Tales From the Pegasus #3
The Right Stuff
By Bernard Doove © 2009
The Chief of Security for the F.S.S. Pegasus laid hir head between the breasts of its Chief Engineer and sighed in contentment. Chakat Sparks stroked the black chakat’s hair as shi said, "You always leave it too late to come see me. You know we need more social interaction with our own kind than other species."
Midnight sighed. "Yeah, I know, but something always seems to come up. Besides, I genuinely like being mated to Boyce, and I like to spend as much personal time with him as possible in the absence of my lifemate, Forest. Then there are M’Lai’s needs to be attended to. That’s a full-time job for the two of us."
"Pfft! It’s the same excuses every time. Your co-mates know and understand that chakats need other chakats regularly, and they would accommodate you if you asked. The Captain has enough mates to keep him happy, and even M’Lai can get by for one night. You need to look after your own needs more."
Midnight grinned. "And give you more time with me?"
Sparks grinned also. "Well, that’s certainly an incentive for me, but I’d like if you’d come see me some times when you’re not really stressed. So now that we’ve gotten you relaxed, tell me what’s bothering you."
"How do you know something’s bothering me? I could have just been extra horny."
"Hon, you always have something bothering you when you come see me. It’s probably what forces you to stop procrastinating each time."
"So are you angling to be Ship’s Counsellor now?"
"Stop evading the question," Sparks ordered firmly.
"Yes sir! Remember Fenris?"
"The bigoted wolf that you threw off the ship?"
"Yep. We’re picking up his replacement at Starbase Three."
"So?" Sparks prodded.
"She’s a Rakshani," Midnight clarified.
"I still don’t see the problem. You already have one on your team, don’t you?"
"Yes, Rastivok. The problem is that he’s a male."
"How is that a problem? Don’t you think that the females are as good as the males?"
"Hardly. The Rakshani females are every bit as tough as the males. While the males are a bit stronger, the females are a bit more limber, and they work out to be pretty evenly matched. They have squads of Rakshani female Marines that are among the elite forces."
"Okay, so that’s not a problem then. Surely you’re not worried about fraternising?"
Midnight snorted in derision. "Like a chakat would try to pull that one! No, I couldn’t care less. In fact, I wish that was all there was to it."
"Stop making me guess. I’m an engineer, not a mind-reader!"
"Rakshani are fiercely competitive, but especially so between the sexes. It’s the way their psyche works. They show their worth to potential mates by trying to better them. That’s why their military squads are usually all male or all female, because the single-gender groups work better together. However, we have exactly one Rakshani in Security – Rastivok. Put them together and the potential exists that they might be preoccupied with each other rather than the job."
"You have a Rakshani co-mate though; doesn’t that give you similar problems?"
"Zhane is a lot older. She got to her rank by being a lot more mature and self-controlled than other Rakshani. Besides, when she’s off-duty, she can be quite… energetic, shall we say?"
Sparks giggled. "I’ve seen the results of some of those ‘energetic’ occasions."
Midnight smiled in fond memory, then continued, "Anyway, the new addition is about 21 Terran standard years old – still young and hot-blooded."
"Isn’t that rather young for such an important position?"
"Yes, but despite her youth, she’s quite competent, and she has distinguished herself in action. That’s how she earned her appointment to a Federation flagship. However, it remains to be seen if she is prepared for the step up to the levels that I demand."
"Midnight, the perfectionist! She’s going to hate you."
"I’m not aiming for hate. I want her to respect the job, and to respect me for demanding the most from her."
"You’re still getting too worked up over someone whom you haven’t even met yet," Sparks admonished.
Midnight pulled a sour face. "Fenris left a bad taste in my mouth, and Rakshani are notorious for being difficult."
"I still think that you’re just borrowing trouble, so stop worrying about that and relax."
"Yes, counsellor," Midnight replied with a sly smile. There was a time and a place for everything, and shi had better things to do right now.
Midnight waited patiently at the primary airlock which was currently connected by a docking tube to the Starbase. Shi was smartly attired in hir Security dress uniform, ready to go out and join hir family for a bit of shore leave and recreation. There was one bit of business left to take care of first though. Right on schedule, a female Rakshani with red fur and white stripes and dressed also in Security grey, stepped through the airlock door, pulling a hover-cart with her possessions on it. She was wearing the brief form-fitting uniform that warrior Rakshani preferred to allow full freedom of movement.
‘Full points for punctuality,’ Midnight thought to hirself.
The Rakshani spotted Midnight, walked over to hir and saluted. "2nd Lieutenant Baneth ap Quelline na Ramedar reporting as ordered. Would you be Commander Midnight?"
Midnight returned the salute. "I am," shi affirmed. "Welcome aboard the Pegasus, Lieutenant."
"Thank you, sir. I had not been expecting a chakat to be in charge."
The way that she said ‘chakat’ and the subtle sense of contempt that Midnight empathically sensed made hir sigh inside. Typical of many warrior Rakshani, this one seemed to lump hir into the ‘pacifistic cowards’ category. It seemed that shi would have to educate her that pacifistic didn’t mean incapable of fighting, and Midnight was hardly a typical chakat in that area either. ‘Okay,’ shi thought to hirself, ‘hardball it is.’
"You should have been aware of exactly who I was, Lieutenant. Starship Security is not just a matter of being able to fight, it’s also a matter of knowledge. Before I took this assignment, I familiarised myself with my predecessor, the security team members, the ship’s lead personnel, the ship’s layout, the assigned sector, and the commonest duties that it performed, so that I was able to take over seamlessly. You, on the other hand, didn’t even know that your superior officer was a chakat. How much more have you not bothered to learn?"
Baneth stiffened. "I read all the documentation that was provided for me," she objected.
"That’s not good enough, Lieutenant. You need to show some initiative. You are not in the Marines now, nor are you posted to one of the regular starships. This is the flagship of the First Fleet, and only the best get to remain on board. If you don’t live up to the standards that I set, you will be sent back to your old squad. Have I made myself clear?"
Midnight could feel the Rakshani grinding her teeth in anger, but she gave a respectful reply. "Yes, sir!"
"Good. You can relieve 1st Lieutenant Darkoak here at the security station. I suggest that you use the opportunity to familiarise yourself with the things that I mentioned."
"Right now, sir?" Her eyes flicked over to the hover-cart.
"Yes, now. Your assigned cabin will still be there when you’re relieved."
"Yes, sir!" Baneth said with a salute, then turned to Darkoak, a grey fox morph, who had been listening to the exchange with great interest. "I relieve you, sir!" she said crisply.
"The station’s yours, Lieutenant," Darkoak replied, happy to be relieved of the boring guard duty.
Baneth took Darkoak’s place behind the security station. Mindful of Midnight’s eyes upon her, she immediately set about using the computer terminal to familiarise herself with the personnel situation.
"Does that mean that I can take shore leave now, sir?" Darkoak asked Midnight.
Midnight nodded. "I can’t see why not. I’ll roster you off right away," shi replied as shi touched hir wrist PADD to put words into action. "After all,’ shi thought to hirself, ‘I already have someone assigned to watch over Baneth.’
A training session had been set for immediately after their departure from the Starbase, partially for Midnight’s regular regime, but mostly so that the Security Alpha Squad could get to meet their new addition.
As Midnight had expected, the moment that Baneth had laid eyes on Rastivok, the competitive urge had begun. Shi could feel the tension almost palpably between them, although Rastivok was much more disciplined. There was an unmistakable swagger to Baneth though.
Midnight introduced her to the team, then they to her. To show that she had done her homework, she rattled off their specialities.
First in line was a male ginger-striped cat morph. "Reg Felidae, electronic surveillance specialist," she said.
He nodded and smiled. "At your service."
Next was the grey fox who had been manning the security station. "Michael Darkoak, sharpshooter."
"Right on target," he replied.
Third was a middle-aged male human, who stood only 5’ 9" tall. "Arnold Kincaid, unarmed combat specialist."
"Welcome to the team," he replied.
Fourth was a female cheetah morph. "Nefertiti Ngali, cryptology expert."
"I bid you welcome," she replied.
Next was a male Renzar, an alien ursinoid from the planet Grom who, while not as tall as Baneth, far out-massed her. "Hagooth zan Paktor-Hakin, combat strategist."
"To serve with you am anticipating muchly," he rumbled.
Next was a female timber wolf morph. "Angeline Yellowfang, fighter pilot."
"Talk to me later if you’d like to check out my bird," Angeline said with a touch of pride.
A skunktaur was next. "Querl of House Redpaw, T5 telepath."
"I knew that you were going to say that," hy said with a grin.
A black-footed ferret morph was next in line, dwarfed by the Rakshani. "Hiro Senji, covert ops."
"And ninja!" he added with a sly smile.
That comment puzzled Baneth, but she moved onto the next person, a female Voxxan. "E’Tana ne Bkareth, Ka-Me-Ha martial arts."
"Looking forward to sparring with you," she said pleasantly.
Next was another human, female this time. "Svetlana Gorski, powered armour expert."
Svetlana gave her a measured glance. "You have an appointment with me afterwards to make sure that your armour is fully up to date," she said with only a mild Russian accent.
Lastly Baneth came to the Rakshani in the team, and Midnight immediately felt a spike in the emotions of both. "Rastivok ap Mendakka na Karn, hand-weapons expert."
Rastivok gave her a curt nod.
"And that completes Alpha Team," Midnight said, relieved that Rastivok had refrained from saying anything. "Of course we all cross-train, and each of the team members will gladly help you improve your skills in their specialities. You in turn will give them the benefit of your experience as a Marine."
"And what about you, Commander?" Baneth asked. "Your records show that you’re a championship archer, which isn’t very useful aboard spaceships. What makes you the right choice for leader of this team?"
Midnight could feel the challenge as well as hear it in her tone. Although in somebody else, it may have been considered insubordinate, it was fairly standard for a Rakshani, so it wasn’t unanticipated, although it was a little earlier than expected. ‘The impatience of youth,’ shi thought, and heard Querl snicker. Shi didn’t mind hym eavesdropping on hir surface thoughts; in fact hy had standing instructions from hir to keep a mental ear cocked while on duty. Shi took full advantage of every tool at hir disposal.
"Me? I’m a sneaky bitch, Baneth." Hir reply was deliberately vague, and yet still a warning. "You’ll need to figure the rest out."
"Then how about giving me a match on the mat so that I can start figuring some of it out?"
‘Ooh! A full challenge already, and more than a little arrogant,’ Midnight thought. "Tell you what, Baneth – I’ll give you a match once you’ve shown me what you can do, and if you’re up to my standards. Just beat the person that I choose, and then you can lay your hands on me. Deal?"
"It’s a deal, sir." Baneth was oozing confidence, and Midnight knew from her records that she had quite a lot of justification for that attitude. Rakshani Marines were extremely tough, and she had still managed to distinguish herself amongst them.
"Kincaid, would you care to warm up Baneth for me," Midnight asked.
"Yes, sir," Kincaid replied, stepping out onto the mats.
Baneth looked down at the human with a little sneer, and Midnight didn’t need hir empathic sense to tell that the Rakshani was contemptuous of the human’s vaunted skills.
Midnight said, "Freestyle fight. No injuries. I want to see your skills, Baneth, not brute strength."
"Understood, Commander," Baneth acknowledged.
"Begin!" Midnight ordered.
Baneth immediately sprang forward with all the blinding speed of her species… and found herself flipping through the air. She hit the mat rolling and was back on her feet in an instant, glaring at the unperturbed human who, aside from being at the ready on the balls of his feet, seemed to be quite relaxed.
Baneth growled at herself for being careless, then sprang to the attack again. There was a flailing of various limbs before Baneth crashed to the mat again. Once more she got to her feet, this time eyeing the small man warily. She had missed what he had done, but she realised that it had been no accident. However, there was no way that she was going to concede that his skills were a match for hers! With a feline snarl, she threw herself into combat again, but with a good deal more caution this time. Blows and grapples were made without either combatant gaining an advantage. Then Baneth made a sudden sweep with her tail, the large muscular limb frequently overlooked by other species in a fight, but not by this human. The sweep left her vulnerable to another attack, and she found herself on the mat again, this time with Kincaid on top of her, her arms immobilised and his legs pinning her tail to one of her legs. Infuriated, she used the sheer power of her body to shake him off. Climbing back to her feet, she screamed in rage, desiring nothing else except to break this human into pieces!
"Hagooth!" Midnight said crisply.
As Baneth charged at Kincaid, the Renzar stepped between them, knocking the Rakshani off balance. Hagooth’s greater mass was mostly solid bone and muscle, and he easily pushed her to the mat and sat on her, oblivious to the outraged blows that she pelted him with.
Midnight stepped up to them and barked, "Lieutenant Baneth, cease that right now!" Shi sent an empathic shove to add weight to that command. Baneth stopped abruptly, and Midnight inclined hir head to Hagooth to indicate to get off her.
"Get up, Baneth!" Midnight said sternly.
The Rakshani did so, burning with humiliation.
"That was a disgraceful performance, Lieutenant. I expected far better from you."
"So he knows a few tricks," she replied sullenly.
"I’m not talking about losing the fight; I’m disgusted with the way you lost control and intended to harm your team-mate. That fight, while demonstrating your skills of which I’m already fully aware, was mostly intended to see how you would deal with a certain situation, and you failed badly. And didn’t I tell you to learn more about your team-mates?"
Baneth was angered. "I did! I read all their records, know all their specialities, and more!"
"Anyone can read official records, Baneth. I told you to read about them. A small amount of effort would have informed you that Kincaid is ranked in the top five unarmed combat masters in the entire Fleet. He is responsible for training many of the elite in inter-species fighting techniques. He has even developed special techniques for use by and against taurforms such as myself. We are very privileged to have him assigned to the Pegasus. I fully expected you to lose, Lieutenant. I wanted to know if you could deal with that. Turns out that you can’t. Perhaps you don’t belong on the Alpha Team after all?"
Baneth just quietly seethed.
"Get back in line, Baneth. Watch the rest of us train. When you realise that you still have some things to learn, I’ll let you have another turn."
A few days later, Midnight was in the queue for the replicators in the mess hall when shi heard a familiar voice behind hir.
"So how is the new recruit doing?"
Midnight turned to see Sparks also queued up behind hir. "What drags you away from the engine room?" shi enquired.
"Aside from hunger? Curiosity, of course! Come on, give!"
"I’ll tell you at the table," Midnight told hir fellow chakat, unwilling to discuss Baneth amidst the crowd.
They collected their food and found an empty table in a far corner where they could talk in semi-privacy.
Midnight took a swig of hir tea first before saying, "So far she’s not as good as I’d hoped, but not as bad as I feared. I’ve succeeded in keeping her mind off Rastivok though."
"How’d you do that?" Sparks mumbled through a mouthful of tuna roll.
"By getting her to hate my guts," Midnight admitted. "Rakshani really don’t like to be shown up, and I made her look like a fool in front of the entire team. However, she has a streak of arrogance a mile wide, and if she’s going to integrate into this ship’s Security force, she’s got to learn how to work with a team that doesn’t consist of Rakshani Marines."
"You set awfully high standards though, Midnight. Mightn’t you be pushing a bit too hard so soon?"
"If she’s going to fill the role for which she is intended, I expect nothing less than her utter best. She has the potential – she sure made Kincaid work hard to beat her, so she certainly has fighting skills. Now if I can get her to use her head a bit more, we might just end up with a hell of a good new addition to the Security team. Now if your curiosity is satisfied for the moment, my stomachs are demanding attention."
Over the next few weeks, Baneth showed that while she might be hot-headed, she was not stupid. She carefully studied her opponents’ techniques before taking them on. She also really studied up on the people in her team, gaining a fuller understanding of how they had earned a place on the elite Alpha team in the process. Her anger with Midnight segued into respect, especially when she realised that the chakat pushed hirself harder than anyone on the team. She finally got to lay hands on hir, although only to practice fighting against a taurform rather than a sparring match. She quickly realised that if she ever got one, shi would be difficult to defeat. Her respect for chakats as a species went up a couple of notches because of hir.
Aside from boring Security duties, there was little to do besides train and hone their skills. Midnight used the main holodeck occasionally to set up simulations for training Alpha and Bravo teams when shi could, but all hoped for some real action.
The Pegasus had many duties. Being the flagship of the First Fleet, its captain, Admiral Kline, often had to attend matters of protocol which involved security details. However, most of the time they were on patrol, trying to deal with interstellar problems, the worst of which were pirates.
The problem with outer space is that it’s unimaginably vast. Pirates frequently succeeded simply because they had a huge amount of choice as to where they would attack merchants, knowing that Federation patrol ships would be unlikely to be near enough to give them trouble. The problem had grown considerably since the introduction of the gravity bomb, a device which when activated, caused such a large disruption in the local gravity field that it would collapse the warp bubble of a starship, usually resulting in the disablement of the warp engines due to the severe feedback. A timer on a bomb smuggled onto a freighter meant that the pirates could practically choose a time and place to make the victim drop into normal space where they would be waiting within easy striking distance. Star Fleet tried to make it harder for the pirates by randomising the time and position of their patrols, but the pirates were still at an advantage.
However, sometimes Star Fleet got lucky.
"Captain! I just picked up a big gravity spike."
Admiral Boyce Kline looked towards the Caitian navigator. "Analysis, Mr Murawrr?" he asked.
"98.7% match to the signature of a typical gravity bomb," he announced, tail twitching in excitement.
"Helmsman! Get those coordinates and make best speed for them!" Kline hit the button that signalled Red Alert throughout the ship. "All hands to stations. Probable pirate encounter. Prepare for battle." He switched to a private line. "Kline to Midnight."
"Midnight here," came the prompt reply.
"Fortune seems to be smiling upon us this day, Commander. We seem to be within minutes of an ongoing pirate incursion. Get your teams ready for a possible boarding. I want prisoners, Midnight, and the higher up the better."
"We’ll get them for you, sir. Midnight out."
Boyce anxiously counted the seconds until they came into sensor range of the ships.
Commander Rosepetal had manned the science station and was using the most sensitive instruments to gather data as fast as possible. She said, "Sensors show three ships – one is a heavy freighter, the other two smaller and faster. Now picking up at least two smaller craft, possibly fighters."
Kline nodded and opened the comm again. "Fighters prepare for launch. Boarding teams to follow as soon as the area is clear."
In visual range!" announced Murawrr.
"On main screen!" Boyce ordered.
The scene was still very distant, but the bridge crew could see generally what was happening. One of the pirate ships was already pulling away, apparently having spotted the approaching Federation ship. Within moments, it jumped into warp, abandoning its fellow pirate ship.
"I hope that you got a lock on that ship?" Boyce asked.
"Yes sir, I got a solid lock," Murawrr confirmed. "As long as we don’t dawdle here, we can catch them," he added confidently.
They could now see the other ship clearly. In order to prevent their victims from sending a nasty surprise by Matter Transporter, the pirate ship had a M-T disruptor field about it. However, that worked both ways, so they couldn’t beam themselves onto the freighter. Instead they were crudely docked to the ship by a pair of boarding tubes. This had prevented them from making a quick exit, so instead they had to stand and fight.
They reached the ships and dropped out of warp. "All fighters and boarding craft launch!" ordered the Admiral.
There was a flurry of activity as several small craft launched from the hangar deck. The fighters immediately set off in pursuit of the pirate’s attack ships, clearing a safe lane for the boarding craft. As soon as they were clear, the Pegasus jumped back into warp, hot on the tail of the fleeing pirate ship.
The pirates’ attack craft were hopelessly outclassed by the Federation fighters, and the boarding craft docked with the freighter at several airlocks without incident.
Midnight tapped hir comm. "Hagooth, you there?"
After a brief pause, he answered, "Am here, Commander. Pirates defending boarding tube are. In a moment finished."
"Wait for Squads Three and Four to join you, then board that ship as fast as you can!"
"Piece of pie, Commander," came Hagooth’s confident reply. "Hagooth out."
"OK, people, sensors show that portable M-T disruptors being used, so we can’t use our shuttles’ Transporter to jump ahead. On the other hand, they betray the pirates’ positions, so we’ll aim for them. There are sure to be others though, so remember the drill. Squad One will secure the parts of the ship as we make our way to the bridge. Squad Two will head for the cargo holds where the other disruptor is. Querl and I will take point. Baneth, you will give us cover fire if necessary, but your main task is to protect Senji. All weapons set to heavy stun. We want to bring these bastards to justice, and perhaps answer some questions, so no corpses!"
Baneth acknowledged the order without hesitation, but was puzzled as to why the ferret was not dressed in heavy armour like everyone else. The little morph just grinned and winked at the Rakshani towering over him. He was clad in a snug-fitting one-piece suit with a hood that was not yet pulled on. It did not seem particularly capable of defending him against either projectile or energy weapons. She supposed that she’d find out in due time.
Querl and Midnight stepped through the airlock, their weapons held up and ready to fire. Again Baneth was puzzled when, side-by-side, they linked their tails which were only partially armoured. They proceeded down the corridor like that, turning around the corner of a T-intersection in synch. Midnight signalled two of the squad members to guard the opposite direction. Baneth would have sent several people to check it out, but apparently the chakat seemed to know something that she didn’t. The freighter was a warren of corridors accessing various storage compartments, and at the next intersection, without any indication that Baneth could perceive, the two simultaneously aimed at a blind corner. A moment later, two pirates dressed in light armour charged out, only to be struck immediately by the waiting phaser beams before they could even begin to aim. The Rakshani was very impressed. Somehow the duo was detecting concealed enemies with uncanny accuracy.
This time Midnight sent half a squad down one corridor, indicating four more targets. The rest resumed their march towards their objective. Once, Querl stopped before a corner, reset hys weapon to maximum, and fired through the corner. The high-intensity beam cut through the wall like a hot knife through butter, and a small explosion came from the corridor around the corner. Proceeding forward, Baneth saw that there had been a tripod-mounted beamer waiting in ambush for them. Such weapons had built-in sensor distorters to prevent them from being targeted, yet Querl’s beam had struck it squarely in the power pack, causing the explosion. Two pirates were there on the floor, groaning in pain. Midnight calmly stunned them both to ensure that they would not recover to be a threat.
Another intersection came up, and again the two aimed blindly. Two people, a human and a cat morph, burst out, but neither chakat nor skunktaur fired. The two threw themselves to the floor as two more armour-clad figures followed close behind, only to be shot promptly. Baneth had been on the verge of shooting the first two men before she realised that they had to be freighter crew-members being used in a failed diversion. Somehow, Querl and Midnight not only were detecting hidden threats, but sorting friend from foe.
This time though, an alarm went off in Baneth’s head. Something was wrong. As the taurs passed, one of the supposedly stunned pirates stirred, and his weapon came to bear on Midnight. Baneth switched instantly to high-energy beam and shot him, and he collapsed with a smoking hole in his chest.
Midnight’s attention had been focused forward, but upon hearing the phaser fire behind hir, shi looked back, saw the dead pirate and Baneth’s phaser still pointed at him, and asked, "What just happened here?"
"One pirate was not stunned, sir. He was about to shoot you in the back," Baneth replied.
Midnight frowned. "That kind of armour is insufficient to protect him from the effects of a heavy stun shot. How could he still be moving?" It was obvious that the chakat was a little sceptical and suspected the Rakshani of getting too keyed-up.
"I saw him move too, Commander," Senji said.
Baneth explained. "Look closely and you can see that this one is a cyborg. I’ve seen it once before. He has a special energy-dispersing net built in, and your stun beam barely tickled him. He was just faking being stunned to catch you by surprise. However, the dispersed energy makes a slight glow around the person. I glimpsed it when you shot him, and my senses went on alert. The moment he moved, I was onto him. Only a high-energy beam is effective against that kind of defence, so it had to be a kill shot."
Midnight nodded. "Very good," was hir terse reply, then shi resumed their advance.
Close to their goal, Senji suddenly announced, "This is it, Commander."
They stopped and Midnight asked, "Where?"
Peering at the scanner in his left hand, he pointed with his right. "There!"
Midnight set hir weapon to cut through the wall carefully, removing a large chunk of panelling, and revealing a plethora of pipes and cables. Baneth realised that this had to be the main duct for all of the control cables, ventilation, and fluid supplies for the ship. While it had plenty of room to secure all of those, it was never intended for anyone to actually go inside of it because it was far too small.
"I’m up!" Senji said with his customary grin. He handed the scanner to the bemused Rakshani, then pulled his hood over his head, leaving just his mask of black fur visible. Suddenly the suit became very hard to focus on, and the ferret morph seemed to blend in with the background.
"A stealth suit!" Baneth realised. "So that’s what one looks like."
The ferret almost seemed to flow into the cramped conduit, and he quickly vanished from sight. Baneth looked at Midnight queryingly.
Midnight smiled. "He told you that he was a ninja when you met him. Now you can see the truth."
"What’s he going to do?" Baneth asked as they moved off again.
Midnight explained, "You already know that because the penalties for piracy are so harsh, many pirates will do just about anything rather than be captured. That puts the crew of this ship in danger because they are bargaining chips. Pirates can and have shot hostages to demonstrate the lengths that they are prepared to go to secure their own freedom. We’re not going to give them that opportunity. Senji will infiltrate the bridge where the pirates have holed up with several of the freighter’s crew. He will be able to place every person, friend or foe, and when we make our move, he will also attack them from the direction that they least expect, or protecting anyone who most needs it."
"But won’t they have jammers preventing us from scanning them? Any data Senji tries to send us will either get blocked or garbled," Baneth objected.
Midnight grinned. "Normally you’d be correct, but we are using a method that can’t be so easily jammed. Senji will literally be our eyes."
Baneth frowned in thought. "Has that anything to do with the way that you and Querl have been picking off hidden targets seemingly without effort?"
"Good, you figured it out. Yes it does. It is a little known fact that skunktaurs can share their Talent with other skunktaurs, and with chakats too. Querl and I formed a gestalt of our Talents which virtually enabled us to see around corners, and incidentally not be deceived by pushing out innocent civilians as a diversion. The only catch is that we need to be in physical contact for it to work properly, hence why we entwine our bare tails. It leaves them a bit vulnerable though, so we appreciate someone reliable at our backs. Anyway, as soon as Senji gets into a suitable position, we’ll be able to see through his eyes. A willing partner is much better for this purpose. We’ll also get the mental disposition of everyone in there and try to anticipate their reactions."
Their group reached the bridge main door without further incident.
"Now what?" Baneth asked.
"We wait for Senji to get into position," Midnight replied. "Right now though, we can already tell that there are six pirates in there with four crew. Since we’re the law here, we have to give them a chance to surrender." Shi activated a nearby internal comm. "Anyone on the bridge, this is Lieutenant Commander Midnight of Star Fleet Security. You are ordered to release your hostages unharmed and surrender."
Baneth wasn’t sure if there would be an answer, but then again, Marines weren’t usually involved with negotiations. It was only moments before an answer did come.
"I’ve got a better idea, Fleet. You all go back to your ship, and we won’t carve up the captain and his crew. Better decide quickly, or we might just start practicing on one just to prove that we’re serious."
"I’d say that was a ‘no’," Baneth commented.
Midnight gave her a grim smile. "Yeah, but not unexpected. With penalties ranging as far as execution or mind-wipe, the pirates will try everything to make us back off. They know that we value the lives of the crew more, so they think that they’re in a strong bargaining position. We’re going to disillusion them."
The chakat indicated to a couple of squad members to bring up a piece of equipment that they had been lugging around. Magnetically clamping it to the floor in front of the door, they activated it and focused it on the centre of the secured airlock. It was a portable presser beam, designed to knock down any door in a controlled manner.
Midnight’s eyes suddenly seemed to focus elsewhere. "Senji is ready… the captain is being held by what appears to be the leader… another standing nearby covering him… two pirates using the other three crewmembers as a shield between them and the door…the final two are on each side of the door where they can’t be hit from out here."
Querl, whose eyes were also strangely focused, said, "I can shoot one of them through the wall, but the other is standing in front of critical ship systems."
"Senji is sure that he can get the leader and the cover man before they can react. That leaves the difficult ones," Midnight continued.
"We need to get those three crewmembers out of the line of fire," Baneth said. "If we can time it right, I could knock them down out of the way, and then snap a shot back at the man at the door."
"You’d need to know exactly where they are and act without a moment’s hesitation. Very risky," Midnight assessed.
"Maybe if I could see what you’re seeing, it would improve the odds?" suggested Baneth.
Midnight gave her a keen look. "You could, but you lack Senji’s training. It requires an open mind and complete trust. Do you think that you can put aside your personal feelings and submit to us encroaching on your mind in the ultimate intimacy?"
"If it can be done, I will do it!" declared Baneth.
Midnight nodded in satisfaction. "Very well, lift your visor. Querl, let’s try to link her."
The skunktaur took off hys armoured gauntlet and touched the Rakshani’s cheek. She immediately felt hys presence, with Midnight closely coupled to hym. At first she mentally flinched from the contact, then she steadied herself and let the skunktaur delve deeper into her being. She had no Talent and no control, so it was a bit frightening, but it was also fascinating. She who had been so aloof and superior was now becoming part of the unity – no more; no less. She shoved aside the last of her overweening pride and suddenly she was part of the gestalt, and her senses exploded.
Baneth staggered a bit, then started to get a hold of herself again. She was looking at the closed airlock to the bridge still, but although she could not see through it, she nevertheless could perceive quite clearly the people and objects beyond it. She was seeing what Senji was relaying to Querl and Midnight, adjusted by their perception of their relative positions. She was both awed and thrilled.
"I can see them!" she said excitedly. "I can place them exactly. Commander, I can do this. Let me lead the charge."
Midnight nodded hir approval. "OK, we’ll do that. We need to coordinate our strikes exactly so that there’s the very least chance for the pirates to harm the crew. On my signal, activate the presser, aiming for this point." Shi indicated it to the presser’s operator. "Senji will shoot the leader, Querl will get the first door man, and Baneth will be through the door during the chaos. Everyone ready?"
"One moment, Commander, I’m going to take a running start." Baneth walked back several paces, then nodded.
Midnight said, "I’ll be coming through the moment that you’ve dealt with the second door man. Okay, on the count of three. One… two…"
Baneth took off.
The presser beam slammed into the door, wrenching it out of its frame and hurling it to the side of the bridge that Midnight had indicated was clear of people. Baneth was just a fraction behind, her mind’s eye fixed on the crew being used as shields. Well before her actual eyes saw them, she was hurtling through the air towards them. She body-slammed two of them, and her tail knocked the third to the floor. The fully-armoured Rakshani probably injured them, but that was better than being killed in the crossfire, or deliberately coldly murdered. That same armour was now shielding them from the fire of the second door man. Baneth had already started aiming for him even as she was flying towards the crew. She ‘knew’ exactly where he was, and a single shot took him out. Midnight had already started hir charge through the airlock, knowing full well that shi would be targeted by the two pirates who had been using the crew as shields. Shi had two advantages though – firstly hir armour was the best in the Federation, and reinforced with a force-field. Shi took two glancing shots and one directly over hir upper heart, but the force-field dissipated the energy beams spectacularly but harmlessly. The high-intensity beams took a terrible toll on the suit’s power pack though, and another direct hit could have caused it to fail. Midnight never intended to give them that chance. Hir second advantage was natural – chakats could leap to extraordinary lengths, and while the pirates continued to fire at normal height, shi leapt upwards and the beams passed harmlessly under hir. Even as shi sailed gracefully through the air, shi snapped off a shot at one of them, and landed forelegs first on the other’s head. Shi then shot the pirate to ensure that he was stunned and out of action.
Querl yelled "Clear!" from the airlock doorway.
Baneth climbed to her feet, took off her helmet and solicitously checked out the crewmembers whom she had knocked over. Senji shimmered into view and helped the Rakshani get the crew persons to their feet. Baneth saw that the leader of the group and his cover man were equally incapacitated by the little ferret’s shots, and she gained a new respect for her team-mate’s efficient skills.
Taking off hir helmet also, Midnight approached the captain of the ship, a greying black cat morph, who was just as disoriented as the rest by the fast and furious action.
"Sir, I am Lieutenant Commander Midnight of Star Fleet Security. I apologise for any damage or injuries incurred due to our actions."
The captain looked incredulous. "Commander, we all were certain that we’d be dead very soon. Anything is an improvement over that."
"I think that tiger broke my arm," interjected one of the crew whom Baneth had bowled over, "but the other is going to be hoisting a drink in your honour. I’ve never been so glad to see Star Fleet in all my life!"
"I’m a Rakshani, not a tiger, sir," Baneth corrected, "But you’re welcome anyway."
"How are the rest of my crew doing, Commander?" the captain asked with great concern.
"Let’s both get an update, shall we?" Midnight answered. Activating hir wrist comm, she said, "Squad One, report!"
"Squad One leader here. All secure. No further action."
"Squad Two, report!"
"Squad Two leader. We have the last two pirates barricaded in one of the cargo holds. We’ll have them dealt with in less than five minutes, sir. All else has been secured and no casualties."
"Very good, Squad Two. Report when concluded. Midnight out." Shi faced the captain. "Your ship will very soon be clear, and it appears that none of your crew has been seriously harmed. You’ve come out of this amazingly well."
"Don’t I know it!" the old cat said fervently. "What’s happening with that ship that’s docked to us?"
"Two squads are working on that rat’s nest right now. As soon as we’ve cleaned out the garbage here, we’ll join them." Shi activated hir comm again. "Midnight to Hagooth – progress report, please."
After a short delay, Hagooth’s voice came back. "Much resistance there is. Fighting to their deaths they are. Is good."
"Squad One will be reinforcing you very soon. Squad Two will be about ten minutes later," shi advised.
"Take time, Commander. All under control is."
"Understood. Midnight out." Shi then ordered Squad One to regroup at the boarding tube and put themselves at Hagooth’s disposal.
The captain was looking a bit puzzled. "That Hagooth person seems rather blasé for someone in such danger."
Midnight grinned. "Hagooth is a combat specialist who rarely gets the opportunity to put his skills to the test. He’s enjoying himself at the moment."
"You make it sound like it’s a game to him. I’m not sure that I could trust my life to someone like that."
"You’re half right. In a way it is a game to him, but one where you get a higher score for inflicting the least amount of injury or damage to achieve the goal. The squad members like having him calling the shots as their chances of a safe and successful mission are much better. However, we’d better go help out anyway."
"Good luck, Commander," the captain said, echoed by the crew.
While Midnight and the captain had been talking, Querl had found and deactivated the M-T disruptor. Other squad members attached Transporter markers to the unconscious pirates, and one by one they were beamed over to the shuttles’ holding cells. Although they should be unconscious for hours, Midnight couldn’t be sure when the Pegasus would return, and therefore shi needed to ensure that the pirates could be of no further threat. Shi noted that they all appeared to be Voxxans. The alien species had often been nicknamed ‘humans in fox suits’, they were so alike. Unfortunately they also shared a similar criminal element. Every species in the federation had its pirates though, so their nature wasn’t really significant. Shi just hoped that their capture would lead to more significant inroads into the piracy problem.
"Okay, let’s move out!" Midnight ordered when everyone was finished.
As they headed for the pirate ship, Baneth said, "Better change out your power pack, Commander. You took a couple of strong hits back there."
Midnight replied, "I intend to do so, and I suggest that you do the same."
"Me?" Baneth checked her power gauge and was surprised to see that was reading only about 30%.
"The guy by the door must have been trigger-happy because he shot you square in the back as you leaped past him, but you didn’t even notice it because you were so focused on your goal. You did get a couple of lesser hits while you were protecting the crew, but it was that big blast that drained your power."
Not for the first time, Baneth blessed the efficacy of her armour.
When they reached the docking tube to the pirate ship, Midnight called Hagooth again. "We’re here. Where do you need us?"
He replied, "With Squad Leader Three to rendezvous. Your Talents needed are."
"Acknowledged," Midnight replied, then looked at Baneth. "Ready to clean out the scum? We don’t have any innocent bystanders to worry about now."
Baneth grinned back. "I’m ready. Let’s show them that you don’t mess with Fed Sec!"
An hour and a half later, the Pegasus returned with the disabled pirate ship in tow. All prisoners were transferred to detention cells aboard the starship, and the Security teams stood down. Before Baneth could head for the prep room to divest her armour, Midnight said to her, "Report to my office in forty minutes."
"Aye sir," Baneth said, wondering what it was about.
She barely had time to undress, stow her armour, set the power packs to recharge, then freshen up before heading to Midnight’s office. In spite of the tight timing, it seemed that the chakat had managed to do the same and still had time to start on hir reports.
"Second Lieutenant Baneth reporting as ordered, sir!" she said crisply as she saluted.
Midnight returned the salute and said, "At ease. Take a seat, Baneth."
The Rakshani found a chair suitable for her frame amongst the collection that Midnight kept in hir office, and made herself comfortable.
Midnight waited for her to be seated, then said, "As of now, you are being taken out of Alpha Team and you will be joining Bravo team as of start of shift tomorrow."
Baneth was shocked, then outraged. "What have I done to deserve being kicked out of the Alpha Team and sent to the second-stringers?" she demanded.
Midnight held up hir hands. "Whoa! Not so fast! It isn’t what you’re thinking. For starters, Bravo Team is not a bunch of second-stringers; they are all very competent young people, rising stars in their fields. It’s true that I surround myself with the experts, but that doesn’t mean that I staff Bravo Team with also-rans. I can’t be on duty 24 hours a day, and nor can any of the other Alpha Team members. So when I’m off duty, I need to know that my very best alternatives are there to do the job, and that’s Bravo Team."
"I see," Baneth said, only slightly mollified, "but that still means that I didn’t rate it as one of Alpha’s experts."
Midnight smiled. "On the contrary, you exceeded my expectations."
Baneth blinked in confusion. "Then… why?"
"Think about it for a moment. Each Alpha Team member has a special skill, the tops in their field. You, on the other hand, while proven to be an excellent Marine, have no particular unique skill, but I had you learning all that you could from everyone in the past few weeks. I needed you to know who and what you would be working with before being shifted to your permanent assignment. Baneth, you do have something that the others lack. You are not merely going to be joining that team, you are going to be their commanding officer, which means that in the Security division, you will be second only to me."
Baneth gaped, and then finally managed to speak. "Then… it’s really a promotion?"
Midnight grinned. "Yes, and you certainly earned it."
"But what about all the others who have seniority?"
"No one here gets promoted merely for being here longer. While I’m in charge, only the truly competent get that privilege. You came here freshly promoted to Second Lieutenant and full of pride. You were young and arrogant, and I thought that Star Fleet Command might have made a mistake in assigning you to here, but your profile indicated that you had great potential as a leader, if only I could get you to focus on your job, keep your mind off Rastivok, and learn. So I pushed you hard, and you responded well, even if it was just to show me up. You have learned, and this pirate encounter was the perfect test for you. You demonstrated your competence, your ability to improvise, suggest courses of action, act independently and, best of all, you successfully joined our gestalt, something that cannot be accomplished without complete trust, openness, and willingness to cooperate. You are ready to take on this responsibility now. As I said, you’ve earned it."
"Thank you, sir," Baneth said sincerely. "I must admit that I feel a bit overwhelmed by this sudden change in my status."
"I’d be surprised if you weren’t, but I’m also sure that you can handle it. I suggest that you take the rest of your duty period getting to know more about your new team."
Baneth grinned. "Now I fully understand what you mean by getting to know them. No surprises this time." Her expression turned sly. "So, have I earned that one-on-one sparring match with you yet, sir?"
Midnight threw hir head back laughing. "I suppose you have, Baneth. I’ll schedule a bout soon. Now let’s go take a break. We’ve both earned that today."
As she got up, Baneth said, "There’s another thing that you said that you were correct about, sir."
"What’s that?" Midnight asked curiously.
"You are a sneaky bitch," Baneth confirmed.
"And don’t you forget it!" Midnight replied with a wink.
Sparks nuzzled Midnight and gave hir a lick-kiss on the cheek. "Congratulations on your promotion to Commander Third, by the way. I hope you liked my reward for you as much."
"Hell, yeah!" Midnight replied. "I like that kind of reward a lot."
"That really felt wonderful. See? It’s much better when you come to me before you get all stressed out."
"I know," Midnight admitted. "Don’t keep nagging me about it. Now that I have Baneth looking after Bravo Team, I don’t have to oversee both teams constantly, and I have more time for myself."
"So everything worked out with Baneth then?"
"Oh yes, she has already made a difference to Bravo team. She did manage to surprise me though."
"Remember that I told you that Rakshani try to prove their worth to potential mates by trying to better them?"
"Yeah. So she’s been chasing Rastivok?" Sparks conjectured.
"Of course, but that isn’t what surprised me. Apparently she was very impressed with the way that I handled her, and she propositioned me!"
Sparks giggled. "How did you handle that?"
"Let’s just say that it’s a good thing that I have plenty of experience with Zhane."
Sparks rolled on the bed, laughing hir head off.
Midnight rolled hir eyes. "The things that I do to keep my team happy," shi murmured before tickle-attacking the cheeky engineer.
Characters and story copyright © 2009 Bernard Doove
except Admiral Kline and Rosepetal Silpurr who are © Boyce Garald Kline Jnr, and used with permission.
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