Solo Writer Archive
This section of the STDH archive is dedicated to part-time writers who contribute to the ongoing story without being directly associated to an active unit. These writers enjoy the flexibility of writing at their own more relaxed pace, in whatever setting they wish, while still being part of the shared writing universe of the STDH/FRPG.
Should you be interested in joining us as a solo (independant) writer, please do not hesitate to contact via email either of our lead writers Francois <> or Tiffany <> who will be more than happy to answer all of your questions and help you create a character to begin your adventures through the galaxy and beyond.
Post # Title
001 Neri, The Bait
002 Dalra, The Flight
003 Lantra, The Deal
004 Za'Ran, The Shadow
005 Anya, The Rage
006 Ema, The Guilt
007 Shinral, The Bodyguard
Ethan Miller
Post # Title
001 Ethan of Federation, Chapter 1
002 Ethan of Federation, Chapter 2
003 Ethan of Federation, Chapter 3
004 Ethan of Federation, Chapter 4
005 Ethan of Federation, Chapter 5
006 Ethan of Federation, Chapter 6
007 Ethan of Federation, Chapter 7
008 Ethan of Federation, Chapter 8
009 Ethan of Federation, Chapter 9
010 Ethan of Federation, Chapter 10
011 Ethan of Federation, Chapter 11
012 Ethan of Federation, Chapter 12
013 Ethan of Federation, Chapter 13
014 Ethan of Federation, Chapter 14
015 Ethan of Federation, Chapter 15
Janeel / Tehala
Post # Title
001 Prison of the Mind
Jack Houston
Post # Title
001 The Life for Me – Chapter 1
002 The Life for Me – Chapter 2
003 The Life for Me – Chapter 3
004 The Life for Me – Chapter 4
005 The Life for Me – Chapter 5
006 The Life for Me – Chapter 6
007 The Life for Me – Chapter 7
008 The Life for Me – Chapter 8
009 The Life for Me – Chapter 9
010 The Life for Me – Chapter 10
011 The Life for Me – Chapter 11
012 The Life for Me – Chapter 12
Post # Title
001 Endlessness
STDH-SOLO: Houston-P001 ("The Life for Me – Chapter 1")
"The Life for Me – Chapter 1"

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, Landing platform central
Stardate: 31365.1030

Yup, life was good. He was his own boss, working the hours he wanted and best of all doing what he enjoyed most, which depended on where in the universe he found himself to be, what his mood was at the time and most important his need for credits.  Still the universe had dealt him a fair hand with which he had made the best of without any regrets, well maybe a few.

Today he was on MARKALA PRIME looking for a fare to help him pay his way off the planet. Where he went had not been important, but he needed a few paying passengers to clear his landing fees which had now been more than a day overdue.

The crowd had not been overly thick and those that were there did not seem to be the type that he would have cared to have on board his ship. Unfortunately he had been in hurry to leave this smuggling haven in search of safer worlds to conduct his business.  Granted he had made a fair profit in his last delivery to this world, but the temptations of the games and women who advertised them had simply been too much for him to resist.

As soon as he spotted a potential fare, he quickly yet calmly made his way to them, the Pythron couple appeared as if they had been searching for something, and ready to pay in order to find it.

"You my fine friends seem to be looking for a reliable ship and pilot to take you wherever you want to go, and luckily for you I am available having just completed a five-system tour with the renowned Shi-Yan of NYLA IV.  Following a change of plan in her schedule I find myself at the disposal of whoever would be in need of my services." His words had been well practiced, and it was easy to see that this had not been the first time he had been in this exact same situation, the charismatic man selling himself without the slightest difficulty.

"Is that your ship? It doesn't look like much," the woman said, holding on to her companion's arm with the entirety of her feminine form.

"Don't let her looks fool you my good lady, she is as fast as a Byzatium wrap freighter and as though as a Ferengi battlecruiser, not to mention that the inside has been remolded to rival the most luxurious of Risian cruise liner.  Her name is the STAR OF DESTINY, my name is Jonathan Harris traveler extraordinaire, and we would be honoured to having you on board."

The couple looked at one another for a few seconds and smiled, which made him smile.  With everyone smiling and apparently happy with the deal, the Pythron man reached for some credits which made the pilot smile even more.  Yes, life was good indeed.

"Don't let that scoundrel fool you," the leader of a Dopterian trio said as they rapidly approached erasing everyone's smile except their own.  "His name is Jack Houston, and he's a thief, smuggler, crook and most important a skilled liar who should not be trusted with breathing the air around him."

"That was uncalled for Zhar, I am not a liar.  I do from time to time stretch the truth a little but that is not the same thing," Jack said in his defence as he sadly watched the couple quickly vanish into the crowd.  "You'd better have one heck of a good reason for costing me that fare."

"How about 120 good reasons? Like the 120 credits you owe me? Is that good enough of a reason for you? Does it sound like a good reason to you guys?" Zhar asked his henchmen who simply smiled.  Yup, there was no doubt about it; Jack had preferred the credit-laced smiles of the couple that had just been scared away to the blood thirsty smirks of the Dopterians.

"Well I was going to pay you as soon as I secured that fare, but you came and scared them away, so how am I supposed to pay you now?"

"Don't start with me pretty boy, you were going to hightail it out of here the moment they gave you those credits and you boarded that rust bucket you call a ship.  You need to give me the credits you owe me or we'll start taking it out of you in bones.  I know a Nausicaan merchant, one who pays good credits for fresh bones, plus I could always sell your empty skull to that Hirogen hunter, he just loves using them for his target practices."

"Alright Zhar, let's not be harsh and have you do something that I am going to regret far more than you.  My bones would not fetch more than 20, maybe 30 credits if he felt really generous, and my skull would not be worth anything after your two goons bash my head in after I try to fight my way out of this little story. So tell you what, give me a week and I will find you those credits, and I will even throw in a few extra for accumulated interest and your 'beyond measure' patience."

"Two days and not a sunset more. If you have not given me my 150 credits by then, the Nausicaan and Hirogen will be the least of your troubles, and just to make sure that you don't get any ideas, we'll be keeping this little gem with us," Zhar said as he pointed to the navigational controls of the STAR OF DESTINY which had somehow found its way into the grubby and dirty hands of one of his henchmen.

"How did you???"

"Two days Jack, and not a heartbeat more," Zhar said before starting to walk away while closely followed by his accomplices. "Come up boys, we have a few others to visit before lunch time."

Jack sighed to himself as he tried to see a way out of this mess, but the pain coming from his stomach had made that impossible.  "Lunch. Lunch would be nice. Maybe I can find some slightly dated tube worms or a half-eaten Ferengi stew. Then again they would likely charge me full price for the privilege of cleaning the bowl. Well, when life doesn't even give you lemons, it's time to go and get some."

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, Rala's Diner
Stardate: 31365.1115

"Oh no you don't, not today," the green-skinned Orion waitress said as soon as she saw him enter the diner.  "My boss is already pissed at me for having allowed you to leave without paying the last time. I am not going to go through that again. Get out!"

"Hold on there doll, what if I have money to pay this time?" Jack said as he flashed a debonair charming smile at the woman.

"You are lying."

"I am not a liar, why does everyone say that I am a liar?"

"Because you are a liar, but if you are actually telling the truth this time, tell me, who did you steal those credits from?"

"I did no such thing; I am not a thief either."

"If you are not a thief, then I'm that runaway Nylaan princess that everyone is still talking about, and the only reason why I am working here in this place is to avoid being found by my father."

"See, I always knew that you had a certain royal air about you."

"Get out!"

"Come on Shi, I'm starving."

"And I'm working! Maybe if you actually did some honest work instead of trying to con whoever gets close to you, you might have a couple of credits to your name and be able to eat when you are hungry."

"Shi, please. As soon as I get the credits I will pay you back for each and every thing I owe you plus interest, and you know, the moment I make enough, I will buy you off that slime of an owner you have so that you can live with me.  I know that it is what you dream of each and every night – being free."

"Jack, with you *nothing* is free," the Orion woman sighed as she put down a half-eaten plate on one of the vacant corner tables, out of the way of the general public, before walking away.

"Thanks Shi, you're a doll."

"I can't hear you, I'm still working."

More than happy to devour the plate's content, whatever it might have been, Jack smiled and looked around the diner at the wide range of thugs, criminals and otherwise shady characters that made up the majority of this city's population.  However bad it might have seemed to some, this had been the life for him.

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, Street
Stardate: 31365.1145

With the lunchtime crowd quickly filling the diner Shi had kicked Jack out through the side door thus insuring that he would not been seen by either the customer's or her owner.  Her smile had always managed to make him do the same, and the fact that he had still been unable to help her gain the freedom she had dreamt of for so very long had weighed heavily on him.  On the entire sorry excuse of a world that was MARKALA PRIME, she had been the one and only reason why he kept coming back, that and the very lucrative jobs he had been able to score from time to time while being here.
With the deadline set by Zhar quickly ticking away, Jack decided to return to one of his old place of business, a simple little location that had proven to be good to him more than once over the last few years.

With only a few meters to go to before reaching his destination, Jack ducked into a nearby alley, removed his shoes and dark red leather coat, and then placed them into a small box hidden out of sight in a hole in the wall hidden by a large metallic crate.  Now appearing almost as poor as he actually was, he resumed his travels and entered a small church-like establishment.

"Brother Joseph, how absolutely wonderful it is to see you again. It is a blessing of the Ancient Ones to have you amongst us once more. Should I inform the Grand Elder of your return?"

"No need. Unfortunately the celestial calling is forcing me to continue on with my travels, I was in the area and thought I should take a second and see Brother Horur, whom I suspect will be most interested in hearing about the amazing adventures and people have I encountered during my journey towards the eternal light."

"Of course, I will inform him of your presence. May the blessings of the Ancient Ones be with you Brother Joseph."

"And may their blessing be with you as well," Jack said having left out the religious man's name. Although there had been only handful of follower of this particular faith here, he had never been able to accurately remember any of their names.

"Brother Joseph! What an amazing surprise. I truly believed that you had found your way to the Eternal Light granting us the belief and comfort that you had passed onto a better place," another member of the faith, this one very much larger than any other, loudly announced as he embraced the new arrival in a four-armed hold worthy of a three-time intergalactic mosh-pit wrestling champion, which he was.

"Can we talk?" Jack whispered both because he had not wanted his words to be heard by the other Brothers and because his friend's hold on him had made it impossible to draw a breath.

"Of course you do," Horur sighed as he escorted his faith Brother to a small room where they would be able to talk in private.
"I need help," Jack said the moment the door had been closed behind them.

"Of course you do, that is the only time you come here and after what happened the last time I am surprised that you are still alive to dare showing your face in this place.  I had to do a lot of work convincing the Grand Elder that it was not you that had stolen those credits from the donation box, but your sudden arrival and departure did not make things easy.  I covered for you then, but I won't do it again."

"I don't need credits."

"That is not what I overheard Zhar's goons say."

"Alright, I do need credits, but I am not here to ask for a donation.  I am here to see if you know of someone who might need off this world and who is willing to pay in advance to make it happen."

"When will you ever learn? You need to stop, settle down and try to make an honest living if you truly want to see more sunrises. The way you are going, each and every day *is* a blessing from the Ancient Ones, and I don't believe in that crap in the least, but here at least I am safe."

"I like my life just the way it is. Well maybe not quite the way it is, I could do with a few extra credits and not having to look over my shoulder every few seconds to see if one of those blood thirsty debt collectors is right there behind me."

"Don't forget about Shi and your promise to her."

"How could I possibly forget about that vision of beauty?"

"I don't know, you seem to forget about her each and every time you end up with a single credit in your pocket. She deserves much better than what you have been giving her, which is absolutely nothing but empty dreams and promises."

"Help me score a *good* fare and I can make it up to her, you and everyone else.  All I am asking for is a job, one that pays well, but a job nonetheless."
"I heard about a man who had been running from some sort of Federation bounty hunter or secret agent, I am not sure which, but what I am sure of is that he is looking for a way to get off this planet. From what I was made to understand, he is looking for a quick 'no questions asked' type of transport."

"You know me, I never ask any questions."

"You asking questions was never the issues Jack. It is your ability to attract questions that as always seem to be the problem in these types of affairs.  Still, from what I was told, the man is anxious to leave and he may be desperate enough to agree to get on that derelict ship of yours."

"Thank you Brother, I owe you one."

"You owe me a lot more than that, but if you are truly wishing to pay up, don't forget about Shi.  Don't break her heart and dreams again; I don't think she would be ready to forgive you one more time."

"I will not forget about her, I promise."

"Fine, I will send the word out for him to meet you at the old fountain by the Lake of Silences at 1400. Don't mess this one up."
"Come on, you know me better than that, Brother."

"I *do* know you better, that is why I am telling you not to mess this one deal and to make good on your promise to Shi. She has believed in you for the very start, why I will never know, but you need to do good by her."

"I will. Thank you Brother."

"And stop calling me that!"

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Outside the Trade City of Kololu, Lake of Silences
Stardate: 31365.1350

Jack sat on the edge of the fountain, a large smile on his face while his coat and shoes had returned to where they belonged. Despite all of the problems he had faced, things had taken a turn for the better as they usually did.  He would soon have a fare that would allow him to pay off Zahr, make a sizable donation to the Church of the Ancient Ones and square things off with Shi, at least in regards to his tab with her. He would need several more fares like this one to even come close to being able to make an offer to her owner, but that would have to wait.  Right now he needed to focus on the current set of problems.  After all, that had been the way he had lived his life since he had become his own boss, and as bad as it might seem to some, this had been the life for him.

Scott Moll

Writing the adventures of
aka Jonathan Harris
aka Jason House
aka Jake Hall
aka Jaren Hamlet
as well as a few others

Traveller, trader and merchant extraordinaire,
Man of intrigue and mystery,
Pilot of the STAR OF DESTINY,
and let's not forget overall nice guy.

STDH-SOLO: Houston-P002 ("The Life for Me – Chapter 2")
"The Life for Me – Chapter 2"

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, Rala's Diner
Stardate: 32001.0830

"Can you help him?"  The question asked by the green-skinned Orion waitress had been simple, but the answer had been anything but.  Shi had been concerned, maybe even scared, never having expected to see the man she knew as being an untameable wild force be nothing more than a pitiful mumbling Human.

As much as Horur had wanted to do something, he had absolutely no idea as to how to even begin to help his old-time friend, and given what Jack had described the current member of the Church of the Ancient Ones had been reluctant to even try.  Whatever had so brutally disposed of the man had still been out there and very likely searching for anyone who might have had any sort of dealings with the victim.

"Jack," Horur held onto the cup that his friend had emptied more times than the former wrestling champion could count, "you can't stay here. You need to get off this planet and go somewhere else. In fact anywhere else will be better than here."

"I can't, Zhar as the navigational controls of the STAR OF DESTINY."

"You said that he was keeping it to insure you would pay him. What about all those credits? Don't you have enough to pay him and get it back?" Shi had not wanted to see him go, no that had been the last thing she wanted, not that she would have ever admitted this to him. What the Orion waitress wanted though was for Jack to be safe and in that aspect she agreed with Horur. He needed to leave MARKALA PRIME and get as far away from whatever had happened to make sure it would not also happen to him.

"Credits?" Jack questioned having pushed the method in which he had come to be in their possession out of his mind.  The adventurer could look at the chips clenched in his hand but something had made it so that he could not remember the horror that had taken place which led to them being where they were now.

"He's in no shape to do anything, let alone face Zhar," Horur said pointing out the obvious.  "Jack, do you remember how much you owe him? Can you tell me how many credits he is expecting from you to pay your debt and give you back that navigational system?"

The adventurer's gaze was lost in a universe found only beneath the surface of the liquid he had been drinking to avoid falling asleep.  Fatigue and fear had been but a few of the elements at play to account for the rapidly deteriorating mental state of the man.

"JACK!" Shi called out as she slapped the man clean across the cheek.  The hit had not been strong but well enough to have him snap out of it for a while, not to mention draw the attention of the diner's owner and the waitress' master.

"150. The debt is for 120 but he demanded 150 by tomorrow 11:00 at the latest," he finally replied as he looked at the green-skinned woman appearing a little confused as to the reason why she had struck him.  "I guess I deserved that," he added before looking back down to his cup and sliding it on the table towards Shi in a silent request to have it refilled once more.

"Keep him here; I will take care of paying off Zhar."

"Are you crazy? You can't trust that thug. He is going to take the credits and kill you for getting your nose into his business."

"Relax Shi. This is not my first time dealing with Zhar or thugs like him, plus he would never dare assault a member of the Church of the Ancient Ones, it would be bad luck not to mention render him a pariah to the entire underground community of MARKALA PRIME.  So relax and take care of our friend, he is in much greater need than I could ever be." 

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, Full Moon Bar
Stardate: 32001.1215

Zhar might have been a low-end thug but he was well known by every smuggler on MARKALA PRIME.  As much of a despicable individual as he might have been, the Dopterian had a reputation for being beyond predictable in his ruthlessness and entertainment habits. So it was with great puzzlement that Horur came to the place where the criminal frequented each and every day at this time to find his table vacant.

"Brother Horur, what an unexpected surprise. I was under the impression that the Church did not look too kindly on their members visiting establishments with reputations such as mine," the bartender said, greeting the robbed man with a great smile.

"I'm on a special assignment Kuwlen, so you can drop the act.  Where is Zhar?"

"Don't know," the bartender replied, the tone of his voice having drastically changed to be far less friendly and welcoming.  "Last I heard he had some sort of meeting at his home this morning. Might have been a couple of new girls he needed to sample before being sent to the market. Why do you need to see him so urgently?"

"I am here to pay the debt of a friend."

"You are paying others' debts? Well my most generous and cherished friend, can I interest you in a drink? Maybe even a holosuit?  I do have several very interesting programs that I am sure you would find most enjoyable." The bartender said, his voice having instantly returned to the very friendly and welcoming one that he had used upon the Brother's arrival.

"Kuwlen, you and I have never been friends, and we both know that it is better that way.  You would not want to cross a friend like me as you have so many others with your substandard and defective merchandise."

"Those were mere speculations, false accusations brought forth by drunken patrons who used and abused my generosity and kind heart.  You of all people should know better than to listen to the rumors floating on the stink filled breeze of this city."

"I do know better, that is why I try not to breathe while in this place, the air could kill a full grown Hupyrian in a few seconds," Horur politely said back, sending a single coin flying through the air closely following the insults that he had so expertly delivered.

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, Streets
Stardate: 32001.1300

There was a dark strangeness floating in the air, like a stench that could not be clearly detected and even less so identified, yet it was there nonetheless.  It had been a while since Horur had ventured so far from the Church, but that could not account for what he saw and felt from the crowd around him.  Something dark had come to the City of Kololu, something that troubled the Brother more than he could describe.

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, Zhar's Home
Stardate: 32001.1310

The gates had been left wide opened and there had been no sign of guards.  That alone would have normally been enough to warn people away but Horur needed to find Zhar and settle Jack's debt. Whatever mess the Dopterian had found himself in had been his and his alone to deal with, or so the Brother hoped.

As he cautiously stepped inside the rundown home, Horur quickly noticed the signs of a struggle and the scattered remains of several Dopterian who had likely been Zhar's men.  Although not a true believer in the faith that he publicly portrayed himself to belong to, the Brother of the Church of the Ancient Ones found himself whispering a quick prayer, the carnage surrounding him being beyond anything that he could have imagined.

With each step he took, Horur found himself walking deeper and deeper into a scene that frighteningly resembled what Jack had described.  Despite his mind and experiences screaming for him to exit this place with the greatest possible haste, Horur pressed on as if drawn by an unknown force.  He needed to see with his own eye if the same fate had befallen Zhar.

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, Rala's Diner
Stardate: 32001.1545

Shi signed as she glanced to her friend's table, the man still as he had been since earlier that morning, sitting and drinking, doing everything he could not to fall asleep.  Normally the owner would have tossed that sorry smelly Human out, but given that he had paid all of the meals she had given him since their first encounter several times over, and since Jack still had ample credits to pay for the *coffee* he so desperately needed, the man had become a welcomed patron. At least for as long as the credits in his possession offset the cost of his drinking and presence.

**Where is Horur?  He should have been back hours ago.** the green-skinned waitress said inwardly as she once more filled the man's cup wondering how much longer he would manage to remain awake.

"Jack! We need to go, NOW!" Horur said as he exploded into the diner to everyone's great shock.

"What happened? Did you give Zhar the credits?" Shi demanded fearing the worst; that somehow Zhar had decided to take the credits and do the universe a favor by ending Jack's sorry existence.

"I didn't have the chance. He and his entire household were dead by the time I got there, each and every one of them killed in the same manner as described by Jack."

"Dead?" Shi gasped. As rough and unsavory as life might have been on MARKALA PRIME, never had the Orion waitress been so close to so much death in so short of time.

"Come on Jack, we need to get out of here, NOW." Horur said as he easily pulled his friend onto his feet.

"Did you get the navigational system?" Shi asked, wanting to know if the two men were heading out of the city or completely off the planet.

"I did. Had to clean it up quite a bit, half of Zhar's insides were on it, but I got the navigational system.  Now we have to get out of here before the authorities link Jack to Zhar and try to pin his death along with those of his henchmen on him."

"But he was here the entire time. Why would they try to blame Jack for those murders?"

"Shi, you are a very nice and naive girl, and I see why Jack likes you so much, but this has nothing to do with actual guilt. With his debt to Zhar, Jack had the motive and that is all the authorities will need because there is no way they are going to go hunting for some invisible murderous form. The general public will want to feel safe again, and arresting a Human for this crime will make everyone more than happy."

"Fine, then I'm coming with you," the green-skinned waitress said but stopped taking her apron off when Horur's massive hand landed on her shoulder.

"We both know that you can't do that. You run away from here and you will be branded as a fugitive slave, and if you are found with him you will insure that he gets the death sentence before they put the cuffs on him.  Right now the best you can do is stay here; I promise that I will get him to contact you as soon as things settle down." 

Unable to argue, the Orion girl watched in silence as Jack and Horur exited the diner, making their way to the landing platform as quickly as they could.

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, Landing platform central
Stardate: 32001.1620

A full detachment of security officers had been stationed by the STAR OF DESTINY making it clear that there had been no way for Jack to leave the planet using his ship.  The credits in his possession would have been more than enough to pay the overdue landing fees, but now the authorities had been after the adventurer for an entirely different reason.

Without anywhere else to go, Horur had no other choice but to bring his friend back to the Church of the Ancient Ones. At least there he would be able to enjoy the protection of a sanctuary until something else could be thought of, whatever that might be. 

Scott Moll

Writing the adventures of
aka Jonathan Harris
aka Jason House
aka Jake Hall
aka Jaren Hamlet
as well as a few others

Traveller, trader and merchant extraordinaire,
Man of intrigue and mystery,
Pilot of the STAR OF DESTINY,
and let's not forget overall nice guy.
STDH-SOLO: Houston-P003 ("The Life for Me – Chapter 3")
"The Life for Me – Chapter 3"

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, Streets
Stardate: 32003.0615 (0300 local time)

The room Horur had brought his friend to in order to allow the troubled man to safely find himself had been meant for one of the many lost souls that usually crawled their way to the Church of the Ancient Ones when they were down on their luck.  Three bare walls and a very thin mattress set on a solid stone bed was the extent of the less than private accommodations offered. The rooms, if one could find it in their hearts to call it such, had been made to offer the most basic of short-term settings. Without privacy and sounds which seemed to come from the darkest recesses of some long forgotten sewer it had not been at all surprising for Jack to have decided to wander the streets instead of staying put. His continued inability to get comfortable enough to get some sleep had been the official reason he had given himself to warrant his making a quick exit into the cold early morning air of the City.

His first night of respite at had been nothing but a hazy blur, Jack barely able to recall how he had managed to find his way from Rala's Diner to the public dormitory of the Church of the Ancient Ones located in an adjacent building at the back of the main worship house. He did remember his friend Horur having carried him for part of the way and could only guess that the same travel arrangements had been employed for the parts he could not recall.  However he had come to reach that particular destination, the one night he had spent there comatose had been all that the adventurer could manage.

The nightmarish scene he had witnessed by the Lake of Silences still haunted his every steps but at least walking through the city had given Jack something else to focus on, namely his own safety and life. The streets of Kololu were far from safe at the best of times as thugs, criminals and many others individuals with rather loose morals were out ready to claim whatever their eyes fell upon.  The only thing playing on the adventurer's side at that particular moment had been that Jack was far from looking to be worth the time and effort for any of those shady characters.  Another advantage, one far less noteworthy, had been that unlike him the authorities whom he had been told were searching for him knew better than to venture into the less reputable sections of the city. at this hour of the morning.

As Jack made his way through the nearly deserted streets a low, pain filled growl drew his curiosity down a narrow dead end alleyway where he found a giant Hupyrian face down on the ground. Despite the man's more than imposing size it was clear that he had come across a force far greater than himself. The fact that the body had been reasonably intact reassured the adventurer that this situation had not been caused by the same invisible force that he had seen at work by the lake, so counting both of their blessings he carried on his way.

A kinder man might have offered some sort of assistance to the downed giant, but Jack knew better than to so foolishly risk himself to help someone who would not have given him a second thought had the situation been reversed.

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Rala's Diner
Stardate: 32003.0915 (0600 local time)

For three hours he had aimlessly wandered the streets and somehow managed to find his way to the one and only place where he felt in the slightest way welcomed.  Jack grinned as he saw the bright lighted sign of the diner inviting in several languages weary souls to come and enjoy a warm meal... for a fair price.  The smiles from the waitresses were listed as having been extra, but he knew that in that regards he had benefited from one such waitress' extreme generosity.

"Jack, what are you doing here?" The green skinned waitress demanded in shock and surprise as the wandering man walked in, not having expected to see the adventurer out and about with the authorities searching for him as Horur had claimed.

"Glad to see you too Shi," Jack said in return, beaming a gentle half sarcastic smile towards the woman who had been the one honest reason why he had chosen to walk in instead of continuing on with his aimless travels through the city.

"Horur said that he would keep you safe and out of the way while he tried to find a ship to get you off this planet," Shi said in a whispered voice as she quickly ushered the new patron to a table, one located as far away from the windows as possible.

"Well maybe if the beds in that cursed church of his were actually beds and not some dressed up flat rocks, I might have stayed there a little longer. Plus I needed to get some fresh air, there was a stench in that dormitory that was starting to cause my skin to peel.  Maybe one of the other guests had passed into the next few lives a while back, but whatever the reason was I just couldn't stay there any longer," he explained while gazing into the woman's concerned eyes.

"Jack, it's not safe for you out here. After what happened to Zhar, the authorities will be looking for any suspects and unfortunately you are at the top of that list.  You had the motive thanks to those credits you owed him and that is all they will need to toss your pink skin into the nearest cell block. Everyone who knows you is aware that this is one of your usual spots and they won't hesitate to come in and drag you out hoping that you will put up a fight so that they can justify breaking every single one of your bones."

"I promise not to fight back so that the disturbance and damages caused to the diner will be kept to a strict minimum," Jack offered with a smile as if that had been the one and only reason for the waitress' not having wanted for him to be there.

"I don't care about the damages to this place. I care about what will happen to you," Shi admitted before leaving Jack alone at the table she had placed him to take care of the customers who had just walked in.  As bad as the situation was, she knew that not doing her job would only cause the less than pleasant Ferengi owner to come out and make an issue of it, the commotion likely being more than enough to summon the authorities if they had not already been on their way.

Jack leaned back into the chair and watched with admiration the waitress who had once more displayed far more kindness than he believed himself to be deserving of.  What truly frightened him though was the fact that the unseen beast that had attacked his potential client back at the Lake of Silences had still been out there, and that either one of them could be the next victim.

"What did you do?" The woman who had just burst into the dinner said, startling nearly everyone who had already been inside.  It was beyond obviously that she had been exceptionally upset, and by the single mindedness of her rushed walk towards Jack, she held him responsible for whatever had caused her to be in such a state.

"I didn't do anything." His rapid and defensive reply had proven ineffective in defusing the woman rage.  Without having meant to, by selecting this particular table for him Shi had made it so that there had been no escaping the woman's rage.

"Then explain to my why the authorities have just grounded every single ship in and around the city, not to mention blocked all surface to orbit communications? Even the inter-city transport pods have been taken off-line. So I will ask again, what... did... you... do?"

Her anger might have been held back but there had been no doubt that it could explode at any moment taking Jack's head clean off his shoulders in the process.

"As much as I appreciate the fact that you believe me capable of doing something that would result in all that you have described, I am truly sorry but I will have to disappoint you Maze. I was not responsible for whatever is the cause of this."

"I should be used to you disappointing me by now. You definitely have a gift in that domain," the woman known as being a dangerous warrior and ruthless bounty hunter sighed as she pulled a chair out to join Jack.

"Can I get you something?" Shi asked of the two people sitting at the table, the glare of her employer and owner locked on the waitress.  Mazikeen had been known for a great many things, but being quiet and discreet had never been amongst her listed attributes.

"Listen to me, don't give that slimy excuse for a Human the chance or he will disappoint you just like he has done everyone else who as ever come in contact with him."  Her words had been laced with anger specifically directed at Jack despite her warning having been meant for Shi and said with uncanny amount of honesty and sincerity.

"Bring us two cups of coffee," Jack replied shaking his head in a way to try and downplay the woman's accusations, which unfortunately he knew had been all too accurate in regards to the green skinned waitress.

"Well, if you had nothing to do with the city's lock down as you claim then someone did something huge to piss off the authorities.  I mean they are not even bothering with the small time crooks, they are out searching for someone or something and I have no idea who or what that could be.  All I know is that as long as this lock down is in effect, I am stuck on this planet with the rest of you low-life losers."

"Low life loser? You better be careful or you might find yourself elected to the position of High Magistrate of this city with such kind and colorful words. That or the authorities might find your sensual form in a not so flattering state one of those mornings," Jack laughed as he took the two cups of coffee from Shi and presented Maze with one.

"I am not drinking that swill," the still very loud woman objected as she pushed the cup back towards Jack, an air of being insulted flowing about her.

"Well at least I can die knowing that the great and powerful Mazikeen is afraid of a something," Jack teased as she brought his cup to his lips and took a sizable sip of the drink.

"You owe me, and you know it. Since I do not intend to be on this mud ball for any longer than I have to, you will help me figure out who or what the authorities are looking for. Once we do, we can direct guide them to finish their search so that they can lift the lockdown," the fire in Maze's eyes made Jack realize that any effort to try and find a way out of this would most certainly result in a great deal of pain for him.

"Fine, but you are still scared of a simple drink."

With a snarl dancing on her lips, Mazikeen reached for the cup that she had just pushed back towards the man and downed the entire offending content in a single gulp before sending the cup back down onto the table's surface with a loud bang.

"Now let's go. We have work to do."

With an accepting shrug of his shoulders Jack stood from his chair and followed the bounty hunter who had already been well on her way to the diner's exit.

"Jack!" Shi called out as he reached the door, Maze having already stepped outside.

"Yes, I know, I will be careful. Don't worry Shi, as loud as she might be, she actually knows what she's doing. Well most of the time, that's why she needs my help to make sure she doesn't get herself into more trouble than she can handle.  I'll be careful, I promise."

Shi could only sigh in disappointment as the man left the diner, not because he had so nonchalantly dismissed her having been worried for him, which she was but would have never said so openly, but because once again he had left without paying his bill leaving the waitress to once again pick up the tab for him.

Scott Moll

Writing the adventures of
aka Jonathan Harris
aka Jason House
aka Jake Hall
aka Jaren Hamlet
as well as a few others

Traveller, trader and merchant extraordinaire,
Man of intrigue and mystery,
Pilot of the STAR OF DESTINY,
and let's not forget overall nice guy.
STDH-SOLO: Houston-P004 ("The Life for Me – Chapter 4")
"The Life for Me – Chapter 4"

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, Streets
Stardate: 32003.0935 (0620 local time)

Mazikeen had always been a force of nature that at best needed to be avoided. The woman never did anything in half measures and Jack knew this first hand, in fact he had a few scars to prove it. So when the woman nicknamed Maze decided to do something, the universe had better get out of her way. Given that she had set her mind on leaving MARKALA PRIME within the quickest possible delays and that she had enlisted his assistance to do so, Jack had truly had no other option but to follow.

She had saved his life once, a few years back during a trade deal with a group of Barolians just outside Romulan space.  The business meeting had gone south faster than anyone could have expected but somehow Mazikeen had managed to maintain the upper hand and get both of their hides off the orbital trading post and clean out of that region of space without as much as a scratch on the hull of the STAR OF DESTINY.  Jack had not been so lucky though taking a dagger to his left side, but somehow Maze had not only dispatched the one who had attacked him but his three companions as well.

With the Barolians down in a pool of their own green blood, Mazikeen had helped Jack all the way back to the hangar where their means of an escape had been waiting. How the two of them had managed to get past the half dozen guards that had been between them and the ship without firing a single shot had still been a mystery to the Terran adventurer. Still, Jack knew that had it not been for her, he would have never made it out of there alive.

"Where are we going?" The Terran asked, barely managing to keep up with the rapidly walking Mari woman.

"I know a guy who might be able to answer your questions."

"My questions? Why am I the one who needs to ask him these questions?"

"Because if I am the one asking the questions, he won't be able to answer given that I will have cut out his tongue for spreading the unflattering rumors he did about me."

"Oh," Jack sighed in surprise, thinking that he should simply be happy that Maze had been on his side of this story and that he had best do everything he could to maintain that arrangement.

"YOU! STOP!" A local law enforcement officers screamed after having set his eyes on the fast walking Terran.  "Stop that Human!" He added as he and his fellow officers gave chance forcing Jack to pick up the pace and find an escape or somewhere to hide.  Maybe they had been after him because of the unpaid landing fees, or maybe they had somehow pinned him for the murder of Zhar, either way the adventurer had not been in the mood to find out.

Forcing his way through the crowd Jack found himself into a small alleyway, one that he had hoped the authorities would run right past without bothering to look in. Unfortunately for the adventurer, his luck had not been the greatest as of late and he soon found himself face-to-face with the entire law enforcement patrol.

"Gentlemen, what can I do for you?" Jack politely asked, wondering if he would actually be able to talk his way out of this mess. The only other question on his mind at this time had been the whereabouts of Mazikeen who had apparently left him to deal with this situation on his own.

"You are hereby bound by law. Turn around, drop to your knees and keep your hands above your head."

"May I inquire as to what this is all about?  Maybe the charges for my arrest?" The adventurer asked in as polite a manner as he could. At least if he was going to be arrested it would be nice for him to know exactly why. This would give him the chance to visualize just how deep he had managed to dig himself into whatever situation this had been.

"Turn around and kneels. It's either that or we turn you in a see-through toy for the local rats."

"Alright, alright, no need to give those little beasts an early lunch," Jack said as he quickly complied with the instructions so sternly given to him.  Just as his knees came to rest on the cold stones of the alleyway, the muffled sounds of some sort of commotion could be heard echoing off the nearby walls. Not wanting to risk making any of the law enforcement officers unhappy, Jack remained perfectly still certain that he would soon enough feel the cold metal of handcuffs against his raised wrists.

"Well, are you going to get up or do I have to do that for you as well?" A very familiar female voice said, prompting Jack to ever so slowly turn his head to see what the situation had been.  Standing in the middle of the scattered group of disarmed and unconscious law enforcement officers was Mazikeen, the woman appearing as calm and fresh as if she had just returned from a relaxing stroll in the park.

"You?" Jack asked with puzzlement as he pointed with his eyes to the motionless men at her feet.

"Who else?" Maze replied rolling her eyes. "It's not like you would have been able to do it. Now get up and let's go. I would like to be off this mud-ball of a planet before those empty-headed useless beasts wake up and get back to their feet."

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, Church of the Ancient Ones
Stardate: 32003.0950 (0635 local time)

"What are we doing here?" Jack asked finding it odd that Maze would come here of all places. The fact that she had gone around to the back instead of walking straight through the main doors had also been telling in that she had not wished to see anyone in an official manner.

"Because you need to talk to that friend of yours, Horur. He usually has the answers to any of the trouble you are somehow involved in."

"Wait? He's the one who has been spreading rumors about you? What has he been saying? That you are ruthless murderous spawn of the blood thirsty dragon said to reside between the three suns of the UFFERN system?"

"By the Ancients, you're back in one piece," the priest sighed with relief as he saw his friend. "I have been looking all over for you."

"I was at Rala's before Maze came bursting in and accusing me of being responsible for the city's lockdown," Jack replied pointing to the woman behind him who had been keeping a fair distance.

"Rala's, I should have guessed that you would be at the one place where the authorities would have been sure to find you," the priest said as he shook his head in disbelief.  "As for you," he added glaring at the woman standing far behind the Terran, "we don't give shelter to toothless soft little kittens here," Horur spat echoing more anger than Jack had ever heard in the massive man's voice.

"That's why I am going to tear his tongue out, that is right after he tells us what is happening here and how I go about getting my ship off this mud-ball of a planet," Mazikeen snarled as she loudly cracked her knuckles ready to act on her earlier threats.

"I don't have time to deal with little miss clawless over there," the physically imposing priest said before his friend stepped in.

"Horur, wait. Don't do it for her, do it for me and Shi," Jack pleaded. "She saved my life again today by taking down a group of law enforcement officer who had been poised to arrest me. I'm still not sure why, but they were in a rather nasty mood and didn't seem overly willing to give anyone any sort of answers."

"If you had stayed here as I had told you to none of this would have happened," Horur pointed out in a contained rage.  After having taken a few moments to calm himself, the priest continued. "I am not entirely certain as to why, but the authorities are rounding up any and all Terrans."

"Because of Zhar?" the adventurer who belonged to the named race gasped in disbelief.

"From what I was able to overhear from one of the officers in charge, the investigation concerning the murder of Zhar, however gruesome it might have been has been, was officially closed. Whatever they are searching and blaming the Terrans for has absolutely nothing to do with that murder, but the order came from high enough to warrant the entire city being placed on lockdown. No one is coming in or out of Kololu until the High Magistrate or whoever gave the initial order says so."

"Shutting down an entire city and rounding up every member of a single race is not something the High Magistrate has the power to do," Mazikeen pointed out.  "Locking down the city maybe... under some sort of emergency protective measure the High Magistrate could have done this, but to sanction the arrests of all Terrans, no. That is something he would never dare to do for fear of losing his seat through the political repercussions that it would cause. No, the order to round up all the Terrans would have had to come from much higher... or lower?"

"The Council of Shadows is a myth," Horur argued adding a long sigh of discontent. "There has never been any proofs found to even begin to suspect that there is some sort of unseen force controlling not only the government of this planet but that of countless other worlds. It is a tale meant to scare children as well as entice naive merchants to agree to pay an extra tax to be protected from something that doesn't even exist.  No, the order to have all Terran arrested had to come from the planetary government or from someone with a great deal of influence over them."

"Either way, I intend to stay and find out exactly who gave that order and why," Maze announced having made a sudden about-face in her desire to leave this world.

"Why not just wait for this mess to blow over? You will be able to leave with your ship then without having to deal with any issues," Jack respectfully suggested. "As for me I can always hide in some dark corner and wait. I was wrong to leave earlier, now I can see that, but at least it has shown me that I would not have been safe even here. I need to find a better place to hide from the authorities and wait this out."

"I have no intentions of waiting, or leaving," Mazikeen sternly countered. "When something this big is happening the old dirt gets kicked around quite a bit and that is when you get to see the real weaknesses of those on whom you can use it against for the greatest gain.  You two weaklings can hide all you want, I'm heading back out there and digging up exactly what is going on and whose throat will end up being in my grasp when the dirt finally settles."

"Maze, that's suicide," Horur pointed out. "The moment you are found to be interfering with the authorities they will have you arrested or worse. This entire affair is bigger than anything any of us has ever dealt with. Like it or not, we are way over our heads here."

"Are you truly worried for a toothless soft little kitten like me?" the bounty hunter sarcastically said actually finding some joy in the sound of her own question.

"Get yourself arrested or even killed, see if I care," the priest huffed as he pivoted on his heels and began to walk away.

"Well, I do, care that is," Jack quietly admitted. "I would have been dead more than once if it had not been for you Maze, the least I can do now is to help you get to the bottom of this."

"Jack, you cannot be serious? Maze wanting to be a fool here is one thing.  She may actually have the skills and means to make it through this whole mess alive, but you? The authorities will rip you apart the moment they see you involved in anything other than trying to save your own worthless life."

"You know what? I'm not sure but I think that I just received a compliment and you Jack just got insulted by your one and only friend," Maze laughed.

"He is not my *only* friend."

"Jack, for once be quiet and actually listen to what others are trying to tell you. Mazikeen and I may have had our differences, okay we still do, but the truth is that I know both of you more than I might actually care to admit. That means that I know how much she can handle and how little is needed to get you into more trouble than *you* can handle."

"My sweet Horur, you are growing soft on me. That would be the second compliment that you have given me in less than a minute. Maybe the life of a priest is finally getting to you."

"Maze, I truly could not care about what ends up happening to you because you decided to follow your crazy ideas of a Council of Shadows, but as much as I may not want to admit it I do care about Jack and how Shi is never going to forgive me or herself if something should happen to him."

"Then you two can stay," the bounty hunter shrugged as she began to walk away. "I'll let you both know how things went after I have gotten to the bottom of this and earned enough to buy myself a starship and the crew to man it."

"Horur, I can't leave her and go at this alone.  I know that you have been there for me and Shi in the past, all I ask now is that you continue to be there for her," the Terran adventurer pleaded as he took a few steps backwards in a display of his decision to follow Mazikeen.

"I can't stay here and watch you be more of a fool than I have always known you to be," the priest of the Church of the Ancient Ones sighed as he allowed his robes to fall to the ground revealing a set of civilian clothes beneath them.  "I'm going along with you two to make sure that nothing happens, and if something should happen at least I will have died in battle instead of from the crushing guilt that Shi is going to make me feel when she learns of your demise."

"Alright you two spineless worms," Maze called out from around the corner of the building. "Either follow or shut up, the shadows have ears and it will be best if you moved instead of continuing with this aimless emotional ramble."


Scott Moll

Writing the adventures of
aka Jonathan Harris
aka Jason House
aka Jake Hall
aka Jaren Hamlet
as well as a few others

Traveller, trader and merchant extraordinaire,
Man of intrigue and mystery,
Pilot of the STAR OF DESTINY,
and let's not forget overall nice guy.
STDH-SOLO: Houston-P005 ("The Life for Me – Chapter 5")
"The Life for Me – Chapter 5"

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, Streets
Stardate: 32003.1005 (0650 local time)

When Mazikeen set her mind on something, it was impossible to talk her out of it, and nearly just as impossible to keep up with her as she pushed through towards the final goal. In this case, the surrounding crowd was the obstacle pushed out of her way as she looked for the answers she sought.  The entire city of Kololu had been placed on lock-down and if it had not been enough that the local authorities had been arresting each and every Terran they came across, it appeared that some Hirogen Hunters had joined in on the action.  Most would have seen this as a hint to forget about the search for answers, but to the Mari adventurer, this had only further increased her need to get to the bottom of this.

"Are you sure that it would not be a safer course of action to return to the Church of the Ancient Ones and wait things out?" Horur proposed, not at all liking the idea of having to dodge not only the authorities but the Hirogens as well.

"You are wasting your time and breath," Jack sighed as he shook his head. There had been a better chance for the two men to find a way to implode the sun of the MARKALA System than to talk Maze out of her self-assigned quest for information. In the shadowy world that Mazikeen claimed as her home, information was all too often proven to be worth more than latinum. 

"We need to find the High Magistrate. He may not have the power to call for this lock-down but he is high enough on the political ladder to know who did," Mazikeen said, more as a specific course of action rather than a possibility to be discussed.

"Unless you know something that I don't, I am pretty sure that none of us will be able to just walk into his office and ask him to answer a few questions," Horur pointed out certain that this entire story would end badly far sooner than he would have liked.

"This way!" The single minded explorer and ruthless bounty hunter said, having completely ignored the objection of the towering Mokra man who had decided to come alone only because Jack had been given no other choice but to follow Maze.

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, In front of the High Magistrate's Offices
Stardate: 32003.1045 (0730 local time)

The game of cat and mouse between Maze, Horur, Jack and the local authorities had almost been fun. Although the trio had nearly been spotted a few times, they had nevertheless managed to make it to their intended destination without any incident.  Along the way, Mazikeen had even managed to get an update on the status of her ship. Despite not having heard the report, the expression on the woman's face and the hurried pace with which she had resumed their walk had hinted that the news had not been at all good.

The three adventurers stood around the corner of a building that gave onto the street that stood between them and their final destination.

"Now what?" Horur asked as he looked around the corner at the half dozen guards protecting the entrance to the Magistrate's Offices.

"I have an idea but you need to stay here Jack," Maze stated as she motioned for the former priest to follow her.

"Wait! Why do I have to stay here?" the Human demanded as if his pride had been wounded by the instructions he had been given.

Maze softly growled as she turn to face the pitiful looking Terran man. How someone like him had managed to survive in this region of space had been beyond her understanding,

"Of the three of us, who is the better fighter?" Mazikeen rhetorically asked.

"You," Jack sighed, knowing very well that her physical speed and skills were far beyond his or anyone else he knew.

"Of the three of us, who is more likely to talk themselves out of a bad situation?"

"You," he admitted, knowing that her looks and experience in how to use them had been more than enough to get her out of most situation the Mari woman would find herself in.

"Of the three of us, who do you think is able to find a clean and simple way to get into that building without attracting any unwanted attention?"

"Honestly, I would have to say Horur on that one," Jack grinned as he was pointing to his friend.

"Alright, fine, but out of the three of us who has a better chance of seeing us get into that building no matter what gets in our way?"

Horur and Jack looked at one another for a few seconds before turning their gaze back on the woman who had been asking all of these questions.

"You," both men admitted in near perfect unison, at least agreeing that Maze had been an unstoppable force of nature when it came to getting things done if keeping track of the body count had not been an issue.

"That's why you are staying here while big, brackish and bald comes with me."

"Hey, no need to get insulting, I have been told that my being bald suits me very well," Horur argued as he left his friend alone around the corner in order to follow the bounty hunter.

Doing his best to remain hidden, Jack tried to keep an eye on his friends to see what they were doing and to insure that nothing bad was happening.  For a brief moment, he lost track of them both only to see Maze reappear a few seconds later, this time right by the entrance of the building next to the half dozen guards.  She appeared to be explaining something to them as if distraught which surprised Jack, but what truly shocked the Terran adventurer was when she suddenly pointed in his direction.

Jack's heart stopped as he saw three of the six guards rushing in his direction. Had Mazikeen's desire to get to the bottom of this story been so great that she had unremorsefully use him as a bargaining chip? As bas as the question might have seen, the more troubling part had been that this had been well within the woman's modus operandi.

Quickly looking around him, Jack realized that there had not been anywhere for him to run to, and if Maze had indeed sold him out as he now suspected she did, there had been nowhere for him to hide either.  The best he could reluctantly do was to accept that he had been played for a complete fool and hope that he would somehow find a way out in one piece.

As ready as he could be to face his fate, Jack carefully stepped out from behind the corner to surrender himself to the approaching authorities, but instead of three rushing guards, he saw no traces of any of them.  The three that had been heading in his direction had somehow vanished, as had the other three that had remained behind to guard the High Magistrate's Office.

"Here, that uniform should fit you," Horur said as he tossed one of the guards' uniforms towards the confused Terran.

"Why didn't you tell me that this was the plan?" Jack wondered barely giving the uniform now in his arms a second look.

"Maze figured that if you knew what she had planned you would have wanted to get into the fight. She thought it best to keep you out of it so that the odds would remain in our favour."

"I guess that makes sense... wait a minute! My getting involved in the fight would have *reduced* our odds?!? Are you kidding me?"

"You can't argue with the results. Now shut up and hurry with putting on that uniform. You're taking Maze up to see the High Magistrate."

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, Inside the High Magistrate's Offices
Stardate: 32003.1110 (0755 local time)

"Don't get any idea, those shackles around my wrists won't stop me from sending you to the ground and snapping your neck if you try anything," Mazikeen whispered as she was led by Jack up a long set of stairs and passed a few more guards.  The shackles had actually been locked to insure that they would not fall off at an inappropriate time thus destroying the illusion they had both been trying to create.

"Where are you talking her?" The guard located at the top of the stairs inquired.

"I have instructions to bring her to see the High Magistrate," Jack replied not at all convinced that this would be sufficient to safely get them where they needed to be.

"I was not informed of this, plus she's not even Terran, so why would the High Magistrate want to see her?"

"Why? Why?" Maze bellowed as she send a single lightning fast kick into the guard's guts causing him to fall to the ground.  Within seconds, the man had her heel against his throat as he desperately struggled for breath. Jack had not been overly motivated to draw the shackled woman off, but in time he did manage to do so.

"Her name is Mazikeen and there is a standing top level warrant for her arrest. It states that she is to be brought to the High Magistrate immediately upon her capture.  Guess all of the rounding of the Terrans made her curious and I nabbed her in the process," Jack explained as he watched the guard continue to desperately try to catch his breath as he pushed himself onto his hands and knees.

"Be sure to keep her as far away from the Magistrate as possible," the guard suggested through his coughing while allowing the guard and his feisty prisoner to proceed into the main reception area of the High Magistrate.

As Maze walked into the room followed by a grinning Jack who had still been holding onto her shackles, the pair saw the man they had come to see speaking with a single Hirogen Hunter.

"What are you doing here? I gave strict instructions NOT to be disturbed," the High Magistrate said clearly not at all happy that his meeting with the Hirogen had been so rudely interrupted.

"My apologies, but this is Mazikeen, you gave orders for her to be brought to you as soon as she was found," Jack offered hoping that the High Magistrate would accept the explanation as something that he had forgotten about.  With so much happening all around the city, what would another lie be?

"Who? No matter who she is, I have more important things to deal with at this moment. Go into my office and wait for me there," the Magistrate ordered as he dismissed the two new arrivals towards another door which both Maze and Jack quickly made their way to.  As soon as the door was closed behind them, the shackles fell from Mazikeen's wrists and she leaned her ear against the door that had just been closed behind them.

"Nice little trick. Can you make out what they are saying?" Jack said as he looked at the unlocked shackles now on the floor as he leaned in close to Maze.

"I can't hear anything with you breathing down my neck like that," she replied easily shoving the Terran half way across the room with a one-handed push.

As he waited for Mazikeen to be finished with her eavesdropping, Jack looked over the numerous documents sitting on the desk next to him and it was with no small amount of surprise that he noticed a sealed departure order. With such a document in his possession he would be able to take the STAR OF DESTINY off this planet even if the lockdown order was still in effect. Needless to say that the Terran adventurer wasted no time to grab said document and slipped it inside his uniform shirt to keep it hidden and safe.

"He's coming," Maze announced as she quickly back away from the door, realizing only after the fact that her shackles had been left on the floor. Hopefully the High Magistrate would not notice them leaving Mazikeen with no other option but to make sure his attention remained on her at all costs.

"Alright. Make it quick. I have a situation to deal with and have no time to waste with... whom did you say this was?" The High Magistrate asked as he walked in and made his way directly to the desk from where Jack had taken the sealed departure order.  For completely different reasons, both adventurers found their heart rate quickly increasing for fear that they would be discovered for who they really were,

"Mazikeen," Jack said as his fears were briefly replaced by amusement at the fact that the High Magistrate had actually not known who the woman was; a fact that the Terran had been more than certain would annoy the woman to no end.

"The bounty hunter," Maze added, certain that the additional piece of information would be sufficient to have the man at the very least recall having heard something about her.

"Have you found her?" The High Magistrate unexpectedly demanded, his fullest attention having been cast on the woman as he leaned over his desk, obviously not having noticed the missing document, at least not as of that moment.

"Found her?" Maze questioned, not at all having expected the reaction she and Jack had received.

"The High Sovereign's missing daughter, who else?" The Magistrate replied exasperated.

"Actually I was hoping to get a few more details about that," Mazikeen politely offered wanting to get both information on what had been happening as well as maybe get onto a bounty that she strangely enough had not been aware of.

"Stop wasting my time! Get that woman out of here!" the Magistrate commanded leaving Jack with the delightful task of dragging the woman out, which of course allowed him to make a perfect exit with the document that he had taken possession of while taking Maze out before the discarded shackles were discovered.

"How do we get out?" Jack inquired, certain that the way they had come in had not been a viable path to follow.

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, In front of the High Magistrate's Offices
Stardate: 32003.1130 (0815 local time)

Horur kept watch, making sure that no one came too close and stumbled on the six unconscious guards that Maze and he had taken care of earlier. The attention of the Mokra giant was drawn onto the side of the building when the sound of a breaking window was heard, that was when he saw Jack and Mazikeen jumping onto the roof of the adjacent building.

"That's not the way to make sure no one knows you were there," Horur sighed as he rolled his eyes before running in to join his companions.

After having used the rooftops of a few buildings to distance themselves from the High Magistrate's Offices, Maze and Jack returned to the street level with Horur close on their tails.

"I really hope that you two learned something worthwhile after that exit of yours. If the authorities weren't looking for us before, they sure will be hunting us down now," the Makri giant stated not at all pleased with the way things had seemed to have evolved into.

"The High Magistrate is far too busy to worry about us right now," Jack noted, half hoping that the missing document would not be discovered for some time.

"The authorities and the Hirogens are hunting Terrans while the Magistrate is looking for the High Sovereign's lost daughter, whichever one she is. There are just too many of them to keep track. That said, whatever is happening here is big and everyone seems to be on his or her own private agenda.  The question is how do we use this to our advantage?" Maze said aloud as she walked away, not appearing to care as to whether or not the other two men followed.

"We need more information than what you managed to get," Horur pointed out.

"With Zhar dead there is only one other person that I can think of to get answers from, but that could very well end up costing us a lot."

"Don't look at me, I had to dig into a dead man chest to get the credits I needed to pay for the fees I owed," Jack exclaimed for fear that Maze would find a way to make him pay for whatever the price this person would charge them for the information she so desperately wanted.

"Don't worry, she's not after credits, it's blood she goes for..."

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Outskirts of the Trade City of Kololu
Stardate: 32003.1215 (0900 local time)

However bad the city could appear to be, the outskirt regions had been much worst. This was where those looking to stay away from the authorities came to conduct business, and this was where a person's life could no longer be valued by the wealth they carried with them.

"Now I remember why I stayed away from here, this place gives me the creeps," Jack announced staying as close to Maze and Horur as he could.

"We are here," Maze announced as she turned and stepped into an old torn tent large enough to offer shelter to an entire family. "Ama, are you here?"

"Whoever you are looking for probably got smart and left this place. I don't even think the rats are sticking around with this stench," Horur stated wincing as the aroma floating in the air hit him with full force, the tent appearing empty of any occupant.

"AMA!" Maze called out, a hint of panic in her voice, something that neither Horur nor Jack had ever heard before from the cold and calculating bounty hunter.

"Here," a faint and frail female voice replied from beneath a set of blankets located in one of the corners of the tent.

"What happened?" Jack asked in disgust and curiosity, looking down at the aged face of a woman who seemed to be inches from death.

"Ama, I am here. What happened to you?" Maze asked, the bounty hunter sounding far more emotional than anyone could have ever imagined her to be.

"Maze, my sweet little girl. What are you doing here? You should not be here, especially not now. The shadows have come. They are walking amongst us and are claiming the darkest souls to be their eternal servants. You have to get away from this cursed place before it is too late. I beg of you, leave before you are touched by the darkness and doomed to serve them even after death," the old woman said sounding as if she had not been quite all there.

"Ama, you can't leave like this," Maze begged as she tightly held onto the woman's hand.

"It is too late for me my sweet," the old woman added with a smile as she placed a small empty vile in the bounty hunter's hand.


"Do not be sad for me. This is my choice, one that I made to avoid having to face a world of living shadows. This way I go of my own free will to join the stars before they are made to be forever veiled by darkness. You are young and strong, I am old and weak. The future is in all of your hands, not mine. This way you will be free to do as you need without worrying about what will happen to me.  It is too late for me, go with your friends and leave this world before the shadows claim it and everyone on it."  As she spoke the last words, her body fell limp as the last of her life essence vanished.

"Should we..." Jack began before being stopped by Horur who simply shook his head no. As a former priest of the Church of the Ancient Ones, he knew how to conduct himself in the presence of death, be it of a stranger or of someone close, and by the way Mazikeen had been crying, it had been evident that the old woman had been someone very close and dear to the bounty hunter.

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, Streets
Stardate: 32003.1250 (0935 local time)

After having taken care of the final preparations of the old woman's body, Horur had carried her back to town so that she would be able to receive the proper final rights as per the beliefs of the church both he and Jack had been members of on some level or another.

Maze quietly followed trying her best to make sense of what the old woman had done and said. As much as the bounty hunter could understand the stated logic, she could not bring herself to accept that this had happened. Why could she not have done this at another time? Why had it been necessary for her to end her life today?

"We can gain access to the chamber of the dead from here," Horur said trying his best to help without having to run into a member of the church, after all he had forgone his privileges when he had opted to go with Jack and Mazikeen.

As they walked in both Jack and Horur stopped in the middle of the first room, an odd smell having been detected.

"Is it just me or does it smell like smoke?" the Terran adventurer asked.

Curious as to what the cause might be, Horur ever so delicately placed the wrapped body of the old woman down in order to search for the source of the odd smell.

"Something is burning," Mazikeen confirmed as she quickly studied her surroundings to see if she could identify the specific location and source of the fire.

A unexpected scream of pain caused the trio to rush into the next room where they saw one of the priests impaled by some sort of invisible spike that had been made to pierce the robed man's chest clean through.  Recalling what he had seen back at the fountain near the Lake of Silences, Jack made a quick exit not wishing to be witness to another gruesome death.  To his relief the Terran quickly notice that both Horur and Maze had followed him out of the church.

"Are you alright?" the former priest inquired of his friend.

"I will be, just glad I didn't get to see that poor chap end the same way the other did," Jack admitted as he looked back at the church that was now nearly completely engulfed in towering flames.

"The war against the shadows as begun," Mazikeen muttered as she looked at the burning building, glad that her Ama had been there to receive a sending that she had been worthy of.

"I don't know about any war, but I think it would be safer for us to get away from here," Horur suggested knowing that the burning of such a large structure would bring in a great many people to help or simply watch.

"Time to get off this planet, but first I need to get Shi. I cannot leave her here, not this time," Jack stated before starting to run towards the diner.

"How do you plan on getting off the planet? We are still under lock-down, no ship or person can leave the surface?" Horur asked.

"I always have a way," the Terran adventurer replied as he waved a document in the air prompting both Maze and Horur to follow if only to discover what the plan had been.

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, Rala's Diner
Stardate: 32003.1305 (0950 local time)

Chaos had taken over the entire city, the fire of the Church of the Ancient Ones having acted as a catalyst to set the general populous against the authorities and the Hirogens who had been terrorizing everyone.  Some had believe that it was the Hirogens who had set fire to the church while others claimed that heretics had done so to ward off some unknown and unseen threat. Whatever reasons people had used to justify their actions, the final result had been chaos on an unimaginable scale.

The diner had been ransacked by the time Jack and the others arrived leaving the Terran to fear for the worst.  His fears were further compounded when he saw the mutilated body of the owner hunched over the main counter.

"Shi! Are you here? Please tell me that you are here and safe?"

"I am," the green-skinned Orion slave replied in a trembling voice.

"I am so glad that you are safe," Jack said as he pounced towards the woman and took her into a caring embrace.

"Time for us to go," Maze stated as she kept a watchful eye on the continued chaos in the streets.

"I can't leave," Shi said as she fought free of Jack hold on her.

"Your owner is dead and the diner is in ruins. There is absolutely no reason for you to stay here.  Whatever will happen with your slave status we can take care of later, right now we need to get to the STAR OF DESTINY and get off this planet."

"You still have not told us how you plan of making that happen. All you said was that you had the solution in your hand. All we saw was a piece of paper," Mazikeen pointed out, not at all enjoying the mess that had come to be around them.

"Just trust me. Horur, make sure that we have the navigational controls with you. We are going to need them."

Setting: MARKALA PRIME, Trade City of Kololu, Landing platform central
Stardate: 32003.1320 (1005 local time)

"HALT! None shall pass!" The lead guard at the gates of the landing platform said at the approaching quartet.  The other twenty or so guards stood fast, waiting for the orders of their commander.

"I have a signed departure order from the High Magistrate himself," Jack said as he waved the document he had been keeping secret in the air, expecting the guards to simply get out of their way. Unfortunately, that was not the case, the guards instead reaching for their sidearm as if expecting a fight. Given the chaos that had taken hold of the city, the reaction had been rather understandable.

"No one is going anywhere; those are my orders which are from above the High Magistrate."

"Maze," Jack forcefully whispered as he glanced in the woman's direction.

"Might be able to get six or maybe even eight of them before they fire a shot, but there is no way that we can force our way through them."

"Excuse me, we are looking a skilled pilot and ship," a woman leading a scruffy looking group of people said as she stepped up to Jack.

"Well, you found the pilot but the ship is on the other side of those uncooperative men," the Terran replied giving the odd group a once over, that was when he noticed the bright red hair colour of two of the women one of them appearing to be nothing more than a simple slave.  If the two of them actually belonged to the Nylaan Warrior cast, Jack thought that maybe they might have a chance in fighting their way to the STAR OF DESTINY.

"Maybe I can help with that," the redhead woman who appeared to be a slave calmly said as she stepped up to face the lead guard without showing the slightest fear or concern.  Jack watched with interest to see how the fight would turn out, not expecting this to end in any other way.

"Your red hair doesn't scare me," the guard boastfully announced, growling at the woman as if daring her to try to use whatever combat skills she might have learned before becoming a slave a per her clothing suggested.

"By orders of the daughter of the High Sovereign of NYLA IV you are to allow myself and all of these people access to the landing platform. Furthermore you will escort us all to the ship of this man to insure our safe departure from this city before the chaos that now reigns here threatens our lives," the slave woman said as her hair changed from the bright red that it was into the purple that confirmed the claim that she had just made.

Jack nearly chocked as he found it suddenly very difficult to breathe, never in a million years having expected to see this. Apparently, the guards had been equally taken by surprise all of them seemingly ready to pee their pants right there and then. Without any further delay, the soldiers quickly complied, opening the gates and providing the requested escort to the entire group now being lead by the Nylaan royalty.

“See, told you to trust me,” Jack said, his chest as swollen as that of a proud peacock.

“Don’t you dare take credit for this or so help me I will leave your broken body right here and fly that sorry excuse of a ship that you dare to piloted," Maze snarled back.

“I am not claiming credit. I am just saying that you have to learn to trust me.”

“I do,” Shi said as she planted a long loving kiss on his cheek.

"Why have you allowed them here," the landing platform controller demanded of the lead guard not having expected anyone to be here especially following the lock-down orders he had received.

"We are leaving," Jack simply stated as he walked ahead of the purple haired woman and lead guard before presenting the signed departure orders to the controller. Had it been only for the document, Jack figured that they might have been given a hard time, but thanks to the High Sovereign’s daughter standing behind him, the task of boarding the STAR OF DESTINY had become nothing more than child's play.

"My apologies your Highness. May you have a safe flight."

"You seem rather pleased with yourself," Maze sighed as she looked at a grinning Jack.

"Yup, this is definitely the life for me."

Scott Moll

Writing the adventures of
aka Jonathan Harris
aka Jason House
aka Jake Hall
aka Jaren Hamlet
as well as a few others

Traveller, trader and merchant extraordinaire,
Man of intrigue and mystery,
Pilot of the STAR OF DESTINY,
and let's not forget overall nice guy.
STDH-SOLO: Houston-P006 ("The Life for Me – Chapter 6")
"The Life for Me – Chapter 6"

Setting: STAR OF DESTINY, Flight and Control Center or FCC
Stardate: 32003.1555

"What happened?" Jack asked groggily, his head feeling several sizes too small.

"Looks like we lost consciousness," Mazikeen replied  as she tried to push the fog from her mind.

"Why would we have lost consciousness?" Horur questioned, feeling it almost impossible for him to move his massive form even in the smallest of ways.

"I have no idea but sensors are offline and by the looks of things we are dead in space," the Mari bounty hunter replied forcing her eyes to focus on the instrument panel that she had woken up in front of after having looked through the forward windows to see the distant and motionless stars.

"Let me get the medical kit, maybe I can find something in there to help us clear our heads," Shi said, the Orion woman having gained quite a bit of experience in the field of medicine thanks to the numerous mishaps of her friend Jack Houston.

"I'll go check the engines and computer," Horur added, the giant Mokra never having one to be the one sitting down when he could do something else, even if he could barely manage to stand as he pushed himself off his chair.

"Try to see if you can access the last sensor logs. I am getting nothing but garbage on this end," the Terran continued, his efforts to find answers as to where they were and why they had apparently been drifting in the middle of nowhere having so far failed.

"Maybe this will help," Shi said as she injected Jack with some sort of stimulant to which the Terran immediately responded to by shaking his head.

"Thanks. I had forgotten that I had those in there.  Always thought I would have to use them after a long night of drinking with someone trying to kill me, but this is close enough for my liking at this time," the Human man said as he watched the green-skin woman repeat the procedure on Mazikeen's neck before injecting herself with a third dosage.

"I'll go check the rest of the ship," the Orion woman stated having the sudden odd sensation that there should have been others on board the STAR OF DESTINY besides the four of them.  With the fog quickly lifting from her mind, the feeling only grew more real leaving the green-skin woman nearly certain that she would find several others in the passenger area of the ship.

"So do we know what happened to us? Me falling asleep at the controls is not exactly a common thing although I have been known to do it from time to time,  but for all four of us to be unconscious at the same time is stretching the odds way too far for my liking, even for me." Jack noted to the only other person on the FCC as he started a complete system's diagnostic.

"Both navigational and sensor logs are showing a gap of about an hour. Something happen to us but there is no telling what at this time. For all we know we could have been abducted by some alien hostile force and experimented upon," Maze unhappily theorized causing Jack to clench before checking to see if his arms had shown any signs of having been in restraints of punctured for some strange medical experimentation.

"Not only are you crazy but also paranoid.  We could have encountered some type of high plasma energy discharge that knocked us all out and scrabble the computer and logs.  Why do you always have to believe the worst in people and events?" Jack said finding it annoying that Mazikeen could always be so negative while he rubbed the back of his neck still searching for any indication that maybe the bounty hunter had been correct.

"Because thinking that way is what has kept me alive all those years," the Mari woman replied in a huff, her efforts to get more information from the computer having been unsuccessful.

"And because she might be right. We four are the only ones on board, " Shi added as she returned to the flight and control center appearing somewhat troubled by her findings, or more accurately by the lack thereof.

"Of course we are alone. Who else would be here with us?" Jack asked only to suddenly feel as if he should be remembering others having been on the STAR OF DESTINY with them.

"You feel it as well, don't you?" The Orion woman asked seeing the questioning confusion in the Terran's face which perfectly mirrored her own.

"Shi is right. I have this distinct feeling that there should be others on this rust bucket besides the four of us. I just can't remember who they were or why they were here with us in the first place, but the memory is clearly there. It's as if I was trying to hold on to the image and feeling left by a dream that I have just woken from," Mazikeen offered annoyed and troubled by the fact that she could not bring forth what she knew had been in her mind.

=/\= Engines are fully operational but the navigation and sensor logs for the last hour or so have been damaged beyond recovery. Based on the limited damage we suffered I think we can consider ourselves lucky that we came out of whatever happened so easily, =/\= Horur reported using the internal ship's communication system.

"Great! So we have no way to know where we were, what we were doing or where we were going. Our sensors are currently inoperative and it looks like we are missing people whom we cannot remember anything about. Could this get any better?" Jack let out frustrated and on the edge of an anger fueled outburst.

"Whoever or whatever did this to us may still be out there. We need to get our sensors back online and get moving," Maze explained as she looked out of the nearest window once again to see if she could locate the ones responsible for their dilemma.

"Where would we go? I can't remember where we were supposed to be going to," Jack sighed.

"NYLA IV, " Shi answered not at all certain why she had named that particular planet out of the countless others she had been aware of.  As an Orion slave, her travel experience to other words had been rather limited, so her knowledge of other worlds had come from stories and accounts from visitors to Rala's Diner.

"This is ludicrous.  We have no idea what happened to us, and now you want us to go galavanting to another world? " The Terran added in frustration.

"I agree with Shi, but you know deep down inside that your girlfriend is right. I can't explain how I know this or even that you know it as well as we do but I do know that NYLA IV is a place that plays an important role in whatever happened to us," Mazikeen admitted not trying to hide the puzzlement that had swept through her mind.

"Then should we not be heading away from that planet as far and fast as we can?" Jack pointed out. As much as he might have agreed with the two women as to the possible significance of NYLA IV to their situation, and even he admitted feeling as they did, he had not been ready to rush head-first into a completely unknown situation that could prove high dangerous to their continued survival.

"Something happened to us and so far every clue we have points to that planet. You might want to spend your life not knowing what took place but I for one need to know what happened to us and who is responsible not to mention discovering who was on board with us," Maze explained with fire in her dark eyes.

"We may not remember who was here or why, but they might be in trouble," Shi added.

"Why is it suddenly our responsibility to save them? Which by the way I would like to point out that we have no indications what so ever that they are actually in trouble. For all we know they might have been rescued from us or voluntarily transferred to another ship which would explain why we are still alive. Whoever they were, if someone wanted them dead they would not have spared us in the process leaving us to ask all of these stupid questions and planning to head to a planet for no other reason than a feeling," Jack pointed out wishing that everyone else would just drop the matter allowing them to set a course to a safe and hopefully profitable port.

"Hard to get a ransom for a dead royal," Mazikeen said as she managed to take hold of a fleeting memory.

"Royal? Where the heck are you getting that from?" The Terran demanded, his frustration quickly reaching the boiling over point.

"Purple. I now recall that someone we had very recent dealings with had purple hair.  Now since none of us have hair like that and we all agree that NYLA IV has some significance in our current situation, we can safely deduce that the royal family is somehow involved," the Mari woman explained.

"If you are right, that's even more of a reason for us to not go there.  Whoever did this to us went through a great deal of efforts to hide their trail while allowing us to continue on our way. It would be completely inconsiderate of us to ignore what they did *for* us," Jack argued not wanting to risk his life or his ship on such a foolishly ill conceived plan.

"Jack, someone may be in trouble, someone whom I strongly feel was responsible for helping us off MARKALA PRIME.  We owe them to at the very least investigate this and make sure that they are alright," the Orion woman continued, looking at the man she had known for several years now,  very aware that he did have a compassionate heart even if he did everything possible to hide it from everyone whom he came in contact with.

"Shi..." Jack began before the Orion woman reached out and placed her delicate hand on his cheek, beaming a gentle loving smile as she did this.

"I know that you are a good person Jack. Don't fall to the darkness of the universe, be the light that I know you can be, the light that you have always wanted to be," Shi added looking directly into the Terran's eyes.

"Plus there might be a substantial reward if we are in deed dealing with the Nylaan royals. They may be very willing to pay for us to help rescue one of their own or be just as generous to make sure we stay quiet about the whole affair. Either way, there might be something to be gained by looking into this," the bounty hunter added recalling what the Magistrate of the city of Kololu had said about his having people out looking for the missing daughter of the High Sovereign.

As much as Jack tried to be a great many things, being a man seeking to make his fortune had always won out. That had been one of the reasons why he had found his way into the New Ferengi Alliance.  Being in this part of the galaxy though had also been why he had found himself on more than one occasion without a single credit to his name. Jack might have been good at finding financial opportunities but he had been far from being the best at making deals that ended up in his favour even in the slightest of ways

"Horur!" Jack called out after having open a channel to the ship's engineering section.

=/\= What? =/\= The Mokra giant answered soon after.

"Give the engines one last check as well as the secondary systems of the hull matrix.  Once that's done we need to get our sensors back online since we will be heading to NYLA IV," Jack stated.

=/\= Why the Nylaan home world? Did you guys find something? =/\= Horur queried.

"Apparently someone there might be in need of our help," Jack answered not sounding overly thrilled by his own words regardless of what his jumbled memories might have confirmed.

"There might be some substantial credits to be had as well," Mazikeen added with a smile, the bounty hunter always ready to follow a lead that would bring in a cash reward.

=/\= That sounds more like the Jack I know. Give me a few minutes then I will start taking care of the sensors. =/\=

"I will start working on the sensors on this end. The faster we get them fixed, the faster we can be on our way to NYLA IV," Maze added having already removed the panel giving her access to the sensor controls beneath the station where she had been, her enthusiasm completely offsetting the lack of excitement that Jack had so far displayed about their first adventure together as the crew of the STAR OF DESTINY.

Scott Moll

Writing the adventures of
aka Jonathan Harris
aka Jason House
aka Jake Hall
aka Jaren Hamlet
as well as a few others

Traveller, trader and merchant extraordinaire,
Man of intrigue and mystery,
Pilot of the STAR OF DESTINY,
and let's not forget overall nice guy.
STDH-SOLO: Houston-P007 ("The Life for Me – Chapter 7")
"The Life for Me – Chapter 7"

Setting: STAR OF DESTINY, Flight Deck
Stardate: 32030.1100

"Welcome to the Nylaan system," Horur announced as the ship officially entered the mentioned solar system, the one that they had come to in search of both answers and wealth. Hopefully, as far as Mazikeen had been concerned, not in that order.

"Set course for the fourth planet and let's try to get a landing platform that is not too far from the Imperial Palace," Jack said, his goal having been quite simple: for them to land, ask a few questions about the missing royal daughter, and see if they could identify the purple hair woman that they all seem to remember helping them leave MARKALA PRIME.

"You do realize that the landing fees increase exponentially the closer we set down to the Imperial Palace?" Horur rhetorically questioned of his friend who had never been one to spend credits where he did not have too, especially given that he usually had none to start with.

"This is where we will be making our fortune my friend. I can feel it," Jack cooed as he leaned back into his chair and threw his arms up and over his head, giving an air or absolute confidence.

"The same way you were going to make your fortune on NEW FERENGIRAR?" The imposing Moran man laughed aloud from the back of the flight deck.

"Or the way you were going to make enough to buy your own moon by dealing on the GALOUHIN OUTPOST?" Shi softly chuckled, pointing out by doing so that this had not been the Terran's first 'get rich quick' scheme.

"No, I clearly remember him saying that he was going to get rich within a week on SENTARA III," Maze added realizing that Jack had not changed his style or ways since the first time she had met him. The man had been searching for his dreams then and he had still been looking for them now, all apparently in the wrong places.

"Okay, okay," Jack surrendered. "So I made a few bad choices and investments. What can I say? I'm the trusting and generous kind."

"You are a gullible idiot," Mazikeen corrected, unimpressed and unamused. "Luckily for the rest of the universe, there aren't too many like you around. You may be happy living your life as a wandering popper but the rest of us would like to have more than a few credits to rub together."

"A nice little place to call home," Horrur jumped in with. "A place where you can just put up your feet and relax without having to worry about a deal having gone bad or the authorities of some distant world searching for you."

"I would be happy to just not having to constantly having to look over our shoulders," the Orion added, her status as a slave without an owner still weighing heavily on her mind.

"Let me tell you this," the Terran mused from one of the two chairs located at the front of the flight deck. "I will make sure that all get enough credits to make your dreams come true. NYLA IV is the place where our lives will change. This is where we will make our fortune."

=/\= As per Imperial orders, no ships are allowed to land on NYLA IV. You can either return from where you came from or change course and wait to dock at one of our orbital trade stations. =/\= a voice came over the communication channel, replying to the automated request that had been sent the moment the ship had entered the system.

"What do you mean we can't land?" Jack exclaimed in a huff. "How are we suppose to get to the Imperial palace?"

=/\= As per Imperial orders, no ships are allowed to land on NYLA IV. You can either return from where you came from or change course and wait to dock at one of our orbital trade stations, =/\= the voice repeated in the exact same tone and cadence before continuing. =/\= Your clearance and business with the Imperial palace will be verified there and if everything checks out, you will be permitted to transport down to the capital city at that time. =/\=

"That could take days!" The Terran said, exasperated.

"Maybe even weeks," Horur added as he pointed to the huge number of ships surrounding the nearest orbital trade outpost. "Whatever happened, they are not taking any chances," he continued having moved to stand right between the two control seats at the front of the deck.

"Wonder if this has anything to do with what happened on MARKALA PRIME?" Shi queried more to herself than anyone else although her words had been heard by everyone.

"We all remember being helped off the planet by a purple haired Nylaan woman," Maze started to explain. "Sensors showed MARKALA PRIME surrounded by Hirogens just as we exited the system, and now NYLA IV is under the protection of an Imperial order. There is no wondering if this is all related. I would be shocked if it wasn't."

"Well, there goes that idea Jack," Horur laughed patting his friend on the shoulder. "We can always head to the PYTHRON system, there is always a few credits to be had there if you are willing to work hard and not ask too many questions."

"We are not going anywhere," Jack argued without delay. "We came here to make our fortune and this is where we will make it. The fact that there is an Imperial order in place only shows that this is where we need to be. As the Ferengi say, the riskier the road, the greater the profit."

"Don't you start quoting Rules of Acquisition to me," Mazikeen angrily challenged the Human sitting next to her. "You would not be able to recognize a real deal if it crawled up your leg and bit you in the..."

"Maze?" the green-skinned Orion woman interjected. "I thought you were here for that reason as well, to make your wealth?"

"I never said that I was not here for the profit," the Mari woman clarified while looking over her shoulder at Shi. "I just don't want him or anyone else quoting Rules of Acquisitions. I can make a profit without following the rules of those huge-ear crooks."

"You got burn by them too," Horur laughed for a few short seconds before stopping after having been the recipient of a rather nasty glare from the woman sitting next to Jack.

"So what do we do?" Shi asked, guessing that they would all be waiting for quite some time to be able to dock at the orbital trade station which floated in orbit of the planet in front of them.

"I have an idea," the Terran said. "Change course for the planet's southern pole, There is another trade outpost there, one that is not as heavily used," Jack proposed.

"There is a reason for that you idiot," Maze snarled at him. "That outpost is meant for miners and scums. You might feel right at home there but the rest of us would like to dock somewhere that is not going to give us fleas or the Pythronian Mumps."

"Well," the Human chuckled. "If you are scared of a few miners, I guess we can get in line to dock at the nearest station and just wait our turn. By the looks of things Horur was right, it should only take a few days to get to the station and dock."

The Mari woman appeared ready to rip the Terran's head clear off his shoulders for what he had just said, but instead of attacking him she turned back to face her console and in a huff punched in the coordinates of the orbital trade station located by the southern pole of NYLA IV.

Setting: Nylaan Orbital Trade Station ZOLA
Stardate: 32030.1510

"The over three hours of wait to get on this station were definitely worth it," Maze hissed sarcastically as she stepped into the dark and stinky station where even the walls had been covered with gook of every imaginable color and texture.

"Was that an eyeball?" Shi suddenly demanded as she pointed to one of the walls that the group had just walked by. "Please tell me that was not an eyeball."

"It was not an eyeball Shi, relax," Horur said while looking at Jack and nodding his head in a 'yes' motion. To avoid the Orion woman losing her mind he had opted to hide the truth from her, but the Mokra man had thought it best for everyone else to be aware of the type of place they had just walked into.

"It's a mining outpost," the Terran offered in as much a reassuring manner as he could to his green-skinned companion. "you are bound to find some dirt and the odd looking piece of rock."

"Some dirt you say," Mazikeen sighed as she rolled her eyes. "There is enough dirt on this deck alone to form a new moon, one that would already possess the required biological material to create life." The statement made by the Mari woman proved enough to have the Orion look more closely at the mentioned dirt to see if she would be able to identify some sort of biological matter as stated.

"Let's head to the control center," Jack offered. "Hopefully we can find a way to get planetside and from there we'll just need to find a way to make it to the Imperial Palace.  Riches await my friends, I can smell it."

"I am pretty sure that what you are smelling right now is not riches," Horur said barely able to keep his eyes open from the pugnant strength of whatever stench had been in the air.

"The whole planet is on heightened alert," Mazikeen pointed out doing her best to ignore the potent aroma. "Even if we do make it to the surface, do you really think that they will just allow us to walk in and ask the High Sovereign about one of his daughters? One that might have gone missing and found on MARKALA PRIME?"

"If we have to push our way through, then that is what we will have to do," Jack replied with flair and bravado not seeing a rather imposing and muscular man coming from around a corner to cross his path.

By the time everyone saw the giant walking mountain it had been too late and the Terran had plowed right into him, the humanoid bouncing unceremoniously off the towering creature before falling onto the dirt filled floor.

"Watch where you're going worm!" The imposing Hupyrian snapped at the small framed creature on the floor next to him.

Even at 6'7", the hefty Mokra appeared small next to the giant who had not at all taken the accident kindly.  "He's sorry," Horur offered as he helped his friend back to his feet, thinking it best to get Jack out from where he might get stepped on like the bug he likely seemed to be to the moving muscular mass.

"He runs into me, then you dare talk to me," the Hupyrian bellowed, his voice even lower than would have been expected for someone his colossal size. "I crushed against the wall the head of the last worm who got in my way and I will do the same to you both."

As if picking up two small sacks filled with feathers, the giant took hold of the two men and effortlessly rose them off their feet holding on to nothing but their heads. Both Jack and Horur tried their best out of desperation to strike at the colossus in the hopes of getting free but none of their hits appeared to have the slightest effect against the massive Hupyrian.

"All right you big, tall and ugly excuse for a bipedal life form, put... them... down!" Maze firmly ordered, standing in front of the monstrous beast with her hands resting on her hips, a defiant expression clearly visible on her face.

"I will snap you like the twig you are little lady," the giant scoffed, obviously not in anyway intimidated by the 5'8" woman now standing in front of him.

Although she might not have appeared to be much, Maze had earned a solid reputation as a fighter for herself, a reputation that the giant standing before her had obviously not been aware of. With a couple of quick hits, the Mari woman forced the towering beast to drop the two men that he had taken a hold of. Before he could realise what had happened, Mazikeen struck once again at the mountain causing him bend forward in pain. With his head now in striking range, it only took a few more expertly delivered hits from the woman to see the giant fall unconscious to the ground with a thundering 'splat'.

"Thanks," Jack offered after a few moments as he rubbed the soreness from his next. The giant had a solid hold on the Terran, his hand easily having covered the entirety of the human's head.

"You sure took your sweet time though," Horur added as he did the same, his massive hand rubbing the back of his equally massive neck.

"Maybe I should have waited for him to crush your skulls," Maze presented as a very acceptable alternate option. "That way I would have gained the STAR OF DESTINY and gotten rid of a great deal of *dead weight* all in one shot."

"Maze?" Shi said in a distinct tone of disapproval. "You are not half as mean as you try to make everyone believe you are. I know that you would never allow any harm to come to Jack or Horur. You are just too nice of a person to do such a thing."

Mazikeen glared over her shoulder at the green skinned Orion, "too nice of a person?" The woman asked before pointing with an open hand to the giant that was now flat on the grimy floor of the orbital trade station. "What this kind?" The Mari asked clearly insulted by the Orion's words.

"You could have been a lot meaner to him," Shi pointed out, certain of her take of the female warrior.

"How about now?" Maze asked as she kicked the unconscious tower. "Do you think that I am still a nice person?" She continued as another kick was sent to land against the giant's side. "How about now?" The first question was repeated as a third kick, this one directed at the colossus' head was launched causing blood to fly through the air to land onto the dirt filled floor.

"You made your point," Jack said as he stepped in and pulled Mazikeen out of range before she could kick the beast a fourth time. "No need to attract the attention of the local security. We are here to find a way to the planet surface, not to the nearest jail cell."

"Have you looked at this place?" Horur asked looking rather flummoxed. "I really don't think they have any sort of jail here. I would be more inclined to believe that they space anyone they have any trouble with. That, or they let the local thugs take care of them, either way the outcome would be one far less pleasant than being thrown in a jail cell."

"All right, point taken," Jack agreed as he looked down at the unconscious giant at his feet. "Let's get out of this area and make our way to the control center. There we can start looking for a way to reach the planet, preferably not through any external means.  I enjoy orbital skydiving just as much as the next guy, but it would be a lot nicer and safer with a suit and parachute on our backs."

"We could always see if Maze can do it without the suit," Horur snarled at the woman as the group began to walk away. "Being as cold as she is, I suspect that she would actually survive the atmospheric re-entry."

"How about if we see how well you do with a *floor* re-entry," the Mari woman snapped back right away, the only reason she had not yet hit Horur having been the fact that both Jack and Shi had taken hold of her.

"I think keeping a low profile while on the station is going to be quite a challenge," the Orion offered with a smile as she looked at Jack, still holding the Mari warrior back.

"Keeping a low profile is underrated," the Terran grinned back while holding back Maze. "Where's the fun in that?"

Scott Moll

Writing the adventures of
aka Jonathan Harris
aka Jason House
aka Jake Hall
aka Jaren Hamlet
as well as a few others

Traveller, trader and merchant extraordinaire,
Man of intrigue and mystery,
Pilot of the STAR OF DESTINY,
and let's not forget overall nice guy.
STDH-SOLO: Houston-P008 ("The Life for Me – Chapter 8")
"The Life for Me – Chapter 8"

Setting: Nylaan Orbital Trade Station ZOLA
Stardate: 32030.1630

The group of adventurers made their way through the orbital trade station in search for a way to reach the surface of NYLA IV in the safest and most direct manner possible. So far though, their quest had been met with one barrier after another, the local authorities having been unwilling to let anyone go down without a legitimate and triple confirmed reason.

"Looks like our skydiving down o the surface is still on the table as a way for us to reach the planet surface Jack," Horur said, the imposing Mokra using this to point out their repeated failure to secure a method to reach NYLA IV.

"The High Sovereign is not taking any chances," Shi offered as a counter point. "If what we heard is true, can you blame him?"

"If only *half* of what we heard is actually true," Mazikeen added, "I am surprised we made it this far. If there is an actual plot to assassinate the High Sovereign, a plot that he his aware of, he is a fool for letting anyone get into orbit and even more so for allowing some of them to the surface."

"It only means that the man is not as paranoid as you are," Jack said to Maze.

"That is why he will die while I am enjoying a cold drink at the nearest bar, laughing about how the fool met his end," the Mari warrior laughed.

"We might want to keep the mentioning of a certain someone's passing down," Horur said, having noticed a few strange glares being sent in their direction. "Paranoia is not something that is exclusive to our friend here."

"Agreed," the Terran sighed, "Let's try and keep a more low key profile."

"I thought you believed that keeping a low profile was underrated," Maze teased in an air of superiority as she sized up the Human standing right next to her.

"STOP THAT MAN," someone screamed through the corridor, causing everyone to turn and focus on a man forcing his way through the crowd in an urgent manner.

Following the call for help, a few tried to block the runaway man, but judging by the way they were so easily pushed out of the way, the man possessed both higher than average speed and strength making the task that much more difficult.  Maze looked around to see if there was something she could use to help stop the man's progress. With the bulkheads and support frames secured in place, and the floor plates far too heavy to be quickly picked up, the Mari warrior had been left with very few options to consider in a rapidly shrinking window of time.

Just as the running man had been about to pass the the group, Mazikeen grabbed Jack to throw him into the legs of the runaway. The collision that followed mimicked what could be seen on old comedy shows as one body crashed onto the floor plates while the other was made to become airborne before doing the same a few meters further down. With the man disoriented by the unexpected flight, it was easy for Horur and Maze to restrain the fugitive until the authorities finally caught up.

"Well done you two," a man dressed far better than expected for these parts offered to he Mari woman and Mokra man, completely ignoring the fallen Terran man as well as the green-skinned Orion woman trying to help him back to his feet. "Looks like someone is able to think on their feet unlike the rest of those lugs back there. I owe you my thanks for stopping that crook from leaving with my credits without having done the job I paid him to do."

"Forget the thanks," Maze huffed. "How about giving us the job instead?"

"They did say that it was a cutthroat business environment up here," the name laughed.  "You have yourself a deal. My name is Ju'Dar. Come to loading bay 6 in an hour and we can work out the details of your new job."

"What just happened?" Jack asked, rubbing his head and using Shi's help to stay standing. The force of the impact he had just been forced to endure having actually been worse than it appeared.

"You mean you stopping that thief or the fact that we seem to have a job that may very well allow us to go down to the planet surface?" Mazikeen rhetorically asked.  "While you were on the floor resting, the rest of us actually got things done."

"Maze," Shi snapped at the Mari warrior. "You threw poor Jack in the path of the running man. His being on the floor was not his fault but yours."

"Relax that green skin of yours," Maze said, not being in the mood to fight or even argue, especially given that they had made great strides to achieving their objective over the last few moments. "He did his part; we have a job and a possible way to the surface. What more do you want?"

"It's okay Shi," Jack said to the Orion woman still helping him stand on his feet. "Maze is right, her quick thinking made this opportunity possible, so let's just accept it and move on."

"Jack, you might want to sit down for a little while," Horur offered. "That hit must have been a lot stronger than it looked, you actually agreed with Maze without hesitations."

The Terran growled, his entire body still reeling from the runaway train that he had been thrown in front of.

Setting: Nylaan Orbital Trade Station ZOLA, Loading Bay 6
Stardate: 32030.1745

The moment the four adventurers walked into the loading bay, a group of armed men grabbed and separated them.

"What's going on here?" Maze demanded as she downed with a single punch the first guard to have taken a hold of her. This immediately prompted two more to train their weapons on her.

"Relax," Ju'Dar said as he walked out from the nearby shadows. "You would not begrudge me some security. Everyone on NYLA IV is in quite the state following the announcement made by the office of the High Sovereign. I am simply making sure that your rapid willingness to accept my job offer is indeed that and not a plow to gain access to the planet surface to reasons that might be, let us say, less than honorable."

Jack gave a quick glance at Maze, Horur and Shi before casting his unhappy glare back onto the Nylaan entrepreneur. "Was that why the other guy ran? You found that he had an ulterior motive for accepting your job offer?"

"Not exactly," Ju'Dar replied, an evil grin dancing on his lips. "What I found on him will insure that he never sets foot on NYLA IV or any other planet ever again. Now, if you will be so kind as to not move too much, this will be over shortly and with the least possible amount of discomfort to you."

After having said this, the Nylaan man gave a nod of his head to his people who quickly moved to place a weird apparatus on the heads of each of the adventurers who had come here on the pretense of getting a job that would hopefully allow them to reach the planet's surface.  Although everyone struggled at first, the moment the devices were secured, all will and strength to fight against what was happening instantly drained from their bodies leaving them at the mercy of their would be employer.

Setting: Nylaan Orbital Trade Station ZOLA, Loading Bay 6
Stardate: 32030.1915

"I feel like my head was just trampled by a heard of wild elephants," Jack moaned as he runned the back of his skull, glad to feel that something had still been there despite the throbbing sensation he was experiencing.

"They used a Romulan-made mind probe," the Orion woman said as she forced herself onto her keens from the position on the floor from which she had awakened from. "I caught a glimpse of the devices before they put mine on, and the feeling we are experiencing matches the accounts of those who had such devices used on them."

"Perfect," Maze huffed. "Now I have a scrambled brain courtesy of the Romulan Star Empire, and here I thought this day was going to be a good one.  What kind of information did they get from this very unpleasant experience?" The Mari Warrior asked, forcing her eyes back into focus.

"Everything my dear Mazikeen, everything," Ju'Dar replied, the Nylaan sitting in a chair several meters ahead of the group, several of his guards standing by his side as well as behind the disoriented group of adventurers.

"Well, that would explain the size of the headache I have," Horur sighed as he rubbed his bald head with some strength as if trying to return it to the shape that it should be instead of the way it felt.

"The great Horur," the Nylaan smiled. "Three-time intergalactic mosh-pit wrestling champion, who joined the Church of the Ancient Ones after an unpleasant run-in with the Orion Syndicate, Obsidian Order *and* the Tal'Shiar. You my friend sure know how to piss of a great many people quickly."

"You were involved with Romulan and Cardassian Intelligence?" Maze snarled, not at all happy to hear this about the Mokra giant,

"Mazikeen," Ju'Dar interrupted, "also likes to be referred to by Maze. Left MARI PRIME because you found it impossible to control your violent thoughts and tendencies. Must have been difficult for you to be on a world where such thoughts are outlawed. Decided to become a freelance explorer and bounty hunter which led you to meet Mr. Jake Houston, or is it Jonathan Harris? Maybe today you have opted to go by Jason House or Jake Hall or maybe even Jaren Hamlet. You seem to have a severe case of identity disorder."

"He is not a bad man," the green-skinned Orion woman quickly said, defending the Terran as best as her aching head permitted.

"Shi," Ju'Dar said, a lust-filled smile now on his lips. "An Orion slave girl whose current master and owner of a diner on MARKALA PRIME died under unpleasant circumstances. You and this Human have a long history despite his never having truly acknowledge all that you have done for him. Your emotions are so strong for him that you have risked being trialed as a fugitive slave just to be with him. That is exceptionally foolish of you given that he doesn't seem to share in your feelings."

The bluntness of the Nylaan's cold words quickly brought Shi to tears as she did her best to hide from Jack who had suddenly become speechless.

"Guess you will be turning us over to the authorities?" Mazikeen hissed. With all of their secrets now out in the open, there had been few other options that the Mari warrior could see for them.

"Authorities?" Ju'Dar gasped. "Of course not, you are the perfect set of misfits for the job I have lined up for you.  If you do a good job, I might even be able to help in resolving your 'escaped slave' issue," the Nylaan said as he glanced at the Orion woman.  "I have a few contacts in the slave industry and I am sure that we could find a way to transfer your beautiful green-skinned friend's ownership to any one of you. Of course, try to double cross me in any way, and her becoming my slave will be the very least of your troubles.  Now, do we have a deal?"

Jack glanced at Shi before meeting the gaze of of the other two. They had been given an opportunity to achieve at the very least one of their long-term goals, but without knowing as to what the job entailed or even who this Ju'Dar was, the risks were high.  Being the person she was, Mazikeen seemed more than willing to jump on this deal, especially if it meant that she would be getting off this filthy orbital station soon. Horur on the other hand seemed far more reserved with the prospect, his dealing with some of the most notorious Intel agencies having made him skittish about doing things without having all of the details.

For Shi, the decision had been a simple one if it meant that her status as a runaway slave would be expunged. As saddened by the idea of becoming someone else's slave had been, the possibility of gaining her freedom had simply been too appalling for her to turn her back to it.  This left Jack who as much as he respected his friend Horur's input on all things had this time to agree with Maze, the gamble seemed to be well worth the potential payouts.

"We are in," the Terran offered after having silently confirmed with the others, none of them having voiced any outward objections to the offer that had been presented to them.  "What's he job?"

"You will return to your ship and bring it to dock here," Ju'Dar explained. "Once that is accomplished, you will load all of the crates in this loading bay onto your ship."

"That shouldn't take too long," Horur said as he looked around the partially lit room.

With a snap of his fingers, the Nylaan businessman gave the instruction of one of his men to turn on all of the lights in the room, which was done almost immediately.

"Once again you have been caught talking too soon," Maze half chuckled as several more crates numbering in the hundreds were now visible.

"What are all those for?" Jack gasped. "There are enough crates here to carry weapons for thousands of soldiers."

"Relax Jack," Ja'Dur said as the Nylaan placed his arm over the Terran's shoulders. "Only the Ferengi are allowed to transport any type of merchandise that could be considered as weapons, and like yourself I have no wish in having to deal with them. The crates do not contain any weapons, and that is all you need to know."

"Let me guess, their destination will also be on a need to know basis, and we will be told what we need *after* the crates are loaded?" Mazikeen sighed.

"See, that's why you need her on your crew," Ja'Dur chuckled. "She's the smart one. Now you better get going and bring that ship of yours back. The entire loading bay has to be emptied by no later than 2359."

"Why?" Shi asked, having found the time stated rather odd.

"Because my dear," the Nylaan said as he moved to stand next to the Orion woman, "at exactly 2400 hours the auxiliary doors to his loading bay will be opened and anything still inside will be jettisoned into space.  So you three better get moving and get back here quickly."

"Us three?" Jack repeated in a less than pleased tone.

"What? You didn't expect that I would just let you four leave like that. We have a deal Jack and I intend to make sure that you stick to it. So she will stay here until your return at which point the loading bay will be sealed and your ship locked into place until such time I as see that everything has been loaded.  If a single crate remains, all of the air will be blown into empty space and you will all die. All of this should be easy enough to understand, even for a Terran like you."

Jake went to lunge at the Nylaan man but was easily stopped by Horur who simply took hold of his shoulder.  A quick shake of the Mokra's head made it clear to the Terran that any type of confrontation would not end well for any of them given that Ja'Dua had several armed men by his side, their hands already resting on their side arms.

"We'll be back Shi," Jake said as he, Maze and Horur left under the fearful gaze of their green-skinned friend.

"Don't worry my dear," Ja'Dur said in a fake reassuring tone as the trio exited the loading bay. "Your boyfriend may have a great many flaws, but he does care for you in some strange and twisted way, enough to make sure that you don't die here alone.  As for the rest, I would save your strength if I were you. You are going to need in it if you are going to help them load all of these crates and meet the deadline. See, that's why they call it a deadline," he added before shoving the Orion woman down to the floor allowing him and his men to exit the room leaving her alone.

Setting: STAR OF DESTINY, Flight Deck
Stardate: 32030.1945

It had taken a lot longer than everyone would have liked to return to the ship and receive clearance to leave and dock at loading bay 6. With each second that passed, Jack felt his throat tighten knowing that Shi's life hung in the balance.

"Slow down you fool," Maze snapped. "You crashing into the orbital station is not going to do any of us any good.  Take a few extra minutes and get us there in one piece."

"We should never have accepted that deal," the Terran growled, not at all liking the situation that they had found themselves in. "Should have just walked away."

"He knew exactly what to say to convince you," Horur pointed out. "After the mind probe we were subjected to, I doubt that he would have simply let us go. He knows enough on all of us to insure that we do what he wants, how he wants it without us giving him too much trouble. The best we can hope for at this moment is that this one deal will be it."

"I would like to know what's in those crates," Maze said, her thoughts not on the current discussion.

"How about we just focus on getting those blasted crates on board before the deadline," Jack said as the sound of the docking clamps echoed through the ship. "We can worry about everything else after we get that done," he added as he jumped out of his seat and made his way to the loading bay to make sure that Shi had been alright and start loading the crates, no longer caring as to what might or might not be in them.

Scott Moll

Writing the adventures of
aka Jonathan Harris
aka Jason House
aka Jake Hall
aka Jaren Hamlet
as well as a few others

Traveller, trader and merchant extraordinaire,
Man of intrigue and mystery,
Pilot of the STAR OF DESTINY,
and let's not forget overall nice guy.
STDH-SOLO: Houston-P009 ("The Life for Me – Chapter 9")
"The Life for Me – Chapter 9"

Setting: Nylaan Orbital Trade Station ZOLA
Stardate: 32030.2350

Time was running out. Even with Horur's strength allowing him to carry an entire crate by himself, the group of adventurers still had a dozen of them to bring on board and nowhere enough time to do so. Jack began to wonder if this had even been possible or if they had been played for complete fools. If this had been the case though, what would the cynical Nylaan merchant get out of this? The STAR OF DESTINY, thanks to its unique flight interface, would be useless to him, a fact that Jack believe the man had been very aware of especially after having scanned their minds. So if the merchant was aware that he would be unable to pilot the vessel what had been the man's end game? If they all died, Ja'Dur would be forced to move the crates back out if he planned to scrap the ship and sell it for parts. Keeping that one scenario in mind, it would have made more sense for the sadistic merchant to just kill them instead of making the four adventurers do all of this for nothing.

Jack dismissed that latest thought. There had to be another reason as to why they had been put through this forced labor. Although they had not known the Nylaan merchant for very long, Ja'Dur did seem to be the cautious and calculating type, so there had to be a reason for this to have played out as it had. The only problem was that at the moment, the Terran had been unable to come up with something that made any sort of sense, his focus having been on moving the unbelievable heavy crates. What could have been in them, and why have so many of whatever it was?

"Come on you two useless flatulent Ferengi females," Maze angrily snapped at Jack and Horur while Shi and her struggled to pull another crate inside the cargo hold of the STAR OF DESTINY. Although the woman had not been looking at the time display set right over the sealed doors, in order not to make her become more nervous than she already was, the Mari warrior knew that time was running out.  "Put your backs into it, that is unless you actually want to be blown out into cold and empty outer space?  I know that it does match the emptiness in your heads, but the rest of us like it where it's nice and warm."

=/\= Five minutes, =/\= the Nylaan's voice echoed through the now mostly emptied loading bay, the tone coming across as a mixture of encouragement as well as a challenge to those he had trapped inside. Obviously, someone had been enjoying the show, if what the four adventurers had been doing could be classified as such.

"Would be nice to know what is inside these sealed crates," Horur said as he lifted another onto his shoulders. "At least we would have an idea of what we might die for, not to mention understanding why they are so heavy.  It feels like they are filled to the brim with Osmium."

"We are not going to die," the Terran countered in exasperation as he dragged his crate across the loading bay floor, feeling as if he had himself been ready to collapse out of exhaustion. "The moment we accept defeat is when we actually lose. Ja'Dur could have killed us a hundred times over by now, but he has not, so my guess is that we are being tested."

"A test? Why would he put us through a test?" Horur queried, still focussing onto carrying the create that threatened to crushing him beneath it.

"If this is a test to see who of the two of you is the more useless, I could have saved us all a lot of work and time by handing him your clearly empty head, Jack," Maze shouted from the inside of the STAR OF DESTINY, the Mari being closely followed by the green-skinned Orion who just shook her head at what she had heard. Normally, the animosity Mazikeen held for Jack had almost been amusing to witness, but with all of their lives currently in the balance, the display had not been quite as entertaining as it had been before.

"Please don't argue like that," Shi begged, the Orion woman feeling somewhat responsible for the predicament they were all in. Had the group not chosen to accept the conditions set by Ja'Dur and bring the STAR OF DESTINY here in order to save her life, only she would have perished. As much as the prospect of her dying had been uncomfortable, the possibility of all of them dying had been far worst for her to accept.

"Only because you are the one asking," Maze quietly acknowledged, allowing for a split second the universe to witness the Mari warrior's softer side.

=/\= Three minutes, =/\= Ja'Dur announced from the safety of somewhere outside of the loading bay. =/\= You are so close, it would be a shame for you four to die after having done so much, =/\= he added, taunting the group making it evident that he had been watching all along and that he had invested interest in the outcome of this situation, whatever it might have been.

"To be honest," Horur growled to himself as he threw another crate over his shoulder before taking hold of another to drag it behind him. "I dislike that man more and more with each passing moment." Although the manoeuvre would slow him down quite a bit, the Mokra giant had hoped that in the end, moving two crates at the same time would see him ahead of the game. At this point, with every second counting against them, he had been willing to try anything and everything he could if it would get the job done in whatever little time had still been available to them.

"Four crates left," Maze announced as the two women pulled another crate inside the STAR OF DESTINY. "Come on ladies. MOVE IT!"

With just over two minutes left, and with the best possible speed they had managed during this entire affair, the adventurers would not be able to make it, and Jack knew this.  Shi and Maze had rushed out to grab one of the four remaining crates which left Horur and himself with the last three.  A quick glance at the time displayed allowed the Terran to make one last rapid mental calculation. If the Mokra giant tried again to take two, as strong as he was, he would not be able to make it back to the STAR OF DESTINY in time. So there was only one thing that could be done.

"Maze, keep Shi inside the ship and just wait for us to bring the crates to you. No need to have all four of us caught out here should the bay doors open. Horur and I will take care of the last three crates," Jack yelled, making sure that everyone knew what their roles would be. By the time the Mokra giant had rejoined the Terran, Jack had been half way back dragging one of the last three crates.  "Grab only one," the Human forcefully instructed while pulling as hard as he could on the crate which felt as if it had doubled in weight.

"If I grab only one we are going to run out of time," Horur argued, ignoring the throbbing pain in his arms and shoulders.

"No!" Jack snapped back. "Trust me. I did the calculation. I will have just enough time to go back and grab that last one as soon as I put this one on the loading ramp for the girls to drag in. It may be close, but we can do it. The key is not to have anyone out here for nothing."

"Are you sure?" Horur asked as he pulled with some effort the second to last crate on his shoulders, a move that actually caused him to drop to one knee for a brief moment before he recuperated.

"Just do as I say," the Terran instructed making it clear by his tone that he would not consider any challenges. "We really don't have time to argue about this. All three of you have to learn to trust me and follow my orders."

Not truly having any other choice, the giant man nodded in acknowledgement and complied with the instructions he had been given.

"It will be a cold day on the JOREL when I obey your *orders*, you sorry excused for a bi-pedal slug," Maze hissed at the Terran as he let go of the crate allowing for the two women to take over and finish bringing it on board the freighter. Ignoring the last verbal stab the Mari warrior had shot his way, Jack quickly turned to Shi as she came to stand next to him.

"Do you trust me?"

"Of course," the Orion woman quickly replied, wondering as to why the question had been asked.

"Good, then promise me that you will do exactly what I tell you to," the Terran continued. "No questions, no hesitations. Just follow what I say, all right?"

"Yes," Shi hesitantly replied. The moment the answer was spoken, Jack rushed down the loading ramp, crossing a struggling Horur who had been only seconds from collapsing out of fatigue. It was now perfectly obvious that having him bring only one crate had been the right call.

"When I tell you to, activate the atmospheric force field," Jack explained, quickly raising a single finger to remind the green-skinned woman that she had promised not to question or hesitate.  Shi nodded her head, agreeing to do as she had been told allowing for the Terran to return to the task at hand.

Just as Jack reached the last crate a single, loud chime echoed through the now empty loading bay. Soon after the sound of the outer doors opening were be heard immediately followed by the atmosphere in the room rushing out into space.

=/\= Time's up. =/\= Ja'Dur announced, sounding only slightly disappointed by the inability of the group to complete the task he had forced them into.

"Shi, do it now!" Jack yelled from the other end of the room. "Engage the atmospheric force field. Don't wait or the decompression will take all of the air out of the ship too." 

"JACK!" Shi screamed back, horrified by the scene playing out in front of her eyes. If only they had been given one more minute, the task would have been accomplished without any problems. But that had not been the case and now the outer door had opened allowing for the air to drain from the room.

"NOW!" Jack added as he reached for something in his pocket. "Trust me."

Following the conversation they had only a few seconds before, the Orion woman felt obliged to do as the Terran had requested even if she was sure it would lead to his death.  With a trembling hand, Shi reached for the controls set on the wall next to the opened loading ramp and engaged the force field as she had been instructed to do so.

"What are you doing?" Maze demanded in shock.

"I promised him," Shi explained, "because I trust him."

"Horur! Go help him!" the Mari worrior instructed, slapping the back of the giant's bald head as she did so.

"I can't" he explained. "No one can, the field is unidirectional. It is meant to allow matter to come in while keeping everything else safe inside. It is also designed to not be able to be deactivated as long as the door to the cargo hold is open. This was to insure that it would not be accidently turned off while in space."

"Jack spoke of this on many occasions back at the diner," Shi added. "He kept claiming that it was one of his best ideas and modifications to the ship. It allowed him to safely salvage small items from space without having to be concerned with sensor locks and transporters. He always liked doing things with a 'hands-on' technique as he called it."

"With the station's loading bay now open to space he is going to die," the Mari warrior sighed, "Without air or atmospheric pressure he will be a corpse in less than a minute."

"I know," Shi said as she started to cry. "He knew that too, but we wanted us to be safe."

"Jack is not that heroic," Horur pointed out as he watched his long-time friend place something into his mouth. "See, he has a portable oxygen dispenser."

"That won't be enough," Maze said shaking her head, almost appearing as if she was feeling sorry for the Terran and the fate that would soon befall him. "Even if by some miracle that thing gives him enough air to pull the last crate all the way back here, the cold of open space is going to freeze the blood in his veins long before then."

"Maybe not," Horur offered with a hint of hope. "Jack has always hated being cold. That is why his clothes are laced with special heat trapping fibres to help protect him from that. I will agree that it was never meant to go up against conditions as drastic as open space, but it might be enough to give him the extra few seconds he needs to get that crate back here."

Unable to do anything else but watch, the Mari, Mokra and Orion stood at the edge of the force field, trying to will the man and the crate he had been dragging closer. Although all three of them were thinking the general same thing, each had a personal reason for not dropping the field even if only for long enough to allow one of them to step out.

As tired as he was, Horur knew that he would not be able to reach his friend in time, likely leading to them both succumbing to the lack of air and coldness of space. If the small oxygen dispenser and clothing would prove to be enough for the Terran, the Mokra giant had not been so equipped and would prove to be something else for the Terran to have to deal with. As much as he might have hated it, the odds had been better for Jack if he did things on his own.

Mazikeen found herself conflicted between the ideas of watching Jack die a cold and horrible death or her actually trying to save him. There was no hiding the fact that she would cherish being witness to the annoying Terran's last moments in this life, but she knew that she would be able to hold it over his head for the rest of his natural life if she did rescue him, The risks though had been too great, and given that equipment advantage he currently had, it was more likely that in the end he would be the one rescuing her, and that she could not permit to happen.

As for the Orion slave, Shi could only watch as she felt her entire body grow cold at the prospect of losing him. So many times before she had feared for his life, but as he had made her promise today, she had done so countless times before, trusting that he would find a way to return to her. Every time he made her promise this, she hoped that he had come to understand how much he meant to her, but each time he returned it was only to gloat about having cheated death once more.  All that Shi could do was hope that this would be another one of those instances, even if it meant that he would again not come to realize the extent of her feelings for him.

"Don't you dare give up now!" Maze shouted following the Terran having slipped and dropped onto one knee.

"Come on Jack, you're almost there! Mazikeen is right, don't give up!" Horur added, thinking that encouraging him had to be better than accepting what appeared to be an unavoidable end.

"Jack," Shi jumped in, holding back her tears long enough to be able to speak. "I trust you, I have always trusted you. Don't make this be the one time I should not have."

Following the words spoken to him, Jack forced himself back onto his feet and resumed pulling the crate despite his lungs screaming for air and his body feeling the quickly growing cold. The plan had been a simple one, although he now began to wonder if he might have miscalculated the time it would take him to get that last crate back to the STAR OF DESTINY. Fatigue it seems had hindered his thinking then and his resolve now.

After several eternal seconds Jack finally managed to reach the loading ramp. As soon as Horur deemed the heavy box safely on, he slammed the controls causing the ramp to rise leading the man and crate to slide into the warmth and air-filled cargo hold of the ship.

"You my friend are crazy," Horur admitted, quickly throwing a blanket over the Terran's body.

"Jack," Shi said as she collapsed on top of him, trying her best to hide her tears from him. "Don't you ever, EVER do anything that stupid again."

"Stupid?" He managed to say, barely able to breathe, his body shivering so much that Horur half expected the entire ship to start trembling.

"Yes. Stupid. As in what you have and continue to be on a daily basis," Maze said, shaking her head in disbelief causing the Terran to having is now blue lips curl into a shaky smile.

"Maze, take the STAR OF DESTINY back to our docking port," Horur said as he reached down to place his arms under the icy cold form of his friend. "I will take him to the infirmary where Shi can take care of him. I will join you on the flight deck right after."

"You'll be alright," the Orion said, clearing her tear stained eyes with the back of her arm.

"This is the life for me," Jack announced in a barely audible whispered voice as he looked into the eyes of the green-skinned woman, glad that she and the others had made it through this. Now, maybe they would be able to discover what this entire story was about, hopefully after he had been given the chance to warm up and be made to feel the extremities of his body once again.


Scott Moll

Writing the adventures of
aka Jonathan Harris
aka Jason House
aka Jake Hall
aka Jaren Hamlet
as well as a few others

Traveller, trader and merchant extraordinaire,
Man of intrigue and mystery,
Pilot of the STAR OF DESTINY,
and let's not forget overall nice guy.
STDH-SOLO: Houston-P010 ("The Life for Me – Chapter 10")
"The Life for Me – Chapter 10"

Setting: STAR OF DESTINY, Infirmary
Stardate: 32031.0100

They made it, barely. The cargo of the Nylaan merchant Ju'Dar had been loaded on board the STAR OF DESTINY before the outside doors opened and the atmosphere was blown into space, well almost. Jack had to use some last minute quick thinking but in the end he would end up with hopefully nothing more than a cold for his trouble. What truly mattered was that everyone was safe and that they had successfully completed the task that they had been for all intents and purposes strong-armed into doing.

"That was a very brave thing you did back there," the green skinned Orion woman amorously said, the smile on her lips reflecting the relief she felt in seeing the Terran man on the only medical bed in the room, alive and quickly recuperating from the ordeal he had gone through.

"I didn't have much of a choice," Jack grinned in return. "I had to keep all of you safe while I figured out a way to bring that last blasted crate on board."

"First of all you are no hero," Mazikeen sighed back in disapproval as she walked into the Infirmary. "Second, you always do things for yourself first and above everything else, so don't even try to convince Shi or anyone else otherwise. She may be blind to your selfish ways, but the rest of us are not that gullible." The Mari warrior sounded more irate than usual, which was saying quite a bit. Before Jack could begin to theorize as to the reason for this increased irritability, not to mention hostility towards him, the Terran man noted that someone else had entered the room right behind her.

"I wanted to congratulate you all personally for a job well done," Ja'Dur announced, the Nylaan merchant appearing rather pleased with himself. "I will admit that I had my doubts, but you have proven me wrong, and I am not afraid to admit it when such a rare occurrence happens. I do hope though that your little stunt at the end will not be an issue in you meeting our delivery date of the cargo you have just brought on board your vessel."

"I have the feeling that you are not going to give us any other choice," Jack said as he swung his feet off the medical bed, this against Shi's quick yet silent objection. "Do we get to know what the cargo is now? Those crates were heavy, and i still have my doubts that they don't carry some sort of weapons."

"I am not at liberty to give you that information," Ja'Dur smugly replied. "The contract that I am obliged to abide to was very specific. Anyway, transporting any sort of weapons, be them hand-help or otherwise, is strictly prohibited anywhere near this system. With all of the Hirogen Hunter vessels paroling the system, it would be unwise for anyone to even attempt to bring weapons on this station, so you have nothing to be concerned for. All you have to worry about is getting your ship and its cargo to the destination within the next 10 hours, well 9 now since you have wasted an hour being papered by your Orion girlfriend. Once there, I am sure that you will be more than happy to hear that there will be someone available to take care of the unloading."

"Unloading?" the Terran adventurer countered, ignoring the part where the Nylaan had referred to Shi as being his girlfriend, "I thought we would just open the cargo bay door and allow all of the crates to simply slide out and land wherever they do. It's faster and much more efficient, which you should be happy with as this will make sure you meet your delivery timeline. You said that we had to bring those god awful heavy things on board and deliver them, it was never specified in what state they needed to get there."

The posture of the Nylaan instantly changed, reflecting an anger that threatened to consume the entirety of the STAR OF DESTINY and maybe even a large section of the orbital station the ship had still been docked at.

"He was just kidding," Maze rapidly stated as she took a defensive position between the two men. The Mari woman knew very well that she would be able to handle the Nylaan merchant, but she suspected that any type of physical confrontation would only make matters worse. On the other hand, she had no issues seeing the arrogant Jack get his facial features properly rearranged, but that also could lead to an entirely different set of problems. So instead Mazikeen decided to play peacekeeper, something that she found absolutely no pleasure in doing.  "All we need is the coordinates of our destination so we can get there and oversee the unloading of the cargo. Once that's done, we can all go our separate ways."

Ja'Dur glared at the Terran for several more moments, as if debating to whether or not the value of the trade had truly been worth keeping the arrogant Human alive. In the end, and to the relief of everyone else in the ship's Infirmary, the merchant stood down, tugged at his tailored suit and reached for a small data chip which he tossed right by the head of the Mari warrior standing before him so that it would reach Jack.

"Here are the coordinates of your destination as well as the specific flight path you will need to follow. Do not deviate from it unless you actually want to arrive on the planet surface as a crashing fireball. All of the security and landing clearances you will need to reach your destination are also included," the merchant said as he watched the Terran study the data chip that had been sent his way. "I suggest that you get moving quickly, the person waiting for this cargo is an important figure and one who does not like to be kept waiting."  With that Ja'Dur turned on his heels and left without saying anything more.

"I will be happy when we don't have to deal with that man anymore," the Orion woman offered, the tone of her voice indicating that she had not been in the least sadden by the merchant's departure. With the distraction gone, Shi returned her focus on Jack and tried to give the now fully standing Terran one last medical scan to confirm that he had indeed been fit to move about as he obviously wanted to do.

"Well," Maze said rolling her eyes, "since we were given all of the information we need, all that is left for us to do is bring that data chip Horur for him to confirm the clearance codes and set the coordinates into the flight system. Once that is done we can get moving.  I don't know about you, but I am getting anxious in getting this transport job done and over with. The quicker we get down there and unload, the quicker we can get away from this place."

"You forget why we came here in the first place," Jack pointed out not sounding as if the recent events had affected him in the slightest way. "With all of the political uncertainty surrounding this world, I guarantee that there will be a great many opportunities to make our fortune here. This is just the first step, the one that will get us planet-side."

"How about we focus on getting off this station first?" The Mari warrior stated in a less than enthusiastic manner. "I for one am curious as to where that slime of a merchant is sending us. All of the security clearances he mentioned are not making me overly confident about all of this. Sounds like we are being sent in some heavily guarded area, and that is never a good thing."

"Relax Maze," Jack said in return, his general joyfulness in complete contrast to the mood of the woman he was speaking to. "So they have a few planetary defences and security protocols that we have the clearances to go through. I really don't see what you are so concerned about, how bad could the destination be?"

Setting: STAR OF DESTINY, Flight Deck
Stardate: 32031.0115

"This is bad," Horur gasped following his confirming for the third time the coordinates they had been given by Ja'Dur for the delivery of their cargo. "This is really bad."

"You are over reacting," Jack said as he tried to reassure his friend and fellow shipmate. "This is not a bad thing but rather a very good thing. Once we are there the bulk of our troubles will be over. Look on the bright side; we won't have to find a way to reach the Imperial palace as we will already be there."

"You don't find it in the least strange that we were tricked to deliver this cargo directly in the backyard of the planet's ruler?" Maze asked, evidently having sided with Horur on this particular issue. "With all of the political unrest we have been witnessed to around NYLA IV, how do we know that Ja'Dur is not working against the High Sovereign? For all we know, that cargo could be meant to end his reign."

"According to Ja'Dur the cargo is being expected," Jack offered in an effort to reassure his three partners in this endeavour. "We'll just have to make it clear to whoever is there to greet us that we have no idea as to the content of the crates and that if there are any problems they can go looking for him. Surely they will have the resources to track him down and question him if there are any issues."

"Shi?!?" Mazikeen demanded in utter disbelief after having turned to face the passive Orion woman. "What do you actually see in him? I have seen invertebrate life forms crawling under rocks on distant forgotten world that are smarter than him. Thinking the way he does is going to get us all thrown into a very deep, cold and dark Imperial Nylaan jail from which we will never get out of. They will throw us in and forget that we ever existed leaving us to starve to death or worst be eaten alive by whatever creature is crawling down there."

"Anyone suspected of having carried out any sort of crime against the Imperial court of NYLA IV is immediately sentenced to death," Horur pointed out. "This regardless if they are actually guilty or innocent. The Nylaan Imperial court is not known for justice, just for carrying out quick and efficient judgement. So I would not be overly concerned about spending the rest of your life in a cold and dark cell. If things go wrong, we will be put to death well before we see the inside of a jail."
"You are not helping," Mazikeen snapped at the giant Mokra man.

"I trust Jack, and that is all I need," Shi added in a soft-spoken tone, obviously siding with the Terran's view of their situation.

"You are all completely mental?" The Mari warrior exclaimed in disbelieving frustration. "All three of you need to have your heads checked, I am sure that the most unqualified Doctor would be able to find that your brains have somehow been turned into complete and utter mush."

"No one is forcing you to come with us," Jack said to Maze, not in the least trying to hide the glee he felt in having both Horur and Shi side with him. "This is our chance to make the fortune that we all have been seeking for so long. Even the Ferengi recognize that profit comes to those who take risks."

"Don't you dare start quoting those big eared fools," Maze growled back. "You have no idea how the Rules of Acquisition work or even what they are. Rule #62 states that 'Profit is its own reward. The riskier the road, the greater the profit.' but you are willing to risk all of our lives on this venture."

"Imagine the credits we will walk away with once this is all done," Jack said, not wavering from his position in the least. "Tell you what," he continued. "I am so sure of this that I will offer to transfer you 10% of what we will make for you having helped us get this far. That way you get to stay up here safe and sound and still get to enjoy the reward, well at least 10% of it. Will make our share that much sweeter."

Mazikeen glared at the Terran, unsure if she was angry at him for still wanting to go through with this transport, that he had been to stupid and blind to see the dangers he was placing everyone in, or that he had dared to offer her a laughable 10% to get her to have her leave.  After several minutes of silence shared between them, the Mari warrior turned to the Mokra giant.

"You are just as stupid as he is," Maze spat in anger. "Whatever misplaced loyalty or twisted reason you have to be glued to that loser's side will get you killed in the most painful way imaginable to sentient life." Without wasting any time, the Mari warrior turned to look at the green-skinned Orion woman. "How a sweet innocent girl like you fell for a sorry excuse for a bipedal, barely intelligent life form deprived of any common sense like him is beyond me. One day he will hurt you so much that you will only find comfort in the cold emptiness of space." After that, Mazikeen made her way to the Terran man, standing toe-to-toe with him before unsealing the last part of her rent. "You! You are nothing more than a cosmic disaster waiting to happen and care nothing about the lives that you will destroy in the process. That you have managed to rally these poor souls to your side with such complete abandon is truly beyond my understanding, but if you think that giving ma a mere 10% is going to get you off the hook, you are gravely mistaking.  I will be there when you crash and burn, and on that day I will take everything including the STAR OF DESTINY."

"So that means you are coming with us?" Jack asked as if the Mari's had simply voiced some concerns instead of the flat our enraged rant she had just made.

"I might as well be head banging the bulkhead," Mazikeen exclaimed. "At least doing that would actually cause a dent to appear on it."

"Horur," the Terran continued allowing the Mari to enjoy a few moments by herself to calm down. "Get us ready to leave the orbital trade station and set a course for the Imperial palace of NYLA IV. We have a cargo to deliver and our fortune to make."

The Mokra giant ever so gently smiled as he glanced at the still fuming female warrior who was not endlessly muttering to herself. The fact that was he had shared her concerns about their situation, but he had not been ready to side with her against Jack, the Terran and him having gone through too much together. Given all that he had endured, he saw this as having been a better way for him to end his days than to hide in some lost temple of the Ancient Ones. What Horur was truly worried about what Shi who deserved a much better life than the one she had been forced into as a slave. Hopefully, this adventure would allow her to see herself gain her freedom and have Jack do right by her. That was his reason for sticking with the crazy ideas of the Human adventurer who seemed to enjoy this way of life far too much for his own good and health.

"Let's go people!" Jack cheered, "We have a cargo to deliver and credits beyond our wildest imagination to claim as our own.  I love this life!"


Scott Moll

Writing the adventures of
aka Jonathan Harris
aka Jason House
aka Jake Hall
aka Jaren Hamlet
as well as a few others

Traveller, trader and merchant extraordinaire,
Man of intrigue and mystery,
Pilot of the STAR OF DESTINY,
and let's not forget overall nice guy.
STDH-SOLO: Houston-P011 ("The Life for Me – Chapter 11")
"The Life for Me – Chapter 11"

Setting: STAR OF DESTINY, Flight Deck
Stardate: 32031.0200

With their cargo loaded and secured, the flight plan entered into the computer and the crew as ready as they could to face whatever hell the Nylaan merchant had planned for them, Jack had been left with a single task.

"Shi," the Terran adventurer began, sounding actually excited as he looked over his instruments to confirm one last time that everything had been as it should for the STAR OF DESTINY. "Contact the ZOLA docking Master and clear us for departure. Horur, as soon as the clearance is given, retract the moorings and set us free of this station.  As soon as we are once again free to move about as we wish, Maze will take us in to our first check point which we will find in orbit of NYLA IV."

"Still believe we are going to come out of this with our skins intact?" The Mari warrior questioned the Terran, evidently still not having joined in his overly optimistic view of their situation.

"Our skins will be fine," Jack dismissed without concern. "Not only that but our pockets will be filled with credits, maybe even gold-pressed latinum if we play our cards right," the adventurer added, beaming a smile to the others as if this had already been a done deal.

"Maybe you should come up with another expression," the imposing Mokra suggested. "Every time you end up playing any sort of card game, it has never ended well for you, and usually those that accompany you as well. In fact, I do recall a few times when you barely managed to get out of the establishment in one piece with an entire mob at your back."

"This is the STAR OF DESTINY," Shi said interrupting the conversation between Jack and Horur. "We are requesting departure clearance," the green-skinned Orion woman continued having received an audio signal confirming that the channel to the station's docking Master had been established.

=/\= STAR OF DESTINY, you are confirmed at docking port 9. Provide your departure clearance code to be released from the station and permitted beyond our security parameter. =/\=

"This is where we find out if Ja'Dur can actually be trusted," the Mokra giant said while sitting in front of the flight deck's engineering display, not entirely certain that their little adventure would not come to a fiery end before it had actually begun.

"Ja'Dur is a ruthless and devious business man," Mazikeen pointed out from the flight control station. "As long as we have his cargo on board, he will be our best friend and will do everything he can to make sure nothing happens to his precious crates. I am far more concerned about what will happen after we have unloaded the cargo. Those shinny boxes are our only guarantee that he will stay on our side. Once they are out of our reach, we will be on our own."

=/\= Your departure clearance has been confirmed, =/\= the docking Master announced after a short pause during which he had verified the first of several codes provided by the Nylaan merchant. =/\= Safe journey. ZOLA Station out. =/\=

The sound of several large magnetic metal clamps releasing the ship echoed throughout the metal frame of the STAR OF DESTINY. To an inexperienced ear, it might have sounded as if something had broken or come loose from the outer hull, but to the Terran adventurer it had been the sweet sound of freedom, a sound that he had heard countless times before and would likely never tire of hearing again.

"Horur?" Jack playfully asked, wanting to make sure that everything on the engineering side had been verified.

"Propulsion, navigation and tactical systems are fully operational. Gravitational plating in the cargo hold is working at full power. The force field keeping the cargo in place is operating as over its design limit as I can make it. After all the trouble we went through to get those crates on board, I think it wise to make sure they don't go sliding through the cargo hold," the Mokra reported, a hint on uncertainty about what they were about to do still in his voice.

"I can imagine that Ja'Dur would not be overly pleased to see a single dent in one of his precious crates," Maze added after having confirmed that the ship had been responding as it should following its release from the orbital station.

"I am not even sure that those crates could be damaged by any conventional means," Shi challenged. "The internal sensors in the cargo hold show the outer layer of those crates to be made of some sort of exotic regenerative alloy that vibrates at the atomic level. Not only is it impervious to all known methods of scanning, but I am pretty certain that it would be able to reflect any force or energy that came in contact with it on a scale that I could not even begin to imagine."

"More so reason to be exceptionally careful with them," Horur stated.

"You mean a reason for us to be careful while those things are on board," Mazikeen quickly corrected. "Ja'Dur went to great lengths to make sure that whatever is in those 150 crates remains safe, secure and most important secret. I am much more concerned about what might happen to us if someone else decides to come in wanting whatever is in those crates. I doubt that they will be asking us politely when they show up."

"The trip to the Nylaan Imperial Palace is not going to take that long," Jack countered with. "I would be surprised if we actually encountered a handful of ships along the way there," the Terran stated as the ship turned to face the planet on which their destination had been located.

"Well, you better start being surprised," Maze stated with a sigh. As much as she had expected there to be some sort of opposition to their journey to the planet's surface, the Mari warrior had not expected it to happen so quickly, or with such intensity. "Sensors are picking up seven Hirogen fighters as well as a hunter heavy cruiser heading our way, and they are coming in fast. They have already locked weapons on us and will be in weapons range in less than a minute."

"It's all part of the planetary blockage currently in effect," the Terran casually announced. "There is nothing to be worried about. As soon as we give them the clearance code allowing us access to the planet's atmosphere, we will be allowed to go on our way without any problems."

"That, or they are going to blow us right out of the sky," Horur said having compared the strength of the Hirogen weapons currently on the seven rapidly approaching fighters against the defensive capabilities of the STAR OF DESTINY. As great as this ship was, it would not be a match for those fighters, especially in a lasting firefight. When taking into account the added firepower of the heavy cruiser accompanying them, it was a foregone conclusion that any confrontation would not end well for them.

=/\= You are to turn away from the planet or be destroyed, =/\= a distinctly Hirogen voice ordered over a newly opened communication channel. The hunter's voice was laced with an audible lust for blood, as if he was daring the cargo ship and its foolish crew to continue on their current course, challenging the fighters by doing so.

"Shi, if you would be so kind," Jack said sounding overly certain of himself, instructing the Orion woman that it had been time to transmit the second clearance code provided to them by Ja'Dur.

"This is the STAR OF DESTINY," the green-skinned woman stated on the channel that had been opened by the hunters. "We have all the necessary clearances which are being transmitted to you now," she added doing her best to hide her nervousness from her words. As much as she trusted and believed in Jack, she also knew from the stories she had heard as a waitress on MARKALA PRIME that any threats uttered by the Hirogens could not be taken lightly.   

An awkward silence spread through the flight deck as a reply was anxiously awaited from the Hirogen fighters which had not reduced speed of changed course in the slightest.

"If they don't open fire in the next few seconds, they will instead ram us," Mazikeen reported with obvious concerns. "We need to change course, NOW."

"NO!" Jack quickly objected. "We have the clearance codes we need. If we change course, they will see it as a show that something is wrong, and nothing is wrong here. We are just a cargo ship on a simple delivery to the Imperial palace."

"Of course. Nothing wrong with that at all," Mazikeen repeated in a clearly sarcastic manner. "An alien freighter carrying a mystery cargo to the Imperial palace of NYLA IV. Absolutely nothing strange or suspicious about that. Why did you think Ja'Dur needed a ship that was not his own to make this delivery? Because he did not want to risk ending up the way we are about to."

"Here they come," Shi announced as the indicators on the small sensor displayed showed the seven rapidly moving dots become one with the indicator meant to identify the STAR OF DESTINY.

Hands clasped tightly around whatever had been available as the four members of the crew waited to see if they had survived the encounter. When no impact or explosion was heard or felt, eyes slowly reopened as the death grips were released.

"They just flew right by us," the Mari warrior said in shocked surprise. "At less than 100 meters I might add."

"Of course they did," Jack confidently confirmed. "As I said, we have the clearance codes. They just wanted to see if we would chicken out which would have given them the reason they needed to open fire and destroy us."

"Jack," the Mokra giant joined in with, "you got lucky, *again*. You had no way of knowing that this is what would happen."

"My dear Horur, as a former member of the Church of the Ancient Ones, you of all people should know the power of faith," the Terran laughed, not showing the slightest concern as to what might have happened.

"You actually believe in the Ancient Ones?" Shi inquired in shock, certain that the time spent as an initiate by the Terran had only been meant to allow him to hide from those searching for him at the time.

"I don't believe in any of that mystical delusional mumbo-jumbo," Jack clarified. "What I do believe in is my own resolve and ability to shape my own destiny."

=/\= You are clear to enter the planet's atmosphere, =/\= the Hirogen confirmed, sounding rather disappointed in that the clearance codes had actually been good, denying them of the prize and trophies they had been so anxious to claim.

"And there you have it folks," the Terran announced, sounding even more arrogant than he usually did. "Now, Maze if you would be so kind. Set a course for the Imperial palace."

After a long and loud sigh, the Mari warrior complied, accepting that she would have to wait to another time to have the satisfaction of seeing the broken body of Jack Houston at her feet and the STAR OF DESTINY become hers. That said, she did have to admit that he had been right about the way to deal with the Hirogens, something that she would never say out loud or even hint to having thought.

Setting: STAR OF DESTINY, Flight Deck
Stardate: 32031.0630

It had taken nearly four hours for the freighter to reach the surface and make its way to the Imperial palace, encountering various check-points along the way, each one requiring its own clearance code. So far though, everything that Ja'Dur had provided them with had been accurate, allowing them to proceed without incident.

"Welcome to the Nylaan Imperial Palace," Jack announced as the imposing regal structure came into view. The building oddly resembled a castle from EARTH's own past, although the outer wall of the structure had been covered in some sort of shinny white metallic substance making the palace appear even more impressive.

"We have half a dozen defence batteries targeting us with high energy weapons," Mazikeen reported.

"Just follow the flight plan as it was given to us," the Terran said, still not concerned about things taking a turn for the worse.  As far as he had been concerned, they were now closer than ever before to the riches he knew waited for them in this particular place.

=/\= This is the Imperial Palace, =/\= the voice of some official said. =/\= You are to land and power down all of your primary systems. Do not attempt to exit your ship until you are instructed to do so. =/\=

"Charming people," Horur sarcastically said, shaking his head. Just once he wished that he would be able to land somewhere and be greeted with open arms instead of being treated like some sort of nuisance or worse, a pest to be disposed of at the earliest possible opportunity.

"Alright, we have landed," Jack announced. "Horur, take propulsion and auxiliary systems off line. Maze, let's not take any chances and power down the flight as well as tactical systems. We are the guests of the this world's King, let us play nice."

"High Sovereign," Shi corrected. "The ruler of NYLA IV is referred to as the High Sovereign, amongst other things that I should not repeat at this time."

One by one the systems of the STAR OF DESTINY were turned off, leaving the ship to sound and feel like an empty shell, a sensation that Jack had not liked in the least but one that they had little choice in the matter.  After several minutes of waiting, the silence that had filled the flight deck was interrupted by the voice of the same Imperial official.

=/\= You are to open the cargo bay door and slowly make your way out, one at a time, without any weapons or anything that could be seen as such, =/\= the man clearly stated to make sure that no misunderstanding could be claimed. =/\= Once you have disembarked, you will be escorted to the palace where you will be officially met. Be aware that you will be under armed watched the entire time and any threatening move on your part will be consider as an act of aggression against the High Sovereign of NYLA IV. =/\=

"Guess we should not be expecting a red carpet," Jack jockingly said as he and the others stood from their respective seats to make their way to the cargo bay to disembark as they had been instructed.

Setting: NYLA IV, Imperial Palace, Landing Platform
Stardate: 32031.0700

Once the imposing door of the cargo bay had been lowered, the crew slowly and carefully stepped out one by one, making sure to display their empty opened hands as a show of non-aggression and compliance to the instructions they had been given.  As the Captain of the STAR OF DESTINY, jack believed that it had been his responsibility to take the lead, not because he wanted to face the risks first, but rather because he wanted to make sure those in charge knew that he had been the one who needed to be spoken to in regards to their reward.

At first, the adventurers believed that the two dozen or so heavily armed guards who had greeted them had been a little of an overkill, but when they noticed the other 50 or so soldiers aiming their riffles at them from the surrounding walls and towers, the crew understood that no one had been in any sort of mood to take any chances.

Once the four members of the crew had been patted down to confirm that they had not been carrying any concealed weapons, a signal was given which prompted a door to be unlocked and opened. Uncertain as to what to do next, given that no one had said anything to them, jack and the others waited to see what would happen next. From the newly opened door, a clearly important robed man came out and made his way to the first person who had stepped out from the vessel.

"Captain Jack Houston?" The man inquired, glancing a less than appreciative look at the Orion and Mari warrior as if finding their presence offensive in some way.

"That is me," Jack answered. "The one, the only Jack Houston in the flesh at your service youy High Sovereign."

The man audibly sighed is saddened disbelief. "I am not the High Sovereign," he pointed out. "You four are to follow me," he added as he turned around and made his way back to the door from which he had come came from.

Just as Jack had been ready to follow, he felt a powerful blow land against the back of his shoulder. Quickly turning to see who had hit him, he saw Maze looking back at him with an expression of complete disgust. "Your High Sovereign?" She repeated, appearing completely appalled by the man's complete lack of knowledge, understanding and simply know-how.

Given the reaction of the armed guards to the hit he had just received, the Terran thought it best to not escalate the incident any further for fear that someone with a twitchy trigger finger would misunderstand what had just happened.

Under the watchful eyes of the guards as well as their pointed weapons, the adventurers followed the robed man in complete silence, not wanting to risk saying or doing something that might lead to any sort of trouble.

As soon as they crossed the threshold and stepped inside the palace, Jack and the others found themselves slightly underwhelmed by the lack of lustre on the walls. After all this was the Imperial Palace, residence of the High Sovereign, so why had it appeared so *cheap*?

Noticing the quizzical expression on the Terran's face, and figuring that he had no idea about life in a place such as this, Mazikeen decided to educate the Jack in the inner workings of the higher class. "These are the servants' corridors. They are used by the staff of the Palace to insure that they are not seen by visiting dignitaries as they go about their business. Like it or not, we are not the High Sovereign's guests here, we are nothing but the hired hands."

"Well," Jack voiced finding this highly inconvenient. "We'll just have to find a way to see the High Sovereign another way. Our fortune depends on getting to talk to him, or at least someone high enough on his staff."

"You are to wait here until someone comes for you," the robed man who had not bothered to give his name said, pointing to a set of chairs resting by the wall.

"How long are we expected to stay here?" Jack asked, but the robed man ignored the query and simply walked away.

"My guess is that we are going to be here for as long as it takes," Mazikeen offered, looking around the plain and uninteresting room. "Which could be some time if they are unloading the crates. Ja'Dur did mention that someone else would be unloading the cargo."

"So what do we do in the meantime?" The Terran asked, obviously not liking the idea of being stuck in this room while they waited.

"Jack," the green-skinned Orion smiled. "It could be worst. Given all of the places we could have ended up, I think this is rather nice and cozy. So what if we have to wait, we are all here together, isn't that more important?"

"I would rather be stuck in a room filled with month-old, half-eaten Ferengi tube grubs than be stuck here with him," the Mari warrior shot, glancing at the irate Terran.

"Maze," Shi pleaded. "Don't be like that. So far this delivery is going much better than even you thought it would.

"We are stuck in a room, inside the Nylaan Imperial Palace where there are likely hundreds if not thousands of guards at every corner," Mazikeen pointed out. "So forgive me if i don't share in the 'nice and cozy' feeling you are experiencing.

"Alright ladies," Horur jumped in with. "We have no idea how long we are here for, so let's make the best of it and relax. How knows, we might be here for only a few minutes.

Setting: NYLA IV, Imperial Palace, Waiting Room
Stardate: 32031.1200

It had almost been five hours since they had been brought to this room, and still no one had come to speak to them or even inform them as to the progress of the cargo's unloading.  As much as they had done their best to keep themselves busy, the four adventurers had to admit that their patience had started to wear thin.

"I am sure that they have forgotten about us," Jack exclaimed, trying once again to open the door that had been locked behind the robed man who had brought them here.

"Don't start screaming again," the Mokra giant pleaded. "The room is just too small and the echo really hurts my ears."

"Let him scream," Maze countered. "At least that will give me a valid reason to rip his throat out and silence him once and for all."

Well at least they could have given us something to drink while we wait," Jack argued. Giving us chairs to sit on was all nice and dandy, but they could have spared a pitcher of water, or maybe something with a little more punch to make the time pass by a little quicker."

"If you want to be passed out on the floor, I would be happy to make it happen," Maze offered as she cracked her knuckles, appearing more than ready to punch Jack into the next century.

Horur had just about been ready to step in between the two when the door opened causing everyone to quickly return to a less confrontational posture.

"My apologies for the delay," the Nylaan merchant who had been the reason for all this said as he walked into the room where Jack and the others had been locked in. "There were some details of the delivery of the cargo that needed to be addressed. You will be happy to hear that all of the crates have been removed from your ship and that not a single scratch has been added to your vessel, not that I believe you would have been able to notice given the state of the craft."

"Don't you insult my ship," Jack snapped, the long hours of confinement having reduced the man's patience which, by many account had not been stellar to start with in similar situations.

Maze and Horur had been ready to inquire as to the reason for the merchant's presence here, given that if he was coming here he could have done so with the crates instead of forcing them to bring them here for him.

"Again, please accept my apologies," Ja'Dur offered before any questions could be asked, sounding oddly sincere in his apology and defensively more friendly then ever before. Given the way that the merchant had been smiling, it appeared that the trade had been successful, at least as far as he had been concerned. "I would like to make it up to you," he added. "If you will follow me, I have arrange for a little surprise for you four."

"A firing squad?" Maze snarled.

"Nothing so drastic," Ja'Dur replied, inviting the group to follow him.

Jack quickly complied, happy to get out of the room, followed by Shi and Horur leaving Maze to bring up the rear, the Mari warrior continuously looking back over her shoulder as if expecting something to come rushing at them.  As they made their way through the corridors and up several stairways, Mazikeen began to relax her stance believing that if something was to happen it would have already done so.

"Where are you taking us?" Jack demanded, the trek to their destination having been a much longer one that any of them would have expected.

"It will be well worth your time," Ja'Dur explained. "Trust me."

Even Jack had been ready to comment, but thinking back on all of the clearance codes the merchant had provided them with allowing them to make it here, it had proven to not be as difficult as before to trust the man.

"Here we are," Ja'Dur stated as he opened a door and invited the group to step in.

Setting: NYLA IV, Imperial Palace, Dinning Room
Stardate: 32031.1300

From the plain and simple corridors they had been travelling through, the four adventurers walked into a large ornate dinning room, filled with larger than life paintings, sculptures and art that would have made any museum curator jealous.  In the middle of the immense room was an equally large table, easily capable of sitting several dozen individuals, filled from end-to-end with food, enough to feed an entire army.

"Have a seat and enjoy," the merchant offered. "This is for you as a thank you for your help and patience."

"This better not be the *only* reward we are getting for our trouble," Jack said, not even waiting to be sitting before grabbing something that appeared to be a turkey leg and taking a sizable bite out of it.

"Rest assured my friends that this is not your payment for your troubles," Ja'Dur reassured. "This is only my way to thank you for your patience. Once you have eaten your fill, we can discuss your payment and another job, if your are interested of course."

As curious as they all were, the journey to the Imperial Palace from the orbiting station ZOLA and the following five hours spent in the waiting room without food or water had taken their toll on them, so the group had opted to eat and drink their fill first before listening to whatever proposition the Nylaan merchant had for them.

By the looks of things, Ja'Dur seemed more than willing to wait, certain that his proposition would be one that the adventurers would not be able to refuse.

Setting: NYLA IV, Imperial Palace, Underground storage
Stardate: 32032.2300

In a dark room located far beneath the lowest floor of the Imperial basement, the old-style torches on the walls cast their flickering light onto the numerous items that occupied an area that had been vacant for as long as most could remember. In fact the existence of this particular room had been forgotten by most, and amongst those who did remember, only a select few could actually reach it.

"Here you are," the grinning merchant politely stated, showing all of the respect and reverence that the man by his side commanded by his posture and position in the Nylaan Hierarchy. "Here they are, just as I promised."

Placed with the greatest of care, the 150 crates stood on end, in perfect rows, 15 wide and 10 deep, as if the were the pillars of some great and ancient temple, the roof of which had been somehow lost or forgotten. Every crate appeared just like the others except for the one that had been specifically placed in the middle of the front row, its unique markings indicating that it held a special significance over the other 149.

"I will admit that I am impressed," the high ranking political figure admitted as he studied the markings on the central crate. "I am curious as to how you managed to accomplish this without those who oppose me getting in your way, but to be honest I am far more interested in their content to see if they are all that you have claimed them to be."

"With these under your command, none will dare to oppose you," the merchant said with great confidence. "Friends and foes alike will never again dare to plot against you, the content of these crates will insure this for as long as you sit on the throne of NYLA IV."

"I am putting a great deal of faith in your words *Lord* Ju'Dar," the man with the cloak displaying the Imperial colours said, using the title that had been promised as part of the payment for the job that appeared to have been done according to their agreement. "Can the crew of the transport ship be trusted to keep this a secret?"

"There is nothing to fear from them your Imperial Highness," the merchant reassured. "Their task was to bring the crates to the surface using their own ship while mine diverted the attention of for adversaries. Beyond that, they knew nothing, including the content of these crates. I can assure you that they are no threat to you or your continued rule, but rest assured that I have taken extra precautions to insure their lasting silence."

"Good," the man said sounding pleased. "There are far too many loose threads surrounding me, and I would like to see them reduce in number, not increase through the incompetence of others."

"Your Imperial Highness, I guarantee with my own life that the crew of the cargo ship that brought these here will not be of any trouble. Not to you or anyone else," Ja'Dur stated, against sounding exceptionally certain about his claim. "Now, would you like to see them?"

"Yes," the Imperial ruler quickly and very enthusiastically replied, allowing with a motion of his head the merchant to open the one marked crate. With a touch of his hand, the container seemed to recognize the man in some way and unlocked. The Imperial figure quickly removed the hood over his head to reveal the aged features belonging to the one and only ruler of NYLA IV, the High Sovereign himself. A devious, almost evil smile appeared on the ruler's face as he witnessed the imposing size and stature of the mechanical item contained therein.  "Will they obey me?"

"You and only you, your Imperial Highness," the merchant specified. "They all have been reprogrammed to protect you from any and all danger, but above all else they are yours to command as you wish, acting only as you instruct them to."

The High Sovereign scrutinized the imposing metal man, more than happy to see that they were even more impressive than he had been made to believe them to be.  Feeling his chest swell with pride and anticipation, the ruler of NYLA IV took a step back before addressing the mechanical beast that stood before him.

"How do I instruct them?"

"They have already been programmed to recognize your voice," Ja'Dur explained. "You and only you can give them orders, and they will only acknowledge your voice. Their programming also prevents them from harming you, just in case something or someone did manage to force you to give an order to them that would place your own life at risk."

"I am most pleased by your work Lord Ja'Dur," the High Sovereign said. "I am sorry that I do not have a daughter to give you as reward for your loyal service. You have proven yourself to be more than many whom I had trusted for so very long."

"Serving you is thanks enough, your Imperial Highness," the merchant stated. The fact that he had received quite a lot of credits along with an Imperial title did help to solidify his loyalty though.

"Are you ready to do as I command?" The High Sovereign asked.

A single red light came to life in the middle of the narrow line that appeared to act as the mechanical warrior's eyes, then after a few seconds, the light began to move, heading to the right before moving to the left and then back to the right as if the humanoid looking construct had been scanning the area and people standing in front of it.  Once it had gathered enough information and confirmed the identity of the man standing before it, a simple three-word reply was given to indicate that it had indeed been ready to receive instructions.

"By your command," the robot stated sending a chill down both men's spine, the cold and soulless voice which could have only originated from the artificial species capable of making those words sound as threatening as they did.

Scott Moll

Writing the adventures of
aka Jonathan Harris
aka Jason House
aka Jake Hall
aka Jaren Hamlet
as well as a few others

Traveller, trader and merchant extraordinaire,
Man of intrigue and mystery,
Pilot of the STAR OF DESTINY,
and let's not forget overall nice guy.
STDH-SOLO: Houston-P012 ("The Life for Me – Chapter 12")
"The Life for Me – Chapter 12"

Setting: STAR OF DESTINY, Flight Deck
Stardate: 32222.1630

"We need to find a place to land," Horur announced from the engineering station, this having been the fourth time in less than an hour that he had said the exact same thing. "The holographic emitters and sensor dampeners have been working non-stop for more than 200 days and there is nothing more I can do to keep them working.

"We can't take that risk," Maze snapped, having said the same thing in response to the repeated demands of the Mokra man. "Us not appearing as ourselves is what has kept us alive for all those days, and I am pretty sure that the Hirogens have not given ho looking for us."

"I doubt that the Hirogens are the type to ever give up on anything," the green-skinned Orion woman commented, allowing a hint of despair to lace her words.

"We escaped once, we will do it again," Jake noted drawing the glared of both Mazikeen and Horur. "Alright, alright, we have escaped more than a dozen times with the ship barely in one piece forcing us to seek some sort of refuge to effect repairs before going back on the run. There, happy?"

Although neither said anything, the Mokra and Mari appeared pleased with the fact that the revised account of their current situation had been far more accurate than the one previously offered by the Terran man. The last 200 days had been nothing short of hell for the crew of the STAR OF DESTINY following what should have been a simple mission given to them by the Nylaan merchant Ja'Dur. The crew was asked to rendezvous with a Hirogen cruiser to take on a special cargo for the merchant, one that had been said to be a gift for the High Sovereign himself. Everything seemed to be going well until the crew identified themselves causing the alien ship to open fire on them.

Had it not been for the piloting skills of the Terran and the quick thinking of the Mari, the STAR OF DESTINY would have most certainly been reduced into space dust.  From that day on, the ship and its crew went on a mad race to stay ahead of the Hirogen hunting party that had set their sights on them, the reason for this still being a complete mystery even after more than 200 days.

"Told you so," Horur sighed. "We just lost the entire starboard holographic emitter array.

"Guess we better start making a lot of turns to our starboard to make sure that the other side is what the Hirogens see when they cast their sensor net our way," Mazikeen sarcastically suggested.

"Fine," Jake reluctantly let out. As much as he had not wanted the ship to be a sitting target for the hunting party after them, it made no sense to not try to get the modules repaired. As great of a ship as the STAR OF DESTINY was, she was no match for any of the Hirogen cruisers who had been after them. "What's the nearest system to our current location?"

"According to the star charts, there is a Pythron trading outpost 1.2 light-years from our current location," Shi reported.

"Not an option," Maze quickly followed up with. "The Hirogens are closely monitoring all traffic going and coming from that place. We wouldn't get within hailing distance before they would see us coming, and with our holographic emitters only half working, I strongly doubt that we would be able to fool them. Based on our previous encounters, we barely manage to fool them with that system fully operational, so it makes no sense for us to head directly into trouble."

"Is there another option?" The Terran asked, not ready to openly state that he had been in agreement with Mazikeen knowing all too well that it would be something the Mari warrior would never let go of.

"There is the Dolbargy system at 2.6 light-years from our current location," the Orion woman reported. "They do have repair facilities that we would be able to make use of."

"Are there any other options?" Jake demanded, clearly not wishing to deal with that particular race.

"Listening," Maze began as she reached for the arm of the Terran man to force his chair to turn in her direction. "We have been dodging the Hirogens for longer than I care to count. The ship is damaged, the crew is tired and now the one system that is keeping us relatively safe is breaking down. I truly don't care why you do not want to go to that particular system, but the fact of the matter is that it's either them or the hunters breathing down our necks."

"The flight to the Dolbargy system is not going to be an easy one as we have to sneak pass several Hirogen patrols," Horur reported, scanning the tactical star charts that Maze had created following their first escape from the blood-thirsty hunters. "The advantage as i see it though is that for one reason or another, the Hirogens are giving that system far more breathing room than any of the other locations they have been patrolling."

"See," the Terran chuckled, "even those soulless hunters stay away from that system, reason more for us to find another place to set down and effect the needed repairs to the ship."

"Jake," Shi jumped in with, her voice calm and soothing. "The Hirogens not paying close attention to that system is the perfect reason for us to head there. Whatever reason is keeping them out of that region of space will give us the time to not only make the repairs we need but also to properly refuel, restock supplies and for us all to get out and stretch our legs."

"Be careful," Horur softly growled. "He might claim that all of the excursions on the outer hull we made to make field repairs count as both our getting out of this ship and stretching our legs, which for the record it does not."

It was evident that the Mokra had known the Terran for far too long, accurately anticipating what Jake had been about to say, even if it was only in jest. If he was honest with himself, the adventurer had to agree that he missed the sensation of solid ground beneath his feet and fresh, recycled air filling his lungs. Ads dangerous and unwelcoming as the journey to the Dolbargy system might be, it had been a far better option than to wait for the other half of the holographic emitters to become inoperative, making the STAR OF DESTINY and easy target for the Hirogens to locate, hunt and destroy as they had been trying to do for more than 200 days.

"Alright," Jake sighed in reluctant agreement, "it looks like we don't really have a choice. Set a course for the Dolbargy system, one that will keep us as far away from the Hirogen hunting parties as possible. If not, at least try to make sure that we give them our port-side to see. It might also be an idea to reduce our energy signature to draw even less attention onto ourselves."

"Reducing our energy signature any less would require one of us to suit up and go outside to push," Horur said in a half humorous tone. "We are already working on less than minimum internal energy consumption; why else do you think we are all wearing these thermal suits?"

"Why? Because, it's bloody freezing in here! I stopped feeling the tips of my fingers about 50 days ago." Mazikeen exclaimed without reservation. "Maybe that's the problem, it has been so cold in here for so long that your brain has finally frozen solid, not that it was all that mushy beforehand."

Jake wanted to argue, to fire back at this latest insult that the Mari warrior had hurled his way, something that she had done countless times every day even before the unexpected attack by the Hirogens, but the Captain of the STAR OF DESTINY had simply been too tired. As he considered his own feelings, the Terran adventurer had to agree that everyone else had been right. They needed to land, if not to make the needed repairs to the ship, at least for them to get out and enjoy another setting than the one they all had been forced to endure for far too long.

"Get us there as quickly and safely as possible," the Terran offered to his crew knowing that they would do just that, not because they respected him as Captain but because it was something that they all wanted and needed to do.

Setting: STAR OF DESTINY, Flight Deck
Stardate: 32223.2245

It had taken over a day of erratic flying and dodging patrols but the STAR OF DESTINY and its crew had made it. The home of the Dolbargy could now be seen through the forward windows of the flight deck, a view that as undesired as it might have been for the Terran adventurer had been a welcomed sight.

"Nicely done Maze," Horur announced, actually sounding impressed. "That flight plan through the solar storm might make it impossible for me to ever eat again, but it was more than successful in keeping those Hirogens off our trail. According to the long-range sensors, I suspect that no one even knows that we are here."

"That was the idea," the Mari warrior pointed out. "As for you no longer being able to eat, I'll believe that when I see it. I have seen black holes devour less than you do in a single day, which is why our power reserve and on board supplies are so low."

"Jake," Shi called out. "We are being hailed by planetary orbital traffic control. They are asking for our reasons for being here."

"Just tell them the truth," the Terran replied with a smile.

"That we suspect that a Nylaan merchant by the name of Ja'Dur, who might be closely working with the High Sovereign of that world set us up by telling us to meet a Hirogen cruiser who, along with several of his friends, are after us for reason that we not in the least bit aware of?" Maze said, pausing for just a few seconds before continuing. "Is that really the truth that you want to tell them?"

"We are freighter that has been out for a very long time and is in need of repairs, not to mention that the crew could use some time out in the fresh air," the Mokra man clarified, rolling his eyes.

"His truth sounds better than hers," Jake admitted, not that he would have ever even consider to make the type of announcement the Mari warrior had suggested.

Shi smiled and relayed the message as stated by Horur, the green-skinned Orion woman knowing all too well that what had been suggested by Maze had been a joke and that if such information had been transmitted, the STAR OF DESTINY would have likely never reached the surface, at least not in one piece.

"We have been cleared to land," Shi reported with a beaming smile. "The coordinate are on the outskirts of one of their smaller towns, but from what the sensors are showing we should not have any issues gathering all of the supplies we need."

"Gathering all of the supplies we need was never the real issue," the Terran grinned. "Finding a way for us to pay for those and the parts we need to make the repairs is what is going to be the real challenge, especially on that world. We can worry about that afterwards, right now let's get the ship down and the doors open to let in some fresh air."

Setting: STAR OF DESTINY, Rear Hatch
Stardate: 32224.0200

Almost as soon as the ship had landed and the rear cargo bay doors were opened, the crew had stepped out to enjoy a sensation that they had almost forgotten about. Although the ship had landed onto a platform, the nearby grass quickly beckoned the green-skinned woman to remove her footwear and start running through the dew covered natural ground coverage.

"I think she like it here," Horur grinned as he watched Shi going about her business without a single care in the world.

"I don't think that having been locked inside the STAR OF DESTINY for over 200 days is why she is acting that way," Jake said, nodding his head knowingly. "This is the closest to real freedom she has experienced since we left MARKALA PRIME, and with all of our running around for Ja'Dur and now from the Hirogens, we never had the chance to look into buying back her freedom."

"Maybe those 200 or so days actually did something good," Mazikeen said as she walked up to join the two men standing on the edge of the landing platform. "I do believe that this is the first time I have ever heard you think of her before yourself, and I don't mean about wondering what she will think about one of your stupid stories or adventures. This is the first time that you are showing actual concern for her, something that despite her completely misplaced feelings for you, you have never been able to do."

Jake actually appeared surprised by the admission made by Maze, but seeing the expression on his friend Horur made it clear that this had been something they both saw and agreed upon.

"I better start working on that," the Terran said with conviction.

"Right after we figure out how we are paying for the landing fees, parts needed for the repairs and all of the supplies we need to restock the ship," Mazikeen pointed out. "As much as I hate to admit it, securing Shi's freedom is right now not our greatest priority, unless we are planning on spending the rest of our lives on this planet."

The thought sent a cold shiver down Jake's spine. He had accepted to land on this world by necessity, but he hoped to find a way off as quickly as possible. It was true that the reason for him not wanting to be here was a single individual, but he was enough to make it that the Terran wanted to be as far away from this world as he could be, not only for his sake but for that of his crew and ship.

[[6 years ago]]

Jake had come to this world in search of fortune. The stories of fame and wealth being easily achieved here had been too alluring for the Terran adventurer to ignore, so as the new Captain of the STAR OF DESTINY he made his way here, his head filled with dreams, and his pockets aching to be filled with latnium..

This world is where the Terran learned that the Ferengi were not the only race in this part of the cosmos whom others needed to be very careful around. The reasons might have been completely different but the end results were the same. Even to an experienced trader and adventurer, this world could prove to quickly be more than could be handled, and as much as some could make their fortunes here, many lost everything for no other reason than having set foot on this planet.

Jake had shown uncanny luck in being able to leave this world with the STAR OF DESTINY still in his possession, but the experience had been more than enough to make him vow to never return or even cast his gaze on the planet that in many ways resembled EARTH in its natural beauty which hid the darker unseen side of the culture that claimed this world as its home.

As much as he enjoyed the many different aspects of his life, this world would forever be a place that he would avoid at all cost for no other reason that it was the home of the one individual who could bring an end to his every dreams and hopes.


Scott Moll

Writing the adventures of
aka Jonathan Harris
aka Jason House
aka Jake Hall
aka Jaren Hamlet
as well as a few others

Traveller, trader and merchant extraordinaire,
Man of intrigue and mystery,
Pilot of the STAR OF DESTINY,
and let's not forget overall nice guy.
STDH-SOLO: Gemma-P001 ("Neri, The Bait")
"Neri, The Bait"

Setting: Ferengi Trade Outpost, Bar
Stardate: 32011.2200

Koteg was a low level Deamon in the New Ferengi Alliance.  His interest, to no great surprise, were making a profit, finding and selling rare minerals, and exotic women. Not specifically in that order depending in the situation he found himself in.

Last night, Koteg believed he had made the discovery of a lifetime.  He was not entirely mistaken, as the woman he had run into would indeed come to change his life in countless ways.  Her name was Nerissamenolirta or Neri as she preferred to be called. The lavender-skinned Bolian / Rutian hybrid had found her way into the space of the New Ferengi Alliance. More troubling than that had been the fact that she had of her own volition stepped into the outpost's fighting pit. That was where the politically insignificant Deamon saw her for the first time and it was due to her fighting skills that found himself so fascinated by her.

Her delicate and unique, almost fragile, appearance had made her a long shot in the betting pool. For those looking at the pale blue color of her skin, the woman had belonged in the slave market, not in the fighting pit. Her long fiery red hair on the other hand hinted to the unexpected speed and skills she possessed. If those were taken into consideration for the setting of odds in the fighting pit, the female would have been classified as a sure bet. Unfortunately for this Ferengi, he had paid far more attention to her skin instead of her hair. The fact that he had lost his wager only made his resolve to make her his that much stronger.

Following the impressively short bout where Neri emerged victorious, she was invited  by Koteg for a simple drink. Ignoring the glares of those who had wagered against her, she accepted and joined the Ferengi at his table.

"You made a lot of people very upset tonight." The freighter captain said, having been one of those he had just spoken of. With odds of 30-to-1, no one had expected the soft lavender-skinned woman to come out of the fighting pit as the winner, if she came out at all. The fact that she had done so so quickly had only increased the level of frustration which now included the organizers, spectators as well as those who had played the odds and waged against her.

"I was fighting in the pit. Making friends was never part of the plan for the evening." The woman pointed out, not displaying any signs of even having been in a fight a few minutes prior. Had he not witnessed the spectacle himself, Koteg would not have believed that the female sitting with him had actually been in the pit. The Ferengi could only guess as to the endurance and stamina the woman possessed, skills that he hoped to be able to test to their limits if given the opportunity.

After a few seconds, Koteg laughed aloud. "If making friends was not part of your plans for tonight, why accept my invitation?" The question had been meant for him to learn more about this puzzling female. The moment he had seen her the 22nd Rule of Acquisition echoed into his head. A wise man can hear profit in the wind, and right now his ears were hearing a great deal of latnium.

"I said I was not looking to make friends. I never said that I wanted to be alone in a corner waiting for someone to try and get even for losing their bet against me. This place can be unwelcoming to an unaccompanied women." Her voice was assured yet still managed to be sweet, almost to the point of innocent. For someone who had so completely dominated the bout in the fighting pit, she now came across as almost vulnerable. This, of course, only further reeled the Ferengi in and solidified his desire to make her his.

"You are a remarkable female. How did you find your way onto this outpost and into the fighting pit?" His toothy smile should have made her sick, maybe even caused her to run away screaming.  It hinted to things that were best left unmentioned, things that had been born of a demented and sick mind. Instead, she sat on the other side of the table, smiling back as if all had been as perfect as could be.  In fact, Neri seemed to even encourage the Deamon through suggestive poses and gestures.

"One bad deal after another." The reply was simple but enough to increase the already rising interest of the Ferengi. "I found my way to the trade city of Kololu. From there I hooked up with a merchant and we left a day before the planetary blockade was called into effect. After arriving here, he decided that a cargo of Trellium-D ore was more important than a low-paying passenger. Therefore, he left me here without a single credit to my name. I suspect that there are now several crates of that ore sitting in what was my seat as we speak. Might explain why it was so uncomfortable if he did this sort of thing before."

"So you signed up for the fighting pit to get enough currency to buy your way onto another ship." The Ferengi said with a nod of understanding, sounding genuinely impressed and even more interested. "You are truly a remarkable female."

"Unfortunately, that one fight was far from enough to give me enough credits to secure my way off this outpost." Neri said, suddenly appearing to be in a rush. "I need to register for another fight, maybe even two or three. If we are done here..."

"Wait," the Ferengi quickly added as the light-blue skinned woman began to rise from her chair. "Following your victory, I suspect that no one will be willing to sign you up for the low level bouts. You will need a sponsor so that you can participate in the higher ranking matches. Those of course require credits, likely more than you won in the last fight."

"Figures," the Bolian / Rutian hybrid sighed while appearing sad. "Let me guess, you are offering to sponsor me? For a price of course," she continued, this time with a smile. "I am sure that we can come up to an arrangement. One that I am sure would prove to be profitable for the both of us."

Koteg laughed aloud once again. "For a female you understand the Ferengi ways quite well. That said, I have no interest in sponsoring you for any fight. It would be a shame to see such an immaculate skin blemished. The claws, teeth or horns of some of the fighters you would encounter at the next rank can be quite nasty.  If getting off this outpost is your immediate goal, maybe I could interest you in another business proposition. One that would indeed be most profitable."

"If it gets me off this outpost sooner than later, than I'm interested," Neri said as she slowly returned to her seat. The smile she gave the Deamon instantly melted him to his seat. Could this night prove to be any better?

"Excellent," the Ferengi smiled, again displaying those sharp pointy teeth that should have made the woman sitting across from him run for the nearest exit. "Looks like we have ourselves a deal," he added as he lifted his glass for a cheer. With her smile still very much present on her lips, she matched his move, sealing the deal with the clanking of the metal cups.

Setting: Ferengi Freighter, Cargo hold
Stardate: 32011.2300

"Impressive," Neri said as she boarded the Ferengi's ship ahead of its operator and owner.

"Who is the female?" A member of the crew quickly demanded, already trying to figure out how much his cut of the profits would be. Although they did not usually deal in slaves, Koteg had made a few exceptions from time to time when the opportunity had been simply too good to pass. Judging by the curves and colors on that particular female, there would be a sizable amount of latnium for them all.

"Sorry," Neri smiled as she looked back to the approaching Deamon before leaning against his shoulder. "I'm already spoken for," the lavender-skinned woman added with a teasing smile. If that had not been enough to through the crewman off guard, her running a single finger on the outer rim of the Ferengi's ear proved to be more than enough.

Not appearing in the least bit impressed, the Ferengi crew member showed his teeth in a distinct display of jealous loathing before returning to his duties. Dealing in slaves was one thing, having to interact with them on such a level was not what he had signed up for.

"You performing Oo-Mox was never part of our deal," Koteg pointed out in a softly trembling voice.  With his eyes halfway rolled into his sockets and his knees feeling like rubber, this would be the extent of his objection.

"The deal was that you would take me away from this trade station," Neri said as she continued running the tip of her finger along the ridge of his ear. "You said that you had something in mind for me to pay for my passage. If this is not what you had in mind, consider it a bonus for my being very grateful for your generosity. Rule of Acquisition #127 does state that 'Gratitude can bring on generosity'. You are being generous, so I am showing my gratitude."

"You are an exceptional female," he gasped in delight. "Maybe I should be more cautious in my dealings with you."

"Why do you say that?" the lavender-skinned Bolian / Rutian hybrid said, appearing genuinely hurt.

"You fight like a Jem'Hadar, perform Oo-Mox like an expert Orion slave and now you quote the Rules of Acquisition like a trained Ferengi male," Koteg pointed out. "I am starting to wonder what other skills you will be surprising me with next."

"As soon as we have departed from this trade station, I will be more than happy to show you the extent of my *other* skills." Neri said as a devilish smile formed on her lips. "Ever heard of the Nylaans and their entertainers?"

The Ferengi Deamon made an audible gulp in response to what the woman had just said. The deal that he had managed to secure with the woman seemed to grow better and better with each passing moment. After giving it some careful consideration, he decided to delay bringing her to the central slave registry as he had planned from the very start. After all, where would be the harm in exploring the extent of the skills she had hinted to?

Setting: Ferengi Freighter, Koteg's Quarters
Stardate: 32012.0215

In general, Ferengi traders were a simple bunch to handle once you understood their primary driving forces. Increasing their wealth and doing things that they found pleasurable were always at the top of the list. If you could manage to do both at the same time, everything became possible.  With the promise of a night that he would never forget, the Deamon had been quick to return to his quarters the moment his ship has left the trading outpost.

The crew of the freighter had not been overly happy to see their leader claim the shapely female for himself. To avoid a mutiny, the lavender-skinned woman had made sure to offer several smiles and gestures to the other members of the crew. Each suggested that their turn would come soon enough in sharing their Deamon's good fortune. Those little displays proved to be more than enough to appease the crew. This of course meant that the two could proceed with their plans without any concerns about being interrupted.

It had taken Neri just over an hour to get her host so drunk and relaxed that he could no longer tell the floor from the ceiling.  Once that had been accomplished, a simple Vulcan nerve pinch was enough to send the Ferengi into a deep sleep. Without the Deamon getting in her way, the Intel Operative could carry out the mission that she had been working on. Maybe if Koteg had known about how all of this had planed from the start, he might not have been so ready to have the female on board if ship. He would have also likely not allowed her anywhere near his quarters where she knew he kept the maps her mission called for her to copy.

With a simple though she activated the special computerized contact lense she wore. It allowed her to scan her surroundings and record everything that she would see. With it, locating the maps and taking digital recording of them would only take a minute, maybe two if Koteg had been a little smarter than he seemed.

Having discovered a secret compartment hidden behind a sliding panel, Neri quickly found what she had been searching for. One by one the hard-state maps were scanned and recorded. The reason why they had been stored in such an archaic manner had been to avoid them being electronically stolen. Unfortunately for the Ferengi and his crew, none of them had expected to encounter someone the like of Gemma.

With all of the information obtained, and the maps returned to their hiding spot, he next phase of her plan could begin. It would have been easy for her to sabotage the ship and make her escape on an escape pod. She could even insure that the freighter was destroyed, but this would only create potential problems in the future. No, it had been safer for her to make a clean getaway without raising any suspicions. Who knew, maybe one day she could find some use for Koteg and his crew.

Setting: Ferengi Freighter, Bridge
Stardate: 32012.0245

Like a predator on the hunt, Neri made her way onto the command deck. Immediately the attention of everyone present fell onto the lavender-skinned woman who simply smiled.

"Looks like your Deamon was not as virile as I had hoped him to be," she announced. "He is now asleep in his quarters and I am still very much awake. Think any of you strong males could help me pass the time until he wakes up?"

The scene that followed was beyond comical as the crew members tripped over one another to get to the female first. It was only when the First Officer pulled rank on the others that things settled.

"I would be more than happy to help you with your dilemma," he said flashing a toothy smile. What was the deal with the Ferengi and those sharp, pointy teeth anyway? How could any creature, including their own females find such a display attractive?

"I am so glad that you are willing to help me," Neri said, her siren voice making the Ferengi's legs shake. "I was sure that after he had injected me with that serum no one would want to be with me."

"Serum?" He gasped, quickly distancing himself from the female. From that point on, each Ferengi she locked gaze with appeared ready to soil their uniform right on the spot.

"If he injected her with the serum we are all in grave danger," one of the crew members said. The Ferengi appeared to be on the verge of a full-blown panic attack.

"Why would he inject you with the serum?" The First Officer asked, hoping that this was some sort of mistake.

"After drinking, playing, drinking some more, and playing even more, he seemed a little strange."

"Strange? How so?"

"He was talking about having the power of life and death in his hand. That's when he showed me a vile with some sort of strange looking green goo," Neri explained.

"It is the serum," another crew member exclaimed in horror. "We are all going to die."

"I don't understand," the lavender-skinned woman said, sounding as innocent as could be.

"You quiet!" The First Officer ordered the female. "I need to think. Wasn't the serum said to have an incubation period of about 30 standard minutes?"

"Yes, I remember the Deamon saying that."

"When did he inject you with it?" the panicked Ferengi asked.

"I don't remember," Neri casually replied. There was no reason to make this easy on them. Making the situation as desperate as possible would actually play in her favor based on what she knew of the serum.

"You females are all the same!" He exclaimed in near rage. "Was it soon after you went into his quarters or recently?"

"It was just a little before he passed out," she replied expecting her next words to send everyone in full meltdown mode. "Must have been about 25 to 28 standard minutes ago. Maybe more, I am not sure."


"You, follow me!" The First Officer ordered of the female, not daring to touch her.

"Why are you putting me into an escape pod? Is the ship in danger?" She asked, again sounding as innocent and clueless as could be.

"As soon as you are off this ship, the danger will have been dealt with," the Ferengi said. "At least we all hope so," he added before closing the door and engaging the release for the escape pod, sending it into space.

Setting: Ferengi Escape Pod
Stardate: 32012.0330

The plan had worked to near perfection. The escape pod had been cast off less than two hours from the planet where her transport back to Federation space waited. The crew of the Ferengi freighter would consider themselves lucky to having survived the ordeal. Should they come across Neri again in the future, all of them would be happily surprised to see that she had also survived through some unexplained miracle.

As for Gemma and her mission, not only had she obtained copies of the maps, but she had also taken the deadly serum out of the hands of Koteg. Not a bad day's work.

Rachel Jackie Johnson

Intel Operative

[The fun is getting to wear multiple disguises and getting to explore multiple personalities and bring them to life. Jenna Fischer]
STDH-SOLO: Gemma-P002 ("Dalra, The Flight")
"Dalra, The Flight"

Setting: Stolen Byzatium Shuttle, Flight Deck
Stardate: 32019.1300

The advantage of flying a Byzatium shuttle was that no one paid any attention to it. The draw back in flying this same craft was that its highest possible speed could be compared to that of a Denobulan sloth. It might looked good, but speed was not now, nor ever was, part of the reasoning used.

As annoying as this slow speed might have been to some, Dalra enjoyed the more casual pace of the journey. It allowed her to contemplate the flowing and peaceful starscape beyond the forward windows of the craft.  When not making sure that everything about the ship and heading was as it was meant to be, her gaze was on the stars. While not on the controls or stars, the pilot's attention was on the copies of the maps that had been appropriated by Neri. As unorthodox as her methods might have been, there was no denying their effectiveness.

The maps that the Ferengi had kept so well hidden showed the location of several secret black market trading posts. Due to the transactions occurring on them, only a select few knew how to reach these out of the way locations. A fair amount of work, as well as credits, were required to obtain these well guarded maps. Interestingly enough, getting the star charts was just the first of countless steps put in place to protect those who made use of these locations.

An expert pilot was required to follow the twisting flight paths, which slithered through some of the strangest and most dangerous parts of the universe. This, of course, had been meant to keep any and all undesirables away. Unfortunately, it also caused from time to time the demise of a few of those trying to do business there.  This had been another reason why Dalra had appropriated a Byzatium shuttle, its lack of speed being well off-set by remarkable maneuverability.

The pilot glanced at her instruments before looking at the copy of the map once again. Despite the limited speed of the shuttle, she had made good time. In less than an hour Dalra would reach the edge of the graviton field that was the first of three spatial obstacles for her to conquer.  As she reviewed the specified flight path, the expert Varro pilot wondered if she should try testing her own skills. With a Byzatium shuttle at her command, she seriously considered the stated course to take to be overly simple. This was an evaluation that she herself admitted very few other pilots would dare to claim.

Setting: Stolen Byzatium Shuttle, Flight Deck
Stardate: 32019.1450

The graviton field was now in sight. At least as much as such a strange spatial phenomenon could be seen. The distortion of the stars in he distant background was noticeable, if you actually were looking for it. It had not taken long for Dalra to understand how this would protect the destination she had set herself on reaching.  Maybe, just maybe, following the flight path that was indicated on the map would be safer, especially considering the importance of her mission.

The pilot confirmed the working status of the shuttle's propulsion system. If something was to break or even malfunction, now was the time for it to happen. As soon as she breached the outer edge of the field, any error would result in the shuttle, and its pilot, being crushed into nothingness.
Dalra's eyes narrowed as she studied the overhead display. As much as she could have relied on the shuttle's computer to follow the flight path, the Varro woman wanted t be in charge. As much as computers could be trusted to follow specific instructions, they were equally limited by those same instructions. If something unexpected should happen, the pilot wanted to be ready to address it right there and then.

With a touch of a single control, the shuttle was placed on complete manual flight. All that Dalra needed to do now was to make it through the first nearly invisible obstacle.

Setting: Stolen Byzatium Shuttle, Flight Deck
Stardate: 32019.1510

The deeper the small craft was taken into the graviton field, the more the pilot felt confident in her making it to the other side. The combination of the maneuverability of the Byzatium shuttle with her own piloting skills had made this simple. So much so that Dalra had almost cracked a smile, almost. Being able to easily avoid the graviton eddies had allowed the pilot to not focus as much as might be required. That said though, it had not been easy enough to permit herself to smile, something that she did on only very special occasions, maybe.

"One down, two to go," Dalra announced. With the graviton field now behind her, the Varro woman could focus her attention on the second set of obstacles. The asteroid field that stretch ahead appeared to be nothing special, and that was where the trap laid. Due to the mineral composition of the floating rocks, sensors could not notice the deadly sharpness of the countless edges. Should a ship have somehow made it through the field now behind her, they would not have expected what was ahead. The slightest impact with an asteroid, however small it may be, could rip a ship's hull wide open.  If avoiding the gravitational eddies of the first protective step had been imperative. Making sure to not collide with any of the small floating stones had been even more crucial.

Following the flight path given by the stolen map would make things easier, but it still did not account for the fluctuations of the asteroids. These required instant course corrections in order to avoid a catastrophic collision. With shields having been made inoperative by the previous graviton field, there had been no room for error in this part. Not that there had been for any of the three sets of obstacles, one of which the Varro pilot would still need to get through.

Setting: Stolen Byzatium Shuttle, Flight Deck
Stardate: 32019.1525

As it was during the first set of obstacles, Dalra found navigating through the second easier the further she made it in. Still not enough to cause her to smile, but easy enough that she Varro woman had skillfully avoided every asteroid that came into her path. For a moment, the pilot thought how happy Wimdalli would be if one of those deadly rocks was given to her. As nice as it might have been to see the Uxali woman smile, it had not been worth risking going back in there.

With the graviton field and razor asteroids behind her, the pilot could focus on the third and last set of obstacles. Unlike the first two, the third was a man-made trap meant to insure that only those possessing a map could reach their goal. The field of cloaked spacial mines left absolutely no room for mistakes, the slightest deviation from the flight path resulting in the destruction of the ship.

As skilled as a pilot as she was, Dalra would hate this part most of all. With nothing appearing on sensors and clear open space as far as she could see, the Varro woman would need to rely on her instruments. For those who had learned to fly vessels at some Academy, this had been second nature to them. To her though, relying entirely on the shuttle's instruments had felt wrong in so many different ways.  Again, one could have tasked the on board computer to simply follow the flight path as stated by the map. The problem was the way the map had been set for this last bit.

Whoever the maniac had been who had come up with these defences and created the maps, he had truly been a certifiable lunatic. Although the last part needed to be navigated by instruments alone, the coordinates needed to be entered at each change of heading. This had likely been done to insure that a genuine map had been used and not some sort of electronic copy. Luckily for Dalra, Neri had known about this prior to boarding the Ferengi's freighter. This insured that the scans taken of the genuine map contained all of the required data to allow a safe passage through this region of space.

Setting: Stolen Byzatium Shuttle, Flight Deck
Stardate: 32019.1540

After everything that the Varro woman had gone through, finding a cloaked trading post should have been easy. Again though, the map was called upon to provide the pilot with the required data. This, so as to avoid having a ship fly right by it without realizing it.

=/\= Identify yourself. =/\=

"No wonder you don't get a lot of visitors with manners like that," Dalra pointed out, unimpressed.

=/\= Identify yourself or be destroyed. =/\=

Immediately following the second message alarms rang through the flight deck indicating that the shuttle had been targeted.  The pilot had expected this, but what she had not anticipated had been the number of weapons' lock had suddenly zeroed in on the small craft. Apparently, the stories she had heard in regards to these secret trading post being heavily armed had not been exaggerated.  Based on the sensor data, the hidden base possessed enough firepower to take down a starship with a single volley. Two if the person at he firing controls was blind and missing both of his two arms.

"My apologies," Dalra offered in all seriousness. "This is the Byzatium Shuttle Sigma-118 requesting authorization to beam one passenger."

=/\= Who is this passenger? =/\=

"She is the high trader Lantra," Dalra replied, almost managing a small grin as the woman's name escaped from her lips

=/\= Stand by. =/\=

If those in charge of the trade station followed the established protocol for a place such as the one they were one, the first thing for them to do would be to scan the shuttle. Another advantage of being on board a Byzatium Shuttle was that the hull was impervious to sensors. This meant that there was no way for them to confirm who was on board the small craft.  That said though, the name alone should have been enough to have the entire trading outpost trembling.

=/\= You may proceed. Transmitting transport coordinates now. =/\=

Dalra confirmed reception of the data and stood from the chair in which she had spent countless hours getting here.  After having set the shuttle on an automated return course, the blonde Varro made her way to he transporter platform. It was a shame that the trip back would most certainly result in the destruction of the craft. Since the shuttle had been stolen, it made sense to have it vanish along with the pilot. That way no one would be searching for either and it would play in whatever game Lantra had planned. Pitty could prove to be a powerful tool when used properly.

"Energizing," Gemma said, the woman having been herself for a split second before taking on the appearance and persona of the trader. The hidden black market station would be where the next step of her mission would unfold. There the Tarellian known as Lantra would have to forge her way through several deals in order to reach her goal.

Rachel Jackie Johnson

Intel Operative

[The fun is getting to wear multiple disguises and getting to explore multiple personalities and bring them to life. Jenna Fischer]
STDH-SOLO: Gemma-P003 ("Lantra, The Deal")
"Lantra, The Deal"

Setting: HENDAL Cloaked Trade Station, Transporter Platform
Stardate: 32019.1555

The plague-bearing Tarellian woman materialized onto the the platform without incident. Her reputation had granted her access to the station, the illness associated with her people insured that everyone gave her plenty of room.

"When was your last injection?" The odd-looking alien asked. It was clear to see that the armed guards next to him were ready to vaporise the woman should her answer be in anyway unsatisfactory.

"And a good day to you too," Lantra said with a beaming smile. No matter how difficult things got, the Tarellian always managed to find a reason to be happy. Being infected with a deadly plague did give the woman a unique perspective on life. Hers as well as that of those around her. With uncanny confidence, the trader stepped down the transporter platform. All eyes were on her, and as much s she wanted to believe that it was because of her looks, she knew better.

This had not been her first trip to HENDAL and she knew exactly how far she could push. This was a game of balance between the reputations of the station against her own. Killing a known and respected trader without cause would seal the station's fate. If Lantra pushed too far, her own fate would be equally sealed.

"Here," the woman said still smiling, presenting the injector she carried with her. This had not been the first time the question was asked of her and it certainly would not be the last. This was why the injector had been modified to display the time elapsed since the last time it was used.

Some might have argued that Lantra could have falsified this. She could have tempered with the display or injected someone else. The chemical agent meant to keep the plague she carried at bay being harmless to non-Terallians. As simple as both of those options were, it was generally accepted that the trader would not act in such a manner. Doing so would instantly undo her hard earned reputation with something as trivial as skipping an injection.

"Welcome back to HENDAL," the odd-looking alien said. With a nod of his head, he gave the all clear to the others. Despite this, neither of the armed guards appeared to be in a rush to let go of their sidearm.  "We hope that your stay here will be a profitable one."

"It always is sweetie," she teased, adding the gesture of a kiss. As innocent as the whole thing was, it made all three aliens take a step back. The reputation of the trader known as Lantra Tolembra remained, as it had always been, inspiring both fear and respect, just as the Tarellian liked it.

Setting: HENDAL Cloaked Trade Station, Bistro
Stardate: 32022.1900

It had been three days since the Tarellian had come to this trade station, and during that time, she had spoken to several dozen people, getting closer to her final objective with each conversation and trade. In order to insure that she would not be flagged as a threat or a fake, the process had been painstakingly slow, but in the end, it had all been worthwhile. All that Lantra had to do now was to wait for him to show up, so that they could share a drink and talk.

"You have been busy Lantra," a Ferengi said through his crooked pointy teeth as he sat across the small table where the Tarellian trader had been waiting. "Those who may still believe that females are incapable of earning profit would find it hard to argue the fact that you have done quite well since your arrival here, acquiring more profits than many would be able to make in a lifetime."

"Pron," the woman smiled. As much as she might have hated the fact that he of all people had decided to come and join her now, Lantra had never been one to let any circumstance get in the way of her good mood. In fact, like many Ferengi, she saw everything as an opportunity, and this was no different. "I am surprised that you allowed those two green-haired Nylaan slave girls to let go of your lobs. As I recall, they have quite a reputation in being able to please even the most demanding of costumers, like yourself."

"They are good," the Ferengi merchant said, almost drooling as he did so, "but you are selling yourself short my dear. Spending any time with you is far more pleasurable."

"You mean profitable," Lantra corrected, having produced a strip of latinum that she began to twirl between her fingers in such a way that the Ferengi appeared to be falling into some sort of a trance.

"You know me too well," Pron said, his daze growing deeper with each passing second. "I am here to make you an offer on the items that you have acquired in your last trade. I am willing to pay handsomely for all 150 crates."

"Pron," Lantra began her voice as sweet as freshly gold-pressed latinum. "You know that I admire you and those profit seeking lobs of yours. I will openly admit for all to hear that you are a credit to your people as well as a ruthless trader, but I am sorry. I cannot trade those items to you as I have already promised them to someone else."

"Every man has his price," the Ferengi said, quoting Rule of Acquisition number 98.

"A deal is a deal," the Tarellian countered as she smiled, using Rule of Acquisition number 16 to state her point and remind Pron that she was well versed in both the rules and ways of his people.

"The bigger the smile, the sharper the knife," the Ferengi merchant concluded with, shaking his head knowing that he would never be able to win against Lantra. Her expertise in trades was legendary, but her skill in handling a Ferengi had been notoriously proven time and time again, hence why he thought it best to not even try more than he had. His time would be better served elsewhere, either earning him some profit or enjoy the delicate and expert hands of the two women he had left behind not that long ago.

"May I, at the very least, ask who you intend to trade those crates to?" Pron inquired. "Maybe I could convince him to pass them on, after of course I make it worth his while."

"I doubt that he will be interested," a well-dressed businessman said as he came to stand right next to the sitting Ferengi. The calm and controlled voice alone would have been enough to startle Pron, but to have the man so suddenly appear out of nowhere caused the Ferengi to actually fall out of his chair. The moment he looked up to see who had caused him to find his way onto the bistro's floor, the large-eared merchant froze for a few moments before scampering away as if his own life had been at risk.

The tall Nylaan man watched with silent amusement as the Ferengi did everything in his power to make a hasty retreat while being unable to bring his feet under him.  Once Pron was far enough away for his liking, the latest arrival reached down for the chair and returned it to its proper place and position, this without actually sitting on it.

"I believe that you have something for me," Ju'Dar, a well-known and respected merchant from NYLA IV said, the man radiating power and influence like none other as he stood on the other side of the table where Lantra was. "Normally I would not have given your message a second thought, but since I was already here on HANDEL, I figured that I might as well meet this famous woman that I have heard so much about since even before my arrival. In addition, I will admit that I found the specific details as to the content of these crates to be most intriguing I just hope for both our sakes that this will not be a waste of time."

"I promise you," the Tarellian said as an invitingly and sensual smile came to dance on her lips. "This will be a most profitable trade for the both of us. Please, join me for a drink. I will not take too much of your precious time, but it will make it easier if you sit."

Impressed by the woman's style, the Nylaan merchant complied and took the chair that had been previously occupied by the Ferengi who was nowhere to be seen. 

"How did you manage to procure not one, but 150 of these crates?" Ju'Dar inquired.

Lantra smiled. "It was not easy, that I can honestly admit. It took quite a bit of time, and some fancy trading, but in the end, I was able to secure the entire lot from a certain Kressari merchant who hoped to sell them to the Cardassians. I was able to point out the error of his thinking by indicating the potential problems the content of those crates would created within the Union by drawing far more attention than they would likely want. I also happened to have a copy of a report from the Obsidian Order regarding those very crates, a report that made it clear his own life might be at risk if he proceeded with his plans."

"Smart and ruthless," Ju'Dar said. "Your reputation appears to be well earned. My guess is that these crates are not here on HENDAL but rather somewhere safe."

"It would not have been either smart or ruthless to have these crates here," the Tarellian joyfully confirmed. "No, there are elsewhere, safe, out of sight from curious eyes and out of reach of wandering fingers. That is until my price is met, then I will be more than happy to provide the lucky new owner with the location of the crates." Lantra explained as she slid a small data display device towards the Nylaan merchant."

"Surely you are not serious?" Ju'Dar gasped as he read the amount that would secure the transfer of the crates and their contents to him. "That is enough to purchase a full planetary kingdom."

"Or to insure that said planetary kingdom would never again fear behind attacked," the Tarellian woman corrected with a grin. "Whoever controls them would control whatever kingdom or planet they choose."

It was easy to see that Ju'Dar was finding the price to be more than a little steep, but the sales pitch offered by Lantra left him considering the opportunity that he was being offered. "Why me?" the Nylaan inquired. "Your fortune would be made whoever you sold these to, so again I ask you, why me?"

The tone of the question was harsh, demanding, untrusting. In order to secure this trade, which the agent instinctively knew needed to happen, Lantra would need to carefully select her next words.

"All of the major powers in this part of the galaxy would not have a clue as to how to use them properly and would squander them," the Tarellian explained with a certitude that gave that much more credibility to her statement. "The Federation would study them, the Klingons would hate them, and the Romulans would try to dissect them. As for the others, the Breen would lock them away never to be seen, the Gorn would not have a clue as to what to do with them and the Ferengi would try to sell them as individual units to maximize their profit margin. No, the crates have the potential of reshaping more than a single world if used properly, and insure that said world gains its rightful place in the galaxy."

"I can think of several other worlds that could fall into the same category," Ju'Dar said, still not entirely convinced as to why the Tarellian merchant had selected him over so many other potential candidates for the crates.

"Things on NYLA IV are not going as smoothly as most are led to believe," Lantra further explained. "The rumors of trouble within the Imperial Palace have still managed to make their way beyond the planet and those who care to listen have already begun to position themselves to pick at whatever will remain once the High Sovereign loses power. Those who want to claim the throne are being very short-sighted and their lack of vision will most certainly plunge the entire planet into ruins and chaos."

The Tarellian paused for a moment, letting her words sink in for the man to process, and judging by the expression on the Nylaan's face, that is exactly what was happening.

"Now, those crates could not only insure the continued prosperity of NYLA IV but further secure the current ruler's position for decades to come. Once the internal squabbles have been dealt with, he would be able to use the content of these crates to engrave his name not only in the history books of his world, but of the entire New Ferengi Alliance and beyond."

"Why not offer these crates directly to the High Sovereign?" Ju'Dar inquired, the man being just as suspicious as the Tarellian had expected him to be.

"It is a well known fact that the High Sovereign is not all that trusting of outsiders, especially those that he cannot marry off one of his daughters to," Lantra replied with a chuckle. "Aside from being far more receptive to being offered this from his own people, the reward that would be offered would be an ill fit for anyone other than a Nylaan. Lastly, the timing is wrong."

"What do you mean?" The Nylaan asked, his interest having been secured. All that the Tarellian needed to do now was to close the deal.

"There needs to be in a situation where the full potential of these crates will be realized. Right now, they would be a novelty without true purpose. If the rumors about his son Ya'Kun are even remotely true, things will come to pass that will make the ruler of NYLA IV better appreciate what he is being offered. The problem for me, before you ask, is that I cannot wait that long, and even if I could, by then it would be too late. With the crates in your possession, you would be able to offer them to your High Sovereign at the most opportune time, thus securing your wealth and status in the Imperial government."

Lantra remained silent as she watched the gears in the man's head spinning increasingly faster with each passing moment. Essentially the trade was done; all that remained was for Ju'Dar to actually realize that this had already been a done deal.

"Very well, I will have the specified amount transferred to your account before the end of the day," the Nylaan announced, a mixture of grateful anticipation and nervous concerns echoing in his voice.

"As a show of good faith, I will tell you where the crates are currently located," Lantra said, the woman appearing as happy as could be. "They are in a secured cargo hold on the ZOLA trade station. Once I have confirmed that the payment was made, I will sent you the specific location as well as the access code to gain access to the cargo hold."

"You are being remarkably trusting," Ju'Dar said, still holding on to his general distrust.

"And you are paying me quite a lot, but as promised, this is a deal that will prove to be most profitable for the both of us."

Rachel Jackie Johnson

Intel Operative

[The fun is getting to wear multiple disguises and getting to explore multiple personalities and bring them to life. Jenna Fischer]
STDH-SOLO: Gemma-P004 ("Za'Ran, The Shadow")
"Za'Ran, The Shadow"

Setting: NYLA IV, Imperial Marketplace
Stardate: 32031.1600

As a black-haired Nylaan, it had been easy to follow Ju'Dar back to NYLA IV and confirm that the merchandise he had acquired from the Tarellian trader Lantra Tolembra had arrived to the Imperial Palace as intended. As great as the threat of 150 reprogrammed Imperian soldiers could be, it had been decided that these single minded machines would pose less of a problem to everyone if they were under the control of the High Sovereign of this world. Instead of using them as a nearly unstoppable conquering force, the planetary ruler would use the simple presence of these formidable mechanical beings to stabilize the political uncertainty that had developed around him.

The worst that could happen was that the High Sovereign would use the robotic killing machines to weed out those around him who had pledge allegiance to his power hungry son, but that would be the end of it. The Imperians would remain on NYLA IV and not prove to be more of a headache to the other powers in the galaxy, at least not for the time being.  With that task accomplished, Za'Ran ventured into the marketplace, the darkness of her hair making her nearly invisible to anyone else.

The social divide between the classes, in this case people displaying different colors of hair, was impossible to miss. Those who had earned the right to display the white of the medical field or the blue of sciences were welcomed with just as much pride as they themselves displayed. Those with the red hair of the military trained forces were given as much room as they required, no one wishing to have an unfortunate run-in with them. This left the entertainers with their green hair, most of them being looked upon as a tradable commodity rather than individuals. Then there were those with black hair, the outcast of this society, people who did not deserve to be acknowledged as even being there. For any of them, their inability to learn the requirements of any of the other colors would forever banish them to the lowest rank and the most undesired of jobs.

As an insignificant member of this group of outcast, Za'Ran could walk about without attracting any attention, everyone around her more than happy to ignore the fact that she was even there in the first place. The casual pace that the Nylaan commoner kept came to a sudden stop when she noticed an unusual sight. Despite the individual wearing a hood over his head, the attentive woman had managed to recognize him the moment his face had come into view.  What was a member of the Tal'Shiar doing here on NYLA IV?

Although she had never actually met the man, his face and name were known to her, the Intel reports having placed the agent within Ferengi space. Some believed that he was on special assignment, gathering information on every aspects of this part of the galaxy. Others on the other hand believed that the mid-level Tal'Shiar operative had been sent here as a punishment for not having achieved to the expectations of his superior.  The problem was that with him here, there was now a possibility for the Romulan Intelligence Organization to become aware of the 150 Imperians now on this planet. Should these murderous robots somehow manage to fall under Romulan control, no one would be safe.

The situation called for rapid action, and with the Nylaan woman being far more than her hair color hinted her to be, this would be easy. After having located the nearest military trained man, one who fortunately appeared to be the type to snap people in half for no other reason than because he could, the plan was initiated. Za'Ran dashed towards the red-haired man, making sure to impact squarely against him as she drove the heel of her shoe into his foot.  The expected reaction was instantaneous leaving the black-haired woman to put the second part of her plan into motion.

With the angered military man behind her, Za'Ran took a straight line towards the cloaked Romulan operative. As an operative herself, she knew that he would not want to be openly exposed for who he was, and the Nylaan expected that he would have a way to leave at a moment's notice. After all, that was standard practice for any operatives of the Tal'Shiar.

She bowled the man over, her accumulated momentum easily knocking the distracted Romulan agent clean off his feet. Of course, she made sure to land directly on top of him, insuring that he would not be able to easily escape and cancel her plan. She needed him to be left with only one option, and the rushing muscular redhead would make sure of that.

"Get off of me," the Romulan said, the hood of his cloak having been pull off during the struggle. Normally he would have been more than able to push the woman clear off of him, but she held on with a strength that seemed well out of place for a woman her size. At first he believed this to be from some sort of high-end training, but when he saw the man chasing her, the operative understood that her above-average strength had been nothing more than fear-induced.

"YOU! Keep that black-haired wench down," the military trained Nylaan yelled, being only a few steps away. "I will rip her head clear off her shoulders for what she did."

Za'Ran pleaded as only a woman could, her eyes opened to heir widest as fear engraved itself onto her face. Her life would be forfeit the moment the other man would get a hold of her, but more important was that in doing so he would get a good look at the individual to whom she was so desperately holding on to.

"Please, help me," she added, easily managing to let several tears flow from her eyes to confirm the extent of her fear and wish to survive. "I will do anything you ask."

The Tal'Shiar agent was left with very few options, not having the time to struggle with the terrified woman currently on top of him and certainly not wishing to be seen by the enraged muscled mass military man.  Just as the fiery haired man was about to grab the woman clenching onto him, the Romulan initiated a remote transport sequence, taking him and the woman out of harm's way as well as vanishing from the curious eyes that hd fallen upon them.

Setting: Cloaked Romulan Ship in orbit of NYLA IV
Stardate: 32031.1710

It had been almost an hour since the two of them had beamed aboard the ship, but yet the Tal'Shiar agent had not said a single word to her. Za'Ran had profusely tahnked the man for having rescued her, saving her life in the process, but she knew that pushing to much right now might not work in her favor. So instead, the black-haired Nylaan remained quiet, making herself as small as possible while the operative walked to and from every section of his ship trying to figure out what he would do next.

It was a likely possibility that he would simply kill her for having forced him to return to his ship ahead of whatever schedule he had set for himself. Had the roles been reversed, she knew that the thought would have been in her mind. Because of this Za'Ran had to act and tip the balance back in her favor, luckily for her she clearly remembered the details of the Intel file concerning the mid-level Tal'Shiar Operative.

"I know that I have said this before, but I wanted to thank you for saving my life," the Nylaan said, her voice sounding very much like that of the seductress Neri. Although she could never hope to be as successful in charming others as the Bolian / Hybrid was, Za'Ran did hope that she would be good enough to at last make the Romulan think twice before lightening the load on board his cloaked ship. "I also wanted to thank you for having permitted me to see my world like this," she added while looking out the nearest window. "Working for the High Sovereign's aid may sound like a prestigious job, but I rarely get to see the outside of the Imperial Palace, let alone the stars above it."

"You work for Ze'Kon?"

Za'Ran held back the smile that threatened to burst out. This had been almost too easy. Evidently he knew of the political hierarchy of NYLA IV, but his reaction hinted that his knowledge was limited beyond that, a fact that pleased the currently black haired woman.

"Work sounds a little presumptuous," the Nylaan meekly said. "I am at his service and he has made it clear that I am of little importance to him, that my life is worth nothing, this despite all of the work cleaning and preparing his office for whatever meetings he might have with dignitaries from various other worlds. I guess with what happened today, I don't even have that."

She knew that tears would not affect the Romulan in any way, but the absence of any waterworks at this precise point might raise suspicions as to the genuine feelings of despair the Nylaan was portraying. Za'Ran held back falling to her knees and making this into a dramatic performance that would have caused most to share in her grief, but for a Tal'Shiar agent, any show of strength, however small it might be, would actually play in her favor.

"Come with me," the Romulan operative said, visibly unhappy by the way the mission had turned out. Za'Ran complied, sniffing back her tears for good measure as she sheepishly followed. "You can stay in this room until I can figure out what to do with you."

Again she held back her smile. The fact that he had not killed her on the stop, or escorted her to the nearest airlock meant that she had succeeded in the first stage of her plan. Now, she needed to solidify her situation, making sure that he would not be given any reason to dispose of her.

Setting: Cloaked Romulan Ship, Secondary Quarters
Stardate: 32038.0600

It had been seven days since she had come on board the Romulan cloaked ship, and Za'Ran continued to try her best to thank her rescuer for what he had done as well as sparing her life afterwards. More than once he could have killed her and be done with this entire mess, but she had managed to keep his interest by allowing certain bit of information slip as they talked. Nothing classified had been given, but what the Nylaan woman had been able to offer proved sufficient to secure her stay for another day.

Patience was her one and only weapon at this point. Trying to find a way off this ship or even gaining access to any of the controls would break her cover, and right now it was best for her to continue playing the helpless and innocent black-haired Nylaan commoner.

As she had done the last six morning, Za'Ran prepared Rokel breakfast, the Romulan Tal'Shiar Operative having revealed his name after growing tired of being referred to as 'Master', 'Lord' or 'Most gracious one.' The first few attempts at this first meal of the day had been beyond pathetic, the Romulan not going beyond the first bite, but as the days passed, so did the quality of the food being prepared.

Had she made a perfect Romulan Omelette on he first day, Rokel would have immediately questioned how this was possible likely without given the woman the chance to offer any sort of explanation. This way, the operative could accept that through practice she had become more accustomed to the nuances of preparing the food of his world.

With her access to the rest of the ship restricted, Za'Ran had to accomplish everything from the quarters that she had been given. As small as they might have been, they proved to be more than sufficient to allow her to have several self-heating pots. At first Rokel had pointed out that the food dispensers provided much more palatable selections, but by the third day the Romulan had begun to accept the home-made meals with increased enthusiasm. The fact that she refused to give up and appeared to be dedicating her every breaths and actions to pleasing him had begun to affect the way he looked at her.

The more he saw her as possessing even the slightest use, she would be able to remain aboard and carry out her self-appointed mission to discover what Rokel and the Tal'Shiar knew about the Imperian soldiers, the world of NYLA IV and Ferengi controlled space in general.

Setting: Cloaked Romulan Ship, Primary Quarters
Stardate: 32038.2000

Another two days abord the Romulan cloaked vessel, but now Za'Ran was no longer restricted to her quarters. She might not have free access to the ship, but that did not bother her in the least. She was more than happy to follow Rokel like an obedient shadow, never leaving his side. At first, he would suspect that the Nylaan was up to something when she stopped touching him, this even for a few seconds, but over the last two days he had grown accustomed to her constant presence by his side.

This had evolved so much so that tonight she would not be returning to her quarters to be locked away like an animal. Tonight she would spend the night with him, Rokel confident that she could not do anything beyond keeping him company.

"Tomorrow we will be back inside Romulan space," he announced, a mixture of joy and sadness in his voice. "I will finally be able to disengage the cloaking device and increase our speed to this ship's maximum potential."

"Are you taking me back to ROMULUS?" Za'Ran asked with the expectations of a child during the holidays clearly present in her voice. "Will you be showing me the Jeweled Forest of Ath'reshaar or the Firefalls of Gal'Gathong? The way you mentioned them, I can just imagine how breathtaking those places are."

"I am not taking you to ROMULUS," Rokel said, his words laced with anger. "You will not set foot off this ship, ever!"

"I am sorry," the woman quickly said, lowering her head as any black-haired Nylaan commoner would do when they believed something wrong had been done or said. In most cases, this was also an acceptance of their guilt and an offering of their lives as compensation. "Your kindnesses towards me made me forget who and what I am. I am grateful for all that you have done for me, for all that you have given me and all of the wonders you have shared with me. You have made me feel like I never thoughts possible, and instead of gratitude I am here asking for me. Please, forgive me."

"It's not you," the Romulan operative reluctantly said. "I do not have the freedom to return to ROMULUS and certain am not able to allow you to just go prancing around. I have to return to my base of operation to report in with what I have discovered while inside Ferengi space, which is not much. After that, it will all depend on what my next orders will be.  While I am there, you will remain here, in your quarters, out of the way."

"Of course," Za'Ran complied without hesitation. Even being hidden inside a ship docked at any of the Tal'Shiar's remote base of operations would be something that few others could claim.  "Before we arrive though, I hope that you will allow me to properly thank you for all that you have done for me."

Like the shadow she had silently sworn to become, Za'Ran wrapped herself around Rokel, enveloping his body with hers. As a Nylaan she might not have been able to display the green hair of a skilled entertainer, but as a woman she did possess skills that no man, no matter his species, could honestly resist. This would further seal their situation, making him that much more willing to keep her by his side and for her to carry on with the mission she had found herself in the middle of.

Rachel Jackie Johnson

Intel Operative

[The fun is getting to wear multiple disguises and getting to explore multiple personalities and bring them to life. Jenna Fischer]
STDH-SOLO: Gemma-P005 ("Anya, The Rage")
"Anya, The Rage"

Setting: Barolian Trade Outpost, Outside Outer Limits
Stardate: 32076.1100

After over a month of time spent together traveling to every corner of the Romluan Star Empire, Za'Ran and Rokel had grown close, very close. His initial uncertainty and distrust of her had gradually melted away. So much so that the Romulan actually started to develop feelings for the black-haired Nylaan. At the beginning, she was restricted to the secondary quarters on board his ship. Over time though she started spending the greater majority of her days and nights in his quarters. One day. she was permitted to step off the ship and accompany him like the shadow she had been while on the ship.

Today would be another of those days. Rokel had received orders from the administrative body of the Tal'Shiar that brought him to this place. A small, out of the way trade outpost located on the surface of some second-rate world. The planetoid was occasionally visited by the Romulans to insure that everyone understood who was still in charge of them.

According to the orders received, something was going on with one of the Barolian merchants. Through actions and public commentaries the man had raised enough proverbial dust to require a closer inspection. Being that the task was simple and relatively unimportant, the Romulan Intelligence agency dispatched a single agent.  Since he was not one of their top operatives Rokel was selected for this particular mission. His skill set considered to be more than enough to see this investigation be a fruitful one.

Not truly trusting the seedy environment they found themselves in, Rokel decided to bring his companion along. At least that way he would be able to protect her should something unexpected happened. Also, the black-haired Nylaan might prove to be a useful distraction as he went on with his investigation.  Of course Za'Ran did not object to this, accepting without hesitation. Every chance to leave the condiment of the cramp little scout ship was a good one, no matter the reason.

The cloaked vessel landed well out of sight of the trade outpost forcing the duo to walk the five or so kilometers to reach the outpost. As demanding as the terrain proved to be, neither traveller complained. In fact, they appeared rather happy with being able to stretch their legs in the company of the other.

"You weren't kidding when you said that this place was a dump," Za'Ran said. From their location atop a small hill, the whole of the trade outpost was clearly visible.

"This is not one of the primary worlds of the Empire," Rokel explained. "Places like these are where we come to get the required resources. Those who live here are pretty much left to their own things. That is of course as long as they do not attempt anything against the Romulan Empire or its people."

"From what you are saying, this place should feel very familiar to me." As the black-haired Nylaan looked up into the eyes of the Romulan operative, he understood what she meant. Those of her people with the same color hair were in many ways very much like these people. Outcasts from the system they helped build with their own sweat and blood. Alas, this was a reality that was common throughout the galaxy. Beyond that, neither one of them had the power or resources to do anything about it.

"Come, and stay close to me. People who live in places such as these do not like people like me," he quietly said. "With you by my said, I will be able to claim we are simple civilian travellers. This should help lessen the impact of our arrival and even permit me to ask a few questions."

"You have nothing to worry about me," Za'Ran said, beaming a smile up at the man by her side. "I know my place, and know to keep quiet."

"I trust you," Rokel said without hesitation. "It's the people we are about to meet over there that I am more concerned about. I don't want you to get hurt, but I still have to complete the mission I was given. Since my failure on your home planet, the Chairman has not been overly happy with me."

"I am so sorry about that," the Nylaan said, the sound of her voice hinting that tears were not far behind.

"Stop that," the Romulan ordered. "We have gone through this many times already. It was not your fault. I should have been more alert while there. I was distracted and failed in my mission. As bad as things might have been because of that, I cannot complain. You have been by my side since and I do not regret anything."

"You are too sweet," she smiled, tightening her hold on his arm as they resumed their walk to the outpost.

Setting: Barolian Trade Outpost, Main Street
Stardate: 32076.1300

The outpost could not have counted more than 30 buildings, all of them being no taller than two-levels. At first glance, they all seemed to be in disrepair, and those living here clearly did not care. What they did care about though was the two newcomers now walking down their largest street.

"Remember, stay close to me," Rokel said to his companion. Even before the words had left his lips, the hold of Za'Ran on his arm had greatly intensified. If he was nervous about being here, she was terrified. "There," he said pointing to what appeared to be some sort of bar. "That is where we need to go," he whispered, his shadow closer than she had been since their landing.

"What do you want?" A scruffy looking Barolian demanded as he stepped in their path. The man appeared as if he had not showered in months. The pungent smell coming from him all but confirmed it.

"We are just travelers needing a place to rest," Rokel said, actually grateful for the display of fear coming from Za'Ran. No Romulan soldier, let alone an operative of the Tal'Shiar, would ever put on such a show. Mission or no mission, they were too proud to even fake showing any sort of fear.  "As soon as we have gathered some supplies, we will be on our way."

"Do we look like we have supplies to sell?" Another Barolian said, appearing from behind the first. Unlike his smelly comrade, the second man appeared very interested in the black haired woman. "That said though, I think I might be able to get you something to trade for her."

The situation had gone from bad to worse faster than Rokel could have ever anticipated. He knew that there might be some problems, but he hoped that they would have happened after. Maybe bringing Za'Ran with him had been a mistake, one that he needed to fix before it was too late.

"We don't want any trouble," the Romulan said, making sure that his words sounded as if spoken by a mere civilian. "Please, all we want is to rest. If you have no supplies, then we will be happy to leave. Please, we have nothing of any real worth."

"Don't sell you little girlfriend here short," the second Barolian said, the back of his hand caressing the woman's soft cheek. "I recognize her, she's Nylaan. Bet she'd fetch a nice price on the slave market. Too bad she does not have green hair; we could have some real fun with her first."

"Nothing is stopping us from having fun anyway," the first Boralian said. Before either Rokel or Za'Kan could say something, they were pulled into a nearby alley. It was clear to see that any effort to hide his true skills would not be successful. Without any other choice, the Romulan operative straightened his posture and introduced himself as whom he really was. The first two punches stunned the first aggressor, but not enough to take him out of the fight.

In the meantime, the second Boralian had already ripped a fair piece of clothing from the shoulders of the Nylaan. Her cries for help only made him that much more determined to break the innocent looking woman. At least that was until he backhanded her across the face. When that happened, something in her changed, something that he could never have expected.

"Ever been told that it is not polite to hit a woman?" She quietly hissed, looking back at the man who had just struck her.

The once solid straight black hair gave way to softer, curlier brown locks. The innocent eyes of the Nylaan were, in the span of a single second, replaced by colder, darker narrowed eyes. By the time the transformation was complete, the woman looking back at the Barolian appeared beyond angry. More important was the fact that she radiated an aura of a predator, and not of the victim he thought her to be.

"Let's see how you like being on the other side," the woman said. Oddly enough, her voice sounded Russian, not that the Boralian would have noticed. What he did notice though was the strength and speed of the now red haired woman lounging at him. With a few well-placed hit, she managed to force him to his knees. Before the second aggressor could even figure out what was happening, the blade that had been on his belt could now be found in the middle of his chest.

He looked up with his last breath into the fiery eyes of the deadly woman standing in front of him. There was no time for an apology, not that he would have given one. All he could do was to pass into the cold darkness of oblivion wondering who this mysterious woman really was.

That very same question was echoed by Rokel who had managed to break free of his fight. He had hoped to find the Nylaan still alive, but instead he discovered a redhead with the skills of an assassin.

"Who are you?" The Romulan operative demanded, feeling confused and betrayed. Had she been lying to him all this time? Had he been such a failure as a Tal'Shiar agent that he had not seen her for who she really was?

The persona of Gemme started to reassert itself, red hair giving way to the wavy brown that the Borilian had seen earlier. The transformation was sure to further confuse him, but it needed to happen if she was going to be honest with him. That thought alone proved to be an alien one to the SFI operative. Honesty had never been a usual tool in her impressive arsenal. Somehow though, he had made an impression on Za'Ran and for that Gemma believed that he deserved the truth.

"I am..."

Those were the only words she was able to speak before the first Borallian thrusted his own blade into the back of Rokel. The strength of the strike proved enough to force the man's chest forward. A grim understanding washed over his face as the Romulan realized what had happened. So much in a rush to save his companion that he had failed to kill the other attacker. His own feelings for a woman who was not whom he believed her to be would be his undoing.

As life drained from Rokel, so did the persona of Gemma from the woman standing several meters from him. This was not the first time she dealt with death, but somehow it felt far more personal than ever before.  As the blade was pulled out of the Romulan's body, allowing him to fall lifeless to the ground, the huntress reappeared. If Anya Petrove was angry before, she would now give a new definition to 'living rage'.

The first Barolian tried his best to prepare for the woman's attack. Whoever she was, she had managed to kill his friend. Likely she had gotten a lucky shot in, something that he was not ready to give her a chance to repeat. What the alien attacker failed to understand was that the Russian woman before him needed no special favor or opportunity to achieve her goal.

With a speed that could never have been expected, the redhead leaped through the air as if to jump over the Barolian. By the time she landed on the other side of him, both his blade and that of his friend had found their mark on his back.  Following a few seconds during which he tried to understand what had happened, he collapsed forward. Now he shared both the confusion and death of his friend, granted to them by the same unknown woman.

With each heartbeat that followed, the assassin withdrew back into the mind of the SFI operative. Seconds later, Gemma herself was replaced as her eyes fell onto the lifeless form of Rokel. Sadness was not something that either Anya or Gemma could feel, but Za'Ran was not immune to that sentiment.

Sobbing over the man's dead body, the black haired Nylaan begged for his forgiveness. The blade of the first Barolian had found his heart, so he would never be able to grant her wish. The best she could do was to grant him a peaceful final rest. Hopefully, in whatever world stood on the other side of this one, he would remember her as he had come to know her. Has he had come to love her.

Setting: Barolian Trade Outpost, Outside Outer Limits
Stardate: 32076.1600

Standing at the top of the small hill, her eyes still stained by tears, the Russian redhead glanced over her shoulder at the outpost. Every single building was aflame and the streets were now littered with burning bodies. Her rage had consumed this place, the light of which would stand as a monument for the two souls she was now leaving behind.

Rokel and Za'Ran would be remembered by Anya. This was the only thing she could offer to the lovers whose lives had been brought to an end far too soon. Maybe in another place, in another time, one of them would be encountered once again. For now thought, the Romulan man and Nylaan woman deserved the rest that only their death could bring.

With nothing holding her back to this forsaken place, Anya made her way back to the cloaked scout ship. Maybe out there she would find a reason for her being here. Maybe she would be able to make some good come from the all encompassing sadness that the Russian woman was now leaving in her trail. Maybe, just maybe, something good could come out of all this if she looked hard enough.

Rachel Jackie Johnson

Intel Operative

[The fun is getting to wear multiple disguises and getting to explore multiple personalities and bring them to life. Jenna Fischer]
STDH-SOLO: Gemma-P006 ("Ema, The Guilt")
"Ema, The Guilt"

Setting: Uncloaked Romulan Ship, Flight Deck
Stardate: 32177.0500

The dual suns rose over the horizon once again, casting their light and warmth over the land and flourishing vegetation that provided shelter and camouflage for the small ship and its single occupant. Today would not be like the previous 100 days though, this fresh morning marking the end of the Oltharian ceremony of remembrance that the Warrior Priestess had solemnly observed. This was a very small act of penance meant to honor those who had lost their lives due to the rage of a single, heartbroken woman.

Although Anya had not made her presence felt since the destruction of the Barolian trade outpost and the death of all those who called it home, the result of her actions then could still be felt now, especially by Ema who believed beyond everything else that all life was sacred. That was partially the reason why the small Romulan scout ship was brought here, the main reason being to allow for the shock of the massacre to fade into past unchallenged.

The Priestess did understand the pain that Anya experienced which led to her unleashing a furious firestorm that claimed everything in its devastating path. One man, whom the Huntress cared deeply for had perished, in part due to her own actions, or more lack thereof, but the price the Russian woman had demanded in payment for this affront was believed by the Oltharian to have been excessive to say the least.

No power in the universe could undo what had come to pass, those lives as well as the hopes and dreams they held dear were lost for all time. The ceremony of remembrance was not meant to call upon forces beyond understanding to undo what was done, but to provide the universe with an account that those lives had not vanished into nothingness. Someone, somewhere amongst the vastness of eternal space, would remember them and praise their lives so that the echoes of which could pass into the galactic eternity that surrounded them.

All of the candles that had been lit and maintained during the last 100 days were one by one carefully, respectfully, sorrowfully put out, save one. That specific candle, the only one onto which a name had been carved in, the only name that Anya Petrov cared to give of those who had met their end on that fateful day.  To honor him, the candle would not be disposed like the others, left on this world as a temporary marker for the life they represented. It would instead be kept here, aboard the vessel that had been his, a ship that like his heart; he had allowed a woman in. It was hoped that one day, the Nylaan commoner would return to this ship and claim the candle as a part of her present and future, just as much as the man had been a part of her past.

For now though, that one candle would be kept safe while the numerous others were given a new home, a resting place on this world to mark the prayers and memories each represented. This planet, which Ema discovered the name of in the ship's databanks to be UNJI, would become a sanctuary where the memories of those who had lost their lives could remain anchored to this reality.

Setting: UNJI, small forest clearance
Stardate: 32177.0600

Ema stood in a small clearing in the forest as she had done each day during the 100-day memorial, this time though she was in the middle of a circle created by the candles. The Priestess was motionless; a living statue communing with the universe, her head held high, her hands help low and opened to that same universe. As the Oltharian offered one final prayer, a small woodland creature appeared as it had done many times before. Following her arrival to this world, it had remained hidden for the first 22 days. On the 23rd day of seeing the same woman offering the same prayers though, the small quadruped decided to venture closer, allowing its curiosity to override its fears.

As she had done the last 78 times, Ema reached into her pocket and retrieved a small fruit that the on board replicator had provided. On that first day, as on all others that followed, the creature displayed an abundance of gratitude for the offering, devouring it immediately right there in front of the Priestess. In return, it gave the Oltharian some company as well as a confirmation in her beliefs of the sanctity of life no matter its shape or size.

Today would be different though. Every other day Ema would watch the endearing creature for a few minutes and return to the Romulan ship to continue with her meditations and prayers. Instead, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a hand full of small fruits which she gently deposited on the ground in front of the animal.  The Priestess said nothing as pair of small black eyes looked up at her, in confusion. As primitive as it might have been, it understood that something was different, that the routine it had become accustomed to would be no more.

Thus was the pattern of change in life throughout the universe. Nothing ever remained intact or untouched. People died, settlements burned, civilizations fell, suns grew dark and cold, and in time, even the universe itself would cease to exist. No matter what some might have hoped or wished for, this was a reality that none could escape, no matter who they were or believed to be.

Setting: Cloaked Romulan Ship, Flight Deck
Stardate: 32177.0900

Ema sat at the flight controls, wishing that the Varro pilot Dalra was here instead, the woman being far more qualified and experience in dealing with such tasks than the Priestess could ever hope to be. The Oltarian had been completely alone, with the exception of the small woodland creature for over 100 days, and today would not see this status change.

Sooner rather than later things would change as they always did, but for the time being Ema would be able to continue enjoying her tranquil solitude, contemplating events of the past and possibilities of the future.

Studying the star charts detailing the worlds in this region of space deep inside the borders of the Romulan Star Empire, the Oltharian realized for the first time just how out of place she was. As a member of the Religious Circle, Ema knew how fight and even how to take a life if it should be required to do so to protect others or herself, but being here still made her feel uncomfortable.

The Romulan Star Empire was not known for being kind, even to its own citizens, demanding a level of cunningness and ruthlessness from everyone simply to survive for another day. While in this region of space the innocent and quiet Za'Ran had Rokel to protect her, which he did to the best of his abilities until the bitter end. Anya required no one's protection to keep her safe as proven by the way she annihilated the Barolian trade outpost. The Russian Huntress being more than at home in this part of the universe.

Ema on the other hand, despite her knowledge and skill in combat felt very much out of place here. Although she did possess the raw skills and knowledge, the ability to use them at a moment's notice or even in a preemptive manner was simply not part of who she was. This meant that either the Priestess would have to find the quickest and safest possible route out of the Romulan Star Empire, or she would need to find a more suitable person to take her place at the controls of this ship.

Most would have opted to head for calmer and safer stars, but Ema had never been one to fear the darkness of the universe, be it found between the twinkling stars or buried deep inside the hearts of people. The true test of anyone's courage was in what they did when faced with adversity and the Warrior Priestess was not one to find excuses in order to take the easiest path. Therefore, she looked at the star charts once again and identified a world that she believed could benefit from her out of place views on life and the universe. Maybe there, wherever there would be, she would be able to guide someone onto a path that would ultimately save their lives or the life of someone else, unlike the ones she had spent 100 days honoring.

Setting: OSTROKRAL Space Station
Stardate: 32178.1330

The journey to this place was uneventful, but Ema knew that this would change the moment she set foot on the busy station. All kind of life could be found here, each looking more ferocious than the previous. There was no doubt that she could not turn her back to anyone while in this place, and that made the entire adventure that much more thrilling.

The woman had introduced herself as an Oltharian Priestess to the station's command and control personnel, her words immediately being acknowledged with amusement. Clearly not considering her to be a threat to anyone on OSTROKRAL, she was permitted to board, this after having been informed that she would be on her own should any problem arise.  Now on board the station, she understood why they had said this to her.

At first, her appearance and mannerism proved to be an odd curiosity for those already present on the station, but this soon changed as an increasing number of travelers and adventurers begin to see the Oltharian Priestess as someone they could abuse without any risks to themselves or anyone else.

Ema did her best to hold her ground each time she was approached and derogatory comments were made in her regards. Reminding herself that all life was sacred seemed to beckon more people to test her resolve and limits instead of making things easier. As determined as she was upon her arrival, the Priestess came to realise in a less than pleasant manner that this was not a place for someone like her. Even in the harshest of places, she would be able to find some hint of acceptance, but not here. While on OSTROKRAL the only thing she could hope to accomplish was to find her way out of here and back to some relative safety, alive.

In an effort to doing just that, the Priestess made her way down a less travelled corridor, very much aware that she was being followed by a couple of individuals whom she suspected did not have her continued well-being at heart. When she stopped walking, the two men following her saw the opportunity they had been hoping for and wasted no time in grabbing the frail looking alien.

To their complete surprise and shock, a Reman woman stood in her stead having somehow replaced the fair-skinned, bald-headed woman they had been following. A simple glare from Shinral was all that it took to have the two men realize how much of a mistake they had made and to retreat before the situation turned against them, more so than it already had.

Following the two men out of the shadow-filled corridor, the Reman woman filled her lungs with a deep breath and gazed at her surroundings, no one daring to look at her for more than a few seconds at a time. Poor Ema had truly been out of place here surrounded by people who cared for nothing more than their own pleasures and survival. For Shinral though, this environment suited her perfectly making her feel at home. A feeling that she had not experienced for quite some time and which she would do her best to enjoy while she could knowing that things always changed.

Rachel Jackie Johnson

Intel Operative

[The fun is getting to wear multiple disguises and getting to explore multiple personalities and bring them to life. Jenna Fischer]
STDH-SOLO: Gemma-P007 ("Shinral, The Bodyguard")
"Shinral, The Bodyguard"

Setting: OSTROKRAL Space Station, Bar
Stardate: 32180.1500

Over the last two days, the reputation of the Reman woman had clearly been made, everyone on the space station knowing who she was. Every time she got into a fight, every time someone fell on the wrong side of an argument with her, every time someone would question her physical abilities, Shinral would emerge victorious, and that without even breaking a sweat.  In a place like OSTROKRAL, such confrontations were hourly occurrences, but thanks to her undefeated record, the skilled warrior had earned the respect of the general crowd, hence why she sat alone at the table despite the establishment she was in being filled beyond capacity.

"Are you Shinral?" An aged Romulan man asked, joining the woman at her table without an invitation. The man's speech pattern was elegant, controlled with a hint of implied superiority, which easily translated into his mannerism. Even the way he sat hinted to him having a sizable amount of experience in dealings with locations that most of those here had never heard of or could ever be able to imagine.

"Who's asking?" The Reman coldly replied, glaring at the man now sitting across the small circular table.

"My name if Vrulad. I am a simple merchant who, while here on this station, is in search of good trade opportunities. I happened to hear of your prowess when in a pinch, and thought that I should investigate," he said, waving for a waitress to come over. "I will admit that I am most impressed by what I heard, and even more so by what I am seeing."

"Impressed because I am a Reman or because I am a female?" She asked, her voice not in any way reflecting the feeling of amazement the Romulan claimed to be experiencing.

The aged merchant laughed, so loud in fact, that he drew for a few seconds the attention of the majority of patrons in the establishment. "Both," Vrulad admitted, not in the least bit trying to hide his amusement. "Bring us a bottle of Tel'Ren Romulan ale," he instructed the waitress even before she reached the table.

Shinral narrowed her eyes, studying the man with far more interest than she had displayed before. The fact that she did not try to hide this only made it that much more intriguing to the Romulan merchant who simply allowed this scrutiny to proceed unhindered. This continued until the requested bottle unceremoniously landed on the table along with two empty drinking glasses.

"Are you satisfied? Found anything interesting?" The Romulan asked, smiling as he reached for the bottle and glasses to pour them each a drink.

"Actually, I am," Shinral replied nodding her head and accepting the glass filled with Romulan ale that her uninvited guest had just pushed across the table. "You are lying about who you are and why you are here," the Reman added in a whispered voice before downing the entire content of the glass in a single gulp.

"Why would you believe that I am lying to you?" The Romulan asked, appearing genuinely surprised by the statement.

Shinral glared at the man through narrowed eyes once again before reaching for the bottle and pouring herself another drink. "Tel'Ren ale is not the drink of a wandering merchant, only those born and raised on ROMULUS know of it well enough to ask it by name, which you did. Although your robes are indeed those of a merchant, they are too clean to be those of someone simply *wandering* about. In addition, your collar is too clean, too carefully maintained to be that of a merchant. Only men of importance would take that much care on something that actually serves no purpose in the business they do."  She paused for a brief moment, leaning back on her chair, holding her glass in her hands before resuming her analysis of the man's appearance. "Your confidence is also well out of place here, and the fact that the waitress did not hesitate to come and fetch the drink you requested indicates that she knows you well enough to fear you. I have yet to meet a waitress who fears a simple merchant as you claim to be, regardless of how well dress he may be beneath his robes." The Reman woman paused a second time as she downed the second drink just as easily as she did the first. "Now, as for you being here seeking trade opportunities, there is nothing of value here other than beaten and broken mercenaries."

"An interesting theory," Vrulad said, not at all appearing troubled by the woman's claims.

"It's not a theory," Shinral said with absolute certainty, allowing an evil grin to slowly form on her lips. "You beamed onto the station mere minutes after a Romulan D'Redex class cruiser arrived. That was hard to miss as everyone was talking about it. Since no other ships, not even a low-end transport has come even close to OSTROKRAL before and since, there is only one possibility as to how you came to being here. The fact that you reported to the station's C&C right after arriving again points to you not being the merchant you claim to be.  It was not very difficult to keep track of your movements once you where on board. Want more?"

The Romulan appeared more than willing to see as to what extent the Reman woman had gone to form this perception of who and what he was, so he happily invited her to continue with a smile and a gesture of his hand.

"The mark on your middle right-hand finger indicates that a ring was there not long ago, my guess is that it is the seal of the Imperial Senate and that you are here undercover," Shinral indicated, still using a softly spoken whispered voice not to attract any unwanted attention to the table or those sitting there. "The two Centurions standing by the door and trying to look inconspicuous while keeping an eye on you are also a huge clue that you are more than you want everyone else to believe you to be."

"Impressive," Vrulad said, appearing much more serious than he had mere seconds before, obviously having taken note of the woman's claims and observations. "Most impressive."

"I will admit that there is one thing that I cannot quite figure out, and that is why a member of the Imperial Senate came to such a Veruul infested place?"

"Would you believe that I am here looking for you?" The Romulan asked, leaning back into the chair. "More specifically, looking for someone *like* you. I am in need of a bodyguard, one that would be able to do the work without drawing too much attention. I overheard several people speaking about you and how you have managed to make your mark on more than one individual, some rather imposing, since your arrival here."

"Of course," Shinral grumbled, picking up the bottle once again to fill her glass, which she just as quickly emptied shortly after in a single gulp. "As a Reman female, your cover as a merchant would be easily maintained even if you truthfully claimed that I was working for you. Some might believe me to be nothing more than a slave, others might believe that your tastes in women fall on the more risky and exotic sorts, but in either case it would identify you as someone with money and power without revealing just how powerful you truly are. Anyone who might want to do you harm would also not consider a Reman female as an important variable in their efforts. The question is, why are you searching for someone like me?"

The two stared at each other for the longest time; each trying to size up the other to gage whom was the real person sitting across from them. Had Vrulad found who and what he had been searching for, and if so could she be trusted? On her side of the table, Shinral continued to consider the possible reasons that would explain the presence of a covert Romulan senator in such am unwelcoming place.

"What's in it for me?" The Reman eventually asked. If she gave him too much time to think, he might reconsider the offer, an offer that Shinral could see a great many benefits in accepting. As the bodyguard of a member of the Romulan Senate on some unstated covert mission, she would have access to areas and information that she could never have had otherwise. This was an excellent opportunity that the Intel Operative could not let slip between her fingers, but she could not afford to appear too eager either.

"A way off this station?" Vrulad replied laughing.

"I already have a ship," Shinral said to the disguised Romulan senator. As much as she wanted to take on this role and all of the opportunities it would offer, making it seem that she was too anxious might tip him off that something was not as it seemed. This of course would work against the Intel Operative currently appearing as a Reman woman.

"Not only do you have a keen eye and mind, but you are also a shrewd negotiator. Most would have jumped at the opportunity to leave this place with a 'wandering merchant' such as myself," the Romulan pointed out still sounding just as certain of himself as he was when he first walked into the bar.

"It would seem that neither one of us is exactly as we appear to be," the Reman woman said, knowing that the best way to hide a secret was to place it in plain sight. "You and I both know that you are more than a simple merchant, and I am more than a simple Reman female, so why expect these negotiations to unfold simply and normally?"

"A valid argument," Vrulad said, allowing his interest in the woman clearly show for the first time. "We might find some use for your ship. Of course, that depends on if you accept my offer and come work for me."

"I doubt that my Romulan Scout equipped with a cloaking device would be of any use to you given that you have access to a much larger and more powerful craft," Shintal said, not wanting to leave the craft behind as it offered her the perfect way to escape should unforeseen trouble come to pass.

"You have a Romulan Scout ship?" Vrulad demanded, his voice having gone far louder than he had wanted while his interest in the woman quickly changed to concern. For such a ship to be in the hands of a non-Romulan was already bad enough, but to have it under the control of a Reman would normally trigger swift and decisive military countermeasures.

"I found it near a burned down Barolian trade outpost," she explained, again knowing that the best way to hide a secret was to keep it as close to the truth as possible. "Since everyone was long dead by the time I arrived, I figured that there was no harm in claiming the ship as my own, especially given that I had no way off the planet. I went there searching for work and never expected to find everyone dead and burnt to a crisp. As useful as the cloaking device might be though, those scout ships do not have nearly enough firepower to be of any real threat and using them would only paint a very large target on the ship and myself. I was more than happy to just being able to move about without having to answer too many questions."

Vrulad stared down the Reman woman. The Romulan senator had indeed read about the destroyed Barolian trade outpost and the report of a low ranking Tal'Shiar operative found in the burnt ruins, his ship having somehow gone missing. Thanks to the admission he had just received, he not only knew what had happened to the ship but would be able to insure that it did not remain in the hands of someone other than the Romulan Star Empira. As unexpected as this discovery proved to be, the news had not been enough to make Shinral an unviable part of his plan. In fact, it served to the contrary, showing that she was smart enough to take advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves. Now all he needed to do was to make sure that she was not *too* smart to see the full range of his plans.

"I am sure we have ample room to accommodate your ship," Vrulad said, the concerns that appeared on his face having almost too quickly vanished. "That is if you are interested in accepting my offer. The offer of a simple wandering merchant looking for someone to stand by his side and keep him safe."

Shinral again took hold of the bottle and emptied what was left of its content into the two glasses before raising hers to offer a cheer that the Romulan man appeared happy to join in on. "To a fruitful partnership between a simple wandering Romulan merchant and a Reman female. May the universe see it wise to stay out of our way."

Rachel Jackie Johnson <>

Intel Operative

[The fun is getting to wear multiple disguises and getting to explore multiple personalities and bring them to life. Jenna Fischer]
STDH-SOLO: Tehala-P001 ("Prison of the Mind")
"Prison of the Mind"

Setting: Romulan Tal'Shiar Cruiser REVEK
Stardate: 33003.2200

The Tal'Shiar Sub-Commander stood on the command deck of the cloaked Romulan warbird, feeling perfectly at home unlike the retired Proconsul standing next to her. Without his bodyguard, the man appeared genuinely afraid, and Tehala rejoiced in understanding why. This was her domain, where she felt most at ease and where she truly excelled. Back on JDO-SHEN, she had been nothing more than a single operative, but here she was part of something greater than she was, an organization feared by all who knew the name.

"The latest sensor sweeps have confirmed our earlier reports. There are no other survivors other than you and Proconsul Makor. The only part of the base that survived the blast was the Command and Control Center where the two of you were. No anomalies or unexpected readings were found."

The report from the Romulan officer was specifically directed to Tehala who requested the thorough scan. The Tal'Shiar operative stated that she wanted to make sure that none of the treacherous Remans had escaped their fate. The truth was that the woman formerly known as Janeel wanted to make sure that everyone had made it out alive. The only thing that remained for her to do was to find a way to send a signal to the cloaked HATHOR to inform them that she had not perished in the explosion, as they all surely believed her to have. She also needed to make sure that the message was clear enough to ensure they did not try to go after her. Taking on the identity of Tehala was what the ILO wanted, but more importantly, it was what she needed.

"Perform a sensor sweep of the planet's orbit and then bring us back on course for ROMULUS," the Commanding Officer of the REVEK ordered, this being standard procedure for a cloaked Romulan vessel belonging to the Tal'Shiar.

"Respectfully request permission to perform the scan myself," the Romulan agent demanded, not trying to hide the anger she felt.

"Is there a specific reason why you are asking for this Sub-Commander?"

"There is," Tehala confirmed with assurance, turning to face full on the Commander. "As my report will show, my ship was destroyed shortly after my arrival at the training facility, an act that I perceived as an attempt on my life and which forced me to take charge. I am sure that former Proconsul Makor will testify to this as well as the fact that things were not as they should have been down there."

"I fail to see how this justifies your request."

Life on board a Romulan Tal'Shiar vessel would be very different from that of an Intel Starfleet ship, even one operating under the strict control of Admiral Koniki. Still, Janeel training and experience as an ILO would serve her well here, that the woman had no doubts. "Following the explosion, the internal sensors of the facility were disabled, so there was no way for me to confirm that no one escaped. I would like to make sure that none of the Remans managed to find their way to the landing platform and boarded one of the transport shuttles. I know exactly what I am looking for and claim the right to destroy them for their attempt on my life."

"I see that the council's report on you was very accurate and why they chose you to investigate JDO-SHEN," the Commander conceded. "You may proceed as you have requested."

Had the Commander of the Romulan ship agreed because he wanted to see her in action or because he feared what she might do should he refused? Either way, Tehala obtained the opportunity she needed; all that remained was for her to do what she wanted without revealing her previous identity or the presence of the Federation vessel in orbit with them.

The tactical officer relinquished his post without hesitation but remained close by in case his expertise would be required. His presence near the tracking station was also to ensure that nothing that might go against the Commander's wishes was being done without his knowledge. Of course, this would make Tehala's task that much more complicated, but to show any sign of discomfort would only raise suspicions.

"That is an odd configuration for the sensor frequency," the tactical officer noted not at all surprising the Tal'Shiar operative who would have held the officer accountable for not having noticed this.

"The Remans are known for modifying the shield frequency of whatever ships they are on to make them less likely to be detected. I know this because is it is part of the training they were given while on JDO-SHEN. If one of them did escape, it is expected that they would do everything possible to avoid being detected by our sensor sweep. I just want to be beyond certain they are not successful, no matter how hard they try."

The answer provided by the Sub-Commander appeared to be satisfactory, both the Commander and tactical officer nodding with acceptance of her explanation. Luckily for Janeel, she had reviewed some of the available files before Makor and she were beamed out of the Command and Control Center. It was a rule of thumb of all Intel operatives, no matter what organization they worked for, to gather as much information as possible no matter the situation.

With a little more room to work with, Tehala set up the sensors to create a particle wave that would, in theory, reveal the presence of a ship modified by the Remans by bouncing off their shields creating an echo that the sensors would easily pick up. If her efforts were as perfect as they needed to be, the HATHOR's shields would absorb this particle-wave allowing them to remain undetected by the REVEK. The difference in energy amplitude of the cloaked Federation vessel would also allow the added micro resonances to be detected and interpreted as they were meant to be; a short and simple message.

"Initiating sensor pulse," Tehala announced. Everything she did needed to be for all to see if she was to be accepted as one of them.

"No echoes detected," the tactical officer reported, looking over the Sub-Commander's shoulder. "We will need to perform this same pulse several more times in order to cover the entire planet's orbit as the range of this detection system is somewhat limited."

"As much as I appreciate your desire to be thorough, we are expected back at ROMULUS before the day's end," the Commander explained. "You can continue with the sensor pulses for a few minutes, if nothing is detected, we will leave orbit and return home."

"Thank you, Commander, I appreciate you indulging me with this," Tehala declared, returning to her instruments to silently confirm that the HATHOR had indeed been in the range of the first generated sensor pulse. 

Tiffany Reeve

Sub-Commander Tehala
Tal'Shiar Investigator / Operative
STDH-SOLO: Miller-P001 ("Ethan of Federation, Chapter 1")
Chapter One

First of all…

He reached the entrance to the local bar and looked around. Everything he'd been told to avoid was present right in front of his eyes. Gang members, prostitutes, beggars, street vendors with food of unknown origin, drug addicts, common thieves... None of this would ever be material for the stellar fleet of planets to which they belonged, but they could all be used in some way.

He looked up, seeing the name of the bar. It glowed intermittently and was written in a local language, but he knew what it said: 'Convent.' The surrounding environment and who he would find in the interior was not synonymous of any religious movement. He went in.

There was a small corridor with some lighting straight to a metal door and lightly armored. A kind of security lay between him and the door. He approached the creature and gave the password in a low voice. Despite the noise coming from the interior, the other understood it and accessed the controls of the door that opened immediately.

Now the sound was constant throughout the area. It was the first time he was there and according to his judgment, it would certainly be the last. He took a few steps forward, looking for his "target," but it did not seem to be there. He continued to walk ahead, mingling with the locals that danced to the sound of live ambient music coming from above an improvised stage.

He moved slowly to the counter. The 'bartender' looked at him and made him a sign that he understood as: "What are you going to drink?". He wanted to ask for a glass of milk just to piss him off, but opted for something more 'heavy': Romulan ale.

As he waited, he turned to the show area. He rested his elbows on the counter. Seconds later and behind him, he heard a strong “bonk” sound. He turned again. A large glass was in front of him, and the 'bartender' reveal the amount to be charged. He put a local coin on the counter, lowered the cover of his face, grabbed the glass and sipped a little.

The taste brought tears to his eyes. He coughed a little and disguised his dissatisfaction as he turned to the dancing area again. Didn’t expect such a pungent taste ... At that moment a humanoid female dressed in a provocative manner approached, deliberately touching him. She looked at him as if she was inviting him to something good, but he was focused on the mission, ignoring her. Whatever that was, it was not time to be distracted.

At is left side was an area protected by a glazed wall. There were no sudden movements or dances there, just sitting people, talking calmly. Maybe it was where his target was. He grabbed the glass and moved toward it, but his journey was short. A large security guard placed an open and large hand all the way up to his chest height. Said nothing.

Ethan approached the other's face and told him what he was looking for in a low voice. The large security laughed openly and then nodded a “NO” with is head. He knew the species and knew that being kind to it was something that would not open doors. Alas, no one out there would open him anything if he decided to be kind and honest.

He looked down at the floor and began to slowly spilling the beer over the security shoes. The creature looked down to and at that moment took with the rest of the contents of the glass in the face. Visibly irritated, he looked at the earthling, precisely at the moment when he kick him in the thigh, throwing him down. In a flash moment, Ethan pulled the others head back, pointing a short blade at the exposed area of ​​its neck. His lowered voice tried to make the other understand his determination...

"I did not come here to simply walk around. I have a business to conduct and customers waiting. I need a ship to make a transport and there are people inside that can handle it. You're going to open the door and communicate my presence or your life ends right here."

The security guard put his hands on the ground and lifted his whole body in a single jump before the human could do anything. The glazed wall could not resist the impact and gave way. The weight of the security stuck Ethan against the broken glass bricks on the floor. The protection he wore under his clothes prevented him from being pierced by shrapnel. The confusion settled immediately all over the place. The music and the dance stopped, being replaced by the immediate confrontation.

Once again, the security rose quickly and tried to grab the earthling as it crawled across the floor as fast as it could. He stopped at the feet of someone staring at him. This was not his target. The security did not move either.

This tall and calm creature made a signal to rise with its hand to the human. No one touched him or helped him. The glasses fell from his clothes as he shook him self. A deep voice was listened.

"You have a strange will to die, human."

"I did not come here to hurt anyone, but I do not like to be interrupted on my mission. Obstacles were made to be thrown down and that's what I did."

He made a brief interruption and peered out from behind the creature in front of him. The rest of the group remained calm, looking at the earthling as if it were a target to shoot down. Looking back at them, he said rather slowly. "I have a mission. My patron looks for human beings with some particularities, preferably those that are or have been members of the famous Star Fleet of the Federation. In fact, he looks for any member who has belonged to it, but humans are his passion. Do not ask me why. This is with him and his experiences. Anyone who provides me with this type of creatures do not need to reveal its personal name or ship name. We can arrange the place among us and teleport the “cargo” in exchange for the required amount."

He took a few steps around the one who had spoken before.

"I got information that in this area there are two commanders that have humans in captivity and I would like to start business with these. I estimate that if we can reach an agreement among us, the rest will be able to confirm the authenticity of my words and maybe even want to participate in these deals in the future."

"There is also the possibility of being paid for information regarding the location of any creature in the fleet, even if they are not captured." When he returned to the position in front of the other, he looked at his dark black eyes. The creature tilted his head to one side.

"Being a human yourself, why should we believe your words?"

Ethan stared at the other in silence for a few seconds. The only noise that was heard was the existing confusion behind him and that had not yet been contained by the local security personal. The Human raised his right arm and pulled his sleeve up. It showed some scars.

"This life is in exchange for not ending up like them, the captured ones. I can live my natural life by recruiting ways to get the requests to my employer. I just want to live without being part of an experience that I do not understand or care about. The rest of my personal history is not in your best interest. Since I started serving him, I did not have lack money to live and do business, and that is what I am here for. If you provide me with the 'material', I'll get the payment. "

"As I said before, there are here two commanders that have what I need. Maybe they want to… negotiate..."

STDH-SOLO: Miller-P002 ("Ethan of Federation, Chapter 2")
Chapter Two

First Lot...

The look that the others made in his direction was more of a sign of hatred than a willingness to do any business. The way he entered the private room did not help his cause, and before anyone could come up with some idea to decide his fate right there, he spoke aloud to those present one last time.

"I have a Shuttle in the cargo area. It is an old Runabout that has been remodeled and covered by protective plates to protect it from beeing easily identified as an old Star Fleet ship. It has served me well and so I decided to keep it.

I'll be here for a couple of days and hope to do business with who has what I need. "

None of those present spoke. He turned his back and pushed through the wreckage of furniture and glasses on the floor.

When he left the bar, there were still some skirmishes between the local security and the presents, most of them just wanted to have fun. Certainly they would discover some dead bodies, but this was something that everyone had already become accustomed to during the quarrels. For the earthling, as long as it was not him, all was well.

He made his way back to spaceport as fast as he could. He knocked twice on the back door of the shuttle and it went down. In a calm but attentive pose, in front of him was a Vulcan.

Lieutenant Mu'lirak was taller than the human. He had a scar from the neck that ran up his face and went to the ear where the tip was missing. Moreover, his constitution was that of a young man in his mid-thirties.

"If my precession does not deceive me, I fail to see anyone accompanying you, Lieutenant."

" They will come. You can believe that they will. No one has ever resisted earning gold easily. "

Mu'lirak scanned the area, then turned and closed the door. Ethan sat down, resting his elbows on the table and his head in his closed hands. His gaze was fixed on something he saw through the Shuttle's front portholes.

"Your condition shows that you had some difficulty reaching the goal."

Said the Vulcan in his calm voice.

For the terrestrial, the fact that this one almost did not speak during the long trips or to assume the obvious in certain situations, it became a little annoying. The problem was that this was not the right time to get his attention, because that whould cause some discomfort between them.

"I had to fight to get in. They gave me no other choice. Nevertheless, I was able to enter the private area and announce what I wanted, but with honesty, I do not know if they took me seriously ... "

Standing, looking at the same place as Ethan, Mu'lirak did not respond. He seemed to expect the human to fail.

Shortly after, the silence was broken by a metallic sound. The Star Fleet officers looked at each other and Ethan signaled the other to open the door.

Five figures were outside, but only two of them were ship's commanders. They looked at the Vulcan in surprise. The earthling approached.

"Come in, gentleman. I do not want to know your names, only if you have what I need. Then we negotiate. "

"He is Vulcan. Is it reliable? "

Asked one of them.

"If he was not, he would be here. If you look at him, you ill note that he has some permanent marks made by humans, members of the Star Fleet. I do not know this story well, because he never wanted to talk about it, but I think he was accused of treason. He managed to get away, but he got marks. Physical and spiritual. The rest, I do not even want to know ... "

 The group continued to stare at the Vulcan, but they advanced silently to the table. Only the captains sat at the same time as Ethan.

"Your request is not easy to fulfill, especially if it concerns only to Star Fleet people, but I know of a place where you can find what you need. The issue is the price. "

"I'm not looking for settlers, but people with knowledge. According to my employer, the Fleeters have this and the physical potential to endure what he does to them. Do not ask me what it is, because I've never seen one after I deliver it. I do not care. I do not want to know."

"I've never met an unscrupulous human. You surprise me. "

"I'll take that as a compliment. Now ... Do you have what I asked for, or are we wasting time? "

It was the turn of the other to reveal his intentions.

"I have six humans in the cargo container. They came on a commercial ship that ... ... we boarded. They are not Star Fleet, but simple merchants. With them, came some non-terrestrials. "

Ethan leaned back in his chair as he looked at the speaker. In his head echoed the indecisiveness of accepting them for being human or restraining himself only to members of the Star Fleet.

Then he looked at the table top as he scratched at his jaw.

"They are not Star Fleet. They are only humans and not worth the same as others."

He looked to the Captain in the eyes.

"I am aware of the market price and therefore there are two conditions. First: I want to see them. If they are well treated, I make an offer, if they are injured in any way, the price is different.

Second: As for the rest, it also depends on how they are physically. I have projects of my own and I need people to work. Privately, I can use them, but it always depends on what I find.

Not being Star Fleet, the price cuts in half."

"They are not completely healthy. We give them food once a day and have to take into account that they have always given fight since they were captured. There may be some cuts... ... but still, they are humans. You can not lower the price too much."

"I do not like that. It's damaged merchandise, but I still want to see them. Not all the humans presented to sell can serve me. I do not make rescues. For me, they are mere merchandise! "

He scratched his jaws once more and looked away.

"Maybe they'll fit my special project ..."

He could not show too much interest, but leave them puzzled with everything he intended. He went back to the first captain.

"Now you. Where is the hidden "treasure"?"

"I know of a planet where a Star Fleet ship fell a long time ago. Most of the crew are alive and even made a camp. They certainly do not have the resources to rebuild the ship or even to repair it. Sources say that there are about forty elements ... "

Ethan stood up, his eyes focused on the Captain's eyes. His smile seemed true.

"If so, Captain, I want them. All of them.

First I will see these that are closer and then you will take me to this wonderful resource."

"That can not be as you ask, Merchant. If I take you, who can guarantee that you Will pay me back? "

"You said they were about forty and for now, I will paid you half the value. From what you say, we do not know if they are all human and I may even be paying for people who do not exist. I'm taking the risk of trusting you without knowing you.

The fact is, I need to take something to my employer. It's been a long time since the last delivery and I do not want him to think that I ran away or that I abandoned his protection.

In any case, the value per person in good condition is 1 bar of Latinum, but depending on the type of injuries they have, the value decreases substantially. For now, I will give you 20 bars and after seeing them, I'll give you the value that you think is convenient. As a matter of courtesy, I can add an extra for the time you wasted.

For now, I need to see the others, so let's go. I do not like to spend much time in the same place. "

The group got up and left. Mu'lirak stood at the door, hands behind his back, watching them walk away. Nothing seemed to bother him.

STDH-SOLO: Miller-P003 ("Ethan of Federation, Chapter 3")
Chapter Three

When he reached the other's ship, the cargo doors were open. He did not recognize that ship as an integral part of the merchant fleet of the planet of the one who claimed to be commander of it. He stopped and looked from a distance as the group advanced.

"Don’t you want to see the goods, Ethan?"

"I was admiring the ship. It looks freshly painted and without any combat marks."

"It has been repaired recently and it even has a new propulsion system."

The earthling smiled and moved forward. Soon, they were inside the ship.

They advanced to one of the cargo areas, and as soon as the doors opened, he felt a strange smell. It was familiar, but even so, his mind did not want to accept what he suspected. They move forward in the direction of the containers. Ethan was puzzled, but he did not show it.

"There they are!" - Said the ship's commander with a broad smile on his face.

In spite of the dim light, he could see her contentment. It seemed to be a feeling of superiority in having those creatures there.

"They do not look as well treated as you had mentioned. I will not give you the expected value."

"Certainly not. Neither about these, nor about any others. "

Ethan turned slowly to the commander, staring into his eyes. He noticed three guns pointed at him. He kept her cool.

"I do not understand. Are you going to rob me? Did you bring me here to rob me? Blackmail? To threaten?"

"No!" I brought you to join the group I'm taking. My client makes better prices than you."

Without warning, he was struck by beam that stunned him immediately. He did not even feel the falling to the ground.


When he recovered his senses, the metallic cold of his cage passed through his whole body. Lying and shrinking, he realized that he was only dressed in his underwear. Nothing else.

The only light that was seen was far away and hardly reached him. Around him, the usual buzz of a ship traveling through outer space, and also the constant groans and sobs from the others. He shrank back and waited.

There was no way to warm up, and the bars of his cage hurt him on the side where he had been lying. Any movement he made seemed to hurt him even more. It was noted that the other prisoners had been there for quite some time and it was easy to understand that their suffering was much greater than his. With this in mind, he continued in silence.

Some time later, the lights seemed to have gained a life of their own and dazzled his eyes. Would it be the delivery moment? The groans grew louder as screams of shouting were heard. Water and food, in the form of mash, were delivered to the prisoners.

"How do you feel, Ethan of Earth? Are you awake?"

"How long have I been here?"

"Come, come now ... You know I can not tell you that. It would be against the rules of the ship. "

"Why did they do this to me? I am not a threat to you. Will you deliver me to the Federation and receive a reward? They do not even know I'm doing this ... "

"I can really see that a bunch of honest merchants like us, are going to talk to somebody from the Federation and deliver an insignificant guy like you."

While they were laughing, they put a plate ahead with that gray mash and a little water.

The earthling tried to get up but hit his head on the top of the cage. They were much smaller than he judged. He took a swig of water and grasped the mash with his fingers. As well as having a weird smell, it also did not taste better...

While eating, he observed what he could. Those guys carried Romulan weapons, and for some reason, that was not surprising. Then he observed the cage and it had no vulnerable áreas. The bars were thick. She sighed and finished eating. Shortly afterwards the plates and metal glasses were lifted.

"Have fun, human. Your transportation will soon be over. "

Ethan did not answer. It was almost certain that they would be transferred to a mining facility where the occupant safety was the least of their concerns. He shrank back and let himself be quiet. The lights dimmed again.


It was abruptly awaked. The cages were shaken, and the captors screams raked in his ears. He opened his eyes as wide as he could, but the strong light prevented him from doing it much longer.

As soon as the door was opened, two elements pulled him out and put him on his feet, something that he could not do alone. They dragged him along the same path where he had entered the ship and placed him on the ground outside. Around him the rest of the captives.

With half-closed eyes, he tried to see what he could, confirming his idea: Mines. Al he had to do was try to regain strength to observe, think, and execute an escape plan. Suddenly he heard something in a recognized language.

"... If they can not even stand, how can I give the value that they ask or even buy this lot?"

"They are well. I had to keep them quiet so they would not cause problems. You know how it is. There is always someone who has the great idea of trying to escape and I do not have the time or resources to stop them without ruining the ship or the merchandise.

For example, see this one. "

They both approached Ethan.

"He wanted to buy specific humanoids for someone who make unknown experiences with them. What better punishment can you give to someone unscrupulous like him?"

The other guy looked at him casually. It seemed to create in his mind some kind of way to punish the human for what had been revealed to him. Then he smirked.

"Anyway, because of the state they are in, I will not give you the requested amount. All these elements are worth a maximum of 3 bars of latinum. I will have to lodge them, feed and treat them for a week before they are ready to work and all this is loss.

If you do not accept it, you can take them back and do what ever you feel like."

Silently, the other looked at the captives lying or sitting on the floor. Ethan looked back at him with a smile on his lips. He said in a low voice.

"I would have given 10 bars for this whole group without blinking. You're not a good dealer. "

He closed his eyes and let himself lie down. The other one accepted the amount given and headed towards his ship.

STDH-SOLO: Miller-P004 ("Ethan of Federation, Chapter 4")
Chapter Four

To know the reality of the situation

The recovery week was almost over. The eating was much better and he already felt much stronger. In any case, he did not show this fact. Some how, he knew he would be immediately taken and placed to good use.

The medical area where the new arrivals were was not the beste he as seen, but it served the purpose for which it was intended: recovery of workers. The access doors were locked and there was a force field behind them and also the small windows that were not large enough for a normal-sized human to get through.

The medical element that examined them once a day entered in silence and go out the same way. It was always accompanied by three guards and each patient was observed away from the rest.

Strangely, the other captives turned away from Ethan. He watched them from afar, trying to notice something that was not right, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. He decided to come closer and identify himself.

"Ethan Miller, terrestrial human."

They looked at him, showing total repudiation.

"What do you want from us, slaver? Are you going to try to sell us? Trying to get some perks in here?

I want you to know that your destiny is marked. As soon as we can, we will pass word to the rest of the locals about what you were doing. Many will be happy with the story..."

Ethan looked at the speaker with a smile on his lips.

"Not everything that you listen is true. There are always two sides to a story. The losers and the winners. Usually, it's the winners who write it the way they want."

"You do not fool us, you scoundrel. Sooner or later, you'll get what you deserve."

Now he understood the reasons for the alienation. Possibly, someone had heard what the transporter had told the foreman upon arrival of this group, and they had given credit to that. His intentions to flee the place had to be anticipated, as he could not rely on anyone's help. At the same time, he could not say what he really was doing. Without a smile, he moved back to the other side of the room.

The next day, the doctor came in and took the usual exam. This time the guards carried chains and goads. As soon as the examination was done, the examiner was chained. Soon the whole group was on the move.

The corridors in which they were taken no longer had a permanent light. After a few yards, they were carved into the stone and the illumination was distant between each lamp. At one point, he was given an old helmet and boots and, in Ethan's case, a pickaxe. Then they advanced a few more yards, the guards took out the chains and the group began to be divided. The terrestrial was the last to be placed.

A few moments later, he was stoped. A group of well-dressed people looked at him. Everyone had a big smile on their lips. One of them spoke.

"I know you were a slaver... I'm sure you got hold on some people that could have worked for me insted and help me reach my quotas."

"Perhaps, but I did not know of your existence, therefore, I did not compete in a purposeful way."

At a signal from the foreman, the human was pushed away by the guards into a tighter hallway. The smiles disappeared.

With his tool in hand, he was ordered to start extract ore there. The gravel fell on his cold boots and with honesty, it seemed to him an ungrateful and useless work. He stopped digging and looked at the guard.

"I have a background in geology. If you tell me exactly what you are looking for, I may be able to create conditions for a better extraction."

Silently and without expression in his face, the other looked at him and answered.

"Go back to work or you will be punished."

"I'm trying to improve the service, don’t you understand? The sooner we extract the required ore, the less time we spend here. All of us…"

Suddenly, he was pushed to the floor. The guard did not want any sort of conversation with the captives, whatever the reason was. The withdrawal of the weapon and the power of it gave enough indication for Ethan to get up and hit the rock again.

After the guards left, a group of miners approached him.

"You're brave or you're just crazy."

Standing, the human looked at the other without answering.

"You're new here, therefore, you do not know the rules of the place, but here are some that you must obey without question.

A - You must not speak at any moment with the guards; B - As soon as possible, you must find someone who protects you; C - Avoid getting in a fight with someone; D - Do not look into the eyes of others. Of all the local prisoners, you will quickly notice who has power inside this place. Avoid them as much as you can untill you find protection.

Above all, remember that your actions can harm your working group."

"Harm? We are prisoners, mining slaves on an asteroid. What was falling at my feet was nothing special. I can change that. By the way, what are we extracting?"

"I do not know, I do not care! I just want to continue living without any punishment. Do you undestand?”

Ethan did not answer and turned away, hiting the stone wall again. He felt there was something strange about all that.

A few hours later, a siren was heard. The group that was with him stop working and started walking down the corridor. He followed them. Shortly afterwards, they were at the messe all.

Mimiking the others, he grabbed a tray and pick up food as it passed. Being the last in line, he looked around, trying to find a table to settle. In dim lighting, it gave the impression that the places were all occupied. Given his hesitation, one of the guards approached him.

"Are you still standing? What are you waiting for to sit down?"

"I'm looking for a place. It looks like they are all taken..."

The guard pulled him by the arm and led him to a chair at the far end of the room. The table was occupied and as soon as she sat down, the others eyes turned to him. They stopped chewing as the guard turned away.

"We know what you did out there and I'm telling you that you're not welcome. You may have an accident at any time. "

 Ethan began to eat in silence. Some of the preset stood up.

"Who do you think I am?" - The human asked while eating. "There's a chance that you may be all mistaken."

"A slaver has no place among us."

Ethan stopped eating and looked into the speaker's eyes.

"You are saying that there are room for murderers, thieves, rapists, speculators and blackmailers, but not for someone who prefers to free the universe from those who oppress you all?" - Then he shook his head in denial. - "Your way of seeing what surrounds you is at least curious."

Those who had risen, sat down again.

"Do you think you're doing us a favor?"

The human looked at them all in their eyes. His facial expression showed no sign of sympathy.

"I have just arrived here and I'm already fed up. I do not understand how you were able to stand under these conditions. "

The group laughed loudly. The surprise was such that everyone present looked at that part of the room.

"Do you want to be the first to leave this place? Where will you go? Don’t you know we're in an asteroid?

There is nowhere to get away except a ship! The ones that come here are closely guarded and the sensors immediately detect the presence of any heat source or even an organic one. Not to mention the the dozens of guards around...

Do you think they would make it easier for you to get away?"

"Where there’s a prison, there is a way out, an escape point!

"Only death will set you free, human. Nothing else…"

Ethan finish eating while the others left the table in silence.

Minutes later, as he set the tray down, he heard a hoarse voice beside him.

"We know who you are, human. Your days are numbered. "

The human rolled his head slowly. He fixed his eyes on the other as he sketched a smile. Without warning, he threw the tray against the other's face. The fighting breaks out.

STDH-SOLO: Miller-P005 ("Ethan of Federation, Chapter 5")
Chapter Five

A New Beggining

Seconds later the guards arrived. After they had struck some pain with electric shocks, they grabbed them and carried them through a series of dark corridors while continuing to give them some staves. Finally they came to a room that seemed to be from the local commander. He was sitting in a high chair behind the huge desk.

"Fighting is not acceptable here! You work for me and I have to meet the quotas of goods delived. Whenever I lose people, I waste time and this is bad for me, for business and above all, for you.

Your punishement will last two days with only one meal or whatever remains of the remaining inhabitants. When its over, you will go straight to the deepest tunnels and there you stay until I decide otherwise.”

They were taken back through the corridors and thrown into dark compartments. Ethan noticed that, apart from a small opening in the door, there was only another near the ceiling. Hardly any light could be seen as soon as they closed the door.

The human leaned against the wall by the door and let himself slide down until he was sited. He closed his eyes.

"The number of ships crews, whether cargo or military, and even civilian citizens of the Federation that we have lost in the last two years is extremely high. On the other hand, those that we could recover did not reach 15% of the total lost. Those recovered speak of specific areas of slave labor for all kinds of service in various zones of space and out of reach of Federation forces. "

Admiral Simons was speaking before a group of Admirals and their assessors. Ethan had never been to such a meeting and had been deployed in place of a colleague who had been required for another service. The Admiral continued.

"We have to find a way to avoid these situations. We must look for those who sponsor these activities and have the power to subject citizens of the Federation to this treatment and end this madness. "

A murmur rose at once, but no one had a coherent idea of ​​what to do.

"Maybe we could look for someone to look for these places and find a way to get to them."

Ethan said a little louder. Admiral Simons look at him with a strange smile.

"And how do you plan to do that, Lieutenant?"

"It may be possible to invite mercenaries or capture merchants who are known to have ties to groups linked to piracy. If this exists, they have to evacuate the products somewhere. If there is a market, there is information and it can be paid for. "

The murmur rose, accompanied by a few laughs. The Admiral he had accompanied order him sit down and remain silent. Simons continued.

"The Lieutenant knows that we have rules in the Federation. Rules that we can not go around. Don’t you?"

Ethan stood up again, surprising the others.

"I am sorry for the rudeness, sir, but if it was a relative of yours, those same rules would went to the ceiling."

The comment did not go down well with those present. The Admirals asked him to leave immediately, including the one he was with. Ethan moved, but did not go to the door. Instead, he walked right up to Simons.

"If you let me explain, maybe you can do something with the idea."

Simons held out his hand, giving the Lieutenant permission to proceed.

"To get to these people, we need to go around rules. Maybe a bit like Section 31 and, to be honest, they should be taking care of this event, but if they are unavailable to do so, maybe there are other options.

We have to catch them by surprise. If we go to them wearing the uniform, they close themselves like an oyster. We have to get the information on what they do in these merchant places, what kind of cargo they transfer from ship to ship, how do they do it, how do they pay it, what favors do they owe to each other and how we can buy it.

In order for this to happen, we must capture some of these pirates and offer them something advantageous to them, something that they value more than life itself. I must remember that… it’s not always Latinum.

I understand that some of this work has already been done, but has there been any follow-up? Was it just made to reach something specific?"

"The directives we follow prevent us from moving to the dark side of the law, Lieutenant. That's why they were created in the first place."

"I understand that, sir, but they know this and they always find ways around them to their own advantage. We're the ones who lose, sir. And we lose alot.

The secret services of the Earth Fleet should be aware of these problems and be able to circumvent them. Is it not why they exist? Work around certain issues? Maybe it's time to join forces. It is a common good..."

When Ethan finished speaking, silence could be cut in the air. The group looked at the young Lieutenant without mentioning whether he could or not be right.

Simons ordered him to sit down and minutes later he asked for all the Admirals assessors to leave. It looked like there was going to be some sort of voting or something. Maybe a heavier argument.

The earthman opened his eyes, but he couldnt see to much before him. He shrank back, got into the fetal position and lay down on the floor. Time did not seem to pass. At least he was far and safe from the rest of the group who hated him, but was it worth it?

He wanted to think about what to do next, but the pain caused by the guards staffs, the cold and some hunger stung his thoughts. You could not concentrate a bit and time did not seem to pass.

He was awakened by the sound of someone walking down the hall. The small door was opened and a plate was extended. Taking advantage of the dim light, the human tried to see what he was going to eat. With his fingertip, he tapped the mash, trying to get something harder, but found nothing.

At least, it smelled like food and with little or no willpower, he slowly sipped the plates content. It taste like nothing...

The two detention days have passed, but it seemed that there had been much more. When the door was opened, the dim light made Ethan close his eyes. Waiting for them was the place director.

"This punishment was unique! IF any of you makes any trouble again, I'll send you into an airlock and Iaunch you into space. Did I made my self clear?"

There was no response. Both the rescued were too exhausted to counteract the wills of others. The human raised his head a little.

"You have not been sending enough material to your customers, have you?"

The director looked at him with surprise and approached.

"You have something to tell me, human? Or do you want to go into space already?"

"I was once a member of the Earth Fleet. I have a background in geology. If you give me the necessary equipment, I can tell you where to make the tunnels to get the best of the material you collect here."

"And you think we dont have specialized personnel to do this research? You think we crashed here by accident?

Your knowledge is useless, but your strength can by used. You will be send to the tunnels and dig until you fall to the side. The moto here is: Be useful or you die fast."

The director made a gesture and the group start to advance. The human didn’t give up.

"In the short time that I've been here, I could see that no one have done a decent work."

"What is you name, human?”

“I go by the name of Ethan Miller, sir.”

“And why should I trust you, human? You're nothing but a working hand..."

"If I could be useful otherwise, I would be alive for a longer time. That’s the objective."

The group advance down the corridor while the director looked at them. They were about to pass the door when they were interrupted.

"Let's see how good you think you are. Come with me."

The other prisoner looked back with surprise. His face showed the incredibility of the situation.

Surrounded by guards, Ethan followed the director and shortly they were in the control room.

"Here we can see everything. We know where the ore slips are. All of them."

The human watched the screens without responding. His knowledge told him that something was wrong.

"This image is strange. I have a feeling the the informations come from a ship's sensors and its probably not up to date."

"You're perspicacious. To our knowledge, in less than six months the whole area will close down and the surviving group will be moved into other facilities."

"As far as I know, there are high-concentration points in all the weak-formed filaments. I reckon the sonsors caught some, but not all. There are things that one can only do on the ground, sir."

"Do you think you can detect the high concentration spots?"

"There is this strong possibility, but as I said: If you get me the necessary equipment ..."

The director signaled and one of the guards left. Minutes later there was a Federation Tricorder in the hands of the human.

"Do your research, Ethan Miller of the Federation. Update our knowledge and database. If you succeed, I'll give you special privileges."

"I have a request. I would like to eat something substantial before I begin. I can not move fast enough if I go around like this."

The director gave a signal and Ethan was pulled. He made a light bow and the group left.

After spending some time in a mess where he had never been before, he returned to the tunnels. The Tricorder went into operation immediately.

STDH-SOLO: Miller-P006 ("Ethan of Federation, Chapter 6")
Chapter Six


Slowly, he walked down the open corridors. Most were not going anywhere, nor was there any indication of ore in the place. As he passed, the other prisoners looked at him with some surprise at first and then demonstrating some revolt, possibly because they saw him using a detection device. He as just arrived and he had already obtained the favors of the local director. One of them grabbed Ethan.

"You went far, enslaver. You manage to reach power. Next, you will make a contract with the jailer of this place to release you in exchange for some more prisoners, will you not?!”

One of the guards grabbed him and threw him to the floor like a piece of paper. He was preparing to hit him with his staff, but Ethan shouted a loud "No!". Look firmely to the one on the ground, then turned and continued on his detections.

The only interruption to his service were the meals. These were taken in the mess of the guards, under surveillance and without the Triciorder at his side. Here, there was some comfort and it was not necessary to be looking at the side to see when anyone could be stabbed.

It was past the curfew time when he returned to the control room with the detections he made. The director was at the door at the time of hes arrival. He handed her the Tricorder immediately.

"I think it is complete and there are some surprises. There are streaks here that must be followed and others where the excavations should be stopped immediately. There isent much to take out."

"You will sleep in a different place today. Tomorrow I'll analyze this with time and then I´ll tell you if you are worthy of my good will."

Ethan bowed slightly and followed the guards. The knowledge he had gained from the fact that the ore in that asteroid had been a discovery made during the excavation and construction of the hangar and had not been mined at the time because there was no need. The question he asked was: Why now? What was happening to be needed?

When he arrived, the place before him was very different from the general quarters where he had stayed before. Here there was light and some privacy. One of the guards placed a hand on the humans shoulder.

"Those who deserve our trust and gratitude are well treated. The rest will remain where they are now. Do you understand?"

There was no answer, but Ethan was not distracted. After a brief observation, he went to the bathing area. The problem was that he would have to wear the same clothes the next day and that was not convenient. Before washing his body, he washed and hung it to dry. It was supposed to be almost dry and ready to wear the next morning.

Then he took a long shower and afterwards, he lay down comfortably. The mattress seemed to fit all the muscles in his body. It didnt took long to fall asleep.

It seemed he had not fallen asleep long enough when a guard came to wake him. A little disoriented, he looked around and sat down on the side of the bed. The guard insisted that he should get up and dress quickly. Wrapped in the bed sheet, he grabbed his almost dry clothes and dressed. At least they smelled good. Shortly after, he reached its destination.

"There are new elements here. It looks like you did a good job."

"Thank you, sir. If I may, I might be able to mine in other nearby asteroids. That way, it would increase production and your status, personal gain and the overall well-being of prisoners would be improved. "

"You surprise me, enslaver. You worry about the rest of the rabble?"

"When we're all in the same boat, the needs are the same for everyone. If they're okay, I Will be fine too."

"I'll ponder your opinion. Maybe it's good to explore a little more out there."

Ethan showed no signs of joy. His idea was to find a way out, and his sense of persuasion had to be active.

"I'm going to transfer you to a group of console operators. If I decide to explore other sites, I'll let you know.

However, if you betray my confidence, I will hurl you into space and a few more as an example."

A few minutes later he was in the control room and placed close to one of them. In a static position, was another Romulan who looked at the human as if it was a disease to avoid. Looking at the dial, he revealed what he expected of him.

"Human, here you will control part of the ore separation. You have to be constantly monitoring. "

"Why isen’t done automatically?"

"It is, but needs some tweaking."

"Is there room for improvement?"

The Romulan turned to Ethan without changing his facial expression.

"If you change the parameters, you will return immediately to the tunnels.

It's your responsibility to make sure everything goes smoothly. Not making improvements!"

Ethan stared at the screen in silence. Without any other conversation, the other touched the controls and the human watched. Some time later that day, he was at the controls.

In the following days, he was the one who performed the service. Although monotonous, the fact that it was not in the dusty tunnels and continually listening to the metallic sound of drilling rigs, shovels, and carriages, was good thing. Being away from the other prisoners who hated him as if he were the plague, was also a bonus. All that was missing was access to a way to communicate with the outside and wait for someone to be aware of the signal.

One day, the local mine manager approached him while he was eating. Ethan noticed the presence, but chose to ignore it.

"We are about to open tunnels in several nearby asteroids, enslaver. Do you want to control one of these mines?"

He stopped eating, look to the side and then to the speaker. Stood up.

"Shoud I know the reason for such honor?"

"You've been helpful, followed the rules and done a good job. I think you deserve an opportunity to show who you really are. I tis possible that you may come to work for me in the future and in a different situation."

"When you say "control”, do you mean beeing in command of the diggers?"

"Yes. You can become the leader of the local group. They will be your responsability."

Ethan looked at the tabletop, and then at the rest of the elements of the table that stared at him in silence. If it left the control room in exchance for an asteroid, he could have access to sources of communications and this could be useful.

"If so, I want to chose the team."

"I'll give you access to all the reports we have on those present. You'll pick tem and only ten."

The earthling became pensive again. There seemed to be something else in the others mind. Then he replay.

"I will choose only humans, because I know what to expect from them and there for, anticipate their moves. Moreover, after a while, I can mold them as I please, and this is always advantageous."

"For you or for me?"

"It will not be with only ten elements that I will leave this place or create a problem. The advantage will be on your side. Allways.

 On the other hand, I think you understand that at the beginning of the excavations, and while preparing the tunnel entrance, there will be no ore to carry. Everything will be just rock and various debris.”

"I know that. Well ... As far as a group of just humans, I do not know if I agree. I will assess the situation..."

The human bowed slightly and sat down, continuing to eat. The other non-Romulans looked at him with contempt. As his fame reached the locals or did they react just out of jealousy?

STDH-SOLO: Miller-P007 ("Ethan of Federation, Chapter 7")
Chapter Seven

Hope and almost there...

He was beginning to feel hope. The question was: If he could get access to the communications system, how do he get a request for assistence and reveal the location coordinates? At the moment, all that he had access to was the material to be taken and the layout of the initial base. The rest, in principle would be with the local technicians...

A few days later, shortly after arriving at his job, Ethan was called to the principal's office. After a brief conversation, they approached a console containing files on all the local workers.

"Choose the elements you find competent to work and complete the new mine. In the beginning, the priority is to have a control room and accommodations for the guards. Miners will be accommodated as they excavate a large enough area on the site. The general plans will be provided by us. All the extras will be according to the available space. "

The earthling nodded for yes. There was no smile in his mouth.

As he looked at the console screen, the group left, leaving him alone and unsupervised. It was clear that he was being monitored.

The priority of hes choice was humans. He quickly accessed the files, concluding that they were far more humans than he thought in existence there. After about two hours of research, he was able to join the group he felt was necessary to his needs.

As he left the cabinet, he ran into a group of guards who seemed to be waiting for him.

"Are you done yet?" One of them asked.

"All done. Thank you. I have the list here with the choices and the alternatives."

Without ceremony, the human was sent back to his usual service. Now he just had to wait for the final decision.

A few days later, the local director approached him and handed him a "tricorder".

"Take the list of people back. Those will be with you on the mine. Most are of your choice, but they are all human.

I do not want problems, undestand? The work must be executed as soon as possible and I do not think it is necessary for anyone else to know of this another mine. Am I clear? "

Ethan found that strange, but he nodded for yes. It was hes chance.

The next order was to go to the hangar where he were to meet the group plus the guards who would accompany them. After walking through the rooms and retrieving his clothes, he went on his way.

The prisoners were on their knees on the ground and the moment they saw the him, they lowered their heads. The guards were behind them with electric batons in their hands and guns in their holsters. One of them addressed the human.

"Because you have organized the working group, it does not mean that you are the head of the expedition. Your mission is to create a mine and just that. "

Without speaking, Ethan nodded yes and minutes later the whole group boarded the shuttle. Chained in the cargo hold along with the equipment, the trip began.

The landing was felt. The chief of the guards ordered the prisoners to dress the surface suits and shortly after the cargo hold doors were opened. Outside, they could not see anything beyond the illuminated area by the shuttle.

The first operation was to light up the area and then set up the drilling rig. The sensors gave the indication that the area had a softer terrain, good to dig deeper, and at the moment it did not matter that it was far from the target ore streak.

For about a week, the work went smoothly. Gradually, the metal walls of what would be the "head" of the base were being erected in the pit, and the drilling rig followed the path to the detected streak. It was about 14 hours of continuous work without major stops. Exception for the meals and sleepint time that were inside the shuttle.

In less than a month, the "head" of base was mounted and prepared to be pressurized. It was only necessary to mount the outer cargo platform and the various electronic mechanisms for the life support and control of the various local operations. This was the moment that Ethan had been waiting for. It was the moment to find if this could work for hes benefit. It was for this that he had chosen that team.

As soon as the life support system became operational, the shuttle went off to get more material. They could breathe, but they had no control over the ambient temperature. Its surface suits protected them from some suffering, but it was not enough. If they whould took a day to load the cargo, when they arrived, the whole team would be frozen dead.

Alone, of the few times that the guys looked at Ethan, they did it as if they wanted to kill him. One of them broke the routine.

"It looks like you're on the right track. On the road to success. Maybe you'll become the director of a mine, who knows... "

"You're all mistaken about me. Give me time to prove it."

"Time? Do you know how long we've been in this mines? Do you know we have already we suffered? Do you know some of us have been through other mines? According to the rumors, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of mines like this and for all kinds of minerals.

Thousands of tons of various ores are being gathered to make something massive, gigantic and no one knows what it is. If it were a normal exploration, there would never be so much material available. When you went after people, slaver, did you remember to ask where they went and what they were going to do, what were they for?"

Ethan did not answer. It was too soon to do it. He could not reveal the true intent of his missiono or actions.

He turned his face and sat down in a corner.

"I repeat: You are mistaken about me."

No one else spoke to him or even looked at him. The cold was also beginning to tighten and the urge to move also diminished.

The rest of the material it would not take long to load. Perhaps the guards were delaying the trip on purpose to, somehow, punish them as slaves, as something that no one cares about.

After a few hours, the shuttle finally arrived. Almost frozen, they left the little comfort they had and went to get the equipment. The first consoles to be mounted would be those of environmental control, followed by communications and these were the most expected by Lieutenant Miller.

Without being able to rest or warm themselves, they started immediately the assembly. Ethan glanced around and as soon as possible approached the two elements that assemble the communications console. He clutched and grab a few wires. He looked around again to check the position of the guards, then spoke with a lower voice.

"What is the possibility of creating a warning or an emergency signal on this console whenever they switch it on?"

The technicians looked at him with surprise. One of them replay.

"Do you have any appointments? Do you have to tell your former boss your position? "

Ethan decided to risk his life in the next answer.

"Can I trust you?”

The other nodded for yes.

"No! No appointments. I just have to try to get everyone out of here and fast."

The one next to him smiled, casting a strange sound into the air. The guards looked, but did not approach. The other technician just looked at Ethan.

"If it fails, we will no longer be simple slaves. We will become dead slaves."

"The difference is the time we have to live. These powders, these living conditions wipe us out quickly. Better to die fighting than slowly as we serve the interests of others.

Ethan looked around again as he rummaged through the wires as if he was doing something useful.

"There is a lot that you dont know about me and nothing that you known is true. You'll have to trust me and do what I ask. That's why I chose humans to come with me, especially members of the Earth Fleet.

I want this console to be able to send an automatic signal to the outside. A signal camouflaged with their communications so they do not easily notice it. Something that is disguised by the noise of deep space or as if it were a local interference.

We have to get out of here as fast as possible, do you understand?"

His move was risky. If the other revealed his intentions in exchange for benefits, he would be a dead human.

The technician looked at him. He seemed not to know for sure what to do. Not because he did not know, but because of the amount of doubts he had. Was it to save all the enslaved, or just him, known as a slaver?

"I will deal with it. What is the message? It can not be too long. "

"Do you know the old Morse code?"

"Yes, but I do not remember all the letters."

"Just a simple “SOS” will do. I think only humans know what this is..."

"The strange part of this is that you're talking like if you're a member of the Earth Fleet. If we were not in a hurry to get out of here, I would not do anything you just asked ... I assure you of that!"

"Believe me that not everything you know is true. I just ask for your trust."

The technicians continued their work while Ethan moved to another console.

STDH-SOLO: Miller-P008 ("Ethan of Federation, Chapter 8")
Chapter Eight

The arrival
Within a few weeks the tunnel was open and close to the first ore heaps. As soon as the situation was communicated, the director arrived on the scene with a group of nwe elements. Ethan was taken immediately to their presence.

"It seems to me that you have done a good job, slaver. I am happy. It remains to know the true quality of the material that we are going to take out from here."

"I expect we'll be handling it in less than a week, sir."

"Do you want to stay here or do you wish return to your former post?"

Lieutenant Miller looked around. The group that had come with him had just arrived in the control room.

"I think it would be good to go back, sir. All of us. If we open another post, I will recruit these elements again and it would be good if they were safe."

The director looked around, nodding affirmatively with his head.

"I agree. We all go back to the main base."

The group was chained again and taken to the cargo hold of the shuttle. They waited for several minutes until everybody was on bord. A few moments later, they took off.

Much more relaxed than the first time he arrived at that location, Ethan could now watch the entire area of the hangar. There was room for two runabouts and little else. There were shields at the entrance and possibly the existence of teleportation inhibitors. If any intervention team could get in there, there would have to be some sort of bombing to penetrate the perimeter. It also would not be easy to bring a large ship there, wherever "there" it was. The wait began...

 Ethan’s  privileged position was held. Every day, he had reasonable food, a comfortable bed and a place in front of a console. Despite this, he thought of all the others who were digging in the tunnels, without perks or comforts, subject to cold, accidents and even aggression by the remaining prisoners. For now, there was nothing to do but to wait for someone in the universe to hear the message of a request for help.

Communications between the main base and the new mine have intensified over time. The information showed that the ore extracted was of good quality and the quantities of extraction were increasing.

Without noticing, Ethan listened with pleasure to this information. Not because they are of interest to him, but because no one has noticed the help message hidden in the communications. The more they communicate, the longer the hidden message whould had to get out into space.

At the same time there was another concern. Had the other done his request? Had the Romulans discovered what they had done and repaired the system? And if it had not been discovered, was that working? These concerns accelerated the breathing and heartbeat of the human who wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.

Time as passed. Hope was beginning to disappear. Maybe there was not enough reach in the systems. Maybe the message did not got far enough. Ethan was beginning to demoralize, but that was about to change. A few weeks later, a warning signal.

The sensors indicated the approach of of a not programmed ship. Several yellow lights illuminated the room, giving more strength to the existing faint one.

Ethan smiled. Could it be a Federation ship investigating the signal? Discreetly, he watched the Romulans movements and they did not seem to be satisfied. If it was a Federation ship, then the technician recruited by Lieutenant Miller had done a good job.

The alert remained active for a few hours and a shuttle was sent to investigate. They found that it was no more than a space freighter, possibly pirates. The Romulans laughed, commenting that if they dared to approach, the remote turrets of defense would take care of them. Not demonstrating his displeasure, Ethan continued his work.

After some time, the "territorial invader" left and the alert was canceled. Everything was back to normal. Apparently, it would not be this time that the group would be released. After this disappointment, and taking advantage of some time off, Ethan went to the tunnels in an attempt to find the communications technician.

Almost at the end of the authorized time, he found who he wanted. Pulled him to a more hidden place.

"Did you do what I asked on that console?"

"Yes! I do not know what you're expecting, I'm not sure why I did it, but I did. Are you waiting for something to happen? To be honest, I think we've been long forgotten..."

Ethan put his hand on the other’s thin shoulder.

"The Federation, and in this case the Earth, does not forget its children. I wanted to confirm because I want to make sure we have a chance to survive.

They have received some alerts from unknown sources. It whould be good if those were our people."

"Do they get the signals being sent?"

"I do not know. Nothing is conclusive."

The other looked at the floor. Perhaps the humans in front of him was not as bad as he looked.

Ethan held out a large piece of bread, and the other grab it immediately.

"I'll try to bring some more from time to time."

He said good-bye and a few minutes later, he was in his quarters. Was not feeling happy, and doubts of failure haunted his mind again.

Days went by and repetitive tasks distracted him from the hope of beeing resqued. He just did not know what to do. Did he and the rest of the group have to be imprisoned until they died or ceased to be needed?

One afternoon, and in the moment when he about to leave his shift from the ore control console, the alert signal activated again. Ethan did not understand everything the Romulans said, but he could tell they were not pleased. Was it the cargo ship again?

This time everything seemed different. The spacecraft was entering the asteroid's perimeter defense and the bustle began immediately. At the same time, the irritating sound of the proximity alarm was in the air.

The main screen showed a cargo ship approaching. The shots of the defense turrets struck her, but little damage seemed to do. One by one, they were being destroyed.

In a moment, the suspicion of what that was became a reality. The ship fired two torpedoes in the direction of the side walls of the hangar. The confusion was settled.

The lights in the room began to flicker and the consoles began to turn off one by one. Everyone fled the location and the human did the same. The difference was that he had purposely stayed away from the others as they run. As a prisoner, with perks or not, he could be considered a threat and be killed by the escaping Romulans or by the rest of the prisoners. The most certain thing was that he would not be accepted in any escape shuttle.

While the others to clear the way, he went to another corridor, into the director's office. The doors opened and the other was sitting in the chair behind the desk. Ethan was surprised, but did show it.

"Let's go, man! Are you expecting to be killed?"

"Go, slaver. Save yourself. They have discovered the mines and will not leave the area. Even here, without beeing fired upon, I'm already dead."

Ethan stared at him, then stepped closer.

"I'm not a slaver. I am a survivor and so will you. Let me help you in the same way you have helped me."

"They will come after me wherever I go. Even if I'm safe from this, they'll always know where I am."

 "They? They who?Those who give you orders to do this? Who is attacking us?"

At that moment they began to hear shots nearby. Small arm shoots.

"Is there no safe way to get out of here? If they come in, we're finished. I'm sure you have an escape point prepared for these eventualities."

The director smiled, took a weapon out of the drawer and put it in the holster. Then he opened a small door hidden in the wall behind him.

When Ethan was about to enter, he turned and pointed a weapon at the him.

"I'm sorry, human, but I only have room for one."

"Tell me at least who's behind all this. The reason for the existence of these mines. Will the Romulans attack the Federation?"

"No, human. This is not being done by the Romulans. This is much bigger than you think. Maybe even your previous employer is involved in this too, who knows?"

"Who's doing this? Who controls Romulans to be mine owners, enslaving other beings to do the dirty work? At least tell me that."

The director went back inside the room and accessed some files on his computer.

 "This involves much more than the Romulan council. Also the Klingon empire and many high members of several Federation planets do or support this. This is universal.

Everywhere, out there, there are people geting others to work in the mines, specialy from colonies. From pirates to decent traders, they all want a peace of the pie. Why? I don’t know, but they pay well. Yes, they pay generously well..."

Ethan stared at the screen, but he could not believe his eyes. The doubt was mingled with the credibility of the information shown.

"You did not expect it to be like that, did you, human? It is the true. There are humans involved in all this. Yes, you are not the only one who captures them to an unknown death, slaver."

"If I could have access to this information, maybe one day I could have control of a mine. Can I keep this information? "

The director opened various drawers until he found a tricorder. At a glance, he unloaded all the information and then deleted all the files from that computer.

"Take it and have fun with that. If you can blackmail someone, make sure you get him for a long time. This is my legacy. For you, human."

As he prepared to re-enter the escape tunnel, Ethan pinned a dagger he had taken from the top of the desk right in the middle of other’s back. He shrieked in pain.

"This is for all those who died under your command.

At the same time, it is my way of getting you ridd of all the guilt and suffering that you might had for doing that."

The Romulan turned slowly and looked into the humans eyes. He smiled faintly and fell limp to the ground.

Ethan opened the door of the office and peered down the corridor. The attackers seemed to have wiped out the local defenses. The shots we was listening were far away.

As he walked along the passage, he wondered how could any human do this to others? Humanity had evolved so much and now it seemed that it was turning back. High dignitaries should protect the species rather than gain something from the suffering of their own people.

In a darker area, he leaned against the wall and slid to a sitting position. He was shattered with this knowledge. How could this happen? Was it really true? To whom to disclose such information? Who to trust?

STDH-SOLO: Miller-P009 ("Ethan of Federation, Chapter 9")
Chapter Nine

One more time on bad sheets

Absorbed in his thoughts, he did not realize the approach of four elements. When he looked, their weapons were pointedat him. One shouted.

"Do not move! Get up slowly and with your hands in the air."

Despite the shadow, he could see the black masks they carried. They looked like elements from section 31. He tucked the Tricorder in his waist and without hurry, he stand up.

"Lieutenant Ethan Miller of the Star Fleet. Can you take me to your commander, please?"

Without any further conversation, he was taken to the hangar area. There, the assembled prisoners were separated by factions. The confusion was enormous, but peaceful. Only a few elements clamored for revenge, standing up at the same time as inciting the others.

A good many of them were being treated by the medical staff who had come in shuttles. It was known that they all suffer from poor nutrition, but there were also some injuries. Someone turned to Ethan.

"What are you doing here, slaver? You should be in the Romulan group. After all, you do the same service as them. You even have become an ally to them. Should be killed."

Ethan looked at the speaker.

"If I am here, it is because someone knows what I am doing and you, you do not need to have that knowledge. If you want to stay alive, let my companions finish the rescue service and above all, keep in silence. "

The other fell silent as he looked around. Everyone looked confused. Was he lying or telling the truth? There were no more protests. Shortly thereafter they were being teleported to the rescue ship.

As soon as he reappeared on the teleportation station, Lieutenant Miller was taken into a cargo area. The question was whether they were being saved or whether they would be transported to a new mine, this time under the command of another management.

It was common knowledge that the existence of Section 31 was no secret, as its officers could be identified by their unique black emblems and uniforms, but it was also known that this organization had a permanent license to kill and take any action it deems necessary to safeguard the Federation and, above all, Star Fleet. Supposedly, their main goal was the galactic peace and they tried to reach it through constant surveillance and often through morally questionable measures. Was this situation one of those?

A doctor passed is Tricorder by the human. He checked the results and directed him to a door. On the other side were many who identified him as “the slaver." Their looks reflected the dislike of his presence, but at the same time, some surprise. One of them approached and spoke quietly.

"Are you here because you're a member of Star Fleet?"

Ethan looked into his eyes. It was the one that had prepared the communications console on the new mine.

"In addition to other roles, my mission was to save as many humans as possible. In order to enter, it had to have a credible history. This is how the "Slaver" came to be."

The other looked at Ethan's eyes for a while.

"How do I know if you're telling the truth?"

"You can not, but if I'm here..."

The other shut up and walked away. Probably, he felt he had no way of confirming Ethan's story. The rest of the group were informed of what was going on, but the suspicion remained.

As the days went by, and although the accommodations were not the best, uniforms with the right patents had been brought in. With a little more thrust on this human, some of the other elements spoke differently with the one now known as Lieutenant Ethan Miller. They seemed to see him not as the "slaver" as presented before, but as the source of their rescue.

Still battered by the knowledge he had acquired, he preferred to spend most of his time alone reading the information contained in the hidden Tricorder. If the informations were credible, he still did not know who to introduce them to. Whoever knew that he had this knowledge would place him as a target to kill or even his family, as retaliation. The risk was enormous.

Shortly after, and as soon as the ship was reported to have dock on a space station, a number of officers were called to the local commander's office. Ethan was one of them.

One by one the officers entered the room. When they left, they were immediately surrounded by section 31 staff, guiding them out. There could not be any contact with the remaining ones. After two hours of standing, Lieutenant Miller was called.

"Hello, Lieutenant. How are you doing? Did you had a nice trip?"

Ethan stepped in and gave a quick, concise, positive response. The other charged again.

"Let's not be so formal, Lieutenant. Allow me to introduce myself. Captain Arkan, section 31."

Ethan was silent as he looked at the officer.

"Until now, you were one of the few elements that managed to infiltrate this situation of the ore slaves. It also came to my knowledge that he found a way to get a message to us. Congratulations on that. It seems the you are very resourceful.

Although successful, as you must realize, you can not receive any laurels pertaining to the mission. However, I wonder if there's anything else that you have seen or heard while in there."

Ethan looked away, staring out the window. On the other side was a green shaded part of a planet he did not recognize. He shook his head in a negative form.

"No sir. Anything! Nothing i can remenber.

My contact was mostly with the prisoners. I havent been to long with the guards, and even though I had been operating the ore control consoles, a privileged position, I did not hear anything that could be useful.

My mission was to know what was going on and to ensure a way to escape, preferably with all humans and other elements of the Federation."

"It seems to me that he did it very well, but according to the various sources, it seemed that you were very friendly with the director of the place. You didnt you get any other information like: Other mines or places of prisoners, who are the accomplices, how to organize a capture, who receives them and where, how they carry them..."

Ethan looked into the Captain's eyes.

"No sir. I could not get that kind of information.

I had to try to gain their trust in the shortest possible time. Only then would it be possible to obtain more compromising information. Fortunately, you have arrived in time to save us. I reckon that the specialist team discovered records on their computers..."

It seemed that Arkan knew more than he revealed. Maybe he knew about the Lieutenant’s Tricorder and what it contained.

"There was another element doing the same kind of service as you. Someone from section 31. You have beat him. Did you know that?"

Ethan shook his head in denial. In fact, it was no surprise that others were trying to do the same. Arkan opened the door and made a signal to someone outside.

"Lieutenant Miller, may I introduce Captain Jones of section 31."

Ethan looked at the newcomer. He was not surprised. The one who approached with a large smile on his lips was the one he had asked to help create the signal in the new mine.

"So, "slaver"? After all, it is confirmed that you are an honorable element of the Star Fleet."

Ethan standed in attention again. His position was rigid and without smiles.

"Come on, come on, Miller. We are among friends. There's nothing to hide. "

There was no response. Ethan stared into space. Jones approached, placing a hand on the Lieutenant's shoulder.

"The story that was told to everyone, described a kind of detestable person. Some one we could realy hate. You have created something despicable around you self and it is normal that others do not see it in a very acceptable way.

What you did to get where got, left many indignanted. I myself felt that way, thinking that everything that had been said was real. Now we are safe and there is nothing to fear, Lieutenant. Glad you're one of us.

I must however alert you to a strange situation. First: do not get carried away by this success. All this was very violent. It was your first time in this position and it is understandable that you were some how affected him in some psychologically way. Over time, this condition of emptiness and impotence Will eventually pass.

Second, avoid talking about this mission. Do not brag. Do not make references. You do not want to become a target. This type of mission should not be spoken in an open setting.

Now, there is nothing better than to return to your family and spend some quality time with them."

"At the moment, that is not my concern, sir. I'm more intrigued on why you never identified himself, even though you knew I was trying to contact anyone who could help us."

 "I was not sure what to think. You were known as a "slaver." You could just be trying to contact your "employer," not Star Fleet."

Ethan shook his head in denial. It was strange, but at the same time, understandable.

"Don’t worry about it any more, Lieutenant Miller. Now you are safe and amoung friends. Have as much fun as you can while you're here. You will return to earth soon."

Arkan was grinning from ear to ear. Strangely, that was not enough to convince Ethan. Ever since he became aware of the involvement of humans in this mine issue, he had no confidence in anyone. Soon after, the Lieutenant was dismissed, leaving that office as fast as he could.

At a certain point, he noticed the glimmer of lights and a strong sound of people talking. He moved in that direction. Apart from the large window facing the local planet, the area was teeming with life with the mix of people dressed in civilian and military. Gardens, fountains, varied shops and dining areas were joined under a rich and well-treated area.

He went downstairs, always on observation. It was not in his plans, but he walked right into an open bar and ordered something to drink. Glass in hand, he sat casually by an interior balcony where he could see the lower and superior floors of that space station.

He took a drink at the same time as he admired the various visible places. It seemed that peace reigned in that place. Every thing had a place and was organized.

Shortly after, at his feet, a piece of equipment got broken into pieces. He did not move as he looked up. There were a fight on one of the top floors. On the ground, the pieces of the equipment scattered over a large area.

Ignoring the fight, he tried to join some nearby pieces with his feet. In the middle of all this, one got his curiosity: an isometric chip. Trying not to catch any attention, he picked it up and hid it in his uniform. He looked up again, finished the drink and left the area as fast as he could.

As a technician, he knew how to collect the information from the chip. The problem was that he had no tools with him to do that, but that could change quickly. Next to a local computer, he searched the technical area and headed to the location.

He spoke with the department commander and he granted the use of a console. Minutes later, the chip was being opened and its secrets exposed. What would be so important to cause a fight?

STDH-SOLO: Miller-P0010 ("Ethan of Federation, Chapter 10")
Chapter Ten


In addition to landscape images, varied and detailed reports about planets, their contents and inhabitants, there was also information about remote solar systems, star maps and other areas that he had never seen or known before. In addition to this, more information on asteroids of various dimensions and somehow destroyed solar systems. Everything he saw seemed far more detailed than anything he had ever seen at the service of Star Fleet or even the Federation. He understood the reason of the fight.

Half hidden, there was another file, an encrypted one. This was not his specific area. He stepped back from the console and looked around. There were other Star Fleet people nearby and he asked for help. One of those was a specialist and immediately volunteered.

His smile indicated some satisfaction for the challenge before him.

“This is unpredictable. It may take a few hours, or a day. In the worst case scenario, it may never happen. There are known cases, you know… Anything can happen.”

He looked at Ethan, still with the smile on his mouth.

 After a few minutes, the specialist gave his first impressions.

“You may be lucky! The encryption doesn't seem too demanding. Maybe the guy didn't have time to do it right or no time at all.”

Ethan grave the others arm.

"Hang on! Is this console isolated from the rest of the system? ”

"No, but I can do it right now."

“Then do it, please. We don't know if this file contain anything that could harm the rest of the internal systems. I don't want to risk infecting the entire station.”

Surprised, the specialist immediately executed the request. Shortly after, the file was available to be seen.

“Copy it like a normal file and re-encrypt it so that no one realizes it has been tweaked. Can you do that?”

“Can one know the reason for so much secrecy?”

“Open some files and give me your opinion…”

The specialist gave in to curiosity. His smile slowly faded.

“This are months of research and certainly a lot of people involved. I don't think even the Federation has ever done such a job. How did you get all this?”

"You're right! This did not come from anyone inside the Federation. It fell at my feet from an upper floor some time ago.”

The specialist looked at Ethan and then at the screen.

“Someone will be after this. You may have suddenly become a target.”

Ethan smiled.

"I'm already used to it. These past few weeks I have been nothing but a target for everyone in many places in the known space.”

The specialist looked at Ethan with more surprise. His contagious smile was now gone. In silence, he encrypted the file and said goodbye hurriedly. Ethan stop him with a warning.

“I advise you not to reveal anything that you saw. You dont want to became a target too, Lieutenant. This can, and is, all very dangerous.”

The others facial expression showed that he could be worried about the future, perhaps even about his safety. He said goodbye quickly.

Ethan was now alone. He opened the file and read it carefully. I didn't want to believe in his eyes. All seemed arranged in a specific way. In front of him were indications of who received such information with names and photos, ways to reach them, and how to pay for their services.

Each planet had on average a dozen individuals who could receive this type of information. This included several members of the Federation, the Klingon Empire and Romulan Star Empire. Even on Earth, some people of the Star Fleet. There were a few belonging to nonaligned planets and a few more of remote or unknown planets.

Turning his attention to Earth, he recognized some names, especially since they belong to Star Fleet. Given what he already knew from the file shown by the mine director, he was now certain that someone was gaining power or property at the expense of the loss of human life. The question was: Who were involved and who to and how to report the situation?

He reconnected the console to the general circuit and copied the files to a newly created email. He closed the console and waved goodbye to the remaining members still circulating in the area.

All that caused him some anguish. He did not know the full extent of how the most important members of the Federation were involved. I didn't know who to talk to, reveal the situation. The wrong person could endanger him or even his family. The doubt between warning the authorities and surviving, struck his mind like a storm over the waves of the sea.

Trying to relax, he returned to the bar where he had been before. A large number of people, possibly local authorities, were present, some talking, others analyzing the place. As he ordered a drink, he noticed that there were two humanoid bodies on the floor.

“This is not the first time it happens, you know? It seems that they chose this space station as the ideal place for a spy convention…”

Ethan looked at the bartender.

"What happened?"

“It looks like there was a fight on one of the upper floors. Without warning, tables, chairs and glasses began to fall. Shortly afterwards, they also came here looking for something and suddenly started shooting. Shoting down here... Those ended up there. The survivors searched the bodies, but took nothing.”

"The authorities? Didn't they see anything? Is there no surveillance systems around here?”

“If you want to know, I think they run away from these kinds of situations like they whould run from a black hole. They only appeared after the thing calmes down.”

Ethan did not surprise the authorities reaction. From what he now knew, they might even had higher orders not to intervene immediately.

“This week, it has happened twice. The difference is that the first one was just a argumentation.”

An unknown Bolian had just sat down next to both. He was wearing civilian clothes.

 “In these remote places, this always happens. There is always someone who wants something more than what they deserve.

Hi. My name is Paul and I am a crew member of the cargo ship “Britanny”.”

He held out his hand for a greeting. Ethan was surprised because he had a human name. Decided not to give is name.

“Dennis, Section 31, Remote Area Investigation Unit.”

He looked deaply into the blue creature eyes as he took a drink.

The Bolian did something similar to a smile, turned to his side, and stepped down from the chair, immediately moving away. Lieutenant Miller smiled. Using the “Section 31” designation had its advantages.

He drank what was left on the glass and turned to the counter. The bartender stood before him, staring. No words were spoken. Without ceremony, the human said goodbye and left.

As he entered the halls, he heard a call for Lieutenant Miller. In response, he was told to move to the spaceport, as there was a ship that would take the rescued group back to Earth. Ethan returned to his temporary quarters and seized what little he had been given, then headed for the appointed place.

The joy of returning to Earth and to his family left him in a very high state of anxiety. After all that had happened, all he wanted to do was return to a safe and comfortable place. Suddenly he remembered something. Before eading to the teleport room, he accessed the new email and copied all the data from the Tricorder he had brought from the mine. A safeguard.

In that room, only two security guards and operators were present. Ethan identified himself and moments later was on the return ship. Here he was then guided to the new rooms, but worthy of an officer.

With a smile on his lips, and as a simple passenger, the first action he took was to go to the bar. The atmosphere was very different from the previous one, but cozy. Ambient music and soft-spoken people, a sea of uniforms with varying colors.

He sat at the counter and ordered. The peach juice seemed to taste different. It felt like sweet fruit. Maybe it was the feeling of feeling safe and some how at peace. Maybe it was because he knew he was coming home. Maybe it was for being clean and taken care off. The truth was that he felt a huge satisfaction and the smile on his face showed it.

At the last sip, he felt someone sitting beside him. A black and dull uniform. At the neck, the rank of Captain.

"You’re almost home, Lieutenant."

Ethan set the glass down while looking at the speaker.

“I have been approached by “Section 31” staff many times. Is there any reason for that?”

"Nothing special. Lieutenant Miller. We want to make sure everything is fine. We want you to know that we are here to help you and also in case you remember something that has escaped you. Something you didn't include in your short report.”

Ethan smiled and looked at him from down to up.

“Maybe you’re right. Maybe I missed something. Something of the sort: we are fighting an endless war, a lost war where only a few win regardless of the outcome, where no one cares about the rest, where the chances of survival depend on how deep we are left undetected.

When we think we are in trouble and solving a problem, when we think that we are on the right and good side of the events or that what we do helps society to "do well," we find someone taking advantage of our ignorance and profit from it.

At the end, do you know where we should be? Far! Far away from everything!”

There was a moment of silence. The officer looked at Ethan with a thoughtful expression.

“I've been in your place, Lieutenant. After a while, I stop being correct and just did what I was told to do.

We are no longer ourselves and we are officially the workforce of society. We don't question. We just perform.”

 “No, sir. I have nothing more to add to the report. Just a feeling of emptiness that cannot be described by words. A sense of powerlessness to solve and punish criminals, even if there are humans involved. ”

The other continued to look Ethan in the eyes.

 “Maybe one day we can work together. You might want to join “Section 31” numbers or general secret services. Anyway, I wish you success, Lieutenant.”

Without hearing any answer, the other walked away, leaving the bar. Ethan was curious. Words coming from “Section 31” agents were well known to be unreliable. They always had a trick up there sleeve.

For the next few days, and taking advantage of all the available time, he wandered around the ship. The Bridge, Engineering, storehouses and teleport rooms were interdict. He understood that. He was just a passenger.

Occasionally, he whould found some of the elements that had been with him on the mine, but he prefer to avoid them. With the knowledge it brought, it was risky. Maybe he whould say something, putting himself at risk or those with who he spoke to.

He also did not want to bond with them, and although it was a strange feeling, he could not give him self to know. If the situation were to be repeated, it would be risky for others to identify him and put him at risk, even if not on purpose.

Roughly at half the trip, and with anxiety rising, sleeping all night was a lucky situation. After personal hygiene, he headed for the mess. At that time, few people were in the place.

He barely had sat down when a strange sound was heard. Suddenly the peace and quiet he was accustomed to, disappeared. The ship was shaken so hard that he was thrown to the ground. One of the few crew members present fell over him, as well as food, cutlery and plates. That was na explosion.

For what seemed like long seconds, he looked around and tried to get back on his feet. His first thoughts was how useful he could be inside that ship. Both the Engine Room and the Bridge would need someone who could help repair the consoles or replace the fallen crew members in combat. He decided to head to the bridge.

The turbo lift was out of service and had to climb the access stairs as it swung back and forth under the several impacts. Upon arrival, the access doors barely opened and had to force his way in.

On the other side there was chaos. Fire, sparks, fumes and crew screaming in pain or giving orders. Ethan grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out some of the fires.

The next impact shook the Bridge, knocking them all to the ground. Disoriented, he looked around, feeling the floor. As soon as he picked up the extinguisher, he put out some more fires again.

As he look to the side, he saw the Captain sitting in her chair. Her head tilted inert to the side. A local crew member shouted into the air:

“Who has the highest rank to command the ship?”

In the absence of any response, Ethan revealed himself.

“Lieutenant Miller, Engineering, Operational Technician.”

The other looked at him in surprise and sat behind the helm console. Without sitting down, Lieutenant Miller immediately fired a burst of orders.

“Helmsman, get us out of here to a safer place.

Weapons, focus fire on a single target at a time.

Communications, prepare the logbook buoy for launch.

Science, channel all available energy into the shields. I want repair teams with the most sensitive equipment and medical personnel on call. Let's get out of here…"

The severe problems of the combat situation were beginning to show.

"We only have impulse propulsion, sir."

"The shields are at 21% capacity, even with extra power."

Ethan cursed in a lower voice. You didn't want to sit in the command chair feeling that there was so much to do and solve at the same time.

He looked at the consoles, trying to see which one would be most useful at that moment. After all, that was his specialty and every second lost, was a ticket to death.

Frantically working, he linked wires after wires, trying to get around the problems and security implemented. The ship's internal communications did not work and some system control consoles were starting to fail.

Suddenly the silence. No more impacts were heard. Only the sparks from the consoles and the muted screams of the wounded were listened. He looked around. Apart from him, only two other crew members stood near the operating consoles, and even these were bleeding.

STDH-SOLO: Miller-P0011 ("Ethan of Federation, Chapter 11")
Chapter Eleven

When you think you're home and with friends...

"They didnt killed us this time."

Said someone with a wide smile on his lips. Ethan looked around with some concern.

“Maybe they have boarded us. If we fight, we get killed. If we give in, we are more likely to be taken back to the mines.”

“The attack come as a surprise, sir. We were going at Warp 3 when we were hit. A ship appeared just behind us and fired two torpedoes.”

"Klingons or Romulans?"

“The ship looked like a Klingon raptor, but very old and with a strange grayish color.”

At that moment, the bridge's cracked main screen showed signs of someone trying to contact them. Amid the flaws, it looked like a Star Fleet uniform. There was no sound.

Seconds later, Ethan tried to amplify or stabilize the signal. It had no effect. The doubt now was to know whether these would come to finish the job or to save them. Unable to do anything else, he tried to treat the injured. Minutes later, sounds could be heard on the access stairs. It was a medical team.

The group of survivors immediately began to be teleported to the other ship. As the ship's last commander, Ethan stayed in the Bridge to see what was happening. Before leaving, he still had a chance to look at the several body bags with the fallen. Death was all over the place.

All the injured had been taken to the infirmary and the few who had escaped unhurt were taken to an empty storage area. It was not easy to see the group with the heads down and almost silent. As the wounded recovered, they were sent to that room too. There was some comfort in knowing who else had survived the attack.

The hours passed. Sitting alone in a corner, Ethan was thinking about the latest events. He didnt had signed up on Star Fleet for this. In the space of a few months, he had suffered more than most of the living officers of his rank or even in the service area.

Certainly that what had happened was not a voluntary choice, but it had broken him down. Now, he knew what it feels like to be a simple crewmember, hoping to live as he or she is under the command of a superior officer who no one knows how it will behave under pressure of enemy fire.

Although briefly, he had the notion that all lives aboard the ship he had commanded, had depended on his judgment, his wit, his ability to deceive death. Even so, he was not comfortable with the idea.

A local officer entered the area and asked for the commander of the rescued ship. Two crew members rose and pointed at Ethan. His presence was requested in this ship's meeting room.

After the presentations, Captain Hans began to ask questions. Lieutenant Miller had been the last commander of a ship of which he did not even know the name.

“What were you doing on the Bridge, Lieutenant? As far as I know, you were not part of the local crew.”

“Right, sir. I was or am not.

When I felt the first impact, I made the decision to head to the Bridge. I figured that the local emergency teams were too busy and maybe I could lend a helping hand there.”

"From what I figure, if my ship had not appeared at that time, your attempt at help would not give anyone any extra time. You all would be part of the debris."

Ethan shook his head in agreement.

“Just before you showed up, I realized that there was little else I, or any other crew member, could do. We were almost stopped, no weapons to defend or shields to protect us. We would not be successful and we were either boarded and captured or died in defense of our life.”

Captain Hans smiled.

“Now that you have had a chance to command a ship, you are eligible for a future command post. How do you feel about that?”

Ethan sighed as he looked at the wall behind the captain. He shook his head in denial as he answered.

“I feel nothing, sir. I don't think I'm better than the rest. The experience was so short that I havent seem enough to be given a command post. I don't think it was even recorded that I ever been in command of that starship.”

"You're right. Only a few on the bridge mentioned your presence and actions while you was there. The logbooks have been saved. Unfortunately, the ship exploded some time after everyone was rescued.”

Ethan looked at the captain with surprise. His tricorder with the confidential information was on board. Now it was definitely lost.

In a way he was relieved. He would not have to show what he knew to others. At the same time, he was sad to lose such information. In a strange way, the problem continued...

The captain interrupted his thoughts.

“Lieutenant Miller, despite the circumstances, I think you did well. In my report, your name will be mentioned as the last operational commander of that ship.

Do you have anything else to say?”

Ethan said no, greeted the officer and left, returning to where he had been before. He sat down and let time pass.

A few days after, the ship arrived on Earths orbit. The order was for the group to present it self to the Star Fleet headquarters. After that, they had time to join the families.

He was received by an Admiral he did not know. He had a smile on his lips that didn't inspire confidence.

“Welcome, Lieutenant Miller.

I read the report of your exploits yesterday. It seems that it has fulfilled the mission for which you categorically volunteered. The best part was getting to command a ship, even for a few moments.”

Ethan smiled without comment. In fact, he had no desire to be there.

“The release of all those prisoners will have a huge weight on your future as an officer in Star Fleet. Your actions on the bridge of the ship that rescue you, will too…

I guess you now want a command position on a starship. Am I right?”

"No sir. I dont want a command position anywhere. I always wanted a quiet place to perform my knowledge.”

“But what it has done demonstrates initiative and command capabilities. If everyone had the same characteristics, we would need to have many more ships in the Star Fleet.”

Coming from behind the desk, Admiral Garret approached the young Lieutenant.

"C'mon, c'mon. Perhaps a nice off time will do some good to you. After all, it's not easy to survive all that you've been through.

Rest for a few weeks. Talk to a counselor and come back with another mood. You will see that once you are more relaxed, everything will look different to you.”

Ethan nodded. He said goodbye and left.

The first place he went to was his parents house. His mother was gardening and when she saw him, she got up and hugged him for a long time.

“They told me you were considered lost, possibly outside Federation space.”

“It's true, mom. I've been there for a while.”

“Are you allright, my son? I think you're a little thinner.”

"I am fine, mom. Let's just say I was on a dangerous and time consuming mission.”

Without delay, his mother took him inside and bring him something to eat. She sat on the couch beside him.

“Remember, my son. You're home now. Whatever has happened, has already happened. Now you are safe.”

Ethan looked at his mother with a strange smile on his lips. He had a good reason not to agree with her.

"Safe? No one is safe. Not even on an underground installations.

In reality, everything has a price and the maximum value is life itself. No one wants to know or make anything happen to save people from their unintentional misfortunes.”

His mother seemed incredulous at his son's reaction.

“What happened to you, son? Where have you been? What is the basis for this starnge opinion?”

Ethan straightened up and looked ahead. He laced his fingers over its legs.

“In purgatory, mother. In a place I never expected to know. In a place that I thought was pure utopia.”

“What did they do to you? What mistreatment have you been put through?”

He stared at the floor without answering right away. Then he looked into his mother's eyes. His voice sounded calmer.

“What happened there wasn't even too bad to me. I was able to get around the problem more or less in a safe way. The problem was what I found out later. It makes me angry and powerless to solve it.”

"But what happened, son?"

Ethan told the story of what he had lived. She was surprised and shocked at the same time.

"What are you going to do next?"

Ethan raised his hands to his head and leaned back on the couch. His gaze in the void showed his mother why he felt that way. It seemed that he had no soul.

“Now you're home, safe from captors and other bad guys. Rest quietly. Your father arrives in a few hours and then we can talk as a family.”

Feeling safer, he fell asleep on the couch, but his mind drove him to the day he opened the encrypted file. After a few minutes, he was wake again. The information was still available. He had just lost the tricorder…

Without delay, he went to his home computer. There he could access the files, but decided not just yet. It was risky, because he didn't know if it was being monitored or not. He would have to do it at a computer station in the Star Fleet building. He would have to wait for the next day.

His father arrived home. After the hugs and affection, they caught up with the conversation. Despite Ethan's age, his parents continued to see him as their child. It was normal.

The topic always came back to his latest adventures, even during dinner. His father talked with a large smile in his mouth.

“You know, son, it's time to settle down. You've had your dose of confrontation and unrest. You have to stop and start thinking about a family. I want to live long enough to be a grandfather and see my grandchildren grow up.”

Ethan looked at his father in silence, but with a wide smile on his lips. Then he focused his attention on his plate and continued to eat.

“And all the others? All those who died at the hands of those who don't care to ruin a life? Those who died defending those who were set free? Who remembers them and how can I honor them? If I know the truth, how can I pass it on and bring the guilty to justice? ”

"Justice? What justice? If these are caught, others will take their place. It is a permanent cycle from which there is no possible escape. The best action is not to be noticed.”

“What about all the others who risk losing their lives, or of their loved ones, every day, on a ship, a colony? If I had died, how would you feel if you knew who was involved?”

"Listening, son. What I want you to understand is that you cant change almost nothing. Your action will not bring you any promotions, favors debts, thank yous or even a place of your choice at work. It will makes you look over your shoulder in an attempt to see whether you are or not someone target.

If you wish, I can put you to work by my side in my section. I can recommend a position for you and you work up from there.”

Ethan didn't answer, continuing to eat. His mind was filled with ideas of how to do justice, to punish who was involved. Someone had to pay for those crimes, for all the deaths. The question was: Where and how…

The rest of the night was quiet. His parents were happy to have their child alive and with them. It seemed that they didn't want to leave him during the rest of the night.

The next day he woke up late. He hadn't rested so comfortably in a long time, but at the same time, he thought he had slept too long. His parents had long left for their duties.

At the kitchen table, there was a fine breakfast of natural food. After spending so much time eating from replicators, these last hours of natural eating was one of the best offerings they could give him.

After personal hygiene, that tooks longer than usual, he put on the uniform and went to Star Fleet headquarters. He identified himself, told what was coming, and waited until he was called about half an hour later. His reevaluation would begin soon.

Apart from the normal questions, there were some that were constantly repeated and this became a little annoying. "How do you feel? How did you feel about performing the mission? If you killed someone and how did you feel about that? Was there anything you had not yet revealed in your report?”…

Everything was being monitored and followed by the counselor. He could not reveal that he still had dangerous information in his possession. He hoped that none of this would show up in the evaluation.

Three hours later, it was over. The counselor said there was nothing special about what had happened, giving him only two weeks of rest. His facial expression show nothing whether he had discovered if there was anything weird or not. It was an annoying emptiness.

Maybe it was purposeful. If Ethan had said anything, it could undermine the whole evaluation he'd been through. The only answer was: “Within normal parameters, Lieutenant.” He said goodbye to the officer and left the cabinet.

Outside, he looked around and took a deep breath. There were people nearby, but none of them belonged to the group that had come with him. None of them seemed to pay any attention to what was going on around them.

 Taking advantage of that, and since he was still in the building, he returned to the Admiral's floor and search for an empty office, entering as if he knew the place. Seconds later, he accessed his new email.

All the information was there. His curiosity was centered on knowing for certain who on Earth were involved in the operations to capture humans or Federated citizens. He looked for a local isometric chip and transferred the information. At his parents home, he would be much more comfortable to look for the desired information.

As he left the office, he ran into his user. He looked up at him with some surprise.

"What are you doing in here, Lieutenant?"

“I was told this was Admiral Garret's office and that I could wait here, but because he is it taking a long time to arrive, I decided to come outside.”

Although surprised, the other promptly guided him to the right cabinet. Ethan thanked the officer and stayed for a few more minutes. Basically, he had what he come for.

He felt nervous. The adrenaline rushed through his veins and that made him feel strange, maybe even observed. In the hall of the building, he sat down for a little, just to calm down. He watched the hundreds of creatures, humans and other Federated members. They were circling around, thinking that their entire future would go well, that they would always be safe, that nothing bad would ever happen to them. They knew nothing, nor of what could happen to them at any given moment.

In part, it was revolting. When one volunteer to do something, it never occurs to it that there is always one detail that someone has overlooked and that can kill or cripple us.

No one informs us of that. There is no way to know. He can only depend on our ability and attention to getting out of trouble if it happens. But what if we don't have time to run away or know that something went wrong? Who is responsible?

The idea that someone takes our place in society and continues our duties, is printed in our minds as if we were ants in which the death of a member does not affect the anthill. But what if there are many deaths? Will there be enough creatures to be constantly replaced? How long can one or several societies ever have people ready and qualified to perform the same functions as those that were missing? Has no one learned anything from wars, when this kind of situation is clearly seen? Are we now fighting a war without knowing?

The swaying of his right leg showed no calm, but some form of irritation. This was not a good sign if he was being watched. This local atmosphere was not good for calm and he decided to return to his parents' house.

There, he disconnected the computer from the net and accessed the isometric chip. The information contained was so accurate that it seemed to have been gathered from the servers of the surveyed civilizations. The elements involved were almost all of high status within their own people. These dignitaries ranged from high-ranking diplomats and military personnel, as well as major merchants and even some of the ships involved.

There was detailed information about ores, locals natives, fauna and flora, the environment and even planetary climate and all this about hundreds of Federation planets, Klingon or Romulan territory or even about any other smaller empires. There was also a lot of information about areas of space where the Federation had never been before.

This whole information seemed too much to be simply compiled by an individual, secret service or even a decade of service in any existing and known space force. It was too much information and too detailed. It was thousands of hours of research and certainly thousands of people involved. Maybe they never knew what they were really doing as they compiled that.

All of this would open the door to anyone who wanted to seize power over territories or trade, opening the possibility of bribing the high political powers. No wonder they were killing each other for all this kind of information. It was worth the weight of an entire civilization in gold.

Clearly, someone was behind all this. Within a civilization, that could easily be the Romulans, because they are the ones who spent their time gathering information about their surroundings, hidden from all, someone was gathering this information. The questions were: “What do they want ore for and what will they do with it? Was the Romulan empire preparing a war? If so, how could the high dignitaries of the various Federation planets, or others, be participating in this madness? What gains would they take?”

With more doubts than answers after a primary analysis, Ethan had to find a solution and, at the same time, answers to his questions. For now, he felt he had to talk to his family and expose the situation. Maybe they knew a way.

STDH-SOLO: Miller-P0012 ("Ethan of Federation, Chapter 12")
Chapter Twelve

Trust. Here we go again…
The rest of the day was spent reading file after file. There was so much information that not even lunch he ate. When he realized that his parents were present, it was dinner time. The meal had been taken calmly and this time without much conversation about his adventures. In the end, Ethan placed the isometric chip on the table. While his parents looked at him, he explained why.

“Everything that makes me feel helpless in relation to what I experienced is here in this chip. Here is the reason why all federation citizens and settlers are at risk of life, at risk of being imprisoned and put to work in the most severe conditions.”

"What are you going to do with it, my son?"

Asked his mother, anticipating some kind of action less appropriate to her son's safety.

“For now, I will show you. Then I listen to what you have to say and then I expect a reaction.”

Surprised, and without further comment, they went to the computer, still disconnected from the network and analyzed the information. It was not long before the lieutenant's parents gaped.

“This is far more detailed than any information I've ever seen and this is just about the space we know.

Anyone who can compile information like this, must have a well-managed and extensive network of informants. I know of only one group that can obtain information like this, but it costs Latinum, lots of Latinum.”

"Who are they, dad?"

"Thy are called "The Brokers"! A closed group of accumulators of varied information. Each element has a specific information collection area and all have a good price. Few people have access to put all the pieces together.

Even if several have access to the same information, only the first one receives the highest value. The others, receive only for confirmation of what had already been acquired.

In one way or another, everyone in the known universe has used the services of this group. This is also one of the reasons why I know how much it costs…”

“Have you used them too? For what? You are part of Star Fleet, father… ”

“In life, there are times when we cannot be proud of the choices we have made or for some reason, there was no other option to deal with. You will go through this too, my son. You Will.”

"So there is no way to eliminate, avoid or get around them?"

“Generically speaking, no! There is not!"

Ethan turned to the side, thoughtful. Soon after, he turned to his parents again.

"In that case, how do I get in touch with one of them?"

The father looked at Ethan with a serious face.

“I can't tell you. You don't have to do anything. Leave it. Lead a calm and regular life. This is not of your competence. This is for secret services...”

“I ask again: How do I get to them? I don't want to eliminate them. I just need information.”

“But that will cost you Latinum. Much!"

Ethan put his hands behind his back and went to the bedroom window. The mother approached.

“Come on, my son. You are at home. You came back alive from a chaotic situation. It is time to rest and let the competent services handle it. ”

He kept his silence as he looked outside. He seemed to guess that his parents would not help him get where he wanted to go. He had to find out who could help him.

“In a building next to the one of Star Fleet, there is a bar where the owner knows a “Broker”. Talk to him and ask for "Katwinnick".

Ask gently and in a secure way. Do not be too insistent or too anxious for that contact. Do not make threats or grab anyone to achieve this.

I don't want to lose you. You hear? It is enough to be far away and not know if you are well or not. I know what it's like to be on board a ship or even at a remote station. I know how monotonous it is and the desire to serve in another place. Somewhere with more adventures, more action.”

Ethan looked at his father and thanked him with a long hug.

“Don't worry, dad. I’m just look for answers.

In fact, it is quite possible that this guys may never be penalized for the acts they commited…”

Shortly thereafter, they all leave the room. The subject would not be brought up again that night. On the screen of the living room, the news about interplanetary relations, and especially with the Federation, seemed normal. They did not reported any attacks on colonies or gave any news about any lost ships. Nothing. All was well.

The next day, Ethan woke up with a different mood. He felt more positive. At the right time, he took the destination for the building.

At the place, he entered slowly. The interior looked exquisite, prepared to serve the elites. He approached the counter and behind it, a human girl rose. He smiled at her.

"May I help you?"

"Yes. I look for the owner.”

"Does it have to be just him?"

"Perhaps. Do you know a “Katwinnick”?

Her smile suddenly disappeared. It was obvious that she knew what he was talking about.

“We know a lot of people here, but we don't always remember who is who. I may even know who she is, but I'm not associating a face with the name.”

"When does the owner comes back?"

“Maybe in an hour. Or two…”

Ethan ordered a beer and sat in the back, near the corner of the bar. The constant look to the outside, observing who passed or entered, was little entertaining for him. The wait was becoming irritating.

After two hours and three beers, Ethan returned to the counter. He wanted to know where the owner was, but she couldn't answer. By this time, he was certain that he already knew about the Lieutenant's presence. He had to continue to be diplomatic and get what he was looking for calmly, as his father had told him. He ordered another beer and returned to his place.

About half an hour later he saw two individuals coming in. Dressed in dark colors and almost the same way, they were bulky. The owner was almost certain to arrive and those would be his bodyguards. Ten minutes later, his suspicions were confirmed.

As if he were oblivious of everything, Ethan let himself be calm, despite the constant observation of all the movements of the group. As soon as the beer ran out, he returned to the counter, right in front of the man. The suspected bodyguards face him.

"Are you the owner?"

He asked in a friendly manner.

"Yes, I am. How can I help you?"

Ethan took the isometric card out of his pocket and placed over the counter.

“An officer of Star Fleet asked me to look for someone named “Katwinnick”. He told me that you would know how to reach this person.”

The other pretended to be thinking while rummaging through the bottles and glasses inside the counter. Without looking at the Lieutenant, he answered slowly.

“It is possible that I may know who it is, but I don't know if I can reveal it to you. I don't know you.”

Ethan smiled as he looked at the counter top.

“Listen… I didn't come for a walk, I don't have weapons or any listening devices. I didn't come here to kill anyone or to fight. I'm just looking for a person to complete the rest of my mission.

The fact that you do not help me to fulfill the objective, makes my future difficult and that bothers me. By helping me, it can happen that I can also help you if the opportunity presents it self.

If you are “Katwinnick”, then reveal yourself so that I can move on.”

The other looked at him as if he had not heard anything that had been said. In the next second, he grabbed a glass, filled it, and placed it in front of Ethan.

"Wait a moment. I'll see what I can do."

Lieutenant Miller took the chip and sat in the place where he had been all the time. A few minutes later, he saw a young woman with long light brown hair getting in. He turned his gaze to the outside, but noticed the signs she had exchanged with the owner. In seconds, he sat across from him. He focused his eyes on hers. Brown and shiny.

"Are you were looking for "Katwinnick"? It's me. How can I help you?"

Looking at her for a long time as if he were soaked by her beauty, he was slow to respond.

"I need some help. Something of utmost importance and with very serious origin and consequences. If you accept it, it won't be easy to do.”

She looked outside with a smile on her face.

“I am not a mercenary. I don't do field missions or engage in combat. I only trade information. How can I help, anyway?”

Ethan shook his head. He smiled.

“I am not expecting any fighting. Personally, if there is any, I don't want to be involved.

No! That's not what I'm looking for. What I really need is information.”

“Any information is paid for and, as far as I know, you don't have enough money to buy to many.”

His facial expression stopped looking friendly.

“Well, since introductions are no longer necessary, I move on to the subject at hand.

There has been a lot of demand for several types of minerals. Much demand indeed. There are humans, Star Fleet crews, people from remote colonies or not, crews of civilian and military ships, being attacked everywhere and turned into working slaves. What I need is complicated and I admit that it can be very difficult to acquire, but it has to be done.”

He paused purposefully as he looked at her. At that moment, the owner arrives with a drink for her. To Ethan, it was normal for a bar to be the reference point for the entry and exit of information, news or secrets. But what degree of secrecy would they be subjected to? If Admirals, diplomats and other high-ranking members were involved, what would they be disclosing?

"What are you looking for, essentially?"

 “Mine locations. Points where at least humans were taken.”

With a strange smile, she looked to the out side as she passed the tip of the index finger over the rim of the glass.

“I don't know if you've noticed, but almost nobody cares about others and that's why I don't understand your dedication. If Star Fleet were interested in knowing that, you wouldn't be talking to me and this conversation wouldn't even be here.”

“Know this, Miss “Katwinnick”. I was in one of those mines and I know what it costs to everyone who is taken to these jobs, whether they are humans or not. A problem of equal seriousness is the fact that millions of tons of ore are being taken without knowing where and what they are for. Someone has to know something.”

She took another drink. Then she focused on is eyes.

"Why does a simple Lieutenant feel the need to save other humans in place of who really should do that?"

Ethan looked down without knowing exactly what to say. She continued.

"I'll see what I can do. We will meet again here in a week, at the same time.”

He nodded his head. This was not how he wanted it to run, but he had no other option. He would have to wait.

She got up and, before leaving, signaled the owner. He smiled.

Lieutenant Miller watched "Katwinnick" move as she walked away. She moved with the confidence of someone who has nothing to lose, of not feeling affected by anything, as if no one could touch her. It was a curious feeling.

Complying with the requirements given by the Fleet for its evaluation, during the resto f week, he continue to do tests and medical consultations to detect any post-traumatic symptoms due to its previous adventure.

In reality, he didn't feel much need to do it, because in addition to being imprisoned, he was not in their hands for a long time, nor did he suffer anything special on a physical level, but if the Fleet wanted that, he had to comply.

Thus, the week passed. In the two days before he met "Katwinnick", he was a little impatient. He woke up at night and then found it hard to fall asleep again. It seemed that time did not pass.

On the day of the meeting, he woke up very early. For a long time, he prepared himself as if for a romantic date. This time, he would be dressed as a civilian. Perhaps he would be seen in a different manner.

At the appointed moment, he come in to the bar, sitting in the same corneras before. The owner recognized him and brought him a drink.

"This is on the house."

With a smile on my lips, the owner continued.

"I am aware of your demand and I think it is an honorable mission."

"How do you know about my demand?"

““Katwinnick” is a personal friend. She understood what you wanted to do, but she has doubts about the success of it.”

Ethan shook his head in denial. Could it be that she speak openly about this to other people? Had she spoken to any of the elements of Star Fleet, perhaps even one of those involved? What level of confidence could he give her?

The owner walked away. A few minutes later, “Katwinnick” came in. This time she was dressed more provocatively. A simple nightgown with a pronounced neckline and tight pants that exposed all the shapes of her glorious body.

She sat down in front of him, running her hands through her hair.

"I have good and bad news."

He didn't replay and she smiled as if the day had 24 hours of light. She continued.

"Personally, I don't have access to all the information I want to, but I can take you to someone that can help."

She raised her hand to the chest and took an isometric chip, placing it on the table.

“There are some information there, but surely that is not all. I spent all this time thinking about what you said and I was curious, maybe too much.

I talked to some people about this problem and the numbers started to arrive. I conclude that something strange is going on.”

He kept silent as he looked into her eyes. He wanted to ask questions, but was annoyed that the bar owner knew what was going on. If he belonged to the network, was it beneficial for him to contact a “Brocker” to obtain the information he wanted? Who would want to know what Miller was up to?

"Aren't you going speak?"

She asked without smiling.

"Why does the bartender know what we are talking about?"

She looked in the counter direction.

“I asked him for help, as I always do for strange cases. I had to bring him up to date on some parts of this matter. Perhaps mosto f them…

This place is frequented by many people of high value within Star Fleet and at diplomatic level. Much of what I know comes from them and a good part goes through the owner of this bar.”

Ethan grab the chip.

"How much will this cost me?"

At that moment, the bartender arrived with a drink for her. He had a wide smile on his lips. Before leaving, he touched her shoulder. Ethan was not surprised. Perhaps there was something romantic between the two.

“In reality, I don't know if you are able to pay for this. I'm in doubt if I can give this to you for a good cause or if I charge a symbolic amount.

From what I learned, what you want is something very confidential and can take a lifetime to achieve it, if one can achieve anything.”

“There has to be something that I can do for you. I don't want you to be in trouble because of me.”

She looked at him and took a long drink. As she set the glass down, her eyes fixed on the table top.

"There is something I want very much, but you don't have enough power to make it happen."

Then she looked up, fixing her eyes on the Lieutenant’s.

“When you talked about the intention of saving other humans, I thought you were joking. It seemed such a strange story that I honestly didn't believe it. But when I started researching, I noticed a strange pattern and that changed my mind.

Over the days, the various known sources seemed to shy away from the subject and the answers became more and more elusive. That interested me, while it worried me at the same time.

After so long doing this, it was the first time that I didn't get any answers I needed and that's why I decided to believe you. I know someone who will certainly be able to give you some answers, perhaps not all, but some. If you want, I'll take you to that person. As for payment for the service, I don't ask you for anything special, but...”

“Go on...”

“I have a brother who is under arrest on a murder charge. If you know anyone who can reduce his sentence or put him in a less secure place, that would be enough for me.”

"What's his name?"

"James, James Katwinnick."

Ethan looked at the glass in front of him. It was not an easy task, but he would try.

"So… "Katwinnick" is a proper name... I thought it was a code name. Hum…

That person, the one with the possible answers to my questions. When can I talk to her?”

“Within two days I have to go to a base to get a certain piece of equipment. I can take you there. Say what you have to say and then I'll bring you back home. At most, in five days you will be back.”

Ethan looked at her without smiling. He agreed.

Already standing, and before leaving, he told her.

“I am grateful for the assistence. In the long run, I think you will not be unsatisfied...”

Then he left without looking at anything but the door.

Outside, he decided to go to the Star Fleet building. It was time to talk to someone about this delicate subject. The risk he ran was to get killed, but even though he knew this, he decided to let his guard down and go ahead.

Inside the building, and next to the secretary, he asked who the local Section 31 officer was and asked to speak to him.The secretary passed the message and shortly thereafter, Ethan was on his way to the office.

After being sent in, he met someone he knew.

“Lieutenant Miller, welcome. What can I do for you?”

Captain Arkan stood and greeted the Lieutenant with a strong handshake. The young Lieutenant looked at him with no smiles.

“I bring you a lot of problems, but I cannot speak in the open setting of your office. This is so delicate that I just have you as an alternative. My life is at your hands.”

The other lost his smile.

"What can be that dangerous?"

"Is there a safe place where we can talk, sir?"

STDH-SOLO: Miller-P0013 ("Ethan of Federation, Chapter 13")
Chapter Thirteen

Freeing one evil to avoid another

Arkan asked the Lieutenant to follow him and moments later they were on a balcony. Ethan looked into the distance.

“When we were being saved from the mine, I accidentally entered a space where the director of the mine was. He had a gun in his hand and to protect me, I told him that I could help him to get out of there as if he himself were one of the slave miners. The fool accepted.

I took the opportunity to ask him what all this ore was for and why they were picking up people from everywhere to extract it in such a hurry.”

Ethan turned, face the Captain and continued.

“He told me that the orders came from high-ranking people and diplomatic connections. Important members of all governments in power, people from multiple planets inside and outside factions and even people from unaligned planets. Everyone was involved in this. Something or some promise had been given to them to do this without questioning the fate of the ore, its collectors, without honor or patriotism. Whoever discovers and protests, disappears without a trace…”

He stopped talking and inhaled until his chest was full.

“My surprise came when he said that humans knew as much as the rest. I didn't want to believe it. I couldn't give credit to such information, but after some research, I confirmed that there is a possibility. There are humans involved in this.

When we were found, I already had this information, but not any confirmation, so I didn't speak, I didn't reveal it. I didn't want to believe it.”

Arkan put his hands on the balcony and looked away. I said quietly.

“This information is too serious not to be taken into account. If you had revealed it, I might have known a little more by now.”

“I'm sorry, Captain. Reveal it to whom? Who to trust? How to say it? Until I confirmed it, I thought it was not relevant.”

“However, you ended up revealing it to me. How do you know I'm trustworthy and if I'm not connected with them some how?”

"Do not know, sir. I just know that I can do nothing. At least, alone. I feel powerless to change anything.”

“It doesn't matter, now. I have to think about what I'm going to do next.”

“It wasn't just because of that that i have decided to tell you this. My research has revealed that there are many more mines than is thought.

Ironically, I contacted a “Broker” and she helped me to get a lot of information. To learn more, she requires a payment. A value that I dont have.”

"If you tell me who she is, maybe we can make a deal."

"Yeah, I thought about that too, but what she wants involves several departments, namely justice."

The Captain looked at Ethan again with a smile on his lips. He seemed to know what kind of request she wanted. Perhaps he thought the Lieutenant had been deceived, perhaps even with the wrong information. Ethan continued.

 “She has a brother that was arrested on charges of murder. If I could find a way to free him, she would find a way to get me more information. She promised me all she could.”

Arkan laughed.

“A woman always finds a way to get us to do what they want. It gives me the impression that she found a way to take you where she wanted. That way, she may have given you false information to get you to get her brother release.

No, Lieutenant. I will not involve other services to free someone in exchange for… something or nothing. How could you believe that?”

“Who said I believed it? The situation is that at this point, any information that takes us to other imprisoned humans will always be welcome. This is what i believe.”

"Who is she, Lieutenant?"

Ethan, still facing the Captain, looked at him for a long time in silence.

“I can't tell you, sir. I would prefer your help, as this is what we have to go on at this point.”

“Lieutenant, this type of mission is not your competence, nor are you trained for it. If it goes wrong, you could die or be caught again. Maybe even in a place that we can't reach.”

"If you don't do this, sir, there may be no valuable information for a while and it can cost many people their lives, humans or not."

Arkan looked away again.

“I don't have enough power to find a way to release a prisoner.

If the charge is of murder, it becomes even more complicated. I won't be able to free him, Lieutenant.”

"Even if this individual can be tracked and captured again, just in case?"

“The first action they take when they are released is to remove the location chip. If one get out of sight, one will no longer be found.”

“I know that, sir. I'm going to talk to someone else about this prisoner. If I get to release him, I will need your help and some equipment. You will be surprised at what I am going to ask from you.”

Arkan nodded and returned to the office. Ethan moved to the admiralty area. The intention was to contact the Admiral who had authorized him to follow the mission to release the slave miners. At the moment, he was busy and the Lieutenant had to wait. He couldn't pass up the opportunity and to get the prisoners release, this was the right time.

After an hour of waiting, he was told to get in. Admiral Simons received him with smiles and pats on the back. In an almost diplomatic way, Ethan revealed the reason for his presence.

“Sir, it seems that the mission to free humans from the clutches of mining pirates is not over yet. I recently obtained information about other locations where there are mines with humans in unknown numbers. The problem is that whoever has this information, asks for a strange price and that´s why I am here.”

“What price is that? Platinum gold bars? ”

The young Lieutenant smiled.

“Perhaps it would be easier to pay that way, but no. This is not what this informer wants. There’s a prisoner on a murder charge who needs to be released.”

The Admiral rested his arms on the table top. The reaction showed some surprise. Seconds later, he was shaking his head on a negative form.

“This is quite difficult to achieve. It is a murder case and that is a crime with very serious penalties. It can even lead to the death penalty. It is not easy to release someone in these circumstances.”

“I wouldn't risk talking about it if it weren't too important. His release as a form of payment can help free thousands of humans from the clutches of unscrupulous creatures. Won't it be worth it?”

The admiral stood up, walking alongside the large window of his office. He looked out thoughtfully.

"Is that person reliable, or is it trying to deceive you with false information?"

"I can't tell you that I trust her entirely, but I have an idea of how to keep the prisoner under the eye with a location chip."

The Admiral turned with a wide smile.

“Something they do immediately after they are released is to track ones body and remove any electronic equipment that is placed on them. It doesn't work.”

"If he knows of only one, how can he know about the others?"

Simons smiled again.

“It's not badly thought, but how are you going to do that? How are you going to be able to put multiple locators on the prisoner without him knowing?

“If you find a way to release him, the rest is of my responsibility.

I think I should’t talk about the rest of the plan. I don't want to compromise it and I also think it's a security for me.”

The Admiral sat down again.

“Without promising you anything, I can only tell you that I will try to do what you ask. It won't be easy, but...”

“Sir, I understand that there may be difficulties, but if you succeed, that individual will be arrested again with in a few days, if necessary or immediately if he commits some kind of crime. I promise to find a way to do it and I already have someone prepared for that eventuality.”

“As I told you, Lieutenant, I will try. What is the name of this prisoner?”

Ethan stood up.

“James Winnick, sir.”

Simons accessed the computer and read what was exposed. He took a long pause. The Lieutenant insisted.

“When can I hear good news, sir? In two days I have a trip to make and I would like to dispatch this…”

“During this afternoon, I will be able to tell you something. Do not forget that if you achieve this, it will be your responsibility, Lieutenant.”

Ethan smiled, thanked, saluted the Admiral and said goodbye. Despite being dressed in civilian clothes, that didn't make him feel any less. We came home. It was time to see the contents of the isometric file.

He took care of the computer's security and then opened the files. Their organization was quite different from the others he had seen before, but even so they gave indications of the location of countless mines. There was no indication of the number of creatures of any faction present in these locations. Were these files created for a purpose? Was "Katwinnick" deceiving him just to get his brother free?

All of this led him to think seriously about her. Who really was she? What did he know about her? And the bar owner? Who was he really and what ties did he have?

Although they looked like humans, they could easily be genetically modified or transformed creatures or even use some kind of camouflage device to have a more familiar appearance.

Had Ethan contacted the right people to take him where he wanted or was he falling into a big trap, ending up dead without acquiring any kind of valuable information or without being able to reach any place where other humans could be? How far would was the capacity of those beeings behind all this situation?

He closed his eyes. The heap of doubts was so great that it gave him a headache. He put his hands on his head and squeezed it, breathing hard. Would it be worth doing some kind of investigation? Who to warn about any possible discovery? How many people of these could be involved?

Thousands of questions attacked his mind and seemed to be endless. When he signed up for Starfleet, he knew he would take risks, whether as a crew member on a ship or if he was present on a space base or station. Even on a planet, it was known that at any moment, all comfort could be transformed into chaos, calamity, but taking risk of life on his own planet was something that he never expected.

He sighed. He retired to drink some water and went back to the computer. His curiosity and sense of duty towards humanity drove him to learn more, to seek on how to save his fellowmen. For a few more hours, he focused his attention on the files, reading most of them, then he turned everything off.

He came to lunch. On the screen of the room, he saw news with images of celebrations, agreements with various planetary governments inside and outside the Union of Planets, new scientific or archaeological discoveries. The latter created some curiosity for Ethan.

Apparently, in a remote corner of the Federated space, they had discovered the remains of a very advanced and old civilization. The images showed buildings destroyed, not by the passage of time, but by some kind of war and that could have been the end of that species. Although it was nothing new, as other similar situations had been found on other locations, the strange thing was that it was found a few hundred meters below the planetary surface where living conditions didn’t seem to be normal.

Powered by generators that drew energy from the planet itself, there were computers and other active machinery, some for defense and others for maintenance. This was one of the biggest differences from the discoveries made from other civilizations.

For Ethan, it was still strange. Why were those facilities maintained and defended? There was no answer to his questions on the news.

It would be just over sixteen hundred hours when he received a cal. Admiral Simons was on line, but his facial appearance was not one of satisfaction.

“Lieutenant, the prisoner will be released in about an hour. He will be your responsibility and I recommend caution and attention. Very mutch attention.

The classification of this crime did not just go through morder… This cost me a lot of favors. Don't make me lose confidence in you...”

With a wide smile on his lips, Lieutenant Miller greeted the Admiral standing.

"Yes sir. I am immensely grateful to you.

I hope to be able to reach the objectives and free as many humans as possible.”

The Admiral said goodbye, and Ethan left immediately for the Star Fleet building. There was not a moment to lose and shortly after arriving, he was inside Captain Arkan's office. Without greeting the officer, he began to speak immediately.

“The prisoner will be released shortly. I need your help to complete an idea that I have and at the same time give you the first laurels of the mission.”

Arkan got up and approached Ethan.

“Calm down, Lieutenant. Calm down. What are you thinking about?”

“I need the help of an inmate who considers himself important in those prison facilities. I have an idea of creating a little confusion with the prisoner releasing in order to put several localization chips under his skin without he realizing it. For this to happen, he has to be hurt.”

The Captain looked to the side and sighed.

"You put me in situations that would never have crossed my mind... This mission's success has to be so great, that we will have to do everything to reach the objectives, even if it is illegal. Is that it, Lieutenant?"

"You say that as if everything that Section 31 has done, since it came into being, has always been carried out legally and ethically."

Arkan looked coldly at the Lieutenant. Then he got up and took a complete tour of the office. He seemed to understand the plan, but there was something that didn't fit. Ethan continued.

“I want him to enter the infirmary to be treated. Several chips should be available to be placed under his skin. He will only know of the existence of one: the one who is placed under his attention at the moment of liberation. This one, we know it will be rendered useless in some way, but the rest…”

“It is a very big risk, but it can happen. I think it might work.

There are some prisoners on site who will be able to help, but their price may include a sentence reduction, release or change of facilities.”

“We will try to talk to them, know their price and maybe we can find something beneficial for their well-being. For me, the preference falls on humans and those who still have a living relatives.”

“Although I don't quite understand your “big”plan, Lieutenant, I will assist you. Perhaps we can achieved more than is thought in the long run.”

“There is something else, Captain. I will need some of your sophisticated equipment. Listening equipment, surveillance and even something to help escape, if necessary.”

"What's the idea, Lieutenant?"

“Do you think I'm just going to release a prisoner without knowing where he's going and who he's going to be with? Do you think I'm going to be with a “Broker” without knowing if I'm going to fall into a trap?

I want to be and feel minimally prepared for surprises, something I never gave preference to, Captain. Especially now.”

Arkan sighed again and led Lieutenant Miller to the elevator. So many floors went down that Ethan lost count. Shortly afterwards, they entered a corridor that would take them into high-end facilities.

“You are the first non-Section 31 member to enter here. Let's get what you think you need and never tell anyone about it. Was that clear?”

Ethan nodded. The tables next to him had so much equipment that it was difficult to know what they were and what they were for. Some were, or seemed, normal, but in that place, everything was certainly different.

After describing what he wanted and how he needed to act, several systems were put in front of him. Its operation was identical to what he knew, but there were some touches. Specific details.

While Lieutenant Miller was distracted by all that technology, Captain Arkan had tried to find a medical team to “treat” the prisoner to be released. It was time to speak to the prisoners to create the necessary confusion.

 Ethan smiled. Something so crazy was going on that he couldn't even guess the consequences. Although it was exciting, the outcome of everything could be quite different than desired. Shortly afterwards they arrived at the prison facilities in a Section 31 shuttle.

The two officers introduced themselves to the director of the prison. The latter already knew what they were coming for, but not the need for any cooperation. He immediately said that he found the presence of Section 31 elements strange and even the need to release a prisoner with that type of accusation. His final surprise had been to learn of the plan to create a kind of confusion to hurt the prisoner to be released, something to which he immediately hesitated.

Bluntly, Arkan imposed his authority and the director finally gave in under pressure. Lieutenant Miller's crazy plan was about to start.

The first phase was to speak with the various prisoners with “power” at that location. In a secluded room, the first “boss” appeared, chained with hands and feet. He was a big man, muscular and covered in tattoos that looked like something tribal. He demanded respect.

Sitting and handcuffed to the table, he remained silent as he watched the officers. Ethan walked over confidently and sat across from him.

"I have a proposal to make to you."

"I'm not interested!"

“Yes, you are. It can save your family.”

The other shuddered, raising his head fully so that he could look the Lieutenant in the eye as if he wanted to kill him right there. Ethan stood up calmly, circling the table to place a hand on the prisoner's shoulder. The latter spoke aggressively.

 “If I threaten my family again, I'll find a way to kill you. You can be sure of that, fleet man.”

“But I don't want to threaten, harm, or kill your family. None of that serves me. Quite the contrary. I want to save them, protect them and at the same time, protect the rest of humanity.”

The prisoner turned his head slowly towards the Lieutenant. He looked confused. Ethan continued.

"I need your help inside, if you can assist."

“I'm not going to snitch anyone, even if I don't like him. The snitches don't last long here, even if they are in a comfortable position as I am at the moment.”

“Thats not what I want. I guarantee you."

To everyone's surprise, Ethan asked for the keys to release the other from the table. Then he sat across from him. The prisoner was completely surprised.

“You will not understand very well what I am going to tell you, but I am here to ask you for assistence, for help.

There is an unknown force that kidnap as many creatures as possible, federated or not, and then put them in various types of mines. Tons of ore have been mined for an unknown purpose and placed on unknown locations.

There is a prisoner who may be aware of this and more and will be released soon. He won't reveal anything to us for free, so his movements have to be followed, tracked. We need him free so that he can take us where we want, where the source of his knowledge can be.

Your help, if you so decide to assist, is to find a way to put him in the infirmary, hurt him a little, but without major damage. I don't want broken bones or deep blows and above all, I don't want him dead. If there is a chance, I need cuts on my arms and above all on my legs. I want him on the ward to be "healed". Do you think you can find a way to do that?”

The prisoner looked at the Lieutenant and smiled. His arrogance seemed to be greater than the pride of being human.

"Why do I have to do all this?"

"I've already told you. To save your family and many others.”

“I don't care about others. They don't interest me.”

Ethan stood up again, placing his hand on the prisoner's shoulder. The others were under strain because they knew the prisoner was free of the handcuffs.

“I bet you wouldn't feel that way if you knew that your family had been taken into a mine and ended up dying due to effort, lack of food, accidental explosion or even the vacuum of space.

One day you will be released, or you will have the chance to escape and see them again. They, without any accusations or problems with the law, will always have to live in the presence of others, live in community. If they all disappear, who will be with them? Lack of help could put the latter at risk. Try to think about their future, more than your own.

Anyway, it will even be good for you to cause a little confusion authorized by the prison director and for which there will be no big repercussions.”

"So, all I have to do is mistreat a prisoner?"

"Yes! Nothing special."

"My family?"

"You have my word of honor that I will send you news about there safety."

The prisoner got up. The group shuddered in surprise.

“Let me go inside. I have people to talk to.”

The huge human was taken inside. Now the waiting time begins.

STDH-SOLO: Miller-P0014 ("Ethan of Federation, Chapter 14")
Chapter Fourteen

A new adventure
The night was beginning to set in when the riots started. In the observation room, Arkan, Miller and other officers could watch the events unfold. The Section 31 medical personnel had been sent to the Infirmary and were ready. The target would appear at any moment.

The wounded began to arrive and shortly afterwards the desired target appeared. The wounds he brought were the ones Ethan wanted and everything was prepared immediately. The chips had been installed on the legs. At that moment, Arkan felt the need to explain something to Ethan.

“These chips don't work like the others. Their method is intermittent, activating only for a few seconds at a time. The received signals identify who has that equipment. This is usually put in our operationals, but this is a special case.

"Why aren't they used on all Starfleet crews?"

"Are you aware of the amount of signals we would receive, Lieutenant?"

“Yes, but at the same time, we would always know where our people is, wherever they could be. Now, it would be a golden situation, because in addition to knowing where they were and making it easier to save them, it would be a way of knowing where a part of the mines were.”

The Captain looked at the Lieutenant and smiled. He did not answer.

Ethan went to the Infirmary. James Winnick was sitting on a bench, but already checked.

“I am Lieutenant Ethan Miller, Mr. Winnick. You will be released under my responsibility.

It seems that I was bit late. A little earlier and you would have escaped this rebellion.”

The other stood up.

"When can we get out of here?"

Ethan smiled. He made him a signal and they both left the Infirmary. The Lieutenant's plan seemed to be on track. The transport that had brought the group to the prison facilities, took them back with one more member.

They landed on the small square a short distance from the bar where he used to meet "Katwinnick". Ethan and James left and the rest of the group continued their journey.

As soon as they entered the bar, the owner immediately identified the ex-prisoner and ran into the premises, certainly to communicate the news to anyone of interest. Ethan decided to sit in his usual corner.

James smiled, despite the pain he felt from his injuries, but he seemed to be holding up well or he was still under the influence of the painkillers. The bar owner brought them a drink. To the ex-prisoner, it looked like whiskey.

“Katwinnick” didnt took a long time to arrive. Unsurprisingly, she hugged the brother for a long time and that made him complain of some pain. She looked at her brother in silence as if confirming that it was really him.

"What happened to you? What has happened?"

The barman came over with a tray.

"This is to celebrate the arrival of a champion."

Then he turned to Ethan.

“In this case, two champions. You are a person of honor, Ethan. You promised and delivered.”

Ethan stood up, looking at "Katwinnick" who was grinning.

"Contact me when it's time to make the trip."

“Tomorrow, at 9 am. Be at the space-port. My ship is called “Arcádia”.”

Ethan moved forward, heading for the exit. Then he stoped and turned back. He grabbed the tricorder and approached James' neck. While the sensor was working, he rested his left hand on Katwinnick's shoulder.

“Just to confirm that the prison location chip had been taken. He's really a free man.”

Then he turned towards James with a smile.

“Enjoy it well and don't do anything special, if you know what I mean…”

Katwinnick looked at her brother and then at Ethan with an even bigger smile. The young and proud Lieutenant smiled back and kissed the girl's cheek as a goodbye. This time he rely left.

A little excited about what could happen during the trip, it took a while to fall asleep. Taking advantage of the moment, he turned on the tricorder and picked up the signal from the micro that he had left in Katwinnick's hair.

The recordings revealed that shortly after Ethan left, she had taken her brother to their parents home, who were delighted with the pleasant surprise. Conversations revolved around the fact that he had arrived, how he had been released and who had done it. Nothing had been discussed about trips, or what to do next.

The Lieutenant's name had only been spoken three times. It seemed that there were no plans going on at the moment. For sure that he would not be quiet for a long time, but it was almost certainly that he was being watched by the members of Section 31.

The following morning, Lieutenant Miller came to the “Arcadia” at the scheduled time. His eyes did not lie, showing that he had not slept much that night. Dressed in civilian clothes, he brought some equipment of what he had asked to Arkan. It was hidden in false scars that he had placed on his arms, abdomen and legs. Something similar to what he had used in the previous mission, although those did not hide any equipment.

He walkaround the ship, observing its structure. He was distracted until he heard a “Good morning!” behind him. Katwinnick continued to smile from ear to ear.

"Ready to go?"

“No, but it has to be. Higher values ask for my presence.”

"Don't you bring luggage?"

“I have a small leg pack here. I bring underwear and a first aid kit.”

The access door came down. She entered.

"Welcome to my transport."

Ethan thanked and climbed on board. She gave him a brief guided tour and minutes later they took off.

Her smile was permanent. Sitting beside her in the cockpit, he could see all her happiness spilling over as if it were lit up. As he looked into space, he could see that she was looking at him from time to time through the reflection in the inner glass. Ethan did not react to that.

"What are you thinking about?"

She asked.

“In reality, nothing. I feel empty. I do not know what I will face, nor whether I will be truly helped. I'm expecting something unknown.”

“The person I'm taking you to can help you a lot more than I can. Most of the information ends up there and is then distributed by those who ask for it.

As in Star Fleet, there are also hierarchies that have to be respected.”

"How did you become a" Broker"?"

She looked at him for a long time.

“I once belonged to Star Fleet too, Ethan. One day, I ask to be promoted, but my place was taken by another officer who was a darling to the Captain. I didnt like the result and punched my superior officer.

I was given the choice: To voluntarily leave or face the military council and leave, but with the possibility of spending time in prison. Imagine what I chose?”

"That explains the reason for leaving Star Fleet, but it does not answer what I asked."

“I had to do something, Ethan. One day I went into that bar where you have meet me. There was some confusion and I entered a fight without wanting to. After defeating the attackers almost alone, I was invited to join a group of…

She stopped talking. Ethan looked at her, noticing that she was focusing her eyes somewhere out there. Then, she continued.

“…A group of fighters, warriors, mercenaries. Some bad people.

For a few months, I trained and even went on two missions. Then I got tired. It was too much for me and my family that never knew if I was alive or dead.

Resnick, the owner of this bar, invited me to be part of his information gathering team and I am still part of it today.”

"Can you say that he is your superior?"

"Yes. We are a team of ten operatives under his command. He was the one who told me to help you with whatever you need and who contacted the one I'm taking you to.

I reckon they are aware of your arrival and intensions and I have the idea that they will help you. After all, we all have families spread across the universe and we want the best for everyone.”

"Is this Resnick the only boss on Earth?"

"Yes. Our operatives on this planet are able to know almost everything there is to know on Earth. Then they transmit those informations to him.”

Ethan shook his head in denial. He thought to himself, if there were secret services in Star Fleet, why weren't they the sources of all the necessary knowledge on the planet? How far would this group capacity to gather information go?

"And you? How did you get to Star Fleet?”

“Both parents serve on it. I just followed in their footsteps.”

“Your training has nothing to do with what you are doing. Why do you do it?”

“Someone has to. If I managed to get this far, I will try to continue until I can't no more.”

"And then? Do you go back to regular service?"

“If I survive, I don't even know if I want to stay on Star Fleet. There are too many private interests and those who do not seek power, are always in the firing line.

These situations happen due to lack of widespread interest, secrecy and even lack of cooperation between agencies.”

“If everything worked properly, our “Broker” services whould not had reason to exist.”

She looked at him, seeing that he didn't show any smile.

Ethan placed a hand on her sholder and retired. He decided to get some sleep, trying to recover the sleep he had lost.

The next morning, he decided not to get out of bed as soon as he woke up. He took the time to think about her. He liked her appearance, but not what she did. There was something about her that made him uncomfortable and he felt that she could be a target at any time and by unknown parties, even by those with whom she worked with.

His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. As soon as it opened, he observed the woman in front of him.

"Do you want to join me for dinner?"

Without answering, he nodded. The door closed, but her perfume remained in the air, as well as the sight of the provocative clothes she was wearing. After putting on a T-shirt, he joined her.

"I was thinking that you weren't going to have a meal while you were on this ship."

"I am sorry. I felt tired and I lay down for a few minuts. I guess fell asleep.”

"Have you noticed that we treat each other differently?"

Ethan did not respond immediately, looking only at what there was to eat.

“I don't know how to do it any other way. I was brought up that way. If we don't share anything in our normal life, I see no reason to get any closer than this.

I figure that our route ends at the place where you will take me. After that... I don't know if we'll see each other anymore.”

“Don't be pessimistic. Men can't resist a girl like me.”

She laughed out loud, but he did even broke a smile. His mind was focused on his personal need to finish the mission he set out to do. His motivation was no longer on Star Fleet, but simply on the fact of trying to save humans. To him, she seemed to show no interest in that. Perhaps by helping him, she had some kind of perk.

“In a few hours we will be at the scheduled location. There are some rules that you must respect.

One is the fact that the area is well guarded. They don't like people with guns, electronic equipment that can help them win platinum gold in games. They dont like fights or any kind of confusion.

I ask you to be as cordial as possible.”

“I didn't get here to lose everything. I will not create obstacles of any kind.”

While eating, Ethan looked out through the cockpit windows. Responding fleetingly to what she said or asked, he seemed oblivious to everything else. Anxiety was building inside him.

The trip took almost two days at the ship's cruising speed. During that time, Ethan barely left the room, keeping his attention on the recordings he had made or what he had recorded in the last few hours from Katwinnick's microphone.

The two met in the cockpit only when the spacecraft reached the orbit of what appeared to be a huge asteroid with some buildings emerging from its surface. Was it another mine where he would find slaves at work?

"This was a mine once."

Katwinnick said without smiles. He look at her with a strange feeling. She continued.

“Now it is a meeting place for legitimate, or not, merchants, pirates, gamblers, influential and wealthy people looking for action or desperate people looking for a better life.

Here you live or die, either physically or mentally.”

"What was explored here?"

"Deuterium. This piece of rock was full of it. It is not known where it came from and how it ended up here. The existing and nearest civilization does not come here. They say there is something evil about this place.”

"Perhaps the locals would help spread this theory to avoid unwanted visits. Or maybe they wore right."

“I don't know, nor do I want to. This is the fourth time I have come here and I have never seen anything special happening in this área, so…”

"What are you going to do after you leave me?"

"I'll be waiting for you. You are my responsibility.

Mind this. If anyone asked you to complete one or more missions as a form of payment for the information provided, my ship will have to serve as support vessel.”

Ethan look at her with surprise. That was a strange sentence to say at that moment. Minutes later, they docked.

Before leaving the ship, Katwinnick made one more comment.

“I'm going to take you to a bar. The contact is there. You will wait by the blue lounge counter. When it appears, the contact is made and the rest is up to you.”

Before leaving, Ethan went to get some listening devices, hiding a couple in between his gloved fingers. He assumed that at any time, his contact would try to take advantage of the position Ethan occupied within Star Fleet and ask for exclusive information as a form of payment. There would have to be a way to guarantee his protection.

From the spaceport to the proximity of the bar, they flew in an internal shuttle. It looked like a convertible car. Katwinnick did not give up driving and the Lieutenant could only enjoy the scenery and the trip.

Disguisedly, he also appreciated the young woman's silhouette. She showed a desirable shape, even desirable and he felt like a caged animal. His animal side asked him to hug her, cuddle her, touch her whole body, dominate her in a violent way, but his morals and decency told him to do just the opposite, to control himself. He simply sighed.

After exiting the landing platform, two corridors later, they wore in front of the bars door. They could listen to some music playing very quietly. The sound only increased when the doors to the inner corridor were opened.

“We are already here, Ethan. Remember what I told you and everything will be fine.”

He did not answer.

Halfway down the corridor, the second door opened, showing a human accompanied by a female Orion. Immediately, Ethan grabbed Katwinnick and leaned her against the wall, kissing her with pleasure.

First he felt her fingers dig into his abdomen, then gently slid down to the kidney area. The other couple moved away, passing the first door to the other side. Ethan watched them leave during the kiss.

“Ethan! Ethan!”

She was screeming, trying to get him to notice something with some irritation. He looked her in the eyes.

“What the hell was that? Don't do that again, do you understand?”

Her finger was in front of his nose.

“Sorry, but I had to. This human that passed here knows who i am and if he saw me, he could tell someone that I was not where I should be. That is, on Earth, on forced vacations.

I didn't have time to explain. There are no ulterior motives. I guarantee you.”

“Just don't do it again. I don't like being kissed by surprise. I feel raped.”

Ethan apologized and walked away. They both went to the second door. She seemed to be really irritated by what had happened. As soon as the secundary doors opened, they felt the true effect of the music playing. It was high, relly high.

The lighting was poor, suitable for party environments. In sight, a long bar counter, a wide dance floor and a huddle of creatures moving as if they were electrocuted.

On each side of the track, two more private areas with tables, almost all occupied.

"Wait for me in the blue zone."

She said and before Ethan answered, she walked away.

The only visible blue spot was the bar. He approached and asked the bartender where the area he was “the blue zone”. The other indicated a door at the bottom of the stairs ahead.

He got in. The musical sound was considerably less and calmer. The worst part was the brightness that was still less than on the other side. Looking around, he noticed that all the tables were occupied. He sat down at the counter.

Ethan ordered Romulan beer and seconds later he had a glass in front of him.

"Can you buy me a drink?"

Asked an Orion female who sat beside him. Ethan smiled.

“I won't be here long enough for us to drink it together. You will have to choose someone else.”

“Maybe I can help you find what you're looking for. Where are you from?

If you want to talk to someone, I can make that happen.”

"Appreciate that, but if you are not my contact, I have everything else taken care. Furthermore, I am passing through.”

He had barely finished speaking when Katwinnick appeared. She looked at the other with the eyes of someone about to enter into a combat. The other stepped away.

“They are waiting for you. Come with me."

Aggressively pulling him by the arm, almost as if dragging him, she guided him to some stairs. At the top, with the doors open, he stop her and hurriedly drank the contents of the his glass. Them moved into another set of stairs.

Armed guards made a barrier and wanted to search them. Ethan watched the way they searched Katwinnick. It felt more like a probing game than a search. When the guard approached him, the human stop him. The other reacted authoritatively.

"If you don't do this, you won't get any further!"

"If you do that, you won't do anything else."

“Ethan! What are you doing? Don't you remember the rules I told you about?”

The Earthman opened his coat, turning on himself.

“Do you see any weapons? Something explosive? Any threats?”

There was no answer. He dropped his arms and started to go up the stairs before everyone's watchful eyes. Katwinnick followed him.

On the upper level, standing and looking at the dancers, there was a tall Orion with few clothes. Katwinnick approached her and said something. She turned to the human.

“My name is Misana. Welcome.

Lieutenant Miller... I see that you are a human of courage or a madman. Facing my guards like that, you will not live long.”

Ethan looked at Katwinnick. She looked back at him with a closed expression.

“I came from far to talk to you, not to kill you. I guess you should know that by now. Looking for weapons is a useless action, however, if I carried explosives embedded in my clothes, who would know?

I don't see any device here that detects that sort of things. Are you aware that anyone can kill another creature with their hands or through any chemical or even through a virus released into the local air or even into the air ducts?”

“You are right, human.

Anyway, I know what you're looking for. This subject is very complicated and expensive. I'm afraid I have to charge something for that knowledge.”

“It was to be expected. What kind of billing are we talking about?”

She turned to the human.

“Well, I have a mission that requires some delivery of materials by hand and I need someone new, without being known or who has no direct connections to me.”

“As you may know, I am still a member of Star Fleet. I cannot do anything illegal under the risk of being arrested or have that matter used against me personally.”

She bent down and pulled a container from under the local table. Then she deliver it to Ethan.

"Can this be considered as contraband or something that can be used against you?"

"I do not know. I don't know what the internal content is.

What matters is that the information we managed to collect say that there are more mines than the Federation, the Klingons or even the Romulans will ever be able to close. This is  almost a lost war.”

Ethan sighed. He put his hands together and prepared one of the recording devices he was wearing in his gloves, approached her, grabbed the box and moved closer. Without much time, he managed to put the device in a cavity of her bracelet.

Touching her made the guards activate their weapons and stay in attack mode. He spoke in a way to be heard through the sound of the music, but only to her.

“You know, I have the idea that you don't really understand the dimension of the risk that this problema represents. In the worst case scenario, even this facilities can be looted and their users taken as slaves.

If this continues, there will be no one to come here and have fun or anything else. You will end up losing everything wherever you go. Your help is vital, both to save prisoners from the mines and to maintain your activities, whether collecting information or trafficking in goods.”

 She turned back to the dance floor. Her silence seemed compromising. Ethan charge again.

He did something even more dramatic, placing his hand between her hair and the back of her neck. The second recording device was in place.

The guards moved forward until they touched the human. She turned, showing no feeling.

“Please, Misana. Look around you. See what you have and what you will lose if all this continues.”

“The information that I was able to provide you are updated until the moment of loading in the isometric chip. There are some speculations about what it is for and where it is stored, but nothing concrete.

You may be right on what you say about the future. I will think about it seriously. You have my guarantee that you will be informed about future activities in relation to this problem. Until then, you will have to do what I asked you to do as a form of payment.”

Ethan felt there was nothing else he could do, but thank her. He bowed slightly and walked away. He went down the stairs under the watchful eyes of the guards and then he stopped.

"I forgot to ask what ship is expecting me, where do I go and to whom I deliver this."

"Do not worry. I know where to go. Just follow me."

With some surprise, Ethan followed Katwinnick into some darker corridors. Halfway through, they met a group of unknown elements.

It was still strange for him to know how she knew his mission and who he was going to meet.

“Go with them, Ethan. They'll take you to a ship. Do what you're told without questions. Here the rules are different from those of the Star Fleet. And I want to see you again…”

Ethan didn't answer and followed the group in silence. Through the various dimly lit corridors, doors opened and closed and everything looked the same everywhere. It was certain that he would be taken to an area right inside the facility and placed inside a ship. He didn't feel safe, not safe at all. Without warning, he was hit on the head.

STDH-SOLO: Miller-P0015 ("Ethan of Federation, Chapter 15")
Chapter fifteen

What a man has to do… 

Woke up. The first sensation he had was being bound by his ankles and wrists. He felt stretched, pulled by the same items that bound him. He couldn't see anything either. His head was covered by an opaque cloth. The sound he heard seemed to be the same as a ship makes in space. Something metallic and steady, only this one was annoying too. It would not be easy to forget. 

He breathed slowly. Since he didn't know what was on the other side of the cloth, he couldn't afford to reveal that he was awake and conscious. At that moment, he felt a slight impression on his left arm. Something was stinging him. It didn't hurt much, but it was strange. A sense of calm came over him and he fell asleep again. 

When he regained consciousness, he noticed that he was being carried while dragging his boots. The cloth was still over his head and he could see nothing. Still disoriented, he tried to memorize the turns as he was carried. Maybe it would serve him for an escape attempt. 

Finally, he was seated in a chair. His first feeling was that the chair had "arms", something where they forced him to support his own. After a while, although no one spoke, he knew there were someone with him. The cloth has finally removed from his head and he could now slowly open his eyes. 

There was a dim light above him that only show the silhouette that sat in front of him. Even so, it was not enough to reveal who the other was. In any case, and after so long in the dark, even that light was a little annoying to his eyes. He tried not to show his discomfort. 

"So? Have you woken? How do you feel?" 

Asked the other as if he really was interested in Ethan’s welfare. The human sighed and didn't answer. At that moment, a brighter light dazzled his eyes. He closed them as tightly as he could, so that no light would pass while turning his face. 

"Come, come. What is it? Are we afraid of a little light, Lieutenant?” 

Someone grabbed his head and turned it to the light. Stiff fingers pulled her eyelids up and the light entered the cornea. He moaned in pain. 

“Now that you're here, I can tell you the reason. 

We spent some time after you because we need your services. You are known as a reliable person who arrives on time and you are honest too. 

 Because I am a cautious individual, I want the person that do this service to me to be completely reliable. This cargo is of the utmost importance to me and nothing can happen to it. Was I clear?” 

 “And couldn't you have hired me via some sort of communicating device? Was it necessary all this apparatus?” 

"Yes! It was! I don't want any leaks. All you need to know comes from me and you can only respond to or communicate with me.” 

 “What is the load? Precious stones? Gold? The bodies of your rivals? What is so important to have all this work?” 

 “I can't tell you yet. You just need to know that it is important to me and that you have to reach your destination without any fails or problems. You also have to know that if you are intercepted by any authority, you must flee and hide the ship. I don't want anyone to know what you're carrying. Am I clear?” 

"What if I don't accept the service?" 

The other rose from his chair as if propelled by a spring. 

“You have that option, course, but it is not recommended. I am in a position to help you a lot in the future and specialy after the success of this mission. Or make you lose everything you have of precious.” 

 “I don't want to be associated with any type of smuggling transport that could damage my reputation. If I have to run away from authority, I can suddenly become a target to be shot. No! Thank you for the offer.” 

The other man made a brief silence as he looked at Ethan. He sat down again and spoke calmly. 

“I forgot to mention the payment. One thousand bricks. Two and half hundred now and the rest after. I pay you this amount in advance so that you can equip the ship of your choice with better equipment, if you think you should. If not, it's yours to do whatever you want with it.” 

Silence returned to the room. Although a little weak, Ethan’s eyes were now more accustomed to the projected light. He shook his head in denial. 

"What the hell do I have to carrie?" 

A woman emerged from the shadows, carrying an object in her hands. She placed it on the table, making a resounding sound when metal hit metal. The Lieutenant looked at the strange container, puzzled. At the same time, someone released him from his bonds. 

He got up slowly, being able to really see what it was. 

The object was composed of two metal triangles, with the shortest sides at the ends and the pinnacles facing the center. Irregular metal bars joined the two shapes along the sides, probably also serving as handles. The rest of the container appeared to be hollow, but there was a slight distortion within its limits and Ethan assumed it was some kind of force field. 

However, what really caught his eye was the center of the object, where the tops of the two silver triangles almost touched. There, between them, suspended in the void, was a tiny point of pure blackness. 

The first thought that crossed Ethan's mind contained a word, but was immediately dismissed by its inherent impossibility. Still, he asked the question, in part already knowing what the answer would be. 

"What is this?" 

"This... " 

Replied the woman. 

" a black hole. And we created it.” 

The human looked at that for a long time. "Is it worth it?" he thought, but at the same time, he was fascinated with an uncomfortable curiosity... Several doubts assaulted his mind. "What can this be used for? Does it emit any kind of radiation?”… 

The question he asked was: 

"But how can you contain such a thing in that?" 

The woman looked at him and replied. 

"We can’t..." 


"Fortunately the hole doesn't grow very fast". 

Ethan began to understand the urgency of the situation and also a huge range of associated risks. 

"But it’s weight will continue to increase..." 

The woman interrupted him to introduce herself. 

"My name is Audrey and there is a reason why we chose you..." 

She approached the human and took a small plant from her pocket. 

"You know, you're the only person we've met so far that is compatible with her." 

He looked at the small plant in disbelief and thought. They must be completely crazy! Trying to stay calm, he asked. 

"This kind of bunch of flowers…, it's for luck, it's a kind of amulet, what the hell is that?" 

Not! It is much, much more than that. 

Audrey replied. She saw that he was confused. 

"I'm going to show you what it's for". 

She approached the container where the black hole was and grab a sheet of paper that was on the table, tearing it into small. Then with tweezers, she took two small pieces and carefully approached them to the tiny black hole. Suddenly the paper was as if aspirated, disintegrating with a bizarre sound, disappearing suddenly. 

"The black hole likes to eat paper. So what?" 

Audrey said. 

"Try to lift the container." 

He approached and lifted the container with difficulty. 

"What is the plant good for anyway in all this? Do you want to convince me that the black hole is not vegetarian?” 

Audey looked at him silently and pushed the plant close to the container. It began to move slowly towards the paper that was spread on the table... After a few moments, the table top was clean and the plant slightly larger. Then, it crawled under the container of the black hole, wrapping it in a delicate embrace with its stems. A kind of legs appeared and the plant raised the container in the air. At that moment, Ethan felt a very strange feeling of well-being and heard a very sweet voice in his mind. 

 "Hi, do you like me?" 

The voice reminded him of someone he had difficulty identifying at the time. He was fascinated and answered loudly. 

"Yes, I like you." 

Realizing suddenly that he was talking to a plant, he shook his head. It was not normal. 

Audrey smiled. 

"Very well. Now just one more thing is missing.” 

She took out the sharp tweezers and pricked a finger from the human's hand. A small drop of blood appeared. She asked him. 

“What is the plant saying to you now?” 

He was about to reply that he was not listening to anything, but a small desperate voice was heard. 

"Feed me! Feed me!" 

As if possessed, he approached the plant and saw a kind of tentacle start to curl in his direction. He stretched his finger and the plant groped until it found the drop of blood, which disappeared quickly. He felt extremely well and heard the voice again saying: 

"Thank, human. Now we can go.” 

He was stunned. It was all quite strange and completely out of the ordinary or even what he had ever heard. Somehow.he began to understand thing. The plant would be able to carry the extra weight of the black hole that would gradually increase during transport and all he had to do was occasionally give it a few drops of blood to maintain the telepathic link.  

Using the plant, he could save on the structural reinforcements needed so that the ship could take the weight of the black hole, and all he had to buy was just a half dozen spare parts for the plant to eat along the way and grow as needed in order to grab it self tight inside the ship, distributing the additional weight. If it was absolutely necessary, he could always give a few more drops of blood or more pieces of the ship it self...  

Some how, he felt good about the plant and said: 

"Well, Audrey this is by far the strangest cargo I will ever carry... What can go wrong, right? 

Audrey reply 

"I knew you would accept.  

The plant is called Audrey 2". 

“You know, I can't walk with such a thing in the middle of the street.” 

“No, that's why we have a hollow statue here that is much more discreet. Officially it is something that was found in an archaeological excavation and it is something that is only of interest to museums... 

Much more composed of all the physical effort he was subjected to and the surprise about the container and its transport, Ethan looked around. The projected light showed other figures in that place, but these were covered and close to the wall. They were immobile, but their attention was focused on him. He looked back at the table, plant and container. 

His mind was screaming “danger” as if it were a constant audible warning. His body wanted to stay as far away from that as possible, but in the present situation it was impossible. If he didn't accept it, he might not leave the place alive, however, if he accepted it, he would take risks that are still unknown. None of that seemed right to him and he felt he had no choice. The one that talk to him first, deliver something. 

“Take this chip with instructions and also as a guide to your destination. Audrey will travel with you. Do not stop anywhere, do not even attend emergency request situations.” 

At that moment, a mini hover-truck with a box entered the room. These were opened and the content shown. It was the promissed gold. At least, a part of it. 

“You will take this to the ship and use it for whatever you think is convenient. Parts, provisions, I don't know…” 

Ethan nodded at the idea that he was going to get into something strange. He still had no choice. 

He was taken to the space-port, accompanied by payment and cargo. From time to time he would look back, watching the group. Now, with everything inside the ship, at the top of the cargo access door, he took one last look at the small space-port. His strange journey was about to begin. 

STDH-SOLO: Vincente-P001 ("Endlessness")

Setting: EARTH, Paris
Stardate: 31293.0500

He had seen death in all of its forms, and the fact he could still come across new manners in which a person could die after over 3000 years amazed him beyond his ability to express.  The days of a head being bashed in by a wooden club or to see a spear fly clean through a man's chest had long been gone.  The human race had claimed to have evolved but the truth had been that only their capacity to kill their own in an increasingly violent and numerous ways had changed.  The core ideas of proving one's point of view to be better than anyone else's still echoed as it had been done when man in its infancy had begun to build communities and cities.

The empty metropolis of Paris stood as a pride monument of these unchanging ways, 28 million lives having been erased from existence in the blink of an eye.  The politicians would react as they had always done, and the general populous would be outraged as they did each and every time death could no longer be counted on their hands.  Want-to-be heroes would claim to anyone who cared to listen that this would be the last time that such an atrocity would take place, and those same heroes would try to reassure the others that this time would be the last.

As noble and valiant as these activists might have been, their words would alas find their way to be lost on the winds of time.  The lessons of the past were doomed to be forgotten and painfully learned again, a pattern that he had seen repeat far too many times for him to recall exactly how many times it had happened.

The weapons grew in power and speed and the number of casualties grew just as fast, but man's wisdom remained as it had always been; small and beyond any ability to move passed the human race's need to prove itself better, smarter, stronger or deadlier to anyone and everyone, no matter the cost.

Vincente looked around at the now empty city where only shadows of what once was stood. This would not be the first time he had to leave behind who and what he had become, but it had been the first time he had lost so many acquaintances so quickly.  Being an immortal meant that he usually watched those he had come to know pass one after the other before it was time for him to move on to another life, another identity. The attack on Paris has greatly hastened this process making him feel all of the usual sadness in a single all encompassing moment.

He had not been alone to possess this gift, or this curse depending on how one would see things, but he had been the only left on EARTH as far as he knew. The others had ventured to the stars long ago in the hopes of escaping the madness.  Over the centuries he had lost track of them and hoped that they had been successful in their quest for peace and tranquility.

He had stayed behind on EARTH placing his hopes in humanity and once again he found himself sorely disappointed. At first it had been chief against chief; then nation against nation; and finally world against world. In every case the results were the same -- death.

The attack on Paris had happened when he had gone freehand rock climbing on the Alps. The isolation and physical requirements of the chosen activity always helped him clear his mind, but even if he had stayed here the odds had well been in favour of him surviving. Either way he would have found himself here and alone exactly as he was now.  He could feel the radiation dance on his skin but the invisible fatal rays had no effect on him, allowing for his undisturbed early morning travels through the empty city streets.

The best he could do was to return to his apartment and gather his belongings before vanishing and reinventing himself. After 3000 years of doing so, this changing of life and identity had become almost easy. Actually the physical parts were easy, the emotional parts had and would always be the difficult aspects of this transition, and each time he did so, things only became a little bit more challenging.

He had been born out of the ashes of fire and death during the final days of Pompeii over 3000 years ago. His silent journey through history began on that fateful day, and it took him several centuries afterwards to learn to make sure his footprints through time remained as hidden as could be. The fears and inability to understand what he had become had made him a man to be run away from or hunted to be used, abused and examined.  Between the centuries that followed he considered himself an exception, a freak, a divine envoy or even a cursed being. Whatever he had become on that fiery day when the volcano erupted and the city incinerated, he had become more than a simple man, a man that would in time decide to be but an observer and stay away from all human affairs and politics.

Through the ages small items were gathered by him, most were lost as he moved from one life to the next, others were sold or even donated,  but a few remained secure in his possession. Historically these trinkets meant little but to him they were a reminder of the lives he had come to cherish and forced to leave behind.  The items were kept in his room tucked away in a simple old style duffle bag, and it was all he needed and wanted.

The journey through the dark and ash filled corridors of the apartment building caused him to recall some of his earliest memories.  The parts of his home town which had not been engulfed by lava after the first eruption had looked and felt very much like this; dark, empty and yet filled with the echoes of the last desperate cries of so many.

His apartment contained only the bare minimum of comforts, Vicente having learned long ago that physical possessions meant little. Those few items that he had held onto were found in the duffle bag located inside small truck at the foot of his bed.  He glanced out through the window to see the eiffel tower, the monument still as impressive today as when he saw it built.  Maybe one day in a few centuries he would return to this place, but now he had to go.

With the bag over his shoulder he ventured back into the ash covered city. Another life and identity had come to an end, and the cold and dry early morning breeze would insure that his steps towards his next would be erased.

Maybe it had been time for him to leave EARTH. As great as his patience and hopes had been, 3000 years of disappointment had finally taken their toll. The emptiness of the city echoed his own, leaving him to face the truth with an impossibility of escape.

Where he went next he did not know, his only condition having been that it had to be as far away from the planet and people that had taken so much from him, including hope.  For a moment he debated as to how go to about this journey, weighing the pros and cons of each option he came up with until he settled on one. By far it had not been the best option but it had been the easiest and most secured.

Many years ago their path had crossed and somehow the mysterious man knew who and what he was, still the 3000 years old secret remained hidden from everyone else.  A small communicator had been given to Vincente with the promise that should he ever need help, someone would be there for him.

He fetched the small device from his duffel bag and activated it.

=/\= Yes? =/\= Came the much older voice than he remembered, but the tone had still been the same meaning that the man had still been around.

"Charles, I need a favour."

A. K. D'Anjou

The voice of the eternal wanderer

aka Vin
aka Vincent
aka Victor
aka Vinny
aka Vincenzo
amongst many others.

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