Star Trek Hunter
Episode 14: When Death Comes
Scene 1: Layover
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14.1
Layover
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Once the U.S.S. Hunter's crew members were released from Trantor General Hospital, it was hardly surprising that Trantor was the last place any of the Hunter's crew wanted to go to. With her ground operations department seriously traumatized and the rest of her crew reeling from the loss of two crew members and two others grievously wounded, Justice Minerva Irons, with approval from Star Fleet Operations, removed the U.S.S. Hunter from active duty and placed the ship on emergency reserve status.

Ba Sing Se was the only place the entire crew felt safe on Cun Ling - largely because they were surrounded by Justice Irons' family members. And unlike Trantor with its peerless glass skyscrapers, the great Earth Kingdom city had a warmth to it that the crew desperately needed.

To reduce the burden on her crew, Justice Irons ordered the U.S.S. Hunter landed. Chief Flight Specialist Dewayne Guth parked the Hunter on the very courtyard where a day before Irons and her director of flight operations had given the eulogy for Flight Specialist Joey Chin. Following non-emergency landing protocol, the tactical unit, the wagon and the two interceptors were undocked and parked separately nearby.

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Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Dolphin wasted no time recruiting a replacement for Joey Chin. Chief Flight Specialist Thyssi zh'Qaoleq received a bit of a cold welcome at first until a rather exasperated Lt. Tauk sternly reminded his ground team that although they had been kidnapped and tormented by andorians, many, many other andorians had come to their rescue.

Thyssi came highly recommended. She had served in Commander Red's squadron at the Battle over Rings, facing off against the forces of House Shav and had piloted one of the six interceptors that had formed up behind (then) Lt. Dolphin during his attack run on the I.G.V. Ravonnelle.

Replacing Investigator Lynhart Shran would not be anywhere near as easy and Lt. Tauk, 2nd Lt. T'Lon and Investigator Buttans Ngumbo were in no hurry to try.

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Although she needed a vacation as much as, if not more than her crew, Justice Minerva Irons quickly realized that was not going to happen on Cun Ling. As she ran from one meeting to another ceremony, Irons found herself looking forward to the relative peace of space travel.

The Tribunal needed her to help train new appellate justices. Star Fleet and the Federation Council (separately and jointly) had no end of briefings and debriefings over the Andoria First Incident (as the initial murder of 37 members of Andoria First along with the following kidnapping of the Hunter's crew and ensuing assault on th'Istel was now collectively being referred to.) Admirals and Federation Councilmembers were surreptitiously pointing fingers at the new Emperor of Andoria for setting these deadly events in motion. Emperor Sin's unrelenting, fiery rhetoric toward Andoria First only added fuel to these speculations.

At least, in deference to Justice Irons' age and the perception that she, too, had been traumatized by the events in Trantor, all of these meetings were held in the Imperial Palace at Ba Sing Se.

At the end of one of these interminable meetings, Irons almost stormed out of the room and nearly ran over Special Agent Johnny Canada of the Trantor Police Intelligence Division. Canada quickly summoned her into a side room.

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"I had to bend a lot of rules and break more than a few to obtain this information, your honor," Canada said. He handed Irons a reader. "Autopsy reports on the 37 andorians that we found dead in the streets of Trantor."

"They weren't killed by phasers?" Irons asked.

"Andorian phasers," Canada said, "but… not current ones. The signatures left by these phasers were consistent with phasers distributed to Andorian Imperial Guard, but that generation of phaser was entirely decommissioned four years ago and all AIG forces have been resupplied with a newer model. Each phaser leaves a slightly different wound signature. Forensic examiners with some experience can easily tell the difference between an Andorian Imperial Guard phaser and a Star Fleet issue phaser. Noting differences in model types is much more refined skill set, but I have a friend…"

"I will need to run this past my people," Irons said. "If this bears out, it appears someone is trying to frame the new Emperor for starting an Andorian civil war in the middle of downtown Trantor."

"Some pretty powerful people did not want me to have this information, which makes me reasonably certain they do not want you to know. Including some of my superiors in the Intelligence Division," Canada said.

Irons tapped the reader. "Can this be authenticated?"

"I made sure to give you everything you need to authenticate those files. Your Lieutenant Tauk should have no problem with it," Canada said. "But if you want to make use of this, you really need to have your own people verify it, which means going through official channels – and soon, before those bodies are released to their families. Better bring your big guns right from the start. I suspect there will be far more than your normal bureaucratic resistance to that request."

"Thank you, Agent Canada."

"Don't mention it…" Johnny Canada said with his trademark friendly smile, and then added, "Ever…"

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It was only moments later that Irons had a private meeting with Ensign Tolon Reeves. Reeves had met with Lt. Tauk, Lt. Commander Mlady and Commander David Pepper about the status of his team. Some of the rooms in the Imperial Palace, including the grand ballroom, had been pressurized and the atmosphere purified to give Tauk a break from staying onboard the Hunter.

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"So, Reeves, I understand you want to stay with us," Irons said, trying to conceal her exhaustion as she sat down at her eighth conference table for the day. "We could probably find you a less hazardous post so you could spend more time with your remaining limbs…"

Ensign Tolon smiled ruefully. "Dr. Tali Shae told me I qualify for a medical discharge under honorable circumstances.."

"Loss of limb qualifies," Irons said. "How is the prosthetic? It certainly looks natural. I wouldn't notice it if I didn't already know."

Tolon lifted his left hand, then let it drop at full speed onto the malachite table top with a resounding cracking sound. "It registers as pain, but it doesn't hurt." He lifted his hand, turned it around. "No damage – that would have at least bruised my other hand, if not broken it. It looks real but… it… just doesn't feel... real"

Irons laid her hand on Tolon's prosthetic hand. "It will be some time before this starts to feel normal to you. But I have known other people with prosthetics. You do get used to them. So tell me about your team."

Tolon looked down, then looked at Irons. "It's time to let them get on with their lives. They came in as a family unit and Star Fleet kept them together, in spite of normal procedure. They have less than two months before their tour of duty is up. I could see giving them a security assignment far from the front lines, but the Hunter is no place for them to be serving after all this."

"Why do you think that?" Irons asked.

"I have serious ethical concerns about ever putting those kids in danger of being taken prisoner again," Tolon responded. "Something that probably needs to be considered when we recruit people from their kind of background. They have done an amazing job, but I don't think anyone appreciated until now just how traumatized they were by growing up more or less in slavery and deprivation. Rys and Garr are waking up screaming and crying – and they're far better off than Jarrong and Cantys. Cantys is putting on a brave face, but she spends hours crying every day. And Jarrong is just going through the motions at this point. She has a hard time focusing. They will get better, but not before their tour of duty is up."

"But here you are, ready to plug this thing in," Irons tapped Tolon's prosthetic left hand, "and walk back into the fight?"

"You know, it's weird," Tolon said. "You would think at my age – I'm 47 – that all the adventure would have been squeezed out of me by now. But I've never felt so alive. I think if I were to go to some backwater and work at a desk at this point… I'd just go mad. It's like I'm desperate to get out there again. More now than ever."

"You're going to need a new team," Irons said. "I agree with you about your charges – I think I have an alternative for them. We'll get together with them once we get underway. I am really eager to get back into space."

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After a full day, Justice Irons finally returned to her quarters, desperately needing sleep. She had been assigned a massive suite within the palace – easily the size of deck 8 on the Hunter (which included her quarters, her office, the bridge, the executive conference room and the ground operations center.) Each of the two entrances into her suite was guarded non-stop by two Dai Li agents.

Irons noticed that these two agents appeared slightly disconcerted, but she was too tired to investigate further and stepped into her drawing room. She was half in a mood to collapse on one of the divans in her drawing room without bothering to make it to the master bedroom… But there were four people in her drawing room waiting for her. And not just any four people. Two humans, a vulcan and an andorian – an aenar, actually…

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"It is wonderful that the four of you are together," Irons mused tiredly. "But in my quarters? This can't be good…"

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14.1