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Posted on Sep 01, 2019 @ 9:49pm by Captain Michael Turlogh Kane

Mission: Last Days of Empire


(Continued from "Wheeling And Dealing")


Captain's log, supplemental - while Lieutenant Byte analyses sensor readings of the battle, Commander Crichton's mission aboard the Orion hulk continues. It appears that the Klingons were responsible for the deaths of the crew, but this Orion blockade runner was scheduled to meet with the Satet at these co-ordinates...


Location: US Phoenix, standing off the Orion hulk
Stardate: [2.19]0901.1350
Scene: Main Bridge - deck 1, saucer section

Michael Turlogh Kane listened intently to Jake's report even as he studied the battle-scarred Orion hulk in the main viewer. The Phoenix dwarfed the blockade runner in sheer bulk, and Kane knew that it was possible to drag the thing in tow if need be, but that would do nothing except add extra ballast to the dreadnought's own weight. Besides, if the Orions found the Starfleet vessel hauling around the shattered hulk of one of their own starships, they might not be too amenable to co-operation.

Behind him, Joanna Masters sat in the bridge's jumpseat next to Eve, looking around her in wonder. The woman had probably never been on a ship of this size before, nor seen such a diversity in a crew. There were representatives of twenty-eight different sentient species on the Phoenix right now, symbolic of the wider Federation, all working together towards one goal. You couldn't help but be caught up in it.

Hector Solorzano, who was manning Operations while Byte worked on one of the Science stations with Lieutenant Crow, was remaining stoic. Kane was determined to tear the man a new one if he even felt the urge to turn around and look at Joanna Masters, never mind acted on it. Inter-personal relationships were tricky enough, he mused, idly dreaming of the day a captain needed no other crew except a good ship's computer.

[[Doctor Allison reports that our EVA seals are still intact,]] Jake was saying. [[The neurotoxin that got triggered was probably in response to our accessing the ship's main computer. It's probably a vengeance weapon - anyone who manages to kill all the crew and access the databanks ends up dead themselves.]]

"Understood," Kane nodded. "The toxin will be isolated and broken down in the matter stream when you beam back. What's happening now?"

[[The data upload to the Phoenix computer is complete,]] said Jake. [[I'd like to sweep the ship first, though.]]

"What for?" Kane frowned.

{{Being thorough, sir,]] said Jake. [[There is no danger here.]]

Kane paused a moment. There was no danger right now, but there was no telling what other booby traps the Orions might have laid for other boarders. He felt that slight jump in his heart whenever he steeled himself to give an order that sent other people into potential danger. "Alright, Commander, proceed. Report back in thirty minutes. Phoenix out."

The comms channel disconnected, and ten thousand kilometres of vacuum again separated the away team from their mothership. Kane turned around and made for the rear of the bridge.


Location: Orion blockade runner, ten thousand kilometres away
Scene: Main Bridge -> lower decks

Jake turned back to Lynette Ryan, Allison Samson, and Jasmine Yu, who were waiting expectantly. None of them seemed perturbed by the bodies of the Orion crew lying akimbo in the dusty emptiness - the situation was a little creepy, but if anyone was feeling nervous, they weren't showing it.

They had found quite a few answers. This Orion ship had been scheduled to meet with the Satet at this point in space. The reason for the rendesvous was unclear, but its outcome was - at some point, before or after the meeting, or perhaps during, a Klingon K'vort-class heavy Bird of Prey decloaked and attacked. The Klingons boarded the Orion ship and killed everyone aboard her. On the one hand, it made their search for the Satet that bit more difficult, but on the other, it was surely an indication of open conflict between the Klingons and Orions.

Jake looked at Lynette. Her face was eerily underlit by her EVA helmet lights. "Have you got a layout of this tub?"

Lynette checked her tricorder. {{Yes, Commander. This class of ship has so many variants that it's impossible to determine how close to the original design it is. I'm reading three decks spread out across the bridge, hull, and engine sections. Still no power readings or life signs, but - }}

Jake moved to her side. The datastream from her tricorder was scrolling up on her helmet's visor, reflected by her transparent faceplate. "But what?"

Lynette gestured to the datastream. {{The Orion databanks are networked just like ours are, right? So you can access the same information whether you're on the Phoenix's bridge, or in sickbay, or in Engineering.}}

Jake grinned at her. "I've been an engineer half my life."

Lynette threw a thumb over her shoulder. {{This ship's network has a separate and isolated computer bank on the deck below us. It's not like an auxiliary system or a redundant node - it literally looks like its own little databank, separate from the main network.}}

{{Why would they do that?"}} asked Jasmine. {{The Phoenix's main computer is capable of isolating any subsystem at any time. Having an unlinked subsystem seems wasteful.}}

{{Precious data?}}

Jake, Lynette, and Jasmine all turned to face Allison Samson. The young woman had been silent for most of the mission, albeit moving and acting in a professional manner, and Jake had to admit that she startled him with her sudden interjection.

{{Well, that's what I would do with a virology report that couldn't be lost, for example,}} she continued. {{The Orions were storing precious information in that databank, mark my words.}}

Jake was grinning again. "Good call, Doctor. Ensign Ryan, plot us a route through the ship to that databank's access point. Lieutenant Yu, you take point. We'll contact the Phoenix once we arrive. Let's move it."

He fell into step behind Jasmine as Lynette began to call off which turns to take. They moved deeper into the Orion hulk.


Location: USS Phoenix, as before
Scene: Main bridge - deck 1, saucer section

Kane stood behind Byte and Karrington Crow. The two of them were sitting at the Operations Two station at the rear of the bridge, cross-checking and analysing the sensor readings of the Orion hulk's superstructure. If the hull scorch marks could be matched to the plasma residue of the shipboard weapons used between the Klingons and Orions, then the time and date of the battle could be pinpointed.

Kari Crow was watching in astonishment as Byte cycled through millions of individual sensor readings in mere seconds. The android's cornflower blue eyes flickered like candleflame over the screen, absorbing every piece of information.

She looked up at Kane. "He's amazing," she smiled. "No need for me to be here at all."

Byte didn't take its eyes off the screen, but inclined its head towards the science officer. {{Not so, Lieutenant. My conclusion will be based on the aggregate of raw data only - I lack the capacity to extrapolate from intuition.}}

Kari raised an eyebrow. "Why do you say that, Byte?"

The android stopped what it was doing and cocked its head like a bird, turning to look at Kari and Kane both. In response, the computer data stream scrolled to a halt. {{Because I am not Human, Lieutenant. Were you unaware of this?}}

Kane chuckled. "Mister Byte, in any given analysis, are you capable of mathematically projecting the statistical likelihood of those conclusions that are *not* the most likely?"

The look of confusion on Byte's face was akin to a pet dog being shown a card trick. {{Of course I can, Captain. In less time than it took you to speak that sentence.}}

Kari poked the android in the arm. "Humans do that too, Byte. We do it through our instincts, not through a positronic computational matrix, but the premise is the same. In any given analysis, if I distrust the most likely conclusion, I too can project the next most likely outcome by going to my gut. We use different methods to achieve the same end result. Our intuitions are just different, that's all."

"You're more Human than you think, Mister Byte," smiled Kane.

The android's face seemed to shine like a praised child. {{Thank you, sir.}}

"It was only a statement of fact." Kane gently motioned toward the screen. "If we could get back to the matter at hand?"

Byte swivelled in its seat and began to manipulate the LCARS display. {{Of course, Captain. Sensors have analysed ninety-seven per cent of the blockade runner's superstructure. All readings of the open space around the hulk thus far indicate Orion and Klingon disruptor residue - no Starfleet-issue shipboard weapons were used in the battle.}}

Kari nodded slowly. "So the Satet was not present when the shooting started?"

{{That supposition cannot be proven based on current data,}} said Byte. {{It is possible that the Satet was present for the entire battle and departed afterward. She may have been captured or reached some kind of accord with the Klingons, for example.}}

"How likely is that?" asked Kane.

Byte's brow creased. {{Insufficient data, Captain.}}

"Can you pinpoint the date of the battle?" asked Kari.

{{Affirmative, Lieutenant.}} The android stopped analysing the data. {{The battle between the Orions and the Klingons is less than twenty-four hours old.}}

"What?" Kane frowned. He turned to face the main bridge, moving down towards the centre seat. "Yellow Alert!" he snapped. "Commence scanning for cloaked Klingon vessels!"

Eve got to her feet as Kane approached her. "You think the Klingons are still here?"

"If the window between the battle and now was longer, then I might not be so cautious," he said. "Less than a day is too short. The Klingons might be lying in wait to see if another Orion starship comes to check on its comrade."

The Yellow Alert bars began to flash on the walls of the bridge. At Tactical, Mackenzie Procter was following standard procedure and raising the Phoenix's shields.

And on the Orion blockade runner, the away team was now cut off.


Location: Orion blockade runner hulk
Scene: Corridor -> Quarters

It was a strange thing, walking among the dead. The Orion blockade runner wasn't an especially big ship, but it seemed like every corridor junction and room that the away team passed held a body or two. All Orion, no Klingons.

Jake wondered why that was. Klingons didn't seem to have much reverence for their dead - they treated the bodies of fallen warriors as empty shells, the spirit having departed for Sto'Vo'Kor - but he supposed that it was likely that no Klingons had been killed in the boarding action that had vanquished the Orions. The majority of the dead Orions, male and female both, bore signs of having been killed in close combat, having been run through by bat'leths or had their throats opened by met'leths. In those sections of the ship where artificial gravity lingered, the Orions lay where they had fallen, but most of them floated in the interior vacuum like strange marionettes with their strings cut, their green blood painting the walls a kaleidoscope of weird shapes.

Jasmine was leading the way, her hand on her phaser, with Jake following. Behind him, Allison Samson kept pace, while Lynette Ryan brought up the rear, reading off directions from the tricorder.

After leaving the bridge, they had moved through the mausoleum-like corridors to an access tunnel, and climbed down a ladder to the deck below. By the tricorder, they were about half-way along the blockade runner's length and approaching the area where the mystery databank was located.

{{Around the next corner, to the left,}} said Lynette over the comnet.

Jake's breathing was loud in his head. If the four of them had not been here, this place would have been a floating tomb, silent and in pitch darkness. Now, the lights of their helmets cut through that darkness, illuminating the scene and sending the shadows scurrying away.

Old habits died hard. Before turning into the new corridor, Jasmine paused and peeked slowly around the corner. Seeing it was clear, she advanced forward, beckoning the away team to follow.

{{Hold it!}} called Lynette. She turned to her right, facing an innocuous section of deckplate. Inside her helmet, her face assumed a quizzical expresion. {{That's strange. I was expecting there to be a door to a room, or an access port or something. If I'm reading this right, the databank is behind this wall section.}}

{{Some kind of security feature?}} suggested Allison.

{{Maybe,}} agreed Lynette. {{Probably why the Klingons didn't find it.}}

Jake gestured to Jasmine. "Lieutenant Yu, cut a hole in the deckplate. Everybody, stan - "

[[Phoenix to away team.]] Captain Kane's distinctive accent cut across the comms, interrupting him.

Jake motioned for everyone to freeze. "Crichton here. Go ahead."

[[Commander, the Phoenix has initiated a Yellow Alert. We have begun scanning for cloaked Klingon vessels that may be nearby. Be advised that immediate beam-out is not guaranteed.]]

Jake swallowed hard. "Understood, Captain. Away team out." With the Phoenix's shields up, a transporter matter stream would not be able to return to the ship. For the moment, they were trapped here among the dead.


Location: USS Phoenix, as before
Scene: Main bridge - deck 1, saucer section

Kane watched the starfield intently. It wasn't like he was going to be able to see a cloaked Klingon ship, but the act of scrutinising the stars made him feel better. Not for the first time, he second-guessed himself - was he being too cautious? He'd look foolish for scaring everyone if these co-ordinates turned out to be empty.

"Anything?" he said.

Hector Solorzano shook his head. "No."

Form the rear of the bridge, Byte stood up. {{It might help if you concentrated your scans for a K'vort-class heavy Bird of Prey, Lieutenant. According to the data uploaded from the away team, that was the class of Klingon starship that attacked the Orions.}}

"Understood." Heck began narrowing the search parameters as Kane continued watching. It wasn't exactly common knowledge, but in the past fifty years, Federation sensor technology had outstripped Klingon cloaking technology. It had begun to happen during the Alliance War of forty years ago, and had been cemented by the Romulan conquest of the Klingons shortly afterward. Klingon starships were older designs, and thanks to the enormous political upheaval across the declining Empire of the past few decades, their ship classes had not moved with the times. The Phoenix's sensors were sensitive enough to spot both the plasma exhaust residue of an impulse engine and the subtle distortion of the EM spectrum that allowed Klingon cloaking devices to bend light around their ships. Unless the Klingons had drastically improved their sensor tech in the past half-century, the Phoenix would be able to pin-point any Klingon starship in the area. In short, they could no longer hide.

Thirty seconds passed in silence as the Phoenix's invisible fingers reached out to touch the space around the Orion hulk. If the Klingons were nearby, they had been silently watching this whole time - watching the arrival of the Phoenix, watching the away team being beamed to the blockade runner, watching the Phoenix conduct its investigation, all without revealing themselves. That was a bit suspicious - after all, there was no argument between the Federation and the rump of the Empire - but then, Kane supposed, if the Satet had been here, and the Klingons knew about it, then maybe they were taking the most prudent action. Why had this second Federation starship - this one girded for war - arrived? What was going on? Perhaps that was why the Klingons had decided to remain hidden.

If they are here, that is, he thought. But they had to be. He could almost feel it.

"Cloaked Klingon K'vort-class starship detected!" snapped Heck. "Bearing zero-two-five, mark one-zero-zero! Range eighty thousand kilometres!"

Ahead to the right and a little beneath the Phoenix, Kane thought. At a relatively safe distance, too. "Is she moving?"

Heck shook his head. "No, she's stationary. Sensors show a fully functional warp field. Their tech can't mask it. We've got them, Captain."

Kane set his jaw. This point in space was far from the boundary of the Federation - in fact, it was far from anyone's boundary. A half-century ago it used to be part of the trailing edge of the Klingon Empire, before the Romulans came and obliterated it. Now it was a wild land, subject to the imperial ambitions of the Orion Syndicate and the nationalist imperative of the Klingons. No Starfleet regulation in existence would support an unprovoked attack upon a foreign starship - and the Klingons had not provoked the Phoenix. They were just sitting there in the dark, watching, probably knowing better than to risk an attack upon the dreadnought.

The away team were still on the blockade runner. The Klingons needed to be eliminated from the equation in order to get them back. Better if they were compelled to leave the area altogether.

Kane glanced at Mackenzie Procter at Tactical. "Lieutenant, prepare a sensor probe and launch when ready. Send it right down the throat of the Klingons. Let them know that we know exactly where they are."

"Aye, Captain." Procter keyed in the command. A few seconds later, the dull thump of the launching probe was audible, and its silvery hull was visible on the main viewer, spiralling away from the Phoenix towards the cloaked Klingon ship.


Location: Orion blockade runner hulk
Scene: Corridor, as before

Jake stepped back and motioned for Jasmine to commence cutting with her phaser. The others did the same, and Jake silently willed her to be fast. If the Phoenix suspected that a Klingon starship was lying in wait nearby, this mission had just gotten a whole lot more dangerous. One torpedo would probably finish off this tub, incinerating Orion corpses and Starfleet away team alike.

His helmet's HUD detected the bright orange cutting beam and automatically dampened the ambient light reaching his eyes, stopping him from being dazzled as Jasmine's phaser made short work of the Orion deckplate. Moving efficiently, she cut a large oval shape, big enough to admit everyone if they stooped. Sparks fizzed and popped as Lynette, Allison, and Jake looked on.

When she was done cutting, Jasmine put one foot against the deckplate and pushed hard. The deckplate caved inward, then floated free, and Jasmine grasped it, pulling it away from the hole she had made and sending it floating away down the corridor. The SecTac looked inside before turning to Jake and nodding that it was safe.

Jake approached the hole and peered within. It was a small room, no bigger than a storage closet on the Phoenix, with room for maybe two people to sit down in. A viewscreen and control panel were attached to one wall, and riveted to the walls on either side were various dead computer nodes and power conduits. He got down on his haunches and stepped inside, standing up straight again to take a better look around. "Ensign Ryan, in here."

Lynette stepped through the gap behind him. With the two of them inside, it was cramped, but Jake indicated the control panel and viewscreen. "Our mysterious databank."

Lynette closed her tricorder. {{Yes, sir. It should be easy to activate once it has power.}} She reached into one of the pounches on her EVA suit's belt and produced a small portable magnetic battery. Placing it on the wall next to the control panel, she activated the battery and opened the tricorder again. The little device began to flash a small red light as it searched for something to interface with. {{Standby, Commander.}}

Jake stood by.

Suddenly, the Orion viewscreen and control panel underneath activated with a light hum and the battery beganb to flash green. A series of coloured lights lit up the room, and the viewscreen winked into life. The symbol of the Orion Syndicate appeared on the screen, then a series of lines of Orion writing.

{{Bingo,}} said Lynette. The tricorder interfaced with the viewscreen and began to translate the words, sending them to the device's datastream. {{These appear to be a series of subspace communications messages received by this ship. The most recent is yesterday.}}

"Can you play it?" asked Jake.

{{I think so.}} Lynette made an adjustment on the tricorder.

The viewscreen changed again, and the most recently-received message began to play. When it winked up on the screen, Jake caught his breath in fearful surprise. He wasn't sure what he had been expecting, but the figure on the screen was not Orion, nor Klingon, nor was it Robert Book of the Satet.

The figure on the screen was a Romulan Commander, and he was sending a message from the bridge of a Romulan starship.


Location: USS Phoenix, as before
Scene: Main bridge - deck 1, saucer section

It took scant seconds for the sensor probe to traverse the distance to the hidden Klingon starship. Magnified on the main viewer, the little probe slowed to a halt in the midst of empty space, sending its data back to the Phoenix's Tactical station. This close, there was no mistaking the Klingons - the probe was able to taste the tritanium of their hull, sniff the plasma residue from their engines - everything bar hearing them talk. Their cloak couldn't hide them.

Everyone on the Phoenix's bridge watched to see how the Klingons would react. Kane didn't expect them to attack - that would have been suicidal - but Klingons were not a people given to modesty. Something was going to happen.

"Captain!" exclaimed Heck, gesturing at the viewscreen. "She's decloaking!"

On the main viewer, space snarled and writhed, distorting into a blurred, stretched shape that began to solidify. The Klingon starship threw off its invisibility screen, revealing itself to the universe at large. It was old, and had seen many battles, its matte olive-green hull pockmarked and scorched with ancient disruptor blasts. An old K'vort-class, a design now stretching back one-and-a-half centuries, but this particular ship looked like it had been refitted several times.

The Klingons didn't do anything. They just hung there in space.

"Orders, sir?" asked Procter at Tactical.

Kane shook his head. Both ships were eyeballing one another. "Let them make the first move."

The seconds ticked by. Kane wondered what was happening on the Klingon bridge. It wasn't like they could do anything without the Phoenix knowing about it. Sending a subspace message, activating their shields or weapons, preparing to jump to warp would be spotted by the Phoenix's sensors and relayed to him quickly. The Klingons were at an enormous tactical disadvantage. Surely, Kane mused, their captain must see that.

Suddenly, lances of green phased energy shot out from the gun barrels mounted on the wings of the Klingon ship. They slammed into the probe, obliterating it in a sudden small fireball.

"Probe has been destroyed!" reported Heck.

For one crazy moment, Kane thought they were going to do it, that the Klingons were going to rush forward, all guns blazing, and be torn apart by the Phoenix's armament, but they didn't. As the fireball from the destroyed probe faded, the K'vort-class starship slowly turned on its axis and moved away at impulse power.

Bravado it might have been, but Kane was relieved to see them go.


Location: Orion blockade runner, as before
Scene: Computer databank

While Allison and Jasmine waited outside, Jake and Lynette exchanged incredulous glances. There was no mistaking it - this Orion ship had received a subspace message from a Romulan Warbird less than a day ago. It didn't immediately add up - the entirety of the Orion Syndicate, and the lawless Triangle, lay between this point in space and the spinward edge of the Romulan Star Empire. What was going on?

The Romulan officer on the screen was male, and looked to be in his late middle years. His skin was a waxy yellow, with a noticeable shade of dull green at his lips. He was wearing the silver jacket of an imperial officer, and affixed on his collar was the blue-and-green eagle symbol of the Tal'Shiar - the feared Romulan intelligence service.

"Can you play that?" asked Jake.

Lynette nodded. She keyed in the command, and the message on the viewscreen moved into life.

The Romulan Commander began speaking, and Jake's universal translator kicked in to make the words coherent, but it was apparent that some of the message was garbled or missing. {{ - orts indicate that you are correct. The Klingons have indeed established a prison camp in the Alcyonus system, housing several dozen Orion personnel. We have passed on our intelligence to your superiors, and it is my understanding that the bulk of your forces in this sector are moving there as we speak.}}

The Romulan man paused before speaking again. {{The Klingons may be barbarous animals, but they are not fools. Their pirate commander is moving to counter this push. It seems likely that a major fleet engagement will take place in Alcyonus in the next few days, one that may well decide the outcome of this conflict. Your forces will emerge victorious, of course. Our arrangement will see to that.}}

Another voice, off-screen, spoke. It was female. Jake guessed it must be the Orion ship commander. [[And the Terran trader we told you about?]]

The Romulan frowned deeply. {{Very suspicious. It is possible that he is an independent merchant as he says. However, we are of the 'safety first' mentality. Better to detain him and his crew when you meet them. That way, they will be safe and the Federation will have no reason to involve itself in your imperial affairs. Furthermore, we sugg - }}

There was a fizz, and a pop, from somewhere in the control panel, and the screen went blank. Lynette slapped her tricorder. {{No, no, no!}}

"What's wrong?" asked Jake. His mind was awhirl, trying to process all this new information.

{{Some kind of security feature!}} said Lynette. {{All the files are being deleted! They're gone!}} She looked up. {{I'm sorry, Commander. I should have known - it was too easy to access that message. There must have been a security system we overlooked!}}

Jake placed a hand on her arm. "Don't worry, Ensign. We've got a new lead." He touched the communicator stud on the forarm of his EVA suit. "Away team to Phoenix."

[[Go ahead, Commander.]] It was Kane.

"Mission accomplished. Requesting update on the situation," said Jake.

[[There was a cloaked Klingon starship, but it is moving away,]] said Kane. [[Are you ready to beam out?]]

Jake glanced through the opening at Jasmine and Allison. "Yes, sir. As soon as possible. We've got a hell of a story to tell you."


NRPG: The plot thickens!

Based on this post, can you construct a workable hypothesis on what happened in this system? Where is the Satet now? Where should the Phoenix look next? Does the Tal'Shiar message ring any alarm bells?

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 1.117



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