Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: THE TRAKS FILES
“Bringing Down The Big Top - Part One”
THE FOURTH MOON OF GUESSET CARDASSIAN SECTOR
“This is the glamour of showbiz, eh Claude?” the large bearded lady asked as she and her compatriot, a lanky Frenchman, emerged from the primary docking facility into the industrial sector of Drenna City, the one and only urban area on this particular moon.
“La ferme!” Claude spat back.
“Don’t even start that French crap with me.”
“I said, SHUT UP!” Claude screamed.
“It’s not like I want to be here either,” the bearded woman, better known to her fans as Matilda, the Waltzing Weightlifting Bearded Lady, replied in a huff.
“Where is Cullers?” Claude snapped. “He should be doing this, not us. My darlings are missing valuable training time.”
“Forget your damn poodles for a minute. They’re just a bunch of yipping…”
“Stop right there, or I’m shaving your beard.”
“It will just grow back.”
“Bah! What does it matter? We’re not much of a circus anymore. When was the last time we had a performance, eh? That fiasco on Waystation. Now what are we? Certainly not performers. We’re…errand boys.”
“And girls,” Matilda said defensively.
“Merde. Let’s get on with it. Where is this so-called ‘contact’?” Claude the Poodle Trainer demanded.
“Cullers said the contact would be at the bar near the spaceport. It’s got to be around here somewhere. Come on.”
“We’re hours early!”
“So we’ll have a couple of drinks and relax,” Matilda said, rubbing her hand along Claude’s shoulder. “You’re way too tense.”
“I can’t imagine why,” Claude said, ducking away from her.
Claude watched Matilda wave her beard at him and shuddered. “On second thought, I’ll take the liquor,” he said, storming away followed by Matilda.
The two members of the Crazy Condor Circus moved off down the street in search of their destination unaware of the man standing by the docking facility exit, cloaked in shadows, who had overheard every word.
“The Condor King tries a pawns’ gambit,” Admiral Earl Wyndham muttered. “Surely he must know that the counter moves will be made. Or does he? Does he even know there’s a game in progress?” Wyndham laughed loudly, causing several of the Cardassians milling around him to back a few steps away, giving him a wide berth. “The Condors are circling, preparing to swoop. The gambit begins, and the game starts to end. Strike and sweep, Rook One and Rook Two. Sweep and strike, Rook Two and Rook One.”
Wyndham turned with a flourish and entered the docking facility where his own craft waited. Rook One would enter the game soon enough. He’d made arrangements to see to that. And unless he was very much mistaken, Rook Two was already on her way. Wyndham had sent her another anonymous padd of information several days earlier as soon as he’d gotten wind of the Condors’ latest move. Rook Two would come. She had some sweeping to do.
“Rook Two cannot resist lure of the game,” Wyndham cackled. “She’s seen the condors, and she will come to play, with her fish hooked along behind her.”
RUNABOUT PEE DEE ENTERING THE CARDASSIAN SECTOR
“Have I mentioned…”
“I know! I know! You’re here under protest,” Agent Samantha Dallas said, cutting off her Antidean partner, Agent Batyn, before he could finish the statement.
“Just so we’re clear,” Batyn said, leaning back in the runabout’s co-pilot’s seat and crossing his scaly arms.
“I guess your interest in getting out was short-lived, huh?”
“I thought you said you liked me making you get out of the office.”
“When did I ever say that?” Batyn demanded.
“On Waystation when you were doing the whole whiny pitiful you crap,” Dallas replied.
“I was never pitiful. And I didn’t whine.”
“You’re whining now.”
“Well, I don’t like this! You get another anonymous padd-in-a-box delivered to the office, and suddenly we’re traveling to a war-zone!”
“Former war-zone,” Dallas corrected.
“Not former enough for me.”
“Maybe it will be a short trip.”
Batyn snorted. “You don’t even know why we’re out here. You charged all the way out to Cardassian space because of a set of coordinates.”
“I’m sure we’ll get an explanation,” Dallas said, slowing the runabout, then bringing the vessel to a full stop.
“What are you doing?”
Batyn craned his neck to peer out the viewport. “Um…there’s nothing here.”
“And you’re so sure that something is going to show up?”
“This is the same source that led us to the Crazy Condor Circus on Waystation. I’m sure. They’ll be here.”
“Or maybe all of this is just one big laugh at our…” Batyn trailed off as he caught a blur of motion out of the corner of his eye. He turned back to the viewport just in time to see a small spacecraft finish decloaking in front of the Pee Dee. The ship was an older model of the sort generally used by corporations or governments for trips involving a small number of people. This one obviously had been modified a bit, since Batyn was fairly sure no one except the Romulans included a cloaking device as standard equipment.
“You were saying?” Dallas remarked.
“Never mind. But I’m not exactly considering this a positive development.”
“Do me a favor and shut up for a few minutes,” Dallas said, reaching from the comm. “This is Agent Samantha Dallas, Starfleet Intelligence. Please identify yourself.”
Gales of laughter erupted from the speakers, then slowly subsided. “The rook speaks with a voice of flame. Fly, condors! Fly! Your extinction is at hand!”
“I should have known,” Batyn said, putting his head in his hands. “Your source is nuttier than you are.”
Dallas slapped him as the voice spoke again. “Words from the deep. You think me crazed, my seafaring friend?”
“My partner has a bad habit of speaking,” Dallas said. “Just ignore him. I do. You mentioned Condors. Where are they?”
“Flocking. Ever flocking, but the flock will soon swoop across us all unless the rooks take action. The antidote will come, but first Rook Two must sweep up the pawns before they change the game.”
“Got all that?” Batyn asked.
“I don’t understand,” Dallas said.
“Clarity!” the voice exclaimed. The console in front of Dallas flashed that they were receiving a data transmission. She pulled the information up on her monitor, which shifted to an image of some kind of schematic.
“What is this?” Dallas asked as Batyn leaned over, peering at the diagram.
“Look at his emitter,” Batyn said, pointing at the screen. “I think it’s a weapon. But the language of the text…is this Dominion?”
“A well-schooled fish!” the voice said. “The condors want these for their nests. The only twenty prototypes the Dominion had are winging their way to the pawns. If the Condor King gets them, the swoop will be terrible indeed.”
“What are they?” Dallas asked. “What do they do?”
“Polaron destabilizers,” Batyn said, drawing a surprised glance from Dallas. “It says so right there,” he added, pointing at a bit of text at the top of the document. “As for what it does, I’d say it’s a really big nasty ray gun, but it looks like it would use a huge amount of power.” Batyn kept reading, having had the universal translator change all the text to standard. “And the ray’s effects can be linked to other polaron destabilizers to make one huge blast. I don’t think anything could withstand 5 or 6 of these.”
“And the Crazy Condor Circus is trying to get them,” Dallas said. “Do you know where they are?”
“I will take you,” the voice said. “You must hide your Pee Dee. A Starfleet arrival will scatter the vipers and the pawns. Rooks must move with stealth.”
“There’s a dead moon in the next system where we can stash the ship,” Dallas said, checking the sensors. “Then we’ll beam aboard. Follow us. Dallas out.”
Batyn’s eyes bulged in alarm. “Beam aboard? No surprise here, but you’ve lost your mind! We don’t have a clue who this guy is. We didn’t even get his name!”
“He likes his anonymity.”
“Would it have killed you to ask?”
Ignoring Batyn, Dallas landed the Pee Dee on the dead moon she’d indicated and signaled their mysterious informer to prepare for transport while Batyn fiddled with his tricorder at the front of the runabout.
“What are you doing?” Dallas demanded.
“Packing,” Batyn shot back.
“How long does it take to pack a tricorder?”
Batyn just grunted in response, then closed his tricorder and joined Dallas in the runabout’s small transporter chamber.
“I hope you’re more together when we find the Crazy Condors,” Dallas warned. “Or they may be having a fish fry.”
“Don’t worry,” Batyn said as Dallas sent a final signal to their informant and activated the transporter. “I don’t want to walk into anything blindly.”
The agents rematerialized in the cluttered living area of their informant’s vessel. Padds were strewn everywhere, each displaying an image or bit of text of some sort.
In the center of it all, beaming, stood a human male of approximately 60 years of age. He was dressed simply in a brown shirt and pants of Cardassian design. “Hand and Rook meet at last,” he said excitedly. “With the fish as our witness. But there is no time for accolades and festivities. The Condors are on the hunt.” The man turned on his heel in what was practically a ballet move, then headed toward the exit to what Dallas assumed was the craft’s cockpit.
“Wait. Who are you?” Dallas asked. She stole a glance at Batyn and muttered, “There. Happy?”
The man spun back around. “Who am I?” he said, pondering the question with obvious amusement. “I suppose you could call me Birdkeeper.” With that, he bowed deeply, then backed out of the room.
“How about we just go with loon?” Batyn said once their host was gone. “As in ‘crazy as a…’”
“He’s eccentric,” Dallas said, picking up the nearest padd and looking it over.
“He knows what the Crazy Condors are up to, Batyn. That’s enough for me. He can wear tu-tus and sing Klingon opera backwards for all I care as long as he gets me Adrian Cullers and his damn circus.”
“Just as long as we’re going about this rationally,” Batyn said sarcastically, pushing a pile of padds aside and plopping down on a sofa.
“Well isn’t this charming?” Agent Batyn remarked as he and Dallas stood outside the entrance of a dour metal building a short distance from the equally metal and dour spaceport where their “host,” the Birdkeeper, had parked his spacecraft a few minutes earlier.
“It’s a bar,” Dallas replied. “What were you expecting?”
“Some atmosphere. The industrial look just isn’t doing anything for me,” Batyn said as two grime-coated Cardassians pushed past him into the structure.
“Come on. Birdkeeper didn’t know when Claude and Matilda were supposed to meet their contact. We may already be too late.”
“All the more reason not to hurry,” Batyn muttered as Dallas charged ahead.
If anything, the interior of the bar made Batyn long for the relative pleasantness of the outdoors. He could barely see in the dim, smoke-filled room where various groups of Cardassians and the occasional off-worlder sat around tables huddled over drinks.
“Tricorder,” Dallas whispered to Batyn.
“Right here,” Batyn replied, patting the shoulder pack he was carrying.
Dallas glared at her partner. “Use it.”
“If you’d just tell me what you want to start with, we wouldn’t have these problems,” Batyn said, surreptitiously pulling out the device and scanning. “I’ve got a human male and female sitting against the far wall. The female is…large.”
“That’s them,” Dallas said, palming her hand phaser and heading off in the direction Batyn indicated. It was Claude and Matilda all right. The circus performers were looking around the bar anxiously. Their eyes widened in horror as they spotted who was approaching their table.
“Waiting for someone?” Dallas asked casually. Matilda squirmed extricate herself from the booth she and Claude were sitting in. “No no. Don’t get up on my account,” Dallas continued.
“What are you doing here?” Claude demanded through his thick French accent.
“Tour group,” Batyn said. “We’re only in town for a couple of hours before our cruise heads to the next port, but it’s awfully nice to see some friendly faces. Mind if we join you?”
“They seem to be in a bit of a hurry, Batyn,” Dallas said. “Maybe we should let them get on their way.”
“We’re not going anywhere,” Matilda said defiantly.
“Sorry you couldn’t stay longer,” Dallas continued, ignoring her. “It would have been fun to catch up. Bye.”
Dallas slipped her phaser back into her pocket as Batyn pulled two small transceivers out of his shoulder pack and placed them on the stunned Crazy Condors.
“Dallas to Birdkeeper,” Dallas said softly into her wristcomm. “The Condors have been tagged.”
“Then off to the cages they go,” the Birdkeeper replied giddily. An instant later, Claude and Matilda dematerialized, allowing Dallas and Batyn to take their places in the booth.
“Suit,” Dallas said quickly. Batyn produced a pink mu-mu with yellow flowers on it out of the shoulder pack and handed it to Dallas, who slipped it on. Dallas grabbed a small yellow tab near the outfit’s waist and yanked it, causing the entire garment to inflate.
“Beard,” Dallas said, struggling to move her arms, which were now encased in the air-filled mu-mu. Batyn reached across the table and patted a curly brown beard onto Dallas’ face.
“How is it?” Dallas asked.
“Hideous,” Batyn replied with a grimace.
“Then it’s perfect.”
Perfect quickly gave way to perfectly miserable as Dallas attempted to find a way to get comfortable inside what she was quickly coming to feel was an inflatable prison.
Fortunately, about fifteen minutes later, a wiry Cardassian approached the table, his eyes darting about nervously. He stared at Batyn for a few moments, then focused on Dallas, who attempted to smile through the beard. Finally, steeling his courage, the Cardassian sat down next to Batyn.
“I am Nukar,” he said quickly, the words almost running together.
“Matilda,” Dallas said.
“Claude,” Batyn grunted.
“I didn’t realize…I didn’t you were…like you,” Nukar stammered at Batyn.
“What? Antideans can’t like poodles?” Batyn asked offended.
“N-n-n-no! I mean yes! You can! That’s fine.” Nukar stopped himself, placed his hands on the table, and took a couple of deep breaths. “I’m sorry. I’m new at this.”
“Crime?” Dallas asked.
“Yes!” Nukar said. He whipped his head around, checking to see if anyone had heard, then refocused his attention on Dallas, his voice a harsh whisper. “I just want these things gone.”
“We can take care of that for you,” Dallas said. “Where is the cargo?”
“The old Morinat Foundry,” Nukar said. “Twenty…items…will be waiting for you there in three hours.”
“Very good,” Dallas said. “If you don’t mind me asking, how did you get the…items?”
“The Dominion had a research facility a few hundred clicks from here during the war. It was top secret. Vorta and Jem’Hadar only. But the place still had to be cleaned.”
“You were the janitor?” Batyn asked.
“Yeah. And when they fled at the end of the war, I was the only one who knew what they’d left behind.”
“So why sell it to us?” Dallas asked.
“Have you looked around? This place is a pit. Not just here; the whole empire is a disaster. I can do some good with two million credits. Besides, there are certain elements around the empire that would love to get their hands on items like this. I’m scared of what they would do with them. I don’t want another war. I don’t think we would survive it.”
“So it’s better to sell them to a bunch of psychopathic circus freaks?” Dallas said angrily.
“Don’t mind her. She gets cranky if she hasn’t had her morning tub of lard,” Batyn said, shooting a glare at his partner.
“Sorry,” Dallas said, forcing a smile. “Three hours. Morinat Foundry.”
“Right,” Nukar said, climbing out of the booth. “We can do the credit transfer then.” He looked around again to see if anyone had heard him mention credit transfers, then quickly made his escape from the bar.
“All right,” Dallas said. “We’ve got three hours to get ready.”
“Sounds like it.”
“Um…can you reach the deflate button on this thing?”
The Birdkeeper was literally quivering with excitement when Dallas and Batyn returned to his ship. The older man paced in a very tight circle, his body unable to stop moving.
“Two condors plucked from the sky,” he said.
“That can’t be healthy,” Batyn said, scanning the Birdkeeper with his tricorder.
“The man’s happy. Give him a break,” Dallas said. “Where are Claude and Matilda?”
“The Condors are penned in the back,” the Birdkeeper replied, gesturing toward the closed door of the rear compartment.
“Can I see you a minute?” Batyn whispered to Dallas as he studied the results on his tricorder.
“Unless you’re blind,” Dallas shot back.
“Batyn, don’t be rude.”
“No no!” their host exclaimed. “Wisdom from the depths awaits you. By all means partake!” He waved with a flourish, then altered his pacing to take him into the cockpit, muttering to himself all the way.
“What?” Dallas demanded once the Birdkeeper was gone.
“Look,” Batyn said, turning his tricorder told her.
“Can we get something big enough for me to actually read?” Dallas replied annoyed, pushing the tricorder away.
Batyn retrieved a padd from his pack and transmitted the tricorder readout to it. “There,” he said, shoving the padd into Dallas’ hands.
“What is this?”
“I didn’t want to walk into anything blindly.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“Who got you out of Tantalus V?” Batyn asked.
“Now you’re just avoiding my question,” Dallas said, growing angry.
“Who?” Batyn insisted.
“Someone in the Admiralty.”
“Exactly. Before we left the Pee Dee, I downloaded the Starfleet Admiralty personnel records into my tricorder.”
“Isn’t that a bit off-limits?”
“Not with Intel clearance,” Batyn replied. “Normally I wouldn’t do something like this, but as you said, someone in the Admiralty got you out of Tantalus V. I thought that maybe our contact would turn out to be the very same admiral, which he did.”
“Admiral Earl Wyndham,” Dallas read. “Looks like he has had a fairly distinguished career.”
“Until the little part where he goes coo-coo and attempts to kill two Starfleet officers.”
“This doesn’t say anything about killing them.”
“Fine! Can we get back to the part where you’ve gotten us stuck with a psychopath?”
“He’s been dead on so far,” Dallas said.
“Don’t say dead.”
“You know what I mean. We wouldn’t have had a clue about this polaron destabilizer scheme without the Birdkeeper’s help.”
“Wyndham. His name is Wyndham!”
“Yes it is,” their host’s voice said, causing Batyn and Dallas to whip around toward the cockpit door.
“Hi there!” Batyn said, waving nervously as he took a step back. “Guess you heard all that, huh?”
“The parts that burned my ears.”
“So are you annoyed or actually homicidal?”
“Neither. Lies are for the condors. Rook and Hand must have trust if they are to act as one,” Wyndham replied.
“See,” Dallas said. “He’s fine about it.”
“Are we just not paying attention to the insane words coming out of his mouth?” Batyn asked.
“Polaron destabilizers,” Dallas said firmly.
Dallas turned back to Wyndham. “We should probably prepare for the exchange.”
“Excellent! I’ll make lunch!”
Batyn’s eyes bulged. “Great calamari, spare my…OOOOF!”
“Sounds good,” Dallas said, removing her elbow from her partner’s ribcage.
While sitting in the inflatable mu-mu had been miserable, attempting to walk around in it was nothing less than excruciating torture.
“Are we there yet?” Dallas moaned, waddling as best she could through the streets toward the old foundry where they were scheduled to meet their contact, Nukar.
“Why? Are you feeling a little bloated?” Batyn taunted.
“Fear the time I get out of this thing. Fear it!”
“Clam up. We’re here,” Batyn said, gesturing toward a massive set of rusted metal doors rising up twenty feet in the air. One of the doors was cracked open slightly, allowing Batyn to pull it open the rest of the way.
“After you,” he said. Dallas shuffled inside the dark building as best she could, followed by Batyn.
“Nukar!” Dallas called.
“Here,” the Cardassian said, his voice shaking as he stepped out of the darkness into a beam of sunlight shining in from a hole in the ceiling. “Do you have the credits?”
“We’ll get to that after we see the items,” Dallas said, brushing aside a stray hair from her beard that was threatening to crawl up her nose.
“Over there,” Nukar said, gesturing toward a group of four anti-grav pallets visible in another pool of sunlight several yards away. “Twenty polaron destabilizers.”
“They’re awfully small,” Dallas said, looking at the devices.
“Dominion technology,” Nukar replied. “But see what happens when you mount one on a spaceship. Actually, don’t. I don’t want these things used to hurt anybody.”
“Oh, they’re for defensive purposes only,” Batyn said.
“Dallas!” a shrill voice cried, echoing through the vast abandoned foundry.
“Ack!” Nukar screamed fearfully, scrambling behind a battered console for cover.
“Did you invite somebody else and not tell me?” Batyn said, looking around for the source of the voice.
“I believe you two are the ones lacking invites,” the voice said again. Dallas traced it to a catwalk above their heads where a man stood aiming a phaser rifle in their direction. Dallas recognized him immediately.
“Cullers,” she spat.
Adrian Cullers, Ringmaster of the Crazy Condor Circus, bowed his head slightly. “And we meet again, Agent Dallas; although, I can’t say that I’m very happy about it. You have a knack for getting right in the middle of my affairs.”
“It’s a talent.”
“You have help,” Cullers said. “As soon as my people set up the meeting with a contact here, I decided I’d better find out what you were doing. Sure enough, I learned that you’d left Earth on your way to parts unknown. It didn’t take much to guess that ‘parts unknown’ meant here. The one surprise was that you’d enlisted some deluded old fool to help you.”
“What old fool?”
“This one,” Cullers said. “Matilda! Claude!”
Admiral Wyndham was suddenly shoved out of the darkness toward Dallas and Batyn. Matilda and Claude stepped into the light a moment later, smiling cruelly.
“We seem to be in check,” Wyndham said casually.
“No kidding,” Batyn said. “I thought you had those two under control.”
“Brilliance here didn’t even bother to lock the door,” Matilda said. Batyn and Dallas turned on Wyndham, who just shrugged. “The hand is not a cage.”
“Is there a brain in there?” Batyn asked.
Matilda, meanwhile, sized-up the disguised-Dallas. “Nice outfit. I’ve got one just like it at home.”
Nukar crawled out from behind his console, obviously confused. “Um…so you’re not Matilda?” he asked Dallas.
“Starfleet Intel,” Dallas replied, fumbling for the deflate tab. Batyn reached over and hit it for her, pressing a hand phaser into her palm in the process.
“So you didn’t have the two million credits?”
Dallas finished extricating herself from the deflated mu-mu. “No. Actually, I was going to arrest you. But if it’s any consolation, I don’t think Cullers was going to pay you either. He was probably just going to kill you.”
“I resent that,” Cullers said. “I was going to pay him.”
“And then kill him and take the money back?” Batyn asked.
“Well…yes,” Cullers admitted. “It hardly matters now, though. Matilda, Claude, take the pallets back to the ship. I’ll entertain our friends here.”
“No mimes, okay?” Dallas said as Claude and Matilda each struggled to move a pallet. Even with the anti-grav modules, the pallets were bulky and unwieldy. Finally, they worked together to maneuver one out the door.
“I’m not feeling entertained,” Batyn said.
“How about this? Everyone stays very very still. If you move, I put a hole in your skull? Sound like fun?”
“Am I part of this game?” Nukar asked.
“Noooooo,” the Cardassian whined.
“The prototypes must not reach the Aviary,” Wyndham said softly.
“That’s not my biggest concern right now,” Batyn said.
“He’s right,” Dallas said.
“Which one?” Batyn asked.
“Him. We have to do something.”
“Fine. I will.”
Dallas suddenly yanked on the inflate tab on her mu-mu and threw the garment up toward the catwalk as she started firing with the hand phaser Batyn had passed her. Startled by the growing dress flying his way, Cullers started shooting, giving Batyn the opportunity to grab Wyndham and throw him to the ground by Nukar behind the shattered foundry console. It wasn’t the best cover in the universe, but it would have to do.
“The prototypes!” Dallas shouted to him from somewhere in the darkness of the foundry.
“What do you want me to do about them?” Batyn called back, racing for some cover of his own.
“Don’t let the Condors have them!”
“That I can do,” Batyn muttered, ducking behind a pole and reaching into his shoulder pack for another phaser. He set the device to overload and lobbed it directly into the center of the group of remaining pallets.
Dallas, meanwhile, had found a ladder leading up to Cullers’ catwalk. For his part, the Crazy Condor ringmaster was busy firing blindly into the darkness below, searching for some sign of Dallas or Batyn.
“Put it down!” Dallas shouted. Cullers spun around, rifle at the ready. “I said drop it!”
“You first,” Cullers said.
“Then I’ll shoot.”
“So will I.”
“My gun’s bigger.”
“Mine will kill you just as well.”
The posturing was brought to an abrupt halt by the explosion of Batyn’s phaser along with 15 polaron destabilizer prototypes.
(See. Told you so.)
Dallas instinctively grabbed for the ladder as the catwalk jolted violently from the shockwave. Cullers wasn’t so lucky. He pitched sideways, losing his footing and hitting the catwalk railing. An instant later, he was over it, plummeting to the dust-covered floor below.
The catwalk itself soon followed, slamming to the concrete floor mere inches away from the ringmaster and leaving Dallas clinging to a ladder that now went nowhere. She felt the breeze of a bit of ceiling whooshing past her on its way to the ground. Several more soon followed.
“Great plan!” she shouted at Batyn above the din of the crumbling foundry.
“Insult me later!” Batyn snapped back.
Cullers rolled over, every inch of his body in pain, and forced his possibly-broken left arm to the small comm unit on his right wrist. “Matilda…”
“We’re coming!” the bearded woman’s voice said. “Hold your horses.”
“Abort. Beam me back.”
“Now,” Cullers croaked. A moment later, his prone form dematerialized, which turned out to be a good thing considering the chunk of roof that landed there a few seconds after his departure.
“Get them out of here,” Dallas shouted, pointing at the console shielding Wyndham and Nukar.
“Get yourself out of here!” Batyn replied, darting across the foundry floor to the console.
Dallas’ attention was quickly brought back to the ladder, which was beginning to creak badly and threatened to detach completely from the foundry wall.
Forget threatened. It was now actively detaching.
Dallas loosened her grip and let herself slide toward the ground as one by one, the brackets holding the ladder up above her broke loose. She hit the concrete floor with a jarring thud, then threw herself sideways, narrowing avoiding being clobbered by the ladder as it snapped loose completely and toppled to the ground.
Ignoring the pain from her rough landing, Dallas scrambled to her feet and sprinted toward the exit, diving out into the daylight just ahead of the complete collapse of the foundry roof.
Batyn was immediately above her, his hand extended to help her to her feet.
“Thanks,” she said with a pained wince. She spotted Nukar, then looked around for their host. “Where’s Wyndham?”
“Strangely absent,” Batyn replied. “Nukar tells me that he scampered pretty much right after I got him to cover.”
“Maybe he’s after the other prototypes. We’ve got to get to Cullers’ ship and…”
“I think that’s going to have to wait,” Batyn said unhappily.
“It can’t wait. We have to… Oh.”
Three hovercars of the moon’s constabulary were just coming to a stop followed by the fire brigade. Several large, stern Cardassians emerged from the police vehicles, weapons drawn.
“You going to make a break for it?” Batyn asked with a smirk.
“Oh shut up,” Dallas snapped, putting her hands up for the nice officers.
This whole trip was turning out to be a complete waste of time, Karina Durham thought as she glanced at her wrist chronometer again while pacing the docking slip where her vessel, the Acapella II was currently waiting. She was an Independent Transport Operator by trade, a title many considered to just be a nice way of saying “smuggler,” and the promise of lucrative work in the Cardassian Sector, an area she normally stayed away from, was just too good to pass up.
Now here she was on this godforsaken moon of Guesset with no sign of her potential employer. He was three hours late. One more hour, and she was leaving. Courtesy was important, even in smuggling. If this creep couldn’t bother to show up on time, why should she stick around? Job be damned.
“Excuse me,” a soft male voice said, interrupting her inner tirade.
Karina spun around and found herself face-to-face with a smiling human male who looked to be in his late 50s or early 60s.
“Can I help you?” she asked impatiently.
“I hope you can. I need to acquire transport for myself…discreet transport, if you take my meaning. The Condors have eyes everywhere.”
“Uh huh,” Karina replied, looking the man over. Were the Condors some kind of Cardassian gang? They’d obviously made this man’s life a living hell. He had the look in his eyes of someone who was barely clinging onto his own sanity. That wasn’t the real issue, though.
“Can you pay?”
“Certainties,” the man said, producing a bag from his shoulder pack and handing it to Karina. She struggled to hold the heavy bag up as she opened it. Inside were two bars of gold-pressed latinum. “Is that enough?”
“Welcome aboard,” she said, waving her hand toward the Acapella II’s hatch. Forget moving cargo. If this old guy wanted to pay her two whole bars of latinum for a trip, she was more than willing to take him. “Is that all of your luggage?”
“All I need for what’s ahead,” Admiral Earl Wyndham said with a smile as he stepped past Karina Durham into the ship. The bait had been lured to Guesset by his false promise of a job. Now it was time to put her on the hook and watch her squirm. Rook One would bite. The antidote would come, and the Condors would whither and die.
But Rook Two was not finished yet. She and the fish-man yet had sweeping to do.
“WYNDHAM!” Agent Dallas shouted, storming onto Wyndham’s ship and almost tripping over one of the piles of padds in the common area. “WYNDHAM!”
“He’s not here,” Batyn said, checking his tricorder.
“Then where is he?”
“I don’t know. He’s had almost a whole day to get a head start on us. He could be anywhere.”
“Damn Cardassians! They knew we were Starfleet Intel! They had no right to hold us overnight!” Dallas seethed.
“At least we still have all of our teeth,” Batyn replied with a shrug.
“That doesn’t… Do you hear beeping?”
Batyn listened for a moment. “Yeah. It’s coming from the cockpit.” The two agents followed the sound to the ship’s cockpit and found a beeping padd sitting on the flight console with the words “Touch Me” blinking in bright red letters. Dallas swiped it up and did as it instructed. The text immediately shifted to a longer message.
“What’s it say?” Batyn asked, attempting to peer over Dallas’ shoulder.
“It’s coordinates. Wyndham says we are to take his ship there under cloak and meet him in one week’s time.”
“Why would we do that?”
Dallas handed him the padd. He quickly read through the message from Wyndham:
The Condors are flocking, Agent Dallas. The
swoop is imminent unless the Rooks act. I will
lead you to the circus, but ask yourself whom
the circus serves. They are but a wing of the
larger bird. The Condor King awaits.
“We’re going, aren’t we?” Batyn said, not looking forward to the answer.
“Cullers got away with five of those prototypes. If Wyndham can lead me to him and whomever is really running the show, I’d meet him in the middle of a black hole.”
“So, in other words, we’re going.”
“You’re damn right we are.”
TO BE CONTINUED…