Osprey #1: Running the Gauntlet by Miranda Fave
Summary:

osprey

Tracking an Orion slaver in ‘The Gauntlet’, a treacherous region of space, the Border Patrol Cutter Osprey must mount a daring rescue and interdiction mission before it is hit by a deadly storm front. There’s a reason it’s called running the Gauntlet.


Categories: Expanded Universes Characters: None
Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama, Friendship
Warnings: Violence
Challenges: None
Series: The Watchtower Universe
Chapters: 15 Completed: Yes Word count: 35034 Read: 16847 Published: 12 Jul 2014 Updated: 26 Jul 2014

1. Title Page by Miranda Fave

2. Welcome to the Dogs by Miranda Fave

3. The Hunt by Miranda Fave

4. Little Dragon by Miranda Fave

5. Incoming Forces by Miranda Fave

6. Storm Fronts by Miranda Fave

7. Weighing Options; Weighing Anchor by Miranda Fave

8. Acts of Mercy by Miranda Fave

9. Dead to Rights by Miranda Fave

10. Questions of Trust by Miranda Fave

11. The Bigger Picture by Miranda Fave

12. Legacies by Miranda Fave

13. By the Creed by Miranda Fave

14. Gauntlet Running by Miranda Fave

15. After the Storm by Miranda Fave

Title Page by Miranda Fave


The first story to include the crew of the Border Cutter Osprey.

Part of the Watchtower Universe.

Welcome to the Dogs by Miranda Fave

‘The Gauntlet’
Shared Federation, Tzenkethi, Breen, Cardassian border
USS Osprey, Deep Space Border Cutter, Gryffon class
Captain Mercy Faraday Thatcher, Commanding

Captain Mercy Faraday came striding into mission ops, before her stood the grim faces of the four strike teams she was about to send into harm’s way. She gave a sigh to herself then steeled herself for the business ahead. She fidgeted with her unbuckled armoured jacket as she entered the op room, which overlooked the expansive forward shuttle bay housing three prepped Star Stallions.

Mercy’s requisite sidearm for serving onboard a border cutter was never from her hip but for the op she was additionally armed. She wore her carbine phaser strapped over her back, an additional phaser, flash bangs and frag grenades on her belt, cuffs and manacles attached to her armour suit, and comm. wrist strapped on so that she ready to enter into the op at a moment’s notice and when the plan required.

The captain gave the four teams a grave nod, her eyes intent and focused. Without precursor, there neither was the time nor was it customary for her to do, she launched into the briefing. She tapped the holo-display table before her. Actual time information was being relayed to it of the ship’s position and the position of the target. Circling and turning in the air were the ship schematics and data of the Star Stallions to be deployed in the mission, as well as those of the Osprey, a Deep Space Cutter Gryffon class vessel of the Border Patrol Service. Next to these were the readouts of a heavily armoured and nasty looking Orion Raider, brimming with weapons and harpoons.

“Listen up people, here’s the score. We are on a timer. Our intel tells us that this piece of scum is running the Gauntlet, high and fast. We don’t need to look past the fact that it is an Orion Raider to know it is up to no good this far from home territory but my sources confirm that it is transporting slaves. We’ve got a rough lock on its position. But we’re holding back out of their sensor range so not to spook ‘em and give them a heads up that we’re coming.”

The ship’s chief of the boat, Mitch Duncannon stood before his squad, his hands tucked into his armoured vest. He was fully clad in black amour, and bedecked in an array of phaser weapons and a few blades to boot. His motto was to go in armed to the teeth and go in kicking. “Any idea who the Chieftain is, Skipper?”

“Not a confirmed identity Mitch but my sources say the markings made it Lorish’s ship.” Mercy brought up Lorish’s record and file image to float among the other data. The Green Orion sported stripes of scars across his face and numerous face piercings and tattoos. He looked mean and brutish and his record attested to his look. “So we know he has form and it is in his suspected line of business. I’ll be damned if we can’t hang him for it this time. But... Lorish knows the Gauntlet, knows how to navigate and run it, and he knows that if he makes it past the marker he is no longer in our jurisdiction.”

There was a grumble of disapproval from among the teams who all clearly believed, like Mercy herself, that jurisdiction shouldn’t come between stopping him.

Mercy raised a hand to halt any dissension. “I know, I know. The here and now of it is simply this: it means Lorish knows the demands of the Gauntlet and knows how to outrun us in it too if he should catch a sniff of us chasing his tail. To that end, we’re running a parabolic course as best as we can so as to make our capture path as we make our run in. We’re coming up on that critical juncture now. We’ve a tight window and tighter still not just because of the jurisdiction boundaries.”

The captain tapped the holo-table and it switched to a 3D display of the region of space, the Osprey and Lorish’s ship highlighted with blinking icons. They were surrounded by a green murk of the stormy nebula region of space known as ‘The Gauntlet’, a dangerous region to all space traffic but also a nest bed of piracy and nefarious traders dealing in weapons, drugs and slaves. Bordering on numerous unaligned regions of space that were hotspots for Orion Syndicate operations as well as being on the highly combustive borders of Tzenkethi, Breen and Cardassian space, the Gauntlet served as a tempting backdoor for many illegal activities but with so many dangers and with high warp speeds impossible, to traverse it was to run a gauntlet.

“As you can see here ...” Mercy poked into the holographic display, “we’ve got a nasty tempest brewing up and headed our way. So we need to stop Lorish and get those people off his ship before the storm swamps us.” The display showed a rapidly progressing wave threatening to crash into them like a tsunami.

Leann Mbeke, the ship’s Haliian chief security officer, standing before her team, asked, “What class of storm is it?” Facing a storm in the Gauntlet was not unusual but the danger was always the severity of the storm.

“T’Renna is speculating that it will be a class six at least.” There was an appreciative nod from the assembled teams at the mention of the ship’s science officer making such a call. “We all know T’Renna always bets conservatively without all the data. I expect it could get worse before it hits us. So this is going to be a case of hit ‘em hard and fast, swoop in and swoop out. Our priority is going to be the slaves. We get them off and to safety.”

Mbeke started to protest. “But Skip!”

Mercy had no time for disputes. “I didn’t say I liked it and I didn’t say we weren’t bringing Lorish in. But at the end of the day...”

The CoB pitched in with words that were likely to be more conciliatory than any choice from the captain, “... it gets dark.”

Faraday’s eyes flashed towards Duncannon and gave a fractional nod. “Well put Mitch. Our priority is what it is. I’m still hoping to clap Lorish in arms but priority one is those innocents.” At the display controls, Mercy activated a simulation of the Gryffon class vessel firing upon the Orion Raider. “We’re going to run in fast and hard. Hit them with the twenty-twos. Deploy the Stallions and crack its shell.”

The display simulated the Orion Raider dropping out of warp as the Mark-22s, torpedoes outfitted with an EMP, disrupted their warp field and brought down their weapons, controls, shields and just about every piece of electrical equipment onboard the raider. The 22s, known as rat-traps, were a stock weapon and tactic of the Border Patrol Service. The display continued with the simulation as Mercy narrated over it showing three vessels, moving at high impulse speed towards the raider and making hull contact at three different points. To which she now elaborated with quick fire speed as time was of the essence.

“Stallion One - that’s you Mitch.” Mercy leaned over the tactical display table, her face illuminated by the holographic projections, casting her in a grievous light. “You take the bridge. Get it. Control it. Stop it.”

Nonchalant, Mitch asked, “Call sign? You got a theme Skipper?”

Mercy cocked an eyebrow as his usual calm and even flippant demeanour in the face of such a situation, resisting the temptation to smile at it. “I’m thinking birds of prey for this party. Name one.”

“Vulture.”

“Fine by me. I’d have suggested bald eagle myself.” Flippantly she added herself, before pressing on as the display zoomed in on Stallion 1 making its landing to the fore of the ship’s hull and cutting into the connecting corridors to the bridge. “You take the bridge. ‘Dig in’ from above at this section. Lorish ought to be there, so you grab him. But the bastard won’t want to go quietly Mitch. Take care and expect a fight.” She levelled her trusted COB a warning and serious look.

The master chief petty officer only gave a fraction of a nod and remained stony solemn when it came to the particulars. “I always do.”

She added for his benefit, “You take him, whichever which way you can. I can pronounce a body bag guilty as good as a prisoner.” There was no rebuke for Captain Faraday’s suggestion and the implications of her comment. The only person it registered any negative response from was the ship’s first officer. To whom, Mercy turned now and addressed, ignoring any disapproval he showed.

“Stallion Two. XO that’s you. Got a name?”

Caught a little off guard Commander Gareth Hayes quickly composed himself, rubbing a hand over his stubble, to give his suggestion. “Eh... Falcon.”

“I like it. Good name. You got the slaves. On a Raider, we find the holding pens here on deck five to the rear. Nice and cramped - and not taking up much room. They prefer to give the legroom to the cargo that isn’t living.” Her lip curled in distaste at the slavers. Mercy turned his attention to the display where Stallion 2 came under the raider and connected to the underside of the vessel with the Stallion’s upper hatch. “You’re going to ‘mole’ in here. Cut through the deck floor and deploy the beam plates. Take this corridor, secure it and make it the disembark point.” Mercy twisted her comm. wrist and asked distractedly, “E.T.A. Helm?”

The bridge acknowledged, “Five minutes.”

“Ok. Falcon 2, you get the slaves back to the plates.” Newly minted commander, Gareth Hayes, seemed to stiffen at the assignment but said nothing. He just gave a silent nod to his new C.O. and wondered if she didn’t trust him with the bridge assignment because he was new or because he was a Fleet officer. “With the storm coming in, I’d prefer not to give them an arduous ride back but the storm could also play havoc with our transporters. Putting the onus on speed and achieving our goal of swift and brute domination of the scene. I repeat,” Mercy’s eyes swept the assembled team members and met them levelly, “swift and brute domination of the scene. Pop the locks and get them out of there.”

“Stallion Three.”

Leann Mbeke, the ship’s chief security officer, flashed a big smile. “Sparrow?”

“Not a bird of prey, don’t mess with my theme, Leann.” But Mercy’s attention, for all the banter, was on the display showing Stallion 3 attaching to the side of the raider near to the rear. “You get engineering. Woodpecker in from the aft.”

Beside Leann, Shelly ‘Sparks’ Logan, the ship’s senior chief petty officer, elbowed Mbeke and called out, “So woodpecker won’t work for you either huh Boss?”

Mercy gave that a withering raised eyebrow. Mbeke offered up an alternative. “Ok, kestrel.”

“Another good name. Take out engineering. The place will be a mess once we hit the ship with the rat-traps. Expect trouble of a different kind. Sparks.” Mercy turned her attention from Mbeke to the SCPO. The Senior Chief was the engineering lead on the team while Mbeke would be the muscle to secure it. “You secure any workings that need securing but only enough to stop the place exploding. The damn ship can drift after we are done with it.”

“Yes Boss.” Leann curtly nodded, taking a small step back among her team, which included Shelly ‘Sparks’, the non-com equivalent of the ship’s chief engineer and her handpicked engineering specialists.

Gareth stepped forward to poke the holo-display, pointing out the area to the fore of the holding pens where stairs and corridors funnelled into his section to take. He noticed that it was the point where his team would come under attack. “What about this area here Captain? We’ll be open to attack from any reinforcements.”

Mercy nodded impressed at his tactical sight to observe and discern that, for she knew he was unfamiliar with Orion Raiders coming from the Fleet. “You sure will. That’s where team four will beam in and hold that position.” She pointed to herself as she said this. “Team Raptor.”

Mbeke ribbed, good-humoured, “Oh, we going for a dinosaur theme now?”

“My theme, my rules, my plan of action. Teams make sure you deploy your enhancers. They’ll help us punch through the static and interference. Then, we make a dam between you and any reinforcements XO. Right there where they will funnel in.” She stabbed the position Hayes had highlighted. “Once the ship is boarded the slavers are going to make two runs - one for the bridge to save the captain and their collective asses and two for the slaves, where they’ll want to dump the evidence.” Which Mercy did not have to explain was why they were wasting valuable time trying to get the moves on sneaking up on the Raider.

“We’ll sort any reinforcements that come your way. Don’t worry; none will be getting past us XO, so team Falcon focus on getting the slaves out.” Gareth stepped back appeased.

“Ok. T’Renna makes the call on when the storm is upon us, when she does, I pull the cord on the mission and we all pull out.” Mercy clenched her fist and made a pulling motion to illustrate her words. “No holding back, no heroics, no dawdling. When that front hits us, it will wallop us good and hard. If we can, I want us to turn tail and try to outrun it as much as we can. That way, at least we’ll have less stormy seas to endure and be sooner to the other side. Make this a fast and clean getaway. If that means hitting hard and ugly when we enter then you hit hard and ugly and fast. You got me clear? Good. No questions?”

From her tone it seemed as though no questions was less an invite than an order not to question her plan. “Good. Ok. Mount up. Use your tactical drones and deploy your transporter enhancers. Keep your transporter tags active and comms open. Remember, we’ll have rat-stat after the torps hit that may interfere with your equipment no matter what the brochure says.”

Even after the mark-22s did their job, there was often residual interference they called ‘rat-stat’ that could play havoc with any technical equipment. Most of their Border Patrol equipment however was designed to enter into such a situation and had increased shielding from such effects. However, as Mercy did not get into, the rat-traps created other interference when they boarded. Lights would be down and many power systems overloaded when hit, exploding and igniting and spitting angrily. Conduits could rupture to spill gases and liquids and the air would be choked with smoke and other fumes. In essence, they would enter into a cauldron of hell and mayhem.

Mercy continued as she deactivated the display. “Ryuu and Mercus are fielding the new CPRs.” She referred to the newly approved and designed Concussive Pulse Roto-Thrusters weapons. They worked much like the tried and tested ARC (Adjustable Radius Concussion) weapons, but were of a more compact design created by someone within the Border Service who recognised a unique need in the work of the border service for such a weapon. Such thinking had created the ARC suppressant weapons and the rat-trap technology. “This will be their first field test in a live and dangerous situation. Be aware and be wary.”

The Skipper turned to a young Japanese enlisted. He looked serious and deathly but gave a devilish grin at mention of deploying the new hand weapon. “Ryuu, try to contain your enthusiasm. It don’t make you a one man army.” He gave another grin, part sheepish and part feral, to that comment. Despite his skinny frame, accented by the thin micromesh armour suit he wore, Ryuu Takeshi was a fierce and aggressive combatant. He used his small frame to his advantage, with speed, lightning reflexes, agile movements and sharp shooting to be the point member of Team Falcon.

“Team Falcon,” Mercy addressed all of Ryuu and the XO’s squad, “you take down your guards with brute force. We don’t need any of them getting back into the fight once the slaves are escaping. When the slaves are free, you switch to the ARCs or stick to the CPRs. I don’t want casualties - they’ll be in a bad way as is. Medics with Falcon, you have a job to do but you move the slaves - get them back to the ship where you can do some real good. Get them back here and back to the Doc. Don’t be sitting on the deck of that raider cos it won’t be going anywhere and that front will be coming in fast.”

The assigned medics all nodded having been fully appraised and instructed by Doc Suthy prior to this in a brisk no nonsense lecture.

“Bridge to Faraday. E.T.A. two minutes.”

“On my way, bridge.” Mercy depressed her wrist comm. and turned her attention back to the four squads. She gave them all a level and stern look, but a look that held concern and pride for her people. All of her crew were brave and skilled at what they did but she knew that the Stallion teams required an extra edge of courage to do the things they did - enter a firefight guns blazing or throw themselves into the fire of an emergency situation. There was no sure thing what to expect, the only constants were their courage and the fact that they might not come back. Still Mercy Faraday for all her toughness and fierce demeanour looked at them all and declared, “Ok, you better get going and you better all come back. Y’hear?”

They chorused, “Yes Boss!”

The three Stallion teams all turned on their heel and made towards the shuttle bay below. Team Raptor filed out at quick march to the transporter room where they would await the arrival of the captain when she had conducted her business on the bridge.

As they trooped pass, Mercy held back as the three other team leaders also stood in the room.

Gareth stepped forward, concern or questions in his voice. “Captain?”

“Sorry XO. We don’t have the time to debate the plan. This will work. Another time, I’ll invite discussion and input but for now you gotta trust me on this one. We’re responding quick and fast to last minute information and I don’t have time for a sit down. I know this is your first mission and you’d sooner more information and planning. But the situation doesn’t allow for that luxury.” She gave a wan, resigned smile to her XO. “It ain’t you and it ain’t me, it’s just the situation we’re facing.”

She then addressed the three of them in turn, one foot out the door itching to get to the bridge. “Leann, Mitch, Hayes, I’m trusting you to bring my people and those slaves home.” She gave one last word of advice to Gareth. “XO, trust your team and take their lead. Even though the likes of Ryuu is a mere slip of an enlisted and looks as if he should be at home with his granny he’s a seasoned hand at this thing and this makes it his eighty-second Stallion interdiction. God speed folks. Do good.”

Leann chimed in with an encouraging, easy smile. “You too Skip.”

Mitch Duncannon gave a singular terse nod of his head, conferring all his faith in the captain’s plan and his ability to carry it out. To which, Mercy returned, with a similar nod bestowing her confidence in him.

At the last, Mercy and her XO shared a look and settled matters between them unspoken. But still Mercy had to have the last word. “Welcome to the Dogs, XO. It’s a Dog’s life.”

The Hunt by Miranda Fave

Bridge,

USS Osprey

 

It was time for action. It was time to run the gauntlet, in more ways than one.

As Mercy came onto the bridge, she took stock of the situation. As per usual, heading into an op the viewscreen was a tactical overlay, with inset windows displaying data streams from the ship’s extensive sensor suite. “Are we ready T’Renna?”

The cool Vulcan stood behind her station looking imperious. T’Renna lifted her jaw haughtily. “We are. It is the optimum time to intercept.”

“Right then.” Mercy stalked towards her command chair and snapped her fingers at the Bzzit Khaht at helm. “Cree, run us in. Make it sharp and fast. Close the gap.”

Cree croaked back at the captain. “Acknowledged.”

Mercy spat out orders to the bridge crew. “Weaps ready. Shields up. Bring us to red alert.” Her crisp orders were met within seconds. “Communications; relay our status and mission details to Watchtower. Mission is a go. Deploy a buoy marker with current status, for what it is worth.”

Cree advised the captain of what she could see herself on the tactical readout, “Approaching vector two-niner-one-seven-six. Distance closing.”

T’Renna looked up and declared, “Target is responding.”

“Match and take, helm. Comm. patch me through.” Mercy clicked her fingers at comm. for an open link. “This is Captain Mercy Faraday-Thatcher, of the Border Patrol cutter Osprey. You are hereby ordered to stand to and prepare to be boarded.”

“No response.”

“I didn’t expect so.” She depressed her comm. link again and again found her commanding voice. “I repeat. This is Captain Mercy Faraday-Thatcher, of the Federation Border Patrol cutter USS Osprey. You are hereby ordered to stand down and surrender your vessel for inspection.”

Faraday sat regally in the command chair of her Gryffon class deep space border patrol cutter awaiting a response from the Orion raider. Before her on the viewscreen, the ugly green of the Orion raider’s hull decorated by hull art and perforated with a bewildering array of gun turrets and grappling hooks, boldly and suddenly started firing back at the pursuing cutter. The bridge shook from the sudden barrage but the shields held firm and so too remained Mercy Faraday’s resolve.

From tactical, Khien Roueché wryly retorted, “I think we got our answer, Skipper.”

Mercy cocked her head, squaring herself up for the fight she had expected all along. “That’s the legalities out of the way. Let’s see about changing their mind. Cree, increase speed, close that gap now. Roueché, pinpoint target their weapons – low yield phaser fire.”

The closing space between them became an increasing hive of incoming fire lances from the gun turrets as the Orion sought to evade capture. The Gryffon border cutter’s helm scythed through the densest gunfire, its shields pummelled by the heavy hitting phaser strikes but not relenting, and it remained steadfast on its course.

The border cutter pressed on, quickly closing in on its prey, meaning it was now more prone to the relentless barrage of phaser fire but also meant it was no longer under the threat of the Orion’s torpedoes at such close proximity. It was a poor trade off, but it was the trade off the ship’s skipper had gambled for as she sought to ensnare the raider. She could not risk trading too many shots with the raider so had to play a dangerous hunting game.

But it was the hunting game she and her crew were trained for and excelled in. Mercy was a border cutter skipper and this - the chase, the hunt, the fight, the capture - was like oxygen to her a border dog.

Mercy leaned back in her chair, trying to present the impassive air of an experienced border dog captain. But her hands gripped the arm rests of her command chair feverishly, as she both dreaded and thrilled at the hunt. She remained stony silent as tension filled the thrumming and shaking bridge as the phaser barrage kept up. Mercy trusted her people to do their jobs and so did not press for information as she awaited the chase to play out. With eyes keenly focused on the readouts and the image of the Orion raider, Faraday judged the proper moment for the next phase of the hunt.

“Stallion One, Two and Three, standby to launch. Helm, adjust course, keep right on top of her, hang about that Orion like a bad smell.”

Cree croaked in response, “Smelling badly Captain, aye.”

Mercy swivelled in her chair and gave a stony look to the officer at tactical. “Rat traps?”

At tactical, Leann Mbeke’s second in command, Khien Roueché gave the captain a curt affirmative nod. “Mark 22’s ready, Skipper.”

Said skipper gave a delicious smile and clenched her hand in a fist. “Bring it to the barbeque baby. Roueché, fire on my mark.” Mercy turned back to face the viewscreen with the overlaid specs of the ship’s position, speed and distance from the target vessel. She crunched the numbers as hawkish she kept track of the Orion and calculated the optimum moment to fire the Rat-trap - too close and they risked effecting their own systems and too great a range only allowed the target to evade or counter the rat-trap. “Mark!”

The rat-trap torpedo fired immediately and struck home. The Orion Raider that only a moment ago was giving them a merry chase through the nebula now seemingly stalled and stopped dead in the water. Yet there was no time to rest their laurels on a clean hit. The Orions onboard would be readying either for a boarding party or worse yet, if they were transporting slaves as suspected would be cutting their throats.

“Boarding parties are a go!” Mercy declared. She turned towards Ops and tactical, “I want transporters the instant we can.”

Both Khien and T’Renna nodded curtly to their captain but kept their focus on the work at hand.

The cool calm voice of the ship’s Cob, Mitch Duncannon, interrupted the bridge. “Stallion One, designation Vulture, making hard contact. Contact. Cutting through.”

Mercy snapped her fingers at science as a habit rather than an expression of impatience. She was a cut to the chase kind of gal. “T’Renna, get them sensor eyes on their position.”

T’Renna was level and cool as befitted her Vulcan nature. “Enhancing. Receiving telemetry from tactical drones three and four.”

“Status of Stallion Two?” Mercy tried to keep the apprehension out of her voice. This was the XO’s first mission op and Orions were a notorious enemy capable of many twisted acts of violence and evil. No two boarding parties ever ran the same way, and no matter how tightly drilled her Stallion teams were, Mercy always feared the unexpected during a mission op and the new XO was a new and as yet unproven element within her plans.

The comm. crackled with the voice of one of the ship’s newest crewmember, the ship’s new XO Gareth Hayes. “This is Falcon leader; we have made breach in shuttle bay.”

Sparks now spoke over the comm.. “This is Kestrel two. Mbeke has secured the area. This place is in a mess. No immediate dangers but will keep you updated.”

Mitch’s voice called out again with an update. “Vulture leader; secured breach area. Are meeting resistance and are meeting that resistance. Suppressing.” Over the call, the sound of phaser shots and shouting could be heard, but Mitch’s team was steady and in control.

Still, Mercy flashed her eyes to the scrolling data to the left of the viewscreen relaying the drone information from Stallion One to appraise the situation from the facts she saw there. Mitch Duncannon had a habit of making less of a fire fight than was the case. But then she knew no one better and more assured in a fire fight.

“Stallion Two, update?”

“Falcon Leader. Securing a path to cell blocks. Transporter enhancers deployed.”

“About time.” In a trademark motion, Mercy knocked her fists down on the armrests of her command chair and perched herself on the edge of the seat.

T’Renna informed, “A secure transporter signal has been achieved.”

“Team Raptor, gear up for transportation.” Mercy declared, as she stood and clipped her armour vest on and belted in her side arm. “You have the conn. T’Renna”

The Vulcan impassively stepped down from her station and made her way to the vacant command chair as Mercy stormed off the bridge with Khien to the transporter room.

 

* * *

Little Dragon by Miranda Fave

On the Orion Raider, Gareth Hayes looked back to check his six where he saw two of his team standing guard over the breach area. The ship’s lights were down and nominal emergency lights were all that provided illumination other than a few sparking overloaded EPS systems along the corridor lengths.

Gareth took in the sensation of the raider. The EMP rat-trap had done its work and shut down all electronic systems on board. Burning smoke filled air some battling with the oppressive dank smell Gareth imagined always pervaded its interior. This really wasn’t a Starfleet vessel.

At his side, the security officer with a specialised tricorder gave an all clear. They had breathable albeit dank air and gravity was patchy throughout the raider as best they could tell. Hayes was sufficiently happy with the report, with a sharp nod of his head and clear short hand signals, he directed the remainder of the team ahead.

They raced up the corridor, relying on speed over stealth but mindful of their approach and lines of fire. Coming to the prisoner pens the team halted briefly to consult their tactical readouts. “Just ahead sir.”

“Ok. Ready to breach.” Hayes turned and met the face of Ryuu and tried to repress his unease at giving the youth the lead. Ryuu was busy shaking his thin wiry limbs, looking for all the work as though he were stretching and warming up before a jog. Ryuu craned and turned his neck, jogged on the spot and shook his arms and feet out, before patting down his specialised thin mirco mesh armour suit that was certainly not Starfleet standard and closer to something Gareth would wear to go scuba diving.

Gareth’s apprehension must have shown as at his side the medic assured him, “It’s ok Commander. He really does know what he’s doing.”

The lithe thin form of Ryuu gave the readings on the tac-mat grave scrutiny before looking up and over and giving a predatory smile. He handed the tac-mat over dotting figures detected with one finger causing them to be highlighted in green. A few others he selected with another finger causing them to be marked in orange. “I’ll take green for starters. You can have the orange ones, Commander. Time for the real party.” Ryuu snapped his CPR weapon to his side and took out his carbine pistol and petted it affectionately.

Hayes imagined him playing out his assault in his mind’s eye before the go to storm the holding area. Ryuu looked up through his mop of unruly lank hair that fell over his eyes and gave a feral grim smile to Hayes with a silent nod. The Commander took a deep breath. The plan rested on the young man taking point and Hayes had to trust that this was the best choice. “Go Takeshi.”

Ryuu gave the commander a cocky grin by way of response and lifted his chin and waggled his eyebrows under the dark strands of hair. “It’ll be a breeze.”

With that Ryuu stepped forward, with a soft whistling tune on his lips and relish in his expression. Gareth Hayes took to rally after only to be held back by Syuk the medic. “Trust him. And watch him work, it’s something else. There’s a reason we call him the ‘Little Dragon’ Sir.”

Hayes brushed off the hand and darted into the area. Ryuu had already leapt into the fray with a look of wild abandon but the corpsman was fully aware of his every action and movement.

As Hayes followed Ryuu’s path, he saw two felled guards at the immediate doorway, with Ryuu at point storming into the two-level area firing pinpoint accurate shots to three of the guards. The corpsman seemed to have a style akin to some mesh of martial arts and parkour as he scrambled through the split levels and obstacles and attacked various targets.

Ryuu was using his speed and agility to get the surprise on the Orions, knocking them on their asses or taking out their weapons. He was fast and accurate, but did not have the strength to keep an opponent down. However, that clearly was not his priority. He expected the rest of the team to come in and mop up. And Hayes quickly noted that a fair number of the targets were felled by some sort of electronic shock as he spotted small blue lit disc attached to their twitching fallen bodies where Ryuu had slapped them or tossed the discs. Ryuu was point and causing maximum impact and as stealthily as he could before the interdiction team allowed all hell to break loose.

Hayes gladly obliged and opened the salvos to break loose the controlled carnage. As he raced forwards he took in the raiders who were already at the hatches of the cells ready to open and flush the slaves out while the others stood ready to fight off any incursion. He prioritised those at the jettison controls with his carbine as Ryuu raced deeper into the fight.

Whilst Hayes felled some of those at the controls, noting they were the targets selected in orange by the corpsman, Ryuu fired at an exposed spitting circuit board causing a cascade of sparks and smoke using them as cover to dart forward lightning fast and in an instant clamber to the second level balcony before he had even been noticed.  

Ryuu’s movements were swift and within seconds he switched weapon and had fired his CPR weapon to fell three of the guards before sweeping a foot out to trip a fourth who came up behind him from the upper rear access. Ryuu planted a foot to the slaver’s face knocking the Orion unconscious.

The remainder of the team was hot on Ryuu’s heels, storming into the holding area of the prisoners, firing quick successive bursts of fire from the specially designed carbine phaser rifles employed by the Border Patrol Service and so ideally suited to tasks such as boarding by force a hostile ship. They also had a nice heft to their grip butt meaning they cracked good and hard, just as Hayes made it do so now as he levelled another raider to the floor, blood spouting from the Orion’s crumpled nose.

Hayes tossed a stun grenade into the lower rear access corridor where other reinforcements were pounding up from. Gareth turned his back as it detonated and focused his attention on the burly Orion at his foot, manacling him in restraints as his comrades in the access corridor fell to the ground.

A roar from the doors to the port side announced further back up and a motley mixture of Orions and a few Nausicaans wildly threw themselves into the fight, slashing weapons and firing energy bolts about the room. Hayes fired off a number of shots before having to thrust his carbine butt into the face of a charging Nausicaan. The two of them toppled over.

From the catwalk above them, Ryuu was already spinning through the air to land atop one of the burlier thugs. He slapped a ‘zap bug’ to the thug’s chest and jumped off him as the zap bug charged and zapped the target with a knock out charge. He left that target to attack a thin rake of a Red Orion who met Ryuu’s attack with a broad sweep of a nasty curving scimitar sword.

Ryuu ducked and rolled, coming up onto his haunches as he pulled from a holster on his lower leg a black cylindrical looking device, moulded to fit his grip. With a click the short stick activated. “Lucky you, I brought my own sword.” The sword extended out from the hilt in a series of crunching scraping metal segments. As it reached its full length, Ryuu gave a furtive feral smirk. His eyes met the Red Orion’s as they squared up one to one another, then they raced at one another, swords swinging.

The Red cut through the air horizontally in a scything motion of deadly intent, whereas Ryuu made a downward slash. Their blades met with a clash. The blades jarred both opponents but rather than continue the parry Ryuu stepped on his blade to pin the Red Orion’s before sending a nasty elbow into the pirate’s face.

Ryuu followed the elbow up with a quick high kick to the chest causing the Red to stagger backwards for a second but the Red was quickly ready to attack again, shaking his vision clear only to see Ryuu with a toothy smile aiming his CPR at him. “Sweet dreams.” A bolt of blue and the Red Orion crumpled to the ground. Hefting the large CPR handheld over his shoulder, Ryuu swaggered up to The Red before testing his unconscious state with a sharp toe poke.

Around him the fight was over and Ryuu turned to pick up his sword. With a motion of his thumb, Ryuu activated the retraction of the segmented blade back into the small stowable hilt, which he deftly sheathed to the side of his leg. Then meeting his new commander, Ryuu smiled, shrugged and laughed. “What you expected me to play fair?”

Gareth found himself smiling despite himself and shook his head. There was a brief pause as the remainder of the team scoped out the area, awaiting any surprises, booby traps or reinforcements. “Secure.” Gareth called out to the team. The team in turn called out their secure status and then it was done.

“Ok. Free the prisoners. Get them back to the ship.” Hayes noted with satisfaction how swift and precise the team were at following his orders. He marvelled too at just how precise, lethal and efficient the boarding party had been. It was a testament to the training regimes of the ship’s chief petty officer and captain, and perhaps even he begrudgingly admitted to the ethos and training of the Border Patrol Service. Despite his pleasure in their performance, it rankled with Hayes somewhat that he had not been charged with taking the bridge and how nominal his role in the boarding party had been.

The cell doors popped open with a series of small concussive blasts from the set charges and the heavy metal doors swung open to reveal the bedraggled and pathetic state of the slaves within. Faraday had told Gareth to be prepared for the sights he might see in the slave pens even only a week out of spacedock but even still the rank smell and foul conditions therein shocked and disgusted. His concerns with not being the one with the honour and task to take the bridge simply evaporated at the sight.

“Let’s get these people out of here.” The team started herding the slaves that were mobile out of their cells and back towards the staging area of the breach. He slapped his communicator to update the bridge. “Falcon Leader; slaves freed, are taking them to staging area. Prepare for immediate transportation,” his voice trailed off as several of the deadened slaves lurched past with sunken pleading eyes as they looked back towards those that could not move.

Gareth Hayes looked upon the prone bodies that littered a number of the cells and feared that some were in fact dead. He amended his last message, “and have medical assistance at the ready.” He turned to Syuk, the Argosian medic on the team but he had no need to say anything as she was already administrating her tender care to those that needed it.

Hayes looked back to the staging area where the rescued slaves now stood. Rather than have them climb down into the Stallion, they stood upon the transporter enhancer plates the team deployed. The discs were essentially like the transporter pads in a transporter room, acting as transporter enhancers for the ship to punch through difficult regions of space and heavily armoured hulls. As they stood on the enhancer spots, the slaves were transported to safety. The team shepherded the slaves along to the staging area and also kept an alert eye out for trouble. But if things were going to plan, Faraday intended to get the surprise on the Orions.

Still Gareth found himself turning in the direction of the corridor that led to the choke area Mercy was going to target. At his side, Gareth found the young Ryuu also pointing his weapon in the same direction and giving the XO the same feral grin as before anticipating the worst case scenario.

Little dragon indeed.

 

* * *

Incoming Forces by Miranda Fave

Those same plates deployed by Hayes were the same kind of point of entry for Mercy’s team. First one larger disc transporter enhancer was beamed in to a corridor on the ship. When it materialised and sent back an all clear signal, six more plates then materialised around it. Team Raptor commanded by Captain Mercy Faraday standing on the centre plate materialised with their carbine rifles raised a moment later. Above them, the form of two automated tactical drones appeared and whizzed about above them providing intel and telemetry to the boarding party and bridge.

“Raptor team, position secure.”

“Copy captain.” A moment passed as Faraday awaited the readings from the drones to her stat-mat and verification from the bridge. “We detect armed groups heading two intersections over. They are making their way to the holding cells.”

Faraday rolled her stat-mat closed. The silicone electro-mesh gave an MSD like sensor readout of their surroundings and telemetry. “Copy. Moving out. Let’s cut them off at our chokehold point.” With that, Mercy darted forwards and the team followed, barrelling down the corridors of the ship as quickly but as quietly as they could, with the drones ever present above them. The team quickly sprang into ambush positions, hiding behind bulks, cargo crates and corners as the Orion thugs charged towards the holding pens.

“Lock down the doors.”

The doors behind them to the holding pens were locked by Khien and the controls fried. From ahead, the approach of the reinforcements resounded. As much as Mercy wanted to squeeze off rounds and have the element of surprise, her conscience demanded that she shout out. “Stop!”

Her commanding voice had the effect of startling and halting the troop of thugs who turned with weapons raised to the sudden announcement of Mercy’s team. Though it did not need saying, Mercy declared, “Starfleet Border Patrol. Hands up and get down on the deck.”

The Orion henchmen opened fire.

“They don’t seem to be in the listening mood Boss.” Security grunt Mercus intoned in his deep baritone voice as he dove for cover.

“Eh!” She shrugged indifferent. “Truth be told Mercus, I was rather expecting and hoping it would go down this way.”

The same wicked smile spread on Mercus’s blue Cameroe features as hers. “Heh, heh. Me too, Boss.”

To the rest of the team, Mercy cocked her carbine and declared loudly, “Ok team, that’s the legalities out of the way. Kick butt.”

Mercus popped off a quick burst of fire as he added his shout to the call, “You heard the Boss. Take ‘em down.”

* * *

 

An enlisted security officer kicked the door against the wall and quickly scanned the empty room with the tip of his carbine. He hollered out to his back up. “All clear.”

The same procedure was carried out by another team two doors down. “Clear.”

Gareth Hayes popped the lock to the cell he was checking and kicked the door wide open. He fully expected to announce it as all clear but instead the sight struck him as he took in at least twenty five prisoners hemmed into the tight confines. Their condition was woeful, skeletal features and thin scaled skin of a washed out grey and eyes that were sunken in the seemingly cavernous eye ridges.

“I got more prisoners here. Medical assistance!” He turned to the tactical drone and waved it towards him. “Record this.”

He looked back appalled at the sight – truly horrifying and shocking and for some reason the fact they were all Cardassian had caused Gareth’s guts to churn. With tender care, Gareth led those able to walk out of the cells. They flinched and recoiled from their saviours wary that this rescue was for real.

Hayes tapped his comm. wrist and spoke to the ship. “Osprey. This is Hayes. We’ve got more prisoners. They’re Cardassian and in medical need too. Transporting the walking wounded now.”

Acknowledged. Medical assistance on stand-by.”

 

* * *

The disruptor blasts pocketed the walls around them as the barrage of fire came in from the Orion henchmen. Scowling as she kept low for cover, Mercy Faraday gripped her carbine rifle and twisted it with frustration.

“We got five left Boss. The others have been felled or have fallen back.” Mercus informed her as he peeked out to look down the corridor between incoming shots. The Cameroe chuckled as phaser blasts narrowly missed his blue face. Of course, his keen senses and nimble moves helped Mercus to avoid the incoming fire.

“Well I want that last five taken down. We got a class six ion storm heading our way and I want us to haul ass out of here as soon as.”

“I got no problem with that.”

“Cap. This is Mbeke. We got the crew here secured and are sending them back to the ship. But we got a ticking time bomb here. Sparks tells me the engine is reaching critical. It got cracked in the rat trap and she’s struggling to contain it.”

“Damn it.” Mercy cursed at the floor. “Ok. You get that T’Renna?”

“Affirmative Captain, the ship is reading critical power build up in the engineering section.”

“Swell. Ok. The priority is the evac of the slaves and then the crew in engineering. Keep us appraised.” T’Renna coolly acknowledged the orders. To her team Mercy now said, “Well then, I guess we’re going to have to be a little more proactive in stopping these guys. Mercus hit the power node over them. Shower them with sparks. Roueché – cover us when we make the bolt. Qwen and Eir you’re with me. When Mercus makes them duck low we’re going to run at them. Shoot and hit as we run. K?”

“Yes Boss.”

“K. Let’s do this. Mercus – shoot!”

Mercus hopped out and fired above the heads of the pirates. The ceiling exploded in an angry ball of flames and sparks. Mercy and her cohort were already running at the ducking pirates. Mercus ran after them. Two, then three pirates were hit squarely as they fell. Mercy reached a fourth struggling up to his feet and walloped him with her shortened carbine butt. Qwen karate kicked the fifth pirate before Eir and Mercus ran up to the prostrate pirate and clapped him in cuffs.

“Don’t move scumbag.” Mercy glowered at the pirate under her foot with her carbine now pointing at his angry face. “We secure here Mercus?”

“All good, Boss.”

Roueché came up to their position and directed the team to cuff the others and send them back to the plates to be transported to the brig. “Osprey, this is Roueché. Area is secured for now. We’re sending back captives.”

Mercy clapped her comm. wrist. “Falcon leader, what is your status?”

Hayes’ concerned voice rebounded back in the dim corridor. “We found some more prisoners. They’re ... they’re in a bad way. They’re all ... all Cardassian.”

“Cardassian?” Mercy shook her head of the questions that fact conjured. She focused on the here and now. “What’s the scope on completion of your mission?”

“All areas now checked. We are starting to beam the last of these prisoners back to Osprey now.”

“Good. Get back to the Osprey now. We’re running. Storm’s coming in and the ship is cracking up.”

But Captain...”

“No buts XO. Hurry it up. It’s time to save our butts. Raptor leader, out.” Mercy closed the channel to Hayes and opened one to Mitch Duncannon. “Mitch?”

Bridge secured. Do you want us to take them into custody?

“T’Renna, E.T.A. on the storm front?”

“Five minutes.”

Mercy stewed on the matter. She gave the suspect under the heel of her boot a dire look and it was clear she was thinking about abandoning them to their fate. Tagging the pirates was going to cost them precious time. “Damn it. Haul them in Mitch. But we don’t have time for niceties. All teams begin tagging suspects. Transporter control prepare for mass evacuation of Orion Raider. Beam ‘em to the brigs. Additional security on standby.”

The teams all worked fast and frantic but methodically tagging and transporting the criminal pirates to the extensive brig on the Osprey while Hayes’ team got the freed prisoners to safety and medical attention. Mercy paced the whole while in the corridor of the slaver ship keeping tabs on the incoming storm front and the status of the evacuation. She found herself once again cursing the E.M. interference of the Gauntlet that prevented them from simply performing an emergency mass beam out from the slaver ship. Instead, the more laborious task of tagging with transporter tags and bringing everyone to the transporter enhancer plates ate into their window to escape the brunt of the storm.

“We’re good here, Boss.” Mercus informed her as the last of the pirates from their section were beamed over to the ship.

“Good. This is Raptor 1. Team is evacuating slaver. Go Roueché.”

Roueché went ahead of the others as Mercus and Faraday kept a wary eye for any unexpected surprises. “Just us Mercus. Step on the plates.”

“After you, Boss.”

“Do as you’re told.” Mercus laughed at her order but complied, shaking his head, his now loose braided locks banging softly against one another. Just as he stepped onto the plate Mercy whipped her head round in the direction of a far off cry. “Wait!”

Mercus looked alarmed as his captain’s warning came just as he disappeared into the transporter mist.

Mercy watched him disappear before looking back in the direction of the cry she had heard. It sounded like the whimpering of a child. “Osprey ...” Before she could say anything the ship suddenly pitched violently to one side as a thunderous explosion resounded somewhere in the hull.

* * *

Hayes approached the plates with the last of their prisoners. All of the slaves had been transported over first. He kept a countdown in his head of their diminishing window of time when suddenly the ship bolted as the deck buckled and an almighty roar blasted through the corridors.

Crew and pirates toppled over as the violent shuddering of the ship’s space frame jolted them. Fire exploded through open hatchways that led up from the engineering section.  A prisoner made a run for it but fell and cracked his head off a buckling wall and then was crushed by the collapsing ceiling.

* * *

Faraday careened off the bulkhead beside her and came to a heap on the floor. Above her, the ceiling girder crumpled and collapsed down to skewer the transporter plates, which cracked and crackled before they dulled, lifeless with no power.

She twisted and fell as the deck gave out under her. Girders and steel sliced through the deck and flames sprouted all around her. The entire section trembled and rumbled before the ceiling above rained down on Mercy.

 

* * *

Bridge

The Osprey shook from the blast of the exploding raider. The vacuum of space quickly muted the explosion and revealed the raider remained, albeit in a ruined state. As the effects dissipated, the bridge crew quickly took a sigh of relief that their crewmates and captain were not obliterated without a trace. T’Renna quickly regained their focus asking for a curt account of any damage to ship systems.

“Shields held, minimum damage sustained.”

Cree began manoeuvring the ship away from the hulk. “Backing off from raider.”

T’Renna studied the incoming data from the raider and from across the ship for herself. She signalled for the alarms to be cut. “Status on the raider and boarding teams.”

“The engine core ruptured Lt. Commander and there is extensive damage onboard. Large sections of the port side have collapsed and the engineering level is almost completely exposed to space.”

“We’re still reading numerous life signs and bio-reads aboard the raider.” T’Renna quickly scanned the bio-reads that came from the combadges or comm.wrists worn by the boarding parties. Although stoic in the situation, she felt a degree of satisfaction that the computer read out showed no fatal casualties to their personnel.

“Lower our shields again. Begin emergency transport of all remaining personnel.”

“Commander T’Renna, I’m ... I’m unable to detect a signal for the captain.”

 

* * *

Storm Fronts by Miranda Fave

The deck sloped now at a peculiar angle as Gareth gingerly got to his feet. His head was spinning as he grappled with whatever had just happened. In the back of his head, he surmised that the ship’s engine had exploded in some fashion.

“Ok. Let’s get off this ship.” He said without thinking. Forcibly, Hayes got one of the prisoners up onto his feet and hustled him towards the transporter plates. “Osprey? Do we still have a transporter link?”

Transporter control replied. “Affirmative. Your link is good.”

“Ok. We’re sending the last of the slavers through. Move it, move it.” A thought then occurred to him about the emphasis place on ‘your’. “Our link is good?”

“We lost Faraday’s signal initially but have re-established it. The captain is trapped in her section. We are trying to find a means to lock on to her.”

Ryuu raced up to Hayes. “Commander, I can get through the rubble.” Ryuu pointed towards the doorway towards the section where the captain was trapped. Hayes considered that the young man’s frame was the only one likely to fit through the tight spaces available, especially with such a limited window. “If I take a transporter plate we can punch through the interference.”

The young man looked very serious and earnest but Gareth was troubled at the prospect of sending one so young into such a precarious situation. “What are the options Osprey?”

This time it was the voice of T’Renna, cold and implacable on the line. “The released radiation and the continuing nebula interference have made a lock on the Captain impossible. We are unable to raise Captain Faraday on the comm. but are now reading bio-signs.”

Gareth licked his lips and weighed up the possibilities. With a heavy sigh, he turned to look at Ryuu and then through the doorway blocked by the twisted frame of the ship. “Ok Ryuu. As the captain would say, ‘don’t get dead’. Be careful and if needs be, I will order your emergency beam out, captain rescued or not.”

 

* * *

 

Faraday groaned and then lifted her head. Her head ached and she could feel rubble pressing down on her legs. She looked back to see a bulkhead support lay atop of her legs. Twisting to free herself, Mercy wriggled out from under the rubble.

Smoke filled the interior but she felt grateful for the fact she still had air, however polluted, to breathe.  Thankful too for the protection afforded by her armour suit, Mercy stood and tripped forwards away from the collapsed section. She looked around and marvelled at how lucky her escape had been. “What the hell? What just happened?”

Depressing her commwrist Mercy got nothing for her efforts but static. This caused her to wince but added impetus to moving position.

Faraday leaned against a bulkhead and assessed her own condition and her position. A head laceration and a hobbled leg, she’d live. Spying one of the tactical drones pinned down by a bulkhead, Mercy staggered over to it before toppling the metal off the drone and at once it whirred back to life. First it rose hesitantly and then it seemed to recalibrate and hovered with ease, albeit with a groaning wheezing sound.

Linking her commwrist to the built in communication panel, Mercy quickly established a new link to the ship. “Faraday to Osprey. Come in.”

Shelly Logan answered her. “Captain! Thank gods! I’ve got the captain. She’s awake.” The relief was obvious in the master chief’s voice. From this, Mercy concluded that she must have been knocked out for a short time. Her sore head and queasy stomach attested to it further. She rolled over onto one side and gagged as Logan gave her a sit rep.“The engine core gave out and went boom. We got everyone out. Just. However the storm front is closing and the raider vessel is breaking apart. We can’t get a transporter lock on you Cap. Reinitialise the plate enhancers. Get off the ship quick, Boss.”

Meracy wiped her mouth and looked down at a scrap of a transporter plate remnant. “I can’t Sparks. The plates are a no go.” She kicked the nearest offending broken plate for good measure.

“That’s ok Cap. Ryuu is making his way towards you through the rubble with an enhancer plate.”

“Belay that! The fool kid will get himself killed. I’ll get to the raider’s transporter room and try to ...” Mercy then heard the cry again. She darted off in the direction. “Osprey. This is Faraday. I’ve got a straggler. Sounds like a child ... somewhere ahead of me. Get a lock on any vitals and direct me.”

The captain’s feet clanked down the dark hallways as one of the tactical drones followed behind her. It whizzed ahead then probing with a bright search torch as well as scanning and enhancing the ship’s sensors. Mercy stopped to collect her senses and tried to listen out for the cries again.

Now the cool measured voice of T’Renna came over the comlink. “Captain Faraday. I am detecting faint signals approximately seven metres to your left.”

Faraday looked in that direction. The corridor had collapsed partially in the explosion and she had to pick her way over and under the twisted bulkheads. Ahead she saw a twisted doorframe and directed the drone ahead to check it out. “Anything T’Renna?”

“Drone has detected life signs in the room. The structure has collapsed. I believe any life signs are masked by the fallen metal.” T’Renna then added needlessly, “Your time to effect an escape is limited Captain.”

“Once I get the child.” Faraday declared forcibly as she scrambled into the room. The drone circled over head narrowing its search torch methodically looking over and between the warped metal. “Hello? Anyone here?”

“Help us!” came a small child’s plea. Faraday zoned in on the noise and stumbled over to the origin of the small pitiful voice.

“I’m coming. Hold on. Just hold on.” Picking up a metal bar tube, Mercy used it to prise up a sheet of metal she believed to have trapped the child. “Agh. Are you there?” The metal groaned and barely lifted despite Mercy’s exertions.

“Please help.”

“Hold on. I said I’m coming. I’m getting you out of here. Just hold on. Have faith. Believe me. K? Just believe me.”

“Skip. Tthe section you are in is dampening any chances of a transporter lock. You’ll beed to leave it.”

“I’m not leaving without the child, Shelly.”

T’Renna interjected over the comm. to inform Faraday, “We will be able to gain a transporter lock with the enhancer plate.”

“But you will still need to be on it Skipper.”

“Damn it!” The sheet collapsed again as the ship rocked and shifted under her feet. Grasping frantically, Mercy grabbled to steady herself.

The shaking and groaning grew before it started dying out. Everything around Faraday was shifting and threatening to buckle and crumple. Ominously, even as the greater amount of collapse passed, the ship’s frame still shifted and groaned threatening inevitable disintegration.

“Captain Faraday.” T’Renna addressed her without any overt emotional trace in her voice betraying fear or lack in her composure. “The slaver ship is beginning to break apart and the storm is thirty seconds out.”

“Just give me a moment longer.” Mercy declared as she futilely tried to lift the rubble. The little give she made gave way under the enormous weight. “Damn it. Bridge! Wedge the drone in under this bulkhead when I lift.” The drone was directed into the narrow gap Mercy was able to prise apart. It added its power to her efforts and began struggling to lift the weight of the bulkhead. It whirred loudly under the strain, lurching in the air as it struggled to support such a weight.

“Damn!” Mercy cursed aloud as she could now look further in. She saw not one, but two children. One of them was unconscious; the other was calling out for some kind of help. “Hold on love. I’m here. I’m gonna get you out.”

“Skipper!” Skittering through the darkened corridors came Ryuu, his wrist flashlight bouncing off the extensive rubble.

“Ryuu! I thought I said, never mind.” Mercy waved off her recriminations and pointed to the two children. “Here, help me with this.”

“Let me.” Ryuu slipped the transporter enhancer plate off his back before he got into the tight confines. Mercy noted the scrapes on his face and how dirtied his mirco-mesh suit was and realised that the young man must have squeezed himself through some very tight gaps indeed to be able to have made his way towards here.

Mercy initialised the transporter plate as Ryuu crouched down between the gap. He went forwards and wrenched the shouting child out of the rubble. The unconscious child was more firmly trapped and Ryuu had to start pulling twisted metal away.

The captain lifted the crying child out of the gap and herded her towards the plate before going back to Ryuu. “Hurry it up.”

“The wave front is going to impact in fifteen seconds.”

“Captain I will have to raise shields. I cannot risk the lives of all onboard the ship for four lives on the raider.”

Mercy shouted back over the comlink, “Hold on T’Renna! Hold on!”

“Shields on standby. Helm, prepare to evacuate at best speed.”

“Hold on T’Renna!” Mercy tried to implore of T’Renna knowing the Vulcan had to make the choice to save as many lives as possible which would mean leaving them here on the slaver.

“Storm front collision in ... five, four, ...”

“Engineering ...

Mercy grabbed the child tightly into her clutches as the storm approached. She shouted into the ruined ceiling forlornly, “T’Renna!”

“... raise shields ...”

“... three, two, one.”

“T’Renna!”

 

 

* * *

Weighing Options; Weighing Anchor by Miranda Fave

The huge storm front rolled in and swamped both ships. Then a last minute extension of the Osprey’s shields around the raider flashed angrily under the brutal assault of the storm. The ships encased in the protective cocoon of the shields were thrashed and tossed about in the maelstrom, spinning and pivoting. The raider began ripping apart despite the shields.

Then the shield around the raider disappeared and with a final sigh, the raider’s hull collapsed and broke apart smashing into smithereens as the storm blasted it. The debris was flung far and wide. The Osprey lurched and bore up and away from the disintegrating raider. Then a huge section of the raider’s hull smashed into the cutter.

The Osprey rocked violently. Its shields flared and the nacelle closest to the impact flickered ominously before the ship jumped to a rocky low warp.

On board the cutter, the scenes were tumultuous as EPS systems overloaded. Lights blinked out. The deck lurched and pitched and spun. Shouts, cries and screams rang out in the corridors of the ship before the ship kicked into warp and the ship settled down into a rocky rumbling as it escaped the storm front.

Onto the trembling transporter pad, Faraday, Ryuu and the children laid splayed out from their emergency beam out.

Mercus stepped forward to take the child from Mercy’s grasp, seemingly surefooted despite the upheaval of the deck. “I got the kid, Skipper.”

Mercy stepped off the transporter pad and slapped into the wall as the ship suddenly lurched again. “Damn it! Got the kid!” She hauled herself up off the floor as one of the medics took the child from her arms and took it away to the medical bay. “Chief?”

The transporter chief looked a little shaken, as all of them were. Whether it was the brutal assault or whether it was the close call transport it was hard to tell. The lights over his station flickered and the chief wiped his brow. Clearly, catching their transporter locks had been a touch and go matter. “All teams accounted for. As far we can tell that’s the lot from over there. Slaves and raiders.”

She braced herself against the transporter control station as the ship skewed heavily to the side. “Good.” Mercy mouthed a silent prayer of thanks and blessed herself quickly. “Status Mercus?”

The security grunt took the other child in his arms as Ryuu made funny faces at them. Despite their tom-foolery of entertaining the kid, Mercus informed her, “We’ve jumped to warp. Excuse the bumpy ride Skipper.” He flashed her a smile that bestowed how glad Mercus was to see the captain again.

Mercy acknowledged that smile with a nod of her own. “It’ll do.” She put a hand to her temple, it came away bloodied but she dismissed the injury as she struggled to her feet. “Stallions retrieved?”

The transporter chief responded. “Aye.”

“Good.” Mercy tested her leg and found she could walk on it with some pain. She grabbed a medi-kit and thumbed the controls of a hypo-spray to find a temporary solution to her injury and sighed with relief as the painkiller hissed into her thigh. “Tell the bridge I’m on my way.”

Faraday turned to look at Ryuu as he too handed his child over for a cursory check by the medic. She gave him a stern frown to which he answered with a wry smile and a shrug. He clearly implied she could not berate him for doing the same thing she had done. “I’ll talk to you alone later. You fool boy. Thank you but don’t ever do that again.” She cuffed him playfully over the head.

He acted sheepish for a moment until she was out of whacking range before the smirk returned. “I won’t if you won’t.”

Faraday almost got apoplectic when he said that but instead rolled her eyes and sighed. “Later.” Mercy marched off, heavily, her mood still dark but stopped to give the child a flitting look as it was carried off in the arms of Mercus to sickbay. Turning her attention back to the transporter chief, Mercy said, “I want Plugs on the line when I get there.”

As she approached the bridge, Mercy was ambushed by her XO who came charging up to her side. “Captain?”

“I’m fine XO. Can the love and affection.” Gareth looked piqued at her brusque retort as they entered the busy bridge where T’Renna sat implacably in the command chair directing operations.

But before Gareth could say anything else, Mitch Duncannon barrelled onto the bridge after them. In a heated voice he demanded of Mercy, “What was that about not dawdling and no heroics?”

“Damn it Mitch, lecture me later. We’ve got a storm on our ass ...” she stumbled as the ship shook from the forces beginning to assail them, “and damage to our nacelle. Anyway, it was kids.” She repeated herself to hammer home her message and to broker no arguments with either of them. “It was kids.”

Mitch surrendered the argument and gave a shared feeling look with the XO who remained concerned for the captain sporting a bruised jaw and cut above her eye and seemed to be carrying her leg. Mercy had not time for their concern. She bid T’Renna to remain seated in the command chair, leaving the Vulcan in charge of the bridge as she took stock of their current status and walked up to the engineering station. At it, on the vidcomm was the chief engineer, Jarrah Torel. Bracing herself on the officer’s chair and the station itself against the jostling of the ship, she asked, “Plugs?”

Plugs didn’t look too pleased at having to handle a conference call. “Faraday, I’m busy down here.”

“I know hon but I got to know how bad it is.”

The Trill frowned and directed one of her department offscreen before returning attention to the viewscreen conference. “You cracked it good. We got hit by some debris from the raider when we extended the shields to protect you. She’s holding for the minute but every minute at warp is only stressing it further.”

Mercy put her hands on her hips and thrummed her fingers, aggravated and angry at herself and the situation that had warranted her actions. It didn’t help that this was all on her when she needed a scapegoat for five minutes to vent her frustration. “Ok. We’ll be down in five and discuss our options. Keep the engines cooking for now Plugs. Let’s try to out run this thing as much as we can.” Plugs gave a sad nod to that and Mercy cut the link and turned to the Vulcan in her command chair. “T’Renna? How bad is it?”

Accessing data on the arm panel, T’Renna looked up and gave what could only be considered a grave look, which was all the more grave from a Vulcan of her composure. “The storm is continuing to escalate and its epicentre to gain on us.”

“Not good then.” Mercy rubbed her jaw, wincing at her bruise. She gave the viewscreen with the sight of the chasing storm on their tail a troubling look, considering the threat it posed and the danger that lay ahead. She puffed out heavily, the adrenaline of the fight ebbing and fatigue lurking but the situation demanded she remain alert. She gave a nod to herself as she made calculations, checklists and planned contingencies. “OK.”

Standing, T’Renna addressed Faraday. “If I had not have extended the shields we would not be in this situation.”

“If that is self-recrimination you cut it out. If it’s an accusation directed at me ... now ain’t the time. But our job is to take such risks. What’s done is done. It’s done and dusted so put your dusters away.” T’Renna gave no response to this but stepped back. Seemingly by chance, the Vulcan came to be standing alongside Mitch and Hayes. Mercy didn’t doubt it a deliberate symbolic act on T’Renna’s part of siding with the two of them over her actions. “We,” Mercy signalled herself, Mitch and Hayes, “will be in engineering. You keep the conn. T’Renna. Maintain speed for now. Be ready on the pipeline. I’ll want you to chime in at that time. XO, CoB. Engineering.” She led the way to the turbolift without a backward glance.

* * *

 

Main Engineering

 

“Sparks and Plugs?”

The ship’s chief engineer, Jarrah Torel, looked up from the control panel for the intermix chamber. “Skipper.”

Sporting her engineering overalls now, Sparks was a little more cheery at their arrival but was already getting her hands dirty with the repairs. “Cap.”

“Tell me a story, one with a happy ending preferably.”

Despite the situation, Plugs stopped working to give Mercy and her injuries a considered and concerned look. “You did visit Suthy with that knock?”

Mercy gave her chief engineer an angry stare. “He’s got his hands full.”

“C’here and I’ll look at it.” Plugs stepped forward with her arms out to tend the cut.

Literally batting her away, Mercy retreated from Jarrah’s attentions. “You mend the engines; I’ll save the mending of me to the doc.”

Sparks interjected from under a control panel. “She never listens.”

Mercy looked displeased to the both of them before exclaiming, “Excuse me, I’m the C.O. and we have more pressing matters. What’s the score?”

Jarrah began the report, handing the captain a padd with the details to study as she gave the glib commentary. “Things are not too good. We’re running the engines hot at present. Trying to outrun the storm is taxing the systems but I can understand the need.”

Sparks again interjected, this time sitting up to offer her opinion. “But sooner or later it is going to catch us.”

Gareth Hayes stood behind them with his arms crossed. He lifted his head and asked, “What if we push the warp limit?”

The chief engineer shook her head lamenting at that possibility. “Not recommended at any time in the Gauntlet and certainly not with a cracked nacelle.”

Mercy didn’t need the reminder and didn’t have the time for self-recrimination. “So spill it.”

The Trill began by answering, “Conserve energy...”

And Sparks finished it, “... and weigh anchor.”

Gareth shook his head. “Sorry, Chief Torel, what does that mean?”

Mercy tugged on the bottom of her tactical jacket as she sighed heavily. “Plugs thinks that it is a good idea to batten down the hatches and reserve our energy for the shields and S.I.F. allowing us to withstand the forces of the storm. But ... and here’s the rub XO, she wants us to shut warp drive and sit it out, leaving us like a leaf on a torrent.”

Mitch Duncannon added his thoughts to the matter. “Seems like it might be the only way.”

“The seeming of it and the liking of it are two entirely different things.” Mercy levelled her eyes at Mitch before they were interrupted by T’Renna from the bridge.

“It is inevitable that the storm will catch us. Given that circumstance, we would be prudent to place ourselves in that situation fortified and with the ability to withstand the forces of the storm.”

Mercy nodded, acquiescing to the point. To Torel and Logan she directed, “Fine. Plugs. Sparks. Do it.” She tapped the controls on her comm. wrist. “All hands, prepare to batten down the hatches. We’re weighing anchor.”

She bid the engineers goodbye and good luck. Mitch stayed behind to assist and to avoid cross words with his captain but not before giving her one last look, part guarded and part reproofing. Gareth however left engineering in step with the captain. “So you’ve done this before.”

“Yeah we have, but admittedly not for a storm of this magnitude or the ship in this condition.” This Mercy divulged with a worried brow before turning towards security. “We’re going to be knocked about and the hope is that the shields hold out long enough to outlast the storm. But storms in the Gauntlet can last up to three weeks. We’ll be more than getting sea sick by that stage.”

Gareth tried to not allow the alarm he felt at that revelation tell on his face. “How bad can it get?”

There was a considered beat from Mercy, then a monotone monosyllabic answer that summed it up, “Bad.” As Mercy marched through the corridors she darted off nods and short smiles to passing crew remarking on any repair works she noted en route. “There’s every chance the storm will dissipate and we’ll only endure a little turbulence. There’s even a chance that we get churned out of the Gauntlet.”

“That would be good.”

She wagged a correcting finger as they stalked through the corridors at a brisk clip. “Assuming we come out on our side. The Cardassians will overlook any indiscretion given the Eleventh Fleet’s mission of mercy. As for the Breen, seeing as how we’ve had to overlook plenty of their ships crossing into our territory by ‘accident’ over the years they’ll have to grant us similar leeway. They’ll tittle-tattle and make diplomatic noises but no one has forgotten their role in the war and how much they’ve come through it pretty unscathed.”

Mercy’s tone held a great deal of bitterness and before Gareth could comment on it, the captain beat him to it. “Let’s just say there’s blood under the bridge, XO. Obviously, since the Dominion War things are testy between all us folks in this neighbourhood. So I’d just sooner not visit. Suffice to say, the Breen have shown themselves not to be trusted. If we end up in the Border Lands, it is no man’s land so we should be fine. We could always make for a neutral planet to effect repairs if badly beaten up. But it could be dependent upon our condition. There’s many an Orion who would fancy their chances of ganging up on a beaten up Border Dog. Then you’ve got your Ashers. They’re a constant source of trouble in these woods but they usually – usually - avoid any Federation ships. However, that’s not the worst of it.”

Hayes’ brow furrowed. “It’s not?”

“No. Who are our other neighbours in this neck of the woods?”

“The Tzenkethi.” He said with realisation.

“Yup and they hold to that whole transgression of their sovereignty fairly tightly. Especially after that Founder masquerade incident back in the War. They took it as a sign to trust the Federation even less than before. Go figure the logic of that. The Border Dogs don’t normally play at diplomacy, other than the gunboat kind, but the moment we get caught in Tzenkethi space is the very moment we could tip the Federation into another conflict. We can always duck and run but we might find it hard to enter into the Gauntlet again if the storm is still raging and it is a long way round to Feddie space. And that’s assuming we don’t meet any Tzenkethi patrols or worse ...”

“Worse?”

“There are cats and then ... there are cats.”

Gareth gave a disbelieving response. “Kzinti clans? I didn’t think they would target a Federation ship.”

“They target anyone if they are hungry enough. And a fair few also trade in slavery and make use of the Gauntlet as a means to ply their piracy trade. They’d try their chance. Especially, if they were in a hunting pack, smelled blood or got wind of the fact we were a plump prize with additional slaves to throw into the mix.”

Hayes responded with a grim, “Right.”

“I know. They didn’t tell you that in the Academy.”

Gareth arched an eyebrow at his captain sourly, noting yet again her barely veiled contempt for the Fleet. Tersely he replied, “I wouldn’t say that.”

“I would. Remember, I went to the Academy too. It weren’t focused on this aspect of the job. The Kennel trained me for this life.” For a fraction of a second, Mercy entertained memories of the training academy for the Border Patrol Service, colloquially known as The Kennel.

Gareth took some umbrage at her comments. “So you’re better qualified for this?”

Their words brought them both to a stop and to face one another in the corridor. “Of course I am. I am the bleeding captain, I really ought to be. Don’t get me wrong. I ain’t going to resolve any diplomatic disputes, broker treaties, advance scientific knowledge - that’s but a part of what Starfleet does. I just do the dirty police work that allows you guys to do what you do.”

“You nearly make it seem as though you do all of the tough stuff.”

“I didn’t say that. You guys fought the war. We were kept largely to the sidelines even though that’s our mission to protect the borders and hold the line.” Mercy sighed and rubbed her temple. It seemed this was a bone of contention with her but one she knew she’d spent too many heated words on in the past. “Look here,  the Fleet by and large fought the war in the Fleet actions. That was their job and their specialised training. It’s just a matter of different job profiles. I don’t mean any offence XO but nor do have time for a philosophical argument.” Mercy stepped into the security office and looked through to the holding cells of the brig. “Mbeke? All secured.”

Leann Mbeke looked up and noted an air of tension between her CO and XO, which was nothing new since the XO’s arrival but at a time like this Mbeke had to consider the security difficulties such personal frictions could cause. “Yes Skipper. Seventy three in total. The injured are in a secure room in sickbay. The rest are stowed here. It’s going to get bumpy?” She referred to the tactic of weighing anchor.

“Pretty much. You’ll need to keep extra security on them in case the storm throws up an opportunity. I want Lorish cut off from the others. Segregate him. When we’ve time, we’ll question him.”

“Oh, I want to sit in on that interview.” Leeann gave a devilish lick of her lips, anticipating Mercy going hard ass on Lorish.

More softly, Mercy directed Leann, “In the meantime, I want you to get information from the rescued slaves. Get their stories.”

Gareth chimed in, “Especially the Cardassians.”

Mbeke gave him a questioning look, while Mercy pinched the bridge of her nose where she felt a headache coming. “Yes, that especially.”

“I planned to. Not usual we get many Cardassians up on the slave markets.”

The captain sighed with a weariness in her bones. “It’s a new universe after the war and I daresay this is indicative of Cardassia’s new found status. We’re going to be seeing more Cardassian slaves in the future.” She paused. “Unless we can find a way to stop it before it becomes a profitable line. Be gentle. I know you will.”

Mercy turned on her heel and left security with troubles and her XO following her.

“XO. I want you on the bridge helping to co-ordinate the efforts to batten down the hatches. We want to conserve as much power as we can. So check what systems we can close down and make sure we have provisions and rations sorted. We could be in for a long haul here. I want to pull the plug on warp drive in ... twenty minutes.”

“Yes Captain.”

“Also, XO, try to raise Watchtower if you can punch through the static of the storm and tell them of our plan of action. They won’t send anybody to help but they’ll then know to come looking come the time. And if you’re not sure about anything, let the guys do their thing. They know what they are doing.”

“Look but don’t touch.” Gareth tried to stop himself bristling. “I’m not of much use then.”

“XO ... I don’t mean it like that.” Mercy was exasperated with the situation and she didn’t need to be exasperated about playing nice with her new XO. “They work well as they are. They are drilled and trained for this. You use this as an opportunity to learn the procedures. If I were on the bridge, I’d be doing nothing different. I’d expect to be doing nothing different. It’s the crew’s job to know their thing.”

Mercy squared a look with Gareth. The sentiment behind it was plainly to square their argument away and trust her advice. “Your main task is to make sure that everyone keeps to the timetable. Don’t let T’Renna or Plugs advance the schedule. Replicators will be taken offline so we want ourselves stocked with medicines, food and provisions before we sit to wait the storm out. You hold them in line and kick the rest up the ass to get it done faster.”

“And you Captain?”

She gave another heavy and tired sigh. “I’ll be in sickbay. Keep me updated on the progress. Twenty minutes. No more. No less.”

“Yes sir.”

 

* * *

Acts of Mercy by Miranda Fave

Medical bay

 

“Mercy me, Mercy.”

Faraday rolled her eyes at the Chief Medical Officer’s greeting upon seeing her injuries. “Doc, I don’t have time for this.”

“And I didn’t have time for minor ailments earlier, which is why you should have had one of the nurses or medics take care of you.” He led her away from the main sickbay towards his office. Lionel ‘Suthy’ Sutherland knew that if Mercy were to assent to his ministrations it would only be in the privacy of his office and not being gawked at by everyone else. “Let me check you out. See that you haven’t cracked that head of yours, although going by the stories I hear your behaviour was cracked before you got the knock to your noggin.”

Mercy’s tone was exasperated. “Don’t tell me you’re going to give me a lecture too, Suthy?”

“Well I’m the one person on board whose very job it is to lecture you.” Suthy gathered together a tray of medical equipment that caused Mercy to give him a wary look.

“Look Doc, I just need a sit-rep.”

The doc reassured her even as he moved to tending Mercy. “Oh, the worst has been handled. No immediate concerns. I’ve a fair few however that are in critical care but they remain stable. They’ve all a lot of recovering to do yet, a lot of which will be psychological. I’m nowhere near qualified to even begin helping them...”

Uneasy, Mercy looked off into the distance at the bio-beds across the infirmary. “You’ll do fine. We’ll have them back at Watchtower in no time and they’ll handle it from there. In the meantime, you is what we’ve got and you’ll do.”

Lionel set his instruments down into his lap as he shook his head at his captain. “I’ve never understood your reluctance to have a full time counsellor on the staff.”

Mercy barrelled him with a look. “You don’t need to understand it Suthy.”

“It’d be helpful if I did. Otherwise, I’d be inclined to think you have a problem you’d sooner not deal with yourself. Not a good thing in a commanding officer.” She winced as he probed her injured leg. He gave her an admonishing look which she tried to shrug off. As he scanned and treated the leg, he went on to scold, “Hmm, self-medicating now, are we? I must have missed the part about medical training in your file.”

“I did what was necessary for me to do my job.”

“Ah well, in that case, you’ll excuse me while I pop out to take a go at that central chair on the bridge then.”

“You’re a real wit, Doc. Look sorry, a lot of things were happening at once and needed to be dealt with.”

“Fine Mercy fine. I think I’ve identified the real sore point here though.” He leaned with the medical tricorder to her leg.

“Huh?”

He snapped the tricorder shut and replaced it on the tray as he gave her a stern correcting look. “You got caught out. You broke protocol. Your crew bailed you out. You’re probably thanking the heavens that it was T’Renna who pulled off that little trick. That way you don’t have to be beholden to her.”

“You patching me up or psychoanalysing me?”

“Oh no, I thought I’d leave that to our resident counsellor. Oh wait.” The two of them exchanged barbed looks with one another. “Did you ever consider given our duty often involves the rescue of such as these, a counsellor would be hugely beneficial?”

“Course. A counsellor takes up a full staff position I can better use elsewhere.” Mercy flexed her leg and offered her thanks for the patch up. “In the meantime, I’ve a doctor and three nurses who have training in counselling services. Enough to suffice. And you just proved how much you like to play at being a head shrink.”

“Perhaps and perhaps not.” Suthy saw that the issue only served to anger Mercy and all he wanted was to make the point and leave it for the captain to ponder on. He opted to move on to other related matters. “Still they’re safe for now. Though that doesn’t mean they aren’t frightened. He treated them badly Mercy. Very bad.”

“Yeah, he’s a real piece of work. But this time, we’ve got Lorish banged to rights.” Her face was a scowl of indignant rage as she looked out upon the sickbay.

Suthy directed her sternly yet paternally. “Sit back on the end of the bed. Open your mouth and stick out your tongue and go agh.”

A voice announced with exclaim and distain from the doorway. “Really? Do you call that medical practice from whatever hick college you supposedly graduated from?” Into the office sauntered the E.M.H. to report to Suthy. The E.M.H. was scowling and giving Suthy a scornful look.

Not deigning to look up at the E.M.H. Suthy continued to look into Mercy’s mouth, tilting her chin and feeling her lymph nodes. “Excuse me Dr. Photon, I don’t recall asking for a second opinion. Shouldn’t you be recharging at a socket?”

The E.M.H. walked up to Mercy perched on the end on Suthy’s table and berated the doctor without even looking at the captain. “That is hardly a standard or thorough medical practice.”

“It tells me a great many things without recourse to using technology.” At this point, Lionel gave a hooded look towards the E.M.H. and concluded, “There’s far too much technology in this medical bay as is.”

“What could it possibly tell you?”

“A-yuse-mree?” Mercy tried to say, with tongue suppressor on her tongue and held hostage by unconventional means by the two doctors.

“Firstly, it tells me that the Cap didn’t bite her tongue in her latest tumble. Secondly, given her reluctance to visit me for her requisite medical checkups, it is a good barometer on any number of issues, diet, teeth, breath.”

“A-YUSE_MREE! ITTIN RITE REAR.” She spat the suppressor out and leaned back from Suthy. “I said, I’m sitting right here. Stop talking over me!”

“Be silent. I am trying to ensure that this hack you employ as C.M.O. doesn’t misdiagnose you. I’m outfitted with the medical records of over ...”

Suthy was dismissive of the E.M.H. and waved it off. “Yadda, yadda, yadda. Cap, you’re good to go.”

“Thank the Lord.” Mercy hopped down off the bio-bed. “You two were starting to give me a headache.”

The E.M.H. whirled round to look at her and waved a tricorder in her direction even as he rounded on Lionel not visually reading the scan as his program directly read it.“You’ve a headache? See, probable concussion.”

“Don’t be a dunderhead. Where’s your off switch? Did you manage to reset that dislocated leg?”

Snapping the medical tricorder shut he pronounced before Suthy, “Why of course I did. I’m programmed with...”

Mercy shook her head as she left the two of them arguing. The fact that they were sparing the time to argue gave her all the confirmation she needed that the emergencies were handled.

Taking stock of the infirmary, Mercy evaluated the situation. Beyond she could see security in the medical brig standing guard over the Orion pirates injured in the course. Satisfied at that she looked to the rescued slaves. As she travelled past the sickbays she looked upon the weak bodies of the various patients rescued from the slavers. Her heart broke to see them and her blood boiled as she thought of those who had done this to them.

Walking through the infirmary, Mercy took in the sight of the bandaged and cleaned up victims of the slavers. Even still they were shocking to lay eyes on. Their bones showed through their papery skins, their eyes were large, drawn and void on gaunt faces with fears lurking just beneath their surface. It was sadly a look Mercy had seen all too often, a look engrained on her soul; frightened, they lay on their medical beds huddled and pitiful not daring to believe that their ordeal was truly over.

Her thoughts then went to the fact that their ordeal wasn’t over yet. They still had to outlast the storm and the next few hours would soon become a nightmare of a different kind.

“Captain ...?”

She turned to the patient who called out to her. She was a slim, young looking Cardassian. “Yes? Can I help you?”

“You’ve ... you’ve done more than enough. Thank you, thank you.”

“It was nothing ... it was my job.” Mercy took a breath to steady herself to ask the potent question, “Who did this to you? How did you get to become ...”

The girl turned away suddenly clammed up. Mercy knew better than to push it and found herself balling hers fists. The lights flickered and the ship rumbled under an assault from the storm. The wakened patients grew alarmed and some wailed in torment fearing the worse. The fear in the medical bay was palpable even with the doctors, nurses and medics rushing to reassure their patients.

A few of the younger children quailed aloud as the ship rumbled again and the lights dipped fractionally in output. Their fear lanced Mercy’s heart and she stopped in her tracks. She looked about the crowded sickbay and felt her heart spill out to their circumstances.

Her eyes alighted on the two children rescued by Mercy and Ryuu. They at least made it all worth it she had to consider. She approached the cot of the little girl who was awake. The girl rubbed at her eyes and then smiled in recognition as the captain. Mercy sat invited on the edge of her bed.

“Are you ok?”

The little girl nodded her head as the rotund Denobulan Nurse, Sawhee, approached with a maternal smile. “She’s doing good Cap. Not very talkative but she’s keeping a good eye on her friend here.” All three looked to the neighbouring bed where the unconscious child lay being monitored by the systems.

“Did...?” Mercy trailed off asking anything more, tentatively reaching towards the little girl who had balled the bed sheets up around her protectively. Sawhee shook her head. “Thank God.” Mercy breathed relieved. She had feared the worst since the children had been in a different area of the ship she had worried worse things had happened to them.

“It seems our timing was fortunate.” Sawhee handed the captain a padd with the medical details on them for her to peruse. “Both are doing good. This little one needs to be kept monitored and sedated. A slight concussion being the worst of it. While this little beauty hurt her legs but she’ll be up and dancing any time soon. The shakes and rumbles are frightening this little princess and she’s resistant to the idea of sleep.”

Mercy took a medical drape cloth and began to twist and fold I over before putting a knot it. “Look here. I’ve a little friend to look over you. She wants to play and be your friend. ‘Hello’. Won’t you say hello to her?” Mercy danced the makeshift ragdoll and had it repeat its friendly entreats.

The little girl laughed a little despite herself. Gently Mercy handed the doll out for the little girl to take. After a moment of hesitation the little girl took the doll and nursed it closely in against herself bringing a smile to Mercy and Sawhee. Mercy ran a hand through the little girl’s hair and cooed softly at her. The girl yawned and Mercy bid her to sit back on the pillows and cosy in close to the doll. “There now. Take you a little rest and sleep. Good girl. Sleep. Sawhee will take good care of you. That’s her job. I’ve told her to keep a special eye on you and your friend. Ok? Everything’s going to be better now my sweet.”

After a moment, the little girl had fallen over to sleep. Sawhee gave Mercy a grateful smile. “Thank you Cap. If only all their fears could be allayed so easily.”

“If only.”

“Your nieces must be very lucky.”

“Oh I doubt they see it quite that way. Have any one who can be shipped to the rescue berths moved as soon as, Sawhee. Things are going to get rougher. We might need the room in here and we can better secure them in the rescue berths. K?”

“Already on it Cap.”

Slipping off the little girl’s cot carefully so as not to disturb her, Mercy moved away from the cot and stepped into a central position in the room. Mercy touched the crucifix through her uniform tunic and closed her eyes to master her thoughts and marshal the words to speak to the patients, to assure the slaves. “I’m Captain Mercy Faraday. Listen to me. I know you’re scared; you’ve good cause to be. I know you have lost faith and lost trust in others. I know that bad things have happened to you. But hear me, you’ve been saved. You’ve been saved but just I’m afraid you aren’t just safe yet. But know this. It is my and my crew’s duty to keep you safe, to do all in our power to keep you safe.

“We’re facing a storm, a fierce storm I won’t lie to you. The danger is real but you – you know all about danger. You know what it is to fear for your lives. You know it because you have lived it. You know it because you have endured it and know it now because you endured and survived such danger. You lived to survive. That was on you. My job was to rescue you. I did that. My job is to keep you safe. I will do that. Your job is to survive. You did that. You’ll do it again. You’ve been strong. All I ask is that you be strong for a time yet. Be strong and survive. Together, together,” ‘may the Lord have mercy on us’ she intoned silently, “we’ll get through this. You’re survivors.”

Without any further ceremony, Mercy left it at that and headed to the door where she saw her XO standing. “XO? Checking up on me?”

Gareth looked about the sickbay and the calm and steel he now saw there after Mercy’s words to the patients. He gave her a curious look, part admiration and part confusion as he tried to suss what kind of person his CO was. “I came to check the medical bay had made the necessary precautions for weighing anchor. And to check on the relief bays.” When he saw her disbelieving look he added, “And I thought we could talk.”

“Well then might I suggest we sidle out of here before we get embroiled in their cat-fight?” She indicated through to the CMO’s office where Suthy stood arguing with the E.M.H. still. “Don’t worry, it isn’t a discipline issue. Suthy’s only fighting with the holo-doc. He would only concede using the holo-doc if he were permitted to berate and annoy it in turn.”

“That’s the Mark-I. Surely, it could have been updated.”

“This is the Border Service; an E.M.H. Mark 1 is all shiny and new to us. Anyway, we could have upgraded but Suthy has actually grown attached to Dr. Photon, not that he’d admit such, so he shoots down any talk of an update. All I care about is that we have a fine doc in Suthy and the additional benefit of an E.M.H. doctor. Bedside manners aren’t high on my priority.”

Gareth Hayes nodded his head to that statement giving it his full endorsement. “No.”

Mercy gave him a long sideways look. “You can say it XO, cos I don’t have much of a bedside manner or whatever the C.O. equivalent of it is.”

Gareth cocked a grin in return. “I wasn’t going to say that.”

Mercy gave him a wry smile that knew better. “But you were thinking it.”

“I was also thinking that those were very kind words you spoke back there. Seems you have some sort of bedside manner.”

Uncomfortable with the praise, Mercy shifted and sighed. “Those people needed kind words XO, Lord knows, they haven’t had much kindness extended to them in a long while. We can offer them words if nothing else.” Mercy rolled her shoulders, trying to roll out the troubles of her day so far in preparation for the troubles ahead.

They navigated the corridors from the infirmary and surgical medical bays to approach another section of the ship. Gareth took in the sight before him. In what might otherwise have appeared to have been a cargo bay was a large room with stacked berths. Rows of white blocks lined the room. Each with a berth above and below, with monitoring systems, simple display panels, simple relief packs at the foot of each bed with clothes, foods, toiletries, etc boxed and awaiting use by those rescued slaves who now took up the cots.

The room was milling with the rescued and the medical assistants and crew who helped them to get bedded in before weighing anchor. Additional supplies were being carted into the room, stacked and secured. “This is something else.”

“Yeah, it is XO. While there’s only a few of the Gryffon class we’re specialised for such eventualities. These bays are on permanent standby to receive any one whom we have need to rescue. Not usually as many as this it has to be said but we can cater for them. It allows a degree of comfort and secure transit.”

“The Border Patrol sure has some fancy toys. Here I was thinking you were the red-haired cousins of Starfleet.”

“Careful there XO.” They marched through the crowded room checking in on the preparations. “We usually have to contend with hand me downs, older vessels no longer of use to the Fleet to conduct our patrols. However, it means we can pool our resources and prioritise with a few specialised vessels such as the Gryffon and other classes to conduct some of our duties.”

“Impressive.”

“Glad we can impress XO.” They left the relief bays and began to make their way towards the bridge. “I presume everything else is on track to weigh anchor?”

“Preparations are in hand.” There was a pregnant pause.

“XO.” She steadied herself against a bulkhead as the ship felt as though it were going to veer to one side before systems compensated. They started walking as they talked. “I get that you want to talk but as you’ve probably guessed I am not easy to talk to; especially not when there’s a job ahead to be done.”

“I understand that captain. However, it seems there is always a job to be done.” Gareth referred to the fact he had been aboard for a number of weeks at this stage and it seemed all too clear that his captain was freezing him out.

“Well ... that’s partly cos there usually is. We aren’t sitting around gathering sensor readings on pulsar stars! Sorry. Sorry.” Mercy chided herself. “I actually don’t mean that. And honestly, I don’t mean to make scientific surveys of that type seem unimportant when in fact the Border Patrol Service are always keen to read and analyse any such surveys as a means of better understanding stellar objects. Heck that’s one great big sophisticated sensor array pod we’ve got attached on top of the Osprey.

Hayes looked surprised and puzzled at the reference to Border Patrol’s interest in scientific surveys. “They are?”

“Well we tend to work with them a lot more than the Fleet. We travel and patrol nebula’s and ion storm prone regions. We maintain the communications and navigational network relays. And we often find ourselves in a SAR operation involving all manner of space phenomena. So actually, yes we take a great deal of interest in such scientific studies. In fact, a small side project of our own sensor readings is to collate and forward them to Border Command for a massive analytical programme.”

Hayes pulled a look of revelation. “I didn’t know that.”

“Well it seems like good practice and sense. Yeah, we’re secret nerds us Dogs.” Mercy tried to raise a smile from Hayes. “It was all a logical decision given it was a proposal forwarded by a Vulcan Border Patrol science officer. She advanced her scientific career by enlisting in the Border Service in order to ordnance such phenomena like the Gauntlet.”

“I didn’t ever imagine that Border Patrol would be seen as a career boost for science career. Command and security tactical, yes I can see the obvious linkage.” Now it was Gareth’s turn to admit, “Seems there’s more to the Border Patrol than I ever imagined.”

Mercy sensed he was extending an olive branch as they climbed the stair levels to the bridge. “You got that right.” She sighed and reluctantly accepted her need to return such words. “Commander, I don’t begrudge your being a Fleeter. Honestly, you can learn a lot from this assignment and I’m sure I can learn from you. You did well today in the Op. I just – I just don’t like new people. It takes me a little time.”

“I can understand that Captain. However...” his tone caused Mercy to stop on the steps and swivel to face Hayes. He stepped up to her and lowered his voice as a security post was situated at the top of the level. “The truth of the matter is Captain, I don’t know you either. I don’t know the crew yet either. But I know they’re very loyal to you. They take their lead from you. And while you continue to put a distance between us, it makes the rest of the crew wary and distant from me.”

Mercy was about to object but Gareth rolled on. “Look I didn’t get into this line of work to make friends. However, I’m not use to going into an Op like today without knowing and trusting the person stood beside me. That galled. And it put us at a terrible risk too.”

“I can appreciate that XO. Sorry.”

“And...” Mercy’s eyes near popped out that her commander was not going to let the situation rest at that but she refrained from butting in. “You near got killed. No matter what way you dress it you could very easily have been lost to the crew. That’d have left them without you and it would have left me in command. And if the crew can’t trust me as XO because you don’t let me in, then they sure wouldn’t trust me as their commanding officer.”

Mercy pursed her lips together and let his words sink in. They both gripped the railings as the ship dipped down and up. Considering his words, Mercy met them with a curt nod. Her way of accepting the correction. “Fine.” In a lighter tone she added, “Only a couple weeks into the job and you’re pitching for mine Hayes? I’d best watch my back. Come on.”

They passed through the security post checkpoint at the top of the stairs and stepped onto the bridge. T’Renna swivelled round in the central chair, one of the differences from the Gryphon class to the Intrepid class bridge being the central command chair that swivelled. A further difference lay in the more robust station that bracketed the rear of the command well and served as tactical.

“Storm front is imminent Captain, Commander.”

“Very well T’Renna.” Mercy gave the science officer a curt nod and took the command chair quickly. “T’Renna ...”

The Vulcan turned to face the captain and raised a curious eyebrow. Mercy frowned, recalling Suthy’s words in the infirmary. Her words came out a little begrudgingly but nevertheless genuine. “Thanks. Thanks for what you did.”

“I was merely carrying out my duties. No gratitude is required.”

Mercy scowled and whispered, “Oh take the damned thanks for what it is, T’Renna. Ever hear of looking a gift horse in the mouth.”

“Yes. However, since I technically disobeyed orders I was content to allow the matter rest.” The two women eyeballed one another. Long years working together meant they had their own way of communicating. T’Renna remained stoic and Mercy found herself resisting a small smile. “We good to go, T’Renna?”

“We are captain.”

With a quick stab of the arm rest controls, Mercy got a cursory status update of ship systems and nodded her own approval. “K. Seems we’re about as set as we’re going to be all things considered people.”

As Mercy opened a comm. to engineering to check in with Chief Jarrah, Gareth took the moment to look about the bridge and get a sense of the mood. Everyone was feeling tense; a completely different kind of tension from that of pre-op. Gareth could understand that. The tension of the boarding op was the waiting for the action but they controlled much of the circumstances. This manoeuvre however was leaving a lot to chance and that told on the crew.

Hayes took his position to the rear of the bridge. His seat was a much more muscled form than that of the Intrepid class too with a small wrap around station. He made his own assessment of the preparations and was in agreement with the captain. He looked up to see Mercy turning to him. She raised an eyebrow. He was puzzled for a moment as to her purpose and then realised she was silently asking his opinion.

Gareth refrained from grinning feeling a weird sense of accomplishment at garnering her respect. He gave his own nod of approval to the plan to go ahead. She acknowledged him with a nod in return and then the captain opened a ship wide channel, though she was careful to not select the brig.

“All hands. Prepare to weigh anchor. Expect severe turbulence and power fluctuations. Everyone to their stations. I’m switching the ship to blue alert.” She closed the channel and then addressed the bridge crew. “K people. Bring the storm. Jarrah, weigh anchor. XO, you’ll want to buckle up.”

Gareth did so but punted at a moment of levity. “You’ve been waiting for the chance to tell me to belt up ever since I arrived.”

Mercy smirked, then blessed herself and said a small prayer. Prayer finished, she blessed herself again and gripped her armrests. “Amen.”

 

 

* * *

Dead to Rights by Miranda Fave

Conference Room

 

A nervous four hours later and the Osprey still trembled from the ravages of the storm assaulting its shields. The deck sometimes lurched or pitched with a sickening see-saw effect as though on the ocean waves when the ship’s internal compensators failed to anticipate the motion and ferocity of the storm front.

Their current status however was nothing in comparison to the initial maelstrom of weighing anchor. Then the ship truly felt as though it were in free spin, churning in the tempest of the storm. Much of that sensation had abated as the shields were adjusted to help them be carried more smoothly in the current of the storm.

Gareth Hayes fell into the chair beside his captain who gave him a bemused look as she sat commanding the attention of those pitching into their chairs around the conference table. Patting his churning stomach, he conceded, “I see what you meant about taking sea sickness tablets. Cree has the conn.”

“About time you started taking what I say to heart XO. Sit up straight. It doesn’t do to look slovenly at a debriefing,” Mercy admonished, he was pretty sure teasingly. “Let’s go round the table. Let’s start with Suthy seeing as how he’s far too pressed with duties to attend in person.”

Via a communication screen, the white-haired doctor smirked and protested, “I did offer to send Dr. Photon in my stead.”

Mercy met that remark with a dry look. “What’s the status of our patients?”

“I’ve all patients stabilised as of now. Some are still in bad shape, as is only to be expected. I’ve also had to carefully sedate a many number of the patients as the effect of the storm is hard on them in their condition. I’m also dealing with an influx of minor injuries. Despite my calls for movement about ship to be kept to a minimum it appears crew are swanning around as though this were some walk in the park. And the injuries to date may be minor but it will only take one bad fall in this mix to crack a head or snap a neck. Which was another reason for my staying put here and using one of the ship’s many conveniences.” Suthy tapped the monitor screen to indicate.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve got an upset stomach.” The ship pitched mightily in that moment to illustrate the source of Mercy’s discomfort. “I hardly need you to be a pain in my backside Suthy to boot.”

Suthy seemed to take the dips and rises of the ship with far greater ease than Mercy, smiling in his genial way. “Just saying.”

“Fine Suthy. The crew’s hardly swanning about. All non-essential personnel have been restricted to their quarters.”

From his medical office, Suthy enquired, “Any chance you have a notion when this infernal roller coaster is going to be over?”

“T’Renna,” Mercy swung her attention round to the Vulcan, “you heard the Doc. Got an estimate for us?”

Folding her palms down on the conference table, T’Renna straightened in her seat, seeming for all the world to be oblivious to the rolling of the ship in the wake of the storm. “I cannot speculate at this juncture without sufficient quantifiable data. Suffice to say, we are here for the interim.”

Mercy rubbed her temple while her other hand pulled on the chain around her neck. “Just swell. No pun intended.”

Suthy opted to sign off on this note. “Well ain’t that a pleasure. I’m off back to work; I’ll leave you all to prattle on.”

The doctor’s viewscreen image winked out leaving Mercy to tell the emblem that replaced Suthy, “You’re dismissed Doc. Ok, what way are communications XO?”

“Still unable to breech the storm’s disturbance. We deployed another buoy marker on the time mark.”

Mbeke chipped in with her own concern. “Let’s just hope they don’t act like breadcrumbs to anyone we don’t want to know our position to come and track us down.”

The dangers were all too real given the region of space they could be tossed into, however Mercy was inclined to dismiss such concerns under the circumstances. “Presently, those same folk have the same problem as us, not knowing our way in this murk. Rouché, what way do the sensors read? Anything on our screens?”

“Too much murk to say for sure. If I were a betting man, however, I would punt towards our current course taking us close to Tzenkethi space.”

“We’ll have to cross that bridge when it comes to it.” Mercy stewed on that news with a scowl. “However, I want our tactical responses ready in such an eventuality. Repairs to the engines?”

Sitting in for Torel, Shelly Logan had presented the briefing with the latest status report. “Plugs – the Chief – has repairs in effect. However, there’s only so much we can effect from within to repair the nacelle, unless you want us to risk a space walk in this weather, which I wouldn’t recommend.”

Another scowl. “No, no I won’t be recommending that. Unless there’s some emergency situation that calls for it. Keep at it. But if there’s a way to help compensate for the storm and make this ride a little smoother, I’d be all for it.”

“I recommend a good glass of port.”

Even as Mercy rolled her eyes at the very thought of it, Leann Mbeke scoffed “You would Shelly.”

With a wink, Shelly returned, “You betcha girl.”

Mercy wasn’t in a bantering mood so quietened the pair of them. “Ok, Sparks no doubt Jaarah wants you back down there. Tell her I forgive her absence this one time.”

Shelly of course could hardly leave without a smart comment. “Hmpf! She said there’d be tea and scones at this! To think, I thought I was getting a chance to see how the other half live.”

Mercy conceded a moment of levity. “Union rules girl. We can give out scones with plebs about.”

Playing at tossing and catching her sonic wrench, Shelly just remarked, “Just remember who works the replicators, Boss.”

When Shelly Logan departed, Mercy leaned forward and looked about the room at T’Renna and Hayes in particular. “So, how long do you figure we can hold it out T’Renna? And before you say it, I know you don’t have all the data. Just ballpark it.”

“Ballpark it.” T’Renna mulled over the expression as though it left a sour taste in her mouth. “There is no reason to say we cannot remain under these conditions for another twenty-four to twenty-eight hours. After which time, major systems will start to be compromised no matter the efforts of Chief Torel.”

Mercy dragged the crucifix and chain over her chin as she contemplated this news. It was obvious the news troubled her. “Not bad considering we took a hit to the nacelle all things considered.”

“Precisely captain. Had we not received the knock we would be in far more capable position. Nevertheless, it worth bearing in mind that this sort of condition is what the Gryffon class was designed to withstand. Even a region as inhospitable as the Gauntlet.”

“Very well. Mbeke given the lack of progress on the storm front, perhaps you can offer some light on the plight of the prisoners.”

“Firstly, we’ve seen some scared slaves in our time but these poor wretches really clammed up the moment they were pressed on matters.” She slid across a padd to Mercy and Gareth who picked them up before the pitch of the ship made them slide from their grasp.

Seeing as how few folk are going to get much sleep, I’ve got extra shifts on duty. The brigs are secured and locked down but a few of the forcefields were acting glitchy. I’ve got a tech on stand by for a worse case scenario. But we’ve got redundancies in place and then we’ve got old fashioned redundancies in place.”

Gareth frowned. “Huh?”

Mbeke patted the sidearm at her hip. “When you stay with Mbeke Hospitalities, you can be assured of close attention and a warm welcome.”

“I’m presuming there’s no chocolate on the pillow.”

“Oh XO, how do you think I ever got these hips?”

Mercy frowned. She wasn’t entirely sure she was displeased more with Mbeke for making friendly with the interloper that was their new XO or the fact Hayes was trying to befriend her command staff. “Have you questioned any of the raiders?”

“Yeah. I started with the lowlies in the hope they might talk more. I’ve decided to take up getting blood from a stone as a hobby. Feels like it would be a lot more rewarding than that endeavour.”

Mercy shifted in her seat. It would take a particular brand of interview to elicit any worthwhile response from the Orions. “What about Lorish?”

“He is stalking his pen like a – the – caged animal he is. He’s feeling quite agitated and sweating it.” Mbeke gave an expectant smile to Faraday. “Might be due a conversation from the host with the most.”

“He’s going to get one, that’s for sure.”

Looking up from the padd he had studied intently, Hayes offered, “Reading between the lines of what little these slaves have offered Mbeke it reads like Lorish was a secondary transit. Someone else brought them to him?”

Mbeke raised her eyebrows at Gareth’s quick study and looked quizzically to Faraday, Mercy made a get on with gesture with her hand twirling before her in the air. Addressing Hayes, Mbeke confirmed his suspicions. “Reads that way. My feel of it is that they were taken from within Cardassian territory. Once we have comms back I can check their identities to see if they were taken from a spacecraft or from a settlement. In the meantime, the CoB ransacked the data banks of the bridge when he took it, the info may be pretty messed up but I’ve got my tech whizz guys on it. They’ll try to piece together Lorish’s activities, routes, contacts and communications. Hopefully it will provide us with some nugget we can work on.”

“I can assist with any algorithm analysis and retrieval.”

Leann offered a warm smile but deferred with a hands halting gesture. “Thanks T’Renna. But you know my squints. They love a good ole computer hunt. They’re holed up in the Bunker as we speak. They will ferret out the details if they’re to be found.”

Mercy had decided her course of action for now and concluded the meeting in a curt manner. “Take the conn. T’Renna. Keep me and the XO informed. Rouché, have sweet dreams. See you in six. The rest, you’re dismissed. Sorry for the brevity of the briefing but it seems there’s nothing new to bring to the table people.”

“Hey, briefings really out to be brief, Boss.”

“Mbeke, you can take us to our guest of honour.” The gathered group stood save Gareth who remained at the table for a moment studying the padd further. “Are you coming or what Hayes?”

“Yeah, of course.” He gave a satisfied smile as he stood and followed them out.

It suddenly occurred to Mercy that he hadn’t expected to be asked to tag along. She suppressed a sigh. She hated getting to know new people. Worse, she hated new people having to get to know her. And again, Gareth’s words from the stairwell came back to haunt her.

Turning into the corridor instead of going onto the bridge, Gareth asked as they began to descend the central stairwell, “We’re taking the stairs?”

“You wanna get caught in a turbolift in the middle of this? Go right ahead XO.” Mercy waved him onward with such a foolish action. “I’d sooner walk. Anyway, walking helps me think.”

“Quick read on the slave information Commander.”

Mercy gave Mbeke a look veered from indicating her security officer was being traitorous for talking to the commander, to thinking her dolt for thinking he was a dolt. “He’s from the Fleet Mbeke. They can read and aren’t entirely useless. No umbrage Hayes, I’m admitting you hold a certain promise. Mbeke, don’t go fawning over him. I ain’t moulded him into anything yet.”

Hayes shared a furtive look with Mbeke that was part quizzical and part bemused as Faraday strode purposely ahead of them, trying to hide her injured leg as she did so. Mbeke shrugged as if to imply, ‘that’s just her way’ and had to laugh at Mercy’s comment. “No probs Boss. I won’t let him get a big head.”

“Hey! I don’t have a big head ... trust me, it’s Starfleet standard.”

Mercy stopped and looked back at the pair of them. She planted her hands on her hips, then soon thought better of that as the ship lurched significantly. “Uh huh. Don’t think for a second I approve of any funny business. We’ve a job to do here people.”

“Don’t mind her XO. If she’s in a foul mood she expects everyone else to be in one. Pleasure of being the boss.”

Mercy piped in from ahead. “Damn straight.”

Gareth asked, “Where do you want me when you question Lorish?”

“Who said anything about questioning?” Mercy’s tone gave little away but Gareth gave a sideways look at Mbeke but before she could offer a response, Mercy was asking, “Did you signal Duncannon to meet us there, Leann?”

“Sure did. He should be there ahead of us. It’s less a matter of questioning than an interrogation. You sit back and enjoy the Boss. We’ll have him dead for rights by the time she’s done.” In a mock whisper, Leann told Gareth, “Hell, she makes me feel guilty for the crimes just watching the interrogations!”

They entered the brig with its increased security presence and filed past the open detention pens where brooding Orions and Nausicaans, a fair few of whom sported signs of injury from the interdiction, sat angrily. Mercy didn’t give them so much as a sideways glance as she made her way through to the segregated cells, closed off from this section. Through the doors she was met by Mitch Duncannon.

“Mitch. How’s our prisoner?”

Hayes noticed that Duncannon was still in his tactical gear and it occurred to the XO that he had probably never seen the CoB to date without some form of tactical gear on him. Mitch was blank faced but stolid. “I’d say he’s cooking and ready for a nice sit down talk. We’ve brought him through to the interrogation room – I mean – interview room.” This last he amended being in the presence of Hayes.

“It’s ok Mitch, I told him about the Boss and how she works her magic in that room.”

Mitch mused and stepped in tandem with them as they made their way to the room. Outside the room, Mbeke opened the door to the room beside where she and Hayes would watch the interview, and reached in to hand out an inner-ear link to the captain. Mercy put it in and tested the connection nodding to show she had a good link when Mbeke tested it.

“I can offer you a choice between tea or coffee XO. The doughnuts are a non-questionable standard operating procedure detail, just so you know.” Mbeke patted her hips again and shrugged. Hayes laughed at that as he turned back to look at the Captain. Mercy stopped outside her door and rubbed her hands, wringing them as she weighed up her approach. To Hayes it seemed as though she were mentally psyching herself up for the task.

She nodded to Mitch, ignoring everything else to signal she was ready. Mitch opened the keycoded and palm secure door and stepped back to permit Faraday to enter. She marched in and Mitch was hot on her heels. They both stopped short.

“Medics!!” Mercy dropped to her knees as she pulled Lorish into her lap. The Orion was frothing at the mouth and thrashing on the floor before he jerked as if pulled by a string and then collapsed to the floor still.

Gareth barged into the interrogation room and dashed to Mercy’s side but she could only exclaim, “Dead!”

 

 

* * *

Questions of Trust by Miranda Fave

Security Brig

 

“Don’t look at me Boss! I didn’t kill him.” Leann protested as the interview room filled with medics and security and an increasingly irate Mercy Faraday.

“Dammit to hell. I want to know what the hell happened here. How did he pass screening with the ability to poison himself? How did he not get witnessed taking it? Have Suthy ...”

There was an alert from the security desk and a commotion from outside. Mercy exchanged a frantic look with Mitch and Mbeke. “Quick, his lieutenants!”

Mercy pulled her sidearm and raced through to the main security brig. Mbeke came forward from questioning the officer on charge. “It’s nothing Boss. Just some of the goons got spooked seeing the extra security coming in here. Thought they’d try something stupid.”

Mercy gave the brigs a careful scrutiny and holstered her sidearm. “Scan them any how because Lorish managed to do this meaning they might be able to do it too.” Mercy stalked up towards the buzzing forcefields and eyeballed the prisoners within before rounding on Mitch.

Mitch halted any tirade with a fractional rise of his eyebrow and a slight look towards the prisoners. “Ok, not in front of the kids.” Mercy dropped her voice low. “Damn it Mitch. Lorish was going to be a big time lead. I’d have made him squeal.”

“I don’t doubt it, Mercy. That’s probably why he did it. He wasn’t going to talk.”

“Duncannon!”

The CoB and captain both turned at the sudden authoritative command from Gareth Hayes. Remaining poker faced, Mitch merely looked first to Mercy before responding. “Yes Commander.”

Hayes directed the two of them to join himself and Mbeke in the privacy of the brig master office. “Secure all data and logs pertaining to the detention, transportation and supervision of these prisoners. Lorish especially, obviously.”

Thumbs still hooked into his armour vested chest, Mitch queried. “Sir?”

“It’s as the captain said in the detention room. How did this happen? There are too many questions and it’s far too great a breach of security. Added to the fact that there’s an outside possibility someone onboard may have interfered or assisted the prisoners.”

All eyes seemed to turn to look out the long window that spanned one side of the brig master’s office to offer a view onto the cells as they looked out at the milling security as though potential suspects. Hayes continued, “We need someone to investigate that remote possibility and all other security concerns pertaining to this. Mbeke will conduct her own parallel investigation. But, the Captain trusts you. I trust the captain.” Hayes left it unsaid that she didn’t trust him implicitly - at least not yet. Mitch after a momentary thought accepted the command.

Mercy stepped up, taking Hayes gently by the elbow, “XO?”

“Just covering our bases, Captain.” He met her query with a genuine response. “Honestly, just being overly cautious Captain. Regardless of what happened, there has been a security lapse. And I’m too new to the ship to identify where procedures may have been broken. I’ll look at both investigations from an outsider’s perspective, which may prove helpful. It also wouldn’t go over well if the ‘Fleeter’ started hounding one of the crew.”

Mercy gave Gareth a curious look and seemed to sizing him up all over again. She looked to Mbeke’s whose shrug showed she was going to have to conduct an investigation anyway. Mitch concurred with a pinching of his brow remaining otherwise stony faced, inscrutable to most save Mercy. “Ok then. But XO, you’re a Dog now.”

She gave Mitch and Mbeke a stern look each. “I want answers people. I wanted them from Lorish. I’d have gotten them from him, so it’s on you to get me different answers. XO, use that noggin of yours to sift through whatever the squints in the Bunker have deciphered so far.”

With that Mercy left the brig for the bridge.

Mbeke and Mitch looked in turn to Hayes. “Wow, you made it into the club, XO.”

“Not sure about that. Let me know if you get anything and if I can assist. Get the body to Dr Sutherland for immediate autopsy.”

Leann piped in, “Doc or Suthy, XO. Doc ain’t big on the ranks or being called by Sutherland.”

“Yeah.” Gareth scratched his stubble. “No one seems to like using people’s names or ranks round here.”

“Ha, XO, it’s a term of endearment. Every time I say it, I’m saying ‘hugs and kisses’.” Even Mitch snorted at that comment.

Mitch offered, “You seem to be making an impression on Mercy. That much we can say at least, Sir.”

There seemed to be a moment of awkward silence between the three. Mbeke looked sheepish, almost embarrassed to hear Mitch profess anything that seemed so open. Hayes found himself discomfited by it all. Hayes took the lull in the room to ponder aloud, “You got to ask yourself, if someone like Lorish is willing to kill himself to protect the Syndicate and whoever is behind this on the Cardassian side of things, how can we ever hope to crack them?”

Mitch’s tone was initially snarky but softened some by the end. “That’s the million and one question, XO.”

Mbeke added in her two pennies worth. “And just how scary ass can they be to incite such fanatical loyalty?” She sighed and shook her head before coming on a plan of action. “I’ll get onto the investigation XO but I’m going to try questioning or at least ferreting out a few more details from the prisoners. These events may scare them entirely into clamming up but it might serve to unnerve them enough to let something slip.”

Mitch and Gareth both nodded at that. Mbeke left to begin her investigations.

“Sir.”

“CoB?”

The two men weighed up another up in the privacy of the office. Hayes decided to break the macho one manship contest. “This’ll go easier if we can use words CoB. You and the Captain, seem to be able to read one another well, the looks you pass carry entire conversations. And you finish one another’s questions. I’m all human. No Betazoid genes in me, so you’ll forgive me, especially for being blunt. It’s been a long day and I’m getting sea sick for sure.”

“You understand Mbeke is suitably qualified to conduct the investigation?”

“I do. She was former SCIS. I read that in her record. In fact, I read she investigated the captain and this crew a time back. So I don’t think she took any umbrage at me initiating a parallel investigation. I somewhat expect the two of you to come up with more or less the same findings. However, you’re the CoB and that does mean you come at it from a perspective that isn’t an officer’s. You’ll also get findings that are from the bottom up.”

Mitch hooked his thumbs into the buckle of his tactical belt now. “Mbeke is well liked by all the crew, Sir. You’ll find she’ll get good results.”

“No doubt, she’s a likeable person. But still, any CoB, but I’m betting you especially, knows the run of their ship and the ship knows to kowtow to the chief of the boat. I’ve found it lends a better depth to the findings to have a non-com conduct an investigation into these matters too.” They had another mini staring match. “It’s just the way I’ve run things in the past.”

“Still.”

“I didn’t task you with the investigation because I suspect wrong doing on Lt. Mbeke’s part. I part did it with the expectation it will exonerate her from any fault or blame. There can be no claims of cover up. But it should hopefully identify any wrong doing in the security department. Additionally, the captain trusts you and that means I can trust you. I’m still getting to know people here. It hasn’t exactly been ... smooth running.”

Mitch tapped an itchy trigger finger on the belt buckle. “No one disrespects you, Sir. Just on this boat, you earn respect.”

“I can live with that.” Hayes wasn’t sure how much to press the matter. He didn’t want to get into a pissing match with the CoB. Duncann’s record showed he’d been with the captain for a long time so Hayes doubted whether she’d take his side if there was a difference of opinion between the men. Yet, he had to set down the marker for his own authority. “But CoB, I got assigned here. Someone rather thought I earned that respect in the first place.”

“That’s just it, Sir. You got assigned here. You’re a Fleeter. We’re a border cutter. And it seems you have a past investigating problem crews.” Whilst Mitch wasn’t aggressive he gave the first officer a flinted look full of suspicion. “Is there an agenda here? Were you assigned to investigate the Osprey?”

Hayes looked him up and down and stepped in closer to Mitch to deliver his answer. “No agenda. Just doing my job as the XO.”

The ship shook but the two of them stood maintain eye contact unflinching.

“Understand, it’s hard for the captain to trust someone new – an outsider – as her executive officer. You weren’t her choice. That’s an insult to the captain. It’s a slight on the crew.”

“I can understand it. But from what I understand, the last first officer was a long standing member of this crew and probably a friend of the captain’s. Maybe given what happened with the last XO there’s good cause.”

“Given what happened...”

“I know all about the last XO.”

Mitch lifted his chin and looked at the commander curiously. “Perhaps not the everything of it, Sir.”

“I got the story from Commodore Tanner. All of the details.” Duncannon didn’t move but his demeanour seemed less overtly hostile at least. However, Gareth sensed the CoB was prickly on the matter of the previous XO, as well he ought to have been. Gareth levelled Mitch with a hard look. “An outsider is probably what the ship needed. Certainly, it seemed to be the thinking of Tanner in appointing me.”

Gareth chose to back away from their face to face confrontation. “It’s going to be hard to win her trust. I might be making some leeway currently. But I know I’ll get nowhere if you openly distrust me, Duncannon. I may have yet to earn your trust. Ok, I can live with that. But I’ve also done nothing to earn your distrust.” Hayes stepped back from the toe-to-toe staring match but added a last word. “Just remember, you have to earn my trust too.”

Mitch considered Gareth’s words before giving a terse nod of his head. “Sir.”

 

* * *

The Bigger Picture by Miranda Fave

Special Operations Command Centre ‘The Bunker’

 

After a procedure of gaining access under the tight security guarding it, Gareth Hayes entered ‘The Bunker.’ Otherwise known as Special Operations Command Centre, the specialised room was a command and control centre with a network of operators and banks of stations. The room could function as an emergency bridge if necessary and it served often in that capacity during some operations so that the ship’s captain could overview the status and progress of off-ship operations and keep in command of the ship itself.

The specialised room allowed for multiple large screen displays, holographic interfaces and a tactical briefing table to offer multiple perspectives and a plethora of data sources. Gareth had been impressed at the high tech cutting edge of the facility. Apparently, during the Dominion War one of the Gryffon classes had been sequestered by Starfleet Admiralty to serve as a tactical forward point to conduct Fleet operations.

Ensconced in the currently darkened room, illuminated by the myriad of computer screens and holographic interfaces, The Bunker certainly allowed itself its name. It would be easy to imagine they were elsewhere and not on the ship. Except that the tumult of the storm could be felt through the deck. However, at this stage Gareth was beginning to get more use to the rolling of the deck as it weathered the storm.

Given its technical prowess, the Bunker was Mbeke’s port of call for data ciphering. The operators were a mixture of science blues, operations and security yellows and command red. They turned at the entrance of Gareth Hayes and waved him towards the tactical conference table where holographic data information scrolled in the air before them beside gibberish looking computer code.

“Commander Hayes. Welcome to the Bunker.”

Mostly non-commissioned petty officers, the group were assembled together discussing the latest data break through at the table. They made their introductions and Hayes greeted them each with a hearty hand shake.

Drumming the edge of the table, Hayes asked, “What have you got for me?”

A towering Grazeritte supplied, “Lots and not so much.”  

This was explained further by a Denobulan. “There’s a lot of extraneous information we’ve been able to retrieve. However, none of it is immediately revealing.”

The Grazerite added again, “Of course, that’s only face value.”

Another tech supplied the process of data sifting to Hayes in response to his query. “We apply a tech analysis first. Verify if there’s been corruption of the files and analyse the consistency thereof. Then we pass the files on for further analysis. If anything is immediately striking we can red flag it of course. The computer algorithms also help to identify and prioritise the data retrieved.”

“Sorry. I don’t mean to hold you up in your work.”

“Not at all Commander. The Skipper said you would be along to assist with analysis. Lt. Commander Mbeke said to offer you every courtesy and assistance. She implied you had an eye for the data.”

“Not sure about that. Certainly not to the level of you guys.”

“Hey we do the grunt work to better help you and the Skip make the calls. However, you want to check out the data to date retrieved check with petty officer Harra.”

“Ok. Thank you. I’ll leave you to it.”

The diminutive form of a Tellarite stepped down from a stepped level tier of computer banks and directed Hayes towards the main wall spanning viewscreens. “Over here Commander.”

Hayes approached the smiling female Tellarite in science division blue overalls indicating her specialist rank on the cutter. “P.O. Harra. What have you got for me?”

“We got this updated just now.” She tapped her padd control to initiate a scrolling list of names, numbers, stardates. Most was dizzying and confusing and hard to discern, particularly with corrupted files creating gaps in the data. “Give it a moment and it starts to make a certain sense.”

“That or a headache.”

“Now you can see why they call us the squints.” Harra tittered softly before a grunt escaped. “Sorry, old techie joke.”

Gareth smiled good naturedly. “The old ones work best. So explain what you got Harra.”

“We’re cross referencing the data with other known data sources too which should help lend authenticity to whatever we may retrieve.”

“Wait. Stop. That. Scroll back. That’s a Border Patrol Service identification marker number, yes?”

“Yes sir. But you’ll soon note a lot of those.” She permitted the scrolling to continue again, this time at a lesser speed and starting to point out some of those identification numbers. “Navigational buoys. Communication relays. Buoy tenders, patrol ships and Star Stations, etc, any myriad number of Service vessels or installations the raider’s sensors might have picked up on long range.”

“Oh.”

Looking up at Hayes who towered over her, Harra leaned in conspiratorially, “The trick, however, is to recognise some of those and use them to track the vessel’s movements or help to create a timeline, especially since the files are so fragmented. If we overlay it on a star chart of the Watchtower sector it makes a little more sense. Here.”

With a swipe of her trotter upwards, she transferred the data onto the holographic display where the numbers of data jumbled and jangled in the air above Hayes before coalescing and a starry backdrop and then a more familiar view of the space sector. Shining brightest in the centre was OSDN-1115-SS-H-VI-CS, home to Sixth Cutter Squadron, Star Station Hope.

Radiating outwards from Star Station Hope was a vast array of a network that included the arrays, buoys for communication and navigation, border posts, and the cutters that made up the Sixth Cutter Squadron. Many of the dots on the screen were undulating and in flux, tracking seemingly erratic paths showing their patrol paths and deviations. Other coded numbers and different coloured points were extrapolated out from the data.

Hayes walked into the midst of the holographic projection and used his fingers and hands to ‘catch’ an errant orange light that passed him by. The little orange ball of light sprang up into a boxfile of data, listing the ship’s class and name, MV Lyriq with corresponding information about its owner and operator, the ship’s commercial trade licence number and a Starfleet record of a contract of engagement.

Gareth let the orange orb flit out of his hand as if it were a moth that fluttered away into the night sky. “Huh. All this from their records? Hardly seems ... no you’re matching and collaborating its records with our own verified records, super imposing their flight path against our own sensors and network data. Of course.”

Harra winked and nudged him with her elbow, which given their height difference meant she poked his hip. “Hey XO, they call us the squints because we usually like to be the ones to talk it out.”

“Sorry. This is cool stuff.”

“Like candy.” She stepped into the starscape mirage projected around Hayes, the lights playing on her as she did so. Pointing upwards into the projection, she began to identify important markers, starting with Star Station Hope, only she referred to it as Watchtower.

“Currently, we’re here.” The Gauntlet glowed angrily in the projection, a fitting imagery to match the shaking of the ship to the angry storm outside. “Here’s where we intercepted the raider. And of course, it’s been difficult since to plot our path since. We just know we’re somewhere in that.”

“We’re not lost yet then.”

“No Sir. Not yet.” They both looked up at the ceiling as the holographic projection flickered out momentarily before it returned to glowing life surrounding them. “Just the storm taking its toll. Chief Torel has her eye on it Commander.”

“Did I look that worried?”

“Your first Gauntlet run and storm Commander is always a little worrying.”

Hayes took a moment to marvel at the sight and then to study the 3D representation of the Gauntlet. Its size meant it snaked along a number of frontiers, thus affording it an attractive avenue for criminals and also marking it as a troublesome spot to get into bother since it could churn them out so close to Tzenkethi space or to Breen.

Folding his arms in the midst of the projection, Hayes turned on the spot to study it and asked of Harra, “How current is the data in this stream?”

“When did the bridge contact Watchtower before the Op began? That would have provided us with the latest update.”

“So we can go backwards and forwards in the timeline of the ship’s data. At least, in terms of its movement in relation to our sector.”

“Correct. We can do some reconstruction obviously outside our sector, especially if it’s in a Starfleet sector. But not to this detail. And presumably our answers about the how and what of the raider’s movements are linked to Watchtower’s sector and the outlaying region of space.”

“Yeah. Have you got the earliest date entry?”

“We’ve rescued stuff that’s from a few years ago. It isn’t relevant to the current investigation.” She noted Hayes about to question that and hurried to explain the method. “We put such data streams into an analysis program to highlight any patterns, repeating data nodes, anything that might suggest partners in crime, favoured routes. We know already that Lorish used the Gauntlet to conduct much of his business. Hopefully, this will narrow down some of his paths and offer us ideas for posting cutter patrols, buoys or relays going ahead.”

“Forward planning. So what earliest date do you think is relevant to our current investigation?”

“You can see here where they by-passed our network on a stardate almost two months ago. We’ve got two border pings and a third ping on a communication array here with a ping that’s indicative of a passing buoy tender in their vicinity.” She moved the projection around to centre on the various points of data. The data scrolled to the corresponding time checks and with a splaying of her trotter Harra made a mini projection appear before them showing a crude holographic rendering of the raider skirting a solar system where on the extremity of it a buoy tender was seen advancing on a navigational buoy. “Matching that to our records we can ascertain it was the buoy tender Crean and its records indicate passage in that area on the following stardate.”

“This is then before they acquired the Cardassian slaves.” Hayes looked away from the mini projection and back to the stars and started to track the flight path as Harra put up corresponding data hits. “They passed through here.”

“Yes sir.” She wrinkled her snout at the raiders getting into Federation space. “However, you’ll note that the transfix code changes. They employed some trickery to fool Border Patrol long range scanners. They still showed up on our network but not as who they were.”

“That’s troubling.”

“It works to fool the long range sensors. An in-depth look soon reveals the deception. It wouldn’t have worked had they met a cutter patrol however. It just seems they struck lucky and avoided the paths of any cutters.”

Gareth rubbed his chin. “Hmmm. Can you check if they ... corrected course at any stage to avoid cutters?”

“Sir? I mean, yes we can. It will take a bit of time not much but we could figure it out. Not to any certainty but we could extrapolate from the course corrections and deviations. What are you getting at Sir?”

“Hayes. You can call me Hayes. We’re all squints in here, after all. I just want to check that they don’t somehow have access to our networks. I’m correct that although many of the cutters have set patrol paths and duties, deep space cutters like the Osprey and others follow variable patrol routes.”

“Yes. In addition, the patrol routes get altered in response to situations that arise. You’ll note here the Jaguar is directed towards here. That’s in a direct response to our response to picking up Lorish and moving to intercept. When the Hub at Watchtower got our call they started to adjust for the deviation in our patrol path. It remains in constant flux. It’s one reason why the Hub is as busy as it is. They’ve a whole sector of space to try and cover. They want to be able to respond to any emergency situation so they have to plug nay gaps in coverage as well as try to anticipate troubles.”

“Sounds like one giant juggling act.”

“It is. It’s artistry.” Hayes gave her a funny look. Harra replied with a smile. “Well it is to a squint like me.”

“Oh you’re probably right.” Hayes assured her. He placed a hand on her shoulder and dryly remarked in reference to himself, “To a non-squint it’s all a bit eight ball magic and luck.”

“Know the variables. Know the numbers. Know your limits. Luck needn’t come into play, Sir.”

“Ok then. Show me the numbers and the variables Harra and see if we can track down their path and discern any purpose or pattern.” Together they started working through some of the data hits and displaying them on the holographic representation.

“They pass through this region of space. That’s the Auxragon Reach Nebula.”

“Yes. That there – that there is Shepherd’s Reach.” The blue dot bloomed into a mini profile.

Sentinel Station: 251 - ‘Shepherd’s Reach’

The Auxragon Reach Nebula

Commanding officer: Commander Fiacre Durant

Regula Class Mark I

 

Hayes stepped back from the representation of the outpost with a troubled expression. “How comes the raider passes so close by and doesn’t flag any warnings?”

“It employed its fake protocols again. Also, the nebula is notorious for messing up signal feeds. Additionally, Shepherd’s Reach is ... well she ain’t cutting class. One of the original regula class.”

“Really? Right.”

“It’s old. A crummy post in lots of ways but a good place to learn the tricks of navigational control and sensor reading.”

“You did a posting there?”

“Several. Years back, when I started out. Most of us who have served time in the Sixth have been bounced about. It’s part of Commodore Tanner’s method of cross training personnel. If you serve on a station solely, you start to view things solely from a station perspective. Likewise a cutter. Likewise a buoy tender. It helps people to specialise and it helps people to broaden their skills and perspectives. All of it to help give the bigger picture to our mission.”

Distractedly, Hayes murmured, “The bigger picture, yeah, I think I recall Tanner using that phrase with me in my interview.”

“Anything in particular catching your attention, Commander Hayes?”

“Hmmm. No. Just, just trying to get the bigger picture. Let’s zoom out again. Any joy on the older data files and projected crosslinking?”

“Some partial routes. Here...” various jagged lines whipped up onto the projection each with a different colour code to differentiate them and it caused the projection to stop its movement. Now only the stars, planets, nebulas, comet paths, asteroid belts and installations such as those of the Border Patrol Service remained lit up on the projection. “Definite patterns.”

Hayes narrows his eyes as he studied the display. “Enough variance but we can see that similar routes are taken in these sectors.”

“Safe alleys. Routes they felt were safe from detection or from getting boarded by a cutter patrol. Others like the Gauntlet and the Reach are regions that although offering danger do offer a hidden path for the most part.”

“The deviations in some of the older paths ... can we backtrack on our own archival data to determine if again they made adjustments based on our patrols.”

“We can. That will definitely take more time and will require us to be back in contact with the network.” Harra tapped at her padd putting the analysis subroutines into action. She looked up at Hayes and the projection he studied so intently. “Trying to work out if they had knowledge of our network back then?”

“Yeah.”

“My, you do have a suspicious mindset Commander.”

Gareth turned and rushed to reassure, “I don’t mean to imply.”

“No offence is taken Commander. It’s paranoid thinking some might say. Certainly, it’s coming at it from an angle of suspecting motives.”

“Eh. I only mean...”

“No need to explain.” She patted his arm. “That’s a good trait to keep if you wanna make it as a Border Dog.”

Gareth’s brow furrowed. He had expected some hostility to implying a breach in the network. “It is?”

Harra smiled and furrowed her snout as she did so. “Yes. How else can you keep a bigger picture?”

 

 

* * *

Legacies by Miranda Fave

Bridge, 15 hours later

 

Gareth cantered onto the bridge, his usual walk wearied by the exhaustion he felt and by the continuing motion of the ship in the storm. He slumped into his executive officer’s chair and grimaced. He pinched his nose and blinked his eyes furiously at the viewscreen.

“You look tired ... Hayes.”

“I feel it Captain.” He rolled his shoulder to work out some of the kinks. “Studying those screens and even the holographic interface takes its toll.” He rubbed his eyes to freshen them some.

“Now you know why we call them the squints.”

“Yeah, I heard that one already, Captain. We’ve made a little more leeway today in putting the pieces together. Certainly, there’s a few new avenues to be investigated. We may have identified a holding post and suspicious traffic data that might suggest other slavers also trading there.”

“Good. It’s nuggets like that we need and want.” Mercy checked the data on the padd provided by Hayes. She nodded as she read and committed names and places to memory, starting to formulate plans of action. “This looks good. And I sense a certain direction lent to the squints’ investigations. I presume that’s your tactical mind coming into play there, XO. Good job. Makes this easier to read. Usually Mbeke has to make their numbers and data crunching make sense.”

Gareth smiled and went to express his gratitude but ended up stifling a yawn instead. “Did you manage to sleep any at all XO? Cos no harm you look frightful.”

“I’m all right.”

“I didn’t ask were you all right as I figured you must be to be on duty. I asked, did you manage any sleep? No point sending you off duty to rest if you don’t rest. It doesn’t help me come the time to rest if I’m fretting about whether you’re fit to take the conn. in my stead.”

“Lecture duly noted, Captain.”

“Make sure it is, XO.” Hayes sensed from the XO title that Mercy was very serious on the matter. She checked the chronometer on her armrest and shot Hayes a look. “T’Renna is back on duty in two hours, then you get your shut eye.”

“Given the situation...”

“Given the situation you get rest as per the orders. If you’re needed, I will get you out of bed. Likewise, afterwards when I’m getting my beauty sleep, I expect to be woken if the need arises. None of us are going anywhere in this murk but we all need to be rested to deal with any emergencies that may arise. Understood?”

“Understood.”

“Good. Till then you can mind the shop.” Mercy made to move.

“Where you headed, Captain?”

“The forward launch bay garage to work on some of the Stallion repairs just in case we need them in a pinch. Not to worry, I’m only a deck or two away if needed back here. Figured I may as well be of some use XO. The squints just give me a headache so I thank you for taking that on. Mbeke and I conducted a fair few interviews in the brig since Lorish did himself in but with little success. Leann is better at trapping her flies with some of her honey, and I wasn’t being much like honey with them so I left her to try again later. That leaves me just wanting to be productive. With all of the other work required on the engines and shields and power lines, the Stallion maintenance will be a low priority for Plugs and her engineering teams.”

“Leaving the bridge in the midst of this? Didn’t think it was your style.”

“Like I told you XO, these storms can last hours or days. Seems this one is going to be the doozy promised by T’Renna. We’re into our second day of it and there appears to be no let up in the storm. So looks like it is going to be days then. However, the ship is mostly bearing up. A few power fluctuations but otherwise it all seems good. As best as can be. Sitting here waiting for it to go south or get better is going to tip me over the edge.”

“You’re an all action gal.”

“You better believe it, XO.”

“And working in the garage?”

“So? I do shifts around the ship. Better to do that than call a briefing just for the sole purpose of seeming important at a time when I feel useless. Mind, you, me and Mitch should get together on this data and see what we can dream up. Some of these activities are in our back garden so I want to be the one to rumble the party. The rest of the tips we can pass onto Watchtower.”

Gareth asked curious still, “But working in the garage?”

“It’s one way to keep a pulse of the crew. It does me no harm to turn up my sleeves and get my hands dirty. And I can better serve the ship and crew if I know what they are working at, the problems they have to deal with, all that crap.”

“It’s a beautiful philosophy when you put it that way.”

“Isn’t it just? XO, you have the conn. Until then, enjoy the view.” She stood and looked upon the raging storm outside the viewscreen. “It’s a terrible, terrible frightening beauty. It’s awesome. In the true sense of the word. It’s pummelling our shields and raining its wrath upon us and yet despite the ferocity and intensity of The Gauntlet, just look at it. Spellbinding is it not?”

He turned to study it. “Yeah. A weirdly entrancing view. Don’t think it helps my sea-sickness though.”

“Nor mine.” She stabbed a button on her armrest and brought up a split tactical display, sensor read out and a Master Systems Display. “A bit better.

“XO, I’ll be in the workshop garage.”

* * *

 

Stallion Workshop, Forward Launch Bay

 

“Pass me a wrench.”

“Here you go.”

“XO?” Mercy looked round at the voice.

Gareth got himself down onto the shuttle deck floor and looked up at the Stallion’s underside. “Don’t worry Captain. I know my way about a shuttle engine.”

“It’s a Star Stallion.”

He gave her a lopsided grin. “I know but a shuttle engine is what I know my way around. Figured I could give you a hand and maybe learn to learn my way around a Star Stallion.”

Mercy snatched the wrench off Gareth. “Damn it XO, don’t go making me like you.”

“I’m sure I’ll do something wrong to earn the Faraday scowl.”

“I don’t scowl.” This she said with a scowl and realised her mistake which prompted her to shirk it off with a shrug. “Eh. A family trait. From the Thatcher side.”

“A long line of Thatchers served?”

Talking as she worked at the underside of the thrusters, Mercy told Gareth, “Served and serving. Right back to the founding of the Border Service. My great grandmother was one of the first chief engineers of the first border cutters. One reason why I try to keep my hand in engineering. Never did have the knack for it on a full time basis but I always liked to tinker and patch things up. Doubt I’d work well at it under a deadline.”

“Great grandmother?”

“Oh plenty of other greats in there but why bother listing them off. Her reputation however was such that in our family she earns the mantle great grandmother.”

“She must have fought in the Earth-Romulan War.”

“Heck given her reputation, I’d not have been surprised if she could have started it and then ended it all on her own. She was a larger than life character for sure. You got an interest in Earth history, Hayes?”

“Not quite but in a similar fashion to yourself. My father’s family are a long line of Hayes serving in Starfleet. The various and different branches. Medical, science, diplomatic corp. And even the Border Service and within Starfleet and back in the day as MACOs.”

“A Fleet brat and a legacy kid. Oh dear. I never realised I had it so bad.”

He countered swiftly, “A Dog and a legacy brat, I didn’t think I had it as bad.”

“Funny. You’re a real wit.” Sarcastically she jibed, “We can compare notes sometimes. See who has the most Admirals in the pack.”

“Three. I’m rusty on a lot of the details but that fact I do recall growing up.”

“Ok then. So maybe we won’t compare notes.”

“Didn’t realise it was a competition, Captain.”

“Well... it ain’t now. Speaking of competitions... and pissing contests...” Mercy’s tone turned serious as she rolled her trolly out from underneath the Stallion. Gareth stood to match her, the two of them adjusting to the movement of the ship. “No offence XO but I don’t need you and Mitch to go sizing your dicks up. Quite honestly, neither of your ugly private parts interest me in the slightest.”

“No pissing contest Captain. We’re just finding ... our level with one another.”

“Good. Cos, I hate to break it to you XO. I know Mitch Duncannon these last long years. He’s been at my side since I was an L.T. and since that time we made a good team.”

“I gathered and figured your loyalty would probably be to him.”

“You insane XO? Probably? Ha!” She tossed the grease cloth to the floor and went over to the bench and went through the parts. “You’ve served in enough circumstances to know that finding the right people to work with is key to success and that’s especially so in command – be it as it was with us back in the day as part of a Stallion assault team or as the ship’s CO and CoB. It’s a little unorthodox but Mitch and I kept together as we went up along. We worked under the best. Well the toughest and uncanniest – if that’s even a word but it should be to describe him - border dog there was. When I got my first cutter command, I asked to have Duncannon as my CoB. We’re a team.”

Hayes could see that valid viewpoint but interrupted with his own. “We should also be a team.”

“And we will be. It just takes time. And other stuff to make us a command team. Trust. Faith. Duty. Honour. Tried and tested friendship.”

Hayes tried at levity. “You want me to braid your hair?”

“Can it XO. I doubt I know Mitch’s favourite colour. I do know his favoured side. I know his favoured gun for a close quarters assault. I know that he prefers to hold off on using a flash bang. He hates to use the zap bugs himself. He knows I have an actual favourite carbine. My own weapon, with its weight slightly adjusted and its grip slightly shortened. He knows going into a firefight that I take point and I don’t take any arguments. It’s where I started, it’s what I know, and it’s what I am good at. He also knows that if I can, I’ll give them – the bad guys – a chance to lay down their weapons first. He hates it and I know he does but he knows this much about me.”

Mercy stepped up to Gareth and waved her hand back and forth between them. “You and I, we don’t have that history together. We’re not likely to. I’m sure you know that kind of partnership is valued and important. But I know it’s equally important for us to get along. We’ll just have to figure it out along the way.”

“Fair enough.”

“Fair enough. Fair bloody enough. I swear XO. You’re all about me reaching out to you. However, I don’t know you from Adam. And no offence, but you weren’t my choice for the post.”

“That’s clear.”

“Yeah. And before you get your Fleeter back up, I’ve no problem working with people outside the Service. I’ll use any and all good people. You got the smarts and the skills, I’ll have you on my crew. Mbeke is prime example of that. She did a doozy of an investigative job on my ship and crew. You’d have sworn we’d committed a war crime the way she picked the team and ship apart. But she was doing her job. And she did it good. So I went to Command and requested she be reassigned to the Osprey. With our extended patrols as a deep space cutter, I needed an investigative mind to carry out the work we had to do without the need to call back into port.”

“Ok. However, it’s not the same in my case though is it? You didn’t have a choice in me. I got foisted upon you because of what went down with your last first officer.”

Mercy pursed her lips on that score. “True. Had I a choice in the matter, I’d have had T’Renna as my XO. We ain’t best buds either but we can work very well together.” Mercy left Gareth with that thought to reflect as she went back to stowing nuts and bolts. “For the record, I did have a choice. Tanner made it perfectly clear, I could like it or lump it. So far, I’ve been leaning towards lumping it. But you’re ... slowly making inroads XO.”

“Seriously, you can call me Gareth or Hayes. Or Commander. It doesn’t always have to be XO.”

“I wasn’t going to commit your name to memory until I was sure about keeping you, XO. Gareth. Hayes. You can call me Skipper. Cap. Or Boss if you were so inclined – no? I suppose Faraday on occasion. I don’t favour being called Captain.”

This truly perplexed Gareth. “Why not?”

“Cos ... there’s only one captain.”

“Huh.”

“A story for another time. Just limit how many times you call me it.”

“I’ll try to.”

“Thanks XO – Hayes.”

“By the way ...” Gareth seemed to search for which title he would feel more comfortable using, “Skipper, my favourite colour is red.”

“What? Oh get out of here XO. And red? Gees, Hayes.”

“Guess it came with the collar. Ever since I sat at the helm console.”

“Pilot? Of course, hot shot pilot, I can see how you might once have fitted the mould. The hot shot fly boy. I bet you got it about in your day.” Gareth smirked and shrugged to play innocent. “Oh I bet you did. And I bet you didn’t play it as coy back in the day either.”

“Yeah, well starship pilot sounds cool and awesome. Things changed though and it became less about the flashy bravado. I learned it was important to think choices through; to sit in the hot seat was to know how to make the tough calls – the smart calls. It became about the command track for me.” He smirked. “Some people don’t get it.”

“Oh I do. You sat at the controls, felt the power of the massive engines coursing through your body. The control and fate of the ship was at your fingertips. All that power at your disposal. You could take the ship for a joy ride at any time you wanted and that gave you a power trip.”

“Not quite. Maybe something like that along the way.”

Mercy assured Gareth. “No it’s a natural enough development. You had to make calls independent at times to your commanding officer. At other times, you were beholden to those orders. After a time, you want then to be the one giving the orders, retaining the ultimate control but willing to allow others to do their duties.”

“Maybe you do get it. And you? Always a security grunt?”

“Sure’s shooting. Pun and all.” The deck swayed to one side heavily and the two of them braced themselves for a better balance. “Eh. Boils down to the same thing. Making choices, following orders, wanting to be the one to make the ultimate decisions, knowing the way of it, being trained and expert at what I did, how I did it. That and I had the advantage of being in the Border Patrol.”

“Advantage? Is this another reason why Service is better than the Fleet?”

“No just an advantage of serving in the Dogs. There’s better options for career advancement. In Patrol, there are more ships and postings, meaning more commands and more opportunities for autonomy. Course a lot of those ships and stations are piddly little things. Buoy tenders. Relay stations. Small – tiny – crews. But it means, if you want it, and you’re talented, you can make your way up the pecking order and gain a command. I was made a captain when I was an L.T. and been one ever since. Got the pips now to call myself one off the ship now of course.”

“Just not on the ship.” He remarked wryly which earned him a look. “There’s that Faraday scowl.”

“That tells you Hayes you must be doing something wrong.”

“Well you must be doing something right. You got yourself one of these – you said there were only a few of the new Gryffon class commissioned. I bet every Border Dog worth their salt wanted one.”

“Huh, yeah, something like that. Course, sometimes the old ones are the best. When I served ... never mind you don’t need a history lesson.” Mercy looked off into the distance remembering something before coming to. “Needless to say, not every Border Dog would think so. However, not too many would stand up to what we’re taking at the moment. Don’t tell the likes of that cankerous old Delaney the likes of that though. He calls his old constellation a scow of a ship but he secretly loves it. So secretly he doesn’t even know it himself.”

“Duly noted.”

“Good. Especially as we often had to work with what we get in the Dogs we have to work with quite a few antiquated or older designs. There’s a fair few faithful and trusted steeds out there that made proud names for themselves. A ship is more than the nuts and bolts. It needs a good crew.”

“Well then, you definitely got yourself a good ship here then.”

Mercy smiled genuinely at that compliment and readily agreed. “That I do.”

“A good ship also needs a good captain...” he let those words linger for a moment, causing Mercy to cast her eyes towards him which he answered with a wry smile.

“XO...”

“Oh yeah, needs a good one of them too.”

She picked up a different grease cloth and tossed it at Hayes. “We’ll see about that. At the minute, you seem to be remiss in your duties.”

“How so? I’m off duty despite the alert, as per your orders.”

“Exactly. Therefore, you ought to be getting some shut eye. I don’t need my XO falling asleep on the bridge in the middle of a crisis.”

“Yeah, well ... I’m not against the idea but how does one sleep in this?” The ship trembled and tipped gently to one side as if to illustrate his point.

“Years of practice.”

“Practice? How do you practice for this?”

“Oh XO. I can’t teach you everything.” Mercy folded her arms. “You sleep in a hammock.”

“A hammock?”

“Old trick but it is effective. You should have found one under your bunk. Think of it as a moving in present.”

At the exit, Gareth turned on his heel and came back towards the workbench. “One last thing Capt- Cap. Ahem.” He smiled as Mercy met his near slip with a glare. Then he turned grave in his tone. “I don’t intend on betraying you like your last first officer.”

Mercy set down her tools with a clatter. Her face darkened at the mention of it and Gareth sensed you was pissed at the topic being raised and at Gareth being on the know about the situation. “Like I told Duncannon, I was apprised of the circumstances upon being assigned to the Osprey. Tanner happened to give me a little pep talk too. She explained that my assignment would likely ruffle feathers. Tanner didn’t care much if it did...”

“I bet she didn’t.”

“... but the commodore went on to explain that the situation might be that bit more fraught given what had happened. It might not mean much to you, since we’re only getting to know each other, but as I said, I don’t intend on betraying you like you like she did.”

“Do you intend betraying me in another fashion?” Mercy’s eyes narrowed as she examined Hayes before her. She played at rubbing her fingers on one hand as though at an absent ring. Then Mercy appeared to collect her thoughts as she went about collecting up small pieces of electrical equipment. “I ... appreciate that XO. I appreciate the candour. Don’t make a habit of it mind and we might just get on.”

Mercy stepped away from the bench and back towards the Stallion’s rear thrusters were she went to work on an opened panel. “For the record, she didn’t betray me. She betrayed her oath. She betrayed the Service. She betrayed the people we serve out here. She betrayed our creed. She stabbed me in the back that’s for sure. Actually, she shot me in the back if we want to get into the specifics.”

“Well...” Gareth wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that, “I don’t intend on doing that.”

Fiery eyes met his and hot words spilled from her lips. “It would be in your best interests not to.” Mercy tempered her anger and took a deep breath. Bending over to work on the panel she spoke so as to be heard. “She made two mistakes. She betrayed us. And she didn’t finish the job. I’m religious. That means I have to find it in myself to forgive her. Mind, I sure won’t be forgetting it in a rush.”

Mercy stood to look better at Hayes to see what his reaction to that was going to be. He mulled it over. “You intend to track her down.”

“Like a dog. Like a dog with a bone. Correction, like a Border Dog.” Hayes eyebrows shot up at that remark and the steel that laced them.

“Well...” Gareth’s words stopped short as the lights dipped red and the red alert alarm blared.

From the bridge, T’Renna’s voice called, “All hands, brace for impa-.”

 

* * *

By the Creed by Miranda Fave

Forward Launch Bay workshop

 

“Captain!? Ugh. Captain!?” Gareth called out frantically in the dark of the launch bay, stumbling trying to get to his feet and crashing onto the debris and equipment strewn deck. Futilely, Hayes stabbed at his comm. badge and comm. wrist to get a signal as he attempted again to get to his feet.

“Quit hollering XO. My head’s ringing as it is. Agh.” Gareth changed his direction towards the workbench where Faraday was shifting fallen work trolleys. “Are you hurt?”

“No. Not bad. Shaken not stirred.” Emergency lights now flickered to life illuminating the ruined workshop. “This place got banged up bad but no coolant leaks or hull breaches.” Gareth sounded relieved and well he should. The entire deck had pitched and upended on them when the impact had hit the ship.

Mercy placed a hand on the deck and the other to the bulkhead and felt the ship’s reverberations. “The warp engines are running. That’s all to the good. We’ve still got a ship.”

Considering the situation, Gareth posited, “Must have been a power surge on this deck.”

“Seems most like. Damn. Hopefully. Let’s get out of here. Get to the bridge and see what happened and what damage has been done.”

“The storm did this?”

“Yeah. It would have been. Here, help me shift the door.” The two of them popped the manual locks to override the lack of power to the door. With a groan the two of them caused the door to prise apart and then they grasped on the gap and wedged a steel bar thrown to the floor in the tumult to widen it further.

In the corridor outside them the torch lights of a search party made its way through the partially damaged corridor. Angry ruptured power lines spat sparks, a few small fires burned and the emergency lights flickered. The deck was part buckled and the steps of the search party were careful and ungainly. Gareth patted his stomach.

“Gravity plating has been damaged.”

From ahead, a voice leading the search party called out, “Captain! XO. Are you both ok?”

“We’re fine Duncannon. What’s the damage to the rest of the ship?” Fear laced Mercy’s words. Gareth could feel and shared the palpable worry. If the rest of the ship was this badly hit they were in a bad state.

“Most systems are coming back on line. Ruptured power lines on decks three and four caused the greatest damage. The structural integrity field took a massive hit in the overload on these decks. Everywhere bore up, faring way better than this deck.”

“Thank God.” Mercy leaned back against the bulkhead and sighed heavily with relief. Gareth noted though that she massaged her shoulder back. She’d obviously taken a hurt.

“Plenty of people hurt and shook up. The rescue bays are good. All secure and safe. Scares and minor injuries. However...”

“However what, Mitch?” Mercy’s eyes took in Mitch suited in his tactical suit in the same moment as Gareth and it caused her to exclaim, “Duncannon! Wait, why are you gunned up?”

Mitch looked grim and it wasn’t the dodgy gravity field that made Gareth’s stomach churn. “Six prisoners in the infirmary managed to escape when we got sideswiped by the storm. They’re holed up in the medical bay. They taken down our security team in there and are holding the patients hostage.”

Gareth piped in as Mercy took stock of this revelation. “Where’s Mbeke?”

Mitch started to hand over gear to Faraday as he spoke and the captain started to suit up. “Leann was in with Doc when the ship got hit, checking on the autopsy results. I don’t know if she was injured in it or in putting down the prisoners or if she’s a hostage but she’s still in there.”

“Damn. You got eyes?”

The CoB shook his head. “Not yet. Will do soon. I’ve got an insertion team prepping. Security is maintaining a lockdown on their position.” Mitch handed a padd to Gareth showing the ship’s current status. It was a gesture that was appreciated as it gave him eyes straight away on their condition.

“Storm has intensified.” Mercy cocked her head to get a look at the stats on Gareth’s screen. Gareth looked at Duncannon. “What does T’Renna say?”

Mercy clicked the last of her tactical vest on and commanded, “Let’s get going. The longer we give them, the longer they have to bed in and strengthen their position.” But she caught the fact that Mitch had not answered Gareth’s question. “What is it?”

“Lt. Commander T’Renna went down. She was badly injured in the impact.”

An ensign stepped forward to supply further details explaining how T’Renna got systems back on line and started to shore up repairs and with Mitch coordinated a response to the crisis in the medical bay. “However, she passed out afterwards. She appears to have taken internal damage and lost consciousness. We need Doc.”

“Looks like it may be a Vulcan healing trance.” Gareth looked up from the padd he took from the ensign with T’Renna’s readings. A look passed in the darkened corridor from Mercy to Mitch as they picked their way through. “I recognise them from a previous crewmate’s injuries.”

“Aren’t you full of surprises XO.” They came to the central stairs. “This is where we part XO. You take the bridge. I’ll handle the situation in the medical bay.”

“Captain – Skipper – I think perhaps...”

“What did I say about my taking point, XO?”

Another ensign scrambled down the stairs and raced up to the captain with a padd. “Skipper. We’ve just gotten an alert on the sensors. Something’s out there. Not sure what but it is close.”

Mercy’s eyes widened in alarm. “Damn it.”

“It isn’t necessarily hostile.” Gareth ventured but Mercy snorted at that possibility.

Handing the padd to Gareth, Mercy maintained her composure. “ XO, I need you to...” She faltered trying to weigh up her decision. Mitch Duncannon looked between the two of them and Gareth seemed to hold his breath awaiting her command. Then a stony resolve settled on Mercy’s features. She met Hayes’ eyes. “You take the bridge. I take point.”

“If you’re sure.” Gareth stated but there was enough of a questioning tone under his words to not undermine Faraday.

Mercy however nodded. “You took command of your ship in the course of the Battle of Cardassia. You steered them safely through that. You do the same for my boat. Y’hear?”

He met her faith in him with a small smile and a nod. “I hear.”

“Good.” Mercy started off but rounded to tell Gareth, “If it’s Tzenkethi don’t shoot first. If it’s Kzinti do. I’m doubting it’s Ashers.” The deck shifted as the storm buffeted the shields. “They usually pick off stragglers after a storm. They can’t risk the storms of this strength with their shields.”

“Breen?”

“I don’t ...” Mercy’s hands balled into angry fists. “I wouldn’t put it past the Breen. But no. Unlikely. Orions most like. I dunno. Just play it smart, XO. We don’t need a fight in the middle of this. Get space between us. I’ll be in medbay. Chime in.”

“Likewise.”

They nodded at each other, a departing salute of sorts, wishing the other luck and ordering the other not to get hurt, with Mercy’s eyes adding an additional warning to Hayes not to screw up.

“Anything else?”

“When in doubt: Go by the creed.” Mercy met his eyes and patted the emblem of the Border Patrol Service emblazoned on the stairwell foyer. Under the laurel leaves surrounding the crossed anchors overlaying the Federation starscape seal were the metal engraved words:

Protecting Borders

Saving Lives

Holding the Line

“Always by the creed.”

 

* * *

Gauntlet Running by Miranda Fave

Medical Bay

 

“Sparks! Good, I need you.” CPO Shelly Logan came rushing up to Mercy, stood outside the main entrance to sickbay strapping a pair of boots.

Logan puffed and brushed errant hair away from her dirt covered face. “Busy as hell Boss. You can see for yourself what we’re facing on those decks.”

Standing up straight, Mercy told Shelly plainly, “It’ll have to wait, Sparks. We need to get this situation under control and...” The ship lurched harshly.

“I understand. What do you need me for?”

Mercy plugged in an ear piece as she told Sparks. “I want a running update on what’s happening on the bridge and in engineering.” Mercy came up to a control panel and punched in command override codes and brought up a screen for Shelly Logan to look at. “I also need you to be ready for my cue.”

The chief petty officer whistled. “Are you sure about this plan?”

“Given the confined space, the vulnerability of the hostages and the need to end this quickly, it’s the plan we’re going with. If we didn’t have so many patient hostages and different species, I’d just gas them. But our best medical staff are in there too, so I can’t risk the complications that would arise.”

“I see.”

Mercy turned to the young lithe man beside her. “Ryuu, you up for some ballet?”

“I forgot my tutu but I’m ready for a dance.” The corpsman, dressed once again in his thin micro armour mesh suit, patted his CPR gun with a toothy grin.

Mitch Duncannon reappeared carrying boots and a tactical map display. “I checked the infirmary list. We’ve got twenty one hostages. Sixteen are patients. Most of the patients had been shifted to the rescue bays to sit out the storm. Five of them are bed ridden and restrained for the storm, two of whom are unconscious. One being the child you rescued. The other child is in there too.”

Mercy took the tac-mat display from Mitch as she studied the layout. “Figures. How many prisoners?”

Mitch narrated as he took off his tactical boots and got into a different pair. “The medical bay took a bit of hit in the storm so surveillance is out. Our internal sensors are screwed up too. However, I accessed the EMH holo matrix to use it as a sort of sensor field. Logs tell us we’ve got a confirmed nine prisoners but two of them appear to be prone in their beds. I’m imagining that their injuries preclude them from the break out attempt.”

“K. But I want them subdued once we go in.” This she directed to the support team who would follow them in afterwards. The ship trembled heavily again. “We can’t take any chances.” The team nodded their acknowledgement of this order.

“The matrix overlay shows two figures here by the entrance to Doc’s office. I’m figuring by the size and shape that it’s Suthy and Mbeke. You can see two standing guard over them. This guy here is holding court in the centre. I’m taking him to be the leader. The read isn’t clear cut but I figure that to be the little girl. He’s holding her close to him.”

“The ...” Mercy bit off her tongue but Shelly Logan supplied the finish. “Bastard.”

“If I take position here, Skipper?” Ryuu pointed to the rear entrance to the medical bay coming through from the surgical ward.

Mercy gripped the bulkhead as the ship pitched for a moment. “Fine, that puts you in a good position but you understand the stakes there. He’s using the child as a shield.”

“Yes Skipper but I bet he’ll be focused on you.”

“That’ll be the intention. Come in flanked but hold until my signal. You remain Ryuu, the flank support fall back to the surgical doors. Mitch, you take this corner and cover this arc. Mercus, you got the corner here and take down the two there. Likewise, the flank fall back when – if – I say. We’ll try to win their trust. I’ll take the guard to Doc’s left and then the other if Mbeke doesn’t make a move. The count is three. We good to go?”

Mercus informed the captain, “Medical teams are on stand by.”

Mitch asked her in his flat voice, “Are you sure you want to give them the chance to talk?”

“I want to end this quickly Mitch, but I’ll give the chance to surrender first.” He didn’t agree with that but he accepted it. Mercy chimed through to the bridge. “XO. Hayes. We’re about to enter the sickbay. What’s your status?”

“Storm’s going to get worse before it gets better, Skipper. If you’re going to make your move, be doing it soon.”

“Noted XO. What about that sensor reading?”

“We’re handling it. You focus on the op. Hayes out.”

Mercy was aggrieved, “Why the...”

Mitch butted in to cut the captain off. “He’s right. Focus.”

“I’m focused.” Mercy took up her carbine rifle and checked the heft in her grip. A focused composure settled on her features. “Sparks? You right?”

“Yeah.”

“Ok then. Let’s do this.” The teams took up their insertion points, rallying behind one another and patted one another on the back as a signal. Mercy checked a visual on the teams at their various points of entry to the expansive medical bay area. “On my mark. Mark.”

The booted teams overrode the door controls and frog marched into the medical bay, boots stomping as they moved quickly and took up their positions. There was shouting and barking from within from the pirates as they responded to the intrusion.

Mercy shouted over the sudden clamour and panic of their entrance. “No one shoot! No one shoot!”

* * *

 

Bridge

“The captain won’t have liked that.”

Standing over her console, Gareth smirked at the Tellarite. “She doesn’t need to like it, Harra. She needs to focus on her task and us on ours. Storm check.”

Cree announced at helm, “We’ve got another big front coming towards us in two minutes.”

“I guess I picked a hell of a day to pull a bridge duty.”

Gareth squeezed Harra’s shoulder. “A doozy of a day but as it is, I’m going to be in need of a squint. Keep a close eye on our friend out there. See what you can do about getting a better read. It would help to know who is trying to move in on us.”

Harra shrugged. “I can try but with the damage taken and the ferocity of the storm, I doubt our chances of success.”

“Can we adjust our shields to actually cause us to move more with the oncoming wave?”

The small Tellarite asked, “You want to surf it?”

A calculating look passed on Gareth’s face. “Not exactly but I want to know for sure just how much our interloper is tracking us.”

Rouché added, “You want to see if they adjust for our course deviation and drift.”

“Exactly but at the same time I don’t want to tip their hand to our knowing their presence.”

“Can do.”

“If we allow for variable shield frequencies XO,” Cree turned at helm to tell Hayes, “I may be able to manipulate the field to steer us some in a passive manner.” Gareth considered that ability as he studied the Bzzit Khaht pilot. “You could do that?”

Cree stroked the coral protrusions on his mouth and considered it. His gurgling voice sounded confident despite the margins for error. “If the shield adjustment works, then yes, albeit with a degree of trial and error.”

“This is all going to be about trial and error Cree. See what you can do.”

Cree turned back to his helm controls and announced, “One minute until storm front.”

To Harra, Gareth asked, “Can you adjust the shields in time for that front?”

“Erm. Yes.”

Over an open comm. to engineering came the voice of the Trill engineer. “However, there’s going to be some pay off to doing that. We’ve got the optimum shield set up to minimise damage to the ship. We’re going to take hurt and get badly shook.”

“We already are, Chief Torel. Is it ok with you?”

“No. But I’m not seeing a wide array of choices for you, Commander.”

“Thanks Chief. Stand ready. And be prepared to bring the engines online in a hurry too.”

“I’d sooner you didn’t.”

“I’d sooner it too Chief. But if we’ve got a player here, we’re going to want to make good our escape. I don’t think we’re in a position to put up a fight.”

“Hell yes we would and always XO. Just not a very finessed one.”

“Well if we have to fight ugly we will, Chief. Stand by.” Gareth clicked the comm. closed and turned to Rouché. “Now, get me torpedo control.”

* * *

 

 

Medical bay

 

“Faraday, bridge warns there’s another strong front wave imminent. An estimated thirty seconds until it hits.”

Mercy tried to ignore the warning over the earpiece and retain control in front of the pirates. “I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation Hergjik.” Mercy addressed the Orion by his name after fruitless negotiations she had to keep the pretence up now in order to carry out the take down. “I’m giving you to the count of five to lay down your weapons.”

“Got the cue Boss, ready to activate on the count of three. Gravity control on stand by.”

Hergjik tightened his grip around the young girl’s throat and brought the broken shard of glass up to her face. “No way. Let us off this ship!”

Unflinching Mercy puffed out her chest. “We’ve discussed that. We’re in the middle of a storm. I can’t give you any other answer. So put down your weapons and call it quits.” The pirates didn’t budge all looking towards Hergjik for their lead.

Mercy gave them all a moment to reconsider and then it was time to call the party over. “I’m going to start counting now. One.” Mercy rocked on her heels surreptitious to activate her grav mag boots. Mitch and the others did likewise.

“Two.” Shelly Logan licked her lips and hovered fingers over the controls. Ryuu braced his feet against the bulkhead. Mercus swept his firearm taking his targets into his scopes. Mitch found his balance. Mbeke pulled Doc towards her subtly and reached for her hidden blade.

Mercy tried to refrain from meeting the eyes of each of her team. She trusted them to do their job. She had to do hers. She kept the leader’s eyes on her. “Three.”

Shelly depressed gravity control on the deck compartment off, just in the moment the ship was hit by the storm front wave. Mercy’s eyes widened in shock at the bad timing as the loss of gravity coupled with the storm hit tossed the room. The medical bay and its contents went sideways and into the air. Mercy and the team members in their mag boots remained rooted to the spot as people, equipment and furniture tumbled into the mid air and crashed against the ceiling and bulkheads and each other.

Ryuu had just pushed off from the wall, propelling himself through the air like a spinning dart zeroing in on his target.

The leader flailed with gun and shard of broken glass. The child screamed and wailed trapped in his chokehold.

Mercy shouted.

Mercus and Mitch fired at the same moment, adjusting their aims for the turmoil.

Mbeke reached up around to stab the guard falling over her in the tumult. Doc grabbed onto the workstation drawers to retain his position.

Ryuu twisted his body to dodge himself through the floating scattering debris and people. Mercy redirected her shot to shoot the twisting Hergjik in the back. Ryuu holstered his weapon pulled a blade swiped at the pirate, grappling with his arm to free the girl and spinning away tucked the little girl into his protective hold. Mercy and Mercus fired both at Hergjik.

Mitch stomped forward to get a shot at his second target then turned swiftly to take Mercy’s original target down.

Mbeke pulled herself up and over her pirate as they tumbled into the medical bay floating over a stationary bed, she grabbed his carbine and fired from his hip to shoot the pirate reaching for Suthy. The man’s chest burned red and he violently somersaulted away from Suthy to crash into the bulkhead behind him.

Mercus grabbed Ryuu and the child out of the air and pulled them to the ground where they got their feet.

“Check!” Faraday shouted around the room.

“They’re down.”

“Check.”

“Night night.”

“All good.”

“Secure the patients.” Mercy commanded as she grabbed Suthy by the wrist and supported him back to the deck. “You ok Doc? Bring gravity back online Shelly.”

There was a clatter as equipment and floating furniture crashed to the ground. A few of the patients wailed but were reassured by the team members who had all taken a hold of them.

Mitch called out. “Secure the pirates.”

“Get the medical teams in here. Is everyone ok?”

The patients gave frightened nods and a few sobbed but they were ok to look at and this allowed Mercy a moment to breathe relief. “Bridge? Faraday to bridge.”

“All hands prepare for evasive manoeuvres!”

Mercy looked shocked and enraged at the disembodied voice. “What the ...?”

Hergjik suddenly grabbed at Mercy’s ankles but she kicked him square in the jaw with her other heavy boot. “Evade this ...”

Mbeke raced over to the pirate and clapped him in restraints, “...bitch.” Mbeke looked up at Faraday and shrugged. “Well you wouldn’t say it Skipper but the moment called for it.”

Logan shouted out. “Quick, get the patients secured.”

“What is it Shelly?”

“XO told you Skipper. Evasive moves!” Mitch was already finishing strapping in his patients and ran to Mercy’s side hauling her over to the wall where foldable chairs were taken out from the wall by Mbeke. He tossed her into one of the fold down chairs and took the one beside her as Mbeke fell into the other.

“No time to argue Mercy. Buckle in.” Mitch however wasn’t even telling Mercy this as he pulled the straps of the seat belt over her shoulder and clicked it into place. He swiftly did likewise.

Sutherland grabbed a medical kit and wrapped his foot and one arm in a restraint as he hauled himself up onto a bio-bed alongside one of the patients who was starting to flatline. Mercus followed suit on the other side to lend assistance.

“Doc! Damn it!” The ship veered hard to port and then dipped. The structural integrity field failed completely to keep up and every rock, dip and sensation was felt throughout the ship. “My God!”

“Hold on.”

Ryuu was sitting on the far wall strapped in with the little girl on his lap secured to him. He was making faces and gurning as the ship rolled and dived causing the frightened girl to laugh nervously.

“What the hell is happening?” Mercy shouted and then gripped her straps as hard g-forces pulled on them as the ship pulled off an incredibly tight turn. Mercy felt the pitch and roll of the deck and could feel the exertion of the engines through the deckplates.

The lights flickered. Doc called out medicine to Mercus as they struggled with the vitals of the patient. Sawhee struggled across the floor towards them to lend assistance, her Denobulan figure gripping the deck.

“Stay where you are Nurse Sawhee.”

Padds, vials, an errant boot, broken glass spilled and tumbled across the pitching floor. Mercy felt the bottom of her stomach fall out as the ship dipped alarmingly. The glass shards bounced into the air as Sawhee was tossed into the air too before crashing to the floor with a jarring thud.

An overhead light exploded in sparks.

The deck dropped into pitch blackness and remained so for a terrifying twenty seconds. In the dark the patients screamed. The deck pitched and rolled. Doc Sutherland shouted out orders to Mercus. Ryuu made soothing sounds to the little girl. Nurse Sawhee groaned in agony. Mercy groaned in frustration and in defiance as more g-forces punished them in their seats.

The lights came back on. Flickered on and off. Emergency lights alone remained on.

“What’s happening up there, Mitch?”

“You’ve got to trust him. He’s in the hotseat. Gah!” This last Mitch implored as more tight turns pulled more g-forces and a cabinet toppled over with a crash near to him.

“H-h-here!” Mbeke stammered as the ship juddered and shook jarringly as she handed a tac-mat to the captain. “We’re being tracked. He’s luring him in and test-testing their moves. Phew.” The flight path levelled out.

The tell tale sounds of firing from the torpedo tubes was heard. Mercy looked up to the darkened ceiling in wonderment and quickly cast a look back to the screen to follow what was happening. “Those weren’t torps!”

“Probes.” Mbeke provided the answer.

“What’s he doing?”

“He’s commanding.”

“But...”

“Mercy, he’s in command. He’s XO. He’s in the chair.”

“Dammit.” It looked as if at any moment she would bolt from the chair and try to make a run for the bridge.

Mitch gripped his seat straps as the ship shook violently. “Smart move. He’s smoking them out. Baiting them with the probes.”

“He’s going to try and fool them with a false trail.”

Mercy could see that much but still wasn’t impressed or satisfied because she wasn’t in her chair. “It won’t work. They’ve followed us too easily. Their sensors are better reading this mix than us.”

“Unless he wants them to think that.”

“He’s got 88s in the tube waiting,” Mbeke exclaimed.

Mitch chimed in. “He’s using the probes to create false sensor readings.”

Shaking her head in anger and frustration, Mercy decried, “It won’t work.”

“It’ll throw them off and – hold on – more evasive moves.” Mitch called out to the infirmary in warning just before the deck went sideways as the SIF failed to compensate. Shelly Logan gasped as she pulled nurse Sawhee into her arms and pulled a strap over her unconscious form.

“Hold on.”

Mercy looked away from the medical bay concerns and back to the screens trying to follow the fight and flight of the Osprey and their hunter. “They tracked the probes. They didn’t fall for it.”

Mitch saw the strategy being employed by Hayes. “No, which means they’ve got good sensors.”

Mbeke tapped at the read out for the various torpedo bays. “He’s loading in more probes and readying to deploy countermeasures.”

Mitch added with a grin. “Locking and loading the 88s, too.”

Mbeke grinned at the deployment of the 88s known as the Pole-axe torpedoes. “Pole-axe their ass, XO.”

“What’s his game plan?” Mercy asked with a worried frown. “They’re not going to fall for the sensor readings of the probes.”

“Exactly Skipper.” Mbeke concluded happily. “They haven’t adjusted for the probes at all. Not even when they went in their direction.”

Mercy was trying to follow and then it fell into place for her. “Damn it XO.” The probes fired. “You sly bastard.” And the probes directed towards the sensor reading were quickly followed by the 88s. The sensor contact enemy ignored the probes as before but the false sensor output the probes were generating masked the 88s on their tail.

The screen showed the 88s scream towards the target and then it blinked out. “Yes!” Mercy made a fist in triumph.

Mbeke squeezed her hand. “He did good, Skip.”

“Watch out!” Mitch warned suddenly.

“All hands. Brace for impact!”

 

* * *

After the Storm by Miranda Fave

Bridge

 

Mercy charged onto the bridge and came before Gareth was who finishing talking to Chief Torel via the viewscreen in engineering. “I’ve to get back to the engines Faraday but suffice to say we’re in one piece and thankfully the worst of it seems to be over.”

Mercy nodded at that as the image of the chief engineer winked out to be replaced with a master systems display showing the status of the ship. Mbeke who had come through second onto the bridge clapped Hayes on the shoulder as she passed towards her station. “Good work XO. Honestly that time it is hugs and kisses.”

Mercy suppressed a growl. “I’d say get a room but not on my boat y’hear.” She gave Gareth an appraising look. Yet again, she found herself re-evaluating this man. Grateful for Gareth’s actions, Mercy thanked him. “Good job, Hayes. Nicely handled. Although, I think you may have scratched the hull. I’ll be taking that out of your pocket money.

He returned with a smirk, “Figured the hull would be getting a fresh lick after we fix the nacelle you dented.”

“You know, for a minute there...” she wagged an admonishing finger at him, “I almost liked you.”

“Ship’s in one piece as the chief says but there’s a deal of work to be done. However, it seems those wave fronts and our evasive path moved out of the worst of the storm. We’re ploughing our way now towards getting out of it. ETA on that Cree?”

The Bzzit Khaht answered with a gurgling, “Forty-five minutes at current speed. Best we can do. We’ve pushed the engines hard enough as is.”

“Fair enough. I’ll be wanting to see a replay of that play back there but it felt like it was a tough scrape. And it felt like you were pulling some moves Cree. Well done.”

Cree croaked and hissed, “I love the chance to fly.”

“I’ve not seen the like of it in some time Cree. Stan would be impressed. Again my thanks.” Mercy clapped Cree on the shoulder and he took her hand in his in thanks. Mercy turned then to tactical. “Rouché good hunting too.”

“All the XO, Skipper. It was his game plan.”

“I figured as much.” She looked at Gareth again who looked a little sheepish at such attention. “Again, my thanks to you, XO. Any ideas on who it was tracking us and making a move?”

“None I’m afraid.” Gareth explained bringing the captain towards the sit rep table at the rear of the bridge behind the bulked up tactical station. Here he and Rouché pulled up a replay of the situation and the scant sensor readings they managed to gather. “But they definitely tried to make a move once they twigged we were trying to ascertain who they were and had them on our sensors.”

Rouché continued, “They came in and we I read a weaps lock signal. That’s when we had to start pulling the evasive manoeuvres.”

Mercy scrutinised the data before her and relived the stomach churning moments from the sickbay again. With a heave off from the sit-rep table, Mercy directed, “Get the squints onto any telemetry picked up by the probes that you fired as a diversion. There’s a chance they gathered some intel.”

“Already dispatched Harra to the Bunker to do so.”

“Very good then. Mbeke check in on the brig. Sedate the prisoners if needs be.”

“Already ordered Boss so but I’m on my way down there now. Ship is secure. I’ll drop into sickbay on my way back and check how T’Renna is doing.”

“Thank you XO. I mean it.” She reached out a hand. He looked down at it and then smiled. Gareth took her hand and they shook. “We might just make a team yet.”

Mercy took her seat and started going through her console screens checking on the ship status. “Get me Watchtower. Let’s update and see about getting us home as quick as we can.”

“Aye aye Skipper.”

“I thought I might head down to the rescue bays and help lend a hand or reassure the rescued slaves.”

“K. You can quit trying to impress me. Tomorrow’s another day to prove yourself.”

“Ha. You mean I have to do it all over again.”

“Hey, I can’t be a pushover, Hayes. I’ve got to make you work for it.”

“Captain?”

“What is it Rouché?” Mercy turned with a frown.

“I-we- we can’t raise Hope Station.”

“The storm still interfering with our communications?”

“No. And I’m treble checking the communications systems in case they took damage.” Mbeke had stopped short and proceeded back to her station and took a console to double check herself what was happening as Rouché explained his communication problem.

“It checks out. The problem doesn’t lie with us. The problem’s with Watchtower.”

Mercy turned aghast from Rouché to the viewscreen and then back to Hayes. “What the hell?”

Rouche confirmed. “Watchtower is silent.”

“Cap! I’ve got a security code being bounced about the network. Trying to clear it and patch it through. It’s ... a command code.” Mbeke’s dark Hailian featured seemed to pale as she read and spoke the words. “Code: Broken Watch.”

Gareth saw the shocked fallen face on Mercy. He was confused by the jargon but figured it to be bad given the name and given the reaction to the now completely silent bridge. “What’s code ‘Broken Watch’ mean?”

“The last time that code was ...” Mbeke’s voice trailed off. “It was day the Breen attacked Earth in the Dominion War. The day they...” Mbeke gulped and looked on horrified at a shaken Faraday.

Mercy shook her head and gripped her armrests. In barely a whisper she told Gareth, “Watchtower. It means Watchtower ... Hope Station.” Mercy looked up and locked eyes with Gareth. “It means Watchtower has fallen.”

* * *

THE END

 

Coming next...

STAR STATION HOPE:

Welcome to Hope

Hope #1

 

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