“The Starlight is secured.”
Sor Viran smiled as he heard the words fall from his officer’s mouth. The assault had gone better than planned. Though the crew on the lower decks had put up some resistance, Viran duly noted that the bridge fell without consequence. In fact, it had been surrendered to him, a course of action Viran had definitely not anticipated. Anyone willing to sacrifice their ship so quickly was obviously in need of extermination… whether or not the blight was inflicted.
Viran smiled victoriously, and turned to face his fellow officers, who were now familiarizing themselves with the Starlight’s myriad workstations. “What is the status of the vessel?”
The guard at tactical gazed over the data. “Their shields are off line and the power grid has sustained moderate damage. Otherwise, the ship is undamaged.”
It appeared to be a sturdy vessel, coming from such an inferior species. Viran was marginally impressed by the data. “See that the power grid is repaired,” he said. “We may wish to preserve it when we disassemble the vessel.”
The guard nodded. “Very well, sir.”
‘Disassemble’ was the politically correct term for what happened to vessels captured by the Velora. And Viran, being a politically correct officer, made use of the phrase. But in the back of his mind, Viran smiled, knowing that soon, the very bulkheads that surrounded him would be recycled into anything from a new Velora warship to a fork. A fitting end, no doubt.
“Begin a deck-by-deck search of the vessel. Look for anything of value and have it brought to the Drinar for reprocessing,” said Viran as he sat down in the command chair. While the bulk of the vessel would simply be converted into energy for industrial replicators, Viran was certain that somewhere on the ship existed something of value that would be better used in its current form. He wanted to make sure they found those items before the ship was disassembled.
But before the guards could comply, Viran heard a bleeping noise emanating from one of the aft consoles. “What is it?”
“We are being hailed. It’s Ambassador Kaid.”
Viran nodded. “On viewer.”
A moment later, Kaid blinked onto the view screen, looking stern and formal, as usual. “Well done,” he commended. “How much longer until you have completed the necessary repairs to the vessel?”
From his own surveys of the damage, Viran quickly calculated an answer. “About four intervals,” he guessed. “We’ll need to retrofit the structural integrity fields to prevent massive hull ruptures during transit. They are capable of only transwarp speeds.”
Kaid raised an eyebrow. “Four intervals, then?” he asked skeptically.
Viran nodded. “Four.”
Kaid simply nodded, saying nothing as he closed the comm channel. After a moment, Viran and the Starlight blinked out of existence, replaced by the exterior view of the vessel. It was smaller than he imagined… but Kaid shrugged it off, reminding himself that it was no great loss. No great loss to him, at least.
But Kaid knew that the vessel meant a lot to those who inhabited it. He had even come to like some of those people… People that had become his enemy. And so, it was with a small amount of trepidation that Kaid turned on his heel to meet the icy gaze of Alan Christopher. “It’s a shame,” said Kaid evenly, attempting to hide his emotions.
Christopher nodded slowly, and approached the Ambassador. “A big old shame,” he agreed. The contempt in his voice was obvious. “So now what? Am I going to be placed in an internment facility?”
That was the logical course of action and Kaid knew it. All enemies of the Aggregate were treated as such. But this situation was different. The people Kaid would be committing to the facilities would not die because of the blight—most of them would be resistant, and would endure for far longer than the Aggregate deemed acceptable. “I’m not sure what is going to happen,” Kaid admitted. “And for the moment, we need not concern ourselves with it.”
“And why is that?”
Kaid looked down at the controls in front of him, and tapped in a few commands, eliciting an image of the Drinar. It pivoted about for several moments before honing in on a flashing red dot near the center. “The Mirab’tenar Internment Facility has staged an insurrection,” he said. “Though it failed, they were able to take several hostages, included Sor Kalem and Erin. Kalem was undoubtedly killed, but Erin is being held in the facility.”
Concern quickly dissolved whatever contempt Christopher harbored in his face. “Is she okay?”
Kaid nodded. “Yes. She probably doesn’t even know she’s being held hostage. The inhabitants are simply guarding the doors. But if we attempt to rush them, they will undoubtedly displace her.”
“More Romulans?” Christopher demanded.
“No,” said Kaid. “The Romulans were all killed during the battle. We believe that Brenarian forces are holding her.”
“I’ve never heard of them,” said Christopher.
Kaid knew this was the point of the conversation in which whatever civility had been reestablished would suddenly vanish. But he wasn’t about to lie. “We have completely subjugated the Brenarians. The Mirab’tenar Internment Facility is the extent of their empire.”
Rubbing his temples, Christopher let out a long sigh and turned his back to Kaid. “Can’t you beam her out?”
It was a commendable idea, but one Kaid knew was doomed to failure. “The walls surrounding the internment facilities are plated with synthetic neutronium. Transporters cannot beam through it, I’m afraid.”
Christopher huffed. “Then what are you going to do? We have to save her!”
“Patience, Alan,” said Kaid softly. “The Brenarians are weak. The blight has nearly consumed them. Time is not on their side. In a matter of days… the Brenarian Empire will be extinct. Besides, they are contained inside the facility. They pose no threat.”
Clearly, Christopher was not buying this course of action… or inaction, rather. But it was the one Kaid felt would be the easiest to implement. After all the Brenarians were dead, they would simply go in and rescue Erin. Unless, of course, they decided to execute her before they were all dead—but Kaid had observed the Brenarians for quite some time, and was fairly certain the people were too dim to think of such plan.
Still, Kaid was eager to end the hostage situation. “Have you any better ideas?”
A foolish idea, in Kaid’s opinion. It would never work. The Brenarians were savage, impure beasts on the path to extinction. What could they possibly negotiate for? He immediately shrugged off the very notion. “Perhaps after a period of rest, you’ll have a better option for me,” said Kaid, motioning with his green eyes for the door.
Christopher looked at the doors with disgust. “You’re going to give up that easily?”
That was pure absurdity. Kaid had no intention of giving up—he still had his original plan, a plan he felt would work. But to humor Christopher, he sighed, and pretended to contemplate the situation a bit more. “I’m not giving up,” he sighed, “I, too, will reconsider our options.”
If he was reassured, Christopher did not show it. Still, he smiled and went on his way, joining the bulky guard waiting in the corridor to lead him back to his quarters. Once the doors closed shut behind Christopher, Kaid expelled a long sigh, and turned to face the large window behind him. The stars of sector 19328 were inconsequential when compared to that of the Xiaren Nebula or Velor Prime… Kaid’s only fear was that the denizens of the region were just as inconsequential…
Erin Keller flinched as she watched the scraggly, spotted alien before her dig around inside the mouth of a decaying corpse. As he did so, Erin heard the eerie snapping of teeth breaking free of the gums. The alien dug around for a bit longer before pulling out a few blood-covered specimens.
Carefully, he dropped each of the teeth in his left hand, and placed them under close scrutiny. He frowned at the first one, and tossed it over his shoulder. “Bicuspids,” he muttered with disgust as the tooth plinked into a murky puddle behind him. He bobbed his head and moved on to examine the next tooth. “Ah, that’s better,” he said, and stuffed the tooth in the pouch on his belt.
Erin could feel her stomach contorting awkwardly, feeling another insurgent round of vomit scaling her esophagus. She closed her eyes tried to block out everything around her, concentrating on keeping her lunch down.
“How did I miss that one?” asked the alien as he plucked another bloody tooth from the corpse. “Oh, that’s a beauty,” he said, wiping the bodily fluids off on his tunic.
A powerful heave suddenly jolted Erin’s body, and within moments, she felt the burning vomit surging upward into her mouth. She quickly turned her head and watched the chunky reddish “salsa” plop to the soiled floor.
The alien suddenly looked up at Erin with a great deal of interest. “Are you okay?” he inquired.
Erin wiped the vomit from her lips, and forced some saliva down her throat to ease the burning. It didn’t help. “No, I’m not okay,” she said as the nauseating stench of death began to filter into her nostrils yet again. “What the hell are you doing?”
The alien frowned. “What?”
Erin sneered, and her jaw dropped slightly in sheer disbelief of the alien. “You’re ripping out that person’s teeth,” she said.
“Oh, it doesn’t hurt,” said the alien innocently, rubbing a few of the dark spots on his temple and forehead. “He’s dead.”
“My point exactly!” said Erin. “It’s savage!”
The alien shrugged, and tossed another tooth over his shoulder. “Brenarian teeth are easily absorbed into a more useful form of energy,” he said just as plainly as if he had been speaking of the weather. Slowly, the alien held up another bloody tooth to the light and examined it carefully. “In a few days, this tooth could be anything from a piece of durotanium to a fork. Fascinating, isn’t it?”
“Um… no,” said Erin, utterly disgusted by the alien. “Don’t you have a conscience? Or at least a little respect for the dead?”
The alien placed another tooth in his silky brown pouch and patted it gently. “Of course I have a conscience,” he said. “I know that if this alien hadn’t died, he could have easily compromised the genetic purity of the Velora Aggregate.”
“Why not just let his people live peacefully on their homeworld? Why subjugate them like lab rats? I mean, surely he couldn’t compromise genetic purity from his home…”
“The Velora beg to differ,” said the spotted alien. He peered into the dead alien’s mouth one last time before rising to his feet and brushing off his filthy, blood stained tunic—an action that merely smeared the filth around instead of cleaning it as the alien had intended. He didn’t seem to care about cleanliness though, and simply shrugged indolently upon seeing it.
Without another word, the alien turned on his heel and meandered about the filthy internment facility, hunching over a few dead bodies and examining their teeth before finally settling down beside on of them to begin his grim work yet again. Watching in utter silence, Erin simply cringed and wondered how someone could perform such a task and be able to sleep at night…
Suddenly Erin heard the sound of footsteps trudging through the sludge behind her. “I see you’ve met Mullis,” came a deep voice from the same direction.
Erin quickly turned to see a relatively well-built man approaching in a dirty gray and brown tunic. He was fair skinned, with a scraggly unshaven beard, a mess of graying brown hair, and a slight ridge running from his nose to his widow’s peak. “He’s a Lycorian,” said the man. “One of the few allies of the Velora. They do all of the dirty work that would offend the Velora DNA.”
“Like plucking teeth?” Erin suggested, cringing as she watched Mullis struggle to yank out a tooth from the dead alien’s body.
“Like plucking teeth,” said the man somberly. He turned away from the atrocity and sighed. “But those he plucks teeth from are the lucky ones… for they have found the freedom we all seek to attain.” He paused for a moment, and then turned his attention back to Erin. “I am Treigenn, leader of the once illustrious Brenarian Empire.”
Erin forced a smile to her face. It was, of course, the polite thing to do. “My name is Erin,” she said.
Treigenn nodded. “Erin,” he repeated. “That is a very interesting name. I’ve not heard it before.”
“I could say the same about yours,” she said. “But unlike you, it looks like I’m the only one of my kind here.”
Slowly, Treigenn nodded. “You are,” he said. “We managed to stage an insurrection earlier. It failed, but as we retreated, we found you and one of the Velora guards unconscious in the corridor. I suppose you could consider yourself our hostage.”
Suddenly, Erin felt her heart sink. Her situation seemed to be growing worse with each passing moment. First there was the unbearable stench of death… then the unbearable stench of vomit… then the grim deeds of Mullis… and now, a hostage situation. She shook her head and sighed, wondering how things could possibly get any worse.
But then she recalled that Treigenn had mentioned a Velora guard—undoubtedly Kalem—had been captured right along with her. Even so, he was nowhere to be seen. “Um… where is the Velora guard?”
Treigenn blinked. “Disposed of,” he said in a voice totally devoid of emotion.
Suddenly, Erin realized that Treigenn had a Velora weapon attached to his belt—a weapon that looked remarkably like the sleek unit Kalem had been using prior to the battle. In fact, it was set on the same maximum displacement setting Kalem had been using, leading Erin to the grim conclusion that her only hope of getting out of the Mirab’tenar facility in a timely manor had been phased out of existence. “So… um, what do you plan to do with me?”
Treigenn took a few steps closer to Erin and gave her a scrutinizing gaze. “You appear to be an intelligent individual,” he said after a moment. “I believe you are the key to getting us out of here.”
Erin frowned. “What could I possibly do?”
“That is up to you,” said Treigenn calmly.
Though she had a few rudimentary ideas, Erin was unsure if she should help them. They were holding her hostage after all. “So, what if I choose to do nothing?”
Immediately, Erin discovered that was the wrong thing to say. Treigenn’s eyes widened, and his nostrils flared. He summarily closed the gap between them, brought himself to within a few centimeters of Erin’s face. “We have been trapped in this hellhole for decades!” he snapped. “You are going to help us—or you are going to die. How do you like that? Hmm? Do you like that? I thought you might.”
Erin gulped, and tried to step back, but she immediately found Treigenn wouldn’t allow it. He haphazardly grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back to his side. “You don’t like it, do you? Then I suggest you help us…”
Feeling her safety was being compromised yet again, Erin made an attempt to escape. “Get away!” she shouted.
Treigenn only pulled on her arm harder, his dark brown eyes—nearly slits—were peering into her with a cruel malevolence. Erin could feel his crusty fingernails digging into her skin, pinching it even through her uniform. “Shut up!” he blasted. “Did I say you could speak?”
Erin didn’t bother to answer. “Let go of me!” she protested, using her free hand to claw away at Treigenn.
He flinched as she hit him in the jaw, and immediately let go. He shook his head and blinked. “So, Erin, we would greatly appreciate it if you would render any assistance you can…”
He must be insane, or something, Erin thought as she peered into Treigenn’s relatively serene face. There was no sign of the violent tendencies he was having a second ago. Erin sighed. Indeed, the situation had grown even worse. Treigenn was a very mercurial man—and that spelled danger… She was about to say something—not exactly answer his question, but provide some sort of optimistic “maybe,” when she saw another sickly Brenarian approaching.
It was a frail female, badly malnourished, and beaten considerably. When she walked, it was merely a slow hobble. Erin sincerely hoped that those injuries were not the result of an encounter with the dark side of Treigenn… “Quickly,” she rasped to Treigenn. “Tilvera is leaving us.”
The Brenarian leader’s eyes suddenly widened with panic, and he rushed over in the general direction from which the sickly female had ventured. Unsure of what she should do, Erin followed behind, keeping herself a safe distance away the entire time. After a moment, they arrived at a dark, dingy corner where a small child was curled up in a ragged brown blanket, shivering uncontrollably. She was terribly thin, with a skin yellowed by the wrath of jaundice, and eyes utterly devoid of life. The sickly female produced a cloth from behind her back and placed it on Tilvera’s forehead. “Don’t worry,” she said. When she removed it, Erin suddenly noticed a series of faint spots near the child’s nose ridge, similar to those of the Lycorian, Mullus…
Slowly, Treigenn knelt down at the child’s side. “Your journey has nearly reached its end,” he said softly. “Do not fight it, Tilvera. You’re about to go to a better place.”
But Tilvera fought. She convulsed and contorted, hacking up blood and other bodily fluids that trickled down her chin and collected on her shirt and blanket. Then she started to mumble something. They were utterly incoherent moans, that seemed to go on endlessly, growing louder during some of the more severe convulsions.
Unable to bear the sight any longer, Erin closed her eyes and stepped aside. But the moaning continued, growing into painfully strident screams that pierced Erin’s heart like a dagger. She started to move to cover her hears, but the moment she did so, everything grew silent.
Slowly, Erin lifted her eyelids to see Treigenn bringing the child’s blanket over her head. Tilvera had died.
A chill went crawling down Erin’s spine. Regardless of her situation as a hostage, Erin knew that these people were suffering. She had to help them. And she would…
The attack had been a sudden one.
That was about all the detail Brian Keller had about their current situation. The ship had been attacked, boarded, and now, it seemed he was the only one smart enough to avoid capture. Not that it had been an easy feat, but still, Keller thought that out of the nearly five hundred people on the ship—five hundred highly trained Starfleet officers—that more than one lowly civilian would have avoided capture.
But as he made his way through the corridors and Jefferies tubes, Keller saw nothing but a few of the alien guards. Large guards, to be exact, with piercing green eyes, pale greenish-gray skin, and a series of bumps running down the side of their heads. Guards he most certainly did not want to mess with. Consequently, after avoiding interception twice, Keller decided he would simply have to stick to the Jefferies tubes.
Crawling through the seemingly endless tubes brought on the slightest feelings of claustrophobia, but Keller managed to keep his fears in check as he made his way for environmental control. During his myriad adventures through the bowels of the ship, Keller decided the easiest way to take control of the ship would simply be to find environmental control and flood the entire vessel with anesthezine, a gas that most humanoids found most unpleasant, forcing them into submission.
Naturally, environmental control was the most elusive room on the ship, and Keller had wasted countless hours wandering about in search of it. He had found many secondary control stations, but none with the capability to flood the entire ship, as he desired.
Suddenly, Brian heard a muffled rustling noise in the adjunct up ahead. He paused, and peered into the intersection, seeing nothing, but continuing to hear the muffled thumps. “Now would be a good time for a phaser to fall from the sky,” he whispered, watching the access hatch slowly creeping open. Somehow, he didn’t think it would end this way…
It wouldn’t, he decided. If these vile aliens wanted a piece of him, the weren’t going to get it without a fight. Quickly, Brian crawled into the adjunct and prepared himself for a wicked fistfight—only to see Lucas Tompkins crawl into the adjunct. Keller expelled a considerable sigh of relief. “Am I ever glad to see you!”
“Likewise,” said Tompkins. He detached a small, circular device from his belt and tossed it to Keller. “It’s an interferametric pulse emitter,” said the chief engineer, glancing down at a similar device attached to his uniform just between his left elbow and shoulder.
Keller took the device, activated it, and placed it in a similar spot on his shirt. “What’s it do?”
“Hides you from the internal sensors,” said Tompkins. “You were lighting them up like a Christmas tree. I’m surprised the Velora didn’t find you.”
“Velora?” Brian inquired. He assumed they were their alien attackers, but given his lack of information, he couldn’t be sure.
But Tompkins summarily nodded, confirming Keller’s hunch. “They came out of some sort of conduit and attacked, practically without any warning. They disabled our shields and boarded the ship before we had a real chance to fight back.”
“Where is everyone else?” asked Keller.
“It looked like they were vaporized,” Tompkins said somberly. “I’m not certain. But whatever happened, they’re not on the Starlight. It’s just you and me.”
As he took in that grim piece of news, Keller compressed his lips and nodded his head indolently. “Isn’t that just wonderful?” he muttered after a moment. “I guess we should get to environmental control as soon as possible, then.”
Immediately, Tompkins’ eyes widened. “Bad idea,” he said. “There are guards crawling all over that deck. We’d be captured immediately.”
“Then what do we do?”
Tompkins opened the access hatch adjacent to the one he emerged from. “If we can get to sickbay, the EMH should be able to provide some sort of assistance.”
Keller stepped aside, making room for Tompkins to crawl into the tube. “Then let’s go,” he said.