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Chapter Three

Dexter Hall stared with trepidation at a visual recording of events leading up to the abduction of the USS Lambda Paz’s first officer and his mission colleague. His uneasiness with the kinds of dangers might be facing Commander Kozar, and quite possibly himself and a team of Starfleet Marines he had ferried to this distant world, was tempered by his astonishment at what he was seeing before him. Not even the most advanced and accurate sensors could display such precise imagery on a bridge viewscreen.

Yet, here it was right in front of him. An aerial sensor drone transmitted an image of Kozar and Katel being coerced into exiting a ground-based vehicle when the road in both directions had been blocked off by local law enforcement vehicles. A mysterious figure on a hover-cycle swooped in, incapacitated the police officers, and whisked the Starfleet team away to who knew where. Even if the team shadowing them was not tasked with maintaining the secrecy of a Cardassian colony of ancient religious worshippers, they could not prevent the abduction since the images were transmitted on a ten-minute delay.

Lieutenant Commander Lisa Neeley stood behind and to the left of Dex watching the video footage and contemplating how next to proceed. “Kwon,” she said to the Marine soldier on her right, “see if any ships might have left orbit after that time index.”

A tall man with a distinctive Asian skin complexion obligingly sauntered towards a secondary station on the cockpit’s starboard side. “On it,” he replied.

“Hall,” Neeley added, “roll back the footage to when they first met their contact.”

“What exactly are we looking for?” the young blond-haired wondered aloud while executing that order.

“For a point of comparison to extrapolate where he might have gone after he met with the law enforcement officer and Kozar and Katel escaped the temple.”

As Dex watched the fast-moving backwards action on the video footage, another question came to mind. “If this drone of ours is able to monitor the colony with such accuracy even from the planet’s magnetic poles, couldn’t it be used to locate our people?”

Neeley shot him a glance that made him think he was asking a stupid question. “You know,” he stammered, “in case they might still be on the planet?”

“We’re just covering all possibilities,” Kwon explained, looking up from combing through the sensor logs.

“Wherever our people are being held, it’s a very secure location not easily located by any sensor scan,” Neeley continued. The video footage then returned to normal playback at the point where the Cardassian contact Callum Pran approached the undercover team. Neeley then indicated Callum with her right forefinger. “But he knows more than he’s letting on. He had to have known something like this was coming when the police came knocking on his door. He goes back inside and a few minutes later, Kozar and Katel slip out of a subterranean egress. If we can locate him, he’s going to tell us what he knows and how to find our people.”

“Well, for right now, we can rule out any indications of ships leaving the planet,” Kwon said, pacing towards the two primary piloting consoles. “That doesn’t necessarily mean…”

“Right,” Neeley cut in. “But here is still a good place start.”

Dex looked up from a sensor display that appeared on a tiny monitor in front of his console. “I may have a fix on Kozar and Katel’s informant. I’m reading his lifesigns in a network of subterranean caverns in close proximity to the temple. I’ll try and narrow down the location.”

“How very curious,” Neeley mused. “Good work, flyboy,” she told Dex with a tone of feigned complimenting.

Flyboy, huh? He never cared for that derogatory term, given that it implied that all he was only good at was flying fighter shuttles. He had seen a fair share of ground combat. It was nothing to brag about considering he had been a commissioned officer for less than a year, and halfway into his Academy tenure. All he could do was not take offense at the epithet and try to prove himself by any contributions he made in the immediate future.

“If I may ask,” he said, “doesn’t protocol demand that we call retreat and call for reinforcements? We may not be in much of a position to mount a rescue.”

“Maybe so, but time is not on our side,” Neeley explained. “We don’t know where Kozar and Katel were taken, or if they are still on the planet. We can’t contact the Lambda Paz, so we can assume they are not in a position to help us. We are on our own, and Callum Pran is our best lead right now.”

Dex nodded his understanding, having been reminded once more that Starfleet admired those who showed initiative. Commander Neeley was seemingly jumping on an opportunity to get noticed. For Dex, though, doing the things that got him considered for promotion still seemed like a tall order. Just don’t try too hard, he would hear his flight training instructors say. Opportunities for advancement will come on their own.

A chirp from a sensor panel quickly caught Dex’s attention. “I’ve got coordinates on our target.”

“Beam him aboard,” Neeley abruptly ordered.

“I should note that this is tantamount to kidnapping,” Dex remarked, locking in the transport sequence.

“Objection noted.”

***

Callum Pran materialized in the shuttle cockpit and became instantaneously startled at the sight of three humans dressed in combat fatigues pointing hand phasers at him. He let out a terrified gasp and turned around to see three more humans brandishing phasers.

Neeley raised a hand, signaling the rest of her team to stand down. Hall, Kwon, and the three other Marine slowly holstered their phasers.

“What’s the meaning of this?” Callum demanded. “How did I get here?”

“We’ve been monitoring the events that led to the abduction of two of our colleagues,” Neeley tersely explained. “In the interest of maintaining the secrecy of this colony, we decided not to come down with guns blazing.”

“Thank Oralius,” Callum said with a relieved sigh. He peered out the front viewpoint with a gaping stare at the planet below. “I thought for sure they had found me when I felt myself being… lifted off the ground.”

Neeley took a quick glance to deduce what Callum was hoping to see. “Who’s ‘they’?” she asked, feeling that her hunch about Callum had been confirmed.

“Local law enforcement,” Callum snappily replied, giving Neeley a long stare, suggesting to her that his answer wasn’t the entire truth. “They had offered to take me to a secure location based on rumors that Federation spies were plotting my assassination. I couldn’t let them or the whole operation would have been a failure.”

“With the local police now on high alert,” Kwon interjected, “your operation to funnel out refugees already looks to be a bust. They’ll suspect anyone trying to leave the city of being a Federation spy.”

“You anticipated something like this happening,” Neeley said, pointing an accusing finger at Callum.

Callum stammered while starting to wander aimlessly about the cockpit: “I-I-I can assure you,” he insisted, “that I was just as unprepared for this occurrence as you were.”

Neeley marched towards Callum and gently clutched his robe collar. “Why’d you help our people escape? Was it to use them as cannon fodder to draw attention away from your little smuggling ring?”

“No, of course not,” Callum emphatically insisted. “It’s because they would have been arrested and detained in a matter of minutes.”

“Which they were anyway,” Neeley huffed. She grabbed him by both shoulders and forcefully seated him in the starboard pilot chair. “It doesn’t take a Betazoid to intuit that you know more about what’s going on than you’re telling us. And you’re not leaving this chair until you tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And then what good are you to the refugees?”

Kwon and Hall held down Callum’s forearms to restrain him.

“The True Way,” Callum relented.

“The Cardassian splinter group responsible for terrorist acts against the Federation four years ago?” Dex wondered skeptically.

Callum glanced at each of the men who were restraining him. “Their numbers are growing again,” he clarified. “Many of the top agents of the former Obsidian Order were dissatisfied with how Legate Damar led the rebellion. They felt that helping the Federation reverse engineer Breen weapons meant putting our fate in their hands after the war. The election of Alon Ghemor to First Castellan in last month’s voting competition has only stoked their fears.”

“You know an awful lot for the administrator of a colony does not officially exist,” Neeley curtly remarked.

“I was recruited into the new Intelligence Bureau when the provisional government came to power,” Callum explained tentatively, “Recently, I’ve been acting on rumors that more conservative elements in the government were getting closer to learning of this colony.”

“And these True Way are somehow involved?” Kwon inquired. “What could they be up to?”

“I don’t know,” Callum said. “I only heard rumblings about them after the voting competition.”

“They may have some kind of hidden encampment where they’re holding Kozar and Katel,” Hall offered.

“And you’re going to help us find it,” Neeley declared.

Callum started fidgeting, but the men restraining him only strengthened their grasps. “I’ve told you everything I know,” he contended. “I must assure someone at the temple that I am safe and sound.”

“Let him go,” Neeley quietly instructed the men. With a more stern inflection, she then addressed Callum. “Haven’t you been paying attention, Pran? Your operation has already failed. You help us find our missing officers, and then you’re free to go. Besides, you owe us for dragging Starfleet into this fiasco.”

“Of course,” said Callum. “But we’ll have to make a discrete return to the medina.”

Neeley turned her attention back to her team. “Kwon, we’ll need to find a way to blend in. We’ll use whatever equipment Katel has in her shuttle. Hall, on our signal, you’ll beam Pran and us into a vacant room in the temple.”

“Will do,” Hall acknowledged.

Neeley sighed, having realized that assuring Callum’s cooperation was fairly easy compared to the shot in the dark that would be retrieving her missing colleagues.



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