Hi all, Well here is - finally - the first chapter of Volume III. My writing block seems to have lifted and I have quite a lot of chapters 2 and 3 written as well. So you can expect to see much more of Restoration in the coming days! And without further ado... Chapter 1 Bridge USS Redemption Zeta Gamma Pi 7 14th April, 2631 Thirteen days after launch Kalara stepped out onto the bridge as the ship rocked beneath her. The Laurentii cruisers' attacks were taking a toll on the shields, and she could hear Redemption’s hull groaning in protest at the battering she was receiving. Stumbling slightly on her way out the turbolift door, she grabbed at the metal rim and then righted herself. Someone had activated the tactical display, affording her a view out at the star system beyond, where she could just make out Onyx Station behind a swarm of Laurentii Behemoths which were now moving in to surround them. Kalara’s eyes scanned nearby space for any sign of the other Federation ships in the convoy – they were all there, moving in close around Redemption. To protect us or are they looking to us to protect them? She surprised herself, momentarily wishing Captain Sarine was still there. As much as a week before, she would never have dreamed that one day she would wish for his presence. Things had changed a hell of a lot in that time, though. At the end of the day, though, he wasn't there, and as insane as it seemed, she was in charge. How did things go so wrong? "Report," she shouted, bursting into motion and moving around the railing of the Pit. Lieutenant L'wynd looked up at her from her post, her face rippling with anxiety, her crystaline matrix destabilising in waves of hard-soft skin. "The Laurentii are demanding our immediate surrender, Commander." Her words brought everything crashing back. She felt like she had been punched in the gut. The pain was… No! She forced herself to nod, refusing to think too much about the reason why the Laurentii were attacking. Thinking about that made her think about the assassination, and thinking about the assassination made her think about... No! She wouldn't - couldn't - allow her mind to wander there, not now. She would deal with the grief - oh gods, Damien! - later. For now... She ran down the steps into the Pit and moved over to Lieutenant Barani at the operations’ console. She briefly wished Jasto Dax weren’t incapicitated; she would have felt more serene with him at Ops. Wishing never killed a targh, she heard her mother’s voice say in her head. She shook her head as the ship shook beneath another attack. Not the time. "Lieutenant, open a channel to the other ships and patch it into the internal comm system." Barani nodded, her hands darting from one place to another on the holo controls. Once she was done, she looked up at Kalara and nodded. Kalara took a deep breath, the pain in her chest tightening for a moment, and then she pressed on. "To all ships, this is acting first officer Kalara. In the absence of Captain Ly'et," -she felt another tightening in her chest - "I am taking command of Redemption. Prepare to break free from the Laurentii ships and make a run for Federation space. Kalara out." Barani cut off the comm, then turned to look at her. Kalara could sense the eyes of every crew member on the bridge boring into her as well. They all knew that running meant abandoning all those people back on Onyx Station. They also knew that she had no other choice. They were no match for the Laurentii ships. As those very ships closed in and Redemption began to scream around her, Kalara wondered how things could have gone so horribly wrong... Twelve Days Before USS Redemption 2nd April 2631 One day after launch Kalara ran. Looking around wildly, her feet thumping on the hard wood floor beneath her, she realised that she recognised the place. She was in her mother's estate, the house where she grew up. The corridors were just as they had been when she had walked them as a little girl, dank and shadow-ridden, pregnant with incense. Door after door passed at her side, each one closed tight. Someone was after her. A man. She did not know how she knew. She did not know who it was, but she could hear him behind her. She knew that if she turned around and looked at him, he would catch her. So she kept on running, feeling her heart beating wildly beneath her chest. Beat. Suddenly, from one step to the next, from one heartbeat to the next, she was somewhere else. Still a corridor, but brighter. Aboard Redemption. She passed a sign, pointing towards Main Engineering. Beat. She was back in the tunnels that she used in her holographic calisthenics program. The man was behind her in the shadows. She could hear his breathing. She reached out, her hand scraped against the walls of the cave, and felt pain. She looked down and realised she was dressed in a little girl's night dress. Her hands were small, the same size as a child's. Beat. Her mother's estate. A door now appeared at the end of the corridor. She tried to run faster, but she couldn't. Her legs pumped, but it was as though she were running through thick mud. She looked down and saw that she was dressed in a Starfleet uniform again. Beat. Redemption. The corridor was smoky now, dirty and broken. The sirens of red alert screeched in her ears like the call of a banshee. She stumbled over a broken piece of bulkhead, scraping her knees. Beat. The tunnels. Beat. The estate. Beat. Redemption. Beat. Beat. Beat She was in a room, on the floor, eyes closed tight. She could sense the walls pressing in around her, repressing her every breath. There were people in a circle surrounding her, but she didn't want to look at them. Instead she remained in a fetal position, cradling her knees against her chest. Keeping her eyes closed tight, she knew that if she opened them, He would be there. Then, although she struggled against it with ever ounce of her will, her eyes began to open. She wanted to scream, but she seemed to have no control over her body. She opened them and saw that she was surrounded. She recognised every single person in the room. Her father, his face white like a Borg's, blood dripping from wounds on his chest and his arms. She could still remember the day they told her that he had been killed, caught by a Jem'hadar patrol. Her nanny, her eyes gouged out, blood dripping from the empty holes, her mouth open in a terrible scream that Kalara could not hear. Other people, too. Sarine, staring at her with bedarkened eyes, holding his hands out towards her, balancing some kind of object on his palms. Prin Ly'et, screaming, her chest burned and cracking. Doctor Malok, a knife jutting from his gut. And finally, Him. The man who had been pursuing her. She knew it was Him. And yet she could not believe it. Damien. Her husband stared down at her, leering. She had never seen an expression like that on his face. In his hand, she saw, he held the disembodied head of Ianto. Blood and gore dripped from the neck, mingling with wires and sparks. The android was laughing hysterically, his eyes whirling and through his laughter she could hear him singing. "I'm back, I'm back, I'm back..." In Damien's other hand, there was a knife. Curved and angry and evil. Blood fell from the blade in great droplets that echoed in the enclosed space. Damien leant down towards her, the knife pointing at her. "You’re mine!" Kalara screamed. xxx Kalara woke up. Sweat cooling on bare skin and the sheets wrapped tight around her lower body, she swallowed great gulps of air. She lay there for a moment, attempting to calm her wildly beating heart, and to make sense of what she had seen. When she was a child, growing up on the freed world of Khitomer, she had often suffered from nightmares. Her nanny, an ancient Klingon crone named L'vok, had often been there when she woke up. L'vok had never reassured her or held her hand, though. Instead, she had forced Kalara to relive every moment of the nightmare, out loud, lying there in the dark. Nightmares give us strength, little one, she had said. They teach us to face our fears. So Kalara lay in her bed, though separated by so much space and time from that little girl that she could barely recognise her, and forced herself to confront the nightmare. As a child, though, when she had faced her nightmares, she had felt stronger for it at the end. This night, though, by the time she relived that leering, knife-wielding Damien leaning over her, she found herself even more shaken that she had been when she woke up. The imagery had been so vital, so clear, that it had seemed more like a vision than a dream. But why would she have received a vision of her Damien pursuing her? It made no sense. Damien loved her. He would never hurt her. Needing to feel the comforting presence of her husband - despite the role he had played in her nightmare - she reached out a hand for him, only to find his side of the bed empty and cold. She sat up, calling out for lights. The computer responded immediately and she saw that her husband was gone, the sheets crumpled. Where is he? "Computer, time," she snapped, hating the panic that flecked her words. "It is 0650 hours." 0650. At least an hour before either one of them needed to be up. She frowned. Sliding out of bed, she dragged the sheet with her, draping it around her naked body. A little voice in her head whispered that she covered herself to protect herself, because she was just a frightened little girl, but she slapped the voice - which sounded surprisingly like her mother’s - down and walked swiftly to the door out into the living area. The door slid open, revealing the darkened interior of the living room. Shadows filled the room, lit only by the swirling blue light of the slipstream tunnel outside the single window, and a small lamp on top of a work desk over by the wall. She felt a surge of relief, tinged with irritation, when she saw Damien sat in front of a lit console, typing away on the screen. He turned when he heard the door open and smiled when he saw her. "Hey. Good morning." She didn't respond, moving across the room until she stood by his side. Leaning down, she kissed him on the lips, unable to hide the fact that she was trembling. She cursed herself. Damn you, Kalara, daughter of Elyra. Pull yourself together! An irrational surge of disgust filled her as Damien's arm wrapped around her, an echo from her dream. Then he drew her down into his lap and the feeling of distaste was swept away by the rightness of his arms around her waist. She allowed him to pull her tight against his chest, and she tried not to cry. What is wrong with me? The nightmare had not even been particularly distressing compared to some she had had as a child. Perhaps it was the fact that her attacker had been Damien. Perhaps it had been the sight of Ianto. Whatever was causing it, the nightmare seemed to have shaken her to her very core. And she couldn't for the life of her understand why. Banishing the thoughts of her nightmare as best she could, Kalara peered past her husband at the screen. "What were you doing?" He glanced at the console, then smiled down at her bashfully. "Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you." She simply stared at him for a moment, then raised an eyebrow. "That isn't what I asked." He grinned. "No, it wasn't." He looked over at the screen again and sighed. "I was trying to get this new book started." "The one about the fall of Romulus during the war?" He shook his head. "Actually, no." "You changed your mind." She held back the 'again', but he obviously sensed it and gave her a rueful smile. "I know, I know. It just wasn't working. And..." "What?" "Well, to tell you the truth, everything that has happened over the past few weeks has given me some ideas for a thriller." She sat up slightly, staying in his embrace but now able to look up at him. "What is it about?" "I’d rather not--" She growled slightly and he held up his hands, shaking his head. "Fine, fine. I'll tell you. But you have to promise not to laugh." Kalara had never understood this human fixation with using vows for such trifling things, but it was something she had come to accept. She nodded her head firmly. "You have my word." He sighed, still reluctant to tell her, then spoke very fast. "It is set in the pre-Occupation Federation, around the time of the First Dominion War. It is about a beautiful female Starfleet officer who is dragged into a dangerous plot involving a little known part of Starfleet Intelligence called Section 31 and..." He trailed off. Kalara could imagine where he was heading with his story and she felt a warm feeling of love wash over her. "And?" she pressed playfully. "And the handsome journalist who saves her life," Damien said in a hurry. "Ah," was all Kalara said. She felt a smile tugging at her lips, but she remembered her vow and steeled herself not to react. "I know, I know," Damien said. "It sounds stupid." Kalara settled more firmly in his lap and slid her arms around his neck. She started to nuzzle at his throat, nipping at his flesh every few moments. "Actually," she said as he started to groan, "I like it." "Hmm-umm..." "The only thing I would change is to make the captain the man and the journalist the woman who saves him." Suddenly, Kalara felt Damien's hands on her shoulders. She thought he was going to drag her against him, but instead he pushed her away. When she saw the excitement in his eyes, she bared her teeth slightly. It wasn’t the kind of excitement she had been hoping for. That distant look had become as familiar to her as her own hand. She could almost see his imagination flaring. He focused back on her when he heard her growl, and blushed. "Now's probably not the best time to make those changes, is it?" "No." He smiled and pulled her back against his chest. "I'll work on it later," he said. He started to nuzzle at her neck, then bit down on her collar. Hard. Kalara felt her blood start to race. She pulled back slightly, her eyes flaring, lips pulling back to bare her teeth. To her delight, he snarled back. She started to rock her hips against his and had just moved in to bite his lip when the intercom sounded. She hissed, frustrated. She thought about ignoring it, but her honor wouldn't allow her to. What if it were important? What if the ship was in danger? She sighed. "Kalara here." Ba'el Sarine's voice was the last thing she expected to hear. "Sorry to disturb you, Lieutenant-Commander. I know you're not on duty yet, but I wonder if you would mind joining me in Main Engineering. There is something here I think you would like to see." Kalara hesitated a moment before answering, part of her wanting to remind Sarine that she didn't work for him. Finally, though, her sense got the better of her emotions and she dropped her head. "Yes Captain. Give me five minutes and I'll be right there." "Thank you, Lieutenant-Commander. Sarine out." She sighed again as the intercom cut off. The last thing she wanted to do was face Ba'el Sarine so early in the morning, but he was captain of Redemption, however she felt about him. Looking down at Damien, she saw a hint of dismay in his eyes. Reaching around, she cupped the back of his head in her hand and drew his face up towards her. Her mouth opened and she sucked his lower lip in between her teeth, biting down hard. She felt the flesh give way, then the taste of blood. He moaned softly as she let go of him. The fire she felt in her belly was reflected in his eyes. "We'll continue this later," she promised. "We'd better." As slowly as she could, she climbed off of him, leaving the sheet pooled on his lap, and then began to walk back to the bedroom. She stopped halfway there and turned her head, seeing his eyes locked on her body. She smiled. "I thought you had work to do." "Hmm - wait what?" His eyes focused on her face, and he smiled. "Yeah. Work. That's what I'm going to be thinking about." She smiled at him, then headed into the bedroom to get dressed.