"Messy Business"

Author: Lieutenant JG Ming Wang
Date: April 25, 2384
Location: USS Federation

Ming, Tyran, Porat, and Gregholt beamed into the duplicate Ronin's engineering section. Ming didn't have time to panic, even though this was his first-ever combat mission. The phaser felt awkward in his hand. Other than routine qualification and basic training, Ming had never had need for one.

The red alert siren sounded. Ming rushed to an access panel that led to the ship's communication and life support systems. Patching in the Kira dampener device was difficult for Ming, whose manual dexterity was hindered by the bulky gloves of the environment suit.

"Hurry up--they know we're here, and our Kira can't hold out too long!" Tyran warned. Kira was on the bridge, holding off the anti-Kira long enough to allow the team to activate the dampener.

"Got it! Activating now!" Ming said as he activated the device. Low-frequency subspace emissions filled the ship. For ordinary people, they had no perceptible effect. For those who possessed Kira's powers, it rendered them as ordinary people.

"Great! Now let's get out of here!" Tyran said. "Tyran to Federation--four to beam out!" he yelled into his communicator. "Tyran to Federation--damn! We're being jammed!" he said. It looks like we're going to have to fight our way out!

No sooner than Tyran said that than the anti-Tyran, anti-Gregholt, and anti-Porat showed up, phasers blasting.

"Take cover!!!" Tyran yelled, taking charge of the expedtion. Ming couldn't have been more grateful: his part was done for now.

Tyran, Ming, Porat, and Gregholt dispersed, taking cover behind various consoles and returning fire. The battle quickly turned to a draw.

"It's no good," Tyran said. "They know our thoughts--they can anticipate our every move!" The doubles shared all the thoughts, training, and instincts of the originals.

"We'll have to spit up," Ming said. "Avoid engaging our own doubles."

"Good idea!!!" said Tyran. "We'll work our way to the bridge!" he suggested as he indicated a Jeffries tube hatch. Ming undogged the hatch and scrambled in, the others following after. Tyran welded the hatch behind him with a hand torch.

The trip through the tube was slow, the party's environment suits hindering their progress. Ming scouted ahead with his tricorder. He gestured with his hand for the group to stop. "Two lifesigns just outside. It looks like the anti-Porat and anti-Gregholt." They could hear the hatch being undogged.

"Everybody fall back!" Tyran yelled. Tyran and Ming went forward in the tube; Porat and Gregholt went back. The hatch opened, and a grenade was tossed in. The grenade went in the direction of Porat and Gregholt. Fortunately they had the presence of mind to duck into an alcove and miss most of the blast.

"Are you okay back there?" Tyran said.

"I'm fine, but Lieutenant Porat is dead! I'm cut off!!!" Gregholt answered. A huge chasm had been ripped open in the Jeffries tube, running two decks up and three down. A force screen had dropped to contain the damage.

"Double back and try to meet us farther up!" Tyran said, signaling the number 42 with his hand. "Understood, sir," Gregholt said. They would meet at Frame 42.

Ming and Tyran headed farther up the tube. "Tyran to Federation--come in please!" The signal was still jammed.

"Something's not right," Ryan said as he banked the ship around in an evasive maneuver. "We should have heard from them now!"

"Their communications are being jammed," MacMillan replied.

"Still, though, we should have heard from Kira! Karissa, are you picking up anything?"

"Captain," Karissa said, "both Kiras are gone."

"Damn! The dampener--it would have affected *both* of them! I should have thought!" Ryan said, suddenly remembering what Admiral Pike had said about sacrifice. "How about the others? Can you sense them?" he asked. Karissa nodded.

"I'm heading over there," Karissa said.

"NO! I won't let you go!" Ryan almost shouted.

"They're my friends, too--and I'm going after them!" she said as she ran off the bridge.

"Keep firing, dammit! Keep their shields down!" Ryan ordered, bowing to the inevitable.

Ming and Tyran arrived at Frame 42, just aft of the bridge. Gregholt wasn't there. "He must have gotten lost, or cut off. We're going to have to go in alone! Are you prepared?" Ming nodded. *If I'm not ready now, it's just too late!*

They popped open a hatch leading into the Captain's ready room. Gently lowering the panel, they slipped out. The ready room was an exact duplicate of Ryan's ready room on the original Ronin. Tyran glanced at Ming; Ming nodded. They opened the door.

"Don't do it, or he dies," the anti-Kira said, brandishing a phaser against the head of the real Kira, who was unconscious and tied to the chair at the Ops station. The real Kira, already weakened by his previous exertions, was knocked out by the Kira dampener. "Put down your weapons. Good. Now, what have you done to weaken my powers?" he asked. Anti-Tyran was at the Tactical station, controlling the ship.

"Tell him, Ming," Tyran said.

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure I don't want my friend to die! Now tell him!"

"It's in Engineering, attached to conduit 14-25-B. A black box," Ming said.

"How unimaginative!" anti-Kira laughed. "Kira to all hands--proceed to Engineering and remove the device attached to conduit 14-25-B."

[Aye, sir,] anti-Porat responded.

anti-Porat and anti-Gregholt arrived in Engineering and located the black box rather quickly. "Here it is! Now, to unhook it," anti-Porat said.

Those efforts were interrupted by a loud screeching as Karissa leapt out from behind a storage locker, landing on the hapless clone's back and breaking its neck. anti-Gregholt drew a phaser and prepared to fire, only to have it batted away by Karissa, who grabbed the clone's arm and ripped it out of its socket. As anti-Gregholt howled in pain, Karissa ended the pain by snapping his neck too. Checking the area for any other possible attackers, Karissa picked up a discarded phaser, and headed for the bridge.

"You lied to me!" anti-Kira yelled at Ming. "My people would have neutralized the device by now if it had been where you said!"

"I told you the absolute truth, sir. If your people are too incompetent to unhook it, that's not my fault," Ming replied. Not that he wanted to cast aspersions on the real Porat and Gregholt, whom he didn't even know, but he did want to buy time. For what, he wasn't sure.

"Don't goad him, Ming!" Tyran warned. "We don't want to lose Kira, too!" he lied, hoping that Gregholt would arrive soon to back them up.

Almost as though on cue, the door to the bridge hissed open. Gregholt emerged, phaser drawn. While anti-Kira's attention was distracted, Ming launched into him with a flying kick, knocking him down. Tyran took the opportunity and headed toward the Ops station to untie Kira, when anti-Tyran left his station and tried to pull him away.

"Aren't you the cunning one?" anti-Kira said to Ming as he blocked Ming's forward punch. Ming responded with a reverse roundhouse kick that caught anti-Kira in the head, knocking him unconscious. Kung fu in an environment suit was difficult, but Ming was an acknowledged master who trained in Marine battle armor to add extra weight and build his strength. The exercise had come in handy!

Meanwhile, Tyran and anti-Tyran struggled, wrestling around the bridge. Ming stepped into the Tactical station abandonned by anti-Tyran, stopped the communications jam, and dropped the ship's shields. "Wang to Federation--the ship is ours," he said as Tyran dropped anti-Tyran with a hard right.

[Good work! Any casualties?]

"Our Kira's unconscious, but otherwise all present and accounted for," Tyran replied.

[How about Karissa?]

"She's here?" Tyran asked.

[She thought you could use some backup.]

"Did I miss anything?" Karissa said as she entered the bridge. "It's all over," Tyran said. "We won! Mr. Wang, give the order!"

"Boarding party to Federation--six to beam out!"

The boarding party dematerialized.

On the bridge, Captain Ryan Evans surveyed the battered bulk of the cloned USS Ronin. "I hate to see my own ship destroyed twice, but it has to be," he said. "Activate isokinetic cannon!" An ensign at the tactical station tapped some controls. "Firing now," she said.

The brilliant energy beams lanced through space, cutting the fake Ronin to pieces--and the fake crewmembers aboard it. *It had to be,* Ryan kept telling himself.