- Text Size +

Chapter Eleven


Ebnal had only lasted minutes in CIC before he’d returned to resume his place on the bridge. He knew he should be delegating from the task force command center, but he was loath to pass his orders through an intermediary while in the thick of things.

Venture’s Ops officer announced, “It looks like the Amon systems are coming back online, Captain.”

The Denobulan at Tactical added, “Transporter chief confirms the SMT’s are back aboard. Casualties were heavy, but the mission was a success, sir.”

“Open fire, all ships.” Ebnal stood, glowering at the viewscreen as Starfleet and Klingon weapons fire slammed into the mighty cube. “Prep one of the zero-point Alpha Weapons. I’ve already entered my security code.”

The XO quickly added his counter-authorization, arming the device. “Good to go, sir.”

“Smoke the bastards,” Ebnal growled.

At that moment, the Amon regained control of their weapons and defenses. Though the task force’s opening salvo had savaged the outer skin of the cube, most of the vessel’s weapons emplacements remained undamaged.

A searing white cutting beam lanced out from the cube to punch through the shields of a Klingon K’tinga-class cruiser, slicing cleanly through the graceful neck of the ship and causing the two halves to spin away in opposite directions.

A swarm of missiles and torpedoes raced towards the task force, some of them winking out of existence en route, only to rematerialize inside their targets. The Ambassador-class Sheffield ceased to exist as a massive explosion consumed the starship.

Other craft engaged in wild evasive maneuvers, hoping to avoid the incoming wave of projectiles. Phasers and disruptors that had been trained on the cube were now desperately trying to intercept the oncoming warheads.

Amel-Saff was fortunate to have only lost her port nacelle in a collision with the aft third of a Klingon Vor’cha-class battlecruiser blown free from another concussive detonation.

Two proto-matter missiles struck Venture, followed by a string of harrowingly potent disruptor pulses that smashed into their depleted forward shields. The great ship shuddered in a way Ebnal hadn’t felt since Venture had been sandwiched between two Dominion dreadnaughts during the Battle of Betazed.

“EPS overloads, multiple decks!” an ensign at the damage control board called out. “Hull breaches on Decks 12 and—“

Ops drown her out, “Shields down to twenty-seven percent!”

“Forward torpedo launcher is inoperative,” the Tactical officer observed. “The Alpha Weapon is still in the tube.”

Ebnal pounded on his chair’s armrest in frustration. “Get that Alpha launched! I don’t care if you have to beam it out; we can’t take punishment like this for much longer!”

“Lieutenant Jevric from Engineering is in an EVA suit, trying to clear the tube, Captain.”

He forced himself to relax, and watched as another outgoing wave of torpedoes from the task force caused explosions to blossom across the periphery of the cube’s powerful subspace defense field.

“Are any of the other ships able to launch an Alpha Weapon?” Ebnal inquired on a direct comms line to the CIC.

“Negative, sir,” came the dour response. “All ships have standard ordinance cycling through their launch systems. It will take three-plus minutes for any of them to get an Alpha Weapon loaded.”

A Klingon cruiser trailing debris and radiation from multiple hull breaches made a full-impulse suicide run on the cube, only to be shredded by a blistering Gatling-style discharge of jacketed ion pulses that reduced the warship to a cloud of expanding gas.

The Steamrunner-class Turov imploded in the lethal grip of an Amon isolytic charge that briefly subjected the starship to the gravitational forces found in the heart of a neutron star.

“Tube is clear,” the officer manning the bridge’s engineering console exhaled with relief. “Lieutenant Jevric will need sixty seconds to evacuate the tube before we can—“

“No,” Ebnal rasped. “We don’t have a minute. Fire the Alpha Weapon now.”

“But sir, he's still in…”

“Now!” Ebnal barked.

There was a deathly silence on the bridge, punctuated by the words, “Alpha weapon is away, sir.”

A Klingon frigate winged-over, gracefully outmaneuvering three incoming torpedoes, only to be caught by the forth and final one. She detonated soundlessly in a brilliant, spherical bloom of destruction.

The Amon launched a magnetometric guided charge, essentially a highly compressed wave of magnetic energy, which swept across a dozen Klingon and Starfleet ships. The impacts from this wall of energy scattered the vessels like leaves on the wind. The comms channels were flooded with urgent reports of shield collapse, sundry hull breaches and structural integrity failures.

The Amon cube appeared to flicker as a massive distortion warped light in the vicinity of the craft. The entire vessel seemed to be flung back away from the Alpha Weapon’s impact, shedding layers of glowing debris in its wake. The exterior lights on the cube as well as the persistent interior glow of the mighty craft began to wane.

“Direct hit! Reading gravimetric shearing stresses that are off the charts. I’m seeing complete collapse of their subspace field and significant damage, Captain. Power systems on the cube are fluctuating, and they’ve ceased fire.”

“Maintain fire, all ships,” Ebnal ordered.

Phasers, torpedo impacts, and disruptor blasts scoured the nearest facets of the cube, and secondary explosions began to erupt from deeper within the ship.

Ops noted, “They appear to be shifting all remaining power to propulsion, sir.”

“Target their engines, then,” Ebnal snapped.

The cube streaked away to vanish in a distant flash of light.

No one on the bridge dared voice the obvious in the face of Ebnal’s colorful invective.

“Pursuit course,” Ebnal ordered, having exhausted his impressive supply of profanity.

“Sir…” his XO broached hesitantly. “Only a handful of ships are in any shape to pursue.”

“Our warp drive is offline at present, Captain,” added Engineering.

Sheffield and Turov have been destroyed,” the Ops manager offered. “Amel-Saff, Samarkand, Istanbul, and Lancer all report serious damage and casualties, sir. The Klingons report seven ships destroyed, several more heavily damaged.”

Ebnal slumped back into his seat, grinding his teeth at the idea of the Amon escaping their clutches yet again.

“We’ve dealt them a serious blow, sir,” his XO noted hopefully. “It appears we’re in the process of taking Shul’Nazhar without opposition, and might I add we now have an Amon prisoner aboard whom we can interrogate. Perhaps the Amon arranged a pre-set fallback position?”

Ebnal’s eyes narrowed as a dark smile spread across his features. “Yes,” he breathed. “We do, don’t we?”

* * *​  USS Europa

Wu and Kirk returned to the bridge, accompanied by A’lasha, with the commander giving only a vague explanation of who the woman was, and how she’d come aboard.

A’lasha settled into the mission specialist’s seat to the left of the captain’s chair, appearing just a bit uncomfortable being in what amounted to the public eye. She had served alongside some of these people for years, yet they’d never before met her in the flesh.

The port turbolift opened to admit Shanthi to the bridge, his brow furrowed in concentration as he studied a padd on the way to the Science station.

Wu cast a glance in the younger man’s direction. “Mister Shanthi, what’s the situation aboard the station?”

Shanthi made a delaying gesture as he took a brief moment to sync his padd with his workstation, before turning in his chair to address the new commanding officer. “We’ve got a battalion of Marines and thousands of Klingon warriors beginning to clear the more critical areas aboard the station, sir. They’re supplemented by hundreds of recon probes and tactical drones that are scouting ahead of their search teams to map the installation.”

Ensign Ladrun at Ops advised, “Commander, we’ve confirmed that our transponder array made it safely aboard the Amon cube during the last wave of fire from the task force. We’re picking up a low power locator signal that indicates they’re heading for an A-Type star located six-point-seven light years distant. They’re holding steady at Warp Seven.”

At the Flight Control station, Lightner cocked his head to appraise the younger officer seated to his immediate left. “Captain,” he muttered across to Ladrun. “She’s the captain now.”

The Tiburonian blanched with embarrassment. “Apologies, Captain.”

Wu couldn’t completely suppress her self-conscious grimace. “That’s okay, Ensign. It’s… new for all of us.” Shifting gears as she assumed the center seat, Wu observed, “The Amon have transwarp capability, same as us, so we must have knocked that offline with that last barrage.”

“Their damage control assets are formidable,” A’lasha warned. “Even having suffered near-catastrophic damage, you can expect they’ll affect repairs within days.”

Kirk frowned in response to that news. “Great,” she muttered sardonically. “That leaves us back at square one, only next time they’ll have the advantage in any confrontation with us.”

“Not if you run them to ground and finish this,” A’lasha incited. “The virus Lar’ragos unleashed upon them will complicate matters. Even if it doesn’t kill them outright, it should sicken them and give your task force the opportunity it needs to exterminate them.”

An awkward silence followed the unwelcome insinuation regarding Lar’ragos. Officers cast uncertain glances at one another across the compartment.

Verrik stepped in to fill the void, offering, “I am forced to agree with our guest, Captain. Given their resources, our only viable option is to hunt the Amon down and utilize our stock of Alpha Weapons to neutralize the threat they pose.” He looked pointedly at Wu. “Now that battle has been joined, the Amon will have categorized us as a threat to be annihilated. We caught them off-guard once; they won’t allow that to occur again.”

Wu nodded slowly, then directed Verrik’s attention towards A’lasha. “Mister Verrik, I’m placing you in charge of minding our guest.” To Ops, Wu ordered, “Contact Venture and request a meeting between myself and Captain Ebnal. Let them know it’s urgent.”

* * *​
USS Venture
Observation Lounge – Deck 1

Lucian Ebnal glared across the conference table at A’lasha, who was flanked by two of Venture’s security personnel. After being informed of the Vulcan’s presence aboard Europa, Ebnal had insisted that A’lasha accompany Wu aboard Venture to explain herself.

“So,” he drawled acerbically, “I’m supposed to take you at your word that you’re part of this super-secret intel cabal?”

A’lasha offered a wry smirk as she replied, “It’s comforting to know that you’re just as big an ass as your reputation suggests, Lucian. Frankly, I don’t care what you believe.”

Wu frowned from where she sat one seat over from the Vulcan operative. “A’lasha, this isn’t helping…”

Ebnal leaned across the table, a hungry expression radiating across his features. He was legendary for both his temper and venom when provoked. “And were I to accept that claim at face value, what’s the word of a treasonous assassin worth?”

A’lasha’s mien darkened, all traces of amusement vanishing. “You may take issue with Section 31’s tactics, Captain, but we’re on the same side. Both the Amon and the Skorrah are existential threats to the Federation, threats that we’ve actively moved to extinguish.”

“You use Captain Lar’ragos as some kind of unwitting delivery system for your sadistic weapon?” Ebnal spat. “Is that supposed to engender some kind of admiration from me? Sure, I’m a bloodthirsty son-of-a-bitch, but there are lines even I won’t cross.”

She refused to be goaded into an emotional display, remaining as dispassionate as her modern Vulcan brethren. “Lar’ragos participated of his own volition. The man was a patriot in the truest sense of the word. He gave his life to safeguard the Federation. If you don’t move to finish off the Amon now, his sacrifice will have been in vain.”

“Once this station has been secured, I may just do that,” Ebnal allowed. “However, this task force’s strategy is no concern of yours, and I haven’t any more time to waste on you.” Ebnal gestured for the two security personnel to step forward.

A’lasha cocked her head thoughtfully, and then set her hand palm down atop the table. The area beneath her hand glowed briefly as the computer recognized her palm print through the table’s LCARS interface. “Computer,” A’lasha stated, “Erect a Level-10 containment field around Captain Ebnal and transport the two security staff to the brig.”

The guards vanished in twin transporter beams as a forcefield snapped into existence around Ebnal’s chair. For the second time that day, Ebnal was rendered speechless.

“Computer, place containment fields around the perimeter of this compartment to block all avenues of entrance or exit. Accept command and control inputs from myself only beyond this point.” A’lasha remained seated, staring impassively at Ebnal. “This is to settle the matter of my credentials, Captain.”

Wu jumped to her feet and moved to grab hold of A’lasha. The Vulcan, still seated, merely deflected Wu’s attempt, grabbed Wu with one hand and flung the officer the length of the conference table to crash awkwardly to the floor atop a pair of upset chairs.

Ebnal attempted to verbally countermand A’lasha’s orders, but the computer stubbornly refused to acknowledge him.

“I can seize control of your ship at a word any time I like, Captain. I doubt you’d believe it, but I don’t enjoy such a blatant display of our capabilities. Unfortunately, you’ve left me little choice.” A’lasha rose slowly, almost languidly form her seat. “Do we have an understanding, Captain Ebnal?”

Ebnal’s silence spoke volumes.

A’lasha released an exasperated sigh. “Captain, at present your task force is seizing control of a star fortress that has the capability to open transit portals into any galaxy in the local cluster. The answer to all our problems is staring you in the face, yet you’re too blind to see it.”

Wu clambered back to her feet, grimacing as she experimentally shrugged a shoulder nearly wrenched from its socket by A’lasha’s Vulcan strength. “Explain it then,” Wu muttered, her good hand slapping ineffectively at her non-functioning combadge.

“I’m not just talking about the Amon and the Skorrah,” A’lasha enlightened the pair. “Using Shul’Nazhar, we can redirect the alien fleets encroaching on the Alpha Quadrant anywhere we please. If we’re feeling generous, we can deliver them to Class-M worlds in any of a half-dozen nearby galaxies. Those that prove utterly predatory, like the Skorrah or the Kothlis’Ka Armada, we can maroon in the vast emptiness of intergalactic space.”

Ebnal’s eyes widened as he absorbed her words. “How do we know that we can divine the transit portal’s operating systems?”

“I’ve lived among the Amon for months. Though powerful, they are relatively simple, technologically speaking. They co-opted the Borg into maintaining their cube-ship, but otherwise their understanding of alien technologies is seriously lacking. If their cousins the Skorrah were able to figure out how to open the portals, I have every confidence that we can follow suit in short order.”

A’lasha typed a brief string of commands into the LCARS interface in the table top, releasing the containment field around Ebnal. “Think of it, Captain. With Shul’Nazhar in our possession, no one would ever be able to effectively threaten the Federation again. We could send battle fleets into orbit of any hostile planet, and bring them to their knees within minutes.”

A new light now burned behind Ebnal’s eyes, the shining idea of a secure Federation rising ascendant from the chaos following the Dominion War and the Refugee Crisis. His anger at A’lasha’s antics and impertinence vanished. “What about the Klingons?”

A’lasha’s smile returned. “One thing at a time, Captain.”

* * *​

Shanthi looked on as the transporter beam engulfed the crystalline mass. The Skorrah chrysalis seemed to rebuff the transporter’s efforts, causing the beam to shift and stutter until the surrounding transport pattern enhancer cylinders activated. Finally, the mass vanished, leaving behind striations and gouges in the flooring where the chrysalis had bonded to the corridor’s decking.

The young science officer gave the engineer standing next to him a surprised look. “That took a lot more power than I’d have thought necessary.”

The engineer, seconded from the starship Istanbul, nodded agreeably. “Yes,” she said. “There’s some kind of refractive resonance field infused into the chrysalis that gives the transporter fits. Thankfully, the pattern enhancers are able to overcome the interference.”

Shanthi shook his head in disbelief. “How much extra time is that going to add to the process?”

“Well,” she answered, blowing out a resigned breath, “that was chrysalis number seventeen being permanently dematerialized. We’ve got an automated transporter protocol in place now, and we’ve shaved the time down to around ten minutes per. At last report, our scouting teams had identified upwards of forty-thousand chrysalises throughout the station. There are probably more… a lot more. So, at this rate, upwards of forty years, give or take.”

“Damn,” he muttered. “I’ll leave you to it, then.”

Shanthi continued on, making his way through a circular doorway that irised open at his approach, entering what had been identified as the primary control nexus for Shul’Nazhar’s spatial transit portal system.

The compartment was enormous, and contained numerous conical work stations, some measuring twenty meters in height, rising up like technological stalagmites. Circular walkways ringed these conical interfaces, allowing humanoid-sized beings to stand on multiple tiers to access the control consoles.

“Ah, our resident cybernetics expert arrives!” crowed an older male officer clad in a Sciences-blue undershirt in a heavy Russian accent. He gazed down at Shanthi from a control-access platform some ten meters overhead.

“Commander Yakovlev, I presume?” Shanthi asked with a broad smile as he gazed up at the elder researcher, a man who had been Shanthi’s most influential instructor and mentor at Starfleet Academy.

Surprisingly spry for an octogenarian, Yakovlev descended a rail-less circular stairway that had likely been designed for some kind of insectoid species. Reaching the bottom, he enveloped Shanthi in a bear hug and then held the younger man at arm’s length after placing kisses on both the lieutenant’s cheeks. “Da, you young mensch! How are you?”

“I’m well, Joseph Dimitrovitch. And you?”

Oy, for six months they keep me frozen, ship me to the Delta Quadrant and then wake me just in time to cast me off into another galaxy! These old bones don’t know whether I’m coming or going.” The radiant smile on the man’s face belied his theatrical tale of woe. Shanthi well knew the man lived for new discoveries, and Shul’Nazhar was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Shanthi took another moment to admire the artistic simplicity of the surrounding interfaces. “Hard to believe that systems so radically advanced can be managed with comparative ease.”

Yakovlev bobbed his bearded visage enthusiastically. “Very much so. The axiom that the more advanced the technology the simpler the interface applies here.” The scientist paused, and then beamed at his protégé. “Your mother sends her love, Kuenre. She’s very proud of the career and reputation you’ve built for yourself.”

Thankful that his blush-response was subdued due to the darkness of his complexion, Shanthi silently basked in his mother’s praise for a moment. It was a sensation he did not often allow himself. He had tried very hard to set himself apart from his mother and her storied career in Starfleet, the bane of every ‘legacy’ officer following in a parent’s footsteps.

“How is she, Joseph?” Shanthi inquired.

“As always, she’s unwilling to remain idle. Thousana’s been out of uniform long enough now to be considered for the position of Senior Defense Advisor to the Security Council. It’s that or Undersecretary of Defense; she’s not suffering from a lack of employment offers.”

“She likes to keep her fingers on the pulse of the Federation,” he acknowledged. Turning back to the displays, Shanthi asked, “What can I do for you here, Joseph?”

“I need help cracking the logic sequencing in Shul’Nazhar’s portal-control computers. The operating system’s code is ridiculously complex, probably a necessity seeing as the hardware is a mix of over a dozen different exotic technologies spanning eons. I have months-old bio-neural circuitry interfacing with duotronic subprocessors that look to be over ten-thousand years old. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around how this all fits together, and how this marvelous device can possibly even function given it’s pedigree.”

Shanthi’s smile widened. “It sounds like a challenge.”

“Da,” Yakovlev agreed, “the kind that gives me ulcers. Captain Ebnal wants this done yesterday, and he strikes me as a man I don’t wish to disappoint.”

“I’m glad you asked for me, and as it turns out, I may be of even more help that you thought.”

Yakovlev raised a shaggy, snow-white eyebrow. “Oh, really?”

The younger man’s reply was accompanied by a broad, toothy smile. “Beware Zulu’s bearing Bynars, my old friend.”

Yakovlev’s eyes brightened. “You don’t say!”

* * *​   USS Venture
Deck 5, Security Detention Area

He hadn’t fought the containment field, he’d known there would be no point.

His dearest friend was dead. His wife was either dead or hopelessly lost to him. His Starfleet career, once the most important thing in his life, was now a shattered wreck. He was a deserter, a turncoat, a traitor, heir to the mantel of such men as Ronald Tracy, Lance Cartwright, and Michael Eddington.

“You know, I’d seen images of the ‘new’ you, but if I weren’t seeing it with my own eyes I’d hardly believe it.” Those were Lucian Ebnal’s opening words to Zeischt as he stepped in front of the brig-cell’s security screen.

Zeischt sat up slowly on the cell’s bunk, stretching and rubbing his eyes. “Lucian,” he acknowledged. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”

Ebnal stood with arms folded across his chest, glowering at the man who had once been his first officer. “This is the first of what I imagine will be many interrogations prior to your court-martial for desertion, dereliction of duty, and assault on fellow Starfleet personnel.” Clearly agitated, Ebnal looked as if he wanted to rush into the cell and exact justice with his own two hands. “I’m tempted to come in there and kick your ass myself.”

However, Ebnal paused at the appearance of the knowing smile that graced Zeischt’s lips. “You are most welcome to try, Captain.” The Amon paused to examine his hand, which he held out, palm down. It trembled ever so slightly, and Zeischt clenched it into a defiant fist, as if trying to wish away his growing weakness.

“God, you look like you’re detoxing from Syndicate-Y.”

“It’s an apt analogy,” Zeischt admitted. “Only in my case the need is even more destructive physiologically. I’m afraid you won’t get to watch my court-martial, unless you plan on holding it within the next few days.”

Ebnal sneered. “We’ll put you in stasis if necessary.”

Zeischt shook his head in response. “Amon metabolism is more accelerated than most humanoids. Stasis or even cryogenic suspension won’t slow the deterioration of my tissues by much. I’m the proverbial dead man walking, Lucian.”

“Well, well, I guess being a traitor has consequences. Who knew?”

The former Starfleet captain stood and stepped to the field, gazing across the invisible threshold at Ebnal. “I rejoined the Amon to protect the Alpha Quadrant from them and the Skorrah. Starfleet was powerless to stop them.”

Ebnal’s retort was an acidic, “And look how that turned out!”

Zeischt inclined his head, conceding the point. “I underestimated their cultural taboo against taking up arms against another of their tribes. That was my mistake. Pava and a great many others have paid the price for it with their lives.”

“Speaking of Lar’ragos," Ebnal interjected, "you just stood by and let them execute a fellow Starfleet officer? For God’s sake, Donald, the man was your friend!”

“Of course not,” Zeischt sighed. “I moved to stop them, and they threatened to kill me, too.” His eyes glistened and his voice grew ragged. “Even after, I could have saved him, using an Amon regeneration chamber. Your SMT raid denied me the chance to use it.”

“Convenient excuse,” Ebnal replied sourly.

“A’lasha can confirm that tried to intercede, at least.” Zeischt pressed.

Ebnal rolled his eyes. “Again, the word of a spy and an assassin. I’ll grant that for the moment she has some impressive abilities to compromise our control systems, but I won’t be taking her word as gospel on any subject.”

“She also neutralized the Amon defenses,” Zeischt pointed out. “A’lasha gave you the opportunity to cripple them and save the task force. One would think that would improve her credibility.”

The captain snorted, “Well, you’d damn well better think again.”

Zeischt continued as if Ebnal hadn’t spoken. “A’lasha was never an accepted member of the Amon clan. She was an ally, to be certain, and her goals and ours often intersected, but she was never trusted with any secret information, certainly nothing that would ever compromise the Amon.”

A strained silence followed until Ebnal finally said, “Your point?”

“She’s a talented operative, to be sure, but she’s not that good, Lucian. Who do you think provided her with the Amon defense codes?”

Ebnal’s eyes narrowed. “Bullshit. You’d never betray the hand that feeds you… literally in this case.”

Zeischt held Ebnal’s gaze unflinchingly. “Ask her.”

“It keeps coming back to me taking the word of a sociopath. That’s not an especially effective argument, Sandy.”

“You followed Pava Lar’ragos out here,” Zeischt countered. “I’d wager he’s killed more people than A’lasha. I doubt you had any heartache with taking him at his word.”

Ebnal’s expression was one of furious dismay. “What the hell did the Amon do to you? You’re spitting on the memory of your best friend who’s been dead less than six hours. Who are you?“

“I’m the man who gave you the keys to Shul’Nazhar. And if you want the Amon defanged, I’m the person to do it.”

“Kind of hard to do when you're dying.”

Zeischt cocked his head minutely, his eyes boring deep into Ebnal’s. “Europa’s database should still contain the schematics of the system I built to provide myself with life-essence. Your engineers could recreate it in a matter of hours. If you want me to run down the Amon, or hell, even if you only want me to live to stand trial, you’re going to need to feed me.”

Ebnal snarled in response, pivoted sharply on his heel and stalked out without another word.

* * *​

USS Venture

Iris Wu strode down the corridor with Lucian Ebnal, matching the captain step-for-step. “Realistically, sir, we’re your only option. Europa’s transwarp drive will cut our trip from a week to just a few hours. With a robust Alpha Weapons loadout, we’ll be able to pop in next to them, cripple or destroy their cube, a be back here in time for supper.”

They turned a corner in unison, causing a crewman walking the other direction to lunge clumsily out of the way as Ebnal’s glowering visage acted as an emotional navigational deflector. “Don’t take this the wrong way… no, scratch that, I don’t care how the hell you take it… you’re not experienced enough to lead a mission this potentially dangerous, Commander.”

“Then respectfully, Captain, why did you promote me to commanding officer?” was Wu’s all-too-reasonable reply. The logic of her argument only served to agitate the mercurial Ebnal further.

“I legitimately hate to do this, Wu, but I’m going to move my flag to Europa and command this mission myself. You’ll act as my XO for the duration of this raid.”

Wu absorbed that as dispassionately as a Vulcan. “I’m obviously in no position to contest that decision, sir, but I’d recommend against it.”


“You’re our resident expert on the Klingons. If you’re killed or captured on this mission, there’s a good chance Brigadier Gan’Louk will assume command of the task force. As his forces presently outnumber Starfleet’s three-to-one, were he to decide to seize control of Shul’Nazhar for the greater glory of the Klingon Empire, we’d be unable to stop him.”

“He wouldn’t dare,” Ebnal refuted. “He agreed to recognize Starfleet authority on this expedition.”

The two officers stepped into Venture’s main engineering area, threading their way through various workstations until they arrived at a maintenance bay. A team of technicians under the watchful gaze of the chief engineer were busy assembling some manner of elaborate-looking conduit.

Lowering her voice, Wu countered, “Point of fact, sir, but the brigadier agreed to yield to Captain Lar’ragos’ authority, not necessarily Starfleet’s. The respect you earned with the Klingons during the war has allowed Gan’Louk to transfer that allegiance to you with no loss of face among his own troops. In the event of your death or incapacitation, it’s doubtful he could repeat that process without undermining his own authority in the eyes of his men.”

“Let’s table this for the moment, Commander,” Ebnal growled to Wu before turning his gaze on his chief engineer. “How’s it coming along?”

The Tiburonian engineer gestured offhandedly to the assemblage. “We’re following the specs exactly, but I won’t hazard a guess as to whether it’s going to work or not, Captain.”

“No telling,” Ebnal confirmed. “Sandhurst better hope it does, or he’ll have a very brief and unpleasant incarceration.”

The engineer took the pair through some of the particulars on an oversized engineering padd, and after Ebnal was satisfied the project was well in hand, he and Wu departed, resuming their earlier conversation.

“Taking your ship from you isn’t something I do lightly, Wu,” Ebnal offered, the first sign of any sort of olive branch from the man that she could recall receiving. “But if Pava’s weapon worked as advertised, they’ll be wounded and cornered with nothing to lose, making them more dangerous than ever.”

Wu nodded agreeably, again keeping pace with her superior. “Understood, sir. However, I would argue that as task force commander, you’re acting in a brevet-flag capacity.”

Ebnal looked askance at her. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Per regulations it’s incumbent upon a flag-officer to delegate their orders to their subordinates rather than executing tasks and missions themselves. Otherwise, it undermines confidence in the chain-of-command and dilutes both unit-cohesion as well as the flag-officer’s overall effectiveness.”

A hint of a smile tugged at the corner of Ebnal’s mouth. “You’re really going to quote chapter-and-verse to me, Commander?”

Wu stopped in her tracks, forcing Ebnal to halt and backpedal a few steps.

“Let me do my job, sir,” Wu said simply.

A pregnant pause followed, Ebnal having fallen uncharacteristically quiet.

“This is new to me, Wu,” he said finally. “If you were to screw this up, it falls on my shoulders. It’s difficult for me to delegate something so vital to someone so new to the responsibilities of command.”

“I’ve no doubt that’s true,” Wu allowed. “But I know my ship, and my people. In this case, screwing it up would likely result in my death and that of Europa’s crew. I’ve got a vested interest in getting the job done correctly.”

Ebnal looked torn, but after a long moment’s consideration, he nodded fractionally. “Reconnoiter and assess, but don’t engage the Amon unless you have a clear advantage and a viable escape route.”

“Understood, Captain. Thank you, sir.”

“You can thank me by coming back alive,” Ebnal replied with a rueful smile.

Wu appeared thoughtful, causing Ebnal to give her a suspicious look. “You’re about to ask me for something I’m not going to like, aren’t you?”

It was Wu’s turn to smile. “Zeischt or A’lasha. Having someone on-scene with insight into Amon psychology and tactics would be invaluable.”

“That’s asking a lot,” he hesitated. “Both of them are dangerous.”

“They’re both zealots in their own way, but at least A’lasha seems to be dedicated heart and soul to the defense of the Federation.”

“So she says. I can’t trust either goddamn one of them,” Ebnal groused.

“Seeing as you’re already setting the dinner table for Zeischt, so to speak, A’lasha would appear to be the better candidate.”

Ebnal nodded. “And it lessens her opportunity to exert her damned Section 31 overrides on our ships. See to it, Commander.”

“Aye, sir.” Wu turned to depart.


She paused, glancing back. “Sir?”

“Good hunting. Give those Amon sons-of-bitches my regards.”

* * *​  

You must login (register) to review.