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Part of USS Helios: Threadbare Flags

No Ranks (pt.4)

Cyodan II
Late 2401
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“David! David are you listening?” The young man blinked his eyes, attempting to draw his focus away from the rolling vista of the yellow tinged desert presented through the open window panel. Satisfied his attention was back in the moment and not on the stakes of the mission he turned to see the concerned face of Oshira looking straight at him, her normally welcoming round eyes squeezed into thin lines of concern at his lack of attention. The hulking blue figures of Ole and Bib hovered over either of her shoulders, neither looked impressed. The ever stoic Ole stood inscrutable as stone, he could be planning David’s assassination or planning to propose, it was impossible to read the gigantic Bolian; whilst Bib stared in concern, his antenna twitching back and forth, an unfortunate tell the middle aged Andorian had never been able to master.  

“Yes Ma’am.” David shouted, attempting to reach a decibel level sufficient where his lie could be heard over the screeching of the hovercrafts tired old engines. She tapped her ears indicating he had been unsuccessful. “Yes! Ma’am!” He shouted, attempting to push the short syllables over the cacophony of whipping wind, whining engine and the wailing in his head. 

Oshira leant forward and tapped the small button hidden in the collar of his olive field jacket. “Clearly not very well.” Her voice was clear and crisp, carried over the deafening din through the small earpiece David remembered he had fitted within his ear moments earlier. “Try now. And no need to shout.”

“Yes Ma’am.” He said evenly. Realising she had activated the small mic nestled against his jawline. Bib continued to look worried over her shoulder, the aged woman dwarfed by the two men in the prime of their lives, perhaps he had been wrong, maybe David wasn’t ready to be back in the field yet. 

“Rule number 1 David?” She pointed to the absent pips at her throat.

“No Ranks.” David nodded, he had been listening to most of her advice, save for the odd moment of existential drifting. 

“Correct. Now as I was saying…” she took across the small open bed of the hovercar, placing herself as speaker to the three men. “Starfleet isn’t welcome here, hasn’t been well received since Dominion War, but that business with the True Way really tipped it over.” She pressed a key on a small padd she held, conjuring a miniature model of a balding older human to appear in the open space between the four of them, walking back and forth reciting rhetoric to an unseen audience. “When C-91 was attacked it was the last straw for current Premier Allatira Dhal, conclusive proof that Starfleet couldn’t defend the civilians along the DMZ. He called a public rally and demanded Starfleet leave the system. Despite several attempts by the Diplomatic corp, no luck so far.” A cough suddenly interrupted the woman’s briefing, her rough hacking causing her to clutch at her stomach in pain. 

Bib, true to form, was already moving across the space, shattering the diminutive form of the fiery Premier as he walked through the hologram, his muscular arms reaching to pat her back. Quickly dismissed with a wave he took a step back, retuning to his post, the small hologram looking even more frustrated with being disrupted a second time on his return. 

“Oshira, your breathing equipment?” Bib asked. 

“Has been filled with sand before and with any lucky will be again.” David could barely see the small line of healed skin that ran across the woman’s cheek to the edge of her lips, masked as it was by the beginnings of her wrinkle. “I appreciate the concern but I am fine.” She ran her long manicured finger along the faded scar, a sign of her Barzaan heritage, a mark shared by many of her race. She coughed once more, expelling phlegmy contents into the small handkerchief she secreted within her sleeves. 

A sharp click interrupted David’s observations, followed by the fuzz of an open comm circuit. “We’re about 10 minutes out from the landing pads, we’ll have to proceed into the market on foot from there.” The honey voice of their Trill pilot dripped into his ears across the channel, “Bib, you should be aware that we seem to have acquired some observers.” From the elevated control position a long arm emerged and motioned with a long index finger upwards before returning to its nest in the pilot’s lap. 

“How many Helena?” Bib crossed the small passenger unit, disturbing the hologram’s perpetual rhetoric once again and crossed to the large open bay door, sticking his broad shoulders through the portal and craning his neck to the sky. David followed suit at the small transparent panel fitted to the bulkhead behind him, pressing his nose against the shaking material, the vibrations that battered against his jawline threatening to shake his teeth loose. 

“At least 2, maybe a third at high altitude.” 

They look like Peregrines.” Bib’s torso was almost fully out of the hovercraft, his long civilian scarf whipping in the dusty wind, his large boots hooked around one of the boxes that littered the compartment as an anchor.  

Agreed.”  

“New Maquis?” Bib’s eyes fell on the older Barzaan woman as he swung his body back into the cramped space. 

“Almost definitely.”

“Where did they get starfighters from?” Ole grumbled, his nose pressed against another window, his attention fixed on the vessels tailing them from above. 

A short cough tumbled from Oshira’s lips as she gave out a dry laugh. “The same place we did big guy. Starfleet storage locations aren’t as secure as everyone thinks.” She offered him a knowing smile as he turned from the small window. “There are plenty of people out there who can be convinced to miscount their monthly inventory.”

“And it’s entirely possible they went missing several years ago, records have been spotty ever since the synth attack on Utopia Planitia.” The dusty figure of Bib returned to the small group, patting his chest and emitting a gentle snowfall of the planets signature tan dust. “We don’t know how long the New Maquis have been building their assets.”

“It is disconcerting to believe we have been betrayed from within. That someone in Starfleet would give weapons to these terrorists.” Ole’s frowned against the glass, his attention still locked on the grey shapes following them; their curved wings diving in and out of the thick clouds above the open plains they sailed across, predatory & eagle like.

“I don’t imagine it’s as simple as that.” Bib looked on from a distance, the young Bolian man was hurting and the new XO continued to struggle to connect with him following the Exodus incident. He fumbled with retying his scarf as he looked for the words to say, the electronic voice of Helena saved him from his embarrassment. 

If they decide to engage with us I won’t be able to do much, I could dodge a few shots but we’re definitely at the disadvantage.” her voice was tinged with a mote of worry, barely noticeable beneath the joined Trill’s perpetually calm tone. David found it unusual and unsettling, his stomach tightening as he understood her insinuation. 

“Tactical assessment?”

“If they decide to engage, we’ll all be growing gills.”

Bib’s brow furrowed in confusion as he looked to the other three team members. Following shrugs from both Ole and Oshira his blue eyes landed on the young human being jostled back and forth on the crate. 

“Fish in a barrel.” David clarified, his own eyes narrowing as he considered which of the pilot’s past lives had offered up that oddly rephrased idiom. 

“I could call in the Heliades, have them fly some interference?” The expert flight wing of Helios was located not far away, secreted in one of the many lava tubes that covered the surface of the planetoid like polka dots. With their mothership unable to enter the system without enflaming tensions, they and the small security detachment aboard the runabout hidden with them were the only backup readily available to the team. 

“No. Let’s not show our hand too early. They’ve every right to be suspicious, if they want to flex their muscles let them.” Bib continued to dust his shirt, hoping the activity was sufficient to mask his newly surfacing nervousness. “Helena, just keep an eye on them. Oshira, lets go through the plan again.”

The aged Barzann retrieved a small padd from one of the many folds in her brightly coloured duster jacket, the fabric wafting and twisting in the omnipresent wind. With a short sequence of commands the small, red faced figure of Premier Dahl finally took a rest from his hate speech and fizzled away, replaced with a wire frame diagram of the swiftly approaching town and market.  

“OK. Rule one… David?”

David tugged the straps on his shoulders, tightening the long dungarees he wore and drew his thick jacket around him as he brought his attention back to the woman. “Rule one. No Ranks.”