"You do realize it could be a trap, don't you?"
"Aye," Scotty answered, drawing it out in amusement.
McCoy was not amused. "And that this is highly unorthodox?"
"Ye sound a wee bit like Mister Spock, Doctor."
McCoy's face twisted into pure sour lemons, and he crossed his arms, 'hrrmphing' in the back of his throat. Scotty, in the meantime, just triple checked to make sure he was armed, dressed accordingly and otherwise looked the part -- five o'clock shadow, civilian clothes and an actual holstered phaser at his hip. Subterfuge wasn't really his strong point, and this really was a rather unorthodox mission he was going on, but he was the best man for the job. Therefore, he would go, meet the contact, retrieve the prototype for the shield-busting projectile, and come back to the ship.
"You look like a freebooter."
Scotty looked down at himself, then back up again. "Aye, that's sort o' the point."
As if on cue, Captain Kirk came in. Not too surprisingly, he looked disgruntled that he wasn't the one who was going planetside. But over the past few years, the captain had made enough of a reputation for himself that he would be a little too recognizable.
Well, that and he wasn't an engineer.
"Are you ready, Mister Scott?" he asked, fists on his hips.
"Aye, sir," Scott answered, formally, then went up and stood on the platform. "Retrieve the device, verify its authenticity, rendezvous with my Starfleet contact at the shuttleport and meet ye at Cynan II's Federation consulate within twenty-four hours. If all goes accordin' to plan."
"Right. We'll be there for seventy-two hours, if it doesn't."
Kirk nodded, then looked at Kyle, "I'll signal when it's time to energize. Make it quick."
Lieutenant Kyle nodded back. "Yes, sir."
The world resolved from gold sparkling to downright grimy reality.
The Enterprise being in orbit of Cynan III would have tripped alarms below amongst the freebooters, so the plan was made to have the Enterprise harass some ship under cover of a safety-check -- something that was within their realm of authority -- and then meander away, looking for all the world like a big, slow policeman who only bothered for the sake of being petty. The window of opportunity was only about ten minutes, long enough to confirm paperwork and run a not-particularly indepth scan, and then she would continue to her destination.
Ten minutes was more than enough to drop her Chief Engineer into a deserted back alley.
The truth be told, Scotty would have rather stayed on the Enterprise in most circumstances. He didn't shy away from going planetside, but he didn't really revel in it, either. But this time was, admittedly, different. Therefore, he couldn't feel too put out by it.
The city of Kriptr was dark in the night, and the residential buildings rose up high on either side of him, some windows lit, some dark. Underfoot was the damp cobblestone alley, and he could smell the street-vendors cooking in the market just down the next block and a half.
Even at this hour, the festive yellow and orange lights and various strains of music carried, setting off the green sort of cast of old stone and industrial concrete and time.
It wasn't exactly his scene, but it wasn't exactly not his scene, either. Not something Scott could quite explain to anyone, at least not aloud, but he got them, the people who lived here. Hell, if not for a handful of different decisions in his early life, he might have ended up one of them eventually.
For the large part, they were people who worked for a living, regardless of on which side of the law, and he could respect that. They lived hard, played hard, and aye, some died hard. But even amidst the freebooters who made up this city's underbelly, there were families -- mothers, fathers, children -- of any number of Federation species. Beyond the freebooters were regular merchants and cafe-owners and school teachers and powerless bureaucrats, and above them all, the benevolent Federation, too far away to hold much sway out here.
Scotty shook his head to himself, and headed for the market; alert for muggers, of which there no doubt were, but not particularly worried. The old-style phaser at his hip wasn't his only weapon; the new one inside of his coat was another, and beyond that, he had his fists if he needed them.
The market was chaotic, but it didn't take him too long to find the cafe he was looking for. He couldn't actually pronounce the name of it, but he could recognize the sign, anyway, and that was good enough. Once he was through the doors, he was sure he was in the right place.
There were a handful of humans, a couple of Denobulans, a Caitian and a Kzinti male in an argument. They all paused in their conversations for a moment to eye him, then went back to what they were doing. Which was pretty much exactly what he wanted.
Scotty weaved his way through the narrow spaces between tables up to the counter, where a harried looking Rigellian slammed down some silverware and a glass of debatable cleanliness. "What?"
Friendly sort, Scotty thought. "I'm lookin' for Neva," he just said, leaning on the counter casually.
The Rigellian narrowed his eyes briefly, then held out his hand. Once he had the slip of platinum and checked its maker's mark, he nodded his head towards the door around behind the counter. "Through there."
Bribing people wasn't exactly new. Despite Cynan III being a Federation world, platinum went a whole lot further than credits did.
At least it was the Federation's money he was spending.
Scotty just shrugged to himself and headed around the counter, into the back. A little surprised, frankly, that there wasn't any checking of his credentials -- all the effort Security went to in order to make him a regular terran ID without Starfleet encoding apparently was going to go to waste.
The room he walked into looked sort of hastily moved into, but his observation there lasted all of two seconds before his mouth went very dry and he felt his heart start beating a lot harder than he thought it would on this trip.
I'm in trouble.
She was definitely not the kind of contact he was expecting.
"Sorry, habit," she said, one eyebrow going up, smirking. "I'm guessing, given the look on your face, you're not here for the usual reasons."
Scotty had a fair idea right then what the usual reasons were, and shook his head, not quite able to get his mouth working just yet. He felt a little like a bomb had gone off right behind his eyes, and out front, he could hear the Caitian and the Kzinti go from arguing to an all-out brawl. Despite that, he couldn't really tear his eyes off of the Orion woman in front of him.
"It'll go away in a few minutes," she said, smirking even more broadly. She held out her hand. "I'm Neva. And I need your ID." A beat. "The real one."
"Scott," he said, trying to blink off the pheromones that had him sweating and a little twitchy, digging his regular Starfleet ID out of his coat's inside pocket and handing it over. "Sorry, I wasn't expectin'..."
"Obviously." She shifted his ID to her other hand, and used the first to shake his -- her skin was warm, and soft -- and then let go and inspected his ID, before handing it back over. Then she just turned around and moved into the room beyond that one, the fringe of her outfit set swaying by her hips. "Come on."
Scotty huffed out a breath through his nose, following. "A bit of a risky disguise, isn't it?"
Neva turned around, then grinned -- it tugged on his heartstrings where the smirk didn't -- and then upnodded. "Let me see... former Orion slave girl turned prostitute? Can you think of a better disguise, Starfleet?"
She had a point. He conceded it with a shake of his slowly clearing head.
"Have you got the payment?" she asked, as she turned back to her chest of drawers.
After another moment of trying to drag his mind back on task, Scotty nodded. "Aye. Have ye got the package?"
"Of course." She pulled a box out; deceptive box, if what was in it turned out to be real. "So, tell me: Why an engineer and not security?"
Scott started pulling bars of platinum out of pretty much every pocket of the coat that wasn't occupied with a phaser, setting them on the small table off to the side. Despite himself, he had to grin back at her. "I spent not quite ten years as Captain Pike's chief engineer."
Neva's eyebrows went up, and she grinned again, sudden and bright and wide as she stepped over to the table, setting the box down on it. "I know that name. Then again, I don't think there's anyone in the Syndicate that doesn't. And how is the great enemy of Orion trade these days?"
Must not have heard the news. Scotty shook his head as he set the last bar of platinum on the table, offering her a rueful smile. "Hopefully livin' a good dream."
"That bad?" she asked, her face falling.
How exactly this woman made him feel like he was talking to an old friend was beyond him, but there was no particular reason to keep that from her. She was a Federation citizen, it wasn't as if she couldn't look up the information herself. "He was in an accident." Even a couple years after getting that news, it still felt like being kicked right in the gut to think of it. Scotty took a deep breath, and let it back out slow and measured. "Ended up injured savin' a cadet crew, took a massive dose o' delta ray radiation. He lived, if ye could really call it that." Thank all merciful for Spock's plan.
Neva winced, and reached out to pat his shoulder. "I'm sorry. He was legendary. They would curse him in one breath and praise him in the next."
"Aye." There honestly wasn't much more Scott could find to say about it. Pike had a particular penchant for going after the Syndicate, and after Article 1 was ratified, they had a period of a few glory years where it seemed that was the Enterprise's specialty. Oh, plenty of exploration, too, but anytime the chance came up to shake down a supposed Orion cargo carrier under even the most flimsy of lawful pretense, Pike took it. He had an uncanny eye for smugglers, and used it.
Scotty estimated there were probably thousands of Orion slaves, in the end, who were freed in those years, and most of them by Captain Pike.
Not even that long ago. But it was a different world, anyway.
"Speaking of the Syndicate," Neva said, stepping over to open the box, "they will probably miss this."
"Aye?" Scotty asked, pushing the pile of platinum bars over. "Mind if I...?"
"Have a look, Starfleet." She pushed the box over, then stepped around him to start checking and counting the platinum.
It wasn't easy to ignore her brushing past him, but thankfully the box provided a good distraction. Scotty lifted the device out, and immediately he could see that it very likely was authentic.
There had been scuttlebutt about the possibility of one of the usual suspects coming up with a device that, when loaded into a projectile weapon, could scramble Starfleet shields. Not only would they have the explosive power, but they'd be able to punch through defenses like a bullet through butter before detonation. It was a compact thing; processors, and what looked like an energy converter. From what he could see, it would basically use a torpedo's power to create an energy field meant to cause the scrambling effect necessary. Provided they input the right values, anyway; doubtless somewhere, right now, a spy was gathering just that information.
Scotty figured that technological cold wars had probably been around since the first caveman came out with the wheel, and they weren't going to stop anytime soon. He also knew enough about such things to know that Neva had just put a massive spanner right into the works of whoever came up with this.
It was very distinctly Orion in design, as well. Scotty knew what Orion design looked like; another bonus of working under Captain Pike's command was a number of commandeered ships, and all of the time in the world to take them apart, reverse engineer, and then share his findings with all and sundry at headquarters. More than a few times, the good captain -- an engineer himself -- would come and help.
"I think we've got ourselves a deal," he said, shaking off the melancholy enough to grin at her.
Neva grinned back. "I think you're--"
And that was when everything exploded.