by Travis Anderson
“Well, Lieutenant, we can have your transport’s warp and impulse drives up in four hours,” Lt. Commander Orca Borien, the Gandhi’s Chief Engineer, informed him. “Give us another two hours and we can every system up and running.”
“What about the cloak?” Riker inquired.
Borien wore a sly smile. “You know cloaking technology is illegal in the Federation.”
Riker gave him a wry smirk. “Commander, what about this ship is legal?”
Borien nodded. “Good point. I’ll see what I can do. Between the warp core going down and the fusion reactor scramming, the cloak’s endured a lot of surges. It may not be operable.”
“I’ll take what I can get,” Riker assured him.
Four hours later, Moneii assembled Commander Halifax, Wren, and Riker. She wore a very dour expression. “It seems Admiral Ross likes your idea, Mr. Riker. Therefore, under orders, I am authorizing this mission proposal.”
She nodded towards Halifax. “Commander Halifax will personally lead the mission. Mr. Riker, since this fiasco was your idea, you’re tasked with being her deputy. Lt. ann’Deri, you will assemble a security team and prepare to go undercover.”
Moneii steepled her fingers again. Gazing over them, she gave them a flinty look. “We need a CONN officer and an engineer. Any suggestions?”
“I recommend Ensign Vallis,” Riker blurted out before Halifax could speak.
Moneii gave Halifax a glance. The Commander gave an almost imperceptible nod. Moneii put her clasped hands on her desk. “Very well. Ensign Vallis it is. You have some planning to do, so you are all dismissed.”
“Meet in briefing room two in forty-five minutes,” Halifax instructed Wren. She then turned to Riker. “You. Follow me.”
They exited the ready room and went straight for the turbolift. Halifax maintained a composed silence. Riker sensed she was merely presenting a pretense. They headed into her office. Upon entering, the door sealed and Halifax whirled on him.
“Why Vallis? What aren’t you telling us?” she asked sharply.
“Ensign Vallis is not only a qualified helmsman, but she holds several PhD equivalents. The majority of those are in engineering. She had her choice between engineering and flight ops and she chose the CONN but she’s fully qualified for either position,” Riker shared.
“You seem to know quite a bit about Ensign Vallis,” Halifax observed. “That doesn’t fit your usual MO.”
“She recently shared her story with me,” Riker admitted. “That made me think of her when this mission first occurred to me. I looked up her personnel file and found she was qualified for the task.”
“And that’s your only interest?” Halifax was dubious.
“Yes, it is,” Riker strongly asserted.
“Somehow I doubt that,” Halifax commented. “But she is an excellent recommendation, so I backed your play back there. Don’t expect a freebie next time.”
Halifax stared him down. “And for the record, I am in command of this mission. Is that fully understood?”
“Duly noted,” Riker assured her.
“You’re dismissed,” Halifax gruffly informed him. “See you in the briefing room in thirty-five minutes.”
“Aye, ma’am,” Riker said and departed.
Halifax was left wondering where all of this would lead.
Halifax spent her time before the planning session pouring over Vallis’ records. The clone had completed Starfleet Academy in just two years instead of the usual four. She’d challenged every academic course and passed them all so she didn’t have to attend classes. She’d concentrated on command track courses and flight operation training. Riker had been right. She was imminently qualified to both pilot the Precariousand to disarm the isolytic weapons — if they found any.
Halifax had her doubts regarding that. It seemed too coincidental that they found the transport in the first place, and even more so that Riker was able to retrieve the data he recovered. But then again, the average criminal was a rather stupid creature. It might be possible after all. Admiral Ross certainly felt it was.
Halifax received word from Borien that his people had disabled the isolytics. The ship would be fully prepped in an hour. The planning session was done and Halifax had sent everyone to their quarters to change into civilian garb.
Halifax presented the plan to Moneii. The captain’s mien was grave. “Do you think this plan has merit?”
“I think it can work,” Halifax admitted. “Wren and Riker put together a solid proposal. I just don’t know if we need to undertake this mission.”
“How so?” Moneii asked.
“Just how stupid are we supposed to believe these people were? What kind of gun runner leaves all of the evidence on their computer core?”
“They did try to erase the data. At least three times, if Riker’s report is accurate,” Moneii replied mirthfully.
“Do you really think the transport crew was that incompetent?” Halifax inquired. She knew her captain had spoken with the Precarious’ skipper.
Moneii chuckled humorlessly. “Let’s just say our good smuggler captain wasn’t exactly chosen for his genius.”
Moneii’s comm badge chirped and she tapped it in response. “Moneii here.”
“We finished ahead of schedule, Captain,” Borien reported. “I’m ready to hand over the ship to Commander Halifax at her leisure. It’ll take a minute to transfer the command codes. Lt. Riker will be able to do that easily enough. The trackers are embedded inside the isolytics rather than in the cargo pods. We don’t know if they’ll stay in the pods once they reach Hadon II, so I thought it would be an appropriate precaution. The subspace signature of the weapons themselves should mask the constant output of the tracker.”
“Will the weapons’ warp cores interfere with the trackers’ signals?” Moneii warned to know.
“Not according to our tests. A standard tricorder should be able to detect and follow the signals,” Borien explained.
“I understand,” Moneii assured him and cut the connection. Focusing on Halifax she smiled ruefully, “It seems you’re a ‘go.’”
“So it seems,” Halifax deadpanned. “You’ll escort us to the system?”
“And then we’ll hang back with the outer planets,” Moneii reassured her. “Yell and we’ll come running.”
“Good enough. I’ll round up my little lambs then.” Halifax exited and Moneii silently wished her well.
Riker and Vallis joined Halifax, Wren, and the two security men in the armory to be issued Type I “cricket” phasers. They had collected their tricorders and their non-descript comm badges before stopping here last. Everyone stowed their gear and then reported to the transporter room.
They materialized in the Precarious’ transporter room. Riker quietly checked himself. He didn’t feel duplicated again, but then again, he hadn’t the first time, either. Vallis gave him a sympathetic smile as if she knew his unspoken fear.
Borien was waiting for them. “Ah Riker, good. You can begin transferring command codes as soon as Commander Halifax is ready to input her necessary information.”
They went to the bridge. Various engineers were packing up and transferring back to the Gandhi. Riker established a subspace computer link with the starship. He downloaded the staff’s command code data. Turning to Halifax, he said, “Ready when you are, Commander.”
Halifax recited her verbal code and transferred the command codes to herself. Riker used his codes to establish himself as second in command. Vallis and Wren also coded in. The two security crewmen were included as ship’s crew but given no real authority.
“Wren, hail the Gandhi and tell them we’ll setting out in ten minutes at…?” Halifax looked to Borien.
“You have warp one through four available. But I’d keep it under three to be safe,” he shared.
“Inform then we’ll be proceeding at warp two,” Halifax ordered. She regarded Borien, “Thanks, Orca. For everything.”
“Not a problem. It was a challenge,” Borien replied.
“A challenge?” That certainly surprised her. “Come on, there has to be at least a thousand of these transports in service. The Lovell- and Antares-class transports are the most popular in space faring history.”
“But most of them don’t have cloaking devices,” Borien’s eyes twinkled. “Please express my regrets to Lt. Riker that I wasn’t able to get it working again.”
“Oh, I’ll be sure to do that,” Halifax said coldly.
Borien detected the sour note and excused himself. Halifax eyed Riker’s back. He was seated at the Ops station as he should be, busied in tasks to get the engines up and running. She wouldn’t interrupt him just yet.
Beside him sat Vallis at CONN. Halifax peered over her shoulder and saw that she was checking the navigation chart. She pulled up the data on Hadon II itself.
“What can you tell me about our destination, Ensign?” Halifax suddenly asked.
“Hadon II supports a Federation colony and is a Class-P world orbiting a Class-M star,” Vallis read off. As every Starfleet officer or NCO knew, that meant a glaciated world orbiting a red star. The “two” designator indicated the planet was the second world in and orbital track around the star labeled Hadon. To qualify as Class-P, Hadon II had to have more than 80% water ice, which meant the bulk of the colony was centered around the relatively temperate equator.
“Hadon was colonized in the late 22nd century, shortly after the foundation of the United Federation of Planets,” Vallis continued. “It’s a transportation hub.”
“Run that by me again?” Halifax requested.
“It’s a transfer center,” Wren put in. “Cargoes are exchanged at Hadon. The bulk of the surface construction is massive warehouses designed for the sole purpose of dropping off a cargo and picking up another.”
“Why not run the cargo all the way in yourself?” Halifax wondered.
“What if it’s a cargo you don’t want to be caught carrying?” Wren wryly suggested.
Halifax had to admit that isolytic weapons certainly qualified on that score. “Okay, I see your point. Riker, how long until we can get underway?”
“Engines read ‘green’ and are ready to be coaxed into action,” Riker answered.
“Just how much coaxing will they need?” Halifax sought clarification.
“I suggest not engaging the warp drive until after we’ve achieved three quarters impulse for five minutes, and then shift into warp and repeat the procedure before accelerating to warp two,” he explained.
“Got that, Vallis?” Halifax asked.
“Aye, ma’am!” Vallis enthused.
“ETA for Hadon?” Halifax inquired.
“Six hours at recommended speed,” Vallis shared.
Halifax thought of one last thing. “Mr. Riker, about the crew manifest?”
“I’m already working on modifying it to our needs, Commander,” Riker assured her.
Smart ass, Halifax thought sourly.
While they were underway, Halifax moved about the cramped cockpit that served as a bridge and moved to where Wren was sitting. She had some data pulled up on her display and was smirking.
“Reading something good?” Halifax asked. She noted the two security crewmen were making like a hole in the back of cockpit.
“This crew manifest,” Wren began to explain, “is genius.”
Halifax had rather been hoping that Wren wouldn’t pull it up. Riker had indeed outdone himself. He’d incorporated their Starfleet careers, with embellished criminal activities to support their resigning or being cashiered, and placed them aboard the transport together. Supposedly Halifax had acquired the ship from the previous captain as he went on the run from Starfleet Intelligence.
Halifax and her crew were listed as having participated in a mutiny aboard the U.S.S. Riviera a few years ago during the Border Wars. It was a real event and an unfortunately publically documented one. It madeMutiny on the Bounty pale in comparison. Having ostensibly served a six year sentence in the stockade on Jaros II, they were now out on parole and making their way as a freighter captain and crew.
The Precarious was a ship for hire and Transplanet Shipping had hired it for this run, which was true enough. The firm was legally documented within the Federation — On Izar, to be precise — but the headquarters in New Seattle proved to be empty. The U.S.S. Exeter had found a fictional front office handling messaging and correspondences for the corporate shell, but no logistical work was handled there, nor were any records to be found. The Precarious had made stops at Izar, Ferenginar, Oralliius, and Bajor. The ship had steadfastly avoided Deep Space Nine and skirted Starbase 310 alongside the Demilitarized Zone. Now she was headed for Hadon II near Starbase 129. The thing was, Hadon was still near the DMZ, but it was also near the end of the zone and skirted close to the Cardassian border.
It was the proximity to the border than had alarmed Starfleet Command, Halifax decided. The war between the Cardassian Union and the Federation had ended, but that peace was still rather recent and fragile. Still, she couldn’t imagine anyone in the Cardassians’ Central Command being stupid enough tobuy isolytics when they could produce them locally.
The hours had dragged by and finally Vallis announced, “We’ve reached the Hadon system and the Gandhiis dropping back.”
Halifax turned to Wren. “Inform the Gandhi we appreciated the escort and we’ll contact them as soon as we learn anything.”
Wren looked rather grateful to be doing something, so she got straight to it. Halifax knew how she felt. This was worse than conducting border patrols.
Riker had struck up a conversation with Vallis to pass the time. Or rather, he continued their earlier conversation. Inevitably, she brought up the dream woman that had kept his hopes alive for eight years.
Riker looked downcast as he answered, “Deanna was the most perfect woman I’d ever met.”
“Was?” Vallis sought clarification.
“She was aboard the Enterprise when they found me. When he found me,” Riker stipulated.
“The venomous ‘he’ being your ‘brother?’” Vallis wondered.
“Yes,” Riker grated. “He’s First Officer.”
“So are you,” Vallis said with a twinkle in her eye.
“Oh, yes. This is absolutely my dream posting,” he smarted off.
“Look at it this way: At least you’re here with me,” she commented. “Now what happened with Deanna?”
“My brother didn’t stay in the relationship. He sacrificed it for his career. They’re friends now, but I can see a glimmer of regret in both their eyes,” Riker commented.
“Why do I get the feeling you took advantage of that?” she asked.
“Hey, he blew it, not me. I would’ve made that date on Risa that he skipped out on. So I explained that to Deanna and we…” he trailed off.
“Transferred fluids,” Vallis chimed in.
Riker felt slightly embarrassed by the frankness of the conversation. “Yes. Captain Picard searched for an opening suitable to my talents. The Ops job aboard the Gandhi was open and it was close by, supporting a terraforming project, so they dropped me off.”
“The end of said project is where I came in,” Vallis said brightly. “So why didn’t Deanna follow you if the two of you were happy trading fluids?”
Riker felt unnerved. “She had a life and a career aboard the Enterprise. So like he stood her up eight years ago, she declined to come with me.”
Vallis didn’t seem to know how to respond to this. A beep from her console alerted her to the fact they were nearing the Hadon system. She dropped the transport out of warp at the edge of the system and Riker nodded his confirmation that the Gandhi had, too. She made her report to Halifax and prepared to actually do something.
Riker contacted the system’s traffic control center. He earned an approach path and an atmospheric insertion. They were landing the Precarious on the ground in order to deploy the entire away team. Otherwise, they’d have to leave a skeleton crew of at least one aboard.
They would also lose sight of the weapons, however temporarily. Halifax considered this an unacceptable risk. Riker had queried her as to what they would do if they did end up separated.
“That’s not an option, mister,” Halifax had sternly retorted.
The Precarious bucked and shook as it navigated the planet’s atmosphere. Although built like a wedge, the surfaces of the ship were still far from forming a delta wing. It was rather like crafting a paper airplane with its wings clipped short. The Precarious lived up to its name as it tried to do nothing better than nosedive straight into the ground below.
“Mr. Riker!” Halifax suddenly blurted, “Adjust the shields. It’s getting too hot in here.”
“Shields are at maximum, Commander,” he replied through gritted teeth. “I’ve adjusted the environmental controls to their maximum outputs. This is as good as it’s going to get.”
He half expected her to tell him that was unacceptable, but she refrained. He kept the ship from cooking while Vallis did her best to keep them from crashing. As they neared the spaceport, Vallis slowed their descent even more. This alleviated the friction and the interior began to cool off. He had to admit he and Vallis made a good team.
“Now if the landing struts haven’t melted,” Vallis muttered.
Riker grinned. “The antigravs have cycled and are back to full strength. You should be able to set us down just like a feather.”
“Here’s hoping,” Vallis said as she committed to the final landing sequence.
The ship sat down on its landing skids. There was an audible groan that reverberated through the hull and Vallis winced. Riker’s Ops board went insane.
“We’re showing systems failures all across the ship,” he announced. “Antigravs just overloaded and the RCS thrusters are now inoperative.”
He turned to face Halifax. “Seems we landed just in time.”
Halifax snorted. “Lucky for you the plan was always to abandon this derelict here.”
Wren had been watching the monitor feeds towards the cargo hatches. “Commander, a crew is here to offload us.”
Halifax grew reflective. “Maybe we’re making progress after all.”
The primary hatch opened and Halifax stepped out. The work crew was composed of a dozen bodies from a dozen different worlds. A half dozen races were represented.
“Where’s Captain Stovix?” a rough hewn human, built from pure muscle and possessing absolutely no neck, inquired.
Halifax gave the cover story. “Stovix opted to retire seconds before a Starfleet security team blew open his door. He sold me the Precarious beforehand and this contract came with the ship.”
“No one told us,” Muscleman replied.
“Now you’re being told,” Halifax said. “You have your cargo. Hand over my latinum and we’ll all go our separate ways.”
“Not so fast,” Muscleman warned. “Hand over your crew and cargo manifests. I’ll check with my superiors and then we’ll see if we do business.”
“Mr. Riker,” she snapped and held her hand over her shoulder. Riker handed her a PADD which she then thrust into Muscleman’s face. “There are my manifests. Satisfied?
“Think you’re pretty smart, don’t you?” he asked threateningly. “My bosses don’t like smart women.”
“They must be awfully lonely then,” she retorted.
“Fine. We’ll be taking your cargo now,” he announced.
She stopped him with a hand pushing back at his brawny chest. “Not so fast yourself. No payment. No cargo.”
“I told you, I have to run your credentials. Once the bona fides are double checked, then you’ll get your payment,” Muscleman grated.
“And that’s when you’ll get your cargo,” Halifax insisted.
Muscleman stared her down but Halifax never flinched. His eyes shifted to Riker’s. They were just as resolute. Wren’s looked predatory and the two men at her shoulders were coolly gathering for a fight. The only one who looked slightly intimidated was the small brunette.
“All right,” he conceded. “We’ll contact you later and we’ll make the exchange then.”
“So where do we meet?” Halifax asked.
“There’s a pub called the Grimshaw. We’ll meet there,” Muscleman informed her.
“How will we find it?” she wondered.
He smirked. “It’s the most famous establishment on Hadon. You won’t be able to miss it.”
They packed up and left. Halifax turned to the away team. “Everyone got your coats on?”
All but Wren nodded. Halifax resisted rolling her eyes and turned to the security men instead. “You two stay here and mind the store just in case they try anything.”
Halifax turned to Riker. “It seems our lives are in your hand at this moment.”
“Don’t worry,” Wren advised. “Like I said, those credentials were genius.”
Riker grinned and Halifax gave Wren a pained look. “Then it looks like we go pub crawling.
Please send feedback and other correspondence regarding this story to Brin_Macen at yahoo dot com.