Monday, May 19, 2014

"Mutual Acquaintance"

Full cover by Kahless of Vulcan.
_____


As a rule, Vulcans do not allow their first impressions to color later judgments when one’s understanding of the facts has been clarified. However, Vulcan intuition, the transfer of relevant information from the subconscious to the conscious, is one of the most efficient among humanoids. At the moment, both facts and intuition told Sylari that each of her three passengers were very dangerous men, for differing reasons. Sylari knew it was entirely possible that they bore no danger to her or to Sanctuary, but she had no proof as of yet. Therefore, she remained calm and vigilant, prepared for any number of situations but not overreacting in any way.

The first passenger to come aboard introduced himself as Razon Kadatha, Liaison to Starfleet. He spoke curtly, almost coldly, and generally gave the impression that he would rather be anywhere else. There was an overall quality of sharpness about him, both in facial features and mannerisms that made Sylari wonder if anyone else had noticed the similarity between his name and the word ‘razor.’ Kadatha appeared tightly wound, as though he were ready to spring into action at any moment. Scars on his hands and face made it clear that he had seen his fair share of combat.

The next arrival was, in a way, even more threatening than Kadatha. A human lieutenant wearing Intelligence gray, Wentworth Mayborn acted far more pleasantly than Kadatha, but something about him concerned Sylari. He flashed a ready grin, typically human, but the smile seemed more dangerous than cheerful. Mayborn watched Kadatha intently, and Sylari noticed him sizing the other man up, as if contemplating how best to attack and disable the Cardassian, if necessary. Sylari couldn’t help but wonder if he was sizing her up the same way, though she dismissed the thought as irrational. They were both Starfleet, after all. Mayborn took the seat to Sylari’s left, ostensibly to be friendly. However, his seating choice had the added result of establishing what felt like a line of demarcation between Starfleet and Cardassia.

The third passenger had seemed friendly enough for a Cardassian, and seemed at first to be harmless, if a little too outgoing for Sylari’s comfort. He had commented on the runabout’s design, inquired about its top speed, and in general tried to make ‘small talk.’ Sylari found the man irritating, but not threatening in the least. That is, until he told her his name. An instant red flag went up in the back of her mind and she fought to control her reaction. She knew instantly, regardless of her impression of the others, that this man was by far the most dangerous of the three.

***

It hadn’t been easy, nor had it happened quickly, but Alok finally seemed to feel at ease around Zuna. He had admitted that he forgave her, and asked that she continue to be his ‘sister.’ She had finally moved on and accepted that she would never be more than that to him, and things finally made sense between them. 

Alex sighed and sank into the couch, at the end opposite her and gave her a lazy smile. At first it seemed that he had done it on purpose to be as far away from her as possible, but that darn smile of his…maybe he had just chosen the nearest convenient seat. He did look tired, after all. Come on, Zuna, she angrily interrupted her own train of thought. You’re better than this. Stop over-analyzing.

“You know I heard from Arno Nahtan the other day?” Alex asked. Zuna rolled her eyes, an involuntary reflex that occurred whenever she heard the man’s name.

“Why?” Alok asked, just like a Vulcan would.

“What do you mean, why?” Alex asked. Alok shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Does Nahtan ever talk to you without a reason?”  

“He wanted information about the Hirogen, actually. He wouldn’t say why.”

“Interesting,” Alok said. He winced at what must have been a sore neck. He approached the couch and collapsed into it, between Alex and Zuna. 

“What’s the matter with you?” Zuna asked, concerned.

“I’m sore,” Alok said, continuing to massage his neck.

“Why?” Zuna asked.

“Because sparring with Chief Zram was a bad idea,” Alok said. Zuna laughed and rolled her eyes.

“I would have thought you could take him,” Alex said.

“Me too,” Alok said. Zuna touched his shoulder in consolation. A few brief moments later, his tired expression transformed into a smile and his eyes fluttered open. “Sylari’s coming,” He spoke quietly, almost whispering, but the joy in his voice was almost tangible.

“Aww…” Zuna teased, giving his shoulder a shove. “You’re so cute.”

“I’m cuter,” Alex said.

Alok smiled even wider and raised an eyebrow. After a moment of contemplation, he replied, “No. Sylari still says I am.”

“What are you guys, three years old?” Zuna asked.

“Six,” Alok said as the door to his quarters opened and Sylari entered. Alok’s smile faded as she entered the room, and even Zuna could tell something was weighing heavily on the Vulcan’s mind.

“Hey, Sylari,” Alex said, a hint of concern in his voice.

“Are you alright?” Alok asked. Sylari nodded.

“I am fine, thank you,” she said. “However, I do have…significant news.” Zuna was about to ask for clarification when Alex spoke up.

“Are you pregnant?” he wondered flippantly. Alok scoffed and hit him. “What?” Alex whined. “It’s a fair question.”

“No, Alex, she’s not…” Alok said, then paused and turned to his wife. “…are you?”

“No,” Sylari sighed, as close to exasperated as a Vulcan would get. “I escorted three people to Sanctuary earlier.”

“Who is it?” Alex asked, suddenly serious. “Is it bad?”

“The first two seem relatively harmless,” Sylari answered. “The third, however…” She paused, looked Alok in the eye as if for support, and then turned back to Alex and offered an ever-so-slight look of apology.

“Oh, no. Don’t tell me,” Alex said. In an instant, Alex went from relaxed but slightly concerned to a strange combination of fury, terror, and amusement. Zuna hadn’t been sure before, but now she knew. Only one person in the galaxy made Alex react that way.

Sylari said, “The third man is Jorhan Rukar.” 

***

6 hours later...


The briefing was going well, all things considered. Nobody had leapt over the table to strangle anyoneat least, not yet. It had been quite a shock to enter the conference room and see someone in a Cardassian military uniform, but Glinn Razon Kadatha wasn’t nearly as unpleasant as some Cardassians could be. He was almost friendly, though not quite, and was rigid in both posture and mannerisms. T’Kor liked him immediately.

The rest of the staff had varied reactions to Kadatha. Kathor eyed him with suspicion, and though it was his duty as chief of security, T’Kor doubted that was the only reason Kathor didn’t trust Kadatha. Klingons and Cardassians tended to mix about as well as matter and antimatter, though Kathor was displaying tremendous self-control so far.

Vasik didn’t seem to like Kadatha, but Vasik didn’t seem to like anybody, so his behavior wasn’t out of the ordinary. Doctor Sarrana was strangely polite, but seemed confused by Kadatha and kept glancing between him and Alexander.

It was Alexander’s reaction to the man that had really surprised T’Kor. Normally, it was hard to find someone as friendly as Alexander, but he had been downright cold towards Kadatha and seemed to be barely resisting the temptation to glare at the man constantly. Anyone could see that Alexander was seething, but it wasn’t immediately clear why. T’Kor wondered if Kadatha and Alexander had ever crossed paths before, but there had been no indication of that. There had to be a logical reason, and T’Kor was sure he was missing something. What that was, precisely, he’d have to wait and see.

***

Alex felt sorry for Kadatha. It wasn’t his fault that Rukar was nearby, and Alex wasn’t even sure if Kadatha knew who Rukar was. Alex tried not to be rude, but the looks Zuna gave him told him he wasn’t really succeeding. 

Alex tried to focus on the briefing, but he wasn’t entirely successful at that, either. He knew Rukar would be approaching him soon, but he didn’t know when. Alex was having difficulty deciding if he should wait for Rukar or find him preemptively. He waited for the briefing and Kadatha’s introduction to be over, tried not to over-react when he learned that Kadatha would be working in Operations, and hoped that he wouldn’t have to speak to Kadatha anytime soon.

Sure enough, after everyone was dismissed, Kadatha greeted Alex again.

“I believe we have a mutual acquaintance, Ensign,” Kadatha said. “Someone I’ve worked with before.”

“Yes, I believe you’re right,” Alex said. So much for him not knowing Rukar, he said internally.

“An Andorian named Ky’lek Al’shan,” Kadatha said. “A very skilled pilot.”

Alex laughed. He had been expecting the worst, and Kadatha knew Ky’lek? It was downright funny, and though he knew it didn’t preclude Kadatha knowing Rukar, Alex felt much better.

“Did he give it back?” Alex asked, knowing Ky’lek too well to doubt that he had taken something from Kadatha.

“After I insisted.”

“You didn’t have to shoot him, did you?” Alex asked.

“Not very much,” Kadatha said.

Alex laughed and shook his head. “That sounds like Ky’lek.”

“Indeed. If you’ll excuse me, I have personal matters to attend to,” Kadatha said. He turned to go and Alex followed him towards the door. 

“Alex,” Captain Shivan said when Alex got near.

“Yes, sir?” Alex asked.

“I need to see you in my ready room,” Shivan said.

“Understood, I’ll be right there,”  

***

The Starfleet defector may have been a valuable asset, but that didn’t make working with him any more pleasant. Many Starfleet officers had an air of smug superiority about them that made even the most arrogant Cardassian pale in comparison. The defector was no differenteven though he was a selfish, bottom-feeding traitor, he acted as though he were far more intelligent and charming and talented than his Cardassian handler. He wasn’t.

“Did you bring them?” the defector asked. “I will have to examine them before we make any sort of deal.”

“Be patient, Starfleet,” the handler said. “You’ll get to see them, as long as you hold up your end of the deal.”

The defector laughed scornfully. “I’m not the one who screwed up last time, Spoony.”

Trying his best not to display his anger at the racial slur, the handler sighed. “Tell me, exactly how could I have predicted the Rylek would have a sudden crisis of conscience?” he asked. “The only ‘screw-up’, as you put it, was your overly rigid schedule and demands.”

“Whatever,” the defector said dismissively. “I’ll do it, just make sure you have the devices.”

“Are you sure that you feel comfortable killing one of your fellow officers?” The handler asked.

“Please,” the defector scoffed. “I shot my best friend in the back, literally, and then I made a deal with the Orion slavers who’d captured us. Do you really think I’ll show any mercy to your target?”

“See that you don’t,” the handler said. “And make it look like an accident.”

“Trust me. The science department will be at a loss to explain his death.”

“You’re in the science department.”

“Well, everyone else in the department will be at a loss to explain Ensign Locksley’s untimely demise.”

***

Fortunately, there were no devious Cardassian spies waiting in the Captain’s ready room. Alex was still surprised to see that the room wasn’t empty, but its current occupant seemed harmless enoughharmless in comparison to Rukar, anyway.

“Lieutenant,” Captain Shivan said. “Allow me to introduce Ensign Alex Locksley.”

The newcomer turned away from the Captain’s terrarium and offered Alex his hand. Wearing Intelligence gray, the newcomer seemed far too friendly to be a spy. Alex knew that was probably just camouflage, but he tried to be friendly as well.

“Wentworth Mayborn,” the newcomer said. “It’s good to meet you. I’ve heard stories about you.”

“That’s…nice,” Alex said, hoping they were good stories.

“Please take a seat, Ensign,” Captain Shivan said.

“Yes, sir,” Alex said. “What’s this about, sir?”

“I’ll let Lieutenant Mayborn explain that, Ensign,” Captain Shivan said. “However, I would like to state for the record that what he’s about to tell you is most definitely not my opinion. Carry on, Mayborn.”

Mayborn nodded and his overly friendly smile faded into a more serious look. “I’m sorry, but you’re not going to like this,” he said. “Ensign Locksley, it is my duty to inform you that Starfleet has decided that you will no longer be this ship’s Intelligence Liaison.”

“What?” Alex asked.

“As of this moment, I hereby relieve you of duty and will assume the Intelligence portion of your assignment. You will remain the ship's Chief Operations Controller, but your security clearance will now fit solely within that assignment.”

“Captain,” Alex said. “How did this happen? Did I do something wrong?”

“Not that I’m aware of, Ensign, Captain Shivan said. “I have only been told that it would be best for you to focus on your Operations career for the time being. I disagreed intensely, but I was overruled.”

“Why is this happening, Mayborn?” Alex asked.

“I don’t know, Locksley,” Mayborn said. “I’m just following orders.”

“Who are you, anyways?” Alex asked.

“I told you,” Mayborn said. “My name is Wentworth Mayborn. I used to be a spy. Now I’ve been given a desk job. No offense.”

“None taken,” Alex said. “Intelligence Liaison isn’t quite as fun as it sounds. I’m sure you’d prefer a more active role. Still, I don’t understand why I’ve been relieved. Captain, is there any chance this could be reconsidered?”

“I’m afraid not, Ensign,” Captain Shivan said.

“This day just gets better and better,” Alex said quietly. “Is that all, Captain?” he asked, hoping it was. It wasn’t.

“Actually, there’s someone who wants to see you, Ensign,” Captain Shivan said.

“You have got to be kidding,” Alex said. “He’s here on the ship? You let him on the ship?”

“I’m assuming you know who it is,” Captain Shivan said.

“Jorhan Rukar,” Alex said with a sigh.

“Unfortunately, yes,” Captain Shivan said. “He is in Guest Suite 4. You have my sympathy,” 

***

Kel had been expecting a harsh reaction, but it was still painful to see the expression on Alex’s face as he stormed out of the Captain’s ready room and moved as quickly as possible to the turbolift. She was about to say something, but she realized he wouldn’t want to hear it until later. Kel waited until he was gone, then left Kathor in charge and went to Shivan’s ready room.

“How did he take it?” Kel asked.

“Quite well, I thought,” Shivan said. “He’s upset, naturally, but he’s cooperating.”

“It doesn’t seem fair,” Lieutenant Mayborn, Alex’s replacement, said.

“It’s not,” Kel said angrily.

“It’s not his fault, Kel,” Shivan said, always trying to be diplomatic.

“I know,” Kel said. “I’m sorry Lieutenant, it’s nothing personal.”

“Understood,” Mayborn replied. “I suppose it won’t hurt to give him some time before our debriefing.”

“I think that would be best, Lieutenant,” Shivan said.

“Is there anything I can do for you, Captain?” Mayborn asked. “I do have something I’d like to do.”

“Not at the moment, Lieutenant,” Shivan said. “Contact me when you and Ensign Locksley are ready to do the debriefing. I’ll make sure the conference room is available.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Mayborn said with a smile. Kel hadn’t really noticed before, but Mayborn was quite attractive when he smiled. She smiled back and tried not to hate him for taking Alex’s job. It wasn’t his fault, but he was a convenient target for blame.

“I’m sure this transition won’t be too difficult, Lieutenant,” Shivan said. “You are dismissed.”

“Alright, sir. Thank you,” Mayborn said politely, stepping past Kel to exit the room. Shivan sighed and sank into his chair with a decidedly unhappy look on his face.

“Have you found any more information, sir?” Kel asked.

“Not yet. Whoever wants Ensign Locksley to stay out of Intelligence isn’t showing their face. I’ll be contacting Captain Hardensen soon. Perhaps he has some idea what’s going on. In any case, I won’t rest until I get to the bottom of this. After all Alexander has done for us, we owe it to him.”

“We certainly do,” Kel said. She tried to give Shivan a reassuring smile, but wasn’t sure it worked. She excused herself back to the bridge and let Shivan carry on his investigation. Kel almost pitied the poor soul responsible for Alex’s dismissalonce Shivan got through with them, they would be begging for mercy and wishing they had been thrown into a Klingon prison camp instead.

***

Alex resisted the urge to shout, “Go away!” at the sound of the door chime and instead told the guest to enter. He sighed heavily and told himself to relaxthough relaxing with Jorhan Rukar around was not a wise idea.

Alex’s sigh of resignation was followed by one of relief as his guest entered the room. Instead of the menace he was expecting, Alok was a welcome sight.

“Alok,” Alex said. “What can I do for you?”

“Actually, I had hoped to ask you the same thing. May I be of assistance?”

“With what?” Alex asked. “Don’t tell me you knew about this beforehand.”

“I was there when Sylari told us about Rukar, Alex,” Alok said. “Have I missed something?”

“Maybe,” Alex said. “Maybe I did too. I don’t know if it’s connected to Rukar or not, but I’ve just been removed as Intelligence Liaison.”

“For what reason?” Alok asked. “Is it permanent? Did you do something wrong?”

“Whoa, slow down, dude. I’ve got the same questions and no answers yet,” Alex said. He shrugged and sat on the couch, exhausted all over again just by thinking about the ridiculous news he’d received earlier.

“But you believe Rukar is responsible or at least connected,” Alok said. It wasn’t a questionAlok simply knew Alex well enough to surmise the truth. Alex detected another truth behind those words. By openly stating Alex’s theory, Alok was saying I’m here to help. He didn’t need to say it any other way. Alex smiled, momentarily reassured by the knowledge that he’d have Alok’s backing on this.

“Rukar must be connected, don’t you think?” Alex asked.

“It would be the logical assumption,” Alok replied, moving in front of Alex and stepping closer, but remaining standing. 

“What I can’t figure out is if Kadatha or Mayborn are connected,” Alex replied, looking up into Alok’s eyes, again grateful, not just for his brother’s help but also for the simple fact that Alok was there. Even when life felt unbearably complicated, Alok’s unique perspective allowed him to see the simple truth in nearly any situation. Now, though, a peculiar look crossed Alok’s face, a look that portrayed an emotion Alok rarely feltsurprise. 

“Mayborn? You can’t mean Ensign Mayborn, and the only…of course. It is logical. I suppose it does make sense that Wentworth Mayborn would be involved.”

Still amused by Alok’s surprise and correct deduction, Alex continued, “Why? I’ve only heard of the guy once before, with that whole Breen fiasco a while back.”

“He’s been more active in recent years, mostly since you accepted a commission. And besides that, do you know exactly how the ‘Breen fiasco’ ended?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Let’s just say there were an unusual amount of…well, explosions. In any case, Wentworth Mayborn is either very dangerous or very useful, depending on your point of view. The only reason you haven’t heard much about him is that you haven’t been as close to the field as I have.”

“Fair enough, bro, but what does he have to do with Rukar?”

“Nothing in particular, but if someone in SI knew that Rukar was going to pay you a visit, they’d want to send their best to minimize the unfortunate incidents he is prone to generating.”

“And their best is Wentworth Mayborn? I thought ‘their best’ was you.”

“I’m flattered that you see it that way, but given our past history with Rukar, it would be logical to send someone further removed from the situation.”

“But why dismiss me from the job? I can understand sending Mayborn as backup, but why a replacement?”

Alok’s only response was to silently raise an eyebrow and offer a slight smile of encouragement.

“Because…” Alex said, hating what he was about to say but knowing it was the truth. “…they don’t trust me. They know Mayborn won’t give Rukar anything valuable, but they think I would. So lowering my security clearance means I won’t be in a position to become compromised. Thanks for the vote of confidence, guys.”

“From their point of view, Alex, it is a logical precaution. No offense.”

Alex sighed. “None taken. It doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, though,” The more he thought about it, the angrier he became. Alex slowly shook his head and stared out the window, keeping silent to avoid unfairly lashing out at Alok.

“Perhaps not, but it would also be logical to assume the change to be temporary, until Rukar has been sufficiently dealt with,” Alok said gently, sitting down on a chair across from Alex. “Your Intelligence work has always been an asset to Starfleet, so it would be logical for you to receive the job again,” Alex didn’t think Starfleet Command would see it that way, but he appreciated that Alok had confidence in him. 

“I suppose,” Alex said. Deciding not to complain that it was his job to ‘deal with’ Rukar anyways, he instead changed the subject, hoping to calm down so he could think straight. “Speaking of logical, how’s Sylari?” Alex asked.

“She is quite fine,” Alok said. “No, actually, she’s amazing. But that’s beside the point.”

“And what is the point?” Alex asked, smiling at Alok’s smitten description of his wife.

“I was getting to that. Sylari is concerned for yourfor ourwelfare. She insisted that I give you any assistance you might requirenot that I wasn’t planning to already. You’re part of her family now, Alex. She wants you to know that.”

“So she sent you to talk to me?”

“It wasn’t only her idea, but she did encourage me to. I don’t care what Wentworth Mayborn’s credentials are, you deserve that job. Sylari hopes you know we won’t give up until you get it back.”

“What?” Alex asked, suddenly confused. “How does she know I lost it?”

Alok laughed and rolled his eyes, not spitefully but with amusement. He raised a hand and touched his temple. “I told her as soon as you told me.”

“So she’s been eavesdropping on this entire conversation?”

“In a way, I guess. That doesn’t bother you, does it?”

“No, it’s just a little weird. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to there always being a third person in our conversations, though.”

“I know what you mean. It’s strange, at first, being connected to someone so completely. Feeling everything they feel…if I hurt myself, she feels it…if she drinks plomeek broth, I taste it…do you have any idea how tired I am of plomeek broth?”

“Shh, don’t let her hear you say that.”

“Too late,” Alok laughed. “Well, brother…it’s not going to be fun, but when will you speak to Rukar?”

“As soon as possible. I’m off duty for a while.”

“I’ll come with you if you wish.”

“I’d appreciate that,” Alex said, standing at the same time Alok did. Still not thrilled, but feeling better knowing Alok had his back, Alex was ready to deal with whatever Rukar had in store.

***

Security personnel are trained not only to deal with violent behavior, but to detect the signs of such behavior before it happens. These signs vary between species, cultures, and individuals. If a Klingon begins to reach for his belt, he’s probably reaching for a knife. If a Romulan does the same thing, he’ll probably draw a disruptor instead. If a Nausicaan grins, it’s not because he’s happy to see you. If Zuna Sarrana’s anger shows itself with insults, shouting, and more than the usual amount of sarcasm, you’ve got nothing to worry about but a slightly bruised ego. But if Zuna gets so angry that she calms down…someone’s going to end up feeling pain in places they didn’t know they had.

Zuna calmly walked past Jason, and the look in her eyes told him all he needed to knownamely, ‘Get the hell out of my way.’ Several other people got the same message and stepped out of her path as quickly as if she were a charging Algorian mammoth.

Jason abandoned his plans of talking to Clarissa Mayborn, noting with disappointment that another tall, dark-haired lieutenant was already moving towards her table as Jason turned away.

“Commander?” Jason asked, approaching Commander Tymir as she watched Zuna walk away.

“I probably shouldn’t have told her so soon,” Tymir said with a sigh.

“Oh, no. You don’t mean you told her about...”

“Yes, I told her about Alexander,” 

At that moment, Jason realized both where Zuna was going and why the dark-haired lieutenant approaching Clarissa looked so familiar. He suppressed the urge to roll his eyes at Commander Tymir and chased after Zuna.

Jason called Zuna’s name and reached for her arm as he caught up to her. She tried to brush him off, but he tightened his grip and she angrily spun to face him.

“Zuna, slow down,” Jason said politely.

“Let go of me!” Zuna said.

“Fine,” Jason said calmly. He let go and held his hands up in a gesture of peace. “But you need to calm down.”

“I am calm,” Zuna said, turning away to continue on her path.

“That’s what worries me,” Jason said, positioning himself in front of her. “You can’t just go around striking fellow officers for things they can’t control.”

“Jason!” Zuna said, shoving Jason back with considerable strength. He gently but firmly knocked her arms away and stayed put. Zuna tried another tactic. “You know about this and you’re not angry?” she asked.

“Of course I’m angry, but not at him,” Jason said, momentarily glancing towards Zuna’s target. In that split second, Jason realized something wasn’t right and turned back in time to see Clarissa slap Lieutenant Mayborn’s face with a surprising amount of force. As Jason stared slack-jawed, Clarissa turned away from the similarly named Lieutenant and stormed past Zuna and Jason.

Zuna stared after Clarissa incredulously. She turned back to Jason. “Why’d you let her hit him but not me?” she demanded, stepping closer to him and focusing every ounce of her rage at him instead of Lieutenant Mayborn. It wasn’t comfortable, but so far he was succeeding in stopping her assault.

“I didn’t know she was going to do that, Zuna,” Jason said with exasperation. “And I know you wouldn’t stop with one slap.”

“Jason, you know what he…”

“No, Zuna, I know what his orders are,” Jason interrupted. “Besides, do you think punching him will make your boyfriend feel any better?”

“Alex isn’t…” Zuna started to protest but appeared to realize what she was saying and stopped. “Point taken,” she said. “I’ll go…talk to him, I guess.”

“Good idea,” Jason said, offering a friendly smileor, more accurately, a sarcastic one that pretended to be friendly. Zuna rolled her eyes and stormed away.

Jason sighed and shook his head. Sometimes, breaking up a fistfight that had already started was easier than stopping it before it happened.

“Good work, Lieutenant,” Commander Tymir said, approaching him after Zuna had left. “But she’ll probably be angry with you for a while now.”

“It’s Zuna. That doesn’t surprise me,” Jason replied. “She’ll get over it.”

“Eventually,” Tymir said. “Still, maybe I should talk to her.”

“Actually, maybe you should talk to Clarissa instead,” Jason said, hoping she didn’t take his suggestion and implied disagreement negatively.

“That would involve less insults,” Tymir said. “I’ll find out what that was all about. Thank you, Jason,” she said, flashing a quick smile before leaving to find Clarissa.

Jason turned and noticed Lieutenant Mayborn sitting a short distance away, staring thoughtfully into space and gingerly touching his cheek. Jason walked over and sat down on the chair beside Mayborn’s.

“Lieutenant,” Jason said.

“Lieutenant,” Mayborn said in turn. “You know, I couldn’t help but overhear…the doctor wanted to hit me too?”

“Yes, only she wouldn’t have stopped after one slap.”

“What did I do to her?”

“Nothing, she’s just overprotective of AlexanderEnsign Locksley.”

“It’s not my fault that I’m replacing him,” Mayborn said.

“I know. She’ll get over it. Just don’t expect her to like you.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“So…” Jason said after a moment of silence. “I don’t want to pry, but…she hit you pretty hard.”

“I deserved it,” Mayborn said without a hint of irony or deception.

“Wait a minute,” Jason said, realizing something for the first time. “You and Clarissa have the same…”

“Yeah, I don’t want to talk about it,” Mayborn said, interrupting Jason before he was finished.

“Fair enough,” Jason replied. “If you’ll excuse me…”

“Sure.”

“Try not to let any more little girls beat you up,” Jason said as he stood up and walked away. If Lieutenant Mayborn wouldn’t tell him what was going on, Jason hoped Ensign Mayborn would. It was then that the strange realization struck him that Commander Tymir had used his first name. Now why would she do that?

***

“Hello, old friend. It’s good to see you,” Captain Max Hardensen said, greeting Shivan warmly. Many who knew Hardensen were surprised at the kindness he hid beneath his hardened façadethough in all reality it wasn’t completely a façade. Hardensen had seen hard days, readily attested to by the harsh lines of his thin, ascetic face and those piercing eyes.

“It’s good to see you as well, Max,” Shivan replied. At the moment, his old friend seemed relaxed, not dwelling on the dark shadows of his past. Shivan knew that at any moment a stray word or thought could trigger the man’s traumatic memories and send him into hiding within his stony exterior. Shivan was grateful that he’d reached his friend in an agreeable mood, and hoped nothing he said would upset Max too much.

“What can I do for you, KulShivan?” Max asked. “Or did you just call to chat? You still do owe me a game of chess.”

“In due time, my friend. Now, though, I’m afraid reality is not that pleasant. I may need some information.”

“What sort of information?” Max asked, turning his head slightly to the side in a familiar gesture of intrigue.

“Were you aware of Alexander Locksley’s dismissal?”

“Dismissal?” Max asked incredulously. “What do you mean? Has he been discharged from Starfleet?”

“No, nothing that severe,” Shivan said. “He has been removed as Intelligence Liaison, against his wishes and against mine.”

Max sighed. “I’m grateful it isn’t severe, but that’s not right. I would have warned you if I knew, KulShivan.”

“I believe you would have, Max. I have been unable to find out the detailed reasons behind his change of assignment. I wondered if you could assist me somehow?”

“I’ll certainly try, KulShivan,” Max said. “I still have quite a few contacts I could get in touch with,” Max’s background in Intelligence was quite an asseteven years after he’d left the field. There were even rumors that he hadn’t entirely left that life behind, rumors that Max steadfastly refused to respond to. “What were you told?” Max asked.

“I was told that while Ensign Locksley’s performance has been admirable, it would be best for him to focus solely on Operations for the time being. I was also told that giving a reason was not necessary, apparently since his rank was provisional to begin with.”

“For the time being…” Max said. “That isn’t very specific. And not giving a reason for reassignment…well, it doesn’t sound quite right. Normally, a reason isn’t given unless it’s asked for, but very rarely does Starfleet flatly refuse.”

“I found it strange as well,” Shivan said. “I’d appreciate any help you could give me, Max.”

“I’ll see what I can do, KulShivan. And I still want that chess game!”

“Of course, Max. Thank you. And say hello to Lieutenant Velinz for me. I still don’t know how he managed to win that game.”

“Neither do I, KulShivan. Take care,” 

***

“Alexander!” Jorhan Rukar, former Intelligence Director of the Obsidian Order, master of trickery and deception, smiled broadly as he greeted Alex and Alok. “It’s good to see you. And you, Alok…” Rukar paused and scrutinized Alok closely, amusement evident in his sharp eyes. “…I’ve had many reports about you in the last few months. You’ve really come into your own.”

“Thank you,” Alok said.

“And you, Alexander, don’t think I’d neglect you,” Rukar said. “Your altercation with the Hirogen made some interesting reading.”

“That’s funny, I haven’t heard much about you lately,” Alex said. “What have you been doing?”

“Oh, nothing very interesting,” Rukar said, flashing the particular brand of smile he used when he wanted you to know he wasn’t going to say any more. “It’s certainly not important now. I have more pressing concerns at the moment.”

“What sort of concerns?” Alok asked.

“I had hoped you’d ask, Alok,” Rukar said. “Oh, my apologies, gentlemen. Please sit down. Can I get you anything?” 

“I’m fine, thank you,” Alok replied first, calmly sitting on Rukar’s couch and reclining lazily, doing an excellent job of pretending to be comfortable.

“I don’t need anything,” Alex said, taking a seat beside Alok.

“If you insist,” Rukar said. “I hope you don’t mind if I have something,” He replicated a drink and sat down across from them.

“You were saying?” Alex said with mock civility.

“Don’t be so flippant, Alexander, it doesn’t suit you,” Rukar said. “First of all, I understand congratulations are in order, Alok! I was quite pleased to hear of your marriage to Ensign Sylari. Quite an intriguing situation, if you ask me.”

“He didn’t ask you,” Alex said.

“Be polite, Alex,” Alok said. “I know what he means. Thank you, Rukar.”

“Rukar…that’s all I ever hear. Rukar, Rukar, Rukar. How many times must I tell you to use my proper name? We’re all friends here, aren’t we?”

“Friends don’t sell friends out to the Tal Shiar,” Alex said.

“You would have done the same to me,” Rukar said.

“He’s right, Alex,” Alok said.

“That’s not the point,” Alex said.

“In any case, you were about to tell us of your present concerns?”

“Yes, I was,” Rukar said. “It seems…” he paused, took a drink, and shifted his gaze to Alex. “…that one of my favorite colleagues has got himself into some trouble. I’m here to help.”

“Don’t even start with me, Rukar,” Alex said, hoping to stop Rukar before he even began his con-artist act. This was the way it had always been with Rukarhe made a show of his noble ideals and worthy motives, Alex was as sarcastic as possible, Rukar gave in and dropped the act, and then they could cooperate. Rukar never made a move without putting events into motion in his favor, and Alex wasn’t about to buy that his intentions were completely unselfish. 

“Don’t start what?”

“Alex is referring to your attempt to gain emotional support for whatever mission you have in store,” Alok answered.

“Exactly,” Alex said. “This is the part where you’ve set me up and you’ll try to make it seem like you’re the only one who knows what to do. You’ll hoping that I’m desperate enough to buy it, you’ll offer to help me get my job back if I do you a favor…but it’s not going to work. You’ve tied your own hands.”

“So…” Rukar said, placing his glass on the table between him and Alex. All pretense was gone from his face and voice, his attitude changed from ‘cheerful friend’ to ‘stone cold spy.’ “You think you’ve got this one figured out, do you? Tell me, Alexander, what’s going on?”

“It’s quite simple,” Alok said. “You’ve maneuvered events, using your old contacts and presumably some unsavory tactics to have Alexander removed from his position as Intelligence Liaison.”

“You think I’m capable of that?” Rukar asked. “Oh, wait…we’re talking about me, aren’t we? Nevermind. I’m flattered…anyways, continue, please.”

“Either that or you convinced someone in Starfleet Intelligence to make it happen,” Alex said. “But I doubt you were counting on my replacement being Wentworth Mayborn.”

“Why? What’s wrong with him?” Rukar asked. “I must have chosen him for something. If you’re so convinced I could arrange for your removal, do you really think I’d leave your replacement to chance?”

“You couldn’t have chosen a better replacement, Rukar,” Alex said. “Or from your perspective, you couldn’t have chosen a worse replacement. Wentworth Mayborn is too good at his job for what you’re planning.”

“And what is that, exactly?” Rukar asked.

“As Alex said before,” Alok said, “you want him to be desperate. So you made him lose a valuable part of his job, then you’ll promise to help him get it back in exchange for information. However, Lieutenant Mayborn will not allow Alex to give you that information, so you’ll ask Alex to use his considerable skills to get around Mayborn.”

“That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?” Rukar asked. “Are you up for the challenge, Alex?”

“No, I’m not,” Alex said. “Mayborn’s too good. At the moment, he’s already going through all of my intelligence files and he’s probably set up surveillance on me. If I try to go around him, especially so early in the game, before having a chance to observe him and see a way through, he’ll catch me easily.”

“That’s not very optimistic,” Rukar said.

“Forget it, Rukar,” Alex said. “It’s not happening.”

“Of course not,” Rukar said. “This has been an interesting diversion, gentlemen, and you do make a compelling argument. But that is not why I’m here.”

“Do you honestly expect me to believe that my dismissal, Mayborn’s arrival, and your visit are coincidental?” Alex asked. “I don’t buy it.”

“Oh, I never said that, Alex,” Rukar said. “I simply don’t want you to feel that I’m here to manipulate you.”

“Aren’t you?” Alex asked.

“Not at all,” Rukar said. “I’m here to kill you.”

***

Vulcans who embrace the philosophy unfairly labeled v’tosh’katur find that patience is one of the most important emotional qualities for a Vulcan. Classical Vulcan philosophy teaches the value of logic and restraint, and even Vulcans who show their emotions must have self-control. A Vulcan who wishes to express his emotions must nonetheless realize that there are times when it is logical and proper to suppress one’s emotions. T’Kor reminded himself of this over and over as he approached Lieutenant Percy and Ensign Solomon. Insulting them would do little goodand throwing them out of an airlock wouldn’t help either.

“I can’t believe you actually think that’s valid!” Ensign Solomon said.

“Gentlemen, what are you doing?” T’Kor asked, as politely as he could manage.

“He’s clinging to an outdated model of warp theory,” Solomon said, “One that fails to explain the action of a coherent tetryon beam in three-dimensional space.”

“This young fool thinks the answer can be found with only three dimensions!” Percy said.

“I don’t appreciate your tone, Lieutenant!” Solomon said.

“I don’t like yours either, Ensign!” Percy retorted, emphasizing the younger man’s lower rank as if it were the gravest insult he could imagine.

“Stop it!” T’Kor said, trying valiantly to hold back his irritation. “Gentlemen, we are attempting to perform an experiment that may answer the very question you’re arguing about!”

“With all due respect, Commander,” Solomon said, “I don’t believe this experiment takes all the variables into consideration.”

“Especially since it ignores Kiri-Kin-Tha’s rule of…” Percy said.

“Kiri-Kin-Tha was an idiot! He did nothing but state the obvious!” Solomon said, and T’Kor got the feeling that Solomon had interrupted out of nothing but spite.

“Oh, please…” Percy said. “His metaphysical ramblings were completely separate from his scientific philosophy. His theories provide a sound basis for understanding warp geometry, and you know it!”

“In simplest terms, yes,” Solomon admitted. “But modern theory clearly indicates that a coherent tetryon beam is spatially constrained! Not temporally!”

“Enough!” T’Kor interrupted again. “This experiment is based on measurable data and empirical facts. Not statistical interpretation or unproved speculation. What we observe will be solid and concrete. Now is not the time for endless theoretical debate. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir,” Solomon said quietly.

“We’ll see what the experiment shows, Commander,” Percy said. He sounded more cynical than optimistic.

“Yes, we will,” T’Kor said. 

“Spatially constrained…in a pig’s eye,” Percy muttered. Solomon glared and opened his mouth to reply, but T’Kor interrupted.

“Don’t give him the satisfaction, Ensign. That’s enough out of you, Percy. Besides,” T’Kor said, “You’re both wrong.”

***

“Unbelievable…” T’Kor said under his breath after returning to his station.

“Those two are impossible to work around,” Vasik said, feeling grateful that they weren’t in his department.

“They value theory over practical application,” T’Kor said. “And they’re both unbearably smug.”

“So am I,” Vasik said.

“True, but at least you’re right some of the time.”

Vasik laughed. “Only some of the time?”

“Yes. Let’s get these calibrations finished, I’m sure Captain Shivan will be eager to leave Sanctuary as soon as possible.”

“And a ship with disconnected engines would be no help in a crisis,” Vasik said. “The sooner we get this over with, the better I’ll feel. I’ll miss my engines…”

“Don’t get sentimental on me now, Vasik. You’re supposed to be the boring, emotionless one, remember?”

“I thought you were the Vulcan.”

“Oh, that’s right. I’d forgotten.”

***

Alex had hardly any time to formulate a reply before Alok drew his phaser and held it directly in the center of Rukar’s forehead.

“Calm down, Alok, he’s not going to kill me,” Alex said. “At least not here.”

“He’s right, you know,” Rukar said. “I couldn’t do it here. Besides, I’m not actually going to do it.”

“So you’re not going to kill him? I thought you said that’s why you were here,” Alok said.

“Of course not!” Rukar said indignantly. “Trust me, Alok, there’s no need to lobotomize me.”

“Are you sure?” Alok asked.

“Yes, quite sure.”

“I’m not.”

“Let him go, Alok, he’s just messing with us,” Alex said.

“If you say so,” Alok replied. He removed the phaser from Rukar’s forehead and stepped back, but he remained standing and watched Rukar closely.

“I assure you, I’m not ‘messing with you’ at all, Alex. I really was sent here to kill you. But you don’t need to worryI’m not going to do it!” Rukar said.

“What do you want, Rukar?” Alex asked. “This is obviously the part where you offer to help save my life in exchange for something.”

“What do I want?” Rukar echoed. “What do I want? I’ll tell you what I want. I want justice for seven of my best agents who were killed by a man who betrayed his people for money. That’s all I want.”

“Perhaps you should start at the beginning,” Alok said.

“I suppose you’re right,” Rukar said. “The situation, simply explained, is this: there is a rogue element within the Obsidian Order.”

“The Order no longer exists, Rukar,” Alex said.

“Not officially, of course,” Rukar said. “In any case, this rogue element has been trading secrets, both technological and political, for profit. Seven of my agents were killedand then the traitorous voles had the audacity to recruit me! I agreed to work for thembut only so I could discover their secrets and tear them apart.”

“That sounds like something you’d do,” Alok said.

“Yes it does,” Alex said. “So far I can buy it. Keep going.”

“Imagine my surprise when I discovered that these ‘Shadows’, as they call themselves, were dealing with a Starfleet officer. A Starfleet officer who happens to be on your ship, Alex!”

“I don’t believe you,” Alex said. He had no problem believing the first part of Rukar’s storybut a traitor on the Wolfsong was too far-fetched. Nonetheless, Rukar continued.

“Of course not, but you will. In any case, I told them they were fools to try something like this on your watch. I convinced them the security risk was too great.”

“So they decided to kill me? Great work, Rukar!”

“Thank you. Of course, being the fools they are, they didn’t choose me as your assassin, even though I’m clearly the only one qualified for the job.”

“Rukar, do you hear what you’re saying?” Alex asked. At the best of times, Rukar’s claims of ‘friendship’ were absurdbut now he was bragging that only he could kill Alex.

“I know, sometimes I’m dreadful, aren’t I?” Rukar said. “Still, I managed to convince them that their moronic contact on this ship couldn’t handle you alone. So they sent me along as backupthe arrival of your new liaison made things convenient.”

“Is Kadatha involved?” Alok asked. “And who is this defector?”

“Defector? That, my friend, is too good a word for this individual. But I won’t tell you who it is, not yet. The last thing this operation needs is for you to lock himor herup before I’m done with them.”

“Do I even want to know what you plan to do to him?” Alex asked.

“I plan to use him to uncover his contacts in the Order. He’s only a means to an end.”

“And what about Kadatha?” Alok asked.

“I won’t tell you anymore right now,” Rukar said. “I will explain everything in time. I have arranged for a meeting with your Captain Shivan, and both of you should be there.”

“How do I know we can trust you?” Alex asked.

“You don’t,” 

“Alex, we both know there’s no use in trying to get any more information out of him,” Alok said.

Alex was forced to agree. “You’re right, Alok,” he said. “We’ll be watching you, Rukar.”

“I know you will. Everything will be revealed in time, I promise. For now, I have matters to attend to. Would you excuse me?”

“We don’t have much choice, do we?” Alex said. With a final glare at Rukar, he and Alok departed the room.

***

There are good times and bad times to talk about your feelings. As Alex came around the corner, Zuna could tell that now was a bad time and resigned herself to the knowledge that she would once again have to wait ‘until it was over.’ She was getting tired of that phrase and wasn’t sure how many more times she could live with it.  

“Hey, Alex,” She said with a smile that said I’m here for you.

“Hi, Zuna,” Alex said tersely, although she knew it wasn’t her he was upset with.

“It’s good to see you, Zuna,” Alok said.

“You too, Alok. How’s Sylari?” 

“She is well, thank you.”

“How are you doing, Alex?” Zuna asked. She touched his arm, trying to be comforting and stopped just short of holding his hand.

“I’ll live, thanks,” Alex said, sounding less than convinced.

“I’m here if you want to talk,” she said quietly. “Dare I ask what we know about Rukar?” 

“Not much,” Alex said.

“We know he’s not working alone and that his agenda pertains to the Wolfsong somehow,” Alok said, clarifying the matter a little, though not much. Zuna glanced back at Alex and noticed a peculiar look on his face. A quick check showed that Alok wore an identical look. Zuna stepped in front of them and stopped. She put her hands on her hips and stared them down, stopping them in their tracks.

“Is there something you’re not telling me?” She asked.

“Nope,” Alex said.

“Not at all,” Alok said at the same time. 

Zuna rolled her eyes and looked back and forth between them. “You’re both very bad at lying,” she said. 

“But you love us anyway,” Alok said.

Zuna sighed. “Yes, Alok, I do. Fine, I probably don’t want to know, anyway. Alex, I need to talk to you when you’ve sorted this out.”

“Actually, you should talk now,” Alok said. “I was just leaving. I’ll do some looking, Alex, I’ll let you know if I find anything.”

“Thanks, Alok,” Alex said. 

Alok walked away and Alex turned to Zuna, smiling in spite of the situation. He seemed about to ask her what was on her mind, but she interrupted. Zuna chose not to use any words, instead simply hugging him tightly.

“What’s this for?” Alex asked while returning her embrace. “Not that I’m complaining.”

“You know what it’s for, Alex,” Zuna said as she pulled away. She was about to say more, but she was yet again delayed when their combadges chirped.

Attention senior officers: staff briefing in five minutes,” Kel Tymir’s voice said dispassionately. Zuna rolled her eyes.

“It’s alright, we’ve still got five minutes,” Alex said.

“We need more than that, Alex. This conversation deserves more than that.”

“Zuna, you deserve all the time it takes. After the briefing, we can…”

“No.”

“What do you mean, ‘no’?”

“Alex, I love you dearly,” Zuna said. “But I know you won’t really be listening if we talk then. Once this stupid mess with you and Mayborn and your security clearance and that frelling weasel Rukar is dealt with…then we’ll talk.”

“Zuna, that’s not fair to you.”

“Life isn’t fair, Alex,” Zuna said, her voice beginning to break. She felt a tear behind her eye and tried desperately to hold it back. “We’ll talk after, not before,” Zuna couldn’t hold the tear in anymore and it slid down her cheek as she turned and began to storm away, not angry at Alex but unable to bear his company right now. She intended to leave the situation and avoid him until Rukar was gone, but he didn’t let her get that far.

“Zuna, wait,” Alex said, not in his pleading I-really-want-to-talk voice but with his authoritative you-need-to-listen-or-you’ll-get-hurt voice. She ignored him, but he grabbed her arm and spun her around and pulled her close to him. “It’s alright, Zuna. It’s alright,” She tried to pull away but gave in and leaned against his chest as he gently held her against him.

“You need to focus.”

“Zuna, nothing’s more important than focusing on you.”

“We’re in the middle of the corridor.”

“I don’t care. It’s okay. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll still be here when Rukar’s gone. We can talk about this then, okay?”

Zuna stood up but remained close to him. She wiped the tears from her face and nodded. Alex smiled and brushed one last tear from her cheek, then kissed her in the same place.

“Thanks, Alex.”

“You’re welcome. Shall we?”

“We shall,” She smiled, kissed his cheek and linked her arm through his.

***

Wentworth Mayborn was usually able to force people either into noticing or not noticing him, depending on the situation. At the moment, he was trying desperately to attract someone’s attention and she was trying desperately to ignore him.  

The first time he approached her she slapped his face and stormed away. But he didn’t take the hint. The second time, she closed the door in his face. But he didn’t give up. The third time, she simply walked away, and he simply followed her.  As he followed her through the corridor, trying again and again to speak to her, Clarissa realized they would eventually arrive at the same place anyways, but she wasn’t ready to give in. It wasn’t until she had nearly reached the turbolift and he let out one last desperate, “Clarissa, wait!” that she turned to face him.

“I don’t want to hear it, Wentworth!” Clarissa said, quite loudly for someone in the middle of a hallway.

“You’re not even going to try to listen, are you?” Wentworth asked angrily. “We need to talk so badly, Clarissa.”

“What’s there to say that hasn’t been said?”

“It’s not as simple as you think it is, Clarissa. I really, really need…”

“So it’s all about what you need, huh? Sounds familiar,” Clarissa said, not thinking about what she was saying. She was lashing out, and she knew it, but she was sure he was going to react with even more anger and sarcasm. What he actually did surprised her.

“Clarissa, please!” Wentworth begged, looking up and closing his eyes as if to avoid her gaze. When he looked back down, his eyes were wet and Clarissa felt herself soften ever so slightly.

“Wentworth…I…”

“I just want to talk about it, Clarissa.”

Clarissa sighed and nodded. “Alright. We’ll talk, after this staff briefing, alright?”

“Sounds good to me,” Wentworth said. He smiled and entered the turbolift after her, all trace of his emotional display gone already. Clarissa had always envied his ability to do thatnow she’d still look like a mess when she entered the briefing room, but nobody would suspect that anything was wrong with Wentworth.

As short as it had been and as invisible as it now was, the truth was that Clarissa had seen and caused the hurt that had entered his eyes for that brief moment. She sighed and turned to face him.

“Computer, halt,” Clarissa said. Wentworth turned to look at her. Wordlessly, she closed the gap between them and put her arms around her older brother’s neck.

“Clarissa…” 

“I’m sorry,” 

“I’m sorry too.”

***

Kel sighed and fought the urge to roll her eyes as she took her seat in the briefing room again. She was, as the human expression went, ‘itching’ to go out and do somethingsomething other than warp experiments. But orders were orders, and she did understand the value of the experiment, so like a good little officer she kept her mouth shut and waited patientlysomewhat patiently.

“This does not need to be a long briefing, but I wanted to ensure that we all understood what is about to happen. T’Kor, please briefly sum up the experiment. Briefly, please,” Shivan said, gesturing with a nod to T’Kor before sitting down.

“Thank you, Captain,” T’Kor said, grinning like a child in a candy factory. Kel didn’t share his enthusiasm for the experiment, but his mirth was contagious and she found herself smiling as well. “I will keep it brief, I promise,” T’Kor said as he stood and activated a holographic display of the Wolfsong. “Basically, the aim of the experiment is to improve the efficiency of warp travel. This hologram will demonstrate how we hope to modify the ship’s warp field…”

T’Kor wasn’t as brief as he promised to be, and most of the science went over Kel’s head. T’Kor explained that the experiment would modify the shape of the warp bubble produced by the Wolfsong, in effect smoothing the transition between subspace and normal space. Once Kel understood that basic idea, she no longer tried to understand T’Kor’s explanation.

To be honest, Kel’s distraction wasn’t entirely due to boredom. Something strange was afoot on the Wolfsong, and one of her closest friends was deeply entangled in it. Kel didn’t know what it was, but she had learned how to read Alex Locksley like a book, thought not quite as well as Zuna could, naturally. Alex’s eyes told Kel enoughspecifically, that the ship and the crew were likely in danger.

“…hopefully this will make warp travel safer and more efficient in the future,” T’Kor finished. “Thank you.”

“One question, Commander,” The voice that spoke was unfamiliar, and it took a moment for Kel to realize that it was Glinn Kadatha who wished to learn more.

“Certainly, Glinn,” T’Kor said with a smile and a nod, crossing his arms behind his back and waiting for the question.

“Why, specifically, the Wolfsong?” Kadatha asked with a subtle sweeping gesture encompassing the room and by extension the ship in general. “Wouldn’t a newer vessel be better equipped for this experiment? Not that the Wolfsong is outdated by any means.”

“Excellent question!” T’Kor said. “I hoped someone would ask. As you said, the Wolfsong isn’t exactly newbut she definitely isn’t old, either. The purpose of the experiment isn’t to develop new technology, but new techniques. That means a ship that has seen active duty and a variety of circumstances and proven herself is ideal for this experiment. A ship that is too new may have glitches that haven’t been dealt with, and a ship that is too old may be unstable due to her age.”

“Thank you, Commander. This experiment is very interesting,” Kadatha said, thoughtfully rubbing his chin.

“The experiment is also consistent with the kind of assignments the Wolfsong usually handles,” Wentworth Mayborn said from his place beside his sister. Lounged back in his chair, Mayborn hadn’t seemed to be listening, although his body language wasn’t casual enough to be inappropriate.

“That is true, Lieutenant,” Shivan said, his antennae twitching in Mayborn’s direction.

Vasik then joined the conversation. “I believe one hypothetical application of the new technique was to improve the efficiency of providing aid in Cardassian space. As she is stationed in Cardassian space, the Wolfsong is a logical choice. She’s also a wonderful ship, which also makes her a logical candidate.”

“A true sentiment, Commander,” Shivan said. “Now that we’ve discussed the reasons for the assignment, we can carry on. Commander Vasik, please outline the procedure we will be following.”

“Certainly. The ship’s engines are ready to be disconnected, but we’ll be taking a short warp trip away from Sanctuary before I completely disconnect them. A small-scale test will be performed with a shuttle, and we will use the data collected to calibrate the Wolfsong’s engines when they are reconnected.”

“Why will they be disconnected?” Kathor asked. “Pardon the interruption.”

“Not at all, Kathor,” Vasik said. “The calibration required will be very delicate and are more easily performed while the engines are being reconnected than after they are already connected. As I was saying, we will use data from the small scale test in the calibration.”

“And I will follow the same flight path in the Wolfsong as taken in the Bagheera,” Clarissa Mayborn said.

“And will you be piloting the shuttle as well?” Glinn Kadatha asked.

“No, I won’t,” Clarissa said, shaking her head. “I’ll actually be performing a simulation to prepare for the experiment. She might handle a little differently with the modified technique so I’ll need to be ready,” The smile on Clarissa’s face was almost as wide as T’Kor’s had been and again Kel found herself smiling as well.

“So who will pilot the shuttle?” Kadatha asked.

“Lieutenant Percy will be taking detailed scans during the test, but I believe Sanctuary’s Ensign Sylari will be the pilot,” Vasik said.

***

Alex hadn’t been comfortable with the timing of the warp experiment ever since Rukar came on board, but the mention of Sylari’s name set off even more alarms in his mind. It wasn’t as if she was the only pilot available, and Alex wouldn’t put it past Rukar to involve Alok and Sylari. But to what end?

Alex’s suspicions solidified further when Kadatha spoke again.

“Captain, I would like to request permission to accompany Lieutenant Percy on the shuttle experiment.”

It was a simple request, but Alex found it incredibly unsettling. Sylari’s involvement, the timing, Kadatha’s interest…there were far too many ‘coincidences’. The only question was how Percy was involved. Could he be the defector Rukar claimed would make an attempt on Alex’s life? 

-Alok, I need you to do a background check on Lieutenant Kevin Percy. A very in-depth background check.- Alex asked. Percy had always seemed trustworthy, but Alex couldn’t be sure, and Alok had the resources to confirm or reject Percy as a possible suspect.

-Didn’t you do that when he came aboard?- Alok asked immediately.

-Yes, but you have more resources than I do. You might find something I missed.-

-True. I’ll see what I can find. May I ask why?-

-He’s in charge of the small-scale shuttle experiment.-

-So?-

-So Sylari’s piloting the shuttle, Kadatha wants to go along, and the timing is starting to scare me. This whole situation has Rukar written all over it.-

-Perhaps I should have mentioned Sylari’s involvement. I apologize, I didn’t think it would be relevant.-

-Don’t worry about it, just find what you can on Percy. I’ll take care of the meeting with Rukar.-

-Certainly, Alex. Keep me informed.-

***

Timing is everything. Acting too quickly or waiting too long can ruin just about anything, whether it’s a science experiment or breaking and entering. 

Everything else was simple, really. Finding an excuse to leave the science lab was easy enough, bypassing the security system was no trouble at all, and planting the bug was no different. The tricky part was the timing. He had to act after his spoonhead handler left his quarters to wait for the other Cardassian, but before T’Kor had left the briefing, and he had to enter and exit the room without any witnesses in the corridor noticing his activity. All of that happened without a hitch, and in less than seven minutes he was back in the science lab. Poor Alex Locksley would never see him coming.

***

“If there is nothing further, you are dismissed,” Shivan said. “Lieutenant Mayborn, Ensign Locksley, please remain.”

“I have nothing else, Captain,” T’Kor said. “Commander?”

Kel shook her head. “Nothing from me, sir,” she said. She cast a meaningful glance towards Alex, wordlessly telling Shivan she’d noticed something. Shivan caught her eye and nodded almost imperceptibly, just enough for her to see he’d received the message. The staff, including Kel, filed out quickly and quietly.

“I’m assuming you both know why you’re here,” Shivan said. Mayborn and Alex nodded as they both stood and took seats closer to Shivan. It was a polite, though unnecessary gesture that Shivan saw for exactly what it wasan attempt at placation. They may not have realized it, but their actions showed that they were reaching out to the person with the largest amount of direct authority over them, hoping for his assistance with their respective agendas.

“When will you and I meet with Doctor Rukar, Captain?” Mayborn asked, although he knew perfectly well. Alex laughed quietly.

“Thirty minutes from now,” Shivan said, humoring Mayborn for the moment. Intelligence operatives, including Alex, liked to think they were unreadable, that they could fool anyone. Often they could. But once you’ve been taken into someone’s confidence and you know what they’re trying to accomplish, reading them becomes much easier. Shivan knew exactly what Alex wanted and what Mayborn wanted. It didn’t take much thought to discern what their actions meant.

“What’s so funny?” Mayborn asked Alex.

“I just think it’s a little amusing that you’re calling him ‘Doctor’ Rukar.”

“That is what he introduced himself as,” Mayborn said, trying very hard to give every indication that he believed Rukar’s cover story. 

“I’m sure he did. Anyways, is there something you wanted to discuss with me, Lieutenant? Thirty minutes is a long time, you must have arranged it for a reason.” Shivan had to resist the urge to smile at how easily Alex saw through Mayborn’s game. 

“What makes you think I arranged the time?” Mayborn asked, looking confused.

“If you hadn’t arranged time to speak with me before you meet with Rukar, with all due respect, you would be an idiot,” Alex said. He paused for effect, letting the flippant implication hang in the air for a moment before continuing, “I can see that you’re not an idiot, so you must have arranged it to ask if I know anything about Rukar that you could use. You only asked how long it would be to bring attention to the fact that you had me here for a reason.”

“Very insightful, Ensign. I do wonder if you can offer anything that will be of use to my assignment. I’m here to investigate Rukar, and you’re something of an expert on the man.”

“So I passed your little test. I’m all ears, carry on,” Alex said. He crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair, subtly presenting himself as secure, completely unconcerned with Mayborn’s presence.

Mayborn took a more serious tone and cut the preamble entirely. “Ensign, you haven’t been interfering with my assignment, have you? Investigating Rukar behind my back?”

Now Alex looked confused. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Lieutenant.” 

“Don’t play dumb with me, Ensign. I know what you’ve been doing,” Mayborn said, not specifying what Alex had been doing, likely done deliberately to give Alex an opportunity to share his knowledge freely.

“Please be more specific, Lieutenant,” Shivan said. He was growing tired of the pretense.

“Ensign Locksley, what do you think I’ve been doing since I got here? I’ve been watching you, and I know you’ve been watching Rukar. You’ve been collaborating with Sanctuary’s Intelligence Liaison, and you’ve been trying to find out if Glinn Kadatha is involved. That about sums it up, right?”

“Lieutenant, I gave the Ensign permission to watch Rukar,” Shivan said. He had done no such thing, at least not directly, but it wasn’t exactly a lie. Alex had Shivan’s full support.

“With all due respect, Captain, it is not within your purview to give him permission to investigate behind my back. This is a Starfleet Intelligence matter,” Mayborn’s tone remained civil, but he was no longer placating but standing his ground.

Alex opened his mouth to respond, but Shivan spoke first.

“Just a moment, Ensign. Lieutenant, it is well within ‘my purview’ to allow a member of my senior staff to use his spare time to look into a matter that concerns the safety of my ship and her crew.”

“I understand that, sir, but…”

“Do not interrupt me, Lieutenant,” Shivan said, a quiet warning Mayborn heeded quickly. “However, this is an intelligence matter, and as such I naturally instructed Ensign Locksley to collaborate with you. Now that you are both here, I’m sure the two of you will take advantage of the opportunity to pool your resources.”

“Captain, I…”

“Ensign Locksley is the largest asset and the best source of information you have at your disposal when it comes to dealing with Jorhan Rukar. I suggest you use that information in the spirit with which it was offered.”

Visibly reluctant, Mayborn sighed and nodded. He was giving in, but he wasn’t happy about it. Nevertheless, he and Alex had seemed to reach a mutual understanding and could now deal with the situation at hand. Shivan paid close attention to the information they shared. He said nothing, having already formed his own theory about the situation that only time could confirm or deny. Shivan thought it foolish to jump to conclusions at the best of times, and especially when dealing with spies.  

***

-Alexander, I’ve found something.- Alok said, casting a concerned look towards Sylari. He saw no reason to jump to conclusions, but if Alex was correct in his suspicions, Sylari might very well be in danger. Alok thought it far preferable to end any such danger preemptively, however slight the risk appeared.

-Something good or something bad?- Alex asked.

-Something that merits further discussion, in any case. It may be wise to postpone your meeting with Rukar.- Alok knew just how hard it was to stay one step ahead of Rukar, and the information he found could be crucial to the situation.

-Alright, I’ll ask the Captain. Do you need me to come to Sanctuary?-

-I do not think that is necessary, as Sylari and I will be on the Wolfsong shortly anyway.-

-She asked you to come watch her flight, did she? That’s sweet.-

-Indeed. I will see you in a few minutes, Alex.-

***

The situation was most unsatisfactory. Time was running out, but Alex Locksley remained distrustful. Jorhan shook his head in a mixture of frustration and disgust. Couldn’t Alexander see that his personal safety as well as that of his friends on the Wolfsong depended on Jorhan? As usual, resentment was clouding Alexander’s judgment.

In all honesty, Jorhan could understand why Alexander had a hard time trusting him. Alexander didn’t view their history together the way Jorhan did, and he certainly didn’t believe Jorhan was his friend. But Jorhan knew Alexander, and he knew that by now he had corroborated Jorhan’s story about the coming attempt on his life. Alexander was smart enough to know who he could depend on in situations like thisat least, Jorhan thought he was. Alexander should have been listening to Jorhan, out of self-preservation at the very least.

Jorhan had a sudden thought that gave him pause. His line of reasoning was flawed. Instead of trying to move beyond Alexander’s sentimentality, he should have been making the most of it. Unlike his clone, Alexander rarely did anything without some form of emotional investment. You could give Alexander all the logical arguments you could think of and not convince him of anything. But if you told Alexander that a child or a pretty girl was in danger, he’d take on the entire Klingon Defense Force without a second thought.

It was too late now, but Jorhan realized he should have given his plan more thought. It might have been better if he’d shown Alexander the device to begin with. On the other hand, Alexander may have acted rashly if Jorhan had done so. In any case, Alexander was acting with incomplete information. Once he knew about the device, Jorhan knew just how motivated he would be. Whether he would act prudently or lash out at Jorhan, only time would tell. He could only hope Alexander would be calm enough not to shoot the messenger.

***

After informing Rukar that the meeting would be delayed, Captain Shivan stood and walked to the replicator. He asked Wentworth and Ensign Locksley if they wanted something to drink. Both declined. 

“Tarkalean tea, hot,” Shivan said. A cup shimmered into existence and Shivan took it back to the conference table.

“Alok will be here in just a minute, sir,” Ensign Locksley said. “He’s just boarded the Wolfsong.”

Wentworth turned to Locksley. “It really is fascinating how quickly you two can send messages back and forth. You said earlier that it’s a neural interface. Is it telepathic?”

Locksley smiled. “No, it’s really more like a com-link,” he said. He indicated his right temple. “We have a mental interface with the transponder unit, but not with one another. So we have complete control over the signal we’re sending, but the communication is really more like a text message than a telepathic one.”

“That’s interesting. Must be very useful. Can you use it as an audio communicator?”

“We can, and we’ve done it a few times before, but we both prefer the ‘mental text message’ to using it that way.”

Wentworth nodded. Locksley’s history really was fascinating, and what Wentworth found most interesting was the relationship he’d developed with his clone, going so far as to become like a brother to him. They were both well known in the intelligence circle, with a reputation for being a handful on their own and nearly unstoppable together.

A familiar voice interrupted Wentworth’s thoughts. He smiled.

Mayborn to Captain Shivan,” Clarissa said. Wentworth felt a certain measure of pride over his little sister. Becoming Flight Controller on an Intrepid-class was by no means a small feat.

“Go ahead, Ensign,” Shivan said.

We are ready to depart, sir. Ensign Sylari is aboard and Commander Vasik reports he has made his preparations.”

“Very well,” Shivan said. “Set a course and take us out. Fly safe, Ensign.”

I will, sir. Mayborn out.”

Wentworth’s smile faded as he thought about their relationship. She hadn’t been happy to see him, that’s for sure. He knew it was his fault.

At that moment, Alok entered the room. He wore a neutral, but friendly expression. Ensign Locksley had said earlier that Alok was concerned about something he had learned, but you certainly couldn’t tell by looking at his face. In fact, one could be forgiven for believing he was a Vulcan if they didn’t know better. Wentworth stood and walked over for a proper introduction.

“Alex. Captain Shivan,” Alok said.

Locksley nodded. “Hey, bro. Good to see you. Sylari okay?”

“Yes, she’s speaking to Zuna right now,” Alok said. He turned to Wentworth, who offered his hand. Alok shook it. “Lieutenant Mayborn, I presume.”

“It’s good to meet you face to face, Alok.”

“And you, Lieutenant.”

Wentworth returned to his seat. Alok took a seat next to Locksley.

“Ensign Locksley said you found something of concern?” Wentworth asked.

“That is correct. Captain Shivan, I recommend you either postpone the warp experiment or choose someone other than Kevin Percy to carry it out.”

“Why is that?” Shivan asked.

“I have found information that indicates he may be less than trustworthy, sir. He has had dealings with Harrad-Zata, a known associate of the former Obsidian Order.”

“What has Kevin Percy ever done with an Orion smuggler?” Ensign Locksley asked.

Wentworth feigned surprise with the ease that long practice brought. The trap was set, and the victim suspected nothing. Everything was going according to plan.

***

To his credit, Jorhan Rukar almost got right to the point. Shivan had been expecting the usual narcissistic dissembling, but Rukar seemed eager to move forward.

“I won’t waste your time, Captain,” Rukar said as he accepted the chair offered to him.  

Ensign Locksley made an admirable attempt to cover a derisive snort at Rukar’s promise. Lieutenant Mayborn looked amused, while Alok’s expression remained neutral. Both he and Ensign Locksley remained standing, making an obvious display of their distrust. Rukar noticed immediately.

“Alexander, while I do agree that I’m not to be trusted, do you really think this posturing is necessary? You might as well have a phaser to my heador would that be Alok’s job?”

“We are merely ensuring that we have an advantage,” Alok said.

“Of course, of course. I trained you well. As I said, Captain Shivan, I will not waste your time. I’ll make this very simple. I have something to give, and something to request.”

“Tell me what you’re offering, and I’ll decide if it’s worth giving you what you want.” Shivan said.

“Actually, Captain, I’d prefer to do things the other way around. As a matter of fact, I have two things to offer…but as I said, I’ll make the request first. I want the defector. I want the chance to interrogate himI’ll even use Starfleet methods, if you’d prefer.”

“Why should we let you do that?” Locksley asked.

“And how could we possibly make a decision until we know what you’re offering?” Mayborn asked.

“I will get to that, I promise. Captain?”

Shivan sighed. “I will consider your request, Rukar. What is it you’re offering in return?”

“I’m actually offering two things, Captain. First of all, I am willing to share information on several Starfleet officers who have been less than scrupulous in their dealings with various parties hostile to the Federationthe Orion Syndicate, for one, as well as the remnants of the Maquis.”

Shivan turned to Mayborn and asked his opinion.

“Even in Starfleet, there are more than a few criminal scumbags, Captain. It’s quite possible that Doctor Rukar is acquainted with such individuals.”

“Takes one to know one,” Locksley said.

“Exactly,” Mayborn said.

Shivan did not dignify Locksley’s insult with a reply. Neither did Rukar.

“In my line of work, Captain, it is prudent to know who can and cannot be trusted. I have many contacts that provide me with information on these things, and the information I offer would be of great value to several ongoing Starfleet investigations. Ensign Locksley, or perhaps Lieutenant Mayborn, would be far more suited to passing the information along than I would.”

“I would agree with that,” Shivan said. “What is the second part of your offer?” 

“The second item is, well, an item. Now let me make something clear: I will only provide the information if my request is granted. However, this item is different. Whether you let me interrogate the defector or not, I will give you the item.”

As Rukar spoke, he looked between Alok and Alexander. It was obvious that the mysterious “item” had something to do with the relationship between the three of them.

“What is it?” Mayborn asked.

“I would prefer to deal with the matter of the defector first, Lieutenant. Captain, my offer?”

“It sounds like a fair trade, Rukar, but I will leave the final decision up to the Intelligence Liaisons.”

“Lieutenant Mayborn, what would you recommend?” Alok asked.

“I know you and Ensign Locksley don’t have a high opinion of Doctor Rukar, but wouldn’t you say he’s a reliable source of information?”

“No,” Alok said. “I would never describe him as reliablebut I would describe his information as reliable.”

“You know, I am right here,” Rukar said.

“Shut up, Rukar,” Alexander said. “Alok, as much as I hate to say it, I think you’re right about him.”

“Thank you for your input, Ensign,” Mayborn said. “Captain, it is my recommendation as Intelligence Liaison that we allow Doctor Rukar the chance to question the defector, once we confirm his or her identity.”

“Very well, Lieutenant. Doctor Rukar, after we apprehend the defector, you will be allowed a short time to question him. I expect that you will treat him with the same dignity and courtesy that a Starfleet interrogator would. Is that clear?”

“It’s far more than a vole like him deserves, Captain, but I will respect your wishes.”

“Then it’s settled, Doctor. Now what about the item you speak of?”

“That, Captain, is something I should like to discuss with you in private. If you would be so good as to meet me in my guest quarters alone in about ten minutes, I will explain the situation further.”

Shivan agreed, amid protests from Alexander and Mayborn. Alok said nothing, but Shivan thought he caught a glimpse of concern on his features. It passed as quickly as it came, and Shivan dismissed it as his imagination.

***

Shivan grew progressively more irritated at each passing second, before arriving outside Rukar’s quarters precisely ten minutes after the meeting had been set. He was growing tired of Rukar’s games and just wanted the situation to end.

The door opened, and sure enough, both Rukar and Kadatha were present. 

“So you are involved,” Shivan said.

“Only tangentially, Captain. And quite reluctantly, believe me.”

“I believe you, Glinn.”

“May I offer you a refreshment, Captain?” Rukar asked.

“Enough games, Rukar. The item, now.”

“As you wish, Captain.”

Rukar beckoned Shivan over to the desk in the corner of the room and opened a small black case to reveal the item within. Shivan recognized the device for it’s Cardassian aesthetic, but beyond that it meant nothing to him. It was about the size and shape of a tricorder, with several displays and input controls.

“What is it?” Shivan asked. “I have a hard time imagining this is all about a simple tricorder.”

“This is no tricorder, Captain. This is an abomination.”

Rukar proceeded to explain the purpose and history of the device as well as its recent modifications. With each moment, Shivan grew more and more disturbed.

“I understand, Rukar. For once, I agree with your decision. We must tell Alexander and Alok immediately.”

“Certainly, Captain. Perhaps you should summon them to the room.”

Shivan pressed his combadge and called Alexander to the room along with Alok. Rukar closed the case. Shivan noticed a change in Rukar’s attitudethe overly polite posturing had disappeared, and in its place something like sincerity had taken over.

Alexander and Alok arrived very quickly, Lieutenant Mayborn with them. Shivan considered berating the Lieutenant or sending him away, but decided his presence would do more good than harm.

“What’s this all about, Rukar?” Alexander asked immediately. He approached the desk and looked intently at the black case. Alok followed close behind and consulted his PADD briefly before giving Rukar his full attention.

“Forgive me,” Rukar said, and opened the case.

Both Alok and Alexander reacted immediately, and the effects were jarring.

You lied to me!” Alexander shouted. He threw himself at Rukar and slammed him against the wall, cursing and swearing and threatening to kill Rukar then and there.

While Mayborn and Kadatha intervened and pulled Alexander off Rukar, Alok took an anxious step back. The PADD fell from his hand and his jaw dropped open, his eyes wide and his face pale. 

Alok’s reaction was so disconcerting that Shivan ignored Alexander’s tirade. Alexander was absolutely livid, ready to kill Rukar with his bare hands. Shivan had seen him angry beforejust not this angry. But Alok’s reaction was far more disturbing.

As Alexander continued to threaten Rukar’s life, Alok uttered only a single word.

No,” he said. His voice wavered and made the word come out like a sob. Alok sounded nothing like his usual unflappable self. He sounded scared.



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