Bait and Switch

by StarSword

Chapter 1: Nebula Surveys are Boring. Film at Eleven.

Sirens. Smoke. Fire. The stench of burnt plastic and insulation. The signs of a stricken ship of war.

Crewman Davos pokes his head over the barricade and cracks off a burst of fire from his phaser rifle at the boarders. "Bloody pirates," he growls as return fire forces him back down. "Sarge, what the hell does the Orion Syndicate want with an obsolete junk frigate like this anyway?"

I shake my head. "If I had to guess—Hah!" My pistol shot strikes the pirate squarely in the midsection and flings him hard against a wall. "Mmf. Probably our security codes."

The ship rocks, probably a torpedo strike several compartments away. I shove Davos sideways and a ceiling tile crashes to the floor near where his head would have been. "Thanks, Sarge."

"Don't mention it." I check the charge on my pistol. "Damn. Nearly empty, and I count—" I check my tricorder "—four more of them." Davos yanks a rifle from one of our fallen and passes it to me. "Smart. Give me a little covering fire." He sends another spread of bolts down the corridor. I pop the maintenance panel on my phaser and connect two wires that are never meant to touch; now an escalating high-pitched whine. I throw the overloaded phaser down the corridor and yell, "Frag out!"

Davos and I duck behind our cover and a deafening thunderclap and blaze of heat washes over the barricade. Everything's muffled and my ears are ringing. I can barely make out the intercom crackling to life. "Security team to sickbay! Security team to sickbay!"

"Sher hahr kosst!" I swear under my breath in Glyrhondi dialect. "Davos, we're one deck and two compartments away, let's move!" A quick check of my tricorder to see if any of the greenskins survived the phaser's detonation, then Davos and I bolt down the corridor behind us. I can still barely hear anything, but I smack my combadge and said, "Sickbay, Gunnery Two responding!"

Power's out to the turbolift. Battle damage, probably. I palm the Jeffries tube access to the left of it and Davos and I slide into the smoky darkness lit only by emergency lights. We emerge one deck down beside what is probably the one working blast door on the whole ship at this point. The corridor is still full of smoke and I can see a blazing fire in the conference room across the corridor. Fire suppression's system's not working, apparently. Davos and I move by fire and movement towards sickbay. An Orion pokes his head out of a room three doors down, past the next, nonworking, blast door, and I reflexively fire and blow half his face off. Davos moves ahead to the sickbay door then grunts and falls backwards, a knife with an ornate brass hilt sticking out from under his left collarbone. He tries to talk but only bubbles of blood come out of his mouth. A female greenskin who's as far as I can tell barely wearing anything steps calmly out of the room and reaches out to him with a second knife.

I pull the trigger on my phaser rifle, aiming for her ear. The bright orange beam lances out at her and hisses into nonexistence against a personal deflector shield. I have a split second to wonder how they got their hands on that level of experimental technology before she spins and throws her second knife. I jerk sideways and it goes flying past. There's a muffled thrum from somewhere above me as the spinal phaser cannon finally fires, then she's upon me, having pulled two more knives from I'm-not-sure-I-want-to-know-where.

I swing the butt of my rifle up into the matron's chin, feeling the static tingle as it passes through her energy barrier. She parries with a forearm, swings across my face with the other and dances backwards. Only then does the pain from the knife's twin parallel blades hit me. I grit my teeth and try to bring the rifle to bear but she reaches in and slashes the front of the sling, then kicks it out of my hands.

I drop into a fighting stance. Get hold of the knife hands. Keep them controlled and use your legs. She moves in. I send a jab at her midsection. She slaps it wide but it was a distraction as I aim a right kick at her knee. She traps the leg and punches her knife wielding left hand into my wounded cheek. I manage to snag that wrist and hang on for dear life. I see the ghost of something—fear? Surprise?—flash across her face, then she grunts as I knee her in the stomach. I grab at the metal bra that passes for a uniform with this greenskin and headbutt her in the nose and PAIN OH PROPHETS THE PAIN

I collapse backward, her other knife protruding from above my right hip. She shakes her head to clear it, wipes green blood from her broken nose and glares at me, then advances and kicks me in the jaw, sending me sprawling against a bulkhead. "Bajoran bitch!" she grinds out. "If that leaves a mark I'll have killed you too quickly." I can only stare up at her as she kneels down and brings her knife to my throat.

A bolt from a blast assault phaser crashes into her shield and it collapses. She just has time to get out a "What?" before her torso explodes from another shot and covers me in gore. I blink it out of my eyes to see an MP squad standing in the corridor with the SSW.

My ears are ringing again. One of them kneels next to me with a tricorder. "She's still alive!" he hollers over his shoulder. "Get the medic!" He looks at me and says something but I can't make it out anymore and my eyes close.

Not here for much longer, thank the Prophets, I think as my mind fades. I wonder if this is how the Emissary went...

I sit bolt upright in bed, gasping for air, then collapse forward onto the sheets. My hands go to the right side of my stomach, feeling the roiled, knotty scar left from the Orion matron's knife. It's as healed as it was the last ten times I had The Nightmare, and the twenty before that.

I shove the tangle of sheets off my nude body and stalk to my quarters' bathroom. Cold water to the face, and I look at myself in the mirror. As always, my dark green eyes are drawn first to the two angry pink lines across my left cheek. Then to the four parallel ridges on the bridge of my nose and the sweaty mess The Nightmare made of my hair. "I need a phekk'ta shower," I mutter under my breath, and step into the stall and turn on the hot water.

My name is Eleya. Kanril Eleya. I'm Bajoran born, Federation bred, and I'm a Starfleet captain. It's been 34 years since the Dominion War ended and my people had to live each day wondering if today was the day fire would rain down from Cardassian or Jem'Hadar battleships and our beautiful green world would burn. It's been 25 years since we were admitted to the Federation, and less than a decade since we sold the last of our ancient patrol frigates for scrap and began relying exclusively on Starfleet for our naval defense.

29 years since I was born.

I'm originally from Priyat, a small town in Kendra Province. Mother and Father were town maintenance but I never wanted to spend my life patching plasma coils or running wire. Soon as I hit the legal age I enlisted in the Bajoran Militia, got assigned blackside as a gunnery specialist. Did pretty well, made it to sergeant a couple years later.

Then the Orions hit the Kira Nerys, the frigate I was assigned to. I learned later they'd played dead in a comet's tail waiting for some schmuck—learned that word from an Academy classmate—to happen by. They took out the warp core and half of main Engineering with their first salvo and beamed aboard. It was my first time actually seeing the enemy instead of calibrating the spinal phaser cannon. So we fought. Training and all the nonregulation tricks I'd learned, like overloading a phaser for a makeshift hand grenade, took over. Bridge finally managed to bring the cannon to bear and blew their ship to scrap but they'd already boarded, and we had to keep the cannon online long enough for Colonel Karryn to use it, so six of us manned a barricade outside Gunnery Two. Davos made it. So did I, in case you hadn't figured it out yet. Touch and go for a while there, though (they had to replicate me a new kidney), and the other four died on the barricade. I've hated Orions since.

I reach for the shampoo and lather my mid-back-length red tresses. Not strictly regulation but Starfleet gives a lot of leeway to officers, and anyway it's not like there's much on a cruiser bridge for my hair to get caught in. Never would've gotten away with it as a noncom.

Toweled off, I slide on my plain white underwear, uniform trousers, undershirt, and red and white uniform jacket. I wrap my hair into its usual neat ponytail and punch the intercom for the bridge. "Tess, it's Eleya. I'll be joining you a bit earlier than usual."

A cool alto voice says, "Yes, ma'am."

I call up a few jumja sticks from the replicator and munch on them as I walk to the turbolift. One thing I'll say about life in Starfleet: the food's never quite right, though I'll grant it's usually close enough for government work as Father used to say. I heard an interesting take on it when I went to Starfleet Academy after the Militia shut down its space forces: cooked never tastes exactly the same—varying levels of ingredients and cooking time and such—but replicated does, so replicated always tastes a little bit artificial.

I palm the control for the turbolift and say "Bridge" around a mouthful of slightly artificial jumja stick. About ten seconds later the door slides open and I stride out onto the bridge, lit by a sickly yellow protostar hanging in space off the port bow several million kilometers away, superimposed on a starfield tinged blue by the gas clouds of the Delta Volanis Cluster. My first officer, an Andorian named Tesjha Phohl, sees me, stands and snaps to attention. "Captain on deck!"

"Carry on."

Tess walks over to me. We met in battle, during the abortive Borg assault at Vega when I suddenly found myself the acting captain of the ShiKahr-class light cruiser Kagoshima. The USS Khitomer sent her over to act as my temporary tac officer until the fleet got clear, and Admiral Quinn made both her reassignment and my command permanent. Tess is a bit shorter than me, with short white hair and lots of curves. "Good morning, Skipper."

"Morning, Tess. Jumja stick?"

"I ate already, thank you, ma'am."

"Anything happening?"

"No, ma'am. So far this patrol's been pretty quiet. We've scanned a possible star fragment about two light-months coreward—reported that one to Starfleet Command since it's headed for the colony on Ardiles in a couple dozen years—and several large asteroids that might have tritanium. Nothing of particular strategic importance, though." She checks the PADD in her hand. "We'll be moving on to our next waypoint in about half an hour. Oh, and Lieutenant Korekh wanted to speak to you."

"All right, I'll see him in the ready room."

"Ma'am." I step inside as she hits the intercom. "Security Officer to the captain's ready room. Lieutenant Korekh, please report to the ready room."

As I wait, I look around my room, no different from when I last saw it. On the wall facing my desk hang various medals and decorations, including the Silver Cross I received for defending sickbay on the Kira. To the right, a trophy wall with statuettes of my previous commands. The Kagoshima. The Excalibur-class John Paul Jones. The Stargazer-class George Hammond. Turn to the right and the bronze dedication plaque for my current ship hangs.

U.S.S. Bajor

Galaxy-class Exploration Cruiser, Production Series 23

Starfleet Registry NCC-97238

40 Eridani A Starfleet Construction Yards

Launched 9 August 2409 Earth Standard

United Federation of Planets

A Galaxy-class starship. My ship. 82 officers and 963 enlisted, from a vast rainbow of species and all walks of life. It was once rare for a Galaxy-class to be commanded by one as young as me but the wars with the Klingons and the Borg have a way of eliminating the complacent or unlucky and clearing the way for new blood. Hell, that's the reason I got my first command, after the Borg killed or assimilated the entire command staff of the Kagoshima, which left me, the second shift weapons officer and the senior-most JG afloat, the ship's acting captain.

The door chime shakes me out of my reverie. "Enter."

Dul'krah, Clan Korekh strides in. My security officer's a member of a minor species from the Arucanis Arm, the Pe'khdar, and built like a Cardassian main battle tank, bigger and stronger than most Klingons I've met, with scaly skin, broad flat horns sweeping back from his forehead, six nostrils, and a single topknot of black hair. Like me he didn't start in Starfleet: he was a member of the Pe'khdar military police agency before they were admitted to the Federation, and they let him keep wearing the black and green uniform afterward. "Captain," he says in a deep, rumbling voice, "my team has completed their latest sweep for contraband aboard ship. We confiscated a case of, hrmm, how do you pronounce this word?"

I take the PADD from him. "'Laphroaig,' I think."

"What is it?"

"Liquor from Earth, I believe from an island between Britain and Ireland. At least Crewman Targ has good taste in contraband."

"You have tried this ... La-frog, Captain?"

"Third semester at Starfleet Academy. I remember it was tasty and not much else. One minute I'm out drinking with friends, next thing I know I wake up in my bedroom with a brass band in my head. First I thought Scotch did bad things to Bajorans but then I find out from Anna that humans have the same problem."

I hear the snuffling noise that passes for laughter with Korekh. "I saw this many times in the Ver Eshalakh, Captain." He stops laughing. "In any case this is Targ's third violation for contraband and I no longer believe it is for her own use as she protests. We have confined her to quarters for now and I have laid out punitive measures for your approval."

I glance at the "recommended course of action" line. One week in the brig, one month's pay. Nothing out of the ordinary. I press my thumbprint into the approval box. "Thank you, Captain." He raises his arm across his chest and bows his head in a Pe'khdar salute and strides out of the room.

Business as usual, I think to myself. I walk back onto the bridge and take my chair.

From my right, my science officer, Commander Birail Riyannis. "Skipper, we just picked up a coronal mass ejection from the star."

"Any danger to the ship? Anything unusual about it?"

"Not if we move two million kilometers relative vertical sometime in the next ten minutes, and no, it's just your average several-million-degree blast of charged particles."

"If an ordinary solar storm is what passes for excitement today I'm going to start wondering why I bothered to get up," I mutter under my breath. "Conn, take us two million kilometers relative up."

"Conn, aye," the human JG manning the conn says. "Pitching ship and accelerating to three-quarters impulse power." The sun slides downward out of view as the Bajor rolls backward and begins to accelerate.

Biri walks over. "That'll cause some interesting auroras on the third planet of the system in about 33 hours," Biri says conversationally, leaning on the back of my chair.

I look up at her brown, spot-wreathed Trill face. "Too bad we won't be here. We've got to go to Xi Cassiopeiae 12 today."

"Ooh, I hear it's nice there this time of year." I roll my eyes and she titters a bit, then sobers. "Actually, there's supposed to be some gravimetric flux anomalies that Admiral Lovett wants looked at closer; he thinks they might be signs of Q activity." Off my look, "I know, I know, it's probably just another glitch on Outpost Zeta-Five's end, but you never know. I do know there's an industrial civilization on the second planet that's expected to launch its first manned orbiter in about four months. Mem Alpha wants a scan of the launch site."

"Skipper, we will be in position in thirty seconds," the conn officer calls back.

"Thank you, JG Park."

The next thirty minutes pass with nothing eventful. Tess and I finish our morning paperwork and start a round of chess on our PADDs. I'm down two pawns when my terminal chimes the reminder for us to move on. I lay the PADD aside and tell Park to set course for Xi Cassiopeiae 12 II, warp seven. "Course laid in, ma'am." It pops up on the viewscreen. "We'll need to avoid a black hole at 1710 hours but other than that it'll be a smooth ride."

"Understood." I hit the intercom. "All hands, this is the captain. Prepare for warp, T-minus two minutes." I pick my PADD up, move a bishop to H4, and wait for Tess, but she doesn't make her move before the two minutes are up. "Conn, warp seven. Engage."

"Warp seven, aye." Park smoothly noses the Bajor over, then taps his console and slides the power "lever" forward. The stars smear into rapidly bluing streaks and the ship punches through the light barrier with effortless ease.

"If anyone needs me, I'll be in the—"

"Captain," the on-duty communications officer interrupts. "We just picked up a message from Starfleet Command. Text-only, flagged 'Captain's Eyes First'. I'll shoot it over to your PADD."

So much for my holonovel, I think to myself. I swipe the chess game off the screen and tap the message open.

[begin transmission]

TO: Captain Kanril Eleya, C.O. U.S.S. Bajor NCC-97238

FROM: Office of Admiral Nadifa La Forge, Starfleet Command, Earth Spacedock

SUBJECT: Assignment Order #15512388515613611643366211

Captain Kanril:

You are hereby ordered to travel to Deep Space 9, Bajor Sector, and report to Admiral Anthony Marconi, C.O. Beta Ursae Fleet Area, for assignment to civil defense patrol. You are expected to arrive at or before Stardate 91306.02.

[end transmission]

I pass the message to Tess and say, "Well, Biri, looks like Q will have to wait. We've just been reassigned. Civil defense patrol on the Cardie border."

"They need a Galaxy-class ship for that? I would've thought something smaller would do."

I shrug. "Far be it from me to question the infinite wisdom of Starfleet Command. Conn, amend previous course. Fastest route to Deep Space 9, maximum cruise."

"Conn, aye. We're five hours from the edge of the star cluster, then it's three days to DS9. Dropping us out of warp to change course now." JG Park taps out a rapid sequence of commands into his console, and the streaming stars out the viewport redshift as the Bajor dumps velocity and drops back to sublight speeds. Still traveling a good .8c the ship heels hard to starboard and swings around. "Accelerating back to warp now, Captain." The stars blueshift again and we streak past lightspeed. "Warp five," Park counts. "Warp six… Warp seven… Warp eight… We are at warp 9.4. ETA to Deep Space 9, 74 hours and 45 minutes."

Looks like I might get some time on the holodeck after all.