Part of USS Centaur: Mission 3: Soldar

Chapter Three

Falcon / Centaur / Centuar?
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The classic bird of prey dropped out of warp after having reached an optimal range while it was flying at maximum warp. Now it slowly travels across the vastness of space at half impulse, as it nears a small installation. It was roughly the same size as a Jupiter Class station but not at all the same design, a singular, large oval section with a few dry docks attached to it, or docking stations, whichever the Romulans would consider them to be.

Ajis stood there on the Bridge of his ship, the Falcon he calls it. He wanted to stay away from ‘bird’ names but he felt the name ‘Kratos’ would have been preposterous. So he tossed away the idea of staying clear of ‘bird’ names and just went with it. Besides, he kind of liked it the more he thought about it. “All right. Bring us to a full stop here. Signal our contact that we have the package.”

The holographic form of Angel stood there like she was completely brainless…emotionless, nothing apparent on her face aside that she appeared to be not there, until her eyes blinked and looked at him. “Signal has been sent.”

“Is our prisoner ready for transport?” Ajis asked.

Angel gave a single head nod. “He is. Still unconscious too.”

Ajis smiled, “Good. Less they go out bickering and threatening my life despite how empty those threats would be…the better.”

“He wishes to speak to you.” Angel told him.

At first Ajis thought she meant the prisoner but he then quickly realized that she meant the contact. Of course. “Bring up the holographic display and put him on.” Before him a large holographic ‘monitor’ as it were, appeared and soon did the face of his contact.

“Soldar. Thought this would be a contactless delivery. You never know what’s swimming around these days.” He joked, not that a simple disease could transfer over communications.

Soldar grunted, “You’re early.”

Ajis shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t like to keep my clients waiting. I gave you a fair estimate of how long it would take, and I somehow managed to beat that estimate by two days.”

“Two days, eight hours and twenty three minutes. To be precise.” Angel added, which she had both Ajis and Soldar scolding at her.

“No matter. Lower your shields and we will transport him off of your vessel.” Soldar ordered.

Ajis looked back to Angel and nodded his head, who would then lower the shields as requested. “Lowered.”

“Was he any trouble?” Soldar asked.

Ajis shook his head. “Slept like a baby the entire trip here.”

“You knocked him out?”

Ajis shrugged his shoulders. “The less the prisoner knows about his capture and why…the better.”

“Perfect. Transferring the data to you now.” Soldar turned his head just a bit and gave a nod to someone before looking back at Ajis on their screen.

Angel was then standing there, emotionless again, before she looked at Ajis with a smile. “We received the data. It’s legitimate.”

“Of course it is. I keep my end of the bargain. Always.” Said Soldar.

Ajis smiled, “It was a pleasure doing business, but I hope this is the last time we meet.”

“Agreed. Stay out of Free State’s space.” Was the last thing Soldar said before he visibly hit a button and the transmission ended. The holographic display even disappeared afterwards.

Ajis raised his brows and shrugged his shoulders. “That was interesting. Wonder what he meant by that.”

“Romulan Free States are dealing with a lot of flak ever since the Tal’Shiar was discovered to have been the cause of the Mars attack. Of course they deny and do not sanction what the Tal’Shiar did, point is…the diplomatic tensions between the Federation and the RFS is not doing well.” Angel explained to him.

“Like I give a damn.” Ajis told her. “Far as I know, the Tal’Shiar can burn to the ground. Engage the cloak and set course back to base.”

“Done and done. Then why work with them?” She asked.

“You know exactly why, so why ask.” Ajis told her.

“A simple question. I’m sure you could have gotten that information you wanted some other way. Could have sent me in to hack into their database and stolen it. Their firewalls are not that sophisticated.” Angel explained.

Ajis grunted, “If I had known that, I would have asked you to do that in the first place. No matter. What is done, is done.”

“Do have one slight problem though.” Angel added.

Ajis raised a brow. “What is that?”

“It appears that they have been probing my firewall system while we were in communication with them. They were successful in breaching and stealing some data from the ship’s computer core.” Angel told him.

Ajis frowned. “How? What did they take?”

“I am uncertain. I suppose the Tal’Shiar are as devious as they claim to be. Nevertheless, I have improved my firewalls. The odd part is the only data they stole was the entire structural scan of the Centaur.”

Ajis frowned, confused now. “The one that took us two days to get every nook and cranny, every fine detail…locating every single system even down to the isolinear chips that they use?”

Angel nodded her head. “The very one.”

Ajis began to rub his chin. “They don’t have any ships docked. Not that we saw anyways. So they can’t possibly be planning on going after the Centaur. Unless…”

“Unless they plan on creating the perfect simulated environment for their torturing methods.” Angel finished.

Ajis pointed at her, “Don’t finish my sentences. But yes. They are indeed devious. Don’t tell the boss about the breach though. She’ll be pissed with me for even taking this job, having a data breach would only make matters worse.”

“Agreed.”

“Who has him?” Ryker asked, only repeating because everyone on the senior staff finally managed to get to the Bridge for the briefing, including Sivol and Gomez who both had been incredibly busy.

“Soldar. Commander in the Tal’Shiar Agency. He’s part of the secret police or whatever you call it. He is responsible for interrogating traitors. Questioning those who are disloyal to both the Government of the Romulan Free State and the Tal’Shiar. His methods are unorthodox.” Rosa explained.

“How unorthodox?” Gomo asked.

She looked at the Cardassian who asked before looking at everyone else. “Tal’Shiar have been experimenting with virtual reality devices, small little things that you apply to your temples. It creates a highly realistic but fictional world in your mind. It feels real, smells real, tastes real…and the pain is real. They don’t use it too often, due to the complications of some weak minds getting the fake world mixed up with the real world and going clinically insane. So those who have proven to have a strong mind, after performing a number of scans on your brain…they then choose to put them through virgous training with these devices. You can learn just about anything three times as fast than you could in the real world because you are literally training the mind directly. Not feeding information into one ear that could come out the other, or witnessing it through your eyes and failing to process it.

“Point is, Soldar also uses these devices to torture his prisoners. He’ll either create a world that they are comfortable with. Make them think that they are safe…until they realize that they are not and normally by then, it is too late for them. Furthermore, Soldar can use these devices to enter this virtual reality with them…and cut them open…cut a limb off…rip an eye out…even kill them only to snap a finger and they’re perfectly healthy again, nothing missing, alive, breathing and beating. Depending on the mind, Soldar can do this a dozen times before the mind finally gives up and the host dies. But Soldar won’t let them die. He will use everything he has at his disposal to revive them in the real world. Adrenaline to the heart. Highly potent, highly illegal and highly addictive drugs to restart the nervous system. Anything that can bring a person back to life, he will use, regardless how much damage he does to the brain itself, or the other organs of the body. He will not stop until he gets his answers, and then he will eventually allow his prisoner to die, but a slow…and painful death with flesh eating leeches.”

That was more than enough for Sivol to stomach, who took a step back for a moment before walking right back into the turbolift, Gomez right behind her, who knew that she was going to need someone right now. Plus Sivol wasn’t alone in that matter. Ryker on the other hand, did not have the luxury to just walk out after feeling his stomach roll over several times already. “How do they allow this man to do these things?”

Rosa shrugged her shoulders. “He gets results, obviously. That’s all they care about. As long as he gets exactly what they want to hear, he’s clear to do whatever he wants.”

Carter looked to Ryker, “Get Sivol and Gomez back up here right now. We’re not finished.” The tone in his voice was not a pleasant one, sounded like a man on edge or past that and was ready to do anything, regardless of lives.

Ryker looked to Rosa before back at Carter, then he went to the turbolift to find Sivol and Gomez were still there, the lift hadn’t even left. Ryker just gestured for them to return, where they came out and stood off to the side on the Bridge, while Ryker returned to his place near Carter.

Carter turned to look at Gomez and Sivol. “We will mourn our dead later. But we are not going to let our First Officer suffer to the hands of a madman. What is the status of our warp engines?”

“Thanks to the help of Rosa and her team, we were able to patch the Port Nacelle again. Warp Core is online, so is the main power. Shields are operational. But for some reason we are having trouble establishing a stable warp field. The Chief was having this problem before but…I…I don’t know what he did to correct it.” She reported.

“Get it corrected. We leave in one hour. Dismissed.” Carter ordered before turning back to face Gomo. “Weapons?” He heard the door to the turbolift again, knowing that she had left completely.

“Torpedo pod is as it were before. Only one working launcher and that’s the forward one. Dorsal Phaser Banks are completely gone. We would have to return to the Devron Fleet Yards to get them replaced.” Gomo reported.

Carter shook his head. “Not going to happen. We will make do with our ventral banks.”

Gomo frowned, or at least tried to as he tilted his head. “We don’t even have aft weapons, Captain. I’m sure we will save the First Officer but we won’t have anything to fire back if we’re being chased while fleeing from Free State space!”

“Then we will just have to double the aft shields and pray we make it back to Federation Space before we lose them. But we will not leave him over there. Understood?” Carter ordered.

“Yes, sir. I’m just going to go see if maybe we can turn the whole torpedo pod around. At least we’ll have something to shoot back with…” Of course that was a poor attempt for a joke right now, but Gomo tried and the looks he got weren’t pleasing. So he just shut his mouth and left the Bridge.

Rosa raised her brows. “Well, my team did all that they could do, Captain. We don’t have a lot of supplies, so you’ll just have to make do. Good luck.”

“Now hold on. You helped fix our warp engines, and gave us the coordinates of where Vakai is being held, and who is holding him. But you’re not going to help us break him free? Why kind of horse shit is that?” Carter asked.

Rosa raised her brows even more, a bit surprised but not too much. “I may hate the Tal’Shiar as anyone else in the Quadrant does, but I’m no fool. My ship is smaller than yours, less armed, even in your ship’s current state. We may be crazy enough to enter Romulan Free State space half the time, but we’re not stupid enough to go up against the installation of where Vakai is being held. I told you where he is, and I told you what will likely happen to him. Your choice to leave him there or rescue him, is on you. I didn’t suggest it, nor do I recommend it. Why I said, good luck.” She then hit a button on the device on her arm and was engulfed in a beam of light before was completely gone.

Carter cursed under his breath, “Great.” He looked at Ryker. “Tell Gomez to double her efforts on getting the warp field stable, and find a way to mask our signature. I want to look like anything else but a Starfleet ship on their sensors when we enter their space.”

Ryker sighed, “Can I have a word with you first, Captain?”

Carter frowned, “We don’t have time for small chat, Commander! I suggest you do what you have been ordered to do, and get!” Not even realizing that he had raised his voice.

Ryker sighed again, “With all due respect, sir. But until we have a chat, I won’t be carrying out your order.”

That changed the color on Carter’s face all right. “With me.” He nearly shouted as they went to the turbolift, leaving the Bridge. After the small awkward silent moment they had on the lift to Carter’s quarters, the heat began.

“You mind explaining to me what the hell that was about? And on my Bridge?!” Carter exclaimed.

Ryker cleared his throat to keep his composure, “Simply doing my job as Acting First Officer, sir.”

“Like hell! You don’t know a damn thing as to what it means to be a First Officer, Commander!” Carter pointed at Ryker.

“With all due respect, sir. But you certainly are not acting like the Commanding Officer we all knew well! And if you would let me do my job, I can certainly prove you wrong!” Ryker clasped his hands behind his back while he glared into Carter’s eyes.

“I find that hard to believe. Now since you are refusing to follow a direct order, I will personally go to Gomez myself and tell her what I ordered you to do! While you sit in your quarters and think about what to say at your Court Martial.” Carter was about to step around Ryker when Ryker got in his path and held up his hands to show he wasn’t going to put his hands on a superior officer.

“You’re leaving me no choice but to relieve you of duty, per Starfleet Regulation Six One Nine. And if I have to, I can ask the Chief Medical Officer to come over here and make her assessment of your emotional state.” Ryker told him. “Or.”

Carter frowned. “Or what?”

Ryker took a step back and lowered his hands as he took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly, relaxing his nerves. He didn’t like confrontation and bringing up a Starfleet Regulation that could relieve the Captain of his duties was not entirely what he wanted to do. “Or you could admit that you are not allowing me to perform my duties as the Acting First Officer.”

Carter took a step back himself, frowning even more, more confused than annoyed. “Why are you giving me this choice, Commander?”

Ryker sighed, glad that the Captain was asking the right questions. “Because, sir, the crew right now in their current emotional and mental state, are unstable. The morale is at the bottom. We just got out of a crisis where our Captain took command, made decisions and destroyed a civilian installation without telling any of the crew as to why he did so. I’m sure I will find out some future in my career, but most of the crew never will and they will live the rest of their lives thinking…why did Captain Carter do that? Not to mention we almost lost our entire warp capability to a Klingon madman. If that torpedo had been a higher yield, we would be having a tow ship towing us back to Devron Fleet Yards, without a single nacelle attached. Or worse, could have hit the warp core and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The stress and the uncertainty that this crew has right now after our previous mission, has them all on edge. And then this sudden attack by an unknown vessel, without provocation, has made the morale situation far worse. I have no doubt that the crew will find out that the reason for the attack was to kidnap the First Officer, it’s a small ship.”

Ryker took a deep breath and exhaled slowly again. “Fact remains, the crew needs a reason why, why would we put all of our lives in danger, to save one officer. We may know Vakai, the senior staff may know him, but not the entire crew. They’re going to want to know why we would sacrifice their lives, for one life. And if I relieve you of your Command, that is only going to start a riot, possibly a mutiny.”

Carter scoffed. “Please, I know my crew, they wouldn’t dare.”

Ryker raised his brows, “Really? Some of the crew may side with you, but did you forget? When you took Vakai, me and our old team on board, you also took nearly half of new officers and crewmembers. Sides will be chosen and a fight will break out. And if not that, if we do manage to get back to the Devron Fleet Yards, I guarantee over half the crew will transfer off the ship. They will not want to stay on board a vessel where Command has been compromised, ship sucker punched twice, damn near fully crippled and no sure way of knowing if this ship will ever fly again, if Starfleet even wants to repair it.” Carter was about to say something but Ryker raised his hand. “I know, I know. It’s the Centaur, first of its class. They’ll repair it and probably lock it away in a museum to keep this crap from happening again. But then what? The entire crew would be reassigned.”

Ryker took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly one last time. “Point is, this crew needs to be uplifted. And your attitude on the Bridge was not helping, at all.”

Carter let out a heavy sigh and plopped down into his chair, while rubbing the bridge of his nose. He then looked at Ryker, his entire expression having changed to the look of an exhausted man. “I’ve been training a replacement, James. You already know that I have been keeping my eye on you, him and his old hazard team.” He waved his hand, “You know the whole story so I’m not going to repeat myself like a broken record. Point is, I am not training a replacement to take my command of the Centaur. I am training a replacement to take my command of this crew. You’re right. Someday, I don’t know when, maybe in a couple years or so, Starfleet will anchor this ship in a museum. Why lose a ship that has been around for almost a hundred and ten years, survived the Dominion War, and all the other conflicts we’ve had over the years. But that’s not the reason why. I am planning to retire from Command. Take a desk job. Something. I don’t really know or care at this point. Doctor Summer Pearce and I plan on tying the knot. We haven’t done it because I am her Captain, and we didn’t want to give any crew, young or old, any ideas of what was going on. Besides, it’s none of their business anyways.” Carter licked his lips. “We want children. I’m hoping to have at least five kids before I grow too old. Pearce. Well. She may be up there in age but she’s still able.” Carter smirked. “But I am hoping that our kids will continue our legacy in Starfleet. The Federation is the greatest thing that could happen to this galaxy, at least I believe so, call me a patriot, a lunatic, I really don’t care. But I want my kids and grandkids and great grandkids to keep the legacy going. Centaur has been the only ship I had served on since I left the Academy. The only ship I have commanded. And she will be my last.”

Carter rose up from the seat and patted Ryker’s arm. “I apologize for my comment earlier, James. You will make a fine First Officer. Just do me a favor and don’t question your Captain again, especially on the Bridge.”

Ryker shrugged his shoulders, “Long as he doesn’t become emotionally unstable, we won’t have any problems. I’ll go tell Gomez to try and get that warp field stabilized quicker. But you got a speech to make, or this crew will falter.”

Carter sighed before nodding his head. “I’ll come up with something. I just need this old girl ready to run again.”

“If I know Gomez well enough, she will.”

Carter nodded his head again before looking up at the ceiling then paused. “Is the ship intercom working yet?”

Ryker snorted. “I’ll gather them up in Cargo Bay Two.”

“Vakai…Vakai…wake up. Come on. Wake up.”

He groaned, slowly opening his eyes but everything was all blurry. He blinked them a few times and slowly his vision started to clear up. But he recognized the voice. It was Sivol. “Where…am I?” He asked as he started to sit up.

Sivol placed her hands on his shoulders. “Easy now, slowly. You’re still suffering from the effects.”

Vakai frowned, “Effects?” Why was it so hard to remember?

She stared at him, expressionless. Odd, Vakai thought. Then again, it looked like he was back on the Centuar, and if the ship was hit as bad as he remembered, she was probably trying to keep her emotions from taking over. “You were unconscious for a while. I believe that mercenary used some sort of drug or some stunning system that didn’t quite agree with your nervous system.”

Vakai frowned again, “What?”

Sivol raised a brow. “You’re suffering from mild effects, but you appear to be fine now.” She said as she ran a quick scan with her medical tricorder before Ryker and Carter came into view.

“Of course he’s fine, Doc. Look at him.” Ryker grinned.

Vakai looked at the three of them. “How? I thought the Centaur was adrift.”

Carter smiled, “Thanks to Gomez, she restored main power, got the warp engines back online and we were able to catch up with the Mercenary’s ship and give him a thing or two about messing with Starfleet.”

Vakai raised his brows, a little surprised. “She did? Wow. Guess she’s one hell of a miracle worker.”

Ryker smiled, “You could say that! Sure am proud of her.”

Then Vakai saw another man, one who he did not recognize, another Romulan in a Starfleet uniform. “I’m sorry, but have we met?” Vakai asked.

The man approached the bio bed and extended his hand out to him. “We have not. I am Commander Solbar, Starfleet Security.”

Vakai reached out to shake his hand before looking at Ryker and Carter. “We made it back to the Devron Fleet Yards with no trouble and Starfleet Intelligence found out that the Mercenary was paid to capture you for the Tal’Shiar. So…Starfleet Security is here to ask you some questions, to make sure you were not compromised. Standard procedure kind of thing.” Carter explained.

“I see.” Vakai then looked back at Soldar. “Please to meet you, I-”

Soldar pulled his hand away, “I know who you are, Commander Vakai. If you are absolutely feeling up to it, I would like for you to come with me to your quarters, so that way we can chat. Privately.”

Carter frowned, “Hey now. I told you, we will use my office and I will be present during the questioning. He is my officer after all.”

Soldar let out a heavy sigh of frustration. “In this current situation, Captain, I am afraid he is no longer your officer…until I am done questioning him and able to determine whether or not he is eligible to return to duty as your First Officer.”

Carter frowned even more, “Hey now! That is not what we agreed upon, Commander!” He emphasised the rank at Soldar.

Soldar sighed once more, “Such impudence. Captain, by Starfleet Regulation, I am in charge now until my investigation is over. Considering the fact that you took your ship into Romulan Free State space in pursuit of an unknown Bird of Prey that was heavily armed, at the risk of your crew’s lives over the life of one officer, we will also be questioning you on whether or not you are still eligible to command.”

They all looked around at each other before looking right back at Soldar, “That is absurd!” Said Ryker.

“Don’t make me have to drag you into this as well, Lieutenant Commander. Your responsibility to relieve your Commanding Officer of Command when he took action that could have jeopardized the lives of your entire crew, while acting as First Officer, could potentially lead to questioning as well on whether or not you are fit to remain as a Senior Officer on any starship ever again. So I suggest you remain quiet.” Soldar scolded Ryker before looking at Vakai. “Are you ready, Commander?”

“Do I have a choice?” Vakai asked.

A very large grin formed on Soldar’s face, a very vile grin as his head was tilted downward slightly, the view of his eyes nearly cut away in half from his brow as he stared hard into Vakai’s eyes. “No, Commander. You do not.”