“What is that girl staring at?” the Romulan scientist asked, his eyes darting across engineering towards Usagi who was doing a bad job at pretending to be working while watching JC and three Romulans work on the Borg parts taken from the Sisko.
“Maybe she thinks we're going to steal something,” another Romulan joked.
JC chuckled. “It's your ship, what's the point?”
The Romulans halted their chuckling and looked to JC. “I'm growing quite fond of you,” the lead one said.
“I assume you mean that in a professional manner?” JC asked.
The two associate Romulans smirked as the head Romulan just shook his head.
“On a more serious note,” JC said, changing the subject back to the work at hand, “we have a pretty good idea of what each object's job was and what it did, based on where we found it.”
“And every one of them was on the warp drive?” one scientist asked.
JC nodded. “Or on something that in some way would regulate power or plasma to the drive.”
“Whoever did this was running a pretty big risk then,” another scientist mentioned.
“They did an incredibly good job of attaching and concealing them. As you can see that one-” JC pointed to one on the floor being guarded by two security officers, “-we had to just beam a whole chunk of the bulkhead off.”
“Maybe it's best we started with that one then, since they went through that much trouble?” the lead scientist suggested.
JC nodded. “That's a good idea, and Commander if you get any closer, you'll be in my back pocket.”
Usagi blinked, not realizing how close she had gotten to the group. “Oh, sorry. I am just, fixing the- uh- neutron fuse generators.”
One of the scientists was about to speak before JC silently told him not to bother. Usagi scurried off and JC smiled. “She's just unhappy she's being left out of the loop.”
“She is the chief engineer. Shouldn't she be involved?” a scientist asked.
“NO!” everyone in engineering called out.
JC nodded. “She's just going to wander around and listen in. It's fine. Let's get to work on that big piece.”
The group all walked over to the large piece of the Sisko's bulkhead with the book-sized device attached to it. Despite the fact that it was not attached to anything and having been half-demolished by JC's crew in prior attempts to get it dislodged, it still showed active; blinking and occasionally chirping, notifying everyone that it was unhappy that it could not communicate with the other pieces.
“We're fairly certain this is the brain,” JC explained. “Every time we would manage to deactivate a device, it would start transmitting like crazy, apparently attempting to reestablish contact. When it could not, we noticed some of the other devices started acting strange – possibly trying to compensate for the lack of the missing unit.”
The Romulan scientists pondered this for a moment, one of them turning to JC. “That may have also been a defensive mechanism. Had you still had your warp core, who knows what might have happened.”
JC nodded. Another scientist began to inspect the device closer for a moment before looking up to JC. “What evidence do you have that these devices are Borg?” he asked. “From the outside, they look Starfleet.”
“On the inside of the plasma injector devices there were nano-robotic systems,” JC started.
“They injected nanobots into your plasma flow?” one scientist asked, rather stunned.
JC nodded. “I assume it was to help regulate the flow and do whatever it is that the Borg do to generate trans-warp conduits. The self-contained power systems in all the devices are also of Borg design and have matching Bord signatures. As well, there is this.”
JC turned to the security officer standing watch over them. “May I?”
The security officer nodded and handed JC his phaser. As JC took aim at the device, sending the scientists into a quick and clumsy backpedal, the security guard hit his communicator. “Davis to Security – Yeah, Devall is doing that demonstration again, no need for a response.”
JC turned the phaser up to kill before firing at the device attached to the only remaining piece of the Sisko. The beam slammed into the device, causing pieces to fly in multiple directions. Two of the scientists had to duck to avoid being hit. The third just looked at the blackened device before screaming.
“ARE YOU INSANE?!”
Devall just pointed, waving the phaser nonchalantly at the device. The scientists could do nothing but stare with their mouths hanging open as the device began to regenerate itself. It took the small metal box a few minutes, but once it was done, it was nearly as good as new, with only a few scratches and dents.
“Nothing we can build can do that,” JC finally said. “And unless I am mistaken...” he looked to the Romulans as he continued, “...no one else has this kind of technology either.”
The Romulans shook their heads. “No, we don’t, Lieutenant. I can assure you of that.”
JC smiled. “Well let’s say we see where this thing came from then, eh?”
The Romulans agreed and the four went to work on the floor of Salvation’s engine room dissecting the device that had tried to kill the Sisko crew. Usagi quietly monitored from behind the security officers while snacking on some candy.
Kio stopped dead in her tracks. She knew when she was being followed and right now, she was being followed. Her hand slowly moved towards her right hip, her type-two in its holster, ready if she needed it. Kio wondered if maybe not all the Romulans had left the ship like they were supposed to. Maybe some of them had stayed behind to 'keep an eye' on the Starfleet crew.
Kio slowly kept walking. She knew if her stalker attacked, she would be ready for him. She was reaching a T intersection in the corridor. All she had to do was turn, hide, and wait. Once he came around the corner, she would pounce and detain him.
Kio smirked. Perhaps he would resist just a little too much and she would have to fatally injure him in the struggle.
While there certainly was not a level of overt racism and blatant hostility among the crew, most of them had spent a good portion of their careers knowing the Romulans as the main threat to the Federation. Because of that, many of them still did not trust them fully.
As they shouldn't. The Romulans were known for espionage. The Tal Shiar was more feared than Section 31, and unlike Section 31, had no problem letting everyone know they existed. Usually in brutally obvious ways.
Kio quickly reached the T and turned right. Once around the corner, she ducked into a doorway and drew her phaser. She then held and waited, holding her phaser down.
Before she could scream though, a hand went over her mouth while another grabbed the hand her phaser was in, prying her finger off the trigger.
“You can't just focus on one enemy,” Anthony whispered into her ear from behind her. “You always have to be ready for anything that could happen.”
Kio groaned and nodded as Sgt. Simpson walked around the corner with his phaser drawn. “Pew pew,” he smiled.
Sgt. Anthony Schaefer leaned into his supervisor, putting his lips right up next to her ear, and whispered even more quietly, “I think you wanted me to catch you.”
Mike sighed, the realization that Anthony was likely flirting with Kio setting in. He began to walk towards NEO's temporary workplace, Anthony looking after him.
“You see what you did?” Anthony asked Kio. Kio rolled her eyes. Anthony quickly ripped his hand away from Kio's mouth and started to squeal like he was a ten-year-old girl who had just gotten a frog dropped down her dress. “Did you just lick my hand?!?”
Kio laughed before bouncing off after Mike. Anthony furiously tried to wipe Kio's saliva off his hand prior to attempting to catch up. The three of them made it about two-thirds of the way to their office when they ran into Rei and NEO's second in command, Commander Shelton. The trio snapped to attention for the pair of officers who acknowledged them but continued on their way.
Anthony and Mike resumed walking to the office, but Kio looked after Rei and Shelton as they walked and talked.
“Chief?” Mike called.
Kio paused a moment, then caught up with her two teammates. “Something wrong, Kio?” Anthony asked.
Kio shook her head. “No. It's just not like her not to take a chance to offer some advice or yell at me.”
“Well...” Mike offered. “She's been yelling at you for almost three months straight. Maybe she thinks you don't need to be yelled at anymore?”
Kio scoffed. “I doubt that.”
Anthony smiled. “You know she thinks you're great. Otherwise, she would have let you quit when you tried.”
Kio did not answer. She knew he was right, and she knew that Rei's constant bitching about her performance was not because she did not like the job she was doing, it was because Rei wanted Kio to like the job she was doing.
Maybe that was it. Maybe, and Kio herself had not even realized it, but just perhaps, Kio had acknowledged that she was fit for this job. That may have in fact silenced the ever-squawking crow that nagged Kio relentlessly.
At the same time though, Kio was fairly sure that Rei didn't like her personally. That was fine though. The feeling was mutual.
The trio reached the temporary NEO briefing room and sat down around a circular, metal table together after ordering drinks for themselves. Each of them put their feet up on the table, their black boots making a loud noise as they leaned back in the less than comfortable Romulan chairs.
Mike was the first to speak as he adjusted his black and gray Starfleet uniform. “So, what do you think they will have us do?”
“Considering the ship we're in,” Anthony grinned, “we might end up having to help repel Starfleet boarders.”
Kio and Mike laughed. “Can you imagine? Starfleet shooting at Starfleet?” Mike asked. “I can't imagine I'd live to see the day.”
Kio smirked. “We have Starfleet shooting at Vulcans and vice versa, so I guess anything is possible anymore.”
Both Anthony and Mike cringed at the thought of shooting at other Starfleet officers. Neither of them had any interest in doing so, but as the Admiral had said earlier, if they were ordered to do it, they would, as they had faith that it would be for the right reasons and for the greater good of the Federation.
“How much schoolwork did you get done on the trip back, if you don't mind me asking, Chief?” Mike asked Kio.
“One class left,” Kio beamed. “One more class and then you can take your 'Chief' and shove it out an airlock.”
Mike smiled as Anthony laughed. “Second-Lieutenant Yuki,” Mike said. “I don’t like it. Too many syllables.”
Kio playfully swatted at Mike. The group continued to chat and laugh for a while till their daily exercise time came.
“I see,” Larson frowned. “Well thank you very much for the update.”
“We shouldn't contact you again,” a prissy female's voice said through quite a bit of static. “Even with this low of power, you're now in danger of being located.”
Larson shook his head. “We're cloaked, and the Romulan armada is still with us.” Larson paused for a moment. “Well, I assume they are. Anyway, it’s okay. Thank you for the information.”
“Are you going to recover him?”
“I have no choice,” Larson replied. “I think he was framed, and I think he may have information that can help us.”
“Very well. I will send you information about where he's being held. I'm sorry, but that is all the help I can be. We only have a half dozen agents on board. Everyone else is Starfleet.”
“Yes,” Larson acknowledged. “Putting Starfleet on Vulcan right now would be quite a disaster. Don't worry. I will handle things.”
“Good luck, SL.”
“Thank you, Director,” Larson stated before ending the transmission. He watched the screen a little bit longer as information began to appear. He grimaced a little bit.
“Ranma,” Larson called.
Ranma turned from his chair in the middle of the bridge towards Larson who was seated at the Communications terminal that he had commandeered from Lt. Kaii. Larson motioned for Ranma to come over to the terminal. Shampoo noticed this and sauntered over that way as well. Larson did not object to the self-invite, which was a pleasant surprise for Shampoo.
Larson pointed to a building on the view screen. “Do you remember Saanik?” he asked.
“Wasn't he the only Vulcan who didn't want me dead?” Ranma pondered, remembering back to his court-martial.
Larson half smiled and nodded. “Sort of, yeah. He was the Vulcan Minister of Defense.”
“Was?” Ranma asked.
“Yes. While you were away, a group of Vulcan’s defensive ground forces launched an assault on a Starfleet LDF base killing about 100,000 Federation troops.”
Shampoo gasped. Ranma blinked. “Saanik?”
Larson shrugged. “His fingerprints were all over the attack. Literally and figuratively.” Larson ran his hand through his goatee slowly before shaking his head. “I don't think he did it though.”
“Oh?” both Ranma and Shampoo asked.
“Saanik's been a Federation ally for years. He's been responsible for placing more and more of Vulcan's planetary security into Federation responsibility. And he's certainly smart enough not to leave a paper trail. Now to top it off, he's going to be executed in a little under a week.”
Shampoo nodded. “Even Vulcan execute traitors.” She turned to Larson. “So, what do we do?”
Larson again pointed to the building on the screen. “Jailbreak.”
“Jailbreak?” Ranma asked. “Should be easy enough.”
Larson looked at Ranma angrily. “They have declared Saanik the worst traitor to Vulcan since Sybok. Do you think they would keep him in a jail that would be easy to bust him out of?”
Ranma lowered his head. “No sir.”
Shampoo chuckled a little. “It gets more complicated,” Larson continued.
“I knew you were going to say that,” Ranma sighed. “You ALWAYS say that.”
“It true. You do,” Shampoo backed up her captain.
Larson sighed. “Well, it does.”
“Covert only. No conventional forces.”
Ranma sighed. “Eh, that's not so bad.”
Shampoo nodded. “NEO guys really good now. They have lots of fights outnumbered, do great.”
Larson smiled. “Great. Well then, I will get to work on figuring something out with Commander Hino and-”
The aft turbolift opened and JC burst out, out of breath, his face singed, uniform half burnt off him, waving a PADD around like it was the checkered flag at a championship Runabout race.
“I FOUND IT!” he screamed.
“WHAT?” Ranma, Larson, and Shampoo all yelled.
JC slowly stumbled his way over to the group. Ranma looked at him cautiously. “Do you need medical?”
“Probably,” JC nodded as he began his presentation. “We were finally able to get inside of the brain-box...”
“Brain-box?” Larson asked.
“The controlling Borg device on the Sisko engines,” JC grumbled, not happy with being interrupted or wanting to have to explain the story again. Larson took the hint and sat through the rest of the presentation quietly. “Anyway, it was difficult because the fucking thing kept regenerating every time we managed to pop one side of it open before we could pop the other side.”
JC looked annoyingly at the medics who had arrived to tend to his wounds but decided it was likely in his best interests to allow them to work on him. “Finally, we decided to say 'fuck it' and we used an ionic sound distortion wave to cut through it, with the assistance of some specially placed charges.
“That managed to blow it in half. And with its two halves separated, it couldn't regenerate!” JC smiled. He turned to a medic who was doing something to his arm. “That hurts.”
“I'll bet,” The medic said. “Your forearm is shattered.”
JC blinked. “Carry on then.”
Shampoo watched the medics as Larson and Ranma questioned JC. “So, what did you find?” Larson asked.
“Federation circuit boards likely installed to allow the device to interface with the Sisko's computer core.”
“Traceable?” Ranma asked.
JC smiled and using his arm that was not being worked on by the Salvation's medical staff, handed Ranma a PADD which was quickly snatched up by Larson. “Serial numbers,” JC stated. “As well the transmission equipment was Vulcan in origin. Serial numbers for that are there as well.”
Larson stood and over the objections of the medical staff, gave JC a great big bear hug. “Great job, Lieutenant.”
“Oh, the pain,” JC cried.
Larson let JC go and began to walk to the aft turbolift. “Captain, once the remaining Romulans and your father have left the ship, set a course for Vulcan, best speed.”
“My father?” Ranma asked as JC dropped to the floor, a concerned Shampoo shifting her gaze between the concerned paramedics and the concerned son looking at Larson.
“He'll be back, Ranma,” Larson smiled. “I just need him to go run an errand for me.”
Ranma nodded. “Aye, sir.”
“CODE BLUE!” One of the paramedics yelled into his communicator.
“You really shouldn't have contacted us again, especially from the same place,” the earlier female growled at Larson over the heavily encrypted subspace communicator. Larson shook his head, even though the communication was audio-only and the person on the other end could not see him.
“I know, I know. However, this couldn't wait.”
“Oh?” a male asked.
“We have serial numbers from the components inside the devices.”
“We don't have access to a Borg database,” The unknown male snarled. “You know that.”
“They aren't Borg,” Larson snapped back as he heard Genma walk into the room. “Some are Federation in origin, some are Vulcan.”
There was silence for a moment before the female spoke. “Send them. We'll see what we can find for you and contact you back.”
“Sending now. We're heading for the jailbird in about ten minutes. It'll be about a day or so travel cloaked though.”
“We have the Minneapolis in orbit, monitoring. We'll keep you informed.”
“Thanks,” Larson said, ending the transmission. Genma, who had been standing in the corner, as far away from Larson and the conversation that he did not want to accidentally hear as he could, walked over.
“You're sending me somewhere?”
Larson nodded as he handed Genma a PADD. Genma looked it over and grew a very confused look on his face. “You have to be kidding me.”
“I am not. She's having her cloak installed now. She should be able to traverse the wormhole cloaked, but obviously, the Romulans will have to act as the wormhole openers.”
Genma sighed. More time, alone, with the Romulans. He'd started to get used to them and gotten to know them; however, he can't really say that he wasn't looking forward to seeing his son.
“Alrighty,” Genma finally conceded. “See you in what, three days?”
“Sounds about right.”
Genma nodded, turned, and walked towards the door. Larson called after him. “Genma.”
The bald admiral stopped and turned. “Yes sir?”
Larson smiled. “I am really happy your son is back, and I promise, once we've gotten through this, I'll let you two get reacquainted.”
Genma smiled and nodded. He could be happy with that, after all after nearly twelve weeks, that is all he really wanted.
Ranma was unsure which he disliked more. The horrid Romulan chairs that were in the main conference room, the oval shape of the table, the fact that the windows were forward-facing, so it appeared that the stars were heading right at them, or the fact that he had only been asleep for maybe an hour and a half before being woken up by that God-forsaken Romulan intercom system.
Everything about this ship drove Ranma nuts. He almost felt like after the mission he would purposely ram it into an asteroid simply for good measure.
The Salvation had been streaming along at warp 6.5 for several hours now. A snail’s pace it seemed for such a powerful starship, but the cloaking device took a decent amount of power to run itself. The fact that the ship could hold 6.5 was an amazing feat of Romulan engineering.
They were 27 hours out from Vulcan, 10 away from Federation space. For some reason that Ranma could not quite put his finger on, it was not the forthcoming assault on Vulcan that worried the hell out of him, it was the 17 hours they would be driving through Federation space in an enemy – well, not enemy, but not allied – spaceship, unescorted.
The final group of officers began to wander into the conference room. Larson, the only one among them who appeared to be awake, moved quickly to the main viewer. Shampoo plopped down next to Ranma. The rest of the group, Minako, Makoto, Rei, and a seemingly repaired JC watched Larson, hoping the point would come quickly.
“Sorry to wake you all,” Larson apologized. The group mumbled incoherent acceptances. Larson, who himself had not slept in probably 40 hours, was wound up like a rabbit. The news he had gotten back from his unnamed contacts over subspace had just wound him up even more.
Larson looked to JC to make sure that he understood that he had really made things happen. “I sent the serial numbers from those parts you found off to some of my contacts for tracing.”
JC woke up completely. “Oh?”
Larson nodded. “The Federation parts weren't all that helpful. They had been delegated for the Sisko as part of her initial refit and reclassification to the Trinity class. However, the Vulcan parts, after going through several very thorough laundering schemes were found to have been obtained by the Vulcan Ministry of Intelligence.”
Ranma looked at JC. “Didn't you say that shipyard Commodore was Vulcan?”
JC nodded. “I bet if we got a hold of him...”
“He's dead,” Larson interjected.
Anyone in the room who was not fully awake before was now. Most of the heads in the room slowly turned to Larson.
“His landing thrusters 'malfunctioned' as he was trying to land in San Francisco,” Larson explained.
“You don't believe that do you?” Makoto asked.
“No,” Larson stated. “No more than I believe that Vora's transport collision was an accident.”
“Why kill Vora though?” Minako asked. “That seems like it would scream for a huge investigation.”
“Vora would block the secession,” Larson explained. “The second-in-command of the High Command, Sala, wasn't totally for it, but he wouldn't – and as expected didn't – block it,” Larson smirked before continuing. “As for the investigation, well everything pointed towards a thruster malfunction that sent a second transport into the path of Vora's.”
Larson turned to Minako with a smug grin on his face. “Conspiracy theories are not logical and therefore are normally dismissed with little reverence.”
Larson turned to the device that was projected onto the view screen and crossed his legs as he tented his fingers. “Now that we have evidence that this device came from the MoI, it's imperative that we rescue Saanik. He can likely give us insight on who would be able to get these devices and where they might be.”
Rei nodded. “I've never broken anyone out of jail before, but we'll be ready, Admiral.”
Larson nodded. “I know you will be, Commander. I wouldn't trust the fate of the Federation in just anyone's hands.”