Chapter One: Follow the Enterprise!
Commander Shran tapped his fingers on the arm of his command chair impatiently. What was taking the Pink-Skins so long to enter the Triarian Star Portal? Shran and his crew had been meticulously following the starship Enterprise, commanded by the Human Captain Jonathan Archer, for days now. The third-hand cloaking device that they had bought from a gang of Orion pirates was not living up to its promise. His engineers had been working around the clock to try to apply the alien technology to The Kumari, their warship of the Andorian Imperial Guard. They were having limited success, to put it mildly. The blasted technology allowed them a few minutes of invisibility at best, but that would not be enough to fool Archer. They had been obliged to follow the warp trail of the Human starship, traveling at the greatest distance possible from the Enterprise without losing her position.
Shran’s antennae on top of his head twitched irritably as the blue-skinned Commander reached for the comm button.
“Status?” he asked his engineer, for what must have been the twentieth time.
“Unchanged, Commander,” the voice of his Chief Engineer, Ka’Jel Th’Rana, reported, “we keep blinking in and out. Those Green-Skin rogues who sold us this garbage technology ought to be blasted out of existence.”
“Keep at it,” he ordered Ka’Jel, “we just need it long enough to discover how Archer manages to access the Star-Portal. Those Triarian Fur-Skins are not going to be able to keep us out forever—especially not since they have the audacity to let in our enemies, the Vulcans!”
“Understood,” the Engineer responded, “Ka’Jel out.”
The Triars, a group of furry Ursine beings, had been hiding their secret base behind an alien Star Portal of some kind for centuries. The Triars were pacifists, and often hid behind other species’ technical defenses because they did not have enough courage to fight intruders themselves. That, it seemed to Shran, was no doubt why they were allowing Vulcans in, but not Andorians. The Triars had been puppets of the Vulcans for centuries: the relatively primitive Triars had probably been taken in by the Vulcans’ false sense of superiority. He thought that if he could just have access to one of their leaders, he could easily dupe the creature into allowing him access. From what he understood after reading the intelligence reports, the Triars had a mining outpost and a huge space station orbiting it. The outpost and station were known collectively as Kyarr, and it housed many species within its well-guarded perimeters.
Shran knew of only one Triar, and he was a portly, black-and-white diplomat known as Ambassador Cha’Kal. He had been in charge of conducting a torture session on Cha’Kal a number of years ago, when he was a young Lieutenant in the Imperial Guard. He had disliked the duty intensely, but he had followed orders nonetheless. Cha’Kal had annoyingly retained his sense of humor throughout the whole ordeal, and had offered him no information. He was finally freed by a group of Andorian peace protesters, who finally prevailed upon the government of Andoria to intervene on behalf of Cha’Kal and free him. Shran had been secretly relieved to have the torture duty end, and he had even apologized, albeit quietly, to the Triar for the shoddy treatment.
“That’s fine,” Cha’Kal had told him breezily as the protestors had wheeled him out on a gurney, “all in a day’s work, eh, Shran?”
Cha’Kal had not fit the profile of the “cowardly pacifist”; in fact, he had shown tremendous valor under the threat of pain and death. Shran had respected him greatly for his courage, but he had not told anyone about his opinions on the matter. To do so would have been to mark himself as a “soft” officer who was not fit to command a cloud of insects.
The Andorian Imperial Guard did not tolerate what it considered to be “too much compassion” in its soldiers. Compassion was considered a dangerous thing within the Imperial Guard, and Shran had needed to be careful to mask his as much as was possible given the various situations that he had been forced to deal with. His merciful attitude had, surprisingly, helped him to deal well with more than a few dangerous situations.
Still, it would not do to let his crew think that he was some old grandmother who enjoyed caring for children and little animals. He needed to be fierce and ruthless, if it served his people. He would be gentle with other beings only if he and his world could gain from it in the long run. He knew he needed to remember that, because there had been times in the past when he had dropped his guard and forgotten to be a rotten ice-slug. It wasn’t that honor wasn’t important to Shran—indeed, it was one of the most important things that he had learned from his clan as a young boy. It was just that, when one worked for the Imperial Guard, one needed to be very careful not to lose the respect of the other officers.
“Shran!” A voice called over the intercom, from the Medical Bay. Shran sighed. It was the pesky little doctor of The Kumari, Dr. Ra’Thel Ch’Soar. He was no doubt determined to be a pain in the backside again, this time over the group of prisoners that they had picked up on their last stop.
“What is it this time, Thel?” he asked, dropping his old friend’s title and clan names, “I hope you aren’t pampering the prisoners again?”
“I need you to come down here, now, Commander!” the physician pestered him, in a tone of voice that only Thel would dare to use with him.
“I cannot be at your beck and call all day long, you spoiled little Prince!” Shran shouted, pounding the arm of his command chair.
Thel was from a very wealthy Andorian family and had been a friend of Shran’s since childhood, but he often had a tendency to push his relationship with the Commander a little too far. He no doubt had a list of complaints about how the small creatures that were under his care had been treated during questioning by Shran’s men.
“I assure you, Commander, I am not bothering you for nothing. Please come down to the Medical Bay right now.”
Shran growled, getting up reluctantly and moving towards the turbo-lift.
“Lieutenant Talas, please mind the bridge while I am kicking a certain physician’s backside.”
“Yes, Commander,” Lt. Talas, Shran’s tactical officer, replied, “and may I say that I think Thel needs more than just one kick to keep him in line. If you would prefer, I could go and administer my boot to his physiological elements.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant, but I am in charge of boot-kicks around here,” Shran told her.
Thel was an Andorian “Ch’an” which was the name for the less aggressive “Beta-male” gender. Shran, on the other hand, was a Thaan, or “Alpha-male”. Like most members of his gender, Shran was in a more powerful position than many of his Ch’an brothers. The two female genders, Zhens and Shens, were the sister counterparts to the Ch’ans and Thaans; but the females tended to differ from one another in a far more subtle way than did the two male genders. Lieutenant Talas was a Shen, as were most of the military females. Zhens tended to be the ones who took on more compassion-oriented care giving tasks in Andorian society, as did their brother counterparts, the Ch’ans.
Ra’Thel Ch’Soar was one of the few Ch’ans on board The Kumari, and he took full advantage of it. Since there were no Zhens aboard the ship, the Thaans and Shens both vied for the affections of the Ch’ans. Thel knew that he was “in demand”, so to speak, and so he pushed his limits with Commander Shran, often to their breaking point.
Shran strode furiously towards the Medical Bay, determined not to let Thel manipulate him with his infernal guilt trips. As he entered, a group of small, furry, one-eyed beings jumped at him, biting his shoulders, nose, and antennae. Shran shook them off in one motion, but they were back again within a couple of seconds. Thel allowed the intermittent attacks to occur a number of times before he herded the pink, armless, two-legged creatures back to their holding cell.
“My guests needed to let off a little steam after your goons man-handled them earlier today,” Thel explained, “so I thought you deserved to be given a taste of your own medicine...Commander Thy’lek Shran.”
“You called me down just to have these little fur-flowers attack me?” Shran yelled, “I’ll have you know, Doctor Ra’Thel Ch’Soar, that I can have you thrown into the brig right here, and right now! I have other things that require my attention than babysitting these...stick-footed one-eyes!”
“Yes, that’s the problem, Thy’lek,” Thel argued, “You don’t give them more than a passing thought, but they are intelligent, sentient beings; and you’ve been torturing them as though they were cave-flies!”
“We haven’t been torturing them, Thel,” Shran countered, “We’ve been questioning them. If we had tortured them, it would have killed them—they’re not strong enough to withstand our methods.”
“Are you telling me that your people haven’t been hitting them? I’ve found more than a dozen bruises all over their little bodies, and I think it’s disgusting! Are we Andorians nothing but bullies?”
“I said we haven’t been torturing them,” Shran replied, “I didn’t say we haven’t administered some discipline. They are aboard an Andorian ship, and they need to learn respect for us.”
“If we want them to respect us, Thy’lek,” Thel replied a little more quietly, “perhaps we need to consider practicing respect ourselves.”
“All right, Doctor!” Shran snarled impatiently, “Is that all? You had me leave my duties on the bridge in order to give me another one of your morally superior lectures?”
“No, that is not all,” Thel informed him, “I have been learning how to communicate with these beings. They don’t vocalize; rather, they use a complex series of foot-taps which function as a kind of a code. They use...something like a language of dance. It’s very beautiful, and they were able to tell me more when I listened to them for a few moments than your people did after more than three hours of torture!”
“I told you, it was not torture!” Shran exploded, “Would you like me to give you a personal example of what torture is, Thel?”
“No, thank you,” Thel taunted him, “but it’s so kind
of you to offer, my dear Thy’lek. No,
what I wanted to tell you is that these beings know how to get into the...Star
Door, or whatever you call it. They are
aligned with the Triars, and they could have gotten us in much earlier, without
us having to waste our time with rubbish cloaking technology from Orion
Pirates. That way, we wouldn’t have to
sneak around spying on Archer and the Enterprise. Do you honestly think he hasn’t noticed
us following him by now?”