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Posted on Sep 01, 2018 @ 4:35pm by Captain Michael Turlogh Kane

Mission: The Trouble With Triticale


(Continued from "Hostage Negotiations")

Captain's log,supplemental - the Klingon heist of the Sherman's Planet triticale is in full swing, and we are hanging on the edge of the abyss. If neither side can find a way to resolve this situation, then Port Emily might have given its name to a new political incident between the Federation and the Klingons...


Location: Port Emily, Sherman's Planet
Stardate: [2.18]0901.1235
Scene: Governor Chisum's office, City Hall

The office of the governor of Sherman's Planet was not quite big enough to contain the six people who had assembled in it, but with the casting out of the chairs and side-tables and the closing of the stained wooden door, it had been made so. To the three locals and three Phoenix officers gathered inside, comfort was the last thing on their minds. A routine delivery mission to this frontier farming world had turned into an exercise in political and military brinkmanship, as a large force of Klingons were actively attempting to seize as much of the planet's triticale crop as they could. While the orbiting fleet threw punches at the Phoenix to keep it off-balance, dozens of Klingon warriors were on the surface of the planet, tagging triticale grain silos for transport back up to the rest of their fleet. So far, the Klingons had stolen over a quarter-million tonnes of the grain, and they were not showing any signs of stopping.

They weren't having everything their own way, however. Although reluctant to fire for fear of escalating the situation, the Phoenix was now actively jamming the Klingon transporter and sensor locks, while an alerted population on the ground was ready to fight. Now, as dawn came on, it seemed that both sides had lost the element of surprise, and that everyone was waiting on the next move.

Michael Turlogh Kane looked around the room. Eve and Jasmine were with him, awaiting orders, while Governor Chisum, Sompek, and Deputy Treena Hobbs did the same. Kassandra Thytos and Sheriff Edwards were absent, recovering from their skirmish with the Klingon raiders at the Thytos homestead. The mood in the room was one of defiant purpose - now that the true purpose of the Klingons had been revealed, nobody wanted to simply allow them to seize the grain and depart, but the issue was complicated. While it was Federation property and not lives that were being directly threatened, Starfleet officers were still duty-bound to prevent the heist if possible, and nobody living on Sherman's Planet wanted to lose the grain if they could help it.

"There's a standoff in orbit," said Kane to the room. "Commander Crichton has succeeded in temporarily halting the beam-up of the grain. Is'toQ now has two choices - to negotiate or to escalate."

Dick Chisum wiped his sweating face with his stained handkerchief. "Whaddya mean by escalate? Just so's we know."

Kane looked at Jasmine. The Tactical officer frowned, thinking for a moment. "Well," she said carefully, "if Is'toQ's goal is to seize as much of the triticale as possible while preserving his own fleet, he may decide that a certain amount of bloodshed is necessary. He has likely already decided on an acceptable level of losses, and might order his ground troops to start shooting to kill. At the same time, he would drastically increase the amount of firepower directed at the Phoenix, forcing it into full combat mode. Then, the Leading Sword could continue beaming up the grain and prepare an escape while casualties are expended fighting both the Phoenix and the civilians of Port Emily."

"Mah God!" exclaimed the governor. "Is that likely?"

"It's possible," said Jasmine. "In anticipating an opponents next move, we can only ever make educated guesses. We need more information, but we're unlikely to get it. I should also point out that *we* may be the ones who end up escalating the battle, especially if one of the Klingons is killed by an angry farmer."

Sompek stepped forward. "That scenario might be possible, but I will not be the one to shoot first." He looked around the room. "I am going home to defend my house and farm. I will keep spreading the word to my people to remain indoors, reminding them of our agreement." He gave a significant look in Chisum's direction.

"Good luck, Sompek," said Treena Hobbs. "Y'all be careful now."

The burly Klingon Augment moved hurriedly out the door, his heavy footfalls thumping down the stairs and out onto the street.

[[Phoenix to Captain Kane.]]

Jake's voice broke into their reverie, and Kane immediately touched his communicator in response. "Go ahead, Commander."

Jake's tone of voice was guarded, but hopeful. [[Captain, I'm redirecting a subspace message to you. It's from Is'toQ. He says he wants to talk.]]

Kane's eyes widened and everyone shared an amazed look as the message came through. Is'toQ's voice was not gloating, was not triumphant, was not haughty or sneering. It was matter-of-fact, and got straight to the point. [[Captain Kane - in the interests of galactic peace, I suggest a ceasefire. If you agree, I will transport to the surface to negotiate a resolution of our... disagreement.]] The final word seemed carefully chosen.

"Disagreement?" echoed Chisum. "That sumbitch's invadin' this here planet! Our planet! Stealin' our food!"

"Commander Crichton," said Kane, "tell Is'toQ that we accept his offer of a ceasefire and negotiation. Remain at yellow alert in the event of this meeting going south." He cut the connection and looked around the room. "I suppose we'd better get those chairs back in here."


Scene: Chisum's office
Time Index: Ten minutes later

The harsh, discordant whine of a Klingon transporter beam filled the room, dulled by the appearance of a dazzling orange pillar of light. Is'toQ, the warlord commanding the Klingon fleet, stood before them a moment later. He was wearing his plain, unadorned thick leather waistcoat over his naked upper body, dark brown skin muscled and scarred. As before, he carried no visible weapons save the small metal spikes built into his fingerless gloves. His hair was a wild thing, all splayed out like a fan, knotted and frayed like rope. He looked like he hadn't slept in a week - dark rings peeked cautiously out from under his brown eyes - but still managed to exude an air of menace, despite being half a head shorted than Kane.

"Is'toQ," said Kane. "I see you."

"And I see you, Kane," said Is'toQ, shaggy head slowly swivelling around the room to take in Jasmine, Eve, Chisum, and Hobbs. "I see all of you."

Chisum wiped his face with his handkerchief. "Ah'm the governor of this here planet, remember? Ah got sum questions fore ya."

Eve Dalziel leaned in close to Kane and spoke quickly, lowering her voice so as not to be overheard. "Remember, Captain, Klingons are primarily concerned with their own honour, which causes them to behave aggressively and can lead to obstinacy. However, there are no other Klingons in the room - I suggest that, while Is'toQ might not necessarily be any more reasonable, he does not have the added pressure of being watched by his own subordinates."

Kane nodded. "Thank you, Counselor." She had a point, he knew - if accompanied by other Klingons, Is'toQ would have had to put on a show just as much for them as for the Humans in the room. He would have to be seen to be strong and inflexible, or else risk looking weak in the eyes of his warriors. Alone, though, Is'toQ could speak without being monitored, and might be much more amenable to compromise.

Is'toQ was still standing, eschewing the proferred chair, and so too was everyone else. Chisum was still talking. "Ah wanna know why yore stealin' our grain! If'n ya wanted ta trade, we'd'a bin happy to, maybe even on credit! Y'all're actin' pirates or somethin', and that ain't the way people oughta think o' ya!"

Is'toQ held up a hand and stared at Chisum, a look colder than a polar vortex. "The wolves do not care what the sheep think of them." He turned his attention to Kane. "I will speak with you, warrior to warrior."

"I am not a warrior, Is'toQ," said Kane evenly. "My people only fight when we must, yet the Klingons know how well we fight. If the wolf awakens the sleeping bear by attacking the sheep in the field, what happens then?"

Is'toQ seemed to consider that for a moment, then waved his upright hand dismissively. "Enough of this. We are here for the grain. Hand it over or we will take what we want."

"You have already taken a quarter-million tonnes," countered Kane. "That is enough to feed the warriors in your fleet for a year, yet you want more? Your people must be very hungry."

Klingons did not often smile, but Is'toQ bared his teeth in an approximation of one. "I have considered this carefully. I need the grain for my fleet, true, and I will take as much as I can carry. The Federation thinks that the Empire is dead and gone, and has left one of its bread-basket worlds undefended. You will not fight to the death to protect grain, not when your famed industrial replicators will ensure the survival of the population of the planet. Therefore, a sudden strike will secure enough reserves of grain for my fleet that we need not worry about replicator power in the future."

"An army marches on its stomach," nodded Kane. "But who are you marching against? It can't be the Romulans - they almost exterminated your people and are much too powerful to risk a war with. Not the Federation either - we're the same, too big, too powerful. My superiors have been unable to make contact with any government official on Qo'noS - it's doubtful if there even *is* an Empire to defend anymore, so I don't think you're fighting other Klingons."

"You will know, soon enough," said Is'toQ, closing his upright hand into a fist. "The whole quadrant will know, soon enough."

"Leave these people alone, Is'toQ!" snapped Kane angrily. "Take your warriors off this planet and give them back their grain!"

"I will go when I have what I cam for, not before!" exclaimed the Klingon. "If my fleet and your starship engage one another, many of your people will die. If I order my warriors on the surface to shoot to kill anyone who resists us, many more of your people will die!"

"Your sensors and transporter locks are being jammed - "

"I will use shuttles! I will have my Birds of Prey enter the atmosphere and obliterate Port Emily from orbit! This is a crop of plants we are speaking of - does Starfleet now prioritise money over the lives of its citizens?" Is'toQ looked around the room carefully, narrowing his dark eyes. "Mark me well, Kane. I have enough warriors at my command to turn this planet into a lake of blood. Think of it - heaps of dead Humans, women and dead Human children, all for a... plant?"

"An' yore own people!" exclaimed Chisum, mopping his face with his handkerchief. "We got plenny o' Klingons livin' here too, remember!"

"Those Ha'DIbaH are not Klingon!" snarled Is'toQ. "They lost their right to call themselves that when their disgraced ancestors bent the knee to the Federation! Now they are not warriors, they are farmers! Their Klingon hearts have turned to ash!" He jabbed a finger in Kane's direction. "You will give me one million tonnes of grain. You will make the arrangements within one hour. If you do not, I swear on my honour that I will turn this planet into a charnel house. I will kill every living thing on it, sparing no-one, and leave it reeking of the dead. If the Phoenix attempts to prevent me, then I will leave her burning in space." He stepped back and touched the communicator stud on his left forearm. "Bring me up!" In a blaze of orange light, Is'toQ disappeared, the silence surging softly backward in the face of his gutteral words.

Everyone was staring at Kane.

"What're we gonna do?" said Chisum, his voice quaking.

Kane looked around the room. "Let's talk about it."


Scene: Chisum's Office

Kane paced the floor of Chisum's small office while the governor, Eve, and Jasmine looked on. Treena Hobbs had gone to the front door, checking the street to make sure it was still clear, that none of the locals were out causing trouble. In the meantime, Kane had opened communications with the Phoenix, bringing Jake up to speed on what had happened minutes before. The mood in the office had soured - it seemed accurate to say that nobody had expected Is'toQ to take such a hardline stance, and his references to the mass killing of civilians had been truly troubling.

Kane folded his arms and leaned against the wall. "Our question is a simple enough one," he said. "Do we fight to defend the triticale harvest in the face of the kind of violence that Is'toq is threatening? Bear in mind that there are plenty of replicators aboard the Phoenix, and the Courageous is coming to our aid. If the Klingons did strip Sherman's Planet of all its grain, we could keep the population starving until relieved. Do we consider that, or do we have a duty to fight to protect the triticale?"

The question hung in the air, suspended like an invisible Sword of Damocles. If it was one person fighting one person over a loaf of bread, would the dilemma still be the same? The scale was bigger - a thousand people, a thousand loaves of bread. Was moral certitude enough of a justification to start shooting?"

Kane turned to Eve. "Your recommendation, Counselor?"

Eve had been thinking hard about it, but she shook her head as if not fully convinced. "I'm conflicted. It's not right that we simply allow Is'toQ to steal the grain, but if we don't lose anything except our pride, then I have a hard time justifying the bloodbath that we'd find ourselves wading in. I think Is'toQ is very driven, and that he'll try to squeeze as much as he can out of this situation before he leaves. He may well decide to escalate, which means the deaths of innocents on the streets of Port Emily. I'm not happy to say it, but I think we should let him take the grain."

Kane nodded, and turned to Jasmine. "What do you think, Lieutenant?"

Jasmine's expression was just as pained as Eve's, but she had been thinking about the problem from a different angle. "Tactically speaking, you need to measure risk with reward. Is'toQ's reward is as much grain as he needs to feed his army, but he risks much - precipitating a war between the Federation and the Klingons, or taking a lot of casualties by fighting the Phoenix - in the gamble. The crucial difference between the Klingons and us is the civilians - there are no civilians in Is'toQ's fleet, whereas we are trying to protect the entire population of Sherman's Planet. Our room for risk is drastically lower than Is'toQ's. I don't think that any course of action that risks innocent lives down here is tactically acceptable, especially since we have nothing to gain from the gamble. I also recommend that we give the grain to Is'toQ."

"I think I see where this is going," said Kane grimly. He glanced at Governor Chisum, who face was a clammy mask of concern. "What about you, Commander Crichton?"

[[The Klingons have stopped roughing us up for now, but if they come looking for blood it's going to be a hard fight,]] said Jake over the comms. [[Sure, we could fight them, but is this the cause we want to die over? Is a shipment of replicatable quintotriticale to be the flashpoint of the Federation's next war? Because I've lived through one of those and don't want to have to do it again. Give Is'toQ his damn grain, and let the diplomats handle it from there.]]

"Alright." Jake's recommendation wasn't surprising. He was a veteran of the Second Dominion War, a bloody two-year conflict that ended only nine years ago, and Kane was not, having already resigned from Starfleet when it began. Many tens of thousands of current Starfleet personnel were veterans like Jake, and Kane could well understand why their first instinct would be for peace. "Thank you all. It feels wrong to simply allow Is'toQ to take what he wants simply because he might be stronger than us, but perhaps there is something to be said for choosing your fights carefully. Governor Chisum, we haven't heard from you. What are you thinking?"

All the fight seemed to have gone out of Chisum. He seemed deflated like a balloon, and let out a deep sigh as he wiped his face with his handkerchief. "Ah ain't got much o' a choice, Cap'n Kane. If'n Starfleet won' help us, we got two choices - let this here thing happen, or duke it out by ourselves. Well, maybe Ah'm a coward too, because Ah don' wanna be goin' ta the funerals o' mah constituents for the next month. Ah guess we jus' let the bully win, huh."

His words stung. Kane didn't like hearing them. Was it possible that he and his officers *were* showing cowardice, albeit a moral kind? Starfleet wasn't exactly the military, but surely a stand had to be made against Is'toQ? Was it their role as Starfleet officers to defend Federation property against aggression, just as vigorously as they would try to protect Federation lives? And if the odds were hopeless, what then? Did the eight hundred people aboard the Phoenix have to die just to satisfy some version of honour?

Not for the first time in his career, Michael Turlogh Kane felt the weight and loneliness of being in command. If he turned everyone left when the correct decision was to go right, he would be the one called to answer for it, especially if that decision led to the deaths of those under his command. Thoughts like that could paralyse a man, make him impotent and afraid to to anything in case it was the wrong thing.

Kane took a deep breath. He made his decision. He opened his mouth to speak -

- and then Fate made it for him.


Location: USS Phoenix, high above
Scene: Main bridge - deck 1, saucer section

Jake Crichton didn't believe it at first, but when he got to his feet in response to Byte's announcement and approached the Ops station, he could see it too. There, in the data relay, lay the news that they'd been silently wishing for - the starship Courageous and all her Sovereign-class guns was less than an hour away. The Phoenix had even received a short text message from Captain Sh'vinnar announcing her imminent arrival and encouraging the Phoenix to hold on, and Jake felt a surge of elation as he realised that the Klingons must know it too. Comms chatter had increased among the nigh-dozen starships in their fleet, but as yet none of them had moved.

The Courageous' imminent arrival meant two things, tactically speaking. First, it tipped the balance of power in favour of Starfleet. If Is'toQ wanted to fight, the combined firepower of the Phoenix and Courageous would likely splatter his ageing starships into atoms, a fact which led in to the second thing - is Is'toQ really did want to attack, he was going to do it now, before the arrival of the Courageous. The next hour was going to be more dangerous than that had gone before it.

Mackenzie Procter nodded to him from tactical, signalling to him that the channel was still open to the away team on the surface. Jake lifted his voice. "Confirmed, Captain! The Courageous is less than an hour away!"

[[This changes everything!]] exclaimed Kane over the comms. [[Beam me up immediately and open a channel to the Leading Sword!]]

Jake nodded to Byte to confirm Kane's orders. "Captain, if we drop our shields - ?"

[[Is'toQ would be insane to open fire on the Phoenix now, not with a second starship inbound,]] said Kane. [[We can afford to take the risk, Commander.]]

Jake stood back as the shields went down and then transporter engaged. The Leading Sword hung on the main viewer, a spider on a line, but she did nothing. No movement from her nor her escort cruisers, no power fluctuations. They waited and watched as the white-blue pillar of light deposited Kane back onto the bridge.

Procter had opened her channel and nodded a readiness to the captain. The main viewer winked a change - instead of showing the Klingon fleet against the backdrop of Sherman's Planet, it now showed an angry-looking Klingon warlord. Is'toQ's face was creased with emotion - his brow was furrowed, his jaw jutting, and his teeth were bared.

"Is'toQ," said Kane. The captain's tone was not conciliatory - it was authoritative. Jake kept his eyes on the Klingon as Kane kept talking. "By now your sensors have picked up the approach of a Sovereign-class battleship. It is the USS Courageous, dispatched from Starbase One-Three-Three to support the Phoenix's operations in this sector. In less than an hour, you will be facing two federation capital ships."

The Klingon's mouth twisted into a sneer. Behind him in the gloom of his bridge, several shadowy Klingons looked on, their silhouettes cast by the dull lighting from their control stations. {{If you think that I am afraid, Kane, think again. I have a quarter-million tonnes of triticale in my hold, and I will never give it up!}}

"I'm not telling you to give it up," said Kane evenly. He moved to the centre of the bridge, right up to the main viewer, in order to make himself appear as large as possible in the viewscreen of the Leading Sword. "But I am telling you to leave - now, while you can. The Federation was never going to permit your starships to remain unchallenged in this sector. Take your warriors and the grain you have stolen and go in peace, while you can."

{{You think that I am afraid of fighting two Federation starships?}}

"No, but I also think that you're not stupid," said Kane. "You want to preserve as much of your fleet as possible in order to pursue whatever war you're bent on fighting. You don't want to fight here, today - your battle lies elsewhere. I'm offering you a chance to leave with the booty you have. Claim your victory and go."

Is'toQ seemed to consider Kane's words. He nodded, curtly, then his lips split into a slow wolfish smile. {{So be it, Kane. You are correct - our battle lies elsewhere. But know this - we Klingons do not forget an opponent's defiance. I have marked you and all your crew for death. They say that the mighty dreadnought cannot be defeated - but one day, I swear it, I will destroy the Phoenix and everyone on it, and grind its legend into dust.}}

Jake glanced at Kane, expecting the captain to say something in response, but he didn't. Instead, Kane reached out with his left hand and touched a control on Byte's station, wordlessly cutting the comms channel and leaving Is'toQ to vent his fury at an empty viewscreen.


Location: Space, orbiting Sherman's Planet
Scene: The Klingon fleet and the Phoenix

One by one, the Klingon starships began to turn on their axes and jump to warp, their noses pointing back to the ragged expanse of stars that held the rump of the once-mighty Klingon Empire. First the Birds of Prey, followed by the K'vort-class cruisers, then finally by the Leading Sword, the holds of the ageing Negh'Var-class battleship straining with all the triticale beamed up from the surface of Sherman's Planet.

In the wake of their departure, the Phoenix resumed its orbit, violet nacelles dulling down as the impulse engine was engaged. Moments later, in a burst of white light, the Sovereign-class USS Courageous jumped in-system, making her leisurely way toward the planet to join her sister ship.

The intruders were gone, and peace returned to the skies above Sherman's Planet.


Location: Thytos homestead, outside Port Emily
Scene: Ruined farmyard

Kassandra Thytos had just finished hefting a charred hunk of wood on top of the nearby pile. She wiped the sweat from her mouth with a rough hand and stood up, the bones in her back creaking. "Goddam," she muttered, "gittin' too old fer this."

The farmyard had been destroyed by the fire. The barn was ashes, having crumbled to pieces in the blaze, taking all their triticale with it.One of the farming robots, obeying its programming to help fight the fire, had shorted its circuits in the heat and ended up engulfed by the flames - it was still functional, but needed a complete rewiring.

Through it all, the farmhouse remained. The place where Kass and her sister had grown up still stood upright, blackened by smoke and seared by the heat of the fire, but it was there. Through the kitchen window, her mother was busying herself with tidying up, and out back, her father was cussing and fussing as he totted up what had been lost in the fire. Ethan Edwards had taken his leave shortly beforehand, returning to Port Emily to lend a hand there, but promising to send assistance when he could.

Dawn had broken, painting the eastern sky a blazing orange, and a light breeze was striking up to mitigate the sun's warmth. The spirits of the night had all been chased away, just like the Klingons raiders, and the morning birds were singing in the nearby hedgerows and trees.

Hector Thytos clumped his way around the side of his house and approached his daughter. "Well, it all coulda bin worse, Ah guess," he said gruffly. "Ah'm glad yore ma made me buy that damn replicator last fall."

Kass nodded. "Yup."

The two of them regarded the mess in the yard. The robots were cleaning it up, piece by piece, incinerating what could not be salvaged. Hector shook his head. "Y'all gotta git back ta yore ship?"

Kass nodded. "Yup." She cast an eye into the sky - no more Birds of Prey up in the blue. "We bin ordered back ta Mars, somethin' about a system upgrade. Don't sound like work for no marine, that's fer sure."

"Robots'll fix it all up," said Hector sagely, looking around at the mess. "Time y'all come on home, place'll be all fixed up. 'Course, after what we've gone through with the local Klingons an' such, Ah doubt things'll ever git back ta they way they useta be."

"Who's that a-comin'?" asked Kass.

Over the gentle curve of a nearly drumlin, several humanoid figures were walking towards the Thytos farmyard. Silhouetted against the rising sun, Kass couldn't make out their features, but she could see that they were carrying rakes, hoes, shovels, and all sorts of farmyard tools.

"Some neighbours comin' ta help?" asked Hector, squinting in the sunlight.

Kass raised her other hand to shield her eyes from the glare, and the figures approached. They were all local Klingons, and they were being led by Sompek. As the burly Klingon opened the gate and entered the farmyard, the other Klingons fanned out and began to begin cleaning up the debris. Sompek walked up towards Kass, and her father, a smile on his face, his hand lifted in greeting.

Kass felt her heart warm up more than the sun. "Yup," she said to her father. "Some neigbours comin' ta help."


NRPG: "The Trouble With Triticale" is over. The Klingons are gone with some of the grain, and relations between the local Humans and Klingons have settled down again. What Is'toQ's bigger purpose is remains a mystery, but his final words seemed to hint at a future confrontation, so maybe we'll find out again... some day.

The Phoenix is heading back to the Sol system, bound for Mars. If you want to post about shipboard life during that voyage, reflecting on what has happened on Sherman's Planet, go right ahead!

Jerome McKee
the Soul of Captain Michael Turlogh Kane
Commanding Officer

"He speaks an infinite deal of nothing!"
- Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", Act 1, Scene 1.113



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