"Wow, it's always amazed me how those Starfleet uniforms show all the curves," John said appreciatively, as he came aboard the ship that Cassandra had arranged for the conspirators to use, "and Captain, you seem to have a few more than I remember." It had been a week since they had decided on their covert activity, and in her accelerated pregnancy, that meant that Sissy had completed her first trimester. She was definitely "showing".
"Oh, hey there, John," she answered, looking down, "at least I can still see my feet." She wiggled her toes for confirmation.
"C'mon, you're the last to arrive. We're briefing in here." Sissy led him to a conference room. Everyone else was already seated.
"Okay, Cassandra," Sissy started, "You ready?" She sat gratefully. Her feet were already starting to hurt. Not to mention her back.
"As you know, this ship is officially called The Excalibur. It is a Falcon Class starcruiser with a few modifications." She let a little smile slip on to her face. "First, we are set up as a classic runner rig, the type used by smugglers and pirates. As a result, we have a few false panels here and there and some extra capacity warp engines. Of course these stowage areas are a bit higher tech than what you would typically see in a runner craft, but who's gonna notice?
"Also, we can squawk the identification codes of any port of origin we desire. This in itself is not much more than a runner could do, but we have the advantage of being verified as authentic if anyone chooses to look under the surface. That's a little different. We also are fully armed with photon torpedoes and phasors, and small arms of every description are stored in the security room.
"The plan is that we will infiltrate a pirate hangout on the space station Zedulon 4, which is only a single sector from our destination, and attempt to discover the whereabouts of the hidden colony. We figure that they have to be getting supplies from somewhere, and covert channels are a likely source. Questions?"
"Yeah," John said, "I have one: How come we don't know where this colony is? I thought Elvis told you."
"He told us the planet," Sissy explained, "but he didn't know the location. According to Elvis, they were secretly relocated a few generations ago. For security reasons, the Naqshbandi who did the relocation disappeared after the operation. Permanently."
"You mean ... ?"
"I mean." Sissy nodded.
"Wow, that's dedication," Blackfive said.
"They call it 'Necessity'." Sissy answered soberly.
Everyone was silent. Then Sissy put her hand to her mouth and ran out the door.
"Meeting adjourned," Teresa called.
John, Cassandra, and Greyhawk walked into the Black Knight bar located atop the Zedulon 4 service station and split up. Cassandra was to do the investigating; John and Greyhawk were assigned the task of watching her back.
The joint was dark and smoke filled. Exactly what kind of smoke it was, Cassandra didn't care to know. There was no band; the patrons were entertainment enough. A rough collection of smugglers, pirates, and general outlaw types talked boisterously in every corner. Cassandra steeled herself and approached the bar.
"Maker's Mark, make it a double," she ordered gruffly. The bartender looked at her without expression and slopped it on the bar, then they studied each other. She stared back at him. Then she took the drink, slammed it back without taking her eyes off him. She slapped the glass on the bar.
"Another," she said. The bartender's eyes grew narrow, and he filled her order, taking her credits, and moved on.
"Hey, you drink like a man," a voice from behind her said. Cassandra turned to look at the speaker. She noticed the deep laser cuts scarring the man's face, and the drunk, leering smile in the dim light reminded her of a death's-head. She turned back around.
"You calling me a sissy?" she retorted over her shoulder.
He put his hand on her shoulder. Like lightning, she swiveled around, grabbed his thumb, and twisted. The man bent to his knees in pain. Cassandra let go and the man stared up at her, a pained look on his face.
"Get up," she said, "you look like a sissy down there."
He did, unsteadily. "Hey, I didn't mean nothin'. You take offense easy."
"I take offense over defense every time," she replied, then chucked back her double, and ordered another.
Despite his obvious shock, the skull-faced man didn't leave. "Can I buy that for you? I could use the likes of you on my crew."
"I already got a crew," she said flatly. "I tell you what, though, I'll buy the next round and you give me some information."
"You a cop?" he asked, with a fake at a smile.
Cassandra snorted theatrically. "No, I'm worse."
Skull-face was still trying to make time. "What's worse than a cop?" His weak grin looked especially ghastly around the laser scars.
"So, what about it?" she said, ignoring the question. The hum of doing biz began to sing in her ears.
He looked even uglier affecting a casual air. "Sure, but I can't guarantee anything."
Cassandra laughed inside. Outside she kept a stern face. "I'll take my chances."
They collected their drinks off the bar, and Cassandra led the man to an empty table in the corner. She spied Greyhawk and John fitting in well and caught each of their eyes a moment.
"I'm looking for a group of people on Canopus Delta 4. They may be trying to avoid attention. I need to find them. You know anything about it?" Cassandra sipped her drink.
The man sipped his as well and played it tough. "That's pretty sensitive information you're looking for. That'll cost ya. More than a drink."
Cassandra swirled the cubes in her glass. "I can pay, but how do I know you've got the goods?"
The skull-faced man could no longer repress his swaggering grin. "Oh, I've got 'em. I been on that run. I can draw you a map. Now, you show me yours."
Cassandra pulled out from under her tunic a brick of platinum and laid it on the table. Skull-face wasn't quite able to keep his eyes from bugging.
"That enough?" she asked, taking another pull.
Greed overcame the man's better judgment, if he had any. "You must want that bad. So I'm figurin' maybe you got some more." He wanted to look menacing, but greed peeked out all around the edges of it.
She knew she had landed him now. "No more, take it or leave it. I figure about half the people here have been on that run too, so I'll just find me somebody else to give this to." Now violence would be offered. The man would behave exactly according to the pattern of his habits.
Stupidity won. No contest. "Or maybe I'll just take this and leave you bleeding on the floor." Cassandra saw he had a sharp blade inches from her throat. He was smiling, pleased with himself.
Cassandra looked at him impassively for a moment, then picked up her drink. She finished it and as she slapped it down, her nickel plated .45 ACP was suddenly inches from the man's left eye.
"It's a good day to die," she said calmly. Her grin then was the most frightening thing the man had ever seen.
The skull-faced man and Cassandra stared hard at each other. Then, from behind, Greyhawk took the knife.
"Game over, handsome, you lose," he said, grinning.
"C'mon, let's get going," Cassandra ordered Skull-face.
He somehow managed to shrink away from them both at the same time. "Wait, I ain't going nowhere," he protested. "That wasn't the deal."
"Okay." Cassandra made as if to consider that. "I suppose you could stay here if you don't mind a few big holes in you. Your choice." She held the gun steady.
"Okay, okay, be careful with that antique. Where the hell you get that? That kind of hardware is unreliable, you know. And how do I know that thing even works?" He sat up straight again, raising his hands a little, squinting anxiously.
"You want I should test it?"
"No! Okay, I'm going, I'm going. Keep your temper." At heart, the man was a coward, and Cassandra guided him towards the door.
"Hey, Cutter, where ya goin'?" A man across the bar stood and called out. Greyhawk was right on it.
"We've got a wee job fer the lad," he said, placing his big hands on the man's shoulders and forcing him back in his seat. "But dunt worry, I've nae doot he'll cut you in on the action."
Another man had just exited the restroom and began to call out to Cutter. John bodyslammed the man into the wall, knocking him out on his feet. John glanced around, and when it appeared that no one had noticed, he carried the man back into the bathroom and dumped him in a stall.
Slipping back out, he scanned the room. He had absolutely no one's attention. He caught MacDuff's eye and nodded toward the door. The two men strolled out as nonchalantly as possible, keeping an eye out for any late-breaking problems. Once outside, they called to be beamed aboard the Excalibur.
From a dark corner of the room, a shadowy witness to these events slipped back into the darkness and began a conversation on his communicator.
(to be continued....)
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