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Faustian Gamble

Posted on Fri Mar 18th, 2022 @ 5:11pm by Captain Mrazak & Lieutenant JG Ryland Dedeker & Lieutenant JG Jaya Maera Garlake & Ensign Nandi Chakma & Lieutenant Colonel Storr Garlake & Lieutenant Commander BaoJun Qiao & Lieutenant Commander Finley Chu & Lieutenant Sophie Xiong & Gunnery Sergeant Roderik Kos & Ferrofax & Calderon Jarsdel & Lieutenant Commander Leonora Wolf MD & Lieutenant Teejay & Master Warrant Officer Alexei Sokolov & Chief Petty Officer Reggie Hawthorn

Mission: S1E5: Symphony of Horror
Location: various
Timeline: MD 3

USS Phantom

"So here we are," Mrazak said to the Phantom's bridge and the ship-wide channel he had opened. "Embarking on a tremendous gamble that has but one and only one chance to succeed. I cannot emphasize this too strongly for everyone: Do not spa'ash it up."

They had gone over the plan at length, and then went over it again for good measure for the benefit of Storr, Cal, and the Johnny-Come-Latelys they'd nicked away from Deep Space 9.

Step 1: Negotiate a deal with Santra.

Step 2: Acquire all data and material resources pertaining to the Dhampir vector-virus by whatever means necessary.

Step 3: Remove all trace of said deal.

Step 4: Return to base.

As far as plans went, it wasn't the worst Mrazak had ever concocted. It wasn't even the first where he had posed as a buyer of illicit materials and technology. But it was the first where the clock ticked against him.

Taking a breath, one which tasted stale thanks to his exosuit, Mrazak said, "All stations, report status."

"I am trying to make repairs!" came Sophie's irritable reply. "Don't interrupt me. Unless you want a broken ship, of course." This was obviously not ideal, but she didn't point that out. After all, if Mrazak didn't know it was ideal to have a ship functioning at peak efficiency, he was dumber than she thought. And it wasn't as if the repairs were vital- it was all minor stuff- but she didn't want to take any chances. While the odds of a catastrophic cascade were very thin, they were certainly not zero.

Bao looked up from the science station, bemused. He'd worked out a containment field that Sunny could trip virtually instantaneously to trap Mrazak if needed. Beyond that, he has been considering a dastardly plan. One he even thought Mrazak might be willing to go for. "Science labs are ready, maximum isolation protocols online in the vault, and I am sure Ferrofax is prepared to obliterate the contents of the vault should that fail. He gave Mrazak a look, "And, if you have a moment, I also have a... dastardly... idea that just might make your day."

"I am listening," Mrazak said with a suspicious sidelong stare.

Since the Vulcan was wearing an exosuit with a HUD, Bao elected to print out the idea for the Vulcan, instead of voicing it to the entire bridge. ~I cannot help but remark that you seem to have something against all things Ingram. I am not feeling all that benevolent towards them myself at the moment. It would not be difficult, perhaps, to arrange a small 'leak' implicating Ingram in the development of bioweapons. That blowback alone would be bad enough, but if we were to arrange for whatever we can get of their research on the revised treatment to make it to the public as well, political winds would almost guarantee that the Corvan government would drop them altogether in favour of working with a different competitor. An added bonus being if the base research were leaked by, say, one of those ridiculous absolute freedom of information groups, it might even result in the divorce not replacing Ingram with any other sole source.~

That was outside the scope of their mission, but Mrazak could not help but appreciate the Lagashi's sinister knack for retribution. Currently the patent holder for NOS-4-A2 lied with the Ingrams as the owners of Pathos BioMed, but that was a matter for the antitrust courts to settle. The Corvans were a hardy people, by all accounts, so surely they would survive any logistical or political fallout. "Do it," Mrazak said, "but nothing classified beyond Level 3."

Bao smiled internally. He wasn't known for his superior people skills but the Vulcan was ridiculously easy to bait, even for a complete novice. The proper well placed leak on this would ensure the Corvans continued to receive treatment, and a treatment for the new variant would become available. It might even place some pressure on the Federation Council to reconsider the petitions to allow research into gene-editing based eradication of the Corvan's unfortunate chronic condition.

"All weapon systems are standing by. Quantum torpedoes loaded, tricobalt devices on standby." Rodi stated.

As Storr was standing less than six feet away from Mrazak, a somewhat-miffed grunt was all he offered the Vulcan. The current mission held little interest to him, especially as Jaya rapidly approached her due date. The sooner this circus concluded, the better.

Having no bridge station, Cal had found himself a comfortably wide corner of the observation deck in which to conduct a deeply intrusive mutual and internal interrogation. His knowledge of their target was zero beyond this recent update, but Jumik had a little brain-data to mine. Imbibing fruit tea and cookies, the hybrid mix of human-Betazoid-Lethean maintained that personal conference that raged noisily within his own head, but provided outward silence.

Teejay had happily and shamelessly stolen Leah's time, company and attention with a debate around this new, boldly illegal move by the borderline insane and usefully defiant Captain. Fun times ahead, of that he had no doubt, and with good company, those difficult journeys were the most enjoyable waste of time. He still harboured a lingering empathy for the Corvan Situation, but the half-Vulcan had accepted this new twist of his fate and was settled in for the wild ride.

Exchanging a worried look with Khaiel and Nandi, Jaya did her best to project aplomb and serenity. Truth be told, it was all she could do to hold it together. The past few days would have been trying for anyone. These two ensigns were green as grass and under Mrazak's command. Somebody had to look out for them. "I think we're good over here," Jaya called out to Mrazak.

That snapped Nandi to attention. "Uh...sensors read...stable." She bit her lip, realizing how unnecessary that sounded upon hearing it aloud. Fortunately, Mrazak did not seem to care.

Once everyone had chimed in with their ready status, lack thereof, or general dissatisfaction, Mrazak cut the channel.

"Ferrofax," he said to the ceiling, as if that was the only way the AI would know Mrazak was addressing him. "We're entering the sector where those flight logs you dug up last placed our quarry. Find us a plague doctor and make him an offer he can't refuse."

"He says it as though it were a simple matter of pulling a ticket from a raffle," Ferrofax grumbled. On the view screen a simplified map of orbital space surrounding Janner's World. At a glance, you might think it had a meagre, threadbare ring system through which a number of orbital stations and yards floated. But every now and then a ship's drive would fire, sending a ripple of collision avoidance warnings through the parking swarm of ships encircling Janner's World. "I have close to four thousand starships in orbit of Janner's World, ranging from a trio of Starfleet corvettes as part of the system defence force, a Rish caravan, a Pakled vessel in three parts. The rest are bulk transports, dumb AI driven cargo sleds, bulk people movers. All of them moving into and out of orbit, all communicating with each other and the ground as well as space side traffic control."

There was a tisk sound from the speakers, as though Ferrofax had drawn in a breath the same way a school headmaster might hold up a hand to silence a dim-witted child.

"And before you ask, with the network load that mesh net of comms arrays created, it will take an entire day for me to send out a single ping, with the speed of light comms network bouncing back and forth between them all. it explains why some of those ships have been in orbit for a year or more, awaiting clearance to offload cargo," Ferrofax sighed. "Fortunately the Captain of the Charming Delights has a gambling problem, and his bookie on Janner's World has his private yacht on an intercept course to meet him."

The map zoomed in on part of the parking swarm, revealing the 'truck-trailer' design of the old J-class transport. The modular cargo pod's were each subtly different, either manufactured in different locations or by people who were really bad at using CAD software. Or crayons. Probably crayons. "I've sent an alert to the three Starfleet corvettes to intercept the bookie's yacht, which they seem to think is a cookhouse for Ketracell White according to the files I uploaded to them. I've also...right this moment spiked the Charming Delight's computer core. She's dead in the water, and the crew are none the wiser of it."

"That's our cue!" Mrazak exclaimed. "Qiao, Kos, let's move. Cassandra, Teejay, you too. We'll need you to confirm the package. And get the mind reader. Everyone else, monitor the situation, keep us updated, and remember the plan." The next words made Mrazak choke. "Garlic has the conn." Looking straight at Storr, he added, "If anything moves, disable it. Santra cannot get away."

"Aye, sir." Garlake replied cooly. After all this time he still hadn't sussed out if Mrazak was trying to get his goat or had truly forgotten his name but it ultimately didn't matter...Storr's personal professionalism and honor overrode the desire to respond in a far more regrettable way.

A quick grin brightened Teejay's face and lit the dark eyes that turned swiftly to Leah the second after he gave Mrazak an obedient nod. "Piracy," he noted quietly. "My favourite."

Bao moved towards the elevator, double-checking that, this time, for once he was appropriately armed: a phaser and a collapsable dao. Of course, he figured, since he brought them this time they would be unnecessary, but he'd had quite enough of people trying to kill him over the last several missions.

"Do you want to shock the crew of the freighter into submission by beaming directly onto the bridge, or would you prefer the sneaky path as there is a vacant passenger cabin ideal for ingress," Ferrofax enquired.

Mrazak considered for a moment. "Let us commence with a show of force," he said at length.

Leah could hardly believe that Mrazak was still in service, with such an attitude and the NPD complex the size of the galaxy. Once, she'd thought Karna was bad, but this guy took the cake. She made one call that the brass didn't like and her team got shut down. How did this guy still operate? At least Karna she could understand. His frame of mind was surprisingly straightforward, for a person with his condition. Mrazak? Wolf couldn't make heads nor tails of him. The fact that Teejay was coming with her gave a bit of comfort, and the fact that someone as solid as Fin was there too, put her unease a little more at ease. Only a little.

An armed Rodi stood behind the officers. A Type 3 phaser on his back, Type 2 on his hip, and a combat knife hidden on his back. He looked annoyed.

"Ya'all don't mind, I'm gonna stay right here," Reggie said with a tip of his hat. "Got me a hankering to tinker with something special like. In case we get from Klingon's clinging on. Been thinking about something unique that old Ferrofax might find enjoyable."

"I doubt it, but stranger things have happened." Ferrofax mused. "Prepared to energise on your command."

"Do it."

Passenger Transport Charming Delights

The bridge of the Charming Delights was several bridges in one. The centre seat came from a Ferengi DaiMon's Marauder, the helm station from a Cardassian cruiser, and the sensory station came free with a box of self-sealing stem bolts; That last one was the opinion of the tramp freighters engineer because looking out of a window would serve better than the sensor suite. All of this was surrounded in the bare bones of an ancient Type-J bulk transporter, with metal ribs on bare bulkheads, none of which shared the same colouration as their neighbours.

It was rumoured the air in the life support system only stayed in the hull because it had nowhere else to be.

Which suited the Rigellian captain of the Charming Delight splendidly, because he got paid by the hour and Janner's World space traffic control had great hold music. He got up out of the centre seat, interrupting the deep muscle massage feature that was a Godsend for these long haul flights, and got a cup of tea from the bridge replicator. He frowned as the matter was printed out on the replicator tray, the buzzing drone of the process sounding more loud and strident. He gave the unit a kick for good measure, and then picked up his tea and turned around...

To find...people? Passengers? No, not passengers. Passengers weren't allowed on the bridge and they definitely didn't have weapons. (At least that's his story if the customs people asked.)

Materializing, Bao immediately set about subverting and locking down the local computer network and controls. A few short seconds had the Federation seal plastered onto every screen: the benefit of a mishmash of ancient systems running on massively outdated hardware. He looked around quickly. The control room wasn't exactly abuzz with activity, but he planned to keep an eye out in case anyone tried anything cute while he waited for Kos or Mrazak, probably the latter all things considered, announced them and their purpose.

Leah shimmered into existence next, rifle in hand, quickly taking stock of the area and taking up a cover position.

Well wasn't this a junkyard owner's dream? Thought Teejay as he opened eyes onto the ramshackle, patchwork bridge. Looked like the owner/captain strongly favoured comfort which was a good sign, the faint sound of the big chair finishing a massage program was interrupted aurally by some pretty decent tunes and then on an olfactory level by the scent of freshly brewed tea. "Nice set-up," the half-Vulcan complimented as, phaser in hand, he stepped close to the nearest station and heavily implied it would be a bad idea for said occupant to draw their weapon.

Strong, silent, deadly armed, and a gaze that was everywhere and nowhere. Rodi stood besides the entry to the bridge. His armoured combat suit felt comfortable around him, a familiar weight that he was getting tired of not having whenever they ran into trouble.

Once everyone had fanned out into position, Mrazak stepped forward to address the Rigelian and tinted the faceplate of his exosuit in order to present the most imposing facade possible. "I am Captain Nobody off the Federation starship Neverwas conducting an unsanctioned interdiction action under the jurisdiction of Special Task Group Unqualified Immunity. We have an unscheduled appointment with one of your passengers--an elderly Bajoran man who would have paid extra for no questions and a blind eye to any and all discrepancies. You will direct my people to his location immediately, or we will withdraw in order to allow our ship's target lock to clean up this otherwise untidy situation. Do you understand my orders as I have given them to you?"

The Rigellian man stood from his chair and turned to the interlopers, "you what?" He said, clearly still processing the information as his Bridge crew reached for their weapons. "I don't know who you're talking about."

Black ops or not, murder of innocents was murder of innocents. For all intents and purposes these people were innocent so Leah stepped next to Mrazak, quickly flashing a warrant card, "this man is infected by a highly transmissible pathogen of IOYS virus. Your environmental protocols aren't nearly advanced enough to even catch it on your scans, let alone contain it. Under Directive 7 of the FHO, your ship is now under quarantine and cannot be allowed to reach your next destination. If you direct us to this person we can extract him and begin purging procedures which will allow the lifting of your quarantine. If you do not, I'm afraid we will have to go with option A." She said, nodding at Mrazak.

"And yet, worthy masters and mistresses, it is still a case of confuddlement on my fine self. I have a handful of Bajoran's as passengers, but none I would call Elderly. And no one who appears sick!" the Rigellian said, the angular dark skin patches that crossed his cheeks and eyes flashing a deep purple. "There is a travelling troupe of mummers, two Vedeks on sabbatical, and a Starfleet doctor escorting a young child. Now she could be ill, deathly pale the poor thing. Then again do not all humans look pale? He is quite diligent in his care of her, so he might know of the person you are seeking? I could...I could comm him over the ships PA?"

While irritated that Leah had blown his usual speech out of the water, Mrazak could nevertheless appreciate her alternative tactic. "Negative. You can sit your ignorant self down while my people conduct a search of this vessel." Looking to the away team, Mrazak said, "Pair off and identify anyone your tricorders detect with a Bajoran bio-sign--young, old, Bajoran, Cardassian, I don't care--" That thought stopped him in mid-sentence. Looking back to the Rigelian, Mrazak barked, "Are there any Cardassians on board?!"

Bao considered for a moment and then cut Mrazak off. Trust the Vulcan to miss the obvious due to his egomaniacal nature. "Forget Cardassians. Captain, did you say Starfleet doctor escorting a deathly pale young child?" He paused for a moment willing the rest of the away team to connect the dots with it being spelled out. "We shall start there. Where can we find this doctor, and I suggest you provide the information post haste, although I am afraid the precise reasoning is classified enough I'm not sure I could tell the Federation president why without clearing it first."

"What good would a Starfleet..." Mrazak trailed off for a moment before his eyes widened. "Yes! Do that! Now, I say!"

"Passenger Quarters, third container module along the spine!" the Rigellian said. "Please can you be careful? My passenger's liability insurance is not exactly as up to date as I would like to it be and I would be without financial support to aid any who would seek legal redress for your actions!"

"Task Group Unqualified Immunity," Mrazak drolly repeated before leaving the bridge with the rest of the team. "Not our concern."

"Your concern is cooperating with us and returning to port with healthy passengers no?" Leah asked but didn't wait for an answer as she darted off after Mrazak and Rodi.

Teejay brought up the rear of the boarding party as they moved, not keen to get too close to any pale kids who needed a doctor even if they did have eyes as black as night, which he kinda suspected this one did. It was an interesting team, this one, prone to acts of public theatre and he was still taking it all in with a sort of semi-detached sense of amusement, expecting very real help to be needed at any point.

And Cal, he didn't follow Mrazak's team at all, but remained on the bridge with the Rigellian. Here he could keep an eye on the crew and subliminally search for information via a far more covery and intrusive method.

USS Phantom

Storr strode across the small bridge and sat in the command chair, the curves, angles, and depressions left from the Vulcan in no way fitting his frame in the least. The Afrikaner barely had a moment to consider how Mrazak even deserved the seat before the tactical console beeped an alert.

"That can't be good," Ryland quipped. His custom settings routed tactical readings into his navigation display. "Sweet solar fire! We got four ships decloakin' on all sides. Profiles match the unknown Klingon vessel from the Theta-Corvus system!"

Sensor readings appeared on the main viewer showing just that. The picture split into separate quadrants which displayed the preliminary renderings of each ship's profile with the real-time action on display in the fourth grid square. And then the comms system sounded off with a double chime.

"Shit! We're being hailed by the lead ship!" Ryland said. "Guess they done made us too!"

"Calm down Ryland...if they wanted to kill us, they would have already. Let's see what they have to say." Storr said as he stood, giving a quick brush of his front to smooth any wrinkles. First impressions and all.

The main viewer switched from tactical readouts to the enlarged face of a wizened Klingon whose face was covered in an ornate earth-tone hood. "Yu-la-kuv jIH," said the elder Klingon in a gravelly voice. Evidently, his dialect was obscure enough that it delayed the Universal Translator. "Goch tlhop paw Pegh’obe Wij. Bol jegh'a', naDevvo' yIghoS! QeylIS ghom bImuvlaHbe'chugh Yu'pIn Hlj."

Just before he finished speaking, the UT deciphered his unusual dialect and began rendering his words in Federation Standard tone-for-tone in his gravelly voice: "I am the Grand Inquisitor. Well done on arriving before my Inquisition. Surrender the Bajoran and leave this place, or my Inquisitor shall deliver you to Kahless."

Grand Inquisitor? Between the odd dialect, his manner of dress, and the stories about the Klingons the crew had faced just before arriving at DS9, Storr was ready to believe anything. He had nothing to go on, though, other than what the man wanted. That, and a compliment...if there was anything rarer in the Klingon dialect, he had never heard of it.

"From one warrior to another, thank you. But like your Inquisitor, I myself am a man under authority...I cannot just surrender someone that I do not have the authority to give."

"Matlhongqu'. QeylIS QeylIS qa' je QeylIS!" the Grand Inquisitor shouted. By the time the Universal Translator figured out the meaning, the transmission already cut out. "To battle we go. Kahless, Kahless, glory to Kahless!"

With that, the Phantom rocked from incoming fire.

"Colonel, we just took hits from both flanks," Ryland reported. While under fire, he was far calmer than he had been a moment ago. Old training died hard for an old starfighter pilot at the stick. "Looks like the lead vessel is going after the Charming Delight."

"We fighting?!" Reggie's voice came over the com. "Never mind, nearly done with my tinkering! If you can get us close enough to one of them ships, you betcha I got something they'll like!"

Don’t break my ship!” Sophie complained via the comm. “Also, we did have full power to shields about two seconds ago, but I don’t know about now that you’ve got us into trouble!

"Calm your tits, dearie," Ryland said back through the channel. "Let ol' Daddy Ryland on the stick take care of this." Looking to Storr, he said, "I'm going into evasive maneuvers now. If you got any special notion about that, say so; otherwise, I'm gonna' do my thing."

Storr sat firmly in the sat, turning to Ryland with determination and a finger pointed at the conn officer. "Put us between them and the Charming Delight...make them work for it. Reggie," he said immediately after hitting the comm button on the seat's arm console, "how close do we need to be for your pig-in-a-poke to work? Sophie," he continued, thumbing the comm rocker to change channels to engineering, "I know I don't need to ask but I need you to keep that power to shields, we need to shield the away team with the Phantom." Thumbing the comm rocker yet again, the shipwide address tone sounded. "Battlestations!"

Looking around and satisfied at the crew's immediate response, Garlake began turning the problem over in his was he going to delay, let alone win a 4-on-1 space battle? As the ship rocked from a brace of fire against the shields, there was no better time than the present to find out.

Passenger Transport Charming Delights

The passenger module was set up with a number of private rooms, with a single common area connecting them. The rooms were sparse, and the common areas couch and rudimentary entertainment system were at least as old as the J-class itself, though the replicator neatly bolted to one wall at least looked like it had been serviced within the lifetime of Reggie Hawthorn. The three Bajoran actors were lounging about the couch, playing a game on the worn console screen that kept announcing 'TRIPLE KILL! MULTI KILL!! OVERKILL!!'. Incense wafted out of a closed-door that smelled...well it wasn't holy, but by the smell one of the Vedeks was going to be seeing a devil sooner or later.

And through an open door, was a pale dark-haired child in a white dress, kneeling on the floor of the cabin making a house of cards out of bright plastic wafers. She was humming something to herself, intermittently mumbling a word or two as she concentrated on adding another triangular arrangement to the house she was building.

"Ring-a-ring-a-rosies...A pocket full of posies..."

"You, girl!" Mrazak thrust an armored finger in her direction. "Where is your doctor?"

Rodi observed Mrazak shouting at the child through his faceplate and shook his head in annoyance. The marine popped retracted his faceplate. He screwed up his nose for a moment from the smell before kneeling down to the girl's level and tried the question again. He upped the thickness of his Irish brogue, softening the words with it. "Excuse me love, do you know where your doctor friend is?"

The young girl looked up, her eyes as black as coals. "The doctors not here," she said, turning her head back to her game as she carefully set another angled set of cards atop the others. "He had to go away, and he said to play my game whilst I waited."

Leah observed the room quickly. As sparse as a Bajoran refugee, almost playing to the clichee. There seemed to be no personal effects or containers or anything of the sort to indicate any sort of valuables being carried with them. Why would he travel with a child?

A thought hit Leah suddenly and she opened up her tricorder, setting it to scan the girl. What was the best way to carry samples if you didn't have actual containers? A living host.

Bao watched Leah begin scanning. He moved closer to her and said in a low voice, "Assuming you are thinking what I am thinking," he started quietly, "can you detect the payload with that tricorder, and how much of a danger does she pose to Rodi and the rest of us, and the other passengers?" He stopped for a moment and grimaced. He hoped, very much so, that the answers were yes, and virtually none. Everyone on the team had been forced into some unsavouriness, but putting down children for crimes committed by others would be a new low, even if he had no doubt they'd do it.

"Not much," came a voice from behind them. A man in his comfortable middle years, bearing the nasal ridges of a Bajoran, stood in the doorway to the common area. He was rubbing the side of his face, a personal grooming kit in his hand from where he'd just come from the bathroom facilities. He had the look of a man who enjoyed the sport of yachting, or golf and did so with the casual ease of the perpetually blessed. And were it not for his missing left ear, the wreckage of it a knotted scar on the side of his head, he almost looked handsome. "But then again you're looking in the obvious place. Let's be civil, and I'm sure we can part as friends on the road."

He turned his head, and smile on his lips as he locked eyes with Leonora.

"Dr Wolf! A pleasure to meet you. I heard about Delphi closing its doors, I'd have sent a condolence letter if I thought SFI wouldn't be gauche and read it before it reached you. Missives between peers should always be private," he said with all the sincerity of a razor blade. "And as I don't hear the creaking of deck plates, the Russian's not not Starfleet Medical's scrub wearing assassins. Nor do I hear mad cackling so it's not Division 14. Colour me curious, I have no idea what your colour coded band of followers are."

"Not yet, he's not." Leah thought as she threw on a pleasant smile, "Doctor Santra, I've heard so much about you, finally I get the pleasure." She said in a singsong voice, "I'm afraid I'm just the help in this one," she said motioning over to Mrazak, "this is the esteemed Doctor Le-Su, in charge of this colour-coded band."

Wolf motioned to both Rodi and Bao, as a way of acknowledging Bao's question she hadn't had the chance to answer, and as a way of motioning for Rodi to move away from the child just in case.

"That explains the chilly reception," Santra said with a huff. He then strode in as though he owned the place, walking into the midst of the Memory Theta operatives and settling down on his haunches beside the girl and her house of plastic cards. "But you'll find us a much warmer social pair. This is Pandora, daughter to the Corvan trade emissary to the Federation. I'm escorting her back to her family after a trip home."

"It's very good to meet you," Pandora said, looking at Santra. "Are they your friends?"

"The very best of friends, followers of my work," he said with a shrug. "I'd hoped they'd find us sooner. After all, I bought such expensive fireworks to get their attention, but they are here now."

Out in the common area, providing a one man audience to the three Bajorans' gaming session, Teejay listened keenly to the conversation between the others as he maintained a respectfully supportive distance. Never knew when back-up might be needed, and they had enough bodies in that room already.

Mrazak cleared his throat, a gesture made awkward from the static in his suit's vocal filter. "I have come to you in good faith, Doctor Santra, in order to purchase the fruit of your labor. Today I stand before you prepared to offer 50 gold-pressed latinum bars in exchange for the totality of your research--all data including notes, files, and secure backups, as well as physical samples you no doubt have nearby. The sooner we complete this transaction, the sooner you may be on your way."

"Or we take you, make you disappear, and keep pumping you full of KD3 interrogation serum until we have what we need." Rodi offered as he rose from the child. Rodi knew which option he preferred the doctor to take.

Bao took a step back to give Rodi room if he needed it, and himself room to use his own weapon if needed. He looked between Mrazak and Rodi for a moment wondering what had possessed the universe to cause this misalignment of actions. A mystery for another time. He shrugged and looked at the doctor, silently willing him to take option 2. Rodi working was quite stunning to look at, after all.

Santra sighed and looked at Wolf. "Really? Both carrot and stick? And please, tell your attack dog that if he's going to make a credible threat he should know KD3 metabolizes far too fast in Bajoran blood work. Monphax Alpha with a calcium-electrolyte drip on the other hand is far more effective, get's into those pesky Wasabi receptors in the nerves: all the joy of being fried in oil without any physical trauma. And more importantly, if you use KD3 you have to pay me a royalty."

He shook his head.

"I went to all the trouble to make sure some branch of the Starfleet tree came to Corvus Prime, not because I imagined handing myself back to you but because I know you're morally more flexible than the Klingons. Yes, I know about them. They've already cleaned their house back home and don't see the niceties of borders and jurisdiction as anything other than obstacles to overcome. I'll give you what you want 'Doctor Frost', but not for gold-pressed latinum. You get my research, my samples, my fondest good luck in reading my handwriting, but also get the Klingon Inquistion. Which both of us expect will be here very shortly. And in return you give me five minutes," Santra grinned. "I'd call that a bargain, and I am the devil she knows very well."

Still outside the room itself, Teejay chuckled dryly at that 'handwriting' comment. Some might think the ability to read intricate cursive was a lost and unnecessary art, but he'd found it useful many times in his extracurricular studies. He kept any sarcastic comments to himself and continued to provide silent backup support from just beyond the wider group's perimeter. This was indeed a Very Interesting Conversation.

Leonora shrugged, still carrying a practiced smile on her face, "I'm not in charge this time, Doctor, I'm just the glorified scientist here who can tell the difference between an S1 and a V1 vector who got roped in by these yahoos to help them out. Doctor Le-Su is in charge, not I. As much as I would love to make the call, it's not mine." She said in the same voice, nodding over at Mrazak.

"I hope you're close, Arkasha." Another silent afterthought.

"Then he can use those marvelously pointed ears of his to replay what I just said. All my pertinent answers for a modest head start. You might not have any use for me, but I know that Leonora here travels with a large blocky shadow on occasion, and no doubt you've called him in or given him some idea that I am presently in orbit of Janners World," Santra said. "I'll even throw in the name of my supplier for the Thalaron Pulse Bomb."

Mrazak was unimpressed. "We already know the Klingon Secret Inquisition was ultimately responsible for the thalaron detonation on Alucard. A very effective cleaning up the mess caused between your employers and the that drew my attention. Taking credit for it, though, neither hurts nor helps your case at this time. If you can provide me for what I have asked--your research and all materials pertaining to it--then I will be happy to include safe passage out of Federation space in addition to the tidy sum already pledged. Do we have a deal, Doctor Santra?"

Before a response and subsequent accord could be struck, the J-class transport shook from impact. "What was that?!" Mrazak exclaimed. "Is someone firing on us?"

"Phantom to away team," said Ryland's voice through the combadges. "We got Klingon ships droppin' by to say hello. The angry, mysterious kind. Recommend you back before--"

Communications were jammed yet again, but not before three Klingon warriors beamed into the passenger module.

"Crap," muttered Teejay as he checked his phaser and prepped for a fight. He didn't expect what happened next.

Santra reached for his throat, pulled one of the faux rank pins from his collar and crushed it between thumb and forefinger. The effect was not showy, the pip crumbled like chalk. Then the air smelled suddenly of garlic, strong and potent. The two Klingons at the back of the attack team placed breathers over their mouths, and the third was making the attempt when the hand holding the breather jerked to a halt. Claw-tipped fingers began to clench spasmodically, breathing hitching as the Klingon's eyes watered. There was a strangled scream from a mouth already swelling closed, and the Klingon dropped to the floor quite dead.

"Redundant immune systems, always tricky when they go to war on themselves," Santra said cooly.

From the sidelines, one word was quietly uttered. "Impressive," Teejay noted, and he relieved the prone Klingon of his weapon as he waited for a clear shot.

"Deal's changed," Mrazak said. "We deliver you to safety from the hands of the assassins plus travel expenses, and you give me all that I've asked."

While effective, Santra's gambit did still leave two more Klingon warriors to deal with. Taking advantage of the distraction of the raiders needing to don masks, Bao extended his weapon with a flick of his wrist before stabbing the nearer Klingon through the gut before turning to face the other, hoping Rodi would either shoot it, or it would do the Klingon fight-with-honor thing and try to fight him hand-to-hand. Deciding someone needed to actually do something intelligent regardless he called out, "Wolf, Teejay, get Dr. Death and Patient Zero to cover. Doubtless, more Klingons will come when they realize this batch has failed. Rodi, what's our best defensive position until the Phantom can get us out of here?"

Leah wasn't going to argue the point, instead, she motioned Santra and the Corvan girl over to the side, whilst brandishing her own weapon, ready to shoot.

"Come now, Pandora, let these nice people do unto others before they do unto us," Santra said, shepherding the young girl.

Teejay cursed under his breath, but didn't waste any time firing the Klingon weapon on the remaining Klingon. "Best defense is a good offense," he stated for the record and offered his free hand to the young Corvan girl. "Don't you agree?" Then he looked to Leah. "We need to take charge of the key systems, get ourselves a means off this boat. Where'd tall-and-handsome go?" He asked, raising an eyebrow.

That wouldn't have been how Cal would describe himself, he thought as he listened to their minds working away busily. On the bridge, he had a decent measure of Captain and crew now, and the input of extra Klingons would have been unexpected if not for the verbal warning. As it was, he reached out to test their mental defenses while readying both his weapon (held low) and preparing to project an imaginary distraction.

"DublIj yIchu'!" One of the Klingon clerics shouted at another.

A third one looked at the first and snarled. "Fek'lhr!

And then they all began fighting one another, each attack more savage than the last. The image Cal had dredged up was that of Fek'lhr, the Guardian of Gre'thor, the place of damnation for dishonored Klingons. Each warrior now fought for their honor, as their faces had changed to that of the Klingon psychopomp that would take them to hell.

As soon as the atmospheric sensors on Rodi's suit tripped, the faceplate slammed down again and sucked all the oxygen out in a moment before pumping safe air in again. While this happened he stood, turned, and took two steps back to cover the exit. His phaser found its way into his capable hand and the first burst of the very deadly Nadion energy lanced out at the closest aggressor, dropping him before the Klingon could get within three feet of Bao.

USS Phantom

Ryland let out a yip of excitement. It wasn't every day he got to put the Phantom through its paces. Most missions rendered him little more than the operator of an armored transport, but in the past few days he got to remind the modified Defiant-class ship of her birthright: devastating a superior enemy.

"Capta--Colonel, sir," said a goldshirt noncom at the communications console. "The three Miranda corvettes are reporting Klingon warriors beaming right through their shields. I think we might need to prepare to be boarded..."

The Afrikaner's eyes narrowed though, from displeasure or anticipation, the goldshirt couldn't tell. Following Ryland's mostly-successful daredevil antics had taxed the Lieutenant Colonel's three-dimensional space combat Academy instruction beyond its limits so this potential change of battle domains was a great relief.

"Prepare to repel borders!" The marine bellowed, a bit too enthusiastically. As three yellow Klingon transporter beams began shimmering on the small bridge, Storr slipped his 5 3/4" full-tang dagger with a springbok antler handle from his boot. If this fight was going to be at bad-breath distance, he intended to do his part.

Fin, up to that point 'supervising' the Ops officer reached for her belt, finding no phaser there as she had returned it after their more or less ill-fated excursion to the Ingram ship. It was six paces to the aft bulk-head and the weapons locker. Unfortunately a fourth Klingon appeared between Fin and said bulkhead. And as soon as the dark-skinned Klingon man appeared on the bridge before her, Fin had stepped forward and her fist struck at the larynx with all the momentum two steps could give a fairly petite woman skilled in hand-to-hand combat.

One of the Klingons beamed in right behind Ryland. The ex-starfighter pilot yanked off his belted and used the buckle to pop the Klingon in the eye. While the lumbering giant stumbled in blindness, Ryland swung the belt around his thick neck and pulled with all his might. A satisfying crunch signaled the collapse of the Klingon's windpipe and his untimely end.

Unfortunately, with Ferrofax lacking command authorization of tactical systems and Ryland otherwise occupied, that left the Phantom on autopilot.

On the Engineering deck, a trio of Klingons materialized next to the Quantum Slipstream Drive. Two of them were armed with bat'leths and disruptor rifles, but the third held an obvious explosive device that required both hands to carry.

“Hey!” snapped Sophie at the Klingons. “What do you think you’re- don’t! You! DARE!” she finished with the tone of a mother warning a child not to write on the wall or throw a toy.

"Sokolov to bridge. We have boarders in engineering." The Big red-headed QSD specialist said. He then found his large pipe adjustment tool, being quite a few steps away from the Engineering Weapons Locker. The tool, equipped with a heavy metal head to tighten conduit had a pleasing heft to Alexei. He walked up behind the third, burdened Klingon while Sophie drew his attention, and used this pleasing heft to introduce the heavy adjustment head to the back of the Klingon's skull. It had very strong effect as both Klingon and explosive device landed in a pile on the ground.

Rodi's primary fireteam burst into the engine room and quickly subdued the attacking Klingons with swift and controlled zones of fire.

Completely nonplussed, Sophie merely shrugged. “I did warn him,” she said dispassionately.

By the time Ryland regained manual control over the ship, the Phantom was no longer positioned between the Charming Delights transport vessel and the lead Klingon ship.

"I got a weapons lock!" Ryland shouted back to Storr, but the colonel was in the midst of mortal combat with a Klingon zealot spewing ancient curses on his forbearers. Well, then... "I'm taking it!"


In the dark of space where screams fell flat against the soundless void, the Phantom's weapons systems charged up and fired. The Klingon ship rebuffed the first few hits, but not even a Klingon Bird-of-Prey could withstand ordnance designed to push back the Borg. Unfortunately, the explosion of the attacking vessel sent the J-class transport spiraling down to the planet below.

Passenger Transport Charming Delights

The rough lurch from the ship nearly threw Rodi from his feet and among dead Klingons. His head found purchase against a bulkhead. His HUD informed him that they were heading planet-side. Seconds until impact, no chance to head to escape pods. "We're going down. Brace for impact." Rodi stated over the group comm in the voice of a medic informing his patient they were probably dead in minutes, deadly calm. He closed the comms and threw himself to the deck, then spoke into the helmet. "Computer, security override all suits. Secure all suits for crash immediately." His HUD flashed red for a moment and then flashed green, the team view showing all suits were clamped down to the deck with micro-articulator-powered grips to the decking, the suits running the integrated inertial dampeners to emergency capacity.

As Leah's suit pulled her to the deck, Leah turned her head as best she could to look over at Santra and Pandora who had no suits themselves. "Ball up, protect your heads and wedge down if you can. This will be rough!"

Then she caught Teejay's eyes, a sliver of a worry shining over her blue eyes before a proverbial wall of steel covered the worry. She gave him a small nod, as much as she could move her neck in suit, a sort of a 'here we go!' or perhaps a goodbye.

"Let's get them to an escape pod!" Mrazak ordered. "It can't be deployed from atmo, but it will be more secure than here." Then he stuck Santra with a bracelet that quickly expanded to encase much of his forearm. "And now we'll be sure not to get separated groundside."

USS Phantom

"Colonel Garlake, the Charming Delights is in an uncontrolled rapid suborbital descent!" Nandi reported from the sensor suite. "And something is still jamming the blasted transporter! I can't get a lock!"

Before Storr could give reply, a surly Klingon appeared on the screen. Evidently the broadcast signal had brute-forced its way similar to the boarding parties. It was the Grand Inquisitor. "You have smote my vanguard, but know the battle is mine! Even now my clerics await Sto'Vo'Kor as they escort your people to perdition on board the transport. Your pathetic battle group over this planet has been defeated. My remaining ships will bathe in the fires of your destruction. Glory to Kahless!"

The transmission cut off.

"Looks like those Mirandas are adrift," Ryland said, "and...venting warp plasma. Shit..."

All the civilian traffic that had been backed up and awaiting clearance suddenly found somewhere else to be. One after another, freighters and transports were jumping to warp by the dozen. The skies over Janner's World were clear except for three Vorchas, the Phantom, and one J-class transport ship trying its damnedest not to break up into pieces on atmospheric entry.

To Be Continued...


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