Posted on April 12th, 2023 by Nico Slate
The explosions from the other side of the door were growing in frequency and intensity. The metal creaked under the stress of the constant barrage of weapons fire as the two marines, two bodyguards, and the sovereign leader finished the discussion of their plans. Walora was, obviously, hesitant about running for fear that it showed weakness in her authority, but after er Nico’s blunt explanation that being dead was the ultimate weakness for her people, she relented.
“I plan on writing a strongly worded letter to the Trinoran leadership after all this.” Walora said as she moved across the quarters towards an armoire against the wall. “This is not how civilized people conduct negotiations. I highly doubt that I’ll see a peace accord come of this.”
“What was your first clue?” Carlos muttered under his beath, quickly silenced by a darted gaze from Nico.
“Madame President, we need to move.”
“I’m aware, Lieutenant, thank you. But I can’t move quickly in night attire.”
Nico was about to object when he saw Walora lean forward, grab a handful of flowing fabric from her mid-leg and pull. The stitching tore efficiently in an almost straight line right above her kneecap and she discarded it nonchalantly on the bed. From the drawer to her right came a black and silver pistol of sorts. She tapped a button on the side to power it, adjusted the sight on top, and put it in a holster she elegantly draped about her waist all in the matter of seconds.
Carlos’ jaw hit the floor. The two Starfleet marines watched the proper and prim President Walora of Rylana VII turn almost instantly into a guerilla fighter. Nico could feel Carlos’s aura emanating signs of affection and attraction and he internally smiled. Strong and powerful women were Carlos’ thing, apparently.
“You’re staring, Mr. Ramirez.” Walora said as she put her hair up into a bun behind her head. “I grew up on the Southern Plateau. If you’re unfamiliar with that, it wasn’t city-living by any stretch.”
Walora’s sudden change in appearance and demeanor had lightened the moment, to be sure, but that slight reprieve was destroyed by a cacophonous rumble and the shaking of the Presidential Palace as a whole. Carlos braced himself against the bookcase as Nico steadied his own balance on the bed knob. The bodyguards looked around with concern and the President scowled.
“Those are atmospheric torpedoes. You are under attack from orbit.” Nico was already looking at his tricorder. “I can’t get a reading on trajectory, we’re still being jammed. Starfleet has a limited space presence here right now, only a couple of ships, but I can’t imagine that they’d allow bombardment like this. Not a good sign.”
“Then, like you said, Lieutenant, let’s move.” President Walora was headed towards the door onto the terrace. She keyed in her code, stepped gingerly into the night air, pulled up the maintenance hatch, and proceeded down the ladder. The bodyguards scrambled after her not wanting to be left behind. Carlos moved to follow, but was stopped by a palm on his chest.
“Carlos, this isn’t good. Our primary concern is Lady Walora’s safety and getting her to safety.”
“Nic, I know…”
“Carlos, this isn’t the time for us to not be on the same page. Do you understand?”
He nodded, visually perturbed at the questioning of his duty, “Yes, sir.”
“Good, I’ll take lead, you take rear to make sure nothing is following us. Let the bodyguards flank and take care of the President. If you see anything at all, we need to haul ass. I think our best bet is to get to the barracks and equipment depot that we set up on the outskirts of the palace perimeter.” Nico showed Carlos the location on the tricorder’s readout display.
Carlos bobbed his head in agreement, “There’s a lot of space between here and there.”
Nico didn’t respond as he slung his phaser rifle over his shoulder, grabbed ahold of the ladder on both sides, pressed his feet onto the outside vertices, and slid down the three stories before hitting the bottom. He looked at the President who had taken up a position behind a shrub with her pistol facing across the courtyard. She looked more determined than ever. “We’re going to cross the courtyard and take the side path around to the hydroponics area.”
“That pathway is very exposed, Mr. Slate,” Walora noted, “You have a solid stone building on one side and dense foliage as a wall on the rother. If anyone is at the end of that walkway, we have no cover.”
“I’m aware, Madame President, but the other pathway leads around to the patio next to the Grand Reception hall, which is adjacent to Checkpoint Beta that has already been overrun. My guess is the Trinorans are holding that position. We take the path of least resistance.” Nico was already trotting past her as he moved to the alleyway he had previously mentioned. “We go where they are not.”
The group moved as one in Nico’s footsteps. Carlos backpedaled from behind, his eyes darting back and forth as his phaser rifle’s barrel mirrored the sweep. The bodyguards, without guidance, moved beside their leader in pursuit. The sounds of distant explosions echoed in the once still of the night and flashes of orange lit up the sky reflecting off the low-hanging clouds that had rolled in. The serenity of the palace and its surrounding grounds had turned into a warzone.
They all traversed the length of the building’s side without confrontation, much to Nico’s delight. They all stopped at the corner as Nico surveyed the small hydroponics area, finding it empty and without obstacles, and proceeded to cross it to another vantage point.
“Clear behind.” Carlos stated simply, taking up a defensive posture behind a bay of what looked like cabbage. “They don’t seem to be following.”
“Yet,” Nico leaned around the corner and gazed out at the garden spread out before them.
“That’s a lot of ground to cover, Lieutenant, and no cover.” One of the bodyguards said.
Nico’s eyes panned the wide-open space: lush flower beds were sprawled throughout, swaying in the breeze, perfectly manicured to frame the cobblestone pathway. Marble statues in honor of Rylanan leaders of the past were scattered amongst the greenery and stood stoically in resilience emulating Walora’s position on the current skirmish. A quick gaze upwards saw several Trinoran soldiers keeping an eye on the landscape below.
“Looks like four or five sentries with eyes on the field.”
Walora pointed and swept her hand tracing the wall in the distance. “There’s no exit from the gardens into the city. Solid stone.”
“Just when we need a break in security…” Carlos’ voice came from behind them.
The other bodyguard spoke up: “There’s a set of two trees in the far northeast corner. We could climb up and over the wall there, although there’s nothing on the other side but a straight drop to the pavement. It’ll be a rough landing, but we’d be off the grounds and close to the Marine’s staging grounds.”
Nico shook his head, “We’d be sitting ducks trying to get there.”
“If I turn myself over to them in the name of continuing negotiations perhaps they’d cease fire, and we can bring this to a quick resolution.” Walora’s words rang with the best of intentions. However, they were tainted by her own misgivings of the possibility of success.
“They’ve already killed Starfleet personnel, invaded your residence, and are attacking your capitol city from above. My guess is that wouldn’t help. Getting you to safety with our main regiment is the best course of action.” Nico stepped back away from the corner and a bodyguard took up his post. He paced back towards Carlos. “We need a diversion and cover fire.”
“Comms are still down; we can’t get any backup.”
“Okay, that run is a good hundred meters. There’s a couple of points where we can hunker down if we take fire, but the protection covers two people, three at most. We will need to move in groups.” Nico’s mind raced, his foresight explaining to his brain the possible outcomes. This was a gamble, but he saw no other choice. “Carlos, you lay down cover fire and bring up the back. Do not stop firing. You’re going to have to split your fire amongst the targets across the entire length of that balcony, so watch ahead of where you’re shooting.”
Carlos replaced the bodyguard at the corner, preparing to be the first off the line. “Understood.”
“You,” Nico motioned to one of the Rylanans, “What’s your name?”
The other stepped up, “Quent.”
“Who’s the faster runner?”
Garen raised his hand, albeit sheepishly. “I am, sir.”
“Great. You and I are first. We’re going to sprint it as fast as possible to that far statue, there, the one with the upstretched hand. Do not, and I repeat, do not try to fire on the run. We get to that point as fast as possible while Ramirez lights them up.” He was met with an affirmative thumbs up. “Once we’re there, then we start our suppression fire back towards that terrace while Quent and the President head to the statue of the one holding the planet-like stone, there.”
Carlos chimed in, “That’s a lot of time in the open, Nic, shouldn’t you all run at the same time? I can only sweep between those five so fast, and once they realize what’s happening their focus narrows and we lose the element of surprise.”
He was right. Multiple moving targets would be the best defensive strategy. Nico’s current plan would leave them all lingering in the line of fire for far too long as they attempted to leapfrog each other on the way to the wall. Then again, any plan was going to run a certain amount of risk, and they didn’t have much time to put anything into action. “Fair point.”
“We need a bigger diversion than just cover fire and hoping our athleticism prevails,” Walora contributed.
She was right, too. Without air support, or support of any kind, they were vulnerable. But what else could they do? Again, Nico’s brain revved into high gear as he pondered their predicament. He rested his hands on one of the hydroponic alcoves and lowered his head in thought. He drummed his fingers against the cold steel and felt his fingers slip into the moistened soil.
He looked up, everything clicking together. He whipped out his tricorder and scanned the chemical components of the fertilizing agent contained in the unit. “That’s what I’m talking about. Yes.”
“Lieutenant?” Walora asked inquisitively.
Nico was already well on his way to disassembling the front part of the bay’s irrigation and nutritional dispersion system. “Garen, grab me five of those spherical pods off that rack there. Carlos, open the back of your tricorder and remove the three input modulators.” Nico tossed aside the panel he’d removed and broke open his own tricorder, showing Carlos what to do.
Walora was one step ahead of Nico as she realized what he was doing. She stepped over to the other pod and pulled off the overhead emitters one by one. She accessed the internal circuitry and began to adjust the nodes to different ports. “I know where you’re going with this.”
Glancing up, Nico was impressed that she was doing exactly what he was going to do next. “Madame President, I must say, you continue to impress me.”
“I wasn’t always a politician and global leader.” She handed him the adjusted module with a prideful smile and moved back to the corner to continue watching for enemies.
Garen dropped the requested items next to Nico and joined his President. Carlos handed the engineer the removed parts of tricorder and knelt down. “What’s the plan?”
“The diversion. The soil here, when the emitters activate, purifies down to the base ingredients for pollination and growth. The process removes the impurities in the fertilizer and renders any volatile agents inert, in essence creating the highest concentration of nutrients. The President adjusted the emitters to invert that process, creating a purely combustible compound.” Nico talked as he worked, filling the small globes with soil.
Carlos was catching on, “Garden bomb.”
“So to speak. These balls are meant to be embedded into the soil and react on a time-delay for consistent and even fertilization. With the tricorder modulators also inverted in polarity, they give off power that is too strong for the emitters. The emitters will super-charge and turn the material inside into a crude explosive that forms the base of an impromptu grenade.” A couple of connections and clicks later, Nico had five homemade pyrotechnic devices.
“Bad ass. One each.” Carlos started handing them out and then started examining his own. “You swapped the actuator horizontal so it’s not connected to the emitter.”
“If it was vertical we’d all be dead. The horizontal position doesn’t connect to the emitter until you press it down. That aligns the power supply from the modulator to the emitter, thus completing the circuit and feeds power to the emitter. We’ve got some build up time, five seconds to seven seconds tops, to throw it.” Nico joined the rest of the group at the corner and processed the best use of the grenades as it related to their galloping across the field.
Carlos chuckled slightly, “And this tactical engineering-slash-gardening-slash-demolition lesson brought to you by 1st Lieutenant Nico Slate. He’s available for birthday parties, weddings, and the occasional escape from hostile takeover.”
“Same plan as before. Garen and I will head to our first point. Carlos, you toss your grenade first onto the terrace above. I’ll lob a grenade onto the terrace as well, halfway down, as we go. That will take care of the guys directly above us. And the debris should provide a smoke screen to hide Carlos and the first part of the run.” Nico pointed as he spoke, “Madame President, you and Quent follow almost immediately. When you get to your position, throw your grenades as far as you can west to draw their attention.”
Mutual understanding and gestures of agreement answered him as he continued. “Lady Walora, you keep moving towards Garen and I’s position. At that point, Carlos will move to Quent’s position and will continuing firing. You keep moving to the treeline as fast as you can go.” Nico waited for her to acknowledge him, “Once Walora passes Garen and I, Ramirez and Quent will move. They will continue past us and Garen will throw his grenade short, creating another plume of smoke to mask our escape. We’ll all scale and hop the wall to safety.”
“This sounds easier said than done.”
“It always is.” Carlos said, tossing his grenade up and down in his hand. Nico could feel the uncertainty coming off him like a raging river of nervousness, but it was masked by an awkward calm. The exuberance and confidence the young lieutenant had shown early was still there, but shrouded – no steeled – now in the acceptance of the direness of the situation.
Nico double-checked his phaser rifle, motioning for everyone to do the same to their respective weapons. “We go on three. And, Madame President, I apologize in advance for the damage to your residence.”
“Feel free to send the bill to Starfleet,” Carlos added.
“We’ll call it even for saving our lives, yeah?”
“We’re not there yet, but you all heard her say that.” Nico slyly grinned. “Ready? One, two, three!”
“Heads up!” Carlos pressed the button on his grenade, the orange indicator flashing in response, and he heaved it with all his strength upwards. It disappeared out of view onto the walkway above. Confused shouting immediately followed before a mighty blast sent dust and debris raining down around them. “Go!”
Garen and Nico took off like bats out of hell. Nico had taken a half dozen strides before he turned and launched his own grenade into the balcony area halfway down the side of the building. More frantic movement ensued from figures that Nico couldn’t make out in the haze before another explosion ripped apart a section of the banister. In what seemed like no time, Garen and he had reached their destination. Looking back, he saw Walora and Quent moving as he had directed.
From the corner of the wall from whence they had come, Nico saw repeated flares of orange phaser energy. Cover fire was commencing. Garen and Nico followed suit as the enemy’s barrage started in their general direction. An eternity past as Quent and Walora, obviously not as fast as the forerunners, made their objective and hurled their devices across the now-pock-marked scenery. The detonation of those grenades drew more Trinoran fire. The plan was working.
Walora continued at full speed towards him, Carlos was moving towards Quent, and Garen was firing without abandon. Nico continued firing as Walora raced past him towards the wall to freedom and Nico took off in pursuit. Quent took off in their direction as Carlos overtook the statue in which he hid, a blast from the terrace obliterating the planet figure of stone into a million pieces.
The trees they were meant to climb were right ahead. From a distance the low-hanging branches appeared to be just that, low. As they drew closer it became obvious that they were going to be out of reach of the President. She tried scaling the trunk but couldn’t find a grip. She attempted to jump but was unable to grasp a branch. After all this, Nico would be damned if they were thwarted by an arboreal impediment. He shouldered his rifle, grabbed the President hastily by the waist, and practically threw her upwards. “Climb!”
“Throw it, Garen!” Carlos’ shout rang clear over the sounds of phaser fire.
Nico turned to see Quent pass Garen, several meters in front of Carlos. Garen cocked his arm back, the grenade’s actuator light blinking, and prepared to throw. Through the settling detritus of the initial grenades’ destruction, a phaser blast traversed from the lower level across garden grounds and impacted squarely into the Rylanan’s chest. Falling backwards the grenade dropped haphazardly to the ground, the blinking speeding up as the overload started.
“Garen!” Walora screamed from the branch above, just shy of the top of the wall. The pain in her voice was evident.
Quent stopped,and headed back towards Garen’s motionless body. “No, Quent, run!” Nico hollered, not moving from his position behind the President.
Carlos was reading Nico’s mind as he speared the bodyguard to the ground, covering Quent’s body as the grenade exploded. More dirt and pieces of grass spread out from a small crater where Garen’s body had once laid. Nico felt the plethora of emotions from his comrades, but he had to remain undeterred. There would be time to grieve… if they made it out of there. The phaser fire was now aimed directly at them as Quent and Carlos made their way to their feet and joined them at the wall.
“Madame President, go now!”
One by one he watched as they leapt the wall and disappeared. First was Lady Walora, second was her last remaining bodyguard, and followed by Carlos. Nico’s eyes drifted back to the field of chaos laid out before him and saw the Trinorans moving swiftly in their direction, their weapons still firing. He grabbed the top of the wall, swung his leg over, lowered himself as far as he could go, and released.
His feet hit the pavement below and he buckled into the wall. That was a long drop. He turned around and was met with a barrel of a phaser rifle pressed firmly into his solar plexus. “Don’t… move…” The man before him whispered as he held a finger to his lips.
The uniform on the officer fit well, but it wasn’t Starfleet and it wasn’t Rylanan. It was Trinoran.
Nico quickly scanned his surroundings. Quent was standing in front of President Walora with a weapon pointed at him as well. Carlos was on his knees, in obvious pain, with two additional soldiers looming over him. Raising his hands in surrender, Nico’s stomach jumped into his throat, but he swallowed hard and regained his composure.
The Trinoran motioned to his squad and they all moved in unison across the street into a secluded enclosure between two dark buildings. Two men helped Carlos up and assisted in him limping along with the group. Nico surmised that Ramirez had busted his leg while trying to stick his landing. Before he had a chance to check on his companion, the mysterious Trinoran held up a hand and everyone froze.
About to object, Nico paused when he heard voices approaching.
“This is where they went over! Keep moving, three-by-three, one group north, west, and one east.” A platoon of Trinorans passed into view. As quickly as they arrived, they had disappeared; they were on the hunt for Nico and his compatriots, no doubt.
Nico was a bit confused as to why he saw Trinorans coming after them, but they were being aided by people in the same garb. “What the hell is going on?”
The Trinoran in command turned to face Lady Walora, “This is not the doings of our leadership, Madame President. There has been a split, a fracture. The attack on your palace was not sanctioned by the Trinoran delegation. They did not arrive for negotiations because they were detained. There’s more to the story, but we need to get you to safety.”
Walora held a stern gaze on the officer, taking in his words. There was a moment of silence as she reflected on his statement that, up until now, seemed highly implausible. “Lieutenant Slate?” Walora said, turning in his direction. “What do you think?”
Nico knew that Betazoids could tell when people were lying, but his skills were surface deep. He couldn’t tell. He was being put into a position to make a decision – a life or death decision, possibly – and he had no instinct on which way to go. Carlos was hurt, Garen was dead, and the leader of the Rylanan people was relying on his judgement.
“We’d like our weapons back… if you are here to help us.”
The words hung in the air as the Trinoran soldiers glanced warily back and forth at each other. There was uncertainty amongst them as they all looked to their superior officer for guidance. The seconds ticked by as the leader contemplated his own decision before finally nodding. The weapons were returned, but begrudgingly. “We need to go,” he said, moving off down the darkened street.
Nico felt slightly more confident in his choice, but only slightly. “Lead on.” The group moved off with the Trinoran commander in front, Nico’s group followed with Quent assisting the injured Carlos, and a pair of Trinoran officers bringing up the rear. While they were told they were being helped, it still felt like a prisoner escort. Regardless, they were in no place to protest.
The one thing that mattered was that President Walora was still safe. For now.