Star Trek: The Planet Pirates At the Stars' Core!

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Admiral Richard Clarkson was a tall man, wide and somewhat thick-bodied, practically overflowing the hard plastic chair at the head of the conference table. To one side, he fiddled with a pile of memory squares, most with the red or double-red stripes of military secrets. To the other, a plasteel window showed the majestic sweep of a Galactic spiral arm, filling half the view field with densely clustered light.

 In front of him was a star cube, projecting a three-dimensional map of the part of the Galaxy immediately surrounding Starbase Five, where he now presided over a meeting of what were now, as of a few hours ago, his officers.

 “Right,” he said without preamble. “Some of you know each other, but not all of you do, so I’ll do the introductions once from the top.

 “To my right, Captain Riva Tavor, USS Agamemnon. She’s that whacking great beast you passed on the way insystem; when they built this place they never counted on having to fit a 2000-foot battleship inside! Her Tactical Officer, Sgt. Thark, and Security Officer, Ensign Smith.”

 Riva Tavor was a young Vulcan-looking woman with sharply upswept eyebrows. Thark was a hulking Rigellian, purple and blue with an electric blue buzz-cut. The collar of his Starfleet formal jacket looked to be actively cutting into his redwood neck; he sat unnaturally straight, clearly unused to being among so many officers. Smith was a clean-cut blond of medium height, build, handsomeness, mass, volume, opacity and magnetic field. He seemed doomed.

 “Further down, Captain Hannah Westin, USS Fearless, and her First, Lt. Sojat. Fearless is a scout-explorer, light on armament but fast as thought. And if I recall correctly, she has more First Contact ribbons than any other ship except Enterprise, isn’t that right?”

 “We have seven, Admiral,” Hannah Westin said. She was tall for a Betazed, with that planet’s distinctive eyelid coloring and rich contralto voice. “Is that more than anyone else? I don’t keep track.”

 “It is more than any currently serving vessel, excepting of course the USS Enterprise,” said the red-haired Vulcan, Sojat, at her side. “And one fewer than the record-holder among ships no longer in service, USS Defiant.”

 “Yes,” muttered Clarkson. “Damned shame, what happened. Next is Captain Marc Peltier, USS Yorktown, and Commander B’fuselek, Communications. How the devil did a spark-jockey end up second in command, Peltier?”

 Peltier grinned rakishly. “Best man for the job, sir. Often on the frontier we find gold whenever we have to look for it.”

 B’fuselek nodded politely. He was Andorian, blue with white hair and twin antennae angled forwards. “I am honored to serve,” he said blandly.

 Clarkson forgot him instantly.

 “And this must be Commander Azunderkar,” he said, indicating a slim, tall white Cygnan in Engineering red. “My boffins can’t keep up with all the papers you churn out, Mr. Azunderkar. Anything unexpected we run into, I expect you’ll whip up some gadget with blinking lights and save the day, eh what?”

 Azunderkar shrugged, a gesture his spidery arms and delicate fingers made seem to go on forever.

 “Blinking lights are extra,” he said. “Although I could just wire some up ahead of time and sort of drape them over the console …”

 “Yes, fine, you techie types always know what’s what,” said Clarkson cheerfully. “Right, then on the other half of the table we have Captain Kit Walker of USS Phantom. Brings his dog along into deep space, don’ch’know! Capital idea, Captain. And his engineer, Lt. Klinklang. I say, A Klingon engineer. If your people can’t get a repair done on time, Klinklang, what do you do – execute them? Hey?”

 “I do NOT execute them,” Klinklang scowled with his voice. “The Captain has made that clear.”

 Clarkson was clearly joking – Klinklang, as far as anyone could tell, was not.

 “So we’ve got four ships – battleship, two cruisers, scout. Perfect for a reconnaissance in force, which is what this mission is going to start out as, anyway.”

 He reached into the star cube to highlight a pair of curving surfaces, about half of the cube’s width apart.

 “Here’s the Klingon border, as near as we can determine – it’s what they’ve claimed out loud, anyway.  And over here, about 6000 light-years away, is the edge of Kzinti space. I understand we’ve a couple of Kzinti in our own squadron, haven’t we?”

 Westin and Walker looked up at the same moment. “Oh, yes! They’re very …” after which each said a different word. Walker’s icy voice clearly said “versatile,” whereas Westin’s somewhat softer voice seemed to be enunciating the word “cuddly”.

 “Capital, first-rate, speak the foreign language and all that,” Clarkson went on. “Now, this territory here, in between, doesn’t officially belong to anyone. Many star systems, hardly explored. But settlers from the Federation are always interested in new worlds, and traders pass through here regularly.

 “They’ve complained of pirate raids for some time. Last one was eight months ago. Since then, we’ve had no complaints – BUT six ships have disappeared. Here’s their routes – so many blasted buttons! – ah.”

 The flight-paths crossed from Klingon to Kzinti space and everywhere in between, some exiting at the top of the cube.

“Admiral, if I may,” Peltier said, pointing. “Isn’t the Galactic Core off the top of the map?”

 “Some distance,” Clarkson grunted. “The Core Stars are thousands of lightyears deep before you reach the giant black hole at the Core. Many, many worlds, floods of radiation, warp signatures, et cetera. Clearly inhabited, but never explored. Not by Starfleet.”

 “Now, we think what’s happened is that the pirates have gotten stronger,” he said. “So we don’t get distress calls any more – they just take the ships. Or destroy them – Klingons take prizes, Kzinti don’t, and only God knows what aliens do to their prisoners.”

 “So my orders are, first, to proceed into the Gap and attack known pirate havens. Really stir things up, so if it is pirates, they know the Law’s in town and they have to back off.”

 “If that puts things to rights, well and good. But we don’t wait around to see. No, we head deeper into the Gap, right across this star desert,” he pointed into the cube again “into the outskirts of the Core Stars. We look for pirate bases, of course, but try to establish exactly who lives there, and what side they’re on – if any.”

 “Now what I’m considering is sending Fearless on ahead, with her greater speed and sensor reach. Fearless locates a pirate base, then we all swoop down and arrest anyone doing anything even the slightest bit wrong. Use up a good bit of unnecessary violence on empty ships, barren moons, that sort of thing. We know the Federation doesn’t wantonly slaughter bystanders, but we make it look as though it’s only by sheer luck the pirates are still living.”

 “Should make ripples across half the quadrant,” he finished, obviously pleased with himself. “So. Questions? Ideas? Let’s have it.”

 PELTIER: Admiral, its a sound plan. Since the Klingons and the Kzinti are both working the area, perhaps it might be wise to conduct some clandestine operations to destabilize their foothold and get them fighting each other. With their attention on each other, we might be able to slip by certain regions with a little less notice as we swoop in and clean the place up. 

CLARKSON: Cloak and dagger, eh, Peltier? Very good, very good. We'd need someone from the spy services to head that up. Let's see, who is that ... blast my eyes, I've lost the card! Well, you can ask Commander Bond in Intelligence before you leave. I'm putting you in charge of the black-mask stuff for this mission.