"Hey, Chris, we're being hailed by the Tiberius," Buck punched up the transmission and shuddered upon reading it.
"Well? What is the message?"
"You ain't gonna like it, pard." Buck absentmindedly wondered if escaping his captain's anger via the shuttle's airlock would be wiser than staying to face Chris' inevitable reaction.
"Spit it out, I ain't gettin' any younger."
"Ya ain't gettin' any nicer either. Whoa! Alright." Buck held up a hand in surrender and told his captain the bad news. Predictably, Chris began cursing politicians, the Armada, Klingons, and blood debts, which had started the whole mess.
"You're telling me that because the Admiral's son and daughter-in-law were spared by a Klingon High Councilman's nephew, we have to cooperate with Kor in discovering where the transmissions are coming from?" The vein known to throb only when a crewman should fear for his life started twitching. Buck looked around hopelessly for cover in the tiny shuttle.
"Sounds about right, why?" Buck tried in vain not to panic at the speeds Chris was forcing the small shuttle to. He held in a sigh of relief when the captain slowed the vessel and made a neat landing in a Klingon docking bay.
"I just wanted to know how nice I've got to be."
'Uh-oh,' Buck thought. 'It looks like things are going to get ugly. Damn! I do hate ugly!'
Captain Larabee and First Officer Wilmington were escorted to a conference room, but not disarmed. Despite being constructed of metal, the space gave the impression of being hewn out of rock. The table was smooth, but not polished, and gargantuan chairs surrounded it.
Upon entering, Chris noticed and glared at Kor, only then seeing one other Klingon and Ensign Dunne. Buck, on the other hand, seemed blind to the entire room except his young protégé.
"Kid! Are you alright?" He circumnavigated the table to reach JD, and checked him over for wounds.
"I'm fine, and I'm not a kid," was JD's animated response. "Besides, the only thing that has broken the Geneva Convention so far is this chair." He smiled wanly as the entire room, regardless of species, looked on in confusion. "Sorry, reference to proposed Terran 20th century prisoner of war treatment. That treaty was never ratified," JD noted in an intrigued tone.
Certain that his crewman was physically unharmed; Captain Larabee turned his attention to Commander Kor. The Klingon commander tossed a data pad at the human captain, who snatched it from the air with little effort, and observed the cartoon and bulleted list that repeated there. Having been ordered to keep up diplomatic relations, Larabee was in the unenviable position of not being allowed to laugh in Kor's face. Instead, he said, "Buck, have you seen the kid's handiwork yet?" and slid the amusing pad across the broad table to his mostly human first officer.
While Buck was viewing the data pad, Kor explained. "That," he pointed to the pad, "our communicators, and the docking bay doors are the only electronic devices still working aboard my ship."
"Yeah, I wondered why you were using candles," Buck commented. "Kid, how'd you get a picture of Chris for this part?"
"Katha'q here," JD said, his features darkening in anger, "was able to access our shipside mainframe. All they needed was my password, which," his gaze shifted to the captain, "I did not provide."
Katha'q said something in Klingonase, and JD replied in annoyed English. "I know your name because you gave me a console connected to your ship's mainframe. How hard do you think it was to find a list of personnel?"
"But...what about the password?" Katha'q stammered in English, dreading the answer.
JD laughed. "'Bloodwine'? You should really have been more inventive than to use the most popular drink among all Klingons." Addressing Kor, JD said something rapidly in Klingonase. The commander shifted uneasily in his seat, but made no reply. Katha'q looked relieved, and the two human officers were just plain confused.
Taking the opportunity provided by silence, Chris interjected. "Kor? Here's the deal. You need your ship operational and answers about the mysterious transmissions. I need my ensign back and your cooperation. Can we agree to those terms?"
"If he stays here any longer, the Kid, as you call him, will have my job," Katha'q muttered darkly.
Kor glared at his mainframe infiltration specialist and then smiled toothily at the Terran Captain. "I see that Admiral Travis has contacted you." When Larabee gave no reaction, Kor continued. "If that is the case, then the--how do you say it?--the deck seems to be stacked in my favor. You cannot attack me, and I now have three Terran officers to bargain with. The boy would not fix my ship to save himself, but I believe he would do so for his friend."
While Chris could not smile as toothily as the Klingon commander, he did a feasible imitation. "Do you know who I've left in command on the Tiberius? No? Let me enlighten you. Vin Tanneresjacheisoek." He had the privilege of seeing fear enter the Klingon's eyes. "Yes...that Vulcan." In a past known only to Captain Larabee and a few StarArmada and Imperial Fleet officials, the alien first officer had been a bounty hunter of sorts, wreaking havoc in both empires, and infamous for his ruthlessness. "If we don't return with the boy before you run out of air, I've ordered him to destroy your ship."
"Even Tanneresjacheisoek wouldn't dare!" Katha'q exclaimed. "He'd be killing his captain!"
Chris prepared to answer, but Kor beat him to it, replying in a disdain-laden tone. "You speak as though this is not a common occurrence in the Armada, Katha'q. Besides, if we run out of air, his captain will already be dead." His eyes practically boring twin holes through Larabee's skull, Kor replied, "I agree to your terms. Now, order your man to return control of my ship!"
Captain Larabee glanced from the glowering Kor to his smug ensign, contemplating the possible problems associated with returning a Klingon warbird to full working order with three Armada officers still on board. "Can you reverse the virus from the Tiberius?" he asked quietly.
"Hell yeah...I mean, yes, sir," JD replied, his relief apparent in his verbiage.
Chris nodded curtly. "Good." He stood and glanced at Buck Wilmington, the barest hint of a smile on his lips. "Let's get back to the shuttle."
"No! You cannot trust them, sir!"
Chris' eyebrows scrunched together in concern at the outburst, and he looked to Commander Kor for his reaction to Katha'q's protest. "Is there a problem, Kor?"
"Yes," Kor rumbled, drawing his disruptor pistol and firing on the excitable communications expert. In the background, JD gasped as he watched his Klingon counterpart die in a quite painful and spectacular manner. "But no longer," Kor finished, holstering his weapon. "I will treat you as a Klingon in this, Larabee."
A muttered 'uh-oh' from JD caused Kor to grin malevolently. "Your ensign should be able to explain the importance of this when you reach your ship, Captain. Just a moment. . . Ensign Jaklar!" After a moment of confusion, another Klingon entered the conference room. He must have been standing guard outside, judging by the promptness of his response. Kor directed a stream of indecipherable Klingonase at the junior officer, who cringed slightly before removing JD's dagger from his belt. "Good--dismissed!" Kor held the dagger by its blade, presenting it to the human ensign. "Head, heart, and hands, Dunne. Use it well..." the commander chuckled, "but never again against a Klingon."
JD smirked, tucking the dagger back into its sheath, and then quoting a Klingon proverb. "I make no promises I will be required to break, for we both know the fate of liars."
Kor laughed and clapped JD on the back, nearly sending the slight human stumbling headlong into the conference table. As it was, Buck steadied JD and they moved together to exit the room.
Larabee stayed a moment longer, looking as though he wished to clarify a few Klingon colloquialisms, but then he realized it was better to learn of the species from his own crew--specifically, JD--than to leave himself open to accusations of fraternizing with the enemy. In the end, Chris merely spun on his heel and followed his officers to the shuttle.
"Larabee to Tiberius." Chris glared out the shuttle's front window as he called his Vulcan first officer.
"I want all the information on the Travis blood debt waiting for me in my ready room, understood?"
"Perfectly, sir, and Captain?" There was, for the well- attuned listener, a hint of hopeful battle-lust in the otherwise emotionless Vulcan voice. "Are you certain your treatment was satisfactory?"
"Yes, Vin, everything went fine," Chris said, almost chuckling. "So, get you hands away from the weapons control override panels, Number One."
"Aye, sir. First Officer out."
JD thought he heard disappointment in the Vulcan's tone, but it was difficult to tell for sure.
"Huh?" The order caught him off guard, so it was only a moment later that he replied, "Yes, sir. After being transported to the Klingon vessel, I was overpowered by a few of the crew and then taken to some unoccupied quarters, where I was locked in. I tried to break the portholes--stop glaring, Buck. It seemed like a good idea compared to the alternatives--but they were reinforced with forcefields. At that point, Katha'q talked to me through the room's terminal, ordering me to use my password to download the information on our--well, whatever it is they think we can do to mess with their communications. After he finished informing me of what I was expected to do, he signed off, and I realized that, as long as I was doing something, they probably wouldn't watch me too closely. I created the virus, sent it, and looked up some of their ship's schematics before I lost power to the terminal. Later on, Commander Kor came in, threatened me with torture if I didn't cooperate, and then agreed to contact you, just as I demanded. Anything else, sir?"
"No, that about covers it," Chris answered. "Buck, stop looking so worried! His idea about going out through a porthole was a good one; we might even have been able to transport him before explosive decompression set in. As for torture, they didn't get any information out of him, and I sincerely doubt they planted a recording device on him." Chris laughed. "If the communicator is any example, I don't think they even know how to make such a device small enough to not be detected!"
At this statement, JD paled and snatched his dagger from its sheath.
"Kid," Buck glanced at JD in confusion, "what are you doing? Why are you looking at your--"
"Shh!" was the only answer as JD's deft fingers picked an almost microscopic dot off of the dagger's hilt. Holding it up, the ensign looked to his commanding officer. "Captain, what do you suggest?"
Larabee scowled. Knowing that their every word was likely being recorded and sent back to someone on Kor's ship, he chose his next sentence carefully. "Is it possible to do to that what you did to Lieutenant Briggs, without the causing his physical state?"
JD translated the simple code in his head. Could he disable it without destroying it? "Well, sir, is there any beverage less potent than what that gunslinger liked? Do we have anything on board?"
"Buck?" Larabee ordered, changing the subject to confound any listeners. "JD, what did you say to Commander Kor, remember, when you switched to Klingonase?"
The ensign's eyebrows scrunched together, showing his confusion, and then his face cleared as he recalled the incident. "I was asking him not to be too angry with Katha'q, because his work wasn't sloppy." JD smiled. "I'm just better."
"Anybody thirsty?" Buck asked, holding a water packet up from a ration pack.
Chris grabbed, opened, and upended the pouch over the bug, causing little sparks to leap from it. "I think its time I had another chat with Kor. JD, how soon can you get their external communications up and running again?"
JD shrugged. "All I need to do is type in one command, and every system will come back online within ten minutes. I staggered the return of each system so that it would be assumed I would need lots of time, but, in reality, they're the only ones waiting." He grinned mischievously.
"Damn, kid," Buck said, awed, "you're good."
Chris scowled. "Bring only their external communications online, Ensign. I need leverage until we dock."
JD looked momentarily confused. "You mean, from here?"
Refraining from rolling his eyes only with great difficulty, the captain snapped. "What, you can work from an encrypted and firewalled enemy's station, but using Armada technology to start the Klingons' communication eludes you?"
"Well, not exactly, sir," JD answered, embarrassed. "It will just be more difficult and time-consuming, and I'm not sure if they've changed their access codes yet. I mean, I would have, but they may have other things on their mind right now..."
"Like not breathing too deeply?" Buck said, laughing openly.
"Buck," Chris whispered in a warning tone. "Quit talking and start working, kid. Inform me when you've carried out your orders." He then stood and began pacing the small area.
A few interminable minutes later, JD gave an extremely unprofessional whoop of joyful achievement. "Whoever replaced Katha'q isn't much better," he commented. "Sir?"
Larabee ordered Buck to take the flight controls and JD to get out of the viewscreen's sight before punching through a signal.
Kor's glowering features encompassed the small screen. "We are still awaiting the return of life support systems, Larabee. I hope you aren't contemplating betrayal."
"What did I tell you about questioning my honor, Commander?" Chris returned with equal heat. "I will order my man to enable your environmental controls once we have safely returned to my ship."
"You dare insinuate that I would bring harm to your shuttlecraft?" Kor nearly shouted in angry disbelief. "Who is questioning whose honor now, Captain?"
Chris grinned predatorily, and then shrugged. "By the time you're in fighting condition again, I expect you'll recall the Klingon High Council's orders to maintain diplomatic relations, Kor. Engaging in battle is slightly counterproductive to that end. In the meantime, I would like to inform you that mechanical espionage will be regarded with the same weight as a physical attack."
Kor nodded, his face set in a frown. "I would expect no less, but why do you mention this now?"
Chris laughed. "Come now, Kor. You personally ordered that the dagger be returned to my ensign, you must have known about the recording device placed on it!"
The Klingon's forehead furrowed in consternation and then he broke into curses in Klingonase that had JD covering his ears in horror. Chris looked to the ensign for a translation, as his Universal Translator was not picking up the dialogue.
"He is not angry with you, sir," JD replied in answer to the unspoken question. "He thinks a third party is involved."
"Of course he would," Chris said, sneering. "That's very convenient." Turning again to face the screen, Chris spoke. "Why not just confess that you planted the bug, Kor? I admit it was a good attempt; it nearly went unnoticed by my officers."
"Because this was not my doing, Larabee!" The Klingon whispered ferociously. "I suspect...well, I cannot tell you what I suspect until I have located the threat aboard my ship."
Stunned at the Klingon's near-panicked state, Chris did not notice JD until the ensign was whispering in his ear.
"He's afraid that I.I. has placed an agent within his crew," JD said. When the captain reacted only with confusion, JD quietly explained, "I.I. stands for Imperial Intelligence. Officers are not to speak of it openly, even with their crews, much less with--"
"Enemy captains," Chris concluded. "I understand. Is it similar to our own Dark Service operatives?"
JD paled. Any mention of the agents usually garnered that reaction, even in loyal members of StarArmada and citizens of the Terran Empire. The men and women employed by DS were given carte blanche to take down perceived threats to the government anywhere within the Empire's current or projected jurisdiction, meaning they could detain on only instinct, torture on the barest suspicion, and kill without justification anywhere in the known universe. "Yes, sir. I.I. is like that."
"Damn," the captain said, rubbing his forehead in consternation. "Kor?" he asked the view screen, where the Klingon captain had calmed down somewhat. "Do you require assistance? I have also been ordered to maintain diplomatic relations, Commander." He smirked. "That could become difficult if there was to be a shift in power aboard your vessel."
The statement very carefully pledged support without changing allegiances, and spoke of the underlying problems without specifically opposing Imperial Intelligence. If the Dark Service wanted to make an issue of Larabee stating his willingness to expose and kill someone in a similar service, well, Chris decided he would face that problem when it reared its ugly head. However, seeing as he was, strictly speaking, following orders and that Imperial Intelligence often--if not consistently--worked counter to the Dark Service's aims, the Armada Captain surmised that DS would probably not be too upset with him.
"Captain?" JD asked urgently.
Chris waved a hand dismissively. "Not now, JD."
"But, Captain!" the ensign reiterated.
"A gallant offer, Larabee," Kor replied from the screen, "but I am capable of handling traitors from this end." He gave a bloodthirsty smile as a shadow fell over him.
"Commander Kor!" JD yelled, and then began speaking Klingonase instead, since his own captain was ignoring him.
The Klingon commander's eyes widened in shock, and then he drew a wicked-looking knife, almost too fast to see, and thrust it up to the hilt in the left eye of the man who had been leaning forward, about to assassinate him with a similar weapon.
Kor spat out a command in Klingonase, which JD translated for the benefit of the human and mostly-human officers as "someone scrape this traitorous son of a coward's remains off my bridge!"
After the less pleasant issues had been dealt with, Kor faced the screen again. "My compliments and thanks to your ensign, Captain. Please be sure he understands the consequences of what he has done. I choose to invoke a year and a day."
Chris looked back at a pale JD, who nodded mutely. "It looks like he does, Commander. Do I have your personal reassurance that this first espionage was not your doing and that you will conduct no further such attempts?"
"To the first, yes, and the second," Kor gave a brief laugh. "We both know, Captain, that it is the nature of the game for us to observe one another by any means available. I will, of course, perform my duty as dictated by the Klingon High Council."
'So,' Chris thought, 'he will not fire on us, but any information he can return to his people will be too invaluable to refrain from collecting.' Chris smiled. "You serve well. I will keep your words in mind. Larabee out." He ended the signal and turned to JD. "I want you working on a way to shield the ship from surveillance. Buck, did you recognize who tried to kill Kor?"
"I did," JD said, his gaze attached firmly to the floor. "He was the one who took the dagger from me in the first place, I recognized a wart on his hand as he tried to slice Commander Kor's throat. What was his name?" JD thought a moment and then snapped his fingers, "Jaklar! That's it."
"Damn, kid," Buck sounded amazed. "You remembered that minute of a detail when you were being held prisoner?"
JD shrugged and muttered, "I was glaring at the time; it probably enhanced my vision or something." What he did not tell the senior officers was that the dagger had been his mother's final gift to him, and that he had intended to get it back if it meant he had to fight his way through every Klingon on that ship.
"That explains it!" Buck exclaimed. "That must be why sour-puss here is such a good captain. He glares all the time, and never misses a thing!"
"May I remind you, Wilmington, that we are still surrounded by a vacuum," Chris intoned in a threatening voice.
"Ah hell, Chris. You know I didn't mean nothin' by it!" Buck complained before catching the glare the captain threw his way. Buck coughed nervously. "Er, what I mean was, sorry, Captain, it won't happen again."
"That's better," Chris answered, giving the smile that no one would dare call a smile. "Now, are you planning on landing this thing any time soon?"
"Right away, Chris." They reached the docking bay without further comment.
"Sir?" JD nervously tapped a hand on his leg as he downloaded the newly discovered information to a data pad.
"Yes, Ensign Dunne?" The captain's voice sounded tired and strained. The crew was making it's disapproval of cooperating with Klingons known by slowing the efficient running of the ship to a crawl. At first, the captain had tried punishing crewmen, but as everyone was engaging in the slowdown, the practice was proving counterproductive.
"Might I have a moment of your time, sir?" JD asked respectfully and deferentially. "In your Ready Room, perhaps?"
Chris cocked an eyebrow, a habit he had picked up from Vin. Judging by the way the young ensign could hardly sit still and the data pad in his hand, Chris thought the information must be important. "Sure. Lieutenant Carter, you have the con. Ensign?"
Without a word, JD followed Chris to the Ready Room. As soon as the doors swished shut, JD handed the data pad over, grinning like a maniac. "It took me eight hours of calculations and theorizing, but this is the model that makes the most sense. It's really strange, isn't it, Captain?"
Chris held up a hand for silence as he absorbed the knowledge on the pad. At last he looked up. "You said, 'for the last eight hours', but you've only been working for five."
JD grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, well, the problem was just so interesting that I worked on it for three hours before coming to work my bridge shift, and I've been analyzing it during my down time while on the bridge."
"And," Chris added, "you only returned from the Klingon ship eleven hours ago."
"Yes, sir," JD said, beginning to see where this was going, "but I'm fine, really."
"So," Chris concluded grimly, "you're running on three hours of sleep after enduring a traumatic kidnapping."
JD made sure his gaze held Chris' steadily. "I repeat, Captain, I'm fine."
"Uh-huh," Chris replied, not sounding convinced. "The only reason I ask, is that this is a pretty far-fetched theory, until I consider that you came up with it after being awake for forty-eight hours straight but for a short nap."
JD started to glare, and then remembered who he was arguing with. "All my calculations are correct. My assumptions are logical. All the evidence points to this area of space being a wormhole to an alternate universe; one in which the Terran Empire's equivalent is tenuously allied with the Klingon Empire. Whether I was working with an hour's sleep or a full night's, the conclusions would be no different. Sir."
Chris chuckled. "Good, JD." At the ensign's startled look, Chris elaborated. "I wanted to be sure you were convinced of your theory, that's why I questioned your judgment. Now, what do I do with this information? Do we tell the Klingons, or our Headquarters? Do we explore the region or send probes?"
Frowning, JD replied. "Uh, if it were me deciding, I would send a message to HQ first, in case the news upsets the Klingons so much that they decide to blow us out of the water. . .figuratively speaking. Of course, Kor won't, because of the year and a day, but if the information became common knowledge to a select few members of his crew, there could be a coup, and we can't depend on the new leadership being so restrained. The decision about probes versus exploration is a tougher call." JD stopped talking, deeply lost in thought.
"Why is that, Ensign?" Chris prompted, intrigued that the young man had thought the situation through so thoroughly.
"See, we have no idea what's over there," JD answered. "Space might have the same rules, or physics might be completely different. We could go through the wormhole only to find that warp drives don't work in that universe. I, for one, don't want to get out and push if that happens, you know what I mean? And when it comes to possible hostiles on the other side, we don't know if they know about the wormhole yet. The area from their side could be patrolled lightly, completely blockaded, or as yet undiscovered. The one thing we do know is that the area in the alternate universe is used by both Klingons and the 'Federation' is the word I picked up in their communications. If that region weren't used by both, there would be no reason for those communiqués to pass through the sector where the wormhole is located. In short, we could come up against no one or an entire fleet, and there's no way of knowing which it will be. Sending a probe through would be wise because it would give us the lay of the land, so to speak, but if there's anyone patrolling..." JD trailed off, not wanting to step too much on Chris' toes.
"If anyone is patrolling," Chris finished, "they could capture the probe and learn about our level of technology. In return, the only information we would receive about them would be that they know that we know about the wormhole. Very good, JD."
"Uh, Chris?" JD watched his captain closely. "What was the point of that? Why consult me about command decisions when you already knew what you wanted to do, and I have no authority in the matter?"
Chris shrugged one shoulder. "I read your Kobayashi Maru report, Ensign. I wanted to know if you could think like a commander outside the classroom. Tell me about this year and a day thing you and Kor have going on," he ordered quietly.
JD drew in a deep breath, let it out, and contemplated where best to begin. "There's a lot of history behind the vow, but you probably aren't interested in that. There are also cultural differences, which means some of the importance will be lost in translation, but, basically, Kor has to provide for my safety for a year and a day because I saved his life."
Chris was certain his eyes had left their sockets. Only when he blinked did he realize this was not the case. "But," he stammered, "the Klingons are bloodthirsty. Their culture is so concerned with war, and you're the enemy...how can he just forget about you for a year?"
Shaking his head, JD explained. "It goes beyond choosing to not fight with me for a year, Captain. He, or someone under his command, has to ensure that I stay alive and relatively unharmed for that period of time."
"What about when we finish this mission?" Chris asked. "What if it does not take the year and a day to complete?"
"Then," JD said, smiling, "things could get interesting. I'm guessing Kor will not be allowed to stay in our Empire's territory after completing this mission, so he would probably call in favors, have other people look after me."
Chris scowled. "He isn't supposed to have contacts within the Terran Empire."
"Right," JD quipped sarcastically, "and I'm sure no admiral in StarArmada knows anyone under another government who owes them a favor."
Chris was silent, considering his too-smart, too-genuine ensign. "Thanks for your advice, JD. Go finish up your shift, and then I want you to sleep for a solid six hours, alright?"
JD grinned. "Is that an order, sir?"
Chris gave a mock glare that did nothing to hide the concern he felt for the younger man's health. "Does it have to be?"
"No, sir." With that, the ensign returned to the bridge, leaving his commanding officer to ponder the unlikely and complex problems presented by his theory of alternate universes and wormholes.
JD walked to his quarters, anticipating sleeping the majority of the sixteen hours he was not on duty, only to find the path blocked by a bear of a man whom he had never before met. Warily, JD slowed his pace.
"Ensign!" The man called out heartily. "You missed our appointment; I've been trying to chase you down to reschedule."
The young ensign stared at the large man until his words penetrated. "Oh, you must be Counselor Sanchez," he said. "I'm sorry I missed the appointment, but things have been a little hectic. I was so busy that I forgot to reschedule when I got back."
Counselor Sanchez smiled gently. "Yes, I had heard your past day has been exciting. Would you care to talk about it now?"
"Er..." JD articulated. "I'd like to get some rest; because that's the other thing I've recently forgotten."
The skin around the counselor's eyes crinkled with worry. "You have not slept since your sojourn on the Klingon warbird? Then it is imperative that we talk. The unresolved issues, the guilt..." Counselor Sanchez's voice trailed off as though in deep thought.
"I don't feel guilty!" JD responded heatedly, only belated realizing that their discussion was drawing attention from passersby. Sighing, JD ushered the larger man into his quarters. "What would you like to talk about, sir?" JD asked once the doors had shut behind the counselor.
"I should think that would be your choice, ensign," Counselor Sanchez said slowly, sitting down in the chair at the boy's desk. "And you need not address me as 'sir,' ensign. I am outside the command structure."
JD watched the man carefully, recalling everything he had discovered in the half-Betazoid's personnel file. "Ok, Mr. Sanchez, but you have to call me JD, then." The alien nodded his head, and JD relaxed. "If you're outside the command structure, then why are you so interested in one of the captain's...assistants?"
Counselor Sanchez smiled. "I am here to help you come to grips with the difficult situation you have found yourself in, JD. Losing your mother at such a young age and then being forced into the service so soon after her death...that must be a frustrating experience."
"I thought you wanted to talk about the Klingons, not the Terran Empire's recruitment tactics," JD said, considering the counselor's mannerisms. He decided to go on the offensive. "But if we're going to discuss the past, I doubt your own mother approved of your actions. There's even a report where your father expresses his doubts that a half-breed such as yourself could be trusted. Why should you have chosen such a difficult and thankless job unless you had other motivation? Helping me cope with being the new kid on the ship isn't your only reason for wanting to talk, is it?"
"How did you get that information?" Josiah Sanchez asked placidly. He had long ago learned to ignore insults such as 'half-breed,' especially when he believed the term was being used to provoke him into revealing something.
JD shrugged. "You've seen my record. If the Armada wanted to keep me from hacking files, they would have killed me or put me into a think tank with restricted access to mainframes, not on a ship with lax security."
"So you feel that an oversight on their part qualifies as a license to invade other people's privacy?" Josiah was careful to remove emotion from the statement.
Grinning, JD said, "You assume it was an oversight. No, what I feel has very little to do with this. What I need to know to survive does."
Josiah stared calmly at the youth. "I am hardly a threat."
"Are you sure?" JD felt his hand travel toward the dagger on his belt and had to make an effort to stop the motion. "I have intercepted your communications with Armada Headquarters." Josiah looked shocked, and JD concluded, "You're practically an agent for the Dark Service, Mr. Sanchez, so forgive me if I'm slightly wary of you."
Josiah's features darkened, and JD was reminded of one report he had dug up, which showed how the counselor had taken apart a suspected traitor with his bare hands. It had taken the authorities hours to find all the pieces. "What makes you think I'm not with the Dark Service, Ensign Dunne?"
JD swallowed nervously, but pushed onward with his conclusions. "Tactics."
"Excuse me?" The larger man asked in surprise.
"Your tactics," JD answered. "DS agents are wary of garnering public attention. However, if they catch someone, they will want the credit, recognition from their superiors. They will not kill the suspect as soon as there is irrevocable evidence. Your actions on Regalus 6 were too righteous. When I read between the lines, it was clear that you killed that man as soon as you were certain he was guilty. You humiliated him, murdered him, and then disappeared. Newscasters wanted interviews, DS investigators were looking for you, Armada security wanted to interrogate you, and no one could find you." JD drew in a breath and locked gazes with the dangerous man. "That's not standard operating procedure for the DS, Counselor Sanchez."
Josiah looked as though he was trying not to laugh. "Fine, so I'm not DS. I didn't get the right scores on their tests, anyway."
"No, you did better," JD said, and then clamped his mouth shut with an almost audible snap. When the counselor made it clear the conversation would not continue until JD explained himself, the ensign continued. "Your scores were off the charts, but your psychological profile did not meet specifications. In its own way, that test was off the charts too, but it scared them because that made you unpredictable."
"Uncontrollable," Josiah quietly agreed. "That's the word my tester used. Now that we've decided I'm not here to kill you, why am I still a threat?"
JD looked at the floor. "Because you answer directly to an admiral at Armada Headquarters. . .the same admiral who assigned me to this ship. That's too much of a coincidence for comfort."
"Why?" Josiah breathed, wondering if the boy had already caught on to Admiral Travis' plot.
"The same admiral who had me transferred here is the one who made sure Chris--I mean Captain Larabee--replaced Captain Kirk for patrolling this region of space. He made allowances, like approving the use of two first officers. He convinced the nay-sayers that a violent Vulcan was not a danger, that he wouldn't seize control of the ship and then turn it against the Empire. He brushed a blatant espionage failure under the rug and got our Chief of Security posted to this ship; I'm guessing that had more to do with politics than concern for the crew's safety. He transferred Buck to the Tiberius, calling in several favors to get certain people to look the other way regarding the cases brought against him by the angry brothers and fathers of his many satisfied...uh...sexual partners."
Continuing, JD said, "His orders had Chris and Vin on the same space station as our Cardassian doctor when the drunken members of the Enterprise crew wanted to throw him out an airlock. After they saved him, Captain Larabee was adamant about replacing this ship's doctor with Nait Jaksonar, and the admiral backed that request. His orders landed me here, and placed you, conveniently, in the middle of this mess." He stared hard at the half-Betazoid. "I'm not stupid, you know."
Josiah stared at JD, his face unreadable. "No, I suppose you aren't, at that." The counselor steepled his hands, thinking before he continued, "Would you believe that of the seven men Admiral Travis has brought together over these past three years, you are the most dangerous?" At the boy's incredulous look, Josiah smiled. "The admiral has my unwavering loyalty. Ezra Standish owes him more than he can ever repay. The half- Cardassian by the name of Nait Jaksonar is indebted to the admiral with his very life, Vin has ties to the admiral that none of us are entirely certain of, Buck is grateful for the protection the admiral provides against angry fathers and brothers of his conquests, and Chris...well, suffice it to say that Chris has his own arrangement with the admiral, but you--there is no reason for you to be loyal, except perhaps your over-protectiveness of Buck Wilmington. Yes, I have noticed." His eyes twinkled. "Most of those actions you described cannot be traced back to the admiral, so how do you know he's the one behind all this?"
"But, they can be," JD said, rolling his eyes. "A close friend of the Admiral's is the one who talked Chris into taking this assignment. The DA who dropped the charges against Buck owed Travis for overlooking some pretty substantial gambling debts. A former classmate of Travis' from the Vulcan science academy is the one who defended Vin to Armada Command. The reason the admiral owes a blood debt to the Klingons is because his son was caught in Klingon space, helping Standish escape from the Romulan Star Empire. The soldier who brought Nait to Travis' attention was a man who used to be under his command when Travis was a captain. Travis recruited you personally for his team after that fiasco on Regalus 6, and one of his lieutenants was the man who discovered my talents."
Josiah began to look worried. "Is there anything you don't know?"
"Yeah," JD smirked. "What is the admiral thinking, putting a group of misfits like us together?"
This time, Josiah did actually laugh. "I'm sure that if more people knew of the Admiral's plan, they would be asking the same question, JD."
"Well?" The boy's impatience was plain.
The counselor studied the boy. He was so young, but he already knew too much. He seemed innocent, almost painfully so, but what if that was an act? What if JD Dunne was really with the Dark Service? Josiah was tasked with guiding the group from the outside, making certain that they were not compromised before they could even begin their work.
Most of the members were unfathomable, heck, there were days when Josiah questioned even his own loyalty to the admiral's agenda, but the boy provided the greatest obstacle to the group's formation yet. JD had the history of a man who should hate the Empire and all it stood for, but the DS had been known to cultivate such people, approaching them at a young age and offering them future comfort if they would only pretend disgruntlement in the present.
The punishment for treason was an effective deterrent to the formation of groups like this one.
"It's something important, isn't it?" JD asked in the barest whisper. "Something you can't talk about, not anywhere, right?" His eyes widened as he realized what a declaration of loyalty to the other six and to Travis would mean. Josiah braced himself for the reaction any sane member of the Armada would have given. It was a toss-up between running, screaming away from the situation or trying to kill the instigator who, in this case, was Josiah. The older man reached for his phaser, only to be completely befuddled by the young ensign's reaction.
JD's eyes positively glowed with excitement. Though no words were exchanged to the effect, Josiah knew JD had accepted the challenge to take down the empire.
"Do the others know?" JD asked, carefully leaving out who the others were and what they were supposed to have known.
Josiah shook his head. "The admiral will contact us when we're needed. Until then, we're all supposed to keep a low profile. Now," he clapped the boy on the shoulder, "get those six hours of sleep like Chris told you to, son."
"Uh-huh," JD said, his head swimming with the possibilities revealed by his participation in this ragtag assembly of rebels. Suddenly, it occurred to him that there was no way the counselor should have known about the captain's 'order.' "Josiah?"
The older man had crossed to the door, but not yet triggered it to open. "You're not the only one who knows things he shouldn't, JD." Josiah smiled gently. "Get some rest; you're going to need it."
"I don't like it," Vin said as he paced the captain's Ready Room. Kor's warbird hung in space beside the Tiberius, visible through the window behind Larabee's desk. "We can't trust them. . .you should have let me destroy them while you were in the shuttle."
Rather than chastising Vin for his insubordination, Chris nodded. "Maybe so. Luckily for us, Kor has a debt of protection for Ensign Dunne. As long as the ensign is on board and Kor is in command, we are not in danger."
Vin glared, but kept his voice low. "You think Klingons have honor? In my past dealings with them, they are honorable only until it is tactically sound to be underhanded."
Chris sighed. "Out here, on my ship, you will follow my orders regarding the Klingons, and those orders are to launch no first strike. If you would like to change the chain of command. . ." Chris suggested menacingly, but made no move for any of the many weapons hidden on his person or around the Ready Room.
Vin gave the merest ghost of a lopsided smirk. "Command would be a death sentence for a man of my lineage. You knew that when you hand-picked me for this position. What is your plan for discovering what lies beyond the wormhole?"
Before Chris could reply, the red alert klaxon sounded. Chris stood and both men hurried toward the bridge.
"Sir, an ion storm is approaching," Ensign Casey Wells reported from the science station.
Vin stalked to her side to double-check the readings. "That's unusual," Vin commented. "The storm is at three-hundred thousand kilometers and closing. . .at a rate of Warp Two."
Chris glanced from the screen to his first officer in surprise. "No wonder the red alert automatically activated. Something moving that fast normally isn't a naturally occurring phenomenon. Computer, klaxon off. Dunne, why didn't this show up on long-range sensors?"
JD pressed a few keys, checking a readout before stating, "I can't explain it, sir. The storm seems to have appeared from nowhere. At this point, I can only hypothesize that it came through the wormhole. Any other explanation. . ."
"Is too disturbing to contemplate. Correct, Ensign Dunne," Chris asserted. "Harriman, deflector shields at maximum power, and keep an eye on radiation levels."
"Sir?" Ensign Wells asked, confused by the incomplete communication that the rest of the bridge crew seemed to be capable of functioning with. "I don't understand. What other explanation is there?"
Vin's lips thinned, which was a dangerous expression. It meant his patience was running low. "What Ensign Dunne and the captain have deduced, Ensign Wells, is that this entire rendezvous may have only been a ploy."
"To what end, sir?" Ensign Wells asked, but it was Chris, not Vin, who answered.
"To test the Klingon's new weapon," Chris said in a low voice. He growled. "Dunne, are all of Kor's systems back on line?"
JD started at the question. "I see no reason why they wouldn't be, sir. I restored complete control of the ship to them hours ago. If the system was functioning before the virus, then it should be working now. You're concerned about them?"
Chris stared at the view screen distastefully. "On the off- chance that this is a natural ion storm, I don't want the Admiral's honor being questioned if Kor's ship is destroyed. Open a channel, Ensign."
"Kor, this is Captain Larabee," Chris directed his statement at the view screen though only the roiling mass of the ion storm could be seen there. "Are you prepared to weather this storm?"
The image of Kor's sneering countenance abruptly filled the view screen. "Of course we are prepared, Captain," Kor growled. "Look after your own ship." The image winked out; Kor had ended transmission.
Chris sighed. "Ensign Wells, what sort of readings are you getting from the Klingon vessel?"
Casey scrutinized her readout. "Shields are weak, and engines are running at 30% capability, sir."
"I get the feeling I'm going to regret this," Chris muttered ill-naturedly. "Helmsman, bring us to these coordinates." The position he gave left most of the bridge crew gaping. Only Vin and JD seemed to understand Chris' intention.
"But sir, that shields the Klingon ship and places us directly in the storm's path!" the helmsman said, his tone close to panicking. "Our shields might not hold. . ."
Chris glared at the whining crewman. "Bring us to those coordinates, Lieutenant, or I'll have you thrown in the Booth and enter them myself." The helmsman glanced around, as though hoping another member of the crew might intervene. . .take power and prevent this mistake. JD could almost hear Chris' teeth grinding in frustration. "A war with the Klingon Empire, while amusing to StarArmada Command, would be disastrous to the outlying colony populations. How many Terran Empire deaths do you want on your head, Lieutenant?"
Without further hesitation--perhaps he had family on the colony worlds--the helmsman brought the Tiberius about, placing it directly between the Klingon vessel and the unnaturally fast ion storm.
"Sir," JD said, "Kor is hailing us."
Chris nodded and smirked. "Onscreen."
If not for the gravity of the situation, Kor's apparent indignation might have been amusing. The Klingon's attention was split between glaring at the screen and checking a console off to one side. "What are you doing? We are capable of withstanding this threat. Any further intervention will be considered an insult to my honor!"
Chris regarded Kor evenly. "We both know that your shields probably won't hold even with the precaution I've taken. Besides, this is not an affront to your honor. . .it's my duty. Admiral Travis ordered me to not engage your ship. If your vessel is destroyed, do you honestly think the High Council will believe that it was an accident?"
Kor smiled, and it was not a pretty sight. "You fear war, Captain?"
Chris' expression was completely blank, but his voice boiled with unexpressed emotion. "I fear nothing, Commander. The Terran Empire's expansion would be threatened if citizens refused to colonize near Klingon space for fear of an attack. Preventing war is actually a method of conquest for me."
Kor tilted his head, acknowledging the human captain's ingenuity. "Very well. But remember, if your ship is destroyed, I think Armada leadership would likewise doubt that to be an accident."
Now Chris smiled. Mockingly, he said, "Kor, I didn't know you cared."
Kor looked uneasy. That is, he looked as uneasy as it is possible for a strong commanding officer to look without betraying that uncertainty to his crew. Quietly, he admitted, "Civilians are alike in both our empires, Captain. Kor out."
Chris strapped himself into his command chair. "Sound the collision alarm, Helmsman. Ensign Dunne, inform the crew of the approaching anomaly."
The captain's orders were swiftly carried out, and each member of the bridge crew also took precautions to brace themselves for turbulence often suffered while passing through ion storms. However, the helmsman noticed a slight problem at the same time that JD did.
"Sir, I'm picking up intraship communications from the Klingon vessel," JD revealed. "They claim that this is a trick. . .they're being pulled into the communications rift we encountered."
"I can verify that, sir," the helmsman stated, checking his instruments once more. "The ion storm. . .if that's what it is, sir. . .seems to be pulling both ships toward the rift at an equal rate."
"Engineering," Chris stated after he punched a button for intraship communications, "give me reverse thrusters, now! I'll settle for holding our position, but I don't want to get dragged into that thing."
"I wouldn't advise that, captain."
The voice was a familiar one, but not one the captain associated with any personnel from the Engineering section. "Who is this? Where's Donnelly?" Chris named the ship's chief engineer, his paranoia rising. Engineering was one of the few places--besides the bridge--from which an attempt to take control of the ship could be mounted.
"Donnelly was. . .replaced, sir," the familiar voice stated calmly, "by a much younger, less experienced officer." The voice chuckled. "Point that phaser elsewhere, son. . .you know it's true." Addressing the captain, the voice continued, "I was recruited because I have better than average knowledge of how the warp core will interact with the ion storm, and in this case; I'm advising we batten down the hatches and ride it out. If the engines overload, more than just this ship will be destroyed. Besides, this close to a rift of unknown qualities. . .I know the Empire is ambitious, Captain, but I doubt it would risk rupturing the fabric of space itself."
Chris sneered doubtfully at the man's generous estimation of the Terran Empire's wisdom, mindful of the alarming rate at which both ships were being pulled toward the rift. "Your observations are noted, Counselor Sanchez, but I repeat, who is in control of my engines?"
"Lieutenant Carmichael Janssen is the man in charge, Captain," the voice asserted. "I am here in a purely advisory capacity."
"Don't you forget it, old man," said another voice from the background.
Chris released the button for the intercom before sighing. He stood, paced around the bridge, and took in the various instrument readings from each crewmember's station. Rather than asking for verbal reports, he examined the readouts himself, assessing which problems were most pressing. He did not like what he saw. The circumstances which had arisen called for some extraordinarily unconventional measures. "Time to impact with the storm, Ensign Dunne?"
JD did not even have to glance at his panel. "One minute, fifteen seconds, sir."
Chris nodded and returned to his command chair. "Sanchez," Chris barked over the intercom, "how well do you know Engineering?"
"Better than most, sir," Counselor Josiah Sanchez replied promptly. "It was one of the few areas available to me for study before my Academy training."
"JD, the Klingons won't last through the initial shockwave, much less ride out the storm, am I correct?" Chris asked, though he already had guessed the answer. He didn't need confirmation for himself, but for his crew and for the walls. If his crew failed to understand his reasoning, they would hesitate to follow orders, and time was currently of the essence. As for the walls. . .he wanted Armada Command to have a record of his reasoning so that he would not be automatically condemned to the Chair for his irregular decision.
Ensign Dunne acknowledged that the captain's estimate was accurate, and Chris continued, "Engineering, Sanchez is in charge for the foreseeable future. Janssen is welcome to try me, by phaser or by intrigue, but wait until we're past this crisis. Sanchez, keep our velocity the same as the warbird's but don't use any more energy than necessary." Chris closed that communication and continued his orders to the bridge crew. "Harriman, put fore deflector shields on full, and make this adjustment for the rest of them."
Harriman immediately realized the implications of those modifications. "Sir, that would protect the Klingons, but will drain our power exponentially."
Chris smiled and Harriman cringed fearfully. "I'm just getting started. Divert power from all other systems except shields and transporters. Dunne, inform the transporter rooms that we'll be receiving company if this doesn't work."
"Aye sir," came from both stations, although one was more enthusiastic than the other. Satisfied that he had made the ship as ready as possible, Captain Larabee double-checked his seat's safety features just as the front wave of the ion storm hit.
The view screen showed swaths of color in different concentrations. Chris recalled from his Academy training that the deeper the concentration, the more dangerous the area. However, given the delicate nature of this encounter with the Klingons, the Tiberius could not take the customary evasive maneuvers to minimize damages. Klaxons sounded and gas erupted from a nearby panel. One of the consoles caught on fire, and the crewman jumped back, cradling a burned hand. The ship bucked and that crewman was thrown first into a bulkhead and then slid limply to the floor, now also bleeding from a head wound. Chris ignored him for the moment; the destiny of the entire ship was at stake, so he could not worry about the fate of one.
"Captain," Vin said as he saw an incongruity on his sensors. "There appear to be four ships around us. Two passed through the rift, and then two other materialized behind us. I have no explanation for the sensor readings at this time. . ." Vin's report trailed off as the anomaly came on the view screen.
In front of them, a black tear grew in size. Upon closer inspection, Chris noted that he could see stars through it. In fact, if Chris' memory of this sector was right, those stars were in nearly the right place. Less than a minute later, both ships were pulled through, and the effects of the ion storm quickly dissipated.
"Sir, even with the precautions, the Klingon's reactor is going critical," JD reported.
Chris grimaced. He had feared something like this would happen. "Damage report," he ordered.
"Hull breaches on three decks. We're losing atmosphere, but those sections have been sealed off. Multiple injuries reported, but no fatalities," Harriman stated. "Engineering reports drain on its power, but say they can manage Warp Four for a short time if absolutely necessary."
"The Klingons?" Chris demanded shortly.
JD spoke up. "Aside from the reactor, I'm picking up reports of venting atmosphere, collapsed sections, and failing life support."
"They're a mess," Chris summarized. "Initiate emergency transport. Get as many as we can, and then go to warp so we don't catch too much of the shockwave when their reactor does finally blow. What are our coordinates?"
As the other crewmembers hurried to complete his orders, the helmsman replied, "According to our sensors, sir, exactly where we were a few minutes ago. Wherever that rift dumped us, the readings indicate no change in coordinates."
Chris was not entirely convinced by that conclusion, but he was distracted by the ship abruptly jumping to warp and his communicator chirping. "This is the captain."
"Sir, we're having some trouble in the transporter rooms," said a voice. "Frankly, I don't think most of these Ridgeheads wanted to be saved. Hey!"
The bone-crunching noises that emanated from the communicator had even the most stoic crewmembers flinching in sympathy. Chris disconnected and ordered security teams to the transporter rooms, with orders to shoot to stun, rather than kill. "And where is Kor? Did we get him?"
The various members of the bridge crew tried to locate the Klingon commander. JD was first, as he had pulled up security feeds from the various transporter areas. "Yes, transporter room six, we got him just before the reactor went critical sir," JD answered.
"I'm on my way," the captain said, rising from his chair and heading for the turbolift. "Tanner, you have the con--"
The captain was interrupted in making his way to the turbolift by Vin's quiet statement. "You shouldn't be alone, captain. We don't know if the Klingons will attempt to capture you."
Chris laughed. "And where would they take me? We have control of this ship. The worst they can do is kill me. . .so you have no reason to worry." Chris stepped into the turbolift and jokingly threatened, "However, your concern is duly noted." The doors closed, and the lift began moving.
Chris had his phaser out of its holster long before the doors opened on deck six. He stood to the side of the doors, exiting only after he had ascertained that the hallway in front of him was empty. He made his way carefully, but briskly, through the deck to the room in question. When he reached it, the doors were open, in fact, had been forced open by the brute strength of their alien visitors. Chris could see Klingons through the doorway, exchanging fire with a security team at the opposite end of the corridor from where he presently crouched. Chris checked the setting on his phaser, changed it to maximum stun, and began firing with great speed and pinpoint accuracy.
Within seconds, the Klingons realized that they were under attack from two directions, and Chris had to tuck and roll as the bulkhead that he had been using for cover melted partially from an enemy's energy weapon.
Chris' roll brought him up just outside the transporter room, and from his new position, he could clearly see the security team. With hand signals, he ordered them to stand down. The firing became increasingly one-sided, and then a commanding voice called out in Klingonase. Though Chris had not brought a Universal Translator--those were for away teams and communications officers--he understood the intent of the voice. What's more, he even recognized it. "Kor!" Chris called out. "This is the thanks I get for saving your sorry hide? Maybe I should have let you and your crew die instead."
The voice switched to English at Chris' comments. "Face me, Larabee. I wish to speak with the coward who took my crew while they gasped for air, the man who stole our chance at an honorable death."
Chris struggled not to laugh. After all he had done, Kor had no right to call Chris a coward. "You know the strength of my character, Kor," Chris shouted back, not about to expose himself to any remaining Klingons' line of fire by stepping into the transporter room. "Next, you'll be negotiating privileges for my transporter technician's release."
The captain heard several growls emanating from the transporter room, and then a beaten and bloodied crewman was tossed bodily through the pried-open doors.
"Klingons do not take hostages, Larabee," Kor's voice stated with disdain. "That is an Armada offense, not one my empire commits."
Now, Chris did laugh. "If you're talking about Donatu V, those Klingons were saboteurs. Your commanding officers were just as eager to disown them as mine were to execute them. Crewman, are you alright?" Chris continued in a lower voice.
The crewman did not respond. In fact, he could barely move. Kor appeared in the doorway. Members of the security team raised their weapons, but Chris held up a hand in a pacifying gesture. "My men were gentle, considering the way he spoke of them," Kor explained, "You may call a medic to treat him. We will not interfere."
Chris glared. He could not deny that the transporter technician had voiced at least one speciesist slur, but neither could he ignore Kor's power play. "How gracious of you," Chris stated in a tone that implied he thought Kor was being anything but. Tapping his communicator, Chris called for Nait Jaksonar, and the dark- skinned Cardassian doctor appeared less than a minute later. The doctor began treating the crewman on site, but Chris ordered Jaksonar to remove the injured man from the corridor instead.
As Nait Jaksonar complied, Kor scowled at the implied insult. "I gave my word, Captain. If that is not good enough for you--"
"I appreciate your cooperation," Chris interrupted, "but I'll take it for something more important. Right now, in transporter rooms all across my ship, your crew is fighting mine. I have ordered my security teams to shoot to stun, but judging by that bulkhead," Chris indicated the partly melted one several feet behind him, "your men aren't returning the favor. We are in an uncharted region of space; we know little about the threats it might pose, and I would like to preserve the one ship we have left."
"You are proposing a truce?" Kor asked doubtfully. "Why would you do this? We are clearly a threat to your crew."
Chris' jaw tightened in frustration. Klingons were fierce warriors, loyal to a fault, and had some of the galaxy's most promising tacticians, but they could be infuriatingly simple-minded at times.
"You're right," Chris acknowledged Kor's confusion. "We could have a full-scale battle between my crew and yours in these halls. But whoever won would be left with a partially disabled ship. Your people have tried to take trophies before. . .you know that it is Armada policy not to let a functional ship fall into enemy hands. So, best case scenario, your crew will be left drifting in space, with no way back. Your homeworld would never know of your crew's fate. StarArmada Command would take the opportunity to claim that your entire crew had defected to our side." Chris paused, to let the implications of this sink in. "Good luck finding an honorable death that way," he muttered, and then continued. "On the other hand, we can complete the mission assigned to us by our respective commands, return, and I will drop you off at the nearest starbase, where your release will be negotiated by your ambassador."
Kor's eyes narrowed and his bushy eyebrows drew down in suspicion. "My crew. . .how will we be treated during our stay on your ship. . .if it is a peaceful stay?" The remaining Klingons in Transporter Room Six voiced their disapproval in Klingonase, and Kor snarled something back at them that reduced their angry replies to mere grumbling.
Chris shrugged. "You will not be permitted near any vital systems, but neither will you be prisoners--our brig isn't large enough anyway. I will have one of the shuttle bays refitted to serve as a barracks until this situation is resolved." As a last attempt to convince Kor, Chris said, "Remember what we discussed about espionage, Commander."
One of Kor's crew asked a question in Klingonase, and Kor clarified in the same language. After that, the disapproval changed to one of alertness, rather than imminent violence. Chris grimaced. This wasn't in keeping with Armada protocols. If or when he had to report to Armada Command, questions would be raised. Why had he not fought to the last man? Why had he not chosen to flood the Klingon-infested areas with poison gas. . .his own crew losses be damned? Why was he cooperating with a declared enemy of the Terran Empire?
All these questions paled in comparison to the current situation, though. As Chris had told Kor, there were extenuating circumstances. Neither crew knew what was out there, where the communications rift/wormhole had landed them, or what their chances were of returning--either through it or by another means.
As Captain Larabee's security teams began escorting Kor's men to the shuttle bay they would be staying in, Chris made eye contact with Kor and the two leaders stepped aside and lowered their voices.
"What did you not wish to say in front of my warriors, Larabee?" Kor stated, and Chris could not tell whether it was simply a question or closer to an accusation.
Chris hesitated for a moment, and then decided that he should not tell Kor anything until he had received confirmation from his own officers. "You may be in for some bad news, Commander. Do you have a couple of men in your crew whom you trust completely?"
Kor gave a derisive snort. "No," he retorted curtly, "but there is a handful I distrust less than the rest. Why?"
Chris nodded in the direction Kor's crewmen had departed by. "You'll want to put those few on crowd control. Given our empires' shared history, I don't expect this to be easy. . .and you may need some of your men to discourage mine from making trouble. I will order all but the security teams to stay clear of your barracks, but I cannot guarantee the behavior of every single member of my crew. Also, I will be holding a briefing in the third deck conference room about our situation, and possible solutions. If you and a couple of your officers would like to attend--"
"I do not understand you, Captain Larabee," Kor said, his expression conveying paranoia and confusion. "You saved my crew to avoid an embarrassing incident between our empires, but this. . .this is too much courtesy. Is this meeting not a matter of your ship's security?"
Chris sighed and lowered his voice further. "My communications expert--the one you kidnapped--has a theory about the communications rift. It is a theory that I think both our species needs to hear. . .in case yours has had more experience with it than ours. Will an hour be enough time to prepare?"
Kor stared at Chris for a moment longer, still disbelieving, but then nodded abruptly and headed down the corridor in the direction his crew had used moments before. Watching the Klingon commander leave, three human security guards in his wake, Chris noted that the commander managed to make an armed escort look like an honor guard instead. Smiling at having found a kindred spirit--even if he would never voice such traitorous thoughts--Chris returned to the bridge.
Vin's head snapped around toward the turbolift doors as soon as they began to open. Upon seeing the captain, safe and sound, he returned to his work, but Chris recognized the look of relief that the taciturn Vulcan attempted to hide.
"Ensign Dunne," Chris called out, walking over to the communication officer's work station. Chris lowered his voice as he continued, "I want you to compile a presentation of the theory you shared with me earlier. There will be a meeting of some of the officers in an hour's time."
As JD stared out across the conference room at the gathering of officers, he wished the captain had mentioned that some of the officers would be Klingons. He had prepared his presentation with the understanding that only Captain Larabee, First Officers Vin and Buck, Security Chief Standish, Ship's Counselor Sanchez and perhaps the ship's doctor Nait Jaksonar would be in attendance. A proper display of respect was in order when addressing Klingon officers of a superior rank, but JD decided to hope that he would not be expected to adhere to the Klingon code of conduct in that respect.
With his voice considerably steadier than he had anticipated, JD concluded his report. "According to these calculations, I believe we have been transported not only through dimensions, but also in time. We arrived here approximately two days before entering the rift in our universe. The rift is smaller than it was when we entered, which means one of two things." JD took a deep breath before continuing. "Either the rift will expand as we approach the two-day mark on this side of the anomaly, or. . ."
Before he could finish, Josiah interrupted, "Or, transferring two ships permanently damaged the rift, making it too unsteady to return us to our own universe."
"That's the most ridiculous story I have ever heard," One of Kor's officer's protested. "The scrawny pa'tagh is lying to us!"
JD's hand went for the dagger on his belt and the skeptical Klingon officer began to rise from his chair, but Kor put a restraining hand in front of his officer's chest, preventing the Klingon from standing.
"Would you challenge my honor by attacking him?" Kor snarled at his officer, and the Klingon growled but stopped his attempted assault. Addressing the human ensign, Kor continued, "Though, I agree partially with my first officer. Your report is difficult to accept. What evidence do you have?"
JD explained that the relative distances to nearby solar systems were minutely wrong. "See, ever since the Vulcan Science Academy proved the rate of galactic drift, we have been able to tell time by the growing distance between stars."
"The stars aren't in the right place?" Buck contributed. With the exception of Kor, every Klingon in the room glared at the interspecies first officer. "Sorry, kid, but that sounds kind of thin, even to me."
"Harriman noticed the discrepancy," JD argued, justifying his findings, "but he thought it was just a minor sensor malfunction. I realigned the sensors and checked for bugs in the system, but the readings were accurate." JD looked to Chris, not for support, but to signal that his briefing was finished.
Chris nodded. "So, we are out of our own time and in the wrong universe. Does anyone have suggestions?"
The ship shuddered and the red alert klaxon began to sound, startling the Klingons and causing looks of annoyance to cross the features of most of the Tiberius' officers.
Tapping his communicator, Chris demanded, "Bridge, this is the captain. Report!"
"We're under attack, sir," Ensign Harriman's voice confided. "I think it's Romulans, Captain. They have a cloaking device, sir. . .that is why we couldn't see them coming."
Chris' lips formed a thin line as he considered the options. "On my way," he broadcasted via the communicator, and then stood to leave. He paused in the doorway and turned. "Kor, you and your officers may accompany me to the bridge, but remember. . .this is my ship."
Kor scowled, but fell in beside Chris. Left standing at the head of the conference table, JD smiled. He suspected that Kor's displeasure had mostly been for show, and that the Klingon commander was probably trying to discern just why Captain Larabee was being so helpful. JD laughed, the empty room his only audience. Honestly, he didn't understand what the captain was thinking either, but he felt confident that whatever was going on up on the bridge, Chris would be able to handle it.
The ship lurched again, and JD stopped himself from falling by grabbing onto the edge of the table. On the other hand, the captain might need his communications officer on the bridge. He hurried to catch up with the procession of officers.
"Ensign Harriman," Chris growled, "Take evasive measures. JD, try to contact them. Broadcast on all frequencies."
JD was surprised by the order. He had only just entered the bridge from the turbolift, and the captain had been facing the view screen. There was no possible way Chris could have known that it was JD who had disembarked. His hesitation was merely momentary, though, as he quickly crossed the bridge and took his station. "Yes, sir," JD replied. "What message should I send?"
Chris opened his mouth to reply that the conventional hailing sequence would be adequate, but then he reconsidered. That particular hail informed the listener that the Tiberius, pride of the Terran Armada, would be in the vicinity for an undisclosed amount of time, and that any resistance would be met with swift and vicious reprisal. Though Chris' feelings toward the Romulan warbird were in full agreement with such a broadcast, the captain realized it might not be wise to reveal that the Tiberius belonged to the Terran Armada rather than the Federation's Star Fleet.
"Create an inoffensive hail requesting communication with the Romulan ship," Chris suggested, "preferably, one that does not give away which universe we're from."
"Aye, captain," JD replied and quickly composed the proposed message. After he sent it, the bombardment slowed and eventually stopped. A light flashed on JD's console. "Incoming message, sir. It's the Romulans."
"Onscreen," Chris ordered, and seconds later the bridge of the Romulan ship flashed into view.
On the Romulan bridge, Commander Tomalak tried not to stare in disbelief. He had known that the Federation and Klingon empire were solidifying an alliance--despite Romulus' repeated attempts to destabilize the region--but for Federation ships to be carrying Klingon officers! The shock was potent enough to prevent him from noting the different insignia on the human officers' uniforms. Addressing the captain, the Romulan commander said, "I demand to know what you are doing so close to the Neutral Zone!"
Chris had no idea what the Romulan commander was talking about--there was no Neutral Zone in his universe--but he decided to ignore the question, trying instead to bluff his way through. "As you said, we are only near the zone, not violating its boundaries," Chris explained. "I am Captain Larabee of the starship Tiberius, and my patrol patterns are none of your concern."
"The Federation is increasing patrols, then? I thought our governments had agreed that this particular corner of space--and the nearby system--would best be left. . .unclaimed by all." The Romulan commander remarked as though not expecting an answer. "I had not heard that a ship called Tiberius had been deployed. When did you launch?"
Chris scowled. He did not like the feeling that the Romulan commander was receiving far more information from this verbal encounter than he was. "I answer to my superiors, not to you. Besides, I could just as easily ask what you are doing here."
The Romulan commander gave a tight smile. "I have authorization to be here, Captain Larabee, which is more than can be said for you. As soon as you appeared on our long-range sensors, I sent word to my superiors. They contacted Starfleet, and the Federation claims that there is no ship currently patrolling these sectors. We were given permission to investigate. . .so that I could assure my superiors that there was no threat to the Romulan Star Empire."
"Fine," Chris stated calmly. "You came, you saw, and you even took a few potshots. Get back to Romulan space and tell your superiors that any further attack will be perceived as an act of war against the Federation. Now, get the hell out of my sector."
The Romulan commander frowned and cut off communications. The ship withdrew, and a few of the officers let out breaths they had been unaware of holding.
"That was close," Chris commented wryly. "I think we'll see more of them, once they figure out that we don't belong here."
"The commander was surprised to see us," Kor said. "Of course, your ship was a shock to him, but he seemed upset that my men and I were on your bridge."
"I may have an explanation for that," JD interrupted. "While you were talking, I managed to bypass their security protocols and access one of the less heavily-defended servers. It had cultural information. The Klingon and Terran Empires of this universe have an uneasy alliance. The Romulans have staged attacks against both empires in recent years, and I found a few mentions of 'cunning strategies' by the Romulan Star Empire to disturb the peace between humans and Klingons. He probably suspects that those attempts have backfired, if a Federation ship seems to be taking on Klingons as members of its crew."
Kor smile spitefully. While he did not trust the Terran Empire, at least it was normally straightforward about its ambitions. Romulans were treacherous, though. Anything that unsettled a Romulan, no matter what universe he was from, made Kor want to break out a barrel of bloodwine in celebration.
Chris pursed his lips in thought. "If that's true, then we may be receiving a visit far sooner than we expected; maybe even from this Star Fleet you mentioned, JD. What system was he talking about?"
JD had a guess as to which solar system the Romulan commander had meant, but before he could specify, Kor spoke.
"That would be the Four Corners system," Kor replied, a scowl on his features. "It is at the intersection among the three empires, and it is a place where only the hardy and the unwanted live."
"If it intersects three corners," JD pondered aloud, "then why is it called f--"
"The Romulans are two-faced cowards who care not even for the pretense of honor!" one of Kor's officers retorted heatedly.
Kor gave what might have been a smirk and then explained, "Having no honor among their warrior caste, the Romulan Star Empire is as often turned in against itself as it is fighting you or us. Therefore, they provide two corners, instead of one."
Chris nodded and gave an eager, predatory grin. "That system is unclaimed territory. Let's go see what all the fuss is about."