Part of USS Challenger: Reap What You Sow

Gone Missin’

Somewhere in the Triangle
June 2400
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Kailir Tejara wasn’t sure how long she’d spent in her cell. Had it been hours? Days? A week? Time had lost its meaning. Food came at what felt like irregular intervals. Was she being fed twice a day? Once a day? Every other day? Kailir couldn’t tell. Being locked up in this featureless, pitch-black room gave her plenty of time to think about how she’d ended up here.

Having been pulled off the Challenger, she’d been informed that a request for extraction was received from Anath ch’Voria, and he’d specifically requested Kailir. Looking back now, it was clear he didn’t send the message. It was just bait to lure Kailir into the Triangle. He was probably already dead when it was sent.

The worst part of this wasn’t that she’d gotten herself captured; she’d put others in danger. The other two team members that Starfleet assigned to her had also been captured. The guilt of that gnawed at her, made worse by the screams of pain she could hear occasionally. She couldn’t be sure the screams came from her team, but even the possibility made her blood run cold.

Light suddenly flooded the room as the door opened, causing Kailir to raise her hand in an attempt to shield her eyes. Instead of the usual guard with a tray of what could loosely be described as food, someone else stepped inside, someone she’d hoped to never see again.

Ular Ornak’s eyes were the colour of steel and as cold as Kailir remembered. Her grey Cardassian skin looked clammy, as it always had. Memories of being pressed against Ornak, of feeling that clammy skin against her own, came back to her and caused her stomach to churn. Kailir glared up at her, refusing to look away. She took several steps forward. Sitting on the ground with her back pressed against the wall, there was nowhere for her to go; she just held her gaze.

Ornak couched in front of Kailir. “Hello, Tola,” Ornak’s smooth tone sent a shiver down Kailir’s spine. She reached out and ran her index finger down Kailir’s cheek. The Bajoran’s skin crawled at the touch. “You look good for a dead woman.” 

 “Sir, we’re receiving a holo-transmission from Commodore Ekwueme.” Lieutenant Commander Del announced.

Forrester pushed himself out of his chair. “I’ll take it in my ready room.” The holographic avatar of Ekwueme was already standing in the middle of the room when Forrester arrived. “Admiral, good to see you again.”

“You too, Captain,” Ekwueme replied, though his grim countenance set Forrester on edge. “I’ll come to the point. Commander Kailir is missing.”

The longer Kailir had been away, the more Forrester had begun to worry, and now his fears were realised. “Missing.” He repeated.

“That’s right.” Ekwueme nodded. “She’s missed her last two scheduled check-ins.”

Kailir wasn’t the type to miss one check-in, never mind two. “What was her mission?” Forrester asked, parking the question of why he hadn’t been told sooner until later.

“She was tasked with extracting a Starfleet agent working in a mid-size crime organisation operating in the Triangle,” Ekwueme told him. “We sent two other officers with her in an old courier ship. They’ve been out of contact for just over forty-eight hours.”

Forrester frowned as he spent a few seconds doing some mental arithmetic. “The Challenger can be at the Triangle in about twelve hours.”

“The Challenger’s needed elsewhere,” Ekwueme replied. “There’s been an outbreak of Rigelian fever on Thoros VI. Your orders are to transport a shipment of ryetalyn from Starbase Eighty-Six to Thoros and assist them with bringing their outbreak under control.”

Sitting on his hands while Kailir was missing wasn’t an option for Forrester. She’d been his trusted right hand for almost a decade, first as his deputy chief tactical and security officer and then as his executive officer. If the tables were turned, Kailir wouldn’t rest until he was found.

“We can’t just abandon her, sir.” Forrester urged, “Let me take a small team in a runabout to investigate.”

Ekwueme remained silent, studying Forrester. “Captain, according to your chief medical officer’s latest report, you’re on restricted duty. You are in no shape to go on a mission like that.”

“Commander Bennett can lead the team while I command the Challenger’s mission to Thoros.” Forrester shot back quickly. 

He would prefer to lead the mission himself, but as much as he hated to admit it, he wasn’t currently up to it. His brush with death had left him with a diminished appetite, his energy levels weren’t what they had been, he’d suffered more migraines in the past few days than the past year, and he had a weird intermittent tingling in his fingertips. Doctor Miller had insisted on conducting more scans and promised that they would get to the bottom of the captain’s ongoing issues.

The commodore seemed to be considering it for a moment before nodding reluctantly. “Very well but I can’t just magic another courier ship out of thin air. It would take about a week to get our hands on one and I doubt Commander Kailir has that kind of time.”

“We’ll come up with something, sir.” Forrester quickly jumped in.

Judging from the look on his face, Ekwueme still wasn’t sold, but he didn’t deny Forrester’s request. “Very well. I’m sending you everything we have on her mission and her last known whereabouts. This information is eyes only, captain. Only you and the officers you send are authorised to access it. I want regular updates. Ekwueme out.” The commodore’s holographic avatar dissolved, leaving Forrester alone.

With the briefing over, Forrester’s thoughts turned to Kailir’s husband. He didn’t want to leave Hejol in the dark. “Computer, locate Hejol Kailir.”

Hejol Kailir is in science lab six.” The computer replied almost instantly.

Forrester strode out onto the bridge and toward the aft turbolift. Without breaking his gait, he ordered, “XO, I want the senior officers assembled in the observation lounge in thirty minutes.” He entered the turbolift and gave it his destination as the doors closed behind him.

Kailir was pulled off the floor by two guards, a Klingon and a Tellarite, and marched down a long corridor. The air was filled with the agonised screams she’d heard earlier. By now, she was sure that those screams were being timed so that she could hear them and be affected by them. Instead, Kailir strove to keep her features impassive.

She was brought to a room that she was very familiar with and had changed little in the past decade; Ornak’s quarters. The guards pushed her down on a couch, with Ornak sliding into an armchair opposite seconds later. The Cardassian crossed her legs and flashed a disingenuous smile. “I can’t believe you’re alive,” Ornak said, with a tone that suggested a miracle had occurred. “I saw you die before my very eyes.”

“How did you find out?” Kailir asked. She already knew the answer but wanted to hear Ornak confirm it.

The Cardassian sat back with a satisfied grin, which brought that churn in Kailir’s stomach back. “Your little Andorian friend told me.”

“Is he dead?” This answer to this question was less sure, but she was preparing herself for the worst. 

The smile fell from Ornak’s features, and she cocked an eyebrow. “He betrayed me.” She replied matter of factly. “You remember what happens to people who betray me.” Daryl ran a hand through her obsidian hair. “I learned of his duplicity several years ago and have been using him to feed your precious Starfleet misinformation. When he  finally realised a few months ago and began preparing his escape, I decided he’d outlived his usefulness.”

“So you tortured and murdered him,” Kailir remembered only too well what happened; she’d stood by and watched it happen repeatedly. “And you’ll do the same to me.” She was amazed by how calm her voice sounded because she was about as afraid as she’d ever been. Kailir knew who Ornak was and what she was capable of.

The smile returned to Ornak’s features, and Kailir could feel the bile rise in her throat. “You’ll see what I have planned for you in time. First, I have some questions. The Andorian traitor couldn’t tell me everything I wanted to know.”

“I won’t tell you anything.” Kailir quickly shot back firmly. “Torture me all you want; I won’t tell you anything.”

Daryl stood and moved over to the couch. “You will tell me what I want to know.” The Cardassian cloaked her threat in a soft voice, but that only caused the hairs on the back of Kailir’s neck to rise. “I’ve come a long way since last we met. I promise you that you will tell me what I want to ”

“You don’t frighten me,” Kailir said with all the confidence she could muster.

Ornak smirked. “Yes, I do. I always have.” She paused. “And with good reason, because you know what I’m capable of. But, I’m not without mercy. If you tell me what I want to know, I will show leniency toward you and your people.”

Kailir fought to suppress the laugh that bubbled up from deep within. Laughing in Ornak’s face would only anger her and endanger the lives of the officers under Kailiar’s command. “I remember your particular brand of mercy.”

The Cardassian stood and motioned for her guards to approach. “I’ll give you some time to think. We’ll talk again soon.”

There was no need for her to think about it, Kailir mused as she was escorted back to her cell; she wasn’t going to tell Ornak anything. She was confident that in making that decision, she was signing the death warrants of her and her team.

The senior officers were already gathered when Captain Forrester entered the observation lounge and quickly settled himself at the head of the table. Lieutenant da Costa joined them, a last-minute addition joining them at Forrester’s request.

His conversation with Hejol had been a difficult one. Hejol was worried for his wife’s safety and how his son would react to this news; he didn’t believe in concealing the truth from the young boy as Forrester had suggested. 

The captain quickly pushed thoughts of that conversation to the back of his mind to focus on the briefing. “Commander Kailir is missing somewhere in the Triangle.” He paused for a moment to allow that to sink in. Everyone was clearly and understandably shocked by that news. “She was tasked with extracting an asset from a criminal organisation. I’ve been authorised to send a team to investigate her disappearance and bring her back.”

Forrester sat forward and laced his fingers together. He took a moment to look at each officer gathered around the table. At last, his eyes fell on Bennett. “Commander, I’d like you to lead this mission with Lieutenant Commander Del and Lieutenant da Costa.” He met the gaze of Del and da Costa again. “This is likely to be a dangerous mission, so I won’t order any of you to go.” 

The three shared silent glances and slight nods but said nothing until Bennett’s eyes met Forrester’s. “We’re in,” Bennett announced.

“Good,” Forrester replied with a satisfied nod, “you’ll need to find a way to make one of our runabouts inconspicuous because the only way you’re going to find Tejara is by going undercover.”

Bennett nodded. “Is Starfleet supplying us with a ship?”

Forrester shook his head. “No. We need to figure out how to get you into the Triangle.” He told them. “My first thought is that you’ll take one of the Arrow-class runabouts. Modified so that you can travel within Triangle unnoticed.”

“Modified how, sir?” Jackson asked. 

The captain turned to his chief engineer. “You tell me, Commander. Work with the team and Mitchell to devise a way to make that runabout seem like just another courier ship.”

“With all due respect to the Lieutenant,” Forrester was expecting this particular intervention from Mitchell, “I should be the pilot on this mission.”

Forrester looked down the table at his best friend. “Lieutenant da Costa is the best aux craft pilot we have. He’s the best man for this mission.” He glanced at da Costa whose mouth twitched at the corner. “Besides, with Bennett and Del off the Challenger, I’m gonna need you to step up as Executive Officer.”

It seemed like that answer satisfied Mitchell, so Forrester continued, “In the meantime, the Challenger is to take a shipment of ryetalyn to Thoros VI and assist them with an outbreak of Rigelian fever.” He looked over at Miller and met his gaze. “Needless to say, that medical is gonna take the lead on this one. Be ready” Miller nodded silently.

“Commander, I want your team ready to go as soon as possible,” Forrester told Bennett. “If there’s nothing else,” he looked around the room and found no one preparing to ask a question, “then let’s get to work.”