Federation Starbase 23 - Jaeih's Stories

Kestrel 01: Taking Flight

By Jaeih t`Radaik

Introduction - A foreword by the Author

This story came about because of a minor scene in an episode of 'The West Wing', but ended up fairly far removed from it as my center-point changed. Now the story turns on the second part, as opposed to the first. I have yet to finish it, but I need to re-work the story as I am unhappy with certain sections of it. These revisions might lead me in yet another direction, so I cannot even write from where I've stopped!

We'll see what happens as this story gets edited.

Additional: 22nd December 2005. At long last, the tale is finally complete. It remains to be seen what people think of it, but I think I have told a story and told it well. I did not skimp when it came to length, as if I felt it needed more dialogue, related scenes, additional background, then I went ahead and did so. I flung in so many additional scenes that this story went from what was originally going to be 10 chapters, then on revision 12, to a final, staggering (to me, anyway) 18 chapters of some 85,000 words! Wow.

Anyway. I am very pleased with and proud of this, even though there were some corners I wrote myself into that I couldn’t get back out and ended up having to climb a wall/re-orient the gravity field to keep going, everything else since chapter eight is as good as most of ‘First Steps’.

Acknowledgements: Diane Duane, for the creation of the Rihannsu and their culture, and their attitude on the Klingons. Commander La’ra, for further Klingon culture and technology elements and general suggestions, as well as his use as a sounding board. Sethan, for the appearance of House Rial and further Rihannsu elements. Joseph Manno, for general suggestions and use as a sounding board.

So, without further ado, here is the rewritten and completed ‘Kestrel’. Read on, and bloody-well enjoy it after all the effort I’ve put into it!

Chapter One

Date: 15th April 2268
Time: 1350 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4087.88
Location: Commander's quarters, RIS Kestrel.

Commander Jaeih i-Neihssian t`Radaik, set in authority over the recently-commissioned Rihannsu Imperial Starship Kestrel, tried to rub the tiredness out of her eyes as she stared again at the glowing amber characters on her desk terminal screen.

She had been going over the final repair and maintenance reports from the last day of the shakedown cruise and was making sure everything met with her approval. The last two months' ship trials had been exactly that, a trial. But as a brand new—or rather, newly converted—Ship of the Line, she didn't want to have to put in for repairs right after having signed off on saying that everything was okay.

Having personally overseen every major aspect of the conversion, she knew how almost everything was supposed to work. The reality—while never going to match up to the perfection of computer simulations—was not as wildly off-target as she had once feared they might be.

Jaeih closed her eyes and offered a quick but heartfelt prayer of thanks to the Elements and Powers for the speed at which that particular problem had been overcome. Her overtired mind threatened to fall back into engine intermix ratios again, but she forcibly pushed them aside.

Jaeih also now knew the truth behind all the noise surrounding Klingon ship design. She realised that most of the things she had heard were just jokes, rumours and exaggerations, but a surprising number did hold a kernel of the truth.

The weapons, for example. Even though this was one of the first D6-class ships built, the heavy disruptors and drone launchers she had pulled out had been robustly designed, well built, and immaculately maintained—and were thus on their way back to the Klingons now that the ship was no longer part of a surplus spares depot. The transporters were likewise excellent systems, with little needing done to them to restore them to factory condition. No Rihanha had any experience of this phenomenon so she had no frame of reference, but the Klingons were not getting them back. They were too much fun.

They were an amazing contrast to the rest of the ship, Jaeih thought with a grimace. But the Klingons love their guns, as someone once put it, and their boarding parties. The sanitary facilities, however…

She understood why the jokes about the perpetual Klin bad mood had come about. The Feds claimed that the Klingons didn't have any facilities, and while this wasn't true, the facilities provided were so… Spartan… that they might as well have not been there. Jaeih had made damn sure that proper, civilised sanitary facilities had been provided for all her crew, to ensure that flying around in a Klingon ship didn't result in Klingon dispositions.

As for the rest of their systems, Jaeih found them to be… solidly built. All things Rihannsu were designed not only to be functional and serviceable, but also to be elegant. Designed with an eye to aesthetics, even the most utilitarian Rihannsu workspace had a stark beauty to it, even if only in the clean, uncluttered lines of a console.

Klingons, though… They went in for rugged durability. Some maligned the Klingons for their technological prowess, or lack thereof. Said that disruptors were the easiest heavy weapons to develop after drones—and the Klingons used both.

Such people seemed to forget that the Klingons had an Empire that was larger than the Rihannsu one, and ran it efficiently and with an iron hand. Fools, incompetents and technical illiterates cannot run and maintain an interstellar empire, and the Klingons had founded theirs nearly three centuries ago.

Despite all that, however, the Klingons' non-weapons systems seemed to suffer. The weapons were mostly the equal of the Gorn and Federation, but other important systems like sensors and communications—the more 'civilian' of a starship's departments—lacked sensitivity. Sensors were less flexible in use and had less range, but not due to lack of power.

Communications were also less capable, able to handle far less data loads than they should be. They didn't even have long-range video communications, the Klingons apparently preferring audio only for sector-spanning distances. Admittedly, this did save power that the Klingons could use for more tactical applications. Research systems were decidedly lacking from the Rihannsu norm as the laboratory facilities that Jaeih had seen were poorly equipped and under-utilised.

It seems that the main interest that Klingons have in ships is using them to blow up other things, and little else, Jaeih thought absent-mindedly.

Due to the proclivity of certain bureaus of her own government, Rihannsu shipboard science and medical research capability was heavily stressed. This was to ensure that any major vessel had the capability to combat possible outbreaks from remote testing facilities, and… not-so-remote test sites.

Although, now that Rihannsu systems had been integrated with the Klingon ship numerous upgrades in performance had been noted. The forward phase disruptors—the Klingons called them “phasers” to distinguish them from their heavy disruptors—had finer aim and longer range. Existing sensor packages had increased performance in range and the new Rihannsu packages added to their adaptability. The laboratories were fully staffed and had state-of-the-art research systems, if not actual advanced medical facilities. Video communications were farther-reaching and more secure, able to filter out more background noise and such like. The improvements were generally minor, but they were numerous.

It seemed to Jaeih that if the Klingons put more effort into computers, most of these benefits would be theirs also. The basic improvements came down to finer computer control and faster processing speeds, but Klingons weren't known for their pursuit of knowledge for knowledge's sake.

Ah well. It is their loss, and it gives us an advantage if we say nothing of it, Jaeih finally decided.

Regardless, Jaeih was keen to see how her new ship would perform. It had less rear shielding than her old Warbird, but far greater speed and manoeuvrability to compensate. If someone did get behind her, all of Kestrel's beam weapons could fire directly behind. With heavy warp engines being attached to the Warbirds, their manoeuvrability had been severely hobbled and Jaeih was very glad she wouldn't have to deal with that after the agility and grace of the sublight cruiser she had commanded for the previous sixteen years.

She was eager, however, to try out all the new features her latest toy had. Tractor beams, transporters, phasers, more power than she knew what to do with, and speed that could match the Gorn, Klingons, and Feds.

However, she knew enough not to fall into overconfidence. Indeed, this may be the most powerful ship in the Rihannsu fleet right now but it was still inferior to the Federation's all-powerful 'starships'. It would take a great deal of skill and cunning to beat them, and right now that was what Jaeih lacked.

The art of war would have to be relearned by her and those who followed her in commanding a converted Klingon ship. Her torpedoes were less powerful, her cloak a huge power drain and she had no idea how to fly and fight at warp speeds, beyond what she had watched the Gorn and Klingons do. Even that could not be relied on, as they were battling sublight ships.

Worse, for those in warp-converted Rihannsu vessels, the commanders would not only have too learn how to fly and fight at warp speeds, but also fight their own memories as their ships became sitting ducks in terms of sublight manoeuvrability. Instincts honed by a century of sublight battles would have to be broken, lest the ships under their command break apart beneath them.

Jaeih looked forward to the challenge, and was confident that she could handle whatever the galaxy could throw at her. And I will be able to cloak and hide from that which I cannot! she thought with a grin. But enough daydreaming, and back to the reports.

Jaeih worked on for a time, and finally signed off on the last of them. Attaching them to the queue of reports waiting to be sent at the next scheduled transmission time, she then shut down her desktop terminal and stretched luxuriously. A fairly loud yawn echoed around her private quarters, eliciting a grin from the tired woman as she combed her fingers through her raven-black, waist-length hair.

It had been a long day and all she wanted to do was take a quick run through the 'fresher and collapse into bed. However, it has been some time since she had been on the bridge and Jaeih was uncomfortable leaving her 'baby' in the hands of anyone else.

Sighing, she tapped a button on her desk communicator and put a call through to the bridge, several decks above her.

“Bridge, erei`Riov t`AAnikh here,” came the amused voice of Kestrel's First Officer.

“Lyie, this is Jaeih.” Although you already knew that it would be me and that is why you are smirking, you little nei'rrih!

“Ie, Riov. How may I assist you?”

“You can give me a report on ship's status and any news received, Lyie,” Jaeih ordered tiredly, the smile evident in her voice.

Up on the bridge, subCommander Lyie t`AAnikh, first officer of the most powerful ship in the Rihannsu Grand Fleet—until the K7R-class battlecruisers entered service later this year—rolled her eyes at her commanding officer. Which, fortunately for Lyie, Jaeih couldn't see on an audio only intercom channel.

Lyie thought about telling Jaeih that nothing had changed since the last inquiry she made, three hours ago. However, despite worrying over her ship like a mother hlai and all the amusement such behaviour engendered, if Jaeih thought you were crossing a line she'd attack with all the ferociousness of a cornered susse-thrai.

Settling for the safe middle ground, Lyie said, “All systems at 95% operational or above, no sensor contacts, no urgent communications. We are running at warp four, on course for Starbase Six. Our ETA at this speed is two days, 17.8 hours.”

“Very good. I'm going to get some sleep now, but inform me immediately if anything happens. Riov, out.”

The channel clicked shut, and Lyie wandered back to the command chair. She noted Jaeih's orders in the duty log for Second Officer tr`Maelitra, as she was due off the bridge herself in nearly two hours.

It must be nice being a Riov, Lyie thought with a small grin. Able to take mid-afternoon naps and such like…

Settling comfortably into the command chair, Lyie contented herself with watching the stars streak past the edges of the viewscreen, and thinking of a warm bath in her quarters after her duty shift was over.

Chapter Two

Date: 15th April 2268
Time: 2010 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4089.2
Location: RIS Kestrel en route to Grand Fleet Starbase Six.

T`Radaik woke to the sound of her intercom panel trying to get her attention. The realisation that it was the rapid, high-pitched chime of an urgent call rather than the slower, softer chime of a normal call snapped her fully awake.

Leaning over to open a channel, she said, “T`Radaik here. Report,” while she hurriedly dressed herself.

“Lhhei, we are receiving a distress call from a civilian colony vessel,” came the arrogant tones of her second officer, Senior Centurion Zoal tr`Maelitra. “They report that their light-speed engine has been destroyed and they have suffered massive structural damage and ship-wide power failures. They also claim that most of their officers are dead and that they are unsure of their exact location. They give their passenger/cargo manifest and last verified position.” He paused, as if for dramatic effect—although it could just have been that he was reading the manifest—before speaking again. “They are currently transporting 784 men, women and children to the colony on Eilhaunn, and their message states that their life support systems are unstable.”

Jaeih paused in the process of pulling on her uniform singlet and exploded with a muffled, “Oh khest!

“Riov, I am sorry, but I couldn't make—” tr`Maelitra started, but Jaeih cut him off.

“Never mind. Who is in position to render aid?” she asked as she slid her long legs into her thigh-high boots.

Zoal was apparently out to impress his new CO, as he had done his homework. “Rekkhai, there are no other ships in that area as of last report. If you will forgive me, I have also sent a signal to Starbase Six, informing them of the colony ship's situation and requesting updated ship positions and verification on the colony ship itself. All that remains is for you to decide if we should continue on course or go to their aid.”

Jaeih looked round sharply at that. Technically, her second officer had just violated protocol—if nothing else—by sending a signal not authorised by the ship's CO. However, as time was apparently of the essence here, Jaeih was willing to overlook it. Had we been under communications silence, I would hope that he contact me first before being so… thorough, Jaeih though, but all she said was, “Have Navigation plot a course for their last confirmed position and implement at flank speed. Have Communications code a dispatch for Seidhu tr`Khaell on Starbase Six, informing him of our intent, course, approximate destination area and subsequent arrival at a later date. Also, have Communications, Navigation, and Science attempt to triangulate their exact position from time underway and last port-of-call to refine the intercept vector.”

“I hear and obey, Riov,” Zoal responded.

“Also, summon erei`Riov t`AAnikh to the bridge. I shall be up shortly,” Jaeih finally ordered.

“Ie, Rekkhai.”

“And Second Officer?”

“Ie, Rekkhai?”

“Good work. Riov, out.”


Heading up to the bridge, Jaeih passed a technician coming out of a fairly large room with a big table with a built-in computer terminal. She paused, momentarily confused, until she realised with a mental groan that she had forgotten about this place.

She walked in, hit a intercom panel and ordered, “Bridge, this is the Riov. Disregard my last order and have the bridge crew and first officer assemble in the briefing room on deck three. Riov, out.”

Several minutes later, the Beta shift bridge crew was in and seated, with Lyie next to Jaeih. There was a questioning look on the Second Officer's face, so Jaeih thought she could start on a lighter note by explaining.

“Forgive me,” she began to the room at large. “I am still used to thinking in Warbird terms. I had forgotten that we have a lot more space on this vessel and the various amenities this affords us. Such as a goodly-sized briefing room for me to 'brief' you in.” Jaeih gave them a wry grin, which was met with amusement, polite regard, or brittle courtesy, dependent on the recipient's own nature.

“So, to business. Helm, current status.”

The rather plain-looking helm officer sat primly at attention as she began to speak, her melodious voice filling the room.

Riov, with the help of Navigation and Communications we have managed to narrow the colony ship's position down to a cubic light-month volume of space. Their ship's low speed helped in this regard. I have locked in the course supplied by Arrain tr`Akaidai and we are en-route at flank speed as ordered. Our ETA at this speed to the nearest edge of the search area is approximately 28 hours.”

With a voice like that she should have been a singer, or at least a communications officer, Jaeih thought, not for the first time. Senior Centurion Mrian t`Jaihen's report was short and concise, and Jaeih both approved of her brevity and was disappointed that she fell silent so soon.

“Second Officer, ship's status?”

The young blonde—a vanishingly rare oddity for a Rihanha—leaned forwards and clasped his hands on the table. “Lhhei, we are currently at Battle Alert with shields up but weapons disarmed. The boards are clear of systems' failures or warnings, and the ship shows no signs of strain. Local space is clear of sensor contacts, and only routine Fleet message traffic has been received—aside from the distress call—for the last four hours.”

“Have you confirmed that this distress call is genuine?” Jaeih asked. She deliberately phrased her question ambiguously, to see just how far her third in command had pushed himself.

Tr`Maelitra's piercing blue eyes regarded his CO with confidence. “I have received confirmation from Starbase Six that this vessel, the RCS New Dawn, does indeed exist. Her manifest and destination matches those in the distress call and she is authorised to be in this area, but she has not stopped at any other port since she left dock. The signal itself is definitely from the New Dawn as the computer authentication codes check out. However, since the ship is outside sensor range I cannot determine if the distress call itself is genuine.”

Zoal finished there and leaned back into his chair. Jaeih regarded him seriously from behind guarded emerald eyes. The arrogant tone persisted yet, but that was a personality trait shared by practically all Rihanha as a matter of course. His words and attitude were both beyond reproach, being properly respectful in all ways. He was obviously out to gain his commander's favour and was pulling out all the safeties to show that he was capable.

However, Jaeih felt a vague sense of unease as she looked at him. This sense had served her well in many different situations so she was not about to dismiss it, but neither could she see any danger here other than an obviously capable and ambitious junior officer.

Pushing her misgivings to one side—but not dismissing them—Jaeih pressed the intercom panel button and said,

“Bridge, this is the Riov.”

“Bridge here, Riov. Erein tr`Hloamnia at Communications.”

Erein, get me the master engineer and route the call down to this briefing room.”

“Ie, Rekkhai.”

A new voice came over the speakers after a few moments' wait. “Riov, this is Enarrain tr`Asenth. How may I serve?”

Enarrain, status of the warp engines?” Jaeih inquired.

“Rekkhai, power output is within predicted limits, no abnormal readings detected either from the engines themselves or from Rihannsu systems interfacing with the Klingon technology. Power consumption is also within specified parameters.”

“Very good. I want the power available and the engines made ready for extended duration at emergency warp speed. I want it for as long as we can safely hold it, so I also want you to personally supervise the engines to ensure their smooth running. When it is no longer safe to hold speed I want to be notified immediately, and preferably with some advance warning. Understood?”

The momentary pause from her engineer made plain to all his misgivings without him actually having to voice them, but he was too seasoned an officer to question a direct order.

“Ie, Rekkhai,” he said simply, and closed the channel. No doubt to mutter to himself about his new Commander's disregard for his precious equipment, Jaeih thought with a slight smile, but back to business.

“Bridge, Riov.”

“Bridge here, Erein tr`Hloamnia,” came the reply again.

Erein, instruct the helm officer to increase speed to emergency warp and hold there. Have him calculate a revised ETA and forward it to the briefing room terminal.”

“Ie, Rekkhai.”

Jaeih looked back at her staff after the channel closed and asked, “Comments?” because of the looks of concern flitting across their faces.

After looking around at one another, tr`Maelitra spoke up, to the consternation of the others.

Lhhei, do you not think it unwise to push the engines to such extremes for a non-military emergency—not to mention the ship being barely out of dry-dock?”

Surprising all present—even Lyie—Jaeih said in a congenial manner, “Why, Second Officer, of course I do. Emergency warp speed not only damages the engines themselves after a prolonged run, the strain also threatens the structural integrity of the entire ship. It is not something to be undertaken lightly or on a whim.”

Tr`Maelitra ventured, “Then why—”

That was as far as he got. Eyes suddenly cold impaled Zoal, then swept around the table lest anyone think her outburst was solely for an upstart officer.

Jaeih snapped, “ 'Then why' is because there are many hundreds of our own people out there in the unforgiving void of space, all waiting to die unless we get there in time!” She glared around at them again. “Does this mean nothing to you?”

Receiving no response beyond blank faces, Jaeih let her disgust show but said nothing further about it. If they feel nothing, then nothing is to be gained by trying to persuade them now. Let the faces of those we rescue shame them into thinking of someone other than themselves.

Turning to her communications master Jaeih asked, “Arrain, have you had any success in contacting the colonists?”

Caelam tr`Hwernien fidgeted slightly as he answered. “Forgive me, Riov, but I have not. However, I must point out that no other message has been received from the colonists despite our hails. I can only theorise that since their message states that their warp engine is destroyed that they have insufficient power to reply to us at this distance. We might well be heard, but they are unable to answer.”

“Then how did they manage to broadcast the first distress call?” Science Officer Mahan tr`Aimne asked nervously.

“All our ships are equipped with a one-message, programmable distress call for interstellar broadcasts, as well as an automatic disaster beacon with an independent power source, erei`Arrain, ” the more confident reply came back from Caelam.

The slender figure at the head of the table took control once again. “Indeed. Has our message to Starbase Six been acknowledged?”

Ie, Lhhei. Our change of status has been noted and Seidhu tr`Khaell wishes you ‘Good fishing’,” tr`Hwernien replied, slightly puzzled by the odd turn of phrase.

Jaeih knew very well what her old Swarm leader meant by that, but kept her amusement private. “Very well,” she said instead. “We shall proceed on the assumptions made thus far: The ship is really there, in genuine distress as stated, and under limited communications as our own comm. officer theorises,” Jaeih recapped. “I want a plan for a mass evacuation using all our resources from their ship to ours, and a temporary housing plan for these refugees until we can make the nearest outpost or inhabited planet. First Officer, you will oversee this.

Arrain tr`Hwernien, you will monitor all comm. channels—even the primitive light-speed-only ones as we get closer—and continue to broadcast to the New Dawn. If you manage to get through, notify me immediately.

Arrain t`Jaihen, stay in close contact with Engineering. If we start to take any kind of damage, slow us to a safe speed and notify me immediately afterwards.

“Navigation, I want you to try and home in on the colonists' exact position. Co-operate with Communications and continue to refine your intercept solution. If you are still unable to pinpoint her by the time we arrive, devise a search plan for the area remaining to maximise our sensor coverage while minimising the time spent actually searching.

“All of you, this mission will take longer that your current shift, so I want you relief’s fully briefed and my specific orders relayed. Then you can get some rest.” Jaeih finished by saying, “That is all. Dismissed.”

Ie, Rekkhai,” everyone chorused, and stood up. Lyie remained seated as the others filed out of the room exchanging glances, and Jaeih took the hint.

“First Officer, a word with you.”

A nod, and they waited until they were alone. After the door slid shut, Jaeih ordered, “All right erei`Riov, out with it. What is bothering you?”

Lyie looked troubled. “Rekkhai, I am all for rescuing our people, and I support you all the way as always. But do you really need to push us—both the ship and our new crew—to the limits to get there?”

“You are worried about our crew?”

“The fact that you brought me and some other Aehallh veterans along with you proves that you were worrying about the crew long before it was assigned to you. Or did you bring Dhiemn along just for his sense of humour?” Lyie finished sarcastically.

Jaeih allowed a small smile at that. Master of Enforcement Dhiemn tr`Raedheol's sense of humour was so dry as to put many an Earth martini to shame. Either that or it was to take his jokes as serious suggestions, which didn't bear thinking about…

Shaking it off, Jaeih got to the point. “You think it dangerous to antagonise the crew on our first incident, instead of building trust with them?”

“Jaeih, you push them unnecessarily. We have just been commissioned and it is likely that a technology mismatch will give us no warning before its power spike blows us up! Most are unafraid of dying for the Empire—if it means they will be striking a blow against our enemies. The entire crew will be in on this as they will soon feel the ship strain, and to them there is no need. We could just as easily continue at flank speed—”

“Enough. The crew must not forget that this is my ship. You have warned me of the… personal dangers, and I acknowledge them. Keep an eye on the crew and let our own people know as well. Return to your post and attend your assignment. I will be in my quarters, there is something I need to check on.”

Ie, Rekkhai.” Lyie turned to go, but a final statement from Jaeih made her pause.

“If there are to be mutineers they will show themselves, and all the better to have them at the start of a patrol. I will have them, Lyie. In the brig—or dead!”

Chapter Three

Date: 15th April 2268
Time: 2044 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4089.32
Location: En route to search area for RCS New Dawn.

Jaeih returned to her quarters, troubled deeply despite her strong words to her friend. She settled into in to her desk chair and activated her terminal.

As it was with every other command I have had, it is again upon me to sort the true from the false. It's just that this ship contains over double the crew of a Warbird, High Command is aware of my 'weeding' efforts, and there is little time. This is why I shock them into action, although sleeper agents are likely to be aboard, and Lyie's concerns over the ship itself are not unfounded.

She shook off her morose thoughts, but could not concentrate on the task she had set herself. Muttering mild curses, she stood up and started pacing. It never failed to help her focus and organise her thoughts, and now was no exception.

Her previous thoughts safely compartmentalised, she allowed her mind to wander along a path she had vaguely stumbled on at her second officer's initial report.

“No other ships in the area…” she murmured, but it would not come. Instead, something else hit her like a disruptor blast. “Warp engine and the senior officers?” Jaeih asked of her empty, electronically shielded quarters.

She moved quickly back to her desk and called up the data on the colony ship. It was as she thought; a typical long-haul cargo liner equipped with a Stutter Drive. The warships of the Imperial Fleet had absolute priority for all the new 'warp' technology. Maybe in five or ten years they would get around to designing proper translight civilian ships, or even retrofit Klingon power systems to Stutter Drive ships, but for the immediate future ships like these would be all there were for civilians.

That said, Jaeih's suspicions receded. The old Pelican-class freighter hull used as the basis for the colony ship did indeed have a single nacelle mounted above and behind the bridge. Close enough to damp her suspicions, but not far enough to extinguish them.

It is possible, she mused, but unlikely. Most of the explosive force would have to have been directed forwards and down for it still to be an accident. However, something else was bothering me…

Again she got up and paced, letting her mind wander. Abruptly, she remembered something she was waiting on and still hadn't received.

Opening a video intercom channel with slightly more force than was required, she barked, “Bridge, Riov.”

The face on the screen answered, “Riov, Arrain tr`Hwernien here. How may—”

T`Radaik cut him off and demanded, “Ask the helm officer where my current ETA at the search area is!”

Realising that his CO was in a foul mood, the Centurion immediately transferred her to the helm console, where a very worried face greeted her. A shaky voice replied, “Riov, my humblest apologies! I had—”

In no mood to hear excuses, Jaeih shut him up with an immediate demotion. “Erei`Arrain Kilyle, you are now helm officer for Gamma shift until I say otherwise! You will remain at your post for two consecutive shifts and will subsequently report for your next bridge duty at midnight the day after. You will have the honour,” Jaeih drenched the worn in scorn, “of informing the first officer of the crew change at her earliest convenience. Understood?”

The man on the screen wilted visibly, but uttered, “Ie, Rekkhai.”

“Now, what is our ETA to the search area at emergency warp?”

“Riov, the revised ETA is 13 hours 50 minutes, assuming we can hold our speed for that long.”

T`Radaik answered, “Very well. Ta'khoi.” The screen went off as ordered and she thought hard for a moment, concerned.

Still more than half a day until we get there. Their battery power will not be enough to sustain them that long, and if their singularity is down and impulse reactors unreliable I may be endangering my ship for a boatload of corpses.

Jaeih grimaced, but knew that her conscience was clear. She was doing all she could, and a fair bit more than was expected of her.

She let those thoughts also fall by the wayside and resumed her predatory pacing. The niggling sense of something not quite right persisted, but t`Radaik was not the sort of person who could let such feelings reveal their origins in due time. She had to know now.

It was probably very important.

It still was not forthcoming, for all her personal exhortations. She sat back down at her desk and went over the specifications of the New Dawn again. The single engine nacelle held only the space-warp coils for the Stutter Drive, the singularity that provided main power being mounted in the engineering section. Impulse reactors to the rear of the ship provided power for life support and the singularity containment field, as well as sublight propulsion. There was no way for the colony ship to go back to warp after arriving at Eilhaunn without first landing on the planet and having the singularity regenerated by planetary power supplies.

Her Warbird had two of these nacelles, the more efficient “tuning fork” arrangement giving her a max velocity of 102 times light-speed, or “warp four” in Klingon terms. The colony ship could only make 51 times light-speed, or warp three-point-two-six, meaning that civilian flights took over twice as long. Not to mention that these were the ships' emergency speeds. The colony ship's maximum safe speed was only about warp three.

Jaeih was about to start projecting damage explosion patterns for fragments and/or radiation tearing the converted freighter's bridge apart and their probabilities when the elusive thought finally struck her.

It must have been thinking about all those differing speeds, she thought with satisfaction.

The thing that had been bothering her was a comment made by the dockmaster as she made ready to leave the orbital shipyards of ch`Rihan. He had been getting slightly frustrated at her tardiness and wanted her to clear the bay.

Kestrel had left dry-dock late.

Jaeih had wanted her new ship to be perfect on leaving dry-dock, but despite staying an extra six hours she had finally been ordered out to allow the next ship in, another D6. Also, she had filed a flight plan to Starbase Six cruising at warp four so she could run in her new systems gently after final tweaking.

The thought gave her some grim amusement, now that she was at warp six-point-five and under threat of blowing up at any moment.

Jaeih finally zeroed in on it. The timing of it all, she thought in triumph. My ship is the only one in this area, despite it being the main transit line between the Homeworlds and the Triangle. And the only reason my ship is here is because I left late and went slower than anyone expected. I'm expected to be at Starbase Six already. Then no one would have been able to get to these colonists in time!

That thought rocked t`Radaik back in her chair. She could be far off target, but it all fit together too conveniently this way.

And we're all Rihannsu here, she thought with a grimace. If this is the case, why are these people wanted dead?

She set about finding out.


Three hours later and she had some answers, but had ended up with even more questions. Ever-more pointed inquiries into the records—both public and military—had revealed everything from manifests and port authority clearance forms to the original requests and plans submitted by the colonists' leader Hiran tr`Jeidai to made the trek, but she had found nothing as to why these people might be wanted out of the way—or who wanted it to be so.

Jaeih had even found out the name of the person responsible for the colonists' permission being granted, but she had never heard of a Junior Senator tr`LLaern. She didn't even know whose side he might be on, if anyone's. In Rihannsu politics—and indeed, as far as she knew, all races' politics—sometimes you allowed something to happen that you didn't want to get what you wanted in the end. She would have to do an in-depth investigation to all concerned, both for and against, to try and decipher real motives as to who had set these colonists up.

She was still sure of that. There was no logical reason for it, but her instincts were telling her that something wasn't on the level. It might just be that someone on the New Dawn had slighted or merely annoyed a powerful person, and that person was ridding themselves of not only the offender but their entire family. As was often the case, that powerful person had little to no regard for all the innocents that would perish alongside the “offender”, so long as the target of their ire was eradicated.

It might also be that the entire boatload was seen as subversives and the government wanted rid of them to prevent future troubles. Making almost a thousand people disappear was far easier in space than midnight raids on those people's homes, and though the news was usually leaked as a deterrence method the number involved would raise far more questions that couldn't be so easily ignored.

Any one of these scenarios made t`Radaik's blood boil, but she was really no further forwards to unravelling this little knot of supposed intrigue. She had to admit to herself that she had no proof, nothing that she could point to, that even supported a sabotage conspiracy. It could still turn out to be a freak accident.

Jaeih was totally out of her depth in this situation. She had virtually no political experience and had left it all to her father while she enjoyed her Fleet career, staying away from all the intrigue of the Senate and the fear of everyday life. But now, with the first part of that successful career behind her, and having built a reputation for being an honourable and trustworthy devotee of the Ruling Passion, maybe it was time to begin fighting for the Truth in other arenas.

She had only recently reacquainted herself with Senator tr`Radaik after 32 years on the farthest reaches of the Empire. Being able to go home every night after a hard day at the shipyards was a novel but very welcome bonus. Although stiff at first, over a year the father and daughter had finally come to know each other. Once again, Jaeih had come to the fireside in her father's study to listen to stirring tales of battle both hidden and open, the lessons in mnhei`sahe that could be learned from them, and just to enjoy the feeling that she was being taken care of again. Just being able to freely speak your mind about any topic without fear of your words being reported was an intensely liberating experience.

Bringing her mind back to the matter at hand, Jaeih decided that she would consult with her father about it. However, transmission time to the Homeworlds was two-point-seven days from this distance, and the senator would have to investigate thoroughly before a response could be given. It would be at minimum six days before she knew anything more.

Still, she wanted to know, and it might be that long before Kestrel got to the colonists' destination.

After a quick check in the mirror to make sure her appearance was satisfactory, she sat up straight in her chair and ordered the computer to begin recording.

“Greetings, my Father. I have a request to make of you…”

Chapter Four

Date: 16th April 2268
Time: 0339 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4090.76
Location: En-route to search area for RCS New Dawn.

Jaeih once again woke to the rapid, high-pitched chime of an urgent call from the bridge. Snapping awake, she hit the audio-only 'open channel' button.

“T`Radaik. Report.”

“Riov,” came the voice of the Arrhae t`Llaerih, her third officer. “We have managed to raise the colony ship!”

“Excellent!” Jaeih exclaimed. “Hold onto that channel, use whatever reserve power you need to keep it open. I am coming up to the bridge.”

“Ie, Rekkhai,” the Gamma shift commander replied, and the channel closed.

Jaeih again dressed hurriedly and raced to the bridge, getting there in under two minutes. Taking in the bridge at a glance, she saw that all stations were manned by the Gamma—or Graveyard—shift. It was at her order that the most capable junior officers from each department be given bridge time, even though Gamma shift was usually only sparsely manned. It was so they could build experience on the bridge equipment and protocols during a time when there was little pressure, when most of the ship's business had been taken care of.

All part of the training process, but a little unnerving nonetheless. It is a wonder I sleep at all with all these children running things, she thought with a smile.

Acknowledging the third officer with a nod in her direction, Jaeih walked over to the communications station, where once again anteCenturion tr`Hloamnia greeted her.

Returning the greeting, she asked, “Do you still have contact with the colony ship?”

Ie, Lhhei,” he answered. “I have the senior surviving crew member waiting to speak with you. His name is Kai tr`Nnaethrin, and he is the Engineering Third.”

That little bit of information stopped t`Radaik's thought processes cold, before they jumped back into high gear.

“The most senior staff to survive is the Third Engineer?” she exclaimed. “What the Areinnye kind of accident did they have?”

Noting the look from her comm. officer, Jaeih nodded impatiently. “Yes, yes. Put him on then.”

Pushing a relay or two, tr`Hloamnia nodded to his Commander. She leaned into the voice pickup and spoke in a strong, clear, and confident voice.

“Colony vessel New Dawn, this is Imperial Cruiser Kestrel. Respond please.”

A hiss of static, then a very young-sounding voice came back from the interstellar depths.

“This is *crackle* New Dawn. *hiss* …ear you loud an…*crackle* … strel. Who am *snarl* …king to?”

Jaeih looked at the anteCenturion, the question obvious from her arched eyebrow.

Muting the audio—but not closing the channel—tr`Hloamnia said, “That is as clear as we can get it at this distance, Riov. The closer we get…” He let her draw the obvious conclusion. She nodded and he restored the sound.

“Engineer tr`Nnaethrin, I am Riov t`Radaik, commander of the Kestrel. We heard your distress call and are on our way to you at emergency speed. We should be with you in approximately… six-point-eight hours.”

“Oh, Ri… *crackle* …not tell you wha… *hiss* …surance it is to hear y… *crackle* …ersonally. We have been lis… *snarl* …ur ship's broadcasts for the past four hours an… *crackle, snarl* …ven us hope. We had thought that no on… *crackle* …ear us. For hours we have been drifting, an… *snarl, hiss* …fore you did. I—”

Jaeih broke into the young technician's speech before he rambled too far from his 'thank you'. “Engineer, it will be all right. We are coming and we will get to you. I do need some things from you so that we can help you more quickly, however.”

“Ie, Re… *crackle* …s it you need?”

Jaeih paused before going on. The image that this voice put in her head was that of a scared adolescent in desperate trouble. He seemed pathetically eager to just hear her voice, and would no doubt do anything she asked so that he could feel taken care of and under orders again.

The responsibility of all those colonists' lives must be weighing heavily on the boy, t`Radaik thought with concern. I hope he can hold it together long enough to hold his ship in one piece until we get there.

“Engineer, can you send me the bridge recorder log so we can determine exactly what happened?” she asked.

“Riov, the computer does not re… *crackle* ..hat area. It seems that certain memory ba… *hiss* …ort-circuited, possibly due to a search being condu… *crackle* …ridge. I had tried to access them myself, but cannot.”

That is very annoying, not to mention unusual and suspicious, Jaeih grumbled to herself. Maybe my computer techs will have more success when we get there.

To the crewman she said, “Very well. I will need you to give me as complete a report on your ship's status as you can, and a report on what caused the loss of your engine and officers.”

“Ah, Riov, I have been very busy wor… *hiss* …th the remaining engineering staff *crackle* …ng to repair as much as we can. *crackle, snarl* …no time to prepare—”

“Engineer, I understand. You can give me a verbal report now, or prepare a quick but concise one for a later transmission. But I do need to know so I can properly plan a rescue with minimal risk to both our ships.”

“Ah, I can give you a qui… *crackle* …mary of the ship's condition, bu… *snarl* …lete one will take time to prepare, tim… *hiss* …ther spend trying to control our power failures.”

Brave boy, Jaeih thought with a smile. Offering “suggestions” to an Imperial Commander.

“It is as you say. Tell me about your power situation. Has life support been stabilised?” Her blood ran cold at his next words.

“Riov, it has not. Life support is operating at minimal leve… *crackle* …out the ship, so I had everybody assemble in the area directly above the environ… *snarl* …ipment and shut down the rest of the ship. I had hoped to conserve power maintaining a smaller area or use the same power in a smaller area f… *crackle* …fortable conditions, but…”

The boy paused, and Jaeih at first thought they'd lost him completely. But there was no interference at the moment and she decided to let him finish.

“The exterior hull is well insul… *crackle* …assive heat loss to space, but the interior bulkheads are no… *crackle* …ell protected. Any power we saved was immed… *crackle* …placing heat lost to the corridors and rooms where life support was shut off.”

The young engineer sounded so defeated. He'd had a good idea but it hadn't worked out and it seemed that his Fire was deserting him.

It surprised Jaeih how much this affected her. It didn't matter to her what his position in life was or where he came from, he was just a child, supposed to be helping his officer run the engines of a ship on a milk run.

What was supposed to be a milk run, Jaeih thought sourly. The officers on a civilian ship are supposed to be there for children like this engineer to turn to for reassurance, orders, the whole command structure. And this boy now has none of these but is still holding it together. Just.

It was all Jaeih could do not to order more speed. These are the people I am out here to protect and further the interests of. I cannot and will not do anything less than my utmost to save them, and Areinnye take anyone who tries to stand in my way!

“Engineer tr`Nnaethrin, be reassured. The fastest and most capable ship in the Grand Fleet is rushing to your assistance, and my crew is even now working on an evacuation plan so that your passengers and crew will be rescued. If you can keep your life support systems functioning for seven more hours, we will save you. Any information you can give us on your vessel's structural integrity, state of repair, facts or theories about the explosion and its cause will increase our chances of success.”

T`Radaik was basically just stating the obvious here, but she could tell in the young engineer's voice that he was very close to breaking. By telling him what he already knew to be true, she was hoping to build his confidence and faith so that it would sustain him through this ordeal.

But Jaeih desperately wanted that information, and not just for the evacuation plans.

The voice that came through the speakers was just as scared as before, but Jaeih fancied that it had firmed up, seemed more in control than a few moments ago.

“Ie, Riov.” Tapping sounds could be heard, presumably tr`Nnaethrin calling up schematics.

Jaeih spoke again before he could, struck by a thought. “I think it a good idea that you should record this report—just as if you were still talking to me—and then transmit it to us. I do not want the interference blanking out what could be vital details. Send it several times, so that even if it is corrupted, we can reassemble it from the various copies you send.”

“O… *crackle* …makes sense. You should receive it within five minutes, Riov.”

The sound was muted on the connection, but Jaeih could tell the channel was still open. She waited impatiently for the time to pass, but managed not to fidget.

Her comm. officer finally nodded. “Riov, your idea was a good one. The initial transmission was corrupted in places, but I have reconstructed it from the multiple copies he sent. I—”

Erein, play the Damned-to-Fire tape.”

She knew she shouldn't have said it, but it came out anyway. She saw the look of anger that flashed across his face and the tensing up of his frame.

Impatient fool! t`Radaik berated herself. You have waited this long for it, letting a junior officer show you he is competent is worth the exchange in time—especially since this one actually is competent and not just trying to show off!

Abruptly, she said, “My apologies, Erein tr`Hloamnia. My eagerness has made me rude and mnhei`sahe forbids such discourtesy.”

The young officer's eyes widened in surprise. Demands for above average service with no recognition was the right of every senior officer, but he had never had a superior—never mind his CO—ever apologise for making such demands.

“I, ah… understand, Riov,” he murmured, and without further ado played the report.

“Riov t`Radaik, the ship's structural integrity is about 80% overall, but in the area of the explosion it could be as low as 40%. The repairs have proceeded well, bolstering the integrity to such a high figure, but we could not EVA to brace the engine struts because of the radiation from the destroyed light-speed coils.

“We have only one impulse reactor working at this time. Another was active but producing power surges to dangerous levels. We were able to shut it down safely.

“Areas destroyed by the explosion are limited to the uppermost hull along the line of the nacelle. The radiation is slowly contaminating the upper levels of the ship, but the ship's 'wings' are protecting us so far by deflecting or absorbing most of it. Tell your doctors to have anti-radiation treatments ready, as a precaution.

“The bridge was the most forward area to be hit, and the damage trails back through the upper cargo hold and crew quarters. The deuterium fuel tank was narrowly missed but its cooling systems were damaged. The slush is increasing in temperature because of the radiation, but here the malfunctioning life-support may actually help. I hope it does, as the deuterium is not so much slush anymore as pure fluid.”

The boy sounded a bit shaky again as he said, “I do not know how much pressure the tank can hold under if the slush gets warm enough to convert to gas, and we still have almost all our fuel.”

That worried Jaeih also. If the tank ruptured it could compromise the ship's hull and render Kestrel's high-speed dash futile. The tank would rupture explosively and at the rate the engineer was saying the deuterium was heating up, that explosion was going to happen before evenwatch. She felt confident that she had an ample margin of safety for the completion of the evacuation, however.

“Riov, I haven't devoted much time to the cause of the explosion, but looking at these damage patterns makes me think that the coils themselves overloaded and exploded, from the rearmost coil first, setting off the ones ahead of it and basically channelling the explosion forwards. It would explain why the bridge and surrounding area is completely destroyed but the damage behind it is less severe.”

An astute observation, Jaeih thought. The boy obviously has some wits about him.

“As to the cause, I think your guess would be better than mine. I do not know why the coils would explode instead of just failing, or why they would go last to first when the order of their activation in normal mode is first to last.

“This ends my report.”

Jaeih considered his report for a few seconds, picking out bits of information and categorising them according to her priorities. He tells me much that will help with the evacuation, and some parts bear up my suspicions, she thought. But I still have nothing substantive, no hard evidence one way or the other. It seems I will have to wait until we get there and can examine the ship itself. Nodding to herself, she instructed her comm. officer, “Bring back the sound, Erein.”

At his nod, she addressed the young man. “Engineer, I have listened to your report. You mention your deuterium situation. I want you to watch that pressure very carefully as if it gets dangerous you will have to vent some fuel. We are currently using our reserves very rapidly, so please do not dump it all as I have the feeling we will need refuelled. However, do not compromise the safety of your ship and passengers! Vent as little as you can, but keep them safe. It is your top priority. I am risking my ship for you, so I do not want to arrive and find a ship full of dead bodies—or no ship at all. Do you understand?”

“Yes, of course, Riov. I understand. I will have one of the crew watch it constantly.”

“Good man. Very well Engineer tr`Nnaethrin, that was a good report and it will help us immeasurably. I have to go now, but my communications officers will be here at all times and always with a senior watch officer if you need advice or updates.

“You have done a sterling job so far in keeping everything together and if you continue in this way I am sure you will all make it through.”

“You do me a great honour, Riov.” The boy's voice had relaxed. Jaeih could hear it and was pleased. “I am glad you are on your way. This is the colony ship New Dawn, signing off.”

Kestrel, out.”

Nodding to the anteCenturion, Jaeih said, “Keep in touch as I stated and log me back off the bridge.”

Ie, Rekkhai.

To the third officer she said, “I'm going to try and get more sleep. Maintain speed until I personally order otherwise.”

Ie, Lhhei,” she acknowledged, a look of worry creasing her face.

“Fair night to you all.”

“Fair night, Riov,” the scattered replies came back, as she disappeared into the turbolift taking her back to her bed.

Chapter Five

Date: 16th April 2268
Time: 0750 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4091.63
Location: En-route to search area for RCS New Dawn.

Commander t`Radaik had managed to snatch two more hours of peaceful oblivion before yet another call woke her. It had been the master engineer, informing her that the engines were approaching their specified safety limits and asking her permission to slow down to a safe speed.

Jaeih had refused.

She had cut off the engineer's shocked exclamations about his CO breaking her word by angrily stating, “I never gave anyone my word that I would slow down, and for such impertinence you are demoted one step in rank. Resume your duties, Arrain tr`Asenth.”

She further informed him that she had decided to let the engines take damage until they reached the colony ship, and ordered the Master to personally monitor them and report directly to her regarding their status.

The engineer had curtly acknowledged her order and angrily signed off. Jaeih hadn't wasted her time disciplining him.

There will be enough time for that later, she thought acidly, but I still need him now.

Looking over the ship's log for the time she was off-duty, Jaeih also saw that the search area for the colony ship had been considerably reduced, thanks to the communications department. The communications array—boosted from the Klingon norm—was able to home in on the colony ship's transmissions and reduce the initial cubic light-month of space down to a cubic light day, a snap at a mere 17.4 trillion trillion cubic kilometres to search.

All it takes to remind us just how blessed big space is again—even with these new Klingon warp ships, Jaeih had thought with a smirk, is searching for a powerless wreck in an area it would have taken us four hours to cross at the maximum speed our singularity drive could manage!

She had then devoted her time to studying the evacuation and housing plan that Lyie and her staff had come up with. However, she was due on the bridge in ten minutes and decided on a last review the main points.

It looks very sound, and does use all our available resources as I ordered, Jaeih noted with approval. Our five personnel transporters, the two cargo transporters that have been retuned to handle sentient traffic and can now take ten people each, all cycling once per minute. Also, the three 22-person emergency evacuation transporters are all used. Well, this is an emergency evacuation, after all. It was just envisioned that it would be used to get my crew off, not another crew on.

She smiled at that, and continued reading aloud.

“ ‘Most new arrivals will be housed in the shuttle bay, where they are allocated two metres by one metre of floor space to sleep on. Temporary deck markings are being put down and numbered so that families are not separated and that there are no fights over 'who sits where'.’ ”

Jaeih reflected that it was a good job they have only the one shuttle aboard, the one she arrived on. They are—were—to re-supply once they got to Starbase Six.

“ ‘Fabricators now working as quickly as possible manufacturing sufficient numbers of blankets and pillows with reduced power available. The junior crew will start double-staffing and hot-bunking to allow families with babies proper rooms, albeit still shared with other families.’ ”

T`Radaik was impressed. Lyie obviously had her people work hard on this, she mused. I'm just glad that I can count on some of my crew to obey my orders and trust me.

Time: 0815 hours.
Location: Second Officer tr`Maelitra's quarters.

“I think that the time to trust t`Radaik has passed. She continues with a foolhardy race across barren space to rescue fools and incompetents who cannot seem to hold their ship together even in the absence of enemies!”

Tr`Maelitra's voice was low but insistent, and easily carried to the three other officers in his room.

“I am sure the Riov knows what she is doing,” replied Zathryn tr`Onaillnae. The junior engineering officer further stated, “It is not our position to question her, and remember that she helped refit this ship personally from the keel up. She probably knows exactly how far she can push the ship without it breaking apart under her feet.”

Satisfied with his statement, he made his move. Across the latrunculo board, the newly demoted Gamma shift helmsman narrowed his eyes in concentration. He had just come off the bridge after his double shift and was having a quick night-cap with his friends before collapsing into bed.

“I agree with Zoal, Zathryn,” he said stiffly. “I don't think that our esteemed Riov has any more knowledge than we do.”

“Oh, please!” The scornful voice of Idrys t`Knathera broke in. “You are only agreeing because you are angry with her. You failed in your duty and the Riov dealt with you.”

A playful light appeared in her eyes as she continued, “I think she was lenient with you, T`Mar. I would have reduced your rank as well as your position!”

Kilyle, knowing that Idrys loved to tease them, merely gave her an exasperated look.

“Idrys, don't play with me on this!” he demanded. “I have just been demoted and now have to redeem myself before a promotion can even be considered! If I tell my family, they will be disappointed in me. If I don't, sooner or later they will begin to wonder why I have not been promoted yet! And all because she would not—”

“T`Mar, you were at fault and you know it. You got so caught up in the 'glory' of piloting our great cruiser that you forgot your orders! It is not the Riov's position to even entertain excuses on so simple an order,” Zathryn chided his friend.

T`Mar glared at the Beta shift engineering officer, the feeling of shame warring and loosing against anger at his current situation.

“Fire take you, Zathryn. I noticed that none of my esteemed colleagues on the bridge reminded me, either. Especially that snake tr`Hloamnia at Communications.”

“You actually thought that someone would remind you of your duties?” Idrys looked at the junior helmsman with something akin to surprise. “If you expect that, you are more of a new-born than even I had supposed!”

The rest of the group chuckled at that, and tr`Maelitra told him, not unkindly, “T`Mar, please take this advice to heart. No one will look out for you if it means a rise in his or her fortunes or incurring the possible disfavour of a superior. If you cannot look out for yourself, you do not deserve to be aboard a ship of the Grand Fleet. We will all help you, of course—we are your friends. But we will not coddle you or protect you from your own mistakes. You have to make and learn from them yourself or school yourself into getting it right first time, every time.”

Kilyle looked angered by this but Zoal's words were true and spoken in friendship. He swallowed his anger and nodded once.

“Very well, now that T`Mar has had his life lesson for today, what should be done about the current command situation?” tr`Maelitra continued.

Idrys responded tiredly, “Oh, Earth and Water, leave well enough alone. If you do not, the Elements will combine to drag you down into a morass of treachery that will thicken about you when it will hurt you the most.”

“Idrys!” he exclaimed. “I thought you—”

“Yes, you thought I supported your views. Well, I do—to an extent. I agree with Zathryn in that the Riov knows more about our ship than we do and that is the reason we continue at this speed,” she paused there, as if to marshal her thoughts. “But I agree with you in that she should not be pushing the engines this hard for any reason. We will do nobody any good if we explode before we arrive.”

“Ah, I thought you had changed your mind, Idrys. I see that you support me still.”

“It is a common view, which easily half the crew holds,” she replied.

“ 'Half the crew'? Where do you come up with such numbers?” Zathryn asked sarcastically.

“Unlike you, Tender of Machines, I talk to people. The general consensus is that they trust the Riov solely on her reputation, but think that she pushes too hard.”

“For many, this is their first military posting and they do not want to die uselessly,” Kilyle contributed.

“What, you talk to people too, T`Mar?” Zathryn teased.

“It is how I feel,” he replied simply. “I doubt that I am alone.”

“Well said.”

T`Mar turned away, cheeks flushed slightly green at tr`Maelitra's warm words.

“I think that this situation needs to be dealt with, before our Riov kills us all.”

Heads nodded—even Zathryn's—and Zoal had his consensus.

Time: 0850 hours.
Location: Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

They were still two hours away and the engines were starting to take moderate damage. Every engineer that could be spared was now on monitoring and quick-repair duty. People fidgeted at their posts, snapped irritably at each other, the subsonic vibrations a constant drone in their sensitive ears. Everything seemed fuzzy, indistinct. Like a smudged picture, the sharp, clean lines that made up the interior of the whole ship wavered with the strain of the engines.

T`Radaik paced about the bridge like a caged thrai, feeling the ship's vibration coming up through the soles of her boots from the deck plates. How did I not feel this in my quarters? she asked herself in alarm.

She looked up at an auxiliary monitor screen that showed a view aft, between the nacelles from under the hull. Again, her insides twisted as if she were being gutted by a hazdja. Jaeih watched as a small, thin, but steady stream of plasma leaked out of the port engine.

She knew she should shut the screen off. It unnerved the bridge crew, even more so than the technical readouts because they only showed cold, impartial facts and figures.

Actually seeing your ship trail warp plasma brought the danger they were all facing home with far greater emotional impact.

It was why the screen was still on. To remind Jaeih that death was their constant and ever closer companion—and it was all at her behest.

The bridge doors parted with a swish and the first officer entered. T`Radaik turned to face Lyie, who walked right over to her.

Riov,” she started easily, “I need to speak with you.” Seeing the question on her commander's lips, she forestalled them by adding, “In private.”

Jaeih's eyes narrowed, but she snapped out, “Enarrain t`Aimne, you have command. Continue to home in on their subspace transmissions and refine our intercept vector. We will be in the briefing room if you need to contact us.”

Ie, Rekkhai,” the navigator answered respectfully to the already closing turbolift doors.

As soon as both women were safely behind the closed doors of the briefing room, Jaeih demanded, “What is it, erei`Riov?”

T`AAnikh visibly steeled herself before getting right to the point. “Lhhei, we must slow down.”

Jaeih's face immediately flushed green, but Lyie pushed on. “We are now close enough that dropping to flank speed will increase our arrival time by only one-point-three hours, and the damage to the engines will only take a few days to repair.

“If we stop—forgive me, slow down—now, the damage is just inside acceptable levels, you have shown good judgement by heeding the advice of your officers—in time!—and pushed up the limit on what we thought could be achieved with this vessel.”

Erei`Riov—” Jaeih started, but Lyie would not be dissuaded.

“It would be an extension of the recently finished shakedown cruise and very little actual explaining would have do be done. Please, Riov! I am begging you as a friend, as well as an Officer of the Fleet. For all our sakes, please cut speed!

T`Radaik looked over at her friend, more than slightly shocked at her invoking a personal bond. She was all geared up do defend her high-speed decision to the end, but then something changed.

She is really frightened! Hard on the heels of that realisation came another. They are all genuinely scared for their lives and fearing they have a mad Commander, Jaeih thought in wonder. This is no longer—or never was—about disloyalty or cowardice. I am presenting myself to this new crew as a madwoman.

T`Radaik knew that she was not, but also knew that she got a little… carried away or overzealous when confronted with a good cause.

She looked back at her first officer and all her anger left her. She is right. It is past time to do this.

“Very well. We shall slow down to flank speed. The colonists will surely understand and having survived this long, another hour will not be so bad.”

Lyie closed her eyes and lowered her head, before looking back up at her commander. “Shall I give the order, Riov?

“No. I shall return to the bridge and do so myself.”

Ie, Rekkhai,” t`AAnikh acknowledged with a relieved smile. She even went so far as to lightly place her hand on her commander's shoulder and utter a quiet, “Thank you.”

Jaeih was surprised again, and slightly unnerved by this. She was not used to such overt displays of loyalty—outside battle situations—or affection from even her closest comrades.

Embarrassed, she shrugged it off and said, “Wiser heads have finally prevailed. Return to your duties and I will inform the crew.”

Ie Rekkhai,” her subCommander replied.

As the two women went their separate ways, Jaeih began to tense up again. Nothing had better happen to those colonists during that extra hour or—scared or not—this crew will know my wrath.

Chapter Six

Date: 16th April 2268
Time: 1019 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4092.15
Location: En-route to search area for RCS New Dawn.

Once again, Jaeih found herself in the briefing room, surrounded by her officers. This was to have been a final briefing on the evacuation procedure for the Alpha shift bridge crew and all Department Heads, as well as a readiness report on the ship's current status.

It had been so, but had since degenerated into a screaming match with the last report. It was about to come to blows if t`Radaik didn't do something, and very soon.

“You ignored all sane advice until almost the point of destruction. As it is, the damage gets steadily worse even with reduced speed.”

“It was necessary.”

“ 'Necessary'?” her accuser repeated. “Necessary for what? Your own plans to increase your influence, no doubt! Or maybe you think that, like the last time you took command of a new ship, all you need do is succeed in one big high profile mission and the rest of the tour can be waited out! You are getting glory-mad, Riov, or cowardly—maybe even both and this is your way of dealing with it. Risking this important and exorbitantly expensive new warship to rescue a boatload of civilians—”

He tried to speak on, but Jaeih erupted in a white-hot fury at those words, where slurs against her had got no reaction.

'A boatload of civilians'?! Are you completely oblivious to the fact that these are our own people?!” she all but yelled. “Ordinary, everyday people who have not taken the Oath to serve or die in the military. Men, women, and children who are the lifeblood of our Empire as we are its claws and the government its brain. Without such blood, the body dies. If we treat all our people this callously, they will go to live elsewhere and be right to do so!

“Would you have our sculptors, artists, tradesmen, and musicians display their talents for the Federation? The Klingons? For if we treat them as no more than inconveniences to be avoided so we can 'go play soldier', this Empire of ours will crumble about our ears. Yes, the body can live with a loss of blood, but if the flow is not stanched this Empire will bleed itself dry!”

Jaeih broke off to regain her breath—and her composure. No one dared to speak into the silence. More quietly, she continued.

“How dare you—any of you—sit and pass judgement on these people, secure in your comfortable career with all the benefits of military status. How dare you consign these people to a cold death, gasping out their last breaths on unrecycled garbage because you are all self-seeking cowards more concerned with preserving your own lives and positions than carrying out your duty to the citizens of the Empire!

“This is my 'exorbitantly expensive new warship', and I will decide what we use her for!”

Jaeih's eyes bored into her accuser, but he was apparently immune to the emotional tongue-lashing she had so passionately given. He only responded to the barbs she had flung out in an attempt to shame them into seeing she was right.

“You may talk all you wish, cloak your recklessness under a guise of selfless altruism,” he all but sneered, “but the fact remains obvious to all that you are a glory-seeking faker who has somehow managed to fool High Command into thinking she was worthy enough to command the most technologically advanced ship in the Grand Fleet!” the voice lashed out.

Everyone reacted in shock to the words, the tone, even though the meeting had been heading this way for the last five minutes. That they had been uttered, let alone the fact of the speaker's continued existence, was more insult and insubordination than any of them had ever heard against an Imperial Commander.

T`Radaik finally responded, but not to the speaker. To the room at large, she said, “In the interests of fostering amity and trust, I have not cracked down on minor infringements in discipline, despite being perfectly entitled to. I have often believed that our people have been too harshly punished for merely speaking their mind or stating an unwelcome opinion. 'Killing the messenger does not kill the truth', and all that.

“I have found that honourable people have used this trait of mine as I had hoped, and used their initiative to better themselves and their departments.” She paused there, silence still reigning as she got up to pace. “I have also found that dishonourable, greedy opportunists have tried to use this trait to usurp other's rightful positions or abuse what power they have in an attempt to gain more, thinking that I am a weak commander.”

As she spoke, she drew level with the person who maligned her so, and in a lightning-fast move pulled out her personal dagger and held it across the throat of her engineering master.

“Do not,” she whispered silkily into tr`Asenth's ear, “make the mistake of becoming the latter.”

Hwiammna's breath caught in his throat as he felt the cold metal press against his flesh. It was so sharp a blade that he could not tell if he had been cut or not. He held perfectly still just in case he cut off his own head by jerking away from it.

Jaeih spun his chair round so that he faced her, the blade still at his throat. Eyes full of fear and hatred glared out at her as she spoke again. Not another moved in the room.

“You have tended the engines well thus far, Engineer, and I am a forgiving kind. If you return to your duties with no further incident, then I will let well enough alone. If not, then as soon as we reach the colony ship you will be incarcerated pending trial for gross insubordination at my pleasure. You will be escorted by two legionnaires from the Enforcement Division until that time.” T`Radaik looked at him expectantly. “What is your choice?”

She watched tr`Asenth's eyes for his true feelings. A human artist whose texts she had once read had called them “windows of the soul”, a phrase she found to be startlingly accurate. She watched as Fear receded but was replaced by Hate.

She subconsciously leaned against her knife hand, and the increase in pressure was enough to finally draw blood. Hwiammna felt a drop fall against his uniform collar and Fear regained ascendancy.

Through gritted teeth, the engineer said, “My honour is to serve, Riov.”

Jaeih stared hard at him for a span of seconds, before finally nodding and releasing him. She stepped back and allowed him his freedom of movement, and his hand immediately reached up to his throat. It came away with a smear of green and he stared at it, mesmerised, before t`Radaik's voice brought him back.

“I am through listening to all this self-serving whining about my risking all our lives 'unnecessarily',” she told them all. “From now on, all infringements in discipline and protocol will be punished to the fullest extent of the Pandects.”

Opening a channel to the bridge t`Radaik demanded, “Put me on all-call, Erein.”

“Intraship channel open, Riov.”

“Attention, crew of the Kestrel, this is Riov t`Radaik. The useless and damaging speculation about this rescue mission and our current circumstances will now stop. These extreme measures are upon your own heads, as I gave you enough rope. You have now hung yourselves.”

Jaeih paused there, possibly in regret, probably in anger, before summoning her strongest voice for her next words.

“By authority of the Exordium of the Imperial Code, I now invoke the Master Dominion Pandect for Martial Crisis. From this moment onward, the commanders must be obeyed on threat of death. Any disobedience, no matter how trivial, is now considered an act of treason under the Pandect. Any officer or crewman questioning the orders of a superior will be executed. As commander of this vessel, I invoke the right to sacrifice any dissenters among the ship’s complement at any time.

“Such is the law of the Empire.”

Closing the channel, t`Radaik turned to Hwiammna and said, “You have given your report, Master of Engineering. You may go now and have that wound tended.”

By merely uttering those words she had humiliated him further, but her tone was neutral and her eyes guarded. She must think herself one of our bastard cousins, hiding her emotions like that. Only, she is not as good at covering up as she thinks she is.

He could tell from the set of her face that she now regarded him with hostility, even if her words and tone were neither condescending nor insulting.

Tr`Asenth’s fury climbed higher in his throat, but he kept his lips sealed. Instead, he glared at her as he got up and moved to the door. He could do little more than glare, as if t`Radaik took a hesitation or an uttered word as defiance she could have him instantly and legally killed, all in the name of solidarity.

That is it done for me on this ship, then. I will have to serve this creature at least until we can reach a dry-dock for repairs. Elements willing, she will be as eager to be rid of me as I am of her. Or…

But the thought died under t`Radaik's scrutiny. He nodded as he passed her, movements stiff with rage as he left the room and headed for the medical bay.

After the door shut behind tr`Asenth, Jaeih regarded her officers. “Let us hope that this distasteful incident is over.”

Changing gears, she continued, “Now, as you had all given your reports, I will just reiterate that we are expected at the search area for the New Dawn in one-point-six hours. I want a detailed deep scan of the area after we drop from warp speed, then any modifications to Navigation's search pattern can be plotted and the search will then proceed. This briefing is over. Dismissed.”

Everybody got up and headed back to their stations except Jaeih. She halted Dhiemn tr`Raedheol, her Master of Enforcement, on his way out the door.

Enarrain, a word with you. I need to talk to you about our security measures…”

Time: 1130 hours.
Location: Mess Hall, RIS Kestrel.

T`Radaik must be mad.

A mixed group of Beta and Gamma shift officers were taking an early midmeal together, and talk had inevitably lead to the current crisis. Even though their discussion to this point had flitted around and touched the edges of that dangerous assertion, everyone at the table furtively looked around for eavesdroppers when the words were finally spoken aloud.

“Arrhae! Are you mad?” Ry`iak tr`Hloamnia hissed. “The Martial Crisis Pandect is in force! You’ll be the death of us all!”

The third officer’s eyes narrowed at her shift comrade. She asked the communications officer, “You fear the truth, tr`Hloamnia?”

“Of course! The truth is always to be feared, as it always destroys someone’s cherished falsehoods!” the anteCenturion shot back.

“Only your ‘cherished falsehood’ that the Riov is a good Rihanha,” Arrhae t`Llaerih replied scornfully. “How else can you explain what she did to the Master of Engineering?”

Even though that occurrence was barely an hour old, the news had been all over the ship instantly. Gossip could still outpace even the fastest starship.

T`Llaerih continued, “He tries to warn her—as do the rest of her officers—against pushing so hard with this new ship, and she will not listen. More, she demotes him for speaking up! This is despite her so-called ‘policy of leniency’ with people speaking their minds. Now the engines take heavy damage and he confronts her—and she assaults him, then threatens to have him arrested and put on trial!”

“I couldn’t believe that either, Tiam tr`Akaidai put in. “I’ve been talking to some of the engineers about it and I’m thinking, ‘What the Areinnye is wrong with her? Can’t she see we’re going to explode if we keep this up?’ “

The Beta shift navigator received a look from Arrhae, and calmed down some. His voice had been on the rise, and they were in a public place. Tiam offered an apologetic look and continued more quietly.

“Do not misunderstand me. I am heartened that the Riov seems to care so much about the colonists—my family was on one of the first ships to leave for Khazara, and it was honourable ship commanders like t`Radaik seems to be that made us feel safe.” He paused there, as if gathering the nerve to say something more. “But Elements’ Names, wrecking our ship to do it? We are all loyal Rihannsu here, but even I would never forgive myself if we’d caused the destruction of an Imperial warship, and I know my family would feel likewise!”

Jaandra t`Ortath, the Gamma shift science officer, added her thoughts to the mix. “That is beside the point. It matters little to me what punishment the Master of Engineering received, as such is his due for going against the Precept of Duty. It does seem to make the Riov a hypocrite, but even that does not enter into it. T`Radaik is the Riov!” She stressed the rank to emphasis her point. “Command has entrusted her with this vessel, and regardless of her actions and motivations, we are honour- and duty-bound to carry out her orders without question. Especially now, with the Pandect in effect. It is the duty of the senior command staff, not us, to intervene if the Riov is unfit to command.”

“But nothing is happening! Riov t`Radaik is ignoring all counsel and proceeds with her own agenda,” another voice spoke up. Jutak tr`Malthai looked around at his companions angrily as he pressed his point home. “If she doesn’t listen, what are we to do? Keep performing our duties until we blow up? If that is so, why have a living crew at all? Why not just crew our ships with robots? We must be masters of our own destinies in these circumstances—”

“You misspeak, Jutak!” Heads again swung round, to hear from the latest voice of opinion. Mahan tr`Aimne, little brother to the Weapons Master still on duty on the bridge, speared the Beta shift Medical Officer with an aggrieved glare. “The Riov has taken counsel and proven in that one step that not only are the command crew doing their duty, but she is not beyond reason for whatever purpose she has on this mission. Or had you forgotten that we have already slowed down?”

That shut up the deputy head of Medical, but as he floundered with this miscalculation yet others rose to take his part.

“I have heard that the speed reduction was only due to a personal plea from t`Radaik’s friend.” T`Kiell Areolan’s deep voice did not need to be loud to get attention. The Gamma shift Enforcement officer rumbled, “It seems to me that had the First Officer not been a friend, we would still be on our way at full speed. That does not bode well for us if the Riov only listens to her friends when such a mood takes her.

“I would rather see someone more reliable in authority.”

The group instantly fell silent at the obvious implications of that portentous statement, but even that could not halt the discussion for long. Jaandra spoke into the brief silence.

“I too wish that our new Riov were not so careless with all our lives, but our duty and our path are clear. If we stray from either,” she warned, “the consequences are severe indeed.”

“Scare-mongering again, t`Ortath? But I would expect no less from a ‘good little soldier’ such as yourself.” The harsh voice of the Gamma shift navigator made his disgust clear, but also moved on, not allowing the angry science officer the opportunity to defend herself.

“I agree with Arrhae—”

“Little surprise there, lapdog!” Jaandra managed to interject, eyes blazing.

“—and feel that the ship shouldn’t be pushed this hard for any reason,” Reelan plowed on with a furious glare at his own detractor. “Think on it: even—especially—if this were a military emergency, we still wouldn’t push so hard under any rational commander, as who goes into battle with a hobbled warship?

“If this is a trap laid by pirates or a Klingon set-up, even if the colony ship itself is real and does need rescued, we will likely be destroyed because of the damage we are taking merely getting there!

“That is, if we get there at all. Tr`Ullian is right, no matter what opinion you find yourself of.” The shrill voice of Kital tr`Hhlorra—a sharp and often painful contrast to T`Kiell’s bass rumble—rounded off the conversation with the prevalent opinion. The Gamma shift bridge engineer spoke to them all with authority, despite his low rank. It was a trait that made the other officers at the table suspect that he was Tal Shi`ar, but the immediate second thought was always, Surely they wouldn’t be that inept or obvious. Even so, none of them was daring enough to confront him about it—and what would he say, anyway?

“This is getting us nowhere, really,” he continued. “It sounds to me like the crew is spit into two parties, but with many different sub-groups. There are those who support the Riov, either out of a sense of duty to the commander of the ship or loyalty to t`Radaik herself based on her reputation. Then there are those don’t support her, and here the reasons are far more varied. I may be stating the obvious here, but the fact that amuses me is that both parties believe she is pushing too hard.”

That realisation seemed to surprise most of the officers present, and Kital offered the group a wry smile and a raised eyebrow.

“You didn’t notice that? Didn’t notice the small, insignificant detail that not one of you support or agree with the lengths t`Radaik is going to in the pursuit of her goals here?” Kital shook his head slightly at that. “Amusing indeed. The only thing under debate here is the Riov’s sanity.”

The assembled junior officers looked warily at one another, before smiles broke out. They were almost as quickly banished when the third officer spoke again.

“As I told you, she is mad.”

There was a squeaking of chairs swinging as most of the officers got up as one. Arrhae looked up in surprise at them as they abandoned the discussion.

“I’m going to the training area, I need a workout.”

“I think I’ll go to the firing range, I need some target practice.”

“Is that the time? I need to get to bed, I’ve been up too fvadt long.”

“Back to work for me. This was just my midmeal break, after all.”

“Jaandra, I was going to show you the latest acquisition to my latrunculo set collection. Would you like to see it now?”

T`Llaerih’s eyes narrowed as she demanded, “Where are you all going? I wanted to—”

“Enough, Arrhae. Let it be.” There was warning in Tiam’s dark eyes as well as his tone, so she decided it wouldn’t be wise to press her luck.

“Oh, very well,” she said, striving for a lighter tone. “Try to have a serious discussion, raise your IQs a few points and see where it gets me…”

Jutak laughed and got up as the others smiled to varying degrees. “Come, Arrhae. We have a wager to settle at the firing range, or don’t you remember? I’m going to win back my two ounces of ale!”

“You can try, you second-rate pill-peddler!” she retorted with a real grin. “Let’s go.”

Time: 1200 hours.
Location: Nearing search area for RCS New Dawn.

Riov, sensors have detected an uncharted, free-floating asteroid field covering half of our planned search area. I recommend dropping from warp speed at a distance of two million kilometres from the field.”

“Very well. Arrain t`Ethien,” Jaeih ordered the helm officer, “alter our arrival co-ordinates to compensate.”

Ie, Riov,” she responded with alacrity, and programmed her board accordingly.

“Battle Alert,” t`Radaik ordered. “Charge phase disruptors but keep the plasma offline.”

“Acknowledged,” replied Navigator/Weapons Master t`Aimne.

Despite being in Rihannsu space there were pirates to worry about, and it hadn't escaped Jaeih's attention that this could still be a trap, however unlikely. There was also the fact that they were fairly close to Klingon space to consider, and while their two governments were allied for the moment, Klingons were still Klingons.

Ten minutes later, they finally, blissfully disengaged the warp engines. A quick threat-assessment scan revealed nothing more dangerous than the natural forces at work in the nearby asteroid field.

“Full power deep scan, Science Officer,” Jaeih ordered. “Let us see if the Elements smile on us still, and will reveal the colony ship's position right away.”

As Senior Centurion Yllemna bent to his task, t`Radaik turned to her first officer. “Erei`Riov, I would like you to go and oversee the damage assessment of our warp engines. Relieve the Master of Engineering and send him to his bed, this is his third consecutive shift on duty. The evacuation can be handled by his junior officers now.”

Ie, Riov,” t`AAnikh responded, then disappeared into the turbolift.

Almost immediately afterwards, Yllemna called out, “Sensor contact!”

Jaeih almost leapt out of her command chair and went to stand over the science station, demanding, “Where? What?”

T`Cael continued manipulating his instruments as he answered. “At the very edge of this asteroid field, Riov. It seems to be getting pulled in by the gravity of the asteroids. As to what…” He brought up an image onto one of the auxiliary screens. “I believe we’ve found what you’ve been seeking, Lhhei,” he concluded with a tentative smile.

Not giving a response, Jaeih ordered, “Transfer it to the main screen, magnify and enhance.”

Kestrel finds the New Dawn intact on the edge of an uncharted asteroid field.

Ie, Riov.” The up-close-and-personal image of a ravaged—but intact—Pelican-class freighter dominated the bridge.

Orders snapped out from the Commander.

“Navigation: Intercept course! Keep us clear of the asteroids. Helm: Implement at full sublight. Comms: Hail them until you get a response. Science: Deep scan of that vessel. I want life-form readings, precise drift and tumble trajectories, structural scan and damage report, as well as a radiation hazard report.”

The bridge fairly exploded into a flurry of activity and acknowledgements as orders were carried out and the cruiser rocketed in towards her charge. Once the immediate noise had died down, T`Cael gave his initial report, headed by the news everyone wanted to hear.

Riov, I am reading approximately 750 life-forms aboard—”

The entire bridge crew sighed in unison, all of them relieved that their mad dash had not been for nothing.

“—most of them healthy, but over 100 weak readings suggesting injury. Trajectory data forwarded to Helm, structural to Engineering, radiation to Medical. All data is displayed on the auxiliary screens if you care to examine it.”

Riov, no response from the ship as yet. Continuing attempts.”

“Ninety seconds to intercept, Rekkhai.”

T`Radaik absorbed all this data and then spoke. “Everyone: Excellent work. We got here in time. Now let’s do our duty. Erei`Arrain tr`Anierh, put me on an intraship channel.”

“Channel open, Riov.”

Without a pause, Jaeih launched into a short speech. “This is the Riov. Officers and crew of the Kestrel, you have my thanks. Despite the difficulties and… unpleasantness… we have had to endure these long hours, the first part of our task has been completed. We have found the colony ship and 750 of her passengers still live. We made it in time to make a difference. Now comes the difficult part, and I expect you to do your best for the families we are about to save.

“Crew to rescue stations. Let’s take them home.”

All through the Kestrel, her crew stood ready at their posts, transporter rooms double-staffed and host to two guards each. Engineers and technicians vigilantly watched their boards, scanning for any fluctuations in the power grid now that heavy power expenditures were expected to come from multiple systems. Logistics staff scurried about with last-minute tasks and updates for the officers overseeing the housing of the 700-plus colonists about to be brought aboard.

Nodding to her comm. officer, Jaeih focused her attention on the viewscreen. LLunih closed the intraship channel and resumed his task of trying to contact the New Dawn, and expectant seconds passed as they approached the still-silent colony ship.

Chapter Seven

Date: 16th April 2268
Time: 1210 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4092.54
Location: Colony ship New Dawn.

A very tired Kai tr`Nnaethrin trudged wearily along the freezing corridors of the ship that had been his home for the last three years. He stopped for a few moments and ground the heels of his hands into his gritty eyes, groaning with sheer pleasure at the sensation, and the chance to close his eyes for more than an eye-blink. A groan of a different kind escaped his lips as the cold of the bulkhead he was leaning against started leeching the heat out of his overworked body.

Oh Elements, give me strength! he mentally exhorted, and resumed his journey towards the communications room.

It was a relief to get away from all the fearful faces and crying infants—the latter especially were driving him right up the wall—and to be doing something again. If he stopped doing, he started thinking and—despite the reassurances of Commander t`Radaik—he couldn’t help but think that their outlook was pretty bleak.

Even if they do get here in time, what can a lone ship do? Even using all our shuttles combined it'll still take forever to evacuate the ship. And, after that miracle occurs, were do we all go? the young Rihanha asked himself. There isn’t room for over seven hundred people on even our largest warships, and I know that none of our Swarm motherships is named Kestrel!

Kai shook his head tiredly, aware that he had fallen into thinking again despite his best efforts, and his bone-deep weariness.

Being awake for over 24 hours—every one of them under extreme stress and a constant fear of death—will do that to a young person, even one with Vulcanoid stamina.

The deck shifted again and he braced himself against the bulkhead, coincidentally placing his face right next to a viewport.

Kai stared out into space, mesmerised by its beauty. Why is it that the most beautiful things around us turn out to be the most dangerous? he wondered in awe. That’s why I joined the Merchant Marine instead of the Fleet, so I could have the beauty without the danger—or rather, the chance to appreciate the beauty. To just stop and look.

An amateur astronomer, he recognised many of the stars and could tell what direction home was. He focused his attention on the right expanse of space and just gazed for a few moments.

“Romii…” he whispered longingly. He wasn’t sure if he’d live to see it again. Okay, so it wasn’t the Homeworlds, but it was one of the oldest colonies in the Empire and a fine place to call home.

He was just closing his eyes again when he thought he saw a flash. His eyes snapped open and he stared intently, scouring the area for… anything.

Then he saw it. A faint white streak along the edge of the asteroid field, rapidly growing brighter with each passing second.

It’s got to be a ship! Maybe it’s Kestrel! Kai exulted. But why the trail…? He puzzled over it for a moment. It is t`Radaik! She’s letting us see that she’s here!

The engineer watched eagerly as the trail became two, but he still couldn’t see the brilliant white of a Fleet Warbird between the engines that must be producing the twin trails.

Something was there, though. He could see the stars were being blocked out…

Kai’s mouth dropped open and his stomach lurched sickeningly in fear as the approaching ship finally became visible.

Klingons! his terrified mind screamed at him.

The young Rihanha knew that his people were now allied with them, and even that there was a technology transfer between the Empires. But that fragile peace was barely a year old, whereas the previous fifty years had been almost constant border conflicts and open warfare. Even if this Klingon didn’t destroy what was left of his ship he doubted that they were here to help.

His fatigue forgotten, Kai took off down the chilled corridors, desperate to reach the communications room.

Time: 1211 hours.
Location: Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

The colony ship loomed in the viewscreen, her peril readily apparent. The nacelle was wrecked and the upper hull was badly scorched and pockmarked with holes both large and small.

That thing certainly isn’t moving again under it's own power, Jaeih thought grimly. And the bridge isn’t so much ‘damaged’ as ‘ripped off’.

She turned and opened her mouth to speak to Lyie before she realised that her long-time companion was off seeing to the engines. Jaeih closed her mouth and assumed a thoughtful expression as she scanned the bridge.

All she came up with—bar one—were young, unfamiliar faces. She couldn’t appear so weak as to invite opinions even from a long-time crewmember such as t`Aimne, never mind the other children manning the bridge. With a start, Jaeih realised that there was no one she could confide in on the bridge. To one who was used to such, it was an unpleasant realisation.

“You never miss someone until they’re gone,” she quoted in her head. I didn’t realise how much I expect to have someone I can talk to by my side.

Suddenly, the bridge speakers crackled to life and a very young, very scared voice blurted out, “Kestrel! Kestrel! If you can hear me, please hurry up!”

The entire bridge crew—keyed up and tense—fairly jumped at that, and a suddenly green-faced subCenturion tr`Anierh hurriedly dialled down the volume, though not before the scared merchant underofficer finished his plea.

“There’s a dirty great Klingon battlecruiser heading right for us! Kestrel, please, where are you?”

Jaeih’s heart—which had leapt to warp speed in her throat as she envisioned all sorts of calamities befalling the New Dawn—slowly settled back into its proper place at the proper speed.

Then she laughed.

It was a sound of pure relief from tension, but so deep-throated that some of the bridge crew joined in for similar reasons.

“Get—Get them back. Open a channel,” Jaeih commanded, her mirth subsiding as she wiped a few tears from her eyes.

“Channel open, Riov,” tr`Anierh responded.

New Dawn, this is Kestrel. We are that ‘dirty great Klingon battlecruiser’, inbound to your position. Prepare to receive damage control and medical teams as we attend to your ship.”

“What?” The boy sounded horribly confused and a bit disbelieving. “Ah, say again, Kestrel?”

“Engineer tr`Nnaethrin, this is Riov t`Radaik. The Klingon ship you see is the Kestrel, now in the service of the Star Empire. Our sensors show no other vessels in range. You are safe from the Klingons, never fear.”

“I… I’m relieved to hear that, Riov.” The boy now sounded less afraid at the sound of her voice, but nervous nonetheless. “Rekkhai, if I may, I have a lot of scared and injured people over here and I don’t know how much longer the ship can last. The deuterium slush is beginning to boil off and the tugs from the asteroids’ gravity field are causing it to slosh around. That's worsening our tumble and putting even more stress on the hull.”

“Understood. We will have to pull you away from the asteroids and halt your tumble before we can begin rescue and evacuation operations, so tell your passengers to brace themselves. As you know, time is of the essence so please hurry, and signal when you are ready.”

“Yes! Give me five minutes, Riov. We’ll be ready. Out.”

Erei`Arrain t`Oreth, power up the tractor beam. Stand ready to lock on and engage the beam at one-fiftieth power, on my order only.”

Ie, Rekkhai,” the young engineer answered, sounding startled to be addressed.

“Arrhae, match trajectory and tumble rate as closely as you can, but don’t take too long to do it,” Jaeih instructed her helm officer.

“It shall be done, Riov,” she responded tensely.

Erei`Arrain tr`Anierh, dispatch a coded message to Starbase Six, Eyes Only for Seidhu tr`Khaell informing him we have located the colony ship and most of the passengers are alive. Request that he keep this information confidential until Kestrel arrives at Starbase Six where I will explain my request to him personally.”

Looking decidedly puzzled, tr`Anierh nonetheless instantly complied with his orders, acknowledging them with a brief, “Ie, Riov.”

Good man, Jaeih thought approvingly as she waited for the Kestrel to get into position. Maybe you’ll even get to know why later on.

The big cruiser slowed as she approached the stricken colony ship and under the deft hands of Arrhae, gradually matched her speed, orientation, and heading to that of the New Dawn. It was a horribly complex operation, requiring every scrap of t`Ethien’s skill to have their 210-metre-long warship locked into position above one spot on the colony ship’s hull, ‘hovering’, as it were, like a t`liss over it’s prey. With the stricken vessel moving in all three axes such was impossible, but Arrhae was trying to match up in at least two of them.

Jaeih leaned forwards in her seat, eyes fixed on the main viewscreen so that they weren’t burning a hole between her helm officer’s shoulder blades. She watched as the colony ship’s gyrations slowed until it was spinning lazily wingtip past wingtip.

“In position, Lhhei,” t`Ethien reported, silently adding, finally, Elements be Praised. “Holding relative position at one hundred kilometres.”

“T`Oreth, engage beam, one-fiftieth power,” t`Radaik ordered.

“Engaging now, strength point-one,” the junior engineer acknowledged.

Kestrel tractors the New Dawn to stabilise the colony ship's tumble.

A barely noticeable tremor rocked the deck as the two ships became one, courtesy of a tractor-energy field. The New Dawn’s tumble slowed to a halt as the low-power field gradually absorbed the ship’s angular momentum.

I just hope it was equally gentle for the colonists, Jaeih thought apprehensively. She had not come this far at such risk—both personal and professional—to rip the New Dawn open with her own tractor beam.

Time: 1220 hours.
Location: Survivor’s compartments, RCS New Dawn.

Fresh screams from scared infants drowned out the tortured creaking of over-stressed metal as a solid jolt rattled the deck-plates. It was over quickly though, and parents shushed their children while looking up at the ceiling.

Muting the communicator he'd brought with him from the comm. room, Kai proclaimed loudly, “It is as I told you. The cruiser Kestrel has latched on and will be towing us away from the asteroid field so she can begin rescuing us from our wrecked ship. It will be mere minutes now.”

Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

“Gradually increase the tractor beam to one-fifth power, Engineer. Helm, use braking thrusters to slow us to relative rest, then accelerate slowly to one-tenth impulse astern. Hold your course.”

As her orders were carried out, Jaeih waited impatiently for a report from her absent first officer.

Master Engineer’s quarters, RIS Kestrel.

He should have been in bed. His Commander had ordered it.

Instead, he was alternately pacing about his fortunately large quarters in a fury, and gazing at the status monitors displayed on his desk terminal screen.

He’d just cleared the personal message off the screen, which had arrived several hours ago in routine communications traffic. Having just listened to his smiling brother’s message of congratulations had sent his rage towering to new heights.

“Greetings, Little Brother,” the elder tr`Asenth had begun with his usual joke. Despite being five years younger, Hwiammna out-massed his brother by a good 25 kilos.

“I hope this finds you healthy and in good spirits. I again offer my congratulations on your new assignment—as Engineering Master on the Fleet's most powerful vessel!” Hwiammna’s teeth had ground together so loudly they had almost drowned out his brother’s next words.

“You must return my message soon and tell me of how you are doing, how well this new Klingon ship is performing, and your opinions on your new commander. She is of special interest to me, and I’d like to know your assessment of her… ‘suitability’.

“Things continue to go well for our family, as we have acquired a further one percent share in the shipyards of Khazara. Also, with our support, Senator tr`LLaern’s latest bill has passed in the Senate.”

Ak`harkin’s handsome face twisted slightly at that, but he continued. “I know the man is personally objectionable, but we wanted this bill passed too. It gives us a much desired boost in personal power.

“I know what you think of my new policies, little brother, but they are working. I regret Father’s death too, but he was leading our house to ruin with his outdated ideals. These are new and uncertain times for our Empire, and those who do not change and adapt are doomed to fall by the wayside. That said, the person who authorised the assassin’s strike has been fully dealt with.” Ak`harkin delivered this news with eyes narrowed in anger, but a voice deep with satisfaction. “Such was the reason for my contact. I knew you would want to know. It is all legal and above-board, and now their assets and House members belong to us.”

Hearing that once again triggered more anger at his father’s killing, but a deeper sense of justice done. That feeling started off another line of thought and he almost hadn’t heard his brother finish his message.

“Our sister is doing well with her archaeological research on Draken Four. I don’t know what good it does the Empire to dig about in the bones of a dead civilisation, but Faelen seems to think that they may have been our ancestors. She’s speculating that one or two of the Ships got lost on their way to the Homeworlds, came across this primitive race called the ‘Debrune’, and conquered them. She has as yet no explanation for how these Debrune became part of our people, but…” The senator rolled his eyes and smiled. “It keeps her happy and occupied.”

“This is all the time I have, Little Brother, so I bid you goodbye. Mother tells me to pass on her good wishes, and asks that you contact her once in a while. You know how she worries.

“Jo’lan Tru.” The elder tr`Asenth’s smiling face had blanked, to be replaced by the Imperial Bird of Prey before fading to black. Hwiammna had brought up the status monitors in its stead.

Justice done, he thought again as he watched another dangerous fluctuation brought under control by his engineering staff. She does not deserve this or any other ship, Hwiammna knew. She is foolhardy to the point of danger, and will be until she looses a ship and crew. That this ship hasn’t yet destroyed itself amazes me no end, but it still seems to be trying.

That thought now firmly entrenched in his head, Hwiammna considered how it could be done without the ‘objectors’ being summarily executed by Command. They must have justification, he mused, something that proves them right even before they take control. Something unarguably her fault as a result of her recklessness.

Such thoughts fell by the wayside as his heart leapt onto his throat. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted another power spike, the biggest one to happen thus far, flare onto the status monitors. His engineers expertly beat it down, and once his heart had returned to its normal position in his chest, he felt a swell of pride for how well they were performing without him. He had trained them well, and Engineer Second Zaedn tr`Rrietra handled them almost as well as Hwiammna himself.

Checking the logs, he noted that the spike had been caused by the activation of the tractor beam. A slow, cold smile spread across his face.

Hwiammna reached for his keyboard and, bypassing the bridge communications circuits, put a person-to-person call through to the officer he sought to summon them to his quarters. Then, using his own vast technical experience and computer skills, he erased the record of his call from the logs and worked quickly and methodically to implement his plan, and waited impatiently for his charge to appear.

Port nacelle catwalk, RIS Kestrel.

Lyie peered into the viewport as indicated by the engineer. Though the Klingon engines used a different power source for their ‘warp’ drive, the FTL coils they used were similar enough to the ones she had dealt with all her life that Lyie could make out the damage done to them.

They were in a terrible state.

Lyie felt another surge of anger. They had been building slowly but steadily ever since she’d seen the two cracked dilithium crystals in their frame in the main engine room.

The damage is far worse than I thought it would be. Fire take it, we just got these tuned perfectly! the subCommander cursed. Less than a day in commission, and we’re going right back into dry-dock, wherever the Areinnye we end up!

Keeping her face under control, she nevertheless looked grim as she acknowledged the crewman’s findings. It was the fifth coil out of fifteen in the port nacelle that had been cracked, burned out, or damaged beyond repair.

She had already been to the starboard nacelle.

There had been two destroyed coils there also.

So much damage, and all to get here two hours earlier. If there had been even two pirate raiders here we’d have been hard pressed to handle them, especially if we also had to defend the colony ship.

Lyie stewed in her own anger, an anger not quite ready to boil over—yet.

She still had to check the logs of power surges and equipment short-outs.

Time: 1225 hours.
Location: Master Engineer’s quarters, RIS Kestrel.

The door buzzer sounded, and tr`Asenth jumped up to let the caller in. The door slid aside and a young officer stepped in. “You called for me, Uncle?”

A rare smile split the usually gruff features of the Master of Engineering. “That I did. Now come in, sit down, and listen. There isn’t much time.”

“What is it, Uncle? What is wrong?”

Dismissing the young officer’s question with a wave, tr`Asenth got straight to the point. “You are here because you are the only one I trust. My family regards you as a cherished cousin, despite being of a House Minor merely affiliated with mine. It was through the influence of my brother and I that you received such a high position aboard this ship, despite this being only your second tour. We personally vouched for your reliability and loyalty, and it is upon that loyalty I now call.”

“W-What? Uncle, what’re you—”

“Listen, I say!” the engineer silenced his charge. “I plan to take control of this ship away from the deranged creature who now holds it.”

His visitor’s eyes went wide with alarm and fear, darting left and right as if seeking someone listening in. Ignoring this reaction, tr`Asenth plunged on.

“I have not been able to test the waters, but surely you will have. What say your friends and comrades? Would they support me in this? I would need at least ten officers ranked at Arrain or above, and any number of crew who would follow their orders. What say you?”

The officer betrayed their youth by straying from the question. “Why now, Uncle? Why not wait until victory can be assured, instead of risking—”

“Fire take you, child! If I must explain, then here it is. After this ‘rescue’ takes place—if we survive it—I will be watched constantly and any dissension noticed immediately. I have not even left my station over the past day so no chance was to be had beforehand, either. For my plan to work, it has to be right now, while a power spike may still cripple us. The danger must be at its greatest for Command to side with us, although my brother will help us in that respect.

“Right now, I need you and your like-thinkers, your freedom of movement and lack of suspicion for this to work. Now, how many would follow me?”

His visitor just sat there, mind awhirl, but managed to summon some wits. “Uncle, my friends and I discussed this very thing this morning, and I can guarantee you at least three other Arrains, plus many others on my watch and those who would benefit from this. With the Master Dominion Pandect in effect, the crew will obey all orders given them instantly.”

Tr`Asenth sat back and breathed a sigh of relief. “Excellent. I am counting on you, child. We can carry this day and be regarded as heroes. Come here to my station and look over the plan and its timing. You must know your part and that of those below you. This cannot leave my quarters lest Enforcement pick up on it. I have ensured that these rooms and my terminal are safe from their snooping. Memorise it quickly—no, first call the people you can trust and have them meet you in your quarters in about five minutes.

“Quickly! Time is of the essence!”

Time: 1226 hours.
Location: Main Engineering, RIS Kestrel.

A tired, sore, dirty, and very angry Lyie t`AAnikh cleared the terminal screen and stormed out of Engineering. She almost took the turbolift along the boom section, but rationally decided that facing her commanding officer while in her current state was probably a career-ending move, friendship or no.

Hitting the intercom, she called the bridge.

“Bridge, erei`Arrain tr`Anierh here.”

Erei`Arrain, kindly inform the Riov that I have completed my inspection of the engine damage and would like to speak with her at her earliest convenience regarding this matter,” Lyie all but snarled. “I will be in the briefing room in about five minutes.”

“Ie, Rekkhai.” Lyie waited as the information was relayed then got her reply. “Erei`Riov, the Riov will be there unless other matters here require her attention.”

“Thank you,” she growled, and hit the ‘off’ tab. Unsure of whether to try and calm herself or scream her rage out on the way there, Lyie set out up the tunnel that was the neck of her ship.

Time: 1230 hours.
Location: Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

Riov, we have cleared the asteroid field to a safe distance and decelerated to relative rest,” Arrhae reported from the helm console.

Kestrel finishes dragging the disabled colony ship out of the asteroid field.

Finally, Jaeih thought with the beginnings of satisfaction. Everything is coming together, now that Lyie has reported in too.

“Communications, hail the colony ship.”

Tr`Anierh nodded and a few seconds later the other ship responded.

“Kai here, Riov. We are prepared as you instructed. Didn’t really take much preparation, as all the families were already grouped together anyway.”

Jaeih noted that the boy sounded much better, on a more even keel, now that he was merely a cog in the machine. Not very keen on his first taste of leadership, she thought, but then, who can blame him?

“Excellent. Again, we will be transporting your wounded aboard first, one minute apart and in four groups of thirty so that we can assess their injuries and clear the pads. After that we will begin taking families and comrades in groups one minute apart so that everybody coming aboard can be innoculated and directed to their berths.”

“Yes Riov. You are on ship-wide broadcast, so everyone heard this time and all are standing ready.”

“Very good. Transport will begin shortly. T`Radaik, out.” Addressing her science officer, she ordered, “Status report.”

Riov, long-range sensor sweeps show no contacts. We are now one million kilometres from the edge of the asteroid field’s dust cloud boundary, at relative rest.”

“Power report.” Directed at the bridge engineering officer this time.

Lhhei, we are currently at 79% full power capability. Power surges are still occurring—less frequently but more erratically. We are managing to regain control of them quickly, though.”

“Very well. We shall ease into this and use our personnel transporters only at first. Then cargo transporters, then the evacuation ones. Lower shields, have the transporter rooms lock on to the first group of wounded, and energise.”

Master Engineer’s quarters, RIS Kestrel.

“So, you understand your task?”

“Yes, Uncle. When the explosion occurs all I need do is capture and hold Auxiliary Control in the main hull while you do likewise for the Emergency Bridge here in the command pod.”

“Exactly right. Now go, collect your allies and wait until after it happens.”

Another power surge flared and caught tr`Asenth’s attention. The shields had just went down, dumping more power back into the grid. Then the transporters energised, causing another surge. No wonder these ships were so hard for us to defeat, the engineer thought irrelevantly. All these power surges—big ones!—and still nothing has ruptured. It’s unbelievable! Getting back to the problem at hand, tr`Asenth continued. “That must be the colonists beaming aboard. The confusion their arrival brings will aid you in your mission. Now go, and do not fail!”

“It shall be done, Uncle!”

Chapter Eight

Date: 16th April 2268
Time: 1238 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4092.63
Location: Briefing Room, RIS Kestrel.

Jaeih watched as subCommander t`AAnikh looked at the readouts on the screen with no small amount of anger. Her first officer flicked her long, toast-brown hair away from her brow ridges as she leaned over the desk, glaring at the terminal screen before resuming her predatory pacing. She could see in Lyie’s powerful, controlled movements that her second-in-command had something to get off her chest.

Jaeih felt herself tense up again. Lyie had already given her report, but the subCommander was obviously upset about something. Jaeih began imagining all sorts of dire circumstances with the crew, but when Lyie finally spoke, Jaeih never saw it coming.

“Permission to speak freely, Riov?” Lyie finally asked.

“Granted,” Jaeih promptly agreed, thinking that her friend needed to feel less constrained while talking to her CO so that she could vent some of her anger without being called on it. The fact that she was dead right didn’t lessen her surprise that her friend used it in a way she’d never considered.

“This damage will take weeks to repair. Weeks!” She finally looked up ad glared at the cause of her ire. “The readouts don’t show even half of it. They only show how our power levels have dropped, how our speed is hobbled. I was actually down there, crawling through the nacelles with the engineers, and I saw the burnt-out warp coils, the cracks in these dilithium crystals we now use. Replacing the crystals will be the easiest, it’s just a swap and replace procedure. But the coils! Weeks of hard, dirty, dangerous work—on a ship that shouldn’t need them!”

Lyie’s anger was so much—and growing—that her eyes actually started boring in to her CO.

“All the free warp coils there is are already assigned! Oh, we will get them, this is an important vessel—but the price from the Klingons will be extortionate! Plus, even if by some gift from the Elements you manage to keep this ship, High Command will think she is commanded by a reckless fool!”

Lyie’s eyes were blazing with fury now, and her voice had risen to a shout.

To say that Jaeih was shocked was an understatement of Vulcan proportions. She hadn’t seen this coming, especially from a friend who had been ‘fine’ upon leaving the bridge barely half-an-hour ago. She felt like she’d been caught with her shields down—so to speak—and hit by one of her own plasma torpedoes. She’d seen that Lyie was angry, but had been expected it to be with someone else. She had also thought that the issues Lyie was now pushing had been dealt with in their last conversation.

Unprepared and defenceless, Jaeih responded with the only thing she could think of.

“That is enough, Lyie! Don’t presume to lecture me about my own ship—”

T`AAnikh’s eyes nearly popped out of her head in shock, which quickly turned to anger. She interrupted, yelling, “ ‘Don’t presume’? You give me permission to speak freely, then when you have no answer you slap me back with a reminder not to overstep my limits?”

Lyie was now not only completely incensed, she was deeply hurt too. “You think that I do this for fun? That I try to score points with someone, merely because I make my displeasure for your actions and reasoning known—directly to you? Perhaps you would prefer that I talk with others behind your back.”

The subCommander’s eyes glittered with anger, and at her latest words Jaeih saw the hurt in there too. She couldn’t even apologise, as it would weaken her defence and derail the argument.

Damnit Lyie, I didn’t mean it that way! I meant that I know my own ship better than even you… Jaeih thought, but it sounded weak even to her. She’d lashed out when it wasn’t necessary. The first officer was just doing her job.

Even as the thoughts whirled through her head, the subCommander confirmed their validity.

“You do realise that if you contravene the welfare of the ship or the Empire, my duty as first officer is to destroy you—and if need be, the ship too?” Lyie’s voice was full of pain at the thought—both of her duty, and this whole situation—but Jaeih had no doubts that she would do it. “What am I to think, when you will not listen to your advisors, your experts, your closest friends? When you will not even explain why we push on against all rational thought?

“You have been reckless in the extreme. Pushing the ship past its safety limits for this speed… the damage to secondary systems alone would warrant a return to a repair dock. Even now, after we have finally stopped, the erratic power spikes from the interfacing Rihannsu systems need constant vigilance. We are using people who should be resting once they are off shift, resting from the strain of the flight here, to ensure that they do not surge and blow out.

“The entire crew is on edge, knowing that even after the danger is supposed to be past we may still blow up anyway!” Lyie broke off to regain her composure. Jaeih jumped in to the momentary silence, having not wanted to alienate her friend any further by browbeating her into silence or shouting her down.

Speaking firmly but with apology, she started, “Lyie, I understand your concerns and agree with them. I did push on too far—but not recklessly. You did persuade me to lower our speed while we were still on out way, even after I had swore we would not stop until we got here. I do listen to you, and you can—and did—change my mind, but you must remember that I have seen every performance and tolerance report both proven and speculative about this ship’s capabilities, and I knew she could take it.

“If I did not know this ship so well I would have reduced our speed exactly when the I originally said I would, at the specified safety limit, so that you wouldn’t have needed to make your own private appeal. I was convinced we could make it safely and because of my knowledge of our capabilities—and more importantly, the vigilance of every crewmember manning a station—I was proven right. The power spikes you so fearfully mention are still high, but they are falling. The danger is past.”

“That fact is still in dispute, Jaeih. That you exceeded safety limits of this ship is not. I doubt that even the humanitarian Federation you respect so much would have pushed their ships to destruction in a similar situation.

“Do you not realise? No matter which way you cut this, it was a bad command decision!” Lyie stated bluntly, and with force. She added pointedly, “I also note you make no further comment on my ill-advised ‘presumption’.”

The comment about a “bad command decision” caused an immediate flare of anger, which guttered and died in the gale force of her friend’s angry, hurt glare, and implacable certainty. Jaeih still felt that Lyie was exaggerating the problems, but her anger gave her that card to play. The truth was that Jaeih had never before pushed farther against all advice, even among people that she had known for almost two decades. She had fallen into the belief that her loyal crew would still follow loyally—and blindly. The whole Rihannsu command structure enforced this blinkered view, and it seemed that Jaeih the Honourable, Jaeih the Vigilant, Jaeih the Complete Fool, had finally succumbed to it.

All her veterans had given her unflagging loyalty when they had trusted and believed in her, but she had always given them good reason to do so. The limbs she had went out on before had—for all their length—been solidly attached to the tree. On this occasion she was so far out as to feel air between her fingers and the outermost leaf, and if the branch was still attached to the tree, it was only though wishful thinking.

In all honesty, there was still a good chance that—should something worse happen—the senior staff could be executed and everyone else demoted and assigned to forgotten outposts, rattletrap ships, or hazardous areas. It would serve as an example to everyone not to recklessly endanger extremely valuable assets of the Fleet.

Jaeih realised with a start that she had not fully assessed the consequences of her actions. All of this hadn’t occurred to her until just now and this shocked her even more. I never considered failure to be an option, despite how close it still is. I was—am—not prepared for what happens if High Command finds fault with me even if—or perhaps because—this rescue succeeds.

Jaeih had been so caught up in the nefarious machinations of why this ship had been set up to die that she had given plenty of thought as to how she would make those responsible pay. She had, however, given absolutely none at all to what would happen to her, her crew, her friends, or her family if things had not gone her way. Even now, Jaeih realised that she was still so self-assured that it was over and she’d won.

How could I have been so blind? she asked herself in astonishment. That my closest friend and ally had to practically put herself in chains before me to open my eyes to the consequences?

While all this was spinning through her CO’s head, Lyie watched the realisation dawn in her eyes. Jaeih had been unaccountably silent for many moments and Lyie had been about to press her case forwards yet again when she recognised the look in her commander’s eyes.

Oh, Elements be praised, Lyie thought sarcastically. She finally hears me. I had thought I’d got through to her the last time we spoke, but it seems not. I can see that something has dropped into place for her. I fervently hope that she understands completely this time, and its in time to salvage this mess.

Jaeih finally looked back at her still-angry friend, and relented. “Erei`Riov, your pardon, please. I… concede your points. You have been most, ah, eloquent and persuasive, and I have realised that being in error in some instances casts doubt on actions I have previously thought sound. I stand by my decision to push the ship, though. The colonists still needed to be rescued and that demanded our best efforts, and as you said it can be thought of as an extension to the shakedown test, but…”

Jaeih paused for a second, and saw Lyie tense. She looked as if she would speak again but held silent, waiting on what Jaeih would say next before possibly creating a further incident. Jaeih forced herself to hurry, even though capitulation and apologies were not her forte—and she did not intend on correcting that, either—but her friend was not only correct, she was also right.

Jaeih sighed, and continued. “You are, however… right… that I should not have pushed so hard for so long. Also, my reaction to your… argument… was uncalled for, inaccurate, and unworthy of me.”

T`Radaik said these words as formally as she could so that the respect and honour of both were preserved, but also with all the sincerity she possessed in her eyes to show t`AAnikh that the words were not merely face-saving ones. She also added an apology to her long-standing friend that was straight from the heart.

“Lyie, I am sorry.”

That surprised the first officer. She was glad of the formal apology as it meant she had, in fact, finally reminded her CO of her duties to her crew and her responsibility to the chain of command, and broken Jaeih out of her own little universe where only what she thought mattered.

The personal apology meant that t`AAnikh had also reached the person within the CO’s uniform, and had actually convinced her that she was wrong to have done what she did and altered her perceptions accordingly. It also meant that the relationship the two women shared could continue without acrimony. Knowing herself just what Jaeih was like, it was something Lyie had dared hope for, but not expected.

Now that her goals had been accomplished and the current situation straightened out, the first officer could begin to let go of the anger that had built at discovering the extent of her CO’s recklessness—and that she had stoked to confront Jaeih with. She would need a few sessions in the training area—as well as seeing proof of Jaeih’s sincerity—to rid herself of it totally, but Lyie could feel it begin to ebb away. She spoke to her friend with the heat gone from her voice.

“Jaeih, it pleases me greatly to hear you say—and mean—these things. More and more, it was becoming my greatest fear that we would lose you to the demons of fanaticism. It may not have come soon, but for you not to realise it here and now, that day would have come. No matter what the cause, good or bad, fanaticism breeds contempt, overconfidence, and ruin. You must maintain balance or you will be lost.”

This final admonishment from a friend fearful of losing her to whatever dark forces that preyed on the prideful and the weak-willed alike, the realisation hit solidly home and all but ‘clicked’ into place that Lyie was completely, absolutely right. It scared her in a way that hadn’t happened in a long time.

It was not a welcome feeling.

When your own internal checks and balances are faulty, you have to rely on the external ones you have previously set to save you, and not just ‘pop’ them as well, Jaeih rediscovered.

So that her friend would know a personal request was being made, not one officer to another, Jaeih pitched her voice on a more intimate level.

“Lyie, I hereby appoint you as my, ah, conscience, the Humans call it.” Her friend looked slightly puzzled, so Jaeih elaborated. “You know the tenets of our path, and you know the parameters of my personal code of conduct as well as any alive. If I step outside these self-imposed limits, you will inform me of it, even if I do not wish to hear it.” Determined to prevent a repeat of this shameful, embarrassing incident, she finished, “If I am unaware of my slip, you will help me… bend my stiff neck.”

Jaeih gave her a wry smile with that last remark, which Lyie returned in kind.

“I would be honoured to be your ‘conscience’, my friend.”

”Then it is settled. We will fix our ship, rescue our colonists, and return in triumph.” Jaeih looked at her chronometer. “It is about this time that I ordered the evacuation transporters activated. Let us go to the bridge and begin—”

She never got to finish as a huge explosion rocked the ship and flung both unprepared women to the deck.

Chapter Nine

Date: 16th April 2268
Time: 1243 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4092.65
Location: Main Engineering, RIS Kestrel.

Kital tr`Hhlorra ran around the main power converters at speed, carrying two medikits to the group of engineers moaning and shrieking as a result of the explosion. It finally happened, curse her! he inwardly condemned his CO, raging, All the warnings, all the pleas, and all for nothing!

“Tr`Hhlorra, I need a medikit over here now!” an unfamiliar voice shouted to him from the slaughter up ahead. Kital spared a glance in the direction of the voice and saw a Medical Division uniform kneeling in the midst of three groaning bodies, so he slid one of his kits across the deck to them and moved in another direction.

Behind him more engineering personnel were rushing forward from their duty stations, some with fire extinguishers, others just looking to help in any way they could. Kital heard the distinctive voice of the Engineer Second yelling something into the intercom over the noise of the living and the roar of the flames still spewing from the ruined master systems display another ten feet in front of him.

Kital crashed to the deck beside one of his comrades who was putting out a tremendous racket and fumbled open the kit, trying to remember which vial was the painkiller. After seemingly endless seconds he found the right one and loaded up the hypospray, then turned his attention to the badly injured man.

It was Zathryn tr`Onaillnae. He was awash with deep, vividly green blood that was still jetting from between his fingers as he clutched at his abdomen. Kital was none too fond of the damage control officer, but neither did he wish this kind of fate on him. “Hold on, Zathryn! Help is coming from the medical bay and will be here soon!” Kital yelled at him, hoping it was true, trying to make himself heard and to get through to the almost-incoherent engineer. Kital pulled Zathryn’s hands away for a brief moment to inject the wounded area with the local anaesthetic, and caught a glimpse of the huge gash before he doubled over again.

It was all Kital could do not to double over himself and throw up all over his comrade. It looked like a flying shard of metal had laid open tr`Onaillnae’s stomach, and his intestines were almost spilling out. The only thing keeping them in was his prone position on the floor and his own hands. Kital knew if he tried to help Zathryn up and walk him to sickbay they’d come out for sure, and possibly kill him. He had to be moved to sickbay by stretcher.

Grabbing the wounded man by the shoulders and shaking him slightly, he yelled, “Zathryn! I can do nothing more for you here, but I will make sure a stretcher comes for you! Stay here, do not move, but keep yelling so they know you’re alive! Okay?”

Zathryn’s eyes cleared for a moment as the painkiller began to take effect, and he nodded jerkily. “Thank you, Kital!” he rasped through clenched teeth.

Tr`Hhlorra clapped his shoulder gently and said, “Good man. Hang in there!” With a nod, he grabbed the medikit and moved onto the next closest casualty, but could already see she was dead. He changed direction toward someone he could hear moaning.

Damn you to Areinnye’s deepest level, t`Radaik! he cursed vehemently as he set to work again. All this is on your head!

Time: 1244 hours.
Location: Auxiliary Control, Main Hull, RIS Kestrel.

Legionnaire Courig tr`Aerthera picked himself up off the deck and rubbed at new bruises on his left shoulder and knees, newly bestowed upon him from being bounced off the bulkhead beside him and falling to the floor. He again questioned the wisdom of Enforcement’s “ramrod straight” at-attention posture and its effectiveness for long periods of standing on guard as he wondered what the Areinnye had just happened.

The deck had suddenly tilted to one side, accompanied by a painfully loud explosion coming from not too far down the ship’s corridors from where he now stood. He was desperately curious but had his orders and couldn’t leave his post, no matter what. Guarding Auxiliary Control was a vital—if mostly boring—duty that the Master of Enforcement had personally assigned to him. Courig felt honoured that tr`Raedheol rated his abilities and loyalty highly enough to trust him with it.

It hadn’t made the job any less boring, though.

That thought had barely left his head when he spied four officers headed his way. He immediately snapped back to attention and waited for them to pass.

He almost fell over again when they pulled right up to his position and halted, their leader addressing him.

Uhlan, open the doors.”

Tr`Aerthera looked over the uniforms of the little group and noted that all of them carried disruptor side arms. He recognised two of them, one being the night shift Enforcement section chief. The second was none other than the third officer herself, and it was she who was leading this little band. Moving aside but farther into the door alcove, tr`Aerthera swallowed nervously and gave a brief nod. The third officer began moving towards him but halted in surprise at the legionnaire’s next words.

“Of course, Arrain. If you will just show me your authorisation from Riov t`Radaik…”

The young Enforcement crewman’s voice shook slightly as he said it, and he swallowed hard again at the brief look of confusion that T`Kiell and t`Llaerih shared. Courig extended his hand as if waiting on the data crystal he’d requested while his other hurriedly typed in his access code for the room, unseen by the others. His heart was in his throat as the Enforcement officer addressed him, brows lowered in anger.

“Legionnaire, this is an urgent, high priority Enforcement procedure. Now open the doors or I will have you executed for—”

The door slid open behind Courig and he stepped inside, hammering at the keypad to shut the door and lock it. The move surprised all present and it was a second or two before any of them reacted. It gave the guardsman the time he needed to complete his task and the door slid shut just as the four officers exploded into action. Some charged the door, trying to make it through, while the others drew their disruptors and started to take aim.

They were all too late as the door slid home and the barricading measures sealed the room. Courig stepped back further as two thuds resounded against the door, and then the shrill sound of disruptors firing reached him.

The guardsman took comfort in the knowledge that the disruptors wouldn’t break through for many minutes and leapt for the communications console.

Time: 1244 hours.
Location: Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

The Commander and First Officer of the Kestrel shot out of the turbolift and to their respective posts as the Battle Stations alarm shrieked at them. Lyie went over to the damage control display as Jaeih settled into her command chair, demanding a status report.

“Massive explosion in Engineering, Riov!” Senior Centurion t`Aimne responded. “Sensors have detected no other ships in the area, no weapons’ fire, no impact on the hull. We have not been attacked by another vessel, Rekkhai,” she concluded.

At that, Lyie turned from the status readouts to face Jaeih. “Confirmed, Riov. Initial analysis of shipboard logs indicates that a power spike from transporter activation blew out in Main Engineering.”

Jaeih felt sick. Lyie was right. I was wrong. I was wrong! She now felt genuine fear for the first time in years. I’m going to be executed. Command will have my head for this, and rightly so. And my family…

She shook it off though and put it aside. She was still in command. For the moment at least, this ship and crew was still her responsibility.

“Status of transport?” she asked her first officer.

The noise died as Lyie shook her head, and Jaeih paled. “The last transport was disrupted due to power loss. The backups also failed.” The first officer paused in anguish before continuing sorrowfully. “Only the evacuation transporters were active, but still, sixty-six men, women and children just died.”

T`Radaik suddenly felt like throwing up. Sixty-six. Children. My fault. My… arrogance… caused their deaths. The people I’m supposed to protect!

She had no time for this wallowing in self-pity, though. Summoning her iron will, she shut that horrible news into a box in her head to be opened later. Right now her ship and her crew were hurting, and she had to take action.

Riov, the New Dawn is hailing us, wanting to know why their passengers have stopped beaming out. Also, the Medical Section is reporting casualties and fatalities! No figures as yet.”

Tr`Anierh’s report underscored her own thoughts and she cleared her mind of personal issues.

It was time to get back to work.

Time: 1244 hours.
Location: Shuttlebay, RIS Kestrel.

Tr`Maelitra sprinted toward auxiliary control in a fury, his ire directed at his new charges. He’d been caught at the far end of shuttlebay when his ship had been attacked, and he’d had to literally fight his way through several hundred scared colonists to get out of there. He was now heading for his battle station as the alarm blared, but was brought up short when it cut out in mid-shriek.

He immediately knew what had happened, but it was underscored when the PA stated, ”All hands, this is the bridge. Stand down from battle stations and return your rescue/evacuation duties. The ship is not under attack. I repeat: the ship is not under fire. Resume your rescue stations. Bridge out.”

Tr`Maelitra turned angrily on his heel and headed back to the shuttlebay, then on reflection decided to go to the transporter rooms instead. He needed some time to cool off before facing the colonists he was supposed to be taking care of.

We all warned her, damnit, and she just wouldn’t listen. Such is her prerogative, but it will cause consequences for all that need not have arisen. She must keep a very tight grip now or this could spiral out of control, and no one really wants that. As he approached Transporter Room Two to check in on the operator, Zoal reflected on that for a moment before amending, Well, almost no one.

A feeling of true apprehension began to creep over him then, as he knew just what could happen if someone made a move against their CO. You cannot let that happen, t`Radaik! You are right. This is your ship! Command her for ill or for good, but you must command!

Time: 1245 hours.
Location: Command pod, RIS Kestrel.

Master of Engineering Hwiammna tr`Asenth strode through the ship’s corridors at the heart of the bulbous command pod of the converted Klingon ship. Following in his wake were three junior officers from the Navigation, Communications, and Enforcement branches, none ranked higher than subCenturion. Also along for the ride were three legionnaires as tr`Asenth knew he’d need some firepower before this was over.

The engineer strode right up to the legionnaire guarding the doorway to the Emergency Bridge and returned the woman’s salute. “Enuhlan, let us pass. I need to access the systems within to bypass the damage in Engineering.”

The senior guardswoman replied smartly, “Of course, Rekkhai. If you will just show me your authorisation chit from Riov t`Radaik I can let you in.”

Tr`Asenth’s eyes widened in shock at this, and the following seconds seemed to stretch into infinity for him. He now truly stood at a crossroads, one leading down a treacherous road to what might be his salvation, the other along a path that would preserve his position and status, but at great cost to his personal honour and peace of mind.

He could, at his point, say something to the effect of “I have not yet secured it. Give me some time and I shall do so” and all would be well. He could even sacrifice his main conspirator and lay all the blame on their ambition. He could maintain his post and transfer off at their next port. His family connections would ensure his survival and the continuance of his career.

But he would also have to live with the knowledge that he ran like a hlai at the first sign of personal danger. There was also the fact that his opinions of his commanding officer hadn’t changed.

All this flashed through tr`Asenth’s head in seconds, but it was a second too long for someone. The choice Hwiammna had was removed by the precipitous actions of one of his legionnaires, as the trigger-happy fool blasted the door guard. Tr`Asenth was glad to see the woman merely slump to the ground unconscious instead of dead. He held no concern for the guard, but a higher setting would have set off an alarm.

What choice the Engineering Master would have made fell by the wayside. Contenting himself with a withering glare at the offender for taking unilateral action, he settled in to bypass Enforcement’s lockouts.

Minutes later and he was in. Hwiammna dispersed his team to their posts in this tiny room and set about taking control of the Kestrel’s main systems from the bridge, and composing his message to the crew for when he succeeded and his conspirator called in.

Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

Riov! Urgent call from Auxiliary Control!”

T`Radaik quickly strode over to her comm. officer, ordering, “Put it on speakers.”

“Go ahead, Legionnaire,” the communications officer instructed. “The Riov is here.”

“Riov! This is Uhlan tr`Aerthera, on guard duty at Auxiliary Control. As per Enforcement Master—”

Jaeih was in no mood for babbling youngsters. “Legionnaire, report!” she snapped.

“Rekkhai, Third Officer t`Llaerih and three junior officers just tried to enter auxiliary control. They didn’t have your authorisation, so I locked myself in. They’re still trying to get in using disruptors, you can probably hear them—”

Jaeih reeled yet again. The third officer? Not tr`Maelitra? she asked herself in shock. Are all my instincts faulty now? Gathering her wits, she interrupted. “Who else is with her?”

“Rekkhai, Enforcement erei`Arrain Areolan was the only other I recognised, but they were accompanied by erei`Arrains from Operations and Engineering. I do not know their names, Lhhei.”

“Never mind. You have performed superbly, Legionnaire. You have done your duty and likely prevented a mutiny,” Jaeih praised the boy whose name she had already forgotten. “Hold your position any way you can, I’m sending more people to support you. Do not let anyone else in that doesn’t have the Enforcement Master’s or my own personal authorisation codes. Understood?”

“Ie, Riov!” The guard sounded immeasurably relieved to know he’d done the right thing. “It shall be done!”

“Bridge, out.” Addressing tr`Anierh, Jaeih commanded, “Inform the Enforcement Master of these events and have him send at least a full squad to Auxiliary Control. Have them arrest the third officer and any others in her company.” Another thought struck her and she added. “And have him send a squad to the Emergency Bridge, just in case.”

Ie, Rekkhai.

Time: 1247 hours.
Location: Main Hull, RIS Kestrel.

Six legionnaires rushed through the corridors to Auxiliary Control, armed with knowledge of their opponents’ numbers and whereabouts, but also with the admonishment to take them alive for questioning. They all doubted their adversaries were similarly restricted.

The soldiers barrelled around the last corner and blasted away at the end of the corridor, side arms set to stun. Their approach apparently came as a complete surprise to the would-be mutineers, but the unfocused and poorly-aimed fire only succeeded in dropping one of their targets and giving a glancing blow to another, rendering their weapon arm numb. The three ‘survivors’ quit their assault on the doors to Aux. Con, fired a few shots in reply that sent the Enforcement squad into cover and allowed their escape. They left their unconscious comrade where he fell.

The legionnaires regained their feet and cautiously approached Aux. Con and the figure that lay prone on the deck. Corporal Erath tr`Raebek declared the area clear and his squad assumed a defensive formation as he cuffed the unconscious officer and collected the disruptor left behind. Checking the man’s uniform, he found the traitor to be a subCenturion from Engineering.

Erath hit the intercom and signalled his CO that Aux. Con was secure with one mutineer in custody. The other three were still at large. He then opened a channel into the room he was protecting to update its sole occupant.

As t`Llaerih and her two companions ran up the boom to the command pod, Arrhae’s mind was filled with thoughts of anger and fear.

My uncle is going to kill me, she thought. Even though the guard’s challenge was unexpected, they had still been outwitted by what amounted to a scared doorman. She’d seen it in his eyes. The boy had been terrified, but he’d still managed to follow his orders and show some initiative.

Then, to be taken by surprise by an Enforcement squad… But that was T`Kiell’s fault. She railed at him for it, not stopping as time was precious.

“T`Kiell, why weren’t you watching?

The Enforcement officer seemed surprised by the question, then embarrassed. Still running, he stumbled out a response. “I… you needed all our firepower for breaking down the door, Arrhae!”

“I told you to watch out for us! You’re the Enforcement officer, you’re supposed to be trained in all this!”

“T`Llaerih, now isn’t the time!” tr`Ullian urged, trying to rub some feeling back into his left arm. “We have to know what we’re doing next!”

“Tr`Asenth will have the Emergency Bridge—” and I cannot face him as a failure, the third officer silently added “—so we will try to take the bridge itself.”

“What? Are you mad?” Areolan hissed. “We are only three now, the bridge will be fully staffed, and there’ll be four guards on duty there due to the Martial Crisis Pandect being in effect. We’ll be outnumbered at least three-to-one!”

Damnit! Arrhae swore. She’d forgotten about the guards. The bridge crew was likely to still be unarmed, with the probable exceptions of the commander and subcommander. Despite access to the bridge being restricted by authorisation codes, as a shift commander she had those and getting in wouldn’t be a problem. Staying alive or conscious after that would prove to be a huge problem.

“Well?” Reelan demanded of her. “What do we do now?”

“We’re going to take the bridge like I said. Now shut up and let me think how!”


That’s an order!

Time: 1249 hours.
Location: Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

Lyie snarled an acknowledgement into the intercom unit and slapped it off. She turned to face her CO, who was turning to face her at her outburst, eyebrow raised in inquiry.

Lhhei, Enforcement reports one mutineer captured and Auxiliary Control secure,” she reported, then gave vent to her feelings. “Which leaves three on the loose, including their leader! Are all our crew and officers so green that they cannot accomplish standard procedures under the stress of real conditions?”

Despite the situation, Jaeih couldn’t help a wintry smile at that. Lyie had never served aboard a ship with so many newbies since she’d been one herself. Jaeih had, and so held no illusions as to her crew’s capabilities.

Then the smile, feeble as it was, faded as she assimilated her first officer’s report. “Erei`Arrain tr`Anierh, contact the emergency bridge and warn the legionnaire on duty. A squad is heading to reinforce them, but at least three mutineers are still at large and may attempt a take-over there.”

Ie, Rekkhai,” subCenturion tr`Anierh replied and began working his board. Moments later LLunih turned back to his CO. “Lhhei, there is no response from the emergency bridge,” he reported crisply.

Jaeih got up, a worried look on her face. “Open a channel,” she told her comm. officer. At the man’s nod, she announced, “This is the Riov. Answer now or be executed by my authority. Report your status!”

The reply was slow in coming, but it did come. The blood in t`Radaik’s face drained in shock, but returned with a rush of anger and recognition.

“The responsible crew of this ship no longer recognise your authority, Riov,” the voice proclaimed, its insolent tones all too clear. “Surrender your authority to your first officer and we will be satisfied by your trial at starbase. Refuse, and we will take this ship from you,” the speaker finished ominously.

Despite the feeling within her that agreed with the mutineer, Jaeih was still the rightful commander and mutiny was still a capital offence. Putting some iron in he voice, she ordered, “Give yourself up now, tr`Asenth, and I won’t have you executed.”

Scornful laughter issued from the speakers. “And I should content myself with a lifetime of asteroid mining, if you keep what you laughingly call your word, and if you can make it stick with Command? I don’t think so.” The engineer became deadly serious again. “You heard my offer. You have ten minutes to decide, then I decide for you.”

The channel clicked shut and Jaeih silently fumed for a few seconds before snapping into action. “Inform Enforcement Master tr`Raedheol that the traitor tr`Asenth has taken over the emergency bridge and tell him to regain control of it my any means necessary. Also tell him to be prepared for a ship-wide uprising among the crew.”

LLunih looked at her with undisguised shock in his eyes, before quickly turning to his task.

“Lyie, begin damage control and repair operations. Stabilise us and get those transporters operational again. Find out what the crew casualties are.”

Nodding, Lyie turned back to her board and began.

Jaeih stalked back to her chair and settled in to wait for updates.

Time: 1250 hours.
Location: Medical Bay, Main Hull, RIS Kestrel.

Jutak tr`Malthai ran through sickbay to the ICU ward with the collection of drugs the Master Surgeon had ordered from him and set them up on a cart in the centre of the room. The pharmacist started fielding requests from the three doctors and twelve nurses triaging in the room, doling out the required medications and dosages and keeping careful track of what was used, as was his responsibility.

Woe betides any pharmacist on an Imperial vessel who allowed any his drug supply to go “mysteriously missing”.

During a brief lull in patient inflow he took a quick look around the sickbay and was shocked to find the place was overflowing already. The entire medical staff was on duty—even the dentist, though he was acting in a nurse’s capacity—and they were almost overwhelmed. The six beds in each ICU were already full with the seriously wounded, the morgue was beginning to fill up, and engineers and ship’s services personnel were bringing more casualties in every minute.

It’s like a war zone in here, Jutak thought, his shock quickly turning into anger. That fool on the bridge just would not listen until it was too bloody late. Literally. Tr`Aimne is a fool for believing in her, too. Both of them, he added remembering his peer’s elder sister on the bridge right now.

A makeshift stretcher came in carrying a man whose guts seemed to be spilling out despite everyone’s best efforts to keep them in. The sight repulsed Jutak, but he did not feel squeamish about it. That’s disgusting! I hope we can patch this unfortunate back up in time so that he might live. A cold smile played over his lips then, as he completed the thought. So that he can testify at t`Radaik’s court martial!

His thoughts of righteous outrage and sweet revenge continued unabated as a second round of triage began and he gave out more drugs, but he also kept his eye on the unfortunate. The master surgeon, who had noticed him by now, ordered him prepped for immediate surgery.

As he disappeared into the OR, Jutak sped his recovery on within the confines of his head. Live, engineer, and wear the great scar you will surely be left with so that by your very existence we can rid ourselves of this incompetent we are currently beholden to!

Time: 1252 hours.
Location: Bridge turbolift, RIS Kestrel.

“Three. Two. One. Now!

At Arrhae’s command, she and T`Kiell charged forward from the arriving turbolift, seeking out the four legionnaires on the bridge. To her shocked surprise her plan seemed to be working, as she noticed most of the bridge crew staring at the opening hatch to the access tubes—including the soldiers who were drawing their side arms.

According to her plan, T`Kiell took aim at the guards on the left as Arrhae took the right. Lengthy stun beams issued forth from their almost depleted disruptors, taking the entire bridge by surprise and sending their first targets slumping nerveless to the deck despite their armour. Even as the remaining two guards spun towards them, the third officer and her companion had quickly re-aimed and fired again.

They were not quick enough as the remaining two legionnaires threw themselves sideways, away from the path of the beams. They managed to snap off quick shots of their own and Arrhae flinched and ducked away from both blasts. T`Kiell stood his ground and tracked his assigned guard with his weapon, pouring disruptor-fire into the legionnaire’s energy-dispersing armour in an attempt to overload it.

The bridge crew had by then exploded into action, some even having the presence of mind to tackle tr`Ullian as he hauled himself up out of the hatch on the deck. He came up firing though, and t`Ethien and Yllemna fell nerveless to the deck before the rest piled on top of him and wrestled away his disruptor. He was pinned by two others while t`Aimne turned his weapon on him, so he finally ceased his struggling and lapsed into a defiant silence.

As this was happening Lyie dived towards Jaeih, both of them drawing their weapons and firing at the turbolift alcove. There was enough stun energy flying into there that Arrhae finally went down, out cold, just as T`Kiell finally stunned the third guard. Two near misses from the fourth guard and Lyie forced T`Kiell to cease fire and withdraw back into the turbolift, but a carefully aimed blast from t`Radaik took him down before he could get away.

The remaining conscious legionnaire carefully approached the attempted mutineers under cover from his CO and XO and confiscated their disruptors, then searched them for additional weapons. Coming up empty, he cuffed both stunned officers and with the help of tr`Anierh dragged them both off to the comm. station, laying them face down on the upper walkway.

“Tr`Anierh, contact Enforcement and have them dispatch another guard to the bridge,” the Commander ordered, “then get Medical to send someone up here to take care of stun effects.”

Ie, Riov.

“Good job, Legionnaire,” t`Radaik complimented the guard. “Although I think we’ve just had the folly of having all four of you positioned near the turbolift door proven to us.”

Startled at being addressed directly by the Commander, the guard merely offered a serious, “Ie, Riov.

She ordered him, “Take up a more secure defensive position covering the turbolift door. There may be more unwelcome guests.”

“It shall be done!” he replied with alacrity, and a little relief.

Jaeih shared a look with Lyie, and then both turned their attention to the conscious mutineer. Stalking toward him and flanked by t`Aimne and t`AAnikh, she demanded, “What is your role in this mutiny? What was your objectives and who gave you them? Are there any other groups like you ready to strike?”

The Gamma shift navigator sneered back at her. “I will tell you nothing!”

Without warning, t`Aimne belted him across the face with the back of her hand. Breathing heavily and obviously furious, she yelled, “Show the proper respect, you tokhe straav’!

Jaeih blinked at her weapons master’s use of the most vile of Klingon insults—to another Klingon, anyway—but didn’t stop her. She wanted information and was prepared to do whatever it took to get it.

Tr`Ullian’s sneer disappeared and a look of genuine fear came into his eyes as he felt the blood trickle down from his rapidly swelling lip. Flicking his fearful gaze from Jaeih to Lyie to Eriufve in search of a feeling of remorse and not getting any, he finally slumped and started talking.

“I’m just a navigator. I was supposed to fly the ship after the take over,” he began. “Our objective was to remove you from command and imprison you so you could be put on trial for your reckless behaviour, and we all believed it enough to take part in this… transfer of power.”

“Who’s behind all this?” t`Radaik repeated, ignoring his accusations. “Are there more groups like yours? What support do you have from the crew?”

“The third officer told us that the Engineering Master gave her the instructions. I don’t know if there are more groups like us, but there are many in the crew who think like me, but are too cowardly or aren’t true enough to themselves to do anything about it.”

“What do you mean, ‘many who think like me’?” Jaeih demanded. “Will the crew support tr`Asenth if he tries to take the ship by force?”

“They may,” Reelan told her, then summoned some backbone. “All of my comrades and shift-mates, whether they would support the Master of Engineering or not, believe you should be removed from command, Riov. They think you too careless with all our lives. No one I’ve talked with thinks your mad dash here was worth it, and now that everyone else has been proven right we want you gone!”

Jaeih was surprised by his vehemence and a little frightened by the implications of his words, but showed neither. It confirmed all of Lyie’s warnings, and she didn’t know if Dhiemn had enough guards loyal to her to ensure her continued command.

She had to do something, and she had to do it fast.

Chapter Ten

Date: 16th April 2268
Time: 1255 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4092.69
Location: Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

Jaeih’s mind snapped back into action at full speed. “Uhlan, cuff this mutineer and restrain him with the others. T`Aimne, help him.”

Ie, Rekkhai,” he acknowledged as Eriufve nodded.

Sitting back in her command chair, Jaeih activated the intercom to the Enforcement Section. “Enarrain tr`Raedheol,” she announced.

Moments later her trusted Enforcement Master came online. “Tr`Raedheol here, Riov.”

Enarrain, recall your squads from the evacuation mission. Redeploy your most trusted personnel to Situation Bastion positions. Send all other personnel to standard Battle Alert patrolling.”

“Understood, Riov,” he replied. “Your new bridge guard should be arriving soon. He’s escorting the Med. Tech you requested.”

“Very good. Status of the Emergency Bridge?” she asked.

“Riov, all exits have been covered and work is proceeding on cutting open the door, but the Emergency Bridge is meant to be the last refuge of the command officers. It will take nearly thirty minutes to get in there.”

“Understood. Keep me informed. Riov, out,” she said and closed the channel.

Riov! All my controls have gone dead!” came an alarmed shout from tr`Anierh. He slapped at relays and toggles before finishing, “Nothing works. I can’t reach anyone!”

Damnit! Jaeih cursed inwardly. I was hoping he’d need longer before he was able to do that! Aloud, she ordered, “Confirm that! All stations, report!”

The frustrated confirmations echoed and Jaeih felt a tendril of fear reach out and begin to wrap itself around her spine and heart again. He has control, and with Engineering badly damaged someone needs to be in Aux. Con to override him.

Her whole body tensed up as a horrible realisation set in. This is it! This is the moment when a tide of angry mutineers swarm in and put me to death, if what that navigator said is true.

She had no reason to disbelieve it. Her own friends and trusted comrades had warned her of the dangers of her current course, and she had arrogantly dismissed them. She had to regain control, and do it now.

“Lyie, take tr`Anierh, t`Aimne, and our legionnaire and get into Auxiliary Control. Work with whoever is in command of Engineering and bypass the lockouts the traitor has instigated. I will continue to try from here,” she ordered.

Ie, Riov.” Gathering up her assigned staff, t`AAnikh lead them to the turbolift.

“And Lyie?” Jaeih added just before the doors closed on her friend.


“Be careful.”

The subCommander flashed her CO a reassuring smile before vanishing below decks. As Jaeih returned her attention to her one conscious officer, Diagnostics Officer t`Oreth—now manning the comm. station in tr`Anierh’s absence—the girl gave her yet more bad news. She fought the urge to shoot her so that she wouldn’t have to hear it, realising how foolish and self-delusional it was, as well as leaving her alone on the bridge.

Riov, a ship-wide intercom channel has been opened from the Emergency Bridge,” t`Oreth stated. “I cannot close or override it!”

“Crew of the Kestrel, my fellow loyal Rihannsu, this is your Master Engineer speaking,” the voice issued forth from the bridge speakers, then paused. Possibly to gather his thoughts, or maybe to make sure he had the attention of the crew, Jaeih really didn’t care. She just wanted him shut up, permanently if need be.

She demanded of her temporary comm. officer, “Erei`Arrain, is there nothing you can do to cut him off?”

“Forgive me, Rekkhai, but I cannot,” she replied, sounding disgusted. “The computer logs I can access show all bridge functions have been re-routed to the Emergency Bridge. This console is still getting power but all command pathways are blocked. The only way he’ll be cut off is from Auxiliary Control or Engineering.”

Jaeih almost swore but restrained herself. Her crew needed to see that she was in control, if only of herself.

As the traitor began speaking again, the turbolift doors opened and a legionnaire and medical technician entered the bridge. Jaeih set the medic to reviving her stunned bridge personnel and had the legionnaire take up position guarding the turbolift doors, then settled into her command chair, resigned to listening to the traitor tr`Asenth trying to turn her crew against her.

Time: 1255 hours.
Location: Emergency Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

Enarrain, they’re close to getting in!” one of his junior officers yelled in alarm as a small hole was burned through the reinforced bulkhead.

“They’re nowhere near close,” tr`Asenth growled back, although he was warmed by the boy’s use of his previous rank, before that creature on the bridge demoted him. He didn’t correct the young one. They could all hear the shrill screech of the plasma cutters next to the doors of their cramped room. “It will take them almost thirty minutes to burn a person-sized hole in that bulkhead, and by then we’ll have succeeded. Do not worry, and attend your station.”

The young officer, anteCenturion Hie tr`Utreth, nodded back at him and he instructed, “That should be all the bridge controls locked out. Open a ship-wide intercom channel and we’ll see if they do anything about it.”

Ie, Rekkhai.” The anteCenturion flipped a few toggles then waited some moments before reporting back. “Channel open with no interference, Enarrain. No reaction from the bridge yet, either.”

“Excellent. Put me on, Erein,” tr`Asenth instructed the boy.

Tr`Utreth nodded and pointed to him, indicating he was patched in.

Hwiammna took a deep breath and launched into the speech he’d just come up with, hoping that its very rough-and-ready quality would make him seem more “real” than a highly polished version would. Nobody really trusted a slick speaker.

“Crew of the Kestrel, my fellow loyal Rihannsu, this is your Master Engineer speaking.” He stole a glance at his comm. officer, who mouthed “no disruptions” at him. Hwiammna took this as a good sign, even though his niece hadn’t reported in yet, and plunged onward.

“As we all know, the past day has been very trying for us all. The strain the ship was under, the emergency measures put into place, the steadily increasing damage to our engines, and now finally, a power rupture in Main Engineering that has without doubt cost us many lives. I tell you now that all this shouldn’t have happened, that all this was completely unnecessary. That all this is a direct result of the orders of one person. One person who has taken it upon themselves to flaunt and abuse their authority, and the trust and loyalty we place in their care!”

Tr`Asenth, initially speaking with deliberate care and poise, was becoming more heated and strident in his speech, his belief in what he was saying coming through clearly and ever more confidently.

“This person has been careless with all our lives in pursuing their own private agenda, an agenda they share with no one, apparently not even with their own closest friends. This person has exhausted the Engineering staff through their putting out the constant brush fires of one system after another threatening to blow out and tear this ship apart, to which it has finally succeeded! Had this person just acceded to the demands of the ship itself and slowed to where equipment could once again handle the strain, none of this would be happening! The ship would be running smoothly, the crew rested, alert, and eager for rescue duty, all ship’s systems functioning as they should, and leaving us all with a sense of pride and accomplishment at having done our duty and saved the lives of hundreds of entire families!”

Hwiammna’s face was flushed deep green as he spoke passionately, convincingly, about his interpretation of events. His voice became low and dark for his next words, the tone accusatory.

“However, that wasn’t enough for this person. We had to be here now. Fast enough to tax the ship to her limits wasn’t good enough. Fast enough to push her well past those limits and threaten and degrade her structural integrity for countless hours was. Fast enough to arrive where we are now in one more hour wasn’t good enough, we had to be here an hour ago—at the risk of all our lives and by compromising the integrity of the ship we depend on for our lives!

“That’s right, my fellow crewmates. Another two hours is all it would have cost us to get here by following the demands of the ship itself. Instead of merely risking our lives for our citizens, we were actively pursuing our own demise in getting here two hours sooner!” tr`Asenth yelled in disgust. “Despite several legitimate warnings respectfully given, several pleas made both with composure and with passion, this selfish, wilful, reckless, unworthy person chose to ignore the warnings of all—the ship included—and brought us to the brink of destruction. This person is not fit to be trusted with all our lives, or any other lives for that matter! This person is unworthy of being set in authority over any command, and I think it is well past time for their authority on this vessel to come to an end!”

Hwiammna paused before making the final part of his speech. Up until now, he had merely been stating fact and his own views, but here was where he crossed the line irrevocably. He knew himself to be a good officer, a great engineer, and had always thought himself to be a loyal Rihanha. My brother will help me through this. He has to. He has to see that I’m doing the right thing here. Comforting himself with those thoughts, he pushed on.

“Which is why I and my supporters are going to take command of this vessel and return it to the nearest base, where we plan on having Riov t`Radaik arrested to stand trial for her crimes as committed on this ship. Senator tr`Asenth will support us in this action, and I hope you, the crew of the Kestrel, loyal Rihannsu all, will support me too. I already hold the Emergency Bridge and the Riov is cut off and alone on the bridge, and Auxiliary Control will soon answer to me too. I await your response.

“Master Engineer, out.” He nodded to tr`Utreth, who closed the channel.

“What do we do now, Rekkhai?” the youngling asked.

Tr`Asenth was surprised by the firmness of his voice, and took a quick look around him at his officers. All of them nodded back respectfully, confidently. It warmed the engineer to see it, and he asked, “All of you: What say you about my speech?”

They gave various enthusiastic affirmations, but the one which gave him the most hope was from tr`Utreth. “What you said is Truth, Rekkhai,” the comm. officer said simply. “It reinforced what my belief and confidence in what we are doing, and I know many among the crew who know it to be Truth also. They will support you, Rekkhai.”

Hwiammna felt a swell of hope as he acknowledged those words. “Elements willing, we will be rid of that creature soon.”

Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

Jaeih couldn’t believe it. She could see it in their eyes, though. Her own trusted bridge crew, people she’d led for well over a decade, agreed with the mutineer. She could tell from their stiff movements and the way they avoided her eyes. They still obeyed her, still followed her orders because that’s what the Precept of Duty demanded of them, and they knew that to do otherwise would seal their fate, but they believed him.

And if my most loyal and trusted people feel that way, all these untested, idealistic, inexperienced crewmembers are going to follow him for sure.

And they would all be executed by Command. She knew it. Her command crew knew it. That was why there was a Precept of Duty at all, to let all military personnel know it too. But these fresh-faced, easily led children would believe tr`Asenth’s claims they’d be forgiven by Command.

They’ll believe they’re doing the right thing, most of them, Jaeih knew, her internal struggle continuing. They’re all too young to know, to realise, what will result from it. Just children. She rubbed her temples in frustration, and grief at her next thought. Too many children and innocents have died today already. There must be no more. I will not let my crew be slaughtered like this! I have to do something, but what? And I have to do it soon…

“T`Oreth!” she barked at her temporary comm. officer. “Status of First Officer’s party?”

“Unknown, Riov!” she responded somewhat desperately. “All comm. systems are inoperative from this station, we have to wait for them to unlock—”

“Personal communicators!” Jaeih blurted. She jumped up and activated her own unit, calling up her first officer. “Erei`Riov, report!”

“Riov, we are working to bypass the bridge lockouts, but it’s going to take a few minutes!” t`AAnikh updated her.

“We might not have a few minutes!” Jaeih growled in frustration. “Forget everything else right now, focus all efforts on opening a channel for me to the entire ship. Patch in your communicator to the PA system if need be, but I have to stop this mutiny from gaining momentum!”

“Ie, Riov. We’ll let you know as soon as we have one.”

“Very well.” Jaeih sat back in her command chair and stewed.

Main Hull, RIS Kestrel.

All through the ship, crewmates stared at their companions, each daring the other to make the first move. The engineer’s words rang truthfully in their ears, but years of discipline at the Academy and in ordinary life exerted its influence still. Friends sought out the eyes of trusted comrades to discover what they thought, to know what they’d do, feeling their own resolve bolstered by what they found in the eyes of the other.

Guards patrolling the corridors could feel the tension rising in the air. Those loyal to tr`Raedheol and t`Radaik manned their posts, knowing what was sure to come if their Commander didn’t speak out, and soon, and praying to the Elements and Powers that it would not come to the worst.

Those guards not trusted enough by the Master of Enforcement walked the decks, feeling their skin prickle, wondering which way they would finally jump if the crew rose up, seeking small reassurance in the eyes of their team-mates, not trusting words to be spoken.

The newly arrived civilians, rescued from certain death only to be flung back into unexpected danger at the announcement from the Master Engineer, hushed their children and reassured their partners as they followed nervous, jumpy crewmen to their new berths aboard the huge cruiser.

Those already in the shuttlebay huddled protectively together and eyed the vast shuttlebay doors with unease and suspicion.

The tension throughout the whole ship was rising, along with the resolve of those heeding tr`Asenth’s words but still fearful of the consequences. Many started abandoning their duties to confer with comrades.

The flash point was approaching. Critical mass was building.

Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

“Riov, we’ve broken through! We have an intraship channel open for you!”

T`Radaik almost jumped for joy upon hearing Lyie’s voice conveying the words she desperately wanted to hear. “Excellent work, erei`Riov! Patch me through on the bridge station immediately.”

“Ie, Riov. Connection established, you are online.”

Jaeih had spent the last few minutes going over what she should say. Even though she knew roughly what she wanted to say, she was unsure of how exactly to phrase it.

She was also very uncomfortable with what she knew she had to do to put a permanent end to this situation.

“Crew of the Kestrel, this is Riov t`Radaik. Hear me now, and hear me well,” she began, her voice rough because of her dry throat. Swallowing a couple of times to lubricate it, she continued more smoothly. “I urge you not to listen to the words of our Master Engineer, as following his path will only lead to your own ruin. Senator tr`Asenth may indeed be able to save his brother’s life and career, but do not be mislead into thinking that influence can or will extend to all of you. Trust me in this statement, if nothing else, as I know the minds of our fleet leaders: High Command will never forgive, nor forget, those involved in a mutiny.”

The sheer bedrock certainty of her belief in those words came through, and with a dreadful implacability, she went on to qualify her words.

“No matter how true your honourable intentions, no matter how right and just your cause, the very fact that our Precept of Duty exists at all should tell you that our leaders do not want to encourage free-thinking among the lower echelons of our society and military. If you go against your commanding officer, regardless of their state of mind, you are violating that Precept and you will suffer for it. It is the duty of the senior staff to intervene in those instances, and is the only legal option available.

“Trust in your erei`Riov. She is a woman of honour and integrity, and it is through her actions these past twelve hours that I have come to realise that…”

Everyone on the ship, from tr`Asenth in the emergency bridge all the way down to the sanitation engineers in the main hull and the civilians in their new berths, were listening with rapt attention, spellbound by the words coming from the Commander. They all heard her pause, and wondered what was coming next.

In the Emergency Bridge, Tr`Asenth glared at tr`Utreth and growled, “Shut that fvadt transmission down, curse you! How did she get that all-call in the first place?” She was supposed to surrender to me, fvadt her!

Even as he had those thoughts and his comm. officer tried to close the channel, he knew what the answers would be. Arrhae has failed to secure Aux. Con, he realised. With Engineering damaged that’s the only place to override me, and since they have the channel, Aux. Con is theirs too. What went wrong? Was I wrong to trust this to her? Is she now dead?

AnteCenturion tr`Utreth finally came back with an answer. The expected one. “I am sorry, Rekkhai, but I cannot close their channel down. The whole crew will hear what she says, and I cannot stop it.”

Tr`Asenth knew it wasn’t the boy’s fault and managed not to take his anger out on him. It is my fault, or at least Arrhae’s. We’ll just have to see how this plays itself out.

In Auxiliary Control, Lyie knew what her friend would say next. No, old friend, she thought desperately, don’t do it! High Command can forgive few things, but putting down a mutiny is one of them! To surrender authority in the face of insurrectionists… It will seal your own fate!

Back on the bridge, Jaeih looked around at her command crew and realised that so many of them were new faces, most of her trusted people being off on special assignments. She saw the uncertainty in their faces, the knowledge in their eyes. They seemed to know what she’d say next, but were unsure if it was the right thing to do or not. The pause threatened to become pregnant so, despite the ambivalent vibe she was getting, she pushed on.

“I have come to realise, with the explosion in Engineering, that my judgement of late has been… faulty. I have been forcibly shown this by the blood on my hands of the those lives lost, and I recognise that the Master Engineer’s words are… Truth.”

There. She’d said it. After that most painful public admission, subsequent ones became easier and they poured forth.

“To prevent needless bloodshed amongst the crew, and to prevent the execution of those who would support a mutiny for what they believe is the right thing to do, I am… stepping down as commander of this vessel.”

Even though they had known it was coming, gasps still escaped the lips of her most loyal bridge crew, as if they couldn’t believe she’d actually went through with it. Jaeih heard and was heartened by it. She had not lost their respect, even if she had lost their confidence, and that satisfied her.

“I surrender my authority to erei`Riov t`AAnikh, and implore her to continue the rescue and get our citizens safely home. I likewise urge the Master Engineer to abandon his reckless plan and submit himself and his co-conspirators to the will of the erei`Riov, so that this vessel may resume her duty as a commissioned vessel of the Grand Fleet.

“Crew of the Kestrel, stand down your thoughts and resume your posts. Erei`Riov t`AAnikh, please report to the bridge. T`Radaik, out.”

Transporter Room Five, Main Hull, RIS Kestrel.

Tr`Maelitra continued to stare at the intercom panel for a small eternity after the all-call ended, before blinking and returned to awareness with a crash.

She… she WHAT? She can’t do that! High Command will have the mutineers and her executed! What the Areinnye does she think she’s doing? the second officer inwardly exclaimed in total disbelief. These spineless, whimpering hlai don’t deserve such consideration! If they wish a mutiny, we should expose them all as the disloyal, whining Earthers that they are and execute them all! I don’t understand…

He turned to face the transporter tech to see their own look of satisfaction at the Riov’s words, which, when he noticed Zoal’s disbelieving expression transform into anger, was quickly banished behind a professional demeanour as he busied himself with his console.

And you would have been one to rise up against your Riov, despite the Precept and the Martial Crisis Pandect in effect? Zoal thought with a flash of white-hot anger, then vowed, I will remember you, crewman. You bear watching in the future.

He stalked out of the transporter room and headed for the shuttlebay, in which the survivors already rescued were housed, dodging scared, confused colonists, and other crewmen looking triumphantly satisfied, vowing retribution on those who would topple their Commander.

Armoury, Main Hull, RIS Kestrel.

Idrys t`Knathera’s troubled expression let her squad know of her feelings in regards to the Commander’s broadcast without her having to say anything. As commander of Enforcement’s Beta shift personnel and one of tr`Raedheol’s most trusted staff, she had drawn Bastion duty guarding the Armoury from a mutiny that looked all too likely a bare five minutes ago, but now seemed suddenly more remote.

Her team discussed among themselves, unchecked by their superior, the pros and cons of their Commander’s decision as well as their general amazement that she really did seem to care about her crew’s wellbeing, despite all the madness that had preceded it.

Idrys was in something close to shock. No commander she’d even heard of had done anything this… this stupid. She’d expected better of a commander of t`Radaik’s reputation. Far better. T`Radaik had stopped the true mutineers from revealing themselves, had given up her command after implementing the Martial Crisis Pandect… She’d started off strong, but allowed herself to become weak, introspective, plagued with self-doubt, and fooled into thinking that what she was doing now was somehow “honourable”.

It had shaken Idrys’ confidence in her CO, that she could be brought so low with so little effort. Commanders have to be sure about everything. Even if it is a bad decision, you stick by it and deal with the consequences of being wrong. You do not change your mind in mid-flow! her rational mind insisted. What she should have done was… was make that same speech but without stepping down. If the crew had still revolted, then on their heads rest the consequences!

It was so obvious to her than she was utterly bewildered as to why her commander did not see it too. She did not realise that her commander was beset by other problems not so easily dismissed by her conscience.

These thoughts continued to circle around inside her head as she manned her post, awaiting the next set of orders, be they to put down a rebellion or resume rescue stations. Once again hearing the voices of her squad, she snapped at them to resume their posts and silence reigned once more.

Emergency Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

Rekkhai, we did it! We won!”

Tr`Asenth looked over at the speaker and silenced them with a glare. “We’ve won nothing!” he growled, face green with rage.

“But… but the Riov has surrendered!” tr`Utreth exclaimed. “She admitted that you are right, that you spoke Truth!”

“She ‘gave in gracefully’ to our pressure,” Hwiammna snarled. “She cited all sorts of concerns for ‘her’ crew, wormed the fear of consequences back into their minds, and that she was doing all this for them! She made a imirrhlhhsena martyr of herself while completely ignoring all the accusations against her!”

The mood in the Emergency Bridge, seconds before triumphant and full of smiles, now plunged into renewed fear and worry at tr`Asenth’s words.

Tr`Utreth, bravest of the junior officers there, ventured, “Surely this matters little, Rekkhai. T`Radaik has been removed from authority and, if she is right about High Command, saved us from a lifetime of permanent, elevated Tal Shi`ar surveillance. Even if she is wrong or lying, she likely prevented a ship-wide battle of brother against brother!” The young officer shook his head and asked, “How can this be a bad thing?”

The Master Engineer snapped back, “Because she is not in the brig and we soon will be!” That shut the boy up, but it wasn’t the main reason tr`Asenth was unhappy.

For the very reasons you so proudly list it is a bad thing, and you don’t even realise what you’ve said! the engineer fumed. You came in here with me fired up and ready to oust a reckless opportunist from risking your life for her own private agenda. Now you think she’s a fvadt imirrhlhhsena beacon of honour and morality that just saved you from yourself by her own selfless actions!

It was all Hwiammna could not to scream out his rage and frustration, as he was sure t`Radaik was right now planning how to get back her command, once her pet subCommander had imprisoned him for attempting to incite a mutiny. He was still too angry to feel fear right then. His towering rage was blocking out the realities of his situation once back within the direct influence of High Command, and all he could think about was his own status on the ship after the next twenty minutes.

I will not give up this bridge unless I get assurances, the engineer vowed. If they attempt to arrest me, I will not give up without a fight!

Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

SubCommander Lyie t`AAnikh practically shot out from the turbolift and into the presence of her friend and commanding officer, her guard trailing behind her, even though there was no real urgency any more. She saw Jaeih standing beside the command chair, looking—despite the current situation—more at ease with herself than she had for the last few hours. Lyie got the impression that Jaeih somehow welcomed the chance to do what she had just done, despite all of Lyie’s instincts screaming the exact opposite to her.

Riov!” she blurted out breathlessly. “You must not do this thing! You cannot be seen to be giving in to the traitor in the slightest—”

Her friend turned to her and gave Lyie a small, cheerless smile that nevertheless managed to convey her sense of being at peace with her fate, in direct contrast to the dynamo of emotion the first officer had become.

“Lyie, it is okay,” t`Radaik began, but the subCommander cut her off.

Lhhei, nothing about this is ‘okay’! How can you say this? Why are you doing this?”

“I… I need to do this. No matter tr`Asenth’s methods, he does speak Truth, and nothing can stand against that. Even though High Command dictates, no, requires that I retain authority, I cannot remain in authority and remain true to myself. I have endangered this ship and her crew based on a judgement I had believed sound but which has been revealed to me as faulty. I was sure the ship could take it, but events have proven me deadly wrong.”

“Jaeih…” Lyie started, but then knew she could not dissuade her friend from her chosen course. “I will command them well. We shall get to the bottom of the colony ship’s troubles, and our own explosion, too.”

“Thank you, erei`Riov. For this… I must atone. Be lenient with tr`Asenth, offer him and all his people pardon if his intention was merely to safeguard the ship. If not, however…”

“It will be as you say, Riov,” she replied unhappily, not even the prospect of punishing a traitor managing to lighten her mood.

“Old friend, I pushed tr`Asenth into this,” her friend rationalised to her. “He, as did you all but he the most stridently, tried to warn me that this might happen. Because he was the most strident, and because I did not trust him as one of my inner circle, I punished him and no one else. I forced his hand in thinking that I knew more about this ship and her capabilities than did her Engineering Master. This… unheeding arrogance cannot be allowed to pass unpunished when I expect the same of those around me, no matter their rank or social standing.”

Lhhei, I understand why you do this, I just disagree that this is the course you should take. Yes you must atone, but there has to be some other way…”

“Another way that would prevent a ship-wide mutiny and the consequences that High Command would bring down on us all?” Jaeih shook her head and spoke quietly to her friend. “I will be relieved over this no matter the outcome, and it is almost certain I will be dismissed from the Fleet, possibly even imprisoned or executed.” Silently she added, Or worse, I will be used as a bargaining chip against my father, a dagger to his throat for all future dealings involving House Radaik. I cannot allow this to happen, I cannot allow Father to compromise himself for my mistakes. This is my doing, and my responsibility alone.

She asked, “Would it be better to bring half—or more—of this crew down with me? For what they thought was right? No, I will not allow it. I have become complacent, blind, arrogant, and self-righteous. Basically, all the things I despise in others. I should step down even without this threatened mutiny so I may clarify my methods once more. If this is the price the Elements exact to remind me of my true path, then this price I will pay and be glad of it. I cannot carry out honourable intentions and think of myself as such when I so clearly disregard the demands of mnhei`sahe.”

This time Lyie did not answer. It was clear Jaeih had been doing too much soul-searching and taken in the half-truths the traitor had spoken. I will get to the bottom of this situation for you, old friend. I will make sure that everything our Master Engineer has done does not wither in the light of day. For if it does, he will reap what he has sown.

“It must be so. The bridge, and the ship, is yours, erei`Riov. Do your duty and whip this crew back into shape. I will be in my quarters.”

It should not be so! Lyie yelled inwardly. Instead, she nodded and added, “I will send Legionnaire tr`Aerthera to ensure your safety.”

Jaeih looked round suddenly, eyes narrowed like the commander of old. “I do not know that name.”

“He is the boy who did his duty in your name and prevented the capture of Auxiliary Control, the use of which allowed you to still this mutiny and regain the upper hand,” Lyie reminded her.

Jaeih relaxed again, then nodded and smiled slightly. “Yes, I would like to speak with him. I owe him much.”

And with that, the rightful commander of the Rihannsu Imperial Starship Kestrel abdicated her throne.

Chapter Eleven

Date: 16th April 2268
Time: 1310 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4092.74
Location: Emergency Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

“Master Engineer, the main bridge is attempting to open a channel to us,” tr`Utreth suddenly spoke up.

“Allow it. I want to hear what they have to say my ears alone,” Hwiammna said. “What will be said here will decide what happens next, and how true our supposedly ex-riov’s words really are.”

Tr`Utreth’s eyes widened as he realised the implications of this moment, then he nodded and accepted the hail.

“Engineer tr`Asenth, this is erei`Riov t`AAnikh. Respond.”

The words were distinctly confrontational, but tr`Asenth’s eyebrows climbed slightly at her tone. She sounds neither happy nor triumphant, he noted. No satisfaction or anticipation, either. This could be a good sign. Aloud, he answered, “This is tr`Asenth. Say your piece, erei`Riov.”

Speaking with deliberate care and lack of inflection, the Kestrel’s new CO asked, “What were your motivations for attempting this mutiny, Arrain?”

Tr`Asenth again flushed jade at the deliberate insult of reminding him of his demotion and he barked back, “She threatened the ship! She threatened all our lives with her arrogance, and did not heed the warnings of any around her! She is a danger to everyone, and she’s—!“

Hwiammna bit down hard inside his cheek as he realised what t`AAnikh was really asking, and congratulated himself on recognising it before he’d said anything personally incriminating. However, he had stopped in mid-flow and he had to think of something plausible to finish off with, and fast.

Starting to breathe heavily and allowing some of his anger to slip from his voice, he continued, “My ire… overwhelmed me, erei`Riov. Degenerating into childish name-calling would not help this situation any.” He allowed his ‘cooling down’ to continue audibly as he waited on her reply. The outraged honesty of his initial reaction must have done much to persuade the subCommander of this, as her next words surprised the Areinnye out of him.

“It is well that you control yourself, Engineer. Though I would rather see you hung, drawn, and quartered for what you have wrought here today, at the final request of Riov t`Radaik I offer you and your co-conspirators amnesty.”

The tone, well above the words employed, indicated just how unhappy and outraged Lyie t`AAnikh was with that offer, but even so Hwiammna couldn’t believe he’d heard her correctly. He looked around at his own command crew and saw that they too were looking at each other for confirmation.

That settled it for tr`Asenth. Before the subCommander could recant her words, he loudly proclaimed, “Erei`Riov, I and my fellow patriots accept your offer of amnesty.”

“What a surprise,” she replied, voice dripping with scorn, but before he could react to it she moved on. “This offer is dependant on you undoing any and all actions of sabotage and wilful damage, lock-outs and obstructions against the ship and her systems you may have already executed and have held in reserve. Also, that you resume your nominal duties and repair the damage already suffered by the ship so that we may resume our rescue mission.”

Hwiammna could not believe his good fortune, if this was indeed a genuine offer. He had every reason to disbelieve it, but t`AAnikh would gain no more by attempting to deceive him as the bulkhead was a mere ten minutes from being fully cut through and he and his people had nowhere to go. All he could do was accept her offer and take her at her word.

“I will gladly do so, erei`Riov,” he offered in a friendlier tone. “All I wanted was—”

T`AAnikh cut him off coldly. “We all know what you wanted, tr`Asenth. However, as long as you hold up your end of this bargain, you have my word that it is binding to both sides. Now, attend your duties, Master Engineer,” she practically sneered. “I want the rest of those colonists safely on board within fifteen minutes, and the transfer of the New Dawn’s remaining deuterium to Kestrel underway as well. Repair Engineering as best you can. You are authorised to temporarily acquire anyone you need from any department to do this. T`AAnikh, out.”

There were tentative smiles all round after that, smiles that became real when tr`Asenth stood up and spoke to them.

“You heard our new riov. Let’s get back to work!”

They all cheered, and then unsealed the room. They walked out past sullen guards loyal to t`Radaik and wisely said nothing. Even so, the senior legionnaire stopped them by stepping into tr`Asenth’s path with a hand upraised.

“Master Engineer, we have been given new orders by the bridge. We are to escort you to Main Engineering.”

A brief stab of fear lanced into him at the centurion’s first words, making him believe that t`AAnikh had reneged on their bargain already, but the feeling died before he could even fully absorb it. Then his sense of triumph returned, and even being put under guard did not faze him. It further assured him that the bargain would be kept, and that being so he had no plans to repeat this mad escapade. Watch me all you like, t`AAnikh, I shall make no further missteps. You will be superseded by a new Riov, or I will transfer to another ship where they will be glad to have me. Either way, victory is mine.

This being the case, he merely nodded to the guard and said, “Thank you, Arrain. You may lead the way.”

The legionnaire scowled, but nodded curtly and led the Hwiammna and his cohorts to main engineering.

Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

Lyie cut the channel to tr`Asenth with a vicious swat of her hand, gave orders to the legionnaires outside the emergency bridge to escort the Engineer back to his domain, then turned to glare at the three mutineers on the bridge whom she’d just pardoned. All her disgust at this situation and her fury at those who’d deposed her friend poured down through her eyes. Only tr`Ullian was conscious and he squirmed under her vitriolic regard, seemingly trying to writhe out of his skin to escape her gaze.

Taking some petty satisfaction from that, she conducted a sweep of the bridge to tally her functional crew. She’d left t`Aimne and tr`Anierh in Aux. Con with Guardsman tr`Aerthera, bringing back the guard Jaeih had assigned her, so she had two Legionnaires, the Medical Technician still reviving the stunned bridge crew, herself and Engineer t`Oreth. Helm Officer t`Ethien was sitting up now, beginning to shake off the effects of the stun, but Sciences Master Yllemna and three of the original bridge guard detail were still out cold.

Iahwil,” she said, addressing the Med. Tech. “Revive the legionnaires next.”

The tech nodded and finished with t`Ethien, then moved to carry out her new orders.

Signalling the two conscious bridge guards, t`AAnikh ordered them, “Get this garbage off my bridge and confine them to their quarters under computer lock. You will stand guard outside their doors and have my authorisation to inform them when they wake that they have been granted amnesty from the consequences of their actions. They are to report to their immediate superiors for reassignment. If they do not heed you,” she added with a menacingly significant look at tr`Ullian, “you are also authorised to execute any of them for disobeying my orders by proxy, which under the Pandect would count as a new charge of treason.”

The senior legionnaire, the one who’d repulsed the mutineers earlier, nodded with unseemly satisfaction, which was also evident in his voice when he replied, “It shall be done, Rekkhai.”

Lyie gave him a warning look and the guard immediately lost his unprofessional demeanour, but not the gleam in his eyes. Perfect, she thought and nodded with the tiniest hint of a smile in her eyes.

Returning her attention to tr`Ullian, she ordered, “You will assist your fellow mutineers to their quarters, traitor, and report to your own superior for reassignment.

“Now get out of my sight.”

Main Engineering, RIS Kestrel.

Minutes later, tr`Asenth got his first look at the damage he’d wrought.

The master status display at the front of the cavernous compartment was a twisted mass of data lines, plastic composites and metals, all melted to slag. There were liberal applications of burn and scorch marks—as well as tacky spots where spilled blood had been hurriedly soaked up—on the surrounding bulkheads, deck plates, and overheads.

It did pain the engineer to see his domain so sorely wounded—especially when caused by him—but it had all been for the better. He just hoped that his Engineer Second had been elsewhere when this happened.

“Zaedn!” he called to the room at large, looking around for the slight form of his trusted second-in-command.

Rekkhai?” a voice answered from somewhere in the room, to the accompaniment of boot heels on the deck plates.

Hwiammna had been working with Zaedn tr`Rrietra for nearly a year now and it still surprised him to hear such a deep voice coming from so thin a person. He had wondered if it was a height thing, with Zaedn’s voice starting in his boots and resonating its way up through his body until it came out at the top—the boy was ridiculously tall—but he had never been so rude as to break propriety and actually ask.

Reassured by the presence of his Second, Hwiammna immediately got to work and things began to resume their normal shape after about ten minutes of frantic but controlled diagnostics and applied know-how.

Ten minutes later, he looked up from his final diagnostics of the transporter systems at the sound of salutes being snapped off to find his new CO stalking into engineering. She was arrowing straight for his office with a stony expression and an expectant air about her, so he finished up his work and rose to meet her, though he remained behind his desk.

She came to a halt on the other side of the desk and regarded him coldly before getting straight to the point of her visit. “Status report,” she ordered bluntly.

“Transporter systems 100% operational again,” Hwiammna answered, not matching her tone. He had what he wanted and saw no reason to continue hostilities, so he would do his job as ordered and took no offence at t`AAnikh’s attitude in dealing with him. “An MSD has been patched together and works adequately, but should be replaced once back in dry-dock. We are fully staffed with temporary replacements from other departments and are ready to resume rescue operations.”

“What of the deuterium transfer?”

Hwiammna paused slightly before admitting, “That has yet to be addressed. I assumed the repairs and resumption of the rescue operation was top priority.”

He was quite ready for and expecting to be dressed down for the lack, but the subCommander surprised him again. “That is correct, Engineer. Can you spare any of your people to begin transfer preparations now?”

At the words “your people” his memory returned in a rush about an issue he’d forgotten completely about since his victory, and he inwardly cursed himself for being so puffed up and self-impressed about it. Trying to make it sound natural, he began, “Most of the necessary personnel are on monitoring or repair duties,” then paused as if in thought. “I could use t`Llaerih’s help in this matter, as she does have some of the necessary training.”

“She is unavailable to you,” t`AAnikh stated through gritted teeth. “She is still unconscious from her foolhardy attack on the bridge, but I will be notified when she wakes. You will have to use someone else.”

“She attacked the bridge?” tr`Asenth gaped. Why in all the worlds would she try that? I told her to take Aux. Con!

He saw t`AAnikh’s eyes widen in slight surprise at his obviously unexpected reaction, and she stated with angry sarcasm, “Someone taking action without your knowledge or approval, tr`Asenth?”

She must have failed to capture Auxiliary Control, so rather than come back to me empty-handed she attempted to take the bridge itself, Hwiammna hurriedly reasoned. She may end up suffering more for that lapse in judgement. An actual attack on the command officers…

Controlling himself with difficulty, deeply worried about the possible fate of his favourite niece, he ignored t`AAnikh’s sarcasm and forced out, “Understood. I will assign the best personnel I can under current circumstances, then. The transfer will begin within ten minutes.” T`AAnikh looked to get angry again, so he quickly added, “Erei`Riov.”

The subCommander subsided again, and nodded in turn. “Very well. Inform me when everything is in readiness. Do not initiate transfer without my specific order, Engineer. Understood?”

Ie, erei`Riov,” Hwiammna acknowledged using her rank, not wanting to give her an honorific.

“Get to work then, Arrain. I will be on the bridge.” So saying, she left as abruptly as she arrived.

Tr`Asenth ground his teeth together as he watched her go, then gathered his division heads once again.

Time: 1325 hours.
Location: Communications Compartment, RCS New Dawn.

Engineer Third Kai tr`Nnaethrin sat at the communications controls and worried. This was not a new occurrence, either. Firstly, he had worried that no one would hear his distress call, or that someone would but be unable to rescue them. Then came the reply from t`Radaik’s ship and he worried that Kestrel wouldn’t arrive in time, or at all. After the Kestrel had shown up he had worried that his ship would blow up or be ripped apart by the asteroids before they could be saved. After his passengers had begun to disappear in a silent flicker of orange light, “transported” to safety, he’d worried that the damn Klingon contraption wouldn’t reassemble Rihannsu properly. Then they had stopped “beaming out” altogether, just over thirty minutes ago, and he had worried that they’d broken down and those still on board were doomed. After no response over the open PA circuit, Kai had bolted to the comm. room and tried the equipment there. Although he’d gotten through, all he’d been told was to hold on while Kestrel fixed a few technical problems.

Fifteen minutes had passed with no further contact—despite hailing them—and Kai had begun to worry that t`Radaik’s ship had been destroyed. So much so, in fact, that he’d contacted one of his remaining crewmates to peer out a viewport to make sure the converted Klingon cruiser was still there. Reassured by her presence, if not her silence, Kai gave them their space to sort things out, and worried some more.

He was just about to hail them again when his personal communicator buzzed gratingly at him. This cannot be good news, he thought with jaded acceptance as he answered wearily, “Kai here.” He was just so tired…

“Kai, this is Meheven. The last reactor just died!”

Tr`Nnaethrin’s tiredness again disappeared in an instant at this new—and probably final—calamity, and he barked at her, “Batteries?”

“Completely drained in boosting power to minimum levels!” was the quick retort.

“Can you fix the reactor?”

“It’s a pile of slag, Kai!” the environmental tech replied, almost hysterically. “We had to SCRAM it just to stop it from blowing us up!”

Not wasting any time for swearing—he knew he’d have plenty for it later, one way or the other—he asked, “How much time do we have?”

He could hear in her voice the desire to burst into tears of frustration, but Meheven held it together a few seconds more to give her reply. “With life support offline we have enough air for over an hour thanks to most of the colonists already taken off, but we’ll be frozen solid within ten minutes. And that’s ten minutes of increasingly lighter gravity as the superstator slowly stops spinning, increasingly colder temperatures as the heat gets sucked out into space, and no light! You have to get that useless piece of hlai dung out there to save the rest of us!” she almost screamed at him.

“Meheven, keep it together, please!” Kai begged. “I’ll get t`Radaik back, but you have to keep the passengers calm and ready for, uh, beaming!” he told her desperately. “We prepared for this long before Kestrel showed up. Get them to turn on the lanterns and hold on a few moments longer. We will make it!” he stressed to her.

“Yeah, right! Sure we will!” she screamed at him, before beginning to laugh and cry hysterically. “We’re all gonna die!” she screamed again, then cut the channel.

Kai ground the heels of his hands into his eyes, muttering “Keep it together” over and over. He stood up, wrenched his chair off the floor—snapping bolts and all—and hurled it at a storage locker on the other side of the small room, screaming his rage, frustration and fear out in the process.

It worked and his head cleared a bit. Taking a few deep, calming breaths, he opened an intraship PA and told everyone left on board to stand ready in the survivor’s compartments, and that they were getting out of here now.

Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

SubCommander Lyie t`AAnikh stalked back onto the command deck, once again fully staffed with the Alpha shift. The conversation with tr`Asenth had disrupted her tenuous calm, and at the console behind the command chair the bridge crew noticed and kept their eyes glued to their displays.

What had made her mood worse still was her diversion to Sickbay to get an update from Master Surgeon t`Akelidhad. The latest casualty totals were horrifying. Thirteen dead, eight seriously wounded and still on the critical list, six moderately wounded requiring being relieved from duty, and nineteen minor wounds treated and returned to active duty. Forty-six dead and wounded, Lyie thought in dismay. Our first flight, not even an actual patrol or mission, and an entire Engineering shift put out of action.

Throwing herself into the command throne, she growled at the bridge engineer. “Transporter systems should be fully operational again, t`Oreth. Power them up and prepare to resume rescue operations.”

Ie, Lhhei!” the junior officer replied with alacrity.

“Tr`Anierh, hail the colony ship and make sure they’re still ready—”

Erei`Riov!” Yllemna shouted. As Lyie turned to her science officer, he continued, “All power on the New Dawn just faded!”

Fvadt this stupid, wasteful mission all to Areinnye! she cursed inwardly. It’s just one fvadt thing after another, never ending! Aloud she ordered, “Hail them! Tell the transporter rooms to co-ordinate and lock onto all the survivors they can and start beaming them over! Put me on all-call!”

The comm. officer and engineer handled their respective tasks, and tr`Anierh told her, “No response from the colony ship, but you’re on all-call.”

“Crew of the Kestrel, man your assigned rescue posts! All power has failed on the colony ship and we need to get them aboard now! Remember that the Martial Crisis Pandect is still in effect and will be until we reach a military base. T`AAnikh, out.”

“Colony ship responding, Lhhei! Engineer tr`Nnaethrin—”

Lyie cut off tr`Anierh and addressed the boy on the other ship. “Engineer tr`Nnaethrin, we’re beaming your people out now! Make sure they’re ready and go join them!”

“About imirrhlhhsena time, Kestrel!” Kai snarled. “We’re all about to die over here while you Navy types are tinkering with your—”

Lyie cut him off now, in no mood to be treated so despite the boy’s understandable anger. “Enough!” she yelled, then continued in a more normal tone. “Engineer, get ready to beam out. We can continue this after you’re all safely aboard.”

Once again hearing the tone of Command, tr`Nnaethrin remembered his place and reigned in his temper. “Understood, Rekkhai. How long will it take to get us all off? We have ten minutes before we’re all dead.”

“How many are left?”

“About a hundred passengers plus my crew.”

“Then you will all be aboard in three minutes,” Lyie replied decisively.

A measure of relief finally entered Kai’s voice as he replied, “Oh, thank the Elements…”

At that, Lyie also sat back in her chair and sighed out some of her tension.

“Who am I talking to?” the engineer suddenly asked. “Your pardon, Lhhei, I know you are not Riov t`Radaik, but I do not know your voice.”

“I am erei`Riov t`AAnikh, First Officer of the Kestrel,” she replied.

“I look forward to your explanation for the delay, erei`Riov,” Kai responded in a more respectful tone, “but will I be allowed to meet with the Riov?”

Lyie felt her stomach lurch again, and in a flat tone she replied, “I think it likely, Engineer, but I cannot guarantee it. Now, you must join your comrades so we can bring you to safety.”

“It shall be done, erei`Riov. This is the colony ship New Dawn signing off for the final time.”

With that, the channel went dead.

Time: 1335 hours.
Location: Transporter Room Four, Main Hull, RIS Kestrel.

“That’s the last of them for us!” Transporter Underofficer Urufo tr`Kalfei signalled to the bridge as the six crewmembers from the New Dawn stepped down from the transporter stage with looks of awe and wonder at the device that saved their lives so easily. Signing off after being acknowledged, Urufo addressed the civilians. “Crewmembers of the New Dawn, welcome aboard the Imperial Cruiser Kestrel. The medical technician will give you a brief check over and your anti-radiation shots, and erei`Uhlan t`LLanahai will take you to your new berths with the rest of your crewmates. These berths are somewhat crowded, but they are warm, clean, safe, and you’ll have access to the necessary facilities.”

One of the crew, a short, squat, rather plain-looking woman, approached him with tears in her eyes, practically blubbering as she latched onto him and said, “Elements bless you and all your House for all time, sir! A thousand ‘thank-you’s for rescuing us all! I was so sure we’d all die out here… please, please take me home! I just want to go home…”

Urufo gently broke her grip on him, trying not to show his distaste for the scene this poor wretch was making. Not unkindly, he shepherded her over to where the others were being decontaminated, telling her, “You are safe now, and you will return home. You’ve been through a harsh ordeal, but you have survived and can continue your life…”

“Oh no! I hate space, I’m never going off-planet again…”

Urufo listened none-too-patiently to the distraught woman’s litany of woes and made sure the med. tech scanned her properly, while thinking, I can’t wait until this is all over…

Shuttlebay, RIS Kestrel.

Second Officer tr`Maelitra wanted to rip his own ears off, the noise was so painful. The wall of sound was emanating from nearly four hundred men, women and older children allocated space in the shuttlebay, and it seemed that none of them wanted to pay any attention to him, so wrapped up in their own little dramas were they. Even the PA system was getting swallowed up, so he finally settled for getting the intercom to emit a piercing whine that soon started to shut them up. Silencing the intercom units, Zoal resumed his elevated position at the front of the bay so that all could see him, and spoke.

“Thank you for your attention, passengers of the New Dawn,” he began, managing to keep most of the sarcasm from his voice. “This bay will be your new home until we can get you to Eilhaunn, which should take about another three days or so. Now, I know that these aren’t ideal quarters for you, but everyone has the same amount of space and families with children have been grouped together. So don’t fight over where you are or thinking that someone else has more room than you do! If another family has more room, it’s because they have more members!” he emphasised, brooking no disobedience or dissension from them. “I have been assigned to be your liaison with the crew of this ship, so if you have any questions or requests, raise your arm and I will hear you. Do not randomly shout out or we will accomplish nothing. Understood?”

There was a murmur of agreement and many nodded heads.

“Excellent. I will start with those nearest me and work backwards. You get one question only and no follow-ups. If your other questions haven’t been asked already by someone else, I’ll come back to you. Now, lets get started. Questions?”

A loud hubbub of voices accompanied the hundreds of hands that shot up.

Zoal closed his eyes briefly, offered a short prayer to the Elements and Powers to give him strength, then plunged into bureaucratic and logistical battle with his new charges.

Crew Quarters, Main Hull, RIS Kestrel.

SubCenturion Idrys t`Knathera threaded her way through the crowded corridors of the Kestrel, dodging crewmen and dozens of colonists from the New Dawn as she led her own charges to their new berth aboard her ship. Glancing behind her, she saw that the family of four was still doggedly following her.

“We’re nearly there,” she told them, seeing the father nod and hold his daughter more securely in his arms. A knot of confused-looking colonists blocked the intersection ahead, so she called out, “Clear the way, there!”

They all looked at her, stupidly she thought, then one of them actually halted her as she tried to pass.

“Ah, excuse me, ah, officer, but the crewman leading us to the shuttlebay suddenly had to leave and we have no idea—”

Idrys sighed. Probably reassigned to Engineering for monitoring, repair, or deuterium transfer duties, she grumbled silently. So much for our first officer’s carefully mapped out plan. Aloud, she said, “Very well. I have to lead this family to their quarters, but stay exactly here and I will return for you. Keep out of the way, though. Stay flat against the wall so the crew can get past you.”

“Ah, okay then,” the elderly man replied, and the Enforcement officer suddenly just knew that by the time she came back they’d have stopped ten other crewmembers and/or wandered off.

“Please, just stay here, okay? I’ll be back soon.” So saying, she set off again with the family in tow. The noise and bustle of the corridors didn’t stop her from hearing the old man’s last words, though.

“But that’s what the last one said too…”

Idrys groaned in frustration and just kept walking.

Sickbay, Main Hull, RIS Kestrel.

“Bring that case over here, Nurse, I need those meds now.”

“Madam, please hold on to you child! We cannot have him running around like a headless hlai where there’s expensive equipment he could break!”

“Grandfather, if you could just stand against this panel for me? …No, I can assure you that it is properly calibrated for Rihannsu now…”

“Sir, would you please silence your daughter? …Yes, it is an impressive amount of sound for someone so small, but she’s giving your doctor a headache!”

Dhisuia t`Akelidhad tried to block out the other doctors on her staff, and their patients, and their patients’ parents, so that she could concentrate on her own. Methodically cutting off what was once the sleeve of an expensively tailored suit of fine material—and listening to the complaints of its owner as she did so—the Kestrel’s master surgeon exposed a very nasty gash along the length of the man’s forearm. The medic from the New Dawn had done their best with it, but with no powered surgical tools and limited medication, all they could do was hold the infection at bay while the wound tried to heal itself, held together with thin gauge plastic polymer twine.

This thing must hurt like bloody screaming Areinnye, Dhisuia thought to herself with real feeling for her patient. It’ll be why this poor sod is rip-roaring drunk, too. A fair solution, once out of medication. Numb the pain in a different way. She had to fight a small grin from inappropriately tugging up the corners of her mouth as she remembered “pain numbed” experiences of her own.

She worked with practised skill, quickly and methodically injecting infection-specific antibiotics and general anaesthetic, then securing the arm once the unfortunate man was completely out. From here, she braced the wound so it wouldn’t open any further and sliced the twine holding it together with a laser scalpel. Over the next few minutes she cleaned the slash, started knitting the split flesh together with several passes of the deep tissue regenerator, before finally sealing it up with an anabolic protoplaser. She finished up by spraying a quick-drying thermofoam cast over it so the patient wouldn’t rip it open again by scratching at it.

Anyone watching her would have seen her accurate, efficient work accompanied by a coolly detached expression and short, clipped, to-the-point statements and questions, which completely belied her inner thoughts and natural disposition. She spoke in short, controlled bursts not only to intimidate her patients into doing what she told them, but also to hide her common upbringing. Dhisuia was not of a Noble House and so was lacking in some of the finer mannerisms of the upper class, but her main problem was her speech patterns. She spoke Rihannsu like a commoner, and if she talked for any length of time it became more and more apparent.

She had worked far too hard and long to get to where she was to be put down by elitist snobbery. She had discovered that it was far better to be thought of as a cold and abrupt upper-class bitch than a friendly, courteous commoner. And so, the role she played for others was gradually adopted and developed—which was why it was so gratifying to be patching together this completely sozzled aristocrat.

She wanted to whistle while she finished up her work on this man, and so she happily heard it in her head while simultaneously scowling at an obnoxious six-year-old who’d finally crashed into a surgical cart.

I hope that hurt, you little brat, the Master Surgical Officer of the Kestrel thought in satisfaction. Maybe it’ll teach you that there’s a time and place for playing and carrying on like a feanna, and that this isn’t it!

She moved off to her next patient, a woman with an extremely painful-looking compound fracture of the tibia as the wounded mother scooped up her little brat to comfort him.

Looking forward to healing another hurt person, Dhisuia wondered, Who’d be a mother?

Enforcement Master’s Office, RIS Kestrel.

“Acknowledged, Lhaell. Continue your patrol and check in as scheduled.”

“Ie, Rekkhai,” the corporal’s answer came back just before the channel was closed.

Senior Centurion Dhiemn tr`Raedheol leaned back in his chair and assessed the shipboard situation while his eyes scanned the security monitors arrayed on the front wall of his office.

It seems we may manage to ride this storm out after all, the huge legionnaire thought pragmatically. All indications are that the crew is accepting Jaeih’s stepping down as the goal they were after, and no longer feel they have to try and change anything. That’s in marked contrast to what my patrolling guards were telling me not thirty minutes ago.

Dhiemn was still personally shocked by what his friend and CO had done. Professionally, he’d accepted it with equanimity and adjusted his operational parameters accordingly to allow for this unexpected turn of events. But in the private place behind his eyes he allowed no one to see, Dhiemn had a hard time believing t`Radaik would do something like this without a backup plan or some tactic to allow her to recoup her losses. On the flip side, though, she said she’d done it to prevent this crew splitting in two, and to prevent the execution of those who would blindly heed the Master Engineer’s words and think they’d be doing the right thing.

I think she’s allowed herself to be swayed by “popular opinion”. Her own confidence in what she was doing seems to have slipped further after each confrontation she faced, but just because everyone in sight disagrees with you it doesn’t mean you are wrong, tr`Raedheol opined.

Allowing himself a minute headshake, he continued with his tactical assessment of the crew’s current mental state. From most accounts the majority of the crew seems satisfied with what has transpired, and duties are once again being performed with diligence and even enthusiasm in some cases. No conversations suddenly stopping when superiors or guards encounter such, no mutinous conversations overheard, just understandable surprise at the result and discussion of it amongst comrades. It would appear that all is well, for the time being.

The Enforcement Master allowed himself a short, decisive nod at that, glad that nothing would need actively enforced in the immediate future, then set about his new number two priority. SubCommander t`AAnikh wanted him to research and investigate the cause of the explosion in engineering in minute detail, and secretly if at all possible.

He activated his own personal terminal and got to work.

Time: 1355 hours.
Location: Training Area, Main Hull, RIS Kestrel.

Mrian t`Jaihen thought—again, not for the first time—that this was no job for the Master Helm Officer of a warship. However, as she looked over the assemblage of upturned faces regarding her with awe and admiration, she admitted that of all the duties to be pulled during this crisis, this was by far the best, most uplifting one.

Another hand shot up. Mrian acknowledged its owner, who then asked, “Father said this is a… a Klinkan ship! Is that true?”

All other eyes, which had been focused on her, immediately started scouring the walls and equipment in the gymnasium, presumably to see if there were any “Klinkans” left behind that the Star Empire had forgotten to remove.

Mrian smiled warmly at the little boy as she nodded and confirmed his father’s words. “That’s right, this is a ship that was built by the Klingons. However, now that the Klingon Empire has an alliance with ours, they have supplied us with some of their ships to use in our own fleet.”

As the little boy pondered this new information, a little girl asked, “Does that mean we gave them some of our ships too?”

They’re smart, I’ll give them that, Mrian thought, feeling a twinge of unease at the direction the questions seemed to be heading in. I don’t want to be explaining Imperial Policy to nearly a hundred early schoolers. She did realise, however, exactly why she’d been assigned this duty, and decided to use it to her best advantage.

“No, they have plenty of their own ships so we didn’t give them any. We traded them something else. But instead of you asking me all these questions,” she gently redirected them, her honeyed voice seeming to reach out and enfold them, “why don’t you tell me about yourselves, and the new home you’re going to?”

Mrian smiled at the chorus of “Yay!”s her words evoked. Everyone wants to talk about themselves, especially when they’re young and our society hasn’t beaten the fear of volunteering information into them yet.

The kids who wanted to speak first no longer just raised their hands, they stood up, waving an arm frantically and yelling “Me! Me!” with dozens of them doing it at once. T`Jaihen gave them all a big smile and gestured for them to quiet down, then picked one from the group now all sitting down on the gym mat.

As the six-year-old girl began to speak about herself, Mrian reflected that she was glad she had something important to do that actually reminded her of what all this was for, and that took her mind off the consequences of it.

Time: 1400 hours.
Location: Third Officer’s Quarters, RIS Kestrel.

Arrhae t`Llaerih’s mind swam groggily towards consciousness for several minutes before she finally became aware of her surroundings. She couldn’t immediately remember what had happened, but recognised that she was in her own bed in her own room and wondered woozily how this came to be. After a few seconds she tried to get up, and immediately wished she hadn’t. The pain in her head was excruciating, so she gingerly lay back down and tried to remember.

It came to her after a few more seconds. The failure at Aux. Con. The attempt on the bridge. Putting the first legionnaire down, then trying for the second. Starting to take return fire. Seeing tr`Ullian from the corner of her eye zapping bridge officers. Then… nothing.

I was stunned, she realised belatedly. That explains the headache then, she thought with some gallows humour, then made some further connections. I’m safe, in my quarters, unrestrained and still in uniform. Did we win? Did my men capture the bridge after I was taken out?

Moving slowly and very carefully, she stood up and went to the door. It didn’t open immediately, which added to her confusion, but after she’d stepped back it slid aside to reveal a legionnaire. He seemed vaguely familiar but she couldn’t immediately place him.

“Are you functional?” he asked coldly.

She was still feeling muddled up and told him so.

“Well enough. Third Officer t`Llaerih, by order of erei`Riov t`AAnikh you are hereby informed that you have been granted amnesty from your actions of attempted mutiny. You are restored to active duty status. Stay here,” he ordered and stepped back outside, the door closing behind him.

Arrhae was starting to get angry now as this upstart was just a guard and she was the Third Officer. When he re-entered a minute later, she demanded, “Enlhaell—”

He cut her off, which angered her even more. “I have no answers for any of your questions. The erei`Riov will give you your new orders momentarily.” Then he merely waited, standing at the door like a living barrier to her exit.

She almost started dressing him down before his earlier words actually penetrated her fogged up brain and froze her blood in her veins. “Attempted” mutiny? It failed? I failed? What in Fire’s Name is going on here? The paging chime of her intercom, which the guard answered, interrupted her increasingly panicked thoughts.

Enlhaell tr`Khaethaetreh in Third Officer’s Quarters.”

“Enlhaell, put her on,” came the voice of t`AAnikh.

The guard gestured her closer and she came as she was bidden. “T`Llaerih here, erei`Riov.”

“Third Officer, you are to have no further private contact with Master Engineer tr`Asenth and will only communicate with him in a professional capacity. Also, you will no longer report to Second Officer tr`Maelitra but directly to me and I will oversee all your future assignments. Understood?” t`AAnikh barked at her.

“Uh, ie, erei`Riov,” Arrhae responded, still confused. “Lhhei, if I may—”

“You may not,” the subCommander cut her off. “As you are now restored to active duty, I have an assignment for you. You will oversee the repair of the warp engines to seal off the plasma leaks and restore structural integrity to the nacelles’ hull casings. You will be going EVA to direct this activity, so report to Sickbay for anti-nausea meds if you feel the need. Tr`Khaethaetreh will escort you there and to your duty post to ensure your compliance. If you complete this assignment according to my stipulations and to my satisfaction I may consider dismissing your guard.

“I expect to hear your first status report regarding your progress in twenty minutes, and every half hour after that. Dismissed.”

The channel snapped shut and Arrhae flushed green in rage at being treated that way and embarrassment at getting dressed down in front of an inferior.

Damn t`Radaik and all her cronies! I just want someone to tell me what in Areinnye’s name is going on! she cursed inwardly. As the Senior Corporal insolently gestured her towards her own door, t`Llaerih realised that if she was to be outside the ship with her team in only twenty minutes she had no time to clean herself up. She’d be wearing her mutiny attempt like a badge, the smell of ionised ozone clinging to her skin and uniform. And because no one on this accursed Klingon flea-trap will tell me anything about anything, I don’t even know if it is a badge of honour or shame!

Thinking dark thoughts and planning revenge for these slights and insults she was forced to bear, she followed tr`Khaethaetreh out of her quarters and into the new reality of her shipboard life.

Chapter Twelve

Date: 16th April 2268
Time: 1405 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4092.92
Location: Main Engineering, RIS Kestrel.

Tr`Asenth sat in his office and watched as a team of his vac-suited engineers crawled over the hull of the disabled colony ship, heading towards the external deuterium transfer port. On a second auxiliary screen he watched another team attaching wide-gauge, heavy duty transfer hoses into the appropriate ports on the Kestrel’s underbelly. Theirs was the easier task, as Hwiammna knew his own ship’s systems were—or had been! he thought with a flash of anger—at 100% and in perfect condition. Once those hoses had been connected, an engineer would EVA over to the colony ship with their other ends, whereupon the New Dawn team would attach them to the adapters they were currently installing to the colony ship’s transfer ports.

Due to the colony ship being a powerless hulk, the engineers were also going to set up a portable generator and pumping equipment—not to mention a coolant loop—in order to be able to transfer the deuterium over safely.

Checking the chronometer, tr`Asenth noted that both teams were slightly behind schedule. This was acceptable to him, however. There was no rush to get anywhere anymore, and Hwiammna would rather see this routine but tricky procedure completed successfully and with no damage to either ship than be yelling at his teams to hurry up and have something go wrong. Judging by the extra time that it had taken so far, Hwiammna revised his ETR forward to 1530 hours. T`AAnikh would no doubt be frothing at the mouth to get going, but tr`Asenth didn’t care.

Too many liberties had already been taken with ship safety, and he’d make sure things were done both by the book and in their proper time. Opening an intercom channel to the bridge, the master engineer updated his CO. As expected, she wasn’t happy with the delay.

“Are you sure you cannot speed the process on, Engineer?” she asked with a healthy dose of acid and suspicion in her voice. “I wish to be underway so I can see an end to this mission once and for all.”

Hwiammna was surprised at her candidly voicing her reasons, as he found himself agreeing with her sentiments. Still cautiously trying to build a rapport of sorts with his new CO, tr`Asenth moderated his own reply. “I understand, erei`Riov, and quite agree. However, I do want to make sure this is done right. This is the first time these children have done this for real,” he reminded t`AAnikh, “so if we give them this little bit of extra time, they’ll be better able to do it faster in an emergency. They are working steadily and methodically so the delay will be minimal.”

“Very well, Engineer, thank you,” she replied, sounding tired. “Keep me appraised of their progress, and of your own further repairs to our own ship. T`AAnikh out.”

The channel clicked off and Hwiammna sat back in satisfaction. Apart from a full engineering watch on duty right now, and the two teams involved in the deuterium transfer, the other shifts were running all over the ship tracking down and repairing the various levels of damage suffered by numerous ship’s systems. Unfortunately there was nothing to be done about the warp coils or dilithium crystals, but all other repairs were proceeding smoothly and ship’s condition was improving all the time.

Things are looking up once more, tr`Asenth thought gratefully. T`AAnikh, now that she’s getting over her outrage, is not only listening but actually believing and accepting my reports. She even thanked me, though it was probably a subconscious slip. Satisfied with his own progress in his chosen arenas, he leaned in once again to observe the deuterium teams, following their progress over his monitor feeds.

Time: 1420 hours.
Location: CO’s Quarters, RIS Kestrel.

Jaeih looked around as the intercom chime sounded and put her log recording on hold to answer it. “T`Radaik here. Report,” she ordered out of habit.

The voice of her subCommander filtered through the grill speaker. “Lhhei, Engineer Third tr`Nnaethrin would like to speak with you. Do you wish to see him?”

Jaeih thought to refuse immediately, as she was spending her newly acquired free time by recording as best she could remember her states of mind and motivations for her recent actions while they were still fresh in her memory. However, she relented, feeling that she could not refuse the engineer his due for holding his passengers, ship, crew, and himself together long enough to be rescued, also thinking that the added recall his presence might evoke would reveal more memories to be recorded later.

“Yes Lyie, I would be happy to entertain him,” she said, silently adding and get him out of your hair. “Please send him over at your convenience.”

“Ie, Riov,” the subCommander acknowledged. “He’ll be there in minutes. Bridge, out.”

It struck Jaeih that even now, after recording most of what had happened and why—according to her—that it was as if she was still in authority. Lyie had already reported in several times about the status of the repairs, deuterium transfer, rescue, and how the colonists were settling in. Any suggestions Jaeih made were given the due consideration a visiting superior officer’s would be, and Lyie still hadn’t entered into the official log about her assuming full command.

As she had willingly excluded herself from the chain of command, Jaeih made no such official entry herself and confined her testimony to her personal log, as it was no longer her place to supersede the wishes of the ship’s new CO. Jaeih was sure that Lyie would make that entry when she felt comfortable—or obligated—to do so, even if it was only ten seconds before the ship entered dry-dock.

That thought both warmed and chilled Jaeih. She was warmed by her friend’s unflinching loyalty—which also brought on a feeling of shame at their recent angry confrontation—but it chilled her that if word got out to the rest of the crew it would make a sham of her honourable and honest desire to step down. I need to remind Lyie of this lest she engender a situation worse that the last by destroying her own credibility, by being seen as my puppet in the eyes of the crew.

She made to open a channel to the bridge but just then her door chime rang. Resolving to speak privately with her friend later on, she saved her log, shut down the terminal, then opened the intercom channel to her door and ordered, “State your name and purpose.”

“Riov, I have erei`Arrain t`Knathera escorting Engineer Third Kai tr`Nnaethrin to meet with you,” the guard on the other side of the door responded.

“Admit them,” Jaeih said as she unlocked her stateroom door. It slid aside to reveal an attractive and lithesome Pureblood woman whose physical attributes were not hidden by her bulky body armour, and a young man with obvious Debrune ancestry. He was of medium height and slender build, with curly brown hair and dark brown eyes that held a tiredness in equal measure to the huge olive smudges under them.

Riov,” the legionnaire acknowledged and saluted, then announced, “The senior officer of the colony ship New Dawn,” to which the young man stepped forward and said, “Jo’lan Tru, Riov. It is an honour to meet you at last.”

“It is good to see you alive and well too, Engineer,” she replied, although she noted the uncertainty in his voice and knew that there were probably a great deal of unwelcome questions behind it. Steeling herself to answer as honestly as she could without giving too much away, she absent-mindedly ordered, “Thank you, erei`Arrain. You may resume your other duties.”

T`Knathera stiffened and nodded, then spun on her heel and left. T`Radaik also noted an undercurrent of anger in the legionnaire’s mannerisms.

Now, why is that? I thought the whole crew was happy that I’d stepped down, Jaeih wondered briefly before filing it away in the back of her head for later analysis. Giving all her attention to the exhausted-looking engineer before her, she gestured towards two chairs on the other side of the room, where they could both sit with no table—and thus protocols of rank or formality—between them.

Tr`Nnaethrin gratefully sank into the plush chair, and for a few blissful moments luxuriated in the option of just doing nothing. He regretfully opened his eyes again lest he fall instantly asleep and focused on t`Radaik, and became more alert as he geared up to ask some burning questions.

Jaeih pre-empted him by asking, “Finally feeling safe once again, Engineer tr`Nnaethrin?”

“I had thought I would, Riov, but what my passengers have been telling me has me worried,” the young merchant marine underofficer replied. “Not as much as I was on what was left of the New Dawn, but… I am uneasy, and admit to a large degree of surprise,” he added.

“Tell me your concerns, tr`Nnaethrin, and I will do my best to have them laid to rest,” she replied with as much equanimity as she could muster.

“Thank you, Riov,” the boy acknowledged, but started off on a different path. “First of all, however, I wish to express the heartfelt gratitude and good will that my passengers, crew and myself hold for you in coming to our rescue. If it weren’t for you, we would never have survived, and had you arrived a mere two hours later it would still have been too late for us.” Kai got up to pace, the emotion of that statement too much for him to remain still.

Jaeih sat back in her chair, feelings of warmth, relief, and gratitude washing through her and releasing a good deal of her tension at finally hearing that someone appreciated what she had done, and thought that it was the right thing to do. I had not realised just how much I’ve wanted to hear that, she acknowledged to herself in slight surprise. Admittedly, he does not know the full story, or even if he does he has not experienced the emotion of the time on my ship.

Riov, as I said, I’ve heard some disturbing things since coming aboard, and I would like to know if this story has grown in the telling. I mean no offence in what I’m about to relate, but do I have your leave to continue?”

Jaeih nodded at him, although she was now unsure if she should brace herself or just go limp to deny any reaction. “Go ahead, Engineer, and know that if my temper stirs it will not be at you—for the mere telling of a tale, that is,” she finished in warning.

Kai caught that message loud and clear and schooled himself to a dispassionate retelling of his second-hand information. Opting for the short version, he re-seated himself and picked his words with care.

“I have heard that the master engineer of this ship incited the crew to mutiny, after many hours of pushing this ship beyond her supposed limits in an effort to get here in time to rescue us at your direct order.” He paused there for confirmation and got a nod from t`Radaik, so he continued. “The crew became worried because of all the warnings given by the master engineer, who finally decided to mutiny after an explosion in Engineering caused by a power spike from overtaxed systems, thinking the crew would support him all the way.”

Another pause, another nod, and Kai noticed her lips tightening and her body becoming quite still.

“Fearing—ah, concerned that he would sway an untried crew into actions that would see them executed,” Kai said, hurriedly correcting himself lest he inflame her ire with an unintended slight, “you announced that you would step down and hand over authority to your second-in-command?”

Despite the admonitions and his best efforts, Kai could not help his voice rising with incredulity at her actions.

Putting a lid on her own anger, Jaeih replied tightly, “I pushed too hard on faulty judgement. If the explosion in Engineering hadn’t happened, I would be right and any who wished to attempt a mutiny would have been dealt with mercilessly.” Then she sighed and passed a hand over her face. “But because I was wrong I could not let the mutiny happen and have this crew pitted against each other for what each thought was right. The blood of all who’ve suffered and died here and now for my own poor judgement will haunt me the rest of my days as it is. I could not bear to have scores more added to that total.”

Tr`Nnaethrin leaned forward in his chair at that and spoke earnestly. “But Riov, your judgement is not faulty! Had you arrived any later, nearly a thousand people would have died!” Kai could not stress this point enough. “Whatever instinct or premonition that urged you to push too hard, you were right to listen to it! Everyone on the New Dawn will praise your name and that of your ship and crew for disregarding your own safety to such a degree to rescue us, and will mourn the loss of those among you who died to save us.”

Jaeih knew she should not be having this conversation with someone she barely knew, and that she shouldn’t be speaking this informally with someone of a lower rank and station in life, but she needed to have it lest her inward-turned second-guessing eat her alive. “But Kai,” she said, unthinkingly using the boy’s first name without having secured his permission first, “because of that judgement, sixty-six colonists died! Entire families, children, wiped out of existence! I caused their deaths, and the deaths of my engineers.”

Riov, think on what you say!” Kai urged. He allowed some of his exasperation to creep into his voice, feeling he had earned the privilege by her use of his name. “Had you not done exactly as you did, you would indeed have safeguarded the lives of your engineers, the health of your ship, and kept your command. You would also have arrived almost an hour late to save anyone from my ship,” he added pointedly. How can she not see this? Is she so blinded by her own personal consequences? If so, that smacks of hypocrisy, claiming to do all this for honour and to stay true to herself, but bemoaning the ruin it brings her. His ruminating was cut short by her reply.

“Of course, you are right.” Jaeih wearily rubbed her face, but sat forward more alertly, her emerald eyes clearing slightly of the fog that had descended upon her these past few hours. “Sometimes all it takes is a fresh perspective to clarify matters. All of these things had become a tangle of cause and effect in my mind so that I could no longer see the issues so clear-cut, or the bigger picture. Interconnecting events and motivations…” She waved it off, as if physically pushing the fog aside. “Tr`Nnaethrin, I thank you. You have eased my mind considerably, and as you may have guessed, I am pleased that our best efforts were enough to save you all.”

“As am I, Riov, and I am glad to be of service,” Kai responded warmly.

T`Radaik returned his smile, though in a lesser degree, then asked, “If you don’t mind, I would like to learn a little bit about you and your journey to Eilhaunn. Will you stay a while and talk with me?” She did want to know the boy better and not just because of the service he had done her, but she also decided that it would be a good time to get the background data she had sought yesterday.

“I would be honoured, Riov,” Kai replied with another smile, and settled back into the plush armchair to begin his own tale of adventure.

Time: 1430 hours.
Location: Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

Sciences Master T`Cael Yllemna squirmed past his console and threaded his way through the structural support beams that framed this badly-designed Klingon bridge and approached his CO as ordered, though he was feeling slightly put out—and not just because he was still recovering from the effects of being stunned less than two hours ago. He actually found himself fairly busy right now, with his department involved in both charting and analysing this undiscovered interstellar asteroid field, and in taking very detailed sensor readings of the colony ship to piece together exactly what happened to it and when. He still didn’t trust the junior science officers to do their jobs properly and was supervising everything from the bridge. To be interrupted during this time was a source of irritation for him as he just knew that as soon as he stopped his observations, the inexperienced children below him would mess something up.

What his junior officers thought of him, his attitudes, and his practices was something they’d carefully kept hidden from their over-bearing, micro-managing boss.

Halting beside the CO’s chair and waiting to be acknowledged, he tried to keep the irritation from showing as subCommander t`AAnikh turned her chair to face him. She was still viewing a report about the Third Officer’s repair attempts on their nacelles on a secondary bridge screen and wasn’t even offering him the courtesy of giving him her full attention.

Enarrain,” she addressed him curtly, adding to his developing foul mood, “I want you to pick a team of computer scientists and technicians who are proficient at diagnostics and data retrieval, and whose skills complement each other. Their task will be to board the colony ship, reactivate its computers and search the memory banks and buffer logs for the purpose of discovering the cause of the explosion that wrecked her. Understood?”

Yllemna once again buried the anger that her tone created and managed a stiff nod. “It shall be done, erei`Riov. Might I suggest that such a team would fare better if assisted by an engineering team to restore power to the colony ship’s computer systems?”

He received a sharp glare from t`AAnikh, and Yllemna realised he had spoken out of turn. He had forgotten that the Martial Crisis Pandect was still in effect. Who could blame me though? he silently argued. The actions of t`Radaik leave a lot to be desired and have almost fatally undermined the Pandect! Who can believe her invocation when confronted with her ridiculous actions since? His outraged musings were cut short when t`AAnikh spoke, and he noticed her eyes narrowed in a clear warning that he immediately understood and heeded.

“Your suggestion is not without merit, Sciences Master,” she responded, eyes flashing. “I shall have the Master Engineer assign a team to set up a portable power generator. It will be too risky to attempt to repair one of the ship’s own reactors.”

“Thank you, erei`Riov. This will allow us a more reasonable timeframe for this operation,” T`Cael acknowledged.

“You have your orders, Sciences Master. I expect you to be ready to go in fifteen minutes and I want progress reports every thirty minutes afterward. Dismissed.”

Ie, erei`Riov!” Yllemna barked, then spun around and strode off the command deck. He allowed some of his anger to boil to the surface and show in his face at the subCommander’s high-handed tone now that his back was to her.

Interrupting my research to send my people on a feanna’s errand? he fumed impotently. And if we were on the Homeworlds she would not dare speak to me so! Has this Debrune woman learned nothing of courtesy and manners when speaking to a social superior? Did t`Radaik teach her nothing of the sort?

T`Cael allowed himself a few more moments of private ranting before reluctantly pushing it aside to attend his duties, and began selecting his best computer people for the task.

Time: 1435 hours.
Location: EVA Inboard of Port Warp Nacelle, RIS Kestrel.

T`Llaerih adjusted her position with her suit thrusters so she could use her bulky, vacuum-hardened tricorder to scan the area of the nacelle she was examining. It was pretty unnecessary as she could actually see what the problem was and where due to the huge burnt-in scoring, but it wouldn’t hurt to have proper readings to back up her observations. She directed her team according to the devised repair plan and continued her scan.

She’d just barely managed to get out into space in time, and her first report to t`AAnikh had been just that: We’re in position, commencing repairs. She was sure that’s what the subCommander had expected, but even so, she was relieved not to have been publicly berated again.

Just then, a light came on in her helmet. It was an audio-only comm. circuit being opened, and her sudden anxiety over who it might be vanished when her uncle’s voice spoke to her in warm but professional tones.

“T`Llaerih, glad to see you’re back with us. I also see you’re about to lock down our plasma leaks. If you need any further assistance, let me know.”

Her voice sounding tinny within the confines of her helmet, she replied with some measure of relief. “And I am glad to be back, Master Engineer. However, I think I have everything I need out here, for now.”

“Very well. I will be here if you need me. Tr`Asenth, out,” he said reassuringly before the channel closed.

These few brief sentences did much to alleviate Arrhae’s fears. With that damn legionnaire following her every move until she’d stepped out of the airlock, she’d not felt safe in asking her engineering team—or anyone else she’d met since regaining consciousness—about the state of affairs on board. Similarly, the comm. circuits between their vac-suits were also open to interception and she did not want t`AAnikh coming on line and bawling her out for idle chatter while on vital repair work.

With no mention of t`Radaik in all this and tr`Asenth being where he should be, it lead Arrhae to believe her side had won. She was now content with this answer for the time being, until she could find a moment to herself to find out the full extent of recent events.

Thus reassured, she set to her work with a will.

Time: 1443 hours.
Location: Transporter Room Three, RIS Kestrel.

“Energise,” Yllemna ordered, and Transporter Underofficer Hvaid tr`Viaen slid the controls forward to beam the engineering team of three with their portable generator over to the New Dawn’s computer room.

After the last silent flickering had ceased the Sciences Master turned to face his hand-picked science team, and the single officer and four enlisted crew stopped fidgeting in their spacesuits and stared resolutely—some might have said resignedly—ahead, enduring their superior’s inspection. For once, T`Cael did not find fault and instead gave them a little pep talk.

Centurion Llaaseil tr`Iawaain gave every appearance of listening with rapt attention on the outside, while on the inside the short, squat, amorphous lump of a man devised inventive ways to short circuit T`Cael’s voice box with the equipment he carried. Wide, guileless amber eyes under heavy brow ridges and framed by short, jet-black hair gave no reflection of his inner scheming.

To his left, Science Specialist Third Ejiul tr`Arriufvi was fighting the urge to roll his eyes at fellow Spec-3rd Lhian t`Liun at Yllemna's overbearing pontification about the importance of their task. The slender, willowy t`Liun was a study in contrasts to her short, stocky companion. She was light where he was dark: hair, eyes, colouring, brow ridges, even temperament and personality. No one, however, could deny how well they worked together, even to the point of finishing each other's sentences.

At the end of the line, Science Technicians First and Second Ireqh tr`Kaenmie and T`maekh Jaiith stoically stood and bore it with identically expressionless faces. As practically the bottom of the food chain on board, they were inured to the absurdities of the higher ranks and resigned to asking “How high?” when ordered to jump.

Back in his own little world, T`Cael wrapped up his inspirational speech and ordered his properly impressed team onto the transporter pads. Before joining them, he added, “Remember, power is going to be restored to the computer systems only. Portable lights will be set up but artificial gravity remains offline. As soon as transport is complete, activate your magnetic boots. Be careful of your suit integrity as well, but be reassured that there is enough air over there to give you plenty of time for an emergency transport or to patch your suit.”

His team of five all nodded seriously, wondering how they'd fare in zero-g. It wasn't exactly their normal operating conditions as computer techs.

Senior Centurion T`Cael Yllemna took his place on the transporter stage and ordered, “Energise!”

Tr`Viaen nodded sharply and worked his controls. The six scientists flickered silently out of existence to be re-integrated aboard the colony ship.

Time: 1500 hours.
Location: Master of Enforcement’s Office, RIS Kestrel.

Dhiemn tr`Raedheol swung his chair away from his computer terminal, got up and started stretching the kinks from his muscles. No matter how ergonomically well-designed the chair, several hours of painstaking attention to detail will always seize you up, he thought, then added with a grimace, especially if the chairs were built for masochistic Klingons instead of real people.

After doing some more light callisthenics then another sweep of his security monitors and roving patrol check-ins, Dhiemn returned to his seat and once again focused on the task at hand.

So far, and despite his knowledge of some unexplained activity on tr`Asenth’s terminal which included an upload to the Engineering Computer shortly before the explosion, all he’d been able to do was conclusively prove the original diagnostics. That is, a massive power surge from the last cycle of the cargo transporters, coupled with more power being drawn from the reactor to activate the evac transporters, had caused a rupture in the power conduit behind the Master Systems Display board in Engineering.

With the wrecking of the MSD, all logs of the power flow though the conduits at the time had been destroyed, which was far too convenient a result for tr`Raedheol’s tastes. The backup log buffer in the main computer core did still have records up to the last second, though, and Dhiemn had used those to determine exactly what had happened.

Normally, this would be enough for an investigation. However, this particular investigation involved an outspoken officer, an attempted mutiny, and adverse consequences to a commander he admired and had served with for almost two decades.

Dhiemn would not be satisfied until every part of this situation and its contributing factors had been examined in minute detail.

He pulled up the backup logs and examined them again. Something about the sequence of events was tickling his intuition, telling him that something here didn’t quite add up.

Too much power in the grid… he thought, trying to jumpstart a line of investigation. All this raw energy coursing through our ship from one set of transporters switched off. Then, another set gets switched on, drawing more power into the grid.

The way his intuition was now jabbing at him, Dhiemn just knew something was amiss, but he wasn’t an engineer. This could be blindingly obvious to the lowest deck rat in that department, but it wasn’t coming to him—

Wait a minute! The thought struck him like a lightning bolt. If the other transporter was activated, wouldn’t it suck up all the energy in the grid first, before pulling more from the reactor? I mean, we were deliberately using all systems alternately so as not to put too much demand on the power grid!

Satisfied that he had finally found something worth checking up on, Dhiemn put a call through to the bridge to summon t`Oreth for a little chat about engineering systems.

Chapter Thirteen

Date: 16th April 2268
Time: 1505 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4093.14
Location: Master of Enforcement’s Office, RIS Kestrel.

Hearing the door locked behind her and the sound baffles activated, t`Oreth had become somewhat unnerved by her summons. After listening to tr`Raedheol’s question however, the diagnostics officer relaxed again and sat there for a few moments in thought, coming up with an answer the legionnaire would accept and understand. “Rekkhai, if I may, do you have the energy transfer logs?”

Tr`Raedheol nodded and called up the requested information, then swung the screen around so both of them could see it.

T`Oreth took a few moments to scan the readings and match them up to what she knew before launching into her explanation. “Okay, so. Enarrain, the Engineering Computer monitors all energy currently being produced by the reactor, which systems are using how much, and which power transfer conduits are carrying how much of that load,” Dietha began, indicating the respective readings on the screen. “So, with the ending of the cargo transporter's materialisation cycle, more energy is in the grid than is being used before the reactor can reduce power output, but the conduits are able to handle this. So when the evacuation transporters are energised shortly afterwards the Engineering Computer would divert any free energy from the grid first, but the diagnostics show there was very little available and so more was pulled from the reactor.

“These readings here and here,” she said, pointing at two values on the screen, “show that the then-current output from the reactor matched the usage levels for systems in operation and the transfer values for the main and secondary power grids, with the main grid handling most of the load. Then, the evacuation transporters are energised and more energy is pulled in. The main grid is at 100% capacity because all the transporters are active, and thus so is the secondary grid delivering to the transporters across the engineering hull. To reduce the overall strain on the entire system, energy is re-routed from these conduits through other interlinked ones, reducing overall capacity levels to 90% ship-wide in the secondary grid. Since the transporters are being energised alternately, the large energy fluctuations are actually more stressful to the grid because of the repeated on/off cycles than having the systems on all the time at the higher power level.”

Dhiemn glowered at her for that, so she hurried on. “It does seem that the repeated fluctuations on the secondary grid, as well as the journey here, caused a stress fracture in one of the minor conduits. With all the fluctuations, it caused this conduit to rupture even though it wasn't at 100%. Following this, the Engineering Computer shuts off the ruptured conduit and immediately reduces reactor output. Power levels drop ship-wide to prevent the re-routed energy from blowing out another conduit,” t`Oreth finished, then added with a sorrowful headshake, “I do not know why the backup power from the impulse fusion reactors and battery cells failed, though. It could be an embedded Klingon safety protocol, favouring the loss of people being transported over the possible loss of the ship itself.”

“So, you're telling me that my theory is fine as far as it goes,” tr`Raedheol summarised, filing her last words away for future investigation, “but that almost all the power in the grid was already being used. More power was pulled from the reactor and this caused one conduit to blow out even though it wasn't at full capacity?”

“That's right, Enarrain,” t`Oreth confirmed.

“So the Master Engineer was right after all?” tr`Raedheol asked, unconvinced.

“It does seem that way, Rekkhai,” the junior engineer answered carefully.

The Master of Enforcement frowned deeply. After several minutes of thought, he asked, “If this was all part of a clever deception, how would one go about falsifying these records?”

T`Oreth's eyes widened in surprise then narrowed in frustrated annoyance at his not giving up, before quickly striving for a neutral expression. She stated earnestly, “Rekkhai, there just wouldn't have been time! These readings are backed up in two different computers and are taken from nanosecond to nanosecond from power regulators ship-wide! To fabricate several minutes' worth of power flow readings for each regulator… have it fit seamlessly into the previous readings… make the necessary log alterations and wipe out evidence of all that tampering… it would take hours of painstaking work!”

“Tr`Asenth could have prepared it beforehand.”

Rekkhai, with all due respect, even forgetting the time scale and motivation, to blend in seamlessly to the surrounding readings would take careful manipulation of the logs at the time. Yes, someone could have approximated the energy usage values, but for it to look this real it would have to be done afterwards with delicate manipulation of the existing data. It would have to be done afterwards by an expert who knows these systems inside and out, and all the people capable were involved in repair and clean-up duties. There just hasn't been time!” she insisted.

Judging her to be completely truthful and in earnest, Dhiemn had to give up another potential line of investigation. “Okay then, assume the system itself has been subverted so that the logs as recorded are accurate, but that the figures being fed to them are incorrect. That the… regulators themselves are saying one thing but doing another. How could this be done?”

Enarrain, I…” Dietha began, at a loss in the face of tr`Raedheol's dogged pursuit of his agenda, which she thought smacked of sheer bloody-mindedness, but then her eyes lost focus as she truly considered the question. “That would be a relatively simple matter, actually. A new transfer protocol would have to be uploaded to the regulators in question, telling the operating subroutine to begin accepting this value but report that one. A simple change in a single subroutine would complete this process.”

Tr`Raedheol nodded thoughtfully, thinking I have you now, whereas t`Oreth was looking somewhat waxen and quite shaken up to realise that it could be done so easily by someone with the right access to the system.

“Are there any other ways you can think of, using similar or completely different methods, in which sabotage could result in what we have now?” he asked her.

Still somewhat dazed, t`Oreth stammered, “N-not immediately, Enarrain. I… I would have to investigate further…”

Allowing the woman to regain her wits, tr`Raedheol announced, “Very well. I will see to it that you are assigned temporary duty under my direct supervision and are given sufficient clearance to perform your investigation. I remind you that everything discussed in here is classified and not to be disclosed to anyone.”

A sharp, almost fearful nod and an uttered, “Ie, Riov,” was her only response.

A brief call to the bridge later and t`Oreth had her new orders, and he issued her temporary clearance himself. “Remember, use only your new clearance code and not your usual ID,” he warned her. “No one must know of this until your research is complete and your conclusions investigated.”

“I understand, Rekkhai,” she replied firmly, on balance once more.

“You have been assigned a secure office in this section. You may go and get started.”

Another sharp nod and she exited the room, leaving tr`Raedheol to his thoughts.

Time: 1515 hours
Location: CO’s Quarters, RIS Kestrel.

“…this concludes my report. Riov t`Radaik, RIS Kestrel.” Jaeih flipped the switch that stopped the computer recording and committed her words to the memory banks. Well, at least that is done, she thought with mild satisfaction. She’d just finished transcribing her record of what had happened over the last few hours, as well as her thoughts and conclusions about all that Kai tr`Nnaethrin had told her.

The boy had left ten minutes ago for the first wink of sleep he’d had in two days, after a brief but fairly enjoyable discussion about himself and the colony run that had come to an untimely end. As merely the third engineer on a civilian transport he was not privy to details about the origins of his ship’s mission, but his information about what had happened to all the senior officers had been helpful. The bridge watch officers were all killed when the engine exploded, as was the engineer second, but the master surgeon and master engineer had died within the first four hours after that from extreme radiation poisoning. Both these remaining senior officers had been in separate but highly exposed areas at the time of the explosion, and received lethal doses of radiation that had incapacitated them within an hour. The master engineer had been in the Stutter-Drive nacelle pylon co-ordinating diagnostics with the engineer second on the bridge, and the doctor had been in the captain’s office awaiting his return to continue with a report they’d been discussing.

With that piece of information her suspicions about the circumstances of the explosion had receded some more as it seemed the senior officers had just been exceptionally unlucky, even beyond the initial blast which killed the bridge crew. That said, she awaited with interest the report of whatever team was sent over to analyse the colony ship’s memory banks. Until that time, however, Jaeih suddenly found herself with nothing to do.

After a few minutes of staring at the bulkheads, followed by some pacing around, she realised her word had set her into a fairly effective prison. Beginning to feel the walls closing in, she flicked a glance at her t`linn but wasn’t angry or mellow enough to take it down.

I would only play something that reflected my morose mood, Jaeih thought with a grimace. I need something to focus on—something worthwhile and relevant. If I try reading and just waiting on whatever reports Lyie feels she wants me to have, I will surely go mad.

Jaeih did some light callisthenics to loosen up her increasingly tense body and tried to take stock of her immediate options.

I still have access to the ship’s library banks, my own book collection, my t`linn, my meditation techniques, exercise routines, my bed, the walls, the door to my quarters and my only way out guarded by one of my own men to stop me from leaving…

The random recollection that had started to become woeful and morose at the same time suddenly snapped another memory back into place. Lyie had assigned a very specific guard, one who had special meaning for all involved.

What was that boy’s name again? Jaeih felt slight embarrassment for forgetting it a second time. Knathera? No… that was the guard who accompanied tr`Nnaethrin. Aerthera! Uhlan Courig tr`Aerthera from the Beta shift Enforcement section, she finally recalled with a small measure of triumph. I will have him enter and we can discuss his contribution to my continued existence. Walking over to her intercom, she paged the intercom unit right outside her door.

“Ie, Riov?” came the reply.

Uhlan, would you do me the honour of entering my quarters to speak with me? I have things I would like to discuss with you,” Jaeih asked in a courteous tone.

“Ah, Riov, I dare not,” the boy replied nervously. “I was ordered to maintain my post outside no matter what, until directly relieved by the Enforcement Master or the erei`Riov herself. It is for your own safely, Lhhei.”

Jaeih’s courtesy had quickly started to leave her to be replaced by irritation at the legionnaire’s statement, but just as quickly returned at his final words. The boy is not just a mindless automaton, then. He’s actually conscientiously doing his duty. What an interesting change, she noted with more than just a hint of bitterness, then dismissed it to reply to the boy.

“Understood, Uhlan. Maintain your post and I shall attempt to secure authorisation for you.” Not waiting for an answer, she closed that channel and opened one to the bridge. Phrasing her request as such, she said, “If it would please the erei`Riov, I ask for her attention on a small matter.”

Tr`Anierh’s underlying puzzlement at her words and tone spoke volumes, but his professional manner did him credit. Informing t`AAnikh as requested, Lyie spoke to her friend from the command chair. Doing Jaeih proud, she responded curtly, “Riov, I am fairly busy at the moment so please make this brief. What is you would ask of me?”

She immediately banished the anger that threatened to rise at being treated so, and mentally complimented Lyie on coming so quickly to the same conclusions about her behaviour towards her friend that Jaeih herself had reached, without her directly mentioning them.

Erei`Riov,” she began, speaking formally and respectfully to t`AAnikh as befitted the new commander of her ship, “I would request that you give leave to my personal guard to… resume his duties from inside my quarters as well as outside.”

Jaeih swore she could hear Lyie nodding with a knowing smile on her face, realising exactly what she was asking, but there was no trace of it in her voice when she replied.

“If it would comfort you further to have company instead of privacy for the duration, then so be it. I will inform your guard. Bridge, out.”

“My thanks, erei`Riov,” Jaeih murmured as the channel closed.

She did not have to wait long before the door slid open to reveal a skinny boy in the uniform of a Legionary Guardsman, who—with painfully obvious nervousness—almost edged his way into her rooms and removed his helmet. Jaeih took a few moments to assess the lad, knowing that appearances were deceiving. For example, it looked like a stiff wind could blow tr`Aerthera away, and his manner indicated a nervousness that was almost unheard of in a Rihanha. However, for him to have been assigned legionnaire duty on a warship meant he had passed his basic soldiery training and demonstrated the proper fortitude and other such qualities deemed necessary—including physical capability.

The boy really was rake thin, however. Lanky, even gawky-seeming with his nervous mannerisms. His uniform did fit but it looked like it was hanging from his shoulders, and his baby face exaggerated his youth. He had military-cut, sandy brown hair and dark brown eyes which were perpetually open wider than normal as if he was constantly amazed at what he saw. A large, triangular nose set above a narrow mouth with thin lips vied for attention with those eyes, and unremarkable ears that didn’t conform to the classical ideal of Rihannsu beauty stayed close to rest of his skull. All these features combined to form a totally unremarkable person, and seemed to emphasise his very normality, as if he didn’t belong in a uniform at all.

This boy was no beefy Hero, no square-jawed, hugely-muscled, flinty-eyed Warrior staring monsters or Klingons in the eye and laughing. Someone’s innocent younger brother, trying on his father’s uniform, was the image that leapt into Jaeih’s mind after her few seconds of appraisal. But he’s already demonstrated his loyalty, conscientious nature, and his trustworthiness if tr`Raedheol had him stand as Aux. Con guard. I sense great potential here. I wonder if I can help him reach it…

Walking over to him, Jaeih offered a salute to her worthy companion. “Uhlan tr`Aerthera, it is an honour to meet you at last,” she stated firmly, and noted with private amusement that his eyes opened even wider in shock.

“Ah, Riov, it is I who am honoured,” he replied with a salute of his own, his voice wavering only slightly. “If I may, why do you wish my presence? I am merely here to guard you, after all.”

At his unsolicited question, Jaeih added another positive note to her growing mental file. While he appears nervous, he still asks questions unafraid. Gesturing him further into her living quarters, she replied, “I wanted to speak with the man this entire crew, myself included, owes a debt of gratitude. Indeed, it is sure that many owe you their lives.”

As Jaeih sat in one of the chairs, Courig’s eyes flicked to the door and back, wondering where the best place to stand guard would be. He was still on duty, after all, even though t`Radaik obviously expected him to follow suit. He settled for a position against the far wall where he could see the door open from the corner of his eye while still seeming to devote full attention to her, and assumed an ‘at ease’ posture with his disruptor close to hand.

Jaeih watched this display of duty vs. obligation result in the perfect compromise and was pleased. Indeed, first appearances are not at all to be believed.

Responding to her earlier statement, Courig said, “Riov, you give me far too much credit! I merely guarded a door and did my duty, as expected of us all.”

Jaeih considered the many questions she’d like to ask but couldn’t, as coming from her—indeed, from any Rihanha—would be heavily loaded and likely only to get the expected answer rather than the truthful one.

She decided on a different track and said, “Ah, but the very nature of the door you guarded attests to your character and loyalty, as the Master of Enforcement would not have entrusted this duty to just any of his legionnaires. Also, the fact that you did indeed perform your duties while those around you were abandoning theirs does you great credit.”

The words were spoken warmly and with feeling, but it tickled tr`Aerthera’s intuition that something had been left unsaid. Filing that away for later, he responded, “Riov, again you do me an honour. I am indeed proud that Master tr`Raedheol trusted me enough for such a vital duty, and pleased that my actions meet with the approval of the command officers.”

Jaeih studied him thoughtfully while pondering his answer and her next move. A forthright—if safe—answer, she noted neutrally. He has caution too, a good sign. “Legionnaire, feel free to ask any questions you might have. I am no longer your commanding officer, merely a superior one. Your questions will help order my own thoughts, and I give you my word I will answer as well as I can.” She paused to give him a chance there, and as she’d hoped, he did ask.

“I thank you for your leave, Riov, and would like to ask you this: do you think this mutiny would have happened without the death of our own as caused by your orders?”

T`Radaik was glad she had braced herself, as that question touched entirely too close to sensitive areas. Forcing a calm tone and firm voice, she said, “I do not believe so, Uhlan. I have no doubt that everyone was worried about it, deeply troubled even, but… no. Possibly not even then, had not the Master Engineer acted.” Curious herself, she asked him, “What do you think, Legionnaire?”

Lhhei, I would agree with that. In the Enforcement Division they—we—are full of Fire, even bluster, and those I call comrade would not have acted so.”

“And what of you, Legionnaire? Had a friend or comrade of yours been killed or injured by the blast, would you have felt sufficiently Fired up to act?”

Courig’s voice cooled and his eyes hardened slightly at that, and t`Radaik knew she’d hit one of his buttons even before he spoke. “One of my friends was killed, Riov,” he informed her stiffly. “Tie-hh Iahwil Parnak tr`Nnorith, Engineering, Power Division. I follow your orders still, Rekkhai.”

T`Radaik lowered her eyes briefly and stated quietly, “I grieve with thee.” When she looked back up, the hardness in his eyes had abated.

“Thank you, Lhhei,” he said upon regaining eye contact.

In a more relaxed, though still slightly stiff, manner, Jaeih asked in as neutral a tone as she could muster, “How do you feel about this rescue mission and my actions up to the explosion, tr`Aerthera?”

“I thought that you were risking all our lives, but as long as nothing bad happened it was all justified. The rescue of over 700 of our own people is hardly an unworthy or pointless endeavour,” he answered with surprising honesty.

Hoping for more of the same, Jaeih asked, “And since the death of your friend?”

Emotion raw in his voice, Courig stated bluntly, “Lhhei, you did not kill him. It was your doing, but you did not intend it. You knew it could happen, everyone else was convinced it would happen, and even though it finally did happen, we still rescued all the colonists and are able to take them home. It was not a death in vain.”

“What if the colony ship hadn’t lost power for many more hours, would it have been an unnecessary death?” Jaeih pushed, wanting to hear a crewmember say they forgave her for causing those deaths.

Tr`Aerthera stood firm, though. “Forgive me, Rekkhai, but your question goes down the road of ‘what-ifs’ and regrets. It now sounds to me as if you are searching for absolution for those deaths, and I cannot give it. You—as must we all—live with the consequences of your actions,” he replied, refusing to be drawn further.

Jaeih’s mood had darkened with anger at the boy’s presumption before giving up the struggle and realising that he was right. She had also been told almost exactly the same thing barely an hour ago by a completely different person, and the message boiled down to: stop pitying yourself and face your future like a Rihanha! Her instincts had been proven right, and if she hadn’t followed them all the colonists would now be dead.

Who knows? she thought suddenly. If the colony ship wasn’t going to lose life support for many hours, maybe my instincts would not have pushed me to such extremes. The thought—a sudden, rapid collation and appraisal of all previous regrets and second-guessing—soothed her self-tortured mind, that her instincts were still mostly sound even if what she thought she knew wasn’t so trustworthy.

Jaeih redirected the anger she still felt at tr`Asenth’s betrayal and her new-found disgust of herself for becoming so weak and nurtured it, letting it grow again, and started using it to rout the quagmire of pity that seemed to have her enthralled in its cloying grip. She gathered to her all the shattered pieces of her certainty and sense of purpose and let the Fire of her intellect and moral soul begin the process of melting them down to re-forge them into a newer, stronger, purer blade to wield against those who would see her fail.

Courig watched the transformation as his former CO seemed to collapse in on herself, then suddenly it was as if there was another person in the room. A chill ran down his spine for no reason that he could place as he gave the room a quick, thorough scan. He had seen no one enter, and his scan came up empty as well. He returned his attention to t`Radaik and realised that the new presence he’d felt seemed to be focused around her, and indeed she did look different. The harsh lines that had encroached on her face of late were suddenly banished and her eyes no longer held that lost look, having been replaced by a calculating, guarded gaze that seemed to dissect him on the spot.

In a tone that no longer needed to pretend to be firm and in control, Commander Jaeih t`Radaik gave a tight smile and addressed his last statement. “You are, of course, correct, Uhlan tr`Aerthera. I was simply determining what the general feeling is that my crew holds for the situation as it now stands. So, to round this line of inquiry off, what do you think of my… solution… to this situation?”

Courig considered her question, wary again at the way in which it was asked. Her tone tried to be friendly and non-threatening, but he sensed a lot of volatile emotions at work behind the scenes. Hesitantly, he answered, “Riov, I know little of Command decisions and have not your years of experience—”

The Commander cut him off. “Tr`Aerthera, I am not asking for your assessment of the decision and merits or consequences thereof. I know you are too inexperienced to give a peer-to-peer answer,” she stated, not unkindly. “I do, however, still want to know what you would have done and if you think I did the right thing.”

Lhhei,” he began after many seconds of silent consideration—of both the answer and how to phrase it. “I would have kept the ship to her maximum safety limits and not engendered this situation. Events having worked out as they did, I would then have to live with the fact that maybe I could have gotten here sooner and not let over 700 fellow Rihannsu die.”

Jaeih maintained her position, but nodded thoughtfully. It still wasn’t quite the answer she was looking for, but it was comforting nonetheless.

“You did the right thing, Riov,” he added after a second more.

Jaeih t`Radaik smiled, and this time it did reach her eyes.


The next fifteen minutes passed by in a more relaxed atmosphere and Jaeih finally got to hear details on the soldier’s family and personal background. What she’d learned of him so far—and what he’d done for her—prompted her to take the opportunity presented and ask the question she’d wanted to ask all along but had discarded as being too loaded and self-defeating.

Leaning forward once more, she stilled his speech and gained his undivided attention then stated, “I will ask you a question, and I know I expect much, but I want a completely truthful answer.”

A flicker of alarm passed over Courig’s recently relaxed features. “Riov, I—”

“Legionnaire, you do not have to answer. But if you do, I want the complete truth. Understood?”

Ie, Riov.

Jaeih took a deep breath, feeling the anticipation of his answer take her over despite her efforts at control. Just before her question was released, she made a quick mental note to immerse herself in her meditation techniques once more, to prevent herself from being so easily read by others in the future, then amending that with, if I have one. Leaning forwards, she bolted out, “For whom do you do your duty? Where does your allegiance lie?”

After several seconds regarding her half-fearfully, half-oddly, he replied, “I do my duty for the Empire, Riov, and it is to the Empire I give my allegiance.”

It gave Jaeih hope that he actually said it with feeling after apparently thinking about it rather than giving a reflexive, rote phrase, but it wasn’t quite the answer she sought. Coming at it from a slightly different angle, she tried again.

“Given your position in recent events as I previously stated, why did you follow my orders instead of joining the mutiny?”

Sensing that there was more to this question than just the obvious answer, Courig replied, “Riov, I do not understand what you are asking. I followed your orders because you gave them.”

“That is exactly what I am asking, Legionnaire,” Jaeih shot out, seizing on the chance offered. She knew she was overplaying her hand here, but since her future seemed to be dismissal from the Fleet at best it didn’t seem too much of a risk. Her eyes blazing with intensity and her whole body almost vibrating with insistence, she demanded, “Did you follow my orders because they were the orders of your commanding officer and you had to obey for fear of reprisals, or did you follow my orders because you wanted to, were willing to, believing it was the right thing to do?”

Tr`Aerthera’s mouth flapped open and closed for several seconds, but no sound emerged. His eyes flicked left and right as if seeking an escape route, and Jaeih started to feel her hopes and spirit sinking as the empty seconds ticked past.

But then Courig cleared his throat and straightened to attention again, his apparent panic gone. He made to speak and Jaeih was gripped with a sense of anticipation.

What will he say?

Chapter Fourteen

Date: 16th April 2268
Time: 1530 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4093.23
Location: Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

Lhhei, Engineer tr`Asenth wishes to speak with you,” tr`Anierh reported from the comm. station behind the command chair.

Lyie swivelled around and ordered, “On speakers, erei`Arrain.”

Tr`Asenth’s voice spilled onto the bridge. “Erei`Riov, the deuterium transfer is complete and that equipment and personnel are back on board and secure. Ship’s general condition is around 90% and repairs are continuing well. The Third Officer’s team is ahead of schedule and has just about completed repairs to the nacelles. It will take no more than another twenty minutes, and once done we are clear for warp flight all the way up to flank speed, though I advise going no higher than warp 5.6.”

“Understood, Engineer. Our departure will be delayed a while longer, but stand ready for warp speed towing. Prepare the ship. Bridge out.”

She had tr`Anierh kill the channel before she could hear any of his protests and allowed herself a private smile of petty revenge as she returned her attention to the main viewscreen, currently showing a picture of the ravaged New Dawn.

Then she sighed, annoyed with herself. This really is beneath me, she admitted to herself, but with no chance of the traitor being punished it deeply upset her and rankled at her sense of justice.

She banished such thoughts and again gave her attention to the report the science team had sent to her as they tried to access the colony ship’s memory banks. So far they’d managed to set up the generator and power up the main computer, but nothing yet on the contents. She also had the report that tr`Asenth had obviously just received from t`Llaerih, which confirmed what the Engineer had said, and in similarly sparse terms. The fact that she had recorded it as a log entry and transmitted it instead of making a face-to-face real-time report told Lyie that the Third Officer didn’t want to speak to the Kestrel’s new CO.

Lyie thought about calling up t`Llaerih just to discomfit her, but decided she’d rather let the traitorous hnoiyika just finish her task so they could all be on their way. She resigned herself to waiting for more information from the science team—however long that might take—as a last favour to her former commander, all the while just wishing that this whole debacle was over.

Time: 1540 hours.
Location: Computer Room, RCS New Dawn.

Iahwil, fix that fvadt light!” Sciences Master Yllemna yelled at the nearest engineering crewman as one of the floodlights illuminating their work area flickered again.

The hapless technician and his two companions moved in on the recalcitrant floodlight and began tapping keys, twisting dials and checking leads, while T`Cael directed tr`Kaenmie to reposition the second and third lights to compensate. He then moved back beside t`Liun and tr`Arriufvi, careful not to cast a shadow over the access panel they were working at. Or more specifically, that tr`Arriufvi was half-swallowed by and t`Liun was standing over to access the controls.

T`Liun stated quietly, “That’s got it, Ejiul. We now have access to all levels of the memory banks.” Louder, she asked, “Arrain tr`Iawaain, do you have access also?”

The reply from the bridge over their suit’s intercom system was gruff but good-humoured. “Indeed. The bridge computer station is responding normally now to diagnostics and test searches. My compliments, Sahraertiha. Our true task can now begin in earnest.”

Even T`Cael’s tone held some warmth—for the moment, at least. “Good work, everyone. Now let’s pull every scrap of data remaining in these memory banks so we can analyse it in more… suitable environs. I will report to the erei`Riov of our progress.”

As one, the entire team blinked. The thought occurred to all: Did he just make a joke?

“Uh, ie, Rekkhai!” tr`Arriufvi responded heartily from inside his console, hoping to display his understanding and appreciation for his superior’s sense of humour if it was, or just plain enthusiasm for his work if it wasn’t. It is too bad I cannot open a private channel to the others, or even just Lhian. I’m dying to talk this one over with her, he thought excitedly.

Time: 1555 hours.
Location: Engineering Airlock Five-B, RIS Kestrel.

Arrhae closed the inner airlock door and began stripping off her vac-suit, the last of her team to do so. The repairs had gone perfectly, and with the Third Officer’s renewed enthusiasm for her work it had gone faster than expected. Even the contact she’d had with her uncle had been brief and to the point. She hoped that this performance would convince t`AAnikh she no longer needed a babysitter, and let her find out at long last what had happened while she was out of it.

“Well done, crewmen,” she complimented her team once they’d all stored their suits in their respective lockers. “I will be sure to note your exemplary performance in your records for this day’s work.”

It was out of character for her, but she reflected that they really had pulled all their weight and more to get the repairs done according to plan and done thirty minutes ahead of time.

The engineering crew murmured their thanks and offered her salutes as she exited the airlock room first, but she was brought up short to see that damn tr`Khaethaetreh waiting for her. Probably in exactly the position I last saw him in, too, she grumbled inwardly. Although his presence brought her anger back to the surface, she managed a civil-sounding sigh for him before saying, “What can I do for you now, Enlhaell?

Erei`Riov t`AAnikh orders your presence on the bridge. You will come with me,” he stated bluntly.

Her anger increasing at his high-handed tone to a social and ranked superior, she finally barked back, “Whatever orders you relay from the erei`Riov, you will remember your place, Enlhaell!” she yelled at the legionnaire. “I am still your superior officer and I will have you executed for insubordination!”

Ie, Arrain! If you will follow me, Rekkhai, I will take you to the erei`Riov.”

Though his tone became clipped and proper, and anger replaced the sardonic look in his eyes, Arrhae still felt as if he was mocking her somehow in his reply. Not being able to place it, she contented herself with a warning glare at the corporal before letting him precede her out of the Engineering section.

Time: 1600 hours.
Location: CO’s Quarters, RIS Kestrel.

Courig was completely taken aback at the bluntness and knife-edged nature of t`Radaik’s question, and the fear of consequences of a “wrong” answer instilled by society blanked out his immediate response. Despite having built a good rapport with the Commander over the past thirty minutes, he realised it could all be an act, designed to trap him into one admission or another.

Courig wanted to be able to trust her, believe her, believe in her, that she was who her reputation claimed her to be. But in the Empire these days it was wiser to trust no one and play the game dictated by others more powerful than yourself, and give the expected answers in order to raise your own power to the level where you could start dictating some of those rules.

However, t`Radaik was making it far too easy to pick the “correct” answer, based on her reputation and the position she was now in.

His common sense and analytical skills kicked in then, and he realised that if all this was a lie, it was far too elaborate a ruse to trap the third son of a House Minor a year out of Legionnaire training, even if it was for leverage on his father. House Aerthera just wasn’t that rich or influential.

Not to mention that he had, in fact, done his duty.

Squaring his shoulders and clearing his throat, he gave his answer. “Lhhei, the Master Engineer was completely wrong to mutiny. There was some justification and legitimate cause for concern, but it is a commander’s right to expend resources and personnel as they see fit, with the blessing of our own High Command and government, evidenced, as you said, by the very existence of the Precept of Duty. You had not gone insane or started slaughtering people, and you still had the support of the erei`Riov—who I believe would still be able to do her duty despite your friendship.

“Not only that, but we had arrived safely and your concerns about time were just as valid then as they were when some part of you demanded we must hurry beyond all safety measures to begin with.”

Staring directly into her eyes, he stopped qualifying his answer and finally just gave it. “I followed your orders willingly, because I believed that it was the right thing to do, Riov.”

Jaeih sat back in her chair again, both very pleased and unaccountably relieved by the young soldier’s answer. Unless he was a much better actor than she gave him credit for, she felt willing to believe that this is what he truly felt. She hoped that it wasn’t wishful thinking on her part, but his words had the ring of sincerity and truth to them, and—until this incident—her instincts had never let her down, when she actually listened to them.

Letting none of this reach her face save for a softening of lines around her eyes, she said mildly, “Thank you, Uhlan, you have given me much to think about. I do not wish to hinder your duties more than I already have, so you may resume your station outside my quarters.”

She noted that he seemed both relieved and disappointed at the same time, and this pleased her even more. “I may wish to speak with you again later, though, so please stand ready.”

Tr`Aerthera didn’t really brighten, but he did stand at straighter attention at that. “Ie, Riov. I have been given leave to… watch over you as you see fit, for as long as you see the need. I await your command,” he finished forthrightly.

Jaeih gave a wistful, grateful—and internal—sigh, accompanied by the thought, at least someone still does.

“Very good, Legionnaire. You are dismissed.”

A respectful nod and he was gone, leaving Jaeih alone with her thoughts once again. After ensuring her door was locked, she opened a channel to her—she’d always thought of him as “hers”, even now—Master of Enforcement. There were a few things she wanted to discuss with him.

Time: 1610 hours.
Location: Enforcement Master’s Office, RIS Kestrel.

Tr`Raedheol’s intercom chirped and he absentmindedly answered it. “Master of Enforcement,” he said into the pickup as he held the earpiece up. It was a trait shared by many senior officers in the Fleet, feeling that their communications were privileged information that others around did not need to hear.

This was especially true of the Enforcement Division.

“Master tr`Raedheol, I have a small favour to ask of you,” came the welcome tones of t`Radaik’s voice.

“Then by all means, please ask, Riov,” he responded warmly.

The smile in her voice came thought clearly as she replied, “Most gracious, as always, Dhiemn. You of course remember your Aux. Con guard, Uhlan Courig tr`Aerthera.” She paused to let him reply, so he did.

“Yes, one of my better Legionnaires. He meets with your approval?”

“Indeed he does, Enarrain, indeed he does. I want the boy taken care of, Master tr`Raedheol. He shows much promise…”

Dhiemn leaned back in his chair and smiled.


His conversation with T`Radaik had ended barely five minutes ago when t`Oreth requested an audience to discuss her findings. Tr`Raedheol bade her enter and was surprised by the results she presented.

Rekkhai, I did find a few more ways in which this could have been done, all of them are very time consuming and labour-intensive. None could have been completed as projected within our current circumstances,” Dietha began without preamble. “The results are in this solid for your appraisal and I can outline and explain them now if you wish, however I have some other data you will want to see.”

Dhiemn acknowledged her offer with a brief, “Thank you, erei`Arrain, but that will not be necessary. I shall trust your judgement and peruse the other data momentarily. What else do you have to report?”

Enarrain, as Diagnostics Officer I have access to the inner workings of a great many systems even without your security clearance. With it, I was able to access the hidden recesses of the computer banks. Combined with the buffer logs of the power transfer regulators, I found no evidence of tampering.”

Tr`Raedheol almost shot forward in his chair at this but restrained himself. “Let me see this evidence,” he ordered neutrally instead.

T`Oreth inserted her solid into his desk terminal and brought up the appropriate details. “I randomly accessed scores of regulators ship-wide and analysed their logs, specifically the memory layers for overwritten data.”

Dhiemn looked up, understanding in his eyes. “Our memory logic solids have three layers of storage. Each overwrite pushes the last memory imprint down a level.”

“Correct, Rekkhai,” t`Oreth confirmed. “On examination of these random regulators, they all revealed the same result: The uppermost layer has the most recent protocol issued after the replacement of the ruptured conduit. The second level down has the protocol from when the conduit was ruptured and power was re-routed to compensate. The third layer has the modified protocol for taking into account our in-transit damage. That's as it should be, and there is no evidence of an unauthorised subroutine.”

“That's to be expected in any case, erei`Arrain. I doubt the culprit smart enough to do this would be stupid enough to make such a novice mistake,” Dhiemn told her coldly. He looked back to the readings on the screen. She was right, they were all exactly as she had stated. He sat there and frowned at them for a few minutes in silence, before stating, “You may return to your normal duties, t`Oreth. I have taken enough of your time already.”

As the engineer responded, his own words leapt out at him. TIME! “Hold it! I think we forgot something…” He paged through the results until he found what he was looking for, then swivelled the screen back to t`Oreth. He asked accusingly, “If we were running on a modified safety protocol put in place after we dropped from warp at 1210 hours, why does the overwrite for these protocols have a time stamp of 0.005 seconds after the explosion in Engineering? Which is also 0.002 seconds before the re-routing protocol was implemented at 12:43:29.843?”

T`Oreth gaped, wondering how in all of Areinnye she'd managed to miss that, but could offer no explanation.

“As I thought. This at the very least is suspicious and at most direct evidence of a cover-up. So,” he continued, all business once again, “thank you for your work, erei`Arrain. Solid work that will not be forgotten, though you'll forgive me if I double-check your conclusions myself,” he added wryly. “You are dismissed to resume your usual duties.”

T`Oreth nodded, drew herself to attention, and marched out of his office. Once she had left, and now that he knew what he was looking for, Dhiemn brought up the security logs for the systems in question from his own ace-in-the-hole: a separate, secure memory buffer unknown to anyone else on board bar t`Radaik, and only a few select and highly cleared yard techs back at the ch`Rihan orbital docks.

When the Kestrel was converted from a D6 into a KR, among the Klingon systems removed were the two Security Stations, one in the main hull and one in the command pod. Although all the security equipment had been taken out, the Optical Data Network that supported the security systems was deemed too wasteful of time and resources to remove.

When tr`Raedheol had discovered this, and with Commander t`Radaik’s approval, he’d had some highly proficient electronics engineers thread the ex-Klingon security ODN into every system aboard. Now, all computer access from every terminal on the ship would have each key press or voice command recorded in a special, high-density memory bank in the room formerly occupied by the boom security station, though its purpose was hidden to all.

He had picked up on t`Oreth’s annoyance at his persistence in believing tr`Asenth had done something to the system, but she didn’t know why he was so sure. Tr`Raedheol had gone over the terminal activity of every member in the attempted mutiny and had come up with some erased communications between tr`Asenth and t`Llaerih, and an upload to the Engineering Computer from tr`Asenth's private terminal in his quarters.

Unfortunately, tr`Raedheol didn’t know what was in them as the Master Engineer had managed to secure his terminal against normal Enforcement monitoring methods. It was only through his secret ODN that Dhiemn had any record of tr`Asenth’s treachery at all, and even that had been partially defeated by the unknowing Engineering Master’s computer proficiency.

He now had four pieces of the puzzle, thanks to t`Oreth. Before, he’d had the “who” and the “why”. Now, he had the “how” and the “when”. Next he needed to find the “what”, an actual piece of physical evidence he could hold up for all to see, and he thought he knew just where to get it.

Dhiemn put a call through to the bridge.


Lyie strode into tr`Raedheol’s office practically vibrating with anticipation, which heightened to almost unbearable levels when the hulking legionnaire locked the door behind her and activated the sound baffles to prevent eavesdropping. Maintaining a professional mien—barely—the subCommander ordered, “Report, Enarrain.”

Ie, erei`Riov,” he replied, gesturing for her to sit in the chair opposite and swinging round his terminal screen for her to see. “You may wish to read this before I announce a formal charge, as there are several to choose from.”

Lyie thought she could detect a certain relish in Dhiemn’s voice as he said that, and couldn’t help but agree with the sentiment. She quickly scanned the report, her features hardening at the end, whereupon she settled in to read it all carefully to make sure she wasn’t misunderstanding any of it.

The information presented within was solid, indisputable fact, as Lyie knew from long experience that Dhiemn would not—could- not—falsify his reports, especially where it involved t`Radaik. However, as solid as the facts were, there were none linking tr`Asenth directly to the deed. There was plenty of circumstantial evidence that pointed to him, but nothing that unequivocally stated, “this was tr`Asenth’s handiwork.”

Aloud, she stated flatly, “We know it was him.”

Dhiemn gestured with a hand. “All the circumstantial evidence supports this, but we don’t know it was. We have a convincing theory that happens to fit the facts.”

“Who else could it have been? Even if it wasn’t him directly, it was done from his terminal, using his knowledge!” Lyie ground out angrily. “Either way, he is guilty!”

“We have no incontrovertible proof—”

“Since when do we need proof? The charge is enough, especially under the Pandect!” Lyie bolted out. “Have we all become Federation lawyers that we need more than common sense and instinct to find Truth?”

Dhiemn let her furious objections air before answering. “We need proof since tr`Asenth’s brother is an up-and-coming senator who can and will make life very difficult for all involved. What we do here must withstand the closest scrutiny lest the charges be dismissed or overturned because of a flaw or impatience in our approach,” he stated levelly. “Everything has to be legal and airtight, as if it leads to tr`Asenth’s execution—as is likely—and someone higher up finds fault, all our lives are forfeit.”

Lyie threw herself back in her chair and exhaled explosively. “Always we must take special care while they do as they wish. Lie. Cheat. Steal. Destroy. Murder.” She re-read the pertinent points of the report, the glowing amber characters mocking her inability to do anything with them, then looked back up with fire in her eyes. “I want that treasonous, traitorous, back-stabbing hnoiyika arrested immediately, along with everyone else involved in the mutiny!” she snarled in a hate-filled voice.

Erei`Riov, I cannot arrest him for treason because of the amnesty granted by Riov t`Radaik’s word,” Dhiemn stated slowly. At t`AAnikh’s imminent explosion he held up his hand to be allowed to continue. Under tight control but still glowering, she nodded curtly. “This is also true of the other mutineers. However, we can still charge him with the sabotage of Engineering and the subsequent murder of sixty-six Rihannsu citizens, both of which are capital offences,” he finished pointedly.

“Is there any evidence to support t`Llaerih being involved the planning or implementation of this sabotage? Or does it seem like it is all tr`Asenth’s doing with everyone else being an unknowing dupe?” t`AAnikh asked next. Having dealt with the Third Officer just minutes before hearing from tr`Raedheol and allowing Arrhae her freedom of movement again, Lyie was now having second thoughts as to just how wise that decision had been.

“I find it highly likely that everyone else didn’t know about the sabotage. Why would tr`Asenth make himself vulnerable in that way? He seems to have us stymied in every other way and being able to pull in a mutineer and extract the truth from them would be a ridiculously easy way to take him down. Especially after all the effort he has gone to so far to cover his tracks,” Dhiemn replied, then gave it some more thought. “However, if anyone else did know, it would be t`Llaerih. He trusted her with a separate mission outwith his direct control. I doubt she has the systems knowledge, and more specifically doesn’t have the access, to have implemented the sabotage, but if she knew about it and went along with it, there’s a conspiracy charge waiting for her.”

T`AAnikh glowered some more, considering that while her eyes roved the room, looking—to Dhiemn, anyway—for all the worlds like your typical Imperial Klingon. She looked back to him, the light of battle in her eyes. ”Find that out too while you’re at it, then. And you are wrong about the treason charge, Dhiemn. At least partially. We may not be able to charge tr`Asenth with high treason against the State due to this amnesty I foolishly granted him and his ilk, but we can charge him with treason against the Riov, as a betrayal of trust.”

“Lyie, I advise you to be careful,” Dhiemn said, his black eyes narrowed in concern and warning. “You are playing with words, trying to tie them in a noose around tr`Asenth’s neck. Take care that this noose does not find yours instead, as lies and half-truths twist to suit those who can best manipulate them.”

Lyie looked at him in utter shock, the first flash of anger at his words being defused by a more profound level of shame. I absolutely hate that he is right, she thought in disgust, and said as much to him.

Dhiemn nodded in total agreement. “We must wrap this noose tightly around his neck so that he cannot wriggle out of it, and the rope must be honest and strong lest he break it at a weak point and escape justice. We do indeed know within ourselves that tr`Asenth did this, but we must have objective, unassailable proof.”

“Then if there is proof to be found,” Lyie stated decisively, “we shall find it. Take the damaged conduit and other debris into custody as evidence, and try reconstructing the erased logs.”

Dhiemn nodded approvingly. “Exactly what I was requesting authorisation for, erei`Riov. However, if we are not yet ready to arrest, we need to misdirect tr`Asenth rather than stonewall him, lest he become suspicious. What explanation do we give him for our confiscating the conduit?”

“A good point, Enarrain. Tell him…” T`AAnikh paused in momentary thought, before a look of extreme distaste crept across her features. “If he asks, tell him that it is for t`Radaik’s court-martial,” she finished in a bitter voice.

Dhiemn bowed his head. “I will see to it.”

“Use any and all means to find the Truth, Dhiemn. If it supports what we know, then we are vindicated. If not…” She hesitated. “If not, then Jaeih’s gilded cage is certain to lose its lustre.”

Tr`Raedheol nodded sombrely as she got up and left, deep in thought.

Time: 1645 hours.
Location: Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

Erei`Riov, Sciences Master Yllemna is hailing us,” Centurion Caelam tr`Hwernien called out. Now that the alert was over, the normal shipboard routine was back in place and the Beta shift officers now manned their normal stations.

“On speakers,” Lyie said, still in a foul mood after her meeting with tr`Raedheol. “Progress report, Enarrain,” she ordered without preamble.

“Erei`Riov, there is far more information in the memory banks than we first supposed, so as a result we are running searches to eliminate useless or irrelevant information,” her science officer replied.

T`AAnikh frowned. “How will you know you have all the relevant information? Wouldn’t it be better to arrange a computer tie-in from here to there and get a core dump?”

This question upset Yllemna as, though he tried to control it, his angry tone was obvious to all. “We will get all the relevant data because my people are experts, erei`Riov. A core dump is inadvisable at this time since we don’t know what caused the colony ship’s engine to explode. I don’t want the same thing to happen to our own engines”—and here everybody heard the bitten off “again”—”because some unforeseen element got out of partitioned memory space.”

“Mind your tone, scientist, lest I have you executed for insubordination!” Lyie snarled viciously, startling everyone within earshot. “Keep me informed. Bridge, out!”

The channel was instantly closed and a quick scan of the control stations behind her revealed a vigilant crew manning their consoles in alert silence.

Far better, Lyie thought acidly. This crew is far too lax in their manners. It would seem that Jaeih’s approach is on the wrong vector for an untried crew. They presume too much. No more! If Jaeih wishes me to command this ship, then command her I will!

She settled back into her chair, glowering at the screen and seething inside.

Time: 1645 hours.
Location: Main Engineering, RIS Kestrel.

Tr`Asenth sat in his office and worried, not really seeing the steady stream of reports updating him on the latest set of repairs completed. Not even reconfiguring the warp field and tractor beam settings for warp speed towing had managed to fully drown out the sense of unease that gripped him. He could not say for sure what was troubling him, but the feeling of waiting for something to happen persisted yet.

Is t`AAnikh going to renege on our amnesty? he wondered, knowing that this very real possibility still lurked. It is based on t`Radaik’s word, and nullifying the amnesty makes a mockery of that. She wouldn’t allow that to happen. Hwiammna could taste the irony so deeply it made his teeth ache, that his freedom depended on t`Radaik holding to a word he had no faith in.

He also desperately wanted to check to see if they were investigating him, but didn’t dare risk the exposure such an activity would subject him to. The Engineering work terminals weren’t shielded the way the terminal in his quarters was, but leaving now might look suspicious…

Such thoughts almost made him start guiltily, as at that moment he spied the Master of Enforcement himself purposefully heading his way. The powerfully built legionnaire’s first words did nothing to allay tr`Asenth’s fears, either.

“Master Engineer, to further my investigation into the cause of the explosion here, I will need to examine the ruptured conduit to determine if the alleged stress fractures were actually present,” tr`Raedheol stated flatly, though with slight emphasis on the word “alleged.”

Tr`Asenth felt at once both worse and better at this. Worse as this confirmed that they were still investigating the matter, but better that they seemed to be looking for some kind of explosive on the conduit. The engineer had done nothing of the sort, so he was quite content to let them chase that wild hlai for a while. It would lead them nowhere.

Determined to show that he had nothing to hide or fear, he nodded seriously and replied, “I understand, Enarrain. Unfortunately, the debris from the explosion has already been jettisoned into space. The conduit is no longer on board.”

Tr`Raedheol narrowed his eyes at the engineer. “Who authorised you to do that?”

His own temper making a comeback, Hwiammna stated coldly, ”I needed no authorisation! This is my department and as such I oversee its operation.”

“Even to the point of disposing of evidence in an ongoing investigation?” tr`Raedheol asked dangerously, his lowered eyebrows adding to the menace he now exuded.

Tr`Asenth put a check on his own temper but allowed it to colour his tone. “I was ordered to get Engineering operational again in as little time as possible, and I couldn’t have dangerous scrap material lying about on the deck! The shuttlebay, cargo bays, staterooms and even corridors are overflowing with refugees and their belongings, and I wasn’t going to store all that junk in my quarters!” he railed passionately, then demanded, “Where exactly would you have had me put it?”

Dhiemn had to admit that the man’s words held a measure of truth and common sense, though he was sure there was storage space to be found on a ship this big. Also, tr`Asenth’s last words brought forth his own dry humour, which supplied several alternate storage areas—of a personal nature.

This lightened his mood enough that the growing confrontation was defused slightly, before he stated, “Very well. Your… objections… are noted, but the debris will be recovered and stored in Enforcement.” As tr`Asenth rose, probably to object further, tr`Raedheol waved him back down. “No, there is no need for your assistance, Engineer, we shall not be going EVA to retrieve it. It will be beamed aboard.”

Tr`Asenth’s eyes narrowed in anger, feeling himself mocked by the legionnaire. Fortunately they were ensconced in the engineer’s private office, so public humiliation was not tr`Raedheol’s intent. He’s making it plain he is not accepting my claims of innocence, Hwiammna reasoned, hoping to keep me off-balance and force me into an ill-considered action that will expose me. It is a good thing I didn’t check up on them.

Marshalling his mental resources, tr`Asenth vowed not to do anything to raise such suspicion. Let them look, all my tracks are well covered. To confront me directly is obviously a ploy to force me into doing something incriminating, so I will continue in my duties and do nothing suspicious. Aloud, he stated, “Then, since you do not need my help, I will not keep you from your own task, Master tr`Raedheol.”

Again, a flicker of dark emotion, gone too quickly to read, passed over the legionnaire’s features before he replied. “From now on, Arrain tr`Asenth, you will consider anything related to the explosion an Enforcement matter, and you will seek authorisation from the erei`Riov or myself before deciding on its final disposition. Is that understood?”

Tr`Asenth bit back an angry retort, not wanting to give this tool of t`Radaik’s will any excuse to incarcerate him. ”Understood, Enarrain tr`Raedheol,” he gritted out, adamantly refusing to give him an honorific beyond his rank.

The legionnaire nodded with grim satisfaction before turning on his heel and stalking out.

Tr`Asenth flung himself back in his chair, almost growling in fury at tr`Raedheol but reassured by the knowledge he was still secure, and that they’d find nothing in the debris.

Time: 1710 hours.
Location: Enforcement Section, RIS Kestrel.

T`Oreth sighed and detached the input probe from the mangled remains of the conduit power regulator, then saved the almost non-existent amount of data on her screen before clearing it to try again on a different data optic. Maybe the next one will let me in, she thought with a few tattered shreds of hope.

The young subCenturion found herself once again in her “private office” in the Enforcement Section after tr`Raedheol had had the conduit and other debris located, beamed aboard and carted into a cell in the brig. Now, after the conduit had been examined for explosive traces—negative—and stress fractures—now confirmed—the unrelenting Enforcement Master had her trying to extract the buffer log data from the conduit’s two regulators, still looking for his elusive “proof” of tr`Asenth’s guilt.

She attached her input probe to the tenth of twelve optical receptors for data transfer—it had taken her a while to clean up all the receptors of fire, electroplasma, absolute zero temperature, and exposure to vacuum damage—and triggered the test signal. She almost jumped in surprise as her screen returned some actual results. Her eager anticipation quickly died as the screen scrolled though lines of complete gibberish, with only a few recognisable words and symbols among it.

After dutifully recording every bit of the corrupted data she could extract and storing it, she attached her input probe to data channel twelve with a sense of high anticipation.

The blank screen taught her the error of her ways. Grimacing in self-recrimination at flouting her own rules by trying to rush the answer, she methodically hooked into channel eleven—and was instantly rewarded with some intelligible content. As she scanned through the downloading data she could tell that large blocks of code had been obliterated, but there was enough of it left to get a feel for what it did.

Then t`Oreth’s eyes latched onto one line of code and she felt as if her heart had stopped. Completely disbelieving, eyes wide with shock, she stared at the code construct as if it had personally betrayed her to the Tal Shi`ar.

Dietha certainly felt betrayed. She had found tr`Raedheol’s corroborating evidence.

T`Oreth reached for the intercom.

Time: 1730 hours.
Location: Master of Enforcement’s Office, RIS Kestrel.

For the second time in as many hours t`AAnikh returned to Dhiemn’s office for an in-person update. The Enforcement officer had been terse and uninformative over the intercom so Lyie didn’t know what to expect, only that it would be significant. She was surprised to find t`Oreth there but soon found out her purpose as Dhiemn signalled the woman to begin the briefing.

“…and I recovered this portion from the second regulator,” t`Oreth said several minutes later. “As you can see it still isn’t a full subroutine, but we can clearly see its intended purpose,” the bridge engineer finished in a betrayed tone she couldn’t completely hide. She was obviously deeply affected by this.

As, indeed, am I, t`AAnikh admitted to herself, glaring at the offending code in a cold fury. As t`Oreth stated, Lyie could clearly see what had happened all those hours ago.

This piece of code, no doubt along with others like it, had re-routed energy from the main conduits through the secondary grid—all the while reporting no such thing—until the secondary conduits were running at 130% of rated capacity. It was no wonder something had blown out, and it was now indisputably sabotage.

The memory solid itself backed this data up with the overwrite times and contents of its layers. The lowermost layer held the original protocol from before the Kestrel’s engines had taken damage. The middle layer held the modified safety protocol implemented after the ship had dropped from warp, uploaded at 12:10:31.763, and overwritten on the top layer at 12:23:05.417 with the sabotage subroutine.

That had been twenty minutes before the explosion in Engineering and, incidentally, mere fractions of a second after the upload from tr`Asenth’s terminal in his quarters was recorded.

T`AAnikh’s fury was no longer cold. Firing off a civil, if terse, “Thank you, t`Oreth. You are dismissed,” she waited until the diagnostics officer had fully exited before turning her attention to her Enforcement Master.

With exaggerated calm, she enunciated to tr`Raedheol, “Arrest Arrain Hwiammna tr`Asenth on charges of sabotage and mass murder, and imprison him pending his execution. These are capital crimes in any case, and under the Martial Crisis Pandect constitute separate charges of treason outwith those acts already committed and granted amnesty for by the previous commander of the Kestrel. As current commander of this vessel, I reserve my right to have him executed as a traitor. Arrest Arrain Arrhae t`Llaerih also, on conspiracy charges to those already listed. Immediately!”

Master of Enforcement Dhiemn tr`Raedheol nodded coldly. “It shall be done.”

Chapter Fifteen

Date: 16th April 2268
Time: 1739 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4093.68
Location: Main Engineering, RIS Kestrel.

Tr`Asenth had the misfortune to be facing away from them when they entered. He was running a system check in a circuit crawl-way with two crewmen and so had no way to assess his chances. The trump-trump-trump of many boots marching in unison was muffled by his position, so that by the time he’d wriggled out of the crawl-way they were upon him, and there was no wriggling off of this hook.

Master of Enforcement tr`Raedheol stood toe-to-toe with him as the four accompanying legionnaires surrounded him, disruptors drawn.

Tr`Asenth did not make the mistakes of blustering or pretending he did not know what this was about. Instead, with as much commanding presence as he could muster, he quietly demanded, “What is the meaning of this?”

Although this must have delighted tr`Raedheol no end, he remained as stone-faced as ever, responding coldly, “This means that you are under arrest for sabotage and mass murder, tr`Asenth. This means you stand charged of treason under the Martial Crisis Pandect, tr`Asenth. This means,” he finished chillingly, “that you are to be executed at the erei`Riov’s pleasure, tr`Asenth.”

Tr`Raedheol stopped there, probably for effect and to let those hideous proclamations sink in. And sink in they did, as Hwiammna’s head swam, he felt nauseous, and was quite sure all the blood had just drained from his face.

Tr`Raedheol saw this and added meaningfully, “That’s right, tr`Asenth. You will die for your traitorous actions, and your brother will not be able so save you.” The big legionnaire shrugged noncommittally. “Who knows? Maybe your actions will bring him, your entire House, down with you.”

Hwiammna could think of nothing to say, couldn’t say anything anyway. His throat was so dry, like sawdust. He blinked ineffectually, finally managing to push out, “I… I demand to see the evidence—”

Tr`Raedheol cut him off. “The evidence will allow us to get a full confession from you, as verified by the mind-sifter the Klingons so thoughtfully left behind for us.”

Hwiammna tried to speak again but was overridden by the Master of Enforcement booming out, “Take this traitor away!”

Heads all over the cavernous reactor room swung around at that, and this public humiliation finally jump-started tr`Asenth’s brain again. As the guards surrounding him began to reach out to cuff him, he demanded loudly, “I will see this evidence you claim you have, I demand—”

“The prisoner will be silent!” tr`Raedheol boomed menacingly, then continued more normally, “You are in a position to demand nothing, traitor!”

Rather than be manhandled or dragged off, tr`Asenth kept step with his jailers but his mind was now in high gear, seeking out likely escape routes and strategies, but one overriding thought was most prominent.

I must get word to my brother!

Training Area, Main Hull, RIS Kestrel.

Arrhae tucked in her limbs and rolled away from her attacker, ducking the blow that would have connected with her temple, then stabilised her position and swung her leg out. The wide, forceful arc swept her assailant off their feet and had them land in a less than dignified position before ending up on his back. Arrhae knew that victory was hers and pounced, her hand flattening into a blade and arm swinging down in a killing chop that would crush the enemy’s throat.

T`Kiell coughed as Arrhae’s hand bounced off his larynx and he demanded jokingly, “What are you trying to do, kill me?”

T`Llaerih grinned and allowed the Enforcement officer to get up, offering a semi-apology. “Well, you wouldn’t want me to pull my blows too much, now would you? You’d never learn anything that way.”

Areolan accepted her hand and pulled himself up before rubbing this throat again meaningfully. “I—” Whatever he was about to say died in his throat as he spied an Enforcement squad marching purposefully towards them. He saw Arrhae whirl to face them at the same time and read the intent in her eyes. “No!” he shouted at her. “Don’t run, they’ll burn you down on the spot!”

Stepping in front of his friend to shield her, he addressed the squad leader. “What do you want?”

Senior Corporal Helar tr`Khaethaetreh ignored his superior officer and addressed Arrhae—smugly, it seemed to T`Kiell—as his four legionnaires surrounded the Third Officer. He stated loudly, “Arrain Arrhae t`Llaerih, you are under arrest for conspiracy to commit sabotage and mass murder. You will come with us.”

“The amnesty—” she blurted out, but was cut off by the corporal for at least the third time as many hours.

“These are new charges. You will come with us, conscious or not,” he added with a definite smugness and over-familiarity.

Enlhaell, you will treat us with the proper respect or I will have you executed!” T`Kiell demanded hotly.

Helar turned to acknowledge his superior. “Then with respect, Rekkhai, I have my orders. Now stand aside or Master tr`Raedheol will have you executed for interfering with his direct orders.”

T`Kiell Areolan shut up immediately at that and turned a helpless look upon Arrhae as two legionnaires grabbed her arms and started to drag her with them. The other two made sure that he did no more than watch as his best friend from the Academy was hauled off to an all-too-likely fate.

Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

As the feed from Engineering ended t`AAnikh fully reclined and relaxed into the command throne, a sense of satisfaction pervading her entire being. She was not given time to enjoy it, though, as a report from the console behind her interrupted her first happy thought in days.

Rekkhai, we are receiving an update from the science team on the colony ship,” tr`Hwernien called out.

Her good mood was slightly dented with the thought of having to deal with her self-superior sciences master and his insufferable attitude, but rebounded as she offered him a slight to remind him of his place. Deciding not to speak directly to him, she asked pointedly, “Does he have anything useful to say?”

A short silence later, as her Comms Master relayed her question and received an response, Caelam stated, “Sciences Master Yllemna reports that they should be ready to beam out in about fifteen minutes. They require approximately five more minutes to complete the data retrieval, then the engineering crew can pack up their equipment. Enarrain Yllemna will signal us when the science team is ready for transport.”

“Very well,” Lyie responded, then ordered, “Acknowledge his report, then contact Engineering and have them stand ready for warp speed at 1800 hours.”

Ie, erei`Riov,” he replied calmly.

“Helm, plot a course for the Eilhaunn colony at warp 5.5 and lay it in. Do not implement without my express order.”

“Understood, Lhhei,” replied Master Helm Officer Mrian t`Jaihen as she operated her controls.

“Science Officer, ensure the location and supplementary data of this asteroid field has been recorded and catalogued for the Resource Exploitation Division.”

Ie, Lhhei,” Mahan tr`Aimne replied. He nearly voiced a concern, but restrained himself. The entire field hadn’t been mapped—or even scanned—from their current, stationary position, but if the commander of his ship wanted to leave before such an important task was complete, then it wasn’t the place of a lowly astrogeologist/astrophysicist to be a naysayer.

However, t`AAnikh had noticed his hesitation in attending to his orders and called him on it. “You have an observation, erei`Arrain?” she asked neutrally.

He almost made his case for a survey of the asteroid field, but knew from scuttlebutt about the bridge that the subCommander was desperate to move on. He gave a rushed “No, Rekkhai” and devoted his full attention to his board.

A ghost of a smile played over t`AAnikh’s lips at the actions of the Weapons Master’s little brother, then she turned her attention back to Caelam as he made to speak.

Erei`Riov, Engineering reports ready for warp-speed towing at your order.”

“Very good. Now, open an intraship channel,” she ordered.

“Channel open, Rekkhai,” he reported after a brief second.

Lyie was sure she’d cherish this next moment for the rest of her life. Having already spoken to—that is, commanded the appearance of and taking no refusals from—the people about to be involved with her hurriedly concocted event, she took great pleasure in speaking her next words, confident of the final result the event would hold.

“Crew of the Kestrel, this is erei`Riov t`AAnikh. The Master Engineer has been arrested on new charges of sabotage and mass murder. There will be a Tribunal to determine his guilt, said Tribunal to be convened at 1830 hours ship time and broadcast ship-wide. That is all.”

Nodding at tr`Hwernien to close the channel, she enjoyed the shocked look on the faces of the other bridge crew at her announcement.

The public humiliation she’d just bestowed on tr`Asenth gave her great satisfaction after the way he’s decried Jaeih’s character and methods not five hours ago.

“T`Jaihen, you have authority,” she stated next. “I will be in my quarters preparing for the Tribunal. Do not, however,” she warned, “go to warp speed without my direct order. Understood?”

Ie, erei`Riov,” the Master Helm Officer replied.

As Lyie got up to go shower, a partially amusing thought struck her. No doubt I’ll be hearing from Jaeih about this quite soon. I wonder what she’ll have to say about this? she thought with an internal smug grin.

CO’s Quarters, RIS Kestrel.

Jaeih blinked, staring at the intercom grill with a measure of shock. It soon wore off and then she wasn’t sure whether to bellow in rage or roar with laughter. The latter urge, brought on by Lyie’s sneaky, underhanded flouting of Jaeih’s own word to nail tr`Asenth, withered and died with the return of the knowledge that, if true, the blood of over one hundred dead and injured now stained the engineer’s hands.

Before the white-hot fury descended completely over her eyes, Jaeih schooled herself on restraint. She did not know that it was true and the possibility remained, no matter how remote, that Lyie was framing the engineer out of a twisted sense of loyalty to her. Jaeih’s heart wanted to completely discount that possibility right out of hand, as did most of her mind, but the most ruthless and calculating part of her brain couldn’t let it go so quickly. Then came the realisation that Dhiemn would have to be involved in discovering this evidence, and t`Radaik knew beyond a shadow of a doubt he would not go along with a perversion of the Truth.

She released a breath she hadn’t noticed she was holding and with it went a knot of tension, but a resurgence of the fury she felt moments earlier replaced it in an instant. Jaeih recited some calming meditation mantras to clear her mind and allow her to think clearly. This situation obviously required a more delicate touch than her current frame of mind allowed for.

Lyie must be convinced she will get the desired result from this trial if she’s broadcasting it, Jaeih thought with a rising hope that would not be denied, and she did tell me she’d get to the bottom of our own explosion.

Giving the matter some analytical thought, she concluded, Lyie obviously has a specific outcome for all this in mind, and my reappearance too early might change or ruin things. I am no longer a member of this crew and she is still in command, so, even though it will wear my nerves out I will wait to be informed just like everyone else onboard. I will wait to see this outcome before I weigh in with anything.

So decided, she settled into her plush chair in the corner, determined to allow Lyie the time to play this little drama out. She was, however, struck with a final thought on the matter before trying to distract herself with her t`linn.

I wonder what Dhiemn thinks of all this?

First Officer’s Quarters, RIS Kestrel.

“Lyie, why are you doing this? Why do you legitimise his actions and motives by granting him a Tribunal?” Dhiemn demanded over the secure channel from his office in Enforcement. “You have the Pandect on your side, you do not need to hold a hearing! Just execute the bastard and be done with it!”

T`AAnikh was surprised at tr`Raedheol’s words and the vehemence with which he spoke them, especially considering his earlier line of caution, and said as much.

“That was before we had proof. Now that we have it, drawing this out only makes it more dangerous to us! By letting the whole crew in on this you may only convince them of your desperate desire to exonerate t`Radaik by any means!”

“I do this as much for t`Radaik as for the crew!” she shot back defensively. “I do this to present your evidence to them so that they believe this is not a deception planned from the beginning by t`Radaik, nor a desperate scheme concocted by her loyal friends and supporters among the senior crew.”

Pushing loose hair away from her brow ridges, she continued in the same vein. “I do this so that the crew will accept that what we have found is Truth and won’t attempt another mutiny, that the Riov’s honour is preserved, and that Jaeih once again has faith in herself to command by whatever means necessary.”

Lyie again paused, this time to shake her head in dismayed exasperation before continuing. “If she allows herself to be lead by her so-called ‘conscience’ again, it will lead to her downfall, and I will not let that happen. She was too soft with our new crew. They have never experienced this kind of command style before and are not ready for it, not used to being allowed to think for themselves. In later years the ones who stay may become ready for it, but right now all they can see is the opportunity for themselves to gain in the usual way.

“So, now I do this to convince the crew—and Jaeih herself—that it really isn’t t`Radaik’s fault and that they can trust her and her instincts.”

She could see Dhiemn looking at her askance on her viewscreen. “You do realise how easily this could backfire, have completely the opposite effect from what you intend,” he stated quietly.

Lyie sighed. “Yes, I know. And even if it does go the way I want, there will be those who never believe it was anything other than a fabrication on our part. Such comes as easily—no, more so—than breathing to a Rihanha.” She rubbed her hands tiredly over her face. It had been a long day and it wasn’t over yet. “The benefits outweigh the consequences, old friend. Either I win over the crew for Jaeih and all this can be forgotten, or another mutiny occurs that I can end quickly—however messily—and Command is satisfied, if not exactly happy about it.”

“It is as you say,” he agreed sombrely. “I am about to attend the interrogation of t`Llaerih, she has just finished being ‘prepared’. I’ll inform you of anything we find, such as corroborating evidence against tr`Asenth, evidence of her own complicity in the sabotage plot, or even her complete innocence—in this matter at least. Elements be with us in this endeavour.”

“Elements be with us,” she echoed, then checked her chronometer. “The Tribunal approaches, and I must finish getting ready. I am still covered in grime from the damage survey… I will see you there, Dhiemn. T`AAnikh, out.”

Dhiemn nodded on the screen before it darkened. Allaying her fears with hopeful thoughts, Lyie stripped off her soiled clothes, stepped into her ‘fresher and started to scrub.

Computer Room, RCS New Dawn.

Iahwil Jaiith, will you kindly hurry up?”

T`maekh swallowed hard at his superior officer’s exaggeratedly polite tone. He knew he was in for an unpleasant time of it once back aboard Kestrel, no doubt assigned to cleaning beakers encrusted with days-old chemical scum.

Everyone in the Sciences Department had learned that when Yllemna got this polite with a subordinate, said subordinate had tried the Sciences Master’s patience once too often and/or for too long.

T`maekh continued methodically and precisely putting away their equipment but at an increased pace. He also knew from personal experience that to rush this and have some equipment damaged in transit would only seal his fate in T`Cael’s eyes, as sloppiness was a worse transgression than tardiness.

Finally, all was in order and the science team stood ready to beam out. The three engineering technicians continued to power down and pack up the portable lights and generator as T`Cael activated his communicator and requested transport. As the silent orange flickering faded at last, the engineers all breathed an audible sigh of relief, then shared a look of amusement at hearing the others do likewise.

Within another five minutes, they too were gone and the silent dark once again claimed the empty corridors of the New Dawn.

Interrogation Room, Security Section, RIS Kestrel.

“The drugs are having the expected result. Physiological monitors are confirming the data and remain in the red. Patient is suffering no lasting damage from the Mind Sifter and seems to be unable to mount a defence against it.”

The litany of the medical technician’s checklist provided a clinical background to the rather more sordid reality of the scene in front of them. Dhiemn and his second in command, Centurion Hilaefve t`Laheiin, were conducting the interrogation with the Klingon Mind Sifter on Level 3 and it was yielding significant results.

As advertised for this setting, it seemed there would be no permanent damage to the mind of their former Third Officer that could endanger her competency as a witness, and with the data already in hand from the session so far, she was definitely adding to the case of the prosecution. However, it was causing the subject some considerable pain. Admittedly this was part of the Mind Sifter’s designed purpose, as a mind that his under randomly-timed applications of different levels of pain has far less resources left to come to the aid of hiding the truth as it battles to control said pain.

In the darker recesses of tr`Raedheol’s mind, he wished for the opportunity to use the Sifter on tr`Asenth himself, but it would ruin t`AAnikh’s whole plan of attack for this Tribunal. No one had even mentioned to the engineer that t`Llaerih had been arrested, let alone was being expertly interrogated, and all the evidence gathered here was going to be used to ambush tr`Asenth into betraying himself in front of the crew.

“Well, we have confirmed that she knew tr`Asenth was going to cause an explosion by overloading a conduit, and that even tr`Asenth didn’t know which one would blow out,” t`Laheiin stated. “Do we need anything more from her or should we shut this down? The Tribunal is barely twenty minutes away.”

Dhiemn considered this seriously before replying. “We’ll give it another ten minutes to see what else we can discover about the mutiny in general, then we can clean her up if need be for the Tribunal.”

“Very well,” she responded. Speaking louder so that their ‘patient’ could hear her, t`Laheiin said, “Iahwil, shut off the Sifter. She already knows she’s given up the most important information, maybe she’ll be more co-operative now. If not, we can always give her some more ‘persuasion’.”

Ie, Rekkhai,” he technician acknowledged and gently lowered the Sifter’s setting to Level 0.

Striding forward into view once again, t`Laheiin asked, “Now, t`Llaerih, there should be no more need of that crude device, don’t you think? I’m sure you’ll tell me what I want to know now, hmm?”

Arrhae t`Llaerih glared up at the Enforcement Centurion with unfiltered hatred and loathing. “You’ll get nothing from me that you don’t rip out first, butcher!” she gritted out through clenched teeth. “I hold to the oaths of loyalty and service I have taken, and your threats or your pain-dealing will not change that! I demand my right to trial! I demand my Right of Statement as a Rihannsu citizen!”

“Under the Martial Crisis Pandect you deserve no trial or Statement, as your guilt has already been proven, traitor and saboteur,” Hilaefve informed her sweetly. “You picked the wrong side, Arrhae. It is a shame. You are a good and strong officer. You would have done well had tr`Asenth not lead you to ruin.”

As if tired of this pointless debate, Hilaefve signalled the med. tech to reactivate the Mind Sifter. Arrhae t`Llaerih’s no doubt vitriolic response was choked in her throat as a scream tried to rip its way out instead.

Dhiemn looked on, face impassive, eyes revealing nothing of what he thought.

Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

Master Helm Officer Mrian t`Jaihen swung the command throne around as she heard the turbolift arrive, to see subCommander t`AAnikh step onto the command deck looking freshly scrubbed and immaculate in a clean uniform. Striding past the control console, she stated to t`Jaihen, “I have authority, Arrain.”

Getting up, Mrian acknowledged the transfer of command. “You have authority, erei`Riov.”

Settling into the throne, t`AAnikh asked, “Status?”

“All departments report secured for warp speed,” t`Jaihen replied. “General ship’s condition is at 95% operational readiness, most minor repairs have been completed and other repairs will continue in transit to Eilhaunn. Engineering confirms fully configured and ready for warp speed towing at your order.”

Kestrel secures the New Dawn for a warp speed tow to her colonists' destination.

T`AAnikh nodded satisfactorily. “Very well. Resume helm control and take us to warp speed, Arrain.”

Ie, erei`Riov,” Mrian acknowledged, giving a short bow of respect. Relieving, but not dismissing, the junior helm officer, she stated, ”At your command, Rekkhai.”

Lyie felt a little nervous about her next order, but buried it and with a strong, confident voice ordered, “Warp One to Eilhaunn, Arrain t`Jaihen.”

“Warp One, aye,” the helm officer replied, and worked her controls. The screen in front of Lyie went from a static starfield to the curious starbow effect that was always the precursor to faster than light speeds. At Mrian’s almost-relieved-sounding “Warp One, Rekkhai”, Lyie released a breath she hadn’t known she was holding.

“Very good.” To tr`Hwernien, she ordered, “Communications Officer, patch in Engineering to my chair.”

Ie, Rekkhai,” he replied, and moments later added, “Engineering patched though and online.”

Lyie spoke into her chair intercom unit. “Engineer Second tr`Rrietra, how are the engines and power systems holding up under load?”

The deep, unusually emotionless voice of Zaedn tr`Rrietra filtered through the speaker. He was no doubt deeply affected by the arrest of his mentor and unhappy about having to speak to the one who ordered it, but was apparently dealing with it. “Erei`Riov, the indicators are safely in the red, no power spikes or warning lights anywhere. We are clear for transition to higher warp factors.”

“Excellent. Continue monitoring as we do so. T`Jaihen,” she said now, “increase to warp two.”

“Warp two, aye… Now at warp two.”


“Red lights, Rekkhai,” tr`Rrietra responded over the intercom, his voice gaining some life at last. “No strain showing on any system, no fluctuations in readings.”

“T`Jaihen, warp three.”

This process continued in stages for several minutes until they were cruising at warp five-point-five, and everything was running smoothly still.

Entirely satisfied—and more than a little relieved—Lyie ordered, “Engineer tr`Rrietra, continue watching all your systems very closely. I hereby authorise you to reduce power and/or speed immediately should any danger threaten, but you are to inform me immediately after doing so. Use your own best judgement, but if you are to err, do so on the side of caution. We do not need any more work for your department. Understood?”

“Ie, Lhhei,” he replied, sounding almost grateful and faintly surprised. “It shall be done.”

“See that it is. Bridge, out,” she finished, closing the channel. “T`Jaihen, how does the ship feel?”

Mrian paused before answering, giving it some thought. “She flies straight and true, erei`Riov, and responds eagerly. I would not have thought us damaged at all.”

“Excellent.” And exactly what I needed to hear, Lyie thought with a fair measure of relief. “Arrain t`Jaihen, you once again have authority. I have a duty to attend to, so do not disturb me unless it is necessary.”

“Understood, Lhhei,” Mrian replied, then signalled her relief to resume the helm station and moved forward to assume command.

After t`AAnikh had disappeared into the turbolift, Mrian gave her attention tot he bridge crew. “Attention: man your stations with increased vigilance. Report the slightest oddity or flicker in your readings immediately. Even if it turns out to be nothing it is still worthy of being noted. Better a dozen false alarms than one real one that goes unremarked for too long.”

“Understood, Arrain,” replied Centurion tr`Akaidai at Weapons, while the rest of the bridge crew nodded seriously.

Mrian settled back into the command throne. I could get used to this, she thought with an internal smile. So, now I get to watch the Tribunal from the bridge, too. I wonder what they found against tr`Asenth?

Briefing Room, RIS Kestrel.

SubCommander Lyie t`AAnikh settled into her chair at the head of the table, being the last to arrive. She was flanked on both sides by the other Senior Centurions, department heads all, that were tr`Asenth’s peers.

On her left were Second Officer Zoal tr`Maelitra and Master Surgeon Dhisuia t`Akelidhad. On her right were Enforcement Master Dhiemn tr`Raedheol, Sciences Master T`Cael Yllemna, and Weapons Master Eriufve t`Aimne. At first glance this didn’t bode well for tr`Asenth as four of the six officers had previously served with t`Radaik. However, t`AAnikh and tr`Raedheol would have no final vote, and Lyie had not coached any of these officers in any way. She wanted to ensure honest reactions to the case she was about to present. In truth, t`AAnikh felt the evidence needed no help and was convinced even the officers new to t`Radaik would find in favour of her.

Lyie had also looked over the results of t`Llaerih’s interrogation just before entering and was still pondering as to how they would affect the trial. I think I will bring her in after our first big surprise for our engineer. Her guilt is assured and her execution in as little doubt as tr`Asenth’s, but we have no need to sway the crew with her. Hmmm. She considered the details a little further before making a decision. Bring her in as a witness to confirm tr`Asenth’s guilt, and in doing so she incriminates herself. What is it Jaeih says? Ah yes. “Killing two birds with one stone.”

She glanced down the table to the accused—the condemned, her mind supplied—and found him glaring defiantly at her. Lyie hid her glee behind a sober mien, but it was a struggle.

You would have done better to remain calmer, tr`Asenth. You even look guilty by doing that! She sat at attention in her chair and steepled her fingers. I’m going to enjoy this.

CO’s Quarters, RIS Kestrel.

Jaeih sat at her work-desk chair, staring at the as-yet still blank terminal screen, and tried to relax. Glancing at the desk chronometer for the tenth time that minute, she was annoyed to find it resolutely stuck on 1827 hours. Swearing softly to herself she once again tried to relax but again found herself cursing her chair’s lack of armrests to grip and dig her nails into. At her eleventh glance at the chronometer—still 1827—she snarled and practically leapt out of her chair to begin a far more satisfying pace back and forth across her quarters until the time came for the broadcast.

The sudden motion allowed her to keep at bay the swirling cloud of angry thoughts and useless speculation by focusing her all her attention on the stomp-stomp-stomp of her boots on the lush carpet, finally giving her a measure of peace with the forced empty-headedness.

So successful was she in this endeavour that she was caught unawares on the far side of her quarters when the unseen screen lit up and t`AAnikh’s voice came through strong and clear. Looking up in surprise, Jaeih quickly reversed her course and rapidly strode over to re-seat herself. Almost immediately she gave up on “relaxed” and just sat at the edge of her seat, paying rapt attention to the proceedings.

“This Tribunal is now in session,” t`AAnikh stated, banging her gavel once on its rest.

“Hwiammna tr`Asenth, you stand accused of sabotaging the power systems of the Imperial Cruiser Kestrel which directly caused the deaths of thirteen engineers of this crew and indirectly caused the deaths of sixty-six citizens of the Empire when the backup power failed during a transport cycle. How do you answer these charges?”

Jaeih leaned forwards, interested to hear what he’d say despite herself.

Briefing Room, RIS Kestrel.

Tr`Asenth fought to keep himself from glaring at the self-righteous bitch running this farce. He wanted to throw her accusations back in her face, wanted to rage and roar, wanted to coldly state that he didn’t recognise her authority to hold this public humiliation of himself and his House.

He did none of these things, however, as all would make his situation much worse. The only thing that would help him now would be a calm, rational and convincing refutation of whatever evidence she’d claimed to have found—or manufactured, as Hwiammna was sure he’d covered his tracks well.

Besides, he couldn’t exactly claim he didn’t recognise her authority when he’d demanded she take over from t`Radaik in the first place. What he didn’t recognise was her right to hold this Tribunal. Admittedly, under the Martial Crisis Pandect he should have been executed immediately if they actually did have the evidence she claimed to have, but he also knew why she was doing this.

If he couldn’t refute her evidence, t`AAnikh would prove to this crew that t`Radaik wasn’t at fault and have her reinstated as CO of the Kestrel. Tr`Asenth couldn’t let that happen, as it would mean he’d failed—and his execution.

So he fixed an outraged look on his face and calmly answered, “The charges are false.”

T`AAnikh, curse her, managed a neutral expression and voice as she intoned, “So noted. Enarrain tr`Raedheol will present the case for the State.” Turning to the Master of Enforcement, she stated, “You may begin.”

As the big legionnaire made to speak, tr`Asenth had to prevent himself from leaning forward, curious despite himself, to hear what “evidence” they would try to present.

Master of Enforcement’s Office, RIS Kestrel.

SubCenturion Idrys t`Knathera sat at Master tr`Raedheol’s desk and scanned the security monitors quickly but thoroughly before returning her attention to the Tribunal broadcast, all the while listening to her superior outline the evidence found.

He had taken the unusual step of calling a supporting witness and let them tell the story of what had been discovered and how. Curiously, so far no mention of “who” had done it had yet coloured the testimony, as only the “how” of it was being covered.

The split-screen broadcast was displaying tr`Asenth’s impassive non-reactions to subCenturion t`Oreth’s words, even though he must know her inclusion strengthened t`AAnikh’s case against him. As a supposed “neutral” participant allowed to investigate these events in her own way, her words carried more weight with the crew than the same words coming from t`Radaik’s loyal friend the Enforcement Master.

The parameters of her investigation having been laid out and the regulator buffer logs revealed, showing possible evidence of a cover-up, t`Oreth now displayed exactly what had been covered up.

As a block of program code was brought up on the screen in place of t`Oreth’s face, Idrys caught tr`Asenth’s so-far impressive impassiveness slip. Although he tried to control it, it was obvious to all watching him that the engineer had paled noticeably. Even as t`Oreth droned on with her explanation of the code’s function and her “only logical” conclusion of its purpose, she could see in tr`Asenth’s involuntary reaction that he hadn’t expected this development at all, and in that moment Idrys was sure of his guilt.

Even as she admired t`AAnikh’s skill at this play, all Idrys could think of right then was, You treacherous, murdering bastard. You’ll pay for this with your life.

She sat back in tr`Raedheol’s chair and wondered how t`Radaik might be taking this news.

CO’s Quarters, RIS Kestrel.

“…Fire-damned Water-brained tokhe straav’ of a Klingon whore imirrhlhhsena fvadt BASTARD TRAITOR!!!

The venomously shrieked words reverberated off the bulkheads, defeating the sound-absorbent furnishings with the sheer volume of outrage and fury powering them.

Commander Jaeih t`Radaik paced back and forth within the two rooms of her quarters like a caged, enraged susse-thrai, for once glad that she was alone in her quarters watching this instead of actually being there and facing that traitorous hnoiyika. It allowed her to vent her feelings honestly and immediately instead of having to control herself for the benefit of others watching her. In here, alone and unobserved, she could be Jaeih the Betrayed. Out there, she would have to be Commander t`Radaik the Unflappable. By venting now she would eventually calm and could then go out and face the crew, truly in control and powered by a fusion ball of righteous fury in the pit of her stomach, ready to be released in a controlled fashion more suited to her position and social status.

If tr`Asenth had been in front of her now she’d have flayed and gutted him alive with her bare hands.

She allowed her rational mind to recede and continued to spew her hate- and invective-filled vituperation to her heart’s content.

Outside the Commander’s quarters, Legionnaire tr`Aerthera once again suppressed a wince as a few more horrifically inventive curses from multiple languages—most notably Rihannsu High and Common, Klingon, Orion and even Terran—made their way through the solid metal of the door.

Courig could only imagine what was going on at the Tribunal—it was not being broadcast over the PA system, only to terminal screens ship-wide—to cause such outbursts of pure venom from t`Radaik.

I really hope someone’s recording it, the young Guardsman thought enviously. I need to see what’s causing such language! Those bulkheads in there are definitely going to need repainting after this!

Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

Centurion Tiam tr`Akaidai watched the broadcast from his station with undiluted fascination, along with subCenturion Mahan tr`Aimne and fellow centurion Caelam tr`Hwernien. The anteCenturion at the helm station kept his eyes glued to his screens, as ordered by his immediate superior, Centurion Mrian t`Jaihen. Being in authority and responsible for crew discipline, she was watching it from the command throne and so was not—could not be—part of their group.

Sharing a look with tr`Aimne and tr`Hwernien, Tiam realised that he was not alone in noticing tr`Asenth’s colour draining from his face. Surreptitiously keeping an ear open to t`Jaihen up front, Tiam murmured, “What do you think that means?”

Just as softly, Caelam replied, “It means that tr`Asenth was surprised by that code block, nothing more.”

Risking censure, the lower-ranked tr`Aimne ventured, “It obviously means more than that! It means he’s worried it’s been recovered.”

“I’d agree with that,” Tiam murmured again, eyes on t`Jaihen. “I’d even say that it indicates his guilt, that he recognised it.”

Tr`Hwernien quietly rebuffed that. “Pure speculation.”

Informed speculation. Considered speculation,” tr`Aimne stated, supporting Tiam. He kept his eyes on his sensor screen, ensuring he’d not be caught unawares by a new reading.

“We shall see. They have yet to link it to tr`Asenth,” Caelam pointed out.

“True, but I now have no doubt they will. His reaction confirms this,” Tiam opined.

Mahan remained silent and Caelam refused to be drawn further. They all returned their attention to the broadcast, on which tr`Raedheol was dismissing his witness.

Inspirational Theatre, Main Hull, RIS Kestrel.

A holdover from the previous owners, the Kestrel’s Inspirational Theatre was a large auditorium where a goodly portion of the crew could gather to see governmental broadcasts of a visual nature—propaganda—and direct live or recorded feeds of visual events such as celebrations, sporting activities, and other such occasions.

As such, as many off-duty crew as could get in were there, watching the Tribunal. As expected from such a large gathering, opinions were many and varied.

“Look at his face! He obviously did it!”

“Don’t be a stupid hlai! It’s obvious that t`Radaik’s officers are trying to clear her any way they can and tr`Asenth is just shocked at the lengths they’re going to!”

“All these officers are just scheming and counter-scheming to get ahead of each other back on ch`Rihan. It makes me sick.”

“T`AAnikh must really hate the Master Engineer to go after him like this.”

“Tr`Asenth must really hate t`Radaik to have gone to such lengths to bring her down at such risk to himself.”

“Tr`Asenth is pure slime to have killed his own people to try and bring down the Riov.”

“The evil bastard killed his own men! And slaughtered innocent families trying to get us to mutiny against t`Radaik! He’d have provoked her into executing more of us if we’d followed him! He would’ve had hundreds die just to get power for himself!”

“It’s got to be fabricated! I just cannot believe that tr`Asenth could do this thing!”

“I always thought tr`Asenth was an arrogant son-of-a-Klingon. T`Radaik stepping down like that confirms her reputation and I find it far more likely that tr`Asenth blew up his own department than t`Radaik misjudged the ship’s capabilities.”

“There’s no way it could be fabricated. Tr`Raedheol wouldn’t allow it.”

“Hey, shut up you lot! They’re still talking!” someone yelled.

The room quietened somewhat as tr`Raedheol thanked t`Oreth and continued himself. The crew looked on, listening expectantly.

Briefing Room, RIS Kestrel.

“Well, tr`Asenth, would you agree with erei`Arrain t`Oreth’s conclusions about this block of program code?” the Master of Enforcement asked the engineer archly.

Your sense of irony does not amuse me, tr`Raedheol! Hwiammna raged behind a stony visage that was still attempting to regain the colour it lost at the presentation of the code block he’d uploaded. The Engineering Computer was supposed to overwrite all the power regulators! What in Areinnye’s Fire happened that the only ones that mattered were the only ones unaffected?

Tr`Asenth’s mind whirled, thoughts shooting though his head almost too fast to be heard, while he tried to come up with an answer. So far he’d managed to hold his own, coming up with perfectly plausible reasons for the other bits and pieces of “evidence” presented by t`Oreth and managing to look unimpressed, even disgusted, with the actions of the “State” in trying to frame him. That one nuclear mine tr`Raedheol had managed to come up with, however, had truly scuttled him.

It must have been the very fact that they were damaged that caused this. Maybe communication between them was cut by the explosion damaging the regulators, so the overwrite never reached them, Hwiammna reasoned, before an eruption of fury threatened to overwhelm him. I should have checked that! I had the imirrhlhhsena conduit there! I could have checked them, found the subroutine hadn’t been erased and did it there!

All this perfect-vision hindsight didn’t help him now though, so before too long a pause stretched he pushed out a garbage response about how it could have been a piece of diagnostic code for static power tests, and the Engineering Computer might have uploaded it in error. “This being the case, the explosion in Engineering would be no one’s fault, and merely a horrific computer error,” tr`Asenth finished with forced calm.

Tr`Raedheol’s expression spoke volumes about what he thought of that theory as he commented, “For that to be true, the computer would have had to suffer an exceedingly selective failure of it’s safety protocols, don’t you think?”

Still managing to play it cool, tr`Asenth responded, “However unlikely, it is possible. Just as possible as the backup power to the transporters failing.” He got a hard look for that and realised he’d made a mistake in being too cool about the loss of the sixty-odd civilians caught in that power failure, as tr`Raedheol’s voice became harsh and flat.

“You seem entirely too dismissive of the loss of nearly thirty families as an indirect result of this sabotage, even if, as you say, you are not responsible for it.”

“I of course mourn the loss—” tr`Asenth rushed out, only to be cut off.

“Spare me your false sympathies. Do you concur that the most likely purpose of this code was to overtax the secondary power grid conduits?”

Pinned down so precisely, tr`Asenth could only agree. Feeling as if he was putting his head in a noose, he said, “Yes.”

“And with the timing of the overwritten memory layers, it is more than reasonable to make the case for sabotage and cover up?”

Being evasive at this stage would only damage what credibility he had left, so Hwiammna agreed to this as well. He’s building a trap for me of my own words and waiting to close the door on me, the engineer knew. Behind a stony expression, he wondered, What else does he have that can pin this to me?

Senior Centurion Zoal tr`Maelitra soaked up all of this information in a kind of horrified awe. He was now completely convinced it was sabotage and not any recklessness on t`Radaik’s part that had caused the explosion, and although there was yet to be factual evidence presented that it was tr`Asenth’s handiwork, the engineer’s earlier evasiveness and shocked reaction to the code block leant credence to him being the saboteur.

Also, the way in which the sabotage had been implemented clearly pointed to someone in or near tr`Asenth’s position, with the engineer’s knowledge of the systems involved. It did not look good for tr`Asenth, but hearsay did not constitute proof and though Zoal was ruthless, he was also fair. Of the six officers present, t`AAnikh was presiding and had no say, with the same for tr`Raedheol for prosecuting. It would be up to Zoal, t`Aimne, Yllemna and t`Akelidhad to determine tr`Asenth’s fate.

“Thank you, Engineer. So, now that we know how this was done and what did it, we come to the who. I think it obvious that anyone with even a surface knowledge of the regulator program routines could have written this code, or simpler yet, altered the one already in the memory banks,” tr`Raedheol stated firmly. “However, very few people have the access necessary to both make and have our Engineering Computer accept this programming change. You will now give me a list of all the people with access to the system that would allow such a change to be implemented.”

Tr`Asenth looked at the Enforcement Master warily. “That would be the commander and first officer, the computer science officer, the master engineer and engineer second, and engineering power and diagnostics officers.”

“The computer records and terminal activity of each of these officers, and all the other officers and personnel involved in your attempted mutiny, have been examined. It was found that none of them wrote any such code, nor made any uploads to the Engineering Computer from any terminal on board,”

“None of them?” tr`Asenth asked pointedly. “Not even the Master Engineer’s?”

“Not even yours, tr`Asenth,” the legionnaire confirmed neutrally, before overriding Hwiammna’s next words by going on to say, “However, after your arrest, your private terminal in your quarters was examined and discovered to be illegally secured against standard Fleet Enforcement monitoring procedures.”

Letting that sink in for a moment, tr`Raedheol placed two massive hands on the table in front of tr`Asenth and leaned over the engineer as he made his next point. “The uploads to the Engineering Computer as far back as the beginning of the shakedown cruise have also been examined. Can you guess how many regulator protocol modifications and uploads there have been since they were finalised twenty days ago?”

Tr`Asenth remained stonily silent, giving Dhiemn a further opportunity for grandstanding. “That’s correct, Engineer. None.” Tr`Raedheol raised his eyebrows in expectation of a response. None was forthcoming. He straightened abruptly and ordered, “Bring in the second prisoner.”

Heads swung round to follow the individual now entering the room. Hwiammna wasn’t one of them, as he was already looking right at the doors as his niece-by-favour was brought in, looking haunted and with her hands secured by the same molecular cuffs that bound him. He bolted to his feet, concern evident on his face, and yelled, “Arrhae!” only to be pushed back down by his jailers.

Tr`Maelitra looked on in surprise at that, and also noticed it on the faces of t`AAnikh and Yllemna. The engineer was being overly familiar with his junior officer, and this proposed a connection of sorts between the two. Lovers, possibly? Zoal wondered intently, Or maybe a distant family relation?

As she was brought in and sat beside the tr`Asenth, tr`Raedheol was handed a data crystal by Centurion t`Laheiin. He turned to t`AAnikh and stated, “I submit this recording of t`Llaerih’s interrogation as evidence and request you verify its integrity.”

T`AAnikh took the crystal and placed it into the proper slot in the computer terminal. After thirty seconds of flashing lights and steady computer activity, a harsh, grating, synthesised male voice stated, “Memory solid verified as unaltered live recording.”

Erei`Riov, if you would please play the memory,” tr`Raedheol requested next. T`AAnikh nodded and the lights dimmed as the image came on the main viewscreen at the far end of the briefing room table, behind the accused.

Tr`Maelitra looked on with interest as t`Llaerih was brought into a room and strapped into a chair. The entire interrogation then was played, all twenty minutes of it. After the first five, they’d gotten to the meat of the subject.

“You were summoned to the Master Engineer’s quarters?” t`Laheiin asked in a firm, neutral tone.

“Yes.” T`Llaerih’s reply was whisper soft and full of pain.

“Why you? What is your connection with the Master of Engineering?”

A sudden burst of anger and spirit animated Arrhae’s features. “I will tell you nothing!”

“Oh, I think not. We will find out whether you co-operate or not. It will just be less painful for you if you co-operate.”

“If you think that the personal affairs of a lowly officer are worth your notice, then I shall accommodate you, vulture,” Arrhae snarled. “House Asenth is a protector of House Llaerih.”

“Ah, you are beholden to our Master Engineer then? Or maybe,” Hilaefve t`Laheiin said with lewd insinuation heavy in her tone, “you are betrothed instead? Offered up as a love slave to ensure your House’s continued protection?”

“Carrion hunter! Bottom feeder from the shallowest and filthiest of cesspools!” Arrhae raged impotently.

“I think we have struck a nerve. What say you, Iahwil?” she asked the med. tech.

“Rekkhai, the subject is honest in her outrage and there are no correlating indicators of embarrassment. I need more data to give an accurate conclusion.”

“So, more data you shall have. What of it, Arrhae?”

Several more and increasingly vile insults were venomously spewed until the centurion tired of it and had the Sifter set to Level 2 for a quarter-minute. “I ask you again, Arrhae: what is your full relationship to tr`Asenth?”

Gasping for breath, she gritted out, “I am his niece-by-favour.”

“Interesting. This is why he trusted you with being a ringleader and a mission of your own. So, you were summoned to your uncle’s quarters, where you learned of his intent to mutiny and remove Riov t`Radaik from authority?”

“No, I did not.”


This was directed at the med. tech, who shook her head and replied, “That was a lie.”

“Increase to Level 2.”

A nod, a touch of a control, and a fresh scream erupted from t`Llaerih.

“I ask again, Arrhae: When you were summoned to the Master Engineer’s quarters, what was discussed?”

Arrhae was jolting about as if trying to escape from the chair. She managed to hold out for almost twenty-five seconds, but finally gave in and gasped out, “Ie, Ie! The Master Engineer told me he’d mutiny and asked how many of my comrades would support him!”

“Did you give him a list of exactly who you would rely on?”



Again to the med. tech, who nodded this time and commented, “Truth.”

Satisfied, t`Laheiin then asked, “Did you know about his plan to actually sabotage the power systems? Did you know that it would be deliberate intervention that would cause the conduit to rupture, instead of ‘the stress of the journey here’?”

“No!” Arrhae forced out as calmly as she could. “It was t`Radaik’s recklessness that caused it! There was no sabotage.”

This time t`Laheiin didn’t even ask. She just looked at the med. tech, who shook her head.

“Level 3, then,” the centurion ordered, then demanded, “Did you know that tr`Asenth planned and implemented sabotage?”

This time t`Llaerih held out for an amazing 87 seconds before giving in to the onslaught of precisely applied pain. By the time she forced out an answer, her body was convulsing with great, heaving sobs and her voice thick with the tears running down her face.

“Yes,” she whispered, sounding broken and defeated. “He showed me what to expect so I could prepare for it. He showed me the altered subroutine he’d just created and he uploaded it just before I left his quarters.”


Another ten minutes later and the end of the interrogation was near. Only a few final elements of the mutiny itself were being discovered.

“So, with all these other elements in place, did your mutinous comrades also know of tr`Asenth’s sabotage?”

“No. I told them that, based on the Master Engineer’s experience, an explosion was inevitable and that it would happen within hours at most, though he didn’t know where it would happen. We were to resume our stations and stand ready so that when it finally happened we’d already know our parts and could complete our objectives as quickly as possible.”

A brief look at the med. tech confirmed the truth of this statement. Sounding a little surprised, the centurion wrapped up the proceedings. “And we already know what they were. Rekkhai, if you have nothing further to add…?” t`Laheiin asked tr`Raedheol, and got a brief headshake in response. “Okay, then we’re done here. Release her and prepare her for her court appearance.”

T`Llaerih was freed from the chair lead away into an adjoining room, and the recording ended.

The screen faded out and the lights came back up to full strength. Arrhae was shaking visibly and shuddering occasionally, cowering from anyone’s touch. Tr`Asenth noticed and stared with unfiltered hatred at tr`Raedheol and t`Laheiin, his muscles working and flexing beneath his skin.

Zoal saw that one legionnaire was so concerned the engineer would fly at the Master of Enforcement that he pulled his disruptor and pressed it into the back of tr`Asenth’s neck to remind him of the foolishness of such. The guard must have realised that the deterrent he offered was not up to much, considering that his charge’s execution was imminent and it would cost him nothing to make the attempt, but tr`Asenth held his place.

“The prosecution has made its case. I await the Tribunal’s pleasure,” tr`Raedheol stated and returned to his seat. Tr`Asenth, still green-faced with rage at his niece’s torture, was made to stand with t`Llaerih to await the verdicts.

T`AAnikh spoke for the first time since the Tribunal began. “You have all heard the testimony from both sides. You will now render your verdicts.” Addressing the other officers in turn, she asked, “Second Officer?”

Zoal almost had no need for deliberation. He believed it was sabotage. He believed the recording of t`Llaerih’s interrogation was genuine, the interrogation itself was conducted properly, and that she was forced into telling the truth during it. Still, he quickly ran through all that he had seen and heard, both earlier today during the crisis itself and in this Tribunal. Satisfied that nothing was amiss, he rendered his verdict.

“Both guilty of all charges,” tr`Maelitra stated with finality, and the rest of the judgements did not matter.

CO’s Quarters, RIS Kestrel.

T`Radaik watched with unmitigated joy as all four officers gave a unanimous “guilty” verdict for both the accused, though with some surprise at tr`Maelitra.

I seem to have seriously misjudged that boy, she thought wonderingly, then listened to the close of the Tribunal.

“The Empire thanks you for your service,” Lyie said to the officers present, then addressed the defendants. “Hwiammna tr`Asenth, you have been found guilty with no dissenters of sabotage and mass murder. You are hereby stripped of your rank and position aboard this vessel and sentenced to death.

“Arrhae t`Llaerih, you have been found guilty with no dissenters of conspiracy to commit sabotage and mass murder. You also are hereby stripped of your rank and position aboard this vessel and sentenced to death.”

With this, both Lyie and Dhiemn stood up. The legionnaires guarding tr`Asenth and t`Llaerih stepped away from their prisoners but kept watching them intently, ready for any sudden movement.

Knowing what was coming, Hwiammna faced it like a Rihanha. He made no pleas or threats, no last-minute bargains for his life, nor did he attempt to flee. He placed his hand on Arrhae’s shoulder and gripped her firmly, though whether to show support or prevent any further weakness on her part no one could be sure.

Arrhae assumed a look of defiance at the ex-Master Engineer’s touch, but it was clear that she was scared and unable to accept her fate. Maybe she’d thought her connection with House Asenth would have shielded her from any consequences, but whatever the reason it was apparent she did not want or expect to die like this.

Tr`Asenth summoned his courage and stated forcefully, “My brother will avenge us.”

SubCommander Lyie t`AAnikh and Senior Centurion Dhiemn tr`Raedheol drew their disruptor side arms and disintegrated them both on the spot, showing no outward emotion.

Jaeih wanted to jump up and cheer, but was sobered with a thought. That should have been my duty, not theirs. Now Lyie and Dhiemn will bear any consequences from Senator tr`Asenth. I am sorry, my friends. I should have been stronger, had more faith.

Her two officers, unheeding, returned to their seats. ”There is one final duty I require of you,” Lyie said next to the officers present. “In light of these events, I request and require that Riov Jaeih t`Radaik reinstate herself to full authority over the Rihannsu Imperial Starship Kestrel.”

“Seconded.” Tr`Maelitra.

“Third.” T`Akelidhad.

“Concur.” Tr`Raedheol.

“Agreed.” Yllemna.

“Supported.” T`Aimne.

“Riov t`Radaik, please report to the bridge to resume authority,” the current commander of the Kestrel ordered.

“This Tribunal is dismissed.”

Chapter Sixteen

Date: 16th April 2268
Time: 1912 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4094.06
Location: Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

Commander Jaeih t`Radaik stepped onto the bridge of the Kestrel, now her ship again. She felt reborn, having been forged by Kai’s words and tempered by Courig’s, and completely validated in her place on the command deck of a starship.

Even her own closest friend aboard had been wrong with her comment about Jaeih’s pushing the ship being “a bad command decision.” Jaeih was now sure that her instincts had been bang on target, and had the power lasted longer on the colony ship then she was also sure she wouldn’t have pushed her ship so hard. She harboured no grudge to Lyie for that, though, as it had taken Jaeih almost a day and two unusual conversations to realise this herself.

Freshly secure in this knowledge and having the confidence of her senior officers, Jaeih strode past the control console and settled into the command throne, with all the department heads from the Tribunal standing around her. Meeting the eyes of each and every one of them, Jaeih acknowledged the debt she owed them, until her eyes finally alighted on Lyie.

“Officers of the Kestrel, I thank you,” she stated simply, the unadorned words belying the depth of her feeling for them. “I am highly gratified to have regained your confidence and find it invigorating to be back. Everyone, stations please.”

The assembled officers all nodded respectfully, some even giving smiles before the piled into the turbolift to attend their duties. Only t`AAnikh remained, smiling warmly at her friend. T`Radaik ordered, “Arrain t`Jaihen, status report.”

The prior Officer of the Watch stated, “Lhhei, ship’s condition is 96% operational and repairs to internal systems are continuing. Warp engines are running smoothly with no fluctuations in the power grids, and so far we’ve had no reports of systems dropping offline or behaving erratically.

“Medical reports three of the seriously wounded have been moved off the critical list, two of the moderately wounded have been released to their quarters, and all minor injuries have been treated and returned to duty. Master Surgeon t`Akelidhad has given all the uninjured colonists a clean bill of health. The New Dawn’s casualty lists has been finalised at twenty-eight dead from the incident, sixty-six killed by transporter malfunction, thirty-four moderate and sixty-one minor injuries. Of the moderately injured, twenty-five are recuperating in crew quarters, two are still in ICU. Of the entire surviving ship’s complement of 681, two hundred and seventy-three were treated for detectable radiation poisoning and will be monitored through the remaining journey. All Medical staff are pulling double shifts until we offload the casualties.

“We are currently cruising at warp five-point-five, on course for the Eilhaunn colony. ETA at current speed is three days, fourteen hours,” Mrian finally concluded. A lot had happened since t`Radaik was last on the bridge.

“Thank you, Arrain,” Jaeih offered with a respectful nod. “You may resume your duties.”

Ie, Lhhei,” t`Jaihen responded with a short bow, then took over helm control again.

“Tr`Hwernien, open an intraship channel,” she commanded next.

“Channel open, Riov.”

“Crew of the Kestrel, this is your Riov speaking. Our rescue mission has been successfully completed, and all that remains is to deliver our passengers to their new homes on the Eilhaunn colony. We are safely on course at speed, and will arrive at Eilhaunn in three-and-a-half days,” Jaeih informed them all. She was about to sign off, but added a final thought. ”Medical would appreciate any volunteers for taking care of our injured people. Carry on.” Closing the channel from her chair she looked back to her subCommander, who then spoke up.

Riov, we need to discuss some personnel matters,” t`AAnikh reminded her. “We are now down two senior officers, thirteen engineers from various divisions, and have several junior officers who bear watching.”

“Oh Elements,” Jaeih groaned quietly. Having already given this matter some thought, she said more loudly, “Okay then, here are my recommendations: Engineer Second tr`Rrietra promoted to Enarrain and made Master Engineer. It is unlikely we will find another engineer adequately trained on Klingon power and drive systems at Starbase Six or anywhere around here.”

“Agreed.” Lyie nodded and noted on her electronic clipboard. “Third Officer?”

“I’d just as rather not have another, if it’s all the same to you, Lyie,” Jaeih answered darkly. “I am no longer comfortable with too many people having the bridge access codes. We could have tr`Maelitra watch over the Gamma shift, with you taking Beta while I handle Alpha,” she pondered aloud.

“That would be, in effect, a demotion for our Second Officer, Lhhei. I would recommend against that, as the boy deserves better.”

Jaeih’s interest was aroused at Lyie’s tone. “Oh? Care to add to that enigmatic statement, First Officer?”

Leaning in closer and lowering her voice confidentially, Lyie asked, “Do you remember my first plea to you to reduce our speed?”

Uncomfortable now, Jaeih responded, “How could I forget? You invoked a personal bond to finally convince me.”

“That’s right. Do you know why I made that plea, at that time?”

“I assumed you’d heard something from the crew and Engineering that increased the urgency if the situation for you.”

“For the most part, yes,” t`AAnikh agreed. “Specifically, though, the Second Officer came to me much as I came to you that day. He had discussed this matter with his peers after becoming concerned with what he’d heard from the officers and crew on his watch.” She paused there, remembering the meeting itself. “He was incredibly candid with me, and said that he and his comrades had lost their trust in your judgement. With the mutinous rumblings coming from all corners of the ship, he requested of me that I remind you of your responsibilities to the ship and Empire, and if you did not accede, to replace you as Riov.”

Jaeih swore she felt the deck shift beneath her feet again, but no one else seemed to notice. “And you think that he deserves—” she choked out, but was cut off.

”Jaeih, he followed procedure. He did not need to explain his reasoning but he did in an attempt to get me to take him more seriously. It worked, and I did. He raised legitimate concerns and went through the chain of command with them,” t`AAnikh stated with special emphasis, before going on to stress, “Lhhei, you want officers like this on your crew. Trust me.”

Jaeih wavered, seeing the sense in her friend’s words, and then Lyie brought it home.

”Not all your crew will agree with every decision you make or order you give. Would you rather he teamed up with the mutineers?”

Fvadt,” Jaeih said quietly and with no heat. Looking up at her friend, a gleam of humour in her eyes, she said, “I am really blessed to have you as my First, you know that?”

Lyie smiled. ”I keep trying to tell you. I’m glad it’s finally sinking in.”

T`Radaik smiled back at her, then flicked her eyes over to the helm console. “Very well. Assign Arrain t`Jaihen as Third Officer and reinstate erei`Arrain Kilyle as Beta shift Helm Officer. As one of tr`Maelitra’s crew,” she emphasised with a look at Lyie, “before the incident, he deserves recognition.”

“It shall be as you say,” the subCommander agreed. “Have tr`Ullian cover Gamma shift Helm to suck up his excess energy?”

“No. Have another helm officer take over the duties,” she said, her good mood slipping a bit. “I also want the mutineers watched, and not allowed to consort with each other,” Jaeih ordered. “I have given them the benefit of the doubt, but I am not giving them the code to my strongbox. See to it.”

Ie, Lhhei.”

“You can also authorise tr`Rrietra and the other department heads to shuffle their staff as they see fit to cover shortages until we get fresh crew. You will still have final approval, of course.”

“Of course,” Lyie returned, making some final notes on her clipboard. Once done, she tucked it under her arm and said, “If it’s all the same to you, Riov, I will leave you in authority and log myself off duty. It has been… a long day.”

“It has indeed, old friend,” Jaeih agreed. “You may take your well deserved break, erei`Riov. I find myself willing to stay in this chair a good deal longer.”

T`AAnikh smiled but made no further comment on that. “You may wish to check in on Yllemna’s science project in an hour or so, they should just be starting to analyse their data now. I think that is all, so I shall bid you a fair evening, Riov,” she finished.

“I will, and a fair evening to you too,” Jaeih replied warmly. After a respectful nod to her friend and CO, Lyie strode towards the turbolift and disappeared below decks.

Jaeih leaned back into her—her!—command throne and luxuriated in the feeling of it.

I’m back!

Dispensary, Medical Section, RIS Kestrel.

“…taking care of our injured people. Carry on.”

The intercom channel clicked shut but he continued to stare at the nearest wall-mounted speaker. “Carry on”? As if nothing has happened? As if we haven’t just went through sabotage, death, murder, attempted mutiny, a bloodless coup, a trial, and a couple of executions? Is she completely mad?

Jutak tr`Malthai shook it off a moment longer and continued with his task. Methodically taking stock of his inventory, he checked it off against the list of drugs issued by him that day. Those other thoughts kept wanting to intrude, but he couldn’t allow himself to be distracted until the most important duty of his position had been fulfilled.

With that task finally completed a few minutes later, Jutak codelocked the dispensary and left to consult with the on-call surgeon on related matters. Moving slowly to give himself some time to reflect on the recent announcement and preceding Tribunal, his thoughts finally bubbled over into his immediate awareness and he felt his whole face curl into an expression of utter contempt. Since the Martial Crisis Pandect was still supposedly in effect, Jutak rearranged his features into a blank expression and let none of his thoughts reach the surface, but inside he was still angry and disgusted with t`Radaik and her cronies, who held onto command like a corrupt government.

What does she think she’s playing at? No crackdown on the crew, no round-up of attempted mutineers, nothing! Are we all supposed to pretend that it didn’t happen, that everything is all right now? Just because it’s been ‘proven’ to us that it wasn’t t`Radaik’s fault? What kind of fools does she take us for?

Jutak shook his head, trying to clear it of these useless thoughts and concentrate on his duties, saving his ranting for his own private time in his own quarters.

There is no way this is over, he vowed to himself. But what could he do?

Subspace Communications Section, Command Pod, RIS Kestrel.

I am so glad this is all over now, Hie tr`Utreth thought, breathing an internal sigh of relief. I cannot wait to forget this shameful event ever happened!

The young Communications anteCenturion couldn’t believe he’d been so foolish and naive to go along with the attempted mutiny, never mind been—at the time—one of its staunchest supporters. So convinced had he been that he was doing the right thing, believing—in error as had been revealed—that t`Radaik was an uncontrollable madwoman, he had willingly swallowed tr`Asenth’s lies and almost started a bloody civil war on board.

He was eternally grateful to t`Radaik now, having discovered that the amnesty offered to him by subCommander t`AAnikh was at her behest. I must be ever on guard to prevent a repeat of this travesty I so nearly caused, and not waste the second chance I’ve been given. T`Radaik is indeed an unusual, unorthodox commander, but she is still worthy of respect and loyalty.

Keeping his eyes on the electrical subsystems master status board, he noticed a minor fluctuation. He promptly investigated, diagnosed, and logged the minor issue for intense analysis later, then returned to his introspection.

Too many others are already claiming the Tribunal a farce and the charges fabricated, put in place by t`Radaik’s loyal cronies. They don’t to stop to consider why such loyalty is given her to begin with, especially in light of how much a madwoman she has recently appeared, Hie reasoned to himself. Others, however, will not be so forgiving of her, so I shall remain vigilant and true to the Riov.

This will not happen again, he vowed.

Environmental Engineering, RIS Kestrel.

Kital tr`Hhlorra gazed thoughtfully at the nearest intercom grill, his mind watching his control panel on automatic pilot as he considered what he’d just heard. So… t`Radaik is innocent, tr`Asenth and t`Llaerih were guilty, upon whose execution t`Radaik—completely unexpectedly, of course—resumes command, and we all live happily ever after, hmm? Kital’s eyebrow arched with the sarcasm of his mind’s tone, indicating the engineer’s scepticism about today’s events. I can readily believe tr`Asenth’s guilt after his performance in the Tribunal, but I also have no trouble believing t`Radaik planned this end run around tr`Asenth as soon as he tried to mutiny. There is no way a riov of t`Radaik’s experience didn’t have this planned.

Kital found that this pleased him. It made t`Radaik rise in his own estimation, whereas earlier he had been sure she was a weak fool. As far as he was concerned, these turns of events proved that assumption wrong, and glad he was of it. Serving under a weak fool gave rise to all sorts of trials a strong commander could deal with instantly, and had she not shown her true colours in acting this way, tr`Hhlorra would have been glad of tr`Asenth taking command.

As for what happens now I cannot wait to see it, he thought gleefully. It is bound to be very interesting!

Intensive Care Unit, Medical Section, RIS Kestrel.

Zathryn tr`Onaillnae winced as he shifted his position slightly, and realised that his medication was beginning to wear off again. He did not bother pushing the call button to summon the nurse as he knew it would avail him nothing. He’d already heard the lecture twice and didn’t need to hear it a third time: “Medication is too valuable and too thinly spread with all the wounded on board to waste on keeping you doped up. Your wounds will heal faster without the pain suppressants messing up your body’s natural healing.”

Even though his surgery was completed nearly four hours ago, Zathryn’s wounds had been severe enough to warrant complete immobility so that his patched-together body had a chance to heal more quickly. Walking around with his insides held together with protoplasmic sutures was doable, but the body needed time to reinforce those sutures with natural healing so that the wounds didn’t simply split along the tear lines when subjected to the stress of a body’s normal daily activities.

Faced with several more hours of uncomfortable recuperation, Zathryn turned his attention back to the Tribunal and its results. So, tr`Asenth and t`Llaerih both dead and t`Radaik back in command as if nothing happened. Does she honestly think it’ll be that easy? he wondered.

He deliberately did not think about the fact that it was his own superior who had wilfully caused him to be so badly injured. Realising this with t`Llaerih’s interrogation testimony had thrown him into a rage, one that had given him quite a bad turn as his wound had made its presence felt again with the huge increase in his blood pressure. That fit of pique had only subsided—it still hadn’t ended—when the Medical staff had simultaneously threatened to both turn off the broadcast to the entire Sickbay and sedate him.

The huge throbbing pain in his gut had prompted his first request for painkillers, which had been refused in a “that’ll teach you to behave”-style scolding. Zathryn couldn’t see how sedatives wouldn’t “mess up his body’s own healing process” but painkillers would.

Still fuming at both these indignities, he forcibly returned to his original query about t`Radaik. It may even be that easy, if everyone accepts the Tribunal as the complete truth as we’re obviously expected to. I have no trouble believing it, and I consider myself to be a reasonable man, Zathryn pondered further. However, there will always be those who never accept the “party line”. Worse yet, there will be those who believe it all but agree with the losing side, as well as those who care nothing for extraneous details or extenuating circumstances, only caring about the friend or ally they just lost. Both latter kinds of people are then on the lookout for opportunities to revenge themselves on the “wrongdoer”.

Zathryn thought hard about this for some minutes more, before coming to an unsettling conclusion. This cruise may end up seeing more than the usual amount of bloodletting as a result, unless all the mutineers actually are rounded up and gotten rid of one way or another. I really hope not, the junior engineer thought wearily. My last ship was like that and I was hoping for something better here, especially with Riov t`Radaik’s reputation.

Zathryn felt himself exhausted again so he willed himself to relax, trying to get his battered body and overactive mind to co-operate and allow him some sleep.

Enforcement Section, RIS Kestrel.

“…so you are now on probation, erei`Arrain Areolan. Everyone deserves a second chance and with t`Llaerih’s revelation that no one else knew of the sabotage, the Riov in her infinite wisdom has granted all of you that chance. Distinguish yourself and you will do well. Follow their path or example, and you will die. Dismissed.”

T`Kiell spun on his heel and marched out of tr`Raedheol’s office, smarting from the lecture and furious at his CO for treating him like some wayward child. There was no way he was accepting that everything was back to normal with a wave of the magic disruptor, erasing the bad and making everything whole again. He headed for his quarters, calling down retribution on all those who would see his best friend murdered.

T`Radaik, for causing this situation in the first place;

T`AAnikh, for orchestrating the Tribunal and ordering her death;

Tr`Raedheol, for the act of murder itself and the orchestration of her torture;

T`Laheiin, for the act of torture itself;

The nameless medical technician for aiding and abetting the torture;

That damn tr`Aerthera, who thwarted their attempt to capture Auxiliary Control and set in motion the entire chain of events that directly lead to Arrhae’s death.

SubCenturion T`Kiell Areolan hid his rage in the stiffly formal way he marched through the corridors of the ship back to his quarters, but anyone who tried to meet his eyes flinched away from the roiling emotions held within.

They will all pay for what they have done this day, he vowed vehemently. I will be their ruin, all of them, even if it takes the rest of my life. This I swear, by all the Elements, and though Areinnye itself may bar the way!

Main Engineering, RIS Kestrel.

Zaedn tr`Rrietra was enraged.

Everyone could see it from the set of his shoulders, the cast of his face, his tightly-controlled movements, in the short bitten-off orders issued and answers given. But most of all, anyone around him could tell from the banked, roaring flames in his eyes.

The engineering staff could see all this and kept clear, not wanting to be around when all that anger finally boiled over. No one wanted to be on the receiving end of that much wrath.

However, Zaedn saw this, the effect his rage was having on his—yes, they were now his—staff, and it made him angrier still.

He was not angry at them.

He was not sure who he was angry at.

He did know that he wouldn’t be taking his fury out on his own people, though. They should not fear him, but even in his current state he knew that any reassurances offered by him were unlikely to be believed, and not through any fault of theirs. Besides, it was not his place to offer such reassurances.

Tr`Rrietra stalked into the Master Engineer’s office—now his office—and threw his lanky frame into the chair.

Tr`Asenth’s chair.

In tr`Asenth’s office.

In tr`Asenth’s Engineering Department.

Zaedn was deluding himself, and he knew it. He knew exactly who he was angry with—the late and no-doubt soon-to-be-avenged Hwiammna tr`Asenth.

How dare you! Zaedn demanded of the ghost in the room, finally giving up on his denial. How dare you strut back into an Engineering Department you yourself just ripped apart and continue working with the rest of us as if you hadn’t just slaughtered an entire division!

How dare you express concern and relief that I’d survived when it was your callous disregard for anything but yourself that almost caused my death! I’d spent all imirrhlhhsena day walking back and forth past the MSD. I’d only left the area ten seconds earlier! You expected me to be dead!

My great friend. My brilliant mentor. You tried to murder me!

Zaedn’s eyes, glaring unseeing at the wall, suddenly snapped back into focus on hearing a huge crash in the room. He looked down and with detached surprise realised he’d just kicked a hole through the composite desk he sat at.

The idle thought that someone would now have to repair that flitted past his consciousness.

Zaedn was also plagued by a contradictory set of thoughts, which were just as volatile. If t`Llaerih’s interrogation is to be believed, even tr`Asenth didn’t know where the blow-out would occur. It could have happened anywhere on the ship. It wasn’t supposed or intended to explode in Engineering, which would mean that Hwiammna’s concern for me was real, he reasoned torturously. But that raises the fact that tr`Asenth was willing to accept whatever losses resulted from the blow-out. If it wasn’t intended and so not a murder attempt, it still means that he was willing to sacrifice anyone—me included!—to reach his goals. How could I have trusted such a person, or called them friend?

Tr`Rrietra rubbed long-fingered hands wearily across his face. He really wasn’t up for a massive existential, soul-searching bout of introspective rubbish right now. All the Engineering staff—and many more besides—had been on duty continuously for about 36 hours now. He needed to keep his focus, if only for a few more hours, after which he could go off-duty and crash into some desperately needed sleep.

Shaking his head and finally removing his foot from the new hole in the desk, he hoisted his lanky frame out of his chair and went back to the patched-together MSD to continue monitoring.

Junior Officer’s Quarters, RIS Kestrel.

Reelan tr`Ullian lay stretched out on his bed, futilely trying to calm his mind so that he could fall asleep. Since he was still on active duty and in his usual position on the Gamma shift bridge crew, he was back on duty in just over four hours. After having been on duty constantly for the past day or so, he was very tired, especially with the stress of recent events. Rolling over again and punching his pillow with more force than was strictly necessary, his thoughts once again drifted back to the revelations concerning those recent events.

Just because it was sabotage it doesn’t mean t`Radaik was right. Okay, so if we hadn’t been here on time all the colonists would be dead, but what if it was a fake distress call? What if it was a trap and there had been pirates or Klingons waiting for us? She was right on this one, but what if she’s wrong the next time? Reelan wanted to know. I don’t think her instincts are trustworthy at all. In that whole debacle her judgement proved sound only once!

It could be argued that she was proven right several times, and in the areas that were most important to the execution of the mission itself, but tr`Ullian didn’t see that.

After all, the systems could still have blown out. The colony ship could have kept power for several hours or days longer. There could have been enemy forces at our destination point, and we would still have arrived with a lame ship! What part of any of this counts as good judgement?

Reelan couldn’t understand, and no doubt if he tried to ask so that he could, he’d be arrested and executed for questioning t`Radaik’s orders a second time.

Arrhae and Hwiammna had that coming since they caused the sabotage, but with them went our best chance of getting rid of that idiot now back on the bridge, seemingly stronger than ever. Tr`Ullian went back to futilely punching his pillow after a final thought.

We can only hope that the next crisis we blunder through with t`Radaik in authority kills the brainless sseikea.

Time: 2100 hours.
Location: Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

Jaeih t`Radaik idly checked her chronometer and was mildly surprised to find she’d passed an hour peaceably staring into space. Her mind has been soothed by the peaceful vista of stars-at-warp, and no new reports—of cheer or woe—had intruded. Suddenly thinking of such reports reminded her that she was waiting on one from her science staff, so she ordered tr`Hwernien to page her Master of Sciences. Moments later he was online.

Enarrain Yllemna, what progress have you made with the New Dawn’s computer records?” t`Radaik asked.

“Riov, we are making progress in discovering what happened, but as yet the information is still incomplete. If I may request a further two hours to complete our analysis and present you a coherent report?” the scientist asked hopefully.

Knowing well T`Cael’s modus operandi, Jaeih offered him a deadline. “Very well, Enarrain, two hours it is. However, I want solid, reliable conclusions by then. I care little for a pretty report if the analysis is not complete or the information I seek is not present.”

“Ah, understood, Riov,” Yllemna responded, sounding slightly put out.

“Bridge out,” Jaeih stated and closed the channel. Yllemna was so controlling and micromanaging that he liked to oversee every aspect of a project himself, and wanted to present a report that was perfect enough to receive a Science Directorate award. By placing a time limit on him Jaeih hoped to speed things up in some manner or another, by either having him delegate and/or present a less polished report.

Ah, another two hours of silent, in-command peace. All is well again, she reflected. Occupied thus, she enjoyed her “quiet time.”

Computer Lab, Boom Section, RIS Kestrel.

T`Cael signed off with t`Radaik and turned to face his assembled team with the news of their new deadline. To his surprise it did not faze them, though he himself was irritated and nervous about it. The task itself may indeed be completed with some time to spare, he thought apprehensively, but having so little time left to prepare a report…

He shook it off and focused again. There were three projects already running in parallel, making demands on computer time and resources that—fortunately—t`AAnikh had authorised herself, so dealing with Enforcement had been brief and relatively painless, as existing clearances were merely extended rather than new ones needing issued.

He walked back over to hear tr`Arriufvi and t`Liun finish each other’s sentences as usual, with t`Oreth from Engineering looking on with bemusement at the phenomenon. Centurion tr`Iawaain and Technician tr`Kaenmie worked quietly off to one side, and Technician Jaiith was working with Underofficer Triy tr`Illialhae from Engineering’s Power Division to the other side. Well, “working” was being generous, because there was some vigorous—if low key—gesticulating and harsh whispering going on between them.

T`Cael suppressed a sigh of genuine irritation and approached them, or more specifically, the Engineering Underofficer, to find out what was going on. He was sure he already knew, but a scientist gathers information so a sound judgement could be reached. Tr`Illialhae noticed him coming and shut up, but Jaiith’s angry whisper fell into a sudden silence as the rest of the room realised T`maekh was about to get it in the neck again.

“—fvadt you, you imbecile! I’m telling you, you’re doing it the wrong way…” His voice trailed into silence as he realised Yllemna was behind him. Turning around slowly in the manner of someone dreading what they will see, T`Cael could see the inevitable knowledge of impending doom in Jaiith’s eyes.

And rightly so, the Sciences Master thought acidly. Ignoring him completely for the moment, he addressed tr`Illialhae. “Ihfvisaehne?

Rekkhai, we were just… disagreeing on procedure,” Triy said weakly. “Despite his tone, I’ve realised that Iahwil Jaiith is correct.”

T`Cael fixed his dark eyes on T`maekh, giving him a pitiless stare as he addressed the engineer still. “Indeed. Being correct, however, does not confer a higher rank on one, this misapprehension on Ihnerha Iahwil Jaiith’s part being the only reason I can think of to explain why he would so address a higher-ranked crewman,” Yllemna stressed T`maekh’s very junior rank pointedly. Giving his full attention to the dread-filled and angry technician, T`Cael stated, “Ihnerha Iahwil T`maekh Jaiith, your skills and contribution are not in doubt,” he began, “however, you will learn the proper respect or all your talent will not save you from the consequences. You are demoted one step in rank. If this—or anything like it—happens again, it would behove you to keep in mind that you are now out of ranks to give up.” He finished chillingly, “In addition, as we are still under the Martial Crisis Pandect I could have you executed for disobeying this direct order.”

With a final glare at the offender, T`Cael returned to his star people as they ran yet another holographic simulation of the explosion in the nacelle.

Now, that’s much different from the last one, he thought excitedly, all thoughts of Jaiith banished in a rush of enthusiasm. I wonder what they just factored in to give that result?

Just then, tr`Iawaain called t`Oreth over for another interpretation of yet more buffer contents, and T`Cael once again lost himself in the joy of scientific pursuit.


Two hours and some odd minutes after last talking to t`Radaik, T`Cael looked up to see the Commander walk into the Computer Sciences Laboratory accompanied by a legionnaire. The legionnaire, a lanky-looking Guardsman, took up a watchful position inside the door as t`Radaik approached the group at one of the diagnostic consoles.

The cluster of scientists and engineers snapped to attention, a stance the Commander let them hold for a beat before stating, “At ease.” Addressing herself to the Sciences Master, t`Radaik ordered, “Status report, Enarrain.”

T`Cael gave a respectful bow and stated, “Riov, we have recovered all the data we could and have pieced together exactly what happened to the colony ship, and why.”

“Excellent,” she replied. “Proceed.”

Ie, Lhhei. First, the ‘what’,” Yllemna began, gesturing to a bank of computer screens. They were displaying warp field schematics, buffer logs and Stutter Drive cutaways. “The New Dawn’s engine exploded because, as suspected, the engine was slammed into crash reverse for one pulse of the FTL coils. This buffer log—” he pointed to one screen “—shows that the engine had been performing normally with minor, easily correctable fluctuations for weeks. Then, with no other warning and after the completion of a normal pulse which fired the six paired coils 1-4-2-5-3-6 as is standard for single nacelle vessels, the coils are immediately switched into reverse firing order, 6-3-5-2-4-1.” T`Cael looked at his Commander significantly, and saw that she realised the magnitude of this. “No gradual—or even emergency—deceleration, eventual reverse and power up. Just warp three forward one millisecond to warp three backward the next. The result was predictable.”

T`Radaik’s eyes widened in horror for an instant, then narrowed again in anger. “A finely tuned warship would take significant engine damage from such a manoeuvre. This decades-old, dilapidated cargo ship had no chance,” she said in a flat tone.

“Correct, Lhhei.” As T`Cael began to explain again, he signalled Technician tr`Kaenmie to play a graphical simulation of their reconstruction of events. Many of these theoretical simulations had been created to explain the situational results as observed, and they had been constantly updated and refined as more information had been gleaned from the recovered data. This was their final form and T`Cael and his staff were 100% sure that this was what actually happened to the unsuspecting colony ship. Making sure that tr`Kaenmie was still watching him, T`Cael gave the appropriate prompts for advancing the presentation.

“They dropped from warp as the field was neutralised, or rather, disrupted totally. The FTL coils were instantly burned out and a sleet of hard radiation raced ahead of the exploding coils. This was channelled directly forward by the nacelle, itself designed to contain such radiation. The radiation fused the power conduits closed and bombarded the front of the nacelle, weakening it considerably before passing though the bridge as well.

“The exploding FTL coils caused a feedback loop in the nacelle power systems, which was also channelled forwards when the conduits to the singularity core were fused shut. This then blew off the front end of the nacelle and split it wide open. The explosive force was channelled forward like a plasma cannon, which immolated the bridge and caused all the other damage.”

T`Cael watched t`Radaik as she watched the simulation for any kind of reaction, but beyond a hard flatness in her eyes there was none. The simulation, which was displayed on the three screens—one for the events in the nacelle, one showing the buffer data and warpfield schematics, and one with an external image of the ship in space as it writhed from its mortal blow—came to a close and t`Radaik turned to face him again.

“Excellent work by you and your staff, Enarrain. Who was responsible for discovering this specifically?” she asked.

“We all are, Rekkhai,” T`Cael replied, then added, “Sahraertiha tr`Arriufvi and t`Liun were instrumental in recovering the data, and erei`Arrain t`Oreth was invaluable in pinpointing the relevant logs and interpreting the sequence of events from them.”

T`Radaik’s eyebrows rose in surprise as she turned to seek out the engineering diagnostics officer. Giving her a nod of acknowledgement, she returned to T`Cael. “That was the ‘what’, as you say. Tell me know about the ‘how’,” she instructed.

Ie, Rekkhai, I will, but if I may, there is still more to the ‘what’,” he answered.

“Indeed?” Again, the eyebrow. “Then go on.”

Yllemna nodded and indicated another engineering crewman who shuffled uncomfortably in the limelight. “Ihfvisaehne Triy tr`Illialhae noticed that this engine design is very old. Not only that, but it is an unmodified version of its kind. Most—but not all—designs like this have been refitted within the last twenty years with improved power conduits, made of new materials and of a slightly more efficient design.” T`Cael paused for a second to let that sink in before continuing. “Tr`Illialhae is of the opinion—and after investigation and simulation we all concur—that had the New Dawn’s engine been of this improved, refitted design, the explosion of the FTL coils would have completely vaporised the ship.”

That definitely struck home, Yllemna noticed. T`Radaik’s eyes flared and intense interest sparked within. She turned to fully acknowledge the crewman who made the discovery and asked, “Crewman, are you telling me that this is what should have happened? That is, the vaporisation of the ship was the expected result?”

The underofficer fidgeted slightly but managed to answer in a firm voice. “Ie, Riov. If the colony ship had the strengthened conduits, the radiation burst would not have fused them shut, and the power feedback would have surged into the singularity containment field and ruptured it. The ship would have been instantly atomised by the escaping singularity.”

T`Cael watched his CO ponder this data, but she said nothing further on it, only giving a nod of acknowledgement to the underofficer before turning back to him. “So, now to the ‘how’,” she prompted.

He nodded and gestured to his assistant department head. “Arrain tr`Iawaain and erei`Arrain t`Oreth together were able to recover the diagnostic and buffer logs from the engine control circuits. The diagnostics confirm the exact time when the engine was crash reversed and that a never-before-seen command line was fetched and executed at that time. You can see these details on this screen here—” T`Cael pointed to the one beside Centurion tr`Iawaain, then indicated its partner screen as he continued “—and on this screen, you can see the nasty piece of work that did it.”

T`Radaik leaned in to the second screen to examine it more closely as he continued. “It seems to be an invasive coded subroutine that waited for a specific set of conditions to be met before executing itself. Basically a time bomb waiting to go off, probably uploaded into the computer when it left ch`Havran.”

“How is it that you were able to retrieve the whole program?” t`Radaik asked him.

“It seems there were no efforts made to erase the program, Rekkhai.”

“Further proof that the ship was supposed to be destroyed completely,” she said, her tone flat and hard again. “Why bother with the effort when the evidence is going to be atomised milliseconds later?”

T`Cael assumed the question was rhetorical and did not answer. Waiting a pause, he then said, “Rekkhai, we have also recovered the bridge recorder log. It is ready to view on the main screen, but this recording was badly damaged by the radiation pulse. We can run through the last few minutes and we will also be able scanning through the rest of it for further clues, but what we have is 100% dependable. If any further data is gathered from her logs, it will be background information only.”

T`Radaik nodded and directed her attention to the main viewscreen in the lab while Technician Jaiith ran the recording.

The picture opened to a scene of a cramped closet of a bridge arranged in a rectangle, looking down from behind the captain’s chair. To his left against the wall was communications. To the right, engineering. Directly ahead, the combined helm and sensor station and at the front of the ten-by-six foot room was the main viewer. The bridge was manned by three people, who started speaking as the recording was played.

“Tr`Janethra, picking up a fluctuation in the Stutter Drive. Efficiency is dropping a few percent,” came a voice from off-screen.

The man in the centre seat pressed a switch and replied, “Is it dangerous, t`Suitha?”

T`maekh paused the playback at T`Cael’s signal, who commented, “Rehen tr`Janethra was the First Mate, Hilae t`Suitha the Engineer First. All the officers and most of the crew had served together for decades,” he explained, naming the players and their almost familial relationship. T`Cael nodded again and the playback resumed.

“No, it’s not dangerous, it’ll just add extra days to our arrival time if we don’t fix it. I’m going to try and lock it down from the nacelle pylon station, I’m sending you Helev to co-ordinate from the bridge, and Kai will monitor from Engineering.”

The first mate sighed, then said, “Okay, I’ll sound battle stations in case this fluctuation adjustment goes the same way as the last one.” The teasing in his tone was quite evident.

The reply was not long in coming. “Rehen! I know that Helev is young and excitable, but it was an honest mistake on his part! He was alone on the bridge with that old tail-twister Geillun, and he thought the danger was real! You know that!”

The first mate answered with a smile in his voice. “Yes, Hilae, I do. It’s just that the captain and our eight hundred passengers didn’t appreciate getting the crap scared out of them when he hit the alarm, and the captain especially didn’t appreciate having to explain that the alarm was a false one. I’ll assemble everyone so that if anything does happen, we’re all ready for it.”

Another good-natured sigh. “Oh, very well then. I’m not going to wait. I’ll take a comm. unit with me to the pylon. Hilae, out.”

The playback was paused again, and T`Cael stated, “Helev tr`Aain was the Engineer Second and Khoal tr`Mrithian was the Captain. We have as yet found nothing relating to the incident mentioned, but doing so could take many more hours of data sifting.”

T`Radaik nodded in understanding, then asked, “Could this have been a precursor to the final act of sabotage? The first instance being a ruse to lull a false sense of security, this event to add to it so that no urgent action was taken to prevent the coming explosion?”

“We had considered that, Riov, but the data recovered so far does not support it. The invasive code needed no additional elements to work, and creating problems with the engine could have led to its discovery,” Yllemna explained. “It is an ancient ship with ancient systems in both parts and design. I am sure we will find numerous small incidents like this throughout the logs. With all our investigating to date, we are sure that this event is unrelated to the explosion.”

“I see,” she replied thoughtfully, then said, “Proceed.”

The playback started again. The first mate contacted the captain, who answered, “Tr`Mrithian here. What is it, Rehen?”

“Captain, got another engine adjustment to make. Thought you might want to be present for it.”

“You could have just hit the alarm, like last time,” came the amused retort. “Okay. Doc, stay put and we’ll finish this when I get back. Rehen, I’ll be right up. Captain, out.”

Minutes later, both the captain and the second engineer arrived on the bridge. Helev went to the engineering station, the captain took his chair, and the first mate moved to the sensor station to keep an eye out in case the woman at the helm needed all her attention on her controls. Some technical jargon and banter passed between the crew as they worked smoothly—if informally and lacking in military discipline—to resolve their problem and after a few minutes more they seemed to have gotten it fixed.

“Looks fine to me from here,” came the voice of Hilae t`Suitha over the bridge speakers. “How does it look from there?”

“Seems fine here too, Lhhei,” Helev replied tentatively. “All indicators back on their markers, no green lights anywhere.”

“Fvadt it, boy, stop calling me ‘Lhhei’!” Hilae’s voice grumbled good-naturedly. “I may be this old, but I don’t feel it until you remind me!”

The entire bridge crew chuckled at that, except Helev who gave an embarrassed smile as his face went green.

“I can’t help it, Hilae! I was brought up to respect my elders,” he replied reasonably.


What would have been said was forever lost as the recording became awash with static before cutting out completely. In the fraction of a second or poor visibility, it could be seen that the deck shuddered and all the crew fell.

T`Cael turned back to t`Radaik and saw harsh lines of sympathy and anger creasing her face.

Jaeih watched the playback with a slight smile on her face. She had never met these people, but she found that she liked them, their easy friendship with one another. When, through that half-second of static, she saw them start to fall, in the middle of a word, it wrenched at her.

Jaeih had seen many deaths, many ways to die. This death seemed both merciful and cruel at the same time. She saw the way they’d fallen.


They hadn’t stumbled or been flung to the deck. They’d barely had time to register the deck shuddering under them. They had just dropped, like puppets with their strings cut.

They had been dead before they’d even started falling, she knew. The massive pulse of hard radiation had passed through the bridge, and the shielded electronics had lasted just longer than the unprotected people they had served.

Cruel, to die like that, Jaeih thought sorrowfully, but merciful in that they died unaware, surrounded by their friends, maybe even family, and in the moments before they were happy.

Jaeih bowed her head and mourned the loss of these fine people. Friendly, hardworking, close-knit people. The Empire—the Universe—would be the poorer for their return to the Elements that day.

She felt an anger growing, building inside her with every replay in her mind of their final moments, and it lifted her head again in time to see T`Cael face her. Controlling her ire for now, she swept all of them with her emerald eyes and stated, “You have all done well. Your work here this day has been exemplary and you will all have commendations added to your records, and for these people and their families, I thank you. That final bridge recording is as fine a tribute to them as could be made.”

There were looks of surprised and embarrassed pleasure on some faces, and Jaeih turned away indicating that T`Cael should follow her as she walked out of earshot of the rest of them.

Enarrain, you have a fine group of people here. You yourself are to be commended on your efforts with them as well. Now, I want the rest of the data examined as well for any further relevant information or nuances, and you have until we reach Starbase Six to do so. I also want copies made and a logic solid of all this data as presented for my immediate perusal.”

“Understood, Lhhei,” T`Cael replied, pleased by his own private praise. He lifted his hand and revealed a data crystal. At t`Radaik’s inquiring lift of a fine eyebrow, he said, “I took the liberty of anticipating this request, Lhhei. Everything we have presented is on this, as is the data it is based on.”

“Good work, Enarrain. Keep me apprised of any progress,” she ordered, then made to leave.

Yllemna gained her attention a final time. “Ie, Riov. And if I may, would you clear the addition of more personnel to this project with Enforcement?”

Pausing, she gave him a brief nod. “Send me your list, and I will expedite this matter for you.” With that, she turned and left the lab.

T`Cael returned to his staff, who were murmuring excitedly at each other. It stilled as he approached.

“As the Riov said, well done everyone. She now wants the rest of the data analysed before we get to the starbase. I’ll assign more people to help out and we will work on this in standard shifts from now until it is done. Those who wish to stay are welcome, but you have earned your night’s sleep. What say you?”

“I am happy with my work here, and I feel I will better be able to continue in the morning,” Centurion tr`Iawaain stated, to a general consensus.

“Very well, you are dismissed—after you brief your relief’s,” T`Cael stated in reply, then set off to assemble his next shift, muttering about clearances and wrestling with Enforcement.

His A-Team suppressed groans, knowing it would avail them nothing to complain, and that they’d still be off-duty within the hour.


T`Radaik strode out of the computer lab with a rage inside her so terrible it physically hurt. She had to take care not crush the data crystal she held with all the flexing her powerful fingers were doing.

Those cowardly, honourless hnoiyika, she cursed to herself. Whomever did this foul deed to these people, I will make them pay, and pay dearly at that! There is no way in Areinnye that these colonists and merchant crew are all criminals, and to murder them all to rid yourself of a few is despicable beyond belief.

As she stalked her way through the corridors of her ship back to her quarters, Jaeih t`Radaik vowed vehemently, I swear before all the Elements and Powers that this will not be forgotten. I shall not rest until the deaths of the miraculous few that were killed and the attempted murder of the hundreds saved are avenged!

Chapter Seventeen

Date: 17th April 2268
Time: 1200 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4097.5
Location: CO’s Quarters, RIS Kestrel.

Jaeih slid the door shut on the world outside for a little while and allowed herself to sink deep into the plush chair at the far end of her quarters, luxuriating in the feel of the velvety surface as she flicked her hair over the backrest and let herself go limp for several minutes. Coming reluctantly back to the present, she got back up and moved over to her work desk, smoothing down her uniform singlet and short skirt with a private smirk at her own vanity as she let her hands trace down her svelte figure. Once at her desk she was all business again, going through more status reports from various people and departments throughout the ship, such as:

Her First Officer’s report on how the initial damage assessment had been a little pessimistic. With all the repairs and testing done by the crew, the dockyard time would be reduced from an initially estimated five ten-days down to a far better two ten-days—assuming all the replacement parts were immediately available. Lyie’s report also stated that all the crew shuffling would have taken effect by the end of today—or rather, the start of tonight’s Gamma shift, which was technically tomorrow. Jaeih’s final recommendation had also met with whole-hearted approval, and in less than four hours from now, newly promoted Centurion Dietha t`Oreth began her first duty shift as Engineer Second of the Kestrel. It had given Jaeih great pleasure to recognise the woman’s heavy contributions and dedication to duty and the Truth, whatever the cost. What Zaedn tr`Rrietra thought of it was both irrelevant and remained to be seen;

Her Second Officer’s report on the wants and needs of their 700-odd colonists as nearly twelve hours in cramped spaces began to take its toll on people no longer in emergency/survival mode. So far, no fights and people were still friendly and considerate, but the one or two incidents to date were a portend of events to come, with just over three days until they made planetfall at Eilhaunn;

Her Master of Enforcement’s report on crew morale and loyalty, in which he gave statistics on observed interactions. It seemed that the crew was still split over tr`Asenth’s ultimate goal being right despite his methods and her own worthiness to command, but it looked like outrage at tr`Asenth’s methods was still giving a sweeping majority to those who agreed with/approved of her. To any other Rihannsu Commander this would all have been irrelevant as the crew had no say in the matter, and if they disagreed then they’d be executed. However, to Jaeih it was a good barometer for the likely reactions of her crew to any particular mission goal and/or orders issued by her, and she liked to know these things;

Her new Master of Engineering’s report on the new-found stability of all systems since the explosion. Apparently, the power spikes had all been cleaned out—burned out, one might say—by the overload. There had been no fluctuations worthy of mention since the refined protocols were put in place. When they were back at the starbase they could do more static power tests to determine if any more conduits needed replaced, but so far everything seemed to be in fine form;

Her Master Surgeon’s report on how crew and passenger casualties were steadily recovering. It held details on how two more engineers had been removed from the critical list and a further two moderately wounded had been released to their quarters. The bad news was that a critically injured engineer had finally died of her wounds. Jaeih added Specialist Second Maerith t`Sanaeth to the list of tr`Asenth’s victims.

Of the New Dawn’s injured, one of the two in the ICU had been released to quarters under supervision and ten of those recuperating in quarters were deemed fully healed. The anti-radiation therapy continued, and only eighty-seven of the original two hundred and seventy-three affected were still needing check-ups, the rest having been issued clean bills of health;

The Quartermaster’s report that detailed the current state of the Kestrel’s supplies. It stated that the colonists had consumed more that was originally estimated for the first day, but that was forgivable since they hadn’t eaten in almost a full day before the Kestrel had arrived. It was expected to tail off in the next report as they readjusted. Jaeih noted that it was a good idea they’d held so much power in reserve, as the extra amounts of food synthesised and heat produced was sucking up a hefty percentage of it;

Her new Third Officer’s report on her first watch in authority over the Gamma shift. T`Jaihen had noted that everyone was adjusting well to the situation on board and that they quiet, but not sullen or angry. This was of great import as a lot of the impressionable younger officers involved in the mutiny were from the Gamma shift. The quietness was to be expected around a new superior until they got a read on her and found their new bearings, but the lack of antipathy and resentfulness seemed to indicate an acceptance of events as they now are. This boded well for the future, and Jaeih was pleased for that.

For the next few hours before her meeting, t`Radaik perused these reports in detail and with a relish she’d never before experienced for the minutiae of command, taking pleasure in the responsibilities she’d almost lost.

Time: 1455 hours.
Location: Second Officer’s Quarters, RIS Kestrel.

Zoal tr`Maelitra took a last look in the mirror to ensure that his appearance was perfect before exiting his quarters and striding unhurriedly but with an appropriate sense of urgency towards his meeting with the Commander.

With his close-cropped, militarily squared-off butter blonde hair, piercing blue eyes and chiselled good looks mounting unusually pale skin—for a Rihanha—the Second Officer cut a striking figure, all the more so with his sleekly muscled physique. No broad-shouldered barn of a man like the Master of Enforcement, he was nonetheless a powerful individual and to be taken lightly at great expense to those who would underestimate his will.

He hoped that none of this was lost on his Commander as he was admitted to her quarters by a lanky legionnaire, but her inscrutable expression told him nothing. Waiting for her to speak, he sat as instructed on the other side of t`Radaik’s work desk and wondered if this meeting was what he thought it was, or if he was reading too much into it. He sat at attention, looking to all the worlds to be perfectly comfortable in his immaculate uniform.

Enarrain, I have here your report and would like to go over a dew details with you, specifically pertaining to…”

Zoal felt put off half a stride, as if he’d started off on the wrong foot. As he listened to her first question, he wondered if he’d been completely wrong. He quickly gave up that line of thought to consider his reply, eyes not really seeing his Commander even though he looked right at her. Thus, it was only on his answer to her third question several minutes later that he finally did see her and started watching her.

She was a study in non-reaction. No matter what tone of voice he used, where he looked, what expression he employed, how long he pondered an answer and how he delivered it, not one iota of reaction escaped her person. It was as if she was a black hole of emotion, taking in every emotional nuance he gave and returning nothing but a cool regard and a blank gaze.

Over the course of the meeting, he watched her ever more closely—within the limits of propriety, of course—for minute clues as to any ulterior motive she may have, but her cloak was fully in place.

However, Zoal knew that even the best cloak was not 100% effective. It either left something showing or gave a side effect. After several minutes more back-and-forth about the wants and needs of the colonists, he could detect no give-aways of any kind and went back to watching her eyes. He soon realised that she wasn’t giving him a completely blank stare in response. Though it was well shielded, there was definite interest in those emerald eyes. Since the details they were going over were pretty dry stuff—more properly handled by the First Officer as something not to bother the CO with—Zoal could only assume she was interested in his responses.

I am being tested, or gauged, he realised with satisfaction. This meeting was going the way he’d expected, just from an unexpected direction. Clever. If the subject knows he’s under observation, he’ll act differently. She should have feigned disinterest, though. I believe that would have been more effective.

Something must have shown in his eyes after that, or his answers, as t`Radaik then wrapped up the meeting in far shorter order than the rest of it had gone to that point.

Well, I have nothing to hide and my loyalties are pure and true. Let her test me all she wants, he thought, unconcerned. I’m actually glad she’s doing this as it restores some of my faith in her. Testing my loyalties and motivations, taking the measure of a potential enemy—or ally. This cruise may be worthwhile after all.

With the rest of the meeting taken care of, t`Radaik then asked, “So, do you have any concerns you wish to raise that are not on this list, related or not?”

“As a matter of fact there is, Riov. Engineer tr`Nnaethrin has requested another audience with you, at your convenience of course, for another ‘friendly chat’. He understands if you decline.”

A hint of warmth touched her face then, and after only a few seconds’ thought, she gave a brief nod. “Tell the engineer that I would enjoy his company again, and when I find myself with time on my hands I will send for him.”

“It shall be done,” he replied, but saw the warmth fade from her expression.

Something must have given his thoughts away as she asked him, “You disapprove?”

He did not want to appear judgmental or superior, but came to the instant realisation that an honest disagreement would be better received than a submissive lie, and that she’d know which one he gave from his face either way.

He replied, “Forgive my impertinence, Riov, but yes I do.”

“Because I am too familiar with a person of vastly inferior rank, social standing, and age?” she probed further with a curious lack of heat.

Ie, Riov,” he replied reluctantly, though it was because he did not wish to discuss this at all as inappropriate, not for fear of her wrath.

“Your reluctance is to be commended, tr`Maelitra. It is not your place to make such things known to me, even though I ask, but you do not lie or evade.”

Zoal had the feeling he’d just passed some sort of elaborate test, though he was left none the wiser as to what she thought with her mask back in place.

She continued with sudden forcefulness, “You will now answer the questions I set you. You will answer truthfully and completely or I will burn you down where you sit.”

Zoal felt a flare of anger at that but controlled it. He could see no weapon but did not doubt her words. Picking his tone carefully, he replied, “It will be as you say, Riov.”

Without acknowledging his answer, she asked, “Who do you think was right during he mutiny?”

Barely pausing to think, he promptly answered, “Tr`Asenth. He was Master Engineer and I believed his warnings about the ship were legitimate from the start.”

“And your opinion of me at that time?”

“I did not trust your judgement. You had no experience with this ship beyond simulations. You had no way of knowing what condition or situation we’d find the colonists in and seemed determined to cripple our ship before we got there.”

Wasting no time with rebuttals or even anger, she questioned him further. “Why not support tr`Asenth then? With you at his side, he’d have been successful in his bid.”

“He did not consult me beforehand,” Zoal responded, and was rewarded by a flash of anger in her eyes at his no doubt unexpected answer, before he continued, “Even if he had, he was still wrong to mutiny. The Pandects are explicit and the Precept of Duty precludes any illegal activity.”

“Is that why you didn’t follow him? Fear of consequences?” she demanded, in full control again.

“No, Riov. I did what duty required of me. You are in authority, placed in a position of trust by High Command. If you decide we fly the ship to destruction for one reason or another, then we follow you to that destruction as for all we know Command has ordered it thus. If you are acting contrary to the interests of the Empire, it is up to our erei`Riov to… deal with you. In those situations, as she moves, so does the crew. At my request, she approached you, and you showed us that you were not beyond reason. She trusted you and supported you. I may not have trusted you, but my duty was clear.”

“And you gave your continued loyalty to me.”

Zoal felt he was risking much, but he decided to say it anyway. “No, Lhhei, not to you. I gave my continuing loyalty to the ship’s Riov.”

T`Radaik regarded him intensely for many long minutes after that before saying, with the barest flicker of amusement in her eyes, “Mnhei`sahe to you, Enarrain. You are dismissed.”

Ie, Riov,” he replied firmly. He had just made his position perfectly clear, gave her a promise and threatened her all in one phrase, and still lived to tell the tale. He could not be sure, but something told him that flicker of amusement held no contempt for him.

I may have just earned her respect, even if I lost her gratitude, he pondered as he left her quarters with a formal salute and a respectful bow. And she may have just earned my respect also. Trust, though… That remains to be seen.


Jaeih watched him go with differing, but clearly defined, feelings, and as the door slid shut behind her Second Officer she let out a rueful smile. He had laid himself bare for her, of that she was sure. Her instincts were speaking to her strongly and now she was actively listening to them since they’d been proven right at every turn these last three days.

She was angry at him for not believing or trusting in her.

She was both disappointed in his attitude to life and relieved that he held true to it. It had helped her in this instance and for that she was grateful—but not overly so.

She was pleased by his honesty and his forthright nature, and for his courage in his convictions.

And she knew she was also in his debt, now that she was sure if his veracity. He had given her a gift, one almost as precious as tr`Raedheol’s unflinching loyalty.

He had just told her how he’d react in any given situation at any point in his future under her command. He would do it by the book, following the chain of command to overturn or modify decisions or orders he disagreed with, but still follow those orders willingly if he did not succeed. Most importantly—and this was his gift to her—he would do so with no plotting or conniving in the background.

He would be a straight shooter.

The magnitude of this gift began to make itself fully known to her now, and t`Radaik found that her initial feeling about him before all this started—an eternity ago in the Briefing Room—was not wrong. He was one to be wary of, though not in the usual way. However, he was also one to respect as a person. Zoal tr`Maelitra had given his commander that most precious of gifts:

Someone she could depend on absolutely.

Time: 1600 hours.
Location: Reactor Room, Main Engineering, RIS Kestrel.

Dietha t`Oreth looked around her new domain with something approaching trepidation. Okay, maybe it was only her domain when tr`Rrietra was off duty, but that time was now and the newly-promoted Centurion was both honoured to be so recognised for her work and a bit wary of the reactions of the few other officers who already had the rank and tenure for this position. She had been promoted over them and that was sure to bring resentment and tension.

Well, they’re just going to have to get over it, she thought with some mental bravado. This is my position now, and by the Elements, I earned it too!

Thus fortified, she set forth into her domain and tested the waters with a few harmless orders. They were instantly obeyed by the lower ranks, who scurried about and got her updated power consumption, maintenance, and diagnostic logs—and, she thought with inappropriate-yet-not smug glee, a fresh, hot cup of chai.

She enjoyed the feeling while she had it, because she was not sure how long it would last. The new Master Engineer had been abrupt and testy—hostile, almost—during their shift-change briefing, and Dietha was unsure if the man was angry at her specifically, the situation in particular, or life, the universe and everything in general.

She did not know him well as most of the time her interactions had been with tr`Asenth and their shifts had been such that tr`Rrietra and t`Oreth only saw each other as ships passing in the night. During their only real emergency to date, her post had been on the bridge and in various other departments scattered over the ship, whereas his had been in Engineering. She was not sure if he’d wanted her as his Second, or had his own choice overruled—or if he’d had a choice of his own at all. She sighed and tried to let it go, if only for the moment. The next few days would reveal what was what, and likely set the pattern and tone for the rest of their cruise. Time would tell. Until then, she would enjoy her new position to the fullest and deal with the crises as they came.

Speaking of which, she would not tell her family of her good fortune until her position was confirmed by the blessing of Starbase Six’s commander.

She retired to a workstation to peruse the logs, and was just set up when the crewman returned from the galley with her chai. Thanking him sincerely—she felt slightly guilty at her indulgence on that little power trip—she got comfortable, kept one eye on the MSD and one ear cocked for any sudden incident developing, sipped her chai and found it perfect, and began to read her logs.

Time: 1727 hours.
Location: Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

SubCenturion T`Mar Kilyle manned his usual post at the Helm station, once again back at his usual time. This last was the reason for the stupid grin that kept breaking out over his face still, after nearly ninety minutes on duty, and if his companions at the control console noticed, they kept it to themselves and let him have his moments if triumphant glee.

I am redeemed! T`Mar thought with a massive feeling of well-being. Banished to the wastelands of the provincial Gamma shift for a single spell at the helm, then returned to the inner colonies of the Beta shift once more, as if returned to full Orthodoxy! he exulted.

T`Mar’s curious mode of thought was one shared by many Rihannsu who were raised in the outer colonies, among the newer annexations of Imperial Rihannsu Space. The very fact that they were newer, fresher worlds where the staid mannerisms and “upper-class” culture of the Homeworlds had yet to take hold was the reason the inner-worlders regarded their inhabitants with disdain. That most colonists were either pioneers building themselves a new life, idealists tired of governmental control strangling their existence, or political/criminal exiles from the high society inner worlds gave substance to their snobbery. For the sons and daughters of these colonials who wanted to get back into that high society, they had to overcome the prejudices and stereotypes associated with their birthplaces.

T`Mar had worked long and hard and overcome much to gain his current position and social standing—even down to speech training to eradicate his provincial accent—and was ever conscious that the fall from grace could be as sudden as it was cruel. T`Mar was grateful—to the current circumstances if not t`Radaik herself—for his return to said grace and was determined not to be so easily tripped up again.

He had already babbled himself happy during his visit to Zathryn, still recuperating in ICU, accompanied by Zoal and Idrys. He had already borne their congratulations, admonitions and exhortations, and gentle teasing, and had done so in good spirits. Zathryn was also in better spirits, having just received his pain meds. He seemed to be healing well, if slowly, and in the private ICU room surrounded by his closest friends, he’d finally felt safe enough to vent his true feelings on the circumstances of his wounding. He had expelled a lot of poison in those ten minutes and he looked the better for it almost immediately afterwards.

T`Mar looked over to where tr`Maelitra held the command throne. The Second Officer caught his gaze and offered a raised eyebrow in inquiry, not being allowed to so something as unprofessional as give him a smile.

T`Mar didn’t feel so constrained and gave his friend a small grin and a friendly nod. Tr`Maelitra gave him a short nod in response and returned his attention to the viewscreen in front of him, so T`Mar did likewise.

Thank the Elements that I’m back where I should be. All I need tell my family now is that all is well and I’m looking forward to my first patrol mission, defending the Empire against her enemies. I can’t wait for our first combat, he thought excitedly. It’s going to be so much fun!

Date: 20th April 2268
Time: 0918 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4111.94
Location: Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

Commander Jaeih t`Radaik swung her command throne around to greet her first officer as Lyie approached with a status report. She looked a lot better, more at ease with the peacefulness of the last few days.

Lhhei,” t`AAnikh greeted her with a nod. “We are ten minutes from entering orbit around Eilhaunn. Engineer tr`Nnaethrin and colonists’ leader Hiran tr`Jeidai report that they are all ready and more than willing to disembark to the planet’s surface,” she finished with the raise of an ironic eyebrow.

“I don’t doubt it,” Jaeih returned with a smile that was only partially forced. The last three days had lead to ever-increasing numbers of incidents among the colonists, leading to an increase in tension among the crew again at being called in to quell them, or being pestered by random colonists alternately politely asking and angrily demanding things from a long list of “needs”, most of which could be categorised as merely “wants”.

Fortunately, despite the large number of incidents, the incidents themselves stayed minor in nature. No one had required medical attention, and only two or three had required being separated with a verbal warning. No more would have been forthcoming and everyone knew this, which stopped more violent altercations from developing.

Jaeih returned her attention to the displayed graphic of their charted approach and saw the pre-programmed deceleration begin which would allow them to slide smoothly from warp 5.5 down to sublight and give them a gentle coasting into planetary orbit. Coming to a dead halt from 293 multiples of light-speed too quickly would result in a far to literal application of the “dead” part of the phrase. What would have taken thirty seconds to cross at warp 5.5 would now take roughly ten minutes in a gentle curve of deceleration.

Seeing the transition to lower speeds done without incident, Jaeih asked again, “The colony administrator is aware of our approach and requirements?”

Ie, Lhhei. Administrator tr`Malnahai assures me that our passengers are more than welcome, and their arrival over twenty days early poses no problem.” Lyie cast an amused eyebrow upward as she added, “In fact, the man seemed quite thrilled to have them here so soon.”

“Indeed. Maybe the colony isn’t doing as well as we thought,” Jaeih opined.

“On the contrary, Lhhei. From the reports I’ve seen, Eilhaunn is doing very well for itself. Established three years ago, the initial 760 settlers have been supplemented to the current figure of 4,000, scattered all over the nine continents. They still only have one town of any size—i-Namrua, population of approximately 1,000—which serves as administrative centre and the planetary capital.”

Jaeih looked up at her friend, amused and surprised at her impromptu briefing. “I see you’ve been reading up on them. Did that datafile give you their Gross National Product and main exports too?” she asked playfully.

“Indeed. Being an agricultural colony, their main exports are grain and fresh meat, and their GNP is—”

“Okay, okay, Oh Learned Scholar!” Jaeih exclaimed, chuckling. “Point taken. Next time I will read up on our destination as well.”

T`AAnikh nodded and folded her arms across her chest with a smirk. “Glad to hear it, Riov.”

With a mild “later for you” look, t`Radaik ordered, “Hail the colony.”

Ie, Riov,” tr`Anierh responded, and after a few moments the youthful face of the colony administrator appeared on the main viewscreen. Jaeih was again slightly surprised at just how young he was, and his physical appearance of about 40 was further belied by his exuberant greeting and mannerisms as he spoke.

“Imperial Cruiser Kestrel, I bid you welcome. I am Rokan tr`Malnahai, Colony Administrator for Eilhaunn, and it is good to speak to you face-to-face, Riov.”

“We appreciate the welcome and are glad to be here,” Jaeih responded properly, “especially bringing such good news with us.”

“Yes, indeed!” he replied exuberantly, before turning momentarily sombre. “I was deeply distressed to hear of the misfortune befalling our latest residents, especially in light of so many deaths among them. We are deeply grateful to you for rescuing as many as you did, Riov,” he added sincerely. “Ours is still a new colony and our proximity to the Triangle keeps many away. If a ship had gone missing and hundreds of people along with it, it may have mortally—if not fatally—affected our influx of new settlers. Our colony might have died a lingering death before it had even gotten the chance to live,” he finished mournfully.

“Then I am doubly glad, to have brought these people safely to their new home and to have ensured the future of your colony, Administrator,” t`Radaik responded, the words feeling slightly stiff and forced, even though she did mean them. “I have the colonists’ leader wanting to speak briefly with you, and nearly 700 people eager to get some walking space and fresh air to do it in.”

“Of course, of course!” tr`Malnahai said, sounding slightly embarrassed. “Forgive my manners and babbling, we don’t often get visitors here. Please, put them on and we shall arrange their disembarkation. Will you be landing soon?”

Jaeih suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. They hadn’t explained the specifics of the situation in their earlier, time-delayed communications, only the broad sweeps, so of course a new colony more concerned with internal affairs would not care for the minutiae of the Klingon Alliance. Tr`Malnahai obviously assumed they were an atmosphere-capable Warbird and would be able to just land and let the colonists stroll off the lowered ramps.

“Approaching orbital insertion point, Riov,” Arrhae t`Ethien interjected from the helm. “Speed down to warp one.”

“Drop from warp, erei`Arrain, and assume geosynchronous orbit over Eilhaunn’s capital city,” Jaeih instructed, feeling slightly foolish for both not remembering the name of the place, and for calling it a city with barely a thousand people there. She did, however, see tr`Malnahai beam at her calling it his “capital” as t`Ethien acknowledged her order.

Jaeih spent the next few minutes explaining the situation until she was satisfied he understood, then cut in colonists’ leader tr`Jeidai, who was in a communications room accompanied by Kai tr`Nnaethrin and escorted by Second Officer tr`Maelitra. With her own screen split so she could see both colonials, t`Radaik made introductions and got them on track, and let Lyie explain the disembarkation procedure.

It was basically the reverse of the rescue operation, but this time only the personnel transporters would be used. None of the colonists wanted to go through the evacuation transporters that had killed almost seventy of their number, and Jaeih could not fault them for it. Also, the cargo transporters would be used to beam down the contents of the New Dawn’s cargo holds. Scans by Kestrel’s new sensors had revealed the cargo spaces to be yet untouched by the radiation creeping through the hull from the ruptured FTL coils. After another fifteen minutes of hammering out the details of the plan, all was ready.

“My people are ready whenever you are, Riov. They’ve been on standby for the past hour now, awaiting your arrival,” the administrator stated.

“Then we shall commence at once. Tr`Jeidai, if you would inform your fellow colonists. Those staying in quarters will go second-to-last, just before the wounded, as the people in the shuttlebay have been waiting long enough in something less than comfort. “

“It will be as you say, Riov,” he said, nodding firmly and immediately walking off, followed by Kai. Tr`Maelitra leaned in to shut off the comm. screen, an ironic eyebrow raised being the last thing seen before the picture went black.

“Knowing the state of the colonists, it may be another ten minutes before they actually start transporting down,” she told the administrator with a mostly level tone, not quite wanting to suppress all of her bemusement/exasperation. “We will keep this channel open until the process is complete. For now though, I am sure you have other matters to attend to. I will let you see to them now,” she finished, and got his affirmative before having the channel muted. The video pickup remained active and she saw him get up and leave his desk before she turned to t`AAnikh.

“So, our first adventure alone together will soon be at an end,” she stated dramatically. “What do you think of it so far?”

Lyie stared at her for a few moments in apparent speechlessness before telling her decisively, “I think I could do with a nice vacation now. Like a combat patrol on the Gorn border in a shuttle, for instance.”

A smirk and a raised eyebrow was her only response.

Time: 0950 hours.
Location: Shuttlebay, RIS Kestrel.

Everybody! Quiet down, now! You’ll all get your turn in good time, no one’s going to be left behind and it’ll all go smoother and faster if you’d just stop pushing and yelling!

Tr`Jeidai shared a look with Kai. It was no use, the colonists were all too excited and anxious, and nothing short of a sonic grenade—

Both of them simultaneously slapped their hands over their ears as a piercing whine first cut through, then quickly silenced, the jostling, noisy crowd.

When he saw that he had everyone’s attention—again—Second Officer tr`Maelitra flipped a switch to shut off the intercom unit and popped out his ear plugs, then gestured grandly to tr`Jeidai, his intention obvious.

His own ears still ringing, Hiran repeated his earlier statement. It had more effect this time, as, with sullen looks at tr`Maelitra’s hand still hovering near that damned switch, people shut up and held still.

The steady progression of groups of six colonists leaving the room continued unabated, and he threw a grateful look to the Second Officer, who nodded and gave him the ghost of a smile.

Nearly there. Just a little bit further and it’s all over, was his relieved thought. We finally made it home. Elements be Praised!

Time: 1030 hours.
Location: Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

“Riov, that’s everyone accounted for on our side. Unless you have extra stowaways up there, we can call this whole thing done.”

T`Radaik was certainly glad to hear that after the madhouse her ship had been over the last hour, but just to confirm things with tr`Malnahai, she asked what she already knew from the reports of her own transporter operators.

“There are no members of the New Dawn’s passenger complement left aboard, Administrator. You received all the cargo from their ship as well?”

“Well, we’ll have to inventory it all ourselves and make sure everyone gets their own belongings, but if the colony ship is empty then I’m sure we have it all.” He paused, shook his head slightly, and added, “That transporter of yours is a truly amazing device. To get everyone down here even without their belongings with standard shuttles would have taken all day, yet here everything is within a single hour. Astonishing.”

“You are quite correct in every way, Administrator. It is a fascinating and endlessly useful device, and I’m glad I have so many aboard,” Jaeih agreed.

“That being the case, Riov, I would like to offer you and your crew shore leave on Eilhaunn. I don’t know how tight a schedule you are on as a result of this diversion, but if you can make the time…” tr`Malnahai offered. “It is the least we can do after all your efforts on our behalf.”

Jaeih was slightly taken aback, unprepared for his offer. She considered it seriously while he waited. I had wanted to get to Starbase Six as quickly as safely possible for repairs, but then the crew would be left to mope around more metal corridors. I know we’ve only been in space for barely three months including the shakedown, but the past few days have made it feel like many months more. A quick release of tension would probably be beneficial for all concerned. And since we are so late anyway, another few hours will matter not. She actually stopped to consciously probe her feelings and instincts on this, and came away satisfied.

“I accept with thanks on behalf of my crew, and I can allow six hours before needing to depart. I will so inform them and anyone who wishes will get the chance to… smell the flowers,” she told him with a smile.

Tr`Malnahai beamed. “Excellent. You can use the same, ah, co-ordinates as before to, ah, transport down. I still have a few staff members left unoccupied by the colonists that I can spare to act as tourist officials. Be sure to issue your crew with credit disks full of cash,” he finished with a grin.

T`Radaik responded in kind. “Ulterior motives, I knew it. Your vendors will get the appropriate value for their wares, never fear. Kestrel, out.”

A nod and a smile from the administrator and the screen went dark. Turning to tr`Anierh, she instructed the comm. officer to open an intraship channel for her. At his nod, she gave a small speech.

“Crew of the Kestrel, due to the heroic actions of yourselves, the colony administrator has a proposal for you all…”

Time: 1800 hours.
Location: CO’s Quarters, RIS Kestrel.

Lyie t`AAnikh settled into one of the plush chairs that graced her friend’s living room and luxuriated in the feeling of sinking into and being caressed by the chair’s velvety upholstery. Alone with her friend, she let a little sigh of pleasure escape, indicating her relaxation and appreciation of the chair’s comforts.

Jaeih herself was already curled up on her own chair, her long legs out of their usual cladding of thigh-high black boots and tucked up beside her as she leaned against one side of her own high-backed chair. She took another sip from her cup of hot chai, clasped between both of her hands, and regarded Lyie with warm emerald eyes.

Even though she was still wearing the red-and-grey Fleet uniform, Lyie couldn’t help but think her commanding officer looked like a little girl cosily settling in after a hard day of playing outside. It was a look added to by Jaeih’s long, black hair falling down around her face, tousled and windblown, and that the chair was oversized, making her appear smaller.

“Help yourself to something from the synthesiser, Lyie,” she offered softly.

“You couldn’t have said that before I sat down?” she asked with mock annoyance. A quick smile was her only answer. “Thank you, Jaeih, but I’m fine. Just filled up on some wholesome, fresh, perfectly cooked hlai and ra’kesh pie on Eilhaunn. It’ll be the last chance we get for some time, and I’m embarrassed to say I made a glutton of myself.”

Jaeih smiled again, and indulged in some good-natured teasing. “Yes, I can see that you’re going to need to visit the gym for a workout. Seems to be some sort of bulge at your middle…” She could “see” nothing of the sort, and both of them knew it, but Jaeih finished off in a direction than Lyie hadn’t expected. ”Yes, there’s a large globe, probably that ra’kesh you no doubt swallowed whole…”

Lyie snorted with laughter. She had a stylus-slim body that was possessed of a wiry strength rather than being sleekly muscled like Jaeih herself, and if she had indeed swallowed the large, turnip-like vegetable whole, it may very well look like she was with-child.

“Hey! Just because you’re my commanding officer it doesn’t mean you get to ridicule me!” she scolded her friend playfully.

“Oh Lyie, of course it does. It’s one of the perks and privileges of being me,” she responded with a real smile.

“I can then assume that shore leave agreed with you?” Lyie asked in return.

“It did at that,” she murmured. “I am so glad I took him up on that offer. I got to see blue skies, purple fields, lakes and mountains again. I got to meet with some of the people we saved, their families and children. Made it… all right again. Put things into perspective.”

Her eyes having become unfocused during her remembrance, she looked back to Lyie again, who saw that her friend was truly relaxed for the first time in a long while. First, the stress of the refit and shakedown, and just as everything seemed to be going right again, the tr`Asenth ugliness. Thinking on it now, this was the first time that Jaeih had let her guard down to Lyie in well over a year.

“The crew seems to agree with you, too,” she told her Commander. “It’s only been a couple of hours since we got underway, and the Department Heads are telling me there is an air of a fresh start on the books. Everyone seems to be putting this last week’s events firmly in the past and choosing to remember only the good we did. Having the living proof of this telling you so is far better than some abstract announcement over the speakers you have to somehow make real and worthwhile in your own head.”

Jaeih said nothing, merely sat there and continued to be relaxed.

“The crew will be fine from now on, I think,” Lyie told her with confidence.

Jaeih nodded slowly, took another sip of chai.

Lyie took the hint. She got back up, secured for herself a large—but not heavy or rich—mug of chai to sip from, thinking the spicy, milky beverage would perfectly balance the meal and accompanying glasses of wine already in her stomach, and joined her friend in companionable silence.

Chapter Eighteen

Date: 23rd April 2268
Time: 1013 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4127.13
Location: Bridge, RIS Kestrel.

It was their third day out of four on the Kestrel’s journey to Starbase Six when Jaeih received something she’d waited over a week to get. With all the events and revelations of the week, she’d forgotten she’d actually requested it in the first place, so it was with some small surprise—easily hidden—that she responded to her comm. officer as he stated, “Incoming transmission, Riov. It is marked ‘Private and Personal’ to you, and it carries the sending codes of your own House.”

She was nonplussed for a second, then realised she’d contacted her father before the crux of the recent crisis had been reached. Opening a paging channel from her chair she ordered, “Erei`Riov t`AAnikh, to the bridge.”

Getting up from her throne, she ordered tr`Anierh, “Forward it to my own personal terminal in my quarters, then erase all copies of it from your logs and memory buffers.”

Ie, Riov,” he responded and did so as she watched, appearing slightly discomfited by such direct and exalted supervision.

T`AAnikh arrived on the bridge less than a minute later. Jaeih gave her authority and instructions not to interrupt her unless it was urgent, then departed the bridge for her quarters.

Once she was securely locked in her quarters, she ran the transmission through her personal House ciphers after deciphering the standard Fleet encoding. Finally having the original message, Jaeih discovered numerous documents, tables and charts accompanying a video comm. from her father in the transmission packet. Knowing from long experience her father’s way of doing things, she opened all the documents and had them ready for when he would refer to them, then played the recording.

Senior Senator Ndeian tr`Radaik’s proud features formed on the screen and Jaeih had to resist the urge to check her appearance. Her father had always run a tight ship, and that hadn’t stopped after he’d retired from the Fleet.

“Daughter,” he began in the deep, rich baritone that made him such a great orator, a gleam of familial pride on his eyes, “it was good to hear from you so soon after your departure. Your usual mode of communication is to entirely forget that you have family at all after taking flight. Thus, I should have guessed at once that this was not a social call.” He quirked an eyebrow theatrically at her, and combined with his ironic tone, the truth of his words made her fidget and even blush slightly. After a short pause—no doubt intended entirely for the effect she suffered—her father got straight to business.

“As you requested I began an investigation into your area of concern and found much, but after only two days no more information was to be quickly uncovered. If you wish an in-depth probe, it will likely take ten-days at best, likely stretching into months. However, if you look over Datafile L-One, I will outline what I have discovered…”

As her father’s voice filled her ears with the flavour of the information, Jaeih read through the related files of bullet-pointed topics and background data he had gathered. It showed that the New Dawn expedition was already known to him as he had voted to authorise it when Senator tr`LLaern proposed the bill in the Senate. There had been a large number of senators opposed to it, but the block of senators tr`LLaern had convinced to his side had swung the bill his way.

Apparently, there was a lot of opposition to the expedition because most of the would-be colonists Hiran tr`Jeidai had gathered were known to be anti-government elements who had supposedly tired of life under the direct influence of the oppressive Senate and Praetorate. Those opposed did not want to let so many dissidents “go free”.

Tr`LLaern had successfully argued that the Empire needed its agricultural worlds far more than it needed another planet-spanning armaments factory, and allowing people who wanted to become farmers to be farmers led to increased production far above the forced labour of similar numbers could generate, plus gave an immense morale boost to all concerned.

Also clearly heard by all—but never mentioned aloud—was the subtext that getting these malcontents off the Homeworlds lead to more stability at the seat of government. This subtext was quite likely to have been the winning factor for the opposed, far more so than the “happy populace” rationale as a rebellious planet could always be crushed by the Fleet via orbital bombardment or landing of troops. Such options could not be considered for rooting out terrorists walking your own streets.

Thus the expedition had been authorised with the full support of Houses like Radaik, Rial, and LLaern, and grudgingly by Houses Liun, Illialhae and Asenth.

Investigation into passengers and manifest had revealed no one important or of a Noble House aboard, with the exception of a few ex-Noble Houses that had fallen, and a contingent of thirty of House Rial’s adopted Houseless. These ex-Fleet veterans who were denied their rightful retirements and pensions by “bureaucratic error”, and old friends of House Rial that had fallen on hard times, had been brought off the street and formally into House Rial at great political cost to them, but it had been done and had saved House Rial from subsequent events.

Their honour and reputation intact, but still strapped for material assets, Senator tr`Rial had sent these ex-Houseless on a mission: To bring into being a viable business concern on Eilhaunn, supplying farming equipment and other necessities and give House Rial a much-needed revenue flow. A sizeable part of their House’s known hard currency assets had been dispatched with them to ensure success, and yet more had gone into converting a few Warbirds into warp-powered cargo variants to ensure prompt delivery and safe arrival.

Since an intensive study into links between influential people and current passengers had revealed nothing else of note, it was most probable that whoever had tried to destroy the New Dawn had done so to cripple House Rial. Unfortunately, Rial had plenty of enemies among the many that had voted against the bill, along with several from the reluctant converts, so pinning down a culprit would be very difficult and not within the scope of a two-day probe.

That pleased Jaeih not at all, but she was pleased and grateful to her father for finding out that much so quickly. Her father finished his presentation with an item of interest—to him—that was not directly linked to the investigation but that he thought might interest her too.

“As a personal note on this tr`LLaern, he does seem to be knitting together a coalition of senators into an ‘unusual bedfellow’ situation. He proposed this bill that had the full support of the mnhei`sahe Houses, but he also opposed us on many issues that did away with safeguards to maintaining the rules of mnhei`sahe in favour of expediency. He also just had a bill passed that gave generous, long-term defence contracts to certain industrial companies that he has controlling shares of. That bill was passed with the help of Senator tr`Asenth, who also supported the Eilhaunn expedition bill. Tr`Asenth shared the financial benefits of tr`LLaern’s first bill, but why he fell into line for the Eilhaunn bill remains unknown. Who knows, maybe he saw the sense of tr`LLaern’s arguments, whether they be increased food production or getting rid of dissidents.”

At this mention of tr`Asenth, Jaeih’s attention cranked up several notches even as her eyes narrowed, but her father continued in his vein, unaware of the focus of his daughter’s thoughts.

“It is my opinion that we have a new player on their way up here. He is cultivating relationships and building a network of contacts from both sides of the Senate, and seems to be remarkably good at it. It also seems like he has an almost instinctual understanding of what to champion and who to go to for support. He is definitely one to watch out for in the future, and my thanks to you for pointing him out to me so soon. I am still unsure as to which way he will lean, though these early indications put him against us eventually.

“I am sorry that none of this gives you a culprit to target immediately, Daughter. I know you’d love to blast right in here and arrest the offender right away, as is your usual blunt style. All the elegance and subtlety of a Klingon torturer, as I’ve always said,” Ndeian tr`Radaik told her dryly. “However, that cannot be, and we must be patient and allow this sseikea to make a mistake. It is thoroughly unsatisfying.” With a sardonic intonation, he announced, “Welcome to the world of politics, Jaeih. Welcome to my battlefield.”

Jaeih felt herself smile in response to her father’s theatrics even though the situation was far from ideal. Senator tr`Radaik ended the call there, leaving Jaeih to her thoughts with his now standard farewell. “You may wish to try calling us more often on the spur of the moment, Jaeih,” he admonished her from afar. “Your brother is always eager to hear of your tales of battle, and your mother misses you. May the Elements keep you safe, and let mnhei`sahe light your way as always.”

The screen faded to black after displaying the Imperial Bird of Prey, and Jaeih had to almost physically push aside thoughts of home and family to focus on the matter at hand.

Okay, so now I know why it was done and who the intended target was, but the intended target has so many enemies I may never find out who ordered this despicable act to occur! she despaired, coming to the conclusion that her father was once again correct. There is nothing more that can be done about this any time soon. We shall just have to bide our time until the rotten core of this fruit finally eats through to the surface and their true nature is revealed. We must be alert for the smallest of slips on their part, and never waver in our vigilance until all about this sordid affair is revealed, and avenged.

Giving herself some cold comfort on the matter with a final thought, she vowed privately, This will not be forgotten. This is not over until all of them have been made to pay!

Date: 24th April 2268
Time: 1412 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4132.96
Location: RIS Kestrel on approach to Grand Fleet Starbase Six.

“Has Seidhu tr`Khaell responded to my communication yet?” Commander t`Radaik asked irritably.

“No, Riov. The base comm. officer must still be trying to pull him out of the staff meeting,” subCenturion tr`Anierh reminded her tentatively.

Ie, Ie,” she snapped back. What could be taking him so long? It’s only a staff meeting! He can have those any time. This is me we’re talking about, and it’s urgent!

It was a few seconds before Jaeih caught that one, and she had the good graces to feel slightly embarrassed and ashamed. It helped defuse her growing bad mood. Feeling somewhat chagrined as well, she re-evaluated her situation. No matter how long we’ve known each other, nor how much we respect each other, he is still a seidhu and I’m only a riov. He must have a myriad of duties I’ll not know about or care to have that keep him busy.

To keep herself occupied while she waited, she ordered, “Sensor sweep of the area, Science Officer. Who is keeping us company?”

A moment later, Yllemna reported, “We have the base itself guarded by three police Snipes, three BattleHawk destroyers, three unmodified Warbirds and two War Eagles. The base is the administrative centre for the six dry-docks, four of which hold Stutter Drive freighters and one holds a new K5R frigate. The base docks are hosting four Stutter Drive freighters currently unloading. Long range scan reveals two more Eagles and a K4R on patrol.”

“Thank you, Science Officer,” Jaeih acknowledged him. Turning to her first officer, she commented, “It looks like that empty dock has the New Dawn’s name on it, since I’ve… neglected to mention our own need of repair. I rather suspect the Dawn will have to wait a little longer for her own turn.”

“Indeed, Riov. Otherwise someone else is going to get bumped, and they’ll probably not be happy about it.”

Jaeih nodded in rueful agreement. “Well, since we have an abundance of firepower here and a lack of cargo capacity, if the New Dawn has priority over us for some bizarre reason I’ll request we replace that K5R. It looks lost within that big space dock anyway. Like a bird in a cage rather than an infant in a cradle.”

T`AAnikh smirked and opened her mouth, but promptly closed it again when tr`Anierh finally came back with an update for Jaeih.

“Forgive my interruption, Riov, but the base acknowledges your request for an private audience with Seidhu tr`Khaell. You may beam over now and will be escorted to Briefing Room Four where the Seidhu will meet with you.”

Suppressing the irritable Finally that popped into her head, she acknowledged her comm. officer and turned to Lyie. “While I am aboard the starbase, you have authority, erei`Riov. Following this meeting I will likely rescind the Martial Crisis Pandect. I feel our crew has gotten used to taking orders again and think that this will carry over into normal operations.”

Although she tried to be light about it, she still felt angry at the incident and its results, and this gave her voice a tightness she’d hoped to leave out.

Lyie apparently took heed of it as one of her typical bantering replies was replaced instead by an optimistically toned neutral reply. “I concur, Riov. The seven days of straight flying has given them a thorough grounding in standard procedure once again and shore leave on a real planet right in the middle boosted morale considerably. There have been no instances of disciplinary action since the second day, and that was decidedly minor.”

Jaeih remembered the incident without even a grimace. A science technician had improperly briefed his relief, leading that hapless fool to make a mistake that cost four hours of painstakingly gathered data. Both involved had merely been reduced in rank, as since no superior was involved the Pandect didn’t apply.

T`Radaik shook it off and stood up. “The ship is yours, erei`Riov. You will be hearing from me soon.”

“I hear and obey, Riov,” t`AAnikh replied as she assumed the command throne. She was the last thing Jaeih saw on the bridge before the turbolift doors closed, taking her to the command pod transporter room a few decks below.

Briefing Room Four, Grand Fleet Starbase Six.

T`Radaik strode in to find Admiral Nniol tr`Khaell pacing about, which he abruptly stopped to swing around and walk over to her. They gripped arms in the traditional greeting of warriors and tr`Khaell dismissed her escort. The Enforcement centurion gave a sharp, perfectly timed bow of respect and left. Jaeih saw this and was instantly envious. The Old Man is obviously beloved of his troops. It’s nice to see some things don’t change, she noted wryly.

Once free of witnesses, the admiral boomed, “Jaeih you old snake, what brings you here personally under such a cloud of secrecy? And of sufficient urgency to pull me out of a video comm. with the Seyanna Sector base commander early—whom, I might add, I also find to be an old friend?”

Jaeih winced at the term “old”. I’m only eighty-six, by the Archelement! she protested out of vanity’s sake. “Look who’s calling who ‘old’, Grandfather!” she retorted archly. ”I’m not the one who’s starting to look too well-fed, either,” she added, giving her own perfectly toned figure a quick tracing while looking pointedly at her CO’s slightly expanded waistline.

He glared at her with mock anger. “Someone’s looking for a new assignment as Ambassador to the Gorn,” he rumbled. “Might I suggest sending you there in a courier drone, broadcasting its intentions and content?”

Both of them broke into real smiles after that and tr`Khaell gestured for them both to sit, which they did. He sat silently, expectantly.

Jaeih got straight to the point. “I wanted you to keep the New Dawn incident below the sensor sweep because she was sabotaged and I didn’t want the culprits to know before I was in a position to do something about it.”

The admiral’s eyes narrowed. “Go on,” he ordered.

Ie, Rekkhai,” she acknowledged and dug out a memory crystal to hand to him. “On this solid are the relevant details from my investigation into the matter, both by my crew with the colony ship itself and by my father back on the Homeworlds. All other data, and, of course, the ship itself are also available to you, but I thought you might wish the pertinent data first. If I may outline…?” At his nod she continued. “The ship was meant to be completely vaporised, to be listed as ‘missing, presumed lost’, but the saboteur miscalculated. The apparent targets were assets of House Rial and if successful, their loss would have weakened Rial considerably. Since they have no shortage of enemies a mastermind is hard to pick out, but keeping all this shrouded until now may help in flushing someone out. Now that I have my father watching for telltale signs, I feel it safe to reveal this information.”

Tr`Khaell exhaled explosively. “This is a fine pile of hlai dung you’ve fallen into here, t`Radaik, and you still need to be careful of worms,” he admonished her. “I know of House Rial, they are honourable people. I would take great pleasure in routing those who would bring them to ruin.”

He remained silent for a time considering this information, then spoke again with a dangerous gleam in his eyes. “Transfer a copy of the data you have on this incident to the starbase computer. I would wager that certain people would like to see it forgotten or conveniently ‘lost’, so I think I’ll consult with every other starbase, science station and scientific institute across the Empire for their opinion, insight, and analysis on this,” he stated with a sly smile. “I think I’ll only let my own people work on and handle this data as well, just to ensure that there are no ‘mistakes’. I’ll look over this data myself first of all though, to see if there are some other avenues of inquiry I can try myself,” he said as he pocketed the data crystal.

Jaeih sighed and felt a large measure of relief at the words of her once former and now again CO. “My thanks, Rekkhai,” she said sincerely. “I want these scum brought to justice and I feel better just knowing this matter is also in your capable hands.”

“Think nothing of it, old friend. Your path is as mine, and our kind must stick together or the future of our Empire will surely fall apart,” tr`Khaell told her.

Jaeih smiled warmly at him. “Nonetheless, I thank you still. It is heartening to have others such as you on my side.” Switching gears smoothly, she said, “I should now make my formal report to you, Rekkhai. There are some other matters needing attending to.”

“No doubt,” he returned shortly. “Very well, let me hear your report. I can safely assume you have a solid for this?”

“You may so assume, Seidhu,” Jaeih replied, handing him a second data crystal. “This contains a full report of everything that happened aboard ship since receiving the colony ship’s distress call, and I’m sure we’ll be discussing it at length quite soon, but a brief summary shall suffice for now.”

Looking intrigued and not a little wary, tr`Khaell accepted this crystal also and inserted it into a reader on his desk, but waited for t`Radaik’s verbal report before activating it.

“We encountered the colony ship and succeeded in rescuing 681 of her 784 passengers and crew, and transported them to their final destination on the Eilhaunn colony. They were almost a month ahead of their original schedule, but the colony administrator welcomed them with open arms, along with all their belongings. We then came here with, as you can see, the New Dawn in tow and whatever crew that wished to remain with her. The bridge and surrounding areas will need completely replaced, as well as her Stutter Drive nacelle and two, maybe all three, of her fusion reactors. All other physical damage is minor and repairable, and the ship itself will have to be completely decontaminated because of the radiation leakage.” Jaeih paused there to signify that the initial part of the report was complete, and a change in topic. She also hesitated slightly as she got to the main part of her summary. “I also have to request dock space for the Kestrel herself, as she took some damage in the course of the rescue.”

Tr`Khaell’s gaze suddenly sharpened and Jaeih grew distinctly uncomfortable then, though she hid it well.

“The warp engines suffered several burnt out coils during the flight to the colony ship. As the report will bear out, I deemed it of paramount importance to get there as quickly as possible, so I ran at emergency speed almost until we arrived. It proved just as well as their life support would have failed long before we’d have got there by obeying the safety protocols,” she stated, a little defensively.

“I recognise command prerogative and intuition, Riov,” tr`Khaell stated mildly. “Go on.”

Ie, Seidhu. Unfortunately, during this extended run at emergency speed, the Master Engineer took exception to my method of command. He attempted mutiny and convinced the Third Officer to follow him.” Tr`Khaell’s eyes snapped up to lock with hers and he looked to bolt to his feet, so she hurried onward. “The attempt failed and both were executed for treason and sabotage. In attempting to sway the crew, he caused an explosion aboard which killed many engineers and resulted in the deaths of sixty-six colonists being transported at the time. I had to invoke Martial Crisis Pandect for the duration, but all is well aboard Kestrel once more.

“This concludes my summary, Seidhu.”

“Does it? Does it, indeed?” Breathing heavily, Nniol tried to calm himself. “Despite your rather flippant earlier remark, we will be talking about this at length very soon,” he stated angrily, glaring at her with a mixture of relief at her survival and genuine anger at her for letting it happen in the first place.

“First things first, however. I assume all the damage reports and necessary requisitions are included in this report?”

Steeling herself for an arduous debriefing, Jaeih replied, “Ie, Rekkhai. Appendices B and C.”

“Very well.” He bit the words off, indicating his intense anger. “We shall see to the ship and make sure she has some dock space before you and I have that… little chat.”

“Understood, Seidhu,” she replied, and inwardly wondered if, friend or not, she’d still be in command of a toy boat in a bathtub after he was through with her.

After giving her entire report a quick scan, he angrily snapped on his intercom and barked, “Operations, prepare Dock Five and give Kestrel clearance to berth there. Assign Engineering Details Ten through Seventeen to Kestrel for repairs and stand by for a list of damage to check and parts to replace!”

The startled reply came back instantly. “Understood, Seidhu!”

“Once the Mace has completed her system checks make sure that the colony ship Kestrel is carrying is taken into Dock Three for inspection and damage assessment by Engineering Details Twenty-One and Twenty-Six in full anti-radiation equipment! Tr`Khaell, out,” he snapped and slapped the channel shut. After a quick perusal of the aforementioned appendices, he then opened a channel. “Communications Section, send a coded dispatch to the Klingon command base in the Gas`Kovan sector and file a requisition with them for ten S-2 Graf Unit Model D6-0171MTZL-3 warp coils, and make sure they understand that we want D6-class coils, not D7, F5 or E4s!

“Also, inform Fleet Procurement on the Homeworlds of this request as well as our ambassador on Klinzhai, and inform them that they need not worry where the funds are coming from! Tell them we have a private buyer,” he finished viciously with a sudden glare at t`Radaik.

Jaeih’s mouth dropped open as the comm. section chief gave an alert, “Understood, Seidhu,” and the channel went dead.

“Not a fvadt word from you, t`Radaik,” the admiral growled dangerously. “Not one fvadt word.” His eyes flicked down and he thoroughly read the rest of her report.

Jaeih sat there, speechless. Ten coils? I only burned out seven! They’re going to cost an imirrhlhhsena fortune! My father will kill me for this! she mentally wailed. That’s quite likely all of last quarter’s profits burned to ash…

After many long minutes of trying not to let herself slump miserably, tr`Khaell looked back up, the fire in his eyes unmistakable. “So now, Riov t`Radaik, let us discuss your mission report. I can only assume you never want this made public, as it will make a laughing stock of you. Well, we shall see. I would like to start with your Second Officer’s communication with my base. I see it did not bear your own authorisation codes. Can you tell me why not?”

As Jaeih launched into her answer, she could only think, Oh, brilliant. He’s going to go through each and every instance of lack of discipline or breach of protocol on the entire voyage. This is going to be a long day.

Date: 25th April 2268
Time: 1716 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4138.6
Location: CO’s quarters, RIS Kestrel.

Jaeih t`Radaik sat in her plush chair in her quarters, trying to relax with another cup of hot chai—and failing. Even a lengthy after-shift discussion with Lyie about anything and everything that had caught her passing fancy had ultimately failed to leave her feeling better. While her friend had been there it had been fine and Jaeih had managed to relax for a time, but moments after her departure t`Radaik had tensed up again.

Her thoughts were still just too full of her “interview” with tr`Khaell, and its consequences. Oh, she was still in command of Kestrel as she had resolved all the issues facing her, and Nniol was going to keep her own report on the issue under wraps to safeguard her reputation in the immediate future. The report itself wouldn’t be “lost”, however, as the story was bound to get out sooner or later. Four hundred crew and seven hundred civilians had witnessed it and several of them were bound to mention it to others at some point, and word would eventually reach official ears not quite so friendly to her as tr`Khaell’s. They could sit on it for a while, but when High Command or the Tal Shi`ar came calling they’d better have more than just rumours and hearsay as a defence.

When that day came, though, Jaeih and Nniol would be ready for it with private copies and Jaeih had also sent a copy of her report to her father for safekeeping. The fact that such a day would definitely come, though, was one part of Jaeih’s unrest.

Another was the way her friend had bawled her out for being so soft on the crew. He railed against her for her “policy of leniency”—which he now strictly forbade her by direct order to ever consider again—and that he couldn’t punish the mutinous officers without arresting her first and foremost. That which garnered the most of his ire, however, was the fact that she had stepped down. She should have crushed the mutiny and maintained control at all costs, as expected by Command and her immediate superiors.

Jaeih had blushed emerald at all this. She had not had such a dressing down in easily thirty years, so it served as a reminder to her to remain humble. Being a true friend, tr`Khaell had merely given her a lot of shiny new skin for her stupidity. Some minor government functionary would have her now mining dilithium or entered as a team member for this year’s Klingon Games. An active enemy would have her as a knife to her father’s throat, or tortured to a hideous degree in some cruelly ingenious way.

Finally, to cap it all off, word had been received from the Klingons that warp coils were available and would be shipped to them within a ten-day. The price had given tr`Khaell savage satisfaction as a fitting punishment for her crimes, as Nniol knew her father. He had even allowed Jaeih to make the news known to Senator tr`Radaik rather than tell him himself, and Jaeih now awaited her father’s second contact with far less enthusiasm than his first.

I was wrong the other day, she thought morosely, sipping at her chai. It was not just going to be a long day, it’s going to be a long month. Father is never going to let me forget this for as long as I live. I just hope he’ll be able to forgive me before then.

She sat her cup down on the low table off to one side of her chair, then got up and padded barefoot across to her t`linn, taking it down from the wall mounting and returning to her chair. As she let a few idle notes float away from her, she sighed mightily.

Ah well. However long this takes it will pass. Even the longest night has its dawn, and when that dawn breaks, the Kestrel will fly again—and she’ll still be mine.


Date: 27th April 2268
Time: 2345 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4149.95
Location: Head of House’s Private Chambers, Main Building, Estate of House Asenth, ch’Havran.

Junior Senator Ak`harkin tr`Asenth looked up in surprise at his communications terminal from his perusal of the latest ridiculous appropriations bill for the Science Directorate’s Quantum Singularity Research Division as it blinked to life and signalled the receipt of a message with a decorous chime. Frowning at the late hour and wondering how serious it might be as a result, he entered his codes and a cleartext version of a Fleet communiqué appeared on the screen.

As a senator he had access to routine Fleet message traffic—among other things—and his own comm. system was designed to flag items for his personal attention based on certain keywords. This one, however, was addressed directly to him and for a moment he thought it was from his brother.

He was almost right. It was about his brother. And his niece-by-favour.

At first he couldn’t believe it, wouldn’t believe it. And then he thought—desperately hoped—that it was some ill-considered prank or ploy by a friend or rival.

A quick check of the sender and codes dashed this forlorn hope, however, and he realised that there was more in the message packet: a video comm. Activating it, a face he recognised appeared on the screen and spoke to him in a carefully neutral tone.

“Senator tr`Asenth, I felt it my duty to inform you of this personally,” Jaeih t`Radaik said. “Make no mistake, this is what happened. Your brother and niece attempted to lead a mutiny against me and they failed. The mutineers were dealt with and your kin were directly executed by disruptor disintegration.”

Ak`harkin listened in horror at her own voice gaining an edge of anger as she said this, and she seemed to stare defiantly out at him as if daring him to dispute her words.

“I hope that you will accept these facts as they are, or investigate them until you are satisfied of their veracity, and then move on. Attempting to avenge a wrong that did not occur will avail nothing to anyone, and only bring your House further dishonour. This is, of course, entirely up to you,” she continued in that same haughty manner before ending the call. “Life to the Empire.”

Ak`harkin’s disbelieving shock and horror immediately transmuted into intense anguish and fury. Blindly slapping at the terminal to shut it off as he bolted to his feet, knocking his sturdy chair over in the process, he bellowed and roared and smashed and tore in an orgy of destructive grief and anger.


It was many minutes later when Ak`harkin came back to himself.

He looked around his study with eyes no longer unseeing and discovered a completely wrecked room. Tables, chairs, bookcases, cabinets, paintings, sculptures, objects d’art, upholstery and wall tapestries, all lay splintered, smashed, shredded, and overturned. A distant part of him knew a hefty bill would result from this, and that some items were irreplaceable family heirlooms, but it wasn’t heeded.

Only the comm. terminal itself seemed undamaged, and from it Jaeih t`Radaik still gazed out haughtily upon the wreckage.

Ak`harkin’s fury returned in a rush, but this time it was a cold fury, its heat temporarily expended. Even though it was a recording he now felt personally violated yet again, as if the creature herself had witnessed his weakness, his vulnerability.

Slowly getting up from his position on the floor, slumped against a wall, he approached her face. The face of the enemy, his mind supplied. Whereas before this night he had looked upon her with desire and ambition as she was undeniably beautiful and her House was a powerful and wealthy one, now he could only think of his murdered kin and her standing over them with a blackened heart and hands green with dripping blood.

Leaning down over the terminal, he memorised every line and detail of her face. By all the Elements and Powers, I swear that from this night on my life’s mission will be to become your bane and the cause of your House’s ruin, until everything that you are, everything you hold dear and treasured, is either my property or completely destroyed, he vowed passionately. By the spilled blood of my family, I shall not rest until your pain overwhelms my own, at which point I can gladly deal you the death you so richly deserve!

His new course set, Junior Senator Ak`harkin tr`Asenth righted the chair before the comm. terminal and sat down to compose a message of his own.

Date: 30th April 2268
Time: 1940 hours.
Stardate: [19] 4164.1
Location: Subspace Communications Room Two, Grand Fleet Starbase Six.

The officer entered the room to await the playing of the private message, a message of hidden meaning conveying clear instructions. When it was over, the officer erased the message after committing the simple instructions to memory, and returned to the starbase’s bar where the officer endured teasing from fellow Kestrel crewmates at the “message from mom.”

The End