"How many in total?" Jayme asked her husband as she looked over the information that he stole from Vila's ship.
"Forty-seven thousand, two hundred, ninety-three missing or deceased colonists," Spock answered. "Federation, Romulan and Klingon citizens."
"And nobody noticed?" Sulu asked. "I mean, that's a lot of people."
"Not really," Bones reminded him. "The Federation consists of hundreds of worlds with billions of people. Same goes for the others. It's illogical," he grimaced, "to think that we can keep track of everyone."
"Made harder by the fact that we're at war," Scotty added. "Comms are spotty, patrols are diverted, resupplies aren't on schedule, ships are being attacked. It'll be a while before we get a full accounting of who's where. It's the perfect storm."
"It's on purpose," Jayme surmised before shifting to look at Spock. "The colonists from Epsilon Herschelii Five, the ones we're looking for, they're dead, aren't they?"
"No, however, records indicate that they have been processed into the Orion slave trade. No further information regarding their whereabouts exists. There is no way for us to locate them," Spock informed her.
"Can't we… I don't know, triangulate where those ships have been?" Sulu asked. "See if we can pin down where they were sold and work from there?"
"We can but that presents another problem," she answered.
"Which is?" The helmsman looked around the table.
"It's a mobile auction," Jayme said. "These kinds of slaves aren't kept or processed in one place. Everything shifts, rotates. As does the people who makes the decision. Nobody know times or locations until it's actually happening. If we go snooping, they'll know what we're looking for. Good for the bad guys, bad for the good guys."
"How do you know so much about the Orion slave trade?" Sulu gave her a look.
'Should I tell them?' she asked her husband through their bond.
'I understand your wish to maintain Gaila's privacy, however, the knowledge you possess from your association with her may prove valuable. I do not believe she would want anyone to come to harm because you were protecting her secrets,' he thought back.
"Vila is a high-ranking member of the Orion Syndicate," Jayme admitted. "She's also the woman that gave birth to Gaila and Kai. But it will be a cold day in hell before you ever hear me call her their mother." She took a breath. "For a time, she was training her children to one day take her place."
"They're both in Starfleet," Scotty needlessly pointed out. "So, what happened?"
"There was deal with the Pacari," Bones said. "Apparently, it was too good to pass up."
"Vila offered a ten-year-old Gaila as payment, which isn't exactly uncommon in their culture, but Gaila's refusal to be sold and the fact that it was to aliens made the whole deal illegal under their laws. Vila held her hostage and was in the process of delivering her to her business partner when Gaila's father had some friends intervene and smuggle Gaila and Kai into Federation territory," Jayme said. She deliberately left the worst details out to protect her friend's privacy, but that was the gist of it.
"Wait," Sulu looked at her, "isn't all slavery illegal?"
"Only as it pertains to the Federation," Spock answered. "On the Orion homeworld, the practice of purchasing and owning slaves is legal, to a point."
Jayme took a breath before she explained what she learned from Gaila and Kai about Orions and slavery.
All Orions, even the children of slaves, are born free. When an Orion is about ten, they're sold to a master to begin what amounts to training. New slaves are given minor tasks while also being tested and interviewed to see what their skill-set is. They subsequently trained in that area, then they're resold, with a mark-up, to a new owner who needs them. This whole process is voluntary as part of their schooling and their economy. And it was only legal slave trade that the Orion government acknowledges.
"Everything else; enslaving someone against their will, selling aliens, selling small children, forcing someone into the sex trade, hell, selling anything other than actual Orion Slave Girls to outsiders. That is all illegal, even to the Orions," she said.
"The only group that would dare operate outside Orion law is the Syndicate," Bones added. "Damn near every bad thing you hear about Orions can be traced back to them. Illegal slaving, pirating, raiding, murders. That's all them."
"What does any of this have to do with the Albino?" Scotty asked.
"Nothing," Bones said.
"Everything," Jayme countered.
"He was raised by Orions. He doesn't like the Klingons any more than we do, they threw him away because they see his albinism as a birth defect," Sulu said. "Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if…" He let the sentence drop as he pulled up something on his PADD. "I'll be damned. That son of a bitch."
"Wanna share the song with the rest of the band?" Jayme asked.
"The attack at Organia." Sulu looked at her. "There is no clear indication of who started that fight. It's disputed space and our protocols are very clear; only engage when fired upon. I think we might've been baited into war. Think about it. The Romulans have taken heavy losses and now we're helping each other out and they're actually open to talks with us. Then there's the Klingons. While they may have the advantage, it's obvious that they don't have a clear strategy. The Federation is on defense and mop-up duty. The only group benefiting from this war is the Syndicate; snatching up colonists on distant worlds, experimenting on some and selling off the others."
"She didn't come out here for them," Jayme muttered. "Vila showing up here wasn't a request for help, she was trying to stall us."
Vila clearly knew where her children were, and if she really wanted them, she could've just taken them. The Mizuki arrived at Starbase 12 about seven hours after the Enterprise encountered Vila's ship. A few well-placed shots and a beam out were all it would've taken to get Gaila from that ship. Kai was even easier since he was headed for the Albino. No, Vila wasn't after them at all.
"I believe you are correct," Spock agreed. "Vila appeared very knowledgeable about the locations of Lieutenants Gaila and Kai."
"They're after the away team," Jayme mused.
"Why?" Bones asked.
"Harrison has a very high clearance, plus he has knowledge of Starfleet's strength and the strategy for the war," Scotty said.
"And they get Uhura as a bonus," she added.
"Why would they need… Uhura's a cryptologist," Sulu muttered, more to himself then them. "If she's forced to let them into our system or to decipher codes from…"
"A lot of people are gonna die," Jayme said, finishing his thought. "How long before we get to Galdonterre at our current speed?"
"Sixteen hours," Scotty told her. "If we engage the modifications we got from the Vengeance and go at maximum warp, we can cut it to just over five hours."
"It has not been fully tested, Jim," Spock pointed out.
"Now seems like the prefect time to try," she said. "Mister Sulu, Mister Scott, make it happen."
"Let me guess," Jayme sighed, "you wanna be in the landing party." It wasn't a question and it really didn't need to be one. If she found herself in his position… No, she has found herself in his position and she knew all too well exactly what he was feeling.
"I cannae just sit here, lass," Scotty said as he stood across from her. "I cannae wait around while she's out there, in danger. I know ye probably have the team picked and everything but… In all the time we've known each other, in all the time we've been friends, I've never asked ye for anything."
"And you're not about to start now," she told him, motioning for him to sit down. "Save whatever favors I owe you for a time when you actually need them. You're already on the list."
"I am?" He gave her a look.
"Officially, we don't know what we're going to find on Galdonterre. Between the advanced security system that we're sure the Albino has and the fact that the facility is subterranean, we figured that it would be best for an engineer with combat experience to go. I'm sure Keenser can handle things downstairs. Unofficially, we both know exactly what I would do if Spock was in danger. Hell, I'm sure half the quadrant knows what I would do. I'm a lot of things but a hypocrite isn't one of them."
Scotty looked at her before letting out a heavy sigh. "Oh, I thought I was gonna have to fight with ye about this."
"Come on, man, you know me better than that." She smiled. "You haven't asked her yet, have you?"
"No. And every time I've tried, I just… I freeze up. And now… The Albino could kill her and I… I just cannae… If she dies… Wait, how in the bloody hell did ye know?"
"You're wearing an extra ring. Probably so you don't lose it." In addition to the class ring he always wore on his right hand, he also had a small band of white metal on his pinky. Most people wouldn't notice but she shares a brain with Spock and being -obsessively- observant is her husband's default.
"I was waiting for the right time," he told her.
"There's no such thing. I mean, if I could've, I would've waited until I graduated from the academy before I got hitched. Do you remember all the bullshit that went on? Or the fact that we ended up having to tell the brass?"
"Aye. Ye both got charged with fraternization and something else."
"Falsifying records. I know it was only a couple years ago but it feels like a lifetime." Jayme sighed. "But, you know, through all the bullshit and all the hassle… I wouldn't trade a second of it. Guess love'll do that to you. Do me a favor?"
"Don't wait. Life is too short and you will hate yourself if you wait too long. Oh, and you totally gotta let me marry you. I've been waiting for this for years. Years."
"She has to say yes first, Jimmy."
"Oh, sweetie," she laughed, "you're the only person who thinks she won't. The rest of us have been placing our bets on when and saving our good booze for the party."
"Really. So, let's go get her. Knowing Ny, she'll probably ask what took us so long."
"She's a tough one, my rionnag," he said. Jayme raised an eyebrow. "Means star."
"See," she exclaimed, "you guys are too cute. I will be damned if I let the Albino ruin that."
Scotty sighed. "Thank you, Jim."
"For what? Being a good friend. It's kinda easy where you're concerned."