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 <fcharette1969@gmail.com> or Tiffany <sttr242526@gmail.com> 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 INDEX
Gemma
Post # Title
001 Neri, The Bait
002 Dalra, The Flight
Vincente
Post # Title
001 Endlessness
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
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.

"NO!"

"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: 32006.1100

"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: 32006.1510

"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: 32006.1630

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: 32006.1745

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: 32006.1915

"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: 32006.1945

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: 32006.2350

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: 32007.0100

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: 32007.0115

"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: 32007.0200

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: 32007.0630

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: 32007.0700

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: 32007.1200

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: 32007.1300

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: 32008.2300

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.

[[FLASHBACK]]
[[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."

"WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE."

"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
NEW ALEXANDRIA

[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
NEW ALEXANDRIA

[The fun is getting to wear multiple disguises and getting to explore multiple personalities and bring them to life. Jenna Fischer]
STDH-SOLO: Vincente-P001 ("Endlessness")
"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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