“Captain, we are approaching the Mutara Nebula,” said Lieutenant Stanmore from operations.
“Ensign Srena, drop us out of warp and head for the rendezvous point, maximum impulse,” said Owens.
“Aye, sir, dropping to impulse.”
From the panel in the armrest of his chair, Owens accessed the viewscreen controls to give him a split screen on the viewer, the swirling blue, purple and red of the nebula ahead and the Gibraltar and Intrepid just behind them, following Eagle towards the nebula.
The screen began to flicker with increased intensity the closer to the nebula they got, as the sensors were having a progressively difficult time to compensate for the static discharges and the high concentration of ionized gasses.
Owens glanced towards the tactical station. “Jose, do you have the Sacajawea?”
The man shook his head. “Negative, no sign of her on sensors.”
The captain frowned. “Must be the interference.”
“I’m not sure that’s what it is, sir,” Carlos said. “Sensors are affected by the nebula but all readings indicate that there are no other starships present within ten million kilometers of the rendezvous position.”
Stanmore agreed. “Confirmed, sir. She’s not here. We should be able to see her at this distance, even with the interference.”
He noticed an incoming transmission from the Gibraltar and activated the line which automatically opened a three-way channel to the Intrepid as well. “Where is she?” asked Sandhurst
“Obviously not here,” said Aubrey before Owens had the chance. “Maybe she decided to start without us.”
“I wouldn’t put that past her at all,” said Sandhurst. “Star has a reputation for being a bad team player. Probably got bored of waiting and is halfway to Panea already.”
Owens considered that for a moment. “Donald, did they outfit Gibraltar with a Sub-Quantum Mass Array?”
“Yes, all Luna-class ships have them now. Was supposed to give us a real edge in deep space exploration. Not that we’ll ever get an occasion to use it.”
“Here’s your chance to see what it can do,” said Owens. “I’m willing to bet it’ll cut right through this muck.”
“I don’t like it,” said Aubrey. “That array is bound to light up the nebula like a Christmas tree. In case you had forgotten, this is supposed to be a covert operation.”
Owens shook his head even though none of his fellow captains were able to see this through the audio-only link. “We’re a good two and half light-years from Bolarus, this won’t register as much more than a blimp on their long-range sensors, if that. Not enough to even warrant an investigation.”
“Still a risk,” said Aubrey.
“I’d rather take it than sit here twiddling my thumbs until Star deigns us with her presence. Or worse, if she’s gone rogue and is trying to go it alone, I want to know before she gets too far.”
The other two captains didn’t respond straight away as they were considering Owens’ request. As far as he was concerned they were taking too long, after all he had seniority over the other two men and as long as Star, who had been placed in operational command of the mission was unaccounted for, he was in command of the task force. “Do it, Donald.”
There had clearly been some tension and disagreements between him and the two other captains during their initial mission brief but both men were professional enough to put those feelings aside.
“Activating the array now,” said Sandhurst.
Owens watched the Gibraltar closely on the screen. Her deceptively small, oval shaped deflector dish mounted at the very front of her engineering section flashed brightly for a few moments. Glancing at his sensor readouts, he could see a powerful energy reading coming from the Luna-class starship which lasted less than five seconds and then disappeared again in time for her bright-blue deflector to return back to its ordinary intensity.
“We’re definitely not alone out here,” said Sandhurst. “We read at least three vessels in close—what the hell?”
The exclamation from the normally levelheaded Sandhurst caused Owens alarm. “Donald, what’s happening? What do you see?”
“Sir, I’ve got her,” said Stanmore instead. “Sacajawea. She’s … right off our port bow. Less than six-thousand kilometers.”
This surprised Owens even more but the viewer quickly shifted to provide proof positive of the presence of another Starfleet ship. “Where’d she come from?”
Stanmore shook his head. “I am not sure, sir. Sensors picked up a strong energy reading just moments ago. Could be a warp signature.”
“What in the name of the Seven Hells do you think you are doing?” Tazla Star’s voice boomed across Eagle’s bridge, and her face appeared on an inset on the top right corner of the screen. The red-haired Trill looked as angry as she had sounded as she glared at Owens and very likely the other two starship captains as well.
It was a breach of long-established etiquette in Starfleet, an unwritten rule, to communicate with other ships this intrusively, without so much as hailing them first. Owens believed in etiquette and felt his own anger rising. He stood from his chair. “Perhaps you would like to clue as in as to what is going on here and where exactly you’ve come from?”
“You may have just endangered this entire mission,” Star shot back without addressing Owens’ questions at all. “The Guardians have ships nearby and you just gave them our position and our numbers.”
“She’s right,” said Sandhurst. “We’ve detected two other ships within the nebula. The array identified them as the Bluefin and the Orion.”
“I knew they were close by,” said Tazla Star as she seemed to consider this, looking away for a moment. “Damn it. Good news is they can’t get a signal out from within the nebula but they are doubtlessly already trying to get clear.” Her piercing green eyes looked back up. “We don’t have much time. Intrepid will be with me, we’re going after the Orion. Eagle, you and Gibraltar take the Bluefin. They use these ships for border patrol duties, they are not heavily armed. Catch up to them and stop them. No matter the cost. Star out.”
With that her face disappeared from the screen again.
“Sir, the Sacajawea is moving away at high speed,” said Stanmore but Owens could see that on the viewer.
He was struggling to keep his anger in check about what had just happened. He was not used to be spoken to in this manner, especially not by a peer who had less command experience than he did. For now there was nothing else he could do, she was in charge and he would follow her orders.
He noticed all his officers having turned his way with expectant glances.
Michael Owens took the captain’s seat again, suppressing the urge to utter a sigh. “You’ve heard her. Set course for Bluefin’s position and engage at maximum speed.”
Captain Jason Aubrey stepped onto the secondary bridge of his highly-upgraded Excelsior-class starship, preferring to run operations from the more securely nestled auxiliary command center on deck five, instead of from the much more exposed main bridge on deck one, particularly if their mission was likely to involve combat.
“Did you find her?” he said with little preamble, addressing Lieutenant Commander Shantok, his Vulcan/Betazoid operations officer and de facto XO.
The graceful woman swiveled her chair away from the operations console to face the captain, she tended to stay at her station even when she had the bridge. “There is a high probably that we have identified the Orion. The vessel we are pursuing is traveling at high impulse towards the outer edge of the nebula. Her energy signature is consistent with that of a Constellation-class starship, however we are unable to determine with one hundred percent accuracy that the vessel in question is in fact the Orion.”
“Ballpark it for me,” he said. “What’s the likelihood we’re tracking the right ship?”
Shantok didn’t need to think about the question. “Ninety-four point eight percent.”
Aubrey smirked. “I think we’ll take that.” He turned towards the tactical station next and walked over to his security chief. “What do we know about the Orion, Adol?”
The Andorian lieutenant was equally prepared. “As the Commander has pointed out, she’s a Constellation-class, at lest sixty year old.”
“Don’t knock her because she’s got some mileage on her,” said the captain. “Intrepid isn’t exactly a spring chicken herself.”
The security chief shook his head. “This is different. According to our records the Orion hasn’t seen a full upgrade in nearly ten years and it is highly unlikely the Guardians have been able to do much with her either. Makes sense that she’s been relegated to border patrol and courier missions. If it comes to a fight, we’ll end it quickly, even in this soup.”
“Rather not let it come to one.”
“You know me, Captain. Rather be over-prepared.”
Aubrey nodded and walked to his chair which was positioned at the center of the bridge by itself. “Where’s Star’s ship?”
“We lost contact with the Sacajawea about twenty-two minutes ago,” said Shantok. “Her last known position placed her sixty-two point five million kilometers from our location.”
“We don’t need her for this,” said Adol.
Aubrey took his seat. “I still would rather know where she is. Keep and eye out for her, Commander. How long until we intercept Orion?”
“At our current speed we will intercept in nine minutes and twenty-three seconds,” said Shantok.
“Who is in command over there?”
“That would be Commander Reihyn according to our records,” said Adol. “We don’t have much on him. Distinguished himself in the later years of the Borg War, served on the Kukri and received a battlefield promotion to commanding officer.”
Aubrey nodded. “A man who has seen his share of battles.”
Shantok turned to face him. “This can likely be said for a great number of Starfleet officers, on either side, who are alive today.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Mister Adol, hail the Orion, please.”
The security chief responded after just a few moments. “No joy. Does not look like they want to talk to us.”
“Not planning on giving them a say in the matter. Open a channel.”
“Attention Orion. This is Captain Aubrey on the USS Intrepid. You are hereby instructed to come about and power down your engines immediately.” He shot a glance at Adol who shook his head. Aubrey pressed a control on his armrest to mute the connection. “At their present speed, how long until they clear the nebula and are free to broadcast.”
“Eighteen minutes, thirty-nine seconds,” said Shantok without even consulting her instruments.
Aubrey un-muted the channel. “Let’s dispense with the usual hot air and empty threats, Captain Reihyn. We both know what’s going on here. You know I can’t let you clear the nebula and you also know that you have no chance of getting out of range of my weapons before you can alert your friends. I’d rather not let this get ugly. Tell you what, you come about and surrender peacefully, and I make sure we work something out.”
Adol smirked. “Got their attention now, sir. He’s hailing us.”
The face of a humanoid Rigellian man, relatively young for a starship captain, appeared on the screen. “Captain Aubrey?”
“The very same. Captain Reihyn, I presume.”
He nodded. “So very gracious of you, Captain, that you would allow us a chance to surrender. Within our own territory no less.”
“I don’t think we should get into territorial questions here. My government doesn’t acknowledge yours or the territory you claim, nor does yours acknowledge mine. Let’s just keep the politics out of this.”
“Very well, more than happy to do that. Never saw myself of much of a politician anyway,” said Reihyn.
“I can make certain reassurances to you and your crew if you were to surrender. The alternative, I’m afraid to say—and I won’t mince words—is for me to order opening fire on your ship. I won’t hesitate to give that order but I’d rather get out of here without bloodshed.”
Reihyn uttered a little mirthless laugh. “You truly expect me to believe that? It’s been barely a week since the last fight between our two respective sides. Why should I trust that you show any more restraint than your fellow peers?”
“I can’t speak for my fellow peers, Captain, I can only speak for myself. And I don’t prefer to settle matters with violence. I’m Old Guard, I believe in a Federation that can find peaceful solutions to its problems.”
The Rigellian looked unconvinced. “You forgive me if I question your peaceful intentions while you are amassing a task force inside a nebula just a couple of light-years from Bolarus.”
“Wouldn’t call this a task force, Captain. Certainly not enough for an invasion if that’s what you fear.”
He shook his head. “No, but maybe something just as nefarious.”
Aubrey noticed Shantok turning to him and mouthing a few words. He knew exactly what she was telling him. Orion was getting closer and closer to the point of no return. “I admire your attempt to buy yourself time, Captain, I really do. But you understand that I cannot allow that. We’ll be in weapon’s range in less than two minutes and I intend to cripple your ship unless you have come to a full stop by that time. I will instruct my gunner to try and avoid critical hits but we both know that there is no guarantee to that. And the harder you make this for us, the greater the chance people will die.”
“Is this the point where you’ll tell me that any casualties resulting from this will be on my head?”
Aubrey shook his head. “No. I fully accept responsibility for any and all casualties you may to incur in such a scenario. I will have to live with that,” he said and then leaned forward in his chair. “But let me make something very clear to you, Captain. I’m not proud of it, but I have done far worse in my time.”
Reiyhn nodded slightly. “I think I believe that at the very least.”
“I’m not one for ultimatums but you have just one minute left to decide how this will play out.”
“This is a difficult position you are putting me in, Captain Aubrey.”
He nodded, understandingly. “I appreciate that. And I wish I didn’t have to. I wish a lot of things were different.”
“So do I,” said Reiyhn and seemed momentarily distracted, as if something else had caught his attention, something Aubrey couldn’t see. “It looks like you have made your play, Captain. A shame really, perhaps we could have worked something out.” And with that his face disappeared.
Aubrey was not a man easily confused, but he wasn’t entirely sure what had happened, not until Shantok spoke up. “Sensors have just detected Sacajawea, three-hundred thousand meters off the Orion’s starboard bow.”
Aubrey had no time to wonder about this.
“Sir, the Orion is opening fire on us,” Adol said.
“Full evasive actions, stand by to return fire.”
He noticed the two missiles flying their way but was fairly certain, based on their trajectory and speed within the less than optimal conditions inside the nebula, that they were not going to hit and therefore not cause significant damage even though their shields did not operate at full capacity due to the nebula’s interference. That was until they both suddenly erupted with bright flashes in quick succession, not only blinding him but rendering the already unreliable view screen completely inoperable.
“What just happened?”
“Massive EM burst from Orion’s torpedoes, multiple systems are affected and shutting down,” said Adol.
“I am compensating for the effects,” said Shantok.
And she did a good job too apparently as within just moments the view screen cleared up again, returning to the static-filled view of the red and blue nebula. The Orion however, was nowhere in sight. Instead the Sacajawea had appeared where the other ship had been before, heading straight for them.
“What happened, where’s the Orion?”
“No longer on sensors, sir,” said Adol.
“I am registering a debris field consistent with the size of a Constellation-class starship,” said Shantok.
That left Aubrey momentarily speechless.
“The Sacajawea is hailing us, sir,” said the security officer.
Aubrey activated the control on his armrest which immediately caused the image to shift to show Tazla Star. “Next time, Captain, don’t cut it so damn close. They launched a comm buoy the moment they triggered those rattrap torpedoes. We took care of the buoy but if we hadn’t been close, this whole mission would have been blown.”
Aubrey took a moment to respond. “What happened to her?”
“No, the other starship that was right under our nose a moment ago,” he said angrily. “Of course the Orion.”
Star shot him a piercing look, clearly not enjoying the sarcasm. “We took care of her as well.”
“There were over one-hundred people on that ship.”
The Trill looked annoyed. “I don’t care if there were one hundred or one thousand people. This mission is too important to let it be endangered by your ethical sensibilities, Captain. Or did Director Altee not sufficiently impress on you what is at stake if we fail in accomplishing this mission?” She didn’t wait for a response. “Let’s move out and rejoin Eagle and Gibraltar. Last thing I want is for them to drop the ball on this. We already came close to disaster once today. Star out.”
“Close to disaster,” Aubrey repeated to himself, looking over what little remained of the starship Orion.
“I would like you to note in your log, Captain,” said Adol. “I don’t like that woman. Don’t like her at all.”
Shantok turned from her station to look at Aubrey. “Sir, I think there is something you might want to see.”
A very short and succinct burst transmission from Intrepid had caught up Owens and Sandhurst on what had happened to the Orion, and also of her attempt, partially successful, of deploying so called rattrap torpedoes in an effort to slip away from her pursuers.
Owens had compartmentalized Orion’s fate for now as Eagle and Gibraltar caught up to the Bluefin, Sandhurst effectively cutting her off from escaping towards the outer boundary of the nebula, and Owens using Eagle almost like a plow, getting so close to the smaller ship that the rattrap maneuver was no longer viable.
The ensuing battle didn’t last long, and the two tactically superior ships made short work of her weapons and engines, leaving the border cutter effectively dead in the water.
It had been Owens’ next suggestion which Sandhurst had been uncomfortable with.
“To be honest I don’t see the point here, Michael,” he had said. “She’s disabled and not going anywhere. We can make certain they’re not getting their engines up and running again for hours, or tow her to the nearest Starbase.”
But Owens had shook his head. “Disabling her is no certainty. These Border Dogs are resourceful, they’ll find a way to get back on the road. And we don’t have the time to tractor her out of her. This is the best way to ensure they’ll be out of the picture for now.”
Sandhurst had needed some more convincing before he had agreed to Owens’ plan, and shortly thereafter both ships began transporting nearly fifty automated combat drones onto Bluefin via shuttles—transporters were not effective within the nebula—designed to scour each deck and stun every crewmember they came into contact with.
Only once the drones had reported that all resistance had been neutralized, did Eagle and Gibraltar send heavily armed security teams to deal with anyone who had somehow escaped the initial sweep, followed by medical teams to address any injuries that may have been sustained by the assault on either side.
So only thirty minutes after the engagement had begun, Michael Owens stood outside Bluefin’s main shuttle bay with a team of ten security officers, all equipped with helmets, body armor and phaser rifles.
Eagle’s team was met in short order by Sandhurst and his own security detail. “What do we have?” Sandhurst asked.
Owens indicated towards the heavy doors leading into the shuttle bay. “Ship’s secure except for this section. Main shuttle bay. We lost contact with three drones that were clearing the area.”
Sandhurst looked concerned. “Three? How many of Bluefin’s crew are unaccounted for?”
“Don’t know yet, we’re still waiting for final confirmation. Could be as many as four or five,” he said. “There is a secondary entrance in the next section and we’ve got all Jeffries tube access points sealed and secured. I suggest you move your team to the secondary entrance. We breach and clear on my signal.”
Sandhurst nodded and took his men to take position at the other entry point.
Shortly thereafter Owens gave the order.
The doors were manually pulled open before two men tossed at least four flashbang grenades into the large bay. Owens could hear that Sandhurst’s people were doing the same from their position.
Owens gave the sign and his security team secured their helmet visors which would protect them from the blinding light and the smoke the grenades had released and the ten-man unit moved in with their phasers at the ready.
The first thing Owens noticed were two drones which had been quite clearly disabled, and judging by their state, lying on the floor, one with its electrical innards exposed, the other one practically broken in two, they had been taken out with brute force.
There were also a number of Bluefin crewmembers littering the flight deck, those who had not been able to escape the drones before they had been taken out.
Two members of his team checked on each neutralized crewmember, making sure they were stunned before beginning to identifying them.
Owens could see Sandhurst’s team slowly entering the bay from the other entrance at the opposite end of the cavernous room.
Two large shuttlecraft, Stallions, were positions in take-off formation on the deck but seemed otherwise unpowered.
Owens indicated for four of his men to check the first shuttlecraft while the other one was closer to Sandhurst’s team, and was being cleared by his men.
The shout was immediately followed by the sound of something or someone dropping onto the floor, and it was coming from inside the Stallion.
Owens and the remaining team whipped around to face the support craft, hearing more shouts and telltale sounds of a fight. Then phaser fire, so much of it, it lit up the interior of the shuttle in bright orange colors visible through the forward viewport.
Owens and another man quickly but carefully moved towards the entry ramp but by the time he got there, things had gotten quiet again.
He peeked inside only to find all four of his people on the floor, still breathing from what he could tell but all taken out of the fight. There was no sign of the attacker. Not until he heard something above him.
“The roof!” he said and quickly stepped back to aim his rifle.
His team opened fire again, apparently able to see something moving on top of the shuttle that he couldn’t make out from his vantage point.
He could hear it though, it was definitely someone big and heavy, judging by the noise, much heavier than it had any right to be considering how fast it was moving.
Then—an even louder thump and a startled cry.
Once Owens had managed to round the shuttle he found another of his men on the floor. Whatever had hit him had leaped right on top of him from the shuttle. He was out cold.
He whisked around to his remaining men. “Anyone see what did this?”
They were shaking their heads.
“All I saw was a red streak.”
Owens tapped his combadge. “Donald, whoever is still in here, I think they are heading your way,” he said quietly. “Try to cut them off while we flank them.”
“Copy that. Sandhurst out.”
The captain indicated towards his team again and to follow him in a spread-out formation, their weapons at tactical ready position, actively trying to locate the threats.
Phaser fire erupted once more, coming from Sandhurst’s position.
Owens signaled his team to pick up the pace, clearly their targets had moved rapidly to cross the bay.
Just before they reached the other team however, Owens saw something fast moving towards them from the corner of his eye.
Too late did he realize that it was a barrel, flying through the air.
But his order didn’t come fast enough. Two phaser blasts rang out, one of which hitting the bright yellow barrel dead-on.
Owens dove for cover just in time to see the barrel explode, the shockwave pushing him hard onto the floor.
Only once he had felt the heat of the blast dissipate did he look up again. There was no sign of their attacker but clearly the barrel had contained extremely volatile material which had filled much of the shuttle bay with a fine mist, creating a fog which made it almost impossible to see more than a few meters. What was clear as day however was that his team had been completely taken out by the shockwave.
"Carlos to Owens."
Owens tapped his combadge but kept his head down, crawling carefully over to the security officer nearest to him, who was lying on his back motionless. "Go ahead, Lieutenant."
"Are you alright, sir, we just registered what looked like an explosion at your location."
The downed officer, a female Bolian, was still breathing but was unconscious. He found the stabilizing, emergency hypo in the equipment pouch of her combat fatigues and promptly jammed it against her leg. “I’m fine, wish I could say the same for my team,” he said, keeping is voice as close to a whisper as possible and then moved on to his next fallen man, staying prone, and doing the same to him he had for the Bolian.
“I’m sending reinforcements to your location now. They should be with you in less than five minutes.”
“This is going to be over in five minutes,” he said. “I want all entrances secured, nobody gets out of here. If you lose contact with me, flood the entire section with anesthzine gas.”
“I don’t like it, sir.”
“Not worried about what you like or don’t like, Jose. Just tell me what I’m up against here. Have you been able to determine which crewmembers are unaccounted for?”
“Just one. A Master Chief Solly Brin. Orion male.”
“Let me guess, a red one?”
Owens had finished stabilizing his injured people and then spotted movement near the second Stallion and brought up his rifle. “Fantastic. You have your orders, Lieutenant, I expect you to follow them. Owens out.”
He crawled most of the way towards the shuttle and when he was certain that the still settling mist made it as difficult for him to see his enemy as the enemy seeing him, he stood slowly and made it quickly to the Stallion’s bow for cover.
Securing his rifle, he reached for his hand phaser instead and then very carefully rounded the ship’s nose with his sidearm ready to fire once he got a clear shot on whoever he thought he had spotted behind it.
“Woah, friendly,” Sandhurst said when he spotted Owens with his phaser pointed at him.
Owens secured his weapon. “Where’s your team?”
“You’re look at what’s left of it.”
Owens joined his fellow captain who sat on the floor with his back against the shuttle.
“Reinforcements?” Sandhurst asked.
Owens noticed that the other man had been in a fight, part of his uniform had been ripped, he was bleeding from his forehead and he had lost, among other things, his combadge.
“Five minutes out, but this entire section is going to get flooded with paralyzing gas before then.”
Sandhurst nodded in agreement.
“Just one man. An Orion.”
“That sounds about right.”
“You seem pretty calm about this,” said Owens.
Sandhurst shot him a sidelong glance. “I wasn’t quite honest when I said I was the last man left.”
Owens gave him a quizzical look.
He heard a loud thump, followed by the sounds of a fight. No words, just a furry of what had to be kicks and punches, being dealt and received at lighting pace.
Sandhurst and Owens stood carefully and approached the source of the battle sounds, weapons drawn.
Owens could see a large, red figure emerging from the fog. Flying towards him, in fact. Both men had to jump aside in order to avoid being squashed by the massive Orion who landed with such force, Owens thought he could feel the deck plates of the shuttle bay rattling under his feet.
Another man came flying out of the fog after him and instantly pounced on the Orion like a wild beast.
Owens couldn’t make out much, except that he was dressed in standard Starfleet combat fatigues which were in even worse shape than Sandhurst’s, the entire armored chest plate had been ripped away along with the fabric below. He was bleeding from too many wounds to count.
And yet he was still in the fight, viciously going after the much larger Orion, dealing significant damage up until the point Solly Brin managed to get back onto his feet and threw him so hard into the side of the Stallion, it left behind a visible dent.
Owens and Sandhurst raised their weapons and fired at the bald, red-skinned Orion and the combined phaser blasts pushed him backwards but he refused to go down.
Instead he roared with anger and once the blasts stopped, began to charge the two starship captains, roaring like a Mugato driven mad.
He didn’t get far. The other man came leaping down from the top of the Stallion—Owens had no idea at what point he had managed to climb it—sailing through the air with his fist already fully cocked, which then came down in full force against the Orion’s head.
Solly Brin finally collapsed.
The other man fell onto his hands and knees nearby, panting urgently, blood dripping all over the deck.
Owens cautiously approached Brin, keeping his phaser trained on the mountain of a man, he pushed against his shoulder with his boot. He was alive but he wasn’t getting up anytime soon.
Sandhurst was heading to tend to his officer.
“Don’t ever … make me do that again,” the man uttered between labored breaths and then collapsed onto the deck when his strength had finally left him.
“Gotta say, I like him,” said Owens, indicating towards the exhausted fighter.
“Yeah,” Sandhurst said with a smirk “Pava is useful to keep around.”
“He’s coming to now but I still would prefer moving him to sickbay.”
“Already noted, Doctor,” said Owens as he watched his chief medical officer, Doctor Ashley Wenera, stand back up after having knelt next to Joseph Akinola to apply a stimulant. Like the rest of his crew he had been stunned by Eagle’s and Gibraltar’s combined assault, but had been placed into his chair in Bluefin’s ready room.
“How’s the rest of his crew, Doctor?” said Sandhurst, the only other occupant besides two armed security guards standing watch by the doors.
She shot him a piercing glare. “Your robots did a fine job knocking everyone unconscious if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Any serious casualties?”
“A few broken bones and a concussion here or there from a few crewmembers fighting back or landing badly. Nothing we can’t fix. That Orion will need some work, he’ll be on his feet again but it’ll take a while. Some of his injuries were vicious.”
“Trust me, Doctor, he dished out just as much as he took. In fact, I’d say he dished out quite a bit more,” said Owens.
She nodded and looked at Sandhurst. “Yes, I saw your man before he was transported back to your sickbay. I’d say he’ll be out of commission at least as long.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” said Owens. “Sounds to me you have your work cut out for you. We’ll be in touch if your services are required any further in here.”
She uttered a sigh to this as she headed towards the doors. “This kind of thing? Not what I had in mind when I joined Starfleet.”
But Owens was no longer paying attention. Instead he was looking towards the white-bearded, Nigerian starship captain, slowly waking up again. Then he took note of the various handcrafted wooden ship models in the ready room. “Very nice craftsmanship, I have to say.”
“What the hell … do you want?” Akinola finally managed to say, with some difficulty. “And what have you done to my crew?”
“Your crew is fine, Captain,” said Sandhurst. “Well, mostly. They’ll be out for a little while, a few broken bones but that’s it.”
“Mister Brin gave us a little bit of trouble,” said Owens and then picked up one of the wooden models, a three-mast sail ship. “Is this the HMS Beagle?” He nodded to himself when he read the name of the ship on the small metal plate and then looked at Sandhurst who just stared back blankly. “Charles Darwin’s famous explorer,” he explained as he studied the fine details of the model. “I can see your interest in her, Captain, if I remember right she was eventually transferred to the Cost Guard.” He looked back up at the Border Service officer. “Once her best years were behind her, that is.”
“Is this why you have blatantly attacked my ship?” said Akinola, almost fully recovered by now. “To admire my models and insult me?”
Owens replaced the wooden vessel. “You know precisely why we attacked. You and the Orion were racing towards clear space to try and get a message back to Bolarus. We couldn’t let that happen.”
“And why not?” said Akinola. “Because you are planning an unprovoked attack. Do you really believe you are on the right side of this? After what you’ve done to my ship and crew?” he added, looking at Sandhurst first before focusing back on Owens and then shook his head. “I guess it doesn’t matter. If we weren’t able to get a message out, Orion did. Whatever it is you are up to, it won’t work.”
Owens couldn’t bear keeping his eyes on the other captain and apparently neither could Sandhurst.
Akinola seemed to understand, nodding slowly. “You stopped the Orion? And what, you pulled something like this off on her as well? I can’t imagine that went over well with Reihyn.”
The silence in the room was quickly becoming awkward.
Akinola stood. “What happened to the Orion?”
Owens didn’t respond.
“She was destroyed,” said Sandhurst.
“You goddamn bastards,” he said quietly. “Captain Reihyn was a good man and a friend of mine. He didn’t deserve that, and neither did his crew.”
“Destroying her wasn’t the plan,” said Sandhurst.
“Star,” said Akinola. “It was her, wasn’t it?”
The other two captains shot the man surprised glances but held their tongues.
“Yes, I know she was involved, we detected the Sacajawea in the nebula and had intelligence she might be lurking around here somewhere. Listen to me carefully, no matter our disagreements, you can’t trust that woman. I’ve met her once before. She is a ruthless, backstabber with loyalties to no one but herself. I bet she didn’t blink an eye before snuffing out a starship with a crew of a hundred people. If you find yourself having to trust her, you might as well dig your own graves right now, because you won’t make it out of this alive.”
“That’s a nice speech, Captain, but I don’t see how that will help your present situation,” said Owens.
“What is it you want from me, exactly?” said Akinola. “You have taken my ship, neutralized my crew and stopped any chance of warning Bolarus of your presence. What else do you want?”
Sandhurst took Owens by the arm and led him into the far corner of the ready room. “I have to say, I’ve been kind of wondering this myself. What are you trying to accomplish? Let’s just scuttle the ship and be on our way.”
But Owens shook his head. “Not yet, I think Akinola could be an ally?”
Sandhurst looked back at the glaring Border Service captain before shooting Owens a disbelieving look. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said. “After destroying Orion and boarding his ship? He looks like he’d rather be sucking the hard vacuum of space then help us.”
Sandhurst gave the other captain a piercing look that left no room for misinterpretation. “I don’t condone torture, Michael. I’m having a hard enough time reconciling what we did here, what Star did to Orion. I don’t need any more blood on my conscience.”
“And I’m not planning on adding any,” he said. “Look, I just need some time. And I need you to trust me on this.”
“Trust you? I don’t think so. I think Aubrey was right about you, I think you pulled strings with Leone to get to be on this mission. It’s bloody obvious Altee doesn’t want you here and I am not convinced you should be either,” he said, shaking his head. “No, I don’t think I can afford to trust you right now.”
“Fine, but you know the alternative. Tazla Star. You don’t want any more sleepless nights? She’s going to be a nightmare, Donald. What’s to say she won’t finish off Bluefin as well? You really want to run that risk? Give me a chance to prevent any more bloodshed.”
Sandhurst considered that for a moment and then slowly shook his head. “You know what? Sometimes I miss the Borg. At least back then you knew who your enemies were,” he said with a heavy, resigned sigh. “What do you need from me?”
“Just a little bit of time,” said Owens. “Head back towards the rendezvous and run some interference with Star. I’ll join you there as soon as I’m done here.”
“I know I’m going to regret this,” said Sandhurst just before he left the room.
Owens turned back towards Akinola.
“What’s next? The good cop, bad cop routine? That won’t work on me, I practically wrote the book on that one. Or maybe you’d rather hash this out the old fashioned way. Man-to-man. If so, the least you could do is get rid of your armed escort. Make this a fair fight.”
Owens smirked, glancing at the white Karate ghi hanging on the wall. “Something tells me it wouldn’t be all that fair.”
“What do you intend to do? Keep me hostage on my own ship?”
He shook his head. “Not at all. What you have to look forward to, if you are lucky, is for you and your crew to be court martialed for treason and spend the rest of your lives on a prison colony. Of course that’s only if Tazla Star, whose methods you are already quite familiar with, doesn’t get a hold of you first.”
Akinola laughed. “You are going to offer me a deal, is that it?”
Owens took a seat facing his desk. “I think we can help each other. And all I need you to do is to listen to what I have to say.”