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Star Trek Deneva - Episode II - The Eagle by John Berkeley

The Eagle

"Captainís Log, stardate 89229.5, U.S.S. Juno, Captain James Holkham commanding. After almost three weeks in the field, both the ship and crew are performing well - admittedly, better than I expected. My bridge officers work well as a team, despite a few personal Ďhistoriesí. My XO, Jadzia Dax is very good. She is friendly, and gets on well with the other crew.

Doctor Bashir seems a little daunted by the recent turn our lives have taken, but, I must admit, is a better CMO than I could have hoped for. He, too, though shy, seems to get on well with the crew. Already, he and my helm officer, Elion Laren, seem to have become good friends.

Lieutenant-Commander Sonak, my science officer, like all Vulcans, is cool and humourless. Although he has spent a lot of time studying humans, I think he is finding it hard to fit in, in a mostly human crew.

Varin Kelos, my security officer, is a mystery to me. He is remarkably formal and silent, though seems to get on well with Laren, though he seems anything but friendly towards my comms officer, lieutenant MíGila.

Karyn MíGila, like Dr. Bashir, seems shy, yet very good. Laren, too, seems to be a very likeable man, and is a good crewman.

My engineering officer, Ďcommander Barek Amoriel, seems a little chaotic, but has excelled himself in his direction of repairs to the ship after the battle with the Banthar in Arcalon Sector.

On more official matters, I think that one could call our mission so far a success. After spending two weeks in the field, our ISHTAR array, and our RAN array are now fully operational (of course, the crew now refer to the RAN array as the Eye of Ran), and so far, we have surveyed a great deal of space."

The bridge was alive. So was the entire ship. Like a vast, graceful organism flying through space, her living crew making up her blood, sensors and detectors making up her nerves, her long, slender warp nacelles and curved impulse engines comprising her means of movement, her bridge- her brain.

Jim Holkham, captain of the starship Juno gazed out into space beyond the transparent aluminium window of his ready room. Stars streaked slowly past, trailing their rainbow streamers of phosphorescence behind them like dazzling needles of fire. Even at maximum warp, the stars still seemed slow. Behind the stars, a long, yellowish band stretched as far as the eye could see, parallel with the Junoís course. The galactic band was a spectacular sight- and even more so with the streaking stars in the foreground.

Lost in thought, Holkham started when his combadge chirped and his first officerís voice emitted from it.

"Sir, we have reached the edge of the Arcalon sector. At present speed, it will take us three days to reach Omega Sector. We have permission throughout this assignment to use the hyperwarp drive when we need it. If we use hyperwarp, we will halve our journey time. When we reach Omega Sector, we can slow back to warp four."

He replied: "Understood, commander. Disengage warp engines, then take us into hyperwarp."

Holkham returned his attention to the starscape before him: an entire galaxy spread before his eyes. The stars were losing their rainbow tails. Slowly, the stars were contracting to their normal appearance - tiny pinpoints of light. He stared into space, occupied by his thoughts alone.

He was worried. Worried and concerned. Concerned for the Federation. The Juno was one of the most powerful and advanced of her kind. Why was she out here while the Federation was fighting its deadliest foe for nearly a century? Why chase stars while he could be helping in the war? He gazed into the heavens.

A band of stars stretched horizontally across the thin sliver of space visible through his small window. Streaks of dust and colour girdled the large, bulbous core of the galaxy, while stars of all colours blazed in the inky heavens - an alien galaxy. It was visible while at warp, but it was slightly distorted and the stars streaking past obscured part of the view. Before he could continue further on his muse, however, the ship trembled ever so slightly, and the stars elongated. They grew tails again, but not the rainbow coloured tails he had seen while the Juno was at warp. Long, thin needles of silver were forming in front of him. They began to streak past- faster than before. Before long, there were so many of them that they seemingly merged into a grey haze. Then, as if he were being transported through some vast, grey nebula, the greyness grew texture. The stars were gone now, to be replaced by what he could only describe as a cloud.

A Ďcloudí so large that it dwarfed even the massive Juno. This Ďcloudí was coloured- consisting mostly of light blues, and bleak greys, but here and there small smudges of dull orange flashed past his window as the ship entered a hyperwarp conduit that sped them on to their destination.

"Captainís Log, stardate 1403.2 U.S.S. Eagle, Captain Mark Roberts commanding. After encountering the freak wormhole, we have been exploring for weeks, with no apparent way home. My science officer informs me that the wormhole will next open in one hundred and five yearsí time, which is far too long for a Starfleet vessel to hope to remain intact. Our only hope is to find an inhabited world and set up a colony so that, hopefully, one day our ancestors may come across the Federation."

Captain Roberts sighed. He did not want to abandon the Eagle, but he really had no choice. His entire crew were completely despondent.

Three months ago, the Eagle, an Constitution-class starship, was entering the Terran star system for shore leave on Earth, when, while in high orbit over Uranus Station, they were suddenly sucked through a wormhole into a distant part of the galaxy- they were not even sure if they were in the right one any more. After exhausting almost all their supplies, they were running low on just about everything, their Dilithium crystals needed replacing, and, to make matters worse, they were under attack. An alien race was attacking them incessantly, so, ideally, if they had to find a hiding place, it had better be hidden.

"Captain, I am detecting a Mutara-class nebula twenty light-years ahead of us. I am detecting only one major star- all the others are white dwarfs." Tim Hendricks, the Eagleís science officer was the only one who had not given up hope. His idea of using photon torpedoes to open up the wormhole again had been a good one- but it did not work. The Eagle carried only one hundred photon torpedoes, and the operation needed at least twice that many. So, they had been banished from the worlds they knew and the people they loved- admired by all of them for their bravery, but never to know it. For the wormhole had sealed itself up again after swallowing them, and it would not open again for a century. So the Eagle had tried vainly to find other ways home, but all the methods they discovered were nowhere near as powerful enough to help them to traverse the incomprehensible distance to another galaxy.

"Put the nebula on screen." Roberts was sitting in the command chair of the bridge, his senior officers scattered around him.

The view screen set into the front of the bridge walls winked and showed a bright orange cloud of gas and light. It seemed a suitable place to hide, and if that star had habitable planets...

"Mr. Hendricks, does that star have any planets capable of supporting life?"

Hendricks was bewildered. "Er... Yes, I believe it does. Sir, if you donít mind me asking, why?"

Roberts rotated his command chair so that he was facing his science officer.

"Mr. Hendricks are you aware of the fact that we are currently fleeing from a hostile alien fleet? A Mutara-class nebula such as this one is extremely rare and hiding inside one is therefore an excellent opportunity to take up. If that star possesses a life-supporting planet, then I suggest we set about colonising it as we have no hope of returning to the Federation."

Hendricks went red.

"Of course, sir. Iíll patch the co-ordinates through to the helm."

"Thankyou, Lieutenant." Roberts nodded his head once, slowly at Hendricks in an ingratiating, almost sarcastic way. He rotated his chair again and stared ahead at the nebula.

"I have the co-ordinates, sir." His helm officer spoke from the front of the bridge.

"Excellent. Set a course for the star, warp six."

"Aye, sir. ETA in seven minutes."

Roberts pressed a button set into the right arm of his command chair, and addressed the ship, his voice echoing around the shipís stark corridors.

"All crew, the is captain Roberts. We have detected a life-supporting star system in a nearby nebula, on which we will settle. I, for one, am tired of running from these aliens, and, as captain, I hereby give the order to commence starship evacuation and emergency planetary colonisation on my order, which I shall give in fifteen minutes. Any crew member who objects to this should speak up now." He lifted his finger from the button. No one said a word.

Holkhamís thoughts were interrupted again by the door chime of his ready room. He turned.

"Come."

Commander Jadzia Dax, acting commander of the Juno, strode in, her head high and her hands held behind her back, her commanderís rank pips gleaming on either side of her collar, and on her cuffs.

Holkham smiled faintly. Although he got on well with his first officer while off-duty, while she was on duty, she was almost Vulcan in demeanour.

"Yes, commander?"

"Captain, we have just received a transmission from a nearby Kalrathaan starship. They are on patrol near the Insobara nebula and have discovered a wrecked Federation Starship. I have contacted admiral Trealor, and she suggests we investigate. Permission to change course, sir?" She stood at attention while she said this.

"Jadzia, there is no need to be so formal about this." Holkham said calmly.

Dax dropped her steely expression at once.

"Sorry, captain. I just find it hard to relax in these uniforms."

Holkham smiled more broadly. "I know exactly what you mean. Iíll have to talk to admiral Trealor when we get back to C209" Then, he straightened into a formal pose. "Permission to change course granted, commander." he said, expressionlessly. Jadzia grinned and walked out.

"Captainís Log, stardate 1405.9. This will be my final log as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Eagle. We have discovered that the star does indeed support a life-bearing planet- in fact, one even better than we could have dreamed for- an N-class planet. N-class worlds are so rare that most people have never heard of them. They are paradise-like, temperate worlds consisting mainly of grasslands, hills, mountains, forests and small seas. Lieutenant NíTenn, my Andorian security officer, has named the planet Lantaru, after the Andorian goddess of life. The crew is surprisingly hopeful, as my science and engineering officers devised a way to hide our ion trail. Most of my crew is on Lantaru already; the ship has been stripped of all her remaining supplies, and the ESE habitation modules have been transported down to the planet already. We have left a single, hidden marker buoy at the place where we decided to enter the nebula, so that, one day, if the Federation ever visits this galaxy, they will know what happened to us. We are going to leave the Eagle in high orbit, in a geosynchronous position over the place where we have set up our colony. This is captain Mark Roberts, U.S.S. Eagle, signing off for the last time."

Roberts sighed and got up from his command chair, and stared around his bridge. The consoles were dead, the bridge itself stripped of anything salvageable. As he looked about him, he knew this would be the last time he would ever be in the bridge, that was the last time he would ever sit in her centre seat, and that this was her resting place. Two hundred kilometres above the surface of Lantaru, further away from the yards that built her, than he could ever comprehend. Dead, and lifeless, but never forgotten.

With a final sigh, he walked into the turbolift, and the automatic doors slid shut in front of the bridge he knew and loved.

For the first time in three hours, Jim Holkham walked slowly onto the bridge, hands by his side, head held high. He took his place in the centre chair, and looked about him. The consoles were alive; the palpable air of purpose, excitement and apprehension could almost be cut with a knife.

"How long until we reach the co-ordinates the Kalrathaan mentioned?" he asked his exec.

Jadzia Dax turned around from the console she was looking at- the Library Access and Retrieval Systemís primary outlet, a large console between the two turbolift doors in the back of the bridge.

"About half an hour. The nebula is on our way to Omega Sector so this is just a flying stop." She said with a slight smile.

"All we need to do take a look at the wreck and see if there are any pirates around. Then we turn the whole thing over to the Starfleet Corps of engineers."

Lieutenant-Commander Sonak spoke up from the science console.

"Sir, I am detecting a small metallic object directly ahead of us."

"Distance?" asked Holkham at once.

"About point three-five light years off our starboard bow, thirty-two degrees off our present course. Now, nearer to point two light years." He said after a brief pause.

"Laren, drop us out of hyperwarp. Lets lake a look a this thing."

"Aye, sir."

"Sir, we are approximately twenty-three kilometres directly in front of the object. It appears to be a message probe. Starfleet origin, dating from-" Sonak paused, and raised an eyebrow. "Interesting. The device appears to be from a Federation Constitution-class vessel, pre-refit."

Holkham and Dax stared at the impassive Vulcan standing behind the captain.

"What?"

"Two hundred years..."

"Onscreen." Holkham said.

The screen beeped and zoomed in on a section of the visible starscape in the bottom left-hand corner. It showed a large, cylindrical object, about one meter across, and half that thick, with rounded edges and a rather dented exterior. There were five visible letters on it. They read U.S. (scorch) AGL (scorch).

"Dax, find out anything you can about a ship with a name like that, dating from two hundred years ago, that disappeared. Iím willing to bet it disappeared in Sol System, too, but letís narrow it down afterwards."

"Aye." Dax turned around again, and started tapping at the LCARS console. After about a minute, she turned around, smiling, as the screen switched to a schematic of an old Starfleet vessel. It was the schematic of a ship Holkham had seen in a picture in the Starfleet Museum when he was a boy.

"The U.S.S. Eagle, Constitution class. Disappeared stardate 1379 in orbit of Uranus, Sol System." She said, sounding as ever as if she had just swallowed the LCARS entry. "There have been a number of disappearances in orbit of Uranus. Four Starfleet vessels and a number of other ships as well. The Eagle was one of the Starfleet ships. I can remember, just before the Dominion War broke out, reading about the U.S.S. Tseumach. It was an Akira-class ship that disappeared and was never seen or heard from again."

"Hmm." Holkham turned to Lieutenant Varn Kelos, a surly Danarian standing between him and Dax.

"Lieutenant Kelos, can you get a tractor lock on the target? Letís pull it into transporter range. Mr. Sonak, once it is in range, beam it in."

The Juno hung in space, poised in front of the tiny buoy. A jet of shimmering blue light lanced out from a point just below her main deflector, and connected with the buoy. The buoy began to move towards the Juno, guided by the beam of light and gravitons. When it had travelled about half the distance to the Juno, it stopped and the blue jet of light receded slowly into the Junoís hull. Then, in disappeared in a haze of blue energy.

And re-appeared in transporter room one, in front of the eager Captain Holkham, his XO, Dax, Sonak, and Lieutenant Commander Barek Amoriel, the Junoís Bajoran chief engineer.

Barek stepped forward and prised open a small panel on the buoyís exterior. He withdrew a small, chunky plastic card.

"This disk contains all the data the Eagleís crew left on it. Iíll take it to main engineering so we can see what they left."

Holkham suddenly sneezed. Everyone looked at him.

Jadzia raised a humorous eyebrow. "Have you got a cold already, Jim?"

Holkham shook his head. "No, no. Ria- er, I mean, Admiral Trealor gave me a large amount of Khatimyrian Sun Roses before she left and their pollen has got all over my quarters."

Jadzia raised her other eyebrow as well. "Sun Roses? Heavens!" then, realising that hardly anyone knew what she was on about, she continued. "Sun Roses are the Khatimyrian equivalent of the Terran red rose, symbolising, er..." She broke off as she noticed Holkham blushing.

Sonak raised an eyebrow.

Thirty minutes later, the senior officers were all seated around the table in the Junoís briefing room, watching the screen at the end re-play Captain Robertsí final log entries. Commander Dax was standing off to one side, arms folded, watching the screen.

"We are going to leave the Eagle in high orbit, in a geosynchronous position over the place where we have set up our colony. This is captain Mark Roberts, U.S.S. Eagle, signing off for the last time." The screen winked out, to be replaced by the Federation symbol of the time, a red flag with stars around the edges, with the letters UFP in the centre.

"So there it is." Said Holkham, standing up. "The crew abandoned the Eagle, and the Kalrathaan have found it," I think we should go and investigate this. Any thoughts?"

"The alien attackers Roberts was talking about were almost certainly the Banthar." Said Dax. They have records of being active in this area long before Earth discovered warp drive."

"Sir, I have a question." A young, brown-haired man in a yellow uniform spoke from the other end of the table.

"Yes, Mr. Laren?"

"Sir, if the Eagle was abandoned in orbit of this planet, then why was it found so far away from the star?"

"We think the Eagle must have suffered some impact, like a meteorite collision or something. The Kalrathaan said that it looked damaged, but the Eagle crew left it more or less intact, apart from the damage the Banthar did to it."

Laren nodded.

Sonak started to speak, but his words were drowned out by the red alert klaxons which blared into life throughout the ship like some vast brass band playing Stravinskyís ĎRite of Springí. Everyone jumped up and sprinted for the doors, as a voice said

"Red alert. All hands to battlestations. All senior officers report to the bridge."

"Report!" called Holkham, striding onto the bridge.

"A Banthar destroyer dropped out of overdrive and fired off a volley of torpedoes, but they all missed." Said the young lieutenant as he rose from the centre chair.

On the screen, a large, angular green ship hung in space. A brownish green, it was composed of a short, flattened cylinder with a roundish front, with two shorter cylinders on either side. On the port side, a short, triangular wing jutted out, and on the other side, a much longer triangular wing pointed out into space ahead of the rest of the ship.

"Whatís their status?" Holkham asked Sonak as he ran onto the bridge.

"Their shields are up, weapons charged and primed. They have taken up a position directly between us and the Insobara Nebula."

Thatís no coincidence thought Holkham. "Can you raise them on any hailing frequencies?"

The Andorian communications officer behind Sonak spoke up.

"Negative, sir. Theyíve blocked all frequencies between us and them."

"Looks like itís a straight bundle, then." Holkham said, grimly.

"Sir, they are firing." Announced lieutenant Kelos.

On the viewscreen, the side of the larger triangular wing facing the Juno sprayed forth seven glowing, yellow torpedoes. They streaked towards the Juno, and every one hit. Blue energy rippled across the Junoís shields and the ship shook slightly with the force of the impact.

"Mr. Kelos, dorsal phasers, fire."

Fiery points of energy appeared at either end of the long phaser strip around the Junoís dorsal hull. They met in the centre and together they travelled forwards along the slight extension along the central axis of the shipís hull. When they reached the end of the line, they became a long arcing beam of fiery orange energy that shot at the Banthar ship. While the beam was still expending itself against the Banthar shields, another pair of energy points followed suit.

"Twin impacts on their shields. Their shields are down to sixty-three percent, ours are holding at eighty." Reported Kelos.

"They are re-charging weapons!" warned Sonak. Holkham responded instantly.

"Torpedo cannons three and four, fire!"

The Junoís deflector array was flanked by two parts of the hull that flared out and tapered back along the length of the ship. At the front of each was a large hole, each of which gave birth to a multitude of blue ion torpedoes, each surrounded by a halo of false spikes of light. Each flew to the Banthar ship, whose shields rippled under the impacts. They glowed, each ripple making the whole glow further, until the final ripple seemed to draw the shields back with it,

"Their shields are down, but they are returning fire."

Again, the alien vessel voided its torpedo launchers as another volley of green torpedoes headed to the Juno. But, this time, she was ready. The defence crews, upon the red alert being sounded, had scrambled to their positions, and now, each of the rotary twin phaser turrets was manned by an experienced gunnery officer. Those in range of the torpedoes swivelled their mounts to face the weapons and let loose with a cacophony of sound and light. Three torpedoes were destroyed instantly, the rest vaporised on impact with the Junoís shields, but a single torpedo was not deflected from its course, as the shield generators had been overloaded with the impacts of six high-yield plasma torpedoes. The single torpedo streaked toward the Juno, and hit the ship on the port side of the slender neck connecting the primary and secondary hulls.

The force of the impact alone threw Holkham out of his chair and rolling across the bridge towards the viewscreen. Outside the ship, her neck was engulfed by a massive explosion blooming spectacularly against her hull. The aftershock of the explosion thrust the ship up and backwards, and the inertial compensators failed to kick in in time. Everyone on the bridge not already on the floor or seated fell down.

Taking advantage of the situation, the Banthar destroyer let loose with another round of torpedoes. Again, the gunnery crews in their pulse phaser turrets fired. This time, eight torpedoes were destroyed, but with the shields down, there was nothing to stop the other two. They hit the Juno directly on the hull flare housing torpedo cannon four, and impacted, one after the other, in the same place, the second entering the hole made by the first and detonating actually inside the ship.

The noise was deafening as the ship was thrown backwards. The inertial compensators, now offline, made everything ten times worse. The entire crew was thrown around the ship like rag dolls. Fire blossomed for the second time on the Junoís port side, this time, smothering a torpedo bay, with a magazine of three hundred torpedoes. Luckily, none detonated, but the fuses were set on more than fifty. If they all went off at the same time, the explosion would cause every other torpedo on the ship to detonate as well. The Juno would lose antimatter containment and she would go down in history as the largest explosion in Federation space since the last supernova.

"Return fire. Use all necessary force. Kelos? Kelos! Varin, talk to me! Dammit." Dax swore under her breath as she staggered to her feet. She stumbled over to the weapons control panel and found that Kelosí head had been thrown against it. He was unconscious. Manually, she ordered all remaining torpedo bays to fire all available torpedoes, and watched the now flickering viewscreen as twenty sapphire-blue torpedoes impacted upon the unshielded Banthar ship.

Fire blossomed once more, this time ahead of the Juno. Eight torpedoes had missed, but the rest had hit- three on each wing, and six in the centre of the ship. The centre of the alien destroyer was consumed by fire, and the wings began to fold upwards. The explosion died, and the two wings touched each other. Dax remembered that the wings housed the Banthar weapons and propulsion systems a second before the screen became a dazzling blaze of white light.

She looked around. She was the only one on the bridge who was still conscious. The bridge had twenty-four manned stations, and twenty-three people were on the floor. Laren had been thrown over the back of his chair and was lying on his front between the XOís chair and his own. Kelos had been knocked out by his own console; Karyn MíGila, the Andorian comms officer was crumpled on the floor at the foot of the steps leading down from the upper level. Sonak was unconscious on the floor, and everyone else was slumped in their seats or on the floor. Captain Holkham was lying at the foot of the viewscreen. Jadzia moved towards him.

"Jim?" She rolled him over. He had a large cut on his forehead, and seemed to be unconscious. Dax stood up, and tapped her combadge. "Dax to sickbay. Multiple wounded on the bridge. Send two medical teams up here on the double." To her surprise, the Junoís CMO, Dr Bashir, responded in a tone of voice that made him sound as if he was commenting on the weather.

"Iíd love to, Jadzia, but were tied up down here in sickbay. We already have medical teams scrambled to most areas of the ship. I can send up two auxiliary medical teams, but only four medics."

"That will have to do, then. Send them to be here as soon as possible." She tapped her combadge again. "Bridge to Engineering, I-" Dax was cut short by commander Barek:

"One moment, bridge, weíre still picking up the pieces down here, give us a minute." After a pause, during which the lights seemed to get brighter, he continued. "OK, go ahead."

"Damage report."

"Well, our shield generators are out, warp and hyperwarp are offline for now, the portside deck fan is almost completely destroyed, we have hull breaches on decks fifty-three to sixty, and we have an antimatter canister that will never see hyperwarp again. Oh, prophets, and we have fifty-three ion torpedoes set to detonate in fifty seconds. Give us a moment while I transport them into space."

On the viewscreen, a rack of fifty torpedoes and three single torpedoes materialised about ten kilometres in front of the Juno. They also started to get smaller.

"Iíve engaged the manoeuvring thrusters so we wonít get caught in the explosion. Right, where was I? Oh yes, damage. Well, apart from the antimatter canister that weíre going to have to void, the port nacelle took some hefty damage when the port deck fan went up. Weíll have to stay put for a while. By the way, if the viewscreenís still working up there, you may want to close your eyes about now."

Dax didnít have time to respond before she was momentarily blinded by the sudden explosion.

"All that damage? With three torpedoes?"

"They used high-yield plasma torpedoes on a rotating frequency. Cut through our shields like butter. Iím afraid Iíll need to re-axilate the shields."

"Thankyou, Amoriel. Dax out." Dax closed the channel as twelve blue-uniformed medical staff filed through the two turbolift doors either side of the comms console.

"What did the Banthar want though, thatís what gets me," said a frustrated Holkham twelve hours later. "What are they hiding from us? And why were they blocking us from the nebula?"

"Well, from what we can tell, they may have already found the Eagle." Replied Dax, sitting on his left.

"Or, their ancestors noted the Eagle and the present-day Banthar have linked it to us and decided they werenít going to let us find them. Assuming theyíre alive of course." Added Elion, who was sitting on Holkhamís right

"Barek, how long do you expect it will be before we can jump to hyperwarp again?"

"Oh, Iíd say theyíll be firing her up any t-" Amoriel stopped. The briefing room offered a spectacular view of space as viewed from the rear of the bridge module- and as a result, the back of the primary hull, the top of the engineering hull, and both nacelles were easily visible. The panorama was mirrored by the currently blank holo-screen behind Holkham.

The reason why Amoriel had stopped was that the stars flashed and began to grow long silver tails, and before long, the blue, grey and orange tones of a hyperwarp conduit slid into view.

"Well, on second thoughts, sir, Iíd say they ought to have finished by now." He added with a small smile. A few others groaned.

"How are the repairs coming along?" asked Dax.

"Oh, weíve got temporary hull patches over most of the damage, and our technicians are filling in the gaps. They wonít be able to work while weíre in the hyperwarp conduit or the nebula either, so theyíll be able to restore the ship in about a week, though weíll have to get a new torpedo cannon installed on the port deck flare."

"Good. Well, if thatís everything, then, dismissed." Concluded Holkham, standing up and smiling around.

After the end of her shift, Dax went to her quarters, to change into her off-duty uniform. All she needed to do was remove her grey and black overshirt, and what remained constituted that off-duty rig. She had just pulled off her overshirt when the door chime sounded. She smiled to herself. That was almost certainly Dr Bashir. They seemed to have a routine of going to the observation lounge after duty shift to discuss the dayís events over a game of three-dimensional chess.

"Come in," she said, sitting down.

The doors swished open, and Dr Bashir walked in.

"Hi, Julian. Shall we go, then?" she asked.

He grinned. "Of course."

An hour later, they were sitting at the usual table in the observation lounge, each with a mug of raktajino coffee, and playing 3D chess, discussing, as always, the dayís events.

"Where did they come from, though, thatís what I want to know." Said Dax, moving a bishop up a level.

"I have no idea. All I hope is that weíre not heading right for Banthar space." Julian replied, smoothly taking that bishop with a knight.

"I think everyone aboard is hoping the same thing. If we are, though, we can outrun them. Anyway, howís sickbay?" Dax asked, taking a pawn with one of her own on the second level.

"After a battle, sickbay is always a little, er, uncomfortable. Luckily, though, we didnít suffer many injuries or casualties in the battle. One of the things about red alert, Iíve noticed, is that it seems to keep as few people in the exposed areas of the ship. I can tell you, Iím very, *very* glad about that."

For a split second, when she looked at him, she could have sworn that he was looking at her in a way she had only seen him do in her dreams. The next moment, she was sure she imagined it.

"Did you know that Jimís in love with admiral Trealor?"

Julian smiled. "Yes, I did."

Dax, moving her queen, raised a querying eyebrow. "Oh? How?"

Julian grinned. "Heís been coming into sickbay every day after she left asking for remedies for hay fever."

Jadzia laughed. "When we beamed the Eagleís buoy aboard, Barek was inspecting it when he sneezed. He actually told us all why."

"Well, heís hardly been keeping it a secret."

Daxí eyebrow shot up again.

"Ensign Vareska told nurse Allenby that she actually saw them kiss, just before she beamed off the ship."

Daxís eyes widened. "Really?"

"Apparently, they kissed right in front of her."

Dax grinned. "Well, Iím happy for him."

Julian smiled, too. "So am I. Er, check."

Dax immediately returned her attention to the chess game, which, for sake of a change, ended in a stalemate.

That night, Dax slept very badly. She kept having dreams that she found very worrying. Again, she fell into a troubled sleep.

*"Get a hold of yourself."* She heard Lela Dax say. *"Youíre joined. Thatís not permitted."*

*"What about Worf?"* She heard herself ask.

*"Remember? Captain Sisko spent a week persuading the Commission to permit it. They wonít be so lenient a second time. You must control it."*

*"I know."* Jadzia whined. *"But itís so hard."*

*"What do you think all that initiate training was about? Control yourself, Jadzia. Weíve all gone through it, too. You canít let it happen."*

"Captainís log, stardate 89231.2. After dispatching the Banthar, we have entered the Insobara Nebula in a search for the U.S.S. Eagle and her crew (or her descendants, if they have survived.). According to the Kalrathaan, the Eagle has drifted almost two light-years away from the planet where the Eagle crew set down, and we should be encountering her any time now."

He looked up as Dax walked onto the bridge. He took one glance at her, and instantly Holkham was alarmed. He rose.

"Jadzia, could I speak to you in my ready room, please?"

Dax nodded. "Of course, sir."

She followed him through the door on MíGilaís left, through the conference room, and into Holkhamís ready room. Holkham turned to her.

"Jadzia, are you all right?"

Dax looked at the floor, but nodded. "Iím fine, Jim. I just didnít sleep well last night, thatís all."

Holkham nodded. "Well, you should go to sickbay for a check over. You look... er... ...tired."

Dax nodded again. Holkham could have sworn she went a shade paler at the mention of sickbay as well.

"Jadzia, are you sure everythingís okay? If you want to talk to me about anything, just say so. Itíll help to get it out, if there is anything."

"I... well... ...no. No, thereís nothing that wonít sort itself out, Jim. Thankyou, though."

"Well, still, I think you should go to sickbay."

"No, sir Iím *fine*."

"Dax, I donít want to order you down there. Dammit, Jadzia, talk to me!"

Dax looked up. "Iím just having a personal dilemma, Jim. Itís sweet of you to be concerned, but Iíll be fine. Iíd better go to sickbay, then."

She got up, and left, leaving Holkham looking after her, a concerned look on his face.

"Anything on sensors, Mr. Sonak?"

"Negative, sir. The only object that has passed within sensor range within the past ten minutes has been a type nine asteroid."

Holkham sighed, and leaned forwards in his command seat, his hands clasped, and his chin resting on them. In front of him, the spectacular orange visage of the Insobara Nebula glowed and drifted as the Juno cut a path through the swirling gases.

"Where is she?" he asked, to no-one in particular.

"Sir," an ensign sitting at one of the science consoles spoke up from Holkhamís right."

"Yes, ensign?"

The young ensign blushed. "Sir, in command school, we had a scenario like this. But the ship had been in the nebula so long, it had accumulated particles from the nebula and so it only registered as a concentration of particles on the sensors."

Sonak turned to her. "That is a valid point, ensign." He turned to Holkham. "Sir, with your permission, I would like to run a scan for any unusual particle concentrations in the vicinity."

"Granted, Sonak. Ensign?" Holkham turned to the young ensign. "That was a very good suggestion. I shall place it in my mission report."

"Thankyou, sir."

Sonakís console chirruped.

"Captain, I am detecting a dense particle mass approximately seven kilometres off the starboard bow."

"Onscreen."

The screen changed to show a patch of orange cloud slightly darker than the cloud around it. But no ship.

"Sonak, can our ISHTAR array penetrate the cloud?"

"Particle concentrations are too high to get an accurate reading; however, I believe that if we keep it locked, our ISHTAR array will be able to penetrate the outer particle mass."

"In the meantime, try scanning for some other concentrations."

"Er, sir?" Laren pointed to the screen. "Look."

On the screen, a small patch of white was visible in the centre of the cloud. Holkham frowned.

"What is it?"

"It appears to be metallic, duranium alloys." Sonak looked up to Holkham.

Holkham smiled. "Increase magnification factor by four."

The screen zoomed in on the point of white to show an end of a long, white cylinder. A stripe of red travelled along its middle.

Sonak spoke up. "Visual match confirmed. It is the tail end of a 23rd century warp nacelle from a Starfleet vessel using Constitution-class parts. That narrows it down to a Constitution, Akula, or Miranda-class starship."

"Sonak, is there any way we can disperse the cloud around it? Like using the phasers or anything?"

"No, sir, we would risk hitting the ship."

"Or could we use the tractor?"

"Too much particle interference, captain."

A lieutenant sitting on the lower tier of the bridge suddenly gave a small shout. "Sir! Our ISHTAR sensor array has confirmed the ship as a Starfleet, pre-refit, Constitution-class starship!"

Holkham brought his fist down onto the arm of his chair, thumping it in triumph.

"Ops, prepare to launch a shuttlecraft to go over and take a look." He leaned back in his chair, grinning at last.

Barek Amoriel sighed as he piloted the shuttlecraft Wyoming into a large, dark patch of brownish-orange dust, out of which was poking the aft sixth of the Eagleís starboard warp nacelle. The Juno was very similar in layout, and from studying old ship schematics when he was a boy, he knew that the shipís main shuttle hangar was, as with the Juno, at the aft of the engineering hull. In the shuttle with him were Sonak, who insisted on coming, six engineers, and Lieutenant Andrew Hendricks, whose great-great-great grandfather was the Eagleís science officer.

The shuttle began to penetrate the outer layer of particles. The brown mass swirled around the tiny ship, enveloping it and leaving no trace of it. Barek was using the shuttleís subspace sensors to keep form colliding with the ship, and had to take it slowly. Eventually, however, the stark white shuttlebay coalesced out of the gas. Barek stopped the shuttle, and sent the automatic binary code that unlocked the shuttlebay doors, and carefully manoeuvred the shuttle into the opening.

"Right, people, letís get our EVA suits on."

"Why?" asked a surly construction engineer from the back.

"Because this ship has been drifting in this nebula for over two hundred years, and the microbes on the ship, if it hasnít been sterilised by the nebulaic radiation, will have taken every scrap of oxygen out of its atmosphere. Plus, we let a bit of the nebula in when we came in."

The engineer looked embarrassed, and they prepared to leave.

Ten minutes later, the nine of them were walking down the dark, dusty corridors. The emergency lights lit up the dust and made everything look like it was bathed in the orange light of the nebula outside the ship. The ship seemed extremely spooky. They were all waving various sensing devices around. Sonak was waving a tricorder around at around chest height.

"Yep. Itís as I thought. Thereís no oxygen left on the ship, and the bacteria and microbes have died long ago. Prophets, itís creepy in here." Commented Barek at the front of the group.

"Interesting. I am detecting some particles from the nebula in the atmosphere. Also, I am unable to scan a section of deck twelve."

Sonak was walking next to Barek.

"The nebulaic particles were let in with us, Sonak."

"Actually, according to my tricorder, the nebulaic particles have been inside the ship for one hundred or more years."

"I wonder whatís on deck twelve?" asked Hendricks, who was bringing up the rear with Martens, a young engineering trainee.

"Letís have a look." Replied Barek. He turned around, walked past the rest of the group, and kicked a part of the wall. Nothing happened.

"Mr. Barek, what are you doing?" Sonak was puzzled.

"Iím- trying - to - get - this - flaming thing - to -open!" Barek kicked the wall panel with every word, and finally, it slid away to reveal a vertical ladder. A large number next to it revealed that they were on deck eight.

"OK, down we go." And Barek swung out of sight and down the ladder. Everyone else followed, with Sonak bringing up the rear.

They went down four decks and Barek spent as long trying to get out of the access shaft as he had spent trying to get in. Eventually, the panel gave way, and Barek and the others got out.

"Whereís Sonak?" Someone had noticed that Sonak was not with the rest of the group.

Hendricks waved his tricorder around. "Deck eleven. He got out too early."

Barek tapped his wrist panel. "Barek to Sonak, where are you?"

"On deck eleven, commander. I have detected a life-form aboard the ship, and I am going to investigate."

"Why didnít you tell us?"

"The life-form is mobile, commander, and I did not want to lose it, as it is approaching a section of deck eleven that I cannot scan either. I am approaching itís co-ordinates now." Barek rolled his eyes. Trust Sonak to go and get separated from them.

"Sonak, what is it youíve found?"

"It appears to be a sentient life-form. Humanoid, reptilian and avian descent. Three meters in height. Interesting. It appears to be Banthar."

Everyone looked thoroughly startled.

"Sonak, get back here, now! Do you hear me? Get back, now!"

"Aye, commander, returning now. Commander, I am reading another Banthar- three of them -entering an access shaft and descending to your level. I advise you begin scanning for them, as they have probably detected you. There will be no point trying to escape. I will return momentarily."

Everyone began fumbling on their utility belts for their tricorders, and a moment later, they were all scanning for the Banthar.

Sonakís footsteps on the ladder became audible, and a second later, Sonak appeared in the access shaft.

"Commander, from what I can tell, the Banthar have been on the ship for some time, trying to ascertain where the Eagleís crew went after they abandoned ship. I suggest we make our way back to the shuttlebay and return to the Juno as soon as possible."

He had barely finished the sentence when one of the engineers gasped.

"Sir! Sir! Three Banthar stormtroopers heading this way! They are coming down that corridor!"

At this, everyone drew their phasers, and got behind the bulkheads. Barek, who always carried a large weapon on him, reached over his left shoulder and swung a large isomagnetic pulse rifle over his shoulder and primed it.

Everyone was tense. One ensign was shaking slightly. Before long, the clanking footsteps of the Banthar became apparent.

Three long, nightmarish shadows grew on the wall of a T-junction facing them. Then, three tall Banthar came into sight. They towered to the ceiling, their three-jointed legs coming to a standstill. Their mask-like faces, three-jointed limbs, green and purple mottled skin, spiny crests, their foot-long, black nails, and slit-like, feline eyes combined to make them the most physically terrifying sentient beings encountered by the Federation. As one, they drew long, thin weapons that looked like crosses between short swords, and guns, seemingly carved out of mauve crystal. They began to walk forwards.

One engineer ducked around the bulkhead and fired, his phaser blast catching one of the Banthar in the arm. Oblivious to the blast of paralysing energy sweeping into his arm, it raised its sword to chest height, and a jet of magenta light erupted from the end of the craved crystal, the plasma blast making a smoking crater in the wall behind the engineer, who ducked back out of sight. This went on for five minutes, until one Banthar and two engineers were unconscious on the floor.

Hendricks, tired of the battle, cranked his phaser up to maximum, and fired. With a dull, crashing boom, the entire rear end of the corridor blew itself to vapour, but the Banthar, unperturbed by the new level to which the fight had ascended, fired all at once.

Two searing blasts of pure plasma impaced the wall behind Barek and detonated, the ringing crack hurting his ears. He jumped out from behind the bulkhead and fired his rifle.

From the end of his rifle leapt a bolt of distortion that honed in on the lead Banthar and detonated. The blast alone rocked the entire ship, and a sphere of incandescence blossomed from the place where it detonated, and evaporated after reaching a diameter of two meters, leaving three Banthar strewn across the smoking remains of the corridor.

"Commander, I suggest we leave as quickly as possible. I estimate the Banthar will have re-enforcements down here in about two minutes." Sonak was evidently concerned.

"Aye, Sonak, aye." Barek was worried, too. "Levets and JíDan, pick up Jones and Bailiwick. Weíre leaving."

Three minutes later, the shuttlecraft Wyoming was making its way back towards the Juno.

"Barek to Juno."

"Here, commander. Whatís up?"

"There are Banthar on the Eagle. We had a gunfight with three of them, and we suspect there may be up to twenty on board. I suggest using a marine gunboat, sir."

"No. We can leave that for later. In the meantime, we should head for Lantaru and see if the Banthar have got there yet. Weíll be performing the jump to hyperwarp as soon as youíre docked."

"Captainís log, stardate 89232.6. Having discovered the wreck of the Eagle, we have made some disturbing discoveries. The Banthar had evidently just discovered her, and we have just dropped out of hyperwarp in orbit of the star where the Eagle crew set down. We all hope that the Eagle crew have not been discovered by the Banthar, and, that if they have, they have held them off."

"Entering orbit over Lantaru now, sir."

"Thankyou, helm. Comms, lieutenant MíGila, anything?"

The Andorian lieutenant looked puzzled. "Sir, there is a lot of low-level radio activity on a large island off the planetís southern continent. I think that is where the Eagle crew set down."

"Onscreen."

The screen winked and showed a large expanse of gently waving grass, with a small group of small buildings in the centre.

Jadzia looked impressed. "Very idyllic."

"Hmm." Holkham made a noise of assent. "Sonak, what do you make of it?"

"The small colony has one hundred and thirty-nine inhabitants. Sensors show mainly humans, with a few Vulcans and Andorians as well."

"Can we hail them?"

"I believe that the large structure to the east of the main square is some sort of main hall. I can tap into that and patch the frequency through to comms."

"Do that."

"MíGila, when you have the frequency, put it onscreen."

"Aye, sir."

The screen winked and showed the interior of the main hall. About two dozen startled-looking men and women were staring at the camera.

Holkham stood up. "This is captain Jim Holkham of the Federation Starship U.S.S. Juno."

The crowd immediately went into an uproar. Most people stood up. A couple of women fainted dead away, and one man shouted in amazement.

One woman, evidently their leader, walked forward towards the camera.

"I am Alexandra Hendricks, the elected leader of Lantaru. It is wonderful to know that the Federation has come for us at last."

"Oh, my god." Andrew Hendricks had slowly risen from the main ops station."

"Alexandra, we have never been formally introduced, but I am Andrew Hendricks. My great-great-great grandfather was the Eagleís comms officer."

Alexandra looked stunned. "As was mine."

"Lieutenant, we will have time for the family re-unions later." Holkham stepped forward. "Ms. Hendricks, I think it is the least we could do to offer you and your council dinner aboard the Juno later this evening."

"Of course, captain. My people will be delighted. Shall we say nineteen hundred-thirty hours?"

Holkham smiled. "Iíll look forward to it."

"My god." Alexandra Hendricks stared around her as she stepped onto the bridge. "The images our ancestors left behind showed something much less... advanced than this." She gestured at the consoles and the holocommunications system in front of the captainís chair.

"The Federation has come on a long way since the Eagle disappeared." Holkham was behind her as she stepped slowly down from the turbolift.

"But, what about the aliens weíve been hiding from? What of them?"

"We have discovered the aliens call themselves Banthar, and they look ghastly."

"What do you mean?"

"Juno, open holoprogram Banthar zero-one and put it up here on the bridge."

"Aye, captain." Responded the ship.

"Did you just talk to the ship?" asked a puzzled Hendricks.

"Yes- aah, here we are."

The nightmarish image of a Banthar appeared rotating on the holopad in front of the captainís chair. Alexandra had to stifle a scream.

"Thatís one of the aliens?!"

"Yes. Nasty, arenít they?"

"Theyíre positively horrible!"

"Juno, de-activate the holoprogram." The Banthar flickered out of view.

Sonak started as his console bleeped. "Captain Holkham, commander Dax, I am picking up two Banthar destroyers approaching the wreck of the Eagle. It is only a matter of time before we are found."

Holkham wheeled as Dax looked alarmed. "Weíve got to get out of here before weíre found."

Dax started. "Captain, what about the Nightcloak armour? Surely we could use that?"

Holkham looked at her as if she were mad. "Jadzia, itís not been tested in the field before!"

Dax raised an eyebrow

"Well, thereís a first time for everything."

Holkham sighed, turning the idea over in his mind. "Very well. Mr. Kelos, deploy the Nightcloak armour."

"Aye, sir."

Outside the ship, a dark stain seemed to begin to seep out of the base of each phaser strip. Soon, the entire hull was covered in a dark blue layer of armour. The reason for its rapid spread was thanks to technology brought back on the USS Voyager and refined over ninety years. The Nanites spread quickly throughout the surface of the Juno, creating a thin layer of dark blue armour, leaving holes only over the warp nacelle grilles, the Bussard collectors, and the impulse engines.

"Armour deployed, sir." Remarked Kelos.

"Interesting." Commented Sonak.

"What is?" asked Holkham.

"The Banthar seem to be ignoring us."

Holkham heaved a sigh of relief.

"Lieutenant Kelos, does the armour work at warp or hyperwarp?" asked Dax.

"Negative, commander. We must wait until the Banthar leave before we perform a hyperwarp jump."

"Right."

"Well, Ms. Hendricks, I believe that is all." Said Holkham.

"Thankyou very much, captain. May I ask that you inform your superiors about us?"

"Of course. Here, let me show you to the transporter room. Dax, you have the bridge."

"Aye, sir."

When Holkham returned to the bridge, Dax stood up.

"Report, Dax?" Holkham asked, stepping down from the starboard turbolift.

"No change, sir. The Banthar ships have left the nebula. It is safe to leave."

"Right. Laren, all ahead full, set your course for the nearest edge of the nebula. Once weíre clear, lower the armour and resume original course, warp four point five."

"Aye, sir."

The computer beeped. "It is eighteen-hundred hours."

Holkham nodded slowly to himself. "Mr Sonak, you have the bridge." He and Dax, and most of the other crew walked into the two turbolift shafts, as Sonak sat down in the captainís chair.

"Begin night watch." Said Sonak, and the lights dimmed slightly.

Later that evening, Dax decided that, for a change, sheíd go to the shipís gym. So, taking a towel with her, she set off in that direction.

She actually got lost, deep in the bowels of the Juno, and, finally, she saw a door ahead of her marked Ďgymnasiumí. Walking inside, she saw lieutenant MíGila doing some stretches, and walked over to join her.

MíGila looked up, her blue skin and white hair catching the light.

"Commander Dax, I-"

Dax smiled. "Call me Jadzia, Karyn. Iím off duty."

MíGila nodded, and Dax continued. "Mind if I join you?" she asked the Andorian.

"Of... of course."

After a while, Dax found that she had come to like this young Andorian girl. Before long, they had become well acquainted, and they were talking quite happily as they stretched and exercised.

After half an hour or so, Dax was exhausted.

"Phew. Right. I think thatís enough for one day." She said, sitting down on a bench.

MíGila sat down next to her. "I think Iíll stop, too."

Dax looked at her. "Youíre remarkably strong, lieutenant."

MíGila looked embarrassed. "Well, I like to keep reasonably fit. In the academy, I got... manhandled by a Ferengi cadet. Since then, Iíve always liked to keep quite strong."

Dax smiled. "I used to get Klingon martial arts training from Worf on DS9. You need to be quite strong to handle a BatíLeth, you know."

"I know. I tried picking that thing up when we were putting those containers from DS9 in your quarters. I almost sprained something."

Dax laughed. "Iíd better get back to my quarters. Iíll see you here... same time next week?"

MíGila nodded. "Iíd like to. Well, Iíd better go too, I suppose."

They got up, and walked to the door. "See you next week, then." Dax called.

"Okay." MíGila called back.

 


Proceed to Episode III

 

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