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The screen ahead showed the several tiny sparks of light that Enterprise and her sisters had been chasing all this while. "Warp signatures coming up now, Captain," Data said. "Federation technology." The android turned toward Picard. "These would appear to be Lalairu ships."
Picard nodded, sitting back in his chair with a slight sigh. That took a load off his mind. The Lalairu traded wherever they went ...and they went everywhere. Finding them here was less of a surprise than finding anyone else, though even for them, in these debatable spaces, the trading opportunities might seem to be somewhat limited. No I matter--if there were any opportunities, the Lalairu would find them.
"The commander of the lead vessel is asking to speak to you privately, Captain," said Mr Worf.
"Very well," Picard said. "I'll take it in my ready room."
He sat down behind his desk and touched his screen. It came alive to show a bridge so dimly lit it was almost impossible to see. A shape moved out of the shadows, forward to the screen. It was very tall, slender, and pale, and had a humanoid form. Picard peered at it, and then realized he was seeing what few people had, a Lalairu without the protective, self-grown "cloak" it wore outside its own ship and shed again when it came home.
"Captain Picard," said the Lalairu, "I greet you. I am called Elekk."
"I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Elekk."
Elekk bowed at the courtesy. "You are very welcome to these spaces, Captain. The leader of our leaders of families has mentioned that she heard you were coming this way, and she instructed us to help you in whatever way we can. Not that we would not have done so in any case. What brings you to this part of the worlds?"
Once again it became plain to Picard that the only thing to travel faster than starships was news, and he wondered who at Starfleet had decided to help him out by putting a word in a trustworthy ear. "We were following the traces of a battle which seems to have taken place some thirty or more light-years from here," Picard said, "and in which you seem to have been involved."
Elekk laughed, a soft hissing sound. "We were indeed, Captain. All others involved in the attack except for two ships, we think, have predeceased us."
Picard's mouth quirked at the terminology. Lalairu counted an existence's experience by how often one died, and their definition of death was one they found difficult to explain to other species: some form of regeneration often seemed to be involved. There had been problems about this until the Lalairu had been made to understand that in other species, death was almost always permanent.
"Well," Picard said, "perhaps you'll help us unravel this business. Who exactly were your attackers?"
"They were athwoen, " the Lalairu said. "I think your word is pirates. They came up with us at--" Elekk paused, studied the panel in front of him. "These coordinates, which I shall pass to you-- and began firing. They were a force of approximately fifteen vessels; one large one of approximately light-cruiser size, and various others down to corvette size or smaller."
"Did they communicate with you at all first?"
Elekk laughed softly, another hiss, with more of an edge to it. "No, they fired first; so we defended ourselves."
"Against fifthteen vessels--" Picard said, raising an eyebrow.
Elekk looked back at him. "Our armaments are something out of the ordinary. We spend a lot of our time out in the emptier spaces, far from other species' protection...so we make sure we can protect ourselves. We are in the process of preparing a report on this incident. If it would help you, Captain Picard, we will gladly make available to you our recordings of the battle, and all associated data."
Copyright © 1997 by Diane Duane