Captain Yates stifled a yawn as Diversion's
reversion alarms sounded for what was perhaps the two hundredth time in the last several weeks. In an effort to find out Voyager's
origin, they had tracked down and disabled a Hirogen hunting ship to get access to its navigational data. Finding the ship had been easy enough. Boarding it to get its navigational database had been another story.
He had read over the mission logs from the stormtrooper teams several times and still couldn't quite believe that the ship had only been crewed by two hunters. Of the two squads sent in, six troopers were KIA and another nine injured. They completed the objective in the end, but the hunters had killed themselves rather than be captured.
He sat up and rubbed his temples to try and eliminate the budding headache that was threatening to make a long duty period even longer. He had quickly come to the conclusion that there was just a lot of weird stuff in this galaxy. Apparently, one of the largest forces in this part of the galaxy was a collective of cybernetic-enhanced aliens, which most other races in the area had warned them to keep away from. Not seeing any reason to put his crew in any more risk than necessary, Yates had heeded their advice and they had managed to jump through the so-called 'Borg' space with only about three stops to change course.
During their last course change, they had emerged in a system filled with massive cubes that measured roughly three kilometers on each side. They had been operating as stealthily as normally possible; external running lights shut off, photosensitive transparisteel viewports darkened, and no external transmissions or active sensor pulses of any sort. Yet somehow, within minutes of their arrival, one of the cubes had entered into the strange subspace warp method the natives of this galaxy were so fond of using.
The message it had broadcast on its return to realspace had been very short and ominous in tone, even before they had realized that the Borg had been broadcasting in Basic
. The implications of that had been terrifying, in the sense that it meant the Borg perhaps had encountered colonists from Outbound Flight. The stories the natives had told about the Borg had not been very reassuring.
Still, it had been a measure of the professionalism of his crew that they had kept their wits about themselves, managing to complete the calculations for the next jump within thirty seconds of the cube's arrival. The damage that Diversion
had suffered from the Borg weapons was relatively insignificant; the shields had bled off most of the energy fired at them, although one of the generators had come close to overheating during the brief barrage.
Things had been surprisingly quiet for the next several jumps after that harrowing experience. That is, until they had been pulled out of hyperspace in a strangely dense nebula. Diversion
had then been attacked by dozens of tiny, almost fighter-like ships.
Fortunately, Loronar had built the Strike Cruiser with starfighter defense in mind. The ship was studded with so many point defense blaster turrets that their attackers never even stood a chance.
Yates leaned back in his seat and considered the goal. So far, everything he had learned pointed to some system called "Ocampa" as Voyager
's starting point in this region. Since none of the alien races they had encountered so far had actually been able to say where Earth with any degree of accuracy, it stood to reason that the Ocampa system was the most likely place to find out.
The only problem was that he still didn't know where Ocampa was, exactly. They had instead been leapfrogging from one system to the next, looking for traces of Voyager
"Sitrep?" he asked, turning to Comm-Scan.
"Average system," the answer came back promptly. "Six rocky planets, two of which lie in the habitable range for humanoids. We're picking up large amounts of subspace emissions coming from both."
"Any sign that we've been detected yet?" Diversion
had deliberately jumped into the halo of comets that surrounded most star systems in an attempt to avoid notice.
"Not yet, Sir."
He turned to Rowin. "Keep most systems on standby until we learn who the inhabitants are."
"Yes, Captain," the commander replied, turning back to his own duties.
"Comm-Scan, does the language match anything we've learned so far?"
"There are some that appear similar to Hirogen words, but otherwise no matches."
Yates nodded. "Keep on it and let me know when you have something."
It took several hours for the computer to aggregate enough data to provide a meaningful translation, although Yates mentally noted that the accuracy was still somewhat lacking.
Less surprising was the fact that most of the transmissions were commercial in nature. There were advertisements for various products of fairly universal nature such as foods, tools, and other consumer-related goods. Other transmissions seemed to be more focused on entertainment, mostly competitions of various types. While not necessarily important from a military sense, the transmissions allowed Yates to mentally paint a picture of their society.
While the audio was simple enough, it took some additional time for the computer to process their video formats, which turned out to be simple two-dimensional imaging rather than the holographics that Yates had grown accustomed to.
Even the simplicity of their video codec was nowhere near as astonishing as their actual appearance. The Hirogen had been surprisingly close to the typical galactic humanoid, enough for Yates to wonder if it was merely coincidence. These, however, looked almost human if one ignored the copper-colored skin, minor cranial ridges, flattened nose, and lichen-like tufts of hair. There were just too many similarities for not one, but two species to have been a product of evolutionary convergence. How many times has that wormhole been used? he wondered.
Fhong walked up several minutes later carrying a datapad. "Here is the report you requested on the system assets, Sir."
Yates nodded. "Thank you, Lieutenant. What are your thoughts on the report?"
"Sir, they appear to have less than fifty ships in system. Most of them have been going back and forth between the fourth and fifth planets, suggesting they are ferries. Only one ship appears to be a potential threat."
"Do they appear to possess any sort of FTL similar to the Hirogen or Borg?"
"We have not detected anything that would suggest that, but I would not discount the possibility yet."
"Commander?" Yates asked, turning around.
"Yes, Captain?" Rowin replied, walking up to where Yates was standing.
"What is your recommendation on how we approach this civilization?"
Rowin considered the question. "Given our previous experiences and the fact that we do not know how they will react to our sudden presence in the system, I would suggest that we downplay our appearance and enter the system at high sublight. It will take longer this way, but we will be able to track their movements more carefully and get a feel for their commanders."
"Very well," Yates replied. "I'm leaving the ship in your hands for a few hours. I'll be in my quarters."
. . .
Maje Zerin, commander of the Kazon-Nistrim warship Pursuer
, was not having what could be called a particularly good day by anyone's standards.
It had started off with the death of his daughter's favorite pet, a wretched reptilian that he had always despised but she was strangely attached to. She and her mother had wasted the better part of several hours on the comm with him trying to convince him to come down to the planet below for a small funeral service they were holding for the animal. He had outright refused for two reasons; the first was that he regardless of what his idiot daughter might have thought about the creature, it was still just that, a creature. The second reason was that Pursuer
was assigned to the task of patrolling the system by the First Maje. For him to leave his post for something as frivolous as a pet's funeral would undoubtedly bring very harsh consequences for him.
Then, right after he had finished settling back into his normal routine, one of the reactor techs had forgotten to properly re-seal a containment vessel for radioactive waste from one of their secondary powerplants. Pursuer
's medics were still trying to figure out how many of the crew had been exposed to the radiation. While they had gone about that task, Zerin had personally reprimanded the crewman before throwing him out one of the ship's airlocks, sans helmet. He found the colors that the unlucky crewman's face turned before he finally died somewhat amusing, and a nice relief from the earlier tension.
He snapped out of his reverie to face a crewman holding a sensor report. "What is it now?"
The crewman bowed deferentially. "Maje, the sensor outpost on Krale detected an object entering from outside the system at a significant fraction of lightspeed. Their current vector will bring them into the inner system in several hours' time."
"Who are they?" Zerin demanded.
"The outpost commander was not sure," the crewman replied, taking a step backwards just in case Zerin lashed out at him. "The ship does not appear to be warp capable. They think it is unarmed."
"Primitives, then," Maje Zerin spat. Of course, he was aware that less than a hundred years prior the Kazon were themselves enslaved by the Trabe--held down at a mere Iron Age technological level. That minor detail didn't change the contempt he felt toward the intruders. "A colony ship maybe? Either way, they may hold something of interest to us. Plot a course to intercept them, and see if you can contact them."
"At once, Maje."
After several minutes, Maje Zerin was beginning to wonder if the aliens had even received his transmission.
"Incoming signal, Maje," one of the operators finally reported.
"Let's see who these cowards are," Zerin snorted. A moment later, when the figure appeared on the screen, his jaw dropped.
?" he exclaimed in disbelief.
"Maje Zerin, I am Captain Thanan Yates of the Galactic Republic survey vessel FSC-956. We were unaware of your claim to this system. In light of that we formally request permission to continue on our mission." Instead of the message terminating, Yates stood motionless, apparently awaiting a reply.
Zerin took a moment to find his voice. If these aliens were really Federation
, then this could be a dangerous situation. The last Federation ship the Kazon-Nistrim had encountered had been Voyager
, and although they overpowered it in the end, the damnable starship still managed to destroy one of Pursuer
's sister ships and damage several others. And while Zerin had access to a number of fighters and other smaller supporting vessels in the system, the nearest reinforcements were spread across several systems that were light-years away -- almost a day's journey at flank speed.
And what did this Captain Yates mean by "Galactic Republic", exactly? Was there another Human government besides the Federation?
The other thing that bothered him was the ship itself. It had more of a war-like quality to it than Voyager
did, although he couldn't see any obvious weapons emplacements. Still...
"Technician Viadi, is that vessel armed?"
The sensor operator checked his displays. "I count about fifty emplacements on the near side of their ship. They appear to be point defense turrets of some sort, perhaps similar to our own."
"What about torpedo tubes, like Voyager
Viadi looked over the readouts for a few moments before answering. "I cannot find anything that matches Voyager
's torpedo launchers. There are some impressions on the hull that could equally be hatches or docking ports. They're much larger than torpedo tubes."
Zerin frowned, but his expression returned to normal a moment later. "Well, we have little choice but to take them at their word. Keep the weapons and shields charged." Then he turned back to Viadi. "Can we open up two-way communication?"
"Yes, Maje. Allow me a moment to set up the connection." Viadi fiddled at the controls some more, and the camera warning light above the main screen turned red. "Link is active."
Maje Zerin cleared his throat and turned toward the screen. "Captain Yates, this system has been Kazon territory for over a hundred years, yet we have never heard of the existence of any Galactic Republic. Did you perhaps mean the Federation?"
Yates shook his head. "No, although it's interesting you mention that. We have been searching for a ship that was lost in this region of space close to sixty years ago. It's possible they could have set up a government of their own by now."
Zerin wanted to spit at the news but resisted the urge--barely. "So, then you admit that you are associated with those humans?"
"Loosely," Yates replied hesitantly. "As I said, they disappeared over sixty years ago. Our mission is to discover what happened to them. Since it seems that you may have encountered the descendants of that ship, can you tell us anything that will help us continue on our way?"
"The ship we came across about two years ago was called Voyager
," Maje Zerin began slowly. "They said they were trying to return home, and wanted to cross our space. When we refused, they fired on us without warning and damaged several of our vessels. We returned fire, but they broke through our lines and fled into Borg space. We have not heard from them since."
"I see," Yates replied. "This home of theirs... was it called Earth?"
Zerin paused to regard the captain for a long moment. "Yes. Why do you ask?"
"Do you know where it is?"
"No," Zerin replied. "They never told us."
"What about the Ocampa? I have heard that mentioned, but nobody so far has been able to tell us where it is."
"Now, Captain Yates," Zerin leaned his head to the side, "surely you understand that information is valuable."
Yates sucked his lower lip in and nodded slightly. "Name your price."
"Fifty kilos of anti-deuterium."
For the briefest of moments, one could have heard a pin drop over the connection. Then Yates' face screwed up into an incredulous expression and he snorted quietly, but it wasn't until he spoke that the Kazon understood the meaning of his facial expressions. "Are you planning on blowing yourself up, Maje?"
"No," Zerin answered in the best monotone he could manage under the circumstances. "Antimatter is a valuable commodity."
"A valuable commodity that is notoriously unstable and impossible to work with under the best of circumstances," Yates corrected. "But to answer your question, we're not in the habit of carrying it on board."
Now Zerin snorted, obviously amused. "So. That is why you entered this system below lightspeed. You do not even possess warp drive! You will be old and withered by the time you reach Ocampa, if you even survive." He started turning to tell Viadi to cut the transmission off, but Yates spoke again.
"We don't have to have your warp drive to be able to tell that there are only about fifty ships in the system, and that you have the only warship here. Be careful who you call primitive."
Zerin stopped dead in his tracks, halfway through his turn. "How did you know that?"
"Well..." Yates raised an eyebrow. "As I said, this is a Galactic Republic survey ship. Anything more than that... well, that would be valuable information, wouldn't it? Draw your own conclusions."
"Now you begin to see how things work." The Maje smiled wanly. "Very well. I would like to invite you aboard my vessel to discuss the information you are looking for."
Captain Yates shook his head. "That is a generous offer, but I must refuse. I propose a counter offer: we will both meet on the surface of the fourth planet of this system, in an open field, with our respective ships on the opposite side of said planet."
In the same situation, Zerin reflected, he probably would have proposed exactly the same thing. "Agreed. I will meet you there in one hour."
. . .
"Humph," Commander Rowin snorted. "Galactic Republic survey ship, my ass. Although, Captain... I do have to give you credit; nobody's started shooting yet. We didn't have that luck with the last three races we ran into."
Yates grinned as he collapsed into a chair on the side of the bridge. "Well, I would hope that you of all people would realize that not all Imperial captains are the bloodthirsty fools that the old Rebel propaganda vids would make us out to be."
"Although I believe we did encounter more than our healthy share of bloodthirsty fools in the command ranks, as you so eloquently put it."
"Indeed," Yates said with a sigh. He reached over and grabbed a bottle of water out of a locker built into the chair's armrest.
"You did get some good intel out of him, no matter how indignant he may have been about the whole thing," Rowin pointed out as Yates took a long drink out of the bottle. "For instance, I'd guess from their questions that they're dumb enough to try using antimatter to power that ridiculous system of theirs... it's a wonder it doesn't blow up in their faces."
Yates nodded sagely. "There's another reason I wouldn't feel very comfortable aboard one of their ships. By the way, did you catch his reaction to our pointing out his system assets? I don't think they have any sort of FTL sensor system, unlike the Borg. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that's what he wants to negotiate with us on."
"For that matter," Rowin cocked his head as he paused mid-sentence to collect his thoughts, "what about this Voyager
ship? He remarked that it wasn't well liked, and we know that the Hirogen hijacked it. It sounds more like a civilian ship than anything else."
"Perhaps," Rowin agreed. "Did you notice how quickly he insinuated that Voyager
attacked first? That suggests to me that he is not quite as blameless as he tries to seem."
"So what about Voyager
and the Outbound Flight? He's obviously seen humans before, so I think we're on the right track. The only question is, assuming Voyager
was built by survivors from Outbound Flight, why would they settle for something like an antimatter-powered warp drive?"
"Why does it have to be built by them?" Rowin asked. "They could have just as easily stolen, bought, or traded for the ship from any one of these local civilizations. Then they can go off and explore the galaxy while leaving their Dreadnaughts to guard the colony.
"That still doesn't explain the connection to the Ocampa system. Do you think that might be one of the Outbound Flight colonies?"
"Possible," Rowin replied. "You should ask Maje Zerin what he knows about Ocampa."
"I can... I'm not sure what he will want to charge us for it, though, if his rate for information about Voyager was fifty kilos of antimatter. I suppose I can always talk him down, but I really hate haggling."
"Also," Rowin pointed out, "we don't have antimatter and I don't think we want to sell our sensor technology to this particular group. What exactly can we trade with them? I have the feeling they're not going to be very interested the crates of shiny glass beads some genius thought we should take with us."
A light dawned on Yates' face. "I know what we can use. Commander, have one of the 'special' crates that the Commodore gave us loaded onto my shuttle. I hope it's as addictive to the Kazon as it is to everyone else."
. . .
The wind-swept plains of the fourth planet were a welcome departure from shipboard life, despite it being a frigid 13 degrees outside once the wind chill was accounted for.
Captain Thanan Yates sniffed at the air, noting the unfamiliar smells of the native grasses and other vegetation. Judging by the color of the foliage and the sudden wind changes, he guessed that it was probably nearing the end of the autumn season on the planet, or perhaps the beginning of winter. But at least the atmosphere was breathable, and he hadn't had any signs of an allergic reaction yet. There had been a handful of worlds back in his own galaxy where he simply couldn't stand being outside during certain seasons due to the pollens. Anti-allergy meds helped somewhat, but they usually left his nose and throat dry and irritated, so he preferred not to take them if he could avoid it.
Behind him with its landing pads mashed into the somewhat soft savannah was one of his ship's two Lambda
-class shuttles, its tripetal wings folded over it like a mechanical flower. Standing guard to either side of the forward ramp were Sergeant Kriglen, Corporal Landot and several troops from Diversion
's stormtrooper detachment. Inside, he knew that there were a dozen more stormtroopers both to guard the shuttle's valuable cargo and in case anything went wrong. Last but not least, two more stormtroopers stood behind him as his personal guard.
Hearing a whine in the distance, he looked up and saw an ungainly-looking brown Kazon craft descending through the sky. It circled the location twice before finally turning and settling down less than a hundred meters away.
A landing ramp unfolded from the rear of the craft and several Kazon troops with odd rifles stepped out first to survey the area. Once satisfied, the apparent guards then took positions at the side of the ramp while the remaining personnel disembarked.
Somewhat apprehensively, Yates turned to the TC protocol droid at his side. The polished silver droid stood stiffly on the uneven ground, although if it was uncomfortable with the situation it made no attempt to show it. Yates was glad that the unit at his side would be silent except for what was required to do its job, unlike the much chattier civilian 3PO and 4PO models from Cybot Galactica.
As the group of Kazon approached, the TC extended an arm in greeting and began speaking rapidly in the guttural alien language. The Kazon at first reacted with confusion, then began babbling to each other and gesturing excitedly at the droid.
"Uh-oh," Yates muttered to himself. "TC, what are they saying?"
"Sir, they are astonished to see an autonomous unit such as myself serving as a translator," the droid replied quietly. "Ah. I believe their leader just expressed his interest in purchasing ... me
Had the droid possessed the ability to display facial expressions, it would have likely worn a shocked expression on its face. As it was, the wide-open, dimly glowing photoreceptors and narrow speaker-grill that were common to Cybot's entire protocol droid line gave it a perpetually surprised look, which suited it perfectly in this situation.
"Relax, TC," Yates reassured the droid. "The most I'd be willing to part with would be a binary load-lifter, and even that might be too advanced for them to handle." The droid started to move its arm, and Yates grabbed it. "No, don't tell them that!"
"As you wish, Captain." The droid turned back to the Kazon, who had stopped several arm-lengths away. Their leader began saying something, and TC dutifully translated it.
"Welcome to our planet, Captain Yates of the Galactic Republic. As you are already aware, I am Maje Zerin of the Kazon-Nistrim." The alien waved to the guards surrounding him. "These are my personal bodyguards."
Yates nodded, and gestured toward the droid and stormtroopers behind himself. "This is TC-21, our translator, and these are selected members of the Republic Marines," he said, slightly distorting the truth per his cover story.
The Kazon waved his hand dismissively and began speaking.
"Maje Zerin wishes to know if you are still interested in data on Voyager
"That depends on the price he wants for it," Yates replied, then waited for the droid to translate.
"He says he will provide the information in exchange for your... translator."
Yates tried not to roll his eyes. "Unfortunately, I cannot part with my translator. However," he pulled a clear vial filled with a brown powdery substance from his pocket, "I would be willing to exchange a certain quantity of ryll spice, if you find that acceptable."
"What is ryll spice?"
He should have expected that question, he realized a moment later. "Ryll is a substance that, when consumed, heightens awareness and decreases reaction time. In some cases, it can also enhance telepathic abilities."
"The effect depends on the species," Yates replied. "If you would like to try for yourself," he extended his arm, vial in hand, "you can have this."
After a brief moment of hesitation, Zerin stepped forward and took the vial out of Yates' hand, then in turn handed it to one of his bodyguards. After Zerin said something to the bodyguard in Kazon, the bodyguard opened the vial, stuck his finger in and licked the powder off. His eyes went wide, he began blinking rapidly, and then said something to Zerin that TC-21 didn't translate.
Everyone stared expectantly at the bodyguard for several minutes, but nothing more happened. Zerin then asked the bodyguard a question before dabbing some of the spice on his own finger.
"So... what do you think?" Yates finally asked after several more minutes had passed in silence.
"We will talk, in exchange for fifty kilos of this 'ryll'," Zerin declared.
Yates frowned. "We don't have fifty kilos. Ryll is extremely expensive; five kilos is considered a fortune in the Republic."
"Then give me thirty."
He shook his head. "How about this. I have five kilos aboard my shuttle. I will give you that in good faith, and five more after you tell us what you know."
"Give me the five now, and twenty after."
"Five and five... or we leave. I'm sure that I could always find someone else willing to talk for the spice."
"Good luck with that," Zerin retorted. "We are surrounded by the Borg, who I am sure you will not find at all hospitable. Five and fifteen."
Yates looked back at the shuttle, then shrugged. "Well, I suppose we'll be off, then. Voyager must have passed through other systems." He started walking back, but just as TC-21 began following, Zerin shouted something.
"Wait!" TC-21 translated.
Thanan stopped and turned. "Yes?"
"Five and five it is," Zerin agreed.
Yates smiled and tapped his ear. "Besh team, bring out the cargo."
As he was waiting for the stormtroopers to bring out the crate of spice, the commlink in his ear beeped and he held a finger up to the earbud. "Yates here."
"Captain, this is Rowin. We have a situation here."
The euphoric feeling that he had from successfully negotiating with Maje Zerin suddenly evaporated and was replaced by a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. "Go ahead, Commander."
"Sir, six more Kazon warships just entered orbit. They are demanding that we surrender or they will open fire."
Yates suddenly spun around. "Is this some sort of trick?" he demanded.
"What do you mean?" Zerin replied, obviously confused.
"Maje Zerin," Yates snapped, "there are six additional Kazon warships in orbit that are demanding the surrender of my ship. Now, I would like to know something, and you had better choose your answer carefully. Did you call for reinforcements?"
"No!" Zerin exclaimed.
Yates tapped his commlink again. "Commander, have the new arrivals identified themselves?"
"Yes, Sir," came the prompt reply. "They are commanded by First Maje Culluh of the Kazon-Nistrim."
"Maje Zerin, I am going to ask you one more time," Yates said, his eyes burning with anger. "Did you call for reinforcements?"
"No, I did not, Captain Yates." Zerin straighted himself. "How dare you insult me in this way. The Kazon are strong. To call for reinforcements is to show weakness."
"Very well," Yates sighed. "Let me ask you a different question. Who is First Maje Culluh?"
"Why is that relevant?"
"Just answer the question, Maje."
"Fine," Zerin spat. "He is my commander."
Yates nodded. "I thought so. Does it surprise you to know that the ships that just arrived are commanded by Culluh himself?"
"No," Zerin finally answered.
"So, then you admit you, or someone under you, did call for reinforcements."
"As I already told you," Zerin waved emphatically, "why should I call for Culluh? He would perceive me as a weakling if I did such a thing. More likely, he had a spy among my crew or in one of the outpost stations here."
"Well, then," Yates replied, "I guess that's a good thing for you. Because you are going to come with us."
"I will do no such thing," Zerin objected.
Yates made a sweeping gesture. "Take a look around yourself."
What Zerin hadn't realized was that while he had been engaged in the conversation with Yates, stormtroopers from the shuttle had completely encircled both the Maje and his bodyguards. Now, all twenty of them were holding their standard-issue carbines level, aimed directly at the Kazon.
"Now, slowly remove your weapons and place them on the ground."
Zerin and the bodyguards complied, unholstering their disruptor rifles and dropping them to the dirt.
"Troops, bind them and escort them aboard our shuttle. I will need two of you with pilot experience to fly the Kazon shuttle as well."
While the stormtroopers went about their assignments, Yates tapped his commlink again. "Commander, sitrep?"
"They're still threatening to open fire," Rowin replied.
"Tell them that we have Maje Zerin aboard and that any actions they take will threaten him as well."
"Just to let you know, we have just captured the Maje and his bodyguards. I plan on bringing him and the shuttle he came on back with me. Can you prepare a distraction for us?"
"I will do my best, Sir."
"Thank you, Commander."
Moments later, as they were walking back to the shuttle, the commlink in Yates' ear beeped again. "Go ahead."
"Sir, the First Maje wishes to see proof that we have Zerin aboard."
Yates thought for a moment, then pressed the earbud again. "We'll broadcast from the shuttle's holoprojector."
As soon as they walked the bound Kazon up the ramp into the shuttle's main cabin, several of the stormtroopers forced them down on the acceleration couch while another went for the holorecording equipment. It took about another minute to get everything set up, and finally one of the troopers approached Yates. "The link is active, Sir."
"Thank you, Corporal." He stepped over in front of the holocam, directly between it and the Kazon on the acceleration couch. "First Maje Culluh of the Kazon-Nistrim, I am Captain Thanan Yates of the Galactic Republic Survey Corps. We are here in search of a lost ship and do not intend harm toward any of your people. As a matter of fact, we were negotiating an agreement with Maje Zerin when you arrived and threatened us. Because of this, we have taken Maje Zerin and his bodyguards into custody until we can resolve this matter peacefully."
Yates took a step back, giving the holocam full view of Zerin and the two bodyguards, sitting on the acceleration couch with their bound hands in their laps.
"I trust that you are a reasonable being, First Maje, and ask that you consider Maje Zerin's life in your calculations. Yates out."
A minute later, the holoprojector flared to life, displaying a 2D screen floating in the air. Once Yates got a good look at the figure on the screen, he shook his head gently; apparently, the higher you rose in the Kazon ranks, the uglier you got.
"Captain Yates," Culluh began, "do you take me for a fool? It would be hard for me to care less if anything happened to Maje Zerin. There is a reason that he was assigned guard duty in this system. As for you and your so-called Republic Survey Corps, you are an audacious liar. I know you are from the Federation looking for Voyager
, and I do not intend to allow you to succeed. And if you have any thoughts of escaping, you are outnumbered and outgunned. I will disable your ship if necessary, and I will take what is rightfully mine."
"Oh, you mean Zerin?" Yates retorted, unable to resist the opportunity to jab. "He's yours. All you had to do was ask nicely."
"I am referring to your technology," Culluh said in an icy tone. "I will not let you escape the way Voyager
did. You have one minute to surrender or we will open fire."
The holoimage disappeared, and Yates turned around to face Zerin. "Is he always this abrasive?"
Zerin looked at him with a blank expression and shrugged; Yates realized that TC-21 wasn't aboard the shuttle yet. "Get that droid in here!" he ordered one of the nearby troopers, who ducked out of the shuttle and came back seconds later with the startled droid.
"Zerin, what sort of firepower does your ship have?"
After TC-21 translated the question, Zerin looked at Yates and shook his head. "As much as I may dislike First Maje Culluh, I am not going to answer any of your questions."
"Suit yourself," Yates said with a shrug, then held his hand up to his ear. "Commander, how much time do we have left?"
"Twenty seconds, Sir."
"Use your best judgment, Rowin. You're in command right now. We're going to head into orbit in a few minutes; let us know when it's safe to approach."
As the pilots prepared the transport for takeoff, Yates silently hoped that his ship would be prepared for whatever came next. In all the years he'd been in command of her, she hadn't failed him.