Dark Territory: Childhood's End

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by DarKush, Jun 25, 2018.

  1. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    Author's Note: This is a work in progress. I'm over halfway through so I feel confident I will finish this story. "Childhood's End" owes a big debt to fellow UT writer Bry Sinclair's Border Cutter Silverfin story "Bright New Day." I appreciate the help I've gotten from Bry, Dave Falkayn, and other UT writers in the creation of this story.

    Historian's Note: The majority of this story takes place after the DS9 episode "The Die is Cast", the VOY episode "Cold Fire", and the Dark Territory story "Staring into the Abyss."


    DARK TERRITORY:


    CHILDHOOD’S END



    PROLOGUE



    In the 21st century…



    The couple walked together but had never been further apart. They sauntered through the crowds, but never mingled with them. It was impossible, truly, to do so. Instead they talked to each other, their voices low, their tones insistent.

    “I advise against this course of action,” the man replied.

    The woman ignored him. Instead she pulled back the sheer scarf covering her mouth. It was made of the same material as the garments she wore. The man wore similar, off-white, loose fitting clothes. “Is it not a sacrilege to assume their guise. We are their gods after all.”

    The man frowned. “You shouldn’t talk like that.”

    The woman smiled, but there was no mirth in the gesture. “Why not?” She shrugged before chuckling bitterly. “They’ve come to calling us their caretakers.”

    “Caretaker,” the man corrected, a habit that sometimes even annoyed him. “They assume there is just one of us.”

    “Another example of how limited their imaginations are,” the woman declared, “And we’ve done them no favors, taking care of them all this time. Not giving them a true fighting chance.”

    “How can you say that?” The man was aghast. He noticed that his outburst had drawn attention. He moved in closer to the woman and lowered both his head and his voice. He repeated the question. Before she replied, he gestured at the facsimile Coolfire Mountains, like the surface landmark, off in the distance. “Look at their engineering ingenuity.”

    “We’ve limited them,” the woman said with a damnable certainty. “First, we doomed their world, and then we’ve kept them in a perpetual state of dependence…like children.”

    The man grimaced. She was right, but so was he. “This is the least we can do, to ease their burdens, many of which we caused.”

    The woman nodded, “That is correct, but we could be hurting them further.”

    “What do you propose?” The man forced himself to keep his tone level. “That we bring them with us to the array, that we relocate them to another planet?” These were old arguments, but they nonetheless aroused ancient frustrations. “You know as well as I what is out there in the depths.”

    “Of course, I do,” the woman said. She grew silent and the man welcomed it. They walked on a while longer, looking at the blissfully unaware among them going about their lives. With the energy and materials, they had provided, the people had built and maintained an impressive subterranean metropolis. Seeing it made him feel a pang of pride…like that of any proud…parent. The thought troubled him.

    *You see I am right* The boastful thought slid into his mind. He glowered at the woman and she returned his glaring with a triumphant smile.

    “I could stop you,” the man stated, the words paining him.

    “You could try,” the woman replied. “But you would not. Let me give some of these people a chance. In millennia or so perhaps we can meet again and compare our work.”

    The man’s smile was sad. “I don’t want you to go.”

    “I don’t want to leave, but I must,” she declared. “I owe it to them. This is how I pay our debt.”

    The man nodded. He had long resisted, though his certainty had been crumbling for decades. Looking out at the placid people, he didn’t merely see happiness, he saw a static society, a sterile one, a civilization inviting a different kind of death. He had committed himself to saving these people whose planet he had devastated. If letting some of them go was a way to do that he had to allow it.

    *I will no longer stand in your way* He sent the surrender into her mind.

    Smiling, she held forward an open palm. He placed his against the cool, simulated flesh. “You will never be far from my thoughts,” she promised.

    He replied, his heart breaking as he did so, “Nor you from mine Suspiria.”

    ******************************************************************
     
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  2. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    ******************************************************************


    PART ONE: THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK


    Sanctuary, Ocama City Station

    Dynae System, Delta Quadrant

    2372



    “Eloy and Graf have been in orbit at The Meeting Place for two months straight now,” the hard, young man stated, “And it has been a year since Suspiria has left us, ascending with Tanis. We are without our Giver or our administrator.”

    “All of that is true,” the elder replied, “But what you propose is…madness. Finding the ‘Ship of Death’ to exact revenge,” the seventeen-year-old shook his head, “They are vengeance!”

    “They can’t do what we can,” the younger man tapped his temple. The man’s mental powers were quite impressive, as were the other youths he had assembled.

    “Don’t be so sure about that,” the elder let slip, his cheeks flushing at that. The younger man was quick. He didn’t need to read his mind to arrive at the answer.

    “So, it is true, there was another of our kind aboard their vessel!” Jovin demanded.

    “How is that possible?” the slowest among them asked. Ripples of disquiet filled the council chamber.

    “Did they kidnap one of our cousins after murdering the Caretaker?” A councilor raised. The man glared at the woman. She was the mother of the rebel leader, and he saw where the stripling got his obstinance from.

    “Traitor,” hissed another younger upstart. She stood firmly at the lead malcontent’s side.

    “So, I am correct old man,” the chief rebel folded his arms across his broad chest. “Somehow, they captured one of our own, and she is the one that likely led them here.”

    “They’ve forced her to work for them,” the hisser had suddenly lost her venom.

    “We’ve got to free her!” The slow one spoke up. “The Giver promised that we would be free from harm. That the universe was teeming with those who would misuse our gifts.”

    The elder shook his head again. “You invite death. As Administrator Pro Tempore, I cannot allow this.”

    “You act as if am asking your permission,” the younger man smirked.

    “Jovin,” the other incorrigible admonished him, which gave the elder a bit of relief that not all the youth had forgotten their manners, or their place.

    “Only a handful of us will leave, we will go in search of this Voyager,” he sighed, as he then added, “but we will not destroy them. We will bring them back here to answer for their crimes,” Jovin declared. “Perhaps they stole the Giver’s technology. Without the Giver’s touch, our lives will become short again, like those of our ancestors, before we received the blessings.”

    “We know much about expanding our lifespan,” finally a member of the council spoke up. “We can survive without the Giver.” The shocking assertion caused a flurry of charges and recriminations. The elder placed his head in his hands.

    *Next time you wish to help Gitte, don’t*, he sent the thought straight at her. The chastened woman didn’t respond. “Jovin,” the pro tempore pleaded, “I knew your parents, even your grandparents. Don’t do this. All of us need to band together at this moment. Our society is fracturing.”

    “Pro Tempore,” Jovin dimmed his fire. He dipped his head respectfully. “We will not be long from Sanctuary. We’ll search the surrounding systems for Voyager, and if we can’t find the ship, we will return.” The haughty mask completely dropped and the elder saw, and was moved, by the anger, desperation, sorrow, and need in the man’s gray eyes. “We have to do this. The youth need an outlet, and it’s best that we are out there instead of in here now.” His smirk returned, “Besides the hope that we can find the Voyager, that we can bring them back, and make them accountable could help bind our people together, especially if you sanction our sojourn.”

    The elder mulled it over. He sighed, his shoulders sagging. “And you are in support of this granddaughter?” The previously hissing younger woman nodded in affirmation. The man’s heart thudded, remembering her mother.

    The pro tempore pulled up to his full height and filled his lungs with air to make the pronouncement more stentorian. “You have my sanction…but Jovin do not tarry. I want to see my granddaughter again in three months’ time.”

    “Three months?” Jovin was aghast. “That’s barely enough time to cover one sector, much less all of the ones surrounding us.”

    “Do you want official sanction or not?” The pro tempore stood firmly.

    Jovin’s eyes flashed with defiance. But the man turned to his compatriots. They slowly nodded in agreement, with the elder’s daughter being one of the last holdouts. He exhaled with relief when her spiked platinum blonde head jerked up and down.

    Turning back to the elder, Jovin’s eyes still held embers of revolt. But he said, tightly, “Three months.”

    *****************************************************************

    Ocampan Shuttle Coolfire

    Three months later….


    “My grandfather will be sending vessels, if he hasn’t already,” the woman’s tone was light, but firm.

    Jovin swiveled around in the cockpit chair. He placed a big smile on his face. “Vilissa, you have too much of that old Calogun dog’s blood in your veins.”

    Vilissa frowned at him. “Do not insult my grandfather, or me!” She turned from him.

    “Wait,” Jovin called out. He quickly put the shuttle on autopilot and jumped from the seat. The woman’s back was still turned from him. He gently took her shoulders. “Listen, I’m sorry, I can be abrasive, and obtuse at times.”

    “I know that very well,” the woman muttered.
    “It’s just…we are so close,” Jovin replied. “I can feel it.”

    Vilissa turned to face him again. Jovin’s breath hitched as it sometimes did when he was too close to her. Vilissa was as a tall as him, slender, but strong, with pearlescent skin topped off by short, spiky white-blonde hair. The two made for a striking contrast with his inky dark hair and olive complexion. Jovin stroked one of the woman’s long ears and then massaged her cheek. She sighed.

    She kissed the palm of his hand. “I think you are projecting a belief in lieu of evidence,” she said softly.

    “How can you say that?” Jovin was exasperated. He pulled away from her. Now it was Vilissa who gingerly took him by the biceps and turned him around. She wanted him to face her, to literally face the truth. Deep down he knew it, but that made him dig his heels in further.

    “We’ve heard stories, and little more,” she replied. “Clues here and there, but we are no closer to finding Voyager.”

    “What of Toda’s idea that we return to our ancestral home?” Jovin offered, knowing he was grasping at straws.

    “You haven’t been practicing your mental disciplines like you should,” Vilissa chided, “If you’re seriously taking suggestions from Toda. We barely have enough supplies to return to Sanctuary, much less make the journey to the homeworld.”

    “We’ve supplemented our foodstuffs and other provisions before from the worlds we’ve visited,” Jovin countered.

    “Through bartering,” Vilissa pointed out, “But what else do we have to trade?”

    Jovin had no answer so he shrugged and put on his best smile. “Just one more week?” He smiled so hard he thought his face would crack as both waited each other out.

    When Vilissa crossed her arms and scowled at him, Jovin knew he had won, but he kept his expression neutral. “If I didn’t love you….”

    “What’s not to love?” Jovin asked.

    “Don’t push it,” Vilissa warned. “One more week is seven days too long, but I can never tell you no.”

    “I can recall a few times when you did,” Jovin smirked. He chuckled after Vilissa responded to that with an exaggerated eye-roll.

    “I don’t see how one more week, just one more, is going to hurt,” she offered, “Except your ego when we don’t find Voyager, like all the other times.”

    “You never know,” Jovin replied. “The Giver might be in a munificent mood once more.”

    “Careful Jovin, you speak too recklessly of Suspiria,” Vilissa shook her head in disapproval.

    “Well, I could’ve thought it, but she reads our thoughts too,” Jovin shrugged. “And you’re starting to sound like your grandfather.”

    “You should start respecting the gifts we have been given,” Vilissa riposted. “Like your parents.”

    Now Jovin rolled his eyes. His parents were both in the clergy and had strongly disapproved of his quest. They were more content to wait until infinity, if necessary, for Suspiria’s return. He was not looking forward to seeing their self-righteous expressions when he returned.

    But he would deal with that reunion when the time came. He smirked as he moved closer to the woman and embraced her. Vilissa resisted for only a heartbeat before folding into his arms. “Even if we don’t find Voyager, I can think of a few other things we could do in the meantime, until we reach Sanctuary.”

    “You’re so anxious for me to enter elogium,” Vilissa shook her head, her tone disapproving.

    “Of course, I am,” Jovin said. “I want offspring.”

    “We could’ve already begun that process if we were home,” Vilissa pointed out. Jovin merely frowned.

    “That’s true, however imagine what stories we can now tell our children. We have seen beings, been to worlds, that no other Ocampa has,” Jovin countered. Vilissa pursed her lips. He kissed those twisted lips until they reshaped to match his.

    Jovin closed his eyes, savoring the kiss. He was so glad to be mated to a woman like Vilissa, a person who shared his cold fire for life. He was still deep into the kiss when his mate suddenly pulled away. “What?” He asked, surprised. The proximity alert blared as in response. Still confused, Jovin turned back toward the cockpit instrument panel.

    “What’s that?” Vilissa pointed a long, pale finger at the main viewport. A coruscating ribbon of energy had appeared…. from nowhere. It was growing exponentially, like a hungry mouth splitting open the great void itself.

    Jovin rushed to the controls. Not even sitting down, he sought to alter course. “Damn it,” he spat, looking back at Vilissa. His mate was terrified. He wasn’t certain if it was because of the energy ribbon or his expression because even he felt all the blood drained from his face. He must have looked like death to her. The words he said next hollowed him out inside. “I-I can’t reverse course. It’s pulling us in…”

    ******************************************************************
     
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  3. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    ******************************************************************

    2373

    Delta Quadrant



    “Are we really going to just let them die?” The excitable young man asked from the operations console. On the viewer space lit up with explosions as the hulking patrol vessel bore down on a battered shuttlecraft. So far, the attacking ship hadn’t landed a solid blow, but it was only a matter of time before it cripple the smaller ship and overtook it.

    “Yes,” the first officer said without hesitation, drawing a reproachful glare from the aghast operations officer.

    “As disagreeable as that statement is, it is the logical course of action,” the security officer concluded. “If we reveal ourselves at this juncture we will forfeit our present sanctuary.”

    “Repairs from the latest skirmish with the Krowtonan Guard have not been completed,” the executive officer pointed out, “And now you want a rematch? We can’t risk another engagement so soon.”

    “We also forgo our opportunity to explore the ruins on this moon in greater detail,” the security officer seemed to be working in unusual concert with the first officer. “The ruins might yet yield answers about the Ceteans and their zero-point energy-based technology. This is the most…promising lead we’ve discovered thus far that could shorten our journey back to the Alpha Quadrant significantly.” Ever since they had heard of stories of an advanced species that had harnessed zero-point energy to build a network of intergalactic gateways, many among the crew had become fixated on finding an actual Cetean gateway or any Cetean ruins for any leftover technology or clues that could assist them. The Engineering and Operations departments had been working day and night coming up with solutions to integrate the ground state energy into the ship’s systems. The captain also confessed to a scientific curiosity about the nebulous aliens. She wondered what had happened to them and hoped there were lessons she could apply to avoid her crew suffering any similar fate, if tragic. Perhaps it was a foolish pipedream, but she was glad to focus on something besides their dire circumstances.

    “The moon has been scraped clean,” the operations officer shot back. “If the Ceteans left anything of value there, it’s long since been taken.”

    “I can’t believe we are sitting up here entertaining watching a shuttle get pulverized by the Krowtonans,” the pilot swiveled in his seat, his glare accusatory. “We know, better than most, how merciless they are.”

    “He’s right,” the operations officer chimed in. The two had grown close since becoming lost in the Delta Quadrant.

    “The Krowtonans rarely patrol this sector,” the first officer countered, “and we have been fortunate that we have avoided their recent sweeps. We won’t be so fortunate if we announce ourselves to them.”

    The captain weighed all the information, processing the different options, the multiple variables as quickly as possible. She stilled her own fears and doubts as she stood up. She tugged down the front of her tunic, which had suddenly become constricting. She looked around the darkened bridge, making eye contact with as many of the bridge crew as she could.

    They had been through a lot. And she knew they would all have to go through much more if they had even an inkling of a chance to see home again. She paused while looking at her first officer. “Raise shields, power weapons, and propulsion,” she said, proud that her voice didn’t crack. Turning from the man to look out at the stars ahead of them, and the mauling unfolding before them, she added, “Helm, lay in an intercept course.”

    ******************************************************************

    Shuttle Coolfire


    Despite the rumbling of the blasts and the blaring of klaxons and alarms, all that Jovin heard was the wailing of his child. His attention was torn between maneuvering the ship to looking back at his daughter.

    “Is she alright Lumi?” He asked, Nivian’s peals of terror ripping at his comra. The red-haired woman nodded, holding the child tightly against her bosom. Jovin knew that Lumi would gladly give her life to protect his child.

    To prevent either such horrific outcome, her twin Lupin was at what passed for a weapons console. The shuttle’s armaments were sparse and used mainly to provide enough distraction to get away from an adversary.

    Unfortunately, their fuel supply was low and all they had was impulse engines. Jovin have suspected that these tormentors were merely toying with them. Even though he knew it was fruitless he shouted, “Toda, give me power!”

    There was some grumbling and then a rash, angry reply, *Doing the best I can! *

    *I understand* Jovin thought in return. *Continue working at it. *

    The ship rattled again, breaking their mental link. Jovin did his best to shut his daughter’s cries out of his mind. He had to one more pursuer to elude. They had encountered many similar territorial or avaricious species on their journey, and this would be another to add to the list. One that he and Toda could share a Kesatian ale over as they regaled Nivian with a slightly embellished tale of their exploits.

    He jerked the ship with such force that Lumi gasped. It distracted him enough to move too sluggishly to avoid the next hit from the Krowtonan vessel. Thunder rolled across the dorsal section and Jovin didn’t need to look at any instrument to know they had lost all shielding. Looking the instrument panel would’ve been fruitless anyway since it had gone dark.

    Nivian’s cries had grown soft as if she sensed some great moment of doom hung over them all. The Krowtonan ship swung around to face them. Jovin was daunted by the ship’s curving hull which bristled with weapons.

    Lupin came to stand beside Jovin. He placed a meaty hand on Jovin’s shoulder. “We did our best,” the dejected man replied. Jovin squeezed his hand and looked up at him. He managed a smile. Here Lupin was trying to lessen his fear when he needed support himself.

    Jovin got out of his chair. Without prompting, Lumi brought Nivian over to him. He gently took the wriggling child and cradled her in his arms. He looked at Lumi and then her brother. He said loudly enough for Toda also to hear, “Whatever happens next, we will face it together.”

    Seconds later he felt this strange tingling all over his body, raising even the hairs on his arms. There was a mild shock, but no pain. And then there was this unnerving whine, and Jovin looked down and saw that his lower half was longer there. He looked wildly at Lumi and then…Lupin was gone.

    “No,” he screamed, placing Nivian, who had begun squalling again on the seat, a vain effort to protect her. He just hoped that whatever was happening to Lupin, him, and now Lumi would not befall Toda and his daughter.

    He was looking at his daughter, burning her image into his mind before he was completely devoured.

    ******************************************************************


    “Got them,” the transporter chief announced.

    “Keep us moving helm,” the captain ordered, unable to keep from smiling with satisfaction and relief, “Punch it, maximum warp.”

    “The engines can’t take that,” the first officer warned.

    “They’ll have to,” she shot back. “We’ve got to get the hell away from that patrol ship.”

    “Krowtonan Guard patrol ship is pursuing,” the tactical officer calmly replied, that cool Vulcan reserve more exasperating than reassuring this time.

    The captain rattled off various instructions, hoping she got the attack patterns correct. In between orders she sent a message, “Computer, activate EMH in Sickbay and inform him we have some new arrivals on board that likely need his attention.”

    “They won’t be the only ones seeing the good doctor today,” the first officer said ominously.

    “Serving in Starfleet means sometimes you have to put the good of the many over the good of the few.”

    “An apt aphorism,” the security officer had to admit.

    “I am not a member of Starfleet,” the executive officer shot back.

    “For the duration of this mission you are,” the captain returned fire. “It’s what you agreed to. And you will adhere to that agreement or we can leave on the nearest inhabitable planet.”

    “Why don’t we just hand Mr. Sunshine over to the Krowtonans?” The helmsman opined.

    “This is not how we do things,” her number one huffed, crossing his arms.

    “Well, think of it as a teachable moment,” the captain said. The ship rattled. “Status report,” she demanded.

    “Krowtonan Guard ship scored a hit, but no damage, or weakening of shields,” the Vulcan replied.

    “Yet,” the XO muttered.

    The captain rolled her eyes. “Ye of little faith.”

    The man’s expression was wounded. “I am most devout,” he replied.

    The captain tapped his arm. “It’s just a saying,” she shrugged. “I meant no offense.”

    The ship shuddered more forcefully this time, causing the bridge’s lights to dim. “How bad?” The captain asked.

    “Two direct hits, shields are down 10%,” the security officer replied.

    The operations officer added, “Minimal damage and no casualties.”

    The captain breathed a sigh of relief. “Helm, keep us on a course out of this space, and if you can avoid taking as many hits from that vessel as possible.”

    “Doing what I can captain,” he said through clenched teeth. She knew without the man’s skills they would’ve been taken a lot more hits at this point, but still she had to ask for more. That was her role now, to demand the best and then to top the best.

    “Perhaps we should turn around and engage the Krowtonans instead of evading it,” the first officer suggested. “The only thing these reprobates understand is force.”

    “Force is your go-to solution for every problem it seems,” the captain replied. “No, we want to avoid conflict as much as possible. If we stay ahead of the Krowtonans they will eventually grow tired of pursuing us.”

    “It’s is more likely that they will not enter the neighboring space, which belongs to the Dark Market.” The captain nodded in agreement about that. They hadn’t learned much about the Dark Market beyond that they controlled over several sectors of space. They were obviously formidable enough that even the dogmatic Krowtonan Guard avoided trespassing into their territory. The captain hadn’t looked forward to traversing their space and wished they could’ve found out more information about Cetean technology to avoid encountering them, but she had little time for regrets now.

    “A space we’re galloping right into,” groused the helmsman.

    ******************************************************************
     
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  4. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    I like what I see so far. Beyond Voyager and Equinox, I’ve always been curious about what happened to the other ships and crews kidnapped by the Caretaker.
     
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  5. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    ******************************************************************


    He was alive! He couldn’t believe it. Jovin ran his hands over his body and then looked around him. The rest of his friends were there. Lumi was bending down to retrieve Nivian, who was strangely quiet. The infant had her arms open, ready to be picked up.

    The circular stand they were all standing on had been glowing. The room was cold, the room, small and dim. There was a standing console facing them, operated by blue-hued being of a species he had never seen before. There were two other beings in the room, closer to the pad. They looked almost like Ocampa, except their ears were much shorter. However, the darksome man’s ears were shorter than an Ocampa, they were tapered.

    *Where are we? * Toda thought.

    *These aren’t Krowtonans* Jovin stated. *They’re not reptilians*

    *They aren’t Outriders either* Lupin added. *They are unmasked*

    *Who are they? * Lumi added. In response, Lupin flexed his muscles and took a step forward. Jovin reached out and placed a hand on the man’s chest as the Ocampan-looking men drew small, boxy looking devices that they waved like weapons.

    The dark-hued man put his weapon away. “We mean you no harm,” he said.

    “Where are we? Who are you?” Jovin asked.

    “It’s them,” Toda yelped, “It’s the Voyagers!”

    The pointed eared man frowned slightly and tilted his head. “Are you referring to the Starship Voyager?” He looked to his companion. The other man shrugged.

    Lupin grumbled and Lumi clutched Nivian so tightly that the baby shrieked. Jovin glared at the aliens, noting their uniforms, which were like the ones he had heard that the Voyagers wore. He pinned the man who has spoken to them, with his glare, but also his mind. *Who are you?! *

    The blue man and the man with the shortest ears both grabbed their heads, grimacing as they dropped to their knees. The pointed eared man grimaced but he remained standing. He reached for his weapon. Jovin hit him with another thought. *Don’t move! * He demanded.

    The others joined in, forcing the man to his knees, his hands splayed out at this sides, so he couldn’t grab his weapon even if he somehow resisted their mental control. The Ocampans stepped from the pad. Lupin immediately disarmed the aliens.

    He handed one weapon to Jovin while inspecting the other. Jovin stuffed it into his belt. He could examine it later.

    Lumi, still holding a wiggling Nivian, approached the blue man. She bent over him. The man began to shriek as Jovin felt her digging into his mind. “He’s from the Alpha Quadrant…”

    “They are the Voyagers!” Toda shouted, his voice filled with excitement and dread.

    “Stop,” the dark man said through clenched teeth. Jovin nodded in surprise and appreciation. The man’s mental shielding was quite strong. So far Jovin had not been able to break his mental walls.

    Lupin had grabbed the other benighted man, staring into his tear-filled eyes as he probed his mind. The man wailed with pain. He placed the pilfered weapon against the man’s temple.

    The ship shook violently, which broke the mental hold they had on the crew. “We’re under attack,” Lumi looked up, confusion and fear on her face. There was more furious thudding. The lights blinked.

    Jovin turned back to the pointed-eared man. “Why have you kidnapped us?! Are the Krowtonans in pursuit of you as well?!”

    The man moved quickly, touching the junction of his shoulder and neck. Jovin returned to the darkness.

    ******************************************************************

    “If the EMH could materialize in the brig he would be strenuously objecting to this,” the captain replied as she gingerly placed the last of the delta-wave inducers onto the forehead of the insensate child. She felt a twinge of guilt at that. “If things weren’t so awry, I would be lodging a complaint against the commanding officer myself.”

    “You can’t file a reprimand against yourself,” the gunner’s mate grinned, “Or can you?”

    The captain chuckled at that. “Good question. You know, I’m still new at this.”

    “And doing an excellent job by the way,” the first officer opined, souring the mood. The man was oblivious to the gunner mate’s scowl. The XO was too entranced by the psycho-tricorder wielded by the Vulcan security officer. The ebon-hued man had apprehended the hostile telepaths, incurring only minor injuries. Once again, the captain was in awe of the man.

    “This device actually monitors brainwave patterns?” The first officer’s voice was limned with more excitement than she had heard before, and that made the captain’s stomach flutter with concern. “This psycho-tricorder monitors brainwave patterns?”

    “Correct,” the Vulcan said tightly. “Generally, this device is used in diagnosing mental ailments.” The first officer looked at the captain for confirmation. She forced herself not to smile as the Vulcan shifted and set his jaw in frustration at his word not being believed.

    She nodded, unable to speak, afraid her chuckle would escape. “Fascinating,” the first officer replied. One of the security officer’s eyebrows arched so high at the expression that the captain couldn’t help but chuckle.

    “What readings did it the tricorder yield?” The captain inquired, as she sought to wipe away the two men’s curious expressions at her bit of levity.

    The security officer raised an eyebrow again, this time less comically. “Each being possesses high levels of psionic energy.”

    “Any idea who they are?” The gunner’s mate barreled in. “What species they come from?”

    The captain shook her head. “We haven’t encountered any beings that resembled them before.”

    “How the mukkup they knew about Voyager?” The gunner’s mate grumbled.

    “That’s some welcome good news. At least we know now that Voyager survived, and somehow wound up in the Delta Quadrant,” the captain replied. “Just like Equinox. Sounds like the party is just getting bigger,” she darkly added.

    “They are all still just as stranded as we are,” the first officer said. The gunner’s mate grabbed the man by the throat, cutting off him from uttering another word. He lifted the man with one treelike arm.

    “Was it more of your kinds’ doing?!” He demanded. The first officer struggled, hitting futilely against the mate’s arm. He became even paler. The large man looked at the unconscious aliens and then back at the squirming, gasping first officer. “They all have long, upswept ears.” He drew the man in close, one of his tusks nicking the wheezing first officer and drawing blood. He held the man back out again.

    “Put him down chief,” The captain said, locking onto her friend’s bicep. “Do it now!” She added with force.

    “Not until he answers my question,” her old friend replied.

    “Are you disobeying a direct order?” She challenged.

    “He knows something,” her friend snarled.

    “Even if he did, he can’t talk with your hand around his throat!” The captain riposted. “Put him down, now!”

    The gunner’s mate dropped the first officer. The assaulted man wobbled but didn’t fall. His face still pallid, he gulped in air greedily, though his eyes stared daggers at the gunner’s mate.

    “If you were on my vessel,” he threatened.

    “But we’re not, are we?” The gunner’s mate crossed his arms. “And even if we were, you wouldn’t be doing the deed. You don’t have the krughts for that.” The accosted man rubbed his throat while he continued glaring.

    The captain stepped in front of the flaring gunner’s mate. “Are you okay? Are you injured?” She asked her first officer, glancing back scornfully at the still fuming mate. She reached out to her number one, but the man drew back, hissing low in his throat, with his deep violet eyes roiled with fury.

    “Don’t touch me!” He rasped, before rubbing his throat. The captain stood up and glared at the gunner’s mate again.

    “Do you need medical assistance?” The captain asked the injured man. “I’ll have the EMH ready to receive you.” She made to tap her compin.

    “No, no,” the man said, “I would rather suffer a crushed larynx than to have to deal with that insufferable hologram again.”

    “Pot calling the kettle black,” the gunner’s mate muttered, which drew her attention back to the assaulter. He winked at her, certain that she would appreciate his use of an Old Earth phrase.

    “Chief Hoss, you’re confined to quarters until further notice,” was her reply.

    “But…captain,” the man began, but she cut him off with a sharp hand wave.

    “Don’t want to hear it,” she replied. “If you don’t leave now, I’ll have Mr. Hakan place you in one of the cells.”

    The mountainous Tellarite looked at the placid Vulcan, as if assessing if he could take the man, or be taken. Uncharacteristic for him, Hoss gave up without an argument. He stomped out of the cell.

    “I’m sorry about that,” the captain said, turning back to her first officer. The man was still rubbing his throat. She could see that it was already starting to bruise, an angry purple, much darker than the man’s eyes.

    Anger smoldered in his eyes, but he said, “It is alright. It is…understandable. The fact that I am still living, after all this time, is a commendable example of the crew’s restraint….and your leadership.”

    The captain merely nodded, not sure if the man was telling the truth or merely currying favor. She often cautioned herself about not trusting him, and she regretted all over again the decision to place him as her number one, over her own.

    But the situation they were all in demanded some unconventional choices. She just hoped she hadn’t doomed her crew. She took a closer look at the man and then back at the sleeping aliens. “Hoss was correct, you do favor them.”

    The first officer rubbed one ear. “My hearing organs are attached to my head, and while that species does possess elongated ears, they resemble Lieutenants Hakan’s or T’Rithu’s more than mine.”

    The captain took a longer look at the aliens and concurred with the first officer. Vulcanoid ears were more pointed though. And the aliens skin tones resembled varying shades of Earth Caucasians than the death warmed over pallor of the Vorta.

    While she continued gazing at them, her number one took up station beside her. He looked down at them as well. “We should eject them into space immediately,” he said, without emotion.

    The captain was taken aback, though she shouldn’t have been. “How, how can you say that?!”

    “We only saw an inkling of what they are capable of, which nearly resulted in the deaths of three members of your-our-crew,” the man replied. “If not for the quick actions of Lt. Hakan, which took them by surprise, they would already be in control of this vessel and we might all be dead. I doubt that we will have the element of surprise the second time.”

    “I’m not going to kill these people,” the captain said, putting her foot down for emphasis. “It goes against everything I believe, all my training.”

    “Yes, your training as a Starfleet medic,” the Vorta rejoined. “But you are no longer in that position. You are now captain and trust me, captains have to be ruthless.”

    “Just because you murdered your crew,” she flared at him, “Don’t think I would do the same.”

    “These aliens are not your crew,” the Vorta didn’t back down. “They are hostiles who attacked your crew. And if I had not poisoned the Jem’Hadar they would’ve eventually run out of ketracel-white and slaughtered you, me, and themselves. What I did…was merciful.”

    The captain shuddered at the idea of Dominion “mercy”. Even though Maron had agreed to wear a Starfleet combadge he had a very long way to go before understanding, much less adopting, Federation values.

    “First Supervisor Maron’s course of action is the most logical,” Hakan chimed in.

    “Not you too Mr. Hakan,” she chided the security officer.

    Hakan was unperturbed. “We have no technology that can block telepathic transmissions. Once these people awaken there will be no way to contain them.”

    “I just didn’t risk this ship, and lose our chance to study that moon’s ruins, to murder these people, and a child.”

    “Actually, you did,” Maron countered. His voice was neutral but his look accusatory.

    The captain glared at him. “I’m not killing them. And with their shuttle destroyed in the melee, the option to beam them back to their ship is out.”

    “We could supply them with one of our shuttlecraft,” Hakan offered.

    “No,” Maron shook his head.

    “I concur with the Vara’toran,” the captain said, using the man’s Dominion rank in his own tongue. He dipped his head in respect. “Our resources are too scarce to give up a shuttle.”

    Hakan nodded, blissfully accepting her reasoning without a rejoinder. The captain sighed with relief. It felt like her crew spent as much time challenging her as she did doubting herself.

    “We’ll them into stasis for the meantime,” the captain said.

    “That’s more use of our energy sources,” Maron pointed out. “We don’t know when will be able to replenish our supplies.”

    “Fair,” the captain, “But this is what we’re going to do.” She looked squarely at her first officer. “Maybe this Dark Market isn’t as bad as we’ve heard, and we can do some trading with them.”

    ****************************************************************
     
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  6. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Nice way to start things off here. A bit jarring at first with what I'm assuming must have been some sort of reality shift early on. Also clever play on characters, making me initially believe that we are following Voyager when we are clearly not.

    Talking about Voyager, the crew of this, so far unnamed vessel, will have a challenge ahead of them far greater than Voyager ever had. I mean forget about a Starfleet/Maquis integration, this first officer is a cold, ruthless Vorta and from the sounds of it, the captain is inexperienced and unproven. Something tells me this will not be a smooth ride.

    Looking forward to more.
     
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  7. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    ****************************************************************



    PART TWO: THE POOL OF TEARS





    USS Jaeger

    Cargo Bay Three


    Megan Kilburn touched the frigid transparent glass of the stasis unit. She looked down at the unconscious woman nestled within it. Her predecessor had never looked so peaceful when she had been awake.

    Megan wished that Commander Rinnoula was conscious now. She would know what to do about the aliens who had been placed in stasis chambers beside hers. But the Saurian’s injuries were too severe. The captain had suffered a major neural metaphasic shock after they had been seized by the displacement wave that had spat them into the Delta Quadrant.

    With Jaeger coming apart at the struts, systems failing throughout the vessel, while Jem’Hadar soldiers were still onboard, madly pursuing their mission to seize the vessel. They had become even more determined once they accepted the revelation that they had been ripped from Dominion space and thrown halfway across the galaxy.

    Eventually Maron had seen reason, even if he responded in an utterly bloodthirsty way. The Dominion was everything the rumors had said and yet still worse. Kilburn hoped that the Federation could avert war with the Dominion.

    She hoped that the example of integrating Maron into the ship as first officer would prove that both the Federation and the Dominion could peacefully coexist. But that would be all for naught if they couldn’t return home in time to silence the drumbeats of war.

    Megan could kick herself for giving up their most promising lead to save the benighted shuttle. But what else was she supposed to do? She asked herself, though she looked down at the captain’s placid countenance. She often came here to ‘talk’ to Rinnoula, determined to seek her guidance even if she had to pretend.

    I put our necks on the line and they repay us by trying to kill my security team, she shook her head and threw a hard look at the insensate aliens. She focused on the dark-haired man, who appeared to be the leader. Even in stasis he looked restive, tense, as if he was fighting nightmares.

    Her anger dissolved. She didn’t know what the shuttle’s inhabitants had encountered. It hadn’t been an easy ride for the Jaeger, and she was on a more formidable vessel than their dinghy.

    They had encountered several hostile species in addition to the normal dangers of space travel, all while working to repair their damaged ship and restore it to full power, which was still a work in progress. Everything was rationed on the ship to keep the engines running.

    Megan had even restricted shower use, and she didn’t know if the stench of so many unwashed bodies could ever be scoured from the ship’s walls.

    “Sometimes I think you got the better end of this deal,” she muttered, running a hand over the stasis tube’s translucent window. Megan felt bad for voicing it, it was selfish. The only thing keeping Rinnoula alive right now was that chamber, while she was in good health with most of her faculties, at least.

    It was wrong to make light of the captain’s condition, but at the moment, Megan was too damned tried to lie. All she wanted to do was nestle herself back in her medical office, where she truly belonged.

    She was only in command because the first and second officers had been killed either in the Dominion attack or during the absconding to the Delta Quadrant. That left her as the most senior officer aboard.

    Even then she had offered the position to Hoss, who had the most experience of anyone left alive aboard Jaeger, but the crusty old Tellarite refused. He suggested, and she approved, his promotion to senior tactical officer, though the stubborn man didn’t want a change in rank.

    He was as steadfast on that as he was opposed to her elevation of Maron to first officer. But he had remained loyal and helped tamp down widespread dissent over the move.

    Megan still questioned it herself, but she felt the Vorta, with his organizational and diplomatic skills would be essential for helping them get home. In return for his assistance, Kilburn had promised she would let the man go free once they made it back to the Alpha Quadrant, another decision that didn’t go well. Not for a crew that was still hurting from the vicious assault that had killed scores of their colleagues and led to them being thrust into an entirely different quadrant.

    Kilburn looked down at the captain’s long, thin face. “And you said this was going to be a short trip….”

    ******************************************************************

    USS Jaeger

    Main Bridge

    Bajoran System

    2371



    “I was hoping to get in on some of that hot dabo action,” Lt. Rocha blurted as the starship graced past Deep Space Nine. The old Cardassian-built space station looked like it was permanently clawing both at the planet Bajor below it and at the stars above it.

    “I don’t think dabo was the only thing on your mind,” Megan quipped. The dark-haired, olive skinned man turned around from his console and winked at her.

    “Well, we did get pulled right into this after roaming the Vega-Omicron sector for the last six months. Command couldn’t even grant us a couple days at Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet.” Rocha shot back.

    The medic chuckled at that. “I thought you were banned from there, just like Risa, Vega colony, and any other establishment with minimal standards.”

    “You wound me Meggie,” the man replied, placing a hand over his heart. Megan twisted her lips in mock disapproval. Ever since the man had learned her childhood nickname he had used it to needle her.

    “The fact that we are about to enter the only stable wormhole ever discovered and travel to the Gamma Quadrant in a matter of minutes, and you’re regretting missing out on a dabo game?” Megan usually stuck to her office or Sickbay, but she couldn’t help but request being on the bridge to watch as Jaeger entered the wormhole. It was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

    “Hey, I like games of chance, what can I say?” Rocha shrugged.

    “Lieutenant, traveling to the Gamma Quadrant, through the wormhole, is the biggest ‘game of chance’ I can think of,” Megan shot back.

    “Spoken like a true homebody,” Rocha rolled his eyes.

    “Knock it off you two,” Commander Rinnoula said, punctuating the order with a chuckle. The Rocha-Kilburn rivalry, its inception buried deep within the annals of Starfleet history, had been rekindled once Lt. Rocha had joined Jaeger as senior tactical/security officer.

    Though this round of the long contest was more cordial, the jabs rarely sharp, and always good natured. It didn’t hurt that Megan found the strapping, bearded man, quite attractive. She had an inkling that Erico held similar feelings.

    “I do regret not having a chance to visit Bajor,” Moya said quietly from the science terminal. The wistfulness in the peach-hued, high-cheeked Bajoran’s voice overlaid a tinge of seriousness to the convivial atmosphere.

    “Once we’re back on this side of the galaxy, I’ll make sure we return to DS9,” the commanding officer promised. “You’ll get to visit Moya.” The science officer nodded her thanks. Lt. Moya had never set foot on the planet of her ancestors. Her grandparents had repatriated to the Federation to escape the Cardassians and she had grown up only hearing stories of the world they were passing by.

    “At least Hakata’s crew got shore leave,” Lt. Rocha said, an attempt to lighten the mood. Their smaller Saber was moving in concert with the larger Challenger-class vessel.

    “At the Academy, Albert Grace never saw a party he didn’t like, well, that was a long time ago,” the commander paused, sighed, and then said, “before…” Rinnoula stopped, and then frowned as much as her thin Saurian lips allowed. “Never mind.”

    “How is the cloak holding up?” Lt. Commander Dillingham stood up and turned to the aft engineering console.

    “As I said five minutes, 18 seconds ago, it is operating at peak efficiency,” Lt. T’Rithu glowered at the blondish, hawk-faced man. The Romulan shared the same section with Megan. The medic was still finding it hard to believe that a member of the Romulan Tal Shiar, in full dark gray uniform and black gloves, was aboard their vessel. But it was no more astounding than when Commander Rinnoula had informed them that the Romulans were placing a cloaking device aboard their vessel, overseen by the fearsome T’Rithu.

    “And you’re certain that Hakata won’t detect us, even with them providing cover for us as we both enter the wormhole?” The first officer pressed.

    The Romulan hissed, but Rinnoula held up a hand. “Alex, if you are skeptical of Lt. T’Rithu’s assessment, you can trust Chief Cobb and Lt. Tan.” Before Dillingham’s latest inquiry, the captain had checked in with the ship’s chief engineer to see if the cloaking device was in synch with the ship’s propulsion and other systems.

    “Of course,” the man said tightly. He pulled down hard on his tunic before retaking his seat. The first officer wasn’t the only member of the crew who found the presence of a Romulan officer onboard unsettling. It was another unpredictable variable in what was about to be a whole quadrant of them.

    The bridge crew settled into a comfortable silence as both ships inched toward where the wormhole was supposed to open. At the moment it looked like any other patch of the cosmos, but Megan had seen footage that proved otherwise.

    Her stomach twisted with anticipation. She tried checking in at Sickbay, but she was too excited. Megan pretended to work at her station a few minutes more before turning in her chair to stare at the main viewer. She realized she wasn’t alone. Almost everyone had stopped what they were doing to gaze at the screen except Lt. Silika at the helm.

    The young man was ably keeping pace with his counterpart aboard the Hakata. Any misstep and the Hakata or Deep Space Nine might detect their presence.

    “Here we go,” Operations Officer Tan gasped with unrestrained delight. Veronica reached over and squeezed the shoulder of the Boslic helmswoman. Silika kept at her job. A bright flash of light filled the screen and then there was a peal of thunder that roared so loudly through the ship’s intercom that it made Megan jump.

    And then, there it was, a churning, blue tunnel in the middle of space. “The Celestial Temple,” Moya muttered, and though the woman’s back was turned, Megan knew she was crying. The medic quickly joined the Bajoran, her emotions breaking forth. She had never been a religious person and she still wasn’t, though she respected Eneca’s beliefs. It was just the awe…of nature, the cosmos, or whatever it had scooped out the stars to create a tunnel between them, be they the Bajoran Prophets of legend or highly advanced wormhole aliens, that had her thunderstruck.

    “Silika, take us in,” Rinnoula said, even though the helmswoman was keeping up with the Hakata. Perhaps the Saurian just needed to assert control, or feel like she could again, after being in the presence of such wondrous phenomena.

    Megan was glad that the captain had said something, because it reminded her to breathe again. She gasped, and began sucking air into her lungs, but she kept her eyes on the wormhole. She could see coruscating bands just inside the wormhole’s maw and her stomach twisted with anticipation and dread.

    “Curiouser and curiouser,” Rocha muttered, and Megan grinned at the Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland reference. She made a mental note to ask him if the Lewis Carroll work was a favorite once they had some free time.

    “Apropos Mr. Rocha,” Rinnoula nodded, “But Carroll also wrote ‘Curiosity often leads to trouble’.”

    “I like trouble,” Rocha chuckled.

    “Let’s hope you don’t get more than you’ve bargained for,” the commander rejoined.

    Transfixed by the wormhole, the bantering barely registered for Megan. She was awash with emotions, both dread and desire for what was on the other side. But she kept her eyes open, not wishing to miss a second as they all went down the rabbit hole.

    ******************************************************************
     
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  8. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    ******************************************************************

    USS Jaeger

    Gamma Quadrant

    Six Days Later…


    “I’m surprised that you’re not cloistered in Sickbay, refilling your hypos for the billionth time,” Lt. Rocha smirked as he entered the recreation room.

    The medic slowly wound down her jog. The jibe was more accurate than the man likely realized. Nurse Rema had almost dragged out of the infirmary. Megan had been checking her medical equipment and supplies over and over, her anxiety growing the further they ventured into the Gamma Quadrant.

    She was afraid that Dominion ships would attack them at any moment, like they laid waste to the New Bajor colony or destroyed the Starship Odyssey. But after that tragedy, a simmering calm had been developed between the Federation and the Dominion. They had even allowed Starfleet to place a relay station and listening posts in the Gamma Quadrant and even some exploration.

    The Hakata was on a mission to establish trade with a species called the Perdix. The Perdix were not part of the Dominion.

    Some felt that the uneasy peace might last, that the Dominion had realized the error of their hyper-aggressive introduction and had accepted that the Federation bore them no ill will. But even Kilburn wasn’t that optimistic. She just hoped that the Jaeger made it back to the Alpha Quadrant in one piece, with no casualties. Though the secret mission they were on, to find if there were any survivors from an ill-fated Romulan and Cardassian attack on the Founders heightened the likelihood of tragedy exponentially.

    Megan took a moment before she deactivated the treadmill. She took another to catch her breath. While doing so, she toweled off her face, and arms, careful to avoid paying too much attention to the security chief.

    Like her, he was dressed in workout clothes, though muscles rippled from his tank top shirt. The medic forced herself to look at the logo running across the man’s chest and not the pecs underneath the black shirt.

    “Got an eyeful doc?” Rocha asked, his smile widening. “I feel like I’ve just had my physical exam without having to make an appointment or being told to go.”

    “Funny,” Megan frowned. “I was just reading what was written across your shirt. ‘DISCO’?”

    “Oh, yeah, it’s short for discovery, as in the Starship Discovery,” Rocha shrugged.

    “Did you serve aboard that ship? I didn’t see that in your service record.”

    “So, you’ve been reading my personnel file,” the security officer’s grin was now Cheshire size.

    “Are you going to answer my question or not?” The frustration was only half-feigned.

    “Oh, no, not that ship, I mean the Discovery from the 23rd century,” Rocha explained.

    “They put the name, or a truncated version on their sportswear?” Megan was surprised.

    Rocha shrugged, “I guess it was a thing in the 2350s. Anyway, I liked the shirt. Intrigued by that era, actually.”

    “Why?”

    “Well, it was the war with the Klingons for one,” Rocha said. “A devastating war, it claimed several of my ancestors.”

    “I’m sorry to hear that,” Megan said. She combed her memory banks for the names of the relatives who had fought in that war but drew a blank. She got those wars last century mixed up. It was all just one big ball of hate, despair, and horror, the dates not meaning much or which war her ancestors died in or were irreparably damaged.

    “Thanks,” Rocha said. “You lost kin as well,” he nodded, “Commodore Kilburn during the fall of Starbase 19, Rory Kilburn on Kelfour VI,” he shook his head, “I’m sorry for your losses as well.”

    Megan nodded solemnly before saying, “So, you’ve been digging into my past as well I see.”

    Erico’s cheeks reddened. “I guess you caught me red handed.”

    “More like red faced,” Kilburn brushed one her cheeks. Rocha’s expression contorted in confusion, before his eyes alit with understanding. He laughed.

    “Guess we’re both guilty.”

    “So, what happens now?” Megan asked, “You know all about what to do with the guilty, being a lawman and all.”

    “Yeah, we’ll, I could arrest you,” Rocha smirked again, “But I’m just as guilty as you.”

    “So, we would be sharing a cell?” Megan asked with mock innocence.

    “A tight, confining space, increases the possibility of a lot of physical contact,” Erico replied.

    “Oh?” Another dip into the mock innocence well.

    “Yeah,” Rocha walked toward her. Megan stepped down from the treadmill and met him in the middle of the room. She stopped before bumping into him.

    “I shouldn’t,” she said, “I’m all sweaty, I need a shower.”

    “Your sweat is not a turn off, believe me,” Rocha replied, adding a big wave. “I’m looking forward to working up a big lather, for us both.”

    “Sound pretty sure of yourself,” Megan pursed her lips. “Sounds just like your brother Aleixo.” Unlike Megan and Erico, their older siblings took the family rivalries more seriously. Both Aleixo and her older sister Neve had been in the same graduating class at the Academy and fierce rivals. Both were locked in a race to make it to the captain’s chair first.

    Though Megan wasn’t close to her sister, she was glad that the woman had taken up the family blood feud so that they mostly left her alone to pursue medicine. Neve and the eldest sibling Liam carried the familial banner forward.

    Megan could imagine just what Neve and Liam would say if they saw her here, now, so close to kissing a Rocha. She moved close to him and breathed in his sent. A nice cologne, mixed with a whiff of arrogance, wafted from the man’s skin.

    They stood there silently, within each other’s space, but not touching. She looked into the man’s dark eyes. He gazed back at her. Both were daring the other to make the first move. Kilburn ran a hand through her hair, her nerves getting to her. Reddish-brown strands fell over her left eye. With surprising softness, the man brushed the strands away, and restored them to where they had escaped.

    Megan’s breath hitched in her throat. “Meggie,” he said, his voice deeper now, his gaze more intent.

    “Yes,” she whispered, her heart thudding so loud it almost drained out everything.

    “I,” Rocha got out before the small room was bathed in red, and a klaxon blared, ripping apart the moment. The security officer’s tenderness receded. He stepped back from her. Megan nodded, her own training kicking in. The unspoken question about why the cloaking device had been exposed hung between them.

    “Later,” she promised.

    “Yes,” he nodded before running from the room.

    Megan charged after him but headed for the infirmary. She was already in the turbolift, heading to her destination when the captain’s voice barked over the intercom, “Battle stations!”

    ******************************************************************


    USS Jaeger

    Sickbay


    The ship rattled with such force that Megan had to grab hold to the closest biobed to remain standing. Head Nurse Rema didn’t hide her nervousness. The young Ayt was making clicking noises.

    The medic was still sweating from her workout and jog to Sickbay, and now she added nervous sweat to that mix. Megan hadn’t had time to shower, but she had quickly tossed on the extra uniform she stored in her office and threw on her white lab coat. She hoped it was enough to douse any odor from her workout.

    Megan had tried to fix her hair back into a passable bob, and whoever was attacking them wasn’t helping, each attack not only jangling her nerves but tossing her about, eliminating her attempts to keep her hairdo in line.

    “It’s going to be okay Rema,” Megan said, even though she had no right to, nor was she so certain what she said was true. But someone had to say it, some had to make the attempt to reassure Rema and the three medical technicians that comprised her staff. Jaeger only had a 40-crew complement and the medical staff’s size reflected that.

    Thunder rolled across the hull again, this time dimming the lights. A console in a far corner sparked, drawing a strangled cry from one of the techs. Megan had jumped herself.

    “What’s going on up there?” DeMilla pondered.

    “It sounds like we’re getting ripped apart,” Jurado opined.

    “That is an illogical assessment,” Stenneth replied, with extra coldness, which belied the Vulcan’s anxiety. “Structural integrity is still intact, our shielding has not collapsed, we are returning fire.”

    “Thanks for your expert opinion,” Jurado quipped.

    “Everyone, put your ships back in spacedock,” Megan said, more forcefully than she intended. But it got the desired effect. “Less sniping and more preparing. Whenever we get the call to respond or when the injured start pouring in, I want us focused on saving lives, and that’s it. Leave the pissing contests for after.”

    Stenneth tilted his head, his eyebrows knitting, his expression confused. “I do not understand the meaning of the phrase ‘pissing contest.’”

    Jurado giggled and even DeMilla cracked a smile. The Vulcan’s confusion even stopped Rema’s tongue clicking. “Olivia, explain it to him.”

    “Doc, don’t you think ah, um, DeMilla would be better suited for that?” She asked, unable to cut off a laugh. “I mean both are packing similar equipment.”

    “I packed only ceremonial clothing and articles to facilitate meditation,” Stenneth replied, his confusion deepening. “I am not privy to what Ensign DeMilla brought for the voyage,” the Vulcan turned to him, and arched an eyebrow, “But he does not appear to me a meditative person.”

    “Geez, thanks,” DeMilla said, blowing through his teeth. Everyone, except Stenneth of course, shared a laugh at that, and Kilburn was glad for the levity.

    Even in the teeth of battle her team could find something to laugh at, to bond over, and Megan had never been prouder to be part of them. She was certain they would give all to protect their fellow crewmen and that’s all she could ask of them. The drumbeat on the hull continued, growing in intensity, but her staff ignored it.

    Megan was still basking in the glow of her appreciation when the hull protecting them was split open like a melon.

    ******************************************************************
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2018
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  9. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    ******************************************************************

    USS Jaeger

    Sickbay



    She was…alive?! Megan touched her arms and shoulders, stunned she was still in one piece, and still breathing. Pain lanced her body seconds later, and the medic smiled through the pain. She had been ripped from the biobed, pulled toward the hole in the hull. Megan turned around slowly, wincing along the while to see the crackling force field that was covering the ripped-out bulkhead. Beyond that she could see debris. Her stomach curdled. “Is everyone okay?” There was no response.

    Megan forced herself to stand. Her legs wobbled, her side screamed at her. She touched it and screamed. Blood slicked her fingers. She looked down and saw a shard sticking from her side.

    But that was a secondary concern. She looked around the shattered medical bay. There was no one else but her. “No, no, no,” she muttered as she staggered to her office, hoping that her team had made it there and survived. She opened the door and stumbled in. The lights came on to reveal the office as empty as when she had left it.

    “No, no, no,” she whispered again, shaking her head against the reality. She was all that remained of her medical staff.

    Her legs giving way, Kilburn lurched toward the closest biobed. She glanced down at her wound. A million thoughts were racing through her head. The ship was still being pounded. She needed to make it to the bridge, to assist in any way she could. Sickbay was no longer safe. The force field could give way any second, sucking her and any patients who came in out into the void.

    But first, she had to take care of the metal sticking out of her side. She steeled herself and began to pull out the shard, but the pain was too great. Tears streaming down her face, her voice ragged, Megan did the one thing she vowed never to do unless she had no other choice. “Computer, activate Emergency Medical Hologram.”

    The hologram flashed into existence. He bore the form of a slender, balding middle-aged human. “Please state the nature of the medical emergency,” he said in a stiff, high-handed tone that Megan couldn’t help but roll her eyes at.

    The man quickly approached her. He looked down at her, his eyes crinkling. “Well?” He prompted.

    Kilburn tried to speak, but her tongue felt heavier than a Seltan carnosaur. The hologram took inventory, sighing. He began searching the disordered room for the appropriate medical tools. Megan had been pulled under before the hologram returned.

    ***************************************************************

    USS Jaeger

    Sickbay


    “I recommend bedrest,” the hologram said, his tone disapproving. Megan grimaced as she slid her boots off the bed. She grabbed her side. She had to admit that the holographic doctor had skillfully mended her wound.

    “There’s no time,” she said, stepping gingerly to the deck. The pain seized her up, but she fought against it. “The ship…,” her breath became ragged, “is under attack.” She cocked her head, not hearing any more thuds against the hull. Outside, the stars looked…different. But she figured it was a trick of the light. She looked at her photonic counterpart, “Are we still under attack?”

    “I wouldn’t know,” the other medic replied. “I was too occupied saving your life.”

    “Thanks,” Megan said sarcastically. The hologram, to her surprise, beamed with satisfaction. She knew that the holograms had been programmed to have a basic bedside manner, but not that it could evoke genuine emotions.

    At the moment it wasn’t something she could waste time pondering. “I’m going to the bridge,” she declared.

    “Lieutenant,” the hologram’s voice was firm, his tone inflected with strong disapproval. Kilburn grinned. She had employed that tone before when admonishing wayward patients. It didn’t feel so good being on the receiving end.

    Kilburn thought about a retort, but simply said, “Computer, deactivate EMH.” The man opened his mouth but dissolved before he could utter a sound. Before leaving, she remembered to grab a medical kit. She never knew who she might encounter along the way, or on the bridge, who would be in need of medical assistance.

    Roiling in pain and fear, and gripping her side, Kilburn lurched toward the exit.

    ******************************************************************

    USS Jaeger

    Deck One


    Bodies and debris were strewn throughout the corridors. She recoiled each time she encountered a corpse of the scaly, horned, gray Jem’Hadar. The shock troops of the Dominion, they were reportedly some of the most fearsome warriors Starfleet had ever encountered. From the greater number of her crewmates dead the genetically engineered soldiers lived, or rather died, up to their dreadful reputation.

    Megan was taking her time getting to the bridge. That was partly due to her injury, each step jolting a hot javelin of pain in her side, but also because she swept each downed figure, friend or Dominion alike, with her medical tricorder, searching, hoping for signs of life.

    She was committed to saving lives, even those of the Jem’Hadar. But so far, she had found none. Each step took her deeper into the charnel house the ship had become. Every corpse brought back fresh agony over the loss of her team. They were more than her subordinates, or even crew, they were her friends, family, and now all of them were just…gone.

    Carrying that pain with her, Megan soldiered on. She had tried raising the bridge and then Commander Cobb, but neither had responded. She had considered contacting Erico but didn’t want to give the smug man the satisfaction. He was probably waiting on her call, or so she hoped.

    Outside the entrance to the bridge the moment of truth arrived. She saw the olive-hued bare legs and the black workout clothes underneath a prone Jem’Hadar.

    Megan’s voice caught into her throat. “Erico,” she squeaked, fear squeezing her lungs. She hobbled over to him, ignoring the pain. Slowly, painfully, getting to her knees, Megan used a good deal of her strength to push the heavy, and thankfully, deceased Jem’Hadar off the security officer.

    Erico’s beautiful face was contorted in a final rictus of fury, a wicked-looking blade plunged deep into his chest, splitting the name printed on the shirt. In his right hand he clutched a phaser. Through her tears, Megan looked at the Jem’Hadar and saw a hole through the monster’s midsection. She had been so concerned about Rocha that she hadn’t noticed before.

    She cradled the man’s head. His skin had cooled. There was nothing she could do for him. He was beyond pain now.

    She held him and murmured to him when she wasn’t crying. She had wasted so much time.

    She was still holding him when the doors to the bridge swooshed open. A pallid, demonic looking man appeared. The only color to the man’s skin came from the blood running from his forehead. His violet eyes were as cold as the space surrounding them. Behind him stood one of the Jem’Hadar. “So, you are what we detected?” He sniffed. “Grab her,” he ordered the Jem’Hadar. He turned his back while the soldier strode forth. He was unarmed but didn’t need to be. Megan thought to resist, but realized she had no weapons and doubted she could reach Erico’s phaser in time to prevent being barbecued by the Jem’Hadar’s disruptor. “She can attend to my injuries as well as ascertain where we are.”

    ******************************************************************

    USS Jaeger

    Cargo Bay

    2373


    Kilburn was still sitting and reminiscing with Commander Rinnoula when Ensign Hakan quietly entered the room. She looked up, blinking the past away. “How can I help you Mr. Hakan?” The younger man glanced at her and then the other stasis tubes.

    “Captain, I have devised an interrogation method to learn if our ‘guests’ are a threat.”

    “Oh really,” Megan replied. She suppressed a shiver. “I’m afraid to wake them. If it hadn’t been for your quick actions in the transporter room who knows what havoc they might have caused.”

    Hakan dipped his head in receipt of her compliment. “I will only require that one person is awakened.”

    “Okay,” Kilburn nodded, seeing the man’s hesitancy. “I’m not going to like the rest of what you have to say am I?”

    “I have deduced that you will not,” Hakan concurred.

    ******************************************************************
     
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  10. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    Admiral and CeJay, thanks for reading and commenting. I'm glad you both like this story so far. It spun out of another story I was writing, one for UT's Taskforce Vanguard series.

    When I was looking at "Caretaker" again I caught that The Caretaker said he brought multiple ships to the Delta Quadrant so that got me thinking about some of those ships. I also was looking at DS9 stuff on Memory Alpha and saw there were several ships missing in the Gamma Quadrant. At first I was going to do one of the canon missing ships but none of them worked for me, so I just created the Jaeger. And I thought it would be neat to add a mention of Captain Grace and the USS Hakata from my story "False Colors" in there as well. Because there had to have been Starfleet ships that explored the Gamma Quadrant and returned safely, besides the Defiant, or else they would've said no ships survived or all were lost. Erico Rocha is the brother of Lt. Comm. Rocha from my story "Conspirata" and Zaloom was the Starship Cuffe helsman in "Staring into the Abyss."

    I did try to throw readers with the introduction to this Starfleet crew, so that was a nice catch CeJay. I wanted to mimic the Voyager crew but then go in another direction. And I do see the adventures of the Jaeger as like a VOY remix. I mean, how would I have written the Voyager series if given the chance. I can't say it would've completely gone as my story is, but that thought is in the back of my mind as I'm writing the story. The Perdix are a nod to a species Dave Falkayn and I were working on.

    And I liked the Equinox story a lot on VOY so I included the Krowtonan Guard, the same enemies that gave Ransom's crew a hard time when they arrived in the Gamma Quadrant. Though for their look, I was inspired by concept art for the main adversaries on the Orville show.

    Author's Note: I changed "Outriders" to "Outcasts". So, when you see Outcasts going forward, it's the same group. Further, I removed the idea that they all wear masks as my understanding of them has evolved over the last couple days.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2018
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  11. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    ******************************************************************


    USS Jaeger

    Sickbay



    “I must lodge a formal complaint,” the holographic doctor said testily.

    “You do what you have to Doctor Zee,” Megan replied. “I think it’s going to take a while before Command replies.” Since they had kept the EMH program running longer than it was intended to, the program had started to adapt, to Kilburn’s surprise, as much as anyone else aboard. Both the hologram and the crew had grown tired of simply referring to him as the EMH or “Doctor”. Ensign Theren has suggested naming him after Lewis Zimmerman, the creator and model for the EMH. The holodoc had disagreed, instead choosing the name of the ancient Greek physician Zeno. Theren had shortened it to Zee, much to the doctor’s consternation, and the shortened name had stuck.

    When they made it back to the Federation, Megan looked forward to presenting Doctor Zee as an example of how holograms were capable of sentience and evolution. It would be groundbreaking and a fitting tribute to the men, women, and nongendered beings who had lost their lives.

    Zee folded his arms, frown lines etching on his face. “This is bordering on torture.”

    “Mind melds, if properly applied, do not induce pain,” Hakan replied with his customary reserve.

    “That’s if the procedure is performed with mutual consent,” Zee rejoined. “Starfleet medical files are scant on the mild meld procedure, but there are several examples I can list that prove a nonconsensual mind probe can have fatal effects for both parties involved.”

    “That is correct,” Hakan nodded, “But I am confident that will not occur in this case.”

    “Is that a logical deduction Mr. Hakan?” Zee riposted. The Vulcan’s lips creased downward.

    “There is another concern,” Kilburn said. She glanced at the biobed. The leader of the telepathic aliens was supine on it, still unconscious. Restraints had been placed on his wrists and ankles. A force field had been erected over the bed to provide more protection in the unlikelihood that the man woke up. “These telepaths are extremely powerful. Are you certain the man’s mental powers won’t overwhelm you, cause you harm, or even take possession of you?”

    “My mental discipline is formidable,” Hakan replied. “I am confident that none of those scenarios will come to pass. However, I do recommend that only Doctor Zeno and I remain present in the infirmary once the alien is awakened. It will lessen any potential injuries or fatalities.”

    Megan touched the man’s arm. The bald Vulcan looked at her hand until Kilburn removed it. She tucked the hand under her arm. She felt her cheeks warming but she said it anyway, “I don’t want to lose you Ensign Hakan. We wouldn’t have survived thus far without you.”

    “I do not intend for this day to be my last…Captain,” Hakan replied.

    “Fair enough,” Megan said. “And you think this can really help us learn more about these aliens?”

    “The mind meld will link us, supplying me with more information than any spoken inquiry,” Hakan replied. “Further, our psychic bonding will expose the man’s intentions, far more effectively than any truth serum.”

    “I just hope you’re right Ensign,” Kilburn didn’t hold back the shudder this time. She glanced at the sleeping man. “I just hope you’re right.”

    ******************************************************************

    USS Jaeger

    Captain’s Ready Room


    Kilburn cloistered away in the room she still considered Rinnoula’s. She hadn’t removed any of the woman’s personal affects and had done her best to have what had been damaged repaired, much of it by her own hand.

    Megan looked out at the stars and felt a coldness creeping into her bones. She knew it wasn’t from the iciness of the space enveloping them. The chill accompanied every visit she made to the infirmary these days. It had been her haven, and now she hated even looking inside it. An ugly, corrugated wall, of some alien metal had been welded over the rip in the hull. Whenever she looked at it, she thought about her friends and how they been whisked into space, and then her dark thoughts compounded with each death she had discovered as she made her way to the bridge, and then she was right back in that horrible moment in time, holding Erico’s lifeless body.

    She clutched the glass of freshly brewed coffee, from the stainless-steel carafe left by Ensign Theren. She hadn’t been much of a coffee drinker until being stranded in the Delta Quadrant. The tart beverage had come in handy more than once.

    She sniffed the steaming dark liquid, her nostrils twitching at the strong aroma. The beans came from a planet they had visited several weeks ago. Hoss had found them, as he had a lot of the various edible plants and other foodstuffs. He had worked at making the beans, with additives he refused to identify, into a potent coffee blend.

    The thought of the crusty old Tellarite made her sad. She hated confining him to quarters, but she had to have order on the ship. Maron had stayed true to his word so far and she had to remain true to hers where he was concerned. Whether she liked it or not, or liked the Vorta or not, was irrelevant.

    She sipped the coffee and reared back. The beverage packed a punch. She was surprised that T’Rithu hadn’t found a way to turn this into the fuel they needed to get back to the Alpha Quadrant.

    Maron. T’Rithu, Megan never imagined that she would be relying upon a Vorta and a Romulan, no less a member of the Tal Shiar, for the survival of her ship and crew. But survival made for strange bedfellows.

    Maron had taught her that better than anyone.

    ******************************************************************
     
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  12. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    ******************************************************************

    USS Jaeger

    Detention Center

    2371



    “Commander Dillingham has been gone a long time,” Gunner’s Mate Hoss said. He sidled up next to her and gave her a nudge. He lowered his shaggy head close to hers, to whisper as best as the voluminous Tellarite could, “Do you think he’s coming back?”

    The question chilled her. Megan embraced herself. Her teeth clattering, she replied, “He has to,” she lowered her voice, but kept her eyes on the stern Jem’Hadar standing close to their cell. The fearsome horned warrior stood at attention for hours on end, only speaking to issue commands or threats. The rest of the time he barely looked at them, and when he did, his stare was so baleful, so full of disgust for the crew that it took her aback each time.

    Who were these Founders to engineer such frightening creatures? Propelled by both fear and her own disgust, Megan continued, “We need him…if this plan is going to work.”

    The petty officer nodded. “Damn straight about that, since it’s Alex’s plan after all.” Dillingham had given them snippets of his plan to retake the ship, partly not to arouse the suspicion of their zealous jailers, but also, Megan suspected, because the Englishman was making it up as he went along.

    The first officer was a good man, though he could be rash. When Rinnoula was in charge it didn’t matter because she tempered his impulsive streak. The thought of the stricken captain drew Megan’s thoughts to the stasis tube that contained the unconscious woman.

    After some prodding the Vorta had allowed her to place the captain in a stasis chamber to preserve her life. He had elicited a promise from what remained of the bridge crew to obey his commands as the price of his beneficence. Megan had given her word, which she was now about to break, but if Dillingham could somehow pull off the impossible and overtake the Dominion soldiers, she had no choice, even if it put Rinnoula’s life in greater jeopardy.

    Once she had attended to the Vorta’s injuries he had had her tossed in the brig, which was already packed with the bridge crew and the fading Rinnoula. The Vorta claimed that the other Jaeger survivors were confined in the ship’s cargo and shuttle bays. She had yet to confirm that, though the fact that the warp core hadn’t imploded yet was a good indication that someone from the engineering team was still alive.

    She was both horrified and angered whenever she thought of what the Jem’Hadar were putting them through. Every day they would come to the brig and take out various crewmembers to do assignments. Though the Jem’Hadar took special delight in using Hoss and some of the hardier survivors as sparring partners in their relentless and brutal training regimens.

    Megan had patched up enough broken bones, contusions, fractures, and worse to see the cruelty of the Jem’Hadar nearly as first hand as Hoss and the other impelled gladiators had.

    Megan had even lost a friend, Veronica Tan, who had succumbed to plasma burns after the monsters had forced her to conduct an EPS tap of damaged plasma coolant ducts. With a wrecked sickbay, scant medical supplies on hand, and little time to bargain with the Vorta commander to use another stasis chamber, all Megan could do was make her friend’s passing as painless as possible. She had been holding Veronica’s hand when the woman gave her last breath.

    The callous act had been the final turning point for her to join in on Dillingham’s plan to take back the ship. She was not confident it would work, but she had accepted the idea of dying instead of living as a Dominion prisoner or slave.

    And Dillingham had promised that if they could not retake Jaeger he had booby trapped the ship. If they died, so did the Vorta and Jem’Hadar, and that provided the medic some disgusting, yet grim satisfaction.

    A shadow fell over her, and her thoughts. Megan looked up and into the unforgiving visage of the Jem’Hadar jailer. The force field crackled before shutting off. “Healer, come with me!” He gestured toward her with his plasma rifle.

    Lt. Zaloom jumped in front of her. The diminutive Roylan glared up at the hulking Jem’Hadar, his large black eyes clicking with defiance. The soldier snarled and pulled back a hand to swat the Roylan.

    “It’s okay Zal,” Megan said, standing up. She held up a staying hand to the Jem’Hadar. The man growled low in his throat and angled his hand to strike her. Kilburn swallowed her fear and stood ready to take the hit, though it wasn’t so much due to her courage, but that her fear had frozen her legs. The Roylan sniffed, and Kilburn nudged him. She knew that the man’s sneezes were acidic. And while it would be great to see the Jem’Hadar’s face melt off, she was more worried about his buddies on the rest of the ship.

    They would be on them before they could get to the armory. “It’s okay Zal,” Kilburn repeated, more for herself than to calm the helmsman. She smoothed the rumpled, dirtied front of her tunic, centered herself, and stepped across the threshold. Before she placed her boot on the deck, the Jem’Hadar grabbed her arm roughly and pulled her forward. Megan yelped, both in surprise and pain.

    “You’re wasting time human,” he said brusquely. Zaloom led the commotion behind her. She turned to look at the helmsman and her other riled colleagues.

    “No,” she said. “Save your energy.” She really wanted to tell them that they had to wait on Dillingham’s sign.

    “Let’s go,” the Jem’Hadar pushed her throw the doorway. Out in the darkened, debris strewn corridor, back into the hellscape the ship had descended into, Megan feared that Dillingham’s sign would never come.

    **************************************************************
     
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  13. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    **************************************************************

    USS Jaeger

    Main Engineering


    Megan did her best to steady herself for whatever carnage awaited her on the other side of the door. She had seen enough so far to curdle her blood, dead bodies fallen like leaves along the corridor the Jem’Hadar had forced her down. Some faces she recognized, and many, thankfully, barely registered. Each one reminded her of Erico.

    The corridor had been a microcosm of the hell that the Dominion had unleashed across the rest of the ship. A strip of light running across the corridor walls still bled scarlet, from the red alert that Rinnoula had initiated and had never ended. The hallway lighting was dim, the lights blinking. Bulkheads were ripped open, with wires hanging from them like vines. Companels were shattered, but still blinkering information.

    Kilburn didn’t need to access them. She knew the ship very well, or at least she thought she had. She had once considered Jaeger her home away from home, but now she would never see the vessel the same way again. If anything, it left her missing her real home on New Dublin.

    She longed to be among her family and old friends again. Kilburn kept her tears at bay. The Dominion had taken a lot from her, but she wouldn’t give them her tears. Her grief was hers.

    “Move,” the Jem’Hadar barked again, as if the creature could read her thoughts. She wondered if the Founders had given their Janissaries telepathic abilities after all. There was still so little they knew about them.

    Prompted, Megan touched the access panel beside the door to Main Engineering. It was warm, as was the rest of the corridor. Environmental controls were barely working. It felt like a sauna throughout the ship. Kilburn had learned how to ignore her body odor and that of others. The Vorta and his minions wouldn’t let them shower or use refreshers regularly, only to prevent the spread of disease. The Vorta commander said they were preserving power. Damnably, both the Vorta and his soldiers always looked neat and clean, as if their suits were self-cleaning.

    The door halfway opened. The Jem’Hadar brushed past her. He shouldered his weapon, making it tantalizingly within reach as he used brute strength to pry the door fully open. The metal gears whined in protest, but Megan was certain they weren’t the first to give way to the formidable Jem’Hadar.

    “Ah, Third Amat’Atal, thank you for bringing Doctor Kilburn,” the Vorta said cheerily. The man stood by the warp core. Kilburn smiled to see that Chief Cobb was still alive. The thickset, white-haired man was under a terminal, with Dillingham beside him. Another Jem’Hadar was hovering over them, monitoring their conversation.

    T’Rithu stood beside the Vorta, with another Jem’Hadar behind the Romulan. Megan’s heart sank at the swollen mess the woman’s face had become. Her uniform was tattered, her gloves missing.

    “Come, come,” the Vorta gestured. He moved toward Cobb and Dillingham. He nudged Dillingham. Alex looked up and frowned.

    “What the hell?” Cobb pulled back from the guts of the terminal. “Why did you stop scanning?” The engineer said before taking stock of the Vorta and Megan. The grime-covered, crusty engineer glowered at the Vorta before smiling at Kilburn.

    “It’s good to see you again Doc,” he said.

    “You too,” she said, returning the smile. The cantankerous engineer reminded her of her grandfather. “How is the rest of your team?” She looked around, but only saw scant members of the engineering staff. When she turned back, Cobb’s expression was pained.

    “The condition of the engineering personnel is not why I requested your presence,” the Vorta said. “Chief Engineer Cobb has discovered an anomaly that is interfering with his ability to restore full power to the ship’s engines. Commander Dillingham has confirmed the cause is a problem involving one of the bio-neural gel packs. This bio-neural circuitry Starfleet has developed is most fascinating,” the Vorta added, his purple eyes glinting.

    Kilburn ignored the horse-faced Vorta. She looked to Dillingham. “Commander, did your scans yield anything?”

    The first officer shook the tricorder before shaking his head. “I can’t make sense of it,” the man’s said, “It’s like one of the packs has become…infected.”

    Megan held out her hand and Dillingham gave her the device. “Infected?” The Vorta asked from behind her. “How is that possible?”

    While looking at the data, Kilburn said offhand, “The bio-neural packs are essentially an organic computer system and being organic the packs are susceptible to becoming infected, theoretically at least.” Megan gasped, “There’s unknown biomatter…something is…alive inside the pack.”

    “Alive?” Several people repeated, almost in unison.

    “Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Dillingham scratched his head. “I thought the readings were wrong, but…”

    “Is this an isolated problem?” The Vorta asked.

    “That remains to be seen,” Kilburn said. She knelt and eased into the hole vacated by Cobb and Dillingham. Most of the bio-neural packs within the console looked healthy, with neural fibers suffused in blue gel; except one pack, which was opaque. She gingerly poked the darkened bag and she felt something writhing within. She recoiled.

    “I’m going to need to disconnect this one, for further study,” Kilburn said, after standing back up. “It’s appears that some kind of vermicular parasites have infested the gel pack.”

    The Vorta gestured to the Jem’Hadar Third. The man stomped forward, nearly knocking over Kilburn. He took the pack out of her hand before the medic could react. He held it up close to his nose, sniffing it and growling low in his throat. He squeezed the bag and long, slender, pallid worms burst through the murk. “There is something alive in there,” he stated the obvious.

    He offered the pack to the Vorta, but the man looked loath to touch it. He flicked his hand in the direction of Megan. Amat’Atal shoved the pack into her chest.

    Megan scrambled to catch it. She couldn’t afford to have the bio-neural pack hit the deck, and tear on the jagged debris still spread across the floor. That could result in a larger outbreak, and maybe even infect the crew.

    “Let me take a look at that,” the engineer asked. Megan handed it to the older man. He gently squeezed the bag and the gaggle of worms squirmed again. Cobb snorted and made a disgusted face. “Reminds me of Neethian cradlefish.”

    “More like Danaxian tapeworms to me,” Dillingham added after he moved in for a closer look.

    “What caused this…infestation?” The Vorta asked, his voice coated with revulsion.

    The medic answered, “Uncertain at the moment, but it could’ve been that spaceborne pathogen we encountered in that nebula a few parsecs ago. I made an inoculation for the crew, but you didn’t let me administer it personally to the crew, handing it off those duties to the Jem’Hadar. Perhaps if I had been allowed to conduct proper medical scans for contaminants we could’ve caught this.” The Vorta frowned at the criticism. Kilburn continued, “This bears further study to first ascertain what these…tapeworms are for lack of a better term, and then where they came from.”

    “There’s another concern,” Dillingham spoke up, “That this could not be an isolated incident.”

    “This could be a widespread infestation?” The Vorta looked from Megan to Dillingham. “What of the other packs in the terminal?”

    “They appear functional, emphasis on ‘appear’,” Megan replied. “However, I suggest that propulsion is taken offline until a thorough medical study can be done of this packet. Further, I recommend initiating a full diagnostic sweep and inspection of all bio-neural circuitry in the meantime.”

    The Vorta frowned, “A comprehensive diagnostic sweep shall suffice.”

    “Maron,” Commander Dillingham stepped toward the man. Amat’Atal blocked him. The Jem’Hadar raised a fist.

    “Enough Third,” the Vorta commanded. He glared at the fuming Englishman. “You were saying commander.”

    Vara’toran Maron,” Dillingham added, with a sarcastic ding. “If this infection has spread already, our computer systems and their readings could already be affected. We need inspections to confirm the computers’ findings. Not doing so could result in system failures forcing us to abandon the ship, or even causing a sudden warp core breach that would destroy us all.”

    “Very alarmist,” Maron’s smile was chilly. “But you understand I do not have the number of Jem’Hadar on hand to monitor all the teams necessary to conduct inspections.”

    “That’s your problem,” Dillingham smirked. Amat’Atal punched the man, knocking him to the ground.

    “Hey,” Cobb swung his spanner at the Jem’Hadar who easily avoided it and elbowed the man hard in the chest. The engineer grabbed his chest as he fell on top of Dillingham.

    “Stop it!” Megan yelled as she kneeled to check on both men. The two were struggling to disentangle themselves.

    “I’m okay,” Cobb gently shirked off Megan’s offer for assistance. Dillingham tried to spring up. He rubbed the blood from his mouth. He turned to the Jem’Hadar, but Amat’Atal was now facing off against T’Rithu. The Romulan was flexing her hands, weighing her options. Amat’Atal chuckled, egging her on.

    “Enough again Amat’Atal,” Maron said. “You’ve been told, more than once, not to injure the prisoners more than necessary. They are needed to keep the ship operational until we can return to the Dominion.”

    “And we could do that faster, if you loosened the reins,” Dillingham said sharply. “We want to go home as well.”

    “Surely not as my prisoners,” Maron replied. “I would think that Starfleet officers would prefer death or even being stranded in this forsaken space rather than be our subjects. That is what we ascertained from our study of Commander Sisko and his crew, including even his Bajoran.”

    Megan squinted, her anger blurring her vision. Admiral Salk had informed the crew about the cruel mind games the Founders had played on Sisko and his crew undertook a mission to the Founders’ home planet, an attempt to avoid war that the Dominion used to spit in the Federation’s face.

    “The Klingons, their So’Taj Imperial Intelligence, had killed themselves, not allowing themselves to be captured,” Maron said. “They sought to test our resolve, not on the level of the Tal Shiar and Obsidian Order, but still a violation of our space, not unlike your own. And just like the Jaeger, they were discovered, and set upon by our brave Jem’Hadar. They overloaded their engines after being boarded.”

    “A pity,” Amat’Atal interjected. “I had so wished to test myself against the Klingons.”

    “In time,” Maron nodded sympathetically at the man. He swung around to smile at them. “We made sure to prevent such a wasteful scenario when we seized your vessel.” The Vorta let that sink in.

    “How about, we limit the personnel and the number of ship sections we inspect at a time,” Dillingham offered after an uncomfortable silence. “It will slow us down, and it will make our position needlessly precarious, but it will allow you to maintain control.”

    Maron nodded, tapping his chin as he considered it. “That is agreeable.”

    “There’s one other thing,” Dillingham said.

    “Oh,” Maron’s eyes were hooded. “And what might that be?”

    “I will need access to the new command codes,” Dillingham said.

    “No,” Maron shook his head.

    “You can stand right over my shoulder and watch everything I do,” Dillingham said, not relenting, “In order to facilitate the sweep I need access to the central computer and the ship’s systems.”

    “No,” Maron declared. Dillingham said nothing but held his ground. After a few tense minutes, the Vorta sniffed and rolled his eyes. “Very well,” he huffed. “But the nanosecond I detect anything untoward I will slaughter you and everyone in this room, and that’s just for starters.”

    “Understood,” Dillingham nodded tersely. He turned and gave Megan a quick wink and smile. The woman didn’t return the gesture. She was still thinking about Maron’s promise. This was Alex’s play. If it didn’t work they would all suffer the consequences.

    ******************************************************************

    USS Jaeger

    Main Bridge



    “I’ve detected another infestation,” Dillingham called out. The man was sitting at one of the aft terminals. A Jem’Hadar was hovering over his shoulder, like other Jem’Hadar minders watching the other Jaeger crew on the bridge. Maron flitted between the terminals, checking on the progress of the diagnostic. Megan had been heartened to see that Silika was still alive, though the Boslic was favoring her right side. Hopefully Maron would allow her to check the woman’s injuries once the scans were complete.

    Maron walked quickly over to Dillingham’s console. The Englishman shifted to provide the Vorta a good look. “Doctor Kilburn, please join us.”

    The Jem’Hadar assigned to her grunted, and Megan glowered at the man. She thought about making a retort but then chose not to antagonize the genetically engineered warrior.

    Maron eased over to allow Kilburn to take a look at the smooth screen. She frowned, and then looked at the similar dour Vorta, “We have a genuine outbreak.”

    ******************************************************************
     
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  14. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    ******************************************************************



    USS Jaeger

    Jefferies Tube Eleven



    Huddled together in the humid darkness, Megan whispered as best she could, “How?”

    Dillingham leaned close to her, which wasn’t hard in the tight-fitting horizontal maintenance conduit. “Crewman Lembu,” he answered. Megan thought of the Grazerite crewman and nodded as understanding dawned. The bovine technician produced some epic, and pretty ripe, stools she had heard through scuttlebutt. And Alex had decided to put the man’s droppings to good use by using the fecal matter to infect some of the bio-neural gel packs. Kilburn was at least glad to know that one more crewman was alive.

    “What are you two talking about?” The Jem’Hadar Second demanded. The soldier was blocking the circular opening to the tube.

    “We were just commenting on the infected pack we discovered,” Kilburn said, carefully removing the pack and waving it at the Jem’Hadar. Dillingham took out a quarantine pod from the bag slung over his shoulder. She placed the pack into the pod.

    “Are other gel packs infected in this section?” The Second asked.

    “We’re still conducting our examination,” Dillingham said chillily. The Second glared at him for a few seconds. Dillingham returned the glower.

    “Be quick about it,” was all the Jem’Hadar said.

    Dillingham helped Megan placed the covering back over the exposed circuitry. The two Starfleet officers then inched down the gangway, removing covers and checking for more infected bio-neural packs. Kilburn had no idea, and wasn’t sure she wanted to know, how Dillingham, or others, was able to infect packs across the ship.

    “Here we are,” Dillingham said, wiping the sweat from his brow. He put the panel to the side and moved over to allow Megan to take a look. She stifled a gasp. There were canisters of anesthizine gas. “The infection has already spread to the ventilation system controls.”

    “That’s why it’s so damned hot,” she played along, and began fanning herself.

    Dillingham tapped his combadge. “What are you doing?” The Second demanded. Alex ignored him. “Vara’toran Maron,” he said into the compin. “Permission to access the ship’s computer.” The Second snarled but didn’t move to stop the first officer.

    “For what purpose?” The Vorta was suspicious, which was his usual stance.

    “I need to access environmental controls to flush parasites out of the ventilation system,” Dillingham answered.

    “That can be done from the bridge,” Maron replied.

    “Yes,” Dillingham nodded, “But for efficiency’s sake I can do it here, now, without coming back to the bridge.”

    “It requires your personal touch?” Maron’s voice was mocking.

    Dillingham kept his tone in check. “I’m sure you are aware that your attack on the Jaeger depleted many of our experienced crew, and you are aware of my service record, and know of my service in Starfleet Corps of Engineers. Presently, I’m second to Commander Cobb when it comes to understanding this ship’s inner workings.”

    The Vorta sighed, “Very well.” He paused, “Second Var’ukan,” he addressed the Jem’Hadar.

    “Vara’toran,” the warrior promptly replied.

    “If either of these humans attempt anything untoward kill them immediately.”

    “Acknowledged,” the Jem’Hadar said with noticeable relish.

    Kilburn glanced at Dillingham. The man’s expression was unreadable, but his blue eyes blazed like Kibberian fire diamonds. Whatever the man had planned there was no turning back now. Megan gulped down the fear pushing up to her stomach and stuck in her throat.

    While fishing in his bag, Dillingham leaned over to her. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

    “What?”

    The man pulled out a gas mask and placed it over his mouth. Ignoring her, he input instructions into the environmental controls. Megan heard the hiss of gas and puffs of pale blue smoke.

    “What’s happening?” Var’ukan demanded. The Jem’Hadar started moving toward them. Dillingham jumped in front of her. The man’s hand was back in his bag. He yanked out a phaser. Megan blinked in confusion and horror, her vision wavering, her head heavy.

    The last thing she heard was the roar of the Jem’Hadar clashing with the sizzle of Dillingham’s phaser.

    ******************************************************************
     
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  15. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    ******************************************************************
    USS Jaeger

    Docking Port Two



    The slap was so hard that it woke her up. Megan jumped, her eyes snapping open. “What?” She asked, her tongue thick. She winced at the light and then as she felt the pain burning her cheek. She attempted to reach for it, but realized her hands were bound. She pulled against the tight restraints.

    A shadow loomed over her. She looked up into the snarling visage of her jailer Amat’Atal. The Jem’Hadar roughly pulled her to her knees and then drew back his arm, readying to hit her again.

    “Enough Second,” Maron ordered. “I want the good doctor awake for this.”

    That drew Megan away from the frightening Amat’Atal to his superior. The Vorta stood by the closed airlock hatch. Through the viewport she saw both Dillingham and Cobb, their battered faces pressed against the window.

    “I concluded that since you, and the others assembled here, were not wearing gas masks that you were complicit in this foolish mutiny attempt.”

    “‘Mutiny?’” Silika, also bound, laughed. “That’s rich. You took over our vessel!” The Jem’Hadar closest to her lifted his rifle to smash the butt into her head. Megan saw that Silika, Chief Petty Officer Hoss, and the Romulan, T’Rithu, were also on their knees, bound, and guarded by Jem’Hadar.

    “Hold,” Maron threw up his hand. “I also want the lieutenant to view this. To see what happens when you take advantage of my beneficence.”

    Hoss spat at the boots of the Jem’Hadar near him. That warrior planted the soiled boot into the Tellarite’s gut. The gunner’s mate laughed. “That tickled.”

    The Jem’Hadar brandished his weapon. “Did you not hear the Vara’toran, Third Rukan’Etan!” The largest Jem’Hadar, with the most impressive crest of horns, barked. Rukan’Etan stopped immediately and resumed his position.

    “Thank you First Morawn’Agar,” Maron nodded. He looked at Megan, shook his head, and then at Silika. “You can see that I am not alone in my distaste for treachery. The Third lost several of his brethren in this ill-advised action.”

    “Good riddance,” T’Rithu said again. “If could’ve killed more of them I would have.”

    Maron frowned at the woman. Morawn’Agar merely smiled. “You will get your chance Romulan when the sparring sessions resume.”

    The Vorta smiled at that. “And now, time to dispense justice.”

    “No,” Megan called out. “You can’t do it. You can’t murder them!” Both men had resigned looks on their faces.

    “It’s not murder,” Maron said, his expression cold. “It’s revenge.” He released the airlock door. Kilburn refused to look away as her colleagues, her friends, were claimed by the vacuum.

    She had taken an oath to save lives, even those of people she despised. This was the first time in her life that she wholeheartedly rejected that vow.

    “Let that be an object to you all,” Maron said. “Dominion justice is swift.”

    Megan stared daggers at him. The man thought he had extinguished the fire of rebellion when he had actually ignited it.

    ******************************************************************

    USS Jaeger

    Detention Center

    Sometime later…


    Maron had made Megan attend every execution. Dillingham and Cobb had only been the beginning. There had been several other attempts, either cabals or individual acts of rebellion, but the results had all ended the same.

    The brightest spot had been that some of the attempts had cut the numbers of the Jem’Hadar even further. Now Maron didn’t even post a Jem’Hadar minder in the brig.

    So, when she heard the door hiss open, her heart seized. She looked around at her colleagues. There were wary and fearful expressions all around. Some tensed, preparing to fight or for whatever fate was about to befall them.

    When she turned back, ready to face whatever was in store for her, she blinked several times in surprise. Maron was alone. There was a phaser hanging from a holster on his hip. But there were no Jem’Hadar bodyguards.

    He dropped the force field, confident that the prisoners would not rush him. The man’s smugness galled Megan, but she remained where she was.

    “Doctor Kilburn,” Maron said, “I have need of you.”

    *************************************************************
     
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  16. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    A much more brutal but very much Dark Territory-esque reimagining of the Voyager concept. Particularly liking your fish-out-of-water protagonist here and the unlikely alliances she had to forge.

    Looking forward to see where you take this from here and how things will fit into the larger picture, including the Ocampa.

    Great tale so far!
     
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  17. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    *************************************************************

    Three months later….


    “Good doctor, I thought you were dead,” Maron said, his small smile almost genuine.

    Megan shackled her fear before she deactivated the force field. She gestured at the man with her phaser. “I need your help. No one else has died…yet.”

    The Vorta stood up slowly. It was then that the purple bruise around the man’s left eye registered. “What happened to you?”

    The man smiled again, but his eyes were as cold as space. “You’ve mended my wounds enough to know. Some of your colleagues expend their frustration on me, with your captain’s permission.”

    The medic swallowed, her stomach tightening. She was standing before the man who had attacked their vessel, that had murdered her crewmates, including Erico, but she felt guilty. Maron had enlisted her help in creating a poison to murder his Jem’Hadar soldiers. He had run out of the ketracel-white drug that kept them in line.

    Without “the white”, the genetically engineered warriors would eventually go into withdrawals and spiral into a murderous insanity until their cellular structures collapsed.

    What the man had proposed went against everything Megan had been trained to do, as well as personally believed, but she had put the needs of her crew over the lives of the soldiers who had slaughtered a great deal of them. And to sweeten the poison, Maron had agreed to surrender himself if she helped him.

    Kilburn had accepted it and promised that the man would be held in custody, unharmed until they returned to the Alpha Quadrant.

    After the poison had completed its dark business, Megan had released the surviving crew. Though she was the highest-ranking officer left alive, she relinquished command to Silika, who was the next senior officer, in rank wise, if not experience. But Hoss had turned down even promotion to an officer’s rank, much less taking the CO or XO position on Jaeger.

    Silika’s first act had been to place Maron in the brig and to allow Hoss and others periodic ‘interrogations’ of the Vorta. Kilburn had done the clean-up, barely being able to meet the man’s eyes at times.

    Rushing through the darkened corridors, Megan ignored the downed crew they encountered, the images triggering old, painful memories of the Dominion attack on the Jaeger.

    “What happened?” The unfazed Maron inquired.

    “We thought we had come across a wormhole, one leading back to the Alpha Quadrant, to Earth itself no less,” Kilburn said. She shook her head. “We thought it was too good to be true, but our probes confirmed it.”

    “And?”

    “We are inside the…gullet…of some kind of massive bioplasmic organism, a creature that has some kind of telepathic abilities to manipulate us into thinking its maw was the way home.”

    “If this creature held such sway…why are you awake?” The Vorta asked.

    “As it drew us in, increasing its mental hold on me, and I can assume the others, it gave us more of what we wanted to see, and I saw…” she closed her eyes and tried to push away the memory.

    “What is it?” Maron pressed.

    “Erico,” she said quietly. “He…was waiting for me, on Earth.” She turned on the man taking him by surprise. Maron yelped as Kilburn pushed him against the wall. With one forearm against the man’s throat, Megan pushed the phaser into his midsection. She upped the setting to kill.

    “Wh-what are you doing?” Maron sputtered, his face turning red and then blue.

    “You killed him! You killed them all!” Megan roared. Water began to blur her vision.

    Maron gasped, “I did. But…but if-if you kill me now, the rest of your friends will die.”

    “Damn you,” Megan’s finger itched on the trigger.

    “Do…it,” Maron goaded, through clenched teeth. His violet eyes had went from fearful to mocking, daring.

    Kilburn screamed before letting go. Her rage getting the best of her, she fired at the bulkhead right beside the man. He flinched as the whine filled the quiet corridor and the bulkhead turned to slag.

    Maron rubbed his throat, “Alpha Quadrant invaders tried to murder my gods.”

    “That was the Romulans and Cardassians, not the Federation,” Megan rejoined.

    “Yes, and you have a Romulan aboard,” the Vorta shot back, “And utilizing cloaking technology outlawed by your own Treaty of Algeron.”

    Kilburn was rattled by how the man knew so much about Federation history, but she kept her expression neutral.

    “And your Starfleet has encroached on Dominion space, even sending a warship, the Defiant, into our space, a daring provocation.”

    “You got it all wrong,” Megan shook her head. “We meant you no harm.”

    “The Founders were hunted and killed for centuries by solids, like your kind, they have every right to defend themselves and the great Dominion they have created for us.”

    “We only seek peaceful coexistence with all beings,” the medic said.

    “Then prove it,” Maron declared. His expression went from accusatory to sympathetic. “Together we can save your crew, but afterwards, I will no longer be a prisoner. If I had been on the bridge instead of in your brig, this misfortune might have been avoided.”

    “I’m not the captain,” Kilburn said.

    “You have the highest rank,” the Vorta retorted. “You have a responsibility that you can’t run away from. Your captain has led to all to the brink of oblivion. It is your duty to take the reins.”

    “We-we’ll deal with that later, but now…we have to save the ship,” Megan declared. As if the creature consuming them heard her declaration, the deck plates trembled, and several wall panels sparked. “Come on, let’s go.” The two tore through the igniting corridor.

    ***********************************************************

    Ten months later…


    “Commander Vulth,” Silika stood up from the captain’s chair. She tugged down her tunic. “We only wish to travel along the outskirts of your territory. It would cut down our journey significantly. Perhaps there is something we can provide to you for your trouble?”

    The alien’s hooded eyes disappeared in darkness. The hairless man’s ash-white skin was leathery. His nostrils were slits, like his eyes and mouth. Vulth’s visage sort of reminded Megan of a mix between a Terran cobra, with a hooded appendage running from the back of his head and the chalky pallor of an Earth blindsnake. “And what do you have to offer?” The medic had not challenged Silika for the captaincy, but she had accepted the Boslic’s offer to be the new first officer. Lt. Moya had graciously stepped aside. In fact, Megan thought the Bajoran was relieved to return to just overseeing the science division.

    “Let us discuss it,” Silika put on a smile.

    “I think we should attack now,” Maron said quietly. The man had moved with stealth to Megan’s side. She was pleased she hadn’t jumped at the Vorta’s intrusion. While Kilburn hadn’t taken the man’s advice to push for command of the Jaeger, she had pushed to ensure that he wasn’t returned to the bridge. Silika had granted her request as payment for the man’s efforts in rescuing the ship form the bioplasmic organism after Megan had tied her acceptance of the first officer position to his freedom. As a condition, Silika had made the Vorta her responsibility.

    Maron had seemed to take it to heart, coming to regard her as his sole confidant aboard the ship, regardless of whether Megan reciprocated. The Vorta generally sat at an unoccupied auxiliary deactivated station and only offered his opinions when asked, which was rare.

    “Attack or run,” Maron said. “This Vulth cannot be trusted.”

    “You say that about everyone,” Megan whispered.

    “And how many times have I been wrong?” The Vorta challenged.

    “You really want me to list all of those?” Megan looked at the man.

    “Lt. Kilburn, is the Vorta bothering you?” Chief Hoss asked. The large Tellarite had turned from the tactical console.

    Megan looked past the Vorta. “Everything’s fine Hoss.”

    “Yes, Gunner’s Mate,” Maron turned to the Tellarite, “You should attend to your station. You will need it soon.”

    Hoss snorted. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

    “I accept your offer,” Vulth said, drawing Megan’s attention back to the main viewer.

    “Excellent,” Silika said. “Please lower your shields, we will beam you aboard our vessel to discuss a trade.”

    “We request that you are… ‘beamed’ to our vessel,” Vulth said. “We have certain environmental needs that cannot be met on your vessel. We have already scanned your vessel to ascertain it.”

    “We can convert a room to accommodate you,” Silika offered.

    Vulth’s thin-lipped smile was slight. “Or you could venture to our vessel, since you are in our space. Consider it, a gesture of…your good intentions.”

    “I really don’t like this,” Maron said, loud enough that it drew a harsh glance from Silika.

    “Of course,” the woman said. Megan had to wonder if the Boslic had agreed so quickly in part to spite Maron.

    “We are transmitting our environmental standards,” the alien commander said.

    “I’ve received them,” Moya said after a moment. “Our environmental suits should suffice, for a limited time.”

    “Then we await you,” Vulth said, before disconnecting the communication. The image shifted from the man’s chalky face to his vessel. The large ship resembled a snakehead.

    “Time to stuff myself in an EV suit,” Silika groaned. “Pilots remain inside ships, not outside them.” The woman had never liked zero-g training.

    “Technically you’re not doing a spacewalk,” Lt. Zaloom chimed in. The Boslic frowned at him.

    “From what Vulth has said, it might as well be, with the harsher conditions aboard that Krowtonan Guard ship.”

    “You won’t be suffering alone,” Lt. Moya stood up. “I’m going with you.”

    “Hey, Eneca, the commander only agreed to me,” Silika said.

    “I’m not leaving you alone,” the Bajoran countered. “The Krowtonans have a rough reputation, and you need someone to watch your back.”

    “It doesn’t hurt that this is a first contact as well, a chance to learn a lot about a new alien species,” Megan smirked. The Bajoran twisted her lips, her cheeks reddening.

    “Oh, so, it’s not just about watching the captain’s back I see,” Silika grinned. “Well, come on, the more the merrier I guess. If Vulth is surprised, let him be. That might prove to him that we have far less gentler surprises in store for him if he’s not playing an honest hand of Roladan Wild Draw.”

    “I think it would be wise to add a security guard to your away team,” Maron spoke up.

    Silika glared at the man. “No one asked you.”

    “And yet, still I spoke,” the Vorta said. He shrugged, “It was merely a suggestion.”

    “Two of us might not be seen as threatening, but three, a security guard at that, might set Vulth off, and we’re here to make friends,” the Boslic said. “How about you just stick to being our unwelcome guest?”

    Maron nodded in acknowledgement and took a step back. “My apologies.”

    “Uh huh,” Silika said. She shifted her gaze to Megan. “Doc, you’ve got the conn until Eneca and I get back.”

    Kilburn nodded. “Once we’re aboard, raise shields again, but keep our weapons systems cool unless the Krowtonans give you a reason to activate them.”

    “Understood,” Megan said. She stood up and leaned in close to the captain. “Are you sure about this Silika? Maron could be right, for once, about the Krowtonan commander and his intentions.”

    Silika patted her shoulder. “I don’t trust that Vorta as far as I can toss his worthless hide, and I recommend you don’t either. If you want a second opinion while I’m away, go to Hoss, Hakan, Theren, Zaloom, even T’Rithu, for Cort’s sake.” The woman smirked, “Listen, this is piece of cake. Less hot than a summer weekend on Tholia,” she winked. “We’ll be back in two shakes.” The Boslic nodded at Moya, and the two headed off the bridge.

    Megan didn’t sit in the center chair until the intercom squawked. “We’re encased in our EV suits,” Silika said. “Prepare to beam us over to the Krowtonan vessel.”

    “Acknowledged,” Megan said. She took the center chair. “Hail the Krowtonan Guard vessel. Tell them we are ready to transport the captain over and to lower their shields.”

    Ensign Theren, at the operations console, quickly complied. “Krowtonan vessel has received our message. They are lowering shields.”

    Megan stood up and moved over to the captain’s chair. “Theren, beam them over.”

    “Transport initiated,” the Andorian operations officer announced. There was a hitch in his voice.

    “What’s wrong?” Kilburn turned to the younger man. The Andorian’s twin antennae were twisting, a habitual nervous tic.

    “Lieutenant, Krowtonan ship is hailing us,” Theren said, looking up quickly, a troubled look on his face.

    Megan felt her stomach knotting. “Onscreen,” she said, reluctantly to turn around and face Vulth.

    “What is the meaning of this!” Vulth’s face was pressed against the screen. His eyes burned like novae. “You sent another person, another armed being! This is not what we agreed to! This is not what your captain said she would do! What are you attempting?! Are you attempting to take over my vessel?!”

    “No, no, of course not,” Kilburn said. “Our science officer accompanied the captain merely to meet your people, to observe and learn about you and your culture.”

    “Observe,” the man spat, “Learn. For what purpose? To learn our weaknesses?”

    “No,” Megan cleared her voice. “It was mere scientific curiosity.”

    “If we can’t trust you to trust us, then there can be no basis for cooperation,” Vulth declared. “My second was certain you couldn’t be trusted, just like the last ones who wore your colors,” Vulth added.

    Megan didn’t hide her confusion. She looked around the bridge and saw similar expressions. She turned back to the suspicious Krowtonan. “‘Others?’ I don’t know what you’re talking about, there are no others, we are from a different quadrant entirely.”

    “More lies,” Vulth hissed. “More trickery. Ransom was the same. I was seeking to understand your kind, to get answers, to see what your intentions were, but now you’ve made them quite apparent. Ransom was the first test of your resolve, and you…you must be another scout, a harbinger before your Federation invades our space.”

    “No,” Kilburn stated, waving her hand emphatically as if cleaning up a spill. “That is not the case at all. We only seek safe passage through your space.”

    “Ransom said the same thing before he attacked our patrol ship,” Vulth retorted. Megan looked to the side, at Hoss.

    “Ransom?” She said in sotto voce. “Who is that?”

    “On it,” the Tellarite grumbled. It took him a few feverish minutes, while Kilburn did her best to stall the fuming Krowtonan. “Cross-referenced the name Ransom with other missing ships, and came up with Captain Rudolph Ransom, Starship Equinox. The ship was lost in space shortly before our mission to the Gamma Quadrant.”

    “There’s another Starfleet vessel here?” Megan felt a jolting mixture of both happiness and sadness. She felt bad about not being so alone anymore, even though that meant more of her compatriots had been stranded far away from home.

    “Captain Ransom, the Equinox,” she spoke to the alien commander. “What happened to them?”

    “As if you don’t know,” Vulth grunted. “He probably regaled you with tales of how he escaped our clutches, but you won’t be so fortunate!”

    “Get the captain back now,” Maron hissed.

    “What have you done with the captain and our science officer?” Kilburn commanded.

    “In our realm words mean something, actions more so,” he pulled back and the camera swung to Silika and Moya both struggling as they were held by two hulking Krowtonans. The wraithlike lizardmen wore bioorganic black armor. Vulth sauntered over to them. He wore dark-red bio-armor. A sharp protrusion, resembling a scarlet dagger grew out of the left cuff of his uniform.

    Kilburn ordered, “Beam them off that ship!”

    “Lieutenant,” Theren was anxious.

    “Do it now!” Kilburn snapped.

    “I-I can’t,” the Andorian almost cried.

    Megan snarled, “Vulth, if you harm our crewmembers, you will regret it.” The man continued his slow walk.

    “Mr. Hoss, fire a shot off their bow.”

    “Aye,” the gruff Tellarite complied.

    Vulth didn’t stop. He hovered in front of both Silika and Moya. Both women grew still. The Krowtonan turned back to the camera. “This is what happens to those who do not honor their word to a Krowtonan.” He held an arm up and drug the dagger across his palm. He spread dark blood over the face plates of both women.

    “Damn it,” Kilburn yelled at the man. “Stop it! Right now!”

    Vulth barked orders to his soldiers, words unintelligible to the universal translator, and they ripped the helmets from the white environmental suits.

    “No!” Kilburn said. “Get them out of there!” She yelled.

    “I’m trying, but they’re blocking me,” the operations officer said.

    “Hit them again Mr. Hoss,” Megan said. “This time make them feel it.” The Tellarite grunted before unloosing several salvos at the curved hull of the Krowtonan ship.

    “Several direct hits…but minimal damage,” the man was visibly upset.

    “Damn it,” Kilburn said. “Again.” The gunner’s mate complied but the results were tragically the same.

    Megan looked back to the screen. “Release them now Vulth!”

    “As you wish,” the man barked more orders, and the soldiers stepped back from the women. They staggered as the infernal environs beginning their hellish work. Cauls rose up to cover the faces of the Krowtonan soldiers as the lighting grew blinding. Megan had to turn away, the intensity even hurt her eyes.

    The screams of her friends forced Kilburn to look back at the screen. Through her fingers she saw that the women had fallen to the deck, and were writhing and gasping in silent agony, their lungs likely seared by the cauldron-like environs. They were clawing at their burning, peeling skin.

    The executioners also bore silent witness. The medic couldn’t even tell if they could see through the hooded skin that had enveloped their faces, shielding them from the hell they had consigned Silika and Eneca to. Megan forced herself to continue looking at the demise of their friends. Their agonizing executions were interspersed with Veronica’s horrific burning death.

    Once the foul deed was done, the hoods pulled back from the soldiers and Vulth looked down at the broiled corpses. He then peered at Megan. “Would you care for their remains? Do your cultures practice burial rights? Your Ransom didn’t linger around long enough for us to ask.”

    “You’re about to join my friends!” Hoss roared. He unloaded on the vessel, scoring several major hits. Vulth’s expression turned from smug to enraged.

    “You’ll regret that,” he promised, before smoke filled the screen. When it cleared, his face was pressed against the camera.

    “Krowtonan Guard vessel is powering weapons,” Theren called.

    “Good,” Hoss crowed. “I’ve been itching for a good row.”

    “That would be unwise to pick a fight here,” Maron advised. “For all we know additional Krowtonan warships are on their way.”

    Megan glared at the man, but she spoke to Hoss. “The quantum torpedoes,” she said, the words ripping the rest of her already torn heart, “Use however many until that ship is dust.”


    ******************************************************************
     
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  18. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    ******************************************************************

    PART THREE: WAKING


    “Please, don’t do this!” Vilissa pleaded as she stepped between the two men. She placed her hands on both men to hold her back.

    “I’m sorry Vil, but it’s way past that,” Enno said, pushing against her hand. The bald, muscular man’s chest felt as solid as mountain rock. He glared at Jovin, who was being restrained by her other hand. *This is a long time coming!!* The thought burned like a hot poker in her mind.

    “Let him go,” Jovin fumed. “If he wants to be captain, let him try for it!”

    “I don’t want to be captain,” Enno snarled. “I just want to go home! To see my family again, to sleep in my own bed again! We all do, and we would be home if not for you!”

    “What do you want me to do!” Jovin said, “It’s not my fault that we got catapulted across space. I’m doing all within my power to get us home!”

    “Enough of this,” Lupin said. The hulking man had been quietly watching the confrontation, but now decided to weigh in. Both raging men turned to the hulking redhead. Lupin had a nonplussed expression on his face, which triggered Enno. He stepped toward the larger man.

    “Enno,” Maren spoke up. She touched the man’s arm, stopping him. Vilissa had noticed that the two had grown closer over the last several months. “We gain nothing by fighting each other at this point.”

    Enno turned to the woman. His anger subsided, and his shoulders slumped. Maren wrapped him in her arms. The man began weeping. His cries grew with intensity and sent psychic waves through Vilissa and everyone else in the crew, his grief was so strong. Even Jovin turned away, his voice hitching as he was almost overcome by emotion.

    Toda, with inestimable timing, plodded into the room, holding a tray of green vegetables. “I figured out that these algae puffs taste much better cooked.”

    The room grew quiet and the unaware Toda looked around, his expression as open as always, as held the tray out for no takers. “I promise we won’t experience the digestive problems like before. I know, because I’ve tested them on myself.” He popped one of the puffs into his mouth and chewed. “Please, try one.” The man’s intervention was exactly what was needed. Even Jovin and Enno had to laugh, and all of them joined in. Toda’s cheeks reddened slightly. “I promise you, I got it right this time. Not like that time I undercooked the Pleeka rind casserole.” That only made them laugh harder. Apparently the endearing Toda had been so intent on making the algae puffs edible he had shut off his thoughts from the rising tensions.

    Vilissa broke from both Enno and Jovin and walked over to Toda. She carefully took one of the vegetables and carefully placed it in her mouth. She chewed slowly and smiled. Maren joined her, and then the others. Toda’s bashfulness faded, and he took another puff and crunched on it happily. Jovin reached out to Enno and the men embraced, and then everyone joined in, including Lupin. The happy Toda was in the middle, attempting to wrap his arms around the whole group. For the first time in months, Vilissa felt that things might just be okay after all….


    …*This could be a trap* Enno suggested.

    *He’s right* Vilissa concurred, before clutching her stomach. The child within her was starting to show. The sight of his mate, and their child, always gave Jovin pause.

    He glanced quickly at the others, and all of them bore wary expressions except for Toda. Toda was animatedly talking with the Mylean.

    They had happened upon the heavily spotted, profoundly perspiring, verbose alien after the rest had convinced Jovin to respond to a distress call.

    They had happened upon an escape pod. The Mylean, Follix, had promised to reward them handsomely for rescuing him.

    “There are many riches, much riches at my redoubt in the Dark Market,” he said, mentioning this mysterious trading hub for the umpteenth time.

    None of them had heard of the Dark Market, but Follix swore they spread throughout the quadrant. He also claimed he was a being of some renown with the syndicate that ran the market.

    Jovin couldn’t look at the man’s tattered, singed appearance and take anything he said at face value. If the man was leading them into a trap, Follix and the other captors would get a very fatal surprise.

    *Please stop thinking about murdering our guest* Vilissa’s admonishment poked his brain. Jovin winced.

    *I don’t trust him* He declared.

    *You don’t trust anyone* While Vilissa’s expression was neutral, he heard and felt the humor in her thoughts.

    *He was less than honest about why his crew mutinied and left him stranded* Jovin said. *And he proved quite resistant to non-invasive mental probing. He’s had some training*

    *I am certain that not everyone in this Dark Market has* Vilissa offered, *And if anything, untoward happens, they will all regret it*

    Jovin smiled. “Now, I like the sound of that,” he said, drawing Follix’s attention. The ginger-haired, orange-yellow gnomish man turned his whole torso in Jovin’s direction. His hair sprouted from his face haphazardly, in tufts along the sides and plumes everywhere else.

    The Ocampan couldn’t tell if the man was looking at him though. He wore dark goggles, due to a sensitivity to bright light, including even the dim environs of the Coolfire.

    His appearance was made even more odd by a piece of dark circular metal attached to his head, on a part where his wild hair seemed reluctant to approach. He had explained that it was a neural implant, the result of a cranial injury. Jovin couldn’t tell if it was true or not because the implant was likely the reason he couldn’t mentally probe the man. He only got wisps of thoughts, at best, and it made him trust the man even less. “Ah, so you were listening to my tale about how I can within a hair of possessing the fabled Hoard of Touth. And it would’ve been mine if the execrable Haakonian Order hadn’t chosen just that moment to invade Talax. I barely escaped with my life, I can’t say the same for many of my Talaxian cousins,” the man grimaced and then sadly shook his head.

    “I got as far away from Talax, Rinax, and my lawfully claimed treasure,” Follix added. “It took me years to build a new life, far away from the Talaxian system. I had to leave all that behind, all the bad times.” He smiled. “And I was doing well too, working for the Dark Market Syndicate, providing goods to beings who needed my services, until my crew repaid my generosity by taking my ship.”

    “Sounds like a vote of no confidence in your stewardship,” Enno replied. Jovin tensed. He knew the man was really talking about him and not the hapless Mylean. The oblivious Follix nodded in affirmation.

    “I suppose so Mr. Enno. I suppose so.” He patted Toda’s knee. “Enough reminiscing. I’m famished. Where are your rations? I can work wonders with them you know.”

    “Before your repast, tell us how to enter the Dark Market again,” Jovin said.

    “Ah, well, I’ve given you the code. Make sure that when it is requested you supply it exactly in the sequence I described, and do not tarry, do it immediately or this wonderful ship will be atomized,” Follix.

    “Sounds like you work for some lovely people,” Vilissa slowly rolled her eyes.

    “In this universe, sometimes it’s better to be feared than liked,” Follix replied. “Perhaps if I had elicited more fear among my crew they wouldn’t have stolen my vessel. At least I kept the code to enter the Dark Market here,” he tapped his spotted head. “If they attempt to enter any of the Dark Markets they’ll be vaporized without it. Good luck selling that cargo now Amandine,” he grumbled.

    “This Dark Market is located within an asteroid field,” Lumi said. Follix nodded.

    “Yet many of these asteroids hide particles weapons,” Lupin added.

    “Correct,” Follix said. “Very, very powerful particle weapons. That’s why once we are allowed to enter the Dark Market we must carefully follow the path provided by the Syndicate. I’m certain your piloting skills are up to the task,” the Mylean smiled at Jovin. He frowned back. Follix’s smile dimmed.

    “We’ve endured much, and Jovin has shepherded us through it all,” Vilissa spoke up. “He is my mate, our leader, and he will get you home Monger Follix.”

    “If that’s enough for you fair lady, then it is enough for me,” Follix declared before bowing. He looked at Jovin and grinned, his sharp silvered teeth glittering like stars, “Now, on to the feast!”


    *My faith in sapient beings is restored* The thought was droll enough that Vilissa elbowed him. He grunted.

    *Follix honored his word* Vilissa said.

    *For once, a pleasant surprise* Lupin thought. Even if he had wanted to speak he couldn’t. His cheeks were bulging with food and he was still taking more in. Jovin had followed the Mylean’s instructions and Coolfire had entered the Dark Market. After Follix told them where to land, he took them to his domicile where he provided them with food, drink, showers, new fresh clothes, and provisions.

    The Ocampans were huddled around a table laden with food and beverages. Follix sat at the head of the table. There was discordant music blaring from hidden speakers. But the clashing of utensils against plates nearly drowned it out as they all gorged themselves, including Follix.

    “I could use a new crew,” he said after they were all sitting in their chairs, stuffed and content for the first time in eons.

    The Ocampans looked at each other, but none would speak before Jovin. “No,” the man shook his head. “I…appreciate the offer, but we have a home to return to.”

    Follix’s smile was sympathetic. “Letting go of the past, learning how to dream new dreams is one of the toughest things, but from everything dear Toda told me, it will be nearly impossible for you to return to your sanctuary. The sooner you accept that and make the best of the life you have now, the better it will be for you. I lost…far more than just the untold riches of Touth; the Haakonians ripped away my heart…but here I am, still able to smile, still surviving, and each day I draw breath I’m spitting in the face of those Haakonian butchers.”

    “The Giver will provide for us,” Maren declared. Enno snorted, drawing a reproachful look from the woman.

    “In all this time, Suspiria has not spoken to us, she has not answered our prayers, she has not dried our tears,” Enno retorted. “And she isn’t going to.”

    “What are you saying Enno?” Maren asked, her expression crestfallen.

    “Follix is correct,” Enno said. “We have to accept the reality that we will never see Sanctuary again, that we will never walk the streets of Ocama again. Here, we can have something of a life, and even this grimy space hub is a City Station of sorts.”

    “One filled with food, drink, and other pleasures,” Follix smirked.

    “We can’t abandon our mission,” Jovin pressed.

    “And what ‘mission’ is that?” Enno countered. “We were lost in space, and perhaps have you ever considered that it was meant for us to be here.”

    “How could you say something like that?” Maren was aghast.

    “And how can we all continue deluding ourselves that we will see home again?” Enno riposted. “The scales have lifted from my eyes. I’m staying here, with Follix.”


    … “I really wished you would reconsider,” Follix said.

    “Thank you,” and Jovin meant it. The man had had their ship repaired, refueled, and restocked with provisions.

    They stood by Coolfire now, with the rest of the Ocampans surrounding Enno.

    “It is unlikely that you will discover another spatial flexure that will take you back to your Sanctuary, and there are other powers that have technology that can help, like the Borg…” He paused and shuddered, “If you see any large cubes, or small ones for that matter, turn the other way around immediately. You might also encounter underspace corridors, left behind long ago by a long since vanquished species, the Vaadwaur, but many are unstable, so I suggest you avoid them. There was an advanced species in this sector once, the Ceteans, who were said to possess great technology, of a kind that old scribes described as sorcery. But I have yet to find anything of value left behind by the Ceteans, though there are tales of them traveling galaxies through space corridors.” Follix shrugged and threw up his hands, “The only advice I have left to give you is seek out the Drifters.”

    “Drifters?” Jovin was intrigued.

    “Yes, they are a large spaceborne species. Drifter colonies travel great distances on a cyclical schedule. Perhaps you can convince them to take you along with them, and that might shorten your journey back to the Dynae system significantly. They are scheduled to return to our patch of space soon.

    There’s a group of bandits, the Outcasts, who hunt them, because their bodies contain ambiplasma that is very valuable in this sector.

    They are so formidable that even the syndicate that rules this Dark Market gives them a wide berth and has accepted a bartering relationship with them. If you find the Outcasts, you will find the Drifters, and vice versa…but I caution you friend, the Outcasts are not easily trifled with. They have well-earned their ruthless reputation.” He shivered, “Even down to their appearance. They are hulking monstrosities.”

    “Thank you,” Jovin said. He clasped the Mylean’s hand. Jovin ignored the clamminess. “You have restored my faith, in more ways than one.”

    “You saved my life, and I feel indebted to helping you do the same,” Follix replied. “I have already had Lumi place the information I have about Outcast turf into your ship’s computer.”

    “You have my thanks again,” Jovin said.

    “Oh, one more thing,” Follix held up a finger. “I recommend you use your mental abilities to communicate with the Drifters. I don’t know if it will work but verbal communication likely will not.”

    Jovin was taken aback. “You knew of our abilities?”

    Follix chuckled. “All those long, silent looks and pauses were giveaways. Plus, I’ve encountered quite a few telepathic beings during my travels.”

    “Once again, I am surprised,” Jovin admitted. “I underestimated you.”

    “You aren’t the first,” Follix smirked, “Nor the last. But unlike Amandine, I have no reason to take advantage of your oversight.”

    “I am relieved,” Jovin replied.

    “Fare well,” Follix said, “I will leave you to your goodbyes.” The man left, and Jovin watched him go, his anxiety growing at the prospect of speaking with Enno for the final time.

    “Jovin,” thankfully it was Enno who spoke first. Jovin turned to him. Enno was approaching, his arms held wide. Before Jovin could react, the man wrapped him in a strong embrace.

    “I will miss you old friend,” Enno replied after breaking the embrace. A lump formed in Jovin’s throat.

    *Likewise,* He replied, the response feeling inadequate.

    *Take care of Maren* Enno thought, before turning to look at the weeping woman. *I tried to convince her to stay here, with me, but she wants to go back home. She promised she would tell my family that I survived, and I am okay. See that she makes it home to do that*.

    “You have my word,” Jovin said, grabbing the man’s hand and pumping it strongly. “We will see Sanctuary again…”

    ************************************************************
     
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  19. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    I’m really enjoying this story.
     
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  20. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    ************************************************************


    USS Jaeger

    Sickbay

    2373


    “Did you get what you wanted, Vulcan?!” The man snarled. He was fully awake. He tested his restraints.

    “I did,” Ensign Hakan removed his fingers from the Ocampan’s face. He stood up stiffly. “Doctor Zeno, unlock the restraints.”

    “What?” Both men asked in unison.

    “Jovin poses no threat to this crew,” Hakan said. “I stake my standing as the ranking security officer aboard this vessel on that.”

    “If we release this man, you’ll be staking more than that,” Zeno riposted. “He could kill you and everyone aboard Jaeger.”

    Jaeger,” the man said slowly, “Not the Voyager?”

    Hakan curtly tugged down his uniform jacket. “The Starship Voyager was lost in the Alpha Quadrant two years ago. It was assumed the ship had been destroyed, with all hands lost.”

    “No, Voyager was brought to the Delta Quadrant by the Caretaker,” Jovin replied. Hakan’s lips drew into a tight line. The Ocampan sighed, “The Caretaker is one of the beings that protected and guided our people. His companion, Suspiria, our Giver, took us beyond the confines of our home planet to a new home, a city station we call Sanctuary. We wish to go back there, to go home.”

    “What happened to Voyager and its crew?” Hakan inquired.

    “I don’t know,” Jovin couldn’t stanch his anger. “The Caretaker died shortly after he brought them to the Delta Quadrant, a last-ditch effort to save my Ocampan brethren. Our Giver blamed them, and once Voyager found us, she too disappeared, as did our temporal leader Tanis. Voyager is a ship of death, leaving desolation in its wake.”

    “There must be a logical explanation for Voyager’s actions,” Hakan declared. “The Federation is an organization of peace.”

    “You would say so, Vulcan,” Jovin smirked. He tapped his temple. “I was inside your mind as well. You are an honorable man. And the impressions I received from you, about this ship and its crew, are that they are as lost as mine is, and that you are no immediate threat.”

    “Immediate threat?” Doctor Zeno said, sharply arching an eyebrow. Hakan tilted his head at that.

    Jovin glared at him. He squinted. “Just what are you?” Zeno, uncharacteristically, was taken aback by the question. He grappled with an answer for a few moments.

    “I am this vessel’s Emergency Medical Hologram,” Zeno puffed out his chest. “I am programmed with the collective information of two thousand medical reference guides along with 47 individual medical officers.”

    Programmed,” Jovin muttered. “You’re not real.”

    “I am very much real,” Zeno huffed.

    “Doctor Zeno is a holographic program activated after most of our medical staff were killed during our journey into the Delta Quadrant.”

    “Did the Caretaker also bring you here as well?” Jovin asked.

    “We have not encountered any being that has called itself a ‘Caretaker’, however we have yet to ascertain the exact nature of the spatial phenomenon that flung us into this galactic corner,” the Vulcan calmly replied.

    “A hologram,” Jovin shook his head. “A creature of light,” he nodded in awe. “Impressive. I had heard about beings such as this, isomorphs, but had yet to see one.”

    “I can assure you I am no ‘isomorph,” Zeno huffed. “I am unique,” he paused, his expression chagrined, “Not counting the other hundreds of Mark I’s that were created.”

    Hakan interjected, “Pardon me, but I think Captain Kilburn will want to hear this. Please rest. I will see that the rest of your crew are awakened and attended to.” Jovin looked skeptical, but he didn’t protest.

    Hakan nodded at the holodoc on the way out of Sickbay. Jovin looked at the medic.

    “It is rare that I encounter beings whose minds I can’t read, whose feelings or emotions I can’t sense,” the alien said. “It is both refreshing and vexing.”

    “For me, that’s just another day in the office,” the medic quipped.

    *************************************************************

    USS Jaeger

    Captain’s Ready Room


    “Let me get this straight” Hoss grumbled. The large Tellarite was taking up considerable space in the already cramped ready room. “These Drifters can get us home?”

    “I think you’re overstating things a bit,” Megan said. She swiveled in her chair to the five Ocampans. On Hakan’s word, she had allowed the Vulcan to awaken the telepaths.

    So far they had acquitted themselves well. Kilburn couldn’t help returning to gaze at the precious, quiet, watching child nestled in the arms of Jovin, the dark-haired leader of the ragtag band. Megan was impressed by how the child brought out a tender side to the intense man.

    “That is correct Captain,” the red-haired woman, Lumi, spoke up. “We have learned that these spaceborne creatures feed on solar winds and generate ambiplasma, which can propel them.”

    “Though it appears they prefer to drifter along on the astral eddies,” Jovin said. He paused to shift the wiggling infant in his arms. “Therefore, the colloquialism, ‘Drifters’.”

    “Yes,” Science Officer Damico spoke up. The young man had eagerly taken up Megan’s offer to take on the responsibilities of the position left vacated by Moya’s untimely passing. Kilburn was happy to have him as part of her senior staff. The man’s determination to return back to the Alpha Quadrant, and his husband, was unflappable, and inspiring. And it wasn’t tinged by the desperation that even soaked into Megan’s thoughts and actions.

    “It’s quite fascinating,” Damico continued. “If I may?” He asked, pointing at the wall-mounted monitor by the ready room’s door. Megan nodded.

    The science officer hopped out of his chair and stood by the monitor. He activated it. “Thanks to the information supplied by Lumi,” he nodded at her. A split-screen image appeared of a large lifeform that Megan had never seen before and another that looked vaguely familiar.

    “The image on the left is of a pyrosome, an Earth marine animal, that is very similar to the alien Drifters.” Megan nodded at how both had a conical appearance. “Like the pyrosomes, the Drifters are composed of colonies of smaller beings, which I’ll call zooids for the sake of brevity. Zooids are the creatures that comprise pyrosome colonies.”

    “Both also possess bioluminescence I see,” Theren nodded.

    Damico joined in the nodding, “Yes, the similarities are…”

    “Fascinating,” Hoss grumbled, “I know.” Damico and Theren chuckled. Even Megan joined in. Hoss just grunted and crossed his arms. Maron, Hakan, and T’Rithu remained stone-faced. The Ocampans looked confused.

    T’Rithu sat forward in her seat. “These…zooids…generate ambiplasma,” the Romulan stated. “A combination of equal amounts of matter and antimatter. If we could convert the ship’s propulsion systems to handle the long-lasting ambiplasma our energy needs would be met. It could allow us to focus completely on returning to the Alpha Quadrant.”

    “Though our Ocampan guests were suggesting a different method of travel,” Maron spoke up.

    Jovin nodded in agreement. “We had also considered converting our engines, but Toda discovered that our propulsion systems is incompatible. So, we devised another plan to seek the assistance of the Drifters. We were going to attempt telepathic communication with them and see if they would allow us to travel within the center of their colony. Doing so would shield us from the astral eddies they travel on, or the ambiplasma they expel.”

    “You were confident of your ability to connect with them?” Megan inquired.

    “No,” Jovin said. “Though we are quite adept with our psionic abilities, and through trial and error were hoping to make positive contact.”

    “And what if you had achieved this contact, and the colony told you no?” Maron’s question felt like the stab that it was.

    Jovin didn’t hesitate, “We would redouble our efforts until they saw reason.” The Vorta smiled at that.

    “This is a man who understands how the universe works,” Maron’s smile was smarmy. It made Megan feel grimy.

    “It will not get to that point,” she declared. “We’ll work with you, but we will not force any sapient creature to something against their will.”

    “You speak for your crew,” Jovin said. “You don’t speak for mine.”

    “You’re a guest on our ship, bunko,” Hoss weighed in.

    “We can manage just fine on our own,” Lupin eyed the Tellarite. The gunner’s mate stood up and the formidable Ocampan did likewise. Sensing the tension, Nivian began to cry.

    “Stand down Mr. Hoss,” Kilburn said. “There’ll be none of that in here.”

    “Ah, really captain?” The man rolled his broad shoulders. “I haven’t had a good workout in a long-time.”

    “I promise you I’m more than recreation,” Lupin declared.

    “Enough brother,” Lumi said. “We don’t repay the captain’s generosity with disrespect. And Jovin, we could use their help. We didn’t fare so well over the last several months…”

    Jovin paled at that. Nivian’s wail pierced the room. He held the baby closer and cooed to her. “We won’t discuss that.”

    “What happened?” Hoss was blunt.

    Jovin glared at Lumi, but she shrugged at him. “Jovin, we trusted Follix and that turned out alright, I’m trusting these people now.”

    “Lumi,” Lupin warned.

    “No,” the shyest one, Toda, entered the fray. “Lumi is right. We got to start trusting people again. We’ve lost too much on this journey. I don’t want to lose everything that makes us Ocampa as well.”

    Jovin smiled, though his expression was dark. “The Giver did not raise us to be ‘trusting’, only to be prepared.”

    “You are right, as usual,” Lumi conceded, “But I’m doing this.”

    Lupin threw up his hands. “You know how she gets Jovin,” he shook his head. “Like a raging gargoth.” Jovin grinned at that.

    “Fine,” he huffed. “But I will take my leave here. Nivian needs sustenance and rest.”

    “Of course,” Megan said. “Hoss can show you the way to your quarters.”

    “I know it,” Jovin replied. “Besides, I think your Mr. Hoss will be most interested in the story Lumi will tell you.”

    “What’s that mean?” The Tellarite asked. The Ocampan remained silent until Jovin and Nivian had left the room.

    “There are many dangers in this sector of space, even more than Krowtonan Guard,” Lumi began.

    **************************************************************
     
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