When the Circle Closed
Posted on May 7th, 2022 by Jack Leirone
April 5, 2401
Vector had his TR-116 dismantled on an 18th century escritoire in the far corner of the Roland’s bridge. The exographic targeting sensor had been lagging by more than a few microseconds the past month. Normally he wouldn’t care because shoring up the telemetry relay was a royal bitch, but he needed targeting to be buttery-smooth if the Emissary was at large. Motherfucker was quick.
The Salladay woman tapped at her console, stone-faced, wrangling information. Who knew what was in her brain. Apollo was a white shadow on the edge of the Section’s vision the last decade before the Great Dissolution. They were getting dispelled by the hour, but Vector recalled many unsavory rumors about her and her organization. A fully holographic ship interior that could doubtlessly be controlled by her very whim was a bit too spiderwebby for Vector’s taste, too. You’ll note that his sidearm was not dismantled on the escritoire.
Lacuna sat with one leg over the armrest of a rococo lounge chair with gaudy white-and-gold upholstery, flicking at a PADD with one hand and eating duplex creme cookies with the other. Everything that had ever gotten under Vector’s skin about the guy was at full, fiery blemish-level now. Lazy, devil-may-care, far too optimistic.
And he chewed with his mouth open.
Hannah Ziredac hadn’t emerged from her cabin in almost 24 hours. Couldn’t blame her, after losing a girlfriend and a brother in one day. Vector was to understand that her ship was no small loss as well, and had been the girl’s home for at least a couple years. Still, it bothered Vector that she was involved in this. Almost like Shakespeare put her on this mission out of pity.
‘What do you think Omen’s gonna say when we show up?’ Lacuna said, his mouth still audibly containing some cookie.
Vector tapped into the targeting sensor’s transmitter node with his supertricorder, paying far more attention to it than to Lacuna. ‘She’ll either say yes or no.’
‘Well yeah, obviously, but, do you think she’ll be excited to see us? You think she’ll threaten to blow our heads off?’
Vector turned around slowly. ‘Is that what you’re doing? Being passive-aggressive?’
‘I’m joking, Jazon.’ Another duplex creme went into Lacuna’s mouth, and he kept talking nonetheless. ‘But neither of us have seen Omen since ’87. Who knows what her disposition will be?’
Turning back to his rifle Vector said, ‘I don’t think this line of speculation is productive.’
‘It could be. If she’s even half as pissed as you were, we could be dealing with a phaser-in-the-mouth scenario. And that’s not me being passive-aggressive; that’s me being practical.’
‘This isn’t productive because she’s going to react however she’s going to react. We can’t control that.’
‘We should just be prepared, is all.’
‘I’m always prepared, Luke. Consider taking a similar stance.’
‘Come on, man.’
Vector began to reassemble the TR-116, and as he did he spun in his chair once more. ‘What, Luke?’
Lacuna’s mouth was stuck open, and he threw his hands up in the universal body-language equivalent of an ellipsis.
‘You got me out of retirement and into a big job with the hardest target we ever had,’ Vector said. ‘We don’t have the time we need to prepare, we don’t have the resources to track the Emissary down or the resources to fucking do anything about him when we find him, and you want me to, what? Chit chat?’
‘Not like we have anything else to do.’
Vector finished the rifle without looking at it, then slammed it down on the desk. Salladay’s attention was on them now, though she just sat at her desk, staring at them like a python who’s not quite hungry yet.
‘If it was anything, and I mean anything short of the Emissary, I wouldn’t fucking be here. You and I were both incredibly lucky to have escaped the Section breakup with our identities intact, and I was happy where I was. You wanna know what I was doing? Maybe you don’t, since you didn’t fucking ask, but I’ll tell you: I was getting my goddamn life back in order. We did some important work out there, but there wasn’t enough time to just be a human. I missed that, and I had it back. And now I’m here, on the Apollo Lady’s ship, with an aloof, washed-up old man who’s acting like he’s here because he’s bored. And let’s not forget our very own Sylvia Plath in the next room; a thief going up against the Emissary is like a strongly-worded letter going up against a supernova. So forgive me for not being sociable, because right now it seems like I’m the only one who even has a chance against Sarreon, and it’s a snowball’s chance in hell.’
‘Stop,’ Destiny said.
Vector saw no reason not to, so he turned back to the desk.
Destiny went on: ‘Leirone believes in both of you. If he didn’t, you wouldn’t be here.’
‘Shakespeare’s getting old too,’ Vector said under his breath. ‘Maybe his judgment isn’t what it used to be.’
Destiny’s voice got a little high school teachery. ‘Either way, I don’t think this conversation is productive either, so let’s can it.’
‘And you, Luke?’
Lacuna bit into yet another cookie. For fuck’s sake. ‘Yeah, I’m easy.’
Little too easy, Vector thought.
‘My name’s not actually Luke, by the way,’ Lacuna said.
Oh, here we go. What’s it gonna be this time?
‘Luke is just kind of a slant-abbreviation of Lacuna. My real name’s Ethan.’
‘Oh, is it, now?’ Vector said. ‘Not Neil? Not Matt? What was it the first time you revealed your quote-unquote “real” name? Peter? Weren’t you a Peter at one point?’
Destiny looked back to Lacuna, who sank back into his chair.
‘Alright,’ he said. ‘It’s not Ethan.’
‘Then what is it?’ Destiny asked.
‘Would it even matter if I said? Would either of you believe me?’
Vector said, ‘Nope,’ and Destiny said, ‘Fair point. “Luke” it is.’
‘Computer, restart program.’
The faceless gray man-shape vanished from its current position of standing over Hannah’s supine body, and reappeared a few meters away in its ready pose. Hannah stood up and rubbed her chest, where the fucking thing had kicked her. Safety protocols or no, a dragon-kick to the sternum doesn’t feel great.
She holstered her phaser pistol, rotated her shoulders, stretched her neck side-to-side, and got in a gun duelist stance.
Deep breath. ‘Okay. Go.’
Pistol out, trigger squeezed; target ducked the first shot, feinted, dodged the second shot, slid behind cover. Hannah cursed and went for her own cover behind a gray head-height barrier. She peeked around the right side and didn’t see the dummy, and it was choosing the right side that was her error. She pivoted to check the left side, but found a phaser in her face. Flash of light. Loud, short buzz sound. The program auto-paused.
DEFEAT. CURRENT SCORE: PROGRAM, 47; USER, ZE—
‘Computer, restart program.’
RECOMMENDED: LOWER DIFFICULTY, FEWER ATTACK PATTERNS IN ALGORITHM.
‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ Gunslinger pose. Neck stretch. Shoulder rotate. ‘Go.’
This time the dummy quick-drew its phaser and zapped Hannah in the mouth. Loud, short buzz sound. Auto-pause.
DEFEAT. CURRENT SCORE: PRO—
‘Fuck! Fuck this!’
‘I dunno; that lower difficulty might suit you.’
Hannah spun. The training program was a wide circle of light upon the cover elements and attack dummy, surrounded by a sea of darkness. Out of that darkness came the new guy, Vector. He approached slow, his hands in the pockets of a lightweight black jacket.
‘Privacy mean anything to you?’ Hannah said, turning around as if to run the program again.
Vector shrugged, continued forward until he was in the circle of light. ‘Means a little too much to Salladay. She expressed concern for you, but wouldn’t even do a lifesign scan. So I came in to make sure you were okay.’
‘Compassionate, for someone who doesn’t know me.’
‘I’d rather know sooner rather than later if someone’s offed themselves on the same ship as me.’
Hannah took an actual step back. ‘I take the compassionate thing back. Fuck makes you think you can say something like that to me?’
‘The fact that I just did. And the fact that it’s true: I don’t know you. I’ve known people who’ve stuck a phaser in their mouth for far less than what you’ve gone through the past few days.’
‘Well,’ and Hannah waved at her own body in a nonverbal preface of, As you can very well see, ‘I’m fine. Get lost.’
Vector did not get lost. ‘To be honest, I was actually more concerned about other kinds of self-harm. Salladay told me you’re on the wagon. Beyond impressive that you’re still on it; I would’ve been more than a couple bottles deep by this point.’
‘Thanks, I guess.’
‘But it turns out, your self-harm is throwing yourself at an advanced training program without knowing what you’re doing.’
‘If I wanted advice, I’d ask for it.’
Vector shook his head, stepped closer to her. ‘There’s no time for etiquette. Let me see that phaser.’ Hannah handed it over for whatever inspection he wanted to make. ‘Custom job?’
‘Custom job for you?’
Hannah rolled her eyes. ‘Yes.’
‘How long have you had it?’
‘Like, five or six years. Why?’
‘Just interesting that you went for something like this. Combat handle, auto-multiphase… This thing isn’t optimized for stunning a panicked shoplifted; it’s a killer’s weapon.’
‘Yeah, so? That’s what I’m going to do to Sarreon, so…’
Vector gave a little laugh. ‘Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. What’s interesting is that this killer’s weapon belongs to someone who’s never killed anyone before.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘Which answer do you want? The one where you’re talking to a former Section agent who does his homework, or the one where you’re talking to a former Section agent who can tell a killer by looking at their eyes?’
Instinct pulled Hannah’s gaze away. She crossed her arms, paced away from him. ‘Does that even matter? That monster killed the lov… He killed Z…’ She scoffed at her own inability to speak. ‘I’m not gonna hesitate, if that’s your concern. I’m not about to grow a conscious and say, Oh he can be rehabilitated, everyone deserves a chance, everyone can be nice if we just try.’
‘That’s the front of your brain talking. That’s logic and reason. When it comes down to taking a life, the back of your brain takes over. You know how many soldiers throughout history deliberately shot over the heads of enemy soldiers? It’s not in a healthy brain to kill another person. You either have to be a psychopath, or you have to be conditioned. You’re neither. And there’s no holoprogram that’ll help you with it, because those aren’t real people. You’ll never know whether or not you can do it, until you have to choose.’
‘Alright, Jesus, fuck. What do you want me to do? I’m not gonna bow out of this mission.’
‘As much as I think that’d keep you safe, I’m not about to ask you to bow out. What I’m offering is my help. I can give you training on how to use this thing better.’ He shook the phaser pistol. ‘I can give you some tactical pointers. I can do whatever I can in the short amount of time we have.’
Hannah threw her hands up. ‘Sure. Whatever.’
‘Are you doing this to make sure I don’t hurt myself?’
‘You can look at it that way.’
‘Works for me.’
‘Wanna get started?’
‘Alright. Computer, overlay practice dummy with image extrapolation, subject: The Emissary, also known as Sarreon.’
‘Wait, no, I don’t—’
The gray humanoid shape at the far side of the circle was then overlain with the grinning green visage of the man who killed D’bryn Zoë. Hannah felt nauseated and weightless. Her breaths became shallow and rapid. She shook her head, turned away, said, ‘No, no, we don’t need him to—’
Vector stepped in front of Hannah and put his hands on her shoulders. She batted them away, but he put them back. ‘If our mission leads to him, you’re not going to see a faceless dummy; you’re going to see him. Now turn around and look at him.’
‘You’ll never be able to kill him if you don’t.’
Destiny’s voice rang into the space. Vector, we think we’ve found Omen. Come take a look.
Vector removed his hands from Hannah’s shoulders and said, ‘Computer, deactivate program.’ He waited for her breathing to regulate, then drew in close. ‘You’re gonna have to face him eventually, Hannah. Trust me. Hey. Trust me on this: you don’t want to face him for the first time when it’s real. We’ll try again later.’
He left her shaking in the empty white space.
Vector rejoined the others on the ‘bridge’. Much to everyone’s surprise, Hannah trailed behind him, wandering into the reaches of the study while the agents crowded around Destiny’s console.
‘We were able to narrow the search with biometrics,’ Lacuna said. ‘Turns out that a lot of Federation installations still have their biometric scanners calibrated to what they were during the Dominion War, to mark potential Changeling infiltrators. Marks everything from gait and posture variables to minor chemical imbalances. Narrowed it further by dates of service, estimated age, all of that. Take a look at this.’
A face appeared on the console screen. Vector squinted. ‘I mean, that looks like it could be her. Also could not be. Look at the differences there, there… Look at her nose; her nose is completely different.’
‘That’s what Lacuna thought,’ Destiny said. ‘So I put an overlay over her Starfleet holo, and…’ She reactivated the layer, which indicated deep-tissue scarring consistent with facial alteration.
Vestigial as always, Lacuna said, ‘She’s had some work done.’
‘I can see that,’ Vector said. ‘It’s not conclusive, but it strengthens the possibility enough that we should get a closer look. Is she on a ship, station…?’
‘Alright. Which one?’
10km off the starboard bow
April 7, 2401
The hulking Concorde-class starship basked like an overfed cat in the white light of Earth’s star, presiding over the northern hemisphere of humanity’s home. A 1240-meter, 60-deck leviathan, the Coldstream was the mobile base of operations for Rear Admiral Kyle Pierce, and was stuffed to the gills with brute-force armaments, staggering fighter complements, and close to two thousand bored Starfleet officers champing at the bit for some action. Exempli gratia: someone sneaking onboard to pull one of their officers into a suicide mission.
The Coldstream was not alone, either. Orbiting alongside like an eager puppy was the Coyote-class USS Talisman, and not far from their position was the USS Dreadnaught, a Shield Dragon-class from the old Phoenix Force days, built to rip Borg cubes apart. This was only to mention the ships in visual range, setting aside the dozens that could race here in less than a minute at the first sign of trouble.
And all Lacuna could say was, ‘These fucking admirals. I swear, these guys are like old-world aristocrats. That thing has ten entire decks devoted to recreation. It’s a glorified limousine.’
Destiny tapped through the Coldstream’s security protocols. ‘Their subspace receivers don’t have any hard stops in place, but incoming messages go through an inordinate amount of checks. There’s no way we can get a message directly to Omen without the risk of a dozen other people seeing it.’
‘So we script something,’ Lacuna said. ‘Drop keywords. You know, something like… Uh…’
Hannah jumped in: ‘“There’s a big Omen of hot singles in your area, be the Emissary to a steamy date right away.”’
That got a laugh out of Vector, if not only to drive a nail further into Lacuna’s feckless approach. ‘Even if we do find a way to communicate with her, someone will see it. And if they have those checks in place, it’s not unreasonable to assume that they’d find anything out of the ordinary suspicious.’
‘What about a direct approach?’ Destiny said. ‘Just request a meeting with her through the proper channels?’
‘Who’d do it? The thief, the shadowy tech mogul, or one of the ex-Section guys? Best case scenario is they don’t look too deep into who’s contacting one of their senior officers, but even that’ll take too much time.’
‘We gotta go in,’ Lacuna said.
Vector nodded, sighed. ‘I hate that I agree, but I do.’
‘I’ll do it.’ Lacuna stood up, stretched and popped his back. ‘Ziredac, you’re with me. Jazon, Salladay, you stay here and be ready to get us out of there on my go.’
‘Why Ziredac?’ Vector said.
‘The Coldstream has close to nine hundred civvies registered onboard, and that’s not counting all the others who have to be going in and out of that thing while it’s at home. Older guy, younger woman, we’ll look like two thirds of a family coming to visit.’
‘I’m not calling you “Dad”.’
‘That’s the one thing I really wish you wouldn’t call me.’
Vector scanned Lacuna’s face, crossed his arms, let out a slow breath. It became clear why Lacuna wanted to bring Hannah along. ‘Personal pattern enhancer for each of you. Salladay and I will set up a spike to disrupt signals to their deflector system, and pull you out at the first sign of trouble.’
Cantina, Level 1
Destiny was able to transport each of them into empty bathroom stalls in a less-populated section of the Coldstream’s massive cantina. Even these were lacquered in luxury. Black marble floors and counters, gold-plated faucets, a sort of new take on art deco. Outside the bathroom they were greeted by an explosion of voice and space: this ‘cantina’ was in fact a massive atrium or concourse, from which the Coldstream’s massive crew and their families could attend the actual cantina or one of dozens of holosuites. Fountains, greenery, a holographic skylight high above.
‘What’d I tell ya,’ Lacuna said. ‘These fuckin admirals.’
‘Pierce was my brother’s first commanding officer,’ Hannah said. ‘I know jack shit about the guy, but from what little I picked up at family dinners, I’d guess this isn’t really Pierce’s speed.’
‘Regardless, this shit’s ridiculous.’
‘So what’s the plan? How are we gonna find Omen?’
Lacuna reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out three small black hexagonal emitter-looking devices. He tossed them in a haphazard triangle around them and said, ‘She’s gonna find us.’
With that, he pulled out his tricorder and tapped a command. A bright red forcefield buzzed into existence around them, then went transparent. Before Hannah could ask what the fuck he thought he was doing, the Coldstream’s security team descended upon their corner of the atrium, all of them barking to put their hands up and surrender—and calling Hannah Ziredac by name.
‘Oh, you motherfucker,’ Hannah said.
Lacuna smiled. ‘Biometrics. Gotta love em.’
The security officers continued to bark, and when their rules of engagement allowed for stun shots, they took them. Lacuna’s forcefield absorbed each one, weakening not a whit.
The lead security officer slapped his badge. ‘Mosté to Trekar. We have Ziredac and her accomplice surrounded on the atrium, but we can’t make a dent in their forcefield.’
I’m on my way. Don’t let them leave.
‘Hey, Mosté,’ Lacuna said. ‘We just wanna have a little chat with Commander Mungoti. Can you get her down here real quick?’
Mosté kept his phaser trained on them. ‘We’re the only people you’re gonna be talking to. What do you want with Mungoti? She got something you can fence to the Ferengi?’
‘It’s really important, Mosté,’ Lacuna said. ‘I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but the fate of the galaxy kind of depends on it.’
Mosté laughed. ‘What is this, Star Wars?’
‘Look, it’s like this: these shield emitters are based on Borg technology, from the 28th century. You could smack it with a photon torpedo and it wouldn’t even blow our hair back. So either you bring us Mungoti—for just a chat—or we live right here in your big fancy fuckin mall or whatever this is, until the galaxy gets destroyed. Which won’t be that long. Your choice.’
‘Sorry, buddy, I don’t buy it. Not from someone associating with Hannah Ziredac.’
Hannah rolled her eyes. ‘Fuck’s sake.’
Security Chief Trekar arrived two minutes later, but he did not arrive alone. With him was the Coldstream’s captain: a tall, gray-haired man whom, to Hannah, looked about as ready to talk about golf as Lacuna did. Only this old dude had the panache and pompousness of a captain holding him up straight. He sauntered close to the forcefield, reached out, flicked it.
‘Of all the things I could’ve asked for to shake things up around here,’ the captain said, ‘I get the most prolific thief since Harcourt Mudd.’
‘Ew, don’t compare me to that guy; he was a sex-trafficker.’ It wasn’t the first time someone had brought that guy up like he was fucking Robin Hood. Drove Hannah batshit when people idealized and lionized historical figures without knowing the whole story.
‘Well, regardless, you’re here. And we’re gonna bring you in.’
‘I think you’re over your skis a little, Captain,’ Lacuna said. ‘It’s McQuarrie, right? Hayes McQuarrie? You’re not exactly a stranger to impulse and shortsightedness, are you. Hence why you’re running the Love Boat instead of something a little more effectual.’
McQuarrie turned to Lacuna, got as close to the forcefield as he could. ‘You’re not doing yourself any favors.’
‘And you’ve got nothing on Ziredac. No one has. Record’s clean.’
‘Not anymore. She snuck onboard a Federation starship—an admiral escort, to boot. The admiralty don’t take kindly to threats to their wellbeing. She’ll be lucky to get out of a rehab colony before her fortieth birthday. This, coming so soon after she just so happened to be on the ship that discovered the murders of her brother and his crew.’
Hannah said, ‘The fuck are you implying?’
‘Oh, it’s not just me,’ McQuarrie said. ‘A lot of people are talking about it. Jason was your biggest threat, even after the feds had to back off. Then he winds up dead, and you’re there to discover it.’
‘You piece of shit. You’re all pieces of shit, all of you Starfleet brass with your fucki—’
Lacuna sidled between them. ‘Let’s get back on-track. First off, Hannah had nothing to do with the Meridian murders. We’re actually on a mission to stop the killer from doing something even worse. Like I was telling your boy over there, you can’t get through this shield, and we’re not going anywhere until we have a chat with Mungoti. We need her.’
‘What does Commander Mungoti have that you need?’
‘Let us talk to her. I’ll need one minute.’
McQuarrie badged. ‘McQuarrie to Benson. Anything?’
Benson here. That shield is something else, Captain. I don’t think he’s bluffing about its capabilities. I can’t get even the smallest handle on the phasic patterns.
‘Keep me updated. McQuarrie out.’ The captain ruminated for a moment. ‘I let you talk to Mungoti, we keep Ziredac.’
‘No deal. We need her too.’
‘Then you don’t talk to Mungoti.’
‘I’ll talk to them,’ came a voice behind him. When McQuarrie turned, Lacuna and Hannah saw the woman from the holos: Lieutenant Commander Chi’neh Mungoti, Chief Tactical Officer of the USS Coldstream, and former Section 31 agent codename Omen. She was taller than Hannah expected, and when not smiling for her official Starfleet holo, she bore a rather austere countenance.
‘Ms. Mungoti, I don’t recommen—’
‘Give us two minutes. It’ll be alright.’
Everyone else backed away as Chi’neh Mungoti approached the forcefield. She regarded Hannah with little more than curiosity, but her eyes locked on Lacuna. After a swollen moment she said, ‘What do you want?’
Lacuna stepped close and said, just above a whisper, ‘The Emissary’s back, Omen. He’s going to bring the Fall back. We have to find him, and take him out.’
Mungoti took a long breath through her nose.
Ready Room: Hayes McQuarrie, Captain
‘You’re kidding me. You have to be joking. This is a joke.’
‘It’s not, Hayes. I’m going with them.’
Hayes McQuarrie turned around from his ready room window, wearing utter bewilderment. ‘You don’t know where they’re going! For all you know, they’re gonna… They’re gonna…’
‘This is serious, Hayes. What they said about the fate of the galaxy, it’s all true. I wish I could explain it further, but you’ll have to trust me. You trust me, don’t you?’
‘Of course I trust you.’
‘Then let me go. I don’t want to have to go AWOL. I will, if I have to.’
Hayes sighed, slouched, returned to his desk. ‘How serious is this, Chi’neh? I need details.’
‘I can’t give you very many.’
‘I just can’t.’
‘Give me what you can, then.’
Omen recounted as many details of the Fall as she could without tipping her hand. The report was brief. She focused on the severity of the enemy force, how it would take an entire fleet to bring down just one Fall ship, granted the Fall ship couldn’t fire its weapons. Her exposé on Sarreon bore a resemblance to the reasoning given by one Jack Leirone to Commodore Harper: that Sarreon would slip away if a starship came after him, that it would take a small team of special forces to root him out.
‘And why are you on this special forces team?’ Hayes asked.
‘I’m not a tactical officer for nothing.’
‘But…but you’re so new to it.’
‘Maybe not as new as you’d think.’
Hayes cocked his head. ‘What do you mean? What don’t I know about you?’
‘A lot. Now, we’re running out of time. Can I go?’
She saw his acquiescence before he did. Hayes McQuarrie was not the hardest man to read. Yet he skated on the pause for a long time, until he finally said, ‘Yeah.’
‘Thank you, sir. I’ll report back ASAP.’
‘So, the Atlantis is gonna hit this guy once you find him?’
‘That’s what I’m told.’
‘Have them give us a call when it’s time to go, then.’
‘You think Pierce’ll go for that?’
Hayes shrugged. ‘We’ll see.’