They had faked the scans at the two previous waypoints. Natalie Harris could feel the nerves being plucked as she carefully began the scan. They’d reviewed the data from the badge and been able to focus on where Adrianna was pointing them. It was a small moon near the waypoint, and the sector was empty save for the aforementioned moon and an asteroid belt just beyond it. Alanna Menzie was still in the biobed, but had opened her eyes and was talking the cadet through some more of the basics. There was no sign of Devore Imperium ships in the sector, and it seemed to give the sidelined science officer some comfort. A moment later, something pinged on the scanners, and Harris leaned forward, “Ensign Menzie…is that a….”
Alanna sat up a little and muttered, “Oh god. That’s a signal. Not Devore, not Federation.” She lowered herself back into the bed, her world spinning more than she liked.
Natalie went to work to attempt to define it as she spoke to Kondo in the cockpit, “Chief Kondo, I think I have a contact. It’s a ship. Verifying now.” She worked her fingers at a breakneck pace. They had half an hour before they had to be on their way out of the Imperium’s space. The badge had led them there and within range of possibly the final clue. A moment later, she had it, “Confirmed. The ship’s readings match the SS Loch…they’re…inside the moon?” Kondo was behind her as she finished her sentence.
“Inside the moon. That may be why the Devore couldn’t find them. It would also explain why there are no ships here. How do we get them out?”
Natalie thought for a moment – “If they got in there, we can get in there.”
Kondo returned to the cockpit, “Prentice, we’re going into the moon. Everybody strap in!”
Harris helped the ACMO secure Menzie and then returned to her jump seat, where she buckled in, hoping that this would be easy. Who was she kidding – this was the Delta Quadrant. The game started on the hard level.
USS Mackenzie – 1630
“The coded message makes it clear they think they’ve found the transport ship and that there’s been some new evidence to confirm that.” Ensign Atega was at her communications station, examining the text message that had come through. Harris stood next to the station, hand to chin, as he listened. “Our long-range sensors confirm they are within range of waypoint 19 and that there are currently no Devore ships that we can see.”
Fowler spoke up, “The Devore are notoriously good at hiding themselves hence why we’re qualifying it with ”see” versus confirm. Short-range sensors are showing the same thing around us – we’re down to two Devore patrol ships within range. There’s been some mild movement here and there of the ships but nothing significant.”
Harris gently corrected her, “Careful, Lieutenant. When we remember who we’re dealing with and where we are, ‘mild’ can have many different interpretations and definitions. Where did those two ships go?”
She had blushed a little at her captain’s pushback but returned to her console, “One went back to its original posting and the other…looks like its course would take it near waypoint 19.” She felt her stomach turn a little at what she had ignored. “I should have checked, sir.”
Ambrose gave her a quiet nod, “You should have. Take the correction, and learn in order to avoid the mistake in the future, Lieutenant.” He walked to the helm console where Prentice’s assistant sat, “Ensign Del Castillo, I need you to plot a course to waypoint 19. Well, several courses.” She listened to him carefully. Gabriela was 19 years old and had just recently earned her Ensign rank. She’d studied enough to know being in the driver’s seat of any starship was equal parts boring and thrilling. It all depended on when you were sitting in the seat. She’d been quietly thrilled that Prentice was put on the runabout. Now she was realizing what sitting in the chair meant. There was no room for error in this job. Whatever Captain Harris was about to ask her to do, she was going to have to deliver. She looked at him as he continued. “There’s a good chance we’re going to have to punch through Devore space without permission. I need you to plot out our initial entry point in…but then have multiple points to choose from depending on the presence of Devore patrols or more as we go. The quickest and fastest routes are the ones we’re going to need.” He paused and then asked, “Any questions?” She had none. “Let’s get to work.”
Runabout – 1640
They’d managed to fly through the caverns into the depths of the moon without too much trouble. The various exterior lights lit the path ahead as well as the sides of the walls and the world they were leaving behind. A few bumps here and there had left Menzie in need of a hypospray and Natalie with her hands clenched into the depths of her jump seat. Prentice rounded the next bend and slowed the ship to a stop. The SS Locke hung in the darkness ahead as the lights from the Winona cast upon a scarred and roughed-up hull. The running lights were dim. Natalie scanned, “I’m picking up twelve life signs…some are pretty weak. The ship looks worse than it is – all systems are reading back as functional.”
Kondo stood and motioned for the doctor and her to follow him. “We’re going to transport over – Harris, you need to make sure that ship can fly out of here and back to the Mack. Doctor, you need to make sure everyone can make that trip.” It took them moments to transport over.
SS Loch- 1640
They appeared on the command deck and found several prone bodies in the hall and the doctor quickly checked them, “They’re still alive…they’re going to need the Winona. I’ll tag them for the moment.” They continued until they reached the bridge. Twenty eyes turned to face them. They were beaten, bloodied, and burned – ten of the crew of the SS Loch.
One of them spotted Natalie and gave a shout, stumbling towards her, “Nat! Oh, thank god you came. Thank everything.”
She fell into the arms of the cadet, who grasped her tightly, “Adrianna….”
The doctor went from person to person, and he returned to Kondo, “They will all need the services of the Mackenzie’s sickbay…but the two in the hall must return to the Winona immediately.”
Kondo waved him on and turned his attention to the crew, “Where are the brothers?”
Natalie sat her friend down in a chair and turned to look at the rest. She found one at the far end, avoiding eye contact, “Rafael Harris, you son of a bitch.” Before Kondo could stop her, she advanced on him as if she was a photon torpedo. She grabbed him by his collar and threw him to the ground, “You tied me up….and duck-taped my face you ass!” She sent a well-aimed kick into his stomach twice, “I should do the same for you! Piece of shit.” Natalie spat on him as Kondo stepped between her and her cousin.
“That is enough, Cadet Harris.” She growled at him and hustled away to stand at the door to the bridge, staring daggers, phasers, fire, and death at her cousin. Kondo did not help Rafael up as he groaned. The tactical chief spoke to the crew, “We are fifteen minutes away from our time expiring in Devore space. Can this ship fly out of the moon and get to warp speed?”
A young man raised his hand, “Yea. We were hiding here because we thought they’d come back for the rest of us.”
Kondo frowned, “The rest of you?”
Rafael sat up and pulled himself up, groaning and moaning all the way until he was able to catch his breath, “There were twenty on this ship. They took eight. All our telepaths and Julian.”
Natalie snapped up her head and stared at her cousin once more, “Where are they?” He swallowed and didn’t answer. She advanced on him and stood toe to toe, face to face; Kondo watched both carefully, well within arm’s reach of both. “Where are our people, Rafael? Where the fuck are they?” Kondo observed palpable fear in the eyes of the young man. She scared him. Not just in this moment. But in life. He realized it was why they had tied her up. Natalie Harris would have put an end to this madness had she been free to do so.
The cousin Harris sighed, “They took them and sold them to the Hirogen.”
Natalie punched him hard. Rafael spun with a grunt and hit the ground with a whimper. Kondo glanced down. He was still breathing. He turned to the remainder of the crew, his tone even but dripping with menace, “Explain.” If they feared Natalie, they were terrified of Kondo. They immediately told the story of how the seven had been discovered on a boarding inspection and taken. The remaining crew had been beaten and then left with a promise to return if they were still here. Someone had asked what prison the telepaths were being taken. The Devore had snarled – they had decided to end the telepathic threat in different ways. One is prison. The other is to sell them to the Hirogen to train their warriors in the hunt. A new and improved method of elimination. De La Fontaine shook his head, “You stayed here…why?”
Adrianna offered, “We were trying to come up with a plan to go find them…but Rafeael kept telling us we had to go find this sacred…thing. Something that would make us all rich and successful. He said all he had to do was touch it, and he could make all our dreams come true.”
Kondo asked, “Did you find it?”
She shook her head, “Everything he found pointed him in a different direction. When they started a month ago, it felt like they could find it – we had definite maps, solid background. Then we started asking around the Delta Quadrant. You know the rest of that story.”
Natalie spat her words bitterly, “Everybody we encountered wants to kill you all.”
Each of them bowed their heads quietly as realization began to set in. Whatever treasure they had been looking for…it wasn’t going to be found here. Kondo cleared his throat, “Our time is nearly up. Follow us out of the moon and follow us out of here.” He picked up Rafael and put cuffs on him as he tapped his badge, “Kondo to Winona – let’s get going.”
Runabout Winona – 1700
They had cleared the moon, and the SS Loch was behind them. The space in front of them remained clear. Prentice chewed on his bottom lip, “I know I shouldn’t say this but….”
Kondo silenced him firmly, “Then don’t. Plot us a course to the Mack. Advise the Loch to follow the same course.” He glanced back at Natalie, her face a wash of an emotional tempest. She was angry. He was angry. And pretty soon, his captain was going to be angry. The Delta Quadrant knew how to bring it out in people. Prentice tapped the console. They were ready. “Engage.” The two ships bounced into warp speed.
The stars swam by the ships as they traveled. Kondo left the cockpit and sat by Natalie. He remained silent for a few minutes before he finally spoke, “You can’t solve all your problems with punches and grabbing people.”
She gave him a side look and chuffed, “You don’t know what that jackass is capable of in his worst moments. This is in the top five, no doubt.”
De La Fontaine gave her his own side look, “Cadet Harris – you are a part of Starfleet. That cadet label suggests you’re more refined than…whatever this is that you’re presenting.” He let those words sink in, “You have four years to learn but allow me to speed up the process – clean up your language while you wear that uniform and remember that people watch what you do in that uniform.” There was a range of alarms from the cockpit, and he could hear Prentice calling for him. “Duty calls.” He returned to the cockpit, leaving Natalie with her thoughts. And Menzie, who was looking at her.
She stared back at the science officer, “You have something to say, Ensign?”
Alanna merely pointed out, “You should listen to him. I listened to the people who told me how to act right. Saved my career. I punched out a few in the Academy…didn’t get me any closer to a chair on a bridge. Found my way. And here I am.”
Harris rolled her eyes and returned to the sensors.
Kondo listened as Prentice reported that two Devore ships were in pursuit. They had requested that both the runabout and transport ship pull over for inspection. So far, they had been giving static as the response. The tactical chief asked, “How long until they intercept?”
“At current speeds – 30 minutes – just as we reach the border. The Aerie has warp 6.9 emergency speeds – they can get to the Mack faster and get some distance from the border.”
Kondo ordered, “Do it. Coded message to the Mack – we’re coming in hot.”