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Star Trek Deneva - Episode IV - Confessions by John Berkeley

Confessions

"Captainís Log, stardate 89249.5, U.S.S. Juno, Captain James Holkham commanding. After returning to C209 for two days, we are presently starting a new mission beyond the Insobara Nebula, this time exploring the Ultima Titana sector, with, I am glad to say, admiral Trealor aboard. So far, we have surveyed fourteen planetary systems and over seven hundred stellar and planetary bodies. Although we havenít encountered anything of importance as yet, the crew is, as ever, expectant.

On a slightly grimmer front, I am deeply saddened to note in this log the loss of the Aldaron System to the Banthar. Understandably, Elion is terribly upset, though, having the courage of a Terran and the resolution of a Klingon, he seems to be taking it in his stride, though it is evident he is very upset he is not joining the liberation force currently converging over Ariaan Prime.

I have noticed over the past few days, that there seems to be a growing bond among the crew, and I am now confident that everyone is settling down well. Only yesterday, I saw Dax and MíGila in the gym, gossiping over the latest rumours flitting around the ship. I have noticed a growing friendship between lieutenant Laren and Dr Bashir. Sonak has befriended Varin Kelos, of all people, and I frequently see them playing a Vulcan puzzle game in the crew lounge. Barek and MíGila seem to be getting along well, too, and I have noticed large groups of friends forming below decks. I have, however, noticed that Dax and Bashir are keeping apart as of late. I donít know what to make of it, as the looks they are exchanging would usually indicate otherwise. Still, itís not my business, so I wonít carry on. I only hope my crew is getting along as well as they appear to be."

Jim Holkham sighed, finally feeling happy. He was sitting in his quarters, watching the stars shoot past at the leisurely pace of warp two. As ever, the galactic band stretched across the screen, and distant nebulae swirled. Most noticeable, perhaps, was the orangish splotch of the closest of those; the Insobara Nebula. Thinking back over the past two months, he remembered how they had discovered the wreck of the fabled USS Eagle drifting in that fiery cloud, and the descendants of her crew living on a nearby planet.

He was drawn back to the Juno by his door chime sounding. Looking around, he spoke.

"Come in."

The door swished back, revealing admiral Trealor standing in the doorway. She stepped in, smiling, her long red hair catching the light.

Holkham stood up, and they rushed into each otherís arms.

"Itís good to be aboard, Jim." She looked up into his eyes.

"Itís good to have you aboard, Riannah." He replied, smiling.

She grinned, and kissed him. They sat down together on the couch, watching the stars shoot past.

"You know, I think the crew is finally settling down." Holkham told her.

"Good. I thought they would, somehow."

"Howís the StarBase, these days?"

"C209 is the same as it always was - uneventful. I must say, I prefer being out on missions than being cooped up in an office all day."

"I can understand that." He said.

They kissed again as the stars raced past.

"...now entering the Beta Anulis system." Laren said.

"Right. Drop out of warp, commence sensor scans." Holkham ordered.

The stars on the viewscreen lost their rainbow tails and contracted back to points of light.

"Sonak, what are you getting?" He asked the science officer.

"The Beta Anulis system is a system of seven planets orbiting a blue dwarf star. Beta Anulis Prime is class Y; the second planet is class D; the third is class K; the fourth through sixth planets are all gas giants and the last planet is class S."

"What do you make of the third planet?"

"Mostly deserts and grasslands with a few small forests and mountains. Also picking up scattered small seas. Interesting." Sonak remarked. "Although the planet appears to be uninhabited, I am picking up evidence of civilisations; roads and what appear to be cities around one of the seas in the southern hemisphere."

Holkham and Dax exchanged glances.

"Mr Laren, take us into standard orbit over Beta Anulis III." Holkham ordered.

"Aye, sir. ETA ten minutes."

"Sonak, anything else?"

"Yes. The cities are ancient ruins. The Beta Anulis system lost any intelligent life it had centuries ago."

"Did they leave?" Holkham asked.

"Apparently not. The ruins indicate a pre-industrial culture of the level of development of the Ancient Greeks of Earth."

"Then, why are they no longer inhabited?"

"It would appear that a mutagenic virus was introduced into the planetís biosphere. All the planetís humanoid inhabitants were killed in a matter of weeks."

Holkham shuddered. "Is it still dangerous, Sonak?"

"Apparently not, sir."

"Right. In that case, Kelos, Laren, Sonak, if you three would assemble an away team, we might do well to take some readings from this planet."

"Aye, sir." The three officers rose and walked over to the turbolifts.

Elion Laren shivered slightly. He and six others had beamed down to explore the ruins on the planet. And, it felt cold.

The intense, but small disk of Beta Anulis was high in the sky, and, by it, Laren could see a small prick of light like a bright star. That, he knew, was the Juno.

It was not actually all that cold. There was a pleasant breeze from the nearby lake and it was just as warm as it had been back aboard the Juno. No, this was a different kind of coldness that he could feel. This coldness was of a quality beyond temperature, this chill was evil; dead. Looking around, he saw Sonak struggling with an enormous earthenware jar, and he went over to help him.

"...yes, itís definitely sprained." Bashir was telling him ten minutes later. Bashir was running a small medical tricorder over Larenís back, and was frowning slightly. "What were you doing anyway?"

"I was helping Sonak lift this enormous jar, and we eventually got it upright, but I did my back in, in the process."

"Right. Iíll give you something for it."

Bashir reached round Larenís back and swept a long, thin device over it. A shimmering, small curtain of blue light shone from it onto Larenís back. Bashir straightened up when his tricorder informed him that the muscles were fully healed.

Before he got down from the biobed, Laren looked at Bashir. "Tell me, doctor, do you play darts at all?"

Bashir stared at the young lieutenant.

"Do I play darts?" he repeated faintly. "To tell you the truth, Iím mad about darts."

Laren smiled. "Iíve been looking for someone else for weeks. Would you like a game?"

Bashir grinned. "When?"

"Oh, say, after duty today?"

Bashir checked his memory, and sighed.

"Sorry, Iíve got dinner with Commander Dax tonight. Say, tomorrow?"

"Brilliant." Smiled Laren.

"...bearing 295 degrees, approaching at hyperwarp velocities. It will catch up with us in fifteen minutes." Finished Sonak.

Holkham had gone cold inside. A Banthar heavy cruiser was tailing them, and it would catch up with them in a matter of minutes. Sighing, he rose, nodded, and walked to his ready room, which Riannah was using while she was aboard. He pressed the door chime.

"Come." He heard her say. "Jim." She looked up and grinned. "What can I do for you?"

Holkham walked over to her, stony-faced.

"Whatís wrong?" she asked, getting up.

"Weíve detected a Banthar cruiser thatís chasing us. Theyíll catch up in fifteen minutes."

"Oh, Jim..." She hugged him, holding him tight.

He kissed her forehead, and then, after a while, laughed softly.

"What?" she asked, smiling.

"You know, Iíve only once been into battle with someone Iíve slept with before."

Trealor stared at him, and then laughed. "Jim, youíre incorrigible." She told him.

"I know." He smiled.

"You had better get back on the bridge. Iíll join you." She decided, finally. Together, they walked through the conference room and onto the bridge.

"Mr. Sonak, whatís the ETA for the Banthar?" Holkham asked the tall Vulcan.

"Now nine minutes, sir."

"Right. Red alert. All hands to battle stations. Drop out of warp, come about to face the Banthar, and order the fighter crews to prepare for launch."

"Aye, sir." A number of officers said, as the red alert sirens came on.

The Banthar ship swooped down out of the stars towards the Juno, its purple disruptors dancing over the shipís shields. The Juno returned fire with fiery orange phaser shots as the Banthar ship came about and let loose with a volley of torpedoes. The Junoís deadly stargun fired once into the heavens, the huge blast of energy splashing fire over the Banthar shipís shields.

"Their shields are down to twenty nine percent; ours at fifty percent and holding." Reported Sonak.

"Target their weapons arrays, Kelos, and-"

WHAM!

The force of the impact was enough to throw the ship over by ninety degrees. On the bridge, everyone held on desperately to whatever they could to stop themselves being thrown out of their chairs. One lieutenant, however, was flung over her console to land behind Laren at the helm. The shaking subsided almost at once. One of the other officers called for a medic, and Dr Bashir beamed to the bridge, and went over to the stunned woman lying crumpled at the front of the bridge.

"What the hell was that?" Holkham demanded.

"The Banthar ship swung their stern at us. They did not hit us, but their shields infringed on ours, and they repelled each other. Odd." He said, frowning over his console. "It seems their shields are unaffected, but ours are down."

"Kelos, re-start shields."

"Aye, sir. Sir, the Banthar are lowering their shields. Iím attempting to get a shot through."

As Kelos spoke, three torpedoes and seven jets of fiery light lanced out at the Banthar ship. The torpedoes slammed into the port wing, in three huge balls of fire. The phasers carved huge gashes in the side of the ship, but, in the second that the shipsí shields were down, the Banthar did more damage to the Juno than anything so far.

Kelos had barely finished firing the weapons, when everything blurred. Holkham heard the computer warn that the bridge crew were being beamed away, and felt the tell-tale signs of a transporter, but what he felt was not the familiar tingle of a Federation transporter. What he felt was an odd jerking sensation, and the shimmer was not blue, but a dull purple. When the purple haze cleared, however, he felt suddenly odd, and before he knew quite what was happening, he and twenty-four others collapsed on the floor.

He awoke in a small, cold room with everyone else who had been on the bridge. The room was dark, with odd green and black markings on the walls. There was a large door at one end of the room with an odd, curving symbol on it - presumably something in Banthar.

At least, he assumed they were on the Banthar ship. The transporter light had definitely been purple, and that corresponded with the light given off by the Banthar weapons. Before he could muse any further, the door began to move. Suddenly, he realised that no-one, himself included, had a combadge on.

He went cold at once, and looked around for Riannah. He saw her standing next to him, and drew her close as the door opened, a tall Banthar framed in it. He noticed that instead of a crystal weapon, the Banthar was holding a small metal device. The Banthar pointed it at his - Holkham assumed it was a Ďheí, - his chest, and began to speak. Holkham realised it was a Banthar version of a universal translator.

"You will all follow." The device said in a harsh voice. "Any resistance will result in dire consequences for you all."

Wordlessly, Holkham gave a reassuring stare to his crew, and followed the alien away, holding Riannah close to him, the smell of her hair reassuring him slightly.

The Banthar led them into a large chamber with a number of small cells adjoining it, and Holkham realised they were being taken into the Banthar shipís brig.

The Banthar, surprisingly politely, Holkham thought, divided them into threes and directed them into cells.

Holkham was put in with, he found, Trealor and Dax.

The moment they crossed the threshold, a shimmering magenta force field appeared, sealing them in. Riannah squeezed his hand and left his side.

"What do you want with us?" she asked the Banthar.

The Banthar waited for the device to translate her words, then replied.

"You are here to provide information for the Banthar Confederation, which you will give."

Trealor shook her head. "We wonít tell you anything."

The Banthar took one step towards her, and, as he did, a door leading off the chamber opened and a phalanx of twelve armed Banthar filed in and took up positions against the walls. Holkham noticed a red-lit chamber off to one side, with what looked like an operating bed just visible in the centre of it. He shuddered.

"We have our methods of persuasion, Trealor."

Riannah drew herself up. "Do you know me?"

"Every Banthar knows you. You are the most wanted human in the galaxy at this time. This is why I shall have the pleasure of interrogating you, first."

Trealor laughed mirthlessly. "Good luck." She told the tall alien. "Youíll need it."

The Banthar walked off without another word into the red-lit chamber.

Riannah calmly watched him leave. Holkham went over to her, and she looked at him. He drew her close, the helpless expression in her eyes telling him more than he wanted to know.

They came for the admiral some minutes later. She was taken off by two of the armed guards into the red-lit chamber.

The fact that the Banthar made no effort to stifle the sounds of what was happening made it a thousand times worse.

Holkham paced at first, while there were relatively few sounds, but when Trealor started crying, he shouted to her. Almost immediately, one of the armed guards raised his crystal weapon, and fired a searing purple bolt of energy through the force-field into Holkhamís chest.

Holkham felt as if he had been hit over the head with a large saucepan. Getting up shakily, Holkham realised that the crystal weapons must have energy settings like phasers. He and Dax stopped shouting, and he was merely sitting against the wall crying with his first officer while his loverís screams echoed through the dim chamber.

To Holkhamís very great surprise, after an interminable time, two Banthar dragged Trealor back to their cell. They threw her in and re-activated the energy field before Holkham could do anything, however.

Riannah looked dreadful. She was white and ashen-faced, her face stained with blood and tears, her voice coming in racking sobs. Holkham held her close as she lay against his chest, crying. Startled, he noticed three long gashes on her back, and more on her arms. He gritted his teeth and held her tight.

It was not long, however, before the Banthar returned to Holkhamís cell. This time, they grabbed and held Dax between them as they walked towards the red-lit room. He heard Bashirís cry of mixed fury and desperation as Dax walked past his cell, held by the Banthar. Holkham saw a guard fire twice into one of the cells, and he heard Bashir hit the deck, as he himself had done not long before.

Daxís cries were harsher than Riannahís. Just before he heard her being released from the bed, she screamed a name that made Holkhamís heart clench in sympathy and pity, and when she returned, she looked even worse than the admiral. Holkham was relieved to see that she had no blood on her at all, however, it was clear that the Banthar had used much worse techniques than they had with Trealor. She was white as a sheet, and the intricate line of spots running down from her temples stood out in stark contrast to the rest of her skin. She was sobbing uncontrollably, and sat down, hugging her knees, in a corner of the cell.

Trealor and Holkham went over too her, but to no avail. She refused to speak; merely to sob into Trealorís shoulder.

*If they can reduce the two most stalwart women Iíve ever met to tears like this, then I shudder to think what they would do to me.* Holkham thought, dreading the time when they would come for him.

The two alien shadows fell across his face shortly after Dax returned. They grabbed him roughly and hauled him out, merely shooting Trealor twice in the chest with their evil-looking crystal weapons when she tried to help him.

They had grips of iron, their long nails digging deep into Holkhamís arms. He could hear Riannah crying for him as he passed the threshold of the red-lit room.

Looking around, he saw a number of sinister-looking instruments along a wall, and a number of small devices on a bench by the opposite wall. He saw the Banthar that had Ďgreetedí them was Ďsittingí in what resembled a chair on the third wall.

"Your position?" the Banthar asked.

"I am the captain of the Juno. I demand to know why you are doing this!" he responded, feeling braver now his time had come.

The Banthar rose and walked towards him slowly. Bending slightly, the Banthar put its mask-like face uncomfortably close to Holkhamís.

"You are in no position to demand anything, captain of the Juno." The Banthar told him. The Banthar stood up properly and took a step back. Suddenly, the Banthar swung violently, and plunged its nails into Holkhamís arm. Holkham gritted his teeth against the pain, but, to his own surprise, managed not to yell.

The two Banthar on either side of him then forced him down onto the bed. The interrogator then walked up to Holkham, carrying a small device.

"This, captain of the Juno, is a little creation of mine. It will induce the worst memories of your life, and it will continue until it has got the information it needs. All you need to do is think it. It will also allow you to feel the worst moments of the lives of those you hold dear, as well. That admiral Trealor, for instance. She was very co-operative, in the end." The Banthar added, gazing at the metal instruments on the wall.

Holkham then saw that they were still stained with her blood.

He tried to get enough power to wrest free of the four mottled green hands holding him down, but he couldnít. Slowly, the interrogator placed the device on Holkhamís forehead.

At once, he remembered the worst experiences he had suffered. Seeing a friend at school being killed by Orion pirates; watching as another friend slowly drowned; hearing Riannah screaming in this very room.

This time, he did yell.

*Your shipís registry codes* he heard the interrogator think. *what are your shipís codes?*

*I will not do it.* Holkham repeated over and over again. *I wonít do it!*

*You wonít? Bad choice, Terran.*

At once, he heard Riannah screaming again. But this time, he could see the interrogatorís memories of the moment. He could actually see Riannah on the bed.

He tried in vain not to remember the codes, but another glimpse of Riannah on this bed destroyed his defences.

Unable to do anything else, he recited the codes in his mind.

*USS Juno, NCC-289957.* He remembered.

*Good.* came the interrogatorís thoughts. *Continue, or do you need persuading?*

Again, another glimpse of Riannah on the bed, this time, followed by a picture of Dax, lying there, her beautiful face contorted with pain.

*Miami-class starship. 1,409 metres long. Crew of 2,114. Three fighter squadrons. Prefix code...* He tried with all his might not to do it, but again, the interrogator lashed out with more memories of Riannah, lying beneath his knife, on the table where Holkham now lay.

*Prefix code 28953706, Twenty nine, Alpha.* Holkham thought. He instantly hated himself for it, but he couldnít help it. He realised now that he couldnít take another memory of Riannah from the interrogator.

At long last, the Banthar removed the device.

Holkham was crying openly, now. Crying not only for what he had done, but for what the Banthar had done to Riannah; to Dax.

Distantly, he heard the Banthar thank him, and he felt himself being dragged back towards his cell.

The Banthar lowered the field and threw him unceremoniously onto the floor. Reactivating the shields, they walked off again, this time to another cell.

Riannah immediately rushed over to him.

"Jim!" she cried, and kissed him.

He returned her kiss, lingering a little, and, looking into her eyes, he saw she knew what the Banthar had done.

Presently, Holkham and Trealor had regained enough composure to begin thinking up a plan of escape.

No matter how hard they tried, though, they couldnít think of anything. Each plan revolved around their getting their hands on a Banthar weapon, and that was almost as likely as their getting out of this alive.

The Banthar had almost finished with the crew, now. Holkham resisted the urge to scream abuse at the Banthar as he heard Elion Laren shouting from the interrogation chamber.

What had disturbed the entire crew was that even Sonak, who was, after all, Vulcan, and supposedly purged of all emotion, even he had screamed at the hands of the Banthar.

Dax still huddled on her own in the corner, crying her eyes out. Trealor had tried her best to comfort her, and, though her sobs had now subsided to a steady crying, she was still unreachable at present.

After what seemed like an age, the last crewmember, MíGila, was thrown back into her cell with Laren and a pale-faced ensign who manned an engineering console. The Banthar interrogator stepped out into the light again.

"You have my thanks for your most generous gift of information to the Confederation." He announced.

There was quite a considerable amount of dissent at this, and at once, every guard in the room unholstered their weapons. The shouting died down.

"Now, you will be pleased to know that we are heading for the Banthar border under overdrive, and we shall be docking in the Arcalon system in seven hours. But, thereís no need to worry. We dispatched your Federation friends aboard the Juno. Watch."

Evidently savouring the experience, the Banthar walked over to a large console. Here, he pressed a few buttons, and a large screen over the door came to life.

Watching with an awful feeling, Holkham saw how the battle had progressed following their capture. Purple jets of light lanced out from behind the camera and hit the Junoís re-started shields. The Juno fired back with phaser fire and the view blurred for a second. Then, a huge amount of torpedoes materialised from off-screen and hit the Juno. Impacting presumably overloaded shields, no less than seventeen of them hit the hull. Holkham stared in disbelief as the Juno started to break apart slowly. A final, last torpedo shot towards the Juno and hit it in the centre of the engineering section. The aft section of the ship bucked upwards in the blast, and, to Holkhamís horror, the forward section bucked upwards as well. The explosion grew, and before the two parts of the ship were at ninety degrees to one another, the entire ship blew apart in an explosion so massive that it overloaded the camera. The picture returned to a slowly dispersing cloud of debris and fire. After a few seconds, the screen reverted to a strange symbol - presumably the symbol of the Banthar Confederation.

There came a stunned silence from the cells. Then, a voice which Holkham recognised as Sonakís sounded.

"That recording is a forgery."

The Banthar turned to face the Vulcan.

"And what makes you say that, Sonak of Vulcan?"

"The Junoís warp nacelle pylons are angled forwards, not backwards. Also, the degree of slope of the nacelles on the actual ship is greater than that on the recording. Another flaw is in the number of windows on the underside of the command section. The actual Miami-class starship had three-hundred windows; your version had a mere two hundred and seventy eight. Also, when the torpedoes were fired, the Junoís defense turrets would have destroyed most of them before they hit. The last flaw I noticed is that the lettering on your version of the Juno is higher up than on the actual ship.

If the Banthar was taken aback by this startling revelation, it - he, did not show it.

"What remarkably accurate attention to detail, my Vulcan friend." Said the Banthar.

Another voice sounded out from the same cell.

"Why are you playing around with us like this? The Juno is probably following us and you know that as well as we all do! Just because you canít see her doesnít mean she is not there!"

"Another remarkable observation, Varin Kelos of Danaria. However, you may rest assured that the Juno poses no threat whatsoever to us, and it seems that-"

The Banthar broke off. There came a distant *boom* and a loud siren. Another Banthar rushed in and spoke to the interrogator.

"The Federation ship followed us. They have some way of avoiding our sensors. Their fighters opened up on us and weíre trying to evade them. It seems theyíre after the prisoners.

The interrogator swore in Banthar.

"Right. Inform the Federation ship that we shall start killing the prisoners if they do not let us go on our way."

The Banthar disappeared for a moment, then, evidently using an intercom system, spoke again.

"They say they will let us go on our way if we free the prisoners. If we donít comply, they will open fire."

"Do not respond. Just shoot down as many fighters as possible. Use the information the prisoners have so kindly donated to our cause if you have to." The interrogator said. He then turned to the guards. "Set your weapons to kill." Start shooting the prisoners if I give the word. Start with them (he pointed to the cell nearest him) and work your way round."

The guards responded by pressing something on the sides of their weapons. Holkham went cold. It seemed now that some of them would not make it out.

There was silence for a while, and then came a terrific explosion from somewhere in the ship. Almost at once, one of the Banthar guards shot once into the cell the interrogator had indicated. Cold inside, Holkham heard something fall to the floor. He held Riannah close to him as Jadzia struggled with her tears. The interrogator left.

There came another explosion, followed by a long, deep whine. Then, a titanic explosion rocked the ship.

"Oh, my god." Trealor said to Holkham. "They used the stargun!"

No sooner had the words left her mouth than two more shots left the Banthar weapons, and again, something heavy hit the deck. Twice.

The battle raged outside. With each shot outside came another shot in the chamber. Before long, six crewmembers were dead.

Suddenly, however, a different alarm sounded, and there came the sounds of Starfleet phaser fire from outside the chamber. The Banthar guards, panicking, shot into the cells again, but, this time, Holkham thought they must have been worried, as not one shot hit. Before they could fire again, ten green-shirted Starfleet marines burst in, shooting each of the Banthar and suffering only one loss. When the last Banthar went down, a hoarse cheer erupted from the cells.

The leader of the marines walked over to Holkhamís cell, and de-activated the force-field. Around the chamber, other marines were helping the officers up and assisting some of them onto stretchers. People were all beaming back to the Juno quickly before the Banthar could arrive. But, in the corridor, the blue light of Federation transporters shimmered and danced on the walls - more marines were beaming aboard.

The Bajoran marine extended a hand to Dax, and lifted her up. Looking up into the young womanís face, Dax gasped.

"Ensign Kell!" she exclaimed.

"The same." The Bajoran smiled. She handed each of them a communicator. "Just activate it and youíll be beamed back immediately." She told them. She then went to help with everyone else as Trealor, Dax, and Holkham finally beamed back aboard the Juno.

Re-materialising in sickbay, with his arm around Trealor and Dax at his side, he looked around.

People were materialising around him. The nurses were tending to them, laying them down on beds, treating them with dermal regenerators and hyposprays.

A senior-looking, matronly nurse hurried over to them.

"Come with me, admiral, sir, maíam." She led them through a partition into another part of sickbay, where there were more unoccupied beds. She sat each of them down on their own bed, and shouted for some other nurses to come over and tend to them.

While one nurse was running a dermal regenerator over Trealorís wounds, the other two could find nothing physically wrong with Dax and Holkham. Instead, they injected each of them with something that would calm each of them down. Holkham, waiting for the nurses to finish with the admiral, looked at Dax.

She looked slightly better, but she was still trying hard not to cry. He went over to her and laid a hand on her shoulder.

"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked, quietly.

She shook her head. "No, thank you, Jim. Iíll be fine."

"Good. When weíve dispatched the Banthar, weíll be able to put this behind us."

"Iím glad. I hope we win this war, Jim."

"Well, we wonít lose it, thatís for certain. Riannahís a very powerful woman, and when our report gets back to Starfleet Command, Iíve a feeling they wonít let this happen to another crew."

"What surprised me was how quickly it went. We were little less than five hours on that ship. And look what that five hours has done to the crew."

"Try not to worry about it, Dax. Iíve a feeling weíll all get a break soon. Gods know, I need one after that. We all do."

Dax smiled. "I know a lovely spot on Bajor."

"Too far away, I think. We should go to Talasťa. Have you heard of it?"

"No. What is it?"

"Itís one of only four class N planets known to the Federation. Itís in the Lasonis system, and itís even more beautiful than Bajor or even Casperia Prime."

Dax smiled. Holkham turned back and saw the nurses had finished treating the admiral.

"Are you all right, now, Riannah?" Holkham asked.

"Iíll live. Now, I want everyone who was taken to be relieved of duty for the next twelve hours." She said, officially.

"Right. Before I carry that out, though, Iíd like to go back to the bridge."

"Of course."

Holkham smiled and turned to Dax. "Do you feel up to coming up to the bridge for a moment?" he asked her.

Dax nodded, and rose. Together, the three of them left the sickbay where people were still transporting over, and walked over to the turbolift.

On the bridge, Dax, Holkham and Trealor stepped down from the port turbolift and onto the bridge. The engineering officer, Barek was sitting in the centre chair. All the stations were occupied by backup crew, and everyone was concentrating. On the screen, the Banthar ship was dead in space.

The science officer manning Sonakís post announced

"Sir, the marines are encountering heavy resistance. Recommend we target the shipís marine barracks.

"All right, then." Barek said. "Tactical, target their marine barracks."

"Aye, sir. Target acquired." Replied the stand-on weapons officer.

"Fire."

A fiery jet of orange light burst from the Juno, and it connected with the Banthar ship at the apex of the diamond-shaped front section. There were a series of tiny flashes and a small cloud of flame erupted from the point where the beam hit.

"Target destroyed. Iím scanning approximately three hundred casualties."

Barek nodded, grimly.

The stand-in comms officer whipped around.

"Commander, Ensign Kell reports that Banthar resistance is collapsing. Beta and Gamma squads report they have captured the Banthar engineering centre, and the Banthar bridge."

"Mr Calverston, what are your estimated chances of success of capturing the Banthar vessel?" Barek asked.

"Iíd say, about 78%."

"Brilliant. Tactical, take the Banthar vessel in tow; helm, set your course for the Deneva system, warp seven."

"Aye." The two women responded.

"Sir! Ensign Kell reports that they have control of the Banthar ship!"

A small cheer resounded around the bridge.

"Stand down from red alert." Said Barek.

Holkham smiled as Barek rose. He walked over to him.

"Well done, Amoriel." He said.

"Thankyou, sir." Barek grinned. "Iím glad we found you."

Holkham groaned. "So am I, Barek, *very* glad. You know, all things considered, I think you should remain up here." He looked up. "Juno, whatís the time?"

"Itís oh-four hundred-thirty two hours, captain." Replied the computer.

Holkham continued. "In that case, I think if the affected crew were to stand down until the day watch after next, then that would be enough." Holkham tapped his communicator. "Holkham to alpha bridge crew. You are all on stand-down until oh-seven hundred hours tomorrow morning. You are relieved of your duties until then."

Dax immediately excused herself and went straight to her quarters.

Walking in, she locked the doors behind her, took off her overshirt, and slumped down onto her bed.

Remembering what she had seen on the Banthar ship, she started sobbing again. She cried herself to sleep, thinking solely about those ten minutes she was in the Banthar chamber.

Some time later, Holkham was sitting behind his desk in his ready room, watching the stars flash past. Struck by a sudden thought, he turned.

"Juno, where is Ensign Kell?"

"Ensign Kell is in main security. Shall I ask her to come up?" the computer asked.

"Yes, please."

Five minutes later, a short Bajoran woman with shoulder length blonde hair and a green uniform walked in.

"You asked to see me, sir?" she asked, standing at attention.

"At ease, ensign." Holkham told her, rising and walking around his desk. "Ensign, I have been noting your activities of late. You were key to the survival of Dr Bashir on the Jorthal mission, were you not?"

"I stayed with him, sir, if thatís what you mean."

"I was reading Barekís report on the Banthar vessel you captured." Holkham crossed his arms. "After speaking with admiral Trealor, I have been authorised to present you with this."

Holkham reached under his desk, and felt around for the box. *Surely I put it there?* he asked himself. His hand fell on a polished surface, which he picked up.

A long, polished box was in his hand. He turned it so the hinges were facing him, and opened it for Kell to see.

And she stared.

"I hereby promote you to the rank of lieutenant, junior grade, with all the rights and privileges therein."

He attached the four gold pips to her collar and cuffs. Shutting the box, he saluted her.

She returned the salute, smiling.

Some hours later, Holkham was lying awake in bed. He couldnít get the thoughts of the dayís events from his mind. He looked to his left.

In the light from the stars visible through his window, he could see another pair of eyes looking back at him.

"Canít you sleep, either?" Trealor asked him.

He shook his head, and she drew him to her.

"Iím so sorry." She told him.

"What for?"

"For all thatís happened today. I know itís not my fault, but I feel so bad about it all."

"There was nothing you could have done about it, Riannah. Iím sorry, too. But you know that there was nothing we could have done that would not have worsened the situation."

She nodded gently.

He smiled slightly. "Youíre beautiful, you know that?"

She smiled, too.

"Well, as we canít sleep..." she trailed off, drawing his lips to hers.

Dax was awakened from her troubled sleep by her door chime sounding.

Opening her eyes, yet trying to shut herself out from the world, she ignored it. It sounded again; a third time. Then, she heard a voice.

"Juno, locate commander Dax."

"Commander Dax is in her quarters, doctor."

"Bashir to Dax. Come in, please."

Still, Jadzia didnít respond. She couldnít. Again, the voice.

"Jadzia! Can you hear me? Damn." She heard him shout again, and then a hastily stammered emergency medical override.

Jadzia heard the door swish open, and tried hard not to cry again.

"Jadzia! Where are you?"

"Iím in here, Julian. In the bedroom."

"Thank god. Jadzia, are you all right?"

Sitting up, she ran a hand over her face. "Iím - Iím fine, Julian."

He came in and sat down next to her.

"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked. She looked up and stared into his eyes.

Those brown eyes. So trusting; so concerned. So beautiful.

"I... itís nothing you can fix, Julian. Please, I need to tackle this on my own."

He shook his head. "No, Jadzia. Iím your friend. Itíll be much easier if we try and pull through this together."

Again, she looked at him, then rose to walk over to the window, lean on the ledge, and stare out into the stars streaking past.

"They put that... thing on my head, you know - the device that shows you the worst experiences of peoplesí lives. Do you have any idea what they showed me there?" she asked him, shakily.

"No." he said, simply.

She stifled a cry again, and looked back into space. "I saw... you."

"Me?" he asked, shocked. "How..?"

"They showed me inside you, Julian. They showed me what you felt for me, what you went through because of me."

There came a horrified silence from behind her. Looking up at his reflection, she saw he had gone ghostly white.

"Dear god..." he breathed. "I had no idea." As if suddenly worried, he got up. "I should leave." He said, hurriedly.

"No, Julian, please stay." She turned to him, and he stopped. He gave her a helpless look, and sat down again on the bed.

"How... how much did you see?" he asked, quietly.

"Everything. What you felt for me at the start of our posting together; what you went through inside when Verad took Dax from me; what you went through every time you saw me involved with someone. I saw what you went through when I became involved with Worf; when Worf and I married. I saw every sacrifice you had made; everything you had endured; everything you had done. I saw how much I hurt you by turning my back on you." She was crying again, now, her voice shaking uncontrollably. "I saw how much you loved me, and how I had turned you away."

He merely sat there, motionless, a horrified look no his face. She continued, not wanting to stop now it was coming freely.

"I saw how you felt when you were preparing the way to let Worf and I have children, and I saw how much you cried; how much pain you went through when I died. I saw what you felt for me as Ezri; how even through you loved her, you still missed me; I saw what was going through your mind when the Prophets revived me, and I feel *wretched*, Julian. Absolutely wretched."

She stopped talking, now, the tears streaming down her face, as she struggled with the urge to break down completely.

He simply sat there, unbelieving, staring ahead. Finally, he spoke, his voice as hoarse as hers.

"Thereís nothing I can say. Iím so sorry, Jadzia."

"Youíre sorry? Julian, Iím the one who should be apologising, not you. Iíve just found out precisely what Iíve done to you, do you know that?"

"Jadzia, I donít know what to say. I really should go." He moved to get up again, but she went over and stood in the doorway, blocking his path.

"Julian," she said, very quietly. "Iím *so* sorry. About everything." She finally broke, and ran to him. Instinctively, he pulled her into his arms, supporting her as she cried.

Presently, however, she stopped crying. She looked at him again, looking into his eyes.

"Julian, Iíve only recently come to realise this, but... ...well, I havenít lost my feelings for you. In fact... oh, Julian." He was shocked when he felt her lips against his. Pulling away from her, he sighed.

"Jadzia, you donít have to do this, so if youíre doing it out of sympathy-"

"No, Julian. Iím not. You see, this is against everything my homeworld stands for. The Symbiosis Commission only let me get deeply involved with Worf because Benjamin did a very convincing job of telling them why it should happen. They only excused Ezri because she hadnít gone through the initiate training and so didnít know what was expected of her. But, me... I went though it all. The training, the ceremonies. But, I canít hide from the truth. The truth is, Julian, - I love you."

She pulled him closer to her this time, moving to kiss him again.

"Jadzia... this isnít right. I canít do this to you knowing youíll be exiled." He protested.

"Julian, I have nothing left for me on Trillian, now. No family, nothing. The Symbiosis Commission can go and chase a targ for all I care. Julian, I know what Iím taking on by doing this."

"Jadzia, Iíve always loved you, you know that."

"Then why didnít you say?" she asked. "Julian, if Iíd known, then we wouldnít be here, now. Our lives would have been *so* different if only Iíd known."

"Do you think I wanted to deny it instead of shouting it out for the entire station to hear? I kept it quiet to keep our friendship together. I didnít want to do anything... stupid to cheapen it. I found it a small price for a friend."

"But, you never objectedÖ Worf, DeralÖ"

"At first it was just a passing infatuation. But as time passed, it became more than that. I felt that if I had made that clear, that would have ruined our friendship. You loved Worf dearly and we both know it. You know that if I had protested your relationship, it would have been the end of ours. Jadzia, I couldnít live with myself if that happened because of me. Actually, I was surprised you put up with me, with that stuttering around, the naÔve schoolboy infatuation..."

She smiled, but stopped when she looked into his eyes again. Slowly, they drew together, their lips finally touching with a love untold for years, their hands around each otherís necks pulling them closer still, as the stars raced past outside.

 


Proceed to Episode V

 

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