Location: Corridor, Deck 7, Saucer Section, USS Republic (Luna Class), in orbit of Tau Lacertae IX
Timeframe: Stardate 62033.7, 0745 hours shiptime
Once Leon was swept up in the tsunami of water that flooded deck eight, he took several minutes to find his bearings. Fortunately, he found Drengal – the Xindi-aquatic junior counselor – who was able to offer a little more information regarding the takeover of Republic, as he was now free to navigate the water-filled corridors as easily as any air-breather under normal conditions. The manatee-like lieutenant was on his way to the saucer section's warp core injector access junction to guard the engineering section interlock. The plan was to cut off the engineering section from the saucer section, as the crew was in the middle of a shift change, and the skeleton crew in engineering had already secured the vessel's propulsion and power systems. Otherwise, the lower decks of the saucer section were to be flooded with water from Cetacean Ops to keep crew who were still loyal to Roth-Dorian and the Marines from accessing the engineering section.
Unfortunately, that was all the information Drengal could offer, as he was not privy to the full plan for protection via plausible deniability. His advice to Leon was to follow Thaaj's advice and get to the bridge as soon as possible, directing him to the nearest Jeffries tube leading to deck seven where it had not yet flooded. When he arrived, Leon was relieved to see that the deck was sparsely populated, as crew were scrambling to get to higher decks. He kept his scuba gear donned, taking off the swim fins and hanging them over his shoulders to improve mobility. Cautiously peering around corners, he used the Type 1 phaser to lead his way around the abandoned deck, setting it to a heavy stun setting. Soon, he was encouraged by the emptiness in the corridors, and began sprinting his way to the turbolifts.
As he rounded a corner, he suddenly came face-to-face with Lieutenant Commander Chase Meridian, who was sprinting from the opposite direction. Due to the ship's intruder alert status, she was wielding her standard-issue Type 2 hand phaser as she rounded a corner. The two startled one another, both jumping into a combat stance, and held aloft their weaponry at each other in a classical standoff.
“What are you doing here?” Leon asked. “I figured you'd be with the captain.”
“The ship is flooded with neurozine gas from deck four upward,” she explained to Leon's surprise, keeping the phaser aimed at him. “The turbolift dropped me off here at deck seven… It seems I can't go down any further due to a bit a flooding from your friends…”
“I see your hair's growing back,” Leon commented regarding the short asymmetrical styling of her blonde locks; a stark contrast to a month and a half ago when she received a millimeters-close buzz cut due to sugar-caked marshmallow fluff cementing and ruining her previous long-layered coiffure.
Meridian's eyes narrowed into a furious sneer.
“Screw you,” she shot back.
As amusing as it was, Leon couldn't waste this moment. He remembered back to what Hendrix told him days ago in the holosuite after a training exercise. He told Leon that if he was ever killed in action, to seek out Meridian in order to report back to the “correct” chain of command – whatever that may have been. As it so happened, here she was, facing him down with a phaser, ready to pull the trigger unless he was able to earn her trust.
“Hendrix is dead,” Leon informed her.
“Yeah,” she scoffed scornfully with sarcasm. “That's about the worst kept secret on the ship. What was it like killing him? Did he take it like a man? Or did he just try to save his own ass again?”
“I didn't murder him,” Leon stated firmly. “In fact, he told me to seek you out if things went wrong down on Cestus Three.”
“Oh really?” she mocked him. “And why would he have you do that?”
“Because… He said he was from the Ess-Oh-Gee…”
Meridian gave pause at the statement, studying Leon carefully. There was absolutely no reason for her to trust him, but he DID know about SOG, and as a matter of historical fact, very few people in Starfleet had that knowledge. She tilted her head to the side with suspicion, not failing to keep her eyes trained firmly on him.
“If he told you THAT,” she replied questioningly, her eyes narrowing with skepticism. “Then where did he tell the CAPTAIN he was from?”
Leon studied Meridian's face in return, realizing she was digging deeper. Point in fact, she was quizzing him; it was a test. It suddenly dawned on Leon that Hendrix wasn't just being dodgy in their conversation on the holosuite three days ago when he revealed that he had misdirected the captain about his clandestine origins with SOG. He was actually giving Leon a code… He was telling him HOW to communicate with Meridian if things went south.
“He told her… that he was from the See-Oh-Eee…”
Leon prayed that he got the message right from Hendrix, as there was absolutely no way he could truly confirm what any of it actually meant. The doctor assumed it was Corps of Engineers, but for all he knew, COE actually meant Corbomite Obfuscation Endeavor, as Hendrix hadn't expounded on it and could have been letting him make up his own conclusions.
To his relief, the countersign worked. An expression of cognizance washed across Meridian's face. She was still wary – likely because he was the well-known Leon Cromwell; freshly minted war criminal and friend to the deceased John Carter – but he HAD proven himself to be telling the truth. In a gesture of newfound trust, the Republic's political officer flipped the nozzle of her phaser skyward and slowly lowered it.
“So what happened?” she asked Leon as he lowered his own phaser. For his part, the doctor was glad that he wasn't going to get into another firefight for the moment. “How'd Hendrix die?”
“Purcell killed him,” Leon explained. “My best medical guess is that he went insane in the heat of battle. The Gorns tore apart his partner, and in turn, he shot to pieces an entire Gorn family before turning on Hendrix. He even tried to kill me. Several times. The last time was just now back in the brig.”
Meridian nodded slowly, seeing the explanation as plausible. “Okay,” she concluded. “We need to get that information back to headquarters.” She took a lithe glance over her shoulder to see if anyone was coming down the corridor. There wasn't, so she turned back to the doctor. “Seeing that the ship isn't exactly headed in the direction of headquarters anytime soon, it seems to me that you have two choices: One, you can stay here on the ship and take your chances with Roth-Dorian throwing you in the brig again; or two, you can come back with me to HQ and get all this straightened out.”
As intrigued as he was to see what Meridian meant by “straightened out”, Leon held firm.
“I can't leave my crewmates,” he explained. “There's a lot of people on this ship who are going to suffer because they helped me, and I'll be damned if I run away from them now.”
“Yeah, I figured as such,” Meridian replied after a second. “You and Carter got a lot in common.” Looking past Leon, she spied the carpet turning a darker color further down the corridor as it became damp. She realized they they hadn't much time before the flooding rose another level to their current deck. If Leon was intent to stay, there wasn't much she could do about it. However, he was in the brotherhood now, which meant he deserved a break – this time.
“I'll make you a deal,” she offered. “I'll clear up this Hendrix murder-rap for you when I get back to headquarters, but I need off the ship. Can you keep whoever ends up in control of the ship from tractoring a shuttle back to the hangar deck?”
Leon nodded. “One way or another, I can.”
“In that case, I need to get to the shuttle deck. What's your suggestion for getting down there?”
“I came up from the deck eight Jeffries tube,” Leon explained, pointing behind him. “I was told the interlock to the engineering section is flooded down to deck nine. You might be able to swim back that way, and find your way down to the warp core injector access junction. You'd have to use my scuba gear.”
“Sounds simple enough,” she agreed as Leon nodded and began doffing his breathing apparatus.
“One more thing,” Leon pointed out as he handed her his swim fins. “Drengal is guarding the interlock. If he thinks you're working for Roth, you won't get past him. Either sneak around him or try to explain that we talked. He's a friend of mine, and I don't want to see him hurt.”
“Oh, don't worry,” she dismissed. “Neptune and I go way back.” Leon raised an eyebrow at her as Meridian collected the aquatic gear. She then slid past him in the corridor, giving him a parting gesture. “If the old man reaches out to you, tell him that 'Caelus is in ascension'.”
“…Caelus?” the doctor asked, now very confused.
Meridian was annoyed at his response, as she completely mistook his confusion for mockery of the the codename 'Caelus'.
“Well it sure as hell beats URANUS!” Meridian spat back. “Good luck, Apollo,” she offered, drawing a bewildered look from Leon before ending the conversation and proceeding away down the corridor.
“What's THAT supposed to mean?” Leon exclaimed aloud, though he was now by himself. He looked down at his feet, noting that he was standing in several centimeters of water. Remembering Thaaj's directive to quickly get to the bridge by any means necessary, he made sloshing sounds as he broke into a jog towards his next destination on deck.
Location: Ship Operations Center, Deck 5, Saucer Section, USS Republic (Luna Class)
Timeframe: 0800 hours shiptime
It didn't take long for Roth-Dorian to realize who was behind the mutiny, especially since Leon Cromwell was reported missing from the evacuation of the security department on deck eight. None of her science or operations officers reported to the Operations Center as ordered, specifically lieutenants Jarin or Graq, and while Ensign M'Roww was reported unconscious on the bridge, Commander Tolkath hadn't reported in either. Only Commander Meridian said she was on her way before the intercom went dead.
“It's no use, Captain,” Vance Devloch reported, as negative warbles came from the communications control station while attempting to dial in commands. “The primary and secondary transmitters have been disconnected. They went offline just before they sent feedback over the communications relay network. It overloaded the sarium krellide power cells in everyones' combadges. There's no getting a message out.”
“Absolutely reprehensible!” admonished Roth-Dorian, muttering under her breath just loud enough for the occupants of the operations center to hear. “This is a Starfleet vessel! Mutiny is UNHEARD of! Whoever is behind this is going to pay DEARLY!”
Fortunately for the captain, her most ardent supporters were of the security department and the Marine detachment. Point in fact, Ensign Goldman, the Marine officer who was the acting security chief while the ship was at Code Green, collaborated well with Lieutenant Ragnar. During the past few days, they worked together to synchronize beam-in and orbital monitoring of the Marines during their away missions on Cestus Three and Gornar. As they gathered together with the captain and upwards of 50 officers and enlisted in the Ship Operations Center, they carefully monitored the foothold situation as it unfolded.
“Internal sensors are reading high levels of neurozine gas buildup,” Lieutenant Ragnar explained from a monitoring console. “It's at toxic levels on the bridge, deck two, deck three, and deck four. The bulkheads are successfully stopping it from entering deck five. However, the comm systems are down and we're cutoff from the turbolifts. Our mutineers appear to have gained control of the main computer. Any crew who weren't in the engineering section have been effectively trapped on decks five and six.”
“They must be running the ship from auxiliary control in the engineering section,” the captain concluded. “It's the only place they could be controlling those gas canisters. It was a security feature designed into Republic during her construction phase. Is there any way to get down there and stop them?”
“Not from here,” Ensign Goldman shook his head. “We're cutoff from transporters, the access crawlways to the engineering section are underwater, and the ventral and dorsal lifeboat bays are unreachable from this deck.”
“The water has completely flooded deck seven and is moving into deck six,” Ragnar announced while monitoring the internal sensor grid. “It looks like those security fields didn't hold. This deck will flood next if we don't figure something out.”
“We're running out of options,” Roth-Dorian exclaimed with irritation. “Officially, my next action should be to activate the auto-destruct. Someone… anyone… PLEASE give me an alternative?”
“We still have access to the dorsal crawlway junctions,” Chief Engineer Devloch explained. “We can climb through them and make our way to the Mission Pod. I can lock out main computer access to the Mission Pod from here, and they won't be able to control anything in that part of the ship. Once we get there, it has it's own self-contained life support system. We can regroup there and use it as our new base of operations.”
“We won't have computer access,” protested Ensign Goldman. “Without that, we just become sitting ducks in the Mission Pod.”
“No, we won't,” Devloch responded emphatically. “The Mission Pod has one of the largest subspace monitoring arrays in the fleet. It's used for scientific analysis, but I can reconfigure it into an emitter to generate a strong enough subspace pulse to override and fry the main computer, rendering the rest of the ship practically inoperable. While the mutineers are floundering with the emergency equipment to stay alive, I can reconfigure the array again for communications. We'll be able to contact the rest of the fleet and declare a foothold emergency.”
“Devloch, you're brilliant,” she lauded. “Let's do it.”
Location: Main Gangway Hatch Airlock, Deck 7, Saucer Section, USS Republic (Luna Class)
Timeframe: 0805 hours shiptime
The weight of water was already pressing hard against the interior airlock door as Leon worked quickly to don an EVA suit from the recessed wall locker. There was no working his way back onto the deck in an attempt to reach the non-functional turboshafts, and since Meridian had already mentioned the top four levels of the ship were flooded with neurozine gas, it left Leon with only one other option to reach the bridge. As he slid shut the locking collar on his suit, the HUD display within the visor came to life, and he set his attention to the manual controls of the outer hatch mechanism. Before long, Leon was using the magnetic boots to walk slowly across the lateral outside face of deck seven, upward along the saucer section, dodging windows and portholes to avoid visual detection from within the ship.
The doctor prayed that the ship didn't go into warp while he worked his way to the dorsal lifeboat bays behind the bridge. Once there, he accessed the emergency manual release actuator, initiated a soft-jettison of one of the lifeboats, thus clearing his way to the inner hatch mechanism. As he crawled into the vacated lifeboat recess, he maneuvered himself back to a standing position, and activated the overhead containment field to allow the cavity to fill with air at standard atmospheric pressure. Leon checked his wrist-mounted tricorder, and noted that neurozine gas was indeed permeating the air just beyond the lifeboat bay door hatch. Checking his own oxygen level one last time, he pulled open the hatch actuator and made ingress into deck two.
The paralyzing atmosphere was still registering on his sensors as Leon found himself in the empty stairwell leading to the deck one observation room behind the bridge. Instinctively, he had his Type 1 phaser drawn, but knew that no one would logically be conscious on the bridge unless they followed his own example and were wearing an environmental suit. As he cautiously made his way to the ship's nerve center, the doors parted to see a completely normal bridge scene. Unsuited humanoids were relaxedly working their stations, and acting as if the air was as pure as their own various homeworlds.
“Hello Leon,” Maria welcomed him from the command chair. “Glad you could join us.”
From within his sealed helmet, Leon stared at the unprotected crew around the bridge with disbelief as they all returned a glance of amusement. Leon looked back and forth between his wrist-mounted tricorder and the very much awake and cognizant bridge crew, wholly befuddled as the readings told him the neurozine gas was more than four times the threshold to knock a humanoid unconscious.
“Lieutenant,” Maria addressed Cail Jarin seated at the ops station. “You may discontinue the collimator beam.”
Almost immediately after Cail dialed a sequence into his console, the tricorder on Leon's wrist reported a neurozine gas level of zero parts-per-million. There was no trace of the substance anywhere in the air.
To the bridge crew's jocularity, Leon slowly doffed his EVA helmet, sniffing the air slightly, and turning to Maria with a raised eyebrow, expecting an explanation.
“It's amazing what you can do with finely-tuned hypersonic collimators,” Maria expounded for the confused doctor. “Republic's scientific instrumentation is wonderful. You can make a single molecule of gas – for the sake of argument, let's pick air – and vibrate it in such a way as to emit a completely different spectral resonance. Such resonance would be picked up by any and all internal sensors and tricorders to read whatever gas you wanted them to read… terpenes from pipe tobacco… chlorophyll from freshly cut grass… maybe even something, oh, say, like neurozine gas…”
“I see you've picked up Victor Virtus's sense of mischief,” remarked Leon.
“You can't spell 'mischief' without the 'Chief',” Maria smiled. Turning to the ops station, she gave another order to the junior lieutenant. “Let our crew in the Officer's Mess know that they performed admirably… worthy of the Carrington Award in Dramatic Arts. Captain Roth-Dorian and Lieutenant Devloch were thoroughly convinced.”
“Aye sir,” he replied.
“Just one more trick to perform,” Pakita smiled impishly to Leon before returning to Jarin with a sound of agency. “On my authority, execute emergency Mission Pod separation… now.”
Location: Scientific Analysis Center, Deck A, Mission Pod, USS Republic (Luna Class)
By the time Roth-Dorian had made it to the Mission Pod, nearly a hundred of the crew – including the 20-man Marine detachment – followed her lead into the uppermost section of Republic. Though somewhat cramped, there were facilities and consoles to access the various subsystems of the enormous multifaceted sensor module. The captain, Vance Devloch, and Attos Ragnar were all standing around Ensign Goldman who was sitting at the main sensor station, calmly explaining their tactical situation. Without warning, the entire deck lurched, knocking a few of the standing crew off balance, and causing a cascade of warning lights to illuminate the various monitoring consoles.
“What was that?” Roth-Dorian asked, looking warily around the chamber. “Are we under attack?”
“Negative, sir,” Goldman reported. The Marine jumped on the system control and accessed the status readouts. “The Deck B interlocks have been retracted,” he exclaimed with surprise. “The bridge ordered the Mission Pod jettisoned!”
Though the rest of the crew was stunned, it was Roth-Dorian who took the routing as an advantage.
“That was a STUPID move by them,” she commented of the mutineers. “They just cut loose their main quantum torpedo battery…” Turning to Ragnar, she proceeded to give a new set of orders “Load the forward torpedo bay!”
Ragnar complied, but was unsure if the captain understood what their limitations were. “Without the main computer, we won't have targeting capability.”
“No problem,” Roth replied with confidence. “We can use the pod's RCS thrusters to maneuver away and aim by visual sighting,” She turned back to Goldman. “Move us off to a safe distance and begin firing as soon as you have Republic in your scopes. Aim for the engines to disable them.”
“Aye sir,” he acknowledged, and began dialing sequences into his console.
The mission Pod lurched again, but this time, a negative warble emanated from Goldman's console.
“I've lost thruster control!” he exclaimed, receiving nothing but warbles each time he tried to activate a thruster sequence. “They're firing, but the position sensors aren't registering the proper momentum feedback!”
“We've been caught in a tractor beam,” Ragnar reported. “It's pulling us away from Republic! We have no directional control!”
“…AWAY from Republic?” Roth questioned, assuming only Republic could be activating the tractor beam. “Another ship is tractoring us?”
“Aye sir,” Ragnar acknowledged. “The ship is registering as a Peregrine-Class fighter escort…”
Roth looked into the space in front of her as comprehension dawned upon her face, contorting it into a furious scowl.
Outside, the scintillating blue light of a tractor beam enveloped the monolithic superstructure of Republic's Mission Pod as the distance between it and Republic continued to widen. Leading the pod on it's trajectory, a gray twin-engine winged vessel with the name “ACES HIGH” scrawled on it's lower hull kept it's aft-facing tractor beam emitter focused on the now maneuver-less scientific sensor suite. Strapped into the cockpit of the fighter craft, and grinning from ear-to-ear, was a victorious Nathan Hawk – Veteran of the Flying Aces 85th Attack Squadron, former first officer of Republic, and newly-minted renegade mercenary pilot. With his tell-tale “devil-may-care” gleam in his eye, he treated himself to a celebratory cigar as he pulled the Mission Pod further and further away from its mothership.
“I luv it when a plan comes ta'gether!” he exclaimed.
Once he was confident the Mission Pod posed no further threat to Republic, the lieutenant commander produced a palm-sized device from his pocket, and flipped open a gold metallic top flap that registered multiple chirps. It was, in fact, an old-style hand communicator circa 23rd century, complete with the black styling and silver highlights of yesteryear. With the Republic's subspace communications network currently offline, it was apparent that the ship's first officer made alternate arrangements to communicate with his colleagues back on the bridge.
“Aces High ta Republic,” Hawk hailed. “Welcome ta the trial run uv Nat Hawk's Garbage Pickup Services. It's been a pleasure servin' ya this fine mornin'.”
“Hawk, you did great!” Maria lauded over the open channel.
“O'contrairy,” Nat replied, massacring the French language with his South Carolina accent. “Y'all did th' heavy liftin', I'm jus' takin' out th' trash.”
In reply, Leon came over the open channel.
“Nat, it looks like you saved my life. Again.”
“It was a team effort this time, Leon,” he responded. “Tolkath warned us one a th' Marines wuz about ta frag ya, an' Roth wazn't takin it seriously. We had ta act.”
“Should we wait for you to finish your 'garbage run' so you can re-dock with us here in orbit? Or are we rendezvousing with you somewhere else?”
“Fraid neither, doc,” the former first officer answered. “I'm gonna hold this bunch til th' fleet arrives. This is where you'n I are gonna hafta part company.”
“No WAY! I'm not going to let you go to prison for me!”
“Pfft,” dismissed Nat. “Ain't no way they'd put me in prison. I been in a lot tougher spots than this, an' each time I come out smellin' like roses. B'sides, ya'll gotta big job ta do uncoverin' what happened here in Gorn space these past few days. Yer gonna need someone like me on the inside.”
“We've got a crew here who've stuck their necks out, Nat. Don't abandon them now. They're counting on your leadership. Republic wasn't meant to keep going without her captain or first officer.”
“Bull,” Nat retorted. “This crew stuck their neck out fer jus' one person… YOU Leon. That means they're followin' YOU now. Roth was right when she said that yer th' heart of that ship. She 'n I were just keepin' that bridge warm fer ya. YOU gotta be the one ta lead 'em now. And th' best place fer y'all ta go right now is the Bajor sector. It's th' only way yer gonna find justice.”
“Nat, this is really not my thing. Medicine is. Science is. Not command.”
Hawk sighed. “Doc, this is my final order as yer XO… Yer in c'mmand now… Getch yer ass ta Deep Space Nine… get these people home… n'say hi ta Virtus fer me when ya get there. Got it?”
A moment passed as if to solidify the finality of their parting.
“So this is goodbye?”
“Fer now,” Hawk replied. “But who knows what th' future'll bring. Til then, ya'd better get outta here before th'fleet arrives.”
“Thanks for everything, Nat.”
“Back at ya, Leon.”
Location: Observation Lounge, Deck 1, USS Republic (Luna Class), somewhere in Gorn space
Timeframe: Stardate 62034.7, 1600 hours shiptime
Republic's new senior staff sat around the conference room table. All department heads were represented except for Ops and Medical, as Cail Jarin was on bridge watch, and the holographic doctor wasn't able to join them in person. Leon hadn't counted on his first command to be that of a renegade starship, but nevertheless, he insisted on maintaining Starfleet decorum for discipline and a sense of normalcy among the crew. Counselor Reittan Tolkath was the new diplomatic officer, an obvious choice due to his empathic skills. M'Roww's and T'Mer Graq's position as Chief Helmsman and Chief Science Officer remained unchanged, while Depach Narudi and Maria Pakita moved up from their assistant department head positions to become the chiefs of their respective departments, that being tactical and engineering.
The first order of business was to brief everyone on the ship's status, and since it was not exactly in peak working condition, it fell to Lieutenant Pakita to report on their efforts at returning to normal operations.
“The subspace array is back online, and we're issuing new combadges to the crew to replace the burned out ones,” she remarked. “Water cleanup is commencing on decks six through nine, and we're repairing the holes that Thaaj bored in the longerons. The shuttle deck reports they have just completed re-installation of the lifeboat you ejected, but a type-nine shuttle is reported missing from its hangar. The current crew compliment stands at 271.”
“Understood,” Leon replied, happy to hear Meridian made it out okay. “Disregard the missing shuttle. Casualties?”
“Just one sir,” she reported. “Ensign Purcell…”
Leon looked across the table at Reittan with regret. They both had discussed the situation, and it was evident to them that Purcell's disturbing behavior would be difficult to explain as implicating him as the actual perpetrator of the crimes that Leon was officially accused of. Proof was in short supply, and the crimes themselves were still raw in Leon's mind.
“Record in the ship's log,” Leon said somberly after a moment. “One casualty: Ensign Purcell. Cause of death… Self defense action by crew following battle-induced psychotic episode. End log entry.”
“What about Leah Warner?” Leon asked the group.
It was indeed a problem for them. The now-famous INS reporter was caught by Narundi attempting to access a communications console on deck four shortly after they warped out from the Tau Lacertae system. Little did she know the subspace array was down, and that command of Republic had changed hands. Truth be told, she was frightened for the few hours she was trapped by herself on an evacuated deck with no working turbolifts.
However, once she found out what had happened – not to mention that Nat Hawk wasn't onboard anymore – she became livid. She was so furious that she instituted a diatribe towards Leon about how President Kostya would have his vengeance on anybody who betrays him, proceeding to spew profanity and physical threats his way. It was disturbing enough that Leon chose to isolate her in sickbay until Counselor Tolkath could do a full psycho-analysis workup on her.
“I've got a hypothesis about her condition,” Tolkath suggested. “But I'll need time to do some tests. Once they're complete, we can restrict her to quarters.”
Technically, Leah Warner hadn't done anything wrong, and Leon felt guilty having to restrict her movements on the ship. He could only imagine how mortified Nat must have been when he found out that Leah hadn't made it to the Mission Pod with the captain and the rest of her loyalists. It was especially difficult since there was no way he could return her to Nat any time soon, not to mention feeling a certain sense of fellowship with her from the three months they spent together on the post-apocalyptic Planet Ashaaria in the Gamma Quadrant four years ago. Nevertheless, her allegiance to Roth-Dorian and the Kostya regime meant that she could not be trusted, and Leon could only shutter at what kind of news report she might release should they simply let her go. For the time being, she was to be their unwilling guest, and the quandary of what to do with her would have to be solved at a later date.
“Agreed,” Leon replied to the counselor. “But I'd like to keep her under guard at all times.”
“That may be difficult,” Narundi replied. “The security department is down to a half dozen people. I can probably get some volunteers from another department, but most of security ended up going with the captain.”
“See if you can start some combat drills in the holosuites to train people up,” Leon requested. “Find some volunteers from other departments to reconstitute security.”
“With the Mission Pod gone, science programs are down to minimal for the time being,” Graq offered. “There's at least a dozen of my people I can let you have. Possibly more.”
“M'Roww,” Leon turned to the young Caitian ensign sitting next to Tolkath. “Brief us on how we're going to avoid the rest of the fleet on our way to the Bajor sector.”
“As you know,” she explained, pointing to a digital rendition of the quadrant on the conference room vidscreen. “Deep Space Nine is clear across the Federation from our location here in Gorn space. We'll have to make our way to the border between the Federation and Klingon Empire, then eventually traverse the Romulan Neutral zone before turning upspin across the coreward frontier near the Typhon Expanse. Only from there can we reach the Bajor sector without entering Federation core worlds.”
“What's the upshot?” Leon asked.
“It's going to be a LONG trip to go this way instead of straight across Federation space,” M'Roww warned. “It could take anywhere from six weeks to three months depending on how many stops we make. At each leg, we'll be vulnerable due to our reduced combat capacity.”
“Narundi,” Leon turned to the new chief tactical officer. “What's our weapon status?”
“We lost two-thirds of our torpedo firepower when the Mission Pod was jettisoned,” he explained. “Our phasers should suffice if we run into pirates or someone, but if Starfleet sends anything bigger than a Sabre scout at us, we'll have to rely on our speed and maneuverability to outrun them. I recommend the long way. There's very little chance that we'll make it to Deep Space Nine unchallenged if we take the short route through Federation space.”
“Couldn't we just rebuild the Mission Pod?” asked M'Roww. “We have a CFI replicator.”
“It's a big piece of the ship,” explained Maria dubiously. “With a reduced crew, it'll take a while, even working double shifts. We'll need to find safe harbor while we do it, preferably someplace near a supply port or trading post in case we need to acquire special materials or equipment.”
“The Klingons are out,” Lieutenant Graq added gruffly. “They'll just hand us back to the Federation.” “The Romulans have their own problems with internal politics right now,” Narundi piped in. “They probably won't want to be dealing with us. They'd probably fire first and ask questions later.”
“We need to find the nearest neutral world,” stated Leon, folding his hands in thought. “Some place out of the way where no one will come looking for us.”
“Orion Space isn't too far away,” explained M'Roww.
“Too risky,” Leon dismissed. “Pirates might start ganging up on us, even if our phasers are a match for one of their ships. I'd like to avoid combat as much as possible. Anywhere else?”
M'Roww cross-referenced the navigational database with the help of Mahlenoy over the intraship navnet.
“We could try Nimbus Three,” she concluded, adjusting the controls to zoom in on the map at an area in the Neutral Zone. “It's technically a Romulan colony, but in neutral space with a mix of different Alpha Quadrant and Beta Quadrant species.”
“Nimbus Three?” Leon raised an eyebrow quizzically. “I've never heard of it.”
“It's a twenty-third century diplomatic experiment gone awry,” Tolkath explained. “A class-L planet that the Klingons, Romulans, and Federation worked to colonize together during the pre-Khitomer era when each of the three Alpha Quadrant powers were constantly at each others' throats. It didn't work out very well and became what one could call a 'backwater' planet.”
“I take it not many people in this day and age have heard of it?”
“Correct,” he confirmed. “The Federation and the Klingon Empire try to steer clear of it, and the Romulans have basically ignored that it exists at all. There's no mineral wealth, and it's strategically unimportant. There's a small civilization managing to scrape out a living, but the population at last count about a decade ago was in the thousands.“
“Are you sure there's no government presence on the planet from any of the major powers?”
“There might be a few Tal Shiar agents in the population,” Tolkath surmised. “But they'd be in place to keep an eye on the population and not the sky. The sporadic reports available indicate that the population is more interested in just surviving from day-to-day than to be dealing with any interstellar governments. It's possible that a Starfleet ship could lay low and not draw too much attention.”
“If we beam down and ask them for discretion, do you think they'd comply?”
“Maybe,” Tolkath replied with apprehension. “But, if they're under-supplied, I'd urge some sort of barter to offer so that they'll leave us alone while we make repairs.”
“Well, like you said, we have a CFI replicator,” commented Narundi.
After hearing all of the different angles, Leon considered the situation and made his first command decision.
“Bridge, this is Cromwell,” he beckoned after pressing the intercom button on the table.
“Jarin here. Go ahead, sir.”
“Lieutenant, set course for Nimbus Three, best possible speed.”
<tag = Carter>
LTCR Leon Cromwell, MD, PhD
USS Republic, NCC-81371