Gursan Trade Station
The alien space station was an exotic mix of clashing architectural styles and aesthetics, having been built by one species and added on to by a succession of others over the centuries. In this way, it bore a definite similarity to Shul’Nazhar, except that it was nowhere near as large nor a fraction as old.
To Cybel, it suggested a growing theme to the LMC. With resources so scarce, it appeared as though nothing of value was disposed of, regardless of age. Added to, refurbished, perhaps repurposed, but never discarded.
Valhalla had followed the pirate ships to this dilapidated trading post, standing off a full light-year while the away team docked at the station in much less conspicuous runabout.
Cybel sat in a booth with Raffaele, Ressessk, and two security specialists, all dressed in civilian garb, trying their best to blend in with the local color. Their seating was the only booth in the dining establishment designed for bipedal body-types, as the humanoid form was a distinct minority among the many species populating the station.
The atmosphere here contained too little oxygen and too much nitrogen and helium to be safe for anyone other than Ressessk and Cybel, so the others wore full facemask rebreather units that prevented them from asphyxiating within minutes. Trace amounts of chlorine in the air necessitated that the human’s eyes be covered as well, and even Ressessk wore protective goggles in deference to the airborne corrosive.
Raffaele had affixed a special straw attachment to his mask in order to sample some of the supposedly humanoid-compatible drinks available from the restaurant. It had been a simple thing to replicate the gold and platinum coinage so sought after by the locals, essentially making their away team rich beyond the dreams of avarice.
“You weren’t kidding about our standing out,” Cybel remarked to Ressessk. “I doubt it’s going to take the Romulans long to spot us, given that just about everyone else here is getting around on something other than two legs.”
Various beings, striking by Milky Way standards, went about their business scuttling on multiple insectoid legs, or undulating with muscular contortions, some were gaseous entities enclosed in floating spheres.
Raffaele sipped gingerly from a bulb of orange liquid; his eyes practically bulged at his first taste of the alien beverage.
Cybel grinned. “That bad?”
“No, actually,” he smiled through his transparent mask. “It’s quite unexpectedly good.”
“Ssso, what isss the plan?” Ressessk inquired pointedly.
“I think we should pair up and spread out,” Raffaele offered. “Cover more ground that way.”
“Makesss usss vulnerable,” advised Ressessk. “There isss sssafety in numbersss. Remember, thessse are Romulan centurionsss, with extensssive combat training and sssignificant physssical ssstrength.”
One of the security officers, Ensign Wescott said, “I know we’re late to the party, Commander, but can I ask why we didn’t just beam the Romulans off the station?”
Cybel reminded herself to give a more thorough briefing for the away team next time, as she sometimes lost track of what she knew as opposed to what others did, especially junior personnel not privy to their senior staff meetings. “Yes, I apologize for the omission, Ensign. Both the Romulans are wearing transport-scrambler modules that prevent us from doing just that.”
Ressessk made the Selay variant of a frown, which looked to human eyes like a decidedly toothy grin. “I ssstill don’t underssstand that. We’ve ssseen no indication of transssporter technology in the LMC asss yet.”
“Perhaps we’re not the only people with transporters hunting Romulans, eh?” Raffaele remarked.
“Perhaps,” allowed Cybel, who suddenly sat up a little straighter as she gave something or someone a hard look from across the concourse.
Raffaele fought the urge to turn around. “Our Romulans?”
“No… something… else. Maybe.” Cybel offered distractedly. “Rafe, you’re in charge until I get back.” With that she slid out of the booth with surprising speed and vanished into the crowd in seconds.
“Hey, wait…” Raffaele called after her, but she was gone before he could finish his objection. He turned to see the eyes of the others fixed expectantly on him. “Hello there. My name is Adalgiso, and I’ll be standing in as your away team leader today,” he offered dryly.
Ressessk propped her elbows on the table and rested her head in her hands in a ridiculously coy human gesture that just looked wrong coming from her. “Plan?” she repeated, batting her reptilian eyelids dramatically behind her protective goggles.
“Pairs,” Raffaele decided, “and are you trying to seduce me? Because… no. I have a strict endotherms only policy.”
“Ssspeciesssissst,” Ressessk hissed with mock injury.
The security officers tried unsuccessfully to stifle their laughter in their microphone equipped facemasks.
Raffaele sighed, and threw a handful of coins on the table that would cover the cost of his drink nearly a hundred times over. “Let the word spread forth, big tipping is the Milky Way.”
The others groaned.
“Let’s do this,” Raffaele ordered as they rose from the table in unison.
* * *
Cybel knew a fellow android when she saw one. It was all in the walk.
The fact that this model was in the guise of one of the few humanoid LMC species made no difference. Tricorder scans came back showing a biological entity, but they were clearly a sensor diversion. The same bipedal movement algorithms written by Noonien Soong fifty years earlier that served as the basis for her locomotion subroutines also underpinned this android’s. The implications of this were not lost on her.
She paced the other android for a time, consciously modifying her own movement program so as not to identify herself as such in return. After a few minutes, it became obvious that the android’s attention was focused on another individual, a robe-clad humanoid that if Cybel's internal sensors were accurate appeared to be a human female.
Thus tailing a tail, Cybel continued to observe as the android watched the human’s movement with intense scrutiny. They made their way to the upper level of the commercial concourse, wending their way through a variety of shops and kiosks. The human paused to examine a piece of pottery, still granted anonymity by virtue of her hooded robe and the breather-mask she wore.
Suddenly, the woman pivoted sharply and threw the crockery with one hand and something small and metallic with the other towards her android shadow. The android easily swatted aside the jar which splintered with the impact at the same moment that the android was engulfed in streamers of electrical energy which surged across and around its body.
An EMP device, Cybel realized. Whoever this human was, she must have realized that she was being pursued by a synthetic life-form.
The android seized up and slowly toppled over like a piece of upset statuary as the woman darted into the crowd.
Cybel shifted into machine-time as she considered who to pursue. The android was a curiosity, but not necessarily a priority target. It was a stronger possibility that the human was a member of Europa’s crew, or a survivor of one of the starships lost at the Battle of Shul’Nazhar. Her decision was made in less than a tenth of a second, and Cybel set off after the woman. She vaulted over a display table and then sprung off a nearby bulkhead before swinging above the crowd on an overhead section of pipe as though the concourse was nothing more than an elaborate obstacle course.
Spotting the woman from above, Cybel landed back on the floor and darted through the multitude of shoppers as though they were standing still. She quickly caught up to the woman, who was approaching a stairwell down to the main level.
Cybel grabbed the woman’s upper arm in a vice-like grip and spun her around so quickly that the woman’s hood was torn free from her head by the violence of the moment. The woman produced a pistol and brought it up with admirable speed, only to have Cybel swat it out of her hand contemptuously.
Cybel examined the middle-aged woman through her transparent mask, and could not help but raise an eyebrow in surprise as she announced, “Liana Ramirez, you are under arrest for numerous felony crimes committed against Starfleet and the Federation.”
The woman’s response was to punch Cybel as hard as she could in the jaw with a practiced right-cross, only to gasp as she broke her hand in the process.
A noisy scuffle on the lower concourse drew Cybel’s attention for a brief moment, and she spotted two members of her away team in jeopardy. Cybel reached out to deliver a neck-pinch that rendered Ramirez unconscious. Lowering the woman to the floor, Cybel affixed a transport-tag to her and tapped her combadge under her jacket. “Cybel to Namsen, I’ve tagged one for beam-out. Put her in stasis the moment she materializes. This one’s highly dangerous.”
“Aye, sir,” the pilot of the nearby runabout replied over comms.
Ramirez vanished in a swirl of transporter energy, startling the crowd of onlookers, as Cybel turned her attention to other matters.
* * *
It wasn’t lost on Raffaele that the Romulan he and Ressessk were tailing was not using any kind of visible breathing apparatus or filtration system, suggesting that he may have been subjected to genetic modification in order to more easily survive the station’s environment.
Raffaele slipped through the crowd, trying to remain unobserved among the striking beings that filled the concourse. Something that appeared much like an orange stalk of asparagus atop a terran octopus loped past on its dexterous appendages momentarily distracting him and causing Raffaele to bump into a giant, fur-covered sentient quadruped. The large creature turned watery, bovine eyes on him before emitting a string of clicks, grunts, and wheezes that Rafe’s universal translator didn’t even attempt to decipher.
He apologized distractedly, trying to reacquire his target in the surging throng. The Romulan he was following was tall, muscular, and had the sides of his head shaved close. Given the rarity of bipeds on the concourse, he should have proved easier to spot, but Raffaele had lost him in his moment of inattention.
“Damn, I lost him,” he whispered into his hidden communicator, alerting Ressessk who followed some twenty meters behind.
He ducked into an alcove and pulled his tricorder from a pocket, staring intently at the display through his mask. That’s odd, he thought, from these readings, I should be right on top of hi—
A strong hand slapped the tricorder out of Raffaele’s grasp and he looked up into the face of the Romulan he’d been following. The man’s expression was one of anger accompanied by more than a little fear as he tore the breather mask from Raffaele’s face and drove his other hand fist-first into Raffaele’s sternum.
Raffaele gasped and sank to the floor, choking and clawing at his throat. The Romulan turned to run, only to come face-to-face with Ressessk. The Romulan hesitated, unfamiliar with her species and clearly not wanting to pick an unnecessary fight if it was avoidable.
It wasn’t. The Selay brought her powerful arms down onto the Romulan’s shoulders with sufficient force to drive the man to his knees.
Ressessk bent over to reattach Raffaele’s mask as a disruptor bolt screamed through the space she’d occupied only seconds before to blast the wall plating over her and Raffaele’s heads. She fell on top of Raffaele, shielding him with her body as she sought her phaser in the folds of her robe.
The second Romulan took more careful aim with his next shot.
“Drop it!” a voice behind the Romulan bellowed. Ensign Wescott had the man dead to rights.
The Romulan side stepped, turned and dropped to a crouch in a fluid motion that left Wescott's aim trailing a half-second behind. Wescott's hurried stun discharge missed the Romulan cleanly. The Romulan’s reply struck home, sending a disruptor pulse into Wescott that vaporized the young man with a screech.
The other security officer fumbled his phaser as he struggled to push through the surrounding crowd that had gathered to watch the melee.
The Romulan stood and turned around, reacquiring Ressessk and Raffaele in his sights.
From behind him, Cybel tapped her index finger lightly on the back of the Romulan’s neck, discharging a neuroleptic shock. She caught the larger man as he crumpled and gently eased him to the floor.
The first Romulan recovered sufficiently from Ressessk’s blow to draw a knife from a leg scabbard and moved to stab the reptilian officer. Her phaser caught in her robe, refusing her repeated attempts to yank it free, and in her desperation Ressessk unleashed a spray of paralytic venom from glands in her mouth that left the soldier clawing at his face and howling.
“Well,” Cybel announced sourly over the man’s screams as she surveyed the carnage of their brief struggle, “I think we can call this a complete mess.”
With Ressessk’s assistance, Raffaele sat up and was reseating his mask and taking deep breaths while rubbing his aching chest. “Here come the local authorities,“ he warned as a group of six-legged armored arachnoids bearing heavy weapons surrounded them.
Cybel looked remarkably untroubled as she extended one arm slowly, holding a satchel heavy with coinage in her hand. “We can pay, both for the trouble, and these two men,” she advised the bulky enforcers.
They proved surprisingly amenable to the bribe.
* * *