With practiced hands, Chris Lennox reassembled the housing of the phaser. It was an antique, dating back to the Praxis incident. He had maintained it, updating and replacing internal components as they failed or burned out. It was on par with current Starfleet hand phasers, but with its original focusing chambers and lens assembly, it couldn't be traced to any particular starship or command. He put the pistol aside, then checked over the rifle one more time. It, too, had been modified personally, a large black weapon reinforced for rugged use, and had a few different configurations. Finally, he picked up the folded bat'leth, snapping it open with a flick of his wrist, performing a number of slashes in the air, and then pressing the activator that collapsed it back into its compact form.

He checked over the rest of his inventory one more time. A few days of compact field rations, two water bottles and a number of purification tablets, portable medkits, a satellite positioning system uplink, a miniature PADD with a schematic of the underground portion of the city, a handheld terminal, a dedicated remote control and call device for the Lovelace... he shook his head, telling himself that he was worrying overmuch. Then again, his experiences in situations like this, few though they were, had taught him that one could never be too careful. He definitely knew he didn't want to put anything into a large bag that he could leave behind by accident or taken off of him by someone on Turkana. He picked up a matte combadge, one that would blend in with the dark tactical outfit he was wearing, and turned it over in his hand. He knew that he would be activating a subroutine on the shuttlepod that would monitor his lifesigns through the combadge - if those lifesigns ceased, the Lovelace would self-destruct.

He shook his head, tucking away his inventory into the pouches on his bandolier, belt, and armbands. He holstered the phaser pistol, attached the bat'leth to the small magnetic points near his shoulder blades, and slung his rifle by its strap over his arm. He headed out from his cabin, and came face to face with a very concerned Andorian.

"I am going to reiterate my protest to this course of action," Corspa Sh'thaal said flatly.

"Your protest is noted," Lennox replied. "Be sure to note it in the ship's log, as well, when you take command."

"You should take the entire ship to Turkana. Or send the MACO detachment." She lifted her chin. Her antannae twitched slightly. "Or send me. I served many years in the Imperial Guard before I joined Starfleet."

Lennox shook his head. "I'm not letting anybody else get wrapped up in this with me. And I wouldn't be doing this if I had any other choice."

"These are savages." Corspa stepped towards him. "The Turkana IV colony is a lawless, chaotic place. You were lucky to escape from them. Four Starfleet officers with the coordinated assistance of a Galaxy-class cruiser barely made it out without causing a major incident, or being killed themselves. You are endangering yourself, and your career, with this course of action. I cannot condone it."

"Then relieve me of command and throw me in the brig."

Corspa glared at him. "I do not wish to see you harmed."

"I'm going to be careful. I promise. And I'm leaving the best officer I've ever had the priviledge to have under my command at the helm of the Windrunner, which is perhaps the one thing that, until recently, I've cared about the most."

The Andorian's glare became more pointed, but less severe. "You will be careful." It wasn't a question.

He nodded. "Don't break my ship."

She looked borderline offended. "Your ship? Begging your pardon, sir, but when the commanding officer is not aboard, she is my ship."

"All the same, don't break her."

Before Corspa could muster another playfully biting response, the intercom chimed.

"Bridge to Commander Lennox," came the voice of Lieutenant Pura, Chief of Operations.
"We're approaching the Sherman system, sir."

Lennox touched the panel on the wall. "Thank you, Lieutenant." Corspa lead the way as they walked together to the turbolift, then to the shuttlebay. The Lovelace was already in position. Adjusting how his rifle sat on his shoulder, he turned to Corspa.

"Commander Sh'thaal, you have the conn."

"I have the conn," the Andorian echoed. "Good fortune, and good hunting, Christopher."

With a nod and a wink, Lennox turned to enter the Lovelace through her one point of engress, the rear hatch. He keyed it shut, rested his rifle in the co-pilot's chair, and warmed up the shuttlepod. He reached up and flipped on the comm to the bridge of the Windrunner.

"Shuttlepod Lovelace, ready for launch."

The circular bay door beneath the shuttlepod irised open. The response came a cool, calculated voice, like a sentient computer system given the body of a young woman. "Shuttlepod, you are cleared for departure."

Lennox smiled. "Come to wish me luck, Zero?"

"I do not believe in luck," was the reply of Adjutant Zero. The liberated Borg was even less ruffled by Lennox's humor than Corspa. "But I do believe in that I shall be seeing you again soon. I shall be disappointed if I do not. And I am 65% less efficient when I am disappointed." There was a pause. "So don't."

"I wouldn't dream of it. Thanks, Zero. See you all in a few days."

With that, he piloted the Lovelace away from the U.S.S. Windrunner. He turned the tiny vessel towards it and watched, for a long moment, as the modified Mercury-class escort passed between Sherman's star and the antiquated but charming form of Deep Space K-7. He took a moment to appreciate the angle of her wings, the color of her highlights, the glow of her engines, just in case it was the last time he'd see her.

"Watch over them, Dark Lady," he said quietly, almost reverently.

The Windrunner turned onto her course and, with a flare of her engine housings, shot off at warp speed. Taking a deep breath, Lennox steered his shuttlepod in a different direction. There was no turning back now. He spun up the subspace rift core, found the right angle to approach the aperature of the transwarp conduit, and felt the Lovelace shudder as the gravitational forces took hold and yanked it towards the remote systems that once bordered the Romulan Star Empire. One of them, not far from the former Neutral Zone, was the Turkana system.

Chris Lennox was going home.
He lay prone on top of a ruined housing structure on the outskirts of the skeletal corpse of Turkana IV's surface city. They'd tried to rebuild it a few decades ago, and then the Hobus explosion had drenched the surface with debris. Overhead, dark clouds rolled, full of dust and pollutants, occasionally dropping acid rain on the deserted areas. A small respirator unit covered his mouth and nose, filtering out poisons and free-floating fungi. His left eye was closed, the green iris of his right in front of the scope attached to the top of his rifle.

The optics focused on a particular building. The government used to be housed there, along with electronic records and a communications uplink. There was still power to the remaining systems, but no lifesigns. The persistent bands of choking ruin in the atmosphere made communication all but impossible, and had also masked the Lovelace's approach to the surface. Old topographical data had told Lennox where the city should have been, and he'd plotted his course to land a few kilometers away, in the dead riverbed across a shallow basin. There was nothing there; there was no reason anyone would go there, let alone stumble across the shuttlepod.

Without a lifesign in sight, he decided now was the time. He stood, lowered his goggles, and made his way back down through the hollowed-out remains of the apartment building. As he went, he removed the sight from the top of the rifle and returned it to its compartment in the rifle's stock. He also unscrewed the flash suppressor from the front, and likewise stowed it. If he'd needed to shoot anyone, the beam would have been invisible. The suppressor had a limited life, though, and had he needed to squeeze off more than three or four shots, a replacement would have to be built. And he'd only built the one.

I'm still an amateur at this sort of thing, he thought. I'm no MACO.

Nevertheless, he kept his rifle close, crossed in front of his body, as he trekked towards the former capitol building. He moved in a half-crouch, legs pumping quickly, covering as much ground as he could.

As he closed on it, questions plagued his mind. What would he find? Would he need to go underground, and risk running afoul of one of Turkana's wild factions? How often did they actually get supplies from off-world? How did the Meteor Queen come here, and give him the opportunity to escape?

He was struck with a sudden memory of that ship, and its beautiful and driven Orion captain who'd made him her cabin boy and so much more, as he reached what used to be the main thoroughfare.

Harsh, distorted voices break his concentration, and he darted to one side, crouching behind the low corner of what was once some sort of shop or eatery. His boot landed on a twisted, rusted fork.
Leaning out, he saw two figures, wearing ragged environmental coats and full head coverings, made their way across the desolation towards the capitol building. He frowned. So much for a quick in and out.

They went inside. Lennox got up and followed, taking a roundabout route towards the building. He felt compelled to do something about this situation. He wasn't about to let innocent people get hurt or worse when they came to provide support. Not to mention these men were in his way. He checked his rifle. It was a combat model, made for the front lines, and he'd modified it to be more versatile - though he'd overlooked something while adding its new modes. This is why I'm not an engineer. I rush things and I miss stuff like, you know, stun settings. He settled for reducing its power as much as he dared, and praying to the stars he was as good a shot as he thought he was.

"I do love a good transport takeover," the one at the console was saying, approaching a console. He wiped dust from it, then knelt to work at its power connections. "Target practice on the men, take the women below, plunder the stores, strip it for parts. Even when they see it coming, it's a thrill. Gets me in the mood for..."

"Take it down a notch. Do your 'quartermaster' thing. No distractions."

"This place is a graveyard. You're too paranoid." The console came back to life, and the quartermaster stood. "Nobody but us comes up here. Confed's sitting on a huge stockpile, they got no need for this sort of thing. At least, not this often."

"Yeah?" The paranoid one turned to look in all directions. He had an old phaser rifle in his hands. "What if Confed sends a couple of men up here anyway?"

"If they do," the quartermaster said, patting the disruptor pistol at his hip while he worked on the console, "we're ready for 'em."

Lennox shifted how he was crouching, and as he did, his boot caught on an empty, half-flattened can. The movement of his foot sent it spinning away, its rusted lid making a loud scraping noise on the pavement before bouncing down the steps.

"What was that?" The paranoid man lifted his rifle. "Who's there?"

"Probably some alleyrat. Up for some stew?"

"You're disgusting." A phaser shot slammed into the wall on the other side of Lennox. He moved back just in time, as a section of the wall was vaporized, leaving a hole as big around as his head.

That weapon is definitely not set on stun.

Lennox spun to crouch in front of the hole, raising the rifle. It kicked against his shoulder when he pulled the trigger. The heat sinks of the rifle emerged very briefly from the sides above the grip before returning to their housings; hence the recoil. The high-density energy bolt shot through the air and smacked into the side of the paranoid ganger's leg. As the man collapsed with a scream, the quartermaster spun, drawing his pistol. Lennox sighted down his rifle and squeezed off another shot, missing. The disruptor pistol emitted a green, ragged beam, which burned away the section of wall that gave Lennox partial cover. Ducking back, Lennox realized he'd forgotten to bring flashbangs or stun grenades. Cursing softly, his right hand's forefinger flicked the mode switch just ahead of the trigger guard. He twisted with his left hand's fingers, and the bottom portion of the rifle's forestock obediently turned and dropped slightly. The emitter of the rifle slid back into its housing cowl as a refracting lens clicked upwards into place. Keeping it low, he turned it towards door, moved it away from him with the stock tucked against his left side, and pulled the trigger.

The bolt of energy was refracted and split into a wide dispersal pattern. The recoil nearly tore the rifle from his hands - he grunted, having failed to brace properly. After the rifle barked, though, the quartermaster gave an anguished cry, and there was the dull thud of a body hitting the dust-covered floor of the building. Lennox stood, returning the rifle to its standard battle configuration with a twist of his left hand in the opposite direction, and walked in. The quartermaster's legs were in a bad way, badly burnt skin visible under layers of scorched cloth. The other one was clutching a similar wound on his leg in one hand, and his shoulder with the other. Apparently, Lennox had caught him in the same blast. The close quarters angle on this is wider than I thought it was. Huh.

The quartermaster was reaching for his pistol, which Lennox kicked away. He stepped over the groaning, growling men towards the console, slinging the rifle. A glance told him the console was old, but it was still Federation tech, and he could manage it. The strained grunts behind him were starting to form words. He drew his old phaser, checking its settings.

"Son of a whore," the quartermaster snarled, turning over to try and crawl to the pistol now out of his reach. "Gonna drag you down so's we can torture you for-"

"Nope." An azure stun bolt made the quartermaster's body shudder and fall still. The paranoid one got another. Lennox checked both of them. They were breathing, but they'd both wake up full of body aches and impotent anger. And they would probably walk again. Maybe.

Holstering his sidearm, Lennox went back to the console and got to work. He found the data junction most likely to give him what he was looking for, but there was something else.

What in the name of the stars is a Federation transponder signal still doing on this planet?

It was weak, so weak the Lovelace hadn't picked it up when he'd landed. But it was unmistakable.

Someone from Starfleet was down here. They might have been for a while. And they needed help.

Lennox didn't know if this would justify his presence here. He knew for sure he was in for it when he got back - if he got back - for taking this little trip. But he wasn't about to leave a comrade behind.
The labrynthine corridors of Turkana IV's underground metropolis made very little sense, unless one had lived in it for all their lives. Chris Lennox's memories of the corridors were vague and filled with, as Doctor Vorman had put it, "nightmares and trauma." As he made his way slowly and carefully through, following the directions provided by the console on the surface, he fought down the desire to hunt down the orphanage where he'd been left and find a way to blow it up. It would be a petty and pointless waste of time, even if he'd find it deeply satisfying.

His rifle was slung across his back, and he proceeded with his phaser in his right hand, the schematic PADD in his left. He'd linked it to the positioning uplink, now slaved to the remaining antennae in the cluster of the old government building. It was a hack job, and wouldn't last long. He needed to be quick. More to the point, he wanted to be.

He blinked, and suddenly, he was seeing the corridors from a very different perspective. Instead of walking, he was being carried. A few sickening, quick turns and some long lengths later, he'd been handed off. Turning his head, his mother was looking down at him. "Please forgive me, Chris. I just want you to be safe." Then, she disappeared back down the hallway, drawing a weapon as she went.

Chris shook his head. Nightmares and trauma. He barely remembered his mother. He remembered her brilliant green eyes, her smile, the sound of her voice. But there was little else. And, Chris reminded himself, it was irrelevant. His mother, alive or dead, was not here. His search was not for her person, but her past. And it was a lot easier to search this vast tangle of conduits, hallways, and re-purposed cargo containers and pre-fab structures for a terminal with access to records than an individual person.

Footfalls ahead but out of sight caused Chris to duck to his left, behind a stack of crates. He checked his PADD as he stayed down, and memorized the turns he needed to take for him to get to the terminal in question. He shut off the PADD, stowed it, and leaned out from behind the crates. There were five figures, two looking down the corridor in his direction. He would have had to move too much to ready his rifle, so his simply kept his phaser in hand and leaned back, listening as they chatted quietly about "Barrow's Syndicate" and "Bates' Confederacy." Eventually, they moved on.

Chris took a deep breath, leaned out again to check for the coast to be clear, and moved to the junction. He checked again, then headed in the opposite direction of what he'd heard. He turned down another corridor, climbed down through a section of Jeffries tube someone had welded between two different storage areas, and moved through a large cargo container to where a terminal had been rigged up. The only door in and out was behind him, at the far side of the container. He hated that.

It wasn't just an opening, though, but a proper door. One side was welded shut, and the other hung on hinges. Chris closed the door, and while it wouldn't latch, it didn't swing back open. He'd picked up some grenades from Barrow's men. It had taken a little bit of time, but he'd removed the sleeve of explosive material from them, making them essentially extremely loud firecrackers. He rigged one to rest on top of the door, then placed a small metal crate near the bottom. It would keep the door from swinging open on its own, but a good shove from someone would open it, and drop the live mother-of-all-noisemakers on their heads.

Chris returned to the terminal, and started looking through what records he could find. Two Federation ships were in the area around the time of his birth that had lost contact with Starfleet. The U.S.S. Kearsarge was a cruiser, and many of its parts could have been salvaged for use in the underground complex. But when he'd passed over the far side of the planet, far from the colony, there'd been no sign of large ship wreckage. If anyone from that ship had made it to Turkana's surface, they'd have been in escape pods, and if they'd been far from the colony, they wouldn't have lasted long. The U.S.S. Neva, on the other hand, was a Runabout. If that ship went down, it would have been easier for the crew to steer towards any signal from the colony, and especially with an emergency beam-out, get to shelter and, somehow, survive.

Even so, Chris searched the time period in question for mentions of both ships. The search results were just over a dozen files, mostly logs and journals saved by various inhabitants, and all related to the Neva. He didn't want to take any time reading or even opening any of the files. He put an isolinear chip into the terminal and began copying them. The operation was completed quickly, and a good thing, too: the moment Chris pulled out the chip, he heard the door getting shoved.

Chris bolted to the Jeffries tube and moved up as quickly as he could before the grenade went off. The detonation was loud, but having been in the same room could have really damaged his hearing. Emerging from the tube, Chris headed back down the corridor to the junction, then turned towards the way back up to the surface.

And came face to face with a young woman holding a weapon on him. If Chris had to guess, he would have filed it under "blunderbuss". However, given its construction, and the ominous green glow deep in its maw, it was probably some kind of plasma projector.

"Stop right there, or I'll burn your head off of your shoulders."
For what was, admittedly, a pretty terrifying moment, Chris Lennox stood there, hands at shoulder height, not saying a word. It took him a few heartbeats to look away from the doom-promising light within the weapon being held on him to the face of the woman holding it. She had green skin, black hair, and bright blue eyes, which were not wide in surprise, but steady and patient. This was a combat veteran in front of him. He mustered his courage and spoke.

"You're not from around here," he said.

She scoffed. "You're one to talk." She gestured with her weapon. "Those are standard-issue expedition pouches you've got strapped to your arms. Not sure why you've got that antique phaser, and I've got no idea what you're carrying on your back. But you're Starfleet, unless Bates is getting really creative and resourceful in making infiltrators."

"Were you a Turkana native, you'd have shot me without warning, and scavenged my corpse for my weapons and rations." He studied her. "What're you doing here?"

"I was here first, and I've got the plasmathrower, so I'll ask the questions. What are you doing here?"

"I was born here. I came back to find information on my parents. I have a hunch about myself I need to confirm."

The Orion woman's brows furrowed. "You came here to find your birth certificate?"

Chris shrugged. "Can't run for President without it."

She frowned, but her expression otherwise eased. "If you're a politician, I still might burn you where you stand."

"I'm worse. I'm a starship CO."

"Brass. Wonderful."

"Yeah, but I'm the brass that picked up your transponder."

"There's no way that thing's still running."

"Had to be almost on top of it, but I picked it up. How'd you keep the natives from finding you with it?"

"A few tried. When they didn't make it back people started assuming that container was haunted."

He eyed the Orion. "And how do I know you're actually Starfleet?"

Before she could answer, there was a shout at the intersection behind them. A disruptor pistol screeched, and Lennox felt his left knee go numb. It collapsed under his weight, and as he went down with a cry, he turned his body towards the shooter. As he went for his sidearm, the Orion sped past him, raising her weapon even as she lowered her body. An angry, green stream of barely contained energy spat from its maw, even as its body showered the corridor with tiny green sparks. The shooter barely had time to scream before he was set ablaze, a bright pillar of immolated flesh and bone before a pile of ash fell to the floor. The Orion looked down at her weapon in disgust and threw it aside.

"Two weeks of work." She shook her head, then turned to Chris. "You have medkits?"

Nodding, Chris pulled one out of the pouch on his belt. She set to work, administering painkillers to the wound site and repairing the damage.

"You've done this before." His voice was strained. Getting shot sucked.

"I was my detachment's medic." She sounded more gentle. It was bedside manner kicking in. "I was part of a MACO team sent to the Brea system to investigate a Tal Shiar base. This was... what stardate is it?"

"93306 point something," Chris managed.

"Yeah, six months ago. I was afraid I'd lost count. Anyway, there was a D'deridex waiting for us in orbit. Hold on, this is gonna sting." Chris winced as a hypo was pressed to the center of the wound. "One of the junior officers on the ship and I got to a shuttle before the warp core breached. We made the jump to warp, but took a hit to our nacelle. We only made it a few light years, to here, and we crashed. He didn't make it."

"I'm sorry."

"Thanks. You got a ship?"

"Yeah. A few klicks west of what used to be the surface city."

"Okay. I say we get the hell off of this rock." She suddenly ducked down, over Chris's body, as another disruptor shot went above them. She grabbed his phaser from it's holster, rolled over on top of him, and fired. A burn appeared in the chest of the woman who'd tried to shoot them, and she dropped. "The sooner, the better."

"Take my rifle," Chris said, "and hand me my phaser. But first, I think you'd better get off of me."

She stood, helped him up, and handed him the sidearm. He unslung his rifle, and she looked it over apprasingly. "This isn't bad work. A bit rough, but not bad."

"I tinker in my spare time." He put an arm around her shoulders, and she hefted him up a bit. "I'm really hoping I can trust you not to shoot me once we get to my shuttlepod."

"Well, I'm not a very good pilot, and I wouldn't have these if I were a native." She used her left hand to pull out a pair of dog tags. Chris examined them. Jenassa, M.A.C.O., Starfleet, United Federation of Planets.

"Nice to meet you, Jenassa. I'm Chris Lennox."

"Charmed. Now pick up that good leg, and let's leave Barrow's Syndicate and Bates' Confederation to their little lover's spat. I'm sick of rations, and I need a shower in the worst way."
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(Edited for a more consistent and plausible narrative.)
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