CHAPTER 46: "VEILS OF SECRECY"
by Guy Champagne
Captain´s Log: Stardate 0910.02. Captain Sparrowhawk reporting. The O´Bannon has been reassigned to Sector H231: an unexplored area of our galaxy located at the fringe of Federation space. The excitement of heading into unfamiliar territory and the potential new discoveries that could be made there has created a flurry of activity aboard the ship. I must admit that getting back to Starfleet´s primary mission of exploration has added a spring to my step as well. Even our usually dour faced Brikarian Science Officer can be seen smiling from ear to ear.
However, even this welcome change has not decreased my anxiety about recent events aboard the ship. The identity and motives of our saboteur have yet to be determined. The arrival of Vice Admiral Winslow and his adjutant Lt. Carlyle from Starfleet Intelligence yesterday has only heightened my concern and raised the suspicions of my willful First Officer.
Lt. Carlyle´s accompaniment of my old friend Winny has lifted my suspicions as well. The unwavering stare of the Lieutenant's steel gray eyes and the poised posture of his body all hint to a barely controlled aura of menace.
Sparrowhawk entered the bridge of the O´Bannon and smiled at the frantic yet organized activity. A buzz of background noise filled the compartment as reports of long range scans; department readiness and system status flowed into the control center of the ship.
Commander Kenna´la Shushi rose from the command chair and moved to report to the Captain. "Sir, all departments have reported ready for the mission. All systems are running at peak efficiency with the exception of a sensor ghost image just off our starboard side." stated the Operations Officer informatively.
"Is this a sensor malfunction Commander?" asked Sparrowhawk.
"We have run some preliminary diagnostics Captain, but they remain inconclusive. The systems appear to be functioning properly. Chief Engineer Caton has already dispatched a team to perform a Level One Diagnostic." answered Kenna´la.
"Is it possible that this sensor ghost is a cloaked ship?" asked Sparrowhawk pressing further.
"The sensor ghost is only about thirty feet in diameter." replied Shushi. "If this ghost is a ship its using a power system and cloaking technology we´re totally unfamiliar with."
Sparrowhawk digested this information quickly and began to issue orders. "As a precaution I want the ship on yellow alert. Have Mr. Caton make his diagnostic of the sensor array a top priority. We´re entering into a new area of the galaxy so I don´t want any unpleasant surprises. Notify me immediately upon completion of the diagnostic with its results, and if there is any movement of our ghost, Commander."
"At once Sir." replied the Operations Officer, moving towards her console. Sparrowhawk gazed about the bridge as he seated himself in the Command Chair. The crew moved efficiently to carry out his orders, and he could feel the slight vibration coursing up his spine from the engines attesting to the power of this fine ship. He smiled again to himself as he settled in; he was starting to feel comfortable in this chair.
Chief Engineer Brian Caton and First Officer Cam McLaren were together in Brian´s quarters talking about the new mission when Cam stiffened. Brian immediately noticed the interruption in conversation and regarded the First Officer with concern. "Mac are you with me?" asked the O´Bannon´s Engineer.
McLaren´s eyes refocused and he shook his head. "Yea I´m okay, my implant just intercepted and recorded a burst transmission using an E band frequency." said Cam.
"That´s great, just liked we hoped it would. Let's get you interfaced with my console so we can download the transmission and get the computer working on breaking down the code." Said Brian excitedly. The First Officer nodded and seated himself closer to the console to let Brian get to work. Hopefully they would get lucky and be able to unravel the code, thereby getting to the bottom of this months-long mystery that had threatened the ship and its crew.
A warning tone sounded on Gy´Cham´s panel, drawing his attention to one view screen he had dedicated to a special task. The Brikarian´s large fingers fairly flew across his command console to isolate the specific program. Scanning the readout he cleared his throat and spoke in his deep voice. "Captain if you have a moment."
Sparrowhawk moved to the starboard side of the bridge towards the main science station. "What do you have Mr. Gy´Cham?" inquired the Captain of the O´Bannon.
"I have picked up another E band frequency transmission Captain. I had recently recalibrated our sensors and had a dedicated program running for just this contingency Sir, in the hopes of determining the identity of our elusive saboteur. I have been able to capture and download the entire message." said Gy´Cham.
"What can you tell me about the message?" asked Sparrowhawk.
"Very little at this time Sir. The message has a very complex encryption algorithm, and contains a large amount of data." said Gy´Cham indicating his view screen. "I can´t, how do you humans say, put my finger on it but there is something familiar about the data stream configuration."
Sparrowhawk sighed heavily in frustration. "Do what you can with it Mr. Gy´Cham, the information hidden in that message will lead us to the people who have endangered my ship and crew, and I want them stopped ASAP, understood?"
"Understood." acknowledged the determined Brikarian, turning back to his screen. As Sparrowhawk moved back to the center chair, Gy´Cham thought about the Captain´s choice of words, "my ship and crew," perhaps the human was finally integrating to his new assignment. Beginning his work on the transmission he also noticed two others logged into the computer conducting enquiries concerning the E Band message. Vice Admiral Winslow, and Chief Engineer Caton. The Brikarian frowned for a moment, perhaps the Captain had informed the Admiral of the illicit transmissions and he was conducting his own investigation? But why was his old friend Brian looking into the matter? Gy´Cham mentally shrugged off his suspicions of the Chief Engineer, the half human, half Deltan was his oldest friend in Starfleet. He had trusted this man with his life on countless occasions; he would not lower himself to suspect him now. Whatever Brian´s reasons for looking into the matter, they were doubtless good ones, and Gy´Cham would welcome any help to uncover this mystery.
Several decks below the bridge a pair of sharply focused steel gray eyes went over the console readout concerning the same E Band transmissions. The success of the mission depended heavily on this information remaining secret. He pushed his index finger hard upon a hidden sub dermal transmitter located on his left wrist. The minute transmitter sent out a single bit of information, something that could easily blend into the galaxies background noise, but would stand out to someone who knew what to look for. His lips curled up slightly in a smile as he contemplated more direct and lethal means that might be needed to maintain the mission´s covert nature.
Captain´s log supplemental: Stardate 0911.02. Mr. Caton reports that his level one diagnostic is complete and that all sensors are operating up to Starfleet and his specifications. Shortly after our interception of a covert E Band transmission our sensor ghost has vanished. Could there be a connection? No sensor ghost was detected during prior transmissions. Mr. Gy´Cham has determined that the data stream configuration is Dominion in nature. What interest could the Dominion have with the O´Bannon? Our mystery deepens. Long-range sensors have picked up a satellite network that seems to encompass a massive portion of this sector of space. We are moving to investigate.
The O´Bannon came out of warp at the edge of the sector surrounding satellite network. "Mr. Gy´Cham I want continuous scans of that array, check for weapons and communication technology." ordered Sparrowhawk.
"Captain all of the satellites in scanning range have weapons, shield and communications technology comparable to the O´Bannon." said the Science Officer. "The array seems to be well maintained and fully functional, I would also like to report that we are being extensively scanned."
"Acknowledged." said the Captain. "We´ll let them have a good look at us before…"
Sparrowhawk never finished his sentence as a shimmering field of energy sprang into being linking all the satellites in the network. "The entire field has been powered up Captain, the whole sector is shielded." reported Kenna´la from Ops.
"The amount of power required to generate a shield grid of this magnitude must be enormous." said McLaren looking at the view screen.
"It seems that our presence is neither required nor desired." noted Damien Mako the new Chameloid Tactical Officer from his station.
"Let's see if we can get them to relax a little. Kimara, open hailing frequencies." ordered Sparrowhawk.
"We are receiving a message relayed from one of the nearer planets through a satellite linkup, Captain." informed Commander Pel.
A humanoid alien stared back at them from the view screen. White threadlike filaments protruded from the top of its ovoid shaped head. Air was being loudly inhaled and exhaled through its almost nonexistent nose. Long graceful fingers were clasped tightly as though in fear or prayer. The alien´s features displayed all the outward signs of extreme anxiety. "I am Mael of the Jahrel Holdings. Our people do not desire contact with other species, leave our space immediately." said the alien quickly and clearly.
"Mael I am Captain Sparrowhawk of the United Federation of Planets, I assure you that we mean you and your people no harm."
"It matters not what your intentions are Captain Sparrowhawk of the United Federation of Planets." said Mael seeming more agitated at the interaction. "Isolation must be maintained to avoid…" began Mael as the transmission was cut off.
"Captain, I´m reading a huge fusion explosion on a planetoid near the inner edge of the satellite system." said Kenna´la.
"Explain." said Sparrowhawk turning in his chair.
"It appears that a fusion reactor has exploded near one of the Jahrel´s facilities Sir." informed Gy´Cham.
"What kind of facility?" asked Commander McLaren.
"Unknown Sir. The complex does seem to be drastically overpowered considering its size. I am also reading extensive damage to the facility and a secondary reactor that is presently destabilizing, power fluctuations across the board. I believe that the secondary reactor will go critical in less than an hour." said Gy´Cham consulting his readouts.
"Captain, I am intercepting a request for emergency assistance from the complex. I also getting a response from one of the Jahrel´s ships indicating it will arrive in two hours to render aid." said Kimara looking distinctly pale.
The Captain gazed at the Communications Officer closely. "Is anything wrong Commander? inquired Sparrowhawk.
"I´m sensing someone in extreme pain Sir, in that facility." replied Pel.
"That´s understandable Kimara. With the amount of damage there are bound to be injured." said Sparrowhawk reassuringly.
"No Sir…this is different, it´s almost rhythmic. For me to sense this, at this distance it must be…I´m sorry Captain I´ve lost it." said Kimara wiping her hand across her face.
He paused for a moment giving her time to collect herself. "Open hailing frequencies with that facility to offer our assistance."
Another alien´s face filled the view screen, behind him a scene of bedlam. "I am Administrator Cathar, I regret that I can not allow you to assist us." said the alien as another small explosion seemed to rock the building.
"Administrator, I understand your species' desire to remain isolated from outsiders but our readings indicate that your secondary reactor will go critical in less than an hour and that your nearest ship will not arrive in time to help. My ship can arrive in orbit in only twenty minutes, please allow us to help you as a sign of good faith. After we have rendered aid, if you still want us to depart we will honor your wishes." said Sparrowhawk.
"One moment." said Cathar severing communications.
"Not very trusting are they?" said McLaren.
"We are unfamiliar with this region of space Commander." said Damien Mako. "Perhaps they have good reason for their reticence."
Cathar´s face reappeared on the view screen as contact was reestablished. "I have been authorized to allow you access for the duration of this emergency only Captain. Our facility must not lose power. The safety of this entire sector hangs in the balance. The shield grid will be deactivated to allow your ship to attain orbit. Our primary needs are for fusion engineer specialists and medical personnel Captain." stated the Jahrel, wringing his hands.
"We´ll have them standing by as soon as we´re in transporter range Administrator." said Sparrowhawk.
"Thank you Captain." said Cathar sincerely as he ended his transmission.
"Commander McLaren, coordinate with Mr. Caton to get his teams together." ordered Sparrowhawk.
"Right away Captain." acknowledged the First Officer turning for the turbo lift.
"Kimara, notify CMO L´Abbe to assemble a medical team for transport to the Jahrel complex as soon as we arrive."
"Sparrowhawk to Tudoz."
"Tudoz here Captain." returned the Security Officer.
"I want extra security in place throughout the ship while we're in the Jahrel´s space, coordinate with Jag if you need additional personnel." ordered Sparrowhawk.
"I´ll see to it at once Captain, Tudoz out."
"The satellite shield grid has been deactivated." said Gy´Cham from his console.
"Mr. Connell, set a course for the Jahrel planetoid and engage, best possible speed."
"Aye Sir." replied the helmsman.
Cam entered transporter room two and quickly focused on Brian leaning over computer console. Moving in behind Brian he gazed down to see the sensor readings of the Jahrel´s damaged secondary fusion reactor. "Looks pretty bad." stated McLaren.
"You´ve got that right Commander, if this gets any worse, even we won´t be able to stop this thing from going critical and cracking that planetoid like a walnut." said Brian worriedly.
The rest of the O´Bannon emergency team entered into the transporter room cutting off any further discussion. Brian and his team entered the pad first and were quickly beamed down to the surface, followed quickly by Doctor L´Abbe and her team and then Numon, Jag and two marines, Gy´Cham and finally McLaren himself.
Doctor L´Abbe immediately assessed the situation and created a triage unit to handle the more severely wounded. This proved quite difficult as the alien Jahrel seemed horrified at their close proximity. With soothing words and non-threatening gestures their agitation seemed to dissipate. The individual known as Administrator Cathar appeared in a reinforced doorway gesturing wildly for them to follow him. "The secondary reactor is this way come quickly the situation is worsening by the moment." said Cathar turning abruptly and leading them down a strengthened hallway.
Brian pointed out various tasks for other members of his team to repair as he, the Administrator, Cam and Gy´Cham made their way towards the secondary reactor as quick introductions were handed about. A high-pitched scream came from an adjoining corridor to the left and Cam touched his communicator to let the Doctor know of additional wounded. Cathar motioned for him to stop. "There is no need for medical assistance down that corridor Commander, that section contains our prisoner and you may rest assured he is uninjured." snarled the Administrator with ill concealed contempt.
"This complex is a penal colony?" inquired Gy´Cham.
"Correct. This entire facility and its surrounding structures were built for the sole purpose of containing the most heinous criminal in the history of the Holdings." said Cathar, his statement accented by another scream of unbelievable anguish. "It is crucial that you repair the reactor to maintain power to the containment vessel, or he will escape."
McLaren´s curiosity about this prisoner and the vessel he was contained in was raised to high level. "Brian, keep going with the rest of your team to see what you can do about the reactor, Gy´Cham and I will check out what we can do to strengthen the structural integrity of the cell holding this criminal. Maybe we could set up a force field around it to keep him under control."
"Yes Sir." said Caton jogging off toward the reactor chamber.
Entering the prison chamber Gy´Cham immediately began to take tricorder readings of the central structure. "Commander," began Gy´Cham. "The central unit seems to be constructed of a super-conductive material that focuses all the energy into the prisoner. This seems to be for the sole purpose of causing him enormous pain."
Anger filled McLaren´s mind They were torturing this prisoner. "What possible crime could someone commit to deserve this kind of torture?" demanded Cam.
"Do not judge us too harshly Commander, this creature possesses mental abilities that are far beyond anything previously encountered by my people, this method of containment was the only one that prevented catastrophe. The inducement of constant pain prevents him from focusing he mental energy to spread his contagion throughout our sector." said the Administrator. "For nearly sixty years our scientists have struggled to find a means of destroying this abomination but the creature's regenerative capabilities are astounding."
"This prisoner has been incarcerated within this chamber for sixty years?" asked Cam incredulously.
McLaren´s communicator interrupted Cathar´s answer. "Caton to McLaren."
"Go ahead Brian."
"Sir the control panel and backup manual shutdown manipulators are all fused, there´s nothing I can do to keep this thing from blowing."
"How much time do we have before it hits the fan?" asked McLaren.
"Maybe ten minutes if were lucky, we're going to have to evacuate everyone as soon as possible." answered Brian.
"Alright. Gather your team and bring them to the containment chamber to see if we can transfer this prisoner to the O´Bannon brig safely." ordered McLaren.
"We´re on our way, Caton out."
"Administrator, with your permission I would like to download all the pertinent data regarding your prisoner. The more we know about him, the better we can contain him." stated Cam.
The Administrator agonized briefly over the decision and then nodded his acquiescence. "Gy´Cham moved quickly to the computer console and began a download into his tricorder. Brian and his team arrived just as the download was completed.
"Mac we don´t have a lot of time, I suggest we beam all the survivors over to the O´Bannon and move a safe distance away from the planetoid." said Brian.
"I agree. Beam the Jahrel into the Marine hanger and place a level 10 force field around the hanger to insure their safety." said McLaren looking pointedly at the Chief Engineer.
Brian understood the First Officer's concerns about the alien's access to the ship and quickly agreed. "Right away Sir." replied Brian tapping his communicator to begin the beam outs.
Gy´Cham motioned to the First Officer. "Commander the Jahrel have made countless attempts to destroy the prisoner identified as Paylor, species Mayleek, but have failed. The alien´s ability to regenerate is phenomenal to say the least. When their attempts to kill Paylor failed, they concentrated their efforts on incarceration. It appears however that only this method met with success." stated Gy´Cham consulting his tricorder.
"Short of building another of these chambers, is their anything we can do to contain this prisoner?" asked Cam.
"Our technology is similar to the Jahrel, Commander. I don´t believe any of our standard methods could contain him. If I had sufficient time to analyze his physiology, and the vast amount of data the Jahrel have accumulated, perhaps my team aboard the O´Bannon could devise an alternate method of containment, however…"
"You don´t have sufficient time." said the First Officer finishing the Brikarian´s statement.
"Commander, leave the prisoner here. Perhaps the energy released by the destruction of the facility will finally be enough to destroy this…this abomination." spat Cathar.
Ignoring the Administrator for the moment he directed his gaze back to the containment vessel as another scream of agony was ripped from the prisoner´s throat. "Gy´Cham, does it state what is Paylor´s crime?"
"It does Commander," began Gy´Cham. "He is accused of curiosity/seeking knowledge of the Jahrel."
"Sentenced to life in this torture chamber for curiosity?" McLaren asked, shocked.
"Under the guise of an explorer Paylor absorbed a great deal of information about my people Commander." said the Administrator by way of explanation. "We could not possibly ascertain the use he would put this knowledge. The mental and physical abilities he displayed during his attempted escapes were deemed a threat to the Holdings. That threat had to be contained. My people must remain isolated from inferiors." declared Cathar hotly.
Cam was about to tell Cathar exactly what he thought about Jahrel superiority when Gy´Cham interrupted calmly. "Commander the Jahrel are a isolationist species. To this culture prying into their affairs could easily spark a strong emotional response. Perhaps it would be best to limit our contact with them until an understanding could be reached."
"Of course." said Cam reigning in his anger tapping his communicator. "O´Bannon beam all remaining personnel back to the ship. Send the Administrator to the staging area of the Marine hanger, beam their prisoner into the brig and erect a secondary level 10 force field around him."
"Acknowledged." came the reply from transporter Chief Fitzpatrick. Cathar´s protest was cut off abruptly as he was transported away. Another scream erupted from the prisoner as more energy coursed through his body.
"Mr. Fitzpatrick is there a problem?" asked McLaren.
"Sir I can´t get a lock on the prisoner, the energy field around him is having a scattering effect on the annular confinement beam, and the effect is spreading." came the worried reply.
"Get us out of here Mr. Fitzpatrick." ordered Cam.
"Ener…zing ." came the garbled response.
The First Officer, Chief Engineer, and the Science Officer materialized aboard the O´Bannon a long moment later. McLaren stepped forward and asked. "The prisoner?"
"I´m sorry Sir, that energy field and radiation emanating from the damaged fusion reactor wouldn´t let me get a lock, I was barely able to recover the away team." apologized the Transporter Chief.
"Understood." said McLaren as he and the others left the transporter room to report to their duty stations.
"Captain all away team members have transported aboard, and the Jahrel personnel have been completely evacuated." reported Kenna´la.
"Acknowledged." said Sparrowhawk.
"Captain I´m reading a massive power surge coming from the damaged reactor." stated Ensign Tilar from the Science console.
"Get us clear Mr. Connell." ordered Sparrowhawk.
"Aye Sir." replied the young helm officer. The O´Bannon veered out of orbit in a gut wrenching turn that the inertial dampeners struggled to compensate for.
"Easy does it." whispered Kenna´la from Ops.
"Sorry Sir, the O´Bannon is a lot more sensitive that the Lexington." apologized Connell as the ship finished its turn and moved away at full impulse.
"What´s going on?" asked Cam as he and Gy´Cham entered the bridge and moving to his position. Gy´Cham followed suit and moved to the main science console.
"Our guests are under control and the reactor is losing containment. I understand the Jahrel prisoner is still planet side Commander?" inquired Sparrowhawk.
"Yes Captain." replied McLaren gruffly.
"Captain the reactor has gone critical." said Gy´Cham.
"On screen." ordered Sparrowhawk. The view screen shifted to an aft perspective just as a massive explosion engulfed the prison complex. Secondary explosions could be seen reverberating throughout the area. Then the entire planetoid, which had already been stressed from the first reactor´s explosion, blasted apart in a fiery conflagration. The scene of utter destruction transfixed the Captain and the bridge crew.
McLaren shook his head, "What are your orders Captain?"
"Number One, you have the bridge while I go greet our guests and see to their needs. Plot an intercept course with the Jahrel ship. First Contact protocols are to be observed for the duration of this mission." ordered Sparrowhawk turning toward the turbo lift.
"Captain." interrupted Gy´Cham. "I´m reading a bio signature heading towards the ship coming from the destroyed planetoid. The bio signature matches that of the Jahrel´s prisoner."
"That´s impossible," said Kenna´la. "Nothing could survive that explosion."
"As difficult as it is to believe Commander it seems that the prisoner has survived and is moving towards the ship." stated Gy´Cham.
"He´s right Commander." began Kimara. "I can sense him, he is in incredible pain."
"All stop, red alert." ordered Sparrowhawk
Now that the O´Bannon had stopped the alien bio signature closed in rapidly. "Sir the alien has made contact with the shields." said Commander Shushi.
"I am reading a power drain on our port forward shields Captain, attempting to compensate." said Mako calmly.
"Begin randomly changing shield harmonics." ordered Cam.
"No effect Commander, the alien is passing through the shields and is now in contact with the hull directly above the bridge." said Gy´Cham. "He appears to be phasing through the hull."
"Security to the bridge." ordered Sparrowhawk.
"Acknowledged." came the immediate reply from Numon Tudoz in his office.
A moment later the security chief and two of his men arrived on the bridge as a section of the hull directly above Commander Pel seemed to waiver. McLaren quickly pulled the awe stricken Communications Officer back out of harms way as a humanoid form plummeted to the deck plates.
Blackened and torn skin covered the alien´s body attesting to the violence of the planetoid´s destruction. With a Herculean effort the alien lifted it's right arm, opened its golden eyes and spoke from blood flecked lips. "Help me." pleaded the alien looking at Kimara Pel before crumpling once again to the deck.
Breaking from McLaren´s grip Pel rushed to support the alien. "Help me get him to sick bay." demanded Kimara cradling his fallen form.
Tudoz looked questioningly towards the Captain. "Do it." ordered Sparrowhawk. "I want him kept under constant observation. Seeing that he just passed through our shields, hull, and survived a fusion explosion I know I´m presenting you with a difficult problem Mr. Tudoz. I´ll have Gy´Cham send you all pertinent data concerning this individual, see what you can come up with to control him."
"Yes Captain." said Numon gesturing for his two men to take the prisoner to sickbay.
"Helm bring us about and head back out of the satellite network, if this goes bad I want to be able to get out in a hurry."
"Aye Captain." agreed Connell tapping the controls gingerly.
"Number One, please have the Administrator escorted to my ready room, I believe we have a lot to talk about." said Sparrowhawk.
Chief Medical Officer Amy L´Abbe gazed at her patient intently. Her eyes shifted between his scarred body and the bio bed readings in disbelief. Whoever or whatever this alien was, his regenerative capabilities were nothing short of a miracle. New skin could already be seen replacing burnt and scarred tissue.
"How is he doing?" inquired Kimara whose presence in sickbay had almost gone unnoticed.
"Incredibly well, considering." answered Amy reaching for a dermal regenerator. Before she could apply it to her patient his arm phased through the restraints and grabbed her wrist. The two security guards moved to assist but stopped when Commander Pel raised her hand.
Moving slowly to reassure the patient Kimara gently took the dermal regenerator from Amy´s hand and applied it to herself. "Its alright, this will help you heal more quickly, we are only trying to help." she said calmly.
The humanoid released the CMO´s wrist and settled his arm back down to the bio bed and spoke in a weak voice. "I am Paylor of the Maylek."
"This is Chief Medical Officer L´Abbe, a healer. I am Commander Kimara Pel on the starship O´Bannon." she replied by way of introduction.
"I know, our minds have touched." said Paylor closing his eyes smiling.
Cathar paced back and forth in the Captain´s ready room wringing his long slender fingers agitatedly. Sparrowhawk and McLaren´s eyes followed the distraught Jahrel´s movements. "That abomination is free, Captain Sparrowhawk of the United Federation of Planets. He must be reinstated into a containment vessel before he fully heals or he will escape." he declared hotly.
"He is for the moment Administrator, not a threat." said Sparrowhawk.
"You do not understand Captain, the depths of this creatures depravity, his unquenchable thirst for knowledge. He has the ability to integrate himself directly with anything he wishes to study, be it biological or technological, nothing is beyond his vulture´s mind. Within moments he absorbed all the knowledge of the Jahrel Holdings from our computer records. Armed with this knowledge he could destroy us, this thing must be contained or killed!" declared the Administrator.
Sparrowhawk stared at Cathar for a moment studying him intently. "Commander McLaren head to engineering, talk to Mr. Caton and see what it would take to manufacture a containment vessel similar to the one used by the Jahrel´s to hold the prisoner."
"Captain surely you don´t intend to torture…" began Cam outraged.
"I intend," interrupted Sparrowhawk, "to do whatever is needed to protect this ship and her crew as well as the Jahrel. If this individual is as dangerous as we´ve been told, I´d like to keep my options open. You can download the specifications for the facility for Mr. Caton from Gy´Cham´s station. Dismissed." Cam stared back at the Captain barely keeping his anger in check, then turned and left the ready room.
In sickbay Paylor´s remarkable recovery went on unchecked. His skin now had the reddish hue of someone badly sunburned compared to the blackened flesh he had exhibited before. The doctor now merely monitored his progress, feeling that dermal regeneration was no longer required. CMO L´Abbe could see that Kimara still stood by the patient´s bio bed speaking to him animatedly.
"The O´Bannon´s primary mission is like that of any ship in the Federation, we explore the galaxy. We seek other life forms and try to establish First Contact to exchange ideas and knowledge to extend our understanding of the universe around us." said Kimara.
"Then our missions are similar." said Paylor. "My people are trans dimensional explorers seeking information. Unfortunately my mission was cut short when I encountered the Jahrel, their xenophobic and isolationist beliefs made them perceive me as a threat. They attacked and destroyed my ship. I have been held under surveillance ever since."
"Why did they imprison you in that chamber?" asked Pel.
Paylor smiled ruefully. "They soon realized that as they studied me, I was also studying them. When they learned of this, and of my race's ability to phase with their biological and technological systems they were outraged and imprisoned and tortured me to prevent my escaping with this knowledge. My curiosity unfortunately blinded me to the danger and extent of the Jahrel paranoia."
"Perhaps the Captain could negotiate with the Jahrel for your release." said Kimara.
"That in not my main concern Kimara Pel, the Administrator knows that I am aboard your ship. His fear of the knowledge that I possess will not allow me to escape, nor will he allow anyone who has come in contact with me to leave Jahrel space." said Paylor sadly.
"But that means…" began the Communications Officer, "…I have to warn the Captain."
"No Kimara." said Paylor standing. "It is due to my presence that you are all in great danger, I must warn your Captain."
Chief Engineer Caton was poring over the schematics he had downloaded from the ships computer, Cam stood behind him observing his progress. "Well Mac, I can build one of these things for you if I have to, but isn´t there any other way?" asked Brian turning toward the First Officer. He never finished the movement as he heard and then quickly felt a phaser blast in the back. The half human, half Deltan Officer body slumped to the floor as unconsciousness claimed him. The last thing he saw out of the corner of his eye was a phaser in McLaren´s hand, and then all was black.
"Captain our sensor ghost is back." said Kenna´la urgently.
"Mr. Mako target that ghost with a photon torpedo and fire on my mark." ordered Sparrowhawk.
"Captain if I may remind you that the Jahrel ship is only minutes away. Firing a torpedo with their ship is such close proximity could be seen as an act of aggression." replied the tactical officer.
Before Sparrowhawk could speak, Gy´Cham interjected. "E band burst transmission, origin matches the coordinates of the sensor ghost."
That confirmed Sparrowhawk´s suspicions. "Mr. Mako…" began Sparrowhawk.
"Security alert, security alert." came the voice of the O´Bannon´s computer. "Multiple phaser fire detected in Engineering.´
"Tudoz to Captain, I´m already on my way."
"Full alert everyone, I want this individual captured." ordered Sparrowhawk. "Fire that torpedo Mr. Mako."
"I´m sorry Sir, but I´ve lost the target." said Damien Mako.
"Damn" said Sparrowhawk fiercely.
Numon and his team arrived in engineering to a scene of ultimate calm, which belayed the frantic activity that must have taken place a short time ago. The entire engineering staff, including Brian and McLaren lay about the chamber all showing signs of having been shot by phasers set on heavy stun. After securing the compartment Numon investigated the compartment for clues. The only anomaly to the scene was that he found that both Brian and McLaren showed the characteristics of being shot at close range and a lone phaser near the First Officer´s outstretched hand. A DNA scan would soon determine whose weapon it was. He had the wounded transported to sickbay as he bagged the phaser for evidence.
Sparrowhawk stared at the visage of Mael on the bridge of the Jahrel ship. "I must insist that you transfer the Administrator and our facility personnel and their prisoner to my ship at once Captain Sparrowhawk." demanded the incensed alien.
Sparrowhawk turned and gazed at Paylor, now dressed in non-descript earth garb and his Communications Officer. Kimara had informed him about Paylor´s version of his incarceration. Before he could reply to the Jahrel Captain´s demand Vice Admiral Winslow and his aide Lt. Carlyle arrived on the bridge and moved to a position nearby. "Captain Mael your people are already in our transporter room ready to leave as soon as you lower your shields to allow transport." said Sparrowhawk. With an explosion of air coming from his nostrils Mael signaled to someone off the view screen.
"The Jahrel have been beamed aboard their ship Captain." said Kenna´la.
"The transfer is in no way complete Captain, you still retain our prisoner." exclaimed the Jahrel Captain.
"Captain the Jahrel ship has raised shields and locked weapons on the O´Bannon." said Mako.
"Do the same Mr. Mako." said Sparrowhawk. "Captain Mael lets not begin a fight that neither one of us desires. Let us discuss this amicably to prevent any misunderstandings."
"Captain the weapon and shield systems of the satellite network are back on line preventing our leaving this sector. These systems seem to be under the control of Captain Mael´s ship and they do indeed pose a significant threat to the O´Bannon." said the Chameloid Tactical Officer softly to Sparrowhawk.
"A moment Captain." said Paylor.
"Yes?" inquired Sparrowhawk motioning to Kimara to mute the transmission to the Jahrel ship.
"They will destroy your ship if you refuse to turn me over to them Captain. It might be best if you give them what they want." said the alien sadly.
"I don´t respond well to threats, Paylor. Interstellar bullies leave a bad taste in my mouth. Let's see if they´ll listen to reason." replied Sparrowhawk.
"Compassion Captain? I must say that is uncharacteristic of what I know of your species." said Paylor.
Winslow interrupted before Sparrowhawk could probe that cryptic response. "Captain Sparrowhawk you will turn this alien over to Captain Mael of the Jahrel Holdings at once." he ordered.
"Vice Admiral, Paylor has requested asylum aboard the O´Bannon, I believe we should at least consider his request and begin negotiations with the Jahrel. Perhaps diplomacy would bring about a solution that will create a new understanding for all the species involved." countered Sparrowhawk.
Winslow pulled Sparrowhawk aside and whispered. "Hawkman I know you mean well, but this situation is quickly escalating out of control. I have plans for the O´Bannon and I need her and her Captain intact. You could stand and fight and maybe lose your ship and crew, creating an incident or you could hand over this criminal and form a bond with these Jahrel that could give the Federation a foothold in this sector."
"Fortunately Vice Admiral." came the slightly strained voice of Paylor who had somehow overheard the discussion. "I have a third alternative." Paylor raised his eyes towards the view screen with a look of pure concentration etched across his features. Seconds later the Jahrel ship exploded into a shower of expanding debris. All eyes on the bridge went from the view screen to Paylor with the realization that he had by sheer will destroyed the craft. Sparrowhawk now realized things had gotten a lot more complicated.
Brian came to in sickbay lying face down on a bio bed, he tried to lift himself up but found himself restrained. Almost immediately CMO L´Abbe arrived at his side. "Take it easy Commander you have a nasty phaser burn in your back, let the regenerator unit do its job and you´ll be as good as new in no time."
"I must speak with the Captain right away." said Brian fighting against his restraints.
"Settle down Commander or I´ll have you sedated." ordered Amy sternly.
"Doctor I have information vital to the safety of the ship. I order you to release me at once." replied Brian. The Doctor could hear the urgency in his voice and promptly removed the restraints. The engineer painfully got down from the bio bed and headed out of sickbay. "Keep Commander McLaren in sickbay on my authority. I´ll explain later." he said as he left.
"Captain the Jahrel ship was completely destroyed when the containment field around its engine core simply vanished. The satellite system appears to be non-functional since its connection to Mael´s ship was severed. We may leave this sector at any time. I would also like to report that I have three Jahrel cruisers on long range sensors on an intercept course." said Gy´Cham.
"Understood." replied Sparrowhawk, his gaze never leaving Paylor. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Lt. Carlyle slowly edging towards the alien. "Paylor did you destroy the Jahrel ship?"
"I am sorry for the loss of life Captain. I could not allow you to place your ship and crew in danger on my behalf. I also had no desire to return to my captivity. I have nothing further to learn from the Jahrel, so yes regrettably, I destroyed their ship." answered Paylor.
"Was it necessary to destroy their ship, could you have disabled it?" asked Kimara, pain in her eyes.
"They threatened your very existence and yet you would have me grant them mercy?" asked Paylor focusing on the O´Bannon´s Communications Officer.
"We believe that all life deserves to exist Paylor. The Jahrel may not be like the Federation, but we´ve learned to embrace the differences of many species. In time perhaps even the Jahrel could learn to welcome others." answered Kimara without flinching from the questioning stare.
"Compassion and tolerance, this is unanticipated. The species of your sector have indeed come a long way since our last visit." said Paylor smiling openly patting Kimara´s check in a fatherly way.
"Your last visit?" Kenna´la asked.
"Yes, hundreds of your years ago my people visited your sector of space. We found many species warring amongst themselves and against each other. Suspicious and petty, violent and undisciplined unworthy of contact, the humanoids of Earth particularly so." answered Paylor turning his eyes to Lt. Carlyle stopping him in his tracks.
"We´ve had our difficulties in the past, made many mistakes, but we have also learned from our errors. Our peoples have grown to form a great Federation of Planets that practices peace and tolerance." said Sparrowhawk.
"Then why the deception?" questioned Paylor pointing towards the view screen.
"What deception?" asked Sparrowhawk spreading his hands.
Just then the turbo lift doors opened to admit the Chief Engineer. "Captain, I need to speak to you."
"In a moment Mr. Caton." said Sparrowhawk motioning Brian to silence. "I repeat my question Paylor, what deception?"
In response, Paylor stared at the view screen and suddenly there for all to behold, a Starfleet runabout de-cloaked off the starboard side of the O´Bannon. Lt. Carlyle took that moment to act springing towards the alien with lethal speed and intent. Just before reaching his intended target the intelligence officer struck an invisible barrier around Paylor and was flung bodily to the deck.
"Everyone stand fast." ordered Sparrowhawk. "Kenna´la put a tractor beam on our elusive friend out there and pull him into the main hanger bay."
"Aye Captain." replied Commander Shushi.
"Belay that order." said Vice Admiral Winslow. "That ship is here on my authority."
"On your authority?" asked Sparrowhawk incredulously.
"Correct Captain. Since you failed to ascertain the identity of your saboteur I decided to take a more direct approach." said Winslow. "I told you I had plans for the O´Bannon Captain, with you in command or without you. You are relieved."
Things suddenly started to fall into place in Sparrowhawk´s mind. Winslow had created a smoke screen about a problem aboard the ship and used the power of his position as head of Starfleet Intelligence in this sector to place a close friend in command of the O´Bannon. The stealth ship, which appeared to be under the Admiral´s direct command was sending coded e-band transmissions to an operative aboard, only intensifying the appearance of a problem aboard the ship. This justified his placement as Captain and opened the door for future operatives, thought Sparrowhawk eyeing Lt. Carlyle who was slowly getting to his feet. All this had been fabricated to slowly infiltrate and commandeer the O´Bannon for Winslow´s hidden agenda. The plan might have worked, had been working in fact, if it had not been for the timely interference of an unforeseen element, Paylor.
Keeping his eyes on his old friend Sparrowhawk spoke evenly. "Kenna´la carry out your orders."
"I ordered you to stand down Captain." said Winslow angrily.
"I am choosing to ignore that order Vice Admiral and I herby place you and your adjutant under arrest for conspiracy against the Federation." Sparrowhawk motioned to two security men on the bridge, who moved to take Winslow and Carlyle into custody. "The answers to our little mystery and the identity of our saboteur are aboard that ship out there. You´ve place my ship and crew in danger and you´ve threatened the very ideals of the Federation, Admiral, and I intend to make you accountable."
Lt. Carlyle shook free from the security crewman and depressed his fingers sharply on his left wrist. The sub dermal transponder located there sent out a signal, and the runabout exploded as it's self-destruct was activated. Sparrowhawk looked at the Lieutenant will ill concealed anger. "I´ll add the charge of murder to the crimes you have committed." said Sparrowhawk thinking of the crew of the runabout. "Take them to the brig." Carlyle met the Captain´s piercing glare with an unconcerned smile. "Have Lt. Tudoz examine both of the prisoners to make sure they don´t have any other surprises in store for us."
After the two had been taken from the bridge Captain Sparrowhawk took a deep breath. With the destruction of the stealth ship there was precious little evidence linking Winslow and Carlyle with the still unknown operative aboard the ship. "Captain if you have a moment?" requested the Chief Engineer urgently.
"Go ahead Commander." said Sparrowhawk straightening his uniform.
"Captain I know who the saboteur is." said Brian clearly.
Sparrowhawk reigned in his excitement and remained outwardly calm. "Who?" was all he asked.
"Commander McLaren Captain." began Brian, but before he could continue Kenna´la interrupted.
"Brian that´s crazy, no on cares more about the ship and its crew than Cam." said Kenna´la stopping abruptly a though surprised by her own outburst.
"Let me explain." said Brian holding up his hand.
"Please do." said Sparrowhawk looking towards Paylor who had watched this entire exchange quietly.
"The e-band transmissions were sent out by that stealth ship that was just destroyed out there." began Brian. "We know from Gy´Cham´s analysis that the transmissions had a Dominion style data stream configuration. The only equipment designed to handle that kind of configuration normally found on our ship is Commander McLaren´s implant."
"That we know of." entered Kenna´la still defending her friend.
"During the incident in Engineering, I saw Mac with a phaser in his hands in a reflection from the transparent aluminum window in my office.´ continues Brian.
"I also have evidence that Commander McLaren is responsible for the incident in Engineering." said the Andorian security chief entering the bridge. "DNA traces on the only phaser to have been discharged belong to the Commander. Close proximity phaser burns only occurred to Chief Engineer Caton and Commander McLaren as he turned the weapon on himself."
"That´s all circumstantial evidence." said Sparrowhawk unwilling to believe his First Officer capable of these crimes. He had only known McLaren for a short time, but he knew he was dedicated to this ship and crew.
"I don´t believe he was even aware of these actions Captain." said Brian quickly. "The expression on his face just before I was shot was completely blank, devoid of any emotion."
"Just to be on the safe side, I want him kept in sickbay under guard until we can get this cleared up." said Sparrowhawk.
"Perhaps the answer lies within the transmissions themselves Captain." interjected Gy´Cham. "However; that will remain unanswered until we break the code and decipher the messages."
"Perhaps I could be of assistance." said Paylor calmly. "I have a fondness for primitive culture languages."
"We would appreciate your help Paylor, but first we have to solve our situation with the Jahrel." said Sparrowhawk indicating the vast satellite network and the three cruisers heading their way.
"They are of no concern Captain." said a smiling Paylor as the view screen shimmered briefly. Blinking his eyes Sparrowhawk stared at the view screen to see…nothing, the ships, and satellites, gone.
"Where did everything go?" asked a bewildered Kenna´la.
"I apologize to you all, but the deception was necessary until your true intentions were revealed. Your species has indeed come a long way from the barbarians we first observed, but I regret you must go further still before we may allow full contact."
Sparrowhawk thought about all that had occurred during this mission, McLaren´s possible manipulation, secret messages, and Winslow´s betrayal. "I believe I understand Paylor."
Smiling, the alien turned towards Gy´Cham´s display showing the e-band transmission. "Now let us see about this puzzle and its solution." said the alien concentrating on the display.
Captain´s Log Supplemental: Stardate 0918.02 With the alien Paylor´s assistance the transmission was decoded and Commander McLaren has been cleared of any wrongdoing. The Maylek´s ability to phase with technology has also removed the possibility of any further manipulation of the Commander´s implant. Paylor even offered to remove the Commander´s implant and return him to his fully organic self, but was kindly refused. I believe my First Officer has had enough people stomping around inside his head. After Paylor left our ship, simply by fading from view, we had a rendezvous with the USS Darwin and transferred Winslow and Carlyle for transport to Starbase 173 along with the evidence for their prosecution. We are proceeding with our mission in Sector H231."
A tone alerted Sparrowhawk that someone wanted entry to his ready room. "Come." ordered the Captain. A somewhat subdued Commander McLaren entered the room. "What can I do for you Commander?"
"I wanted to thank you Captain, for your efforts to prove me innocent." said Cam looking directly at Sparrowhawk.
"Commander the O´Bannon is a fine ship and as far as I´m concerned she has one of the finest First Officers in Starfleet. I can´t think of anyone else I´d rather have as my right hand man." said Sparrowhawk with conviction.
"After the way you looked after the ship and her crew Cap, I wouldn´t have it any other way. What say we go down to Seven Forward and you let me buy you a drink." said Cam smiling.
"That sounds like a great idea Commander." replied Sparrowhawk.
"Call me Mac." said Cam as they passed through the door.