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Star Trek Deneva - Episode VI - Shadows in the Heart by John Berkeley

Shadows in the Heart

"Captain's Log, stardate 89273.2, U.S.S. Juno, Captain James Holkham commanding. We have spent a few days en route to the Omega Sector, and have now passed the triple star system, Epsilon Omega. We are now approaching the Crater Nebula, where we are to conduct a survey of the nebula and its stars. Crew morale seems relatively high, and the war with the Banthar seems to be cooling down slightly. Skirmishes along the Banthar border are becoming rarer and rarer, and over the past week no ships have been destroyed on either side.

I, for one, hope this is a good portent, as the war has taken its toll heavily aboard the Juno. The war is barely three months old and already we have fought six major engagements with the Banthar. However, Riannah has decided that the Juno and her crew deserve a short scouting mission before we take part in the planned assault on the Delta Anulis System in a few weeks' time."

Jim Holkham sat at his desk, watching the stars as they flashed past. In the foreground, stars streaked past, with their long rainbow tails trailing behind them, while in the background, as a diagonal streak from left to right across his field of vision, the galactic plane of Titana-Caloris shimmered with the light of countless stars and nebulae.

Sighing, Holkham tapped in the ‘end' command for his log, rose, and left his ready room, walked through the conference lounge and onto the bridge.

On the viewscreen, the amazing sight of the Crater Nebula was splashed across the starscape, as if some god had thrown an over-ripe, dark-skinned fruit against it. It was instantly obvious how the nebula got its name. It looked rather like a sunburst, with the points elongated into long wisps of gas and dust, glowing red and purple in the light of dozens of stars.

"Captain on the bridge!" Commander Dax announced, rising from the centre chair.

"As you were, commander. What's our status?" Holkham asked.

"Estimate five hours until we reach the nebula, sir - nothing unusual on sensors."

"Good. Juno, time?"

"It is seventeen hundred-thirty two hours, captain." The ship responded, elements of a rudimentary personality coming through.

Holkham sat down in the chair Dax had just vacated, while Dax seated herself in the chair to Holkham's right. Holkham sat there for a while, when he noticed something. Just audible, was a faint throbbing sound, like wind buffeting a house in a gale.

"Commander, do you hear something?" He asked Dax, who frowned at his words.

"Yes - a throbbing?" Holkham nodded.

The captain turned to Sonak, who was manning the main science console, to Holkham's right.

"Sonak, what do you make of it?"

"It seems there is a minor power fluctuation in the starboard warp nacelle."

Holkham tapped a button on his armrest console.

"Bridge to main engineering."

"Barek here. Can I help, sir?"

"We can all here this throbbing noise up here. Sonak thinks the starboard nacelle has a power fluctuation."

"Well…" there was a pause as Barek checked a console. "Yes. The starboard nacelle's off by about point-five of a nanocochrane. I'll get on it, sir."

"Thankyou, commander."

The Juno tore through space - both space and time shrinking away from the beautiful ship's streamlined warp field as around her the stars seemed distorted. Behind her, the diagonal nebulous gash of light that was the Titana-Caloris galaxy split the very heavens in two, bright stars and nebulae shining steadily in the inky black; while clouds of dust dimmed the stars behind.

Ahead, the stars thinned, and splashed across the heavens like some fantastic black-on-red bull's-eye, the Crater Nebula drifted languidly through the galaxy, huge wispy spokes of red and purple gas streaming away from the single supernova remnant at its centre.

The light of the nebula gave the Juno's hull a slightly red tinge as, like some ornate dart, the huge ship shot towards it; while the dim starlight from the galactic plane behind her outlined the aft section of the ship in grey, while all along her hull, windows and spotlights highlighted the contours of the majestic hull.

Sweeping behind the ship, two enormous nacelles stretched back, the long sheets of transparent aluminium displaying the intense azure blue of the interior of the warp generators, while the two Bussard collectors glowed a fiery orange against the heavens.

Though, against the almost black hull of the starboard nacelle, there shined another light that was not mirrored on its companion. The source of that light was a small, compact disc, no wider than a man's forearm, with a single, tiny glowing indicator in the centre. Aside from the seams of the ill-fitting metal coating, the only marking on the face of the disc was the fact that it was divided into segments, each with a circle at the edge.

Like some odd cosmic timepiece, the tiny light flashed on and off, once every second - counting the seconds that flittered away, before it and the metal to which it was firmly clamped, would cease to exist.

"It's no good sir. In order to reconfigure the nacelle, we'd have to bring it up to full power for a short period - without powering it down." Barek was at his wits' end - but besides a complete re-start, that was all he could say.

"A hyperwarp entry at warp velocities is a very risky manoeuvre. What'll happen to the ship?" Dax asked.

"Well, computer simulations show that we will encounter the hyperwarp energy barrier at some point, and, once we pass it, we'll be fine. We've done this before, anyway, so we should be fine. Once we've achieved hyperwarp, we could reduce power to the nacelles again, and the fluctuation will be gone."

Holkham sighed. He looked around the conference table, his senior staff arrayed before him. "Well, it's not as if I have choice, is it? Very well, Mr Barek. We'll increase speed at once. Dismissed."

In front of him, the men and women all rose and filed towards the door. Most of them took up their positions on the bridge, but Barek left in a turbolift.

Sighing, Holkham sat down in the centre seat, while Lieutenant Elion Laren seated himself at the helm console at the very front of the bridge.

"Sonak, I want you to monitor the starboard nacelle as we increase speed. Helm, increase power to the warp drive, to warp factor nine."

"Aye, sir."

"Bridge to engineering."

"Engineering here." Came a female voice.

"Is commander Barek there?"

"I'm afraid not, sir. He's probably en-route from the conference, shall I- oh. He just walked in."

There was a momentary silence, and then Barek's voice filtered through the small bridge speakers.

"Barek here, we're all set down here, sir - ready to engage hyperwarp at your command."

"Right. Helm, increase speed to maximum - permission to use hyperwarp."

Laren gritted his teeth.

"Aye, sir."

Slowly, Laren slid his fingers upwards on his linear speed control. Similarly, in engineering, Barek tapped in commands to a console by the warp core, while all around him, all other eyes were fixed expectantly on the huge pulsating tower that comprised the warp core.

"Warp factor 9.5, 9.75, 9.975, 9.9975, 9.99975, hyperwarp in five, four, three, two - one."

The stars on the viewscreen had been streaking past faster with every second - now they seemed to freeze momentarily before streaking again - but this time they became streaks of pure white light. The entire screen was a mass of pure white needles, before the tails shrank, drawing with them, seemingly out of the centre of the viewscreen, a shimmering curtain of blue light. The Crater Nebula distorted slightly, and the curtain flowed around the ship, enveloping it completely in the rippling embrace of a hyperwarp conduit.

The Juno was completely surrounded by shimmering blue light. Every now and again, an orange or white patch would shimmer past, but still, the blue tunnel on either side rippled past, vanishing imperceptibly into a white flare of light ahead and behind.

And on the starboard nacelle, the disk gave one final flash.

The sensors on the starboard nacelle did not have time to react before they simply ceased to exist.

The explosion instantly gutted the entire nacelle, and the blue curtain of light was wrenched away, the entire ship heaving upwards as the hyperwarp conduit vanished and with a burst of light, the Juno returned to normal space.

The blackened shell of the nacelle burned an ominous red against the starlight, the explosion seemingly mimicking the huge vista of the Crater Nebula. Debris from the slowly disintegrating husk crashed against the engineering hull and the destroyed nacelle's surviving companion, gouging black streaks in the body of the huge ship.

On the bridge, Jim Holkham had no idea what had happened. One moment, he had been watching the hyperwarp conduit on the viewscreen, and had been about to give the order to reduce speed back to normal warp. The next moment the ship beneath him bucked suddenly, catapulting him over the back of his chair and onto the console behind him. The lights flickered and died while on the viewscreen, the blue curtain evaporated, leaving the bloody red light of the Crater Nebula illuminating the bridge. Warning lights flashed on every console and beside him, he felt Dax leave her seat and crash to the floor behind him.

All over the bridge, it was the same. Everyone had been catapulted to the back of the bridge, either to land painfully on consoles, to crash against bulkheads or simply to fall to the floor like rag dolls. A console at the front exploded, showering sparks everywhere as the ship shuddered.

Strangely, Sonak's lone figure remained standing, as he grabbed the console in front of him in order to prevent his own untimely flight.

Tasting blood, Holkham fought the urge to pass out.

"Report!" he heard his own hoarse voice shout.

"The starboard nacelle has exploded. The hyperwarp conduit has been ruptured. Receiving casualty reports from most decks, complete power loss on decks seven through thirty-nine. Our hyperwarp wake is collapsing behind us. It will reach us in five hours' time."

"Anything else?" a third voice asked from somewhere further to Holkham's right. Shifting his head painfully against the carpet, he saw, outlined in the light from a turbolift car, a tall female figure leaning across the door-frame, her hands on either side.

"No, admiral." Came Sonak's response. "However, we no longer have warp power, and there is no chance of attaining warp speed again without a replacement nacelle."

"Can we avoid the collapsing wake with impulse engines?"

"Yes. However, helm control is not fully operational. I do not recommend-"

"Oh, get out of my way." And the third figure pushed her way through the tangle of unconscious bodies on the floor, to the helm console.

"Damn! Helm control's completely dead." The woman announced. "Juno?"

"Yes, admiral?" came the computer's reply.

"Can you restore main lights?"

"One moment, admiral."

There was a pause, and then the bright main lights flickered back on.

"Great. What about internal communications?"

"I estimate internal communications will be restored in thirty minutes."

"Can you pass on a message to commander Barek in main engineering?"

"Yes."

"Tell him that we need to set a course for Epsilon Omega as soon and as fast as possible."

"Aye, ma'am."

The woman strode up the steps in the centre of the bridge and around the weapons console.

"Riannah…" Holkham murmured.

"It'll be alright, Jim. Juno, tell sickbay we need a medical team on the bridge."

Bashir frowned slightly as he passed a dermal regenerator over Holkham's forehead.

Holkham was sitting on a cargo container in cargo bay four, while around him, Bashir's medical staff treated other crew members with various bumps and bruises. Beside him on another container, a nurse supported Dax, helping her drink some solution or other, while behind them, Laren was stretched out, unconscious.

A tall man dressed in a deep, pure blue uniform walked over, and as he neared, Holkham recognised him as Sonak.

"Captain. Are you feeling well?" Sonak asked.

"Yes, thanks, Sonak. What've you got there?" Holkham asked warily, indicating the padd Sonak was holding.

"This is a report of the full extent of the damage. We have set a course at maximum impulse, to Epsilon Omega in an attempt to avoid our collapsing hyperwarp wake. We have also sent out a distress signal."

"Anyone hear us?" Holkham asked, wincing slightly as he stood up.

"The starship USS Heilongjiang is en-route to our location as we speak."

"Heliongjiang? I didn't know she was in the area. I thought she was on patrol in Bajor Sector."

"She is a Valiant-class heavy escort cruiser, commissioned shortly after the Juno, and, nevertheless we have received a message from them telling us they are en-route to our position. The starships Ardent and Vladivostok are on stand-by ready to assist at Epsilon Omega. However, given our distance from Federation space, the Heliongjiang will rendezvous with us in eight days' time."

Holkham nodded. "Well, that will have to do."

"Right." Announced Bashir, scanning Holkham with a medical tricorder. "I've repaired the various bumps and bruises you sustained, sir. You somehow managed to sprain your ankle, and I've fixed that, too. You're free to go."

"Thankyou, doctor." He turned to Dax. "I'll be on the bridge."

Dax nodded, and Bashir moved along to her.

Holkham was standing in the turbolift a few minutes later. The ceiling was charred, there were soot marks on the walls, and the carpet on the floor was singed around one side. According to Sonak's padd, there had been a major fire on deck 22, and three people had been killed in it.

The total damage report was a formidable document. Of course, with one nacelle almost entirely destroyed, the Juno would not reach warp speed again without a replacement nacelle, and the closest ship - the Heilongjiang - was almost a week's travel away, even at hyperwarp.

His train of thought was interrupted when the turbolift stopped, and the doors opened, revealing the bridge before him.

As he walked down the steps and around the tactical station to his chair, the other turbolift doors opened, and he looked over to his right to see Sonak walk onto the bridge.

Throughout the next hour, crewmembers began to filter back onto the bridge, the relief crews relinquishing their stations and leaving. As Dax took her seat, Sonak announced,

"Sir, we will clear our hyperwarp wake in eight hours' time. However, it will pass us in two. By then we will be clear of the main front of the wave; however, we will be swept off our course by a considerable amount - in fact, Juno predicts that we will be swept into the Crater Nebula itself."

Holkham nodded. Behind him, M'Gila looked round to Sonak.

"Is there a way we can ride the wave?"

"I believe there is. If we resume our original course within the next hour, the wave will carry us along with it until it disperses. There is an eighty-percent chance we could ride the wave out."

Dax smiled slightly. "We'd be surfing on our own collapsing hyperwarp wake."

Holkham nodded. "Right into the Crater Nebula. Is that right, Sonak?"

Sonak nodded. "It is. The wave would carry us a considerable distance. However, as it is travelling at a speed in excess of warp seven, the shock could have serious consequences for the crew."

Dax thought. "Well, if we increased power to the inertial dampeners, would that work?"

Sonak nodded. "It would reduce the effects significantly. However, we would still be rendered unconscious. We would have to leave the computer in command."

"Well, the Juno's perfectly capable of handling herself for a short while." Holkham declared. "We'll have to warn the crew, of course. Thankyou, Sonak."

"Report, Mr Valren?"

"We are en-route to the Crater Nebula as we speak, and we will arrive in approximately eight days, present speed. Sensors show that Juno has suffered significant damage from the device. According to our scans the starboard nacelle has been almost completely destroyed, and collateral damage from plasma fallout and debris has exposed numerous areas to space. From what we can tell, they are preparing to ride out the shockwave, and they have many hundreds of wounded crew."

"Excellent. Have you worked out a plan yet?"

"Commander Jolaran has been studying the schematics of the Juno. Sensors show that one of the Jeffries tubes runs under the centre chairs of the bridge, while another runs adjacent to our target's quarters. The commander will go over it in more detail with you later, but from what I gather, it's a very complicated plan."

"Why can't we just beam our target off?"

"By the time we reach the Juno, she will have drifted into the Crater Nebula. It will interfere with our transporters. We will have to go in the old fashioned way - I think the major plans on inserting a team with the first batch of relief supplies we send over."

"Excellent. Now, I want it firmly understood that our main objective is the retrieval of our objective. We do not want to destroy the Juno or harm its crew. We do not want to fire on the Juno. We do not want the Juno to fire on us, and we will only retrieve the target when we have given the ship supplies and assisted in their repairs. However, once we have the target, the Juno does not matter to us."

"We understand that already, Captain, but surely the Juno will fire on us once we kidnap our objective and leave."

"The Juno will not be entering warp again until Starfleet can send a replacement nacelle. Once we obtain the target we will go to warp and leave the Juno standing."

"With all due respect, Captain, that might not be possible. Watch this simulation."

Valren tapped in a few commands, and the viewscreen switched from the stars shooting past to a computerised simulation of the situation the Juno was in. The Juno was a texture-less yellow shape on the right, and the Crater Nebula was indicated some way ahead. From off-screen, the cone-shaped distortion simulating the ship's collapsing hyperwarp wake appeared, and hit the Juno. The Juno was caught in it, and carried almost into the Crater Nebula. Eventually, the Juno slowed, though the cone-shaped wave carried on into the nebula, where a number of white spots flashed. The Juno was in the centre of the area with the white flashes.

"Our predictions show that the Juno will eventually drop out of the wave once it becomes too weak to carry it. However, it will by then have been carried into the Crater Nebula, and the shockwave will de-stabilise the nebula around it. It will make a warp entry in that area impossible for three weeks, and we will also be unable to perform a hyperwarp jump. Once we warp in, we will be unable to warp out."

A lieutenant at the helm console turned.

"Couldn't we just warp right past them and beam the objective aboard?"

"No." the Captain replied. "We've already told them we're coming, and if we do that, we'd be blowing our cover in the process. There'd be Starfleet ships all over us in hours."

"But would that matter? Our objective is the removal of -"

"Lieutenant, there are one hundred and eight people aboard who are as lucky as our target. If we were attacked we would not only lose our objective, we would lose a huge amount of incredibly valuable -"

Behind the Captain, the woman managing the communications console announced,

"We're being hailed!"

The Captain looked round. "Who by?"

"It's from the Juno. Text only. It reads:

‘From Fleet Admiral Riannah Trealor aboard starship USS Juno, to Captain, USS Heilongjiang: computer records show your current assignment to be patrolling Bajor Sector re: Orion Pirate activity. Please explain your presence in Omega Sector."

Beside the Captain, Commander Valren grated his teeth.

The Captain sighed again.

"Send a response, text only. Reads:

‘From Captain, USS Heilongjiang, to Fleet Admiral Trealor aboard starship USS Juno: have been re-assigned to Trieste Sector re: Banthar War. Estimate arrival at your predicted position in 191 hours, present speed. I advise you remain on station once you leave hyperwarp wake.'

Send it at once."

"Aye, Captain."

Leaning back in the captain's chair, the Captain looked around. The design of the bridge was quite lavish and rather too luxurious, yet very familiar to the Captain. So far, the mission was a success. At the request of the commission, the crew consisted entirely of the Captain's own kind, all from the same planet, and, all with the same loyalties as their captain. They took orders from the Commission as well as from Starfleet.

The Captain had been on dozens of missions like this, and this was no different. Go in, render aid (as per Starfleet orders) and capture the target (as per Commission orders). The Captain had not failed a single mission, and, when given the opportunity to retrieve their present target, one of the most notorious, had jumped at the chance.

The Captain's chain of thoughts was interrupted by an intrusive voice coming through the intercom system.

"Jolaran to bridge."

The Captain looked up instinctively.

"Bridge here, go ahead, commander."

"We've completed simulations, and the entire procedure has been run through. We can begin training on the holodeck as soon as you give the word."

The Captain drew in breath, savouring the moment. "Begin at once." She ordered.

"Captain's Log, stardate 89273.9, U.S.S. Juno, Captain James Holkham commanding. Following a major explosion in the starboard nacelle, we have been heavily damaged, and will not be able to attain warp speed again without a replacement nacelle. Having successfully ridden the collapsing hyperwarp wake, we are now deep inside the Crater Nebula. Completely cut off from Starfleet by interference from the nebula, our only contact with the outside world is the USS Heilongjiang, a Valiant-class ship en-route to our position. While contact with the Heilongjiang has been sketchy, the crew is glad that they are on their way.

If truth be told, the crew seems to be reacting rather well to developments of late. They seem rather excited by the prospect of being stranded for eight days, and, this latest inconvenience seems to have drawn them together more than could have been hoped.

However, below the good-humour façade, I sense a huge amount of stress. The events of the Banthar War have so far overtaken the lives of everyone on the ship, and below the calm exterior there is a lot of anxiety. I was hoping that this mission would turn out to be relatively calm and relaxed - instead it will be written off as a failure. Perhaps, when they arrive with a new nacelle, Starfleet will give us another chance. But I shouldn't tempt fate."

"Check."

Julian Bashir bent slightly to examine the boards thoroughly, while in front of him, Jadzia Dax crossed her arms, smiling.

Straightening after a few minutes' of careful scrutinising, Bashir moved a carefully-carved obsidian bishop across one of the lower tiers, removing an equally well-crafted alabaster knight in the process.

"You were saying..?" Dax asked.

"Oh - about today? Well, there's not much else. Almost the entire crew were injured when the nacelle blew up, and a few areas were exposed to space. We lost fourteen crewmembers then and a further three when the fire broke out on deck 22."

"Have there been any theories as to what happened to the nacelle?"

"Oh, once something happens on a ship this size, rumours start cropping up like mushrooms. Lieutenant Jedaran suspects terrorists, Barek is going on about a Banthar plot and Ensign Jarvis insists it was a hyperwarp injunction."

Dax frowned. "What's a hyperwarp injunction?"

"According to Barek, it's what happens when two hyperwarp conduits overlap. Both conduits cease to exist and the ships traversing them are severely damaged and then crippled by their collapsing hyperwarp wakes."

"A bit like the Starbow effect, then?" Dax asked.

"I drew that analogy, too. But, Barek insists that if it were a hyperwarp injunction, both nacelles would have exploded. I don't know what it was, but there's a senior staff meeting tomorrow at oh-nine-hundred. Knowing admiral Trealor, she's going to want to get to the bottom of this."

"Well, I-" Dax broke off, and both officers turned to look over the rail beside them, as, below them on the main level of the crew lounge, something drew their attention. A woman, who had been talking with the man sitting opposite her in raised tones, finally snapped. Shouting one last word at him, she stormed out. Everyone watched her leave, and, as the gaze of the crowd slowly turned back to the man, he rose and left as well.

"Oh my god." Julian muttered. "Did you see his face? That was captain Holkham!"

"And the woman who shouted at him was-"

"Riannah." They said together.

She was standing alone in the arboretum, watching the lazily drifting folds and curtains of gas within the Crater Nebula. Her trademark red hair cascaded down her back and her arms were crossed, her face tear-stained and downcast.

"Riannah..?"

She turned. "Oh, Jadzia. I'm at the end of my tether, I know I am."

Dax walked over to her and stood at her side. "Do you want to discuss it?"

Trealor sighed. "I don't really know what happened. We were rather icy to each other all evening. And then - I don't know. We dragged each other into this insult match. We just started hurling insults at each other. I tell you, Jadzia, I can't take much more. Up until now I've just tried to overcome it, but I can't cope any longer. First, there was the destruction of the Maxwell. Captain Hayes was an old friend of my father's. Then, the loss of Arcalon System, and, a few days later, the capturing of us all by the Banthar, and what they did to us… then the destruction of Mayacephalon Seven, and now this…" She gestured to the blackened, twisted shell of the starboard warp nacelle.

It was still attached to the end of the nacelle pylon, and even as they watched, there was a small flicker of light from the remains of a blasted power relay, and a few tiny blue sparks showered briefly inside the burnt-out husk.

Trealor started crying again, and Dax instinctively drew an arm around her shoulders.

"No, it can't be that. A hyperwarp injunction would destroy both nacelles. And, I did a holo-simulation of the in-warp hyperwarp jump. That was not the cause of the explosion, either."

"Well, does anyone have any other theories?" Holkham asked.

"What if the warp coils were malfunctioning in some way?" Laren asked.

"The only malfunction that would have explosive results is an overload, but internal sensors show that all warp and hyperwarp coils in the nacelle were functioning properly until the explosion." Sonak answered.

Kelos rose and tapped in a command to the screen behind Holkham, who turned to watch the screen. A schematic of the starboard nacelle appeared.

"This is a standard Sceptre IV-class hyperwarp nacelle, starboard-side configuration. Sensor and visual records show that the explosion was centred on this point." Kelos explained. At his final sentence, a red circle appeared, on the port-side of the nacelle. It was a point about two-thirds of the way along from the Bussard collector.

"Is there anything in that area which could cause a fatal overload, or an explosion?" Dax asked.

Barek shook his head. "It's an unremarkable section of the nacelle. Had it been near the pylon or at either end, then there might have been something. But here, there's nothing. Just normal warp coils and a few power relays."

"How big was the explosion?" M'Gila asked.

"We're looking at something small, in the order of twenty to thirty isotons. I've been looking through the visual sensor logs, and I found something." Kelos tapped in a few more commands, and the screen switched to a view looking starboard, across at the nacelle from its counterpart. In the background, stars streaked past. Holkham thought he was imagining it, but one pixel seemed to be pulsating.

"Juno, magnify sector seven E." Kelos commanded. A green ring appeared, and contracted around the pulsating pixel. It expanded again, pulling the image with it. "Sharpen." Kelos said, and the pulsating area resolved itself into a disc. It was dark against the silvery hull of the ship, and in the centre was a small flashing light.

"What's that?" M'Gila asked.

"We don't know." Kelos answered her. "But, it is at the precise centre of origin of the explosion which destroyed that nacelle. An analysis of the explosion makes me think that device was composed of cobalt-omega."

"Are there any markings on it?" Sonak asked.

"No the only marks we can see are the circles at the edge of the segments. Each has three lights in it, and from what I can tell from previous footage, they seem to indicate how long the device has left before it explodes. This footage is from a few minutes before the explosion."

On the screen, the section of hull visible on it began to emit a rippling blue glow before fading back to the dull grey it had been before, except now, it was reflecting the blue light of a hyperwarp conduit.

"Juno, skip ahead to time index nine-two-four. Zoom out to normal magnification."

Obediently, the screen zoomed out, and the image jumped slightly.

"The device should go off any time now. Juno, slow image speed to one-hundredth normal."

The rushing past of the conduit slowed, and then, there was a sudden flash, dying down slowly, to a ball of white light. The deep blue transparent aluminium of the nacelle lit up brighter than normal, and, inside, a plume of flame above the ball of light rose, smaller fireballs erupting along the inside of the nacelle, before the nacelle gutted itself; the transparent aluminium over the main body and over the Bussard collector shattering as fire leapt out from the inside of the nacelle, the metal frame of the nacelle silhouetted against the explosion. When the explosion cleared, the hyperwarp conduit had vanished, to be replaced with the wheeling stars.

"As we're not going anywhere at the moment," Holkham announced, "I've ordered a wing of fighters to go investigate the debris field. We can no longer go faster than full impulse; but our fighters can. At our last visit to C209, we were assigned two complete squadrons, so we now have our full complement. Lieutenant Laren, as our Flight Officer, I'll leave it to you to co-ordinate the salvage operations. I'd like you to concentrate on any debris that looks like it might help us - anything with traces of cobalt-omega; or any compounds that are not normally found in a Sceptre-IV nacelle." Laren nodded, and Holkham turned to Barek.

"How are repairs coming along, commander?"

"Well, as you have probably gathered, we'll need a replacement nacelle before we can go to warp again. The explosion itself skinned the top of the starboard deck fan, and we lost the three defence turrets on the upper starboard engineering hull and starboard deck fan. Flying debris did a lot of damage indeed - we had five sections exposed to space, and we have had to erect temporary hull patches over the more severely affected areas. We also lost the nacelle torpedo cannon, the torpedo cannon in the starboard deck fan, the aft torpedo cannon on the command hull, and the phaser array on the starboard nacelle pylon.

When we were jerked back into normal space, the gel packs on deck seventeen and holodeck three were both fried, we lost a shuttlecraft when a bulkhead collapsed on top of it, and, most importantly, our long-range comms crystals are down. We can only talk to the Heilongjiang, now. Our defence crews are working around the clock. Oh - and there was a big fire on deck 22. We extinguished it within two hours, however, and we didn't lose any critical systems then, but we did lose three crewmembers. There's probably more, but I can't think of anything else now."

"And repairs...?"

"Mostly coming along fine. We had some difficulty in shuttlebay two, trying to get some fighters back into their storage bays, and we had to eject an antimatter canister. We should be as repaired as we can be within three days."

"Good. Doctor Bashir, how about injuries..?"

Bashir sighed. "When we jerked out of hyperwarp, we lost fourteen crewmembers. There was a huge fire on deck 22, and we lost three more there and we suffered heavy casualties. Everyone aboard suffered some bump or other when we were jerked out of hyperwarp, and a few people are still suffering from severe burns from various fires. Also, a few people are suffering broken bones from when they were thrown over the sides of the fighter storage levels in the shuttlebays. Most of the crew is back at work and feeling fine, though."

"Right. Well, unless there's anything else, you are all dismissed."

Slowly, everyone rose and filed out, apart from two people. Holkham picked up the damage report padd, and Trealor remained standing by the window.

"Is there a problem, Admiral?" Holkham asked, not looking up.

Trealor looked down. "No." Exercising immense self-control, she walked determinedly out of the conference room.

Letting himself go, Holkham sighed and tore his gaze off his padd, a single tear welling in his eye.

"Captain's Log, stardate 89277.8, U.S.S. Juno, Captain James Holkham commanding. We have been stranded, now, for almost four days. Fighters sent out to examine our debris trail have reported back, and they managed to find a twisted fragment of the device, which Sonak and Barek looked at in a science lab, at once. I have yet to discover the results, but I imagine they will help us shed some light on whomever it was that planted the bomb. We have kept in more or less constant contact with the Heilongjiang, which is less than five days' travel away. The discovery of the bomb has increased the level of excitement in the crew, and a steady routine have helped the crew adjust to the situation, and outbreaks in the crew lounge are more or less unheard of now. I think that the discovery of the bomb helped draw the crew together, and there is much less tension in the air, now. I feel that the arrival of the Heilongjiang will boost morale considerably, and we have received a transmission from Starfleet that a small task force of other ships has been dispatched from Ariaan Starbase, and should arrive with us in seventeen days' time.

What is occupying most peoples' thoughts the most is, who was it that planted that bomb? Was it terrorists, the Banthar, or some other power? With any luck, the results of Barek and Sonak's test in lab fourteen should help in that."

"This confirms it." Barek stated, looking up from his console at Sonak. "The device was definitely a Trilucetanium alloy, and the explosive compound was cobalt-omega."

"Juno thinks that there is enough in the fragment to build a representation of the device. We should proceed to a holodeck at some point to examine the image."

Barek hummed his agreement. "Look at the molecular patterning on the outer edge of the fragment." He said, pointing to a large display showing a lattice of coloured lines and dots. "There is a clear pattern, as if whoever built this thing built it molecule-by molecule."

"It is highly unlikely it was the only one of its kind. It would be logical to assume that the device was replicated either in whole or in part, as part of a large batch of devices." Sonak decided.

At that moment, the doors into the lab opened, and Holkham walked in.

"How are you doing?" He asked.

"We have identified the chemical make-up of the device." Sonak told him. "Commander Barek has identified it as a Trilucetanium alloy."

"Judging from this analysis, it was a dense form. Probably Trilucetanium-157." Barek explained.

"Anything else?" Holkham asked.

"We have enough information from the visual scanners, and this fragment, to be able to create an image of the device on a holodeck." Sonak told the captain. "We shall carry out further investigations on the device there."

"Any ideas as to who built the device?" Holkham asked.

"None thus far." Barek admitted.

"Have you checked with Juno?" Holkham pressed.

Sonak and Barek looked at each other.

"We have not." Sonak pronounced.

Holkham sighed. "Juno, are there any known organisations with access to Trilucetanium-157 and cobalt-omega that might have built this device?"

"Yes. There are two hundred and fifty-seven." The ship responded.

"Of these, which would have access to the Juno?" Sonak asked.

"Forty-two."

"Of those, are there any who would produce the molecular patterning as shown on console two?" Barek asked.

"There are twenty-nine."

"Is one of those twenty-nine the Banthar Confederation?" Holkham asked.

"No."

"Then, download a list of them with library access codes to console seven in here." Barek ordered.

Holkham raised a querying eyebrow.

"I can look through them when I finish in the holodeck with Sonak." He suggested.

Holkham nodded. "Keep me informed with your progress, gentlemen."

Five days later

"Captain, if we engage hyperwarp now, we will be able to reach the Juno in under one hour." The helm officer announced.

"How much time will that shave off our trip?"

"About eleven hours, ma'am."

"Do it."

"Ma'am, I am picking up an incoming hyperwarp conduit." Kelos announced.

"Onscreen." Dax ordered, rising from the centre chair.

The viewscreen switched to showing a different part of the nebula, and in the centre of the screen was a slight blue glow illuminating the red gas.

"It is Federation in origin… it is the Heilongjiang." Kelos said, with relief.

Dax tapped her combadge. "Dax to Holkham. The Heilongjiang has arrived, sir."

On the screen, the glow suddenly grew a hundredfold, before dying completely, and, just visible; looming behind the swirling red gas, was the dark shape of the Heilongjiang.

"They are hailing us." Kelos announced.

"Onscreen." Dax announced.

"This is Captain Lianra Paron of the starship Heilongjiang." The tall woman in the centre seat announced.

"I am Commander Jadzia Dax of the Juno." Dax introduced herself.

"We're glad to find you all in one piece." Paron told Dax, as Holkham strode onto the bridge.

"I am captain Holkham of the Juno." He told Paron. "I can't tell you how grateful we are to you."

Paron smiled. "We're ready to send over supplies whenever you're ready. I've got our squadron of work bees prepped and ready for launch, too."

Holkham smiled. "Ours have been working flat out - we could use all the help we can get. Thankyou, captain."

Again, Paron smiled, a gesture which seemed to intensify the two lines of spots running down her temples.

"Captain Paron, would you and your senior staff care to dine with us aboard the Juno this evening?" Holkham asked.

"We would be delighted."

"Is twenty-hundred good for you?"

"Twenty-hundred it is. Thankyou, captain. Paron out."

The viewscreen reverted to the nebula.

"Interesting." Sonak announced.

"What is, Mr Sonak?"

"The crew of the Heilongjiang are entirely Trill."

"Come in." The voice said, from the other side of the door.

Straightening her uniform slightly, Dax sighed and walked in.

"Ah, Jadzia. Please, sit down." Holkham said, indicating a chair.

"Thankyou, sir."

Holkham smiled. "This is a casual meeting, Dax. Call me Jim." He walked over to the replicator. "Something to drink?"

"Oh, just some cool water, please."

"Juno, water, ten degrees; two glasses."

With a slight shimmer, two large glasses of water appeared on the replicator pad. Picking up the two glasses, Holkham walked back over to Dax, and, handing her one, Holkham sat down himself.

"You asked to see me, Jim?"

"Yes. Jadzia, I suppose I just wanted someone to talk to."

"Do I need to ask why..?" Dax asked.

Holkham started to answer, and then sighed. "No, I don't think so. I swear, Dax I don't know what to do."

"Haven't you talked to her at all since yesterday evening?"

Holkham shook his head.

"I haven't. I get the impression she's upset as well, but, it's as if there's this barrier between us. She's unreachable."

"If you don't mind my asking, have you fallen out before?"

Holkham thought for a while, finally rising, and walking round the back of his chair to stand, hands clasped firmly behind his back, staring out of his window at the swirling gases of the nebula.

"How much do you know about my - our past, Jadzia?"

Dax shook her head. "Not much, I'm afraid."

Holkham sighed. "My father and hers were both in Starfleet. They were both highly skilled engineers, and they knew each other from their Academy days. My father went on to become a starship captain, while Riannah's went into the admiralty. They were the two top starship designers in the ASDB. The Sagittarius, Tian-An, Andor, Alaska, Courchevel and Dalariné-class ships, some of the most famous in Starfleet, were designed by them. They were inseparable friends, working together on most new ship projects and producing famous ships, including the first to field a hyperwarp drive.

"Well, I first met Riannah as a child. Our fathers were starting their work at the ASDB, and, being close friends, would frequently visit each other, and, sometimes, they brought their child along with them to meet the school friend he had been telling them about for years.

"When we first met, Riannah dismissed me as a silly little boy, though after a while, we became friends. When our fathers started on the Sagittarius Project, they met almost every day - so it was almost every day that Riannah and I met, too, though sometimes, dad wouldn't take me, or her father wouldn't bring her.

"Eventually, we signed up to join the Academy, and we both got into the same class. Knowing each other from the start, we tended to stick together, until we finally started - er - becoming more than friends. In 2454, my father and hers were given the command of the Miami Project, and they spent almost all their time together. A month before that happened, we both graduated. Riannah being Riannah, she graduated at the top of her class, and I third. We were both assigned to Starbase C-alpha-7, in Jorthal System, and we carried on seeing each other." Holkham sighed. "While I stayed firmly in one place while we were there, she raked in the promotions.

"When C-alpha-7 was evacuated, we were transferred to the USS Matriarch. Riannah was made helm officer while I was made tactical officer. Again, while I stayed firmly at Lieutenant, she made her way up to the rank of commander in a couple of years and was finally made first officer.

"We had a brief falling out then. I suppose that I couldn't bear seeing her fly up the ranks while I stayed put. But I got over it, and we patched things up. Then, she was promoted to captain of the Galveston, and I was made first officer on the Matriarch. The notion of being given separate postings devastated both of us, and we hardly saw each other, though we kept in constant contact.

"Then, the war broke out with the Kalrathaan, and the Matriarch, Galveston, Constitution and Enterprise were rushed to the border. I tell you, Dax, it was torture, going into battle with the one you loved on another ship, knowing she was out there, but all you could see was a Miami-class starship silhouetted against the Blue Drift Nebula. Of course, we lost that battle, but the Kalrathaan fired on the Galveston just as we were performing the hyperwarp jump, and that was the last I saw of Riannah for the next three years. Those were the worst of my life, Dax, I swear it. We were cut off from each other, while all those she knew assumed her dead.

"In fact, when we'd established that the Galveston wasn't coming with us, I tried to get us to turn about and go after her, but the captain refused. In the end, I was thrown in the bridge for mutiny, and was almost court-martialled. In fact, it was only a few months ago that I was promoted to captain - the Juno is my first command.

"I'd given up all hope of seeing Riannah again. Every day, I'd scour the news programs for any mention of the Galveston, but the reports just depressed me more and more.

"Then, when they finally re-established contact mid-way through the war, we finally saw each other again, though it was only over a subspace link. Then, the transmission was cut off and nothing more was heard from the Galveston, or Riannah, for another year and a half.

"By that time, I was distraught, and so was her father. We were both given compassionate leave, and we spent most of it in the bottom of a bottle. But then, the Galveston returned at the end of the war, and we finally saw each other again, for the first time in three years. Then, she was given a job in the admiralty; she was made Admiral Danton's adjutant, and I stayed on as first officer of the Matriarch.

"Then, I was finally promoted to captain, and I wanted the Matriarch, I tell you, but I was given the Juno instead. I was saddened at first, as the Matriarch was going to be mothballed, but then I found out that the Juno would be Riannah's flagship, and we were both overjoyed. We've been together, I suppose, for the past fifteen years."

Dax stared. "That's a long time. What was it that you two fell out over yesterday?"

"I don't know. We were both feeling rather hacked off. We were talking rather forcedly, and it degenerated into an insult match. We got angrier and angrier until she stormed out."

Dax nodded. "It's nerves."

"How do you make that out?"

"Nine lifetimes of experience; of falling in love and out of it; and of being involved in various wars; gives one a rather broad outlook, and an even broader range of abilities. Ezri Dax was a counsellor, and she dealt with this sort of thing frequently, on DS9. This is a classic example."

Holkham nodded. "I was feeling really annoyed with The World after the nacelle blew up. She seemed rather on edge as well. Why take it out on me?" He asked suddenly.

"Because she was feeling angry, but had no way of letting it out. You and she were both feeling like that, and you had no way of expressing yourselves. You and she are very close and probably felt that you could talk to each other. When you tried to talk, you came up against this anger again, and got annoyed with each other. You ended up showing your anger, against the one person you both thought that would support you."

"Are you saying we're not a good match?" Holkham asked, incredulously.

Dax frowned and shook her head. "Of course not! What I'm saying is that you both found that the other was equally angry and unwilling to talk. You set each other off, which relieved you of the anger, but has left you both with a sense of alienation, because you ended up yelling at each other."

Holkham frowned. "So, you're trying to say… what?"

"Do you still love Riannah?" Dax asked.

Holkham stared at her. "Of course I do! Otherwise, I wouldn't have called you here to help me!"

"I spoke to Riannah yesterday evening, and had almost exactly the same conversation with her. And," she continued, overriding Holkham, who started to say something, "she told me that she still loves you, too. In actual fact, Jim, nothing's changed between you."

Holkham stared at her incredulously. "What?"

"You are keeping apart because you feel guilty for shouting at each other, each of you thinking the other now hates you because you shouted at them. You still love her and she still loves you, and you are tying yourselves in knots because neither of you knows what to do next. All you need to do is talk to her."

"But if what you say is right, then she'll think I don't love her any more."

"Then, your opening words should clarify that point for her."

Holkham stared at her. "What - so I should just walk up to her and tell her that I love her?"

Dax nodded. Holkham looked rather taken aback. He sipped some water, casting around for something to ask.

"What do you think she will say?"

"I don't imagine that she'll *say* anything." Dax told him, with a meaningful look.

Holkham nodded. They both looked round as the yellow hull of a work bee shot past the window. Turning back to Dax, Holkham smiled. "Thankyou, Jadzia. How are the rest of the crew, do you think?"

"From what I've seen, they all seem to be coping, just about, though there is a lot of stress running around. Incidentally, Jim, I've been meaning to ask you; who is your ship's counsellor?"

Holkham looked rather taken aback. "To tell you the truth, I don't have one. However, there are a number of people below decks. Have you met Nanaya Willard yet?"

"No. Is she one of the civilians aboard?"

"She's Lieutenant Willard's mother. She's very kind - a large, short lady, very matronly, with lots of hair in a bun..?"

"No, I've not met her."

"You should. She's the unofficial counsellor to most of the crew. There are others as well. I see them occasionally to find out what the general situation is."

Dax nodded. "I seem to be the unofficial counsellor for the senior staff."

Holkham looked at her. "Are you all right with that?"

Dax nodded. "I can cope. I'm just glad I'm not the ship's counsellor."

Holkham smiled, though before anyone could say anything else, his combadge chirruped.

"Barek to Holkham."

Holkham tapped his combadge. "Holkham here. What can I do for you, commander?"

"We've got the fourth batch of supplies from the Heilongjiang, and we're preparing to start taking on deuterium from her reserve tanks. The work bees from the Heilongjiang have arrived and are working with ours to re-build the decking under the hull patches."

"Good. Is that all?"

"No, sir. I looked up those possible groups that Juno found, and I think I've narrowed the list down to about seven. I'll show you the results of my work tomorrow, if you'd like, sir. I'm afraid I'm going to be a bit busy for the rest of today, and we've got the party from the Heilongjiang coming in a few hours."

"Thankyou, Barek. Holkham out."

Holkham looked over to Dax, and drew in breath to say something. But he never said it, as, at that precise instant, the lights flashed yellow and the yellow alert alarm sounded briefly.

"Yellow alert! Yellow alert! All hands, yellow alert! All senior officers to the conference room at once! Admiral Trealor, report to the bridge! Repeat: all hands, yellow alert!" Kelos' voice sounded over the intercom.

Dax and Holkham exchanged glances.

"What do you think it is?"

"No idea." Said Holkham, downing his water and tapping his combadge.

"Holkham to Kelos. Report."

"We've found something, sir. Come up to the bridge at once."

"We've found what looks like another bomb device on the port nacelle. It's completely dead, but it's intact."

Holkham looked at the small device on the conference table. It was about as wide as his forearm, and the large light in the centre was dead, as, it seemed, was the entire device.

"Can we dismantle it?" He asked.

"We will get it down to lab fourteen at once, and begin working on it." Sonak said.

"Suggestions?" Holkham asked Kelos.

"We only found it when one of the work bee pilots reported it. When we found it, we beamed it aboard, and found something out about it. If you turn it over, captain, you'll find out what."

Holkham picked up the wheel-like device and turned it over. The underside of it was a smooth, thick layer of silvery metal. Metal that looked very familiar.

"It was fused with the hull at the molecular level. We ordered the work bee pilot to weld it free, and we beamed it aboard and removed the excess hull metal. When it was found, I ordered a ship-wide search for other devices, though it seems like it is the only one."

"Hmm." Said Trealor, thoughtfully. "Barek, do you recognise it at all?"

"No." the Bajoran replied. "It's a pretty typical design, quite unremarkable."

"Well, if no-one has any further comments to make, I suggest we get back to work. Dismissed, people. Barek, I'll come with you to lab fourteen."

Everyone filed out, including, to Holkham's disappointment, Trealor.

"I managed to reduce Juno's list to seven candidates." Barek said, walking over to the large wall screen. "Juno, please display file Barek C-8." And a short list popped up on the screen. Barek pointed to each one, describing each in turn.

"The list Juno gave me was pretty large, and having conducted further tests on the fragment we had earlier, I managed to whittle it down to a select few. First, we have the Orion Syndicate. As you know, the pirates have the tendency to pop up anywhere, and it could be an act of terrorism from them.

"Secondly, we have the Gi-ong Separatist movement of Lei-An Seven. Lei-An Seven was a colony set up by settlers from the Republic of China in the early twenty-second century, which joined the Federation in the mid twenty-fourth century. The Gi-ong movement are a terrorist organisation of militants who feel that the Lei-An system should secede from the Federation.

"Next, the Imperian Star Empire is another candidate. They are allies of the Banthar, though it seems unlikely they would have had access to the Juno, as we know this device was planted during our last stay at C209.

"The Black Fleet is the Klingon equivalent of our own Intelligence Service. They would have had access to all the elements found in the devices and they would also have had easy access to the Juno, as one of their ships could have posed as a regular Klingon vessel quite easily, and they have been known to be active in Titana-Caloris.

"The Tal Shiar is in a similar position, though records show that there were no Romulan vessels docked at C209 while we were there, and Romulan holdings in Titana-Caloris are quite a long way from the limits of Federation space.

"Next, we have the Royal Guard of Trillian. They are the primary military force of the Trill Alliance, and have been linked with a number of terrorist acts - though they have never been charged with anything.

"Finally, we have the Gorn Confederation. There have been reports coming in for some time now, mostly from private ships, that there is Gorn activity beyond the Insobara Nebula, though nothing has been found by Starfleet. In any case, the Gorn are presently counted among the Federation's closest allies, and there is no obvious reason for them to do something like this."

Holkham nodded. "Who do you think it is, Barek?"

"If asked, I would say either the Imperians or the Tal Shiar. Though, if you asked me to give you a reason, I couldn't."

Holkham nodded. "Well, keep me posted if you find anything else."

"Aye, sir."

"Permission to come aboard?"

"Permission granted, captain. Welcome aboard the Juno."

"Thankyou, captain Holkham. May I introduce my command crew?"

"Of course."

"This is commander Valren, my first officer." Valren nodded to the assembled crew of the Juno. Paron continued, indicating a middle-aged woman wearing a yellow engineering uniform. "This is lieutenant-commander Enila Jolaran, my chief engineer." Jolaran smiled. "This is doctor Nedian Sareya, my CMO." Paron said, indicating an attractive man wearing a blue uniform. "And this is Lieutenant Telon Algar, my tactical officer. Unfortunately, my comms and helm officers had to remain on board to take over command in our absence."

Holkham nodded. "May I introduce my command crew?"

"It would be a pleasure." Said Paron, smiling.

"This is Commander Jadzia Dax, my first-officer." Dax smiled, and Paron returned it. Holkham continued. "This is Lieutenant Elion Laren, my helm officer…

"We should do this again, captain."

"Definitely."

"Thankyou for dinner. I'll speak to you tomorrow. Goodbye, captain." Paron walked into the large shuttle, and the hatchway closed behind her. "Idiot." She muttered. She turned sat down next to her first officer, as the helmsman piloted them out of the Juno's immense shuttlebay. She looked out of the opposite window as they left, and she saw the charred husk of the starboard nacelle. She had caused that. She had caused the deaths, she had discovered, of seventeen people, and the misery of the other 3,706 crew, pilots and civilians aboard the ship.

Still, she thought, getting a grip on herself, it was been worth it. The target was a danger to the Homeworld - a danger to all other Trill. The capture of the target would help preserve the ways of life which had endured on Trillian for millennia; which would, if she could help it, stand for many millennia to come.

"Did you see her?" Valren spat, suddenly.

"Commander?"

"Did you see the target? Talking openly with the offworlders about our ways of life, under our very noses? And the way she fraternises openly with the human! It defies imagination!"

"Apparently, she has been acting that way for years. According to our source, she exercises and performs aerobics with that Andorian girl; plays logic games with the Vulcan; does martial arts with the Danarian; sleeps with the Human she was sitting next to at dinner, and has renounced Trillian as her home, saying that there is nothing for her there, any more." Paron recited, feeling as disgusted as her first officer.

"I don't care what our plan calls for, captain, but the sooner she is off that ship, the better."

Paron nodded. "All in good time, commander. Wait a minute!" She exclaimed, watching the port nacelle of the Juno glow, as they flew beneath it. "Where is the second device?"

"What?"

"Look - it's not there. Someone must have removed it."

"How could they? It was fused to the hull."

"They've had workbees and fighters flying around for days. Someone must have seen it."

"Damn!"

"Control yourself, commander. Being joined, you do not want to descend to the targets' level, do you?"

"Sorry, ma'am. I forgot myself."

"Hmm. Well, this is most worrying. Ensign, scan the Juno for the other device."

"It's in a science lab on deck nineteen, ma'am. They must be analysing it."

Valren stared. "We won't have as much time as we thought. Despite their shortcomings, the crew on that ship are quite experienced."

"The chances of them suspecting us are very slim. Weren't you listening at dinner? They think it's the Romulans or the Imperians - they don't suspect us at all. In any case, our source can activate the device if things get too difficult."

"Hmm. Well, we should complete our assignment as quickly as possible."

One hour later

"Barek to Holkham."

"Holkham here."

"Sir, I think you should come down to the lab. We've found something."

"On my way."

"What have you found, Mr Barek?"

"A piece of organic material, sir." Barek gestured to a close-up image of part of the device, on the large wall console. Among the circuitry was a single hair. "It's a piece of hair, sir. And, we've identified it."

"And?"

"It's Trill, sir."

Holkham stared. "Trill?"

"Yes sir, and that's not all. One of our short-listed suspects was the Trill Royal Guard."

"You mean they planted these devices?"

"It's very likely, sir."

"What do you and Sonak recommend we do next?"

"I think we should hold another meeting. Determine a course of action."

"Hmm. In the meantime, keep this room under guard."

"Aye, sir."

"I'll see you in the conference room in one hour's time."

"Well, people, Barek and Sonak found something. Sonak, if you would do the honours?"

Sonak turned to the rest of the crew. "Mr Barek and I discovered a hair from a Trill male in the device. It most likely fell there by accident when the device was being planted or modified in some way. This helps confirm our primary suspect, as one of our short-listed culprit organisations was the Trill Royal Guard."

Everyone glanced at Dax at Sonak's words.

"Jadzia, what do you know about the Royal Guard?"

"They're the police force on Trillian. They answer to the Sovereign and the Symbiosis Commi- oh, winds."

"Are you all right, Dax?" Holkham asked.

"May I be excused, please, sir?" Dax aked.

"Why?"

At a reassuring look from Bashir, Dax sighed and looked away.

"Dax? I asked you a question, commander." Holkham asked.

"Sir, I think I know the reason behind this." She said.

"You're saying that the Symbiosis Commission is hunting you because of what you believe?" Holkham asked, incredulous.

"Yes."

"And, what'll happen to you when you return to Trillian?"

"I'll be mentally corrected."

"Brainwashed?"

"Yes. If that doesn't work, I'll be killed."

Holkham looked gravely at Trealor, who, although she was refusing to return his look, was wearing a very serious expression indeed.

"That goes against everything the Federation stands for. If word of this got out, Trillian would be suspended from the Federation."

Dax nodded. "A century ago, that almost happened, but the Royal Guard stopped anything being made public. In the end, the people trying to expose the Symbiosis Commission for what it was were charged with terrorism, treason, and attempting to start a civil war."

Trealor stared. "Those are pretty hefty charges for trying to reveal the truth."

"So, Dax, you are telling us that the Royal Guard planted those bombs to try and kill you?"

"No. They wouldn't want to kill me - Dax is too important to them. They'll want to get me alive."

Kelos spoke up. "In order to plant those bombs, they would need a source of information from aboard the Juno - possibly one of the Trill crewmembers."

Trealor scowled. "This is very serious. I will ask captain Paron to set up a direct line between the Juno and Starfleet Command."

"If the informant discovers what we are trying to do, they may try and detonate the device in lab fourteen to try and dispose of the evidence." Sonak said.

"I ordered guards placed outside the entrance to the lab. No-one without clearance will be able to get in." Barek said

"There is a Jeffries tube with an exit in lab fourteen. Have you guarded that?" Kelos suggested.

Holkham and Barek exchanged glances.

"Holkham to main security."

"Security here."

"Erect a level ten force-field around the Jeffries tube access hatch in lab fourteen at once."

"Aye, sir. Security out."

There was silence for a few seconds, and then Holkham's combadge beeped.

"Security to Holkham!"

"Holkham here."

"Sir, someone's trying to de-activate the force-field from the inside!"

"What!?"

"We're sending in the guards we posted outside." The security officer reported. "They're not responding!" He reported, after a while.

"On my way. Holkham out."

Holkham rose. "We'll resume this later. Kelos, Barek, Sonak, you're with me. Everyone else to your stations." He told them, as the security alert klaxon sounded once.

Holkham and the three officers ran down the corridor, phasers in hand, sprinting past surprised crewmembers.

They rounded the corner into the corridor that led to lab fourteen. At the far end of the corridor, Holkham could just make out a group of marines approaching them.

Beside the door lay a single security guard. There was a phaser burn on his chest and a thin line of blood trickled out from his open mouth. He was dead.

Kelos stood beside the door, phaser at the ready, and tapped in the security override for the locked door, which opened. He jumped behind the wall, just avoiding a volley of phaser bolts which scorched the wall opposite the door.

With hand gestures, he motioned for Sonak, Barek and the captain to get back, then swung round the door-frame and fired into the room. Almost at once there came an answering blast of return fire, which again hit the wall, Kelos having dodged behind the door again.

The security team had arrived, and with a whispered command from Kelos, one of them handed him an apple-sized device. Kelos tapped a short command into the small panel on the top, and hurled it into the room, while the guards all covered their ears. The four officers, taking their cue from the guards, did so too. There came a thunderous explosion from inside the room, and then, silence.

Sonak opened a tricorder and scanned around.

"There are three humanoid life-signs in the room. All have been knocked unconscious. The device, however, has been activated."

Kelos motioned for everyone to follow him. He walked in, phaser at the ready, but it was unnecessary. There was a wisp of smoke in the air, a smouldering hole in the floor, the flashing device on the table and three bodies on the floor beside it.

"They are all Trill." Pronounced Sonak. The spots on the necks of two were obvious, and the V-shaped forehead ridge of the third was noticeable, too.

"How long have we got until the device goes off?" Holkham asked. "Four minutes."

Holkham sighed. Barek, can you disarm it?"

Barek scanned the device with his own tricorder, and his eyes widened with what he saw. "No, sir. The entire surface of the device has been electrified, and the device programmed so that any disturbance in the current will cause immediate detonation."

"Can we beam it into space?" Holkham asked.

Barek shook his head. "There's a ninety-seven percent chance we'd trigger the device."

"Or anything?" Holkham asked, desperately.

"No, sir. It seems that there is no way to stop it."

"How big will the blast be?"

"About thirty isotons. It'd take out most of this deck, and the two adjacent ones as well."

"If we surround it with a force field?"

"We'd have to make it as strong as possible. It'd still blow out a pretty big hole, though."

"Right. Everyone, get out. You guards, take those Trill to sickbay. Everyone else, get as far away from this point as possible."

Everyone filed out, six of the guards carrying the unconscious Trill with them.

Holkham ran out after everyone else, with Sonak, Kelos and Barek.

"How long, Sonak?"

"Three minutes."

"Juno, erect a level thirty force-field around science lab fourteen. Also, commence evacuation procedures for decks seventeen to twenty-one. Start beaming people out if you have to, so long as everyone is out of those decks within two minutes. Once everyone gets out, erect a level twenty force field in a ten-metre radius of lab fourteen."

"Aye, captain." The ship responded. Then, "Alert, alert. Commence emergency evacuation immediately. All hands, you have two minutes to get to cargobay four."

"Let's go to the bridge." Holkham said.

"That announcement won't be shipwide, will it?" Barek asked.

"No. It will only be played on decks seventeen to twenty-one. Let's go."

Ninety seconds later, Holkham, Barek and Sonak ran onto the bridge.

Holkham tapped his combadge.

"All hands brace!"

"The device will detonate in five seconds." Sonak announced.

"Evacuation complete. Erecting force-fields." The computer stated.

Everyone not already sitting ran for their chairs and held on to something.

From deep below their feet there came a titanic explosion. The ship shuddered and alarms started sounding. The lights flickered, and the viewscreen reverted briefly to static.

"Report, Sonak?" Holkham asked.

"The lab has been completely vaporised, as have the adjacent rooms on decks nineteen, eighteen, and twenty. Reading no casualties; and no major system has been damaged; however, transporter room seven has been destroyed."

"Barek and I'll go and inspect the damage." Holkham announced, rising.

Leaving the turbolift, the first thing Holkham noticed was the violent, acrid smell of burnt upholstery. The lights had gone on deck nineteen, leaving the red emergency lights, and in the distance, down the corridor, was an ominous blackness.

Holkham and Barek made their way down the corridor, and stopped halfway down, for the simple reason that, after that point, the corridor no longer existed. A roughly spherical area had been hollowed out in the bowels of the ship, and he and Holkham looked across the hole, to the rest of the corridor, the jagged edge of which was a good fifty feet away.

Looking up, Holkham saw other corridors and rooms opening onto this new hallway, and, above their heads, a damaged circuit showered blue sparks, that fell lazily down, to settle on the corridor below, on deck twenty-one.

After a stunned moment, Holkham swore.

"Can you fix some temporary flooring, so we don't have to try and jump across?" Holkham asked.

Barek nodded, awe-struck, as, without warning, the deck beneath Holkham gave way. Barek grabbed him to stop him falling. The deck plating had been shattered by the explosion, and, held onto the rest of the deck by the thin carpet, it flapped dangerously. Holkham tried to hold onto the broken deck, but the carpet simply ripped, leaving Barek holding him by the arm. Slowly, Barek pulled Holkham back up, and rather giddily, Holkham stood up on what he hoped was stronger decking.

"Juno, is this area of deck likely to collapse?" Holkham asked the ship.

"No, sir. However, I would not recommend jumping or running."

Feeling a warm wetness on his left hand, Holkham looked down at it. It was covered in blood. Barek stared at Holkham, who was inspecting his side, which was bleeding profusely. Looking back to where he had been pulled back, Holkham saw a jagged edge of broken metal, on which was a small shred of his own red uniform.

"Juno, beam us directly to sickbay." Barek said, urgently.

Holkham woke up some time later, stretched out on a bed in sickbay. As he opened his eyes, Bashir came over to him holding a medical tricorder.

"How are you feeling?" Bashir asked.

"Oh, all right. Just a little light-headed. What happened?"

"You fainted just after you beamed in. That piece of decking cut you from the base of your rib-cadge to your thigh. You lost quite a lot of blood, though your vital signs have been stable for the past few hours, now."

"Hours?" Holkham asked, staring. "How long have I been here?"

"Eleven hours, almost."

"What!? I've got to -"

"Sir, you shouldn't leave just yet."

"Why not?"

"You are still very weak, you need rest. Now, please, sir, lie down."

"Julian…"

"Sir, please. I don't' want to turn it into a medical order."

"Fine." Holkham swung his legs back under the sheets. "Can I at least have a senior staff meeting in here?"

Bashir nodded. "I think so. But don't make it too long." He insisted.

"Thanks." Holkham looked around for his combadge, and tapped it. "Holkham to all senior staff. Could you all come down to sickbay, please?"

"How are you, sir?" Laren asked.

"Fine, thankyou, Elion." Holkham replied. "Now, I've been out of it for the past few hours. I wanted to continue the discussion we were having yesterday. Now, Kelos, you were saying that there was probably an informant aboard..?"

"Yes, sir. Those three crewmembers we found in the laboratory. They were all joined Trill. They recovered a few hours ago and are now in the brig. I have questioned them, and they seem adamant that they were acting in the interests of the Federation."

"Are there any other Trill crewmembers aboard that seem suspicious?"

"No, sir. But, Sonak and I have devised a rather worrying theory. Sonak..?"

"Captain, we think that the Heilongjiang may be involved in the Symbiosis Commission's plans."

Holkham stared. "What?"

"It fits, sir. Captain Paron and her XO are very conservative, and the entire crew of that ship are Trill." M'Gila said.

"Jadzia, what do you think?" Holkham asked.

"I don't know, sir. It is possible, I suppose."

"Sir, the nebula was disturbed when the hyperwarp wake passed through it. It inhibits warp travel and communications, and also prevents transporters from being used. The only way for the Heilongjiang to send over people to us is via the shuttles." Sonak announced.

"Kelos, I want all shuttlecraft from the Heilongjiang to be thoroughly scanned for stowaways, passengers, weapons and other anomalous readings. In the meantime, go to condition green."

"Aye, sir."

A few hours later

"One hundred and twenty!" M'Gila called.

Bashir plucked the small projectiles out of the board, and stepped back.

Barek advanced, darts in hand. Taking very careful aim, he leant backwards and threw a single dart at the board. With a loud thud, the dart hit the board in one of its many sections.

As the crowd applauded and as he took aim again, Trealor watched from a distance. Jim was there, too; recently out of sickbay, and looking happy and cheerful, applauding his friends as they threw the tiny feathered darts into the board.

Sighing, she tore her eyes away from the scene, her gaze settling instead on Sonak and Kelos, playing Kal-Toh on the main level.

Kelos was sitting opposite Sonak, and between them, was what looked like a tangled ball of thin metal rods. Slowly, deliberately, Sonak placed a single rod into the tangle. The ball shimmered, sparkled, and subtly re-arranged itself into a perfect polygon. Kelos and Sonak leant back, talking. Trealor found it interesting that Sonak was talking rationally, having been purged of emotions. Kelos, on the other hand, was talking equally formally, but in a different sense. He was by no means purged of emotion; though he rarely showed any.

A cheer from the crowd behind her made the admiral turn - Bashir seemed to have won. Her eyes stung slightly as she noticed Holkham in the crowd, cheering among his friends. Laren seemed to be the next opponent, and he stood up, laughing at a joke made by someone in the crowd.

Unable to watch Holkham talking and laughing, surrounded by his friends, Trealor abandoned her drink, and left.

Unknown to her, Holkham watched her go, a lump in his throat. At a glance from Dax, he sighed.

"Excuse me. I've go to go up to the bridge. Keep me posted on the game. I'll see you all later."

Once he was in the corridor outside the crew lounge, Holkham felt immediately cold and small.

"Juno, locate admiral Trealor."

"Admiral Trealor is in the main arboretum."

"Is anyone else there?"

"No."

"Thankyou."

The doors parted and Holkham was hit by the scent of moist foliage and dozens of flowers. Stepping in, he looked around. Trealor was nowhere to be seen, so he began walking around the many paths, looking for her.

After a while, he saw her, standing by the main windows, looking out at the nebula. Quietly, he made his way over, trying his hardest not to be noticed by her.

Then, she noticed his reflection in the window. *Oh, damn* he thought, as, instead of turning, Trealor pretended she hadn't seen him.

He walked over, to stand by her. She didn't even look at him.

There was a tense silence.

Wishing he could have two shots at it if this didn't work, Holkham hesitantly put an arm around her.

Riannah didn't respond for a few seconds, until she finally returned the gesture, placing an arm around his waist. He noticed she was crying, and he drew her close, as, embracing him fully, she wept silently into his shoulder.

"Kelos to Holkham."

Holkham jerked awake.

"Kelos to Holkham, please come in."

Disentangling an arm from Riannah, Holkham reached over to his bedside table, and tapped his combadge.

"Holkham here."

"Sir, the Heilongjiang's just sent their last shuttle full of supplies."

"Anything odd?"

"No, sir. Nothing. We can scan everything; there's no mass unaccounted for and nothing being smuggled."

"Is Dax with you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Sir, this is commander Sonak." Said another voice." Juno calculates there to be a 94% probability that the Heilongjiang is involved with the Royal Guard. If they are planning on placing something or someone aboard, they must have done it already."

"Damn. Have you checked the sensor logs? Load-out profiles?"

"Yes, sir. There's nothing."

Holkham closed his eyes. "Thankyou. Keep me posted if you find anything. In the meantime, keep a constant eye on the Heilongjiang."

"Aye, sir. Kelos out."

Holkham sighed. "Juno, commander Dax is in danger of being harmed in some way. Keep a constant watch over her, and inform me of anything odd happening anywhere aboard, but most particularly involving Dax."

"Yes, sir." The ship responded.

Riannah stirred. Holkham turned back to her as her eyes fluttered open.

"Jim? What's wrong?"

Holkham smiled. "Nothing's wrong, Riannah."

She smiled, embracing him closer, as the nebula swirled beyond the windows.

"What's our status, Mr Valren?"

"The last shuttle reported back a few minutes ago. We're ready to begin the operation."

"Excellent. Where is the target, now?"

"Sensors show her to be in the main crew lounge."

"Doing what?"

"According to one of our sources aboard, she frequently plays a three-dimensional board game with the human doctor. She is most likely doing that."

"Right. What time do you estimate she will retire for the night?"

Valren sighed. "It is difficult to tell - whenever her game finishes. However, the human frequently accompanies her."

"If he accompanies her tonight, what will we do?"

"We will tell one of our contacts aboard to send a message to him, asking him to attend to some urgent business in some remote part of the ship. While he is gone, we will retrieve the target."

"Right. You are sure you have accounted for everything? Including that infernal Trealor woman?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Then you have my permission to begin immediately."

Sonak was sitting in the captain's chair, the night watch crew around him.

"Computer, locate Commander Dax."

"Commander Dax is in her quarters." The computer replied. Then, as Sonak was moving to tap his combadge, the computer said something else. "Ensign Delar is in main engineering. Lieutenant Daniels is on the bridge. Chief Petty Officer Wildman is in cargobay three. Able Crewman Hansen is in shuttlebay one. Doctor Bashir is in his quarters. Cadet Wilmot is in astrometrics. Lieutenant O'Brien is on the bridge. Admiral Trealor is in Captain Holkham's quarters. Lieutenant-commander Sonak is on the bridge."

"Mr Daniels, what is the problem?" Sonak asked.

"The computer's speech subroutines are decaying." Daniels replied from an engineering console, as the computer announced that Commander Dax was in her quarters.

"Can you shut off the speech routines on the bridge?" Sonak asked.

Daniels struggled with a few controls, and the computer stopped, just before it could announce the whereabouts of Ensign Whittaker.

"Barek to bridge."

"Bridge here. Mr Barek, we are experiencing problems with the main computer." Sonak said.

"I know, sir. It's not just you, it's everything. The computer is being attacked by some kind of virus."

"Can you isolate it?"

"I think so. One moment… ah. Yes. I've isolated it, sir. But the computer's got a good few damaged sections. One of them is internal communications. We've also lost artificial gravity on deck two, internal sensors in some sections, and the aft sensor platform."

"We still have the use of our combadges." Sonak said.

"True, but a lot of other systems have been affected."

"Mr Whittaker, can you locate the source of the virus?"

"Yes, sir. However, with the systems down, I'll have to do it manually. It'll take a few minutes."

Holkham awoke, quite suddenly. He had no idea where he was - he was completely disorientated. Feeling around, his hand hit bare metal. He opened his eyes.

Less than three inches away from him, the ceiling was reflecting the dim reddish-purple light of the nebula.

Holkham turned over, and found he couldn't stop turning. Steadying himself against the ceiling, he found himself gazing down on the most unlikely of scenes.

Below him, was his bed. The sheets of the bed were floating eerily above it, as if they were trying to escape. Riannah was peacefully asleep beside him, and nothing seemed to have changed about her, other than that she was now suspended almost three metres above the deck below her.

Holkham tried pinching himself, but found he wasn't dreaming. There was simply no gravity.

Next to him, Riannah woke up.

After an athletic few minutes trying hard to pull himself and Riannah, who was giggling furiously, back to the bed, Holkham was relieved when the gravity finally came back on. Falling the last few feet onto the bed, Holkham found that he was now able to reach his combadge.

"Holkham to Sonak, what the hell's going on?"

"We were infected by a computer virus, captain. A number of systems were affected, including gravity on your deck. Were you affected?"

"We certainly were." Holkham responded, as Riannah burst out laughing beside him.

"Are you all right, sir?" Sonak asked.

"I'm fine, it's just the admiral here is laughing her head off about it. We had a heck of a time getting down again, I don't mind telling you."

"Quite, sir. However, Ensign Whittaker is calculating the source of the virus as we speak."

In the background, Whittaker's excited voice was audible. "Sir! Sir, I've located it."

"And?" Holkham asked.

"Captain, sir, the virus was beamed to us from the USS Heilongjiang!"

Riannah stopped laughing rather abruptly.

"Captain, the Juno's gone to red alert status! They're powering engines, weapons and shields!" Valren reported.

"Excellent. Comms, open a channel."

"Aye, ma'am. Channel open."

"Captain Holkham, this is Captain Paron. Why have you gone to red alert?"

The viewscreen switched to a view of Holkham's bridge - but Holkham was not there. Instead, a blue-uniformed Vulcan occupied the centre chair.

"This is commander Sonak of the USS Juno. We have calculated the virus to have come from your ship, captain. Captain Holkham ordered red alert when he became aware of that fact."

"Surely there must be some mistake, I -" Paron broke off as Holkham walked onto the bridge, the red-haired Human admiral behind him. "Captain," she appealed to him, "your second officer is saying that we beamed a virus to you!"

Holkham nodded, taking the centre seat as the Vulcan moved off to his science post.

"Sonak can check that for us right now, can't you, Sonak?" Said Trealor, sweetly.

"Aye, ma'am. Yes, my calculations tally with Mr Whittaker's. The origin of the virus was the Heilongjiang."

Paron gritted her teeth. This wasn't going according to plan, at all.

"What do you want from us, Paron?" Holkham asked, folding his arms.

"I want to know why you are making allegations against me on no grounds whatsoever!" Paron said. "We're on the same side, Holkham!"

Holkham shook his head. "We know about the bombs; about the Royal Guard."

Paron frowned.

"I discovered a Trill hair in the device that we recovered from the port nacelle." Sonak told her.

"We know about the Symbiosis Commission's plans for Commander Dax." Trealor said.

Paron cut the channel. "Inform our contacts that they have permission to go to stage eight."

Holkham sighed and tapped his combadge. "Holkham to Dax."

There was silence.

"Holkham to Dax, please come in."

Again, silence.

Holkham turned to Whittaker, who addressed the computer.

"Juno, locate Commander Dax."

Still, silence. Then, Whittaker remembered that the computer's audio had been shut off. Quickly re-activating it, he repeated his query.

"Commander Dax is not on my sensors." The ship replied.

"Juno, scan for any Trill lifesigns not in the crew or civilian roster." Holkham commanded.

"I do not have full use of the internal sensors, sir. Commander Dax and any stowaways may be in those sections."

"Sonak, do we have the use of transporters, yet?"

"No, sir. The transporters are unable to function because of the nebula."

"Right. Holkham to security."

"Kell here."

"Lieutenant, seal off all ways off the ship to everyone except those with level ten access codes. Use security shields, anything, provided it is not personnel. Shuttlebays, escape pods, access hatches, any way off the ship."

"Aye, sir."

"Holkham to all hands. I am declaring code blue; all personnel to stay at their posts; no-one is to wander the corridors or Jeffries tubes until further notice. Civilian personnel are to return to their quarters immediately. Once the corridors are clear, all doors will be locked until further notice."

"I now have full use of internal sensors, captain." The ship told him a few minutes later.

"And?"

"Commander Dax is not showing up on any of my sensors. There do not seem to be any stowaways, either."

"Any anomalous heat sources?"

"No, sir. If they are aboard, they have some way of evading my scans."

"Captain, ship's stores are reporting missing stores, sir." Whittaker announced.

"Namely?"

"Five personal sensor masks, sir."

Holkham looked to Trealor, tapping his combadge. "Holkham to Bashir."

"Yes, sir?"

"I want you, Sonak, and Barek to come up with a way to penetrate standard Starfleet sensor masks. Work with them remotely; you need to stay in sickbay."

"Aye, sir."

Whittaker spoke up from the tactical console. "Sir, we can track them with any un-authorised entries; disrupted force fields and so on."

"Good thinking, Mr Whittaker. Get onto it."

"Aye, sir."

The ship seemed deserted. However, behind closed and locked doors, life continued normally. Deep in the bowels of the ship, outside the aft shuttlebay, a woman was in the corridor. She was sitting against the wall, her eyes closed and unmoving. Her long black hair had come loose, and cascading down either side of her neck was a long line of intricate freckles; while at her collar were six small pips of gold, three on either side.

And next to her lay a small box, no larger than a pack of cards, masking her to everything except the naked eye.

Standing over her was another woman - another Trill. She too had a line of spots on her neck; she too had a red uniform. However, on either side of her collar, were four gold pips; and her hair was shoulder-length, light brown. Unlike the unconscious woman at her feet, she was alert and watchful; a long phaser in one hand, and a padd in the other.

Meanwhile, a tall man crawled through a Jeffries tube almost a kilometre away from the two women. He too had a phaser in his hand. However, holstered at his belt were six more and he held a tricorder in his hand, while in a pouch on his belt was a small, unobtrusive box of similar dimensions to a pack of cards. He was clad in green; not red, and instead of spots, he had a distinct V-shaped ridge on his forehead, which marked him as from the northern hemisphere of his home planet of Trillian.

He crawled along the cramped tunnel, until he came to a part of the wall upon which was an intricate maze etched in glowing blue lines - a circuit board. Carefully scanning about, he placed a single phaser next to the box, and pushed the small slider on its side all the way forwards. The long weapon began to whine slightly.

The man crawled onwards; much faster, now. Reaching a small chamber, he climbed out of the tube, and instead began to ascend a long ladder.

A similar man, though with spots instead of a ridge, was meanwhile walking along a completely different part of the ship. He stopped when he found his path blocked by what seemed at first glance to be a wall of heat-haze. Unstrapping a single, long phaser from his side, he placed it carefully on the floor, and tapped in a few commands.

He steadily made his way back in the direction he had come from.

After a few seconds, the phaser whined and spat a shimmering bolt of golden light at the shield in front of it. The energy wall rippled like disturbed water.

The phaser fired again.

"We've found them, sir; deck 67, corridor J9 section 42. They're trying to shoot down a force-field."

"Send a security detachment to that point at once."

The dim lights from the overhead panels cast long shadows on the man's face as he climbed; the ridge on his forehead shadowing his eyes.

Finally reaching the end of the ladder, he tapped in a command to the wall panel and climbed through the now unlocked hatchway onto a corridor.

"Unauthorised command given at Jeffries tube access point in corridor A7, deck fifty-one. Odd - the command was given by someone leaving the network!"

"What?" Holkham asked.

The Trill man was glad to stretch his legs; for the Jeffries Tube climb had made him feel slightly cramped.

Enjoying the relative freedom of the corridor, though keeping his mission in mind, he made his way slowly towards the aft of the ship.

A shadow fell across a T-junction ahead, and he flattened himself against a wall, a phaser in his hand.

Running, a detachment of green-shirted marines clattered along the corridor.

Quietly, the man made his way to the T-junction, looked after the marines, and started off in the opposite direction.

"Sir, the marines have arrived at the point. All they've found is a single phaser set to fire continuously at the field."

Holkham brought his fist down hard on the armrest. "Damn them!" He shouted.

Deep in the bowels of the ship; and far below the man that had planted it, the other phaser gave one final shriek before detonating with the force of a large bomb. The circuit panel was shattered, and, channelling the explosion down its length, the open Jeffries tube spat a small mushroom of flames into the air.

On the bridge, all the consoles flickered, as did the lights.

"There has been an explosion in the Jeffries tube network." Sonak reported. "It has taken out a major circuit panel; attempting to re-route the damaged circuits."

His spots showing starkly in the overhead lighting, the other man ran softly down the corridor. He walked up to the door labelled ‘Main Engineering' and placed his belt of phasers in front of it, setting each bar one to explode. Picking out the one he had not set, he ran on, towards the rear of the ship, while, fifty metres above and behind him, his colleague ran, too.

The tall woman outside the shuttlebay raised her phaser as a shadow approached down the corridor.

"It's me, Algar!" The tall man panted, his spots standing out against his neck.

"Well done, lieutenant. Did you plant the phasers outside engineering?"

"Yes, ma'am. They should go off any time now."

Barek was standing by the huge warp core, when he became aware of a shrill whining noise.

Other people had noticed it, too, and they turned to the doors in alarm.

A few seconds before it was too late, Barek called out.

"Get away from the main doors!"

The crewmen slowly, so slowly, responded, and one by one, began to run away from the main doors.

The screaming reached fever pitch, and Barek shouted over the noise.

"Juno, erect a level ten force-field around the main doors!"

The force field had barely shimmered into being, when the doors vanished in a blinding ball of white light. The force field held for a few seconds before vanishing. Debris flew high, each fragment with its own trail of flame and smoke.

The explosion cleared, leaving a huge burning hole in place of five metres of consoles, and a doorway.

The fire suppression systems kicked in, and cones of white gas sprayed from points in the ceiling, at the flames, which died down. However, behind Barek, a few consoles exploded, showering the warp core with sparks.

The other man had just announced his name, when a huge explosion rocked the aft end of the ship. Paron nodded, and bent over the unconscious woman at her feet.

"Help me take her in."

The deck suddenly shook slightly.

"Report?" Holkham asked.

"There has been another explosion in engineering. This time, the force-field and major security systems have been knocked out for the entire aft third of the ship." Sonak reported.

Holkham exchanged a glance with Trealor.

"The shuttlebay." They said together.

"Whittaker, I don't care how you do it, but keep a force-field up around the shuttlebay!" Holkham shouted.

The huge shuttlebay was completely deserted, which was good, Paron thought. In front of them, the huge space doors towered ten storeys to the high ceiling, and on either side of the main bay, were two rows of shuttlecraft; while behind them, ascending in great ranks on tiers, hundreds of fighters lay inactive.

Of the twenty shuttles in the bay, there was an odd-one out. Having sneaked in while the sensors were still down, the one shuttle not registered with the Juno lay in wait for them among its counterparts, which were identical except for the curious, tiny device planted on top, and the words written on it's side:

USS Heilongjiang - NCC-269597/5 Shuttlecraft Fleming

As Paron approached, she tapped in a command on her padd, and the hatchway opened at the aft of the shuttle. Her two crewmembers, carrying the unconscious Dax between them, climbed in after her, and lay Dax unceremoniously on the floor, while Paron climbed into one of the two pilots' chairs.

"Sir, the bay doors are opening in shuttlebay two!" Whittaker reported.

"A single shuttle is powering up; though I am not reading any lifesigns." Sonak said.

"They're there." Holkham muttered. "Whittaker, how's that force field coming?"

"It's up. They won't be able to leave." Whittaker pronounced, confidently.

Paron guided the shuttle away from its peers, turned to port and flew slowly for the opening space doors. Smiling to herself when she noticed the force-field, she tapped in a command on her console, and the device detached itself from the shuttle and flew towards the force-field, while, behind her, two pilots ran into the bay, preparing to mount a pursuit.

The device hit the force-field, and fell useless to the deck.

But, it had fulfilled its purpose. Setting the shuttle's shields to the frequency that the device had transmitted, she flew straight for it.

And, with a spectacular ripple of blue light, the shuttle flew through effortlessly through the force field.

"They've got through the shield!" Whittaker said, both shocked and hurt that his master shield could have been rendered useless.

"Whittaker, get a tractor beam on them!" Holkham said.

The screen switched to a view of the shuttle speeding towards the dark, indistinct shape of the Heilongjiang. A shimmering ray of blue light swept in from off-screen and connected with the shuttle.

Holkham was smiling triumphantly when a fiery jet of phaser fire suddenly lit up the nebula, and connected with the tractor beam emitter, which promptly exploded. The tractor beam died, and the shuttle sped back towards the looming, misty silhouette of the Heilongjiang.

"The shuttle fired on us, and it hit our tractor emitter." Whittaker spat.

"However, I managed to successfully scan the shuttle." Sonak said. "It has two Trill males, Captain Paron, and Commander Dax aboard."

"Paron!" Holkham spat.

"Heilongjiang control, this is captain Paron, requesting immediate landing clearance."

"Clearance granted, captain."

"Sir, the Heilongjiang's powering engines." Whittaker warned.

"Engage impulse engines; bring us closer to them and power up all weapons; especially the stargun. Get a torpedo lock on their engines, and load all torpedo bays." Holkham commanded.

Trealor looked curious. "You aren't going to fire on them?"

"No - of course not, I just want to keep up appearances. Whittaker, fire a warning torpedo. Aim to clear their impulse engines by as close a margin as you see fit, but make sure you don't hit them."

"Sir, the Juno's loading torpedoes. They've got a direct lock on our impulse engines!" Jolaran warned.

Valren cursed. On the screen, the graceful silhouette of the Juno slowly moved. A point of blue light appeared at the front of one of the deck fans. It slowly got brighter, and before long, false light spikes had appeared on the screen, before the point flared and dimmed slightly, but it did not die completely. The point of deep blue light shot over the top of the screen and out of sight.

The torpedo exploded off the port nacelle.

"They fired a warning shot over our impulse engines. It cleared out hull by five metres." Jolaran said, shocked.

Paron walked onto the bridge." Did they hit us?"

"No, ma'am. But they could fire again anytime if we power up engines."

"Full power to phasers, prepare to fire on my command."

Valren rose to protest. "That is a Miami-class starship - we are no match for them!" He shouted, pointing at the looming silhouette on the screen.

"We are a Valiant-class cruiser; we can still inflict massive damage on them before they destroy us." Paron countered.

"Ma'am, we're being hailed."

"Ignore it, ensign."

"They're not responding." The comms officer called.

"Force transmission, then." Said Trealor, rising.

"Channel open."

"This is Fleet Admiral Trealor. Captain Paron, if you continue with this, you will never sit in the captain's chair again. You are already facing court-marital proceedings; do not add execution for high treason to that."

"They're not responding. I'll close the channel." M'Gila announced.

"Is there a death penalty for treason?" Holkham asked.

Trealor nodded. "It's the only crime in the Federation which carries the death sentence."

Holkham gritted his teeth. "Lieutenant Laren, launch Alpha Squadron, with orders to take out the Heilongjiang's nacelles, impulse engines and weapons if they are ordered to."

"Aye, sir."

"The Juno's launching fighters!" Algar exclaimed.

"Man the defence turrets. But, tell them not to fire the first shots." Paron ordered. "Signal the Symbiosis Commission. Tell them that we have captured the target."

The comms officer wheeled around.

"Captain, we're being hailed by the Juno."

Paron sighed. "Ignore it."

"They're forcing the channel."

The viewscreen switched to a view of the Juno's bridge. Two officers were standing in front of the centre chairs; the Human captain and the shorter, red-haired admiral.

Trealor spoke. "Captain Paron, you have captured one of our officers. Please explain yourself."

Paron sighed and stood up. "We are here on behalf of the Symbiosis Commission of Trillian. Commander Dax has behaved disgracefully over the past few months, and in accordance with Trill law, we are here to return her to Trillian, for prosecution."

"As a Starfleet officer, Lianra Paron, you are bound by the first article of Federation Law to serve Starfleet Command and Starfleet Command only."

"Admiral, my orders do indeed come from Starfleet Command. I am here under orders from Grand Admiral Jarol."

Trealor stared. "Paron, you have boarded another starship without leave, transmitted a hostile virus with ill intent, held a Starfleet officer against her will, sabotaged a Federation starship, and planted explosive devices on a Federation starship on four occasions."

Paron smiled sweetly. "It's five, actually, *admiral*." And she pressed a single button on her padd.

Trealor and Holkham were staring at Paron, when the floor beneath them heaved up. They were thrown forwards as the centre chairs vanished in a blaze of fire. The roof of the bridge shattered, sucking smoke, fire, shards of metal, startled crewmembers and debris up in a spectacular plume. Everyone clung on tightly to chairs and consoles, as, suddenly the rippling blue force-field cut in. The rush of smoke and debris died away, and the lights cut out.

Trealor was the first to get up, surveying the scene.

Where a few seconds ago, there had been four chairs, two men and a long console, there was now a huge crater in the floor. The Jeffries tube beneath the centre chairs had been completely destroyed, and Trealor could see down on to deck two. The explosion had completely destroyed the weapons console; the back of the bridge was in tatters. Both Whittaker and the comms officer had been sucked out through the hole in the roof; and the front half of the comms console had been destroyed, leaving the bare circuitry open to air, where it sparked and crackled. Three men had been sucked out into space - Whittaker, the comms officer, and the woman manning the ops console. Sonak, Laren and everyone else had successfully held on to various consoles.

The air smelt and tasted bitter; when the air had rushed out, the nebula had rushed in, and the frigid, acidic smell of the nebula mingled with the odours of carbonised fabrics, heated metal, and smoke.

Beside her, Holkham got up.

"Dear god." He breathed.

"The weapons and comms consoles have been destroyed; my own console is damaged; the bulkheads over the bridge were shattered in the blast, and we have lost three crewmembers. The viewscreen has also been destroyed."

Turning dazedly, Trealor and Holkham looked at the front of the bridge. The viewscreen was simply no longer there; and they now had a view ahead. The huge, relatively flat form of a Valiant-class cruiser loomed dimly in the nebula, its silhouette eerily hanging on the verge of invisibility.

Someone asked for a medical team to come to the bridge.

Holkham turned to Sonak. "Can you force an audio link to the Heilongjiang?"

"Yes, sir. Attempting it now. Link established."

"Paron, this has gone far enough. End this now, and surrender your vessel, or I will order my fighters to open fire." Holkham shouted.

"They're not responding." Sonak declared after a lengthy pause.

"Cut the channel. Order our fighters to go in and open fire. Tell them to take out weapons and propulsion, and to keep collateral damage to a minimum."

"Aye." Laren replied, tapping out the commands

And, flying low over the bridge, Alpha Squadron's fifty Jay-class fighters arrowed towards the dim silhouette of the Heilongjiang.

As Trealor and the bridge crew watched, each fighter launched a single torpedo.

The torpedoes seemed to hang in the nebula for a while, illuminating the thick crimson nebula around them with a blue light, before a series of hazy flashes flickered around the Heilongjiang's graceful form. With each flash, a torpedo disappeared; and with each flash, the shadow of the ship was revealed darker and more clearly than ever before.

Paron stared as, from around the Juno's beautiful form, fifty bright blue sparks appeared and began to fly towards her ship.

"Tell the defence crews to shoot down as many torpedoes as possible; repair crew stand by."

"Multiple impacts on their shields. They shot down twelve torpedoes, twenty-one detonated against their shields, and twelve impacted on their hull. They have lost warp, dorsal phasers and a shield generator. They still have 24% impulse power." Sonak reported.

"Tell our fighters not to fire again until we give the word."

Slowly, the Heilongjiang came about, to face the Juno head-on. Equally slowly, her shadow grew.

"They are closing in and charging phasers." Sonak reported.

A dull glow illuminated the Heilongjiang's hull briefly, and a jet of fiery light shot straight towards the Juno. However, it hit the shields, sending multicoloured waves rippling away from the impact point.

"Shields down to 96%." Sonak reported.

"Tell the fighters to take out all engines and weapons." Holkham spat.

High above their heads, fifty fighters dove at the growing form of the Heilongjiang.

Behind them, Holkham heard the turbolift doors open, and turned to see Bashir walk onto the bridge, carefully avoiding the large hole in the deck as he walked around Sonak's science console.

"Captain, I need to speak with you." Bashir said, quietly.

"In my ready-room, doctor. Can you handle things, Riannah?"

Trealor looked after him, nodded, and turned back to the Heilongjiang, which had stopped growing and was surrounded by dozens of flashes and plumes of flame.

"What can I do for you, doctor?" Holkham asked.

"Permission to lead a boarding party to the Heilongjiang, sir?" Bashir asked.

Holkham stared. "I can't do that, Julian."

Bashir sighed explosively. "Sir, I can't just stand here, doing nothing."

"Doctor, I-"

"Sir, what would you do if it were admiral Trealor, rather than Dax?"

The sheer profundity of that statement hit Holkham hard. He smiled wryly, fully aware that Bashir would go whether allowed to or not.

"Permission granted, doctor. Report to main security at once. Lieutenant Kell will assemble a party to go with you."

"Thankyou, sir."

Holkham stepped back onto the bridge behind Bashir, who made for the starboard turbolift. Bashir saluted Holkham smartly as the doors closed in front of him.

"Holkham to Kelos."

"Kelos here."

"Commander, doctor Bashir is leading an away party to the Heilongjiang. Can I count on you to go with them?"

"You can, sir."

"Excellent. Report to main security at once."

"Captain, the fighters have taken out 67% of our phasers, main shields, three torpedo cannons, the impulse engines and the nacelles. We're dead in the water."

Paron stared at the bridge of the Juno, which was now less than a kilometre away.

"Ma'am, the fighters are withdrawing to the Juno."

"What?"

"Captain, the Heilongjiang is now close enough to use the transporters to beam doctor Bashir's away team over." Sonak reported.

"Excellent. Tell them to beam over when ready."

Deep in the bowels of the Heilongjiang, a large team of marines materialised. There were fourteen green-suited men, and one man wearing a deep blue uniform. Immediately the marines whipped out long phasers, tricorders and mean-looking phaser rifles.

"The brig is five decks above this one - deck thirty, section 12 C." Kell reported.

"Move out. Split up into groups of five and take separate routes to the brig. We'll re-group there and try to get Dax." Kelos said, dividing the marine contingent in three.

"Bashir, you come on my team. Lieutenant Kell will take another, and Jarvis another. We will re-group outside the brig. Our sensor masks will hide us from the internal sensors, but not from the crew. Stun anyone that sees you, is that understood?"

Everyone nodded.

Bashir whipped out his phaser, and fell in behind Kelos as they moved out.

"Ma'am, a few crewmembers seem to have disappeared." Jolaran announced.

"What? How?"

"Unknown, ma'am. However, ten crewmembers have been reported missing en-route to or from their quarters and stations."

Paron frowned. "Evacuate the corridors. Send out regular security patrols - tell them to shoot anyone they meet."

"Ma'am, if they are marines from the Juno, how will we distinguish our own from theirs?"

"Tell them to move their combadges to their right-hand side."

"Aye, ma'am."

Bashir, Kelos and the three marines walked steadily down the corridor, long hand phasers at the ready; the marines holding sleek phaser rifles. Suddenly, from behind them, a phaser bolt shot over Bashir's shoulder. They flung themselves to the walls at a T-junction, and returned fire.

However, the Trill marines kept on coming.

Kelos looked over his shoulder.

"Go!" He yelled to Bashir. "We'll hold them off!"

Bashir nodded, and ran softly down the right-hand branch. Consulting his padd, he scanned for Kell's group. They were along the corridor, a very long way off.

Running swiftly, he looked around at a cross-ways before running on ahead. Above his head, a miniscule visual feed to the bridge tracked him as he ran underneath.

"The human doctor!" Paron exclaimed. "Where is he?"

"Deck thirty-two, section seven D."

"I'm going down there myself." Paron announced, rising.

Bashir ran on, turning here, dodging a low bulkhead there. A long way ahead, he saw a detachment of green-uniformed marines heading away from him, and his padd showed them to be Kell's group.

Suddenly, another figure lunged at him from a side-corridor.

Bashir crashed to the floor, and looked up into the face of a Trill marine.

Bucking his legs, Bashir threw the marine off him, and, taking an automatic step backwards, stepped though a doorway.

It was the torpedo bay. A long catwalk led to another doorway opposite, and below it, rack upon rack of black, sleek ion torpedoes stretched down two storeys to the deck.

In front of him, the marine got up, and again jumped at him.

Again, Bashir fell to the deck, and again he threw him off him. The marine unholstered his phaser, and pointed it directly at Bashir.

"So, human. You think you can overpower the Symbiosis Commission alone?"

"I'm not alone." Bashir protested.

The marine advanced slowly, clutching the phaser in his hands.

With a sudden thought of Jadzia, Bashir kicked the phaser from the marine's hands. It fell, bouncing off ion torpedoes, until it lodged itself between two, where it began to emit a shrill whine.

The marine stared down at it, and back at Bashir. Bashir ducked a second before the marine lunged at him. However, Bashir was now on the ground. The marine looked briefly down at Bashir, before hitting him so hard that Bashir was lifted to his feet.

Bashir tasted blood, and, standing to face the marine, kicked him hard in the midriff. The marine gasped - Bashir had kicked the Trill's symbiont. However, the marine then charged at Bashir another time, though, this time, Bashir was ready. Crouching low, the marine tripped over Bashir, who stood up, throwing the marine cleanly over the handrail and headfirst onto a torpedo.

The marine twitched once, and lay still, the only sounds in the room now were Bashir's heavy breathing and the whine of the slowly overloading phaser.

"Bashir! What kept you?" Kelos asked, as the doctor ran up to him, Jarvis and Kell, and the rest of the marines.

"A marine. We had a fight in the torpedo hold."

"The torpedo hold?"

"Yes, and that's not all. There's an overloading phaser in there, too."

"WHAT?!" Kelos stared at Bashir, who nodded grimly.

"We've got about seven minutes before the phaser blows." Jarvis estimated.

"When it goes, it'll take the nearest torpedo with it." Kelos pronounced.

Kell nodded. "The entire bay'll blow. It'll probably take most of the ship with it."

"We need to get into the brig, get Dax and get out within seven minutes. The brig's this door here." Jarvis said.

"Here," Kelos said, withdrawing a small device from his belt. "Set this on the door." He said, to Kell, who was nearest.

"Yes, sir. What is it?"

"Seven pounds of cobalt-omega."

Kell stared. "What?"

"That room's probably full of marines. The force field around her cell will probably protect Dax from the blast. Get on with it!"

Kell set the device.

"Right. Everyone get back to the nearest crossways at once!" Kelos called.

The marines and Bashir ran behind the wall of a nearby T-junction, and covered their ears.

There was a sudden burst of light, which faded slowly, accompanied by a loud roaring boom. Smoke shot out of the corridor, accompanied by a shower of sparks and debris. Bashir noticed a Starfleet combadge among the debris.

Kelos and Jarvis, closely followed by their parties, charged into the maelstrom. There was a lot of shouting, suddenly, followed by a few burst of phaser fire. Then, silence.

Kell and Bashir exchanged glances and followed, weapons drawn, along with the remaining marines.

Among the smoke and debris, Kelos, Jarvis and three of the other marines were lying on the floor, along with six Trill marines. Two were evidently killed by the explosion; but the remaining four had large phaser burns in their chests.

And, lying on the floor of a cell at the back of the room, was a red-uniformed woman, whose face was hidden by her long black hair, which had come loose and fell around her slumped head in a curtain.

"Jadzia!" Bashir ran over to Dax, while Kell bent down next to Kelos.

"He's alive, but barely." She announced, as, cautiously, Bashir approached Dax. He crossed the threshold, and there was no shimmer of a reacting force-field - nor was there any movement from Dax.

Kell tapped her combadge.

"Kell to Juno, come in!"

Over a lot of static, Holkham's voice was just audible.

"Hei- (static) -iang jamming (static) issions. Can (static) -st hear you."

"Beam us all to sickbay! Beam us all to sickbay at once!" Kell shouted, slowly.

And, slowly, the tingle of the transporter beam fell across them all.

"Captain, there's been a massive explosion in the brig!" Jolaran announced.

"What?"

"There's been some weapons fire... and the force-fields are off-line."

Paron sighed. She was about to ask Jolaran something when the woman stared at her console.

"Ma'am, there's an overloading phaser in torpedo bay six!"

"How long before it explodes?"

"Two minutes."

"Are transporters functional?"

"No, ma'am."

Paron sighed. "Void the torpedo bay."

"Aye, ma'am. Engaging our emergency manoeuvring thrusters to escape the blast."

"Good. Meanwhile, target the Juno with remaining torpedo cannons and fire on my command. Target their impulse engines."

"Ma'am, the impulse engines are at the back of the ship, but we're facing the bows."

"Then guide the torpedoes. Fire."

Holkham smiled as Sonak reported the teams returned.

"Sir! Sir!" An ensign shouted, pointing towards the Heilongjiang. Not only was the vast silhouette moving steadily, but ten sparkling ion torpedoes were streaking towards the Juno.

"Shields!" Holkham barked.

The torpedoes slammed into the shields one after the other. Four hit the shields, overloading them and allowing the remaining three to strike the hull directly. Holkham stood on tiptoe to watch as the three azure blue lights slammed into the hull. Mushrooms of flame and energy fountained from the impact spots, and the deck shook violently. The remaining three shot over the heads of the bridge crew, to hit the deck behind the bridge.

However, having stood on tiptoe, Holkham saw something catching the ambient light of the nebula, floating steadily away from the Heilongjiang, which had moved a good distance below the Juno, now.

"Sonak, what's that?" He asked, pointing.

Sonak craned his neck to see what Holkham was indicating, and manipulated a few controls. "It is a rack of one hundred ion torpedoes."

"Why would the Heilongjiang just dump them?" Trealor asked.

"Because there is an overloading type ten hand phaser wedged among them." Sonak replied.

"Engaging impulse engines." Laren announced, without being asked.

The Heilongjiang's engineering section and starboard nacelle, whose silhouettes were visible above the limb of the Juno's hull, began to get smaller.

"Sonak, full power to forward shields." Holkham commanded.

"Aye. As the viewscreen has been destroyed, I advise everyone to cover his or her eyes. Detonation in five, four, three, two - one."

Even with his eyes screwed shut, Holkham felt as if he had been knocked backwards by the intensity of the blast.

Paron watched as a huge blast of watery light exploded into being over the Juno's limb. A shimmering halo of energy rippled away from the explosion, to break against the Juno's shields. The fireball was slowly fading, and the receding shape of the Juno was bathed in the fiery white light.

Which gave her an idea.

"Captain, the Heilongjiang has launched a large projectile in our direction." Sonak reported, puzzled.

"What? Scan it."

"It is an antimatter canister. Advise we order the defence crews to shoot it down." Sonak reported.

Trealor stared. "We're in a nebula, composed of matter. The blast'll kill everyone on the bridge."

"I was going to advise we evacuate the bridge." Sonak replied.

"How long until it hits us?"

"Two minutes."

"Paron wants us to shoot it down - can't we tractor it away?"

"Her shuttle destroyed our portside tractor emitter." Holkham whined. "Very well. Clear decks one through six and the port deck fan of all personnel. Bridge crew to muster on deck ten." Holkham announced.

"They're evacuating the bridge." Valren announced.

"Wise man. Is the enhancer properly installed?"

"Aye. They're firing now."

Paron watched as a blinding flash of light appeared on the screen, overloading it completely. Outside the ship, an intense blue shockwave burst from the expanding ball of white light, carrying the Juno along in its wake.

That same shockwave, however, also hit the Heilongjiang. The two immense starships were swept away in opposite directions by the force of the explosion.

The deck beneath Holkham bucked sharply, catapulting everyone to the starboard side of the ship. The ship shook like a leaf in a gale; the lights flickered, and the red alert lights lit everything a dull red.

Eventually, the ship righted itself. People began to stand up.

"Is the bridge safe?" Holkham asked.

"No. Delta radiation levels are still dangerously high in all exposed areas of the ship." Sonak replied.

Holkham sighed. "Can we return to our quarters?"

Sonak scanned above their heads with a tricorder.

"I do not recommend it for at least an hour, sir."

"Very well. Everyone, to main operations."

"Right." Holkham said, leaning on the master display table. "What's the extent of damage?"

"Delta-radiation levels are still dangerously high in all exposed areas; we have minor hull breaches on decks thirty-four, fifty-seven and eighty-six. Three crewmembers are unaccounted for, forty-nine people have reported to sickbay with severe delta radiation burns; there are one hundred and seven reported cases of delta radiation sickness shipwide and a Workbee is reported to have fallen out of storage in shuttlebay three. Four people have been killed and seven more injured. We have been swept four thousand kilometres from our previous position, and the Heilongjiang has been swept a similar distance. However, we are now clear of the disturbed area of the nebula. We should be able to restore long-range comms shortly." Sonak reported.

Holkham bowed his head at the mention of the dead people in shuttlebay three.

"Barek to Holkham."

"Holkham here." He replied after a short pause.

"Sir, we had completed repairs to the long-range comms array when that shockwave hit. It'll take a few minutes to repair, but we should have LR Comms back online shortly."

"That's good news, Barek. Thankyou."

"We are gathered here today to commemorate our honoured dead. From the stars we have all come; and it is to the stars which they now return; ashes to ashes, dust to dust; for ever and ever. Amen."

The last word was echoed throughout the bay, while, behind Holkham, seven fully outfitted marines fired in unison through the open bay door, three times into the heavens.

"Captain's Log, stardate 89282.9, U.S.S. Juno, Captain James Holkham commanding. Following the restoration of our damaged comms array, we have finally been able to contact Starfleet Command. The starships Ardent and Vladivostok have been dispatch to the Crater Nebula along with a replacement Sceptre-IV warp nacelle. Our hails were answered by Grand Admiral Jannisson, the counterpart of Grand Admiral Naren Jarol. Although Jannisson did not initially believe our report, he has agreed to open an inquiry, pending a meeting with myself and my command crew.

Kelos was severely wounded by a phaser shot from a marine aboard the Heilongjiang, and is still critically ill. Jadzia, meanwhile, is recovering from her capture. She showed signs of being badly beaten, and has yet to regain consciousness. Apparently, Paron and her cohorts injected her with a chemical which is disrupting the link between her and the Dax symbiont. Bashir is trying to keep her stable, and he and his nurses are confident that both she and Kelos will make a full, if slow, recovery.

The loss of thirty six members of our crew has struck us all very deeply. Riannah and I conducted a ceremony in shuttlebay two at eighteen-hundred hours this evening. The Heilongjiang itself, apparently, is adrift. The starships Constellation, Madagascar and Beaufort are en-route to apprehend the crew, while Paron is facing charges of sabotage and high treason. On a slightly happier note, we have completed superficial repairs to the ship, and the effects of the computer virus have been completely overcome. The crew has been granted a month's shore leave, while the Juno is returned to C209 and re-fitted. The prospect of extended leave has cheered the crew greatly."

Beside Jim, two blue eyes opened, watching him.

"Jim..?"

"Hmm?"

"What's wrong?"

"Oh, I was just thinking..."

"About what?" Trealor asked, propping herself up on an elbow.

"What do you want to do on leave?"

She smiled, mischievously.

"What?" Jim asked.

"I think, maybe, somewhere remote. Lots of sun, trees..."

"Somewhere warm..."

"Just the two of us." Riannah finished, kissing him gently on the cheek.

Jim turned to her, smiling.

She moved to kiss him, then seemed to realise something.

"Juno, de-activate artificial gravity in this room."

"That option is not recommended."

"Do it anyway." Trealor commanded, looking into Jim's eyes and kissing him again, as the crimson nebula swirled outside.

 


Proceed to Episode VII

 

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