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“Commodore, we’re receiving a response from the Kan-Uut ship, audio only. They’re broadcasting to us in the clear and utilizing Fed-Standard linga-code.”

Izawa’s surprise at this turn was evident as he called out, “Let’s hear it.”

“Federation vessel, we are conducting a level one harvest as agreed upon in the Pact of Duur’l. As a signatory to that treaty, you have agreed not to interfere in this process. Explain yourselves.”

Izawa turned to cast a confused expression on Ramirez. She shook her head in response, “No idea.”

“Sir,” Cybel interjected. “I recommend asking who, specifically, agreed to this pact they reference.”

Izawa inclined his head decisively, toggling an armrest control to open the channel. “Kan-Uut vessel, I demand to know the identity of the Federation representative who served as signatory to this pact you speak of.”

“The Federation’s agreement was sealed by Captain Zeischt of the starship Europa.”

An appreciative whistle emitted from the Ops station, causing Izawa to glare in Raffaele’s direction. “That fellow really is a fly in our ointment, sir.”

Izawa grunted in grudging agreement, forced to concede the point. He turned to Cybel, “This complicates matters.”

“Yes, sir.”

Izawa’s deep, furrowed frown seemed to have been carved from stone. “Regardless, an Amon warrior who’s gone AWOL from Starfleet has no right to sign a treaty on behalf of the Federation.” He sat a little straighter in the command chair. “Maintain course and speed. Enhance forward shields to one-hundred twenty percent of rated output and lock weapons on that Kan-Uut vessel.”

Cybel leaned in and whispered, “Commodore, there’s obviously a great deal happening here that we’re not yet privy to. I strongly recommend we assume a less aggressive posture and talk to the Kan-Uut. If the Federation is signatory to an agreement, authorized or not, we might destabilize an already delicate situation unwittingly if we simply go in phasers firing.”

Izawa appeared to ignore Cybel’s counsel and toggled the comms again. “Kan-Uut vessel, this Zeischt individual has no authority to negotiate any agreements on behalf of the United Federation of Planets. As such, any accord you believe the Federation is signatory to that would allow for your present actions against that colony are null and void. You will cease your attack immediately, or we will intervene with whatever force is necessary to repel your incursion.”

The Kan-Uut response was immediate.

“Federation vessel, our work here is authorized and necessary under a ratified interstellar agreement. If you interfere, you will be fired upon. Do not approach this planet. This will be your only warning.”

“Sir,” Cybel pleaded in her most reasonable tone. “This course of action is ill advised. Please reconsider.”

“Stand down, Commander,” he replied frostily. “Your objections have been noted.”

She sat back in her chair, dreading what she felt to be a potentially catastrophic turn of events. Cybel feared Izawa had been compromised in some way, but she had no concrete proof. If she’d had actionable evidence, Cybel knew that she could stop what was to come by simply taking full control of the ship and locking out every console aboard. Even the supposed ‘kill-switch’ authorization Starfleet Engineering had provided Izawa and Maddox with could be overcome with ease. She had the power to stop him, but she would not. Cybel was a Starfleet officer, and come what may, she would uphold the chain-of-command and follow Izawa’s orders.

Ramirez sat silently in the jump-seat to Izawa’s left, observing the interactions of the crew. It was clear to her that this was an unusual turn of events, but the officers seemed to accept it and were carrying out their duties professionally. As for Izawa and Cybel, Ramirez had encountered her own disagreements with her captains while serving as an XO. However, she’d never had the resources at Cybel’s disposal, either. Ramirez wondered idly if she’d had been in possession of such authorities at Velkohn if she might have prevented the tragic circumstances leading to her supposed death.

Valhalla’s saucer-section proceeded into the system, approaching the planet as the Kan-Uut vessel moved to intercept.

“Kan-Uut vesssel hasss now entered our weaponsss range,” Ressessk announced from Tactical.

Izawa tapped a series of commands into his armrest interface. “I’m sending you targeting priorities, Lieutenant. Have the Kan-Uut on the planet stood down?”

“No, sssir. The attack on the colony is ssstill underway.”

“Very well. Lock onto those target areas and fire.”

The opening volley from Valhalla’s saucer consisted of eight photon torpedoes, strategically targeted to overwhelm the shields of the oncoming Kan-Uut slaver ship. Follow on blasts of pin-point phaser energy systematically crippled the vessel’s weapons and engines, leaving it drifting with fluctuating power.

The saucer bypassed the drifting ship and maneuvered into a lower orbit where Ressessk targeted the Kan-Uut surface assault force with tempered stun discharges, leaving hundreds of the invading insectoids unconscious.

Ressessk looked up from her station, fixing her reptilian gaze on Izawa. “I’ve ssstunned all thossse I can from orbit. Their other asssault teamsss are inssside the colony now. Any further orbital intervention will endanger the colonissstsss.”

Izawa nodded toward Cybel. “Commander, take a heavily-armed tactical team down to secure the colony site and neutralize the remaining Kan-Uut soldiers.”

Cybel stood. “Aye, sir.” She knew her cautionary arguments to the contrary had been heard and overruled, and would now lead the away mission to the best of her ability, despite her reservations with Izawa’s decision-making process.

“Ressessk, have all available security personnel and any remaining crew with actual close-quarters combat experience report to the transporter rooms. Our first wave will consist of tactical drones in order to secure our beam-in site. All teams will transport in tactical formation with weapons at the ready, set for stun.” Cybel turned to Ops. “Mister Raffaele, join us,”

Cybel looked to the tactical officer who had relieved Ressessk. “Mister Arumbe, try to raise the colony and alert them to our presence. Let them know we’re here to help so they won’t start shooting at us in addition to the Kan-Uut.”

A flurry of confirmations echoed her orders as Cybel, Ressessk, and Raffaele moved to the turbolift.

“York,” Izawa offered by way of farewell. itte rashai.” The traditional Japanese phrase, typically used when a family member departed the home, meant simply, ‘go and come back.’

A moment before the turbolift doors swished shut, Cybel managed a smile more confident than she felt and replied, “Arigatō, Komodōru.”

* * *​
Inhatuus of the Peacekeeper Clan cradled his gas-propelled rifle as he quickly and expertly loaded a fresh magazine of explosive bullets into the weapon. Lowering himself on his front set of legs, he hazarded a darting glance around the corner of the herd-house he was using for cover, trying to spot any of the advancing Kan-Uut.

The slavers’ attack had been blunted after the first few days by what appeared to be greenish lightning arcing from the sky. Inhatuus knew this had been some kind of weapons fire directed from orbit, but it was unlike any armaments his people used aboard their spacecraft. The predominant theory among those coordinating the colony’s defense was that someone or something had intervened in the attack, and had even attempted to communicate with them in a horrible, pidgin dialect of their language.

Whoever it was, their help had come at the right time. The Caezieg colony had been a gamble from the beginning, three generations earlier. Their people had overpopulated the world that spawned them, and they had utilized primitive light-speed colony ships and cryogenic systems with a nearly fifty percent fatality rate in order to found this and a handful of other settlements in nearby systems.

Even now, after the advent of faster-than-light drives, communication between Caezieg colonies was sporadic, and trade nearly non-existent. Calling for help had seemed an exercise in futility, but against all odds, it seemed someone had answered their plea.

Inhatuus hoped the intervention was not too little, too late.

* * *​
The strike teams knew they’d be beaming into a chaotic environment, but even holographic images sent aboard by the advance tactical drones couldn’t adequately convey the visceral horror of the scene.

The native species’ buildings were low, bulbous, organic looking structures between one and four stories in height. Some of these were burning fiercely, adding to the fog-like veil of smoke created by smashed ground vehicles and other combustible objects ignited by the fighting.

Dozens of bodies littered the park-like area they’d set down in, precious few of them belonging to the Kan-Uut. Their presence was briefly visible through the drifting pall of smoke. At first glance, the bodies appeared horse-like, with long four-legged torsos. However, closer inspection revealed a second, smaller torso situated above the first, this one possessing two arm-like appendages. Rather than a human-like head, which would have completed the illusion of the mythical Terran centaur, the creatures possessed a thick, oval shaped head supporting a wide mouth and a single milky-white vision strip that stretched a full one-hundred-and-eighty degrees across their broad faces.

The organic nature of the buildings gave a putrid tinge to the cloying smoke, adding to the fetid vapors from bodies left to decompose during the past two days of intense fighting in high temperatures. Nearly all the Starfleet personnel save Cybel and Ressessk reacted instinctively by recoiling from the stench or momentarily trying to cover their noses upon materializing.

“Well,” Raffaele gasped, fighting the urge to gag. “That’s a new kind of awful.”

“Breathers on if you need to,” Cybel barked, scanning the vicinity through the scope of her phaser rifle.

“Clear,” Ressessk announced, having completed a scan of her own while downloading telemetry from the tactical drones that had already scoured this area and moved on.

Some of the team members donned their rebreather masks to keep out the surrounding miasma while Ressessk wiped absently at her mouth, her chin glistening.

Raffaele shot her a disbelieving look. “Dear God, are you salivating?”

The reptilian lieutenant offered a sheepish, “Sssorry. Biology.”

“And that’s—” Raffaele tore away his mask and voided the contents of his stomach. He knelt in the grass, breathing heavily and struggling to regain his composure.

Cybel moved past him, giving Ressessk an appreciative look. “You’ve actually shut him up. Kudos.”

She turned back to address the twenty-three others. “Groups of six. Those of you that have been assigned as team leaders, raise your hands.” As the gaggle divided into smaller teams, Cybel continued. “We’ll move out independently toward the objectives I’ve pre-established on your tricorders. We’ll be engaging the largest remaining groups of Kan-Uut still inside the colony. If you get in over your heads, don’t be afraid to call for assistance. We have orbital over-watch, so if circumstances are favorable, you can call down a limited stun-strike from Valhalla. Remember that such strikes can accidently injure or kill the locals, so be certain you actually need them before calling in a strike.”

With that, the four six-person teams moved out, rifles at the ready and directing tactical drones ahead of them to scout for hostiles.

* * *​
One by one, the members of Cybel’s tactical team sprinted across an exposed roadway to the concealment provided by a rock retaining wall at the edge of an elegantly stepped civic garden. The other members of the team provided cover as their fellows made the dash across the broad avenue.

As he looked through the scope of his rifle towards the next intersection some hundred meters distant, Raffaele muttered to Cybel, “Care to explain why I’m not leading my own team, Commander?”

Cybel tapped briefly at the mobile holographic emitter on her left upper arm, firming up her imaging solidity to offset the minute distortions caused by the heavy atmospheric contaminants. “You’ve never seen real surface combat, Rafe. In my estimation, in such a dynamic environment you still need adult supervision.”

“We’re dirtside because Izawa’s gone battle-happy, and I’m the one who needs supervision?” Raffaele asked incredulously.

The XO’s rifle snapped as she sent a stun pulse down range that blasted a humanoid Kan-Uut raider off its feet some seventy meters distant after it wandered out of a bank of concealing smoke. “We’re not having this conversation, and most certainly not here and now. Mind your sector, Lieutenant.”

Raffaele harrumphed in exaggerated indignation before noting, “Awful lot of bodies for a slaving raid, wouldn’t you say?”

“I was just thinking the same thing,” Cybel confirmed. “The Kan-Uut are either really terrible slavers, or this operation went very wrong for them.”

“Our tactical assessment of their ship indicated that they have weapons cable of stunning from orbit. Why not simply knock out the whole colony and collect them at their leisure? What’s the point of a surface assault that endangers your own crew and significantly reduces the number of slaves captured?”

“Excellent questions,” she agreed. “It could be cultural, like the Klingons’ affinity for personal combat when they could otherwise simply destroy a surface target from orbit.”

“And we aren’t doing something to investigate these inconsistencies… why?” Raffaele asked pointedly.

“Not our assigned mission and you know it. Focus on the task at hand.”

“So, play dumb and just follow orders?” he pressed.

She turned to favor him with a patient expression. “Take off your intel analyst cap and put on your soldier cap. You’re going to get people killed otherwise, and one of them might be you.”

* * *​
Lieutenant Chen-Oo-Vuu at the Science station called out, “Commodore, I’ve acquired sporadic sensor contact with multiple transient objects in orbit.”

“Identify,” Izawa ordered.

“I’m unable to, sir,” Chen-Oo-Vuu replied. “Contact with the objects is intermittent, and I’m unable to lock onto a specific set of coordinates.”

“Explain,” Izawa barked testily.

“The objects appear to exist in a minute dimensional offset from ours, Commodore, and are only partially extruding into our dimensional plane.” The octopus-like science officer referenced his console. “What little we can glean from the intermittent contacts indicates a strong likelihood that the objects may be Amon orbital energy siphons.”

Cybel leaned in towards Izawa again. “Running afoul of the Amon without the additional strength and resources of the stardrive-section is highly problematic, sir.”

Izawa acknowledged her statement with a minute nod. “Yes, Commander. I’d agree. However, that is not an option open to us at the moment.”

A klaxon sounded and an instant later the officer at Ops blurted, “Proximity alert, sir! New sensor contact one-hundred kilometers distance at bearing two-four-eight, mark—”

“Was it cloaked?” someone blurted, cutting the report short.

The deck lurched as Valhalla’s saucer was struck by something, causing the bridge lighting to flicker for a brief second.

“Weapons impact on aft shields,” the engineer announced from his station. “Unknown warhead, but an impressive explosive yield. Shields holding at seventy-eight percent, and we’ve got minor hull damage to our port-aft quarter.”

Chen-Oo-Vuu picked up where Ops had left off, “Object is an unidentified ship, unknown class, measuring one-hundred twenty meters in length and—”

“They’re firing again!” Tactical shouted.

Cybel looked to Izawa for orders, but the older man seemed momentarily stunned by the rapid pace of events.

“Route auxiliary power to shields,” the XO instructed. “Helm, engage evasive pattern Sierra-Seven; Tactical, acquire targeting solutions on that ship and open fire with phasers and quantum torpedoes.” She could have done this all far faster than the humanoid crew could process and execute her orders, but to do so would have undermined their presence aboard.

A brace of missile-like projectiles scythed towards Valhalla, only to vanish an instant before impacting the starship’s shield bubble.

“Science, where did those—”

Detonations wracked the saucer, the sounds of explosions and rending metal so cacophonous as to momentarily drown out all other sounds. The inbound missiles that had disappeared had just as suddenly reappeared inside the ship, the full might of their explosive potential delivered to the saucer’s interior.

Bridge consoles sizzled or winked out, the lighting died and was replaced by blood-red emergency lighting, the gravity fluctuated alarmingly, and both Cybel and the engineer blurred and vanished.

Ramirez found herself laying face down on the deck and pushed herself up to clamber awkwardly to her feet. Izawa himself lay prone on the deck, crumpled in an unmoving heap. She leaned down and searched for a pulse at his neck, finding one that was surprisingly strong and steady. Looking around, Ramirez found only a handful of junior officers struggling back to their stations, while others remain prostrate near their abandoned posts.

‘Warning,’ the computer cried, ‘multiple internal hull breaches, decks three through eleven. Emergency forcefields and bulkheads in place. Multiple internal fires, decks four through thirteen.’

Ramirez waited a full five seconds for someone, anyone to assume command. Nobody did. She felt a surge of disappointment well up within her. As an ambitious junior officer, she’d have practically killed at the chance to assume command in a crisis. It was the stuff ensigns dreamed of, right up until it actually happened, apparently. Old habits die hard, she thought wryly as she seated herself in the command chair. “Status report, all stations,” she ordered in a surprisingly calm voice.

A litany of woe was the reply from multiple shaken crew; a cascade of failed systems, casualties, and damage control issues. Ramirez acknowledged the status reports and then ordered the static-filled main viewer restored. “All available power to the impulse engines. Helm, bring us around and exit the system at maximum impulse. Tactical, continue fire with whatever we have left, targeting their sensors and any incoming ordinance. Someone reconfigure a station for communications and send an encoded message to our surface teams telling them what’s happened and that we have to withdraw.”

“What about beaming back our away teams?” inquired the junior lieutenant at the Ops station.

“We can’t risk lowering the shields to beam them up, and I doubt we’d have the transporter power to do it even then. We need to reunite with the stardrive, effect repairs, and then we’ll come back for them.” She raised her hands in a gesture to encompass the ruined bridge, “Unless you’d like to take command of this shit show and grace us with your grand plan, Lieutenant?”

“No… no, sir,” he blanched.

“Then execute my orders, and let’s get the hell out of here.”

* * *​  


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