Part of USS Neptune: The Invisible Web

No Man Left Behind – Side Mission Part 4

Delta Quadrant Planet Ryex
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The captive’s head jerked to the left once again as Kotak continued to lay heavy blows upon the prisoner. The vermin spit blood from his mouth and looked as though he was going to speak, so Kotak paused for a moment, giving the pest a chance to betray the whereabouts of his team.

“Listen, my afternoon’s pretty booked. Could we wrap this up sometime soon?”

The prisoner’s glib nonchalance anger the Hirogen commander even further. He struck their prey’s face several more times before taking a step back.

“Line him,” Kotak ordered. An obedient Hirogen stepped forward to produce a device with a short needle on the end which he proceeded to jab into the human’s neck. 

“Ah!” their quarry growled in protest. “I hate needles,” the unregistered prey spoke. 

The Hirogen had invented a new way to log the records of their most prestigious kills, and since so many breeds had become almost common to hunt, it was undesirable for a Hirogen commander to be involved in the harvest of any animal which was not unique to the Hirogen database.

“What do we have?” Kotak pestered the hunter to provide him with the origin of their latest catch. 

“This is strange,” the Hirogen stated. “According to the bloodlines he is half human… and half Acamarian.” The accessing hunter’s brows rose as he delivered this news, surprised to have encountered such a rare specimen. A cross-breed was considered a catch in any Hirogen’s book, and a human hybrid was always a coveted prize. 

“Hahaha!” Kotak released a string of deep laughter from within his barreled chest. “They sent a mutt to negotiate the release of an entire village?” The Hirogen commander threw back his head and released another round of heavy guffaws as the mongrel prisoner gritted his teeth. Kotak leaned down to grin at his latest victim, proud to add such a rare kill to his collection. He would be the envy of the clan to bring such a rare specimen back to the tribe. “Give me the location of your comrades.” Kotak’s hand moved forward to lift the mutt’s chin so their gaze’s met. Kotak saw no fear in the eyes of their latest catch, only fierce defiance that he would have almost admired had he been capable of seeing other races as anything more than uncultured swine. 

“Say please.” The creature’s irreverent tone matched the look of rebellion in his gaze. 

Kotak was finished with this animal’s gross disobedience. The Hirogen thrust his head forward to spit his threats directly into the face of the mulish prisoner. “Tell me or I will kill every villager here.” The beast’s gaze did not break. “Their blood is on your hands,” Kotak pressed. 

“Nah.” A soggy patch of red hit the ground as the loathsome creature turned its head to expel a mixture of blood and saliva from its mouth. “You can’t pin that on me, man.”

Kotak’s fist clenched tightly. Angered by the vermin’s continued refusal to comply, he delivered yet another blow to the battered face of their captive. The tedious half-breed’s head swung to the left with the force of the punch, but the prisoner’s face swung back with a crimson smile plastered across its face and a raspy laugh grated against the ears of the Hirogen leader.

“You can’t blame your crazy on anyone other than you,” the mongrel proceeded to speak. “Every creature makes their own decisions. Nobody made you shitty other than yourself.”

This bit of wisdom was met with another blow. With a snap of his fingers and a motion of his hand, Kotak commanded one of his officer’s to bring forth a villager. A young female was selected from the crowd and pushed to the ground before the human swine. Kotak gripped a handful of hair to pull the female to her knees, slowly sliding a knife from his belt to place it at her throat. 

“Will you find comfort in that philosophy once they are all dead?” Kotak could almost feel the beat of the vein in the female’s neck pulsing against the edge of his knife and running up his arm. It always sent shivers down his spine when he was this close to stealing the ghost of another. “Last chance,” he hissed.

The air around them was toxic. Everyone hanging on the moment, breathlessly awaiting the outcome of this clash of two compelling forces. One defiant half-breed standing against the overwhelming force of a relentless Hirogen hunter. One lone mongrel human versus a pack of the galaxy’s most elite hunters. 

Kotak’s lips curled back as he studied his prey. He was unused to such resistance, but he would bathe in the blood of every member of this village before he would admit defeat. 

“East,” the enslaved beast finally caved. “They went east to reach the river.” Their prey confirmed the story of the village elder. Finally, they had a reliable bearing. Kotak released his hold on the female Hirogen defector and she slowly crawled back to the group of loathsome pacifists. 

“Four of you stay back in the village,” Kotak growled his orders. “The rest of you with me.”

                                                                      *******

Tia gritted her teeth as she observed Chief Richardson being led from the village by the majority of the Hirogen hunters. She had stuck around long enough to see how the scene would play out, deciding not to intervene unless absolutely necessary. She assumed the splitting of the forces and the Hirogen leader heading to the east was John’s doing, and she determined that John would survive long enough for her to make it back with reinforcements. The Hirogen would likely keep him alive as long as they thought he may prove useful to them. She silently slipped away to the west to pursue the retreat of her Starfleet comrades, throwing the strap of John’s rifle across her shoulder. 

It was a bit of a trek through some thick underbrush to catch up with the rest of the crew, but Savik was able to overtake the cavalcade of wounded soldiers far more quickly than she had hoped. They would never reach the Tesla in time if the Hirogen realized their route and started after them. Tia called out to announce her approach and the soldier at the rear lowered his ready weapon as she drew near.

Tia called for a quick rest and the soldiers carrying the stretchers gladly laid down their wounded comrades for a break.

“The Hirogen have Richardson. We’re going back for him,” Tia curtly informed them. “As few as are needed will take back the wounded, the rest come back with me.”

“Shouldn’t we get back to camp and return with reinforcements?” The doctor had no issue questioning the commander’s decision. 

“We’re not leaving our man behind,” Tia stated with no uncertainty. “And we’re not leaving that community to suffer for their generosity. If we attack now while they’re split up then they will never see it coming. We have the element of surprise on our side. We can take them.” 

“I’m coming with you.” Akeno pushed himself to shaky feet. Unable to bear his own weight he almost fell but managed to catch himself.

“You can’t even walk,” Tia protested in a tone that clearly indicated she was not to be questioned. 

“With that rifle I won’t have to walk,” Akeno nodded at John’s rifle hanging on the XO’s shoulder. “So you can either help me get close enough to make a difference, or I’ll be crawling there on my own.”

As Tia studied the determined lieutenant’s face, she knew he wasn’t going to be refused with his friend’s life laying on the line. 

“Fine,” she gave a short nod of consent. Turning her attention to the doctor she asked, “How many can you spare?”

“If you take four soldiers the rest of us can continue on. It’ll be slow going but if your plan to take out our pursuers works out, then I guess we can afford to be a little slower. But if you guys fail in taking out the hunting party…” Jovi didn’t finish her sentence but they all knew the outcome.

“We’ll take care of the Hirogen… and bring Master Chief Richardson back.” Akeno’s statement was final. 

                                                                      *******

Richardson meanwhile was leading the small group of Hirogen as far away from his Starfleet comrades as he could manage, hoping to cover a decent bit of ground before they realized his ruse and inevitably ended his life for the trickery. He figured the odds of him escaping this situation with his life were rather slim, but he did not falter in his march towards certain death. John had long ago learned not to wallow in the self-pity that would so often attempt to drown you when your situations became dire. He had grown up with little and learned to make the most of it, accepting that his life was not of considerable value to most and could potentially meet an abrupt end on any given day. 

A shove to the back of his head cut into his self-reflection and Kotak’s voice grated in his ears. “I will find your crew and I will take pleasure in cutting their flesh from their bones as you watch. I will find your ship and I will destroy it and everyone on board before any of you have a chance to leave this planet, and you will bear witness. Then, for the finale, I will see how long I can keep you alive as I remove your organs one by one.”

John’s eyes rolled and he released his breath in a deep sigh. Wouldn’t you know he would get stuck with a captor who liked to talk. “Well,” John drawled laconically. “I’d sure rather you didn’t.”

“Keep moving,” the Hirogen growled with another shove, and John continued on his forced march through the brush.

                                                                      *******

A lonely Hirogen on a rooftop grumbled to himself as plopped down on a rusty bucket and produced a half-eaten leg. This particularly unlucky Hirogen was part of the group left behind by Kotak to keep an eye on the pacifist village leader they had thrown in a cell and just in case their hunting quarry should return. He had drawn the short straw and been delegated with first watch on this fine evening, as his comrades lay sleeping peacefully in the inn below. The unhappy Hirogen took no notice of the sharp cool evening that had called forth millions of stars from the sky, each sparking with their own brilliant beauty. He took no joy in the peaceful quiet that rested over the sleeping village, the calming sound of the breeze floating over rooftops as the fountain in the village square calmly bubbled. A Hirogen took no joy in such niceties. A Hirogen’s only pleasure was in a successful hunt and the claim of a fresh kill. He growled to himself as he chomped on his leftover meat. 

“Stay back with the village. There is great honor in this responsibility,” he quoted the lies Kotak had fed them with a snarl. “Kotak leaves us behind as he pursues our prey. There will be no trophies left for the rest of us if Kotak finds the ship first,” he mumbled thickly around an oversized bite. “I should have just sign-,” and that was the end of the unlucky Hirogen’s complaints as a heavy hand clamped over his mouth and a phaser was shoved into his back. Once again, silence reigned over the village, and the stunned Hirogen was softly lowered down to lay snoring on the rooftop. Tia would send someone back to secure him once they had taken the lockup and subdued the rest of Kotak’s forces. 

Tia crept on silent feet back to the edge of the rooftop to lower herself back to the balcony she had used to find unguarded access to the rooftop. After taking the one Hirogen on guard down, the jail below would fall easily to her team. She motioned for the crewmen below to move forward and they quickly made their way to the jail house door as she slid down a low rooftop to land next to them. 

“Prepare for a breach,” she spoke softly and two soldiers quickly placed small charges on the door hinges, the group then taking a step back. Tia lifted her rifle and nodded to the tech holding the detonator. A quick pop later and the door was hurled into the entryway of the jail. The three sleeping Hirogen inside did not even get a chance to retrieve their weapons before finding the end of a phaser in their face. 

“I didn’t expect to see you all back.” Sovto spoke from behind the iron bars of the jail cell. 

One of the soldiers rummaged through a desk draw till he produced a key which was tossed to a crewman standing close to the cell door. 

“You remained true despite the scorn and judgement of your own race,” Tia told the Hirogen village leader. “That type of loyalty and dedication to what is right cannot go unrecognized.”

Tia could not be certain since the facial features of the Hirogen will still entirely new to her, but it seemed as though her words had deeply moved the pacifist Hirogen. He reached out to offer a firm hand and she took it. 

“You have great honor.” His voice broke a bit but he held his head high. 

One of the StarFleet crew members brushed past them, shoving a struggling but bound Hirogen who he had retrieved from the rooftop into the now empty cell.

“Put the rest of them in there with him,” Tia ordered her men. “They’re your prisoners to do with as you see fit,” Tia determined to leave them to Sovto’s judgement. “I’m going after my Master Chief.”

“I would offer assistance, but I am certain your path holds not but violence ahead of you, and that is simply a way I and my people avoid at all cost. If we are to change the ways of our kind, we must determine to follow a different path.”

Tia nodded in understanding. “I will work to ensure that my people are aware of your actions here,” Tia promised. Sovto held out his hand and Tia took it with a firm grip. 

“Perhaps we can achieve that the entirety of a race will not be judged based on the actions of some,” Sovto voiced his hope. 

                                                                      *******

John groaned as he both heard and felt the crack his neck produced when he shifted his weight. He had been bound to a lone tree in the middle of a mostly desolate valley all night long as the Hirogen made camp and took turns sleeping. His confinement along with a lack of water and food was beginning to weigh on him. With a dry mouth and chafed wrists, it was difficult to keep up his cheery banter with his Hirogen captors. 

The one they called Kotak was now approaching and by John’s reckoning he did not look happy, but then John couldn’t really recall ever having seen the Hirogen commander looking happy. John had seen Kotak send out a few Hirogen earlier that morning to scout the area, and after they had returned with their report, the Hirogen commander had seemed enraged. Watching Kotak now stride towards him, John prepared himself for what would at best be a harsh beating, but may in all likely hood be the end of this wild goose chase he had brought them on. 

“My men have searched the surrounding area and see no sign of your fleeing pack. Surely you know better than to have led me astray.”

John’s head rolled to one side as he eyed the irate Hirogen. “Maybe they’re shit trackers.” 

The fist that cracked into John’s temple came as no surprise. Kotak bent down to rest on his heels, eye level with his prisoner.

“Have I not been merciful in allowing you to live thus far? You crossbreed such as yourself is considered a rare prize even amongst my commanders, and yet I have allowed you to live in exchange for your assistance. You do know the price for deceit, do you not? What use have I for a dog that will not hunt?”

“Well I don’t hunt my own,” John drawled, “and I’m not your dog.” 

There were several times during the moments that followed in which John came close to allowing the darkness to overtake him. The beating that Kotak laid upon him took him to the brink of consciousness, only to have the Hirogen splash water in his face and pause long enough to bring him back. By the time his captor took a step back, breathing heavily and stroking his raw knuckles that dripped with the master chief’s blood, John was barely able to hold his head up, his ribs burning with each breath. 

“I will provide you with one final opportunity to save your own worthless life. Where is your group? What direction did they head in?” 

“Several of my crewmates died in your attack on our ground team. I’m more than willing to do the same to keep you from finding them.” John’s chest rose and fell in harsh pants of breath as he stubbornly refused to relent to his captors. 

“Very well then,” the Hirogen commander was finally done arguing with this relentlessly stubborn captive. Raising his sword in the air, he sent it crashing downward towards the bound master chief. However, the blow never fell as the blade was halted in its treacherous path by a small red dot which was placed on the Hirogen attacker’s forehead with a force which rocked the large warrior. The remaining Hirogen hunters stared at their stunned commander in bewilderment for a fraction of a second before the resounding noise of a shot reached their ears. John’s opponent faltered on uncertain feet for a moment, swaying back and forth before falling to the ground with a thud as the remaining Hirogen around him dove for cover. A dull thwack in John’s right ear and the loosening of his restraints told him that a bullet had sliced through the bonds around his right wrist. 

“Of course dying wouldn’t exactly be my first choice,” he informed the Hirogen hunting party as he pulled the blade from the Hirogen commander’s belt to cut the bonds on his left hand.

As John cut himself free, Tia and a few crew members rose up from where they had been crouching behind the crest of a hill, and began to fire down upon the Hirogen hunting party. John reached out to grab a Hirogen who stood close by, choking the hunter out with a tight grip around its throat. The master chief then quickly rolled around behind the tree that had previously held him captive, taking cover amid the chaos that reigned in the small valley. It was over in a matter of minutes, with the Starfleet crew receiving only minor injuries as the Hirogen’s scattered and fell before the ambush. Tia and her team slowly made their way towards the decimated camp, keep a close eye on their fallen foes for any sign of movement. John rose to greet them, and then collapsed back against the tree, his legs weak beneath him as the blood surged back into his limbs. Akeno slowly limped down to approach him, giving John a short nod and tossed him a full canteen.

“For an ugly bunch, you all sure are pretty,” John conceded as he wiped his dripping mouth. 

“Good to see you too, buddy,” Akeno grinned as he slung John’s rifle from his shoulder to give it back to the master chief.

John accepted his rifle back, and then his face lit up with a smile as the XO approached them. “I got a live one over there.” The excitement in John’s tone could not be hidden as he expected to deliver on his XO’s previous request for a hostage.

Akeno approached the prone form to kick the Hirogen in the shoulder, rolling the hunter over to display glazed over eyes and a gaping mouth. “Maybe he was alive before the phaser beam hit his heart,” Akeno observed.

“Damn it!” John shuffled over to view the deceased Hirogen. “He was alive five minutes ago.”

“A lot can happen in five minutes.” Akeno laughed and gave his friend a clap on the shoulder which made the master chief wince.

“No worries,” Tia brushed it off. “I believe we gathered most of the intel we need from the Hirogen in the village. Team!” Her voice grew louder as she addressed everyone. “We need to get back to the doctor and then return to the Tesla. Let’s move out and keep a sharp eye for any scouting Hirogen hunters.” The group moved to follow their commander’s orders, and Tia reached out to grab John’s arm as he moved to walk past her. Speaking in a low tone she confronted him. “You ever shoot me with a stunner again-.”

“Yea, yea, I know. Never again.” The master chief made a promise that they both knew he would break the moment he found it beneficial for the team. 

Their XO turned to 

“You shot the XO with a stunner?” The mixture of excitement and shock in Akeno’s tone was similar to when they had accidentally blown up the toolshed as children when John designed his first homemade IED with household products from the kitchen. 

“Didn’t think I’d live long enough to receive a reprimand,” John whispered back so the intimidating little first officer wouldn’t hear them.

“I need details,” Akeno demanded.

“Save it for later,” John growled as Tia threw a look back over her shoulder. This silenced the lieutenant for the time being, but John knew his friend would want a full explanation once they returned to base.