The Chain Unbound
"People, it seems we have a problem."
A visibly armed security detail escorted Richard Corrigan and Mikolo sh'Estihi.
Mikolo didn't recognize the guard. Richard Corrigan didn't either. He postulated on the possibility they were marines from one of the patrol vessels or a detachment from internal affairs.
The likelihood of serious trouble was high.
The Andorian and the Terran were escorted to separate interrogation rooms, given a dose of penta drugs, and ordered to deliver their statements on the unfolded events.
Afterwards, another armed escort to a separate debriefing room, where a short, squat, severe-looking woman with a thick, flat-topped crew cut waited. Her blue-gray thigh length coat, accented with the black leather straps and tricom of an EDF flag officer, made hasty swishing sounds as she paced back and forth.
Though the fact currently escaped Mikolo for lack of knowledge, Richard Corrigan knew immediately who came to meet them.
She was the EDF's most effective troubleshooter, a well-known hardass, and the officer sent to solve every unique problems landing on the EDF's lap. The EDF's most effective pirate hunter and a veteran of multiple engagements. She was the officer everyone wanted at their side, but never one you wanted to be in front of.
It's how Fleet Captain Ndoye rose to her rank, by taking a stern approach to the weird and fantastical.
And now the same approach, at an increased surly state thanks to months of said same weird and fantastical events, took aim at Mikolo and Richard.
Lieutenant Corrigan, of which his status as an officer was still in question in his mind considering events, stood at attention. The Invigilator Miko, as a civilian, not expected to adhere to the same standard of military decorum and discipline, stood straight and still as Ndoye paced between the two, eyes locked in permanent, icy disapproval.
"Aside from some of the strangest interrogation recordings I have ever seen, you two now face serious assault charges, all of which are further complicated by the circumstances leading to these charges."
Corrigan piped up, "Sir, I accept full responsibility for my actions and the circumstances which lead to..."
"YOU'LL SPEAK WHEN I LET YOU SPEAK, LIEUTENANT! KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT, BECAUSE I DON'T WANT TO HEAR IT!" snapped the EDF Fleet Captain.
Corrigan stiffened his already ramrod straight parade attention stance and closed his mouth.
She still called him Lieutenant.
There was some hope.
Ndoye wasn't finished. "Speaking of circumstances, we have somewhat of a problem, don't we? Lieutenant Mathers broke protocol on multiple occasions, leading to the assault in the prison cells, and we are not unsympathetic. However, and I stress this to end the development of bad habits threatening to undermine the discipline and professionalism of the United Earth Defence Force, we do not answer people breaking protocol by BREAKING BONES!"
Cautiously, Corrigan raised his hand.
Ndoye's voice carried all the menace of her station. "Is there something you'd like to say, Lieutenant?"
"Ummm Sir, I was not aware that I broke any of Lieutenant Mathers' bones."
"Then what do you call the skull fracture and concussion you gave Mathers when you slammed him against the wall?!"
"It was more of a seoi-nage, and I would credit his injury to poor fall breaking technique, Sir."
Unimpressed, she snarled, "Keep it up and you'll show me your fall breaking technique as I toss your ass all the way to the sensor station on Baffin Island myself!"
"To be frank, Sir, Lieutenant Mathers attempted to prevent me from doing my duty, which, I must remind you, was to stop a sexual assault in progress. An incident HE set up on purpose. I took the necessary, non-lethal option to resolve the issue considering the situation and the time restraints involved."
"Which is the only thing preventing me from skipping the court martial and having your badge right here and now! And speaking of that same assault, was it Lieutenant Mathers' idea to mess with our recording equipment so the sensors could only record static?"
Mikolo's antennae twitched and rose. Corrigan had an intrigued, surprised look on his face, as he said, "That's news to me, Sir. All I saw was the feed from the cells. The rest you have from my tricom recordings."
"To which we watch the tail end of an absolute mauling of three criminals perpetrated by a fifty kilogram Andorian shen! Do you want to hear what the on-sight doctor had to say about their injuries, or would you rather be spared the professional jealousy of knowing she did a more thorough job than you did on Mathers?!"
Corrigan was much more subdued in answering. "No, Sir, that's not necessary. I saw the results for myself."
"I'll say it anyway for the benefit of our guest." Ndoye turned her attention to Mikolo, who stood up straighter with the spotlight on her. "He compared the injuries you inflicted on the man who's face you smashed into a wall to a head-on hovercar accident! Another faces hours of reconstructive surgery on his spinal column, and now we're reviewing whether or not our prison cells should have benches! As for your traveling companion, not only did you kick him so hard his left testicle ruptured, he'll never walk again without a limp thanks to you breaking his fibula and tibia!"
"And a crushed antenna, Captain." Mikolo added. "Our culture considers it more grievous than his other injuries combined."
Ndoye took a deep breath to collect herself. She paced up and down, shooting each prisoner a withering stare. "What matters, here and now, is technically you both were well within your rights to defend yourselves. Furthermore, we have taken your testimonies into account, and contrary to Lieutenant Mathers statement, there's no evidence of deception on Miss sh'Estihi's part. No matter how much her tale of time crystals and causal loops sounds incredibly implausible! This doesn't mean you're off the hook! There's still the issue of a smuggling vessel full of kemocite! So between all that and the excessive use of force, what the hell should I do with you two?" Ndoye stopped at Corrigan. "Starting with you."
Corrigan considered for a moment. "Suspension, pending court martial?"
"Exactly the call I would make! There may be hope for you yet, Lieutenant!" She then stared down Mikolo, "And as for you, what's preventing us from arresting you for smuggling and attempted manslaughter?"
Mikolo gulped, took a deep breath, and replied, "First, because you caught the guilty one already. It's Anib's fault, and I'll take that to court. And secondly, an advocate."
"An advocate." Mikolo spoke with increasing boldness. "You have lawyers on your planet, don't you?"
Offended, Ndoye shot back, "You're considered a detainee until we figure out what to do with you. No right, no legal recourse, and we'll choose to keep you that way as long as we wish."
"Yes, but I understand you also need Corrigan's silence for this to work."
Corrigan's eyebrow rose, as did Ndoye's.
"Whom, from the impression I get, fought with a corrupt agent in your ranks, I believe? And myself, fleeing persecution from another nation-state, seeking refugee status. I understand throwing a refugee in legal limbo after she suffers a sexual assault in an EDF prison and silencing its only whistle-blower is a bad look for your service if it ever gets out, yes?"
Corrigan and Ndoye had looks of flat-footed astonishment.
Mikolo was no novice in negotiation, an experienced observer of clan negotiations and debater in Invigilator circles. Confidently, she continued, "My short time here gives me the impression the people in the room with me respect the rule and the spirit of the law. I also believe both of you are sympathetic towards my situation. Therefore, I deliver to you my counteroffer. I've gone through a frightening journey. I've been caught up in events beyond my control. I've been abused and strong-armed in a foreign country. And I'm no longer in the mood to suffer further indignities."
Mikolo crossed her arms, pointed her antennae at Ndoye, and matched the Fleet Captain's glower. "Either get me my refugee status or get me a gods-be-damned advocate."
Ndoye eyed the Invigilator, hard eyes looking for the bluff. Ndoye blinked, no bluff discovered. "Very well. On one condition. We must confiscate your time crystal."
"What?!" Mikolo shouted. "NO!"
"What you have in your possession represents a threat to the United Earth. Article 4, Section 1 of the temporal legal code. It is illegal to possess material and/or technology used in the manipulation of time. We have no choice but to take it for safekeeping."
It was Miko's turn to waiver. "But, the causal loop! You take it away and I won't get unstuck from it."
Regaining the advantage, Ndoye spoke, increasingly confident. "It's that, or we keep you detained and take it anyway. What will it be, Miss sh'Estihi?"
Corrigan cleared his throat.
"It seems the Lieutenant has something to add. Lieutenant?" Ndoye invited.
"Ma'am." Corrigan said, "It's for Mikolo. May I?"
"Better make it good, Lieutenant."
"Thank you. Mikolo, I know you have little reason to trust us, but trust me when I say Ndoye has a reputation for integrity and honesty. She will deal with us fairly. And as for your causal loop problem, if you're stuck in some temporal phenomenon and we can help you, we will."
Ndoye pursed her lips, displeased. "You're writing a contract your ass can't honor, Lieutenant."
"Article 4, Section 2. We must disentangle anyone possessing temporal manipulation materials if said items or technologies resulted in a forced temporal entanglement. We have no choice. We must help her."
"And you believe she qualifies?"
Corrigan was confident and somber in his answer. "You have the same interrogation recordings I do. She qualifies."
If Ndoye held a permanently sour look, it was further amplified, as if biting into an especially tart fruit. She cleared her throat and straightened her jacket. "Then her refugee status is conditional. She must hand over the time crystal and co-operate with any request from the United Earth Government and the United Earth Defense Force. Is that understood, Miss sh'Estihi?"
The deal made Mikolo want to seethe. Give up the crystal, after all she had been through?
Recalling her swap back in time, she thought better than to indulge her first instinct, to tell the heavy-handed Terrans to go to gre'Thor. She realized she had arrived. Earth, the former home of the Federation. A founding homeworld, with all its former resources and knowledge at her disposal. And, as she experienced firsthand, a rather powerful reaction to intruders.
The issue with Anib was behind her. Her family, she hoped, got their warning message.
She was safe, for now, and would continue to be so if she co-operated.
Reluctantly, Mikolo said, "Very well."
For the first time, Ndoye looked mildly pleased. She rapped on the door. A different EDF officer entered the room. "Lieutenant Corrigan, I'm not finished with you. Lieutenant Tarrayo here will take Miss sh'Estihi to a replicator. We can't have her going to Earth's first refugee hearing in a century without some proper clothing."
Proper clothing on Earth wasn't much different from Freecloud, she observed. The patterns were out of date by a century, or strangely divergent to her cosmopolitan eye, but she found a familiarity in the patterns that were, by her knowledge, shared by many former Federation worlds.
She found a pattern identified as 'haori' that looked similar to her Invigilator short robes, albeit with slight alien differences. The sleeves were much larger than her original robes, the fabric slightly heavier, yet loose fitting over her sea green leotard pants and white undershirt. She added sea green markings on the predominantly white fabric. A stylized 'A' in a circle running under the armpit and wrapping around the left breast, and the stylized three squares in a rhomboid on her right, similar to her tricom badge. Then lastly the seal of the Emerald Chain on her back, the mark of her Invigilator status.
Waiting for the refugee hearing took longer than the hearing itself, as the EDF only had one officer assigned to immigration and lacked experience filling out a real refugee claim. Once she located the proper holopadd file, she found the forms straightforward. Physical parameters were automatically filled with her medical data. The gender selection menu wasn't a menu but a blank spot she filled with shen female, cis. The rest was elementary. Why is the claimant making the claim? Preserving historical artifacts, again on a blank field, readily accepted. Her past occupation, Invigilator, did not register on the form. She had to fill in Professor instead. Minor details about prior criminal records and arrests were nonexistent, aside from intoxication during spring break on Freecloud and a day incarcerated by the EDF.
The rest she couldn't properly apply. Assets? A trunk full of old antiques and a ship. Know anyone on the planet? A former clanmate her ancestor beat up, and two EDF officers. The immigration officer looked at her like she grew a third antennae stalk and corrected the form with 'none'.
After several more questions, the immigration officer submitted her form, and that was all.
She was officially a resident of Earth.
Citizenship, Lieutenant Tarrayo informed her, was a lengthier process involving a period of working and living on-planet until she accrued enough points to apply for full citizenship. A process, she was told, that took on average five to seven Earth years.
Tarrayo gave her an Earth identification multi-card. It was her license for any operating vehicles (once the local exam ), her health-care registration, her public services access card, her personal transporter grid access card, replicator use card, work visa, personal defense weapons license (restricted pending further review), passport, holo and photo identification, and bank account for United Earth Electronic Credits (or 'Yukes'). Assured she'd receive a limited stipend of Yukes now and at the end of each month for three months, she was informed it was enough for a modest single dwelling, replicator credits, and basic necessities as she established her new life on Earth. Afterwards it was either gainful employment or the unemployment office.
The immigration officer handed over a data module containing the Earth travel guide, employment directory, and housing directory. After recommending Helsinki and Iqaluit for their sizable native Andorian populations, the immigration officer wished her well and welcomed her to Earth.
Mikolo stepped out of an interior of white stone and polished wood furniture and into the yard outside the old sandstone and red brick building. The outside was a shock. During her incarceration, Mikolo lost her sense of time and direction. Now it was coming back as an overload of information.
Because in her sights was one of Earth's great cities, known for its massive sea wall, its gleaming glass skyscrapers, and its endless expanses of civilized development. The simple slabs of gleaming glass were nothing like the subtle ornamentation of the sandstone building she exited, but their simple geometry had a beauty all their own. A forest of glass and steel one millennia aged, restored after war, carefully preserved and full of activity as hover vehicles darted between the towers and throughout the dusky skyline.
How strange the sky was on a dusky alien planet. The clouds were dark, the exposed sky in pastel pink and orange under its waning alien sun. The sun was so yellow, unlike any other she seen in her travels.
She saw, to her south, a statue of aged, weathered copper. Bedecked in robes and wearing a crown, she held a torch up to the sky, as if leading the way to a new beginning.
"New York." She said, breathlessly. "I'm in New York City!"
"Right now you are, but if you walk to that bridge over there you'll be in Jersey."
Richard Corrigan brought Mikolo's attention back to the brick building. Richard waved to her from its entrance. She saw he was out of his uniform, replacing his dark blues and black straps with thick brown leather boots, dark blue pants made out of a material she guessed was a form of tough canvas, a white t-shirt featuring a rising sun and what looked like a menacing humanoid monster with a wispy black mustache, and a brown leather jacket, reinforced at the shoulders and elbows, enhancing the big man's imposing appearance.
There was no mistaking his intent, smiling widely, pleased to see Mikolo and be out in the open air. He continued, "We had you at Rikers Island for a bit, which you can't see, what with Manhattan and Brooklyn in the way. Then it was a transporter trip here to Ellis Island. Sorry for the delays. Our immigration officer also doubles as the museum tour guide. Not a whole hell of a lot of demand for his services these days, though that might change."
"Because of me?"
"Because we've had a Federation starship drop by well before you, and now United Earth's freaking out thinking you and the Feddies are just the first wave."
"V'daysh." She cursed under her breath. "Sorry. Didn't mean to cause any trouble. I was just seeking safe harbor."
"Don't sweat it. United Earth's always got their panties in a bunch. Just fugeddaboutit." He handed a bundle to Mikolo. "Got some of your stuff, by the way."
She graciously accepted the bundle and opened it. Her heart lightened considerably when she found her tricom , phaser, and flabjellah inside. She slapped the tricom on her chest and rummaged through the bundle. Nothing else. She worried again. "Couldn't get me my necklace?"
Ruefully, Richard shook his head. "Sorry, shipped out with your cellmates on the last transatmo out of Rikers. Your friends are in the New Zealand Penal Facility for a stint of rehabilitation, while the necklace is in Okinawa at the Daystrom Institute. Both are under heavy security."
"Figures." Mikolo bundled up her weapons. The act of tucking the weapons under her arm was too emphatic, as was her huff. "I suppose I didn't cause too much trouble for you?"
"Not really. Ndoye cut a deal. Officially, I'm on suspension with pay, pending court martial. She assures me the worse I'll get is a reprimand, which is fine. I've been reprimanded before. It ain't so bad."
"Unofficially I'm your liaison to the United Earth. I'm also your protection detail and your guide."
Mikolo soured. "My jailor. My overseer. So much for freedom."
He shrugged out of sympathy. "Sorry kiddo, but it's Ndoye's idea. You're new here, the United Earth government will still want to ask questions about you, Andoria, and the Emerald Chain, and the locals suspect any foreigners. I'll do my best to be accommodating, but I got my orders. But hey..." He went from somber to optimistic quickly, "You won't have to try the employment market for a while. You're our first foreigner in decades. Daystrom and the United Earth Government will pay you a mint as a consultant. You can practically write your own ticket here!"
"Thanks." she said flatly, less enthusiastically. "Truth be told, I may not stay that long. Just long enough to find this Boreath place and move on. Afterwards, you can all throw the time crystal into a volcano for all I care. I want to get on with my life."
Richard interjected, "That's a problem, considering the planet's on lockdown and there's no incoming or outbound space traffic. We're an isolated system. How do you propose to leave?"
Panic welled up in her throat. She stammered for an answer and found it. "My ship! Ok, it's Anib's ship, but technically it belongs to Clan Estihi, and as the on-site representative of my clan I'm entitled to my clan's property. So if you can tell me where you put my courier vessel..."
Richard cut her off. "That may be a bit of a problem."
"Well, you see... we have it at Newark Intergalactic, and..."
When she heard the news Mikolo was so panic-stricken she nearly fainted on the grounds of Ellis Island.
To see it herself, they took a short personal transporter jump to Newark Intergalactic Spaceport. What she saw almost caused another fainting episode. She kept to her feet, knowing her situation, and any hope of leaving planet Earth when the time came, was beyond screwed.
The Master and Servant was in the impound lot, in line with several other decrepit shuttles, runabouts, and courier ships scheduled for molecular disassembly.
When the shock left her system, it left her with a deep sense of outrage. Shoving off Richard Corrigan's restraining hand, Mikolo marched a straight path to the impound lot office and demanded answers from the person in charge. When a fat, ugly human in greasy coveralls identifying as the impound supervisor appeared, Mikolo was given even more bad news.
The Master and Servant suffered several breaches when the Benjamin Hornigold fired antiproton beams at her hull. The breaches themselves weren't difficult to repair with the right programmable matter patching.
The rest of the damage report was a tremendous problem.
One stray shot disintegrated ninety-five percent of the Master and Servant's programmable matter reserves and its accompanying programmable matter replication unit. Disabling shots to the sublight and FTL propulsion systems, from quantum slipdrive to traditional warp, thoroughly fused and melted the engine components to uselessness. The same shot also overloaded the EPS grid, bursting the plasma conductors. Deflectors, shields, and tactical systems all suffered irreversible damage. EDF engineers turned the cargo bay inside out, tearing out more vital systems while removing the storage tesseracts.
She demanded to go inside and see for herself. She stumbled around the thoroughly destroyed Master and Servant. The EDF pried open consoles and panels, pulling and exposing their wiring like spilled guts. Furnishings were uprooted or upended. Items and sundries were scattered across the deck.
Thanks to the United Earth Defense Force, the Master and Servant was an unserviceable pile of junk.
She wanted to scream at the heavens for their indignities.
Storming back to the impound office, Mikolo was prepared to go to war with the impound lot when their supervisor floored her with a list of costs incurred by her vessel's internment. Towing fees, impound fees, environmental taxes. Hearing the astronomical cost of her fees converted from local Yukes to Gold Pressed Latinum was cause for Mikolo to faint again.
But there was hope! The scrap value of the ship would cover the cost of her fees, with a little left over. Otherwise it was cheaper to find a new ship than to have her overhauled.
The dilithium found on the ship held considerable value. A crystal that size, the impound supervisor assured her while turning it end over end on one hand, could set her up with a comfortable home on a nice tropical island somewhere in the Caribbean...
"I'm keeping it!" She snatched the dilithium crystal out of the impound officer's hand before he could pull it away. "Let me get my things. Do whatever you want with the rest."
"Very well! Thank you for..."
"GO FORNICATE WITH A TARG!" she screamed, slamming the old-fashioned swing out door loudly.
Corrigan, waiting outside the door, asked, "Handled?"
Exasperated, she burst out furiously. "Your people shot my ship to shit, nearly had me raped in prison, held my personal possessions hostage, AND set me up with my own babysitter? Now you all vandalize my ship and expected me to pay for the privilege? Great, thanks for the measly salvage credits! That'll buy me a ticket off this Q-forsaken planet on a transport that doesn't exist! Guess I'll wait for the causal loop to unravel and wipe me from existence now! Nice knowing you universe!"
Damming up her emotions since flying on the Master and Servant, her outburst broke the last of its barriers. Her rage burst like a tempestuous river. The act of expressing pent-up anger gave insufficient cathartic release. She wanted to do more. She wanted to scream. She wanted to hit something. She wanted the satisfaction of resolution that outside forces, from the United Earth Defense Force to her own ancestors, denied her.
She howled, long and deep, the universal word at the first stars to reveal themselves from the setting sun. The word everyone in former Federation space recognized, in both orgasmic ecstasy, world-shattering anguish, and unceasing fury.
It left Richard Corrigan stunned.
Drained, she leaned against the chain-link fence. A tear fell down her face.
"Handled is not the word I'd use right now." Mikolo's words choked through her swelled throat.
"All things considered." Richard removed his coat and settled it on Mikolo's shoulders. "I think you're handling it as well as can be expected."
She squeaked, "No, I don't think so."
"Hey, you can, and you will. And you won't be alone. I'll be here to help you. Whatever you need, I'm here for you."
She hiccuped. "Help me get some things out of my ship?"
"Yeah. We can do that."
Drained of her tension, her body reminded her of how many hours she went without anything relaxing. She hadn't eaten or drank since attempting to escape the Master and Servant. Her last nap was before the fight in the prison cell. Fatigue was setting in. Her stomach demanded food while her foggy mind felt the call of the sandman. "And could you help me find my new place? I was told about the housing authority."
"Eeeechhh. You don't want that." Corrigan explained, "Housing authority'll set you up in some insect-ridden broom closet somewhere in Queens. Nobody lives there by choice, trust me. I can find you a hotel for the night and help you in the morning. Or..."
"Hmm?" She looked up at his earnest face.
"Or, and I know you're still freaked out from your experience, but I have a little place with a spare room. It's clean, you'll save some shekels, and it makes my assignment a little easier. What do you say?"
Fatigue and hunger were factors involved, but she wanted to trust the human. He helped her without cause or benefit to do so. He brought her stuff back, helped her find her wrecked vessel, and if she heard correctly, put himself at risk to help her.
At the mercy of a strange new planet, Richard so far showed himself as her only ally. It felt unfair to treat him like the others.
"You want to help? Help me get my stuff out of the ship, then lead on." She ordered, then added jokingly, "Just don't expect me to fall for you. My gratitude is all you're getting."
With a jaunty salute and a roguish smile, Richard guffawed, "Like I said, you're not my type."
She suppressed the urge to laugh, but couldn't keep down her bemused smile. "That's just as well. Friendly, helpful, non-threatening, and no hidden terms and conditions."
Wounded, he said, "I am a EDF Inspector. Wouldn't say I'm harmless."
"No." She looked his solid frame up and down. "Just non-threatening to me. Exactly what I need. Say, can you carry something for me?"
They searched the Master and Servant, eventually finding Mikolo's time capsule in her former quarters. The capsule appeared rummaged, but all items were intact. Richard hefted the time capsule onto his shoulder and helped Mikolo search the rest of the ship. Though thoroughly picked over, the EDF missed one of Anib's stashes. Richard spied a loose panel covered up by a poster of a nude Andorian zhen spread out over the hood of a hovercar. When he tore the poster down and pried open the panel, he found a pistol in a belted holster. Resting on the holster was a black triangle with a single horizontal crimson line. It was a black card, an electronic credit holder usable at any Emerald Chain mercantile, and nowhere else. She handed the phaser to Richard and kept the black card for herself.
Finding little else of value, Richard patched his tricom to Mikolo's, and with a tap of his badge they left the Master and Servant to the scrappers.