COLD, Chapter 6
273.15 K, Freezing point of water at 100 kPa
The Sutherland dropped out of warp less than a kilometer from the Ferengi vessel and another small freighter. It was common knowledge that, in the Beta Ursae sector block, Ferengi often did their trading ship to ship, rather than on a planet's surface or a space station. Most everyone on the Sutherland's bridge instantly suspected that was the case here, as well.
The three distinctly different ships, alone in the dark of space, with no planet or star anywhere near by, looked out of place so close together. The Ferengi ship and the civilian freighter were on the same plane, facing towards one another and just slightly canted, their noses almost touching. The Sutherland was still coasting forwards, not all of its momentum dissolved as it dropped out of warp. The small tactical escort started to turn to port slightly, as if planning to go into orbit around the two other vessels.
LtCdr Cromwell, from tactical, spoke from behind Dae. "Sir, both ships have raised their shields and are powering up their engines." Her voice, deep for a human female, was calm but laced with just a hint of disgust for the two other vessels.
Dae sat in the captain's chair, watching the two vessels on the view screen. He spoke plainly. "Open a channel to both vessels, audio only." A quick tone indicated the channel was open. "I am Commander Dae, of the USS Sutherland. You are conducting illegal business in Federation space. Unknown vessel, you are free to leave, immediately. Ferengi vessel, power down your engines immediately or I will open fire." The same tone again, indicating the comm channel was cut.
LtCdr Cromwell gave an update to the situation. "Sir, the other vessel is moving away, do you want me to track them?"
"No." Dae stated, flatly.
LtCdr Cromwell nodded. "The Ferengi vessel has powered down its engines, but its shields are still up."
Dae stood up, taking one small step forward. "Hail the Ferengi ship."
A few seconds passed before the view of a small Ferengi male appeared on the screen.
"I am Gark, Captain of the Ferengi merchant ship Jotalis. It's so nice to see a Starfleet vessel out here today. I was just telling my brother that ---"
Dae interrupted. "Were you in the Kalandra sector last week?"
The Ferengi looked confused, but a hint of surprise and possibly fear was there as well. "What... no, I don't think I was. But I do have some wonderful cases of Romulan ale on board that I would be willing to part with for... let's say half of face ---"
Dae stopped him again. "You were. Lower your shields and prepare to be boarded. We will be docking, ship to ship."
The Ferengi's hands briefly came into view on the bottom of the screen as he nervously rolled them over one another. "Uhhmmmm, well, Captain.... We're having some issues over here, I'm not sure if that such a good ---"
"Your starboard docking hatch, Captain Gark. I will see you there momentarily." Dae nodded to the comm officer and the screen went blank just as the Ferengi was about to speak.
Dae turned towards LtCdr Cromwell. "Have a security team meet us at docking hatch 4B." He then looked at his first officer, the human male LtCdr Hanford who was still sitting in the First Officer's chair. "Hanford, you have the bridge."
LtCdr Hanford slowly stood from the first officer's chair with a nod. The Lt Cdr's face showed the strain the entire crew was experiencing, but not a word was spoken. His eyes followed the Commander as he left. A small breath escaped the LtCdr's lips as the turbolift door closed and some of the tension on the bridge lifted. Turning back towards the viewscreen, he watched the nimble Sutherland maneuver into position alongside the Ferengi vessel.
A few moments later Dae was standing directly in front of the airlock, his Chief of Security to his right and the security detail in a line behind them.
The airlock opened to two Ferengi, both male, with similar enough appearances to assume they were somehow related. Before the airlock had opened completely, the lead Ferengi, the same one seen on the view screen on the bridge, started to speak. "Ahmmm, Captain, I think there has been some kind of misunderstanding? Why don't you join me for a nice glass of Saurian Brady and some gosha nibbles and I'm sure we can come to some agreement?"
The small Ferengi was practically grovelling at his feet. Dae just looked down at him, though he was speaking to his Security Chief. "Lieutenant Commander Cromwell, leave two security officers here and take the rest to the cargo hold. Tag anything from the Gemini or the Johallan." Dae ignored the grovelling Captain and looked at who, he assumed, was the ship's First Mate. He pointed a gloved hand. "You. Go with my team."
The second Ferengi complied and hurried off with the Sutherland's security detail, leaving only the two Captains and the two security guards. Dae and the guards stepped forward. The guards took positions just inside the door and Dae backed the Ferengi Captain up to the opposite bulkhead.
Dae's face was contorted in anger, though he knew no one could see it. To the cowering Ferengi, Dae was just a faceless suit and a slightly mechanical voice. "I suspect that your vessel was the one I spotted leaving the scene of two severely damaged, private science vessels after they were attacked. If I find evidence of this on your ship, today will go very badly for you.... unless you answer my questions. What did you find when you arrived at the site?"
The Ferengi fumbled his words, cowering before the evo suit in front of him. "I don't know what you are talking about. We've not been to any salvage sites in months."
Dae loomed over the scared Ferengi who remained hunched over, his back against the bulkhead. For several moments they held their places, neither talking.
A few minutes later LtCdr Cromwell and the security team returned to the airlock. She handed Dae a PADD. "Sir, there are several components and debris that are clearly from the SS Gemini. The list is on the PADD."
The other Ferengi returned with them and took a place off to the side of his cowering Captain, trying his best to stay out of the way of anyone or anything.
Dae looked at LtCdr Cromwell. "You tagged all of it?" She nodded.
Dae handed the PADD back to her and turned back towards the Ferengi, while talking to his Security Officer. "Take the security detail to the Sutherland's hold and beam all of this stuff over. Ensure it's documented with engineering. I'm going to finish my discussion with our friends."
Dae waited a moment for the security detail to leave. Finally he was alone on the Ferengi side of the airlock with just the Ferengi Captain and First Mate. He took a small step back, giving the Ferengi a chance to stand up straight.
As soon as the Ferengi was standing at full height, Dae's right hand flashed forward, gripping the Ferengi tightly around the neck and pinning him back against the bulkhead. His other hand drew his phaser pistol from his belt and pointed it at the other Ferengi, who only jumped at the sudden action.
The Ferengi Captain clawed at Dae's mask and suit with one hand, while gripping Dae's wrist in the other. He was choking and gasping for air.
Dae's helmet was pointed directly at the Captain, but he could turn his head slightly to see the First Mate down the sight of his phaser pistol. His words were obviously addressed to him. "Your Captain has made a mistake. Now I am going to give you a chance at a business opportunity."
The Ferengi First Mate nodded a few times, obviously very tense. "Uhhh... uhmmm, ok?"
Dae spoke again. "The ships you retrieved those items from. What did you find when you arrived at the site?"
Dae tightened his grip on the Captain's neck. Suddenly the idea of a mechanically assisted grip did not sound so bad. He could feel the soft tissue compressing under the pressure. The Ferengi gasps became shallower and more labored.
The First Officer hesitated for only a second. "Two, two... no three ships. Three Galor class Cardassian ships. They were surrounding the two science vessels. As soon as we arrived the Cardassian ships left. But, but... it was too late! The science vessels were too damaged!"
The First Mate stopped, hoping that was enough to appease the Starfleet Officer.
Dae slowly lowered his phaser pistol. For a second all was quiet, save for the wheezing Ferengi Captain. Then the Captain let out a shriek as the gloved hand continued to tighten its grip.
Dae looked into the eyes of the Ferengi struggling in front of him. He could feel the soft tissue continuing to compress under the pressure from his glove. "And......?
The first Mate struggled for more information. "Uhhh.. uhhhh... we did intercept one brief communication the ships transmitted before they went to warp. It just said that the mission was a success... they said.. uhhh... The Shroud! Yes! 'The Shroud has been successful.' That is what they said! Uhhh... it was sent to a 'Polan Derak'. But that's all I know. That's all, I swear. I swear!"
Polan Derak. The Shroud. This was the proof that Dae was looking for and it fueled his anger, as he had hoped it would. His grip tightened yet again.
The Ferengi's eyes bulged out, realizing the fate to come. His clawing at the evo suit helmet became frantic, both hands pulling at anything he could get a grip on.
Dae just let him crawl and scrape. He felt the last full measure of resistance under his glove. Everything had given as much as it could. Life needed oxygen supplied by blood and no more could be restricted. But more was asked. Dae squeezed harder and he felt the collapse of arteries, veins and the esophagus inside the Ferengi's neck.
Finally, the hard bone gave way, with an audible pop he felt the neck stretch in length, no longer restricted by the connections of the bone.
The Ferengi's head, eyes still wide open, fell off to the side, lifeless. His arms, outstretched and tense seconds before, fell limp by his side.
Dae held it still for a few moments, more for the First Mate to see. The Captain's lesson had been learned too late.
Releasing his grip, Dae stepped back letting the limp body fall to the metal floor. The head, now held in place only by the flexible tissue of the skin, bobbed around the floor at Dae's feet like a soccer ball attached by a tether.
Dae turned towards the live Ferengi. "Congratulations on the acquisition of your own freighter ship, Captain." He paused a moment to truly measure the absolute fear in the other being's eyes. "Never come into this sector again."
The Ferengi quickly nodded as he backed down the corridor and disappeared out of sight.
Dae holstered his phaser pistol and calmly stepped back through the airlock hatch. He tapped a control panel and the hatch slid shut behind him.
He then activated his comm. "Hanford, release the Ferengi vessel and set course for Bajor."