“Foxes & Hounds – Part III”
Vulcan Surface – Landing Area
Cold winds howled whipping up clouds of dust that became a fog in the dim, flickering lights of the square landing area. Small, private shuttles and transport craft lined the various platforms each in various states of neglect. The entire area, relegated to the shady underworld, was in disrepair. Lights buzzed, flickered or in many areas had failed completely. Rust was present everywhere and devoured all but the toughest metal objects. Animals cried out in the darkness searching for scraps of food while wind blew trash like tumbleweeds down streets and alleyways.
Despite the grime and dilapidation Leon Athalla’s borrowed Starfleet shuttle shined like diamond even in the pale, dusty light of the landing facility. Thankfully deserted at this hour of the night, Leon coaxed his prisoner forward determined to return to the Charon unwilling to become entangled in Aev Keirianh’s deadly affairs. If someone wanted him dead then they could try for him aboard a Federation starship. He wasn’t about to let his pursuers or the mercenary himself wage war with innocent civilians in the crosshairs.
Approaching the shuttle, Athalla opened the door and motioned with the phaser for the mercenary to enter. “Get in and keep your hands behind your head where I can see them Aev. And don’t fool yourself into thinking I am incapable of shooting.” Athalla was deadly serious. It was possible he would be implicated in the explosion that destroyed a Vulcan tavern and killed several patrons and staff. Then there was the fact he had twisted the truth to obtain a shuttle and assisted a potential criminal in escaping the Charon which may have contributed to the attack. His butt was certainly in a substantial amount of hot water and if the captain found out about his actions it could very well end his already blemished career. He had already been demoted from Lt. Commander to Lieutenant for his actions. His actions today while not exactly regulation busting had created an unanticipated chain of events with grave consequences.
Aev slowly moved into the shuttle as Athalla followed as the mercenary took a seat in the co-pilot’s chair his eyes firmly upon the pilot. Athalla sealed the door and carefully maneuvered his way into the cockpit and took a seat maintaining an eye on the mercenary as well as his phaser. His hand moved to power up the shuttle and for an instant measured in hundredths of a second his attention became split and in that moment the mercenary reacted. The phaser discharged as Aev lunged at Athalla, but not before his arm was twisted upwards deflecting the beam which exploded against the roof showering both men in white hot sparks. Athalla threw out his leg catching the mercenary in the torso, but Aev was unrelenting. In the narrow, cramped confines of the shuttle cockpit the two men fought for supremacy. The stakes were their lives as neither would hesitate to kill the other to achieve their aims. After several moments of fierce fighting, the practiced and skilled mercenary triumphed over the valiant pilot and the battle came to an abrupt end with Athalla, bloodied and beaten, staring down the barrel of the phaser aimed at his temple.
“You fight well human”, Aev muttered wiping a trail of green blood from the corner of his mouth. “But not good enough. I warned you not to interfere.”
“I did what I had to do. Now it seems you will do what you must do. I don’t regret my actions. However, if you pull that trigger Aev you will truly be a heartless murderer. I might call you a friend if you weren’t my enemy holding a phaser to my head. If you kill me, what will you do then? Avenge yourself upon your attackers? Then what? Where will that get you? What good will come of it? Theft of Federation property, murder of a Starfleet officer, bombing, terrorism, murder – quite the laundry list you will have written for yourself. But I’ve never been much on goodbyes so pull the damn trigger and get this over with!”
Aev’s finger quivered over the trigger of the phaser. Why couldn’t he press it? He had killed hundreds before without so much as a thought and now he was hesitating? Was he going soft? Getting old? What the hell was wrong with him?
Athalla, drenched in perspiration, noticed a light flashing on his console. He dared not move given the situation, but Aev had seen his eyes move and had also noticed the anomaly. The light had bought them both time to think temporarily halting the pilot’s inevitable demise.
“I should look at that”, Athalla finally said breaking the slience. “I left the shuttle powered down when we left. There shouldn’t be anything active.”
“Look, but do not move”, came the stern warning.
Athalla slowly righted himself in the pilot’s seat keeping his hands in plain view as he looked down at the shuttle’s control panels. “That’s odd. It’s a maintenance access warning on the refueling door. Common enough to get one aboard before takeoff when the flight crew forgets to properly secure the door, but I wouldn’t expect to see it here on the ground. It’s a minor warning and poses no danger, but odd that it was tripped now on the surface. I would expect something like this to trip while in flight due to turbulence which can sometimes jostle a door open. It’s uncommon, but known to happen.”
Athalla looked back at the mercenary. “I can’t tell anything more without using the computer.”
“No. Do not move.”
“Aev. That hatch doesn’t open by itself on a parked shuttle. Any pilot with half a brain knows that the safety systems on impulse and warp drive units prevent siphoning of deuterium from the tanks. Why the hell anyone would try to steal deuterium slush is beyond me seeing as one wrong move could destroy half the block…”
“Half the block”, the mercenary whispered back. Suddenly Aev lunged forward and grabbed Athalla by his collar and with one arm dragged the pilot like a doll from his seat. The door to the shuttle flew open as the mercenary threw the pilot forward leaping out behind him. “RUN”, was the only word he uttered as the two men sprinted away from the craft. Several moments later a black sphere of energy emerged from the center of the shuttlecraft hovering in existence for only a moment before collapsing back into itself in a brilliant flash of white light. An explosion ripped through the landing deck disintegrating everything around it while the corresponding shockwave tossed man and machine about like grains of sand on the wind.
Athalla slowly opened his eyes as his senses returned. His ears rang with an unending high pitched whine. His tongue registered the distinctive iron based flavor of his own blood within his mouth as he slowly attempted to move. Pulling himself up from the dirt and dust caking the ground and his face, he coughed several times before turning to look behind him. They had only just managed to clear the corner of a building which appeared to have shielded them from the fury of the explosion. He could no longer see the shuttle, but he knew there was little remaining. Scattered fires dotted the ground and surrounding buildings and he could see that several of the nearby transports and shuttles had been picked up and tossed about like toys. The destruction was absolute. Suddenly he turned to locate the mercenary. He quickly found him lying face down covered in dust and debris. His phaser was not far away on the ground. Sensing an opportunity, Athalla scrambled toward the weapon but not before the mercenary did the same as if unconsciously sensing the danger.
Leon’s hand found the weapon first and snatched it up and away from the mercenary’s grasp turning it upon its former owner.
“Son of a bitch”, Athalla shouted holding the defeated and injured merc at bay with the phaser. “What…what just happened!”
“They are playing with us”, Aev replied with a groan. “They knew I was here. They saw us arrive. They must have tampered with your shuttle and installed an explosive device in the event we escaped the ambush at the tavern. Professional. Calculated. It is precisely what I would have done.”
“Who! Damn it! Who is doing this? Start talking Aev!”
“My last job. My contact wanted me to eliminate your Ambassador Lamont aboard the Charon. I never ask questions of my clients as they prefer a degree of anonymity as do I. I planned on retiring after this job as my contact offered to pay me ten times my usual rate given the difficulty involved. I almost refused given the risk and complexity, but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. It was a true challenge and it would be my last contract. I decided to bet everything on the attempt. It was a true test of my abilities.
I don’t typically desire to know who employs me as it is bad business to know too much, but on this occasion I knew I was being bankrolled by a large organization. No single person would offer such a lucrative job and be able to provide such detailed specifics on the target. It was clear this was an investment by a well connected and dangerous group. I ruled out local syndicates and crime bosses. They didn’t have the intelligence resources to obtain the information, false IDs, and other items I was given. My fee was also likely beyond their reach. I could rule our private individuals. That left governments or corporate interests. The Romulans seldom contract with third parties as they prefer to handle matters quietly on their own. Starfleet operates in much the same manner. Klingons have neither the money nor the inclination to allow someone else to fight their battles. I could also rule out various other races. The entire enterprise was very professional. I knew I was dealing with a massive corporation. I did some research on Ambassador Lamont and found he had close relations with several officers from a particular company who had the motive, the power, the influence, and the wealth to fund a contract.”
“Skip the history lesson”, Athalla shouted as a small explosion erupted out of view.
“I have no proof, but I believe the entity that funded my last job was the NeoDyne Defense Corporation. Simple elimination and research makes them a likely source.”
“I think I’ve heard the name. They manufacture weapons for the Federation if I recall?”
“They do far more than that. You are a chaste virgin lieutenant when it comes to the criminal underworld. NeoDyne plays extensively in the shadows but for what aims I cannot say. Those affiliated with them have a tendency to go missing. They cover their tracks with expert professionalism. There are nothing more than rumors and whispers about their activities. Anyone bold enough to talk never lives long afterwards. They take out anyone who talks, anyone who listens, and anyone associated with anyone involved. They employ paid assassins and recruit talented mercenaries. From what I have heard their private army rivals anything in the quadrant.”
“What do they want with you?”
“Simple. I failed my mission. Lamont lives and so do I. I know too much even if I know nothing at all. They detest loose ends. They know I failed, but survived. Perhaps they have informants or spies aboard the Charon? Who can say? They are capable enough to have a mole aboard if that suited their interests.
This is why I warned you not to get involved lieutenant. It is likely they know of you now and your identity. You may also become targeted since you have been seen with me. NeoDyne does nothing in half measures. These people never forget, they never stop, and their resources are limitless. It is highly likely Athalla that you now are also in grave danger.”
“So tell me something I don’t know”, Athalla replied. “I’ll contact the ship and…”
“Would you involve others? Would you condemn them as well?”
“This NeoDyne cannot take on the Starfleet? They would never attempt to attack a ship of the line.”
“They have. Rumor has it they have engaged Starfleet ships and quietly bribed or silenced all involved. The Charon alone is no match for this corporation. If they want her destroyed, they will find a way and no one will ever be the wiser.”
Athalla grappled with the mercenary’s words for a moment. It was all just too fantastic to believe.
“I don’t believe you Aev, but here is how we are going to play this. First we get you to a doctor and you can tell me…”
“No. First you take me to a contact here on Vulcan I am acquainted with. He owes me a favor and can provide medical attention and supplies without questions. Then you return to your ship and forget you ever met me. It is the only way.”
“Sorry. I’m already neck deep in your shit Aev. I don’t intend to go back and be drowned in it by my superiors. I’ll take you to this contact of yours and we will devise a plan to locate this person or people responsible for these crimes if we can. Once we do that we contact Vulcan security and let them deal with this mess. I’m not endangering innocent lives in your private war. Let the Vulcans deal with this corporation. I doubt they can take on an entire government.”
“I wouldn’t doubt their influence Athalla. They are the system, not just a player in it.”
“Whatever. I’m only concerned with saving my neck and well possibly yours. I don’t have any desire to get mixed up in intrigue or the criminal underworld. I just want to clean this mess up and forget I ever decided to come down here in the first place. That’s my goal. No revenge. No gangland murders. No shadow organizations. I want to clear our names, find those responsible for the murders at the tavern and who rigged my shuttle, turn them over to the authorities for arrest, and go home.”
“It isn’t that simple lieutenant.”
“Simple or not it is how we are playing the situation. I happen to have the weapon remember? I could just shoot you now and inform the Vulcans and the blame would easily fall on you. I’d walk away clean. So which is it? My way, or do I shoot you now?”
“It would seem I have little choice”, Aev begrudgingly answered.
“I am glad you see it my way”, Athalla replied. He stood and moved to help Keirianh back to his feet. “Can you walk?”
“I can manage”, the mercenary replied.
“Where is this associate of yours?”
“We will need transportation.”
“Leave that to me”, Athalla replied. The two men quickly disappeared into the shadows as emergency personnel arrived at the scene to deal with a second explosion of the night. As the flames climbed high into the night sky from the burning wreckage of the shuttlecraft a dark figure watched from high above a building ledge at the chaos below. Turning, the figure melted back into the darkness of the night from whence it came to again move unseen in the realm of shadows.
[ To Be Continued ]
Lieutenant Leon Athalla