Day 5, 1300 hours
Ezri walked with Jake and Holo along the promenade, and she was going from store to store, occasionally stopping to examine certain merchandise. “No wonder Apocalypse makes so money, look at these prices for ammunition and weaponry-”
She felt someone bang hard into her shoulder, without the armour it really hurt, and turning around she saw that Hellfire had bumped into her. Whether Hellfire had accidently walked into her or not she wasn’t sure, but there was no mistaking the pure loathing and contempt on Hellfire’s face.
“You're Team UFP,” said Hellfire sounding disdainful.
“So?” replied Ezri, in a somewhat defiant manner.
She regretted speaking so disrespectfully to Hellfire, because suddenly his right hand flew to her throat. Ezri could barely breath under his iron-tight grip, and all the air was knocked out of her lungs when Hellfire slammed her against a bulkhead. She tried to resist but it was no good, and her legs hung loosely above the ground.
Already a crowd had gathered around her, as they watched the spectacle unfold.
“Just because your on a winning streak you shouldn't get to cocky,” hissed Hellfire, his face inches from Ezri’s. “What a pathetic bunch, one day you'll meet me in battle and I assure you, you won't be smiling.”
Being barely able to breath, Ezri somehow found the air to talk. “Is something bothering you?” she gasped in a hoarse voice.
Hellfire’s grip tightened around Ezri’s neck, and he looked even more incensed. “You have some nerve, though I'm not surprised because you think you're on top of the universe because of your winning streak. Well let me tell you that your luck will change... When I'm finished with you no one will even remember the name of Team UFP!”
In a sudden and fluid motion, Hellfire slammed Ezri to the ground while at the same time removing his hand off her neck.
Ezri fell to the floor hard, coughing and retching, as she gasped for air. She took Jake’s hand and pulled herself back onto her feet. Looking around she could not see where Hellfire had gone to, but she was just glad he was out of sight.
“What a temper,” she said, while she massaged her throat.
“That Hellfire is such a prat,” said Jake angrily, “strolling around like he's the king of the universe!”
“There’s a reason for that,” added Holo, “and that’s because virtually no one can beat him! His telekinetic powers are said to be legendary.”
“It's strange that he has those powers considering that he's human,” Ezri mentioned.
“I don't think he is human,” said Holo in a somewhat weary voice. “He may look human but I'm certain he's lying about his true identity.”
“Then let's hope we don't have to face him!” said Jake.
“We will eventually if we keep winning match after match.”
Ezri had now recovered from her near asphyxiation experience, and right now she wanted to leave the area because there was still a crowd gathered around. “We'll worry about Hellfire when we are pitted against him in an exterminator match! For now let's concentrate on this week's matches!”
She strode forwards, elbowing her way through the crowd. That encounter with Hellfire had severely rattled her, and she realised the day when her team would be fighting against Hellfire, was the day when a death sentence had been placed upon them all.
Day 6, 1100 hours
As she worked from her desk in her quarters, Kira was surprised to see on her console the message that she had a transmission from someone. She disregarded her work, and activated the transmission. Her surprise further increased when she saw it was admiral Ross who was contacting her.
Ross had been some days overdue in his promise to get back to her about what decision Starfleet Command reached regarding Apocalypse.
“Admiral, I take it Starfleet is going to attack Apocalypse?”
“Affirmative,” said Ross, solemnly nodding. “Apocalypse is growing more bolder by the day, and we need to stop this organisation completely in its tracks with one massive counter-strike. I’m sorry I took a little longer to contact you, but that is due to discussions I had with chancellor Martok about Klingon support for this operation.”
“How many ships will Martok provide?”
“1300 ships, he will be personally leading the Klingon fleet. Starfleet is sending 1700 ships for the joint operation, and the Starfleet ships and Martok's fleet are rendezvousing at Deep Space Four, before finally heading to the Pushui system.”
Though glad that Starfleet was finally going to attack Apocalypse, something still seemed to gnaw inside of Kira. She realised she would only be truly happy if she could contribute in some way to this assault, more than anything she wanted to see Apocalypse severely punished and reduced to submission for its crimes. “Admiral would it be possible for the Defiant to join the fleet?”
Ross though simply gave Kira a blank stare, and she realised she would have to explain her reasons for making this request. “Over two months ago Ezri Dax and four others were kidnapped off the station by Apocalypse. Myself and the Defiant's crew are eager to attack Apocalypse and give them a taste of their own medicine.”
“Permission granted,” said Ross eagerly, he seemed to understand exactly what Kira was going through. “Who knows when we do capture Apocalypse station, we may find Ezri and dozens of other Starfleet officers, who were captured by Apocalypse, alive.”
“Thank you admiral,” said Kira, giving him a sincere smile.
“Don’t thank me yet,” warned Ross. “You’ve just volunteered for what could be a very dangerous operation. Anyway get the Defiant over to Deep Space Four in less than seven days time. Because on the seventh day, at 1000 hours, the Klingon and Starfleet task force will be departing and the operation will commence.”
“Understood, I look forward to joining the fleet.”
The transmission ended, and though she had paper work to do, her mind was far from such dull tasks. She knew exactly what she had gotten herself into, and she also knew that the Defiant crew would gladly follow her into this incoming battle. The only thing that bothered her was not so much dying, but leaving her children without their mother should the worst happen.
Though Mia and Deru would understand why their mother had left to join the operation, Kira still felt obliged to write up a leaving message just in case she did not make it back home. But not even her children would stop her participating in this assault. There were some things in life that could not be avoided, and some duties that had to be fulfilled no matter what the cost…
After a hard day’s work, Quark relaxed back into his bed and put his feet up. Today was a little better than most days, it was one of those days when the bar was for some reason bustling with business and life. He silently thanked the Blessed Exchequer for today, but his satisfied musings did not last for long when the computer interrupted him.
“Incoming call from Ferenginar.
“Patch it through,” sighed Quark, no doubt this call was from his brother who had to be worrying about something new.
Walking over to his computer unit, he rerouted the message to there. Activating the message he was surprised to see his mother, Ishka, who was standing in what must have been one of the offices in the Ferengi Tower of Commerce.
“Moogi…” he said, before stopping when he saw the tears pouring from his mother’s face. “What's happened?”
“A bomb went off in the Ferengi Tower of Commerce,” wailed Ishka. “It nearly killed Rom! Someone tried to assassinate him!”
Quark’s breathing became suddenly shallow, all of this was happening to quickly for him. “Will Rom survive?” he said, barely able to string those words coherently together.
Ishka nodded in a miserable manner. “He's lucky, there are third degree burns but the doctors reckon he'll make it through the night. If he does then it seems his condition will stabilise.”
The grief then changed into anger, and Ishka's eyes were raging. “What I'd like to know is who would kill my son, and I mean really try to kill him not just plot some hare-brained scheme!”
Inwardly Quark thought that Ishka was being naďve, though Ferengi females were good at making money they saw the universe in a far more positive light than Quark ever did. “Apocalypse shares have plummeted since the Ferengi Alliance withdrew funding, and Apocalypse was a major share option for investors. It could be an angry investor... or an assassin sent from Apocalypse.”
“Whoever tried to kill Rom may target this family again, keep your ears open.”
“I always do Moogi,” replied Quark, struggling to keep the irritation out of his voice. “It's the 7th rule of acquisition.”
“I know you do,” said Ishka, looking at Quark with big fearful eyes. “But still, do take care.”
“I will mother,” promised Quark, “and tell Rom I hope he gets better and that I love him...”
The transmission ended, and Quark was still trying to comprehend what had just happened. He was convinced that Apocalypse had tried to kill his brother, and it made perfect sense. Apocalypse lost a massive income source and so in retaliation they tried to assassinate the very person who caused their loss of income, and that was Rom.
Still something did not quite make sense to Quark and that was how someone managed to successfully plant a bomb, in the Grand Nagus' office no less, and remain undetected. A horrible thought came to Quark when he realised all of this pointed to an insider job, a Ferengi, or someone hired by a Ferengi must have planted the bomb.
This Ferengi had to be working with or have regular contact with Apocalypse. More than that who hated Rom so much that this somebody was prepared to kill the Grand Nagus?
The answer came to Quark’s mind immediately; Brunt. However there would be very little evidence that implicated Brunt, because Quark was in no doubt that Brunt had covered his tracks well… Though Quark did not agree with revenge even he would not pass up the opportunity to struggle Brunt by his miserable neck…
Day 9, 1800 hours
Ezri was the last to clean herself up in the sonic shower. Afterwards she got dressed and went to the living room where Max and the rest of the team had gathered. This was the usual evening gathering when the day’s fighting and killing had been done. Max told them all about next day’s matches, and this cycle repeated to the point where Ezri was becoming quite weary of it.
She took a chair and sat down, waiting for Max to speak.
Max was being hesitant and he looked troubled, which meant tomorrow was going to be a bad day. “Bad news everyone. I've just been told that our team has been put in for an exterminator match which will take place tomorrow.”
There was some low level muttering at this, and a few of the team had turned their heads to cast troubled glances at each other.
Jake looked the most uncomfortable, he looked at Max with wide doubtful eyes. “So who are we er... exterminating?”
“Heamatitus,” said Max, he paused before launching into an explanation. “He's an old seasoned gladiator who's close to retirement. Usually he uses his exoskeleton machine in combat, even more so now he's got older.”
Now Jake looked marginally happier. “That doesn't sound to bad, he seems easy to defeat.”
“Let's not get to overconfident,” Ezri warned, giving Jake a stern stare. “This Heamatitus sounds like a survivor, and this is his last match. He's going to give it his all, I suspect he chose to fight us because he wanted a dramatic final match but not a match too difficult. He must think we are easy fodder, but that's where he has underestimated us.”
Nog, who sat next to Jake, was still looking troubled by the incoming match. “I know we've had this sort of conversation ages ago but are we really going to kill him? I mean this ain't like destroying combat droids or killing Jem'Hadar. This is an actual person that we're going to kill in cold blood!”
All this talk about killing barely raised an emotion on Ezri’s part, and this had become something that troubled her. She was turning into someone she despised. “I don't like killing anymore than you do, but Heamatitus wants a fight between this team and himself. He knows that either we kill him or he kills us.”
“You may not have to kill him,” said Max, sounding cunning. “I've realised that the station's shields protecting the fusion reactors drop when a major match is happening, due to the massive power consumption in the arena. When they drop I could send a falsified overload protocol, destroying the fusion reactors...”
“And us as well,” pointed out Holo.
“I know,” said Max, but he still looked determined to press this unpleasant point through. “This station would be destroyed as would the hanger bays storing Apocalypse's warships, in short it would deal a massive blow to Apocalypse. Besides one way or another we're not going to get out of this station alive...”
Ezri nodded her agreement. “Max is right, we shouldn't be thinking about escape, we need to sabotage this station... Max carry out your plan at the soonest possible opportunity... One way or another we are not going to remain on this station as gladiators!”
“I probably won't be able to do it tomorrow,” explained Max, he paused for a bit, clearly thinking this plan of his out. “But I should have things ready before the second exterminator match.”
“That's if we survive the first one,” said Jake sounding gloomy.
“We will survive,” said Ezri passionately, “because we have something to fight for!”
The other four were somewhat taken back by her sudden outburst of emotion, but Ezri did not care what the other four felt. For the first time she was going into an arena match with a goal of something other than survival. Now survival was not enough, it was time for action and Max's plan was the best thing she had heard in a long time.