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He had never visited Piqus before but just being back in Krellon space, just a few weeks after he had reluctantly spent some of his leave time on the homeworld and after nearly a decade in voluntary exile away from his people, this return to the Star Alliance was making him feel incredibly uncomfortable.

It had been bad enough that Yorlo had pulled strings to get Eagleredirected to Piqus, forcing him and his crew to delay their greatly anticipated exploratory mission, worse even, Yorlo had wanted him specifically, trying to rope him into what clearly amounted to some sort of personal vendetta against his estranged wife.

And after he had resolutely made the decision not get involved in any of his uncle’s schemes, the captain and the first officer had apparently decided that he should still remain behind on Piqus VII with the medical teams while Eaglewas heading off to assist Agamemnon.

Star hadn't even given him a choice in the matter even though he had pointed out that as a pilot and navigator, his expertise was clearly not required for this mission and in fact would have been of greater use to Eagleon her mission. Star had countered that his value came not from his limited medical expertise but that it was his knowledge of his own people that made him integral to the away mission.

He supposed it made a certain amount of sense to have a Krellonian take part in a mission to a Krellonian colony—no matter how much he’d rather have been a million light-years away from this place—he couldn’t help suspect that more was going on here, after both Owens and Star had asked him detailed questions about his meeting with his uncle.

He didn’t care.

Intellectually, he knew that this attitude was not exactly befitting a Starfleet officer, not to mention one with command aspirations which were slowly gaining traction thanks to his recent promotion to full lieutenant. But there had been a perfectly valid reason why he had left his home all those years ago to seek a future within the Federation. He had made a conscious decision a long time ago to leave his home, and as far as he was concerned, it was not fair that he was being asked to come back to the one place he had tried so hard to get away from.

Lif had always considered himself a good Starfleet officer. He excelled at his job. Except for a few exceptions, he had always followed his orders the way he was supposed to, and he had put his life on the line to protect others, had even been formally recognized for his deeds. So then why could he not be allowed to have at least one weakness? One matter where he could decide not to get involved, at least not voluntarily? He knew that his uncooperative manner had likely already been noted by his superiors but then surely he was not the only officer on the ship who was not always behaving the way everyone else expected him to.

It was clear that Doctor Katanga had been in a terribly poor mood as of late and that his scorn was mostly directed at Tazla Star. He had even disregarded, if not orders than certainly protocol when he had decided to expose himself to a potentially deadly virus while on the away mission to the local hospital.

DeMara Deen, usually the very model of buoyancy and optimism had not been her usual self as of late either and it wasn’t easy to tell that her relationship with the captain seemed to have suffered as a result.

And Leva and Lieutenant Alendra were having some sort of fall out as well after having developed a very close working relationship ever since the tactical officer had returned from his last assignment and bringing the young Bolian officer with him.

People had personal issues from time to time, so why, he wondered, was it so surprising to others when he exhibited some as well?

In short, Lif was in a terrible mood and it certainly hadn’t helped that the sonic shower in the tiny living compartment he was staying in on the runabout hadn’t worked right since Eaglehad left. An invigorating shower had always had a soothing effect on him.

“Alright, good. Now give me section four-baker right on these coordinates. Lif, do you have the junction segments ready?”

He glanced over to Louise Hopkins who was clad, like he was, in a red and white Starfleet issue environmental suit. While they had not yet taken on any infected patients, and even though Katanga may have been rather cavalier about his own safety, he had issued strict orders to the rest of the team to wear the suits until further notice and once he had been able to rule out any airborne or environmental factors which may have contributed to what had been come to be called the Piqus Plague. Lif didn’t mind wearing the suits since besides keeping them safe from any potential pathogens, it also kept out the cold thanks to its internal heating systems.

“Lif?” Hopkins said again, shooting him a look.

He nodded and then quickly entered a few commands into the large padd he was holding, a specialized model which was easier to use while wearing an environmental suit. Part of his job helping to construct the facility had been to ensure all the junction pieces which connected the various outer wall sections were in place and fully secured. Contemplating his misery of being on this Krellon colony had distracted him from this task.

Trying to draw away from his momentary lapse, he managed to find the right location for the next junction piece using the built-in scanner in the padd. "Got it. Coming now," he said and entered the right sequence.

Moments later, the transporter operator working in one of the shuttles, locked in on his coordinates and then beamed into place the junction piece from one of the many storage containers which had been brought down from Eaglebefore she had left orbit.

Hopkins looked over the five-meter tall strut which had materialized at the end of the already present wall section. Instead of solely relying on her tricorder, she grabbed hold of the strut with one gloved hand and ensured it was solidly in place by giving it a few hard yanks. Then she nodded. “Looks good. Adeline, let’s add the next wall section, please.”

“Energizing now, Lieutenant,”the transporter operator responded via the comm channel.

Lif watched as a huge piece of curved, metallic wall shimmered into existence, connecting to the rest of the slowly growing structure via the junction rod. The latest piece made up almost half of the entire western wall of the facility and what would very soon be the main patient ward. A large elliptical window made out of reinforced transparent aluminum sat at the center of the section.

Only now that the window section focused on a specific part of the old quarry that had become their temporary home, did Culsten notice the arrangements of tatty and decidedly non-Starfleet issue tents and the people mingling among them. They were at least five hundred meters away from the Starfleet installation, their shuttles and cargo containers, on the other side of a ravine which bisected the quarry floor and at this distance it wasn’t easy making out details with the naked eye, but he was sure that the group was made out of very different types of people. Different races altogether, judging by the varying body shapes and sizes.

He took a few steps closer to the window to get a better look.

Louise joined him there. “They arrived here this morning. No clue how they found out about us. They must be desperate for a cure.”

But Lif shook his head within his helmet. “I don’t think that’s why they’re here.”

DeMara Deen had joined the other two. “What makes you say that?”

“From what I’ve been told only Krellonians have been infected with the Piqus Plague. Those are all Outlanders.”

“Outlanders?” Deen asked.

Hopkins answered that question. “Inhabitants from the outlying worlds around the central Krellon worlds. They were mostly conquered over the last few centuries and turned into slave labor. They used to be subject races not unlike those kept by the Romulans or Son’a.”

Lif knew that Hopkins had learned about the Outlanders during their recent shore leave to the homeworld. The matter was much more complicated than she had made it sound but he didn't feel the need to elaborate on her point.

“Charming,” Deen said. “But if they are not infected, what are they doing here?”

“Outlanders are not treated very well in Krellonian society and they tend to be of a poorer social-economic background. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve come here looking for hand-outs,” said Hopkins. “I feel sorry for them. We should try and help them.”

Deen turned to look at the chief engineer. “That’s not our mission. If we start helping these people where does it stop? Besides those people’s status is a purely internal Krellonina matter.”
Lif didn’t miss the surprised look Louise was throwing the Tenarian. She did sound uncharacteristically detached and unemotional. She did, of course, have a point.

Without saying another word, the three of them went back to work.

But not long after they had fully completed the main sections of the hospital and the facility was truly beginning to resemble an actual structure, even if not the most aesthetically pleasing one, their attentions were once again directed towards the small settlement of Outlanders at the edge of the quarry.

More specifically it was the two large ground vehicles which came rumbling down the access road with loud, blaring sirens, which brought most of the work to a standstill as the Starfleet crew turned towards the commotion.

“That’s just what we needed,” said Hopkins. “ Local authorities.”

Indeed, the vehicles quickly surrounded the tent settlement, causing a great uproar among the group, many tried to scatter away from the uniformed Krellonians streaming out of the transports.

The peace officers were all armed with what looked like batons of sorts and wore isolation suits. They were also efficient and violent in quickly subduing most of the Outlanders, not hesitating at all to use their batons on anyone who was not immediately surrendering.

"This is going to get out of control," Louise said, mostly mumbling to herself as she and the others watched on from a distance.

Lif, of course, was well aware of the methods of local police against unauthorized Outlander activities and hardly surprised at what he saw. It was a sight he had hoped never having to see again.

Hopkins was not content with simply watching on and quickly found Nora Laas who had emerged from one of the shuttles with four armed officers. “Laas,” she said and indicated towards the scene. “We have to do something.”

But the Bajoran security chief simply walked over to her slowly, with her armed contingent following closely. Upon closer inspection Lif realized that the team following her were not standard Starfleet security personnel but members of the Niners, the Special Missions Team unit Eaglehad recently taken onboard. These men and women, from various different species, hardly looked anything like one expected from Fleet personnel. Some wore long, shaggy bears, they wore outfits which barely registered as a uniform, their weapons appeared to have been heavily modified and some of them, like the hulking Nausicaan or the green-skinned Orion, didn’t hail from races one excepted to encounter commonly in Starfleet.

All four of them, as well as Nora, kept their eyes appraisingly on the commotion at the far side of the quarry even as they made their way over to Hopkins and the rest of the team.

“We can’t just let them beat up on people like that,” Louise continued when Nora had come closer.

“Commander Star’s orders were pretty specific on this. We cannot get involved with local matters. We’re just here to secure the facility. That’s it.”

“Yeah, we’re just the babysitters,” said the Boslic woman with the bright violet hair in a noticeably tedious sounding tone of voice. She seemed entirely indifferent to the brief glower the comment earned her from Nora.

Hopkins looked back at the Bajoran, shaking her head. “That isn’t right.”

“It’s the Prime Directive,” Deen said simply and then walked away to return to working on the facility. A moment later most of the others followed her lead, leaving the Outlanders to their fate.

Lif saw that Hopkins was less willing to let things go as quickly and he thought he understood why. Louise was a gentle soul but as an engineer who had always placed her work before most everything else, she had also always been one of the most sheltered members of Eagle’ssenior crew, barely taking part in away missions or getting otherwise involved in matters not related to her engines or technical systems.

Since they had begun their romantic relationship, he had learned that there was a lot more to her than her brilliant but technically-focused mind and that she cared deeply for other people. It was what he had loved about her but also what had started to create a rift between them after she had accused him of turning his back on his people and their social ills which had been so evidently displayed during their visit to the homeworld. The very same which were once again being aptly demonstrated just a few hundred meters away.

“I’m sorry, Lou,” Nora said. “But Dee’s right. This isn’t our concern.”

"I see. We come here to help these people from succumbing to a deadly plague but if they decide to kill each other we are just supposed to stand back and watch on. Is that it?"

There clearly was nothing else Nora knew to say about this.

Lif placed a hand gently on Louise’s upper arm. “Come on, Lou, we still got lots of work to do.”

But she resisted him. At least for a moment, and instead regarded him with a particularly dark look, almost as if to say that all this was his fault. That if he had wanted to, he could have made a difference in the way his own people behaved.

Lif had already had this argument with her and was not interested in rehashing it. Especially not here. The notion that he could change the philosophy of an entire people remained absurd to him.

Hopkins' stand didn't last long and her need to follow her own orders and accomplish what she had been asked to do ultimately won out over her sympathies for an unknown group of people. In a last sign of protests, she did free her arm from his hand, whirled around and walked away from him to continue their task.

Lif exchanged a brief glance with Nora but she had nothing further to add and so he too went back to work.



* * *




The security chief watched the team of ten technicians and engineers, including Deen and Culsten as they huddled together to discuss their next steps in putting together the facility before she directed her attention towards Sensabaugh or Sensy as his Niners liked to call him.

The tall, muscular, bald-headed and full-bearded human considered her with calm and appraising eyes.

“Alright, we might not be able to get involved with what’s going on over there but I still want us to show some force and our general displeasure at what is happening.”

“One way of doing that,” said Petty Officer Toycel, or Junior as the large, but relatively young Orion was better known as, “is to walk over there and tell those people to take a hike or else. They are not going to want to mess with us, I guarantee you that.”

But Laas shook her head. “We’re not going to provoke them that blatantly,” she said and looked back at the squad leader. “Get your people to form a perimeter around the facility, facing the east side, make sure they do get a good look at you and your weapons.”

“That ain’t gonna do much,” said Violet, the Boslic woman. “We just stand around here we don’t look all that intimidating.”

“Maybe not you,” said Grunt, the Nausicaan who tended to say very little as far as Nora could tell. Of course, then again the Niners had kept pretty much to themselves and didn’t mingle with the rest of the crew. For all she knew, Grunt didn’t stop talking when he was with his own team.

“I’ll get some more members of my security team to join you,” said Laas.

“Oh, sure, Fleet security. That’ll make all the difference,” said Violet in a particularly dismissive tone.

Sensy cut off any further discussion on the subject. “Alright, folks, cut the chatter and get into position. No provocative actions. Just make sure they feel like they’re being watched.”

His team of three nodded as they set out to take their positions.

Sensy stayed put. “Can I a word, Lieutenant?”

Laas nodded and the two of them walked over to one of the large containers holding various medical supplies and equipment and where they were mostly out of earshot of anybody else. “Is this where you apologize for the behavior of your team?”

He shot her an incredulous look. “I thought you said that you don’t get offended easily.”

“I don’t. I suppose I’m just used to a greater amount of professionalism from the people I work with.”

“I guess it’s my turn trying not to be offended,” said Sensabaugh. “But I can guarantee you that there is nobody out there who does the things we do better. That’s the kind of professionalism we are proud of. But it comes at a prize and I think you knew that when you got us to join your merry crew.”

“Fine. I’m willing to let your people be the way they are. Just make sure you keep them away from the captain. I cannot imagine he would appreciate being talked back to in this manner.”

“I’ll make sure they are on their best behavior should the big man ever show up. In my experience though, the higher you go up that chain, the less likely you ever see them on the ground.”

“You may find that Captain Owens will surprise you on occasions,” she said, quickly coming to the defense of her commanding officer.

He shrugged. “We’ll see. But considering that he has taken Eagleout on a joy ride out of here, that doesn’t seem to be very likely anytime soon though, does it?”

“Maybe not. What is it you wanted to talk to me about?”

Sensy took a moment to take in their surroundings, the half-completed facility, the still ongoing kerfuffle between the local security forces and the Outlanders, as well as the quarry in general which thanks to its depth, shielded them somewhat from the buffeting winds which wiped across the surface of this part of Piqus VII. After a moment his eyes came to rest on her again. "All this. This mission of ours."

She considered him suspiciously. “Don’t tell me you have concerns as well? I wouldn’t think that contemplating our mission profiles is something that falls into your remit.”

“It isn’t. I don’t care what our mission on this planet is. All I’m thinking about is how to do my job. And standing around and playing sentry isn’t exactly what we do. Violet was right to be annoyed. We’re not security guards, Lieutenant. If that’s what you needed us for, you would have been better suited sticking with the Marines instead. In fact, your own security people are better suited for that task.”

"I don't know what you expected, Senior Chief," she said, referring to his rank even though it had not eluded her that his own team barely ever used ranks when they talked to each other. "But starship duties are varied. Perhaps more so than you're used to. You might be required to do some mundane tasks from time to time. But since we have you, I'd rather make you stand around and look threatening while we don't need you, so that we have you ready to go when we do. Just don't let the downtime lull you into a false sense of complacency."

The squad leader looked at her as if she had just sucker punched him. “Thankfully, I have a skin just as thick as yours, Lieutenant. Otherwise I would have taken the implication of complacency as a personal insult.”

She smirked at that. “I can dish too, Sensy.”

“I can see that,” he said and then stepped away. He changed his mind, stopped and turned to look at her again. “I understand that things are different serving on a starship. I accept that. But we are a special missions team for a reason, Lieutenant. I would kindly ask that you keep that in mind. If it turns out that our skills and expertise are not truly what you require, I don’t believe that this arrangement will be fruitful. For either one of us.”

Lass watched him rejoin his people around the facility and couldn’t help wonder if she hadn’t made a mistake in bringing him and his team on Eagle.


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