"I can't believe we got this far!" N'nik crowed. The trader was positively thrilled, and his skin glowed green.
"Shut up!" His brother, K'Narqk whispered harshly. "That guard could wake up at any minute! Let's just grab something and get out of here."
"All right, all right. Let me think." N'nik stared at the long row of small, compact containers on the shelf in front of him. "Hmm, this isn't what we're looking for."
"How can you tell?"
"I," N'nik drew himself up to his full stature, "am an authority on humans, their language and culture. They would never store anything like what we want in a small box." K'Narqk furrowed what passed for his eyebrows and glared at his sibling. "We want a fully functional Loral phased pulse device. That would be in the section under 'L'."
"Ell?" K'Narqk didn't seem convinced.
"It is a....um...symbol in the Earth language. It stands for..uh...it's not important. Let's just get it and go."
"That's the first intelligent thing you've said all day," K'Narqk muttered.
"I heard that!"
Both their voices were raised significantly to cause the sleeping guard to mumble in his sleep. They stared at each other in horror, and practically tripped over each other in the rush to get down the aisle.
"Ah!" N'nik exclaimed, skidding to a stop. "Here it is." He stared at one of the labels of the boxes in front of him. "You see? Here it says...uh...Loral...uh...something pulse--anyway, this is what we want."
"Oh." K'Narqk helped his brother haul the rather large box from off the shelf onto the floor. N'nik flipped open his rather antiquated communicator.
"N'nik to the ship," N'nik said urgently. "Beam us up!"
There was a chirp as a response, and the transporter beam started to fade them out just as the guard, hearing the noise, woke up.
"Huh? What? HEY!" he yelled, leaping to his feet.
"Ha ha!" N'nik said confidently.
The transporter beam spluttered. The guard charged down the hall. K'Narqk uttered a few curses in a variety of languages, his skin becoming very pea green, while N'nik's grew bright red. Finally the transporter kicked in, and they beamed out. The furious guard checked the label on the vacant spot. His own face grew ashen. He clicked his communicator.
"Chesholm to Admiral Ferris," he called out. "We have a problem."
Eleni Berczy sighed as she brushed the wisp of brown hair that had fallen, yet again, into her eyes. The heat from the laser welder caused sweat to trickle down her back. She was very uncomfortable.
The doors to her prison opened and the two brothers entered, carrying a large crate. She eyed them warily, squinting through the semi-darkness of the room.
"Surprise! We brought your next assignment!" N'Nik chirped, nearly going yellow with pride.
"You broke into the Starfleet supply warehouse?!" Eleni nearly rose out of her seat with shock. "But--but--how?"
"We just told their computer to let us in, then we drugged the guard. Or was it drugged the guard then convinced the computer?" K'Narqk mused.
"It doesn't matter. Starfleet will have your hides for this!" Eleni crossed her arms over her chest. "I refuse to be any part of this."
The two mix-matched brothers laughed. They paused, looked at each other, back at Eleni then burst out laughing again. They left Eleni's quarters, their hysterical whooping echoing around the halls.
She sighed again, deeply, resting her chin in her hands. "They're right," she admitted to herself and the empty quarters. "They're right. I'm in this far." With slow, resigned movements she pulled the heavy crate over to her. Then she realised something. She squinted through her makeshift eyesight enhancers, then gasped out loud: "That doesn't say Loral!"
"Put it through to my ready-room," Captain Picard answered, standing up from the command chair.
Data swivelled around to face him. "The communication is for me, sir."
"For you?" Picard replied, a little astonished. "I see. Well, you can still take it in my ready room, Commander." Data nodded, and with a few taps to the console, got up and went to the small ready-room to the left of the bridge.
"I wonder what it's about," mused Commander Riker.
"Wishing to be a fly on the wall, Number One?"
"I guess so. It's just hard to think of a personal message for Data." Riker answered. He stroked his beard thoughtfully. "I hope it's not to say that Data's got a few more evil twins running around."
"One was quite enough," agreed Picard.
At that moment Data entered the bridge. His facial expression, as always, did not reveal anything. He went straight to his seat at Ops and sat down.
Riker and Picard glanced at each other.
"Data," they both said.
The android turned around. "Yes?" he asked politely.
"Now, I understand if it's personal..." Picard began.
"Spill the beans, Data." Riker finished, smiling as he noticed the Captain looking at him.
Data thought for a moment. He decided the best route was, indeed to 'spill the beans'. (Although what anything had to do with overturning a few legumes he couldn't quite figure out.)
"My brother Lore has been stolen," he said bluntly.
Eleni could not believe her eyes. Not that she could literally, ever since her vision had gone haywire and forced her to wear the damn heavy, clunky, obsolete glasses--she shook her head slightly and stared again at the box. There, on the label, it said--there really was no mistaking it, even being half-blind--"Lore."
"Oh my," Eleni said, sitting back on her chair. She debated calling for the two idiots up deck to come and take the box back, but then she realised it might be nice to have some company here in her dank little hole. Then her commonsense countered with: Do you really want a deranged, psychotic android for company?
She looked around her "quarters" and flinched as someone walking up deck stumbled, causing the pipes on the ceiling to rattle and fling condensation on her head.
"Sure, why not?" she answered. She had developed a rather worrisome habit of talking to herself, but it was either that or talk to the twits upstairs. Besides, she told that pessimistic part of her, there was no guarantee she could even assemble him properly. Sure, she was a great engineer, but she didn't know whether or not robotics came under her field of expertise.
"Knock, knock," somebody announced, walking into her room uninvited. It was N'Nik. He sauntered over to her table. "What--not started yet?"
Eleni glared at him. "You've only been gone five minutes."
"So I have, so I have." N'Nik admitted, looking at the crate. He smiled at her. "So why haven't you started yet?"
Eleni rolled her eyes, and tried to get the lid off the box.
"Here, let me do it, puny woman!" N'Nik growled. He tried to heave the lid off, but it didn't budge.
"You might want to try releasing that other catch on the side," Eleni offered sweetly. N'Nik glared, but did so, and pried the lid off. As soon as he did, they both shrieked, N'Nik leaping backwards as he did so.
"There's a head in that box!" he yelled.
Eleni tried to calm herself down. She knew what to expect, and it still startled her. She lifted Lore's head out gingerly and laid it on the table.
"Why is there a head in that box instead of my phased pulse thingy?" N'Nik demanded.
"It's not a phaser, it's an android, that's why. You took the wrong crate," Eleni said, turning Lore's head around in her hands. It was very creepy, and yet strangely fascinating to do so.
"Why," N'Nik stared with absolute disgust, " would anybody want to pack tonsils in a box, still in the original packaging? That is disgusting, even for humans!"
Eleni looked up, confused. "What?" she asked. Then she caught on. "Android, not adenoid!" she yelled. "Now go away, and let me work."
N'Nik looked miffed, but decided that was the best course of action anyway. "I think I will let you work on this 'Android'," he sniffed, before turning around and heading out.
"Good idea," Eleni answered, but he had already left and slammed the door shut.
"Oh." Riker answered, a bit stunned. Data nodded, did a minute shrug, and turned back to his station.
"Data," Picard said, sighing. The android turned around again. "What exactly did the admiral say?" Data opened his mouth to speak, but Picard held up a hand to stop him. "Not verbatim, Data."
Data stopped, nodded, then started again. "He said that I should be careful as if Lore is reactivated he will probably want to kill me."
Picard and Riker looked at each other. Data, assuming the conversation was now complete, turned around and resumed his work.
"Data," both COs said again.
Data turned yet again.
"Did the admiral say what you are to do?" Picard asked, trying not to become exasperated. Data looked thoughtful for a moment.
"No." he answered. He started to turn around again, but thought better of it.
"So?" Riker prompted.
"Admiral Ferris is worried that mercenaries have stolen Lore and will use him as a way to further whatever plans they have," Data continued, "But I do not share his concerns. If the mercenaries actually reactivate Lore, it is far more likely that they will be unable to control him, and will end up causing damage to themselves."
"Are you saying that we should be more worried for them than for us?" Riker asked innocently, grinning slighting. Data nodded. Picard sighed.
"I don't suppose there is anything we can do," he said. "We have no way of even knowing where Lore is."
"Precisely, sir." Data answered. "That is why I am not worrying. If I could even worry."
"Well, if Data's not worried..." Riker trailed off, grinning hugely now. Picard did not share in his first officer's amusement, but merely nodded, and let Data turn around and finish what ever it was that he was trying to do.
Eleni sighed, again, and wiped that damn bit of hair out of her eyes, again, and decided to give up, again. Her quarters were littered with android parts, and they gave the already dank and dreary room an even more macabre feel. The bright side in the whole mess was that the two nitwits refused to come anywhere near the room, as they suddenly became squeamish.
Eleni poked around inside Lore's head with her multitool, trying to figure out what did what. She felt horrible the whole time; her multitool was not designed for anything remotely like this, and besides, it was twenty years old. She felt as if she was poking around inside someone's head with a rusty awl.
Finally, she hit upon something that looked important. She could only vaguely recall the diagrams that she had been taught at the Academy, and most of them were over-simplified.
Suddenly the entire inside panel lit up. Startled, she dropped her multitool as Lore suddenly looked up at her.
"Um, hello," she said, adjusting her glasses.
Lore looked at her with barely disguised distaste. He said something, or rather, his mouth moved, but no sound came out.
"Just a second," Eleni said, grabbing her multitool and poking around again.
"--this some kind of android hell? It must be." Lore finished.
"No, unless it's a human hell too," Eleni answered. She shifted him around to face her. "My name's Eleni."
"Good for you," Lore retorted. He tried to take in the room as much as his field of vision and limited movement would allow. His nose wrinkled slightly. "Where the hell am I?"
"On board the good ship Minnow," Eleni answered with a slight grin. "You've been officially stolen."
"Commander, I'm really worried about Data." Picard said slowly, taking a sip of tea.
"If I may be frank, sir, there is not much we can do about the situation," Riker replied. "We have no idea where Lore is. Even if he's been activated. We don't even know that yet."
"I know," Picard sighed. "But I hate to think a member of my crew is going to have to spend the next while constantly looking over his shoulder."
Riker smiled. "I think, sir, that the last thing you have to worry about is Data doing that."
"Once I take over this ship, I'm going to get rid of all of you, weak useless humans," snarled Lore.
"You go ahead and do that," Eleni said, focusing on fixing her multitool with an actual screwdriver, for crying out loud. Sighing heavily, she decided to take a break, and wiped the sweat from her forehead. "But first, you're going to have to wait until you get some legs."
Lore looked at her sullenly. "I suppose I will. But then I'll kill you."
"Uh huh," Eleni yawned and stretched. The rusty door swung suddenly open with a clatter and N'Nik strode in.
"Well, I see Tonsil is nearly up and running," he said with a big grin which Lore scowled at. "That's good. We need a new engineer, Ol' Smokey refuses to work down there."
"Good," Eleni answered. Suddenly something occurred to her, and she looked suspiciously at the alien. "Why?"
"Why what?" asked N'Nik innocently.
"Why is he refusing to work?"
N'Nik shrugged what passed for his shoulders. "I don't know. Something stupid about being dead or something. Just can't find good help these days, you know."
Eleni sighed heavily. "I need a new multitool, Nick. I can't fix this one. It's too old, it needs replacing." She tossed the broken one to the alien who caught it and stared at it as if he had been thrown a dead rat.
"I don't think we have any spare ones." he said finally, gingerly holding the mechanical corpse by the handle.
"Then replicate one." Eleni snapped. "I can't fix him--" she jabbed a thumb towards Lore, propped up on one of the shelves, "--without one."
"If I replicate one, it will use up your replicator rations. No food for two days," the alien answered, starting to leave.
"What?!" howled Eleni. "But I haven't eaten in two days!"
"Yeah, life stinks," N'Nik grinned back, just before he slammed the rusty metal door.
Eleni put her head down on the table.
"Eleni?" Lore asked cautiously. He didn't understand a sudden emotion he was feeling; she was a human. She was weak and useless.
The engineer looked up, tears streaking down her face. She wiped them away with one grimy unravelling-sleeve. "Yes?" she asked.
Lore racked his positronic brain for a suitable question, but none came to mind. "Nothing."
Eleni nodded, and rested her head on the table, facing away from the android.
"You will never believe this, Captain," Commander Riker said as Picard came out from his ready-room.
"Oh, Number One?" Picard asked. This was a shock--they were around Halb 7, a mining colony. Anything out of the ordinary would have been...something out of the ordinary.
"Yes, Captain. Apparently, this system's sun had a spot." Riker said, deadpan.
"A spot?" Picard enunciated, his upper lip twitching ever so slightly. He stopped on the floor of the bridge and turned to survey each bridge member as if they were personable responsible. "A spot? On my shift?"
"Yes sir." Riker reported, still deadpan. Picard sat down, rolling his eyes. "Get me out of here, sir," Riker mocked sobbing quietly.
"I'm doing my best, Number One." Picard replied, not too unkindly.
"Eleni?" a voice asked, managing to penetrate Eleni's fitful sleep. There was a pause as she stirred, then a sudden yell: "ELENI! WAKE UP!"
She leapt awake to find N'Nik and K'Narqk staring at her. N'Nik dropped something on to the desk with a clatter. Eleni fumbled around for her glasses, finding them on the edge of the table. She put them on to see her unexpected gift. The new multitool.
"There." N'Nik said. "Now, fix the robot."
"I'm not a robot, I'm an android," Lore snapped.
"I don't care." N'Nik answered, without even turning. Still talking to Eleni, he barked: "Fix him. We're having engine problems, and I don't want to use force on you." Turning on their heels, the two stormed out.
"I don't like them." Lore informed her, curtly. She would have laughed, but she was too tired.
"I guess I had better get you fixed," she said wearily. Picking up the multitool, she scooted the chair over where he was, and began working.
"Why don't you ever get up from that chair?" Lore suddenly asked. "You are being most inefficient in my repairs." In response, she jerked her left leg out. There was a clank as the heavy iron chain was stretched out to its full length of about a foot. Lore was stunned.
"You...are a prisoner?" he asked. He was amazed that humans would do such a thing to another of their own species...but then, he only had his own experiences with humans to go from, and those tended to show humans banding together. She nodded, never taking her eyes from her task of joining Lore's leg to the rest of him. "I came aboard on my shore leave, wanting to get back to my ship early. They said that they could give me a lift, but before I knew it, I was strapped to the chair in this dungeon." Eleni said flatly. "I doubt my crewmates are even looking for me any more."
"You have been here longer than three months?" Lore asked, shocked, knowing Starfleet policy. She nodded wearily.
"And I've aided and abetted wanted criminals--" she trailed off. "I don't know if I can even go back, any more."
"What, he's not done yet?" roared N'Nik. "What the hell are we paying you for?!"
Instead of retorting to the very sweet opportunity the alien supplied, Eleni flinched. N'Nik had never hit her before, but her reaction gave him an idea. So he smacked her upside the head. Her glasses were knocked off.
"I want him in the engine room by oh-eight-hundred tomorrow!" N'Nik screamed, before stomping out, slamming the rickety door. Lore picked up Eleni's glasses for her. She took them gratefully.
"Why did you lie to him?" Lore asked, curious.
"If you go down into that pit they call an engine room you'll be dead--deactivated--within a week. I'm just trying to postpone the inevitable, I guess." she replied, adjusting her frames and then rubbing the back of her head gingerly.
"Why?" asked Lore, now even more intensely curious. No one had ever done anything like this for him before, not even Dr. Soong, his "father".
Eleni shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I was being selfish--you're the only person I've had to talk to for weeks."
Lore stood up, lost in thought. Then he looked at her, and grinned.
"I think it's time we made our escape." he said sharply. Eleni looked up, confused, when suddenly she noticed the almost maniacal look in the android's eyes.
Uh oh. her very perceptive brain told her. The robot's a couple circuits short of a motherboard. Taking a deep breath, she shifted slightly away from him.
"Oh no you don't," Lore said, catching her by the collar. "I'm going to need a hostage, you see."
Picard looked at his second-command blankly. "Mr Data," he said wearily, "There are rocks on my ship."
"Yes sir," Data said, looking puzzled.
"Further more, these rocks, far from being in some nice containment box somewhere, are sitting on my conference table."
"Yes sir." Data dutifully replied.
Picard leaned in forwards, resting on his elbows. He stared at the android. "Why," he said very slowly, "Are there rocks sitting on my table?"
"They are a present from the colony leader, Kleetus." Data said, pleased at having something he could, at last, answer. He picked one of the small, flat, gray rocks up. "They appear to be very nice rocks, Captain."
"I'm sure they are." Picard answered, in a strange voice. "Meeting dismissed."
The other officers filed out of the room, shuffling quietly on the carpet. Data looked puzzled; it was oh-eight hundred, but each of the officers looked tired. Filing the observation for later analysis, he started on the way out, but was stopped by a tug on the sleeve. It was Counselor Troi.
"Data," she asked, "Would you like to join me in Ten-Forward?"
"Of course, Counselor," he replied. He offered her his arm, and the walked out to the turbolift.
Eleni gulped as Lore shifted the chair around. He grabbed the chain with one hand and snapped it. The iron clanked against the metal of the chair. He tugged Eleni to her feet, and she got up, anxious and afraid. She also felt remarkably stupid, but decided to not to dwell on it.
He shoved her towards the door. It creaked open, and Eleni peered out into the darkness. She was tempted to call for help, but she knew she'd get it in the end if--no, make that when--she was found out.
Somebody was walking along the hallway, she could hear their heavy footsteps. The shoes sounded as if they had metal tacks on the bottom, so she knew which brother it was.
"Who?" whispered Lore in her ear. That was a strange sensation, as Lore wasn't actually breathing, which meant no tickly sensation of warm breath on the back of her neck. Just the words, as if from nowhere. She shivered.
"It's Nack, I'm pretty sure," she replied. Looking through the crack in the door Eleni could feel her heart pounding inside her chest.
"I...uh..." she couldn't remember the actual name of the dumber younger brother. "The blue one."
Lore tugged her back into the room as K'Narqk swept into the room. "Oh, the machine is up--"
That's as far as the alien got as Lore quickly karate chopped him into stunned silence.
"Data," Deanna Troi began, gingerly scooping a small amount of chocolate ice cream into her spoon, "I was wondering if there was anything you would like to talk about."
"Talk about, Counselor?" he asked, watching her with curiosity as she savoured her double-double chocolate sundae.
"About the mission. About...your brother. Anything." Troi repeated, finally setting down the spoon. "Is something wrong?"
"No," Data replied earnestly, shaking his head. He leaned in, dropping his voice. "Although I do have something to report--of a psychological nature."
"Oh?" Troi found herself leaning in despite her best intent.
"Yes. I have observed that the crew is unnaturally surly, tired, sarcastic and depressed. I checked the air filters and recyclers but found nothing out of the ordinary."
Troi laughed, finding it hard to resist. "Data--it's nothing in the air! It's just that the Enterprise is filled with the best of the best of Starfleet--and they're sitting around a mining colony."
"We've had other `boring' routines before," Data continued, still puzzled.
"Yes, but not ones where there is literally nothing to do in the entire sector. You've seen the report--sun spots is the extent of the danger. And we're not in deep space--we're on normal traffic lanes. Any ship could do this."
Data nodded. Troi wasn't sure if he understood it now or if he was just more confused. "So the crew is restless."
The blow was not calculated to kill, only render the alien unconscious. Lore strode over the body, dragging Eleni by the arm. She whimpered, but otherwise offered no resistance.
The hallways were just as dank and dreary as her former cell. Walking quickly, Lore headed in the logical direction of the bridge. However, when he ended up in the mess hall, he turned quickly and shoved Eleni in front of him. "Get to the bridge! Now!" he yelled.
The engineer decided it was best not to argue with a deranged, power-mad android and bolted. Lore was easily keeping up with her, and they made it to the bridge of the Minnow in a few moments.
The door was locked, and magnetically sealed.
"They know we're here," Eleni pointed out, rather uselessly. Lore glared at her. "Somebody must have seen you in the mess hall."
"Very good. Can you count to ten, too? Without using your fingers?" Lore snapped, examining the door.
"Hey there, Tonsil." N'Nik's voice suddenly sprang to life over the intercom, which consisted of a buzzing speaker mounted just outside of the door. Lore ignored the voice. "We know you're trying to murder us all, you bastard, so we decided to get our punch in first, so to speak." N'Nik continued. Eleni looked around her worriedly.
"You can't harm me," Lore called out, trying to hotwire the door.
"No, but I can blow you out into space," countered the voice. Eleni could see the alien's grin, even through the buzzing speakers.
Lore's head whipped up. He looked at Eleni. "Do they have shuttlecraft?"
"I think--" she began, but he grabbed her by the wrist and shot down the dark hall.
"Where are you running to, Robot?" called out N'Nik's disembodied voice in a sing-song. "There's nowhere to go but out."
"Do the ships work?" Lore asked, following Eleni as they raced to the bay.
"I think so--I've never been called to fix them, at least. I don't know their capabilities." Eleni replied. She was forcing down a sense of rising panic as they headed towards the bay--if it was indeed towards the bay. She dared not tell Lore that she had only been out of the cell once or twice.
"Should I kill you all now, or later?" N'Nik mused to himself. There was a clang sound over the intercom. "Ah, K'Narqk's made it to the bridge. That adds a real sense of completeness, now. I guess I can just blow all the hatches any time I want, now."
"What?!" came K'Narqk's hysterical scream before the intercom shut off suddenly.
Eleni reached the end of the corridor, which was a large door. Lore forced it open, and Eleni breathed a sigh of relief as she recognised the shuttlebay markings on the inner door.
"I hope those ships are in good condition," she said, crossing her fingers.
Lore looked at her strangely as he hotwired the controls. "They are probably air-tight, which is all we need."
"I need," Eleni corrected. "You don't need air." She felt silly reminding him, but there was no crack from him, only a strange silent pause.
"I need you to make sure I stay functioning," Lore replied after a second. "You will perform any repairs I need."
So that's it, she thought. Then a green light flashed and doors started opening.
Eleni caught a glimpse of the ships inside.
"Oh my god..." she breathed.
Riker blinked. "You're kidding."
"I don't kid," Picard answered with a touch of amusement, ever so slightly, at the eyes.
"We're leaving?" Riker said in a hush. Even at the quiet tone, heads whipped around from all over the bridge. Even Worf at Tactical looked relieved.
"We are," Picard said smugly, as though he had known the news for months. "Helm, set course for the Neutral Zone."
"Music to my ears," Riker sighed, relaxing. The weariness seemed to drain out of him before his captain's eyes. "Although I never thought I'd say that about the Neutral Zone."
"It's an infinite universe, Number One." Picard answered. He also settled into his chair. He gestured towards the helm officer. "Engage."
"I have never seen ships like those," Eleni said, giving herself a quick pinch. Glossy black, the two small craft were obviously built for planetary and inter- travel. Sleek, aerodynamic, humming with energy, they were a pilot's dream and an engineer's first love. "I get the one on the right," she sang, oddly elated.
Lore looked at her strangely, then shrugged.
"How do you get this thing on again?" called out K'Narqk's voice. "Oh wait--N'NIK! THEY'VE GOT THE SHUTTLES!!!!"
"Time to go," Eleni said in a strangled voice. There was a slow grinding noise.
"They're lifting the shuttlebay doors," Lore said loudly, over the rush of escaping air, stepping into his craft. Eleni followed suit, sighing with relief as the door sealed behind her and she slipped into the plush seats, the epitome of comfort after the horrible chair she'd been chained to.
Lore's voice came on over the comm system. "Time to go."
"Roger," Eleni replied. She fired the repulsors and the ship started to hover. She turned the ship around to face the doors, getting a surprise to find they were still only about a third of the way up.
"This might take some time." Lore said, a trace of annoyance in his voice. Eleni got the feeling he wanted to see what these babies could do just as much as she did. Suddenly an idea occurred to her.
"Follow my lead," she said with wicked grin. She powered up her forward phasers.
"No, no, nononononono," N'Nik prayed, watching the screens. "Not my babies. Those ships are my children! Stop them, you idiot!"
"How?!" K'Narqk screamed. He was just as frantic. "Do you think this clunker is any match for those Etoshan Hawks? No! We'd be blown to pieces if they turned to face us."
"Well, we have to do something to protect my babies." N'Nik pleaded. K'Narqk shook his head, his mop of blue hair falling about his eyes.
"There's nothing we can do."
The door shattered easily under a single bolt from her phasers. The noise was audible, as there was still some residual air in the bay, and Eleni smiled to herself. The two ships shot out into the black depths of space.
"The Minnow is not following us," Lore reported. There was a pause. "Nice shot."
Eleni laughed. Now that she was speeding away from the horrible prison she had been on for four months, everything looked good. It was a limitless universe, and she had nothing to lose.
Nothing to lose as her career--a promising one--was most certainly gone. She truly was foot loose and fancy free, with a ship of her own to boot.
"There is a planetary system a few hours from here," she said, over the comm. "Maybe we should land and check these ships out."
"That is a good idea." Lore answered. The two ships sped away.
Eleni sat on the ramp of her ship--she had christened it the Guppy--and sighed.
"There is nothing wrong with this ship either," Lore said as he walked out from the engine section of the ship. "They are in perfect condition."
"How are you holding up?" Eleni asked. "Need any repairs yet?"
"I am fully functioning." Lore replied. He stood next to her and stared out into the surrounding jungle. "Have you any ideas for what you will do now?"
"I thought I was your hostage," Eleni said, a touch of bitterness in her voice.
Lore considered that, then hummed a bit of a tune. It sounded out of place to the engineer to hear the android hum. She looked at him and he shrugged. "I can't whistle," he said by way of an explanation. He sat down next to her. "Actually, Eleni, I have a business proposition for you."
"Oh?" she asked, not able to keep the surprise from creeping into her voice.
"Yes. I need a human partner--someone who is not as conspicuous as an android."
"Oh." she repeated. She looked out into the jungle, but her curiosity got the better of her. "What did you have in mind?"
"Anything yet, Mr. Data?" Riker asked, sitting in the Command Chair, looking as pleased as the cat with two tails.
"No sir. Scans are not picking up any activity in the area. However, Starbase 113 is requesting our help; there is a Ferengi ship in orbit pestering them to buy merchandise."
Riker wrinkled his nose. "Inform the Captain that we're going to ask the Ferengi to stop bothering our station. Any other news to report?"
"Nothing, sir." Data replied, following his orders. Riker sighed.
This isn't what I was hoping for, he thought, but anything beats that rock we left.
"Engage at warp three, Ensign," he ordered, settling back in the chair.
"Nothing too big," Lore began. "Smuggling, perhaps. Maybe a bit of looting, then selling the ... merchandise on the black market. Between our collective expertise, and my special abilities as an android we should be fairly successful."
Eleni burst out laughing. "Let me get this straight," she said between giggles. "You want to be pirates?"
"I suppose so," Lore said with a sneer. "You don't need to find this so amusing."
"Why in the universe do you want to be a pirate?!" Eleni chuckled.
"It's an easy way of building up contacts that I would be unable to formulate without the benefit of a reputation," he said. "I am trying to be able to afford a ship."
"You have a ship," Eleni interrupted with a gesture at the Guppy. Lore's ship, the Tadpole--her idea, not his--lay a few meters to the west.
"An Etoshan Hawk doesn't count. I want a starship. A big one. A powerful one," he snapped. He had a strange gleam in his eyes, one that Eleni recognised.
"You're going after your brother, aren't you?" she said, a tight feeling in her chest.
"Yes." Why hide the fact? "I am. I was kept in a box for a year on a dusty shelf because of him," Lore snarled. "I want revenge. And this time, I'll get it."
Data looked up from his console briefly. He had the oddest sensation along his spinal conductors. It seemed to be a brief power surge, but his internal diagnostics reported normal operations. He frowned slightly, then decided to fit the human phrase "someone walked on my grave" on the anomaly and promptly turned his attentions back to the task at hand.
Eleni felt rather torn. If this idea had happened to her five months ago, when she was still an officer on the USS Riven she would have had no difficulty turning him down. But now, she had no ship to go back to. Starfleet would close its doors when they found out what she'd been up to. She'd be left alone.
At least this way she had a partner.
She looked up at Lore. "I'll do it." she said softly.
He smiled. "Good. I was hoping you would. Now, let's get the ships up and away." He walked down the ramp, his boots making clanging noises on the metal mesh. Suddenly he stopped, and turned. "We'll need to disguise you," he said suddenly.
"What?" asked Eleni, shocked. "What's wrong with me?"
"Nothing--except you look like a Starfleet officer. We need to give you another look. Something not so..."
"Wholesome?" Eleni laughed. Lore regarded her for a second, then tilted his head ever so slightly and said:
"Yes. Wholesome is an adequate term."
He started up the ramp again, helping Eleni up as he did so. She had a curious look on her face, but when he looked at her she averted her attention.
"What is the matter?" he asked.
"Nothing..." Eleni trailed off. "I'm just...I met Commander Data once, and it's eerie how much he looks like you, I mean, how much you two look alike."
Lore smiled slightly, but he also narrowed his eyes and muttered: "Yes--I suppose imitation is the best flattery," then stalked off into the interior of the ship.
Eleni followed him, unsure whether or not she should apologise for the unintended remark, but he gestured to her a second later and it seemed that the remark had been forgiven.
"I've programmed this costume into the replicator, do you think it will work?" he asked. Eleni leaned over the console. She looked up at him, looking pained.
"I have also programmed one for myself," he continued. "Let's try them out."
"I don't think it's me," Eleni said, turning around, trying to see what she looked like from the back.
Lore harumphed, crossing his arms. He was dressed in a brown jacket, shirt, trousers and knee high leather boots.
"See, on you, it looks good." Eleni continued. She was wearing a tight--tight--black shirt--she could barely breathe--that had a brown jacket over top. Tight brown pants--she could barely move--and thigh-high, high-heeled boots. "Me, me, I look ridiculous! Even my own mother won't recognise me in this get-up!"
"That's the point," Lore snapped.
"Why can't I wear a baggy outfit?"
"Because we might need your female charms."
Eleni laughed out loud and nearly toppled over. "Female charms?! Me?!"
Lore sighed and rolled his eyes. "You're not very good at getting in the spirit of things, are you?"
"If I could breathe, I might be more disposed to wearing this. But all the tight clothes in the galaxy won't stop Starfleet recognising me." Eleni replied. She sucked in her gut and ran a hand over her now-flat tummy. She looked at herself in a mirror set up for the purpose, and realised reluctantly that maybe--just maybe--she looked good in this outfit.
"I knew it would grow on you," Lore said with a grin. He walked over to the replicator and ordered something through the console. It materialised in a glow of sparkles.
"What is that?" Eleni asked, peering over his shoulder. He handed her the small glass container that was filled with a dark red liquid.
"Oh no," she breathed. "No."
"Yes." Lore replied.
"Just put something over your clothes and we'll get to work."
Eleni yelped. "It's too hot!"
"You humans are too fussy. It was too cold a moment ago." Lore retorted.
"Are your temperature sensors working okay? Ow, you're rubbing to hard!" Eleni yelped again, trying to move her head out of the way. Lore kept it firmly over the basin as he rubbed the dye into her scalp.
"Quit whining. There. No, don't move, the dye will take a few moments to work."
"Owwww!" Eleni screamed. "It's burning! I can feel it burning!"
"That's the chemicals bonding to your hair. Hold still."
"Chemicals! You didn't say there would be chemicals!"
"What do you think the dye is? Mineral water?! Hold STILL!"
"So, what do you think of my new poem, Geordi?" Data asked his friend.
Geordi snapped awake. "Huh? What? Where are we?"
"We are in my quarters, Geordi," Data replied, confused.
"Oh," Geordi yawned. He took off his VISOR and rubbed his eyes. Putting the VISOR back on, he looked at the chronometer on the wall. "I gotta get going, Data."
"Yes, I suppose so," Data said, a bit crestfallen. "I assume you did not hear all of my poem."
"Oh, Data, I'm sorry," Geordi said, putting a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I've had a rough week--all poetry puts me to sleep anyway--send a copy to my quarters and I'll read it over, okay?"
"Yes," Data replied. He waited until Geordi left and then went and sat on his couch. Spot leapt up onto his lap, and he stroked her absent-mindly. A beep caught his attention. It was his console; there was an incoming message.
Getting up, he crossed the room. Spot, indignant at being pushed off, stalked around the room, her tailing waving slightly, as if to say I wanted to leave anyway. You didn't make me!
"Good evening, Commander," Admiral Ferris's voice boomed out of the small speaker.
"Admiral," Data said with a dip of his head.
"Now, Commander, I just wanted to tell you that we've seen neither hide nor hair of your ...uh...brother. I'm keeping an eye on the reports, but nothing suspicious has come in. But rest assured, you'll be the first to know if something's up."
"Thank you, Admiral." Data replied.
"You're welcome. Good luck with your patrol of the Neutral Zone. Ferris out."
Data turned off the monitor, then sat for a while, thinking about various things: the implications presented by his brother's escape, the mission of the Enterprise to patrol the Neutral Zone, a sequel to his poem, the routine checks needed on the warp core...suddenly Spot jumped up on his lap. He petted the cat, but she seemed pretty insistent that he feed her, immediately. When he didn't get up right that instant, she dug her claws into his leg.
Surprisingly, it hurt.
"Bad Spot! Bad!" he said, standing up, the cat leaping off. She ran to a corner and sulked. Data examined the rip in his trousers. They would need to be mended. He walked over to the recycler, passing by Spot who ran out to her food dish.
"No, you do not need any food, Spot. You bad cat," he added.
He put the trousers in the recycler and replicated a new pair.
"No," he said firmly, in the prescribed Firm Cat Owner Voice.
She howled again.
"Fine," he said, getting the food, "But no treat."
"I look," Eleni said dryly, "like a cartoon."
"Not really. You're far too three-dimensional for that," Lore replied. She glared at him.
"I look," she said, amending, "like a character in a bad holo novel."
"Well, that is true." the android replied, with a grin. She smacked him playfully on the shoulder. A shock of her now tomato red hair slipped into her eyes. She brushed it away.
"The contact lenses look good," she admitted, admiring her new green eyes.
"It's all good," Lore replied. He was starting to put the refuse away when she held up her hand to stop him.
"Hold it," she said. "If I have to disguise myself, then you do too."
He looked at her suspiciously. "What did you have in mind?"
"You look great," Eleni said, grinning. "Really."
Lore looked at himself in the mirror. All Eleni had done was apply some skin coloration and add contact lenses similar to her own (without the vision corrections, obviously) and Lore suddenly looked...
"Human," he said in a whisper. "I look human." Eleni looked pleased. Lore became embarrassed. "Not that I would ever want to look human of course, because who needs to be a human? I don't."
Eleni just smiled.
Three months later...
"I understand, Admiral Ferris. Data out." Lt. Commander Data stood up from his desk, and quickly tapped his commbadge. "Data to the Captain."
"Captain, I need to meet with you. As soon as possible."
"Understood, Mr. Data. Meet me in my ready room."
Data made his way to the bridge in record time. He barely acknowledged Riker's presence on the bridge. The ready room doors swooshed open and he stepped in as Picard looked up.
"I just received a Priority One communication from Admiral Ferris, sir." Data began.
"Priority One?" interrupted Picard. "This must be serious."
"It is. My brother has...been located." Data finished. "He was spotted during a raid in the Littrel system."
"During a raid?" Picard rose out of his seat. "I don't understand."
Data paused to collect his thoughts together, or to think about how to phrase his answer, or perhaps both. "It seems my brother has become a pirate."
"A pirate," Picard answered dryly.
"Yes sir. He and a human partner have been conducting raids on various systems for the past three months, but positive identification of Lore was only made recently."
"I see." Picard sat back down, pondering the situation. He looked up at the standing android. "Did Starfleet leave any instructions?"
"Yes sir. We are to report to the base on Littrel 5."
Picard nodded. "Make it so. And report back before we enter the system."
Data nodded as well, a curt nod that indicated orders were understood. He turned and left for the bridge.
Lore hissed. It was not in pain, as he could not technically feel pain, but in frustration and anger.
"Hold still," Eleni Berczy murmured. She adjusted a final circuit, then snapped his head panel shut. "There."
Lore launched up out of the chair and started pacing. He was about to say something, but Eleni grabbed him by the arm and propelled him back into the chair. "I didn't say I was done. I have to touch up your make-up."
"I don't care about my make-up," Lore snapped, feeling the spot on his chin when the knife had cut, leaving the pseudo-flesh peeling and exposed, the make-up rubbed off, leaving a white patch. Eleni ignored his griping and started to work. He waited for her patiently to finish before he started to talk again.
"I can't believe they knew we were coming," he said. "We should have been prepared."
"First of all," Eleni stated, starting to clean up the equipment, "If you're a latinum freighter, you would expect to be attacked. I don't think they were prepared specifically for us. Second, you're right, we should have been prepared to deal with the unexpected security they had stored in the hold, but we got away with our skins and our ships. We can't ask for more."
"Yes we can," Lore retorted sourly. He got up and rubbed his chin absentmindly. "Next time, we'll be ready. No Klingon fighting force is going to stop us."
Eleni laughed. "Speak for yourself! Besides, before you go about making new grandiose plans, let's take some time to repair the problems with the old grandiose plans."
"Fine. What's still needed on the Tadpole?" Lore asked, grabbing the tools and starting towards the engines.
"The phase variances need to be locked down," Eleni reported. "And one of the plasma conduits is fluctuating."
Lore nodded and started to get to work. Eleni decided to get the Tadpole's navigation system up and running again, and she sat in the pilot seat and began to work.
It felt nice to be able to sit down--even the pants were comfortable, now that they had been broken in--and rest her feet for a bit. True, she was still working, but at least her heart wasn't in her throat and pounding a mile a minute. Sometimes she envied Lore and his android sensibilities.
No sooner than she had sat down, however, but the proximity alarms went off.
Quickly cutting all non-essential power, she immediately did the same for the Guppy, which was tethered and slaved into the Tadpole. Lore shot into the bow. "What is it?" he asked, slipping into the other pilot's seat.
"It's a--I don't know, passive sensors can't determine what kind of ship it is."
"And it's too close for active sensors?" Lore asked, his fingers flying over the keyboards. He already knew that by the time he had finished asking, but he had learned Eleni worked better with open communication.
"Affirmative. Switching to narrow band," Eleni replied, switching into Starfleet Mode. She had been away for nearly a year, now, but some things never changed. Suddenly her face went pale.
"What is it?"
She turned to him, face ashen, eyes round. "It's the Enterprise."
"We are entering the Littrel system now, Captain." Data reported. Captain Picard stood up from his command chair.
"Good. Mr. Worf, hail the Klingons."
The screen suddenly switched from the fleeting starfield to the scowling face of the Klingon Captain Plarg.
"Captain Plarg," Picard said, making the Klingon greeting hand greeting. "Have you anything else to report?"
Plarg shook his head.
"Ah. Well, we'll be here, doing a complete sensor sweep. If you need us--"
The screen abruptly blanked out.
"Lovely fellow," remarked Riker, deadpan.
"Klingon manners never cease to amaze me, Number One," Picard remarked. "No offense intended, Mr. Worf."
Worf looked down at him from tactical. "No offense incurred, Captain. I am often surprised myself."
Picard decided to let the matter drop. He sat back in the command chair. "Mr. Data, have you finished the sensor sweep?"
"Almost, sir. So far, there are no ships in the area, although I must admit our sensors would fail to pick up something hiding in the asteroid belt."
"Take us in a little closer, Ensign," Picard ordered the officer at Conn.
Lore stared at the sensor readouts with barely disguised fury. "The Enterprise," he snarled. Eleni began to get very worried.
"Lore," she said, "Don't do anything rash."
"Rash?" he retorted, looking at her with contempt. "I never do anything that's rash."
He got up from his seat, and started to walk to the small emergency transporter.
"Where are you going?" cried Eleni, starting to get up.
"To the Guppy." he snapped, before the beam dissolved him in a stream of purple sparkles.
"I figured that," Eleni said, with a sigh, to the empty cabin. She saw by her instruments that Lore had taken the Guppy off slave control, and was powering up the engines. "He can't be serious," she murmured. A Hawk against a Galaxy class starship? He was insane. She ought to leave him to his fate. She watched as Lore pulled out of the asteroid cavern they had been using as a hide-out, and made the third biggest rash decision of her life. She started the engines, and followed her partner.
"Captain!" Data exclaimed suddenly. "One, no two unidentified vessels exiting the asteroid field."
Picard leapt up out of his chair and stood behind his second officer. "On screen."
The screen shifted to show the two small craft heading straight towards them. "Those are Hawks, aren't they?" Picard asked, squinting a bit.
"No, sir." Data said puzzled. "They are ships."
"Etoshan Hawks, Data. A class of small fighter craft." Picard explained patiently. Data tapped a few controls.
"They are, sir. But I am only picking up one life-form, on the second of the vessels. Human, sir." he added.
Abruptly the screen shifted again to show Captain Plarg. "It is the machine," Plarg said, without any greeting or preamble. "Those are the ships that attacked us."
"Machine?" Picard asked. "You mean Lore."
"No, I mean the machine that looks like one of you. Like him, but not so pale." Plarg sneered, gesturing at Data. Picard and Data glanced at each other. That comment was a little odd, as Lore and Data were identical. "I slit his throat." the Klingon continued. He paused, looking thoughtful. "Not that it did any good."
"The lead ship is firing," Data reported. Picard nodded at him, and Plarg disappeared, replaced by the sight of the Etoshan Hawk taking on the Federation flagship.
As the Hawk neared the Enterprise's shields, it pealed off and started firing on the Klingon ship. The Klingons were quicker at taking revenge, firing their phasers. The second ship now came into range and began firing on the Klingons.
"Like bees attacking a bear." Riker said, watching the display. "What on Earth are they trying to accomplish?"
Data turned around but Riker shook his head and the android turned back around. "I am picking up an audio-only transmission to the Klingon ship," Data said suddenly.
"Play it." Picard ordered, still watching the "fight".
Someone started talking in Klingon over the bridge comm. It sounded like someone gargling with a bad temper, and throwing up in the process. Data had his head cocked, listening raptly. Worf growled when the transmission ended.
"Apparently," Data began, looking quite intrigued, "Lore believes Captain Plarg to be a dishonourable son of a Romulan who should have become an accountant."
Worf bristled, insulted himself.
Picard waved him silent, when another audio came over the airwaves. This gargling retching sound was extremely more pissed off (if human standards could be applied) and did not sound at all like a Happy Klingon Captain.
"Captain Plarg says that Lore has dishonourably stolen Klarg's honour, which Klarg must honourably reclaim from Lore, since Lore is obviously a dishonourable bastard son of a dishonourable malfunctioning replicator which had personal relations with itself," Data translated.
"Oh." was all Riker responded.
Worf looked relieved and vindicated.
Picard looked upset. "This has gone on far enough. Hail Lore."
"Fine. Mr. Worf, fire phasers. Aim to disable, when you're ready."
"Aye, sir." the security officer replied. A thin beam of red shot out towards the Hawk, which dipped and evaded the shot with super-human (or Klingon) reflexes. At an unspoken signal, the two ships darted back towards the asteroid belt.
"They are retreating." Worf said with a smug satisfaction. Picard took his seat again, relieved that it was all over.
"Captain," Data remarked, "The Klingon ship is pursuing the Hawks."
Picard sat up again. "Hail Plarg."
"No response." Data reported.
"Damn," Riker swore under his breath. "That's what Lore must have planned all along."
The Klingon ship was gaining quickly. Eleni was hit, the shields were holding, but barely, and the entire ship shuddered.
"How are you holding together?" Lore asked, over the commsystem. It was the first communication attempt he had made.
"It'll hold together," Eleni replied, through gritted teeth. She dove the ship down (relatively; it was space) and missed by inches having her nacelle get blown out from under her. "Baby, hold together," she said, patting the console for a half second, before grabbing the controls.
"Head for our hide-out," Lore's voice crackled into existence again. "You stay there. I can hold them."
"No way. We're doing this together," Eleni replied, trying to sound flippant and not terrified. "I wouldn't be able to bear that smug look if you won."
"If? If I win?" Before Lore could say anything further, the commsystem blew out, shattering sparks and lighting up the cabin. Eleni did a tight spiral and headed for the asteroids, Lore's ship directly ahead of her. The Klingon ship was firing again, battering her already failing shields.
"Come on, baby, hold together," Eleni repeated, straining, as if by sheer will she could make the ship fly faster. She checked the proximity sensors and realised that the Klingon ship had broken off pursuit. Without really knowing why, she did a tight loop and spin, and came out heading towards the Klingon ship, phasers blazing. She made a few quick adjustments to the commsystem, sending out (what she hoped) was an electronic raspberry at the Klingon ship. Furious, they pounded her forward shields until she turned around again, and then they pounded her rear shields. They were all about to fail spectacularly anyway, but at least the Klingon ship had taken up pursuit again.
Ducking, weaving, praying and hoping, Eleni shot into the asteroid field. Her small craft was better suited to avoiding the debris better than the Klingons, but hopefully, the captain was furious enough to forget that fact.
Picard watched helplessly as the enraged Klingons dove deeper and deeper into the field. He saw from his own read-out that their shields were failing, and watched, wincing, as one large planetoid crashed into the Klingon ship, destroying the vessel in a white burst of antimatter as their engine blew.
"We cannot detect the Hawks at this level of interference, Captain," Data reported. "We would have to travel into the cloud itself to be able to scan for them."
"I think we learned the Klingon's lesson." Picard replied, his mouth dry. He turned to Riker. "You have the bridge, Number One. I'm going to have a talk with Admiral Ferris."
"Aye, sir." Riker replied obediently.
Eleni dabbed the cloth again on her arm, hissing, as Lore repaired under the console. He slid out, carrying a multitool, and Eleni had a sudden image of the old "mechanics" that were the predecessors to her type of engineer.
"There. Fixed." he replied. "How's the burn?"
"Painful," she replied, still hissing. "Dammit, this hurts."
"Didn't you put any anaesthetic on it?"
"Can't, replicator's down. This ointment was all that was left out of the emergency pack." she replied, examining the damage. "I should be okay in a few hours."
"That's good." Lore replied, getting up, dusting off his work trousers and sitting in the chair next to her. He put his feet up on the newly repaired console. He started humming.
Eleni let him hum for about three seconds before she twisted around and asked: "What is it?"
"What's what?" Lore replied, innocently.
"You know what. You only hum when you want to tell me something you don't think I'll like."
"That's not true."
"It is true. For an android, you're pretty worried about being the bearer of bad news."
"It's not bad news."
"Aha!" Eleni yelled, pointing her ointment cloth at him smugly. "So it is something."
Lore sighed. "I was just going over our next mission."
"No." Eleni crossed her arms over her chest for a second before yelping and pressing the cloth to her injured arm. "No. We're taking a break. A vacation."
"No, I think we should hit again before they have a chance to regroup."
"Regroup?! This is the Federation, not a mining colony!"
"Exactly!" Lore exclaimed. Eleni looked confused.
"A mining colony!"
"Understood, Admiral Ferris." Picard said with a sigh. "Picard out."
The display shut off without so much as a click, and left Picard to muse about their new mission in silence. He tapped his commbadge when he was done musing.
"Picard to Commander Riker. Bring yourself and Commander Data to my ready room."
"Aye, sir." Riker replied.
Within moments, the two officers entered.
"Yes, sir?" they both asked at once.
"Gentlemen, there are two things I want to talk to you about. The first is the Lore issue." Picard said, gesturing for the two to sit down. Riker took the chair opposite Picard at the desk and Data the couch. Picard stood up, tugging his shirt down as he did. "Data, do you have any idea why Lore would act this way?"
Data thought for a moment. "He was improperly reactivated?"
Picard and Riker smirked.
"I was serious." Data continued.
"So you think he might be simply a screw loose?" Riker asked. Data scrutinised the commander, but could not tell whether the first officer was joking or not. Picard shook his head.
"Be serious, please, Number One. Pirates might seem like a silly problem in this day and age, but Starfleet is very worried indeed. Data, do you think you could shed any light on the matter at all?"
Data thought again for a moment. "I do not believe so, Captain," he replied, looking apologetic. (For an android.) "Lore's behaviour does not seem within his established parameters. For instance, his having a human partner is most unusual: Lore has previously only had scorn for humans and organic life forms in general."
"I agree. Were the sensor records able to determine anything about the human partner?" Picard continued, leaning against the edge of the desk.
"Only that she was a female," Data replied. The two humans' heads snapped up.
"Lore's partner is a woman?" Riker asked. "He has a girlfriend?"
"There is no evidence to support a romantic relationship between the two," Data answered.
"Why didn't you tell us this before?" asked Picard.
"It was in my report, sir, that I was currently writing when you called me in to see you."
"Oh. Well, get it done, and thank you for your help. You're dismissed." Picard said. Data stood up, nodded, and exited.
"Curiouser and curiouser," Riker quoted, looking thoughtful.
PIcard looked a bit confused. "I don't believe I know the quote, Number One."
"Carol? Carol who?"
"Lewis Carroll, sir."
Finally, Riker turned to face the captain and broke the momentary silence. "What was the second thing you wanted to see me about, sir?"
Picard suddenly looked uncomfortable. "Number One, it seems that we have been given a new mission."
"Yes. By oh-seven-hundred tomorrow, we are to report in at the mining colony on Halb 8."
Riker's face lost all colour. "Oh, no," he whispered.
"I'm sorry, Number One, but duty calls. We can't hog all the glory, now, can we?" Picard replied, waiting for lightning to strike him down.
The ship was again flying smoothly. Eleni wondered what she was doing here, but she still didn't have an answer and she had been pondering it the entire flight. "Halb 8, coming up." she reported.
"Good," Lore replied, over the comm. She could see the Guppy flying beside her through the plexiglass window of the cockpit.
"I still can't believe you talked me into this." she said sourly.
"The ships work, right? You're feeling better, right? This is an unprotected colony, right? Three rights and no wrongs. What could be better?"
"Risa, right now, with a glass of punch in one of my hands and a good novel in the other," Eleni replied.
"You're so negative, even for a human."
"Murphy's Law, Lore."
Eleni thought for a moment. She didn't really know herself, she had only been passed the legend from other engineers. "Um, an ancient Earth philosopher. He said, 'anything that can go wrong, will'."
"That's sounds like something a human would come up with. Cheer up, Eleni. We only need one big pay off, then you can go on your merry way."
Eleni didn't reply. She didn't tell him that she actually enjoyed being a pirate, for all her grumbling; she didn't tell him she enjoyed being one half of a partnership more than being a faceless cog in a giant machine; she didn't tell him that she really had nowhere to go on her own. She finally mumbled something into the comm then switched it off, preferring to go back to her own thoughts.
Suddenly her sensors beeped, alerting her to their position.
"Halb 8," she said, as they approached the planet. "Gods, what a rock. Why would anybody be here?"
"For the rock, naturally," Lore said snidely back over the comm. "Land down there, near the processing plant."
"What do they process, anyway?" Eleni asked as they began their descent. "You never did say."
There was silence on the other end, and the engineer imagined she could see Lore's face, grinning toothily.
"Latinum," he said, finally. "A whole vein of latinum."
The Governor of the colony, Kleetus, looked out the window of his office. It was a nice office. It was clean, and white, and neat as the proverbial pin. Not like outside where it was dirty, brown and messy. He sighed and wished for the trillionth time that he had gotten any other posting than this one.
He noticed something moving just out of the corner of his eye. When he looked again, there was nothing to see but the ore transports lined up as far as the eye could see. He felt slightly silly, but then he realised that when you're sitting on the biggest latinum vein ever discovered, it pays to be a little anxious.
"I don't think this will work," Eleni whispered.
"Thanks for your opinion. Now, get in." Lore snapped, holding the lid of the container open for her to climb in.
"I'm kinda claustrophobic," she said, nervously, as she climbed in.
"Then try and think good thoughts." Lore finished attaching the lid. He secured it very lightly from the outside, and Eleni fitted the miniature restrainer on the inside. What it meant was nobody was going to open the container unless Eleni felt like letting them, but it also looked like the lid was securely locked from the outside.
Lore lifted the container on to the transport. Eleni tried not to start hyperventilating, but she was very nervous. All she could think about was her air running out, even though Lore had assured her that these containers were 'breathable' to let air in and help oxidize the ore. The thought wasn't that comforting.
She flipped open her pocket communicator. "I hate this," she hissed.
"Fine. Hate it all you want. But it'll work, trust me." Lore replied. "Now keep radio silence!"
Grumbling, she turned the communicator off. They had an hour or two before anybody would start loading these trucks into the complex, so Eleni tried to make herself as comfortable as possible. It was so dark inside the container, and very warm, and she found herself drifting off.
"Go!" yelled Lore suddenly from her communicator. Jolting herself awake, Eleni fumbled with the lock, and burst out of the barrel, firing her black market disruptor. She managed to hit the wall a few times before she got oriented towards the guards. Turning around, she managed to hit a few guards before she tried to get out of the container.
It was harder than it first seemed. The container went up to her chest, she couldn't get out of it with out Lore's help, but he was on the other side of the loading bay, trying to get access to the base's computer. Struggling futilely, she noticed behind her the sparkle of transporters. Twisting around in horror, she fired at the burly Klingon in Starfleet uniform and his contingent of guards.
"Lore!" she screamed, as the container tipped over. Her head connected with the titanium floor in a very painful manner, and she was knocked out.
"Worf and his team have beamed to the surface," Riker reported, over the red alert klaxon.
"How did they get in?" mused Picard. "The security in the area is extremely tight."
"I don't know, but according to this report from the surface, Lore is nearly into the computer. If he gets access, he'll have the whole underground installation at his disposal. That includes weapons." Riker added.
"Well, we'll just have to make sure that he doesn't get through, won't we, Number One?" Picard replied dryly.
Lore was nearly through the encryption code. The humans were changing it even as he worked, but he was much faster than they were and he was nearly through--
"Lore!" Eleni screamed from further back in the bay. He looked behind him to see that damned Klingon from the Enterprise had arrived as back-up. Eleni just then managed to tip the container over and knock herself out.
He sighed (humans!) then started firing his blaster at the Starfleet flunkies. He's have to break into the computer after. Sparks erupted over his head as one of the guards just missed him. That meant they were using heavy stun, which was capable to shutting him down. He dove for cover by some containers full of ore. Peeking between them, he saw one of the security officers beaming up with Eleni.
He scowled. It was just him now, and the Klingon. And the other human, but Lore wasn't worried. Firing his disruptor, he shot out the overhead lights, plunging the underground bay into darkness. He could hear the Klingon and the human swearing. They were firing blindly, now, but Lore had a full range of sight beyond human: he could see their heat signatures. Creeping out, he managed to catch them both off guard. With Starfleet out of the way, he started again on the computer.
"Her name is Eleni Berczy. She is a full lieutenant, formerly serving aboard the USS Riven. She went missing nine months ago, on Stardate 47998." Picard read from the PADD over the unconscious pirate.
"I guess we know how she went missing." Dr. Crusher said, examining Lt. Berczy's head wound with a tricorder. Picard frowned, and turned to Data, who was standing next to him.
"Lore was stolen only three or four months ago, wasn't he? Was there a description of who did it?"
"Yes, sir. According to a guard on duty, the perpetrators were two aliens of an unknown race." Data replied.
Picard harumphed. "Doctor, please tell me when she can be awakened." he ordered, before he left Sickbay.
"Aye, Captain." Crusher replied, using a hypospray on Lt. Berczy, who groaned, but did not wake up. "I think she needs a bit of rest--she hit her head pretty hard." Suddenly something beeped in her office. "Oh, that must be the Lab coming through, uh, Data...?"
"I can watch over the patient," Data supplied. Crusher nodded her thanks and hurried into the side office.
Data observed Berczy with curiosity. As far as he knew, she was the only human that Lore had ever regarded with anything other than loathing. He did not see what was so special about Lt. Berczy, or could even begin to imagine what she had done to earn Lore's trust. The human stirred slightly. She was apparently waking up ahead of schedule. Data looked for Doctor Crusher, but she had slipped out unnoticed by the android. Berczy's eyelids flickered, then opened.
"What?" she asked, trying to sit up. She couldn't, because of the restraining field, and that only disoriented her more.
"Greetings," Data said, cautiously. Her eyes focused on him, her brows furrowed.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I do not fully understand the question." Data replied truthfully albeit confusedly. "Currently, I am standing guard over you, but that should be apparent."
"You're not Lore!" she said with a gasp. Horrified, she swung her head around to see where she was. "Where am I?!"
"You're on the Enterprise, Lieutenant," Data replied. "Do not worry, you are recovering from your head injury."
"What?" she cried, becoming slightly hysterical. She was struggling against the restraining field futilely. Just then, Doctor Crusher emerged from the hallway, carrying a PADD. She saw Berczy and rushed over, dropping the PADD in the process.
"Get me one of the hyposprays!" she said, in a rush. Data grabbed one and handed it to her. She pressed in against Berczy's neck. Her eyes rolled back and she fell unconscious.
"Why did she wake up?" asked Crusher, getting her tricorder. "She wasn't supposed to wake up for another hour, at least."
"I don't know why, Doctor," Data replied. "She merely woke up."
Crusher regarded him with a steady gaze. He didn't know why she suspected him of doing anything, but finally she looked away. Data decided it was time to go to the bridge.
Lore found himself on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, Eleni had been captured by the Enterprise. On the other, he needed to get into the computer otherwise this whole mission would fail. But then again he knew Eleni would risk everything to save him, although he hardly knew why. Then, again, why would he feel the need to go after her? She was only...
He finally decided to come to terms with the fact he had been avoiding for three months: that Eleni Berczy wasn't just a human to be looked down upon. She was his partner, and dare he say it, friend? He wrinkled his nose in disgust. He must have got a loose circuit somewhere if he was thinking like that.
The Klingon, Worf, was groaning on the floor beside the containers where Lore had shot him. The android wandered over. Worf was definitely coming around, so Lore hit him on the side of the head with a container lid, made sure he was really good and unconscious, and went back to the computer. It was then that he hit on an idea, one that might be described as "getting to have his cake and eat it, too". (Although why anyone was not allowed to consume the confection in question he couldn't quite figure out.)
"Captain, Lore has gained access to the base's computer core." Data reported. "Our link with the base has now been severed." He swivelled around in his chair to see what Picard wanted him to do.
Picard looked thoughtful. "Have more security contingents ready to beam in--"
"Lt. Worf to Enterprise."
Picard looked a bit surprised, and a bit pleased. "Yes, Mr. Worf?"
"I have apprehended Lore. Permission to beam directly to the Brig." Worf's growly voice asked.
"Permission granted. Congratulations, Lieutenant."
Worf's typical reply was a snort, then the link was shut off. Picard turned to Riker, smiling. "It seems like that problem has been taken care of," he said.
"I agree, sir." replied Riker, also smiling. "I'll lead an away team down to secure the base."
"Good idea, Number One."
"Captain," Data asked suddenly, "Permission to go to the brig. Lt. Worf may need some...help, regarding my brother."
"Agreed," Picard answered, nodding. Data nodded back and headed up the bridge to the turbolift.
"Beaming them in now," the transporter chief said to Geordi La Forge and Commander Riker. "One android and one klingon to the Brig."
Lore materialised inside the brig. Within a second he dropped Worf's body and fired at the ensign manning the security station. Checking quickly inside the empty cells, he failed to find Eleni. He checked the Brig computer read-out: she wasn't in any of the cells, any where on the ship.
"Computer, where is Lt. Eleni Berczy?" he asked, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice. Here he was, in the midst of a perfect plan, and it was just like Starfleet to screw it up.
"She is in Sickbay," the computer reported.
Sickbay. Just perfect. There was no way he could just waltz in...
The doors to the Brig whooshed open. Lore whirled, drawing his disruptor, expecting security, finding only himself.
Data looked stunned, as much as he could look stunned. As it was he was too stunned to even think about how stunned he looked, so it all evened out in the end.
"Brother," Lore said, with all the smarminess that only he could muster. "Dearest brother. Long time no see, huh?"
Data reached up for his communicator, but a gesture from Lore stopped him. "This is a surprise. I expected Lt. Worf--"
"To have apprehended me? Yes, well, we all make mistakes. Mine was letting them make you. But then again--"
Crusher looked up from the tricorder as Data entered Sickbay. "Doctor," he said, pulling her aside. "I must warn you. Lore is loose on the Enterprise."
"What?" She dropped her voice. "How is that possible?"
"Apparently, he mimicked Lt. Worf's voice, then beamed up with him to fool the transporters. He must be coming for his partner, so I've got to get her out of here."
"Right." Crusher began to deactivate the restraints, when she looked up at him. "Data," she began, her brows puzzled, "are you feeling okay? I could have sworn I heard you use a con--" He eyes widened and she backed away quickly, reaching for her communicator but "Data" was faster, shooting her quickly with his phaser.
"Damn contractions," he swore. "You'd think Soong would've programmed them in, but noooo, he had to have Data different. Oh well."
He lifted Eleni slightly off the medi-bed, and got the emergency transporter armlet from his pocket. Startled, he searched for the other one, but it must have fallen out of the shallow pocket. "Damn Starfleet!" he groused. He put the transporter around her arm, and pressed the controls. She vanished, leaving him alone in the sickbay. Muttering various expletives under his breath, he left, on his way to the transporter.
The doors to the transporter whooshed open, and Lore stormed in, only to find himself suddenly surrounded by guards. Picard stepped out, as did Data, dressed in Lore's pirate clothing.
"This is the end, Lore." Picard said, a bit too dramatically for Lore's taste. "We caught Berczy."
"You couldn't have." sneered Lore, not relinquishing his phaser.
"We intercepted the beam," Picard continued. "It's over. We have your ships, we have the base, we have your partner."
Lore didn't know what to say. It couldn't all have turned against him so quickly, could it?
Data stepped forward and took the phaser. Lore didn't do anything to stop him.
"And yet I still can't believe Lore gave up." Picard continued. Riker shrugged.
"Maybe he realised we'd get him eventually." he said. "My team is still scouring the hills outside the base. There are minerals obscuring sensor sweeps, but we should have the ships soon."
"Good. Doctor Crusher assures me that Berczy would have recovered by now, so we needn't worry about her condition."
"If she's not unconscious--"
"Oh, she's still unconscious, just out of danger." Picard clarified. He took a sip of his tea. "Oh." Riker yawned, although he tried to hide it.
"Why don't you get some rest, Number One. You could use it." Picard said. He smiled as he saw Riker begin to protest. "That's an order."
La Forge stood outside the cell and looked at Data. Data exchanged the look, then they both turned to face Lore.
"What are you looking at?" he sneered.
"I do not relish this, Lore," Data said, touching the control panel on the side of the cell. "It is for the greater good."
Lore looked terrified for a brief moment, before the familiar sneer replaced itself. "You're going to put me in the box, again, aren't you? And you call yourselves--"
"Commander!" interrupted a young ensign in Engineering yellow. She ran into the cell. "We need your's and the commander's help immediately with one of the conduits! It's overheating rapidly!"
"What?" Geordi started towards the door, but the young officer side stepped him and karate chopped him in the neck. He fell like a ton of bricks.
"Data to Picard--" Data began, surprised, but the woman grabbed something from La Forge and abruptly Data shut down. So did Lore, as well. The woman deactivated the field, and ran into the cell. She fastened on of the emergency transporter bands to his arm, and one to her own, and beamed out.
"So she ambushed one of the away team, stole on board, attacked Commander La Forge and deactivated Data?" Admiral Ferris glared from the screen. "Just how many court martials is this woman facing, Picard?"
"Countless," the captain answered with a sigh.
"And why, exactly, did you not stop her when she escaped?" Ferris continued, starting to turn a funny shade of purple.
Picard rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Because she sabotaged one of our computer systems before she broke Lore out." Picard said with a sigh. "She's an engineer, she knew what she was doing. A minor disruption, but one that indirectly caused overheating of the warp core. We were--are--unable to give chase."
Ferris glared. "So now what, Picard? Now what do we do?"
"I don't know, Admiral, but rest assured, once our drive is up, we'll be in pursuit."
"See that you are, Picard. Ferris out."
She did the minor adjustment, and watched with pride as the circuits lit up. Lore blinked. "Eleni?" he asked, confused.
"Yep," she said with a grin.
"What happened to your hair?" he asked.
She laughed, a hand going to the now brown 'do. "I thought my red might be a bit conspicuous."
Eleni yawned, and stretched out in the pilot's chair. The Guppy was flying slaved to the Tadpole, and both were on auto-pilot, so she had nothing to worry about. Lore was recovered fully from the phase disruptor that had knocked him out, and they were now on route back to the Littrel system to hide-out for a while.
Lore walked into the cock-pit. He said he was a little stiffer than normal, but diagnostics couldn't pick up anything. Maybe he was developing hypochondria.
"Feeling better?" she said with a smirk.
"Lots, thanks." Lore sat down next to her.
She yawned again, then remarked to Lore, very casually: "Did you know that we have three tons of latinum ore in our hold?"
"Really?" he remarked, sarcastically innocent.
"Yes. I just found that out when I tried taking off and had to boost the engine power thirty percent. God knows how I did, I didn't think we just had thirty percent lying around," Eleni said, still casual. "Lore?"
"Why do we have three tons of latinum ore in our hold?"
He smirked. "When I broke into the computer, I beamed the ore directly to the ships--there's another three tons in the Guppy, too."
"I know that." she remarked sweetly. "Imagine my surprise."
"Of course," he continued, "all that ore, after processing, will only amount to a few dozen kilobars."
"A few dozen?!" Eleni cried. "That's an awful lot of money to be carrying around."
Lore shrugged. "I can carry it, don't worry. Plus, I changed the stock computer to read that the six tons aren't even missing. They don't even know that we have it. Anyway, all that means that we can take some time off to let things die down with out worrying about finances."
"I don't think I'm ever worrying about finances again! A few dozen kilobars! Risa, here we--uh oh." Eleni bolted upright.
"Uh oh?" Lore inquired, bringing up the sensor read-out.
"Definitely an uh oh. The Enterprise is coming up, heading one-oh-five mark two."
"There's another ship out there. Sensors can't identify it." Lore reported.
"Is it too far away?"
"No--it's in range, and it knows us. Heading straight for us."
"And sensors can't identify it...?" Eleni trailed off. "Oh no. I have a sinking feeling I know who it is..."
"Do we have them on sensors, yet?" N'Nik yelled, furious.
"No--wait! I can see them!" yelled K'Narqk, peering out the window. "There they are."
"Really?" N'Nik pressed his face up against the window. "And I think there's another ship out there, too."
"There," N'Nik, said, pointing.
"Under my finger!"
"Oh! I see it!" K'Narqk turned to face his brother. "It looks big."
"Yes, yes it does. Well, they can't have my Hawks. I'll make sure of that. Okay, open hailing frequencies."
"How do you do that?"
"Never mind. I'll do it."
The comm spluttered to life. "Hello there!" called N'Nik's voice. "So nice to see you alive and well, Eleni."
There was no response.
"So you're not going to respond. Fine, be that way. Doesn't matter, anyway. See, I got my Loral Phased Pulse Device without your help, so I decided to blow you to smithereens, unless you'd like to surrender. I'd prefer you to surrender, incidently. I don't particularly want to blow my own ships up, but--" there was a pause--"all's fair in war and, um, something else. Never mind."
"Who the devil is that?" asked Picard.
"I do not know, sir. Who ever it is, is broadcasting on all known frequencies."
Picard frowned. "All we want is Lore and Lt. Berczy; all they want are their ships. Perhaps we can make a deal with them." He turned to Worf, who had recovered from his run-in with Lore. "Open hailing frequencies."
"Frequencies open, captain."
"Unidentified vessel, this is Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation starship Enterprise. We have a proposal for you."
The comm burst into static that turned into the alien's vessel.
"We're listening," it said.
"We are under the impression that you would like your ships back." Picard said.
"We're under that impression as well," the voice replied dryly. "Do you have a point? Can you get to it?"
Ignoring his rising anger at the rudeness, Picard continued. "You want the ships. We want the crew. Perhaps we can work together?"
"No, see, here's the thing:" the alien continued, "We want the crew too, mostly so that we can chain Eleni back to her chair and laugh, and make Tonsil do all the repairs he was supposed to do while he was out gallivanting around the galaxy."
Tonsil? mouthed Riker to Picard, who shrugged.
"If that is your position, then I am forced to inform you that under Starfleet law, we are required to apprehend the crew of those two ships. We will do so, and not stand any opposition." Picard intoned formally.
"Is that a threat?! Fine! We won't stand by for threats. Prepare to get a dose of Phased Pulse, Loral style." The signal cut out abruptly.
Eleni couldn't control it. She was bent over the console, laughing so hard tears where streaming down her face.
"What is the matter?" Lore asked, taking over the controls. "What's so funny?"
"They--" she laughed, but tried to stop. "They found an actual Loral Phased Pulse device! I didn't think they had it in them! But the must not have tried it yet."
"How do you know?"
"Because the Phased Pulse device is the farthest thing from compatible with any of their systems! It was obsolete a hundred years ago, so it won't even make a dent in the Enterprise or us anyway!"
Lore looked thoughtfully. "If we could use that as a diversion, we might make it to the belt in time to lose the Enterprise. We just need enough time to jump to warp."
"I think I can do that." Eleni keyed a few commands. "Enterprise? This is the Tadpole."
"Lt. Berczy?" Picard's voice rang out in the small cabin.
"Yes--" she fought the temptation to add 'sir'. "I just wanted to formally surrender," she ignored the look from Lore, "and I just want you to know that when they try to use that device of theirs, it'll blow them to kingdom come, and probably take you with them. I'd beam them out of there, it's already powering up." Before they could respond, she turned off the commsystem.
"That should do it," she said, turning back to the console.
"She's right, Captain," La Forge said from the Engineering console behind Tactical. "If the sensors are correct, that ship is going to blow, but I don't think it'll take us with it."
"Can we beam the occupants out now?" Picard asked, looking concerned. La Forge checked something. Then checked it again.
"I'd say, yes you can, sir. It looks like the ship doesn't have any shields."
"What?" exclaimed Riker. La Forge shrugged.
"Beam them out of there," Picard decided, sitting down in the command chair. Data swivelled around to face him.
"Sir?" he said. "I believe that the minute the ship blows, Lore will jump to warp, hoping to outrun us."
"They've already surrendered." Worf pointed out.
"I do not believe they are intending to honour that. It does not make sense considering the lengths they have already gone to escape."
"How can they, anyway?" asked Riker. "We're faster."
"True--but if they get to the asteroid belt before we do, we will be unable to follow. I believe that is what they are doing."
"Lay in a tractor beam, now, before they jump." Picard ordered.
At that moment, the alien ship blew apart, a fiery blossom of matter, anti-matter and phased pulses added for good measure.
"The ship has jumped to warp," Data reported, then added, "but our tractor beam has it, sir."
"How could they have known?!" Lore yelled, over the blaring of the siren indicating hull stress.
"I don't know, but we've got to shut down the engines--the hull will shear!" Eleni yelled back, heading towards the manual engine controls.
"No! We can't do that!" Lore cried, leaping out of his chair to grab her arm. "You can't do that--they'll court martial you, and disassemble me. I'll be trapped in that box forever, and you'll be working on transports for the rest of your life! Don't you see? We've gone too far, now, done too much to go back." Lore pleaded with her. He sounded nearly hysterical, something Eleni had not thought it possible for him to be.
"I--" she began, but Captain Picard's voice suddenly filled the cabin.
"Tadpole, this is the Enterprise." he said, "Lt. Berczy, we have just been informed of what happened to you on the, uh, Minnow. We realise the stress you would have been under. If you surrender now, we may be able to convince Starfleet command not to court martial you."
It's a trick. It's a lie. He's done it before, to Lore. He could do it again.
Eleni felt her mouth go dry. She knew all the reasons why she shouldn't trick Picard, and yet the one teeny hope, that she could go home and have it all be like it was, was enough that she was starting to waiver. Then she looked at Lore. He was staring at her, waiting for her decision.
Should she go back? It's what she wanted.
Could she go back?
She remembered thinking how much she enjoyed being one half of the team, instead of one thirtieth, or even one-thousandth. She had more control over her life, she wasn't saying "yes sir no sir" every second of every day.
She knew that if she went back, Lore would be disassembled. Put in a box, and locked on a dusty shelf until god knows when.
Taking a deep breath, she turned to the controls.
And boosted the power to the engines and structural integrity.
"Captain, the ships are attempting to break free," Data reported.
"Well, I guess we have our answer." Riker remarked dryly.
"Boost power." Picard ordered.
"I am trying sir," Data said, frowning in concentration.
Lore grinned. "I have an idea," he said. He looked like a man with a new lease on life, which Eleni supposed he was. "Give me the controls for the Guppy."
"Captain! The ship has suddenly decreased in mass--they have jettisoned something--the tractor beam has lost its hold!" Data exclaimed.
"Get them back!" Picard ordered.
"I can't sir, I'm having trouble with all the debris in the area--Captain, the debris is latinum ore!" Even Data sounded perplexed, as he frantically keyed the controls.
"I don't care! Get them back!" Picard snapped.
Suddenly Data stopped dead. "They've jumped to warp, sir. They will be in the asteroid belt in three seconds."
"Is there enough time?" Picard asked quickly.
"Negative, sir. They have entered the asteroid belt." Data reported back almost sadly (if he could feel sadness).
"They're as good as gone." Riker sighed, standing next to Picard. "They would be able to get out at any time without our knowing it."
"And if the other ship is also filled with latinum ore--I though you said that there was no ore missing, Number One?"
Riker shrugged. "That's what Kleetus said to me."
"Well, anyway, with that much latinum, the whole galaxy is their oyster. Somehow, I get the feeling they won't be in hiding for long." Picard finished. He turned to the ensign at Conn. "Ensign, take us back to the colony. Warp seven."
"Aye, sir." the ensign said.
Picard sat back down in his chair. "Engage."