Chapter 10: In the Streets
Pow Gows ran to the front lines.
"Hose them down!" he ordered.
His brigade was used to fighting fires, not fighting insurrections.
Gows started to wonder whether he and his brigade would have to resort to deadly force. He hoped he wouldn't.
Val sat in the gul's chair on the Vetara's bridge and tried not to be annoyed at the two Krowtonan officials who were asking for his assistance. An emergency, or so it seemed.
Shi Holl and Jang Font were on a split screen. They were good people, but were feeling the pressure from their own superiors. Holl was calling in from Krotowna Prime and Font was the regional official in charge Home Guard deployments in the region which included the Olami system.
"Jang Shin, would you and your MARCOs be able to assist?" asked Font.
"I'll see what we can do. We're three hours away."
"Please lend a hand in whatever way possible," said Holl. "Huge appreciation, from the Emperor and me personally." Holl smiled and then his image blinked off.
"Sorry to put this on your plate, Val," she said.
"Is this an evac?" asked Val. He didn't really get the details of what he was supposed to do. Only a briefing of the situation on Olami Six.
"Well…" said Font. "I think Reet would like you to hold the planet."
"What?" asked Val.
Reet Holl was the deputy minister in charge of the Home Guard's complex deployments. Olami Six was falling into chaos.
"I know, I know," said Font in an understanding tone. She was young. Placed into her position by her family's noble background, she tried to approach her job as carefree as possible. She was only a few years older than Val and the two of them shared a smooth rapport while communicating even on official matters. They joked around an awful lot, but were professional when the situation called for it. This would be the fifth time Val helped the Krowtonan Empire with one emergency or another. He couldn't wait to fly straight out of Krowtonan space.
"Just try to do what you can," continued Font. "If you have to, evac Gowse's guards and we'll go from there."
"Tell him to hold on as best he can."
"Oh, he knows," said Font. "Best of luck."
Her image blinked off the screen and Val plotted in the course and engaged.
Mah Blees reported to her site leader.
"Sir, we can definitely hold the perimeter. But we're going to have a hard time advancing and clearing the streets."
"The cavalry should be coming soon," said Gowse.
"You think the aliens will help us?" asked Blees.
"That's what I hear."
Blees was conflicted. She would like the help, but deep down, she wasn't sure if her mission was what she signed up for. She had some level of sympathy for the subjects who were now on verge of a full revolt.
"How's it going?" asked Val.
"I think I'm enjoying it," said Kejal. "If I am programmed to enjoy such things," she added. In front of Kejal was a drink the humans called a vanilla milkshake. Being a hologram, Kejal never had the need to indulge in desserts. However, she noticed that Val and several of the MARCO troopers had a fondness for things that tasted sweet. Staff Sergeant Driver had referred to this as a "sweet tooth."
Val's combadge chirped. He tapped it.
"Captain, we have arrived in system. Two patrols boats are approaching. Their commander has hailed," said Julie Hall. She was standing post at the Vetara's bridge and monitoring any incoming communications.
"Thank you, sergeant. I'm on my way."
Val walked out of the mess hall and headed for a turbolift.
Back in the alpha quadrant:
Captain Jean-Luc Picard awoke, slightly startled. He looked around at his surroundings and realized that he was in his quarters on the newly commissioned U.S.S. Enterprise-E. What was up with all of these nightmares lately? Last night, he had a nightmare that he and the rest of humanity was being judged once again. Just several minutes ago, he had a nightmare that he was back on a Borg Cube, serving as one of their commanders. He heard the Borg Queen whisper… Locutus.
Picard got up from bed and went to his replicator. He ordered a cup of warm milk, something Beverly Crusher had recommended if he was having trouble sleeping.
After finishing the beverage, he went back to bed. He hoped he would never again have to deal with Q or the Borg. Ever.
"Jang Shin," said the young Krowtonan lord on the viewscreen. "We have dealt with the problem and your assistance is no longer required. I thank you for coming in such a short time. Please, continue on your previous course."
Val acknowledged and wished the lord the best of luck. The viewscreen then blinked off.
"Well, that was easy," said Staff Sergeant Driver.
"A little… too easy," said Val. He shrugged. "Oh well."
Val sat down at his captain's chair and punched a few commands on the console to his chair's right hand side. The Vetara jumped back into warp.
Captain Thomas Riker sat in his office on the U.S.S. Solstice.
"We're going to send the Solstice to investigate," said Admiral Burke on the computer screen. "The Resolute and I will rendezvous with you at the planet."
"Have they really re-formed?" asked Riker.
"I don't know. I guess we'll find out together."
Val stepped out of the shower and dried off. It was 2200 hours and he would try to get to sleep before midnight. Many of his friends found it unique that he would almost always shower before going to bed. The typical human showered after they woke up. But Val was brought up to shower before going to sleep. Always sleep in a clean bed in clean clothes, his mother would add.
As he put on his sleepwear, an individual appeared in his cabin out of the blue. Reflexively, Val hit a silent alarm that was on his desk. MARCO troopers would be at his quarters within 30 seconds.
"Captain Shin, we meet at last," said the intruder. "I've heard a lot about you."
"Who are you?" asked Val.
"Why, I'm Q," said the intruder. He was dressed in a Starfleet captain's uniform. Four pips on his gray collar. Red shoulders on his otherwise black uniform. Two red braid stripes at the cuffs of his sleeves to signify that he was a commanding officer. First officers wore one stripe, while all others had plain black sleeves.
"What are you doing here? Quintus told me he would refrain from visiting me for at least a year."
"Well, I'm not Quintus, now am I?" said a jovial Q.
Two MARCO troopers bursted into the captain's quarters, rifles up, trained at Q.
Q snapped his fingers, and two new intruders appeared, standing between Q and the MARCOs. Neither was armed.
Val put a hand up, to signal that the MARCOs should stand fast and not engage yet.
"Who are these two?" asked Val.
One was a relatively large alien. Brown. Hairy. He stood a little over six feet tall and looked to be a formidable fighter. Strangely, he was dressed in a Starfleet uniform. The yellow shoulders identified him as an engineer or security crewman. He also wore a silver sash across his chest. The second appeared to be an attractive human female, with a rather scant outfit. It was relatively form-fitting, and was in the colors of Val's uniform. A deep plunging neckline that had black trim, but the rest of the uniform was in dark red. The scantily-clad human female was a redhead, and she wore a Starfleet combadge.
"Well, since you brought two of your crew in, I thought I'd bring two of mine," said an amused Q. "This one is my Chief Bodyguard. We'll call him Wolfe. The other is my Seduction Officer. We'll call her Red."
Val looked at the two for a few seconds.
"Ah," said Q. "You must be thinking that they look familiar?"
Val nodded. "I'm guessing your bodyguard is supposed to be a Klingon? Based on Picard's Worf?"
"You disappoint me so, Captain Shin," said Q. "These two are familiar to you because they are from your own imagination! Of course, I did dress them up as Worf and Troi from Picard's Enterprise. Had to keep the Starfleet theme going."
Val then recognized the large bodyguard. It was a version of the Disney character Beast. It was the live stage version that he saw at a musical when he was much younger. He didn't recognize at first because the normal version was an animated cartoon character. He couldn't place the redhead.
"Last time I checked, I wasn't Walt Disney. These aren't my creations," said Val.
"You got me," said Q, pretending to frown. "They're my choices from what Quintus told me of your background. The Beast, well, he's your favorite character, isn't he?"
"Then why not make your other one Belle?" asked Val. It would've made sense to have the two characters together.
"Well, she would've been out of character as a seductress now, wouldn't she?" said Q. He could tell Val was having some trouble figuring out who she was supposed to be. Ariel? She was the only Disney character Val recalled as having red hair.
Q whispered "That's Jessica Rabbit."
Q then snapped his fingers and his two "crew" members disappeared, along with the two MARCOs.
"That's better," Q said.
"Bring my troopers back this instant," insisted Val.
"Relax, capitan," said Q in an attempt to reassure. "Your two MARCOs are right outside in the hall. Of course, I took the liberty of locking your door."
"Why are you bothering me?" asked Val.
"Wanted to see for myself what Quintus saw in you. Not much from what I see."
"Thanks. Now you can let me be."
"Well, I didn't say you were totally uninteresting."
Val wasn't pleased. He would've rather been uninteresting.
"Tell me, counselor: are you going to just spend the rest of your days doing favors for the Krowtonan nobles?"
"Why is that any of your business?" asked Val.
"No, none of my business at all," said Q casually. "It's just… you have the capability of being much… more than you are right now."
"I'm fine where I am."
"No doubt. You love ancient movies, right?"
"Love is a strong word."
"Well, let me quote from a movie which I believe to be one of your favorites. I look at you, and I see two men: the man you are, and the man you ought to be. One day, those two will be the same person. Do you recognize that quote?"
"That's lame, Q," said Val. But Q could tell Val recognized the quote. It was from an old movie titled "The Replacements." The plot revolved around a team of replacement football players who never made it to the professional leagues, but were called up when the regular players went on strike. It was, indeed, one of his favorites.
"Is that how you feel about yourself, counselor? That you're not really a true captain? Just a substitute teacher. Because that's what you're looking like to me."
"Thanks. Now, if you'll excuse me, I believe substitute teachers qualify as totally uninteresting."
But Q didn't finish quite yet.
"You're different from Picard."
"Human beings are all different from each other," said Val.
"Yes, yes," said Q. "But both of you catapulted into the captain's chair under emergency circumstances. Picard jumped a few ranks to captain the Stargazer. Though, as a bridge officer, I suppose he was groomed to eventually command a ship. Same for Janeway. You, on the other hand, this wasn't in your career trajectory. The word that best describes your former career path is probably administrator, or bureaucrat."
"Do you have a point somewhere?"
"I guess my point is this: be confident in yourself as a captain."
"I'm plenty confident in myself," insisted Val.
"And also, whatever Quintus suggested you do, I recommend the opposite. That one's a troublemaker."
"I guess it takes one to know one," said Val. "Anyway, Quintus didn't recommend anything to me."
"Oh…" said Q, who was somewhat surprised. "Well then, carry on and pretend I never visited."
Q then disappeared, leaving Val wondering why Q just wasted several minutes of his life.
After a few minutes, a chirp came from Val's combadge, which was sitting on a table next to his bed. It was Kejal.
"Captain, we have an incoming transmission from Jang Font."
"Thanks," said Val. He walked over to his desk and tapped his personal computer. Font's image appeared.
"Howdy, ma'am," said Val. The two of them had last joked about the strange dialects of ancient Earth, with the Texan accent of particular interest.
"Howdy, sir," said Font. She smiled. "When will you be arriving at Olami?"
Val was a little puzzled.
"I thought you would've arrived by now. Did something stall you guys?"
"We just jumped from there about 4 hours ago, everything was fine."
"Huh?" asked Font.
"Yea, we dropped out and were greeted by a couple of patrol craft. I spoke with a mid-level mah who asked us to halt our approach until she could clear us with her superiors. Then her commander, Therton, hailed. Said the situation was under control; no need for our assistance."
Font seemed to think about it for a few seconds. She recognized the name Therton. He was one of the lower local nobles from the Olami region. Why would he turn away help? Font had just received a message from Pow Gows no more than 3 minutes ago saying he was still awaiting reinforcements or extraction, and that the situation was deteriorating.
"That's really weird. Gows just asked for your location and an ETA," said Font. "Do me a favor, Val?" she asked.
"Head back to Olami. Tell them I sent you, and see if you can get a hold of Gows. Better yet, tell them Holl sent you. His name probably has more sway than mine."
Val laughed. He wasn't annoyed. Just one of those things.
"We'll head back, ETA probably a little over 4 hours."
"Thanks Val!" she said. She also punched in some text which appeared in a black box on the bottom of the screen. It was a smiley face. Another recent thing she found interesting about humans was that in past times, when messaging through computers first became widespread, humans liked typing in emoticons. She thought they were cute.
The screen then blinked off.
Val tapped his combadge.
"Kejal, are you on the bridge?"
That was fine, she could access the ship's systems from engineering.
"Please reverse our course. We're going back to Olami."
"Reverse course, aye, sir."
One week ago:
"Admiral, we are within visual range."
"Put her on screen."
The viewscreen at the front of the Solstice's bridge popped to life and a unique looking ship could be seen. It looked sleek, built for speed. The hull was a grayish-silvery color, similar to other Starfleet vessels. The two small engine nacelles glowed in blue, as opposed to green like Romulan vessels, red like Klingon vessels, or even the various yellows or oranges of other minor Alpha quadrant alliances. The vessel on the viewscreen appeared to be a Starfleet ship. It was roughly four or five times the size of a Danube-class runabout.
"Looks like the merchant was right," said Captain Thomas Riker.
An alien named Arturis had approached a Krowtonan patrol several weeks ago. He told the Krowtonan officer in charge that he stumbled onto what he believed to be a Starfleet vessel. It had been abandoned, but otherwise seemed to function smoothly. A few Krowtonan officers boarded the ship, and then flew the ship to meet with the Solstice.
The visual scanners made a sweep of the hull.
"U.S.S. Resolute," said Lieutenant Sito as she read the ship's name emblazoned on the hull.
"Noah?" said Admiral Burke.
Originally a science officer, Ensign Noah Lester was now the Solstice's tactical officer. He scanned the Resolute.
"Looks like a small exploratory survey ship," said Lester. "Built for deep space. Minimal weaponry but speed probably matches ours. Relatively strong shielding for a ship her size. About two-thirds our strength. Crew complement would probably be about a dozen or so."
"I'll lead an away team," said Captain Riker.
Riker tapped his combadge.
"Ensign Gilmore, please meet me and Lieutenant Sito in Transporter Room One.
"Aye, captain," came the response from the internal comm system.
Sito got up from the operations officer's chair and joined Riker in the turbolift.
Before they left, Burke said "Riker, send Arturis over. I'd like to ask him a few questions about how he found this ship."
"Pursuit course, engage," said Burke.
Ensign Jean Hejar sat at the flight controls and sent the Solstice speeding after the Resolute. She was not usually part of the Solstice's crew. After Ransom had been appointed as ambassador to Evansworld, he had taken Locarno, Crusher, Hejar, and Albert as his aides. Now, with the recent attack by the Kazon, the four former Nova Squadron cadets would be even more invaluable to Evansworld in its attempt to design and operate orbital defense platforms.
Hejar had requested some vacation time and decided to spend some of it with her friend, the newly promoted Lieutenant Sito Jaxa. Hejar happened to be onboard when the Sito was beamed over to the Resolute as part of the away team.
Burke pointed a phaser pistol at Arturis' head.
"Give me the command codes to that ship," demanded Burke.
It turned out that the Resolute was not a Starfleet ship at all. Arturis belonged to a race of aliens who had been enmeshed in a low-scale war with the Krowtonan for years. After the arrival of the Solstice, the Krowtonan pulled resources from other sectors and finally crushed Arturis' planet.
"The Krowtonan decimated my people," said Arturis. "We used to be millions, now we are a few thousand." He explained that for weeks, he researched the Solstice and the Federation. He then designed a ship which appeared to be of Federation origin, hoping to lure Burke to the ship to investigate. The ship was then automatically programmed to raise shields and jump into high warp. A self-destruct was triggered and the ship would explode in 10 minutes.
"Soon, you will be a few thousand minus one," said an impatient Burke.
"I watched helplessly as my family was killed. Murdered. By the Krowtonan," said Arturis. "I had been hoping to kill you, Burke. But I'll settle for you watching helplessly as your officers die in a fiery explosion." Arturis did not know that Gilmore was Burke's woman. Of course, Burke would have been displeased no matter which of his officers were on the booby-trapped ship.
Burke fired his phaser and killed Arturis.
"Minus one, you piece of garbage," he said angrily.
Gilmore and Sito had been surprised when the ship suddenly jumped to warp.
Now, three pairs of hands were furiously tapping at the computer consoles on the bridge of the Resolute.
"No use," said Sito. "Helm; shields; transporters, we're locked out of everything."
"Is it some kind of defense mechanism against intruders?" asked Riker.
"I don't know," said Sito.
"It's all encrypted," said Gilmore. "We have a little over 8 minutes."
"Can we throw a tractor beam? Grab them and then drop out?" asked Burke.
"Maybe," said Hejar. She got up from her seat at the helm and joined Ensign Lester to see if they could figure out a way to pull the Resolute out of warp.
"What about transport while in warp?" asked Burke.
"Can't until their shields are down," said Lester. "Even if they were, it would be tricky while we were both at warp. But it could be done."
Burke sat down in the captain's chair. He put his hands on the armrests, but slowly tapped them with his fingers. He was nervous.
"Sito, you hung out with Val Shin, right?" asked Riker.
"Hung out?" asked Sito.
"Had lunch with. Chatted for a while."
"I would've thought as fellow captains, it would've been you guys who would've had lunch together," said Sito.
Riker didn't. Although he and Val were friendly enough, they weren't friends. Not in the way that Burke and Val seemed to have bonded, even though the two seemed to disagree more often than not.
"We did chat once," said Sito.
"What about?" asked Riker.
"Cardassians. As a Bajoran, he wished to know whether I would ever be able to work alongside Cardassians. I told him if the lives of my crewmates or Federation citizens depended on it, I would work with a Cardie just fine."
"I see," said Riker.
He then brought Gilmore into the conversation as well.
"Do either of you remember what he said about how he was able to take command of the Cardassian ship? The Vetara? I recall at some point, he had spoken to Maximus about it, but I can't remember. Were you guys present?"
Riker obeyed his orders from Burke and recognized him as an Admiral. But Riker sometimes reverted back to calling Burke "Maximus." After all, Burke had served under Riker before the Solstice's little trip to the middle of nowhere.
Gilmore tried to remember.
"Something about… clocks," she said.
"He was lying," said Sito. "I could tell. When he explained to Burke, his eyes were darting to the left. Or the right. Or somewhere. But they weren't focused on Burke. He was making up a backstory on the spot."
"But what did he say?" said Riker.
"Chronometers," recalled Gilmore. "He set the ship's chronometers back a century. When the ship's computers thought they were in the past, all programming after that point in time was shut down, as it created a logic failure. Shin was then able to reprogram the ship's computers."
"Like I said," insisted Sito, "that was a lie. He's a nice guy, but I'm sure he's slick. Lawyers."
"Sounded plausible," said Gilmore.
"Lawyers always make stuff sound plausible," huffed Sito. "They do it all the time in interrogations. Pretend they have more evidence than they do. Get you to turn on your friends. They'd call it bluffing, but it's lying."
Riker was going to have to divert Sito's annoyance. It was an unnecessary distraction. He wondered whether it had anything to do with the inquiry at Starfleet Academy about Nova Squadron. There was less than three minutes left before the ship blew. No time to debate about lawyers.
"Regardless, Shin may have based it on some truth. It takes time to make stuff up out of the blue. He probably based it on something he did or saw in the past. Maybe with another ship. Whatever the case, let's try it," said Riker.
Gilmore navigated through the computer controls. She had been locked out of all essential ship functions. Surprisingly, chronometer controls were accessible.
"I can't believe this," she said out loud. She couldn't believe their luck.
She turned the clock back. Nothing happened.
"Darnit!" she exclaimed. She slapped the console with her left palm.
But something did happen. The self-destruct countdown seemed to have stopped. Upon further examination, the countdown didn't stop, it just jumped to over a century.
"Okay, that neat trick just bought us some time. Now let's figure out how to bring this ship to a halt," said Riker. He ordered Sito and Gilmore to follow him to engineering. If they could bring the warp core offline, the ship would drop out of warp.
"They've just dropped out," said Hejar.
"Drop us out," said Burke. The Solstice dropped out of warp a few seconds after the Resolute.
"We've overshot them," reported Hejar. "Circling back, full impulse."
Ensign Lester was able to open a communications channel with his captain.
"We've pulled power offline," reported Riker. "On emergency power. If I'm reading these gauges correctly, the shields won't drop for several hours. But after that, you should be able to beam us back onboard."
"Good. Thanks for your quick thinking," said Burke.
Back to present:
"I am sorry, Jang Shin," said Mah Kinn. "I have my orders, I cannot allow your ship into the system."
Mah Kinn was the mid-level officer in charge of the two patrol boats that once again intercepted the Vetara before she could reach Olami 6.
"This is a request straight from the Emperor, through Shi Holl and Jang Font."
"Once again, I apologize," said Kinn.
"Can I at least talk to Gows and have him give me a sitrep?"
"I apologize, the Pow Gows is occupied at the moment."
"You realize I can basically just plow right though you guys, right?"
The Vetara was large enough, or more precisely, the patrol boats small enough, so that the Vetara would barely feel the collisions as she made her way to Olami 6.
"I do, and I am at your mercy, Jang Shin."
Val was frustrated. He wasn't going to plow through these low level soldiers. They were just following their orders, most likely from that Therton fellow Val spoke with the day prior.
"Therton believes you are partially at fault for the uprising at Olami," explained Pow Gows.
Kinn had allowed the Vetara to maintain station at the rim of the system, not knowing that the signal strength of the communications equipment on the Vetara could beam hundreds, if not thousands, of times stronger than the typical Krowtonan transmitters.
Val and Gows had been talking for several minutes now, and the two of them seemed to get along well.
"What is your read on this, Pow Gows?" asked Val. "How long do you think you can hold off the rebels?"
"Probably indefinitely, he have enough resources for that. Either way, in a few days, it should be moot. The food would start to spoil anyway."
"Come again?" said Val.
"The food. It would spoil."
"You're defending a stockpile of…. Food?" asked Val.
"I was told you were defending a stockpile of weapons. Preventing the rebels from grabbing weapons."
"No sir. The rebels are half-starved villagers from about 2 days away. The planet suffered a deep depression in the past few years. A lot of people lost their jobs; became destitute. They had traveled here over a month ago and demanded that the food from the food reserves be released. But the stockpile was originally designated for export. The masses blocked all the streets and the food couldn't get to a processing center to add the necessary preservatives that would keep the food from spoiling. From the processing center, the food would have been flown off-planet."
"Gows, if the food is going to spoil anyway, just give them the damn food," said Val.
"I would, but I've got orders, sir," said Gows. "This comes from the Olami King."
"Though…" said Gows, "I guess since you outrank me, you could technically give me orders as well. My Home Guard unit is here on Olami at the request of their King, but I still have a proper chain of command to follow. Home Guard and High Guard Jangs would be authorized to give me orders. Are you ordering me to release the food, Jang Shin?"
Clever. Val knew he would get heat for it though. But he felt it was the right thing to do.
"Release it," said Val.
"How did this… happen?" asked Burke.
"I'm not sure, sir," said London.
Standing in the Solstice's transporter room were the Paris and Kim silverblood duplicates, who had recently re-formed on Evansworld's moon. They had been stranded there for a few days after re-forming. They eventually reached one of Evansworld's lunar rovers and were able to communicate with Chief Duncan's Air/Space Command.
"Will the Voyager duplicate also redevelop?" asked Riker.
"I'm not sure, sir," said London. "Because it was much larger, it may take a significantly longer amount of time.
"Lieutenant Sito, are you detecting any concentrations of the silverblood dust on the moon?" asked Burke after hailing the bridge.
"No sir," said Sito. "The metallic dust seems to have scattered in space. At least, what little I can detect of it."
"Sir," interrupted Ensign Lester from the bridge, "there's an urgent communiqué for you from the First Fleet Lord."
"Thank you, ensign," said Burke. He walked out of the transporter room briskly.
"I'll put you in guest quarters for now," said Riker.
"They're firing," said Kejal.
Val could barely feel it. The ship didn't shake at all.
"Our shields will hold," said Kejal.
"For another thousand years," said Driver, only half-jokingly.
"Return fire?" asked Kejal.
"No," said a reluctant Val. He knew one disruptor blast, even at 10% intensity, would easily destroy these tiny patrol boats.
"You and your battle group are to head over to the Olami Sector," said the First Fleet Lord.
"The Olami sector?" asked Burke. "That's several sectors out of my jurisdiction."
"You're a Krowtonan admiral, all of Krowtonan Space is your jurisdiction."
"Right, but my current assignments."
"Can be ignored for now."
"I'm pulling my frigates as well?"
"My group is spread out a little bit right now," said Burke. "We'll regroup and enter the system together."
"As long as you have time, I want them at Olami in less than a day."
The First Fleet Lord then explained the situation. Several Home Guard units disobeyed orders from the local authorities and then abandoned their posts. Local units gave chase and there is now some sort of standoff between the two sides.
"Break the two sides up, got it," said Burke.
"Be aware, your friend Captain Shin somehow got into the mix."
"Just a day or so ago. He had been requested to aid the Home Guard unit planetside. The request came from one of the lower level ministers on Krowtowna Prime. When the Home Guard unit asked for protection against the local authorities, Shin obliged. The local authorities then called in the High Guard to get a handle of this situation. Char Torb and her task force, three heavy cruisers, are heading in that direction now. I suggest you get there before she does."
"Good luck. I sincerely hope this does not turn into the catastrophe that it is sounding like."
"I as well. Out."
Val walked down the corridor on his way to the bridge. He was just about to report for his shift when Kejal paged him and told him they were expecting company. He was met by Staff Sergeant Driver at an intersection.
"How can you drink that stuff?" said Driver.
"It's hot chocolate, get over it."
"No, I mean that crap powder that's floating in your cocoa."
It was the combination grass and cocoa dust that Djeena had given him the last time they were together. Val tamped it down to drinking it only once or twice a week.
"Eh, whatever. You get used to it."
Driver could tell that Val, in fact, never really got used to it.
"I'll do you a favor and just vaporize that container for you."
The both of them laughed lightly. Djeena had actually given Val a small cylindrical container about half a foot tall and 3 inches in diameter full of the powder. At Val's current rate of consumption, it would last him a year.
"I promised. I mean what I say and I say what I mean."
"Skipper, I'm disgusted."
The two smiled and entered the bridge.
"Looks like three heavy cruisers have dropped in," said Kejal. "Their commander is hailing."
"Put it on."
A Krowtonan female blinked onto the front viewscreen. Although an alien, Val deemed her as probably one of the most attractive of the Krowtonan females he had met thus far. Or, at least seen on viewscreen.
"Captain Shin, please turn over Pow Gows and his guards immediately."
"I'm afraid I can't do that."
"You can't? Or you won't?"
After Pow Gows had ordered his troopers to distribute the food, the villagers were elated. Unfortunately for him, the King was not. Such an act would only embolden others to demand more of what wasn't theirs. Where would it stop? When would it stop? The King had to nip this in the bud, and punish those responsible accordingly. As Gows got wind that the Olami King requested aid from one of his cousins, a High Guard field general, Gows requested that Val extract him immediately before the High Guard ships arrived. Val reluctantly agreed, knowing he was partly responsible for Gows' predicament. He gently nudged the patrol boats out of the Vetara's path, without destroying the boats, and flew over to Olami Six. Luckily, there was no other form of resistance. He piloted the Vetara into orbit, and was able to beam Gows' home guards onboard within several minutes.
"I apologize in advance, Jang Shin. But you do realize, if the King Rufus orders me to fire on your ship, I will carry out my orders. If you attempt to leave the Olami orbit, I will fire on you."
"Rufus?" thought Val.
"I understand. Let's hope this doesn't come to that," said Val.
"I sincerely hope so too. Don't die over here."
"That's not the first time I've heard that."
Six years ago.
"Where the hell are you going?" asked Whitford, worried for his brother.
"Deyga system, one of their planets is about to implode."
"Why are you going? I thought you were in law school?"
"I'm still in the Starfleet Reserves."
"You just served your summer onboard the battle tug."
"I volunteered. The residents need our help. There aren't enough Fleet personnel in range to help with the evacuation."
"Those residents were told to evacuate months ago! This is an outrage. Why did they stay?"
"They probably hoped the problem would be resolved. It doesn't matter; they need to be evac'd."
"Nobody should help people who won't even help themselves," said Whitford.
"No. That's exactly the type of people who need help. If they're helping themselves already, why would they need your help? In reality, you're just saying people should just help themselves, and nobody should help anyone else."
"Fleet personnel shouldn't be put into danger because morons wouldn't evacuate, as ordered."
"Don't worry, younger brother. This will be safe."
"It's a planetwide natural disaster!"
"I'm just going to be a third officer on a mega-shuttle. Fly planetside, load people, fly off. No big deal. I definitely won't be one of the ground personnel combing the cities for stragglers."
"Well…. It's still a waste of manpower and resources. To think, I get taxed to fund this kind of garbage. Because idiots need rescue. It's a moral hazard too! You save one bunch of idiots, and then future idiots expect to be saved as well. What a waste."
"It's people's lives. Credits shouldn't be a concern."
"You know, I can't wait for you to become rich. And then become the person you are against right now. Which will happen."
Val laughed. "Uh… yea… I can't wait to become rich either."
"You will. I have faith in you," said Val's brother, smiling. Then, with some concern, he said "Don't die over there."
"Don't plan to," said Val confidently. "Blasting off in 10 mikes. Talk to you later bro."
The small shuttlepod entered the Phooson's shuttlebay.
Jang Font stepped out of the shuttlepod with two of her aides.
"Welcome aboard the RY Phooson," said Shi Flin.
The Phooson was Djeena's royal yacht. It was not customary for Krowtonan ships to have prefixes in their identifiers, but Djeena copied the custom from the Starfleet ships. The royal yacht was delivering Queen Djeena to the Olami sector at the Emporer's request. On the way, she dropped by the Vanad sector to pick up Font, as she was requested by the Emperor as well.
"Any idea why we're heading to Olami?" asked Font.
"No idea," said Flin. "The Emporer did not explain to Queen Djeena."
"I see," said Font.
"Have you heard anything?" asked Flin.
"I have some idea…" said Font. She wasn't sure, but was willing to bet that it had something to do with Gows' Home Guards.
"Dropping out of warp," said Lieutenant Sito. "Looks like the Yond and the Sullis have arrived."
"Seven major ships in the vicinity of Olami Six, including us. Looks like everyone but us has their weapons charged," reported Ensign Lester.
"Shall we join the party?" asked Riker.
"Do it," said Burke.
On the front viewscreen, they saw a cluster of six ships. In the middle was Val's Vetara, with her front main spiral disruptor glowing red, ready to fire. Surrounding the Vetara on three different sides were three Krowtonan heavy cruisers. Then taking position behind one of the heavy cruisers were the Yond and the Sullis, seemingly ready to fire on that heavy cruiser. Burke surmised that the target was the lead heavy cruiser.
"Why does everything this month have to be a trainwreck or a fiasco?" asked Burke rhetorically. First the Resolute incident, now this. Would he ever have a calm week?
"You forgot my personal favorite, multiple choice c, a debacle," replied Riker.
Burke put his hand to his face, shaking his head. Three different words for disaster. He recalled one conversation he had with Val. Apparently, they both served together a long time ago to evacuate a planet in danger of imploding. They never met because they were on different evacuation teams. The planet had been hit with three cascading disasters. Val commented that it was one disaster stuffed in another stuffed in another. Burke recalled that too. Burke's commanding officer had described the situation as the Russian nesting doll of disasters. These were antique toys from Earth that were shaped almost like an egg. They were a series of dolls in decreasing size that were placed inside one another. Val's commander had termed it a "disaster-ducken." Taken from an old earth feast food called a turducken that was a chicken stuffed inside a duck and then stuffed inside a turkey. Either way, it was something on a scale neither had experienced in their young lives.
"Looks like the Phooson and the Otin are joining us in about 5 minutes," said Sito.
This had potential to get crazy.
All the ships had powered down their weapons. For now. The yacht Phooson didn't have any weapons, but the various warships, cruisers, and frigates stood ready to re-activate.
"Are you sure about this?" asked Driver.
"Sure? No. But who's ever sure of anything?"
Val was walking to the Vetara's transporter room, ready to beam down to the planet's surface. He was going to take a minimal bodyguard detail with him. Driver would be there. In addition, Corporal Morris and Private Evans would join.
Kejal watched Val step onto the transporter pad.
"Good luck, captain," she said.
"You're captain now," said Val. He could see Kejal's face turn a little worried, if she could be worried. "I mean, until I get back," he said, trying to reassure her that he would return. He hoped he would.
"Energize," said Val.
Kejal touched a few spots on the screen of the control console to carry out the order. She watched Val and his three MARCOs beam away.
The commanding officers of the eight warships sat at a large conference table along with Queen Djeena of Yammja and King Rufus of Olami. Scattered about the large room were also their aides and bodyguards. There must have been at least 50 people in the room.
"This cannot stand," said King Rufus. "This cannot stand! Pow Gows must be handed over this instant."
"Your people were on the verge of starving, Majesty. They still are," said Val.
The two of them summoned every iota of restraint to keep from getting off of their chairs and engaging in fisticuffs.
"You, Jang Shin, are a hypocrite of the highest magnitude!" screamed Rufus. "Don't think I am ignorant of your Starfleet. A captain, and I quote, has absolute authority over his officers, crew, and anyone aboard his vessel. Your men obey you to the letter. And not only that, if they betray you, you are authorized to execute them. And now you would rob me of that same right? How dare you? You are a captain. I am a King."
"You are going to quote Starfleet regulations to me?" said an irritated Val. "I make my living quoting regulations word for word. You were quite selective in your quotes, so let me fill in the blanks. First of all, Article 802 of Fleet regs say 'the Commanding Officer has the absolute responsibility for the safety, well-being, and efficiency of his ship and crew, and his authority is commensurate with that responsibility. Accordingly, a captain has absolute authority over his officers, crew, and anyone aboard his vessel.' Where the hell are you on your responsibility towards the well-being of your people, majesty?
Futhermore, the regs continue saying 'a captain's authority to carry out sentences is subject to the limitations prescribed by constitutional, statutory, interstellar, and regulatory law including United Federation Starfleet Regulations.' So please, don't make it sound like I can do whatever I want but am pulling up the rope ladder right after I've climbed up."
"That's enough," said Burke calmly, raising one of his hands to signal that the two of them needed to cool off.
Most of the other commanders of the Krowtonan High Guard had clearly already taken sides on this issue. Char Torb, along with her two subordinate commanders had sided with the King. Meanwhile, Pow Beeshar and Pow Dergo had sided with Val.
Pow Bena, the new commander of the Otin, seemed hesitant.
"Clearly, the King cannot be responsible for the well-being of all of his subjects," said Char Torb.
"Then he shouldn't claim authority over all of his subjects," retorted Val. "It's that simple. With power comes responsibility. That's how it works. You have both, or you have neither."
"This is madness," said Rufus. "Djeena, how do you tolerate this fool?"
"Choose your words wisely, cousin," said Djeena.
Although Rufus was almost 20 years older than Djeena, she ranked higher in the royal lines.
"These… gentlemen are responsible for this in the first place," said Rufus. He was about to call them something other than gentlemen, but restrained himself.
"I was requested to arrive here to evac Gows' troops. This came from Krowtona Prime," said Val.
"It's true, I gave him this order," said Jang Font.
"The villagers only started demanding the food after they read Earth history. They started chanting: 'The rich think you're weak, show them they're wrong. Block all the streets and show them you're strong.'"
"Catchy," said an amused Val.
"It's from your own history. Don't you know it?"
"You'll excuse me if I don't remember all the catchy jingles of Earth history."
"Early 21st century, A.D. Deep global recession strikes. Many lose their jobs. At the start of the second decade, the poor take to the streets, protesting against the rich. They start amassing in your home region, New York, in a small area containing the investment banks and corporate law firms which seemed to prosper while the rest of the economy declined. They called themselves Occupy Law Street, as that was where all the top law firms were concentrated. Ring a bell?"
"I'm sure I read about it in a history text somewhere. What is your point? That your people would've just quietly starved to death if they haven't read a history textbook? I mean, the French took to the streets and beheaded their royals at the guillotines. I guess you should be glad they skipped that particular chapter."
Rufus was horrified. He had not read about the French Revolution and this was the first time he was hearing about it.
"That can't be what democracy looks like," said a concerned Djeena.
"No, it's not. But it's what happens when you have large chunks of people living on the edges. You need to fix this problem, King Rufus," lectured Val.
"I'm not having this," said Rufus. "I'm the King here. You will do as I say."
"How about I overthrow you and make myself King," said a confident Val. "I'd like that. King Val. Has a nice ring to it. I'm sure I'd make ten times a better king you are."
Rufus was incensed. A couple of his bodyguards stepped up, showing that they would protect their king. Val's MARCOs did not react. They knew their captain wasn't serious.
"You think you can stop me?" asked Val. "You don't even have the proper air resources to airlift your stockpiles of food to the processing centers after the villagers blocked all your ground routes. You think I can't conquer your backwards planet in less than an hour?"
"Admiral!" pleaded an outraged Rufus.
"Val, I said that's enough," said Burke.
"I support Jang Shin on this," said Pow Beeshar, feeling a little bit brave, but also fearing the consequences. "Pow Gows took the proper course of action."
"I strongly disagree," said Char Torb.
The count was three ship commanders against three. Char Torb's three ships versus the Vetara, Yond, and Sullis. The Vetara was the strongest out of the six ships, but Torb's cruisers were stronger than the two frigates Yond and Sullis.
"I do feel Jang Shin's viewpoint is more than proper," said Pow Bena. "But of course, I am a part of the Admiral Maximus' battle group and I will follow his direction."
"Finally," thought Burke.
"That's right," said Burke to the group. "This isn't a committee. I'm not taking votes from ship captains. I'm the highest ranking High Guard official here and all High Guard ships will follow my instructions, is that clear?"
Everyone but Val reluctantly nodded their assent. Val didn't say anything. But then again, he didn't have to. Burke pulled him aside.
"I'm having a private word with Captain Shin. Take a breather," Burke said to the rest of the group.
Burke and Val walked over to a corner of the room where they could talk in private. They faced a large window. The two of them faced out, instead of to each other. The view was serene.
"Peaceful," commented Burke.
Burke then faced Val.
"Val, I don't need this. I can't have this," Burke said.
"I understand. I should not have gotten involved in this."
"Regardless, that's in the past. We'll move forward from here."
Burke handed Val an EvansPadd tablet. About half the size of a regular EvansPadd. Val scrolled through the information.
"We've just received reports from some of our scouts," said Burke. The information has been consistent across multiple advance scouts. They took almost a year to make the round trip journey and report, but you see the info that they gathered.
Val read through the reports. A squadron of Krowtonan scout ships reached an anomaly that the locals called the Nekrit Expanse. After debating whether to go through, half the scout ships went in, while the other half returned to report to Krowtona Prime. Several months later, the other scouts returned with some vague preliminary details of the alien races that lived on the other side of the Nekrit Expanse. These aliens were considerably stronger and possibly a much larger threat than anything the Krowtonan High Guard had ever faced. The biggest highlighted threat was from aliens who seemed to match Starfleet descriptions of the Borg. That would correspond with Starfleet's understanding that the Borg originated from the Delta quadrant. This was going to be a huge headache if the Borg ever decided to travel in Krowtona's direction. Burke had to prepare defenses. Another potential headache was a race of relatively large aliens called the Hirogen wolfpack. These aliens roamed in packs and deemed most other races as prey to hunt.
"I can't have this infighting amongst the Krowtonan," said Burke. "We need to stand united against these threats. I can't have Home Guard units defecting. Or High Guard ships from different battle groups fighting each other. We need to work through this."
"Like it or not, you now have sway with some High Guard ships. Ships in my own battle group, no less. I'm not saying they would follow you against my wishes. They probably wouldn't. But I would rather have you on my side. Can I count on you, Val? Can I count on you to help me defuse this situation?"
"Sure, Max. I don't want this thing to blow up. But at the same time, these kings shouldn't just allow their people to starve. There has to be a line drawn somewhere."
"I understand what you are saying, and that will be dealt with."
The two of them nodded.
Burke reconvened the meeting and basically told everyone what was going to happen. The Emperor had requested that Queen Djeena attend because the Emperor was hoping that if Olami could head towards reforms similar to Yammja, then the masses would be placated enough and not continue on the road to a more serious insurrection. Djeena was to convince Rufus of the advantages of moving toward a quasi-constitutional monarchy.
While Burke did not explain the exact nature of the potential new external threats to the Krowtonan Empire, he stressed that from here on out, the Krowtonan High Guard would no longer have the time or resources to help the local nobles fight their internal conflicts. High Guard units would be preoccupied on the borders and in various campaigns outside of Krowtonan space. Every fighting-capable Home Guard unit would also be called up into battle.
In addition, the local nobles would soon lose the ability to call upon Home Guard support units and use them in a battle capacity. This is what happened with Pow Gows and his brigade. They were a specialized brigade trained to fight forest fires and perform search and rescue after floods. Yet they were called up for riot control. Such a thing would no longer happen.
The changes to Krowtonan society would be slow and steady towards a less rigid class structure. There would still be nobles, but the gap between the top echelons and the bottom rungs would narrow. Getting rid of the internal class warfare would be the only way the Empire could remain stable enough to repel outside threats.
King Rufus was not pleased. But he would acquiesce to the Emperor's wishes.
"Skipper, you wanted to see me?" said Driver as he entered his captain's office.
"Yes," said Val. "Please, have a seat."
Staff Sergeant Driver took a seat, and could see that his captain was anxious.
"I have some disturbing news," said Val.
"Just rip the band-aid right off, sir," said Driver. "One quick motion."
"If we follow our route back to the Alpha quadrant, we will likely run into the Borg."
"I see…" said Driver.
"I'll still hold off for confirmation. Maybe there aren't that many of them. But chances are, they will be a significant roadblock."
"And you think we should take some massive detour?" asked Driver.
"Unfortunately, I am weighing the options right now and it may well be that our safest option is to stay here in Delta."
Driver didn't have any visible reaction to that. His MARCOs were brave, willing to fight against incredible odds. At the same time, they weren't suicidal. If there was an opponent that was insurmountable, best to avoid it.
"Thoughts?" asked Val.
"Remember way back when we first tried to activate this ship? We were simply looking to get off Voyager," said Driver.
"Yea, seems like such a long time ago."
"Well, our back-up scenario was to simply find a nice habitable planet to spend out the rest of our lives. That's not a horrible plan B."
"Do you have any feeling of how many of your MARCOs would rather risk it and fly through Borg space than to give up on going home?"
"Not sure. To be honest, I'm not even sure about myself," said Driver. "But look. You make the decision, we'll accept it."
"Speak freely, do you think I'm a coward to not push through?"
"Honestly, there's a difference between being a coward and being realistic. You gave a fun lecture to Rufus the other day. But it was still on the mark. The MARCOs may thrive on overconfidence. But your responsibility includes their well-being. That means if a retreat is called for, you give that order. There's no honor in foolishly sending your men to their deaths."
There were several moments of silence as Val digested that.
"By the way," said Driver. "If you ever make King, I'll follow you and captain your guards. Otherwise, I'm settling down on Evansworld."
Driver thought he would have to settle down sooner or later. At least it would make his mother happy. She might even be a grandmother! She had wanted that for the past several years. Too bad, even if it happened, she would probably never know about it.
Val laughed. "You really think I'm going to declare myself the King of Olami Six?" Val asked.
"Well… You know… Djeena called off her marriage. For you."
"Nah," Val waved Driver off. "That was something else. When she did it, we were speeding in the direction out of Krowtonan Space."
"I'm telling you," insisted Driver. "I saw the way she looked at you at the conference planetside. Of course, you must've missed it, working so hard to avoid eye contact with her and all. What was with that?"
"With what? I wasn't trying to avoid her."
Driver gave Val a quizzical look.
"Look, there was an important debate going on. I wasn't trying to avoid her. I was probably just distracted."
"Well, go be with her."
"Even if I wanted, her people would never allow it," said a defeated Val.
"She's a strong one. She won't let her people control her."
"To tell you the truth, she's kind of a …. overbearing."
Val chuckled. "Were you about to say a word that rhymes with witch?"
Driver smiled. "Maybe. Didn't want to offend your delicate sensitivities, you being a gentleman and all."
"She's hard to get. She's just trying hard to prove herself. Daddy wanted a boy. You know, that kind of thing."
"Well, she's decidedly a girl. Go be her prince," nudged Driver.
"You wished to speak with me, captain," said Kejal.
The two of them were in Val's quarters. Although informal, he wanted a private setting away from engineering or the bridge.
"I may soon decide that it is too dangerous to continue trekking across the Delta quadrant. The Borg-infested space on the other side of the Nekrit Expanse may be too much for the Vetara to handle."
"I see," said Kejal.
"I realize that I am not a Cardassian. Nor can I order you to stay in this quadrant. But I do feel some responsibility for you. It may be safer if you stayed here in Delta. I consider you one of my trusted officers. I will leave it your decision whether you want to take the Vetara back to Alpha yourself after we depart the ship."
"Why would you depart the Vetara?" asked Kejal. "You are her captain, and the Vetara is your home. If you decide you want to stay in the Delta quadrant, then the Vetara stays along with you."
"So, you'll stay here in Delta and just follow whoever is captain? I'll just hand down command and it'll keep going?"
"No," said Kejal. "Unfortunately, when you pass. The Vetara will be captainless."
"Kejal, when I depart, the Vetara will have a great captain," Val said. "She'll have you."
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