Shadows Dancing

As the newly minted Lieutenant Commander O'Shaughnessy ran her systems checks, the engineering doors opened to admit the captain.

"Good morning, Commander," Lucara said pleasantly. "I trust you rested well. What is our current engineering status?" The question was a matter of form. Lucara looked around her with keen interest.

If Moira was surprised by Lucara's unannounced visit to Engineering, she didn't show it, taking it in stride as through the captain was a frequent visitor to the department.

"All systems are green, Captain," she replied, her lilting accent a marked contrast to the Vulcan's cultured precision. "We're after finishing the last of the diagnostics now on some of the minor systems."

"Thank you. As soon as we are completed, I believe we shall be getting underway. Will you introduce me to your staff? I would like to become acquainted with the people who returned this ship to its functional capacity."

"Aye, sir. 'Twould be a pleasure to introduce ya around," said Moira, then hesitated slightly before continuing. "'Twill mean a fair bit to the lads' morale."

Lucara nodded, and Moira led the captain through the department, introducing the men and women on duty, mentioning each person's role in containing the crisis, however small it had been. The crew unmistakably took pride in their work. Some of them were slightly embarrassed, others were pleased that Moira had actually noticed their work during the stressful and demanding hours when she, too, had been harried and beyond exhaustion. They all seemed to stand just a little taller as their chief let their new captain know that they were an important part of the Engineering team.

Lucara listened attentively as Moira spoke of each member of her team, praising their working during the crisis, acknowledging each contribution. Excellent . . . very good with her people, she thought. Her Vulcan demeanor precluded a smile, but her own words to each individual were obviously sincere. She added her compliments to her chief engineer's, making certain that she spoke a few works to each person to whom she was introduced.

Finally, Moira and Lucara reached the warp engine core, where Chigara was explaining some esoteric aspect of warp field theory to Domingo, who was valiantly trying to keep up with the older man's explanation.

"Chief Petty Officer Baako Chigara and Crewman Rolando Domingo very cleverly set the engines to working with but a wee bit of help, and working against the tantrums of the computer," Moira said to the captain. "Gentlemen, I'll be having ye meet Lucara, our new captain."

Chigara looked up with a mask of puzzlement on his face. So engrossed had he been in his explanation of the warp field theory that it took him several seconds of trying to fit Lucara into that theory before he returned to the mundane reality of the engine room. He smiled somewhat sheepishly and nodded to the captain. Rolando, on the hand, came to rigid attention. Moira noticed that he seemed to pale slightly, and his emotions fit the pattern of panic and anxiety.

So, 'tis not just Sarath that spooks the lad, she thought, then made a mental note to have a wee bit of a chat with him soon. The sooner she discovered why he was so nervous around Vulcans, the better.

Lucara was faintly amused to note the absorption the men had in their work. Chigara's double take returned that light to her eyes, the one Moira had noticed when she'd spoken of Sareth at the briefing. Domingo's obvious discomfort was puzzling.

"At ease, Crewman," she said quietly. "This is not an inspection. I have just come to meet the people who put the Eclipse back together again so well." She nodded to the men. "Carry on."

* * *

Moira was in Mulvihill's office — yes, it was technically her office now, but she just couldn't stop thinking of it as Commander Mulvihill's — going over the diagnostics reports, musing about Domingo, when her comm badge beeped.

"Commander O'Shaughnessy, this is Akira Hitachi at Tactical. Would you have a few minutes to go over the readings on those alien ships with me on the bridge?"

Interesting. "Of course, Commander. I'll be there in a few minutes." From where she sat, she could see that Chigara and Domingo were once again engrossed in their love affair with the warp engines. Shaking her head and smiling, she left the office and found Jefferson muttering softly to the central console. "Patel, I'm thinking ya had been assigned to the second shift, and it'll be but the beginning of the first."

"Oh, yes, sir! But while our blessed ship has been healed of her most terrible wounds, and is now on her way to recovery, I thought perhaps I would coax that healing along with my presence and soothing words," he said as he patted the console.

Moira chuckled. "As ya wish, Patel. These engines and the whole ship will be listening to ya even better than the holodecks ever listen to me."

"Oh, I have heard you speak with the most admirable skill to them of the marvels they should create! And . . . perhaps enough people have already said this, but I have not had my chance and so I, too, must say it: Congratulations on your promotion, Commander Moira!"

Moira grinned at Jefferson's infectious good humor. "Thank ya, Ensign. I'll be on the bridge should anyone think of needing me," she said to the young man.

"Ah, yes! Most excellent, sir!" He beamed happily.

The corridors were more populated now, and people seemed calmer and more relaxed. It appeared that most folks had taken advantage of the rest period . . . except, of course, for Emerald. Moira sighed and reached out across their bond. Em, how are ya doing with the Pakleds? Ya will get yourself some rest today, won't ya, Imazdi?

Arriving on the bridge, she said hello to Lieutenant Father Lucas and nodded to the two newcomers. "Ya have some ships ya want to show me, Commander?" she said as she stepped to Hitachi's side.

"Maybe the big ship is hollow or something," Lucas was saying as he shrugged. Ship and in-space tactics weren't his strong point.

* * *

The alien ships floated impassively, vaguely threatening, on the viewscreen. They were no more explainable now than they had been hours ago. Moira concentrated on the figures Lieutenant Commander Donovan Kahallan, their new security chief, had circled. Her arms were folded and her brow was faintly wrinkled.

"What sort of folks will be after building ships such as that, Commander?" she asked, still facing the viewscreen. "Someone with something to hide, I'm thinking." She was silent for a moment. "Sure now, but what will it be that they'll be hiding?" she asked, more to herself than the bridge crew.

She glanced at Kahallan, her eyes resting on his face for a heartbeat before returning to the alien ships. Her first impression of him had been one of a spring very tightly compressed, or a predatory animal ready to strike. And yet, what she perceived through her empathic sense made her feel entirely at ease around him.

"There'd not be a reason, based on any physics we're knowing, to be painting the ships black," she mused. "Religious significance, perhaps? Clan colors? Ya might even find . . ." She turned to face Kahallan again, her expression reasonably impassive, but her green eyes showing the anger at the damage done to the Eclipse and the lives wasted because of the attack. ". . . that they'll have what they believe to be a sense of humor."

She turned back to the viewscreen. When she spoke again, they could hear the overtones of her anger in her voice. "I'll not be giving any advice on stopping their punch, as ya put it. Anything that can cut through our shields like a hot knife through butter will be something we ought to be running from, not fighting." She glanced once again at Kahallan, including Hitachi in her gaze. "Of course, that'll just be my opinion."

"Normally, I'd agree with you, Commander," said Hitachi. "However, as we're going in pursuit of these ships, I don't anticipate that we'll have that option. We know that distance has a detrimental effect on their weapon. Is there something there we can use?"

Moira nodded. "So I'll have suspected. 'Twas too much to hope that we'll have the option of retreating." She again studied the data they'd massed. "I don't notice that ya have the frequency of their weapon, and I suppose that'll be lost in the computer malfunction we were having. Well, we can make some adjustments to the shields' frequencies based on our observations of the previous encounter. Of course, I'm not trusting the shields to take more than one hit, but we'll be after catching their frequencies from that, and can adjust our own again. If there'll be modulating, we can have the computer racing against their modulations, we can. Will the distance where their weapon will weaken be inside or outside the range of the phasers and photon torpedoes?"

And I'm thinking I'll be shutting down power to the bloody holodecks in a minute, she thought. Shield technology will be Padraig's specialty, and I can sure use his help. She resisted the urge to sigh heavily.

"I'll check the readings and get it back to you, Commander," Hitachi said.

"Commander Hitachi, do we have any mass, volume, and power numbers on the big ship?" asked Kahallan.

"Yes, I'll route those to your attention. I was having the computer run an analysis to see if they matched any known or suspected race or technology reports."

"So. We know that it tends to get weaker the farther it gets away," said Kahallan. "The shields will not stop it. What about bending it, deflecting it? Kind of like when light passes through water. Refract it . . . slow it down and make it think it's gone a bit father than it really has?"

"Or is it a weapon that expends all its punch in one blow?" mused Hitachi. "If that's so, we might be able to project a double layer of shields, letting the first absorb the weapon. Use the data from the first shot to change the frequency of the second shield."

Kahallan paused a moment before asking, "The Pakleds and Lieutenant Drake . . . they both actually saw these folks?"

"Yes. The lieutenant was there and saw the boarding party. A mixed band of races, she said, but they acted in a very professional, organized manner. You should speak with her. Your grasp of small group tactics and dynamics is certain to be far superior to mine."

Moira listened to the discussion, but something about the ships themselves stuck in her mind.

"'Tis an odd thing, as ya say, that we're finding so many strangers with a fondness for black ships. And they'll have gone to plenty of trouble to make sure we don't discover a thing about them." She raised an eyebrow, her eyes displaying the merest hint of humor. "Hiding the duct tape, will they? Sure now, that could be a possibility. But why? If they'll have weapons that powerful, why the need to hide?"

She shifted her stance as she became more relaxed about being on the bridge, her hands clasped loosely behind her back. "Aye, we could keep the beam away from the ship, Mister Kahallan. We'll need to find out what kind of light we're dealing with so we can tell the shields how to be water, though. As I said, I can make some guesses based on how the shields will be reacting to the weapon the first time, but they'll only be guesses until I can get better data.

"And as ye'll have mentioned, gentlemen," she concluded, "'tis likely that we'll have the chance to collect the data."

"Aye, unless perhaps they be folks we already know, and they don't—" Kahallan began in a thick Cockney accent, before suddenly stopping mid-sentence. His mouth closed, and one might have imagined hearing his teeth snap, so quick and jarring was the halt. He took a breath, letting his fingers trace a silent pattern across the console's surface. Then finally he exhaled, slowly shaking his head. He gave the engineer a sharp, narrow-eyed look, wry and dark. Similar, one might have said, to a wolf pup that just had a steel trap snap shut right in front of its nose.

Kahallan's look of surprise, and something more that Moira found hard to read, at his lapse into that vaguely familiar dialect startled her more than the lapse itself. At the moment when he spoke with his authentic voice, Moira's unique artistic talent filled her mind with colors, patterns, pictures . . . dark and somber, swirling and dancing, surrounding the image of a young girl with blond hair and bright blue eyes. When he spoke again, the images dimmed but didn't fade. Her fingers longed for the velvety touch of her pastel chalks to set that image of youthful innocence on canvas.

Taking a second breath, Kahallan returned to the beginning, without a trace of an accent. ". . . unless perhaps, they're folks we already know, who didn't want us to know that they have this brand-new weapon. I didn't look at it that way, but you're right. They've gone to a lot of trouble to keep this secret of theirs."

He repeated O'Shaughnessy's words, his voice quiet and even once more. "And you're right on that second count, too," he said as he folded his hands together, absentmindedly rubbing his knuckles. "We need to get you more data. I think that's going to be more Commander Hitachi's field than mine, but I have a couple of thoughts of my own, coming in from another side of our problem."

With just a turn of his head, Kahallan looked back at Hitachi. "Unless you need me here at tactical, Commander, permission to leave the bridge?" After all, Lieutenant Commander Hitachi did have the bridge watch.

Hitachi looked at Kahallan and smiled slightly. "No need to be so formal. Of course, you have permission to leave the bridge, Commander. I look forward to discussing our departments at 1200."

It wasn't until Kahallan finally left the bridge that Moira was able to push the images of that young girl completely from her mind. But she wasn't going to forget them.

Hitachi turn back to the engineer and sighed. "I know that you've been pushed to the limit, Commander, but I'd like an analysis report of the data we have on the two original bandits and the larger ship as soon as possible for the captain. Use whatever resources you need. And . . . thanks. This ship is in one piece due in large part to your efforts and the efforts of your engineers. They can be justly proud of their work."

She nodded to acknowledge the praise of her people. Mulvihill had trained them all well, and she was as proud of them as anyone.

"Aye, Commander. Will ya just be transferring what data ya have to my office?" She looked around the bridge and gave Hitachi a lopsided grin. "'Tis just a wee bit more comfortable working there, being a bit smaller, ya know."

"Of course, Commander. I'll have it sent down immediately."

* * *

Moira sat in the Chief Engineer's office mulling over the data that had been cheerfully provided by the computer. She'd run a query on all the databases for anything related to the alien ships, their weapons, and the Pakleds and their ship. She had the data Hitachi had transferred down, she had all the data Emerald had entered, she even managed to locate the data Lucara had backed up before the computer was reinitialized. There were fragments of information all over; putting it into some sort of coherent form was a challenge.

She saw fairly clearly the sequence of events. It looked like the Aliens in Black had been uninterested in the Eclipse until they decided to help the Pakleds. But once they got interested, they sure packed a hell of a punch, almost as if the Eclipse was nothing but an annoyance to them. She wasn't having a lot of luck coaxing information on the weapons of the aliens, but she kept the computer on its search. Damn, but she wanted Padraig's help. If he was going to haunt her, he might as well be useful, rather than spending all his time playing with the holodeck programs. A few taps on the console cut the power to the auxiliary holodeck Padraig currently inhabited. Then she set the computer to running simulations for determining possible shield frequencies based on observations of the alien's weapons. Slim data to work from, but the computer didn't balk, which was a good sign. By the time the simulations were set up, she had a response from Padraig.

Hey! You deliberately shut down the holodeck! Why?

Moira sighed. Because ya still be a Starfleet officer as far as I'm concerned, and ya going and dying will not get ya out of your obligations, she said with more anger than she'd expressed in the year since he'd died. If ya don't like it, ya can just kindly get yourself gone for good! It almost felt good getting angry at him; she hadn't realized that he was one of the few people who had ever truly seen her angry. That seemed to sober him considerably. She could actually feel her twin's hesitation. Well?

When his answer came, it was tinged with something akin to defensive guilt. You're not exactly easy to live with, you know. Padraig hesitated. I'm sorry, Mo. I guess there just aren't any protocols for behavior in this situation, are there? I just thought I'd keep out of your way . . .

It had always been hard for her to stay angry at him. I know. But I'm needing your help. Can ya keep yourself focused enough to help me work out this problem?

Ghosts apparently did have emotions, because Padraig's were seeping into her consciousness. He was torn between what he knew he should do and what he really wanted to do. Moira couldn't blame him all that much; when she'd first discovered holodeck programming, no one had seen her for months. Paddy, the holodecks are always going to be there. And the sooner we get to fixing these problems, the sooner we both can get back to them, isn't it so?

She felt his sigh more than heard it. Okay, okay. His grin felt like a tiny bubble of happiness floating up her spine and she smiled too. You know I hate it when you call me Paddy. What do you need me to do?

Here . . . look at this data, she said, indicating the disparate conglomeration of factoids displayed on her console. Ya be the shields expert. Tell me what ya think of that weapon. How're we going to stop it? Or at least slow it down some? And see if ya can find more data on that weapon and those ships in the computer. I know ya have some kind of way of finding things faster than my queries are managing. And I don't think I want to know about it, either.

"Sure now, ya go and call me a witch," she muttered to herself, and to Padraig.

And ya don't have Mam to call ya Paddy anymore. Ya going to be putting up with it from me, brother dear. And besides all that, I'm your twin. Ya put a stop to me calling ya Paddy when we were teens, but I'm after starting the practice up again, I am. Moira barely managed to keep from laughing out loud.

* * *

Moira leaned forward with one elbow on the console, chin resting on her palm, fingers absently tapping her upper lip. One leg was tucked beneath her on the chair, a position more suited to a less casual environment than her office, but she was oblivious to the discordance. Her free hand danced along the console and images of the aliens' ships flitted across her screens. Padraig had ferreted out tiny bits of information that her query had missed, but unfortunately, it wasn't much. And the information seemed so . . . ordinary. Most of it anyway.

She was vaguely aware that the timbre of the engines had changed, an indication that the ship was underway. She ignored it, intent on her analysis of the alien weapon.

Her comm badge beeped, startling her. "Would all senior officers please report to the ready room for a briefing," announced Hitachi. "Thank you."

Still not quite accustomed to her promotion, it took Moira a second before she remembered that she was now a senior officer. She shook her head and, with a little smile, began transferring her data and observations to her PADD.

If ya think ya will be going back to the holodeck, ya will be mistaken, she said to her ethereal twin. She felt his mental sigh and couldn't help a mischievous reply. If I'm to be on duty, you're to be on duty. Ya may have been a few inches taller than I, Paddy dear, but I'll still be more than a few minutes older, and I'll be outranking ya now as well, Lieutenant.

His reply made her wish, not for the first time, that he wasn't quite so ethereal. Aye, aye, Commander Bossy!

After letting Reynolds know she'd be in yet another meeting, Moira noted with some consternation that she didn't seem to be spending any more time in the Engineering department than she had when she was a mere holodeck specialist. And she wasn't having nearly as much fun, either. She sighed and shrugged. To everything, there is a purpose and a time for all in the Lady's great plan. And now was the time for a meeting.

At the first step into the captain's ready room, Kahallan's dark eyes took in the size of the space, its simple layout, the standard issue conference table, the curve of the windows, and the tightness of the room. Thus, for now, the unassuming security officer took a step back and to the side, to remain standing close to one of the walls. He gave a small nod to Lieutenant Drake when she entered the room.

For a moment, Kahallan haunted his corner of the ready room, moving only to stab out a few commands on his PADD. His summons brought up the chief science officer's data on the viewscreen, her images of starships and combat now adding a touch of chaos to the quiet room. Again, Kahallan paused, frowning at the PADD. Then a last command froze the images: the Paklad ship, and the interior shot of the strange gold coins.

Then he leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms and tucking his PADD against his brightly emblazoned jacket. From there, he waited as others arrived, watched as if perhaps their choices of where they sat were an intriguing puzzle to be figured out. His stance changed, however, the moment the Eclipse's captain entered the room: formal, disciplined, and partly a reflex reaction.

"Captain Lucara, sir."

She nodded, then said, "Commander, I know you had something you wanted to discuss vis-a-vis the scan, but before we get to that, I would like to hear a general report on the ship's systems from Commander O'Shaughnessy."

A single curt nod was the captain's answer, quiet and straightforward. For the moment, then, Kahallan remained where he stood, leaning against the ready room wall, waiting patiently, listening carefully.

Before Moira could give her report on the ship's status, a young officer entered the room, trying rather hard to hide, or so it seemed to her. She didn't recognize him, but the captain did; likely one of the crew from Hawking she hadn't met yet. Lucara vacated her seat for the new arrival, an act that Moira considered just a little odd, although also more than a little amusing. She mentally shrugged and was about to speak when the ready room door opened again.

This time, she did recognize the officer: Jason Tyler, newly promoted by Captain Yeade. In fact, her first official holoprogram on Eclipse had been an entertaining adventure to celebrate his promotion — Captain Yeade's wedding reception having been an unofficial program. She smiled at Jason has he found a spot in the already crowded room. Now, if only she could complete her report before the door opened again.

"Aye, Captain. We'll have the engines, sensors, and shields back online. Level one diagnostics are showing green on all systems, but we'll be tweaking them to bring them back to one hundred percent, or as near to one hundred percent as we can get out here. The tractor beam will be inoperable, and will be so until we can get to a space dock for repairs."

Turning to face Kahallan, she said, "And I'm to be reporting that the brig will still be off limits, Commander. We have a patch on the breach, but 'tis only a temporary measure. If we're being hit there again, the patch will not hold. I'll be happier if the area stayed empty. There'll be no sense risking a bold lad falling out of the ship, is there?" Her expression was bland, but the tiniest of smiles practically dared him to disagree with her.

The captain nodded. "I agree," she said, adding her weight to the Chief Engineer's assessment. "I am concerned with the safety factors above all. I would have preferred to return to the Starbase 319 to address these needs, but Starfleet Command has other plans for us. Let us take every precaution. Decks twelve through fifteen as well as deck thirty-three in the areas surrounding the breaches are off limits until further notice. If any type of confinement is necessary, Commander O'Shaughnessy can assist you to rig a temporary area, Duffy—"

She broke off, realizing she had used the name without actually knowing how she knew it. Perhaps she had heard one or two of the Hawking's crew use it when addressing him? She shrugged.

In the corner, there was a sudden and quick start. An odd look crossed the security chief's features for the briefest moment and then his eyes narrowed, cold and unfathomable. He was suddenly focused on the captain of the Eclipse at an uncomfortable and unexpected use of a familiarity. Then, with a breath and a shift of his weight, the still-silent security officer settled back against the ready room wall.

"Thank you, Moira," Lucara decided, continuing her trend.

Although the chief engineer kept her focus on the captain, there was a ringing of emotion, odd and distant and suspicious, from the chief of security when the captain had used his name. Duffy. Must be a nickname, as she knew his given name was Donovan. It was something Moira would consider later, for the images that reverberated in her mind, and the emotions they evoked, reminded her of something . . . something . . .

"I did not wish to have to explain this more than once, so I have waited until all of you on the duty list were assembled. I must add that this vessel will not function at optimal efficiency without an executive officer. Therefore, I am going to appoint Commander Hitachi to this post, who will, I hope, accept my brevet promotion to full Commander for this purpose, and the position of first officer of the Eclipse at least for the duration of my command."

Hitachi stared at her for a moment, not quite comprehending her statement, then letting it sink in. He nodded woodenly at her, murmuring an acknowledgment.

Once again, Kahallan waited, folding his arms behind his back and tucking his PADD against his heavily patched jacket. He watched, too, his gaze crossing the tight little room, noting reactions to the new posting. His own was, perhaps, unreadable as he stood a few paces back from bulk of the group.

Lucara looked back at Hitachi, eyes locked on his. "I am sure you would have preferred that I speak with you privately first, but time is of the essence here. We will speak of this further after the briefing."

He nodded again, felling her dark eyes burn into him, judging, questioning.

Turning back, with hardly a beat, to the rest of the company, Lucara said, "I suppose our next order of business is Commander Kahallan's comments concerning the enemy. Commander, I believe you and Lieutenant Drake have already conferred."

Without a best, in an almost-matching rhythm, Kahallan replied, "Aye, Captain, sir.

"The lieutenant has some very useful information herself, and a lot better explanation for some of our strangeness than I did an hour or so ago."

With a single step forward, Kahallan let one hand drift out to stab sharply on the display console. The Pakled ship under attack by the two black interlopers was enlarged on the screen. His fingers drummed a four-beat pattern once before he stepped away to slowly pace in the tiny space afforded in front of the console.

"I do not want to start without enemies, I think I want to start with our friends. As I was mentioning to Lieutenant Drake, that is not a Pakled ship. That is a Ferengi trader. And not only is it a Ferengi ship, it's an older Ferengi ship. That distinctive straight bow configuration dropped out of service years ago. And yet the Pakleds were not only able to stand up to an assault by two ships, they were able to stand up to them long enough for the Eclipse to arrive. That should not have happened. I wasn't there, but I've been on those types of ships.

"Based on what I've seen, that ship was kitted out with at least military-grade shields." Kahallan paused for a moment and then nodded. "I do not thing I should be the one to question the Pakleds next, Captain, sir.

"I think our engineer should have a word with their engineer."

Letting his gaze drift to O'Shaughnessy, Kahallan smiled a slow, wolfish grin, having just saddled the engineer with something a little more inconvenient and a lot more painful to the ear than a blown-out brig could ever be.

Moira met his gaze and return his grin with one of her more mischievous ones, though it wasn't in anticipation of chatting with the Pakleds.

Oh, fair play to ya, Kahallan. And I'm thanking ya very much, ya bold lad, she thought. And I'll be sure to be thanking ya again and thinking of ya as I keep from trying to ring their necks. She suppressed a sigh as Kahallan continued his report.

The ensuing several minutes consisted of Kahallan running through the events and their timing, with a suggestion that particular incidents should be investigated further to rule out conspiracies and internal sabotage. The junior officers, and even the captain herself, appeared confused.

"Cor . . ." Taking a step back, Kahallan once again leaned against the ready room wall. Holding his PADD at an angle, he roughly stabbed out a set of sharp commands. His eyes narrowed again, frowning down at the device. Sparing a quick glance across the room to O'Shaughnessy, he took a long, deep breath.


"Start from the beginning."

Commander O'Shaughnessy wondered about that look, wondered if it was another game he was going to play, but he began speaking again. She would have to be content to remain as confused as her new captain, though for completely different reasons.

"There was a distress call from a Ferengi trader. While on route . . ."

Kahallan's gaze shifted slightly to look back down at Drake.

". . . there was an explosion in the science labs. Is that right, Lieutenant Drake? The original explosion was before the pirate attack, or am I mistaken?"

"No, you've got it right," Emerald said.

"Then we had the pirate attack," Kahallan continued. "They are very particular about the loot they are going after, and just want to target on Eclipse. the Ferengi vessel not only had military-grade shields operating, but was not filled with Ferengi but packed with Pakleds, who have now decided to inhabit our sickbay.

"During the battle, the optical data network goes down, crippling the computer and sensor systems . . ."

Kahallan's eyes dropped down for his PADD for just a blink and then he looked back up at Lucas.

"Now, somewhere in all this, the Eclipse's hull must have gotten severely damaged in the area of the brig. So, after the battle, when Lieutenant Drake is escorting the prime suspect in the lab explosion to the brig, that is when the local structural integrity field generator decides to go offline, because . . ."

Frowning again, Kahallan's gaze returns to the PADD.

". . . the generator thought it was on auxiliary power when it was really just draining its emergency battery. And, coincidentally, it fails just in time to take away the one suspect to the lab explosion incident . . . without also taking out the lieutenant. So the hole in the side of the Eclipse occurred after the attack, but resulted from cascading failures caused by damage taken during the battle.

"And the only thing we know is that we only have a handful of pieces to this jigsaw, and not enough to get a handle on what the real picture is. The only thing that comes to mind, if you try and link all these odd pieces, is that the lab would have been a resource for figuring out what the coins were if we did manage to get hold of them. And that if Blakslee were involved, the one thing he would know would be if he did get caught, the brig would be the one place on the ship he could depend on ending up in."

Shaking his head, Kahallan snapped one last command into his PADD. When he looked back up, his smile was both wry and predatory.

"Now, that was a twisted chain of logic. The only problem is that, at this point, we do not seem to have enough information to really determine if all these odd events are linked . . .

". . . or are just coincidence. And I think we should start figuring out that part, fast.

"That's the second-best reason for going after our missing crewmates because they'll have firsthand knowledge of these folks, and why the Pakleds need a good talking to, and why I'd like to know more about those coins. And mostly, to turn the tables on those ships in black, so they're the ones asking all the questions."

Will he be trying to make connections that will be coincidences? Moira asked Emerald. With the way we were being hit, I could just as easily make a case for the breach in the brig to be a warning shot, the one in Engineering . . . Well, deliberate and designed to stop us, that'll be the truth. And when we didn't stop, they hit the saucer. I hate conspiracies!

Emerald stood up and approached the display screens, glancing at Moira as she did so. "Blakslee was involved in an illicit operation that was to result in distilled alcoholic beverages. Unfortunately, his location for a distillery was ill-planned, being located next to a plasma conduit in the Science Lab bulkhead." Emerald showed a map of the science deck and indicated the source of the explosion.

"Captain Yeade was en route to Sickbay when the explosion occurred. The captain's injuries were not a result of the blast, rather from exposure to a chemical reaction taking place in the plasma fire in the lab. I did not discover any indication that there was any malicious intent. Blakslee was loyal to Starfleet, if not to the letter, then to the spirit. Blakslee's co-conspirator in the still operation died in the initial explosion. The explosion did occur while en route to the distress call. We were at full warp, and the still was inadequately protected from the energy flowing through the conduit. Also, the accident occurred before we knew anything of the Pakled discs. They are not the same as the tribloons that we were initially investigating."

Emerald looked at the captain. "I would be happy to fill you in on that tangent later, Captain. Right now, I have seen no connection between them and our current objectives."

She changed the image to the fuzzy golden discs, her expression non-committal. "It is my opinion, as I have no facts to back this up, that the discs are a form of new technology we have not encountered before. I suspect that their technology, connected to the deflector and navigational systems, allowed faster travel through subspace by improving the output-to-mass ratio of the ship. I suspect that the physical structure of the ship was altered so that the ship's mass in this universe was reduced, a possible application of the Romulan-Federal mass-phasing field developed in the Pegasus. Is suspect that the Pakleds, bright as they must be, do not know the mechanics of the device. However, they are not above smelling an opportunity, a trait no doubt lifted from the Ferengi culture."

Drake paused a moment for a sip of water. "It might be a case where they were allowed to acquire the discs so that the pirates could see them in action, and they reacquired the discs once the Pakled ship didn't blow itself up." She shook her head. "No, the pirate ships exhibited the same behavior. The field would also account for our lack of detecting the large gray ship. It phased in just to blast us, giving us no warning.

"If we could follow the trail, and find a planet the raiders have stopped at, we might pick up more information, if we were discrete enough."

She nodded to Lucara. "That's all I can offer for the moment, Captain."

© Kelly Naylor