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Posted on Wed Jul 10th, 2019 @ 3:00am by Captain Osegan Trenna & Ensign Geoff Martinsen & Lieutenant Commander Arthur Talbot & Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Batchelder & Staff Warrant Officer Bryan Itajime

Mission: Light is Dark
Location: Bridge
Timeline: Mission Day 5 at 1930

"Status report!" Trenna called out as she stepped back onto the Bridge. "What are the Glurone doing?"

"Their weapons are active, but they don't seem interested in using them," Itajime offered from Tactical. With the recent loss of Dedeker, the Staff Warrant Officer was the most experienced, most qualified tactical operator onboard. So, despite being part of the Security department and not Tactical, he now found himself on the Bridge.

"Recommendations?" Osegan asked, approaching the center of the Bridge.

Evaad Hessen stepped onto the bridge from the opposite door, having 'heard' what had already been said. "The Glurone's rage remains palpable, Captain. There are no cool heads over there arguing caution or diplomacy. Knowing they'll lose a fight, they might simply be biding their time to do the most damage possible." He got to the Ops console. "Jirdegee and Zynd'ra are standing by. Captain, perhaps now is the time to ask the Qlo'ka what's going on."

The turbolift doors opened once again, and Jon stepped out onto the bridge, his face a mask of righteous fury, but seemingly no worse for the wear, physically. Sitting down unceremoniously at the Engineering console, he announced, “I’m diverting power from the lateral sensor array to the impulse engines, in case we need to outflank or outrun this. In the meantime, I’m gonna run a few simulations and see what we can do with the information I was able to glean aboard that shit heap of a ship.”

She thought a moment. The idea of getting out the sector was appealing; the Altai had already lost people to the Glurone and she didn't want to lose more. But she had a nagging feeling that the Qlo'ka could face retaliation for what had gone down here.

"Osegan to Security. Escort Shipmaster to the Bridge."

She looked at her staff. "Let's get this figured out," she said. "I don't know about any of you, but I'd rather not find out later that Zynd'ra was destroyed by these guys because of us."

Artie frowned, having returned to his own station. Part of him still blamed himself. After all, none of this would have happened if he hadn't suggested that the Qlo'ka be invited over for a diplomatic meal. He found himself wondering how long the conflict had transpired between the Glurone and the Qlo'ka, and if it was really something the Federation could afford getting involved in. Or even legally for that matter. Hell, had they already violated the Prime Directive today? Artie was far from sure.

It took a few minutes, but the turbolift doors opened and Shipmaster was ushered onto the Bridge by Crewman Zilbb. Trenna smiled at the Qlo'ka and motioned for him to come down to the center of the room.

"Shipmaster, I am sorry for what your ship and crew have been through," she offered. "I wish we could go back and prevent all of this from happening."

The Qlo'ka looked at her with his dark, mirrored eyes. "That is not a technology we have developed. Are you so capable?"

"Unfortunately, no," Osegan replied. "We want to help you, to make this better. Can you tell us why the Glurone are hostile towards you?"

"I cannot, Captain Osegan Trenna, for I know not."

Despite him being new to her crew, Lieutenant Hessen had proven himself since arriving. Which was why, she assumed, she instinctively looked towards him now, hoping his natural Betazoid abilities would help.

Fortunately for the Captain, his senses were picking up a lot from the Shipmaster. Whether his lack of social graces was a help or a hindrance was yet-undetermined. “He’s lying, Captain. He fears the Glurone and has a good reason for it.”

Shipmaster turned towards Hessen and then looked back to Osegan. "Mindspy," he said.

"Lieutenant Hessen's people have certain mental abilities," Trenna responded. "Why are you afraid of the Glurone? Did you do something to them?" The idea that the Qlo'ka could be the villain in this situation, that they could have intentionally drawn the Glurone into this, hadn't entered him mind until now.

"We did not," Shipmaster stated. "Zynd'ra is a peaceful ship. We are not fighters, like you, Captain Osegan Trenna. They boarded this ship...took me and my crew. What could we have done to bring such horror? What did you do, Captain Osegan Trenna, to cause them to attack you?"

"It seems our only crime was associating with you," Artie observed, approaching the Captain and Shipmaster. "Do the Glurone usually act in this manner?"

Shipmaster considered the other. "'Do the Glurone usually act in this manner?' They are often violent. Is that what you mean, Commander Artie Talbot?"

Artie frowned, not seeking the answer he was looking for. Deciding to rephrase, he asked, "Is it normal for the Glurone to seek out Qlo'ka and capture them? Are your cultures presently at war? Furthermore, were you out here hiding from them?"

"Normal, Commander Artie Talbot? It does follow a common pattern of behavior, yes." Shipmaster looked around the room. He was a man alone, the rest of his people still in the large room somewhere below. "We are not at war, however. Nor was Zynd'ra hiding from the Glurone. We are on a mission for a client. A peaceful excursion, normally."

Trenna watched the exchange. Obviously the Qlo'ka and Glurone were familiar with each other. But to what end? Had the Altai stumbled into some sort of territory dispute? Worse yet, some sort of war? She looked towards Hessen, curious is he had any insights.

"Then do you have any idea why the Glurone were so quick to board our ship and take you hostage?" Artie asked. "And why not attack the Zynd'ra?"

Shipmaster looked at the viewscreen hoping to see Zynd'ra. Instead, the Glurone ship still featured. "They wanted us to finish our mission. Our presence on this ship served as a distraction."

"So, you were on contract or assignment by the Glurone?" Artie was now further intrigued and confused. This was new information, something that now could compromise the legitimacy of the Altai's involvement. "What was your mission? Will the Glurone leave you alone while it's being done and then after?"

"Let us go back to Zynd'ra," Shipmaster said, ignoring the questions asked of him. "Return us and leave this area. The Glurone will let us complete our job."

Artie maintained his frown. He didn't like this all at, and while it was up to the Captain to decide, he still didn't like it. "And what of the other Qlo'ka that the Glurone had been holding? Will you be taking responsibility for them? Should we hand them back to the Glurone, or drop them off somewhere? There's more to this than just you and the Zynd'ra's mission now."

Seeing the current exchange going nowhere, Shipmaster turned his attention elsewhere. "Captain Osegan Trenna, you are Shipmaster of Altai. Altai's crew is your responsibility. From one Shipmaster to another, please let us return to Zynd'ra."

"Commander Talbot asked you a question," she snapped back. "One that I think deserves an answer. What happens to the Qlo'ka who are not from Zynd'ra? The Glurone have more of your people than...."

"They are not my people," Shipmaster interjected. "They are not of Zynd'ra."

"That's rather cold, don't you think?" asked an incredibly shocked Artie. He was never one to hide his emotion, yet hiding a surprise of this magnitude would be impossible even for a Vulcan. "What are we supposed to do with your brethren now?"

"Listen here, you son of a bitch," Batchelder exploded, from his console, pointing aggressively at Shipmaster. "I lost a good woman saving your collective asses from that ship. Too many of us were wounded saving your collective asses from that ship. The shit I saw there made my stomach turn. They're your people. They're Qlo'ka. You're taking them, or I swear to everything good and bright in this universe I will hunt you across the stars and cripple every single ship, outpost, and station you operate!"

Artie spun around to face the Chief Engineer. "Cool your jets, Chief. Shouting's not going to help us right now."

"He's right, Shipmaster," Trenna in-toned. "Whether they are from your crew of not, we just rescued a bunch of Qlo'ka. I'm not just going to hand them back to the Glurone. If you don't have room for them on Zynd'ra, we can follow you back to your world and deliver them ourselves."

He looked at the Captain, his eyes focusing on the ridges on her olfactory organ. "You will not be permitted to Pharqlo. The Primacy will not allow it."

Artie, despite managing to keep a calm head, was getting closer and closer to a frustration point, though he doubted he'd ever be as frustrated as Batchelder. "You didn't answer the question, Shipmaster. Can the Zynd'ra take them? Or is there somewhere else we can drop them off? A colony? Port of call?"

"They are not from Zynd'ra," Shipmaster said plainly. "Return the crew of Zynd'ra and leave here. We will complete our mission. The Glurone will abide."

Trenna looked at her Executive Officer and then back to the Qlo'ka leader. "Shipmaster, we are trying to help. We are not the kind of people to just let others suffer if we can do something about it. You might not care about the other Qlo'ka that we rescued, but I do. Commander Talbot does. And Commander Batchelder, too."

Shipmaster turned towards the man who had helped recover him from the Glurone ship. "Is that true, Commander Jonathan Batchelder? Do you care about all Qlo'ka? Do you care about any of us? Your actions say one thing but your words say another."

“The Glurone can kiss the whitest part of my ass. We shed blood for your people. All of them. Every single person on that ship is now of Zynd’ra as far as I’m concerned. Do you think I’d have risked my life pulling off a rescue if I didn’t care about your people, at least in some way?!”

Batchelder rubbed his forehead and continued, “My people, and Captain Osegan’s, have a dark history of strong armed people doing to others what the Glurone have done to you. I appreciate that there are myriad ways of existing in this universe. Slavery is one I won’t abide. So you’re taking them with you. No matter what the cost, no matter what extra effort, they’re going with you. What you do for the least among you defines you as a civilization. How do you want to be defined, Shipmaster?”

Well said, Trenna thought. Batchelder was obviously frustrated and angry, but he'd managed to control that in his impassioned plea to the Qlo'ka captain.

"Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Batchelder," Shipmaster started, "Your sacrifice, and that of your shipmates, was not unnecessary." He looked at Osegan. "I am responsible for the Zynd'ra's crew, just as you are responsible for this vessel's crew. Completing our task for the Glurone is the only way to save my family. And the families of the Zynd'ra's crew. The only way to protect all Qlo'ka."

“Well that’s a pretty shit way of surviving,” Jon said, harshly. “And a pretty easy way to keep the hands of a stronger force around your neck. Do whatever the hell you want. We won’t be around long enough to suffer the repercussions. But there’s going to come a time, Shipmaster, when your fellows rise up against the Glurone. Will you have the spine to stand with them, or will you get on all 4s and lick the Glurone’s boots?”

Artie wanted to silence the Engineer, but he couldn't find the willpower to do so. The Federation and its many unified cultures had come a long way from their dark days. Batchelder's tone was certainly not helping, however, someone had to make a point to the thick-headed Qlo'ka. So he stood and waited for the Shipmaster's reply.

"You make strong accusations, Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Batchelder," Shipmaster said. He could feel his own anger rising; he tried to maintain his composure though. "My employer is a Glurone Primate-General. That ship," he explained, pointing to the asymmetrical vessel on the viewscreen, "is part of his armada. In order to ensure my compliance, and that of Zynd'ra's crew, the Primate-General is holding our loved ones hostage. They will be released when we complete our mission."

"It is easy, I think, for Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Batchelder to make statements about how I and the Zynd'ra's crew are just 'surviving'. We are trying to protect those we care about the most. Perhaps the Qlo'ka emotional bonds are different from those of your people, Commander Jonathan Batchelder, but on Pharqlo, we will sacrifice ourselves for those we love."

Shipmaster looked around the room, his gaze settling on Batchelder. "Also, the Glurone do not wear boots."

Trenna looked from the Qlo'ka to Batchelder and back. "I don't think our people are that different in that regard, Shipmaster. The Commander has a good point, though, about what this has cost us. My crew has suffered casualties rescuing you and the other Qlo'ka. We did so because we, as members of Starfleet, make every effort to help preserve life, to protect those in danger, and to assist those in need."

Motioning around the bridge at her crew, she continued. "We don't take those actions lightly, but we do it willingly. What concerns me, Shipmaster, is that we don't seem to have gotten the whole story until just now. Unless there is more you'd like to tell us."

"I do not wish for the Glurone to destroy you, Captain Osegan Trenna," he responded earnestly.

"No one wants to destroy anyone," Artie chimed in. "This all started because we wanted to learn more about the Qlo'ka. We are first and foremost explorers here. Our ship was violated when you and your crew were abducted, something that seems to be punishment for failing to complete a job on time. There were multiple ways to avoid where we are now, yet here we are. The Altai and the Jirdegee now hold several hundred Qlo'ka, and pretty soon those Glurone are going to get very angry. What is we need to do next to end this conflict?"

The Bajoran woman gave her Executive Officer a nod of appreciation before turning her attention back to the Qlo'ka before her. "Shipmaster, we aren't going to let the Primate-General hurt you and your people any further. What is your mission and how can we help?"

"We are collecting particles from the anomaly," Shipmaster replied, trying to avoid feeling hopeful. "The Glurone lack the technology to collect them. It is not a technology we have shared with them."

"'Shared with them?' Do you commonly trade technology with the Glurone?" Trenna asked.

"The Glurone are not always this belligerent. The Qlo'ka and Glurone have a history of some length, with both ups and downs. The Glurone to trend more towards aggression and discord; they are excellent warriors. The Qlo'ka are not fighters. We have made many discovers and created many technologies. Those have been used to negotiate with the Glurone in the past. The Glurone have protected the Qlo'ka from many enemies throughout our shared history. The Dominion, the Rennid Totality, the Fa'am Union. The Glurone defended the Qlo'ka from all of them."

To say that Artie's stomach was starting to turn was an understatement. So much could have been avoided today if tensions hadn't been escalated this high in order for a lot of truth and necessary facts to be revealed. "What is it that these particles do?" Artie asked, wondering if there was an alternative here that could enable all sides to walk away without prejudice. Of course, with the Altai suffering at least one fatality, who knew if that really could be the case.

"They don't do anything, Commander Artie Talbot," Shipmaster answered. "They are just particles."

"Bullshit," Batchelder responded, calmly this time. "Not a single civilization in the known galaxy would go to these lengths for something that doesn't do anything. So either you're lying, or you're naive enough to believe that the Glurone want it for no other reason than just to have it. I'm willing to bet the former."

"I am not lying, Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Batchelder. The particle is just a particle." Shipmaster walked towards where the engineer sat. "I have no reason to lie."

Batchelder turned, and stood from his seat. "You're gonna want to take a few steps back, Shipmaster, and go stand next to someone who didn't see someone literally impaled protecting your lying ass. I've been thrown in a Brig for punching a diplomat before, I'm not afraid to lose a few ranks for the satisfaction of a repeat performance."

"I am sorry for the loss you have suffered. If I could undo that, I would."

Turning to look towards Captain Osegan, the Qlo'ka directed his next statement to her. "Do you also believe I am lying? Would you allow Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Batchelder to assault me?"

She took a deep breath. "Mister Itajime would do his best to stop Commander Batchelder before he could actually punch you, Shipmaster," Trenna said, sharing a look with the security officer. "I don't know if you're lying, but it does seem unlikely that the Glurone would exert this much effort for a particle with no perceived value. You know them better than be do; why does this Primate-General want these particles?"

"With the proper technology, the particles can be repurposed to power weapons. I do not have access to such technology, but it obtainable from other segments of the Cooperative."

So, the particle was more than just a particle. Artie made a mental note to have the ship's Chief Medical Officer be on the lookout for unusual energy residue on their fallen security officer in hopes that there would be something residual that could help them prepare in the future should it be needed. "Okay, so the Primate General tasked the Zy'ndra to collect these particles. You slowed down because we showed up and disrupted the process. All right, that I can get. But, if the relations between the Glurone and the Qlo'ka aren't tense, and the Glurone are in dire need of these particles, hence your abduction from the Altai... why were several hundred other Qlo'ka being detained aboard the Glurone vessel?"

Trenna raised an eyebrow. "Good question, Commander. Can you shed any light on that, Shipmaster?"

The Qlo'ka blinked, his mirrored eyes disappearing briefly. "I cannot. I do not know the other Qlo'ka that were held captive with me."

"Could they be from a segment with access to the technology to convert the particles into weapons?"

"As I said Captain Osegan Trenna, I did not recognize them. I don't know if they have that knowledge."

Artie gritted his teeth. "All right. Theorize then. Under what circumstances would the Glurone feel compelled to fill their hold with Qlo'ka?"

She watched Shipmaster tilt his head to the side. She had to force herself not to crack a smile. There was something comical about the Qlo'ka captain, even in this situation.

"I am not Glurone, Commander Artie Talbot. I cannot speak as if I were." He took a step towards Osegan. "Let us complete our mission and save our loved ones."

“You’re an idiot,” Batchelder deadpanned. “And you’re either complicit in slavery or willfully ignoring it. Both of which are crimes of the most egregious nature in advanced civilizations. I’m done with this conversation. Captain we clearly aren’t getting anything out of this jackass. I suggest we let them screw off to do whatever the hell it is they do, and we move on to greener pastures.”

The Bajoran woman gave her Chief Engineer a look. "I understand your frustrations, Commander...."

"You fail to understand Qlo'ka and the Glurone and I'm the idiot!" Shipmaster shouted.

Trenna wheeled around. Until now, the Qlo'ka had been soft-spoken. But now, Shipmaster was yelling.

"You act like I don't care about Qlo'ka, Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Batchelder. That is wrong. I care deeply. I am Qlo'ka. They are Qlo'ka. Out of the many individuals, we are one Cooperative. Instead of judging me by your personal bias, consider that Qlo'ka are different from you."

"I ask you again Captain Osegan Trenna, let us complete our mission."

She looked at Talbot and Batchelder, unsure, in that moment, of how to respond.

Artie sighed, regretting once more having the notion to invite the new neighbors over to dinner.

"We'll let you complete your mission," Artie fired back, his tone unable to hide his own frustration, "If you can tell us what to do with your brethren. Our values are different, I get that. But you have kept us in the dark this whole time. We've been forced to look at this tapestry thread by thread, discovering as we go. We have several hundred of your people, and it seems we might have them illegally and at great cost to Starfleet and the Federation. If you really care about your fellow Qlo'ka, tell us where to take them."

"I am sorry, Commander Artie Talbot, for my behavior. Qlo'ka do not get angry often. It is not in our biological coding, perhaps," Shipmaster said, turning his attention to the male who was Mate of Altai. "I can give you the coordinates of Pharqlo. I am not certain how you will be received though. And I don't know if the other Qlo'ka here on Altai are from Pharqlo; we have close to one hundred colonies throughout the Cooperative."

Artie gave a soft nod, grateful that at last they were getting somewhere, but he also knew that they couldn't push their luck. "For the sake of the Qlo'ka we now carry, perhaps we should drop them off at one of your colonies. Is there one with sufficient traffic that can make sure that everyone gets to where they belong?" As soon as he asked the question, Artie halfway wondered if they should go down below and ask some of the other Qlo'ka they rescued to see if they had any better ideas where to go.

Shipmaster turned away from Talbot and approached Martinsen. "Here is the location of the nearest Qlo'ka colony," he said, pointing to system two sectors away. "They are on the orbiter of the ninth planet. You will have problems communicating with them. As you have seen, Qlo'ka are cautious of aliens."

"We have noticed that," Trenna said with a chuckle. "We can get one of the other Qlo'ka to be our spokesperson. Might help to smooth things over when we first approach."

"Indeed," he offered as he returned to a position in front of the Captain. "There is another option."

"Oh?" she asked. "What would that be?"

"Zynd'ra could accompany Altai to Pharqlo."

Artie's eyebrows shot up and his mouth opened before he could contain himself. "You inviting us to dinner, Shipmaster?" His self control returned a moment later. After a beat to chide himself, he said, "After you finish your mission, right? We don't want to get you in any more trouble."

"No. You could help us complete our mission. If the Glurone see that you are helping Zynd'ra, they will probably be less hostile towards you. They will see you as useful."

"And it wouldn't make things worse for you?" she asked.

Shipmaster's mouth curled into what passed for a smile among Qlo'ka. "Doubtful."

"Give me a moment, Shipmaster," she said, making her way over to where Batchelder sat, motioning Talbot to come with her.

"What do you both think?"

"I think screw these assholes and the ship they flew in on, Captain," Jon said quietly. "If it weren't for the hundreds of them we have in custody, I'd say let them go back to whatever backwater pseudoslavery bullshit they were doing before. Given this situation? Let them complete their mission. On their own. Then let them escort us to whatever backwater hellhole they want to, and let's dump them off and get on with the business of actually exploring, instead of getting duped by the Pakleds of the Gamma Quadrant."

“Actually,” Artie sighed, “I agree with Commander Batchelder. We should let the Zy’ndra finish it’s mission on its own. Based on everything we’ve heard in the last few minutes, I’m willing to bet the Glurone are threatened by us. They likely think we are trying to usurp them as the Qlo’ka’s new protectors. I’d almost bet the relationship is symbiotic. The Glurone need the Qlo’ka. If anything, we should try to smooth things over with the Glurone, but I have no idea where to even start there.”

"You can feel free to be the diplomats," Jon responded to the two of them. "I'm just as likely to beam a Quantum torpedo onto their command deck and be done with the whole damn thing."

Trenna's eyes narrowed at the Chief Engineer before turning to look at Itajime. "Don't you dare," she cautioned the man at Tactical.

"If we remain here, the Glurone are likely to attack once they regain the ability," she offered.

“All the more reason to let the Zynd'ra finish what it needs to do without us,” Artie pointed out. “We’re also targets for as long as our holds are full of Qlo’ka.”

She nodded. "We'll withdraw a safe distance, let the Zynd'ra finish its mission, and then return with them to Pharqlo."

"Shipmaster," Trenna said, returning to where the Qlo'ka leader stood, "we will leave you to complete your mission. We will leave the immediate area so the Glurone relax some. When you're done, send us a signal and we'll meet up with you so you can take us to Pharqlo so we can return the rest of the Qlo'ka."

"I am grateful for your efforts, Captain Osegan Trenna."

An indicator lit up on the Tactical console. Bryan saw it and his eyes darted to the sensor readout. "Bad news, Captain! Company!"

Trenna looked at the viewscreen and saw another ship decloaking.

And then another.

And another.


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