USS ARTEMIS (NCC-69069)  
com badge From the log of USS ARTEMIS (NCC-69069)


INTO THE GIAN EXPANSE   by Van  ©2010
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 Chapter 8

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DRAMATIS PERSONÆ


OUR STORY 
 CONTINUES

DEEP IN THE GIAN EXPANSE

Ezri didn't know how long she could keep this up.  She'd been manning the piloting/command station for hours, her attention on the tactical display and her hands on the edge of the console, ready to take the controls from the computer.  The pirate ship was still on her tail.  ATALANTA remained in the lead—Ezri smiled and gave the edge of the console an encouraging pat—but only just.  The problem was, the difference in speed between the two ships simply wasn't enough for her to shake her pursuer.  The Federation frontier was in nearly the opposite direction from her current heading—and zooming away at maximum warp into uncharted space hardly constituted an escape.

Ezri kept trying to ease her course towards a projected rendezvous with ARTEMIS, but the pirates seemed to be reading her mind.  No matter what maneuver she tried, they always shifted to block her desired heading.  All the fancy flying was accomplishing was the repeated squandering of her accumulated lead.  It was almost as if her pursuers also knew ARTEMIS' planned course, but that was absurd.  They'd need their own grid of sensor-buoys, Ezri reasoned, like the one ARTEMIS is deploying, and

Ezri blinked in sudden revelation.  "That's it!" she gasped.  "They have their own buoys!  Computer."

Bleep!  "Ready," the cutter's AI responded.

"Assume ARTEMIS' mission is proceeding as planned," Ezri said.  "Show the position and range of all sensor-buoys that should already be deployed."  A side display cleared and resolved into a star chart with ARTEMIS' planned course as a dotted line. One-by-one, tiny symbols surrounded by spherical blobs popped onto the screen.  They represented each sensor-buoy's position and range.  Not surprisingly, the area with the best overlapping coverage was back in the general direction of Scatara-IV.

Ezri tapped the screen, indicating a position two systems beyond Scatara.  It was empty space, but was covered by four different buoys.  "That's our new destination."  She eased out of the command chair, stretched, and shifted to the copilot/weapons console.  "I'll manage the phasers and shields.  Escape maneuver gamma, to port, on my mark."  The computer signaled its readiness with another bleep.  Ezri set the shields to full strength, temporarily robbed power from life-support to augment the inertial dampening and structural integrity fields, and readied herself.  "And...mark!"

ATALANTA skewed violently to port—dropped out of warp—spun on its axis—went back into warp—skewed again, this time to starboard—dropped out of warp and pitched axis, again—then went to maximum warp on the new heading.

The pirates assumed Ezri was trying for a rendezvous with ARTEMIS, again, and maneuvered to block.  This hadn't frustrated Ezri's actual course change, but the cutter had passed close enough for the pirates to take a few potshots with their main disruptors.

ATALANTA shook as the plasma beams dissipated on her shields—then, they were beyond the pirates' range.

"Port shield at eighty-five percent," the computer announced.  "Rerouting to secondary circuits and diagnosing damage.  Port shields restored.  Minor overload damage to two power relays.  Tertiary backup is available."

"Very well," Ezri acknowledged, rising and stretching, again.  "I'm getting too old for this stuff," she sighed.  That wasn't true, of course.  Dax, the Trill symbiont, might be middle-aged by the standards of its species, but Ezri, the Trill host, was very much in her prime.  In any case, the so-called "gamma-tumble" might be an effective maneuver, but it strained the limits of even the best inertial dampening fields and was physically very taxing, even for a highly fit member of Starfleet.

"I'm going to eat something and take a nap," Ezri announced.  "Wake me in two hours."

ATALANTA acknowledged with the usual eloquence.  Bleep!
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INTO THE GIAN EXPANSE
 Chapter 8
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MEANWHILE, BACK ON SCATARA-IV...

Lyra was putting the finishing touches on Marta's added "security".

She had started by retrieving a pair of the leather mittens the pirates had used to restrain her shipmates.  She tucked the Ruby Queen's thumbs into her palms, folded over her fingers to form fists, then slipped on the mitts.  She tightened the thin, thong laces in stages, tugging to pull out the slack, then tightening them, again.  When she was satisfied, the chamois-thin sacks were skintight, to the point she could see the outline of Marta's knuckles and fingers.  She tied triply redundant knots, then sorted through the abundance of ruby-red spider-silk rope and cord scattered across the tent.

She made her immediate selections and set to work.

First, she retied Marta's upper body in a stringent box-tie, using more rope and shifting the pirate's encased hands to a position high against her back and between her shoulder blades in a reverse prayer.  Soon, multiple neat bands of rope pinned her arms to her sides, passing above and below her ample breasts.  Additional strands yoked her shoulders, reinforced her wrist bonds, and were cinched between her arms and torso.

Next, she lashed the prisoner's ankles to her thighs, then placed the soles of her feet together and tied a web of rope around her ankles and insteps, locking them in place.

The final stage involved the use of cord.  She tightened loops around the base of each of Marta's breasts, until they bulged and took on a slightly darker shade of green.  She then added figure-eight loops to link the breasts together.  More cord was used to join the captive's big toes.  Next, Lyra sat behind Marta, pulled the still unconscious pirate up on her rump, and straddled her with her own spread legs.  She then braided the captive's long, black hair in a single tight ponytail, incorporating a very long length of red cord as she plaited the strands.  Finally, she used the still abundant free end of the cord to pull Marta's head back, cleave her crotch, and link her bound toes to her bound breasts.

The result was a very helpless Ruby Queen.  Marta was sitting on her rump, folded and splayed legs, and bound feet.  She was slumped forward at the waist, but with her head pulled back.  When she regained consciousness, she would have very few options.  She might find it possible to roll to the left or right and flop onto her side, but that would be about it.  Escape would be an absurd impossibility.

Lyra smiled, stood and stretched, full-length with her arms raised, then turned to face the others.

Angie, Olena, and Gwen, were staring back, with expressions of mild shock.  Lyra's shipmates had found Marta's clothing stash and had donned bikinis.  Angie's was decidedly big, especially across the chest.  Like Gwen's, it was mottled green silk.  Olena's was of green chamois leather.  All had disruptor pistols and various bladed weapons strapped to their thighs and/or holstered on borrowed belts.  Olena and Angie held disruptor-rifles, at the ready.

"What?" Lyra asked, smiling her dimpled smile, the very picture of innocence.

"That's, uh, an interesting prisoner restraint technique," Olena offered.

"It's one of the classic Orion advanced forms," Lyra explained.  "I've always wanted to try it."

"It looks painful," Gwen observed, then focused on Olena.  "What a pity the sadistic bitch is getting a taste of her own medicine."

"A pity," Olena agreed, perfectly deadpan.  "Get dressed, Midshipman D'varas."

"Yes, ma'am."  Lyra retrieved her borrowed brown bikini, pulled it on, and knotted the ties.

Her eyes on the closed and knotted flaps of the pavilion's entrance, Olena joined her.  "You say the Carmow will try their mass snatch-and-grab at dawn?"

Lyra nodded.  "Yes, ma'am."

"We could provide supporting fire from here," Olena said, "but—"  She gestured at the scattered cushions and handful of mostly empty packing cases.  "There isn't enough in here to establish real firing positions."

"Once they realize what's happening, they'll set their rifles on full power and blow us away," Lyra agreed.  "I told Purrgatah we'd be trying to get to the jungle."

"It's a given that we can't stay here."  Olena nodded at Marta's bound and gagged form.  "I doubt if we can count on loyalty to their captain for more than momentary protection.  And, same as the Carmow, we need to get into the jungle before the ships in orbit wake up."

Gwen joined the impromptu meeting.  "Probably," she agreed.  "We should wait 'til the initial confusion of the attack is at its height, then make our break."

"I'll choose our heading and we'll support that axis of the Carmow effort as we go," Olena nodded.  Her eyes darted from the closed flap to Lyra, and back.  "Did Purrgatah share any more specific details of their plan?"

Lyra shook her head.  "All I was told was to expect a mass attack from all sides, and that they were going to grab every pirate they could, no matter the casualties."

"They'll be slaughtered," Gwen muttered.

"All of these weapons are on stun," Olena noted, lifting the rifle in her hands.  "It's a good bet all the pirate weapons are on stun.  They're here for slaves."

"That's true," Gwen agreed.

"M'mmpfh!"

The heads of the bikini-clad conferees swiveled towards Marta.  The Orion captive was awake, and Angie was sitting behind her bound body in the same spread-leg position Lyra had used while plaiting the prisoner's hair.  The Middie's eyes were closed and a beatific smile curled her lips. She was embracing the squirming prisoner from behind and running her hands over Marta's helpless body, squeezing her bulging breasts and caressing her cord-cleaved crotch.

"Midshipman, what the hell do you think you're doing?" Olena demanded.

"It's worse than I thought," Lyra sighed, and rushed towards her friend.

"What's worse?" Gwen demanded.  She was right behind Lyra.

Olena remained where she was, guarding the entrance.

"None of that, Kipper," Lyra chuckled, pulling Angie away from Marta.

"Let me go," Angie complained, struggling weakly as Lyra dragged her several meters to the side.  Gwen remained beside the helpless and still squirming Marta.

"She's under the influence of that one's musk-of-power," Lyra explained, nodding at Marta

"Under the influence?  Orion female pheromones?"  Gwen blinked in surprise.  "But, she's... a she."

"Little known fact," Lyra grinned.  "Repeated exposure to 'green spice' while orgasming can also enthrall a female.  Sorry about this, Kipper," Lyra sighed, and delivered a businesslike slap to her best friend's face.

"Ow!" Angie complained, her hand on her cheek.  "Why did you..."  She turned and stared at Marta.  "Oh," she sighed, then her cheeks flushed bright crimson.  "Oh!  Oh, god!"

"She'll be okay," Lyra said, giving the still blushing and very mortified Angie a gentle hug.

"Are you sure?" Gwen demanded.

"She's only in the early stages," Lyra said.

"How can you tell?" Olena demanded.

"If she was fully enthralled," Lyra explained, "she'd have been trying to untie her Mistress.  Either that, or she would have attacked us, her mistress' enemies."  Lyra grinned and hugged Angie, again.  "You wouldn't do that, would you, Kipper?"

"What?  No!" Angie exclaimed, staring in horror.  "I don't know why I..."  She focused on Olena.  "I don't know why I did that!  Believe me!  Oh god!"  She shivered and buried her face in her hands.

"You're sure she's okay?" Olena asked, and Lyra nodded.  "Midshipman Goodnight, get over here—now!"

Angie scrambled to her feet and scurried to Olena's side.

Olena handed her the disruptor-rifle, then pointed at the pavilion's entrance.  "Keep an eye on that flap," she ordered, "and if I catch you so much as making goo-goo eyes at our hostess, you'll be on report so fast your head will swim, got it?"

"Yes, Lieutenant," Angie muttered, then checked the rifle's setting and power (unnecessarily) and faced the closed flap.  She was still blushing.

Olena walked to the others, who were still clustered around Marta.  Lyra handed her the rifle Angie had abandoned during her... lapse.

"M'MMRFF!"  Her eyes flashing with rage, Marta squirmed and fought her bonds.

"She's a little loud, don't you think?" Olena asked.

Lyra nodded, and retrieved the remaining gagging materials.  "Would you hold the patient's head, please, doctor?" she inquired with a grin.

"It would be my pleasure," Gwen chuckled, knelt behind Marta, and gripped her head.

Lyra untied the captive's cleave-gag, then proceeded to stuff a second crumpled cloth into Marta's mouth.  It took more than a little persuasion, but she succeeded in stuffing most of the cloth between the prisoner's straining lips and gaping jaws.  The cleave-gag was retied, extra tight.  Next, Lyra folded a cloth into a thick, rectangular pad and placed it over Marta's over-stuffed mouth.  Finally, another cloth was tied as a scarf-bandage, tightly covering the prisoner's lower face from under her chin to just below her flaring nostrils.

"M'mmm."

"There," Lyra smiled.  "That should be adequate."

"I think so," Olena agreed, then smiled at Gwen.  "What do you think, doctor?"

Gwen patted Lyra on the head.  "I think I'm glad this one is on our side," she muttered.

"Uh, pardon me," Captain ch'Eclat said from across the pavilion, "I overheard your earlier conversation, and I think I have information you might find valuable."  The naked Andorian was still tied in a suspended spread-eagle between two of the pavilion's support posts, and the null-gravity generator on the floor between her legs was still supporting most of her weight.

"And I think we still have the makings of another tight gag," Olena answered, strolling in the pirate's direction.  Gwen and Lyra joined her.  Marta remained where she was, of course, squirming in her bonds.
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INTO THE GIAN EXPANSE
 Chapter 8
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"Seriously, Lieutenant," Chel said as Olena approached.  "I know a way you can contribute considerably more support to the Carmow attack than you could with a few disruptor bolts, no matter how well aimed."

"I'm listening," Olena said.

"I don't know why we should," Gwen muttered, her arms crossed beneath her breasts.  "She's a renegade and a pirate."

"And no friend of Marta Cyrelle," Chel countered, "or her green-skin crew.  No offense," she added, smiling at Lyra.

"Oh, none taken," Lyra answered with a dimpled smile.  She reached up and tested the red rope binding the Andorian's right wrist, hand, and fingers.  Still smiling, she loosened the terminal knot, cinched the free ends tight, and retied the knot.

"Anyway," Chel continued, favoring Lyra with a rueful grin, "I was beamed down from Marta's ship, but I know my shuttle is parked outside.  I heard it land, and, Marta has been drinking and dining on my galley stores all day.  It's very fast and well armed, for a shuttle, and has a custom feature relevant to the current situation."

"Go on," Olena growled.

"There are provisic emitters mounted on the warp nacelles," Chel explained.  "Enter the correct code on the interior pad by the cargo ramp," she continued, "and every electromagnetic device within one-hundred meters that's not shielded by the hull will be instantly drained of all power."

"Devices such as disruptor and phaser weapons," Olena nodded.  "A clever security measure.  Undiplomatic, perhaps, but I can see how it might be useful in extreme situations.  And the Syndicate pirates don't know about it?"

"The emitter housings are camouflaged," Chel said.  "There's no reason to think the green-skins even know they're there.  It would take an overhaul of the nacelles to find them."

"We can't trust her," Gwen muttered.  "Maybe we should try for one of the shuttles, but she should remain here."

"I think you're right, doctor," Olena nodded, "and I like the idea of stealing the Andorian's shuttle.  With any luck, the pirates in orbit won't realize it's been captured and won't even think of tracking us before we land in the jungle, power down, and camouflage the hull.  Whatever communications, weapons, and other technology are on board, it'll be a lot more than we have now. 
A pity we can't use its weapons to support the attack; but, by the time we lift off, the Carmow will have the pirates on the ground by the belt buckle.  We'd be stunning more of our allies than our enemies.  Also, their shuttle firing on the camp would tip our hand to the ships overhead.  We'd have Thruster-Sharks up our six in a heartbeat."  She stared at Chel.  "But I agree, this one stays here."

"No, ma'am," Angie said.

Olena and the others turned and stared at the Midshipman.  "Excuse me?" Olena demanded.

"We can't leave her," Angie answered.  Her eyes remained on the closed flap, but there was quiet conviction in her voice.  "The Syndicate pirates will torture her if we leave her behind, possibly to death."

Lyra turned and focused on Marta.  The bound and gagged pirate had stopped squirming and was following the conversation with her full attention.  "She's right, Lieutenant."

Olena glowered at Angie's back, then sighed.  "Yes... she is."  She turned to face Chel.  "Okay, I'll give you a choice.  You can come along and face Federation justice, or you can remain here and face Syndicate justice.  And you'll give me the emitter code right now."

"A reasonable arrangement," Chel said, smiling brightly.  "The code is seventeen, twenty-three, 'cancel'."

"I still don't trust her," Gwen mumbled, then nodded at Marta.  "I suppose you want to take her, too?"

Olena shook her head.  "Run the gauntlet with two prisoners?  One is bad enough."  She turned to Angie.  "Midshipman Goodnight!"

"Yes, ma'am?"

"The Andorian will be your responsibility."

Angie focused on the spreadeagled Andorian pirate (and not the beautiful, incredibly erotic, bound and gagged Orion pirate).  "Yes, ma'am."  She then shifted her gaze back to the closed flap.
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INTO THE GIAN EXPANSE
 Chapter 8
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DAWN

The attack began with a high pitched, multi-voiced, warbling chant from the north.  Every Syndicate pirate head in the encampment swiveled in that direction (excluding Marta Cyrelle, of course)—then swiveled to the south in response to the sound of disruptor fire.  At the sound of the chant, two hundred Carmow warriors had sprinted from the jungle, m'rrtus at the ready and in complete silence.  The guards had been facing the commotion, and didn't turn around until the first arrows began flitting around their heads.  At least four arrows found their marks, and as many pirates crumpled to the ground—but the rest of the Orions were firing as fast as their weapons' resonance coils could recharge, and with every bolt, a Carmow fell.  There were so many targets it was difficult for the Orions to miss, but the issue was very much in doubt.  Hundreds more Carmow were pouring from the jungle, from all directions.  More pirates were being felled by arrows, and were already being dragged away.

"Now!" Olena ordered.

With the Security Officer in the lead, Lyra and Gwen on either flank, and Angie leading Chel by one arm, they sprinted from the pavilion and towards the Andorian shuttle.  Olena, Lyra, and Gwen were armed with disruptor-rifles, with disruptor-pistols holstered on their hips.  Angie had Lyra's phaser in her right hand and Chel's right arm in her left. The Andorian's wrists were crossed behind her back and bound with red cord, and she was still naked.

The away team and their blue prisoner made it halfway to the shuttle before they were noticed.  There were shouts and a few disruptor bolts aimed in their direction, but most of the pirates were busy battling the Carmow.  Concentrating their return fire where it would do their attacking allies the most good, they reached the open cargo hatch of Chel's shuttle and surged up the ramp.

"Close the ramp before entering the code!" Chel shouted.

Olena hit the appropriate button on the pad, then fired a last bolt through the diminishing opening as the ramp cycled closed.  The blast caught a charging pirate and sent her sprawling.  In one fluid motion, Olena slung her rifle and entered the code.

The interior of the shuttle was plunged into total darkness.  Then, a bell-like tone sounded, vibrating the floor under their feet.  The lights came back on almost immediately.

"Did it work?" Lyra asked.

"It doesn't matter," Olena answered.  "We have to skedaddle before their fighters show up."

"Untie me and I'll fly us out of here," Chel said, turning and offering her bound wrists to Olena.

"Not likely," Olena huffed, and hurried to the closed door to the forward cabin, drawing her disruptor-pistol as she went.  She palmed the button on the forward bulkhead and the door slid open.  "Clear!" she called, then rushed forward and dropped into the pilot's seat.  "Okay, here we go!  Brace yourselves!"  She tapped several buttons, then gripped a pair of joysticks and pulled back.

The others found handholds and steadied themselves as best they could as the shuttle lifted off.  Angie hooked an arm around Chel's waist and grabbed a cargo strap.

"Thank you, little one," Chel purred.

"Shut up," Angie snapped.

"Watch her," Lyra said as she slung her rifle and headed for the forward compartment.

"Yes, ma'am," Angie muttered.  "Thank you, ma'am."

Gwen winked at the blushing Angie as she also made her way forward.  "I didn't know you could read Andorian," she said to Olena as she entered the cockpit.

"Yeah," Olena huffed, "like you couldn't read an Andorian medical monitor."

"Security specialists are trained to analyze and interpret different technologies, doctor," Lyra explained, then blushed at the expression on Gwen's face.  "But then, uh, you already knew that, and were joking."

"Save the levity for later," Olena muttered, then nodded towards a side monitor.  "Somebody tell me why that display is counting down."

Gwen leaned across the back of Olena's chair and began tapping keys.  "It's the life support system.  The sensors are... doing something."  She tapped more keys and another monitor cleared and a simplified floor plan of the shuttle appeared.  Five symbols appeared, all corresponding to the locations of the shuttle's occupants.  One of the symbols was coded blue, and the other four were white, and were flashing.

"What does it mean?" Olena demanded.

"I'm working on it," Gwen muttered, continuing to tap keys.  "You concentrate on flying."

The shuttle was skimming above the jungle canopy at high speed.

"I was talking to the Andorian," Olena growled.

"What seems to be the problem?" Chel asked, smiling sweetly.

"I can't find a way to get this to stop," Gwen muttered, "whatever it is."

Chel was still smiling.  "Get what to stop?"

"This countdown!" Gwen shouted.  "What—"

Suddenly, a loud, high pitched hum resonated through the shuttle, and began increasing in pitch and volume.

"Don't hit your head when you fall, little one," Chel said, grinning at Angie.

Angie's blinked, trying to focus.  She opened her mouth to say something—then her eyes rolled up in her head and she collapsed to the floor, unconscious.

Chel knelt and pulled the Orion knife from the sheath on Angie's borrowed belt.  She deftly reversed the blade and began sawing at her wrist bonds. 
"Computer, hear my command!"  She was speaking in an obscure Andorian dialect.  "Maintain current heading and altitude."

The shuttle's computer answered in the same dialect. 
"Acknowledged, Captain ch'Eclat."

Chel gazed at the tangle of bikini-clad, unconscious bodies in the cockpit, two pink-skinned and one green.  She then turned and smiled at the other pink-skin, sprawled on the deck of the cargo bay.  The last strands of her cord bonds snapped and she transferred the knife from hand to hand as she rubbed her wrists.  Stepping over Gwen's sprawling form, Chel leaned between the two piloting consoles and examined the controls and displays.  She noted they were already more than three-hundred kilometers from the green-skins' encampment.  The passive sensors confirmed that they weren't being scanned—not yet, anyway. She knew that would change at any second.

"Computer, land in the nearest small clearing."  She leaned closer and tapped a screen.  "That one."

The shuttle slowed and settled to the ground.

"Engage active camouflage."

What little of the shuttle's fuselage that was visible through the forward view screen swirled and coalesced into a mottled pattern that closely mimicked the surrounding jungle.  Active camouflage was one of the shuttle's many other custom features she hadn't revealed to her rescuers.

"Secure all power not required for passive sensors, with weapons and shields on priority standby."

"Acknowledged, Captain ch'Eclat."  The cabin lights dimmed and most of the displays went dark.

Chel smiled down at the unconscious Starfleet officers. 
"Keep watch while I make my guests more comfortable."
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INTO THE GIAN EXPANSE
 Chapter 8
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Ezri lounged in the command chair in a half-doze.  Her lead on the pursuing pirate continued to grow, now that she wasn't trying to make course changes.  As soon as ATALANTA passed in range of the sensor-buoys, she intended to trigger a distress signal with an embedded data burst that would brief ARTEMIS on the situation.  Her only concern was another pirate ship suddenly appearing and blocking her course.  She had escape maneuvers programmed in the piloting computer, ready to engage at the tap of a few keys.

Suddenly, an alarm tone sounded and symbols began flashing on the main plot.  Ezri sat up straight and tapped the keys, reducing the scale of the display, centering it on the area around her pursuer, and enhancing the resolution.  The pirate had dropped out of warp and was exchanging fire with another ship!

"Hello!" Ezri gasped, staring at the new contact on the screen.  "Who the hell are you? And where did you come from?"

Whatever the newcomer's identity, it was bigger than the pirate, significantly bigger.  The distance was too great for the cutter's sensors to provide much information.

I hope I don't regret this.  Ezri dropped out of warp, reversed course, and approached the scene of battle at full impulse.  As she drew near, she watched the newcomer score a direct hit on the pirate.  A followup disruptor bolt left the Orion ship dead in space.

Drea de Matteo as Captain LargaSuddenly, the cutter's computer replaced the "Unknown" symbol superimposed on the attacker with the symbol for "Friendly Warship".  Whoever they were, they'd turned on their transponder and were handshaking with ATALANTA's communications system.  More data appeared on the screen, and Ezri stared in disbelief.  The victor of the brief encounter was a VOR'CHA-class battle cruiser—a Klingon!

"Greetings, Federation vessel," a female voice sounded from the communications console.  The image of a female Klingon appeared on one of the screens.  "I am Larga, Captain of NING'PARA.  Prepare to receive an encrypted data pulse."

Ezri tapped a key.  "Greetings Captain Larga.  I am Lieutenant Ezri-Dax, on detached duty from the Federation Starship ARTEMIS.  Ready to receive your coded transmission."

The communications console beeped and Ezri tapped several keys, transferring the data to her station.  A side-screen resolved into a Starfleet operations order.  It was in standard format and the cutter's communication system confirmed its authenticity; however, it had one glaring, highly unusual feature: the order carried the seals of both Starfleet Command and the Imperial Klingon Defense Forces.  Ezri began reading.

"Take your time, Lieutenant," Captain Larga said.  "My crew is busy boarding our prize and transferring the green-skinned, pirate scum to our brig."

Ezri finished speed-reading the order.  "My instructions are clear, Captain.  What are your orders?"

"Prepare your vessel to enter our shuttle bay, then standby."

"Yes, Captain.  With all respect, my shipmates on Scatara-IV require immediate assistance."

Larga nodded.  "We'll be ready for warp in minutes.  You can brief me as soon as you dock."  Her lips curled in what was almost a sneer.  "We shall try and make your stay on NING'PARA as comfortable as possible."

Ezri knew she was being baited.  Most Klingons considered the races of the Federation to be far too concerned with physical comforts.  An appropriate Klingon proverb came to mind.  "If the gagh is fresh and the blood wine hot, what is missing but a good death?"

"Mahj'klah!" ["Well said!"], Captain Larga chuckled.  "NING'PARA, out."

Ezri stared at the blank screen for a few seconds.  She then sighed, powered down the cutter's warp nacelles, and called up the docking checklist.  The flame of hope she'd been nurturing for Olena, Gwen, and the Middies now burned quite a bit brighter.
INTO THE GIAN EXPANSE
 Chapter 8
THE 
 END



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