They were plainly Devore by the ridges across brow and nose, but out of their strict black uniforms, dressed down in thick and neutral clothing, they had likely passed through the crowds of Markonian without anyone taking them for what they were. More important than their identity, though, was the fact they were opening fire.
Beckett was still close to the deck, so all he heard at first was the thumping of a door opening, the shattering of the front display, and the burst of energy weapons. In a panic he stuck his head up to see a shot take Rosewood in the shoulder, the diplomat going down, while Valance and Airex dived for cover and drew phasers.
Two Devore were in the doorway, while the other two opened fire from outside. A quick snapshot from Valance as she ducked behind a centuries-old bust – with a cavalier disregard for its safety that made Beckett’s heart ache – brought one of the first down. Then the Devore returned fire and the Starfleet officers had to stick their heads back down.
‘Beckett!’ Valance’s voice rang out over the burst of fire. Smouldering scraps of paper from an ancient tome struck by an errant blast blossomed down on her. ‘Get to Goravin!’
‘Oh, piss,’ muttered Beckett. ‘They want him, don’t they.’ But he hadn’t yet drawn enemy fire, and wanted to keep it that way. Begrudgingly raising his phaser, he crawled on elbows and knees through the labyrinthine stacks of Goravin’s goods.
By the time he was near the door, Airex had managed to drag Rosewood behind cover and was administering first aid as Valance tried to fend off the Devore with fire. Beckett glanced back and, for a moment, thought of joining them. But there was still no sign of Goravin, so in one quick move he hurled himself for the door to the back.
He couldn’t have been out in the open for more than a second, and still he heard the hiss of energy weapons and felt their heat as they hit where he’d been half a breath before. Then he was in the back rooms, in cover, and though he heard the Devore shouting, he also heard Valance and Airex returning fire.
The back room was small, with only a desk, tall shelves along one wall, a holographic picture opposite showing off Goravin – twenty years younger, a lot thinner, with a lot more hair – posing with some artifact before dusty ruins, and a rear access door. Open. There was no sign of Goravin.
‘Piss!’ was Nate Beckett’s repeated tactical analysis, and he rushed to the door. The rear access acted as an alleyway for waste disposal and loading, and before him stretched a long, dim metal corridor of marked doors to other establishments. In the distance, shadows moved – two figures holding a struggling third, heading away at speed. It had to be Goravin.
Beckett hesitated before turning back to the front, because the only thing dumber than losing Goravin was to go off on his own and get killed. His heart rose as he realised the shooting had stopped and he heard voices – commands for everyone to stop, to put down their weapons, and he realised station security had arrived. It felt like a lifetime but couldn’t have been even a minute.
‘Thank you,’ he heard Valance saying. ‘But we’ve got to help our officer, I think the proprietor’s in danger…’
‘Nobody move!’ came a more urgent shout from security, and Beckett froze in the office. ‘Our sergeant’s on the way, so you all just hold and we’ll sort it out -’
‘You don’t understand…’
‘You don’t need to understand.’
Beckett’s jaw tightened as he realised that maybe going off on his own wasn’t the dumbest choice. Not if station security was going to lock everyone down now and ask questions later, once Goravin and the Devore were long gone. He turned for the back alleyway and broke into a run, smacking his combadge.
‘Beckett to Merlin!’ he called breathlessly, his phaser in an iron grip as he hurried. ‘We found Goravin but it’s gone sideways here! Devore have him, everyone else is in station security’s hands, and I’m in pursuit on foot!’
When Harkon eventually responded, he could hear quietened heavy music in the background, and knew she’d been rocking out in the cockpit of the docked runabout while she ship-spotted. ‘Alone?’
‘Yeah! Send, uh, backup? Thoughts and prayers?’ Someone opened a door to their alleyway to throw out a bag of refuse, and Beckett had to leap over it, calling a desperate apology. ‘Or, I don’t know, scan for Devore and find their ship, they’re kinda incognito! Contact Endeavour and get help! I don’t know!’
Harkon said something else, but then he’d burst out of the back alleyway and into the wider square. Stores had heavy frontage here and foot traffic was heavy, and there was no sign of the Devore or Goravin. Beckett swore, and scuttled to the nearest stall. ‘Sorry!’ he called, hopping atop one of the crates loaded with wares, knocking fruit onto the deck.
He was sworn at in a language he didn’t understand and the universal translator either didn’t know or had too much of a sense of decency to convey, but from higher up he could see them – two Devore with Goravin wedged between them, the hand of one on his back, rushing for another passageway. There was probably a concealed weapon forcing Goravin’s cooperation.
He hopped to the deck with another frantic apology to the angry fruit vendor and rushed into the crowd. The Devore were moving at speed, and he had to slip between the press of bodies, sidestepping and staying quick-footed to keep up. It was only once they’d left the square that he had a solid line of sight on them, the long corridor back towards the docking yards busy but less packed, and when the Devore cast a glance over their shoulders, he knew he’d been made.
Beckett broke into a run and pointed frantically. ‘Hey! Devore are trying to kidnap that Brenari!’ That drew looks from the busy shop-fronts, but they were guarded – nobody liked Devore, but Devore were dangerous, and this wasn’t their problem. Time to lie. ‘The station master said there’s a reward for stopping them!’
That drew attention. One shopkeeper pulled out a huge pistol and stepped out before the Devore, and one let go of Goravin with a nod to his compatriot before drawing his sidearm. Then all hell broke loose.
Visitors to Markonian jumped at the openly armed Devore or ran away, and the crowd became a new kind of chaos. Beckett had to slip up against the wall to avoid getting caught in the scuffle as a burly Pendari tackled the Devore, while the one strong-arming Goravin broke out of the throng and pressed on ahead.
Damn it. Beckett drew his phaser with reluctance and snapped the power level to be nothing but a light-show. ‘Clear the way!’ he yelled, letting off a shot at the ceiling as he passed the scrap with the Devore left behind, and now he was in a race against an enemy trying to drag a weak-but-struggling captive. Except the Devore he was chasing was a big, burly soldier, and Beckett knew he was one of the weak links in Endeavour’s Hazard Team.
It was difficult to run while tapping at his phaser controls, but after a moment he’d knocked the power up a smidge, and winced as he levelled it at the two. If he hit a bystander, Kharth would bury him in paperwork before burying him for real.
His first shot went wide. The second one struck true, making the target go limp for only a moment, just enough to send them sprawling to the deck before they recovered, limbs likely tingling but still obeying. Except he’d not exactly hit what he’d wanted, because he’d hit Goravin. And now there was a burly Devore soldier rounding on him.
Not really thinking, Beckett didn’t try to get another shot off but instead bowled into the Devore, and the two of them went down in a tumble of momentum and muscle, mostly the Devore’s. ‘Goravin!’ Beckett managed to shout. ‘Run! Or help me! Something!’
But the old Brenari was rolling onto his back with a groan, and the Devore slammed Beckett against the deck and he realised he’d perhaps miscalculated. He rolled and swung his phaser at the Devore’s head, but was blocked. The Devore’s fist came up, and he was too slow as it cracked into his temple. Stars exploded in front of his eyes, the Devore slammed him again against the deck, and when he felt the barrel of the soldier’s pistol pressed into his gut, he thought it was all over.
But the whine of an energy weapon, when it came, was too distant. The Devore grunted, spasmed, and collapsed – on top of him.
Beckett lay there, gently crushed by the bulk of his opponent, and whimpered. Footsteps thudded up, and he heard Goravin move, the old Brenari seeming to recover a little. ‘Thank you!’ he wheezed. ‘I don’t know what they’d have done to me, thank you!’
He opened his mouth to try to groan a response, but no sound came out. Then above him came a chirpy, ‘You’re welcome!’ from Harkon, and Beckett realised Goravin wasn’t even talking to him.
‘Uh. Little help?’ he whimpered.
It took Harkon a moment to drag the Devore off him, the slight pilot struggling with the man’s weight. ‘You okay there, Nate?’
‘Right as rain,’ he groaned and sat up, then looked at Goravin. ‘Are you alright, sir?’
Goravin seemed to notice him at last, and grabbed his hand in an enthusiastic clasp. ‘Thanks to your diligence, young man,’ he gushed, and Beckett felt at last a little appreciated for fast thinking and getting the hell kicked out of him. ‘Devore, on Markonian? They normally wouldn’t sully themselves with such.’
‘Yeah.’ With Harkon’s help, they both got to their feet. ‘I guess that they really do want this Regulator thing. Or they think you know something else.’ He gave Goravin a pointed look. ‘How’s that deal looking now?’
The Brenari archaeologist sighed. ‘Perhaps I did underestimate them. Or this situation. Very well, let us talk – but not here. Especially not if station security are going to catch up – they’re a tiresome lot, and really don’t like me anyway. Is there somewhere we can speak?’
‘The Vaadwaur Supremacy,’ said Goravin, tucked up in a blanket in the Merlin’s rear cabin with a steaming mug of tea, ‘did not keep slaves for its entire existence. But some thousand years ago slavery was a common enough feature of some provinces, including those near here. And that included Brenari slaves.’
Valance sat across from him at the table, flanked by Beckett and Airex. Rosewood had been taken to a cabin for more medical attention from Harkon, but was nothing more than singed. It had taken some time to extricate themselves from station security, but the presence of Devore aboard had become a much higher priority than the people resisting them.
‘Telepathic slaves,’ Valance said carefully, ‘have historically been difficult to keep, at least in the Alpha Quadrant.’
‘The same here,’ said Goravin with an enthusiastic nod. ‘I had wondered for a long time how they kept Brenari populations controlled. Initially I thought they kept the work forces scattered, but ten years ago I came across a mass grave at an old Vaadwaur colony that was primarily Brenari.’
‘Mass slaughter to suppress them?’ wondered Airex.
‘I thought so.’
Beckett frowned, which made his head hurt, and pressed the cooling pack more firmly against his bruised temple. ‘You speak like you’re the only person doing research on the Vaadwaur.’
‘They weren’t a very popular topic of history until your friends woke them up twenty-five years ago,’ Goravin pointed out. ‘Now they’re a lot more on people’s minds. As is the funding.’
‘Fair enough,’ he sighed. ‘But back to the Regulator.’
‘Ah, yes. This was my first evidence on how the Vaadwaur retained control of Brenari. You spoke with Vekans, you know I found some records on an old colony. I found mention of the device there in, of all things, a protocol manual on how to use and deploy it appropriately.’ Goravin tapped at a chunky PADD, too old-fashioned to have its own projector. ‘This suggests the Vizan Regulator is a hand-held device that can be used on individuals to temporarily nullify their telepathic capabilities.’
The PADD was slid over, and Airex took it to read in silence. At length he said, ‘That would cause brain damage if you used it too much. This policy explicitly warns against using it for excessive periods outside of a designated culling or something they call a “control execution,” which I assume is to scare the other slaves into cooperating.’
‘I can’t imagine,’ mused Valance, ‘the Devore would care about that danger.’
‘No,’ said Goravin. ‘But you see – there was nothing there about how the device works, or how to construct one, and I found no signs of any such devices.’
‘There’s a lot I could infer from this policy manual,’ Airex mused. ‘But it is still very plainly handheld, to use on one person at a time. It seems curious that the Devore are chasing something they might never find – technical manuals or surviving devices might be long gone – that has very little use if you’re prepared to kill people.’
‘Especially,’ said Valance, ‘when their top priority is securing blood dilithium. They can’t be directing that many resources to this.’
‘I expect expanding their territory is how they caught wind of the Regulator,’ sighed Goravin. ‘They’re not usually a problem in my line of work. Just my line of life as being a Brenari.’
Beckett frowned at a spot on the table. ‘What if,’ he said slowly, ‘it isn’t just that they found sources on the Regulator because blood dilithium’s made them put boots on the ground on whole new worlds.’ As people looked at him, he shrugged. ‘They probably want blood dilithium because it affects telepaths. But it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that they also want this device that subdues telepaths.’
Airex’s eyes narrowed, but he looked thoughtful in his caution. ‘There’s no way Devore policy is driven by this fairy tale…’
‘Not policy,’ Beckett agreed. ‘But a mission. A ship. Maybe they think blood dilithium can power it. Maybe they want to use it to super-charge the blood dilithium.’
‘This device sounds like a psionic resonator,’ Airex continued. ‘We have scant few examples of these, and little understanding how any of them work. But we do know that they’re possible.’ He stroked his chin, and looked like he might say more before he shook his head. ‘No, I don’t want to make idle conjecture.’
‘Then it’s just as well,’ said Valance, ‘that the Devore soldiers were thrown into cells on Markonian and might be convinced to talk.’
‘They’re fanatics,’ said Goravin, ‘and Fictieff probably won’t give you access anyway. He doesn’t let people resolve internal disputes here.’
‘What about you?’ Beckett asked him. ‘Don’t you have any more on the device? Any more leads?’
‘I’d be grateful,’ said Airex, ‘if we could take a look at all the records you found on that dig.’
At last Goravin hesitated. ‘Ah. That. Well.’ He fidgeted. ‘You see, I don’t have them any more.’
Beckett stared. ‘What?’
‘I have what was on my person, but not the whole database. Because I lost my ship. You see, I was on my way here when I fell foul of an ion storm. All of my systems went dead and I thought the ship was going to rip itself apart, so I had to jump into an escape pod. I was lucky to survive the process at all really, and luckier still to be picked up by some passing Shivolians.’
Valance sighed. ‘Where’s the wreckage?’
‘Oh, the ship actually survived the ordeal.’ Goravin winced. ‘But the Shivolians were halfway here by the time the storm passed and they confirmed my ship’s location on long-range sensors, so they didn’t want to turn around and drop me off. Especially as that would have meant trouble.’
Beckett raised his eyebrows. ‘Trouble?’
‘Yes, you see, my ship’s in one piece, and I know exactly where it is, because a vulture grabbed it the moment they could approach.’ Now Goravin’s expression settled into a scowl. ‘That junker Abaddon’s got it.’