he found the Starfleet communicator he expected – These could be tracked. Standing up he moved rapidly into the Metro station, purchased a pass and got on the train. Leaving her communicator hidden under a seat cushion, he got off at the next stop, dumping her valuables into an incinerator bin. But not before checking her ID and noting that she had been one Commander Kagiso Botha. He frowned to himself. That name sounded familiar. Having to kill on these sorts of missions was an unpleasant duty, one that should not need to be undertaken. Robert was becoming too careless. A carelessness that could expose his Duke, and that could not be tolerated.
Although Robert’s position within Starfleet’s Research Branch was extremely useful, that utility was being outweighed by the danger he was creating with his carelessness. Jons decided that his duty to protect the Hydran’s penetration of Starfleet outweighed Robert’s usefulness. There were others to be considered as well.

CHAPTER 5
I am glad of all details, whether they seem to you to be relevant or not.”
– Sherlock Holmes – Earth (Human)
USS ENTERPRISE, IN ORBIT OVER EARTH
SEPTEMBER 2269
In the briefing room aboard the USS Enterprise, Captain Karmes was furious. “Kirk, you said you’d be able to monitor her, that there was little risk, that she would be safe.” Chief Engineer White sat by his side in stoney silence.
Kirk frowned and Spock explained, “Captain, with the information that we had available at the time, Commander Botha should have been safe. Indeed, we remained unaware of her fate for some time as her communicator signal continued on its path along the Metro. Whoever the enemy agent is, they are highly adept. Commander Botha was a skilled officer. They left no physical traces upon her communicator and we have not yet recovered any of her other possessions.”
Karmes was not mollified, “How did you lose sight of her? Aren’t there public sensors in Paris for God’s sake? How in the hell can a Starfleet officer be murdered in broad daylight and no one sees or hears anything? And who was she following?”
Continuing, Spock explained, “She was following up on a lead we had developed from one of Captain Kirk’s contacts within the Romulan Star Empire.” at this, Karmes cocked an eyebrow at Kirk who simply smiled back at him. “Indeed, the information you and Commander Botha brought acted to confirm and focus our suspicions. There is indeed a penetration into Starfleet Research. Your information has allowed us to localize that leak to the Advanced Sub-Space Fields facility at Marseille. That lead led her to the individual she was following. Unfortunately, she did not identify that person before she was killed and he seems to have expended considerable effort to avoid the public sensors in Paris. Her last communication was that the man she was following was apparently meeting his contact at the Cafe La Sencerre in Paris.
“Shortly after that, the sensor logs are fogged.”
“Fogged? How do you fog a sensor log?” White asked.
Leaning his elbows on the briefing room table, Kirk spoke up. “Klingon technology. It’s called a dazzler. It produces a combination of white noise on a number of spectrums that effectively jams sensors over a short distance. This is highly classified, but it can be set to do anything from completely blocking all sensor detection in a small space to degrading what is captured in a large area to such a degree that everything looks…well…foggy.”
Continuing, Spock said “The fact that the individuals involved move freely among the Federation planets while spying for the Romulans and utilizing Klingon technology provides several clues, as do the sensor logs that we do have.
“I was able to reconstruct an image from the logs that should provide a further clue.”
He pressed a button on his console and the view screens displayed a badly blurred image of a very short person in what could only be a cap.
“You’ve got them then! All you have to do is check the logs of the sensors leading up to where they got fogged and find this guy.” Karmes exclaimed.
Spock raised an eyebrow. “Indeed, Captain. That is exactly what I am doing. However, as you expand the search radius and time frame from this datum, the number of sensor logs increases exponentially requiring a detailed reconstruction of the damaged logs and an analysis of…”
White, studying the blurry, blobby image interrupted. “Hydran.”
There was dead silence in the room for a moment. Kirk said, “Explain.”
“Look at the height – but the build is too heavy to be a child. And the cap, he’s covering his hair and skin color. He knows he’s being monitored. And the Hydrans trade with everyone – Klingon, Romulan, Federation…
“That, Chief Engineer White, is a very logical conclusion.” Spock said.
Karmes said,, “So all we have to do is find the Hydran who was at that cafe’ at that time. Should be easy, right?”
Spock raised his eyebrow and tapping on his console said, “Captain Karmes, there are currently 11,237 Hydrans known to be on Earth. In Europe alone, there are 4,602, due to their business dealings on the European continent. Attempting to localize each of these and cross-reference their travels with the Cafe La Sencerre will take a considerable amount of time and require a massive analysis of sensor logs. That is likely to take more time than we have as the individual we seek will no doubt leave the planet once they have collected the information that they are here for.”
“How much time, Commander?”
“At least 6 days, 11 hours, 13 minutes and 42 seconds, Captain Karmes.”
“Any idea when the information is supposed to be handed over?” he asked.
Kirk spoke again, “My contact is expecting that they will receive the data in no more than five days time at Toulagai.”
“Toulagai? There’s supposed to be a Romulan cruiser being given safe-passage to the starbase there right about then. They’re negotiating for emergency medical and food supplies for Romulus. The Yorktown’s going to be escorting her.
“Wait, there can’t be that many Hydran ships going that direction from Earth – We can monitor those ships!”
“Unfortunately, the Hydrans are prolific businesspeople and there is at least one ship every day heading to, or from Toulagai which serves as a sort of hub for many of their dealings. We have taken the precaution of alerting Commodore Selek to be on the lookout for espionage activities and sabotage”
“But if we can find this Hydran before they leave, we can undo the whole thing, right?”
Spock commented, “Precisely, Captain Karmes. We are in a race against time.”
At that moment the bosun’s pipes sounded and Commander Scott’s voice was heard, “Scott to Kirk”.
Kirk slapped the button in front of him, “Kirk here, Scotty.”
“Aye, Cap’n, We’re startin’ the refuelin’ an resurfacin’ the dilithium chambers now. We’re right on schedule.”
“How long, Scotty?”
“’Tis a five day job, Cap’n. Starfleet’s handlin’ it tho so I’ve sent most o’ my crew ta leave.”
“Keep me posted, Scotty, Kirk out.” He looked up at Captain Karmes, “Looks like it’s your turn to be the only ship in the quadrant this week, Bob.”

CHAPTER 6
Life is short, the art long, opportunity fleeting, experiment treacherous, judgment difficult.”
– Hippocrates – Earth (Human)
MARSEILLE, FRANCE, EARTH
SEPTEMBER 2269
Wlikes and Sooth left Dr. Mantoux’s office near the waterfront in Marseille, Wilkes holding her arm.
Marseille has always been and still is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in all of France. Seeing an alien, even one that looked like a five-foot cat walking arm in arm with a human attracted virtually no attention from the locals. Talking as they walked, Sooth said, “That was…uncomfortable, undignified, and…yuck. Let’s just walk for a while. I don’t want to go back to the hotel.”
“Sure, anything you want. I’m sure it was nasty.  But at least its over now, right?”
“Or hopefully just starting. And YOU had the easy part you big monkey!” she glared at him, ears swiveling back and her eyes narrowing.
“I know, Sooth. After three days of being poked, prodded, sampled, and inspected, I can only imagine how you feel right now.”
“I thought medicine was supposed to be all hands-off. This felt like something from a hundred years ago.”
Wilkes gave her arm a squeeze. “Dr. Mantoux is one of the only Dosadi anatomy experts on Earth, Sooth. And he’s no fan of technology – except when it serves his purposes. His whole office is the biggest study in contrasts I think I’ve ever seen. But he’s also one of the best xenogeneticists in the Federation.”
“I know. I think he said ‘the finest sensors ever invented are eyes, ears, nose and touch’ about a dozen times. But I was going to kick him the next time he said ‘well that’s interesting.’ while he was…working on me. I felt like something being dissected!”
“It’ll be worth it right? IF it works?”
She was quiet for a while as they walked, and Wilkes was starting to fret. “What if it doesn’t, Wilkes? What if it was all for nothing?”
“He said that the recombinant process went well, that at least one…”
“What if its a monster?” and she began crying.
Stopping on the sidewalk to take her into his arms, he smoothed her fur and said, “Shush. That’s not possible.”
“Still sobbing she said, “Its going to be horrible and you’re going to leave and…”
“Holding her shoulders he made her look at him, “Sooth, that’s all the goofy hormones he’s pumped into you. Remember, he said no excitement for the next couple of days to make sure the zygotes can implant, right? Remember he said you were going to be all over the map emotionally but to try to keep calm? Remember?”
She sniffed, ears, tail, and whiskers all drooping and he continued, “Besides, Sooth, whatever child comes from you will be wonderful and I’ll love it because it’s part of you. And it will be beautiful whether it’s got my green eyes and pink skin or your soft fur and tail. And I’ll never leave you, Sooth. I swear it. I would die without you. I never felt so empty as when Corin was telling me what happened to you and I thought you were dead. It was the most awful feeling ever.”
Nuzzling her forehead under his chin she said, “I’m sorry, Wilkes. It’s almost time for dinner, can we get something to eat?”
“Sure, there’s bound to be a cafe or a pub or something here somewhere. Let’s just walk a bit until we find one.”

* * *
Standing in the deepening shadows of a waterfront warehouse, Jons waited patiently for Robert. As he watched the sun begin to set over the breakwater, Robert came up with his typical casual attitude. But, Jons noticed, he was actually doing a fine job avoiding the public sensor nets. Perhaps, he wondered….but no, the decision had been made.
“Bon soir, mon Colonel!” Robert said cheerily as he saw the little Hydran.
“Bon soir, Robert. Standard, s’il vous plait.”
“Tres bien.” Robert chuckled. “Really, Colonel, we must work on your French on your next visit.”
Jons smiled at him, “Were you able to fill my shopping list, Robert?”
“Of course. It’s really quite easy, you know.” he held up a small pouch clinking with isolinear data chips. “And you have my usual fee for acting as your concierge?”
Extending his hand, Jons held out a single shining isolinear chip to the tall Frenchman. As Robert grasped it, he turned his hand sharply and Robert exclaimed “Ouch!”, drawing his hand back, sucking at a small cut on his finger.
His eyes opened wide. Struggling, he gasped out, “No! Wait!” and sagged to his knees.
Jones looked at him sadly, “I’m really quite sorry, Robert. Duty demands that we part on these terms.” As the dying man struggled to stay upright he continued, “Have no fear, Robert. Arrangements have been made, your loved ones will be cared for. Duty requires no less.” He continued to watch, dispassionately as Robert collapsed from a massive cerebral hemorrhage and died.
Bending down, he retrieved the little bag of chips and placed it in a small diplomatic pouch.  Standing back up he thought to himself, “There, that has been discharged. Time for something to eat.” Staying out of the sensor nets for the next few blocks, he decided to enter a small pub set back among the usual waterfront warehouses and the like. It had the look of a rather uncultured sort of place and that suited his mood tonight.
Finding a booth in a dim corner, he ordered the strongest coffee they had and began to peruse the menu.

* * *
Holding the door for Sooth, Wilkes looked around the dim little pub. He saw a number of French football posters and jerseys on the wall and the few patrons he saw looked large and disreputable. Glancing down at his own English Three Lions shirt, a gift from his father, he said “Um, Sooth, this might not be the best choice.”
“I’m sure it’s fine Wilkes.” The delicious aroma of cooking meats was making her ravenous and she walked in and sat at one of the small tables in the middle of the pub. Neither of them noticed the little man sitting in the booth and for once, preoccupied with his meal, his PADD and the pouch of data chips, he failed to take much note of the two latest arrivals. Just another Dosadi and a human, certainly nothing to pay particular attention to.
As they were working through their meal, Wilkes was becoming more and more uncomfortable. The pub had been slowly filling with young roustabouts, all wearing the French tri-color in one way or another. Sports teams were one of the few vestiges of nationalism left in the Earth of the 23rd century and football was still king. Soccer hooligans were still a frequent cause of public disorder. “And here I sit in a French pub wearing English football colors. NOT smart.”
Wilkes became aware that the young toughs were making more and more overt comments about him and about Sooth. So was she.
“I wonder if le chatte would like some milk?” One of them had leaned in close. Wilkes was trying to get a feel for how many of them there were and he decided about a dozen. Sooth was looking at him, ears back, eyes wide looking for cues as to what to do in this situation. On Dosad, she would simply fight them in the challenge ring, one at a time…except she was supposed to avoid any excitement for the next few days…
One of them, the real wit of the group, pointed at Wilkes’ Warrior Pendant, tattoo and earring, “Mes amis! What are we doing? It is the fearsome Capitain Midnight! The space pirate from the serials! Merde!!” to raucous laughter.
Speaking to Sooth Wilkes said, “We should leave. Now.” Standing up he tried to put some credits on the table to cover the bill only to have The Wit grab his arm.
“But you are leaving? So soon? Non, monsieur Tommy! We will get some milk for your pussy…but wait what is this? You BOTH wear the collar?!” he poked at Wilkes’ Warrior Pendant and Wilkes jerked his arm back, Two more were interfering with Sooth’s attempt to stand, ignoring the deepening growls coming out of her.
“Don’t.” he said quietly.
The Wit exclaimed, “But which of you holds the leash?!”
Jons finally looked up from his PADD and wishing there was some way to copy the vast amount of data on the chips. The pair who had walked in earlier were being harassed by some local dimwits. Smiling to himself he thought, “Evidently these boys don’t know much about the world outside of Marseille. The young man is muscled like a fighter and putting hands on a Dosadi was a fast way to lose those hands. He could see the back of the…female? And the human’s face indicated he had just about reached his limit. He was surprised the Dosadi hadn’t gone completely berserk by now.
Frowning, he realized that there were more than a dozen of the toughs. Not really any of his business he supposed, but that was hardly winnable odds for anyone. He simply wasn’t in the mood to watch a pair of innocent tourists get beaten. Replacing the loose data rods in his pouch and pocketing his PADD he heard a hissing snarl and saw the first two of the toughs go flying as Sooth kicked back and up out of her chair at the same time Wilkes was smashing The Wit’s face into the table.
Making his decision he took a small hand-stunner out of his jacket and quietly made his way over to the group that was starting to pile on the two embattled patrons. As he was crossing the floor he noted that most of the customers were evidently used to this sort of thing and did nothing more than move their chairs and beer out of the way.
Wilkes wasn’t quite panicked yet. There were too many, but they were holding their own so far. But he had to stop this – Sooth shouldn’t be doing anything like this, Dr. Mantoux had said to keep calm for days, not jump into a bar brawl! He needed to clear this mess fast. Fortunately, a bunch of untrained local fools weren’t much of a match for a Starfleet officer and a Dosadi Marine. But numbers do tell and they were landing blows and sheer numbers were isolating him from Sooth and hemming him in.
Jons moved along the outer edges of the struggling group. A touch here, a jab there, a gentle stroke of the hand along the back of the neck with the hand stunner…
Wilkes was confused. They were running out of opponents but there was no way they had taken out that many yet. Sooth was in a blind rage, tangled up with two of them, bits of red-white-and-blue shirts and work dungarees flying off them in waves in time to her hissing, snarling, spitting curses. And then, panting, he found himself and Sooth without anyone to fight but a little violet-skinned man in a dark suit with a shock of bright white hair.
Jons held his hand up, displaying the hand-stunner and showing that he meant no threat to the still amped up young human. “I thought, perhaps, to even the odds.” and he smiled. He reached his empty hand down to Sooth to help her to her feet, “A gentleman should never fight a lady any…” and he looked straight into Sooth’s face. The two of them froze in a comic-opera scene and said at the same time. “YOU! But you’re DEAD!”
CHAPTER 7
“We often give our enemies the means of our own destruction.”
– Aesop – Earth (Human)
MARSEILLE, FRANCE, EARTH
SEPTEMBER 2269
Sooth, confronted with the face from her nightmares exclaimed, “I killed you!” as Jons said,
“I saw you die!”
Wilkes said, “What the hell?!” and a pair of gendarmes came charging into the bar.
Jons, recovering his composure first, held up his now empty hands and spoke to the gendarmes, “Monsieurs, I am Colonel Sir Jons Seins, business attache’ to the Hydran Embassy with full diplomatic credentials. I can explain everything.” and proceeded to do just that. When he was done giving his account of the little brawl, the corporal asked the barman, “What do you want done with these?” nudging The Wit’s unconscious form with the toe of his boot.
“Not a damn thing as far as I’m concerned.”
The corporal looked at Wilkes and Sooth, “From what the Colonel says, you can bring charges against them if you wish.”
Anxious to avoid any further excitement or difficulties, Wilkes said, “No, thank you. They got what they deserved. Just, maybe, get them out of here?”
The young corporal, glad to be relieved of having to fill out paperwork said, “As you wish.” And with a  smile he and his partner began rousing the protesting group of young toughs and throwing them into the street.
Jons turned to Sooth, offered his hand and said, “M’lady, will you two please join me at my table? I had often wished to have met you under different circumstances and it would seem that wish has been granted through circumstances too strange to be anything but Providence. I would consider it a privilege to replace your meal – I assure you the Embassy can afford it.”
Sooth was dumfounded as she allowed herself to be lead back to the table in the corner. Wilkes was so completely confused he didn’t even know where to begin. As they sat, Jons at his most charming, said,
“I must insist upon coffee for all. It is Earth’s greatest contribution to the galaxy and I find it has a calming effect after these little excitements.”
“Thank you, I usually take tea, but coffee is good too.” Wilkes said. Sooth couldn’t take her eyes off of Jons.
“Oh, I can remove all preference for tea. There is a little cafe in Paris, La Sencerre, that makes absolutely the best coffees anywhere. I’m afraid it has become a habit of mine when I am in Paris. But please, you now know my name and I do not yet know yours?”
Wilkes, somewhat more composed said, “I’m Lieutenant J.G. Thomas Wilkes, USS Hood, and this is my mate, Crew Leader Sooth, also USS Hood.”
“A Dosadi? Assigned to the Hood?” Jons studied them both for a moment, “And you, you wear the Warrior Pendant, and both an earring and an Honor Tattoo, yet you say you are in Starfleet? I am unaware of any human ever being granted the right to wear those decorations. And how did Crew Leader Sooth find her way to Airdrie if she serves in Starfleet? And you say she is your mate? That is also a first to my knowledge.”
Wilkes, aware that he was talking to a foreign diplomatic officer, was trying to be sure that he didn’t give out any confidential information while he explained the outline of his Starfleet career, his tour aboard the Delos and his relationship with Sooth. Jons, however, was a skilled interrogator and during the course of their conversation learned much about Federation training, relations with the Dosadi Imperium, and even tactics.
Turning to the still silent Sooth he said, “M’Lady. I must congratulate you on your skill in battle. In my culture, women stay home and take care of more tranquil pursuits. I confess to being shocked at learning that the Marine who defeated me in hand-to-hand combat and shattered my face was a woman.”
Sooth, having had time to regain her mental balance said, “I thought I had killed you. I’ve never fought anyone who moves the way that you do – I couldn’t get you off my rifle! Things got very confusing after that.”
Recognizing that the very young woman had not yet come completely to terms with what had happened to her he continued, “I can only imagine, my dear. The wounds you suffered were…severe.” he finished delicately. He paused, gave a very gallic shrug and added “I can tell you that the Gorn are, to this very day, astonished at your actions. The tapes of the ballroom fight have, in fact, entered into Gorn training routines. You conducted yourself with great honor and a tremendous attention to your duties. I am proud that you were my enemy and hope that now, you can be my friend.” And he extended his hand.
Sooth looked at it, and Jons explained, “An Earth gesture. Its history is to indicate that one is unarmed and wishes to be friends. Each of us in the course of our duties has killed many of the other’s friends and comrades. I think, perhaps, it is time for that cycle to end.”
Smiling, Sooth reached out her own hand to his and clasped it gladly.
Jons said, “Alas, I must return to my duties. My ship leaves for home within the hour. I wish the two of you every success – And hope that you will tell me when M’lady here gives birth to your child. Perhaps some day we can all meet at La Sencerre in Paris and I can convert you from tea, to coffee.”
Wilkes laughed and said, “I’d like that, Colonel. I…I am honored to make your acquaintance.”
CHAPTER 8
“Tempus fugit”
– Most races, here translated into Latin.
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS HOOD, IN ORBIT OVER EARTH
SEPTEMBER 2269
The following morning, Sooth and Wilkes packed their bags and prepared to report back to the Hood. By the time their shuttlecraft finally landed in the bay, it was evening and Sooth said, “We should get dinner now. I’m starving!”
Wilkes, squeezing her arm answered, “I think that’s a good sign  – maybe you’re eating for two.” She purred and rubbed up against him, drawing a few glances from the other returning crew. One raw recruit opened his mouth to say something about the odd sight and a more experienced hand in Engineering red put his hand on his shoulder, “Don’t, boot.”
“I was just going…” he tried to explain.
“Just don’t. You come see me after you get your gear stowed and I’ll explain a few things to you. Until then, you just listen and learn, right? Trust me. It’ll save you a lot of heartache.”
As the young recruit opened his mouth to answer, the engineer raised his finger and said “Just listen and learn boot. That’s all you gotta do.” and turned to get his gear out of the racks.
As they left the shuttlebay, Wilkes said, “Damn, I really should report in to Chief Engineer White before we eat. We’re supposed to report all contact with foreign nationals as soon as possible. Besides, I don’t want mother’s Yorkshire curd tarts to spoil…You go ahead, I’ll meet you in the mess hall.”
Knocking on the Chief’s office door he heard a muffled “Come!” and walked through the door. “Lieutenant J.G. Wilkes reporting, sir.”
White looked at him, “That stripe is still so new it squeaks.” Catching sight of the package he asked, “Is that what it had better be?”
“Yes, sir.” Wilkes smiled. “Mother and Father both send their best.” and he placed the package on the desk. “We got married, sir.”
“I’ll be damned. In a church and everything? Like in the fairy tales?”
Wilkes laughed, “Yes, sir. Well maybe not quite a fairy tale. I don’t think most of the inhabitants of Leyburn were quite ready for a Dosadi in a wedding gown. Come to think of it I’m not quite sure I was ready for that.”
“Tell me the story, Wilkes.” he ordered as he dug into the package. “Ahhh! And biscuits and jam to boot! Your mother is a wonderful woman, Wilkes.”
“Yes, sir.” and he launched into the full story of his leave, the wedding, their struggles with Dr. Mantoux’s therapies and concluding with the story of the bar fight. “So this Hydran diplomat, some Colonel, wades into the brawl with a hand-stunner. We ended up having dinner and coffee together and he kept going on about this cafe in Paris, La Sencerre, that has like the best coffee in…”
White sat up, his face chalky. “Say that again.” he interrupted.
“Which?”
“The cafe. What was the cafe?”
“La Sencerre, in Pari…”
“You sure he was Hydran?”
“Yes, sir, he had bright violet skin and white…”
“Come with me, right now, Wilkes.” And he slammed the com panel on his desk, “White to Karmes, meet me in briefing room three, it’s urgent. We need to get in touch with Enterprise.”
Wilkes was trying to decide just how badly he had screwed up in talking to the little Colonel. He followed the Chief Engineer to the briefing room at a trot only to find that Captain Karmes and his new First Officer, Lieutenant Commander Thalev, a blue-skinned Andorian complete with antennae, were already there. “What the hell, White?” Karmes demanded.
“Trust me, sir, I think I’ve found him.”
Looking around the room and at the viewscreen, Wilkes was seeing more rank in one place than he had ever wanted to, two of them living legends.
White ordered him, “Tell them what you told me about the discussion you had in that pub in Marseille. Make it fast and accurate.”
Sweating and standing at rigid attention Wilkes began where Jons had reached down to Sooth, trying to think what it was he said that had gotten him in this much trouble. “..and so he invited us again to the Cafe La Sencerre in Paris for coffee.” he concluded and shut his mouth tight.
“What was the officer’s name again, Lieutenant?” Kirk asked. Wilkes thought to himself, “Holy shit. James Freaking-T Kirk is asking me a question. “Colonel Sir Jons Seins business attache to the Hydran embassy, sir!”
Spock said, “I have him, Captain.” and the Colonel’s picture flashed upon the viewscreen.
“Yes, sir! That is the man, sir!”
Karmes said, “Relax, Wilkes. You done good.”
Spock continued, “That is our man, Captain. A perfect correlation between his movements and the death of Commander Batho and he was also in Marseille and not visible on the sensor nets when Technician Robert Durand suffered a massive stroke and died on the waterfront. Technician Durand, as you’ll recall, has been identified as having unlawfully duplicated a large amount of top secret research.”
Karmes said, “Now we just have to find him.”
Wilkes spoke up quickly, “Oh, he’s gone, sirs.” and immediately regretted it as two Captains, and three Commanders turned and stared at him.
Spock asked, “And how do you know this, Lieutenant?”
“Sir! Just before he left he told us his ship was leaving on the hour.”
“Dammit!!” Karmes slammed his fist onto the table.
Kirk just said, “Spock?”
“Working, Captain.” There was silence for a few moments and he continued, “The Hydran cruiser Succession left high-Earth orbit for Toulagai Starbase some 20 hours ago, Captain. At normal cruisng speed, they will arrive there in 28 hours, 14 minutes and 11 seconds, in time to rendezvous with the Romulan cruiser Hyperion.”
Karmes slapped a button and the red-alert klaxon sounded throughout the ship, “All hands, this is the Captain. Emergency beam-back for all crew, we leave immediately”
Spock interjected, “Captain Karmes, you will need to exceed your ship’s design capacity for some time in order to beat them there.”
White smiled and said, “Scotty’s not the only one with a few tricks up his sleeve, Commander Spock.”
Kirk said, “Godspeed, Bob.” and that was that.

CHAPTER 9
“Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.”
– Jim Rohn – Earth (Human)
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS HOOD, UNDER WAY
SEPTEMBER 2269
The Hood was shaking, badly, as she rocketed towards Toulagai. Down in Engineering, things were starting to fail and Wilkes and his team and the rest of the Engineering staff were scrambling to replace failed junctions, arcing circuits and dead power systems. On the bridge, Captain Karmes was watching the clock tick down as well as the range to Toulagai.
“Comm, any contact with Commodore Selek yet?”
Vibrating slightly as his chair shook, Lieutenant Gordon Williams said, “No sir. We’re still being jammed. It’s a really strange field sir, It keeps increasing as we close, and then holding steady and then increasing again in fits and starts. It’s almost like we’re jamming ourselves sometimes.”
“Dammit, figure that shit out!” He tapped the controls on the side of the command chair, “Karmes to Engineering, White, how are we holding up?”
“Well, Bob, we’ve been past Vne for about 26 hours now and we’re definitely paying the price. But she’ll hold together until we get there. We’ve broken out the duct tape.”
Karmes laughed, “Oustanding. We might just make it. Defense, energize the weapons, but leave the shields down, just in case.”

* * *
ROYAL HYDRAN LIGHT CRUISER SUCCESSION, UNDER WAY
SEPTEMBER 2269
Aboard the Succession, Colonel Jons was becoming concerned. “You say there’s a jamming field?” He had, as was his practice, already inspected the Marines aboard and conducted a pair of drills.
“Yes, Colonel. But it’s a damn strange field. One minute it seems to be coming from in front of us, the next from behind. Whatever it is, it’s totally blocked sub-space communications. It’ll interfere with transporters too.”
Jons studied the tactical display in the battlesphere. Toulagai was closing fast. The Romulan ship had been in parking orbit on the far side of the starbase for the better part of a day now and had another day before she would leave. There was no real rush. So why was there a jamming field? This was strange, and Jons didn’t like strange.
In orbit between his path and the Hyperion was the pearly-white shape of the USS Yorktown.
Turning to Captain Rince he said, “Prepare a shuttleraft. Full diplomatic markings. Make sure there is nothing even remotely resembling a weapon aboard it. When we arrive at Toulagai, you will drop me in the shuttlecraft and immediately warp out for home. Explain that you have an urgent mission to protect a freighter or some such. Be creative. I will make my own way past the Yorktown to the Hyperion.”
Captain Rince stood and bowed, “Understood, sir.”

* * *
FEDERATION STARBASE 26, TOULAGAI
SEPTEMBER 2269
Commander Jackson scowled at the screens in the sensory. “So this shit has been going on how long?”
Petty Officer Bennett said, “Almost a full day now, sir. We thought it was on our end for hours and wasted a lot of time running diagnostics. It’s not coming from our systems.”
Gnawing on his cigar he said, “Wonderful. So where IS it coming from?”
“Apparently from 220 mark 185, sir. It keeps surging, it’s not like any jamming field I’ve seen before but it’s definitely playing hell with sub-space. We can’t even use transporters right now.”
“What’s out that way?”
“Nothing much, the usual freighter and neutral traffic. Well, we got a part of a signal yesterday but it got cut off. Something urgent about the Hood.”
“And this just happens to show up while we’ve got a Romulan cruiser overhead, a bunch of diplomats negotiating a treaty and a warning from Starfleet about sabotage and terrorists and hobgoblins. I don’t like coincidences, Bennett. Something is not good and you’re going to find out what it is.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Get me the Yorktown.”
“Um, sir, I said the field was really playing hell with sub-space. Communications are really spotty.”
“Bennett, I didn’t say I wanted to hear the story of your life, I said Get me the Yorktown.”
“Yes, sir.” Bennett scrambled to try to establish some sort of contact with the heavy cruiser 42,000 kilometers overhead.

* * *
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER, USS YORKTOWN, IN ORBIT OVER TOULAGAI
SEPTEMBER 2269
Lieutenant Yoshida, sitting at the Yorktown’s helm console tried to make some sort of sense out of the snow and static on the view screen. It looked like Commander Jackson – no one else smoked cigars – but that was about all she could make out. That and a few words.
The screen went dark and Captain Kamov asked, “Anyone get anything out of that?”
After a few seconds of silence, Yoshida said, “Just something about the Hood and terrorists and sabotage and something about diplomats sir.”
“Well that’s more than I got, so we’ll go with it. So if anyone sees the Hood bringing in a bunch of terrorist diplomats to sabotage the negotiations with the Romulans, you let me know.”
There were a few chuckles around the bridge and the navigator spoke up, “Sir, ship dropping out of warp at 000 mark 015.”
“You have got to be making a joke.”
“No sir – I’ve got her, she’s Hydran sir…the light cruiser Succession.”
“See if you can raise her, assuming we can get better comms than we did with Toulagai.”
“Yes, sir”
A few moments later the defense officer said, “Sir, she’s launching a shuttlecraft….Ah, it’s got full diplomatic codes. Must be for the conference.”
Kamov sat back in his chair. “Really. A diplomat.”
The navigator chimed in, “Sir, the Succession’s warping out. I got a partial signal, something about ‘urgent’ and ‘protect’ and she’s gone. The shuttlecraft’s making for the Hyperion.”
“Scan it. Use all the power we’ve got. Find out if there’s anything so much as a firecracker on board that thing.”
Moments later the defense officer said, “No sir, one occupant, Hydran, no luggage.”
Kamov ignored the little joke and started tapping his fingers on the arm of his chair. They watched the little shuttlecraft, flashing it’s diplomatic recognition markers closing with them as it made course for the Romulan cruiser.
There was the flash of a ship dropping out of warp and the navigator nearly shouted, “Sir! The Hood!”
“Of course it is.” He frowned. Things were not making any sense here.
“Sir! Her weapons are charged! She’s making straight for the shuttle!”
“Are they insane?” Kamov asked. “Raise shields until we get comms.”
The Defense officer turned towards Captain Kamov, “Sir, the HOOD is the source of the jamming!”
CHAPTER 10
“Many intelligence reports in war are contradictory; even more are false, and most are uncertain…. In short, most intelligence is false.”
– Carl Phillipp von Clausewitz – Earth (Human)
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS HOOD, APPROACHING TOULAGAI
SEPTEMBER 2269
Taking the tactical situation in an instant, Captain Karmes issued rapid fire orders, “Helm, get us to that shuttlecraft and put a tractor beam on her. Comms, raise the Yorktown.” The shuttlecraft was almost directly in front of them, closing fast on the Yorktown, with the Romulan Hyperion just visible behind the shining white disc of her primary hull.
“Sir, there’s no way – the field just soared in strength and it’s surging back and forth a lot faster. It’s like its see-sawing back and forth between us and the Yorktown.”
“What the hell are they on about?” Karmes asked,
“Sir! They’ve raised shields!”
“Oh shit. Raise ours. And dammit get me to that shuttlecraft!”
The Helm officer, Ensign Diego said, “Yorktown’s moving to intercept us.”
“Get around  – get between that shuttle and the Hyperion no matter what you have to do, then get us to tractor range. And someone burn through that damn jamming!!”
The Hood curved gracefully up and over the twisting Yorktown and then back down, now having traded places with the other cruiser, still between them and the shuttlecraft.

* * *
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS YORKTOWN, MANEUVERING, TOULAGAI
SEPTEMBER 2269
Kamov issued his own orders, “Yoshida, don’t let them get close to the shuttle. Someone’s taken over the Hood – that must be the terrorists they were warning us about. Charge weapons but do NOT fire yet – see if we can get a tractor on that shuttle.”
“Sir, the shuttlecraft is moving away from us, it’s out of range. Still closing with the Hyperion. Sort of.”
“What the hell? We’re trying to protect them!”
“I guess they don’t know that, sir.”
“God dammit, will someone get me communications with SOMEONE! This is the 23rd fucking century and I’m having to use signal lights!!!”
“We could try that, sir.” the comms officer said.
“Shut up, Swede.”
The two starships began a bizarre twisting dance around each other and the shuttlecraft as both the Hood and Yorktown tried to close to within tractor beam distance to the shuttlecraft, which was trying to keep out of range of both while still slowly closing with the Hyperion, in a two steps forward, one step back sort of way.

* * *
FEDERATION STARBASE 26, TOULAGAI
SEPTEMBER 2269
Commodore Selek, watching the tactical display as well as the live sensor feeds said, “Remarkable.”
Jackson just shook his head.
Again, the news nets were alive with the images of starships fighting it out overhead.

* * *
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS HOOD, MANEUVERING, TOULAGAI
SEPTEMBER 2269
White contacted the bridge, “Captain, we can NOT continue maneuvering like this. We stressed the hell out of her and now we’re taking everything that wasn’t…” Collision alarms sounded throughout the Hood as the Yorktown cut them off again, her secondary hull scraping along one warp nacelle. “God DAMN! Captain, finish this before we fall apart!! Williams! Get…” and he cut the connection.
Karmes made the sort of rapid decision that Captains get paid to make – and sometimes make wrong. “Weapons, I need you to take the most accurate shot you’ve ever taken – Low power shot, just hit one of their thrusters. Anything to give us the advantage we need. Low power, right? Just enough to damage the thruster.”
“Yes, sir…” he bent to his task

* * *
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS YORKTOWN, MANEUVERING, TOULAGAI
SEPTEMBER 2269
“Targeting!!!” The Defense officer screamed and Yoshida rolled the big cruiser around her secondary hull as the green of a phaser lanced past, striking a glancing blow at her shields.
“Dammit! They are terrorists! Weapons, aim for their phaser emitters – just enough to take out the emitters. Make it happen!”

* * *
ROYAL HYDRAN SHUTTLECRAFT, MANEUVERING, TOULAGAI
SEPTEMBER 2269
Jons watched the  pearl-white ships fighting like two cats over a mouse. It was somewhat more..interesting…from the perspective of the mouse, he thought.
He was slowly making progress towards the Hyperion, but he was constrained by having to keep both ships out of tractor-beam range. This necessitated frequent rapid retreats or dodges in odd directions. He watched the Yorktown cut the Hood off again with a brilliant spiraling descent directly into the other ship’s warp nacelles, forcing her to fall off and away.
He smiled to himself, that had to be Yoshida at the helm. She had been on an exchange from the Yorktown. She was still keeping him safe, he chuckled quietly and returned to his course towards the Hyperion, but now he had phaser-blasts to dodge as well.

* * *
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS HOOD, MANEUVERING, TOULAGAI
SEPTEMBER 2269
There was smoke on the bridge of the Hood. Karmes wasn’t quite sure from where, but wasn’t happy about it. Lieutenant Wu spoke up, “Sir, we could try an assault transport – Take their bridge and end this. Or hell, just use their com-sets and TELL them what’s going on.”
“With shields up?”
“That’s what assault transporters are for, sir.”
“Don’t be a twit, Wu. I meant can you make it work right now.”
“Yes, sir – Let me trade some phaser power for transporters and at this close a range, we should be able to burn through the shields and the jamming and put a team aboard her. We’ve drilled for this sort of thing extensively.”
“Can you do it without killing anyone? These are our shipmates too. This has gotten WAY too out of control.” The Hood rocked as another shot raked across the primary hull’s shields.
“Yes – we can issue hand phasers as well as rifles.”
“Make it happen. Fast.”
“Already at battle stations – I’ll issue the orders now.”
“Dammit, Helm, get around them!!” another collision alarm sounded and the Hood rolled away from the climbing Yorktown just in time to avoid an impact.
Sooth pulled her helmet down over her head and activated her com-set. Her team was already standing on the assault pad, ready to go. “Just like the drills, right everyone?” Her blue-grey and tan mottled battle armor a stark contrast to Starfleet’s gold and red. Crouching down, she again had a brief flashback to the few moments before she transported in to Airdrie. Shaking her head to clear the vision, she checked on her team. Kalea was visibly shaking, her hand phaser wobbling.
“TWENTY SECONDS!!”
Reaching her hand over, she whispered, “I get the shakes too.”
“FIVE SECONDS!!”

* * *
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS YORKTOWN, MANEUVERING, TOULAGAI
SEPTEMBER 2269
The ship shuddered from another phaser impact and the world turned inside out. They materialized in a hallway a few decks away from their target on the bridge. Several startled crewmen working on an engineering junction froze at the apparition. Kalea’s crew instantly phasered them down with a heavy stun setting as the Yorktown’s intruder alarms added their weird howl to the mix.
Sooth yelled into her com-set “MOVE!” and was answered with the staticy scream of a jammed com-system. Shaking her head to kill the noise, she reverted to hand signals and voice.
Petty Officer James Jones, a huge member of Kalea’s team said, “We probably should’ve told those guys what was up instead of shooting them. I think we drilled too much on combat…”
Sooth said, “A little late now. Let’s go!! Battle Drill 2-Alpha EXECUTE!” and they began to race for the accessways to the bridge.
Which, of course were guarded. The first few Security crew were in standard Fleet uniforms with hand phasers and stood absolutely no chance against Sooth’s armored team. But the Yorktown crew were also among Starfleet’s best and reacted quickly, despite their inexperience with the bulky, heavy battle armor. The Hood team had managed to assault up to the deck below the bridge before they were stopped cold by another pair of armored teams; With phaser rifles.
Pinned down, Sooth tried yelling at the Yorktown security teams, poking her head up and shouting “DAMMIT CEASE FIRE! WE NEED TO TELL YOU WHATS GOING ON!!” only to be answered by phaser-fire and “FUCK OFF, CAT!”
Shaking her head, she resumed trying to low-crawl over to Kalea’s injured team.
In the bridge, Captain Kamov was getting reports from his own security teams, “Sir, it looks like it’s the Dosadi that took over the Hood. They must be going after the Romulans and the Hydrans again.” He saw an image on his viewscreen of an armored Dosadi Marine, the distinctive blue-grey and tan mottled armor making the identification easy. They were  engaging one of his security teams, hitting two with a phaser rifle before being driven back into cover. The view went dark as an errant shot hit the pickup.
“They’re insane. This makes absolutely no sense.”

* * *
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS HOOD, MANEUVERING, TOULAGAI
SEPTEMBER 2269
Aboard the Hood, Wilkes had a sudden flash of insight. “Holy shit, I got it.” and he ran across the main engineering deck to the Chief Engineer who was working with First Officer Thalev on re-routing power around several damaged systems. Thalev advising, “No, that system remains a priority – we need to…”
Wilkes interrupted, “Chief, I know how to make this stop.”
Both officers looked at him, “This better be good Wilkes.” The Hood groaned again as she maneuvered tightly.
“Sir, we take a shuttlecraft – make sure there’s no weapons on it at all – I stick a grappler on the rear-end like a Thunderbolt and we fly THAT out. Snag the Hydran shuttle and take it to the Yorktown!”
Thalev said, “That is brilliant. They won’t fire on an unarmed shuttlecraft, the addition of the fourth craft will break the stalemate and once you grapple the other shuttle, they will likely tractor you themselves.”
“Make it happen, Wilkes!”
“I need a pilot, sir. I’m a mechanic, not a flyer.”
Thalev said, “I am a pilot. Quickly now.” and the two grabbed Wilkes’ team as they ran towards the Hood’s shuttlebay.

Boarding the modified shuttle, Thalev noticed Wilkes carrying a large, folded piece of cloth. “What is that, Lieutenant? I notice you brought it with you from Engineering, but I have yet to see you do anything with it.”
Smiling as he sat at the grapple controls, Wilkes put Sooths’ cloak on, feeling enfolded by her scent, and said, “Lucky charm, sir.”
“That’s not Starfleet uniform, Lieutenant.”
“No sir. I’ll happily report for punishment for being out of uniform if we survive.”
Thelev chuckled, “I can accept that, Lieutenant. Ready for launch.”

* * *
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS YORKTOWN, MANEUVERING, TOULAGAI
SEPTEMBER 2269
Finally working their way through several of Kamov’s security teams, Kalea, Sooth, and their three remaining mobile team members had their backs to the turbo-lift doors while some of the wounded kept a steady stream of fire going down the curving corridor.
“Well,” Kalea gasped, in severe pain from a phaser burn that had clipped through the side of her armor. “This is going well.”
Sooth grinned at her, the expression invisible beneath her helmet, “Better than some of the drills. The Yorkies are good.” Her own armor had half a dozen different deep scores in it. It’s OK, I’ve got a plan.”
“Oh goodie. Those always work out so well.”

* * *
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS YORKTOWN, MANEUVERING, TOULAGAI
SEPTEMBER 2269
Captain Kamov noted the shuttlecraft launching from Hood. “Scan that! Now!”
“Two occupants sir, nothing else. One Andorian, one human. It’s just an empty shuttle.”
“What the hell? Can we keep it away from the other shuttle?” The Yorktown’s shields rang from another phaser hit from the Hood.
Yoshida shook her head. “Not and keep the Hood away too. I can try to get us close enough to tractor it though.”
“Do it!”
The Yorktown elegantly traded distance from the Hood for a closer position to the shuttlecraft, the distance closing rapidly. But, the Hood moved to intercept them and she had to back off to keep the Hood away, then sliding her starship towards the two shuttlecraft.
“Captain!” the defense officer shouted, “The other shuttle – it’s got a grapple on the Hydran!”
“So, that’s their game! Yoshida, get us in tractor range NOW – Security team to the shuttle bay!”
“Hood’s backing away sir, and powering down their weapons. But the Hyperion’s coming on fast.”
“What? Has everyone gone completely bat-shit insane?” The turbo-lift doors opened and everyone turned in surprise. The two Security guards dropped into a crouch, phaser rifles at the ready focused intently on the lift.
And the lift was empty. A moment later a blinding flash and deafening roar stunned the bridge crew into insensibility. Had they been able to see, they’d have observed Kalea and Sooth dropping out of bridge maintenance access-tunnels, weapons at the ready. Instead as their ears stopped ringing, they heard hand phasers discharging.
When Captain Kamov could finally see again, his security guards were unconscious on the floor, their helmets torn off and phaser stun impacts clearly visible on their faces. Armor was proof against a flash-bang grenade, but not if you were staring straight at it. “What is the meaning of this!!”
Sooth ordered, “Everyone away from your consoles – move quickly to the far side of the bridge, please sirs.” Moments later the turbo-lift opened again and Sooth’s three remaining Hood security men stepped out.
Kalea, struggling to catch her breath with the burn to her side ordered “Block the doors open and take up positions to cover the access tunnels – let’s not have them do unto us what we just did unto them.”
Angry, Kamov barked at Sooth, “Have the Dosadi declared war on the Federation then, Marine?”
She remained silent as the com system came alive, “Bridge! Shuttle-bay! We got them both!  Bridge? Bridge?”
Sooth ordered “Have your crew stand down, please sir. Your vessel is now under the command of Captain Karmes and the USS Hood. I need to explain what’s going on.”
“I’ll do no such thing, pirate.”
Kalea turned to one of her team, “Can you do it, Jimmy?”
“Yep.” The beefy Security Guard took his helmet off and stepped to the command chair. “Good to see you again, sir.” he greeted his former Captain.
“Petty Officer Jones? You transferred out six months ago. What is the meaning of this!?”
“When I was aboard Yorktown, I was pretty good at imitating your voice sir. Sorry about this.” And he punched the com button on the command chair. “All hands, this is the captain.” he said in a fair imitation of Captain Kamov’s voice. “There has been a severe misunderstanding with our sister ship. Stand down. Medical teams, treat the casualties. I repeat, stand down.” and he cut the connection.
The Com system came alive again, “Bridge, shuttle bay – you REALLY need to get down here. Bridge? Jesus, is this thing even working?”
Kamov faced Sooth. “Well Marine? Shall we go down to the shuttle bay then? We tractored both the Hydran shuttlecraft and one from the Hood into our bay. Time to make a decision. There are still no coms with anyone. What are you going to do, Marine?”
Sooth looked at Kalea. The little Hawaiian woman shrugged back at her with her uninjured side.
Sooth swallowed hard. She really wanted to throw up. Kamov pushed her again. “Time’s slipping away, Marine. Do we go down and find out what’s happening in the shuttle bay or stand here and chat? The Romulan cruiser was closing with us last time I knew. What’s your choice, Marine? You need to decide. You need to decide NOW.”
Sooth really didn’t have enough people left to do anything but hold the bridge. Maybe. If Jones’ ruse had worked, maybe she could ‘escort’ the Captain down to the shuttle bay and why wouldn’t he shut up? Finally she snapped, “Shut UP, sir.”
He smiled a rather predatory smile and she decided, “Kalea, keep everyone here. I’m going to walk the Captain down to the shuttle-bay. If you don’t hear from me – you know the word – in five minutes, do whatever you have to do to get to Captain Karmes.”
“Right.”
Gesturing with her hand phaser, she and Captain Kamov got into the turbo-lift. On the way, she began to explain to her captive audience what she had been told by Lt. Wu.

CHAPTER 11
Truth will out.
– Proverb, many species.
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS YORKTOWN, MANEUVERING, TOULAGAI
SEPTEMBER 2269
The big bay at the aft end of Yorktown’s secondary hull had barely completed the landing cycle before Jons was out of his shuttle, screaming bloody murder.  “I am a diplomatic officer on a diplomatic mission. You have absolutely NO right to kidnap me or interfere with my mission. I will see to it that you are all broken in rank. This is an act of WAR!”
As he paused for breath, Thelev and Wilkes piled out of their own shuttlecraft.
Catching sight of Wilkes in his rather outlandish mix of uniforms Jons said, “I will be damned. A handsome, heroic pirate flying to the rescue in a shuttlecraft.”
“What?” Thelev asked.
“Nothing, just a conversation I once had with someone I thought quite silly at the time. I may have underestimated her. A bad habit of mine.” Looking more closely he recognized him. “The dashing Lieutenant Wilkes, is it not?”
The Yorktown bay crew looked at both groups in bewildered silence. One tech by a com panel frantically continued trying to signal the bridge.
“Good to see you again, Colonel.”
“How is your lady?”
“Doing well, sir and safe aboard the Hood. We still have high hopes.”
Thelev had finally had enough, “Well, if you two are finished playing just-folks, perhaps we can get to the bottom of this mess.”
Colonel Jons smiled, “Why Commander, there is no mess. I am a diplomatic officer of the Hydran Kingdom, in a fully marked, unarmed shuttlecraft on a diplomatic mission according to treaty, custom and law and you have unlawfully detained me. I hereby require and demand that you release me and my ship or be considered in violation of several treaties and Starfleet regulations besides.”
Thelev said, “Colonel, our belief is that you are a murderer and a spy in possession of illegally obtained classified information belonging to the Federation.”
“That’s nice, Commander. And it means nothing. I have full diplomatic immunity and you have no proof of anything whatsoever, not that it would matter if you did.”
Captain Kamov stepped into the bay with Sooth just behind him, her helmet off and her armor still smoking along the gouges, a phaser-rifle slung across her back and her hand-phaser holstered at her side. “Ah, you must be Colonel Jons.” he introduced himself and before Jons could begin his demands again, Kamov continued. “Colonel, I must apologize for the atrocious conduct of my officers and those of the Hood. There has been a tremendous misunderstanding due to the highly-charged situation here and back on Earth.”
Slightly taken aback, Jons said cautiously “Of course. With your permission then, I shall be on my way.”
Wilkes was stunned. Both by the appearance of Sooth and by the utter failure of their mission. He was going to get away with it.
“One moment please, Colonel. It has come to our attention that a biological weapon has been placed aboard your shuttle by terrorists on Earth who have some strange objection to the Hydran Kingdom’s well-known business dealings.”
“Ah, I’m quite sure that there is no such…”
“Nevertheless, Colonel, for the safety of yourself and my ship, I must board and search your vessel for contaminants or disease organisms. As you know, I am allowed to do so by Starfleet regulations to ensure the safety of my vessel now that yours has been opened inside mine, exposing my crew to who knows what.”
“Captain, that is a violation of treaty an…”
“No, no, Colonel, We are only seeking a terrorist device, nothing else shall be disturbed.” As he was speaking two Yorktown crewmen in Science blue boarded the shuttlecraft.
Colonel Jons looked from them to Captain Kamov. He knew when he was outmaneuvered. But he still held the high card in the end. “Why thank you, Captain! I appreciate your concern for my safety, and that of our clients. No doubt this entire…misunderstanding was simply the result of misplaced zeal?”
“I’m sure that will be the case, Colonel.” Kamov smiled as the two men came out of the shuttle holding the diplomatic pouch.
“Found it, Captain.” the leader said.
“Captain, “Colonel Jons interrupted, “That is a diplomatic pouch and as such, sacrosanct. It must NOT be opened or examined in any way.”
“Have no worries, Colonel, We wouldn’t want to allow that device to get loose.” he turned to the team holding the pouch, “Put it in a disposal chute immediately.”
“Ah.” Jons sighed watching the diplomatic pouch disappear into the opening, heading into the anti-matter reaction chambers. “Well then.” and he looked at Sooth. “M’lady.” he shot a quick smile at Wilkes, “Safe aboard the Hood?”
Wilkes shrugged as Kamov asked, “What on EARTH are you wearing, young man…Lieutenant?”
The Colonel laughed, “I’m sure there’s a logical explanation, good Captain. If you would release me, I find my mission concluded and myself without a destination at the moment and I am quite famished. If I could perhaps take these two officers to your mess hall for dinner?”
Captain Kamov said, “Of course, Colonel. Allow me to provide you with two security guards to ensure that no one further interferes with your diplomatic movements.”
Glowering from Wilkes to Sooth he said, “And when the Colonel has quite finished with you both, you will come see me. Bring your supervisors. And Marine, you will get your team the hell off my bridge immediately.”
They both echoed “Yes, sir!”
Kamov stalked out of the bay, the bay crew still staring in utter bewilderment.

CHAPTER 12
An ambassador is an honest man who is sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.
– Sir Henry Wotton – Earth (Human)
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS HOOD, IN ORBIT OVER TOULAGAI
SEPTEMBER 2269
Back aboard the Hood, Captain Karmes was gnawing on his fingernails. A bad habit. The Hyperion had backed off again.
“Sensory to Bridge.”
“This is the Captain.”
“Captain, we’ve figured out the jamming. It’s coming from the Hyperion. They’re using our own deflector array to jam our transmissions. That’s why it was surging back and forth. They’re sending tight-beam directional pulses that our deflector takes, focuses and amplifies and then rebroadcasts. It had to look like WE were the ones doing the jamming.”
The Yorktown had been motionless and silent for several minutes now, as had the Hood. Karmes studied the scorches across her hull and grimaced at the thought that his weapons fire had damaged a sister ship. And at the damage done to his own vessel and crew. “Can you get through it?”
“There’s no need to sir – it’s fading away. We should have coms back very soon. I think they stopped.”
“FINALLY!”
“Captain, incoming from the Yorktown.”
“On screen!” Moments later the main viewscreen snapped in to a view of Captain Kamov and the obviously battle-damaged bridge of the USS Yorktown. “Bob, I am going to kick your ass for that. And I’ve got several of your crew over here half a dozen of whom are injured and one young…’officer’ who looks like he walked out of a space opera.”
“Did you get him?”
“You mean the very honorable Colonel Jons? Yes. But of course, he has full diplomatic immunity so we can’t touch him. It was terrible though – my men found a terrorist device aboard his shuttlecraft and we had to throw it into the disposal chute. The Colonel looked…upset by its loss.”

* * *
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS YORKTOWN, IN ORBIT OVER TOULAGAI
SEPTEMBER 2269
In the Yorktown’s mess hall, Wilkes was trying to adapt to the sudden change of mood. Sooth was still in her armor, and communicating with Kalea, making sure that her team was squared away medically and out of Kamov’s way.
Colonel Jons went to the replicator and ordered three French Roast coffees. As he returned with the drinks to the table he began, “It seems we have done this once before.” and smiled, ignoring the two security guards watching over him.
“I don’t understand that, Colonel. How is it we keep running into each other? It’s a big universe.”
He took a sip of his coffee and grimaced, “French Roast? I think not. French Toast is closer.” Looking at Wilkes he said, “It’s a smaller universe than it seems, Wilkes. And history seems to have a pattern to it; a sort of fugue where there are periods of time where the same names keep cropping up in events great and small over and over again. For instance, you of the Federation – Your Captain Kirk, Commander Spock, and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise. It’s something of a joke in the rest of the galaxy, really. If there is something going on, they will be involved.
“I’m really rather shocked they weren’t here.”
Wilkes coughed, “Um, they were refueling at Earth, but they were the ones who found you out, sir.”
“Ah. Of course. You see? Another echo.”
“But sir, we’re not great important officers or historical people who do great things. I’m basically a mechanic and Sooth’s a Marine!”
“An avalanche can be started by the fall of a single pebble, Wilkes. There are others caught up in our fugue as well. Do you know who the helmsman of this vessel is?”
“No, sir.”
Sooth spoke up, “It’s a Lieutenant Yoshida. We got their names when we captured the bridge.”
Wilkes looked at her, “When you did WHAT? No wonder he’s pissed.”
“Be that as it may, you were both doing your duty. But the point remains – Ensign Yoshida helmed the Succession during the battle over Toulagai. Which, incidentally is the ship that brought me here to…Toulagai. And when a Starfleet heavy cruiser showed up during that battle to complete the route of the Klingons it was…The USS Hood.”
Wilkes thought about that. It was a bit more than he was prepared to digest. He needed something a bit simpler. “Sir, you murdered Commander Botha. And you’re going to get away with it.”
“Lieutenant, I murdered no one.”
“You killed her in Paris!”
“Let us say that I did so, Lieutenant. How is that murder? Is it murder to kill your foe in battle?”
“Of course not, but that’s a war!”
“There is no difference, Wilkes. A battle can involve hundreds of ships and thousands of people, or it can involve dozens of governments all maneuvering for power, or it can involve two people following their duty. The battles that are fought by intelligence officers every day are smaller and much quieter than a battle between starships, but they are no different.”
“That’s diplomatic bullshit, sir. Did she know she was in a battle?”
“Had this event occurred, she surely should have. Again, let us imagine the situation. An officer of one government is following her duty, attempting to apply force against another government. Should she not take steps to protect herself? If she fails to do so, that is not the fault of the one who takes advantage of her inattention or inability. Battles are not fought fairly, no matter the size.”
Sooth actually agreed with him. “That’s true. It is always your responsibility to protect yourself and those under you.”
Jons toasted her with his coffee. “Quite.”
Wilkes wasn’t done yet. “But you betrayed the Federation. You stole technical data.”
Jons took a sip and raised his eyebrows. “Betrayed? Wilkes, I owe no loyalty to the Federation. My duty is to my Duke and my King. Again, HAD I actually obtained data that they did not wish me to have, that would not be a betrayal, that would be me carrying out my duty to my Duke and my King, would it not?”
Wilkes tried to digest this. Could a spy be honorable? “Wilkes, the world is not as clean and simple a place as you think. Great Powers like the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans use smaller powers like pawns in a game. They dare not fight openly so they fight proxy wars using our blood, and our planets, only occasionally becoming involved themselves. Were they to fight openly, casualties would be in the trillions with entire star systems laid waste – unimaginable.
“It is not right, it is not fair, and it is not nice. But the spies of the galaxy help maintain a…a balance of terror. As long as each Power knows everything about the others, and knows that the others in turn know everything about it, they know they cannot win as long as the technology stays roughly equal. If one Power were to gain a major advantage, they might use that advantage to trigger that final war.
“The current terrible weakness of the Romulan Star Empire, thanks to a brilliantly executed raid by our Dosadi friends here, is one of the most frightening and destabilizing things that has occurred in decades. The Romulans are wounded, afraid, and desperate.  I fear that they will react like any cornered, wounded animal.
“Had I done any of these things you think that I have done, I ask you to consider what I have just said and think about the lives that would be lost in a general war across the galaxy.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, Colonel. You’re trying to make yourself out to be a good guy in all this.”
Colonel Jons laughed, “Aren’t we always the hero in our own story, Wilkes? Enough politics. The lady is going hungry and the good Captain is waiting to have a discussion with you both.” and he stood up to order food for the three of them.

* * *
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS HOOD, UNDER WAY
OCTOBER 2269
Two days later, Wilkes, back in proper uniform, was completing his report to Chief Engineer White. Finishing the whole exhausting tale, he finally lapsed into silence.
White continued munching on some of the biscuits Wilkes’ mother had sent along. “Damn, these are good…So, a Dosadi, a Hydran, and a Brit walk into a bar…”
“Sir?”
“Never mind. Dumb joke. What are we going to do with you Wilkes?”
Wilkes cleared his throat, “Captain Kamov was um, rather unhappy in general, sir. I think I was just a convenient target for being out of uniform.”
“True. Sooth took over his ship, but at least she was in the proper uniform. And we’re damn lucky nobody on either side died, especially with some of the more severely injured. But there’s more to this than being out of uniform.”
“Sir?”
“Wilkes, in a very short time you’ve been involved in several major battles, espionage, a battle between two Federation starships, cultivated a relationship with a known spy, married a foreign national of another entire species and caused your dear mother no end of heartache.” he munched away.
“You’re like a bomb going off wherever you go, Wilkes. Fortunately, now that we recognize your shall we say, explosive potential, we may be able to harness it. But the last is the most serious charge. For giving your mother so much grief – and for being out of uniform, you will pull two hours extra duty every working shift for the next two weeks, said duty to involve either cleaning tools, equipment, or battle armor for Security.”
Breathing a sigh of relief Wilkes said, “Yes, sir.”
“I’ll kick your ass later. Get out, and give Sooth a squeeze for me. I really am sorry things didn’t work out with Dr. Monteaux’s regimen.”
Looking down Wilkes answered, “Doesn’t look like it, sir. He said the whole hormonal thing was going to be a delicate balance for a while and to avoid excitement. I’m afraid a bar brawl, a battle, and an assault boarding and capture of a starship doesn’t quite qualify as peace and calm.” He left to go back to their quarters, now more sad than relieved.
CHAPTER 13
To nourish children and raise them against odds is in any time, any place, more valuable than to fix bolts in cars or design nuclear weapons.
– Susan Sontag – Earth (Human)
OFF THE COAST OF T’ELESH, DOSAD
MARCH 2270
Corin was leaning into the oar next to Wilkes, bending his back as they drew hard, racing away from the setting sun.
Wilkes panted, “I didn’t even know there WERE lakes this big.”
Corin laughed, “There’s a lot more to our planet than trees, Wilkes.” The longship was making good time, the six pairs of oarsmen adding to the lateen sail hung slightly forward of amidships.
“I think I need a helmet with horns on it.” he gasped out as they lifted, pushed, and drew again.
Corn laughed and asked, “Why?”
“Never mind. Are you sure Toralin can do it?”
Another stroke and Corin said, “He’s a medic. And if he can’t, he can call a transporter. It’ll be fine. Trust me, it’s better to be here than there.” Another stroke and he continued, “Besides these things take time, we’re only about an hour out from T’Elesh at this pace.”
“It’s just too damn soon.”
“What do you know about it?” Corin laughed. “If you can worry that much you’re not pulling hard enough, put your back into it!”
An hour later, the helmsman curved them alongside the pier and people began to pile out and tie the ship fast. Corin stood up from his bench and stretched. Making his way to the tent covering the center of the boat, he peeked his head in. “Can I see?”
Eletha waved him in and he looked down. “Well thank all the gods they’re not pink. But…four? I thought one?”
Wilkes looked up with a huge smile on his face, whispering so as not to wake Sooth, “We’ve known for a long while, but we didn’t know how many…would make it. They’re still too small. They’re early.”
Corin cocked his head to one side trying to get a good look at the little kits. Their ears were small, and more rounded than he was used to. And their tails were tiny – almost bobbed. One with reddish, spotted fur opened her bright blue eyes and mewled.
“That one’s Heather.” Wilkes said, and we’ve got “Nollos, and Rollin, and Corin. I got to pick one name  but I’m not saying which.” he chuckled.
Corin smiled, “There’s a float to take you to the medical bay. Wait…Rollin?”
With a quiet laugh Wilkes explained, “For my father.”
“AH, of course…” and he stepped back out on deck, leaning over the rail. Watching the waves, he heard the float load the new little family up and start making it’s way up the hill and into the city. Eletha came and leaned on the rail next to him, her tail draped over his.
“Well, they SORT of look like Dosadi.” he said, enjoying the quiet lap of the waves against the hull.
“They know it won’t be easy, Corin. Nothing either of them has ever done has been easy. But they’ve gotten it done, haven’t they?”
He smiled at her, “That’s quite true. They have done rather well, haven’t they?” He could hear her kits scampering around the ropes and oars. At three, and finally weaned, they were given a lot more freedom to explore. Watching Eletha look to check on her kits he thought to himself. “Not quite yet, but soon, I think.”
She looked back at him and laughed “I know what you’re thinking, Corin. It does seem to be getting to that part of our stories, doesn’t it?”
He shook his head, “It’s scary how you do that.” And he turned, leaning his back on the gunwale, looking up the hill after the float. “And now there’s four new stories to tell.”
Turning and leaning her chin on his shoulder she said, “That’s a long journey yet.”

CHAPTER 14
A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.
– Lao Tzu
DUCHY OF THE SWORD WORLDS, HYDRAN KINGDOM
APRIL 2270
Relaxing in his study, listening to the wind and rain against the tall, narrow windows of his study, Colonel Jons enjoyed a glass of wine and the warmth of the fire. Turning to the dispatches delivered by  the day’s courier, he quickly sorted them out. Smiling he held up one marked as a personal message data chip and smoothly inserted it into his PADD.
The action led him to remember how pleased the Romulans had been that the Yorktown team had neglected to scan the PADD he was carrying and therefore failed to detect the isolinear chip he had inserted back in that pub in Marseille. It was, after all, his habit to succeed at his duties, and one had a certain reputation to maintain, after all. And of course, they had learned much about the capabilities of the Constitution Class Starships from monitoring the duel between the Hood and the Yorktown.
He touched the display screen. The usual headers indicating that it had been scanned by both Starfleet Intelligence and the Hydran embassy security office flashed by and he began reading the letter. Tapping a symbol, the PADD displayed a holographic image of Sooth, proudly holding her four new kits with Wilkes standing behind her, his hands on her shoulders. “That’s quite an armful.” he thought to himself, remembering the birth of each of his own children.
“I wonder what it would be like with four at one time…” he mused and continued reading the message, full of the sort of little bits of daily life that are only of interest to those directly involved. It closed with a post-script, “PS: I still think you’re a spy. But I’ll admit I’ve been thinking about what you said about a balance of terror. I still don’t agree with you, but it makes a bit more sense now.”
Jons chuckled, wondering what Starfleet Intelligence would think of that particular comment. The lad stood as a unique bridge between the Federation and Dosadi cultures and was deliberately communicating with a spy. He would no doubt come in for extra scrutiny in his dealings….he sat back and watched the fire for a little bit, letting his mind run.
There were possibilities here; business, intelligence, and indeed, personal as well. The boy and his wife were quite likeable, after all. But then, Colonel Jons was a very emotional man.

CYCLE 3 – PIVOT
CHAPTER 1
The truth is balance. However, the opposite of truth, which is unbalance, may not be a lie.
– Susan Sontag (Earth)
UNKNOWN
JANUARY 2271
“Will it work?”
“If it arrives at a target location as I have described, certainly. The R0 should start out at 15 and increase from there. With a latent period of nearly a week, an extremely high transmission rate along multiple vectors, and an asymptomatic period of two weeks, it will likely spread off-world rapidly. Long before anyone knows there is a need for quarantine. But it is essential that the initial release occurs where there will be a maximum number of highly-mobile individuals exposed.”
“And the lethality?”
“Better than 20% initially, and likely to rise. It is polymorphic by design. But after the initial phase, this is unpredictable. There will be further losses due to the breakdown of civic order and services, of course.”
“Specificity?”
“Genetically targeted to a single species, as requested. Hybrids may or may not be susceptible depending upon chromosomal makeup.”
“Treatment?”
“Unlikely to have any efficacy from one generation to the next. It is highly polymorphic, maintaining only those few traits we desire as constants.”
“When can we have a dispersion device?”
“It will take some time to go from hypothetical concept to tested realization. No more than 5 years. However, you understand getting the product through screening will be nearly impossible, do you not? The Federation are not fools.”
“You will focus on your area of expertise and I shall focus on mine.”

CHAPTER 2
Never mind searching for who you are. Search for the person you aspire to be.
– Robert Brault – Earth (Human)
T’ELESH, DOSAD
JANUARY 2271
Lieutenant Thomas Wilkes was standing at the window of the roundhouse he and Sooth shared with their four children on the rare occasions both of them were on Dosad and wanted some alone time. The Dosadi didn’t really ‘own’ houses so much as they shared them, and respected those who wished to be alone for whatever reasons.  Naked, he stared out at the night through the deep opening. He enjoyed the sound of the driving rain, the feeling of the cool eastern wind across his skin; He enjoyed just being alive. After the chaos of the first few years of his Starfleet career, it was nice to enjoy a couple of years of peace and quiet. And it was just so NICE to be home with Sooth and the kits. With him being posted to the USS Hood and Sooth being stationed aboard the Dosadi assault carrier ISS Delos, it seemed all too rare that he got to enjoy a real family life. Sometimes it sucked being a sailor.
The clouds scudded across the blue-grey sky, the wind making the weird Dosadi trees rustle their corn-husk-like long-bladed leaves and twisting the draping pseudo-vine structures that hung down from the branches. He always thought they looked haunted when the wind blew like this, and tonight was no exception.  He could smell the cool dank of the distant big lake on the wind and, if he listened closely,  hear the soft whisper of the waves against the shore. The weather suited his mood tonight.
He was getting close to the end of his tour with Starfleet and needed to make some decisions. Sign up for another tour? Take Sooth and the kits to Earth and take a job as an Engineer there? Try to find something to do here on Dosad – the Dosadi weren’t big on power-systems and technology most of the time, but there was enough of it needed that he could probably find something that kept them fed and housed. Not that the Dosadi didn’t seem to always make sure that folks had someplace to stay and something to eat anyway. As long as you had any sort of utility – even as a competent babysitter or storyteller, there would be a place for you somewhere.
Or maybe he should join the Dosadi Imperial Fleet, then he and Sooth could be stationed on the Delos together. As usual, he thought about that a lot. It made sense. But, he simply wasn’t ready to walk away from Starfleet and the Federation, and there were advantages to being a Federation citizen. He sighed and heard Sooth say,
“For a big, bald monkey, you’re pretty sexy.”
Turning and smiling at his wife he answered back, completing the familiar ritual, “And for a big house cat, you’re pretty sexy yourself.” She laughed and held her arms out to him.
Later, curled up around her in their bed and holding her close he sighed again.
She nuzzled back against him, “You worry about the journey ahead too much, Wilkes.”
“Or not enough. Half the time I think I’m just stumbling from one near-disaster to the next and relying on luck to get through them.”
Purring, she said, “I think they call that ‘life’, Wilkes. You can plan and prepare and worry and wonder and none of it will change what the gods have in mind for tomorrow. All you can do is be the best you can be every day and see where your road leads. Enjoy where you ARE” she said, wiggling back against him,  “without worrying so much about what’s up ahead.”
“Oh believe me, I very much enjoy where I am.” he gave her a squeeze. “But I don’t know what to do about so many things. Do I rejoin Starfleet? Join the Imperial Fleet? Stay here? Take us all back to Earth? Jons wants me to work with him on opening up trade between Hydra and Dosad, but he’s a spy!”
“I’m not ready to leave the Imperial Marines, Wilkes. And Starfleet would probably throw you in the brig if you worked with Jons. I like him, I think, but I don’t trust him.” she giggled.
“No, that’s the weird thing.” He rubbed her ears softly, “Jons sent me a note just before I left for leave. Chief Engineer White called me to his office to give it to me. There were two really creepy guys from Starfleet Security there and they said they wanted me to.”
“Why would they want you to work with a spy?” She arched her neck.
“That’s what I said, and I thought they wanted me to spy for them so I told them, ‘I’m an Engineer, not a  spy.’
They just laughed and said they didn’t want me to be a spy. Just work with Jons, but let them keep monitoring devices wherever we met, or worked together so they could keep an eye on HIM, and let them track all our communications. Said I didn’t need to really do anything at all.”
She thought about it for a moment, “Maybe they think they can catch him being a spy and…Can they even do anything to him? He’s a diplomat.”
“Kick him out permanently maybe. I didn’t get it either, but I said I’d at least meet with him and see what he’s got in mind. We should probably tell the Council that he’s a spy before he gets here.”
“Well it’ll have to wait until after our hunting trip tomorrow.” She giggled again, “And I want to be there when you tell N’Orel that you’ve invited a spy to Dosad.”
Wilkes tickled her and things degenerated rapidly from there.

CHAPTER 3
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief.
– Nursery Rhyme – Earth (Human)
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS HOOD, UNDER WAY
JANUARY 2271
Chief Engineer White sat at his paper-strewn desk aboard the USS Hood while two Starfleet Security officers spoke with him. Though wearing the uniforms of Lieutenant Commanders, their real ranks and branches of service were classified. They wore whatever uniforms were convenient to their purpose. The first asked,
“Will he do it?”
White looked him up and down again. The man gave off an air of casual lethality, as though killing were as automatic a function as shaving. “He’s a good kid, Commander ‘Jones’. I still object to your attempting to recruit him.”
His partner leaned forward, “We’re not recruiting him, per se, Chief. We don’t really want him to have anything to do with any intelligence operations at all.”
“Then why, Commander ‘Smith’, do you want him working with that Hydran operative?”
Smith and Jones looked at each other for a moment, and Jones finally spoke with a quiet, flat voice, “White, you seem to have influence with Wilkes, so we’re going to level with you. We don’t have a lot of contacts with or penetration into Hydran operations. We get good dope on the Klingons from Dosadi intelligence as you well know… “
“Don’t remind me.” White interrupted.
Smith smiled while Jones continued, “Indeed, the Korat have quite a reputation. But the Hydrans are plugged into everyone. If we can get a peek into their operations…it could completely alter the balance of power. In our favor. If Wilkes works with Jons, we’ve got a tie-point. We can try to plant a trace on him, we know where to find him and can see who he talks to, business contacts, contracts, who he interacts with – not only find out who might be turned on our side, but who we might be able to turn on THEIR side. “
He paused a moment, clearly wrestling with what he should say, “Further, there is value in being able to quietly pass messages from one Service to another, outside normal diplomatic channels. There are times when information must be exchanged, but in a way that is…deniable.”
“Jons isn’t stupid, Jones. He’s going to know that Wilkes is working with you. That puts him at a lot of risk. I don’t like that.”
“Of course he’ll know! And he’ll know that we know that he knows. The fact that Wilkes will be completely in the dark will be what keeps him safe. He can’t betray knowledge he doesn’t have, and Jons will quickly find out that the boy is clueless. He’ll suspect something, but he won’t know anything other than that we’re watching.”
Disgusted White asked, “You still really enjoy these games, don’t you?”
Jones laughed, “Of course. It’s really the only game there is. You used to be quite good at it yourself.”
“I said, don’t remind me.”

* * *
DUCHY OF THE SWORD WORLDS, HYDRAN KINGDOM
JANUARY 2271
“Will he do it?” the short, sallow-skinned man with black hair asked.
“I believe so. Starfleet Intelligence will want to use my contacts with him as a way to keep tabs on me.” Colonel Jons said.
“Is he an operative then?”
“No, M’lord. He is just what he seems. A ridiculously fortunate, rather likeable young human who joined Starfleet to see a wider universe. We’ve done rather extensive research on his background. His home village is smaller than my own lands.” he chuckled.
“What is he doing married to a Dosadi? That stinks of Starfleet meddling.”
“I’m not entirely sure how that came about, but I intend to find out. He told me, and his dossier confirms, that he was posted to the ISS Delos a few months before the battle at Toulagai, but as you know, we have no real penetration into Dosadi operations. Yet.”
“And you think you can dodge both Starfleet and the Korat and gain something useful out of this? Is the payoff worth the risk? You’re an extraordinarily effective agent. I’d hate to see you caught like a mouse in a trap.”
Jons bowed, “M’lord, a clever mouse can get away with the cheese and escape both trap and cat. It simply takes focus and attention to your duties. And a certain panache, of course.” He smiled.
“Very well. But I shall take it very much amiss if you lose your utility to the Kingdom. Your duties require that you remain active, and effective, Colonel.”

* * *
T’ELSH, DOSAD
JANUARY 2271
“Well, N’Orel, will he do it?”
The big cat looked at the Klingon and said, “I’m not sure, K’mpok. He’s got good instincts for a human. He knows the whole thing stinks like rotted meat and he is suspicious. He doesn’t know what is wrong with the situation, just that something is not right.”
“Can his woman push him into it?”
“That still makes my fur stand up. It’s just…not right. But I doubt it. Dosadi are, as you know, fiercely loyal to their mates and if he thinks it’s a bad idea, she won’t try to dissuade him.”
The Klingon trader thought for a little while, watching the sun rise over the distant lake. “Perhaps if something was to be offered to her so that she thought it was a good idea she might advise him as we wish. A woman’s voice is the last a man hears every night, after all.”
N’Orel laughed. “And what would you offer a Dosadi? Gold? Slaves? Lands? We are not interested in such things.”
“Power. Connections and a stronger family.”
N’Orel shook his head, “We’re not Klingon, K’mpok. But there may be something to family. Perhaps if she knows we of the Korat see it as a good opportunity, she will work with us rather than against us. I will arrange to have one of our people speak with her. They’re going out hunting this morning, so it will have to wait for their return. There is no rush. The Hydran won’t arrive for several weeks yet.”
“majQa.” he smiled.

CHAPTER 4
It’s a shallow life that doesn’t give a person a few scars.
– Garrison Keillor – Human (Earth)
T’ELSH, DOSAD
FEBRUARY 2271
The sun rose with long spokes of shadow and light through the clouds. The waves lapped at the hull of the longship as Sooth and Wilkes stood waiting, small rucks at their feet.  Wilkes, watching people getting aboard, taking seats at oars and generally making ready to sail said, “You know, I’m still surprised at the amount of cooperation you Dosadi have. On Earth we’d have to hire a boat or hire a crew or something. Here you just ask folks if they want to do something until you get enough to do it. And how come old Tarleth lets anyone take his boat out?”
Sooth laughed, “I keep forgetting that most of your experience with us is aboard the Delos. Military structure is different. At home, we’re a pretty cooperative culture compared to humans and we don’t really have the same feelings about ownership your people do.
“Tarleth usually helms this longship because he knows it better than anyone else. He just didn’t feel like going out today, so S’arleth will because she wants to sail. Lots of people helped build it, why would it be his alone?”
“But what if she just doesn’t feel like coming back? Or sinks it?”
“Well, I guess he’d get another one built, but why wouldn’t she come back? And if we sank it, we’d help build another one. It would be dishonorable not to.”
“Um, say, she decided to move across the lake and wanted to keep the boat and just…didn’t come back with it.”
She looked askance at him, “She has too much honor for that, Wilkes. Besides, everyone crewing today would want to come back here anyway. If she tried to keep them there, they’d probably throw her overboard.”
Wilkes shook his head, “I love it, but you would never fit in on Earth. People aren’t like that – we always want more stuff.”
Bending down to pick up her ruck she said, “I know. I never understood that. Why do so many people there have so many things. And your history! It’s all about taking stuff from other people even when you can’t use it yourself, or trying to make other people do what you want or believe what you believe. Why not just mind your own business?”
Grabbing his own ruck as Corin and Eletha came walking down the dock he said, “I guess that’s why I like it so much better here. I love being a Federation citizen but there are so many rules and regulations. It’s sure better than what it sounds like it used to be, but I get tired of being monitored all the time and all the other restrictions.”

Corin, arriving in time to hear Wilkes’ last comment, paused with one leg on the dock, one across the gunwale of the longship and asked, curiously, “And so, to get away from being monitored and away from restrictions, you joined STARFLEET? Wilkes, I always thought you were crazy. Now I know you are.”
When Eletha shoved him, he almost fell overboard.
Several hours later, as they were lounging mid-deck while others took their turns at the oars, Wilkes was watching the sail cut across the clouds and the ice-blue sky. “So tell me more about this hunting trip, Corin. Sooth’s been pretty cagey about not telling me much of anything. I notice we didn’t bring any phasers, or stunners, or anything.”
“Where’s the honor in hunting prey with a long-range weapon? I suppose I could call the Delos and get them to fire a phaser barrage too…but I don’t think it would be much fun, nor prove any courage of mine. No, when we get to where we’re going we’ll make our own weapons: spears. You humans use technology for everything. We could easily take a power-float across the lake, or fly, or if we could trade enough for it, call a transporter. Easy and boring! But when it’s just YOU?” He licked his lips, lost in some mental image of his own.
“You’ll love it, Wilkes. Naraks are related to us – they stayed solitary hunters and got bigger, stronger, and meaner while we evolved to be more cooperative, speak, and to use tools to make up for a smaller size.”
Eletha interrupted, “Hang on – I’ll show you an image.” She held up her PADD and a holograph popped into being above the display.
Wilkes mouth dropped open, “A sabertooth tiger!”
“A what?” Eletha asked.
“It looks a lot like a pre-historic Earth carnivore called a sabertooth tiger. No tail, huge size, giant teeth, and just unhappy about life in general.”
Eletha tapped on her PADD for a few moments, “Oh yes – here.” and a second image appeared next to the narak. “It does look similar. But you’ll note that the narek is longer, doesn’t have the big shoulders, and the teeth aren’t quite as long.”
“Long enough!” Wilkes laughed. “We’re going to hunt those with spears?!”
“Oh yes.” Corin licked his lips again. “ They’re delicious. When you face one, just you and it, let me tell you that’s when you will come face to face with who you are, Wilkes. There’s nothing like it. Your strength, courage, and skill against his. A lot of people don’t come back from these trips. But, if we don’t thin them out, they tend to come down to the cities and start preying on younger kits. We like them to stay a bit more up in the mountains where they belong. But the bigger ones have the best territory there. So, we clear some out there and the younger ones have a chance rather than coming down to where we are.”
“So we’re going to gear up, climb into the mountains and hunt a sabertooth tiger with a spear. Are you sure we can’t call the Delos?”
“Gear up? Who said anything about gear, Wilkes? Traditionally, you should be naked when you start. You get to wear clothes because you’re all bald. Anything else you want, you have to make along the way…”

It was early afternoon when S’arleth beached the longship at a narrow strand at the foot of a range of hills. As the four of them were disembarking, she grinned evilly and said, “We’ll come back and pick up whatever’s left of you in two days.”
As they stood on the beach, Wilkes looked into the distance, seeing the mountains rising up enough in the distance to have snow, even during this warmer season. The hills started out with scrub, moving into the same kind of trees that he always saw as haunted. Further, up, they looked greener. “How far up do we go?” he asked.
“How high depends upon the naraks! Usually we do this as individuals, but you don’t know enough about our planet yet. So, we’re going to stick together and teach you as we go.” Corin hoisted his pack, looking up ahead with a big smile and eager excitement.
Looking up as well, Eletha spoke, “But don’t think it’ll be a team event when we find one! Whoever spots it first gets it!”
As they started off, Wilkes shook his head again at the Dosadi thirst for challenge and trial. Teasingly, he asked Sooth, “So, feel good to be rid of the extra weight and hassle?”
Looking down her once-again flat chest she sighed happily, “You have NO idea. I’m so glad they weaned so early. I really do not know how human women put up with that nonsense all their lives.”
Wilkes looked at her wryly and she continued, “I know what you’re thinking monkey-boy! Kalea told me all about human males’ fascination with those.” She flicked her tail and sped up the hill while Corin and Eletha laughed at him.

Late the following morning, he was surprised both at how far they had traveled and how much higher they were. The night had been chilly – fortunately, he thought, he had 3 self-heating furry blankets to keep warm with.  Puffing with exertion, he shrugged his shoulders against the ruck’s straps and increased his pace again to keep from falling behind.
As they crested a small ridge, Corin paused and said, “You’re doing well so far, Wilkes! You haven’t broken anything, fallen off a cliff, eaten anything poisonous,  or been eaten! Even your spear’s pretty good, although I’ll admit the point is a little strange.”
Wilkes hefted his heavy spear. “I studied some anthropology at the Academy and that included a workshop in how to make stone tools. The instructor wanted us to learn that primitive didn’t mean stupid. I wonder if he had you guys in mind….”
Eletha laughed and asked “It just looks different than any I’ve seen before.”
“It’s my own modification. Stone points look the same from one tool-using culture to the next. That’s just a fact of how edged weapons work and how stone fractures no matter what planet you’re on. Like your classic Dosadi knife – that’s basically a Celtic leaf-blade. A knife is shaped the way it is because of what it has to do – there’s just not that many variations that are possible.
But you can put in a few twists – I left some large spurs on mine so that it acts like a flechette going in…and coming out. It should do a lot more damage than a normal point.”
“Well, you should get a chance soon. “ Corin said. “This is perfect territory for naraks. I think you know enough to not get into any trouble for the next little bit. Let’s all split up for an hour or two then meet back here and we’ll see how we did! Just remember to keep your eyes, ears, and nose open. They like to hunt too.”
“Thanks.” Wilkes said dryly. The group split up and went in four different directions. As he walked, Wilkes headed down into a draw, trying to listen and smell for anything unusual. The problem was that as an Earthling, everything was unusual. The net result was that he was constantly starting at shadows and over-reacting to harmless sounds. Getting disgusted with himself after being startled by what appeared to be the Dosadi version of a chipmunk, he decided to relax for a bit.
Sitting down with his back to a large rock, he put down the spear he had been pointing at the chipmunk and laughed at his own fears. To the chipmunk he said, “Well, I suppose if I brought YOUR head back it wouldn’t be much proof of my courage, so consider yourself fortunate, ‘munk.” The little furry critter stared at him with beady eyes, then with a flick of it’s ridiculously long, narrow tail, disappeared.
Not a moment later, he quickly reached back down for the heavy spear and leapt to his feet, spinning around with his weapon at the ready. Standing upon the rock he had been relaxing against was a large, male narak, looking down at him. In person, it was bigger, uglier, and smellier than he thought possible.
The narak studied him, trying to decide just what he was. Dosadi didn’t have a class of primates Wilkes’ size or color or smell. That niche was filled by several species of mid-sized tree-dwelling rodents not unlike flying squirrels. Growling, the creature decided that whatever it was, it was meat, it was in his territory, and it must be lunch.
Wilkes tried to swallow in a very dry throat as the thousand-pound sabertooth – it didn’t matter what the Dosadi called it, the thing was a sabertooth tiger – gracefully jumped off the rock, out of the reach of his spear, and began a slow, growling approach. “Well, I wanted a challenge.” he thought to himself. Steeling his nerve he said, “Here kitty, kitty, kitty!”
The narak paused, trying to evaluate the strange noises his lunch was making. Deciding they weren’t much of a threat display, he resumed his approach, slinking closer, getting ready to make the sudden, short rush that would allow him to wrestle lunch to the ground and slash its throat open with his fangs.
Wilkes circled away, watching the terrain for any advantage that he could take. Getting the big rock to his back, he crouched low, spear at the ready and challenged the narak, “C’mon, kitty…Take your best shot.” He hoped his voice wasn’t wavering too much and that the damn thing didn’t notice his knees were shaking. Then he thought to himself, “Great, I’m a zillion miles from home, about to be killed by a pre-historic monster and I’m worried about impressing it before it eats me.”
The narak had had enough. This prey wasn’t behaving normally at all. In any case, he was hungry, and it looked small, weak, and smelled frightened. Crouching low, he narrowed his eyes, gauging the distance to Wilkes and sprang into the attack.
Wilkes watched the narak crouch, its rear-end working as it dug its hind claws in for traction. “Now I know what the mouse feels like…” but he steeled himself, holding the heavy spear in a tight grip, parallel with the ground, ready to adjust his aim. There was a blur of motion as the half-ton predator raced towards him. Wilkes butted the haft of his spear against the rock, desperately trying to aim the point into the thing’s center-mass when the impact nearly knocked him off his feet.
The spear shaft splintered and broke, but he managed to keep one hand on the part of the spear still stuck in the narak as it screamed in agony and rage, trying now to slam on the brakes and back away from the horrible thing in front of it. Wilkes quickly brought his other hand up to grab the shaft of the spear as the narak began thrashing, great gouts of blood coming out of its throat from the spear lodged in its chest.
Wilkes struggled to rip the barbed spear-point back out of the narak as a massively clawed and muscled front paw slammed into his right arm. “MOTHER FUCKER!” he screamed in anger. He pulled back hard while kicking the thing in the face with his right leg and was rewarded with another gout of blood as the spear came free, ripping with it a good-sized chunk of the narak’s internal workings.
Both of them bloody now, they again began to circle each other, the narak gurgling bloody froth and Wilkes dripping blood from 3 deep gashes across his right arm. When he had the creature with its back to the rock, Wilkes charged, screaming like a banshee. The narak, badly hurt and confused, tried to back away but had nowhere to go and Wilkes again drove the stone-tipped spear deep into the thing’s chest, twisting as he did so. In moments, it was over.
Panting from the fight, Wilkes realized he had to do something about the gashes in his arm before he bled to death himself. Besides, other predators could smell blood and there was a ton if it around here now.  Pulling his shirt off, he used the spear point to cut it into strips and clumsily tied several pressure dressings on the tears in his arm. He wouldn’t be using THAT for a while. It was already starting to stiffen. As he looked around for the right sized sapling for another spear shaft he saw Corin.
The big Dosadi was crouched on top of another rock above the one the narak had been on, and was putting his PADD away as he stood up. “Well done, Wilkes!! I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite that approach before, but it worked!”
Dumfounded, Wilkes asked “What are you doing here? I thought you went North?”
“I did.” he chuckled as he made his way down the rocks. “I was following this one’s trail. I knew I was only a minute or so behind him, and then I saw you.”
“Just now?”
“No, just when you jumped up – I caught sight of the narak and wondered what he was looking at when you stood up. But Wilkes…’here kitty, kitty, kitty?’” he laughed.
A suspicion came over Wilkes. “Wait…You saw all that….what were you doing with the PADD?”
“Why Wilkes! Whatever would I be doing with a PADD?” He laughed, “Mind your own business. Time to learn how to butcher these. There’s a lot of meat here we can take back as well as the skin and the teeth and claws can be traded as well. You’ll want to make a drag or it’ll be too heavy.”
“We’re taking it back? By hand?!”
“Of course. Why would you waste it? And since you had the honor of battling it, you get the honor of bringing it home!” Seeing Wilkes’ look of dismay he laughed, “Don’t worry, we can help, that’s allowed. Now, take your stone point and make the first cut here…” And he bent to his task.
Two days later, all four of them were back aboard the longship, Wilkes laying amidships trying to get the kinks out of his back, shoulders, and his injured arm. The other three had indeed helped, but Wilkes had to push himself to his limits carrying the majority of the meat and skin. As he lay there, he heard uproarious laughter coming from the tent that covered the center of the boat. Groaning, he got to his feet and poked his head in to be greeted by a cry of ‘Again! Play it again!’
There, projecting off of Corin’s PADD was a small holographic image of himself, and a moment later he heard his own, slightly wavering voice saying “Here kitty, kitty, kitty!”

CHAPTER 5
The bigger the smile, the sharper the knife.
– Ferengi Rule of Aquisition #48.
T’ELSH, DOSAD
MARCH 2273
Jons and his wife Marin stepped off the shuttlecraft into the humidity and heat of a Dosadi mid-day. As they paused trying to acclimate themselves to a new world, a gruff voice behind them rasped in Klingon “VIH pa’ vo’ lojmit!” (roughly, ‘move out of the door!’). Stepping to the side, they watched a large Klingon trader stride past them and away from the landing pad. The Colonel shook his head and offered his arm to his wife, looking around his environment.
“Colonel Jons!” he heard his name called and finally caught sight of Wilkes. Smiling at the young man, he waved and he and his wife made their way over to the edge of the cleared field where their shuttlecraft had set down.
“Lieutenant Wilkes, I would like to introduce you to my wife, the Lady Marin.”
Both an officer and a gentleman, Wilkes bowed and said, “It is a great pleasure. I was only expecting the Colonel, so this is indeed an extra treat! May I present to you both, Force Leader Corin and his mate, Lieutenant Eletha.”
After the introductions, they began to walk from the landing field towards the cluster of roundhouses that made up the closest portion of the city. Wilkes said, “I really am delighted to see you both Colonel, but I am surprised. Hydrans aren’t exactly common on Dosad, you couldn’t know how you’d be received here; Why take the risk?”
Jons looked up at the taller man and explained, “When a man seeks battle, he brings only himself and his men. When he seeks peace and commerce, he brings his wife.”
Laughing, Wilkes said, “My wife’s a Marine. I think that might confuse the issue…”
“Speaking of which, where is the Lady Sooth?” he asked.
“She’s at home with the kits, which sounds a bit more like your culture, Colonel.” he smiled.
“Please, Lieutenant, I hope to do business with you – I am Seins to my friends.”
“And my first name is actually Thomas, but the Dosadi only use one name and in Starfleet we generally only use last names, so I’m Wilkes most of the time. Feel free to call me either. “
Eletha spoke up, “It was good to meet you both. Corin and I are going to go find where our four kits have gotten to before they get into too much trouble for one day. They’re getting to the age where if they can’t find some sort of mischief, they’ll make it themselves.”
As they entered the roundhouse, Jons looked around bemusedly. The building would befit a peasant family on his own lands, but as a diplomat, he kept his thoughts to himself.
Waving them inside, Wilkes said, “Make yourselves comfortable, please – there aren’t that many rooms here so it shouldn’t take me too long to find Sooth.” grinning he said, “Watch your feet though, our kits are getting curious enough to explore anything and anyone.” and he indicated the four pairs of very bright eyes and focused ears peering out of a low sleeping pad. “I’ll be right back – please excuse me.” and he walked through the door leading further into the interior.
Marin immediately went over to the little ones and crouched down to say hello. The smallest one, a spotted reddish-furred female dodged Marin and peered up at Jons. “What are YOU?”
Delighted, Jons kneeled down and said, “I am a Hydran little one. My name is Seins. What is your name?”
Sniffing and examining him with all the curiosity of small children everywhere, she said, “I’m Heather!”
As Jons was opening his mouth he heard a knife clearing its sheath behind him and an obviously very young voice demanding, “Get away from her! What are you? What are you doing?”
Moving his hands away from his body, the Colonel slowly stood and turned to face his attacker. Sizing him up he found a young, male Dosadi, perhaps seven or eight standard years old with knife in hand and suspicion written all over his face.
“Ah. You have great courage, my friend.”
The youngster answered, “You better not be hurting them! I won’t let you.”
“And you have honor as well, protecting those smaller than yourself. But do you have wisdom too? The greatest warriors are the wisest warriors. You should know all you can about your foe before committing to battle.”
The lad was feeling a little out of his depth. He was almost the same size as the little violet-skinned man in the strange clothing, but he wasn’t acting afraid of him or his knife. But he’d backed away from Heather and he was showing empty hands and hadn’t moved since he turned around. Why was he just smiling at him?
“Well…I didn’t have time. I had to make sure you weren’t hurting them. Now I can find out though.” holding his knife at the ready he said, “I am Kaileen, the son of two warriors, Eletha and T’Laren and um. So who are YOU?”
Hearing the conversation, Wilkes and Sooth had poked their heads around the corner and were watching interestedly but taking no action yet.
“I am Colonel Sir Jons Seins, Royal Hydran Marines, and I have been in a hundred battles leading thousands of men, fighting with everything from my own two hands to phaser rifles to starships and I have emerged alive each and every time.” He smiled, still not moving, “Now, you have drawn a weapon on me; in my culture, that is a challenge. I believe it is on Dosad as well, is it not?”
The boy swallowed hard. Corin and Eletha stepped inside and Eletha, every bit as suspicious as her son asked, “Colonel, what are you doing?”
The Colonel said, “Getting acquainted with this young warrior. He seems to want to test himself, m’Lady. You make allowances for training, do you not?” and he smiled and winked at her.
She frowned and Corin put his hand on her arm, “We do indeed Colonel. Kaileen, you are responsible for your words here. Speak freely, but remember that.”
Looking at the various adults watching him intently, seeing the younger kits looking up with wide eyes and the little Colonel just smiling at him, he felt backed into a corner by his own pride. But the man wasn’t very much bigger than him. And he’d been training. Standing tall he said, “I’m not afraid of you. You might have been hurting Sooth’s kits so I was in the right. If you don’t like that, then we can fight.”
Eletha was just shy of growling, but Corin squeezed her arm and said, “Well, Colonel! Not on Dosad an hour yet and already heading to the challenge ring!”
Grinning at Corin he said, “The lad’s courage impressed me. He deserves the chance to test that, don’t you think? and speaking to Kaileen he said, “Shall we test each other without causing injury? I would be honored to face you in the ring.”
His voice quavering a little the boy answered “Sure, that makes sense. I didn’t know you were a guest.”
By the time the little group had gotten to the local field, the word had spread that there was something unusual going on and a decent sized crowd had gathered. Looking at several pairs of Dosadi matching across the wide grassy area he asked, “Are there always challenges going on? I had read up on Dosadi culture, of course, but I didn’t think it was that common.”
Corin explained, “There’s always people settling some argument or other, or just training, or just matching for fun. This is actually pretty slow today.”
Wilkes said, “It’s a great way to get all the anger and bad feelings out after a fight, and it makes making up even more fun.” and he grinned at Sooth who swatted him.
Surprised, Jons asked, “You…fight with your wife? Physically?”
“All the time. She’s a Marine, remember? She wins more often than I do. We have rules on what sort of contact, whether we wear pads or not, weapons or not, and so on. But it’s awesome training as well as a lot of fun.”
His wife clearly appalled, Jons shook his head and said “The more I encounter other cultures, the stranger they seem to me. On my world, men who raise their hands to their wives are the most despicable creatures, barely one step above those who hurt children.”
Eletha, clearly unhappy interjected, “I’m glad to hear that Colonel, and I’ll hold you to it. He’s never had a real match before and he’s still very young.”
“You have my word, m’Lady. The young man is at about the same age my own son was when we started his training.”
A few minutes later, Kaileen and Colonel Jons squared off in a circle of grass, with blunted knives in their hands. Crouching low, his knife weaving in front of him, Jons began circling opposite Kaileen.
Kaileen watched him closely as they moved, studying him. He wasn’t very much bigger than the other youngsters he trained with, but he moved strangely. Deciding to try out his very best technique, he feinted with his right hand, swapping the blade to his left as he slashed up and into Jon’s wrist.
As the blade came up, Jons dropped his knife, grabbed Kaileen’s wrist in a two-hand hold and dropped flat onto his back, planting his feet firmly in the boy’s belly and launching him through the air behind him, then rolling back onto his feet and picking up his own blade before the lad had even hit dirt.
Sooth chuckled, “I know THAT move. If he kicks instead of pushes, it hurts. Even through armor.”
Kaileen landed fairly well, and rolled back onto his feet to some cheers from the watching crowd. Shaking his head, he tried to figure out just what had happened. Taking a moment to plan, he circled the other way, Jons staying in place this time and pivoting in a circle. He wasn’t going to stick his arm out like that again. This time, he ducked in low, coming up with his knife held close and his other arm swinging up to block Jons’ knife-hand.
Again dropping his weapon, Jons rolled in towards the boy, crouching even lower and tucking his shoulder under the rising knife-arm and grabbing his wrist. Standing quickly while using his arm as a lever, he again threw Kaileen away. This time the boy landed heavily, but still got back to his feet quickly.
The crowd cheered his tenacity and encouraged him to ‘get back in there and get him!’ with many of the watchers offering helpful suggestions. This time, Kaileen used more caution, circling, feinting, analyzing.  Keeping his stroke short, he sliced at Jon’s hand, only to hear the ringing clash of steel on steel followed by the roar of the small crowd. Feeling more confident, he continued his strikes, each time being blocked by Jons’ blade.
After what he considered his best attack yet, Jons’ knife quickly rolled around his blade, and Jons stepped in, twisting his wrist until he was forced to drop the blade. Surprised, he grabbed for Jons’ arm and again found himself flying through the air. Getting back to his feet again, frustrated, sore, and now disarmed, he tried to think what to do. Nothing he had been taught seemed to have any effect upon the little man. Keeping his distance he continued to circle, trying think it through.
Finally, he stood upright and said, “I don’t know what to do.” disappointed, but not defeated he asked, “Will you teach me how you do that?”

With a laugh, Jons announced “I am undone! This one will be dangerous – he thinks and he is not afraid to learn from his enemy.” Sheathing his own blade, he told Kaileen, “I would consider it an honor to teach you the Hydran style of combat. When you’re small, you have to learn to use your size to your advantage.”
As they exited the ring, Eletha was trying to be very unobtrusive while checking her son for injuries, much to his consternation.

CHAPTER 6
reH tay’ ghot tuqDaj je. (One is always of his tribe./A person and his house are always together.)
– Klingon aphorism
T’ELSH, DOSAD
MARCH 2273
Wilkes, Sooth, Jons, Marin and the four kits were enjoying an evening walk after sharing a meal. Marin and Sooth were lagging slightly behind, engrossed in their own conversation, punctuated with frequent giggles. Observing the kits, now three years old and growing fast, scampering through the greenery, Jons spoke to Wilkes, “Look at yourself, Wilkes. A respected family man and trader on an alien world. You’ve come a long way from your home village on Earth.”
Wilkes shook his head, “I don’t know what I am any more, Seins. I’m a Starfleet Engineer with a power specialty, but Chief Engineer White just had me take OOD training, I’m…”
Jons interrupted, “OOD? I am not familiar with that acronym.”
“Operational Ordinance Disposal” – basically it means I know how to disarm and de-power any weapons system out there from a Federation photon torpedo to a Klingon disruptor to an old-style dynamite bomb. He said since I had a tendency to blow up everything I got involved with I should learn how to keep things from exploding. I think he was kidding…It was one of the toughest courses I’ve ever taken and it took almost 6 months! It’s a good thing Sooth had ground-side duty here on Dosad then.
“But, as I was saying, I’m an Engineer, I’m a bomb tech, I’m a husband, I’m a father, I’m a trader, I’ve gotten to be a pretty good oarsman on Tarleth’s longship. I have to keep reminding myself of whatever I’m doing at the moment! I just thought I’d sign up with Starfleet, do a tour or two aboard a starship, and then end up back on Earth somewhere. This isn’t anything like I imagined my life being like.”
Colonel Jons smiled. “I wonder if anyone’s life turns out the way they imagine it will be. Let’s see! Sooth?” he asked over his shoulder.
“Huh?” she looked at him, interrupting her chat with Marin.
“Did you ever see yourself growing up to be an Imperial Marine, and a mother to 4 unique kits?” he smiled. That smile slowly faded away as an awkward silence stretched out.
Wilkes said, “That’s kind of a touchy…”
Sooth spoke up, “No, it’s OK, Wilkes. I did see myself becoming a Marine, Jons, but I didn’t think I’d ever be a mother. I never wanted to be anything but a Marine since I can remember. I promised myself I’d never be weak again. Ever.”
Always the intelligence operative, Jons asked “Is that a story you want to share? I would be interested in hearing it, if so.”
They all continued to walk for a few paces and Sooth continued. “I’m trying to think where to start. My earliest memories are really confused. I don’t remember my parents at all and no one knows who they were. What I do remember is when I was found, I…” she paused for a moment. “I was two when the USS Zheng He found me. They were a Federation research vessel. Way out from anywhere, really. But their sensors spotted some debris. So they stopped to see what it was. They found some pieces of a Dosadi freighter. Just a couple, spinning out in space, a long way from any other pieces, I guess. Bits of hull mostly. One of them had an escape pod still attached. It had never been launched.
“I was inside it. Since it hadn’t launched, there was no power, nothing. I remember that. It was so dark and cold and it stank. The air was really, really bad by then. I remember them telling me when I asked about it that I must have been in it for about two weeks and couldn’t have gone very much longer. The water had run out a couple days before they found me and the air was almost all bad.
“They told me I tried to attack them when they opened it. But I was too small and too weak to do anything. Just like I must’ve been when…Wait, I forgot. They said they were able to determine that our ship had been attacked, probably by pirates. There were phaser burn marks on the hull near the pod. So they think we got attacked and someone, my mom probably, put her kits into the pods and launched them but she died before she could launch mine. They said there was blood on the walls.” She shuddered and then went on,
“I stayed aboard the Zheng He for almost 3 years. The whole crew sort of adopted me but one of the astrophysicists and her husband were like my mom and dad. Even though they were human. They told me the whole story when they handed me off to the crew of a Dosadi destroyer they finally ran into on their way back to the Federation from their research expedition.
“I had figured out most of it already. I will never, I mean I swore it to myself way back then, I’d learn how to fight better than anyone and I’d never, ever be that weak again. I’d never be helpless. So, I was aboard the Raleen for almost a year before we got back to Dosad. I spent all the time I could with the Marines. They were so amazing! That’s what I always wanted to be.
“I didn’t think I’d ever have kits though. It just didn’t seem right to me, but then I met Wilkes, and my feelings changed pretty fast.”
“Ah.” Jons said, absorbing her story. “That explains much.” Changing the subject in the silence after she finished he said, “On another topic, Wilkes, I have some more documents for you.”
“Wilkes laughed, always the business man, eh, Colonel?”
His wife spoke, “Business is a duty that is often rewarding, Wilkes.”
Jons laughed, “This is why a Hydran’s wife manages the purse, Wilkes. And m’Lady here is probably the best there is. The Klingons and Romulans have both developed a taste for Dosadi hardwoods and incense. K’mpok will take any of both that you are able to come up with and is willing to pay handsomely. We can extract a tidy profit in the process.”
“I don’t see a problem with that. There’s been some clearing going on around a couple of towns and several folks have started growing incense woods just for trade with us. Even N’Orel has gotten in on it and I’m not exactly his favorite person. He, um, doesn’t like spies much.”
“Done well, trade can change people’s perceptions for the better. I have data rods for you to give to both K’mpok and N’Orel.” Jons left unsaid that he knew Starfleet Intelligence would be making duplicates of both.
Wilkes chuckled, “There always seems to be documents going every which way. I had no idea trade involved so much documentation. And I thought engineering had mounds of paperwork…”

* * *
PARIS, FRANCE, EARTH
MARCH 2273
Federation President Chab jav Lorg stood looking out the windows of his office, gazing down at the streets of Paris.
The middle-aged woman sitting in front of his desk spoke again, “Mr. President, we are getting information from many sources that the overture is genuine.”
Turning, he asked, “Noora, how do we know the Klingons aren’t setting us up? We’ve tangled with them too many times for me to trust them straight away.”
Noora Ahmed, the head of Starfleet Intelligence answered her President, “We’ve developed a rather unique source of information that gives us insight into the intelligence operations of many different powers and they all seem to be saying the same thing: That the Klingons are seeking a normalization of relations with the Federation. They could prove to be invaluable allies, Mr. President, and the resources that could be freed up if we no longer needed to maintain such a strong presence along our borders…”
Scrutinizing his intelligence chief, he asked, “And which services are saying this wonderful, hopeful thing?”
Hesitating, she finally answered, “The Hydrans, the Dosadi, even some sources we have within the Klingon Empire itself. The Orions are concerned that it would negatively impact their operations – peace is bad for piracy, as you know.”
“And have they made any official overtures?”
“No sir, this is all either from intercepts, or from information discretely passed from one service to the next. It’s all very deniable by all involved if it doesn’t work out.”
The President considered this. “And you can respond that we’re interested in the possibilities in the same fashion? I don’t want to read some trumped up story in tomorrow’s papers that I’m negotiating away the Federation to the Klingons.”
“Yes, sir. This won’t get out. But the word will get back to the Klingon High Council.”
“And Noora, promise me one thing. James Kirk isn’t involved in this is he?”
She laughed, “No, sir. Not this time.”

CHAPTER 7
We knew we were talking about spies. I knew he knew I knew. I was digging my own grave.
– Christine Keeler, Earth (Human)
OMRASHAR, ROMULUS
FEBRUARY 2274
Shar knew his time was running out. Logic dictated that he should have left Romulus months ago when it became apparent that his cover story was wearing thin. But there remained a respectable chance that he could fully penetrate the plot he had discovered, despite the risk. The Tal Shiar were most capable.
The gamble had paid off to some degree, however. The Romulans were involved in a broad-reaching plot that involved several powers. Exactly which ones, he was not yet sure. But what he had learned today required the greatest risk of all.
As he hurried down the street, his mind continued to work, trying to deduce what role a shape-shifter could have and what the full breadth of the plot was. There had been tantalizing hints, bits of incomplete data, and now this. But the pattern stubbornly refused to resolve. Detecting a pair of Romulans who were evidently tailing him, he began to realize that his time had run completely out. He computed his chances of making it to his contact at the construction company as 4.5%, +/-.
Reaching this conclusion, he quickly turned and entered the shop of a Hydran trader. “You must get this to your intelligence service, and to mine. This rod is a duplicate that can be surrendered…”
The door opened again and the bigger of the two men spoke “Don’t move Vulcan. We are the Tal Shiar and we know who you are.”
The little green-skinned man with the golden hair made one of the rods disappear up his sleeve and spoke quickly, “He attempted to give me this! I do not want it!” Handing it to the two men he continued, “I do not know him and want nothing to do with him. I will cooperate fully.”
Taking the rod and confident that they had caught the spy in the act, the leader smiled. “We appreciate your help, Hydran. This will give us all that we need.”

* * *
LONDON, ENGLAND, EARTH
MARCH 2274
Colonel Jons, at the Hydran Embassy in London, spoke to Assistant Attache’ Lanad Mien. “This device must be implanted on the child tomorrow when they will be in London itself. That is where the best chance will be – and it must be done in such a way that no suspicion will befall us and no harm to the child. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir. But won’t you have more opportunity to do so yourself?”
“Are you an idiot? I am watched nearly constantly. My actions at all times must be above reproach and above any suspicion at all. Now attend to your duties with care, Mien. This is a delicate task, and it is yours alone.”
“Certainly, Sir Jons. You may rely on me.”
“I shall. I find I’m quite looking forward to this visit. It is always nice when duty and pleasure interact, is it not?” He smiled and headed out the door to his waiting transport.
Some four hours later in the very early afternoon, he stepped out at the transport terminal in Leyburn, North Yorkshire, England only to be swarmed by a pack of young Dosadi children. Laughing, he scooped up the littlest one and rubbed her fur the wrong way. “Heather! You’ve gotten bigger.” he accused. Meanwhile, the locals just stared at the wide variety of aliens now regularly showing up in their sleepy little village.
Catching sight of Corin and Eletha standing behind Wilkes and Sooth he said “Why, you two are here as well? I was surprised to see your four in this pack of kits.”
Corin said, “Wilkes said that we were all invited for this religious holiday. His mother has apparently been cooking quite a feast. We were afraid you wouldn’t be able to make it.”
Turning to Wilkes he asked, “I researched the Easter festival before leaving Hydra of course, but I must admit I still don’t fully understand some of the traditions associated with it Are there duties we will be expected to perform?”
Wilkes, holding Sooth laughed, “Not really. My parents are still followers of the old religion so they’d be THRILLED if we all went to services with them tonight, but all that involves for us is sitting there and listening and trying not to fall asleep.” he winked as Sooth swatted him. “It’s just a short walk from here to their house, if you can disentangle yourself from the kits.”
As they walked, Wilkes tried to explain how a large rabbit, chocolate chicken eggs, and pretty hats came to be associated with the resurrection of an ancient religious figure. At the same time, Kaileen, Heather, and the other kits were constantly vying for his attention. By the time they reached Wilkes’ parents house, Jons had become even more confused about Easter, but, diplomat that he was, gave no sign as to how very odd he thought the whole thing was.
Upon being introduced, Wilkes father stood and shook the Colonel’s hand without any comment while Mrs. Wilkes kept up a steady stream of polite questions until Kaileen finally managed to disentangle him. “I have the board all set up just where we’re at. I moved my knight to Queen’s Level 3.”
As Jons studied the Tri-D chess board, Mrs. Wilkes asked, “An are ye comin’ t’service tonigh’, then?’
Glad that Wilkes had given him some warning what to expect – and wondering if the large rabbit would make an appearance – he answered, “I would be honored to attend, if unbelievers are welcome, Mrs Wilkes’.
“Aye, all are welcome. An’ ye ma’ call me Heather, of course.”
Bowing slightly Jons simply said, “Thank you, Heather. I hadn’t realized that the little one shared your name.”
Beaming with pride she said, “An a finer granddaughter one could na ask for.” and headed off back into the kitchen.
Colonel Jons had attended many State dinners, diplomatic functions, and Royal Banquets, but he found nothing to complain about at Mrs Wilkes’ table. The food was quite tasty, if simple, and tolerable to his Hydran digestion as well as that of the Dosadi, he noted. The conversation was what one would expect of a family dinner and he made sure to keep to topics that would be welcome in such a setting. But as always, part of his mind was occupied with his other business.
There had been hints of factions within the Klingon empire who wanted to derail the potential negotiations with the Federation. Hints of internal turmoil in the Empire and biological agents and genetic modifications. So many clues, but no real thread to bind them together.
Turning his full attention back to the table, he scanned the dinner guests. Two older humans, one young man, three adult Dosadi, four young Dosadi, four…hybrids, and one bemused Hydran Marine. Smiling to himself, he was struck again by how a fairly ordinary young human had somehow managed to become a bridge among several different cultures, seemingly without effort. Was it luck? A quirk of personality, or truly the design of God? His God was very different from the God of the rabbit and the Jesus figure, but it made no real difference.
After dinner, over tea, the conversation turned to the plan for the next day. “And so the trip to London tomorrow is just for entertainment, then?”
“Aye, an a bi’ o’ shoppin’ o’ course.” Mrs. Wilkes answered.
Wilkes chimed in, “I haven’t had a chance to show Corin, Eletha, or Sooth much of Earth yet so it should be fun to let them see one of our big cities. They’re, of course, pretty different than Dosadi cities. And Mom’s going to take the pack of kits down to see Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and the like. They’re very famous landmarks here.”
“I always enjoy London when I get a chance to visit here. Usually my business takes me to Paris or Zurich.” Jons took a sip of his tea, “The children should love it.”
Some time later, while sitting in a pew in the Church of England, he overheard a confusing bit of conversation between two of the locals.
“Aye, I warned tha’, an now ther’s cats in the pews.”
“Aye, an ye’d still rather they were sheep, na doub’.”

CHAPTER 8
“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley,”
– Robert Burns – Earth (Human)
LONDON, ENGLAND, EARTH
MARCH 2274
“That’s gotta be them comin’ now.” the little man said to his two companions.
“Aye, how many talkin’ cats are there in London, now?” the bigger one said and chuckled.
“Shutup.” the third man whispered. “We want the little spotted one. Just nip ‘er up right quick, distract ‘er an slap the widget on, then we get paid. S’posed to be easy – curious as a cat.” and he laughed quietly at his own little joke.
As the strangely mixed group of humans, Dosadi and Hydran strolled along the Victoria Embankment of the Thames, enjoying the bits of greenery, and the for-once decent English weather, little Heather ranged further than any of the others. Investigating a bright reflecting spot of light, she came upon three humans.
“What’s that?” she asked the smallest one, pointing at the object in his hand that was sparkling in the sunshine.
“Aye, ’tis magic, now isn’t it?” he smiled back at her.
“Really?” she leaned closer to try to get a better look. The other two had slowly worked around behind her as she examined it. He closed his hand and said,
“If you want to see how it works, I’ll show you, but we need to go inside. If you really like it, I’ll give it to you.”
She started to follow, and stopped, looking over her shoulder. On Dosad, children are safe around anyone and are essentially raised by everyone. But her daddy had warned her not everyone was like that and that there were bad people out in the universe. He and mommy had to fight them sometimes. And something didn’t seem quite right.
She took a half-step away from the man and his bigger companion grabbed her, cutting off her startled cry with his hand as the four of them quickly went into the public loo, carrying the struggling kit who was raking claws up and down the big man’s hand and arm.
A short distance away, Kaileen’s sharp ears had picked up that half-mew cry. Not quite knowing what it was he decided to find out – it had sounded a little like Heather.
So had Jons, who had lagged behind the rest of the group while trying to tempt a squirrel with a small treat so he could get a better look at it. Making a fast visual count of the little group he noted that the two most adventurous of all eight kits were out of sight. Frowning to himself, he headed up the grassy slope, trying to locate where he had heard that noise.
“Bloody ‘ELL” the big man said dropping the struggling Heather inside the building, and backhanding her hard across the face, knocking her away and into the wall. “The little bitch cut me up good!”
She got back to her feet, hissing and trying hard to do what she had seen Jons and Kaileen doing so often in the challenge ring. As the little man reached for her arm she ducked under it and clawed at his leg, ripping pants and skin with all the fury her four-year-old body could muster.
Enraged, the man kicked her hard, flinging her into the wall. Stomping on her limp body, he heard a knife being drawn and another hissing scream.  He spun around in time for Kaileen to drive the Hydran boot knife that Jons had given him into his femoral artery and through to his groin. Screaming and falling to the floor in a fountain of blood, he grabbed at the wounds, trying to stop the pain.
Kaileen tried to turn fast enough, but three adults on one child is not a fair fight. He managed to slash the big man’s arm, but in doing so was slowed enough for the third man to grab him, the bigger man using his own knife now.
Hearing the sounds of the fight and with a sick feeling in his stomach, Colonel Jons raced into the small room. Seeing the silvery injector on the floor he instantly understood what had gone so badly wrong here. For once losing his cool, he scooped up the boy’s knife and neatly gutted the bigger man who was still holding his knife in Kaileen’s chest, then dropped down and under the third man’s clumsy grab. In a moment, he drove his knife up as high as he could reach, puncturing the man’s intestines and diaphragm. Had he been able to, he would have screamed in agony as he thrashed out his last minutes on the floor.
A glance was all it took to know that there was nothing he could do for Kaileen, and he moved rapidly over to Heather’s crumpled and bloody form, pocketing the injector as he did so. A small, shuddering breath gave him some hope and he quickly took out the small first aid pouch he carried as a matter of course. “A quick hypospray of Tri-Ox and a wound spray on the big bleeder the man’s boot had opened in her leg. Try to stabilize the internal injuries with the wand.” he thought to himself. While he was working on her, Mrs. Wilkes and Corin were the first of the group to rush into the small public building. Mrs. Wilkes, horrified, covered her mouth with her hands, tears already welling up in her eyes.
“Call a medical transport, NOW.” Jons ordered.
Corin pulled his com-set out of his belt and began calling for help. Eletha, crowding into the cramped space, knelt down and picked up her son’s body, cradling him close to her and burying her face in his fur.
Wilkes, shouldering his way in to see if he could help, figured out quickly how the fight had gone down. Seeing the bigger man trying to pull his intestines back into his body he calmly walked over to him and stepped on them, scooping more of the organs out with his boot. As the horrified killer gasped his last agonized breaths, Wilkes said, “There is a very special place in Hell for you. I wouldn’t want you to be late.”
When the medics had left with everyone else, Jons was still explaining what he had found to the police inspector. “I was looking for both children when I heard a noise and went to investigate. When I arrived, this man here was dead from the knife wound to his leg. The second man there was obviously dying from the hole in his chest, and I was too slow to save the boy. He had slashed up into that man’s stomach, but the man had enough left to stab the boy in the chest. But he obviously saved the little girl from whatever horrible thing these three wanted with her.”
Examining the knife-wounds and the angles of entry the inspector said, “That seems about right. All these wounds are coming from someone a lot shorter than these three thugs. And the blood all over you, sir? ‘Ow did that ‘appen again?”
“As I explained, I had to move the gutted one to get at the girl so I could treat her. They’re rather messy when their guts are out.”
“Aye. That’s true enough.” Shaking his head he continued, “Damn shame though. The boy saved her and managed to kill all three of them. That’s how it’ll be in my report, Colonel. Thank you for your time. If I need anything more, I can contact you through the embassy.”
“Yes. In fact, I need to go there now, briefly. Then I will be at Hospital. But the embassy will know how to reach me.”
A short while later, Assistant Attache’ Lanad was shocked to see Colonel Jons, still covered in gore, slam into the office. “Sir!”
“Shut UP. Do not SPEAK. Did you…” Jons paused to take a long breath. “Did you hire someone to take care of the duty that I entrusted to YOU? DID you?!”
“Sir, I…”
“DID. YOU. HIRE. SOMEONE?!”
“Yes, sir, I…”
“You inept ASS!! You are a DISGRACE to yourself, your family, and your King!! Your idiocy has cost me someone very dear to me, possibly two and COMPLETELY fucked up one of the most important operations we HAVE!”
“But I…”
“SILENCE!” Jons was breathing hard. Slapping Kaileen’s knife on the desk he said, “I will give you ONE minute to make your peace with God. Then you will use this. If you take longer than sixty seconds, I will turn your entire family into paupers. I will crush them.”
The man looked at the knife, looked at Jons and made his decision. Picking up the knife, he knelt on the floor and drove the blade into his own heart, collapsing on the floor.
Jons kicked him once, retrieved the knife and left for the hospital.
CHAPTER 9
“Education is the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.”
– Mark Twain – Earth (Human)
LONDON, ENGLAND, EARTH
DECEMBER 2274
That Christmas, President jav Lorg was again interviewing his intelligence chief in his Paris office. “I don’t understand, Noora. This has been proceeding quite smoothly, We’re almost ready to go public with the negotiations – The Klingons were even willing to have them held here on Earth! And now you’re telling me something’s wrong?”
Almost squirming in her chair, Noora Ahmed said, “We’re not sure. The Intelligence world isn’t about absolutes, Mr. President. But we’re getting indications that the Dosadi and the Hydrans are not happy with a potential change in the balance of power. But that conflicts with all our other assessments, so we’re not ready to assign it a high degree of certainty yet. We’ve also gotten hints about a bio-terror plot within the Klingon Empire and something in the Romulan Empire that sounds bad. Something to do with shape-shifters in their latest government. But that sounds pretty mythical, so we’ve only given that a low-order probability. We’re also hearing that they’re so weak that they’re interested in normalizing relations. I just don’t like it when I’ve got this many contradictory signals all popping up at the same time.”
He drummed his fingers on his desk. “So what have you got that you DO have confidence in?”
“Not a lot, sir.”
“That’s not acceptable. The Klingon Special Ambassador is coming HERE in one month’s time. You will make every effort to resolve all these little mysteries within the next two weeks, is that clear? And you will give me the answers that I require.”

* * *
T’ELSH, DOSAD
DECEMBER 2274
Back on Dosad, Wilkes and Sooth where having dinner with Corin and Eletha, with the usual rollicking band of kits causing mischief throughout the roundhouse. No one had yet really gotten used to the hole that Kaileen’s death had left in all their lives, but death was a normal thing to the Dosadi, and Kaileen’s death had been heroic and useful. Heather had healed quickly as children of all species seem to do, her indomitable cheerfulness keeping grief at bay.
Sooth had taken to carrying on her armor the Hydran knife that Kaileen had so cherished. Wilkes had asked her about that once. “So isn’t it painful to have that with you all the time? To be reminded of that?”
“No, I don’t look at it like that. His knife reminds me that he was a great person, with a big heart. That he gave his utmost to protect those dear to him, and that no matter the odds, he was not going to let size or strength or anything else stand in the way of doing what had to be done. His story is being told all over Dosad, and that’s a sort of immortality, isn’t it?”
“What’s that you’re putting all over it?”
She smiled, “It’s an extract from one of our plants – it’s an oil that keeps metals from rusting. Helps keep them sharp. And it seems to cause most other species to break out in a horrible itchy rash.” She chuckled.
“Oh THAT stuff. It’s like warp-powered poison ivy – keep it the heck away from me.”
But that evening, everyone was enjoying an all-too-rare moment when all four of them were home on Dosad. As was normal in that culture, there were a few extra guests at the table, which only added to the enjoyment and the stories being told around it.
During a pause in the conversations, little Heather came up to Sooth and offered her a small package.
“What’s this, kit?” she asked.
“Grammy Heather taught me how to make it. And she said Christmas is when we give presents to remember those who died for us and its s’posed to be something really special.”
Opening it up, she found a pink heart, just about the size of her kit’s hand. “Oh, it’s beautiful!” she exclaimed.
“It’s a sticker! If you put it on your helmet, it’ll keep you safe, too. We prayed over it and she even had the vicar bless it so it’ll work!” Heather continued with all the earnest belief of a child.
There were indulgent smiles all around as Sooth tried to explain, “Oh, Heather, it’s lovely, but, my armor is all those special colors so that I’m hard to see. If I put this on it…” seeing her daughter’s expression, she changed her mind in mid-sentence, “…um, on the side, it’ll keep me safe and bad people won’t be able to see it, but I’ll know it’s there.”
Wilkes was trying to hide a smile, as were Corin and Eletha. A pink heart on battle armor would be something to see – and would likely attract the Captain’s attention as well.
Heather said, “You have to promise me, mommy. Grammy Heather said you never break a promise.”
Trapped, Sooth said, “Oh, Heather, I promise. I’ll put it on my helmet when we go aboard again.”
Getting a kiss and a lick from her smallest kit, she carefully set the sticker aside, wondering how she was going to manage to live up to that particular promise.
One of the visitors, N’Orel himself, asked “When do you all report back aboard?”
Sooth answered “We’ve got almost 6 weeks until we’re done refitting the Delos with all her new fighter upgrades. So we get a little vacation, and it works out perfectly – Starfleet’s given Wilkes detached duty until the Delos can rendezvous with the Hood after that. He just works in Engineering with us.
Eletha chuckled “Starfleet lets you spend more time on Dosad and the Delos than your own ship, Wilkes! And didn’t you spend six months on Earth doing all that training? Do your shipmates even know you any more?”
“You kidding?” Wilkes laughed back, “Chief Engineer White and Commander Thelev seem to know pretty much everything I ever do anywhere.”
N’Orel asked again, “Then we’ll have time to conclude our current dealings with K’mpok?”
“Sure. No problem with that at all. We should be able to wrap that up in a couple of weeks.”
“And when is the tame Hydran spy coming to visit again?”
That got chuckles from pretty much everyone around the table. Before Wilkes could answer, Eletha spoke, “We’ve communicated quite a lot since Kaileen’s death. He seems to blame himself for not getting there fast enough, or for what he taught him. I keep trying to explain to him that no one sees it that way – Kaileen was a warrior. Jons gave him the tools he needed to protect others. Anyway, I’ve told him to come visit soon and to bring his family. He said he’s very busy on Hydra with other business but he’ll be here in a month or so. Since he didn’t say what it was, I assume it’s spying.”
More chuckles and even N’Orel tried to hide a smile.
At the pause, one of the dinner guests pulled out a flute and began to play a bouncy tune, only getting a few notes into it before Eletha’s little girl Ceena picked up a small drum and began to keep time. In a few minutes, everyone was either playing or singing along.
Hours later, after songs, stories, and more than a little bit of the green Dosadi version of whiskey, folks began to drift off to find someplace to sleep. As Corin curled up around Eletha, nuzzling her as she dropped off to sleep, he wondered just when he had decided that they were mates. It had to have been shortly after Sooth’s kits were born. And again he thought about Nollos. They were so different.
Holding her tightly to him, listening to her breathing getting deeper, he felt that was a good thing.  Things were finally settling down in everyone’s lives.

CHAPTER 10
“Before you attempt to beat the odds, be sure you could survive the odds beating you..”
– Larry Kersten – Earth (Human)
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS YORKTOWN, IN ORBIT OVER TOULAGAI
JANUARY 2275
Aboard the USS Yorktown, Captain Andrey Kamov gave the orders to put his ship in a parking orbit over the Starbase at Toulagai, right alongside the Klingon D7 battlecruiser Rage that awaited them.
As always, his chief helmsman, Lieutenant Commander Akemi Yoshida handled the big Constitution-class heavy cruiser like it was her private sports car.
Kamov instructed his bridge crew: “I want you all to keep a close eye out. This starbase is cursed. Every time something weird is going on, it happens here.”
That brought a few chuckles from the bridge crew. But, for once, everything proceeded smoothly. The two ships moved out of orbit and began to head into Federation space, the Yorktown leading the way. The rendezvous with the USS Hood was only two days away at a nice easy pace.

* * *
PARIS, FRANCE, EARTH
JANUARY 2275
In his Paris office, President jav Lorg was less than happy with Noora Ahmed. “The Ambassador is four days away from the most important negotiations of our time. We may end the most destructive relationship in the galaxy and you cannot tell me if they’re serious, what our allies think about the situation, nor what the Romulans intend.”
“That’s not entirely true, sir.”
“Then clarify because that is what I got from your report.”
“Mr. President as I’ve told you before, intelligence is never about certainties. At this time our best analysis tells us that the strongest faction in the Klingon Empire is serious about these negotiations, but that there is significant opposition within the Empire. We have been unable to substantiate any of the leads about bio-weapons being used within the Empire. Although our main diplomatic channels indicate that the Dosadi and the Hydrans are thrilled with the upcoming negotiations, we believe that their actual feelings are that such an alliance would make them…secondary. Useless, if you will. Currently they both enjoy the status of strong trading partners and allies. Were things to settle with the Klingons, they would serve no real purpose in that area of space.
“As to the Romulans, nobody really knows. They are still in chaos after the Razing of Romulus, however, we believe that all their efforts are focused internally. They lack the strength to make any serious effort to affect our actions. And I still believe that stories of shape-changers are just that. Superstitious nonsense used to explain failed coups or bad decisions. ‘It wasn’t ME! It was a SHAPE-CHANGER!”
The President chuckled, “That’s funny. But there’s still a lot of mealey-mouthed qualifications in that report, Noora.”
“That’s the best we’ve got, Mr. President. I think we’re on the right course, but we need to be careful.”
“What two ships are handling the escort duties for the Ambassador?”
“Yorktown is bringing him to the mid-point and Hood is bringing him the rest of the way to Earth, Mr. President. In fact, Yorktown should have just left Toulagai.”
“Thank god. No Enterprise. If something horrible is happening, Jim Kirk and his crew are usually involved. That makes me feel better.” He thought for a moment. “Let’s do this. Send Kamov and Karmes the same assessment you just gave me. Can’t hurt to have them informed so they can take precautions.”
“Yes, sir.”

* * *
T’ELSH, DOSAD
JANUARY 2275
N’Orel’s ears went flat back against his skull as he read the report on his PADD.  Searching quickly through the pile of data rods in his lockup, he extracted two. Inserting them into the device, he began to instruct the device and its computer tie-in to perform an analysis.
Minutes later, he used his com-set to contact K’mpok. “The ambassador your Empire is sending to the Federation. Is he en route?”
“Of course. I received a report just a few minutes ago.”
“Then explain to me why I just received a report from a source within the Orion pirates that his d’k tahg is available for sale? There are a number of disturbing reports about your ambassador and where he has, or more significantly, has not been.”
“You know a disturbing amount about the happenings in my Empire, N’Orel.”
“Don’t be a child. We both know we each have many spies watching the other. I am sending you some data now. Examine it immediately.”
There was a pause of a few minutes. “N’Orel, this is not possible. This is a myth.”
“I would wager that your system came up with the same percentage that mine did, K’mpok. The old data the Hydrans shared with us from the Vulcan spy would seem to confirm it.”
“But for what purpose?”
“There can be only one purpose.”
“Such a war would kill trillions, N’Orel. Even a Klingon victory would be Pyrrhic.  We would rule an empire of the dead and damned.”
“Or the Romulans would.”
“No, as you well know our war plans involve them as well. In their current weakened state, they could be wiped out quickly leaving us free to deal with the Federation, but with their resources to draw upon. And I know you’ve shared that information with your Federation friends, so don’t bother to deny it.”
“We must stop whatever that is from reaching the earthlings. Sending a message would be pointless – who would believe us?”
“You realize how that will look to both the Federation and to the crew of the Rage? They will think your people are trying to prevent the peace they seek.”
“But there will be time to explain…afterwards. And at such a level as this sort of information can be exchanged.”
“I will do what I can with my government. It will not be much. There is…some internal conflict. Good luck, N’Orel. We may not meet again, you know.”
“Indeed, but that’s a long journey yet, K’mpok. And the gods alone know its end.”

* * *
DUCHY OF THE SWORD WORLDS, HYDRAN KINGDOM
JANUARY 2275
Sitting in his office, Colonel Jons was struggling to make sense of a number of conflicting reports. The data from Romulus had only gotten worse since the tip they got from the Vulcans last year. And the information coming out of the Klingon Empire was even more confusing.
Unless he missed his guess there was an active attempt at genetic engineering going on within at least one faction within the Empire and rumors of biological weapons being created. Such weapons were beyond insane – no rational culture would use them as once they got loose there was no telling what could happen. Mutations, alterations, and of course, reprisals in kind. That way led to the extinction of all interstellar culture and probably all life in the galaxy.
Sliding another data rod into his PADD, he felt himself go icy cold. The report told of a highly-specialized device being constructed on one of the rim worlds. Designed as a semi-stasis container about the size of a briefcase that could release it’s contents under a slight positive pressure so as to be unobtrusive.
Such a device could only be used for one thing: Bio-terrorism.  Could the Klingons be planning such an attack upon the Earthlings? How would they even get it through the usual scanners? There was no way to get it onto the planet.
Moving to another report, he noted that the Klingon Ambassador had just left Toulagai for Earth. With any luck, those negotiations would bear very profitable fruit. And then it hit him. They could get such a device onto Earth the same way he once got a large amount of data OFF of Earth – Diplomats were not searched by custom and by interstellar law.
But if the Ambassador himself were part of the plan, sending a message would be futile. Given time, he could present the information to the right people and make things plain, but there was no time. The Ambassador’s ship must be stopped first, or the galaxy would go up in flames. The Earthlings would blame the Klingons if their ambassador released such a weapon on Earth, and stop at nothing for revenge. Had the Klingons gone insane? There was no time.
Opening a com-link he contacted his headquarters. Unfortunately, the only ship currently available was the light cruiser Succession. He knew the Rage to be a D7-class battlecruiser and she was escorted by a Federation heavy cruiser. The Succession stood little chance of winning such a fight. With luck, he could get the Federation captain to listen to him.
Minutes later, the Succession left orbit at high warp.

CHAPTER 11
“Only a fool fights in a burning house.”
– Klingon aphorism
IMPERIAL DOSADI ASSAULT CARRIER, ISS DELOS, UNDER WAY
JANUARY 2275
Aboard the ISS Delos as it raced to catch the Klingon ambassador’s D7, Wilkes was feeling distinctly uncomfortable. “I’m not really trained for this kind of combat, Sooth, and don’t you have armor designed for a human? At all?”
She laughed, “We don’t use a lot of human Marines, Wilkes. You’ll get used to it – just stop fighting it and wear it like all the clothes you people wear all the time!”
“Sooth, we’re not built the same as Dosadi…”
“Mmm. I know.” she smiled a wicked little smile at him. “C’mon, relax and let it hang on you as naturally as you can, stop hunching your shoulders and be glad you don’t have a tail to deal with. Jons said there’s a bio-bomb on board, that means you have to figure out how to turn it off. But no one will believe it except us, that means we have to do an assault boarding, and that means you have to wear armor.”
Looking at the helmet in the crook of her arm he smiled, “I absolutely love that you still have that pink heart on your helmet.”
She looked down and stroked it with one finger, “I promised. I got extra duty for that, but Force Leader  Inveth said I could keep it since I promised. I really should at least paint over it though.”
“Why? Why do you even bother with camouflage paint? With all the enhanced sensors that everyone uses does it even matter?”
She laughed again, “Take a look. Put your helmet on then use your chin to hit the big button on the right.”
Doing as he was told, he clicked the button and watched his faceplate turn to a nauseating, cycling fuzz around where Sooth was standing. “Gaaaa!” He quickly chinned the button again, turning off the enhancements. “What the hell was that?”
The patterns and colors and paints are designed to mess up the computer sensors so they get into a feedback loop. It forces our enemies to use regular vision. I never understood why Starfleet never used the technology. Those bright gold and red uniforms are pretty, but man they’re easy to hit!”
He paused for a moment and then said, “What’s it like? All the combat I’ve been in was ship to ship. I never even saw the people I was fighting.”
“It’s the most terrifying exhilarating, horrifying, exciting, terrible, fun thing I’ve ever done. I always feel like I have to pee, and sometimes throw up, but you feel so alive. The contest between you and them is…I don’t really know how to explain it. But I love it.”
“What if I screw it up?”
She laughed again, “Wilkes, everyone thinks that. Besides, all you have to do is stay close by me and I’ll get you to the bomb thingy and you figure out how to turn it off. And if you have to shoot someone, make sure they’re wearing something other than our battle armor. Oh, or Hydran battle armor. They’re easy to identify – they’re really short and their armor is beige.”
“BEIGE? Why in God’s name did they pick beige?”
“No one knows. They claim that it’s hard to see aboard a ship and that as a neutral color it blends in well with everything – but I don’t think it fuzzes sensors like ours does.”
“What do the Klingons wear?”
“The Klingons are crazy.” she chuckled, “They don’t really wear armor much except what’s in their standard uniforms, which are sort of half-armor. If you see anyone who’s really tall and really ugly, shoot them. Don’t shoot the short people or the cats.”
Now it was Wilkes’ turn to laugh. “Right. No kitties, no shorties. Shoot the uglies.”

* * *
ROYAL HYDRAN LIGHT CRUISER SUCCESSION, UNDER WAY
JANUARY 2275
Colonel Jons was dressed in jet-black battle armor with the crossed swords indicating his rank emblazoned on the upper arms in silver. Completing his inspection of the two squads of Marines aboard, he turned to their Captain and said, “Well, Captain, they look ready. I wish we had been able to get the whole company back aboard though, but there just wasn’t time.”
“Thank you, father. I was trained by the best, you know.”
Looking at his eldest son in his dark grey armor he said, “Flattery? I should put you on extra duty. I would imagine your Marines could come up with an adequate punishment for such foolishness.” There were a few chuckles among the gathered troops and the Colonel continued, addressing them directly. “This is not going to be easy. We must overtake a Klingon warship – our allies – get past their Federation escort – also our allies – board them, locate and secure a camouflaged biological weapon about the size of a briefcase, secure their ambassador, and then defuse the bomb. All without starting a war with either of our allies.
“If we can secure the device, we can prove what we say. If we secure the ambassador alone, we may be able to prove it. If we fail to do either, we are without hope. Our Duke will deny us in order to save the Kingdom. We will be treated as rogues and traitors, our families will be destroyed and our names will become a badge of shame.
“There is no option for us but success. Can I count on you men to do your duty to the utmost? Beyond any limit of pain, endurance, or stamina that you can imagine?”
There was a loud chorus of “YES, SIR!!” and he said,
“Excellent. We intercept the Rage within an hour. Make your peace with God and prepare yourselves. Know that if we succeed, those of us who fall need not worry about our families. Dismissed!” And he turned to leave the beige-clad men alone before battle.

* * *
IMPERIAL KLINGON BATTLECRUISER RAGE, UNDER WAY
JANUARY 2275
Ambassador Voreeth was standing by the defense officer’s position aboard the Rage, watching everything. The Captain hated this habit of his and made no secret of his loathing of both his person and his mission. Not that either mattered. His honor would lead him to carry out his mission no matter what his personal feelings.
When the Succession dropped out of warp he said, “Captain, the Hydrans are known to be against these negotiations. We must not allow them to interfere in any way.”
Snarling the captain said, “You don’t need to remind me of my job.”
“Sir, they’re attempting to hail the Yorktown.”
“Jam them!” the ambassador ordered. The Captain nodded and the defense officer turned on the powerful jamming fields.
“Captain, they may attack us at any moment. The Hydrans are well known to be treacherous when anything threatens their business interests.”
Nodding curtly he issued his orders, “Energize the defense fields and raise shields. Power the weapons but do not target anything. At the first sign of hostile action, we’ll engage.”

* * *
FEDERATION HEAVY CRUISER USS YORKTOWN, UNDER WAY
JANUARY 2275
“Sir, you’re not going to like this.” Ensign Singh said from his console at the Sensory station aboard the Yortktown.
“What is it?” Captain Kamov asked.
“The Hydran light cruiser Succession just dropped out of warp and is closing fast.”
Lieutenant ‘Swede’ Johansen interrupted, “Captain, they’re requesting an urgent conference about something, but we just got cut off by heavy jamming from the Rage.”
“What the hell? Why would they start jamming now?” He wondered if the Klingons had gotten the same warning from their intelligence people that he had received from Starfleet.
“They’ve raised shields and are powering weapons.” the defense officer said a little too loudly, “Succession too!”
Shaking his head Kamov ordered, “Raise ours – Helm, move us into position between those two, Swede, try to raise both of them. We need to talk, not shoot. The Hood’s supposed to only be an hour or two out , try to raise them too. Maybe we can scare them off, not that there’s a lot a light cruiser can do against two cruisers.”
As Yoshida moved the Yorktown into position, Singh spoke up again, “Oh snot. Captain, the Delos just dropped out of warp, she’s running at us at high speed. Shields up and loaded for bear.”
“She’s a carrier – has she launched any fighters?” Kamov was NOT happy. His two cruisers were ill-equipped to deal with either fighters nor the many missile launchers aboard the Dosadi assault carriers. But she was alone – that was totally against Dosadi doctrine. What the hell was going on here?
“No sir – she’s oh, snot. The Rage just took a shot at her.”
“Yoshida?”
“Captain, I can be in one place, not two.”
“Dammit, I am NOT going to get caught in this shit AGAIN.”
“The Klingons are engaging both the Hydrans and the Dosadi, sir – what do we do?”
Yoshida spoke up, “Captain, the Rage is maneuvering around us in order to engage both vessels – I can’t stay between them and anyone. If I block one ship,they engage the other. Should I pick one to protect?”
“Dammit, no! Weapons, aim for the weapons pods on the Delos. Shoot to disarm only.”
“Sir! The Hood just…”
“Hot damn, can we get them to…Fucking jamming!! AH, hell, they’ll figure it out. Yoshida, try to block the Succession, maybe Karmes will get between the Delos  and the Rage.”
“Sir,” the stress in Yoshida’s voice was obvious, “Sir…ranges are getting really, really close this is too tight.” Collision alarms sounded throughout the Yorktown.
Singh yelled out “Transporter beams!!”
“Where?” Kamov went pale, “Security – full armor, stand by to repel boarders!”
“Aimed at the Rage sir! From both vessels I can’t tell what they got through but ECM levels just spiked through the roof and the Rage is maneuvering for range and maintaining fire on both.”
“Get us in close – we’ll beam in reinforcements for the Klingons.”
Singh commented, “Sir, they might not see it like reinforcements…”
“They’ll figure it out fast enough when we start shooting the same people. I can’t believe they’re stupid enough to think they can jump an ambassador in Federation space and get away with it. That’s ballsy even for the Dosadi. And it’s totally nuts for the Hydrans. Something stinks here.”
A short distance away, the USS Hood had come to the same set of conclusions. The five starships were all maneuvering for position, except now the Succession and the Delos seemed content to play keep-away, trading shot for shot with the Klingons but not engaging either the Hood or Yorktown.

CHAPTER 12
“They’ve got us surrounded again, the poor bastards.”
– Unknown American Soldier, Battle of the Bulge, Earth (Human)
IMPERIAL KLINGON BATTLECRUISER RAGE, MANEUVERING
JANUARY 2275
Wilkes was beyond terrified. Their team was pinned down in a corridor near where they thought the ambassador’s quarters might be. He was trying to use a tricorder to locate the device but was not finding it. The sound of Klingon disruptor fire over his head was making it difficult to concentrate, as was the plasma rifle fire from his own side.
Sooth shouted at him, “Wilkes! We can’t stay here! You have to tell us where to go!” She ducked moments before a disruptor bolt lanced through the space where her head had been, impacting on the wall and splattering him with molten metal.
“I can’t find the fucking thing!! Maybe it’s not even here!” A round object came flying towards them and one of Sooth’s Marines caught it and hurled it back the way it came. Wilkes saw it explode in a blinding flash before it got to the Klingon troops. Working the dials on his tricorder, he had an inspiration. Switching the device from scanning for biological organisms, he had it look for large power-sinks. If the thing had a semi-stasis field on it, it would suck power like nobody’s … ahhh! “I got it! I got it! Two decks down, 30 meters east of here!”
She shouted orders to her two crew leaders, “Aletan, breach through the damn deck and we’ll drop down, then set security there. Kurn, cover fire here, drop down last, then you blow that deck and swap jobs. Anyone see the Hydrans or the other team?” Wilkes saw her pop up and shoot a Klingon he realized was just about to shoot him. Putting her hand on his shoulder she said calmly, “Wilkes, remember to duck, OK?”
And then she was back on her belly, firing rounds at the Klingons. Seconds later there was a hissing flash and a meter square section of deck dropped straight down, closely followed by the first Marines. Wilkes dropped down with them, trying his best to take aimed shots but suspecting his accuracy was poor since even he could see the muzzle shaking.
They repeated the process and quickly dropped down to the deck where the device was located. Almost immediately Wilkes heard a shattering explosion overhead. Looking up into the swirling dust and raining chunks of deck he asked, “What the hell?”
A young Marine answered him, “We left a little surprise for if our friends wanted to follow us down.” and he laughed. Let’s go Wilkes! You’re holding us up!” He got to his feet and raced off with his crew. Wilkes followed as quickly as he could, trying to refine the readings on his tricorder as he ran, the bulky, heavy armor, helmet, and plasma rifle making it seem like an impossible task.
30 meters is not a long distance to run. But it can seem like an eternity when you are wondering if you are going to be shot with every step. Wilkes screamed “This one! This one! Here!” and the Marines stopped and fell back, setting up a perimeter as he tried to get the door to open. While he was fiddling with the unfamiliar controls, a disruptor bolt hit just next to his hand and he dropped straight down to the floor, nearly wetting himself in reaction.
Sooth laughed, “That’s better, Wilkes, but duck FIRST next time!” she sent another couple of rounds down range. “Aletan, blow the door! Ah, shit, cover me!!”
Wilkes heart stopped as she jumped to her feet despite the weapons fire, ran the short distance to Aletan’s crumpled form and dragged him back into what cover there was. As she rummaged through the wounded Marine’s ruck for the rope-charges he saw two new gouges in her armor and then his eyes were drawn to the bright pink heart adorning the right side of her helmet. There was a surge in the ship’s gravity and the lights went out, red battle-lanterns automatically switching on and adding an eerie glow to the battle.
“Sooth!” Crew Leader Kurn yelled, “We can’t hold them much longer, this is not a good position.”
As she opened her mouth to reply there was the high-pitched scream of rail-guns mixed with the deeper  sounds of Klingon curses and shouts of rage and pain. Seconds later, Colonel Jons and a squad of Hydran Marines came running into their position shouting “Friendlies coming in!!”, being tracked by the Dosadi Marines every step of the way.
“What kept you?” Sooth laughed.
“We couldn’t find the damn thing. Ended up scanning for Dosadi. Are you all that’s left?”
“We never found our other team. You?” she began attaching the charges to the door.
“My son is leading the other squad. Our beam-downs were scattered.”
“Your son? I didn’t know…Later.” she attached the detonator and  said, “Get clear!”

* * *
Chief Petty Officer Kalea and her squad of Federation Security from the Hood had finally managed to convince the Klingons that they were there to help, not invade. The Yorktown security team had been dispatched to the fighting near the ship’s bridge where one Dosadi team was pinned down. As they trotted to the fighting going on in crew quarters, she thought again how much she hated assault transports. She always felt that beaming through raised shields, no matter how much power there was behind the transporter, left something of her behind.
Coming upon the crushed remnants of a group of Klingons who had obviously been taken by surprise, they moved cautiously into position, her team mixed with Klingon warriors and she shook her head at the oddity. She had spent most of her career learning how to fight against these people, not alongside them. Shrugging her shoulders, she ordered her team to begin laying down cover fire.
Taking the lead position, she tried to study the enemy positions without being too exposed. They were not in the best of spots, she thought. They were in an angle where the Klingons could fire from two directions into their formation and there wasn’t much cover. A moment later, her mouth hung open as she caught a brief sight of a bright pink heart on one of the Dosadi’s helmets.
Sooth! What the hell was she doing here? Sooth wasn’t a terrorist. This wasn’t right. Making a fast decision on a gut instinct, she ordered her squad to cease fire.
Crewman Okoro shouted back, “What the hell? We got clear shots!”
“It’s SOOTH! Something’s seriously screwed up here.”
“You sure? From when we took over the Yorktown?”
“Yeah. Pull back.”
As her team pulled back, the Klingon leading their team yanked her to her feet, “FIGHT you coward!! You said you came here to help and now you turn tail and run at first sight of the enemy?”
“They’re not the enemy. I don’t know what’s going on but until I do, we’re not engaging anyone.”
“What’s going on is that they’ve invaded my ship, killed my brothers, and are trying to kill more! What more do you need to know?! Are all humans as cowardly as you are??”
“We’re not cowards. But there is more here going on than I understand. Only a fool fights without knowing why.”
The Klingon backhanded her, knocking her to her knees even through her armor and weapons were raised on both sides.
Clearing her head, the little Hawaiian ordered “NO! Stand down – all of you! Pull back out of the line. We need to get Captain Karmes or Kamov or someone.” Her team stepped to the side as the disgusted Klingons took their places and began engaging the diminishing Hydran and Dosadi unit.

* * *
The breeching charge blew a hole into the quarters on the other side and Jons charged through, followed by Sooth and then Wilkes while the Marines who were still mobile tried to contract their perimeter even more.
The first thing Wilkes saw was a brown satchel surrounded by the blue, ionized glow of an isolation field. The second was a tall Klingon in a uniform he assumed was that of an ambassador, holding what could only be a trigger in his left hand and smiling. Both Jons and Sooth had their weapons trained on him and he had a disruptor pointed directly at Sooth’s face.
“Come join the party, Marine.” You will all drop your weapons now please, or I will trigger the device. Obviously you know what it is.
Jons thought it through, coolly calculating the odds. They needed a wild card. Something to break the standoff. “Okay. We shall.” and he dropped his rail-gun. Surprised, but following his lead, Sooth did the same, her plasma rifle clattering loudly on the floor.
The Klingon indicated Wilkes and said, “Well, Marine? Where’s your weapon?”
“I dropped it outside.” he said and took his helmet off so he could see better. The damn thing was really uncomfortable. “I’m not a Marine.”
Surprised at the human face under the Dosadi battle armor, the Klingon’s eyes and his disruptor wavered towards Wilkes. Seizing the chance, Sooth’s arm was a blur as she reached over her shoulder, drew Kaileen’s little boot knife and threw in one smooth motion.
The Klingon’s eyes snapped back to her and the disruptor swung onto target as he was ever so slightly distracted by the bright pink splotch on the right side of her helmet. The disruptor bolt, instead of going directly through her faceplate, impacted mostly on the side of her helmet, blowing it to pieces and scattering chunks of gore across the back wall as Sooth dropped like a marionette with its strings cut.
The knife flew straight into the Klingon’s skull, sinking past the hilt as though the entire structure of his head had somehow gone soft. Jons, ever watchful, saw the Klingon mash the trigger-device he held and simultaneously erupt in a horrible keening scream the likes of which he had never heard. The thing’s features rapidly shifted through portions of a dozen different races accompanied by a hissing boiling sound while blisters erupted and popped in a disgusting display as it collapsed into an amorphous heap.
Wilkes was on his knees cradling Sooth’s mangled head and screaming curses. Jons grabbed him, punched him across the face and yelled “WILKES! Defuse the bloody bomb! He triggered it! I’ll take care of Sooth! Get the bomb or none of this matters!!!” and he shoved himself in between Wilkes and his mate, ripping open the med kit on her battered armor.
Shaking his head, Wilkles staggered to his feet, stepping back from the horror show on the floor, thankful that Jons was blocking most of his view. He actually felt rather calm now, he decided. He didn’t particularly care what happened from here on out. He walked over to the case, sitting on the desk with the trigger device hanging by it’s wires. The isolation field made it appear blurry. He could see the power cables leading into the field, so that meant that it had an external power-supply.
He could cut the power, but the field would remain for days and he doubted they had much time left. He wished that it had one of those handy digital countdown displays that all the bombs in the space operas always had. So dramatic. This was pretty boring. Just a brown case in a blue field and nothing he could do to defuse it. He couldn’t get at any of it. It would just…He wondered what it would do. Probably not blow up. That wouldn’t spread the organism around much and people would suspect something. Must just release a gas or something. Like a lethal fart. He laughed.
Jons looked up at Wilkes’ back, seeing that he was just staring at the bomb and laughing. That was not a good sign. Shaking his head, he returned to trying to save Sooth’s life. He could tell they were running out of time by the rapidly slackening fire from the Marines outside. He wondered if there were more than one or two left alive.
Wilkes held his hands to his head, trying to crush out the memory of that last horrible instant when the disruptor fired. If he could just put enough pressure on his skull, he could…Oh. He turned and said, “Jons, throw me her phaser.”
“Wilkes, now is not the time to play Marine. Defuse the bloody bomb!!!”
“I am. Throw me her phaser.”
Deciding not to argue, he pulled her hand-phaser from it’s holster and threw it to Wilkes. The lad caught it neatly enough and turned to his work, as Jons focused on his, trying to stop the massive bleeding and keep her damaged airway open. A good sized chunk of her cheek and skull had been blown off and disruptors had a disturbing tendency to cause damage to adjacent tissues… and then he heard the screeching siren of a phaser on overload.
“Wilkes! What the hell are you doing! That’ll kill everyone!”
Wilkes sat down and smiled. “No, it won’t, Jons. I can’t do anything to the bomb. It’s in an isolation field. If I cut the power, the field’s still there for a long time. So I’m giving it more power.”
“Blowing up a phaser power pack by it won’t affect it in the slightest you young fool!!”
“I’m not blowing it up. It’ll stay at this rate until it’s empty in a couple seconds. But all that power is flooding in to the isolation field, making it stronger and stronger and stronger.”
Two Klingons charged through the hole in the door, one after the other, “Hands up! Don’t move!!”
Jons said, “We give up! But she needs a medic, badly!”
Hesitating at the scene in the ambassador’s quarters, the Klingons were confused for a moment. “You! Deactivate the phaser! Immediately!”
Wilkes said, “Please…just help her. Please.” And the loud screaming sound faded away to nothing as the power pack exhausted itself, the bluish isolation field now a forbidding black.
“Please.” Wilkes said again.
The Klingon covering Jons called for a medic while the other one came closer to Wilkes and said, “What is that…mess?”
Jons spoke again, “Whatever that was, it was in the shape of your ambassador. It was NOT Klingon.”
Poking at the pile of goo and clothing with his boot, the Klingon noted a badly melted and pitted piece of what must once have been a knife. “What did you do to…it?”
Jons continued,“The wounded Marine there threw a knife into it’s skull and it sort of dissolved. We have the combat tapes in our helmets, of course.”
“And what is THAT?” he indicated the black oblong block of the isolation field.
“That is a biological weapon inside an isolation field. The thing triggered it. We don’t know how long until it’s set to release the field and detonate. That is what we came here to prevent, but we were too late.”
“A biological…” the field suddenly dissipated and there was a loud and rapid rush of air expanding and then contracting back, knocking everyone in the room around. “It detonated!!”
Jons sagged, “It was all for nothing. It released the plague.”
Wilkes, still sitting on the floor staring at Sooth’s body said in a voice completely drained of joy and hope, “No it didn’t. That was just from all the pressure inside the isolation field.”
Threatening him with his disruptor the Klingon said “Explain! Now!”
“Sure.” Wilkes continued like he was lecturing a class.  I couldn’t turn off the isolation field. It wouldn’t dissipate until the timer inside killed it and released whatever was in the box. But I could give it more power. And that kind of field is fixed-dimension on the outside, right? But if I add power to it, the field has to expand somewhere. Since they’re fixed to isolate a region bounded by the set external dimensions, the only place for it to expand is internally. So, when I added power to the system, it had to expand internally. The field kept expanding against whatever was inside as the entire energy contents of a fully charged hand-phaser poured into it. That crushed little pea on the desk used to be about half a meter on each side. I’m guessing there must have been nearly a million pounds per square inch inside that field. Anything that was anything inside it was crushed. Dead. Harmless.”
Jons laughed, “Wilkes! That’s brilliant!”
“Big. Fucking. Deal.” he said and put his head on his knees and cried, much to the disgust of the Klingon standing over him.

CHAPTER 13
“Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”
– Robert Heinlein, Earth (Human)
IMPERIAL KLINGON BATTLECRUISER RAGE, DISABLED
JANUARY 2275
Wilkes was still sitting in the Klingon Sick Bay when Captain Kamov called, demanding his report. As he went through everything he knew, he continued holding Sooth’s hand while she lay in the diagnostic bed, her head encased in big chunk of equipment. When he finished his description of how he destroyed the device he just stopped talking, still focused more on Sooth’s motionless shape.
Kamov studied the silent Lieutenant for a moment. The Klingon vessel was being considered a plague ship until Starfleet and Empire medical experts identified what was left of the organisms crushed inside the bomb and cleared them as uninfected. But the Captain was a bit of a romantic, and he thought of his own wife, safe at their home on Starbase 11 and what it must have been like for Wilkes.
“Lieutenant.” he said quietly. Wilkes didn’t respond, so he raised his voice more, “Lieutenant!”
“Oh, sorry, yes, sir?”
“Well done, Lieutenant.  We’re sending some volunteers over to help with the casualties. There are some experts in this…sort of injury. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
That got a small smile, so he continued, “And Lieutenant?” he pointed at the blue-grey and tan mottled Dosadi battle armor he still wore, “One day I am going to see you in Starfleet issue and on that day, I will know the universe has truly gone mad.”

* * *
Sooth opened her eyes. And everything was black again. There was no light. Nothing. No sound. She was back in the pod – it was just like…no. Her hand. Someone was holding her hand…Wilkes! Everything came back in a rush, her memory ending with a blinding flash of light and pain. She wondered what had happened – how was she even alive? The Klingon had shot her in the face with a disruptor at point-blank range. Did Wilkes defuse the bomb? Something was wrong with her head she couldn’t move or move her ears or eyes or smell or….She squeezed his hand, feeling the strong, confident squeeze back, and then his other hand petting her arm.
Whatever had happened, it was going to be all right.

* * *
Colonel Jons came and found them the next morning. Still in his scorched battle armor, he sat heavily, exhaustion showing in his eyes and movements.
“I think we’ve got the mess mostly sorted out, Wilkes.”
“What happened? Are we going to be able to go back to the Delos? Were you able to convince them?”
Sighing, he said, “Let me back up and fill in the details. As you know, our ships were shooting the Klingons, they were shooting us and the Federation was trying to keep everyone from shooting at each other. When we beamed through the Rage’s shields, we were able to keep the individual teams together, but the teams were scattered. Force Leader Inveth and the other half of the Dosadi Marines materialized near the bridge and attempted to assault through heavy opposition to take control of the ship.” He put his hand over his eyes and sighed heavily. “The carnage was…heavy. They were badly outnumbered since the Klingon’s primary security posts are just aft of the bridge. The team ran out of ammunition but continued their assault. The fighting turned hand-to-hand when Inveth lead a charge into the Klingon line. They were actually within sight of the bridge at the end, but none of them survived. Klingon casualties were horrific and the damage to the ship’s internals was heavy. Some Federation security personnel were involved as well.
“My son’s squad appeared close to the engine room and being unable to locate the device, assaulted there. They actually managed to briefly take control of main engineering and disabled the warp drives before they too were overrun and annihilated. Once main power was down, the jamming fields collapsed as did the Rage’s weapons systems and the commanders were able to talk instead of fight. That was shortly before we breeched into the ambassador’s quarters and is the reason why we weren’t killed outright as well when the Klingons overran our position.”
Wilkes looked up, “Your son?”
With a small, sad smile Wilkes said, “Yes. He performed his duties with great courage and honor, Wilkes. Because of their actions, our mission was a success.” he paused, thinking back over the events of the past year. “The scales always balance, Wilkes. Remember that. There is always balance.” he was silent for a moment and then continued,
“The Rage is still disabled, but the Hood is providing power and damage control teams and medical teams for the wounded. You and I are the only two who remain whole from the assault force.” he shook his head. “The Klingons are furious, but the combat tapes from our men and especially from you and I support everything we told them.
We’ve been unable to identify whatever the…thing was. The best guess from Doctor Bhutto is that there was a chemical on the knife Sooth threw that was highly toxic to the…whatever it was. It reacted corrosively.
At the moment, it looks like there will be no war. Whatever other consequences there will be, I do not know. Obviously there will be no negotiations with the Klingons. As to us, it is likely to take a few days for the organism to be identified and us to be cleared to leave. Until then, we are somewhere between guests and prisoners.”
Wilkes digested all of this and asked, “Colonel, how much of this mess was because of your spying?”
Bemused, Jons looked up and said, “MY spying? Wilkes, ALL of this was the direct result of YOUR spying.”
“I’m not a spy! I’m an engineer!”
Jons laughed, “Wilkes, you are the most famous spy in the known galaxy. You have a nickname you know.”
“I am n…what?”
“People in the intelligence services refer to you as the accidental spy.” he laughed again. “You have allowed more information to be exchanged more freely between rival agencies than we’ve been able to do, ever. Normal channels are rather round-about and are usually one directional.
“But you? Wilkes, you’re a Federation citizen and Starfleet crewman who is married to a Dosadi Marine, business partner to a Hydran Marine and who trades with Klingons, Dosadi, Hydrans, Romulans and Orions – and anyone else! You are like a giant shared clearinghouse for information both accurate and inaccurate. Your background has been heavily researched and your every movement is monitored by every intelligence agency in the galaxy. But you are seen as too valuable – and under too much scrutiny – to co-opt.
“It is ironic but the people who most deal in information are the most unable to share that information – especially information that must become known to the highest levels of government but must remain out of the public eye. You provide a…a fulcrum. A balance point between all the various agencies. A sort of neutral third party.”
Wilkes tried to think this through. “I…” he thought again. “Jons, I don’t get it. I’m just me. I don’t want to be a spy, I just want to live a normal life, raise our kids and I don’t know, retire and play cards or something.”
“Wilkes, that’s all most anyone really wants. But sometimes God has different plans for us. I told you once before that spies were not what you think they are. You look at the carnage and the loss and the pain all around you, “ Jons waved his arm across the packed Sick Bay “and you think how awful this all was and now you start to think that you were responsible. And you are.”
Wilkes looked up, stricken, and Jons continued, “But Wilkes, what you are also responsible for, as are all the spies who uncovered the truth behind this plan, is saving the lives of uncounted trillions of people across the galaxy. People who will live normal lives and raise their children and retire and who will never know that my son was killed in a filthy Klingon engine room in the middle of nowhere, or that your mate had part of her face shot off, or that dozens of brave men of many different species fought and died so that they could go ON living normal lives and raising their children. They will never know, and they will never say thank you because they will never know.
“Wilkes, had it not been for the information exchanged between all these different agencies, we would not have known about this plan. The Federation would have seen a devastating plague released on Earth by the Klingons – while under a flag of truce. What you saw here today would be repeated across thousands of planets with women and children caught in the cross-fire. Instead of dozens of dead, trillions would die. Whole races exterminated, planets made uninhabitable, and very likely the entire fabric of the interstellar community undone as a result of that war. The spies of the galaxy are responsible for saving those lives as well.”
“Who’s plan was this, anyway?” Wilkes asked after trying to comprehend all of Jons’ information.
“We don’t know yet. The Klingons appear stunned and completely in the dark. Maybe the Orion’s. Or the Romulans. We’ll probably never know.”
“So this all might happen again?!”
“Wilkes, there is always something going on – usually many somethings – that threatens the peace of the galaxy. And it’s a spy’s job to find those out and stop them.”
“So you’ve always been a spy?”
“Me? Wilkes, I said YOU were a spy, even if only an accidental one. I’M a Marine.” Smiling he stood, patted Sooth’s leg and said “Take care of your mate, Wilkes. I have another duty to attend to before I rest.”  Stopping as the door cycled open he said, “Oh, and Wilkes? Once she’s done with regen and rehab, my wife and I would be honored if you would bring your family to visit us. For both business and pleasure, of course.” and he left the room.
Wilkes thought about that. There was still a long journey ahead for all of them apparently.

CODA I
RAID! – The Razing of Romulus
CHAPTER 1
“No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.”
– Field Marshall Helmuth Carl Bernard Graf von Moltke – Earth (Human)
T’ELESH, DOSAD
OCTOBER 2280
Commander Thomas Wilkes looked around the roundhouse that he and Sooth still shared on Dosad. The suppertime chatter among their friends made a pleasant background noise to his musings. He realized that he had somehow managed to find his way in the universe, despite his reservations from so long ago. He had a wife, four children, and more friends than he had ever thought possible – many of whom were here, sharing a meal and their company.
Angie – he corrected himself: Captain Stone was here; Her starship, the USS Potemkin was in orbit overhead and she had made it a point to look him up. He had always thought she would make Captain by 30, and she had almost made it, earning command of the heavy cruiser slightly before her 32nd birthday.
His friend, business partner, and fellow spy, Colonel Jons was there with his wife. He grinned at the thought that he was a spy. He really wasn’t as he made very sure to stay away from anything even remotely resembling espionage, but it was fun to tease the Colonel. He knew that a half-dozen different intelligence services used his business with Jons to pass information back and forth and that he was constantly being monitored, but he stubbornly refused to take part in any sort of spying at all.
Continuing his mental inventory, he looked past Corin and Eletha and their batch of five kits. Sooth was preoccupied with their own four kits, no doubt looking for Heather who had apparently wandered off – again – with Jons’ adopted son Tir and Eletha’s daughter Ceena. Tovath had joined them late, and Wilkes had no idea where his mate or their three kits were, but they spent a lot of time with friends as well. He was sure there were more people wandering around the house, but he had lost track. The green Dosadi whiskey may have been a contributing factor, he decided.
He had also never been happier, and that seemed to be an on-going thing. There were so many friends missing though, he thought. Nollos and M’Ralin, T’Laren, Kaileen, and…He tried not to dwell on the numbers of friends who had been killed in 17 years of Fleet duty with both the Dosadi and Starfleet. Sooth saw him looking wistful and gave him a wink and one of her beautiful smiles.
“I’m sorry, Colonel, I was letting my mind wander. What did you just ask me?”
Jons smiled at him. “I said, You’ve come far, my friend, in the years that we’ve been encountering each other.”
“There were an awful lot of times I didn’t think I was going to, Seins.” he glanced up as Heather, Tir, and Ceena rejoined the group. “And I surely never thought my future held anything like this.”
Jons’ wife Marin chimed in, “One never knows where one’s duty may take them, Wilkes. But there are always rewards for completing your duty, although they may not seem obvious at the time.” Glancing at Ceena and Tir she cleared her throat, “And sometimes Providence provides us with the strangest opportunities to both follow one’s duty and strengthen the bonds between friends and partners.”
Wilkes caught what she was implying immediately, as did Corin and Eletha, although the two youngsters in question seemed oblivious. Corin took a drink of his whiskey to hide his grin and Eletha tried not to giggle at the thought. Tir was almost two years older than Ceena’s 14 and a good foot shorter. He had deep tan skin and nearly white hair which made a neat compliment to Ceena’s tan and cream fur.
Eletha asked, “On your world, when do you consider someone to be an adult? On Dosad, it’s usually about 16 Earth-standard years, but there are those who go through the ritual testing a little earlier, or later than that.”
Marin explained, “For our young men, they begin their career with an apprenticeship or by joining the military anywhere from 15 on up, but never later than 18. Our young women are considered adults when their fathers arrange a match for them. The usual age is 14-18 and almost never older than 20. And of course, negotiations for a match can begin some years earlier.”
Corin swallowed backwards and began coughing, trying to get the fiery liquid out of his windpipe.
Wilkes thought that if Corin and Eletha took their children now and fled to one of the rim worlds, they might just get away from Marin, but they had better leave right away. Trying to cover his amusement he commented, “Of course on Dosad, we don’t arrange matches like your people do. People find their mates through trial and error, mostly.”
Marin smiled at him and said, “Indeed. But one can always encourage the trials and help to minimize the errors, can’t they?”
Ten year-old Heather, bored with the topic of conversation decided to chime in. “Jons, you’re a famous Warrior, Tell us a story about a battle!”
Captain Stone added her opinion as well, “Yes, Colonel. I’ve only heard bits and pieces of how you and Wilkes and everyone started running into each other. Wasn’t it at that little battle at Toulagai about ten years ago?”
Jons thought a moment, “Well, actually, the seeds for that particular battle were sown two years earlier during the Razing of Romulus.” He looked across the group, “Corin, I believe your brother was a combat controller aboard the carrier Loreth,was he not?”
“Yes, he was.” Corin agreed. “How did you know that?”
Jons grinned, “I’m something of a historian myself. The Dosadi have a reputation as master tacticians, so I make it a point to study your battles in great detail. Shall I start my tale there?”
Captain Stone said, “Sure! I’d like to hear the story. I always knew there was something special about Wilkes, I just didn’t know how special” She chuckled, “I never expected to find him married for one thing, much less running a major business. So tell me how this all started!”
Heather said again, “I want to hear about the battle!”
Always his favorite, Jons ruffled her fur and said, “Then I shall tell the story, little one.” He paused, thinking a moment and began:

* * *
DOSADI-ROMULAN BORDER
OCTOBER 2266
Hanging in space, some ten light-years from the Dosadi-Romulan frontier, the assault fleet awaited the command to move into the attack. In the center of the fleet of seven starships was the assault carrier Loreth – named for the Dosadi angel of death. Surrounding her were a patrol of fighters and her escorts.
The light cruiser Avric, the heavy destroyer Dosin and two small frigates; The Eleth and Raseth. Slightly further out were two brand new ships – the Coasd and the Eladi. These were new Aegis anti-seeker corvettes. Fast, maneuverable escort vessels designed specifically for duty on the Romulan front where drones, plasma torpedoes and other seeking weapons were as common as the interstellar dust.
On board the Loreth, the carrier’s captain was mentally reviewing the events that had brought about this raid. The Dosadi and the Romulans had been feuding for months during the Romulan’s brush-war with the Gorn Empire and their Federation allies. It hadn’t gone much past the occasional border spat or light raid on an outpost until the very first Dosadi assault carrier, the Thorin, came out of the docks.
Barely fifteen light-years out of port, she was attacked by a Romulan force that far out-gunned her. During a fifteen minute battle, she was completely destroyed, although she gave a good account of herself causing heavy damage to the invaders as well. This battle had also exposed new Romulan allies to the Dosadi, and spies inside the Empire supplied a name: The Cardassians. humanoids with reptilian features, their cruisers were armed with a wide array of phasers. Analysts within the Dosadi Imperium felt that if the two Cardassian cruisers had not been present, the ship would have been able to fight her way out of the ambush.
Three days later, the Dosadi struck back. The Romulans were posting a brand new X-class heavy cruiser to their shared frontier. One of only four that the Romulan’s possessed, it was a prime target for retaliation so the Romulan’s had supplied a destroyer to escort her. It hadn’t helped. Attacked by  the heavy destroyer Dosin and two frigates, the Ceasar and her destroyer escort were completely destroyed within ten minutes and the Dosadi vessels escaped with only minor damage.
Since tit-for-tat Romulan retaliation was expected, the Dosadi High Command had decided on a bold strike to knock the Romulans so hard that they would have to sue for peace. Even now, a large force of thirty ships was engaged in a running battle with the entire Romulan Home Defense Fleet, drawing it further and further away from Romulus while saboteurs were disabling the Romulan Starbase protecting her Senate and military High Command. With its power, weapons, and shields useless, a quick strike by the raiders would cripple the Romulan Empire  – especially its military – for years.
Finished with his mental review, Captain Norin surveyed the bridge of the Loreth. In the center of the tight hexagonal  compartment everything was in perfect order. To his left, Loric, his communications officer was straining to pick up the signals coming from the diversionary attack. They were kept weak to avoid gaining attention from the Romulan battle stations and listening posts on the frontier. Loric’s tail was lashing back and forth, a sure sign that he was totally focused on the faint sounds he was working so hard to tune in. Norin let him work – he would speak up when something came in.
“Captain!”, he said, turning around. “The signal has arrived. Proceed immediately across the frontier and on to Romulus.”
Norin smiled, displaying an impressive set of fangs. “Excellent. Signal all vessels. Rig for silent running. All ahead ¼ until we’re out of range of their listening posts. Then best speed to the assembly point following plan course Seven.”
Slowly, and with extreme caution, the fleet began to cross the border. This area of space was studded with mines, Romulan battle stations, listening posts, and patrol vessels on-guard against just such a move. A diversionary attack by the Loreth’s squadron of Federation-designed A-10 Thunderbolt attack fighters – small short-range ships designed for speed, agility, toughness and the ability to deal immense amounts of damage at very close range – should have distracted this sector’s defense center long enough for the fleet to cross the area. The fighters would need great skill to make it to the assembly point as they were operating at their extreme range limit.
Even with all their care, halfway across the border, the light cruiser Avric struck a mine. While the damage was only superficial, the detonation might alert the Romulans to the fleet’s presence. With luck, it would be assumed to be just another fighter.
But, their luck held. Twenty minutes later, the fleet was out of the danger zone and beyond the effective range of the border forces. Shortly after that, they met up with the six A-10’s waiting near their pick-up point. All were out of fuel and drifting, damaged, but repairable in short order. Aboard the Loreth, mechanics swarmed over their hulls.
The plan was to follow a complex route designed to avoid Romulan traffic, so the fleet slowly built speed up to Warp five. Even that was a strain on the little corvettes, designed for close defense of a fleet and agility, not a long high-speed run. 30 hours later, they reached their assembly point and began preparing in earnest for the attack. Weapons were charged, systems checked, fighters fueled, loaded, and their pilots ready in the cockpits. Maintenance crews anxiously checked internal systems and weapons mounts for any flaw as they were moved into their launchers.
Long range sensors were able to detect no ships in the space around the Romulan’s home planet. The plan appeared to be functioning perfectly – had the starbase not been disabled, it’s long range sensors would already have sounded the alarm and weapons would already be tracking on the raiders. The order was given and the fleet leaped to flank speed and assumed attack positions, ready to bombard the planet. As the range dropped and sensor power increased, a terrible reality was disclosed.

CHAPTER 2
“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”
-General George S Patton Jr – Earth (Human)
Waiting, in a very close orbit around the planet were seven ships of the Romulan Starfleet and the same two Cardassian cruisers that had attacked the Thorin. The raiders would have to eliminate these ships before they could move in to bombard the planet. Seven Dosadi raiders against nine Romulan and Cardassian defenders. And they would have to be fast, before the Romulan repair crews were able to bring the starbase back online.
Captain Norin assessed the ships facing him and calmly issued his attack orders. “Launch Green Wing’s F-14 Tomcats and have them hold station around us as a close-in defense. Launch the Countach missiles at 300,000 kilometers.” These were fast, powerful anti-ship missiles designed to cause massive internal damage to any vessel they struck. “Prepare to turn to 030 mark 015 on my order.”
The defending vessels were making their initial moves as well. They split into two forces with the heavier force splitting ‘north’. In it were the X-class heavy cruiser Pompey and two of the Romulan’s finest light cruisers – the Rubicon and the Tiber. Well known to the Dosadi as experienced, vicious and effective ships. Escorting them were two fast destroyers, Legion and Centurion. Worse news yet for the Dosadi, two of the Romulan’s brand new anti-missile destroyers, the Preatoria and the Augustus. It would be unlikely for any Dosadi drones to find their marks this day.
Sethos, the combat controller aboard the Loreth (Corin’s brother, Jons explained) spoke, “Captain, range is now 80,000 km. The Cardassian-based force has executed a high-energy turn and launched eight fighters. They will intercept our current course in two minutes.”
“Launch the remaining fighters. Have Red Wing’s Thunderbolts stand to the rear but close enough to attack when an opportunity presents itself. Have the SWACS (a special shuttlecraft designed to aid communications, tracking, and control of a battle) make best speed away from the battle space on course 135 mark 255 but stay within control range. Blue Wing’s Phantoms will fly escort in conjunction with the two F-4’s from the Dosin. White Wing’s Hornets and Green Wing will launch a 75% drone spread at 40,000 km and move to attack the cruiser force. Turn control of the Gatling phasers and the anti-drone-drones over to the Aegis system. Let’s see if it’s worth what we paid the Federation for it.”
“Aye, sir”
Anxious seconds passed for both fleets as tightly packed formations bloomed into complex patterns and sensors began playing across space. Ranges dropped as ships feinted slightly or simulated weapons releases to try to force an early response. Neither side was making any mistakes – these were some of the most skilled and professional warriors in known space.
Norin watched the large, solid holograph in front of his command station, watching the little sparks of light with ghostly vector arrows crawling towards each other. “On my mark, have the Avric, the Eleth and the Raseth make a feint to the left and then proceed to attack the starbase. If they can, avoid becoming entangled with the defenders. As soon as they launch, release the fighters to attack.”
Within seconds, the Dosadi’s compact formation bloomed across space at high speed with the frigates and the light cruiser peeling off to the left. The carrier and her corvette escorts arced to the right while the destroyer Dosin increased speed and began dumping reinforcing energy into her forward shields.
Instantly, the Romulan cruisers belched out seven plasma torpedoes. Ugly red balls of high-energy plasma bound into a seeking weapon, the torpedoes were capable of crippling a ship with a single hit. And they were exceedingly long-ranged – although they ‘bled’ out energy the further they flew, weakening. Unfortunately for the Dosadi captains, they couldn’t afford the time to try to out-run them Instead, they had to close the distance. On board every ship, defense officers scrambled to find something with which to evade, deceive, or destroy these devastating weapons.
Aboard the little frigate Raseth, racing along on the Avric’s starboard side, there was no chance to do much of anything.
Shortly before the Romulans fired, her navigator informed his captain “Sir, the cruiser force has turned to intercept our course, 180 mark 315…” He was interrupted by the defense officer’s near scream,
“Weapons lock from…” He never finished the sentence. The heavy phaser-1s, disruptors and a sprinkling of lighter phasers bracketed the tiny ship even as her helmsman tried to force the shuddering little ship into an evasive descending spiral as her shields folded one after another and explosions rocked her from bow to stern. While not crippled, she was beyond any effective action for a bit. The Romulans had drawn first blood.
Aboard the light cruiser Avric, a similar situation was developing. The cruiser, however, was quite a bit more capable of dealing with the weapons targeted on her. Her forward shield was badly battered despite the extra energy reinforcing it, but it was holding. Unfortunately, five of the seven deadly plasma torpedoes were tracking on his ship. The luckless Raseth had drawn the other two.
The Raseth’s captain tried desperately to save his ship. “Execute a high-energy turn!” This was a panic maneuver which caused the ship to trade all forward energy into a spinning, skidding turn that dumped excess energy into the shields as reinforcement – it also left the ship nearly dead in space. “Launch the Wild Weasel!’
The smoking little ship shook under impossible stresses as she first spun 120 degrees to try to present an intact shield to the rapidly closing plasma globes, and then all her remaining energy was transferred into her shields. The giant doors in her side slid open and a shuttlecraft – the Wild Weasel – crammed with electronic gear to attract the torpedoes, began its slow run away from the ship.
It didn’t get very far. About seven seconds after launch, two Type F torpedoes slammed into it, vaporizing it very thoroughly. While less damaging than the horrific Type R torpedo, the detonations were still powerful enough to cut the Raseth’s number three shield in half and shake the ship like a terrier with a rat.
While considerably less critical, the situation on board the Avric was similar. Her defense officer calmly issued his orders “Fire forward and pod phasers at torpedo of choice – just make sure you aren’t killing the same one. Request supporting fires from the Coasd and Eladi.”
“Eladi’s out of range, sir, Cosad responding.” Seconds later, phaser energy from the anti-seeker corvette Cosad raged across the oncoming torpedoes, aided by the squadron of F-18’s flying CID (close-in defense or ‘sid’) and the Avric’s own fire. Only one of the torpedoes survived to hit the vessel and the ugly red energy swarmed over her shields swamping the reinforcement and doing light damage to all six shields.
The Romulans were having problems of their own. Dozens of anti-ship missiles from the Loreth and her fighters were swarming into their fleet. Unfortunately for the Dosadi, the Romulan anti-missile destroyers were doing exactly what they were designed for. Only a fraction of the missiles closed with their targets, and those were dealt with by their point-defense phasers.
The Dosadi began firing disruptors, overloaded phasers, and photon torpedoes – their heavy weapon of choice; a deadly, fast weapon supplied by the Federation. Much lighter than the plasma torpedoes of the Romulan’s, but much faster to reload and impossible to dodge or intercept. The Loreth added a surprise weapon of her own – a pair of Hellbore torpedoes. Modifications of the photon torpedo, these weapons would englobe a target vessel and then collapse onto the weakest shield whether it was facing the firing ship or not; As the X-class cruiser Pompey found out. Her number two shield, protecting her right front sextant, collapsed under the pounding of the incoming Dosadi fire.
That was all the opportunity the Dosadi needed. Fighters, the frigates, and the heavy destroyer Dosin began pumping devastating fire into the Pompey’s unprotected hull. Despite the best efforts of her crew to turn the giant cruiser away, in seconds the proud ship was a smoldering wreck. She could move, but had little left in the way of weapons or power. Casualties were heavy throughout the ship as she vented atmosphere and energy into space, fires racing across her hull.
Norin was trying to keep track of what the Romulan fleet still had to hit back with. “Combat, analysis of that volley. Any torpedo launchers hit?”
Sethos looked up from his screens, “Hard to say, Captain.; Looks like we crippled the Pompey’s phasers and most of their disruptors. I don’t see any damage to any torpdeo launchers on any vessel though. I think they’re all still working.”
“Shit. Make those a primary target for anyone taking shots at the cruiser.”
Raled, the fleet defense officer interrupted, “Sir, the Romulan fighters have just launched four more Type-F torpedoes, their destroyers have launched two additional Type F’s. All are targeted on the Dosin. The Cardassian force is closing rapidly on the Avric and the Eleth. Raseth’s out of it.”
“So much for evading and going straight in to the attack.” Norin sighed. “Have our fighters launch their Lynx missiles at the Romulan and Cardassian fighters.” These were high-speed lighweight drones designed to destroy enemy fighters. You could fire them at ships – in fact to enemy sensors they looked identical to the heavier Countach missiles – but they did very little damage to something as large as a starship. “After launch, recover and re-arm as fast as we can. Continue rapid firing of our own missiles at targets of opportunity.”
The captain of the Dosin wasn’t worried in the slightest.  Her captain was in a very overconfident mood. The initial exchange had cost the Dosadi a badly damaged frigate. In return, they had nearly destroyed the heaviest vessel the Romulan’s had present. This was the second X-Class cruiser kill the Dosin had to her credit. The heavy destroyer pivoted gracefully on one ‘wing tip’ (in reality a weapons pod), and plowed directly over the two torpedoes, conserving her weapons for offense. Most of her number six shield, protecting her left front sextant, folded under.
The captain of the frigate Eleth was a little more aware of the gravity of the situation. Watching the tracks in the holographic display, he spoke to his combat controller, “Sameeth, where exactly are the rest of those targeted?”
“Working…Uh, three on the Avric, and uh, two for us. The Cardassians are locking weapons on our number six shield, and the two light cruisers have locked onto our number two shield.”
“Oh shit. Fire all weapons at the Rubicon. Helm, emergency stop! Shuttle bay – launch the wild weasel NOW!” Crewmen all throughout the frigate raced to their duties as the ship literally slammed on the brakes, trading all her momentum for shield reinforcement; delicate lines of lethal energy tracing from emitters on her weapons pods into the growing bulk of the Romulan cruiser bearing down on her.
The bridge of the mighty Avric was a much calmer place. She detected the three inbound Type-F plasma torpedoes and the enemy disruptors locked onto her number two shield and began to deal with them in turn. Her captain issued his orders: “Helm, hard left, Emergency stop. Shuttle bay – launch Wild Weasel number one immediately.”
Again, the tiny shuttles made a desperate dash for distance, drawing the seeking weapons to their electronic bait, and again, didn’t get far. The Avric wasn’t bothered in the slightest, but her escort the Eleth wasn’t quite so fortunate.
The tiny ship trembled under the close explosions of the torpedoes, her hull groaning in protest. Crewmen looked up from their stations at the eerie sounds. Then the weapons ports on the Romulan light cruiser erupted into life and the frigate’s number 2 shield went down and long rents appeared in her hull as the enemy weapons struck home.

CHAPTER 3
“Another such victory over the Romans, and we are undone.”
– Plutarch – Earth (Human)
“I think we survived it.” her captain said as the damage reports began to stream into the ruined bridge. But seconds later, the Cardassians gave the lie to that statement as he watched a golden nimbus surround the two cruisers. A fraction of a second later, six phasers ripped through what was left of his number six shield. Crewmen tried in vain to route energy to shields, to brace damaged hull plates – but the entire time, phasers were cutting chunks off the ship while the few systems left were being blown into non-existence. The Eleth imploded, taking her crew of 300 with her. An angry red flower began expanding out of where a graceful and deadly starship had been moments before.
The crippled Raseth, caught unawares by the explosion of her sister ship, had her number four shield destroyed and even the Avric’s number five shield showed a constellation of red warning lights.
The ranges between the fleets continued to drop. Neither commander was giving an inch in a lethal game of chicken involving trillions of credits worth of starships and thousands of crewmen. In the next 60 seconds of combat, all hell broke loose. A battle like this had never been recorded in the history of known-space. Maneuver, tactics, deception – all went out the window as ships closed to within knife-fighting range.
The Dosadi carrier force turned to intercept what was left of the Romulan cruiser strike force while the Loreth’s deck crews worked frantically to refuel and rearm at least some of the fighters. Across every ship in both fleets damage control teams raced to repair what they could and bring shields and especially weapons back to full power. Medical teams were overwhelmed with casualties. Ships raced towards each other in a macabre tango, joined by the flashing lights of beam weapons, torpedoes, and the actinic glare of missile engines. Deep within each ship, dim screens in darkened compartments showed glowing dots, vectors, and expected courses as exhausted, overwhelmed officers struggled to manage the ships, dozens of fighters, hundreds of seeking weapons, and thousands of direct-fire systems comprising the battle.
Aboard the Loreth, Sethos shouted “Captain! They’re launching a full strike. I read sixteen plasma torpedoes, a full spread of phasers, drones and disruptors – 75% on the Dosin, 20% on us, 5% on the Cosad.”
Receiving the same information from his combat controller, the captain of the Dosin was a little less overconfident than he had been a scant two minutes ago. Seeing enough firepower to annihilate any three cruisers being focused on his ship probably had something to do with that change in attitude. “Helm, hard about. Execute a high-energy turn. Do we have a wild weasel prepared?”
“No sir.”
“How many torpedoes are targeted on us again? Verify!”
“Nine sir.” came the weak reply.
“Fire all weapons at the cruiser Tiber and abandon ship.”
Just then, the captain of the Avric sprang his surprise on the Romulans. Out of concealed tube on the bow of his ship, five Type-F plasma torpedoes leapt towards the enemy fleet. This was the first time the Dosadi had ever used plasma torpedoes and ironically, the Romulan’s weren’t prepared to deal with these weapons at this time.
The Loreth scrambled all of her fighters – ready or not – in a furious attempt to get the highly explosive craft off of her decks. They were just getting clear of the bays when the two fleets unloaded everything they had on one another at point-blank range.
No one was ever completely sure what exactly was exchanged between the two groups of warships. Surviving sensor records were limited and damaged and eyewitness reports were unbelievable. What was clear was that the Dosin exploded immediately causing a sympathetic rippling detonation of 20 drones – both Dosadi and Romulan. The wave of energy from these explosions washed across the cruiser Rubicon, already crippled by Dosadi fire, and caused her to break in two and explode, adding to the shockwave of lethal energies. Her escorts, the Praetoria and Augustus, trying to provide covering fire against the incoming missiles had nothing left to absorb this wash of death from an unexpected quarter; Both imploded in a silent flash of light and flame. On the other side of the Dosin, the Loreth, her shields in tatters from close engagement with the Romulans, crumpled into another silent and ugly explosion adding more megatons of energy to the growing fireball.
The battered Pompey, struggling to get her sensors on-line and trying to raise power for shields never even knew what hit her. The expanding wave smashed through her unprotected warp drive releasing all her anti-matter into one gigantic and uncontrolled explosion as the warheads on all her weapons let loose at once. The  Tiber, trying to protect the Pompey was much too close to escape. The Dosin’s last volley had crushed her forward shield, leaving her hull completely exposed to the multi-megaton explosion from the Pompey and she imploded as well, taking the destroyer Legion with her.
The Dosadi had no time to gloat. Surviving captains could see the on-rushing shock-wave of energy – more than had ever been recorded outside of a super-nova – but had very little time to do anything about it. Ships twisted at impossible angles, hulls groaning as engines strained to do more than they were ever designed to do.  The little corvettes, despite being nearly undamaged were never designed to deal with energy levels like this. Flying close by the Loreth, the shock-wave washed across both vessels and all six shields failed. The bows of the ships were driven backwards until, mercifully quickly, they too imploded into into ugly blossoms of destruction. The tiny fighters, who’s main defense was speed and agility, had no hope whatsoever. Their pilots, unlike officers within starships who saw only sensor images of what was occurring outside their ships, could see what was coming with their own eyes. As the fireball spread through their formations, nothing was left but a spray of subatomic particles. Only a single A-10 pilot had managed to run fast enough to hide in the blast-shadow created by two of his squadron mates. Burned and with several broken ribs, he struggled to fly his smoking, crippled fighter towards the SWACS and both began to limp away from the battle space.
Nominally, the Dosadi came out ahead in this brutal exchange, trading five ships for six. Still surviving were the crippled frigate Raseth and the light cruiser Avric. Her formerly pristine blue-grey hull now scorched and pitted, she was down to two fully functional shields. Closing with them were the two Cardassian cruisers, the Kree-Lar and the Pama. Flying lead for them was the Romulan destroyer Centurion.
Again, the two groups of ships began a twisting and sinuous ballet as they maneuvered to bring the most weapons to bear against the enemy’s weakest defenses. The Avric was shutting down any unneeded systems and pumping energy into her plasma torpedo launcher. Even before the two forces reached an optimal firing point, her captain fired the seeking weapon at the advancing Cardassians and accelerated to close the gap behind the torpedo. Unable to ignore the dangerous plasma weapon, the Cardassians had to expend a considerable portion of their available firepower to shoot it down.
Blue Wing, the Loreth’s only surviving fighter group had been flying in an outer escort position and had been able to escape the deadly conflagration. Seeing the Cardassians using their point-defense systems to deal with the torpedoes, the obsolete F-4 Phantoms surged into the attack. The captain of the Centurion, though now unable to be covered by the Cardassian’s close-in weapons decided to take on this ‘easy prey.’ She was badly mistaken. All five F-4’s released a cloud of Lynx and Countach missiles. While the Lynx anti-fighter missiles really couldn’t do all that much to the destroyer, her frantic sensor officers had no time to try to determine which was which.
The tiny fighters, twisting and rolling around the defensive phaser fire, dove on the big Romulan destroyer, following the missiles. The Centurion attempted to take out the missiles and the Pama tried to assist, but it wasn’t enough. The Centurion’s captain, confident in her anti-drone systems re-directed some of her phasers at the annoying little fighters. They were difficult targets to hit, and even more difficult to destroy. As ten of the drones began to close with her ship, leaking through her defenses and the Phantoms released yet more of the powerful missiles she came to the sudden realization that she was going to die.
Despite the best efforts of the Romulans, four of the Countach anti-ship missiles and eight of the little Lynx missiles impacted on the Centurion. Two even managed to hit the distracted Pama, though they did no real damage. The Centurion, her shields destroyed and her weapons expended or destroyed was a sitting duck. The F-4’s dove to point-blank range and cut her to pieces. She went from being a fully armed and able destroyer to a smoking, out of control hulk, burning and drifting as she spun off-axis. Blind, disarmed, and nearly powerless the ship was essentially destroyed. Refusing to give up, her badly wounded first officer attempted to fly the ship from Auxiliary Control, still trying to defend his home planet.
The Centurion began a wobbling, smoking turn towards the crippled frigate Raseth. The Phantoms however, weren’t done with her. They flew their fighters directly towards picked targets and obliterated everything that was still functioning. While the Centurion didn’t explode, what was left wasn’t recognizable as a warship. Instead, it was a wreck, belching atmosphere and energy in long tongues of fire through gaping rents in her hull. Energy sparked and arced across what remained of her warp engines providing the only light from the drifting, spinning hulk.
While Blue Wing was finishing off the Centurion, the valiant little Raseth made her last stand. Sweeping left as fast as her mangled warp drives could push her, she attacked the cruiser Kree-Lar. The enemy warship was many times her size and power even had she been undamaged. Holding his broken left arm, his tail a bloody stump, and sitting in the smoking ruins of his bridge, her captain held his fire until they were nearly on top of the Cardassian ship. He issued his final orders to what was left of his bridge crew. “Wait until they’re about to fire, and then let loose. It’s time to meet the gods!” He had been carefully hoarding his power, dumping everything he could spare into his weapons systems. Two of the powerful photon torpedoes were on the verge of exploding in their tubes and all three of his remaining phasers were going to melt down if they weren’t fired soon.
A chime sounded from the combat controller’s station, the little frigate shivered and the sound of firing weapons rang throughout the ship. One of the torpedoes mis-fired and had to be ejected, exploding near the port bow. The remaining weapons tracked straight and true and crushed the forward shield of the Kree-Lar, swamping through to scatter damage across the battle cruiser’s bow.
The Avric fired a moment later, unloading all of her powerful forward batteries into the Pama. Already damaged, she was unable to deflect the energy pouring into her and reeled under the pounding. Her crew raced to fix what they could.
The Kree-Lar’s return volley obliterated the Raseth’s bridge and most of the remaining systems as well. As her warp drives began to go super-critical, her Chief Engineer tried to juggle the collapsing energy fields to direct the hulk into the Cardassian cruiser and prepared to ram as what was left of her crew attempted to abandon ship.
Four of the sleek Cardassian fighters had managed to destroy the five exhausted, battered fighters of Blue Wing and rolled in to hound what was left of the Raseth. They were still on their attack run when the frigate exploded. The detonation also annihilated the Kree-Lar’s number five shield and caused more damage to her control and weapons systems while the poor Pama, caught with her failed number three shield facing the explosion was reduced to a burning, nearly out of control cripple.
The Pama’s captain, being informed by his Science Officer (she was a legend among the Cardassian fleet) that his ship was no longer able to provide effective resistance turned what was left of his cruiser and began to limp towards safer space. Damn the Romulan’s and their starbase!
The Kree-Lar could not, in honor do this. The ship still had weapons and power and was now the only thing between the Romulan home-world and the Avric. Her captain made his plans. “Loh Ril, make a high-energy turn and target all remaining weapons on the enemy cruiser. Anyone who fires without my explicit order will be killed instantly. All remaining power to reinforce the number one shield. Open a channel to that cruiser.”
As the image of the Dosadi commander appeared on his cracked and partially melted viewscreen, he took the measure of his opponent. It didn’t give him a lot of confidence that this would work. “Ah, Commander. I am Gul Hib Ran of the Cardassian Union. The Romulan starbase is now coming back on-line and as I’m sure you know, all of our weapons are fully charged and targeted on your vessel. We are also preparing to fire two of the weapons you call Type-R torpedoes. This will damage both our vessels unnecessarily.
“You have fought an excellent battle. A battle you can call a victory. If you turn now, and head for your home space, we will not fire at you. Why risk death when victory is within your grasp?”
The captain of the Avric turned to his combat controller and his medical officer, Dr. Sitnam. “Any ideas?”
Lieutenant Commander Fir, the combat controller said “We haven’t seen any plasmas from the Cardassians yet and there’s no energy signature of any being charged. The starbase shows zero energy and the communications we’ve monitored show chaos across all levels.”
The Doctor nodded, “He’s bluffing. He hasn’t got anything left or he would’ve blown us out of space.”
Captain Corlick turned back to the viewscreen. “Right. Prepare to die, lizard.”
Gul Hib Ran sighed, he hadn’t though that would work. “Glinn, prepare to fire.”
“Yes, Sir!” The young officer obviously still had faith that his Gul, who had so miraculously gotten them out of every other scrape would do so again. The Gul knew better.
The Avric closed to 20,000 kilometers and the Kree-Lar pivoted on her axis, attempting to present her best shield to the light cruiser bearing down on her. Both ships unloaded. The Avric fired four of the overloaded photon torpedoes, six overloaded disruptors, seven overloaded phaser-1’s two anti-ship drones, and a Type-S plasma torpedo (Not as big as a Type-R, but bad enough).
In response to this devastating fusillade, the battered Kree-Lar could only scrape up a phaser-3, and a single overloaded phaser-1. Slicing through the Avric’s weakened number two shield, the deadly energy ripped the cruiser’s power and control systems. While not critical, the Avric was hurting.
The artificial gravity was off-kilter on the Kree-Lar. Gul Hib Ran regained his feet and tried to wave away the smoke. Two drones went careening wildly away as his defensive officer managed to interfere with their tracking. Seeing the plasma torpedo closing with his defenseless ship he knew he had only one option left. If he could board the bridge of the Avric he could take her over.
“Engineering! We need power to the transporters now!”
Through the crackling static of the badly damaged intercom system he heard “Transporters out, Gul – so is maneuvering and warp power.”
“Prepare to receive catastrophic damage!” He had just gotten this order out when the Type-S torpedo impacted just forward of the bridge. The Kree-Lar hung in space for a brief instant and then gave up, adding one more explosive gout of light and burning gas to this wreckage littered area of space. The volume around Romulus would be full of debris for months afterwards as the planet’s gravity pulled in the detritus of combat.
Captain Corlick had miscalculated – he hadn’t expected the Kree-Lar to detonate. Damage from the cruiser’s death scattered all over the Avric’s hull, damaging everything lightly. But she was still able to fight. And now she had a clear shot at the Romulan home planet. He gave his attack orders, “Close with the starbase. Charge all weapons and prepare to launch bombardment. Charge the plasma torpedo as an enveloping torpedo  until I give orders otherwise.”
On Romulus, the High Command was in an understandable state of panic. First, an unprecedented Dosadi fleet had waltzed into their space and directly attacked the Home Defense Fleet. Suspecting a trap, the majority of the fleet fought a running battle while a small rear-guard stayed behind, just in case.
Right on cue, thirty five members of the Praetor’s Guard Legion had revolted. The starbase’s powerful energy generators were disabled, their controls melted chunks of metal. Without power, her shields and weapons were useless. The traitors were finally slain, but repairs would take time – and meanwhile, the base – and the planet –  was defenseless.
Then, worse news. A Dosadi assault fleet had dropped out of warp and was closing with their rear-guard. Thank all the gods that the two Cardassian Ambassadorial escorts were still in orbit. The Praetor had issued his one and only order: Stop them at all costs. You are expendable.
Since their scanners were also powerless, they had no real idea of what was happening out there in space. Scanners weren’t needed, however, when nearly a dozen starships suddenly explode. That lit up the sky for over an hour afterwards – but was it good news or bad? As scanner power began to come up from emergency sources, the tactical situation became clear. Only five ships remained. Then two. Then one. The ISS Avric. They could only watch in impotent rage as the Avric moved into close orbit and began to pound the Romulan home-world back into the Stone Age.
People made desperate dashes for shelters, running past useless heavy weapons and shield generators, trying to find someplace to hide from the multi-megaton weapon impacts. It made no difference where they went. They died. Forty-five minutes later, that entire section of the continent was a smoking ruin and the Avric stood off, launching a few remaining shots from long range. No one had ever seen a starbase explode before, but the damaged generating systems went critical, and then detonated with a force in the gigaton range. Later estimates of casualties were in the hundreds of millions.  Millions more would die from the long-term effects of the nuclear-winter like clouds of debris blown into the atmosphere. Although the Romulans, like the Dosadi, are a warrior race where ‘civilian’ isn’t really a recognized concept, it’s hard to classify most of these deaths as anything other than civilian by our reckoning. But the Romulans were now leaderless and unable to provide any effective action against the Dosadi.
The Avric made course for home, picking up the SWACS with it’s terrified crew and what was left of Lt. Delac’s A-10 fighter. A very long trip home followed, trying to make their way past the now quite agitated Romulan defenses. Fortunately, a Dosadi light cruiser, even damaged, is very difficult to destroy. After four days of hiding when they could, fighting when they had to, they made it over the border and back into home space.
The news hadn’t yet reached Dosad. All they knew was that their fleet had been badly mauled by the Romulan Home Fleet, making a somewhat less than even exchange. Their only carrier, one of their five light cruisers, a heavy destroyer, two frigates, and two brand new corvettes had simply disappeared. So, when the Avric’s battle damaged hull pulled into orbit around Dosad – alone – the Dosadi Military was shocked. They were even more shocked when they received the log and sensor tapes of the battle. While the raid had achieved all of its goals, it had also been cripplingly expensive. Sure, the Romulans were no longer able to bother the Dosadi, and would probably lose the war with the Grand Alliance, but the Dosadi too were pretty much beyond offensive action.
Captain Corlick was promoted to Admiral and stands an excellent chance to succeed the Emperor.

* * *
Jons took another drink of his whiskey. I happened to be on Romulus that day. Fortunately for me, I was in Dinalla when Ki Baratan exploded. Even across the ocean, the effects were felt rapidly. It was…horrible.”
Corin was silent and Eletha said, “That’s more details than I had ever heard about that battle. “
The Colonel said, “I had access to the Romulan sensor archives from their orbital platforms, including intercepts.”
Heather, enthralled with the story just said, “Thank you, Jons!” That was echoed by the many guests.
Captain Stone said, “That was quite the story, Colonel. Thank you – but I don’t see how that relates to Wilkes, or anyone other than Corin?”
“Well, the Assault Carrier concept was still quite new at that time, Captain. The Dosadi were the first to  design and build a specific class to carry massive numbers of fighters. Their doctrine was that the ship be able to fight as a cruiser as well as carry the fighters. This battle exposed a number of flaws in that concept, flaws that were corrected in the next carrier – the ISS Delos, which was the ship Wilkes was posted to when it arrived at Toulagai. Where I was also present aboard the Hydran light-cruiser Succession. Somewhat ironically, that ship was helmed by a young Starfleet officer, an Ensign Yoshida.”
“I’ve heard of her. She’s an instructor at Starfleet Academy now.” Angie interrupted him.
“So? I must say I’m not surprised. She is without peer in my experience.”
This time it was Ceena who asked for a story. “Colonel, that was the battle where my father was killed. My mother and Corin have both told me the story, can you tell it the way you told that last one?”

Sooth spoke up, “Ceena, he’s just told a long story! It’s not fair to ask him for another right away!”
“No, no – I’m an old warrior, M’Lady, and we LOVE telling tales of old battles and valor. I’d be happy to share another tale.” Nodding to Captain Stone he said, “I’ve been able to obtain quite a few Federation records on this battle as it has a particular interest for me. I was able to get the entire set of bridge records from the USS Hood, thanks to Commander Wilkes’ intercession.”
It’s an odd story of what pride and foolishness can drive otherwise sane beings to. But, let me start aboard the Hood…

* * *
CODA II
Free For All At Toulagai
CHAPTER 1
“Diplomacy is the art of saying “Nice doggie” until you can find a rock.”
– Will Rogers – Earth (Human)
Captain Karmes sighed as he shifted his weight in the command chair. The bridge of the heavy cruiser USS Hood was, as always, functioning smoothly. The tactical plot on the main view screen showed the destroyer USS Samurai and that Dosadi light cruiser he’d been…’escorting’…the ISS Alisar. He’d had just about all the guff he was gonna take from that overgrown fur-ball, orders or no orders.
Five minutes ago, the Alisar had hailed the Hood and informed Karmes that there was a major fleet action occurring in Federation space. Then, without so much as a ‘please’, he’d demanded that the Federation ships  follow his vessel and provide assistance to his embattled countrymen (or would that be countrykitties?, Karmes thought to himself). Karmes didn’t have any choice but to stay with the Alisar as she accelerated to her maximum speed. Starfleet couldn’t very well leave the Alisar wandering about unescorted – allies or no. But he’d been sorely tempted.
As they raced towards the altercation, his communications officer had been able to tell him some of the basics from intercepts: That idiot Gorn Admiral T’Skay had evidently been making a few ‘dead cat’ jokes at an Embassy party in the Federation sector of Toulagai. The Dosadi ambassador, showing typical control had immediately attacked him. Things had degenerated from there. The Gorn, 8′ tall and looking like a tyrannosaur with bug-eyes were also Federation allies as well as being friendly with the Klingons and Hydrans. Trying to defuse this situation was going to take some delicacy. As he was trying to puzzle out what to do, his thoughts were interrupted by his comm officer again.
“Sir, incoming message from Admiral Noguchi at Starbase 6.”
“On the main screen, Lieutenant.” This should be good, he thought. Noguchi was a very professional officer and usually good for some extra information about missions. There was an initial burst of interference and then Admiral Noguchi’s face appeared. He was clearly NOT happy. “Captain Karmes,” he began without any of the usual pleasantries,
“You and the Samurai are to immediately accompany the ISS Alisar to the starbase at Toulagai. Once there, you are to engage the following ships of the Klingon Imperial Fleet: The battleship Reaver, the light cruiser Devisor, and the corvettes Deceit and Assassin.”
Karmes wondered why so much Klingon heavy metal was at Toulagai. Things had been fairly peaceful between the Federation and the Klingons lately, but that was still a lot of firepower. And now he was going to be shooting at them – except a heavy cruiser and a destroyer weren’t much of a match for a battleship, a light cruiser, and two corvettes!
Noguchi was still talking. “Be advised that also present are the following units of the Royal Hydran Navy: the carrier Kingdom, the light cruiser Succession, and the heavy frigates Horval and Hydrus. Gorn Fleet elements engaged are the heavy cruiser Tyrannus, destroyer Tooth, and the corvettes Honor and Confederacy.
The above units are engaged against the following ships of the Dosadi Romulan Assault Fleet: The assault carrier Delos, the command destroyer Shagrat, heavy destroyer Dosin, and their escorting corvettes, Nareth and Lavet Cair.
You will proceed to Toulagai at best possible speed and engage ONLY the Klingon elements. You are NOT under ANY circumstances to fire at any Hydran, Gorn, or Dosadi ships. If possible, place yourself to protect ships of these peoples and anyone firing at them, including the Dosadi.”
Karmes’ jaw was hanging open. Stunned, he asked “What the hell happened?”
Noguchi looked upset. “That isn’t any of your concern, Captain. You are to use all available speed. I needn’t remind you how critical these alliances are to the Federation. Do not do anything, no matter how tiny to upset them And most especially no jokes.”
Johnson, the Hood’s navigator asked, “Jokes?”
Noguchi pounced, “Yes! JOKES! Humor! Don’t even crack a SMILE!”
“Uh..yes, sir. Understood, sir.”
“Noguchi out.” and he cut the connection, vanishing without even waiting for a reply.
At Toulagai, the four fleets had already squared off. Admirals Kremble, T’Skay, and Drake of the Hydran, Gorn, and Klingon fleets respectively, had assembled their battle plans. They were in three sections, line abreast some 750,000 km away from the maneuvering Dosadi ships and closing fast. Admiral T’Skay spoke with the Hydran commander, “If we can just keep that Klingon in line with us, the Dosadi don’t stand a chance. We’ve got them out-gunned almost 3:1.”
Kremble stood up. She asked, “Why does the Klingon worry you?”
T’Skay made a face. And when what looks like a bad-tempered dinosaur makes a face, it definitely has an impact. “He’s an inexperienced political appointee that hasn’t the foggiest idea what he’s doing. He’s got no experience even with a single ship, much less a fleet action. And those Dosadi are so damn tricky…”
Fleet Captain Nolin was also giving his final orders. His staff was sitting around him in the tight hexagonal bridge of the assault carrier Delos. These ships are fast, heavily armed, and dangerous. However, the Delos was the third the Dosadi had built – and the only one surviving. Because they were so dangerous, they tended to attract a lot of unhealthy attention from enemy forces. He issued his initial orders, “The carrier force will break right at 045 mark 315 and launch the initial fighter strike at 300,000 km. Immediately after launch, we’ll pivot right to 090 mark 045 and launch the assault with Red Wing and half of White Wing. Keep the other half in reserve. Shagrat and Dosin will accelerate to .8C and move left at 270 mark 0. After 50,000 km, spin right 180 degrees in the plane and cross past us – try to get the Gorn to follow you. Then, cut left to 000 in the plane and charge the Klingon battle group. We’ll signal weapons release. That Klingon’s inexperienced and we can press him until he breaks. If we can get the Gorns to cut across their formation and the Klingons to cut across them, the confusion should let us break them all into tiny little pieces.”
Like most fleet actions, the initial maneuvering was uneventful. Crews at this level were simply too skilled to fall for simple feints. But like an intricate game of tri-dimensional chess, there were layers within layers and traps within traps. What looked simple could often turn out to have a nasty surprise hidden within it. The Gorn, following their battle plan didn’t bother chasing the two destroyers, but cut straight towards the carrier. LCDR Delac, the Green Wing commander sat in his F-14 Tomcat waiting for launch. As usual, there was a lot of chatter about who was gonna blow up what. No matter the species, nor the time-period fighter pilots were all alike. If anything, space fighter pilots were even more egotistical and crazed than their ancient planet-bound ancestors. The tiny ships were tough, fast, and maneuverable, but one solid hit from a starship’s regular weapons battery would turn them into nothing more than an elegant spray of sub-atomic particles. The Dosadi were well known as aggressive and highly skilled pilots – and in this battle they had a definite edge in fighters. The Hydran Sting fighters weren’t up to the same level as the Dosadis’ Federation-supplied Tomcats, Hornets, and Thunderbolts, and their pilots were considerably less experienced.
Finally the launch order came through and the tiny fighters were fired out of their launch tubes much like a torpedo, the acceleration unnoticeable as the little ships’ gravity compensators kept the pilot from being turned into jam from the g forces. As he began scanning the enemy fleets he heard someone curse over the open channel, “Eleth! You can see them from HERE!” He checked his scopes to be sure that the second half of his squadron was deploying properly and ignored the young pilot’s comment. His silence would be more eloquent than any rebuke.
The three flights spread into a sort of pincer, His group as the lower with the other half of Green Wing making the upper portion. three F-18 Hornets of White Wing and six A-10 Thunderbolts of Red Wing were coming straight up the middle. As they closed to within 80,000 km, they could easily see the bulk behind the big Klingon battleship. It made an easy target. The destroyer group and the other half of Green Wing fired their missiles and torpedoes and continued to close the distance. Delac held his group’s fire until they were within 20,000 km and added their own weapons to the spray of death headed for the battleship. “Break!” he called and all the fighters spun in place and powered their way back to their carrier.
Watching on his sensors, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The Klingons, with enough anti-drone power to stop a drone wave from every ship his fleet possessed were breaking formation! They were cutting across the heart of the enemy fleet – AWAY from his ship!

CHAPTER 2
Chaos is a name for any order that produces confusion in our minds
– George Santayana – Earth (Human)
Aboard the Klingon flagship, their Admiral had panicked. Despite his officer’s assurances that they could track and deal with the hundreds of blinking red lights cutting quickly across the hexagonal grid showing the space around their battle group, all he saw was death. All the lines were closing rapidly with his ships and none of his ships had fired yet. His battle manager tried to calm him down, “Sir! Courage!” he was disgusted. “Our close in defenses are designed to work close-in..Sir! There is no need to…” The captains of the two corvettes were even more disgusted, considering breaking orders and attacking on their own, but that was simply not the Klingon way. A warrior people who made the Dosadi look calm, the Klingons loved any sort of challenge. As Admiral Drake issued his orders to turn away from the closing missiles, his view screen came to life with Admiral T’Skay’s enraged visage.
“What are you DOING you IDIOT?!” he hissed “Stay in formation!”
Drake, terrified at the complicated tactical plot he really didn’t understand shouted back “I can’t, you fool! I’ve got hundreds of drones and two plasma torpedoes targeted on me! I cannot allow this ship to be disabled!”
“That’s what your fucking corvettes are for, you ass!”
“There’s too many of them! They’re too close!” T’Skay could see his nerve break, “Emergency stop! Eject the wild weasel!” he cried out.
“NO! Damn you!” T’Skay yelled. He broke the connection and set about trying to save his own fleet. The giant Reaver and the Devisor both slammed on the brakes and ejected shuttlecraft. The two corvettes, confused by the sudden maneuver began trying to figure out where they were supposed to be now. The Deceit swung straight down and away from the imposing bulk of the motionless Reaver. Her captain was damed if he was gonna try and stay close to that idiot. The Assassin spun first right, then left, then charged into the heart of the drones, trying to shoot them all down as that was what the little ships were designed to do. Nobody had told him about the wild weasels currently attracting all of the seeking weapons.  The first weapons began to slam into the fleet as dodging ships cut across the flight path of the powerful weapons, allowing them to re-acquire the ship instead of the electronic bait of the shuttlecraft. The explosions rattled Klingon shields, but did little else. When the two mid-sized Type-S plasma torpedoes the Shagrat had fired exploded on the little wild weasel near the Devisor, they actually had to drain batteries to reinforce their shields.
All around them, captains tried to maneuver their ships around the sudden obstacles as well as the seeking weapons that nobody now knew where they were targeted. Several Klingon and Gorn fighters, unable to dodge quickly enough were caught in the drone wave or the explosion of nearby torpedoes and were destroyed. The neat formation was a shambles.
After recovering her fighters, the Delos carrier group turned left and moved to join back up with the Shagrat  and the Dosin, The Gorn and Hydrans, still mobile but no longer in formation turned after them. They were closing rapidly on the destroyers which were running slowly after launching the two powerful plasma torpedoes.
Aboard the Dosin, Captain Falos came to a decision. The Dosin was brand new – a replacement for the original ISS Dosin which was destroyed at Romulus with glory to her name forever more. The enemy fleets, unmolested, would close to within 40,000 km of the Delos. That was much too close – especially from the rear. He studied the large solid hologram that made up the center of the hexagonal bridge of the heavy  destroyer. The points and shadowy vector lines indicating ships, weapons, courses, speeds, and likely paths looked like a skein of yarn that had been scrambled. He turned to his helmsman.
“Everett, come about 180 mark 00 and prepare to fire.” The Dosin rolled up above the plane of battle on her back, and dove back at a slow, deliberate speed. She was now between the carrier group and the Gorn fleet. “Sareth, open a channel to the commander of that corvette…”
When the Gorn captain’s reptilian face appeared, he signaled his weapons officer and screamed “DIIIEEEE!!!” Phasers, disruptors, and photon torpedoes arced across the gap between the two ships. The tiny Honor fired back with all she had, joined by supporting fire from the heavy cruiser Tyrannus. However, a corvette is no match for the firepower of a heavy destroyer. Her number six shield folded under almost immediately as she attempted to roll away from the charging Dosadi ship and the impact of the heavy weapons shredded her from nose to tail.
As the Dosin swept close over the burning, shaking corvette, she continued to engage the destroyer Tooth. The Gorn fleet’s return fire annihilated the Dosin’s forward shield and tracked across her. In seconds, the formerly blue-grey hull was a smoking ruin, her left weapons pod hanging limply, belching atmosphere and flame.
Wilkes whispered to Sooth, “That’s the pod where M’Ralin’s parents were stationed.”
Jons was still talking, “Her primary hull was nearly severed in two. All auxiliary power was out and the warp engines had holes blown completely through them with bright arc-light flashes of energy spitting out of them. But, as Captain Falos had gambled, they didn’t dare hit him again. His ship was too badly damaged and a heavy destroyer exploding in the middle of the tightly packed Gorns would be a disaster. He sat in the middle of his smoke filled bridge and wondered what was happening outside. The holographic display was out, several bridge stations were on fire and most of the sensor pods were completely blown off the hull. It would take time before damage control teams could restore her ability to move at all, much less fight. But the Gorns were out of firepower for a while and no longer closing with the Delos.
The Shagrat, her torpedoes now re-energized began a sweeping left turn and fired at the now scattering Gorns. The Delos and her escorts begin rapid-firing drones at them to encourage their confusion. Finally, their formation was so disrupted as to be out of the fight for another few minutes. Fleet Captain Nolin turned his attention to the as yet unmolested Hydrans. Their carrier had yet to launch any fighters.
Although three of the A-10 Thunderbolts from Red Wing were still busy harassing the motionless Klingons, his Tomcat fighters from Green Wing were all rearmed and available. As he was planning how best to deal with the Hydrans, his sensor officer shouted “Captain! The ISS Alisar, the USS Hood, and USS Samurai have just left warp! They signal that they will engage the Klingons!”
At the mention of her dead mate’s Thunderbolt’s attack on the Klingons so many years ago, Corin leaned in to Eletha and gave her a quick Dosadi kiss. Ceena was paying rapt attention as Jons continued his story:
“Excellent.” he licked his chops. Two cruisers and a destroyer against a battleship, a cruiser and two corvettes wasn’t exactly equal odds, but the Klingons had already been battered and were confused. He could ignore them from here on out. “Launch Green Wing and the second half of White Wing. Have them concentrate on the carrier. Let the Hydrans close to 60,000 km then do a high-energy turn and fire everything we’ve got at them. Have the Nareth and the Lavet Cair hold their fire until they close with targets of opportunity. How long until the Shagrat rejoins the formation?”
“Two minutes, sir” the combat controller responded. “Dosin is making best speed at course 110 mark 090. She’s at least under control again. Mostly. Heavy casualties though, particularly her weapons crews.”
The sensor officer interrupted, “Sir. The Hydran frigate Hydrus just released eight type-F torpedoes.” Nolin looked at the wavering red spheres racing towards  his ship.
“Slow to .18C and prepare to release a wild weasel. Execute a high-energy turn and fire all phasers from the Delos and Shagrat at the carrier Kingdom and all torpedoes at that frigate on my mark. She’ll be low on energy”
“The carrier is launching a full fighter strike.” the sensor officer spoke again.
“Send White Wing after them. Have Green Wing go for the carrier…FIRE!” The fleet’s powerful phasers and torpedoes tore the heavy frigate into pieces. She began to drift, hanging at a broken angle and burning, out of the plane of battle, spinning slowly. The Kingdom, much better able to defend herself, took minor damage. Their return volley didn’t even scratch the Delos.
However, the Hydran ships were now releasing clouds of plasma torpedoes, the ugly red balls of energy swarming towards the big Dosadi carrier – and she was now powerless to defend against them. She maneuvered in a tight spiraling climb, spreading the hits across all six shields. Damage control teams raced to repair the hits as the big ship shuddered slightly from the leak-through. Shields three, four, and five covering her entire rear half had collapsed.
The little Nareth cruised up to the Gorn destroyer Tooth, still recovering from the Dosin’s action, and reduced her to a smoking ruin. The corvette was designed for close-in defense against seeking weapons and her large numbers of gatling point-defense phasers tore through the Tooth’s unprotected hull like a chainsaw on soft pine. Much like the Hydrus, the Tooth was out of control and burning. Her bridge was a burning hole in the hull and her weapons systems and ability to navigate were gone. With her engines unbalanced, she began to spin across the plane of battle like a top.
The gallant Lavet Cair, her sensors fully engaged with attacking the relatively gigantic Kingdom failed to detect six Hydran anti-ship missiles launched from the light cruiser Succession until they were almost upon her. With her weapons discharged from her bold attack, there was nothing her captain could do but watch them race in. Her shield was destroyed immediately and the remaining missiles impacted on his vessel with thunderous explosions. Most of the damage was confined to the right warp engine, but both weapons pods were seriously damaged. He began desperately trying to put some distance between himself and the Hydran fleet.
Aboard the carrier Kingdom, Admiral Kremble wondered why she had to get saddled with an incompetent Klingon officer. Klingons were normally a real asset in a fight. She watched her battle-sphere showing the combat raging around her vessel. The Dosadi Thunderbolt assault-fighters had almost destroyed the heavy frigate Horval without loss. “
Tir whispered to Ceena “That’s when my dad was killed. One of the Thunderbolts shot straight into his battle station.” She squeezed his hand, listening to Jons’ story.
“The Dosadi Hornet fighter groups were exterminating the last of her Sting fighters with almost no damage to themselves and the Dosadi captains seemed to have no sense of self-preservation. A CORVETTE had attacked her, taking up most of her defensive fire and energies. Three of the Federation-designed Tomcat fighters were rolling in on an attack course and she had nothing with which to stop them. Two of her heavy frigates were crippled, her air wing was destroyed and her flagship was damaged and defenseless. The Succession was the only ship she had left that could fight effectively and she desperately needed to recharge weapons and batteries.  She issued the order to disengage. To hell with T’Skay and his dead cat jokes!
Meanwhile, the forgotten Klingons had their hands full of Federation and Dosadi cruisers. The initial weapons exchanges had crippled the corvettes Assassin and Deceit,  drastically reducing the Klingon’s ability to deal with seeking weapons. The Devisor had been damaged and the forward shield on the Reaver – by far the most powerful shield in the entire battle – had been almost destroyed. In return, Drake had managed to put a few dings on the hull of the Alisar.  As he swung the Devisor and Reaver around to try to deal with the two Federation vessels, his battle manager reported that the Hydrans were warping out, badly mauled. The Dosadi were still fully functional with only two damaged vessels – The Dosin and the Lavet Cair.
Moments later, he added the bad news that the Gorns were also retreating, taking with them the smoking ruins of a corvette and the destroyer Tooth. The Tyrannus had been seriously damaged as well. Repeated attacks by Dosadi fighters and seeking weapons from the Delos and Shagrat had been more than she could deal with. Suddenly, his battle display was nearly empty. Just his few ships and five enemy vessels and 18 fighters. Vector and course lines began curving around towards him as he attempted to take the two crippled corvettes under tow. Three of the hated Thunderbolts were racing towards him as well. There was no way he was going to sit here and take this.
Fifteen minutes later, the Hood reported back to Starfleet Command.
“What’s the damage, Karmes?” Noguchi demanded. He was obviously braced for the worst.
“My vessels are undamaged. The ISS Alisar has some light damage. The heavy destroyer Dosin has sustained heavy damage but is now able to navigate under her own power. The corvette Lavet Cair was also heavily damaged, but has since regained full navigational control and some weapons. Gorn casualties are as follows: Tyrannus: damaged. She’ll need to spend a couple of weeks in space dock before going out again. Tooth and Honor are both crippled, possibly beyond repair.
“The Hydrans took somewhat heavier damage. The Kingdom was lightly damaged, but her entire air wing was destroyed. Both heavy frigates Horval and Hydrus were nearly destroyed. Succession was undamaged.
“The Klingons escaped with slightly less damage – Both corvettes badly crippled and the Devisor was lightly damaged.” He braced himself for the verbal explosion to come after giving this report.
Noguchi looked stunned. “What about the Dosadi Air Wing?”
“No damage. The Delos took very light damage.”
“What the hell happened, Karmes?!”
He sighed, “The Klingon Admiral Drake broke formation and stopped right in front of the rest of the fleet. His ships were out of the entire battle until we engaged him. At that point, the ISS Dosin charged the combined fleet at close range, crippling one ship and damaging another and scattering the Gorns and separating them from the Hydrans. The confusion from those events was all it took for the Dosadi to engage them as individual elements and defeat them in detail. They never operated as a cohesive fleet. Each group did well enough, but no one battle group was a match for the firepower the Dosadi could bring to bear. Furthermore, the Dosadi were masters at utilizing their shields. Virtually every ship they had lost almost all six shields. The vast  majority of enemy fire was absorbed, deflected, or decoyed away.”
“You didn’t fire on anyone but the Klingons?”
“No sir. We were only engaged for a few minutes before the Gorns, Hydrans, and Klingons all disengaged.”
“Christ. Return to your escort duties. Get the Alisar back where she belongs ASAP. Noguchi out.” Again, the Admiral cut the connection without any of the traditional courtesies. Captain Karmes sat back in his chair. They were going to have his head examined when the full report and the sensor logs from the Starbase got back to Starfleet Command. It had surely been an exciting show for the crews aboard the Starbase. A major fleet-action nearly within orbit was a rare thing. Especially when they weren’t shooting at YOU.”

* * *
As Jons finished his story, Corin said, “Hood reported that we took no damage to our fighter groups? Boy did they get that one wrong. Almost all of them were damaged to some degree or another and one of the Thunderbolts was essentially destroyed.”
Jons said, “Ah, but remember, the Hood was tied up with the Klingons and had no way to know that level of detail. Their sensors showed all your fighters recovering. It’s difficult to assess enemy casualties. I would bet that your commanders did not know that almost 200 of my Marines were killed aboard-ship. That was…a very bitter day.”
Smiling at Ceena and Tir, who were still holding hands, he continued, “Fortunately, people are sometimes able to get past the need for vengeance and see the value in peoples who were once their enemy.”
Captain Stone said, “I’ve studied the Hood and the Samurai’s engagement with the Klingons. Captain Karmes was a brilliant tactician.”
Jons smiled, “I never actually met Captain Karmes. The closest I came was some time later when he was responsible for Captain Kamov and the Yorktown detaining me at Toulagai over a…misunderstanding.”
Wilkes rolled his eyes, “Is that what you call that, Colonel?”
Angie laughed, “I’ve read the reports from the Yorktown over that, Colonel. It is the only time that one Federation starship has boarded and captured another.” She looked at Sooth. “I bet you didn’t know that Captain Kamov’s report was very complimentary towards you, Sooth.”
Surprised, she said, “Are you kidding? He read me the riot-act when Wilkes and I reported to him. I had to bring Lieutenant Wu with me and Wilkes brought Lieutenant Roberts. He was SO mad. I think he would have thrown us both in the brig if he could have. Some of the things he said to Wilkes!”
“I think he had calmed down when he wrote it. It was a very straightforward analysis of your tactics and conduct. He noted that after your initial failure to communicate with his crew you made a number of attempts that were all rebuffed. He also said you were extraordinarily creative and disciplined and that he was grateful that you and your team were well-trained enough that your shots were not lethal.”
“Huh! I didn’t know that.”
Eletha was cuddling her two newest kits, Corin’s sons. At four years-old, they were well past being weaned, but starting to yawn at all of the stories. The rest of the group had started a number of discussions over people’s various roles in the two battles and someone had lit a stick of incense in memory of the dead.
Little Nollos, always one of the quietest of Sooth’s and Wilkes’ kits had been sitting with her brother Rollin, listening to the stories. She asked, “Was that the battle where mother and father both almost died at the same time?”
Captain Stone cocked an eyebrow at Wilkes, “Almost died? What’s this?”
“Angie, it was pretty awful. No, Nollos, that battle was a few months later at Airdrie.”
Stone said, “Airdrie? You never told me you were at Airdrie. That’s a required study at the Academy now, did you know that? The ISS Dinen’s defense against the phaser cannon and the oh my god. Sooth, was that YOU in the ballroom fight? You’re a legend!”
Jons spoke up, “I’m not sure M’Lady would care much for that particular tale. Although it was when we first met, though informally of course.”
Sooth smiled at him, “No, it’s OK Jons. It was a long time ago. I almost never have the nightmare any more. And I AM sorry about crushing your skull.”
Jons dipped his head in respect, but he was smiling.
Captain Stone just stared at them both with her mouth hanging open. “Wilkes, YOU almost died too?”
“There was a fire in the launch bay.” He shuddered. He still had his nightmare a few times a year. “I was trying to keep it out of the ready-locker and the hull blew out. I got lucky. I got blown by one of our fighters on recovery and the gunner was quick enough to snag me with a grappler. Most of my skin was burned off along with one of my lungs and one of my friends was killed right in front of me and my best friend” he looked at Corin “was badly injured.
“I was the one who transported Sooth onto the battlestation. I’m the one who dumped her in front of over a dozen Gorn Marines.” Sooth put her hand on his and nuzzled his ear, whispering something the others could not hear.
Nollos asked, “Jons, would you tell us that story too? Mother and father don’t talk about it very much.”
Captain Stone said, “I’d enjoy it as well if you’re not too tired, Colonel. You seem to have an inside track on summarizing these things. You should write a book!”
Heather piped up, “That’s because he’s a spy!”
He smiled as most of the guests chuckled, “Thank you, Captain. Perhaps I shall.”
Marin grinned as well, “I’ve been telling him he should do so for years. There are many possibilities inherent in telling tales both in print and in the more popular entertainments. And with the current market for true-adventure stories in the Federation, it could be very profitable.”
The Colonel looked at Wilkes and Sooth, “Shall I tell the tale? I can understand if it is not one you would care to hear.”
Wilkes said, “No, it’s OK. I can deal with it. I’ve tended to avoid anything on that fight for years. It’s about time I learned what was going on outside of our little piece.”
Jons said, “Very well. As you’re aware, this battle has been well documented and studied throughout the main space-faring nations. Admiral T’Skay, the Gorn admiral at both Toulagai and Airdrie became something of a friend of mine. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to introduce you. In any case…My tale begins the night the Dosadi arrived at Airdrie…

* * *

CODA III
The Long Night
CHAPTER 1
“There’s an old saying, Fortune favors the bold. Well, I guess we’re about to find out.”
– CPT Benjamin Sisko, Deep Space Nine (Human)
“The diplomatic party on board the Gorn battlestation Airdrie was in full swing. Admiral T’Skay was even beginning to relax and enjoy his triumph. His engineering of the Dosadi Marshal Furball’s defection was the only thing that had kept his rank and position intact after the disaster at Toulagai. The Marshal had been a top commander of Dosadi ground troops but had been dishonored in a recent battle against the Avatan (a centaur-like race with four arms and a single-eye that wrapped completely around their head; An eye-flap could be opened in a sort of wave on opposite sides of their heads, moving their field of view around their heads. Very strange critters) and rather than accept his loss of face and status, he elected to betray the Dosadi Imperium to the Gorn. With suitable baiting by T’Skay, of course.
Thinking of Toulagai brought a frown to T’Skay’s bug-eyed tyrannosaur-like face. While he had managed to bring his mangled fleet home, the ghosts of more than 500 dead crewmen still haunted his dreams. And the Hydrans hadn’t been entirely pleased with the mauling they had received either. All because of that stupid Klingon Drake. Well, and perhaps his own dead-cat jokes. No, those were funny. It was mostly the Klingon’s fault, T’Skay decided. One day he’d have his revenge.
A burst of applause snapped him back to the present. Evidently Marshal Furball (a translation of the name he now bore after his disgrace at the battle of Corlon) had finally decided to sit down and shut up. He could understand why the cat-people didn’t care much for ol’ Furball. They usually preferred direct action to talking endlessly, but this one loved the sound of his own snarling voice. He gulped down the rest of his mead and held his cup out to be refilled. A motion outside of the ballroom’s huge crystal windows drew his attention. He looked up to see several warships sail majestically past – the battleship Blackfoot and her escorts, the corvette Loveland, heavy frigate Ewa, and the battlecruiser Ottowa. Nosing along behind the big ships was the little minesweeper stationed at Airdrie, the Harvey. He chuckled, a rumbling and ominous sound; Just let the Dosadi try something THIS time.  Even supposing that they managed to slip a few ships through the Romulan Empire – no lovers of the big bipedal cats that looked so much like Terran cougars – AND elude his border patrols, then they’d still have to deal with the battlestation’s massive phaser-IV cannons, a large minefield, the battleship task force, and a carrier task force centered around the brand new Troy.
That thought brought a full-blown smile to his toothy face. The Troy was escorted by two more battlecruisers – The Towson and the Zion, two heavy destroyers – Azusa and Ceres, the corvette Macon and the heavy frigate Centralia. He was beginning to hope that they really would try to recover Furball.
Still, he reflected, he’d be happier if Furball were safely at a starbase deeper in Gorn territory. The Romulan’s were still at war with the Grand Alliance and definitely operated under the ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ principle. They might just let a small raider force slip through. Or, as they were sill struggling to recover from the Dosadi pounding of Romulus, maybe they could sneak a few ships past or buy off a local commander. And the idiot paper-pushers had over two months to process his application for asylum. Lots of nonsense about ‘delicate alliances with the Federation’ and not wanting to ‘antagonize’ the kittycats. Cowards. If they had any strength at all, they’d be in the Fleet.
He had just taken a large bite out of the even larger steak in front of him (being quite sure to show as many teeth as possible to the Dosadi Ambassador scowling at him) when an aide tapped his large, green, scaly shoulder.
“Sir, Sensory reports that they are receiving heavy jamming on all channels from the direction of the Romulan border.”
T’Skay was about to tell the aide to go tell Sensory to wipe off its screens when a nagging doubt hit him. He wiped off his ample mouth with it’s rows of sharp teeth and motioned to the man to take him to the station’s sensory center.
When he arrived, he was not pleased. All scopes showed heavy jamming on the bands traditionally used by Dosadi attack forces. In fact…He stepped forward and shoved a young officer out of his chair. He readjusted the sensors and began feeding the data into the computer. “There!” he thought. “I remember that pattern when the Dosadi launched that drone wave at… TOULAGI. Nolin! He was HERE! It had to be Admiral Nolin.” He dredged his memory. “That meant the carrier Delos. Nolin never left that hulk. Probably married the damn thing. Let’s see, she was escorted by two of those damnable anti-seeker corvettes with the equally damnable Federation Aegis defense system…What were they? Oh yes, the Nareth and the Lavet Cair. The Nareth had chewed the destroyer Tooth nearly to pieces. Perhaps they never repaired the Lavet Cair after the Hydran’s cruiser Succession almost blew her out of space while she was attacking their big carrier, the Kingdom. No, the big cats had an almost religious devotion to ships. If there were something left of it, they’d rebuild it.” he continued to access the library computer as he ran through his thoughts.
The aide had just about decided that T’Skay had blown a mental gasket. He and the other officers in the Sensory watched as several screens began displaying Dosadi warships, schematics, battle histories, capabilities and specifications. He was still staring at the diagram of the assault carrier ISS Delos when T’Skay grabbed the front of his tunic, easily lifted the quarter-ton officer off the ground and said, “Listen closely. The station is under attack by the Dosadi. At least this carrier force. The civilians are NOT to be alerted. Put all military personnel on Grade 1 Alert. Notify the fleet to prepare for action and make sure that there are at least FIVE fully armed Marines near Furball at ALL times. Got that?”
“Ye..Yes Sir!” he stammered. T’Skay dropped him and went back to his dinner. The station commander should get him if things got too critical. Meanwhile, he had to keep up appearances. The officers in the compartment he just left shook their heads and went back to trying to clear their screens. Three minutes later, they managed to burn through the electronic noise. Sitting there were three Dosadi attack fleets. At this range and still suffering from the effects of the jamming, it was difficult to determine their types, but they were certainly large. Aboard the Gorn battleship Blackfoot Commodore Sethet ordered his ships out to reinforce the minefield. The Dosadi had come in much faster than was standard procedure for anyone facing a minefield – clearly risking damage to their ships for the element of surprise. Within minutes of dropping out of warp, they were already beginning to sweep paths through the minefield – far enough out that the station’s phaser cannons weren’t even an annoyance.
Frowning at the speed that the Dosadi were pressing the attack, he ordered “Lieutenant! Get me a complete breakdown on the attacking forces.”
A few moments later, his battle manager responded, “They seem to be organized in two task forces sir. The first force, to our left, is in two groups centered around the assault carrier Delos and the battleship Dorsai. In station around them are the corvettes Nareth and Lavet Cair and the heavy cruiser Dinen. Leading this force is the minesweeper Tarot. The second force, on our right, is a larger force being led by the minesweeper Telesh. This force is centered around the assault carrier Eleth and the heavy cruiser Thelet with the corvettes Toulagai and Turanti escorting. These are some of their newest ships, sir, I’m shocked to see them already participating in an attack. Acting as auxiliary minesweepers for this group are the command destroyer Shagrat and the scout destroyer Sheol with the heavy drone frigate Borlin providing close fire support.”
The Commodore stared at him, why the man had just listed off half a million tons of warships! “Is that ALL?” he hissed, his voice dripping sarcasm.
“Yes, Sir!” the man replied brightly, still focused on his displays. Evidently the sarcasm was lost on him. The Commodore briefly debated with himself on the merits of firing the man out of a photon torpedo tube, but as he was a good battle manager, he decided against it.
“Comm, make sure that T’Skay knows the size of the fleet the kittycats brought with them.” Then he began to deploy his own fleet. Hopefully, the minefield would do something; at least slow them down enough for his fleet to pound them while they couldn’t maneuver.
Deep inside the Delos, Admiral Nolin was pleased. This attack was going very well. The Romulan’s had been more than willing to ignore his fleet’s run through their territory – a sizeable bribe and the prospect of a lot of damage to the Gorns seemed to help with that. All four forces had dropped out of warp exactly on station a half million kilometers from the Airdrie battlestation and closed with the minefield behind their minesweepers. Surprisingly, the station was slow to react to his jamming. All of the threat screens showed clear. While the numbers and sizes of ships surrounding the battlestation were depressing, there were no more than his intelligence had led him to expect. Ambassadors made good spies, after all. He decided he might as well have some fun. Turning to his electronic warfare officer, he said “Lieutenant, do you remember the jamming pattern we used at Toulagai?”
“Yes sir. It was a logarithmically modulated Lisajou pattern with a rolling random prime shift. Why?”
“I want you to use it now.” Nolin smiled. He knew T’Skay would see it. “You see, the Gorn Admiral we fought at Toulagai is in command here. I want him to know it’s ME.”
The man chuckled. “Yes SIR!” he bent to his panel, purring as he began to adjust dials and buttons. Nolin turned to the Air Commander, “Seleth, launch our fighters when we’re 100,000 km from the minefield. Have the Eleth hold half of hers. We’ll sweep through at .18C and return fire only if fired upon. All we want is Furball. Let’s not upset the Terrans any more than we have to. They seem to like these lizards.”
“Got it, sir.” he turned and began issuing orders to the seven squadrons of fighters he was responsible for. The entire fleet had finished forming up into spearheads and had begun clearing paths through the big minefield. As the fighters launched into space, Delos’ wing commander, Commander Delac was quite content. The six Tomcats of White Wing and three of the six from Eleth’s Gold Wing were on station and Green Wing’s Hornets and Red Wing’s Thunderbolts were getting where they needed to be. With the 15 fighters still aboard Eleth, this was the most fighters he’d seen on one place. He knew the Gorns had a carrier here and anticipated racking up a few more kills for his Wings. “How did they manage to fit something that ugly and that big into a fighter?” He wondered.

CHAPTER 2
Brute strength is not the most important asset in a fight.
– Klingon Proverb
Using his enhanced visuals, he could see the tiny motes that were the minesweepers and their remote-control shuttlecraft. Using electronic enhancers and sensors they were able to mark the positions of mines they detected and by appearing to be a major warship, detonated any that they didn’t. Of course, that destroyed the shuttlecraft, but it was no great loss. They were making good progress – his scopes were showing more and more red dots as the four ships found more and more mines and cleared lanes through the field. They were also showing a number of promising targets on the far side as the Gorn fleet maneuvered for position. None of the ships directly in front of his group’s ships were showing any inclination to move out from under the station’s heavy phaser cannon. The ships opposing the Eleth’s fighters, on the other hand, seemed to want to play.
“All units, White Wing, Gold Wing, and Green Wing, target initial missile strike on the heavy frigate Ewa. Spread as follows: 25% of both your Countach and Lynx missiles. Gold Wing, target all your Lynx missiles at the battlecruiser Ottowa.” he watched his screens as they showed them targeting the big ships.
An obviously young voice mewled over the circuit, “Why LYNX missiles? Those are anti-fighter drones!”
Delac sighed. Green pilots. Ah well, they had to learn sometime. “Confusion effect. Their sensors can’t tell the difference. Cut the crap and target as ordered.” He watched to be sure that he did and noted that the Dinen had just launched the additional three F-18 Hornets  of Black Wing that she had carried from their garrison duties.
Back in Airdrie’s dining hall, T’Skay was getting irritated. This stupid dinner had barely started – and he had to be here – but he wanted to be in the station’s combat control center to direct the destruction of the Dosadi. They had certainly managed to slip a LOT of ships through the Romulan Empire! But, he couldn’t afford to panic the 600+ civilians aboard the station, nor show weakness in front of the dignitaries here. He looked up in time to see a small, bright flash. Evidently one of the mines had exploded. “Good!” He thought. Hopefully it caught Nolin sitting right on top it if.
Just then, six Marines marched into the room and took station near Marshal Furball. The Dosadi traitor looked at them, and then at T’Skay. T’Skay had to fight the urge to bury his head in his hands; That idiot aide hadn’t even ordered them into dress uniforms. He dredged up a smile. After a few seconds, he looked back out the window in time to see a large, white flash slowly turn into a ragged red blotch against the dark of space. “That was no mine!” he thought. He quickly made his way back to the sensory station. On his way there, he noticed that he was passing a lot of Marines – all in full combat gear. This did not bode well.
“What just happened?” he demanded as he walked into the darkened room. The aide turned to face his Admiral. “Sir, I regret to inform you of the loss of the minesweeper Harvey and her crew of 200.”
T’Skay sat down heavily. “How?”
The Aide continued, “Commodore Sethet has taken full responsibility.  He ordered the Harvey to make a mine-laying run to place a secondary minefield 60,000 km behind the primary in a diamond pattern in order to block one of the routes the Dosadi are clearing. Upon her closest approach to the Dosadi spearheads, she fired a volley at the heavy cruiser Dinen. The return fire from Dinen, Dorsai, and Delos overwhelmed her shielding and completely vaporized the ship before Captain S’Krelt could abandon her.”
“Why lay another minefield? Isn’t the primary holding up? I saw at least one mine go.”
“No, sir. The Dosadi advance has slowed greatly, but the mines are only destroying the occasional shuttlecraft. Their mine-sweeping crews are extremely adept. In the past ten minutes they have penetrated 35,000 km and harassing fire from our fleet is accomplishing nothing.”
“Make their minesweepers primary targets for further volleys” He shook his head and headed back to that damnable party. “Well,” he thought, “that’s another 200 on your head, Nolin.”
On board the heavy cruiser Dinen, Captain Hurtal relaxed a little. Everything was still going according to plan. Destroying the Gorn minesweeper was an unexpected bonus. His communications officer interrupted his thoughts,
“Sir, incoming message from Admiral Nolin.”
“On the screen. At once.”
“Captain, what happened? You were ordered to fire to disable, not destroy. Your torpedo fire destroyed their warp reactors, and the ship.”
“You’re displeased, sir?” Hurtal certainly was. He was expecting high praise!
“Captain, the Gorn’s are nominally our allies and are certainly Federation allies. We can’t risk losing their support, and their technology. We’re only here to get Furball back. I want to cause as little loss of life as possible.”
Hurtal frowned, his ears drooping. “Sorry, sir. Lucky shot.” he had ordered the warp reactors targeted specifically and was impressed that his weapons officers were able to hit the target at this range. However, it wouldn’t do to let Nolin know that now.
“See that you don’t get that lucky again…captain.” the threat was implicit. The viewscreen went dark and Hurtal sagged in his seat, dejected.
Nolin turned back to the solid holograph showing the battle’s development. The colored dots, lines, vectors and symbols crawled across the space. “As soon as the Eleth force gets through the field, have the Thelet, Borlin, Sheol, and Shagrat break off and make a high-speed run. Have them follow a spiral course, alternating above and below the battle plane and end at the station. Engage targets of opportunity. Their job is to try to attract as much attention as possible.” The battle manager turned and began to issue orders to the fleet.
Aboard his Tomcat fighter, Commander Delac decided that the range was right for his first real missile strike. “All units, Green Wing, White Wing, Red Wing, launch all drones and recover. Black Wing, fly CID (Close-In Defense).” He watched as the missiles activated their engines and leapt off towards the tiny lights that were the enemy ships. The Dorsai helped by firing a hellishly large Type-R plasma torpedo and two of the mid-sized Type-S plasma torpedoes as well. “That should slow those lizards up!” He thought.
Back aboard the Gorn battleship Blackfoot, Fleet Captain K’Elek wasn’t exactly worried. He had his fleet going nice and slow just to counter such a strike. “All ships, launch wild weasels and hold positions.”
Throughout the Gorn ships, the tiny shuttlecraft began to fly away from the five bigger ships. Their defense officers watched the Dosadi weapons track in on two of them and destroy them utterly. The other three shuttles were recovered via tractor beams.
The captain wasn’t worried when the Dorsai and the Delos launched several more of the tiny missiles. When three of them suddenly split into four each, he began to worry a little bit. They had to recharge the Weasels before they could be used again. Still, the corvette Loveland seemed to be handling them.  His warfare officer turned to him and said, “Sir, the ISS Delos is launching nine more fighters. Our analysis of the last volley shows that it was over 70% dogfight drones and pseudo-plasma torpedoes. We estimate a better than 80% probability that this next wave will be a full strike. Evidently they were attempting to draw out our drone defense.”
As the captain was thinking sourly that they had succeeded in doing just that, the defense officer broke in, “Sir! The Loveland is under attack! Incoming disruptors, photon torpedoes and hellbores!”
“Dammit! Respond! Fire every weapon the fleet has at the Dinen!” He watched as the powerful weapons streaked away from his ship and into the enemy formation, angling for the heavy cruiser that had just pounded the Loveland. “Analysis?”
The warfare officer’s expression made the answer clear before he spoke. “Poor, sir. 75% missed. Slight damage to the Dinen’s forward shield and she probably drained about 70% of her available reserve energy. Loveland, on the other hand, has been badly damaged. The Dosadi volleys destroyed all four of her anti-drone launchers.”
The captain grumbled, “Do those damn cats sleep with their weapons?”
Delac watched as the fighters from the secondary strike the Delos deployed moved into position and activated their targeting systems. “All wings. When the fleet turns right, accelerate to 80% speed and pick targets of opportunity. At a range of 20,000 km, fire drones and continue closing. At closest possible approach, fire phasers. All units concentrate on the forward shields – and try and hit the same shields this time, right? Don’t push your luck either. Get in, take your shot, get out and come back. It’s too early in the fight to go meet the gods.” Watching the corvette the fleet had fired on turn away and limp back towards the battlestation, he mentally marked it off hits threat list. With the enhanced visuals displayed by his combat sensors, he could see the fires and the loose warp energy coruscating across her hull as well as the mangled launchers of her primary weapons systems.
The fighter groups deployed nicely, their tight formations blooming into the wings that the Dosadi favored. Two minutes later, they released their drones, following the missiles in. Delac monitored the chatter between the leaders and their pilots. “Blast visors down.” White Wing’s leader ordered. Delac echoed it and focused his attention on the battlecruiser Ottowa that White Wing and Red Wing were homing in on. Space became full of dodging fighters, the arc-light glare of missile engines, green phasers lancing up from the enemy ships, volleys of chaff and the occasional explosion as a drone was destroyed by the defenders. White Wing’s Hornets dove close on the big cruiser, their Gatling phasers spitting death and destruction. Close behind them Red Wing’s Thunderbolts each fired their single photon torpedo from point-blank range. As Delac and Green Wing’s Tomcats added to the mayhem and began to race away, the Dosadi fleet opened up with every weapon that would bear. The Gorns seemed to feel obligated to respond and returned the phaser fire.
Something wasn’t right. Delac tried to sort through the confused reports clogging the command channels. He sorted out that the Ottowa had sustained heavy damage, especially to her weapons and power, and that the heavy frigate Ewa had been very badly damaged. But  – the Dorsai had been badly hurt. As his Tomcat accelerated back to the Delos, he moved his scanners from the burning Ewa to the battleship. There were open fires across all three of the massive warp engines and gaping holes in the impulse engines as well. This was very bad. The Dorsai was scheduled to provide most of the heavy fire support for the entire battle. Nobody had ever damaged a battleship before…
Despite the successful hits on the Dorsai, Commodore Sethet wasn’t quite pleased. The damned Delos had reloaded her fighters again and the entire Dosadi fleet had made it through the minefield without further damage. The Blackfoot’s force had its anti-drone capability halved and both the battlecruiser Ottowa and the heavy frigate Ewa were shot to shit. And there would undoubtably be more drones. The cat-people used them like shields, forcing his ships to shoot down the endless waves of missiles, leaving them vulnerable to the fighters’ own weapons.
Back in the ballroom, the crowd had become aware that there was something going on outside. Everyone was oohing and aahing at the bright flashes and streaks of light as the battle raged. T’Skay winced at every flash. After one particularly bright flash (caused by the warp conduits aboard the Ottowa fusing), he looked down to see the Dosadi ambassador giving him a silent toast from across the room. He wondered if the Federation would really care if he ate that damn pussycat. Marshal Furball, his back to the windows, still wasn’t aware of the battle. The egotistical idiot thought everyone was oohing and aahing at HIM. Disgusted, T’Skay got up and returned to the sensory station.
“Sir.” the ranking commander reported, “The battleship  um,” he glanced over his shoulder, “Dorsai has been badly damaged! She’s stopped dead in space!”

CHAPTER 3
“There is no honor in attacking the weak.”
– LT Worf – USS Enterprise (Klingon)
For the first time in a while, T’Skay smiled. “Excellent! What damage have we sustained?”
“Not so good, sir. The corvette Loveland has been badly damaged and lost all anti-drone capability beyond our ability to repair. The battlecruiser Ottowa reports heavy damage to weapons and power systems and many casualties. She is retiring to the station to repair along with the Loveland. The heavy frigate Ewa has also suffered heavy damage. She is attempting to regain navigation control and retire to the station to repair what she can. Fleet Captain K’Elek has ordered the battleship Blackfoot to fall back to the secondary defense line and Fleet Captain S’Aleen has ordered the Troy and her escorts forward to engage. He reports all fighter wings aloft and ready to fire. Also, he has the corvette Macon laying a secondary minefield some 50,000 km behind his current position.
A secondary destroyer force has broken off from the main Dosadi fleet and appears to be curving away from the Troy. This force is centered around the heavy cruiser Thelet and includes the Shagrat and the Sheol. The Borlin is flying in what appears to be a fire-support position. Both the Dosadi heavy cruisers appear to be supporting an additional three F-18 Hornets each.”
T’Skay digested this information and studied the tactical plot. “Very good. Use three of your data transfer channels and beam the text of Dead Cat Jokes volumes one, two and three to the Delos. Let me know what response they make.”
“Um, yes, sir.” The commander watched T’Skay’s back as he began to stalk out of the sensory. He didn’t get far before a young Lieutenant from the Planning Committee blocked his path, “Sir! The Dosadi have two SWACS shuttles just sitting out there! Completely unescorted!”
T’Skay was surprised. The Dosadi were religious about making sure the highly valuable craft were well behind the battle lines. It wasn’t like Nolin to make that kind of mistake, “Where?”
“Sir! If you just give me one or two corvettes, I can sneak past the Dosadi fleets and destroy both of them!”
T’Skay shoved the man out of the way and searched the solid space of the tactical holograph until he found the small blue dots representing the shuttlecraft. They were almost half a million miles away and the only paths through the minefield were blocked by a battleship and an assault carrier. He turned back and said, “Are you making some sort of joke?”
“No sir! If you’d only…”
The Admiral turned to a Marine at the doorway. “Corporal. Have this man taken and fired out of a plasma torpedo tube. At once.” He left the sensory making disgusted noises. The Marine took hold of the foolish Lieutenant and dragged him off, and there was much rejoicing.
Captain Lanet, guiding the Dosadi Raider Force from the bridge of the ISS Thelet watched his tactical display closely. Although the course of his diversionary force was technically curving away from the Troy, in reality, the distance was closing as the Troy’s own motion was making up the difference and more. Watching the shadowy colored globes that indicated his weapons’ effective ranges, he waited until the green dot of the Troy just brushed one. He spun in his chair, “Weapons! Target that corvette with the phasers and fire all torpedoes at the Troy. Launch a Pseudo-S and F followed by a real Type-F. Have the Borlin and White Wing fire their Lynx drones ten seconds later. As soon as they launch their Wild Weasels, destroy them with phaser fire, then fire a second wave of drones. If no more Weasels are launched, then fire the remaining plasma torpedoes. Have the Shagrat and Sheol fire theirs in sequence.”
Aboard the Troy, the warfare officer was just realizing that the carrier group had been closing the distance to the destroyers when they began to fire. Following the Gorn’s standard battle doctrine, they dropped their Wild Weasel and dealt with the second wave of drones with pulsed phasers and Gatling phasers. He was quite pleased. The Dosadi weren’t at all as dangerous as they were reputed to be. The new computer systems were performing flawlessly. Each target was assigned a threat rating and a complete data readout was coded next to it, along with vectors indicating actual course and speed as well as projected path. It appeared that the new Aegis fire control system that they had purchased from the Federation made drone defense child’s play.
His sweating missile defense officers might not have agreed with him on that. Especially when drones began to leak through the system on the third wave. There were more weapons in-bound than there were defensive systems available to deal with them. Fleet Captain S’Aleen watched the pulsing red lights indicating the incoming plasma torpedoes. They kept coming closer. His defense officers tried to juggle phasers from drones to plasmas with little success. The Troy began to shudder and shake as the missiles started to strike home. Shield status bars dropped and changed color rapidly from green to yellow to red despite the best effort of his engineering officers to pour more reinforcing energy into them – energy that simply wasn’t available. As the shields collapsed, the four Dosadi ships began to pump photon torpedoes and disruptors into his ship. There was a loud clanging sound as two hellbores slammed into the Troy and that was the last thing S’Aleen knew for a few moments. Shaking himself back into consciousness he picked himself up off the floor and tried to clear the air from the firefighting gas that had automatically flooded the bridge. The warfare officer was dead, so he shoved him aside and began trying to restore power and communications. “Engineering! Where the hell’s my power?!”
The intercom crackled, shorted, and then finally connected. “Warp controls are fused! That last hellbore hit us right in Engineering! I can’t find the Chief Engineer and everything’s on fire!” The captain cut off the panicked engineering crewman and signaled damage control to make the warp controls their first priority. This was not good.
Seconds later, the Troy began to die. The Sheol and the Borlin peeled off from the Thelet and began to close with him. The huge carrier struggled into reverse. Her escorts, realizing too late that they had failed to stay as close to the carrier as they should have, tried to race to the rescue. They could only watch in frustrated rage as more plasma torpedoes and drones arced towards the crippled ship. Bright green lines lanced out from the destroyers and traced across the giant, ripping it to pieces.
S’Aleen pounded on the engineering panel in the burning wreckage of his bridge, trying to get some power, ANY power out of his dying warp engines. More torpedoes began to crunch dully on the outer hull, blowing entire sections out and leaving blackened holes throughout the once mighty Troy. One shot hit her so hard, the keel actually bent, leaving a significant portion of the nose of the ship at a slight angle.
Behind the dying Troy, the little corvette Macon wasn’t doing too much better. She was laying mines, as ordered, but she was being chased by the heavy cruiser Thelet and the command destroyer Shagrat. Her crew did a heroic job, but she was vastly out-gunned. Her shields collapsed almost immediately and various portions of the ship began to melt from the heavy incoming fire. They never hit her hard enough to destroy her and she never quit laying mines until the bay doors were damaged so badly that it became impossible.
One their third strike of the evening, Delac routed the Delos’ fighter groups around the mines the Harvey had tried to lay and began having them sweep in on the now unescorted Blackfoot.  “Red Wing, hold position at third in. White Wing, target your Lynx missiles on those incoming fighters off the Troy. Green Wing, use two volleys of Lynxes, target those Thunderbolts from the battlestation and the Stings from the Troy.” Briefly he wondered if the Federation sold the same fighters to everyone. And he STILL didn’t understand how the lizards shoved something that big and ugly into a fighter. The Sting was the Gorn’s own design, one the Hydrans used as well, but the Thunderbolts had been designed for much smaller creatures.
The tiny fighters began to dive on the huge battleship, dodging her defensive fire and releasing their missiles from almost on top of her. Unfortunately, the officers aboard the Blackfoot were some of the best in the Gorn Confederacy. Not a single drone fired struck it’s target. Despite this amazingly skilled defense, the fighters had other weapons as well. As each fighter released it’s missiles, it dived onto the huge ship and strafed it from no more than twenty feet above the hull – and occasionally less. More than one startled Gorn gunnery officer saw a thirty-foot Dosadi fighter flash past his gun port, far too close and far too fast to hit.
“All wings, return and recover. Don’t stop dodging until you’re out of range. They might still have some weapons or be able to recharge them. Get out while you can.” He scanned the Gorn ship for damage. It wasn’t a knockout blow, but it was definitely a morale boost. After all, by now the crews had been on constant battle alert for over an hour. Delac and his pilots had finished three strikes without loss and done a tremendous amount of damage.
Like the Troy, the Gorn’s inexperienced fighter pilots had bad luck. The battlestation’s Thunderbolts got mauled by the Tomcat’s anti-fighter missiles, their Gatling phaser assault packages useless at the long range. The Troy’s Tomcats, hit by a plasma shotgun fired by the Dinen at least managed to fire all of their missiles at the Delos. The six hapless Stings only managed to score two hellbore hits on the cruiser Dinen and moments after they fired, they were engaged by her three Hornets and destroyed in a brief, 20 second dogfight. Only one of the Stings managed to escape. As he landed his smoking fighter on board the equally smoking ship, the captain gave the order to abandon all but a damage control crew to the station. Seconds later, the Troy managed an emergency warp jump out of the system, leaving a tail of six shuttlecraft packed full of wounded and frightened crewmen.
Her remaining escorts, formed a line defense and began to back steadily under the station’s heavy phaser cannon. The heavy frigate Ewa, plagued by hellbore fire from the Dinen followed the Troy a moment later.
T’Skay’s dinner was going from bad to worse. His aide had waited until he had just swallowed a large gulp of meade to inform him that the Troy and the Ewa had been forced to flee. The resulting spray of liquid drenched half of the table. His only comfort was in watching the foolish lieutenant he had ordered executed float slowly past the dining room windows. Of course he was dead. Shoving the aide out of the way, he stomped down to the sensory to take personal charge of the battle. When he arrived, things weren’t looking any better.
“Status?” he snapped.
“Not good sir,” the commander replied. “Our fighter group was mauled. They were simply out matched. We’re down to the six A-10 Thunderbolts stationed here. There are eight in-bound shuttlecraft containing wounded crewmen from the Troy and Ewa and they’re flying right across the paths of the Dosadi spearheads. Ottowa is on station and beginning repairs. I’ve rerouted the Loveland to make a diversionary strike on the Delos group while the Blackfoot provides support. We’ve inflicted no further damage to the Dosadi, but the Dorsai still hasn’t moved. We may have hit her power and engineering sections harder than we thought.”
“Not likely.” T’Skay grumbled, “They’re laying to and repairing. They’ve enough firepower advantage right now that she’s not needed. Any damage to the Dosadi fighter wings?”
“The Stings from the Troy managed to destroy three F-18 Hornets that had been launched by the Dinen.”
“So we traded eighteen fighters for three?”
“Um, seventeen, sir.”
One of the men monitoring the battle spoke up, “Both Dosadi carriers have just launched their full compliment of eighteen fighters each. They’ll be able to fire in five minutes.”
“If you can get the Loveland in position fast enough, have her try and damage the carrier before the fighters can fire. Maybe we’ll keep ’em tied to home.”
The captain of the Nareth watched as the fighters all deployed again. This was their fourth strike of the battle and they had to be exhausted. He noted the red course indication of the obnoxious little corvette that had been hit earlier. If the fleet got sandwiched between that thing’s Gatling phasers and the battleship’s heavy weapons, things would not go well. “Comm, request permission for weapons release on that corvette.”
A few seconds later he got his answer, “Granted sir, Delos has targeted two photon torpedoes on her forward shield as well.”
“Excellent. On my mark…”
Back on Airdrie, T’Skay watched as the red and green blips and course lines representing the two fleets closed. The amber lights of the Dosadi fighter wings were closing too quickly with the Blackfoot. They were ignoring the Loveland to go for the battleship. Typical.

CHAPTER 4
“Spock, I’ve found that evil usually triumphs… unless good is very, very careful.”
– Dr Leonard McCoy, (Human) on Omega IV
“Weapons exchange.” somebody remarked. The Loveland’s light winked out.
The Nareth rocked as her shields struggled to absorb the phaser fire the Gorn corvette pumped into them. The Blackfoot began to fire every heavy weapon aboard into the Dinen which was already shuddering under the slaps of the Ottowa’s plasmatic pulsar device.
The fighter groups were diving on the Blackfoot again, and again her defense officers were equal to the task. But as with the last attack, they simply had nothing left to spare to fend off the fighters themselves. The mighty ship shuddered and groaned as the phasers and torpedoes sliced into her hull from point-blank range.
As the captain of the Loveland began to receive reports of incoming torpedoes to match the pounding his ship was receiving from the Dosadi corvette in front of him, he reached a conclusion. “Abandon ship!” he cried. Thirty seconds later, his ship exploded. His quick action enabled seventy of his crewmen to reach escape pods or transporters in time.
The shuttlecraft containing the crew of the Troy and the Ewa were in a unique position. As they struggled to fly to the battlestation, they were caught between the fires raging between the two fleets. The passengers, already crammed into the tiny craft were thrown against the walls and floor as the pilots dodged phasers, torpedoes, and hellbores. Several times they were nearly run down by Dosadi fighters.
Back in the station’s dining hall, the party paused as the thick green beams of the station’s phaser cannon lanced out. Marshal Furball finally realized what was up as the lights dimmed from the heavy power consumption and the entire room turned bright green for a moment.
On the receiving end of that firepower, the Eleth rocked hard. Every ship in the Troy’s escort group had begun firing their torpedoes at her, and the Phaser IV impacts hadn’t helped. The Gorn weapons officers had acquitted themselves well – over 80% of the weapons fired had struck home. Four of her six shields were gone and she had taken minor damage to several systems.
Her fighters, on the other hand, were having a hay-day. Not one of the five ships in front of them was able to use their phasers again so quickly. They had exhausted their supply of Wild Weasels early in the battle, trying vainly to absorb the incoming plasma torpedoes and drones. The Thelet’s three Hornets were already diving on the heavy destroyer Ceres and two Type-S plasma torpedoes were closing fast.
As with the Blackfoot, her drone defenses were almost flawless. Only four of the missiles found their mark – and again, the Gatling phasers and photon torpedoes were harder to dodge. When the fighters whipped around and under the ship and raced back towards their carrier, the Ceres was crippled, and her sister ship the Azusa was damaged, her shields collapsed. The heavy frigate Centralia, hit by the Eleth’s torpedo fire was crippled beyond use and even the tiny, battered Macon had been reduced to a smoldering ruin.
T’Skay was trying to come up with a winning strategy, but his available firepower was dwindling rapidly. “Sir, another seven inbound shuttlecraft. Transporters have recovered eighty more wounded crewmen. The Centralia, Ceres,and Macon report that they must disengage.”
“Wonderful.” How many refugees do we have on board now?”
The man checked a screen, “Two hundred on board, four hundred in-bound.”
T’Skay sighed. It was no longer possible to hide the battle from the civilians, nor the fact that the Gorn were getting beaten. If the hundreds of wounded crewmen hadn’t tipped them off, the phaser cannon fire surely would. “Declare a state of emergency and signal the Confederacy that we are in dire need. Put all Marines at battle stations. Launch our remaining A-10’s.”
Throughout the giant station, lights dimmed to red and Marines began to sprint freely through the hallways. A squad of twelve ran into the ballroom and began to take up stations at various points throughout the room. There was a smattering of applause as the station’s six remaining A-10’s launched past the window.
The next ten minutes were not the best in T’Skay’s life. The Dorsai lurched into motion, her damage 60% repaired. The Delos task force closed to within 30,000 km of the station, crippling the Blackfoot as they went past her. The only bright spot was the continuous pounding by the station’s phaser cannon had forced the heavy cruiser Dinen to turn away, her shields in tatters and light damage scattered across her hull. T’Skay had no idea how they were managing to absorb the hits. In truth, the Dinen’s crew had diverted every bit of energy they could spare to reinforce the shields and by clever maneuvering had managed to spread the hits evenly across all six shields and every portion of the heavy cruiser. Her defense against the phaser-IVs would become a standard case study in academies of just about every space-faring species.
T’Skay finished scanning the battle display and asked the Sensory commander, “What’s our current status?” The station’s lights dimmed and there were muffled explosions and shouts.
“Very poor, sir. The station is now coming under direct fire by the Dosadi ships. Our number six shield has completely folded and all other’s are lightly damaged. They are apparently timing their shots and defensive maneuvers and energies with our rotation – far better than I would’ve thought possible. We simply do not have enough weapons to attack them all and they’re taking turns covering for each other. If they weren’t coming here to kill me, it would be beautiful.
The Blackfoot is crippled and unable to power weapons or move. A number of direct hits on her engineering section have completely destroyed her warp controls. The Azusa is also crippled. Ottowa was nearly destroyed by those last three Hornets from the Eleth, but her Captain says she can still fight; I’m not sure how, or with what. The battlecruiser Towson is only lightly damaged, but she is in a very poor tactical position with seven Dosadi ships in close proximity, on all sides. Battlecruiser Zion is in the best shape, she’s undamaged except her forward shield which is at half strength. She is currently maneuvering against the corvette Turanti.
Wilkes interrupted the story briefly, “It was the Zion that fired the shot that hit our bay a little later.”
Jons nodded and continued, “The aide reported ‘The Dosadi have sustained no further significant damage.’
T’Skay wasn’t one to waste time moping. “Well, it doesn’t look like the Navy’s gonna be able to fend them off much longer, eh? Stand by to repel boarders.” He was at least going to go down fighting.
Gas-tight doors throughout the station slammed shut and fibercoil window shields slid into place. In the ballroom, Marines began to turn tables over, taking cover behind them. Furball looked up as the shields lowered into place, seeing the mass behind the Delos and her running lights. Only Nolin would be insane enough to leave running lights on during a battle. In the age of sensors, the Dosadi still painted their ships a blue-grey for camouflage. In contrast, Federation vessels were a glossy pearl-white with spot-lights on their registration numbers and names.
Strangely, people were still dancing – although many of them were complaining about the tipped over tables and the loss of the view. One woman, a Federation diplomatic functionary spoke to her dancing partner, a short, dashing, violet-skinned humanoid with white hair wearing the uniform of a Colonel in the Sword Worlds Marine Force, “I say, I don’t see why they have to dirty up OUR party! Why, these Dosadi won’t bother us! We’re civilians! See? Even the Dosadi ambassador is still enjoying his dinner!
The colonel glanced at the ambassador, obviously enjoying his meal with a huge smile on his face and the occasional throaty chuckle. He may have been purring. This particular colonel had been aboard the light cruiser Succession during the battle at Toulagai. “Madame, the Dosadi consider civilians to be a particular delicacy. If this station cannot fight them off,  you may find yourself being served at THEIR next party.”
“Eeek!” Pampered, sheltered her entire life by the power of the Federation Starfleet, the woman had probably never been in danger in her entire life. The very concept shook her to her core.
Shaking his head, Colonel Jons said, “I keep meaning to look that woman up. She had the strangest notions for how things worked in the galaxy. But, to continue…”
CHAPTER 5
“I shall have him! I’ll chase him round the Moons of Nibia, and round the Antares Maelstrom, and round Perdition’s flames before I give him up!”
– Khan Noonian Singh – aboard USS Reliant (Human)
Sitting in the bridge of the Delos, Nolin turned to his battle manager and said “Bombard the station. Have the destroyers force down the shield facing them, then Turanti, Toulagai, Borlin,  and Sheol will finish disabling the Azusa, Towson, and Zion. Make VERY sure that they know to fire to cripple, not destroy. I will personally skin the captain of any ship violating that order.”
There was smoke, dust, and endless noise in the Sensory. The commander called to the admiral, ‘Sir! Zion reports heavy damage. They were unable to cause significant damage to the Turanti due to fighters, drones from the assault carriers, and harassing fire from several vessels.” The station rocked again and rang like a bell hit by a giant’s hammer, “They’ve broken through several shields and we’re beginning to take serious damage. Power generation is down 50% and we’ve taken  hits on both torpedo launchers. Three phaser-3’s and one of the phaser cannon have been destroyed.
“The good news is that the Eleth and the Delos are both damaged and have stopped dead in space in order to reinforce shields. Both carriers are damaged slightly and have four collapsed shields each. The Dinen is still moving away, but the Dorsai is closing fast.”
A young crewman spoke up “Zion is under heavy fire. Five incoming plasma torpedoes and four drones.” As T’Skay turned to give an order, a breathless and bloody Marine sergeant ran into the room.
“Admiral, over fifty Dosadi Marines have boarded the station. Auxiliary Control was destroyed and we’ve repulsed raids on all six phaser cannon.”
“Take me to General G’Relt.” T’Skay followed the sergeant out the door. Seconds after they left, a hellbore torpedo struck the Sensory, knocking the both of them several yards down the hallway and leaving the corridor blocked with debris and beginning to vent atmosphere as alarms sounded.
Once they finally made it to the general’s command post, it was evident that things were not going well. The general’s side-arm showed signs of recent use. “T’Skay, things are not good.” he reported. “We’ve got 600 civilians and close to a thousand wounded crewmen on board. We’ve only got about 250 Marines total and the Dosadi already have a toe-hold with the better part of a Platoon. We’re trying to coordinate our transporter scramblers, but we’ve taken a lot of power and command and control hits. So far, the fighting’s been concentrated in civilian areas – the Mall and the restaurant sector.
In fact, at that moment, in the Gorn version of a woman’s lingerie’ shop, several Dosadi Marines were having a bad time of it. They had materialized in the middle of the room and were set upon by a 350 lb behemoth flogging them with something like a purse while several Gorn troopers across the hallway kept them pinned down with occasional pot-shots when they could get a clear shot past the rather upset matron beating the Dosdai.
Other Marines, their beam-down points scattered by the Gorn’s defensive electronic warfare had materialized in a men’s bathroom, the kitchens and a video arcade. In scattered, extremely violent actions spanning 10 minutes, all 50 of this wave had been killed or captured. But they took a heavy toll of the defenders – casualties were heavy and the Gorn’s were now also scattered throughout the station.
It was Sooth’s turn to interrupt, “I still think about those people. I knew a lot of them really well.”
Jons continued,  “Admiral Nolin decided to get the Marines there with a bit more precision. All ships were ordered to launch shuttlecraft containing boarding parties.
A few minutes later, his battle manager shouted “The bloody Gorn are firing on the shuttlecraft!!”
“What? What ships?”
“Azusa and the Towson – the bastards! Zion’s pulling back. Blackfoot’s repaired some of her power, but she’s not firing.”
“Dammit. I’d hoped crippling them that badly would force them to run. Order Borlin, Sheol, and Green Wing to destroy them.” Seconds later, both the battlecruiser and the heavy destroyer exploded, but not before taking with them eight shuttlecraft and forty Marines.
In the ball room, the party came to an abrupt halt as a squad of ten Dosadi Marines materialized in the middle of the dance floor and engaged in a firefight with the twelve Gorn Marines stationed there. People began screaming and diving for cover. The heroic Sword Worlds Colonel,” Jons winked at Heather and ruffled her fur again, “unarmed but taking on a young, armored Dosadi Marine anyway, took a plasma rifle butt to the face and went down hard. The six guarding Marshal Furball quickly hustled him out the door and down to T’Skay’s command post.
“That was when your mother was so badly hurt, kits. And your father’s post on the Delos was hit by the Zion at just about the same moment. But, back on the station,
“General G’Relt shouted over the noise of the railguns and plasma rifles “T’Skay! All of our other command posts have been overrun or destroyed. There’s at least another company of Dosadi Marines aboard and we’re down to a reinforced platoon. That last run by those Hornets shot up two more phaser cannon and five more phaser-3s. We’re running out of options here.”
As Furball was dragged in, T’Skay smiled to himself. He was going to have one last pleasure. “Hold him.” then, while the remaining Marines in the battlestation fought it out, he began to beat the shit out of Marshal Furball. He’d really only gotten in a dozen good hits or so when G’Relt grabbed his arm “T’Skay, the Dosadi are now in control of this station – We need to…” He never finished the sentence; A Dosadi plasma rifle sliced him in two. Half a moment later, T’Skay’s world went black as a Gauss gun grazed his skull. When he came to, hours later, the Dosadi fleet was gone, as was Furball.
Seeing a wounded Marine checking for survivors among the debris and the bodies he slurred, “Report.”
The Marine looked up and finally recognizing the admiral said “The fucking cats grabbed Furball and ran off. We’ve got no weapons, no sensors, no power, no nothing. We’re screwed.”
“Relax. There’s no one left to fight. The disaster beacon should’ve activated when the Sensory was destroyed.” Holding his bloody head in his hands, he wondered how he was going to get out of this one.
Admiral Nolin smiled as he walked away from the Brig. Evidently, T’Skay had had some fun with Furball before he was ‘liberated.’ He was still conscious, but only just. Oh well, he didn’t need to look pretty for the court martial and the inevitable execution. Perhaps he’d send his skin to T’Skay as a gesture of respect. He might be a big lizard, but the man never gave up.

* * *
Sooth’s son Corin asked, “Did he?”
Jons smiled, “You know, he really did. T’Skay still has it as a rather gruesome trophy.”
Captain Stone shook her head, “Colonel, you have a talent for taking dry battle reports and turning them into a story. We need to hire you for Starfleet Academy. And I still can’t believe I’m sitting here with THE Marine from the ballroom fight. I’ve watched the sensor logs from that fight; I thought you died. And Colonel, you put up a hell of a scrap yourself.”
Turning to Wilkes she said, “Wilksey, I told you the day we graduated that you’re the luckiest man on Earth. AND that there was something out there for you.” Leaning in, she said in an aside to Sooth, “Excuse me, please.” and kissed him. “And I was right.”
He laughed, “As usual. Thank you, Colonel, for telling all those stories. It’s funny; When you’re part of a battle, all you really see is your little piece of it. What I remember most from those fights, other than the dead, is how exhausting it was. Every few minutes the bird was back and we had to fix it and recharge it over and over again.”
Jons said, “Indeed. Even the commanders rarely have a real understanding of all parts of the battle. It is not until years later that historians are able to really piece everything together.”
The younger kits had fallen asleep, curled up in laps or next to adults, and the urge for conversations and stories had pretty much exhausted itself. People were beginning to find comfortable places to fall asleep. Wilkes held his hand out to the Colonel and said, “Colonel, you are without a doubt the most complex, confusing, and unusual person I have ever met. I think Angie was right. I am the luckiest man on Earth. Or Dosad.” He put his arm around Sooth’s waist and said, “I don’t think I’d trade the life I’ve lived for anything, or anyone’s.”
Jons took his hand with a smile and shook it. “And who knows where our lives will lead us next, Wilkes? There’s a lot of stories out there yet to be discovered.”
Sooth laughed, “We’ll turn you into a Dosadi yet, Colonel!”
Marin spoke up, “Well, perhaps not Seins, but we should have a discussion about our son Tir. He and young Ceena seem to truly enjoy each other’s company whenever we visit. Would you two be willing to join us in talking with Corin and Eletha? You have experience in melding two different cultures and there would be many advantages to such a pairing.”
Wilkes thought to himself that Corin hadn’t run fast enough…

CYCLE 4 – MINUET
CHAPTER 1
“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth”
– Maj John Magee, Jr – Earth (Human)
STARFLEET ACADEMY, SAN FRANCISCO, EARTH
NOVEMBER 2289
The stars pinwheeled across her canopy in a pirouette of fireflies as she cut her engines and spun the Viper on all 3 axes. For that moment, her trajectory was predictable and she was vulnerable to the weapons on the pursuing star fighter.
2,000 kilometers below, Captain Ray Spruance and Commander Ih-Tedda closely watched several displays tracking the combat. Captain Spruance spoke first, “Finally. He has her.”
Ih-Tedda, a full-blood Apache, wasn’t so sure. She said, “Wait. Watch.”
Heather jammed her left side-stick to its stop, the Viper shuddering as it skidded sideways, several warning lights flashing on her instrument panel as the thrusters fired at maximum, the hull groaning in protest. The other fighter sparkled, the twin phasers striking a brief, glancing blow across her port shields and she fire-walled the throttle, disengaging the safety-overrides. Stamping on the rudder pedals and slamming the right side-stick over and back, she attempted to bring her own weapons to bear as the other fighter flashed past, it’s wing nearly clipping her dorsal fin while it too began to spin around.
Laughing, she keyed the computer to blast out one of her favorite songs – “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolfe, from a band and a style of music popular centuries before her planet was even discovered by humans. As the blue curve of the Earth filled her view, the Viper began shaking as the acceleration went beyond what the inertial dampeners could handle and pinned her to her seat.
Spruance said, “I will be damned.” The strains of ancient music came out from the speakers and he said, “What the hell is that?” And a moment later, noting that her Viper was pulling 7 gravities beyond its limits he said, “Commander! She’s going to…”
“Sir, wait. Trust me.”
“These are 2nd year students? This is an unacceptable level of risk and whatever that noise is has no place in…”
“Sir, this is why I asked you here. This is not a normal situation.”
Heather’s Viper had done a complete reversal of it’s trajectory and was screaming straight down, using the Earth’s gravitational field to add to her velocity, the tenuous atmosphere already beginning to bite at her fighter. The pursuing craft was also struggling to overcome a velocity vector that was straight up and turn it into one going straight down and her radio came to life with laughter, “No fair! You’re going to break her!”
Chuckling she answered back “Maybe. But you’ll never catch me!”
Cadet Andrew Sterling said, “Watch me!”
The two craft continued their twisting, spiraling course downward, glowing like meteors as their speed increased well past hypersonic.
Spruance looked at Ih-Tedda, “They are NOT going to do what I think they are going to do are they?”
“Sir, please trust me. You need to see this. I understand the risks, I understand that they are violating safety regulations. I will take full responsibility.”
He shook his head, watching the two craft drop down to the wave-tops and level off in a punishing pull-out. A sensor buoy caught a brief glimpse of Heather’s Viper zipping by, a rooster-tail of spray thrown up by the hypersonic shock wave.
Spruance’s jaw dropped, “Brilliant!” but Sterling wasn’t so easily ensnared. He slid his own Viper to the side and climbed slightly, creating a twin to her rooster-tail – but he couldn’t bring his weapons to bear. “Oh no. Commander, no, no, no – vector them…” he was interrupted by a smashing series of bangs as the two fighters roared over Starfleet Academy and headed back into the clouds.
Glaring at the younger Commander he said, “How long has this been going on like this?”
“Virtually since we first put them in a fighter, sir. They are two of the most natural fighter pilots I’ve ever heard of. I’ve called both of them on the carpet multiple times for safety violations with almost no effect. Once they get into a cockpit they are literally overcome with the pure joy of flying and fighting. I took it upon myself to analyze their flights – although they regularly violate Academy regulations, they actually do an excellent job of mitigating and managing risks; They simply use a very, very narrow safety margin. More like what you would expect in an actual combat situation.
“This is my problem – they are astonishingly good, and astonishingly difficult to rein in to training standards when they are in the air. My choice appears to be kick them out for flagrant violations of safety regulations, or find a way to keep them with us and to hell with the regulations. My preference is the latter. They are simply too good to throw away.”
“Nobody’s that good, Ih-Tedda. Send some of Nova Squadron after them. Let one of the older cadets bring them down a peg and remind them that they’re only human.”
“I did, sir.”
“Which one?”
“I sent Nova Squadron after the pair of them.”
“Yes, which pilot?”
“No, sir. I sent the ENTIRE Nova Squadron after them. It wasn’t even a decent fight. I have the tape if you’d like to review it.”
“You sent five senior cadet pilots after a pair of second-years and you’re telling me the newbies won?”
“Yes, sir. It took them less than two minutes to take out all five. Then they started chasing each other again. I had to recall them at that point.”
“Recall them. I want that tape, I want their files, and I want both of them in my office as soon as they land. The Commandant is going to have my ass in a sling for that sonic boom stunt – don’t even try to tell me that wasn’t deliberate – I at least want to know why it’s going to be in a sling. And you will ground them until I make my decision.”
She tapped a key on the console, “Viper Flight, Command. Return to base immediately. Romeo tango bravo, out.”
Captain Spruance watched the trace of the two ships arc over and begin returning, twisting and rolling around each other like a pair of salsa dancers.
“Do they ALWAYS do that?” he asked.
Laughing Commander Ih-Tedda answered, “Yes, sir. As I said, there is a great joy within them when they fly. It is…irrepressible. I’m not sure it would be wise to try.”
“How are they outside of a fighter?”
“Outstanding cadets, sir. They are always contrite when their flight violations are pointed out – and always forget all their good intentions the moment the cockpit closes. They are natural leaders and natural instructors, always willing to help their fellow cadets. Sterling took it upon himself to help one of our cadets who was struggling with formation flying, providing hours of extra instruction and even flying extra training flights. Their marks are generally good. Both are well-liked and well-respected.
“I’m afraid their dogfight with Nova Squadron has made them something of a legend; definitely not my intent. The senior cadets have yet to live that down. To their credit, they haven’t attempted to make excuses – they were simply outclassed and know it. This has not helped my attempts to rein in our two rogues.”
“Who are they, Commander?”
“Cadet Andrew Sterling, from Ft. William, Scotland, Earth, and Cadet Heather, from T’Elesh, Dosad. Um, you’ll find her records under Heather Wilkes. Although she follows Dosadi traditions she used her father’s last name upon joining Starfleet.”
“What do you mean her father’s last name? Don’t Dosadi use just one name?”
“Yes, sir. Her father is human. Captain Thomas Wilkes, retired.”
Spruance looked at her. “She’s half human? I didn’t even know that was possible.”
“I haven’t pried sir. Apparently there are only 4, her, a sister, and two brothers.”
“Please tell me her siblings aren’t planning on flight training as well.”
She chuckled, “No sir, one brother is a farmer here on Earth, the other is in the Dosadi Imperial Fleet and her sister is some sort of itinerant historian and story teller.”
“Interesting. Which one is the better pilot?”
“Neither. Sterling is the more methodical and patient. She is quicker to see and take a transient advantage. He is the better leader, she is the more inspiring. He is elegant, she is dramatic. I’ve never seen one score a kill on the other. Perhaps if I’d sent Nova Squadron after them one at a time…No, probably not.”
“Could you take them?”
She thought a moment. When she flew, her fighter carried with it 11 different tally marks signifying enemy craft destroyed; A huge total for the normally peaceful Starfleet. “Sir, I honestly doubt it.”
“Damn. Very well. Send them and their records to me. And ground the pair of them. Assign them extra tutoring duties to the first year students and cut any off-duty privileges they have for consistent, flagrant safety violations. Then I want you to assign them to maintenance during their duty hours for that sonic boom stunt.”
“Sir!”
“Commander, I WILL bring these two to heel. And if I elect to keep them, I want them to be grateful for the opportunity. I don’t give a tinker’s damn HOW good they are, they WILL learn that there are consequences.”
“Sir, I’m not sure that’s wise – Do you want to…”
“From what I saw today, there isn’t a damn thing in the world I could do to take away their joy of flying and fighting, Commander. But we can add some maturity and some caution; The best steel is tempered. Don’t forget those records, Ih-Tedda.”
“Yes, sir.” she answered sourly.
CHAPTER 2
In the whole scene there was an air of ruin and destruction, something which betrayed a final and irrevocable adieu; one couldn’t watch without feeling one’s heart wrung. The Indians were tranquil, but sombre and taciturn.
– Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America – Earth (Human)
VILLAGE OF TONG, ORIAS III, CARDASSIAN UNION
NOVEMBER 2289
Six year-old Fallon clung to her mother’s leg. “Mommy! I don’t want to go!” she cried. The tiny, black and white spotted humanoid with large, black eyes was clearly terrified. Her mother tried to soothe her child as the much larger Cardassian trooper waved them both out of their hut with his rifle.
“It will be OK, child. Do as they wish and they shall not harm us. There is no reason for them to do so. Come along.” and she walked out the door of her home to the waiting transport.
Legate Kai made a pair of marks on his PADD and shook his head disgustedly. “They are like so many cows. Useless wastes of space.”
Looking at the lines of Oriaslings queuing to board the transports under the guns of his troops, Glin Markut asked, “So why move them into camps? Why not just leave them be?”
“The environment here is collapsing, it care barely support these little creatures as it is. These lands are needed for Cardassians. At least they shall get some sort of use out of this planet.” Clapping the younger Glin on the shoulder he chuckled, “Don’t worry, it’s not like they’re people anyway. They’re more like animals who have mastered a few tricks. We’ll find some way to get some utility out of the lot of them!”
A short while later, the transports rumbled into life, packed tightly with the little black and white humanoids. One of the few able to see anything, little Fallon tried not to cry as she watched her village, the only place she had ever known, vanish in a cloud of dust.

* * *
STARFLEET ACADEMY, SAN FRANCISCO, EARTH
NOVEMBER 2289
The clock on Captain Spruance’s wall ticked loudly. Cadet Andy Sterling stood at rigid attention, trying to ignore the rivulet of sweat running down his back, keeping his eyes focused on an imaginary spot on the Captain’s wall. To his left, Cadet Heather did the same, the warmth of the Captain’s office making her wish that she wasn’t covered in reddish, spotted fur. Her left ear flicked in a nervous tic.
Spruance flipped another page. He had already gone through their records and viewed the replay of their dogfight with Nova Squadron while they waited outside his office. This was a calculated tactic to let them know just how deep in the shit they truly were. Deciding that the time was right, he sighed heavily, closed the folder and sat back, studying the two youngsters standing in front of his desk.
Sterling was six feet tall with dark hair and pale blue eyes – a rather odd combination Spruance thought. He was one of those people who looked like he should be a model with features best described as chiseled and a solid build like a rugby forward. He looked him up and down, looking for any flaw in his uniform and found none.
Turning his attention to Sterling’s partner in crime, he found a startling contrast. She was barely 4’6” – he made a mental note to check her height against regulations – and looked a lot like a large bi-pedal cat, although radically different from what he expected of a Dosadi. Instead of being marked like a cougar, she was covered in reddish fur with an unruly shock over the top of her skull. Her ears were rather more rounded than normal and her eyes were a shockingly bright blue. Further, although Dosadi females were normally slim-hipped and fairly flat-chested when not actively nursing, this cadet was obviously female along more human lines. He found the combination both interesting and slightly repellant; shades of bestiality he thought to himself.
Drumming his fingers on his desk he asked the pair, “Do you understand why you are here, Cadets?”
Sterling answered first, clearing his throat and saying, “Yes, sir.” As Spruance stared at him, he swallowed and asked, “Safety regulations, sir?”
“And?”
Heather answered, “The fly-over, sir?”
“And?”
They glanced at each other quickly and Sterling continued, “There was something else, sir?”
“We’ll see.” He glowered at them. “Do you have any explanation for these constant, on-going, and flagrant violations of Academy safety regulations? Or for that idiotic and sophomoric stunt this afternoon?”
Heather thought to herself, “Well, we are sophomores…” but wisely said nothing.
Again, Sterling took the lead in answering, “Sir, we’re supposed to push the limits – it’s a dog-fight. You have to do your very best to either get away or to get the other pilot in your sights. We didn’t actually…”
“Cadet, are you currently at war with your fellow pilots? Are you currently locked in a desperate life-or-death struggle with this other young idiot here?”
There was silence for a moment, “No, sir.”
“Then why are you behaving as if you are? Those regulations are for your safety, and for hers, and for civilians on the ground if you lose it and pile a multimillion credit fighter into a packed neighborhood or this CAMPUS for that matter!”
He drummed his fingers again. “So. You have no valid explanation for your actions. You simply felt you could disobey orders and do whatever the hell you want to do simply because…Well because you’re so very special. Is that about it?”
Both cadets spoke in unison, “No, sir!”
“No, sir?! Then why is it that every time the two of you go aloft you end up behaving like some drunken hick with his daddy’s APV on a dirt road?!”
The silence stretched on and Heather said, “Sir, it’s not an excuse but…I forget. I get so focused on either catching the other fighter or getting away. I don’t even think about it very much. I know it’s past the limits, but I think it’s just a little bit, just enough to get away and then I’ll be able to cut back and…it just goes from there.” Sterling was nodding along.
“I note that it’s only when the two of you are chasing each other that you seem to lose all sense of propriety.” A sudden thought occurred to him. “Are you two romantically involved?”
Sterling blushed scarlet and stammered, “N..n..n..No, sir.”
Heather thought to herself, “Not for lack of trying…” but said, “No, sir. Neither of us is involved romantically with anyone. There just isn’t time for that sort of thing.”
“I would hope not. I would hate to add to the list of regulations that you regularly violate. Although the point may be moot. You may both very well be free to spend your time however you please here very shortly.”
Both cadets paled.
“Starfleet is a service. A military service. With rules, and discipline and order that you are expected to follow – all the time, every time. Not simply when it is convenient for you. You two seem to not understand that. How you have gotten this far in your Academy career without knowing that very basic fact is a mystery to me. I must now decide whether it is in the best interest of Starfleet to continue to spend time and effort trying to turn you into disciplined, reliable officers. It may be that both of us will be better served if you two find a different path – perhaps with the Orion pirates.
“In any case, I have to go explain to the Commandant why two of my cadets decided to fly through Academy grounds at Mach 7. Dismissed.”
The two of them saluted, pivoted smartly and left his office. As the door contracted behind them, Sterling said, “Jesus. You think they’re really going to kick us out?”
“I hope not. They might. I didn’t mean to fly through campus – you kept arcing over, and then I had to dodge that LNG carrier and it happened so fast. There was the bridge, so I jinked to keep away from it and then there was campus.” She sighed, “I really, really hope not. Flying is the best thing in the universe. I feel sick to my stomach worrying about it. We really screwed up this time.”
“Yeah.” They walked on through campus for a little bit, trying not to notice the branches and leaves scattered about the normally immaculate campus grounds – side effects from their hypersonic fly-over. “Would chow help, or make it worse?”
“Help, I think. Besides, I found a new song I want to play for you!”
He laughed, “Another one of those ancient tunes you keep digging up?”
“Yup!” she smiled, “You’ll like this one – it makes me think of you. Maybe you could sing it.”
He blushed again and didn’t answer for a few seconds. “I can try if you’ve got the lyrics.”
They entered the cafeteria and picked up their trays. As they were picking out their food several other cadets came up to ask how their interview had gone. By the time they had made their way to their table, the word had spread throughout the cafeteria that they were in danger of being kicked out.
They sat and started picking through their food. Heather pulled out her PADD and brought up the song she had found. Several of their friends sat with them, peppering them with questions about Captain Spruance’s decision. Sterling was studying the music as the song played. Cadet Peggy Lynd was spending more time studying him. A fact not lost on Heather.
“Are you going to sing for us, Andy?” Lynd asked. Popular, blonde, with green eyes and a bikini-model build, she usually landed any male she set her eye on. Sterling had been a notable exception, to date.
He smiled, “If I can get a feel for it, yeah. It’s a good tune. Not like a lot of the stuff she finds.” he winked at Heather.
Cadet Mike Malloy laughed. Dark haired, with soulful brown eyes and a runner’s build, He and Heather had been close the previous year and he had always found her fascination with dusty old music an oddity. He asked Heather, “Going to sing harmony with him?”
“If he wants me to. It’s called ‘The Minstrel Boy’” The two often sang some old song that Heather found – a Dosadi habit that had found widespread popularity at Starfleet Academy. Their voices harmonized well and both were fairly skilled singers. Sterling played guitar as well – another trait that had attracted the female cadets’ interest, without any noticeable effect on Andy.
The music started, and as they started singing, the background conversations in the cafeteria came to a stop while people listened:

“The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death ye will find him;
His father’s sword he hath girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him;
‘Land of Song!’ said the warrior bard,
‘Tho’ all the world betray thee,
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!’

The Minstrel fell! But the foeman’s chain
Could not bring his proud soul under;
The harp he lov’d ne’er spoke again,
For he tore its chords asunder;
And said ‘No chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and bravery!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free
They shall never sound in slavery!
The Minstrel Boy will return we pray
When we hear the news we all will cheer it,
The minstrel boy will return one day,
Torn perhaps in body, not in spirit.
Then may he play on his harp in peace,
In a world such as heaven intended,
For all the bitterness of man must cease,
And ev’ry battle must be ended.”

“Wow.” Lynd said, “That’s a really sad one.” A few of the other listeners voiced their agreement.
Malloy said, “We just need to get you a harp, Andy.”
Sterling laughed, “I’m gonna get issued one after Spruance kills me.” He glanced at his watch, “Heather, we’ve got to get to our tutoring sessions; It would not be good to be late today.”
She took a last swallow of her drink and stood up, “Nope. Let’s get moving.” The two of them cleared their trays and headed off to go tutor their respective groups of freshmen.

* * *
Later that evening, Captain Spruance was interrupted by a knock on his door. “Come!”
A Freshman cadet, an Andorian no less, came in, saluted and said, “Cadet Theret, sir. I would like to take advantage of your open door policy.”
Sitting back in his chair he grimaced. These were almost always some hyped up complaint about an instructor being mean or unfair or some other nonsense. “Very well. What’s on your mind, Cadet?”
“Sir. I understand that you are considering expelling Cadets Sterling and Heather.”
He raised his eyebrow. “Really. And you know this how, Cadet?”
“Barracks rumor, Sir. Is it true?”
“That’s not really any of your business, Cadet.”
“Yes, sir, it is.”
“I beg your pardon?” Spruance leaned forward.
“Sir, I would have failed Quantum Mechanics and failed out of the Academy if it had not been for Heather’s extra tutoring. And Sterling’s always giving hangar-flying lessons on air combat maneuvering. So is Heather. It’s made us all better.”
“I see. Was there anything further?”
“No, sir.”
“Dismissed, Cadet.” The young Andorian saluted and left his office. Not 30 seconds after he left, there was another knock. Sighing, Spruance called out “Come!”
This time it was a female 2nd-year cadet. “Sir! Cadet Robbins reporting. I would like to utilize your open door policy.”
“Really. And what about, Cadet?”
She answered, “Sir, I’ve heard a rumor that you are going to expel Cadets Heather and Sterling. Is that true?”
Drumming his fingers on his desk, he asked, “And what if it is, Cadet?”
“Sir, I would like to offer a recommendation for both.”
“I see. And why is that?”
“Sir, they help everyone. And they’re the best fliers we’ve got! They always go the extra mile in everything.”
“And they disobey safety regulations every time they fly.”
“Not every time, sir. Just when they fight each other.”
“Enough. Thank you for your input, Cadet. That will be all.”
“Yes, sir.” And she mirrored Theret, saluting and exiting smartly.
Spruance sat back, thinking to himself. He was not surprised when almost a minute later, there was another knock at his door. “Come!” he growled.
“Sir! Cadet Ming Lee, reporting! I would like to take advantage of your open door policy, sir!”
“Let me guess. You’ve heard a rumor.”
“Um…yes, sir.”
“Okay. I’ve had about enough of this. Cadet, is there a line outside my door?”
“Sir? No, sir.”
Spruance leaned back again. “Is this about our two problem Cadets? Never mind. Don’t answer. Cadet, you will go and round up all of your class, with the exception of those two. You will gather them together in the multipurpose room in 30 minutes. I will address all of your concerns at that time. If anyone else knocks on my door with this same horseshit, I will personally strip them of their credits and start them over again as raw freshmen, is that understood?”

“Sir! Yes, sir!”
“Dismissed.”
Thirty minutes later, Captain Spruance walked through the doors into the large multipurpose room, the assembled cadets rising to their feet at the cry of “Captain on deck!”. Scanning the room he sought out Cadet Lee. “Cadet, this is more than your class.”
“Yes, sir! These are all the people who wanted to speak on behalf of Cadets Heather and Sterling, sir.”
“Hmm. Senior Cadet Rugov. I’m a little surprised to see you and Nova Squadron here. Not only are these sophomores, but they waxed your tails rather easily. I’d think you’d be glad to see them go.”
“No, sir. One team, one fight, sir. We’re good, they’re the best. It would be stup…unwise to lose those skills.”
“So you’re OK with a pair of newbies lording it over you?”
“Sir, they don’t do that.” He grinned wryly, “I actually expected that they would – I probably would’ve. They don’t even really talk about it except clinically. Which is actually more embarrassing than if they were just bragging.”
“Indeed. That split-s you pulled was not exactly sound tactical thinking.”
He coughed, “Um, yes, sir. That was her analysis as well. She also pointed out that it allowed her to take me out and almost instantly engage my wingman as well, leaving him no chance to evade her shot.”
“Is there anyone here even remotely concerned that these two are not being held to the same standard as the rest of you? That they are being allowed to ignore safety regulations without consequence? To disobey orders without punishment?”
He paused, scanning the classroom. One hand finally, hesitatingly, went up.
“Yes, you. Cadet…Lynd?”
“Sir, They are punished, regularly, for violating regulations. Maybe not as much as you’d think, but they know it’s wrong and they do try. But they also go way beyond regulations and expectations in helping everyone else. Look at this room, sir. This isn’t normal.”
“That, Cadet, is the understatement of the week.” He sat down on the edge of the table at the front of the room. “Very well. I appreciate all of your input.” He thought for a moment. “Rugov. Go and fetch our two problems and bring them here. Meanwhile, I’ll listen to what you all have to say, although I warn you it will have no bearing upon my decision. This is not a democracy, nor is it the ladies’ tea club.”
Ten minutes later, Heather and Sterling walked into the multipurpose room hot on Rugov’s heels, looking across the room with trepidation.
Snapping to attention, they announced, “Sir! Cadets Sterling and Heather reporting as ordered!” while Rugov took his seat.
Leaving them at attention, Spruance said, “Cadets, I’m presented with a rather unusual situation. Discipline matters are personal and private. Unfortunately, a large number of your classmates have made your disposition their business. So, I will give you the choice. I have made my decision. We can adjourn to my office where we will wrap this up in private, or if you wish, I can tell you right here and now and save some rumor control efforts later.”
They looked at each other. Sterling said, “We’d like to hear it now, sir.”
“Cadet Heather, is that the case for you as well?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Very well. My decision is final, Cadets. As of this moment, I am removing you from the regular flight rotation.”
Heather and Sterling looked devastated. There were gasps throughout the room and Spruance yelled, “At EASE Cadets.” Glaring at the assembled students, he waited for them to settle back down. “As I said, you are no longer in the regular flight rotation. Further, I am re-organizing the sophomore squadrons into two Flights. Cadet Sterling, you will take student command of Alpha Flight with first second, and third squadrons, Cadet Heather, you will take student command of Bravo Flight with fourth, fifth and sixth squadrons. Monday through Friday, you will fly in an adjunct instructor capacity subordinate to your regular instructors. You will not engage in dogfights with anyone except in an instructional capacity. You are forbidden to fly anywhere near each other during these flights. If I catch you violating this order or any safety regulation even slightly I will expel you immediately. And I WILL be watching. Closely.”
He paused again, watching the mixture of relief, confusion, and loss play across their features. Thinking to himself that they really did love to fly together, he decided to give them his little surprise. “Finally, each weekend day you are assigned an additional duty. You are to undertake one or two additional flights each day engaging each other in simulated combat to the maximum limits of your aircraft and yourselves.  You may include up to two other cadets in these flights, with the permission of your senior instructor. The Commandant has agreed to suspend safety and maneuvering regulations for this specific purpose, although you will obey range and location restrictions without fail. Post-flight, you will prepare a briefing to be given to your instructors and classmates each Monday on these flights focusing on any possible novel aspects of technology, maneuvering, tactics, etc. that may be of use to Starfleet.
“Finally, so that you all understand that pushing these birds past their limits has consequences and better understand what goes into making these marvelous toys work, I am extending your entire class’ duty day by one hour where you will report to the maintenance hangars as extra hands. You will be subordinate to any maintainer present. If they tell you to do something, no matter how menial you consider it, you will do it without question.
“Is all of this understood?”
There was a loud chorus of “Yes, SIR!” and a lot of smiles. Spruance thought to himself that they really hadn’t thought through how much more work he had just shoveled onto them, especially those two. Well, sometimes you just had to give a spirited horse more work to do to settle him down – as long as you also gave him the time to run free as well. He stood up, hearing Rugov order the cadets “On your FEET!” and walked out the door. The door had barely finished closing when he heard the cheer. Shaking his head and smiling, he returned to his office.
Heather pounced on Sterling, wrapping him up in a hug while their classmates surrounded them. Peggy Lynd wormed her way in and planted a big kiss on him as Mike Malloy said, “You two owe us.” and laughed. “We saved your asses and you just saddled us all with a ton of extra shit.”
Rugov reached his arm in and shook their hands. “Bullshit, Malloy. One team, one fight. And we’re gonna want a re-match with you two once you get caught up.”
Later, making their way back to the barracks, Heather asked Sterling, “I don’t suppose you’d like to share a bunk tonight?”
He blushed furiously and said nothing.
“Andy, it’s just sleep, not sex. Dosadi consider it a sign of a really special friendship to sleep together. I’m not trying to throw myself at you or anything.” She twitched her ears back, “Unlike SOME people.” she coughed, “Peggy.”
He laughed, but still said nothing.
Sighing, she said, “Guess not, again, huh?” They walked a few paces further on. “I don’t understand you though. You’re my closest friend here, we hang out all the time, we teach together, and there’s no one I’d rather fly with or against, but sometimes I wonder if you think I’m nasty or something.”
“What about Malloy?”
“Malloy?” she chuckled, “He’s a good friend. Definitely someone special.”
“Weren’t you two together last year?”
“That was just playing at being mates. He’s not right for me. We still sleep together sometimes.” Rolling her eyes she said, “JUST sleep. You know there’s a couple guys and girls that I sleep with – it’s just being close is all, not sexual.”
They kept walking. “Is it because I’m not human? Because I’m a half-breed?”
“WHAT? Jesus, Heather, no!”
“How come, then?”
There was a longer pause as they came up to the barracks. He tried to start several times and stopped. “I..I..I.” he took a breath while she looked at him puzzled. “Just c..c..can’t.”
“Are you stuttering? She asked. Stuttering was an automatic discharge for a pilot – such an impediment would be lethal in combat.
“No!” he said too loudly. He turned on his heel and slammed into the barracks, leaving her standing outside, confused, embarrassed, and hurt.

CHAPTER 3
I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.
– Mother Teresa – Earth (Human)
TAJOR WORK CAMP, ORIAS III, CARDASSIAN UNION
DECEMBER 2289
Fallon walked along by her mother through the muddy paths between the barracks, holding her hand and trying not to look at any of the Cardassian guards they saw. Finally they turned and entered one of the long buildings, closing the door behind them.
“Mommy, I’m so hungry.”
“Shhh. We all are child.” She led her daughter into the room where many other Oriaslings were already seated in a tight spiral, an old woman in the center, her eyes half closed, her expression one of placid tranquility.
“But Mommy, it’s Sarontime. There’s supposed to be lots of food and toys and…”
“Perhaps next year, little one. You must learn to see what is, not what you wish to be.”
“But WHY mommy?” they seated themselves at the end of the coil of people.
“Because the Cardassians have taken the food, Fallon.” As the little girl opened her mouth again, she continued, “Because they have guns and we do not. Because they are cruel, and we are not.”
“Why don’t we have guns, mommy?”
“That is not our way, Fallon. It is not for us to decide who lives and who dies – we cannot see all the consequences of such things. That is for God.”
“But if we had guns we could get our food back.”
“By killing? Fallon, all that live are merely facets of one being. Were we to take up guns and kill the Cardassians, we would only be killing parts of ourselves and we would suffer immeasurably more for doing so. You do not know what the future holds – what if one of the Cardassians would one day bring peace to all beings and you were to kill him? They too have loved ones and children. Would you bring pain and suffering to all those children simply because you are having a bad time right now? Be patient. Be at peace. Accept what is.”
Fallon struggled with the complex concept. Her mother said, “Shhh. Take my hand, join the spiral and be thankful to be part of all that lives and see the wonder of the world. Let sorrow and suffering wash over you like the river washes over the rocks.”
The old woman in the center began a very quiet, low, repetitive chant. Each person in turn joined in, the sound growing in a rumble as the group struggled to keep the volume low.

* * *
Legate Kai grimaced at the mud outside his office. “I detest having to deal with these cows. Can they not understand even simple instructions?”
The guard said, “Sorry, sir. We heard the sound as we were walking past Barracks 10. It’s pretty obviously their language, such as it is. It looks like some sort of ceremony from the window. We knew you would want to be informed.”
“When we return, fetch me one of them to clean this muck off my boots. Meanwhile, let’s go try to make it clear to them once again.”
A few minutes later, a trooper slammed the barracks door open and Kai looked in at the tightly packed room of chanting Oriaslings. Although a couple of children screamed, the rest only looked up in fear, continuing to chant. Disgusted he ordered “Put an end to this. Now.” and he stepped to the side as a squad of Cardassian troopers charged into the room and began clearing the spiral with boots and rifle butts.
Once they had finished he studied the bloody and bruised mass of Oriaslings. Finally he said, “You know the rules. You will speak only Cardassian. And assemblies such as these are strictly forbidden.”
Fallon, holding her hand on her bruised cheek said loudly, in Cardassian, “YOU’RE BAD!”
A trooper raised his rifle and Kai said, “Wait.” She clapped her hands over her mouth in horror at what she had done and he continued. “Well at least this one understands the rule. And seems to have some sort of spirit as well. Bring her to my office.” and he turned and left, ignoring the child’s shriek as she was snatched up. He kicked his boots off at the door and went in and sat down.
A few moments later the trooper brought Fallon, still struggling in his grasp. “What shall I do with her, sir?”
“Put her down, and hand her my boots and a cleaning kit.”
The trooper did so and at a dismissing wave from Kai, left the office. “What is your name?”
“Fallon.” she sniffed through her tears.
“Do you know how to clean boots, Fallon?”
“Yes.” she looked down, trying to stop crying.
“Are you afraid of me?”
“Yes.”
“Good. You should be.” He studied her. “You will clean my boots now, Fallon. If you do a good job, I will give you extra food. Would you like that?”
She looked up, hopeful. “Yes.”
“You hate me don’t you?”
Her common sense told her to say no, but she was as honest as any of her race and instead said, “YES!”
“Would you kill me if you could?”
That gave her pause. She struggled with her innate desire to do something, anything to put an end to what she and her mother were suffering, but her peoples’ pacifist philosophy was telling her that such a thing was horribly wrong. “Maybe.” she finally admitted.
Kai laughed. “Well, that’s a first! I like you, Fallon. But, clean the boots now. I have work to do.” and he returned to his paperwork.

* * *
STARFLEET ACADEMY FLIGHT RANGE, TITAN, SOL SYSTEM
JANUARY 2290
Sterling activated his comm system “So, escape and evade or take another try at them? They’re going to figure out where we’re hiding pretty quick.”
“I think I got it – cut through the atmosphere further South and come up behind them. With our current vector they’ll expect us to come over the top, not the bottom.” Heather answered.
“We’re going to overheat at these speeds in this muck – I dunno if the airframe can handle the stress of ahhh, shit.” he pulled hard on the controls, tracking his Viper alongside Heather’s as she rolled into the turn, stress and temperature alarms sounding in her helmet.
A few minutes later, fighting the g-forces as she curved through another tight turn, she kicked her music on again.
Laughing was hard what with the forces buffeting his fighter, but he had to anyway. “What’s this one?!”
“Pipeline, by The Ventures” she grunted out. “I just found it yesterday. It’s awesome!” A few seconds later she called “Tally-Ho! 12 o’clock high.” and pulled back on the right side-stick, Sterling’s Viper glued to her port wing.

* * *
“Where the hell did they go, Ih-Tedda?”
“Down into Titan, Spruance. I told you, they’re insane.”
“I KNOW that, but how the hell did they flip that fast? I thought we finally had them. I’ve totally lost sensor track on them in that crap.”
“If they’re not dead from structural failure, they’ve gotta come out near the North pole – I’ve got lead.”
Spruance had a bad feeling about this. Pivoting his Starhawk around so he was, in effect, flying backwards he let the sensors play over Titan’s upper atmosphere. “Oh SHIT. Ih-Tedda, 6 o’clock low!!”
“What?! Break, break, break!!” Ih-Tedda’s Starhawk began radical thrust maneuvers designed to impart a nearly random set of delta-V changes while trying to bend her vector around, but Spruance was at least going to get a shot off. Getting a lock on one of the climbing Vipers he loosed a pair of simulated Dagger anti-fighter missiles and tried to make his own trajectory changes.
“Starhawk Flight, Range Control – Hawk 2 is a kill by Viper 2 – two phaser hits, aft and port engine. Return to base.”
Spruance slammed his fist on his own leg, “Mother FUCK.”
Sterling’s Viper rolled tightly to port and he routed shield power to his ECM system as he attempted to dodge the ‘missiles’ tracking on him, to no avail. “Viper Flight, Range Control – Viper 2 is a kill by Hawk 2 – two Dagger hits, cockpit and port wing. Return to base.” He sat still, the Viper continuing on its last vector. He honestly didn’t know what to do – it was the first time he’d ever been ‘killed’. It was a strange feeling.
Back at Starfleet Academy, money was already changing hands, with one of the more ‘enterprising’ cadets handling the bets.
Meanwhile, Heather’s Viper was groaning eerily as she tried to get an off-boresight track on Ih-Tedda’s Starhawk. But Ih-Tedda was having none of it, her ECM system in intermittent beam-mode and a constant stream of flare-pulses coming out of her engines, blinding Heather and her sensor systems. Even the home-on-jam mode wasn’t able to get a lock. The two fighters were maxing out their acceleration, thrusters firing in random bursts in order to confuse any direct-fire targeting. The Starhawk had slightly better acceleration than the Viper and was increasing the range as Ih-Tedda ran for the rings of Saturn.
Heather looked at the safety-overrides for her engines. Then she looked at the status board, a constellation of yellow and red lights winking at her. Her energy was almost gone – barely enough left for a phaser shot and then getting home. Snarling, she tried again to get the nose of her Viper to point at the other ship long enough to get a solid track.
Ih-Tedda was watching her track closely. “That’s it, little girl. Follow right along. You know you want me.” Her right index finger caressed the button on her stick and she held a straight course for a second to entice the younger pilot to stay on her current track as the simulated Dagger ejected from it’s rail without activating.
Heather focused on the targeting pipper which was now stabilizing on the blinding flashes of Ih-Tedda’s engine. Her Viper flashed over the tiny missile simulator without noticing it and she took a chance and fired on gut-instinct just as the weapons-lock alarm screamed its warning in her helmet. “Wha..?”
“Starhawk Flight, Range Control – Hawk 1 is a kill by Viper 1 – Two phaser hits, starboard engine, starboard wing. Return to base. Viper Flight, Viper 1 is a kill by Hawk 1 – Dagger on delayed-activation hit, starboard engine. Return to base.”
Hours later, Sterling and Heather were in coveralls listening to the Crew Chief on their Vipers listing off a litany of sins. “Exceeded 120% military thrust for more than 10 seconds. Special inspection required. Requires removal of both engines. Exceeded 100 gs. Special inspection required for all inertial dampeners. Requires removal of all ID’s. Frame stress exceeded Max-Q for more than 10 seconds. Re-torque required for all primary fasteners, NDI required for all frame welds. Skin temperature exceeded 2,000 K. Requires NDI for all hot-spots and torque-check for all fasteners.
“Jesus, Sirs, we’re basically going to have to tear these birds down and re-build them!”
“Sorry, Chief. That’s why we’re here to help though.” Sterling answered.
Heather grinned, “It was a hell of a fight though Chief. We couldn’t have done it with anyone else’s birds.”
He smiled back, “I know it was. I made some serious bank off of that. I won the straight bet on first kill and I won the pool on who killed who.”
“But we all ‘killed’ each other?”
“Yup. You pilots forget, we all watch y’all too. I know everyone’s favorite tricks. Anyway, it’s time to get dirty, sirs.”

* * *
A week later, bruised, dirty, and sore, they looked at the re-assembled Vipers with pride. Although not mechanics, they had done what they could to help with the extra work they had caused their ground crews. Heather groaned and tried to work the kinks out of her shoulder. “It’s a lot easier to fly them then it is to fix the damn things. And why am I the only one who can fit in half those spaces?! Don’t they design them to be fixed?”
Sterling laughed and started to rub her shoulders. “I’ve heard the mechanics say ‘The Viper is designed for maintenance! … And a lot of it!’”
She purred, her head lolling forward and laughed. “That’s funny.”
“I love hearing you purr. It’s like having a giant talking cat.”
She rolled her eyes and laughed again. “I’m kinda weird. I can purr when I want to. For real Dosadi, it’s involuntary. There are times I can’t help it, but I can start whenever I want.”
“I like it.” he dug his palms into a knot of muscle, wishing he could get over his phobia about being with a woman. He loved pretty much everything about Heather, but more than anything, flying with her. She had never again asked him to share her bunk, something he was both thankful for and worried about. What if she thought he didn’t like her? He wished he could explain to her – He had beaten his stutter almost entirely and managed to keep it hidden. If Starfleet found out, they’d not only ground him, they’d kick him out for falsifying his medical history. There was only that one situation that ever really caused him to stutter any more. He just had to figure out how to get over it. And before some hot dog like Malloy caught her eye.
Chief Petty Officer Brown, the crew chief, came in “Yo, sir. It’s done.” and he handed him a mid-sized bag.
“Brown, you are awesome. Barton paint that up?”
“The lady’s an artist, sir. I think you’ll like it.”
Heather looked over her shoulder, “What is it, Andy?”
He grinned at her. “A present.” He rummaged in the bag, getting a solid hold on whatever was inside. “Your helmet has been beat to shit, so…Well, Heather, you’re my angel, s..s..so…” he pulled the helmet out. Previously her helmet had been the standard dull grey with ‘HEATHER’ stenciled across the back and streaks of cockpit paint and chips across it. He pulled out a flat-black helmet with glossy white angel wings spreading across the sides and ‘HEATHER’ painted in calligraphy on the back and ‘ANGEL’ on the front.
Her jaw dropped open. “Andy! It’s gorgeous!” She reached her hand out and took her helmet, stroking her finger across the wings.
“It’s within regs too. I checked. We’re allowed to decorate our helmets as long as it’s inoffensive.”
“Speaking of which, sir.” Brown interrupted, waving a crewman into the hangar.
“Huh?” Sterling asked.
“Well, the rest of us just figured that the way the two of you fly and the way you beat our birds to hell…If she’s an angel…” He took another bag from the crewman. “Sir, you gotta be a demon.” He pulled out a glossy deep red helmet with horns painted above the brow and black bat wings flaring across the sides and ‘STERLING’ done in the same calligraphic style across the back and ‘DEMON’ across the front.
“Holy shit! It’s awesome!” he took the helmet from Brown. At another arm-wave from the NCO, the rest of the ground crew came in applauding, several of them carrying bottles of one sort or another.
Grinning broadly Brown said, “Sirs, we’d like to invite you to a little party we’re throwing in honor of your latest dog-fight as well as the one with Nova Flight. AND for being some of the only officers to get your hands dirty on your own time. Don’t worry – after the bets I won, I can afford it. Besides, between the two of you we’re producing the best trained class of mechanics the Academy has ever graduated and that deserves a little celebration.”
Several hours later, Sterling was sitting on a work table, finishing off another beer while Heather leaned  back into his legs. His guitar was lying on the table next to him, but both of them were sung out by now. They had both been the recipients of a lot of good-natured ribbing from their ground crew and were feeling quite pleased with life in general. Slightly drunk, he reached his hand down and rubbed along one of her ears. He thought to himself “If she asks me tonight, dammit, I’m gonna. I don’t have to talk. It’s just lying there sleeping.”
She cocked her head back, looking up at him. He had such a pretty smile. He had called her his angel – was that an invitation? She knew about angels from Grammie Heather. Maybe he did like her more than as just regular friends. She was sure he liked girls, not boys – he sure hadn’t flinched away when Peggy kissed him, back when they almost got kicked out. She wished she didn’t look like some sort of mutant cat-woman thing, neither human nor Dosadi. Maybe if she looked more like Peggy. They locked eyes for a moment.
The moment passed. He blushed and looked back up at one of the maintainers who was giving a spirited account of the damage Sterling had done to his bird trying to dodge the Daggers that Spruance had fired. She sighed mentally and looked away.

CHAPTER 4
Mere life is not a victory, mere death is not a defeat.
– Klingon Proverb
TAJOR WORK CAMP, ORIAS III, CARDASSIAN UNION
FEBRUARY 2290
Legate Kai looked down at little Fallon, cleaning his various bits of gear. The little creature definitely had more spirit than the rest of her breed. Perhaps that was why he kept her here instead of working in the fields or factories like the rest of them. “So. Have you decided yet if you will kill me or not?”
She was more used to this verbal sparring now. It was making her Cardassian a lot better. “Not yet. I’d need a gun anyway.”
He laughed. “One day I may give you one just to see what you do. There is potential in you, Fallon. You are more than the others are. Smarter. Better.”
She knew she shouldn’t take pride in compliments, but…to a child, praise is very influential. To a starving child, praise from the source of food even more so. She blushed.
He opened a drawer, took out a ration tray and slid it across to her. “I thought today, you would eat with me, instead of going back to your barracks.” He smiled. He knew she shared her extra rations with the others in her barracks, especially those who were too ill to work and therefore received no food rations at all.
She swallowed. She looked at the tray of vegetables and fruits. The Oriaslings were herbivores both by dentition and by philosophy, and there was more than usual. “I’m supposed to eat with the others.” He wasn’t supposed to know she shared her food. It wasn’t allowed. There were so many things that weren’t allowed.
“Just this once it’ll be OK. You deserve it, Fallon. I promised that if you did a good job, I’d give you extra food, didn’t I? Come and enjoy it, they’re very fresh.”
Her mouth watered and her stomach growled. “It’s OK, Fallon. You work hard – harder than so many others. And you’re better at doing what we ask than anyone else. Here – try this one.” he handed her a green fruit that looked like an apple; Her favorite.
Hesitatingly, she took it, looking up at him. He smiled and nodded, taking a bite of one himself, the aroma of the fruit filling the room. A short while later, she realized with horror that she had eaten it all. For the first time in months, she wasn’t hungry. But, she had nothing left to take back with her. Her lips and fingers were stained with the juices of the various foods.
Kai wiped his own lips with a napkin. “There now, isn’t that better?”  He smiled. “You may go now, Fallon. I will see you tomorrow at the usual time. I think I will teach you how to file papers for me.”
She stood up, wondering what she would say to the others, to her mother…Perhaps if she asked him for more; He was being so nice today.
While the child hesitated, he said in a stern voice. “It is time to return to your barracks, Fallon. I have other work to do.”
She turned and left the office, trying not to cry. She stumbled her way back to her barracks, dreading every step. She opened the door and walked in, seeing people look up in anticipation of the extra food she always brought with her. Today, all they saw was empty hands.
Her mother asked, “Fallon? Didn’t you get extra rations today?”
She thought about lying, she could say she didn’t she could…no, that would only make it worse. She looked at several of the people lying sick in their bunks. They hadn’t eaten at all today. She was a monster. As bad as the Cardassians. She had food and ate it all herself instead of sharing it with people who needed it. She collapsed on the floor crying in gasping hiccups.
“Fallon! What is the matter?!” Her mother tried for some time to get the hysterical child to tell her what was wrong. Finally the little girl managed to gasp out in between sobs,
“Mommy! I’m horrible! He gave me food lots of food I ate it all! I was so hungry I didn’t mean to he told me to he said it was OK he said I should I’m so sorry!!”
Her mother held her close, “Shhhh, child. Stop staying such things. You are not horrible. He is an evil person and he tells lies. You made a small mistake, that is all. There is no harm done. Shhhhh…”
“They’re so hungry and I ate their food!!!” she wailed.
“Yes, child, you did. Because that is what he wanted you to do. He wants to make you like him. Cold, and evil, and full of hate and pride. He will tell you lies and tell you that it is OK to do shameful things. But Fallon, there is no shame in making such a mistake unless you repeat it. You learn from mistakes, they are the world’s way of making us better. Stop your crying. No one blames you.”
After a few minutes in her mother’s lap, she sniffled, “They don’t?”
“Look around you and see for yourself. We are not like them. You are not like them. You are better than that.”
Fallon looked at the people on their sick beds. Despite the aching hunger in their bellies, there was no hate nor blame in their eyes. “I’m so sorry!” she said again, more tears welling up in her eyes.
“There will be more tomorrow, Fallon.” an old man said, “Who among us might not have made that same mistake in your place? It will be all right.”
Curling up in her mother’s lap, she resolved to never again listen to Kai’s lies. She would be stronger than him. She would be better than him.

* * *
STARFLEET ACADEMY, SAN FRANCISCO, EARTH
FEBRUARY 2290
The last few weeks had seen Heather and Peggy sparring more than usual over Sterling’s time and attention. Technically, Peggy was in a subordinate position to Heather as she was the Squadron Leader for 4th Squadron under Heather’s leadership as Bravo Flight Leader; She kept her sniping just inside of open insubordination. But she would often request extra tutoring or extra flight training specifically from Sterling, and that wasn’t something Heather could order her not to do.
Whenever the two of them sat down to chow, Peggy made sure that she was also there and sat as close to Sterling as possible, laughing at his jokes and snugging her dark red uniform jacket a little tighter, or ‘accidentally’ brushing a leg against his. Heather was finding it exasperating. Although he gave no sign, so was Sterling.
They were sitting in the cafeteria, lingering over the remains of dinner and he was hoping to have a few minutes alone with Heather to talk about some ideas he had for a large flight-on-flight dogfight and how to make it work so they didn’t violate the Captain’s rule about not flying near each other. Instead, Peggy was trying to be flirty. That was one of Heather’s traits that he really enjoyed – she didn’t flirt. She could be fun, or funny, or serious, or infuriating, but she didn’t play stupid games.
Peggy, beautiful, popular, flirty, and too smart for her own good reminded him entirely too much of the one serious girlfriend he had ever had. The first, last, and only, for that matter. A shiver went up his back and out of long habit, he clamped his mouth shut to block any stuttering.
For her part, Peggy was completely baffled. She had no difficulty with men – ever. At bars, guys lined up to buy her a drink. She could always tell which ones wanted a dumb blond and which ones wanted some actual conversation for the price of a drink. She didn’t sleep around – far from it – but she liked the attention. Occasionally there would be a guy who was worth the risk of sleeping with, but not often.  Andy was one of the ones who was clearly worth the risk of getting caught and gigged for a regulation breach. But he completely ignored every ‘Go!’ sign she threw at him. She knew he liked girls – he had a very sensual kiss when she had planted one on him a few months back. She had caught him eying her chest; maybe. Well, she was pretty sure. Why was he spending so much time with Heather? She hadn’t gotten anywhere throwing herself at him, that’s for sure, and she didn’t have anywhere near Peggy’s ‘assets.’
Peggy studied Heather out of the corner of her eye. She was tiny, and furry, and had weird animal ears. Definitely nowhere near enough ‘endowment’ upstairs. Her face was more cat than person. What did he see in her? Was it just that she flew as well as he did? That didn’t make any sense. She flipped her blond hair back over her ear and considered it some more, smiling at him and give him her best ‘smoldering’ look.
He quickly looked down at his tray. After a moment, he stood up, picked his tray up and said, “G..gotta go.” and turned around and left.
Peggy watched him leave. “Well! That was weird.”
Frustrated, Heather snapped out, “Are you kidding? Why don’t you just lie down on the table and say ‘Take me! Take me now!’”
Her voice ice-cold Peggy said, “What do you mean by that?”
“Oh come off it. He’s not interested in you. Stop trying to rape him for all the gods’ sakes!” her voice was getting louder as weeks of frustration and irritation were finding an outlet.
“How would you know what he’s interested in, bitch?” She snapped back, her voice going up to match Heather’s. They were starting to attract attention across the cafeteria, most of the other cadets looking uncomfortable.
One junior, well known as a complete waste of DNA, said to his friends, “Gonna be a real cat-fight.” and laughed at his own joke.
The senior sitting across from him just said, “Shut up, dipshit.”
“Maybe because I’m actually his friend! Maybe because I actually talk to him like a person instead of like a piece of meat!”
“You have no idea what you’re saying. You’re just someone he flies with! You wanna know why he keeps turning you down?” She was shouting now,  “You’re not even human! You’re just some…thing! You were made in a lab!” And realizing that she had gone too far, she took a half step back from the table.
Heather was stunned. Her emotions warred between the need to beat her senseless, a deep hurt at what Peggy – who had been a good friend – had said, fear that what she said was true, and utter humiliation that all this was happening in the middle of the cafeteria. The two of them were glaring at each other when Mike Malloy came up.
“Peggy, that was way outta line.” He turned to Heather, “Heather…” but she was already turning on her heel and walking out of the cafeteria as quickly as she could without looking like she was running. He watched her go. “What the fuck, Lynd!”
“What? She asked for it.”
Two other pilots, the leaders of 1st and 2nd Squadron came over. Inga Von Beck sat down and said, “Peggy, have a seat.”
“I don’t feel like….”
The other pilot a broad-shouldered Finn, Paavo Puurunen said a bit more forcefully, “She wasn’t asking, Lynd. It’s long past time we all had a talk.”
She sat down, crossing her arms over her chest. “Fine. Talk.”
Malloy looked at the other two pilots, then back to Peggy. “Peggy, that was the most hideous thing I think I’ve ever heard one person say to another. Especially someone who’s been your friend and nothing but nice to you.”
She turned her head and studied the wall.
“What’s he to you, anyway?”
There was a long pause. “He’s a friend. I’d like him to be more.”
Paavo said, “I don’t think he wants to be more. And why this big play for Sterling? Get tired of all the other pretty boys?”
She turned and glared at him, “I do not sleep around.”
Inga held her hand up, stopping Paavo’s response, “No one said you did.” She was at least as pretty as Peggy, but quite a bit less outgoing; Unless she chose to be, which wasn’t often. “Peggy, you can have your pick of any guy you run across. You weren’t this interested in Sterling last year – so why are you pushing so hard to get him interested?” She waited for an answer. “It’s because he isn’t interested, isn’t it?”
Peggy glared at her. “I do not think so.”
“I do.” Inga responded. Malloy raised an eyebrow and she continued, “It drives you nuts doesn’t it? He’s paying all this attention to another woman, one you don’t think is as pretty as you, and so you start questioning how pretty you really are, so you want to prove that you can catch his eye.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
Paavo said, “On target, Von Beck.” and Peggy scowled at him.
“It’s made you fucking ugly Peggy.” Inga said quietly. She studied her fellow pilot. “And you know what? I’d always heard that you can be the most physically beautiful person on Earth and still be truly ugly. I never believed it until now. And I really don’t think I want anything to do with someone that ugly.” she stood up and left.
Paavo stood and said, “Lynd, like she said, you can have anyone to any degree you choose. Heather’s unique and different enough that there aren’t that many people who are willing to be close to her, much less emotionally close. I think I’m with Inga. Until you decide to rejoin the human race, fuck off.” He flipped Peggy the bird and followed Inga out.
Stung, she snapped at Malloy, “Well?”
He studied her for a few moments and shook his head sadly. Without saying a word he pushed his chair back, stood up and walked out of the cafeteria as well, leaving her sitting alone. She stayed there for quite some time trying to convince herself that she was right and everyone else was wrong.

* * *
Heather was still curled into a ball on her bunk where she had been for several hours. She had long since cried herself out. There was no one here who knew her culture – not that she really had a culture. She had a weird mix of human and Dosadi cultures. She always thought she prided herself on being able to fit easily in both, but she knew she really didn’t fit in either. She didn’t smell right to Dosadi boys, human boys thought she looked like an animal. None of the boys on Dosad thought she was pretty; Her fur was a weird color and spotted and her ears were a funny shape. The only people who ever said she was pretty were her family, and that doesn’t count. They said things like that just to make you feel good, not because it was true. Girls on Dosad thought there was something wrong with her and steered clear, while girls on Earth simply excluded her when they weren’t stabbing her in the back.
She’d had a few close friends on Dosad, and here on Earth and played at being mates a few times, but nothing ever worked out. They always left for someone more like themselves; she was just a practice run. She thought she had finally figured it out here at the Academy. There were plenty of aliens, so she wasn’t the only different one. Her classmates seemed to really like and respect her and then she had met Mike Malloy and she really felt like she had found a home. They both figured out pretty quickly that they weren’t meant to be mates – but he was one of her closest friends ever. He could make her feel pretty even while he teased her about looking like a cat. She wished he were here right now, so she could hold him and not feel so completely alone.
She rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling. What was wrong with her? No, she thought, what was right with her? After all, what would someone like Andy ever see in someone like her? They were the best flying team ever, she was sure. If he loved flying with her half as much as she loved flying with him, that was something at least. She thought he did. He liked her. He had to – she looked up at her helmet, hanging on the wall like a display. It was supposed to be down in the LSE (Life Support Equipment) locker, but she always ‘forgot’ to check it in. The word ANGEL looked back at her.
Maybe he did see her as an angel. A mythical thing. Not real. Definitely not human. Not Dosadi either. Just…a thing. She curled back up again.
It was midnight when there was a soft knock on her door. She thought about ignoring it, but after a few moments, the rap-rap-rap came again. A real knock, not the usual door chime. Wiping her eyes she called out, “Come.”
The door cycled open and standing there was Peggy Lynd. “Wait! Please, don’t say anything. I want to apologize. May I come in, please?” Heather couldn’t decide what to do. “Please?”
Not trusting her voice, she nodded. She knew she looked like a disaster – she had been crying for hours and her nose had been running.
Peggy took a couple steps into the room and sat down on the floor, looking straight down. “Heather, I’m really, truly, completely sorry for what I said to you.” She looked up and Heather realized she had been crying as well. “I was horrible, and I would take it back if I could. I didn’t mean to hurt you…No, scratch that. I meant to hurt you, and I did hurt you, and I’m sorry.” She looked down again. “I’m jealous. I didn’t know it, but some people set me straight. I didn’t even know what a total bitch I was being to you for a long time.”
Heather blinked in surprise, unable to speak.
“I’m insecure.” she laughed a little, “Did you know that? I didn’t.”
“What?”
Peggy sniffed and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “Paavo and Inga told me. Well, they told me that was the reason I was chasing Andy.” She looked up, “I’m so sorry, Heather. I’ll stop. I’m really not that person.” She took out her PADD. “I found something for you. It’s an old song, and it’s really sad, so I think you’ll like it. I don’t think there’s anything else out there by this person, but the title fits you. I’ll just leave it.” She stood up and backed the two steps towards the door. As it cycled open she said, “I hope you’ll forgive me, but I understand if you don’t.” And she left, the door ‘swoosh’-ing closed.
Heather stared at the door for a long time before glancing down at the floor. Peggy had left her PADD. That simply wasn’t done – your PADD held all your contacts, your messages, your files, it tied you in to the main computer, it was vital to day to day life. And she had left it on the floor. Unlocked.
She reached down and picked it up. There was a song keyed up with the title ‘“COURAGE KNOWS NO BOUNDS”  – Heather Alexander.’She  tapped it into life and a guitar strummed softly:
1 I looked across the battlefield,
Blood seeping from my wounds-
My comrades, they did never yield,
For courage knows no bounds-
And yet, I thought as I stood there,
Of all that it had cost-
For what we gained, it seemed not fair ,
For all that we had lost-

They spoke of honour, faith and pride,
defending for our home-
Through honour all my friends have died,
their faith left me alone-
We fought for greed, we fought for fame,
we killed too much to tell-
The devil and God were both the same,
we worshiped only Hell-

We fought it seemed for a thousand years,
a million nights and days-
Sharing one laugh with a hundred tears,
seeing clearly through a haze-
Then came that day I know not when,
beneath a blood red sun,
A-top a pile of dying men,
they said that we had won-

Another tract of land is all
the territory gained-
Will that ever pay for all
the lives here lost or maimed?
Bodies lying all around,
blood bathing them in red,
Their white eyes staring at the sun,
these, the countless dead?

I looked across the battlefield,
blood seeping from my wounds-
My comrades, they did never yield,
for courage knows no bounds-

She held the PADD for a long time after that, playing the song twice more before transferring it onto her own. She touched the lock, closing off access to Peggy’s PADD and set it on her bureau. Lying back down on her bed, she fell asleep looking at the word ANGEL on her flight helmet.

* * *
The next morning, Heather made her way to the cafeteria a little later than normal. She hadn’t slept all that well. Picking up a light breakfast, she looked across the room and saw Peggy sitting alone at an empty table – the only table with just one person sitting at it, in fact. Normally there was never an empty seat by her. She paused a moment and then walked over to her table. “May I sit with you?”
Peggy looked up and smiled hopefully, “Yes, please do!”
Heather sat down and pulled out Peggy’s PADD. She slid it across the table to the other woman. “Thank you.”
Peggy reached for the device and Heather put her hand on top of hers. Peggy looked up at her. Heather said “It’s OK.” and smiled.
“Are you sure, Heather? I mean…” she left the rest unsaid.
“I’m sure.” she squeezed Peggy’s hand. “And I love the song.”
Peggy laughed with relief, “You have no idea how glad I am to hear that. I was trying to find something you didn’t have and I saw the name and the singer’s name and it just seemed so perfect – I’d never heard you play one like it so I was pretty sure you didn’t have it.”
“I didn’t.” She let go of her hand and picked up a fork.
Across the cafeteria, Inga and Paavo were watching the exchange and wondering what was being said. Paavo said, “Huh. How the hell did that happen so fast?”
Inga watched for a moment longer, “Lynd’s not stupid. I think she listened to us better than I thought she had.” Seeing Sterling coming across the cafeteria she continued, “Oh shit. Here’s the acid test.”
He paused for a step, sighed, and continued on to Peggy and Heather’s table. Accepting the inevitable, he sat next to Peggy. “Good morning!”
Peggy looked at him and said, “Good morning. Sorry if I’ve been a bitch lately, Andy. Anyway, I have to go. See ya!” And she stood up, grabbed her tray and left.
At their table, Paavo chuckled, “I will be dipped in dogshit.”
Sterling said to Heather, “What was that all about?”
“We kinda got into it yesterday, but it’s OK now.”
“You did? What about?”
“Girl stuff.” she smiled at him, “None of your business, nosy.”
“Oookkaaaay….Anyway, I’ve got some ideas for some training – this is the first chance I’ve had to talk with you alone…”

CHAPTER 5
“Seize the time… Live now. Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.”
– CPT Jean-Luc Picard, USS Enterprise (Human)
STARFLEET ACADEMY, SAN FRANCISCO, EARTH
MARCH 2290
Admiral Angie Stone sat in Captain Spruance’s office early Friday morning. “I’m glad you could see me on such short notice, Captain. I really hadn’t expected to be back on Earth quite yet – something of a happy coincidence, really.”
“Always a pleasure, Admiral. What can I help you with?”
“There’s a cadet I’d like to steal for a weekend pass, if I could.”
He cocked his head, “What for, if I may ask?”
“I’m an old friend of the family and I wanted to check on her progress and take her to visit some family at the same time. Really, nothing more than a pleasure cruise if you will, so I completely understand if this isn’t possible, or even advisable.”
“Well, we’ve just finished mid-term exams, so I could probably spare one cadet for a weekend. Who is it?” He tapped at his desktop, prepared to bring up student records.
“I believe she enlisted under the name Heather Wilkes She’s…”
“Oh. That one.” he interrupted, lowering his hands to his lap.
She stopped, mid-sentence. “That’s not a good sign, Captain.”
He laughed, “No, no – not like that. But let me just say I’m thrilled that she is the only one of her family to attend here.”
“Well, her father was in my class – in fact, he was the Goat that year.”
“Yes, I looked at his records. Causing problems seems to run in the family, but she’s closer to the top of her class than the bottom. A lot closer.”
“She’s been causing trouble? That’s not like the young woman that I know.”
“I’m sorry, Admiral, I’m not being clear. The problems she causes are due to her exuberance, energy, and irrepressibility, especially when flying with another of our cadets. I had to take steps.”
“Steps?” she interrupted, “Romantic involvement? You and I both know that’s as common as PT here, Captain.”
He laughed again, “Yes, shocking, isn’t it? Take a group of adventurous, highly fit, highly motivated, highly intelligent young men and women, put them together in close conditions and under high stress and they tend to hook up with each other. Who could predict such a thing?”
“And of course neither of US ever did such a thing during our days here…” Stone smiled.
“No, never.” he winked, “In any case, no, to the best of my knowledge the two are not romantically involved – which I’m actually rather surprised about as they are always together and there was an…a near incident in the cafeteria with another female cadet recently over the boy in question.”
“So what is the issue?”
“When the two of them fly together, it is as though they are two halves of the same being. They are nearly impossible to defeat and as nearly impossible to restrain. Safety, regulations, orders – it is as though they occupy some other universe when they are in the cockpit. The Commandant and I had to issue special orders to deal with the situation.”
“Special orders?”
“Yes, the two of them are student commanders of a 3-squadron flight each and are forbidden to fly anywhere near each other during the week and required to fly against each other without limits on the weekends.”
She laughed, “Oh my. I’d bet Risk Management had a collective coronary over that one.”
“More than one. But it was either that or kick them both out and I don’t want to lose that caliber of student for that sort of reason. Since we yoked them with student command, they’ve been exemplary cadets and outstanding leaders and trainers.”
“So then I may take her with me?”
“I’ll tell you what. Take them both. I’ve loaded them both heavily with extra duties; They’re capable of handling it, but a break would be good for them, keep them sharp.”
“Both? Who is the other cadet?”
“Oh, I didn’t mean to force him on you – I offer him to you if you wish to have him along. He is Cadet Andrew Sterling, cadet leader of Alpha Flight, while she commands Bravo Flight.”
“I think I’ll take you up on that, Captain – at least as far as dinner tonight is concerned. I’d like to meet this young man.”

* * *
A few minutes later, Stone was standing at the PT field, watching the formation of cadets come double-timing back from a run. She waited patiently while the formation leader ran them through stretches and cool-down exercises, taking a moment to collar one of the assistants. The assistant in turn, spoke in the leader’s ear as he was finishing up the morning’s PT. He glanced over at the Admiral and called the group to order:
“Company…Attention!” He glanced over his formation, “Assemble to the right…MARCH!” When they had completed this movement he continued, “With the exception of Cadets Sterling and Heather, fall out to personal hygiene and chow. Company…FALL OUT!”
“Cadets Sterling and Heather! Report to Admiral Stone! Group…FALL OUT!”
The two double-timed over to the Admiral, Sterling wondering what they had screwed up now.
He sounded off loud and strong, “Cadets Sterling and Heather reporting as ordered, Ma’am!”
“Relax, cadet. Hello, Heather.”
“Hello Aunt Angie…er…Admiral.”
He looked over at Heather, “AUNT…” and shut up.
Stone grinned and said, “Cadets, I have managed to spring you both for a 48 hour pass starting after final formation. So, you will report to me at CQ in civilian attire appropriate for a nice dinner at 1800 hrs. Now, go get cleaned up and get to the day’s training. Fall out!”
They both saluted and double-timed off to the barracks.
When they got there, several of their squadron mates were anxiously waiting to question them, “What’s up? Who was that? What’d you guys do NOW?!”
Sterling said, “AUNT ANGIE?!”
Heather said, “She’s not really my Aunt, that’s just the closest word for what we call it on Dosad. She’s a really close friend of my father’s and I’ve known her since I was little.”
Several voices clamored for attention, “She’s your aunt? What’d she want? How come she’s here?”
Sterling shook his head, “We scored a 48 hour pass!”
“What?! No way – Take us with you! Loafers!”
“Suck it!” he laughed and headed in to the showers.

* * *
Later that evening they were sitting at a private table at The Franciscan, with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge while they waited for their dinners to arrive. “Heather, you never told me you were related to an Admiral!”
“I never told anyone. Not even Malloy.”
Stone sipped her wine, content to simply listen.
“How come?”
“I didn’t want people thinking I thought I was only there because she pulled strings, or that I figured I could get away with things because I had pull. I just wanted to be me.”
Stone spoke, “So I’m guessing she didn’t tell you about the other…oddities in her family either?”
“Others?”
“Aunt Angie…”
“I’m not sure how many will mean anything to you…Do you know who her father is?”
“No?”
“Have you heard of Captain Thomas Wilkes?”
“I don’t think so. What ship?”
“No ship – he’s an Engineer, but he’s also a spy.”
“He is NOT!” Heather protested.
“A spy? Are you serious?” he asked.
“Very. And Heather, dear, if he’s not a spy, how do you explain your Uncle Jons?”
Sterling, more puzzled than ever asked, “Uncle Jons?”
“He’s not really my Uncle, that’s just…”
“Yeah, I get it. Who is he?”
Stone chuckled, “He’s the head of Hydran Intelligence, but he spent the better part of 5 decades stealing information from the Federation, Klingons, Romulans, and God alone knows who else.”
“Your father’s a spy?”
“No!”
“Shall I tell him about Cousin Ceena?” Stone asked, taking another sip of her wine.
“She’s not…” Heather tried to explain.
“Yeah, I get it, I get it. Who is she? The President of Vulcan or something?”
Stone laughed, “No, she married Jons’ son Tir. They’re Xeno-biologists. If you study the field at all you will have have heard of some of their work in comparative mitochondrial DNA in photo-genetic cells across the Alpha Quadrant. They’re also, as part of House Jons, fabulously wealthy.
Hmmm. Have you heard from your brother Corin, lately?”
“Not for a couple of months. Why?” she asked.
“He’s now a tactical officer aboard the ISS Tarak. That’s a Raider-class vessel, Sterling.”
“Aren’t those pirates?” he asked.
“More like Special Forces. They have a very annoying tendency to show up where they’re least expected and least wanted. Very fast, very heavily armed, and cloaked. The fact that they dress like pirates when off-duty does not help their image any.”
“Jesus, Heather!”
“Perhaps you should hope she doesn’t take after her mother.” She winked at Heather, who glared back at her.
“Why?”
“Have you studied the battle at Airdrie yet?”
“Airdrie? No?”
“Oh that’s right, that’s third year Fleet Tactics. Well, when you get to that seminar, you’ll view some tapes of infantry combat on a Gorn battlestation.  Pay particular attention to the Dosadi Marine who will be discussed. Usually a Starfleet Security officer presents that briefing.”
“You’re mom’s a Marine?”
“A rather famous one, at that…” Stone supplied.
“Heather, is your whole family like that?!”
“No, no” Stone grinned again. “Her brother Rollin and his mate are nice, quiet, farmers here on Earth. And her sister Nollos is something of a bard back on Dosad– but she’s becoming pretty well known.”
“Aunt Angie, that’s enough!”
Stone laughed again, the musical sound attracting admiring glances from a number of men in the restaurant. “I’m sorry Heather, it’s an old Earth tradition for relatives to embarrass their younger relations in front of their friends. And you’re my favorite niece, so you get picked on!”
“I’m almost your only niece!”
Stone stuck her tongue out at Heather who responded in kind. Sterling thought that was the first and very probably the last time he would see an admiral stick their tongue out.
She continued, “Well, Heather, this Sunday is Easter and I was planning on dragging you to your grandparents so that you could attend services with them.” Heather squealed like a little girl and Stone added, “Sterling, I’m sure you’d be welcome there, it’s in Leyburn, North Yorkshire, England; From what I’ve heard about your flying, I’d like to get to know you a little bit better as well. I like to keep my eye out for potential assets for upcoming operations, but this is an invitation, not an order. You’ve got the free time to do with as you please, as long as you’re back before first formation Monday morning.”
He thought for all of a second and a half, “I’d love to come if I’m welcome. My family lives in Ft. William, maybe I could sneak up there for a couple of hours too.”
“Or longer – as I said, your time is your own this weekend.” She thought to herself, and I’ll get to study the two of you together as well.
“Probably not longer. They…Well, they were never happy with my decision to join Starfleet.” He looked down, “They’re xenophobes. They don’t even like people who don’t speak English.”
Heather looked stricken. Stone covered for her, “What about Standard?”
“They speak Standard when they have to, but they don’t like it. I’m pretty ashamed of them, actually. But…”
“We can’t pick our relatives, Sterling.” She glanced at Heather and thought, “Well, except in one case…” The waiter interrupted their conversation, bringing salads and wine.

* * *
NORTH YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND, EARTH
MARCH 2290
The vet let loose of the sheep’s leg, watching the ewe keep the weight off it, the early morning fog adding a dampness to everything. “You know, Wilkes, whenever you call me out here, I never know if I’m going to be treating one of your animals or young Rollin here.”
The elder Rollin chuckled while the Dosadi said, “Ah, I’m fairly sure that none o’ the rest o’ yer patients talk. An ye’d be afraid of what they’d say if they could!” By now his English had lost much of the usual Dosadi accent and was instead picking up a Yorkshire brogue.
Dr. April laughed and said, “A point for you then, lad. It looks like footrot is all. I’ll get you a spray from the lorry and make sure you keep their hooves trimmed, right? And we’ll set up a walk-through tray for them as well to keep it from spreading.”
There was a squeal from the roadway and the three men turned to see Heather sprinting towards them. She jumped in the air and wrapped her arms and legs around the big Yorkshireman, much to his discomfort, while her brother and the veterinarian chuckled.
“Lass! Di’ ye run awa’ from t’Academy, now?”
Squeezing him tight she said, “No, Grandpa! Aunt Angie got us a pass!”
Her brother said, “Us?” looking at the tall young man standing slightly behind Admiral Stone. In his civilian clothes he looked like he had walked off of a mens’ fashion runway.
Before Heather could let loose of her grandfather and introduce them, Sterling held his hand out to Rollin, introducing himself, “Cadet Andy Sterling. I’m pleased to meet you.”
Rollin rubbed his hand down his coveralls and took Sterling’s hand with a firm shake. “I’m Rollin, Heather’s oldah brother.” Sterling was surprised to see that he was marked quite a bit more like a full Dosadi, though his face and ears were closer in shape to Heather’s.
She snorted “By all of 5 minutes.”
At 5′, Rollin was not tall by human standards but he was half a foot taller than Heather. “Still oldah.” He messed up the fur between her ears.
She ducked away from his hand and said, “This is my Grandpa Wilkes.”
Sterling shook his hand, trying not to wince at the powerful squeeze. The big man was not quite glaring at him. “Pleased to meet you, sir.” He was proud that he kept his voice steady and resisted the urge to check for fractures when he got his hand back. He wasn’t used to having to look up at people, but Rollin Wilkes was several inches taller and looked like he could carry a small car without difficulty.
The vet smiled and said, “I’m Dr. April, lad. Always glad to meet a friend of the Wilkes’ clan, they’ve added some much needed fresh air to Leyburn!”
Rollin stifled a grin and said, “Grandfather, I’ll take them up t’house if you’re OK t’finish up here?”
“Aye.”
A few minutes later the four of them trooped into the house, Rollin calling out, “Grandmother! We’ve go’ guests!”
Mrs. Heather Wilkes came out of her kitchen, wiping her hands on a dishrag and caught sight of her granddaughter. “Heather!” and they ran to each other, embracing immediately.
Rollin turned to Sterling. “I’ll save ye some confusion. My grandfather and I are both named Rollin, an’ my sister an’ grandmother are both named Heather.”
Sterling shook his head, “I’ll stick with Mr and Mrs Wilkes then.”
“Aye, tha’s wise.” he grinned at the taller human who smiled back.

* * *
Early that evening, Sterling leaned back and groaned. “I think I’ve eaten so much I’m going to die. That was the best food I’ve ever eaten.”
Grandmother Wilkes smiled, “Flatterer. Ye saved room for desser’ now? I won’t be sendin’ ye t’services hungry!”
“My parents will be thrilled that I’m going to Easter Services, Mrs Wilkes. I had no idea that Heather’s family were Church of England like my parents are.”
She said, “Tis t’faith tha’ matters, nae t’building.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
The family spent the rest of the time before services in pleasant conversation as any re-united family would. By the time services were over and they had returned to the house, everyone was very ready to head to bed. While they were going through the front door, Sterling found his path blocked by Mr. Wilkes’ imposing bulk.
He turned and looked down at him. “Lad,”
“Sir?”
“There will be nah funny business under my roof t’night.”
“No, SIR!”
He studied Sterling for a moment in the light of the porch lamp, finally nodding and turning to go inside.
Andy hesitated for a second wondering if it would be safer to sleep in the barn, then followed him in. He wondered if he was going to have to deal with her brother as well.
Fortunately, the Dosadi look at such things in a very different light than humans do and their only encounter was a friendly wave from Rollin and his mate as they headed off to their room. He went in to  the room Mrs. Wilkes had set up for him and looked around.  He thought this must have been Heather’s father’s room. Pictures of  the same man from a young age up to what must have been secondary school, lots of books on every subject under the sun and a couple of models of ancient aircraft.
He sat on the edge of the bed, and began undressing. He realized that he felt very at home with these people. More than his real home, in fact. The easy mixing of so many different types of people at the Wilkes’ table, the friendly acceptance, all combined to put him at his ease. As long as he kept clear of any ‘funny business’, he grinned to himself. Obviously they had jumped to the conclusion that he was ‘involved’ with their granddaughter. And just as obviously wouldn’t stand idly by while someone hurt her. Or behaved improperly towards her for that matter.
He thought about how much he had learned about Heather in the past 24 hours and it shocked him. He thought he knew her from flying with her, from studying with her, from leading other cadets with her. What he knew was who she was in the world of Starfleet; Now he was filling in a lot of blanks about who she was outside of duty and that seemed to make her considerably more…complete. Which didn’t help his problem at all. He liked these people – a lot.
Now he wanted to be ‘involved’ with her even more, and the more he wanted that, the more terrified he became that the same thing would happen. He couldn’t stand that again. The shame, the humiliation, the jokes, the laughter, and he just couldn’t risk it. She’d find out he was a stutterer for sure then. He’d be grounded, kicked out, and probably arrested for falsifying his enlistment papers.
But she wasn’t like Kristie. He hadn’t thought Kristie was like that either though, he argued with himself. Miserable, wishing more than anything he could be holding Heather right that moment, he lied back on the big old bed, hearing the springs squeak. He sighed heavily. A few moments later he heard soft footsteps outside his door and he held his breath. No one else in the house was that light. Maybe…
He didn’t know what to hope for.
Outside his door, Heather paused. Wearing an oversized t-shirt and shorts she thought she looked normal enough. Well, she couldn’t hide her legs. They were clearly not human. But still, maybe he’d want to share a bed tonight. She raised her hand to knock, but stopped short. No, she decided, that wouldn’t be fair. He was a guest. He might feel obligated to do whatever she asked, not because he wanted to. Human guesting traditions were complex.
She lowered her arm again, sagging her shoulders and walked back to her room, padding along on nearly silent bare feet.
Sterling realized he had been holding his breath. Maybe it was for the best, he decided. Sharing a bed with her would almost certainly qualify as ‘funny business’ and he really wanted to keep all his limbs attached to the rest of his body.
CHAPTER 6
“You have only always to do what is right. It will become easier by practice, and you enjoy in the midst of your trials the pleasure of an approving conscience.”
– GEN Robert E Lee, Earth (Human)
TAJOR WORK CAMP, ORIAS III, CARDASSIAN UNION
MARCH 2290
Legate Kai watched the little girl organizing the data files in their holders. “You’ve learned very quickly Fallon. I’m pleased enough that I won’t even punish you for continuing to share your rations with those who do no work and so deserve no food.”
She paused, frightened, then continued on trying to pretend that she wasn’t afraid of the monster. She needed to be brave, to do what he told her to. People depended upon her. They needed her. She was strong! But when there was a knock at the door, she jumped and almost dropped the data rod she was holding.
“COME!” Kai bellowed. The door opened and a green Orion male came into the room, “Legate, we have loaded up your shipment and are ready to leave.”
“Excellent, Dejan. Perhaps you can help us find a market for something new.”
The Free Trader smiled, “One can always look for new markets. What are the goods?” He watched the little girl working quietly and looked back to Kai.
“I’m not entirely sure – We’ve got a planet full of these clever little animals; nearly half a billion! We need to make room for a Cardassian colony and as you know, this world is very resource poor. They’re simply in the way. I’m thinking they could be sold as household servants, or perhaps there may be a market for the hides. Their markings are interesting.”
Dejan Lilac was horrified, but he was a veteran of many, many negotiations and showed no sign. “Animals? I thought they talked? Aren’t they sentient?” He was an occasional slaver, but selling sentient beings’ skins went beyond even his morals. There were standards when keeping and selling slaves. What he had seen on Orias III had sickened him.
Kai laughed. “No, no, don’t be silly. They’ve mastered a few phrases and a few tricks. It takes a lot of training with traditional techniques to get them to do the simplest tasks. But once trained, they are quite reliable. But they are so small, perhaps they wouldn’t be of any use in any heavy labor. Still, they could be used as research animals, household servants, or perhaps as game animals for those species who enjoy the hunt!”
Keeping his expression carefully neutral he said, “There could be considerable profit in the right markets, but it will take some time to find and develop those markets.” He gestured at Fallon, who had frozen in place. “Perhaps you would let me take this one as a sample?” The level of monstrosity he was seeing was unlike anything he had encountered on many barbaric worlds. The use of living creatures for research had gone out of style across the known galaxy centuries ago and deliberately starving any living being was unspeakable.
Kai shook his head, “No, I finally have this one trained enough to be of some use, I’ll not part with her. Pick one of the others – but I expect to be paid in full once a price is established.”
Lilac bowed his head, “Of course, Legate. I wouldn’t jeopardize my relationship with such a valued trading partner for such a small amount. Especially not with so much potential profit awaiting me!”
“Good. I will see you in what, three months?”
“That is my next scheduled run this direction, Legate. I may shift that date as I shop my sample around.”
“That’s fine. Safe travels, Dejan.”
The Orion left the office and tried to think what to do. A younger adult female Oriasling was shuffling past, walking towards the further barracks, obviously tired and worn down. Gesturing, he ordered two of his crew “That one. Take her to the ship and put her in the slave holds.”
Back inside the office, Fallon was trying hard not to pee herself. What she had heard today went beyond any nightmare she had ever had, even after all that had happened to her recently. For a brief moment she thought she heard her mother scream her name, but that was silly. Her mother was back in their barracks. She looked at Kai, her black eyes wide, “We’re not animals!”
He laughed, “Of course you are, Fallon. You think you’re people? What a charming belief!”
“We are!”
“And why do you think that?”
“We can talk and think and we’ve got hands and…We just ARE!”
Shaking his head and with a sad expression Kai said, “No Fallon, there is more to being ‘people’ than being able to talk. There are many animals across the galaxy that can talk and learn tricks like you have, but they’re not ‘people’.
“Look, you have no weapons, no ships, no machines, nothing that marks you as different from an animal.”
“We have houses!”
“Fallon, even clorats build little wooden houses in the water, and they have a language of their own as well. That’s what those little chittering sounds are, you know.”
“But…But…we…we build things and we have tools!”
“So do the clorats, They build great dams and they use flat pieces of wood as barges to haul mud. They build more things than you do.”
She was confused. She knew they were people. But what made them people? How did you tell? “Well, we don’t go around killing things just because.”
Kai clapped, “Exactly, Fallon! Animals don’t do that. PEOPLE do that. We kill to conquer, we kill to take what we need or want, we kill to ensure the safety of our species. We kill to gain food. We kill for a thousand different reasons. Animals like you don’t, they simply accept whatever happens to them as unchangeable.”
She struggled not to cry. She wasn’t an animal. She wasn’t.
“Oh, Fallon, it’s OK. You’ve become my favorite pet, I didn’t mean to upset you. Here, take some extra rations back with you and share them out as a reward for being so good today. I give you permission.”
She would be strong. She would be brave. She would take the monster’s food and get away with it. Carefully, she picked up the ration tray and politely said, “Thank you, sir.” And left as quickly as she could, trotting back to the barracks as fast as possible.
Pushing the door open with her backside, she proudly displayed the extra rations, “Mommy! I got even more food for everyone! And he’s going to sell us! Or kill us! Or something!”
An older woman took the rations and began distributing them.
“Where’s Mommy?”
“She hasn’t come back yet, child. She went to Barracks 1 to help with the ill.”
“Kai said we’re animals, Gor.” She explained Kai’s argument to the old woman.
“He is a sick being, child. He has things completely backwards. Animals kill without thinking – much as the Cardassians do. They kill simply because they can and because they want to. We are more deserving of the title ‘people’ than they – ‘people’ are moral animals, Fallon. We have the ability to know what is right and what is wrong, and to act accordingly. Animals react on instinct, doing only that which gains them rewards and avoiding that which causes them pain.
“A very long time ago, our people decided that all of the shiny things that the Cardassians think makes them people were only making us evil. They allowed us to kill and destroy and hurt without thought, without conscience. We nearly destroyed all life on this planet, so we turned away from all of that and dedicated our lives to living – to being part of the living world, to living morally. We do as little harm as possible, understanding that having the ability to do a thing does not mean that we should do a thing. We are moral. We are people because we choose to be moral.
“Do you understand, Fallon?”
“I think so, Gor. But he is going to sell us! Or kill us for our skins! Or I don’t even remember, it’s horrible!”
The old woman sat down next to the child. “Yes, it is horrible, Fallon. And I know you want to stop it somehow, because you are a kind and compassionate and moral person. But only God knows the consequences of all actions. Were you to do what is in your heart – somehow kill all of those who are hurting us…” Seeing Fallon’s guilty expression she said, “Child, it is OK to have those feelings. Were you an animal, you would act on them. Because you are not an animal, because you are not evil, you will do the right thing and endure. But were you to somehow magically kill all the Cardassians, what would happen? You do not know. Your pain would stop, but how much pain would you cause others? How much horror would cascade from your actions, with the best of intentions? You cannot know.
“Even if you were to somehow be granted the power to kill them all and return us to our homes, I would not want you to bear that burden.”
“What if an angel came down and drove them all away?”
“Fallon, there is no such thing as angels. But were that to happen, we would accept it as we do the suffering the Cardassians have brought to us. It is life, Fallon and it is what we make of it.”
“There aren’t supposed to be monsters either, Gor, but there are. The Cardassians are monsters.”
The old woman looked at the little girl. “Don’t make them into something more than they are, Fallon. They are evil people, but that is all that they are.”
Another Oriasling came into the barracks. “Fallon, you must be strong.”
“I am strong! Wait. What’s happened? What’s wrong?”
The man knelt down and took hold of her shoulders. “The green-skinned man has taken your mother away in his ship.”
She blinked. She struggled not to scream. Part of her mind simply blew a fuse and shut down and she said coldly, “Then she will have food.” The seven year-old stood up and went to make sure that her extra rations had gone to those who needed it most while the two adults stared after her, shocked.

* * *
FEDERATION EMBASSY TO THE ORION FREE TRADERS, ALPHA QUADRANT
MARCH, 2290
Dejan Lilac was frustrated and getting angry. “You do not understand what it is that I have seen.”
“You’ve made it quite plain. The Cardassians have some animals penned up in bad conditions and you dislike it.” the bureaucrat said.
“These are not animals! They are sentient beings! You’ve talked with her! What test do you need to perform so that you open your piggish eyes and see?”
“There is no need to be rude. What I consider this being is of no consequence. They are on a Cardassian planet in Cardassian space. The matter is strictly internal. Besides, I have no proof of what you’ve said – just the word of a…” the pudgy little man paused and smirked, “Free Trader. Would you have the Federation go to war because your delicate sensibilities have been upset?”
Lilac stood up. “You are a pig and you are a fool. I will find someone else who will listen to sense and do what must be done. Surely somewhere in the Federation is a man. They cannot all be pigs.” He spat on the desk and left, taking Fallon’s mother in tow.
After he left, the pudgy man unclenched his jaw and quickly encoded a message on his PADD. He Keyed it for a sub-space burst transmission to piggy-back with the Embassy’s usual traffic where it wouldn’t be noticed by the regular staff.

* * *
STARFLEET ACADEMY, SAN FRANCISCO, EARTH
MARCH, 2290
“Come!” Captain Spruance bellowed. The door cycled open and two cadets stepped inside.
“Cadets Sterling and Heather reporting as ordered, sir!” Andy sang out.
“Have a seat, cadets.” After they did so, he smiled, “I’d like to congratulate you both. It’s been over three months since your last safety violation!”
Both cadets blushed and shifted uncomfortably in their chairs.
He laughed, “I’d also like to point out that you’ve set a record for Academy flight hours both individually and as a class for this last quarter. You have also achieved one of the highest class GPAs in Academy history for that same quarter. That speaks well of your leadership.”
“Thank you, sir!” Sterling said.
“No need for thanks. Those are cold, hard facts. But I do have something you can thank me for.”
“Sir?”
“There is an actual mission that needs to be flown.”
“Combat?” Heather interrupted excitedly.
Spruance laughed, “No. And don’t interrupt, cadet. We have an F-Class shuttlecraft loaded up with some new, highly valuable and very delicate research equipment to be delivered to the Vulcan Science Academy on short notice. I’ve selected you two to pilot it. Flown cautiously, the trip should take you about four days each way. You’ll deliver the gear, spend one full day on Vulcan for rest and recovery, and then return.”
“Sir! That’s awesome!” Heather said excitedly.
Always the thinker, Sterling said, “Sir, what about our Flights?”
“This will be a perfect chance to see how they do without you. If you’ve done your jobs well, no one should even notice you’re gone. Who’s next in line for your slots?”
Sterling said, “Inga Von Beck.”
Heather contributed “Mike Malloy.”
“They’re both more than capable. Pack your gear, cadets. Pre-flight is at 1300 with take-off immediately following. We’ll see you in nine days.”
They both stood, and with broad smiles, saluted and left the office smartly.

CHAPTER 7
“You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships everyday. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.”
– Epicurus, Earth (Human)
FEDERATION SHUTTLECRAFT CONRAD, EN ROUTE TO VULCAN
MARCH, 2290
Heather yawned and looked over at Sterling. “They never mention that missions can be mind-numbingly boring.”
He laughed, “Yeah, and with only two of us, it’s watch-on-watch. That’s getting a little old after two days. But hey, we’re getting the job done, right? And it’s a real mission, not just another practice flight.”
“Oh come on, we’re safer in this placid little shuttlecraft flying in the middle of Federation space then we would be flying a dog-fight profile in the Training Range. Titan got pretty crazy.”
“I’m fine with things not being crazy for once!” he grinned and gestured at the main panel. “Why look, not a single alarm or warning ligh…” As he waved his hand two lights started blinking.
“What the hell?” she asked with a giggle.
He swiveled his chair and began typing at the main computer interface. “Gotta be from that system up ahead…” he scanned the readouts. “Nothing there. Just a Class-L planet. Dunno why the…Wait a second. Check course, will you?”
She worked for a few moments. “Delta-V 3 degrees port. Something’s not right.”
“Systems check – I’m correcting.”
“Working…Green board…Andy, watch your course, Delta-V 4 degrees sub-port.”
“She’s not responding. You sure we’re getting thrust?”
“Yeah, fuel consumption, thrust indicator, inertial, everything says we’re thrusting.”
The little shuttle roared as Andy doubled his attempt to correct for the deviation.
Heather sang out, “Got it! Gravimetric anomaly, port side, low, coming fast, Andy break, break, break!” But a tubby shuttlecraft is not a nimble, over-powered fighter. “Andy! BRACE FOR IMPACT!” There was a loud bang and the little ship spun in circles and Andy struggled to bring her back under control.
“Fuck me!” he said, “I need thrusters, now!”
“Nothing there – port nacelle’s off-line.” A grating alarm sounded and she continued “Fire, port nacelle! Activating the fire bottle.” and she yanked a handle on the overhead panel.
After a few seconds, Andy managed to get the shuttlecraft under control again, “Mayday, mayday mayday, shuttlecraft Conrad is declaring an emergency.”
Heather said, “Negative comms, Andy – whatever that was took everything on the hull off. We’ve lost main sensors, comms, and the gods only know how much of the port nacelle. Negative effect on the fire bottle – still getting fire warning.”
“I’m losing it, Heather, I need you on yaw and roll, I got pitch and thrust.”
“Wilco.”
“We need to set down before we fall apart.”
“There isn’t any place to set down. That’s Class-L, the atmosphere’s barely breathable.” As she said that, there was a high-pitched whistle and she called out, “Hull breach! Port side aft!”
“Jesus! What the hell hit us? Can you get to it?”
She looked at the status display now covered in red and yellow lights. “Negative – it’s under the deck plating.” Glancing back towards where the hole had to be, she shouted, “Shit! It’s spread from the nacelle – Fire in the cabin!” She spat in frustration and turned back to the controls, watching the planet grow in the view ports.
“Upping the thrust. We’re outta time, Heather. Barely breathable beats vacuum every time. Close the shutters, we’re gonna have to do this on instruments, we got no shields.”
“I’m getting shit for readings. Something’s screwing up all the returns.”
“Peachy. What else can go wrong?”
She laughed, “You asked – Primary inertial dampener failing.”
“Fuck!” but despite the emergency, he grinned at her.
The shuttlecraft was screaming down through the planet’s atmosphere, bucking wildly as the two pilots attempted to steer some sort of course despite her failing systems and the smoke beginning to fill the cabin.
Heather called out, “Primary’s gone – secondary ID failing. If we lose that we’ve got about 30 seconds on the emergency ID and then we’re smeared on the walls. Andy you gotta get us down.”
“WHERE?! There’s nothing there!”
The little ship continued to lose altitude “I got it – got a solid read 330 mark 350. Dammit!” she hissed as the ship barrel-rolled, both of them slamming around in their seats due to the failing inertial dampeners. “That was me, sorry!”
“Got it, got it yaw left, more, more…bring it back!”
“Secondary’s gone – SHIT! Pitch up we’re gonna…” there was another loud bang and the shuttle tumbled and ricocheted off a pile of rock, shedding chunks of hull and what was left of the port nacelle.
Andy opened his eyes, blinking to try to clear the spots from his vision. He was hanging from the straps in the right seat, so that meant the ship must have come to rest on her left side. There was the pinging sound of cooling metal, the stench of burning duranium and burning plastics. He looked down towards the left seat and saw that the impacts had crushed in the left side of the Conrad by several inches. Heather was hanging limply, her head against the side of the hull and blood beginning to run down the side. The fire was spreading towards her and the smoke was making it hard to see.
He grabbed a hand-hold on what had been the door frame and punched the quick-release on his harness. Bracing on the seat, he pushed the button to open the door, but nothing happened. Shaking his head he popped the emergency panel and pulled the handle out, flinching as the door blew open. The extra air-flow caused the fire to intensify and rain began pouring in the opening. Feeling it tingle on his skin he said, “What the fuck? Acid rain?
“Christ, what else can…” he left the rest unsaid as he dropped down to the crushed hull. The fire had started to singe Heather’s fur and it stank. He unstrapped her, easily lifting her 80 lbs while trying to ignore the growing fire curling up around his legs. He tried to lift her out of the door, but the angle was wrong and she was limp, dead weight. “Heather! Heather, you gotta wake up, I can’t reach.” His voice was going up in pitch as the pain in his legs increased. He stepped up on the broken seat, scrambling to get away from the heat. “Heather!” He tried again to get her out the door, managing to get her head out the opening. That finally got a groan.
“Dammit Heather! WAKE UP CADET!! GET YOUR ASS OUT THAT DOOR! MOVE CADET!!!” He put her rear end on his head and tried to launch her out of the shuttlecraft and she weakly pulled at the door frame, managing to get half-way out and then falling the rest of the way to the ground with a thud. Andy wasted no time getting back up to his seat. He banged open a compartment and grabbed a survival pack as various pieces of the research equipment began to cook off with bangs and hisses.
Dropping to the ground next to her, he pulled the pack on and slung her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “We gotta get the hell away from here, this thing is gonna blow.” Despite the burns to his legs, he started double-timing through the acid rain looking for some sort of shelter, coughing and trying to get enough air in his lungs from the crap this planet called atmosphere.
The sky overhead was a forbidding purplish with streaks of red occasionally illuminated with white flashes as lightning struck the ground or jumped from cloud to cloud. The wind whipped the rain nearly sideways and thunder rumbled as he ran, drowning out the sounds of his coughs. Deciding he was far enough from the wreck of the Conrad, he slowed to a walk, trying to catch his breath. The oxygen level was obviously low and there were significant amounts of sulfur, ammonia and methane in the air; Not enough to be lethal, just enough to suck the energy out of you and make it stink. Running while carrying Heather’s limp body and the heavy survival pack was a becoming a no-go. Wryly, he thought that he would never complain about a PT run again.
He stopped and looked around. About 50 m to his left there was a large pile of rocks that looked promising and he walked towards it. Squinting, his eyes watering from the acidic rain and his skin feeling like it was covered in steel wool, he tried to find some sort of shelter. A lightning bolt cracked overhead and illuminated a dark space; If nothing else it would get them out of this damn rain. He walked in and said, “Thank GOD. It’s about time we caught a break.” It wasn’t just a void under a few rocks it was an honest-to-god cave and big enough he could set up the shelter. Barely.
He set Heather down gently, taking a moment to smooth the fur on the side of her head, trailing his fingers down her neck and checking her pulse. It was strong and she wasn’t bleeding too badly. Head wounds always looked horrible. Anyway, the shelter had a filter, she’d be able to breath better in there and then he could treat her injuries with the med-kit. There was a crashing, tearing sound, louder than the thunder and punctuated with several smaller bangs. The Conrad had exploded. He wondered if the Emergency Locator Beacon had survived it. If it hadn’t, they were pretty well screwed.
Coughing again, he stripped off the survival pack and began setting up the shelter that made up much of the weight. There was supposed to be one pack per person, but there hadn’t been time enough to grab any others.  He remembered how boring the survival classes had been at first. And then how nightmarish it had gotten when they moved from the classroom into the field. One cadet had died, several others had sworn that if they ever had to repeat that training, they’d quit first. That training paid off now though, he thought to himself as he quickly set up the shelter and made sure the cave wasn’t in any danger of collapsing or dropping large heavy objects on them. It would be just their luck to find the damn planet was tectonically unstable as well.
He pulled Heather into the shelter and sealed the door. You could fit two people inside a survival shelter, but you had better be good friends. Taking the med-kit out of the pack, he began checking her for injuries. The scanner indicated a minor skull fracture, a few minor lacerations, lots of contusions, and a pair of broken ribs with some partial-thickness burns along her left arm and leg. He sprayed some clotting agent on the head wound and hesitated. There was an elastic bandage he could use for her ribs, but to do it right, he’d have to take her uniform jacket and shirt off.
This was a survival situation. She was injured. There were cuts on her torso as well. She needed aid. This wasn’t sexual, this was different. He couldn’t exactly take it off, he’d have to cut it off. He sighed, took out the trauma shears and started cutting. The heavy red fabric of the double-breasted jacket wasn’t easy to cut, but it would come off without aggravating her injuries. When he had her upper body exposed, he used the clot spray on the cuts, trying to focus on the task at hand rather then her breasts. He’d fantasized about what they looked like often enough, but this was not how he’d imagined seeing them. Finally he began wrapping the bandage around her ribs, gently sliding his hands under her back when he had to pass the elastic from one side to the other. He snugged it tight and she gasped at the pressure, her eyes slowly opening.
He continued to work on her for the few minutes it took her to regain her bearings. Taking out the burn-spray He covered the burns on her arm with the analgesic new-skin and looked down at her legs. The uniform trousers had melted and were pressing into the wounds. They weren’t bad enough to cut them off, so he shrugged and began undoing the fasteners. She had been watching him silently and finally spoke, her voice weak and quiet,
“I see how it is.” She hissed as he bumped a burn, “I can’t get you to share a bed with me, but as soon as you get me alone, you tear my clothes off.” she smiled weakly.
Blushing he pulled the burned trousers down her legs which were shaped much like a cat’s. It was harder than he thought and he fumbled several times as he tried like hell to not drag her panties off as well. “What the hell?” he thought to himself, “I did not expect pale pink panties.” For a moment he wondered how panties would work with her short tail. Then he swallowed in a throat that had gone dry and focused intensely on getting the trousers down without hitting the burns.
“You’re hurt, Heather. It’s OK though, it’s not bad.”
She didn’t say anything as he finished stripping her pants off and she felt the cool, soothing spray cover the burns on her leg. Finishing his treatment, he sat back and looked for any other injuries to his patient. Unfortunately, what he saw was not an anonymous patient in the combat life-saver course, but a young, female, half-Dosadi that he was very much in love with lying almost naked in front of him. He swallowed again and took a deep breath.
Heather stayed silent. He was blushing and obviously struggling with something in his mind. Nudity was no big deal to Dosadi, but it mattered to humans, a lot, for some reason. Maybe he thought she was ugly, or weird, or nasty or…
“I..I..I..I…” he stopped, closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. “I..I..T..t…t..think.” He gritted his teeth. A few moments of silence passed. “All fixed.” he finally said quickly, and then opened his eyes.
“You’re hurt too, Andy.” She sat up slowly, her legs tucked half under herself, groaning at the aches and pains. It was quite cool in the shelter, but he was sweating. She reached over and took the scanner from his hand.  She rested one hand on his thigh and moved the instrument over him, watching the readings. “There’s a lot of burns on your calves and shins, Andy.”
He nodded.
She looked him in the eye and reached for the fasteners on his trousers. She saw panic rise and he said, “No! I…I…I.” he stopped and breathed again, “Can.” She cocked her head to the side and nodded. Was he afraid of her? He didn’t look like he thought she was nasty; why would he be afraid?
He quickly shucked his pants off, gritting his teeth as the fabric scratched across the blisters on his calves. Smiling at him, she tucked her finger under the collar of his top, “This too, fly-boy.” He sighed and stripped it off. There were a number of abrasions and bruises from the shuttle’s harness and she treated those first, working her way down. “You’re going to have to lie down so I can get at the burns.”
There wasn’t a lot of room in the shelter, so he stretched himself out, trying to keep his lower legs off the floor. At least the boots had protected his feet. She trailed one finger down his upper leg as she sprayed the new-skin on the burns. There were shivers running up his back from the extra contact. His heart was hammering in his chest and he was panicking. Had she noticed the stutter? How could she have missed it! She hadn’t said anything though. Had she noticed that there was absolutely nothing happening where it should be? God DAMN he hated himself right now. She was going to laugh, and call him gay. Everyone would know he was useless. He had to do something – get away, but there was no place to go.
Heather shifted around so she was sitting with her legs folded along his. She looked down at him and extended one claw a little bit and gently traced a line up from his navel to his chest. “Andy?”
“W..w..wh..wh..what?”
“Do you think I’m gross, or just a thing or…”
He interrupted, “NO!”
She put her palm flat on his chest and looked up at him, puzzlement all over her furry face. “Then what’s wrong with me? Why don’t you…I mean…I know I’m not human, but…”
He was struggling to speak. Finally through his worsening stutter he got out “Not you. Me.”
She laid her much smaller torso on his and thought that the rock floor would be softer. She put her chin on her hand and asked, “What do you mean?”
His hands balled into fists, he fought with his stutter to try to explain and finally in his frustration he said “I’m so sorry. Stupid stutter. I’m so screwed.”
Smiling, she said, “I don’t care. I love your voice. You can take as long as you want to say whatever. That’s why I like to sing with you so much. And you’re not screwed. I’m not telling anyone.” She laughed, “Why would I want to lose the best flying partner ever? And my best friend.”
Still stuttering he asked, “You really don’t mind?”
“Nope.” She met his eyes and smiled.
It took a long time, Heather curled up on his chest, watching him with a slight smile, giving no sign that his stuttering bothered her in the slightest. He finally got the story out. “I’ve stuttered my whole life. My folks keep to themselves and I was home schooled until almost the end of Secondary School. I had almost completely stopped stuttering – It only hit me when I was really nervous or embarrassed. No one really knew I stuttered. I’ve always wanted to fly fighters and I knew I had to keep it hidden, Starfleet would never let me fly if they knew.
“My Junior year, I fell in love with a girl, Kristie. Man, I thought she was just everything wonderful in the world. Beautiful, popular, smart – and she liked me! We fooled around a lot and well, we finally got to where we were going to have sex. I’d never done anything before, but she had – she used to tease me about being a virgin, but it was good-natured. Well I thought it was, anyway. She didn’t even know I stuttered.
Well, we started…we started, you know.  And. Nothing.”
“Nothing?” she asked, “She changed her mind?”
“No. I didn’t. I mean, I couldn’t. It didn’t work.”
“Didn’t work?”
He sighed, still working through his speech troubles. “I’m impotent.”
“Oh.”
“Yeah. I’m useless. Not even a man at all. Go ahead and laugh. She did.”
“Why would I laugh? If she did, she’s a bitch. She really laughed at you?” Heather started running her finger along his shoulder and collar bone, still resting her chin on her fist.
“Christ yes. She thought it was the funniest thing ever. Then I started stuttering really badly. And she just laughed more like it was the most hysterical thing ever. It just kept getting worse.” He closed his eyes, his stutter worsening. “She said I was probably gay, and even if I was it wouldn’t matter because I was a limp-dick loser. She like, imitated my stutter, just said some really horrible things. She got really mad and finally left.”
“Wow.”
“It got worse.”
“How could it get any worse? That’s horrible!”
“She told everyone I was impotent. I suppose I should be thankful she didn’t mention the stuttering. I think she thought I was insulting her because I couldn’t get it up.”
“I think she’s a bitch and I’m glad she was a bitch.”
“Why are you glad?”
“It sucks she hurt you, but I’m glad you aren’t with her. I’d rather you were with me.”
“But Heather, I’m…I’m useless, you know?”
She stopped herself from laughing, “Useless? Andy, you’re the best fighter pilot in the Federation. You’re an awesome singer. You’re my best friend. You’re as far from useless as you can get.”
“I meant when it comes to being a man.”
“Andy, that’s not what makes a man. That’s just a thing you can do, it has nothing to do with who you are. That no more makes you a man than being able to…I dunno, do the splits or something would make you a man. Honor and courage and loyalty and love and faith are what makes a man.
“You walked into a fire to save me. Then you carried me I don’t know how far and took care of my injuries and got me shelter. Andy, that makes you a man. Whether your dick gets hard or not is less than nothing.”
“Kristie sure thought it was a lot more than nothing.”
“She doesn’t count, doofus.” She reached her free hand up and caressed his face. “I wouldn’t care if it worked or not. Besides, how do you know it doesn’t work?”
“Huh? It didn’t…”
For once she interrupted his stuttering. “Andy, it malfunctioned one time with one stupid bitch. Have you ever tried again?”
“No. Girls make me stutter when anything like that starts happening at all.”
“Hmmm.” She smiled a wicked little smile. “So who cares about stuttering?”
“Umm. Pretty much everyone. Especially Starfleet?”
“I don’t. Can I see?”
“You’ll just laugh.”
“No I won’t, Andy. I really, honestly don’t care if it works or not. I care about you trusting me. Has it ever worked?”
He laughed, a short, frustrated, barking laugh, “It works fine when I’m alone. That sort of makes it worse.” He looked down at her, “And Heather, I trust you with my life every single time we fly. I trust you with my future, I trust you with everything that matters to me.”
She grinned, “Then trust me with this, all right?” She started kissing and nibbling her way down his chest, sliding her body down his, feeling his heartbeat quicken. Hooking her thumbs in the waistband of his regulation Starfleet boxers, she paused and looked at him. “Uniform right down to the undies, huh?”
He laughed, “Well at least mine aren’t pink!”
She licked her lips, “I dunno, pink might look good on you…” She smoothly pulled his shorts off, carefully avoiding his burns as much as possible. Looking between his legs she said, “THAT surely looks good on you. Hmm. I know what else would look good on you.” She slipped her panties off and he noticed that there was a small Velcro tab that held the waistband over her short little tail.
“What?”
She grinned, showing her fangs, “Me.” She straddled his hips and flattened herself on his chest, snuggling down onto him.
“Heather, I’m so sorry, I wish it would…”
Again she interrupted his stutter, “Hush. I told you I don’t care. Do you have any idea how long I’ve wanted to just be close to you like this?”
He could feel the warmth of her pressing on him, the firm pressure of her breasts below his chest, the flat solidity of her belly, and the silken heat between her legs and he desperately wanted to get hard. More than anything in the world he prayed for an erection and the more desperately he wished, the more nothing happened.
Laying her cheek on his chest she started purring. “Tell me about what you were like before you came to the Academy. I want to hear how you learned how to fly and I want to learn about you.” she paused and looked up at him, “I mean if you want to tell me. I…” she looked back down, “Andy, I really love you. I go nuts whenever you’re around me, wanting to hold you, or touch you or. GODS, you have no idea how much I wanted to be like this with you. Just holding you and smelling you and touching you and…Do you like me?”
“Heather, more than anyone, ever. I like your family too. Well, your grandfather scares me.”
She laughed again and laid her cheek back down on his chest. “Grandpa’s a big softie.”
“Yeah, right. He almost crushed my hand and pretty much let me know my body would never be found if there were “ he slipped into a Yorkshire accent, “T’be any funny business under mah roof, lad!”
She giggled, “He did not!”
“Well not in so many words, but damn, he’s huge!”
Snuggling into him again she said, “Please tell me about you, Andy.”
And so he began to talk about himself. His xenophobic parents, their disgust at his joining Starfleet and the growing estrangement between them. He talked about being home schooled and the heavy religious indoctrination they had attempted. He talked about finally going to a public school and learning to fly a plane. He told her about his friends and all the stories people accumulate growing up human.
She just listened, occasionally shifting her position on top of him, purring softly as he talked. While he was telling her about his first solo, one hand lightly stroking her back his other hand ‘flying’ she wiggled her hips a bit more and interrupted, him. “Andy?”
“Huh?”
“You’re really a virgin?” One’s sexual status was fairly insignificant to the Dosadi, but she knew it was a huge deal to humans. The continuing double-standard for human males and females still confused her, but she knew that most human males saw their virginity as a stigma.
“Yeah, kinda pathetic huh? A 20 year old virgin.”
She tilted her face up, watching his eyes with a smug expression. “Not for very much longer, I think.” She pushed herself downwards and his eyes opened wide.
“Oh” was all he could manage as she enveloped him, slowly taking him into her body. “Oh shit.”
“Mmmmmmm.” She moved her hands up to his shoulders as his hands gripped her hips. “That’s much nicer.” She kissed the broad muscles of his chest, slowly moving her hips in a circle, squeezing and relaxing as she moved.
“Oh no, Heather, Shit!” his back arched and she felt him surge within her, a warm wetness spreading in her belly as he climaxed, his eyes closed and his lips pulled back in a snarl.
She giggled and ground down on him more, “Oh yes, Andy…Definitely yes.” She continued to gently squeeze him while he gasped until he finally sagged underneath her, seeing spots in the thin, filtered air of the shelter.
“I’m so sorry, Heather!”
She lay back down on him, leaning up and nuzzling his neck. “For what, you naughty little rabbit? That was delicious!”
“But it was so soon!”
“So what? And hmmm. I guess you’re not so useless after all, huh? And let me just say I’m awfully glad such a nice “ she wiggled and squeezed him again, “piece of equipment seems to be fully functional.”
He hadn’t let go of her hips. “I didn’t last very long, though.”
“I don’t think you’re quite done yet, Andy.” She raised up slightly and lowered herself down again, he groaned loudly and she continued “Definitely not.” She sat up, her hands flat on his chest, still holding him within herself. “Did you notice something?”
“Jesus, I noticed EVERYTHING!” he laughed.
“Maybe not everything.” She smiled and continued her motion.
Not particularly caring, he moved his hands up and cupped her breasts, his eyes drinking in every inch of her. “What did I miss?”
She extended her claws slightly, gripping his chest, “Mmmmmmm. You haven’t been stuttering for some time.”
He stopped moving, his expression shocked. “Holy shit.”
She laughed again and began moving with more urgency. “Gods, Andy you smell so good, this just feels so fucking right.” She growled at him, moving faster, her hands squeezing tighter.
He was shocked – he wasn’t a virgin any more. She hadn’t laughed at him, Jesus, he was having sex right now! She was incredible, everything he had ever wanted in a woman and more. He watched her moving on him, her mouth open and her eyes just slits, her ears forward. She was going faster and he was starting to wonder if she was going to puncture one of his lungs as her claws sank in.
But he wasn’t going to last much longer, the feelings were more intense than anything he had ever imagined, not just the physical sensations, but everything he felt towards her becoming stronger and sweeter. He tried to warn her “Heather…I’m”
Her hands gripped him harder and he felt a frantic squeeze. She hissed at him “Wait!”
It wasn’t a request – he was shocked by the heat behind the demand; it was enough to take the edge off. A few seconds later she arched her back, her head dropped down and she drove herself onto him, grinding and hissing out “yessssss!” The satiny heat enveloping him began rippling up and down the length of him and he lost it.
Grabbing her hips he drove himself into her as hard as he could and gurgled out “FUCK!” while he exploded inside her.
Finally she sagged onto him, panting and purring loudly. Utterly spent he felt himself soften and slip out of her while he tried to catch his breath. After a few moments, she nuzzled her cheek onto his chest and whispered, “Naughty little rabbit, aren’t you?”
He laughed weakly. “I’m fine with that.”
Heather looked up at him, her eyelids drooping slightly, “That has never happened to me before. I’m not even sure it’s supposed to.”
“You’ve never climaxed before??”
“No. Dosadi don’t really do that – we’ll, only after they’ve taken a mate and been together for a while, I guess. That’s what my mom told me anyway.”
Sterling’s brain was starting to work again. “Oh crap. Heather, um. You’re on the shot, right?”
“No, why? Aren’t you?”
“No. I never thought I’d need it.”
She laughed, “We’re probably the only two cadets at the whole Academy who aren’t.”
“I’m so sorry, Heather.”
She rolled onto her back next to him. “Why?”
“What if I got you pregnant?”
She licked her lips and gave him a very satisfied smile. “Mmmmm. So what if you did?”
He raised up on one elbow, “Heather! They’d kick us out! You wouldn’t be able to fly pregnant!”
“We’d get suspended while I was pregnant, doofus. There are waivers for that. We’d have to repeat the year is all.”
“That doesn’t bother you?”
“Andy, “ she reached her hand up and stroked his face, “ if I had to pick between having your kit or a career in Starfleet, I’d take your kit any day.”
His jaw sagged open. She was stretched out, looking up at him, and he thought he had never seen a woman so desirable in his life. And likely never would again. “You’re serious?”
She stretched, an exotic, erotic action in a half-human/half-Dosadi, “Now’s your chance, stud.”
That’s not an invitation most human males are able to resist, and Sterling was no different. He pounced, pinning her to the floor of the shelter and took her with a fierce passion.
Several hours later, sweat soaked, exhausted, and completely, sinfully satisfied he was lying on his back while she was cuddled next to him, her head on his shoulder, trying hard not to bang her broken ribs around any more. He lay there with a silly smile on his face, listening to the rain outside the cave and watching the wind make the shelter’s sides rattle. Finally spent, he had a chance to think a bit more critically.
“Heather, what if I did get you pregnant? I mean seriously.”
“I told you. I’m fine with it. I can repeat a year and I’m pretty sure that’s all they’d do. Andy, it’s not really something I ever thought seriously about until just a little bit ago, but…well, I want to have your kit. I want to be your mate.”
He stroked the fur on the back of her neck and thought. “How does that work? Humans just get married is all.”
“Do you want to?”
“Which?”
“Get married.”
He thought, and as the silence stretched out the fear began to grow in her stomach. “Heather, I’m sorry.”
Her heart sank.
“I’ve thought through every angle I can and well, I can’t think of anything I’d like to do more.”
She smacked him, “PIG!” and then bit him. He laughed and held her close.
“We’re going to get in trouble, you know.” he reminded her.
“So? We’re usually in trouble.” he gave her a gentle squeeze. “Andy, do you really, truly want to have a kit with me?”
“Yup.”
“I’ve kinda been dishonest with you.”
“Huh? What are you talking about?” He ruffled her fur.
“There’s a reason I’m not on the shot.”
He turned his head and looked her in the eyes, “Why’s that?”
“Andy, I really am something made in a lab. None of us know if it’s even possible for us to have kits. Or with what. Dr Mantoux – he’s the one who made us – we’re all different. He said the boys can mate with Dosadi girls and the girls with human boys, but…” she shrugged, “Rollin’s the only one with a mate…”
He interrupted, “And now you.”
She hugged him tight and continued, “Well, anyway, even if we can, Dosadi don’t work like humans do. We aren’t even fertile until we’ve had a mate for a while. Human girls start having fertility cycles when they hit puberty, we don’t. Ours don’t start until we’ve been exposed to the same pheromones – our mate’s – for a while. My mom said it can make you crazy when one hits. Like you just can’t help yourself, you kind of just attack your mate a lot.”
He looked at her quizzically, “And this is a bad thing?”
“Maybe not.” She scratched his chest a little, “Anyway, there’s no way you have to worry about getting me pregnant. Not for a while yet.”
“Hmm. I guess we’ll just have to keep trying. A lot.” and he wiggled his eyebrows at her suggestively.
She laughed, snuggling into the pillow of his shoulder.
He resumed stroking her fur. “Besides, we may never get off this rock. There’s no food out there, the Conrad exploded and I have no idea if the ELB survived it. We can use the filter to turn the rain into something we can drink, but there’s only about a day’s rations for the two of us in that pack.”
“They’ll find us, Andy.”
“I hope so, Heather, but the odds aren’t good. We’re not overdue for two more days. Even if they back-track why would they look here? We’re a ways off our course, I had to max out the thrust to make it here before we broke up, and the planet screws up sensors, as we saw.”
There was silence for a while. “If we die here Andy…” She looked up at him, “It was worth it.”
“What?”
“I feel like a complete person, with a mate who loves me and who incidentally tried really hard to make me have his kit, a mate who loves the same things I do, who thinks the same thoughts that I do, who loves me for me. Someone who saved my life, even if only for a little while. I wouldn’t trade a hundred years of never having had this for however long I’m going to have it. I’ve played at being mates a few times but it was never even close to right. Andy, you’re right.”
“Funny, I was just thinking the same thing about you.”

* * *
Sterling came back into the shelter with the drinking bladder filled up again. Days ago he had turned his pants into shorts after they had shredded on some rocks and was back into his uniform top since the planet was only about 17oC. His stomach growled loudly. “Here we go – more delicious, filling water!”
“Mmm. My favorite. I’d cook it for you, but I think it’s better raw.” They had managed to salvage some of her uniform jacket so that it looked like a short-sleeved crop-top and they had been forced to turn her trousers into shorts as well.
“Not only a feast fit for a king, but we’re dressed for dinner as well! Ah, the riches of our new kingdom!” He puffed his chest out.
“Well you have to admit, our uniforms are sexier than Starfleet’s…” she sagged a little, the humor losing its power to keep her spirits up. “I’m going to eat the pack. Andy, it’s been a week. Where are they?”
“They’re looking Heather, I know they are. I’ll go back again and see if I can find the ELB where the Conrad blew up. Maybe I missed it in all that wreckage.”
“No, Andy, the rain’s really starting to do a number on your skin. There’s nothing there. Whatever hit us probably took that out anyway.”
“C’mon Heather. We’ll make it. Let’s sing some more, one of those old songs of yours maybe?”
“Andy, they only look for so long, then they mark you as ‘overdue – presumed lost’ and send a letter to your parents. We’re two cadets and a shuttlecraft. That doesn’t rate much of a search.”
He knew how long they searched for missing ships. Space is vast and the odds of finding anything of a missing ship decreased radically with time. And he also knew that they might find some of the chunks of the Conrad that had been blown off in the collision. With located wreckage, Starfleet would end the search and they would become just one more vessel lost to the mysteries of interstellar space. Their friends would have a wake in their honor and get good and drunk, and continue on with their lives.
He guessed they probably found the wreckage 5 or 6 days ago. Which meant the search had long since been called off.

* * *
FEDERATION STARSHIP USS EXCELSIOR, ALPHA QUADRANT
APRIL, 2290
The navigator looked up, “Captain, I’m not sure if it’s the sensors acting up again or if they’re finally working right.”
Captain Hikaru Sulu sighed, “Lieutenant, I know this is our shake-down cruise after the rebuild but the more we shake her, the more things seem to fall off. What’s wrong with them this time?”
“Sir, I think it’s real. I’m getting some signs of duranium in orbit around that planet at 122 Mark 095.”
“A probe?”
“No sir, I think it’s wreckage.”
LT Girard, the science officer said, “Scanning, Captain. Gimme a second.”
Sulu waited patiently, his fingers tapping on the arm of the command chair.
“Sir, it sure does look like wreckage of some sort of small craft.”
“So what’s missing out this way?” Sulu asked.
“Not really anything, sir.” Girard answered. “Only thing that is missing that would’ve been anywhere near here is an Academy shuttlecraft that blew up more than a week ago, but that was quite a ways away.”
“So what’s the wreckage doing in orbit around that planet?”
The navigator said, “Maybe it fell into orbit from where it exploded?”
Thinking back to when the Enterprise’s shuttle Galileo had ended up crashed on a desolate planet gave Sulu a cold shiver up his spine. “If it fell from that far out, it’s not going to capture, it’ll either slingshot around or burn up.” He tapped his fingers again. “Helm, take us into orbit around that planet. Girard, what is it?”
“Sir, it is a Class-L planet, no life forms, cool surface temperature, 100% cloud cover, low atmospheric pressure with concentrations of toxic gasses including sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, ammonia, and methane, low oxygen levels and intense electrical storms.”
“So…not terribly survivable then.”
The Lieutenant shrugged. “I wouldn’t bet on those odds sir. Maybe for a few days, if they had food and water.”
“Well, let’s take a look anyway. Be a good chance to shake out some of the rest of the science systems and we can do a scan of the surface while we’re at it.”
Ten minutes later, the Excelsior was in orbit around the planet and had tractored several of the pieces of wreckage into their shuttle bay. Sulu was looking at them. “So what do we have?”
The senior chief in charge of the bay said, “Definitely hull pieces from an F-Class shuttlecraft, Cap’n. And over here’s a piece of nacelle casing – still has some pieces of the drive attached. Crewman Ortiz is checking the serial numbers now.”
“Chief! Got a hit – it’s from the Conrad, listed as destroyed early last week, launched out of Starfleet Academy headed for Vulcan.”
“Thanks Senior Chief.” Sulu turned over a piece of the wreckage. The orbital velocity had been low, definitely not what you would get if it had fallen from deep space. He turned and headed back to the bridge. Sitting back down in his command chair he asked, “So, what are our scans showing?”
“A lot of garbage, Captain.” LT Girard supplied. “Something in the rocks is causing a lot of echoes and noise, but I’m getting some occasional hits for what looks like duranium in one small region.”
“Can we beam down?”
“No way, sir. Lots of interference. A shuttle would be a lot safer, and I’d still take it slow and easy.”
Sulu frowned and said “I’m going down. Assemble a landing party, include yourself. Filter masks and protective coveralls. Meet me back in the shuttle bay in five minutes.” I should have just stayed there, he thought as he stood up.

* * *
The water was almost gone, but it really wasn’t worth the effort to go and filter up more drinking water.  She was a lot smaller than Sterling was, and had a lot less body fat and a faster metabolism. After ten days of no food, she was feeling very much like she wasn’t going to make it much longer.
Sterling was stroking her ears, “Hey, Heather, c’mon, don’t give up, OK? I didn’t save you from a fire to have you die in my arms you know.”
She laughed weakly. “There’s nobody coming Andy. I’m really tired. I just…Would you do something for me?”
“What’s that?”
“Can we make love one last time? I won’t mind so much then.”
“Try and stop me, but it won’t be the last time, I promise.”
“Liar.” she smiled at him.
Ten minutes later they were still moving together when the seals on the survival shelter were pulled open and they looked up at Captain Sulu and the rescue party from the USS Excelsior.
Girard said, “Maybe we should leave and come back in again?”

* * *
Dr  M’Baka finished his scans of the two starved Cadets and made several notes on his PADD. As the results were streaming across the diagnostic panels he did a double-take. “Cadet…Heather was it? May I ask your species? You seem somewhat unusual.”
With nutrients filtering into her body she was already feeling much better. “I’m half-Dosadi, half-human. There’s only four of us.”
“I’m waiting for your records to be transmitted from Starfleet. They had, um, transferred them after you were declared lost.”
“Did they send out notices to our families?”
“I’m afraid so. But.” He coughed, “You may want to send out a different kind of notice, Cadet.”
“Huh?”
“You’re pregnant.”
Her jaw fell open. “That’s not possible.”
“Um, I’m afraid it is, Cadet. Twins. The uh, computer has calculated the fertilization at eleven days ago.”
She just stared at him as though he had two heads. From his bed, Sterling said, “Hell YES!”
The doctor smiled, “Ah, I was wondering how the news would be received. I’ll have a prenatal counselor speak with you both. Um, your case is obviously unique, I do not wish to be offensive, but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for a medical man. I would very much like to be kept in the loop throughout the process.”
She lay back. “You’re not kidding? I’m really pregnant?”
“Ah, yes, Cadet. Why would I joke about that?” He smiled at Sterling, “From what I’ve heard from the landing party it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise…”

CHAPTER 8
“ta’mey Dun, bommey Dun.” (Great deeds, great songs)
– Klingon Proverb
STARFLEET ACADEMY, SAN FRANCISCO, EARTH
APRIL, 2290
The Maxwell, a shuttlecraft from the USS Excelsior, set down gently on the landing pad outside the main hangars for the Academy. Sterling and Heather, still recovering from their ordeal, had been resting rather than paying attention to the flight. Hearing the gentle ‘clunk’ of the skids touching down, they both sat up.
Heather looked over at Sterling – her mate! She thought and smiled.
Smiling back, “I’m not sure I’d smile too much – we have a whole lot of trouble ahead of us between losing the Conrad, the research equipment, you being pregnant and who knows what else they’re going to throw at us. Plus we need to change all our records back from ‘dead’ to ‘alive’. They’ve probably re-issued all our gear, you know. And we need to get more of a message out to our families than what we sent on the Excelsior. Thank God for Captain Sulu.”
“It doesn’t really matter. We’ll get through it.” She reached her hand over to his. The door cycled open, the bright sunshine splashing into the cabin and she said, “Time to go meet our doom.” She laughed.
They didn’t get far.
As they stepped through the open port, two Starfleet Security officers were waiting for them. “Cadets Sterling and Heather? Come with us, please. You’re wanted for questioning concerning the loss of the shuttlecraft Conrad.”
Sighing, Sterling said, “That didn’t take long.” and they turned to follow the officer into the hangar, the other falling in behind them. “Hey, guys? We getting on another shuttle? The brig’s the other way.”
“I’m sure I don’t know, Cadet. Please come quietly.” He rested his hand on the butt of his phaser as he walked along, keeping a wary eye on Sterling. He lead them into the dark hangar, Sterling trying to get his eyes to adjust as the door closed behind them leaving them in pitch blackness. After the bright sunshine washing the field, he couldn’t see anything. He waited for the lights to come on, and nothing happened.
“Guys? I can’t see, I’m not trying to be difficult but I have no idea where to go.” There was only silence. “Guys?” He strained to see in the pitch blackness of the hangar. Heather took his hand again.
There was a loud ‘chunk’ sound as the main breaker tripped on and the hangar lights blazed overhead. They both squinted in the sudden brightness and they heard “ATTENTION ON DECK!”, their spines automatically straightening. “UNDEAD ARRIVING!” and they saw their classmates in formation in the hangar in front of them, the two security men grinning broadly. A bosun’s pipe sounded and the formation dissolved in cheers as their friends swarmed over to them.
It was impossible to sort out the confused babel of simultaneous questions “What happened? Jesus, you lost weight. Where did you crash? How did you survive? Is she really pregnant? Only Sterling could crash land on a desert planet and come back with a pregnant girlfriend. How did they find you? Damn it’s good to see you! Hey Romeo! Are the rumors about how they found you true? I’m so glad to see you again.”
Finally they were dragged over to a couple of the maintenance benches where there was an array of colorful adult beverages set out and Sterling asked, “A party?”
Chief Petty Officer Brown said, “An un-wake!” and laughed, “We had a hell of a wake for you two, so now we have to undo that. It would be bad luck not to!”
Heather helped herself to a beer – one of her favorite drinks – and asked, “Did they pack up our rooms?”
Paavo answered, “Yeah, it’s OK though – we didn’t let them do it, we took care of it. Nothing got fucked up. A lot of it got shipped back to your families though.”
“What about our gear?”
Inga shook her head, “It all went back to Central Issue.”
“Oh.” She tried not to look too disappointed.
Brown said, “Well…” and she looked at him. “Not quite all of it.”
She cocked her head at him, feeling hopeful.
“Those helmets are unique. Barton felt that they couldn’t just ruin works of art so um…Well, they’re in the tool room for, ah…Service.”
She hugged him, holding him tightly but saying nothing. Several of the maintainers laughed or wolf-whistled while he hugged her back. After a moment he said, “Jesus, Heather. You’re skin and bones.”
She kissed his cheek, “Yeah, I lost almost 20 pounds, that’s like a quarter of my body weight.”
“Might not want to drink too much then, ma’am.”
“Well, I’m only gonna have one for um, other reasons.”
Barton chimed in, “No way! It’s true?!”
Sterling blushed crimson, and laughter spread across the room when Heather said, “Well it wasn’t my fault.”
Brown squeezed her again and said, “You two are in such deep shit it is not even funny. But you know what? You’re not dead, so deep shit is pretty relative.” He reached over and grabbed Sterling’s hand, “Congrats, sir. You’re gonna be a legend.” Letting his hand go, he walked over to get a drink, shaking his head and mumbling to himself, “Survives a crash landing. Gets the girl. Gets the girl pregnant. Gets rescued. No one is that lucky.” And he laughed again.
Leaning on the end of the table, Captain Spruance watched the pair of them work through their classmates’ hugs, handshakes, back-slaps, and jokes. Standing next to him, Commander Ih-Tedda said, “Sir, it’s going to take forever to clean this mess up.”
“Yup. We’ll tell them about the inquest later. Let them have some fun for a bit. Have you had a chance to look at the flight data from the Conrad yet?”
“No.  Captain Sulu sealed it as soon as it was brought on board, all very regulation.”
“What do you think happened?”
“I don’t know. That was a milk-run. I’d let my grandfather fly that route and he’s never piloted anything more than his horse.” she said sourly.
“Think they were hot-dogging?” he cocked an eye at her.
She frowned. “I really don’t want to think that. They’ve got good sense.”
“Except when they’re flying together.” Spruance pointed out.
“Yeah, but they were in the same bird this time. I just can’t come up with anything else though.”
They were silent for a bit. “And a pregnant cadet. Did you read Sulu’s report on the rescue? Jesus, is there anything they didn’t screw up on this mission?” he shook his head.
“Well, they didn’t die…”
He sighed again. “Do you get the feeling there’s something special about those two? Some reason to write another waiver and keep them here and keep them flying? Assuming there’s a real reason the Conrad augured in.”
She didn’t say anything for a while. “Sir, I’m not much for heebie-jeebies and all that but yeah, I do. I told you months ago these two weren’t normal. Individually, they’re scary-good. Together…I don’t know. It’s strange. If it were up to me? I’d keep her flying and make her give birth in the damn cockpit.
“They don’t just fly well, they teach well. They have a knack for motivating people to do way more then they’re expected to – and like it. But I’d PT him until his legs fall off for being stupid and knocking her up.”
He chuckled, “I’ll take it under advisement. I just have this feeling about those two. Like when you’re playing poker and you just know the next card’s gonna fill your straight.”

* * *
Admiral Papadakis gaveled the court back to order. “Cadets Sterling and Heather.” They both stood at attention along with their JAG attorney. “Do you have anything further you would like to add to the official record regarding this incident?”
They answered in unison, “No, sir!”
“Very well. It is the finding of this court that shuttlecraft Conrad encountered a quantum singularity while en route to Vulcan. When the singularity’s path intersected the Conrad’s port nacelle and hull it caused massive damage to systems and hull integrity, causing the craft to become unstable and uncontrollable.
“With the sensor equipment available to him, Cadet Sterling could not have detected the singularity, nor avoided it with the power available in an F-Class shuttlecraft and after the collision could not be expected to maintain control. The fact that Cadets Sterling and Heather were able to maintain some degree of control and affect a survivable landing speaks to their skill and the level of instruction that they have been afforded.
“Further, we find that Cadet Sterling’s actions after the crash were exemplary and in the highest traditions of Starfleet, braving fire and toxic atmosphere to rescue his co-pilot. In light of these actions we award you the Starfleet Medal of Valor and you are both hereby cleared of any fault or blame in the loss of the Conrad and are restored to flight status.
“Moving to the charges of dereliction of duty, fraternization and behavior unbecoming an officer, we find that the facts support the assertion of the prosecution in all three specifications.” He looked up at the two of them, “However, we also find that there were highly unusual and extenuating circumstances in this instance. A letter of reprimand will be inserted in both of your personnel files. Cadet Heather, your flight status shall be determined by your Senior Instructor, your Company Commander, and the Chief Medical Officer.”
He gaveled again, “This court is adjourned.” Keeping their military bearing, they refrained from hugging each other and settled for handshakes between each other and their attorney.

* * *
FT WILLIAM, SCOTLAND, EARTH
JUNE, 2290
The mag-lev train rumbled away into the distance as Sterling and Heather walked into the Ft. William train station. She was biting her lip, “Andy…I’m so nervous I feel like I’m going to throw up.”
He answered, “Yeah, I am too. It’ll be OK though, Heather. I’m their son, what are they going to do, slam the door in my face? They’ll be upset at first, but they’ll get over it.  We just stick with the plan and it should be fine.” He glanced at the scudding grey clouds covering the morning sky that were so typical of Scottish weather.
“You promise you’re not ashamed of how I look?”
“Jesus, no, Heather. I love how you look. I just want to give them a chance to get used to you, to get to know you, before we spring too many surprises on them.”
“Well, the dress will cover my legs and the hat will hide my ears, but…Andy, I’m furry and there’s no hiding my face.”
“I know, it sucks that they’re so closed-minded; we shouldn’t have to do this, it’s stupid. I think they’ll just be glad that I’m not dead! And we’ve got all week to bring them around.” he laughed, “Besides, they’d probably be more upset if you were French…”
A short while later, after walking up a hilly road and down a side-street, they turned into the walk of a small stone cottage. Before they even got to the porch, the door opened and Andy’s parents stepped out.
“Mom! Dad! I’m home!” he smiled and walked faster, though Heather lagged behind. As he stepped up to the porch, he paused; there was no welcome in their faces.
His mother’s face was full of suspicion and his father’s wore a scowl. He spoke, “Aye. An wha’s that wi’ ye?”
Shocked, Andy stuttered briefly, “T..This is Heather. My fiance’.”
Heather curtsied deeply and started to say in heavily accented English, “I’m very pleased to…”
But Andy’s father interrupted, “D’ye think we’re dobbers then?”
She slowly stood back up again, her eyes wide.
“No! Dad, I wanted you to…”
“Ye put a dress on a beast an think we’re jus’ tha’ blind, aye?”
“She’s NOT a…” Heather wanted to turn and run, but stayed frozen in place. The first drops of rain began to fall, splashing on the brim of her hat.
“Tis surely nae human, tha’s a beast. This is wha’ we warn’d would happen’ if ye went off to tha’ pit o’ sin and godlessness.” his mother said.
“Mother! Starfleet Academy is a school not a church, it’s not supposed to be all about God!”
“Tha’s wha’ I said. An ye said fiance’? Ha ye been layin wi’ a beast in violation o’ Leviticus? Ha’ ye forgotten all yer Bible? Ha’ ye turned so far from God?”
Angry he said, “She’s pregnant, yes, you’re going to be grandparents so you might want to get used to the idea.”
His mother closed her eyes and exhaled loudly. His father shook his head and said, “I’ll nae condone such a filthy sin.” The rain was starting to come down harder now, the drops making a pattering sound on their heads and shoulders. Heather hadn’t moved, wondering how this could get any worse.
“Aren’t you even glad I’m not dead? Not even that much of a welcome home?”
His mother turned her back and went inside. His father shook his head again and said, “Nae. T’wer better ye had died before fallin’ so far into sin. God has some plan for ye, but it is nae here.” he turned on his heel, walked through the door and closed it firmly.
Andy stood, one foot on the porch steps, the rain splattering down on him. Heather didn’t say anything – what could she say? For a few seconds, neither of them moved. Finally, the absurdity of the entire situation boiled over in Andy and he laughed. Shouting at the house he yelled, “At least she’s not FRENCH!” He turned away from the building and took his mate by the arm. “Let’s go find someplace with some people in it, OK? The God Squad can stay behind.”
They walked back to the center of Ft. William, Andy whistling as he walked, cradling Heather’s arm in the crook of his elbow, his other arm swinging free while the rain came down, soaking them both. After a while she said, “Andy, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know what to do!”
“Why are you sorry, Heather? They’re the sorry ones. I actually feel better now than I have in years.”
“But…your parents…They…”
“So what? We’ve been moving apart for years. I really have nothing in common with them any more, or their tiny, closed-minded world. I don’t want anything in common with them. Religious freaks.”
“Didn’t you say they were in Grammie Heather’s church? They sure don’t sound like it!”
He snorted, “That’s just the building they go into to pray. They’ve always thought the Church was too loose. They figure if it’s not in the Bible, it’s crap and if it’s in the Bible, it’s to be obeyed without question. Idiots.”
She squeezed his arm, saying nothing.
“So, where do you want to go? We could find a bed and breakfast, or a hotel, or anything you’d like!”
She thought for a moment, “We could go to Grammie Heather’s? It’s not very far by train.”
He laughed, “Great idea! I think there’s even one more south-bound today. With any luck we can get there before dinner time.” He paused, “Um, is your grandfather going to kill me? I’m pretty sure getting you pregnant will be considered ‘funny business’”
She giggled and said, “Yeah, but it wasn’t under his roof, so you’re OK.”
Later that evening, the two of them walked from the Leyburn transport station to the Wilkes’ farm. The rain had been left behind, but tattered clouds still patterned the darkening sky while the setting sun threw liquid bronze across the western horizon. Even from a distance, Sterling could see the welcoming glow from the front windows of the big house. “You sure we shouldn’t have called first?” he asked.
Heather smiled, “I’m sure. Grammie Heather loves surprises. And they like you. A lot.”
Remembering her grandfather’s handshake he said, “I hope so…” But he found himself anticipating seeing her family again with pleasure, not trepidation. They made their way up the big porch and Heather knocked on the door.
When it opened, she curtsied again and said, “Good evening, ma’am. Would you have room for two weary travelers?”
Heather Wilkes cried out, “Oh, Heather!!” Throwing her arms around her littlest grandchild she said, “Tis like yer returned t’us from t’dead! We all prayed so hard for ye both, we just knew t’Lord would nae take ye from us so soon!” She reached her arm out and gathered Sterling into the hug. “Andy, yer friends sen’ us yer medal, all abou’ how ye saved her!”
Embarrassed and marveling at the contrast between the two greetings, he gently hugged her back, “I couldn’t live without her, Mrs. Wilkes. And it was a team effort.”
“Don’ be daft. Ye pulled her ou’ o’ fire.” She patted his chest. “Come in t’supper.” She stepped back and looked at Heather, “An ye look so bonny in tha’ dress an ha’.” She ushered them both inside calling out “Look who’s here!”
Within minutes, Sterling found himself sitting at the big dining room table, an oversized fluffy towel around his shoulders, his boots drying in the corner, and a glass of single-malt scotch in his hand. Settling into the wooden chair he sighed happily. He was startled when Mr. Wilkes came in behind him and he felt a massive hand grip his shoulder. The big man walked around him, maintaining his hold on the younger man and Heather’s brother walked past and sat down opposite him.
Swallowing the lump in his throat he looked up at the towering Yorkshireman who only said, “Well done, lad.” And nodded. There was the briefest of pauses, the big man shook his shoulder slightly and he just said again, “Well done. Aye.” before moving past and into the kitchen.
Rollin smiled and said, “From him, that’s something amazing, by the way. Especially to someone who’s new to the family.” Rollin’s mate Nina came in, rubbed her cheek along Andy’s and said, “Andy. The gods alone know how you saved her, but we’re all so thankful.”
“Uh, it was really a team effort to survive.”
She twitched her whiskers, “We read the citation, Andy. And the transcripts from the inquest. We know what was a team effort and what was above and beyond. If we were on Dosad, I’d get your eye tattooed.”
He noticed she had a simple single-strand tattoo around the outside of her left eye. “What for?”
Rollin answered in his odd Dosadi/Yorkshire accent, “Not too up on Dosadi culture yet, are ye?” he grinned, “That’ll change. When someone does something worthy of high honor, his mates all agree an’ they add a little bi’ to the design for each time.”
He blushed and tried to cover it by taking a drink of his scotch.
Heather came in, wrapped in a big fluffy pink bathrobe. He had a sudden flash of memory of her in something else pink and blushed more. Nina’s nose twitched and she grinned at him. There was no way she could tell that…was there?
Rollin and Nina started helping Mrs. Wilkes with bringing the supper to the table and when Andy stood up he was told, rather firmly, to sit right back down again. He shook his head, marveling again at the contrast between this family and his parents.
It was while they were nibbling at their desserts that Heather asked him, “So, when do you want to tell everyone?”
“Um.” he took a nervous glance at Mr. Wilkes at the head of the table.
Rollin said, “I know that look, Heather. Cough it up!”
She looked at Andy and decided to save him from himself. “We’re mates!”
Rollin, thrilled for his sister said, “Wonderful!”,
Nina chimed in with, “That is great news!”,
Mrs. Wilkes clapped and said, “Praise God!”
Mr. Wilkes glowered at Sterling and said, “Aye.”
Heather glowed. “There’s more.” and Andy considered trying to get a running head start. Everyone looked at her expectantly. “We’re having twins.”
That brought about quite a bit more noise from Rollin, Nina, and Mrs. Wilkes. Mr. Wilkes on the other hand was just staring at Sterling.
Mrs. Wilkes asked, “Ha’ ye already been married then? Di’ we miss it?”
Andy decided to face his fate like a man, “No, ma’am. I proposed to her when we were marooned, but we haven’t had a chance to yet.”
She nodded, “Tha’s nowt. I’ll call t’vicar in t’mornin’ then. He’s married her mother an father, an’ her brother an’ Nina, he’ll do t’job for ye two as well.”
“Well, “ he said, “That might be a bit fa…” he noticed Mr. Wilkes studying him intently. Like a lion studies its dinner. “um, that would be wonderful, Mrs. Wilkes!”
Two days later, much as Heather’s father had, he found himself in his dress uniform standing in front of a church full of locals who had become rather accustomed to the bizarre parade of marriages in Clan Wilkes. His bride was wearing the same borrowed dress her mother and sister-in-law had worn, suitably altered for her shorter frame. After the ceremony, as they circulated through the parishioners, Heather squealed like a little girl and ran up and hugged two of the older guests. “Mr. Walker! Mr. Thompson! I so wanted you to be here!”
Thompson said, “Aye, I would nae miss i’. One can nae see too many ca’s ge’ married.” and he ruffled her fur the wrong way.
She turned to Walker and said, sotto voce, “And I’m still not a sheep!”
He laughed at the old joke and said, “Nae, yer a raht naughty lass tho.” leaving Sterling completely confused.
When they returned to the Wilkes’ home and everyone had changed out of their wedding finery, Rollin said, “I need to do some work in t’barn. If ye come along, I’ll fill you in a bit on yer new family.” and he laughed. Wilkes smiled at the thought and said,
“Sure! I’d love that.”
Heather said, “Nina, can we go for a walk?”
“Of course.” She stood with all the fluid grace of her species and they headed out to walk along the lane between two of the fields.  They walked in silence for a while, listening to the birds and watching rabbits nibbling at the greenery. “What’s on your mind, Heather?” she said, glad of the chance to speak Dosadi again.
She bit her lip. “I’m nervous, Nina. I’m hoping you can help me.”
“What about?” she sniffed the breeze, smelling all the myriad scents of rich Yorkshire fields and pastures.
“Does it ever bother you that Rollin’s not really Dosadi?”
She laughed, “He’s not? I thought he was. Of course he’s a lot Yorkshire now too.”
“You know what I mean, he’s part human.”
“Heather, of all four of you, you’re the one I least expected to struggle with that foolishness. And yet you’re the one that has the biggest problem with it.”
Her ears drooped, “I just wonder if deep down it matters. His parents…Oh Nina, it was so awful.” and she told the story about the disastrous visit to Ft. William.
“Would it matter to you if Andy lost his legs in a crash?”
“What? Of course not!”
“So whatever shape his body is doesn’t matter?”
“Of course not! Why would…Oh. Smarty.”
Nina laughed, “Heather, one of these days you’re going to figure out that you’re in love with a mind and a soul and a heart, and so is he. Yes there are still stupid people out there from every species who care about the shell we wear. There will always be lots of them. So what? Avoid them for the poor, pitiable fools that they are.” They walked along a little more. “I don’t know where all this lack of self-image came from in you. I’m only a couple of years older than you, but I remember watching you grow up when Rollin and I first started being friends. You were always so out-going and adventurous, and happy. You impressed me, a lot.
“I guess we all have things inside us that are different than what we show the world. Heather, I caught his scent when you walked in the dining room tonight. He doesn’t see a shape. He sees his mate. Trust him to love you.”
Heather rubbed her shoulder against Nina’s, “Thank you, Nina.”
“You’re welcome. I’m thinking we’re going to be having a kit soon too.”
“Really?”
“Yes. Although I feel bad for Rollin.” she laughed wickedly. “Not that bad though. He seems to enjoy it.”
Heather giggled and they held hands as they walked along in silence.

* * *
TAJOR WORK CAMP, ORIAS III, CARDASSIAN UNION
JUNE, 2290
Fallon trudged through the rain and the mud to the door of the Legate’s office.  She moved automatically, removing her muddy shoes outside and opening the heavy door. She walked in, head down, and sat at the small desk he had ordered built for her. As she did every day, she began sorting and filing the various data rods, paperwork, and messages that were piled there.
Kai watched her work. The little girl fascinated him. She was annoyingly pure. He had only gotten her to ‘cheat’ with her rations that one time. Even punishing her with a beating hadn’t convinced her to eat anything more than a small portion with him again. Much of the spark that he so enjoyed about her seemed to have left with her mother.  The little creatures certainly seemed to bond tightly. But he thought he had a way to both bring that spark back and open her eyes to the realities of life, not this ridiculous ‘philosophy’ the little cows followed. Their current status was all the proof that was needed as to how useless and wrong it truly was.
“Fallon.” he spoke softly.
She turned in her little chair, head down, hands in her lap. “Yes?”
“Look at me, Fallon.”
She looked up, the large, black eyes meeting his.
“You hate me don’t you.”
“Yes.” But there was no heat in the statement, none of that spark he sought.
“You would like me to leave, wouldn’t you? Take my troops and leave forever?”
Just for a moment, there was a flicker of interest. Something beyond the mechanical actions of the last three months. “Yes.”
“Would you kill me if you could?”
She was used to this question. He asked it often. “I don’t know. Sometimes I want to.”
“Well! And after all the extra food I give you.” he smiled. “I told you once I might just see if you would, Fallon, do you remember?”
“Yes.”
He opened one of his desk drawers and drew out a phaser. He placed it flat on his desk and slid it towards the little girl. “Now is your chance, Fallon.”
Her eyes flicked down to the weapon. She didn’t know very much about them, but she knew how to make it shoot. She’d seen the Cardassians do that often enough. You picked it up, you pointed the one end at the person and you squeezed your fist and they died. She looked back at him. He would probably beat her if she reached for it.
“Well, Fallon? Will you kill me now?”
She gauged the distance between him and the weapon. If she could reach it, she could shoot him. She could kill the monster.
“Am I too close? Here.” He slid his chair back as far as it would go and crossed his legs. “I am ready, Fallon. Kill me and set your people free.”
She swallowed. She could reach it. All she had to do was pick it up and point it. She leaned towards it, the heavy pistol shape lying on the desk, seeming to throb the longer she looked.
“Fallon? This is your chance. Kill me and without their leader, all the troops will have to go home. You could be a hero. You could save them, Fallon. Save them all.” He watched her struggle with the wish to be free of him, to be a hero and  against that wish the gentle teachings of her people. Stupid cows. She hated him – she had to. Why didn’t she pick it up? “Kill me, Fallon and make my little girl an orphan just like you.”
She had begun to reach for the phaser, her hand raising a millimeter from her leg and she set it back down again without him noticing. Just like him. She would become just like him. Killing because it was easy, because it would give her want she wanted, causing loss and suffering to some other little girl. She looked back up from the phaser to Kai and said firmly, “No.”
He sighed, disgustedly. He slid his chair forward again and picked the phaser up. “Fallon, you are a monster. You had the chance to save your people and you have abandoned them.” He put the empty weapon back in the drawer. Shaking his head he said, “Leave me now. There will be no extra rations for you today, I am very disappointed.” He turned his back on her and began working on a console.
She stood up and for the first time in months, she smiled. HE was the monster. And she had hurt him by not being a monster just like him. She was better than him. She left the office and walked back to the barracks. She would beat him. Somehow. But not his way.

* * *
FEDERATION FRIGATE USS HONSHU, UNDER WAY, ALPHA QUADRANT
JUNE, 2290
Dejan Lilac finished a presentation that had become more polished in the last three months. “You can see they are sentient. You know what is being done to them. You must act.”
Commander Moshe Yaalon looked at his ship’s doctor. The frigate was too small to have a chief medical officer. The man nodded at the unspoken question. That only made his answer more difficult. “I have to say, I never expected to see an Orion slaver try to rescue slaves…”
The Free Trader gritted his teeth. Humans rarely understood the intricacies of the Orion slave trade – Orion women, while technically slaves ended up through their powerful pheromones, becoming the master. Non-Orion races were sometimes bought and sold, but there were rules and standards that were maintained. He asked, “Commander, are you familiar with the religious hymn Amazing Grace from your world’s history?”
“The name sounds like something I’ve heard, but I cannot say that I know it.” Yaalon admitted.
The song tells a story of forgiveness and redemption. It was written by one of your slavers centuries ago. He was in the middle of a trip back with a hold full of slaves when he decided that what he was doing was wrong. He turned around and released his cargo back upon their home shores and wrote the hymn based upon that experience. He became an activist against slavery.”
“So you’re going to give up being a slaver?”
“It was never my main cargo and you do not understand its function in our society. I am not here to argue my actions. I am here to stop an atrocity on a planetary scale. To give you the chance to act – to redeem yourselves from your inaction. The Federation claims to care about innocents, claims to care about right and wrong, claims to defend those who are weak. There has never been a more clear case for action!”
“Lilac, that planet is inside Cardassian space. I cannot just invade another sovereign state and do as I please. That would result in a massive war. We don’t even really have formal relations with the Cardassian Union yet – We’re both still sizing the other up, trying to figure out where we’re going to go. Besides, this is a frigate. I don’t exactly have a lot of space even if I were to undertake a rescue mission.  I could save what, 100? 200? And then the resulting war would kill tens of thousands if not billions.”
Disgusted and frustrated he said, “So you too, will do nothing.”
“Not nothing.” Yaalon held his hands up. “I’ll file a report with Starfleet Command and let them know what’s going on. They may be able to…”
“File a report!” Lilac sneered. “I’m sick of reports being filed and requests for information and strongly worded letters!”
“Lilac, you have no proof. Just a single…person and your story.”
Dejan slammed his hand down flat on the table, “Proof? Fine! I will get you proof! THEN you will act?”
“I can’t promise anything but I’ll…”
He stood up, “Proof first. I will show you. Then you will see what I have seen and you will act. Only a monster would ignore these peoples’ suffering.” He left, Fallon’s mother hurrying along behind him.
When they returned to Lilac’s freighter he asked her, “You are the tamest slave I’ve ever had to deal with. Why have you never complained, or struggled, or attempted to escape or shown any sign that this is not to your liking?”
She smiled, holding her hands together. “Because you are a good man. Because you are trying to help us. Because even as your slave, I am much better off than I was under the Cardassians.”
He grunted. “We return to Orias III soon. I will get him his proof. We have sensors. We have recorders. We will get it for them and they will act. Somewhere there will be a man with the strength and the will to do what is right.”

CHAPTER 9
“nIteb Qob qaD jup ‘e’ chaw’be’ SuvwI’.” (A warrior does not let a friend face danger alone)
– Klingon Proverb
STARFLEET ACADEMY FLIGHT RANGE, TITAN, SOL SYSTEM
OCTOBER, 2290
Heather squirmed uncomfortably in the Viper’s seat. She was monitoring several of her pilots as they flew ‘attack’ profiles on simulated targets, her bird high above the dirty yellow of Titan. She thumbed the comm button again, “Bravo two-two, tighten it up.”
There was silence. She thumbed the button again and still nothing. On her third attempt she was rewarded with “Bravo two-two, wilco.” and she watched the pilot move closer to Paavo’s right-rear quarter. She thought to herself that whoever had designed the Viper hadn’t really planned on having a seven months pregnant half-Dosadi pilot.
The doctor’s best guess was that her pregnancy would run eight to nine months – Dosadi typically gestated for  36 weeks, a month shorter than humans’ usual 40 weeks. So they had decided that today was to be her last flight until delivery; which couldn’t come soon enough as far as she was concerned. They had allowed her to continue to fly training flights with no maneuvering beyond gentle turns.
The next pair of Vipers rolled out of formation and began their attack run. She thumbed the comm button, “Bravo two-four, not so hot – you’ll overshoot. Give the sensors time to track.”
There was only silence. She tried again. And again. The two ships below her finished their attack run without scoring any hits and she told the Viper’s computer to run a diagnostic on the comm system. “Communications are functioning normally.”
Ignoring the malfunctioning button she ordered the computer, “Computer, contact Range Control, Bravo Lead requesting return vector, comm system malfunction.” There was a pause of a few moments and a chirping sound.
“Comm system failure.”
“You don’t say?”
“Please restate the question.”
“Piece of shit. Terminate…” she felt a sudden cramp in her belly that built like a ripple into a wave of pressure across her abdomen, “Oh shit.”
“Please state last repeat.”
Ignoring her flight computer, she began following the Comm-Out procedure and turned her Viper back towards Mimas.
There was another rippling cramp across her belly and she grunted, trying to get the thumb button to do something. Her sensors showed three squadrons of Vipers climbing out from Titan’s upper atmosphere as she moved out of orbit. She smiled. The squadron leaders were paying attention at least. It was a solid two hour flight to Mimas; what a waste of a day’s flying! They’d have to run the same damn drill tomorrow once they got the comm system and the computer fixed.
“Ow, shit!” she yelled a few minutes later when her stomach cramped again. The computer said,
“Please restate last demande por favor.”
“What?”
“Vær så venlig bekräftigen…” followed by a hiccuping sound.
“Computer, Perform level-3 self-diagnostic.”
There was a chirp and Heather’s latest ancient song-find began blasting out of the cockpit speakers – “The Season’s Upon Us” by the Dropkick Murphys, the bouncy Gaelic tune totally out of synch with the seriousness of her situation. She had intended it as a funny Christmas present for Sterling.

2The season’s upon us, it’s that time of year
Brandy and eggnog, there’s plenty of cheer
There’s lights on the trees and there’s wreaths to be hung
There’s mischief and mayhem and songs to be sung

“What the HELL? Computer disengage!”  She began trying to get the malfunctioning computer to shut down; It was ignoring her every effort. “Fucking piece of shit!” she yelled at it.

There’s bells and there’s holly, the kids are gung-ho
True loves finds a kiss beneath fresh mistletoe
Some families are messed up while others are fine
If you think yours is crazy, well you should see mine

She looked out the cockpit when Mike Malloy’s Viper slid close aboard her starboard side, his helmeted and masked face looking over at her. Barton had painted his helmet with the scaly red wings of a dragon, and the enhanced sensors on her faceplate allowed her to just make out the detail. She pointed at her ear and made a chopping motion as another cramp made her double over against the straps.

My sisters are whack-jobs, I wish I had none
Their husbands are losers and so are their sons
My nephew’s a horrible wise little twit
He once gave me a nice gift wrapped box full of shit

Catching her breath again she laughed at the absurdity of the predicament she found herself in. She tried to get the computer to respond to voice, keyboard, or even circuit breaker to no avail. There were only so many breakers she could pop.

He likes to pelt carolers with icy snowballs
I’d like to take him out back and deck more than the halls
With family like this I would have to confess
I’d be better off lonely, distraught and depressed

She doubled over again, banging herself against the harness and sucked air through the mask covering the lower half of her face. “Gods!” She finally gasped out. She was suddenly slammed back into the seat again when the engines surged beyond what the inertial dampeners could handle. By now both Malloy and Von Beck had come up on either wing and were watching her struggles in the cockpit.

The season’s upon us, it’s that time of year
Brandy and eggnog, there’s plenty of cheer
There’s lights on the trees and there’s wreaths to be hung
There’s mischief and mayhem and songs to be sung
They call this Christmas where I’m from

“Oh no, no. No fucking way. This is not happening to me. I am not giving birth in a fighter.” The engines had started surging randomly, going from almost nothing, to the limits of the ID system. She was wondering when they’d exceed them again; She had little faith that the computer recognized those limits any more. It was pretty much a crap shoot as to when she would be smeared against the back of her seat. She reached down past her left leg, grunting against her very pregnant stomach, fumbling to reach the memory cores.

My mom likes to cook push our buttons and prod
My brother just brought home another big broad
The eyes rollin’ whispers come loud from the kitchen
I’d come home more often if they’d only quit bitchin’

She started scrabbling at the memory cores, her fingertips barely able to reach them. One slid out and fell on the cockpit floor and her helmet cuing display blinked out along with one of the monitor screens. The engines flared again, and she slammed back upright, grunting. This had long since stopped being funny. When the engines stopped she flew against the harness again, “God damn it! I am going to turn you into a fucking toaster you hunk of trash!!”

Dad on the other hand’s a selfish old sod
Drinks whiskey alone with my miserable dog
Who won’t run or fetch sure he couldn’t care less
He defiled my teddy bear and left me the mess

Another core fell out with a faint clunk. Then another. The life support system failed and she had to pause to unfasten her mask; She was on cockpit air alone now. The starboard thrusters fired and another core dropped out. The thrusters whispered to silence and the main engines shut down, the only sound in the cockpit now the music blaring loudly.

The table’s set, we raise a toast
The father, son, and the Holy Ghost
I’m so glad this day only comes once a year
You can keep your opinions, your presents, your happy new year
They call this Christmas where I’m from
They call this Christmas where I’m from

“DIE damn you!” she yelled while flicking another core out of its socket.  The computer screens finally went completely blank and she was left free-falling in darkness and silence, her dead fighter coasting along on its last vector. Malloy and Von Beck were still flying on her wings. That made her feel a lot better – at least she wasn’t alone. But she sure wished like hell that the Vipers had a tractor bream.
She grunted loudly as another contraction hit. “Not. Possible.” she hissed out. “I’m in a god damn flight suit, I cannot do this here!” Why were they coming so fast so soon? Everything she had read was that this was supposed to take hours and slowly build, not just hit like this.
The Viper shook slightly and she turned her head towards the bump she just felt. Malloy’s Viper was tucked in on top of hers, his left wing catching her right. The Viper started to yaw left and almost immediately there was another clunking sound. She looked and saw Von Beck’s right wing hooked on her left. A gentle vibration ran through her crippled bird and she realized they were providing thrust, just about 1 gravity was all, slowly pushing her vector towards Mimas. Stopping was going to be an issue though, she thought. As was time. She had about ten hours of oxygen left with the emergency feed hissing quietly. But she had a feeling that there were going to be three people breathing that oxygen before it ran out – assuming she could get out of her flight suit in a cockpit.
Six hours later, she had her eyes closed and she was puffing air in and out of her lungs trying to ignore the increasingly uncomfortable contractions. “Not gonna happen.” she kept repeating to herself. The vibration she had been feeling stopped and she looked out to see Malloy’s and Von Beck’s fighters falling away. Her Viper started to spin slowly. Then they pivoted around and the glare of their engines on full throttle caused them to vanish behind her. She realized how very lonely it could feel to be in a powerless, dark little box, racing through space and not a damn thing you could do about it.
She remembered her mother telling her about having been rescued from a powerless escape pod as a little girl. She had spent two weeks in that pod and no one knew she was even there. A shiver went up her back thinking about it. But, her friends not only knew where she was, they were actively trying to rescue her. Why had they dropped away? That must mean they were decelerating for Mimas. What was she going to do? She felt a spreading wetness that soaked her flight suit and seat. “Ugh!”
Another contraction hit her and she hissed loudly, closing her eyes and puffing more. She felt all her fur stand up and she opened her eyes again. The cockpit was glowing green and she was no longer spinning. “What the hell?” she asked herself. She felt very strange, almost like she was covered in honey. For a while, nothing changed. Green glow, sticky weird feeling, contractions getting harder and faster. She tried to think how in the hell she was going to take her flight suit off. She had better figure it out pretty fast. Then the Viper rotated – she saw the arc of Saturn roll smoothly across her canopy until it was blotted out by Mimas and the comforting view of Mimas Station. A few seconds later, she saw the tubby shape of the little tug that was usually parked in the hangar bay. She couldn’t recall ever seeing it actually fly. So that was what the green glow was – a tractor beam. Evidently a fighter cockpit didn’t provide any shielding from the beam. That was a good thing, she decided, because if they had just stopped the fighter, without a functioning inertial dampener system, she would have been a reddish smear all over the instrument panel.
A much longer, stronger contraction hit her and she hoped they hurried. A lot.
She was unsealing her flight suit as the tug hauled her into the wide opening to the bay, and the Vipers began streaking past, relying on the retarding fields of the landing deck and their own nose thrusters to stop. When her own bird came to a slow, bumpy stop behind the tug, she manually pushed the canopy open, trying to get the suit off at the same time. Waddling her way out of the crippled fighter, she sat down on the deck with a loud “GNNAAGGHH!!”
She heard Von Beck yell “MEDIC!!!” and she scooted her way out of the confining suit. This was not how she imagined it; It was supposed to be this romantic event with Sterling holding her hand in a nice clean room with a doctor at the ready and soft music and “YOOOOWWWWW!” she yelled as the strongest contraction yet hit her.
18 pilots were clustered about her, all trying to help at the same time when the medic came running into the bay. “What’s wrong with…” and he caught sight of his patient and realized exactly what was going on. “You have got to be kidding me!” He took one look at her and decided he was not going to have time to take her to the station’s single-bed sick bay. His little med kit wasn’t designed for this; birth wasn’t exactly a common problem for fighter pilots flying on the Academy Training Range.

* * *
Crewman Chang looked down at the deck. “Damn, I didn’t know having a baby was that messy.”
His partner was half-into the cockpit and held his wet hand up from where he had leaned onto the seat, trying to collect the memory rods scattered on the floor. “Wait’ll you see the mess in here.”
“All yours, buddy.” Chang laughed and started mopping.
The team leader, already popping panels on the fuselage just shook his head, “Starfleet is getting weirder by the day, gentlemen. This would never have happened back when I went through training. Things have gotten so easy.”

* * *
STARFLEET ACADEMY, SAN FRANCISCO, EARTH
OCTOBER, 2290
Sterling jogged into the Academy’s Ops Center and skidded to a stop. “Cadet Andrew Sterling reporting as ordered!”
The lieutenant on duty just smiled, “You’re gonna wanna take this call, Cadet. It’s from Mimas Station.”
Sterling couldn’t imagine why Mimas Station would be calling unless something had gone really wrong with Heather’s flight today, but the LT sure didn’t look like it was bad news. “Yes, sir. Where can I…”
“We’ll put it up on the main screen for you, Cadet.”
Really puzzled now Sterling just said, “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
The LT waved his hand and a tech tapped at his console. The screen came to life and Andy could see  Puurunen and Malloy and a whole lot of other pilots crowded into the pickup’s field of view, but no Heather. Something wasn’t right, but everyone looked like they were on goofy-pills.
“Um, Cadet Sterling here?”
Malloy said, “Damn but you are in deep shit, brother.” he grinned.
Von Beck chimed in, “He’ll be sleeping on the couch for the next year.” to the murmured agreements of the other pilots.
“What? What the hell is going on?” Glancing down at the LT he said, “Sorry, sir.”
Peggy leaned into the view and said, “You missed it! You missed the entire thing!”
“Missed what?!” he was starting to get angry.
Lynd said, “We all had to play stork for you!”
“Stork?”
“Yeah! Oh, and congrats Daddy!”
“Da…” his mouth opened. “No, it’s not for a month yet!” People started moving out of the way and he saw Heather lying on a narrow sick bay bunk holding two very small reddish bundles.
“I think we forgot to tell them, Andy.” she smiled.
He just stared and barely heard Malloy say “It’s okay though Andy, we’ve got the whole thing on tape. Her comm system stuck-on and started broadcasting everything a little before the music started…”

* * *
DUCHY OF THE SWORD WORLDS, HYDRAN KINGDOM
JULY, 2291
Marshal Sir Jons Seins, Knight Commander of the Hydran (Sword Worlds) Marines and Director of Hydran Intelligence came home and sat heavily in his favorite chair in his wife’s sitting room, clearly feeling every one of his nearly 100 years of age. Hydrans were just starting to be considered seniors in their 90’s and the Marshal was still a vigorous man; all four foot two inches of him. He ran his violet-skinned hand through his greying white hair and sighed heavily.
There were pictures on the wall and he let his eyes roam across them. His four children, one of whom smiled proudly back at him from his dark grey armor. He smiled at the memory. His eldest on the day he was promoted to Captain. He had died in the engine room of a Klingon battle-cruiser ensuring the success of a mission that had probably saved trillions of lives; But no more than a few dozen people in the entire galaxy knew of his role.
Next to that picture was a wedding photo of his adopted daughter and her husband. It hardly seemed right that the photo was now more than twenty years old and that her children were now getting married and having children of their own. Further along, the photos started getting…odd. Another wedding photo, but this time his adopted son Tir was standing next to his bride, holding her furry hand while her golden cat’s eyes looked happily into the camera. Even that photo was nearly a decade old. There were more photos of children, Hydran and both Hydran/Dosadi and Dosadi/human mixes and quite a few plain old Dosadi.
There was one of a young Dosadi lad, a cut down his arm but glowing with pride and with his knife held up menacingly. He remembered that day, when young Kaileen had actually scored a solid ‘kill’ on him in the challenge ring, taking a good sized cut to do so. There would be no more pictures of Kaileen, however. Like his son, he had died defending others. And like his son’s death, it had been the direct result of one of Jons’ intelligence operations. Next to that were several shots of his favorite ‘niece’, young Heather, the daughter of Wilkes and Sooth. She was doing well in her third year at Starfleet Academy, he thought. He would have to write her soon and see how she was doing. Of course his daily intelligence summary gave him quite a bit more data than she was likely to share, but it was courteous to let her share her news. The intercepts from the Academy Flight Range from when she had gone into labor had left him smiling for the better part of a day and the memory brought a brief smile again today.
His wife, the Lady Marin waited patiently while he scanned through the photos. As he brought his eyes back down she said, “My lord, you are troubled again. You’re making a habit of coming straight in here and looking at these old memories. Is it a burden that you can share?”
He thought for a few moments. “Marin, in all my time in the Duke’s employ, I have never brought my work into our marriage.” he paused. She said nothing, watching her husband. “Atrocities are common throughout the galaxy, another should have no more effect upon me than a gentle rain.
“Why am I so unable to ignore one more?”
She stood up and walked over to her husband, caressing his face and smoothing his hair. “Seins, everyone has their limits. You have seen many times more evil than anyone else, much more than your share. You have never burdened me with that knowledge, you have never spoken of your many missions, nor the costs of them, even when that was a cost we both bore.”
He looked up at her. The woman was too shrewd.
She smiled. “Seins, my husband, my love, I know that you are a good and decent man. I know that you have worked for the cause of good your whole life, even when that required that you do evil. Sometimes, good men must do evil things to end greater evil, but there will always be balance. The price must be paid, even with the best of intentions.” She walked over to the photos and took down the one of her eldest son. Looking into his eyes, she continued,
“I know that because of you, because you have born the burdens, because you – and I – have paid the price, that there are many alive and happy today who would otherwise not be. I know that there is much less evil than would otherwise infest our galaxy. I would not have you be anything other than what you are, though the price be everything and everyone that I love.”
She put the photo back, looked briefly at Kaileen’s photograph and turned back to her husband. “I do not know how you decide what actions you will take, and which you will not. I do know that I trust that you will always make the right decision – one that leads to greater good. Know that whatever course you take Seins, I will never blame you for the cost that we both must bear.”
He took her hand, cupping it to the side of his face. “I find it difficult to be dispassionate in this instance. I am becoming a sentimental old fool, Marin. My heart pushes me to do that which my mind tells me is not in the best interests of my King, my Duke, or my House.”
“Is it the right thing to do?”
“There have been many times when I have not done the right thing, Marin. Only rarely do those times haunt me. Why should this time be different?”
“God moves within you, Seins. I have known it since I first laid eyes on you and decided to marry you.”
He laughed, “You never told me you decided that. And here I thought my father contacted yours!”
She smiled. “He did. I may have made a few comments and suggestions to his business partners beforehand…In any case, “ she tugged on a lock of his hair, “Go to your balcony and watch the stars. Listen to the voice of God and let His will move you to do that which is His intent.”
The Marshal stood, hugged his wife tightly, and went up to his office to do as she suggested.

CHAPTER 10
“One death is a tragedy. A million is a statistic.”
– Josef Stalin – Earth (Human)
TAJOR WORK CAMP, ORIAS III, CARDASSIAN UNION
DECEMBER, 2291
Elim Tang sat comfortably in Legate Kai’s office. “You have done well, Legate.”
“Thank you…how do I address you?”
“We of the Obsidian Order do not use ranks among outsiders. You may simply call me Tang.”
“Thank you, Tang.”
“We have high hopes that this will become a productive and useful Outpost in short order, and perhaps in a century’s time, a thriving member of the Union. How goes the removal of this infestation?”
“I haven’t made a complete removal much of a priority, Tang. We’ve been using them to prepare colony sites, to mine, to build the necessary machines, that sort of thing. We attempted to find markets for their hides, but despite their interesting markings, their lack of fur seems to have hurt their value. Strangely, the Free Traders that I have commissioned to find a market for them as helper-beasts and servants have come up empty. Their anatomies have provided some very interesting research data however.”
The taller Cardassian nodded. “There is a problem.”
Kai swallowed the lump in his throat. When the Obsidian Order had a problem, it usually meant very, very bad things for those who were not in the Order itself. “What can I do to help?”
“Apparently, your Free Traders have been indiscreet and some of the various media outlets have decided to make this their story of the week.” he sneered.  “These charming little creatures are being presented as sentient beings and bleeding hearts across the galaxy are bemoaning the cruel Cardassians.”
“Let me guess – the Federation?”
“Yes, but not just the Federation. We are receiving some commentary from the Romulans, the Hydrans, the Orions…Mostly the usual ‘Save The Poor!’ crowd, but it is beginning to approach the level of a nuisance. What is the current population level of the creatures?”
“Approximately 470 million. We’ve located all of them in a series of large camps where they can be best utilized and employed to productive ends.”
“How many have escaped?”
“Virtually none. They are easily domesticated and quite docile. I once handed one of them a phaser – empty of course! – and invited it to kill me. The little thing refused.” Kai laughed, “Pathetic, really.”
Tang nodded and thought for a moment. “We would like to have them removed entirely by the end of next year when we will begin moving in the first Colonists. This will also remove the media pressure before it has time to gain any real traction. Make sure to keep your Free Traders under control – I would prefer you not use them at all any more.”
“It shall be as you say, Tang.” Kai agreed quickly.

* * *
“HARRY’S BAR”, DENEB V, ALPHA QUADRANT
DECEMBER, 2291
Harry’s Bar was a run-down space-port bar on Deneb V. The rain glistened wetly on the pavement outside as the broken ‘BAR’ – in actual English – sign flickered in the night. Inside, Dejan Lilac sat, dejected, looking at Fallon’s mother. “I have wasted more time, effort and money on this foolish crusade…What is it about you that makes me care at all whether you live or die?”
She simply sat, peacefully. “You are a good man. Your heart makes you do that which is right.”
He shook his head, “I am far from a good man. But there is nothing more to do. No one will help you.” He took another drink.
An Arcturian sat down across from him. “You are Dejan Lilac, Orion Trader, are you not?”
Lilac discretely dropped one hand down to a concealed side-arm, “Yes. Why?”
The Arcturian smiled. “That will not be necessary. You seek to help these creatures?” he indicated Fallon’s mother.
“Yes, but no one else does.” he snorted disgustedly.
“You are incorrect. But it is time to behave as though you believe that.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“There are those who are willing to help. But they cannot move openly. And by attracting attention you make it impossible for them to help at all. You must appreciate this fact.”
“The Federation? They will send ships and troops?”
The Arcturian looked annoyed. “That would be moving openly, would it not? No, you have taken the lead in this and in the lead you must remain, even as you must become invisible.”
“I’ve spent more than enough time and money accomplishing nothing.” he snorted.
“Your purse will be made full again and the funds needed for what can be done will be made available to you.” the Arcturian’s expression relaxed.
“How much money?” Lilac was interested now.
“There is only so much that can be done without risking war, Dejan Lilac.”
“How much can be done?”
“A small raid, a rescue mission, nothing more. How many ships can you command?”
“I have three freighters, large, and atmosphere-capable. But that is nothing! There are millions!”
“Some is better than none.”
Lilac thought. “I would need warships. My freighters have no weapons that could deal with the Cardassian forces on Orias III.”
“You would also need ground troops. Can these be arranged? They must not have any attachment to any major power.”
Dejan laughed, “I think I know just the group. You have heard of the mercenary group ‘The Foreign Legion’?”
The Arcturian snorted. “I am a professional. Of course I have. But they are few and use antique weapons and tactics…ahh. Very clever. They are well known rogues who pride themselves on hopeless battles and are composed of outcasts from every society in the Galaxy.” he bowed his head. “I am impressed.”
Lilac raised his glass in a toast as he took another sip. “Their tactics are antique, but highly effective. Very few forces are prepared to deal with them. Do you know they claim to trace their lineage to an ancient military force on Earth that was made up entirely of criminals?”
“I had heard the story, but gave it little credence. Every mercenary company claims a proud history. It is part of their advertising. I know of a Klingon company that claims to have been founded by Kahless himself.”
“But I would need cover. My freighters cannot simply fly into Cardassian space, blast into Orias III, load up a few thousand people and fly away. We would be slaughtered like woolrats.” Lilac shook his head.
“Arrangements are being made. You are familiar with a place called The Badlands?”
Lilac snorted. “What Trader isn’t? The place is a hell-hole for navigation and dangerous besides.”
“And a very good place to hide as well as being reasonably close to Orias III.”
“Hmm. It is that. What are these arrangements?”
“Make your plans as though you had the cover you seek. Center them upon using The Badlands as your staging ground. You will be contacted in two months time with details.” He stood up without any formalities and left the bar quickly.
Dejan finished his drink at a swallow and looked at Fallon’s mother. “Perhaps there are men left in the galaxy after all.”

* * *
STARFLEET OPERATIONS, SAN FRANCISCO, EARTH
FEBRUARY, 2292
Admiral Angie Stone was not used to feeling intimidated. But the man sitting in the room with her made her wish she had a phaser – or better yet the old Potemkin wrapped around her. She wondered if Captain Spruance felt the same way. The man was obviously Starfleet Intelligence, and made her think ‘slimy’ the moment she saw him.
A device on the table top blinked a green light. He smiled and said, “Admiral. Captain. I have an unusual request for you. And a very unpleasant one at that.”
She and Spruance looked at each other. She said, “Well, you’re sure making it sound attractive. What is it? And who are you?”
“Who I am is of no importance. Call me Jones if you need a name. I represent Starfleet Intelligence. There is something that the Federation Council would like to accomplish, but for political and military reasons, it must not accomplish. We need someone who can make this thing happen, and take the fall for it whether it works or not. All we can promise is that things will be made right later.”
She laughed, “Are you trying to get us to say no?”
“No. I’ve studied you both, of course. Were I to come to you and try to sugar-coat this request, you would think I was lying and rightly so. But by telling you the truth immediately, I will gain your trust. I hide nothing: This is a nightmare. You would probably gain nothing by accepting and in fact it will likely cost you greatly.”
Spruance laughed a short barking laugh, “Then why the hell would we do whatever this thing is? And what the hell is it?”
He turned to Spruance. “Because both of you have a strong sense of justice. Because you are both highly dedicated to the founding principles of the Federation. And because you both tend to do what is right over what is easy.”
Stone said, “Well I will admit you’ve got me curious, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to say no, thanks for asking. What is this thing and why can’t the Federation do it anyway?”
“If you refuse, you must agree this conversation never happened. You will never discuss it with anyone, even each other, again. Understood?”
They both agreed and the man went on. “There is a race of people being exterminated. They have been enslaved, starved, beaten, tortured, skinned, vivisected, experimented upon and they are now being systematically murdered.”
Stone, surprised said, “Then why can’t the Federation do something? That’s what we DO is stop things like that from happening!”
The agent tapped a portable console and a series of low-quality pictures began projecting onto the wall. He said quietly, “Because they are in Cardassian space.” Some of the images were clearly sensor traps from a ship flying in, others were from a hidden camera and the bouncing image made it plain it was being worn. Interspersed were pictures of Fallon’s mother and a few snippets of interviews with her. The majority of images were a horror show of everything he had said. A small-statured people with large, liquid, black eyes and black and white skin being shot, beaten, flayed – a parade of nightmares.
Ten minutes later when the projections finished, the last image showing on the wall was of a young female humanoid being cut open on a table. Stone and Spruance both were white-faced, their jaws clamped tightly together.
Spruance said, “That might be worth going to war to stop.”
The man said, “No, it is not. And we have a plan to stop it without a war, but as I said, the cost to you is high. The Cardassian’s society is militaristic and cruel, but this is beyond even their normal limits. We believe it is a small, expansionist sub-society called the Obsidian Order that is responsible, but we have little information about them.”
Puzzled, Stone asked “Then what do you want us to do? Rescuing an entire people? That’s a job for a fleet with heavy transport support and a lot of ground troops. I’m afraid you may have been misinformed. I command a desk and Spruance teaches children how to fly.”
The agent snorted. “I know exactly who you are, Admiral. Your part will become clear, though it will be harder than you can imagine. We have put together an OPORD (ed: Operations Order, a detailed set of instructions for conducting a military operation) for you that will save at least some of these people. It is all we can do. We believe it has a very high probability of success with very minimal friendly casualties. An acceptable level of risk.”
Stone said, “Acceptable to whom?” and he shrugged.
Spruance said, “Let me see it.”
The man slid a PADD across to Spruance. He and Sterling skimmed it. The agent waited patiently while the two officers read quickly through the document, frequently shaking their heads.
Spruance said, “You are insane. I cannot trick these young people into doing this thing. I will not. And you have set me up in the process! Even your own assessment has me in jail! ‘Estimated to be not more than 30 days’ indeed!”
Stone looked at him, “You would have me convict my own niece of piracy and treason and my friend here of dereliction of duty and negligence?”
“As I said, I can only assure you that all would be made right. The Cardassians would be enraged that such a raid took place, but the fact that it were done by a group of idealistic, well-meaning youngsters acting on their own means that the Federation can deny involvement. By having YOU convict the ring-leaders, especially your niece, it proves the lie. Were we to hire mercenaries for the entire operation, they would rightly conclude it was exactly what we are doing – a diplomatic fig-leaf. But not one that they could ignore.
“Our assessment is that the Cardassians would like to be free of the issue on that planet – this raid may very well end the slaughter entirely. With the Federation taking a firm hand against the ring-leaders, we show sensitivity to Cardassian demands, they show that they are not being run over roughshod and we can parlay that into stronger relations with them and we can end an atrocity.
“For the Federation, it is win-win…”
“But WE all get royally FUCKED!” Spruance said.
“Captain, please. Intel has computed a better than 90% probability that the Cardassians will be satisfied with a pro forma conviction and imprisonment. The Federation Council would issue a full pardon when things have blown over, again a better than 90% probability that will be within 30 days. Essentially, you would have a 30 day vacation at some detention center and work on your Dom-Jot game. Admiral, your niece would be free as a bird with a combat command under her belt at the same time. Once pardoned, she’d be returned to the Academy and graduate with her class.
“It looks horrible – by design. It must convince the Cardassians. But the end result is not horrible, and you will have done much to help an innocent people and the Federation as well.”
Spruance was still looking through the OPORD. “You even provide the codes so they can generate forged orders for the USS Archer and Nova Squadron, I see. We can’t even have a real ship, you have them using the school frigate. She should be a museum ship.”
“Orias III has only light defenses.  Three fighters, a patrol craft, and some ground defenses. A frigate and a squadron of fighters is easily their match. Especially when that squadron of fighters is the highly acclaimed – and idealistic – Nova Squadron.”
“You think they’ll go do this thing for you, all on their own?”
“No, you will note that the plan hinges on you motivating Heather and Sterling to want to do so, and making sure they ‘find’ the OPORD included in the appendices. When they find that, they will conclude that your intent was for them to find it, and that it is your desire that they carry out that mission.”
“And then we completely stab them in the back at their trial.” Spruance shook his head.
“Yes. But afterward, they can be told the truth. Their pilots and the crew of the Archer will be innocent – they had valid, written orders supplied by Sterling and Heather. We are talking a week, perhaps two, of them believing they made a hideous mistake during the trial, and then once they are transported to the detention center and the Cardassians have left they too will be told and get an easy 30 day vacation and they will know that they performed admirably in a very difficult job.”
“Like puppets.” the Captain said.
“If you like.” the agent said.
Stone was just shaking her head.
The agent said, “Or, you can do nothing and the Oriaslings will be exterminated. There is no consequence to you refusing this … nightmare. It is understandable that you would refuse – these people are nothing to you. They are not even part of the Federation.”
Spruance stood up, skidded the PADD back at him and said, “FUCK you.” and stormed over to the door. He almost slammed into it when it did not open. He turned and looked back at the agent. Stone was still sitting there, looking at the hideous image projecting on the wall.
The agent said quietly, “I will need a definitive answer from you both.”
Her head sagged down and Spruance said, “Are you all bastards like this? Do you study how to manipulate people so they do what you want?”
“Then your answer is?” he was clearly unaffected by Spruance’s insult.
“You knew before you started talking that I would have to agree, didn’t you?”  Spruance asked. ‘Jones’ smiled slightly.
Stone picked the PADD up. “When does the nightmare begin?”
The door opened. “The dates are in the appendices. For this to work, you must play your parts to perfection. They must believe this is their idea, and they must believe they are abandoned when the time comes. But remember, all will be made right. We promise.”
Spruance said, “We promise?” he laughed bitterly, “Boy, that makes me feel SO much better.”
CHAPTER 11
“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive!”
– Sir Walter Scott – Earth (Human)
STARFLEET ACADEMY, SAN FRANCISCO, EARTH
FEBRUARY, 2292
Sterling, Heather, Inga Von Beck, Paavo Puurunen, Peggy Lynd, and Mike Malloy were sitting in one of the Academy’s many smaller classrooms waiting for Captain Spruance and just bullshitting like all everywhere pilots do.
Noticing Malloy and Lynd flirting with each other even more than had been the norm for them the past year Sterling joked, “Jesus, you two should just get married already.”
They looked at each other and laughed. Malloy said, “Um…” and Peggy blushed.
Inga said, “Oh no way. You didn’t!”
Lynd said, “No, no! Well, not yet, anyway.”
Heather clapped and said, “When?”
Malloy said, “Slow down guys. We aren’t as lucky as you two – You guys can get pregnant, engaged, married, and they’ll just give you more medals. US they’d kick out. We’re not even formally engaged yet. We’re waiting until after graduation in June so we stay within regs.”
Heather said, “HEY! You and Inga got medals for saving me!”
Peggy ignored her and took his hand, “And once we make that formal, we’re going to get married in Golden Gate Park right at sunset on December 21st.That’s the same date my parents got married. But don’t say anything yet! Neither of our parents knows yet. We want it to be a surprise. But Inga, I want you to be my maid of honor and Heather, you’ve got to be my bridesmaid!”
Malloy said, “Andy, you know you’re the only one I’d pick for Best Man, and Paavo, you’re my groomsman. So you guys clear your calendars for the 21st right?”
There were the usual congratulations and jokes about honeymoons and Sterling decided “So, Inga, Paavo, we just need to get you two to hook up and we’ll have a squadron of couples!”
Von Beck and Puurunen looked at each other and broke down laughing.
“What? What’s so funny?”
Von Beck said, “You really didn’t know?”
The other pilots were looking at each other. Lynd finally said, “What?”
Paavo shrugged and said, “I’m gay.”
“No shit!” Malloy said, “You dating someone here at the Academy?”
“Nah. I don’t go for Fleet guys. I’m pretty seriously involved with an artist down in the city though. He’s a sculptor; you should see his work, they’re incredible.”
Sterling said, “I’ll be damned. I never knew!”
“Why would you? I don’t advertise my sexuality. That’s private. Unlike some people who go out of their way to give birth in a cockpit…on the radio no less.”
Heather laughed, “That was not my fault!”
Malloy looked up as Spruance walked into the classroom. “Captain on Deck!” and they all stood to attention.
“As you were cadets.” he said and made his way over to the lectern. “Today, cadets, we’re going to have a short discussion on ethics, the founding principles of the Federation, and when it is appropriate to go to war. Just something I want you thinking of as you prepare yourselves to graduate and head out into the fleet where your actions may, in fact, lead to war if you act rashly.”
He turned on one screen and projected an excerpt from the Federation Charter:
“We the lifeforms of the United Federation of Planets determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, and to reaffirm faith in the fundamental rights of sentient beings, in the dignity and worth of all lifeforms, in the equal rights of members of planetary systems large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of interstellar law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of living on all worlds…”
Then he began displaying images of the Oriaslings and the horrors they were being subjected to. When he finished, he turned to his class and said, “Now then. What would be the right thing to do were these atrocities being committed in a neighboring power, say, the Klingon Empire?”
Peggy looked like she was going to throw up. Heather had one hand over her mouth and Paavo had turned away. Sterling said, “Go in there and kill every last one of the bastards.”
Spruance frowned, “An easy, macho, emotional response Cadet. Tell me why and what you think the consequences of such an action would be.”
He thought for a second. “The charter even says ‘to reaffirm the fundamental rights of sentient beings’ and better standards of living. This is wholesale murder!”
“It also says ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’ Cadet. But, we grant you a fleet of starships and you fly to this Klingon planet, blowing your way through their border patrols, killing thousands of Klingon warriors. You go here and ‘kill every last one of the bastards’. Then what?”
“Well, load them up and take them someplace safe I guess.”
“Someplace safe. Fine. So now you have half a billion living beings you have removed from their home world, whether they want to or not, and you are taking them…where? Some new planet safely in Federation space, no doubt. So in addition to your fleet of starships, you must have a really HUGE fleet of transports unless you plan on taking several months. And you must protect them from the now rather irritated Klingon Empire.
“How many planets would be depopulated in your war, Cadet?”
Malloy said, “But you have to do something!”
“Really Cadet? Why?”
Inga spoke up, “Tolstoy said in War and Peace, ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”‘
“Which is the greater evil, Cadet Von Beck? A few million beings dying horribly or a few hundred billion because good men refused to do nothing? What is ethical behavior?”
Paavo chimed in, “Doing what is right, sir.”
“Wonderful. What IS right? Who defines it?”
Heather added, “Society as a whole.”
“So, if the Klingon society defined their behavior with these creatures as right, all is well, correct?”
“No, that’s not what I meant!” she protested.
“Then say what you mean, Cadet.”
“Well…” she paused, “You have to act according to your society so if ours said that was wrong, then in order to be right, we’d have to act to stop it.”
“Even if the consequence is war? I suppose so since our society is so much more right than theirs. It must be because our fleet is stronger.”
“Well, no, there are…” she paused again, “You have to balance things. Like punishing a child when they do something wrong. You don’t kill them if they scratch you, you just correct them sternly, let them know that they were wrong.”
“I see. So our hypothetical Klingons are naughty children and we should send them a sternly worded letter.”
“That’s not it at all! You’re creating a straw man, sir.”
He smiled. “Well done, Cadet. Very well. So a scaled response is in order here. What sort of a response would you see as being appropriate for stopping mass murder without causing an even bigger mass murder?”
Sterling tried again, “Maybe a raid? Something that wouldn’t cause a full scale war but let them know we were aware of it and were willing to use force to stop it?”
“That can lead to a dangerous escalation, especially if you’re not willing to engage in a full scale war, Cadet, but that idea has merit, and is in fact the exercise I want you to complete for next week. I would like you, as a squadron, to generate a complete OPORD detailing a raid on a hypothetical Klingon world where such atrocities are taking place. Include in your OPORD an analysis of likely Klingon responses and how you will prepare for them and how you will prevent such a raid from escalating out of control.
“Thank you for such an excellent segue Cadet Sterling.” he laughed. “On that note, I’ll dismiss you to your tasks – Heather, Sterling, please remain behind. I have something for you.”
When the other cadets had left, Spruance handed them an isolinear chip labeled ‘OPORD’ “This will give you a template to work from that has considerably more details then your texts. This is from an actual planned raid from some years back that never took place; I expect your squadron’s to be at least as thorough. Understood?”
“Understood, sir!”
“Dismissed.” The two cadets turned and left the room. He began re-organizing his papers feeling as if he had just given poisoned candy to his children.

* * *
Heather was sitting on the floor between Sterling’s legs while he sat on the bunk rubbing her shoulders. She held the PADD up so they could both see it as they read the OPORD. “Andy. He gave us the wrong chip.”
“Look at the dates – this is a real OPORD.” They both skimmed through the file.
“Jesus.” he said, “Those weren’t from some history lesson, those pictures are current.”
“Where’s Orias III?” she followed a link “Oh wow. Cardassian space.”
“That explains the topic of the lecture today. Is he planning a raid? Why isn’t Starfleet going to…Wait, back up to yeah, right there.” he started reading aloud, “In order to maintain plausible deniability all craft will be painted to resemble mercenary or pirate craft. No registration numbers, documents, or any other connection with the Federation can be allowed.”
She scrolled down, “Limited Cardassian forces present…Look, there’s 3 freighters loaded with troops that are called out in Friendly Forces. They’re planning on a rescue mission. Some at least.”
He reached over her shoulder and touched a control. “Christ, Heather. Those are computer codes for Ops. We could cut our own orders and make them legit with those.”
“Hang on a second.” She touched a control and dumped the data on the rod into her personal files. “He’s gotta come and get this. We have to pretend we never saw it. But I want to study that before we get rid of it – something’s going on here.” She yanked the rod out and put it on her side table and put her PADD on the bed.
A few minutes later, the door chimed and she called out “Come!” Neither was terribly surprised when Captain Spruance came through the door.
“Ah, Cadets, thank goodness. I’m afraid I gave you the wrong chip – I meant to give you this one.” he extended his hand with another isolinear rod in it, also labeled ‘OPORD’. “You haven’t gotten started yet, have you?”
Sterling laughed, “I’m afraid we’ve got other things on our mind, sir.” and he caressed Heather’s cheek while she leaned back into him.
Spruance smiled. He had received a notice on his PADD the moment they had opened the file. He gave the lad credit for not lying – he never actually answered his question. He picked up the original chip and said, “Well don’t let me interrupt Cadets; At least since you’ve received special dispensation for being married. How are the little ones doing?”
Sterling said, “Care to see? They’re sound asleep for once.”
“No, let’s not wake them – and you two need to have a few minutes to yourselves anyway. Carry on.” he turned and left their room.
Heather looked up at Sterling. “Something’s weird. He doesn’t make mistakes like that, Andy.”
“I know. I was thinking the same thing. Especially not with active computer codes. So why did he give it to us?”
“And why that discussion?”
They looked at each other. Heather said, “Let’s look at the order of battle again.” She brought the file up, “One frigate, six fighters. Three freighters. 60 mercenaries. Three maintenance teams.” Her heart was beating faster.
Sterling said, “He means us. The Archer, Nova Squadron, and whoever’s got the freighters.”
“Why us? Why not a real team of Special Forces. They’ve got all the slick gear and the training to do a raid.”
He shook his head, “And it would be totally obvious it was a Federation raid – and start a war. That’s what he was telling us. They can’t use Starfleet.”
“Andy, we are Starfleet.”
“No, we’re students. Think about it – if we get everyone together and tell them about what’s going on, they’ll want to go help. We just go do it, the Federation’s off the hook. We’re just a bunch of Cadets who got stupid. They slap us on the wrist and everyone’s happy. And we’ve saved a whole bunch of those little people.”
Her fur all stood up. “No, Andy. We don’t tell them what’s going on.”
“What do you mean? We have to get them to want to go with us. They’re not going to…ohhh. The codes. That’s why those were in there.” He bit his lip.
“And that’s why he gave it to us. We write up the orders and hand them out like it’s a real, approved mission. Everyone follows along like they’re supposed to.” she nodded.
“So, the only ones who get slapped on the wrist are…us. I think now is when we pay Starfleet back for all the waivers.”
“Yeah.” She said. “But isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? The leaders are the ones responsible. Not the troops.”
“We could do this, Heather. But we could also get totally screwed. I don’t even know how many crimes we’d be committing.”
“But we’d be doing the right thing. That last picture…” she closed her eyes. “All I could think of was someone doing that to Reighney or Aedan. And no one coming to help. If they want us to do it, they wouldn’t really put us in jail, we’d get like a reprimand or something. Have to repeat our Senior Year maybe. Think of everything Captain Kirk got away with!” She stood up and the two of them walked into the little room where their kits were sleeping.
He stood behind her, his arms wrapped around her waist. “It’s combat, Heather. Real, live combat. There are Cardassian fighters there. Real missiles, real phasers. We could get killed.”
“They are being killed. We can’t do nothing, Andy. Can you imagine what it must be like to be those people? Day after day, praying that someone will come to save you and day after day, no one comes. Do you remember after the crash? Every day, I had a little less hope that anyone would come. And all we had to do was just survive. These people are watching their friends and families being murdered. And no one comes.
“Andy, I can’t stand the thought. We’re the best there is. Can you honestly say you’re OK with staying here and pretending we didn’t see that OPORD? Knowing that was going on and we had how to stop it put in our laps and we did nothing? Year after year, knowing that we could have…” she closed her eyes.
He squeezed her tightly, “No. We can ask Rollin and Nina to take care of the kids for a little bit, we’ll make up a story that we need the time alone to get ready for finals. But once we start down this road, we can’t stop.”
She sighed, “We’ll need to write a fake set of orders putting Nova Squadron and the Archer on detached training to cover. The OPORD said it was a week just to get there.”
“With those codes we can make it work. We can at least save some of them. And not start a war in the process.”
“Andy.” she leaned back into him, her eyes sad.
“Shhh. I know. We’re going to get screwed.”
“My father told me a story about Uncle Corin letting his mate die in order to save him. He told him it was his responsibility to save my father. He said Uncle Corin told him ‘Honor means always doing the right thing even if it costs you everything you ever had, or dreamed of having.’ I never thought that could really happen to me.”
They stood together for a little while, watching the identical little girls sleep safely in their crib, protected, nurtured, and loved.

* * *
STARFLEET ACADEMY, SAN FRANCISCO, EARTH
MARCH, 2292
Captain Ray Spruance picked up the isolinear chip that had come with the morning’s usual batch of documents. It was marked as new orders for him and he turned it over slowly in his fingers. Instead of putting it in his PADD, he looked out his office windows at the blue waters of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge cutting across it. Such a beautiful morning. He looked down again at the chip. Such an ugly thing. He slammed the chip into the slot on the device and noted that, as expected, the orders passed all the security checks. He started reading through the document.
He shook his head with a wry smile. He was being ordered to leave immediately for a two week conference on mythology and military heraldry; in Kauai, Hawaii. He’d have time to dive, one of his passions that he rarely had a chance to indulge. They had the power to send him anywhere, and they sent him to a vacation spot. He frowned again. He’d get another 30-day vacation when they got back. If they got back.
Ih-Tedda would be suspicious. He wondered how they would explain away his absence and their own. He sighed and headed back to his quarters to pack.

* * *
“What the hell, sir?!” Commander Ih-Tedda asked him. “Two weeks detached duty right before mid-term exams? And mythology?”
He looked at the Apache woman, “Are you saying you can’t handle it, Ih-Tedda? I’m a little surprised.”
“Of course not, sir, but this is weird.”
He chuckled, “I needed a break, I haven’t even taken leave for 3 years. And I have to admit all of these mythical flying beasts showing up on helmets in Nova Squadron has kindled my interest in the subject.” He desperately tried to remember the things they had painted on their helmets. “Angels, demons, dragons, eagles, and two things I can’t even name!” he finished lamely.
“A Pegasus and a gryphon, sir.”
“Yes, yes – that’s them. Did you know that military units throughout history have used symbolism like that to try to call upon the powers of the beasts in combat?” He struggled to try to come up with something that would make it look like the subject held some sort of interest for him.
“I’m Apache sir, what do you think?”
“Oh yes, of course. In any case, I’m lucky I get to go! I’ve left instructions for you, Ih-Tedda. Stick to what I’ve laid out and you’ll be just fine.”
“You requested this conference, sir?”
“Ih-Tedda, you are so suspicious!” he laughed, “I’ll leave it as a mystery for you to solve.” He winked at her, “Can you help me haul my dive gear to the landing field? It can be a bit much with luggage.”
“Oh.” she said and smiled wryly, “Sorry, sir. It just came out of left field is all.” She bent to pick up one of his bags.
“And for god’s sake, don’t pester me unless it’s an emergency. I trust your judgment, Ih-Tedda.”

* * *
The next day, she was sitting at his desk trying to figure out whether she should try to work through more of the giant stack of daily documents before she went to her next meeting. Upper command seemed to revolve around endless meetings and giant stacks of files to be read, sorted, signed and sent to the next person to do the same. Her door chime sounded and she yelled, “Come!”
Cadet Sterling came in and saluted, “Ma’am! Cadet Sterling reporting!”
“I didn’t call for you, Cadet.”
“No, ma’am. Captain Spruance gave me this yesterday to give to you. He said it was a surprise.” He handed her a data rod marked ‘OPORD’.
“Really.” She took the rod and slid it smoothly into her PADD and began reading. “What the hell?”
“What is it, ma’am?”
“Were you aware of the contents of this, Cadet?”
“No ma’am.” Sterling lied, straight-faced.
“I have never heard of anything like this in my entire time at Starfleet.” she checked the authenticity codes again and then fired a query at the central records department and cross-checked several other departments. Everything checked. There were authentic orders covering movement, logistics, communications, everything.
She looked at him, studying him closely. This stank. But there was no way he could do anything like what she was seeing. He was an amazingly good pilot, but he was something of a clod with computer systems. None of the cadets in the senior class were anything spectacular with computers. Certainly not to the degree they’d need to be to make something like this work. Maybe it was for real. It wasn’t exactly Spruance’s style, but the old man had gotten a little odd in the last few years anyway; This batch of cadets had driven him to distraction. “Well Cadet. Nova Squadron is to board the USS Archer with your maintenance teams and proceed to The Badlands for a comprehensive tactical mid-term exam exercise. Your Spring Break is canceled as are your written exams here; They will be administered during travel home. Evidently, this exercise will be used as your primary assessment for post-graduation assignments.”
He managed to look surprised, “Really? A combat exam?”
“Yeah. First time for everything, I suppose.” She slid a blank rod into her PADD and dumped over the student documents. Removing it, she handed it to Sterling, “Here are the relevant portions for your pilots. You are the Mission Commander with Cadet Heather as your XO. Cadet Thompson will be in command of the USS Archer and will be subordinate to you. Looks like this is all students, Cadet. They’re pulling the instructors off the Archer and sending them under separate transport, so if you folks screw the pooch, it’ll be all on you. You leave orbit tonight. Looks like he wants to see how quickly your teams can react. Better get moving.”
“Thank you ma’am!” he smiled with all the excitement he would be expected to have.
She watched him for a moment while he collected the data rods. “I don’t know how Captain Spruance got this through Risk Management, or the Commandant, but they’ve both signed off on it. I also don’t know why he didn’t consult me on any of this and I am more than a little offended by that. But Cadet, this is going to be a real mission – not the combat of course – but you have to get a ship, your pilots, your maintainers, all safely to a very, very dangerous region of space and back again. This is a real command. Let’s not have a repeat of the Conrad, shall we?”
He blushed, “No, ma’am.” and he realized he had lied again.
“Dismissed.”

* * *
FEDERATION FRIGATE USS ARCHER, EARTH ORBIT
MARCH, 2292
Cadet Captain James Thompson was standing with his Cadet Chief Engineer, Suzy Straw as they watched supplies being off-loaded onto the Archer. “Can you believe these orders?”
She smiled, “You deserve it, Jimmy. We’re the best class that’s ever handled the Archer and you know it. We kick ass.”
“This is going to be the most amazing set of exams ever. And we’re even getting live torpedoes! They’ve got some sort of special surprise set up for us if we get to live-fire. Maybe some old scows that we get to take down.”
“Looks like it’ll be a lot of old scows.” she checked her list. “We’re getting a full combat load-out like we were a fleet-duty frigate.”
“Hey, for this exam, we will be a fleet-duty frigate! Just an old one. But the Archer’s got some fight left in her yet; We’ll show those scows what for!”
She giggled, “That’s about the limit of what we can handle and you know it. Everything on the Archer’s an antique no matter how well we take care of her.”
“Well, it’s not like they’ll be shooting back. But I expect her to be ready just in case the instructors throw a surprise at us – They’re up to something and we’re going to slam-dunk this exam.”
“Roger THAT.” she said emphatically.

* * *
FEDERATION FRIGATE USS ARCHER, UNDER WAY, ALPHA QUADRANT
MARCH, 2292
Sterling looked down the briefing room table at Heather, Thompson, Straw, and Christine Barton. The frigate’s briefing room was tiny and felt cramped. He breathed deeply to calm himself, but for once his stutter wasn’t threatening to show up. Heather was smiling at him, and her support and confidence in him made all the difference in the world. “All right folks. Let’s get started. We’ve got six days to get to The Badlands and that gives us six days to prepare.”
Thompson was slightly irritated at being put under the command of a fighter pilot. “Relax Sterling, this is a cake walk.”
Sterling shook his head “It’s not what you think it is, Thompson.”
Heather took out an isolinear chip and inserted it into the slot on the briefing room table. She said, “These are our real orders.”
“What do you mean real orders?” Then he closed his mouth as he and the other cadets present began to read the overview. While he was reading he said, “What the hell, Sterling! You can’t just cancel an exam like this and write your own…” he stopped as he saw that the orders came from Starfleet Command. He paused, “I call bullshit, Sterling. Let me see you authenticate these. Which one of you wrote them?”
Instead of answering, Sterling tapped the authentication icons which promptly glowed green. Heather slid several other chips down the table at the various other cadets. “Here are each of your FRAGOs (ed: Fragmentary Order. A sub-set of an OPORD containing unit-specific instructions for a military operation relating to last minute changes to the OPORD). Feel free to authenticate them yourselves.”
Barton, in student command of the Maintenance section for the first time felt an icy lump growing in her stomach as she read through her FRAGO. She had 24 Cadets under her command and for the first time they would be expected to do the job for real, with no instructors looking over their shoulders and no Chief Petty Officer Brown keeping things running smoothly. They didn’t even have a Technical Inspector aboard. They would be getting birds ready for real combat and fixing real battle damage. Screwing up now wouldn’t mean a poor grade or extra duty, it would mean someone was going to die.
Straw looked up, “Why the hell would they send an all-Cadet mission to rescue a bunch of people from some planet in Cardassian space? We’ve got Special Forces for that sort of thing.” Thompson and Barton echoed the question and Sterling explained,
“They need to be able to say it wasn’t a Federation mission, so that they can step away from responsibility. Otherwise it would be an act of war. With all cadets doing it, it’s just a bunch of idealistic students who got out of hand. They can apologize, and everyone gets back to business.”
Thompson looked up, “Yeah, right. The Cardassian’s would want someone’s head. That’s going to be the commanders of this ship of fools.”
Sterling held his head up. “No, Thompson, that’s going to be the man who issued the orders to his subordinates. Me. You folks were doing what you were supposed to and following my orders.”
“You, my friend are insane. They are going to crucify you for this.”
“They’ll make it look like that, but you know the orders came from Starfleet Command – they aren’t just going to hang me out to dry. They’ll just make it look like that to the Cardassians.” Heather tried not to look at Sterling, but her eyes still flicked quickly over to him and then back down the table.
Barton said, “You have a lot more faith in Starfleet Command than I do.”
Straw asked, “Why, Sterling? Why would you accept this? I can’t imagine they made this an order, they had to have given you the chance to turn it down.”
“Let me show you why.” he nodded and Heather keyed the presentation they had watched in Captain Spruance’s office three weeks ago. When it had finished, Thompson spoke for all of them,
“Jesus H. Christ.”
“Make more sense now?” Sterling asked.
“Yeah. So what happens when the instructors get to The Badlands and we’re already in Cardassian space?”
“Their orders put them in The Badlands the day we get back from the raid. The freighters will go their own way once we’re back in Federation space and they don’t need cover any more. They’ll think we’re all ready for a full day of exercises in very challenging space.”
Barton was still looking at that last horrible image on the view screen. “We’re going to need a lot of paint.”
Straw said, “What?”
“We’re supposed to make all the ships involved look like mercenary or pirate ships. I’ll do the lines on the birds, but there’s no way I’m painting an entire frigate.”
Thompson laughed and Sterling said, “Lines? What are you going to paint? I thought we’d just blotch them up, cover the registration numbers and…”
She said, “My birds are not going into real combat looking bad. I’ll line them out to match the pilot and my guys will paint by numbers.”
Straw said, “We don’t have enough time for fancy paint-jobs on the Archer. We’ll just blank the registration numbers. Maybe they’ll think we’re surplus…”
As the briefing broke up, Thompson walked back to his bridge with Straw. “Now we know why they loaded real torpedoes.”
“It’s just a patrol ship.” she answered.
“And we’re a 50 year-old frigate with a crew of cadets.”
“The best crew of cadets, Captain.”
He grinned back at her. “God, please don’t let me screw this up.”
CHAPTER 12
“It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.”
– Gen Norman Schwarzkopf – Earth (Human)
FREE TRADER THORN, THE BADLANDS, NEAR THE CARDASSIAN-FEDERATION BORDER
MARCH, 2292
Lilac thought that the little Frenchman in his ridiculous little white hat cut a rather comical figure. The antique cut of his uniform and the swagger with which the man did everything was actually rather annoying, but he evidently knew his business. The mercenary company that employed him enjoyed a very good reputation, although they also had a history of taking heavy casualties. No doubt a side effect of their tendency to take on hopeless tasks; hopeless tasks they seemed to succeed at regularly however.
For his part, Major Henri Zinn couldn’t care less. The uniform had a distinctive style and helped to instill the esprit de corps that his company was famous for. The attitude came at the price of many battlefield victories against heavy odds and from having survived dozens of battles before he rose to command; No mean feat in the age of energy weapons. Their current job was rather simple. A small raid against a sleepy outpost, load up as many civilians as possible in as short a time as possible and exfiltrate. The job was well within the capabilities of his detachment and he hoped to escape with as close to no casualties as possible.
Besides, the money was good. The contract had been negotiated in Denmark back on Earth, which was why his detachment got the call since they were based out of Castelnaudary, France. They were the only detachment based on Earth, so they were a natural pick. But since the contracts had been signed, they had been floating around on these damn freighters for almost two weeks and he was becoming bored. It was difficult to keep the troops’ edge sharp when one couldn’t do heavy training for so long.
He continued to stand, at ease, watching the view screen on the freighter’s bridge. If nothing else, it was amusing to irritate the Orion who commanded this ship.
Dejan couldn’t stand it any longer. “Major, why does your company use such…antique weapons and ancient uniforms?”
Zinn smiled. “The uniforms provide distinction and esprit de corps, mon capitan.” He turned to face the Trader. “We make it difficult to earn a job with our company, and have high expectations of those we contract to fight in our ranks. A distinctive uniform – and one with a proud history dating back many centuries – helps to drive that point home. As to the weapons, even a rock, properly employed, can still kill. It is not the weapon that is dangerous, but the man behind it.
“Most military forces today have lost their focus on tactics, on the proper employment and application of force. They simply…” he waved his hand and made a buzzing sound “and trust that everything before them will fall over. They are technicians, more used to pushing buttons than fighting.
But my men? They are experts and they are professionals. We utilize everything from our bare hands to rail guns, when the time and place are appropriate. We simply prefer to use firearms when we can. Everyone knows the high-pitched whine of a phaser or the scream of a rail gun or the ripping sound of a plasma rifle. But tell me, mon capitan, can you identify a silenced sub-machine gun when one fires? Or will you pause and wonder what it was instead of immediately returning fire?
I cannot tell you how many times we have completed our actions on a target before our opponents even knew they were under attack. Further, energy weapons have an annoying tendency to keep going until they hit something. Bullets are relatively short-ranged and don’t over-penetrate when they do hit something. That can be vital when precision is required.”
“So you do use modern equipment! I had heard that all of your gear was ancient.”
Zinn smiled, “It does not hurt to encourage your enemies to underestimate you, mon capitan. We wear equipment that is appropriate to the job and that is covered in the contract. And speaking of our contract, when do our escorts arrive?”
Lilac glanced at a chronometer and then touched a control, it was his turn to smile. “I believe that is them at our maximum sensor range now, Major.”
When the Archer appeared on the view screen, her formerly pristine white paint blotched and spotted, some of the spot lights apparently burned out and generally looking like a disaster. Zinn asked, “That is our escort? I was unaware any of that class were still in use anywhere except…ahhhh. Of course. Shall we go and meet our escort?”
A few minutes later, he and Dejan Lilac were in the freighter’s recreation deck with Lilac’s other two Captains, Zinn’s XO and his Adjudant when Sterling, Heather, Thompson, and Straw walked in. All four were in civilian clothes. Lilac turned to Sterling and said, “Captain…?”
“Geoffrey Thorpe.” And he smiled. As he was about to introduce the rest of his team with similarly fake names, Thompson interrupted,
“Yarr. An we be his pirate crew, arrrr.” Straw stifled a giggle.
Lilac did not understand the reference and only looked confused, but Zinn chuckled and said, “You are the USS Archer, so you are Starfleet officers at the very least. Perhaps you would be so good as to give us your real names and ranks as I refuse to call you the Sea Hawk, although I approve of your cover as pirates.”
Heather was stunned that anyone would pick up on  an alias based on a three hundred and fifty year old entertainment. Sterling took his seat and said, “Senior Cadet Andrew Sterling, I am the raid commander. This is my XO, Senior Cadet Heather, the captain of the Archer is Senior Cadet Thompson, and his Chief Engineer, Senior Cadet Straw.”
Lilac was horrified. “You are students?!”
Sterling looked calm as the rest of his team took their seats in the room. “Is there a problem, Captain Lilac?”
“We are about to undertake an armed raid in the Cardassian Union and Starfleet has sent us a crew of children playing pirate in a museum ship as our top cover? What about that is not a problem?!”
Sterling gave him a withering look. “We have a perfectly maintained and functioning Mustang class frigate, a full load-out of photon torpedoes, six of the best fighter pilots in the Federation flying the latest mark Viper, and a crew of willing, trained experts who know their ship inside and out. But if you would prefer to wait here until someone else comes along to deal with a single patrol ship and three fighters, we can leave.”
Lilac thought that the latest mark Viper went out of front-line service in the Federation ten years ago, but wisely said nothing. Zinn studied the group of cadets. Part of his expertise was in assessing both enemies and allies. He and Sterling locked eyes for a few moments. Zinn finally nodded and said, “Mon capitan, I believe we can work with these people.”
Lilac looked from the rock-hard Zinn in his antiquated Legionnaire’s uniform to Sterling’s young face. He said to Sterling, “You can guarantee the safety of my ships?”
Sterling looked him square in the eye. “As much as anyone can in combat, Captain. We will clear the way for you to land, protect you while you load up as many people as you can, and cover you on the way out and into Federation space, until you take your leave of us. I give you my word we will be there for you.”
Lilac shook his head, “This goes against my better judgment.  You have a mission brief for us, I hope?  Something at least?”
Sterling ignored the jibe. “Heather?” he stood while Heather slid a data chip into her PADD. Thompson handed out other data chips to Lilac, Zinn, and their aides. He took a deep breath, calming his racing heart. “You have just been handed your OPORD and FRAGOs for this raid.  Here is the overview of the operation, please feel free to interrupt with comments, questions, or suggestions.”
A star chart appeared on the wall. “We will leave The Badlands at maximum warp – Captain, your freighters will set the pace as best they can. We will join the usual trade route here, just inside Federation space and approach Orias III in close-formation, with the Archer in the sensor-shadow of your ships.  You will note that the Cardassian patrol ship stationed at Orias III flies a polar orbit rather than the more usual equatorial orbit. Captain, you must time our orbital insertion so that as we enter sensor range, the patrol ship is just about to round the south pole.  As soon as that ship crests the pole, the Archer will begin jamming their sensor platforms and communications. The timing here is critical, you understand?
“We will launch all six fighters at that time, and they will proceed to drop into the planet’s gravity well while the Cardassian is on the far side of the planet. Your freighters will follow as closely on the Viper’s tails as you can. By the time the Cardassian comes back over the north pole, the Archer will be in position to engage her and disable her while the fighters slip in unnoticed.”
Straw was keeping the various images clocking along with Sterling’s presentation, and paused with a diagram of a Cardassian base. “This is our best analysis of the layout of the camp that your sensor data covered, Captain. That data was rather sketchy as to the location of defenses, but we have filled in the blanks as best we can by utilizing what little we know of Cardassian standard procedures and common tactical sense.
“As soon as the Archer engages the patrol ship, we anticipate them launching their fighters from wherever they are based; Here we have placed them at this camp, deducing that they would be located at their command center with the overall Commander, the man you identified as Legate Kai. Those fighters will be engaged and destroyed as they attempt to climb to aid the patrol ship.
“Your freighters will drop down to the planet surface, at this point, below their sensor horizon and hug the surface as closely as you are able. Those Vipers not engaged with the Cardassian fighters will be in the lead and will engage and destroy any ground defenses. Your sensors showed us one fixed air-defense phaser position here, one missile facility here, and what looks like a transport yard here. We anticipate there being between one and three mobile air defense phasers present there. We will be using the fighters’ photon torpedoes to destroy these installations before they can be brought to bear, preferably within the first pass.
“As soon as you clear this range of hills here, you will set down in the camp itself here. From your notes and photos, you have indicated that these buildings are administrative and house only Cardassians. Feel free to crush them with your ships as landing space is a bit tight.” he grinned and indicated Major Zinn. “At this point, your troops will disembark and neutralize any Cardassian ground forces and begin loading as many of the Oriaslings as you can.
“We have planned on spending no more than two hours on the ground. By that time, other Cardassian facilities may be able to mount a rescue column. Our fighters will remain aloft and providing cover against such a possibility or against any other Cardassian resistance they may bring to bear while the Archer remains in orbit as top cover. Once you have loaded your freighters, we will escort you back to Federation Space where you will go your own way and we can honestly say that we have no idea where you have gone with them.
“Complete details are in your files. Are there any questions or comments at this point?”
Heather was as proud as she had ever been. Sterling had given the briefing with a maturity and a power of personality that she knew he had but he seemed to think that he lacked. That was her mate.
Zinn had been scanning through his files while Sterling gave the briefing. “A professional job, sir. Very thorough. Simple, straightforward, clean. I like simple. There are fewer things to go wrong.”
Sterling smiled, “Thank you, Major. We were able to access Starfleet intelligence data and they indicate that there will be no Cardassian forces within three days of Orias III, so we should be long since back in Federation territory before they can even arrive there to see what has happened.”
Lilac was still uncertain, but the plan seemed sound and the young human seemed confident and capable. And the money that was being provided by the Arcturian’s patrons made the job worth the risk, even with losing the Cardassians as trade stops forever more.  “When do we leave?”
“As soon as we return to the Archer, you set the pace, Captain and we’ll follow right along. We should be there in 24 hours and back here in 50.”

* * *
FEDERATION FRIGATE USS ARCHER, APPROACHING ORIAS III, CARDASSIAN UNION
MARCH, 2292
Thompson was trying not to stare at the aft end of the Orion freighter the Archer was following. Even at no magnification, he was sure he could see the individual bolts holding her warp nacelles onto the hull. Cadet Gazi wasn’t even blinking as his hands delicately caressed the helm controls. The tactical officer, Cadet Keita sang out, “We’re a little far out, but she’s just about to go under the pole, Captain!”
“Close enough.” he told the man. “Tell the fighters to launch in sixty seconds and signal Lilac to follow them down, activate the ECM system on my mark.” his heart was pounding. There would be no classroom analysis of his orders tonight. Either he would be dead or they would be. He had better get this right.
He watched the chronometer tick over slowly while the track of the Cardassian vessel was curving underneath Orias III, finally dropping off sensors behind the bulk of the planet. A few seconds later Keita said, “Fighters have all cleared the bay.”
“Mark, mark, mark. Helm, course 315 mark 330, maximum impulse! Get us as low as you can and as close as you can to the pole, I want a shot at her engines before she even knows we’re there. Weapons, ready phasers and arm the photon torpedoes, Defense, maximum shields and energize the defense grids. All hands, red alert!”

* * *
Heather sat in the cockpit of her Viper. Her gloves were in her lap and her mask was un-snapped from her helmet. She ran her hand along the cool metal of the canopy frame, looking closely at the fasteners and the paint, the instruments, the controls. She had never really paid attention to all the thousands of tiny details in this cramped box that had become so much of her world.  There was a faint whine from the APUs, the gentle hiss of the life support system and the occasional chirp from the computer. Her eyes looked out the cockpit at the packed hangar bay in the frigate’s aft hull. Sterling’s fighter was in front of hers, her nose tucked under his port wing. With Barton’s new paint job, it looked like a huge black and red demon was draping it’s bat’s wing over her. It surely did not look like a Federation fighter.
She could just see his head and upper back through the canopy. She wished she could hold him again. Last night had ranged from passionate to gentle and everything in between but it didn’t seem like enough. She wondered if Peggy and Mike felt the same way. She glanced over her shoulders, seeing Peggy’s golden eagle tucked under her angel’s starboard wing while Mike’s red dragon crouched under Andy’s starboard side and Inga’s bright white Pegasus was mostly hidden on Mike’s starboard side. Turning left, she saw Paavo’s beautiful gryphon sheltering under her port wing. Those two hadn’t anyone to turn to for comfort last night, no one to share their fears with. Her comm system came to life with Andy’s voice.
“Five minutes. Final systems check and cross-check. Weapons systems to stand-by, double-check the safeties.”
She snapped her mask back on her helmet, took a deep breath and then pulled her gloves back on. Her heart started to beat faster. She ran her checks and tapped a control on one of her displays. A few moments later her Viper started to broadcast her latest ‘find’.
There was laughter across the comm channels and she heard Paavo say, “Wouldn’t be a fight without her musty old music!”
Peggy asked, “What’s this one, Heather?”
Smiling behind her mask she said, “I thought it fit – I found it before we even left. It’s called ‘Blood and Roses’ by The Smithereens”
In his fighter, Andy just shook his head and smiled. The Dosadi always played music throughout their battles according to Rollin, but Starfleet preferred a more austere environment. He decided everyone needed the laugh right about now, and the familiar habit besides.
“Bay doors coming open. Ten seconds. Retarders to maximum. Throttles to 10%.”
His com system sang to him:

3I want to love but it comes out wrong
I want to live but I don’t belong
I close my eyes and I see
Blood and roses

“A little macabre.” he thought to himself. He looked up to the flight control booth and saw Barton give him a snappy salute. He returned her salute and the retarder fields released in three waves. A fast check showed all six Vipers spreading into a tight delta formation. “Stay on me…down we go.” He pushed the stick forward and the Viper began arcing down into Orias III.

* * *
TAJOR WORK CAMP, ORIAS III, CARDASSIAN UNION
MARCH, 2292
Fallon stumbled along at the end of the line of Oriaslings being marched out of the camp and around the back side. Kai had not given her any extra work or extra privileges for the last month, but she had found ways to make herself useful to her people, caring for the sick or injured or sneaking food back from the fields when she could. Nine years-old now, she felt closer to ninety. She had begun to understand her people’s philosophy much better though, simply accepting that which happened without a value judgment of good or bad. But she was so tired, and hungry and…There seemed little point to simply existing.
As they rounded another corner and came behind the administrative buildings, she thought she would be sent to the fields to work today. At least it was an overcast day, so it wouldn’t be so hot. There was a slight drizzle, but not enough to be much of a bother. She might even be able so hide some extra food for the sick people. It was worth the risk of a beating. They never lasted long and she was strong. She had beaten the monster. No matter what he had tried, he couldn’t make her be like him. She was better than him.
The guards turned the column into a large clearing and she realized with horror that she wasn’t going to be working the fields today. Or any other day for that matter. There was a large piece of heavy equipment with a blade on it, a line of Cardassian soldiers, and a long trench in the ground. And He was here. Much as she tried not to, she started to cry, the tears welling up in her eyes and slowly rolling down her cheeks. It wasn’t fair.

* * *
FEDERATION FRIGATE USS ARCHER, MANEUVERING, ORIAS III, CARDASSIAN UNION
MARCH, 2292
Keita shouted “Target!”
Thompson ordered, a little too loudly, “Lock on her engines and fire phasers!”
The small, Gatun-class patrol ship had caught a quick glimpse of Lilac’s freighters coming into the system before she went under the pole, which was nothing unusual, but when their sensor platforms were jammed they quickly realized all was not well. She was running along at her best speed, weapons hot and shields up. Her captain was no fool.
Gul Rekta gave his own orders, “Evasive action! Fire forward phasers and missile batteries! What is that?!” A veteran  Cardassian officer, he had volunteered for this post as a likely place to retire to, but in his youth he had commanded much larger warships. “Frigate!” he answered his own question, surprised as he recognized the old design from his younger days. “Close with them! Comm, send a distress signal to Central Command.”
Back aboard the Archer, Thompson watched his phaser shot miss wide right as the little ship nimbly dodged and returned fire, two anti-ship missiles rocketing away from her hull “Fuck! How did you miss?! Evasive! Shoot those down!” The Archer shuddered as the enemy phasers found their mark, damaging her forward shields.
Thompson felt like he was going to throw up as the missiles rapidly closed with the Archer. “Bobby, hit those fuckers!!” and below decks in the phaser control room the two freshman cadets manning the  forward point defenses tried like hell not to wet their pants, their first shots missing the rapidly closing missiles but finally scoring hits close enough that pieces of the weapons smashed into the Archer’s shields.
Back on the bridge, Thompson wasn’t going to give the Cardassians another chance. “Lock on photon torpedoes and fire!!” The weapons operator got a solid track on the little patrol ship as it charged in and fired the powerful weapons at point-blank range, just before the Cardassian was below minimum engagement range.
The main view screen went white as the patrol ship exploded, the Archer rocking and groaning in the shock wave. Thompson sagged back in the command chair. They were supposed to disable the ship, not destroy it. He bit his lip. He had just killed…what, 20 Cardassians? Should he have used the phasers again? What if he had used only one torpedo? Should he have maneuvered more? The bridge was silent, except for people trying to get their breathing back under control.

* * *
Doran Turak was frustrated. He knew everyone in the unit assigned here at Orias III thought he was too by-the-book, or too young to know better, or that he was a snitch for the Obsidian Order. He wasn’t, but he wouldn’t mind having that chance either. There were rules for a reason. Everyone else liked to do things the easy way. He preferred to do things the right way.
Which was why he was here, sitting in one of the prepared positions in his Gatling phaser air-defense truck all by himself. There was supposed to be a sensor operator and a gunner, but of course they had told him to piss off, preferring to stay indoors where it was warm. Did it matter that they weren’t specifically ordered to drive a rotating patrol? Regulations called for such a patrol. So, as usual, he drove it himself.
He wished he knew how to operate the complex sensors that went with the powerful phasers, but he hadn’t been trained for that yet. He knew how to use the optical system, but when would you ever use such a thing? Everyone used sensors. He sighed and climbed up in the gunner’s position, running his hand over the big weapon. Regulations called for spending 30 minutes in each position before moving on to the next. There was no reason not to at least pretend he was a gunner while he waited. He unlocked the turret controls and slewed it left and right, tracking imaginary Klingons who were attacking Cardassia Prime.

* * *
Inga’s voice came across the comm channel, interrupting Heather’s play list, “Bandits, climbing, two o’clock low. Max range. Three bandits. Tally Ho!” her Viper banked right with Peggy’s sliding across and falling in behind her starboard wing.
She said, “I’ve got your back, Inga.”
Andy ordered, “Paavo, stick with them. Everyone else, with me, watch for air defenses. Lilac, down on the deck!” He watched as the freighters dropped like rocks, anxious to get as far away from the enemy fighters as possible.
Inga activated her ECM system and adjusted her scanners to improve her track on the incoming fighters. They were coming in fast, but not doing anything terribly interesting. “Head to head, come around left at max Q, weapons free. Paavo, angels high, right?”
She heard him chuckle and his Viper suddenly rocketed upwards, banking off to the left and rapidly disappearing into the cloud deck.  Her helmet cuing system was showing the three Cardassian fighters closing, and a pair of missiles launched off the second fighter.
Peggy’s voice came through her headset, “vampires twelve o’clock, boss.”
“No lock; panic fire.” The two missiles corkscrewed off below her, leaving a white vapor trail in the moisture-laden atmosphere. Seconds later, she and Peggy blew through the three Cardassian fighters , starting their turn even before they had completed the pass through. The enemy birds split up and she banked her Viper through as tight a left turn as the airframe would allow.
“Lock on…bird’s away.” came Peggy’s voice and she glanced right to see the Dagger streak away from the golden-feather painted fighter. The second pilot had evidently elected to turn the wrong way and had cut almost directly across her path, an easy kill for an off-boresight shot. She shook her head and continued trying to get a lock on the enemy leader, Peggy’s Viper staying close on her wing. She hardly even noticed the explosion falling away behind them as the other Cardassian split in two, tumbled, and then turned into a fireball.
The leader was proving a more difficult target however. He knew what he was doing with his bird, making full use of his jammers and shields. She had tagged him twice with phasers during the falling turning duel, but not solid enough to punch through.
“Boss, trailer coming in five o’clock low.” Peggy called.
“Paavo.” was all Inga said.
“On it.”
“Peggy, slot left.” she ordered.
“Wilco.”
The enemy pilot, detecting Peggy’s Viper sliding across Inga’s tail, had to reverse his turn, executing a beautiful barrel roll into an diving right turn, trying to take advantage of his fighter’s faster roll rate. Inga side-slipped her fighter wide, giving the Cardassian more distance in order to stay on his tail and using her thrusters to swing her own tail around in a skidding slide, stressing the airframe to its limits.  As they banked, the second Cardassian was trying to stay in the Viper’s blind spot, closing the range so he could get a solid shot in.
Checking her rear monitor, she saw the blinking warning sign that the enemy fighter was nearly within range and then she saw the streak of Paavo’s tan and gold gryphon dropping out of the clouds like a bolt from Zeus, the phasers turning the enemy fighter into a black and red smudge that disappeared behind them in seconds, Paavo’s ship continuing it’s dive through the smoke.
A moment later, there was a growling buzz in her ear piece and she said, “Solid lock. Bird’s away.” The Dagger streaked outwards, the enemy pilot desperately trying to evade, but to no avail, the missile exploding near his right wing-root. The damaged shields were unable to deflect the energy and the fighter began to come apart. As they flew past the cartwheeling enemy fighter, Inga saw him eject; Something she never thought she would see. In the Academy you were just ‘dead’ and had to return to base.
“Form up, head back to the objective, full throttle, watch for ground fire.” she ordered, thinking that she had just scored her first kill. She hoped the enemy pilot would be OK. He flew pretty well.

* * *
Legate Kai was enjoying the morning. The clouds and drizzle made it cooler than he’d like, but at least the light wasn’t as bright and it was pleasantly humid for once. His troops had been making good progress on clearing out the infestation of these stupid little creatures and had nearly finished the preparations for the Cardassian Outpost that would be here by year’s end.
He had decided that today they would start clearing out this camp as well, part of consolidating the system as the population reduced. They were so stupid. He had finally given up on trying to make any progress on teaching little Fallon how the world actually worked. The little thing seemed to have no concept of good, or bad, beyond what related to food or pain. He had been so sure they could be taught. Ah well, it had been an amusing game while he was stuck in this dreary job. Today he’d end that particular experiment and begin making real progress. It would not do for the Obsidian Order to decide that he was not accomplishing their goals.
He watched them shuffle into the field, his troopers cuffing them into lines. It was amazing the mess it made having to get rid of this many animals. Not done properly, it would be a serious health hazard for the incoming colonists. He pulled his gloves on and walked to the end of the line of troopers on his side of the trench. Ah, there was little Fallon. He was a good master and would put his own pet down.
Drawing his sidearm he ordered, “Take aim.” and was startled by a sudden explosion behind him, on the far side of camp. There were several more in rapid succession and he said, “What is going on here?”

* * *
Andy’s fighter was screaming through the thick air, his sensors scanning for the sensor emissions that would identify the air defenses he knew had to be there. Several symbols appeared on his face plate and he locked his torpedo onto the closest, a missile launcher that was even now searching for his birds. “Heather, phaser site eleven o’clock, Malloy, vehicle park two o’clock, go, go, go!” Lilac’s freighters were coming in fast and already settling down in the camp although it looked like one was coming down beside it. Things were going very well so far, assuming Inga’s group had taken care of the three fighters.
He throttled back and gave his tracking system another few moments to stabilize on the missile site in front of him. His sensors clearly showed the launcher slewing towards him while it’s sensors tried to burn through the jamming his Viper was putting out. As soon as the pipper turned green, he gently pressed the button on his right side-stick and the little ship bucked as the heavy photon torpedo streaked into the distance. A missile leapt off one of the rails and streaked into the sky. He immediately banked right and dropped as low as he could, the missile going wildly into the sky. There was a blinding flash as his torpedo exploded followed by another shattering series of detonations. “Hit!” he thought and grinned to himself. He went back to scanning for mobile launchers or phasers or any other threat.
Meanwhile, Mike thought to himself “What a cake walk.” The open lot was full of several types of vehicles, some of which were clearly air defense vehicles. “Stupid place to park those. Not much use to anyone.” He fired his torpedo and didn’t even bother to change course as the yard vanished in an instant. He curved his fighter around, scanning the ground as he headed back to escort Lilac’s freighters in. Nothing else to do. At least Peggy got to have a dog-fight. He had no doubt that she was fine. That woman could fly. She could do other things really well too, he smiled at the thought.
Heather rolled level, flashed over one of Lilac’s freighters – they were early, she thought, chopped her throttle and lined up her shot. The high-power Gatling phaser mount in front of her bird was facing the wrong way and had no chance to engage her, although she could see it rotating as its crew frantically tried to bring their weapon to bear. She fired her torpedo and watched it disintegrate and then looked across the camp, her fighter moving relatively slowly. There was a line of Cardassian troops near where one of Lilac’s freighters was settling down; evidently the pilot didn’t see them, or didn’t care. She lowered the nose of her Viper, her altitude dropping alarmingly.  She pressed the trigger, the phasers spitting green energy into the line of men and she pulled up and away, increasing her thrust while she went to look for more targets.

* * *
Fallon jumped when the first explosion went off. What were they doing now? Were they blowing everyone up? Wasn’t it fast enough to just shoot them? She saw Kai turn and heard him yell something. Maybe this wasn’t something the Cardassians were doing. There was a ripping noise over her and she looked up to see an angel drop out of the sky and shoot the Cardassians. She was too stunned to move as the explosions ripped through their line and several fired their weapons into the sky, having no effect at all on the angel.
The angel screamed off over the trees. She knew it was a ship of some kind. One that wasn’t Cardassian. But whatever it was, what it looked like even with the funny skin color, what it was, was an angel. The others were running, trying to hide, she should too. Instead, she looked at the monster. He looked at her.
Kai knew someone was trying to ‘save’ the little creatures. Clearly then, the way to foil their plan was to kill them now. He could see two big ships – LILAC! Settling down on the camp, crushing his office and communications equipment. He was out of the fight – he would have to rely on his men to carry the day. But he could make their raid a failure. He yelled at his men “SHOOT THEM!” and turned to do the same. He saw little Fallon was too stupid even to run. He smiled and raised his phaser. “Good bye, Fallon.”
Her eyes got big as she saw the phaser point at her. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t. She didn’t want to die. She closed her eyes and let the roar wash over her.

* * *
Major Zinn had his mean stacked by the rear cargo doors. The doors, slow at the best of times, were already open. The wind of the ship’s movement through the air was sucking the rain into the hold and soaking everyone and blowing their camouflaged clothing around. It didn’t matter, they would dry.
He watched the trees coming up on either side of the sinking freighter and he raised his Thompson sub-machine gun. As commander, he would be the first out the doors. The five four-man stacks with him raised various remakes of ancient slug-throwing weapons and got ready to move and move with a purpose as soon as the ship grounded.
Everyone crouched, bending their knees to absorb the shock of landing. Seconds later, the ship hit the ground and he and his men charged out of the open doors. About 50 meters directly in front of him was a line of Cardassian troops. Some had weapons pointing to the sky, some to his left, some were on the ground. He aimed his Thompson and let loose at the Cardassian nearest him, watching as the burst of three nearly half-inch bullets stitched up the man’s left side in a roar, knocking him to the ground.
Cardassian’s normal uniforms provided some protection against energy weapons, but none whatsoever against high-velocity chunks of metal, he thought with a grin, moving on to engage the rest of the enemy line who were completely confused and disorganized. He and his men made short work of them.

* * *
When the first explosions went off, Turak nearly jumped out of the truck. In seconds he knew that their base was under attack. A real attack. He saw the transport yard explode and knew that the other gunners had gone with it. He was the only one left. And then he saw one of the enemy fighters rising slowly up out of the trees almost directly in front of him. It was painted like a human with big white wings. He slewed his sight to the right, trying to get the weapon to bear.
The fighter banked to the side, presenting a beautiful profile of the image painted on the fuselage and for just a fraction of a second it hovered nearly motionless in his optic. Terrified, he jerked the trigger and screamed at the horribly loud whine of the Gatling phaser in his ear and watched the image in his sight vanish in a brilliant green glare and puff of white. When he opened his eyes again, there was nothing in his optic but grey sky.

CHAPTER 13
“Well, I think we tried very hard not to be overconfident, because when you get overconfident, that’s when something snaps up and bites you.”
– Neil Armstrong – Earth (Human)
TAJOR WORK CAMP, ORIAS III, CARDASSIAN UNION
MARCH, 2292
The roaring sound kept happening, so Fallon opened her eyes. She wasn’t dead? She saw the Cardassians spinning around and falling over, blood spraying out of them in time to the horrible tearing roaring sounds. There were strange people running towards them; Hardly any two looked alike, but they were all wearing the same ugly splotchy clothing, floppy hats with a shiny pin on them and the same sort of boots. They were carrying the strangest guns that she had ever seen and instead of beams of light, they spat fire and smoke and they were terribly loud.
One of them came over and knelt down by her. She just stared at the little pin on his funny green hat – it was a circle around an angel’s wing, with a hand holding a sword.

* * *
Major Zinn finished his drive through the line of Cardassians. The other four squads had split up, per the plan, and were sweeping into the camp, searching for any other troops. He made another pass back down the line, putting another burst into one trooper who seemed a little too healthy yet. Changing magazines on the Thompson, he bellowed to his men in gutter French, “Round them up and start loading them in the freighter! Remember, it’s not optional. The clock is ticking.”
Nimbly jumping over the trench he knelt down by a tiny little thing and said, “Bébé, allez dans le navire maintenant.“ She didn’t move, simply staring at him with her big black eyes wide and her mouth open. Standing up again, he forcibly spun her around and pushed her towards the ship, following it up with a gentle boot to the bottom. She finally got the idea and ran towards the cavernous freighter. He took his beret off and wiped his brow. Scanning the field with satisfaction, he put the hat back on, pulled out his PADD and checked on his men’s progress. He waved one of his Nausicaan squad leaders over; The man was truly a fright – over two meters tall with tusks and carrying a fully automatic 12 gauge shotgun, the mere sight of him was enough to cause death, he thought.  Time to get back to work.

* * *
Inga was leading her flight to the Cardassian compound as fast as they could go. She could see the freighters on the ground and several columns of smoke rising from the defensive positions, so it looked like everything was going according to plan. Heather’s Viper climbed up and began a wing-over turn, the angel paint job showing clearly in her enhanced visuals. Barton had done a phenomenal job. Then she saw a Gatling phaser open up from a small clearing. There was a flash of white, a cloud of smoke and the Viper spiraled frightfully fast, it’s trajectory taking it up in a ballistic arc; She screamed “HEATHER!”. She felt her blood go ice cold and thumbed the arming button on her photon torpedo saying, “He’s mine. Split up and look for any more of the little bastards.”

* * *
Turak couldn’t believe it. He had hit it! He shot down the enemy fighter! There was a hint of motion out of his left eye and he turned his head. There were three more! One of them was coming straight at him terribly fast – it wasn’t even making any sound. In an instant he knew he had no time to slew the Gatling mount around. Terrified he simply jumped out of the turret and fled, a stream of urine running down his leg. He had barely made it the few meters to the trees when his world dissolved in a blinding white light and a roar.

* * *
Heather struggled to stabilize her fighter. The inertial dampeners kept the rotation from banging her around too much, but her helmet had smacked into the canopy bow anyways. The instruments were spinning wildly, and the canopy was a green and grey blur. The roll rate dropped as she struggled and she heard the computer warning “Pull Up! Pull Up!” A moment later she brought the ship level, but inverted and saw the ground rising up above her. Jamming the right side-stick fully forward, the nose of the Viper swung back to the sky, while still trying to roll and yaw to the right.
She stamped on the rudder pedals and rotated the throttle as much as she dared, involuntarily ducking as the Viper slammed through the tops of some trees. The shields were gone, but the duranium fuselage shredded them and sprayed branches everywhere. Finally getting some altitude, she let the craft roll to the right and leveled out, racing away from the Cardassian camp, trying to assess the damage to her bird.
It suddenly dawned on her that there were several voices calling her name on the comm system. “I’m OK. I’m hit, but I’m OK.”
Sterling’s voice drowned out the rest. As Raid Commander, his transmissions took priority in the computer. “How bad is it? You’re trailing a lot of vapor from your right wing.”
She banked gently back towards the rest of the squadron who were systematically shooting the hell out of every clearing they could find, just in case. “Looks like I lost a chunk of my starboard wing-tip and there’s a hole in the same wing. Shields are gone. Primary coolant system and Primary hydraulics both losing pressure. She wants to roll right.  I’m OK. No need to abort. Still mission capable.”
There was a long silence. “Keep some altitude. Once they load up, you Paavo and Inga take lead on escorting the freighters. The rest of us will bring up the rear.”
For the next hour and a half, they flew lazy circles over the camp, watching Zinn’s Legionnaires herding long lines of Oriaslings into the freighters. It was apparent they were not being terribly gentle about it, using boots and shoves to encourage the little people to move faster.  Heather wondered what it would be like to be one of those left behind as the freighters began closing their cargo doors. How horrible must it be to see salvation literally right in front of you and then have it snatched away.
At least her fighter was holding together though. She continued juggling systems to keep it that way and that took her mind off of the plight of those abandoned on the surface. It helped even more when Andy’s confident voice came through her headset, “All right. Up we go. As soon as we clear atmosphere, recover on the Archer and let’s get out of here. Heather, if you can’t land safely on the Archer, you should be able to fit on one of the freighters and we’ll transport you over. We’ve got this nailed, people. Well done.”
Heather felt a surge of pride. They had done it. They hadn’t rescued all of them, but there were thousands inside the big ships. She patted the instrument panel. “Good job, little bird. Now just get me home.” She checked the tactical display and saw that the Archer would be on the far side of the planet when they cleared atmosphere. They’d have to match orbits with her, but it wouldn’t take long. Already the surface of Orias III was lost underneath the cloud deck. They had done it.

* * *
FEDERATION FRIGATE USS ARCHER, MANEUVERING, ORIAS III, CARDASSIAN UNION
MARCH, 2292
Thompson finally allowed himself to relax. For the last ninety minutes he had been continually re-assessing his commands during the battle with the patrol ship, wondering what he should have done differently. But now, Lilac’s freighters were lifting off the surface and all six fighters were right along with them. All they had to do was round the planet, load them up and then fly home.
Keita’s console beeped and he touched a control. His dark black face blanched nearly white and he shouted “CARDASSIAN CRUISER DEAD ASTERN!”
“What? That’s not…” the screen over Keita’s station showed the terrifying image of a Cardassian heavy cruiser that had just dropped out of warp.
“Helm! Full ahead! Full shields! Comm, call Sterling!”
“They’re jamming us!”
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” he fumbled with the buttons on the command chair, “Straw! You gotta get us more power. We need everything…” the Archer vibrated slightly from a long-range hit from the cruiser’s main battery.
“What the hell? I thought we were…”
“A god damn Cardassian cruiser just showed up!” For an instant, his mind flashed back to a test he had taken at the start of his senior year. It involved a disabled freighter that you went to help. And of course, it was a trap. Half a dozen Romulan warbirds suddenly surrounded your ship and destroyed it in minutes. A completely un-winnable set up that the instructors put together as a mind-fuck just to see if they could break you.
“We’re on it, Captain!” came Straw’s steady voice.
He thought for a few moments. Maybe not just to see if they could break you. The Archer was streaking along in her orbit, engines straining to force her lower and faster, although the frigate had no chance of out-running or out-fighting the enemy cruiser. Maybe what the instructors had said was right, the Kobayashi Maru test was to prepare you for that time when you simply couldn’t win. So that instead of curling into a little ball and crying, you faced your fate like a man, on your feet and fighting to the last ounce of strength.
Thompson sat back in his chair and looked around his bridge. There were nearly a hundred cadets on board ranging in age from 17 to his own elderly 22.  They were counting on him. Well, he decided, he couldn’t get them home again, but he could at least make their last moments something to be proud of. Besides, what was that stupid slogan old Professor Popski was always spouting off in Military History? ‘Who Dares, Wins.’
Cadet McKenzie, a 17 year-old New Zealander spun his chair around “We can surrender!”
Thompson gave him a withering stare. “Shut the fuck up, McKenzie.” The bridge was nearly silent except for the pinging of the sensor sweep and the occasional whir from the computer.
“No! I’m serious! We don’t have to die! All we have to do is…”
Cadet Captain James Moses Thompson stood up, his expression silencing the panicked young man. He walked the two steps to his chair and said quietly, “Cadet, you will close your mouth and man your station. The USS Archer will not surrender, ever.” He stood up straight and spoke to his bridge crew. “We are going to unfuck this situation and complete this mission. Is that understood?”
There was a chorus of “Yes, sirs!”, some with more conviction than others. The ship vibrated again from another glancing phaser hit on the shields.
“We’ve got six of the most bad-ass fighter pilots in the galaxy on the other side of the planet. We are going to lead this fat fuck directly into their guns and then we are going to help them cut that pig into bacon bits! Are there any questions about that?”
Stronger now, “No, sir!”
“Weapons, target aft phasers on their port nacelle. As soon as they’re in range, begin firing as often as you can. Just keep shooting that same damn nacelle. Nothing else. Let’s cut them down to size a bit before we let Sterling and his crew have them. Fire photon torpedoes from the aft launcher whenever you can get a lock. In fact, fire one now just to remind them that we are no one to fuck with!!”
“Yes, SIR!”
He moved back to his chair and sat down again. If he was going to die, he was at least going to go with some style. He said quietly, “Yarr. Avast ye scurvy dogs.” There were even a few chuckles around the bridge as the photon torpedo streaked away from the Archer. Since it had no lock on anything, it flew harmlessly past the Cardassian ship, but it made everyone feel better anyway.

* * *
Gul Kordat, in command of the Cardassian cruiser Vetor, watched the enemy vessel attempt to run. It had been fortunate that he was bringing a member of the Obsidian Order to Orias III when the distress signal arrived. They were close enough to respond in time.
His tactical officer spoke, “Gul Kordat, the enemy vessel is a Mustang class frigate. Federation design, but it has not been in service for many years. No registration markings and it appears to be in poor repair.”
“An easy kill.” he smiled. “Engage at maximum range. Let’s let them know their fate is at hand. Jam their comm systems, don’t let them talk to any friends they might have. Continue to scan for enemy vessels.”
“Yes, sir. Sir, they are also jamming, sensors are seriously degraded.”
The pursuit continued for a little while. The Gul watched as the little ship fired a photon torpedo at his ship, but without a lock on. Were they that terrified of death? Perhaps he should offer them the chance to surrender. Phagh. They were worms.

* * *
Sterling was plotting the course that would bring them to the Archer the fastest when his tactical plots went white. “What the hell?” he thought. He keyed his comm system and said, “Anyone else just lose their plot?”
Instead of the answer he expected, the computer answered, “Communications failure. Frequencies are being jammed.”
Jamming? Why the hell were they…His heart sunk. If there was jamming, that meant another enemy vessel had showed up. And it also meant it had more power than the Archer. He reviewed the status of his squadron. They needed heavy weapons, and they needed to cover the freighters, and he needed to communicate, and then go attack whatever had just showed up. And they were all low on power.
He waggled his wings and dropped even with Lynd and Malloy. Using hand signals he ordered Lynd to take his right wing and Malloy to stay on the freighters. Then he surged forward, using the same system to have Puurunen take his left wing while Inga stayed with Heather. The three of them increased power, climbing away from the rising freighters.

* * *
“Hull breach deck seven, casualties reported. Shields failing all over the ship, main deflector damaged, point defense phasers port-side destroyed, main security destroyed, hull breach sealed…” The Archer rang again from another hit by the Cardassians, interrupting Cadet ‘Jerky’ Jerkowicz’s report.
Thompson ordered, “Keep firing at that port nacelle! C’mon, get me another couple of torpedo hits and we can finish this fucker off. Jerky, all I care about right now is engines, shields, and weapons. If they’re broke, fix them and fast.” he leaned forward in his small bridge,  “Gazi, you can do better than that! Make her dance!”
Another torpedo launched out of the Archer’s aft end, and the bridge crew erupted in cheers as they saw it impact on the enemy vessel, followed by a bracket of phasers slicing across her port nacelle. Gazi did better, the tired old frigate seeming to remember her glory days and dodging like a skier on a slalom course.
But a cruiser is designed to take heavy damage, and has many more weapons systems than a frigate. As Thompson was about to congratulate Gazi for dodging the last several shots, the Archer shook from stem to stern when a shot pierced their shattered shields, hitting her directly in Engineering. The lights on the bridge went dark.
Down in Engineering, the main regulators had taken a hit, radioactive coolant was flooding the compartment and several fires were burning. Two cadets were already dead, scalded to death in an instant. When the radiation alarms began to howl, the rest started to run for the exits. The isolation doors were coming down to protect the rest of the ship. Cadet Chief Engineer Suzy Straw, nicknamed ‘Mother’ by her engineers, shouted over the alarms, the hissing of the coolant and the screams of injured cadets, finding a volume in her voice she never knew she had. “STOP RIGHT THERE!” She threw the spanner she had been holding into the bulkhead where the door was coming down and the first few cadets skidded to a stop, surprised. Mother never yelled.
“Get back to your posts! They need us here or we’re all going to die! Billy, break out the rad suits, everyone suit up as fast as you can while you work. It’s not bad – trust me! Saeed, get those hull plates out of the damage control locker and set up a shielded area by the main vents. Sally, help me! I need you guys!” and she ran into the heart of Engineering to try to bring the main engines back under control and restore the power distribution system.
The older cadets turned and started back into the smoky, radioactive hell that was Engineering, grabbing the terrified freshmen and sophomores as they ran. Seconds later, the isolation doors came down, sealing off the contaminated section and 18 cadets from the rest of the USS Archer.
On the bridge, Cadet McKenzie had found his courage, or at least a loyalty to Thompson. Manning the Environmental station he reported, “Main power back online, Captain! Engineering flooded with radiation and sealed off.” Realizing that someone must be down there for power to be restored, he worked at his console for a moment, setting up a high-speed air cycle to continually flush the space and try to give whoever was alive a chance. It didn’t look like they had to worry about running out of air anyway.
There was another terrible roar as the Vetor’s main phaser banks scored a direct hit on the photon torpedo bay, instantly killing the ten cadets who were struggling to load another of the heavy weapons into the aft launcher and ready it to fire. Ten more stories had come to a sudden end.
The Archer fired back, her phasers again scoring hits on the Vetor’s port nacelle.

* * *
Kordat watched another volley from his main phasers miss the wildly maneuvering little frigate, now trailing fire and smoke, and cursed at his bridge crew. “Are you blind? Why is this pathetic little frigate not destr…” the Vetor’s gravity wavered heavily from the Archer’s latest shot. They were surely not the worms he had first considered them. “Fire, damn you all!”

* * *
Thompson opened his eyes. He had blacked out for a moment. The air in the bridge seemed thin and his chest hurt. Why wasn’t anyone at their posts? He tried to breath deeply but it hurt. The bridge stations he could see were blasted and had evidently been on fire. He groaned and blinked to clear his vision; there was a hole in the forward bulkhead, he could see see the blue and white curve of Orias III rolling around through it. The force fields were holding at least. He wondered how much air had blown out. Why couldn’t he move?
He heard a motion to his right and saw McKenzie picking himself up off the deck and returning to his post. He also saw what looked like a chunk of hull former sticking out of his lower right chest, pinning him to his chair. He coughed up some blood. Fuck. Where the hell was Sterling? “McKenzie.” He ordered, his voice hoarse, “Take the helm.”
McKenzie stood up to do as he was ordered and sat back down again. Gazi’s charcoal figure was still at his post. “Helm’s destroyed, sir. So’s navigation, tactical, engineering, and science. Looks like Auxiliary Control has everything but environmental. You’re pretty fucked up, sir.” His eyes were wide and terrified.
Thompson tried to laugh, but it came out as a gurgle. “You’re supposed to tell me I’m fine, McKenzie, so clearly you don’t know what you’re talking about.” McKenzie actually smiled at that. “Keep manning your station, Cadet. We’ll kick their asses yet.” Thompson fumbled for the comm button on his chair, locking it open. “Auxiliary control, this is Captain Thompson, get ready to bring us about. We’re going to charge these assholes.”

* * *
Sterling could see the Cardassian cruiser growing rapidly as their Vipers clawed for space. He didn’t have to say anything to the two pilots on his wings. They were all low on energy. Only two of his birds had torpedoes left and no one had more than a couple of phaser shots available. But he could also see the Archer, clearly shot to shit and fighting for her life against the relatively giant cruiser.
The range numbers dropped rapidly, the cruiser taking no notice of them. At nearly the same moment, both Peggy and Puurunen fired their torpedoes, the cruiser starting to take evasive action too late. He watched both impact on the underside of the enemy ship, blowing chunks out of the hull.
A second later his computer informed him that enemy jamming had ceased and he thumbed the comm button, “Stay tight on me. Make what shots you have left count. Heather, any sign of any other ships?”
“Negative. We’re trying to change course, we’re coming straight up into that thing’s guns.”
“Roger. Peggy, Paavo, follow me in.”

* * *
Aboard the Vetor, the tactical officer shouted, “Enemy fighters coming up under us!”
Kordat ordered, “Evasive! Point defenses, engage them immed…” and he was knocked to the deck as the two torpedoes struck his ship. Regaining his feet he asked, “How many? What types?”
“Six Federation Vipers and three freighters, climbing fast.”
“Freighters? On screen!” His viewer showed a split screen, three fighters in outlandish paint jobs streaking in at him, dodging his defensive fire while another three equally outlandish looking fighters tried to run away, covering for three lumbering freighters as they left the planet’s atmosphere behind them.
He took only a moment to make his decision. “Secondary batteries, continue to engage the frigate, main batteries, take out those freighters, point-defenses, you will destroy the fighters. Who in the hell flies ships that look like that?”
There was no answer to his question. The Vetor began spitting death in all directions as phasers began to shoot at all ten of Sterling’s ships.

* * *
Sterling fired again, watching the green beams score deeply into the Cardassian’s hull. He hit at least one of the damnable Gatlings just before it would have been able to fire at Inga’s strafing fighter. He glanced down at his power meters. He was about out of everything. He turned off the safety overrides and funneled life-support and engine power into the phaser capacitor as he spun away from the cruiser.
Paavo’s voice came through his headset, “Sterling, I’m out, I’m not even sure I can make it to the Archer.”
“Paavo, you’re out, Malloy, we need you over here.”
“With you.” came the answer.
Inga said, “Sterling, I’ve got one shot left, maybe two.”
“Stay with the freighters.”
Peggy watched Mike’s fighter spin at an angle and begin thrusting to turn his vector back towards the Cardassian. His Viper quickly raced away from the freighters, streaking towards the big cruiser. She took a final strafing run along the Cardassian’s dorsal spine, her last shot a weak, low-energy blast that looked more like a flashlight than a phaser. “I’m empty, Sterling.” she told him as she angled for the freighters.
Heather was struggling with her damaged Viper. The control inputs had gotten very sluggish and she had no shields, no weapons, nothing with which to be of any use to her friends. She watched Malloy’s ship begin its attack run, the phasers firing as he closed with her bow. The big ship’s shields finally collapsed and his next shot scored a direct hit on the obviously badly damaged port nacelle.
Horrified, she saw the multiple-green beams of a Gatling phaser leap up from the aft end of the Cardassian cruiser and the whole right side of the Viper vanished. There was an endless agonized scream over the comm channel and her last view of him was the red dragon scales sparkling in the light of Orias as the broken fighter spiraled down into the planet, leaving a braided column of smoke and plasma. It was only a second or two before the computer filtered out the horrible sound. It just seemed like an hour.
The Archer was swinging around as well, pivoting so her bow was to the Vetor, her burning hull leaving a billowing trail spreading out behind her and masking the view of the Cardassian. The enemy cruiser hit the freighter under her again as well, destroying her shields and scoring light damage on the hull. Sterling’s fighter pushed over and began another attack run.

* * *
Aboard the Thorn, the holds were packed full of terrified, confused Oriaslings. Major Zinn and his men had moved along the sides towards the freighter’s shuttle bay, hoping to find some space there. When they came under attack, he had used this ship’s computer to tie in to a universal translator. He attempted to explain what was happening and to calm the frightened little people down. Several hits on the Thorn made it apparent that things were not at all going according to plan.
The Thorn rattled and groaned and Zinn felt the gravity shift. He felt that odd crinkly sensation he always had when shields were raised or lowered and he knew that they were now defenseless. He turned to his XO, shook the Klingon outcast’s hand and said, “It has been an honor, mes ami. More Majorum. (ed: ‘In the manner of our ancestors.’), n’est ce pas?”
Fallon had also tried to find some breathing space and was standing near the little man who had shot Kai. When she had seen him she wanted to be nearer to him and had moved steadily along the walls until she was almost next to him. He wasn’t speaking Cardassian, but she could understand him somehow. She asked, “Are we going to die now?”
Surprised, Zinn looked down. “Little one, it is OK. It won’t hurt. Be brave.”
There were several dull crunching and groaning sounds as something hit the back of the Thorn.

* * *
Thompson was losing more of his breath but at least the pain in his right side had faded to a dull pressure. “FIRE!” he said with all the energy he could muster. The battered Archer fired her last phaser. He could hear it. With nothing much working on the bridge, he had to wait for the report from Auxiliary control. “A hit! Port side, nacelle mount.”
“Let me know when we can fire again, Suzuki. Any contact with engineering?”
“None. They’re gone…Captain! They hit her port nacelle again! She’s falling away! She’s hurt bad! She’s on fire amidships! They’ve lost power!”
“Get us the hell out of here, NOW while we still can. Get Sterling’s birds aboard and get us out of here.”
“Yes, sir!”
He sagged back in his chair and closed his eyes. Holy shit, this was fucked up.

* * *
Sterling dove onto the Vetor from behind, angling for her main phaser banks and her bridge. He tried not to feel anything at Mike’s death, to focus on the job. The Cardassian fired again, helping him to pinpoint the emitters and he began to fire. She was obviously hurting, as she was rolling and yawing left after Malloy’s last shots had taken out her port nacelle. He had to take out the phasers or she’d still be able to kill them all.
The energy level indicators were blinking red. This would have to be his last shot. He caressed the trigger, watching only a single, weak green beam trace into the back of the Cardassian’s bridge. He made an aggressive turn to port, rolling up and over her spine when a young Cardassian gunner fired his phaser-3 directly into the rear of his port engine.
Sterling saw the hull come up and just had time to think ‘Heather’ before the nose of his Viper slammed through the primary hull of the cruiser, exploding almost instantly and severing the main power distribution networks on the enemy ship, leaving her burning and adrift.

* * *
It was a series of images that Heather would take to her grave. Mike’s braided plume of fire fading away into the distance and Andy’s Viper diving down onto the cruiser, his shots scoring solid hits and then a flash of bluish light reaching up to smash him from the sky, the demon-painted fuselage disappearing into the Cardassian’s hull before the middle of the ship was obscured by an explosion.
The enemy cruiser falling away to the left, her right side coming into view. Peggy’s fighter closing fast on the Thorn and her computer showing an enemy weapons lock on the damaged freighter. Instantly, Peggy’s Viper slid down between the two and a thick green line reached up from the ship’s right side and slammed into the little craft. The eagle painted on her fighter seemed to take fire, glowing brightly for an instant before it blew up, the debris smashing into the Thorn’s aft hull.
In seconds, they were out of range of the crippled cruiser, running as fast as they could.
Heather finally responded to the voices in her ear. Numb, she said, “We need to recover before we’re totally out of power. Nova two to Archer, can we land?”
There was no answer and she tried again before they responded. “Nova two, we don’t know. We’re trying to find out. Wait one.” It wasn’t Thompson’s voice.
She looked at the frigate. There was a hole where one of the hangar bay doors used to be. “Negative, Archer. Bay doors look like they took a hit.” Numbly, she realized that Barton and their maintenance teams were likely gone.  “We’ll have to recover on the freighters. Nova flight, recover where you can. Get a charge if they can supply power, we might have to do this again if they catch us. As soon as we can, let’s get to the Archer. We need to get into warp as soon as we can. Archer, once we’re recovered on the freighters, can we do a warp jump anywhere and repair what we need to get back to the Federation?”
There was a hollow laugh, “Believe it or not, we’ve still got warp power. I have no idea how. Engineering’s gone. Haven’t heard a word from them for a while. Bridge is gone too. Everything’s gone.”
She ran out of power while she maneuvered for the Thorn’s shuttle bay. Fortunately, freighters – especially Free Traders – make a lot of use of tractor beams and they were able to recover her while the other two ships took in Paavo and Inga.
She pushed her canopy up, got out of the cockpit and stood motionless in the tiny space for a moment before doubling over and throwing up repeatedly. She was still on her knees when Zinn came in. He avoided the spreading pool of vomit and helped her to her feet. He still remembered what it was like, that first time in combat. He wondered what had gone on outside; but clearly this strange-looking young woman needed to see that what she had done had been worthwhile. He pulled out his handkerchief – an affectation that went with the uniform – and wiped her mouth for her.
Taking her hand, he gently guided her into the cargo hold, stepping around Fallon, who had followed him in. She was staring at Heather’s fighter and the helmet still on her head. Zinn got her into the hold and said, “You must see what you have done, mademoiselle Heather. The many thousands you have saved.”
Her eyes still wide and her mind numb, she scanned the mass of little people without seeing them. She looked up at Zinn. “He’s dead. He blew up. He’s dead.” She wasn’t even blinking.
They heard a piping little voice and heard Fallon ask, “Who was he?”
Heather crouched down by the little girl. She tried for a moment to explain her mate, the best friend she had ever had, the person who made life worth living, who made flying everything, who sang with her, who held her, who…
Instead, she started to sing. The people in the hold rapidly fell silent as her voice began to carry.

“The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death ye will find him;
His father’s sword he hath girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him;
‘Land of Song!’ said the warrior bard,
‘Tho’ all the world betray thee,
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!’

She couldn’t finish. She began to sob, pulling Fallon to her and squeezing her tightly. And then she heard Zinn, his French accent and baritone a complete contrast to her own voice. He was quickly joined by several of his men, some of whom were injured.

The Minstrel fell! But the foeman’s chain
Could not bring his proud soul under;
The harp he lov’d ne’er spoke again,
For he tore its chords asunder;
And said ‘No chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and bravery!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free
They shall never sound in slavery!

CHAPTER 14
“nIteb SuvnIS DevwI’.” (A leader must stand alone.)
– Klingon Proverb
FEDERATION TRANSPORT USS AMSTERDAM, THE BADLANDS, NEAR THE CARDASSIAN-FEDERATION BORDER
MARCH, 2292
Lieutenant Commander Raul Grijalva was alternating between worried and furious. The USS Archer was now almost 12 hours overdue for the most unusual set of mid-term exams he had ever heard of. Why the Commandant had pulled all the instructors off the vessel and allowed an all-cadet team to fly her to this particularly dangerous region of space he did not know.
And now they were late. Either they had gotten lost, or become damaged or were simply screwing off. The annunciator sounded, “Lieutenant Commander Grijalva to the bridge.” FINALLY! He thought, hurrying to get to the bridge. When he arrived, he wondered what had happened. Everyone was tight-lipped and white-faced. He glanced up at the image of the Archer and then did a double-take.
“Mother of GOD!” he said, as he took in the extent of the damage showing on her hull. “That’s battle damage! What happened?!”
“We don’t have communications yet, Commander.” the Amsterdam’s captain said. They all waited in silence as the range closed. Time dragged on as they waited. Finally the viewer wavered to life, showing the Auxiliary Control post of the old frigate. Facing him were a young male sophomore he recognized as Cadet Suzuki and the rather infamous half-Dosadi female senior, Cadet Heather.
Breaching protocol he immediately demanded, “Cadet Heather, what happened?! Where is Cadet Thompson?”
Heather’s fur was burned, oil-smeared, and matted. Her uniform was a disaster. Her voice sounded rather mechanical. “Sir, you and the rest of the instructors need to beam over and I can explain in person. We need damage control help, power, and medical aid immediately sirs. Our transporters are gone, the situation is critical. Send us everything you’ve got. I need to get back to work, sir.” And she cut the connection.
Grijalva was stunned. “Captain? Can you…”
“Absolutely. Get moving, Raul. That looks very, very bad.” And he began issuing orders to his crew.

* * *
Grijalva was talking almost before he finished materializing in the burned-out transporter room. “Where is Heather? I want a status repor…” There was no one there. The doors were jammed half open. He and the Engineering instructor, Lieutenant Commander Gordon stepped into the hallway as the next group of teachers started to materialize.

Gordon said, “Jesus, Raul. I’m getting to Engineering. Let me know what you find on the Bridge.” and he began to trot off down the corridor. He hadn’t even gotten halfway there before he passed the first dead cadet, a young woman who’s name he didn’t know.
The turbo-lifts were down, so Grijalva had to climb through the access tunnels to get to the bridge. He pushed open the hatch, finally emerging into what had been the nerve center of the old frigate. The darkened space stank of smoke and feces and burned insulation and death. “Merciful God.” There was no answer.
He saw Thompson, one of his all-time favorite students, with a chunk of tritanium pinning him to the command chair and a pool of dried blood on the floor. Thompson’s hand was still on the control console. The various work stations were blasted, scorched, and blackened. Much of Cadet Keita was missing, but what he could see was very recognizable as the tall black man. Cadet Gazi’s burned corpse was still poised as though he were steering the vessel. He had been one of the most promising helm students he had seen in several years. Grijalva shuddered, it was like the Flying Dutchman, a crew of the damned helmed by the dead.
There was a quiet beep from the Environmental station and he almost jumped out of his skin. “Hello? Who…” and he saw that the cadet manning that station was still alive, though injured. He quickly walked to him and dredged his memory for the name. Freshman…Kiwi…”McKenzie? What happened?” There was no answer, the cadet was totally focused on his console. Leaning over his shoulder he noticed that he was continually juggling life support controls, routing the majority of the remaining life support capacity to Engineering. “Cadet? Cadet! Report!”
He didn’t take his eyes off the readings but finally answered, “Yes, sir! Cadet Ian McKenzie, manning my post, sir!”
“Cadet, what happened here? What are you doing?”
“Sir, there must still be people in Engineering. We still have power. I am attempting to remove the radiation contamination from the space so that they have a chance. I will not abandon my post. The Captain’s orders, sir.”
Grijalva stood upright again, the cadet going back to ignoring him. There was a hole in the forward bulkhead – he could see open space through it. What in heaven’s name had happened to them?

* * *
Gordon came running up to what had been the entrance to the main Engineering spaces. There was a crew of cadets, including Heather, moving debris and trying to cut through the massive isolation doors. If those were down, it meant a disaster on the other side. “Cadets! Stop what you are doing!”
Heather straightened up, bleeding from a cut on her arm, and said “No sir, we will not. There are still crewmen alive in there.”
He was horrified. “You have communications?”
“No sir, but we have power and they’ve been managing that power for the last 14 hours. They have to be alive.”
“How close to getting through are you?” He stepped through the debris to the cadet with the plasma torch. “Almost there, sir.”
“Cadet Donnely. Watch the jacket on that torch – you’re running it too cold. Here.” he made an adjustment and the color changed slightly. “Cadet Heather, clear all but four people out of here.” he glanced again at the radiation alarms. “When this bulkhead goes, it’s going to contaminate everyone and everything out here. We’ll evacuate to the next isolation door and seal it off there.”
“Yes, sir.” Exhausted, she moved to follow his orders. Fifteen minutes later there was a tremendously loud crash as the heavy bulkhead fell inward. She looked up and saw a line of cadets in filthy radiation  suits come streaming out of the engineering spaces, many obviously wounded or suffering from radiation sickness. More radiation alarms were sounding. She counted eighteen of the twenty crew she knew were assigned there, and the last out was Cadet Chief Engineer Suzy ‘Mother’ Straw. She stumbled and Heather caught her, the two women staggering down the corridor.
Gordon stepped into Main Engineering. There were two bodies by the jury-rigged mains and what looked like a set of hull plates welded into baffles clustered around the main air vent. He could feel high pressure air streaming out of it. They had set up a shielded area and arranged to have positive pressure air to scrub out all the radiation they could. Must have been handling their duties in shifts. Damn, that was fast thinking, he thought to himself.
Wasting no time, he evacuated the ruined spaces himself.

* * *
An hour later, Grijalva, Gordon and the rest of the instructors, with assistance from the crew of the Amsterdam, had things mostly under control and the scope of the disaster was becoming apparent. There were almost 40 of the frigate’s crew of 85 either dead or missing and very few who were not wounded to some degree. They were finally able to take a few minutes to get a report.
Grijalva and Gordon were sitting in Auxiliary Control, trying to get more systems on-line when Heather and Straw finally reported. Both were filthy, wounded, and punch-drunk with exhaustion.
Grijalva asked, “What happened here?”
Heather spoke, “I alone am responsible, sir. I planned and led a rescue mission into Cardassian space. We were surprised by a Cardassian cruiser and took heavy casualties before we crippled her and escaped.”
There was a shocked silence. Straw spoke up, “Starfleet planned this, sir.”
Heather shook her head, “No, Cadet. We lied. Cadet Sterling and I wrote those orders ourselves.”
More silence. Grijalva and Gordon were completely stunned.
Straw said “Heather, I saw them authenticate. I know they were Starfleet orders.”
“Negative, Cadet. We hacked the authentication system. We were not going to let those people be wiped out. Someone had to act.” She stood at attention, looking straight ahead.
Gordon said, “You and Sterling wrote these orders? You stole a ship and went running off on some half-assed private rescue mission in Cardassian space? You attacked Cardassian warships?”
“Yes, sir. Cadet Sterling is dead. I alone am responsible for these orders. The other cadets were following what they believed were authentic orders from Starfleet Command.”
Straw whispered, “No. It’s not possible. You couldn’t.”
Grijalva said, “What have you done?” There was a long silence as he studied her. “Gordon, we have got to get out of here. If the Cardassians catch us, we’ll be lucky if they only blow us out of space. Finish getting the most severely wounded onto the Amsterdam and tell them to run as fast as they can for the nearest starbase. Have them send us a tug and as many escorts as they can. We are in very, very deep trouble. Have Amsterdam notify Starfleet Command of what we have just learned, have them tell the Cardassians that the criminal responsible is in custody and that this was an isolated incident, not an act of war.”
Standing, he ordered Straw. “Place this woman under arrest and lock her in the brig under suspicion of piracy, treason, murder, and conspiracy to commit all of the above. Get her out of here.”
Heather spoke again, “Sir! The brig was destroyed. Will confinement to quarters suffice? I will make no attempt to escape.”
Furious he said, “Get her out of here, Cadet Straw. Get her out of my sight before I do something I’ll regret.”

* * *
Heather sat in her quarters, alone. She had been alone for the past nine days. No one had come to see her, not even Paavo or Inga. She guessed that since she was under arrest, they hadn’t been allowed to. But someone should have come. Maybe Grijalva, or Gordon, even if only to yell at her or interrogate her, or whatever they did to prisoners. Almost anything would have been better than just being shunned completely.
They could have let her help with damage control, or with the wounded, or even clean up. Anything. Instead, she had just been left here, with nothing but her thoughts for company.  Those were almost unbearable. The first few days had been the worst. Constantly questioning the choice to rescue those little people. Wondering where that cruiser had come from – the intelligence files they had accessed said there wasn’t supposed to be anyone near Orias III. Wishing she had stayed low after shooting those troops on the ground so she wouldn’t have gotten hit and could have been some use in that last fight. Trying to think what she could have done to save them. Any of them.
An involuntary shiver went up her spine from the memory of climbing into the Archer’s bridge after the Thorn had transported her back aboard. Hoping, praying, that there was someone to rescue and finding only one cadet alive, burned, but still at his post and ignoring her completely. She breathed deeply, banishing the image of that blackened charnel house. She dropped to the deck and started doing pushups again, counting loudly to herself to keep the horrors away. Maybe tonight the nightmares wouldn’t come; The endless sorrow of watching her friends, her mate, die over and over again, all overlaid with Malloy’s hideous final scream.
Was this really a Starfleet mission? Were they really supposed to have done this? Even if it wasn’t, it was the right thing to do, wasn’t it? They saved a lot of people. They were Starfleet – they were supposed to risk their lives to save others. But did Spruance really mean for them to find that data? She had to pretend this was all her idea or the Cardassians would go to war with the Federation. She had to.
The door to her quarters opened without even a knock. Two very large Starfleet security men were there, and they stepped into her quarters. She stood up and two others came in after them, holding phasers at the ready. The lieutenant in charge, the first one through the door looked at her with disgust. “Heather Wilkes?”
“Yes, sir. That is me.”
“You are under arrest for piracy, treason, multiple counts of murder and conspiracy to commit the same. Please place your hands together directly in front of yourself and make no sudden movements.” While he spoke, his partners had moved around behind her.
“That’s not really…”
The two behind him raised their phasers and he continued, “Please place your hands together directly in front of yourself and make no sudden movements. If you continue to resist, we are authorized to use any force necessary to take you into custody.”
She slowly placed her hands together thinking to herself that this was absurd. They were treating her like some sort of psychopath. The lieutenant placed force-cuffs on her wrists and they enveloped her forearm from her fingertips almost to her elbows, holding them uncomfortably close together and forcing her to hunch her shoulders.
She opened her mouth to speak and he said, “I advise you to remain silent as anything you say will be considered willing testimony, however I will record any statement you wish to make at this time.”
Her eyes wide, she closed her mouth and shook her head. He continued, “Come along quietly.” The man behind her gave her a moderate shove and she followed the lieutenant into the empty, smoke damaged corridors of the USS Archer for the last time. She kept hoping to see a friendly face – anyone. Someone had to know that she was doing what she was supposed to, that they had done the right thing. Instead, they hurried down to the burned-out transporter room, seeing no one. Less than a minute later, she found herself standing in a receiving room and as soon as she materialized, the force fields snapped on. She tried to determine where she was, but had absolutely no data. A brig somewhere. Maybe San Francisco? The guards hurried her forward again, the fields dropping as she moved into an adjacent compartment.
The lieutenant removed the force-cuffs and stepped back. The team moved back along the walls, covering her with their weapons as though she were going to leap at them and attack. She almost giggled, the first time she had felt any positive emotion in over a week. The force fields at the entrance cycled and a heavy-set woman came in to the room. She handed Heather a folded piece of cloth. “Remove that uniform. you have no right to wear that ever again. Put on the coveralls.”
“Where do I change?” she asked, stung by the statement.
The phasers came up again and the lieutenant said, “I urge you to comply. We are authorized to use whatever force is necessary.”
Her ears and whiskers drooping, she stripped out of the uniform she had worked so hard and for so many years to earn. Nudity wasn’t any big deal, but the shame of being forced out of her uniform was.
As she was changing the lady ordered her, “Undergarments as well.”
She struggled not to cry. She had done far too much of that these past many days. She hoped that Starfleet got her out of this soon. They had to. She had done what they wanted, hadn’t she? The coveralls didn’t even account for her tail.
Five minutes later she found herself standing in a small room with one wall being nothing more than a force field. There wasn’t even a monitoring post visible. She tried to ask the Security men as they left, “Where am I?”
As the force field flickered on, the lieutenant paused and looked at her. “Why should you care?” He almost said something else, but instead just looked disgusted and left.
Heather stayed there, looking through the flickering field at nothing for a very long time.

* * *
FEDERATION DETENTION FACILITY
2292
She had lost track of time. The lights dimmed slightly, periodically, and she thought that was probably ‘night’, but it wasn’t very much. No one came. She tried to make marks on the wall, but had nothing to scribe with. Her claws couldn’t even scratch them. Maybe they had forgotten about her.  No, the replicator still produced food from it’s rather basic menu whenever she managed to feel like eating. She knew she was losing weight. They must just be watching her from the various sensor eyes scattered throughout the cell.
At least her kits were OK, safe with Rollin and Nina and Grandpa Rollin and Grammie Heather. She wondered if they knew where she was. She shied away from that line of thinking again.
Shouldn’t someone come? An attorney? Spruance? Even a Security man to interrogate her? There was supposed to be a trial before they locked you up. She pounded on one of the security eyes and screamed at it, “I’m supposed to get a lawyer! You can’t just leave me here!! Even a…” she paused, her voice dropping to a whisper, “criminal…has rights.” Except she wasn’t really a criminal. It’s just that no one knew that. No one could know that until she found out if the Cardassians had decided not to attack because of their…her…raid. She wondered how many Cardassians had died.
The replicator didn’t have any other functions. It wouldn’t give her news, or books, or music, just simple food and water. This had to be illegal, keeping her penned up like this, alone, with nothing. She had taken to singing to keep her spirits up, trying to remember every song she and Andy had ever sung together. Too often she would break down in tears in the middle. Usually pushups or situps, done long enough, would end the crying.
Wasn’t there supposed to be mail? Or a priest or something?
She was startled to realize that someone was outside the force field. She thanked God and hurried closer to the field and stopped quickly. The someone was Cardassian.
He was sitting in a chair, just studying her. She looked back at him. Why was he here?
The Cardassian smiled. “Well. How are you today?”
She blinked. Whatever she expected, that wasn’t it. “I’m OK, I guess. Who are you?”
“You don’t know me?”
“No. Should I?”
“I simply assumed you did; That I had wronged you somehow since you felt the need to destroy my post, murder hundreds of my troops, and have me shot as well. I thought it must be personal. Did you decide to go on your killing spree because you were bored?”
“No! I didn’t go on a killing spree! It was a rescue mission! Who are you?”
“A rescue mission? Who were you rescuing? Were there some Federation citizens trapped on Orias III? And what sort of a rescue mission involves the death of over 200 sentients? You have an odd notion of rescue…’Heather’, isn’t it?”
“Those little people! The Oriaslings! You were murdering them!”
He chuckled, “You mean the way you murdered my men and the crews of the Vetor and Karn? My men, at least were sentient. Those little creatures you killed so many people for, are animals. Clever, yes. Sentient? No. Do you feel sorrow, at least? Even some flash of regret for the people you killed? No? Perhaps for your friends? The ones you left behind to die as you ran away with the freighters?”
She was getting angrier by the moment. “Who are you?”
He stood up. “I am Legate Kai, of the Cardassian Union. I will be prosecuting you under an agreement with the United Federation of Planets. I merely wanted to see what sort of…creature it was that had caused so much death and destruction. I understand that you aren’t even a natural being, that you are a construct. Is that true?”
Her ears were flat back and her eyes were slits of rage. “Fuck you.”
He laughed, “No thank you. I have standards. Enjoy your privacy. Per our agreement with the Federation, you will be kept in isolation so that you cannot contact co-conspirators.”
“Asshole. Where’s my lawyer?”
“That is still being negotiated, creature. There are so many things to settle before we get to your trial and inevitable execution.” He smiled again. “Well. I have enjoyed our little chat. Good bye.”
She tried to think of something to say as the tall, reptilian-looking man walked away, leaving her alone again, but came up empty. Finally, her anger cooled and she started thinking clearly again. So it was working. The Cardassians were negotiating, not attacking. And no one had come to see her because of them. For the first time in a very long time, she smiled. She would do her duty. She would maintain that it was all her and Andy’s idea, that they were just stupid, idealistic cadets. Starfleet had nothing to do with it.
There would be a trial, and they’d convict her of something, disobeying orders maybe, but not all the stuff they had said when they arrested her. And they sure weren’t going to execute her. The Federation didn’t have a death penalty – that was barbaric. All she had to do was hang tight for a little while, let things play out, and then Starfleet would make it all go away. She closed her eyes and thought of Andy, and Mike, and Peggy and all the rest. She would protect the others. It was all her idea. It would suck for a while, but they had saved so many. She would get through it. She would be strong. She had to be.

* * *
She had finally started tying knots in a thread she pulled from her blanket as a way to keep track of time. Each knot was a ‘day’. Now, if only she knew how long it had been before she figured that out…She decided that it had been nine days on the Archer, and a week, no, two, here before she started. So she tied 23 more knots in another string, and set that one aside. She would keep careful track of time. It must be April by now. She suddenly realized that her 22nd birthday had passed sitting in her quarters on the Archer.
The twins were eighteen months old now. They had almost been talking when they had left for Orias III. She wondered what their first words had been. She wondered what her family had been told. She dropped down to the deck and began doing pushups as fast as she could, counting loudly.

* * *
There were 30 knots in her string, plus the 23 in the first one. No one had come. She tucked them under the mattress again and looked at her blanket. For a moment she thought about not bothering to pull another string loose. What was the point? Finally she sighed and pulled another thread loose and tied her first knot.
She began to sing one of the twins’ favorite lullabies, another one of her ancient musical treasures. She didn’t know much about it, she had only found an untitled clip. But she hoped it was true. She hoped her kits hadn’t forgotten her. She hoped that Andy, wherever he was, didn’t blame her. Softly, she sang:

4Somewhere out there beneath the pale moonlight
Someone’s thinking of me and loving me tonight
Somewhere out there someone’s saying a prayer
That we’ll find one another in that big somewhere out there

And even though I know how very far apart we are
It helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star
And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullaby
It helps to think we’re sleeping underneath the same big sky

Somewhere out there if love can see us through
Then we’ll be together somewhere out there
Out where dreams come true

She held the last note for a while, letting it draw out and hold all the sadness she felt. Then there was a slow, insulting, clapping sound. She looked out past the force field and there was Kai and two other Cardassians with phasers.
“What do you want?” she asked him.
“Your fate is at hand, creature. Your trial begins today.” He touched a control on his wrist and the force field dropped. “Please don’t resist. The public has a right to see you go through your trial before you are executed. It would disappoint the people if we had to shoot you here.”
She raised her hands for the inevitable force-cuffs and remained silent. She was marched along quickly and when they left the building she blinked in the bright sunlight. It looked like Earth. She was shoved into a transport and the APV moved along for about half an hour. The sun! Gods how she had missed the sun. And a blue sky. And real air!
Much too soon, the vehicle came to a halt. She was shocked to see a crowd of people – humans! It was Earth! – clustered around the entrance to what must be the court building. There were Starfleet Security troopers keeping the steps clear. Why were there so many people? What was going on?
The Cardassians pushed her out of the APV and she looked up at the deep blue sky and smiled, Everything would be all right. She was on Earth and there were Starfleet personnel here. It would still work out. They started up the steps and a woman lunged past one of the Security men and spat on her face. Heather recoiled, shocked and the woman screamed “YOU KILLED MY SON YOU FRANKENSTEINIAN BITCH!” before she was grabbed and shoved back into the crowd of people.
The resemblance was so strong, it was obviously Thompson’s mother. Before she could speak, the Cardassians hustled her into the building, moving away from the grumbling crowd. She couldn’t even reach up and wipe the spittle from her cheek. Those people were all here because of her? She realized that it wasn’t just Starfleet and the Cardassians who thought she had acted on her own. This was a lot bigger then she thought it was. Those people thought she and Andy had…They brought her into the court room and she tried to assess what she saw.
There were lots of Fleet personnel in the gallery, and lots of media people too, evidently. She wanted to throw up. This wasn’t at all like she imagined it would be. This wasn’t anything like any of the other times she had been in trouble. This was terrifyingly real. The guards led her to a table with a lieutenant (j.g.) sitting at it and shoved her into a chair. They removed her force-cuffs and moved off to the back of the room while Kai sat at the table across the aisle from hers.
The woman sitting next to her said, “I’m your lawyer, Heather. I’m Lieutenant junior-grade Alexander. We’ll get a chance to talk soon, there’s been a lot happening behind the scenes. Today you shouldn’t have to testify, we’ll just be laying out why we’re all here. We…”
“Attention on deck!” a Chief Petty Officer cried out and the military folks all stood to attention. Heather saw the judges walk in and almost sighed with relief. Admiral Angie Stone, Captain James T. Kirk, and a Cardassian. She couldn’t ask for a better sign that Starfleet was already getting things fixed!
Admiral Stone gaveled the court martial into session. She picked up a PADD and began to read. “Heather Wilkes, Attention!” She and her lawyer both quickly got to their feet. “You are accused of one count of treason, seven counts of piracy, 40 counts of dereliction of duty leading to the death of a teammate, and 273 counts of murder. The Cardassian’s have agreed to the dismissal of all lesser charges involved in the incidents of stardates 9251.6 through 9270.7, inclusive.” she looked up. “How do you plead?”
Before she could even open her mouth, her lawyer said, “Not Guilty, ma’am!”
She swallowed in a very dry throat. The list of charges was…insane. She looked at her Aunt Angie, who looked back at her with an icy, cold expression. Even Kirk was looking at her like she was evil; Kirk who had gotten away with violating the Prime Directive a hundred times, who had broken almost every regulation there was, and he was looking at her like she was disgusting!
Stone spoke again, “Heather Wilkes, you may be seated. Legate Kai of the Cardassian Union will be prosecuting this case and has an opening statement.”
Kai stood, smiling at her with his reptilian grin. “As we have agreed, we of the Cardassian Union, in the interests of peace, justice and fairness have renounced our grievances on the violation of our territory and our right to try this pirate – excuse me, sir! I am used to Cardassian jurisprudence – this accused pirate in our own court system. We have put our faith in Federation justice and wait to see how true to your claimed principles you are.
“We have incontrovertible evidence that this…constructed being…lied, cheated, and stole Federation property, then, leading a group of misguided students who had become used to her constant violations of rules and regulations, blasted into Cardassian territory where they slaughtered unsuspecting and innocent Cardassians for their own amusement.
“Now, we do not blame those poor students. No, they were clearly the victims of a system that tolerated disobedience. A system that encouraged free thinking and doing whatever one felt was right, completely disregarding the guidance of older, wiser heads. Sadly, forty of them paid the price for that folly. Instead, we will show that this…creature…is solely responsible for these crimes. And we demand that justice prevail!” He sat down.
Alexander stood up, “Ma’am. I apologize for being unprepared. As you know, my client has been kept incommunicado per Cardassian demands and I have had no time to confer, nor prepare an opening statement. I request a recess so that I may confer with my client.”
The three judges talked among themselves. Heather was trying not to shake. Finally Stone spoke again, “This court will recess until 0800 tomorrow.” and banged the gavel.
Instead of getting to talk to her lawyer, Heather was manacled again, loaded into the APV and taken back to her cell. She was sitting on her bunk, dejected and wondering what to do when the force field cycled and Lt. Alexander came in.
“Heather, how are you holding up?”
“They’re going to execute me.” She said.
“No, no they’re not. But I won’t lie to you, it’s not looking very good. The evidence is…well, it’s overwhelming. They’ve got depositions from your surviving squadron mates and the Archer’s Cadet Chief Engineer as well as copies of all the orders you issued.
Heather, you have to tell me the truth. Who put you up to this? This reeks. You’ve been set up.”
She looked up, “No. It was Andy and me. It was our idea from the start.”
Alexander studied her. “Heather, whatever they told you, they’re lying. They use up people like you and throw you away like toilet paper. Did they tell you they’d cover for you? That if you just danced like a good little puppet they’d make it all go away? They lie. Tell me who it was, Heather.”
Heather looked her square in the eyes. If she broke now and told on Spruance, the Cardassians would know they were set up. Whatever had been accomplished towards peace would fail. This was more negotiations than the Federation had ever had with them – this might even lead to an alliance. Something truly good beyond saving a few thousand people might come of this nightmare. “My mate and I came up with the idea. We wrote the orders. We issued the orders. We conducted the raid. There was no one else who knew what we were planning, or even suggested it.”
Alexander shook her head. “You are an idealistic fool. I’ll try once more – Do you know they are crucifying you in the media? ‘The First Traitor Ever at Starfleet Academy’, ‘Half-Human Murders Hundreds To Save Animals’, ‘Starfleet: Guardians or Pirates?’ – it goes on like that. The Cardassians have been granting interviews with widows and orphans and inviting reporters to visit the homes of the animals as well as showing the destruction your raid caused. They’re claiming that your fighters strafed the city indiscriminately, killing thousands of the animals along with the Cardassians. They’ve got sensor logs showing it.
“They’ve made a hero out of a young gunner who risked his life to save several of his mates and a cluster of the little creatures. Apparently, he almost shot you down before his vehicle was blown apart, killing everyone but him. They play that clip a lot. It’s very dramatic and of course your fighter is very identifiable.”
Heather was shaking her head and whispering “No, no, no, no.” She finally said, “We only hit Cardassians. We were careful. And they’re people not animals! Look at the report with the orders! Look at the interviews! I saw them, I spoke to them, they’re people! Use the gun camera logs from our…” she remembered that their powerless fighters had been abandoned on Lilac’s freighters.
“Heather, I know. And we’ll be introducing those orders. That’s the only thing I can do for you, unless you tell me it wasn’t you. I’ll try to get them to drop the charges or reduce the severity due to extenuating circumstances. It’s all we’ve got. But you need to know how you’re being portrayed out there. They are hanging you out to dry, sister. And they don’t care at all. They got what they wanted.
“The media has been taking an anti-Starfleet bent lately. They seem to go in cycles and when there’s been peace and prosperity for a long time, they start to ask what we need Starfleet for. They forget all the times Starfleet has saved this planet – and many others – and ask ‘what have you done for me lately?’.
She stood up. “I’m sorry, Heather. I’m not going to be able to do much for you. Unless…?” she left the question hanging.
Heather looked up at her. “Is there anything from my family? A letter? Anything?”
Alexander looked sad. “I’m sorry. The Cardassians demanded the right to be the ones holding custody over you, and they require that you be kept in isolation. You stay in Federation territory, but they are the ones in charge of how you’re handled as long as it stays within some boundaries. They seem to really want to make an example out of you.” She looked at Heather for a few moments more, seemed about to say something but instead, turned and left.
It was hours before Heather could lie down and sleep. And the nightmares came again.
CHAPTER 15
“This is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice.”
– Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes – Earth (Human)
GREAT LAKES TRAINING FACILITY, CHICAGO, EARTH
MAY, 2292
Lt. Alexander started the trial off with a bang. After Stone gaveled them back into session, she stood and said, “Sirs, I would like to move for an immediate dismissal of the treason charge.”
Stone looked back at her, “And why is that, lieutenant?”
“Ma’am nothing about the events described meets the definition of treason. None of my client’s actions aided any foreign government. In fact, her actions were in keeping with the very principles of the Federation Charter. She was directly responsible for the rescue of many thousands of sentient beings!”
Kai was on his feet a moment later, “Nonsense! Those creatures are not sentient. Why, they have less claim to being sentient beings than this…artificially constructed creature now on trial!”
Alexander pounced, “If that is the case, sirs, I move for immediate dismissal of all charges.”
Even Kirk said, “What? On what grounds?”
“If my client is not sentient then she cannot be responsible for her actions. Per the honorable Prosecutor’s own statement she can not…”
Kai interrupted. “Your honors, this woman is turning these proceedings into a farce.”
“Not at all! You have stated that there is a question about my client’s status. That should be determined scientifically and my client released on bond while she is examined and tested. If she is found to be sentient, then the trial can proceed.”
Heather was horrified at the implication. Of course she was sentient!
Kai snorted, “A transparent delaying tactic, lieutenant. You attempt to have this murderer and pirate let loose while an endless stream of tests and experiments are conducted and the victims of Orias III wait for justice!”
Stone finally banged for quiet. “Both motions denied, lieutenant. The trial will proceed. Now, do you have an opening statement?”
“Ma’am, I move for the dismissal of all 273 counts of murder on the grounds that she was only following Cadet Sterling’s orders and was therefore not responsible.”
Stone frowned. “Lieutenant, I’m sure you know we are having this trial to determine exactly what your client is responsible for. Motion denied. Now, do you have an opening statement, or will you continue trying to find spurious reasons for dismissing each charge individually?”
She cleared her throat. It had been worth a try. “Yes, ma’am, I do ma’am. Have an opening statement I mean, ma’am.” She glanced at her PADD and said, “Your honors, I will show that my client was, in fact, acting at the behest of higher authority and is therefore not guilty of the charges presented.” She sat down.
Kirk said, “That’s it?”
“Yes, sir.”
He cocked his head at her.  “Lieutenant, that was very…succinct. Thank you.” He turned to Kai, “Would you care to call your first witness?”
Kai stood. “I would. I call the criminal herself to testify! Forgive me – accused criminal.”
Heather stood, a little shakily and moved to the chair next to Admiral Stone. She felt completely ashamed at the fluorescent pink coveralls she wore instead of her uniform. Shouldn’t they have waited until they convicted her to take that away? The CPO swore her in and she sat down, trying to look confident.
“Well, ‘Heather’. Your day of reckoning is finally at hand. We’ll try to make this quick and painless for you.”
Alexander was on her feet again, “Your honors! Is the Prosecutor going to question the witness or torment her?”
Kirk simply said, “Please get to it, Legate.”
“Of course. Did you, or did you not steal information from Federation computers relating to the events in question?”
“Yes, sir.”
Kai blinked. “You admit it?”
“Yes, sir.” Alexander tried not to look defeated. This whole situation stank. It wasn’t what she wanted for her first trial experience as a JAG Attorney, but she figured that’s why she got the case; The folks behind this were going to make sure the young woman fried. Well, she was going to give it her best shot anyway. To hell with Starfleet’s smelly games.
“Then, did you forge a series of documents to look like official Starfleet orders?”
“Yes, sir.”
He was smiling. “And then, utilize those orders to steal a Federation frigate and six star fighters?”
“Yes, sir.” Heather finally saw, sitting towards the back of the court room, her parents. She wanted to crawl into a hole and die. They looked completely stunned.
“You do not deny the theft?”
Honor, she thought. “Sir, I am under oath. I will not lie.”
“Well!” he smiled at the court. “Then this will take no time at all. Let us continue. Did you then invade sovereign Cardassian space?”
“Yes, sir.”
“And then, lead your six fighters down into Orias III where you murdered two Cardassian pilots, and then proceeded to strafe innocent Soldiers – including myself, I might add! – and destroy Cardassian property?”
“No, sir.”
“You said you will not lie!”
“Sir, I engaged no other fighters. I did strafe a line of Soldiers who were on the ground, and I did destroy an air defense position that was attempting to engage myself and my team.”
“I see. But you issued the orders that brought the other killers to Orias III, correct? The pilots who did shoot down my fighters? And the frigate which destroyed my patrol ship?”
“Yes, sir.”
“And did you then attack and cripple the Cardassian cruiser Vetor?”
“I didn’t engage the Vetor, sir. My Viper was badly damaged by ground fire and I had no chance to do so. However, my team did engage the Vetor. We were trying to leave when they attacked us. We acted in self-defense.”
“Self-defense does not apply when you are the aggressor.”
“If you say so, sir.”
“Tell me, where did the freighters go?”
“I don’t know, sir. We made it into Federation territory and they left on their own immediately.”
“But you confess to illegally accessing Federation computer systems, stealing the frigate and the fighters, invading Cardassian space, and shooting innocent Cardassians, is that correct?”
“I wouldn’t say innocent, sir, but on he whole, that is correct sir.”
Kai turned to the panel of judges. The Cardassian judge was looking smug. Stone and Kirk were keeping their faces carefully neutral. “Well, your honors, we may be done before lunch. The criminal has confessed. On Cardassia Prime, we would now move to the execution!”
Stone interrupted, “This is not Cardassia Prime, Legate.”
“Pity.” he said. “No further questions at this time.”
Alexander stood and walked towards Heather. “You maintain that you and Cadet Sterling wrote those orders yourself?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“All of them.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“The two of you managed to conceive of this entire operation on your own, wrote orders sending Commander Spruance to Kauai, handling the loading of supplies, torpedoes, parts and so on, all of the movement of the personnel involved…all without help?”
“Commander Spruance? You mean Captain Spruance, ma’am.”
“Ah, of course, you couldn’t know. Commander Spruance was convicted of dereliction of duty and negligence a couple of weeks ago and stripped of his rank, fined, and imprisoned for thirty days.”
“He didn’t have anything to do with this!”
“Not for this, for keeping you and Sterling on as students despite constant violations of many different regulations when policies and procedures called for you to be removed from the Academy.”
Heather closed her mouth, grinding her teeth. Alexander studied her.
“Tell me, Heather, if no one helped you write these…how did you and Sterling, not known for your computer skills, gain access to several very secure computer networks in order to create these orders?”
Heather realized they hadn’t thought through what they would say. There had been so many other things to do first. They always thought they’d have time to work out the details later. She stammered, “We found the access codes.”
“Really. Found them, eh? And where did you ‘find’ these very secure codes, Heather?”
She clammed up. She was furiously trying to think. Alexander didn’t want to give her a chance. “Sirs, I would like to consider the witness hostile. Will you order her to answer the question, please?”
Kirk raised his eyebrows. “You’re declaring your own client to be hostile to you, Lieutenant?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Interesting tactic, Lieutenant. Heather, you will answer the question.”
“It was written down.”
“On what? Where were they?”
“On Captain Spruance’s desk. I went in to deliver some homework and he wasn’t there. There was a paper with the codes on it and I was curious. I took a picture with my PADD and Sterling and I figured out what they were.” Her eyes burned at the lies.
“I see. So, Commander Spruance violated every security protocol in the book by writing down access codes and then again by leaving them unsecured on his desk while he wasn’t there. Is that about it?”
“I guess so, ma’am.”
“That’s fascinating, Heather. So, armed with these codes, you and Sterling then…what?”
“We, um. We figured out what they were, and then we realized that we could help the Oriaslings and that no one else was going to. So we started planning out the raid and figuring out what all orders we needed to write to make it work.”
“A lot of work, planning out a raid that complex. Especially for two cadets with no fleet experience at all, no logistics training, no intelligence training. Even more so for two fighter pilots with no experience planning fleet movements. You are quite exceptional, evidently.
“Tell me, Heather. Who was it that actually wrote all those orders? Was it Commander Spruance?”
“No, ma’am. Sterling and I wrote every single one of them.” That much was true, she thought. There had only been templates and checklists in the data they had gotten – a guideline for what needed to be done.
“Amazing. And tell me, Heather; you say you decided to help the Oriaslings while you were browsing around on Commander Spruance’s access codes, is that correct?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“And how did you learn about the plight of these poor people in the first place?”
“We stumbled upon a presentation in Captain …Commander Spruance’s files, ma’am.”
“Of course. What fortunate timing.” She turned to the court, “Sirs, I would like to call Commander Spruance to the stand.”
Stone blinked and worked hard to keep her face impassive. Kirk said, “And why is that, Lieutenant?”
“I believe Commander Spruance issued the orders and that Heather is covering up for him.”
“And I believe in the Easter Bunny, Lieutenant. We are not here for a fishing expedition or so that you can make a name for yourself. Do you have any further questions for this witness?”
Alexander was stunned. So were Heather’s parents. She said, “Not at this time, sir.”
“Very well. Legate, are you prepared to call your next witness?” Kirk asked.
Kai stood, a smile of triumph on his face. “I see no need, your honors. The witness has confessed to each and every specification! Several times, I might add.”
Kirk turned to Alexander, “Lieutenant, do you have any further witnesses to call?”
“Would it matter, sir?” she asked bitterly.
“Lieutenant, I will give you exactly one chance to rephrase your answer.”
“Sir. No, sir. Thank you sir.”
“This court is recessed until 0800 tomorrow morning when we will render our verdict. Dismissed.” he banged the gavel again.

* * *
Heather sat on the edge of her bunk with her head in her hands. She had wanted to see her parents more than anything in the world, and now she wished more than anything else that they hadn’t seen her. Her parents were heroes, decorated many times by both the Dosadi and the Federation. And they watched her confess to being the lowest form of criminal. And she had lied. Why weren’t Kirk and Aunt Angie helping her?
She had thought that her lawyer’s tactic to get the charges thrown out would work – that was their chance to make it something that would go away. Maybe this really wasn’t a Starfleet plan. Maybe she and Sterling read too much into it. Then she really was everything they said. Gods, she hoped no one told the twins.
And what had happened to Spruance?! Why did they go after him? Why was he in jail? Were the Cardassians so vindictive that they would go after their teacher? If they could make the Federation do that…maybe they were going to execute her.
After a few moments thought, she decided that might be for the best. At least then the pain and the nightmares and the shame would stop.

* * *
Captain Thomas Wilkes and his mate, Strike Leader Sooth were waiting outside the court room.  When Admiral Stone came out of the building, he called to her, “ANGIE!”
She skipped a step. “Wilkes.” and continued walking.
“Angie, what the fuck is going on in there?”
She only glanced at the pair of them as she walked. “A court martial.”
“Angie, that’s a railroad job and you know it! Heather’s no traitor! You’ve known her almost her whole life! She’s your niece!”
She stopped. “Captain, I cannot comment on an active court martial. The person on trial is immaterial. Only the evidence and the testimony. Please excuse me.” And she walked off quickly, leaving the two of them standing on the sidewalk in shock.
Sooth was holding Wilkes’ arm tightly, but not saying anything.
After a moment’s reflection he said, “This smells. We need to make a subspace call.”
Minutes later, they were in a private booth and Wilkes arranged for the connection he wanted. Marshal Jon’s violet face and greying-white hair filled the view screen. “Jons, have you been following what’s happening to Heather?”
“Of course. It’s the lead on the news across the galaxy. I’m so very sorry, Wilkes.”
Wilkes studied him. “Jons, I saw the testimony today. Someone put them up to this, somehow.” There was silence on the other end. “Jons, please tell me what’s going on.” more silence. The old man was clearly trying to decide what to say. “Jons, you have been my friend, my partner, even my enemy at one time. You have been an uncle to my children. I trust you with my life and theirs. In all that time, even when we were on opposite sides, I have never known you to lie to me, nor to be anything other than honorable. Please Jons. I’m begging you.”
He cleared his throat. He finally met Wilkes’ eyes. “Wilkes, your daughter is an honorable and decent woman. You can always count on her to do what is right – even when that is difficult and costly. All I can tell you is to have faith in God and be strong.” he looked very sad.
There was a long silence and Sooth said, “Can’t you do anything?”
Briefly he looked like she had struck him. “I’m sorry, m’lady. I have other duties to attend to. Please call again soon.” and he closed the connection.
They both stared at the blank screen. “What the fuck.” Wilkes finally said.
Sooth had been thinking. “He knows what’s happening, Wilkes.”
“It’s that god damn spy shit. Why is my daughter getting dragged into that crap?”
She said, “Wilkes, if he’s involved, it will be OK. I don’t know how but he’ll fix it. That’s what he was telling us – have faith in God and be strong.”
“Why would he get Heather involved? Why would he even be involved? There isn’t anything involving Hydra anywhere near any of this. I don’t get it.”
Sooth stood up. “Me either. But I think I feel better. Jons will fix it, Wilkes. He will.”

* * *
Again, Admiral Stone brought the court to session with a loud rap of her gavel. “Heather, do you have anything further to add in your defense?”
She shook her head, standing at attention. She didn’t trust herself to speak.
Neither Kirk nor Stone looked directly at her. “This court finds you guilty of all charges. You are hereby sentenced to serve out the remainder of your days in the penal facility on Ceres. Per the terms of our agreement with the Cardassian Union, you will be under their custody.
“This court is adjourned.” she banged the gavel again. She and the other judges stood and left the room.
She didn’t know whether to be relieved that she wasn’t going to be executed, or disappointed. Her lawyer just shook her head. “I’m sorry, Heather.” the Cardassian guards closed in on her, and she quickly found herself manacled and being hauled out of the room again.
In the back of the courtroom, Wilkes and Sooth just watched, trying to keep their anger under control.

* * *
That evening, Captain Kirk was sitting in his living room with his friend and Chief Medical Officer, ‘Bones’ McCoy. He had a glass of scotch in his hand and was looking down at the darkened bay and the blinking lights of the Golden Gate Bridge.
“Jim, that’s your third scotch in the past half hour.”
There was no answer. Kirk took another drink.
“Jim. You need to slow down. I’m not just speaking as your friend, but as your doctor concerned for your liver.”
Kirk looked at him. “I’m not in the mood for jokes, Bones. That kid is no more guilty of treason or murder than you or I.”
“If I recall we nearly got convicted of both more than a few times, Jim.”
“We never got railroaded like that though. I feel…dirty having been part of that.”
“Then why did you agree to do it, Jim?”
Kirk swirled the scotch and took another drink, frowning. “I can’t really say. It had to be done and I was one of the logical ones to do it. I feel like I should ask ‘but what is truth?’ and wash my hands.”
“Pontius Pilate doesn’t really fit you. And I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t have fur, or a tail.”
“I said no jokes, Bones. I feel sleazy.”
“So you can’t tell me why, but you can tell me this kid needed to go to jail for the rest of her life. No other way whatever is going on could happen, right?”
He finished his scotch and said, “That’s about it. That lawyer of hers though!” He smiled a bit, “She almost screwed everything up. She’s got potential. We may have to find more work for her. Do we need an attorney aboard the Enterprise?”
“Finally. A smile. That’s better. Jim, you’ve given orders a hundred times that led young men and women to their deaths.” Kirk scowled at him, “And I know every time it ripped your heart out. But that’s part of being what you are – a starship captain. Sometimes you have to do terrible things in order to save the ship. If you had to order that little girl to do what Spock did, in order to save the Enterprise, would you do it? Would you order her to die to save the rest of us?
“You don’t even have to answer. You’d hate yourself, like you do right now. You’d remember that order and wonder what you could have done differently every day, but you’d do it. Because like Spock said, sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.”
“I just hope I’m never in a kangaroo court like that.”
“That’s why you’ve got me, and Spock, and Scotty and Uhura and all the rest; to get you out of those situations.”
“Who does she have, Bones?”
The door chime rang. McCoy raised his eyebrows and took a swallow from his own drink. Kirk called out “Come!”
Wilkes and Sooth stepped inside the apartment. Kirk stood, glanced back at McCoy and asked, “What can I do for you, Captain…?”
“Wilkes, this is my mate, Strike Leader Sooth of the Dosadi Imperial Marines. We’re Heather’s parents.”
“I’m very sorry about what happened.” Kirk said. McCoy just watched, silently.
“Captain, that was a joke of a trial. There were more procedural violations than I could count for a Court Martial. I’m not even going to go into the attorney she was assigned for a case of that severity. I’m not going to bring up the lengthy isolation she was kept in before trial. I won’t mention that she had no chance whatsoever to consult with her attorney. All I will say is that was the biggest miscarriage of justice I’ve ever seen and I want to know why.”
Kirk looked like he had bitten into something nasty. “There were changes in process due to the negotiations with the Cardassian Union. Concessions had to be made.”
“Did those concessions include selling my daughter down the river? Is that what this was about? Trade my daughter for a peace deal with them?”
“Captain, your daughter confessed on the stand. There is no question that she did everything she was accused of. There was nothing that could be done.”
“And you and I both know she didn’t just get some wild hare up her ass and decide to go do this all on her own! Why did you close down any inquiry into where she got those codes? Or the sudden infusion of knowledge in how to order fleet movements? This was a set-up and you know it! Are you the one who set them up? Was it you?” Wilkes was starting to get in Kirk’s face. Sooth put a hand on his arm.
Kirk wasn’t one to back down, especially not in his own apartment. “I think it’s time for you to leave, Captain.”
Sooth was steering him towards the door, but her nose was working. Kirk smelled ashamed. He was involved, somehow. When they reached the door, Wilkes fired a parting shot, “How would you feel if someone set your kid up like this? Wouldn’t you help them? Or would you leave them to rot?!” They stepped outside the door and it cycled closed.
Kirk threw his glass into the fireplace. McCoy said, “Jim, he couldn’t know about David.”

CHAPTER 16
“Getting through the nights is the toughest part. Being alone. Not having her there to talk to”
– Stuart Appleby – Earth (Human)
FEDERATION PENAL FACILITY, CERES
MAY, 2292
Heather sat on her bunk. Her new cell looked almost exactly like her old one. The grey was just a slightly different shade. She wished she had remembered to take her strings with her. Her mind a blank, she pulled some threads out and started tying knots again.
It didn’t take long. She stood up and walked over to the force field that made up one wall of her cell. Would they let her go outside here for exercise? Oh, wait, she was on Ceres. There wasn’t anything outside. She walked the few steps around her cell. Looked at the glittering little sensor eyes. She sat down.
She wasn’t going to cry again. She was stronger than that. There wasn’t anything bad happening. She just had to wait is all. She looked at the floor. Wait until she died. Let’s see…Dosadi normally live to about 80 and she was 22. 22 years old. Her eyes welled up. She had two kits. She wouldn’t ever see them again. Did they think she was dead? Wouldn’t that be better then them knowing what she really was? The Cardassians were going to keep her here, alone, to rot for what, sixty years? Would they let her have visitors? Did she even want any? Or something to read? How long was sixty years anyway?
She finally put her head in her hands and cried. Eventually, she curled up on her bunk and slept. When she awoke, she saw that there was a guard outside her cell; A Cardassian. He was reading something at the console he sat at. She said, “Hello?”
The guard looked up at her, but didn’t say anything. She tried again. “Hello? My name is Heather.”
A different voice answered, “You no longer have a name, creature. You have a number. You are Prisoner 624.” and Legate Kai stepped into her view.
“My name is Heather and I am a person, not a creature.”
Kai laughed. “624, you are whatever I tell you that you are.  I am your entire world now, I am, in effect, your god. Please me, and I shall reward you. Anger me, and I shall punish you.”
She snorted. “A rat god, maybe. Or an ass god. They said there are limits on what you can do to me. The Federation’s not going to let you just do whatever you want.”
“Oh, very good! You were paying attention. That is true, there are limits, but they are not many. I can’t torture you, or starve you, or engage in ‘cruel and unusual punishment’, whatever that may be. But make no mistake, 624, I can punish you. Or reward you as well! Wouldn’t you like something to read? Or music? I know you sing. Perhaps we simply started out on the wrong foot when you murdered my troops and had those disgusting outcasts you hired shoot me…”
Heather was no fool. “You’re not going to give me those things, you just want to see me beg for something.”
“Not true! If you answer some questions, I will give you something to read. For instance, was this really all your idea? As you can see, the Federation has abandoned you. You owe them nothing. They have taken everything from you and left you to me. Why protect them? Does that make sense?”
“No.” her whiskers and ears drooped.
“Then tell me! That would go a long way towards improving our relationship and making our time together more pleasant.”
She didn’t even pause. “I wish it wasn’t, but it was all our idea. I wish it was theirs! Then they wouldn’t have screwed me like this!” A small part of her mind flamed into hope that it was really Starfleet’s plan from the start. That what she and Sterling figured out was right. Maybe he was just here trying to see if they should go to war with the Federation or not. Maybe it wouldn’t take long, and then Aunt Angie could get her out.
Kai was actually surprised. “You’re serious? You would be a fool to protect whoever put you up to this. Why lie?”
“I’d be better off lying. Maybe if I made up someone you’d go after them. I could say it was Captain Spruance, maybe? Didn’t they put him in jail already?”
His expression turned from one of surprise to disgust. “Don’t patronize me. We know it wasn’t Spruance. Those codes were well beyond his access level. Was it Kirk?”
She sat on her bunk. “No.” she sighed. “Andy and I came up with it after we saw the pictures of those little people being murdered and tortured. There was one of a little girl, she made me think of my kits having that done to them.” her eyes welled up again, “I just knew we had to do something. And we were the best! We had those codes and we knew we could plan it and make everyone believe it was a real mission, real orders! They’d even authenticate! And it worked so well! Then that ship showed up and it just went so wrong. We didn’t think anyone would die. We thought we’d get like kicked back a year or something. Not this.”
“You didn’t think anyone would die? What about my pilots? What about my men those mercenaries you hired killed?”
“They weren’t supposed to kill anyone. They were supposed to just hold them hostage. We didn’t know how they worked. We just thought we paid them and they had to do what we said. I didn’t even know they killed those people until the trial.” she looked up at him, letting her sorrow show,  “We wanted to save people, not kill them.” Another set of lies, she thought. Fitting for a criminal.
Kai was studying her. “This really was your idea, wasn’t it?”
She slumped her shoulders, “Yes. I’m so sorry.”
He shook his head. “You are sorry because you were caught and are now being made to pay for your crimes. Otherwise you would feel yourself a hero! The rescuer of all these cute little people! Bah! On Cardassia Prime, I would have you slowly tortured to death. Sadly, here I cannot do that.” He thought to himself, or maybe I can. He smiled. “I promised you something to read if you answered my questions, didn’t I?”
“Yes.” She smiled. That would be something, at least!
“Very well.” He motioned to the guard. “Bring the letter up on the replicator panel.”
A letter! Oh thank the gods! Maybe from her parents! Excited, she turned to the wall mounted panel and began to read. It wasn’t from her parents.
“D