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Line of No Return

Posted on Mon Aug 5th, 2019 @ 3:42pm by Captain Mrazak & Lieutenant JG Jaya Maera Garlake & Lieutenant Commander BaoJun Qiao & Lieutenant Sophie Xiong & Lieutenant JG Grace Sternwood Ph.D. & Gunnery Sergeant Roderik Kos & Ferrofax & Lieutenant Commander Kazyah Linn & Lieutenant Commander Garai Fenia PhD

Mission: S1E3: Barbarians at the Gates
Location: Strategic Operations Conference Room | Deck 1 - USS Phantom
Timeline: MD 3

Mrazak snorted awake to a crick in his neck and a stiff back. After contacting the Office of Special Investigations, he'd thought to catch a few winks. Rather than moments, hours had passed. It was now early morning by ship's time according to the chronometer on the wall. What had awakened him?

=/\="I repeat, Bridge to Mrazak."=/\=

"Oh... right." Mrazak tapped his combadge. "Go ahead, Bridge."

=/\="We've exited the Valoris Nebula, Commander."=/\=

And entered Cardassian space, Mrazak thought. "Carry on. Alert me when we're on approach to Soukara. Mrazak out."

Time was ticking, and he needed a plan. Looking up to the ceiling, he said, "Ferrofax, perform active long-range scans on Soukara. We need to know what to expect."

"Accessing all passive arrays," Ferrofax spoke, a contemplative note to his voice. "Huum. I am detecting a sizeable fleet presence in the system. Multiple Keldon class vessels in a variety of patrol orbits. Pulse resonance of their antimatter intermix at this range is fuzzy, but I'd bet money they were produced at the Obsidian Order shipyards we're not meant to know about in the Orais system. A case of secrecy trumping design competency. If we're to face off against Keldons from the Shadow Works, I'm confident of a highly skewed kill ratio in our favour."

A mixed bag of good and bad. Doable. With that settled, Mrazak needed to get his personnel in order. Of course, that job was best delegated to others whenever possible, but desperate times called for desperate measures.

"Mrazak to Linn," he said, his combadge chirping. "I need to see you in the conference room. Please stick Karna Zsan somewhere secure beforehand."

=/\="Would an airlock be secure enough?"=/\= was the reply that came from the blind Intelligence agent.

"Only if he resists," Mrazak said. "And please hurry." Please? Just what was wrong with him?

There was no response from the Intel officer, but a few minutes later, a chime rang at the door.

"That had better be a blind telepath!" Mrazak yelled at the door.

Kaz entered, wearing his uniform pants and a black tank top, which was a bit out of place for him, but he was off duty, so not necessarily out of protocol. "What'd you need?" he asked as he entered.

"You withheld mission data from me," Mrazak said candidly. "Project Red Route. SFI hasn't seriously considered collusion between Species 8472 and the Cardassians because they already suspected weaponized portals to fluidic space and even had a handful of planets where this research development likely took place. My only question is why you would jerk me around, Linn, yet I expect the answer lies somewhere between a blind loyalty to your intelligence community and a personal animus against myself. Therefore, I wanted you present while I brief my field team with the information they should have received back on Overwatch Station. Ferrofax, if you would be so kind as to elaborate on what you found on Soukara."

Despite the accusation, Kaz said nothing while Ferrofax shared his readings.

"I have detected the presence of numerous fusion reactors consistent with Cardassian Nor class facilities on the planet's surface. That is consistent with SFI reports on the main power array for the facility, and their current output suggests the Fourth Dominion base is not only online but operating in high capacity mode. I can also confirm the presence of a quantum resonance signature that matches both the T'ien system and the Valoris Nebula." Ferrofax mentioned.

"Aha!" Mrazak shouted to the empty room, on his feet and finger raised. "We have them now!" Realizing the rest of the team was not yet present, Mrazak smoothed out his dirty uniform from the day before and then tapped his combadge. "Mrazak to Field Team. I want everybody in the Strategic Operations Conference Room. Immediately!"

"Perhaps having them all present on the bridge when we enter a hazard zone might cut down on the dramatic proclamations?" Ferrofax mused thoughtfully.

"Negative." Mrazak's tone turned low and authoritative. "We're going hunting." Realizing his miscommunication, he quickly and awkwardly corrected himself. "Well, not 'we.' I will stay on the bridge while others go. Yes, that."

The summons went out to the field team despite the early hour. Perhaps they were also asleep; perhaps they were on a different shift. It made no difference to Mrazak. They had some planning to do.

Looking for all the world as if she had never been to bed- nor even ever needed to go to bed- Sophie appeared in the conference room and was satisfied to know that aside from their CO, she was the first to arrive. "Good morning, sir," she greeted crisply, taking a seat at the table.

Before Mrazak had a chance to respond, not that he had intended to, Fenia made her entrance. Between her commanding officer and her new colleague, Fenia chose a seat closer to Sophie. Saying nothing and sparing only nods, she set down her PADD full of notes with a hard click against the table top.

Rodi quietly entered and took his customary seat, at the far end of the room with only walls behind him. He nodded at the people at the table in general.

"Huum...I could transport them from the corridor, but why rob any of you of the meagre sense of free will and agency that is already vanishingly small?" Ferrofax said, materialising into the conference room in his holographic avatar. Frock coat, high collar, he looked the role of the manor lord who would be more than willing to let a stranded traveller stay the night. And pray, don't fret on the rumours of missing villagers or the howls of 'very distant' wolves.

The thought was tempting, but Mrazak recalled the last time he authorized such a maneuver. Two naked doctors. An Article 15 investigation. And... demotion. It had taken a stroke of good fortune and no small feat of bureaucratic finagling to bounce back from that. "No, Ferrofax, that is quite all right. I will personally deal with any truancy afterward."

Bao slid into the room a few minutes later, an very large cup of very hot tea in his hand. The circles under his eyes said he had stayed awake the entire time the ship was in Valoris. He slid into a seat, "Apologies, commander. I refuse to leave Lieutenant Dedeker on the bridge unsupervised."

Lost in his recollections and embittered resentments toward Captain ben-Avram who had his... lady friend... transferred away, Mrazak did not acknowledge Bao's truancy excuse.

Storr and Jaya slid in together with Grace nipping at their heels.

"Finally," Mrazak muttered. He checked the chronometer. "It appears Doctor Kiril will not be joining us, so he will have to play catch-up..." His tone promised extreme prejudice. "Before you should be a data PADD that provides details pertinent to this investigation which were previously withheld from our initial briefing. The entirety of SFI's project files on Red Route are a tedious read, so I will elucidate on the main points: we have followed a trail of quantum resonance from Federation space through the Valoris Nebula into Cardassian space. It ends in one of the planets from Starfleet Intelligence's list of potential hot seats for Project Red Route, which is--and you won't believe this." Mrazak chuckled with barely suppressed frustration. "A suspected weapon that opens a portal to fluidic space and draws bio-ships into the immediate vicinity of deployment! That would have been very useful at the outset, wouldn't you all agree?"

Sophie's first thought was annoyance, but her brain worked quickly through scenarios as a general rule, and so she thought that perhaps they hadn't wanted to taint the team's findings. Perhaps that was it, and perhaps not, but she wasn't going to dwell on it. What'd done is done, after all.

"Pray Admiral Huang never finds out any of this," was Bao's contribution. "Though I begin to understand her hatred of the term 'need-to-know' basis at it seems people who use that term are very bad judges as what constitutes a need."

"I shared everything I had," Kaz said at length. There was potentially more to share -- conflicting orders from various subdivisions of Starfleet Intelligence, the fact that files had been withheld from him, the total surprise that was Arkady Sjet and his unnamed accomplices in pursuit of Karna Zsan. But the slice of humble pie that he was served back in the bathhouse left him feeling a little out of sorts. He would not admit to being left out of the loop in front of these people.

Mrazak allowed a withering glare to linger on Kazyah before continuing. "We're proceeding to Soukara at maximum warp. They may know we're coming, or they may be evacuating due to an unknown factor. Either way, our mission is clear: we must exploit any openings in their exit strategy and obtain hard proof that will shed light on the full situation. Should we obtain a prototype or schematics for this beacon of death, then we can write our own ticket for years to come." He cleared his throat and summoned his command voice. "That means I want a team... squad... whatever... prepped and ready to deploy at a moment's notice. Who's with me?!"

"I will have an assault team standing by," Rodi replied.

"As much as I personally detest violence, I cannot deny its utility here," Mrazak said. "I had hoped to employ some finer skills in the operation, however." His eyes lazily but heavily fell upon Bao, Sophie, Fenia, and Grace. "Officers who would be able to identify and obtain mission critical data."

Rodi looked at the commander for a moment, considering his words. "The chances of a successful assault will diminish greatly if you attach non-combat members to the team. My suggestion is to bring them in after we've secured the area."

"Secure the area?" Mrazak scoffed. "We are not going to war here, Sergeant! This is a sneak and snatch, or whatever you door-kickers call it. Unless you can quickly identify, access, and retrieve sensitive technological equipment, which of course you can't, then you will be escorting one or more thinking officers who will do just that." He threw an incredulous glance at Storr and scoffed again. "Marines. You'll drive me to Logic at this rate."

"I can reasonably guarantee the safety of one non-combatant. More than that and the entry team will be too big too move swiftly enough." Rodi said, frustrated but knowing he would be overruled if he objected.

"I think he's talking about me, and as lovely as it was cramming my processing kernel into a tricorder, I do not wish to do that again," Ferrofax spoke up from the ceiling. "Though...a thought. A distraction would aid in the infiltration of the facility by a covert strike team would it not? I could employ a small flotilla of long-range probes as decoys masquerading as a Starfleet battle group warping in and hiding in the shadow of the gas giant. With enough processing power I could even simulate the tactical network they'd need. At least enough EM noise to make the Cardassian's think they were having a major battle in a few hours and pull their forces away from the facility. They'd be looking for a hammer, not a sneak thief."

"That's actually a really good idea," said Sophie before she could stop herself. Then, glancing around surreptitiously, she added, "you know, for a computer," in a convincingly nonchalant tone.

"And that was a passable compliment for a meat sausage with delusions of grandeur," Ferrofax said, a note of humour to his words.

"Then it's settled!" Mrazak announced with enthusiastic staccato clapping. "Sergeant, assemble a suitable escort to sneak Commander Qiao and Commander Garai into the research center where they will obtain the hard evidence we require. Lieutenants Xiong and Sternwood will assist Ferrofax in diversionary tactics with whatever means necessary to keep the evacuating Cardassians looking in the wrong direction. Maybe we'll just get out of here without being detected." A thought suddenly occurred to Mrazak. "Actually, this would be a fantastic opportunity to field test the new M.A.R.S. system. Deploy the Multi-Adaptive Refractive Shielding protocols to the main deflector as soon as warp allows!"

Fenia nodded quietly and cast a glance at Bao. This wouldn't be her first field mission with Rodi and knew the sergeant was more than capable, but she couldn't help but wonder how the Lagashi would fare.

Bao spared a glance at Fenia, but spoke to Rodi. "Unless you were holding back far too much in our sparring match, I will be fine," he said. "If the fighting gets bad enough for that not to be true, then we have failed miserably and will likely not be getting what we are after anyway."

"What exactly am I going to do to help the computer create diversions? From what I know of the computer it shouldn't really have a problem," Grace spoke, for the first time in the meeting. Her tone wasn't usually her shy, what am I doing here, but a stern I'm not interested.

"Well put," Ferrofax conceded. "Adding a human being into the event chain for the ruse add's a potential risk of catastrophic failure."

"Then consider it a teaching moment," Mrazak said to them both, then muttered under his breath, "Besides, we all know you aren't supposed to be let off your leash."

"What about the rest of us?" Jaya asked, having been quiet up to this point.

Mrazak flinched at the question. Why should he have to occupy any personnel superfluous to the current operation? "I don't know. Go interview the people in the brig. That's in your purview, right?"

"Negative," Kazyah interrupted. "Karna Zsan is a telepath in my custody. Nobody goes near him without me."

"Then go with her," Mrazak said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "If there's no other questions, then I suggest we get moving. Soukara awaits!"

Bao paused a moment, but in the end his "good son" and "decent person" instincts won. "Commander," he said. "What do you plan on doing with Miss Zhan?"

"I'm given to understand from the colonel and the sergeant that our two unexpected guests are of no consequence," Mrazak replied. "We'll dump them off at the nearest Federation port with nondisclosure injunctions tied around their necks." He looked around. "If there's nothing else, then let's see this done."


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