In another life, and another time, the Cardassian Crell Moset–known colloquially as “The Butcher of Bajor”–briefly thinks of his dead daughter before amputating the right arm of a twelve-year-old Bajoran girl without anaesthetic.
In another life, and another time, the Vulcan priestess Variel contemplates nothingness on the slopes of Mount Seleya, and is at peace. Several thousand miles away on the same planet, Dr Taurek calculates that his existence is no longer required, and unceremoniously administers a hypospray full of fast-acting neurotoxin. He is found dead before his medical replicator the next morning.
In another life, and another time, the Ferengi girl Angua stands naked beside her older husband, holding a tray of drinks for their guests, her mind–as always–millions of miles above them, among the stars.
In another life, and another time, the Andorian Maquis agent Ledus zh’Idrani grabs her empty grenade launcher and makes a last run for safety before Cardassian ground troops can reach her. She’s been holding the settlement for 48 hours without sleep, and her limbs are tired, and as disruptor fire ricochets off the rocks to either side of her she realises that these are her last free moments before they take her in or kill her.
In another life, and another time, the El-Aurian formerly known as Terkim stands before the council on New Romulus, promising that she will make them gods.
In another life, and another time, the engineer known only as Hammer sits outside his hut on the Australian outback, and does not think about the dreams he has had these past few nights.
In another life, and another time, Admiral Hope Mill sits in her office at the end of a long day, gazing at the map of the Federation still bright on her desk display screen, its borders safe and its people free, for now.
And in another life, Captain Meihong Lin of the USS Nightingale looks into the stars on her bridge viewscreen, the whole universe bright and open before her like an outstretched hand.
But in this life, former Starfleet Captain Meihong Lin is pissed out of her head, and at this point in time, she could not give less of a shit about alternate timelines, staring as she is down the barrels of about fifteen rather nasty-looking guns.
She’s not convinced that all of them will fire reliably, or at least, not in the right direction. Her time in Starfleet Ground Corps has somewhat spoilt her when it comes to weaponry, and the mercenaries of Nimbus III–also known as “the arsehole of the alpha quadrant”–do not, understandably, have access to the quite the same level of sophistication. Nevertheless, she’s quite certain that if her visitors take it upon themselves to fire, then at least two or three of them will hit her, and that is an eventuality Meihong wishes to avoid. She raises her hands in a gesture which she hopes is more diplomatic than drunk.
“Gentlemen,” she says. “And ladies. And others. I realise now that my actions may have been… inadvisable. And I’d like to offer my most sincere apologies. I will, obviously, make reparations to your esteemed employer, and will of course return the… um… his Romulan friend… as soon as I find her. Unfortunately, the young lady seems to have absconded with all my currency, so if I could perhaps enlist your help in locating…”
The biggest and ugliest of the mercenaries, a tall Klingon woman whom she has nicknamed “Bruiser” in her head, raises her rifle pointedly. It looks like some kind of jury-rigged Romulan disruptor, and Meihong wonders idly why Bruiser isn’t on the front lines shooting Starfleet officers with the rest of her Klingon friends. Meihong decides not to voice this particular thought.
“We’ll deal with the girl later,” hisses Bruiser through pointed teeth. “Right now, we’re more interested in why a Starfleet Officer is selling weapons to Orion agents in the middle of the Neutral Zone.”
“…okay. Well. I can see where some of the confusion has come from,” says Meihong, who had been expecting a completely different accusation. “First, I actually left Starfleet four years ago–”
“So you say,” interrupts Bruiser.
“–Right, yes, of course. But if you consider the state of Starfleet at the minute, it– wait. Did you say Orion agents? Because I don’t remember talking to any Orions. Actually, I was specifically avoiding Orions this evening. In fact for the last few hours I’ve been avoiding anything green, just in case.”
“Don’t toy with me, Starfleet.”
“Former Starfleet! Former!” Meihong raises her arms a little higher. “And just to be clear, I don’t know who told you I was dealing weapons, but whoever it is clearly hasn’t seen my account balance. Because I don’t sell guns. I just… shoot them. Well. I use them to shoot people. But not right now. Right now, I don’t have a gun. Because as you may have noticed, I’m in my underwear.”
“The tiny human talks too much,” mutters an unidentifiable humanoid next to Bruiser. “Should we just blow off her legs like the boss suggested?”
Bruiser appears to consider whether his proposition is in line with contemporary Klingon conceptions of honour. Meihong waves her hands hurriedly.
“No! No legs! Listen, I’m not bullshitting you! I can prove it!”
The Klingon woman laughs hoarsely, and cocks her head at a young lad at the edge of the group. He throws a rudimentary PADD onto the floor between them. Carefully, Meihong edges toward it, still keeping both hands raised, although she has to requisition one to pick up the device. Her forehead creases.
“What is this? My account balance? Look, I know it’s been cleared. That Romulan girl took my biometrics while I was asleep. In fact, I’m pretty sure she slipped me something…”
“We see through your lies, human scum.” Bruiser bares her teeth, all five hundred of them, or so it seems to Meihong. “Didn’t think to clear your transfers, did you?”
“Clear my–oh. Oh shit.” Because she has just worked out what she’s looking at. Close to three and a half million credits, transferred under the name Meihong Lin last night and routed to various off-planet bank accounts. And right now, standing in her crappy rented house on this desolate shit-hole of a planet with a group of trigger-happy mercenaries ready to collect her legs, there isn’t a damn thing she can do to clear her name.
Unless, of course, fate chooses that moment to lob a grenade through the window. Which it does.
Captain Singh is getting too old for this shit.
And the inside of the USS Madrid looks about as bad as he feels. Oh, it runs, of course, but at the last spacedock they only had the resources for essential repairs, not aesthetic ones. Which means big holes in the bulkheads with circuitry showing through them and consoles held together with repair tape. And a brig with a huge malfunction in the air circulation system, which essentially means no brig. Which is why his detainees are currently sitting at the table in the briefing room, looking for all the world like they’re here for a tea party, if tea parties involved a Starfleet security detail standing guard.
Had his ship been on the front lines, maybe it would be different. He’d have a proper brig. With air and everything. Then again, he might also be getting blown to bits by Klingons, so maybe he should be thankful for small mercies.
“I told you again,” says the annoying grey-haired Trill woman. “We’re doctors.”
“In an unregistered ship,” replies Captain Singh. “Leaving Cardassian space. Carrying contraband.”
“Carrying medical supplies.”
“Which, under current Federation rationing laws, means contraband.” Singh is tired. He’s had four hours’ sleep, his beard is all over the place, and his turban looks as if it was applied by a cat. But as his First Officer comes in with the dossiers from Starfleet, he tries his best to look dignified.
“Thank you, Commander. I’ll see you back on the bridge. Okay, let’s see. Oh yes, Captain Reta Dayeb. That’s you, isn’t it?” Singh scrolls down. “Joined Trill, exiled by your homeworld twenty years ago, wanted for unauthorized entry into Cardassian Space and the neutral zone. Not exactly popular are you? And you-” he continues, talking over Reta’s protests to focus on the smirking dark-skinned woman next to her- “gave your name as – ‘Ura Bellend’ – oh yes, very funny. Well, your DNA test indicates you’re not human, as you claimed, and while we don’t have any record of you on our database, you can rest assured that we’ll be running full biometric scans to work out exactly whose problem you are.”
His gaze moves to a scowling Ferengi girl. “As for you, Miss Angua, there’s a missing persons report with your name on it, as well as a warrant on Ferenginar for your arrest. Apparently they take assault and theft pretty seriously where you come from. We’ll be taking you home just as soon as I clear it with Command.
“Right then.” He looks at the blond white guy sitting next to her. “Another ‘Record not found.’ Fantastic. Just what we needed. Hammer, is it? Is that Mr Hammer, or…?”
“Just Hammer,” replies the man amiably, with a distinct Australian twang.
“Just Hammer. Great. And finally, Dr Taurek.” Singh’s eyes scan down the Vulcan’s dossier and he is silent for a second. “You know, I’ve seen a lot of stuff in this job, but this takes the cake. I mean, are your shipmates aware of all this? And they let you practice medicine?”
Taurek stares back at him, his expression neutral, but whatever Captain Singh is about to say next is cut off by ‘Ura Bellend’ saying, “Um, can I send a transmission?”
“Can you what?” Singh squints at her. “No, you can’t send a transmission. This is serious. What you people are doing amounts to treason.”
“I actually already sent one. I just wanted to follow up.”
“You – when did you send a transmission? No, forget it, I don’t even want to know. In a few hours you’ll be someone else’s problem.”
Ura Bellend–this is what Singh is now calling the woman in his head–scratches behind one ear. “It’s just I have a friend in the Federation diplomatic corps, and she might be trying to call me back. Could you at least have someone monitor incoming transmissions to the Frontier?”
“I assure you, Ms… Ms Bellend, we’re doing that already. Now if you’ll excuse me-”
“Uh, Captain.” It’s his First Officer again, and she looks worried. “Admiral Mill is on the line.”
“Fucking brilliant!” Singh slams the PADD down on the table and throws up his hands. “Right, put it through to my ready room. Is there anything else anyone wants to throw at me today? Maybe another rat infestation or something?”
“We have some kittens,” offers Angua. “Kittens are kind of like rats.”
“No, sir.” His Bolian First Officer shakes her head. “It’s not for you. It’s for them.”
In books, holonovels, and 2D movies, when there’s an interruption–such as a flash grenade shattering the window, for example–the bad guys always pause for a second to allow the hero to take cover. For Meihong, the reality is slightly different. She barely has time to drop to the ground before the mercenaries start shooting, one beam missing her leg by a hair, and in the ensuing explosions and chaos manages to cram into a most unheroic position under her bed. If this thing catches fire, I’m fucked, she thinks as she scrambles for her spare phaser rifle.
The weapon shocks her hand as she touches it, and there is a moment of panic before she realises that the shooting has stopped. Someone has activated a dampening field, which means either Starfleet or Romulans, and right now, Meihong isn’t sure which possibility is worse. Summoning all her strength, she rocks the bed onto its side and takes cover behind it just in time to crush the hands that had been reaching for her moments before.
Apart from her now-useless gun, there’s not much of use under Meihong’s bed apart from a few dirty socks and a bottle of Acamarian Brandy which she’d forgotten about. She debates whether it would be more useful to take a shot or make a Molotov cocktail. It’s a difficult decision, because Acamarian Brandy is actually pretty expensive, but the sound of another explosion forces her hand. She’s halfway into stuffing a sock into the neck of the bottle when a familiar voice catches her attention. Her ears are ringing from the explosions, but she can just about make out something that sounds like “Cpphmn Lin! Yrr alive?”
“What? I mean yeah! Yeah I’m alive!”
A blue shape dives behind the bed and Meihong is poised to give it the back end of the bottle before she realises who it is. “Ledus! Fuck me!”
The Andorian woman mouths something like “Maybe later, baby!” and then makes a punching motion with her fist before indicating over the bed. Meihong doesn’t need to be told twice. If there was anything missing from last night, it was a good old-fashioned fistfight. She pulls the sock out of her brandy bottle, takes a swig, and then, still holding it, leaps into the fray.