by Travis Anderson
As the away team wandered the colony’s snow-laden streets, Wren seemed enchanted. Riker also seemed in his element while Halifax and Vallis were decidedly cold. Wren nudged Riker with her elbow playfully.
“So why aren’t you pretending you’re dying like our two lady friends?” she asked. “I know why I’m not. This is like being back on Andoria but what’s your deal?”
“I grew up in Alaska,” Riker said as if that explained everything.
Wren looked confused. “I’ve never heard of that planet.”
Riker grinned. “It’s not a planet. It’s place on Earth. It’s part of what used to be the United States of America.”
“And it’s like this?” Wren wondered.
“The winters are actually colder than this,” he assured her.
She smiled wistfully. “I wish I could have visited it. We spent all our time on Earth in San Francisco except for survival courses in the Sahara Desert and Antarctica. Antarctica wasn’t bad. The penguins were rather cute. But the Sahara? Worst place imaginable.”
“I’ll have to take you some time,” Riker offered.
“Why Mr. Riker, are you flirting with me?” she teased.
“Maybe,” he teased back.
“You are aware that Andorians come in four sexes, of which I am only one?” she asked.
“But you are female?” Riker asked, wondering if he’d been under the wrong impression.
“Yes, but maybe I’m not the right type of female for you,” she answered enigmatically.
“We’d have to see,” Riker suggested.
“There it is!” Vallis suddenly blurted as she pointed at a hanging sign over a doorway.
“Thank God,” Halifax muttered.
They approached the establishment ad Wren went in first, followed by Riker. Halifax and Vallis followed after a moment’s peace. There hadn’t been any trouble as their teammates entered, so they ventured onward.
It was a roomy establishment contrary to its impression from the outside. There were thirty to forty people in it. They were a varied lot. Races from across the quadrant were represented. They all shared one attribute though: They were happy to be in from the cold.
Wren seemed to be the only put out by the roaring fireplace. She turned to Halifax, “I’ll find us a table.”
While Riker, Vallis, and Halifax milled about, a patron approached Vallis and offered to buy her a drink. Riker intercepted him and shooed him away. Vallis seemed both appreciative and insulted all the same.
“Where would the harm be in it?” she asked.
He gave her a wry look. “He just wanted a fluid transfer.”
Wren overheard this as she approached and she snickered. Halifax looked lost. Lost and miffed that she hadn’t received similar attention yet.
Wren led them to the table she’d scouted. Halifax settled in and asked Vallis what this “fluid transfer” business was about, so Vallis explained her origins and her views on natural reproduction.
“We should all be so enlightened,” Halifax murmured. Seeing Wren’s imploring look, she stipulated, “Yes, you can order drinks but make them synthales. We need to be focused.”
“Don’t worry, Commander. You’re focused enough for all of us,” Wren jibed as she went to the bar. If the Andorian noticed Halifax’s responding glare, she ignored it.
Halifax thought about Vallis’ revelation. It explained her camaraderie with Riker. Since they shared similar origins, she saw him as non-threatening. However, Halifax wasn’t as certain that Riker didn’t have intentions of his own.
Wren returned with a tray bearing four glasses slopping over with synthale. Halifax had to comment, “Lord Almighty, Wren, do you think you got enough in each glass?”
Wren grinned, “Blame the bartender. He likes Andorians.”
“Which sex?” Halifax retorted.
Wren’s smile blossomed. “All of them.”
“Adventurous,” Halifax muttered as she took a sip of her drink.
Wren quietly studied the crowd while the others engaged in conversation. Riker and Vallis tried to draw Halifax out but she was abnormally reserved. Riker couldn’t tell if it was personal or not. Halifax was usually quite warm with her subordinates, but he and Vallis seemed to rub her the wrong way. Him especially. He wondered if she was even aware of that fact.
“Commander,” Wren said softly, “we’re not alone here.”
“Really, Wren?” Halifax lipped off, “I hadn’t noticed the crowd in here.”
“We’re being watched,” Wren said nonchalantly, “and don’t start looking around. A group in the corner has been observing us since we came in.”
“Maybe we’re a sideshow?” Riker asked. He certainly felt on display.
“No, they’re professionals,” Wren opined. “They’re not Starfleet caliber but they are seasoned and they know the basics of tradecraft. It actually took me a couple of minutes to spot them.”
“Who are they?” Halifax inquired a little more sharply than she’d intended, “Are they associated with the loading crew?”
“No.” Wren decided, “they’re a lot more subtle than that. Particularly a women with violet hair.”
“A Boslic?” Riker asked.
Wren took a drink before answering, “I don’t know her species. I’d guess she’s human and altered her hair color.”
“Unusual choice for someone trying to lay low,” Riker commented.
“Or maybe she’s trying to hide in plain sight, like us,” Halifax rebutted.
“No, she’s the expert among them,” Wren commented, “and she knows that we know it too.”
“What do you want to do about it?” Riker pointedly asked Halifax.
“We’re not jumping into an impulsive confrontation, Lieutenant,” Halifax warned, “so don’t even go there.”
“They’re moving,” Wren announced.
Riker watched as the men and women sauntered past and headed for the exit. The woman with the violet hair was even younger than Vallis, but she moved with an air of certainty and purpose that startled Riker. An older woman, closer to his age, shared that effect. She was subtly directing the others. Her eyes locked on his for a moment and something passed between them. He wasn’t certain what it was, but there was a definite unspoken exchange. It was like he was a book and she read him cover to cover in that moment.
“What the hell was that, Lt. Riker?” Halifax hissed.
“Excuse me?” he asked irritably.
“What was that look?” Halifax demanded to know.
“I have no idea,” Riker confessed. He could tell Halifax was less than satisfied with that answer, but it was the best he could come up with.
They settled in to an uncomfortable silence. An hour passed slowly and finally, Muscleman entered into the Grimshaw. He spotted them and headed over to their table.
“Your story checked out,” he said without preamble. “We need you to unlock your cargo bay. Your boys aboard have been…uncooperative.”
“Then I’ll need to give them a raise,” Halifax quipped. “One thing though, my crew needs to oversee the unloading.”
“Why?” Muscleman asked.
“Do you know what we’re hauling?” she sharply inquired.
“What do you think?” he retorted.
“I think you’re as ignorant as you are thick. The cargo is volatile and we know how to disarm it. You want to do that on your own? Fine. Have at it,” Halifax said dismissively.
Muscleman had given in, so they all went to the Precarious’ landing site. The Starfleet team oversaw the offloading onto antigrav pallet hailed about by a vehicle resembling a Work Bee. Halifax made to follow the Bee but Muscleman stopped her.
“No, you’re staying here. We’ve got it now” He thrust a padd her way. “Imprint the transfer authorization and the latinum will be yours.”
“But I…” Halifax ceased her protest when she saw that two of the loading crew were staying behind and now brandished disruptors.
Muscleman followed her line of sight and chuckled, “My boys will leave as soon as we deliver the cargo. You’ll stay here. After all, we wouldn’t want to have to buy it twice.”
Suddenly she understood. Their cover hadn’t been blown. Muscleman, or more likely his employers, had taken her crew for what they seemed: unrepentant opportunists. They weren’t allowed to follow the cargo for fear that they would steal it back and try to sell it again, this time to the highest bidder.
Halifax returned to the ship. The Starfleet personnel headed inside and sealed the cargo ramp. Wren immediately pulled out a tricorder and tracked the signal from the isolytics. Tapping into the local navigation satellite, she overlapped a city map against the movements of the weapons. Suddenly they disappeared.
“What the hell?” Halifax yelped.
“Damn,” Riker frowned, “They must have entered a shielded area.”
“So what do you suggest?” Halifax grated.
“We can follow the trail on foot and see about accessing the storage facility. Once we’ve confirmed or denied the existence of the other weapons, we can exit and signal the Gandhi. When we’re reinforced, we can apprehend the bosses of this little enterprise and get the buyer’s identity out if them,” Riker suggested.
Halifax hated to admit it but she was impressed. It was a good idea. She looked to Wren. The Andorian was grinning ear to ear.
“Sounds good, Commander,” she opined.
“We’ll all go this time,” Halifax decided.
Crewmen Hosters and Westerly looked excited to finally leave the ship. Ten minutes later, they were wishing they were back aboard. Vallis was downright miserable and Halifax was trying to put on a brave front — The invulnerability of the commanding officer and all that. Wren was in her element and Riker felt bad for the others. Besides growing up in Alaska, he had eight years of wretched weather on Nervalla to acclimate him.
They reached the massive warehouse where the trackers had gone offline. Footprints in the snow led a trail to the loading docks. Halifax asked Wren to scout the area out. Seeing her crewmen were convulsively shivering, she asked Riker to help her out.
The rounded the first corner to find nothing but a smooth wall facing them on one side. They rounded it and found four people guarding a door. They backtracked and Wren pointed out a secondary set of tracks that went to the wall and stopped. She pulled out her tricorder.
She smiled slyly, “That’s what I thought. A hidden door.”
“Can you get any scans of the interior?” Riker inquired.
“No, the shielding must be too thick even close up,” she replied.
“You know, I think I can spring the door,” he offered.
Her grin only grew. “I’ll get the others.”
They arrived to find Riker engaged with his tricorder. Halifax studied the footprints that led to a seamless wall. “There’s nothing here.”
“It’s a hologram,” Riker informed her as a tapped a control. The hologram faded, revealing a pressure door. Beside the door was a control panel. Riker studied it for several seconds and then began to utilize his tricorder again.
Accessing the door’s control circuit through a subspace connection, he instructed the door to open. It slid aside with an audible hiss. Halifax began to surge forward but Wren caught her.
“Crewmen Hosters and Westerly, front and center,” Wren ordered. The security men entered in and Halifax followed them. They’d entered only to discover the warehouse was vacant. There wasn’t a single cargo pod to be found.
A particle beam cut through the air and burned a hole in Hosters’ chest. Westerly began backing out, interposing himself between the unseen shooter and Halifax. A second beam cut him down and Halifax barely made it through the door before a third shot zipped through the empty space where she’d been.
Riker sealed the door and encrypted the activation cycle. Potential assailants rounded the nearby corner. They were the same fellows who had guarded the main door. They waved their weapons around and ordered the away team to stand still.
Wren pulled her phaser out of her waistband and volleyed off a couple of shots. Deciding to opt for the better part of valor, the guards disappeared around the corner. Wren looked to Halifax.
“What now?” she asked.
“Now we get out of here and try to regroup,” Halifax ordered.
The team sprinted down the street, turned a corner, came around another and then ducked into an occluded alley. It didn’t take long for a search party to make its way past. One straggler barely jogged by and Wren nabbed him.
Using a choke hold, she kept the human from crying out. When Riker gave the all clear signal, she released the man’s neck. He threw a punch, which she deftly blocked. She locked his wrist and slapped him into an arm bar. The man made high pitched squeal.
“Shut up!” Wren ordered, “Or this will get painful.”
He started yelling for help so she pushed him down and drove her knee into his face. Blood trickled out of his nose and he began gagging. Halifax stepped closer and Wren backed her off with a glare.
“Pardon my saying so, Commander, but you may not want to be present for this,” Wren advised.
“At ease, Lieutenant!” Halifax snapped, “Release that prisoner.”
Wren reluctantly let go and Halifax began her interrogation. “How many are there?”
“Go screw yourself,” the man snapped.
Wren punched him in the face. Halifax shot her warning and the tried again. “You’re antagonizing my security chief. You know how Andorians are. They don’t like to be antagonized. Things that are legal in the treatment of prisoners on their world are highly illegal on others. Should we pretend this is Andoria?”
Wren loomed ever closer. Riker was keeping lookout while Vallis was making herself one with the shadows. The man decided to play up to Halifax for no other reason than to avoid Wren.
“We’ve got men all over the colony. They will find you,” he boasted.
“How many sensors do they have?” Wren cut in sharply.
“What?” The man was confused by the question.
“How many tricorders or other portable sensors do they have?” Halifax said with forced patience.
“None,” he smirked. “They don’t need them. We have people surrounding your ship. If anyone’s aboard and they come looking for you, boom! If you go there, same story.”
“If you don’t have sensors, then how will they try and track us?” Halifax needed to know.
The man was insufferably pleased with himself now. “They got subspace detection gear. You call out to your ship or another one in orbit or further out in the system, and we got you.”
Halifax frowned. Their lives had just gotten harder. She turned to Riker.
“Anyone out there?” she inquired.
“The streets are completely empty. The locals must know enough to stay indoors,” he replied.
“What do we do with this vole,” Wren asked with contempt lacing her every word.
“We tie hum up and leave behind,” Halifax recommended. “They’ll find him eventually.”
Halifax got a worried look on her face, “We can tie him up, can’t we?”
“Sure,” Wren said grimly. “Tom, I need some of those zip ties you’re carrying.”
Riker handed over a handful and returned to his post. Wren ripped off the lower section of her blouse. Halifax was amused.
“Isn’t it a little cold to go mid-riff?” she asked.
Wren ignored her and approached the prisoner. He began to try and swat her away. She punched his increasingly pulpy nose again. He doubled over in pain and she yanked his arms behind him and bound his wrists. Next she kicked his legs out from underneath and bound his ankles as well. She tied off the wrists to the ankles, effectively hog tying him. She finished off by using the scrap from her shirt to gag him.
She stood up and wiped her hands off. “That should do it.”
“You’re a dangerous woman, Shwren ann’Deri,” Halifax realized.
“I just want to live another day,” the Andorian admitted.
“We still clear?” Halifax asked Riker.
“Crystal,” he said.
Halifax retrieved Vallis and they ventured into the streets. It took several hours but they happened upon a boarding house. The proprietor had two rooms available, so Halifax rented them. Now came the hard part: Who would sleep with whom?
“Put Riker with Vallis,” Wren suggested as though she could read her commander’s mind.
“But what if…?” Halifax began to argue.
“It’ll do them both a world of good,” Wren asserted. “Besides, you heard of how she thinks of ‘fluid transfers.’ Where’s the harm?”
Despite her better judgment, she opted to go with Wren’s recommendation. As Halifax delivered the news, Wren stood behind her and winked at Riker. He wasn’t quite sure how to take that gesture.
First they gathered in Halifax and Wren’s shared room. Halifax was pacing. “Just who the hell are these people?”
“I’d guess they’re Orion Syndicate,” Wren ventured.
“What makes you say that?” Riker wondered.
“Their small arms are of Orion manufacture,” Wren explained.
“That doesn’t mean much,” Halifax was loathe to admit. “Orions will sell to anybody. Just like the Ferengi.”
“So what do we do?” Vallis wondered. They were all surprised that she’d spoken. She’d fallen into silence since they left the Grimshaw.
“I say I go pick up meals for everyone in the tavern below,” Riker offered. “Any requests?”
“Whatever they’re serving,” Halifax ordered. Wren looked ready to argue and Halifax stressed, “We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves.”
“Like we haven’t already,” Wren muttered.
Halifax gave her a pained look and then shooed Riker, “Just go. We’ll take whatever you get.”
Riker wandered down the hallway to the stairs and wound his way to the bottom floor. Crossing the threshold he passed by the front desk and entered into the attached tavern. When he stepped up to the bar, a rather bemused bartender eyed him.
“What’ll ya have, honey?” she asked with a slightly suggestive vibe.
“Do you have a menu?” he asked.
She pointed to a chalkboard. “Everything is listed right there. Should I give you a moment?”
“Please,” he smiled.
She returned the smile. “Good. When I get back, we can discuss what’s not on the menu.”
He watched her go down the line to another customer trying to reach across the taps and refill his drink. Riker chuckled as she slapped the man’s hand. His flailing hand groped her breast and he smiled giddily…until her right cross knocked him over.
“Careful, Starfleet,” a feminine voice advised. “The local health codes aren’t up to your usual standards. You might catch something. That meal ticket has been served up to plenty of customers.”
He turned around to find the woman who’d eyed him at Grimshaw’s. “Forget your posse?”
“Oh, they’re around, but I figured it would just be the two of us so we could have a little chat,” she said with a confident smile.
“How do you figure that I’m Starfleet?” he wanted to know.
“It’s pathetically obvious who you and your herd of women really are,” she ventured. “You and the little Swiss Miss read like an open book. The Andorian’s pretty sly but she’s a little too alert. As for your CO, she’s got an unstable warp core rammed up her backside.”
“What is it you want?” he inquired while trying not to agree about Halifax.
Her smile grew appreciative. “Very smart. Most would have asked who I was first.”
“I’m assuming by the way you watched us in the pub, and took off before trouble started, that you’d rather not tell me your name,” Riker surmised.
“As I said, smart.” He could tell she was enjoying herself.
“So that just leaves two options,” Riker stated.
“And they are?” she asked innocently.
“You’re here to help or you’re here to hand me over to the wolves,” he said.
“Well, I’m not much on handing over anyone to wolves so I guess I have to help,” she said.
“So who are your friends?” he repeated.
“Oh, I don’t think you’re ready for that particular answer. Let’s just say that for now I’m on Starfleet’s side,” she suggested.
“Compared to normal?” he wondered.
She grinned. “Like I said, I don’t think you’re ready for the complete truth.”
“Then what truth am I ready for?” he returned the grin.
“You want the buyer for the isolytics. I happen to know who that is. Well, we know,” she amended at the end.
Riker was stunned and it showed. She laughed, “Are you wondering why it’s so obvious or are wondering whether or not you should try and drag me off to your friends upstairs?”
“A little bit of both,” he admitted.
“If you want to know where my friends are, lay one finger on me and you’ll find out,” she advised. “As for why I want to help, I happen to know why the buyer wants them and where they’ll be used.”
“Let’s just imagine for a second that I’m buying into this,” Riker said. “Who’s the buyer?”
“The Cardassian Central Command,” she asserted.
“But why?” Riker was flummoxed. “The Cardassians can just build their own. Why do they need to import them?”
“Because if they build them, the warp signatures will be unmistakably Cardassian. They need plausible deniability. They need to be able to say the detonations were malfunctions from a local player who shopped off world,” she explained.
“And who is the local player?” Riker inquired. She just eyed him and he grimaced, “I’m not ready for that answer. Yeah, I got it.”
“Look, you don’t have much time. The Cardassians are coming,” she reiterated.
“This planet is in Federation territory,” Riker protested.
The woman snorted, “When has that ever stopped the Cardies? Look, they don’t care about borders because everything belongs to them, or at least it should.”
This was spoken with such vehemence that Riker was momentarily taken aback. “Okay, let’s just say I have a starship nearby that can intercept them.”
“The Gandhi,” she inserted the name.
He was becoming seriously unnerved. “Why don’t you just deal with the problem yourself if you’re so high and mighty?”
She looked sad. “Because we’re not. This time around, we’re just well informed. And besides, this is aStarfleet-type problem and we’re definitely not Starfleet.”
“Then how can you help?” he wondered.
She slid a PADD across the tabletop his way. “This outlines everything. Do with it what you will.”
She started to move away and he called after her, “How will I find you to thank you?”
She smiled over her shoulder at him. “I’ll be keeping an eye on you. If the time is right, I’ll collect my thanks. And just so you know, my name’s Kalinda.”
She strolled away and he looked at the PADD, perusing its contents. “Targets in the DMZ?” He looked at where “Kalinda” had been. This game was getting bigger all the time.
Please send feedback and other correspondence regarding this story to Brin_Macen at yahoo dot com.