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Undeterred by Hutchinson’s refusal to assist, Eagle had continued unchallenged toward his orbital facility and well into transporter range.

Tazla Star had grabbed DeMara Deen and Nora Laas and, after a quick wardrobe change to replace their Starfleet uniform jackets with something less likely to raise questions in a place where the Federation apparently did not exist, they had beamed over onto the unshielded station with little difficulties.

Although the facility was small by Starfleet standards, certainly much more compact than Arkaria Base in their universe, it did seem to function as a sort of local hub for space traffic in the system and likely beyond. As Eagle had closed in onto the planet, they had been able to identify seven civilian crafts docked or holding position close to the facility that consisted of not much more than a couple of mid-size repair berth and a tall but skinny spire that housed several businesses and establishments as well as administrative offices. Deep Space Nine, this certainly was not.

Tazla’s first impression upon beaming onto the facility was that it resembled some of the less reputable border outposts she had come across occasionally, usually tugged away outside the auspices of Starfleet and the Federation and often run by criminal, or at least, extralegal enterprises such as the Orion Syndicate.

It wasn’t well-maintained, it was dark and dirty and there were far too many people who had been asked to share too little real estate.

The cramped conditions, at least, played in their favor since nobody seemed to pay too much attention to a tall red-haired Trill, a Bajoran who couldn’t quite disguise her military background or, and most importantly, a Tenarian who carried with her an aura nearly impossible to miss. The latter did turn a few heads but not quite enough to cause a major disturbance as the three of them made their way across the busy main concourse.

Tazla’s spotted a great many Arkarians which was hardly surprising, but there were also a few Andorians, humans, and Tellarites in the mix as well as races from non-Federation worlds such as Klingons and Nausicaans.

Although the main concourse of the small outpost was not shielded, the administrative section that presumably held Hutchinson’s office was protected against direct beaming.

It didn’t take the away team very long to find the doors leading to where they needed to go.

“Arkarian with hat and blue shirt. Looks like the lone guard,” said Nora Laas as they approached the entrance and indicated toward a bored-looking man sitting on a stool next to the doors. “How do you want to play this?”

“We don’t have the time for the usual niceties,” Tazla replied after spotting the guard.

Nora just nodded briefly to acknowledge and continued for the door and the guard.

The Arkarian left the stool when he spotted the trio making a beeline for him. “This is a restricted area. No access.”

Nora gave him a confused looked. “Our apologies. We are new here and it appears we’ve gotten ourselves lost.”

Tazla couldn’t help but grow worried when the man stood to his full and considerable height, easily half a head taller than the security chief.

“Perhaps you could give us some directions,” she said, sounding about as non-threatening as Tazla had ever heard her.

And yet a lifetime spent fighting, in the Bajoran Resistance, in the Starfleet Marines, and as a security officer made it a challenge for her body language to mirror her voice, and the Arkarian wearing an almost comically oversized hat, wasn’t entirely put at ease. Tazla had made the call to only equip the away team with small, type-one phasers that were easy to conceal but didn’t pack much of a punch.

As it turned out, her concerns were unfounded.

Nora acted so quickly, it looked more like a blur, kicking the guard hard against his shin, causing him to double over in pain just enough to give her easy access to his throat, where she landed a powerful and perfectly placed strike with her hand. It was enough to make him pass out.

The Bajoran caught him before he could fall over and gently placed him back onto the stool and leaned him against the bulkhead behind it. She pushed his large hat deeper into his face to make it appear he had merely dozed off.

Tazla gave Nora an appreciative nod once she realized that nobody had noticed her lightning-fast assault on the guard.

“The Niners aren’t the only ones with tricks up their sleeve,” she said with a little mischievous smile, referring to the Special Missions Team Eagle had recently taken aboard and who excelled in these kinds of missions.

“Now to get through this door,” she said, turning toward the heavy, air-lock type portal that functioned as the access port to the administrative section.

“One step ahead of you, Commander,” said DeMara Deen who already had a tricorder in hand and typing away. “It has a standard, stand-alone eight-digit encryption lock without any secondary authentication method. Should be able to crack that any-“

The door hissed open even before she had been able to finish her sentence and Deen offered a large smile instead and pointed at the now open portal. “Age before beauty.”

“I guess I know why I brought the two of you,” she said and quickly slipped inside, followed by the rest of the away team.

The administrative section of Hutchport was hardly large enough to deserve the name. A few, mostly empty ramshackle workrooms, almost no personnel, and certainly no additional opposition to the away team that quickly located the proprietor’s office.

“Who the hell are you? You have no business here?” the short, semi-bald human said the moment he spotted the intruders. “Where’s Arlo?”

“If you are referring to your guard, he’s taking a well-deserved nap,” said Nora Laas and quickly closed the gap between her and the agitated proprietor. “Take a seat, Mister Hutchinson,” she added and pushed him back into his large, well-padded chair, the only piece of furniture in his cramped office that didn’t look depilated.

“I knew I shouldn’t have skimped on security,” he mumbled to himself. “What do you want? If this is some sort of shake-down, you come to the wrong place. I have more debts than liquid assets. Go see Shantok in the Tessen system. She’s practically drowning in capital.”

“I’m sure she’d be delighted to hear of your referrals,” Tazla said after she had made sure to secure the only entrance into his office. “But we are not here to rob you.”

“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” he said as he pointed at the Trill. “I recognize your face. You were on the bridge of that shiny new ship out there. You work with that Owens fellow.”

“That’s right.”

He quickly shook his head. “I told you, people, not to come here. A ship like that is bound to attract the wrong kind of attention. And I don’t need the trouble. Go do your business elsewhere.”

“Thing is, Mister Hutchinson-“

“You can call me Hutch, dear,” he said, interrupting Nora Laas who remained close to the seated human to keep an eye on him.

The Bajoran didn’t appreciate his condescending tone and let him know with an ice-cold gaze. “The thing is, Mister Hutchinson,” she started again. “We are on a mission with severe implications for the safety of the galaxy and on a very tight timetable so, as much as it may pain me to say so, you are our only option.”

“So what? Your captain figured he send over the most attractive members of his crew to try and sweet talk me into helping you? Don’t get me wrong, you are all quite charming,” he said and for a moment seemed to be particularly fascinated by Deen who had remained in the background. “But no offense, not charming enough to make me forget what kind of pain may be in store for all of us if you don’t move on in a hurry.”

Nora didn’t seem to care for his insinuation but before she could make her displeasure known, Tazla placed herself between her and Hutchinson.

The truth was that she had not consciously selected her away team based on charm factors--if that had been the case, she would certainly have left Nora behind--but she had not entirely ruled out that she may be required to appeal to this man’s baser instincts. It hadn’t been an accident that she had replaced her uniform jacket with a low-cut top and zipped her red undershirt low enough to reveal hints of cleavage. It was hardly the first time she had used sensuality to fulfill a mission objective. In fact, during the darker days of her work in intelligence, she had rarely shied away from pulling out all the stops.

“Actually, Hutch,” she said with a beaming smile. “That was all my idea.”

Her tactic seemed to work as he appeared momentarily entranced by her attractive features. And why shouldn’t he have been? Tazla wasn’t a braggart by nature, but she did consider herself quite a catch. At least physically speaking. She wasn’t so sure if anyone would be particularly attracted by all her psychological baggage.

She placed herself right next to the seated Hutchinson, leaning against the desk and making sure he got a good view of her from top to bottom, from her long, stretched out legs, her décolleté, all the way to her piercing green eyes and the loose strands of her fiery-red hair hanging into her face.

She was pleased to find that she had captured his full attention. Although it was generally considered to be old-fashioned and perhaps even in poor taste to use sex appeal to win an argument, certainly back home and within the Federation, it was good to know that she could still pull it off, even after years of being out of practice.

She pulled out a datapad she had tugged away in her open jacket and slid it onto the desk next to her. “All we require are a few resources so that we can tend to our repairs. And I’m certain that we can find a way to compensate you for your efforts.”

Hutchinson hung on her lips for a moment longer, before he tore himself away and glanced at the padd on the desk. “I’d really love to help,” he said as he picked up the data slate. “And we do have some of these materials in storage here but the risk of certain powers finding out that I helped you is simply too great.”

When he lowered the padd again his eyes didn’t immediately return to Tazla but stayed glued to another member of the away team. She tried not to take it personally that he seemed more enchanted by DeMara Deen than with her. The Tenarian, after all, didn’t exactly play fair.

“There must be something that we could do for you that could make you consider taking such a risk,” Tazla said, nearly purring the words and starting to feel rather disappointed with herself.

“I don’t see what it is you could offer me,” he said even while keeping his gaze on the young woman across the office.

“Give us a second,” she said and then stepped away from his desk and regrouped with the rest of the away team in the far corner of the room and out of his earshot.

“This is ridiculous,” said Nora, straight away. “He has what we need. Let’s just take it and be done with it. I know that’s not the Starfleet way but we’re talking about the possible destruction of an entire universe. I think our priorities are pretty clear, especially since we’d be saving his life in the process as well. I get that we are supposed to stand for certain moral values but this feels like the time to make some adjustments.”

But Deen shook her head. “I disagree. It is times like these when our moral foundations must be strongest. If we don’t remain true to ourselves in a crisis then we might not have to bother having any foundations at all.”

Tazla rubbed the bridge of her nose with frustration. She didn’t have the time nor the inclination to have an ethics discussion. She found both arguments inherently valid and simplistic at the same time. She considered DeMara. “He’s obliviously taken a shine to you.”

“Show me a man who doesn’t?” Nora said, immediately garnering her a less than pleased look from Deen.

“Perhaps you could use some of your unique gifts to make him, let’s say, more inclined to cooperate with us.”

But Deen didn’t look happy about the prospect. “Don’t get me wrong, Commander, I understand the stakes here perfectly well. And if you order me to try and convince this man to help us, I will. But I’m not comfortable trying to manipulate a person like that. And that in itself may affect the success of my attempt.”

“I’ve seen you do this kind of thing before,” the Bajoran said.

“That doesn’t mean it was easy or a comfortable experience. And not everyone is wired the same way. Just because it worked on one person, it may not work with another.”

“Worth a shot, if you ask me,” Nora countered.

But Star could see the deep-seated reluctance in DeMara’s purple eyes. And what was more, she could empathize, probably more so than Nora Laas who had, first and foremost, relied on her strength and handiness with a weapon to solve problems in her life, rather than using her feminine appeal. Tazla had been down that road and she had hated herself for it each and every time.

“All right, let’s try something else first,” she said and returned to Hutchinson who had been staring at the trio the whole time, either too afraid or too intrigued to attempt to escape or summon help.

Tazla picked up the padd from the desk, entered a number, and threw it back at Hutchinson who caught it clumsily. “What is this?”

“You may have already figured that we’re not from around here. But I get the feeling that money talks in a place like this more than anything else. That’s the total amount of gold-pressed latinum currently in the hold of our ship. All of which could be yours.”

The way his eyes lit up gave proof that the currency was as much in demand in this universe as it was in many non-Federation territories in theirs.

The number was a decent amount and Tazla hadn’t lied or exaggerated. Although the Federation had a money-less economy, since Eagle regularly traveled to areas beyond Federation jurisdiction, she was one of several Starfleet ships that carried well-regulated reserves of gold-pressed latinum and other common currencies, ostensibly for situations like this one. Although, probably not exactly like this one.

“I mean that’s certainly more than enough latinum to cover my expenses,” he said, seeming quite torn about the issue. “But no latinum in the galaxy will protect me from the wrath of the powers that be.”

Nora stepped up to his desk, placing her hands on the top and leaning toward him aggressively. “You’ve had a look at our ship, haven’t you?”

He nodded. “Sure, sure. Indubitably, a mighty fine ship.”

“And you can probably imagine the kind of firepower it has. What it could do to this little rust bucket you call a repair facility.”

“Are you … are you threatening me?” he said in a tone that shifted back and forth between concern and outrage.

“I’m saying that if we were anyone else, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. I’d just appreciate some acknowledgment that we are trying to go out of our way here to accommodate what is a simple trade of goods and services all of which are well within your ability to provide.”

“I most certainly acknowledge your understanding,” he said quickly and then looked back at Tazla. “I really do. But I’m in a difficult position here.”

“You want to help us but you’re afraid of the repercussions if the local powers learn that you have aided us,” Deen said as she stepped up next to the security chief. Her tone of voice, her entire demeanor was so calm, it was practically soothing and the complete opposite to Nora’s approach.

“That’s exactly right.”

“Then here’s what I suggest. You tell us exactly where we can find what we need. Perhaps there are certain cargo modules on your station you can point us to that just might contain the resources we are after. Then we take what we want without your permission. In other words, we steal them from you and might even damage some of your station in doing so.”

“I don’t think I like that idea very much,” he said.

Deen smiled sweetly at him. “Yes, but you see, what nobody else will know is that a sizeable amount of latinum will have found its way into your possession. Enough to cover the cost of the materials we abscond with as well as any damages done as a result. As far as anyone else is aware, we took what we wanted by force. You had no real chance to defend yourself considering what you were up against.”

It took Hutchinson a moment to fully understand what she had suggested. “Nobody would know?”

“It’d be our dirty little secret,” Tazla said with a mischievous grin.

“And I get the latinum.”

She nodded. “All of it.”

He began to laugh. “I think you have yourself a deal.”

Tazla took her padd back. “We’ll beam the payment directly to your office. I suggest you hide it away in a safe place and do not flaunt your new wealth for the time being,” she said as she headed for the exit, eager to get back to their mission as quickly as possible.

“Since my life might depend on it, I’ll be more than discreet,” he said. “I can give you the location of the cargo bays that contain the materials you require.”

But Deen shook her head. “Don’t trouble yourself,” she said as she raised her tricorder. “I’ve already located everything we need.”

Hutchinson got out of his chair just as the three women were exiting his officer. “And please keep the damage to a minimum.”

Nora rolled her eyes as she shot him a last, fleeting look. “After making us waste an enormous amount of time, I’d be tempted to forcefully reconfigure half of this station. Remember, we’re the heartless pirates here and we’ll need to make this heist believable,” she said with a grin just before she left the dumbstruck Hutch Hutchinson behind.

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