“You need me, you call me!” an Orion loudly sang in the corner of the cell. Walt, feet propped on Keralm who was still knocked out laid on the floor, leaned his head against Krolth. They both tried to ignore the other captive.
“I could have gutted three of them before they took us.” The old Klingon grinned. “In my youth I could have gotten five.”
“Yeah, death may have been favorable.” Jones rubbed his face.
“Walter Jones.” At the door of the holding cell, a Starfleet officer appeared.
Walt stood up, avoiding his Andorian compatriot. “That’s Captain.”
“Come with me.” The force field flicked off. Walt stepped through into the corridor.
The maze of corridors, usually filled with the usual smug sauntering most Starfleet folks walked with, was replaced with a sense of tension and urgency. The officer led him to what appeared to be an interrogation room, guarded by two yellow shirts.
“Inside.” He hit the door chime. The door slid open not to an interrogation room, but to a conference room. Walt received a gentle but firm push inside.
In the middle of the room was a table laden with PADDs, starcharts, several empty cups of coffee, and a few command level officers sat around it. A Vulcan with commodore pips on her neck stood looking at a map of the Triangle.
“Are you Walter Jones?” The Vulcan turned towards Jones as the door closed behind him.
“Your title is of little relevance to this conversation. I understand that you are Walter Jones, and you are currently in detention for a mishap with your credentials. Is that true?” The Vulcan grabbed a PADD from the table.
“Yes, you see what had happened was…”
“Also of little relevance to why you are here. I understand that you have contracted work with Starfleet in the past, is that correct?”
Jones bit his lip. “Correct.”
“Mr. Jones. I will make this quick as time is of the essence.” The Vulcan handed the PADD to Walter. “You are to take your ship to the coordinates in the Triangle, using a route that has been predetermined at warp six point three. Once you have reached those coordinates, you will drop from warp for precisely six minutes and nineteen seconds. In that time, you will transmit a signal and four passengers will beam aboard. You are to bring those four passengers back to Starbase Eighty Six using the same course. Upon your return, any charges will be dropped against you. I am not able to answer much for you, but what questions do you have?”
“Well, that is a lot to chew on.” Jones paused. “Why me? You have a whole fleet of ships out there that you could send.”
“The Triangle is not Federation space, as I’m sure you are aware of. An incursion into the Triangle would create too many questions. This matter requires a non-Starfleet actor.”
“And if I don’t go?”
“You can go back into the cell the with Orion.”
Jones scowled at the Vulcan. They weren’t known for schadenfreude, but this one seemed to revel in the thought of Jones not having a choice.
“They will accompany you. If you chose to perform this task, you’ll leave in thirty-five minutes.”
“Who are the passengers?”
“Not relevant. You will not speak nor engage with them. Your role is simply that of a courier.”
“Why this course?” Walt looked over the data. “This is one of the most asinine routes I’ve…”
“You will not deviate from that course. If you do, it will most likely result in your immediate destruction.”
The job didn’t add up. Walt looked back at the PADD and then to the Vulcan. “Well, get my Andorian some coffee.”
“Where we headed?”
“I don’t know.”
“Who we getting?”
“Don’t know that either.”
“Why all the course corrections?”
“They said follow the path or we die.” Walt rubbed his face as the Andorian, pepped awake by the coffee, asked questions. Krolth played with his dagger while he tried to tune into subspace communications.
The more he thought about it, the more the whole endeavor didn’t make sense to Jones. Why so secretive if this was a simple pick up and go job? Why the very specific route, precise timelines, no questions. Even for a Vulcan, the Commodore was being obtuse. Walt was broken from his thought by the Klingon.
“Lot of dead air here. Usually you can pick up some comms traffic, Klingon opera, rebel radio, Romulan talk shows. Nothing. It’s not normal. .”
“Are you able to pull up Pirate Haven Radio? Hell, you can almost get that on Bajor across subspace.” Walt stopped listening to the Andorian, who continued asking questions.
“No, damn peculiar, no subspace beacons, no comms traffic. Hell, almost like we are flying through dead space.” The Klingon scowled as he tried to get something.
“Well, we are coming up on target coordinates. Once we drop out of warp, we’ll see what is going on.” Walt thought back to the Vulcan. “At least for precisely six minutes and nineteen seconds..”
“Why did you say it like that?” Keralm leaned forward.
“There was this Vulcan and…” Jones sighed. “Never mind.”
The shuttle groaned as it fell out of warp. The streaks of distant stars turned to points of light, and the ship shook as if hitting turbulence. A few loose pieces of gear and panels fell hard to the deck. Everything rattled. They had arrived, greeted by the inky black of space.
“Captain! There’s nothing here!” The Andorian pushed towards the port window.
“Enhance your calm, young one!” Krolth yelled at the Andorian.
“Something doesn’t feel right.” Walt started the timer on his console and transmitted the code.
Nothing, only darkness.
“Well.” Keralm had moved between Jones and Krolth to the seat between them. “Targ chase.”
“Look, there is something. Starboard side.” The Klingon, who was leaning forward, saw the background of stars shimmer, blur, and then replaced with Federation gray hull paneling.
“What the hell” Walt attempted to scan what materialized as a large listening relay. “What is this? It’s not on any charts.”
“Federation trickery. You know you can’t trust them.” The Klingon crossed his arms. “Now what?”
“Four passengers, and then we head back.”
“Are we supposed to get them? Or are they going to come here? Are they bringing a shuttle?” The Andorian rattled off questions.
“I don’t know, kid.”
The tension was cut by the tell-tale sound of a transporter beam. Krolth grabbed his knife from the console; Walt grabbed his phaser. Keralm reached for something but came up empty.
“No, no, no, no! Try to adjust the frequencies again! Get anyone! Someone has to be out there.” A woman in a yellow engineering uniform materialized in the rear cargo area of the shuttle, followed by three others: two Vulcans and an Orion. She stopped yelling as she adjusted to her surroundings. “What the hell! Where…” Her eyes focused on the motley crew now in front of her. “Who the hell are you and why have you taken me from my…” She paused for a moment as she focused on Walter. “Walter Jones?”
“Captain actually, but, umm, who are you?” Walt put the phaser down and motioned to the other two. He narrowed his eyes a bit, trying to place who the woman was. “Candace, Candace Stalano… I haven’t seen you in what, fifteen years?”
The console beeped. Two minutes.
The Andorian’s antenna perked up. “Who is she, Captain?”
“Well, once upon a long, long, time ago, my parents tried to set me up with her.” He moved towards Candace. “I did too a few times, but well, let’s just say I screwed things up a lot more than a few, and well, career fleet and me don’t really mix, unfortunately.”
“Commander, I hate to be the one that breaks up this reunion, but we don’t have much time. This whole area of subspace is collapsing, and we need to get us and the rest of the crew out of there or we will be stuck.” The Orion woman pushed between Stalano and Jones on the way to the main console. Karalm attempted to interrupt her path but was knocked to the side. The Andorian attempted to grab her before Kralth stopped him. ”Ma’am, whatever code they sent to uncloak the station locked down computer access. It looks like it is downloading the last four days of sensor logs.”
“Wait, the rest of the crew?” Kralth scowled. “What happened to four passengers and out?” He turned towards the panel to try and help the Orion.
The console beeped. Three minutes.
“Walt, where is the Warden? Why are you on this…” Candace looked around. “Interesting vessel? There is no way that you are going to be able to fit another fifteen of the crew in here.”
“Fifteen?” Jones coughed. “The prissy Vulcan said four passengers, six minutes of sitting here, and then, warp out.” He looked at the two Vulcans. “No offense.”
“No, that’s not right. That’s not right.” The Orion woman pounded the controls. “I’m locked. The system is locked, I can’t access anything!” She gasped. “Ma’am, we need to get them out of there.”
Stalano looked at Jones. “We lost all subspace communications three days ago. All channels, Federation, Romulan, Klingon, Pirate, Orion. Subspace shockwaves have dropped our structural integrity to five percent, and we can’t use the shuttles to warp anywhere, and then you show up out of nowhere. What’s going on?”
The console beeped. Four minutes.
Walt stared at the ceiling trying to logic it through, what the hell is going on here. He turned back to Candace. “I don’t know. Glad I’m here though. What if we manually override the computer?”
“If I’m correct in my calculations, based on the approximate time of download, file size, and transfer rates, the download of the station’s data would take six minutes and seventeen seconds from the point of origination.” The Vulcan in the rear chimed in. “The computer link should end in theory and allow full control access for three seconds before warp.”
“I knew I liked Vulcans for some reason.” Walt turned to the Orion. “Can you do it?”
The console beeped. Five minutes.
“Alright, everyone to the front. Get in close. Hold your breath, it is going to get tight in here quick. Computer, three seconds after data break, auto warp to first waypoint warp six point three.” The computer acknowledged. “Probably going to end up back in that cell with Pavratti for this.” Walt squeezed to one side of the shuttle next to the Klingon, and Candace stood next to him.
“Thanks,” she whispered in his ear and grabbed his arm.
The Orion sat at the console, patiently watching the seconds tick down.
Six minutes, seventeen seconds.
The computer beeped. The Computer unlocked, the Orion’s fingers flowed across the panel. The warp engines warmed up.
The transporter screamed with the strain of the individuals from the station. The shuttle became unbearable quickly with the extra people.
“Got it! Go!” The Orion smiled as the ship reached a cacophony.
The warp engines fired, sending the ship hurtling from the doomed station.
Walt pushed his way to the console past the very confused and very cramped crew. Candace joined him. “What the hell was so important in that data that they would sacrifice fifteen people?”
“I don’t know, I can’t access any of it. All the files are locked down. Everything is blocked, not even my command codes will open it.” The Orion looked over the computer console.
“Candace, do you know?” Walt let her look over the console.
“Not a clue. I have no idea what that is.”
“Well, I doubt that they are going to tell us. Let’s just hope we don’t get impounded when we get back.”
“Good to see you, Walt.”
Jones smiled. “Good to see you too.”