Star Trek Online: U.S.S. Andoria “Violated Boundaries”

Chapter 1

4…

3…

2…

1…

[Regeneration Cycle Complete] confirmed her internal systems. Dyhata’s eyes snapped open.  As she lay tangled up in her sheets, she began to check her vital systems, via the monitor attached to her head and positioned about 2.5 centimeters in front of her iris-absent left eye. All systems, cybernetic and biological, were operating within normal parameters. Time to get up, she told herself.

Commander Dyhata Vugiz sat straight up, and swung herself around. The Betazoid’s typical sleeping posture was so in contrast to her normal deportment that she was doubtful that even her closest friends would be able to imagine her in such a pose. As she walked across the floor, she shed the warm, heavy night gown, and stepped into her sonic shower quickly to escape the slightly chilly air. The heavier material had taken some getting used to for her, but even in her warmer than standard cabin, it felt more comfortable on such a cold ship.

After a quick cleanse in the sonic shower, she stood in front of her mirror, re-clad in her bathrobe. She hovered her left hand—which was covered in a cybernetic exoskeleton framework—over what appeared to be a belt buckle, sans belt, sitting on a table in front of the mirror and cradled next to a small glass disc with its own mirror on it.

“Confirm presence of all attire anticipated as necessary for today,” she stated out loud. A list of files stored in the buckle’s onboard PCU displayed itself on her eye-screen. The list ended, and Dyhata stated, “Satisfactory.”

She picked up the buckle, and held the back of it against her robe-covered waist. “Duty Uniform,” she ordered to the device after she tapped it.

Her bathrobe shimmered away, while at the same moment, a fully formed and cleaned blue-trimmed science officer duty uniform took its place. She found that everything was in place, as expected, as she checked herself. Underwear, comm badge, boots, pips, and her ever-present cybernetic implants were all flawlessly in place. Dyhata knew of no other person who had ever voluntarily let their body be implanted—on a limited basis—with Borg-Federation hybrid technology.

After closely examining her own face, she decided that she felt like wearing makeup that day. Picking up the small disc, she held it in front of her face, and tapped the edge. “Professional Pattern 1, uniform-complimentary coloring,” she ordered to the device. A low intensity beam swept across her face, and when finished, left behind a very light dusting of coloring that went very well with her blue uniform. She then swept the disc over her right hand, changing the color over her only exposed fingernails to compliment the rest of her coloring.

One last thing and she would be fully dressed. She picked a simple pony tail holder off the table and pulled her hair back out of her face. Simple and practical, as she always preferred.

“Time?” she called to herself.

On the head mounted monitor in front of her, the onboard system displayed [07:15].

Very good, she thought to herself through her stoic expression. Out the door she went, into the Andorian-friendly environment hallways of the U.S.S. Andoria. The Andoria, a Starfleet experimental star cruiser, was crewed by a mostly Andorian and Aenar crew, and therefore built and set to conditions found pleasant by the inhabitants of the frigid world for which the vessel was named. Only about 50 of the 1,000 person crew were from other worlds, and about half of those were from worlds that had similar ecological conditions.

It was only the brave and the tough of other species that could live in these harsh conditions that the blue skinned Andorians and Aenars called comfortable. Commander Vugiz was one those few that not only found the conditions tolerable, but to a degree enjoyed it. Fortunately for Dyhata, modern Starfleet uniform technology prevented any extensive hypothermia to her Betazoid physiology, and her personal preference for extremely cold weather made up for any psychological issues.

When the turbolift arrived, Dyhata found one of her science department colleague inside. “Good morning, Lieutenant Tozyl,” she addressed to the Andorian shen-female.

The other science officer came to a more casually attentive stance. “Good morning, sir,” stated Lieutenant “Toz” sh’Troik keth Trool in the very formal way preferred by her department head which she was now sharing a ride with.

The far more informal Andorian would have preferred casual conversation or at least good-humored company. She tried very hard not to let her discomfort show, which for beings from Andoria was extra difficult, since emotions tended to subconsciously express themselves through the antennae as well as their face. However, the stoic Dyhata was being her typical stone-walling self. She was glad that the ride ended after only a few seconds at the bridge. The science officers stepped out together on the port side of the bridge.

In the center seat was the ship’s XO, Commander Tallasa sh’Maolt keth Neot. In a hologram in front of the main screen the Andoria’s CO was beaming gleefully and holding a piece of…dirt?

“This is a wonderful find, Tal,” he was saying with his antennae meandering far forward, most likely fully aware that he was boring his XO to tears. The Andoria was one of the most heavily powered and fastest ships in the fleet, and had been designated as a science ship so that it could be used for the research and development of advancing ships’ systems away from any battle zones.  This arrangement had been made a little stranger by the science-enthusiastic Captain Thilyn th’Geil keth Theij, and his cutthroat, bring-a-bomb-to-a-knife-fight, one-eye-missing XO.

Thilyn tended to leave all of the military and defense necessities to Tallasa’s capable hands outside of any actual crisis to arise. She still wished he would just forget about her when it came to his excitement over scientific discoveries. It was like having a second th’se for her sometimes. “That’s great, Captain,” she returned to him with an expression that seemed to mix well the emotions of amusement at his wonder, and her impatience with the sluggishness of the scientific process. “Are you coming back to the ship today?” she asked bluntly trying not to let her antennae wilt in ennui.

“I’m not sure yet,” he stated, never taking his eyes off of his find. “There’s so much here to go through…” He caught sight of Commander Vugiz while she was approaching a science station behind Tallasa. “Oh, good! Dye! You’re awake!” Thilyn called out. “I want you to get another three science teams together, and lead them down here. We’re finding way more preserved here than we expected.”

Tallasa had turned to face the Chief Science Officer, clearly relieved to be let out of the discussion. Dyhata nodded to the screen. “Understood, Captain Thilyn. We will arrive at the site within 30 minutes.”

“Good enough. Oh, and bring camping gear,” he ordered.

“I take it, then, that you are planning on staying below tonight?” Tallasa asked.

“I’ll let you know,” he answered, “but Dye will very likely not be coming back tonight. Mind the ship, Tallasa. Thilyn out.”

The two-meter tall blue-skinned behemoth on the planet below the Andoria closed the holographic image of his bridge being projected by his comm badge. Turning back to the encampment of mostly blue uniforms, he headed for the makeshift research lab. He wanted his clump of dirt, which was actually a dirt covered piece of ancient Klingon technology discovered on this long forgotten world outside of what the Klingons currently claimed as their territory, to be something of profound meaning. He couldn’t wait to find out how it had got here.

 

Chapter 2

“Why does he make me wait?” General Kraal barked to his first officer.

The two Klingon warriors stared daggers at the ship on the viewscreen. They had arrived at the rendezvous thirty minutes ago, and the only signal they had heard from the carrier was an automated “Stand by.”

The slightly younger first officer of the I.K.S. Toh’Kaht simply sneered, “He must enjoy making powerful enemies, General.”

On the screen in front of him the Kar’Fi-Type Flight Deck Carrier I.K.S. Purgatory floated gently and (more infuriatingly) quietly in deep space. The ship hung nose to nose with the Negh’Var Type Toh’Kaht. Silently it stared back at the frustrated General. This was supposed to be a simple delivery to this lowly Gorn-commanded ship.

“This lizard’s reputation is not well earned, I can see,” the General spat. “What sort of ship of terror stays noiseless, sitting peacefully in the depths of space?”

“I agree, General. Our mere presence seems to have intimidated him.”

The screen finally flickered to a view of a huge Gorn seated in his command seat on a wide bridge, like an emperor perched upon a throne. “If you understand [hsssss] the true infliction terror, General, then you understand the inherent dread [hsssss] in untelling silence.”

Was he grinning, the General thought? He wasn’t aware that Gorn could grin. But, perhaps it was the lack of lips and ostensibly seamless gum line. Time enough later to wonder about it, though. The fact that the lizard had immediately alluded to a part of his conversation from before the screen activated, did not escape him.

“That is irrelevant Captain Vat’shen,” the superior officer spat back. “I am Da’har Master Brigadier General Kraal!” bragged the well built Klingon with the iron gray hair. “When I call, you will answer, Gorn!”

“Aren’t you delivering something [hsssss]?” Vat’shen sneered, totally ignoring the Generals complaint.

No member of a conquered race should ever be so confident, ship captain or not, thought the general. But, he was also tired with wasting time with this lizard. “Bring him!” Kraal called over his shoulder while continuing to glare at the Gorn on the screen.

A struggling, lowly ranked crewman was dragged to the front of the bridge by two security guards. “Let go of me, petaQ!” yelled the conceited youth.

Kraal relieved the security guards of their ward by grabbing him by the back of the hair. He jerked him around like the rag doll, and made him face the screen. “This is Bekk Kogen. He is a disloyal, lazy, disrespectful Denebian slime devil. He makes me long to gut him, and see his corpse tossed out of the airlock with the rest of the refuse. And, in the days before Gowron, I would have.

“But now, this counsel led by that upstart J’mpok, has ordered me to transfer him to you. Apparently, your crew has become the scow for garbage like this.”

“Excellent,” said the Gorn. He stood up to his full 2½ meter height, and strode towards the screen. “I look forward [hsssss] to integrating him into our crew.”

“Fine,” the Kraal stated. “Take him.” Why couldn’t any insult phase this reptile?

Vat’shen waved his hand to someone off screen. A moment later, the contemptible bekk vanished right out of the general’s grip. Confused, Kraal turned to his tactical officer. “Were our shields down?”

The tactical officer was frantically scanning her equipment. “No, General. I haven’t dropped them yet.”

“How did you do that?” Kraal demanded of Vat’shen.

“Do not concern yourself [hsssss] with it. We are a research vessel. The Purgatory carries many pieces of [hsssss] prototype technology.” answered Vat’shen.

Kraal nodded, “Good enough…for now, Gorn.” This had consumed more than enough of his time. “I may have more questions later, though. For now, I have more important ships to tend to…such as Orion slave ships,” he spat again.

This caught Vat’shen’s attention. “Slave ships? [hsssss] Is there a raid planned?”

“Don’t worry about it, Gorn. If you’re looking for more crew, you’ll have to look elsewhere,” Kraal scoffed. “Get that off of my screen!  Prepare to go to warp!”

The screen flickered off, and a moment later General Kraal vanished into another transporter beam. “What is this!” he demanded when he materialized only a few meters from the Gorn captain.

“Our conversation [hsssss] is not finished, General,” stated the approaching Gorn.

“Of all the impudence!” Kraal yelled. “Do you not understand the concept of conquered, you brainless lizard?”

“What’s the matter, not used to being ordered around, sir?” stated a sarcastic voice from Kraal’s right. He turned and saw the recently surrendered bekk on his knees, trying feebly to remove a metal collar that had just been placed around his neck.

Vat’shen pushed a button on his wrist console, and immediately the collar both heated and tightened around the neck of the young Klingon. “You are not [hsssss] to speak out of turn,” Vat’shen told the youth, then turned his attention back to the General totally ignoring the continuing nonlethal strangulation of the bekk. “Now, let’s talk about this raid [hsssss], General.”

General Kraal noted the absence of his personal weaponry, and assumed that they must have been removed by the transporter. Not to be intimidated, he advanced on the larger reptile. “I will not be high jacked and interrogated by a lizard.”

The Klingon began to look around the bridge. Every bridge officer seemed to going out their way to ignore the confrontation at its center. Where was this ship’s Imperial Liaison Officer? Every ship commanded by a conquered species was supposed to have one.

“What is going on here?” Kraal growled to the Gorn, as he slowed his advance. The bridge officers had all been stripped of any respectable clothing. They were all wearing the same metal collars that had been fitted onto the bekk. This vessel had been listed as a science and support vessel in the Klingon Defense Force. Why did it feel more like a flying prison?

Then he finally spotted the Liaison Officer—the one officer on the ship that could lord authority over a non-Klingon captain, regardless of their own rank. Here, she was near a support strut, in a tattered imperial uniform, and chained to the girder.

Kraal marched over to the a’wI’ Sogh (lieutenant). “ a’wI’ Sogh, what is happening here? Answer me!” he demanded.

Not a peep escaped her lips. Instead she only glanced in the direction of the Gorn. Was that abject terror? Kraal had never seen such an expression on a warrior. There was a hint of blatant anger behind that, but something on the surface wouldn’t allow it to act.

Behind the General, the Gorn chuckled. He had been watching the Klingon’s perplexity. “Tell him,” he ordered to the Liaison.

“This is a ship of the damned, General,” she said, not daring to look Kraal in the eye. “I am a’wI’ Sogh E’la. I am of no house any more. I have renounced my family for the sake of their own virtue. For you see, my honor is no more aboard this ship. In fact, there is no honor here at all, sir. You will not find even a scrap of it anywhere within these decks.”

“This subjugated lizard has robbed Klingons of their honor?” the now-infuriated General stated.

“No, General,” E’la stated. “Honor is gained through shame, and then held aloft in victory…or lost through transgression. There is no dishonor in defeat by a worthy combatant. The honor of the Klingons, and even the aliens here, has simply been removed. Methodically, coldly, and through surgical torture.”

Now in a blinding rage, Kraal turned to the huge lizard. “I challenge you, Gorn!” He would defeat this monster and regain the lost honor of these damned souls. “Fight me!” He charged the few meters to the captain’s chair.

“No,” Vat’shen stated calmly. As the Klingon reached him, Vat’shen easily picked up the warrior by the throat and held him off the floor. “Fighting risks losing [hsssss], General. Why fight [hsssss] you, when I can simply take what I [hsssss] want from you?”

“Let go of me, psychopath,” the General choked out.

“No, General. This is where [hsssss] you end,” Vat’shen told him. “Painfully. But first, you will [hsssss] tell me of this raid.”

The next thing that Kraal felt was something penetrating his lower spine from behind. Massive disorientation swept over him. He wasn’t sure how long it lasted. Nevertheless, the last thing that he ever felt was the Vat’shen’s powerful hand tightening…and tightening, more and more.

It tightened so much that it ripped through the flesh and bone of the General’s neck until the body below it dropped to the floor.

*          *          *

During the entire ordeal aboard the Purgatory, the crew of the Toh’Kaht was trying to come up with options about how to rescue their Commanding Officer. They didn’t dare fire on the carrier. It wasn’t that they feared them, but if they fired then they risked killing Kraal.

After several minutes of being unable to move via circumstance, they finally received a hail from the Purgatory. “At last,” the first officer grunted. He was sure that Kraal had been victorious over the gutless captors.

When the screen showed him the image of the Gorn, he was less reassured. “What have you done with our General, Gorn?”

Again ignoring the posturing of a Klingon, the Gorn stated simply, “I have defeated Kraal in [hsssss] honorable combat.” Vat’shen stated succinctly as he held up the General’s dismembered head. “Congratulations, Commander. [hsssss] The Toh’Kaht is now yours.” This would satisfy all cultural stipulations, Vat’shen knew, and prevent any more undue blustering.

The screen blinked, the Gorn was gone again, and the Purgatory moved away.

 

Chapter 3

With the war in full effect, most of the more powerful ships were away at the front lines. Most of the vessels remaining to patrol the hundreds of Federation star systems were short range scout and science vessels, with a modicum of larger cruisers scattered about for backup. Since the front lines of the current Klingon-Federation war so many light years away, this was typically considered a safe policy. Most of the actual clashes, in fact, took place at the far end of the Empire’s border, along the original Neutral Zone. The new boundaries, which were in flux since the Empire had occupied the Gorn Homogeny and the worlds of Orion, were still being worked out politically, while the rest of the Empire pushed against the Federation defenses.

Currently, there were only two simple scout ships present in the Andorian Star System. One was the U.S.S. Wantuck, a Centaur-Class Light Cruiser. The other, at the outer edge of the system, the U.S.S. Probe Four was running nothing but standard astronomical scans of interplanetary debris in the orbital path of the outermost world of the system.

The Probe Four was a Nova-Class Light Cruiser being used as a cadet training ship. This particular cadet ship had a special crew, however. Not many years earlier, a new species had joined the Federation under very unusual circumstances. This species had no known homeworld, and seemed either unable or unwilling to identify any such place (neither past nor current), despite their massive intellects. However, they brought a wealth of scientific knowledge to the negotiating table that the Federation could not afford to pass up, and so exemptions and exceptions were made, and they were admitted.

Along with a lack of a homeworld, there was also no official name for the species. However, several other member planets had a plethora of pre-warp urban legends regarding appearances by creatures of similar descriptions. Physically, they all had grey-toned skins, disproportionately bulbous heads, and excessively large “eyes” that seemed more like embedded mirrors—ted more like embedded mirrors. he males were very short, while the females were very tall.  Socially, they seemed to operate in a form of hive of independent minds. The only name available was “Greys”, which was a fairly common urban legend name (in a variety of languages) among the various worlds. And the Greys seemed to very willingly accept this name.

Aboard the Probe Four, which was almost entirely populated by Grey cadets, the only non-Grey on the ship’s bridge was trying to keep her sanity in the near dead silence of the ship full of telepathic, voiceless creatures. As with every cadet ship, a small number of training officers was assigned. At the moment, the Andorian shen Lieutenant Tarah sh’Mazai keth Meeloo was the only one on the bridge. Assigned as the bridge trainer, she stood watch as the Greys undoubtedly shared all necessary information among each other. This, to her, was definitely one of the more tedious assignments as her tenure as a Cadet Field Supervisor at the Academy. However, she was determined to do it well.

In particular, she was paying attention to the small, male Grey in the Captain’s Chair of the small scale bridge. His head movement seemed to indicate that he was monitoring the other stations, yet no sound ever came from what other species assumed to be their mouths. She was about to sigh quietly to herself in boredom for what seemed the millionth time that day, when she noticed suddenly that all six of the present Greys seemed to snap to attention and face the main viewer.

“Cadet w’B’r’s’Q?” Lieutenant Tarah called from the aft operations table. “Is something wrong?”

w’B’r’s’Q immediately jabbed a control on the board next to the Captain’s Chair, and the red alert klaxon began to sound. “An enemy ship is…” he started to say through a vocal synthesizer built into his comm badge.

Before he could finish the statement, the ship jolted to the port side, and all of the systems boards began to short out. Outside, off of the port side of the Probe Four, the Orion Dacoit-Type Carrier I.K.S. Visceral dropped out of warp less than 200 meters away and opened fire immediately. A precision maneuver obviously meant as a rapid strike, which was unusual for such a large ship.

Since the minds aboard the Orion vessel were moving at such a high velocity, the Greys had virtually no time to telepathically detect them and mount a defense. This may have been the intent behind the attack plan. However, the cadet ship had no time to figure it out. The Orions had come in fast and struck quickly and precisely at the Probe Four‘s primary shield array before they could be raised.

Before the ship could regain any hold, Orion shock troops were beaming aboard and attacking the crew hand-to-hand. Tarah could only get a rough count, but it seemed that about 10 Orion males beamed onto the bridge directly. She could hear the automated intruder alert system sounding, but was unable to check anything as her position was being overwhelmed.

She did note that, despite the upper-arm mounted Klingon Defense Force comm badges, there seemed to a distinct lack of uniforms. It was just a lot of mostly-shirtless, very large and aggressive Orion men. They were simple thugs and brutes, really; far from their finest. And, was that a female in the middle of their group? No time to sum up now.

Lieutenant Tarah dove for a nearby weapon’s locker, and quickly pulled out a hand phaser. She unleashed it on the first Orion that she saw. His brawny build went down hard on the deck plating.

She was about to find her next target, when a fist from an invader that popped into her peripheral vision connected to the side of her skull. Her mind exploded in pain and dizziness as she lost her legs. She could feel the blood forcibly leaving her face.  She barely registered the other side of her head hitting the floor. Through blurry vision, she looked up and saw her assailant aiming a weapon at her, then the discharge, then unconsciousness. She had been stunned. She silently prayed to the ancient gods that she didn’t wake up on a slave ship in chains.

*          *          *

The entire ship had been ambushed and taken in moments. All crewmembers that had not been killed or stunned were being used to move the ones that had into cargo bays. On the bridge of the Probe Four, the scantily clad lead Vixen finally left her beam-in position after her Enforcer and his Thugs we were done with the task of securing the room.

Below, the one of the other teams had beamed into the Engineering Section and secured the ship using its own anti-intruder systems. After subduing the section, they proceeded to disable all of the weapon and propulsion systems. Of course, simply shooting the Probe Four out of the stars would be simpler. But, a large energy discharge in space at the edge of the Andorian Star System where the local starbase and every other Starfleet vessel in the area could register it would be counterproductive to the Orions’ current assault plan.

Back on the bridge, Vixen Ma’rhai was getting her assignment underway. She approached the communications station, stepping over Lieutenant Tarah as the Andorian was dragged out of the way by her Enforcer. A cursory examination of the young Andorian with the bleeding head drew admiration from the team leader, “hmmm. She may be worth collecting.”

She turned her attention then to the console, wiped off some of the blue-ish blood, and tapped a few controls. After confirming a status or two, she casually relayed to her Enforcer who stood at hand, “Good, they were unable to get off any type of distress call.”

“Excellent, mistress,” he replied.

“Downloading viral matrix, now,” she stated almost playfully. She watched the progress of the download. When finished, she activated the program, and watched its virtual display fly away into space along the communication lines within in the star system. A moment later, the remaining lights and panels within the small Starfleet vessel began to flicker and fail.

“That should do it,” she told herself.

“Ma’rhai to Lahn.” she called into her comm badge. “Viral matrix is embedded in the communications network. Disable the communications array at your convenience.”

Knowing that her sister-in-arms was well into her work, she switched channels without waiting for a reply. “Matriarch Heln, we’re finished here. Our comm. channels should be safe to use now. Shall we collect some…’spoils’ before we return?”

Heln’s voice, a mature yet seductive timbre, answered over the comm line. “No time. Our real target is still ahead. There is plenty to be plundered there. Leave the remaining crew to their drifting vessel. Beam back immediately…all of you.”

“Are you certain, Matriarch?” Ma’rhai had a small sense of disappointment in her voice. “There are some crewmembers right here that would make fine…”

“Now, Ma’rhai,” Heln stated more sternly.

“Yes, my lady,” she submitted. “Immediately.” Ma’rhai closed the channel and waved her hand, motioning to her Enforcer to gather the troops to leave. Within twenty seconds, all of the Orions were gone again, and the ship was adrift.

*          *          *

The Orions’ active viral matrix reached across the Andorian Star System, across the vast Federation subspace network that reached deep into the system, and beyond its outermost limits. While the Orions were well aware of how far the networked actually reached, they were working under the assumption that software safeguards would catch it before it spread out into any significant portion of the Federation…as much as it would have pleased them to be wrong in that assumption. It did, however, have the intended effect of infecting every Starfleet and space-borne facility within the Andorian System.

Computer systems throughout the star system, everywhere in the linked network began to simply shut down. The viral matrix couldn’t be complicated. The various firewalls in all of the different computers would have quickly and effectively fought back. Instead the virus’s creator had went the simpler route of merely having the cyber-bug turn off each system, and then to keep them off for a minimum of one standard-hour. No data mining. No core destruction. Just a forced input command of “off”.

The effect was noticed on the primary world and on every space ship everywhere in the system. Among the many facilities affected was the Andorian Orbital Spaceport circling in high geocentric orbit above the cold homeworld. Even with all of the cities full of potential prizes on the surface of Andoria, the Orion Dacoit-Type Carrier honed in on this as the most vulnerable target.

Even with all of the computer systems off, any given urban area could have unknown numbers of Starfleet residents at a given point. While a public spaceport wasn’t sure to be empty of them, they were likely to be far sparser…especially with a Starfleet orbital spacedock a quarter of an orbit away.

The Orion ship had set itself up for a decisive advantage in this system, and could easily remove any persons it wanted as plunder. However, they wanted to avoid capturing Starfleet personnel, specifically. While it was obvious that the Federation would value a simple national no less than a service member, when it came to capturing potential slaves, it was always easier to mentally and emotionally break civilians than soldiers.

Through the windows that gave off the beautiful panoramic view of the planet Andoria in Concourse 5. The travelers and workers first noticed the emerging situation when an approaching passenger transport seemed to lose power and began to float gently by. Seconds later, the spaceport station itself seemed to lose power, too. Gravity and environmental controls seemed to remain unaffected, as to still provide breathable air and a sense of spatial orientation.

Just as the transport floated away out of sight, the massive I.K.S. Visceral dropped out of warp space so close to the spaceport that the sight of it took up most of the space-facing windows of that hall. Most intimidating about it, was the sight of that gun ports that—while not powered up—just happened to pointed in the direction of that concourse. People who hadn’t yet panicked were now beginning to scattered aimlessly.

A suspended spaceport orbiting miles above a planet didn’t offer many places to run to, but that didn’t seem to stop anyone from trying. Most of the beings ran towards the stations more windowless core where the largest concentration of escape pods (which were also deactivated) were located. Others just got to anywhere that might feel semi-secure.

Moments after the concourse had nearly cleared, Orions began beaming in near the docking port at the farthest end. Large, bestial green men with a three scantily clad diminutive women trailing them. As the Orion brutes began to tear up the spaceport, Vixen Ma’rhai turned to look out the window, and watched the Visceral as it began firing on random targets on the planet’s surface. Ma’rhai delighted herself a little in imagining the calamity taking place so many kilometers below her. Matriarch Heln would be overjoyed, as well as all of their Klingon subjugators, she felt. Their trial run, which had included ransacking behind enemy lines, was working beautifully.

She walked behind the brutes with her fellow vixens. They were starting to encounter people. Travelers and spaceport employees all helplessly trapped inside of the facility. While the Visceral was busy bringing chaos to the peaceful Federation core-planet, their mission was to cause panic and fear in the population on a more intimate level by gathering random potential slaves as trophies from their mission.

The brutes began thrashing any security persons—or any other persons—that tried to fight back. This was made easier by the lack of energy weapons. As most Federation technology, right down to the Type 1 Phasers, was networked through computer systems, the shutdown viral matrix had infected even them.

As they moved through the station, the vixens pointed to victims, and then designated brutes carrying transporter tags would slap one on each selected person. The target was then whisked away to the Visceral seconds later.

Within moments, the singular ship and a band of marauders had turned the homeworld of a star system into a globe of terror. And with no real opposition at the moment, the Orions had total license to destroy and maim.

 

Chapter 4

Commander Tallasa had just been urgently called over to the tactical station by Commander Shynon zh’Frei keth Drona, the Andoria‘s Chief of Security. “What’s the problem, Shye?” Tallasa inquired. She could see the urgency in Shye’s face and antennae

Commander “Shye” gestured to the Starfleet Priority One Channel display of the communications panel. “Starfleet just sent out this distress call from the Sirius Star System.”

Tallasa scanned over the details displayed on the screen. “Damn,” she cursed as her antennae went rigid with indignation, and then started her return to the bridge’s center seat. “Tell them we’re en route now, Shye, and then hail the Captain immediately. Helm, plot a direct course to the Andorian system, now,” she ordered, anticipating Captain Thilyn’s reaction to the news that she had just seen.

Moments later, Captain Thilyn’s image appeared in front of the 3D viewscreen at the front of the bridge. He had clearly been sleeping, as he appeared groggy, mostly horizontal, and wearing only his sleeping bag. “Report, Tal,” he answered to his hail.

“We’ve just received a distress signal from the Sirius Star System, sir,” she conveyed. “The entire Andorian Star System has just gone dark.”

The sudden news of their homeworld roused his interest. “Dark? Clarify.”

“All electronic and computer activity detectable within the system has suddenly ceased,” she explained. “All transceivers are quiet, and no one is responding to hails. It’s not just the planets, either. All ships and stations and automated drones within the system are also dark, sir.”

“Any details?”  He immediately stirred and grabbed his clothing replicator. A moment later, he was dressed and gathering a tricorder.

“Just one…on long range sensors from Sirius, Captain. And, it’s a bad one,” she said. “They have detected energy discharges in orbit of Andoria. The discharges have Orion weapons signatures.”

“Weapons fire,” he concluded. “A bombardment?”

“I think so, too, sir,” Tallasa stated grimly.

Thilyn wasn’t about to wait around for some relayed orders from Starfleet with his crew’s homeworld hanging in the balance. “Go to red alert. Plot a course. Beam my party straight to the bridge on my next signal.”

“Course already plotted, Captain,” relayed the Aenar senior cadet, Zoryhnta hee-Than, sitting at the helm. “ETA at maximum warp is 32 hours…”

“Forget warp,” he ordered. “Adjust course for slipstream velocity.”

The gold trimmed operations cadet paused for just a moment in ambiguity. “Aye, sir. Adjusting course.”

“Thilyn, out.”

“Problem, Cadet Zoryhnta?” Tal asked, having noticed the moment of doubt.

“No, sir,” the Cadet answered. “It’s just that this is my first time piloting at speeds higher than warp outside of a simulator.”

Tallasa thought for a moment, and looked around the bridge. She saw the Myotan Chief of Operations at the auxiliary control station in the back of the bridge. Tallasa was more familiar with Lieutenant Commander F’beytha’s skills. “F’bey,” she called and waved her to the helm. “No offense, Cadet, but a crisis is no time for on-the-job training.”

“Understood, sir” stated the young Aenar. As much as she was looking forward to the experience, she agreed that she needed the added pressure of the alert status.

As the tall, long-limbed Myota engineer took over the helm, the comm system signaled again. “Three to beam directly to the bridge, Tal,” Thilyn ordered.

“Aye, sir,” she answered.

Moments later, Thilyn, Dyhata, and Lieutenant Sessi ren-Mouz materialized all in blue uniforms along with a small variety of scientific equipment and samples. Most likely they had been items that had been in their immediate vicinity before beam up. Dyhata took to her station along the outer wall of the bridge. The Aenar lieutenant removed the equipment and samples to the turbolift.

Captain Thilyn took the center seat. He only noted the sudden change at the helm mentally. He would have time for questions about that later. “F’bey, engage course, slipstream velocity,” he ordered.

His usually casual demeanor was not, at present, evident to anyone around. As much as Thilyn had been a treated as a social outcast growing up on Andoria, he had still always considered it his home. Was it being laid to ruin? He had to get there and do whatever it took to save that beautiful blue jewel.

“Aye, Captain,” she sang in response, as was normal for her species. “ETA: 28 minutes.”

It was clear from the urgency of the situation, and the tones in Thilyn’s voice, that he wasn’t interested in any star system escape vectors. As such, the Andoria broke out of normal space directly above the planet, and glided directly into the folded space dimensions of slipstream velocity.

*          *          *

As the Andoria rapidly approached the freezing lunar homeworld, her crew went about the business of preparing to confront an unknown threat. At Science Station 1 to the starboard side of the bridge, Commander Vugiz poured over the sensor readings coming in from the systems and sources surrounding the Andorian system. She worked urgently and diligently to look for any clues to what was happening inside that suddenly noiseless system which played home to so many of her shipmates.

With only 3 minutes to go until arrival at the system, she finally caught a glimmer of a cause. Another person may have missed it. However, a stray piece of data caught in a firewall drew the attention of her neural sub-processor. She isolated the information, and quickly analyzed it.

“Prepare to drop to impulse, go in at full speed,” ordered Captain Thilyn from the center seat beyond the tactical station behind Dyhata.

As the vessel dropped back into normal space, they were so close to Andoria that only a small portion of the gas giant Andor, which the moon orbited, was visible behind it.

At the substitutionally run Operations Station, opposite of the Tactical Station, Engineer Lieutenant Kaalin ch’Trolk keth Trool, spotted the aggressors. “Orion Dacoit-Type Carrier at 550,000 kilometers, bearing 6 degrees port, Captain! Reading her markings as I.K.S. Visceral…” the highly ceremonial Andorian from the keth (clan) of Trool stopped himself. “They are firing at the surface!”

“Arm all weapons! Prepare to fire!” Thilyn called charging to his feet in anger.

From Science Station 2 Lieutenant Tozyl called out a warning. “Sensors are showing multiple non-Orion life signs aboard the Visceral. They’ve taken prisoners, sir.”

“Can we beam them out?”

“No, sir,” Tallasa called from Tactical. “They’re heavily shielded, and seem to be intentionally scrambling all transporter signals, as well.”

This was becoming exasperating. “Target their weapons only.”

After several volleys of beam weapons, the invading force finally ceased to snub the new Starfleet vessel on the scene. “They’re hailing, Captain,” Tallasa announced.

“Hailing?” Thilyn wondered. “Not returning fire?”

“No, sir,” the XO confirmed. “In fact, they’ve stopped firing all together.”

Thilyn had never been much of a warrior. As mad as he was at the attackers for harming his homeworld and its inhabitants, if he could find a diplomatic solution to end this attack, he was willing to take it. “Open the channel.”

During the entire flurry of activity to attempt to stop the Orion vessel, Dyhata had continued her analysis. And, she had finally discovered why all of the computers in the star system had gone quiet. She quickly turned to the Captain, and exclaimed over the noise, “Don’t open it!”

With all eyes suddenly on her, and the bridge at a standstill, Thilyn asked the obvious, “Why not, Dye?”

“They’ve spread a very dedicated computer viral matrix throughout the star system. It’s a simple shutdown command that attacks even firewalls through communications traffic and information networks. The reason that the surrounding star systems haven’t been infected is because they’ve only tried to contact comm networks that were already in shutdown mode. If we open a channel to the Visceral, then they will likely transmit the virus to the Andoria.”

“Contact Computer Operations on Deck 09, Dye,” Thilyn ordered. “Coordinate, and work on a way to block and fix that virus.

“Tal, open a channel, one way only…zero reception.” He turned his attention back to the main viewscreen, and stared at the image of the carrier in front of the Andoria‘s foreword weapons arrays.

“Channel open, sir,” Tallasa called.

Dyhata took a moment from her efforts to reach out telepathically to the Orion vessel. She knew that Captain Thilyn would want her to confirm that their attention was on the Andoria. “They hear you, Captain,” she informed Thilyn.

“Good,” he muttered. “I.K.S. Visceral, this is the U.S.S. Andoria. We have detected and isolated the computer virus that you’ve used to attack this star system. Stand down immediately and release your hostages to us. We have reinforcements en route, and your ship’s hull readings are now being transmitted to every Starfleet vessel from here to the Klingon border. You have 30 seconds to drop your shields and surrender.”

As Captain Thilyn spoke, the crew surrounding him indeed made all of his statements true. Three other Starfleet vessels were in fact inbound, but were several hours away at least—Thilyn would chose not to disclose that information, though. And, Kaalin was transmitting the Visceral‘s very detailed profile openly throughout the fleet. However, he was also noting some oddities in the carrier’s warp signature during the identification scans. Something odd about that ship’s engines was not matching anything on record.

*          *          *

The Visceral scanned the Andoria‘s tactical abilities. From what little they were able to determine, even with the fighter crafts on board, they were fairly evenly matched on weapons. Besides, the Visceral wasn’t looking for a fair fight that she might lose. This was a deep range incursion raid…exclusively. Rush in, disarm, raid, and retreat. They weren’t prepared for extended combat, nor ordered to engage in such. And, with the Andoria bearing down on her, she needed another option.

And, there the other option was. The passenger transports floating gently about in high orbit. The Visceral, not waiting for the allotted time to expire, immediately locked a tractor beam onto the nearest transport and threw the impulse engines to full while bearing her course straight towards the planet.

*          *          *

“What are they doing?” Tozyl curiously inquired as her instruments registered the activity.

“Pursuit course, now,” Thilyn ordered. “Target their engines.”

“Captain, they still have the hostages,” Commander Tallasa reminded him.

“And now, they have more,” Thilyn amended. “Shye, coordinate with Toz. Try to aim away from areas with non-Orion life signs.”

“Hold on,” Kaalin interrupted in his usual composed tone. “Something’s changing again. They’re releasing the transport! The Visceral has dragged the transport to less than 1,000 kilometers above the surface.”

On the main screen, the tractor beam vanished, and the Visceral veered away. The momentum from the sudden tow continued to carry the transport downward towards the planet Andoria.

“The Orions are powering up their warp drive, and plotting an escape course,” Kaalin reported.

Unfortunately, this was a classic gambit that had a tendency to work, Thilyn recognized. The Orions had put another ship in mortal peril, giving the only other working starship in the system a choice. Chase down the Orion, in which case the transport full of civilian passengers will burn up in a sloppy nose dive into Andoria’s atmosphere. Or, save the transport, and let the Orions escape with a ship full of hostages, and potential slaves.

The hostages were in a bad situation, but they were still alive. Therefore, the Andoria gave chase to the transport. “F’bey, follow the transport, and Tal ready a tractor beam.

“Kaalin, track the Visceral. Get a bearing, and transmit it to all Starfleet vessels along their path.” Thilyn concluded.

With time to spare, the transport was snared. As the Andoria pulled the distressed ship away from the planet that she was named for, Kaalin tracked the attacking ship. As expected, the Visceral entered warp space, and left a trail of subspace distortion…right up to the edge of the star system. After that, something totally bewildering happened. All of the subspace distortions that indicated a warp trail faded quickly away. There was no longer any trail to track. Kaalin adjusted his instruments up and down the board. Nothing.

“Captain,” he reported from his station at the port side of the bridge. “A problem. The Visceral‘s trail…is gone.”

 

Chapter 5

Thilyn desperately wanted to pursue the Orions and rescue the hostages; however, the more immediate need for the U.S.S. Andoria‘s presence was at Andoria itself. The planet of the ship’s namesake was wounded. The orbital bombardment by the Visceral had been both brutal and highly randomized. Very likely, by design.

A great many population centers all over the facing side of Andoria had received multiple disruptor hits and torpedo strikes. The wide spread pattern of the destruction made response by emergency services difficult, at best.

Thilyn’s first duty, under the circumstances, was to help secure the wellbeing of injured persons on Andoria by aiding those services in whatever capacity they needed. The Wantuck and was still recovering from their computer virus attacks, and the battle-damaged Probe Four was awaiting the arrival of volunteer civilian rescue vessels. The nearest of the other inbound Starfleet vessels were still 12 hours away. Thilyn had every intention of pursuing the Visceral, once the first of those ships arrived.

There were a few problems to work through first, however. To start with, there was something new and remarkable about the Visceral‘s warp drive. It didn’t leave a subspace trail like as it should have. This means that they had no way to track it. The hypothesis currently was that they were running back to Klingon-controlled space as hastily as possible now that their viral matrix was discovered, and the vessel’s recordable details had been transmitted to every active Starfleet vessel in the Federation.

In order to pursue the Visceral, it would have to drop out of warp again, and be spotted by a Starfleet vessel. Thilyn, a thaan that had spent his life in pursuit of facts and proof, was hoping that fate would grant them a sighting at this point.

The other problem, for lack of more simple word, was permission. There were likely a dozen Starfleet vessels between them and the border that already knew of the attack, so it was now Thilyn’s task to talk the Andorian starbase CO to let him take his ship—very likely—across into Klingon-controlled Orion Space, and find the hostages.

Commander Tallasa had, by personal request, just deployed herself to the public spaceport to oversee the Andoria‘s search and rescue effort. While his first officer was departing, Rear Admiral Re’gee ch’Marein of the keth Palou was just beaming aboard and was inbound to the bridge. Thilyn felt as though game board pieces were being strategically placed at the moment. What was the next move to come?

*          *          *

Tallasa materialized at the end of Concourse 5 where both the local starbase and the U.S.S. Andoria were setting up a local triage center. During the abduction process, the entire spaceport had become a scene of pure chaos. Persons had been running in all directions from the abducting pirates. Now, it was the job of the search and rescue teams to find the survivors and return them to safety no matter what crevice of the port that they had taken refuge in.

For Tallasa, this situation took on a personal meaning. Despite her very stern and sometimes violent demeanor, the keth Neot from which she came were traditionally the shepherds of travelers. Andorian guides, in a sense. Her more non-traditional choice of vocation was due to rather traumatic events during her childhood. Her bond-mates, however supportive, had been very happy to stick to their traditional roots and stay close to the homeworld.

Tallasa’s ch’te and th’se (what bi-gender species would refer to as the “men”) were running a small travel agency operating aboard the spaceport, while her zh’yi (basically, Tallasa’s co-wife) worked as an information kiosk supervisor. She knew very well their daily work routines; she also knew that they were in the spaceport when the attack occurred. She needed to find them for her own peace of mind.

She had already checked on the status of their four children while en route to the port. Their children were regularly left in the care of the keth’s elders while their parents travelled into orbit each day for work. She had checked on the Andoria‘s sensors, and the Neot’s hamlet within the small town of Hryth at the north end of Emarnl Lake had been spared any of the bombardment. She had even located their specific life signs and DNA within their home.

More rescue workers continued to beam in and out while Commander Tallasa found the nearest Starfleet PADD in order to access the local EMT network. With the station in disarray and damaged power systems everywhere playing havoc with localized EM fields, precision scanning of the spaceport from the Andoria had been problematic at best. This seemed the simplest route to beginning the search for her bond-mates.

The triage concourse was filling with thousands of scared and wounded civilians, but none of them were her bond-mates. Any Starfleet personnel that happened to be travelling through were being evacuated to the orbital starbase to relieve the traffic.

After a few moments of list searches, Tallasa located Malô and Ech’t’s names (her th’se  and ch’te, respectively), as well as the location of the triage center they had been taken to aboard the space station. They were in the food court, about halfway to the end of Concourse 3.

Retaining possession of the PADD, Tallasa took in a quick sweep of the personnel available in the immediate area. She noticed Lieutenant Sisse ren-Mouz, the security officer identical twin of science officer Lieutenant Sessi ren-Mouz, coordinating with other security officers. “Lieutenant Sisse, hold down this post and coordinate as needed,” she ordered.

“Aye, sir,” the Aenar answered in return.

Tallasa began to make her way to the central hub of the spaceport station, where she would veer from the current concourse into Concourse 3. She probably could have just beamed there, but she didn’t want to tie up the transporters unnecessarily during a crisis. As she made her way through the debris and search and rescue teams, she continued exploring the PADD’s database link for any mention of Latii, her zh’yi. There was no indication of her presence at all, though.

Tallasa tried not to let this discourage her. She knew that there were still multiple dozens of persons unaccounted for and still being located. But, she also knew firsthand that the Orions had abducted many people. The Andoria’s sensors had registered 109 non-Orion life signs aboard the Visceral before it had escaped, but had not has the chance to conduct individual identification scans. As her computer search continued, she began to worry to the point of her antennae beginning to quiver from distress.

She was finally in Concourse 3, and within the food court area. Tallasa looked around at the portable bio-beds haphazardly organized while the cleared out tables and other moveable objects had been hastily tossed against the walls. Searching the room for a moment, she located her th’se lying in a biobed, and there was Ech’t standing beside him. She also noticed a Starfleet security and medical officer trying to coax her ch’te away from the bed—and probably off of the space station—to clear up foot traffic.

“That’s enough, Ensign,” Tallasa addressed to the security officer as she approached the bed.

Her mates looked up at the new voice that had arrived, and were overwhelmed with joy in an instant. “Tallasa?” Ech’t panted, and then leapt away from the ensign that had been tugging on his arm. She loved being able to embrace her ch’te after so long, but it wasn’t helping the air of authority that she needed at the moment.

With just a bit too much affection on her face, she felt, she quickly put off Ech’t to address the attending officers. “What is the problem here?”

“No problem here, Commander,” the Efrosian ensign replied. “I understand that these two are bond-mates, but the doctors have asked us to keep the triages areas clear of all non-essential personnel.”

“Understood,” she stated, and then turned to the attending Hekaran medic. “Doctor, does the extent of Malô’s injuries prevent him from being beamed or moved?”

“No, Commander,” he responded in a less than pleased tone. “But, we’re a little crowded. Where could we move him to, exactly?”

Tallasa stepped in close, and lowered her voice. “These two men just happen to be my bond-mates as well. I am the First Officer of the U.S.S. Andoria over there,” she lightly nodded with her head at the distant ship outside of the window. “I can—very quietly—have him beamed to our sickbay for further treatment…with your permission, of course, doctor.”

The medic thought for a moment, and then silently acquiesced. “Quickly and quietly, Commander.” He and the guard then left to attend to other matters.

She looked relieved into the often too gentle eyes of Ech’t, and exhaled for what seemed to be the first time since she entered the room. Then they both turned to face Malô as he lay in the bed. It must be awful for their free-spirited th’se to be confined to a bio-bed.

She did something then that almost none of the Andoria’s crew ever saw her do. She smiled at them both in relief. She wanted to embrace her th’se until he passed out, but decided that in his present condition that might be a bad idea. Instead, she just took his hand.

“It’s great to finally see you again, Tal,” Malô smiled back. “Good timing, by the way.”

“I do my best,” she said. Not wanting to overstay their welcome, she tapped her comm badge into audio-only mode. “U.S.S. Andoria, this is Commander Tallasa. At your earliest convenience, I have 3 to beam to sickbay…including one patient.”

“Acknowledged, Commander,” replied a disembodied voice. “Stand by.”

“Have either of you heard from Latii yet?” she asked while waiting to be transported.

“Oh, no,” Ech’t stated in a nervous breath. “We thought that since you were with the rescue parties that you would’ve already heard.”

Tallasa shut her one good eye tight, and was almost terrified of what she knew they would tell her next. “Heard what?”

 

Chapter 6

Rear Admiral Re’gee ch’Marein came through the door of Thilyn’s ready room almost faster than the doors could move aside. He saw the ship’s captain sitting behind his desk with a mix of aggravated emotions. They were somewhere between focused determination and ire. He also noticed that the oversized fellow-Andorian was too serious to worry about the ritual of standing.

He brushed it off. There was too much riding here to worry about ceremony. The Admiral seemed to have been expecting Thilyn’s reaction, and preemptively stated, “I can’t.”

“Can’t what?” Thilyn asked, still glaring across the room.

“You’re going to ask me to let the Andoria go after the Orion raiders. Officially speaking, I can’t. The Andoria is not a tactical ship. You’re simply a research and development cruiser. The Klingons’ defenses would eat you alive,” Rear Admiral Re’gee reasoned out loud while crossing the room and taking a seat. Then, he looked the Captain straight in the eyes, and in a lowered tone he ordered, “Now, change my mind.”

Thilyn paused for a second. Starfleet’s official policies were clear and concise…and vastly numerous. He realized that the Admiral did not want to follow them to the letter, but he needed a reason. “A tactical ship is not what is needed here,” he pointed out. “We’re going after a ship full of hostages…109 living shields, we estimate. A tactical ship’s purpose is to hit hard, fast, and destructively. Their captains are not selected for being meticulous. The Andoria, on the other hand, is more than well equipped to extract them.”

“You need to do more than just extract hostages. We can’t even track their ship at the moment.”

“True, they’re using some sort of totally new warp propulsion that is currently untraceable,” Thilyn pointed out. “Unfortunately, our best guess is that we won’t be able to track their course until they drop out of warp again. That could actually be inside of Klingon space. The Andoria’s slipstream is currently the most advanced in the fleet…at least until the U.S.S. Enterprise-F launches next week. It may take the Visceral hours or days to return to Klingon space. Either way, we can overtake them in minutes.

“Also, you don’t need a ship that will merely destroy them, but also be able to analyze their new drive system up close so that they cannot effectively implement it on other vessels. We’re easily equipped for that, as well.”

“And, if they’re in Klingon space?” Re’gee countered. “You need to be able to fight off battle cruisers, possibly several of them. What good is a rescue mission that gets swarmed and destroyed?”

“As you said, sir, we’re a research vessel,” Thilyn reminded him. “That includes weapons and defenses that aren’t even in the field yet. Only the Odyssey-Class ships have what we have, and—with the exception of the Enterprise—none of them are due to come on-line for at least a month. Plus, we’re not planning to just rush in blindly, either. Our sensor systems are able to track fleet movements at greater distances than the Klingons. We’ll easily be able to avoid mass-confrontation.”

Re’gee was running short on arguments. The fleet was spread thin, with most of it defending the primary borders along Klingon space, dealing with odd movements in Romulan Territory, and massing at Bajor for some strange leftover Jem’hadar from the old Dominion War. Even the Enterprise wouldn’t be available, as it was being rushed into shakedown, and then sent to Bajor. The choices for ships for a rescue mission were slim, if that.

“I don’t suppose I could convince you to wait about a month until the Andoria-A is launched?” Re’gee posed, aware of how ridiculous the notion was. “It’s an Odyssey-Class, and as you pointed out, they’ll be the top of the line.”

“A month?” Thilyn replied in disbelief. “Sir, those hostages were taken by slavers. They will not be holding them for ransom; they’ll be taking them to a slave market. In a month, many of them will be dead from trying to resist their captors. The rest will be sold into sexual subjection and forced labor, and end up scattered across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. By that point, recovering even some of them will be nearly impossible, and require dozens of ships searching the galaxy. We need to go after them now, while they’re hopefully all still in one place.”

There were probably better arguments, but Re’gee knew that when he sat down. Nevertheless, waiting around for Starfleet bureaucracy to come up with a rescue plan would be worse for the hostages. Besides, everything that Captain Thilyn had said was true. This ship and crew was more than capable of pulling off their own border raid to get these people back.

“Convinced, Captain,” Rear Admiral Re’gee agreed. “Set course as soon as possible…”

The comm bleeped, and Tallasa’s voice came on. “I’m sorry to interrupt, Captain, but I need to see you in sickbay immediately.” His XO always carried a stern demeanor about her. This tone had a touch of anger in it.

*          *          *

When Captain Thilyn entered the Andoria’s primary sickbay, it didn’t take him long to locate his XO. She was standing next to a chan nearby to a bio-bed, and a thaan laying in the bed itself. Her usual hardliner demeanor wasn’t anywhere near her face as she looked at these two.

Thilyn surmised that these two must be her bond-mates. Even with that realization, he couldn’t personally recall a time in the 10 years that he had known her when her façade hadn’t been one of unyielding seriousness. He quickly approached them, hoping to memorize this rare moment from his XO.

Tallasa saw her CO, and immediately the softness in her stance vanished. Almost coming to full attention, her now rigid form stood next to her husky and slightly stooping ch’te. “Captain, thank you for coming so soon.”

“No problem at all, Tal,” he nodded.

“Allow me to introduce my ch’te, Ech’t,” she motioned to the man standing. And then, to the one in the bed, “And, this is my th’se, Malô.”

“I’m honored to meet you, sirs,” Thilyn smiled as his antennae turned forward. “It’s good to finally meet the mates behind my first officer. She’s told me so much about you.”

They both expressed their gratitude for the welcome, but were interrupted promptly by Tallasa. “Sir, I don’t mean to be brusque, but I need to know…that is, we have a personal problem here,” she searched for how to express herself. Then felt Malô’s hand gently grasping her arm.

“Captain Thilyn. Our zh’yi—Latii—was taken in the raid…” Malô told him from his propped up position.

“What are Starfleet’s plans for rescuing the hostages?” Tallasa broke in. “Who are they sending?”

Thilyn paused for a moment. This news was devastating his XO, and rightly so. He saw that. “We are,” he told Tallasa. “I was just in my Ready Room with Rear Admiral Re’gee. He’s cleared the Andoria to pursue the Visceral and extract the hostages…that will include Latii.”

Thilyn saw Tallasa’s antennae go rigid as her face melted into determination. “When do we leave, sir?”

“Well, therein lies the first problem, Tal,” his mind started racing in analytical thought. “We haven’t been able to track them, yet.”

“Their new warp drive…of course,” she sighed.

“We have every Federation ship in two quadrants looking for them. They moment they drop out of warp anywhere, we need to be ready to jump to slipstream and go after them,” he told her.

“We need to start getting the crew ready…” she started.

“Or, at least, be informed to be ready for emergency beam out,” Thilyn corrected her. “A lot of them are still assisting local rescue teams.”

“Understood, sir. They will be ready at your command,” she confirmed. Then she glanced to her men. “One personal request, sir?”

“What is it?” he retorted, curious.

“I would like my bond-mates to come along, sir,” she appealed.

Thilyn looked to her two mates. “You do realize that we will likely be entering combat at some point during the next few days, don’t you? Would you be able to keep out of the way? Even out of Tal’s way?”

“Please, Captain,” the more emotional Ech’t pleaded. “We want to be there when she’s finally safe again. We can help with her.”

 

Chapter 7

I.K.S. ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je glided through deep empty space. No star system was anywhere that could be called nearby without warp drive. Skirting the border between the Federation and the recently acquired Orion territory, at present, actually put the ship closer to the Federation Celes Star System than the Orion-Klingon Rho Puppis Star System (the nearest Empire-controlled system).

This was not the most note-worthy posting in the Empire, and that was the way that Captain Lurg liked it. A warrior by birth, perhaps he was. But, he preferred to spend his time in pursuit of gains more wanton than battle. Fortunately, his crew tended to agree with this viewpoint.

Most of his tour as captain of the I.K.S. ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je had afforded him only contact with the outlying and politically unimportant worlds of the Empire. This had made them perfect for him to intimidate and pillage. He had never bothered much with hauls of monetary value, except when it suited to bribing less scrupulous leaders. The spoils that they tended to crave were those of comfort and pleasure.

It had not gained him much fame or favor or notoriety, but it had allowed him a large amount of autonomy. It had even earned him one of the less desired of the 1,500 servant women gifted by Melani D’ian when the Orions had merged into the Klingon Empire. He had made a sport out breaking that intractable green vassal.

Now, out in open space, where others may have been disheartened by a simple border patrol, he was finding joy in the time to delight in the spoils he and his crew of debauchery had amassed. And, just as well, the spoils they knew that were heading their way.

Some fifteen hours had passed since the Orion ship I.K.S. Visceral had left Klingon space with their experimental warp drive. They were due to rendezvous with the ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je at any moment, and report on their mission before re-entering Klingon territory. Lurg was salivating at the notion of taking his cut from the raid.

Lurg’s wait was shorter than hoped. The tactical office finally got a reading on his long-range sensors. It was less than half a light-year away. “I believe they have arrived, sir,” he called to Lurg in the center seat.

The robust Lurg stood, taking a step or so forward. “Tactical display, on viewscreen.”

This display changed, and showed the very distinct signature of the Visceral. Its prototype engine design allowed it to remain undetected at warp until it was practically on top of a target. True to this design, the Orion ship emerged back into normal space only a few thousand kilometers away.

“The Visceral is hailing,” tactical announced.

“Good,” Lurg stated. “Orions, obedient to a fault…if you can enthrall them the way they need to be. On screen.”

Matriarch Heln appeared on the bridge’s main viewer seated in the command chair adorning the headdress that denoted her status. Next to her stood the Visceral’s Liaison Officer, a female Klingon of formidable repute, he had come to learn; Maihca, daughter of Reẞ’jen. She was the perfect handler for controlling the reins of an Orion matriarch on such an important raiding mission.

“Report,” he ordered over the comm channel.

The hard to please Maihca answered succinctly, “The raid was marginally successful. Starfleet responded faster than we had anticipated.”

“Oh, did they detect then warp drive?” Lurg inquired.

“Not at all, the engines performed better than expect,” Maihca said.

“But, the looting was somewhat limited due to Starfleet’s response time, that’s all,” Heln followed up with her practiced seductive leer from behind her handler. “We were only able to come away with 108 captives. However, the Visceral was able to do significant damage to the planet from orbit before being forced to retreat.”

“Regrettably, the first extra-solar Starfleet vessel to respond was able to detect, and nullify our viral matrix ploy,” Maihca reported in a disappointed ambiance. “No doubt that they’ve already dug it out of the Andorian System’s computers and analyzed it. That will not work again.”

“Never underestimate the technical proficiency of the Federation,” Lurg stated. “Maybe, when we finally conquer them, we’ll make them use that to our advantage. But overall, I would call your mission a success, Maihca. Qapla’!”

“Yes, after a sense…and we are anxious to return to our home-space.” The warrior stated. “We have more to do before making our way back to Qo’noS.”

“Of course,” Lurg responded. “You are free to enter the Empire once more. But first, there is the matter of my…gratuity.”

Maihca had hated this about Lurg from the moment that they had met. The greedy little runt targ wasn’t fit for anything but the fringes of the Empire. After his border tour was through, she intended to recommend he be sent to patrol only the most neglected regions of Klingon space.

Before she could curse him aloud, Heln stepped in. “Not to worry, Captain Lurg. I’ve personally selected a pair of Rigelian women from our raid just for you. Apparently, they were some unfortunate travelers from the spaceport on their way to Andoria.”

Lurg grinned shamelessly. “Excellent. We will stand by to receive them in Cargo Hold 04. Good journey, Visceral.”

*          *          *

Commander Shynon had only just come back after a short break and a nap when the ship-to-ship comm announced an urgent hail. A moment later, she called into the Ready Room for the Captain. He had been resting there to be more available when this moment finally arrived.

“Captain Thilyn,” Shye called. “A freighter near Celes II has sighted the Visceral, and long-range sensors at Starbase 114 have confirmed it. We have coordinates.”

Thilyn didn’t even answer on the comm. He just came rushing through his door directly onto the bridge while straightening his disheveled uniform. “Thilyn to Tallasa, show time. Bring them home,” he hailed to his first officer who had commandeered one of the out of the way consoles in sickbay to do her work.

“Aye, sir. Four minutes,” she answered.

“Shye, where are they?” Thilyn demanded.

“They’re holding just barely inside of Klingon space next to a Kamarag-Type Battlecruiser…basically meeting with their border patrol, sir,” she reported.

“Of course,” he realized verbally. “As Orion subjugates of the Klingon Empire they’re getting permission to re-enter. They probably even have a handler on board.”

“I guess that would be the unaccounted for life-sign,” Tallasa surmised as she entered from the portside turbolift, a PADD in hand to monitor the crew’s beam out.

“Agreed,” he said. “Helm, ETA to coordinates at slipstream.”

Lieutenant Commander F’beytha was back at her Ops post. This left Cadet Zoryhnta at the helm to plot the ship’s course. She had used the interim time to become more familiar with the slipstream drive system, while letting F’beytha drill her on emergency scenarios. She almost missed the Captain’s inquiry. “Estimated time is 44 standard minutes, sir.”

“They could be gone by then, Captain,” Tallasa pointed out.

“True, but that border patrol ship will likely be nearby,” Thilyn pointed out. “We’ll find them.”

Tallasa’s PADD beeped. “All personnel aboard, sir,” she reported.

“Zoryhnta, engaged course,” the Captain ordered.

*          *          *

At thirty-two minutes remaining until they arrived at the Klingon border, sickbay had called out to Tallasa and informed her that they were ready to release her bond-mates. As much as she wanted to be on the bridge, it really was just a waiting game now. Still, Captain Thilyn practically had to order her off the bridge to get her to go settle her ch’te and th’se into her quarters.

As the foursome with the missing member entered the eclectically decorated room, her men took in their new surroundings. They had, of course, seen many images of this compartment in holo- messages, but had never actually had the opportunity to be inside of it before. All of Tallasa’s shore leaves spent with them had been off-ship at ports of call.

Ech’t’s attention was immediately drawn to the best organized and decorated wall in the apartment. It was covered in weapons of every imaginable variety…and some not so imaginable. And more than a few were stained with something that he could only presume was blood. “Umm…Tallasa, our treasure, are these all…trophies?”

She could see the look of apprehension in his antennae. “Don’t think too much about it, Ech’t. After all, our home on Andoria is covered in souvenirs from your tours. These are just my souvenirs.”

“Yes,” Malô added amused, also now studying the wall intently. This assemblage had wrested his attention from the slipstream effect outside of the windows. “But, the people that we get those souvenirs from were all alive and well when we obtained them.”

“Don’t worry, Malô,” she assured them with a grin. Her eye patch always made her grins seems just a bit more ominous. “Not all of them were dead when I took them…well, not entirely dead.”

 

Chapter 8

Commander Tallasa re-entered the bridge with five minutes to spare. Not a hint of amusement remained from her conversation with her bond-mates.

“Are they settled in?” Thilyn asked from his command chair.

“Aye, sir,” she replied as she took to the tactical station next to Shye. “I’ve even let the quartermaster know that we will need a more bond-mate suitable bed at her earliest convenience.”

“What is the current situation, sir?” she followed up.

“As expected, the Visceral did not stay in the area for very long,” Thilyn told her. “Before it disappeared from sensors again, it was heading into Orion space. But, the ship that they rendezvoused with is still only plodding along at impulse through open. They’re probably running sensor sweeps of the border.

“We should still expect them to react badly to our approach, war or not,” he determined. “Take us to red alert, Tal, and prepare battle responses.”

“Aye, sir,” she complied.

*          *          *

Captain Lurg strode into his quarters. Moments earlier, he had personally examined the two Rigelian women in the transporter room. Or, he had done the best examination that he could while they were constantly recoiling away from him. Even while they were restrained by guards, doing so was a bit bothersome. He loved having indentured servants around for the menial tasks aboard the ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je, but he hated having to break in new ones.

He had no time or patience to do so at the moment, so he simply let his crew take them to do as they liked. However, he ordered them held in cells until they could be domesticated. He was still working on this one in his quarters, and she was supposed to a gift to be used as a pleasure servant. He had since come to realize why that governor had been so easily convinced to part with her. However, he felt that in the year since his Orion had arrived, he had made significant progress in her cultivation.

“D’nava, good,” Lurg exhaled noisily.

Scantily clothed as he always demanded, D’nava stood up in a sensual-type motion from the Captain’s lounge on the far end of the room, beneath the large window. “How may I serve you, Lord Lurg?”

The words and the actions were there, but her underlying facial tics belied her lack of sincerity, Lurg noted to himself. It was a little like watching a juvenile’s performance in a stage play. But, at least the motions and the words were there. It said to him that progress had been made, and more could come in time.

“If you’re not careful, my jade lovely, you may find yourself scrubbing the deck plates in the mess hall,” he slyly threatened. Maybe a little competition would speed her taming along just a little bit. “The ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je has just acquired two new servants. And they don’t seem nearly as headstrong as you do.”

Her head slightly bowed, she only shifted her eyes upward. “No need for that, my lord. I live only to serve you,” she stated coldly. Every time that D’nava had to let such words come from her, she hated herself just a little more inside. Moreover, she loathed Lurg more.

She suspected that he was aware of this, and that he probably got some sort of perverse satisfaction from her revulsion. He was a decadent man, who craved power beyond his worth. And with her, he had it…at least, in accordance with Orion-Klingon law. She was bound to his whims legally.

She had been brought up in the typical manner of most Orion “servant” women. Trained and schooled in the arts of seduction and pretext for the gain of her and her sisters. However, she had never really excelled at any of it. She had always been more adept at mechanical talents and computer engineering. And, for a time, this had served her particular group within the Orion Syndicate very well. However, he unrefined manners kept her from being anything but an outsider.

About 15 years prior, when the “Emerald Empress” of the Orions, Melani D’ian, had begun to purge the Syndicate of persons deemed useless to the organizations, the only thing that had kept D’nava from total exile was being the right species. Her matriarchs, on the other hand, had used this opportunity to be rid of her. She found herself on the shortlist of undesirables used as fillers among the more pliant lot in Melani’s 1,500 slave gift to the Empire. She was too willful for any other role, and was then sent as a complimentary gift to one of the less powerful houses of the Great Klingon families.

From there, she had simply been passed around and treated pretty much as cheap merchandise. She had changed proprietors at least 5 times before ending up as Lurg’s plaything aboard the ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je. It was a life which she had grown weary of long ago. However, Orion culture had—centuries ago—grown adept at affording little else in opportunity for those pariahs inside their borders.

Lurg sneered in delight as he skulked across his quarters. Finally reaching her, he clinched her in his arms, and growled into her ear. “Your words say this, as well as your movements.”

She could feel him becoming aroused as his armor pressed into her flesh. This was not her favorite part of the profession, servicing this avaricious boar.

He continued, “However, your mind is still not mine. I will…”

The ship’s intercom interrupted his subdued rant. “Captain Lurg, a Starfleet cruiser is approaching us at high speed,” called the tactical officer. “They will be here in moments.”

Lurg growled in exasperation, and then pushed D’nava back on to the lounge. “Very well! Battle alert!” He turned, and stormed out of the quarters without further comment, locking the door as always.

D’nava regained her composure as she returned to her feet, and spat under her breath at her now absent possessor, “Damned worm.”

She pivoted and looked out of the forward-facing window, and then spotted a flash of light in the distance. That must be the Starfleet vessel re-entering normal space, she realized. That Starfleet vessel…which would be coming to rescue the newly acquired Rigelians.

A bold fantasy began to form in D’nava’s mind. A fantasy that she knew that she could execute as a plan of action, she comprehended. Was she really so jaded with her life to date that she would dare risk death for such a chance?

*          *          *

Captain Lurg charged across his bridge, barking out at his tactical officer. “Kujot, report!”

“The Starfleet starcruiser U.S.S. Andoria has dropped out of slipstream at 90,000 qelI’qam, and is closing rapidly. They are hailing us,” tactical reported.

“Ah, yes,” Lurg chuckled. “Talk; the greatest weapon in the Federation’s arsenal. Give me forward weapons targeting control, and stand by on auxiliary cannon,” he ordered. A holographic tactical readout formed around the Captain’s chair, as Lurg began to laugh harder at the fun that he was about to have.

*          *          *

“I repeat,” Captain Thilyn reiterated strongly. “Citizens of the United Federation of Planets are being held against their will aboard your ship. Surrender them immediately and unharmed, or we will open fire.” He glanced from the viewscreen to his XO.

When they dropped into normal space, they were able to thoroughly scan the I.K.S. ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je, and detected to the two Rigelian females. Since the Klingon brig was intentionally shielded from beaming, taking them by subterfuge was out of the question.

“No response…wait,” she corrected. “They’re arming weapons. Targeting our deflector dish.”

“Forward shields to maximum,” the Captain ordered.

“Already there,” Tallasa confirmed.

The first barrage of disruptor fire and a singular spread of torpedoes left the I.K.S. ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je and lit up the front of the Andoria’s shields. Thilyn recognized the firing pattern. The deflector array wasn’t really the target, it was just the nearest exterior point between the ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je and the Andoria’s warp core.

“Dye,” Thilyn called out to Science Station 01, “Coordinate with the targeting sensors at tactical. Tal, return fire and try to disable them. Try not to hit the area with the hostages.”

“Aye, sir,” they both answered simultaneously.

Only about a few seconds into the exchange of fire, Security Chief Shynon noticed an incoming hail on a non-standard channel. The preceding text was asking for the ship’s captain in terms that were unusually polite for the heat of battle.

“Sir, we have an incoming transmission,” she reported.

Thilyn took note of the distinct lack the ceasing of weapons fire. “From them?”

“It seems so, sir,” she answered. “But, I don’t think it’s from their captain.”

His curiosity was peaked. He looked to his science officer, and with a glance wondered if this was the viral matrix ploy again. After a few moments of checking she stated, “The signal is clean, sir. No viral matrices.”

The ship’s defenses were holding up with little strain against this vessel, and the Klingons’ shield strength were falling at a decent curve. He needed to pass out some orders, though. “Tal, continue the disabling pattern. Shye, ready a boarding and rescue party, and route that hail to me.”

Directly in front of Thilyn’s command chair a holographic image appeared of the top of a redheaded Orion woman dressed in alluringly little amount of garments. “Captain Thilyn, I trust,” she stated very directly. He found it a little odd that he knew his name. She continued without waiting for confirmation. “I am D’nava, the servant courtesan of Captain Lurg—the captain that you are currently battling.”

“Nice to meet you,” Thilyn retorted as his ship rumbled a little. “I mean no offense, but this really isn’t the best time for socializing.”

“No socializing intended, Captain,” she assured him. “You are firing on us because Lurg is holding two Federation citizens as…property, correct?”

“Obviously,” he said.

“I would like to propose a deal, sir. I am well aware that the Federation has lesser craving for battle than most Klingons, and that if you could get your citizens back without firing another shot you would take it,” she explained.

“Your point, D’nava?” Thilyn cut her off.

“I have the ability to paralyze this entire ship, instantly,” she informed him. “And then, to neutralize the entire crew so that you can freely come aboard and retrieve the women.”

Now, she had his attention. But, not his trust, naturally. He turned for a moment to his Betazoid Science Officer. “Dye, try to get into her head, and find out if she’s serious.”

Dyhata, who had overheard the entire conversation, was also intrigued. She reached mentally across the empty space between the ships to the Orion in the captain’s quarters.

“I will offer no resistance to Commander Vugiz’s mental probes, sir,” D’nava promised.

“And, she is not, Captain,” Dyhata stated very much surprised. “Her words are sincere.”

Turning his attention back to the Orion, he questioned, “What is it you want from this deal, D’nava?”

“Political asylum, Captain,” she answered succinctly.

“Asylum? Why?” he asked.

“Captain, the finer philosophical points of this can be discussed at a more convenient time,” she pointed out. “If you want this deal to work, we need to end this battle now. Do we have a deal?”

Thilyn glanced back at Dyhata. “I detect no subterfuge on her part, Captain.”

Back to the Orion. “If you can deliver on your promise, then we will bring you aboard under asylum, D’nava. You have my word of honor.”

“Stand by, Captain,” she stated and closed the channel.

Moments later the I.K.S. ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je rather suddenly lost all power…to everything save for the cells, the Captain’s Quarters, and a few select door locks. The crew of the Andoria, following Captain Thilyn’s direction, also ceased fire as they watched the ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je begin to drift. No one was ready to stand down completely yet. This could still be a trap.

A few moments later, several instruments registered activity at the airlocks of the I.K.S. ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je. They opened, and streams of Klingons without environmental suits began to exit from the hatches. The sight was stunning to all who witnessed it on various monitors.

When the last of the decompressed corpses were out, the hatches resealed, and the Andoria’s sensors noted atmosphere returning to the whole of the ship.  They also showed only half a dozen unconscious Klingons remaining aboard, one Orion, and two Rigelian females…along with a few corpses that hadn’t made it all of the way out of the maze of hallways before the air was gone.

Moments later, another hail came in, this time as audio-only from normal Klingon channels. A stunned Shye activated the comm system. “I assume that you will be sending boarding parties over, Captain.” D’nava’s voice alone stated calmly as if nothing had just happened. “I will remain in the Captain’s Quarters, unarmed, awaiting their arrival.”

The channel closed again. Thilyn had to get his crew moving again. It was an astonishing turn of events, but there was still a mission to complete. “Tal and Shye, form boarding parties, and beam over. Bring everyone home. And…be prepared for…anything.”

As the shen XO and the zhen Chief of Security approached the turbolift while starting to send out notices to security officers of the impending boarding party. All that Shye could mumble under her breath was, “Wow!”

 

Chapter 9

Tallasa led one of the first two boarding parties to beam on to the I.K.S. ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je simultaneously. Auto-fire phaser rifles armed and ready, her good eye never left the sight until she and the four others in her team had all checked the vicinity for surprises lying in wait. They had arrived in the hallway a few decks below the bridge; a long corridor with many branches leading off before and behind her. Commander Shynon’s own team had beamed in at the same time and were covering the stern of Tallasa’s team.

One end of the longer stretch led into the brig area. At the opposite of end, a path slightly veered off into the Captain’s Quarters. Scopes were showing clear of all life signs, and the air was suspiciously stale. Because it was freshly released, Tallasa realized, after the ship had been re-pressurized.

She called over her shoulder to the Chief of Security. “Shye, retrieve the hostages. I’m headed to retrieve our guest.”

“Acknowledged, Commander,” replied the zhen.

She waved her team down the darkened and empty halls of the Klingon vessel. Shadows were everywhere, but the silence was the most unnerving aspect. Klingon warships were well known for being bustling at all hours. Boisterous warriors roaming the halls, boasting crewmates, and so forth usually filled the corridors with a kind of life. Now, there was nothing, Tallasa observed. The ship was quiet as a tomb…with no bodies.

The sensors in her gun’s scope confirmed their solitude. The short range bio-sensors could see around corners and through walls even if the only thing present was a corpse, and not a soul was around to trip even a single alarm. Except, for that one.

As her team approached the Captain’s Quarters, the only set of life signs on her scope came into view through the bulkheads. The limited readout showed only one Orion female, standing alone and unarmed in the middle of the room beyond the door.

Tallasa, as a warrior had learned to always trust any weapon in good working order. Her experience from childhood, however, had taught her to never trust an Orion. “Lieutenant Sisse, open the door,” Tallasa ordered.

The Aenar cradled her own rifle, while the others of her team kept targeting the door. A quick tricorder scan showed that the airlock protocol was still engaged, but was not locked down. Sisse was able to send a release and open command remotely to the door using simple thumb controls. She stepped back and returned to formation as the door hissed and opened.

About 3 meters in from the door stood a very exposed redheaded Orion woman. She wore only a tattered jute-cloth top that cut off just below her lowest-visible bust, and a ragged front and back loincloth—that didn’t quite make it to her knees—over what seems to be flimsy panties. Tallasa also noted that she intentionally stood directly beneath one of the room’s lights, and held her arms straight out to either side.

Their scopes still showed no one else in the room, or anywhere else nearby. “Sisse, do you sense anyone else?” Tallasa asked to her Aenar colleague. Aenar sub-species from Andoria were known for being mildly telepathic. Telepathic enough, at least, to suit Tallasa’s needs for the moment.

“No, Commander,” answered the pale blue shen. “Only her.”

“Enter,” Tallasa ordered to the other security officers.

The other shen and zhen all filed into the room, none of them lowering their weapons, and each only scanning the room before returning target focus to D’nava.

D’nava was doing her best to be submissive and non-threatening. She knew that it was only sensible to expect those sent to retrieve her to be armed and ready for an ambush. She had requested only asylum after all, not trust. She knew that she would have to earn that.

As the red-suited Starfleet officers entered her former prison cell, as she often thought of it, D’nava also noticed that there didn’t appear to be anything she would call a man among them. This was probably a deliberate move on the part of their Captain, she assumed.

Tallasa was the last to enter the quarters. She rapidly marched straight up to D’nava, lowering her weapon only at the last second, and stopped only small centimeters from the end of her nose. She glared out of her good eye at the green temptress. D’nava didn’t dare blink.

“Welcome aboard,” D’nava said with the first genuine grin that she had felt in years while folding her hand gently in front of her midriff. “I’ve been expecting you. I am D’nava.”

“I don’t care about your name or your performances,” the XO stated bluntly. “You’ve made a deal with the Captain, and you’ve held up your end…albeit through rather vicious means. So, we are here to bring you to our ship.” The anger in Tallasa’s voice didn’t hide itself very well.

“But before we give you the tour, as the XO and the Chief Tactical Officer, I have a few questions.”

“I will freely answer anything you wish to ask that I have knowledge of,” D’nava acquiesced.

“First, you just managed to space every room on board, save for this room, the cells in the brig, and the bridge. How?”

“From the computer terminal over there,” the Orion motioned towards Lurg’s desk. “I dug deep into the computer core and activated a long-dormant program. It’s a program that is on board every Klingon ship computer—and probably many other space-built vessels. The program is only meant to be used during the ship’s initial construction. I made the computer think that the ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je was still in the shipyard, and instructed it stop all environmental production and open every external hatch to allow access through construction docking arms…that it thought were present.”

“The program is very simple, but is usually totally forgotten once the vessel launches. It’s so deep in the subdirectories that it never catches anyone’s attention. It does allow for shelter rooms to be created for emergencies, though. Rooms such as those you just mentioned. And, naturally, once the crew was…gone, I simply deactivated the program.”

“That’s pretty sophisticated for a lowly sex slave,” Tallasa spouted at her.

“I’m a slave only because I was born to it,” D’nava retouted. “I was never very good at it. I’ve always been better at computer engineering.”

“And, this Captain Lurg never thought to make better use of your talents?” Tallasa demanded.

“As I said, I’m a slave by birth,” she reminded her. “Lurg had no interest in any of my talents that didn’t…gratify him. Fortunately, this left me with more alone time in here than I cared for. I found ways to occupy myself; such as learning his ship’s software inside and out.”

Tallasa found this explanation dubious, but had none better at the moment. “Second, what do you know of the Federation prisoners that were brought aboard? What about the ship that brought them here?”

“Very little, I’m afraid,” she returned. “I only learned about their arrival moments before the battle began. I didn’t have time to learn any details about them.”

“We noticed that the bridge is still populated,” Tallasa continued. “It was designated as one of your ‘safe zones’, as you put it. Why spare the ship’s command staff if you’re that interested in helping us?”

“While I didn’t have time to learn anything about the prisoners,” D’nava replied again while motioning at the visible U.S.S. Andoria out the window, “it was easy to conclude that you were here to rescue them. Also, that the Orion ship that we had rendezvoused with probably had more prisoners. Lurg wasn’t important enough to hand the entire lot over to. That being, I assumed that you would want officers to interrogate for information on where they were being sent. The bridge would contain the best candidates.”

“What will we find when we enter there? An ambush?”

“Not likely,” the Orion assured her. “While Klingon environmental systems aren’t as sophisticated as Federation ones—they are not built for diversity of comfort or need—I was able to coax them into lower the oxygen level enough to render them all unconscious.”

“How did you know people’s names when you hailed us? Did you invade our computer?”

“I didn’t access anything sensitive, if that’s what you mean,” D’nava offered. “I only accessed your public comm array transmitter’s active memory. It contains a copy of an abridged crew roster, including the senior staff. I felt that it would help expedite matters if I could skip over any lengthy introductions.”

Tallasa was still suspicious of every word from D’nava. However, she had no reason to shoot her, either. “One more question: why? Why do you want asylum?”

“Simply this, I’m tired of this life. Again, I was born into being a slave. Even in Orion culture—where that is considered a position of power to a degree—I’m not exactly a favored servant, and I never will be. I have never been a very good servant. I’m not even good at feigning to be one. The circumstances surrounding your engagement of the ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je finally gave me an opportunity to leave. I intend to take it. In the Federation, I can be whatever I want…except, ironically, a slave.”

Tallasa mulled over the answers. She glanced at Sisse, who only nodded to confirm D’nava’s honest intent.

“If I may ask, Commander Tallasa,” D’nava dared. “You seem to have a particular disdain towards someone that just saved you from a lengthy battle. It seems to go beyond simple distrust. I have to conclude that you have a personal grudge against Orions. May I ask why?”

Through nearly gritted teeth, Tallasa seethed at her, “Your kind slaughtered my family when I was a child, abducted my sisters and myself. I escaped after my auction, but I still have no idea where my sisters are. And now, your kind has taken my beloved zh’yi…my bond-mate. She was among those abducted by the Visceral…that Orion ship. So, you’ll just have to get over it if I have a very low opinion of Orions.”

“Lieutenant Sisse,” Tallasa turned curtly. “Take our guest to the Andoria…if you’re packed and ready.”

“I am wearing everything that I own, Commander,” D’nava informed her. She realized that any defense of her people would be pointless to Tallasa, and risked not to offer any. “Lurg wasn’t big on gifts for servants.”

“If it were up to me, you’d ride back to the Federation in the brig. The Captain says we treat you like a refugee. You’ll be taken to guest quarters.”

Without slinging her rifle, Sisse signaled to the Andoria for a beam-out.

*          *          *

Denen checked his instruments positioned below the main viewscreen. “I.K.S. Visceral entering sensor range, Master Vat’shen,” he reported.

The Gorn stood up from his command chair and lurched forward a bit. “Adjust intercept course,” he ordered to collared Orion male at the helm. “Zegu, hail them. I want [hsssss] to speak directly to Captain Heln.”

“Yes, my master,” she complied.

Moments later, the Visceral‘s own master appeared next to her Liaison Officer. “Why are you hailing us?” she demanded, visibly a little agitated. “More to the point, how are you hailing us? We’re running on a classified stealth warp drive system.”

“As much as I’d enjoy discussing our [hsssss] advanced sensor systems, the Purgatory is a [hsssss] research & development ship. All of our systems [hsssss] are classified, as well. Bravo for official [hsssss] rules and regulations.”

“The Purgatory?” Heln observed. “I’ve heard of you, Captain Vat’shen. You have a very ugly reputation, I must say. What can we do for you?”

“News of your raid into Federation [hsssss] space has reached me, Heln,” Vat’shen told her. “I’m also aware that Orion [hsssss] raids rarely collect mere baubles and [hsssss] ornaments.”

“Again, you are in possession of confidential information. Your networking skills are obviously impressive,” she complimented.

Vat’shen waved off the observation. “Some of the research that the Purgatory [hsssss] engages in is psychological. [hsssss] I would be pleased about the opportunity to [hsssss] examine some more Federation species. [hsssss] Did you happen to acquire some during the raid? [hsssss] Would you be willing to part with any of them?”

bu’ Maihca (sergeant ) leaned over and whispered to her Orion charge on the screen. The Matriarch seemed to be agreeing with her. After a few moments, they both returned their attention to the Gorn. “I think that we have four, specifically, that we could stand to let go. They’re acting far too headstrong to fetch very much at auction.”

“Four would be…[hsssss] acceptable,” Vat’shen stated. “What species are they?”

“Most of our catches were Andorians,” Heln informed him. “They are typically an aggressive species; however we want most of those. We will let go of only one of them; a particularly stubborn…”female”. She’s a zhen-female, I think. Also, we have two Vulcans, a male and a female, completely unrelated to each other. Also, we can part with one of the Tellarite females; they’re always too intractable to bring any reasonable price, and this one is worse.”

“What would you offer in return, Vat’shen?” Maihca asked.

If this ship had been a little less high profile to Klingon Intelligence, Vat’shen probably could’ve just threatened the Visceral for whatever portion of their hostages that he had cared for. However, in order to keep Klingon Intelligence from looking too closely at parts of his operation aboard the Purgatory that he preferred to keep away from prying eyes, he decided that a simple monetary transaction was best.

“You’ve already stated that [hsssss] they aren’t worth much to your [hsssss] profit margin,” Vat’shen reminded her. “I’ll simply offer you 1,000 credits or [hsssss] 100 dilithium crystals…unrefined.”

Heln sighed. It wasn’t much, but the Gorn was correct. These specific prisoners would probably fetch even less at the auction site that she was headed for. “We have an agreement then, Captain Vat’shen. The crystals will be suitable. We will rendezvous with you and make the exchange…quickly. We’re in a hurry.”

“Agreed, Captain Heln. [hsssss] We’re already moving to intercept you,” Vat’shen told her.

 

Chapter 10

The I.K.S. Visceral warped away on the Purgatory‘s viewscreen. The exchange had been made, and Vat’shen’s new possessions were now being escorted to the bridge by one of his security officers. He knew that the impression made upon the new acquisitions within the first few minutes would be the most important. It was most fortuitous that this event coincided with his appetite.

He scanned the bridge and every crewmember on it. Who would be his “example”? Then, he decided. He casually walked to the back of the bridge, into the holographic tactical planning area. Without a hint of ceremony he picked up one of the Orion tactical officers by the neck.

Suddenly filled with dread, Nin’mi tried to pry his fingers away. “Master, have I displeased you?” she choked out.

“Not at all. I’m just [hsssss] feeling hungry,” he sneered.

Her eyes went wide, and she could feel her heart racing. “But…have I not served you well?” Nin’mi begged.

Every other crewmate on the bridge could hear her cries. Not one moved to intervened. Vat’shen could just as easily torture or execute (or both) all of them, and still continue to eat her as he pleased regardless of their actions. All that they could each do is cringe at the horror taking place. Alas, this type of occurrence wasn’t even entirely uncommon aboard the Purgatory.

“Yes, Nin’mi” he chuckled. “And now, you only have [hsssss] one last service to perform.”

“Please, don’t…” Nin’mi wailed.

Even as she did so, Vat’shen tore the weakened cloth from her form, and then released her collar. He didn’t want anything superfluous stuck in his teeth. He grabbed her ankles with his free hand, while continuing to grip her neck, and lifter her over his head as though she weighed nothing.

Biting into the side of her abdomen, her death screams filled the metal-walled bridge. Terror and pain washed through, as his teeth dug into her flesh while her innards drained out and began to splatter on the floor beneath. It didn’t take more than a few seconds for her to bleed out, and she was likely grateful to finally pass into death with such a painful end.

Vat’shen laid her limp form over the railing surrounding the holographic examination area. He began to tear off one of her corpse’s arms, so that he could chew the raw flesh off of the bones, just as the turbolift doors down the hall opened. The four former-Federation citizens were lined up in front of the now guts-drenched Captain by T’garrt—his Gorn overseer from security.

Standing between the ship’s control center and it’s tactical planning area, the quartet were instantly fixated on the grotesque appearance of the CO. Seeing the slaughter laid out made them all nauseatingly sick. Even the emotionally distant Vulcans were having trouble not vomiting. The other two were not as successful, and let go all over the floor, dropping to their knees.

In what only another Gorn would recognize as a smile, Vat’shen turned to their escort. “Thank you, Lieutenant. [hsssss] Would you care for a snack?” he asked of T’garrt.

The collared Gorn deputy nodded. “Thank you, Lord [hsssss] Vat’shen.” He stepped forward and ripped one of the green-skinned, blood-covered legs from the body. Stepping back to the end of the line, he began to gnaw at the flesh.

Vat’shen scanned over the prisoners silently. He didn’t want them to feel anything but helpless and isolated for now. His gaze settled on the Andorian. He had never met a female one before now. He approached her deliberately, as T’garrt moved behind her and hauled her to her feet.

“I have only met one other [hsssss] Andorian,” he told her. “Years ago, before the fall [hsssss] of the Hegemony, during a border skirmish. [hsssss] The situation didn’t allow for examination.

“At the time, I thought [hsssss] I was looking at a male, [hsssss] but since I have learned that your [hsssss] species has four genders,” Vat’shen continued. “Tell me; confirm the accuracy [hsssss] of this to me.”

“Yes,” said the Andorian with her voice trembling. “Two of our genders appear male to non-Andorians; the other two appear female. It’s a common mistake among two-gender species.”

“Ah, and since you appear female, [hsssss] then your true gender is what?” Vat’shen inquired.

“Zhen.”

“How are you identified, [hsssss] Andorian zhen?”

“My name is Latii…” she informed him trying futilely to re-gather her strength, “zh’Maolt…of the keth Neot.”

“Latii…[hsssss],” Vat’shen looked down straight into her eyes. “As my newest unique [hsssss] specimen, you and I are going to spend [hsssss] a lot of time together.”

“T’garrt,” Vat’shen ordered. “Take them to the [hsssss] infirmary to be properly dressed, fitted, and processed. [hsssss] Then, bring the others back to clean up whatever [hsssss] remains of Nin’mi from the bridge. But, [hsssss] confine Latii to my personal laboratory.”

“As you wish, [hsssss] Lord Vat’shen,” conceded the serving Gorn.

*          *          *

With the solitary exception of Captain Lurg, the bridge officers of the I.K.S. ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je had been taken to the ship’s brig. The five of them would wake up in about thirty minutes locked in the cells formerly occupied by their Rigelian hostages, bound and shackled to the walls behind force fields. Commander Tallasa didn’t want to take any chance at all of them escaping.

Further to that point, now that the ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je had been confirmed as secured, Tallasa had brought over some other officers, including their Chief Medical Officer Doctor Rasson zh’Trolk keth Trool. Doctor Rasson’s ch’te, gold-uniformed engineer Lieutenant Kaalin, had been good enough to add high-yield restraints to one of the chairs from the bridge’s side stations, and then completely immobilized it.

Captain Lurg was currently occupying this modified seat while Tallasa, Dyhata, and Kaalin quickly tried to open the Klingon’s database. They had to move swiftly because they had no idea when this ship was due to check in with any sort of higher-ups.

“Dye, are you getting anywhere?” Tallasa asked.

“Not successfully, Commander,” answered the impassive Betazoid. “Captain Lurg’s lockouts are easy enough to bypass. But, they contain no useful information on the destination of the Visceral. Simply, that they checked in, transferred two low-priority prisoners, and then departed with an eventual destination of Qo’noS.”

“What about the Klingon Communications Network?” Kaalin asked. “Can we break in to that?”

“I’m using backdoor access to get into the ship’s records,” Dyhata pointed out. “If I try to access their network from here, I may trip some firewall alarms further into the Empire. They would know that the ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je has been compromised, and would likely send immediate reinforcements.”

The now-conscious Lurg chortled. “Poor Feds,” he taunted. “Looks like your citizens are about to have significant career changes.”

Tallasa glared at the Klingon as her antennae flattened with fury. “Dye, could we track the Visceral with access to their network?” she asked, never breaking eye contact with Lurg.

“Given that the Visceral‘s warp drive system is totally unknown, anything less than an access code from a covert operations general would likely be useless in trying to access their itinerary,” the science officer replied.

Tallasa thought for a moment. She didn’t need their itinerary, she realized. The hostages had not been the point to the Orion’s raid. Testing the engine as a means of border penetration was. The hostages were a perk. However, they were not a perk that the Orions would want hanging around for long.

“Auction house,” Tallasa muttered.

“I’m sorry, sir?” Kaalin said.

“The Qo’noS shipyards are a long way off. The Visceral will have to make a stop first; someplace that they can offload their hostages quickly, and for a decent profit. They’re heading for an auction house.”

“What are you basing that conclusion on, Tal?” asked Doctor Rasson, standing behind the captive captain.

“Personal experience,” she stated briefly. “I won’t go into it now. But, Orions don’t like to keep quarry from outside of their borders around for very long.”

“Lurg,” Tallasa turned her fury towards their own captive. “Where is the nearest Orion auction house?”

“Hah!” he laughed back at Tal. “As if I would tell you.”

“We could access that information with just his access code, Commander,” Dyhata pointed out.

“I’m not giving you that information, either,” Lurg spat at the XO. “And we both know that Federation dogs don’t have the stomach to extract it with any real force.”

“Commander Vugiz,” Tallasa turned back to the Betazoid. “Can you telepathically extract the information? By force, if necessary?”

“That information is doubtless in the forefront of his mind. But, he is actively blocking my attempts to probe for it,” Dyhata told her.

“What if he was distracted?” Tallasa asked. Dyhata only nodded in return. Tallasa knew that she could sense her plan.

“You have nothing that will distract me, Federation,” the prisoner snorted.

“Clear the bridge, wait in the hall. Ensign Oreb’el, guard the door from the outside. You are to let no one enter for any reason,” Tallasa ordered loudly. Then, she pointed at Dyhata. “Except you.”

Everyone that Tallasa had indicated slowly filed out of the command center in a sense of confusion. Kaalin locked the door behind them. The bridge suddenly seemed a much more tomblike.

“Well, maybe if you’re planning something sexual, we can strike a small deal,” Lurg snickered.

Tallasa suddenly pounced on his chair, landing her palms on the chair’s armrests. “You seem to have me confused with a different, more peaceful species from the Federation, Lurg. You should have studied more. Andorians, especially ones with a threatened family, tend to be far more aggressive than any peacenik Human or Vulcan. Now, you are going to give me the information I need. The planet or your codes, I really don’t care which.”

“I still only hear talk, Federation,” Lurg bit back. “Come back when you have the fortitude for action, woman.”

Tallasa pulled a dagger from the holster on her hip, and jabbed the tip up under his jaw. “I know that Klingons have appreciation for…let’s call it, sentimental weaponry.

“When I was a child, I was abducted and sold at an Orion auction. I was bought by some nauseating excuse for a Boslic freighter captain operating solely outside of Federation space. This is the knife that he tried to kill me with,” she wriggled the blade against his skin, “before I turned it on him and killed him and his entire crew.”

“If I had tear ducts, I would be more moved by his death.” Lurg remained defiant.

“Don’t worry about that now,” Tallasa whispered. She turned to look at Dyhata with an absolutely vile expression. “Be ready. You’ll only get one chance,” she hissed.

*          *          *

In the hallway outside of the bridge, the remaining three officers from the bridge stood in wait. Ensign Oreb’el stood in front of the door, rifle at the ready. He trusted everyone in the hallway with him, but felt that this satisfied the spirit of Commander Tallasa’s orders.

Doctor Rasson and Lieutenant Kaalin’s sh’za, science Lieutenant Tozyl, approached from turbolift at the end of the corridor. “Why is everyone out here?” she asked confused.

A moment later, before anyone could think up a reasonable answer, a muffled scream came from beyond the door. In that second, everyone’s attention was turned towards the door. Even the security officer had turned, but didn’t seem quite sure what to do with his weapon.

“Did that sound like a masculine scream to anyone else?” Oreb asked.

None of the other taken aback officers knew how to answer that. Moments later, Commander Tallasa stormed out of the bridge with Commander Vugiz behind her. She indicated for Doctor Rasson to hold out her hands. As the doctor complied, one of Tallasa’s blood-covered hands passed two small, wet, skinless, and ovoid organs into hers. “We have coordinates and a heading. Contact the teams in the brig, and prepare for beam-out,” she barked.

“What are those?” Kaalin asked, leering at his zh’yi’s hands.

It took her a moment for her medically trained mind to identify the objects that she was cupping. “By the gods,” she gagged as the realization came to her. “These are the internal organs of Lurg’s genitals.”

The others followed Doctor Rasson’s cue and heaved just a little.

“Were,” Tallasa corrected from the opposite end of the hall, while she activated her comm badge.

*          *          *

With five remaining crewmembers of the I.K.S ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je, there was some small question on what to do with the ship. The battle had been won, and the Klingons defeated. Klingon culture would’ve demanded that the surviving crew be put to death to preserve their honor. This had always been at odds with many a conscience of various Starfleet captains.

Under Federation law, even, killing a combatant after the conclusion combat was technically deemed as a homicide. Conversely, to the Klingons, allowing such prisoners to live was considered an insult of the highest order. As a result a much unadvertised “Unasked Discretion” policy had long ago been instituted for Starfleet Commanding Officers in regards to combat with Klingons. If it was decided by an individual CO, to execute Klingon prisoners-of-war merely to satisfy their honor, then no one at Starfleet Command wanted to know about it…ever!

And even without that dilemma, taking Klingon prisoners-of-war aboard during a rescue sortie was highly precarious. Captain Thilyn understood the risks and actions of war time, even if he didn’t at all care for them. However, he was not prepared to just coldly murder captured prisoners.

Finally, a rather creative solution was reached. While leaving the prisoners bound in their cells, after the remaining teams had returned to the Andoria, Lieutenant Kaalin was ordered to set the auto-pilot of the I.K.S ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je, and to aim it at nearby Federation space. Once well inside, the ship would simply come to a stop, and wait for whatever Starfleet vessel was sent to intercept.

If all went well, the boarding officers would find an almost empty ship, five neatly packaged prisoners-of-war, and a disruptor burn mark from the dematerialization of Captain Lurg’s remains on the bridge. All went well.

 

Chapter 11

From the Captain’s Quarters— even if aboard a Klingon ship—to guest quarters. It wasn’t entirely a step up, but at least it wasn’t a step backwards. D’nava had been informed that she was free to use all of the public areas of the ship, and to use the room’s facilities however she wished. So, maybe this was a minor step up. She was just not comfortable outside of the room yet.

At least she had been able to eat decently for the first time in as long as she could remember. The food menu on the Federation replicator seemed endless. How would Klingons feel about replicated and “dead” dishes from their culinary preferences, she wondered?

And her master was gone, she realized. She wasn’t entirely certain how the whole asylum process worked with the Federation, but she wasn’t being forced into acts and services against her will now. Yes, she was sort of stuck inside of a room, but at least it was now her room. She was now able to relax on a padded couch without any pressure.

She still hadn’t decided on what change of attire to use for when she next talked with one of the Federations. While she dwelled on the thought, she laid on the room’s couch and looked up through the overhead window. The stars began to streak. She almost assumed that the Andoria had gone to warp until a green-ish hazy field seemed to blanket the outside of the ship. Was this some form of faster-than-light propulsion that she wasn’t familiar with?

She stood up to get closer to the window and to get a better look. It seemed as if space was trying to hide behind that green haze. While she was gazing out into this unknown to her, the door chimed. She turned to face it, not entirely sure what to do. Was someone requesting her permission to enter? This was not a concept that she was familiar with.

The door chimed again, and she finally called back timidly, “You may enter,” seemingly into the empty air.

Into the room stepped the largest Andorian that she had ever seen. He was standing a full two-meters tall before reaching his antennae, frost white hair arrange in long dreadlocks, and his face framed in mutton chops that stopped right at the tips of his lips. She recognized Captain Thilyn from her brief conversation with him during the battle. As he stood before the re-shut door in his science blue Starfleet garb, she decided that his mug shot didn’t do him justice.

“Captain Thilyn, I am pleased to finally meet you in person,” she offered cordially. She was aware that Starfleet officers had become mistrustful of Orion women over the centuries. In order to maintain an air of discretion, she stayed back on the other side of the room.

“I wanted to personally thank you for making our incursion into the Klingon Empire less troublesome,” he stated stepping a little more into the room, and taking to the nearest seat.

“Not at all, good Captain,” she assured him. “You and your ship were an opportunity that I could not pass up. Even though, it was a risky one.” She seated herself back on the couch opposite him. He didn’t act suspicious of her at all, she noticed.

“Are you settling in well?” he asked casually. He couldn’t help but notice the negligible attire that she was still wearing. He assumed that was rather the point to such garb.

“Well, these quarters are probably the most comfortable room that I’ve ever been in that I wasn’t confined to,” she stated gratefully. “However, the environment beyond this room is just so chilly that I can’t go very far beyond it. Are the environmental controls malfunctioning?”

The lofty Andorian smiled. “No, not at all,” he explained. “The starship Andoria is crewed primarily by species from the planet Andoria. The normal environment of our world ranges from sub-freezing arctic to plant-heavy wintry-tundra. So, we keep the controls aboard at similar levels for the sake of our comfort. It’s why you don’t see a lot of Andorians on other Starfleet vessels.”

“Ah, I see,” D’nava grasped. “But how does that Betazoid crewmember of yours stay comfortable on this ship?”

“Personal choice, largely,” he pointed out. “I think that she does keep her quarters warmer than standard. Also, Federation garments use a type of micro-environmental control technology.”

That last part seemed to perplex her, Thilyn noticed.

“It means that our uniforms can adjust themselves,” he explained further, “in a limited fashion, to our personal temperature and humidity preferences. Hers, for example, is likely set up to keep her core temperature tepid outside of her quarters. We have about 25 crewmembers out of our 1,000 total from warmer worlds. Theirs are very likely set the same way.”

“I understand,” she replied. D’nava considered advantages of such clothing for a moment. “I suppose that I could put on some form of clothing if I had to in order to move about the ship. The Orions originally evolved in a more tropical type of environment.”

“You would not prefer to not be clothed?” asked the curious science officer.

“Orions do not tend to like wearing clothing at all,” she informed him. “Compared to other species, we have a hyper-sensitive sense of touch. We don’t walk around mostly bare simply to entice our quarry, good Captain. We find skin contact with too much fabrics to be overwhelming. It is even rumored that before we made contact with other worlds that we hadn’t conceived of clothing at all. It is believed that we developed that concept in order to better interact with the scores of more timid species throughout the galaxy.”

His mind was working through the archeological implications of her statement. “I see. So putting on a full outfit—even to counteract the cold in our corridors—would be uncomfortable to you?”

“Uncomfortable, yes,” she returned. “But, I could live with it. I’ve grown up as property, after all. I’ve certainly had to endure worse.”

“What about coverings that didn’t actually come in contact with your skin?” Thilyn asked.

“That would be ideal, I would think,” she said furrowing her brow. “But, I’m not aware of any such thing.”

Thilyn hoisted to his feet and walked over to a small table containing what seemed to be a belt buckle, minus the Starfleet adornments of his own. “A few decades ago, someone took advantage of micro-replicator and holographic technologies, and came up with this.” He held the belt buckle up for D’nava to see it clearly. “Since then, it has become a very popular item. This device replicates clothing directly over of your body; Starfleet-issued ones even provide weapons and equipment to their registered owners.”

“We’ve also developed personal shields, and a unique variety of body armors,” he continued. “These types of body armors use a type of repulsion technology to float just a few millimeters above the skin and/or uniforms; this allows for a cushioning zone during impact. It is usually defaulted into a non-visual mode, however.”

D’nava had herself stood and slowly approached the buckle-device that Thilyn was holding. She didn’t quite Thilyn’s of its function. “This cannot be true. I would’ve seen a rippling effect around you…or something.”

Thilyn thought that her disbelief was a bit amusing. He tapped his own belt buckle in a few select spots, and suddenly blue-trimmed body armor appeared over his uniform. A few more taps, and the armor vanished again.

“Like the uniforms, the armor contains micro-environmental controls,” he pointed out to a now bewildered D’nava. While she was gathering her thoughts, Thilyn passed the other buckle over a nearby LCARS panel on which he had pulled up a menu of civilian-authorized body armors. He then handed the buckle to D’nava.

“Just hold the back of the buckle against your waistline, tap it, and a holographic selection list will be appear,” he explained to her. “Select the armor you want and it will materialize over you.”

“Thank you, good Captain,” she ingratiated. It was still odd to her how much he didn’t seem to worry about being unduly influenced by her. Was she slipping? “May I ask you an odd question, Captain Thilyn?”

“Of course,” he allowed. “But, I must return to the bridge soon. We will be arriving at our destination shortly.”

“Orions are very much aware that Starfleet knows all about our pheromone-based ruse employed to make males from other species more compliant,” she admitted. “Starfleet has long considered it a security threat. Why are you not more apprehensive about being alone in a room with me?”

“Oh that,” Thilyn brushed off. “The first Federation president, Jonathan Archer, ordered the Science Council to study that problem. From that time on, Starfleet and most Federation ships in general have incorporated a counter- pheromone system into the atmospheric processors. It scatters a harmless neutralizing substance throughout the ship whenever an Orion female is detected on board. Honestly, your pheromones don’t get more than a few centimeters from you before they’re rendered inert. The Federation dealt with that over two centuries ago…at least, aboard ships.”

D’nava looked almost disappointed. “Yes, and you must’ve made that technology open knowledge to anyone who wanted it. After all, that would’ve been about the time when that particular ploy stopped being as much fun.”

*          *          *

This time it was Captain Thilyn arriving on the bridge only moments ahead of dropping out of slipstream velocity. “Report, Tallasa,” he called to his XO who was occupying his seat in his absence.

“ETA to Japori System is about a minute,” she told him succinctly. “All combat stations on stand-by.”

Shooting their way into the Japori Star System was not how Thilyn wanted to enter the situation. Japori II was a commercial hub with thousands of less than reputable business ships surrounding it at any given time.

Before the Orion merger with Klingon Empire, this had been considered disputed space. Officially, it still was. However, it was also one of the worlds offered by Empress Melani D’ian to Chancellor J’mpok under her treaty with them. Since no other recognized government recognized the Orion Syndicate to have sovereign claim over any worlds, likewise no other government recognized her right to grant ownership of those worlds to the Klingons.

Facts notwithstanding, the Klingons were quick to move in militarily to the region illegally claimed by the Syndicate. Since none of those worlds possessed the military ability or enough dispensation to resist, many of them simply accepted Klingon rule and moved on.

This blatant aggression had been a large factor in the typically peaceable Federation’s quickness to confrontational defense when the Klingon Empire moved to push into Federation territory among the planets farthest from their core worlds.

Japori II, like many of the Orion worlds, was allowed to continue their business as usual. Their only change was who their tribute payments were now being sent to. That being the case, the Andoria began long range passive sensor sweeps as it re-entered normal space at the edge of the star system.

“We’re detecting 14 Klingon Defense Force vessels scattered throughout the system, sir,” Tallasa pointed out from the tactical station that she had returned to. “Most are B’rel-type bird-of-preys that are both entering and leaving the systems, a few are on perimeter patrols along with a Vor’cha along the out edge. Two Qin-Type, and another Kamarag are in orbit of Japori II. None of them look combat ready; probably conducting commerce.”

“What about non-Klingon vessels?” Thilyn inquired.

After manipulating a few commands on her panel, Tallasa added, “Sensors are showing 76 non-Klingon vessels scattered around the system; about 5 dozen of those are around Japori II, and…” Tallasa pause for a moment as a small alarm sounded in front of her. “Sir, the Visceral, we’ve found it. They’re orbiting Japori II. They’re running with main shields down at the moment.”

Thilyn quickly came out of his seat and went to the Auxiliary Tactical Station against the outer wall behind where Tallasa was standing. Shye approached the station with him, as they observed the displays from behind her. Thilyn verbally ordered up alternative views of Japori II. He grinned a little at locating the raiding ship. “Of course their shields are down. They’re safely inside the Empire now,” the Captain pointed out.

“Shye, have our Orion guest—D’nava—brought to the bridge,” Thilyn ordered, and then turned to the ship’s intercom. “Thilyn to Commander Zrin. How are the engine adjustments coming?”

“They’ll be online in about 90 seconds, Captain,” stated the miniature hologram of the Chief Engineer standing on the console. “We’ll look just like a Naussican Scourge to anyone’s sensors.”

“Thank you,” Thilyn stated. “Cadet Zoryhnta is standing by at the helm to implement deflector control settings. Signal her when ready. We need to get under way very soon, though.”

“Aye, sir,” Commander Zrin th’Trolk Keth Trool affirmed

With the amount of traffic within the system, Thilyn was even more certain that he didn’t want to start a shooting match. Firing on one ship would draw dozens down on top of the Andoria. A much more surreptitious plan was called for here. Thilyn began running an ion trail analyses of the Visceral.

Before he got very far, Ensign Oreb’el exited the turbolift with D’nava in tow. He neatly walked her across the bridge to the Captain’s side, and then stood away in another nook. The young officer was on guard, but inconspicuous.

Captain Thilyn turned to the Orion guest, who was now clad solely in personal armor…almost. D’nava seemed to have altered the pattern slightly for aesthetic appeal, adding what seemed to be Orion-centric armbands and other embellishment patterns to the armor. They were subtle, but noticeable adornments. But, at least she was warm enough to move beyond her quarters now.

Trying to ignore the glare that he could feel coming from Tallasa’s direction at the refugee, Thilyn moved ahead with his questioning. “We are pursuing that Orion ship,” he pointed to the tactical display, “the I.K.S. Visceral. Our sensors show that it arrived in orbit about 40 Federation-standard minutes ago. The information from the ‘avwI’ ghurqu’ je indicated that this planet is a slave auction site for non-Orions. We need to know what their procedures are for offloading the prisoners, and what their typical timetables are like.”

“I will be happy to provide that information truthfully, good Captain,” she offered. “However, I am an exile from the place you’re now counter-raiding, how will you know if I’m being honest without an interrogation?”

Thilyn took a quick glance around the room, noting both Cadet Zoryhnta and Commander Vugiz at their posts. “I have two different telepaths on the bridge with me. I trust that either of them would alert me to any attempt at subterfuge on your part, D’nava,” he informed her. “Now, the information, if you please. I’m certain that we don’t have a lot of time.”

“Sorry to interrupt, sir,” Zoryhnta spoke. “Engine alignments ready, we’re now running under false sensor images.”

“Very good,” he replied. “Take us into high orbit of Japori II…but slowly, Cadet. Approach at only half impulse for now, and adjust vector to make sure that we remain out of natural-visual range of any other ships.”

“Aye, sir.”

D’nava nodded in solemn thought. “Forty minutes?” she recapped. “It is most likely that they made contact with the auction houses while they were approaching the planet; looking for the best market. Conversely, they’re also selling Federation hostages, which means that they were in a hurry and not overly particular. In fact, they probably sought out one of the always-open ventures. The hostages will probably have been moved to that market’s holding area by now. Perhaps even, within the last ten minutes.”

“Dye,” Thilyn called across the bridge. “Do you still have access to the Klingon Public Information Network?”

“I think so, sir,” she replied, and began to attempt to use the ill-gotten access codes.

“Find out which of the planet’s auction houses are round-the-clock markets,” he ordered.

“Breaking in to the network will hardly be necessary, good Captain,” D’nava informed him. “This world is a commerce center. They want passing ships to know what wares are offered.”

“Even if those so-called wares are prisoners being sold against their wishes?” Tallasa asked sharply.

“That may be considered criminal in the Federation, Commander,” D’nava responded gently. “Here, it’s simply business as usual. Those auction houses will be advertising on the planet’s own open commercial network. They may not be listing the particulars of their life form commodities, but they will all be listing their hours of operation. All the same, I would recommend using Lurg’s ID codes. Inquests from a Starfleet ship would invite suspicion.”

Thilyn nodded to Dyhata to proceed as discussed. After only a few moments of skilful computer manipulation the Betazoid had a full list of all such facilities. “On main screen,” Thilyn ordered, waving to the large screen up front as he moved in its direction.

A high-definition scan of the planet with markers appeared and began to slowly spin. An accompanying list showed only about 11 such facilities on the planet. “Dye, scan those places for life signs from Federation species. They’ll probably be inside of holding cells of some sort.”

“Scanning,” she confirmed. “Located…sir, this is a little odd.”

“Report?” he requested.

“Minus the two Rigelians, there should be 106 hostages,” she pointed out while zooming the viewscreen image in on her targeted land area. “I’m reading 113 Federation species in a shielded area within the lower levels of this auction house on this northern island chain. As it is the only concentration of such species on the planet that are contained within holding cells, decisively these must be the hostages.”

“113?” Thilyn asked amazed. “Give me a species count, please.”

“89 Andorians, 6 Vulcans, 6 Terrans, 5 Tellarites, 3 Aenar, 2 Bolians, 1 Betazoid, and 1 Saurian,” Dyhata read aloud in her typically detached tone.

Some of those numbers didn’t even add up to their hostage list. Where did the Saurian come from? “Our records from the attack indicate 90 Andorians, 8 Vulcans, 5 Tellarites, 3 Aenar, and then the two Rigelians that have already been recovered. Tal, are there other Federation persons reported missing?”

The XO checked over the computer records, and informed him, “Nothing recent, sir. Not within civilian populations, at least. But, there are always prisoners-of-war that are regrettably unaccounted for, as well as freelance-adventurers that tend to renounce from the Federation from time to time.”

Thilyn considered the notions for a moment. “Clearly, we don’t have time to separate out the soldiers of fortune that disavowed the Federation from the P.O.W.s. I suppose that they are all getting a reprieve today.”

Lieutenant Commander F’beytha felt the need to speak up from her Operations post. “Also, sir, not to distract from the mission, but this may be our only chance to get up close details about the Klingon’s new engine…perhaps, before they can implement it on other vessels.”

“Excellent point,” the Captain conceded. “Tal, feel like another boarding party?”

 

Chapter 12

U.S.S. Andoria was now within extreme transporter range of the I.K.S. Visceral, somewhere around 1,000,000 kilometers away. Even if someone had looked out of a window from the Orion craft, the Starfleet vessel wouldn’t have appeared as even a star in the sky. Viewscreens, on the hand, would be a different story.

The plan devised depended a lot on well-choreographed and rapid timing. The shielding and scramblers around the prisoners were preventing teleporting. However, the shielding’s power source was outside on the surface, housed next to the main building. The power source itself was also shielded, but not in any way that could withstand one singular torpedo strike. They would then mass-beam the entire detected Federation assemblage at once.

However, to do so would doubtlessly set off a panic, possibly a stampede, and very likely many alarms. Also, since those being beamed away would be the Visceral’s commodities, they would likely be among the first to respond and locate the Andoria.

That being the case, it was decided that an away team would be covertly beamed directly into the Visceral’s engine room first. Between the engineers and D’nava, the crew of the Andoria was confident that they could get a small squad aboard the Orion vessel undetected by their sensors.  A set of strategically located stun grenades would be beamed in just ahead of the team giving them an estimated ten seconds to lock down the compartment prior to external response.

Tallasa materialized, again with a team at her back and a weapon in front of her good eye. This time, in addition to the red suited security team, Lieutenant Kaalin and Commander Vugiz were also tagging along.

The very moment that they were whole again, Kaalin and Dyhata charged for specific consoles. The cybernetic Betazoid used her special relationship with the computers to override user controls, while at the same time Kaalin put the engineering section into lock down mode and sealed all of the doors.

Then Kaalin got into the Visceral’s environmental control systems at a different console. He found the counter-intruder systems, and released a fast-acting neuro-sedative into the rest of the ship. Dyhata pulled up a ship wide life signs monitor on an auxiliary monitor. Within less than 45 seconds from entry, the enemy ship was completely secured. “Clear,” she called.

“Good,” Tallasa agreed, not relaxing her grip on her weapon. The room was still full of unconscious Orion engineers. “Someone on the surface is going to notice this sleeping ship soon, and their stun will wear off in about 30 minutes. You two have ten minutes to gather every byte of information that you can about that engine,” she motioned to the warp core. “Then, we’re leaving. Not a second longer. Security, stay alert.”

Kaalin activated a tricorder and began to walk about the warp core while taking a high resolution scan of everything that would register. Dyhata took to her own task of accessing and uploading all relevant files into a secured memory core aboard the Andoria, again using her mental cybernetics to easily break through any digital barriers. Ten minutes was really way more than they needed, she thought. As a result, she began to wander through some of the adjacent subsystems.

At only about five minutes and 12 seconds into their allotted time, Commander Vugiz motioned for Tallasa to join her. “Are you finished, Dye?”

“Yes, Commander,” she replied. “I’ve been done for some time now, in fact. Among other information that I have obtained, I have also managed to find a full set of engine design schematics stored within the ship’s computer. And, through subsequent effort, I have a suggestion.” She pointed to a display screen to draw Tallasa’s attention.

The first officer maliciously grinned. “Excellent work, Commander Vugiz. Initiate procedures.”

Tallasa turned her attention back to the warp core. “Kaalin, are you finished yet?”

He came back around the core to face the XO. “I think so. I’m not going to get much more that’s useful.”

“Good. Away team, prepare for immediate beam out,” she ordered boisterously.

*          *          *

Distance between the two vessels was slowly diminishing as the Andoria idled towards the planet. While the away team returned directly to the bridge, Captain Thilyn noticed parts of the Visceral forcibly separating from the whole on the viewscreen. Some oddly shaped object rushed out of the top-rear section while the warp nacelles seemed to be thrown clear behind it.

Without taking his eyes from the screen, he greeted, “Welcome back, Tal. Please, take the tactical station and prepare to fire at the generator. Also, what is that?” He was scratching his forehead at the image in front of him.

Dyhata answered the inquiry, and Tallasa let her since she had made that possible. “While I was searching through their command systems, I figured out how to eject both their warp core and their warp field coils, sir.”

“Wow,” Thilyn exclaimed. “That’s excellent.”

“I’ve also appropriated the recent personal and flight logs of their ship and of Matriarch Heln. I will begin to review them at my earliest opportunity, sir,” the bionic Betazoid added.

“Now, we not only have the full designs for what is apparently a prototype engine,” Tallasa stated as she took back the tactical station from the young Andorian chan manning it in her absence, “but we can destroy the prototype as well.”

Thilyn held up his hand to pause Tallasa. “Fire at the generator on the surface first, wait 60 seconds, and then destroy that warp system,” he ordered.

“You want me to delay destroying them, sir?” she asked, anxious to put that ship’s advantage out of commission.

“Yes,” he stated. “When that warp core goes it’s going to make a very big explosion. Big enough to draw a lot of attention. A full one-minute gap will be enough time to grab the hostages, and to remove ourselves from the area, before anyone is capable of responding.”

She couldn’t argue with the strategy. “Very good, sir,” she responded, and then started selecting an ordinance. “Quantum torpedoes, armed and ready.”

“Set the surface torpedo for 20% yield, and fire,” he ordered. “We want to destroy the generator, not bring the building down on top of the hostages.” Switching on the intercom, he added. “All stations, stand by for hostage retrieval. Count down from 45, mark.”

The bridge suddenly became a fluster of activity. Reports began to come in, and all aimed ultimately at the Captain’s Chair.

“Transporters, ready,” called Lieutenant Commander F’beytha from Ops.

“All available medical personnel are standing by in the shuttlebay, sir,” called Lieutenant Tozyl from one of the science stations.

“Security teams, in place to assist medics,” reported Commander Shynon.

“Impact in 10 seconds,” reported Commander Tallasa. There was a moment of collective silence from everywhere on the bridge except the comm channels as the final seconds ticked away. “Target destroyed. The shielding is down.”

Without missing a beat, the officers set about their next task. “Transporting, in progress,” F’beytha confirmed. “Fifteen seconds to full retrieval.”

“Medics, responding,” added Tozyl. She could imagine her zh’yi in the shuttlebay below her scrambling her personnel.

“Security responding,” Shynon supplemented.

“Arm three more torpedoes to full yield, and prepare to fire at the warp system,” Thilyn reiterated. “Forty-five seconds remaining.”

“Aye, sir,” Tallasa reacted.

“Sir, we have one Orion male in the shuttlebay,” Shye reported. “He seems to have hitched a ride.”

“Understood,” Thilyn affirmed. “Isolate his bio-signs, and beam him to the brig, ASAP. Initiate standard tech-isolation protocols.”

“Done, sir,” the zhen Security Chief replied.

“Torpedoes away,” Tallasa announced. “Thirty seconds to targets.”

“Cadet, stand by to go to maximum warp, and stand by on slipstream velocity,” the Captain ordered.

“Aye, sir,” replied the Aenar. She had managed to get the Andoria this far into Klingon space, but so far nothing had been a pressing crunch the way returning to her homeworld had been. She hoped that it all stayed that way.

On the viewscreen three very large explosions engulfed the 3D projection. “Targets annihilated,” Tallasa hailed.

“Superb,” asserted Thilyn. “Now, let’s not stick around for the Klingons and everyone else that we just infuriated, to show up. Warp 9.99, now.”

*          *          *

Chief Medical Officer Commander Rasson zh’Trolk keth Trool took up the position that she felt would best allow her to manage the large crowd that was about to become a larger crowd inside the Andoria’s shuttlebay. From the traffic control nest, she could see the entire recently-cleared landing deck and every person on it positioning around the compartment’s parameter. On the control board, she could see and hear reports coming in about the progress of this snatch and grab rescue attempt. The plan was daring and fast, but probably the most likely to succeed.

She felt a bit more reassured to at least have her sh’za, Tozyl, as one of the informing voices. She saw a readout indicate a torpedo approaching the surface of Japori II. “All medical teams, ready,” she told to her sh’za while at the same time announcing it to the throng below over the shuttlebay’s loudspeaker. A moment later, she heard Tozyl relay that to the Captain over the open comm channel.

Only moments passed, and the real show began. A successive wave of transporter beams lit up floor. Thirty beams at a time materialized people into the bay, and each transporter room filching another group no sooner than the last one had been become manifest. In less than 30 seconds, all of the Federation-species life signs had been removed from the planet.

Now the Doctor’s attention was less on the bridge, and more on the multitude of patients below her. As they began to materialize, she spoke with composure into the room. “Please, be calm. You are now aboard the U.S.S. Andoria. We are here to rescue you…” and so forth. The sudden location change for such a large group of people might cause a panic among the rescued, she had realized during the planning stage. This seemed the simplest way to counter any such possibility.

On the floor below, the last of the hostages (and whoever else they had just rescued) became whole. The surrounding medical teams began to move in. A selected group of 21 nurses holding thermal blankets were at the forefronts. They were specifically told to spot, rapidly approach, and cover the species from non-arctic worlds. As they advanced, they simply called out the word “blanket” repeatedly until they had a patient in their arms.

To assist, Doctor Rasson added to her message, “Our ship’s atmosphere is regulated to Andorian environmental levels. Please, allow rapid access to non-arctic species, if you are able to do so.”

“Orion!” yelled out the only other person at the control level, Lieutenant Sisse ren-Mouz. She was the only armed security officer on the deck. About two dozen security personnel had been assigned to support in a support capacity behind the medics.

However, no one could say for certain that none of the unknown extras being rescued were or were not mercenaries. The only safe assumption is that every potential slave in that auction house had been stripped of weaponry. It was decided that no one on the shuttlebay floor would carry any sort of arms just in case a possible soldier of fortune would try to appropriate it and then do something really foolish.

As a precaution, the Aenar Lieutenant Sisse was perched on the gangway next to the traffic control room. She spotted the Orion guard that had tried to retain his victim. Her telepathy honed right in on his spot, and she immediately brought up her sniper rifle as the crowd below began to duck.

Before any further action was necessary, the hulk-ish green fellow collapsed to the ground in a near fetal position. She sensed that the man wearing only shabby pants had been totally unprepared for the sudden frigid climate of the Andorian ship. Luckily for him, he only had to endure the cold for a few seconds before another Starfleet transporter whisked him away.

All of the other non-arctic species were finding the same difficulty. But, the medics had been prepared for that. The warmer-climate Federation species were quickly set upon and covered. Each nurse then made a quick, tricorder-assisted evaluation of each patient.

When they were determined to be moveable, they were quickly ushered into an neighboring cargo bay that had been set up to comfortably accommodate their more tepid needs. Once they were all cleared, guest quarters were ready for them if necessary. Although, with so many sudden guests some of them were going to have to share rooms.

Only two among the warmer species were determined to be mobility-impeded, and were moved more gently by assistants. It seemed that the auctioneers and slavers were making an effort to keep the “merchandise” undamaged before the sale.

Even while the other species were being carefully divided, still other medics began to check the Andorians and Aenar. A few at a time, they were also ushered out to either more proper medical facilities, or to those guest quarters. Their nightmare was ending, and the jolt of the rescue was starting to wear off. Doctor Rasson checked the control room board again, and saw that the ship was headed back towards the Federation border.

With the shuttlebay now clear of menace, Lieutenant Sisse joined the Doctor in the booth. Her rifle was now secured by micro-gravity sling to her back. An advantage to the transporter is that while converting someone’s matter, it could be set to scan DNA as well, turning it into an instantaneous ID scanner. Now that the excitement was over, they could begin to check the identities of those that had just beamed aboard against the hostage list provided by Starfleet.

“There’s some missing,” Rasson cursed through her teeth.

“Four,” Sisse pointed out. “Two Vulcans, a Tellarite, and an Andorian.”

Rasson checked the list again, this time for specific name. As she finished, she became distraught. Commander Tallasa entered the control room level, coming across the gangway with her ch’te and th’se behind her. “Oh no,” Rasson stated in a sunken tone.

“What’s the matter?” Tallasa questioned.

Rasson tried to approach the matter as delicately as possible. “Four of the hostages are still missing, Tallasa. One of them is an Andorian. I’m sorry to say, that it’s Latii.”

The telepathic Aenar in the room could feel the three spirits of the family Maolt fall hard. One, the ch’te felt almost sick to his stomach. The other two suddenly boiled over like volcanoes.

Tallasa needed to get to the Captain, fast. She wasn’t done yet.

 

Chapter 13

On the decks beneath the bridge level, refugee passengers were being guided into passenger quarters for a somewhat longer return voyage than had been anticipated. When Captain Thilyn had learned that four of the hostages had not been recovered, he had diverted the ship into an exceptionally electromagnetic-heavy nebula within Klingon space. Now that they were safe from sensors, they could plan their next move.

They may have recovered more hostages than they were originally after, but that bonus would not be traded for leaving four lost souls behind to be brutalized. And, he was sure that his First Officer was ready to jump ship if that’s what it took to get one hostage in particular back.

Malô was pacing about the parameter of Thilyn’s Ready Room lightly fuming, seemingly being very careful not to get too close to the desk which the Captain was sitting behind. Ech’t sat in one of the guest chairs struggling very hard not to whimper. Their sh’za, and Thilyn’s XO, was standing in quiet rage behind Ech’t while trying (and failing) not to glare at her CO.

Thilyn didn’t hold this against her, though. He knew that her wrath wasn’t directed at him. She simply had no one else to project it at for the moment. Who had their beloved zh’yi, Latii? Where was she? What was being done to her? These were ghastly thoughts for any person with missing family to contemplate.

Behind the Captain, their newly arrived defector stood very quietly against the wall. The Captain wanted her involved in this because D’nava was more familiar, in some respects, with the Klingon’s ships than they were. Tallasa despised having her in the room almost as much as she loathed the thought of her zh’yi missing…and D’nava knew it.

“What’s the plan, sir?” Tallasa asked. Her tone was professionally respectful, but the look in her eyes said that she was eager to tear the entire Klingon fleet apart with her bare hands.

“First, we need to find where they sent her, Tal,” Thilyn reminded her. “Then, we’ll set a plan in motion. I have Dyhata pouring through Heln’s logs right now. I understand that you’re furious, but patience is what is needed right now.”

Patience is not an easy trait for me to indulge right now, Captain,” Tallasa pointed out.

“It’s damned impossible for me to indulge,” Malô spurted out from somewhere around the door. He was probably just as excitable and short-tempered as Tallasa, but with virtually no training in military-style discipline.

Ech’t didn’t seem to be interested in adding to the conversation. His more benign nature made him focus more on heartache than what to do about it. The Maolts were an interesting collection of personalities, Thilyn was discovering.

Before more unleashed damage could be tossed around, Dyhata made a very timely entrance. Her unusually focused mind allowed her to simply breeze past the fuming emotions in the room, and stop toe-lined right in front of the Captain’s desk. “I have completed my cursory examination of the Visceral’s logs, Captain,” she reported efficiently. “I believe that I now have information relevant to the four missing hostages.”

“Continue,” Thilyn ordered. He had learned long ago to not waste ceremony or pleasantries on his Betazoid Chief Science Officer with the nearly Vulcan mindset.

“The Visceral made an unscheduled rendezvous with a Kar’Fi-Type Carrier approximately six hours ago,” she stated factually. “They transferred four prisoners of Federation origin in exchange for 100 unrefined dilithium crystals. The entire encounter lasted less than ten minutes.

“Based on the available evidence, and eye witness statements from the recovered hostages, I believe those to be our four missing abductees,” Dyhata concluded.

“Do we have a way of tracking that carrier?” Malô demanded. Tallasa only gave him a quick glance for being slightly out of line in his tone, but it would’ve been the same question regardless of who was asking it.

“We have a hull signature reading from a standard-minimal scan taken by the Visceral,” Dyhata informed everyone.

“But,” Tallasa chimed in, “if we start conducting deep space scans from within Klingon territory, we’ll give ourselves away, and their patrols would outnumber us before we could escape.”

“True,” Thilyn agreed.

“I do have a suggestion, sir,” Dyhata added. “We are still close enough to Japori to access their satellites and sensor arrays from inside of this nebula with a tight beam relay. They have a deep range sensor array for monitoring imperial traffic. We can access the array; I can break in to their active readings, and find the carrier. However, I calculate that we would have less than two minutes do so, and plot an intercept course, before being discovered. And, we would have to relocate the Andoria immediately afterwards in order to avoid being located and targeted.”

“What’s the name of the carrier, if I might ask?” D’nava finally spoke up.

“The I.K.S. Purgatory,” Dyhata stated.

“The Purgatory? By divinity, please not that one,” D’nava uttered, suddenly terrorized. Her skin tone went flush with panic. “Commander Tallasa, I’m sorry to hear about your bond-mate, but Captain Thilyn please do not go after that ship,” she pleaded with a shaking voice.

Tallasa didn’t like the sound of that at all. The suggestion that they abandon Latii was too much to tolerate. “Look, Orion, I don’t care who used to own you; I’m not letting the unpleasant memories of some master stand between me and my zh’yi!”

“Same here,” Malô put in.

“None of us will abandon her,” Ech’t finally exclaimed in a low tone.

The Captain held up his hand, and immediately there was silence in the room. When he had everyone’s attention again, he explained, “No one here is going to abandon Latii or any of the other hostages. Now, D’nava, why is this specific ship so disturbing to you?”

“Good Captain…Commander Tallasa, this is not just another mundane Klingon ship,” she informed the room. “The Purgatory is commanded by a Gorn whose only reputation is one of maliciousness, callousness, and experiments of an absolutely grotesque nature. Its Captain, Vat’shen, is considered shrewdly psychotic, even by Gorn standards. It is understood that he uses both crewmembers and prisoners to run unknown experiments on. Anyone who is sent to serve on the Purgatory does not come back, and is never expected to.”

“He kills them?” Tal asked.

“No one is entirely sure how or why, but he is believed to torture to death those aboard his ship,” D’nava added while trembling. “All that is known for certain is what has been gleaned from transmissions backgrounds. Screams of begging-terror have been overheard from Klingons. Body parts have been seen adorning the walls; sometimes whole, sometimes not. Crewmembers are forced against their will to work and even fight to the death on behalf of Vat’shen. No one is completely sure how he’s doing that.”

“I understand that Klingon military life is rather harsh compared to Starfleet,” Thilyn pondered aloud. “But, I cannot imagine that even they would allow such a ship to operate unchecked.”

“The Klingon Defense Force gives the Purgatory a greater deal of autonomy than it probably should, so long as their liaison reports in regularly, and they stay within imperial borders,” D’nava explained. “In exchange, they exploit Vat’shen’s well-earned reputation for cruelty to deter dissent among the ranks. Anyone who is considered too detrimental to a command structure is sent to him…and then they never come back.”

“Captain, we can’t leave her…any of them in the hands of someone like that,” Tallasa urged.

“Agreed,” Thilyn said focusing back on Tallasa.

“Good Captain, if she’s been aboard for six hours, she may already be getting tormented,” D’nava pointed out. “They all might. And, if she has a bold temperament, it could be worse for her.”

The last comment brought the Maolts to a more rigid posture. She may not have been the boldest zhen on Andoria, but she had never been a withering flower, either. Truthfully, they weren’t sure which way she would bend under coercion. Thilyn judged by their reaction, that their window of time for rescuing the remaining hostages was going to run short very quickly.

“Commander Vugiz,” he ordered quickly, “go get set up on the bridge to locate the Purgatory. Tal, get the bridge ready to go; we’re going to be moving out of this nebula very quickly. I’ll be out very shortly to initiate the maneuvers. Dismissed.”

“Aye, sir,” answered his officers.

His office emptied very quickly, except for D’nava. She moved towards the door almost afraid of it now.

“D’nava,” Thilyn stopped her. “Thank you for your input, but one thing that you’re going to learn about Starfleet while in the Federation is that we don’t abandon our citizens just because it’s scary.”

“I understand, good Captain,” she assured him. “If you have no other need of me, I think I’ll wait out this battle in my quarters.”

Captain Thilyn nodded his approval.

*          *          *

Wasn’t this how so many tacky scare-fest holo-novels worked? A darkened room, full of unfamiliar smells, and victims everywhere? Latii had been stuck inside of her small containment field for hours. It felt like longer to her.

The holding cell had only half of a square meter of space on what had to be referred to as a floor. It was barely enough room to turn around. A semi-circular force field that delivered some nasty electrical shocks kept her back pressed against the rear wall. A cap overhead held some currently dormant and unpleasant looking probing equipment about a meter above her head.

Silence was not even constant here. Various mechanical noises kept sneaking out of the darkness surrounding her cell. The only lights in the room were from her energy barrier, a few power-saving control panels, some buttons near what she remembered as the door as she was being dragged in, and the cells of the two nearby Vulcans who had been brought in a while after Latii had been. No one knew what had become of the Tellarite. All of this stuff seemed a lot tawdrier in the fantasy worlds provided by a holo-imager.

The garments of the three hostages in the lab had been forcibly removed and taken to parts unknown. Latii had tried to use her arms to retain a scrap of modesty, but after a few minutes of not being about to move very well inside of her specimen cage she realized the futility of her efforts. This was reinforced by the stoic outlooks of her Vulcan co-tenants, who both seemed to simply accept their states of undress as a matter of fact in this place. It was almost enough to make Latii wish for their emotional detachment…almost.

There had been a short discussion after the Vulcans’ escorting Gorn-warden had departed about their predicament and what could be done about it. Unfortunately, this had proven fruitless. They were each very securely held in their respective cages, and to be aboard a ship that seemed to have been designed around imprisonment and demoralization. The only thing that they could do, they determined, was to mentally prepare and fortify their selves against the mistreatment that was surely ahead of them.

A door suddenly opened, but not the one in front of them leading into the main corridor. Was there another hidden in the dark? A few loud thumps along the floor, and the ship’s master Gorn which they had all met on the bridge, walked into the ring of cells that were facing each other from behind them.

He said nothing, and neither did his samplings. The Vulcans had each concluded that this Gorn was going to want them to react to whatever he subjected them to. Their best course of action was to harden themselves against any responses for as long as possible. Vat’shen approached a workbench at the far end of the room.

He activated the computers and a singular light over the console. After a few moments, he carried some oversized version of a Klingon PADD to the male’s cell. Tap, tap. “You are a male [hsssss] from the species known commonly as [hsssss] Vulcan, yes? What is your name, [hsssss] age, and occupation?” the goliath Gorn asked.

The Vulcan said nothing. He only stared, hands draped behind his back, into the Gorn’s elevated eyes.

“I see, silent revolt,” Vat’shen stated. “I suppose you’ve all decided [hsssss] to support each other in this.” Casually, he tapped a few more buttons without looking away. Suddenly, electrical bolts inside of the female Vulcan’s cell lashed out from the containment field without warning.

The suddenness of the maneuver, and sheer amount of power from the shock was too much for her to tolerate. She screamed louder and more deeply than she had ever previously known. Once the screaming started from within her, it seemed as if it were impossible to stop.

“Such unnecessary suffering [hsssss] for such a simple inquiry; wouldn’t [hsssss] you say?” Vat’shen asked unphased as the woman continued to scream behind him.

“My name is Somal. I am 67 Federation-standard years of age. I am commuter tram mechanic by trade,” the prisoner answered hastily, yet without breaking his impassive façade.

Vat’shen stopped the electrical barrage immediately. The other Vulcan fell forward into the force field only once before the jolt from that bounced her now-fatigued form back into her wall. She held on to that with all of her remaining strength. Remarkably to the non-Vulcans, it took only seconds more for her to regain her rational composure.

Latii, of the three, knew that she would have the hardest time reigning in her emotions. She had always mentally held on to her sh’za’s fighting spirit and her th’se’s boldness as a source of personal strength. Now, she needed those anchors more than ever, she felt. Vat’shen had singled her out as a point of interest on the bridge. Whatever he was going to do to these poor Vulcans would likely be visited worse upon her.

Vat’shen turned to the female Vulcan next. “Is someone going to suffer [hsssss] for your insolence, or [hsssss] will you just tell me what I want to [hsssss] know?

“I am T’hæth,” she informed him willingly. “I am 89 years of age. My occupational title is Acquisitions Agent at the Public Housing Authority of the Municipality of Go’an on the planet Vulcan.”

“Wasn’t that easier?” Vat’shen chided. Turning away from the group of contained prisoners, he seemed to have skipped Latii for now.

After attaching the PADD to the console and pressing a few more switches, some of the probes above the heads of the subjects came to life. Gratefully, none of them were descending yet. Displays on the screens that the prisoners could see seemed to indicate that he was monitoring brain activity.

“Somal, how well would you say [hsssss] that you are disciplined in the Vulcan [hsssss] art of emotional suppression?” Vat’shen asked from the console.

“My social aptitude scores place me within 55% of the Vulcan population in the field of emotional control,” he stated.

“Ah, average then. Good, then [hsssss] you will make for a reasonable measure of [hsssss] the majority of Vulcans,” Vat’shen pointed out.

“What about my emotions are you hoping to measure?” Somal asked.

“What about you, T’hæth? [hsssss] Same question.”

“I hold a grade within the top 20% of the most emotionally controlled of our species, Captain Vat’shen,” she informed him, also curious.

“Excellent, you are somewhat above average,” Vatshen acknowledged. [hsssss] “Let’s begin.” Without another word, nor a clue to his intent, Vat’shen began to manipulate more controls.

A panel slid open just above Somal’s head revealing a vent. Behind the vent was a dark-greenish covered electroplating that seemed to be heating up slightly. Soon, the covering of the plate began to aerosolize. Moments passed, and Vat’shen became fixated on the neural scans.

Somal started out only curious. “What is this, Captain?” he asked, at first calmly. When there was no response, he repeated, “What are you doing?” Did he just hear himself raise his voice? A few more moments and, “Answer me, lizard!” he shrieked.

Inside his mind, he could feel a lifetime of emotional discipline melt away. He couldn’t stop himself. All self-control was being completely extinguished. “What have you done to me? I’ll destroy you!”

Somal began to hit the reactive containment field with his fist. The pain was immense, but he couldn’t be bothered to care. He had to beat his way out of that cage no matter the cost. The appearance of a crazed madman came over him as his flesh began to burn away in the force field. He finally began to slam his head into the field as well. He simply kept pushing against the containment as powerfully as he could. Finally, his body had taken so much self-abuse that he collapsed into the cell, as the vent was resealed. Somal was now a shattered and bloodied heap on the tiny floor.

During the entire ordeal, Somal had recorded readings from all of the subjects. Latii had tried to remain composed, but had broken down about halfway through and had verbally begged their cruel master to stop. Even T’hæth had been moved just a bit. She had recognized the aerated element that had been introduced into the compartment. It had disheartened her to see a fellow Vulcan so effortlessly stripped of his self-control like that.

Vat’shen had monitored every neural response that he had caused, and was pleased. He began to record his findings from this first round of experimentation on this lot.

“Trellium-D?” T’hæth queried of their captor.

Vat’shen refused to answer. He only chuckled a little, which T’hæth took as an affirmative response.

“What is trellium-D?” asked a visibly shaken Latii.

“It is a mineral ore found explicitly within the Delphic Expanse used to protect spaceships from certain types of temporal flux anomalies,” T’hæth informed Latii. “Vulcan children are taught about it in biology curriculums. When it comes into contact with Vulcans, it disrupts the neural pathways responsible for all emotional suppression first, and then the rest of the central nervous system. Inescapably, the victim always breaks down into a raving lunatic.”

“Why would you do that to him?” Latii demanded of the Gorn. A short, but painful, surge of energy hit her body as a response.

“My reasons are not for you to [hsssss] know,” Vat’shen corrected her. Making his way back to the cells, he stood leering over his prizes.

“Your responses to his particular form [hsssss] of suffering were most intriguing,” Vat’shen told T’hæth, who stood stubborn as ever. “We will have more to do [hsssss] later.”

Then, the Gorn turned his attention directly to Latii. “You, I have a special room [hsssss] all set up for. Let [hsssss] us see what is at the other end of [hsssss] those antennae.”

 

Chapter 14

 “Dye, report,” Captain Thilyn called out as he re-entered the bridge. Tallasa didn’t waste a second in giving his command chair up to him.

A few extra moments were all that were needed to gather his thoughts on the task ahead. He didn’t want to waste too much time, though. Every moment not acting was another moment that the remaining hostages were in the grasp of the psychotic Gorn that D’nava had informed him of.

Under regulation, the correct course of action was to escape back to Federation space with the +100 hostages that they had already freed. But then, another ship would have to be dispatched, which would then have to re-hunt for the Purgatory’s location. This whole process would’ve taken days at the very least. If this Vat’shen was as vicious as reported, then all four of the still-hostages may have been beyond recovery, either mentally or physically or both.

Even with the rescued victims aboard, they needed to forge ahead to recover their fellow nationals as quickly as possible. If all went well, only a few more hours would be between those four and deliverance.

“Deflector dish adjusted for tight beam transmission,” Dyhata reported. “I am standing by for your orders, sir.”

“Proceed,” ordered the Captain. “Helm, stand by to depart, and go to warp factor seven as soon as we’ve cleared the nebula.” He didn’t want to jump directly back into slipstream until they had a better course heading. Slipstream was great for relatively straight-line travel, but it didn’t do so well at tight turning.

Two minutes remaining. “Link established,” Dyhata reported. “Traffic monitoring accessed.”

One minute, forty seconds. “Purgatory locations logged for last six hours found.”

One minute, twenty seconds. “Possible sector locations calculated.”

One minute. “Sector readings showing Purgatory signatures found.”

Forty seconds. “Purgatory’s current location established.”

Twenty seconds. “Flight trajectory for Purgatory calculated and established. I am severing datalink, now.”

“Engage course, Cadet Zoryhnta,” the Captain ordered.

“Aye, Captain,” the young Aenar responded. She had been showing far more confidence with the controls. However, she had also had an inordinate amount of practice in the last two days.

“Where are they at?” Tallasa asked of the Chief Science Officer.

“Klingon traffic sensors put them on the outer far edge of the Hromi Cluster, Commander,” Dyhata informed her. “Currently, they are only cruising leisurely along the outer boundaries of the Oort Cloud of an uninhabited star system.”

“Master Vat’shen is probably comfortable after his trade,” Thilyn surmised. “We need to get to that ship before they get any news from Japori II. Helm, change course for the Hromi Cluster, and engage slipstream once we’re aligned,” he ordered.

The Andoria was currently running and facing in more or less the direction of the Federation border. The Hromi Cluster was back the other way, deeper into Klingon-occupied space. If they could catch the Purgatory here, however, they wouldn’t have to chase it into non-disputed Klingon Imperial Space.

*          *          *

Chilled-blue skies that normally blanketed the entire planet of Andoria were trying to turn a twisted shade of purple as light and heat and flames from the fires reached impossibly upward while a cold breeze from Emarnl Lake seemed to fan the inferno. Latii’s family home in Hryth was barely a smoldering mound of debris beneath the blaze. How much more heartbreak could someone endure? She didn’t want to know.

From Latii’s placement several meters away, chained by the feet to the street in front of what had been the home of the family Maolt, she wanted to claw herself free and run to the fire. On the off chance that there were any survivors at all, she had to do something. But, even that would be in vain. From her vantage point she could see the small bodies of her children ablaze. She didn’t want to see that, but she couldn’t force herself to turn away.

She tried to muster the strength to overcome her bonds, but all she could do is breakdown under the all-encompassing remorse for her kids and for her kin. Latii had seen the bombardment of the cities from the spaceport. She had hoped that hers would somehow be spared. Now, here it was in front of her; the death of her most cherished burning away in the cold. Nothing made sense any more to her.

Nothing made sense…no, if didn’t make sense. How was she here? How was she seeing this? She didn’t remember being brought all the way back to Andoria. When did that happen? The chains; why were there chains in the street at all? Likewise, why were they around her legs? When did that happen? Her mind experienced just a singular moment of clarity amid the overpowering anguish; little points of reason began to creep in. How had she been a prisoner aboard a Klingon ship just a moment ago, gotten all the way back into Federation space, gotten to all the way to the surface of Andoria, and then chained up in the middle of the street without anyone at all noticing?

The heartache still felt real. But, it couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible. She had to say it aloud, she believed. Through uncontrollable sobs, she managed to choke out the word, “This…isn’t…real.”

Again, she blubbered, “This…is not…happening!” She screamed the last word so loud that the very notion of it exploded in her mind.

Latii jolted awake trying very hard to snap her body into a sitting up position. She found instead that her head and every limb were restrained. Her breathing was heavy with panic, and her eyes were searching desperately for reality. The grief was subsiding, but it had felt too real to be totally ignored.

Above her was something that she had no desire to ever see in person. A Borg drone stood over her confined form. The Borg looked like she had been a Klingon at one point. Somewhere beyond the drone was a deep reptilian growl. Was she about to be assimilated now? Was that the term that Tallasa had used?

“That was almost satisfactory,” stated Vat’shen, who was beginning to lean over Latii’s examination table.

“What’s happening? Where am I?” Latii demanded. The demand was again met with a painful electric shock.

“More questions,” Vat’shen scolded her. “You will [hsssss] only know what I wish you to [hsssss] know. I am the owner, and [hsssss] you are the property. You [hsssss] need to learn that.

“My assistant, however, may have [hsssss] startled you. This is 5-of-6. [hsssss] I do not know who she [hsssss] used to be, nor do I care. [hsssss] But now, she is now my [hsssss] prized possession, and the [hsssss] perfect slave. Disconnected from the [hsssss] Collective, I have retained absolute [hsssss] control of her. She is a [hsssss] 100% obedient slave; she [hsssss] doesn’t even have the [hsssss] desire to be free any more. [hsssss] When I figure out exactly how the [hsssss] Collective does this I will be [hsssss] much happier.”

Vat’shen then turned his attention to the Borg. “What happened to her? [hsssss] I was getting good readings. [hsssss] Why did she wake up?” he reprimanded.

Latii felt sharps pains on the side of her skull as 5-of-6’s tubules disengaged. The drone then replied without an ounce of emotion in her mechanical voice. “Her neurological responses indicate the certain elements of the scenario were too unrealistic for her to continue to believe.”

“Which elements were too unbelievable?” the Gorn demanded to know.

“Your requested scenario was that she be heavily restrained in front of her home,” 5-of-6 reiterated, “and forced to watch her family unit suffer and die during the invasion of Andoria, per our findings in her memory. This was in order to engage in neurological mapping of active areas during extreme pain and sorrow.”

“I remember,” Vat’shen stated. “[hsssss] What is the problem?”

“She began to question how she had gotten back to her homeworld, why there were shackles in front of her house, and so forth,” answered the drone. “None of these were facts that we had explained.”

“I see,” Vat’shen considered. “We need to start with something [hsssss] more rooted in the reality around her, [hsssss] I think.”

“Based on our findings to date, that would be a plausible conclusion.”

“When we probed her memory, [hsssss] we found a spouse in Starfleet, [hsssss] did we not?” Vat’shen asked.

“Yes, master,” offered the drone. “Commander Tallasa sh’Maolt keth Neot serving aboard the U.S.S. Andoria; she would be appear female to bi-gender species just as Latii would, and within the typical Andorian family unit be properly referred to as a sh’za.”

“Excellent,” Vat’shen commemorated. He then stated very quietly to his drone. “Make he forget this waking moment, [hsssss] and then make her think that [hsssss] her Tallasa is in attendance [hsssss] and violently angry with her. [hsssss] Take care to be realistic this time.”

“As you wish, Master Vat’shen,” complied 5-of-6.

Tubules were again driven into Latii’s head, but she remembered nothing at all about it, not about the conversation that had just taken place.

Latii blinked, and she seemed to be alone in the room again. Had she passed out again during one of Vat’shen’s procedures? The repetition of persecution was becoming more difficult to endure all the time.

Suddenly, she heard weapons fire from somewhere beyond the room. She wanted to turn her head and look, but it was still fixed firmly into position. She could always hope that he ship was rebelling against that monstrous Gorn somehow.

After several minutes of tense helplessness, she just barely spotted her first glimmer of hope. Her beloved sh’za was coming through the door, phaser rifle in hand.

“Thank the fates,” Latii cried out. “I’m so glad it’s you.”

“Oh, damnation,” Tallasa stated annoyed. “Look at you. How could you get caught like this, you stupid cretin?” Tallasa asked as she released Latii’s head straps.

“I’m sorry, my darling, it wasn’t my fault,” Latii replied a little confused.

“I’ve taught you self-defense from my own Starfleet training,” Tallasa chided her. “You should have done better! Instead, you’re here laid out to a table like a supper ready to be cooked!”

Latii felt dejected at the words being slung at her. “I’m sorry…” She was backhanded across the face by Tallasa before she could finish.

“To blazes with sorry! I’ve risked my career, my crew, and my life to come rescue your worthless carcass!” The next swing that she took at Latii’s face was with the butt of her rifle.

“Please, I didn’t mean to. Please, stop hurting me,” she begged as the blood began to stream down her head…

Beyond the perception of Latii, Vat’shen was recording the neurological activity inside of her at a nearby console. He was noting the spikes in pain and emotional distress. What did Andorians fear? One specimen was hardly conclusive sampling. But, it would do for now.

Many moments into the mock-up, the ship’s intercom suddenly interrupted his train of thought. “Please forgive the intrusion, Master Vat’shen,” Liaison Officer E’la stated softly. “But, we’ve received urgent news from the I.K.S. Visceral, my lord.”

There was a short yelp was heard to follow after Vat’shen remotely ordered that her collar to shallowly stab her in the collar. “That was for interrupting my [hsssss] work,” he told her simply. “Now, continue your [hsssss] report.”

Shaking off her latest penalty, E’la resumed, “The other prisoners from the Visceral were rescued by a Starfleet vessel from Japori II while being processed for auction. Their experimental warp drive has been destroyed, and their flight logs have been copied and stolen. They believe that the Starfleet ship is aware of our possession of the remaining prisoners, and that they will likely be pursuing us.

“Also, evidence has been found that they accessed a traffic control station in the Japori Star System. They may know where we are, and could be here very soon. They are employing some sort of advanced slipstream propulsion drive,” she finished.

“Have they identified the Starfleet [hsssss] vessel specifically?” Vat’shen asked.

“Yes, master. It is the U.S.S. Andoria, the same one that chased the Visceral away from the planet Andoria,” E’la explained.

Vat’shen began to chuckle to himself. “Most auspicious,” Vat’shen proclaimed.

“I do not understand your meaning, Master Vat’shen,” E’la posed.

“You don’t need to [hsssss] understand,” he told her. “Who guides the helm right [hsssss] now?”

“N’norino is at the helm, my master.”

“She is to ease the ship into the nearby [hsssss] cloud of icy planetesimals [hsssss] immediately,” the Gorn ordered. “Have what is left of the [hsssss] Tellarite brought to the bridge, [hsssss] as well. Have the fighter-shuttles stand [hsssss] ready, but they are not to launch [hsssss] yet. I will be there shortly.”

“As you command, master,” E’la submitted, and then closed the channel.

Vat’shen approached the convulsing Andorian’s bedside. Being careful not to disturb his Borg’s delicate work, he leaned over Latii’s oblivious body. “It seems that we will be joined [hsssss] by one of your bond-mates very [hsssss] shortly, Latii. It should make [hsssss] subsequent research far more [hsssss] interesting.”

Turning his attention to 5-of-6, he notified her, “Disengage Latii at a…sensible stopping point. [hsssss] Then, secure her restraints, place a control [hsssss] collar on her and the others, [hsssss] and then come to the bridge. I may require [hsssss] your services there shortly.”

“Yes, Master Vat’shen,” replied the drone.

 

Chapter 15

 Vat’shen strode onto the bridge, stopping next to the center seat, and taking in all of the activity around him. On the viewscreen, window-accurate images of mountains of ice adrift in space floated past the ship. An alarm at the tactical station behind him sounded off.

“Master, the Andoria has dropped back into normal space,” reported the dispirited Klingon, E’la. “Distance: five-hundred million qelI’qam; well beyond the edge of the comet field.”

“But close enough for us [hsssss] to scan,” Vat’shen pointed out. “Full sensor sweep. Tactical view, on screen.”

Schematic readouts of the Andoria appeared, replacing the exterior view. Certain weapons, and points of data were coming through fine, however there were also large breaks in the information. Vat’shen glared over at a science officer and an engineering officer who was madly trying to adjust the sensors for a more detailed report.

“What are those gaps in the [hsssss] information?” he demanded.

“They’re using active sensor scrambling, my lord,’ asked another very frightened Klingon named B’Etara.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” added the Orion engineer Zegu. “Their listed as a ship used for research and development. We don’t have useful information on all of their systems, it seems, sire.”

Vat’shen wanted to punish them for being so unprepared, and he would do so later. Right now, he needed to concentrate on what the sensors could tell him about his approaching opponent.

“Tactical analysis, E’la,” he commanded.

“Twelve beam arrays, unknown types,” she told him. “There are two forward torpedo launchers and two aft. Just over 1,100 humanoid life forms are detected on board, but no species identities. Warp and impulse engines are of unknown design. Shielding is multi-layered and running at what seems to be at full power, and at least the outer layer is emitting a sensor dampening field preventing us from taking accurate readings, master.”

Like the Purgatory, many of the systems aboard the Andoria seemed to be unknown and unregistered as of yet. The Andoria was truly on even footing, it appeared. Vat’shen found this prospect delightful. He wondered if their captain was just as up to par. He couldn’t wait to meet him.

While Vat’shen was pondering the notion, security officers Darnni and Norriad entered from the turbolift dragging the Tellarite between them. Behind them, was Security Chief and taskmaster T’garrt goading them in their chore, as he was expected to do.

“Good,” Vat’shen said. “Place the Tellarite [hsssss] on the floor between myself and [hsssss] the viewscreen. And, be quick about it. [hsssss] I expect that the Andoria [hsssss] will be hailing us soon.”

*          *          *

Now secured from slipstream speeds, the starship Andoria began to immediately scan the area while maintaining an alert status. Their sweeps would likely give them away to any local vessels in the area. But, the only vessel that they were sure of being here was the Purgatory, and that was a vessel that they wanted attention from.

Sooner than they had hoped, however, the Purgatory saved them the trouble of a lengthy search. When the carriers own sensor sweep made contact, it pointed the Andoria right to them.

“Contact,” Tallasa announced from the tactical station. “Three-one-four mark three-four-three, range 250 million kilometers, their speed is only 50kph. They’re drifting along just inside of the Oort Cloud, Captain.”

“They must have been warned about our approach. In there, we’re unable to rush them,” Thilyn pointed out, mostly to himself. “Cadet, approach at half-impulse. Be mindful of the ice.”

“Taking us in, Captain,” Zoryhnta confirmed.

“Tal, stand by on weapons. We don’t want to risk hitting the hostages, though, if we can avoid it,” Thilyn ordered. “What’s the analysis of their ship, Kaalin?”

“A lot of it looks like what we know of a standard Kar’fi-Type design,” answered the operation officer. “Lots of technology borrowed from the Klingons’ encounters with the trans-dimensional Fek’Ihri. It looks like they have some Orion slaver fighter-craft on board…maybe. A lot of our scans are getting distorted by some sort of reflective armor on their hull, but I may be able to compensate in a few minutes. Like us, they may be carrying a lot of experimental equipment on board, sir.”

“This may be worth noting, Captain,” Commander Vugiz added. “A small blurb in the Visceral’s log stated that their captain was annoyed that the Purgatory seemed to be able to track them at warp speeds, despite their engine modifications.”

“Interesting,” Thilyn thought aloud to Dyhata’s comment. “Keep trying to scan them, Kaalin.”

“Entering Oort Cloud boundary,” announced the helm.

“Slow us to point one impulse speed, Zory,” Thilyn told her. “Maneuver us to within two kilometers of the Purgatory’s bow.”

“Hail them, Tal,” Thilyn ordered.

“Hailing, but I’m not really expecting a response,” she complied.

A few moments of uncomfortable silence passed as the towering misshapen vessel grew larger on the viewscreen. It almost looked like a flying elongated siege tower with a massive metal beard. They had to know that the Andoria was approaching, but they didn’t seem to be taking any serious defensive posture. They weren’t even launching fighter-shuttles.

What it was doing, though was slowing to a relative stop. Their captain must’ve seen the Andoria’s vector. He seemed to be ridiculously overconfident, though. Instead of moving to avoid them, the Purgatory seemed to be matching them.

Once the two ships were looking at each other’s noses, they just seemed to drift lazily. Then, Tallasa’s ship-to-ship control panel beeped. “They’re responding, sir,” she stated a little surprised.

“On screen,” Thilyn declared.

A close up of Captain Vat’shen’s face appeared in front of the large forward viewscreen. He said nothing at first, and only seemed interested in staring down the crew. He ostensibly shifted his head to look from one person to the next, and then finally settled on Captain Thilyn seated in the Captain’s Chair.

“I have been expecting you [hsssss] starship Andoria,” Vat’shen stated, confirming Thilyn’s suspicion.

“Captain Vat’shen,” Thilyn insisted, “we know that you are holding four citizens of the United Federation of Planets as hostages. We demand that you safely return them at once.”

“Your demands do not interest [hsssss] me,” Vat’shen replied condescendingly. “You have someone on board [hsssss] that I wish to speak to. One Commander Tallasa, your [hsssss] first officer.”

“We are not here to indulge you, Captain Vat’shen,” Thilyn reaffirmed. “We want our people returned…now.”

From off to the side of the viewing field, a Borg appeared and quietly seemed to point into the image on their viewscreen. 5-of-6 had made note of Tallasa’s eye patch and demeanor while inside of Latii’s mind. Vat’shen responded by looking off towards the tactical station on the Andoria’s bridge

“Never mind, I see her. [hsssss] I’ll send you some compensation [hsssss] for her,” Vat’shen said curtly.

Without warning, a Klingon transporter beam enveloped Tallasa. At the same time, a second transporter beam materialized a Tellarite on the bridge in front of the viewscreen as the Gorn’s visage disappeared.

“Shye, where are the shields?” Thilyn called out as the entire bridge went into a panic.

“They’re up,” she confirmed in shock. “All of them are at maximum output.”

“He somehow routed the transporter beam through the comm channel,” Dyhata informed them. “It happened too fast for me to block it, sir.”

While the tactical situation was being assessed, another science officer, Lieutenant Sessi, had grabbed a nearby emergency medkit and rushed to the side of the unmoving Tellarite woman. After only a moment of scanning with a medical tricorder, she reported out loud to anyone that was listening, “She’s dead. She’s been dead for at least 30 minutes. She seems to have been bludgeoned to death.”

“Medical assistance to the bridge,” Kaalin called into the comm system. “We need a coroner.”

“Keep the external comm channels closed,” Thilyn ordered. “We need rescue options, right now.”

*          *          *

Tallasa was barely aware of the transporter beam before it wore off. She found herself in the middle of a room suddenly very unfamiliar. In front of her, seated as if on a throne was the very large Gorn, Vat’shen.

“How dare you abduct me,” she immediately screamed at him as her arms lowered from where they had been positioned only moments before utilizing the tactical panel. “You will release me, and all of the Federation citizens, immediately!”

“You Federations seem to have trouble [hsssss] knowing who your superiors are,” Vat’shen said to her. “Allow me to correct that problem [hsssss] for you. 5-of-6, fit her with a [hsssss] collar.”

The plus-2.5 meter tall reptile stood up as a Borg drone with seemingly all of her cybernetics still attached came around from behind his chair and began to approach Tallasa. It was clear that any talking to Vat’shen was a useless exercise. She needed to find another way to get into the bowels of the ship and find Latii…on her own terms. Where could she start on such on unfamiliar ship while being pursued?

While she was preparing to counter the two assailants approaching her, Tallasa noticed a particular Klingon in the rear of the bridge that seemed to be slightly better dressed than the rest of the crew. This woman was wearing almost an entire military uniform, albeit a badly dilapidated one with some key pieces missing. She also noticed shackles around the woman’s throat, waistline and wrists.

Her uniform showed her significance. Her dishevelment showed her humiliation. Either way, this Klingon would have information that Tallasa could use, she believed. Tallasa had to get to her.

The twosome was almost upon her, and the Gorn with his longer legs had reached her first. Vat’shen picked Tallasa up by her uniform jacket intent on slamming her backwards into the wall just to hurt her. As her feet left the ground, she slipped vestige long knife out of the back of her uniform, and swung it around and under into Vat’shen’s protruding jaw.

If his mouth hadn’t been full of blade, he may well have screamed. She had only pierced the bottom of his mouth, missing the tongue, and barely puncturing the roof of his maw. As Tallasa was dropped she slid the knife out of him. She wasn’t about to lose her favorite blade to this ogre.

From the feel of her tiny missing Type I phaser, Tallasa inferred that Vat’shen’s transporter was preset to remove all weapons from shanghaied prisoners. If her knife had been made of the usual metal, it would likely have been removed as well. As it happened, this blade seized from another abductor from so long ago, was completely organic in material. From tip to hilt; the grip was leather, the handle shaft was bone, and the blade was sharpened Nimbus III anthropod pincer shell.

Being wary of the still approaching Borg, Tallasa quickly ducked around the other side of the Gorn and made her way to the back of the bridge. She needed something first, though.

“Where is my zh’yi?” she demanded of the Captain. “Where is Latii?”

Blood was drizzling from Vat’shen’s mouth as he fought to regain his resolution. Turning to his prey, he sneered in response. “She is below in my laboratory. [hsssss] There is no need for a fight. [hsssss] I’m going to put you right next to her…in [hsssss] your own specimen cage. [hsssss] I want to see how she responds [hsssss] when I make you scream in pain.”

“You first, Vat’shen,” Tallasa grinned at his wound.

While she was positioned near the command chair, T’garrt tried to dive for her from behind. She evaded the maneuver and let him punch himself with the top of the seat. Swiftly making her way to E’la, whom she had spotted a moment ago, Tallasa thrust her blade into the simple key lock holding her chain to the wall.

It wasn’t hard to break the mechanism keeping the latch closed. Before anyone else could do anything, she had E’la restrained from behind, and was dragging her towards an open maintenance hallway nearby in the back.

“Don’t mistake that I care for her [hsssss] wellbeing, Andorian,” Vat’shen informed her, still finding his bearings. “I will just as well kill [hsssss] her to get to you. She is [hsssss] no shield.”

“I never thought that she was, Gorn,” Tallasa stated as they ducked into the antechamber, and sealed its heavy door behind them.

 

Chapter 16

With privacy temporarily achieved, Tallasa turned the E’la to face her. Very dominantly, she put the Klingon’s back to the wall, her arm to E’la’s throat, and her blade to her face. Tallasa found it odd that she didn’t seem to be getting any opposition from her.

“Where is Vat’shen’s lab?” Tallasa stated plainly.

“Four decks below us along this ladder,” E’la told her. “Turn right, go five meters, and the door is on your left side.”

That was completely too easy, Tallasa thought.  She eased up a little on her captive, but didn’t let her advantage slip. “Wait, why are you not resisting? Or, trying to delay me?”

“I have no reason to do so. I am no more loyal to Vat’shen than anyone else is here…except perhaps for his pet Borg,” E’la explained. “An honorable Klingon would resist you for the good of the Empire. A dishonorable wretch would no doubt barter the information. In the case of this crew, there is no honor left to be won or lost.”

“I almost pity you,” Tallasa whispered. “Does that insult you?”

“I have no integrity left to insult, Federation,” she replied.

The door to the bridge shook a little. It wouldn’t take them long to get in. Tallasa backed away from her detainee carefully. Now free, E’la still made no belligerent attempts. There was no time to contemplate about it now, though.

Tallasa descended the maintenance ladder quickly, sealing the deck-to-deck hatch behind her. E’la was left alone to her thoughts. She knew that salvation would never come. It was in quiet moments like this that she wished for death, or even for the fortitude for suicide.

She finally turned and re-opened the door to the bridge. Vat’shen towered behind Zegu and 5-of-6 who had been trying to work their way into the short corridor.

“Where is my new [hsssss] prisoner, E’la?” Vat’shen insisted

Without remorse or anxiety, E’la simply reported, “She is en route to your lab, Captain Vat’shen.”

“Why did you let her [hsssss] escape?” he glared.

“You were not present to order me to act, my master,” she asserted.

Vat’shen only hissed in irritation in response. “Stand at your station. [hsssss] I will chastise you later. [hsssss] After I am done correcting your [hsssss] oversight, then your lock will be [hsssss] repaired.”

“As you command, my master,” E’la obeyed.

*          *          *

Something that was notably missing as the crew of the Andoria scuttled about preparing for battle. That something seemed to be the battle. The Purgatory hung quietly in space with dozens of instruments running every conceivable scan. But, after the brazen offense of seizing the ship’s first officer, all other activity from the carrier seemed calm.

No fighters had been launched, and no weapons had been armed. Only the shields were up and active according to the Andoria’s sensors. It had been concluded from scan information that the Purgatory was very well protected. It wasn’t hard to see that a lot about this ship had made their Gorn Captain extremely overconfident; even arrogant.

“Options,” Thilyn commanded.

“Our transporters are not going to penetrate their shields,” Lieutenant Commander F’beytha pointed out as he continued to search the ops station data for any weaknesses to exploit.

“I have a boarding party ready to go,,” Commander Shynon stated from the tactical station. “I don’t think that this Gorn is going to negotiate at all. We should storm their ship, and retrieve the hostages by force.”

“I’m forced to agree,” Thilyn accepted. “But, how do we get them over there?”

“The escape pods,” called out Lieutenant Kaalin from the engineering station.

“Escape pods?” F’beytha asked, confused.

“Yes,” Kaalin sustained. “Six months ago, we were outfitted with a new escape pod design to be tested. They are designed to operate as breaching pods during combat. Only some of the pod bays on the port side of the primary hull were loaded with them, but we have 15 of all together.”

“They haven’t been tested?” Thilyn noticed.

“We’ve been running diagnostic testing, sir,” he informed them. “We were scheduled to run live tests in two weeks. But they’ve all checked out in simulations so far, and they’re all ready to launch. However, in those simulations, they do maneuver a little tricky.”

“Are they retrievable?” Shye queried from across the room.

“Not exactly, not yet…at least not easily,” Kaalin explained. “That’s part of their design flaw so far. But, they do have built-in transporter signal booster relays for retrieving boarding parties. Also, they have somewhat overpowered self-destruct packets. We can explode them directly against their hull once our people are out.”

“It seems like our best option at the moment,” Thilyn concluded. “Shye, coordinate with Kaalin, and direct the rescue parties to those pods. And then, assume command. Dyhata, you and I are going over, as well.”

“You, sir?” Shye urgently asked.

“Yes,” Thilyn reaffirmed as he started towards the turbolift. “D’nava indicated that the prisoners and crew aboard the Purgatory were being controlled by collars. Those must have some computer tie-ins. Dyhata and myself are the best to analyze and neutralize them.”

“Understood, sir,” Shye yielded.

*          *          *

The door to the Vat’shen’s lab was locked, but not shielded. Maybe it was from the inside. Tallasa considered that not many of his crew would want to be in this room, and those that made it inside probably were worse off for it. The more sensible securing mechanisms were likely on the inside to keep potential specimens from escaping.

Tallasa stood outside of the lab for a moment while realizing this from looking at the control panel. It was amazing to her that the entire crew seemed to be beaten so much into submission that they were afraid to even act against her without Vat’shen’s direct instructions. She decided that this flub was one to be exploited. She pried open an access panel on the opposite wall from the door, cut a bundle of wires, and then dragged them to contact the panel.

It was simple, direct, and worked instantaneously. The egress command pathways were overloaded forcing the door to unlock and open. She dropped the wires immediately, and dashed through the new aperture with her knife in a combat-ready position.

She saw the primary control panel. After a moment of searching, she found what she believed to be the illumination controls, and raise the light level. She could now see the floor between herself and the Vulcan woman in one of the glowing internment tubes.

“I am Commander Tallasa,” she announced herself to the naked Vulcan (wearing only a newly adorned control collar) staring curiously at her. “I’m from the U.S.S. Andoria. We’re here to rescue you.”

“I am T’hæth,” replied the Vulcan simply as Tallasa brought down her confinement shield. Once there was enough room for her to move freely again, she offered Tallasa the traditional Vulcan hand greeting. “I thank you for freeing me. Also, I must apologize for my state of nakedness. Captain Vat’shen seems to be quite adept at attempted humiliation.”

“No need to apologize. It’s not your fault,” Tallasa assured her. “I only wish that I had something for you to cover yourself with.” Still scanning, the room Tallasa spotted the Vulcan male still slumped into the bottom of his own cage. She began the sequence to release his field as well.

“You must not release him,” T’hæth pleaded hastily.

Tallasa paused herself. “Why not? He looks injured. He needs our help.”

“Are you familiar with Trillium-D and its effects on Vulcan neurology?” T’hæth quizzed her.

“Yes,” the red uniformed tactical officer replied. Trellium-D was covered lightly in the Academy under Basic Federation Exo-Biology.

“Lamentably, Vat’shen exposed Somal to a concentrated dose of it,” T’hæth informed her. “Furthermore, I did not observe Vat’shen evacuate his cage of the substance either. It may still be present behind the force field. And, in either case, the degenerative effects may have degraded Somal’s brain beyond repair already.”

Tallasa was shuddering at this idea. Such offhanded cruelty was incomprehensible to her. Was Latii being exposed to the same degree of torment? “Good enough,” Tallasa accepted. “If we have time, we’ll retrieve him via transporter into a stasis unit on the Andoria. Right now, we have one more hostage to find.”

“The Andorian? Your compatriot?” T’hæth requested.

“Latii, yes,” Tallasa confirmed. “She’s my zh’yi, actually. My…wife, or co-wife, perhaps.”

“I see. You are one of her spouses,” T’hæth finished. “I am familiar with Andorian mating practices. She was compulsorily removed through that door into an adjacent laboratory.” T’hæth pointed to a door in the rear of the lab.

“I want you to stay out of sight in here,” Tallasa ordered the civilian. “I will be back momentarily, and then we are all leaving.”

“I will comply,” T’hæth accepted. She ducked into darkest corner of the room that she could find while Tallasa dimmed the light levels again.

With her knife in readiness again, she opened the door to the adjoining, larger lab. Inside was an array of medical and examination instruments that would’ve even made Doctor Rasson both apprehensive and envious. At the center of the room Tallasa finally laid her senses again on Latii.

Latii was still immobilized onto the primary exam table. Her unclothed form was twitching against her restraints, and bleating uncontrollably. Her senses remained unfocused as she seemed to stare off into a nightmare of nothingness.

Tallasa made only a quick glance around the room, and rushed to her side. She took note of the control collar around Latii’s neck. “Latii, I’m here,” she tried to reach out.

“No, please,” screamed Latii in dread when she say Tallasa while she tried in vain to move away. “Don’t hurt me. I’m sorry!”

Tallasa’s lovely bride was terrified of her. Just the idea tore at the very core of Tallasa’s emotions. “Latii, it’s all right,” she tried desperately to reassure her. “You’re safe. I’m not going to hurt you. Not one bit.”

Tallasa began to frantically release her zh’yi’s restraints. Latii was still trying to pull away. The moment that her legs and finally free, she bolted for the most secluded area of the lab that she could find.

Tallasa gave chase, but stopped herself short of grabbing her for fear of making the situation worse. “My love, what has that damned Gorn done to you?”

She could hear Latii tearfully muttering softly, “Please, don’t hit me, Tal. Please.”

Tallasa was suddenly aware that another door had opened behind her; not the same one that she had entered through. She turned and stood defiantly from her crouched position.

“This is riveting,” Vat’shen said directly to Tallasa. His poise seemed to indicate that he was mentally pushing through his recent injury for the moment.

“What have you done to her, kut?” she demanded.

“My faithful Borg, at my [hsssss] instruction, has been filling her [hsssss] mind with hallucinations of [hsssss] typical fear-based scenarios [hsssss] so that I could gauge her neurological [hsssss] responses. The last one, before your ship [hsssss] interrupted, just happened to [hsssss] be a scenario of you entering [hsssss] this room…[hsssss] and mercilessly striking her.”

“I am going to slaughter you, Vat’shen!” Tallasa roared.

“Are you really?” he responded in a far too amused manner. “You’re welcome to try. [hsssss] Seriously, I am curious to know how far [hsssss] you’re willing to take that [hsssss] threat.”

“Why?” she stopped herself in mid-attack posture out of suspicion.

Vat’shen held up the high-tech cuff garnishing his left wrist. “This is what allows me to [hsssss] control those collars. [hsssss] In addition to relaying commands [hsssss] for specific punishments, [hsssss] it is also set to monitor my vital signs. [hsssss] It will know if I die. [hsssss] And, if I die, it will send out a signal [hsssss] to violently terminate in a [hsssss] randomized assortment of methods [hsssss] every being on board wearing one [hsssss] of those collars… [hsssss] including your Latii.”

Tallasa glanced back in apprehension for a moment at the collar around Latii’s neck. Then, she also saw the pain in her face. In only a few short hours, Vat’shen had agonized Latii into a pain-soaked husk of what she used to be.

“Are you willing to murder her [hsssss] in order to slay me, Tallasa?” he asked amused.

“I don’t have to slay you,” Tallasa declared. “But, I will make you suffer.”

Tallasa swung herself back around with her knife oscillating toward their captor. Vat’shen brought his right arm up to block her attack. However, she had anticipated this, and Tallasa’s real target was disclosed when she forced the blade into his forearm and cut clear down its length.

Vat’shen threw back his head in pain. Screaming from a Gorn was a very peculiar sound. It didn’t last very long, however, and he brought his head back down so that his long teeth caught Tallasa’s right arm before she could move it out of the way.

He was about to pull back hard, hoping to take her arm with him. Tallasa refused to wholly give in to the pain coursing through her, and again inserted her blade into his side and slashed at him. He receded again.

The warrior stood her ground in front of her zh’yi while bleeding through her torn sleeve. Across the room, the “terrorologist” was gathering his strength for their next round. Staring each other down, the Gorn admitted to himself that this new specimen was proving to be a good hunt. It would only be that much more pleasurable for him when she finally broke.

Automated klaxons erupted all over the ship.

*          *          *

Fifteen objects, a little smaller than standard shuttlecrafts, hurled away from the Andoria. At a safe distance, they veered back around towards the Purgatory, and darted through the opponent’s shields. By very carefully measuring the joule-resistance readings of the shields they were able to pass the physical forms of the pods through the energy barrier without repulse.

These pods, designed with noses for high impacts, stabbed into the outer hull of the Purgatory. In less than 20 seconds, before anyone could respond, the Purgatory’s casing was pot marked with foreign escape pods, mostly grouped around the base of its forward tower.

On the inside, fourteen teams of five security offices flowed out of their pods and into the corridors of the Purgatory. As expected, the automated systems were already sounding intruder alarms. The trained Starfleet security personnel easily phaser-stunned anyone they saw.

An announcement came over the ship’s intercom in under a minute. “Warrior Servants, [hsssss] repel the invaders,” T’garrt ordered. “Per Vat’shen’s [hsssss] command.”

Out of the final breaching pod, Captain Thilyn and Commander Vugiz exited after the security teams had secured the area. A few, poorly clad warriors were charging them from the end of a long hallway with bat’leths…only with bat’leths. They were a mix of mostly Orions, with some Klingons and Nausicaans jumbled in. Vat’shen evidently didn’t trust even restrained slaves with energy weapons. The only non-melee weaponry in the lot was from a Gorn in the back.

He hit two of the Starfleet from the pod next to Thilyn’s before he was taken down by a sharpshooter. While the injured were beamed back to the Andoria, the intruding crew held their ground.

 

Chapter 17

While the security officers continued to pile up the cataleptic bodies of their adversaries, the blue-suited Thilyn and Dyhata carefully made their way to a nearby workstation in the corridor that they had perforated. The Captain kept sentry while Dyhata tied both her tricorder and her cybernetic enhancements into the internal sensor grid. After a few moments of searching through readings, she reported.

“I’ve located them, sir,” she announced. “They are all located in two conjoining rooms in the upper tower. I am detecting two Vulcans, one male and one female; and two Andorians, one shen and one zhen.”

“Can you ascertain their physical condition?” Thilyn asked.

“Yes, sir. However, this is not good news,” she warned him. “The Vulcan male’s life signs are very weak and failing rapidly. The Andorian shen’s life signs are elevated and erratic.”

“The shen would most likely be Tal,” Thilyn concluded, “and the zhen is Latii.”

“I would concur, sir,” she stated. “A Gorn is in close proximity to Commander Tallasa, and his life signs are also elevated and erratic. I deduce that they are engaged in combat.”

“That sounds like Tal,” the Captain admitted. “I guess she didn’t like being abducted.”

Thilyn made his own passing glance of Dyhata’s tricorder. He wished that he could see the readings being fed directly into her brain. “Can we just beam them out of there?”

“No, sir. There are two obstacles preventing us from doing so,” Dyhata explained. “The set of rooms that they are in seems to have active transporter inhibitors surrounding them. Secondly, the control collars being worn by all of the slaves seem to be directly linked to the ship’s internal computer network, and cross-connected to a handling unit that is apparently on Vat’shen’s person.”

Thilyn looked over at the unconscious crew from the Purgatory noting their uniform collars. “Is there a way to neutralize those?”

Dyhata considered his query for a moment before reviewing more information from the Purgatory‘s computer system.  After a few moments, she came back with something interesting. “I have a solution, Captain,” she stated almost impressed with herself.

“Any time would be good, Dye,” he goaded.

“The signal coming from Vat’shen’s primary control unit,” she clarified, “is sending out a constant update signal to the computer, and subsequently to the collars. If this signal ceases of any reason, the collars will massacre the prisoners and crew. Such reasons being, of course, if he dies or if they try to escape and move out of local range. There’s a false set of signals tied into the fighter shuttles, as well.”

Continuing, “I propose that we block Vat’shen’s control signal, and set up our own false signal from a tricorder that mimics what keeps the collars idle. We can also broadcast this false signal through the Andoria‘s internal network. Then, we can remove our people to our ship safely, and remove the collars outside of this combat zone.”

“I wonder,” Thilyn thought out loud, “how many other slaves would abandon this Captain Vat’shen if they were suddenly free from his threats?”

“Are you planning to find out, Captain?” Dyhata solicited.

Thilyn only smiled in response. “How do we fake that signal?”

Dyhata brought up an internal map of the ship on the console in front of them. She focused the schematic in on a chamber that was passing through their current deck. “We need to get to their primary computer core. I can access the signal from there, and create the false one, while relaying a command to the Andoria‘s computer engineers to do the same. I can also shut down the transporter inhibitors from there.”

Looking over at the quieting vanguard, as the additional targets could no longer get over their sleeping compatriots, Thilyn signaled to Lieutenant Sisse to follow himself and Dyhata.

As she left her post behind, she called out, “Ensign Oreb’el, hold this position.”

When the twin Aenar shen was next to them, Captain Thilyn explained his plan. “A large group would have a running firefight all the way to the computer core. The three of us will have a better chance of getting to it through maintenance tunnels. From there we will signaling for a beam-out. The rest of the security forces are to remain here to keep the Purgatory’s crew busy.”

“Agreed, sir,” the others conceded.

“Dye, find us a route,” Thilyn ordered.

*          *          *

“It seems that we’ll be leaving soon, Captain,” Tallasa mocked her captor. They had all just heard the announcement about the boarding party from the bridge, followed by Vat’shen ordering retaliation. Tallasa knew that somewhere on the Purgatory, Starfleet officers were filling the hallways with phaser fire, she was sure. “It’s been a lovely visit, all the same.”

Vat’shen’s full attention was back on Tallasa now. “You are not going anywhere, Tallasa. [hsssss] Even if your crew can make their way to this lab, [hsssss] I still have your spouse and the [hsssss] Vulcans at my mercy.”

Just to prove his seriousness, he tapped a few commands to the controlling wristband using his barely functioning right hand. Behind Tallasa, Latii’s eyes began to bulge as searing heat was applied to her neck. Beyond the door into the other lab, they could barely hear another shriek of pain from the female Vulcan, but with no indication of the specific function being applied.

Tallasa ran to Latii again, and tried to comfort her. Latii couldn’t find any way out of her torture device, though, and still was showing signs of fear at the sight of Tallasa. After a few seconds, Vat’shen turned off the torment devices again.

“Even without wearing a collar [hsssss] yet, you are still my prisoner. [hsssss] You will not leave your lover [hsssss] alone with me,” Vat’shen pointed out.

Tallasa turned again and re-engaged the Gorn. This time, she went straight for his right hand. Maybe he had other ways of controlling those damned collars, but this would at least make Tallasa feel better. She jammed the knife straight into his palm and wedged it down into his wrist; she could feel the blade scraping against his bones.

He hollered again as she freed the knife, and swung his other arm around clipping the top of her head. For what seemed like forever the two traded swings and kicks and bites and punches. Finally, as she turned away from slashing at his face, Vat’shen caught her by the back of the head and heaved her to the floor.

Tallasa quickly turned over onto her back while trying to pick herself up for her next attack when Vat’shen’s foot came down hard and landed on the left side of her hips. She was pinned, she realized. Worse than that, Vat’shen was pressing down with his large scaly bare foot, and he was too heavy and well perched to throw off.

She felt her pelvic bone crack before she actually heard it. The moment that he had begun pressing down she had known that this pain was coming. She had tried to steel herself for it, but to no avail. She was gritting her teeth when she finally screamed while blood and spittle escaped through her lips.

“Surrender, and I might [hsssss] spare you,” Vat’shen taunted her.

khuh Oog!” she cursed back through her anguish. “Finish me, kut!”

“Stop, please,” begged Latii who was suddenly scrambling along her hands and knees to reach Tallasa. “Please, don’t kill my sh’za!”

Vat’shen activated, moving through the pain in his hand, an immobilization routine in Latii’s collar. “I only wish I was [hsssss] monitoring your brain, Latii. [hsssss] Watch carefully as she [hsssss] dies screaming.”

“Look away, Latii!” was all that Tallasa could get out before Vat’shen resumed his slow stomp. This was probably survivable, she knew, but it would make it easier for Vat’shen to torture her further. She almost wanted to die from this. She had led a warrior’s life and had always known that a violent, a painful, or a humiliating death was a possibility. The thought of any of her loved ones having to witness it was hard for her to handle.

Moments went by that felt like an eternity in Tallasa’s mind. Before the foot could reach the floor, though, the intercom activated and a voice that wasn’t entirely familiar to Vat’shen spoke. At the same time, Latii’s collar seemed to return to a neutral status, releasing her from its grip.

“This is Captain Thilyn, of the U.S.S. Andoria, the Starfleet vessel currently hanging in space in front of the Purgatory,” said Tallasa’s CO. “We have commandeered the Purgatory’s primary computer core, and have neutralized your control collars. Until we return to our ship they will be unable to affect you.

“Any crewmember of the Purgatory who wishes to defect within the next 10 minutes may do so by getting to our breaching pods,” Thilyn continued. “They will transport you back to our ship where we have also neutralized the collars’ ability to torture you. But, you have only 10 minutes. That is all.”

As the comm channel switched off, Vat’shen looked down at his control unit. He backed off of Tallasa’s now shattered pelvis and through utter force of will made his mutilated hand work the keys. He tried to reactivate Latii’s collar as she crawled toward Tallasa. There was no response.

He began to try call up any collar for manipulation. Still, there was no response. If his right-side hand and arm hadn’t been so damaged he would’ve been moving more frantically. He could only growl in frustration.

“What’s the matter, Vat’shen? Is your toy broken?” Tallasa wheezed out in triumph as she was finally able to touch her Latii’s hand. The zh’yi still wasn’t to the point of embracing, but Tallasa didn’t blame her a bit for that.

The Gorn captain only got angrier, and ran out through his private door. Probably to attempt to intimidate the now uncontrolled crew, Tallasa assumed.

Tallasa’s comm badge chirped. What a wonderful sound, she thought. “Captain Thilyn to Commander Tallasa, please respond.”

Tallasa was able to get her still barely good left arm to activate the communicator, but talking back was proving a bit more challenging. Too much wind had been knocked out of her.

Latii, seeing her sh’za’s difficulty spoke for her. “Captain, this is Latii. Tallasa’s hurt badly. Can you beam us out?”

“Yes, we now have a transporter lock on you both, and the Vulcans,” Thilyn responded.

“Vulcans! Trellium!” Tallasa forced out before anything else could happen.

“Oh, yes,” Latii caught on. “One of the Vulcans was heavily exposed to something called Trellium-D. He might be uncontrollably violent.”

“Understood,” Thilyn confirmed. “We’ll put him directly into medical stasis. Stand by; we’re beaming you to sickbay.”

*          *          *

a’wI’ Sogh E’la was standing for the first time in as long as she could remember at her assigned bridge console without being tethered to the wall. She knew that this was not going to be a permanent condition. She fully expected that Vat’shen would soon return and have some engineers reattach her chain…probably with a more impassable lock.

The idea put forth by the Starfleet Captain just now, however, was intriguing. Clearly, it would fail, though. No one ever escaped this ship of the damned. Her best option was to just ignore this pathetic attempt by the Starfleet dogs, and to stay at her post. Her punishment would probably be little less severe that way. Certainly, it would be less severe than if she were caught while she tried to escape.

If this was true, she realized, then why were her feet moving towards the front of the bridge? Why was she leaving her station, and gaining ground on the only thing still standing between herself and independence? Before the Borg overseer could react to her assault, E’la’s warrior instinct had come flooding back and the chains from her wrist shackles were wrapped around 5-of-6’s neck.

“Cease and desist immediately,” the Borg attempted to order through a strained voice. This was the only servant still under Vat’shen’s control on the entire ship. Her mindless allegiance would force her to move against anyone attempting to flee.

E’la was so weary of this asinine drone. She put her foot into the middle of 5-of-6’s spine and pushed hard until she heard a crack. Even as the drone fell it was still moving, however. E’la had immobilized it, but she didn’t have time to finish it off.

E’la turned to face the rest of the bridge crew who were still glued to their posts. “It may be aboard a Starfleet vessel, but it is still freedom from this hell,” she announced to everyone.

None of the others budged at all. E’la could see it on their faces. They were all too broken spiritually to escape, even with a wide open door.

N’norino finally stepped away from her helm, only to speak softly to the Liaison Officer. “It wouldn’t work, E’la. Vat’shen would stop us. Somehow, he will find a way. And then, any of those that attempt it, will be screaming for days.”

“I don’t care,” E’la replied. “I cannot continue existing like this. Even Gre’thor would be preferable to this. I have no desire to live among those Federation dogs, but I have no place left within the Empire; not even as a scoundrel. If Vat’shen tries to stop me, I will take my own life first.”

E’la left the Orion helmswoman, and all of her fellow bridge crew, behind as she marched into the turbolift. This would be the last time that she laid eyes on that bridge that had detained her for so long.

 

Chapter 18

When E’la stepped inside of the Starfleet breaching pod she was immediately beamed away and found herself on the shuttlebay flight deck of what she could only presume was the U.S.S. Andoria. She had only seen a few others ahead of her entering the makeshift beam out site, and none at all behind her. Sadly, it seemed that most of the Purgatory’s crew was in the same frame of mind as its bridge crew.

As she materialized, she did notice a little nip in the air. From her days before her service to Vat’shen, she was aware of the Andorians’ predilection for the cold. This shuttlebay had obviously been warmed up a little in anticipation of the arriving turncoats. She also noticed the very interesting mix of compassion from the blue-suited medical officers, and angst from the red-suited security officers standing watch from the catwalks. The guards were an understandable precaution, she admitted, just in case someone took advantage of their good gesture to attack their ship from the inside.

Looking around, E’la counted only a few dozen or so defectors. Again, this was lamentable, but considering that the crew compliment of the Purgatory was about three times larger than they had determined the Andoria’s to be, this was not all together a bad thing.

The ten minute window had just expired, E’la realized. She would loved to have seen the Purgatory falling behind the escaping Starfleet ship, but exiting the room at the moment just to look out of a window was out of the question. She finally leaned up against one of the crates as a doctor began to examine her, and settled in.

Far above E’la, on the bridge, Thilyn was regaining his composure in his chair after is excursion into that flying perdition. He noted the time on his seat’s built in displays. “Any more transporter activity from the pods?” he inquired to F’beytha.

“No, sir,” she answered from the ops station. “Nothing more at all.”

Thilyn sighed. Their count had only been 78 defectors to come aboard…out of a crew of 3,000. “Very well,” he conceded. “Detonate them.”

On the main viewscreen, multiple explosions tore across the hull of the Purgatory. Surprisingly little of the eruption was externalized. Thilyn realized that the open hatches on the pods had spewed the fires into the interior rooms and corridors a few microseconds obliterating their own hulls. Very few seconds after the initial blasts, the now open wounds on the hull erupted as the ignited oxygen exhaled into space. This didn’t last very long either as their emergency bulkheads were brought down.

But, the ship was crippled. The Andoria’s instruments and display screens confirmed this. The lights in their tower, which contained their bridge was even beginning to flicker and fail. This ship was no longer a threat. It would survive, but it would need a long time to heal.

“Cadet, set a course for the nearest point along the Federation border space. Engage slipstream drive as soon as possible,” Thilyn ordered.

“Setting and engaging, Captain,” was the reply.

*          *          *

Doctor Rasson’s sickbay was still a cacophony of activity, even though the ship itself was finally departing for safer harbors. Altogether, during the encounter with the Purgatory, six security personnel had been critically injured; one of those had been fatal. This was on top of one dead-on-arrival hostage, and another failing fast, and then the ship’s first officer had been severely wounded during hand-to-hand combat.

This entire mission had pushed their emergency trauma skills to their limits. The last of the previous patients—the Federation hostages—had just been released into guest quarters…which were filling up fast. To complicate things further, a majority of her staff had recently been sent to the shuttlebay to examine an incoming group of defectors; most of whom Orions, she understood. When this was over Rasson was going to owe a lot of rest time and commendations to most of her staff.

Tallasa had been beamed directly in to the surgical bay, and was being prepped by one of the medical attendants ahead of Rasson’s arrival. The rest of her party was still beside her when she materialized into the still-open bay, except for Somal who had been beamed promptly into a stasis unit. T’hæth was promptly wrapped in warm clothing by a nearby nurse. In the interim, Latii was picking herself up off of the ground with the help of another nurse who was also gently clothing her.

Latii’s mind was still clouded from the hallucinations. Her long experience with Tallasa didn’t want to believe to be true the violence that her lover had inflicted. But, the fantasy had been so realistic that she had actually bled and bruised in response to it. She timidly pulled away from the nurse and touched Tallasa’s hand so delicately, still subconsciously fearing a brutal outcome.

Tallasa’s broken body couldn’t move properly to reassure her zh’yi of her loving intentions. T’hæth, who was standing just beyond the surgical bay while adjusting her new clothes, took note of the zhen’s psychological damage.

“Latii, whatever you experienced in Vat’shen’s laboratory,” T’hæth explained gently, “it wasn’t real. Did his experiments involve your sh’za?”

Latii nodded. “In my mind, he made me think that she was…beating me,” she sobbed.

“It was not real,” T’hæth reaffirmed. “Tallasa did not strike you. In fact, she fought her way in to that laboratory in order to rescue you. I know that it’s hard to separate the implanted memories from the real one, but you must try.”

Latii hung her head a little lower. Her mind was a blender of contradictions.

Doctor Rasson finally made her way to the surgical bay after overseeing the other patients. She immediately addressed T’hæth before entering the bay itself. “I’m sorry, but Somal isn’t going to recover. Did you personally know him?”

“No, Doctor,” T’hæth replied calmly. “Our synchronized imprisonment was entirely coincidental. We both simply happened to be travelling through the spaceport at the same time.”

“I see,” Rasson stated. “Well, the Trellium-D exposure was so rapid and concentrated that his central nervous system had almost completely come apart. His mind is nothing but a jumble now. There’s no one left to save, and when we finally take him out of stasis his brain’s autonomic functions for his organs will shut down within hours.

“I think that we should keep him in stasis and have him ferried back to Vulcan for now,” Rasson explained. “I realize that you’re nothing even resembling next of kin, but—forgive me—as the only Vulcan present right now, I wanted to get your informal opinion.”

“It does seem the only logical solution at hand, Doctor,” T’hæth agreed.

“Thank you,” Rasson offered before excusing herself into the surgical bay.

Just as she was approaching the patient, the doors opened at the far end of sickbay, and Malô and Ech’t came rushing towards Tallasa’s bed. Latii spotted them, and rushed to embrace them near the foot. When they got a good look at Tallasa’s trodden carcass the thaan and chen lost their senses for a moment.

“Tallasa, speak to us,” Ech’t pleaded.

Before the situation could get out of hand, Rasson ordered the medical attendants to hold them back. “I need everyone who isn’t necessary out of the surgical bay. If you want to stay and watch from the other side of the sterilization field, that’s fine. But, do so from over there so that we can have room to work,” Doctor Rasson motioned to a set of biobeds against the far wall within view of the bay’s doorway. “We can save her. However, I have to warn you, it isn’t going to be a pretty sight.”

The Maolts all silently agreed to the Doctor’s instructions and withdrew.

*          *          *

The nearest point along the Federation border had put them very near to Starbase 114 in the Celes System, well within Federation space. They had even been able to hail two Starfleet vessels (the U.S.S. Exeter and the U.S.S. Mokseong (목성))patrolling along the border to stand by in case any Klingon border patrols tried to attack. Mercifully, none did.

Their entire ordeal may have only lasted a day or so, thanks to their advanced slipstream drive, but the bridge crew still seemed to breathe just a little easier when the sight of the Starfleet orbital base finally appeared on the main viewscreen. Not one of them had been able to sleep or rest while the mission was happening. The respite was going to be very welcome.

“Commander Cleveland is hailing us,” Shynon announced from the tactical station.

The absence of Tallasa was still very noticeable. Having her back at her post would be the only way to perfectly end this mission. Medical reports indicated that she was still in surgery, where she had been since they had left the Gorn behind about fifty minutes ago.

Thilyn had made a special note in his mind of her report while skimming over all of the incoming information which he would later have to relay into an official log. Her list of injuries had been worrisomely extensive. The only thing to do about it, however, was to leave sickbay alone so that they could tend to Tallasa’s needs.

“On screen,” Thilyn ordered.

Andoria, welcome back,” said the Earthling with the shaved head and scarred eye. “Was the mission a success?”

“Mostly, yes,” Thilyn accounted. “All but the two of the hostages were safely recovered, and as a bonus seventy-eight defectors from the Klingon Empire on board…including a Liaison Officer.”

“Two unrecovered? Were they out of reach?” Cleveland asked.

“No. Unfortunately, they were killed before we could reach them,” Thilyn informed him. “We also suffered some casualties in our rescue attempt, including my XO, and one fatality.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Captain. My condolences,” the station commander offered. “You’re clear to berth at Docking Bay 3. I’m sure that the hostages are eager to move along home.”

“Very much so,” Thilyn agreed. “Not to mention that we’re running out or guest rooms over here.”

“I can imagine,” Cleveland sympathized. “No worries, though. The U.S.S. Umhloti, the U.S.S. Karmøy, and the U.S.S. Kalar are standing by to take all of the Federation nationals to their respective homes. We’ll notify our counselors and the diplomatic corps present  on the station of the defectors to be debriefed.”

“Thank you, Commander,” Thilyn said. “We’ll be docked here for a little over a week, I think. But, we also have some science teams to pick up. We left them rather suddenly at an archeology site.”

“Understood,” Cleveland acknowledged. “Starbase 114, out.”

“Cadet Zoryhnta, take us in,” Thilyn ordered.

 

Chapter 19

“Epilogue”

For the last three days the U.S.S. Andoria had been docked, utilizing Starbase 114’s facilities. The Federation passengers, except for Tallasa’s spouses, had been sent on their way back to safe harbor. Tallasa herself was recovering gradually after 13 hours of emergency surgery, and another two days of ICU.

She was finally allowed to move about the ship freely, but not allowed to return to duty. This was fine with her as whole areas of her body were still aching. Moreover, the Andoria’s only real scheduled plan was to return to Utopia Planitia Shipyards in the Sol Star System in two weeks to commence with decommissioning. Along the way, they were going to stop by the Alpha Pictoris Star System to retrieve the science teams that they had hastily left behind when the rescue mission was set in motion. There was no reason for her not to take it easy.

She did, however, have a personal request of Captain Thilyn, and had arrived in his office to discuss the matter. She wished that her mobility chair hadn’t been necessary, but Doctor Rasson had made certain the she was strapped in tightly before releasing her. The doctor didn’t want any undue strain on Tallasa’s legs before the sub-dermal sutures could thoroughly finish healing her pelvic bones and organs, which meant another day confined to the device.

“How are you feeling, Tal?” Thilyn asked politely.

“Please, don’t ask me that, sir,” she huffed a little. “I’m so sick of people asking me that.”

“I understand,” the Captain smiled. “The question is withdrawn.”

“Thank you, Captain. At any rate, I’m here to request a small leave of absence,” she informed him. “With Latii’s psychological damage, I feel like I need to be at home with my family for a short time.”

“I understand your reasoning,” Thilyn said. “But still, coming from you, that is still a startling request. I’ve had to almost throw you out the airlock to take shore leave sometimes.”

“I’m aware of that, sir,” she admitted. “Nevertheless, I have the leave time accumulated, and I would like to take it.”

“I agree, Commander. I am not denying the request at all,” he pointed out. “I’m just pleasantly surprised. When are you planning to come back, though? We’re due to decommission in less than a month, and we’ll be launching the Andoria-A a week after that with shakedown scheduled for the following twenty days. Will you have time to pack your cabin?”

“Not a problem, sir,” she assured him. “I can meet up with the ship a week after it docks at Utopia Planitia. As for belongings, my spouses and I are planning to depart tomorrow aboard the U.S.S. Dathon, bound for Earth, and disembark near Andoria aboard a runabout. With the four of us, I feel that we can get my cabin packed and ready in that amount of time so that it can be easily moved when we meet up again.”

“Good plan,” he agreed. “I’ll have the movers take good care of your collections.”

A door chime entered the room, interjecting into the conversation. Thilyn granted permission for entry, and their first Orion turncoat entered the room very formally. Tallasa was glad that she would not have to deal with D’nava for much longer.

D’nava stood almost at attention when she stopped in front of the Captain’s desk. “Sir, I have a personal request,” she informed him.

“That seems to be a running theme today,” he joked. “Please, sit down…and, go ahead.”

“I have been meeting with your ambassadors and counselors on the starbase,” she informed him. “They have been questioning me as to my loyalties, which I fully recognize the reasons for. However, now that they are convinced of my sincerity, they have asked me what my future plans are. What do I want to do? Where do I want to live? Those sorts of questions.

“I requested a little time to think about it, since I hadn’t really planned that far ahead, and they granted me two days,” she continued. “Anyway, if it were possible, I would like to remain aboard the Andoria; with your permission, of course.”

Both of the Andorians eyes went wide, although for different reasons. “Captain, I must object to this notion,” voiced the XO.

Thilyn knew his first officer’s concerns without needing to hear them further. But, he was not going to make old scars the sole reason for his decision. “D’nava, we are a Starfleet vessel. Not a civilian transport or a colony ship. Why would you want to reside here?”

“I’m fully aware of that, and all that it implies,” she assured him. “But, I was born in space, I was raised in space, and I’ve lived in space almost my entire life. I wouldn’t be comfortable on a planet. And, since most of my…‘residencies’ have been on military type ships, I am fully prepared for that aspect. Plus, your crew has been nothing but kind to me. I feel safe here for pretty much the first time, ever.”

“We’ve been escorting you around stations with guards, and monitoring your every movement with the computer,” Tallasa pointed out. “How is that being kind?”

“Perhaps, on the surface, this would seem mistrustful to others,” she confessed. “However, for most of my life until now I have been treated like a possession. I’ve been locked away in rooms when I’m not wanted, and only let out on actual leashes to be paraded in front of my owners’ friends as a prized acquisition. By comparison, you and your crew have been lavishly accommodating.”

“Okay, all of that aside,” Thilyn brought up, “what would you do here? What function could you perform?”

“I’ve been reviewing Starfleet protocols regarding civilians, Captain,” D’nava said. “It is of course, totally at you discretion. However, I am an excellent computer technician; I think that I’ve proven that. I could serve as a Civilian Advisor to the Engineering department.”

Thilyn was considering this idea, and his XO could see it.

“This is a bad idea, sir,” Tallasa maintained.

Thilyn weighed the possibilities in his mind. “Starfleet is due to decommission this ship shortly and transfer us to a totally new starship,” he informed the Orion. “I have no objections to you residing here, as long this is cleared with the Diplomatic Corps. We will consider your time from now until that decommissioning to be a trial period. If I am pleased with your integration into our crew, you may come aboard the Andoria-A with us when we leave. If I am not pleased, you will part company with us on Sol IV when we arrive. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” D’nava said excitedly. “Thank you, sir.” She almost bounded out of her chair and out the room, and then caught herself and sat back down. She was trying very hard to observe Starfleet etiquette.

“Dismissed,” he told her with a grin.

“Captain, she’s an Orion and a former Klingon national,” Tallasa objected after D’nava had left the room. “She is going to be unruly.”

“That’s a little presumptuous, Commander,” the Captain corrected her, still smiling. “On the other hand, the sooner that you return the sooner that you can keep her in line.”

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