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Star Trek Deneva - Episode III - Predator by John Berkeley

Predator

"Captainís Log, stardate 89241.5, U.S.S. Juno, Captain James Holkham commanding. I have completed my first assignment as captain of the Juno, charting unknown space in the Omega sector. Now, having sent a month in the field, we are returning to StarBase C209. I must admit - the mission, initially, at least, did not start off as successfully as planned. Less than 48 hours out from base, we had to drop off a critically ill crewmember. Shortly after that, we were called in to assist the starship Maxwell in an incident with a race called the Banthar. Following the destruction of the Maxwell, we are now at war with the Banthar.

In other respects, however, the mission has been declared successful. We charted fourteen star systems, the Insobara Nebula, the Omega cluster of stars and we charted over 13,000 stellar and planetary bodies.

We have now been recalled to C209 for our next assignment."

Jim Holkham looked out at the stars. He had completed his first mission, the crew of the Juno were now settled, and in three hoursí time, he would see Riannah again.

Under normal circumstances, he would have been delighted, but, at present, he was preoccupied. The Federation was at war. Already, the Banthar had attacked StarBase C209, and one of his closest friends, Fleet Admiral Danton, had been killed in the attack. The Banthar had now begun regular attacks on the Arcalon System. A substantial amount of his crew, nearly one tenth, was Xantanu. The Xantanu were native to Arcalon Prime, and if the Federation did not hold out, the Arcalon System - widely considered the most naturally beautiful system in the Federation - would fall into the hands of an enemy so terrible, the like of which had not been seen for nearly a century.

Sighing, he turned away from the stars and walked out of his ready room, through the conference room, and onto the bridge.

The welcome ambient sounds of the bridge cheered him slightly. He turned to his right and looked at the Junoís dedication plaque. Reading the list of names, he saw a few he recognised. Aryon Trealor was Riannahís father. Smiling slightly, he saw Richard Holkham as well. His father had been a captain, like him. Aryon Trealor and Jimís father had worked together on the Juno, and they were known as inseparable friends. In fact, it was the Miami-class project that had drawn him and Riannah together.

Holkham read the shipís quotation, at the base of the plaque. Like many, it was not sourced. It read,

ĎThe wind at our backs and the sky full of starsí

"Captain, receiving incoming transmission from C209." Said the officer working at comms, a young Andorian woman named Karyn MíGila.

Holkham turned. "Onscreen."

The screen, which showed the stars streaking past, switched to a view of the StarBaseís colossal control room. Two levels high, with people working at stations dotted here and there, and at the walls, all centred on a circular table showing a starmap of Deneva Sector. Standing at this table was an assortment of officers, and a single, beautiful, white-uniformed woman with long, slightly curly red hair - admiral Trealor. She walked towards the screen, smiling slightly.

"Congratulations, Jim."

Holkham was a little embarrassed. For a start, he didnít know what Trealor was congratulating him about.

She continued. "Youíll be pleased to know that the Starfleet Corps of Engineers has retrieved the Eagle. We have flushed the Banthar out of the Insobara Nebula, and Lantaru is now a member of the Federation."

Holkhamís response was intended to be humorous, though he was never sure afterwards whether the admiral got it or not.

Trealor raised an eyebrow. "You know, Jim, I could always send you to check the Ariaan Badlands as well..."

Holkham laughed. "Point taken, admiral. What are our orders?"

"Youíll dock in bay B. Youíll have a 24-hour refit, and then, Starfleet has a very interesting mission for you. Itíll be right up your street."

"Iím not sure if I like the sound of that... Weíll be docking in three hours, present speed."

"Brilliant. Docking bay B, gate seven."

"Right."

Trealor smiled. "Trealor out."

Holkham turned to Elion Laren, the lieutenant manning the helm.

"Mr Laren, what is our ETA for the StarBase?"

"Two hours, forty seven minutes, present speed."

"Brilliant. Iíll be in my ready room if anything comes up.

Riannah Trealor was watching the stars. Through her office window, she could see the heavens before her. Near the top of the window was a part of the galactic band. Below her, a huge black disc obscured the stars. She watched as the edge of the disk grew brighter. Slowly, the planetís black rings, edge on, grew steadily brighter before becoming a river of silver dust. Suddenly, a blinding ball of light burst out from behind the planetís limb, followed by a second, dimmer one. A sunrise viewed from space is said to be deeply moving the first time it is seen. For Trealor, it was a common sight, but she still found it impressive. The balls of light grew dimmer as they moved out from behind the planetís atmosphere. Below her, the steadily growing crescent of Deneva IV was glowing, bathed in light reflected from its suns. The deep azure oceans, green and orange continents, white swirling clouds and silver rings made it one of the most beautiful sights she had ever seen.

There came a third blast of light, this time receding very rapidly, from behind the planet. It briefly lit up the dark planet below it before dying back to the inky blackness of space. Where the blast of light had been, there was now a small shape, at this distance, no longer than Trealorís finger.

It had a diamond-shaped front, a graceful neck, a rounded body, and two sweeping nacelles, each glowing a bright blue. Even at this distance, she knew what it was, and grinned. It was getting closer every second, and, before a minute was up, she could read the words painted along the side of the secondary hull,

ĎUnited Federation of Planets, Starship USS Juno NCC-289957í

Trealor left her window to walk into the enormous command centre, and over to a small transporter pad by a flight of stairs leading to the upper tier.

"Docking bay B, gate seven." She told the man operating the pad. She stepped onto it and turned to the man, who had tapped in the co-ordinates.

"Energise."

She disappeared in a whirl of light to re-materialise on a similar pad some one hundred kilometres away.

Stepping down, and over to a large window, she leaned on the edge and looked out.

Docking Bay B was vast. At the far end, another ten kilometres away, a titanic pair of space doors stood closed, and docked around the walls were all manner of spaceships. The huge docking port just to her right stood closed.

She watched as the warning lights flashed on the doors, and they began to slide apart, revealing the Juno, approaching on manoeuvring thrusters.

Slowly, the Juno slid through the doors, which began to close again, and towards her.

Before long, the Juno was less than five hundred metres away. The huge ship loomed in front of Trealor. The two projections on the front of the command section joined with the bay wall with a loud clanging noise as the ship stopped.

Trealor watched as one of the nearby doors slid open, and Jim Holkham stepped out. He spotted her and grinned.

"Permission to come aboard, maíam?" he asked her.

"Granted, captain." She said.

Holkham grinned, and they embraced. Dax stepped out of the door behind Holkham, and raised an amused eyebrow as she saw Holkham and Trealor together. She waited until they broke apart.

"Jadzia." Trealor saw her. "Welcome to C209. Well, Jim, Jadzia, you had better come up to my office, I think. Weíll take the transporter."

Dax and Holkham followed Trealor to the transporter pad, and onto it.

"Command Centre, please, chief." Trealor told the operator.

"Your next mission is to investigate the disappearance of a number of starships passing through the Jorthal system. Over the past few weeks, Starfleet has lost contact with three ships. When the first ship went missing, I dispatched another ship to look for it. Both that ship and the one after that have disappeared, too. Iíve placed the system under quarantine until you can get there to investigate more closely."

"Youíre quite sure we wonít vanish as well?" asked Dax, a slight smile playing across her lips.

Trealor looked at her. "The Juno is a Miami-class starship. The previous ships were frigates. I think that, given a chance, whatever is making those ships disappear would probably think twice before attacking the Juno. Anyway," Trealor added, looking at Holkham, "I wouldnít send the Juno unless I had absolute confidence in the best crew under my command."

Dax and Holkham both laughed.

"Is there anything we ought to know about the Jorthal system?" asked Holkham.

"Not really. Itís a system of seven planets. Thereís an abandoned StarBase in orbit of the gas giant, Jorthal V. You might want to start looking there."

"Right."

"The Juno will remain in dock for a day while she is overhauled. The entire crew is on stand-down until then. Dismissed."

Dax and Holkham got up to go.

"Jim, wait." Holkham turned, while Dax left.

Trealor waited for the doors to close, and then walked round her desk, and kissed him tenderly.

"Good to have you on station, *captain*."

At precisely 1130 hours the next morning, the Juno undocked, turned in the huge docking bay, and sped out of the huge space doors.

Admiral Trealor watched from her office window as the Juno rippled with the light of the hyperwarp field. The ring of green light exploded from a point behind the Juno, which stretched and shot forwards in a blinding blast of light. Riannah looked away. When she looked back, all that was left was the receding flash and the slowly dispersing ring of light.

"Captainís Log, stardate 89242.7, U.S.S. Juno, Captain James Holkham commanding. We left C209 at eleven hundred thirty hours this morning. Our mission is to investigate the disappearance of the starships Reykjavik, Roosevelt and Heywood in the Jorthal system. Riannah said to begin our search at station C Alpha Seven, an abandoned StarBase in orbit around a gas giant in the system. Though Riannah suspects pirates, I think that this may have something to do with the Banthar."

"Entering orbit around Jorthal VII, captain." Laren reported from the front of the bridge.

"Tactical, deploy the Nightcloak armour." Holkham gave the order in an expressionless voice. Dax looked at him, concerned.

"You alright, Jim?" she asked him.

"Iím... worried, thatís all. Thanks, Jadzia." He said, smiling slightly. He turned to Sonak. "Anything odd on sensors, Mr Sonak?" he asked.

"No, sir. I recommend we proceed to Jorthal V."

"Right. Helm, set your course for Jorthal V, maximum impulse."

"Aye, sir."

"Sir, I am picking up an ion trail. It appears to have come from the Reykjavik." Sonak looked up from his console.

"Where does it lead, Sonak?" asked Dax from her seat on Holkhamís right.

"It is erratic, as if the helmsman were involved in a fight while trying to pilot the ship manually. It is evening out, now; bearing 350 mark 76 degrees - to Jorthal V."

Holkham and Dax exchanged glances.

"Yellow alert." Holkham said. "Mr. Laren, set your course for Jorthal V, full impulse."

"Aye, sir." Said Laren, as the yellow alert lights flashed on.

Sonak looked up from his console. "I am picking up a large amount of debris ahead, captain."

"What do you make of it, Sonak?" Holkham asked.

"Its composition indicates Federation origin."

"Are we in visual range?"

"Yes, sir."

"Onscreen."

The screen switched from the growing disc of Jorthal V to a small field of fragmented metal. One particularly large piece looked horribly like-

"The large object on the right of the screen appears to be the starboard warp nacelle from an Adelaide-class starship." Remarked Sonak.

"Then, they were destroyed." Said MíGila, hollowly.

"Apparently not, lieutenant. There is not enough debris here to account for the entire ship. Even if it were mostly vaporised, there would be evidence for it. It appears that the ship encountered some sort of explosion. Most of the rest of the debris appears to come from the nacelle pylon."

"Does the ion trail continue, Sonak?" asked Holkham.

"Yes, sir. Still going for Jorthal V."

"Right, then. Helm, continue previous course."

"Aye, sir."

"...I cannot scan the station very thoroughly. There is very strong electromagnetic interference coming from the gas-giant. From what I can tell, however, the station remains abandoned."

Holkham frowned ahead, staring at the abandoned station with fixed eyes. The mushroom-shaped space station stared back at him, its viewports dark and empty, devoid of life. The comms towers on the top of the station had mostly been broken off, and the station was battered here and there from space debris. Suddenly, he realised that the spotlights highlighting the large characters on the stationís side were still glowing on the night side of the station.

"Sonak, are you reading any power sources?" He asked the tall Vulcan.

"Affirmative. It seems the individual power packs for the marking lights are still working." Sonak raised an eyebrow. "Interesting."

"What is?" asked Dax.

"The power packs are not up to their normal efficiency. There is a substantial amount of their power that I cannot account for."

"Thatís simple. Theyíre old, Sonak. They havenít been used for ten years, theyíre worn out."

"That would normally follow; commander, but those are Yoyodyne 3150 mark ten power packs for external illumination and emergency power generation. Their minimum operational efficiency is 73.7 percent, and yet only 55.3 percent of the power is being accounted for. Even if they were at their limits, there is still 18.4 percent of the power not being accounted for."

"What do you make of it, Sonak?" asked Holkham, not taking his eyes off the slowly revolving station.

"The only possible explanation is that the power packs are being tapped."

"Thatís impossible. Weíd know." Protested Dax.

"Not necessarily, commander. Remember, as I stated earlier, there is a lot of interference from Jorthal V. It inhibits sensor scans and our sensors cannot penetrate more than one hundred metres into the station. It is likely that the reason for the power drain lies more than one hundred metres into the station."

Holkham got up. "Right, that settles it. Commander Dax, take an away team over to the station to find out what the hellís going on. Mr Laren, Kelos, Sonak, youíll go with her. Kelos, youíll take a security team with you. Iíll inform doctor Bashir to go, too."

"Sir, I predict that there will next be a window in the interference in seven minutesí time. However, the next one will not occour for some hours to come. I must say that the interference will also make it hard to beam over and away from the station. If we all need to leave in a hurry, we will be unable to without a transporter enhancer." Said Sonak.

"Right, Sonak. Iíll get Barek to try and think of a way to get rid of the interference. Say if you find anything."

Sonak, Kelos, Dax and Laren nodded and got up from their chairs and walked towards the port turbolift. As they did so, three junior lieutenants arrived to take over the science, tactical and helm stations.

Five minutes later, nine swirling beams of energy slowly appeared in a pitch-black, deserted corridor on the station. One red-uniformed woman, two blue-uniformed men, one yellow-uniformed man, and five green-uniformed men and women immediately switched on their flashlights, and shone them around. Sonak got out a tricorder and waved it around at chest-height.

"The air appears to be breathable." He remarked.

"Are there any traces of chemicals from the gas giant?" asked Bashir.

"Yes, doctor. However, the amounts are so small that one would have to be aboard for a considerable amount of time before anything adverse began to happen. I can scan fifty metres in all directions. Beyond that range, all I can get is interference."

Dax, Bashir and Laren got out their tricorders as well. "I get the same." Said Dax.

"Same here."

"Me, too."

"Right," Dax took control at once. "Weíll split up. Kelos, you take two marines and doctor Bashir; Sonak, Laren and Iíll take two marines. Weíll walk around the station in opposite directions and meet again on the far side of the station. Weíll stay in constant communicator contact either with each other or with the Juno. Keep scanning the station as you go. Whatever happens, do not get separated from your group, do you understand?"

Everyone nodded.

"Excellent. Kelos, you go clockwise, weíll go anticlockwise. Remember, stay in touch and donít get separated. Right, letís go."

Dax led the four men down the corridor. Laren and Dax were shining their flashlights while Sonak scanned with his tricorder. The two grave marines at the back each had a mean-looking phaser rifle and were scanning ahead, too.

Dax was struck by how eerie the station was. It was unimaginably black. The stale air brought with it the smell of rotting upholstery and metal. The rooms were all as dark as the corridors, filled with dust and shadows. Debris littered the floor, and terrible shadows loomed on the walls ahead. Every now and again, there was a loud groaning noise as the hull of the station cooled or heated up as it turned in the light from the Jorthallian sun. Gravity from the gas giant made the hull groan even more.

"Kelos to Dax." The Danarianís harsh voice made Jadzia jump. Regaining control, she tapped her badge.

"Dax here."

"Commander, we can all hear some kind of noise; can you?"

"Itís just the hull warming." Dax said this as much to reassure herself than to reassure Kelos.

"No, itís different. Stop for a moment and youíll here it, too."

Dax held up a hand, and everyone behind her stopped. Trying to breathe quietly, she listened intently. Nothing.

Creak. *Thatís just the hull.*

Groan. *Again, just the hull.*

And then, she heard it. A faint whisper, as if of wind on dry grass or businessmen whispering at a speech."

"Yes, I hear it too." She said.

"What is it?" asked Kelosí voice from her combadge.

"I have no idea. Keep in contact, Kelos, and-"

Suddenly, a curious sound of whining weapons fire burst over the comlink.

"Kelos! Whatís going on over there?" she shouted.

After a second shot, Kelosí breathless voice sounded.

"Commander, I advise we regroup where we originally met. Weíre less than a quarter of the way round the station, and there is strength in numbers."

"Will do, but what was the firing about?" Dax asked as she turned around.

"Someone or something fired at us from behind a corner. They seem to have stopped now, but thereís no telling when theyíll start again."

"Kelos, what sort of weapon did they use?"

"I donít know. It appeared to be some sort of disruptor-like weapon, with a magenta beam."

"Iíve never heard of such a-" Dax stopped, suddenly realising. "Kelos, hurry. I think we may be in danger here."

"Rodger that. Iíll stay in touch."

The moment the comlink cut, Dax tapped her badge again. "Dax to Juno."

"Holkham here, we heard. Weíre trying to scan deeper, but the interference is making it very difficult. Weíre going to try and fire a torpedo with a dampening charge, but itíll take some time to rig."

"Right. Kelosí team and mine are going to re-group and continue as one big group."

"Rodger that. Thereís no need to keep contacting us, Jadzia, we can hear all your comsignals so thereís no need. Weíve beamed a transporter enhancer to the point where you first beamed over. When you all get there, weíll beam you back."

"Right. Dax out."

"Commander, this is Kelos, come in!"

"Dax here, whatís wrong, Varin?"

"Weíre under fire again. Weíre trying to hold it - them off."

"Where are you, Kelos? We can try and relieve you."

"Corridor J3 section ten."

"Right. Weíre in J1 section three. Weíll be there in about five minutes."

"Great. Weíll try and hold out until then."

Jadzia tapped her combadge.

"Dax to Juno."

Holkhamís voice came back over the comm-link.

"Can you beam over some re-enforcements, sir?"

"Negative, commander. The torpedo didnít work. We still canít beam any-one else over. Try and hold out, and keep us posted. In the mean time, weíll beam a transporter enhancer over to where you first beamed aboard."

Dax rounded a corner, and saw a light patch on the wall. Looking down, she saw that a sign had fallen off. She picked it up, and saw that it had a large ĎJí on it, with a small three below it.

Standing up again, she drew her phaser.

She tapped her combadge, but instead of the usual beep, it made a sharp buzz. She groaned. That meant it was not functioning. She turned.

"Right, then. Weíre entering corridor J3, but comms are down. We can be pretty sure that Juno canít hear us either so we canít bank on any re-enforcements. Kelosí group should be somewhere down this corridor, so keep your tricorders out until we find them, and stay alert."

They started walking down the corridor, Dax and Sonak in the lead, with Laren and the two marines behind. Before long, they could hear the whine of Kelosí groupís phasers, interspersed with a different noise - one that Dax didnít recognise.

They were approaching a bend in the corridor, and, just before they rounded it, a brilliant magenta bolt of energy hit the wall, making a large scorch mark in it.

Immediately, Dax ran to the opposite wall, and looked out round the corner. She could see three marines, including Kelos, crouching behind an intersection, firing into the darkness where the purple beams were coming from. She couldnít see the fourth marine or Bashir, but she presumed they were hiding in another place.

Kelos fired and, in the light from the phaser blast, Dax could make out the ghastly silhouettes of three towering Banthar. The marines were having difficulty aiming properly because of the darkness. She fired a shot into the darkness and quickly ducked back behind the corner, as the Banthar returned fire. The two marines she had been walking with immediately took up positions in a doorway.

Seized by a sudden inspiration, she said,

"Sonak, Elion, quickly, give me your flashlights."

Laren and Sonak handed the small lights to Dax. She turned her own light up to maximum intensity and pushed it hard on the floor, the beam facing the Banthar position. As the small light skidded closer, the Banthar cover of darkness was lifted, allowing the three marines and Dax clear shots at the Banthar. Two Banthar were felled instantly, but, before Kelos could hit the third, the Banthar fired right at the light, which exploded, showering sparks everywhere. Dax set her phaser to minimum, and fired a continuous beam of light into the black shadow at the far end of the corridor. In the dim light caused by the phaser, Kelos could see the last Banthar, who keeled over as it was hit full in the chest by Kelosí deadly aim.

Kelos rose and turned around, smiling grimly, while one of the marines went to pick up the curious Banthar crystal weapons.

"Thanks, commander."

"It was nothing, Varin. Now, whatís the position?"

"We were attacked again a few minutes ago. We took cover and were exchanging fire when you arrived."

"Right. Where are your other marine and Dr Bashir?"

"Bashir was hit by one of the Banthar. Ensign Kell is with him. But, unless we get him back to the Juno in twelve hours, he wonít make it, Iím afraid."

Dax went pale at once. *Remember your training* she told herself. *Stay calm*. She nodded, slowly, and got out her tricorder.

Scanning around, she saw Julian and ensign Kell were in the intersection. She cranked the tricorder up to its maximum range.

"Warning," came the tricorderís alarm. "At this setting, battery power will be exhausted in forty-five seconds."

Jadzia opened her pouch and got out a small power cartridge. She plugged it into the side of the tricorder. The tricorderís display got a little brighter.

"At this power setting, battery power will be exhausted in ten minutes." Said the tricorder.

Dax could see the corridor the Banthar had come down. To her intense disquiet, it led straight to the stationís control room. Suddenly, she noticed, at the edge of detectable range, superimposed over a map of the station, a detachment of no less than twelve Banthar approaching.

"Quick!" she said. "More Banthar are coming. Thereís a Jeffries tube accessway just there." She pointed to a light panel on the wall. "In there."

"Good thinking." Said Laren. "The Banthar wonít be able to scan inside the Jeffries tube."

Dax remembered that most Jeffries tubes had power lines around them that inhibited sensor scans of some races, most notably, the Klingons, Cardassians, and, it seemed from reports from some ships, the Banthar were unable to scan them as well.

Kelos pushed the panel aside, and directed the marines into it. The marine who had picked up the sculpted crystal weapons handed them to Sonak, who put them in his belt pouch. Dax was surprised at how small they were.

"Kell!" Kelos shouted. "Bring the doctor and come quickly!"

From round another corner came a young Bajoran marine supporting Bashir, who was staggering. Kelos helped Bashir into the tube, and followed. Dax and Sonak followed, while Laren remained out to help close it. At the last moment, he swung inside.

Looking at her tricorder, she saw the Banthar phalanx was less than a minuteís walk away.

"Kelos!" she said. The Danarian turned in the cramped tube. "Take the others and try and get to the beam-out point. Holkhamís going to try and get us out."

"What about you, commander?"

"Iíll stay back here and help Dr Bashir."

Kelos shook his head. "Commander-"

"Varin..." Dax started to protest.

"No, commander. Iíll leave Kell and Roshensky to cover you. You follow on as fast as you can."

"Right. Hurry, though. With us all together like this, the Banthar will be able to find us. Move!"

Kelos turned and shouted a couple of orders, and the marines and Laren started to crawl away. Two of them stayed behind.

Dax helped Bashir move, and they followed. After a few metres, though, Bashir cried out in pain. Dax helped him round a corner, and sat him up against the bulkhead. She put a flashlight rather precariously on a groove near the ceiling, and scanned Bashir with her tricorder.

"Julian, how do you feel?"

"Awful."

"Youíve got a nasty burn on your shoulder, what should I give you?"

"I told Kell to give me some painkillers. Thereís not much to be done, really."

"Youíll be fine. Weíre in the Jeffries network, and the Banthar canít scan us in here. I think theyíd encounter problems trying to get in, anyway."

"Great." Bashir grimaced again.

*Remember the initiate training* Dax told herself.

"Do you think you can move?" she asked him.

"Just, why?"

"Jimís beamed a transporter enhancer to the place where we beamed over first. If we can make it back, weíll be fine."

"Okay. Can we move a bit more slowly, this time?" he asked.

She smiled. "Of course."

He frowned slightly, and then his face cleared again.

"What?"

He smiled, a bit thinly. "You donít look a day older than when we first met. For a woman of thirty-five, you donít look a day older than twenty-eight, you know."

She smiled again. "Thatís a result of being in stasis for ninety years. Now, come on, Julian."

She picked up her flashlight, gave the tricorder to Roshensky, and a bit awkwardly, she helped him down the Jeffries tube, with Kell in front, and Roshensky bringing up the rear.

Suddenly, there came a cry from Roshensky. "Oh! Maíam, the Banthar have entered the network! Theyíre about eighty metres behind us!"

Bashir groaned.

"Come on, Julian." Dax encouraged him.

Kell turned round.

"Commander, if the Banthar catch up, Roshenskyíll be on his own. I think I should fall back just in case." She suggested.

Dax nodded, and pointed. "Thereís an intersection up ahead. You can join him up there - itíll be impossible for three of us to squeeze past each other in here.

"Right, commander."

At the junction, Kell turned right to allow Dax and Bashir to carry on, and she fell in next to Roshensky, her phaser drawn.

"Commander Dax, the Banthar will be able to see us in a few minutes!" Roshensky called.

Dax tried hard not to panic. "Okay. Thereís another intersection just down here. Weíll take up a defensive position there."

Two tense minutes later, they reached an intersection, and Roshensky turned left, and took up a defensive position behind the corner, while Dax, Bashir and Kell turned right. While Kell took up a defensive position similar to that of Roshensky, Dax led Bashir further down, and rested him against the bulkhead. Again, she put her flashlight on the groove.

"Gods!" Julian sighed. Dax scanned him again.

"Itís got worse." She said.

He nodded. "It figures. Look, Jadzia, thereís some antharizine in my bag. Give me 10cc of it."

"Right." Dax fumbled through his medical bag until she saw a small, round cartridge marked Ďantharizine; 10cc.í She pushed it into the bottom of a hypospray and injected it into his neck.

He sighed, nodding. "Thatís better. Itíll stabilise the wound for a bit."

From behind her, Jadzia heard a lot of clanging, and Roshenskyís startled cry of,

"Theyíre here!"

Dax whipped around and drew her phaser.

"Kell!" she called. "Have you got a spare phaser?"

"Here!" said Kell, throwing Dax another hand-phaser.

Jadzia fumbled with the controls, and managed to persuade it to fire automatically at any Banthar lifesigns. Carefully, she placed it in the tube next to Kell, and got back. After a moment, the phaser fired.

Dax couldnít see what was happening, and that made it ten times worse.

Kell and Roshensky called to each other, phasers whined and the Banthar whispered and their weapons made that odd noise Dax couldnít place. Suddenly, she heard a cry of pain.

"Pavel!" Kell yelled, and Dax went cold.

The phaser fire continued, and Dax noticed that she could still hear three phasers. Looking around, she could see Roshensky grimacing with pain, clutching a wound in his side while he still kept firing.

Dax filled the hypospray with another two cartridges and called.

"Roshensky! Here!"

She threw the hypospray to him, and he gratefully injected himself with it. He seemed to recover slightly, and began to look a little better.

After a while, Jadzia shouted again.

"Kell! Whatís happening?"

"Weíve got four of them!" the young Bajoran woman called back. "But, they keep pulling their wounded away! Weíve still got four left!"

Suddenly, a purple disruptor bolt flashed, and the phaser Dax had planted whined and exploded, showering Kell with sparks. Kell ducked away, and missed a Banthar.

"Damn!" Kell swore.

Dax called to Roshensky. "Pavel! Throw me your spare phaser!"

Obliging quickly, Roshensky threw Dax the other spare phaser. Dax quickly tapped in the same commands as she had done previously, and placed it where the other one had been. It started firing at once.

Suddenly, there came a second particularly bright purple flash, and Kell shouted out in anger. Looking past her, Dax saw Roshensky fall limp.

She clenched her teeth in anger, wishing the three remaining Banthar would disappear. Dax decided that she should draw her own phaser, just in case.

Then, Kell swore violently. "Fall back, quickly!" she said. She grabbed Roshenskyís dropped phaser and tricorder, and hurried back, Jadzia in front of her, helping Julian to the next intersection. When they were about three metres away from their original position, Jadzia felt a titanic concussion and a cacophonous *BOOM* echoed through the station. They reached the next intersection, and Jadzia ushered Julian down one of the other tunnels. Kell took up her firing position again.

"What on the Winds was that?" Dax asked her.

"One of the Banthar threw some kind of crystal. There were these lights in it, and I thought it was some kind of bomb. Thatís why I told you to get back."

"How many left now?"

"Still four, Iím afraid."

"Right. Iíll help you." Dax said, moving forward.

Behind her, Julian groaned again.

"Iím not going to make it, am I?" he said.

"Donít say that, Julian, youíll be fine." Dax told him as she fired into the smoke that hid the last few Banthar. She realised, though, for the second time, that she had said it as much to comfort herself as to comfort Bashir.

"Jadzia, itís got worse again. I know when Iím going to lose a patient."

Angry, now, Dax glared at him for a second while she ducked back. "Julian, do you remember when Verad stormed DS9 and stole Dax from me? I was going to die and even though everyone else had let, you still sat by me, telling me everything was alright. So stop trying to tell me youíll die because of something like that!"

Bashir smiled slightly. Mollified by this, Jadzia grinned back at him.

Bashir spoke again. "You know, Jadzia, Iím glad you went into command school and not medical."

"Why?"

"Your bedside manner is... unorthodox." He said, finally, catching the glare she suddenly gave him.

Jadzia laughed. She caught herself just in time. *Remember the training* she persuaded herself.

Suddenly, a purple bolt of light hit the wall above Jadzia. It was a circuitry panel, and it exploded, sending electrical discharge everywhere. Dax ducked low, but behind her she heard Bashir cry out in pain as the phaser fire from Kell continued.

Jadzia threw down her phaser and hurried over to Bashir, who was lying motionless on the floor.

"Julian! Please be all right!" She said, scanning Bashir with her tricorder. He had suffered another shock, and now he would be lucky to make it another three hours.

Remembering his medical bag, she picked up the medical PADD. She tapped up what to give someone in Bashirís position, and gave him the hypospray. Checking the tricorder again, she almost cried in relief. His eyelids fluttered for a moment as Kell continued firing.

"Jadzia..."

"Yes. Listen, donít you *dare* die on me, commander! Thatís an order." She said, seriously.

He smiled. "I wonít." and lapsed back into unconsciousness.

There came another phaser shot, and, suddenly, Kell laughed. Dax turned. "Ensign?" she said, shocked that Kell should laugh at a time like this.

"I just got him." She said. Thereís only one left, now."

Dax crawled up behind Kell, and looked at the last remaining Banthar, who, Dax was pleased to see, was trying to move backwards. However, being Banthar, and about twice the size of the humanoids the tube was designed for, he wasnít having much success.

Kell shot again, and, this time, she hit. However, just as the immobilising orange light hit the Banthar, he fired. The searing magenta beam hit Daxís phaser that was lying on the floor. It whined, and Dax threw herself on top of Kell as the weapon exploded, showering sparks down on top of her. She felt a pain in her leg, and, looking down, she saw a hole had been burned in her trouser leg, and the skin underneath was burned slightly, too. Wincing, she got up.

"Ensign, are you all right?" she asked.

"Iím fine." Said Kell, quietly.

Checking her tricorder, Dax saw that Bashir was slowly deteriorating. She saw the remaining five Banthar trying and failing to get inside the network. Scanning for the others, she saw they were up ahead, and were waiting at an exit hatch, beyond which, she was relieved to see, she could see the transporter enhancer.

Encouraged by this, she picked Bashir up, with some difficulty, and hauled him, with Kellís help, down the tunnel.

Laren, Sonak, Kelos and the marines were all waiting at the end of the tube network. Kelos scrutinised Dax and Kell, carrying the limp Bashir between them.

"Whereís Roshensky?" he asked.

Kell shook her head. "We were attacked by the Banthar. They killed him."

Kelos bowed his head, muttering a brief Danarian prayer. Looking up, he spoke to Dax.

"Is Bashir alright?" he asked.

Dax shook her head, fighting back the urge to scream. "No. He got hit twice. We need to get him back to the Juno as soon as possible." She turned to Sonak. "Sonak, are comms back up?"

"Yes, commander. But the Juno can only beam back one at a time."

"Right. Open up that hatch, ensign." She told a marine, who struggled briefly with the hatch before pushing it loose.

Getting out, they all were glad to stretch their legs.

"Sensors indicate two more phalanxes of Banthar approaching. We should get back as soon as possible."

Dax nodded. "Get Dr Bashir across as soon as possible." She told them. She tapped her combadge. "Dax to Juno."

The signal was very bad. Jadzia had to struggle to make out the words.

"Holkham here, go ahead."

"Bashirís seriously wounded. Beam him directly to sickbay."

"Okay. Stand by."

Slowly, Bashir disappeared.

"Holkham to away team."

Dax tapped her combadge again. "Dax here."

"Weíll beam over another enhancer. Thatíll enable us to beam over two at a time."

"Rodger that."

Slowly, another transporter enhancer appeared next to Sonak, who pushed a button on the top. It glowed blue.

Holkhamís next transmission was much clearer. "Right. We can take two now. Any more enhancers wonít help. Stand by."

Kelos insisted Kell and another marine go next. Before long, it was only Dax and Sonak left. By now, the Banthar were very close. Dax could hear their footsteps coming louder.

"Holkham to Dax."

"Dax here."

"We can take you and Sonak now. Energising."

Terribly slowly, Dax felt the tingling of the transporter fall over her body. As the station dissolved around her, she saw a three-metre tall Banthar round the corner, and fire at one of the enhancers. Pain suddenly racked her body, and she cried out. The Junoís transporter room was slowly appearing when she felt another blast of pain. She saw the transporter chief hurriedly tap in a few more commands before the transporter effect left her, and she collapsed onto the transporter pad back aboard the Juno.

There were Banthar on the Juno. She and Julian were in the observation lounge when it was attacked. He and she immediately took cover and started firing at them. One of them fired at them, and she watched, horrified, as Bashir fell back, a gaping hole in his uniformÖ

"**JULIAN!!!**" She sat bolt upright in sickbay, wide-awake. Calming down, she noticed that everyone was looking at her, alarmed. One of the nurses hurried over to her.

"Itís alright, commander. Weíre here. Youíre alright, now."

Dax slowly lay back on her bed.

"It was a dream, wasnít it?" she asked.

"Dr Bashirís going to be fine." The nurse reassured her. "Are you alright, commander?"

Dax realised she was shaking. "I had the most horrible dream."

The nurse nodded. "Evidently. How do you feel?"

"Alright. What happened?"

"The Banthar destroyed the transporter enhancers just as you were beaming back. We almost lost your signal." The nurse told her.

Remembering who she was with at the time, she asked,

"Howís Sonak?"

"Sonakís fully recovered, now."

"And Dr Bashir?"

"Is recovering very well, too."

"Oh, thank the gods."

The door into sickbay opened, and Holkham walked inside. Looking around, he spotted his first officer, and came over to her.

"Jadzia, how are you feeling?"

She smiled weakly. "Better. Much better."

"Good. We got all of you back alright." Holkham turned to the nurse standing next to Daxí bed. "How long before she can come up to the bridge?" he asked her.

"If sheís recovered and is feeling alright, she can come in a few minutes."

"Right. Iíll see you shortly, Jadzia." He smiled at her, and left.

The nurse turned to Dax. "Right, well, Iíll just check you over, commander." She ran a medical tricorder over Dax, and nodded. "You seem fine, commander. Do you feel alright?"

"Yes, thanks."

"Good. I suggest you get up to the bridge, then. Though, I recommend that you try and turn in early at the end of your shift."

"Right. Iíll go up shortly, then." Dax got up, and looked around. She saw a young man with curly black hair on a bed on the other side of sickbay. She walked over to him. He opened his eyes as her shadow fell over him.

"Hi." He said.

"Hi." She said, smiling. "How are you?"

He smiled. "Iíve felt better. What happened?"

"A power coupling exploded. You got most of the blast."

He nodded. "Well, I didnít end up disobeying orders, did I?"

She laughed. "No, you didnít. Iíve got to go. Iíll check in on you later."

"Alright."

She smiled again, turned and left. When she got into the turbolift, she fought back the urge to cry. *Remember the training, Jadzia.* Lela Daxí voice said. *You canít go there.*

*Why, though?* she heard herself ask.

*You mustnít! If you do, youíll be exiled!* Lela protested.

*So what? I have nothing on Trillian any more. It wonít matter.*

*If you do this, youíll be the last Dax. If you do this, Dax will die with you!*

Jadzia considered this for a moment. *Dax is very old, now.* she countered. *Iíll be one of Daxís last hosts anyway. Weíll be lucky if Dax has another host after me whatever happens.*

Lelaís voice seemed quieter, now. *Fine, Jadzia.* she heard. *If you want to do this, fine. If you do this, Dax will be disgraced. The Symbiosis Commission will chase you, though. Do you really want to spend your life dodging shadows?*

Jadzia felt a lump in her throat. *If that what comes with it, so be it. But the Symbiosis Commission is coming apart. The Commission has a few years left to it at most before it collapses. The population of Trillian are getting tired of millennia of oppression. The Commission will fall, and then Trillian will be free.*

*Fine, then. But on your own head be it.*

And the voice was gone.

Dax walked onto the bridge a minute later with a small smile playing across her lips. She walked down the steps and past Kelos and MíGila to her chair, on Holkhamís right.

"Ah, Jadzia."

"Have I missed anything important?" Dax asked Holkham.

"Yes. Weíve found out what happened to the ships. The Banthar are using the station as a staging point for this sector. Thankfully, the ships we think have been operating from here have all been destroyed or returned to Banthar space under their own steam. They havenít attacked us, yet as the Nightcloak armour means they canít find us."

"Right."

"Weíve received orders from C209 to plant plasma bombs on the asteroids around the station. Then, we get clear, and detonate them. The station will be destroyed."

"Okay."

"Weíve sent out a few fighters to plant the explosives, and theyíve almost finished. Weíre waiting for them to return, and then weíll get out of here."

"Brilliant. What did you find on the station, by the way?"

"Well, we eventually used the torpedo to get rid of the interference, and we saw that the Banthar had been tapping the power cells for lighting, and powering the stationís computer. The data banks were ruined, though, so we donít think they got anything. However, they have got three Adelaide-class frigates."

"Oh, winds. What about the crew?"

"All killed. Theyíve got a transport ship waiting to ship the computer cores back to Banthar space. With any luck, weíll get that too."

Dax nodded grimly.

"...And report docked, on stand-down." Finished MíGila the back of the bridge.

"Excellent. Helm; get us out of the danger range. Sonak, have they detected the explosives yet?" Holkham asked.

"Not as yet, sir. But, they did see the fighters. I recommend we use as much speed as we can." Sonak reported.

"Helm, increase speed to all ahead full."

"All ahead full, aye, sir." Said Laren, his fingers flying over his panel.

"We are now outside the blast range. However, a Banthar destroyer has found the explosives on the nearest asteroid." Sonak said.

"Right. Varin, detonate."

"With pleasure, sir." Dax was alarmed. It was the first time she had ever heard emotion in the grim Danarianís voice.

On the screen, five blazing points of light appeared. Suddenly, huge rings of fire and light slowly expanded from those points. They converged on the station, in the centre of the screen, and it exploded in a massive ball of fire. A number of people on the bridge cheered.

"The station has been destroyed." Sonak reported, with a note of finality in his voice. "However," he continued, "The gas giantís gravity is pulling the residue plasma into its atmosphere."

On the screen, the dimming fireball was drifting, slowly. Already very close to the planet when it appeared, it touched the outer limits of the gas planetís turbulent atmosphere. A long stream of plasma slowly expanded parallel with the wind.

"My god." Said the lieutenant at Science II. "Itíll create a vortex."

And he was right. As the plasma fell, it began to spin, and glow.

"Interesting." Sonak said. "It seems the plasma is igniting parts of the planetís atmosphere. I predict that it will create a number of plasma storms in the planetís stratosphere."

"What will that mean for us?" asked Holkham.

"The storms will randomly eject plumes of plasma at unpredictable moments. I advise we leave as soon as possible.

On the screen, one of the unhealthy fiery splotches now dotting the planet rippled and spat a glowing comet-like blast of plasma into space.

"How very curious." Sonak remarked. "I would like to leave a probe here to monitor developments, sir." He asked.

"Alright, Sonak, fire a probe. Helm, when itís clear, get us out of here before we get hit."

"Aye, sir." Responded Laren.

"Probe away and assuming standard orbit." Sonak reported.

"Right. Helm, set a course for StarBase C209, maximum warp."

"Aye, sir. Course laid in."

"Engage."

"Check."

Bashir frowned, concentrating hard. *If I move this rook up and take her bishop, thatíll leave my flank open and she could get my queen.* he reasoned, to himself. *But, if I move that knight down, I can knock out her bishop and keep my queen.*

Satisfied he had got the right strategy worked out; he picked up his knight, and took her bishop.

This time, she was the one who frowned.

Theirs had been an unusually quiet chess game this time. Bashir and Dax hadnít talked much throughout the evening. There didnít seem to be that much that needed talking about. Since the away trip to the space station, they didnít seem to need to talk.

*Itís as if there was some unspoken agreement between them.* thought Holkham, watching them unobtrusively from the bar. He watched as Dax moved, swiftly taking a knight with a rook. Holkham smiled as he saw their eyes finally meet, and turned away, feeling he shouldnít be nosy.

"Check." Said Dax, for the second time, and Bashir was trying his hardest to outsmart her, just this once. He eventually decided on a strategy of attrition, hoping, at least, for a stalemate. There was a small pile of black pieces by Daxís elbow, and a smaller pile of white pieces by his own. He sighed, wishing he could think of a way to make his pile larger. Eventually, Bashir made a calculated move; carefully planning it so all his pieces could cover each other. He took one of Daxís rooks, and sat back to watch her make her move.

Bashir was surprised when Dax broke the silence.

"Youíre getting much, much better at this, Julian."

Bashir grinned. "Well, I donít really have much choice, do I?"

"How do you mean?"

"Well, itís either draw it out or let you win, and having lost ten times in a row to you on DS9, I promised myself Iíd improve, so I played against Morn."

"Morn?"

"Yes. You wouldnít think so, would you, but he was actually a very good player, and a surprisingly good instructor given his... er... choice of words."

Dax grinned, too. "Or lack thereof." She said.

"Hmm. Exactly."

They returned to the game, which despite Julianís best efforts, ended in a stalemate.

*Still,* he thought, *thereís always room for improvement.*

Dax looked at him. He was struck again by how young she looked - she still looked no older than 28, though she was actually 37. He remembered how being in stasis for a prolonged period has rejuvenative effects on the body.

"Julian, will you walk back to my quarters with me?" she asked.

"Of course." He couldnít really say no.

They got up and left, walking through the large doors at the far end of the lounge and down the corridor outside, and into a turbolift.

"Deck two." Bashir told the computer, and the lift sped them on their way.

They didnít spend the trip talking; rather, they spent the time enjoying having the other around.

It was not long, however, before they left the turbolift and walked down the last stretch of corridor. Dax stopped outside her quarters.

"Well, goodnight, Julian. Thanks for the game."

"Anytime, Jadzia. Iíll beat you just once before this missionís over." He replied, grinning

Dax laughed. She stopped, however, when she looked right into his eyes for the second time that evening.

Their lips were a fingerís width apart when a voice broke the silence.

"Jelonis to Bashir."

Bashir sighed. Tapping his combadge, he said,

"Bashir here. Can it wait, nurse?"

"Iím afraid not sir. Can you come to sickbay right away, please? Lieutenant Sanchez has gone into labour. We need you down here, sir."

For a brief minute, Bashir hated his chief nurse. With an apologetic look that spoke volumes, he turned and walked back towards the turbolift, leaving Jadzia alone in the corridor, stunned as she realised what had almost happened.

 


Proceed to Episode IV

 

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