Their plan to approach the station undetected had unfolded without a hitch as So’Dan Leva had initiated a computer-assisted in-system warp jump from the Kuiper belt directly into the upper thermosphere of the gas giant while their destination, their broken moon, awaited on the opposite side of the planet.
Next, taking the shuttle as low as the shields of the Agincourt would allow in the hostile atmosphere of the gas giant, he piloted it all the way around the planet until he carried out a pre-planned, high-impulse approach toward the near side of the moon where he landed the shuttle on the airless and rocky surface.
“No sign that we have been detected,” said Deen who sat in the co-pilot seat. “I’ve located the station and I’m carrying out passive scans now.”
“Can you detect the captain or the rest of the away team?” he asked.
She shook her head after just a few moments. “Passive scans won’t be powerful enough to distinguish individual biosignatures. But I have located a section of the station with little traffic. That’s probably our best beam-in point.”
“We’re ready when you are.”
So’Dan swiveled around in his chair to face the rest of the away team. He was greeted by four unfamiliar faces.
The two men and two women were noticeably Krellonian as was evident by the smooth and earless sides of their heads.
“Who are you and what have you done with the away team?” said DeMara Deen who had turned her chair as well.
The woman on the right smirked as she reached for her neck, causing her entire head to shimmer for a moment before it was replaced by the more familiar short-haired, strawberry-blonde Bajoran and chief security officer.
The other three followed suit to reveal their true identities as well. The tall, broad-shouldered, red-bearded Niner team leader Sensabaugh, the equally burly, dark-skinned human operative who went by the call sign One-Shot and the brunette, diminutive human Ensign Leila Adams. Leva had chosen the nurse in case they came across the captain and he or his team required immediate medical assistance. He hadn’t been comfortable taking the octogenarian doctor Katanga along, not necessarily because of his age but rather due to his infamous temperament, and although his chief nurse didn’t have much away team experience, she had scored high on the relevant aptitude tests.
“You do of course realize, that in this reality, the Krellonians don’t appear to be the dominant race in the Star Alliance,” said Leva.
“We already had these templates so they’ll have to do on short notice. Besides, our intelligence does show a large concentration of Krellonians on the station. It should allow us to blend in better than boarding as ourselves,” said Nora.
So’Dan nodded, acceding to the point, and got out of his chair.
Deen in the meantime was strapping on a backpack.
“We’re trying to retrieve the captain, Dee,” he said. “This isn’t a hiking trip.”
“I believe in being prepared,” she said as she affixed a thumbnail-sized metallic disc to her neck that Nora had passed her. Not a moment later her entire appearance changed. Her long blonde hair was replaced by a short dark buzz cut, her ears vanished from the side of her head and her purple eyes turned to a hazel color. Her face was practically unrecognizable as all traces of her Tenarian nature were gone along with her attractive looks and, Leva had to admit, her oftentimes distracting pulchritude that, as far as he was concerned, could be as much of a liability as it was an advantage. He had half a mind to suggest she kept the holo-mask for future missions but then decided that it wasn’t his place to make such a recommendation.
He applied his own disguise that did little to hide his tall and muscular stature but removed any traces of his Romulan heritage, mostly his tapering ears, and gave him a haircut he felt was so repulsive that he avoided looking at his reflection more than once.
A few minutes later the six-man strong away team materialized inside the moon base, on one of the lower decks Deen had identified and that was primarily used for storage and ore processing.
The narrow corridor they found themselves in was empty, allowing Deen to refer to her tricorder. After a moment she shook her head. “No wonder we couldn’t get any detailed scans earlier. The main material they are mining here is kelbonite. It’s well known to interfere with sensors.”
“Naturally,” Leva said, trying his best to mask his frustration. “So how do you suggest we find the captain?”
“I suppose we do this the old-fashioned way,” said Nora. It took So’Dan a moment to realize it had been the Bajoran since her disguise gave no clue to her true appearance. “We search this place section by section. I suggest we separate into three groups that way we can cover more ground.”
“I agree,” said Deen. “We best avoid the upper two decks. Although I can’t get clear scans, I can see that there is significant activity up here and I cannot imagine our people would try to hide in a crowd.”
So’Dan nodded and the team broke up with clear instructions to stay in contact. He and Deen stayed on the current deck to search it, while Nora and Adams took the deck below and the two SMT operators started on the deck below that one.
So’Dan found the station to be dirty and poorly maintained. Even basic functions like lighting and gravity plating were not routinely functioning, something that became quite apparent when, after they turned into another corridor and his head nearly collided with a floating hyperspanner somebody had haphazardly discarded.
Deen pulled him back just before he stepped into the low gravity area and as he began to feel weightless.
He shot her a thankful look while silently cursing his own inattentiveness and, not for the first time, wondering if the many years spent as a bridge officer, stationed day after day behind the tactical board, had not dulled his senses.
In his younger days, as a security officer, he would never have missed such an obvious hazard, he was certain. But then again, he mused, perhaps his future had other things in store for him. He had flirted with command when he had briefly been made first officer on what had turned out to be a disastrous tenure on another ship a few months earlier. And although the command structure on that ship had been toxic at best, there had been elements of being an executive officer he had enjoyed, and perhaps, one day, he would try his hands at it again, hopefully with much better results.
Deen nodded toward a small group of Krellonians huddling in a corner. Three men who looked tired and hungry and who were likely on a break from working the ore processing units.
So’Dan cautiously headed toward them. “Greetings,” he said.
The men looked up only briefly, just long enough to give them both quick nods, before they turned back to the meager provisions they had with them.
“I was hoping you could help us find somebody.”
“Not much to find on Amargosa Station,” said the first man.
“Unless you’re looking for ore,” said the second to which the other two chuckled quietly.
“Or a good beating.” This from the third, eliciting more chortling from the others.
Deen took a step forward. “We’re looking for some friends of ours who visited the station. We’d be very thankful for any help you could give us.”
So’Dan recognized the tone in her voice. It was the same she often employed when her natural Tenarian charm kicked in. It had a tendency to make people pay attention, and sometimes even go out of their way to be of assistance.
All three men looked up at Deen as if mesmerized by the tone of her voice.
But So’Dan could quickly tell that it didn’t last.
“If they came here to visit, you better hope it was a very short one,” said the first man and then turned back to the others.
Deen gave Leva a look and shrugged, clearly not certain what else to try.
“Nora to Leva. Commander, we may have found something.”
The voice coming from So’Dan’s hidden communicator startled the three men briefly and he decided to step away to take the call. He tapped the concealed badge underneath his tunic. “Go ahead, Lieutenant,” he said once he was certain the Krellonians couldn’t overhear him.
“Level four, section twelve. One of the large cargo holds.”
“What have you found?” he asked.
“Something happened in there. Access has been restricted,” she said.
“Some sort of accident?”
She hesitated a moment. “Not sure why they would need to post heavily armed guards if it was just an accident.”
He understood it was their best lead. “Tell everyone to regroup at your position, we’ll be there shortly. Leva out.”
Reaching the section Nora had referred to hadn’t been all that straightforward. Turbolifts were mainly reserved for ore transportation and numerous armed guards were patrolling level four.
At Deen’s suggestion, they took a narrow, winding staircase all the way down to deck five, crossed half that deck, and then took a similar staircase back up to eventually converge with the rest of the away team.
Nora pointed at the heavy doors further down a dark hallway. Two Outlander guards with rifles were posted in front of it. “Haven’t seen anyone go in or out in the last twenty minutes.”
Deen was referring to her tricorder. “There is some activity inside.”
“The captain?” So’Dan asked.
“Still can’t distinguish individual bio-signatures with all this kelbonite interference,” she said apologetically.
“Guess we’ll have to go and see,” he said.
Nora and two SMT operators got the message.
So’Dan watched on as they quickly and easily neutralized the guards, both the humanoid as well as the much fiercer-looking lupine. It all happened so quickly, he would have missed it had he blinked.
“They sure know what they’re doing, don’t they?” said Ensign Leeta, similarly impressed.
So’Dan and the others quickly made their way to the doors and Deen, using her tricorder, managed to circumvent the lock nearly as quickly as Nora and her team had taken out the guards.
The doors opened, they dragged the unconscious guards inside and then sealed the doors again from the inside.
They were greeted by a massive hold filled nearly to the ceiling with containers stacked on top of each other.
There was an eerie quiet in the air, and all So’Dan could hear was the soft trilling of Deen’s tricorder.
She noticed it too and promptly muted the sound. She gave him hand signals: Six, maybe seven, undetermined bio readings, excluding theirs.
So’Dan reached for his hand phaser and indicated for the rest of the team to split up into their groups again with each taking one of the many narrow pathways between the rows of cargo containers.
He absolutely hated their tactical position. Sneaking through an unknown maze of containers that was laid out as if somebody had intended on creating a bizarre labyrinth, in weak light conditions and an unknown number of likely hostile forces lying in wait was all well and good in a cheap holo-novel adventure, but in reality, it was both stressful and highly dangerous.
He was just about to make another right turn when Deen reached for his upper arm, holding him back.
She indicated that there were one or two biosigns in close proximity.
He nodded to acknowledge and then, pressing his back against the container, he approached the junction ahead carefully to allow him to spy around the corner.
True enough, a slender humanoid Outlander was kneeling on the floor, hovering over a body. He had a rifle in hand but had his back to them.
As he could see no other threats nearby, and knowing that a phaser strike was going to create too much noise, he sneaked up on the soldier quietly.
The Outlander seemed to sense something as he began to turn just as So’Dan was close enough to reach him.
So’Dan’s grabbed the man in a headlock and applied pressure.
The soldier was stronger than he had appeared and managed to get onto his feet while reaching for his weapon.
Seeing no other choice, So’Dan took hold of the back of the man’s head and slammed it forward, smashing him face-first into a nearby container.
The amount of blood led him to believe that he had broken the man’s nose, but more importantly, the force of the impact had made him lose consciousness and he crumbled to the floor, next to the other body he had been looking over.
It had not been a silent takedown at all and So’Dan quickly whirled around to see if he had attracted unwanted attention.
He saw a large, reptilian soldier coming around another corner, his rifle already at the ready. So’Dan knew immediately that the Outlander was going to get a shot off before he could get his own phaser up.
The green-hued reptilian stumbled backward as he was struck by a phaser beam that So’Dan realized had come from Deen’s weapon.
The Outlander lost his balance only for a moment, falling against the container behind him, but managed to keep upright and held on to his rifle.
So’Dan wasted no time and opened fire himself, striking him square across the chest.
The twin phaser beams pushed him back again but incredibly, he remained upright, his thick and scaled skin clearly sufficient to protect him even from a double dose of stunning phaser beams.
Both So’Dan and Deen fired again, one beam making contact with his upper shoulder, the other with his lower torso. This time they kept firing for a good three seconds until the large reptile’s back hit the container behind him and then slowly sagged down, unconscious.
“So much for a silent infiltration,” said Deen after all the noise they had caused.
“Couldn’t be helped,” he said and thought he spotted an open area up ahead from where the reptile had emerged from. “Let’s go.”
They found another humanoid hostile on top of a container as they emerged into the open area and although he was turned their way, So’Dan was quicker and more accurate with his phaser and the Outlander fell from his elevated position to crash onto the floor, So’Dan had no doubt he’d feel that landing once he woke up.
The unconscious soldier joined at least eight other bodies all littering the floor, including Krellonians and various Outlander species.
Deen quickly began to look over the bodies. “Most are dead,” she said. “Whatever killed them, it wasn’t long ago.”
So’Dan was more concerned with all the other openings and pathways converging on their position and took his time to scan each in turn.
He thought he heard something just behind him and whirled around with his phaser only to come face-to-face with a burly Krellonian who had him dead to rights.
“Easy, same side,” the Krellonian said.
It took So’Dan a moment to realize that he was looking at the human who went by the nickname One-Shot.
Seconds later the disguised Sensy emerged from another pathway and then Nora along with Leeta.
So’Dan lowered his weapon.
“I had a run-in with a hostile,” Sensy said as he approached the others. “He’s been neutralized.”
“Two,” said Boom casually with a little smirk on his alien lips.
“I took care of two more,” said Nora. “And this isn’t a competition.”
“Good thing, too,” said So’Dan. “Because if it were, we would have won since we eliminated three.”
Nora was already helping Deen inspect the bodies. “Is the captain here?”
Deen shook her head. “Thankfully, no. All these bodies are dead.”
“Anyone else from his away team?” he asked. Although their main mission was to retrieve the captain, he knew Culsten had been with him and was part of their rescue mission, as was the captain’s father. Garla, the Krellonian agent was a secondary objective as far as he was concerned.
“No, these appear to be Outlander guards and Krellonians,” she said.
“I don’t get it,” said Nora as she looked over a Krellonian who had been killed by phaser fire. “The Krellonians are treated little better than slave laborers here. Was this some sort of uprising?”
So’Dan joined her to study the dead woman and could quickly tell that she was dressed differently from the Krellonians they had met on the station. “I don’t think so. They don’t look like laborers at all.”
Nora nodded after she had moved on to another body. “You’re right. I believe these are resistance fighters.”
So’Dan knew well that Nora was well-versed in those matters. After all, she had been a rebel herself in her youth, when fighting the Cardassians who had occupied Bajor. No doubt she saw a little bit of herself in these downed rebels. He could only guess how many dead resistance fighters she had seen in her life. Judging by the hard look in her eyes, far more than she would care to admit.
“So the question is what happened here and is it related to our people,” said Adams after she had joined looking over the bodies, trying to find anyone who could still receive her care.
“We don’t have much time to find out. Once these guys fail to report back in, this place will be swarming with enough soldiers to make our life extremely uncomfortable,” said Sensy who, along with his fellow Niner, had kept his weapon at the ready, scanning the various points of ingress.
Deen had un-slung her backpack. “Time to use one of my new toys then.”
So’Dan watched her curiously as she retrieved a cylindrical object maybe half a meter in height. She tapped a couple of commands and the device quickly grew to over a meter. Three small feet sprung out from the bottom, allowing her to place it in the middle of the open space.
“What is that thing?” Nora asked.
Deen smirked. “Something Xyl and I have been working on. He insists on giving it a long, boring, and complicated designation. I’m calling it an Echolocation Construct Holographic Overlay or ECHO for short.”
The Bajoran responded to that with a tired look.
Deen shrugged. “I’m still workshopping the name,” she said and then worked her tricorder again, causing the device to come to life, instantly shooting out a blue light that swept their immediate surroundings. “It uses sensor data to attempt and reconstruct recent events. It does so by utilizing variations in ambient temperatures like heat signatures and molecular changes in the environment. It only works for a limited time frame but if we’re lucky--“
To So’Dan’s surprise, several holographic bodies appeared all around them, but these were very much alive. It wasn’t exactly what one would expect in a holodeck, the constructs were crude and rendered in blue light, but it was enough to make out certain surface details.
“And I thought we had all the best toys,” said One-Shot, equally impressed.
“This is a representation of the room approximately one hour ago,” said Deen. “According to this, there were seven individuals here at the time.”
Nora approached one of the blue figures in the back. “I can’t be certain but I think this looks like Lif,” she said as she studied the construct closely.
“And this is the captain,” Deen said, regarding another figure.
So’Dan wasn’t nearly as sure, the figure looked like it could have been Owens but then again, it could have been any other human as well. Considering how well Deen knew the captain, he decided to take her word for it. “I’m assuming the other ones include Admiral Owens and Garla.”
She nodded as she regarded the other figures that hadn’t been accounted for yet. “If I had to guess, I’d say this is Doctor Frobisher and this one here is Matthew Owens, Michael’s brother in this universe. They must have all left Arkaria together.”
“Then who is this?” said So’Dan pointing at the seventh figure he was certain was female.
“She looks familiar,” she said. “But I’m not sure.”
“All right, so we know the captain and the rest of his team were here. But we still don’t know where they are now,” said Nora.
“Well, ECHO can do much more than just give us a single snapshot. Give me a second,” she said as she tapped a few commands into her tricorder.
The constructs began to move. Slowly at first until Deen adjusted the speed.
So’Dan watched the figure they had identified as Garla leaving the group which he thought was very suspicious.
A few seconds later, but it could have been minutes in real-time, more figures approached as people emerged from almost all of the narrow walkways.
“This one looks a great deal like Lif too,” said Nora as she looked over one of the new constructs.
Then things happened very quickly and Deen slowed down the playback.
There was weapons fire that was represented by bright blue flashes. People were scrambling for cover and firing back.
So’Dan kept his focus on the captain who appeared unarmed, judging by the fact that he wasn’t returning fire.
“An ambush,” said Nora.
So’Dan had seen it too.
He also spotted the unidentified woman returning fire. Not only that, she seemed to provide cover for the captain.
The ambushers seemed to focus their fire on the newcomers, rather than on the captain’s team and So’Dan quickly realized that they were Outlander soldiers, trying to take down what he believed were the Krellonian rebels.
At least half of the rebels went down in the opening moments of the ambush.
The man who looked like Lif Culsten took down a few attackers but was ultimately shot in the shoulder and then lost his weapon.
With soldiers bearing down on him, it seemed as if he was doomed.
That is until somebody else reappeared out of seemingly nowhere. He assumed that she must have jumped down from some of the higher containers, and from outside the range of the ECHO device.
She moved like a whirlwind, dispatching three attackers with quick strikes and powerful kicks, before retrieving a dropped weapon and coming up firing.
“Garla,” he said.
“Say about that woman what you will,” said Sensy. “But she does know how to handle herself in a fight.”
Of that, there was little doubt. She provided enough of a distraction that it allowed the away team to find weapons the Krellonians had lost when they had been killed and return fire before all of them, including the other Culsten and the remaining rebels, managed to retreat through one of the walkways.
Then everything went very still and So’Dan didn’t miss that the remaining constructs remained almost exactly where their dead but real-life bodies were now positioned.
Deen fast-forwarded again to reveal the shadows of additional Outlanders coming in to investigate the scene up until the point So’Dan and his away team arrived.
“That’s a neat tool,” said Leeta.
“Thanks,” said Deen with a smile and then reset the ECHO to show the scene just before they had arrived.
“Okay, so we know the captain and the away team made it out of here but now what?” said Nora who was obviously a little harder to impress.
So’Dan glanced around the remaining bodies. Something was off.
All the constructs occupied the same space as their real counterparts except for one. He stepped closer to the anomaly to realize that there was a holograph of an Outlander humanoid lying on the floor except that there wasn’t a real body anywhere in sight. “What happened to this guy?”
Nora saw it too. “Maybe he got moved by his friends?”
But So’Dan didn’t remember seeing that in the playback. “Dee, play it again.”
She did and in quick order, the mystery was solved.
The Outlander was shot by Garla and he dropped where he had been hit. Then, at some point, after the away team had made their exit, he crawled away from where he had fallen, very slowly as if injured.
Weapons in hand, So’Dan and Nora followed his path until it disappeared inside a container.
He gave her the signal to open it.
She did and he aimed his phaser inside.
The soldier was sitting up against a row of barrels, bleeding profusely, eyes closed his breath ragged and shallow.
“Ensign,” So’Dan called.
Leeta quickly joined him and upon seeing the injured soldier took a knee next to him without delay and retrieved her medkit. “He’s got internal injuries and has lost a lot of blood.”
“Can you stabilize him?”
“I can try.”
“Do it. He’s our best chance right now to get some answers.”
She did as she was told, using tools from the kit to try and stop the bleeding.
“Commander, I hate to rush,” said Sensy, the Niners squad leader. “But I think we’re about to have company.”
So’Dan nodded and took a knee next to the man opposite Leeta. “Can you wake him up?”
“I wouldn’t recommend this, sir.”
“Do it anyway.”
She sighed. “Doctor Katanga would kill me if he knew I did this to a patient in this condition.”
“I won’t tell if you don’t.”
The ensign nodded gingerly and then applied a hypospray to his neck.
A moment later his eyes fluttered open.
“Solider, can you hear me?” Leva said, purposefully making his voice sound more authoritative than usual, hoping to be able to trick him to believe he was being addressed by one of his own people.
The Outlander mumbled something quietly.
Not good enough for So’Dan. He grabbed the man by his shoulders, ignoring Leeta’s frown, and shook him. “Soldier, you are safe now. But it is imperative you tell us about the rebels. Can you tell us where they went?”
“I … pain.”
So’Dan glanced up at the ensign and she gave him another anesthetic.
“Solider, do you remember anything? Any clue as to where they went. Perhaps something you’ve overheard. You’ll be rewarded greatly if you did.”
“Lead Belly,” he mumbled. “Said something about a ship. Lead Belly.”
So’Dan nodded. “Well done, soldier,” he said and patted him lightly on the shoulder before glancing back at the nurse who took this opportunity to put him under again.
He stood and regarded Deen. “That might help us.”
“If we get back to the ship, we may be able to use passive sensors to detect ships that have recently left the station,” she said.
“I suggest the sooner the better,” Sensy called from outside the container.
Leeta stood as well. “Sir, I request we take him with us. I’m not sure if he’s going to make it if we leave him here. At least on Eagle he’s got a chance. It would be only fair considering what we’ve done to him.”
He had to admit that he was impressed with her commitment to her craft. Something he would have expected from Doctor Wenera or Katanga, perhaps not so much from a young nurse.
“The universe isn’t a fair place, Ensign,” Nora shot back quickly. “He’s only going to slow us down.”
But So’Dan had made up his mind. “We’ll take him. Let’s double-time it.”