When Rain Clouds Gather, Pt I
Posted on Sunday, 26 July 2020 - 2:40pm by Warrant Officer Reza Jomiael & Zelon Bakar
Edited on on Sunday, 26 July 2020 - 3:56pm
Timeline: MD +06
Encompassing the narrow success of the commander’s operation, the grace of a heightened morale touched aboard the Standing Bear. Few hadn’t recognised the sting operation, grim as the state of affairs was. The Federation had been the first to take its notable victory, confident despite the marauder’s stalwart plague abroad Raitchaak’s flotilla. Whoever was behind the menace fervently gripped the economical trade routes however, without relent. Amidst increased presence, the numbered ships grew thin as patrols doubled.
It was not withstanding the appreciation conjured in private discussions however, drawing the governing body’s notice. Contrasting the whispers of member states considering withdrawal from the accords, back channels slipped praise over the admiral’s efforts. The Fleet Net even took part, re-emphasising the increased tolerance of failures would not be accepted. Victory would be assured and the security of the citizens were becoming a major priority.
Aboard the Standing Bear however, there was a split in the absence of renewed favourable outcomes. Crew members held on, however not all was sound — the hapless passenger’s condition deteriorated with each passing day. His mental and physical thresholds succumbed threatening his well-being by the very presence of those who brought him aboard. Knowledgeable of it opposing his free will, three officers had already spoken out. Had the Federation lost their way? It was plausible, given they disputed the claim an ethical standard had been violated where it previously had been treasured.
Stillwater resoundingly terminated the challenge with his own judgement. Promptly dressing down the assumptive individuals he nearly dismissed the matter, however not without lacing a compromise in exchange for their vigilance. An agreement struck by granting the Orion a regular holodeck slot, aspiring to draw out his reclusiveness by privilege of restored freedom…to an extent.
The first session hadn’t gone well, or even taken place for that matter. As guards were sent in to remove him from the quarters and escort him to the ‘relief,’ he sunk back into defeat, retreating as far as he was able into the room. Clearly mortified of even being around his captors, Stillwater’s hand once more had been forced. Unwilling to use coercion, they fell back to another matter, investigating a way to get the slave collar off. Leads were few, sparing the will left behind from his previous master. Freecloud. It was fortunately on their designated path, however beaming down had quickly been removed from the list of options.
As it was, there was little knowledge regarding the technology embedded inside the slave device. Woji had ruled out the risk of explosives in her own investigation, yet that hadn’t removed any further threats given her own lack of experience. Listening bugs or further remote protocols brought another security risk, as had been evident from the control mechanism, which now was heavily damaged. Amidst a list of allied initiatives growing thin, the routes of legally removing the collar within a reasonable time frame dwindled. Freecloud was their only realistic option. A neutral territory colloquially associated with a less-than-heavenly reputation.
Setting down uncomfortably onto the issued landing pad, the mechanical hiss of the back hatched was immediately greeted by spaceport control officials, palms held wide as they expected something in return. The Federation’s presence was noticed, if not broadcasted as the grounding fee was distributed by a not-at-all pleased logistics crew woman doubling as their pilot. Aboard the quarter compartments hesitantly opened, releasing the ward from his confinement, meeting the security adjutant with petrified eyes. He warily looked over Woji’s holstered phaser, wrapping his arms around himself as if it would permit him a lost comfort of protection.
“Alright,” Woji began addressing, her focus drifting to the point man elected by Stillwater. “Your point of contact is at the Elysium Royale. It’s a casino on the far edge of the city. They’re aware you’re coming, per the will. Or at least someone representing the estate.” She patted her weapon, clearly pointing to the diode which demonstrated it was in the ‘off’ mode. Woji offered a dimmed smile in futile attempt to reassure the green-skinned charge.
“I don’t need to tell you this place is independently governed. Try not to cause trouble sir. The Federation has no real authority here; I wouldn’t put it past the Stardust City Police to be delightfully ready to arrest someone. Crime isn’t tolerated, even if it is wholly present in the darker corners of the city.”
Reza smirked and patted his overcoat, a shoulder holstered phaser visible as he flashed Woji. “You do not need to worry about me, Woji. I’m also independently governed,” Reza replied with a small chuckle. “Autonomously by the law of the land, and my own sheer fucking hubris.” The man looked at Woji and nodded.
“My word is good. I will not cause the Federation a diplomatic incident nor make a scene on a planet. I actually know what I am doing, unlike one of those people Stillwater had been handed,” he said not bothering to name them, but the Orion he was traveling with was evidence enough.
He looked over to see the Orion and patted his leg as though calling for a lap dog though Reza had far more respect for the Orion than that of a pet. He just did not know how to communicate with him yet. “Does he have a name?” asked Reza. “Mackenzie was supposed to go on this assignment, but for whatever reason, I ended up taking his place. Probably too busy chasing some tail aboard the Standing Bear.”
The crew woman shrugged, a plentiful expression of disappointment glowed in her eyes. “So far as we know, no.” Woji looked to the effective captive, wondering exactly how the day would play out. Would coming to Freecloud make the kid’s life miserable, or worsened by the fact he’d failed to save his previous owner? Or would the contact be willing to help them in return for settling the state. Without much information to go from, the enlisted Tellarite handed over a Merchant Marine-issue personal access device. “Slaves rarely have any freedom. Names being among them. I imagine if he had an identity, we’d know at least a fragment of it by now. It’s more likely he was told who he was, what he wanted or needed, and who and what to do.”
“That is unfortunate,” replied Reza. “I cannot imagine not having an idea of self-awareness or rather self-identity” he added.
An uncomfortable grimace replaced the disappointment in her focus, looking back to the charge before returning her gaze to the independent agent. “I thought it best to use a civilian organisation’s medium. We don’t know who we’re dealing with here, but the Merchant Marine operates regularly with the Orion Free Traders. With any luck, that will seem far less intimidating. Especially given…” she paused, brushing over her uniform with a stubby hand. “No regalia.” Wanting to get everything underway, she inserted a converted data chip into the device. “That contains what little remains of the will. It’ll get you in the door. Databanks from the approach say a guy by the name ‘Hazx Kovri’ runs the place. Red skin. Horns. That may be a good place to start.”
“Excellent, hopefully, his appearance is nothing to go by” replied Reza. “I tend to avoid messing with anyone or anything that has horns, but to be honest some of the nicest individuals I have met have had horns. Met one once that ran a karaoke bar, very pleasant” he said as he prepared himself to disembark on this little mission. Don’t start a fight. Don’t get shot. Don’t shoot anyone first, and make sure the kid comes back with you in one piece he reminded himself.
He looked at the Orion. “Look little buddy, I don’t know what to call you. So, I guess it is going to have to be ‘little buddy’ until we figure out something better or find out more information about you. So, how about we get a move on and meet this Hazx Kovri,” he said to the green Orion. Reza looked at Woji one last time before leaving. “This Hazx Kovri, know what species he is? Damiani?
Woji shook negatively, denying the suggestion. Exactly why a civilian had replaced MacKenzie she didn’t know, but of all reasons she assumed Stillwater was in the right here. On one hand, there was the logic he didn’t carry the Starfleet posture. Or anything Starfleet for that matter, including the lack of a uniform. Was it all to keep their profile low, or was it to offer some measure of tension release for the green-skinned male who still had no identity? In either case she flushed her hand at the door, holding it open. “So far as I know, no. For both of your questions.” Extending the bridge over the landing pad to connect into the main access way, she looked out as the gates to the city opened from the spaceport. “You should get a move on. Last thing we need is to draw attention. No doubt someone’s noticed the insignia on the side.”
Her mild upset was paranoia; she knew it was. There was no other explanation for it, given Starfleet operated anywhere near Federation territory. Freecloud wasn’t all that far away from it either, but even still it lingered that the Tellarite wasn’t one to leave anything to chance. Or stay longer than necessary. Whether superstitious or overly cautious, Woji was most certainly the one who erred on the side of treading lightly.
Despite not being cuffed as he initially had been, the slave had vision still cast downwards, as if unworthy to be in the others’ presence. He muddled forward down the ramp as he was gestured, shivering as the night air caressed his nearly bare form. He was clean. That much Woji had sought to, but beyond that she hadn’t been successful in getting him to adopt any clothes beyond that of what he’d come with. His place in the galaxy was still unsettled, and where opportunity laid so dwelled an abundance of danger. Freecloud was a place to disappear, if only briefly. But there were also people who noticed those who stuck out of the ordinary. As a free, independent colony it wasn’t one to tolerate slavery. The evening no doubt was going to be one of the unexpected.
Wandering into Stardust City with a young Orion male was not such an unusual sight, but the accompaniment of a collared one did garner Reza some much unwanted attention. He had rejected at least three separate offers for the guy, earning looks from others that seemingly misconstrued the nature of their association. Of course, the Orion’s awkwardness and subservient composure did not improve these judgemental glares and murmurings from the street corners. Fortunately, their trek was not one that took too much time and Reza was able to locate where they were supposed to be. He already prepared himself to be stopped as soon as he walked through the doors and had readied the ‘will’ as it was provided to him. “Come on, little buddy. Let’s see if we can get this taken care of.”
Jarred attention focused upon him made the slave grow visibly uncomfortable passed beneath the scrutiny by the moment as they passed into the casino. He was thrashed by his already nerveous projection, shivering as a blast of chilled air overtook them from the interior. Arms futilely wrapped themselves over his chest as he frantically attempted to warm himself as a firm slap knocked against the guardian’s vest. Rocky hands extended themselves in front of them, barring the way forward underneath a stern directive. “No weapons. Or slaves.” Shadows of a towering physique shimmered underneath the post which the security woman had been stationed, as her skin gave way to the light. It was as if her entire form had been roughly hewn from stone and dark, caked mud.
Wary eyes of the slave fell upon the guard, casting a look of horror over to his own escort as he quietly slipped behind the man. Fear easily conquered the nervousness as heeled footsteps clicked upon polished marble, dulled by the clasp of satin rugs. Another female opened her arms out in a half-moon wave. Blue skin rivalling that of an Andorian drunk on Romulan Ale, paired with that of small curved horns which nipped at the top of her amber locks. “Friends! Welcome to the Elysium Royale,” she encouraged through introduction. “Please accept my personal apology. My colleague is simply offering a gentle reminder that we do not tolerate violence or unethical behaviour here. If you would be so kind, please leave any weapons you might have on your person with her. Your security is assured in these walls.” Passing a wave over to the guard posted at the entrance, the rocky female softened her grip as the enormous palm sagged once more to the owner’s side.
Reza turned over his weapon and gave a polite smile. “I am sorry, but you have to buy me a few drinks before I turn over my other weapon” he added, there was nothing subtle about what he meant. It was too blatant to be innuendo. He was trying to be on his best behaviour, but he was not fond of being disarmed. He took a deep breath a sighed. He had enough training and confidence in himself to get his hands on a weapon should everything go south. He proceeded with his mission without putting up much more in the way of a fuss.
Satisfied, the concierge looked back to her guests with a beam upon her face. “What brings you here today? Is there anything I might be of assistance to you? Perhaps you’d like to enjoy one of our suites for the evening. Or maybe you’re in the mood to sample some of Freecloud’s finest cuisine.”
“Actually, I am here on business, not pleasure,” replied Reza. He started to present what Woji had given him. “My...associate here requires some assistance. I would like to see about removing his collar without killing him or anyone else ideally,” added Reza. “That is what we are here for, and well this as well,” he said presenting the information. “A last will of sorts, I believe. I am here representing my Orion associate” explained Reza.
Mulling over the proposed arrangement, the blue-skinned concierge paused for a moment out of courtesy as she waited for the escort to finish his request. Without any noticeable shift of expression from her original cheerful disposition, she shook her head. “Noble as liberation is, I’m afraid we aren’t in that business. The Elysium Royale is, however, the best-rated and most regally pristine resort you’ll find in this sector and many beyond. Perhaps we can offer you some comforts.” Bearing the document thrust into her focus, she briefly read the first few lines, grimacing before looking to the security guard which had stopped Reza. The mountainous female limitedly adjusted her posture, gradually raising her arm as she accepted the begrudgingly commandeered weapon, of which she placed into a secure locker and handed back a claim token.
Crossing from each post near the front desk, a red-skinned male approached the entrance, taking notice of the stopped group. He opened his arms out wide, although was questionable if he were expecting a hug or welcoming them. “Little one!” the newcomer exclaimed. “Long time it has been since Kovri saw you.” He looked over to the slave’s escort before nodding to the guard. “Better let me handle this one, Oeyi. This is extended family business. Come. Kovri see you are well treated and we take care of adopted sister’s request, no?” Extending an awaiting palm out the horned establishment owner beckoned the stopped pair, allowing them to slip by the welcoming party and deeper in.
He led them in past a diverse array of tables, deeper into the lounge before stopping at what appeared to be an indoor courtyard as they took a lift upwards. After nearly twenty-seconds of escalation at jarring speeds, the elevator smoothly deposited them at what appeared to be a cross of an office and penthouse overlooking the Stardust City horizon. Kovri walked over, holding an embellished glass door open for the duo to walk through as he followed suit, taking out a tray with crystal glasses. “Would you like drink? Kovri promised to make you as comfortable as possible, no?”
Reza declined the offer for a variety of reasons. “I’m sorry, but I will pass. I would like to be in and out of her as soon as conveniently possible. No offence to your kind hospitality, but I am on a bit of a deadline, and I would not like to keep anyone waiting. I have a special someone back home that I need to get to.” His explanation was concise, refraining from any further detail as he led into a curious point which had drawn attention near the entrance. “It sounds like you may know my little green buddy.”
It was important that Reza maintained his calmness on Freecloud. He may have been here on Stillwater’s orders, but he was not present in Starfleet uniform, nor effectively as a representative of the Federation. Instead he was viewed, and considered himself as an independent contractor. Stillwater had been his client and he was here to see the mission through — it was that simple. “What can you tell me about this will, and my Orion friend?”
Disappointment met the agent, silently looming from the host’s movement as he placed the glasses back upon the tray. “Is no matter,” Kovri let go, clasping his hands as he brushed them against one another as if discarding any dust which had collected between them. “Ah yes. To business. Less personable, but Kovri can respect.” Leisurely straying over to an accent table, the red-skinned male drew a finger along the surface. “Well that would depend. Yes it would. Heard of Zhea’s death, Kovri has. But that is not the question. No. How you have come upon effective nephew. Or more importantly, who you are to him.”
Kovri assessed his relative, seemingly ignoring the fact they weren’t family by blood, instead concered over his present state. He walked up to the smallest of the three, gently nuding a finger underneath his chin as he kneeled to look at the slave. The frail subject turned his head away shyly, his right foot taking a step back nearly in a cower before regaining a proper footing, or at least conviction he wasn’t about to be harmed. “Oeyi was shocked, yes she was. Overheard you wanted collar off — she was right. We are not in that business. Fortunately…Kovri has something left behind from dead sister as estate executor.”
Looking to the contractor he stood back at full height, peering inquisitively over Reza’s visage. “The question now is…what do you intend to do with it? Will you manipulate nephew and place back into slavery? Or will you be man of word and let him go? Procedure would be delicate. Likely sedate for small period. Hopefully no pain, but Kovri is not doctor…he cannot promise,” Kovri tapped his chin, pondering over the matter. “Besides. Estate and assets should go to blood relative, no? Not other person. Would be wrong for anyone to…illegally seize.”
Behind the small gathering a trilled chime resonated from the lift as the doors parted, as a courier stepped off inviting themselves into the loft. He brushed off his vest, holding a cloth-covered woven basket in front of him carried by both hands. “Sorry I’m late. My mom is still packing up for the move. She had a feeling this might come in handy.” The figure shrugged, looking down at the basket, to the guests then back to the resorts’ proprietor, of which he evidently knew on personal terms. “Oh…sorry,” he momentarily grimace, tightening his neck muscles before sullenly fading back into a more pleasant expression. He looked over Reza appreciatively before turning his attention back to Hazx, then at last the smallest of the now-four males. His grip loosened, dropping the basket in a heap to his feet, ignoring the clatter of objects which only lightly jostled beneath the surface of the cloth. “Maéaru.”
“Sorey! Is good to see you,” Kovri clapped once, parting between the man he was currently doing business with. “Always thoughtful your mother.” He looked back to his guest, after embracing the new arrival with a hug. Picking the basket up, Kovri turned back once more heading over to the person he’d initially invited up. “Come, sit. We talk business. And find best way to help you. Oh yes. Also — meet Sorey. Has some history with little one, Kovri knows this.”
Reza took a deep breath and tried to keep his cool. He was not here for a family gathering, be it biological, or by extended-family sense. “We can sit here and play fifty questions, or soft interrogation all you want, and I mean no offence by that. You seem genuinely concerned about his future and what will come of him. I may not have all those answers for you though, because I am not the one that decides those things. What I can tell you is that nobody I was contracted by has expressed any ill intent towards him,” explained Reza.
The ranger shrugged nonchalantly. “I certainly have none. I am here doing my job, and part of my job is to protect him. So if anyone tries to harm him, they will be dealing with me, first and foremost. His safety is paramount, and we have no plans on enslaving him nor trading him off to anybody for anything. Believe me, walking the streets of this ‘fine’ place had caused more than enough offers to purchase him. I have not taken any of them and I am not open for negotiations. He will receive as much freedom and respect as I do, and I imagine after he’s nourished and cared for that it will be his choice whether he wishes to leave or not, but nobody will be holding him captive. If we can manage this so that no one has control over him, that would be ideal.”
Kovri looked at the negotiator pointedly, bobbing his head ever slightly forward as he considered the offer. “At least you understand, yes. Kovri only wants what is best for nephew. Blood or not, he is still family. Kovri did not always agree with adoptive sister, or her methods. But she was only mother he had, no one else wanted Little One. At least nothing positive.” Mulling over the option, he clapped his hands. “Well, at least we have agreement, then. Yes, will have to do.”
Puzzled in the midst of a bear-hug, Sorey took in the dialogue in silence as the pair bantered over the finer details of his friend’s well-being. He didn’t know why the other was being used as a bargaining chip, nor a multitude of other reasons. Why was the slave not on Xanthan, but rather here? Where was the woman he was always accompanied by? “Hold up,” the courier firmly launched, placing both hands forward as if to motion everything to a stop. “Not that I’m complaining about him finally being liberated. But what exactly is going on here? Who is this?” Thrusting a palm towards the ranger in a bit of a wave, he looked at Reza. “And where is Zhea?”
“Dead.” For all of the barest of silences which had been conjured earlier, an abrupt uneasiness entered the once cordial, if tense ambience. It may have been only a single word uttered, but the slave had spoken, for the first time in the presence of others after he was taken. Sorey vigilantly fought his way out of the hug he was locked in, briskly striding over to embrace the smallest of the four males. Quieted gestures of apologies were left between the two as the Orion blushed underneath the fervent hug. He looked downwards as if he had spoken out of turn, or without permission only moments ago. “Let’s just get this over with.”
“So, he does speak…” Reza openly viewed with some intrigue. He was genuinely concerned that the Orion he was to accompany did not have the ability to, but it soon appeared that it was not a lack of ability, but perhaps lack of want or something in his ‘discipline’ prevented him from doing so. “Nevertheless, the status of deceased would be accurate,” the escort added. He did not want to get into the details. He was not even sure he himself had the full details of everything that transpired and led to the Orion being in his care of custody at least for the time being. “I agree, let’s get this over with,” he echoed in finality.
Attention torn as he witnessed the spectacle, a lone sniffle reached from Kovri as the red-skinned male fled to his desk, pressing onto a small diode. “Computer, activate Elysium Medical program.” Within an instant a ginger female with green eyes and ivory complexion shimmered in, requesting the needs of a patient. He softly communicated with her, inserting a programmable chip into a memory disk reader as the physician processed the record. “Please use information on chip to safely remove collar device.” The slave looked to the man which had accompanied him to the planet, nudging himself away from the clutch he’d been stolen into.
Reza took a firm yet reassuring hold of the Orion’s shoulder though Reza was not sure if the Orion would take the gesture as warm and affectionate or an aggressive controlling gesture. He had heard the Orion speak. Now he was hoping that his own attempt at communicating would be effective. “Please, I am not trying to hurt you. This procedure is to help you, but I know it will not be pleasant. If we are able to do this, you will have freedom that you have never known before, and I promise you that I will never leave your side.”
Estranged looks of complete disbelief were hesitantly drawn by Sorey, who immediately assumed a protective stance over the green male. He viciously tore his gaze between the pair currently negotiating over the slave’s future. “Wait a damned minute. Have either of you even bothered asking him what he wants? If he even wants to be here? You — you’re promising him freedom. He deserves that after the hell he’s been through, but he should be the one to make decisions for his life now. Not you. Not anyone else. Not a damned person in his life has let him make any calls for himself. It’s about fucking time that changed. And you, Kovri — fuck you. You want to help him, and be the family member you’ve always told me you wanted to be? Grow a pair and actually do something, rather than have someone do it for you. I’m not always going to courier your messages to him any more, for that shit. You want to talk? Call him. I don’t care if I lose your business. If he’s family to you, act like it. If Zhea is dead, he has no other living family for support, and you’re easily in the position to help him with just about anything he needs materially. Make a difference. It’s about time he had more than me for the only real friend he’s known in his life.”
The hologram blinked, observing the once delicate conversation turned hostile as she took a step back. “I’m going to draw up a treatment plan and some counselling references for our guest. Please let me know when this is sorted.” Shimmering away, the ginger female departed into the adjacent room as she quickly began to replicate the necessary tools and sterilise the surfaces.” Kovri’s jaw dropped, entirely stunned by the dress-down he’d just been victim to as he folded his arms and began to laugh, clapping his hands. The courier glared at him earning a muttering of assurance that an asserted effort would be placed forward to make amends between the ‘family’.
Heat flourished over the slave’s cheeks as embarrassment rose to the surface of his complexion, with little more than a shaking of the head. “Just do it. Not like I have anywhere else to go, or be. Or that I have any choice in the matter.” He buried his face as muted tears began to develop in his eyes, to which he drew a finger wiping them away. Quickly casting a sigh as he regulated his breath, he looked over to his escort, accepting the offer with a nod as he went into the makeshift medical area in silence. The door closed behind him as the hologram flicked the shades to remove transparency from the adjacent window.