In order to facilitate the transfer of the runabout Nebuchadrezzar from Eagle to Agamemnon, both ships had exited in-between space to return to the Amargosa Diaspora and the subsequent trip from one shuttle bay to another had taken less than five minutes.
Tazla Star glanced out of the viewport of the runabout’s cockpit once they had set down inside Agamemnon just in time to get a glimpse of Eagle moving away again. The ship deployed a signal buoy which they hoped would allow them to keep in contact, even within in-between space before Eagle slipped back into the rabbit hole and disappeared in a way that still left Tazla somewhat startled.
The shuttlebay door closed shut and she felt the slightest bit of a jolt which indicated that Agamemnon had jumped to warp.
Captain Donners had promised to take them as close to the border of the Krellonian Star Empire as possible which her ship could do much faster than the runabout would have been able to do under its own power.
For the duration of their journey, both Tazla and Donners had agreed that her team would remain secluded on the Nebuchadrezzar to avoid unnecessary interactions between individuals from different universes. Donners, Tazla had found, was much more reasonable in that regard than Edison had been.
It wasn’t a significant imposition since Agamemnon would reach the drop-off point in just a few hours at high warp since apparently the territorial border of the Star Alliance reached far deeper into the Diaspora in this universe than it did in theirs.
Tazla spent her time being ferried to their destination familiarizing herself with the intelligence briefings on the Krellonian Star Alliance Donners had made available to them. It wasn’t much, she had quickly realized and even less information than the little insight their Starfleet Intelligence had gathered about the Krellonians.
“Our best chance to enter Krellonian territory undetected is by passing through the Moebius star cluster which spans across much of the Diaspora. The high level of solar radiation in that region of space should help mask our approach,” Tazla said after studying the scant reports. “We should be able to reach the border in just under three hours after we have reached our drop-off point.”
“Do we have any idea about the location of our target?” said Sensabaugh who occupied the runabout's cockpit alongside Ivory and Culsten.
“Our last long-range scans showed Garla’s heading to be a direct course for the Piqus system,” Tazla said.
The SMT operator shot her a skeptical look. “This woman is an experienced intelligence agent. We need to consider that she may have altered her course or otherwise disguised her true destination.”
“Ordinarily, I would agree,” she said. “But Garla seemed to be unaware, or at least highly skeptical, that we had crossed into a different quantum reality. As far as she is concerned she is back in our universe and if she believes that, there is little reason for her to hide the fact that she is going back to her base of operations since she won’t be excepting us to follow her.”
Sensabaugh nodded slightly, accepting the logic of her argument. “Then all that’s left for us to do is to find a way to enter the sovereign territory of a highly xenophobic race undetected, approach a likely hostile colony world, locate a single individual among a few million people, convince or more likely force her to come with us and then exfiltrate back into Federation space in once piece. And all that, ideally without starting an interstellar incident in this universe.”
Tazla offered him a little grin. “That’s about the gist of it.”
“And here I thought this mission might pose a challenge,” he said and regarded Ivory with a smile of his own. “Sounds like another day at the office.”
The stoic Vulcan responded with nothing more than raising one of her finely arched eyebrows.
“Lif, we’ll need some ideas regarding how we can fool Krellonian border security. If they are anywhere near as overzealous as the ones we’ve met in our universe, using the Moebius cluster to facilitate our crossing may not be enough,” she said, looking towards the helmsman who sat in the pilot’s seat even now while there was nothing much there he could do.
He shook his head ever so slightly. “It’s a fool’s errand, Commander. We’re not going to get far,” he said without making eye contact.
Sensabaugh bestowed Tazla with a concerned expression. And from what she could tell, it wasn’t so much what he had said but rather how he had said it that didn’t seem to sit right with the veteran operator.
She knew exactly how he felt since it bothered her as well. And much more significantly than it bothered him, she wagered. Tazla left her chair. “Lieutenant,” she said sternly enough to force him to swivel his seat around to face her. “I think it’s time we’ve had that private chat you’ve asked for earlier.”
Recognizing the hard look on her face, he nodded, stood and then followed her towards the back of the runabout.
Tazla found a spare module which would allow them some privacy, a tiny crew compartment not much larger than a broom closet, and indicated for him to step inside first before she followed suit.
The door slid shut behind her and the Krellonian turned around to face her, the sullen expression on his features a clear indication that he likely knew what was coming.
“All right, Lieutenant,” she said, wasting no time at all. “You wanted a talk, talk.”
“It seems rather pointless now that we’re already underway, doesn’t it?” he said.
He shot her a quizzical expression.
“Doesn’t it, sir,” she said again.
It took a moment to dawn on him what she had done and he quickly straightened his posture as was befitting an officer speaking to a direct superior. “Yes, sir. Apologies, sir.”
“Here’s the thing, Lif. You should know me well enough by now to know that I’m not a stickler for rules, never really have been. I like to work in a relaxed and informal manner with the crew when we are not faced with an imminent crisis and I think that arrangement had worked fairly well over the years, wouldn’t you say?”
He nodded. “Yes, yes it has.”
She pierced him with another look.
“Sorry. Yes, sir.”
“But you see, the only way this approach works is if everybody involved behaves like a professional Starfleet officer, and shows the appropriate respect to their fellow officers and crew, no matter their rank, and conducts themselves in line with what is expected from somebody who wears the uniform. Do you see what I’m getting at here?”
He nodded slowly.
“You have been selected for a crucial mission which as it stands at present, could very well determine our ability to ever return home again, and quite frankly, you have been behaving like an impetuous child.”
“I … “ he didn’t quite have words to offer.
That suited Tazla just fine for the moment. “I understand that you’ve struggled with reconciling your personal feelings for your people with having to return into Krellonian space. I know that none of it was your idea and that you had hoped never having to return to face your own people and their—well, let’s say complicated societal challenges again. But things don’t always work out the way we hope, especially not in Starfleet.”
“I understand that, Commander, but—” he stopped himself again. “Permission to speak freely, sir.”
“I honestly thought that I had started to overcome my misgivings about this mission. You are right; I wanted absolutely nothing to do with my people again. I was angry at everybody and nobody that I was forced to return there and even more so that you expected me to engage with Garla. But the thing is, Commander, she had a plan to finally make a difference for my people. A solution that would at long last address the terrible sins of our past and allow our society, both Krellonians and Outlanders, to move beyond our atrocious history.”
“Yes, I remember. Total segregation of the races, was it? Not exactly what I would call an ethical or even realistic solution.”
“Maybe, maybe not. But it was better than nothing. And while Garla hadn’t shared the details of that plan, she seemed convinced that it would work for everybody. And then it all went horribly wrong.”
She shook her head. “You don’t know that it has.”
But he was convinced and shook his head. “Of course it has. Garla feels betrayed enough that she wants me dead and whatever deal she has struck with these subspace aliens has clearly not worked out the way she had intended. But that’s not even the worst of it.”
Tazla felt it best to let him speak, now that he had amassed some momentum.
“I came to believe that I could genuinely help Garla help my people. Face the demons—if you allow the poetic turn—and not just those I’ve been dealing with most of my life, but all Krellonians and even more so the Outlanders had to endure. I thought I was part of the solution and instead I’ve ended up killing an Outlander with my bare hands on Piqus and helped kill perhaps dozens more on Garla’s freighter. The blood of all those people are on my hands,” he said and had started to divert his eyes as if he couldn’t stand any longer for her to see his shame. “I think that maybe—in my current mental state—maybe I am just not fit to be on this mission. I may be more of a liability to you and the team than an asset.”
Tazla stepped up closer to him, which didn’t require much considering the confined space of the cabin. She placed a hand on his shoulder. “Lif, I know it’s been tough on you and I can see why you would blame yourself for the things that have gone wrong. I probably know better than anyone about that miserable feeling deep down in your gut when you realize that you’ve been responsible for somebody’s death. And I know that there is nothing you can do to rid yourself of it. It’ll be part of you for the rest of your life.”
He turned to look at her with visible anguish etched into his features.
“Understand, I am not equating what you’ve gone through, what you feel you are responsible for, with my own past. I still believe that you’ve mostly been the victim of unfortunate circumstances. Most of the awful things I’ve done in my life—well, I don’t blame anyone else but myself for them. And for a very long time I kept relieving the worst of those moments in my mind and punishing myself to the degree that I was pretty much useless doing anything else. What I came to realize is that I had a choice. I could spend the rest of my life beating myself up over my mistakes, or I could try to start atoning for them. What choice are you going to make, Lif?”
He nodded slowly.
She gave him an encouraging squeeze. “We’ll need your help with this mission, or things will get a lot worse for everyone. So I ask you, do you believe we can count on you? If you tell me, no, if you a certain that you’ll be more hindrance than help, tell me now, and you can stay behind on the Agamemnon.”
He didn’t need to think it over. “I’ll do whatever I can to help, sir,” he said, sounding a great deal more determined than he had a few minutes earlier.
“Good, we’ve got a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to get it done,” she said and offered him one last heartening look before she headed for the door with him following closely behind.