The World Has Changed (Station Day 333-3??)

Posts for all of Starbase 386's missions. Posts should show time and location in something close to the following format: "[Starbase 386 Promenade, Day 327, 1520 hours]" or "[USS Peacekeeper Bridge, Immediately following Previous Post]"

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Faith_Reed
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Re: The World Has Changed (Station Day 333-3??)

Post#16 » Mon Aug 31, 2015 8:34 pm

<USS Albatross, Day 346, 1713 hours>

The USS Albatross was a small vessel, built to keep a small group of diplomats happy for a few days time. She had been modified for speed, which made her able to outrun anything short of a Prometheus class starship. And that speed had been put to the test for the past few days, much to the displeasure of her normal commander and pilot.

Manley paced around the small area that could barely be called the bridge of his commandeered courier ship. They’d been flying at high warp for a day and a half and were finally nearing Kolaran… and the Neutral Zone. Stopping at the helm console that dominated the center of the small bridge, Manley tapped in a quick sequence of commands. One of them opened the intra-ship channel. “Dropping out of warp in three minutes,” Manley said. “ETA to Kolaran is ten minutes.”

An instant later, the Reed twins arrived on the bridge, the younger of the two in full Tal Shiar uniform. The sorry excuse for a bridge felt cramped, even with only four people in it. Faith almost felt claustrophobic. But then, it had been the case since she had left Earth, as she had grown accustomed to the large spaces the house afforded.

"A secure channel between the Albatross and the IRW Shiarrael has been established and tested, sir," Faith announced. "It's fully functional, and can be deactivated at any time by either you or me."

"I suggest doing so as soon as you get Captain Lange back into Federation space," Shamek interjected. "Once back on my ship, I'll have someone draw up the proper paperwork and send it to you via encryption."

“Any particular reason for the rush on that?” Manley asked.

"Securing a channel with a Norexan class ship has forced us to be creative," Faith answered.

She turned her attention to the viewscreen. In less than ten minutes, the Shiarrael would cross back into Rihannsu space and both ships would hug the Neutral Zone and rendez-vous at Tyrellia. After such a long leave, Faith was actually looking forward to it. She had been Earth-bound for far too long. Despite that, she had adjusted quite well, and had even managed to shove the metaphorical stick back up, if only a little. Old habits died hard, it seemed. On the other hand, she and Manley had barely acknowledged each other's presence, let alone talked. Keeping a professional distance would have to do for the time being.

“Right,” Manley said, more to himself than to anyone else. He’d long ago learned that Faith’s definition of ‘creative’ was not something to be pried into. And with her brother involved… he figured he’d just as soon not know the details. Easier to maintain the plausible deniability that way.

“May I remind you, Commander, that this ship only has enough fuel left for another ninety-three flight hours,” Lieutenant Uch’Thal interjected, his antennae twitching nervously, “After that we’re dead in space on emergency batteries only.” He was the courier’s nominal commanding officer, such as things went, as he also doubled as her Engineering crew. The rest of the small ship’s personnel consisted of a pilot (currently off duty), a medical hologram, and two M.A.C.O. privates to handle honor guard duties as needed.

“Relax, Lieutenant,” Manley answered. “By then we’ll either have Lange in custody and have access to the Peacekeeper’s fuel tanks, or we’ll be a small cloud of free-floating particles. Running out of gas is the least of our worries.”

Nice way to put them at ease, Faith thought, still looking out the viewscreen. Little did she know that she had accidentally projected her musings to Manley.

Manley looked at Faith, who was looking away from him. He could have sworn she’d spoken. “Did you say something?”

"Hmm? No, why?" she answered, immediately clamping her mind shut. It was but another consequence of being Earth-bound for too long. She'd have to remember to guard her mind at all times from now on.

An alert from the helm console distracted Manley before he could pursue it further. Manley tapped a quick command into the console, resisting the urge to sit down and make himself at home. “Dropping out of warp. Shamek, anything special I should be looking for when we enter orbit?”

Shamek blinked. He didn't remember being on a first name basis with Manley. "Well, aside from the obvious, and the asteroid belt nearby, we set up a few decoys so as to make it harder for Starfleet to detect us with their sensors, inlcuding yours," he answered, punching the coordinates for the various obstacles. "Besides, the Shiarrael is expecting us, Commander."

“How comforting,” Manley deadpanned. He looked over the list of coordinates, then overlayed them onto a tactical plot of the system. “Well, taking this into account, we should be in range in a little less than two minutes. If you’re ready for transport, and your ship is expecting enough to meet us part way, we should be able to skip entering orbit and use a gravity assist to boost us back out of the system a bit faster.”

"It's already been established that the Shiarrael will meet you just outside the decoy perimeter," the half-Romulan commander replied. "Transport should not be a problem."

"I'll accompany you to the transport pad when everyone's ready," Faith interjected. The tension in the room was so thick, one could slice through it. She didn't like it.

Manley merely nodded as he concentrated on piloting the small courier through the system. He waited until Faith and Shamek had left the small bridge before finally sitting down at the helm console. Still resisting the urge to configure the panel to his liking, he brought the Albatross into transporter range of the planet, then piloted the ship towards the position that Shamek had given for rendezvous with the Shiarrael.

“I don’t think he likes you,” Uch’Thal said into the silence. Manley glanced up with a look of annoyance for the young Andorian.

“You noticed that, huh? Excellent deductive skills.” Stopping himself before he said anything he’d really regret, Manley returned his attention to the console. “She’s my ex-fiancée. He’s her brother. That’s enough to make a man not like me, but they’re also the only survivors of their family and I’m dragging them into a diplomatic situation that could get them killed. I don’t think I’ll be welcome at the family home any time soon.”

Elsewhere, the two siblings walked in uncomfortable silence until Faith broke it when they entered the lift. "What in bloody Arreinye is your problem? You've done nothing but insult him," she scolded him. The object of his insults had no doubt noticed as well.

"So you've noticed. But then, so have you," he replied, smirking.

"I don't see how I can insult him when we barely acknowledge each other's presence," she remarked. "Please, enlighten me."

"It's all in the subtleties, sister. Your very presence insults him. He had no choice but to seek you out. He has conflicting feelings towards you. Elements, just the way he looks at you, it's disgusting," he explained as he punched in their destination.

Faith frowned. "It's called contempt. After what happened, I can hardly blame him." Indeed, she had been angry at herself for so long for what she did, she could understand if he still held a grudge.

"No, no. Again, it's in the subtleties. Contempt is transporting out of thin air and not bothering to call on you beforehand, let alone knock on your door. The way he looks at you, steals glances when you're not looking, that's something else entirely. That's lust. Pure and simple."

"So...you hate him because he's still lusting after me."

"No, I hate him because he's arrogant and conceited. Because he assumes too much."

"Reminds me of someone," Faith muttered.

"And because he's stupid and insignificant in the grand scheme of things," Shamek continued, as if he had not heard what Faith had just said.

"Aren't we all," she responded, relieved they were entering the transporter room. She didn't want this conversation to continue.

"It's something to think about. In the meantime do me a favour."

"Anything."

"Be safe. And don't let that lhonae drag you down to Arreinye with him," he advised, stepping on the transporter pad. "Jolantru, rinam. I'll see you on the other side."

Commander Thomas Manley, Jr
Commanding Officer
Starbase 386

Shamek tr'Danrinillieu
Commanding Officer
IRW Shiarrael
as played by Cmdr Reed
Commander Faith Reed
Executive Officer
Starbase 386

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Faith_Reed
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Re: The World Has Changed (Station Day 333-3??)

Post#17 » Fri Sep 04, 2015 9:21 pm

<USS Albatross, Day 349, 0921 hours>

Manley’s eyes were glued to the sensors. He knew that this was the most dangerous point of their trip thus far. They’d managed to bluff the Klingon officials as to their reason for crossing the Empire so near the Romulan border. They’d managed to maintain contact with Shamek’s vessel for most of the trip. But now they had to actually get into Romulan territory without being noticed by whatever patrols might still be operating in this area. The Star Empire might be in chaos, but their military commanders would still be very willing to protect their home space from any incursion by a Federation vessel.

Faith straightened her uniform as she entered the bridge. Her brother had sent a highly encrypted entry certificate over the secure channel, which she had had to decrypt on her own. Her brother had the nasty habit of using complicated encryptions; although it had presented a challenge, it had been unnecessary.

She rubbed the bridge of her nose as she walked towards Manley. "Here," she said, handing him the PADD. "This should take a weight off your shoulders. Decrypted, signed and supposedly in the Senate database. Getting in shouldn't be a problem." She was actually pleased with herself, for once.

“As long as any patrols we run into bother to check,” Manley muttered as he took the PADD. He quickly keyed in the information, then sat down to wait as the range indicator on the helm ticked down. Glancing up at Faith, he belatedly added, “Thanks.”

"Mmm hmm." She stared out the viewport, rubbing her temples. This wasn't the time for a migraine. "The document clearly states that we'll be escorted by the Shiarrael. Patrols won't check if we're accompanied by a Tal Shiar ship."

Drumming his fingers impatiently on the edge of the console, Manley looked at Faith again. “I guess the Senate database is backed up somewhere other than Romulus. Any other systems that would have been centered at the capital that might have backups running we may need to worry about?”

"I suppose. It's not a question I can answer, however," she said, wincing. She probably did know the answer, but she couldn't focus enough to pick her own brain. Fortunately, she had her back turned to Manley, so he couldn't see the onset of her migraine.

“I should have expected that, I guess,” Manley said softly as he checked the sensor display. They were officially inside the boundary of the Romulan Star Empire now. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t totally trust in the rationality of patrol commanders, though. No offense intended, but there are Romulans that make Starfleet Intelligence’s more paranoid departments look trusting by comparison.”

Faith took out a hypo from her pocket and discreetly pressed it against her neck. "None taken," she replied, relieved that the pain was subsiding, for now. "It's understandable that they'd exercise caution, now more than ever. The Federation is most likely the lesser of evils, in their opinion, only because we're not set on invading, unlike certain other powers. Nonetheless, I suggest you don't ruffle any feathers if we come into contact with a patrol."

“I don’t ruffle feathers,” Manley retorted with a smile, “I skip straight to pissing people off. Especially people that don’t like me anyway. Your brother, for instance.”

"And those same people may demand your head if it will satisfy mnei'sahe, and I may not be around to prevent them from doing so. But I'm sure you can take care of yourself."

Manley frowned. He wasn’t sure he liked where this conversation was heading. But, he was never one to shy away from the rabbit hole once he reached it. “You’re going to prevent people from having my head?”

"Well, I'm bound by duty to help you keep it, at the very least," she replied, smirking. "Prevention, on the other hand, would require a considerable amount of tact."

“That never was my strong suit,” Manley muttered. “I guess I’ll let you do the talking if we run into trouble.”

"Well, speak of the devil," Faith remarked as she saw a patrol uncloak. Let's see how far s'Danrinillieu reaches, she thought as the hailing frequencies were solicited. According to the sensors, their weapons were already ready to fire if anything should displease them. "Shields and onscreen?" she asked.

“On screen, yes. Shields we’ll leave off for now. They’ve got us a bit out-gunned anyway, and we’re supposedly on an authorized mission,” Manley answered after a moment’s consideration. He did slide just a bit closer to the controls for the maneuvering thrusters, holding his hand at the ready in case he had to execute evasive maneuvers quickly.

A non-descript Rihanssu appeared on the viewscreen. Traditional male haircut, wearing an Imperial Navy uniform. "This is Subcommander Mandukar i-Iuruth of the IRW Dhael. Identify yourselves and state your business in Imperial territory."

Faith seamlessly switched to Rihan, although the UT translated her words to Federation Standard. "Lieutenant-Commander Shakrin i-Liverpool t'Danrinillieu, of the USS Albatross. We've been authorized by the Senate to render aid to the sector's colonies," she explained. It felt odd to hear two completely incompatible languages spoken simultaneously.

Manley had always loved the sound of spoken Romulan, but the situation and the contrast between the Romulan words Faith was speaking and the harsh, computerized translation to Standard kept him from appreciating it in this instance.

Subcommander i-Iuruth cocked an eyebrow, unconvinced. He hadn't been advised to expect a Starfleet vessel passing through the sector. However, the rumours were indeed true; there was a member of House Danrinillieu serving in Starfleet. "We'll require the proper documents, of course...half-breed," he replied, gesturing at one of his officers to confirm Faith's identity.

Faith narrowed her eyes, struggling to keep her temper in check. Who did he think he was, a lowly commoner, calling the Head of s'Danrinillieu a half-breed? Did he not know that her House had once been one of the most loyal to the Praetor? Nonetheless, she transferred over the document Shamek had sent her. She waited patiently as the Rihannsu reviewed the documents, closely watching his reaction when he saw that she was truly whom she claimed to be, and realized his potentially fatal mistake.

He then whispered something in an officer's ear, no doubt ordering her to check the databases to make sure the document Faith had just sent wasn't a fake. Besides, the document was more for Manley's benefit. As a Rihannsu and Federation citizen, Faith was allowed to travel freely between both territories.

After what seemed like an eternity, the Subcommander spoke again. "A joint operation with the Shiarrael, commanded by none other than Commander Shamek i-Liverpool tr'Danrinillieu. Coincidence?"

"You're welcome to ask him yourself," she answered, being intentionally vague. "We weren't informed of the Shiarrael's crew complement; we were only advised to be in contact as soon as possible."

"You can be certain I will inquire about the situation. In the meantime, you may proceed," Subcommander i-Iuruth decreed, although with a condescending tone.

Manley cocked an eyebrow at the Subcommander’s tone, evident even through the translation. There was a time, he mused, when something like that might have been the trigger for him to lose his cool.

"Thank you. A word of advice, Subcommander: remember to whom you are addressing yourself next time we meet. Albatross out." Faith let out a long breath when she cut the connection. "He certainly does live up to his name," she remarked after a few moments.

“My Romulan was never great, as you well know,” Manley replied, “what does his name mean?” As he spoke, he quickly assured himself that they were on course and that the patrol vessel was resuming its station. After a few seconds the sensor blip flickered away as the Dhael cloaked.

"'Mandukar' means 'cautious one', i-Iuruth indicates the location of his birth. The lack of a Name of House means he's a commoner," Faith replied, wondering why Manley would be curious about such trivial aspects of Rihannsu culture. "Why do you ask?"

“Idle curiosity, mostly,” Manley replied. He grinned. “I wondered if maybe his name translated to ‘nosy dickhead’ or something. At least if he’s a commoner he theoretically doesn’t have the clout with any surviving government structure to cause major trouble for us… other than the shooting and fiery death variety, that is.”

"In theory. You never know, he may have friends in high places, although they'll be much more preoccupied by their own affairs than by his. Besides, he won't find anything wrong with our documents. Arreinye, even I had a hard time recognizing it was a forgery," Faith remarked, smirking. "But then, it couldn’t have been that hard to do, considering." If Shamek had been able to fake his own death, surely forging an official document didn't pose a challenge.

Manley nodded. “I’ll hope for the best on that, but you’ll understand if I prepare for the worst case, I’m sure. Times like these can make people act strangely.”

“Of course,” she responded. Her migraine medication decided to wear off right at that moment, and it felt like her head was going to split in two. She barely had the energy to speak in any cohesive manner. She rubbed her rubbed her temples and shut her eyes in a vain attempt to keep the pain at bay. “How much time until we... catch up to your friend?”

“We’ve got about an hour until we reach the sector Lange was heading for. Unless he was pushing the Peacekeeper’s engines to the meltdown point, he should only be a few hours ahead of us,” Manley said. “But I don’t know the exact coordinates he was headed to.”

Faith meekly nodded. This migraine was being so relentless she wanted to scream. “I’ll...I’ll go and… track warp signatures in a... very dark... very quiet... place.”

Turning towards her, Manley frowned. He had noticed an ever increasing edge to her voice, along with shorter and more clipped responses. And now this. “Are you alright, Faith?”

Faith waved him off as she left the bridge; she actually hoped he wouldn’t notice. “Nothing... a cup of... ginger tea or three...can’t fix,” she lied, trying to reassure him. She wasn’t sure she was even successful at doing that. She’d definitely have to sleep this one off.

(OFF)

Commander Thomas Manley, Jr.
Commanding Officer
Starbase 386
Commander Faith Reed
Executive Officer
Starbase 386

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Faith_Reed
Executive Officer
Posts: 7

Re: The World Has Changed (Station Day 333-3??)

Post#18 » Wed Sep 09, 2015 9:09 pm

<Faith's Quarters, USS Albatross, 0945 hours>

“Bloody Arreinye!” Faith cursed as she stumbled in her quarters. It had been a long time since she’d had a migraine this painful; she definitely didn’t miss it. And it was obvious Manley had noticed; she had been hoping against hope that he wouldn’t. And when he noticed, he asked questions. And she wasn’t ready to answer those questions.

She quickly undressed and scattered her uniform on the floor. In this situation, even her bra was constricting. She pressed a few buttons on the computer in her quarters: instructions to scan for Federation warp signatures other than their own and report findings to the bridge, and separate instructions to wake her up in four hours. Absolutely no sounds. Turn off lights. Blind the windows. Sleep.

<Later>

Manley stopped outside Faith’s door. He wasn’t sure this was the right thing to do, especially right now. On the other hand, he wasn’t sure it was wrong, either... and they’d put off this discussion for years already. At least, if they ended up having the discussion he was trying to start, they had. It was equally possible that they’d end up off topic entirely, as had happened more than once before.

With a sigh, whether of resignation, acceptance, or something else he wasn’t entirely sure himself, Manley pressed the door chime... and waited.

Faith groaned unintelligibly as she heard the sound, her arms still wrapped around a massive pillow, a sheet tangled with her legs. For a moment, she thought it was the computer waking her up, then realized it was the door chime. “Who’s it?” she asked in the pitch black room, rubbing her eyes, but not bothering to get out of bed.

“Who do you think?” Manley asked, perhaps a touch more sarcastically than he intended. With another sigh, he softened his voice and added, “It’s Tom.”

Bloody shit on a stick... She buried her head in the pillow. She was in no mood for this. “Go away!” she called, but it sounded muffled, even to her.

Manley heard a response, but couldn’t make out the words. Knowing Faith, though, it was probably something along the lines of “go away”... or a Romulan curse... With a shrug, Manley pressed the override sequence into the door control and stepped inside as the door hissed open.

She slowly turned her head to face Manley, squinting as her eyes gradually got used to the sudden light. Her brain was still throbbing, but it wasn’t nearly as painful as it had been earlier, thank karma. “What part of “Go away” don’t you understand, exactly?” she asked.

“You know I was never good at following instructions,” Manley retorted. “That’s why I’m still a commander instead of some level of Admiral by now.” He caught a brief glimpse of something on Faith’s bare leg as the door hissed shut again. “Computer, lights at 10 percent.”

“Really? I was perfectly happy with it being dark,” she protested, shielding her eyes. She untangled the sheet and rolled over on her back, wrapping it around herself. She then slowly sat up on her bed, lest she get dizzy. “Now, what do you want?”

“Always straight and to the point. Are you sure you’re not Klingon?” Manley shook his head. “Nice tattoo, by the way. I want to talk. We haven’t done much of that in, oh, what’s it been, five or six years?”

“Thank you. Jonathan drew it.” The phoenix covering much of her left calf was now the only one of two tattoos she had. She had had all her older ones removed, save one, years ago. “You’ve been ignoring me for the better part of a week, and now you want to talk. Great timing, really. Bravo,” she retorted, slowly clapping her hands.

Despite himself, Manley chuckled. “Well, we might be dead in a few hours, so now seemed like a good idea. And I haven’t been ignoring you.”

“Yes, you have. No hello’s, no how’ve-you-beens, and we’ve crossed each other’s paths ten million times.”

“No, I haven’t. I’ve been trying to respect your space while I figured out whether it was worth crossing old bridges again.” Manley paused and took a breath. “I think it is. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m crazy, but I think we should talk.”

“While I’m rolled up in a bed sheet, practically naked, mid-migraine. Like I said, exquisite timing.” She rolled over again, trying to reach for her discarded tank top, not quite able to grab it, unless she was willing to fall off the bed and completely embarrass herself. She looked up at Manley with big puppy eyes, her fingers still outstretched. “I can’t reach.”

“You know,” Manley said as he moved closer, kneeling to pick up the discarded tank top, “Aside from the migraine, that describes some of my fondest memories of our time together.” He sat on the edge of the bed and held out the tank top, then looked away. “Why did you leave?”

The dreaded question. She had rehearsed the answer for years and years, and never found a way to formulate it to her satisfaction. She had even written it down several times, but the words just weren’t right.

She sighed as she slipped on the tank top. She hadn’t talked about this particular topic since therapy, and it was just as difficult now as it had been then. There was no way of avoiding it now, and she didn’t have any more excuses. “Long story short, I was absolutely terrified.”

Manley turned towards her in surprise. He had prepared himself for many possible answers, but that had not been one of them. “Terrified? Of what?”

“Of me. I was going mad. The nightmares, the headaches, the voices. Especially the voices. Things only got worse when Shamek ‘died’.” She made little airquotes with her fingers. “I just couldn’t get a grip on myself. I was afraid of what I’d be able to do, given that I can kill a man with my bare hands under the right conditions,” she blurted out, on the verge of tears. Her fingers were fidgeting. “Leaving, and giving myself up to the doctors at UP to figure out what the hell was wrong with me, seemed like a better option than...”

Manley waited, calmly. He was fairly sure he knew what was coming, or at least part of it, but he didn’t want to say anything yet. He had to hear what she actually wanted to tell him.

Faith wiped the tears from her eyes, and found that her hands were shaking. “...than giving in to the madness and killing the one person I couldn’t live without.”

She burst into tears. She was relieved it was finally out, but deeply ashamed that it happened the way it did. She’d been angry at herself for so long for what she’d done...“I’m so sorry. Words can’t express how fucking sorry I am for doing this to you...” she whispered.

Manley sat silent for a moment. He was again surprised by the whole revelation. After a moment he reached out and wrapped his arms around Faith and pulled her closer to him. “If I’d known... If... I would have...” he couldn’t decide what to say. Finally, he simply said, “I hated you for leaving... for a long time. But after that passed... I, well, I never got over you.”

“That makes two of us,” she replied as she relaxed in his arms. She didn’t even remember the last time she felt this safe. She reached for a tissue so she could blow her nose. “I’m sorry it took me so long to tell you. And I’m sorry I hurt you. It was selfish of me to leave the way I did. It wasn’t right.” She let out a long breath. “I’ve missed you. So where does that leave us?”

“Right here, together,” Manley said softly. “Beyond that, I don’t know... but if I’m honest, I never did. You always had a way of making me feel like now is what matters and tomorrow will sort itself out.”

Faith chuckled. “Tomorrow usually finds a way to sort itself out. And today is usually what matters most.” She paused for for a moment. “Is my apology accepted then?”

Manley smiled at her. He thought about what he could say, but decided that words simply would not work. With slow, gentle movement he raised his hand and lifted her chin, then kissed her on the lips.

Faith wrapped her arms around his neck just as the kiss broke. “Um...I’ll...um...take that as a ‘yes’.” Karma take her, she was blushing like a schoolgirl. She kissed him back, bringing him down on the bed with her, even though she was still wrapped up like a caterpillar. “Seems you have me at a tactical disadvantage,” she whispered.

“Maybe, but I think it’s win-win,” he whispered back. “But I must admit, I think you’re slipping. That’s twice I’ve used that trick on you.” Without waiting for a response, he pulled her closer to him, kissing her again.

<OFF>

Commander Thomas Manley, Jr.
Commanding Officer
Starbase 386
Commander Faith Reed
Executive Officer
Starbase 386

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Manley
Commanding Officer
Posts: 6

Re: The World Has Changed (Station Day 333-3??)

Post#19 » Fri Oct 30, 2015 6:19 pm

ON: <Faith's quarters, USS Albatross, Day 349, 1252 hours>

Manley woke with a start. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been asleep, the last thing he remembered was… That thought prompted a smile, and he rolled over to see Faith laying next to him, apparently still asleep. He wasn’t sure what had awakened him.

“Uch’Thal to Manley, please respond,” came the voice from his commbadge, which was laying (along with his uniform jacket) on the floor nearby. That would explain the sudden wake up.

Manley slid off the bed as carefully as he could while also moving at a decent speed. Scooping up the jacket, he tapped the commbadge. “Manley here. Go ahead, Lieutenant.”

“We’ve detected the Peacekeeper, sir. At present speed, time to intercept is thirty-five minutes,” the Andorian CO/Engineer of the Albatross responded. “And our fuel reserves are at critical levels.”

“Acknowledged, Lieutenant,” Manley responded, suppressing a sigh. He tapped the commbadge again to close the channel and turned around to look at Faith. It didn’t surprise him to see that she was now awake and looking back at him.

“Well, bloody shit on a stick. Stranded and dead. I like the sound of that,” she stated, rising from the bed and heading for the washroom. “Might as well get cleaned up for this momentous occasion.”

“Such a lovely image, Faith. I think I’ll be skipping breakfast after that one,” Manley quipped as he gathered up his uniform. “Is there room for two in there, or should I head back to my quarters for a shower?”

“Coming from a man who would kill for a decent breakfast, I highly doubt it,” she responded as she inspected the washroom. Not the most lavish she had ever seen, but it was hardly spartan. “I think we could both squeeze in there.”

“Pity we don’t have time to enjoy a joint shower,” Manley said as he stepped into the small washroom. “So the question is, who showers first? I’ll probably be quicker, but I can wait if you’d like.”

“It’d be wise if we didn’t get there together. I don’t think either of us wants to give them another reason to talk.”

Manley smiled. It was true that ever since Manley had brought Faith aboard the small crew of the high speed courier had been spending most of their time speculating on why the two were so awkward in each other’s company. “Yeah, I think they’ve already had enough opportunity for rampant speculation. I should probably arrive first, since Uch’Thal contacted me directly and I would have had to call you had I not been here already.”

“Of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” She smiled to herself, recalling what she had heard in the past few days. “I must admit though, this crew has a very active imagination. They tell the most scandalous things.”

“You wouldn’t think such a small group could generate so much gossip,” Manley replied with a shake of his head. “But, I guess they really don’t have much else to do. The ship can run itself , after all.”

“Of course. At least until we’re stranded. Or dead. Or stranded and dead. All alone, in Rihannsu territory, there’s only one person who can save us!” she declared, being deliberately dramatic.

“I’m going, I’m going,” Manley said with a small grin as he quickly stepped into the sonic shower. It would only take a few moments for the sonic systems to clean him, versus several minutes for the more relaxing, old-fashioned water shower.

Faith leaned on the wall while she waited her turn. “I’ve been thinking.”

“That’s dangerous,” Manley quipped as the sonic shower hummed around him. After a few seconds it completed its cycle and shut off. “What’s on your mind?”

“You do realize that I’ll probably be headed home when all this is done and over with. Or I might go on a photo safari in South Africa.” She smiled. She had many lovely memories of Africa, and maybe South Africa was a good idea, if she didn’t have anything lined up once she was done going through all those wills and testaments. “Well, what I mean is, I don’t have an assignment waiting for me, while you’ll probably be going back to Starbase 386.”

“Maybe,” Manley responded, suddenly thoughtful. He really hadn’t taken the time to think about that aspect of this adventure. He’d been too focused on catching Lange, without getting himself or the Captain killed. He was also trying to figure out how to help rescue Lange’s family without creating the exact type of interstellar incident that Lange was in danger of sparking. “On the other hand, they’re going to have to replace Captain Lange… Might have already. I could very well return to find I’ve been reassigned.”

“And there isn’t a chance in Arreinye that they’ll give me a high-profile assignment.” It was her turn for a very short sonic shower. “Or want me anywhere near Rihannsu territory anyway. Some people are still worried I’ll defect and join the Imperial Navy, or worse.”

“Afraid you’ll follow your brother?” Manley asked as he quickly combed his hair.

“Shamek, for all intents and purposes, is dead. Besides, he didn’t go by Shamek i-Liverpool tr’Danrinillieu at the time. He went by his middle name.”

“Right,” Manley answered, stepping out of the small bathroom to collect his uniform. He started pulling it on as he re-entered. “I wouldn’t put it past some of your detractors to know or suspect that he’s alive, though.”

“There’s no doubt about it. But I’ll cross that bridge when the time comes. You should be on the bridge, sir.”

“Right,” Manley said. He checked his commbadge and pips in the mirror to make sure they were on straight. The nanoadhesion elements on them were supposed to keep them affixed to certain points of special material woven into the uniform’s fabric, which should keep the pips in place and the badge upright, but Manley had more than once found his commbadge askew or a pip in danger of slipping off. “See you there.”

Assuring himself that the very slight rumpling of his uniform jacket would either not be noticed or be attributed to a hurried dressing, Manley headed out the door and towards the bridge of the small ship.

Faith took a few moments to tie her hair back into a slick ponytail with a perfect fringe, then looked back at the uniform she had so carelessly discarded. She could see the wrinkles from where she stood.

This would not do. At all.

OFF:

Commander Faith Reed
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Starbase386
Tony
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Commander Thomas Manley, Jr
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Starbase 386

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Re: The World Has Changed (Station Day 333-3??)

Post#20 » Sat Oct 31, 2015 7:44 am

ON: <Elsewhere, Day 349, 1318 hours>


Draco was still cloaked when it encountered the small Starfleet ship; not the one its occupant was pursuing. She noted that this one, perhaps coincidentally, was following a similar course as her own. Could this ship be the one sent to intercept the derelict ship?

“We have a few options,” the ship’s AI intoned, as if reading her mind. “We could hail them, decloak and wait for them to hail us, or we could simply follow them, see if they’re really going in the same direction.”

“Show me the crew manifest of that ship before we do anything,” she answered. A skeleton crew. One of the names piqued her curiosity. “Ooh, this has just gotten interesting…”

[USS Albatross]

Faith entered the bridge only a few minutes after Manley, almost looking ready for a uniform inspection. “You called, sir?” she asked, as if Manley hadn’t just spent a few hours in her quarters.

Manley stifled the grin that threatened to cross his face, then nodded calmly. He was careful to keep his gaze fixed on the screen ahead of him. “Yes, Commander, I did. We should be intercepting the Peacekeeper shortly.”

A black ship roughly the size of a runabout decloaked. But this ship...this ship was much more sophisticated than a simple runabout. “Bloody Arreinye…”

Manley frowned as the small vessel decloaked. He didn’t much care for surprises and this definitely fell into the complication column. He turned towards Faith, looking at her quizzically. “Someone you know?”

“Either we’re in luck, or we’re dead.” Faith’s eyes were glued to the viewscreen. “Lieutenant, please do find out what she wants.”

“She?” Manley asked softly, almost to himself as Uch’Thal hurried to the communications panel. After a moment the screen flickered, then cut away from the view of their new visitor to show the ship’s pilot.

An Orion woman, all dressed in black leather, wearing more daggers than should be legal, appeared onscreen. “Well, well, fancy finding you here, Commander. Or Lady, as you should be called in these parts,” she said, smirking.

Faith pursed her lips. “What are you doing here, Marahil? Is someone here on your hitlist?”

The mercenary grinned. “Don’t I just wish. I’m sure at least one of you would prove to be a good challenge. But no, not on a hit. Field trip.”
“Field trip.” Faith didn’t trust, nor believe, a word the other woman had just uttered. “In the middle of the Rihannsu badlands.”

“A certain Captain Lange came to me for some information. I’m merely curious to know what he’s doing with it.”

“So you can blow him out of space for the trouble?” Manley asked coldly.

Marahil finally turned her attention to the man who had just spoken. “Oh please. I don’t make it a habit to kill former commanding officers, as fond of the sound of their own voice as they are,” she retorted, rolling her eyes.

Manley was taken aback by that response. Former commanding officer? She had worked with Lange. He decided the quickest way to find out was to ask. “Who, exactly, are you?”

“I’ve had no shortage of names over the years. Dedriana Marahil, Claw, ra’Shatan’ha, amongst others. Take your pick.” Marahil’s reputation preceded her even here, she was sure.

Manley had heard the latter two names she listed, and not in good light. Well, good at what she did, but not good for those who encountered her. Still, he nodded, trying to buy a few seconds for a records search. “I’ve heard of you. I’m rather surprised you’d have any association with Starfleet. Or was it the Federation Merchant Service?”

Dedriana shrugged. “Many people have heard of me, and looks can be deceiving. Trust me.”

The console pinged softly and Manley glanced down. He had to force himself not to gawk at the information displayed there. Marahil, it seemed, had been in Starfleet for a number of years. A full commander and executive officer of a starship, under the command of one Captain James Lange.

“What’s so surprising? Former pirates can’t rise through Starfleet ranks anymore?” she asked, running a hand through her hair, then scratching her left temple.

Faith a caught a glimpse of her Borg implants, which evidently had still not been dealt with. She supposed the mercenary had just learned to live with them. She kept her silence; this wasn’t the time to broach the subject.

“It’s not exactly common,” Manley replied. “But, if your intentions aren’t hostile, then I have no grounds to object to your presence.” Not, he thought to himself, that he had the firepower to effectively object even if he had grounds. Nor the fuel.

“I merely wanted to observe the turn of events. Mr. Lange does have a knack for getting himself into trouble, after all.”

“We should be within the Peacekeeper’s sensor range within moments,” Uch’Thal warned.

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Manley replied. He looked back to the main screen and addressed Marahil. “You may want to hide again. I’m not sure whether we’ll have managed to catch Captain Lange before he gets in over his head or not, but I’d rather not spook him. I’m pretty sure he’s expecting me, though.”

Marahil merely bowed her head. “Of course he is. I’ll be around if you need an extra set of hands,” she offered, and abruptly closed the channel before engaging her cloak.

The seconds ticked by slowly as the Albatross crept closer to the Peacekeeper’s estimated position on the tactical display. Manley kept a nervous eye on the fuel indicator he’d called up on the helm panel. He’d never piloted a ship below one quarter of its fuel capacity, matter or antimatter. And the Albatross was now desperately low on the latter type of fuel. If they didn’t reach the Peacekeeper when they had estimated, they’d be out.

In theory the ship could sustain itself indefinitely on hydrogen gathered from space as it travelled. The Impulse drives would run on that collected matter for years just as happily as it would the deuterium that was normally used for starship fuel. But a ship relying on the Impulse drive’s fusion generators for power and propulsion would never make it past warp 2, and would likely suffer severe relativistic effects as it accelerated.

The tactical display chimed an alert as the blip representing the Peacekeeper’s estimated position moved into the smaller vessel’s sensor range. Manley quickly checked the sensors . Nothing. He frowned. Granted, the position they’d estimated for intercepting the Peacekeeper was simply an extrapolation of intelligence about Lange’s destination combined with the most recently known performance metrics of the vessel, but if they were too far off…

Manley checked the sensors again. Still nothing. A third time. Nothing. The Peacekeeper’s estimated position was quickly approaching the limit of real-time, light-based sensors. Manley checked the sensors again… and then he noticed it. A slight distortion in the background radiation localized within a few thousand meters of where they thought the Peacekeeper would be. They hadn’t estimated wrong, Lange was hiding.

“Found him! Bearing 003 mark 2. He found himself a cloaking device,” Manley announced as he turned to face Faith. “Any thoughts on how to make him a little more visible?”

“I read somewhere that they used tachyon fields… nets… webs... to detect cloaks. I don’t remember. Let me look it up.” She pressed a few keys on the console before her, and tapped her fingers impatiently. “Here. Looks simple enough to set up, no?”

Manley stepped over to Faith’s console and looked at the diagrams being displayed there. There were a couple of options shown, but the one that they’d need was the single ship deployment. “That could work. Do you want to tackle the tachyons or the torpedo?”

“I’ll take care of the torpedo, sir.” She always took care of the torpedoes. “You know this ship more than I do.”

Manley smirked as he moved back to his own console. He could see Uch’thal fidgeting over at the engineering display. The poor Andorian lieutenant was simply not cut out for the types of scenarios that Manley and Faith took as a matter of course at this point in their careers. He was likely one of many very capable officers rushed through training and pressed into service that required more than “capable” after the Dominion War had slashed through nearly a generation of Starfleet personnel, trying to fill a void that would take far longer to truly remove.

Faith almost took pity on the nervous lieutenant. This was most likely his first mission outside Federation territory, which were rarely pleasant, especially in Rihannsu space. She had been like him once, and circumstances over the years had hardened her. They would do the same to him, in time.

After a few moments of button tapping, muttered curses, and forcing commands through the computer’s safely locks via overrides, work-arounds, and sheer force of will, Manley looked back over at Faith. “I’m ready whenever you are, Commander.”

Now that the hard part was done, all that was left to do was engage the torpedo launch sequence. Small ships like this one didn’t require any fancy configurations, and it only took moment to go through the whole process. Her index finger hovered over the launch key. She lifted her gaze at Manley and raised an eyebrow. No need for words at this point.

Manley engaged the tachyon burst, directing a stream of faster than light particles at the sensor echo he’d spotted minutes earlier. He nodded back to Faith.

“Let there be light,” she announced as her finger fell on the launch key and let a torpedo fly directly at Lange’s ship. While it didn’t fully reveal the vessel when it released the energy burst, it did create a faint bluish glow around it. “It won’t last forever, so we had better make the most of it while we still can.”

Manley smirked at Faith’s declaration. His hands quickly darted across the helm console, triggering a shot from the courier’s limited weaponry that passed 15 meters from the Peacekeeper’s port bow. “That should get his attention.”

A few quick taps at the console brought up the communication systems. A few more taps and he’d opened a hailing channel. “USS Peacekeeper, this is the USS Albatross. You are ordered to disengage cloak and drop out of warp. Please respond.”

Commander Thomas Manley, Jr
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Starbase 386
Commander Faith Reed
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Re: The World Has Changed (Station Day 333-3??)

Post#21 » Fri May 20, 2016 9:03 pm

<USS Peacekeeper, Day 349, 1354>

Lange was napping fitfully on the couch of his former ready room. Every few minutes he’d doze off, then moments later start awake. All of his attempts at sleep had gone this way since he’d entered Romulan space. Finally he was startled to full alertness by an alert klaxon.

“Computer,” Lange muttered, rubbing his eyes, “Report.”

“Starfleet vessel entering sensor range,” came the deadpan response.

Lange rolled his eyes. Computers were oh so helpful with details. “Specify.”

“USS Albatross, Aerie class diplomatic courier vessel. 7 lifeforms aboard.”

That was at least better. Lange massaged his temple as he stood up and looked out the window. There was little to see but stars and Cherenkov radiation streaks. If he recalled correctly, the standard complement of an Aerie class ship, when equipped as a courier, was around 4 or 5. Manley would be one of the extras. But who had he brought with him?

Shaking his head, Lange walked out onto the bridge. It seemed so… empty. The sensor display he’d left on the main viewscreen indicated that he was only a couple of hours from his goal. Lange lowered himself into the command chair with a soft grunt and waited.

After another few minutes the computer bleeped an alert. “Warning. Tachyon field detected.”

“Tachyons?” Lange exclaimed. That was going to put a wrinkle in things. A moment later the ship rocked with a nearby, low-yield torpedo detonation. Lange sighed. Apparently Manley wasn’t going to be content with being led to the action.

Another alert and the display in the screen showed a phaser blast passing across the port bow. A moment later an incoming hail sounded. “USS Peacekeeper, this is the USS Albatross. You are ordered to disengage cloak and drop out of warp. Please respond.”

“Computer,” Lange said, “Open a channel.” There was an acknowledging beep. “Albatross, this is the USS Peacekeeper. You’re a bit early, Tom. I don’t quite have dinner ready, but you’re welcome to come aboard. I think I’ll maintain my speed for the time being, though.”

<USS Albatross>

Manley glanced back at Faith as the Peacekeeper’s cloak disengaged. He noted that Mills and the Albatross’s normal pilot had joined them on the small bridge. “Well, he’s not blowing us out of space.”

“Not yet, anyway,” Faith replied. “But then, he knows he’s already in trouble; he may not want to risk it.”

Manley nodded. “True. Let’s just see what happens.” He keyed the communication channel open. “If you really want to try docking at warp speed, I’m game. But this would be easier at Impulse.”

Mills shifted uncomfortably at the idea of docking with another ship at warp. Docking two large masses at low speed was a difficult enough task, trying to do the same while managing intersecting warp fields was simply courting disaster. He had no doubt that any of the pilots aboard the Albatross, himself included, could manage the procedure, but he also had no desire to needlessly test such skills.

Faith didn’t need to read Mill’s mind to figure out what he was thinking. “I’m no pilot, but I think you’re both mad. Or suicidal. Or both,” she remarked. She didn’t get an answer, nor was she expecting one. All she could do was wait for a response from the Peacekeeper.

There was a brief hesitation in the reply. Finally, the sound of Lange clearing his throat came across the channel, followed by his verbal response. “Alright, Tom, you win. Slowing to Impulse in 30 seconds. Mark.”

“Acknowledged,” Manley responded immediately, tapping a quick command into the panel. He mentally counted down the time and was relieved to see the Peacekeeper begin to slow at the promised time. Manley quickly adjusted the Albatross’s speed to match the larger ship’s and kept pace through the deceleration.

Faith narrowed an eye as the deceleration process began, anticipating deception. “What if he changes his mind and goes back to warp?”

“Then we call in the big guns,” Manley replied as he maneuvered the Albatross towards the Peacekeeper’s port side docking port. “At least, I assume your brother is still lurking about somewhere.”

Faith gave Manley a “don’t be stupid” look. “Yes, Shamek is out there. About 1000 kilometres off starboard, according to the last blip I got. I just have a bad feeling about this.” If Lange did something stupid, Shamek would definitely shoot, and Faith didn’t want to know what that would set off.

“I’m pretty sure Lange will cooperate, though. He should know me well enough by now to know that I’m not going to drag him home and leave his family stranded out here if I can help it.” Manley tapped in a few commands and looked over at Uch’Thal. “Lieutenant, I assume your starboard airlock has an extendable docking collar long enough to clear the nacelle.”

“Um,” Uch’Thal stammered, “Of… of course. We haven’t used it in… as long as I’ve been aboard.”

Manley rolled his eyes. “Of course you haven’t. Time to test the durability of the design, I guess. Extending docking collar. Computer, coordinate with the USS Peacekeeper and match shield modulations.”

There was an acknowledging beep followed by a shuddering groan as long disused equipment was pushed into service. Manley kept an eye on his panel, making sure to keep enough range from the Peacekeeper to not run the relatively fragile tube slowly extending from the Albatross’s side into the larger ship’s hull. After a moment the groan ceased and a slight ‘thunk’ sound indicated that the collar had locked into position.

Manley cracked his knuckles and tapped in another series of commands. A few taps of the thrusters later there was another thunk as the docking collar latched onto the docking hardpoints on the Peacekeeper’s outer hull. Manley quickly tapped in a few commands to secure the ships together and extend umbilical cables to the larger ship’s ports. Another command sequence and the Albatross computer requested refueling from the Peacekeeper computer. From there, unless someone in Engineering on the Peacekeeper actively overrode the process, it would be completely automated.

“Shall we?” Manley asked Faith as he rose from the helm.

Faith gestured towards the door. “After you, sir.”

Manley sighed as he headed towards the door. “Don’t call me that. It makes me feel old.”

Faith shrugged. “Just using proper protocol. You are the superior officer, after all. And you are old,” she remarked. “You grew wrinkles. And greys.”

“Just because in your species you’re barely more than a child doesn’t make me old,” Manley retorted. “I’m 42. I could easily live another eighty to hundred years.”

“Yes, I know how old you are. And I could easily outlive you by another fifty to seventy years, assuming we don’t die today. Sir.” She tightened her lips to keep herself from giggling.

Manley muttered something uncomplimentary under his breath, but had to fight off a smile as he did so. He turned right at the corridor junction, heading for the ramp down to the next level. The Albatross was small enough that the turbolifts were little more than glorified elevators, with no lateral tubes. There were also only a few of them, which meant that the spiraling ramp aft of the bridge was the closest access to the lower decks.

“So...what’s the plan? Wine, dine, and kick pirate arse? Not necessarily in that order?” she asked as she fixed her ponytail. Just because they were in Romulan space didn’t mean she could look frumpy.

“Something like that,” Manley said. He looked back over his shoulder and saw that Mills was walking just behind them. He started considering the best way to assign their limited personnel, but there really weren’t that many options. Mills was the most familiar with the Peacekeeper’s helm, Faith was by far the best Tactical officer. Lange had a background in Engineering, and that would leave Manley with either Ops or piloting the Albatross if her pilot wasn’t up to the battle maneuvers. “To be honest, I need more information about what we’re facing before I come up with anything that could really be called a plan.”

“We’re in the badlands. There’s nothing here I’d called remotely civilised: the pirates and smugglers in the area are ruthless and desperate. Their ships are just a ragtag of parts, but the people inside are surprisingly clever; they’ve been known to come up with ways of hooking up incompatible tech and making it work. I wouldn’t underestimate them,” she explained. “Oh, and, um…” she hesitated, trying to be tactful about what she was going to say next.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Manley said. “And what?”

“His family members may be sold as slaves, if they haven’t been already.” There really was no way around it; it was a known fact that the Rihannsu still practiced slavery, much to Faith’s embarrassment.

“And they call the Klingons barbarians,” Manley muttered as they reached the airlock. He keyed the command in to open the door. “Alright, so we’ll assume we’re going to be outnumbered, but it is unlikely that any individual ship will be a match for the Peacekeeper. But, we may need to use the Albatross in some way, though she’s really not designed for battle at all. And we’ll hope that Lange’s family is still being held here.”

“Use her as a decoy. She’s small enough that they might just underestimate us. Were I in their shoes, I’d be drooling over having Federation technology on my little pirate ship. Instant status upgrade,” she stated, waiting for the door to fully open before walking through it.

“And if they could take her whole, that would just make them even happier,” Manley mused. “Alright,” he continued as they walked through the docking collar towards the Peacekeeper’s airlock on the other end, “the tentative plan is we have the Albatross fly in like she’s the rescue ship, then retreat after taking a couple of hits… but slowly enough so that she doesn’t outrun her pursuit. Hopefully that will draw a few of them off to try and take her. And if not, it should distract them enough that they’ll be slow to react when the Peacekeeper and whoever else we can convince to help decloaks inside their defense line.”

“The Shiarrael is a Norexan class. She’s small, but with twelve pulse disruptor cannons and six torpedo tubes, she does pack a punch.” Little pirate ships were no match for the Tal Shiar anyway, according to her brother.

“That’s an impressive armament for a ship that size, though ‘small’ is relative,” Manley commented. Romulan ship designers tended to favor designs that used up a lot of space without having a lot of internal volume. They looked impressive and fierce, of course, but by comparison, a Federation vessel would pack the same equipment into a more compact frame. “How exactly do you know that?”

Faith gave him another of those looks. “I asked. And yes, I got a straight answer from a Tal Shiar agent. Don’t ask.”

“Right. Don’t ask.” They had reached the Peacekeeper’s airlock, which hissed open, releasing a burst of warm air into the docking tube. As Manley stepped inside he saw Lange standing inside the cargo bay beyond the airlock, arms crossed.

“Hello, Tom. Mister Mills, good to see you,” Lange greeted them calmly. He looked towards the third officer entering and paused. “Commander, I don’t believe we’ve met before. I’m Captain James Lange… at least until Starfleet gets ahold of me.”

“No, we haven’t. Lieutenant-Commander Faith Reed, sir,” she stated, immediately going into full uptight Rihannsu/British mode. “A pleasure, I’m sure .”

“It would be, normally,” Lange answered with a smile. “But, I’m assuming that mister Manley conscripted you to help apprehend me. Probably because you’re part Romulan, I’d guess. Or are you a Vulcan that’s less uptight than most?”

“He did, partly because I’m the former. Mainly because I have resources.”

“No matter,” Lange said. “I was hoping I might be able to reach where my family is being held before you caught up, but you seem to have come across a faster ship than I planned… and sooner than I expected. Do you want to drag me off now, or can we at least try to bring some good out of this excursion, since we’ve come all this way?”

“We’re willing to help,” Manley said calmly, “but we’re going to need whatever information you have… and one hell of a battle plan.”

Lange nodded, letting out a breath. “I think we can manage that. Maybe the Conference Lounge would be the best place for this?”

“Indeed. And the less time wasted, the better. Who knows what the pirates might have done by now,” Faith replied.

“Probably. We might also have some company joining us,” Manley said, looking at Faith with a question in his eyes.

“Commander tr’Danrinillieu, the mercenary, or both?” she asked, taking special care not to call Shamek her brother. Despite being in Rihannsu space, she didn’t want more people than necessary knowing he was alive.

Manley pondered that while Lange led them to the nearest turbolift. Finally, as they reached the lift, he decided. “Both. The firepower will help. And they’ll both be able to provide information that could be useful.”

“I’ll need a secure channel and ten minutes, at most,” Faith answered as she entered the lift. “I might have a harder time convincing the commander.”

Manley snorted. “Of course you will. He hates me. But, Captain, do you think you can accommodate Commander Reed’s request?”

Lange looked quizzically at his XO and the half-Romulan officer he’d brought aboard. This was... odd. Mills, he noted, was his usual quiet self. “As soon as we reach the bridge, she’s welcome to use the comm system as the pair of you see fit.”

“Thank you, sir,” she said, bringing her hands together. Getting Marahil wouldn’t be an issue, but Shamek… Since his defection, he wanted to be seen on a Starfleet vessel as little as possible, so the best she may be able to do was get him on-screen for the duration of the meeting. But then, stranger things have happened.

A moment passed before the lift came to a smooth stop. “I’ll be with you shortly,” she told the other officers as she headed in a different direction. As soon as they were out of sight, she dropped her mental guards and isolated Lange’s voice through all the others she could suddenly hear. She didn’t trust him. Maybe she was being paranoid, but if he was lying through his teeth, Manley would surely want to know.

Lange, Manley, and Mills continued on to the Conference Lounge. Lange walked towards the head of the table out of habit, but stopped before he reached it and instead took the seat on the port-facing side of the table, at the end. Manley circled around and sat in the chair opposite Lange. Mills, not feeling entirely at ease, chose to stand along the back wall of the room, near enough to speak up if needed, but far enough that he didn’t feel like he was intruding on what was certain to be a very intense meeting.

“So,” Lange said after the silence had stretched into awkwardness, “I suppose you want to know why.”

“No,” Manley answered. “I know the why. Hell, I’d be doing something similar myself if I were in your place. I want to know why you didn’t talk to anyone. Your crew are a loyal bunch, we would have done anything in our power to help you deal with this WITHOUT getting arrested.”

Lange sighed. “I know. I guess partly I wasn’t sure who I could trust when Starfleet refused to take immediate action… And partly… Partly I didn’t want to drag anyone else down with me.”
He looked at Manley. “Especially you. You’ve had a hard enough career as it is.”

“I appreciate the thought,” Manley replied, “but let me worry about my own career, Captain.”

“Sure. As soon as we finish this mission, I promise to never interfere in your career choices again.” Lange smiled. He realized it was probably the first genuine smile he’d shown in weeks. “I would like to know how you got into Romulan space in that little packet runner?”

“Faith… Commander Reed,” Manley corrected himself, “Has connections in the Empire. Most of them were on Romulus, and I won’t go into the others. But, the remaining ones are well-placed enough to ensure us safe passage this far.”

Lange could tell there was something being left unsaid there. He’d read Manley’s Starfleet file more than once since the man had been assigned to his command, and each time he’d taken a moment to wonder at the sudden leave of absence that immediately preceded his assignment to 386. Manley had survived the loss of a ship during the Dominion War, then survived a court martial a year later, and then survived the loss of another ship within three years of that, then followed that up with action against the parasitic hive race that had twice tried to infiltrate Starfleet and caused the destruction of Lange’s first command, the USS Dragonfly. Through it all, no break in his Starfleet service.

But Lange knew that he wasn’t going to get an answer to that minor mystery just now. Maybe eventually, if he wasn’t shipped off to a penal colony, but not today. He contented himself with a nod and a simple, “I see.”

About fifteen minutes later, Dedriana appeared. She still moved like an assassin, she still carried her daggers. “I heard we’d be killing pirates,” she said, grinning. She quickly took a seat and set her feet on the table.

Faith arrived soon afterwards, followed by her brother. “I’m terribly sorry. I had a bit more difficulty convincing the Commander he was needed,” she explained. “Did I miss anything?”

“Idle chit chat, mostly,” Manley answered. He looked over at Lange, who had his eyes locked on Marahil. “Although I think the Captain might have seen a ghost.”

“Not a ghost, Commander, just not someone I expected to see in person again,” Lange said, finally looking away from the Orion woman. After a moment he glanced back at her. “I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that you can beam straight onto my ship so easily.”

“I’ve got my own. Say hello, Draco.” Her small ship’s AI woke up. “Hello, Draco,” it responded. The Orion mercenary rolled her eyes. “Humour subroutine. Not my design.”

Faith cleared her throat. “This is Commander tr’Danrinillieu, from the Shiarrael. They’ve been, um, kind enough to grant us safe passage through the Neutral Zone.”

“Some of those connections you mentioned, hmm?” Lange murmured to Manley. Manley ignored him. Lange shrugged and looked towards the Romulan commander. “Welcome aboard. Thank you for not blowing me out of space.”

“It wouldn’t be in my interest to do so,” Shamek replied. “We’re in no position to start a war, as I’m sure you know, Captain.” He fetched two cups of tea from the replicator and set one before his sister before taking a seat of his own. “Shall we?”

Lange nodded and looked toward Manley. “I’ll leave the tactical planning to those with better minds for it than me. What I know is pretty simple: my family and their ship, the freighter Byzantine, have been taken captive by a group of pirates in this area. I believe their group name translates as roughly ‘The True Empire.’”

Lange stood and walked to the display panel along the portside wall. With a few quick taps he pulled up a star chart of the area showing the Peacekeeper’s current position and the rough position of her destination. They were not very far away, mere hours at even low warp. “Thanks to Ms Marahil, I was able to get ahold of intelligence reports from various sources that have pinpointed the pirate base as an asteroid or dwarf planet in this system. I have to assume that my family will have been removed from the ship and locked up in the base itself, if they are still here.”

“They’ve been known to have secondary bases here and there,” Shamek stated, “By the size of this one, this could be one of their main ones. An illicit trade depot, perhaps.”

“This far out?” Faith asked, then understood. “Of course. Slave trade. Wouldn’t want to be seen trafficking people, now would we?” She saw her brother shrug. A quick probe of his mind reassured her that her family hadn’t owned any, thank karma. She would have put an end to that rather quickly if it had.

“Anyway, did any of your sources conveniently have the base’s blueprints on hand?” she asked Lange, taking her first sip of tea.

“If only,” Lange replied. “We’ll probably have to get that information the old fashioned way. All I know is that the base is built under the surface of the planetoid. Saves them from having to shield the thing, but may give us an in, depending on what kind of transport inhibitors they’re employing.”

Manley rubbed his chin thoughtfully, then looked at Shamek. “I assume your willingness to help us doesn’t include an army to storm the base with, Commander tr’Danrinillieu?”

“No.”

“Regardless, we want to keep this action as small as possible anyway. The less noise we make, the easier it is to claim it never happened.” Manley paused, looking at Marahil for a moment. “Any idea how many people would stay on the base if the pirates were trying to capture a ship full of really desirable technology?”

Dedriana put up her hair in a loose ponytail. “A skeleton crew, probably a bit more to guard current cargo and inventory. Their best will be on the ships. However, pirates aren’t usually stupid, they’ll smell a diversion a million miles away. The bait will have to be pretty sweet, Goldilocks-style. Too small, they’ll allocate as little resources as possible. Too big, they’ll know it’s a fluke and just run.”

She pointed at Shamek. “Your ship is too big, too obvious. Besides, in the situation the Empire is in, who would care to raid a pirate base? Mine is too small, you’ll be left with too many people to go through. Which leaves,” she said, pointing a finger at Lange, than at Manley. “Your ships. Flip a coin, boys. Pirates in these parts would kill for Federation tech anyway.”

It’s not even a question,” Manley said. “The Peacekeeper is the more tactically capable of the two and the Albatross can run away faster. And she’ll be seen as an easier target for the pirates, since they won’t know she’s rigged for high speed over long periods.”

“We use the Albatross to draw out most of the pirates… sneak the other ships in close under cloak,” Manley continued, becoming thankful that Lange had procured a cloak for the Peacekeeper. “Once the pirates are far enough away for us to have a viable window, we decloak and drop a small team to the base on a runabout while the ships handle any remaining defenses and fend off the pirates if they return rearly.”

Manley’s eyes flicked to where Mills was standing along the back wall. “We’ll leave the Albatross with her normal crew. Lieutenant Uch’Thal won’t like being chased halfway home, but he’ll be happy to be the first one headed back to Federation space and free of all this business. Mister Mills will pilot the Peacekeeper. I’ll pilot the runabout to the planet. The question is, who will come with me to storm the castle?”

“I’ll go,” Faith, Shamek, and Dedriana replied at the same time, then looked at each other, smirking. Faith continued. “It makes the most sense, really. We’ve got someone who knows how pirates think, and two people who know how the Rihannsu think. And we’ve all done this kind of thing before.”

“I’m coming too,” Lange added. “They’re my family; I can’t stay behind. Even if all I can do is guard the runabout, I have to come along.”

“Alright,” Manley said. “I guess Mills gets his first command today. Anyone have anything else?”

“It sounds like a good preliminary. It’ll need some fine-tuning before or once we get there, but it’ll do for now,” Faith remarked. She nervously tapped her fingers on the table. There was so little room for improvisation, it was ridiculous. Anything, and everything, could go wrong. She couldn’t help but think of the catastrophic consequences should this operation fail.

Manley looked around the room again and didn’t see any signs of the others speaking further. “Alright, Captain Lange, Mister Mills, we need to get the Peacekeeper set for battle and ready the Doohan for launch. Ms Marahil, Commander tr’Danrinillieu, Commander Reed, I’ll let you make whatever other preparations you see fit. We resume course for the pirate base in 1 hour.”

OFF:

Commander Faith Reed
Executive Officer
Starbase 386
Tony
AKA
Commander Thomas Manley, Jr
Commanding Officer
Starbase 386

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