Deep space, Sycorax's habitat
21 April 2379 1547 hrs
The pleasures of controlled chaos. The root of her power. The
aggressiveness of the males kept them easy to control. A weapon she
simply needed to point in any particular direction or no particular
direction. The other females deferred to her out of fear. She had
the vision and the ruthless drive to carry it out, nothing that stood
in her way would prevent her from obtaining her goal and as she
surveyed the progress of their conquests from the Realm, she could
feel the threads of the chaos she wrought stretching out throughout
this galaxy. The sensation was intoxicating.
A small ship on its approach drew her attention. Never wanting her
'allies' to get too comfortable, she kept all their weapons on alert,
tracking their small ship. She could imagine their discomfort and
smiled, knowing that they would be on edge, easier to control, easier
to lead through the hoops she wishes them to jump through. Tractors
lanced out and ensnared the small vessel, guiding it into the bay
prepared for it. Sycorax watched silently as two humans, unimportant
puppets in the organization that she was allied with, stepped forth
from the vessel. If she were a fool, Sycorax would have been insulted
by their failure to send someone more important to her. However, she
had not come to full control of the Realm by being a fool. Whether
important to Section 31 or not, anyone they sent was still an insect
to her, below her notice. What did she care if the creature they
sent was above or below another of their own? In the end, they were
all below her and lesser beings than West were more likely to give
something away if they were plotting against her.
For her the show continued as two young females, still in their meat
bodies, led the humans to a featureless room, fixed the operatives
with a cold stare and told them to wait. Their body temperatures
rose as she watched, the tension in them evident. Patience was not
their strong suit. Neither was it Sycorax's, but in this she had
time, she was in control and could afford to wait. It allowed the
humans to set themselves more off balance.
Kelley paced back and forth, not realizing nor caring that he was
doing exactly what Sycorax expected. He could feel his heart racing
in his chest, between the featureless room and the deafening silence
his mind screamed one thought -- 'escape,' which of course was
impossible until they had completed their mission here. The sooner,
the better by his estimation. He turned his attention to his
partner, Collins, and focused his mind on the situation at hand in
order to control the primitive fight or flight response his body was
having to the situation at hand.
"How long do you think it will take before the Sernaix will provide us
with the complete technical specifications on the frozen light
technology?" Kelley asked, the tension evident in his voice. He
opened his mouth to continue but the stare Collins fixed him with
communicated two words. Shut. Up.
A booming voice filled the space, the air vibrating around them as the
sound spread throughout. "The information will be yours when I feel
you have fulfilled all parts of your bargain with me, humans. And
not a moment before."
Sharing a look, knowing that Sycorax would not 'grace' them with her
presence today, Collins spoke, casting his attention in the direction
her voice seemed to come from. "As you say, Sycorax. We accept your
judgement in the matter, however we need your assurance that you will
restrict your attacks in the Alpha Quadrant to the list of pre-
approved targets we have provided you."
This one was good. Almost as good as West, but not quite. The
advantage she held over the puny, restricted humans made their
attempts to hide anything from her laughable. Everything was evident
to her from here, from the smallest nuance of speech to the pounding
of their hearts. The power she held from this vantage was
intoxicating. To think they would expect her to lower herself to
joining with that pathetic meat shell she once inhabited was equally
laughable to her. Her voice was bored and this time she projected it
from the opposite side of the room, making the humans whirl inanely
to 'face' her once more. "Yes, I know what you want. You've made
that abundantly clear. I still fail to see that my people are getting
anything of equal value for my restraint."
"Perhaps your people do not, but you, Sycorax, do." Collins kept his
voice even and cool, despite the natural tension he felt. "Section 31
has proved useful to you so far. As long as you continue to abide by
the terms of our agreement, our operatives will bring you whatever
information you wish, from whatever section of our government you
wish. We will be your eyes and ears in whatever places you wish to
Again the position of her voice changed, this time coming from
underneath them, making the floor vibrate as though in an earthquake.
It was a voice of power, a voice of a goddess or the devil herself.
"So, you will help me to carry out whatever goals I set within your
quadrant and in exchange you get to keep your little worlds safe."
"That is our intention, yes," Collins replied, trying to maintain his
balance with some dignity.
The shaking stopped abruptly and the voice was an almost pleasant
purr. "Then that will be sufficient."
Both the operatives could hear the unspoken, 'For now.'
* * *
Romulus, Tal Shiar headquarters
April 2379 0825 hrs
Koval tr'Doowrom sat in a very comfortable
chair. He sat facing a window overlooking the magnificence of
Ra'tleihfi with its spires and pillars adorned with the birds that
had come to so symbolize the Rihannsu. Romulans, they were called by
the Federation. He was chairman of the Tal Shiar. He had power. And
he feared he would never escape the fact that it was the
Federation's Section 31 who put him there.
"It would seem," one of the others among the
Tal Shiar hierarchy, Xor tr'Sharien, was saying from behind him,
"that Section 31 has formed an alliance with the Sernaix."
"Interesting," said another, Radaik
tr'Annhwi. "While they are at war with them, no less."
"Our contacts within the Federation," Xor
continued, "indicate that this alliance has been ongoing since
shortly after the return of their Starship Voyager. Thirty-One's
ultimate goal is unclear, but it would seem likely they intend to
gain some or all of the Sernaix's advanced technology in order to
gain an advantage over the Rihannsu and the other powers in the
"We cannot allow that to happen, of course,"
Koval said, still facing the large window in this, his office.
"One would think that goes without saying,
chairman," Radaik said.
"Never assume what would seem to be obvious,
Radaik tr'Annhwi" Koval chided, turning to face his companions.
"Others may believe something entirely opposite to be the same."
"I will endeavor to remember that," Radaik
replied, but his tone indicated irritation at the chairman's words.
Koval made a mental note that he would have to watch this one more
closely; it could be hazardous to his health should anyone ever have
cause to suspect the circumstances that led to his ascendance to the
"Should they succeed," Xor continued, "it
would undoubtedly and irreparably tip the balance of power to the
Federation. Something must be done to avert such a catastrophe."
"Yes, yes," Radaik said impatiently, "but
"Perhaps," Xor suggested, "we should
approach the Sernaix."
* * *
Somewhere on Earth
April 2379 1043 hrs
Admiral Alistair Warhol stepped through the
open doorway and into a brightly-lit room. He wasn't the first to
arrive; several others had already taken their seats and were
waiting. But he also wasn't the last; he could hear footsteps in the
hallway behind him. He took one of the seats across from the large
oak desk that dominated the room and waited with the others for the
straggler to arrive.
A few moments later, everyone was in their
seats and waiting anxiously for the meeting to begin. Their host
looked at each of them, one after the other, then began to
"Good morning," Mr. West said at last. "Our
latest envoy has returned from their meeting with the big lady
herself. She seemed unusually receptive to our proposal." His eyes
surveyed his guests once more before he continued, "Nevertheless,
our plans are still moving forward. Once we've secured the secrets
of their frozen light technology, be it from the source or from the
Federation's own scientists, we'll be able to move from there:
severing our ties with the Sernaix and delivering the killing blow.
Once we have the frozen light technology, no one will be able to
stand in the way of the Federation."
"What if the Borg get it first?" Warhol
asked. He regretted the question the moment he saw the change in
"What makes you think they're after it?"
West asked with a quiet voice that precipitated a deafening silence
in the room.
"Just a hunch," Warhol said a moment later,
choosing his words more carefully now. "We know the Borg have been
interested in any new technologies they come across. Can we afford
to risk the possibility that hasn't changed? We already know there
are Sernaix ships spread across the galaxy."
West gazed at Warhol for a long time in
utter silence, judging, appraising. He obviously suspected
something, but just as obviously had nothing to go on. It couldn't
have been just the Borg comment, even though it did seem to come out
of nowhere. On the other hand, an above-average amount of suspicion
was also common this high up in the hierarchy of Section 31.
"Perhaps you're right," West said at last,
"but at the moment that's beyond our control. If it becomes an issue
later, we'll deal with it then."
"Do you want contingency plans devised," one
of the others in the room, Kelley, asked, "to prepare for such an
"That would be prudent," West admitted, then
turned his attention to another one of his guests. "Mr. Collins, has
there been any new information received from our contacts on
The momentary crisis past, Warhol decided
that he would have to be more cautious in the future, lest West
suspect the truth: his visit from Ankin Rotor had potentially
compromised both him and the whole of 31. And the Section did not
suffer such risks any longer than was absolutely necessary.
* * *
Somewhere on Cardassia Prime
23 April 2379 1135 hrs
Gul Makret stood before the other assembled members of the Order,
watching as their body language betrayed their growing tension as they
considered the information he had provided them. The murmuring around
the table became louder as each of them set down another PADD and
looked from each other to Makret. This was the single most potent
threat they had faced since the resurrection of their organization
after the fall of the Dominion. Gul Makret bided his time waiting for
the best opportunity to seize control of the chaos brewing in the
room, knowing that this opportunity, properly exploited, could be the
turning point for both the reinstatement of the Greater Cardassian
Union and his own stepping stone to power within that organization.
The tension in the room reached its peak and he struck like a viper
from its nest. "You see now that Section 31 is seeking to upset the
balance of power within the Alpha Quadrant. To raise the Federation
above any other powers in this quadrant. It is in our best interests
to stop them now. To seize and overturn the alliance they have made
with the Sernaix and forge our own in its place."
Gul Timur stood slowly, of all the others in the room only he seemed
non-plused by the news of Section 31's alliance. "The humans have a
saying: when you bed down with dogs, you get fleas. Our last alliance
with an aggressor should have taught us to trust only ourselves.
Section 31 did not learn from our errors; let the humans make their
own mistakes. We do not need to repeat the errors of our past."
Makret sneered, "Spoken like an old man. The technology that the
Sernaix have will make whoever controls that technology the power of
this quadrant. No other single race will be able to stand before
them." He turned and paced in front of the other members of the
Obsidian Order, his actions calculated to raise the tension in the
room further before he turned abruptly to address them. "Despite the
noble words of the Federation, we all know it is only a matter of
time until they set their sights on us. 'Bringing us into their fold'
or destroying us completely. If our goal is the reformation of the
Greater Cardassian Union, then we can not allow Section 31 and the
Federation to control this technology."
"What makes you think that for all their alliances, Section 31 will
control this technology when all is said and done?" Timur asked, his
voice quiet but drawing attention with its very timbre.
Makret spun and fixed Timur with an glare meant to intimidate, but
the older Cardassian just watched him with a bemused, imperious
expression. Gul Makret once again disregarded the older man and
addressed the others assembled. "The risk is great, but the reward if
we are successful is greater still. With this technology we will have
the power to make Cardassia the power it was destined to be."
The murmurs turned to nods of assent and Makret turned a smug gaze on
Timur. Timur still showed no signs of being impressed with the
younger man. In fact his gaze conveyed the opposite and no show of
submission to the upstart. "Of course, should our envoy fail, there
will be no second chances, no return. Our resources will be spent and
we will have to refocus on rebuilding our homeworld solely." His gaze
traveled around the room, taking in the expression of each of the
other members. "And perhaps we will be better for it."
Silence enveloped them as Timur stood regally and left them to their
* * *
Earth, Starfleet Headquarters
April 2379 1413 hrs
Admiral Warhol stepped into a large, fairly
dark room. At its center was a massive, open-centered ovoid table
that was designed to seat a large number of officers for important
briefings. A relatively modest podium sat at the head of the table,
the arrowhead insignia that was, for more than a century now, the
emblem of Starfleet emblazoned on its front. To the side of the room
were smaller tables flanked by stewards with drinks and hors
Warhol took his customary seat near the head
of the table, three seats to the right of the podium. The other
admirals who comprised Starfleet's Command Division were still
arriving, but nearly all were present.
Warhol redirected his attention to the entry
as Admiral William Ross, now head of the Personnel Division and a
thorn in Section 31's side for years, entered the room and took his
seat while exchanging muted greetings with admirals Paris and
Patterson. Together, the three had completely upset the Section's
plans for the Voyager crew. But the Section was nothing if not
adaptable, and new plans were put into motion to deal with each
change in circumstances. Unfortunately, it had been quite some time
since Agent Barton had last checked in; on the other hand, it had
also been quite some time since Voyager herself had checked in.
Perhaps there was a connection there, but it was best to assume the
worst: Barton had been neutralized somehow, and Voyager was still at
large and simply unable to make contact at present.
Once all of the admirals in the room had
taken their seats, an Andorian with lieutenant commander's pips on
her collar stepped up to the podium.
"Ladies and gentlemen," she announced, "the
CINC." All the admirals rose, more or less, to the position of
attention as Fleet Admiral Brackett entered and took the podium from
her adjutant, who stepped off to one side of the room.
"As you were," Brackett said. After everyone
had taken their seats once more, she continued, "As you're all no
doubt aware by ths point, the conflict with the Sernaix is
continuing to turn against us. In a matter of months, their forces
have managed to overrun, cripple and destroy much of our defensive
capabilities. And, following a mission into the heart of what has
become Sernaix territory, all communication with the Starship
Voyager has suddenly ceased. We're not certain if it's due to
interference, hostile or otherwise, or if the ship has been
destroyed. As far as tactical planning goes, until such time as we
regain communication with Voyager, we should consider her lost.
Admiral Nechayev, could you fill us in on the latest tactical
"Since the Sernaix established their
picket," Admiral Alynna Nechayev began from her seat near Warhol,
"much of the Alpha Quadrant and part of the Beta Quadant have been,
effectively, cut off from the rest of the galaxy."
"Cut off?" a confused Admiral Bennett, head
of the Judge Advocate General, asked. "How is it possible for them
to seal off an entire quadrant? From what I hear, we've got at least
ten times the ships they do, and we'd be hard pressed to just try
sealing off the Federation."
"Their ships," Nechayev replied, "which
typically travel in 'packs' of fewer than a half-dozen, are
scattered throughout the region, but their slipstream capability
makes it impossible for any of our ships save Voyager to outrun
them. And with their immunity to most of our arsenal and an arsenal
of their own reportedly powerful enough to wipe out entire planets,
any one of their ships could intercept and destroy our own traffic
"You make it sound as if they're
unbeatable," Admiral Cobum of the Logistics Division observed.
"Granted," Nechayev conceded, "there have
been a few notable victories: a few days ago, the Enterprise led two
corsairs on a chase through an asteroid belt. One was destroyed in a
collision with an asteroid, the other after the Enterprise lured it
into the atmosphere of Galorndan Core and overloaded the corsair's
refrigeration units. Both maneuvers were highly dangerous."
"What are our chances?" Cobum asked. "Can we
"As things stand," Nechayev said grimly,
"unless something radical happens, and soon, the Federation could
fall in a matter of months. We're at their mercy, and so far they've
been content just to toy with us. We have no idea how long that
"We've lost a number of people," Ross
interrupted, "from their attacks on our outposts, ships and
facilities. We've got to find some way to start rebuilding our
forces, and fast, before we lose this war by simple attrition."
"Perhaps," Nechayev began thoughtfully, "we
could begin accelerated training for our more promising cadets.
Outstanding junior officers could take part in advanced tactical
training, and the cadets could join them upon completing their
training. That could help us in the long run."
"If it saves lives, I'm all for it," Ross
"I agree," Brackett said. "Make it happen,
* * *
Earth, Starfleet Academy
April 2379 1301 hrs
Cadet Icheb walked into his room in one of
the dormitories on the Starfleet Academy campus, a standard-issue
travel duffel slung over his shoulder. His roommate glanced up at
"Hey, Itchy," the redheaded human Cadet
Caleb Fromme said, a small smirk suddenly appearing on his face.
Icheb spun. "Where did you hear that...
appelation?" he demanded.
Fromme recoiled, raising his hands in mock
surrender. "Some guy came here about a week ago looking for you,"
the human explained. "Found him sitting at your desk, and he said he
was looking for 'Itchy.' I told him I didn't know where you were and
got out of here. When I got back, he was gone."
"You told him you did not know where I was?"
Icheb asked in disbelief.
"Yeah," Fromme replied. "Figured you owed
him latinum or something."
"You did not tell him the truth," Icheb
said. "You knew quite well that I was in flight training on Io."
"So what?" Fromme said. "So, you know who
I'm talking about? Tall, thin human with brown hair? Wore a cadet's
uniform, but I didn't recognize him..."
"Yes, I know him," Icheb replied. It had to
be... Secretly, Icheb was glad there was no visual monitoring
equipment in the dormitories, as that would have resulted in more
questions he didn't wish to answer from people with admiral's pips
on their collars...
"Do not call me 'Itchy,'" he continued. "I
shall also have to report this incident."
"So I was right," Fromme concluded
"I was referring to your lying," Icheb said,
then quoted the cadet creed: "'We shall not lie, cheat or steal, nor
tolerate those among us who do.'"
"I was just trying to look out for you,"
Fromme argued. "For all I knew, he could've been some Borg hater
like I was before I got to know you. Besides," he added with a
wicked gleam in his eye, "if you want to be technical, I really
didn't know where you were. Specifically."
Icheb pondered his roommate's argument.
While obviously what Lieutenant Paris would call "a stretch," he
decided it wouldn't be worth reporting. With a small, almost
impercepible sigh, he placed his duffel on his bed and activated the
terminal on his desk.
Icheb checked his message queue. Being new
to the quadrant, he had few correspondents, so there weren't many
message headers listed on his screen. The majority were from his
professors, most of which concerned make-up work that he was
expected to complete to compensate for his absences during flight
training. But there was another that caught his eye, from the
commandant of cadets. He opened the file.
The face of Captain Keegan Williams,
familiar to all the cadets in a general sense, and to a handful in a
more specific sense, appeared on his screen. The commandant was,
like a large percentage of Starfleet seemed to be, a human. Fair
skin, blue eyes, dark hair. Unremarkable, but also unmistakable.
"Cadet Icheb," the recording began, "I
realize that when you get this message, you won't have as much time
to prepare as your classmates, but that's unavoidable. In light of
the current crisis facing the Federation, as well as your
oft-demonstrated ability to learn quickly and think on your feet,
you've been selected to join a group of about a dozen cadets for
advanced, accelerated training.
"You will assemble," the recording
continued, "in Transporter Room Six in Robert April Hall on Stardate
56316 at 1430 hours. That gives you about twenty-four hours to
prepare. Good luck and godspeed, Cadet. Williams out." The recording
ended, and the image vanished from his screen.
* * *
Deep space, Sycorax's habitat
25 April 2379 1333 hrs
The warp effect faded from view leaving only the ominous looming
presence of the habitat before them. Makret's eyes widened and fought
to bring his emotions under rein. Something about the black on black
behemoth before him triggered his most basic responses. Unwilling to
allow his aide, standing beside him, to see the fear the habitat had
triggered, he pulled his mask of indifference over his features once
more and regarded the still stunned junior with a cold glare. "Open a
His words were interrupted as the telltale shimmer of a Romulan
cloaking device came into existence on the view screen. Makret eyes
narrowed, "What in..."
"... Ch'Rihan's name are the Cardassians doing here?" Sepel hissed as
he focused on the small Cardassian transport already hanging to the
starboard side of the Habitat.
His aide's hands flew over the console, tapping into the Tal Shiar's
vast database of knowledge, his voice calm as he announced, "It is
the Cardassian courier ship N'toth." His gaze was even as he continued
his pronouncement, "It belongs to Gul Makret."
Sepel turned his attention back to the view screen, his lip curling in
disgust. "Damned Obsidian..."
"... Shiar." Makret leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers
as his gaze went from disgust to suspicion. "The question is: did
they come here because they knew what we planned, or is this purely a
His aide watched as the Gul pulled himself to his feet and turned his
attention back to the space station before him. "We go forward with
our plan, regardless of these Romulan vultures. Open hailing
frequencies with the station."
Before the aide could open the channel, a low, ominous voice filled
the cabin, "You are trespassing in Sernaix territory." Sycorax's
curiousity had been piqued, which was the only thing standing between
the two ships, their occupants, and complete annihilation. "If you
value your continued existence, convince me why I should not set the
nearest Adimh against you."
"With all due respect, you would be foolish to limit your options of
trade with only one partner..." Makret's voice took on the honeyed
tone of a Cardassian negotiator.
"... There are other powers in this quadrant that have equal interest
in the technology that Section 31 is bargaining for." Sepel's voice
was calmly logical as he stated his government's interest in the
technology. His people may not adhere solely to the principles of
logic, but found them useful tools when necessary. "Eventually
"... will betray you. If they are willing to betray their own people,
how can you trust them?" Makret opened his arms wide, on the off
chance that the Sernaix leader could see his gestures. They were
gestures specifically chosen to ingratiate and win trust.
Sycorax could barely restrain her glee. These species were so amusing
with their plots and counter plots. Simplistic, but overall an
enjoyable show. The fact that their diatribe was inherently
interchangeable only added to her amusement at their antics. The same
answer filtered into both vessels simultaneously. "Of course they
aren't to be trusted. In their place I would do the very same thing."
Practically smelling their fear, she allowed the seconds to tick by,
allowing it to build. "However, you have intrigued me with your
offer." Two small bays opened in the habitat and tractor beams caught
and held the vessels, pulling them towards the behemoth. "You may
continue to plead your case aboard my vessel."
She watched from the Realm as the tiny ships were pulled into the
belly of hers, engulfed by its magnitude. This would be a pleasant
diversion for a few hours, or at least until her amusement faded.
* * *
Earth, Starfleet Academy
April 2379 1426 hrs
Finding the correct hall to which he was
required to report was not a problem; Icheb hiked a large, black
duffel over his shoulder as he entered the sprawling innards of
Robert April Hall and found himself mired within a grandiose amount
of buzzing, curious fellow cadets. Each had no doubt been given a
great deal more preparation time than himself, leaving Icheb to feed
into his curiosity as to the nature of this particular mission.
Captain Williams had been intriguingly brief in his message, and the
cadet approached a rigid, trim individual whose own duffel sat,
unmussed with straps folded, at their feet as they awaited orders.
So unlike everyone else within the hall, and that alone gave Icheb
incentive to approach and clear his throat to gain attention.
"Excuse me. I am curious--" A slim neck
turned upon slender shoulders to give Icheb a most-improved glance
upon his now familiar colleague, T'Kara, her brown eyes peering
impassively across the short expanse between them. "Hello,
"Greetings, Icheb." Cool and collected, the
Vulcan was the epitome of composure, an island in the sea of
furrowed brows and bright-eyed curiosity exhibited by the scores of
other cadets that rushed and swirled throughout the large
transporter room. Icheb examined the area briefly for himself,
finding it to be much larger than what he had experienced on
Voyager, and yet feeling a slight pang at the thought of the smaller
size of Voyager's own transporter rooms. Captain Janeway would have
been grateful for such a relatively cavernous area with the dilemmas
she had faced in her time.
"Greetings," he returned, adopting the
formal tone readily, watching as T'Kara's own eyes scanned the
tumultuous area inexpressively. Discomfort was not obvious in her
demeanor, but he himself was not immune to it. Many bodies, pressed
against one another in haste... Seven of Nine had not "been a fan"
of such a thing, as Tom Paris would have phrased it... and neither
was he. "What do you know of this mission?"
"I too have been ill-informed." T'Kara
gestured toward the transporter pad, several cadets having moved
away to allow more than enough space for the two of them to stand.
"However, might I suggest we move toward the head of the crowd if we
wish to be better informed when our commander arrives?"
As they wormed their way through the crowd,
Icheb couldn't help but feel slight admiration at the Vulcan cadet's
straightforward determination. No one stood in her way, a natural
commanding presence creating an invisible aura. Seven had possessed
the ability to do that, he recalled, as had Captain Janeway. It came
with time, with experience, and perhaps with stern training in
"T'Kara... why is it you chose to join
Starfleet?" he queried, watching her maneuver the crowd easily, at
last reaching safe haven close to the azure-hued transporter. Much
of the room's contents were such objects as cargo containers and
transporter consoles, and Icheb took refuge beside one, resting his
duffel at the foot as he awaited T'Kara's reply. His friend was
hesitant, and after exhaling, responded.
"It was the wish of my father, S'Rol, that I
be admitted to Starfleet to follow in the path of Ambassador Spock,
knowing as I that the years among humans had built up much tolerence
to the wayward emotions and illogical behaviors of non-Vulcans. I
admit... I am finding the time spent among you to be...
"And may I ask how?"
A hush spread over the room as doors hissed
open to the south, admitting a trio of imposing figures, two
breaking off into the crowd, their balding heads glistening beneath
pale overhead lights. A shrill voice called over the dying whispers,
and Icheb pivoted, utilizing his best attempts to see above the sea
of heads. He was quite tall, in fact -- but was he tall enough?
"All hands! Attention!"
"At ease!" A voice snapped mere moments
later, gravelly with what seemed to be too many attempts, perhaps,
of speaking above a crowd. "Cadets! We have assembled you here today
for a mission that is crucial to your development as Starfleet
"It's Nimembeh," a young woman emitted an
intimidated whisper, Icheb turning his head to stare scoldingly at
her. Commander Nimembeh was well known to be a tough nemisis for
many -- Commander Chakotay and Lieutenant Kim among them, the former
drone noted. As Nimembeh continued to speak from a dais across the
room, Icheb began to make mental notes of the important points in
the lengthy speech, many including survival skills with which he had
already been familiarized.
"For the first stage of your assignment: the
Rocky Mountains. Earth possesses some of the most fierce
wilderness... and it is up to you to survive among it. My aides --
Lieutenant Shikara and Ensign Lohan -- will split you into teams,
assigning each a commander. I will be among one team, other
instructors will be with the rest, and we will expect the very best
of all of you."
Icheb felt a slight tremor at those final
words, feeling not intimidation, but a sense of uncertainty. He did
not prefer surprises, but was certain that this would be an occasion
in which he would have many.
Nimembeh's aides began calling off names,
directing them to different areas of the large room. Icheb listened
for his own name to be called, then grabbed his duffel and stood
where he was told. Within the space of fifteen minutes, the teams
had been segregated, and Icheb noted gladly that T'Kara was in his
group as well.
One by one, each team made their way onto
the large transporter pad and vanished in a dazzling lightshow. In
the end, Icheb's team remained, with Nimembeh and his aides the only
others in the room with them.
"I will be joining your team," Nimembeh
announced. "Step onto the transporter."
The cadets quickly did as they were
instructed, and moments later found themselves in a modest clearing
somewhere in North America's Rocky Mountains. Icheb took a moment to
look around and appreciate the scenery; he had no idea when he'd
have the opportunity to do so again.
"You have just survived a shuttle crash,"
Nimembeh began. "An encounter with an uncharted ion storm disabled
your warp drive and navigation systems. You managed to call for help
before attempting to set down on this Class-M planet, but it will be
at least a week before help can arrive. You have only your personal
luggage and the shuttle's standard survival equipment to survive.
Unfortunately, an EM dampening field generated by mineral deposits
in these mountains prevents your phasers, tricorders or
communicators from functioning. Cadet Thelev, you're in command
here. Keep your team alive."
* * *
Deep space, Sycorax's habitat
25 April 2379 1611 hrs
Sepel settled into his seat and prepared for launch. Despite the
unnerving quality of a meeting that was held in an empty, featureless
room and negotiating with a disembodied voice, things had gone very
well in his estimation. Better than he had expected. Nodding to his
aide, the Romulan shuttle pulled away from the habitat, and maneuvered
out to a safe distance while he prepared his preliminary report for
the Tal Shiar command. He looked up and noted the Cardassian courier
pulling away as well and grinned slightly. He doubted very much that
Makret was leaving with as promising a report to provide to his
superiors in the Order.
The small courier ship had never felt so comfortable in all his years,
but Makret didn't regret a minute of discomfort he had endured on the
Sernaix station, in that insufferable white room. His place in
Cardassian history was assured. There was no doubt in his mind as
they maneuvered to a safe distance to engage their engines that the
Romulan vessel visable out his view screen was returning to their
territory with less positive news to share.
It was a surprise for both vessels as the rippling shimmer of yellow
green rolled across the blackness and revealed two Sernaix Corsairs,
the smallest of the invading fleet but more than a match for the two
small Alpha Quadrant vessels. "Best speed, now..." Makret's eyes
widened as he realized that he had been misled by the Sernaix leader.
"Full shields now... Engage cloaking," Sepel called out to his aide as
his fingers flew over the console, trying to plot a course back to
Sycorax watched with renewed amusement as the two inferior ships
dodged and rolled, trying to outwit her warriors long enough to
escape. About now they were finding out that no communication was
possible with their home sectors. Another volley of fire from the
Corsairs chewed away the starboard engine on each of the vessels. The
Corsairs' commanders were following her instructions exactly. Making
certain that each vessel was damaged in the exact same place as the
other. Fitting that they were to be destroyed in exactly the same way,
since they had wanted exactly the same thing and had offered the same
inducement. Watching as they were slowly whittled down, a duplicate
version of the other's damage until... Sycorax felt a deep
satisifaction as the blue white flash of the vessels' warp cores
exploding filled the space outside her habitat.
They had made for a pleasant few hours' diversion.
* * *
Earth, Rocky Mountains
April 2379 2041 hrs
"Icheb, T'Kara," the blue-skinned Andorian
Cadet Thelev called as the cadets finished pitching their tents for
the night. "Build a fire to provide us some warmth and light for the
night. You have first watch."
"Aye, sir," the two cadets said
They made their way toward the clearing in
the center of camp, which Nimembeh had made certain the cadets keep
clear for safety concerns. The last thing they needed was an errant
spark from a campfire setting one of the tents ablaze.
At the center of the clearing was a circle
of rocks, piled at Nimembeh's orders, which served as a fire ring
that would help contain the small blaze. A few meters away was a
small pile of firewood gathered by the cadets earlier that evening.
Icheb and T'Kara began to carry some of the smaller branches and
twigs to the firepit.
Icheb placed a handful of twigs and wood
dust kindling at the center of the pit, then took a pair of fairly
straight sticks that had been set aside earlier. One had a string
tied from end to end, and was attached to its counterpart. This was
another part of the lesson: the cadets needed to know how to start a
fire without the aid of technology.
Icheb took the pair of sticks, as had been
demonstrated in a classroom survival course earlier in the semester,
and placed the free stick into the pit, standing it vertically atop
the kindling, and held it in place with a palm-sized block of wood.
The second stick he held perpendicular to the first like a bow, and
he set to work making quick back-and-forth movements to spin the
first stick and generate the friction against the kindling that
would eventually cause the heat and sparks necessary to ignite their
Several minutes passed. Icheb's arm was
rapidly tiring, but he had to continue. There wasn't so much as a
hint of a spark so far, and it frustrated him. He continued the
repetitive motion. It certainly looked easier in the classroom
"Perhaps I could take over," T'Kara
suggested. "Your arm should be quite sore by now, even taking into
account the likely enhancements provided by your remaining Borg
Icheb paused, looking up at the young
Vulcan. She was correct, of course. He loosened his grip, and
nodded. T'Kara knelt beside him and grasped the apparatus, then
quickly set to work with the same back- and-forth motions Icheb had
been making once he stepped aside.
Icheb sat on a nearby log that had been
moved near the fire pit to serve as a seat, resting his admittedly
tired muscles. Within five minutes, There was a small puff of smoke
from the kindling. T'Kara quickly set the apparatus aside and bent
down so that her face was mere centimeters from the pile of
smoldering kindling and began to blow gently until she had fanned a
He handed her some twigs, then a few moments
later a pair of sticks. Once those had also caught aflame, he handed
a small log to his Vulcan companion. Soon, the fire was well
underway and they sat on the makeshift log bench once more.
"It would seem that I require... practice,"
"Doubtless you would have generated the
flame, had you continued," T'Kara replied. "The heat generated by
your earlier efforts eased my involvement considerably."
"Nevertheless," Icheb countered, "I spent
far longer than the demonstration we observed earlier this semester.
Repeated efforts will likely enhance my performance."
"That is a logical assessment," T'Kara
"You did not get the opportunity to answer
my earlier query," Icheb said after a moment's silence had passed
"How so?" T'Kara asked.
"Our conversation was interrupted when
Commander Nimembeh entered the transporter room," Icheb said.
"No," T'Kara said, "I was restating your
question." Icheb nearly laughed, but managed to stop himself in
time. Whoever said that Vulcans had no sense of humor obviously
didn't know many.
"So," Icheb prompted a moment later, "what
is it about we non-Vulcans that you find so intriguing?"
"I subscribe fully to Surak's treatise of
IDIC," T'Kara began, then clarified, "Infinite Diversity in Infinite
Combinations. Though our numerous species often have great and
inarguable differences, it is that same diversity that makes us
stronger as a group when we find common ground from which to work
together. We must embrace our differences and those of our fellows,
for it is that same diversity that makes each culture, each
individual, what they are. Without diversity, the universe would be
far less of a challenge to our logic, our belief systems, and our
"You thrive on challenge, then?" Icheb
"It is our responses to the challenges in
our lives that define us," T'Kara said. "You, for example, have
overcome obstacles and challenges that would doubtless humble many
of our peers at the academy: assimilation, for example, by both the
Borg and yourself."
"Myself?" Icheb asked, confused.
"You must now," T'Kara responded, "for lack
of a better word, force your own assimilation into the greater
culture of the Federation. You must choose whether to honor the
culture of your birth, or adopt another, while also adapting to the
myriad cultures of your new, adopted home. I find such a
"Icheb," Nimembeh's gravelly voice suddenly
came from behind them, "T'Kara, good work on the fire."
"Thank you, sir," Icheb replied, turning as
he rose to his feet to acknowledge his superior officer, T'Kara
doing likewise beside him.
"As you were, cadets," Nimembeh said, waving
his dark hand gently before himself, indicating for them to take
their seats again. "Go ahead and relax now while you can. You've got
a long week ahead of you."
* * *
Romulus, Tal Shiar headquarters
April 2379 0427 hrs
Koval sat in his very comfortable chair,
staring out his large window at the cityscape of Ra'tleihfi in total
silence. The scheduled check-in time for the Sernaix envoy team had
long since past; they were among the Tal Shiar's best, and would
never have missed their check-in. That left only one conclusion:
they had failed. Obviously, they must attempt a different tactic to
turn the situation to their advantage. But what? At the moment,
Koval had no idea.
Suddenly, Koval's office, his window, and
the cityscape on the other side of it vanished. Koval doubted that
he'd been transported; he'd experienced a variety of different
transporter technologies firsthand, and all had a distinctive
physical sensation while in transit. Whatever had just happened, it
didn't have any physical sensation that he could detect. And
whatever it was, it was apparently able to shrug off his office's
transport inhibitors as well as those in place throughout the rest
of the building.
He looked around, attempting to take in his
new surroundings. Everything -- *everything* -- was made of metal:
plants, trees, the very ground itself. All intricate forms of
twisted and shaped metal. But there was no animal life in evidence.
Wherever he was, it was most certainly not in Ra'tleihfi, nor even
on either of the twin worlds. A holodeck, perhaps?
"Welcome, Koval tr'Doowrom," a voice boomed
from behind him. Koval spun. Where moments before was nothing but
metallic plant life now stood a man. But not just any man. His body
was covered in tubes, armor-like plating, implants of all varieties
half-sticking out of his body. Unmistakably Borg.
"Who are you?" Koval demanded. "Where have
you taken me?"
"My name is Ankin Rotor," the Borg
announced. "I am... leader of the Borg Constructive."
"Then the reports were accurate," Koval
said. "The Collective truly is no more."
"There were... enclaves of the old
Collective," Rotor said, "but they have been dealt with. As to your
second question, I've taken you nowhere. You are still in your
chair, sitting in your office. This is but a projection into your
"How?" Koval asked, thunderstruck.
"The Constructive has a number of telepathic
species among its number," Rotor said. "Their combined abilities,
coupled with Borg technology, allowed me to... visit you."
"Why?" Koval asked.
"I have a proposal for you," Rotor answered.
"One that would be to our mutual benefit."
"I'm listening," Koval prompted.
"I can help make it possible for the Tal
Shiar to work its way into Section 31's deal with the Sernaix,"
"And what do you get out of this?" Koval
asked. "I find it difficult to believe you would help the Rihannsu
out of the goodness of your heart."
"Very true," Rotor admitted. "Very true. The
advantage this will gain for the Constructive is simple, really:
Section 31 intends to destroy the Sernaix as soon as they gain
control of their frozen light technology. The Constructive wants
to... prevent that."
"Why?" Koval asked.
"I-- *we* have our reasons," Rotor
"What if I refuse?" Koval asked.
Rotor grinned wickedly. "That would be...
*unfortunate* for you."
"How can you help us?" Koval asked.
"I have... connections," Rotor answered
cryptically, "to the Section 31 leadership."
Koval silently pondered Rotor's offer. After
what seemed like ages of internal debate, he concluded that this was
the chance he'd long been awaiting to finally end his debt to
"It would seem," Koval said at last, "that
we have a deal."
* * *
Earth, Rocky Mountains
April 2379 0713 hrs
Icheb awoke to a loud clanging sound. Due to
his Borg implants, he actually needed very little sleep, and was
completely refreshed. He half-turned and disconnected the cables
leading into the regeneration connection points near the small of
his back, then briskly stowed the portable regenerator that he and
Seven of Nine had designed while he was still aboard Voyager. He
quickly dressed himself, and checked to ensure that his uniform was
presentable before stepping out of his tent and into the morning
Icheb felt the chill of the air hit him like
a physical force, and quickly wrapped his arms around himself as his
body began to shiver. He was the first out in the open, and was
joined by T'Kara a moment later as she stepped out of her tent a few
meters away from him. Her appearance was, as ever, immaculate, a
stark contrast to their relatively disheveled companions who were
now beginning to make their groggy way out of their tents around
them. They all gathered around the campfire, which was already
burning nicely, Nimembeh waiting for them, still beating a stick
against a metal pan.
"We don't have all day, cadets!" Nimembeh
called to the stragglers. "Mr. Thelev, what are our plans for
"Sir?" Thelev asked.
"Breakfast," Nimembeh repeated. "Who's
cooking? What are we eating?"
"I... I don't know, sir," Thelev replied,
the young Andorian's antennae drooping in resignation. He knew what
was coming next.
"You don't know?" Nimembeh asked. "Aren't
you in charge, Mr. Thelev?"
"Yes, sir," Thelev replied.
"Why don't you know, then?" Nimembeh
"I was unprepared, sir," Thelev replied. "I
didn't plan ahead, sir."
"Very well," Nimembeh said, then turned to
look at the other cadets gathered nearby. "Cadet Icheb, what do we
have to eat?"
"Sir," Icheb began, "I do not believe we had
any food supplies with us when we beamed in."
"That wasn't my question, cadet," Nimembeh
"We don't have any food, sir," Icheb
"Wrong," Nimembeh said. "Look around you.
Everything you need to survive is here already. Including food. What
do you see, Cadet T'Kara?"
"There are a number of edible plant species
indigenous to Earth," T'Kara replied. "I must admit, however, that
my ability to identify them is limited."
"That's the best answer I've heard all
morning," Nimembeh said. "And that is exactly why we're out here,
cadets. You need to learn how to survive in an inhospitable
environment with only the bare essentials. Get your gear together;
we're going on a hike in fifteen minutes."
Thirty minutes later, the cadets were
standing in a semicircle around Nimembeh as he knelt at the edge of
a cliffside trail.
"This," Nimembeh was explaining, "is called
a dandelion. It is abundant throughout the planet, and is easily
identifiable by its small, yellow petals. Its young spring leaves
are actually quite good and are best served raw." He stood, then
looked at each of the cadets assembled around him as he continued,
"There are a number of things that you should keep in mind while
searching for edible wild plants. First and foremost, you should be
able to chew it either in its raw state or after cooking has made it
tender. Secondly, it should be good for you. If you're in doubt if a
plant is edible or poisonous, don't take a risk by eating it. Learn
from someone who knows the plants if possible."
"How will we know about the plants on an
uninhabited world?" one of the cadets asked.
"That's a little more tricky," Nimembeh
admitted. "Most Class-M worlds share many similarities in their
plant life. There are occasions where plants that look like edible
varieties from other worlds are poisonous, but those are actually
rather rare. By and large, many edible plants look similar on
He paused, waiting for another question,
then when none came, continued his lesson. He reached up to an
overhanging branch from a nearby oak tree, and brought a handful of
acorns to the cadets' attention. "These are acorns. Indigenous
tribes of humans would grind them up and use them to make flour for
breads. The flour was treated with boiling water, or even left in a
running stream, to wash away their bitter taste caused by the tannin
in the nuts."
Without warning, a stream of rocks cascaded
down the cliffside. Nimembeh and most of the cadets managed to get
clear in time to avoid being hit, but a few were hit by smaller
rocks. One cadet, however, lay face down on the ground near the
cliff, unconscious. Nimembeh ran back to the cadet's side, and
rolled him onto his back, noting immediately the blood flowing
freely from his scalp.
Nimembeh tapped his communicator. "Nimembeh
to Starfleet Academy. We have a cadet down; he has a head injury
from falling rocks. Recommend he be transported to Starfleet Medical
"Acknowledged, commander," a voice replied
over his combadge. A moment later, the cadet disappeared in the
familiar shimmer of a transporter beam.
Nimembeh stood, then looked at the stunned
cadets. "Where were we?" he asked, then saw the hanging oak branch.
"That's right: acorns."
* * *
Deep Space Nine
27 April 2379 1624 hrs
The corridor lighting was on minimal settings as it was 'night' shift
on the former Cardassian space station. For all appearances he was a
Vulcan visitor, no more or less interesting than any other Vulcan who
happened to find themselves on Deep Space Nine.
His gait was measured as he walked the length of the docking ring,
pausing only momentarily while he assessed the engineer inspecting the
circuitry behind one of the docking panels. Not an unusual sight, a
Starfleet engineer repairing circuitry in this space station.
In the relative darkness of the corridor, it wasn't surprising that
the engineer, engrossed in his repairs, did not hear the light
footsteps of the Vulcan as he moved into corridor behind him. So
when the seeming Vulcan's hands gripped the engineer's throat and
squeezed, it wasn't surprising that the engineer had no reaction but
to struggle momentarily, then hang limply from his assailant's hands.
* * *
USS Enterprise NCC-1701-E
April 2379 1630 hrs
The dark of the Jefferies tube was shattered
by a sudden, momentary flash of light. The silence was broken by a
soft roar, an angry protest from subspace over its violation. The
emptiness was replaced by a crouching man in a uniform of
metallic-looking cloth that looked nearly black in its dark hues,
its shoulders characteristically wide and sharply pointed. His olive
skinned face was framed by short, dark, close-cropped hair that
accentuated his pointed ears.
After taking a moment to get his bearings,
the man -- a Romulan -- began to crawl through the ductwork of the
starship's bowels. According to his information, his target should
be very near, and at this time of day should be completely isolated
from the rest of her crewmates.
"Sir, I'm picking up something strange on
"What is it, Mr. Daniels?" Captain Jean-Luc
Picard asked, pivoting his chair at the center of the Enterprise
bridge to face his chief of security. The lieutenant had served on
the Enterprise-E for a number of years, distinguishing himself not
only during the Ba'ku incident, but also while the ship had been
overrun by Borg while three centuries in the past.
"I'm not sure, captain," Daniels admitted.
There was just a blip in a Jefferies tube on Deck Twenty a minute
"Hm," Picard pondered. "Send down a security
detail. I don't want to take any chances, this close to the Neutral
The Romulan peered through a ventilation
grate, still crouched inside the Jefferies tube. He could see his
quarry, not three meters away. Her guard was down; she suspected
nothing. Pitiful. No, downright pathetic.
Slowly, cautiously, he began to remove the
grating from its housing, taking care not to make any sudden
movements that might catch his target's attention. She was seated at
a terminal, her left side facing him.
At last, the grate was loose. He held it
steady, taking care not to drop it. Her head turned away from him.
This was his chance.
Suddenly, the doors hissed open. Security!
Somehow, they had detected the subspace transporter that had brought
him aboard through the starship's shielding! There was no time to
lose. He was vulnerable as long as he stayed where he was. He
couldn't replace the grating to retrace his steps; the security men
were on guard, and they would notice. Besides, they probably had
more people in the ducts behind him. After all, that's what he would
He dropped the grate to the deck and surged
forward, pulling his disruptor from its holster at his hip as he did
so. Within a second, he had his quarry by the neck, his weapon
pointed at the side of her head.
The security guards hadn't expected this
sort of move from an otherwise unknown foe, and they hesitated. In
that moment's hesitation, the Romulan let go of his target's neck
long enough to slap the transport activator on his belt. He and his
quarry disappeared in a flash of light and a dull, soft roar.
* * *
April 2379 1326 hrs
Alistair Warhol woke up surrounded by
He couldn't see them, of course. The room
was too dark to see anything at all. But after decades working with
Starfleet -- and Section 31 -- Warhol knew Romulans. He knew when he
was in a room full of them lying in total darkness with his arms and
legs tied and his communicator confiscated. All right, this was the
first time for that particular situation, but the point was the
"What do you want?" he asked, keeping his
Immediately, Warhol felt himself buffetted
by clubs. They didn't seem particularly Romulan, but clubs weren't
very different from planet to planet. Warhol had survived torture on
more than one mission; he was confident he could do the same here.
He steeled himself and waited for the blows to stop.
In point of fact, they didn't. About thirty
seconds in, while the barrage continued, one voice broke in: "You
work for Section 31! You know what we need to know! Tell us or
Novices, Warhol thought. The Romulans didn't
send trained torturers here. They must be under heavy time pressure
-- which means I, not they, have the advantage.
The beating stopped, and silence filled the
room again. The Romulans were waiting for their prisoner to speak.
After a moment's thought, Warhol did. "S--Section 31?" he said, with
a measured jitter in his voice. "I don't know what you're talking
More beating, of course. A new torturer
never knew how to use the tool of violence, how to hold it back and
administer it at exactly the right time. Warhol had learned that in
his time with the Section; he'd worked with their torturers when
necessary, and had quickly learned that subtlety and precision
worked far better than a simple good-cop/bad-cop approach. Almost
anything, in fact, was more effective than "punch it till it
"I don't know!" he shouted again. His
masquerade as a spineless officer who panicked under the slightest
pain had served him well before. With these Romulans' "skill," he
thought, they'll believe me in no time -- and then they'll have to
return me to Starfleet. They can't afford to attract the kind of
attention my disappearance would bring.
That was when Warhol saw the light and
It was a small light, green and fairly
distant, but he knew it immediately. In a room full of Romulans, it
could mean only one thing: mental conditioning. He hadn't known they
had this kind of equipment with them. It meant that his strategy was
for nothing. No human without special engineering had ever been able
to resist a Romulan mind probe.
Warhol knew what he had to do. His knowledge
could never be allowed to fall into enemy hands. Without hesitation,
he ran his tongue against the backs of his molars, looking for the
one designed to release a fast-acting neural toxin. As soon as he
nudged that molar out of position, he would have only minutes to
Or he would have... if it were there.
Warhol felt again, but there was nothing.
His indental necrolyzer was gone without a trace. How? he thought.
It's shielded against conventional scans... were they told I would
have it? Who would do that? An enemy of the Section, or --
But then there was no more time for thought.
The device made harsh, sudden contact with Warhol's temple, and he
held his breath and waited for what would follow. No one was sure
exactly what a Romulan mindscan felt like, but Warhol knew he was
about to find out. He steeled himself for the painful and the
What he got was the unexpected.
The darkness was gone. The silence was
total. Around him were plants, trees shining in the sunlight with
the cool glare of polished metal. Under his feet, a gleaming globe
reflected his unbound and in-uniform image to him. Warhol knew this
place... and he knew what was coming.
A shudder passed through his very soul as he
looked once again into the face of Ankin Rotor.
* * *
Earth, Rocky Mountains
April 2379 2119 hrs
Dusk fell as Cadet Thelev stoked the
campfire, his antennae arching toward the radiant warmth of the
flames that illuminated his blue skin. He turned toward the wood
pile to select another log to throw onto the fire, and noticed there
were only three left.
"We're getting low on fuel already," Thelev
"I will gather more firewood," Icheb said,
rising from his seat on the makeshift log bench. T'Kara, who was
seated next to him, rose as well.
"I shall join you," she declared. "Together
we will be able to find more wood than you alone."
Commander Nimembeh, who was sitting quietly
to the side, nodded his approval. The volunteers turned and exited
the campsite, and made their way into a nearby stand of trees.
"Why did you volunteer to accompany me?"
Icheb asked his companion after a few moments' silence.
"As I said," T'Kara replied, "together we
would be able to locate and carry more firewood than on our
"Is that the only reason?" Icheb asked,
turning his head to look at the young Vulcan and arching a single
eyebrow as he'd seen Commander Tuvok do on many occasions.
T'Kara looked at Icheb, an eyebrow raised as
well. She opened her mouth to reply, but before she could utter a
single word, there was the unmistakable sound of an explosion behind
them. They spun, in time to witness the remnant of a massive
fireball rising from the area of the firepit. At that moment, the
shock wave from the blast hit them as well: a stiff, hot burst of
wind that would have felt good in the rapidly-cooling night were the
circumstances different. Immediately, the two ran back to the
What awaited them was nothing short of
carnage. Every single one of their fellow cadets had been seated
around the campfire, relaxing after a long day. Now, they were
nothing less than a dozen bodies lying... what? Unconscious? Dead?
Icheb heard a moan, saw one of the cadets stir. He rushed to his
fallen comrade's side.
"They have all suffered severe injuries,"
T'Kara said. "The blast most likely originated from the campfire,
radiating outward while all were vulnerable. Those nearest the
explosion may be dead; I cannot be certain at the moment. It would
appear that someone is attempting to actively interfere with our
Icheb slapped the combadge on the chest of
his uniform. "Cadet Icheb to Starfleet Academy. Medical Emergency.
Beam out the entire squad now!" He waited a moment before he felt
the familiar tingle of the transporter claim him. The scene before
his eyes blurred, then coalesced into the interior of a hospital
facility, a half-dozen doctors and a number of nurses waiting for
Icheb and T'Kara were ushered aside by a
Tellarite orderly, who simply spread his arms and walked between
them without saying a single word. His meaning was clear enough:
step aside and let those who had been trained for this kind of
emergency do their jobs unencumbered. There were several seats
against a nearby wall, and the two cadets silently sat down, their
attention never wavering from the chaos before them.
"Damn!" one of the doctors spat as he
hovered over the broken, bleeding form of one of the cadets. "Neural
"This one's got massive internal bleeding,"
another doctor called. "Get me a -- cardiac arrest! Defibrillator,
The orders from all the doctors, followed by
the acknowldegements of the nurses attending them, blended into a
dull roar in the emergency triage ward. Even with his implants that
worked to sort out the varied voices and orders of the Collective,
Icheb had trouble sorting the noise that assaulted his ears,
catching only snippets.
"This kid's got a--"
"Sweet Jesus, I haven't seen anything like
this in years..."
"Right away, doctor."
"Come on, kid! Don't die on me!"
"I need twenty cc's--"
Icheb turned his head to see how T'Kara was
handling this turn of events. Her face was impassive, her expression
neutral. She must have seen his head turn in the corner of her eye,
for she turned to look at him as well. He looked into her eyes, and
saw what he suspected was there, but controlled enough not to show
in her face: emotions, barely-restrained, roiling beneath the
T'Kara turned her head at the movement at
the periphery of her vision. Icheb was looking at her, his emotions
plainly evident in his expression. Rage, fear, determination... Her
training would never have allowed her to so openly display her own
emotions, which admittedly churned so near the surface. He looked
into her eyes, and his expression changed. She now saw...
* * *
Romulus, Tal Shiar headquarters
April 2379 2147 hrs
"Warhol," Xor began, "has broken."
"Excellent," Koval replied, Xor and Radaik
seated once more in the chairs across from his imposing desk. "The
information he provided will doubtless be of use. The standard
post-interrogation procedures have been implemented, I trust?"
"Of course, chairman," Xor said. "I don't
understand how he could have broken so easily, however. We had
barely begun the interrogation procedures."
"Let's not concern ourselves with that,"
Koval chided, hoping to divert attention from his alliance with
Rotor, which he hoped to keep secret for the time being. "The
important part is that he has provided us with the information which
we had sought. Soon, we can move on to the next phase of the
"The next phase being what, exactly?" Radaik
"Warhol will bring the Tal Shiar into the
agreement Section 31 holds with the Sernaix," Koval said, his tone
making it clear that he felt the information should be obvious to
someone as high in the Tal Shiar hierarchy as Radaik. "If he so much
as *thinks* about betraying us, we need only remind him of the
consequences of his compatriots suspecting that he's been
* * *
Earth, Starfleet Medical
April 2379 2159 hrs
"Cadet Icheb, Cadet T'Kara," a man in a
gold-necked Starfleet uniform said as he approached the two cadets
in one of the lounges in Starfleet Medical's hospital section.
"Lieutenant Shawn Wallace, Office of Special Investigations." He
indicated the other man standing behind him and to his left. "This
is my partner, Lieutenant Grodenchik."
"Sir," Icheb said as he and T'Kara rose to
"As you were, cadets," Wallace said. "I'm
here to ask you a few questions about what happened to your squad."
He looked down at a PADD in his left hand and prepared to begin
taking notes. "Where were you when the explosion occurred?"
"We were several meters from the campsite,"
"What were you doing?" Grodenchik asked.
"Gathering firewood," Icheb said.
"Did you see the explosion?" Wallace
"No," T'Kara said. "Our backs were to the
campsite. We heard the explosion, and saw the remnant of the
fireball it produced rising into the sky as we turned."
"Who could have had the opportunity to cause
the explosion?" Wallace asked.
"Any one of the cadets," T'Kara said, "or
Commander Nimembeh. The entire squad was gathered around the
"Who was tending the fire?" Grodenchik
"Cadet Thelev," Icheb replied.
"Were any of your fellow cadets acting
suspiciously?" Wallace asked.
"Not to my knowledge," Icheb said.
"It's convenient that you managed to leave
the scene just before the explosion," Grodenchik noted.
"I am not responsible for the explosion,"
Icheb declared. "We were running low on firewood, and T'Kara and I
left to gather more."
"Who ordered you to gather more wood?"
"No one," Icheb said. "I volunteered."
"I see," Wallace commented. "And you, Cadet
T'Kara? Did you also volunteer?"
"Yes," T'Kara said. "Logic suggested that
two of us would be able to gather more wood than one alone."
"Of course," Wallace said. "And what was
Commander Nimembeh doing while all of this happened?"
"Observing the squad," Icheb replied.
"From where?" Grodenchik pressed.
"Commander Nimembeh," T'Kara began, "was
seated behind Cadets Dows and Sadeet approximately two meters from
the fire pit and directly across from Cadet Carey's tent."
"I see," Wallace said again.
"You seem to believe," Icheb commented,
"that either one of the cadets or Commander Nimembeh himself caused
the explosion. Is it not also possible that someone could have
transported an explosive device into the fire from another
"The satellites monitoring your team didn't
detect any transporter activity on their sensors," Grodenchik
"Inconclusive," Icheb retorted. "There are
transport technologies undetectable by Starfleet sensing equipment.
While aboard Voyager, for example--"
"Thank you, cadet," Wallace said, cutting
Icheb off mid-sentence. "That will be all for now. If we have any
further questions for you, we'll be in touch.
With that, Wallace and Grodenchik rose,
turned, and left the room.
* * *
Earth, Warhol residence
30 April 2379 0123 hrs
Alistair Warhol woke up surrounded by Romulans.
They were everywhere. He swung at them, but they kept coming. They
slammed him with their clubs until he --
Warhol shook himself. The darkness was still around him, but there was
no one else. His arms and legs were free. Could he be...? "Lights,"
The lights went up obediently, forcing him to squint. When he could
look again, he saw the familiar surroundings of his house on Earth.
And Romulans. They were everywhere, battering --
There were no Romulans. No Romulans. Warhol repeated the two words in
his mind like a mantra, trying to pull himself together and remember
what had happened. Darkness... torture? It was unclear. Something
about a mind probe....
"Computer, list all occupants of this building."
"Admiral Alistair Warhol."
"No Romulans? No intruders?"
Warhol was still shaken, but he trusted the computer and its mindless
drone of reassurance. Starfleet's sensors were the best in the field.
Sensors... he could check where he'd been, resolve the question
decisively. That would end his confusion. "Computer, in what
locations have I been in the past... six days?"
"Admiral Alistair Warhol has most frequently been at Starfleet
Headquarters, building theta, room --"
"Thank you, computer." My office, he thought. "Anywhere else?"
"North America, Montana, city of Bozeman, district --"
"Here. Where else?"
"No other locations found."
"What? Search again, level 3."
A pause, then: "No other locations found."
Warhol rubbed his chin in bewilderment. Had someone really gone to the
trouble of kidnapping him and altering Starfleet records? Who had
those kinds of resources? Or... had it all been a dream?
On a sudden impulse, Warhol felt for his indental necrolyzer. It was
there, its elegant, deadly mechanism no different from any other day.
Admiral Warhol frowned.
* * *
Earth, Starfleet Academy
April 2379 1009 hrs
"Icheb," T'Kara asked as she and her fellow
cadet sat in the Starfleet Academy campus library at one of the many
computer interface terminals, "are you certain we have the proper
authorization to access the sensor data collected by the satellites
monitoring our team?"
"I am uncertain," Icheb admitted. "It is
possible that the information is restricted due to the current
investigation into the explosion; however, we would have no reason
to look at such data if those events had not taken place."
The touch-activated display screen showed a
familiar Starfleet LCARS terminal, now connected to the database
where the sensor data in question was stored. When prompted, Icheb
entered his name and security code.
"Access denied," the computer's voice said a
moment later. "Insufficient security clearance."
Icheb paused for a moment in reflection, and
T'Kara turned to leave, their attempt to access the data obviously
beyond their clearance.
"Access granted," the computer announced
another moment later. T'Kara turned in confusion.
"How did you obtain access?" T'Kara
"I don't believe you want to know," Icheb
replied. Before T'Kara could insist that he explain himself anyhow,
the data they had sought appeared on the screen.
"Computer," Icheb prompted, "do you have a
visual scan of the campsite of Commander Nimembeh's team?"
"Affirmative," the computer replied.
"On screen," Icheb ordered. "Begin at time
index 56325.4 and play from that point forward." The screen changed,
to show an image of the cadets seated around the campfire, obviously
photographed by an orbiting satellite. "Enhance image, grid
reference 12 mark 47 to 74 mark 13." The computer immediately zoomed
in on the requested section, and the two cadets could see the others
more clearly, but still too indistinctly to positively identify each
individual. Icheb saw himself stand, then a moment later T'Kara
follow suit. They walked out of the image.
There was a flicker of movement from one of
the cadets, and a moment later, the screen filled with the
overpowering visual of the explosion and its resultant fireball.
"Computer, pause," Icheb said. "Back two
seconds. Enhance grid 14 mark 37 by 18 mark 30." The computer
immediately complied. "Replay, half speed." Icheb and T'Kara watched
as one of the cadets -- they couldn't tell whom -- threw a small
object into the fire. A moment later, the screen went white once
more as it filled with the image of the explosion.
"We must speak to Commander Nimembeh," Icheb
said. "He likely knows who was responsible for the explosion."
"How did you come to this conclusion?"
"Computer," Icheb ordered, "pause playback
and return to previous time index. Zoom back out to grid reference
12 mark 47 to 74 mark 13." After the computer complied, Icheb
pointed to the cadet who had cast the explosive into the fire. "This
is our saboteur," he said, then moved his finger directly across the
image, passing over the campfire until it came to rest above another
figure directly across from the cadet in question. "This is
Commander Nimembeh. You can tell it is him because the cadet
uniforms have brightly-colored shoulders, whereas his uniform has
the standard gray shoulders."
"Logical," T'Kara commented.
* * *
Earth, Starfleet Headquarters
April 2379 1111 hrs
Admiral Warhol sat at the desk in his office
in the wing of Starfleet Command dedicated to the Operations
Division, the reconstructed Golden Gate bridge visible through the
large windows behind him. He grabbed one of the PADDs on his desk
and tried to read the report contained in its memory, but he
couldn't keep his concentration on the task at hand. He still had
too many unanswered questions about the past three days. Without
warning, there was a flash of light and a dull roar, centered less
than three meters from his desk, behind the set of chairs across
from the metal and plastic workspace. He looked, only to see, quite
to his astonishment, a Romulan in a Tal Shiar uniform.
"Admiral Warhol," the Romulan said, almost
genially. He indicated one of the chairs in front of him. "May I?"
Warhol nodded mutely, still in shock from the audacious entry. "I
bring a message from the Tal Shiar: we know of your... associates.
We want to be brought in on your group's deal with them."
"I don't know what you're talking about,"
Warhol managed to say without stammering, his composure rapidly
"Please don't insult our intelligence," the
Romulan said with wounded pride. "We are, after all, in the
intelligence business. The Tal Shiar wants in. And if you believe
even for a moment that you have the luxury of telling us no,
consider this: we know what you know. I'd imagine there's a hole in
your recent memory. Your computers and your staff all will insist
that you've been here the past seventy-two hours, but you know
better. The man they believed was you was in reality one of our
agents, perhaps even me, with a holographic mask to give him your
face and more... mundane methods to mirror your... *other* physical
attributes. As far as anyone else knows, you never left San
"You're trying to tell me," Warhol began,
"that I was a captive of the Tal Shiar for the last three days?"
"Captive?" the Romulan echoed. "No, no. You
were our guest." Suddenly, the Romulan's eyes narrowed and his voice
took a more aggressive tone. "We've covered your tracks for the last
three days, because you're far more valuable to us as a continued
resource, but don't mistake that for foolishness on our part. If you
so much as *think* about doing anything to the contrary of what we
tell you to do from this moment forward, your friends in Section 31
will find a recording of you, in our care, willingly telling us
everything you know about them and their activities. Have we made
Warhol felt the blood drain from his face.
Even if the Romulan was bluffing, it wouldn't be difficult for the
Tal Shiar to create a holographic version of him for such a
recording. And since Mr. West already seemed to have his suspicions
about him to begin with... he was quite firmly stuck between a rock
and a hard place.
"Admiral?" the Romulan pressed. "Are we
clear on this?"
"I'll be in touch," the Romulan said, then
he pressed a button on his belt and disappeared in a flash of light
and a dull roar.
* * *
Earth, Starfleet Medical
April 2379 1443 hrs
Section 31 agent Tagawa, who had spent much
of the last year in deep cover as a Starfleet Academy cadet, moved
quietly down the hallway in the Starfleet Medical hospital facility.
Making sure no one noticed him, he slipped through the doorway and
into Commander Nimembeh's room. Inside, he found the room all but
empty, and Nimembeh lying unconscious on his bed, bio-monitors
softly displaying his vital statistics.
He walked, nearly on tip-toes, as quietly
and cautiously as he could manage. When Icheb and T'Kara had
departed the campsite, he had taken the opportunity to strike there
and then, in the hopes that the explosion would be blamed on them.
There was just one problem: just as he threw the device into the
fire, the motion of his arm caught Nimembeh's attention. In order
for the Borg to take the fall, Nimembeh must be disposed of. He had
to ensure the Section's plans to neutralize the Voyager crew -- the
young ex-drone included -- went forward. He also knew that, if he
were exposed, the Section would disavow any knowledge of him in
order to prevent its own exposure.
He gently lifted Nimembeh's shaved,
dark-skinned head and pulled the pillow out from underneath.
Grabbing both sides firmly, he reached forward and shoved it into
the instructor's face.
Nimembeh's hands shot out, grabbing Tagawa
by the wrists, attempting to push the pillow away. Any other time,
the bigger Nimembeh would have easily succeeded, but this time, he
was barely holding his own against the relatively scrawny "cadet,"
his injuries had drained him so. At that moment, the door opened,
and Icheb and T'Kara stepped into the room, looks of shock and
surprise on their faces.
"Tagawa," Icheb said softly. He half-turned
to T'Kara, and said, "Go. Alert security. I will handle him." T'Kara
turned and followed her friend's instructions, and Icheb launched
himself forward, tackling the human.
They collapsed atop Nimembeh's midsection,
and Tagawa lost his grip on the pillow, which flew out of his hands
upon Icheb's assault. Icheb, however, lacked Tagawa's training in
hand-to-hand combat, and the human quickly turned the tide against
the young Brunali, who was sent crashing into a chair two meters
Icheb, undaunted, picked himself up and
rushed Tagawa once more, and the two crumpled to the floor,
clutching one another's fists, struggling to regain the upper hand.
For the moment, they were at a stalemate.
The door flew open, and three Starfleet
officers wearing the gold- necked uniforms of security rushed into
the room, T'Kara close behind. They quickly joined Icheb in subduing
Tagawa, and among the four of them easily overpowered and subdued
the would-be assassin.
He was caught, Tagawa realized. He had
utterly failed in his mission, and he knew precisely how dim a view
the Section took on failure of any kind. He screwed up his courage,
resigned himself to his fate, and bit down hard on the false molar
with its store of fast-acting poison. And everything went