NIGHT-OPS (short story)
Updated: Oct 24, 2019
By Nathan Warner
A Section 31 operation meets the grim reaper
The last thing Lt. Asper Relitrue remembered was a terrible blast ripping through the Bolian freighter’s hull – the smell of vaporized metal and the sensation of heat. When he came to his senses, he had no idea how he wound up in an escape pod drifting in a sea of wreckage – alone – presumably the sole survivor of whatever had happened. What had happened? Surely it didn’t have anything to do with his mission!
Earlier that day, Asper had collected a “package” at a designated drop-point in the Neutral Zone within a lonely comet cluster in the abandoned Butarri system – intelligence gathered by a Section 31 asset embedded within the Romulan Senate’s Security Council. The data drive detailed the report of the Council’s investigation last month into the Tal Shiar’s clandestine operations inside Federation space. Such an opportunity was hard to come by, but too valuable for Section 31 to pass up.
After retrieving the package from the surface of a massive icy glacier, Asper traded his Andorian shuttle for a ride on a Bolian freighter which was traversing into the Neutral Zone on the edge of Federation space.
One more crumb to throw the Romulans off my tail, he’d thought cheerfully. He’d stowed the drive in a Bolian broach and clipped it to his civilian uniform as he went to the small observation deck to gaze out one of the few windows of the freighter – looking upon the amazing spatial anomalies in this dark region of space. And that was the last thing he remembered.
Now, he was floating in a dusty old life-boat through a graveyard of debris. At least he still had the data drive! But what had happened and would his Starfleet contacts risk searching for him here in Federation shadows of the Neutral Zone?
If only he’d remembered to bring the communicator with him from his bunk, he might be able to reach out to nearby vessels for rescue! He pounded the transparent aluminum porthole.
That’s when he saw the shimmer outside the small pod window – at first, he thought it was just a reflection, but then it was unmistakable – a faint effervescence of energy rippling to port. Gradually its shapelessness took form through the curtain of distorting energy, and a menacing form materialized out of the blackness.
“A Valdore!” Asper gasped. Yes, there could be no mistaking the broad wingspan and faint green energy throbbing from its nacelles – even if it was hard to make out against the perpetual night. It approached the wreckage with the deadly purpose of a predatory bird come to pick through a carcass. Asper shrunk away from the window and collapsed into the far corner of the life-boat, instinctively out of sight of the specter – the safest he could feel in his little tin-can.
What were they doing here? Could it be that the Tal Shiar had discovered the Section 31 asset? Had they destroyed the freighter to scatter the stolen intelligence into ashes?
Suddenly, and as if in answer to his questions, he felt a prickling sensation, but before he could fully comprehend it, the broach on his tunic vanished in a swirl of green energy.
“The data!” he gasped, clutching through the transporter beam, trying in vain to wrestle it from the invisible grasp of the Tal Shiar. They had found him! And now they had the proof of his purpose! Asper braced himself for the brief moment of concussive plasma that would surely follow, atomizing him in his little pod - leaving nothing but atomic residue for any investigation to find. He didn’t dare take a breath as he waited for the sentence to be delivered and every piece of debris outside that clattered up against the hull of his pod, struck the fear of God into him. But nothing happened. And finally, he worked up the courage to hope he had escaped notice. Perhaps they had left?
Slowly, he crawled back to the window and glanced out. He instantly regretted it. The menacing ship was exactly where he’d last seen it, pointing its deadly beak directly at him. Were they trying to decide what to do with him? Or had they just been waiting for him to reappear at the window before pounding him with plasma? He winced. But then the ship moved! It angled its face away from the wreckage and back out to the stars. It was almost as if the Romulan commander had been waiting for Asper to return to his window, because as he did so, the ship banked, wings wide, and thundered up and away from him, on full impulse, cutting across the Gree’tak Supernova before vanishing into the shadows that had birthed it.
At first, Asper was dumbfounded. But then realization struck him.
“They want to send a message!” he gasped. “And I'm to be their messenger!” He felt light-headed. His brush with death settled through his nerves – he’d been on the edge of a death sentence and been unexpectedly reprieved. Stumbling back from the window, he collapsed to the floor of the lifeboat and passed out into his own sea of darkness, interrupted only by a reoccurring vision of a terrifying specter peering at him from the blackness of his thoughts.
When the Starfleet medics brought Asper back to consciousness several weeks later aboard the U.S.S. Prometheus, the only words they could discern through his delirium at first were the gasping phrases, “I saw it! It was an angel! The angel of death!”
Suffice it to say, Section 31 had met its match in the Tal Shiar, but they would surely find a way to give a sufficient tit for tat as was the custom of all clandestine, cold war activities.