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[Age of Mouldwarp]     
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Silent Running (Part 1)
Fool's Errand
"I supposed this was to be expected," the Bolian said.

"In our line of work, it is," the Starfleet officer agreed.

"That doesn't make it any easier," the Bolian stated after a pause.

"No," the Starfleet officer added.

"Shove on I guess," the Bolian decided. "It's what I've always done."

"That's a tall order," the Starfleet officer noted.

"All the tough ones are," the Bolian observed.

"That's what makes them tall," the Starfleet officer decided.

"Yah," the Bolian sighed.

"Were you close?" the Starfleet officer asked.

"To merchandise? I make it a policy to never become attached to self-sealing stem-bolts," the Bolian stated.

"I know, but a loss is a loss, is what my grandfather used to say," the Starfleet officer said. "What is your possession, even for a finite amount of time, is a part of you. You are a part of it. So were you close?"

"I suppose so at that, yes," the Bolian said. "The bizarre cargo is always my favorite. And you don't get much more bizarre than self-sealing stem bolts."

"Shadrach," the Starfleet officer began, "have you heard the sad story of Joel Nelson?"

"Only every time I see you," Shadrach sighed.

"Does it get to be that routine?" Nelson inquired.

"Oh yes," Shadrach sighed again. "You can only rely on pity for so long. Sooner or later you'll have to move on, get on with your life."

"Really? I thought that it was something that needed to be addressed anew with each new encounter. At least that's what it has always seemed like," Nelson added.

"Because you make it an issue," Shadrach sighed once more.

"It's an issue because it is an issue," Nelson protested. "Being a novelty, and not a particularly welcome novelty, isn't my idea of a good thing. I certainly never asked for it."

"Didn't you?"

In fact, Nelson had asked for it, in a roundabout way. But not at that moment. At that moment, he was aboard Shadrach's freighter, the Dac Langton, as part of a routine cargo inspection at Epsilon Station. Well, routine only in so much as Shadrach routinely had his cargo inspected by Starfleet, since he had a checkered past in the playing-it-straight department. But he'd been requested to ES1 so that the news could be delivered. His cousin Keb was dead. Nelson had insisted of Captain Matheson that he be the one to inform the Bolian trader, and she'd relented because the Copernicus was due for leave time and that was the only way Nelson could possibly be granted the time to do so.

So Matheson arranged for Shadrach to have an inspection at ES1, despite the fact that it took him several systems away from his normal route. His normal logged route, at any rate. He was more than familiar with the region is what we'll leave it at. After the initial shock of the news, he'd rebounded enough for his usual canny manner to return. That's how he was able to banter with Nelson now. Had it been anyone but Nelson, Shadrach might have not reacted so smoothly. The two shared...a past. A most unsavory past. In fact, Shadrach should not have been joking about Nelson's situation.

What Nelson should have been on guard for was Shadrach's own bombshell. At any rate, he seldom was, so it wouldn't be much different now.

"I'm living on borrowed time," Shadrach stated. "I'm dying."

An excruciating moment passed.

"Your jokes were never funny," Nelson said hopefully.

"This is no joke," Shadrach said. "I've been diagnosed with Orr's Syndrome. I'm fine now, but in a few months..."

"I'm, I'm sorry," Nelson stammered.

"That's alright. I've lived my life, and apparently my life is deciding to conclude itself. Keb's death is the sort of closure...that will make the coming months more bearable."

"This isn't like you, to be so forthcoming," Nelson suddenly realized. "The Shadrach I know would have kept this, even this, to himself."

"A person is allowed to change in the face of death, isn't he?"

"I suppose."

"But..."

"Exactly," Nelson snapped. "There's always a 'but...' with you. I'm glad that hasn't changed."

"Oh, you might not say that when I tell you what that 'but...' is about," Shadrach warned.

"I think I'm reasonably prepared now."

Shadrach smirked. Nelson was not prepared for this. "I believe I've found our stolen runabout."

Nelson was taken aback. "The Stillwater? Impossible! Starfleet would have retrieved it years ago! No! No way! There's just no way!"

"But there is," Shadrach reassured. "A trader is in the business of making contacts, and I have made some very useful ones in my day. Even on Trill."

"And if Starfleet didn't," Nelson continued, "then one of the Guardians at the caves of Mak'ala would have. I'm sure Starfleet runabouts don't exactly blend in with unjoined symbionts floating around in bubbling pools."

"That's where the cloaking devise I purchased from a certain Ferengi merchant named Hrun would come into play," Shadrach revealed.

"A...a cloaking devise?" Nelson gasped. "But that would mean..."

"I had the cloak onboard long before we were forced to abandon the Stillwater," Shadrach concluded for him. "It was only a matter of engaging the devise, which I was able to by purchasing a remote activator from another Ferengi, this one named Gnit. I went through a lot of trouble to find out where the ship was once I was sure the activator had worked. You should be grateful."

"Stunned. I am very stunned," Nelson stammered. "Does that mean...?"

"Yes, it does. Our treasure awaits."

"So it's been on Trill all this time, hm?" Nelson whispered in wonderment. "Imagine that. Imagine that."

"We should go as soon as possible," Shadrach advised.

"Oh sure," Nelson agreed. "I don't know how I'll clear this, though."

"You can request leave now, can't you?"

"In limited order, yes."

"Then what's the problem?"

"How much time do you think it'll take? A week, since that's all I've got," Nelson revealed.

"A week? I hate limits," Shadrach sighed. (He sighed a lot.)

"Don't worry, we can work it out," Nelson reassured. "I've got one request."

"Name it."

"There's a buddy of mine who could prove rather useful on Trill," Nelson began. "He's had...experience there; a case of mistaken identity. You know the sort."

"Interesting," Shadrach chortled.

"You don't know the half of it," Nelson smirked. "This guy comes as close to making our own past look like a picnic as any you'll find. Aside from Crewman Gird, but that's a whole other story."

"Gird? That Klingon?"

"That Klingon."

"Anyway, call up your friend," Shadrach decided. "I like it when you reveal what's up your sleeve."

"I've got a lot more than just Douglas Velar, trust me," Nelson grinned.

Nelson wasn't expected to check in for another half-hour, so when he came sailing into Captain Matheson's ready room she was forced to do a double take. This sort of thing simply never happened with Nelson. He usually found it difficult reporting on time.

"Lieutenant," she said in greeting, "what a pleasant surprise. I was just saying to Commander Franzoni how much it would please me if you were to turn a fresh start. This is a nice way to begin."

"Naturally," Nelson replied, standing just inside the door.

"Come in," Matheson implored. "Have a seat, by all means. Tell me, what has prompted this sudden change?"

"I need to request a week's leave."

"A week's," Matheson repeated. "That's your whole ration. Is there a problem I should know about?"

"No, but it is a private matter," shuffled Nelson.

"Granted," Matheson said warmly. "You may have it. Franzoni believes you've been working out fine with your new responsibilities. He believes that you should be given full officer privileges."

"The commander is a wise man," Nelson grinned. "One more thing. I'd like Crewman Velar to come along."

"Does he know?"

"Not yet."

"That would seem an important step in the process," Matheson cajoled. "But consider it done. You can tell him yourself; he's due for some down time as well. It's lucky this private matter came up now, isn't it?"

"It sure is, ma'am," Nelson stated, with a polite nod of the head as he got up and left. He never was good for waiting for "Dismissed." Matheson never seemed to mind.

As Nelson and Crewman Velar made their way to Shadrach's freighter at the northwestern port of ES1, Nelson took the time to get his friend up to speed.

"Shadrach's pretending to be dying of an illness," he stated nonchalantly, "so if and when he brings it up, try to act appropriately."

"How do you know he isn't telling the truth?" inquired Velar.

"He's tried this trick before," Nelson revealed. "I guess he's just lost track of whom he's done it to."

"So why are we still going ahead with this? It could mean real trouble," Velar wondered aloud.

"The Stillwater was a good ship," grinned Nelson. "Plus it contains the score from my last run as an intergalactic scoundrel. Naturally, it has sentimental value."

"Naturally," Velar smirked. "Are you afraid about regaining that reputation?"

"Risks are part of the game," Nelson said. "That's the oldest cliché in the book. Come on! Besides, the runabout holds a few surprises Shadrach doesn't know about. He didn't tell me about the cloak (which could have been real useful more than a few times). I didn't tell him about a few of my...tricks. If he was to go ahead without me, and I know he would, he'd find himself in a mess of trouble. That's why."

"How touching," Velar joked. "When should we apply my spots?"

"Let's get on with it," Shadrach urged when Nelson and Velar showed up at his freighter. "We're on limited time, so the sooner we leave the better."

"I agree," Nelson said as he and Velar climbed the Dac Langton's boarding ramp jutting out from its right side, which was encased in the docking clamp that held the ship in place. The bubble around it was a pale red, matching the color of the freighter itself. All either Starfleet individual had was a duffel bag they'd hastily stuffed with rations more edible than the usual Bolian "delicacies" non-Bolians had a hard time stomaching. Bolians were a tad on the eccentric side in all that they did, and foodstuff was no exception.

"Do we have a real plan here or are we making it up as we go?" inquired Velar.

"I was hoping you could help us with that," Shadrach replied. "You're the only one of us that has experience on Trill. You'd better know a whole lot."

"I know a thing or two," Velar winked. "For one, we'll need a really good excuse to get you two into the caves. Outsiders aren't exactly welcome."

"There's precedence, though," Nelson noted.

"If you look hard enough, you'll find precedence for just about anything," Velar observed. "Precedence is overrated."

"True enough," Shadrach said. "Our plan is basically to do it as quietly as possible. It needs a little work."

"I...see..." Velar rolled.

ES1 was Starfleet's attempt to emulate Klingon design; consequently it featured boxy shapes and triangular highlights thrown in to create a revolving version of giant arrow laden with many other arrows thrown into the mix. In description, it might sound ungainly, but in reality it looked not too distant from the normal starbases Starfleet normally employed, if a tad on the abstract side. Shadrach's freighter stuck out from the northwestern arrow as alluded to earlier. It stuck out, that is, right before it shot off into space, as it presently did, with a smooth little twist into the proper direction.

True to their plan, such as it was, the trio aboard the Dac Langton left within ten minutes of Velar's attempt to decipher if they indeed had a plan to follow. Nelson might have noted that that day counted as the first of the ten days he had to play with, so they shot off for a reason. Normal procedure suggested much lower speeds than the warp five (tops for the freighter) they started off with as soon as they cleared the docking port. They had a mission, and a time constraint, so they had very little time to waste on such rules.

Had any of them bothered to ask, Captain Matheson might have told them she had a friend also en route to Trill.

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characters and story © copyright Sean "Waterloo" McKenna 2001-2003; Star Trek copyright Paramount