by Travis Anderson
Wren and Vallis went to the closest of their two targets. What they found was two warehouses occupying the same general city block. From what they’d observed so far, a single warehouse generally dominated a block.
Wren looked bemused. “So, left or right?”
“Let’s start with left and move to right,” Vallis suggested.
Wren pursed her lips. “How human.”
“Excuse me?” Vallis yelped.
“Humans. You’re so devoted to Federation standard script and reading from left to right it colors your perceptions,” Wren observed.
“Then let’s start with the one on the right,” Vallis offered.
“And change our plans?” Wren teased, “Heavens forefend.”
Vallis thought she was starting to appreciate the Andorian’s sense of humor. She certainly had to thank Wren for her sense of propriety. If not for Wren, she would never have exchanged fluids with Tom, and what a world of discovery that had been!
Wren got them into the first storage facility. There were stacks and stacks of cargo pods but they scanned as being empty. Then in a corner of the warehouse, they came upon several rows of neatly stacked pods separated from the rest. Wren used her tricorder and the readings were blank.
“These are shielded carriers,” she announced.
Before the Andorian could stop her, Vallis approached the nearest pods. A couple lay slightly apart from their double stacked brethren. She activated the release and the hatch opened. Her mouth dropped open.
“Oh my!” she breathed.
Wren was obligated to take a look. Inside the pod were racks of small arms and power packs. There were enough rifles to equip half of her security force in this pod alone. She turned to the pod next to it. It had a completely different configuration. In fact, it looked like a photon torpedo rack.
Wren opened the pod and her worst suspicions were confirmed. Four Mark VII photons were suspended in cargo harnesses. The Mark VII had been the vogue weapon of choice for Starfleet back in the late twenty-third century, but they were still highly potent even by today’s standards, and they were highly illegal for use by anyone outside of Starfleet or planetary militias.
“Well, while this is certainly a surprise, it isn’t what we’re looking for,” Wren said ruefully.
“But who are they meant for?” Vallis asked.
Wren plucked up a PADD and began perusing its contents. It listed dozens of cargo pods all similarly stocked. But there was no buyer listed. Hell, there wasn’t even a supplier.
“I don’t know,” Wren admitted. “Mark this location on the PADD and let’s check out the neighboring warehouse.”
A clattering noise had them both whirling about and drawing their weapons. The problem with a Type I phaser was that while it was concealable, its diminutive power pack couldn’t support a sustained firefight.
They heard voices and Wren began backing Vallis out towards the closest exit. They slipped behind some pods to get to the door and they heard voices raised as the latecomers discovered the opened pods. The Starfleet officers slipped out and briskly headed for the neighboring warehouse.
Wren jimmied the door and they entered the second facility. Vallis stopped Wren.
“Shouldn’t we do something about those rifles and torpedoes?” she asked.
“We will,” Wren assured her. “As soon as the Gandhi returns and I have some support, I’ll tear this colony apart looking for the sellers and the buyers. In the meantime though, we have the isolytics to worry about. The Cardassians cannot be allowed to acquire them.” And then Wren shrugged, “Besides, how do we know the buyer isn’t legit?”
“If you were legitimate, would you be shopping here?” Vallis argued.
Wren winced. “Okay, so that theory is a little weak.”
Vallis looked around. “This place is empty.”
Wren shared a wry grin, “I had noticed that. I’m just giving our neighbors time to cool off.”
“Where did the isolytic weapons come from?” Vallis suddenly asked.
“What do you mean?” Wren wondered.
“Who built them?” Vallis clarified, “If it is the Orion Syndicate, I’ve never heard of them running isolytics before. Do you think they’re a domestic product?”
Wren shared what Borien’s investigation had yielded. “If they are, they altered the warp signature enough to mask their trademark subspace signature.”
“So it isn’t the Orions,” Vallis guessed.
“No, that just might mean they didn’t build them,” Wren corrected her, “although that still doesn’t narrow down who the manufacturer could be.”
“I’m just surprised that Commander Borien wasn’t able to get those answers from our captured bombs,” Vallis admitted.
“You mean the same bombs we’re currently missing?” Wren asked dryly.
“Um…yeah,” Vallis conceded.
“Don’t worry. Whether Commander Halifax and Riker find them first or we do, we will find them,” Wren assured her.
“This isn’t the place, Commander,” Riker reported as he closed down his tricorder. “There aren’t any isolytics in this housing quad. The mere fact that I can scan the interior is pretty indicative that it isn’t the site.”
“Scan it again,” Halifax ordered anyway.
Riker gave her an askance glance but he didn’t protest. He just activated his tricorder and walked around the city block dominating housing unit. As he disappeared around the corner, Halifax cursed the cold.
Freshly fallen snow covered the streets and sidewalks. A cold wind had kicked up since dawn and frankly, Halifax was chilly. Of course, she mused, if I were walking around the building a few times I probably wouldn’t be half as cold.
This was Riker’s fourth circuit around the quad. Each time, he had produced the same results. She’d accepted them after the second go around but now she was merely teaching the bastard a lesson. He needed to learn respect, and if she was going to have to smack him around until he learned some, then so be it. Hell, if she had to physically beat it into him, she would.
Halifax shook herself. Where had that come from? She knew she hadn’t felt this strongly before Riker and Vallis’ tryst last night. Was she so shaken up over Boerhoven that she was just having a knee-jerk reaction to any of her subordinates engaging in intimate relations?
No! She defiantly declared to herself. She wasn’t overreacting. Riker was a potential disciplinary problem and she was going to quash said problem even before it arose.
She saw him returning and he wore the same resigned expression that he had since completing his secondcircuit. This time, like every other, he thrust the tricorder out towards her, “Care to oversee the results, ma’am?”
“I trust your ability, Lt. Riker,” she said haughtily.
His eyes called her out with a well placed, Bullshit! Aloud, he reported the same thing he had three times before. Halifax was tempted to send him forth again just for the look in his eyes. Yet, he wasn’t being disrespectful. His analysis was actually right on target. Should she punish him merely for being right about her? Yes! A distant corner of her mind railed.
“Let’s move on to the second site,” Halifax ordered.
She could feel the relief eking off of Riker but his face was an impassive mask. Halifax was pleased despite herself. Perhaps he could be broken and taught after all. She had her doubts though. He had eight years of isolation to contend with. Years of utter self reliance where the chain of command did not exist. Riker’s chief problem was self-sufficiency.
Add to that the complex he had over being duplicated. He just couldn’t accept that he was the duplicate. Commander Riker deserved the life he’d earned while Lt. Riker shouldn’t even exist, so he should simply be grateful to be alive and accept whatever scraps Starfleet doled out.
Halifax suddenly stopped mid-stride at that thought. She wondered where it had come from. Riker had overshot her and was coming back. He looked concerned.
“Problems?” he inquired.
His obvious concern over her well being made her cheeks burn. Fortunately, the wind and the cold covered that fact up. She shook her head.
“Nothing,” she asserted. She could see he didn’t quite believe her, so she decided to flex her authoritative muscles. “Let’s get moving.”
Riker complied and they went further down the street. Turning at a cross street, they proceeded down several blocks of residential units. They finally came to a large, gated-off manor house. Riker stopped and gave it an appraising look.
Halifax couldn’t quite believe it. “This is it?”
He double-checked his PADD. “Yup, this is it.”
Halifax was having a hard enough time believing such a structure even existed on Hadon II. It bespoke of wealth — A degree of wealth that was utterly lacking throughout the rest of the colony.
The house stood at least three stories tall and had dormered windows on a steepled roof. There were only a few lights shining on the bottom floor. Heavy curtains kept the interior out of sight, yet a halo of light indicated there were occupants.
“Sensor readings?” Halifax found her voice.
“It’s shielded,” Riker said as though that were condemnation enough.
She was strangely hesitant all of a sudden. “There could be a reasonable explanation for that.”
“Commander, the only reason to shield a structure from sensors is to hide what’s inside,” Riker said with obvious eagerness.
“And privacy is a right that is guaranteed in the Federation. Or have you forgotten that?” Halifax snapped.
“No ma’am,” he said forcefully, “but I happen to think the Commander agrees with me. She may just be afraid to authorize an incursion.”
Halifax set her jaw defiantly but he had her. After a moment of quelling her anger, she tried a new tactic: “We’ll pull back to that deli that we ran into two blocks back and spend some time observing the premises. We can note any traffic and capture imagery of anyone that goes in or out.”
“What about Wren and Vallis?” Riker inquired, somewhat mollified by the idea.
“I’ll spare a couple of minutes to get a sitrep and direct them here if they haven’t found a better target,” Halifax informed him.
“Okay, sounds like a good idea,” Riker conceded.
“I’m so happy you approve, Lieutenant,” Halifax dryly replied.
They got coffee and sandwiches from the proprietor of the deli and sat outside. Personally, Halifax thought that any customers that typically enjoyed the outside seating had to be crazy. If her duty didn’t compel her to, she certainly wouldn’t. Then again, I could just leave Riker out here by himself, she mused. Dismissing the idea, she contacted Wren.
Wren reported that the two assigned warehouses were clean. There was a third, though, that might have illegal cargo. Halifax asked for details.
“We’re being tracked, remember?” Wren said. “Give us your coordinates and we’ll join you.”
Halifax relayed the coordinates and she and Riker refilled their coffees while Wren and Vallis trudged across town. They eventually arrived, chagrined to be excluded out of a meal.
Halifax ordered them to grab some coffee and sandwiches. The ladies gratefully obeyed. Later, after they wolfed down the food and refilled their cups, Wren asked if Halifax and Riker had spotted anyone.
“No,” Halifax admitted. “Whoever is in there is content to stay holed up.”
“I don’t blame them,” Vallis shivered.
Wren suddenly grinned as she went for another bagel sandwich and coffee. “Who would have ever thought we’d run across a kosher deli on a planet like this?”
When she returned with a full plate and an even fuller cup, she wondered, “You can’t scan the building?”
“They have complete sensor shrouds in place,” Riker explained.
“But they don’t have any active sensor sweeps in place either?” she asked between mouthfuls.
“You’re on to something,” Halifax realized.
“They’re using something other than standard sensors to ensure their security. Whatever it is, we may be able to spoof and get to the door before they realize we’re there,” Wren thought aloud. “Get me to the location and I’ll be able to spot what they’re using.”
They eventually moved out and brought Wren and Vallis to the entrance of the manor house. Wren immediately spotted the infrared eyes and motion sensors. She chuckled.
“This is so twentieth century it isn’t even funny,” she opined.
“What about visual monitors?” Halifax asked.
Wren looked around and spotted the orbs under the eaves. “Commander, we’re blown.”
“Then prepare to breach,” Halifax ordered.
“Ma’am?” Ensign Orwatt at Ops spoke, “Sensors mark a Cardassian Galor-class cruiser entering the Hadon system.”
“Is she running ID?” Moneii was curious as to whether the Cardassian commander had silenced their transponder or was just brazen enough to leave it on.
“It’s up and running,” Orwatt answered. “She’s marked as the Grimpett.”
“Helm, plot an intercept course,” Moneii ordered. She tapped a control on her armrest. “All hands, yellow alert.”
“They’ve detected us…and they’re hailing,” Orwatt reported.
“Maintain intercept but put their transmission on the main viewer.” Moneii was almost startled to see that her potential foe was Gul Ocett. Malyn Ocett was one of a handful of Cardassian women to reach the rank of gul. Rumor had it, when she’d commanded a system cutter, she’d been the one to discover and recognize the potential worth of the lifeform later known as Odo.
“Gul Ocett, this is an honor,” Moneii offered.
Ocett broke into a wry smile. “I see my reputation precedes me.”
“Yes, and so does your propensity to wander about,” Moneii fired the first verbal salvo. “Tell me, what business do you have in Federation space?”
“My crew and I are on a surveying mission and we were suffering some equipment failures. We sought out Hadon II as a source for replacements,” Ocett said smoothly.
“I wasn’t aware that the Central Command undertook such missions. From all reports, you leave that sort of thing to civilians,” Moneii countered.
“Times change,” Ocett replied. “We enjoy a peace now. Idle hands make for mischief.”
“True enough,” Moneii agreed. “I’ll tell you what. We’ll escort back to the border and we’ll supply whatever equipment you need.”
“Cardassian and Federation technologies are incompatible,” Ocett said flatly.
“We’ve learned wonders at Deep Space Nine,” Moneii stated. “It seems we have more in common than was commonly perceived.”
“I rather doubt that,” Ocett said disdainfully.
“Ideas like that led to our last war,” Moneii chastised her. “In fact, your very presence here is provocative. Misunderstandings frequently lead to hostilities. Unless of course, that is actually your intent?”
“What do you mean, Captain?” Ocett was finally openly hostile.
“The border was firmly established by our recent treaty. You’re way out of bounds, unless of course, you’d like to show us your navigation logs and demonstrate how you got lost,” Moneii offered yet another alternative.
“We are not lost.” Ocett grated at this slight upon her competence. “We are here for equipment.”
“And I’ve offered to give you some. My engineers will work with your people and tailor it to your needs,” Moneii explained. “But you can throw any intentions that you have for reaching Hadon II out of your mind. We will escort you back to the border, by force, if necessary.”
“And what would happen to your precious peace then?” Ocett scoffed.
Moneii was truly disappointed. “It’s your peace too, Gul Ocett. I’ll give you thirty minutes to decide.”
“To decide what?” Ocett was still stubbornly trying to bluff her way through to Hadon.
“If you haven’t reversed course and started back for the Cardassian border in thirty minutes, I will disable your vessel and board her,” Moneii revealed. Seeing Ocett’s eyes bulge, she elaborated, “You are in foreign territory in violation of the terms of our mutual peace treaty. Now how would you react if I crossed the border?”
Moneii terminated the transmission. Boerhoven turned to her. “Was that the wisest move? Shouldn’t we have forced her to turn back now?”
“If we were to, she’d fight,” Moneii read the situation. “However, if she has time to think about it she’ll have time to wonder about how much of her mission we are fully aware of. She’ll report back to the Central Command and they, in turn, will order her to cut her losses and withdraw.”
“And if they decide to reinforce her instead?” Boerhoven wondered.
“Then we have trouble,” Moneii admitted. “Make no mistake about it, Commander. If Ocett doesn’t reverse course in thirty minutes time, I will engage her.”
“Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that,” he said.
Moneii agreed with him inwardly. Her thoughts drifted towards her away team. They’d received only one transmission in the last twenty hours. Were they still all right? She supposed she’d find out soon enough, one way or another.
Please send feedback and other correspondence regarding this story to Brin_Macen at yahoo dot com.