Summary: Almost one hundred innocent civilians are dead in a cowardly attack. The Federation finally has the means to bring the perpetrator to justice,and the crew of the Pershing is called upon to act.
Categories: Expanded Universes Characters: None
Series: Star Trek: New Horizons
Chapters: 6 Completed: Yes
Word count: 14269 Read: 8054
Published: 27 Jun 2016 Updated: 27 Jun 2016
1. Chapter 1 by captaintigranian
2. Chapter 2 by captaintigranian
3. Chapter 3 by captaintigranian
4. Chapter 4 by captaintigranian
5. Chapter 5 by captaintigranian
6. Chapter 6 by captaintigranian
Chapter 1 by captaintigranian
Quatal System: Federation Zone of Occupation, Cardassian Space
Lieutenant Hawkins' fist slammed into Katie's jaw. She saw stars, but quickly shook it off. It was a good thing he was wearing sparring gloves, or else she probably would have gone to the canvas. Quickly, she braced her arms in front of her face and looked for another way to get inside his guard. He attempted another right jab, but she was able to duck his blow and land her own fist into the side of his head. The marines legs wobbled and Katie was about to charge in for the clinch when the bell rang.
The bloodied and bruised pair returned to their corners as the assembled crowd of crewmates and marines cheered from the stands.
Katie collapsed onto a waiting stool as Phil mopped sweat from her brow with a wet sponge. Alex ran over and quickly gave her a once over. The doctor was immediately concerned with the bloody cut under her left eye.
"How you holding up?" Alex said checking the dilation of her pupils with a small light.
"He's got a wicked right hook…for a marine," Katie said between deep breaths. Phil held up a bottle of water and squeezed a gulp into her mouth. She swished it around for a few seconds before spitting into a bucket her boyfriend held for the purpose. Alex winced when she saw how much blood came out with it.
"I'm getting nervous, Kid," Alex said.
"Calm down, Doc," Katie said with a huge grin. "I've had a lot worse than this."
"I find that hard to believe," Alex said quickly climbing to her feet.
"Don't worry, I'm done tap-dancing with him. It ends this round."
"It better…" Alex said flashing her a look. "…or I'm stopping this fight. I don't need two officers lying unconscious in my sickbay." Katie laughed as Alex ran over to the other side of the ring to check on Hawkins.
"Alex needs to lighten up," Katie said still grinning.
"She just cares about you, that's all," Phil said holding up Katie's mouthguard. She shoved it in her mouth just as the ready buzzer rang.
"Glad to see you don't care about me as much as she does," Katie said climbing to her feet.
"I care about you more than she does, I just understand why you have to do stuff like this," Phil said climbing back out of the ring. Tigranian and Annabeth patted him on the shoulder from their seats right behind the ropes.
Katie and Hawkins both stepped forward to the center of the ring. Sergeant First Class Schultz stood between them as referee.
"Ma'am, are you ready?" he asked pointing at Katie. She nodded. "Sir, are you ready?" he said turning to Hawkins. Another nod. "Alright, let's get in on!" he said clapping his hands and stepping out of the way as the bell sounded.
The two fighters touched gloves and then started to dance around the ring. Both were exhausted and covered in sweat, but neither was ready to concede defeat. This was a matter of pride. Katie was tired of always hearing the Pershing's marines brag about how they were the best hand-to-hand fighters in the fleet, so she finally challenged their platoon leader to a match. The marines happily obliged, turning their training bay into a mixed martial arts ring.
The grunts cheered their lieutenant on from the sidelines.
"C'mon, Sir! Take her down!"
"Get some! Semper Fi!"
"Show the fleeties what makes a marine!"
Katie, of course, had her own cheering section. However, Tigranian and Annabeth made it clear they were neutral. The marines were as much a part of the Pershing's crew as anyone else.
Hawkins circled around the outside of the ring. He definitely didn't expect Katie Stone to be this much of a challenge. His legs felt like rubber and a lump on his forehead from one of her sidekicks was making it nearly impossible to see out of his right eye.
Katie held up her fists in front of her. She just had to wait for Hawkins to give her the right opportunity.
Suddenly, he lunged forward trying to land a tremendous punch. She let it glance off her right arm and charged forward inside his guard. With every ounce of her remaining energy, she managed to lock her arms behind his neck and pulled it downward, forcing his face directly into her knee. As he stood, stunned into submission, she grabbed his right wrist and flipped him down to the ground. Everyone gasped in shock at the ferocity of her take down.
Hawkins was doing his best to resist, but he was nearly helpless as she locked her legs across his chest, put his arm between her knees, and arched her back. The pain from the arm bar was instantaneous. Within a matter of seconds, Hawkins was tapping with his free hand to stop her before his arm broke in two.
Sergeant Schultz dove in and separated the pair to end the match. Katie leapt to her feet, raised her arms over her head, and cheered in victory. Alex ran over and knelt down next to Hawkins, but luckily, the only thing that received any permanent damage was his ego.
The crowd was on their feet now as well. A few seemed disappointed, but most just cheered Katie's incredible win.
* * * *
In less than ten minutes, any lingering bad feelings about the fight had vanished. Katie, Hawkins, and just about everyone who wasn't pulling a duty shift had gathered in the mess hall around a cold keg of beer. The marines were relatively well-behaved, though the decibel level of the room was definitely much higher than normal.
"You fight pretty damn well, LT," Hawkins said throwing a sweaty arm around Katie. She winced a bit as the adrenaline started to wear off of her bruised ribs, but quickly shot a smile back at him.
"Any time you want a rematch, you know where to find me, Brett."
Suddenly, a crash echoed through the room. Everyone looked over to a corner just in time to see Private First Class Tolmeni fly three meters through the air. Another marine, more massive than a Vulcan Sehlat, threw his fist triumphantly into the air.
"What the hell is going on over there!?" Hawkins shouted over the roar of the crowd.
"Ah, it's just marines being marines, Sir," Sergeant First Class Schultz said strutting over with a beer in his hand. "Tolmeni got a little riled up watching the fight and decided it would be a great idea to challenge Mohnath to an arm wrestling match."
Hawkins rubbed his eyes.
"Tolmeni never was a smart one…"
Tigranian and the rest of senior staff walked over after the commotion had started to die down.
"I love marines, Brett, but you could you please help me keep my ship intact?" Tigranian asked Hawkins sarcastically.
"Now, you see why we don't let 'em out much, Sir," Schultz said with a laugh.
"When I was at the Academy," Annabeth said cutting in. "They told me that the marine corps was good for two things: killing stuff and breaking things."
"My professors told me the same thing, Ma'am," Hawkins replied. "Why do you think I wanted to join them?"
"Not exactly in line with Starfleet's mission of exploration," Alex blurted out. She immediately realized her comment wasn't very tactful, but before she could apologize, Hawkins replied.
"You'd be surprised, Ma'am. Exploration often requires a little more aggressiveness than most people think."
"Looks like the Pershing has more than one officer who thinks like a Klingon…" Phil muttered while taking a sip of beer.
Before he could chide Phil's sarcasm, Tigranian's communicator chimed to life.
"Sir, this is Ensign Gleeto on the bridge…"
Tigranian tapped his chest.
"Go ahead, Ensign."
"Sir, you might want to find the nearest monitor and turn to SFN News."
Everyone exchanged worried glances.
"Acknowledged," Tigranian said before crossing to the large screen on the mess hall's wall. "Computer, tune to SFN News."
The screen came to life and the sullen image of an anchor appeared.
"Again, if you're just joining us, we're receiving some very sad information out of Cardassian Space. Reports are still coming in, but at this hour, the Federation News Service has independently confirmed that the SS Zephyr has been destroyed by Cardassian criminal elements operating in the Trelka System near the border of the Romulan Occupation Zone…"
"Oh my God," Katie murmured. The rest of the room fell silent.
"That's less than ten light years from here," Laria said in shock.
"The SS Zephyr was a ship under the control of the Interstellar Red Cross and the Federation Diplomatic Corps carrying relief supplies and provincial reconstruction specialists from both the Federation and the Cardassian Provisional Government. At least 78 Federation Citizens and 23 Cardassian nationals were aboard according to the ship's manifest. Although the search is still underway, Cardassian patrol ships that are already on scene are not detecting any escape pods. All hands may be lost.
The motive for the attack remains unclear, but our analysts here on Earth suspect that the Zephyr may have stumbled on an active smuggling operation and was destroyed attempting to flee. Regardless of the cause, it is a very sad day for the Federation as over one hundred people, men and women who had dedicated their lives to helping the most destitute victims of the war, appear to be lost…"
"Annabeth," Tigranian said with a quiet anger in his voice. "Put the ship on Yellow Alert. I'm going to my ready room to get comms with Starfleet Command. Spin up anyone you need. We might have to move quickly."
"Yes Sir," Annabeth replied. Before she could even issue guidance to the rest of the staff, Tigranian was out the door.
Chapter 2 by captaintigranian
Twenty-Four Hours Later
Trelka System: Federation Zone of Occupation, Cardassian Space
"We've completed our sensor scans of the entire sector," Laria said with a profound sadness in her voice. "It confirms the initial assessment of the Cardassian Patrol ships. Zero beacons, zero distress signals…and zero life signs. It appears there were no survivors from the Zephyr."
"All those people…" Alex said as her voice trailed off.
"We've recovered all the debris we could," Scharr said. "The pattern of the break-up is consistent with a rupture of the port anti-matter containment tank cause by an external breach from weapons fire."
"What type of weapons fire?" Phil said sharply.
"Residual ion patterns on the hull plating indicate Class II disruptors. A little obsolete for any modern military vessel, but still very common among civilian vessels, especially ones of ill-repute."
"It could be anyone," Annabeth said with frustration. "Ventaxians, Lissapians, Ferengi…"
"We all know who did this!" Tigranian suddenly shouted. "It's Devek. Despite everything we've done, he's still operating with total impunity."
"The only question I have, Sir…" Katie interjected, "…is what are we going to do about it?"
"What makes you think we'll be the ones who'll get to go after him?" Scharr said pointing his antennae towards her.
"Because I know the captain," Katie said turning back towards Tigranian.
"She's right, Sir," Annabeth chimed in. "You've had an awful lot of private communication with Starfleet Command in the past twenty-four hours."
"I didn't want to say anything until Admiral Paris and Admiral Murphy received confirmation from the President and the Council…"
"So they are planning something for us?" Phil said hopefully.
"We can't mount an operation against Devek until we know where he is," Tigranian said fighting back frustrated disgust.
"And just how do we do that?" Laria murmured. "We haven't gotten any intelligence of value in months.
Tigranian sighed. He knew he couldn't keep his senior staff out of the loop any longer.
"Starfleet Intelligence is proposing using 'enhanced interrogation techniques' against the slave broker we captured last month. However, they won't proceed without direct authorization from the President and the Chief Justice of the Federation Supreme Court."
"What?" Alex said leaning forward in her chair. "Are we talking about torture here?"
"I've heard their proposal," Tigranian said plaintively holding his hands in front of him. "Their techniques are not pleasant, but I believe they're not a direct violation of the Federation Charter."
"We're kinda getting into semantics here, aren't we?" Alex shot back. "Are we willing to start heading down a road that ignores the very values we're supposed to defend?"
"Over one hundred innocent people are dead, Alex!" Katie said. "I saw those slaves in the market that the broker was trying to sell to the highest bidder. What about their rights? What about the weapons and drugs Devek and his thugs are running through this sector every single day? Sure, we can stop a few of his ships, but not all of them! If we take him down…"
"Katie," Annabeth said holding up her hand. "No one is arguing that the galaxy wouldn't be a far better place without Devek in it, but the Federation has to tread very carefully here. Otherwise, we're no better than he is."
"May I speak freely here, Ma'am?" Katie asked Annabeth.
"Of course, Katie," Annabeth said turning towards her. "What's said in these briefings stays in these briefings."
"I've read about that kind of logic before from many nations across Earth and the Federation's history, and they all one thing in common…"
"And that is?" Alex asked incredulously.
"They don't exist anymore," Katie said plainly.
"I really want to hear what the captain's opinion is on this," Scharr said turning towards Tigranian.
"As a Starfleet officer, I have sworn an oath to defend the citizens of the United Federation of Planets with my life, but also to support the Federation Charter without question."
"Sir," Phil rubbing his eyes. "That might be the most political thing I've ever heard come out of your mouth. We know you. Don't mince words. What do you really think?"
Tigranian paused while he considered his next statement very carefully. He knew it would be unpopular with some in the room.
"Alex, I completely understand your fears, but I cannot and will not stand by while innocent Federation citizens are murdered and while women and children are sold into slavery, all for the greed and lust for power of one man. Attacking Starfleet vessels is one thing, but a civilian ship with no armaments and no protection…that was the act of an animal. bortaS bIr jablu'DI', reH QaQqu' nay'"
"Just what the hell does that mean?" Scharr asked.
"Revenge is a dish best served cold," Laria whispered looking down at her lap.
"Maybe I'm being naïve," she said looking around the table. "But I joined Starfleet to save lives, not end them. Maybe, the suffering of the slave broker and the death of Devek will result in some greater good. Maybe it is worth the price. I don't know. I'm not a philosopher or a theologian." She sighed deeply but continued.
"Sir, I will carry out my orders and take part in any mission you give us. I trust you enough to know you wouldn't lead us into something immoral, but I would be remiss if I didn't answer your proverb with another one from Marcus Aurelius."
Tigranian nodded his assent silently.
"The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury."
* * * *
Two more days passed. The Pershing remained in the Trelka system, waiting for a mission that might never come. The tension on board was palpable. The crew struggled between the competing desire to hunt down the perpetrators of the Zephyr massacre and the desire to run back to the gilded innocence of Federation Space, where such atrocities could easily be forgotten among the endless plenty and comforts.
Many of the Pershing's crew had been fighting without respite for over four years, and some were growing tired of it. The main thing that kept them going was the profound desire to spare their loved ones back in the blissful ignorance of home any more pain at the hands of the Federation's enemies.
Tigranian sat at the desk in his ready room reading a list of names on a PADD. His door chimed. He ignored it for a few seconds, hoping the person would walk away, but when it sounded again, he finally muttered the word, "Enter."
The doors parted and Annabeth walked in.
"What do you need, Number One?" he said not looking up at her.
"I need to make sure the commander of this ship is alright. I've barely seen you on the bridge since this whole thing started."
"I've been busy."
"L, is worried about you as well."
"She'll be fine. She's strong."
"I never said I was worried about her." Annabeth slowly made her way towards Tigranian's desk. She tried to catch of glimpse of his PADD but he kept trying to conceal it from her view. "What are you reading?"
"Don't worry about it."
"I do worry about it when it comes to you. I have to know what my captain is doing if I'm going to be an effective first officer."
"I thought we were past such doctrinal assertions, Annabeth," Tigranian said with a hint of annoyance.
"Apparently not, Dan."
Tigranian knew there was no point in keeping it from her. In truth, he felt more self-conscious than anything else. He knew she would have something to say. After a long sip of raktajino from the mug on his desk, he started reading aloud.
"Melanie Drexell: Thirty-two years old. Hydrological Engineer. Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida, Earth. Married to Tom Drexell, Microbiologist, also of Tallahassee. Two children: Richard: Age 8 and Jennifer: Age 5…"
Annabeth started rubbing her eyes.
"She wasn't Starfleet, Annabeth," Tigranian said placing the PADD back on his desk. "She had a comfortable civilian position on Earth monitoring the Gulf Desalinization Network, but she volunteered to join the Provincial Reconstruction team because and I quote, "I felt I had an obligation to help all sentient species improve their lives, not just those on my homeworld…"
"You can't do this to yourself, Sir. It's not your fault…"
"They were unarmed Annabeth. Our whole purpose out here, the whole reason a ship this powerful exists, was to protect people like them from harm, and we failed."
"Dozens of civilian vessels travel through the Occupation Zone every day. Unless the Zephyr was within our phaser range, how could we have stopped it?"
"By stopping those responsible before the attack happened. An honorable warrior protects those weaker than him."
Annabeth slammed her fists down on his desk.
"And what do you think you've been doing for almost a year? This ship and this crew have done more to safeguard this particular chunk of the ass-end of space than anyone else!"
"Apparently, it wasn't enough. We did fail, Annabeth. To repair our honor, we have to end this once and for all."
Before she could respond, the monitor on Tigranian's desk came to life with a bright red screen.
"The following is a Tier 1 Secure Transmission from Starfleet Command: Classified Top Secret. Verify that all personnel have appropriate clearance. When complete, confirm with retinal scan and security authorization code."
Tigranian looked up at Annabeth.
"Computer, lock doors," Tigranian looked at his screen. "Authorization: Tigranian Omega 3-6 Tango."
The monitor conducted a quick scan of his eyeball and the screen turned green.
Admiral Murphy's face appeared.
"You alone, Dan?" he asked with a solemn face.
"No, Annabeth's with me." She stepped around the desk and looked down at the monitor screen.
"Hello, Sir," she said with nod.
"It's good to see you, Annabeth. I'm glad you can hear this too."
"What's the update, Pete?"
"They broke him, Dan."
Annabeth and Tigranian exchanged a glance.
"Do we want to know how?" Tigranian asked softly.
"No, and I wouldn't tell if you did."
Annabeth shut her eyes briefly, but then focused again. It was done. There was no point in debating it now.
"Twenty minutes ago, the President signed Executive Order 28375-49 authorizing Starfleet Command to take any and all necessary means to bring Devek to justice for his attack on the Zephyr. He asked me to remind you specifically that no one who does not hold a Federation Security Clearance will know about this operation until after it is complete."
"I give you my word as a warrior that I will not involve the Klingons…"
"That's all I needed to hear, Dan."
"Sir," Annabeth asked nervously. "What if Devek is not willing to be brought to justice? I doubt we will be able to convince him to surrender."
"I say again, Commander Geist," Murphy said firmly. "Any and all necessary means. Devek will no longer be in a position to threaten Federation citizens or Federation allies again. Am I clear?"
"Yes Sir," Tigranian answered for his first officer.
Chapter 3 by captaintigranian
"It must be big if we're having this meeting in here," Katie said taking a seat in the Pershing's SCIF. The Sensitive Comparted Information Facility, or SCIF for short, was a briefing room located in the very center of the ship. It was shielded against every single known form of electronic espionage.
"I don't like this at all," Alex said as she nervously pulled up a chair next to Katie. "Beth wouldn't say anything to me. It makes me nervous."
"There are some things that go beyond even the covenant of marriage, Alex," Scharr said as his antennae drooped down contemplatively.
Laria sat silently at the end of the table. Her arms were crossed in front of her chest as she stared at the floor. She understood the importance of what the Pershing was doing, but in her heart she knew this meant that Daniel was going to be putting his life in danger again. It was who he was, but that didn't mean she had to like it.
Phil walked over and put an understanding hand on her shoulder. She placed her hand over his and looked up at him with gratitude.
"It'll be alright, L," he whispered before sitting down next to her.
The doors opened and Lieutenant Hawkins and Sergeant First Class Schultz walked in. Everyone knew that if the marines were involved, this was going to be even more substantial an operation than they were expecting. The pair nodded to the other officers before taking their places for the briefing.
Right on time, Tigranian and Annabeth appeared from a side room.
"The Commander!" Annabeth's voice echoed off the bare, black walls. Everyone leaped to their feet.
"Take your seats," Tigranian said taking a briefing position in front of the main holoscreen. "Computer, engage security protocol. Level III Forcefields." Blue energy screens came to life around the periphery of the compartment sealing them inside. They were now truly alone. "Ladies and Gentlemen, this briefing is Classified: Top Secret." He flashed an understanding look at Alex. "We're not here to debate Federation policy, merely to execute it. Suffice it say, the authorization for the operation came from the highest levels of civilian government. However, if you feel ethically obligated to excuse yourself, you may leave right now and I will note your objection in my log."
He looked around the room. No one, not even Alex, moved.
"Alright then," Tigranian said punching a few commands into the computer terminal next to him. The words, "Operation Chieftain" appeared on the holoscreen. "Bottom line up front, Ladies and Gentlemen, this operation ends in one of two ways: either with Glinn Devek sitting in our brig, our with Glinn Devek's corpse in the ground. Am I understood?"
"Yes Sir," the room said in unison.
Tigranian punched a few more keys. The holographic projector on the conference table glowed to life and the image of a Star System hovered in mid-air.
"The Hurik System: located eleven lightyears inside the Romulan Zone of Occupation. Hurik V is a Class J gas giant planetoid…" The projected hologram zoomed in. "Hurik V's third moon is Class M and un-inhabited. Starfleet Intelligence has determined that Glinn Devek has established his residence in a secure compound on the moon's northern continent." No one allowed themselves to think how Starfleet Intelligence came by this new information."
"I'm guessing we'll have no other ships in support for this operation, Sir?" Phil said glancing at Hurik V's location deep inside the Romulan Zone.
"You are correct," Annabeth said answering for Tigranian. "We're going in alone."
Tigranian continued his briefing.
"Starfleet Intelligence also advises that Devek has established a sophisticated sensor net both in orbit and on the surface surrounding his compound. Any ship that approaches within two lightyears will immediately be detected. This will allow him to initiate an evacuation plan using several decoy ships he has planted for that purpose. Transport scrambling nets and magnetic shields located all over the moon's surface make any unauthorized beam in or out impossible."
"Can those sensor nets penetrate our cloak?" Katie asked.
"No, our stealth systems should be adequate to achieve orbit undetected," Tigranian answered.
"So Phil parks us in geo-sync orbit a hundred kilometers over Devek's living room and when we decloak, I open up with full broadside. If it's uninhabited, I can turn the entire continent into a glass parking lot in less than five minutes," the tactical officer said confidently. "Minimal risk to ship or crew and we accomplish Starfleet's intent." Phil and Scharr both nodded in agreement.
"I wish it was that simple, Katie," Tigranian replied. "Intelligence also advises that the compound has non-hostiles in it. A least fifty slaves captured from around the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, along with other associates of Devek, but guilty of no other crime. The President and Federation Council made it abundantly clear they want to avoid all unnecessary civilian casualties and I whole-heartedly agree."
"We can't beam in, any shuttle-craft we launch would be detected as soon as they clear our cloaking field, what alternative is there, Sir?" Katie asked.
"Lieutenant Hawkins, Sergeant Schultz," Tigranian said turning to the marines, "As soon as this briefing is over, I want the marines in the holodeck rehearsing OILO operations."
A smile crept across Schultz's worn face.
"Spaceborne, Sir," he replied with a nod.
"I'm sorry," Alex said looking around. "For those of us who aren't as familiar with combat, what's OILO operations?"
"Orbital Insertion, Low Opening," Katie said looking at Tigranian. "They're space-jumping in."
"If he has sensor nets, what difference will that make?" Alex asked confused.
"Biological signatures have a much lower profile than spacecraft or transporters," Laria quietly interjected. "I can broadcast a passive interference signal that won't be enough for Devek's sensors to detect, but will prevent the marines from being seen."
"It's like you can read my mind, L," Tigranian said with a smile. She didn't return the grin. Tigranian knew she had already figured out the marines wouldn't be going in alone. He took a deep breath.
"Once the rest of mission prep is complete, I'll be joining you in the holodeck."
"What?" Katie asked surprised.
"I made the recommendation to Starfleet Command that a naval officer accompany the ground forces to simplify the space-ground integration. Considering my experience with amphibious operations, I volunteered. Despite Commander Geist's fervent opposition…" he looked over to Annabeth. She professionally bit her tongue and let him continue. "…they agreed."
Laria slammed her fist into the table, but stayed silent. Everyone looked over, but otherwise ignored the outburst. Tigranian continued.
"This mission has the potential to completely change the balance of power in this sector. With Devek eliminated, the smuggling operations will be on the defensive. We can do some real good here, Ladies and Gentlemen. Now, let's get to work."
* * * *
Tigranian knelt in front of a small wooden cabinet in the corner of his quarters. Silently he lit two candles on either side and opened the front panel to reveal a small statue of a Klingon warrior. The bronze figurine held the Sword of Kahless aloft and stared back at him with confident ferocity in its eyes. He took a deep breath and began to pray:
"Kahless, the Unforgettable, Bringer of Honor and Master of Sto'Vo'Kor, guide our hands in righteous battle. Let the conflict enrich our spirits and bring us closer to enlightenment. Give us courage to fulfill our duty and unending loyalty to our cause. Save us from the whims and snares of Fek'lhr and all the demons of Gre'thor.
If any of us should fall at the hands of our enemies, lead our souls across the River of Blood to join you in the Black Fleet. Let us dine with you at your table where there is Honor without end…"
The doors of his quarters parted behind him, breaking his concentration. He looked back to his shrine and closed it as he heard familiar footsteps approaching.
"Will he hear you?" Laria asked softly.
"If our cause is a just one," Tigranian said climbing to his feet. He turned around to see her exasperated face. He immediately averted his gaze.
"What's wrong?" he asked walking over to his desk.
"Tell me, are you ever going to listen to Annabeth when she demands that you don't go on these dangerous missions?" Laria said crossing her arms in front of her.
"Are we really having this conversation again?" Tigranian said narrowing his gaze.
"She's only doing her duty as your first officer," Laria responded.
"And I'm doing my duty as captain, Laria."
"A Klingon captain, maybe," Laria said holding back a sigh. "But you're not a Klingon captain, Daniel. You are Starfleet. It's Annabeth's head if her C.O. gets killed on a mission he had no business being on."
Tigranian rubbed his eyes. As annoying as this line of logic was, he couldn't deny she was right.
"I made it very clear to Starfleet Command that it was my decision and I was overriding her recommendation."
"I'm just asking you, Daniel," Laria said cautiously taking a few steps closer. "Think about the consequences that your actions have on others. I've made peace with your ways of the warrior, but not everyone on board has."
"Have you really made peace, L? You seemed pretty upset in the briefing yesterday."
"Ok, maybe I lied about that, but I know there is nothing I can say or do to change your mind." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small object. "So, I decided to help you in every way possible. I don't want to end up a widow before I'm even married." She tossed an iso-linear data chip onto the desk in front of Tigranian.
"What is this?" Tigranian said picking it up.
"High-resolution scans I took of the surface of Hurik's moon with focus on the northern continent around Devek's compound. It's a thousand times more accurate than anything Starfleet Cartography had in their database." A look of amazement crossed Tigranian's face.
"How did you do this? We're still twenty lightyears away!"
Laria chuckled and turned to leave.
"You know, Daniel, for all the faith I put in your abilities, you could return the favor. I'm pretty damn good."
"Hey," Tigranian said climbing to his feet and crossing over before she could leave the room. "I know how good you are, and I love you for it." He wrapped her up in his arms and gazed into her eyes.
"I hope that's not all you love me for," she replied with a smirk.
"It's not," he said as he leaned forward and kissed her. The blissful moment did not last for long. A subtle vibration coursed through the ship. Tigranian leaned back and glanced up at the ceiling. "We've cloaked…" he muttered. Then his comm badge chirped to life.
"Geist to Tigranian."
He tapped his chest.
"We've just crossed the border into the Romulan Zone of Occupation. Altering heading to Hurik System. Estimate orbital interface of Hurik V in four hours, sixteen minutes."
"Acknowledged. Tigranian to Hawkins."
"Lieutenant Hawkins here, Sir."
"Phoenix, I say again, Phoenix."
Tigranian kissed Laria again.
"It's time to go," he whispered.
She squeezed him close and then let him go.
"Go get him," she said fiercely. Tigranian picked up her data chip and his dk'tahg and headed for the doors. Just before he exited into the corridor, she called after him.
"Warrior!" she shouted. He turned to look back at her. "With your shield, or on it. Qapla'."
A smile crept across his face.
"I know you'll be watching over us," Tigranian grinned before he disappeared from sight.
Chapter 4 by captaintigranian
Tigranian held his hands on top of his head as Sergeant First Class Schultz checked his equipment. He ensured the seals on the black combat space suit were tightly closed, the phaser rifle attached to his leg was properly mounted, and the straps on his high altitude parachute harness were all correctly connected. With a final tap on one of the buckles over Tigranian's right shoulder, he gave a quick thumbs-up to the commander.
"Good to go, Sir," Schultz said moving down the line of forty marines kitted out for action. Hawkins walked over to the captain to deliver a final status report.
"We're almost ready, Sir. Pre-combat load-out checks complete, graphics are distributed, and Sergeant Schultz is finishing the last jumpmaster personnel inspections now."
"Good, Brett. It shouldn't be long now," Tigranian said grabbing his helmet off the bench in the marines' staging hall just off the Pershing's shuttlebay. A figure appeared in the captain's peripheral vision. "If you'll excuse me."
"Yes, Sir," Hawkins said moving off to help Sergeant Schultz.
Tigranian waited until everyone else was out of earshot.
"Feeling better, Number One?"
"Be careful, Dan," Annabeth said crossing her arms in front of her. "The urge to kick your ass is subsiding, but it isn't gone yet."
"Laria talked to me," Tigranian said looking down at the deck plating. "I hope you understand that I know you're doing the right thing. It's just when our guys and gals go into action, I always expect myself to be in front of them."
"I know that, Brother," Annabeth said softening her voice in the slightest degree, "But I also know you were never the first officer of a starship. I like to think you'd feel differently if you had an insane captain who always put his life in jeopardy at the drop of a hat."
"You're probably right," Tigranian replied with a nod.
"We're thirteen minutes from orbital interface," Annabeth said turning to head to the bridge. "Godspeed, Dan." Annabeth held up a folded piece of blue fabric. "I have no idea why you wanted this."
"I have my reasons, Annabeth," Tigranian said shoving the parcel into his cargo pocket.
"I'm sure you do." She smiled and headed towards the turbolift.
Tigranian turned to the assembled crowd of marines. Private Tolmeni and Corporal Irabban were helping the massive Corporal Mohnath mount an entire pulse phase cannon onto his harness. Tolmeni was struggling just holding up the weight of the weapon.
"Dammit," Mohnath said as Irabban helped him tighten the straps around the receiver. "Can you believe this little punk can't even lift the pig, Irabban?" Mohnath asked referring to the pulse-phaser by its pejorative nickname.
"It doesn't really surprise me when Tolmeni can't do something anymore," she replied with a grin.
"I hate both you a-holes," Tolmeni said as Irabban finally tightened the last support strap.
"Good," Corporal Mohnath said taking the weight of the heavy pulse-phaser like it was made of paper-mâché. "Take that hate and turn into something useful on this mission."
"Hoorah," Irabban muttered in agreement.
"Marines!" Tigranian shouted urging everyone to gather up around him. "We're about to go into some serious action," Tigranian continued looking around at the forty plus pairs of eyes stared at him. "However, I want each and every one of you to remember why we're doing this. It's because of our brothers and our sisters that were lost aboard the SS Zephyr. What we do today will prevent any more innocents from falling at the hands of those bastards. For over two hundred years, our corps has done two things for the Federation: We make marines and we win battles. Never forget that! You're first marines, and not all the Cardassians, Jem'Hadar, and criminals in hell can over-run you!"
"GET SOME!" the platoon roared together.
"Ten minutes!" Tigranian said finishing his speech.
"TEN MINUTES!" the other marines echoed again in unison. Schultz opened the doors to the shuttlebay and started screaming for everyone to run inside.
"This is it! Let's go! Let's go!" Schultz yelled as the whole platoon rushed passed him. Tigranian and Hawkins grabbed their helmets and followed with Schultz behind them close in tow. "Get on the ready lines, Marines!"
The platoon took their places along two yellow lines painted on the floor of the shuttlebay. Two enlisted Starfleet loadmasters in white space suits were already making adjustments to control panels located directly next to the sealed hangar door.
"Helmets on!" Schultz commanded. As everyone sealed themselves behind their black visors, Hawkins and Schultz walked down each line and made a final safety check. Tigranian stood in the center of the group. As he felt the collar of space suit click shut, air began circulating around his head. He took a few deep breaths and readied himself.
"Activate your HMD sensors!" Schultz yelled through the comm system mounted in their spacesuits. All jumpers pressed a button on a small box mounted to the right side of their helmets.
* * * *
Annabeth entered the bridge and took a seat in the captain's chair.
"Ma'am," Katie said from tactical behind her. Loadmasters are reporting that marines are in jump posture."
"We're getting a solid feed from their HMDs," Laria said making adjustments to the panel at her station. "I've got all forty one signatures."
"Laria, go ahead bring up the captain, Lieutenant Hawkins, and Sergeant Schultz."
Laria pressed a few more keys and a live-feed from the men's points-of-view appeared across the bottom of the main viewscreen in front of the bridge.
"Annnabeth, you got us?" Tigranian's voice asked through the comm system.
"Affirmative, Sir," Annabeth answered. "We're seeing and hearing everything you are up here."
"Roger," Tigranian answered. "We'll try to keep the obscene gestures to a minimum."
"Much appreciated, Blackjack 6," Annabeth said leaning back.
The bridge crew stared at the moon growing larger and larger in front of them.
"Four minutes till orbital interface, Ma'am," Phil said from the helm.
"Steady as she goes, Mr. Lexington. You hear that, Sir?"
* * * *
In the shuttlebay, Tigranian stepped forward to the head of the group. The two loadmasters removed a safety tether from their belts and fastened themselves to the bulkhead. They wouldn't be joining the marines on their free-fall to the moon's surface.
"Alright, Ladies and Gentlemen," the lead loadmaster shouted to the marines. "We need a visual confirmation on your suit's integrity."
Everyone held up two raised thumbs, indicating that their suits were sealed and functional. Hawkins and Schultz walked the line a final time before taking their places on either side of Tigranian. Hawkins flashed a thumbs-up to the lead loadmaster and shouted through his comm.
"All okay, loadmaster!"
"Confirm, all okay," the loadmaster replied before pressing a button on his panel.
* * * *
"Two minutes to orbital interface," Phil said.
"Loadmasters confirm REDCON 1," Katie added.
"You ever conduct an OILO maneuver before, Phil?" Annabeth asked from behind him.
"Once…in a simulator," Phil said nervously.
"It's alright, Phil," Annabeth said trying to sound reassuring. "We just won't tell the marines that."
An OILO approach was one of the hardest maneuvers for a starship helmsman. It required the pilot to drop out of warp, achieve low-orbit, and drop to one-quarter impulse in the shortest possible time, both to minimize exposure of the starship and ensure a safe exit of the jumpers. Too slow, and the ship risked being detected from the ground. Too fast, and the jumpers would be killed by the acceleration when they exited the ship's inertial dampening field.
"Laria, began transmitting the interference field."
"Passive interference field activated and stable. No sign that the ground sensors have been able to penetrate our cloak….May the Prophets be with them," Laria added with a whisper.
"May they be with us all," Annabeth echoed. "De-pressurize the shuttlebay. Take us out of warp. Standby for jump."
* * * *
"Alright, Ladies and Gentlemen!" The loadmaster called out to the marines. "We're de-pressurizing. Go for jump!"
An alarm echoed through the shuttlebay. Tigranian felt the atmosphere around him being sucked away into vacuum. All he heard was his own breathing inside his helmet.
* * * *
"Approaching orbital interface," Phil said at the helm. "One minute till jump."
"Helm, come right. X axis plus 90 degrees. Face our ventral hull towards the moon."
The massive hangar door opened in front of the platoon. The last few tiny wisps of air in the shuttlebay rushed passed them out into the void.
The marines gazed out at the reddish light from Hurik's star. The massive gas giant, Hurik V, loomed out in the distance in front of them against a black backdrop covered with twinkling stars. The surface of Devek's moon was directly below them, stretching out in every direction. This was it.
"Let's go!" Tigranian said waving at the marines to follow. They all stepped forward to the very edge of shuttlebay. Directly in front of his toes, Tigranian looked down and saw the surface of the moon over one hundred fifty kilometers beneath him.
* * * *
Laria heart skipped a beat on the bridge as she watched the sensor feed from Daniel's helmet. She could not believe her par'Mach'kai was about to jump out of a perfectly good starship. Annabeth could sense her trepidation.
"It'll be alright, L," she said softly. "He's a pain in my ass, but he knows what he's doing…"
* * * *
"Sixty seconds!" the loadmaster shouted. A strip of red lights appeared around the hangar door. "On the green, on the green!"
"One more thing!" Hawkins shouted as he looked back over his shoulder to the platoon. "For God's sake, be careful out there!" he said sarcastically.
"If I was careful, I would have volunteered for bridge duty, Sir!" Irabban answered into her comm unit.
The entire platoon burst out into laughter. An audible groan echoed in Tigranian's ear from Annabeth and the others on the bridge. He smiled.
"Ten seconds! Standby!" The loadmaster said holding up a hand. "Five…four…"
"Three…two…one…" Tigranian shouted into his comm. The lights around the hangar door turned green. "GO! GO! GO!" The marines all rushed forward and took a flying leap into space. Instantly, they were weightless and flying through the void.
"Bridge, this is loadmaster, all jumpers have cleared the bay!"
* * * *
"They've exited our cloaking field," Laria said trying to concentrate on the panel in front of her instead of the vertigo inducing view from Tigranian's helmet. "Interference signal holding steady."
"They've cleared our impulse wash," Phil said. "We're free to maneuver."
"Z plus forty-five degrees. Rig for high orbit," Annabeth commanded.
"Aye, Ma'am," Phil said turning the Pershing from the jumpers. The invisible vessel climbed away leaving the marines floating alone.
* * * *
"The ship is clear. Activate your maneuvering units!" Tigranian commanded. "Get in free-fall formation."
The marines punched a key on their left wrists. Tiny thrusters activated all over their suits and guided them into a vee-formation heading straight for the moon's atmosphere. Each jumper extended his or her arms and legs outward like wings to get into stable falling position. Instantly, they became a flock of birds of prey, heading straight for their un-knowing target.
"Five seconds till entry interface," Tigranian continued checking the altimeter on his wrist display. "Activate heat shields."
* * * *
Glowing force-fields appeared covering their entire bodies. Without them, they would all incinerate in the atmosphere and go out as shooting stars. Everyone on the bridge watched with bated breath.
"Those guys are crazy…" Phil said staring at the screen.
"But they're proud of it," Kate replied with more than a hint of jealously in her voice.
As the jumpers entered the upper edge of the moon's atmosphere, they braced themselves against the jolt of the rapidly thickening air. Their limbs began to glow with a fierce orange heat at well over a thousand degrees centigrade. If their heat shields failed, they would disintegrate into ash instantly.
Tigranian's breathing quickened, but he focused intently on keeping himself calm and in the correct posture. Nothing would be worse now than spiraling out of control.
"What's their altitude?" Annabeth asked intently watching the feed from their helmets.
"80,000 meters….75,000 meters….70,000 meters," Laria said nervously reading her instruments. "They're starting to decelerate."
Tigranian was at the head of the vee. He had no vision of anyone to his left of to his right. Turning his head right now would be suicide. He glanced at the altimeter on his arm: 50,000 meters and falling. They wouldn't pull their parachutes until they were under 1,000. The idea was to get as close to Devek's compound as possible without being detected. His maneuvering thrusters were still functioning, keeping him aimed right at their target. There was no margin for error.
The marines crossed the moon's terminator into night. Instantly, they were bathed in darkness. Thermal displays in their visors engaged, illuminating all of them as the heat of their descent still glowed red.
As they dropped below 10,000 meters, they were finally falling slow enough that the heat from their entry dissipated into the cool night air. They could now hear the rush of the wind passing by their suits over the sound of their own breathing.
At 5,000 meters, they could finally see the lights of Devek's compound in the distance across a sea of sand dunes and scrub brush. At 3,000 meters, Tigranian broke radio silence and sent out a warning to the rest of the marines.
"Coming up on chute deployment. Standby!"
1500 meters…1400 meters…1300 meters…1200…just a split second more…
The computer automatically released the parachute on his back. He felt the main chute pull free from its binding and fly above his head. Before he could react, the large cloth hydrofoil billowed full of air and jerked him to a halt. After the initial jolt of the quick deceleration passed, there was only silence as he slowly descended on the breeze.
As he reached up to grab the two control ropes at either side of his head, he finally had a chance to look around and check on the others. He started counting the other parachutes
"One…two…three…four…" all the way up to forty. Everyone had made it through the atmosphere and their parachutes had deployed safely. "At least we've made it this far," he muttered to himself.
"I have visual on the drop zone," Hawkins announced. "I'm activating my beacon. Follow me in."
An indicator appeared in Tigranian's visor guiding him towards Lieutenant Hawkins. He pulled his left control rope, sending him gently towards the platoon leader. The ground loomed large and black before him. He readied himself for the impact just before his boots came into contact with the soft sand. He took a running start and came to a stop standing on the solid surface of the moon. Quickly, he disconnected the two buckles on his shoulders and stepped out of his parachute harness. The rest of the platoon was soon emerging from the black sky all around him.
Tigranian dropped to a knee and released his helmet. Instantly, the warm desert air replaced the cool sterile life support system of his suit. Two buttons on either side of his helmet disconnected the visor and neck collar, instantly converting his space helmet into a combat helmet. He pulled a thermal viewer from a pouch on his chest and mounted it to his forehead. Looking through it, the desert floor was bright as day.
The captain released his phaser rifle from his side, activated the power pack, and held it at the ready.
"Blackjack 6 to Pershing," he whispered into his mic.
"Raiders are on the ground. Currently assembling and preparing to move out."
He saw Hawkins run out of the darkness.
"Already made contact with Schultz. He's getting an up from the squad leaders," the lieutenant said pulling out a tricorder and taking a quick reading. "We're 5.2 kilometers northeast of the compound. That puts us about forty five minutes out."
Sergeant First Class Schultz joined the two huddled officers.
"We got everybody, Gentlemen. I suggest we get 'em moving."
"Agreed, Sergeant. Hawkins and I got the lead"
"Roger," Schultz replied. "I'll bring up the rear." He ran off towards the others and in less than a minute, the seasoned NCO had the platoon assembled into squads and ready to march.
Tigranian turned towards Hawkins and grinned.
"He's a damn fine platoon sergeant. You're lucky to have him."
"I think we're both lucky to have him, Sir," Hawkins said grinning back. "Why don't you say we go take out a crime lord?"
"Lead on, Lieutenant."
With a last look at his tricorder, Hawkins pointed them towards Devek's compound and headed out into the dunes.
Chapter 5 by captaintigranian
Annabeth leaned back in the captain's chair and held her hands nervously in front of her face.
"What's their position?" she asked.
"540 meters from the objective," Laria said not hiding her concern nearly as well as Annabeth.
"Katie, assemble your recovery team. Prep the dropship and standby."
"Yes Ma'am," she replied, happy at the prospect of getting into this fight. She confidently walked away from the tactical station and into the turbolift.
* * * *
On the moon's surface below, Tigranian and Hawkins crept up to the crest of a sand dune. They both pulled out electronic binoculars and took their first close up look at Devek's compound.
"Looks like Laria's scans were dead on," Hawkins said scanning the terrain.
"They always are…" Tigranian whispered.
"You see that rise about two hundred meters in front of us?" Hawkins said pointing with his hand.
"That looks like the support by fire position we identified on the imagery."
Tigranian zoomed in on the perimeter fence surrounding the compound. It was composed of duranium razor wire and dermacrete pilings sunk into the sand. Each corner of the compound had a guard tower equipped with spotlight and heavy disruptor cannon. Various vehicles and cargo containers littered the grounds while three mud-brick buildings towered over a central courtyard.
"Those towers are gonna be a problem when we breach…" Tigranian said.
"Only if the guards in them are still alive," Hawkins answered.
"Your phaser gunners that good?" Tigranian asked.
"With Sergeant First Class Schultz behind them they are. Mohnath can pick the sandfleas of a Gramilian hound's back at six hundred meters."
"We'll see…" Tigranian replied with a grin. "Devek's quarters are on the second floor of the central building. We've got to move quickly before he finds an exit."
"Plan should still be good from what I'm seeing, Sir. Support by fire allows us to get to the fence, breach team punches a whole. 2nd Squad heads for the power plant on the far side while you, me, and 1st Squad head straight for Devek."
Sergeant Schultz crawled up from behind them.
"How we looking, Gentlemen?"
"Just Peachy, Sergeant," Tigranian said not taking his eyes off the objective. Then the captain saw a problem. "Oh Shit…"
"What is it?" Schultz said pulling out his own binoculars.
"Right side of the compound, twenty meters behind the fences just south of power plant…" Tigranian muttered. The other two quickly saw what he was talking about.
"We didn't get any intel about outdoor slave pens! All of them were supposed to be in the basement." Hawkins said seeing about twenty men, women, and children huddled behind a barred enclosure. Many of them shivered in the rapidly cooling night air. Guards on raised catwalks above them patrolled with disruptor rifles and shock prods.
"The pens look new," Schultz said. "Looks like the bastard got another shipment in and there wasn't enough room inside."
"How does this change the plan?" Hawkins said turning to the other two.
"It doesn't," Tigranian replied replacing his binoculars into his pouch. "Sergeant, when you open up with the pulse-phasers, keep your fire angled toward the west side of the compound. Hawkins, tell Sika and 2nd Squad to secure those people after they knock out the power plant."
"I'm not sure we'll have room on the recovery boat for that many people, Sir…" Schultz said cautiously.
"Then we figure it out, Sergeant," Tigranian said bringing his phaser rifle to the ready. "I'm not leaving them behind on this rock."
* * * *
Up on the Pershing, Annabeth monitored their conversation. She winced as she realized what she had to do.
"Geist to Sick bay."
"Alex, grab a field kit and a triage team. I need you on the dropship with Katie. We got a lot more civilians that will need EVAC than we thought." There was a pause on the other end. Finally, Alex answered.
Phil looked back over his shoulder from the helm. Laria gave her a glance of understanding from Science. Now, all three of them had the person they loved most going into harm's way on the moon below.
* * * *
"Alright," Tigranian continued. "Schultz, get the support by fire emplaced. We'll get 1st and 2nd Squad moving. Give us a heads up before the fireworks start flying, Sergeant."
"Will do, Sir," Schultz said disappearing into the darkness again. Tigranian turned to Hawkins.
"Let's do it."
The two of them gathered up 1st and 2nd Squads and readied them for movement. 1st Squad, the group that would be heading straight for Devek, included Private Tolmeni and Corporal Irabban. In less than a minute, they were making their way through the dunes towards the southwestern fence.
They crossed the sands in total silence, guided only by the signal from their tricorders and the narrow field of view from their thermal googles. Concealing themselves in the terrain, they made every effort possible to avoid detection. After ten minutes of careful advancing, they were less than two hundred meters from the fence.
Irabban was the point marine with Hawkins and Tigranian directly behind her. As she rounded another sand dune, she instantly dropped to one knee and raised her left fist in the air. The rest of the marines instantly dropped with her. Hawkins looked up and she pointed around the dune directly to their front. He moved forward with Tigranian to get a closer look.
Peeking around the corner of the dune, they saw two guards. One Cardassian and one Lissapian, standing in the middle of the desert smoking some kind of noxious local weed wrapped in paper tube. They seemed completely unaware of the marines' presence. Their disruptor rifles were lazily draped across their shoulders as they laughed and joked about something Tigranian and Hawkins couldn't make out.
"Should we try to go around?" Hawkins whispered.
"No, it's too risky," Tigranian whispered back.
"If we fire phasers, the compound will hear and the jig will be up," Hawkins replied with concern.
"That's why we're not going to fire phasers. Hold this…" Tigranian said handing Hawkins his phaser rifle. The captain reached down, pulled out his dk'tahg, and clicked the blades open. He then disappeared around the other side of the dune. Hawkins looked back at Irabban.
"What's he doing?" she mouthed silently. Hawkins could only shrug. He turned back to stare at the two guards. Suddenly, a small stone flew out of the night and landed at the feet of the aliens. They stopped and stared at their feet.
A dark form flew out of the night. In a flash, Tigranian slammed the heel of his fist into the back of neck of the nearest Cardassian guard, causing him to collapse into the sand. The captain then stabbed his dk'tahg into the Lissapian's neck. The witless foe grabbed his bleeding windpipe and fell backward.
Tigranian then spun around just in time to grab the barrel of the Cardassian's disruptor rifle as he climbed backed to his feet. The captain sliced his blade deeply across the Cardassian's throat. The guard's eyes grew wide as he felt the life drain out of him. Finally, he lost consciousness and dropped.
Tigranian knelt down and wiped his blade clean on the dead guard's trousers before signaling to the rest of the marines it was safe to move forward.
Hawkins stumbled forward as Tigranian replaced his dagger in its sheath.
"Thanks for the holding this," Tigranian said taking his phaser rifle back. "C'mon let's move!"
Irabban walked past Hawkins to take her place back in front of the formation. As she walked by her platoon leader, she whispered:
"That was badass!"
Hawkins could only mutter.
"You ain't seen nothing yet…"
The squads were only a hundred meters from the fence when Sergeant Schultz's voice came to life in their comm system.
"Support by fire set. Ready to engage at your mark."
"Perfect timing, Sergeant," Hawkins said motioning for the squads to take cover. Hawkins looked over to Tigranian. The captain nodded his approval. "Open Fire."
Hundreds of orange phaser blasts cut through the air. They slammed into the guard towers surrounding the compound and arched through the wire of the fence. Sergeant Schultz angled the fires from the platoon's two pulse-phasers away from the slave pens. Devek's surprised guards scattered and ran for the cover of the buildings. One in a tower nearest Tigranian and Hawkins attempted to return fire with his heavy disruptor. Schultz shifted the blasts from Mohnath's phaser directly at the tower and it exploded in a shower of sparks and red hot debris.
"C'mon!" Hawkins shouted to the rest of marines. "LET'S GO!"
They charged forward through the dunes right at the fence. As the blasts of phaser energy began to slice dangerously close over their heads, Hawkins screamed into his comm.
"Cease Fire! Cease Fire!"
A purple flare shot into the sky from Schultz's section to indicate the message had been received. The phaser fire disappeared as 1st and 2nd Squads reached the outer barrier.
"Belask, Redanski!" Hawkins shouted. "Breach, Breach! Tolmeni, Irabban cover them!"
Tolmeni and Irabban leaped into cover behind a sand dune. They each had a plasma grenade launcher mounted underneath their phaser rifles.
"Tolmeni! I got 12 o'clock to 3 o'clock," Irabban said loading a grenade into the launcher tube. You got 12 to 9. Watch for non-hostiles."
"I got ya, Rab!" He replied bracing his rifle on the top of the dune.
Two more guards appeared from around the corner of a building just to their northeast. Irabban took aim with the rifle's holographic sight and pulled the trigger on the grenade launcher. A tremendous pop echoed through the air as the grenade arched straight over the wire and detonated right between the guards with a bright blue flash. Their bodies flew through the air and landed twenty meters away.
* * * *
Annabeth leaned forward from the captain's chair.
"Phil, shots fired. They know we're here now. Bring us to low geo-sync right over the compound. I want to be able to provide orbital fire support if they have to break contact and get out of there."
"Aye, Ma'am," Phil said maneuvering into position only a hundred kilometers above the compound.
* * * *
"Move your asses! Get that tractor emitter up there!" Hawkins said waving his arm.
Lance Corporals Belask and Redanski sprinted forward toward the fence carrying a black box between them. They placed it less than twenty meters from the fence and then dove back behind another sand dune. Tolmeni and Irabban were firing fiercely at the growing number of Devek's guards that were starting to return fire. Hawkins and Tigranian joined in with shots from their own phasers.
"Activate the emitter!" Hawkins shouted at Belask ten meters away. The marine nodded and pressed a control panel attached to his wrists. A tractor beam activated on the black box and slammed into the fence. The wire and permacrete buckled under the electro-magnetic pressure before finally ripping away and flying backwards into the compound, leaving a five meter wide hole in the perimeter. "Kill it! Kill it!" Hawkins screamed and the beam deactivated.
The marines surged forward through the hole in the fence with their rifles at the ready, Hawkins and Tigranian leading the way.
"Sergeant Sika!" Hawkins said over his shoulder.
"Yes Sir," a large Alpha-Centaurian said running up to the lieutenant.
"Take 2nd Squad and get to the power station. Once it's shut down, secure the civilians in the slave pens on the far side!"
"Aye Sir!" The NCO said running off with his squad behind him. Hawkins, Tigranian, Tolmeni, Irabban, Belask, Redanski, and a handful of others headed straight for the main building. The captain looked ahead at a balcony on the main building's second floor. A figure stumbled from a doorway. Tigranian took a sharp breath. He immediately recognized the man as Glinn Devek, the criminal they had been chasing across Cardassian space for over a year.
"It's him!" Tigranian said pulling his phaser rifle into his shoulder. He squeezed the trigger and sent a hail of phaser blasts right into the balcony. Unfortunately, he was running so fast he was unable to get a steady shot and his hail of fire only grazed the target. Devek screamed and then ducked back into the building.
* * * *
"He's hit!" Laria shouted from her station.
"But he's not down," Annabeth said taking a deep breath. "C'mon, Dan. Get that son of a bitch…"
* * * *
Tigranian, Hawkins, and the rest made it to a door on the outside of the main building. Hawkins signaled for his other marines to stack on the door. They silently maneuvered into a line hugging the wall. They didn't make a sound to prevent anyone on the other side from knowing they were about to enter. Irabban signaled Belask, the last marine in the stack, to come forward. He quickly scanned the door with his tricorder to check for booby traps or sensors. When he saw it was clear, he nodded back at her. With a reciprocal nod of her head, she let him know to proceed. He pulled a small silver disk from his pocket and attached it to the door lock.
As soon as he took his place back in the rear of the stack, he pushed the detonator. A flash of light and a loud bang accompanied the explosion that ripped the door of its hinges. Irabban surged inside with the rest of her fire team behind her. They spread out into the first room. A Cardassian guard coming around the corner was sliced to pieces by their phaser fire.
"Clear!" Tolmeni said from behind her.
"Clear! Clear!" Belask and Redanski echoed. Suddenly, Irabban heard a rustling in a wooden cabinet off to her side.
"The room's not f**kin' clear!" she shouted. Tolmeni get some cover on that corner up there. "Belask, Red, on me." They readied their rifles and crossed over to the cabinet. Irabban raised her fingers. "One…two…three!"
She ripped open the cabinet and shined her flashlight directly inside. A young Orion women dressed in brown rags was cowering inside, hyper-ventilating to the point of passing out.
"Nishock sharcani! Nishock sharcani!" she repeated over and over again holding up her hands.
"I don't know what this bitch is saying," Irabban said nervously holding her weapon in the Orion's face.
"She's saying 'Don't shoot me!' Corporal!" Tigranian said coming up behind them. "She's not a threat."
"Yes Sir," Irabban said lowering her rifle. Irabban motioned for two other marines to come forward. "You two, get her out of here. Secure her outside."
"Aye," they said taking the Orion's hand and leading her back through the door.
Irabban motioned for the others to follow her. She and Tolmeni checked the corner and then continued down the corridor. Hawkins and Tigranian stayed close behind.
* * * *
Laria stared at the viewscreen, seeing what Tigranian was seeing. She ringed her sweaty hands on the console in front of her: terrified to see some hostile alien run around a corner and open fire. Her body might have still been on the bridge of the Pershing, but her spirit was right there with Daniel, and she was scared enough for the both of them.
"Laria…" Annabeth said over her shoulder. When she received no response, she spoke more forcefully. "Laria!"
"Yes Ma'am!" Laria said jolted from her tunnel vision.
"How many more life-signs in that building?"
"Eight, not including the marines."
"You hear that, Sir?" Annabeth asked Tigranian.
"Yeah…" Tigranian answered through the comm. "Trust me, we're looking out for them."
* * * *
As the marines approached a staircase at the end of the corridor, they heard footsteps on the second floor above them. Irabban raised her rifle, ready to shoot anyone who charged down the stairs. Just as the steps approached the top of the stairs, all the lights in the building shut down.
"Sika to Hawkins! Power station secure."
Disruptor blasts poured down the staircase at the marines. Irabban, Tolmeni, Hawkins, and Tigranian dove for cover. They automatically dropped the thermal googles hanging on their helmets and tried to get a view on the attackers.
"They got us pinned down!" Irabban shouted over the hail of weapons fire. "I don't got a shot."
"Grenade!" Hawkins shouted to Irabban. She nodded, but before she could pull an explosive from her vest, Tigranian intervened.
"No! We don't know how many innocents we got up there!"
"Red! Flash bang!" Hawkins said turning behind him. Redanski and Belask ran back behind them. Redanski pulled a long metal tube off his vest and chucked it into Irabban's waiting hands. She pulled the pin and heaved it up the stairs.
"Flash bang out!" she shouted. The marines all cupped their hands over their ears and closed their eyes as tightly as they could.
A massive white flash and thunderous boom filled the building. The oblivious guards at the top of the stairs were instantly stunned into a daze. Irabban opened her eyes and slapped Tolmeni on the shoulder. Before Devek's men upstairs could recover, she charged straight up the stairwell and opened fire on three of them. They dropped to the ground in quick succession.
Tolmeni heard a door behind them fly open.
"Watch out, Rab!" he spun around and fired at a Nausicaan leveling his weapon right at Irabban. The hostile pulled the trigger on his disruptor as he dropped, sending a bright green beam into the wall just a few millimeters in front of Irabban's face. She winced as white hot debris slammed into her cheek, raising a few streaked burns.
"SON OF A BITCH!" she shouted through the pain.
"RAB!" Tolmeni shouted as he ran over to his teammate.
"I've fine dammit!" she shouted. "Check the room!"
Tolmeni entered the room and was immediately confronted with a sight that stopped him in his tracks. A Trill woman and two human women were chained to the far wall, shivering with total fear.
"Lieutenant!" Tolmeni shouted out into the hallway. Hawkins and Tigranian ran in and froze as well. Tigranian instantly recognized them from the crew manifest of the Zephyr. All three were still recovering from the effects of the flashbang. He ran up to the nearest woman and knelt down.
"Melanie," he said in the most calming voice he could muster. She finally opened her eyes and stared back at him like he wasn't real. "Melanie Driscoll, my name is Dan Tigranian. I'm a captain with Starfleet. We're here to get you all out."
"We…" Melanie said in a voice barely above a whisper. "We…didn't think anyone would ever find us."
"Belask," Hawkins said turning to the marine behind him. "Use your phaser to cut through the chains. Get them outside to the rally point with Sergeant Sika."
"Aye Sir," he answered reaching for the hand phaser on his belt.
"Melanie," Tigranian said trying to keep her focused on him. "This is very important, are there any other survivors from the Zephyr here? Please, try to remember."
She looked like she was trying to recall something her mind had blocked out.
"Ennara, Lydia, and I are here…"
"Yes, that's good," Tigranian said doing his best to get the information without traumatizing her further. "Was there anybody else?"
"The Zephyr was about to explode….we all made it to an escape pod. We had barely cleared the wreckage when that ship captured us. When we landed here, they took Robbie, Jared, and Salerok…they put them outside…but they kept us up here because they said we would be more valuable if they sold us undamaged…"
Tigranian looked over to Hawkins. The lieutenant stepped to the side and spoke into his comm system.
"Sergeant Sika, check the pens. We got three possible survivors from the Zephyr in there. They answer to the names Robbie, Jared, and Salerok."
"Acknowledged, we're almost there. The guards on the catwalk didn't want to cooperate."
"Thank you, Melanie," Tigranian said as Connolly finished cutting through their manacles. "Was there anybody else?" Melanie looked as if she was trying to remember something else. Then her eyes grew wide.
"He took Breeral! He took Breeral away last night!" Melanie screamed. "He has Breeral!"
"Sir," Hawkins said cautioning him against aggravating her further.
"Thank you, Melanie. We're going to look for her now. Redanski!"
"Aye Sir!" The marine said gently leading the woman back down the stairs to the courtyard.
"Rab," Tigranian said climbing to his feet. "Can you move?"
"Sir, I'm more pissed off than ever," she replied. "Let's find that Cardassian a..hole."
"Let's go," Tigranian said walking back into the hallway.
* * * *
Laria stood motionless on the bridge watching them move down the hall. Without thinking, she muttered something under her voice.
"Breeral: that's a Bajoran name…"
Annabeth gripped the sides of the captain's chair.
* * * *
There was one final door at the end of the hallway. Tolmeni and Hawkins approached it as Tigranian and Irabban stood watch behind them.
Hawkins glanced back at Tigranian who gave a final nod.
Hawkins kicked open the door with all his might and charged inside with Tolmeni. Tigranian and Irabban followed right after. They stopped as they pointed their phaser rifles at the only two people in the room.
A young Bajoran woman stood captive in the center of the room as a bloodied Cardassian used her body as a human shield. He held a phaser pistol to her temple and glared back at the marines with eyes full rage and pure hatred. Tigranian knew his face well. It was none other than Glinn Devek himself.
With his finger itching at the trigger, Tigranian stared right back at him and said one simple command.
"Let her go."
"Let me tell you how this works, Tigranian," Devek said pushing the muzzle of his phaser deeper into the side of Breeral's head. "You're gonna let us walk out of here. I'm going to take a nice stroll into the desert with my hostage until I'm confident you're not following me. Then, we're going to disappear. I don't care what you do after that as long as you're not stupid enough to try to follow me."
"That ain't gonna happen, Devek. Put the weapon down."
"Oh, I think it is, Human. I happen to know of your fondness for Bajoran women, and I know you wouldn't want anything to happen to her. Perhaps you and Cardassian men actually do have something in common…"
Tigranian winced as he realized Laria heard that on the Pershing's bridge. He ignored Devek's nauseating comparison.
"Devek, you have exactly five second to put that weapon down…"
"Or what?" the Cardassian said with a sickening laugh. "You'll shoot me? I know you would kill me without a second thought, but I doubt you'll be so flippant to have the death of this tasty little piece of meat on your conscience…"
* * * *
Tears of rage were literally running down Laria's cheeks. The feed from Tigranian's helmet sensor had become her entire world.
"Put the weapon down, Devek!" Tigranian commanded again.
"No! You put your weapon down or I waste her right here and take the consequences!"
"Alright!" Tigranian shouted. Slowly, he placed his phaser rifle at his feet and raised his hands. Suddenly, Laria's stomach felt like it dropped into her feet. She heard something in Daniel's voice. She knew in her heart that he was about to try something bold…and very dangerous.
"Daniel…don't do it! Don't do it!" she said hopelessly at the screen. Annabeth and Phil turned around to look at her.
"Devek, just stay calm," Tigranian said slowly stepping towards the Cardassian and Breeral.
"Stay where you are!" Devek shouted, but Tigranian kept moving forward.
"I just want to talk…"
"I said stay where you are!" Devek shouted. His crazed eyes staring back at Laria through the screen. Breeral screamed as Devek held her closer to him.
"Daniel…no…" Laria said shaking her head as tears streamed down her face.
"TIGRANIAN! I'LL KILL HER!"
"No…" Tigranian said with confidence in his voice. "You won't…"
Laria watched in horror as Tigranian lunged forward towards Devek. With one hand he grabbed Breeral and with the other, he grabbed Devek's phaser. In a split second, Devek's weapon fired. Tigranian fell backwards to the ground with Breeral wrapped up in his arms.
"DANIEL!!!" Laria screamed as she saw his camera hit the floor with a sickening thud. Blasts of phaser fire echoed through the room.
"DEVEK'S DOWN! DEVEK'S DOWN!" Hawkins shouted through his radio.
"Hawkins!" Annabeth shouted into her comm system. "What's the status of the captain!" The room was pandemonium. Breeral's screaming echoed across the bridge. The marines ran around the room to secure it. Hawkins was screaming into his microphone for a medic. "HAWKINS!" Annabeth shouted as loud as she could. Laria rushed out from behind the science station towards Annabeth's comm panel.
"DANIEL!" she shouted again through her tears. Phil ran over from the helm and grabbed her.
"Pershing!" Hawkins said finally answering the first officer's hails. "The captain's hit in the chest! His body armor took most of the blast, but he's bleeding heavily. I don't know if we can stop it. We need a MEDEVAC on station now!"
"Prophets no!" Laria shouted.
"Laria!" Annabeth shouted turning towards the science officer. "I need you to calm down! You can't help him or anyone else like this. I need my science officer at her station and monitoring the situation. Let me know if any of Devek's ships are in the area and try to make a move while we extract them!"
Using every ounce of her strength, Laria somehow pulled herself together. She looked up at Annabeth and uttered two words:
"Yes, Ma'am," she freed herself from Phil's grasp and walked back to her station. She knew it's what Daniel would want from her.
"Mr. Lexington, get on the helm. Set a course for the nearest medical facility at maximum warp. The captain's life could depend on it."
"Yes, Ma'am!" Phil said climbing back behind the helm.
"Pershing, this is Stone," Katie said from the dropship. "I monitor all. We've just cleared the stratosphere and we're coming in fast. Skids down at the compound in forty-five seconds. I got Alex onboard and she's preparing to receive casualties."
* * * *
"Rab! Tolmeni!" Hawkins shouted. "Get downstairs and link in with Sergeant Schultz! Tell him to get the landing zone prepped for dustoff! Tell Sergeant Sika to gather all the intel he can but we're skids up as soon as we get everybody on board. I got the C.O.!"
"Aye Sir!" Irabban shouted grabbing Tolmeni with one hand and Breeral with the other. They disappeared back down the hall.
"Sir! Sir!" Hawkins said giving Tigranian an emergency hypospray from the first aid kit on his belt. "Stay with me, Sir!"
Tigranian's eyes flickered open.
"Did you get the bastard," he said through the pain.
"Devek's dead, Sir," Hawkins said trying to reassure the captain. "We put enough phaser energy into him to jumpstart a warp core. But now, we got to move! We'll beam the body up later"
"Wait," Tigranian said reaching a trembling hand into his cargo pocket. He pulled out the blue piece of fabric. "Leave the body here. Put this on it."
"Are you serious, Sir!?" Hawkins said as his eyes grew wide.
"I want them to know, Marine…that's an order." A smile crept across Tigranian's lips.
The roar of the drop ship's engines echoed across the compound.
"Aye Sir," Hawkins said grabbing it from Tigranian's hand. He knew there was no arguing with Captain Daniel Tigranian when his mind was set on something…
Chapter 6 by captaintigranian
Anias System: Federation Zone of Occupation, Cardassian Space
The doors of the holodeck opened and Tigranian limped inside. Laria stood in a dark cave lit by burning torches. Her back was to him. She was covered in sweat and finishing off a vicious alien warrior with her mek'leths. As her opponent fell limp to the ground, Tigranian walked up behind her. She spun around and held her blades to his neck.
"Those aren't holographic," Tigranian said with a grin. "Safety protocols won't prevent my head from rolling across the floor."
"I know!" Laria shouted as another skull-faced alien warrior ran out from a passageway. She ducked down and ferociously rammed her blades into the alien's guts. The creature let out a sickening grunt as it collapsed to its knees.
"You're still upset," Tigranian muttered.
"What was your first clue?" Laria said sarcastically.
"Laria…" Tigranian began before she cut him off.
"I'm not upset at you!" she said as two more opponents materialized and charged straight for her. She dropped to one knee and slashed across the first one's chest. His partner raised a huge mace into the air and swung straight at her head. She rolled forward, stood up, and stabbed backward, piercing its armor.
"Then what is it?" Tigranian asked with a hint of frustration.
"Computer, freeze program." She dropped her weapons to her side and looked at him. "Daniel, I'm upset at the fact that you nearly sacrificed yourself to save someone else's life: one of the most heroic acts I've ever witnessed…and all I can think about is how I almost lost you! It makes me feel selfish and guilty, but I don't really care. I want you all to myself."
"L…" Tigranian said trying to move closer to her.
"Don't you L, me!" She said grabbing a towel and wiping the sweat off her forehead. "I can feel however I want to!"
"Yes, you absolutely can…and you shouldn't feel bad for wanting me all to yourself. The feeling's kinda mutual."
Laria sighed again.
"You are impossible."
"No, but I might be a little stupid," he said rubbing his ribs again. Laria's expression softened when she saw him wince.
"How are you feeling?"
"Alex did a great job patching me up, but she said I'll be pretty sore for a few days." Laria looked down at the holographic sand.
"Katie said that if you hadn't been wearing body armor, you'd probably be dead…"
"Well, that's why I wore it."
Laria stifled a laugh.
"It's all so simple to you, isn't it?" she said shaking her head. "You just put everyone else first with any thought to the cost?"
Now, it was Tigranian's turn to sigh.
"I do put other people first, Laria, but it's not simple, and I certainly think about the cost..." He paused to look into her eyes. "…especially the cost to us."
"You think about the cost to us? I find that a little hard to believe" she said slowly moving closer to him.
"The only reason I can do those things is I know how strong you are. Even if something did happen, you'd make it. Annabeth told me about how you still crewed your post, even after I was hit. Your courage inspires me, L."
"My courage inspires you?" Laria said a little incredulously.
"Of course it does. After all, you're going to be my wife. That is, if you haven't changed your mind," he said moving his arms around her. She didn't stop him.
"I don't think I could change my mind if I tried…" she said as a smile crept across her cheeks. "I mean, I did promise Lady Elessa, and I wouldn't want to disappoint her."
"No, you wouldn't want to do that." Slowly, he started swaying them back and forth.
"What are you doing?" Laria asked still smiling.
"While I was recovering in sickbay, I had a chance to peruse through your music collection. I found a song I really enjoyed and it's stuck in my head."
"Oh?" Laria said cocking her head to one side. "What song is that?"
"Computer, play 'Amira Playlist: Greatest Hits of the 1970s: Track 3."
A piano began echoing through the caves, the melody accentuated by the firelight.
Take me now, baby, here as I am
Pull me close, try and understand
Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe
Love is a banquet on which we feed…
"Ohhh, good choice," Laria said pulling closer to him.
Come on now try and understand
The way I feel when I'm in your hands
Take my hand, come undercover
They can't hurt you now
Can't hurt you now, can't hurt you now…
"Computer, lock the doors," Laria commanded. Tigranian raised an eyebrow and Laria raised an eyebrow right back at him. "If you're too sore, we can take a raincheck…"
"For you, I'll push through the pain."
Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to lust
Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to us
Praetor's Office: Romulus, Romulan Star Empire
The light was fading outside. Neral was at his opulent marble desk when the door chimed.
"Enter," he said ignoring the other occupant of the room. A uniformed Tal Shiar officer entered and saluted.
"Jolan Tru, Praetor."
"Jolan Tru," he answered awaiting the expected news.
"Our Scouts have returned from the Hurik System. It is as we suspected. The Federation located the Cardassian Smuggler, Devek, in our space and moved against him. If there were any survivors, Starfleet took them."
"What about Devek?" Neral asked.
"His remains were among the first to be found. By the number of phaser wounds on the body, I would say that whoever ended him had a very personal score to settle."
"Tigranian…" Neral said through gritted teeth. "Just as I thought. I expect a full report first thing tomorrow."
"Now, leave us…"
"Praetor…" the officer said nervously.
"What?" Neral spat back angrily. The officer pulled something out from behind his back and held it up for Neral to examine. It was the flag of the United Federation of Planets, still covered with Devek's blood.
"This was found draped over Devek's body. Our analysts are still trying to determine why Starfleet left it behind."
"Your analysts are fools, then. I know exactly why it was left behind." The Tal Shiar officer looked back at him confused. "It's a message to us, you fool!"
"Begging your pardon, Praetor, but what possible message could this send?"
Neral leaned back in his chair.
"That the days of the Federation turning its other cheek are over. Now, leave that and go!"
The officer obediently placed the flag on Neral's desk, saluted, and left.
"Now, do you see the necessity of my plan?" Selonia's voice sounded from a corner. She stepped out from the shadows and leaned over to examine Tigranian's flag.
"Unfortunately, I do," he paused. "However, your insistence on leaving him alive causes me great pain."
"Why, Husband?" Selonia asked innocently.
"Because I'm not an idiot, Selonia!" Neral said climbing to his feet to tower over her. "I know exactly what you want him for."
"I know where my loyalties lay, Husband. You do not have to worry about me embarrassing you." She did not break his gaze as she stood up and brushed her hand across his cheek. He recoiled, much to her dismay. Neral took a few steps, but then turned around.
"I know that this marriage was not your choice and gives you no joy, but I also know that you too politically savvy to cross me. However, I do actually care deeply for you."
"I know that."
"Will having this human as your slave make you happy?"
Selonia seductively leaned over the desk and examined the painted nails on her right hand. "I'm not sure that 'happy' is the appropriate word. More like, 'satisfied."
"Then put your plan into action. If it serves the dual purpose of silencing Daniel Tigranian and makes you 'satisfied,' that I give it my full support."
Selonia rose, crossed to Neral, and kissed him.
"You are a wise man, my husband. And I swear to you, that my pleasure…will be his pain."
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.