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Drowning Under the Stars

Posted on 11 Feb 2019 @ 8:21am by Lieutenant Gabriel Walker
Edited on on 11 Feb 2019 @ 8:39am

Mission: Prologue
Location: Eridani III
Timeline: prior to reporting

If this was regaining consciousness, Gabe felt, then he was okay with remaining unconscious.  Pain flared in his face and back.  That was to be expected considering the events from earlier.  He wasn’t sure how long it’d been since he was captured, but there was still strong daylight outside the tent.  He also expected the dull aching in his wrists and would have been surprised if he weren’t bound in some manner.  But, the aching in his ear…that one confused him.

A lot confused him at the moment, though, since his thoughts were thick and slow.  He was sitting, that was good because his legs felt numb and he wasn’t sure he could stand on his own.  Most likely swelling around the lower spinal column pinching his lower extremities.  How long that would last was unknown to him, but it did put a capper on any escape plans.  Hard to escape when he couldn’t walk.

“Good, you’re awake,” a voice said.  Gabe twitched his head, wondering why the sound seemed to come from only the right side.  His left ear felt thick as well.  “I hoped you weren’t going to die.”

“Not from what they’ve done so far,” he said, his words as thick as his thoughts.  He wasn’t sure he even understood himself.  It was fortunate he was in so much pain, it worked to block out her worry and anxiety.  “Not yet. They’ll want to torture me for information first.”

“Torture?” she asked.  He was sure she thought she was being gentle as she pressed the wet cloth to his face.

“Could be avoided if I tell them whatever they want to know.  That’s not happening,” he answered, looking around the room while she continued to ‘minister’ to him.  They were in a tent that appeared to be used for cargo storage more than anything else.  Unfortunately, being a clandestine, criminal operation, the crates around him weren’t conveniently labeled with such wordings as “weapons” or “explosives”.  He rarely ever found that to be the case.

“When are the others coming?” she asked, crouching in front of him.  The rag she twisted in her hand held a lot of blood.  He assumed it was all his.

“What others?” he asked, “I’m on leave. I didn’t know anybody was out here.  Why are you here?”

Anna fell back and stared at him, her eyes glistening in the gloom.  “No one else?”

“I should have called it in when I saw the shuttles but,” he didn’t want to finish the sentence.  He was supposed to become a chief of security and he committed a “phaser proof rookie” mistake.  Maybe he should find a way to take solace in knowing it’d most likely be the last stupid mistake he’d ever make.

“Why are you here?” he asked again, his dark eyes fixed on her face.  “Why are any of you here?”

She scoffed as she continued to twist the rag.  “Eridanian moss,” she spat out.  “For lowlife thugs they certainly know their botany.  It mimics a powerful narcotic in several Alpha quadrant species, especially Cardassians.  So far they seem to be the only ones that know about the moss.”

“Drugs?” Gabe asked.  “That’s it?  Just processing drugs?  I’m going to die because of common narcotics.”

“Die?” she asked, sitting forward.  “They’re not going…you think…we’re going to die?”

Gabe wanted to shake his head at that, and started to do so, only to have the pounding inside his skull decide to amp up to “Der Ring Des Nibelungen” levels.  Enjoyable as an opera, not so much when the entire percussion section was crammed inside the head.   “I’m Starfleet,” he simply said. 

“I tried to help you escape,” she said, “but you’re too heavy for me to move by myself.  They took your weapons, used your knife to cut up your ear.  I thought they were working to kill you right then.”

“The left ear?” he asked aloud, but already sure he knew that was it.  “They cut out something?”

“Looks like it,” Anna said.  “I tried to take you but I couldn’t and…I’m too afraid to try to run away again.  They said next time they’d…they…” she started crying again and the image in her mind was loud enough to break through the timpani.

That explained why it seemed as if he were having trouble hearing out of his left ear.  If they used a knife to slice out the implanted universal translator, they could have punctured the ear drum.

“It is a promise I intend to let my men keep,” the leader said as he stood from entering the tent.  Inside he was less ugly, but no less mean.  “Some of them can be quite inventive.”

“See, here comes the torture part,” Gabe said to Anna.  “Then will come the promises of mercy, a stop to the torture if I just tell them what-“

Since Gabe was sitting on the ground, tied to one of the support struts, the thug must have decided to not even try to hit him and went straight for a kick to the stomach.  Gabe lost his breath in a pained gasp.  “I grew tired of you sanctimonious, self-righteous security types long ago.  I will take pleasure in watching you beg for an easy death.”

“Not, going to, happen,” Gabe said between wheezing. 

“I’ve heard that before,” the thug said as he crouched before Gabe, seeming unconcerned by the woman’s presence.  “Many times.”

Gabe stared past the man.  “You’re going to kill me no matter if I tell you anything or not.”

“Maybe.  Or maybe I’m the type that rewards people who know where their best interests lie.  You wouldn’t be the first Starfleet who managed to survive me, only to receive payments.”

“I wouldn’t be the first to be killed by you either,” Gabe answered, scowling.  He must be more severely injured than he considered.  His eyes fell to the man’s neck and the tattoo inscribed into the flesh.  It was partially covered, but Gabe saw enough to know he was right about his chances of survival.  A dark circle with radiating points that swirled around the center.  The Black Hole Suns.  A criminal organization that spanned the quadrant, with their hand in everything criminal.  It was even suspected they had informants inside Starfleet security itself.  Over the last year there were several recruits removed from the Academy as deeper investigations into their backgrounds revealed involvement with the Black Hole Sun organization.  Gabe wouldn’t put it past them to include bribery and extortion against serving officers.

“Just kill me now,” Gabe muttered, slumping against the pole.  “I’m not going to give you any answers that will satisfy you.”

“I’m sure that is what you think, telepath, but while you may think you can take the physical punishment, are you so sure she can?”  He drew his knife and pointed the tip at Anna.

Gabe shrugged.  “I’m sure you’ll find out.”

He doesn’t know anything!” Anna screamed at the sight of the knife.  Again, her emotional outburst cut through the pounding in Gabe’s head.  “He was just out camping when he saw the shuttles!  He doesn’t know anything!” Her crying intensified as she looked at him as if apologizing.  Gabe wanted to hate her for her weakness but it wasn’t him that was being threatened with horrendous assault.  At least not yet.

Another entered the tent and spoke rapidly.  Gabe stared at the newcomer until he remembered that his universal translator was removed.  A smart move on the gang’s part, it kept him from overhearing anything he might be able to use against them later. 

The thug leader stood abruptly, his tone changing and becoming angry.  He took a step and then stopped to glare at Gabe.  “You will beg,” he said then hurried out of the tent.

“Where’s my backpack?” he asked as soon as he felt it was safe to talk.  Anna remained curled up and crying.  It infuriated him.  After she so casually removed his only bargaining chip – that there was the possibility of others coming to the area – and signed his death warrant, the least she could do was listen to him.  It wasn’t with kindness that he did his best to kick her.  What he managed was a light tap, the use of his legs still weren’t his to master.

It worked, however.  She looked up at him.  “Where’s my pack?” he asked.

“I don’t know, they…they left it out where they captured you,” she said.

“Anna,” he said, “we need to get out of here.  You know that don’t you?  The moment you’re no longer useful-“

“I’m already useless,” she said, “I’ve shown them the moss they need and how to process out the narcotic element.  I didn’t want to but they said they have-“

“Your mother or sister, or even some unknown child.  You can tell it to the authorities if we get out of here,” Gabe said, wondering what it was that sent the gang’s leader out of the tent.  It had to be something important but Gabe didn’t know how long the distraction would last.  “What’s important is that we do get out of here.  I need your help for that,” he said.  “I need some things from my pack.”

“I…” she looked around.  “There’s got to be a knife here somewhere. I can cut you lose and-“

“Anna, I can’t walk,” Gabe said.  “Not far or fast at any rate.  I need you to retrieve my pack.  Or if not it, there’s a silver capsule in the main compartment, if you can just bring that back then…maybe…we’ll get out of this alive.  If not, Anna, we’re dead and your dog or brother or whoever they said they took is dead as well.”  He doubted there was any actual abduction.  It was enough that she believed there had been.  They probably promised her the person would be let go, unharmed, if she cooperated.  Probably promised she’d be let go as well.

But after two days in their company, he doubted they’d be so foolish.  The only real question concerning her future with the gang was how easy would her death be?

“I can’t,” she sobbed.  “I’m too scared.”

“I know,” Gabe said.  “And I’m scared as well.  If I could, Anna, I’d get us out of here.  You know I would.”

She nodded at that, almost smiled as she remembered the incident on the transport. 

“Get me that capsule from my pack.  We’ll get everyone to safety.”

“They’ll be watching,” she said, looking around her as if to illustrate the issue.

“Something’s got their attention,” Gabe said wishing he could hear better.  As much as he hated to do so, he even tried reaching out with all his senses, but the injuries were too severe and…they could easily tell that he was Betazoid and probably have some sort of dampening or blocking device operating.  Something bad had to be happening though.  “There’s not much time, Anna.  If you don’t do it, then we’re dead.”

She just stared at him, silent tears still running down her cheeks.

“Anna, just out there and back, you’ll have to be quick.  Anna-“

“I know,” she answered.  “I know.”  She sounded defeated but, Gabe hoped, there was a spark.

She stood.  “I guess if I’m going to die, it’s better to be blown up by disruptors than what they could do.”

“Go out the back way, it’ll help conceal your movements,” Gabe said, not sure where the tent was in the encampment but it sounded good to her.  She nodded and, moving slowly, slipped out the back way.

Gabe leaned against the pole and tried to meditate the pain away.  Every sound, every footstep, that came near the tent sent his heart racing.  He strained to listen for incomprehensible shouts or weapons fire that suggested Anna was discovered – or that they were found by some miraculous method.

He wanted to count the seconds – she should only be gone a few minutes at most, if she ran to the location where they were captured.  The capsule was easy enough to find inside the pack, so that should take no time at all.  Or, she could just grab the whole thing and bring it back, either way it didn’t matter.  Time did.  Time was all that mattered at the moment.

Time where he could do nothing but wait, tied up and infirm, his fate depended on a scared botanist.  For all Gabe knew, she might get to the pack and then decide to keep on running.  It wouldn’t be a bad idea, at least she stood a chance of making herself safe from the gang.  Only to wind up the meal of some wild animal on the planet, or hopelessly lost until she just lies down and died.  There was nothing, really, that said the better idea was to return.

He heard footsteps at the front of the tent.  The flap parted, letting in strong afternoon light.  Gabe was blinded, his eyes accustomed to the dark inside the storage tent.   All heard was the heavy footfalls come back into the tent.  Then the flap dropped, cutting off the light.  He blinked, trying to adjust his vision when the new person dropped down next to him.

“Sorry I was gone so long,” Anna said. There was a thump as something was set down next to them.  He felt her sawing on the ropes that bound him.  “I wanted to find a knife to cut you free.  There’s something going on, there’s apparently another group inbound.  I thought we could slip out while they’re distracted.”

“You could have gone without me,” Gabe said as his hands were freed.  He tried to stand and found that he could do so only by putting weight on the one foot, the other was completely useless, numb from the waist down.

“I wouldn’t have gotten very far,” she said, picking up the capsule from his pack.  She held it out to him.  Gabe leaned against a stack of crates.  Somehow, through all the fear and danger, she was smiling.  “At first I thought it was a thermos but then I remembered.”

“I don’t drink coffee,” Gabe finished.  He turned the capsule until it was right side up and pressed the ends.  The control panel on the top lit up, activated.  Quickly he tapped in his authorization code.

“What is that?” she asked.

“Emergency backup,” he answered looking up.  “It’s a commercial transporter buffer.”

She continued to look at him, uncomprehending.

He was about to answer when the tent flap was thrown aside again.  The thug entered and stopped as he saw Gabe leaning across the crates and Anna next to him.

Gabe almost expected some cliched line from a second rate holonovels to come out of his mouth, instead he closed the distance, grabbing for the woman.   Gabe tried to push himself off the crates and intercept the leader but with only the one good leg he wasn’t able to get far.  The thug pushed him aside with a look promising his lingering, painful death would be next.

He shouldn’t have let himself be that distracted as Anna flung herself at him.  He was able to turn her attack away at the last second.  The knife buried itself into his bicep rather than his chest.   The same powerful blow that knocked out Gabe was turned on her.  Anna fell against the tent wall and slid to the ground.

Gabe shoved himself to his one good foot and grabbed the knife, ripping it from the gang leader’s arm.  As the thug turned and grabbed him, Gabe used the momentum to come forward, burying the knife deep under the thug’s sternum. 

The gangster’s breathing became labored and frothy as he staggered back.  Gabe didn’t give him another thought as he grabbed his buffer and dropped to the ground, crawling to Anna.  A quick check showed she was conscious.  A large red mark indicated the beginning of a bruise from where she was struck.

“Can that thing help get us out of here?” she asked, her words muffled from the swelling of her lip.

“Yes,” Gabe said, ignoring the wet, agonal breathing.  He hit the command button on the buffer.  “Communicator,” he said simply.  The capsule gave a low whine then emitted a small silver curtain of energy.  It lasted only a few seconds, but once the whine faded, a standard uniform communicator was in Gabe’s hand.

He waited until Anna sat up next to him and put her arms around his shoulders, “Lieutenant Walker to DS13 security,” he spoke quickly.  The interim time between the words leaving his mouth, entering the communicator’s antenna array and then broadcast to the orbiting station was less than a second, but it stretched out for hours it seemed.

“Lieutenant Walker, go ahead,” some security officer in communications answered, probably after looking up the communicator credentials and confirming they were legitimate.  Gabe wanted to shout but they were still in immediate danger.

“Scan these coordinates,” he started, “two to beam up and send a security team here.  Black Hole Sun members are on the planet at these coordinates.”

“Say again?” the voice came from the communicator, disbelief clear.

“Scan this area!” Gabe said, irritated at the delay. “You have two injured Starfleet members in the midst of a gang war!”

There was another delay, for how long Gabe didn’t know as he silently cursed the fool on the other side of the communicator.  Then he felt the transporter field fall around him.  Anna gripped him tighter as they were finally beamed away from the surface.

Lieutenant Gabriel Walker

Starfleet Security (pending assignment Mark Miller)

On leave


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