A Clash Of Titans

by Cheryl Petterson, David Petterson and Mylochka

(Standard Year 2253)

Return to Valjiir Stories

Return to Valjiir Continum

Dr. Lian Rendell tsked at the Captain and Assistant Engineer as they materialized on the transporter platform, both of them in disheveled civilian wear and clearly hung over. Ever since Noel DelMonde had joined the crew of the U.S.S. Drake nearly five months before, he and Captain Takeda Sulu tended to take their shore leaves together and always ended up imbibing much more than was good for either of them. Clandestine observation by Security reported that they always started out amiably enough, then steadily progressed through joking insults to edgy flirting, into serious, intense discussion, then to maudlin depression, and ended up in soulful commiseration of their shared though not quite comparable situations: They were both missing lost loves; DelMonde through both marriage and death, Sulu simply through the whims of Starfleet assignment. Then they tended to pass out and wake with just enough time to report back to the ship. Lian, being a compassionate and understanding Haven, had taken it upon herself to meet her wayward charges with detox hypos, both saving time, and being able to evaluate the progress of their dual downward spiral without having to put in it any official report.

At least not one to Starfleet Medical.

Sulu smiled weakly at her as she pressed the instrument to his arm. DelMonde scowled, muttering that he didn’t need ‘no damn help,’ which she ignored with a blinding show of teeth. All three reactions were par for the course.

“Welcome back, boys,” she said. “Del, Rivka has the latest updates from SanFran on the Nests, and Captain, there’s a briefing on the scheduled contact from the High Stakes.”

“Thanks, Lian,” Sulu murmured as the relief swam almost visibly into his brain.

“You enjoy th’ hell outta this,” Del accused, though his bloodshot eyes were already clearing.

“Not really,” the Haven doctor replied coolly. “If I really enjoyed it, I’d make you both crawl to Sickbay.”

The engineer snorted. “Like I ever crawl fo’ you.”

“Never say never, Cajun,” she returned with a suggestive leer.

His second snort was more amusement than irritation, and Sulu chuckled.

“You know, Del, maybe if you took her up on her invitations…” he began.

“You not have no one t’ drink wit’,” Del answered.

“And I wouldn’t put up with his martyr act for very long,” Lian rejoined.

“Fuckin’ Haven,” Del muttered.

“Fuckin’ Maker,” Lian retorted.

“If we’re done with the comedy routine…” Sulu began..

“Don’t you hate it when he gets all captainy?” Lian asked Del.

“Herbert,” Del sniffed.

“Foul tempered son-of-a-bitch,” Sulu returned cheerfully.

Their eyes met and locked for a moment, then Sulu grinned and Del’s lips twitched.

“Ah, normalcy,” was Dr. Rendell’s comment.


Bek Mokallian, entrepreneur and owner of the HTE High Stakes scowled at the report his erstwhile Science Officer had just handed him. “You’re sure about this?” he growled.

Saran, a young Vulcan, raised one eyebrow. “Of course, Captain. I would not have brought it to your attention otherwise.”

“Don’t call me that,” the Haven grumbled as he paged through the tediously meticulous set of observations. He glanced at the two other people who were crowding the small bridge of his put-upon ship, which had been remodeled almost five years previously. The High Stakes used to be a sleek trading vessel. Now, she looked like, in someone’s less-than-appreciative description, ‘a demented raspberry.’ Extra bays and living pods had been welded onto her hull in order to accommodate her new mission, one for which both she and her captain and crew had been shanghaied; that of finding and following up on any and all unusual circumstances around the galaxy that could be used to a) prove that the elusive Star Seeders existed and b) gather clues to the true agenda of these Original Beings – all of which had started when they, dubbed ‘Silmarils’ by the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, James T. Kirk, due to their shining incomparable beauty and his then Assistant Science Officer’s fondness for the writings of J.R.R. Tolkein, had decided to pay a visit to that ship and forever panic Starfleet Intelligence. That agency had added new people to Mok’s crew, among them the Vulcan who stood placidly, his hands behind his back, and the Indiian and Antari who also waited for him to finish the report.

Rian ani Rina watched him with wide, serene purple eyes, her nearly floor-length, golden hair curling around the arm that rested in casual possessiveness at her waist. That arm belonged to Eontril Plad, musician and Roshian. Together they served as the ship’s medical department, both physical and psychological.

“You’re sure you’re sure about this?” Mok repeated.

“The conclusions are irrefutable,” the Antari said, her voice as rich and lovely as the rest of her.

“This is bad,” Mok muttered. “This is Saford bad.”

“Why?” Eontril challenged. “You think that without the damned Organians, the Klingons will come and wipe us all off the map?”

“We could,” came a lazy voice from somewhere behind Mokallian. Kila, a very attractive, very young woman of that race rose from the chair that served as Helm, Navigation and Communications. She had been Mok’s underaged ‘companion’ five years before. Now she was the ship’s resident ‘outsider’ opinion.

“Don’t get all bluster and bully on me, Kila,” Eontril admonished with a grin. “I can see right through all that crap, you know.”

“If it hadn’t been for the damned sheep-herders…” the Klingon began hotly.

“Yeah, yeah, we’d all be slaves in your glorious empire,” Mok snarled. “We’ve got that one memorized.” He again frowned at the report in his hands. “You’re sure you’re sure you’re sure?”

Rian sighed. Saran gave a slight shake of his head. “Why, Captain, must you continually question that which has already been answered?” he asked.

“Maybe because you keep bringing me totally unbelievable shit,” the Haven responded. “And how many times do I have to tell you, don’t call me ‘Captain’?” He paused, tapping the stylus against the statboard. “Has His Badassness seen this?”

“Yes, he has,” rumbled a voice from the short entry corridor that led to the rest of the ship. After five years, nearly everyone had stopped wondering how an Andorian could make his voice rumble. After five years, most of them knew or at least suspected the answer. Tharas Badell didn’t try to squeeze his muscled body into the room. “And if we weren’t already on our way to a rendezvous with the Drake, we’d be heading there at top speed.”

Mok glanced around at the members of his crew. Saran was his usual inexpressive, but his dark eyes looked concerned. Rian had her ‘oh dear’ face on. Eontril was shimmering slightly from the emotions around him. Kila looked slightly more excited than bored or belligerent. Tharas’ midnight blue eyes were filled with warning.

“Shit,” Mok said succinctly.


Sulu stopped at his cabin only long enough to change back into his uniform. He noted with longing that there were messages from both Jilla and Jeremy waiting at his comm terminal, and silently promised them both that he’d get back right after the briefing. Not that he was looking forward to it. Information from the High Stakes always made him twitchy, since it was never good, always highest security classification, and he never liked having to decide how much to tell his senior staff. That he usually decided to tell them 90% of it never made him feel any better about the 10% he couldn’t tell them. The internal struggle between wanting to be a model Starfleet officer and knowing how important it was to have your crew trust you completely – not to mention that he trusted them completely – was wearing thin.

The fact that the secrecy aspect brought up too many uncomfortable memories was sour icing on an already bitter cake.

With a sigh, he shouldered his burden, donned his captain’s mantle – pausing to chuckle at how like Daffy Gollub the snarky descriptions sounded – and made his way to the briefing room.

His First Officer, Jerel Courtland, and Chief of Security Tara Ryan were already waiting for him.

“How was your leave, Captain?” the Equian asked politely.

“About as restful as usual,” Sulu replied.

“Carousing with DelMonde again?” Tara remarked.

“As if you didn’t already know,” was the captain’s retort.

Tara suppressed her amusement.

Sulu got himself a cup of coffee, then took a seat at the table. When Jerel and Tara also took their seats, he said, “Okay, what have we got this time?”

“The rendezvous is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon,” Courtland said. “As always, we have no information as to what they’ll be telling us.”

“But you can bet it won’t be good,” Tara added. “Or simple.”

“It never is,” Sulu sighed. After a pause in which he nearly finished his coffee, he said, “So, anything else I miss?”

“The Paine pouted a lot,” Tara reported with a grin.

“Any clandestine messages sent to Intelligence?” the captain asked.

“None Lieutenant Vale was aware of,” Ryan answered. “And yes, I double checked.”

“Good woman.” Sulu smiled at her.

“We received a report of possible contact with a newly charted planet – on the border of Klingon space,” Courtland said. At Sulu’s frown, the Equian whinnied. “Fleet has sent the Lynx on an exploratory run. No need for us to get that close to the godless heathens.”

“And we thank those gods for their mercy,” Sulu said. “Anything else?”

“Quarterly reports for the Science Section are due next week,” Jerel rejoined. “And…”

His voice broke off as the comm link on the table lit up.

“Captain, we’re receiving a distress call,” came the voice of Tristan Vale, the Communications Chief. “It’s from the Lynx.”

Sulu scowled and drained his cup. “Guess I gave thanks too early,” he said, then thumbed the response switch on the comm terminal. “On my way, Lieutenant.” He stood, returning the cup to the replicator, then headed out of the room.

“I hate it when we have to get anywhere near the possibility of dealing with Klingons,” Tara muttered to Jerel.

Courtland nodded ruefully. “At least the Captain doesn’t take his unreasoning prejudice out on us.”

“It’s NOT unreasoning!” Sulu called over his shoulder as Tara said at the same time, “It’s not all that unreasoning, Mr. Courtland.”

“See?” Sulu added. “And she’s known me a lot longer than you have.”

The Equian lowered his head in deference, then snorted once Sulu was out of earshot. Ryan raised a curious eyebrow. “It’s a small fault on his part,” Jerel confided, “but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I let it become a big one.”

Tara gave a half-smile. “You’re good for him, you know that?”

“Yes, I am,” Jerel returned immodestly, and he and Tara both laughed, then followed their captain to the Bridge.


Dr. Rendell’s hypo had cleared up the physical manifestations of Del’s overindulgence of alcohol and sapphire, but there wasn’t any chemical agent known to man, woman or Haven that could clear up the emotional vestiges. Del growled at Rivka Mazar, the Drake’s Chief Engineer, when she handed him the readouts of Valjiir’s most recent tests and modifications of the engines for the Nest ships. The information on the computer tie-ins were full of Ruth Valley’s usual ‘everybody knows this shit, right?’ leaps of intuition, while the engine specs were neat, precise, logical and orderly, the hallmark of the Ice Queen.

Jilla, Del corrected himself irritably. It was hard for him to maintain his admittedly unfair animosity toward the Indiian when with Sulu, but just as difficult to keep it from coming back redoubled when he was no longer being bombarded by ‘lust lust lust, love love love’ from the captain. Jilla was who she was, her situation one of the clearest cases of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ Del had ever seen, but her unbending attitude had hurt Ruth badly, and unwarranted as his continuing bitterness over that fact was, he wasn’t able to shake his undue acrimony.

He was sitting at a terminal in Engineering, integrating the new information with that already stored in the database. There were some truly superb ideas contained within it. One piece in particular caught his attention, because it was very like a modification that had come up in his work with Dylan Paine…

As if summoned by the thought, Del’s empathy identified the young Ensign just before the ubiquitous hand came up to touch his hair. He swiftly turned in his seat, pulling his head out of range of Dylan’s hand.

“I had a fuckin’ wonderful leave, an’ I not t’ink o’ you once,” he snarled.

Dylan Paine’s blue, blue eyes gazed at him in wounded resignation. “I heard the new specs from SanFran were in,” the Racer-who-wanted-to-be-a-Maker said, doing a creditable job of keeping his clear sorrow from his voice. “Lieutenant Commander Mazar wanted me to go over them with you.”

Del grunted and nodded and Dylan pulled another chair over to the terminal. After only a few seconds’ scan, the Ensign’s face lit up. “That’s just what we were talking about the other day!” he enthused.

“Majiir may not be my favorite person in th’ world,” Del conceded, “But she one fine engineer.”

Dylan gave him a sidelong glance. “Not your favorite?” he repeated. “Why?”

“None o’ your damn business,” Del returned.

The blue eyes gazed at him. “How did she hurt you, Del?” he asked quietly.

The Cajun made a disgusted noise. “I not jus’ say it none o’ your business?”

“Anything that hurts you is my business,” Paine returned. “Because I care about you,” he added before the engineer could make some unflattering reference to his connection to Starfleet Intelligence.

“Yeah, ‘cause I th’ savior o’ the whole damn galaxy,” Del muttered.

Dylan grinned. “Well, one of – or at least, you have the potential – one of the ones who have that po…”

“Lieutenant Commander DelMonde, Ensign Paine, report to the Bridge immediately,” Tristan Vale’s voice suddenly said over the ship’s intercom.

Remerciez Dieu,” Del sighed under his breath, and started to rise from his chair. He wasn’t quite fast enough to avoid the hand that Dylan placed on his shoulder, ostensibly to help him rise, but managing to brush his fingertips against Del’s hair.

“You shouldn’t indulge like that, Del,” the Ensign murmured. “Not even on leave. It’s not good for…”

Del pushed the boy away. “Stay outta my business, chiot,” he growled, then turned, stalking toward the corridor, trying not to feel the blue eyes on his back, or the rueful longing that was aimed straight at his heart.


Tristan Vale turned in his seat as the turbolift opened and Captain Sulu walked onto the Bridge. “It’s an automated signal, Captain,” he said. “I’ve tried hailing, but there’s no response.”

“That could mean their Communications are out,” Lieutenant Zel said from the Helm.

Sulu nodded, taking the center seat. Behind him, Jerel Courtland headed for the Science Station and Tara Ryan positioned herself next to Communications.

“What’s the Lynx’s last known position?” Sulu asked of the pretty young Asian woman at Navigation.

Yin Tsing punched a few buttons on her console. “One seventeen point seven, thirty-two point five, minus sixty-one point one,” she reported. “Just outside the DiCenta planetary system.”

“Time to those coordinates at best speed?” Sulu asked Zel.

“Twelve hours, thirty-three minutes, sir,” the L’chal’dan answered, then glanced up as the turbolift doors hissed open again, revealing Noel DelMonde and Dylan Paine. “Unless Miss Mazar and Mr. DelMonde can kick her up a little.”

Sulu, too, turned to glance at Del. “Can we get better than best?” he asked the engineer.

“I can coax her a li’l bitty bit,” Del said as he bent over the Engineering Station. “Where we goin’ in such a hurry, Captain?”

“Automated distress signal from the Lynx,” Sulu said. “She’s close to Klingon space.”

“Then I get more’n a li’l bitty bit,” Del promised, and began a call to the engine room.

“Reporting as ordered, Captain,” Dylan said as he approached the con.

“Mr. Paine, as we’re going to be in spitting distance of the Klingons, I want all weapons and defensive systems double-checked before we get there,” the captain replied. “If the Lynx needs us, I want to be ready.”

“Aye, sir,” Dylan acknowledged, and went to his station, next to Engineering. Sulu noted the glower Del gave the boy in passing.

“Jerel, get me everything we know about the DiCenta system,” Sulu said to his First Officer. Jerel nodded, taking his seat. “Tristan, keep trying to raise the Lynx,” the captain said to Vale. “And contact the High Stakes. Tell her we’ll have to postpone our rendezvous.”

“Oh, that’s going to make them real happy,” Tara muttered.

Sulu’s shrug was at decided odds with his more than half grin.


“Shit!” Christy Chas swore sharply at the Communications link.

From the terminal, the voice of the Chief of Communications from the Drake became wary.

“That’s a problem for you, High Stakes?”

The sole Human member of the Haven ship’s crew sighed tightly. “Yes, it is. The information we have to exchange is time-sensitive.” She pressed the “audio off” button and shouted, “Mok! Tharas! We’ve got a problem!”

In moments, both the Haven and Andorian stepped onto the small Bridge, each of them pausing to gesture the other through first.

“You’re the captain,” Tharas rumbled politely.

“I don’t want you at my back,” Mok returned sourly.

Tharas sighed and stepped through the door, Mok edged through, then, hands on his hips, addressed Christy.

“What’s the matter,” he said. “His Majesty’s got a hot date?”

Christy scowled at him, then thumbed the audio back on. “Say again, Drake,” she instructed.

“We’ve received a distress signal from a Fleet scout, the Lynx, and are detouring to answer it. Our rendezvous with you will be delayed until we can…”

“No. Not possible,” Tharas interrupted. “We need to make this report now.”

“Uh – Miss Chas, is the captain…?” Vale’s voice began again.

“Yeah, I’m here,” Mok broke in gruffly. “Why, can’t you deal with an Andorian merc and a starry-eyed Racer?”

“Shut the fuck up, Mok!” Christy hissed.

“Captain Mokallian, this is a courtesy call. Captain Sulu has ordered us to aid the Lynx, and…”

“What is your heading?” Tharas interrupted – again.

“Mr. Badell, such information is…”

“Thanks, Drake, High Stakes out,” Christy broke in abruptly and closed the link.

“What did you do that for?” the Andorian enunciated, his eyes glaring at her.

“Do you want them to know we’re gonna follow them?” she challenged.

“We are?” Mok blinked.

Christy and Tharas exchanged glances. A small smile crept onto the Andorian’s lips.

“We are,” he said firmly.

“Look, this is my boat, indentured though she may be…” the Haven began. Both Christy and Tharas turned identical gazes to him. He swallowed, then straightened. “…and I say we’re following the Drake,” he finished.

“Good command decision,” Tharas agreed.


The Engineering Section managed to ‘kick up’ the ETA of rendezvous with the Lynx to just under seven hours. In that time, Sulu read all the information Courtland had gotten on the Lynx’s mission and the DiCenta planetary system, read the messages from Jeremy and Jilla twice each, sent off hurried replies, and even managed to get in a workout in the gym to clear the last vestiges of his leave from his body. His yeoman, Zoe Elif, had brought a tray of food to the Bridge and stood over him, her arms crossed in belligerent satisfaction while he actually ate most of it. Then she rewarded him with a large carafe of coffee.

“The Lynx is in scanning range, Captain,” Zel reported from the Helm.

“Do we have visual?” Sulu asked.

“In another five minutes, sir,” Tsing replied from Navigation.

Courtland turned from the Science Station. “This is odd,” he said. “There are no enemies visible, her engines seem fine, life support is, according to the sensor readings, working. Scans show the crew seems to be functioning normally.” He lowered his head, the Equian equivalent of wrinkling his forehead. “The distress signal makes no sense.”

“They wouldn’t send it just because Communications is out, would they?” Tristan asked from that station.

Sulu frowned. “That’s not exactly standard procedure, no.”

“Maybe they can’t repair it themselves,” Dylan put in.

“Clearly, Mr. Paine, but in that case, they should simply report to the nearest base. There’s nothing in this mission to suggest it’s critical.”

“Unless DiCenta is another damned Organian schoolyard fight,” Ryan commented.

Sulu sighed. The game of ‘who-can-claim-a-planet-first’ that had been instigated by the Organian Peace Treaty had nearly cost him dearly once already, and once in a lifetime for that particular terror was enough for him.

“Jerel, scan DiCenta, see if there’s anything there to interest our Klingon friends,” he ordered.

“Aye, sir,” the Equian said.

“The automated distress is still repeating, Captain,” Vale reported.

“The Lynx, on screen now,” Tsing said.

The viewscreen resolved to show the scout, apparently perfectly normal except for the fact that she wasn’t heading toward her assignment. No eerie glow. No firefight. No evidence of damage or trauma of any kind. Sulu scowled. It wasn’t like Captain Dekleva to sound the alarm over something as simple as a Communications foul-up, so he decided to keep his annoyance to himself until he could talk to her.

“Scans of DiCenta show nothing either interesting or remotely important,” Courtland reported. “There’s no lifeform readings at all.” He shook his head, his mane rippling over his neck. “I don’t understand it.”

Sulu gave a short nod of acknowledgement. “Okay, our best guess is the Lynx is having some equipment malfunctions,” he announced. “Tristan, have Mr. DelMonde report to the transporter with a full tool kit. There may be injuries, so contact Dr. Rendell, too. And as this is potentially hostile space, Tara, you’re along for the ride, as well as you, Mr. Paine. Once we’ve assessed the situation there, we’ll have a better idea of how to best aid Captain Dekleva.” He rose from the con, finishing his coffee before handing the empty cup to Zoe. Tristan turned to his board and Courtland stepped to the con.

“Good luck, Captain,” he said wryly.

Sulu shrugged. “At least there’s no Klingons,” he returned, and he, Dylan Paine and Tara Ryan left the Bridge.


Because of the proximity of the Drake’s sickbay to this particular transporter room, Dr. Rendell was already waiting for them when the group from the Bridge arrived in the chamber.

“What took you so long?” DelMonde asked sarcastically, joining her at the equipment locker.

“I took the scenic route,” the Haven replied easily as she did a last check on her emergency medical kit. “Where’s the captain?”

“Thought of one more thing to ask the Chief Engineer.” Tara Ryan did a quick visual check on each team member’s phaser before passing it to them.

Dylan Paine pushed past her to be as close as possible to the engineer. “Here’s your tricorder, Del.”

The Cajun narrowed his eyes. “How many times,” he growled, taking a handful of the younger man’s shirt and using it to push him firmly backwards, “do I have to tell you t’ get out my face?”

“I...I... I’m sorry, Del,” Paine stammered, crestfallen. “I was just…”

“Tell you what,” the engineer interrupted. “You jus’ go stand over there an’ stay there ‘til I call you. You hear?”

Paine blinked his big blue eyes piteously. “I’ll confirm our co-ordinates with Chief Dowd.”

“Yeah.” Del crossed his arms mercilessly. “You jus’ do that li’l t’ing.”

“Mr. DelMonde.” Lian Rendell quietly tsk-tsked as Paine retreated. “If you’re just going to be mean to your puppy…”

“Don’t discourage him,” Tara Ryan said, quickly checking the power level on each communicator she handed out. “That dog can use some training.”

“Bet he already knows how to roll over and beg,” Rendell replied wickedly as she attached her communicator to her equipment belt.

Del frowned mightily. “He pretty fuckin’ good at ‘speak’ too. Want me t’ call him back fo’ a demonstration?”

“No! No!” his companions requested in an emphatic chorus.

The captain of the Drake burst through the doors like a coiled spring.

“Okay, people.” He didn’t even break stride as Ryan tossed him a phaser and communicator. His team hurried to join him on the transport pads. When they were assembled, Sulu nodded to the Transporter Chief. “Let’s do this.”


Sulu had anticipated a number of responses the crew of the Lynx might have to having a boarding party materialize unannounced into their transporter chamber. Being ignored was perhaps the only reaction he hadn’t planned on.

The transporter chief had a side panel off the transport unit. He seemed to be engrossed in checking circuitry – so engrossed, as a matter of fact, he didn’t even look up when five people beamed aboard his ship less than ten feet away from where he was standing.

“Crewman,” the Captain of the Drake began.

There was no response.

Sulu turned to his party. “You can hear me, right?” he asked.

Ryan, Paine and Rendell said “Yes, sir.” DelMonde just gave him a look.

Sulu stepped off the transporter platform, moving toward the chief – who deftly turned and headed out the door, managing to avoid eye contact.

"What the…?” Sulu began.

“Maybe he’s busy with whatever malfunction is gripping this boat?” Rendell suggested with typical Haven humor.

“Or Captain Dekleva is as big a Herbert as VonHels was?” Dylan put in.

“If that were the case, there’d be armed guards here by now,” Ryan replied.

Sulu was frowning as he flipped open his communicator. “Drake, this is the boarding party, reporting our safe arrival – I think.” He waited for a response.

There was none.

Drake, this is Captain Sulu, acknowledge.”

The communicator remained as stubbornly inattentive as had the Lynx’s crewman.

The captain’s frown turned into a full scowl. “Del, is there some kind of dampening field here?”

The engineer took a tricorder from his tool kit, scanning the environs. “Not a physical one,” he said at last.


“No,” Dylan answered before Del could even close his eyes and concentrate, then flushed as the Cajun glared at him. “Well, there isn’t,” the weapons officer insisted. “At least not one I can detect.”

“Captain, I’d suggest we find Captain Dekleva,” Tara said.

“Agreed,” Sulu said, but his gaze lingered on Dylan Paine for a fraction of a second before he turned and led his party out of the transporter room.


Kila stood with her fists on her hips, feet planted firmly, eyes narrowed. “It’s a trap, you know.”

“Is not,” Christy objected, scowling. She looked up from her lunch.

“Isn’t it suspicious that we try to make contact, and they hightail it off to where they have a second ship, supposedly crippled, just waiting for us?”

Christy laughed. “You think the High Stakes would be too much for the Drake all on its own?”

“I think they don’t trust us,” Kila answered, exasperated. “Gah, what we’re about to tell them—”

“… which they don’t know yet and can’t be basing any decisions on…”

“—would give them the excuse they need—”

“…to do exactly what your Almighty Empire wants them to do…”

“Look, just because you’re a spineless little bloodworm—”

“—means I can suck you dry before you know it.”

“You wish.”

“Who’s sucking who?” Mok asked. “And why wasn’t I included?”

The two young women turned, as the Haven sauntered into the little galley. He made his way to the replicator and started reprogramming it to serve up a palatable lunch. He muttered under his breath. “Every time I come in here, this thing has the most outrageous settings.”

“So tell the big cats and the green fungus-eater to starve,” Kila suggested.

“At least the Caitians eat meat,” Mok said, distractedly, as he punched commands in. “And Saran’s plant matter sometimes makes good garnish for a steak—”

“As long as he doesn’t do that foul plomeek soup,” Christy shuddered.

“Then, what?” Kila demanded of Mok. “You’re complaining about my food?”

Christy grunted. “Slime sausage in Tyhrannian snot sauce with fresh wiggle-ants — raw — yeah, that’s pretty gruesome.”

“They’re not fresh!” Kila objected. “This damn replicator can’t serve up living food.”

Mok turned around and pointed suspiciously at Christy. “Kila’s been with me a long time, I know how to reprogram after her perversions. But you’re the last one who used this thing.” He shifted his attention to the plate in front of her. “What the scab is that?”

Christy blinked. “Pizza,” she explained. “Took me a while to get your unit—”

“And what are those — objects — contaminating it?”

“Uhm…” She frowned, puzzled. “You mean the anchovies?”

Mok looked a little sick, and closed his eyes. “I wasn’t really hungry anyway.”

“You see?” Kila demanded. “That’s what I was talking about.”

“Pizza?” Christy asked, still confused.

The Klingon girl turned toward Mok. “Trying to poison us! Those sneaky Earth scum can’t be trusted!”

Mok shook his head and sank into a chair. “Kila, after five years, you still think she’s the enemy?”

“That’s not what she thought last week,” Christy smiled sweetly, and licked her lips.

“I wasn’t talking about her!”

Christy nodded, knowingly. “She was talking about pizza.”

“I was talking about the Drake, and that damn bigot Takeda—”

“Hey now!” Christy raised her voice for the first time. “You’re joking, right?”

“Yeah, yeah, your oh-so-precious Kamikaze wouldn’t ever do anything wrong, would he, you stupid groupie fangirl—”

“I’m a racer, not a groupie!” she shouted.

“Could have fooled me, last week,” Kila shot back.

“Look,” Mok interrupted, “either kill each other, or go screw some more and get it out of your system, okay?” He glared at them, and they glowered back. “I swear, you two get like this every couple of months.” He sighed. “Youthful hormones are the bane of the Galaxy.”

Christy snorted. “You’re just pissed ‘cause you’re not making a profit off it.”

“This is the first time you’ve ever complained about my hormones,” Kila chided him.

“Yeah, well, I used to enjoy them more often.”

Saran came into the room, glanced around, and raised his eyebrows. “For a moment, as I approached, hearing a technical term, I was misled into thinking there was an intelligent conversation going on here. I see I was mistaken.”

Christy grinned. “You mean ‘hormones’?”

Mok shook his head. “I’m sure he meant ‘profit’. What have you got for us, Saran, and why don’t you have any youthful hormones?”

“I have an ETA for rendezvous with the Drake and some preliminary readings on both the Lynx and the planet DiCenta 4, and as for your second question, my hormone specifics and levels are precisely what they should be for a healthy Vulcan male of my age.” He blinked, sniffed the air, and looked as if he was about to say something – but then dismissed it.

“Now, you’re certain the Feds won’t see us creeping up?” Mok asked, a little anxiously.

“Certain?” Saran answered. “Of course not. This is the first full test of the new cloak.” Lane Gage, the Haven Ambassador-at-Large to the Federation, had surreptitiously obtained a Valjiir-style cloak for them, at the behest of Admiral Brezhnova, only a few months before. The Admiral had become convinced the device would help them get closer to some of the planetary systems they wanted to study without being detected, and had moved Saford’s Hell to finagle one. But even working with Tharas and their Caitian technician, it had taken Saran quite some time to adapt it to the Haven hardware on Mok’s ship. “I cannot state, with absolute certainty, that the cloak will defeat the sensors of the Drake,” he went on. “But I can put it at a probability of point nine seven eight five six out of one point zero.” And once again, he appeared to want to say something more, but once again, he stopped himself.

“That’ll have to do,” Mok responded, patiently. “Kila thinks the Lynx is a trap. Your scans show any traps?”

“No, but nor do I see anything amiss. The ship is transmitting a distress signal, but there does not appear to be anything wrong with it that I can detect.”

Mok scowled. “That is odd.” It didn’t need to be stressed that they should have been able to tell if there was anything wrong. Admiral Brezhnova had outfitted the High Stakes with the best sensors she had available—and, being in her position, that was saying a lot.

“See!” Kila declared triumphantly. “It’s a trap!”

“But the Drake seems puzzled, too. They have sent urgent requests for further information to the Lynx, and those requests have gone unanswered. From all indications, the Lynx is simply either unable, or unwilling, to respond.”

“Or maybe,” Mok theorized, “unable to hear.”


“Tell me about DiCenta.”

Saran paused and wrinkled his nose again before replying. “It is an unremarkable system, and specifically, DiCenta 4 is an unremarkable world. The system, being near the Klingon-Federation border, is subject to the Organian Treaty, and it is likely the Lynx was there to investigate whether the system would have been worth the effort to vie with the Klingons for development rights. My sensor scans showed nothing of value at all, but yet I surmised—” and he paused again.

“Why,” Mok asked, “do you keep making that face?”

“I was not certain I should inquire about this. But do I smell… anchovies?”

“All right, fine,” Christy sighed, capitulating. She stood, picked up her plate, and stomped over to the disposal unit.

Mok tried very hard to maintain his patience. “About DiCenta?”

“Yes, I surmised that whatever was happening to the Lynx might be associated with its presence at DiCenta 4, despite our sensors being unable to detect anything out of the ordinary. So I asked—”

“You know, for a Vulcan, you’re pretty dumb,” Kila interjected. “Of course it’s associated! They found something important there, and don’t want us to know.”

“Why would they not?” Saran scowled.

Kila pointed at herself. “Hello? Klingon. Captain Bigot doesn’t want whatever-it-is to get leaked back to the Emperor.”

Mok and Saran glanced at each other. “Let me,” Mok said. “Kila, I lust you dearly, but no. Captain Takeda is well aware that we can’t risk passing information to the Klingon Empire. We don’t even have easy access to the Admiral. The Drake is really our only point of contact.”

“The Monolems were able to get that cloak to us,” Kila argued.

“Yes, and it wasn’t easy. Forget it, Kila, this isn’t about that.” He turned back to Saran. “You were saying…?”

“Even though our sensors detected nothing, I theorized there may still be some effect emanating from the planet or its environs. The most likely influence seemed to me to be a mental one—telepathic, empathic, telekinetic, something of that nature, none of which abilities are detectible technologically.”

“But don’t they need a living thing to be doing them?” Christy asked, frowning as she stood by the disposal.

“Yes,” Saran agreed, “as far as we know. But we have already encountered instances where powerful psychic forces were present, even when the life forms producing them had weakened past the point where they could be detected by us at such distances as presently between us and the Lynx.” He let that implication hang in the air.

Christy’s eyes grew wide. “You think there’s a dying Seeder on DiCenta?”

The Vulcan held up a hand. “It was a possibility. So as I had been about to say, I asked Rian and Eontril to assist me in attempting to detect such a presence.” He stopped, closed his eyes briefly, and continued. “We — I formed a mind meld with the three of us, so we could combine our gifts of telepathy, empathy, and tia.”

“And….?” Christy held her breath.

“We found perhaps a glimmer, something of which none of us could be certain.”

“Are we talking,” Mok asked, “only point nine seven eight five scab it uncertain, like with the cloak?”

“No, Mok. Far more uncertain than that. I was not going to say anything at all, but Rian and Eontril insisted. But we did identify something else.”

“So tell us already!” Kila blurted.

He glanced at her, then at Christy, then again turned to Mok. “As I said in the report I drew up for delivery to the Drake, Rian and Eontril and I have found we can become aware of Organian Influence when we are specifically looking for it. And as I outlined there,” he was clearly saying this for the benefit of Kila, whom he knew had not read the report, “this Influence seems to have been lessening — weakening — over time, in a systematic way.” The Organian Influence was the phrase they used to describe a sort of psychic field, by which the Organians managed to remain aware of what was happening on the myriad worlds and the encompassing space within the Treaty Zone. Inside this area, they enforced their edicts—the Influence prevented open conflict between the Klingons and the Federation.

Saran went on: “Since the DiCenta system is within the boundaries of the Organian Treaty, I would have expected to also find the Influence here, but, as with the previous recent encounters, I would have expected it similarly to be reduced, especially since we are not particularly near to Organia itself.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” Mok said, wanting very much to get to the point. “And…?”

“I was wrong. The Organian Influence is present here, yes, but more strongly — much more strongly — than we have ever detected before.” He drew a breath. “Something on this unremarkable world is of vital importance — to the Organians. Of that, I am certain.”

“How certain?” Mok asked, his tone hushed.

“One,” Saran answered, “point zero zero.”

“That’s pretty certain.” Christy observed.

“Yes,” Saran acknowledged. “It is.”


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